Making mincemeat of khmer (and two suet free mincemeat recipes)

Ha! If only.  It’s more like I’m butchering the language, particularly since I’ve been away from Cambodia for almost 3 weeks.  But, indulge me in my choice of slightly obscure title.  When I came up with it before Christmas, it seemed like the perfect lead into giving you an update on my language learning and include a Christmas mincemeat recipe, or two, at the same time.  Then my NZ holiday scuppered the timings, ever so slightly…

Mincemeat v.1

Well, 3 months into learning khmer and my efforts have been paying off to varying degrees of success.  It’s nice to get comments from people who kindly tell me that I speak khmer well, or that I know a lot. I realise that we are generally our worst critics when we are learning language, but honestly, their feedback couldn’t feel further from the truth.  I make a lot of Khmers laugh at how I trip over words, mix up words that sound similar (think bye and bike), struggle with the pronunciation of peculiar sounds that are foreign to the english and korean tongue.  To illustrate the kinds of mistakes that I’ve made, look below:

mürl (10 000) and mürn (to watch)
toe’it (small) and doe’it (similar/like)
ban cha’oo (Vietnamese pancake) and ban ???? I still don’t know what it is that I say.  But when I say it, it’s a swear word apparently. Can you imagine how nervous I am about asking for one from a seller?

It’s not just the laughs that make language learning so enjoyable. I think that I’ve said before how I’m really enjoying learning this very literal language. The other day, I learnt that the khmer for the colour burgundy is poah chreuk chee’um. The literal translation is ‘the colour of pig’s blood’; not quite as majestic sounding as burgundy, the word we use to describe a regal red colour!

IMG_3713

More recently, my improved language skills has meant that more and more Khmers feel able to have a ‘proper’ conversation with me.  Unfortunately, I only understand 50% of what they are saying!  So, I have to make up the rest of what they have said because I don’t want to break the flow of the conversation.  As you can imagine, this could lead to all sorts of misunderstandings.   I think that the real problem is with me not wanting to lose face.  I’ve been doing this in korean for such a long time that it’s become some sort of default setting in me.  In korean, we call this pretending, 아는척 – ah-neun-chug.  

Some people are much braver than me and stop to clarify meaning.  I’m going to have to adopt some of their bravery to force myself out of this habit.  You’ll have to imagine my big sigh, just now, in this realisation and resolution.

tart, tart, granny apples in the absence of cooking apples

Nevertheless, even with all my bad behaviour and language, the Friday before Christmas, I sat an exam, passed and graduated from the Survival Khmer language course. Hurrah! So, I celebrated by getting on a plane and going on holiday to New Zealand for a few weeks! Yeah 🙂 because that’ll really consolidate my language learning!

The all important lime zest and lime juice!

But my time here isn’t all about language learning is it?  I bake a lot too.  Simon had asked me to make some Christmas refreshments and baking for the church’s Christmas service.  So, I made two versions of mincemeat based on the availability of ingredients I found, or lack thereof!  Andrew gave me this recipe and normally I make this recipe with sultanas, currants, citrus peel and most importantly fresh cranberries. But my efforts to locate any cranberries, fresh, dried or frozen, in Phnom Penh have yet to bear fruit. Pun unintended. 😛  Even with the deviation from the original recipe, these mincemeat recipes were a hit and I was asked for the recipe – particularly for version 2.

Throw all the ingredients into the bowl

And that was my astonishing discovery whilst recipe testing.  The vast majority of Khmers like mincemeat, even amongst children.  Of my Khmer taste testers,  I found that only 1 in 20 didn’t like how it tasted.  Is that the same in the UK too?  Have I been long under the wrong impression that 50% of UK population don’t like mincemeat?

Or is it, just that this is just one of the tastiest mincemeat recipes out there?  Lol.  I’ll let you decide in due course.

Mix it all together

I don’t use suet in these recipes.  Instead, I use grated apple to give moisture and bulk.  The advantages of this approach are that you don’t have to cook it and you can use it immediately.  Taste-wise, I think that it’s superb.  It’s fresh from the apples (it’s even better with the cranberries) and zingy from the limes.  The only spice I added was nutmeg.  The nutmeg I used was ground already and thus, I used more than I expected.  Using freshly, grated nutmeg will have a much stronger flavour so add to taste.  You could always add cinnamon, cloves or a hint of ginger.  In future versions, I would like to add some alcohol of a sort, like rum or brandy.  This time, however, I had a budget to stick to.

