Sunday, 31 October 2010

Pumpkin Revisited

Think of this blog update as an appendix to the last. With a bit of pumpkin puree leftover I decided to make some soup.

It's a really straight forward thing to do - much easier than the pie!


I wasn't precise with my measurements - I just went by taste and what I thought it should come out like. But I'll guesstimate what I used...

You will need:

- 2 cups of pumpkin puree
- 250ml double cream
- 200ml vegetable stock
- A generous cracking of black pepper
- Plenty of salt
- 1tsp ground coriander
- 1/2tsp chilli powder
- 1 red onion
- 2 slices bread (for croutons - stale is fine)

Start by heating up some oil in a heavy based pan and browning the onion. The onion can be diced or chopped however you like really - the soup will be put in a liquidiser at the end, so whatever.

While the onions are browning, stick the pumpkin puree into another pot and put the heat on it.

Once the onions have browned, transfer them into the pot with the pumpkin puree. Add a little more oil to the pan that the onions browned in before slicing your bread into squares.

Once the pan has come back up to temperature and the fresh oil is heated, throw in the bread and fry it on both sides. Using the onion pan just means that the bread takes on a bit more flavour.

While the bread fries, add the cream, stock and various spices and seasonings to the soup pot. Give it all a good stir round. If it seems a little thin, you can always add a little cornflour to the soup to thicken it up. Remember that the onions are going to be blended into the soup later as well though, and this will give a little extra texture.

Take the croutons off of the heat when they're ready and place them onto some kitchen roll to absorb any excess oil.

Allow the soup to almost come to the boil, stirring regularly, before taking it off the heat. Pour the whole lot into a food blender and pulse it all round until the onions are well integrated into the soup, and the texture is like a very thick cream.

Simply pour this into some bowls and serve with the croutons placed on top. It has a fair kick, and is absolutely delicious.


I have plenty left over from today, so there'll be a wee bit in work if anyone wants to try it. Though it will also be serving as my lunch, so take it easy.

Coming up:

- See last blog!

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Pumpkin Pie Squared

Pumpkin is in season at the moment, so I thought it might be worth a look at making something out of one.

I was meeting up with some friends on Friday night just gone who have a soft spot for pumpkin pie, so all the more reason to give it a shot.

Turns out that it's an incredible pain to make, takes far too long, and to top it all off... I don't actually like it. It was however, a foray into terra nova and an experiment in pastry making. Let the breakdown commence.


It's a fairly complex pie to put together, but I'll do my best to try and outline the steps.

I started by preparing my two pastries. I should explain that the pumpkin was rather large. Really big - about 8kg. I had enough pumpkin by the end for two pies and I still have plenty left over. Anyway, one pie I was making for my friends and the other I decided to take to work (which of course meant it had to be gluten free - all inclusive and all that!).

So two pastries it was - both shortcrust, but one gluten free and the other not.

For the pastries you will need:

- 175g plain white flour (175g buckwheat flour for the gluten free variety)
- 1/2tsp salt
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 120g unsalted butter
- 20ml water

The making of the pastry itself is fairly simple. Just combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and give them a good mix.

Cut your butter into little cubes and start to rub it into the flour mixture by hand until you get the texture of rough breadcrumbs. Pour the water in a little at a time and start to pull the dough together until you have a ball which just holds.

Turn the ball out onto a clean surface and flatten out a bit by hand (no need to roll it out yet). Clingfilm the flattened disk and place it in the fridge for an hour to rest while you start the pumpkin filling.

It should be noted that the gluten free dough will be much less pliable than it's normal shortcrust cousin. It may take a bit of a tweak in the recipe to get right. I messed up a couple of batches trying to get it perfect, but I didn't take notes on the changes I made - sorry!

Give it a go though.


The pumpkin was a massive thorn in my side. The preparation time to get a pumpkin ready is tremendous. So if you're going to do this set aside a few hours. My total time from starting the two pies until they'd come out the oven and cooled enough to fridge was six hours.

