Thursday, 24 July 2014

Top 10 Ice-Cream Toppings and some Low-Fat Ice Cream

When I was younger, Pizza Hut was a rare treat- and the Ice Cream Factory rarer still. The soft whip ice cream that came out as you pulled a handle, and the seemingly endless bowls of sprinkles and toppings were the stuff that dreams were made of. Well, almost. Anyway it got me thinking about ice cream and toppings, when I saw that the theme for this month's We Should Cocoa was chocolate ice cream and ice cream toppings.
I would love an ice cream maker but don't have the space - you need to put the base of the gadget in the freezer, and I have a fairly small freezer that is always packed with food. I can't even fit in a small tub of store-bought ice cream (and it was only after my boyfriend moved in that I started buying frozen chips), let alone a massive bowl from an ice cream maker. We are moving to a new house soon - well, I hope it will be soon, as the process is into it's fifth month and we are rapidly losing patience with the other people in the chain. When we move, I think we are going to buy an American-style fridge - it will dominate the kitchen which I'm not thrilled about, but I can't wait to have that much space for food. So who knows, maybe I can put an ice cream maker on my Christmas list this year.
I did make a very good low-fat 'ice cream' (in that it's not technically ice cream) which was very quick to make. I simply took a tub of Quark (virtually fat free curd cheese) and a bottle of Choc Shot. This is a liquid chocolate that you get in the hot chocolate aisle of the supermarket, but you can use it for so many other things as well as making hot chocolate. It's low in calories, dairy-free, low GI and if you are on Slimming World, I believe it's 1 syn for 1 tbsp.

All you do is mix 1-2 tbsp of Choc Shot with the Quark and put in the freezer for a couple of hours. Take out, give it a stir to break up the crystals and return to the freezer. You'll need to allow it to defrost a tiny bit when you want to eat it to get the spoon in the pot - it's a delicious chocolate ice cream alternative.

What are your favourite toppings for ice cream? I have to admit I usually eat my ice cream plain, but I wondered if I was perhaps missing out on something. So here are a few suggestions for ice cream toppings; please add any more in the comments box!
1. Sweets
For the full Pizza Hut ice cream factory experience, you can sprinkle Smarties, mini M&M, jelly tots and all sorts of other sweets over your ice cream. I once managed to find a packet of mini Reece's Pieces cups which would be fantastic on ice cream, and if you can't find them, you could chop up the regular sized cups. Sophisticated? No. Delicious? Yes.
2. Sauce
Chocolate or butterscotch sauce is the most traditional ice cream topping and as a child the one I remember most is Askeys Butterscotch Treat sauce.

3. Wafers
I never particularly liked wafers stuck into my ice cream as a child as they were quite plain, but visually they work really well - they add a bit of height to the dish and the different texture creates interest for the eye (even if they are not so interesting for the taste buds!). 
4. Fruit
I had to include at least one healthy option! Chopped strawberries, mixed berries, pomegranate seeds - anything that takes your fancy. Fruit works really well on frozen yogurt too. 
5. Sprinkles

Dr. Oetker sent me some of their newest products which are intended as cake decorations but I think they would work really well on ice cream too. New flavours available in their sprinkles collection include lemon meringue, eton mess and banoffee. You can match the flavour of your sprinkles to the ice cream or add them to something plain like vanilla.

6. Cookies
Crushed Oreos or mini Oreos are delicious as an ice cream topping and add a different texture to the smooth ice cream.
7. Chocolate chips or chocolate curls
This wouldn't work with most fruit-flavoured ice cream but on vanilla, chocolate or mint (or possibly strawberry - think white chocolate perhaps) a little sprinkling of chocolate is lovely, both decadent and quite classy at the same time. 
8. Whipped cream
I think the first time I came across whipped cream on ice cream when I lived in Germany. I was au pair to a little boy and I took him to the ice cream parlour in the village. It was 1 Deutschmark (now I'm showing my age!) per ice cream scoop so I told him he could have two; when I was charged 3DM they explained that the extra cost was for the scoop of whipped cream he had added on top - as I had said two scoops of ice cream and didn't realise there was an option for extra cream! To be honest the idea of whipped cream on top of ice cream is quite strange to me, and I never thought they really worked together. Has anyone tried this?
9. Coffee
Affogato is a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over the top, served as a dessert in Italy - I think I recall seeing it on the Pizza Hut menu as well. I've never tried it as I'm not really a fan of cofffee but it would be a sophisticated way to end a meal. 
10. Coca -Cola

