Eggs poached with n’duja, peppers and tomatoes

N'duja

A lovely lump of N’duja. Yes, I know my infills need doing.

Spreadable sausage. Like chocolate cheese, jeggings or Texas ft. Method Man, it’s not really a concept that your brain initially warms to. There feels something faintly 1980s and unhygienic about it, redolent of unwashed lunchboxes and bouts of salmonella poisoning. Then, I discovered N’duja. N’duja is the Calabrian form of salami; a spicy, spreadable treat made from various parts of the pig, roast peppers and a lot of bright red spices. I bought a gigantic lump of the stuff recently during a trip to Salvi’s Mozzarella Bar in Manchester (along with beautifully bright mini bottles of campari and soda, and a lump of smoked mozzarella which I covered in rock salt and ate guiltily in my pyjamas as a midnight snack) and since then have been adding it to everything from pasta to toast. I’ve even been known to cut off hunks of the stuff and eat it with my fingers, because a) that’s the kind of thing I do, and b) I really can’t be left alone with pork products.

So, on a night where the worst storm of the year is slicing through the North West, I decided to use it to create a warm, spicy, porcine spin on an old favourite, Shakshuka. Hunks of n’duja are fried in sizzling oil; along with onions, garlic, and sweet red pepper (after all, woman cannot live on pork alone.) I added a spinkle of cumin and smoked paprika to the mixture for a touch of warmth and spice – this is a dish which can handle it after all. Add some eggs and a large handful of chopped coriander, and you’ve got the perfect Winter’s meal; one which is healthy, tasty, quick and – most importantly – full of pork. What more could a person want?

Eggs poached with n'duja peppers and tomatoes

EGGS POACHED WITH N’DUJA, PEPPERS AND TOMATOES (Serves two)

You will need:

  • 1 thumb sized lump of n’duja
  • 1 medium sized onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 medium sized red pepper, sliced thinly
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 4 medium sized eggs
  • Salt & Pepper
  • A fistful of fresh coriander to garnish
  • A medium sized frying pan (with lid) or saucepan

Make It!

  1. Remove the n’duja from its casing, and fry in a tablespoon of oil until it has broken up, and the oil has turned a rich red colour.
  2. Add the sliced onions and red pepper, and fry for 2 – 3 minutes until soft. Throw in the garlic, and fry for another minute.
  3. Sprinkle the ground  cumin and smoked paprika over the mixture, and mix to combine. Pour in the tinned tomatoes and simmer for five minutes until the mixture has thickened. Season with the salt and pepper.
  4. Using a wooden spoon, make small wells in the tomatoes, and crack in the eggs. Cover the pan, and cook for five minutes until the whites have set.
  5. Sprinkle with the fresh coriander, and serve immediately. This goes really well with wholemeal pitta breads, or freshly baked soda bread.
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Potato, Onion and Goat’s Cheese Frittata

Potato Onion and Goats Cheese fritatta

I asked Father Christmas for a skillet this Christmas. Not because I am the kind of woman who values pots and pans over things like books and records, but more because I was fed up with burning the living crap out of my cookware when I stuck it in the oven only to discover that it wasn’t actually ovenproof. Take it from me, there is no smell on earth quite like that of plastic which is melting onto the floor of your (already decrepit) oven due to your own incompetence. As it was, Santa did me a solid, and on Christmas Day I woke up to discover a pleasingly skillet-shaped object underneath my Christmas tree. “Oh, the things I’ll make with you!” I thought to myself, right after I spent a good five minutes pretending to whack Mr. McMc over the head with it in a Reeves and Mortimer-esque manner.

And, indeed, I’ve made quite a few things with my new favourite piece of kitchen equipment, from pilafs and fritters to pancakes and frittatas. I’ve also managed to give myself a few cracking kitchen injuries with it too, the best one involving me scalding my right boob with it while tipping out an omelette. You’d have thought that I’d have realised by now that skillets are both a) very heavy and b) get hot exceedingly quickly, but judging from the resplendent red stripe on my tit, obviously not.

