Saturday, 30 August 2014

Mary Berry Cooks... Rich Chocolate Traybake with swirly icing

Yes, I know, you've got the book or seen the recipe online, and it's not swirly icing, is it, it's feather icing. Piped lines of white chocolate artfully smudged with a cocktail stick to make pretty, Mr Kipling-esque 'feathers' across the top of the milk chocolate ganache.

Yeah, right. Like that's ever going to happen for me.

Off for a final hoorah of the summer holidays this weekend (camping for a good friend's 40th birthday, on the campsite that she and her husband and kids have just bought. How cool is that? Our friends - our camping buddies - own a campsite. How COOL is that??) though, cake was called for and traybake was going to fit the bill.

But first, I must digress.

I haven't written much about camping this summer. Truth is that a couple of things have conspired. 

Firstly, I feel strangely coy about our decision, subsequently executed at the beginning of the year, to sell our beloved Daisy and upgrade to Sadie (or Wussie as she seems to be referred to mostly, based on an unfortunate number plate). We all loved Daisy, our 1989 T25, and selling her wasn't an easy decision but she was viciously uneconomical in the petrol department and we weren't content with pottering down to Dorset every couple of weekends. Already planning trips into Europe, and knowing in our hearts that she wouldn't be up to it (or, rather, our holiday fund wasn't up to funding her guzzling petrol all the way through France), the move to Wales was the final nail in the coffin - her paintwork would never have survived the salty atmosphere living by the sea. So Daisy went to a good home (I won't go into details, but I felt like she was continuing the good work she started with us) and we searched for our next van. We have upgraded massively, and on every level Wussie is superior. I miss Daisy. But not enough to feel too sad.

Secondly, we haven't actually done that much camping. Plenty of day trips, and having the van has meant we can stay out longer, take food with us, but as I may have mentioned before, living in such a coastal and rural area, well, the need, the desperate desire to escape to the sea that certainly I used to feel, is just not there. We did have a fantastic weekend camping down in Newport, a mere 20 minute drive away, and of course, the holiday in France, all made possible by Wussie, but, really, that's it.

But this weekend, the last of the summer holidays, we're off camping on our friends' campsite for Liz's 40th. Liz is awesome, and she's going to be such a fantastic campsite owner. At the moment, the site they've bought isn't licensed for tents, but they are working on it. And if you have a caravan or camper and need somewhere near Chippenham/Bath to stay, let me know...

In the tradition of several awesome camping birthdays we've been to, there's an element of everyone mucking in together to bring tonnes of booze salads, puddings and cakes. 

Incidentally, does anyone get the feeling that as you get older, there's a formula that should be applied to ensure you don't bring too much booze to events like this? I haven't quite worked it out - I bet I'm not the only person to have experienced these weekends where everyone forgets that they have kids and responsible jobs (either in or outside the home) and enthusiastically brings the same amount as they would have aged 23...

Anyway, digression over, and cake is where I was. I made 2 Mary Berry traybakes in preparation for the festivities. I'm not a huge fan of Mary Berry, and my views on the whole GBBO caravan have already been documented I wouldn't know exactly what happened in recent episodes, because I'm not watching the latest series, but I'd just like to say that the suggestion of 'naughty editing' by the BBC to make more out of the Baked Alaska issue than was there, painting a darker picture of the actions of one of the contestants, only goes to convince me that I'm right, and this show is not really much better than Jeremy Kyle...

But my mother in law gave me a Mary Berry cookbook for my birthday, and I'll concede that conniver in carcrash TV or not, Mary Berry does make a good tray bake. Her lemon drizzle traybake is pretty hard to beat for quick and easy, and I've made it a number of times, and, for this weekend, I also made her rich chocolate tray bake with feathered icing. Very straightforward, chocolate sponge, chocolate ganache, and then white chocolate.

The white chocolate should have been piped in straight lines (ha!), evenly spaced across the cake, and then I should have dragged a cocktail stick through to produce the 'feathers'.

