All posts by Vaneetha

Salted Caramel Tart with a Lankan twist

I’ve just returned from a very last minute week in Sri Lanka – aka the motherland. My dad’s family were the patrons of a temple in their home village (Kondavil in Jaffna) and the temple has recently been refurbished (in all of the colours) so my dad wanted to go for a pilgrimage. Now, I haven’t been to his (or mum’s) home towns since the mid-80s (you know, war) so I volunteered to go along with him. I know, I’m a saint, it was such a chore heading over to 31c, sunshine, beaches etc etc…

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It was a hugely emotional trip for many reasons – not least because of my current generally emotional state (see previous post). But rather than go into that, instead, I’m going to sing the praises of my new favourite ingredient that I brought home – palmyra jaggery.

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So as you probably know, jaggery is unrefined sugar made from plants with a considerable amount of sucrose – usually sugar cane. But palmyra jaggery is made from the sap of the palmyra tree which grows in abundance in Jaffna. Mum had asked me to bring some home and being a sucker for packaging, when I saw it, I decided to get some for myself too (see pic below – it’s in a case made from palmyra fronds). And what with it being mother’s day yesterday (in the UK, don’t panic, rest of world) I thought it’d be nice to make her something with it because she inspired me to buy it. In terms of flavour, the palmyra jaggery has a really rich deep taste, almost coffee like. Or cinder toffee.

And then I thought, god, this would make an amazing salted caramel which naturally took me to thinking about the lovely popcorn cheesecake recipe by Rosie Birkett. But given I’ve made that about 680 times in the last twelve months (because it’s AMAZING, go on, try it), I thought I’d try something different.

I found a recipe on Great British Chefs which I modified a little because life’s too short to weight out grams of eggs (and I wanted to incorporate the jaggery, obviously). But the original recipe is here if you fancy making it (it also gives you a great option for what to do with seven left over egg whites. Mine have just gone in the freezer). Also this is possibly the tastiest sweet pastry recipe I’ve ever tried – but don’t do what I did and trim it before you bake as it’ll collapse on itself and you’ll have to try and fix it in the oven with a spoon. Hence the slightly wonky base.

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Salted Caramel Tart with Palmyra jaggery – serves 10-12 (or 8, if you’re hungry buggers) 

For the pastry base:
NB this makes enough for two tarts but can be frozen so you’ve got the best pastry on hand all the time – honestly, it’s delicious.  

  • 400g plain flour
  • 180g icing sugar
  • 130g ground almonds
  • 4g salt
  • 240g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2 eggs, beaten

For the filling:

  • 140g caster sugar
  • 500ml of double cream
  • 100g palmyra jaggery (or any jaggery or dark muscovado)
  • 7 egg yolks
  • Pinch of salt

Method

Prepare the pastry first – this probably needs to chill for a minimum 5 hours so you don’t end up with a fat bottomed pie.

Sift together all the dry ingredients and then add the cold butter. Using your fingers, rub the ingredients together till it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Then pour in the beaten egg and stir till the mix comes together. If it’s a little wet, add a tablespoon of flour at a time, till it comes together and away from the sides of the bowl. tip onto a clean surface and knead briefly then pat into a flatish disk, wrap in clingfilm and put it into the fridge.

For the caramel filling, melt the caster sugar over a low heat. You may need to swirl the pan to help things along but try not to stir it too much – it may seize. Once the sugar has melted, add the double cream and stir to bring together. Then add the salt, remove from the heat and set to one side to chill.

Meanwhile, grate the jaggery into a large bowl and beat in the egg yolks. Pour over the warm double cream mix whilst continually beating. Then add the pinch of salt. Using a fine meshed sieve, pour the mix through into a clean bowl and leave to cool. Once the mix is cool (30-40 mins), skim off any bubbles from the top of the surface, cover and put into the fridge.

You can do all of this up to three days in advance.

When you’re ready to prepare your tart, remove the pastry (well, half of it) and caramel mix from the fridge and bring to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 150c and prepare a pie tin (I did mine in a 20cm springform cake tin as I couldn’t find a pie tin – worked just as well…) Lightly flour a surface and a rolling pin and roll out the pastry to a thickness of approx 5mm and then line the tin, taking care not to rip the pastry (if you do, simply patch it up with any excess). Make sure you’ve got enough to hang over the edges of the tin – this is where mine collapsed and created a wonky base.