Jar of mincemeat

Ingredients for Mincemeat v.1
Makes about 650-700g

2 green apples, grated (preferably cooking apples, but any tart green apple will do)
150g seedless raisins
250g mixed dried fruit – the pack I found had glacé cherries, raisins and citrus peel
75g roughly chopped blanched almonds
60g dark brown sugar or muscovado sugar also works.  I used light brown sugar because that’s what I had then added 2 tbsp of dark brown sugar later for flavour.  If I made this again, I’d only use dark brown sugar.
Zest and juice of 1 or 2 limes, depending on their size
2 tbsp orange marmalade or 50g of chopped candied citrus peel
Ground nutmeg to taste – I added 1tbsp in the end but do add it 1 tsp at a time

Ingredients for Mincemeat v.2
Makes about 650-700g

2 green apples, grated (preferably cooking apples, but any tart green apple will do)
150g seedless raisins
150g mixed dried cambodian fruit – pineapple, papaya and mango
75g roughly chopped blanched almonds
50g sunflower seeds
60g dark brown sugar or muscovado sugar also works
Zest and juice of 1 or 2 limes, depending on size
2 tbsp orange marmalade
Ground nutmeg to taste – I added 1tbsp in the end but do add it 1 tsp at a time

Method
Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.  You can use it straightaway or store in sterilised jars in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Happy helpers learning how to make mince pies
Happy helpers learning how to make mince pies

Making Mulled Apple Juice for 100

Mulled Apple Juice

How have I ended up posting about how to make a mulled Christmas drinks for the masses again, this year?  When I left the residential life team in July this year, I thought that I’d also left my mass mulling days behind.  But apparently not.   I’m trying to remember the last time that I made a mulled concoction for like 4 (drinks with friends) or 10 (a gathering) or even 30 (a wee party)… I think that it was maybe 3 years ago for Cryfield Subwarden housewarming?

IMG_3751
Having peeled the first orange the traditional way and spent 10 minutes removing the pith from the peel, I decided to attack the next one with a knife.

 This time it was for our church’s annual Christmas Celebration.  Simon had asked me whether I wouldn’t mind being in charge of the catering side for the event.  He wanted to try out a different way of serving food at big events, so did I think that I could do a drink and some traditional english christmas goodies for 100 people within a $100 budget?  Well, it’s definitely a different scale from what I was used to at Warwick, but I took up the challenge.

Top tip: stick the cloves in the orange peel and then you won't have problems fishing them out later
Top tip: stick the cloves in the orange peel and then you won’t have problems fishing them out later

A bit of online research, excel spreadsheets and visits to various shops ensued and this is  the menu, that I came up with:

  • Mulled Apple Juice
  • Mince pies
  • Iced Christmas biscuits
  • Snow topped Spiced Cake.

The day before the big event, I hailed a tuk tuk and carted to the church:

  • 20 litres of apple juice
  • 12 oranges and some lime peel
  • 140 cloves
  • 80 pieces of cinnamon bark (my mum’s friend had kindly sent me cinnamon bark
  • 600g sugar
  • 1 very large sieve ladle

Unfortunately my pre-arranged mulling helper got the dates mixed up and forgot to turn up.  Just when I was wondering how I was going to make 20 litres of mulled apple juice with my poorly knee, help came in the form of various others who tasted, carried vast quantities of liquids, peeled oranges and decanted many cartons of apple juice.  What a Godsend! 2.5 hours later we were all done.

Mesa, can you see what's going in?
Mesa, can you see what’s going in?

 So, say you fancy mulling a non-alcoholic drink this christmas time.  Then, this one is a definite winner.  It went down really well at our Christmas Celebration tonight.  In fact, I had quite a few people asking me what the ingredients were but unfortunately I still have holes in my khmer vocabulary for words like cloves, cinnamon and peel.

I adapted the mulled apple juice recipe from BBC Good Food because it was the simplest and still garnered good reviews.  Most reviewers said that they didn’t bother adding in the sugar because it was already sweet enough.  It was sweet enough but slightly tart (which I like) for me when I tried it.  But my Khmer tasters said it was ‘jjoo’ (sour).  So, in went the sugar.

Here’s the recipe for mulled apple juice for 8 people, adapted from BBC Good Food.

Ingredients

  • 1 litre apple juice
  • peel of 1 orange
  • peel of 1 lime/lemon
  • 7 cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • golden or white sugar to taste – for the khmer tastebuds, I added 2 tablespoons.

Top Tip: Stick the cloves into orange and lime peel.  That way, it’s really easy to fish out the cloves later and you won’t get unwelcome ones ending up in your drink.

Method

1. Stick the cloves into the orange and lime peel.  I used a knife to peel the fruit so that I could get as little of the bitter pith as possible.

2. Decant the apple juice into a pan, add in the orange and lime peels with the cloves, the cinnamon sticks and bring to a simmer on a medium to low heat.  Leave to simmer for 10 minutes.

3.  Sweeten, or not, according to taste.

Chakriya - one of my happy helpers
Chakriya – one of my happy helpers

Mulled Wine for 300


mulled wine syrup for 300

Mulled wine syrup for 300

For the past three years, we’ve put on a Winter Wonderland event for our Cryfield and Redfern students, with Christmas music, plenty mulled wine and mince pies to get them into the festive spirit. Of course, the first year we ran this, I realised how gauche I was about how one went around making mulled wine. My previous experiences of making mulled wine consisted of using a cheap bottle of red wine and dropping one of those mulled wine sachets into it. You know the kind I’m talking about right? The schwartz mulled wine spice bag.