Anyway, take your pumpkin and cut it in half. In the centre are a whole bunch of seeds and a gooey stringy centre that all needs to be scooped out. I found it easiest just to take a knife and carve round the outside of the centre by about 3mm all the way round. Then hack out the bottom and it all just lifts out. That description is probably not the best... here are some pictures:

Once the pumpkin has been 'gutted', take the skin off the outside. Again, a brutally sharp knife is your friend here. Pumpkins are a bit tougher than your standard vegetable and take a lot of work to prepare.

Once the skin is finally off, roughly dice the flesh and lay it all in an ovenproof dish. Pour in about an inch of water to the dish and cover with tinfoil. This needs to go into an oven at 200°C for about an hour or so. You can check that the pumpkin is tender any time after the hour by just sticking a knife into a piece. If it passes through easily, you're good to go.


While the pumpkin is tenderising in the oven, an hour will probably have passed and you can remove your dough from the fridge.

The pictures here are for the standard shortcrust, but the procedure is exactly the same for the gluten free version - just remember to dust your surface with buckwheat flour rather than normal flour!

Simply work your dough for a while until it becomes pliable again and rewarms. Then roll out your pastry so that it will comfortably line a 10" tin. It should be pretty thin, so be very careful when trying to lift it!

It is best to use a tin with a pop out bottom for ease of 'pie-exit' when it's finished.

For a little extra crunch in the pastry you can crush some pecan nuts or ginger snaps (or both) and press them into the pastry. Once done, re-cover the pie crust with clingfilm and put it back in the fridge while you make the pumpkin filling.


The base for the pumpkin filling is pumpkin puree. Up to this point, all that's gone on with preparing the pumpkin has been to get it to a point where it can be pureed.

Once the pumpkin is tender from baking in the oven, remove the casserole dish and transfer the pumpkin into a food blender. Then just pulverise it until it turns into a thick puree.

Your pumpkin is now finally in the state required to complete the dish!

For the pumpkin filling (one pie) you will need:

- 450g pumpkin puree
- 120ml double cream
- 3 eggs
- 120g muscovado sugar
- 1tsp ground cinammon
- 1/2tsp ground ginger
- 1/8tsp ground cloves
- 1/2tsp salt

Beat the eggs lightly in a bowl before adding the rest of the ingredients and giving the whole lot a good whisk.

Once you have a fairly runny mixture, remove your pastry from the fridge, uncover and pour your filling mixture in up to about half a centimetre from the top of the pastry.

Then it's all ready to go into the oven. Heat your oven to 190°C and then put the pie in - roughly in the middle is best.

They take about an hour to bake and a further hour or so to cool before they're ready to be fridged (or served). When removing the pie from it's tin, simply place a soup tin or similar on the counter and push the tin gently down on top of it. The bottom should pop out with the pie resting on top and the rest of the tin can just drop past it. Simply then transfer the pie from the tin tray to a serving plate.

Probably best served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, or just a good serving of thick, whipped cream.


Coming up:

- With the leftover puree, I'm looking into pumpkin soup recipes. Maybe I'll like that better than the cake.
- Also thinking about a blog covering some of the books I use for reference. Maybe.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Zero-Skill Sausage Stew

This is one of Claire's favourite dinners that I make... I've been a wee bit apprehensive about putting it on here, as it's a bit of a cheat (gravy granules and all that), but they can't all be restaurant gems, can they?


The stew will serve three to four using the quantities below:

- 2 small / medium onions
- 3 carrots
- 8 sausages (skinless is better, but not essential)
- Gravy granules - you could make gravy from scratch if you wanted
- 3tsp cornflour
- Plenty of pepper to season

Start by preparing your vegetables. Include potatoes in this if you are going to serve mash as an accompaniment. I usually do, but because I recently put a mash recipe in here I'm not going to duplicate. Just roughly chop the carrots and onions.

The cooking begins by frying the sausages off in a little oil. Use a large pan - the whole stew is a one pot recipe. Skinless work best for the recipe as skin on the sausages tends to peel off later in the cooking process and float in the gravy... not so nice.

