Thursday, June 27, 2013

264&265/984 - Marmalade & caramel steamed pudding, deconstructed cheesecake and chocolate figs with orange & Grand Marnier sauce

What a way to finish a very special dinner party! 

One of my guests asked if Stephanie's incredible cheesecake might be included on the dinner party menu. Not wanting to make a dessert I had already blogged, but wanting to satisfy Wendy's request, I decided to put together a dessert medley! It was Trev's idea to deconstruct the cheesecake and now I think it is my preferred cheesecake style, both for cooking and eating!

I reduced the filling recipe by two thirds and cooked it in a pudding tin in a waterbath for around 40 minutes. I made the crumb topping exactly as the recipe suggested, but instead of pressing it into the base of a tin, I pressed it into a pancake shape and baked it on a tray until it was toasty. 

To complement my cheesecake I knew I had to find recipes that were the opposite of creamy, so as to create a balanced plate. My mission was to find one thing spongy and one thing hard and then to find a sauce that would tie it all together. Marmalade and caramel steamed pudding came to the rescue, and how perfect! They are served with an orange and Grand Marnier sauce that I knew would work perfectly with my cheesecake. The pièce de résistance was the chocolate dipped figs which, apart from being ridiculously simple, were also going to add a much needed bite to the plate. 

And my dessert was born! I realise I am a glutton for punishment, but this dessert has made me want to complicate every dessert I make from now on. Not satisfied with putting one thing on the plate, I am now hooked on the challenge of finding a few different things that taste great together, but most importantly, make for a very pretty plate.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

263/984 - Lamb and yoghurt from a Pakistani recipe with home-made roti

Our lovely dinner party needed a special main course and as well as cooking a beautiful leg of lamb in yoghurt Pakistani style, I also made saffron rice, chilli salted beans and home-made roti.

I received some chillies with my organic vegetable delivery and decided to use all three on the beans, which were also topped with fried garlic and sesame oil. These particular chillies packed a punch that was completely unexpected, the fumes so strong they made me start to cough as I was cooking. If that was not bad enough, the fumes wafted all the way to the dining table, and as I was still preparing the main I heard my guests start to cough too! At least they ate them without complaint...

The roti was so simple to make I actually made a second batch to go with dinner the following night. I used a thermomix recipe (thanks for sharing Andrea!) which you can find here if you want to try them yourself. 

The saffron rice was cooked Indian style, with sultanas and pan fried almonds added for improved texture and taste. All in all it was a lovely main which, apart from the suffocating fumes, was enjoyed by all.

Next post: a dessert I would have been proud to serve Stephanie herself!

Lovely roti

Sunday, June 23, 2013

261&262/984 - Clams under a buttery crust with parsley butter

A few months ago I decided to put myself out there and posted an invitation requesting a special mystery guest to join us for dinner.

Well after a false start and a couple of unexpected operations, the lovely Wendy was finally able to visit! The dinner party was last night and apart from a couple of menu hiccups the evening was absolutely amazing. Given the distance Wendy had to travel from her home, we decided to invite her husband to join us to save him waiting for her at a nearby venue! Also joining us was a beautiful man with whom I had the pleasure to work many, many years ago and also his lovely wife who I had not yet met. A true mystery guest dinner party.

The night started with champagne, followed closely by a small entrée of clams. The clams needed to be steamed and then grilled with a topping of breadcrumbs and parsley butter. I made the unfortunate decision to pre-steam the clams and keep them in the fridge ready for grilling. Not a wise move in hindsight as the clams ended up a bit chewy. To top it off I was a bit mean with the parsley butter portions and the lovely juice we were all expecting to find in our bowls was a bit non-existent. Which sadly made the milk bread I had prepared earlier, specifically to soak up the juices, a bit superfluous! 

No matter. By the time I had served entrée my guests had started to chat and the conversation flowed beautifully thanks to everybody being incredibly friendly. A part of me is still surprised that I was courageous enough to invite a stranger into my home, but after last night I realise that these small, brave decisions we sometimes make can have incredible rewards.

