Saturday, 28 August 2010

Purple Carrots

They started off as a joke, but who is laughing now?!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake

Perhaps it was the weather. Perhaps it was the back-to-school feeling in the air. Or perhaps it was the self-imposed frugality following our holiday. Whatever the reason, I really, really wanted to make a chocolate cake today. A rich, decadent, indulgent cake, that you can't even look at without feeling those calories.

So, having made most of Nigella's other chocolate cakes, I chose the Sour Cream cake in How to be a Domestic Goddess. A quick trip to the supermarket for the sour cream, and I was content, whisking, baking and icing.

The cake was, as chocolate cakes mostly are, very simple to make. It was also one of the less pricy of Nigella's cakes, using cocoa instead of 70% dark chocolate. The sponge itself is very light, while the icing is probably the best chocolate icing I have every tasted - rich and unctuous, yet without that sticky cloying that you get with many icings.

The sponge method, however, is unusual - the butter is mixed with the dry ingredients, almost like a crumble, and then the eggs, sour cream and cocoa are mixed separately, like in a muffin mix. Apparently, this is a modern chocolate cake method.

Sour-cream Chocolate Cake with Sour-Cream Icing


For the cake:

200g plain flour
200g caster sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
200g soft unsalted butter
40g cocoa
150ml sour cream
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 x 2cm sandwich tins, buttered and lined

For the icing:
80g milk chocolate
80g dark chocolate
75g unsalted butter
125ml sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon golden syrup
300g icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon hot water


Preheat the oven to 180C.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarb and salt in a large bowl. Use and electric mixer to add the butter. In a wide-mouthed measuring jug, whisk together the cocoa, sour cream, eggs and vanilla, then slowly add this cocoa mixture to the ingredients in the bowl, beating until thoroughly mixed.

Pour the batter into the tins and bake for 25 minutes; when they're ready the cakes should be starting to shrink back from the edges of the tins. Leave for 10- minutes in their tins on the racks, then turn out to cool.

To make the icing, melt the chocolate and butter in a microwave, or in a bowl over hot water. Let cool a little, then stir in the sour cream, vanilla and syrup. Add the sieved icing sugar and a little hot water, blending until smooth. When you've got the texture right, ice the cakes, top, middle and sides.


Tuesday, 17 August 2010

My new favourite cookery book

I know it's a bit cheesy, and I know she can be a bit OTT with the pouty, flirting with the camera, but I honestly think that Nigella Lawson is one of the best food writers around today. I'm seriously pleased that How to Eat is in the Observer Top 50 Best Cookbooks of all time.

Forever Summer is a book I bought about two months ago, and I can't stop reading it, and have tried several recipes already. I normally buy cookbooks, try one recipe and then they sit, languishing on the shelf until I get bored again.

The book is awash with lemon, and is particularly fresh and exciting because of it; also, the ingredients are easily available, and the processes are not particularly hard. If they are considered difficult, for example, using gelatine, as in the Chardonnay Jelly recipe, Nigella seems to make it seem accessible. There is also a wide enough variety of recipes so that you can find something to inspire you even if the weather is damp and drizzly, like today.

Highlights so far include the Fa'attoush salad, made with toasted pitta bread; Chicken with roasted garlic and lemon; courgette and bean salad (using up some of the courgettes that grew madly while we were on holiday), Slut Red Raspberries in Chardonnay jelly and lemon cupcakes.

From Nigella's website, here is the jelly recipe:

Slut-Red Raspberries in Chardonnay Jelly


1 bottle good fruity Chardonnay
300g raspberries
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
5 gelatine leaves
250g caster sugar
double cream to serve

Serving Size : Serves 6.

1. Place the wine and berries in a bowl and allow to steep for half an hour. Strain the wine into a saucepan and keep the raspberries to one side. Heat the wine with the vanilla pod until nearly boiling and leave to steep on one side for 15 minutes.

2. Soak the gelatine leaves – which you can find in the supermarket these days – in cold water for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, after removing the vanilla pod, reheat the wine and stir in the sugar until it dissolves; allow to boil if you want to lose the alcohol.

3. Add a third of the hot wine to the wrung-out gelatine leaves in a measuring jug and stir to dissolve, then add this mixture back into the rest of the wine and stir well. Strain into a large jug.

4. Place the raspberries, equally, into six flattish, clear glass serving bowls, and pour the strained wine over the top.

5. Allow to set in the fridge for at least 3 hours, though a day would be fine if you want to make this well ahead, and take out of the fridge 15 minutes before serving.

6. Serve some double cream in a jug, and let people pour this into the fragrant, tender, fruit-jewelled jelly as they eat.

Monday, 16 August 2010

And so to France...

After last year's mostly successful camping trip to Cornwall, where the highlight was Rick Stein's St Petroc cafe, this year we decided to hear where the weather was slightly warmer. So, armed with a big tent and a vat of sun cream, we headed to the land of croissants, fromage, and, of course, wine.

Our destination was Argeles sur Mer, a Coastal town in Catalunya, close to the Spanish border, but we broke the trip up with a short stay in the Champagne region. And, of course, we did indulge in some champagne tasting. I'm definitely not a champagne connoisseur, not by a long way, but the whole process was absolutely fascinating.

I'll see if I can summarise the process from memory, as we did the tasting after the tour of the cave. Champagne is made up of 3 grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Pinot meunier. These are harvested and pressed separately, and then tasters perform the complicated problem of choosing how to blend the grapes. The bottles are then filled with the blend and left to ferment, between 18 months and three years. Here's a good tip I learned: you can keep a bottle of champagne (or any wine I suppose) for as long as it was fermenting in the cave. So, if a bottle has spent three years fermenting, you can keep it for another three years.

Anyway, when the fermenting time is up, it's time to get rid of the sediment that has collected at the bottom of the bottle. This is either done mechanically, or by hand (for the really large bottles). The bottle is tipped and tuned, a little each day, until the bottle is vertical, neck down. Then all the sediment can work its way to the cork. Now here comes the really clever part- the neck of the bottle is frozen, the cork and sediment extracted, and the bottle is topped up and re-corked, ready to be labelled and sold.

As I said, I'm not a champagne connoisseur, but now I am an admirer.

Friday, 13 August 2010

French Food

We had our holiday in France this year, and enjoyed a lot of good food and good wine.

We visited a Champagne cellar...

Ate Cassolet in Carcassonne (the town was lovely, the cassolet was far too greasy for me)...

And ate seafood in Argeles sur Mer (the first time I have ever eaten a whole crab)...