This is not something to put on your ice cream, but something to put your ice cream in. I loved Coke floats as a child, and still do. There's nothing like adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream to a tall glass of coke, watching the cola fizz up and then enjoying the creamy taste as you drink the concoction through a straw and scoop out the last of the ice cream with a spoon. I gather you can make all kinds of 'floats' but this is the classic. You could try adding a scoop of raspberry ice cream to lemonade or a scoop of cookie dough ice cream to a cream soda. I don't recommend doing what a friend of mine once did however. He told me that when he was younger he was told he could make any kind of float he wanted, so requested - if I remember correctly - a scoop of mint ice cream in a glass of Lilt. Which just sounds plain wrong.

I'm sending this to We Should Cocoa, hosted by Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary, as the theme this month is chocolate ice cream and ice cream toppings.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Maple Syrup Cupcakes with Candied Bacon


 My previous forays into cakes with bacon have met with mixed success; these Elvis cupcakes were fantastic but these bacon brownies were pretty dreadful.

I used this recipe from the Canadian Food Network though changed it a bit as I was making these at the last minute for a Canada Day party and didn't have time to reduce down the maple syrup and I don't think you can get maple extract in the UK (at least I've never come across it). The recipe also included bacon in the cake but I decided to save the bacon for the garnish, so vegetarian friends could eat these as well (without the garnish). So for the cakes that I made, which made a batch of about a dozen, you need:

2 and 3/4 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup maple syrup
3 eggs
1 cup milk
4 rashers streaky bacon
2 tbsp brown sugar
4 cups icing sugar
6 tbsp butter, softened
2 tbsp maple syrup

Here's the maple syrup that I bought for this recipe, it was quite expensive!

 Preheat oven to 175C. Mix the flour, oil and maple syrup in a large bowl then beat in the eggs and the milk. Spoon the batter into cupcake cases and bake for 15-18 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack and meanwhile make the buttercream. Cream the butter and the icing sugar and add the maple syrup; spoon into a piping bag and pipe swirls on top of the cupcakes.

To make the candied bacon, place the brown sugar in a bowl and dip in the bacon, coating both sides. Grill until crispy and then leave to cool. When cool, crumble or chop into small pieces.

Sprinkle the candied bacon pieces on top of the cupcakes.

I really wasn't sure how these were going to taste but they went down very well at the Canada Day party and the first person to try one - someone I didn't know - said they were great!

 Stuck In The Tree is a bingo review site that is about having fun online and off; they are running a 'bakespiration' competition so I am sending them my cake in the hope they will include it in their gallery.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Fantastic Fish course at Jenius Social

A little while ago I ordered a whole fish from the supermarket online, thinking how much I enjoy eating fish in restaurants, when it is served lightly poached or grilled, with the head still on and the backbone still in place. I'd forgotten of course that the fish is still prepared - scaled, gutted and the innards removed. So when my fish turned up from the supermarket fully intact I had no idea what to do. I gingerly stuck a knife in its stomach, realised I had no idea what I was doing or if any blood and guts were about to start spilling out, and with a shudder threw the fish in the bin!

So when I came across a new cookery school in London called Jenius Social and saw that they were offering a class on how to prepare, fillet and cook fish, I knew I had to do it. 
I booked fairly last minute, only a couple of days before the class, and was surprised but very pleased when I arrived at their Islington base after work to find that I was the only person booked in for that evening - so I was getting a private lesson!

The chef, Michael, stood opposite me showing me what to do step by step. The room is arranged as a classroom with several work benches and the cooker and hob at the front, so if you were in a group lesson it would be easy to see what the chef is doing and then copy. But I had the benefit of one-on-one attention and was working right opposite Michael so if I was ever unsure he could show me exactly what to do, and help if necessary.