Well there was no chance. I'm not great at decorative icing, and while I did toy with attempting a white chocolate "Happy Birthday Liz", I thought better of it and decided swirls would be a good option. And so they were. Melted white chocolate spooned into a piping bag, I snipped the end off as close to the end as I could and simply swirled.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Smoked Paprika Potato Wedges

This is absolutely my favourite way to eat potatoes at the moment - and has been for some time but I've never got round to putting it up here because I just make them without regard for quantity. Smoked paprika potato wedges. Crunchy with salt; smoky with, er, smoked paprika. 


I could just say, "Yeah, just slice up some potatoes, toss them in oil, smoked paprika, salt & pepper and whack them in the oven until they're cooked" (which is, really, how I roll) but really that wouldn't be much of a post. 

When I look back, initially, I didn't put any recipes in these posts. The 'Recipe Junkie' was always about me devouring other people's recipes - whether in books or online, in newspapers, magazines or old notebooks, and was never about me suggesting my own recipes were really any good, despite what you might think, or how I might occasionally come across (in which case give me a slap).. 

And that's still really where I'm coming from, although sometimes (if you'll excuse the conceit of the statement) I think that I come up with something that's pretty good. But I'd be the first to say that it's usually had its roots elsewhere. There's not a huge amount of completely original thought gone into anything I cook. I mean, how much original thought can there be? Someone might introduce a new fad in OUR food culture, a new idea, but you can be sure that somewhere else in the world, it's been consumed, cooked for years... 

A quick Google tells me that chia seeds were being grown by the Aztecs in 3,500 BC. Yes, Gwynnie, really. 

Woodfired ovens? Well, hello - hardly a new concept.

So I don't pretend that this is my idea - there are hundreds of similar recipes out there. But this is my current favourite way to eat potatoes (am I repeating myself?) and I thought I'd share it with you.

Smoked Paprika Potato Wedges

Serves 4

4 large-ish white potatoes (about 800g)
2 tsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
A good pinch or sea salt
2-3 grinds of black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 220C, and put a baking tray into the oven to heat up.

Wash your potatoes, and slice them into wedges - about 10-12 from each potato. 

Put the potato pieces into a bowl, drizzle over the oil and toss the potatoes so all are covered, then sprinkle over the paprika, salt and pepper and toss everything all together again.

Tip the potatoes onto the hot baking sheet, shake into a single layer, then pop back in to the oven and cook for at least 45 minutes, may be longer if needed, taking the sheet out every so often and stirring the wedges around to ensure even cooking.

Serve with burgers, with fish, or just on their own, with mayo to dip.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Moules Marinieres

We had a holiday once, the Husband and I, in the very North West of Scotland, on the mainland just before you cross to Skye, in the shadow of Eilean Donan (the 'Highlander' castle if that helps). 

There are many things I could recount about that holiday - the incredibly long drive north, from Salisbury Plain (including an interesting evening in Penrith), towing a dinghy; the persistent sea mist that hovered about 3 inches above our heads for the entire week (apart from 1 day); the midges that occupied the 3 inches between our heads and the mist; the fact that the Husband had to be in daily contact with the powers that were at the time, being as he was still in the Army, and being that a little issue called Afghanistan was looming - but mobile phone signal was - ahem - patchy; the even longer journey home punctuated in all senses by a burst boat trailer tyre which kept us enjoying the delights of Fort Augustus (tearooms, doilies, the Loch Ness Monster) for 6 hours while Mrs McTavish who'd already taken the post bus to Inverness earlier in the day, attempted to locate a replacement for us...

Do I make it sound like a less than perfect holiday? Well in fact it was great - there was sailing, walking, there was visiting of castles (but of course), otters, whisky... But one of the best things about the holiday - certainly one of the most memorable - was a little note in the visitors book in the cottage we hired, an aside mentioning a place on the opposite side of the loch where you could find great mussels. As you might imagine, we were up for a challenge, and indeed, instructions followed, we treated ourselves to an evening of moules ├ęcossais after which I seem to remember walking to the nearest establishment offering both musical and alcoholic entertainment for a ceilidh...

