Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Milk Chocolate Icing

It has been quite a while since we made these peanut butter cupcakes to take to Bailey's parents' house but we were cleaning out the camera today and found these yummy photos and thought better late than never!

These cupcakes actually turned out quite unusual. We had never really used peanut butter in cooking at all before we made these and it actually made Bailey start liking peanut butter! Which can only be a good thing, seeing as peanut butter is ace.

The cupcakes tasted very stodgy with a nice flavour mix of sweet and savoury. They are also quite rich and chewy because of the brown sugar. I would say they are more of an adult type of cupcake. Making them is so tempting too, your whole house starts to smell of delicious peanut butter - an absolute treat.

Recipe (makes 20 large cupcakes):

75g unsalted butter
130g smooth peanut butter
190g soft dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
120g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
60ml semi-skimmed milk

For the icing:
60ml double cream
30g unsalted butter
300g milk chocolate
Half a teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C. Cream the butter, peanut butter and sugar together in a bowl and take in those amazing smells.

Gradually add the eggs and vanilla extract, stirring in all the time. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Then get your milk into a measuring jug ready to pour in. Add one third of the flour mixture and stir, before adding one third of the milk and stirring. Repeat this process until everything is nicely mixed in.

Now spoon the cake mixture into some large cupcake cases and put into the oven.

Bake in the oven until the cakes are crispy on top and golden. By this time your house will be smelling even more amazing and you will be just about ready to have some kind of peanut butter party where you just dunk your face into a vat of the stuff.

Once the cakes have cooled it's time for the icing. Put the butter and double cream in a saucepan over a low heat, stirring continuously. Once the butter has melted, remove from the heat and add the chocolate which should melt nicely in the pan. Leave to cool for a little while before icing the cakes.

Once we had iced the cakes we covered them in some fudge chunks that we snapped up in Morrison's as well as some chopped nuts for extra crunch.

Seriously tasty!

Brasserie Medard

Late last night we arrived back from our Easter-time jaunt which involved us razzing around Belgium with Steve and Jeni. The first part of our lovely holiday was a trip to Groezrock Festival in Meerhout. Although super dooper fun, foodwise there was rather little to report, unless you really, really like chips thrice-fried in animal fat with lashings of mayo.

The second leg of our journey saw us arriving in all our smelly post-festival glory in the picturesque town of Bruges. Now when I have been to festivals in the past, I have always looked forward to coming back to a stodgy, home-cooked meal and a lie down. On arrival in Bruges, we knew we had to attempt to recreate the same delicious post-festival ritual while remaining on a budget (considering that Bailey's wallet containing all our Euros was somewhere in a dusty festival field in Meerhout).

We were therefore pretty lucky to have picked up a sort of "young person's" tourist map of Bruges which recommended an inexpensive locals' restaurant called Brasserie Medard which was just off the main square of the city centre down a lovely wee road. The main attraction of the place? Apart from its untouristy, rustic charm: huge portions of spaghetti for 3 euros (5,50 for a large!)

On our first evening in Bruges, we were delighted to find this wee place and greedily ordered large spaghettis all round, except for Jeni who went for a simple tuna nicoise baguette but did help Steve out with his pasta. Super impressed with the ridiculously generous portion sizes, deliciously flavoursome spaghetti sauces and relaxed atmosphere (apart from the noise which interrupted our meal at one point of the owner screaming at his misbehaving children, although this sort of added to the charm), we decided there and then that we would be returning for the exact same meal the very next day.

On our return the next day, we strolled in to discover all the tables either full or reserved! Eek! We thought our spaghetti dream was over. Luckily, the moustached owner managed to free up a table for us next to the spot on the wall adorned by generations of family photos of the restaurant's owners. Very cute.

By this time, we had been hyping the restaurant up to ourselves for so long that there was almost an air of competition in the air. Would everyone be able to finish their meal this time (Bailey had let the side down the day before as he had been unable to finish his spaghetti unlike greedy little me)? Who would be able to put away the biggest volume of pasta? So imagine our reaction when I put in my order for "A large vegetarian spaghetti and a mixed salad" and the owner of the restaurant simply said "No." Um... what?

Turns out the moustache man took one look at me and thought I would never be able to put away an entire large portion of vegetarian spaghetti. Hohoho! Clearly this lovely gent had no idea who he was dealing with! We politely corrected the man and the order for a large spaghetti was accepted. This also made me more determined to demolish every bite of said large spaghetti.

Apart from Bailey who fancied a change and went for cheese and ham tagliatelle we all went for the veggie spaghetti again, with Jeni and I ordering mixed salads to go with our pasta.

