Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Chicken and Ham Croquettes

One of my favourite novels when I was younger was Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel. It's probably still one of my favourites, but I don't read as much as when I was a teenager, and I don't really read "the classics" any more - I was a bit studious (and pretentious) as a teenager I think!
Look Homeward, Angel is a 1929 coming-of-age novel, and highly autobiographical. The book tells the story of Eugene Gant, a precocious, sensitive young boy born into a family of larger-than-life characters who run a boarding house in Altamont - a fictionalised version of Wolfe's own home town, Asheville in North Carolina.
The novel is written in a sprawling stream of consciousness style and the language is both very much of its time and reflective of Eugene's romanticism and pretention, with paragraphs like "Come up into the hills, O my young love. Return! O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again, as first I knew you in the timeless valley, where we shall feel ourselves anew, bedded on magic in the month of June."
The author and his mother (my photo of a framed picture in their house)
But that's to take it out of context of course, and when I first read this novel - I was au pair to a German-American woman who had studied at school and I borrowed it from her bookshelf - I was swept away by the beauty and somehow importance of the language and the ideas. The opening lines of the novel are particularly weighty and memorable:
“. . . a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.

Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.

Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?

O waste of lost, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this weary, unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.”
I'm sure I've lost some of you there so should probably reiterate that this really is an outstanding novel, the author's masterpiece and most famous work (admittedly he died young, but it is in the canon of great American literature).
My photo of the author's writing
Fast forward 15 or so years and I was planning a road trip to my boyfriend across four or five US states, starting in Baltimore (where I was going for work), travelling as far as we could in just under a week and looping back round to finish in Washington D.C. We knew that we had time to venture as far as North Carolina and I was researching what we might do there, and came across somewhere called the Biltmore Estate - the Vanderbilt property that is the largest house in America. It actually turned out to be similar to many stately homes I've visisted in England and not actually any bigger than a lot of them, but for America it is quite unique. Anyway, Biltmore is in a small town called Asheville, which rang absolutely no bells at all until I was reading up on other things to do there - and came across the Thomas Wolfe house. I almost fell off my chair (literally) when I realised this was the Altamont I had read of - it is portrayed in such accurate detail in the novel and was so true to the real Asheville that I knew we had to go there. And when I discovered we could visit "the most famous boarding house in American literature" (NY Times) there was really no question. I'm not suer my boyfriend particularly appreciated the hour-long tour of what is not a particularly big house as the guide made continued references to the author and the book, which he had not read! But I was very excited to know I was standing where Eugene Grant - and in fact Thomas Wolfe himself - had grown up and that this was the inspiration for the novel.
The boarding house in Asheville

 What has all this got to do with food, I hear you ask.... I often like to cook dishes inspired by fiction, whether it is books or films (the latter as I take part in the monthly Food 'n' Flix challenge). This month Chris at Cooking Around the World and Galina from Chez Maximka are hosting a new challenge, called Read, Cook, Eat - the idea being to make a dish based on any book. That's quite a wide brief, but after my trip to Asheville I knew I had to make something from Look Homeward, Angel.
The book is full of food - mainly family meals cooked and eaten in the boarding house, though there are also passages describing how the paying guests ate in the dining room while Eugene and his siblings were squeezed into the pantry. There are very evocative descriptions of food as Eugene absorbs everything around him and describes the food in as much detail as he describes everything else.
In the gift shop of the Thomas Wolfe Museum I was thrilled to find a recipe book called "Papa loved hot biscuits and corn bread - recipes from the Old Kentucky Home" (the name of the boarding house in the novel). It was put together by the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Advisory Committee and in the book was a recipe for croquettes, which I decided to make. I adapted the recipe a little, to leave out the mushrooms as we don't like them, and the celery salt as I didn't have any. I've also rewritten the recipe in my own words.
To serve two, you need:
Two chicken breasts, cooked, or equivalent amount of leftover cooked chicken
100g cooked ham
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp chopped fresh parsley
1 egg 
about 50g plain flour
about 200g dried breadcrumbs
1 cup croquette sauce - see below.
For the croquette sauce:
4 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup plain flour
1 cup milk or cream

First make the sauce. In a small pan melt the butter, add the flour and stir until blended. Gradually add milk, stirring continually. Bring to the boil and simmer for two minutes then remove from the heat and allow to cool.