So, that first year, I was marshalled into the mulled wine making army. We were inside this tiny kitchen, mixing vast quantities of homemade mulled wine syrup with bottles and bottles of red wine, adding sugar and dropping oranges into stock pots. Passing vats of the stuff outside to the thirsty punters, without making too much a mess, proved one step too far. Cleanliness was sacrificed for speed. I’m not sure that the redfern subwarden’s kitchen ever survived it.

It’s an understatement to say that it was somewhat of a revelation on how to make mulled wine. But you know what? That mulled wine tasted sweetly spiced wine with the tanginess of oranges, more akin to glühwein, and far superior than my previous homemade mulled wine. And that was even when we were doing it in bulk! The experience revolutionised my approach to making mulled wine.

The following year, I volunteered to make the mulled wine. A bit of research and arithmetic later, I began to compose my email to our deputy warden and organise my mulled wine making team.

Cha, Han-na
Actions
In response to the message from Border, Daniel, 21/11/2011
Sent Items
24 November 2011 00:45

Hi Dan,
I’ve put the costcutter order into one email.
I’ve gone for the Guardian’s mulled wine recipe – with a wee bit adaptation, think it’ll be tasty. –http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2010/dec/09/how-to-make-perfect-mulled-wine.
Chris and Dan – a few questions at the end which need your okaying to.

Here’s the mulled wine order for 300.

50 bottles of wine
25 oranges
25 lemons
4.5kg granulated sugar
8 jars of cinnamon sticks
2 jars of cloves
6 packets of whole star anise
3 jars of whole nutmeg
4 jars of whole cardamon pods

Hot chocolate order for 60:
12 litres of semi-skimmed milk
1200g hot chocolate powder

Pies and Biscuits:
300 mince pies (6×50 packets)
150 apple pies (6×25 packets)
2 packets of dark choc digestives
2 packets of milk choc digestives
3 packets of ginger nut biscuits
3 packets of bourbons

Could we have it ordered for Wednesday 30th November for 5pm pick up, rather than the Thursday and store it in Chris’s flat? Pinar said that she could store some of the milk in her fridge too.

If we have it on the Wednesday then Pinar and I can make the mulled wine syrup the night before, making it less stressful on the Thursday.

I’ll send an email to the wider group with an update and also request for manpower on the Wednesday, if Wednesday delivery is okay? Also have queries about urns/stock pans etc, which i’ll include in the email.

thanks,
Han-Na

For the next few days, I couldn’t quite get over the fact that I had ordered 50 bottles of wine!

Pinar and Rumana came round the evening before to make the mulled wine syrup with me, studding oranges with cloves, peeling lemons…

ingredients for mulled wine2ingredients for mulled wine3mulled wine factory line_2mulled wine factory line_1ingredients for mulled winemulled wine syrup for 300_2

2 hours and plenty of chatter later, we produced about 7.5 litres of mulled wine syrup. Later that night, I got the calculator out again to work out the mulled wine syrup to wine ratio.

This is what happened on the night.

cheeky Jueadding wine to the syrup

We had 47 bottles of red wine to mull and 2 hours to do it. I’d printed off the instructions in the morning and stuck it up on a cupboard.

For 500-550ml of mulled wine syrup, add 3 bottles of wine and 2 oranges. Heat it on a gentle heat so that all the alcohol doesn’t burn off. Empty the pan and start again 🙂

Rumana and Jue took charge of the mulling of the wine, whilst the rest of us began putting up decorations and heating up the pies. They were super-efficient and had it all done before 7pm before our first punters arrived. Shortly after the event began, I nipped off to a friend’s birthday party, confident that my job had been done.

laying out the mince piesmulled wine urns

I guess it’s becoming a tradition now to make the mulled wine from scratch for this annual event because this year I find that I’m initiating the new Cryfield team recruits into the art of making mulled wine syrup for the masses. We follow the success of last year and make the syrup a few nights before. Sarah needs a plaster when her finger exchanges sharp words with a vegetable peeler and Rumana shows off her skill for removing citrus peel. Glugs of orange juice and red wine are added into the pans by Dan. The good old calculator comes out as I work out the amount of spices that’s going into each stock pan and the ratio of syrup to wine when it comes to mulling.

But this time, it’s all happening out of my Redfern kitchen and I’m in charge of organising the whole event. What a difference a year makes!

So there you have it. Mulled wine for 300. Rather simple with a bit of organisation, preparation and a team of hardworking, happy helpers.

Chocolate and Beetroot Cake

beetroot chocolate cake
choc beetroot muffins

My sister and her husband are coming to Warwick next week and their imminent arrival reminds me, amongst other things, of the beetroot they left me with the previous summer.

First of all. Whoever came up with the idea of adding beetroot in chocolate cake deserves a medal. You saved me from letting the vegetable go to waste. Let me take you back to my summer last year (when we had a summer!)

Oh dear…What was I thinking?