Once again, our meal at Brasserie Medard was an absolute corker, enjoyed by all and with the bill coming to a mere 30 euros for the four of us, an absolute bargain. So what was it that made it so damn good?

The spaghetti, aside from being absolutely MASSIVE (don't think you can just go in and wolf this bad boy down in five minutes) was really yummy. The sauce was really flavoursome - full of veg and sweet tomatoey goodness - certainly a spaghetti sauce that had been made with love. Eating it really made me want to learn to make the perfect spaghetti sauce but I feel that it would be the sort of thing you would have to simmer and reduce down for hours.

The salad I ordered was also amazing.

It had all the most crunchy and fresh and yummy salady bits you could hope for on your road to recovery after a festival. The creamy dressing was also absolutely scrummy and it was the perfect accompaniment to the huge bowl of spaghetti.

Bailey also really enjoyed his tagliatelle. He commented that in a similar style to the spaghetti, it was a hefty amount of thick, well-cooked pasta swimming in a super cheesy white sauce. Before ordering he was slightly concerned about ordering Belgian ham and was worried it might have been too fatty or raw "à la the French"... but it was actually very light and delicate. Delicious indeed.

Now, onto more important matters. Who was able to eat the most pasta on this occasion? Well I am very pleased to announce that the lovely Miss Jennifer Hall was able to devour her entire bowl of pasta as well as her salad with absolutely no problem. Well done Jeni! Here is a photo of her looking rather full.

As for me, well as I had so effortlessly eaten my entire large spaghetti the day before, I thought it would be a doddle the second time. Unfortunately this was not the case. Here is a photo of my bowl of pasta at the moment when I first realised I was beginning to feel a bit full:

Oh dear, oh dear. I think the problem was that, particularly as it was quite a hot day in Bruges, eating said volume of pasta caused my body temperature to rise considerably which made eating the pasta slightly difficult / unpleasant.

However, I'm not one to turn my back on a challenge (unlike some people) and I powered through until every morself of spaghetti had been consumed...

...even though it meant I had to losen the strap on my dress, Homer Simpspon-style.

Sadly, Mr Doyle was not so lucky on this occasion. Perhaps his mistake was that he made the mistake of going for the delicious white bread that was provided to go with our meal.

Around two thirds of the way through his meal he also began to experience the same difficulties as me - finding himself far too hot to eat the remainder of his spaghetti.

How embarrassing for him. I know that Bailey feels Steve's pain from the previous Akbar's incident which we will never let him forget. We hope that Steve will recover from this humiliating experience in time for the large barbecue we are planning to have at the weekend so he can get back to being one of the best eaters I know.

So, in summary this is a fantastic place to visit if you are ever in Bruges, have a hefty appetite and fancy a no-fuss, no-frills meal. This place was really amazing value and I felt like we were experiencing somewhere really authentic and miles away from the touristy side of Bruges. They also really inspired me to get better at making spaghetti sauce.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Jeni's Yummy Lunchbox Sushi

I've got permission from the lovely Jules to get involved with the food blog. I love food - I eat fairly constantly and like to make everything from scratch. I am not great at following recipes (or any instructions really), but I'll have a good ol' bash.

So I made some looovely sushi the other day, and then had another go today and took photos! At Tesco the other day it was 3 for 2 on 'world foods'. This largely consisted of different types of rice

(oooh, exotic), but also covered the small range of Japanese food they have. I picked up a bamboo rolling mat, some nori wraps and a packet of sushi rice for about £4.

Right, so you start by washing your rice. I used half of the packet, which is 250g. You are supposed to wash it a few times in cold water, but I realised last time that your hands get really cold so I made a strange sieve/washbowl/spoon makeshift

thing to clean the rice. A lot of starchy white stuff came off the rice, but it did that last time too so I wasn't worried. Then you add 330ml cold water to your clean rice and boil bring to the boil with a lid on. That is the same volume of liquid as in a can of coke! Not helpful, but I kept thinking it anyway. Once the water had been brought to the boil you should leave it to simmer for 10 minutes. Then, turn off the heat and let the rice stand for 20 mins. AT NO POINT TAKE THE LID OFF YOUR PAN! I am not sure

why, but the rice packet is very clear about this. Whilst all that was doing, I chopped up some salady bits really thin for putting in the sushi. I know I should be using fish, but what the hey. I used grilled salmon and avocado the other day, and it was great actually. But today I had a lot of salad stuff to use up. Once it was all chopped up I had far too much, and the pic shows actually how much you need for a couple of rolls.