Fast forward too many years to state, and a few weeks ago, the Husband came home from work with news of 'the' place locally to find mussels. Of course, I cannot possibly reveal the whereabouts of this treasure trove, but on Saturday, with the tides looking favourable, he set off with the kids to forage.

Of course, once you know where to go, the issue is not collecting the mussels, it's making sure they are safe to eat. Wild mussels aren't, of course, subject to the UV treatment of farmed mussels, so if you're going to eat them, you have to take care from where you collect them (somewhere with a big tidal range, lots of water, no sewage pipes...) to how you keep them, clean them and cook them.

So the Husband's 3.8 kilos of mussels. Kept in sea water overnight after a rather fraught journey home in the back of the camper van. We made up 4 litres of brine, and then spent a good hour or so this morning de-bearding and scrubbing them, then soaked them in the brine for another 4 hours before cooking them (having discarded any that were open and didn't close on being given a sharp tap.

Lunch, then, was entirely the Husband's creation, adapted from the recipe we used in Scotland all those years ago. 1.5 onions finely chopped and sweated in a good knob of bitter (about 30g, it looked like to me) with 2 crushed cloves of garlice. Once they were good and soft, his sous chef (me) tipped the mussels into the pan while he tipped in about 250 ml white wine, and then banged the lid on for 5-6 minutes while the mussels steamed in the winey vapours...

Then all you need is bowls to serve the mussels in, good bread and bob, as they say, is your moule...

Delicious - not a bit of grit, creamy, fresh and full of the flavours of the sea. And while not completely won over, the kids ate them too. Pretty successful, I'd say...

Friday, 22 August 2014

Builders' Tart

When I wrote about the Cardigan Pizza Tipi a few weeks ago, I didn't mention that pizza is only served from 6 p.m. Go to eat earlier than that, on a warm sunny lunchtime (they do happen in Wales), and you'll find quiche on the menu, but not just any old quiche.

Oh no. Delicious, buttery individual pastry cases packed with perfectly paired, locally sourced (where possible) ingredients; salads bursting with flavour, and freshness, full of sunshine.

I went with the kids and my parents earlier in the summer. Pink was in disagreeable mood. 

"But I don't LIKE quiche. What am I going to eat?"

Unfortunately, the alternative was mushroom soup. Pink has an avowed (and most disappointing) hatred of mushrooms, and I was starting to get a little bit weary of the whinging, which she can keep up for an admirably long time when the mood takes her, when I hit upon the solution.

Yes, I pandered to her.

"Well, look, this one with sausage and bacon in it - that's not quiche - that's a TART."

Problem solved.

I don't really approve of my actions, but needs must and all that, and it was worth it to get her to eat the Builders Quiche that I knew she'd love: sausages, bacon from the local butcher, cannelini beans, the usual eggy cheesy filling. I don't even know why she objects to quiche in the first place - omelette, eggy bread, poached eggs - probably some of her favourite things to eat.

I wanted to recreate the quiche/tart this week for some friends. Off to Dewi James in Cardigan for chipolatas in natural casings and streaky bacon (I got my eggs there too), and, as advised by the pastry chef at the Tipi when we asked him - the best Welsh butter I could find.

Pastry's not my forte - I'm not going into that again - and my finished shell, post blind-baking was not a thing of beauty, but I was pleased with the flavour and the butteriness of the pastry as part of the end result; and while that end result might not quite have captured the full essence of the Tipi's own Builder's Quiche (I'm wondering if I was missing some sliced tomatoes), it was definitely getting there.

Builders' Quiche/Tart

Serves 8 generously


300g plain flour
150g best Welsh butter
1 large egg yolk
around 50 ml cold milk

1 large onion
8 rashers of streaky bacon
8 good quality chipolata sausages
2 tablespoons of rapeseed oil
5 large eggs
500 ml semi-skimmed milk
fresh ground salt & pepper
400g can cannellini beans
75g grated cheddar


Make the pastry: in a food processor, whiz the flour and butter to crumbs then add in the egg yolk and pulse to combine. Slowly add the milk till the mixture just starts to come together, then bring it together with your hands, knead it briefly to form a ball, flatten, wrap in clingflim and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Once the pastry is rested, remove it from the fridge.