Put it back in the fridge for 20 mins to firm up again, then line the base with greaseproof paper and baking beans, pop onto a baking sheet and put into the oven.

Once the sides are golden, remove the baking beans/paper and put back into the oven for the base to cook and colour (approx 5-10 mins). Once cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10-15 mins. Meanwhile, reduce the heat to 100c.

Once the base is cooked, pour the salted caramel filling into the tart case and put the whole thing back into the oven. The tart is cooked when the filling barely wobbles when you shake the tin. It will take at least one hour depending on how accurate your oven is, but check it after 40 mins, and then every 15 mins after that.

Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin. Serve with a drizzle of cream or a random selection of macarons, praline and ice cream if you want to be all Great British Cheffy. Or just eat as is.

 

What to do when you can’t do anything… 

You know those terrible memes on facebook “change your status for an hour to prove how much you care about x symptom / illness”? I feel like those are speaking directly to me at the moment. And it’s weird, I’m mostly a positive person with a healthy level of cynicism (general levels of written snark not withstanding)  and don’t find that I need a meme to speak to me but recently those ones about mental health “change your status, check on a friend blah blah blah” have hit a nerve because 2017 hasn’t been the glittering sparkly joy filled year I wanted it to be. And I’ve learned that even if you think you’ve hit rock bottom, there’s still further you can go. So I’ve been struggling with just shaking it off and smiling through it of late. But anyway. I’m not here to depress you with tales of mental anguish and woe. If you want to hear those, do give me a call, they’re best told though tears and snot. The one thing that’s made me feel better about myself over the last few months has been baking. Which is often the case, but with more time on my hands, I’m trying out recipes that previously terrified me. Like puff pastry. 

I love pastry in all its many forms. I love croissants, I love pies, I love pasties, I love it all. But I bloody hate making puff pastry and I really haven’t found a shop bought variety I like. So I stick to things that work with short crust pastry (pies) and have never attempted my own puff. Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time dreaming of Dominique Ansel. Not the man himself, but specifically the DKA. Now a DKA is a kouign amman which is basically (my research told me) sweetened enriched puff. So I thought to myself one cold morning, when I wanted a sweet treat but didn’t want to leave the warm house, why not give them a go? So I did. And sure, there’s no uniformity in the shape and size of them, and they’re obviously not as delicious as the DKA but not bad for a first attempt and has now inspired me to try out making pain au chocolat. 

Similarly, I have been avoiding bundt tins since the great spiced cranberry cake sticking to the tin debacle, but I’ve recently turned out two good bundt cakes, so I’m hoping my fear of them has passed.

 I think whilst I wait for this bout of sad to pass, I’m going to spend some time in my kitchen, confronting fears that can be overcome by practice and hope that those other fears, the ones that keep you up at night and keep you feeling small and insignificant, will in turn be something that will too be overcome. And in the meantime, when I’m back at my desk, I’ll share a few of my top tips for overcoming kitchen based fears.

An addendum on International Women’s Day – thank you to those wonderful women who have been checking up on me and trying to keep me from completely falling apart over the last few weeks. We’d be nowhere without other women, they build us up when the world tries to break us down. 

Saving bread by making bread 

As part of my plan to not spend unnecessarily in 2017, I’ve been looking for ways to cut down on our food waste too. We have a terrible obsession with bread. We love it in all its assorted and varied forms. But there are only two of us and buying a loaf a week seems to end with a few slices being thrown out each week. Which is wasteful but I really don’t need any more breadcrumbs in my freezer. And those are alongside naan breads and pitta bread and parathas and any other Indian bread you can think of. 

So with a bit of time on my hands this afternoon and a craving for my Sri Lankan curry favorites (Jaffna chicken curry and paripu), I decided to explore how to make my own naan bread. And it’s surprisingly easy. Well, this version is, I didn’t want to buy anything new with which to make these so just used what was in the fridge and store cupboard. So here it is. I may also share my paripu (Sri Lankan dhal, basically) recipe as it’s perfect comfort food, only uses one pot and can be frozen. But that’s my next post.