Next, you lay your nori wrap onto the bamboo rolling mat. Its really important that the bottom of the sheet lines up with the bottom of the rolling mat, so that it all sticks together nice and easy. Cover the wrap with the sticky rice after its settled, and then lie your chopped up fillings about a of the way third up. Now comes the tricky bit!

Holding the mat at the bottom, roll upwards to just about cover the chopped up veg. At this point, I am wondering if I laid the nori wrap the wrong way up... should it have been width ways? Anyway. Once you've folded it up like this you need to squish the wrap together really hard. The mat helps you apply lots of pressure, and this is needed so it all sticks together.

Then we keep rolling and squishing up! Roll and squish, roll and squish. At the end it sticks together with the moisture from the rice. If it doesn't, you can dab the nori with water and stick it down. Next, get a nice sharp knife and cut into little circles! And it'll look like the pictures below. Then, I put mine in a little lunchbox and added some wasabi. Lunch treat ahoy!

Whilst I actually gave the lunchbox away (I am lovely, I know), I used up the leftover sticky rice for myself. I added some coconut milk and warmed the rice through to make a nice sweet coconut sticky rice. I then mixed this up with some ripe mango to make my own version of a lovely mango coconut sticky rice thing I had in Thailand!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Summery Spinach and Ricotta Parcels

Today England finally came up trumps and delivered us a lovely beautiful day. So I decided that I needed to come up with a delicious summery treat for me and Bailey to have as our Sunday evening dinner. I suddenly remembered that last year when we decided to eat in the garden one afternoon, I had come up with some filo pastry parcels that had turned out so nice even Chicken Cat had come to try and get a look in. I knew I had to try to recreate the same dish again today.

I'm pretty sure I accurately remembered the recipe today, the only difference being that when I originally made the parcels, I used quite a lot of parmesan cheese in the filling and this time we didn't actually have parmesan so cheddar had to do instead.

I was a bit worried about this as I know that filo can be a bit on the fragile side and thought the filling might have been a bit too moist. The parcels weren't quite as perfect looking this time and a few of them had burst open in the oven.

However, the parcels did actually turn out to be really yummy. The cheddar was really flavoursome and the pastry was crisper than it looked. Really delicious!

Also last time I made the parcels we had bought an amazing tomato chutney / relish type thing from the Eighth Day Veggie shop but we didn't have any (and if we had we would clearly have eaten it by now) so I tried to make my own sort of sweet / tangy relish / salsa type concoction.

This was actually really nice too and much better for being all home made so I was really pleased. All in all a great success!

I think these parcels are perfect fresh from the oven for a lovely summer lunch or could be served cold at a barbecue, buffet or picnic! Versatile, eh?

For the parcels (makes 6):
6 sheets of filo pastry
2 onions, chopped
A bag of spinach, washed
A 250g tub of ricotta cheese
126g of cheddar cheese (or parmesan?)
Salt and pepper

For the tomato sauce:
Two tomatoes
An onion
A glug of vinegar
A pinch of Cayenne Pepper
A tablespoon of sweetener

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Start by chopping up both the onions for the parcel fillings and the onion for the tomato sauce. Add the onions for the parcels to a frying pan and the onions for the sauce to a saucepan that is on a very low heat.

Chop up the tomatoes and add to the saucepan with the onions and leave to simmer maintaining that really low heat. You can more or less leave that pan alone, stirring occasionally, while you concentrate on the parcels.

Once the onions in the frying pan have softened a bit, add the spinach and season.

Meanwhile, add the ricotta to a bowl with some salt and pepper then grate the cheddar cheese into the bowl and mix.

The spinach and onion in the pan won't take long at all to cook so keep your eye on that. Once the spinach is nice and wilted, mix that into the ricotta and cheddar mix and stir.

Now is the fun part - making the parcels. To make it easier for me to get consistent parcels, I laid all six of the filo sheets out on my (dry!) work surface before adding same-sized blobs of the spinach and ricotta mix into the left hand corner of all the filo sheets.

I then started to turn them all into little triangles. I started by rolling over the left hand corner...

...before tucking the excess over on the top...

... before folding it all over until it I had two flaps under the parcel...

... then tucked it in nicely and neatly...

 ...and placed on a baking tray that I had sprayed with Frylight. Once you have completed that slightly confusing process, brush the parcels with a bit of beaten egg.

You are ready to put the wee bad boys in the oven. 

While the parcels are in the oven, you can start to concentrate a bit more on the tomato sauce. Add the vinegar and sweetener and make sure it's still cooking down nicely, it isn't sticking to the pan and that it smells really yummy.

Once the parcels look golden and crispy, take them out of the oven and serve with the salsa and a nice crisp, summery salad. Absolutely yummy summer food - even better when eaten outside! 


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