Thursday, 17 July 2014

Chocolate Banana Brazil Brownies - of sorts

Not even I, queen of self-deception when it comes to the calorific content of food - specifically cake - can pretend that these Chocolate Banana Brazil Brownies (sort of) are healthy, but they are very, very good. 

And if you want to do what I normally do and subscribe to the notion that fruit = 'healthy' in a cake context, these do have bananas in (squishy ones at that) and brazil nuts - which I always count as 'health' food after reading Nigella's homage to chocolate coated brazil nuts...

These started life, recipe-wise as Dan Lepard's Banana Blondies, from 'Short & Sweet' but it was too hot to start making toffee, and I didn't have any white chocolate in the cupboard...

Chocolate Banana Brazil Brownies

100g unsalted butter
200g milk chocolate chips
225g caster sugar
1 large egg
2-3 squishy-ish bananas (200-250g) chopped
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
225g plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
100g brazil nuts, roughly chopped  

Line a 20cm square loose-bottomed tin, and pre-heat the oven to 170C.

Gently melt the butter and chocolate together, then scrape into a large bowl.

Add the sugar, the egg, vanilla and banana to the chocolate, and beat together till smooth ish (a few larger bits of banana will be fine.

Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl, add the brazil nuts and fold in.

Scrape all this into the prepared tin and bake for 35-40 mins till the top is light, but there's still some squidge underneath. 

Leave to cool in the tin before cutting into squares.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

El Salsa Mexican Takeaway - on the Welsh coast

You'd be forgiven for thinking we'd quickly hopped over to Central America, to some dusty border country, but no, El Salsa Mexican takeaway is most definitely not in Mexico, but situated in the car park of the fantastic Llwynhelyg Farm Shop (about which more another day), serving up fajitas, burritos, quesadillas and nachos to the hungry of West Wales.

And last night, we were all hungry after a post school beach trip - swimming, crabbing and body boarding with friends who are staying nearby for a week. As they said, themselves, they've been surprised by quite how 'foodie' it is round here. 

They spent yesterday morning visiting the fantastic St Dogmaels local producers market that runs every Tuesday by the Abbey, so I was pleased to be able to further surprise them with top quality Mexican food in Cardigan. Plus, I've been wanting to visit El Salsa for a while now. It made a brief appearance, serving up on weekends a couple of months ago, and is back on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, 4-9, for the summer.

Apart from the slight incongruity of Mexican Food served from a trailer in the car park of a Welsh Farm Shop, there is absolutely every reason to visit this little haven of taste and spice (and of friendly chiquitas cooking and serving the grub) if you're in this area.

Between us we had chicken fajitas, steak burritos, chicken burritos, and the quesadillas, plus nachos - with plenty of jalapenos (not gherkins, as Blue discovered to his surprise!). Now, I've never been to Mexico, but this was pretty darned good. Tasty, with enough spice, but not too much for the kids, the salsa was fresh and zingy, the guacamole full of lime flavour. Coming from a hot country, it's the perfect sort of food to eat after being outdoors in the sunshine, and although it might not have been hot by Mexican standards yesterday, it was warm enough. 

Everything comes in either steak, chicken or beans (vegetarian), and there are even little tables by the trailer for waiting, or presumably, if you wanted to eat there. 

It was getting chilly & the kids were tired, so we headed for home with our feast - and a couple of beers - but you could also take it down the beach for a beach feast too...

As well as tasting great (sorry for the rather blurry pictures - I did say we were hungry, and it was a race to get some snaps before the food was gone), it's very reasonably priced - between £5 for a small portion to £7.50 for some of the specials - locally sourced ingredients where possible, and ultra tasty - everything to like.

The only criticism I'd have was that the special pork tacos had sold out by the time we got there, so make sure you pitch up early!

El Salsa doesn't just serve up out of the Farm Shop car park, either - look out for them at festivals: this would be perfect festival food...

Just to be clear - I wasn't asked to write this review, or paid to do so, and the opinions expressed in it are my own.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Cherry & Almond Cake - Gluten & Dairy free

It's that time of year again, when I wonder exactly what happened to the last few months, and how on earth have we come to the end (nearly) of another school year. Not just any old school year too, nor any old term, with the children moving from their North Hampshire primary school to a Welsh speaking school, and spending most of the last 10 weeks on an intensive Welsh language course funded by Ceredigion County Council.

