All posts by Vaneetha

When life is topsy turvy, make upside down cake

We’ve just said goodbye to some friends who popped over for a visit from LA. We were more of a pitstop on their way to the more glamorous climates of Sri Lanka but still, was lovely to have them here. Their trip coincided with a lot of familial upheaval so whilst we endeavoured to feed them proper home cooked foods most days (I say most days, at least two days they were here I was too hungover to leave my bed – I’m a classy girl), we often failed and left them to their own devices. I did, however, get around to trialling the bundt pan chicken I’ve seen on various blogs recently. It’s basically like beer can chicken but on a bundt tin instead of a beer can – the idea is that it stays moist all over and the skin gets crispy as the air circulates around it. It was good but think I overstuffed the base of the tin with potatoes and onions as the skin on the legs didn’t get that crispy. So when I’ve perfected the potato to chicken to tin ratio, I’ll post my very own variation. I cleverly froze the carcass like some kind of weirdo who freezes bones and yesterday, I used it to make bone broth. Well stock but bone broth sounds fancier.

Anyway, they’ve left and we’re left with lots of fruit (mostly because that was what I lazily fed them on) so yesterday, I decided to use that fruit up during a lazy Sunday of baking and brothing.

Also related, I bought a basil plant from the supermarket a few months ago. I am not green fingered. I have a beautiful herb garden in our garden that flourishes in the summer months but then dies in winter and is never the same. I just don’t have that gardening bug. Anyway, I bought this plant, fully expecting it to be dead in a few weeks – but a few months later, it looks like this. This is very exciting news to me, I haven’t killed a plant. I need a medal. Anyway, a girl can only have so much pesto so decided to use the basil in this cake.

basil.jpg
Look at the size of that bad boy.

So below is my recipe for an upside down cake. I did two variants – one plum, one cherry but the cake and topping recipes remain the same. You can use most any fruit with this – apples and harder fruit may not cook down to the lovely softness of stoned fruit though.

IMG_20170723_154235_688.jpg

Upside down cake

Preheat your oven to 160C

For the topping

  • 50g softened butter
  • 50g soft brown sugar

Mix this together until it’s light and creamy then spread on the base of your tin. If you’re making the plum and basil variation, lay a line of basil leaves down the centre of a loaf tin then slice 3-4 plums and layer this over the basil, pushing down slightly so it’s stuck to the topping. Put in the fridge whilst you make the cake batter.

For the cake

  • 120g butter
  • 120g golden caster sugar
  • 2 x medium eggs
  • 120g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt

Cream together the butter and sugar in a mixer until light and fluffy then add the eggs one by one until just incorporated. Add the flour, salt and baking powder and combine. Spoon the batter on top of the topping and flatten the top then put in the oven for 25-30 mins until a skewer inserted into the top comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the pan for a few minutes, then loosen the sides of the cake, place a serving plate over the top of the tin and invert – the cake should come loose and be ready to serve.

We ate ours warm with Haagen Dazs Belgian chocolate ice cream which I can confirm is a total win. But sure it’d be fine with cream/vanilla ice cream/marscapone/on it’s own/cold out of a bowl for breakfast. You choose.

 

I hate avocados

There. I said it. It’s probably food blogger death to admit this, right? But I’ve tried them SO MANY TIMES and I just haven’t found an avo dish I liked.

And avocado isn’t the only food that I dislike but that I also feel I’m missing out on. I mean, I don’t like offal, but I don’t feel the need to like it, so I’m OK with ignoring it on menus. But there’s certain foods that I don’t like which I’d really like to like. And I know it’s possible to change your tastebuds, I hated olives till I was in my 20s, now I can think of nothing I’d rather eat than a gigantic plate of nocerella olives and a glass of something white, cold and fizzy. Not lemonade. This list includes courgettes, squashes, onions (as the main ingredient, rather than for flavour), game, tomatoes (mostly the ones you get in the UK, the ones I’ve had in sunnier climes are usually totally fine), veal, pate, and until last night, aubergine (or eggplant for you Yanks). There’s more, but I’m getting a little embarrassed about it now. IMAG3095

Now as a good Sri Lankan, there’s a dish that’s served at every Lankan party called kathirikai poriyal. It’s small diced, spiced, fried aubergine. Even this couldn’t tempt me in, just no. But my other half loves the filthy emoji, so I bought some the other day, to be a good wife. And then they sat in the fridge, taunting me. Until yesterday, when Nigel Slater and The Guardian made a suggestion that ticked all the right boxes for me – salted, floured, fried, served with cheese and honey. And you know what? It was bloody delicious.

