Thursday, 30 June 2011

Healthy fruity muffins

Cakes don't always have to be naughty- you can make healthier versions that are still lovely and tasty. I love these fruity muffins that take moments to whisk up and bake and are great at all times of the day and though kids will love them they are actually quite good for them! And they can help you make them which is always a good thing.

Begin by putting 150g plain flour, 50g wholemeal flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp bicarbonate soda and 2 tsps ground cinammon in a bowl.

Put in a small dish 30g butter, 2 tbsp vegetable oil, 2 tsp vanilla extract and 3 heaped tbsp honey. Heat for about a minute in the microwave until it is all melted and then stir together. Alternatively melt in a saucepan on a medium heat. You do not want the mixture boiling- just melted.

Stir in 150ml yoghurt (I used plain but you can use a fruit flavoured one that matches the fruit you are using) and put this into the flour mix.

To the bowl also add two eggs and 3 small very ripe mashed bananas. When I have some bananas that are very ripe but I don't need them at that point I peel and mash them and then store them in the freezer until I want them.

Finally add a large handful of fresh soft red fruit (I used raspberries since there was some ripe in the garden but strawberries also work well or cranberries). Break them into small pieces.

Once all the ingredients are in mix it all together until it is just combined. Don't overmix or you start to overwork the gluten.

Fill cases with the mix- if doing small fairy cake this will make about 24 or about 12 larger muffin cases. Don't completely fill the cases- you need a good rim around the top of the case to allow the cake mix to rise. For the smaller cases (which is what I used this time) you need a heaped dessertspoon full of mix per case.

Bake at 180 degrees C for about 12 minutes until risen and just turning golden. Check that a squewer comes out clean.

Delicious eaten warm straight from the oven. But these store well (can be frozen- I've got a batch in the freezer now ready for my eldest's sports day on Monday) so long as kept in an airtight container.

Good as part of breakfast, in lunchboxes, on picnics, to take on playdates or even just for a teatime treat.

Til soon.....

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Seasoning cast iron pans

I've been asked a question on twitter about seasoning a cast iron griddle- easier to answer here in full than in little tweets! There are lots of different views on the type of fat that should be used and the temperature that the heating should be done at. Generally though the below method is regarded as a good way to season your pans.

If you correctly season cast iron it will literally last you a lifetime. Being by preheating the oven to 180 degrees C.

Then you need to clean the pan carefully with soap and water. This is still important even if it is brand new since it will probably have a film on it of oil that the manufacturer put on to try and make it non-stick and you need to remove this.

You must then very very carefully dry it- for the seasoning to properly work the oil needs to soak into the metal and it won't do this if it is still wet (think of those school chemistry experiments where you try and mix water and oil!) When you have dried it put it into the preheated oven for a few minutes so that it is completely bone dry.

This is where you use the fat- both lard or bacon grease work well. Do not use butter or margarine nor vegetable oil which will just leave a sticky surface rather than seasoning the pan. The pan needs to be completely covered by the fat. If the pan has a lid this also need to be covered in the fat in the same way.

Put the pan (and lid) in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove after this time and pour off the excess fat that has accumulated (if there is too much fat it will go gummy rather than season the pan). Then put it back into the oven and bake for another two hours.

The more times you repeat this process the better the seasoning of the pan. When you start using the pan try and cook high-fat foods in it such as bacon and sausages since the fat will help with strengthening the seasoning.

If if the seasoning gets damaged or broken off in parts or rust appears then you need to repeat the above to reseason the pan.

Never keep food in a seasoned pan since it will give the food an odd taste and the acid from the food will break down the seasoning in the pan. Also don't using scouring pads or washing up liquid to wash the pans- clean while still hot with hot water. Otherwise you can damage the seasoned surface.

The pans will blacken as you use them and this is normal and nothing to worry about.

If correctly seasoned and looked after these pans will last far far longer than the modern day non-stick variety.

Til soon....

Ranchman cake (irish boiled fruitcake)

My irish mother-in-law gave me this recipe and she got it from her American grandmother. I'd not heard of a Ranchman cake but when I saw the recipe I realised it was a boiled fruitcake. The boiling part is actually the boiling of the dried fruit, sugars and liquid rather than the whole cake.

It is a very moist cake and a much lighter version than the fruitcake you get in Christmas or wedding cakes. It doesn't contain any alcohol - something that heavier fruitcakes usually include. It stores very well and is good as a teatime treat.