The kids have loved it. They have kept in touch with the friends they made initially on arriving at their new school and can now speak on any number of 'day to day' matters confidently and - to my ear at least - fluently in Welsh. They correct my own pronounciation of the few words (actually, mainly place names) that I know and attempt, and generally revel in the fact that they know lots about something that the Husband and I know very little about. They have the upper hand and the aren't afraid to use it. Most of the time I am deeply and embarrassingly proud of how well they have done, how hard they have worked, although I'll admit to be occasionally irritated, especially when they have an uncanny knack of talking to each other - and to us - in Welsh, at the dinner table, when the Husband and I are at a low ebb...

Anyway, it's done. They are back in class, in their primary school, for the last week of term, but Pink wanted to take a cake in to the Canolfan y Felin where they have been since Easter, to say thank you to the teachers, and good bye to them and to the other kids. She was very clear that it also had to be dairy and gluten-free to accomodate the various allergies of their fellow welsh language students.

As always in these situations, my first (and only necessary) stop is the lovely Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache by Harry Eastwood. It's such a beautiful book and the treats I've baked from it have all been surprising and delicious. Pink went through it and marked the possible cakes that had taken her fancy, then I went through her selection and crossed off a few more (call me a killjoy, but I wasn't going to send her in with just a bowl of 'Naughty Chocolate Icing'), and we came up with this Cherry & Almond Cake.

Like most of the delicacies in the book, there's a vegetable component to the cake - in this cake, 200g of grated potato. Yes. Potato. I'll admit to being slightly alarmed as the whole thing was baking - there was a distinct aroma of chips coming from the oven, but I told myself this was merely an old odour of my many home made oven chip baking sessions, and not the cake...

Anyway, the cake looked wonderful, and cooled down, had no suggestion of chip. I'd hazard that I'd make this again, even if I wasn't catering for allergies and intolerances.

Cherry & Almond Cake

200g glace cherries
3 large eggs
180g caster sugar
200g peeled, finely grated potato
zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
150g rice flour, plus 2 tbsp
150g ground almonds
1 tsp almond extract
2 tsp baking powder
good pinch of salt
250g cherry jam
20g flaked almonds, lightly toasted
1 tbsp icing sugar
1/4 tsp cinammon

Grease and line the base of 2 * 20cm loose bottomed cake tins.

Halve the cherries, and toss in the extra 2 tbsp rice flour till lightly coated.

Whisk together the eggs and sugar for a good 5 minutes till very pale and light.

Beat in the potato and lemon zest.

Add the flour, ground almonds, almond extract, baking powder and salt, and combine thoroughly before scraping the mixture between the prepared tins.

Drop the cherry halves over the surface of the mixture so that they sink slightly in.

Place in the middle of the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes till golden brown and firm to the touch.

When the cakes are ready to come out of the oven, unmould them onto a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then peel the backing paper off and leave to cool entirely.

Sandwich the cooled cakes together with the cherry jam, then sprinkle the toasted almonds over the top, then sift the icing sugar and cinammon over the top of that.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Cardigan Pizza Tipi

Despite what I thought, I've been reluctant to write about any of the foodie delights that I've been fortunate enough to come across since we've moved here. Not consciously - consciously, every time I find another farm shop, market, cafe, I start mentally making notes, and yet it never makes it here.

May be I'm feeling like I have no right to comment: 

"Who does she think she is anyway, swanning in here, talking about our food?"

Perhaps I just don't want to share...

But no longer.

There is just too much fantastic food round here, and not enough people knowing about it, and that has to stop.

So first up is the Cardigan Pizza Tipi, 'hidden in plain sight' - as it were, at one end of the main street through Cardigan, on the bank of the River Teifi. Run by the Fforest team (much feted family friendly 'eco camping'), think woodfired pizza in a semi-al fresco, riverside venue, garden flowers in enamel pitchers on rustic tables, turn up and find a space, have a drink, cloud bread or gorgeous substantial 'pittas' and dips, a pizza or quiche, ice cream or cake for dessert - there's a carefully contrived simplicity about the place, very much 'of the moment', but who am I to quibble with that? If you want great pizza in Cardigan, this is the place to come.

Even on a slightly drizzly Saturday evening, it was a great place to meet up with some friends who had just arrived for a weeks' holiday in Newport a few miles down the road - space for the kids to run around (perhaps a little too much?), and the food is really fabulous. 

 Rather than an extensive list of pizzas, there were about 6 or 7 (I forgot to take a photo of the blackboard with them written on) and one special. Between us, we mostly favoured the 'Summertime' (which had been recommended to me) - chorizo, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, with Blue choosing the 'Maritime' (anchovies, capers and olives) and my lovely friend the Moroccan (roast lamb, mint, feta - I wasn't sure about it, reading the ingredients on the board, but on the plate - or rather, the wooden board - it was very good).