We began with a sea bass and I learnt how to fillet this or any other kind of 'round' fish. It's hard to explain without pictures and I couldn't take many photos as my hands were too fishy! It turns out that when I stuck my knife into my supermarket sea bass's belly, I was completely wrong from the start. You actually begin with the backbone, and always have the fish facing away from you. You need to really grasp the fish with a strong grip so there is no time to be squeamish! Using a small sharp knife, make a slit all the way along the backbone, then make a diagonal cut as if you were going to remove the head, but without cutting right through, and the same just above the tail. Remove the fins along the side.

Turn the fish over and repeat the same on the other side. Next insert the knife in the slit you have made along the backbone and wiggle it along so you very gently ease the flesh off the bone. Stop before the fillet is completely removed and turn the fish over to do the other side - if you remove the fillet from one side completely, your fish will be unstable when you turn it over.
Continue on the other side; the cuts you have made along the head and the tail will allow you to remove the fillet in one piece.

Trim the edges if you have any bits that don't look nice and then use the knife to gently mark down either side of the bone that remains in the fillet. Use a pair of fish tweezers to remove any small bones which remain - there will be three or four near the top of the fillet, running down the middle. And that's pretty much it!

rolled up and stuffed with crab
Next we went onto plaice and learnt how to fillet a flat fish and remove the skin. The difference this time is that when you lay the fish on its side, there is a bone running down the middle of each side. You remove the fillets using a similar technique, starting by running your knife along each side of the bone and easing it under the flesh to remove each fillet, but unlike the sea bass where you end up with two fillets, this time you end up with four.
To remove the skin, make a small cut in the end of one fillet so you don't go all the way through, but have a flap to get your knife under. Hold the fillet firmly at the end, and slide the knife under the skin and all the way up.


Michael gave me a lot of tips about buying, storing and cooking fish; for instance to tell if a fish is fresh, look at the eyes (they should still gleam), smell it (it should smell like the sea rather than fishy) and prod it (the flesh should spring back easily and not leave an indent from your finger). Store on the bottom shelf of the fridge and cook fresh fish within a day of buying it.

 The sea bass was going to be seasoned and pan fried whereas the plaice was stuffed with crab meat, rolled up and oven cooked. Michael had also par-boiled some potatoes which were thickly sliced and seasoned and fried in a pan of hot oil. The accompaniment to the sea bass was a sort of bean casserole using black-eyes beans, tomato and chorizo among other things; this cooked down quite quickly in a saucepan.

leek side dish

Finally came the part I had been dreading - squid. I hate squid, and have eaten calamari when I was younger - as I didn't know what it was - and didn't like it much. But I can barely look at squid. It was very funny when Michael plonked one on my chopping board and told me to cut it in half; I squealed and recoiled which he found very amusing! I decided to be brave and chop it in half then tried not to look as Michael threw it straight into the pan.

fried potatoes
It doesn't take long at all to cook the fish so a few minutes later it was all ready and Michael showed me how to plate up in a sophisticated manner. We used a crumpet ring to keep the bean casserole in a circle in the centre of the plate and placed the fish on top and drizzled some oil over the top. Each final dish looked very attractive and tasted great - though I have to admit I didn't eat the squid! I tried a tiny bit and it was just as rubbery and unpleasant as I remembered, which no amount of good cooking techniques could change!

beans, tomato and mussels side dish
The course cost £60 for only two hours, but given the amount of fresh fish that I was using, that actually seems quite reasonable. The fact that the class went ahead even though nobody else had booked for that evening and I got a one-on-one lesson was even better! 

Jenius Social is a new enterprise and has only been going for two months or so; I heartily recommend their courses and am keen to do another! 

Here are the finished dishes I made:

squid with fried potatoes

Steamed Flat Fish Stuffed with Fresh Crab & Basil, Sautéed Scallops, Wilted Spinach, Fennel & Tarragon Sauce

caramelized sea bass, bean fricassee and mussels

Monday, 21 July 2014

Meal Planning Monday - Week 30

I'm having a house guest this week, as my sister's boyfriend's step-sister is doing work experience in London (in fact, I've got her a placement somewhere I used to work) and lives too far away to commute every day, so is staying with me. I haven't seen her for years so it could be interesting, though she is a very nice girl. I don't think she is going to want to go out on the town every evening but at the same time I do want to show her around town a bit. I will have to play it by ear once I know what she wants to do but do want to do my usual menu plan so I am not totally unprepared! I also don't know what kind of food she likes, and I don't want to be cooking when she comes back every evening (forcing her to make small talk with my boyfriend who she has never met, while I am in the kitchen) so I will probably use the excuse just to do quick and easy dinners this week.