IMAG3098

 

So now, I’m on the hunt for recipes that will make me reconsider foods I’d given up on ever liking.

What foods did you once hate but now love? And how did you start to love them?

 

Never say never – ready made biriyani spice mix

I was just having a read over some of my old blog posts and remembering how much I enjoy writing them so thought I’d drop another one for your reading pleasure. Or my writing pleasure, you may not enjoy reading it. Sorry about that.

So after my my trip to Sri Lanka the travel bug hit again, but rather than have to go through another trip with my dad, I took my husband to Venice with his best mate and his wife. We went for the Damien Hirst exhibition but as the Biennale was on, it seemed rude not to fill our weekend with art, so we did. Lots of art. It was amazing. The wine, not so much, until we found a lovely place on San Pantalon (I KNOW, but we did wear trousers, so it’s all OK) and drank a lot of wine. And that was great.

But I’m not here to talk about the mediocre tourist food of Venice, I’m here to share with you my latest food cheat discovery – Biriyani spice mix. Rice is probably my second favourite carb after bread in all its many and varied and delicious forms (sorry coeliacs/gluten freers, you’re missing out). And is my go-to comfort food (you can take the girl out of Sri Lanka…). My sister’s lovely sister in law lives in Saudi Arabia and the last time she came to visit, she brought an amazing care package of spices and herbs and the aforementioned biriyani mix. I’n not usually a fan of pre-mixed spices, being a purist and all, but frankly, this was so good I’m converted.

So here’s my recipe, using the spice mix, similar ones are available in all Asian (and some major) supermarkets. FYI this serves approximately 478 people, but it also freezes really well, so freeze in individual sized portions and then simply reheat from frozen in the foil in the oven – easy week night treat supper.

IMAG3059

Chicken Biriyani 

  • 600g basmati rice (wash and soak the rice, whilst you’re preparing the masala, for at least 30 mins)
  • 3 x onions, finely sliced
  • 6 x tomatoes
  • 5 x cloves of garlic, made into a paste
  • 1in of ginger, made into a paste
  • 8-10 chicken legs and thighs (skin removed but on the bone)
  • 3 x big potatoes chopped into 1-in cubes
  • 200g yoghurt (I used greek style)
  • 1 packet of biriyani spice mix
  • Water

Heat 4 tablespoons of oil in a large pan and add the onion. Fry until golden then remove 1-2 tablespoons of onions and put to one side. Add the tomatoes into the pan and fry till they’re soft, then add the ginger and garlic pastes, fry for 30 seconds, then add the chicken. Fry for a few minutes, till the chicken is golden, then add the potatoes, yoghurt and the spice mix. Stir well and fry for about 5 mins, till everything is coated. Then add 1-2 cups of water, bring to the boil then cover and simmer until the meat is falling off the bone – probably 15-20 mins.

Whilst that’s simmering, bring 8 cups of water to the boil and add the presoaked and drained rice to the pot. You need to keep a close eye on this, and take off the heat and drain just before it’s cooked – about 10-12 mins.

In the same pan as you cooked the rice, put a layer of rice back in the bottom, about 1cm deep. Then spoon over a layer of the cooked masala, repeat with the rice, then masala two more times. Try to ensure you’ve got equal quantities of chicken on each layer. Top with a layer of rice, then pour over remaining masala sauce. Cover and cook this for 8-10 mins, try not to stir it as you’ll lose the layers.

Serve with raita and poppadoms or just eat on it’s own, either way it’s delicious.

IMG_20170628_164351_506

 

 

 

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…

IMAG1799

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.

IMAG1800

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.

IMAG1981

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.