To make the croquettes, place the chicken and ham in a food processor with the salt and the parsley and pulse until you have almost a pate. Then stir in the croquette sauce; if there is room in your food processor you can blend again.

 Shape the mixture into balls.

Crack an egg into a shallow dish and beat it and place the breadcrumbs in another.

Roll the croquette in flour then in beaten egg then roll in the breadcrumbs until coated. Repeat with each croquette.

Fry or oven bake until golden brown.

Only a couple of these per person are very filling. They are definitely better homemade than from the freezer cabinet too!
 I'm sending these to Chris at Cooking Around the World and Galina from Chez Maximka

Monday, 28 April 2014

Meal Planning Monday 2014 - Week 18

Sausages and burgers I made at the Hobbs House cookery school with the Fabulous Baker Brothers at the weekend

My birthday  my boyfriend is taking me out to dinner

 Fish and chip pie for me, chicken curry pie for him- a slightly random recipe that I will blog about later!

Probably working late so maybe a pizza for him and pasta for me

Brunch Out with work colleagues as we have to be in very early for something today
Dinner steak and chips

A slight change of plan for the weekend so I'm rewriting the meal plan...

Lunch baked potatoes

Dinner honey glazed duck leg, the Slow Cooker Book p.124

Brunch Belated birthday picnic with two of my friends
Dinner chicken curry with naan breads

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Microwave Chocolate Orange Cake

Have you ever made a cake in a microwave? I knew of a girl at university who made them a few times as we didn't have ovens in our student halls, but I had never tried it myself. Until recently when my boyfriend wanted dessert after dinner, I hadn't made anything and didn't particularly want to spend long making a pudding, but I didn't want him to just get a bar of chocolate from the cupboard. So I had a look online for some microwave chocolate cake recipes and as usual put my own spin on it by adding some pieces of a Terry's chocolate orange that I happened to have in the cupboard.

Microwave Chocolate Orange Cake- an original recipe by Caroline Makes
Serves one but can easily be scaled up
4 tbsp self-raising flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 egg
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp milk
2 Terry's chocolate orange segments

You need a large, sturdy microwave-safe mug (i.e. with no gold trim!) to make this. You can mix the ingredients in the mug; it is easier to do it in a bowl but to me half the fun of this was making the entire thing in one mug.

Mix the flour, sugar, cocoa powder then make a well in the centre and break in the egg. Mix in as smoothly as you can then add the oil and the milk.

Insert two chocolate orange segments in the mug and push in.

Microwave on high for three minutes - that's all it takes!

You can either eat this straight from the mug or turn out (using a knife run around the sides) into a bowl. The chocolate orange melts on top and the rest of the mixture does actually turn into a cake! It's a bit on the stodgy side and certainly not the best cake I've ever had but for a dessert that you can make in less than five minutes from start to finish you can't complain!

I'm sending this to Dead Easy Desserts, the blog challenge run by Maison Cupcake and hosted this month by Michelle at Utterly Scrummy. The idea is to send in desserts that take 30 minutes or less to make; I don't think you can get much faster than this!

Friday, 25 April 2014

Honey Mustard and Blackcurrant Cheesecakes

 mustard cheesecake blackcurrant coulis  mustard blackcurrant cheesecake

 Mustard producer Maille asked me to take part in a challenge to come up with an original recipe using at least one of their ingredients, and they sent me a list of products they could send me. I immediately had an idea - I've made plenty of stews and casseroles using mustard, or could put mustard in barbecue sauce or to coat a joint of meat, but I've never made a dessert using mustard. Because that sounds crazy, right? I don't know - if you can put candied bacon in brownies a la Nigella, why can't you put mustard in a pudding?