I did have to replan at the very last minute as I did an online shop from Asda on Sunday evening and had a whopping 20 substitutions, most of which I had to reject as they weren't remotely like the things that I had ordered, which was very disappointing. Friends keep telling me I should use Ocado so I might try them next time, though undoubtedly it will be more expensive.

sausage and mash; Quorn sausages for me

beef medallions in a peppercorn sauce

spaghetti bolognese

pulled pork burgers and chips for them,and a Weightwatcher ready meal for me if I'm feeling good.

probably out

Saturday lunch Fry-up with quorn sausages for me, proper sausages and bacon for him
dinner  out

Sunday lunch -  home alone, crumpet pizzas
dinner pork fillet with horseradish sauce

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Watermelon Passionfruit Margarita

Fruity cocktails are perfect for the summer whether it is at a barbecue, at a beach bar or even just at home grumbling about how long it is taking to move house when you are dealing with the world's most frustrating people. Or is that just me...?

This month's Random Recipes from Belleau Kitchen is not a cooking challenge this time; instead Dom wants us to select a cocktail book at random from our collection (I have one or two I think, not enough that choosing at random would be hard!) and choose a page at random and make that cocktail. Now, as I was expecting to have moved house by now, nearly all of my cookery books are sealed up in boxes. As it turns out, my vendors are on holiday this week and my buyer on holiday the week after (no holiday for me, sigh) and there's still no sign of when we are going to exchange. Which means I need a stiff drink!

I hope Dom doesn't mind that I didn't select a recipe at random, but the way this cocktail came about is still fairly random. My boyfriend's mum had bought a watermelon on a whim but then decided she didn't know what to do with it, so gave it to me (random ingredient). I then opened my drinks cupboard (which funnily enough wasn't yet packed and sealed up, it was just that we left the kitchen until last, promise!) and grabbed the first bottle I found, which was tequila (random selection). And then decided to make a cocktail from those ingredients.

Tequila is used in margaritas so that's what I've made. The watermelon is lovely frozen, and then you have a frozen margarita, so if you have time, cut a slice of watermelon and pop it in the freezer for an hour or so.

Chop the watermelon into cubes and put in a blender with about 100ml of either lemonade lemon and lime flavour fizzy water.

To sweeten the drink still further (I do like a sugary cocktail!) you can use either sugar syrup or passion fruit syrup - I bought this online from Funkin Syrup and have been using it in all sorts of things lately. Add a generous glug or more depending on how sweet you want it. Pulse in the blender until the watermelon is pureed. Finally add the tequila (a shot's worth per person) and either pulse in the blender again or transfer to a cocktail shaker and shake well.

Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a wedge of watermelon.

I'm sending this to Random Recipes, hosted by Dom at Belleau Kitchen.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Chocolate Chequerboard Cake


This cake has a wonderful surprise in the middle - it looks like a plain chocolate cake on the outside but has a chequerboard design inside! You can buy special tins to make this but it is actually very easy to make in a regular cake tin. 

I made this to take into work on my birthday; I had seen these cakes in recipe books but never tried to make one before so I thought it would be a great opportunity to try to impress my colleagues!

The recipe comes from the Great British Bake Off book, Showstoppers. I did adapt it as their recipe makes a three-layer cake and I made four layers, but from the same quantity of ingredients.

You need:
350g butter, softened
350g caster sugar
3 tsp vanilla flavouring
6 eggs
350g self-raising flour
pinch of salt
4 tbsp milk
50g cocoa powder 

for the chocolate ganache
300g plain chocolate
300g double cream

Preheat the oven to 175C. In a large bowl, cream the butter and the sugar, add the vanilla then alternate adding one egg and 1 tbsp flour, mixing after each addition. Then fold in the rest of the flour and the salt and finally the milk. Now at this stage stop and transfer half the cake mixture to another bowl, and mix the cocoa powder into half the mixture.

