Monday, 28 March 2011

The Cook's Equipment

I've not cooked anything that interesting since the Guinness cake really, but I wanted to do one last wee update in March. I thought I'd take a look at a few culinary gifts that have been bestowed upon me by various colleagues, friends and family recently - both utensils and interesting foods...


First of all, I'm going to give you a wee look at the pans and things I use for the vast majority of my cooking (up 'til now anyway).

You'll recognise my double handled Cook's Essentials pan from the vast majority of my blogs, and maybe the big blue mixing bowl from Joseph Joseph that I use for most of my baking. In fact the whole set is pretty excellent.

From outside to inside on the JJ set, there's a mixing bowl, a colander, a sieve, a smaller mixing bowl / pourer and four measuring cups.

Until this weekend I've been using some really scabby old pans as well - usually for things like rice, potatoes, pasta. All that stuff. Well, my dear mother decided that they weren't any good any more - rusting and burned as they were - so she bought me a set of Cook's Essentials pots.

They look absolutely cracking, and I'm sure they cook well too! I should be able to make caramel without burning it now!

Mum can't stop talking about how good the Cook's Essentials stuff is, so here's a sample plug, the sort of thing she says about them: "They're really well made, and they're just fantastic! And they come with a lifetime guarantee - you'll never have to buy a replacement!"

So there you have it. An endorsement from Mrs Punter.

Just to round off this section, I'll put a wee picture of my baking equipment as well - a ten inch springform tin, two nine inch cake tins with pop-out bottoms, a cupcake or muffin tray, and two loaf tins.


Moving on then to some of the actual food that various lovely people have bestowed upon me - I shan't name names to avoid any embarrassment.

My store cupboard is looking more plush than usual and contains many more interesting bits and pieces than I'd usually buy.

I won't go into a whole lot of detail other than to pick out a couple of the more interesting ones.

So from left to right:

Bouillon powder, mushroom ketchup (looks like vinegar, used to add flavour to pie sauces and casseroles), anchovy sauce, cherry jam (I don't know if this is especially unusual, but I've certainly never had it before and it's delicious), saffron rub (a mixture of brown sugar, camellina seeds and saffron to use as a rub, dressing, or something along those lines), bacon (again, not unusual, but I don't buy it often), kaffir lime leaves, goose fat and vanilla sugar. A delicious selection to augment my diet with. Expect some tasty blogs in the not too far future.


Thought I'd leave you on one novelty item that I have in the cupboard.

This is a little rice bowl made to look like a Chinaman / woman(?). An absolute novelty item, but that's okay. You've got to have something a wee bit different, right?


Coming up:

- It's my privilege to have been asked to bake a cake for an occasion again (not going to say what yet - not spoil the surprise).
- As I've said above, I'll definitely be blogging a few more recipes in the near future incorporating some of the new ingredients! Eyes peeled...
- After my failed attempt to get people to comment last time, perhaps you might speak up this time? Maybe put a comment if you think there's any kitchen equipment I need to look into getting - or just a quirky item that's fun to use now and then... I promise to reply!

Friday, 18 March 2011

Guinness Cake

With St Patrick's day having just passed, we celebrated in the office yesterday at lunch time with some of the Irish folk in the office having prepared a few bits and pieces to eat - from Irish soda bread, to Taytos and so on.

As I mentioned in the last blog, I'd told a couple of lassies from work about the Guinness cake I'd come across on Miss Piggy's website, trying to convince them to get one for the Paddy's day celebrations. Instead, I was asked to make one - and of course I obliged.

I was initially thinking of modifying a coca cola cake recipe, but having had a wee look on the internet, I came across a Nigella recipe for Guinness cake... So I settled for that.


In accordance with Nigella's recipe, you will need:

- 2/3 can of Guinness
- 250g unsalted butter
- 75g cocoa
- 400g caster sugar
- 140ml sour cream
- 2 eggs
- 1tbsp vanilla extract
- 275g plain flour
- 2tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 300g cream cheese
- 150g icing sugar
- 125ml double cream

I should set the scene here - I was round at Luke's to bake the cake - anyone from work will know that this sounds like disaster. I can report though, that my Kiwi / Geordie pal is more than competent in the kitchen. He just needs to stretch those cooking wings...

This is also a particularly expensive cake to make due to the Guinness in it. Though I would have saved a few pounds if the shop had sold individual cans... Luke has three to enjoy when Lent is over.

Starting off then, get your Guinness into a large pot and crank up the heat while you preheat the oven to 180°C. Once the Guinness is starting to bubble, add in the butter a bit at a time, melting thoroughly through and constantly stirring.

It should be noted that as well as being expensive, this is a very fattening cake - with a whole block of butter, a lot of sour cream, cream and two cartons of cream cheese going into it... Steer well clear if you're on a diet!

Once the butter's all melted, whisk in the sugar and cocoa. Follow this with the sour cream, eggs and vanilla.