Once the sausages are just browning, add in the onions and sweat them off. As they start to colour, turn on the potatoes to cook and throw the carrots into the stew pan. Grind plenty of pepper on top of the whole lot - no salt for this recipe as the gravy provides all you'll need.

Give the carrots a couple of minutes before lowering the heat on the pan. Make up the gravy (about 1 1/2 pints is good) and mix it with the corn flour to thicken it. Pour this over the sausages and veg.

Put a lid on the stew and let it simmer for about twenty minutes while the potatoes for the mash finish boiling.

Prepare your mash and then lay it in bowls as a base for the stew. Then ladle generous portions of the stew over the top. A great winter warmer.


Coming up:

- Pumpkin pie for Friday...

Monday, 18 October 2010

Prawn Tempura

I'd been reading up a wee bit on Japanese cuisine recently - gemming up for Masterchef and all that... Anyway, I was reading about tempura and it reminded me just how moreish it is and how much I fancied some. So tempura for dinner it was!

Prawn tempura specifically. Tempura is a Japanese batter (though apparently originally introduced by the Portuguese) designed to give a finish that is light and crisp without the greasiness associated with a normal batter. It works best with seafood (think squid, prawn or meaty white fish) and vegetables (aubergine, carrot, greenbeans and baby sweetcorn work well), though it is fairly versatile.

So how do you make it...


The following recipe is for the batter - I'm showing the prawns only because that's what I made.

You will need:

75g cornflour
75g plain flour
Pinch of salt and pepper
180ml soda water
1 egg

First pour enough oil into a heavy pan to deep fry your tempura. Stick the heat on the pan while you prepare the batter - it will take some time to reach the hot cooking temperature required.

The batter is very simple to make. Sift the cornflour and flour together into a bowl. Mix the salt and pepper in well before beating in the egg and soda water. Soda water is used to keep the batter light and airy.

Leaving lumps in the batter is okay - it shouldn't be perfectly smooth. The texture helps to give the crisp, distinctive look and feel to tempura.

Once the batter is ready, prepare your fish or vegetables - or whatever else it is you're planning to use.

To check that the oil is ready to use, throw a wee square of bread into the pan. It should turn golden brown and crisp up within 30 seconds.

Once the oil is ready, dip your selected filling into the batter to give a good coat. Allow any excess batter to drip off before putting the tempura into the pan to fry. It is also best to fry in batches if you are cooking a large quantity so as not to overcrowd the pan.

Prawns take around 2 minutes to cook, but the cooking time will vary depending on what you decide to use as the main ingredient. Once your tempura is cooked, simply place it onto some kitchen roll to absorb any excess oil.

Then serve as you will - either with a dipping sauce, or on a bed of leaves or rice with a sauce over the top. It's a great snack.


A quick simple one today!

Coming up:

- I've a pumpkin pie recipe to do for Halloween in the next couple of weeks, so that'll definitely end up on here.
- My lovely mum gave me her Glasgow Cookery Book the other day, so I'll try to make something out of that I think.
- And finally I have a traditional Scottish recipe book on its way in the post, so I'll probably pick something from there to blog about too.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

New York Cheesecake

Last night I was very much in the mood for cheesecake - probably my favourite dessert. I'd never made one before, so it was time to give it a shot. I went for the New York style cheesecake, which, in my humble, but entirely factual opinion, is the best kind.

Starting with the 'finished' photo up the top - unusual, I know! Thought I'd mix it up a bit. Can't be having the blog going stale.

The New York cheesecake is one of the baked varieties, and also contains soured cream rather than double cream. This makes it better for freezing... not that that's going to matter to me - it'll be consumed quick enough! The only variation I have made to the classic here is to substitute a graham cracker base for a more British (and more widely available!) digestive biscuit base.


The cheesecake is made in two parts - the base and the filling. Start with the base...

For the cheesecake base you will need:

- 200g digestive biscuits
- 85g butter
- 1tbsp sugar

First, you'll want a 10" springform cake tin for the cheesecake. You could use a standard 10", but because of the consistency of the edges, a springform is really the easiest to take off after baking.