Grease two equal-sized round cake tins (I used 9 inch). You need two piping bags with wide plain nozzles; alternatively you can use freezer bags and snip the corner off, turning them into makeshift piping bags. Put the chocolate mixture into one and the vanilla mixture into another.

Starting with the vanilla mixture, pipe a thick circle around the outside of one cake tin, then take the chocolate mixture and pipe a circle inside the first one. Continue piping ever-decreasing circles alternating colours until you have reached the centre of the tin. Do the same on the other tin, but importantly, start with the other colour - so you have one tin with a vanilla ring on the outside and one tin with a chocolate ring on the outside.

I had enough mixture to do this four times, so I had two cakes with vanilla on the outside and two with chocolate on the outside.

 Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until cooked then allow to cool first in the tins then on a cooling rack.

Make the chocolate ganache by melting the chocolate with the cream in a saucepan; do not allow to boil. Stir until the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and allow to cool. When the ganache has cooled it will thicken; use half of it to sandwich the layers together. What you must remember is to alternate the layers so if you have one on the top with a vanilla ring on the outside, as you see here, the next layer must have the chocolate ring on the outside and so on.

Use the rest of the ganache to cover the top and sides of the cake. I decorated it with Dr. Oetker giant chocolate stars, which are brilliant - my only complaint is you don't get that many in the pack!

 Here's the finished cake, from the outside....

And when you cut into it, you see the chequerboard pattern. It's very impressive and most of my colleagues thought it must have been very difficult to make- I ended up drawing them a diagram explaining how I'd done it!

Stuck In The Tree is a bingo review site that is about having fun online and off; they are running a 'bakespiration' competition so I am sending them my cake in the hope they will include it in their gallery.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Restaurant review: Benihana

Ever since I saw the "ducky tie" episode of How I Met Your Mother, where Barney makes a bet with his friends that he can perform all the techniques of teppanyaki cooking - culminating in a routine where the chef flips a shrimp and catches it in his pocket - I've wanted to go to a restaurant like that. I'd heard of Benihana in London and knew it offered the same kind of "performance", so when I had the chance to go with a friend who likes Asian food (unlike my boyfriend, who does not) I decided to go.

Each table has its own cooking station where the chef comes over and cooks your dinner in front of you, occasionally producing huge flames which is fun. The tables are quite high though and the chairs quite low; as I am short the table came up to my chest which made eating a little uncomfortable.

It obviously doesn't make sense to have a chef per couple so I didn't mind when we were seated at a table for 6 and told we would be joined by other people. However, our reservation was for 7; two people arrived at 7.30 and two more arrived at 8 and it was only at quarter past 8 that the chef arrived and started cooking. We had had two of our seven courses in the time that we were waiting but only a watery onion soup and a small side salad so waiting an hour and a quarter for any 'real' food was making me quite hungry. Also, I was a little early and my friend was a little late but the waiter did not come to take a drinks order when I sat down and left me sitting there for 15 minutes without so much as a glass of water.

For the other courses we were asked to choose two items from either steak, chicken, prawn or salmon (though on the website it definitely said three). We watched the chef chop, season and flash fry them; we were also served beansprouts and fried rice - we watched the chef make an omlette, chop it up and add it to the rice for instance. So I can't argue with the freshness of the dishes - but what was a little strange was that everything was served separately. So I ate my prawns first, then I had a small bowl of rice, which I had almost finished by the time the chicken was cooked, and when I had finished my chicken I received a pile of beansprouts on my plate. Perhaps this is the way things are supposed to be done when you eat this kind of meal but to me it felt quite 'bitty' and even though I ate a reasonable amount of food, the way it had been spread out meant I still felt quite hungry afterwards! 

The wine list is quite expensive - the cheapest glass I could see on there was £7.25 and that was for 175ml, not even 250ml. However, we did manage to score ourselves a free glass of wine with the meal after enquiring about a special offer I'd seen online.