However, minor cleavage injuries are totally worth it when you’re whipping out some of the best frittatas you’ve ever made in your life, such as this Potato, Onion and Goats Cheese Frittata. Ok, so it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel in terms of egg-based meals, but it’s simple, it’s quick and it combines crispy potatoes, tangy goats cheese  and caramelised onions, making it pretty damn tasty. Best of all, you can get it from idea to plate in the space of twenty minutes – fantastic for those evenings where you wish to do little more than eat, drink booze and watch marathons of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. And seeing as it’s January, you could probably get away with calling it healthy too. Although lets not get ahead of ourselves here.

POTATO, ONION AND GOAT’S CHEESE FRITTATA (Serves two, or one greedy person)

You will need:

  • 4-5 medium sized, waxy potatoes
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 medium sized eggs
  • 50g goats cheese
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • Salt and pepper to season

Make It!

  1. Switch your oven on to Gas Mark 5/200 degrees c. Locate a ovenproof frying pan (after all, we’re making a frittata here, not trying to set our oven on fire.)
  2. Slice your potatoes with a mandolin, or the slicing side of a box grater (watch your fingers!). Season, and set to one side.
  3. Fry the onions in a tablespoon of olive oil until they begin to turn soft, and slightly brown. Remove from the pan and set to one side.
  4. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan. Layer the potatoes thinly on the bottom and cook for 2 – 3 minutes.
  5. Beat the eggs with the goats cheese, rosemary and thyme (the goats cheese should easily crumble into the eggs.) Season with salt and pepper, and pour over the potatoes. Cook over a medium heat for 1 – 2 minutes, until the mixture has set. Put the pan into the oven and cook for five minutes until the top has turned bronze, and the eggs have set.
  6. Leave to cool slightly before serving. This goes well with a leafy green salad or – if you’ve spent your day grappling with spreadsheets like I had when I made this – a large glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc.
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“That would be an ecumenical matter” – The Pope, a Bear and the day my phone melted

Popebeargate

This blog post isn’t about food, but I couldn’t really think of anywhere else to put it. So, yeah, sorry about that. While you’re here, can I interest you in some muffnuts?

Last Friday morning I was going through my usual work routine of sitting at my desk shoving toast and peanut butter into my mouth while looking at the internet. While perusing the Guardian website I noticed something mildly amusing. “Ha!” I thought, “it looks like the pope and a bear are waving at each other on the homepage!” Being possessed of a rather childish sense of humour and with my thoughts clouded by a mild hangover, I decided to take a screengrab of it and tweet it. After all, everyone likes a cute picture juxtaposition – plus, furry animals and the Bishop of Rome are both meme fuel.

My initial tweet was retweeted by my friends and various Twitter followers. Then their followers. And then their followers. And then their followers (you can see where this is heading). Within an hour it has been retweeted over 500 times. It was also picked up on by Twitter heavyweights including the Guardian, Guardian US, Graham Linehan, Russell Brand, Wil Wheaton, Boing Boing and The Poke among many MANY others. As of 11am today, it has been retweeted over 7,846 times, favourited 4,006 times and netted me 300 new followers (who will probably all unfollow me when they realise that my main topics of conversation are music, what I’m having for dinner, bad jokes and Manchester City FC). While the response was mostly positive, I did had someone tweet me to ask me who the Pope was, another person who tweeted ‘KILL ALL RELIGION’ at me, and another person who called me ‘an idiot’. (Harsh, but fair.) At one point on Friday, I briefly had to switch my phone off as it was threatening to melt from the vast numbers of ’shit in the woods’ jokes I was getting (Estimated total? More than you could shake a mucky stick at).

In my day job as a Community Manager for a large digital agency I’m constantly talking about reach and engagement as well as looking at how to create messages that can really connect with a community. While I wouldn’t (always) advocate using a picture of a cute animal as a way of attaining this, there is something to be said for the importance of keeping it simple. Often the most effective messages online are those that make the user smile and which they can quickly respond to and pass on to their own networks. Sometimes these can be important – like a news headline or a pithy political slogan – other times it can be something as simple as a picture of a bear and the Pope waving at each other. The more you overcomplicate your message, the less likely people are to respond to it.