Anyway, take your tin and wrap some baking paper round the base before closing the sides around it. This will keep a tight, greaseproof base under the cake, and the overspill paper will allow you to slide the cake off the tin and onto a plate easier at the end.

All this aside, crush the digestives (I found a potato masher to be particularly effective) and set them aside. Next heat the butter in a pan until it's all melted and then add the sugar. Allow the sugar to start caramelising before mixing in the biscuits. They don't need to heat up at all here - just make sure they're well covered in the liquid and start to all stick together.

Once the mixture is thoroughly sticky, press it onto the bottom of the cake tin. Heat the oven to 180°C and bake the biscuit base for 10 minutes. Start to prepare the filling while the biscuits are in...


For the filling you will need:

- 800g cream cheese (Philadelphia or equivalent)
- 180ml soured cream
- 1 1/2tsp vanilla essence
- 1 1/2tsp lemon juice
- Zest of 1 grated lemon
- 250g golden caster sugar
- 3tbsp plain flour
- 4 eggs plus one extra yolk
- Pinch of salt

Start by beating the cream cheese all together until it's smooth and creamy. This takes a good few minutes. Once that's done, beat in the sugar, flour and salt.

Once these are well combined, switch to an electric whisk (or a normal whisk if you have a spare hour...) and beat in the eggs, one at a time, at a slow speed followed by the extra yolk. Then beat in the vanilla essence, lemon juice, zest and lastly the soured cream. Make sure it's all mixed through and that no lumps have formed around the edge or bottom of the bowl.

Simply pour this on top of the biscuit base (which, by the way, will have been out of the oven and standing to cool for fifteen minutes or so by this point). Wait for the oven to heat up to 240°C before sliding the cake in to bake for 15 minutes.

After fifteen minutes, turn the oven down to 150°C for the last 20 minutes.

Because of the coagulation of the eggs in the batter, the filling has a tendency to split when cooling. You can attempt to avoid this by slow cooling the cheesecake in the oven - that is to say leave the door closed once the oven has been turned off and allow the cake to cool down with the temperature of the oven.

If you prefer your cake a bit more moist in the centre, leave the door slightly ajar while it cools. This process can take a couple of hours.

Once cooled, stick the cake (well wrapped) into the fridge for 8 hours or so. Then slice and serve a seriously nice piece of pudding...


Coming up:

- Going to mum's this weekend, so may take a wee peek at what she's cooking and put up some ideas.
- Still planning for the possible Thanksgiving dinner, finances are tight, so we'll see how that goes!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

A Scottish Breakfast

It's Saturday, which means that a big breakfast is the thing to do.

I settled on a decidedly Scottish breakfast - I've been missing home a lot recently, and lots of colleagues and friends have been going up and down over the border in the last few weeks... it was time to have a wee taste of home.

Potato scones and lorne sausage!


I started by preparing the sausage. Lorne sausage is only to be found in Scotland, and is a fantastic invention. It's square shape makes it perfect for sandwiches, and it's distinctive taste is to die for.

You will need:

800g beef mince
300g breadcrumbs
1 cup water
3 tsp coriander
3 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper
2 tsp nutmeg

The first thing to do is blitz your bread. Once you've made the breadcrumbs, mix through all the spices evenly.

In a large bowl, combine the breadcrumb and spice mixture with all the mince and the water.

It is best to just get your hands in and pull it all together. Your mixture should end up with a fairly smooth consistency that is easily pliable.

Tip the mince into square shaped tins to set in the freezer.

While it's setting, turn your attention to the potato scones...


For the potato scones you will need:

500g potatoes
200g plain flour
50g butter
Pinch salt

Skin and dice the potatoes before boiling them up.

Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them before mashing them with the butter and salt. Make sure the mash is perfectly smooth, as lumps will not work when you're trying to make the dough for the scones.

Let the mash cool for a while before turning it into a bowl with the flour. Start to work the two together until you have a soft dough.

Once the dough has come together, form a ball that you can roll out to a thickness of about 5mm.

