Cauliflower Cheese

I had a bit of time off this week which meant I could do a few things, apply for jobs (I really need a better job!), check out a few exhibitions in central London & have some quality kitchen time during the day. I had a few ideas in mind but for my next blog entry I decided on a classic example of comfort food, Cauliflower Cheese. There are some dishes that everyone should have in their repertoire & Cauliflower Cheese is unquestionably one such dish. It is delicious either as a meal on its own or as an accompaniment to a nice Sunday roast. In the bad old days when I ate microwave meals I’d often choose this one for a quick snack, although I had made it before but using a packet cheese sauce. After trying this never again will I go down that route, & nor will you.

cookies larder cauliflower cheese ingredients

Ingredients

1 Cauliflower

40g Butter

50g Plain flour

400ml Milk

1 tsp English mustard

Cheddar cheese (grated)

Parmesan cheese (grated)

Breadcrumbs

Salt & pepper

cookies larder cauliflower cheese  florets

Method

First cut up the cauliflower (as I had an extra large one I only used half so you may want to use a medium size), slice it in two & then remove the stalk & break up the florets into even size pieces. Place in a saucepan of boiling water adding salt, bring to the boil & simmer for about 5 minutes until nearing tenderness. Drain in a colander.

cookies larder cauliflower cheese  sauce

Now it’s on to the sauce which is pretty easy really. Melt the butter over a low/medium heat slowly adding the flour stirring until it becomes a smooth paste. Remove from the heat & gradually add the milk a little at a time whisking until you’ve got a nice sauce mix.  Return to the heat, bring to the boil & simmer for a couple minutes before removing from the heat a final time. To finish the sauce add the mustard, cheddar cheese & a dash of pepper giving it a last stir.

cookies larder cauliflower cheese  pre-oven

Put the cauliflower in an ovenproof dish, pour over the sauce covering all the florets. Now a last minute addition, I had the end of a bloomer loaf in my cupboard & decided to cut it up & blend it into crumbs to hopefully give a nice crusty top. I sprinkled this over the top along with the Parmesan cheese. Place into a preheated oven at 190°C for about 25 – 30 minutes. I whacked the heat up full for the last few minutes to help the top get a bit crispy. Oh just to let you know, as you can see in the ingredients there are no measurements for the cheese, just add as much as you want really. The basic rule is, when you think you have enough cheese add more!

cookies larder cauliflower cheese

So here it is & its a shame this blog doesn’t have smellovision because it smelt fantastic, as well as looking great. Fresh out of the oven with the cheese bubbling & it tasted lovely. Would I do anything different I hear you ask? Well, maybe try whole-grain mustard instead or forgo the mustard altogether & add garlic & parsley to the sauce or maybe try different cheeses. I might add a bit more flour to give a slightly thicker sauce & maybe dice some bread crust & pop that on top to give a real crunch to the dish. But overall this was basically a faultless version of Cauliflower Cheese.

Rocky Road

Bed bugs. Not the most appealing way to start my latest post but that’s what has happened recently. My housemates had suffered the symptoms of these pesky creatures, but I hadn’t. Not sure what that says about their hygiene levels compared to mine but the people we got in to deal with the problem confirmed that no evidence of infestation was found in my room. I can’t stress that enough! Anyway, to prepare for their visit we all had to strip our beds & I took the opportunity to rejig my room somewhat. If any of you out there write you will know that it’s best to have a defined writing space, ideally in a separate room. I don’t have that luxury but moved things around a bit to create a better area for me to write. Not only do I have this blog, but another one & am attempting a children’s novel.

When getting stuck into a big writing session I like to have a nice pot of tea & something naughty to nibble on. One of my favourites is Rocky Road that delicious marshmallowy, chocolatey bar that you can find in many coffee shops that populate most high streets. However, they are rather ridiculously expensive considering how easy they are to make. Starbucks even claim on their UK website that they invented the damn thing! So, for a fraction of the cost why not make your own? Trust me this is one of the easiest recipes of all time.