Pre-heat the oven to 170C.

Line a 28 cm, deep quiche dish and bake blind for 20 mins - I line my uncooked pastry case with greaseproof and add baking beans (because I have them) for this bit, then remove the beans and paper and cook for a further 5 minutes.

At the same time, chop the onions relatively finely, and snip up the bacon in to bitesize strips.

Combine the onion and bacon in an oven proof dish, drizzle over 1 tablespoon of oil, mix together and pop in the oven for about 30 mins, stirring every so often.

Put the sausages in an oven proof dish, drizzle with the remaining oil and pop in the oven too for around 30 mins, shaking the dish every so often (when you stir the onions and bacon).

While the pastry is baking blind and the onions, bacon and sausages are in the oven, whisk up the eggs, add in the milk and the fresh ground salt and pepper.

Grate the cheese, drain the cannellini beans.

Once the case is baked and the onions bacon and sausage are cooked as indicated, you're ready to assemble.

Scatter the onion and bacon mix over the bottom of the pastry case, and arrange the sausages, fan-like, over the top. Scatter over the cannellini beans, then the cheese, finally pour in the eggy mixture on top then return the whole thing to the oven for 30-40 minutes, till it's baked and golden.

I'm afraid my photos of the finished product were rubbish, but I quite liked this one...

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Notre Sejour en France

So, yes, sorry, I've been away.

It was lovely. 

For so many years, we've either split our holiday into 2, week long slots, at least some of it on scout camps, and at the end of our time away I've always had a compelling urge to stay away, to turn around and head off elsewhere. I think that the sign of a truly great holiday must be that you feel ready to come home - in a good way: relaxed, replete, and not even 12 hours on the French autoroutes (including the traffic jams around Paris) ruins it.

A campsite nestled in the foothills of the French Pyrenees - close enough to the coast for a day at the beach, but strangely (or perhaps not so strangely as we now have easy access to the sea in our day to day lives) we spent most of our time in the mountains, following rivers either up or down stream, marvelling at waterfalls, swimming in icy cold natural swimming pools of melt water, leaping off rocks into rivers, squeezing through gorges...

We ate, as you'd expect, some great French food. Significant numbers of croissants, pains au chocolat, baguettes, rillettes, fromage, crepes... luscious peaches and apricots from roadside stalls, absolutely ripe, and with not a hint of refrigerated transport about them ...

Thanks to my French friends who live in the area, we also had a couple of delicious, utterly authentic meals. 

On our second night, a family BBQ with Sonia, Laurent, their son, Sonia's parents, sisters, sisters' husbands and kids... It featured a delicious courgette soup (am hoping to get the recipe, all of you who are struggling in the annual "what shall we do with all these courgettes" conundrum) merguez and saucisse, salads, and of course a couple of delicious tartes of the type you only find in France. There are no pics of this gorgeous evening: we were too busy eating, drinking delicious wine from the local vineyards - wine that will never make it to these shores because the locals keep it for themselves! and sharing news in a wierd mixture of Fr-english and We-nch as the non-French (the Husband, Blue & Pink), non-English (my French friend's father, one of her brothers in law etc) and non-Welsh speakers (everyone apart from Blue & Pink) in the company  all tried to make themselves understood...

We also had a wonderful meal with them at a restaurant in Tautavel (home of the oldest European man), 'le Petit Gris', a Catalan restaurant with a menu full of the fish and meat of the region. If you're in the area, I'd really recommend looking it out. Squid, rabbit, mussels, snails all featured heavily, as did goats cheese. It was all utterly delicious, eating on a covered terrace as the sun went down. Again, not many pics of the food, although I did sneak a couple of snaps of my dessert - fresh goats cheese topped with roasted almonds and local honey. Just divine...

And so now we're back home, the scent of Autumn replacing those of wild fennel and the baking Roussillon terre. One of the best holidays we've had.

Hope you've had a good summer too.

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.