Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Banoffee Pie

Banoffee Pie. One of the finest puddings known to man... there's caramel and cream involved. What could be better?

I was surprised to find out that banoffee pie is an English creation - I'd always assumed it was American. The Hungry Monk in East Sussex lays claim to inventing the dish in 1972. I'll need to make sure to stop by and try the original sometime...


You will need:

- 1 tin condensed milk
- 2 bananas
- 12 digestive biscuits
- 80g butter
- 2tbsp golden syrup
- 1 tub whipping cream

Start with making the caramel, as this takes the longest to do. Grab your tin of condensed milk and drop it (carefully) into a pot of boiling water and boil it for around 2 to 3 hours. I boiled mine for 3 hours and the caramel came out a little thick, so maybe 2 and a half hours would be about right.

Just make sure that the tin is completely immersed the whole time or you run the risk of them exploding... lots of cleaning up to do. And dangerous! Simply top up the water every fifteen minutes or so.

While the milk is boiling you can turn your attention to the biscuit base for the pie. Crush up the digestive biscuits very finely. Heat up the butter and golden syrup together until the butter has melted through evenly. Stir in the crushed digestives until all the crumbs are thoroughly coated.

Line a 9 inch cake tin with greaseproof paper and then press the biscuit base into the tin, spreading evenly for a well distributed base. Put your finished base into the fridge for a couple of hours until it sets.

Once the base is set, remove it from the fridge and then slice your bananas and arrange them on the base, covering it completely.

The caramel should be ready by this point. Allow it to cool before opening the can and pouring your caramel over the bananas and biscuit, spreading it to the edges.

Finally whip up the cream until it's very thick and spread this over the top of the caramel, and for a finishing touch, grate some chocolate over the top.

Serve and enjoy!


Coming up:
- We'll see...

Friday, 22 April 2011

Food Travel: Scotland

I was up in Scotland last week for an interview for an assistant cook position at Abernethy Ardeonaig.

I got the job and I'm delighted to be able to turn a hobby and interest into something that I'll enjoy working on day after day. So expect a few blogs covering the sort of thing I get up to in my new role - start in six weeks, can't wait!

Needless to say, I took the opportunity to start getting used to some of the food I used to love so much in Scotland that you just can't get in England. Nothing quite like home comforts...


Dad and the rest of the family were driving up to Scotland to visit his cousins in Nethy Bridge, so I hitched a lift as far as Glasgow. I stayed with a couple of friends before setting off the next day for Killin. This would mean a train from Glasgow to Stirling, a bus from Stirling to Callander, and one final bus from Callander to Killin. Plenty of opportunities to stop for a bite to eat en route!

I had to get to Glasgow Central station from Uddingston first. Uddingston is a little suburb on the outskirts of Glasgow, but it does hide one of Scotland's most well known bakeries - Uddingston is the home of Tunnock's!

The main site where such delights as Tunnock's Tea Cakes (the little chocolate covered domes of melty soft mallow and biscuit) and Caramel Wafers are baked sits opposite a smaller Tunnock's bakery where freshly baked wares can be picked up, as well as lots of little themed trinkets and gifts. A lovely little shop to visit - and the staff are particularly friendly folk too! Having bought a pack of caramel wafers, it was time to head to the station and get into Glasgow.

I didn't leave myself much time in Glasgow due to needing to get through to Killin for the interview. My next stop was in Stirling where it was time for elevenses. That called for a quick stop at Greggs, not strictly a Scottish chain (indeed, originally founded in Newcastle), but it always reminds me of going into the city centre with mum and getting a Greggs for lunch in George Square. And so it was that I came to have a lorne sausage and bacon roll with brown sauce. Perfect.

And then to wait on the bus to Callander, which is a tiny wee place that is all high street and not much else. While it is a pretty town where the mountains meet the buildings at one end, it is fairly touristy and attracts the sort of buses full of the elderly who'd like to visit a wee tea shop before going on to somewhere more interesting - like Stirling or Glasgow - where there is a little more to see.

With an hour and a half to wait before the bus to Killin - and the final leg of the journey! - I found myself in one of the tea rooms which was notably empty. A scone and some Irn-Bru later, I had a last wander round to admire the tacky tourist shops.