ultimaterockyroad

Ingredients

200g Plain chocolate

125g Milk chocolate

125g Butter

80g Golden syrup

100g Mini marshmallows

100g Sultanas

125g Digestive biscuits

4 Crunchie bars

1tsp Cinnamon

ultimaterockyroadmix

Method

There really isn’t much of a method here, basically heat some stuff, bash up some more stuff, put this & some other stuff into the melted stuff pour it into a medium baking tray & let all the stuff cool! Okay, well let’s break it down. First break up the plain chocolate & put it in a bowl with the butter & golden syrup then melt it in a microwave for about 90 seconds in short bursts stirring occasionally. When melted add the cinnamon stirring once more.

ultimaterockyroadmixed

Now, mash up the biscuits. Put them in a food bag & give them a rough bashing, taking out your frustrations at your boss, or evil corporations like Starbucks or even that noisy neighbour who plays their music to loud (sorry, that’s probably me). You want a nice mix of chunky bits of biscuit & powder. Do the same with the crunchie bars & add it to the melted chocolate along with the marshmallows & sultanas.You might want to break things up a bit more if it looks too chunky, its all up to you.

ultimaterockyroadready

When mixed well pour it into a foil or baking paper lined tray, pushing it down till its flat. Take the final ingredient, the 125g of milk chocolate. Melt this as you did with the plain chocolate then pour over the top then simply chill it in the fridge for a few hours, overnight is best.

Rocky Road

To serve remove from the tray, dust liberally with icing sugar & cut into even sized slices. That’s it! This is so simple & delicious & open to many different combinations. You could mix the plain & milk chocolate together, use only milk chocolate or maybe try bashing up & adding your favourite chocolate bar or add Smarties, Milky Way Buttons, whatever takes your fancy. No excuses, make this today!

 

 

Sweet potato stuffed Anaheim pepper with chipotle mayo

Ever since I can remember I’ve always loved spicy food. I’m not sure when it started but there is something addictive about feeling the burn from a curry, chilli or splash of hot sauce. I went through the usual youthful ritual of a late night curry with plenty of pints & poppadoms. I recall one particular Indian dish so hot my knees sweated, a never repeated experience. But beyond the macho bravado once you start your spicy food journey your taste buds will discover a world of varied flavour sensations as well as heat.

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It was by chance that I read about the 2nd annual Festival of Heat. Travelling bleary eyed into work with the usual throng of commuters last Friday I saw a brief mention of it in my copy of the Metro. I knew I couldn’t miss this, in fact I was a bit more excited about it than my blind date that night which didn’t go that well sadly. But memories of another failed romantic endeavour soon faded & after a quick omelette breakfast I headed towards Spitalfields City Farm where the event was taking place on Sunday 28th October.

Close to Buxton Street (named after abolitionist & social reformer Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton) Spitalfieds City Farm is situated in Tower Hamlets one of the most vibrant areas of London & the streets were packed with tourists & traders alike as I made my way there. Thankfully the weather was good, & the festival was already in full swing when I arrived.

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There were numerous stalls mainly focusing on independent hot sauce makers. In fact there were so many to choose from I didn’t know where to start.

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The enticing bottles with names such as Five Finger Death Punch & Evil One were displayed along with free samples.

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Many of these had a one-more-go level of intense heat that left some visitors literally teary eyed. There were also more delicate flavoured offerings whilst others enticed with their rich depth of flavour.

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Thankfully there were plenty of other refreshments on offer, in fact I had to take a breather after a while with a cooling pint of locally sourced cider. It wasn’t only hot sauces, with live music & dance also provided for burnt throated attendees!

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For those with culinary leanings, like me of course, there was the chance to buy chillies & chilli plants along with workshops & an interesting interactive stall which explored the way in which taste is informed by many other factors such as colour & smell. An interesting respite from the addictive onslaught of hot sauce sampling.

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This was a brilliant day & basically essential for any fan of spicy food, after buying a nice selection of sauces & chillies I left with that lovely warm feeling in my tummy & loads of ideas in my head about how to make the best of what I had experienced.

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As I walked back to the station the sound of music caught my attention, turning a corner I stumbled upon the Upstart Crow Festival. This free event dedicated to singer songwriters was a welcome surprise, I settled down for a short while enjoying the music & another pint.