Everytime I open the fridge door, I have been glared at by the beetroot that has been discarded in the corner. I can’t believe that after I discovered my dislike of its flavour, I went ahead and bought some more beetroot.

I know that it’s silly, but there’s a wee bit of me that believes that beetroot will eventually taste alright if I eat enough of it. However – I just can’t face another savoury beetroot meal (see the entry on the fuschia beetroot risotto). So, I have decided that for the timebeing the best place for beetroot is in a cake and I’ve been baking this Chocolate and Beetroot cake from Delicious magazine. It’s main attraction is using raw beetroot, as opposed to the cooked stuff.

Top Tip: Use kitchen gloves when handling and grating beetroot to prevent the juices staining your hands. They’ll also protect your nails and fingers from being accidentally grated.

beetroot beetroot

But first, I’ll answer the question: why bother adding beetroot to chocolate cake?

Answer: Mostly for the moistness it adds to chocolate cake, and moistness is an essential quality in a goodchocolate cake. It’s alright. Not everyone tastes the “secret ingredient” in this cake. Nonetheless, I think that the beetroot flavour comes through. Not at all in an overpowering way; I would describe it as a hint of earthiness. Somehow the beetroot marries nicely to the chocolate, in an earthy kind of way. I’m going to stop before I try to make the chocolate-beetroot combination into a sexy one.

chocolate beetroot muffins 1packing up the muffins

The first time I made it, I baked them as 12 muffins for a friend’s picnic and there was enough mixture left over for a small loaf cake for my work colleagues to sample. I made a chocolate buttercream icing to go on top and finished it off with some slivered almonds. That was in the September with the first lot of beetroot given to me. Then with this second lot of beetroot, which I bought (silly me) I recently made three little cakes as a dessert, and a 20cm cake for another friend’s dinner do. This time round, I finished them off with the chocolate sour cream icing detailed in Delicious’s recipe. I’ve never been very interested in making icing (or as the Americans call it, ‘frosting’) as I’m not very fond of it. So, I’m pleased that I pushed myself on to learn something new.

chocolate beetroot muffins

What I like about this recipe is the end result: a scrummy, moist and very indulgently chocolate-y cake. Interestingly, the sponge in the muffins had wee air holes in it, like a wispa bar; the cake was a denser texture. If you like chocolate fudge cake, then I’d recommend you the cake version, especially with the chocolate sour cream icing. There’s no fooling yourself that it’s healthy, however, as there’s an awful lot of chocolate that goes into it. Even on the basis that there is a vegetable in it. (Although surely if you ate enough of it, you could add it as a portion of your daily fruit and veg..?)

So, stock up on your dark chocolate before you bake this because you’ll use a lot.

Ingredients for the Chocolate and Beetroot cake, adapted from Delicious Magazine’s Chocolate and Beetroot Cake.

  • 250g plain chocolate
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 150g light muscovado sugar
  • 100ml sunflower oil
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 250g raw grated beetroot

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4 and grease a 22cm round loose-bottomed cake tin* (see above for variations). Line the bottom of the tin with baking paper.

2. Slowly melt the chocolate in the microwave in short blasts. The second time round, my pyrex bowl was indisposed because of Herman (more about him earlier). So, I carefully melted the chocolate in a saucepan on a low heat and took the pan off the heat, the moment the chocolate at the bottom started melting, so that I didn’t burn it. Set the melted chocolate aside to cool.

3. Peel and grate the beetroot using a normal cheese grater (see top tip about handling beetroot). Put the grated beetroot into a sieve over a sink and squeeze out the excess moisture. Leave it in the sieve whilst you get on with the next steps.

4. Whisk together the eggs, sugar and oil in a large bowl for 3-4 minutes. Add in the vanilla extract.

5. In another bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and ground almonds. I’d recommend sifting the flour and bicarb of soda because you don’t want to be eating ucky lumps of bicarbonate of soda in the baked cake. Then add them to the wet ingredients and fold it in with a spatula.

6. Now, add in the grated beetroot and pour in the melted chocolate. Mix thoroughly. The mixture should be a dark violet colour.

dark violet beetroot chocolate batterbaked beetroot cake

7. Pour the cake mixture into the cake tin and bake for about 50-60 minutes in the middle of the oven. Mine needed the full hour. Check after 30 minutes and if the top seems to be browning too quickly, then cover the top with baking paper or foil. If you bake them as muffins, you’ll need 14-20 minutes. The cake is done when your cake tester comes out clean inserted in the middle.

8. Let the cake cool in its tin for a few minutes, then take it out of its tin and let it cool on a wire rack.

I made the chocolate sour cream icing the following morning, but you don’t have to wait that long.

Ingredients for chocolate sour cream icing

  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 100g sour cream
  • 100g icing sugar

Method

Melt the dark chocolate gently in a pan, or in the microwave. Allow to cool, then add to the melted chocolate, the icing sugar and the sour cream and beat until you have a thick, spreadable chocolate gooey icing.