I’ll admit, while I always wanted to be remembered for my writing when I died, I’d hoped for something more substantial than pointing out a silly image in less than 140 characters. But hey, it’s the 21st century and, to paraphrase Andy Warhol, perhaps nowadays everyone’s famous for 15 retweets. So thanks Pope and thanks bear; my invoice is in the post.

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Chocolate Brown-Butter Muffnuts

Chocolate brown butter muffnut

One of the things I like best about my new working-from-home regime is the fact that I can act on my impulses. If I want soda bread for breakfast, I can just walk into the kitchen and make soda bread for breakfast. If I fancy a curry for lunch, all I need to do is avoid being knocked out by the jar of Madras paste when I attempt to dislodge it from the top of my (overstuffed) cupboard and whip one up during The World at One. So, when I was gripped an overwhelming urge for donuts on Monday afternoon (brought on by the sight of a Dunkin Donuts box in an episode of Orange is the New Black) I knew what I needed to do.

I am too much of a wuss to deal with bubbling pans of boiling oil on a weekday afternoon, so I turned to a baked doughnut recipe from Joy the Baker to cure my cravings. While some may see baked doughnuts as being a bit of a cop-out – particularly as they lack that delicious artery-clogging hit of hot fat and white sugar you get from the fried versions – they’re great for people like me who like to kid themselves that they are a ‘healthy option’. The only snag in my glorious plan was that Joy’s original recipe calls for a ‘doughnut pan’. I do not own a doughnut pan. I do not know anyone who owns a doughnut pan. In fact, prior to reading that recipe, I wasn’t even aware that doughnut pans existed. And I certainly wasn’t going to schlep all the way to Lakeland for a very specific item of bakeware. It was time to put my thinking cap on.

Muffnuts

So, I used what few lateral thinking skills I have retained from my time in the Girl’s Brigade, and decided to improvise. If you’ve been keeping abreast of the food media over the past week or so, you’ll have seen a lot of press about the ‘duffin,’ a doughnut-muffin hybrid which was created by Bea’s of Bloomsbury and has (rather naughtily) been trademarked by Starbucks.  I’m not going to say that this donut-muffin mishmash is my version of a ‘duffin’ as a) I don’t want to be sued by Starbucks and b) I much prefer the portmeanteau of ‘muffnut’ (plus, ‘muffnut’ just sounds dirtier.) What I will say is that these muffnuts are the perfect vehicle for a chocolate glaze and a shedload of sprinkles, and make a perfect 3pm high-tea treat. Oh, and if you have an incredibly childish sense of humour like me, they provide you with ample opportunity to make loads of jokes about your ‘muff’. Sorry Mum.

Topped Muffnuts

CHOCOLATE BROWN-BUTTER MUFFNUTS (Makes six ‘muffnuts’)

Adapted from Joy the Baker

You will need

For the Muffnuts:

  • 150g plain flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 75g white sugar
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 100ml buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence

For the Chocolate Glaze:

  • 100g icing sugar
  • 2 tbsp good quality cocoa powder (I used Green & Blacks)
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence

Make It!

  1. Heat your oven to 200 degrees c/gas mark 5. Lightly grease a muffin tray, and set to one side.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and sugar.
  3. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter. The butter will begin to crackle and pop as it melts. Once the water has evaporated, the butter will begin to brown quickly and smell nutty. Make sure that you keep an eye on it, as it can easily burn at this stage. Once it’s turned a rich brown colour, remove from the heat and immediately transfer (brown bits and all) to a small bowl.
  4. In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, brown butter and vanilla essence.
  5. Add the wet ingredients all at once to the dry ingredients. Stir together until no flour bits remain and all of the ingredients are well combined. Try not to overmix the batter, as that will lead to rubbery muffnuts (and no, that’s not a euphemism.)
  6. Portion out the batter into each section of the muffin tray until they are all evenly filled. This batter should give you six large ‘muffnuts’.
  7. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until they have turned a rich golden colour.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan before gently (!) removing them and placing them onto a wire rack. (If you don’t have rack, a large plate will be fine.)
  8. While the doughnuts cool, make the glaze.
  9. To make the glaze, sift your icing sugar into a medium sized bowl to remove any lumps. Then, whisk it together with the cocoa powder, and salt.
  10. Add 2 tablespoons of milk and vanilla essence, and whisk to combine. If it looks too thick, add a touch more milk. You want the glaze to have a relatively thick consistency.
  11. Once the muffnuts are completely cool, dip top-side-down into the chocolate glaze. Return to the wire rack/plate. If you’re artistically minded, this is the time to cover them in sprinkles. Allow to set for about 30 minutes before stacking or serving. The muffnuts should last for 2 days, but quite frankly, you’ll be lucky if they last two hours.
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Chocolate Cobbler