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So what would I concoct after my day of heat? Initially I wanted to make a hot sauce, but I thought a break was in order from the intensity I’d enjoyed at the festival so settled on a subtler dish. I’d never stuffed a pepper, & the large Anaheim seemed perfect for a first attempt. I initially thought about cream cheese but after talking to a friend who recommended Indian style spiced potato I changed my mind. I really like sweet potato, especially with the addition of chilli flakes so that was the way I rolled. I wanted to create my own mayo to accompany it, the chillies I’d purchased seemed ideal for this to give an extra, controllable fire to the dish.

Ingredients

1 Anaheim pepper

1 sweet potato

Chilli flakes

6 slices of Parma Ham

2 Chipotle chillies

4 – 5 tablespoons of mayo

Juice of 1 lime

Paprika

Cumin

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Method

Firstly I attempted the mayo. Unfortunately the chipotle chillies were dried so weren’t so easy to blend even after finely chopping. My blender is pretty basic as well which didn’t help. In fact I ended up pushing the mayo through a sieve to remove the small but harsh bits of chilli. I used about 4 tablespoons of mayo, adding the juice of one lime along with paprika & cumin. I kept tasting to see if the flavour was right, adjusting the spice level accordingly which you would need to do of course to suit your palette.

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Putting this into the fridge I turned to the pepper. Splitting down the side I scooped out the interior, removing as much of the seeds as possible. Setting that aside I peeled then cut the sweet potato into even sized chunks before boiling for about 15 – 20 mins until soft. Draining then mashing the spud followed, adding a knob of butter a dash of pepper & a liberal amount of chilli flakes. Again keep tasting till you reach the level you’re comfortable with.

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When it came to stuffing the pepper I realised there might be some difficulty in the pepper retaining its shape, so after it was filled I wrapped a few slices of Parma ham around it, securing with a toothpick or two. Then it was into a preheated griddle pan for a few minutes, turning occasionally until the ham started to darken.

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As a first attempt this wasn’t bad & tasted alright the mayo adding a nice afterburn of heat to the dish. There are of course things I’d do differently, maybe blanch the pepper first to soften it as it was quite firm, or use smaller ones. Although the combination of sweet potato against the Parma ham worked well the potato had lost its temperature, probably due to the relative thickness of the pepper. A filling not so reliant on heat would be better, a cream cheese as originally intended for example. Philadelphia Light with Sweet Chilli would probably work just as well with the ham. A longer cooking time possibly in the oven may give a better result, keeping everything hot. To be honest I was going to shove it in the oven but was hungry & impatient! Maybe a different colour pepper would be superior aesthetically. Visually it might have looked better sliced? On a bed of sweet potato mash? Endless possibilities it seems. But not bad overall, definitely a work in progress I will make further attempts to perfect.

Chocolate cupcakes

chocolatecupcakes

This is where it begins, with baking. Baking has always seemed like some form of alchemy to me, possibly because of the exacting measurements required whereas I tend to chuck ingredients into my dishes. But, as I try to broaden my kitchen skills, I’ve decided that my first post will see me move out of my limited culinary comfort zone & delve into the magical world of cakes & baked sweet treats! If I can master this then everything else should be ok, shouldn’t it?

The impetus behind this was an imminent bake off at work in aid of Macmillan Cancer, a yearly event by this important charity. A friend at work who excels in baking gave me a fool proof recipe for Victoria Sponge. I tried it. It didn’t rise much. But it tasted good. On that same day, which shall forever more be known as ‘Baking Sunday’, I also tried whoopie pies following a recipe from sortedfood. I’ve attempted a few of their dishes & can highly recommend visiting their site. Anyway, they also turned out ok, but I didn’t stop there! I then turned to pasties. This is something I’ve made with my dad & adore, despite being from Devon I begrudgingly acknowledge the Cornish pasty as the king of pastry encased meat products! I cheated & used premade pastry but will soon attempt making my own.

With a tad more confidence the day of the bake off approached & I had already decided on the whoopie pie considering my previous success. But the lure of the cupcake was too strong, the still fashionable & delicious treat of choice seen in many office kitchens brought in by talented co-workers. It seems like everyone knows someone who has started or wants to start their own cupcake business & you can’t blame them when they taste so good, & seem to be open to myriad tasty variants. Searching the internet for ideas I discovered Cupcake Jemma on YouTube. Let’s be honest, she is very easy on the eye & that caught my attention. The recipe I chose seemed pretty straightforward & it included chocolate, always a winner.