One of the products Maille was offering was a blend of vinegar and mango puree which I thought would be brilliant in a cheesecake. Unfortunately the company had already run out of this product as they were only sending out a certain amount of each one for this challenge, so I had to rethink. I still wanted to make a cheesecake and knew that Maille's Mustard with Honey was what I wanted- I always have a jar in my fridge and it is quite sweet, with a bit of a kick - and then I saw they also had a Red Wine Vinegar with Dijon Blackcurrant Liqueur I knew I had the flavours for my cheesecake. 

Honey Mustard and Blackcurrant Cheesecakes - two ways
An original recipe by Caroline Makes

Makes six individual cheesecakes
For the base:
100g ginger biscuits such as Ginger Nuts
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp Maille Mustard with Honey

For the filling:
250g cream cheese
125g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 and 1/2 tbsp Maille Mustard with Honey
290g tin blackcurrants in light syrup (reserve the syrup)

For the coulis:
2 tbsp Maille Red Wine Vinegar with Dijon Blackcurrant Liqueur
3 tbsp syrup from the tin of blackcurrants
4 tbsp icing sugar

Preheat oven to 170C. To make the base, blitz the biscuits in a food processor or place in a plastic food bag and smash with a rolling pin. Melt the butter in a small pan (this will only take 1-2 minutes over a low to medium heat) and stir in to the crushed biscuits. Then stir in the Maille Mustard with Honey.

Press the biscuit mixture into the base of a large muffin tin. It is easiest to use a silicon tray as you can just turn the tray inside out to get the cheesecakes out later, but a metal tin would also work.

To make the cheesecake, using an electric hand mixer, mix together the cream cheese, caster sugar and eggs then mix in the Maille Mustard with Honey. 

There are two ways you can make the filling for the cheesecake and I recommend doing both. For the first flavour, pour half of the cheesecake mixture that you have just made into three of the muffin holes onto the biscuit base, reserving the other half of the mixture.

Now drain the tin of blackcurrants, reserving the juice, and stir the blackcurrants into the other half of the cheesecake mixture, reserving a couple of spoonfuls for decoration later. Carefully pour or spoon this into the remaining muffin cases onto the cheesecake bases.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until set.

Meanwhile make the coulis. Put the Maille Red Wine Vinegar with Dijon Blackcurrant Liqueur, 3 tbsp of the reserved syrup from the tin of blackcurrants and the icing sugar in a small pan. Bring to the boil, stirring, and simmer for 5 minutes until thickened. Allow to cool.

When the cheesecakes have come out of the oven, allow to cool and then refrigerate for at least an hour. To serve, place a few of the reserved blackcurrants on top of a couple of the cheesecakes and drizzle them all with the coulis.

I invented this recipe without having any idea what it would taste like and I absolutely loved it. The mustard provided a subtle kick but the sweetness of the honey mustard worked perfectly with the biscuit base and creamy cheesecake filling. I would never have thought vinegar would work on top of a dessert but by making the vinegar into a coulis and playing up the blackcurrant flavour, this was the perfect topping for the cheesecakes.

Biscuit base

Pressing the base into the silicon muffin mould

Cheesecake filling

Pouring into the moulds

Tin of blackcurrants, with the juice drained

Blackcurrants mixed into the cheesecake and poured into the silicon moulds

After baking in the oven

More baked cheesecakes

Maille Red Wine Vinegar with Dijon Blackcurrant Liqueur

Making the coulis

Cheesecake with blackcurrant topping

mustard blackcurrant cheesecake

Mustard cheesecake drizzled with blackcurrant vinegar coulis

mustard blackcurrant cheesecake

Blackcurrant mustard cheesecake with blackcurrant vinegar topping

mustard blackcurrant cheesecake

Inside the cheesecake

mustard blackcurrant cheesecake

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Purple and Pink Butterfly Birthday Card