Chocolate Cobbler mix

If you are anything like me, two thoughts will immediately occur to you when you first hear the phrase ‘chocolate cobbler’ – a) What’s a chocolate cobbler? and b) just how quickly can I get my hands on a chocolate cobbler? You may also find yourself repeating the phrase chocolate cobbler so many times that it begins to lose all meaning. That’s understandable, particularly when you discover that it is an oozing molten morass of chocolate goo with the consistency of a muddy bog and the taste of the best chocolate pudding you’ll ever find yourself guiltily eating the leftovers of for breakfast (not that I would know.)

Strictly speaking, this isn’t really a cobbler, as a cobbler traditionally tends to contain fruit or a pastry crust.  It’s more a self saucing pudding (a terminology which I always imagine being uttered by someone like Fanny Craddock in faux genteel tones) which means you crack through a layer of baked demerara sugar and butterscotch to reveal a steaming ocean of hot whisky-scented chocolate sauce. Why whisky you ask? Well, because when I was making this I discovered that I’d run of vanilla essence, so decided to put a shot of the hard stuff in there instead. And because I believe that most things work better when you stick a shot of spirits inside them. I imagine it would also work quite well with Tia Maria or Kahlua if your tastes run more towards the coffee side of things.

This is not a genteel pudding, or indeed a pudding which can be photographed beautifully and artistically (all of my attempts to take a picture of it in a bowl ended up making it look like a dirty protest.) However, it’s incredibly simple to make, infinitely adaptable (I used butterscotch chips here, but I imagine it would also work very well with sour cherries or bourbon soaked apricots) and – best of all – fantastic to eat. Happy cobblin’.

Chocolate cobbler

CHOCOLATE COBBLER (Serves 3)

Adapted from The Kitchn

You will need:

  • 100g plain flour
  • 75g white granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsps cocoa powder, divided
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 shot of freshly brewed espresso (or 1 tsp espresso powder)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 100ml full fat milk
  • 100g melted unsalted butter
  • 1 shot of whisky (Black Grouse or Jameson’s would work well here – if you prefer to keep it teetotal, substitute for 1 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 75g demerara sugar
  • 150g butterscotch chips
  • Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Make it!

  1. Preheat oven to 190°C/Gas Mark 5. Lightly grease a medium-sized baking dish.
  2. Combine the flour, white sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons of cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a medium sized bowl. In another bowl whisk together the milk, espresso, melted butter, and whisky. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and stir to combine (the batter will be thick.) Pour into the prepared baking dish.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the demerara sugar and remaining tablespoon and a half of cocoa powder. Sprinkle the sugar-cocoa mixture evenly over the batter, followed by the butterscotch chips. Pour some boiling water over the top of the mixture until it is fully covered, but do not stir.
  4. Transfer the baking dish to the oven and cook for 40 minutes, until the center is jiggly and just barely set. Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving warm with vanilla ice cream.
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Chocolate Chip Muffin Loaf

Chocolate chips

Last Wednesday, I was having an exceedingly bad day. It was raining, my train to work was late, the Virgin Trains wi-fi connection that I paid £6 for was so slow that I seriously wondered if it was being powered by a hamster wheel, my laptop decided not to save the presentation I spent an hour working on, and  – perhaps worst of all – I ate a disappointing muffin.

In fairness, I should probably have known what I was getting myself into when I decided to buy the aforementioned ‘skinny muffin’ before heading onto the train. Skinny muffin. Was there ever a more contradictory sounding food product? This one claimed to be filled with blueberries, but instead it tasted of artificial sweeteners and sadness. While I may have eaten the whole thing in a fit of hunger and self loathing, I vowed that I would not repeat the experience. And, that when I returned home, I would create a vastly superior product that would knock the socks off all who tried it. (I may have been watching too much Breaking Bad.)