And finally I got to Killin where I was picked up to go to Abernethy and spend a few days working with the team there and having my interview. As I've already said, I got the job and am looking forward to starting in a few weeks. I won't go into any detail on the stuff I got up to at the moment as I'm sure I'll write a couple of more detailed blogs on the new job in the near future.

Back down to Glasgow it was then to catch a plane back home. But first to take in a few home comforts before the flight. First up was to go to the chip shop for a Scotch Pie supper. Please note that a 'supper' is 'with chips'. There's some Scottish for you. A scotch pie is just a mince pie with a crunchy outer crust and soft top crust. It's another dish that reminds me of when I was a wee boy, going to the football with dad and getting a pie and bovril at half time. The scotch pie is widely sold at football grounds across Scotland, with few exceptions (perhaps the most notable being Forfar, where the pie tends to be substituted by the local favourite - the bridie. Sort of like a pasty, but better.).

And to follow, a quick wee trip to the Greggs on George Square for a pineapple cake. Which are just delicious - and one of mum's favourites. A pastry case filled with a pineapple jam, topped with whipped cream and then covered in a thick, brittle pineapple icing. Just stunning.

And last but not least, dinner in the airport - what else to finish a trip back home than the traditional and best - haggis, neeps and tatties!


When I got home, I had been inspired by seeing one of my old favourites, the pizza crunch, in the chip shops in Glasgow. So I had to have a go...

It's very simple, so I won't take too long explaining it. You just buy a cheap pizza - the cheaper the better. And generally only cheese or pepperoni. Though if you wanted to be a wee bit exotic, I expect that ham and pineapple might work okay too.

Cook your pizza in the oven, then quarter it (or smaller slices if it's a large pizza), let it cool and then batter and deep fry the slices. Delicious. And highly nutritious of course.


I assure you that my diet is not normally as terrible as this blog entry may make it seem - I'll try to get a few more reasonable blogs up soon!

Coming up:
- Looking into a bi-weekly feature by a remote contributor. Stay tuned for more details!
- Possibly a blog on the new job.
- Whatever else I'm cooking in the near future...

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Food Event: Chocolate Festival, Oxford

This weekend was the inaugural occurrence of the Oxford Chocolate Festival. Chocolate is just about my favourite thing on the planet, so with the event taking place practically on my doorstep I just had to go along.

The fact that the admission was free was always going to help...


The festival was held on Broad Street, right in the middle of the city of Oxford. Pretty easy to get to, and in a pedestrian area as well.

The first thing I noticed though was just how small the festival was - there couldn't have been more than about 10 stalls in the place. Considering the volume of people that go through the area every day, I would have thought that more of the smaller chocolatiers would have wanted to have taken advantage of the publicity and business that such an event would have offered. Indeed some of the exhibitors listed on the website I linked above weren't there (though I only attended the Saturday, they may have been there today). Maybe It's because it was the first one to be held in Oxford, I don't know. But I hope it's bigger in the future.

Those businesses that turned up though put on a reasonable display and variety of goods and demonstrations for the attendees.

One of the more interesting stands was the one operated by Chocolution. With a talk on how to make chocolate from scratch, lots of unusual products (like chocolate filled, decorated hen's eggs, cacao pods and so on), and an entertaining spokesperson, they were definitely the stand-out business of the event.

That said, their policy on promoting chocolate as a health product has always been something that rankles with me. While it is true that 100% pure cacao has proven health benefits (being an anti-oxidant, etc), I felt they were taking the idea a little far - manipulating the chocolate at lower temperatures to maintain minerals and vitamins and so on in the chocolate making process. This must only take away from the flavour of the finished product which is surely what people buy chocolate for?! Having purchased one of the hen's eggs, I'll have to decide what I think of the chocolate when I eat it. I hope it's better than I think... Well done to them though for trying to do something a little different than usual.

One of the bigger stands was held by Co Couture, a Belfast based company that operate out of a little boutique in the city. Having flown over that morning with all their gear, the folk manning the stand were understandably tired, but still up for a good chat about the business and their wares.

Their chocolate was a little more mainstream than Chocolution. Like most stalls, they'd opted (somewhat inevitably) to cash in on Mother's Day and Easter, offering an array of aptly themed chocolates. Apart from the more commercial products, they also offered various signature bars and their award winning truffles.