I found some cute stickers in Paperchase recently that had butterflies and a few sequins inside a clear rigid square so the butterflies move around if you shake the card. I decided to make them the focus of this card and covered a white square blank with patterned paper then placed three butterfly stickers along the top third line of the card (if you imagine the card divided into three with a line across each third). I used several round shiny stickers from another sticker pack to make three rows along the bottom of the card, graduating the colours from purple to pink. Finally I added a happy birthday outline sticker.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Restaurant Review: Hawksmoor, Air Street

Restaurant name: Hawksmoor
Location: Air Street, near Piccadilly, London
Description: It claims to be the best steak restaurant in London and I wouldn't disagree.The first floor restaurant runs along the top of other shops and is deceptively big - our table was at the far end and it felt like it took several minutes to cross the restaurant floor. There's a lot of art deco windows and banquette seating; the overall impression is quite dark and traditional, a bit like I imagine a gentleman's club might be.
Reason for visit: to celebrate getting a new job - and also because my boyfriend and I love a good steak, and I'd been dying to try this place since it opened more than a year earlier.

I ate: Fillet steak, £34 for 300g, with anchovy hollandaise as I had heard good things about it (£3) and triple-cooked chips (£4). For dessert I had the peanut butter shortbread with salted caramel ice cream, £7.50. I would have liked to try the fish but there was no way I was going to have anything other than steak.
My companion ate: The same steak and chips but with bearnaise sauce, and the chocolate and salted caramel tart (£8).
The food was: Outstanding. The steak was melt-in-the-mouth delicious, the anchovy hollandaise was unusual and surprisingly good, though the chips were not the best I've ever had - I prefer my chips chunky. But oh, the steak.... and the dessert was outstanding, rather than just something sweet to round off the meal it really held its own and justified the cost. What sounds quite tame on paper - peanut butter shortbread - was actually an incredible dessert, akin to eating a deconstructed Snickers bar. I had a star-shaped piece of shortbread that was soft and warm, with a quenelle of salted caramel ice cream and chocolate drizzled over the top. I would go back just for the dessert. My boyfriend's tart was very good but I definitely picked the better dessert!

The service was: Of a very high standard as you would hope in such an expensive restaurant, though the fact that our table was next to the toilets was a bit annoying as there were constantly people coming and going. Still, I can hardly fault the place.
Price range/value for money: With additional charges for the steak sauce and chips, prices really add up, and this is up there with the most expensive steak I've ever had - but it was probably the best. With a modest glass of wine (we never order bottles as I'm the only one drinking) and a soft drink for the other half, and tip, the bill came to well over £100. Totally worth it though (not that I was paying!).
Would I recommend it? Can you seriously still ask that question after all I've said? Really, Jay Rayner in the Observer puts it far better than I ever could. Read this, and book a table now.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Slimming World Pizza-Topped Chicken

 This recipe was adapted from one in Slimming World magazine; it really is delicious and you wouldn't know it's a 'diet' meal. Even my boyfriend loved it!

To serve two, you need:
2 chicken breasts
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
200g tinned chopped tomatoes
1 tsp tomato puree
1/2 tsp oregano
80g low fat hard cheese, grated
Fry Light

Preheat oven to 200C. Fry the onion and garlic in the Fry Light then add the tomato puree, chopped tomatoes and oregano and cook for a few minutes until the mixture has thickened and reduced. Spread over the chicken breasts.