And now I can't wait to do it all again! 

Lovely, garlicky parsley butter

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

260/984 - Broccoli as a sauce for pasta

Don't be fooled by the understated title of this recipe. It was absolutely delicious, and even better than that, it was easy!

I only had 250g of broccoli florets and so I halved the entire recipe, which meant that according to the instructions I would be able to feed 1-2 people with the result. I know we are not big pasta eaters, but this amount fed my little family of four! 

The pasta I used was casarecce rather than orecchiette, purely because it was what I had in the pantry, and I think it worked very well with this recipe. I was a bit concerned however, about how my youngest would cope with the added anchovies. I needn't have worried. The anchovy flavour blended in beautifully with the rest of the sauce which is just one of the reasons I favour the white variety which are milder and so much easier to hide from a nine year old!

I loved this recipe and as an added bonus I now have a small pile of stems left over which I will use in my next stir fry. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

259/984 - Best ever cheesecake

It's ironic that the title of this recipe includes the words "best ever" considering it is one of the few things I have made and messed up!

I had a cheesecake request from a colleague who was about to head off to France and so the pressure was on. I knew I had to create something that would stack up against the food he would soon be eating whilst on holiday in the wonderful land of French food. On the night I was baking we had an unexpected visitor and also a very special dinner to attend. I finally got the cheesecake into the oven and cooked, but unfortunately we had to run out the door only minutes after the oven was turned off. 

The catch was that it needed to sit in the oven for a further sixty minutes and without thinking I left it in there still submerged in the water bath. By the time we got home, which was hours later than expected, the water had well and truly penetrated the springform tin and in turn, my lovely biscuit base.

I was devastated and refused to take my far from perfect cheesecake into the office, embarrassed by the soggy crust. Even more devastating was tasting it when I got home the following evening, and realising that the crust had actually dried out, and apart from a couple of dodgy patches in the base, it was the most incredibly creamy and delicious cheesecake that I could have (almost) proudly taken in to work.

There is always an upside of course. My little family were very excited at the prospect of an entire cheesecake to themselves and made short work of the demolition. Of course I will apologise to my colleague on his return from France and will win his forgiveness with a replacement (and hopefully not soggy!) truly best ever cheesecake.  

Sunday, June 2, 2013

258/984 - Orange Cake

One of the things I enjoy about cooking is the pleasure my food brings to others. I originally made this cake for my children (who were thrilled by the way!), but decided to share half with my colleagues once I realised how long it would take my little family to eat.

The office I currently work in is packed full of food lovers and so I have taken to regularly sharing my culinary outputs with them. In particular, there is one colleague who loves cake. I mean REALLY loves cake. We are lucky enough to have cake in the office every time a birthday rolls around, but Stephen would eat cake every day if he could. Luckily for him, I am happy to plug some of the non-birthday cake gaps.

This orange cake was a recipe I found in the rainbow version but not in the old edition of The Cook's Companion. There was an afternoon tea orange cake in the old version which I have made before, but the recipes were quite different and so I decided to include them both in the challenge. More cake can never be a bad thing...

This cake was very moist which may have been due to the fact that I almost always reduce the recommended cooking time for cakes. Eating a dry cake is never a pleasant experience and so as well as turning off the fan in the oven when I bake, I regularly reduce the recommended time by 10-15 minutes and then conduct an intermittent skewer test until I am happy with the result. 

I reduced the icing quantity in this recipe by half (in an attempt to make this a healthier snack!) and found the amount to be ample, with a bit of creative spreading. Adding the orange zest to the top was largely to make the pictures more attractive, but no doubt added a nice zing to the finished product. 

As I was making this cake, my very thoughtful 12 year old asked me, "Mum if this was not an orange cake what would it be?". I fumbled the answer at the time, thrown by the seemingly philosophical nature of the question. Tea cake? Butter cake? Cake? 

I am still pondering that one.