We also ordered some pittas and dips - oil & balsamic and hummus. The 'cloud bread' was still baking, but the pittas, warm, substantial, were no disappointing substitute.

For dessert, there's a small selection of cakes, baked in house, and ice cream & sorbet. the kids all went for ice cream, us grown ups had brownies and a jam, coconut sponge. The sponge was good, but not as good as the fig chocolate brownie. A piece of squidgy, chocolately heaven. I can't tell you how divine - the photos just don't do it justice...

All this for a very reasonable price, plus views of the river - even without the sunshine, it's a special place.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Raspberry Trifle

Trifle features a lot in people's food memories either positively or negatively. It seems to bring on fairly extreme reactions, a little like tripe or marmite, and I find it odd given that it's a sweet dish, with basically most of the greatest food elements (although granted no bacon) known to woman: cake, a splash of liquor, custard, cream, almonds, jelly or some kind of jamminess, and yes, if you like, some fruit.

My own trifle memories are of the Christmas day variety. Sherry trifle was always on the table, my Granny's contribution (if my memory serves me well) to the festivities whether she was running the main event or she brought it over to ours. There was, I seem to remember, a kind of illicit thrill to the consumption of something with alcohol in it, a hesitance on my parents' part to allow me to have too much.

I've steered away from trifle myself, not from any dislike, but perhaps a reluctance to try and replicate that which is an integral part of my memory when the originator of said trifle is no longer here to pester for the exact contents. Much as I enjoyed it, I can't actually remember what went into Granny's trifle, excepts for a whipped cream layer sprinkled with flaked almonds. Flaked almonds are one of my most favourite things in the world - anything almondy really ( my love of marzipan is well documented on these virtual pages).

I've availed myself of Nigella's deconstructed lemon trifle from Domestic Goddess a couple of times - essentially a very drizzled lemon loaf cake which you slice onto a plate and smother in a lemon syllabub type thing and raspberries. It's very good, but not really trifle.

Anyway, as I was explaining the other day, we had some of the Husband's colleagues over for a BBQ - the weather gods smiled on us as did the BBQ gods, and all was right with the world. I'd dug out some Good Food mags for pudding inspiration and when Blue saw this recipe, there was little chance I was going to be able to make anything else. He begged, he pleaded, he sustained the campaign for several days. He won.

I made the original recipe first time round, making double the custard and using that to sandwich together a Swedish Summer Cake (also a Nigella). As an aside, I made the Summer Cake before, following her recipe for custard (it's in Kitchen - it's worth buying the book for that recipe alone), but found the custard very runny - pornographically so. This custard is a thicker affair, and worked well. Also, I wimped out and only sliced the cake into 2 layers, not 3, but I was well pleased with the results.

But back to trifle. So I made the cherry trifle, and very easy and satisfactory it was too, but I wanted to see what it would be like with raspberries (need you ask?). Raspberries are one of my favourites - they are also Pink's favourites, and after indulging the boy's cherry dreams, I thought I'd suck up to her a bit.

Yes, I made the madeira cake, and yes, you make the custard - you could buy both, even Mary Berry in the original recipe countenances the possibility - but actually, I'm finding less and less time to tinker in the kitchen, and this was a welcome excuse to shut myself away, fiddle about, make a mess and create something lovely. And that is as good a reason as any to make this.

And just one point about the custard. I'm all for skin on custard, but not here when you want to pour it over the trifle later. I will argue the toss with you.

Raspberry Trifle

50g caster sugar
50g cornflour
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs plus 1 yolk
400ml full fat milk
200ml double cream

450g raspberries
340g raspberry jam - as good quality as you can afford
450g Madeira cake - you can buy this, or make your own - I used Nigella's fantastic recipe from Domestic Goddess which will make more than you need, but that's no hardship.
100ml raspberry liqueur - chambord or the like, or use some decent dry sherry
5 large amaretti biscuits
300ml lightly whipped double cream

Make the custard first. Combine sugar, cornflour and vanilla in a mixing bowl, then add the eggs & yolk and whisk together till smooth. This is important - get the lumps out of the way at this stage.

Pour the milk and cream into a large pan (large enough to take everything in it) and gently heat - but don't let it boil.

When the liquid is hot, pour over the eggy mixture and whisk vigorously till all combined, then rinse out the pan to remove any scum.

Put the pan back on a gentle heat and pour the custard back in, then stirring continuously, bring back up to heat until the custard has thickened and is smooth. If the custard looks like it's going lumpy at ay stage during the heating process, just keep stirring - it should smooth out again.

Pour the custard into a jug and put a piece of clingfilm pressed onto the top of the custard to stop skin forming while it cools down.