Easy Naan Bread

  • 250g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp Caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 130ml milk
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil

Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Then mix the milk and oil in a jug and pour into the well. Stir together until the dough comes together and then knead for approximately 8 mins, till the dough is smooth. Oil the bowl and put the dough back in to it and leave it to rest in a warm place for 30-40 mins. 

Preheat the grill to medium and put a heavy tray to heat at the same time at the top of the grill. Take the dough from the bowl and split into six roughly equal pieces. Roll each one out into tear drop shapes (if you can, as you can see mine are less than perfect!)

Cook on the hot grill tray for a minute or two on each side, till they’ve browned. Remove from the oven and brush with melted butter. 

Serve warm with your favourite curry. 

Eating down the freezer…

Did I tell you what I got for Christmas? I don’t think I did. Anyway, I got an ice cream maker. It’s not one of those that freeze on the counter top, it’s one that you need to freeze the bowl and then churn like a churning ocean of emotions (nb, I found a poetry book I wrote when I was a misery teenager today, so forgive any ridiculous turns of phrase…) 

The ice cream maker looks amazing but I haven’t been able to use it as our freezer is permanently full. Full like a bean bag, before the woes of the world drowns its liveliness with hugecrushing asses. Yeah. I’ll stop soon. It’s currently sitting on the shelf, next to the deep fat fryer that we also bought for Christmas, which we love. But more on that in another post.

So in the spirit of my new year resolution to spend too much money on stuff, I have made a plan to eat down the freezer so I can start making ice cream. Today I have taken three chicken legs, chorizo and some chicken breasts out of one of the overstuffed drawers and I’m making a chicken and chorizo stew. Admittedly, I’m making enough for about 14 people and I’m currently home alone (the wino is in Spain for “work” which has so far involved a five course lunch and a lot of fun) so that there’s the fear that I’ll simply cook a shit tonne of stuff and then refreeze it but luckily my sister is doing up her kitchen so can’t cook at the moment, so I’m taking this to her and her family tomorrow. I’m good like that. 

It’s a lovely simple recipe so I’m sharing below. I’ve put the amounts that I’ve used to clear out my freezer but you can make it bigger or smaller. Obviously. 


Chicken and chorizo stew

  • 3 x chicken leg joints
  • 3 x chicken breasts, cubed
  • 4 x chorizo sausages (the type that need cooking not the ready to eat type) 
  • 3 x red peppers 
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced 
  • Olive oil and salt and pepper
  • One tin of tomatoes
  • One tin of chickpeas

Heat the olive oil in a pan. Meanwhile, remove the skin from the chorizo and slice into chunks. When the oil is shimmering hot, add the chicken and brown it on all sides.

Remove the chicken and leave to one side. Add a little more oil (not too much though) and throw in the garlic and chorizo. 

Let the chorizo brown for a couple of minutes then add the cubed peppers and let that cook for a couple of minutes too. Throw in the tin of tomatoes and then fill the empty tin with water and add that too. Stir the chunks of chicken breast in to the mix, then place the chicken leg joints onto the top. Bring the mix to the boil, cover and leave to simmer for around 30-40 minutes. At around 25 mins, add the drained chickpeas. For a thicker sauce, remove the lid from the pan around 20 mins in to the cook. 

Once it’s cooked, chop up some parsley and sprinkle on top. 

Serve immediately, with some crusty white bread. 

One in, one out

I don’t usually make resolutions. I am very good at failing to do the smallest thing on a daily basis and beating myself up about it (eating more veg, doing more exercise etc etc) so randomly choosing the start of the year to come up with a list of stuff that I’m supposed to do for the rest of my life seems silly. 

However. I have been recently kinda driving myself mad with the amount of stuff I own and similarly the amount of stuff I covet. In the last few months alone, I convinced myself I couldn’t live without a pair of  flat-ish, smart-ish, black ankle boots and that I couldn’t possibly make do with what I’ve got already. This is some of my collection of ankle boots (I thought it was all of them but then found three more pairs, and I was too embarrassed to share). There are five pairs of black boots in there (and another two that didn’t appear in that pic), two of which are new within the last two months. Seriously. Why? 

And it’s not just shoes which, if you know me, know is likely. I have 11 striped Breton tops, countless black tops from uniqlo, six pairs of black jeans. 