Spread it over the cake, et voila!

icing on beetroot chocolate cakechocolate beetroot cake

iced chocolate beetroot cakechocolate beetroot cake 2

Roasted Beetroot and Goats Cheese Salad


roasted beetroot and goats cheese salad

Do you remember how I said that I don’t care much for the taste of beetroot. Well… I take it back somewhat with this beetroot and goats cheese salad. It turns out that I can’t resist anything with a goats cheese and balsamic syrup combination, even when beetroot is added to the mix. I’d make the salad again but tweak it slightly next time.

As I liked it the taste of it so much, I thought I’d make a feature out of this salad: I found it tucked away in the corner of the BBC good food recipe for the beetroot risotto that I made, labelled as another dish that I could TRY out. So I nicked a few beetroot quarters and rustled up this salad as a lunchtime warm up for my piece de resistance – the fuschia risotto. I won’t say it here, but you can imagine what all this beetroot eating did to my insides!

I’ve added some notes to myself in italics. You could try them out as well, if you fancy, or not. Roasted Beetroot and Goats Cheese Salad, adapted from BBC Good Food – serves 2.

Ingredients

  • 250g raw beetroot – about 3 medium sized beetroots.
  • 2 plates of salad leaves. I had rocket, lambs lettuce and some other lettuce leave (i’ve looked it up – it’s oak leaf lettuce).
  • 100g goats cheese
  • Balsamic Syrup/Glaze

Dressing:

  • 2 parts Extra Virgin Olive Oil to
  • 1 part Balsamic Vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F Gas Mark 4 and line a baking tin with foil.

2. Wash, peel, cut and quarter the beetroot*. Coat them with olive oil and season with salt and pepper and roast for 45 mins. Add some extra flavours – could try a herb like rosemary or thyme; honey; balsamic vinegar

*I’ve read that you can peel the skin off a beetroot quite easily once it’s been roasted but I’ve yet to try that method.

prepare to roast beetrootroasted beetroot

3. Wash and dry some fresh salad leaves. Make a dressing from 2 parts olive oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar, seasoned with salt and pepper but don’t add it just yet. I’d also be keen to try some pumpkin or walnut oil on this salad, just to see what it tastes like with it.

4. When 40 minutes of beetroot roasting time has passed, place a hefty slice of goats cheese on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof or baking paper (makes getting the goats cheese off much easier) and pop it into the oven for 7 mins.

goats cheese

beetroot and goats cheese salad

5. Take the beetroot and goats cheese out the oven. Arrange the roasted beetroot on top (I chose the ones that looked a bit more crisp and caramelised) of the salad leaves. Drizzle the dressing on top. Then, slide the bubbling goats cheese on top. Scatter some nuts on top – maybe some walnuts or pine nuts.

6. Scoosh some lovely balsamic syrup around the salad and… Ta Da! Absolutely delicious.

My tip to you – Don’t miss out the balsamic syrup: it completes the dish by bringing all the flavours together.

finished beetroot and goats cheese salad

A very pink (in fact, it’s fuschia) beetroot risotto!

Very pink risotto

The photo Emily took on Sunday of our colourful meal.

My sister gave me 1kg of homegrown beetroot at the end of July and I have almost used them all up. Beetroot ticks the box of ‘unfamiliar ingredient’ that normally puts me off making a recipe. I’ve experimented with sweet and savoury recipes provided by BBC good food and delicious magazine and it’s taken away some of my unease about cooking with beetroot. My learning points:

  1. Always wear an apron. Beetroot stains are devilish to get out!
  2. Kitchen gloves are a godsend when you need to grate beetroot. It prevents a) bits of fingernail or thumb grated in and b) very pink stained hands.

Sadly, however, my main discovery has been… I really don’t like the taste of beetroot. It makes me purse my lips in a funny way as I eat it because I’m not keen on the flavour. Then, it sits rather uneasily in my stomach. So, there you go. I’ve finally admitted it. In fact, if I was the b-list celebrity being interviewed by James Martin on Saturday Morning Kitchen, I would say that my food hate is beetroot. It has even trumped my previous food hate of congealed cheese.

Which is a bit sad really, because I’d like to like this vegetable. It is so very interesting and colourful. I love how it adds a bright fuschia colour to the dish. Besides, everyone seems to like eating beetroot. In fact, I’ve only ever come across one other person who doesn’t like the taste of it.

You’ll notice I’ve written italicised notes to myself next to parts in the method, with my ideas of how I could adapt this recipe so that it will suit my palate. The thing is, this has had lots of rave reviews on the BBC good food website. I bet they all liked beetroot to start off with. I mean, which silly person, who doesn’t really like beetroot, chooses to make a dish that’s all about beetroot?

Anyway, that is just me and my tastebuds. My friends, Emily and JCT came round to help finish off the beetroot risotto the next day. They liked the flavour and especially the colour. And you know what? I’d love to serve it as a prima plata at a dinner party, because it would serve as such a great conversation starter! So for all of your beetroot lovers, let me tell you about how I made beetroot risotto, adapted from BBC Good Food.