The day before the bake off I found myself watching Jemma’s YouTube clip on my phone copying down the ingredients ready for that night’s endeavour. Some of my co-workers were nervous about the task ahead, I on the other hand couldn’t wait to get home & start! As I share a house with 4 other people I couldn’t get the kitchen to myself until about 8pm, when I eagerly began.

cookieslarder1

Yes, I need a better camera

Ingredients

350g plain flour

370g caster sugar

60g cocoa powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

½ tsp salt

150g dark chocolate chips

1 cup of coffee

425ml vegetable oil

1 cup of buttermilk

3 large eggs

½ tsp vanilla essence

cookieslarder2

The dry mix (the camera is making my kitchen look grubbier than it really is)

Method

  • Preheat your oven to 160°C
  • Add the sifted flour, caster sugar, bicarbonate of soda & salt into a large bowl along with the chocolate chips & mix with a whisk until it’s all the same colour.

Things didn’t go according to plan to start with, I’d exhausted my supply of caster sugar & was still 37gs short! So I rushed out to the corner shop to restock, past a group of young ne’er-do-wells smoking the herb which made me pause momentarily. It was when in the shop an idea came to me & I also bought a large bag of M&Ms as well as a bag of giant Milky Bar buttons before returning to my kitchen.

cookieslarder4

After the dry, comes the wet.

  • In a separate bowl add the coffee (making sure its cold first!), oil, buttermilk, eggs & vanilla essence whisking until all combined.

The vanilla essence isn’t in the original recipe, I just felt like adding it although not sure if it really made any difference. Especially in such a small amount.

Combine!

Combine!

  • Add the dry mix to the wet & whisk until it’s all one lovely gooey chocolaty mess. Dip your finger in & give it a taste, nice isn’t it?
Do NOT spill any of your mix onto your cupcake tray!

Do NOT spill any of your mix onto your cupcake tray!

  • Poor about half the mix into a large jug. This makes it easier to distribute the mix into your cupcake tray, which is what you have to do next. First make sure you’ve put your cupcake cases into the tray! Then carefully pour till each is about two thirds full.
  • Pop into the preheated oven for 24 minutes.

The dirty 2 dozen

As you can see, the rise wasn’t great. I’d put two trays in at once & the ones on the lower shelf were quite flat. I was also surprised at how much of the mix I had left. Apparently it was supposed to make 24 but I still had about half of it in my bowl. Had I not mixed it enough? It did seem a bit of a thin mix. On closer inspection I realised I’d bought rather small cupcake cases. So I carried on with a couple more batches, one at a time.

OMG...the cupcakes are self-replicating!

OMG…the cupcakes are self-replicating!

I ended up with a kitchen full of cupcakes, reminiscent of that scene in Fantasia where Micky Mouse dismembers a magic broom with an axe only for a myriad number of brooms to return & advance upon the pesky rodent.

The more observant of you will notice that the photo of ingredients included milk & butter, both of which are mysteriously absent so far. They are for the chocolate buttercream which goes on top of the cupcakes. I gave it a go, I really did, but without a mixing machine I quickly realised it was too much like hard work! Instead I melted some chocolate in the microwave (about 200g) & using a teaspoon added a little to the top of each cupcake rubbing in a circular motion with the back of the spoon. Then I decorated the cakes with either some mini marshmallows which I had in my cupboard, the aforementioned giant Milky Way buttons or M&Ms I’d bought earlier. I got quite specific about this, I couldn’t have any brown M&Ms on the cakes as they were already brown, & they had to be four different colours. For some reason I also didn’t want the logo showing.

All ready for the office

All ready for the office

If you’ve never made cupcakes before this recipe is a really good place to start. I would have liked a bigger rise but they were tasty & moist (most is a good thing, I’ve heard loads of people say it when they complement someone on their cakes). When I make them again I might reduce the cocoa content or try for different toppings as they had quite an intense chocolate taste. This was actually fine considering the small size but may be a bit rich if they were larger. Although accidentally diddy these cute little cupcakes would be ideal at a children’s party.