Chocolate Chip Muffin Loaf (1)

So, behold this Chocolate Chip Muffin Loaf. That’s right. Muffin loaf. Because why have just one measly muffin when you can consume an entire loaf made out of the stuff? In terms of baking, this is about as simple as it gets – one bowl, lots of butter, and a shitload of chocolate chips (although, if you wanted to gussy it up a bit, this would probably be even more delicious if you added some chopped dried apricots to it.) It takes less than ten minutes to assemble too, meaning that you can go from no muffin – ultimate muffin within the space of an hour. And while this may not be the best muffin you’ve ever tasted, I’d argue that it’s pretty damn close. But seeing as I managed to eat half a loaf of this stuff within twenty minutes of it emerging from the oven, I guess I would say that.

Chocolate Chip Muffin Loaf (2)

CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFIN LOAF

Based loosely on this recipe from Abel & Cole

You will need:

  • 100g unsalted butter, melted
  • 200g plain white flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 130g golden caster sugar
  • 2 medium sized eggs
  • 120ml milk
  • 100g dark chocolate chips

Make It!

  1. Heat your oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Oil a medium sized loaf tin and line with baking paper (this will stop it sticking.)
  2. Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a bowl.
  3. Whisk the egg, milk and butter together and add to the dry ingredients until a smooth batter forms (take care not to overmix your ingredients!)
  4. Mix in the chocolate chips. Eat a few while you’re doing this.
  5. Pour into the prepared baking tin and bake for 45 mins, till golden and a wooden skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  6. Devour immediately with a cup of tea.
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Courgette Carpaccio with Goats Cheese, Lemon and Chilli

Courgettes

Hello Summer, you glorious golden creature. After months of wind, rain, hail and snow here in Bootle, I’ve responded to the return of the sunshine in the time-honoured British fashion – getting my milk bottle white (and slightly scabby) legs out and drinking as much chilled booze as my liver can handle. I may be weighed down with the burden of hayfever and going running may make me resemble a giant singing piece of spam but I feel that these are both small prices to pay to be able to waft along to ASDA in cotton summer dresses and flip flops.

The advent of sunshine also makes me long for salads. Fresh, crunchy salads that can be thrown together in moments, filled with glorious summer produce – like the three baby courgettes I found nestled in Friday’s veg box delivery. Usually I’d use them up in a ratatouille or a tart but the mere thought of switching my oven on in this heat makes my forehead break out in a Pavlovian prickle of sweat. So, I decided to make like the Italians and create this courgette carpaccio.

This isn’t a conventional carpaccio, given that it comprises vegetables rather than meat, but it’s still prepared the same way. Paper thin slices of courgette are dotted with goats cheese, lemon zest, red chilli flakes and a good glug of extra virgin olive oil. Don’t have any goats cheese to hand? Ricotta or feta will do just as well. Light, tangy and delicious, it’s just the thing to go alongside a roast chicken and a large glass of something cold and fizzy. It’s also a brilliant way to use up the glut of courgettes some of you gardeners may find piling up at this time of year. Getting one of your five a day never tasted so chilled.

Courgette Carpaccio with Goats Cheese, Lemon and Chilli

COURGETTE CARPACCIO WITH GOATS CHEESE, LEMON AND CHILLI (Serves two people, or one hungry food blogger)

You will need:

  • 2 small courgettes
  • The juice of a lemon
  • 1 tsp lemon peel (make sure that it doesn’t have any of the pith still attached to it, as this will make it bitter)
  • 50g soft goats cheese
  • 1 tsp red chilli flakes
  • A large glug of extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to season

Make It!