Put about 400g of the raspberries into a small pan with half the jam and gently heat up till everything softens and melds together. Stir occasionally just to make sure it doesn't stick and burn - do keep the heat low. After about 10 mins remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.

Slice your madeira cake up into 1cm slices, and sandwich the slices together with the rest of the jam - we're talking generous smothering here.

Lay these sandwiches into the bottom of your trifle dish (this recipe calls for one around 20cm in diameter and quite deep), then splash the alcohol over, ensuring all is covered.

Pour and smooth the raspberry jam sauce over the cake, then break the amaretti biscuits over the top in quite big pieces.

Smooth the cooled custard over this, then lightly whip the cream and spread over the custard, Decorate with the reserved raspberries  you could also sprinkle some chopped/flaked almonds over the top too...

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Gin & Tonic Loaf Cake

Did I tell you that I once won a whole case of Gordons gin? 12 whole bottles, all because I was bored on the East Coast Mainline, returning from an Employment Tribunal in Newcastle Upon Tyne to London? Well I did. I think I might have been the only person who entered the competition in the 'in train' magazine, because I also won tickets to see Stomp all from the same postcard entry form. In many ways, I think it's slightly unfortunate that I cancelled out my entire winning streak with one competition. I mean, I'm unlikely to win on the premium bonds now - I can't even win a tenner on a scratch card (not that I buy them - perhaps that's the problem? But no, I think even if I did buy them, or play the lottery, I just wouldn't win).

I do like a gin & tonic. You'd think that 12 bottles and I might have got a little bored of it, but no, although I have to say that Gordons is unlikely to be my gin of choice these days. I'm rather partial to Bombay Sapphire as a kind of 'day to day' gin - which makes it sound like I drink it all the time, which I don't (really, Mum, I absolutely don't). My all time favourite gin was one that a local wine merchant produced for me I went in looking for Hendricks, and came out with a bottle, one of only a dozen he'd managed to get his hands on (I didn't ask how), or gin distilled on the bay in San Francisco. I can't to my shame remember what it was called, but it was delicious.  I've never seen it since which is a great shame.

I've just come to the end of a rather delicious elderflower infused concoction by Warner Edwards, purchased at CarFest last year, and cracked open a bottle of Adnams 'Copper House' gin which a friend brought with her when she came to stay. She can come again.

The reason for cracking open a bottle of gin on a Sunday morning, which felt very decadent and not a little raffish, is this cake. You see, I like gin & I like cake. The lure of a gin & tonic cake must therefore be obvious to you.

I baked it for the July meeting of the Cardigan Clandestine Cake Club, on the theme 'Summertime'. because what could be more summery than sitting outside as the heat just starts to drift out of the day, drinking a gin & tonic. Fancy cocktails are all very well, but you just can't beat a great G&T. And I do love a lemon drizzle cake, ad this combines the best of both.

The cake calls for the weighing method for ingredients - my eggs weighed 250g which has NEVER happened to me before, but the resultant mixture was probably a little too much. I should have diverted some of it into cupcakes, I think. Somewhere in the region of 200g might have been better.

But when a cake has gin in it, you can cast aside any sense of caution. And this cake does have a lot of gin in it. A. LOT. Mostly in the drizzle. I tried to distribute the drizzle evenly over the cake, but I did still end up with a very gin soaked central part of cake, with gin becoming more subtle the closer to the edges and the bottom of the cake you nibbled. That said, if I hadn't been driving, I would have embraced the gin-soaked centre with enthusiasm. 

It was a real shame we were all, to a woman, driving, to be honest - because getting gently sozzled on a lovely piece of cake, well, it's a pretty enjoyable thought for a summer evening, really. Definitely a cake for the grownups, I'd say. One to make when you know you're not going to be driving anywhere.

My fellow blogger, Sarah, who's lovely bit of the blogosphere is A View from the Table was similarly interested in this cake, being a bit of a gin connoisseur, and so I'll be interested to hear what she thought of this cake.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Pomegranate molasses & date biscuits

I swore before we moved that I wouldn't get involved with the PTA. 

At least, not straight away.

"I've done my time on playgroup and school committees", I told myself. "I've baked cakes, I've made tea, I've driven myself half deaf and slightly crazy, listening to Crazy Frog, Nelly the Elephant and Jessie J, while mercilessly taking money from small children in return for glow sticks at any number of school discos. I've transformed (ahem) any number of the little angels into tigers, puppies, butterflies and pirates through the power of Snazaroo. I've done the admin, drunk the cheap coffee and shared in the frustrations of any group of volunteers struggling to do their best for the organisation they are supporting. Enough."