List of Ingredients

  • 500g raw beetroot, washed peeled and cut into quarters. 500g is about 5 or 6 small-medium sized beetroots.
  • 25g butter
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 250g risotto rice
  • a large glass of white wine
  • 750ml hot vegetable stock (or chicken stock, you’re not vegetarian)
  • 2 handfuls of parmesan (about 75g).
  • To serve: natural yoghurt or creme fraiche and sprigs of dill, or a slice of goats cheese, balsamic syrup and a scattering of fresh thyme leaves.

Method

1. Prepare your beetroot to roast in the oven. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a large baking pan with foil. I guess this prevents the beetroot staining the tin. Clean, peel (wear the kitchen gloves!) and quarter the beetroot. Coat with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Put them in the oven to bake for 45 mins.* I’d like to bring out more of the beetroot’s sweetness. So, next time, I think I’ll add balsamic vinegar or honey and maybe some sprigs of thyme.

*I roasted these at lunchtime, so that I could use some beetroot for a lunchtime roasted beetroot and goats cheese salad. The recipe recommended it as a ‘you could also do…’, so I did. But, if you wanted to save on time, you could choose to start on the risotto.

2. Melt the butter in an large oven proof pan that has a lid (if it doesn’t have a lid, then use cover with tin foil). I decided to test out the oven-proofness of my largest sized Judge saucepan for this recipe. (It passed the test.)

3. Chop the onions and garlic and fry them at a moderate heat until soft. Add the rice and give it a good stir so that every bit of rice is coated.

4. Now, my favourite bit – add that glass of wine. Mmmm… Stir the rice some more. Once most of the wine has disappered in the pan, add ALL of that hot stock. Bring to boil for 5 mins, stir, cover with a lid and then pop it into the oven for about 15 mins. Or until the rice is cooked, but slightly al dente.

add all the stock to the pantrying to puree the beetrootunsuccessful puree

5. When the beetroot is done, take a quarter of them and puree them. I put them in a blender and they failed to puree. Hmmm…. Cut the remainder of the roasted beetroot into small chunks. Okay, so a few options here. Next time, cut the remaining beetroot into very small chunks, say the size of a 1cm cube. Better still, if I can figure it out, puree the whole lot!

6. Grate the parmesan.

7. Take the risotto out of the oven, once the rice is ready. There should still be a bit of liquid in there. Stir in a handful of the parmesan and the beetroot puree and chunks. Watch the risotto gradually transform into a vibrant shade of PINK, as you stir and the beetroot colour bleeds into the rice. I loved watching this bit.

Fuschia Beetroot Risotto

8. Serve immediately with more parmesan cheese and a contrasting white colour. The first time, I had a dollop of yoghurt, as I didn’t have any creme fraiche, and a scattering of dill. Sadly, I only had dried dill but I could taste the life that herb brought to the dish. I’d definitely use the fresh stuff next time though. I love fresh dill. The second day, I had a hunk of goats cheese and a squirt of balsamic syrup. Definitely use fresh dill another time but if I’ve used thyme in the roasting process, then how about a few fresh thyme leaves instead of the dill?

beetroot risotto and yoghurt

Butternut Squash, Apricot and Almond Cake

butternut squash and apricot cake

It’s starting to snow again on campus, as I finish writing up this entry.  They look like beautiful, soft flakes and remind me of my birthday in January when there was lots of snow! Maybe it’s the snow which is helping me get into the swing of Christmas this year.  I started wrapping my Christmas presents on Saturday – a previously unheard of phenonemon for the queen of last-minute.  But then again, Saturday was the first day of snow and also the BBC Good Food Show, so undoubtedly I was going to be excited.  My highlights were of the day:

  1. Buying my amazing Titan peeler (see photo below) and later making a courgette, garlic, basil and parmesan pasta dish for dinner with it. 
  2. Chatting to Alan Rosenthal, who has written a cook book called Stewed, about his business.  I think the timing of the book launch is perfect for these dark nights.
  3. Having a fun day out with my former housemates, Claire and Sarah and tasting muchos good food. Mmmm…

Well, it has inspired me to write about a cake that we can indulge in guilt-free.  I think it’s a handy one to have in mind for after Christmas.  I was hooked the instant I saw this on Kitchenist’s blog, ‘And I’m Telling You: No-Butter Apricot and Almond Cake’.  The title read like some sort of guarantee in a shop and drowned out the voice of guilt that says, “A moment on your lips, a lifetime on the hips”.  (Actually at times, the voice of guilt likes to take on the unwelcome guise of various human beings – what is with that?!)  But the real hook for me was to bake with a butternut squash.  Who can resist one of those golden, odd shaped bad boys?

The original recipe is in Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache.  There’s an amazon package sitting in the corner of my room, and I’m hoping my brother has sent me this recipe book as my Christmas present.  I’ll let you know after Christmas. 