Potato scones are traditionally triangular, but circles are also common. Really, it doesn't matter though - just cut them to a reasonable size and shape.


By this time, the sausage should have part frozen making it easier to slice for cooking. Remove the tins from the freezer and turn out the sausage. Slice about 1cm or so thick - remember that as the sausage cooks it will lose thickness.

Leave out the amount of slices you want to use immediately, and return the rest to the freezer to finish freezing. Sandwich bags or a bread bag are ideal for the purpose.

Now it's just the cooking to do...

The sausages can be put on a griddle, pan or on a George Foreman or similar. Simply fry up the potato scones in a little oil.

Once cooked, spread some butter onto a few slices of bread, stack up your breakfast and finish with a liberal dose of brown sauce. Perfect... apart from maybe a lack of bacon...


Coming up:

- Who knows...

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Pork Chops And Chocolate Cake

So I said that I wasn't going to blog about the pork chops because it was too easy... but then I changed my mind. Besides, I made a cake this evening too, so if the pork isn't good enough, then at least there's something else!


It was pork chops for dinner then, with mash and sugar snap peas.

The potatoes take the longest, so I always start with those. Prepare them by first peeling before roughly dicing and putting them in a pot. Just cover with water and bring to the boil (or, like I always do, boil the kettle and pour the heated water over the top before bringing up the heat on the hob).

While the potatoes are boiling, heat up some oil in a heavy based pan and prepare the pork chops by putting plenty of salt and pepper on both sides and patting it gently in.

Lay the chops in the pan once the oil is hot and leave on one side until it is well coloured.

Once one side has been properly cooked, flip the pork over and start to bring the sugar snaps to the boil too. Be careful not to leave the peas in the pan too long, and not use too much water as they are easy to water log and become soggy.

Once the pork is cooked through, take it off the heat and allow to stand while you prepare the vegetables. Drain off the potatoes and peas and start to make the mash.

Mash is devastatingly easy. Just a splash of milk and as much butter as you like. If you think you have enough butter in there, you're wrong. Add a little more to make sure. Then grind in some pepper and plenty of salt and just go to town on the spuds with the masher. Work it until it's smooth all the way through.

Now it's time to plate up. One chop each, plenty of mash and a good helping of sugar snaps. Finish with a generous couple of tablespoons of the apple sauce from the last blog.


Having done with dinner, I just had time to put together a cake before I went out to play football.

I know I've been updating really regularly recently and doing a lot of cooking - but it's all for a good reason. I haven't mentioned on the blog before, but I applied to go on Masterchef UK a couple of weeks ago, so since then I've ramped up my efforts and have been cooking and studying every opportunity to try and better my abilities.

So it was then, I decided to bake another cake to bring in to work (lucky colleagues, eh?).

I went for Willie Harcourt Cooze's Cloud Forest Chocolate Cake. Willie is a self made chocolate producer based in England who sources cacao beans from the world's best cacao growing regions. He is most famous for his 100% regional bars - one of which goes into the making of the cake.

The bars are stupidly expensive (I think about 5 or 6 pounds), but thankfully I had one sitting in the cupboard that I wasn't otherwise using. It's been there a while...

Alright, you will need:

180g 100% black chocolate
6 eggs
100g ground almonds
250g unsalted butter
125g golden caster sugar
50g light muscovado sugar

Start by grating the chocolate into a bowl and then mix it through with half the golden caster sugar, all the muscovado.

Melt this all over a pan of hot water with the whole block of butter - best to slice it up first for quicker melting.

Once the mixture has melted down into a smooth, glossy liquid, take the pan off the heat but leave the chocolate over it while you turn your attention to the eggs.

Crack all six eggs into a large mixing bowl and beat them together with the rest of the caster sugar until it has tripled in size. This can take a while if you're not using electric beaters.

Once the eggs are beaten, start to fold the ground almonds into the chocolate mixture a bit at a time.

Once completely folded in, then combine the chocolate mixture with the eggs, again slowly, folding in gently so as to keep the lightness in the mixture.