  1. Top and tail the courgettes and slice thinly. You may wish to do this using a mandoline but I just used a sharp vegetable knife.
  2. Place the courgette rounds into a medium bowl and (carefully!) toss with the lemon zest and chilli flakes.
  3. Arrange on a plate (I like arranging them in a pretty overlapping pattern, but that’s because I’m all about the Pinterest-friendly pictures) and dot with the goats cheese.
  4. Drizzle over the lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Season with the salt and pepper and serve immediately.
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‘And then I ate a big sandwich’ – A date with a Francesinha

A Francesinha

There are few things in life that cannot be improved by the addition of a big sandwich. Having a bad day? Eat a big sandwich. So drunk that you had a bit of a ‘disco nap’ on a big sofa in the pub while accidentally revealing your knickers to the world? (NOT THAT I HAVE EVER DONE THIS OF COURSE) Alleviate your crippling embarrassment by eating a big sandwich. So hungover that it feels as though a hungry hungry hippo is rampaging around your skull and you never want to see daylight again? Hell yeah, you need a big sandwich. So convinced am I by this theory I’ve decided that, if I ever write an autobiography, I’m going to name it: ‘And then I ate a big sandwich’. It just fits.

So, when Mr. McMc’s Portuguese colleague invited us out for a francesinha a few weeks ago, I responded to her email so quickly that I think I gave my wrist whiplash. For the uninitiated, a francesinha comprises two pieces of toasted sandwich bread filled with three different kinds of meat – ham, linguica (cured sausage seasoned with garlic and smoked paprika) and thinly cut steak. This is smothered in melted cheese and a tomato-beer sauce, served with fries and washed down with lots of Super Bock. (Apparently francesinha means ‘little Frenchy’ in Portuguese, as it is adapted from the French croque monsieur. This explains its etymology in a bit more detail.)  It is immense, it is intense, and in Portugal it is the kind of meal you eat before you go out dancing all night. How could I say no?

I admit, before I tried one for myself, I was slightly worried it was going to be the kind of gut bomb that lies heavily on your stomach and sinks you into a state of epic lethargy. I spent my day prepping for the event in the way that a prize fighter trains for a bout – no carbs, lots of water, a gigantic salad for lunch and no snacks (if you don’t count the revolting strawberry fondant chocolate I misguidedly ate for elevenses). I even refused the offer of bread and olives when I arrived at the restaurant. This was a decidedly GO HARD OR GO HOME situation.

Open face Francesinha

The Francesinha money shot

When my francesinha arrived, it didn’t look like much – just a cheese toastie swimming in sea of tomato sauce. Then I opened it for the money shot and saw the meat. SO MUCH MEAT. Put it this way – if one slice of bacon a day is enough to cause cancer, then eating this has probably shaved a good five years off my life. My favourite component was (perhaps unsurprisingly) the linguica sausage. Grilled to perfection, it snapped pleasingly to the bite, releasing huge bursts of smoky garlic flavour. I could happily have eaten a sandwich made with just that and nothing else. I wasn’t so keen on the steak – it was slightly overcooked (probably from being covered with the sauce) making it a bit tough for my liking. While this is a ‘sandwich’, it’s not exactly the kind of thing you can pick up with your hands. You end up sawing great hunks of the thing off with a knife and fork and eating them in delightfully messy, oozing bites – the rich fatty hit of the meat being offset by the sharpness of the tomato-beer sauce. And, in a fit of inspiration, I decided to be really dirty by sticking the accompanying fries in between the slices of bread for some full-on carb-on-meat-on-carb action.

Lovely lovely Super Bock

A few tasty Super Bock’s to wash it all down with

Despite all my fears, once I’d eaten my francesinha, I immediately wanted another one. I also understood why Portuguese people delight in eating one before they go dancing – after one of these, it feels as though you could take on anything (and I imagine they work brilliantly as a booze sponge). As it was, I had to alleviate my cravings with lots of Super Bock, a few glugs of Portuguese dessert wine, and many, many pasteis de natas (small Portuguese custard tarts). But I’ll be back to take it on again at some point in the (near) future. After all, it’s a big sandwich. And life is always better when you know where the next big sandwich is coming from.

I ate my francesinha at Café Porto on Rodney Street, Liverpool. However, if you want one, you do need to call and request it in advance.