  • small clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp stock
  • 2 vine tomatoes, skinned and chopped
  • 1 tbsp tinned tomatoes
  • 1 tsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 chicken fillet
  • Low calorie oil spray (less than one calorie per spray)
  • 40g low fat hard cheese, grated
  • 1 cherry tomato, halved
  • Fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • - See more at:

  • small clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp stock
  • 2 vine tomatoes, skinned and chopped
  • 1 tbsp tinned tomatoes
  • 1 tsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 chicken fillet
  • Low calorie oil spray (less than one calorie per spray)
  • 40g low fat hard cheese, grated
  • 1 cherry tomato, halved
  • Fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • - See more at:

  • small clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp stock
  • 2 vine tomatoes, skinned and chopped
  • 1 tbsp tinned tomatoes
  • 1 tsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 chicken fillet
  • Low calorie oil spray (less than one calorie per spray)
  • 40g low fat hard cheese, grated
  • 1 cherry tomato, halved
  • Fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • - See more at:

  • small clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp stock
  • 2 vine tomatoes, skinned and chopped
  • 1 tbsp tinned tomatoes
  • 1 tsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 chicken fillet
  • Low calorie oil spray (less than one calorie per spray)
  • 40g low fat hard cheese, grated
  • 1 cherry tomato, halved
  • Fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • - See more at:

    Place the chicken in an ovenproof dish and sprinkle the grated cheese over the top.

    Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked and the cheese has melted.

    I served these with Slimming World chips, which are made simply by slicing potatoes into chips, spraying with Fry Light and baking in the oven for about 45 minutes-1 hour, depending on the thickness and length of the chips. A delicious meal that feels a lot naughtier than it is!

    Monday, 21 April 2014

    Meal Planning Monday 2014 - week 17

    This is going to be a very yummy week... and I'm not talking about the food! 

    This week I'm off to Hobbs House Bakery to meet the Fabulous Baker Brothers, Tom and Henry Herbert, and spend an entire day cooking with them! It was my Christmas present from my amazing boyfriend who is happily packing me off to spend the day in the company of two men I might have a little bit of a crush on.. isn't that nice of him?!

    Monday - Bank holiday
    We are having a buffet meal mid afternoon with my boyfriend's family so we will have a late breakfast or early brunch, probably a fry up for him and something a bit healthier for me, then I don't know if we will want anything in the evening or not.


     tuna with Asian glaze I was going to make a few weeks ago but didn't, since I bought all the ingredients like mirin and rice wine! It's from the Masterchef cookery book p.196


    out - dinner at Benihana with a friend


    Chicken croquettes - I will blog the recipe this week

    Lunch: something from the canteen at work
    Dinner: sandwich on the train as I am going to stay with a friend in Cheltenham, as I can't get to Hobbs House Bakery by train from London in time on Saturday morning

    Cooking and eating with the Fabulous Baker Brothers :-)
     Stopping off at my parents on the way back as it's a couple of days before my birthday, so we are going out for a meal at lunchtime.
    Dinner: will depend what we had for lunch so probably something light.

    Sunday, 20 April 2014

    Pork Fillet with Saffron Bread Sauce and Pears

    This recipe is based pn one from Leith's Easy Dinner Parties. To serve two, you need:
    approx 350g pork fillet
    1/2 tbsp oil
    100ml apple juice
    100ml chicken stock
    15g butter
    1 ripe pear, peeled, cored and quartered
    1/2 tsp arrowroot

    for the saffron bread sauce:
    100ml milk
    1/2 onion, cut into large chunks
    1 bay leaf
    pinch of saffron strands
    25g fresh white breadcrumbs
    20g butter

    Preheat oven to 200C. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and brown the pork fillet on each side.

    Place the pork fillet in a roasting tin lined with foil with the apple juice and stock and season. Cook in the oven for about 25-30 minutes until tender.

    Meanwhile make the bread sauce. Heat the milk in a small pan with the onion, bay leaf and saffron and simmer gently for five minutes. Remove the onion and bay leaf and add the breadcrumbs to the pan and stir in. Add the butter and season.

     Heat a little butter in a clean frying pan and gently fry the pears. Then when the pork is cooked, remove from the pan and pour the cooking liquid into a small pan and add the arrowroot. Bring to the boil and stir until thickened.

    To serve, slice the pork fillet and serve with the pears and bread sauce and pour the sauce over the top.