Overall I wasn't especially impressed by the food and I can imagine that to some the cooking style would seem overly theatrical or cheesy but it was fun to do something a bit different, though I don't think I would bother again.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Chicken in a Rose Petal Sauce

This month's Food n Flix movie selection is Like Water For Chocolate, chosen by Elizabeth at the Law Student's Cookbook.

I knew nothing about this film and didn't even realise it was in Spanish until I started watching. It's a story of love and families with an element of magic. Tita, the main character, is the youngest daughter of a Spanish family who is born in the kitchen, brought up mainly by the housekeeper and learns to cook from a young age. She falls in love with a boy named Pedro and says she understands how raw dough must feel when it comes into contact with boiling oil - the food imagery in this film is rife (and I gather that each chapter of the book it is based on begins with a recipe). Unfortunately Tita is told that as the youngest daughter, traditionally it is her responsibility to take care of her mother into her old age and so is not allowed to marry.

With a comment about exchanging tacos for enchiladas, Pedro decides instead to marry Tita's sister as the only way to be near the woman he truly loves. Tita is put in charge of the wedding banquet and cries as she makes the wedding cake; her tears fall into the batter and somehow when the wedding guests eat the cake, they all cry tears of a broken heart mourning a lost love - then they all throw up into the river.

This is the first time that Tita's 'powers' become apparent; later when Pedro - who is still in love with Tita- gives her a bunch of flowers, pretending they are to celebrate her first anniversary as the chief cook on the ranch after the housekeeper died. Tita's mother suggests she uses the flowers to make quail in a rose petal sauce, which she does - but this time her attraction for Pedro seeps into the food and everyone who eats it, and her other sister Gertrudis practically has an orgasm at the dinner table. Gertrudis later runs off stark naked with a federal soldier and isn't seen again until the end of the film.

I won't give away the rest of the story other than to say the passion between Tita and Pedro continues, but the story for them doesn't end in perhaps the way you would expect. At the very end of the film, Gertrudis has returned, not as a brothel whore as her family believes but as a general in the army she ran away with, and there is the implication that her daughter is the next generation of the family to have the same powers as Tita.

I was blown away by the story and now the book is high on my list of ones to read. The story is gripping and emotional and I love the way that food takes such a centre stage. I recommend the film but I am definitely looking forward to reading the book now.

When it came to deciding what to make for Food 'n' Flix, the quail in rose petal sauce stood out. I found a few websites giving the actual recipe from the book, but unfortunately it needs dragon fruit, which isn't in season. But to use rose petals from my garden I had to make the dish now - the petals are already falling off the flowers and I don't know when they will bloom again. I also hit a snag when I couldn't actually get hold of any quail or even poussin which had been my second choice!

Nonetheless I decided to push ahead and make a version of this dish. I found one recipe online that suggested you could use plums instead of dragon fruit so I did that; you also need chestnuts but again these are not in season (and in this part of the world I don't think they are in season at the same time as dragon fruit so you basically have three main ingredients but can't get all three of them at the same time!).

Here's what I did. To serve one, you need:
1 chicken leg
Fry Light
50ml chicken stock
50ml white wine
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 plums, chopped
petals from 2 roses (make sure they are edible ie have not been sprayed with pesticide)
1 tbsp runny honey

roses from my garden

Bake the chicken in the oven. When it is almost ready, spray some Fry Light in a small sauce pan, fry the garlic then add the plums. Pour in the stock and wine and simmer until reduced. Add the honey and rose petals.

I decided to try hassleback potatoes to go with this dish. Choose a large or a couple of large-ish potatoes and make several slices into them with a sharp knife, going about three quarters of the way through the potato.

Rub with oil or spray with Fry Light for a low fat option, sprinkle with salt and bake in the oven for an hour - I did these at the same time as the chicken.

Serve the chicken with the sauce and potatoes. I love the way the potatoes open up and go crispy on the outside and soft on the inside! The sauce was very nice with the chicken, it was a little bit sweet, a little bit fruity and the rose petals didn't really taste of anything (and as they cook down, you don't feel as if you are eating flowers). An unusual recipe and I would be keen to try the proper one from the book if I could get the ingredients!

I'm sending this to Elizabeth at the Law Student's Cookbook for Food 'n' Flix.