And here’s the handbags. 

And that’s just the clothing. When I was cleaning out the kitchen for the big refurb, I discovered three bags of red lentils, two bags of rice and I can’t even talk about the herbs and spices (but here’s a pic of some of the bottles I ended up throwing out) 

And then there’s the cutlery collection we’ve amassed. I could host a dinner party for 38 people and still have cutlery leftover. 

So my only resolution for 2017 and life is to stop buying stuff. I literally don’t need anything. And if I do get the urge to get the latest must have shiny thing, I can only get it if I sell something I already own to the same value. Which means, I’ll be doing a lot of car boots and ebaying as the year goes on, probably. But right now, I cannot think of one thing I simply must have. There’s lots I want to achieve. But nothing I want. As a natural consumer, it’s bloody liberating to not be desirous of stuff, I feel lighter already (emotionally, physically I have eaten all the cheese and may never move again). 

What are your resolutions? Let me know, inspire me! 

A love letter to my new kitchen…

About four years ago (on Valentine’s Day no less) my husband and I moved into a house. It was the first property we’d owned together so all exciting and shiny and new. Ish. See, my folks had lived here before us, so whilst it isn’t my childhood home, I’d spent a lot of time here in the previous 15 years so wanted to change some things that I had never liked.

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We got over excited and didn’t take a photo before we ripped out the cupboards, but there were cupboards all along that back wall. Beige cupboards. Yummy.

One of those things was the kitchen/dining room. The people who’d owned the property previous to my parents had built an extension onto the side of the house, leading directly from the kitchen and linking it to the garden and garage. However, they hadn’t knocked the wall through, which I’d always wanted to do (they did put in a  very 1970s hatch though, because why not?) Anyway, we moved in, we got quotes done for the work, we realised we couldn’t afford it (knocking walls through is EXPENSIVE) so we have just lived with it. And it’s fine. But we both love cooking and entertaining and the dining room was not conducive to doing those things. In fact, last Christmas we had friends over who hadn’t visited the house before and one comment involved the fact that it was the biggest laundry room ever (it really was, we’d only ever use it for laundry and leave clothes piling up for weeks… possibly because we’re generally quite lazy but if you’re not really using a room, it just becomes a dumping ground). On top of that, we’ve been using the cooker my parents bought, probably a decade ago. It’s a gas oven and hob. It was shit brown. All the numbers had worn off. The ignition button didn’t work. It was a nightmare and what I haven’t yet mentioned is we have 16 coming to us for Christmas Day.

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horrible old brown cooker.

Fast forward a few months and we’re talking about what I want for my birthday. And I say to Marcel, I want to redo the dining room so it becomes a space we can actually use and I want a new cooker. Now, what I haven’t mentioned is my husband is quite the brilliant amateur at doing DIY shit. I mean, I can hammer a nail into a wall with the best of them, but he’s the kind that’ll measure, and make equations and formulas and drill and rawlplug (or wallplug? I never know) and get the right length screw and hang a painting. So we get to work ordering shit from Screwfix and a kitchen counter company and spend ALL THE TIME at B&Q and then we spend a week doing lots of stuff with rulers and saws and drills and awls. I have no idea what an awl is, apparently it’s Marcel’s favourite tool.

And as of yesterday, the space is almost done. And it’s incredible. So here are some of my favourite bits.

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ta DAAAAAAAAH

We spent a long time talking about shelving. I wanted wall to wall shelving. Now, sometimes I say things like this but kinda just mean like something that looks like wall to wall shelving, even if it is four shelves put end to end to look like one long shelf. But here’s where the wino’s brilliance comes in. He knows of a kitchen counter company that he’s used to make desks before. So he orders in kitchen counters. Lots and lots of kitchen counters. You’ll know, of course, that kitchen counters are a standard width. You didn’t? Wow, embarrassing for you (jokes, I didn’t either). That width was too wide for the shelving we wanted. So we borrowed a circular saw from the neighbour (thanks!) and sliced them lengthways down the middle. And look, wall to wall shelves (and a box to house the washing machine and tumble dryer – clever).