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Turkey Meatball Curry

A blender full of meatballs (web)

When do you do when you feel as though your life has descended into chaos? OK, so chaos might not be the best term for it, but in the past few weeks I’ve managed to bag myself an exciting new job, quit my old job, become very very very nervous, then very very very excited. While the stress levels are nowhere near those I experienced before my wedding (where I infamously was forced to run laps around the outside of my office a few days before the ceremony in a futile effort to calm the eff down) I do feel a bit like I’m on an emotional rollercoaster at the moment – I turn the corner and my mood dips into trepidation with a side order of anxiety about being up to the task and then rises again into total euphoria about what the future holds. I must say, it’s all getting a bit exhausting.

So, I do what I always do in times of stress. I make meatballs. I’ve spoken before about how meatballs make the perfect comfort food, and (with the possible exception of cake), I’ve yet to find any other bite-sized food stuff which makes me feel so zen. Perhaps that’s why this blog is full of the things. After all, they’re easy to make, even easier to eat and they’re (usually) a better form of stress relief than drinking a large bottle of red booze and kicking a lamppost.

Turkey Meatball mixture

This Turkey Meatball Curry isn’t exactly the kind of thing that you can just whip up after a hard day at work. It involves blending, rolling, resting and rather a lot of simmering. But the end results are totally worth it – warm from the whole cinnamon stick and cardamom pods used in the sauce, slightly spicy and utterly delicious. I made a gigantic pot of this and feasted on it for days – from wrapping up huge messy scoops of it inside hunks of flaky naan bread, or dished over a bowl of steaming white basmati rice with a pile of carrot salad on the side. While you can eat it right away, it tastes even better the day after when all the flavours have settled and mingled together.

Turkey Meatball Curry

TURKEY MEATBALL CURRY (Serves Four)

Curry recipe adapted from BBC Food.

For the meatballs

  • 500g turkey mince
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsps ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp garlic paste
  • 1 small red chilli, finely chopped
  • A small handful coriander leaves, chopped finely

For the curry 

  • 1 large onion
  • 6 garlic cloves , roughly chopped
  • 50g ginger , roughly chopped
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 black cardamom pods
  • 2 green cardamom pods
  • 5cm cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 pint chicken stock
  • A handful of fresh coriander, chopped finely, to garnish

Make It!

Make the turkey meatballs:

  • Put the breadcrumbs in the bowl of a food processor, add two tablespoons of water and combine until the mixture turns sandy.  Add the rest of the meatball ingredients, season with salt and pepper, and pulse the food processor until the mixture looks chunky.
  • Wet your hands, and fashion your meatballs. This mixture should easily make around 26 teaspoon-sized balls (hurr). If these are too many for you, freeze half to save for later. Allow the meatballs to rest for at least an hour, although the longer you leave them to rest, the better they’ll taste.

Make the curry sauce:

  • Roughly chop the onion, transfer to your food processor, and add 3 tablespoons of water. Pulse the onions a few times until they form a chunky paste. (If you don’t own a food processor, coarsely grate the onion with a box grater into a bowl – there’s no need to add any water if you are doing this.) Tip the onions into a small bowl and place to one side.
  • Put the chopped garlic and ginger into the same food processor and add 4 tablespoons of water. Blitz until smooth and spoon into another small bowl. (Alternatively, crush the garlic to a paste with the flat end of a knife and finely grate the ginger.)
  • Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan over a medium heat. Combine the cumin and fennel seeds with the cinnamon and chilli flakes and add to the pan in one go. Swirl everything around for about 30 secs until the spices release a fragrant aroma.
  • Add the onion paste.  It will splutter in the beginning, but fry until the water evaporates and the onions turn a lovely dark golden colour – this should take about 7-8 mins. Add the garlic and ginger paste and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring all the time.
  • Stir in the garam masala, turmeric, and sugar and continue cooking for 20 seconds before tipping in the chopped tomatoes and the black and green cardamom pods. Continue cooking on a medium heat for about 10 minutes without a lid until the tomatoes reduce and darken.
  • Reduce the heat to a low simmer and gently add the meatballs. Cover, and let simmer for 40-45 minutes, turning the meatballs every ten minutes or so. Sprinkle with chopped coriander and serve.
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Butterscotch Cake