I went along to the first PTA meeting that was advertised after we moved.

A secret part of me would like to be cool, aloof, the kind of person everyone wants to have in their gang. The kind of person who doesn't leap in with both feet often to trip over in an ungainly fashion - metaphorically and, sadly, actually - in the varied social challenges life presents us with. But I'm just not. I'm a joiner. There's no point pretending to be anything other than what I am. Watch out for me in a few years, sensible shoes on, wielding secateurs or a wicker basket (possibly both) directing operations at a village fete near you. I've seen the future and, at its most cliched, it involves a ridiculous straw hat - depending on the weather of course. I've had a number of worrying urges in the direction of ridiculous straw hats recently. 

The thing about joining in is that it helps you meet people and make friends. I guess I was thinking I could take the 'sit back and let the friendships happen' approach but honestly, that's ridiculously arrogant, especially when I am hardly ever at school, and I work from home. I hasten to add that it's not an approach I've ever taken before, but it crossed my mind that I might avoid some of the ungainly tripping over if I did.  

The thing is, that if you join in, you meet people. They may not be always kindred spirits, but you can build a network, make connections with others, get out of the house. I knew that one of the hardest things about moving would be uprooting all of us from the community we lived in before - where at any given time if I went out I'd be bound to see someone I knew - in the shops, in the pub, out for a walk with the dog. My children had been to playgroup, then to the village primary school with the same group of kids, for 8 years. Same kids, same parents. That roots you in a place even more than I had appreciated. And it's not so easy to regrow those roots if you come into a community at a later stage. There's so much shared history you have with others if your kids have grown up together. Not necessarily because you are best friends with everyone, but because you've gone through that crazy baby and young child stage, seen the same changes in your community, seen teachers come and go, new buildings go up, shops close down. The children are comfortable with each other - they all know how the others tick, the ties that bind.

Coming away from that has been very hard. Through the power of Facebook I know what's going on in the village we used to live in at a very superficial level. The outdoor swimming pool that was at risk of closure has reopened for the summer, there's a new greengrocer on the high street, the Church fete took place at the weekend... but I'm not part of it any more. The other thing is that people also only have so much space for new friends. Yes, they can be welcoming, friendly, but time is precious to everyone, and investing time in new friendships is not necessarily near the top of people's agendas. I know this. It is a fact and I understand it from being in the position when we were part of the established community and new people moved in. Now, thought, the boot is on the other foot and we are the newcomers, the people who want to make friends and establish roots in a new community.

I could sink into a morass of self-pity and despair but frankly that's not going to get anyone anywhere is it, now, so Friday after school, I rolled up my sleeves and spent 2 hours face painting at the school fete. It was intense, I tell you. But my fellow face painter was someone I hadn't met before, and we're meeting up for coffee. This makes me very happy.

I am also hoping that making some biscuits to take along with me to her house using dates and pomegranate molasses will not turn out to be another ungainly trip in my social life's little path. I have no idea what she likes and dislikes, but I decided that something like this avoids the obvious chocolate route, there's the option to joke about 'healthy' biscuits (there's dates in them - of COURSE they are healthy, go on, have another one...) and they have a sweet lemony-ness from the pomegranate molasses to them that is interesting (in a good way) yet not overpowering. I'm hoping they will taste delicious with coffee.

Pomegranate molasses & date biscuits

Makes 15-18 (depending on how big your walnuts are*).

50g soft light brown suger
50g pomegranate molasses
125g soft unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
175g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
2tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground all spice
175g dates, stoned and chopped
100g  poppy seeds/sesame seeds (optional)

Beat together the sugar, molasses and butter till creamy, then add in the egg yolk and continue to beat till fluffy.

Sift in the flour, bicarb, baking powder and ground spices, and carefully fold everything together.

Beat in the dates till everything is combined

Cover the bowl with clingfilm and pop in the fridge for the mixture to firm up - leave for at least 30 minutes, but up to a week if necessary.

When ready to bake, line a couple of baking trays with greasproof paper and pre-heat the oven to 180C.

Sprinkle the seeds on a plate, then take walnut sized* balls of the mixture (I used a tablespoon measure to scoop out mixture, ice cream style and got about 16 biscuits) and flatten them into the seeds to about 1 cm thickness/4-5cm diameter. Cover both sides with seeds then place on the lined baking tray.

(I only used half the amount of seeds and didn't cover all of the biscuits, just in case poppy seeds weren't to my hostess's liking...)

Bake for 15-20 mins till the edges are firm and any biscuit you can see (as opposed to the seeds, especially if you use poppy seeds) are golden brown.