I specified a large pot earlier, because when Luke and I got round to adding the bicarbonate of soda and the flour (which is the next step), the mixture started to rise very quickly and overflow. We took the pot off the heat and poured the cake batter into a big mixing bowl to finish whisking it all together.

After your batter is lump free and ready to go, grease up a ten inch spring form cake tin and bake it in the oven. Nigella says that 45 minutes is enough, but it was more like an hour and a half before it was ready.

Luke agreed to keep the cake overnight so that I could go home without having to carry it for two miles. It was brought into work the next day for icing.

Simply beat the cream cheese, double cream and icing sugar together until you have a fairly thick set icing to use on the top of the cake. The idea is that you spread it to look like the top of a pint of Guinness... mine didn't exactly turn out that way, but it was still delicious!


Coming up:

- Not sure.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Fast Food And Pancakes

I finally have a good reason for not having updated the blog in a wee while - more on that later - but in this culinary exposé I'm going to take a look at fast foods (the good ones) and it just wouldn't be right to ignore the fact that yesterday was Shrove Tuesday. And that means pancakes.


Alright - so that reason for not updating the blog. A couple of weeks ago my jaw started clicking, cracking, and generally causing me a lot of pain when I was trying to eat or drink. This meant I had about a week or so of eating soup and spaghetti hoops and all things soft and slushy. So really not much to report on the cooking front.

An odd segueway into talking about fast foods, perhaps, but one that can easily be explained. After not having had anything 'proper' to eat for about six days, I was really craving some fat, fried, generally disgustingly bad food. And what better way to reintroduce yourself to food than to go for the king of the takeaway - the mighty doner kebab.

This is a food that is just as likely to make you sick as it is to taste delicious - but that really is the fun of a kebab. You never know what you're going to get - from what's in that mystery meat, to how hot the chilli sauce is going to be, to whether the garlic mayo will be just ever so slightly off... it's all a gamble!

I think it epitomises what fast food ought to be. And I don't mean the sanitised, homogenised efforts put forward by the likes of McDonalds or Burger King or any other sub-standard chain.

Fast food is about that roulette of uncertainty of just exactly what you're getting. Or alternatively something that's specific to a particular locality.

For example Middlesbrough's Parmo. This is a classic Teesside carry out that is loosely based on Parmigiana. For the northern re-working, a chicken fillet is flattened, covered in egg yolk and breadcrumbs, deep fried, layered with bechamel sauce, covered in grated cheddar (not parmesan...) and then grilled. Typically served with chips.

Glasgow is another city rife with its own original deep fried delicacies. Most notably perhaps is the deep fried Mars bar which is fairly self explanatory.

This is not the extent of Glaswegian ingenuity though, with the pizza crunch (a battered and deep fried slice of pizza - typically cheese or pepperoni), and the somewhat vulgarly named stauner (a battered sausage wrapped in doner kebab meat, re-battered and deep fried) also finding their origins in the west coast city.

Glasgow is also the alleged home of the chicken tikka masala. The popular curry was supposedly invented to cater for a population who 'wanted a bit of gravy on their meat'.

Now, I don't usually do this, but for a couple of reasons I'd like you to comment on this blog if you know of any other regional fast foods or interesting stories about the origins of a particular 'delicacy' that I haven't (or indeed have!) mentioned. Firstly to try and expand my knowledge of the subject (I'd also like to do a food tour of the UK at some point and will do my best to try such dishes as are suggested), and secondly to try and gauge how many people are reading this. Probably five - hi mum!

It would, as I've already mentioned, be a bit of a sin to not write even a small amount about pancakes in this blog. It was 'Pancake Tuesday' yesterday after all.

I'm not going to put a recipe up for pancakes - everyone has their own, and yes, your own is probably the best - it always is. Though I'm in the mood for a little history and culture here after indulging in the modern delights of deep fried foods.

So, do you know why we have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday? No? Then let me tell you. With Lent upon us, yesterday was traditionally (and still is for some) the last day that sugar, fat, eggs, and other such foods were allowed to be eaten before a period of fasting. What do you get when you combine all these forbidden foods? Why, pancakes of course! And so a last meal before the fasting starts.

The fasting, and the period of Lent itself has its origins in Christianity, often Catholicism specifically, though other denominations also practice fasting during this time. If you're interested to know a little more about Christianity, please do have a look here. And if that's got you interested, then here is a good place to go to ask some questions...

Let me leave you with a picture of one of my pancakes from this year.


Coming up:

- I haven't done any proper recipe based blogging for a while, so I'll try to put something together soon.
- It's the centenary of Sweden's national cheese this year, Västerbottensost, so I'll be trying to get hold of some to give it a try.
- And finally, there's a website I've just stumbled across, Miss Piggy's, which sells a marvellous Guinness Cake which I'm looking into trying to introduce to a work St Patrick's Day celebration that's coming up in 8 days!
- Don't forget to leave a comment as mentioned above if you'd be so kind!