When it came to trying out this recipe, I didn’t have any almond essence.  And after staring at a bottle of almond essence in the shop for 5 minutes, I decided to not to purchase it but to substitute it with Amaretto (an almond liqueor) instead, which I had already. 

I think that the hardest part of the this cake is peeling away at the hard skin of the butternut squash.  The best advice I can give you is to invest in a good quality, sharp vegetable peeler.  I didn’t have one both times that I made this cake, so I attacked said butternut squash with a knife.  

cutting up butternut squash

Remember how I mentioned that I have now bought an amazing Titan peeler?  It’s my newest kitchen purchase and I love it.  It peels just about anything.  I want to buy all sorts of root vegetables just so that I can peel them.  I’m a bit ridiculous, aren’t I, for being so excited about a peeler. *v*  Did I mention already that I love it?

the best peeler

So, here are the Ingredients for my adapted version of Butternut Squash and Apricot Cake:

  • 16 dried apricots
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1tbsp of apricot brandy (optional)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 200g peeled and finely grated butternut squash *see top tip
  • 1tbsp amaretto
  • 60g plain flour
  • 200g ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • icing sugar (to serve)

Top Tip: Weigh out the butternut squash before you peel and grate it.  If you go over that’s fine.  You’ll lose some of the weight when peeling it.  Oh, and double check the weight once you’ve done the difficult part. 

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3.  Line the baking tin with baking paper.  In her blog, Kitchenist, Ele insists that this is a really important step and musn’t be overlooked because the cake has a tendency to stick to the tin as no butter is being added to the recipe.  So, I obeyed.

2. In a small heatproof bowl, soak the dried apricots by barely covering them in boiling water and adding 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract.  For extra apricot-loveliness, try adding some apricot brandy to it, as I did the second time I made the cake.  1 tbsp of apricot brandy seemed a good amount for me.

3. Measure out the dry ingredients in a bowl – the flour, ground almonds, mixed spice, baking powder and salt

4. In a separate large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together until it’s light and fluffy.  Use an electric whisk if you have one.  Otherwise, it’s a good workout for your arms.

5. Add in the grated butternut squash, amaretto, and 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract and combine well.

6. Add in the dry ingredients in 3. to the wet mixture and give it a good mix so that the mixture is well combined.  It should feel quite gloopy but thick.

7. Pour the mixture into the tin and spread it out evenly.  Drain the apricots that were soaking and place them on top of the cake.

unbaked butternut squash and apricot cakebaked butternut squash and apricot cake

8. Bake the cake for between 35-45 minutes in the middle of the oven, or until the tester/knife comes out clean.  The top of the cake should be springy and golden in colour.  Let it cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then on a cooling rack.  Dust with icing sugar, just before serving.

Verdict?  I think that the butternut squash adds a beautiful moistness to the cake, rather than a distinct flavour.  The almond and mixed spice make it a truly delectable cake to eat.

So the combination of: no butter easing the guilt + butternut squash and apricot contributing towards your 5-a-day + amaretto and apricot brandy adding a sweet naughtiness to it = the perfect cake to feel good about whilst eating it.  I baked it for my work colleagues on my birthday and, on another occastion, as my contribution to my church’s ladies day.  Each time, it received good reviews.  Mmmmm…

Spiced Autumnal Orange Drizzle Cake with Dark Chocolate Embers

 

spiced autumnal orange drizzle cake
 

It’s autumn on campus. I love going for walks with friends around the fields on the beautifully bright days that we’re lucky to have. And with the dark nights drawing in and the leaves falling off the trees, it is the perfect time to brave your face to the brisk night at a bonfire, or turn in early and watch the flames lapping the wood in the fireplace.

leaves falling off treesleaves turning yellowsilhouettes
When I came up with this cake 2 years ago, I had both types of fires in my mind as inspiration. I had also been watching Masterchef and one of the contestants had created a dish using charcoal to recreate the fiery taste of a bonfire. I decided to use dark chocolate, not feeling quite knowledgeable enough about charcoal flavouring (perhaps leave that for another time). My idea being that the chocolate would visually recreate the burning embers of a fire, and the orange and spices would add the warmth in the flavour.

I used the Lemon Drizzle Cake recipe as my starting point for bringing to life a perfect autumnal treat.

Ingredients for Spiced Autumnal Orange Drizzle Cake with Dark Chocolate Embers

  • 125g/4.5oz butter
  • 75g/3oz caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 150g/5oz self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1.5 tsp mixed spice
  • zest of one orange* see top tip.
  • 2 tbsp (or 30 ml) of Cointreau or milk if you don’t want to use alcohol
  • 85g/3.5oz dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Top Tip: wash the fruit with a wee bit of washing up liquid to take the wax off, unless you can buy unwaxed oranges (I find them harder to source compared to lemons and limes). It will make the zesting of the orange much more effective and easier.

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and line a 2lb loaf tin.

2. If you don’t have an electric whisk, like me, then mix the butter, sugar, orange zest together first before adding in the eggs, then the flour, spices and baking powder. If you have an electric whisk, then add in all of the above ingredients and whizz them up until the mixture is smooth.