A slice of Butterscotch cake

There’s been a serious lack of cake around here recently. Although, if I’m being perfectly honest, there’s been a serious lack of anything around here recently. Despite a New Year’s Resolution I made to myself to post here once a week, I’ve been suffering a serious bout of ‘cooking block’ recently (it’s a bit like writer’s block, only with more washing up at the end of it.) While I’ve attempted to alleviate this by baking cake-after-cake-after-cake, none of them have been right. A Blood Orange and Lemon cake which involved simmering the fruits whole before blending them into a pulp resulted in a concoction which was lip puckeringly bitter. (It ended up being dumped in the bin while myself and Mr. McMc attempted to whistle the last post.) A Red Wine and Chocolate cake was OK, but slightly too chalky and dry to share with the class, while the hastily snapped pictures I took of it made it look like a gigantic disintegrating doorstop covered in splooge.

Finally, in a last ditch attempt to create something anything which was vaguely dessert-based for Easter dinner, I hit upon the idea of a Butterscotch Cake comprising of an ethereally light vanilla sponge coated in a layer of thick butterscotch.  It was simple, it was delicious and it didn’t require me to grate, boil or pulp anything that could fly out of my mixer and hit me right between the eyes (you may laugh at this, but – real talk – the other day an uncrushed lump of muscovado sugar flew out of the bowl of my KitchenAid and whacked me right in the forehead. I would have found it hilarious if I hadn’t been so shocked.) It was perfect – an addictive slice of buttery, caramelised sweetness which might just be one of the best things to ever come out of my kitchen.

I’d suggest serving it for afternoon tea accompanied by genteel finger sandwiches and tea served out of china cups, but I found that it was best eaten messily with my fingers while watching episode after episode of Community in my pyjamas. And while I’m not entirely sure my blogging mojo has fully returned, it was certainly nice to welcome its brief return with a saucepan full of butterscotch.

Butterscotch Cake (Slices)

BUTTERSCOTCH CAKE (Makes 8 generous slices and 16 slim ones)

For the sponge, I used a mixture of demerara and golden caster sugar which added a nice caramel note. If you don’t have any demerara sugar, just use 150g golden caster sugar. The butterscotch recipe is adapted from Smitten Kitchen (have you bought her recipe book yet? You really should you know.)

You will need:

For the cake

  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 75g demerara sugar
  • 75g golden caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt

For the butterscotch sauce

  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 109g muscovado sugar
  • 1118ml double cream
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 1/2 tsps vanilla extract, plus more to taste

Make It!

  1. Bake your cake: Heat your oven to Gas Mark 4/150°c. Grease a medium sized springform cake tin and line it with baking paper.
  2. Beat the softened butter and sugars together until they look light and fluffy. (You can do this with a wooden spoon if you have super-strong arms, but you might prefer to use an electric mixer for this bit.) Add the eggs, milk and vanilla essence and whisk again. The mixture should be thick enough to drip off a spoon and leave a trail in the bowl.
  3. Sift the dry ingredients together. (I always use a trick I learned from Delia for this which involves holding the sieve at chest height to ensure that the flour gets a good airing as it falls down into the bowl.) Add the flours to the wet ingredients and gently fold the mixture together until everything is just combined. You don’t want to do this too roughly as then the sponge will lose some of its light airiness.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared tin, and smooth out with a spatula. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until golden and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the side while you get on with the important business of making the butterscotch sauce.
  5. Make the butterscotch sauce: Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a gentle heat. Add the sugar, double cream and salt and whisk together until well blended. Bring to a very gentle boil and cook for about five minutes, whisking occasionally.
  6. Remove from heat and add one teaspoon of the vanilla extract, stirring to combine. Dip a spoon in the sauce and carefully taste the sauce to see if you want to add additional pinches or salt or splashes of vanilla. Tweak it to your taste, whisking well after each addition.  Leave the sauce to cool for a minute until it has thickened slightly.
  7. Remove the cake from the tin and place on a (large) plate. Pour the butterscotch sauce generously over the cake until it is fully covered. If you have any sauce left over, I highly suggest eating it straight from the pan with a large spoon until you feel a bit sick.
  8. Once the cake is cool and the butterscotch sauce has hardened, slice the cake and serve with coffee. Leftovers can be kept in an airtight tin for up to five days (but trust me, it probably won’t last that long.)
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