Finally, pour the resulting mixture into a greased 10" cake tin and put it in the middle of an oven preheated to 160°C for about half an hour.

The resulting cake should be firm, but almost torte like.

Allow to cool in the tin for around half an hour before removing and allowing to stand for a little while more until completely cool.

It's wrapped up in tinfoil at the moment, ready to be iced in the morning before I go to work. I'm going to do a chocolate butter cream to top the cake - butter, icing sugar and Valrhona cocoa powder. Only the best.


Coming up:

- Like I say, I've recently applied to be on Masterchef, so regardless of whether I get picked or not I'll have to put in a ton of practice in the event I actually make it!

- I'm also planning a Thanksgiving Dinner this year. Just something a little different. it's supposed to be the fourth Thursday in November, but due to time constraints and the amount of cooking involved, I'm thinking I'll have to do the 27th instead. Looking forward to it though.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Apple Three Ways

I've been promising another savoury dish for a while, and it's finally arrived.

Claire brought back a bag full of bramley apples from her dad's the other day, so I spent my Saturday trying to think of what to do with them.

I settled for making a jar of apple sauce (pork chops later this week methinks), turkey mince and apple meatballs, and an apple crumble.


I made the apple sauce first.

Quick and easy, and much cheaper than buying a jar from the shop (and tastier for sure).

I used three of the apples for the jar - I think it's a 700g jar... hard to say now that the original label's gone though... The apples were all pretty massive, even by bramley apple standards, so you may want 4 sort of average sized ones.

Just peel and roughly dice the apples before throwing them into a pot with 50g caster sugar and 50g butter.

Then turn the heat all the way up and let them reduce down for ten minutes or so with the lid on.

You'll need to stir it through from time to time to stop it burning to the bottom of the pan, though a little caramelisation is good. After ten minutes give it a last stir, turning out any remaining lumps.

Let it stand for a few minutes and then jar it up!

You will want to let it stand until completely cool before refridgerating. Once in the fridge, it'll last about a week - and it can be frozen too.


Then it was onto preparing dinner.

I suspect that pork mince or beef mince would have worked a little better with apple, but I only had turkey mince in the house. It turned out fine though.

For the meatballs you will need:

500g mince
450g bramley apples (I used 1 of my apples)
75g breadcrumbs (about 2 slices of bread, blitzed)
2tsp dried herbs
1 egg yolk
2tsp oil

Very simple again - I always say that on this blog, but it usually always is easy to do. I'm going to have to try to find a really difficult recipe to make...

Simply though, take all of the above ingredients and mix them together in a big bowl. Lightly beat the egg before adding it in. Once they've had a good mix, season the lot well with salt and pepper.

Now get it all to combine by mushing it all together by hand. Then start to form the meatballs - I managed to get 17 out of the mixture, but you could double that amount with more reasonable sized meatballs I should imagine.

I finished the dish by shallow frying the meatballs, cooking up some fusilli pasta, and a simple tomato sauce.

You could put them in any normal meatball dish though - they're a little sweeter and a bit acidic, just a slightly different twist on what you might normally do.


Then it was the apple crumble to round off and use the last of the bramleys.

You will need:

2 large bramley apples
300g plain flour
275g demerara sugar
200g butter
2tsp cinammon

So simple yet again. Peel and dice the apples to roughly 1cm cubes.

Lay the apples in an oven proof dish and then cover in the cinammon and 100g of sugar.

Mix the rest of the sugar with the flour in another bowl and then crumb this together with the butter to form the topping.

Once it resembles breadcrumbs, spread it evenly over the top of the apples. At this point you can also add some nuts into the topping for a crunchier finish and a little extra flavour.

I added in some chopped pistachios that I had left over from the peach recipe. Almonds would also work well I think.

Then put the whole lot into an oven preheated to 180°C for about forty minutes, or until the topping has browned and the fruit is bubbling up the sides of the crumble.

Serve with lashings of cream...


And that was that for the apples.


Coming up:

- Well, I have to use that apple sauce, but cooking pork chops hardly warrants a blog... So we'll see if anything else more interesting goes on in the coming week.