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You may or may not know, I have a tendency towards the dramatic. And I wanted a dramatic wall. So I got to choose the paints, all by myself. And whilst I wanted the glitter addition, I reminded myself I wasn’t 6, so just went for the solid dark, dramatic midnight blue. Yes, it looks black in some pics, but it isn’t, it’s blue. The other walls are in a very bluey light grey so doesn’t feel too much like you’re dining in a box. Also, if you’re going to paint a very dark colour, make sure you don’t decide after you’ve put the first coat on that you can’t live with some tiles you thought you could live with. It makes for a not fun second day of removing tiles and repainting the entire wall.

As I mentioned, I wanted a new cooker – so I got one for myself. A De Longhi range cooker no less. Admittedly, I’m still not used to the size of it, so I only cook on one of the rings, but I’m trying.

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What I hadn’t realised is that lovely wino of mine had also bought enough kitchen counters to replace our other kitchen counters. So we pulled out some cupboards (one gigantic one that made the whole space look really dark), used some of the cupboards from the dining room to replace those, added about another foot of surface to our kitchen countertops and threw in some more shelves for shits and giggles.

And then there’s the light. Oh god, I love that light. I must have seen the light (not like that, fools) in some coffee shop somewhere and it had stuck with me, so I ordered one from eBay. And it was surprisingly inexpensive. Until you buy the Edison bulbs. Then it’s ridiculous. But so dramatic and really warms up the space.

There’s still some snagging to be done (there’s a wire that we’re not sure what to do with), we should probably replace the flooring (I’m trying to convince the wino that a concrete floor will be lovely and modern, he just says ‘COLD’ and walks off. He may be on to something), we need new window dressing (multi shades of green Venetian blinds aren’t really working for me) and I can’t work out how best to display the cook books on the top shelf. Oh, and I am soon to come into my own with a hammer and nails and pictures in frames. But frankly, given how it looked a mere month ago, I love it and I love my wino for being so bloody useful and doing it for me. I’m more than happy to pimp him out, if you need any DIY done.  He’s dead good.

The trouble with crumpets…

I’m British ergo I love me a crumpet. Delicious, bubbly, yeasty crumpety goodness, covered in butter and jam and with a cup of earl grey. What’s not to love?

I went to visit friends in France a few weeks ago – and I was challenged to make crumpets (the French do not love crumpets and my British mates were missing them). Now, I’d never made them before, but hell, I love me a challenge so off I went to my best friend Google who gave me a Paul Hollywood recipe.

We found most of the ingredients in Sue’s cupboard and subbed in some others and started the batter which was supposed to rest for a couple of hours. So we tested it after a couple of hours and whilst they tasted crumpet-y, they did not have that well known bubble top. So we left it another couple of hours. Still no bubbles. We finished the batter the following morning. Still no bubbles.

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See? Bubbles when in the pan…

We did however, see Hagrid in one of the crumpet tops, so any Harry Potter fiends out there, hit me up for your next Potter pilgrimage location.

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Hallelujah/Hagrid

So I’ve been wondering what went wrong (I blame the French ingredients. Obviously. Never my fault) and this weekend, we had a friend over for brunch so I decided to make them again. On my fancy new cooker.

This time, Jamie Oliver was my go-to recipe (thanks Google, I don’t know what I’d do without you). The batter was supposed to rest for an hour and then you make a call based on the bubbles in it. There were NO bubbles in my batter. Well, some but not crumpet levels of bubbles.

So I left it overnight and there were a few more bubbles in it and I cooked it and there were bubbles in the middle but again, there were no bubbles on top.

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Everyone was terribly polite about them and they looked more like crumpets than my french attempt (and tasted just like crumpets) but I need help, bakers, what am I doing wrong?  I think I’m turning them when they’re too wet, needs to be a low temperature for a long time so it’s basically dry on top and you’re just colouring the bubbles?

(I am very sorry for overusing the word ‘bubble’ and ‘crumpet’ but there are very few synonyms for them).

So no recipe yet, I’ll be remaking them again (third time’s a charm?) and if those actually look like  proper crumpet, I might yet post it. But in the interim, HELP ME GET MY CRUMPETS TO BUBBLE. (thanks)

Here’s a picture of the plate of carbs I served for that brunch. Not all bad. Eclairs and pancakes saved the day (PS remind me to tell you about the first batch of eclairs I made that my mum ruined some other time…)

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