3. Stir in the Cointreau/milk so that the mixture falls softly off the spoon – that’s my interpretation of ‘a soft, dropping consistency’.

4. Stir the chocolate into the cake mixture. I wanted the chocolate to sink to the bottom of the cake, so didn’t coat the chocolate with flour.

5. Spoon the cake mixture into the loaf tin and smooth the top. Pop it into the oven and let it bake for about 40 minutes, or until the tester/knife comes out clean.

6. While the cake is in the oven, prepare the orange drizzle. (if you prefer it a bit sweeter, then increase the sugar)

Ingredients for Orange Drizzle

  • Juice of one orange
  • 1 tbsp of Cointreau
  • 30g golden caster sugar

7. I normally use a chopstick to poke wholes in the cake for the drizzle to pour into. This time I experimented with a cocktail stick in case they make smaller holes. Nope. I’ll return to the chopstick next time.

8. Slowly pour the drizzle evenly over the cake when it is fresh out of the oven. Ta da!

Verdict – Mmmmmmmm…. Moist and flavoursome. The chocolate, orange and spice mix is a winner with adults and children alike. The added bonus is that this is a simple and quick cake to bake (especially if you have an electric whisk).

Nigella’s Clementine Cake

Nigella

I had 6 crinkly clementines which had definitely gone past their prime!  Shrivelled clementines, tangerines, oranges… are so ucky to eat, yet it seemed such a waste to throw them away.  At the back of my mind I knew that I’d seen a cake recipe using clementines before in Green and Black’s ‘Chocolate Recipes‘.  When I opened the recipe book, I discovered that I’d even photocopied the recipe for a shopping trip.  So, I must have wanted to make it at some point a few months ago…  I wonder what stopped me… hmmm… maybe it was the expense of buying ground almonds?  Anyway, I had some ground almonds leftover from a Lemon Polenta Cake baking moment, which was a good start.

So first, I had to boil and simmer the clementines whole for 2 hours.  2 hours!  Perhaps I should have read through the recipe first before starting… (ah! maybe this is what put me off before).  I covered the clementines with cold water, brought it to boil and then simmered it for 2 hours.

clementines

While the clementines were simmering away, I started to put the other ingredients together and realised two things.  Firstly, I had run out of baking powder and secondly, I didn’t have 6 large eggs.  Oooops…  Quick trip to the Co-op sorted out the baking powder.  For the second thing, though, I already had 5 eggs and didn’t want to buy more eggs.  So, I thought maybe this would be a good opportunity to try out a friend’s suggestion for substituting a spoonful of vinegar for an egg (see baking tip: substituting vinegar for an egg).  Admittedly, in the mixing stage, I was still wondering whether it would work and how it would it affect the overall taste of the cake.  The cake mixture definitely smelt like vinegar; the baked cake tasted divine.

Anyway, here’s the recipe for Nigella’s Clementine Cake adapted from ‘Chocolate Recipes’. 

Ingredients
4-5 clementines (I used 6), skin on to weigh 375g (13oz)
6 large eggs (well, you know what I did when I only had 5)
100g/4oz sugar (I tend to halve the sugar so do add more if you’d like it even sweeter)
250g/9oz ground almonds
1 heaped tsp of baking powder
100g/4oz good quality dark orange chocolate (grated)

Method

1. Cover the clementines with cold water in a saucepan and bring it to boil.  Then let the clementines merrily simmer away for 2 hours.  I kept checking up on it to make sure the pan didn’t boil dry, because I do that quite often when I’m hardboiling eggs – ooops!  Then cool them down by covering them with cold water again in the pan for about 10 minutes.  Drain them and then cut the clementines in half to take out any seeds.  Put them in a food processor and whizz them up so that the clementines are reduced to pulp – skin, pith and all.

2. At this point, preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5 and grease and line the cake tin with greaseproof paper.

Getting ready to mix

3. Mix the ground almonds, sugar and baking powder in one bowl.

4. Beat the eggs in another bowl.

5. Add 3. to the eggs and mix well.

6. Stir in the pulped clementines to 5.

pour mixture into tin

7. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 1 hour.  At 40 mins, cover the top with foil or greaseproof paper so that the top doesn’t burn.  To test whether it is ready to come out the oven, pierce the middle of the cake with a clean, cold skewer and when it comes out clean you know the cake is ready.

grated chocolate on cafe

8. Remove the cake from the oven and immediately put the grated chocolate on top of the cake while it is still in the tin – watch the chocolate start melting and smell gorgeous!  Leave the cake to cool in the tin and then remove from the tin to store it in an airtight container.

The verdict?  This cake is sooo simple to bake.  Also it’s made with ground almonds and there’s no butter so, it’s gluten free and dairy free.  The cake tastes better when it’s been left for a day and it gets really moist and gooey.  The flavour of the clementines and almonds have also had time to develop too.  So, let it rest a while and enjoy every mouthful.  Mmmm… Mmmm….