As well as all the chocolate stalls, there were a couple of other food stalls, notably a churros stand, a Mexican food stall and a wonderful continental bakery.

The absence that I felt was the biggest loss to the event was Montezuma's. Like I say, I wasn't there today, so it may just have been that they were only scheduled to turn up on the Sunday. They are one of Britain's more recognizable gourmet brands though - and deservedly so. I think they are the best UK chocolate manufacturer. While their chocolate is readily available at most supermarkets, I always find a trip down to their shop in Spitalfields Market, London to be an absolute treat. Their butterscotch 54% bar sits at number three on my list of best bars.

There were a few other chocolatiers present I haven't mentioned, but you might get a wee glimpse of what else there was if I show you what I bought!

As I've already said, I picked up one of Chocolution's hen's eggs. Also from there I grabbed a couple of flyers - one with their chocolate making techniques, and another on how to make your own chocolate filled hen's eggs.

From Damian Allsop's stand, I just had to have one of his salted caramels in dark chocolate - salted caramels are the absolute pinnacle of chocolate heaven. No picture of this one - I ate it before I got home. They really can not be beaten. If I'd had a few hundred pounds to spare, I'd have been very interested to try more of his range. He's a ganache specialist, employing unusual techniques, removing cream and butter from his recipes to give a fresher, cleaner taste to the chocolate. Check him out.

The other pictured delights are a bar of 83% Ecuadorian chocolate from Red Star Chocolate (who make one of the most delicious milk chocolate bars I've ever tried), a passion fruit ganache from Paul Wayne Gregory and finally a 69% signature bar from Co Couture which is so delicately designed (even featuring a little gold leaf in one corner) I hardly want to eat the thing!

All in all, the festival is a good way to kill an hour and see some of the up and coming chocolatiers from the UK. For foodies, it's definitely not to be missed - just hoping it's a little bigger next year!


Coming up:

- Bits and pieces...

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Carrot Cake And Victoria Sponge

I promised some more blogs with actual recipes involved, and having baked two cakes recently I can now complete that particular objective.


One of my colleagues is switching departments and so I baked a couple of cakes for his sort of 'last day do'.

I went for a Victoria sponge and a carrot cake.

Starting with the carrot cake, you will need:

- 120g self raising flour
- 120g wholemeal flour
- 350g carrots
- 60g pecans
- 2tsp ground cinammon
- 1tsp ground ginger
- 1tsp nutmeg
- 1tsp bicarbonate soda
- 250ml vegetable oil
- 170g muscovado sugar
- 4 eggs
- 2tbsp golden syrup

This is one of the most ingredient heavy cakes I've made, but it's not complicated at all.

Take a large mixing bowl and put the flour, sugar, spices, and bicarb into it. Grate in the carrots and chop the pecans and add those in too. Give the lot a good mix.

In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, oil and syrup.

You then want to fold this in to the dry mixture in the other bowl.

Pour this into a ten inch springform tin and bake for about an hour at 160°C.

Once the cake has cooled, you could ice it too. I used a tub of cream cheese (about 200g), about 50g butter and about 75g icing sugar. Just beat it all together and spread it on the top. I ran a fork over the icing in stripes to give it a slightly more rustic look.


The Victoria sponge is altogether more simple to make. 

You will need:

- 400g self raising flour
- 8 eggs
- 2tsp vanilla essence
- 400g caster sugar
- 400g butter
- 150ml double cream
- Jam (I went for cherry)

Effectively you're baking two cakes here - one to use as a base and the other to top.

Cream together the butter and sugar before beating in the eggs and vanilla essence. Fold in the flour and split the mixture between two nine inch sandwich tins. 

Bake these for about half an hour at 180°C before removing from the oven. Allow them to cool completely and then take them out of the sandwich tins. 

Set aside the cake that looks best - use that for the top. With the other cake, slice it level and then spread it with a generous helping of jam.

Whip the double cream until it's very thick and spread this over the jam. Now place your second cake on top and dust the whole thing down with a little icing sugar. Perfect.


Coming up:

- I have a wee bit of a review to do of the chocolate festival from today (Saturday 2nd April) and of course have a look at some of the chocolate I bought. 
- I have a couple of little recipes and smaller dishes that I've made recently and can now fill out a reasonable blog of their own.