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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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