I've tweaked the original recipe a little just to personal taste and how I am wanting to use it but the basic recipe for a boiled fruitcake have the same ingredients.

Begin by measuring 2 cups of currants and 1 cup sultanas into a pan (you can use different dried fruit here if you prefer).

Add to this a cup of soft brown sugar (dark or light will give different flavours and textures), 2 tbsp golden syrup, 110g (about half a cup) butter, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 1 tsp mixed spice, 1 tsp ground cinammon, 1 tsp ground ginger and a cup of cold tea (or just water or alternatively milk- I like using tea since you can't taste the tea (I am not a tea drinker!) but it adds a nice hint to the cake).

Put on a medium heat and bring to the boil- simmer for about 5 minutes.

The fruit should all plump up and all the sugars dissolve.

This stage is similar to preparing dates for sticky toffee pudding although you won't blitz the fruit in this case. After this time remove the mixture from the heat and allow to cool.

Then add two eggs.

Mix into the fruit mix. Then add two cups of self-raising flour.

Mix everything together.

Grease a square tin (I used a 9 inch) and line with baking paper and then grease again. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.

Bake in an oven preheated to 150 degrees C (some recipes bake it at 180 degrees C but I think it works better slow cooking it). Bake for between an hour to an hour and a half- check that a squewer comes out clean and then it is cooked.

Allow to cool and serve in slices.

Though it keeps really well, unless I know I am serving a lot of people or have lots of visitors due over a few days, instead when I make one of these I will cut it into quarters, keep one for eating that day (or the next one!) and wrap three of the quarters in foil and freeze- then I just defrost it as needed. Great as an addition to a summer picnic and you can just grab it from the freezer as you leave.

It is lovely on its own or spread with a little butter. My husband HATES sultanas and currants and so this is a rare recipe that hasn't gained his approval though my girls give it the thumbs up!

Til soon....

My take on beef stroganoff

I've done lots of variations with stroganoff - chicken, beef and vegetarian. Usually I make it with chicken and rice but last night I had some nice beef that needed using and some fresh mushrooms so decided to make a beef one. I also was in the mood for pasta rather than rice. As I've always said you can tweek most recipes to adapt to what you have in and your personal preference.

This is quite a quick dish so you need to get things organised before you start cooking. Once you are ready cook up some pasta (I like this with wholemeal) in salted water. If you prefer this with rice then use this instead.

Begin by heating a knob of butter and a good splash of olive oil in a frying pan. Quickly cook about 400g of thinly sliced beef steaks (remove any extra fat).

This has to be from a good cut (steak cut) and not the tougher cuts that you need to slow cook in a casserolle. Only cook it for a minute or so to brown it- it will continue cooking a little when removed from the pan and then added to the sauce and you do not want it to overcook.

While it is cooking slice up some mushrooms (or you can just use button ones that don't need cutting). You need about 300-400g for two people but this can be adjusted to taste. Mushrooms shrink a lot when cooking so a large amount raw will halve in size.

Once it has browned remove with a slotted spoon (so that the juices remain in the pan) and add the mushrooms and keep them moving until they have browned slightly- again only a few minutes.

Again don't over cook these since they will keep cooking once removed from the pan and when readded to the sauce.

Remove these with a slotted spoon and add them to the beef. Then roughly chop an onion and add this to the pan. 

Again cook for about 5 minutes until lightly coloured. While it is cooking mix together 300ml beef stock, 2 tbsp tomato puree and 1 tbsp mustard (I used Dijon) and season.

When the onion has been cooking for about 5 minutes add a tbsp flour and stir to absorb the juices and then slowly add the stock mix. Allow to simmer for a couple of minutes.

Add a tbsp smoked paprika and stir through.

Return the beef and mushrooms to the pan.

At this point you can add a good splash of white wine and then allow to simmer for a minute or so. Then turn off the heat and stir through 200ml plain yoghurt. You can add creme fraiche or single cream if you would prefer.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and put onto plates. Top with the beef stroganoff.

A lovely mid week dinner that is really tasty and yet very quick to make.

Til soon.....

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Hungarian Goulash

I love this meal- it's simple to prepare, doesn't use lots of expensive ingredients and since the main work is done by the oven in cooking it slowly, I can prepare it while the kids eat their tea and have it ready as soon as they are in bed!

Begin by browning about 500g casserole beef in a large pain in one tbsp very hot oil. Depending on the size of the pan you may need to do this in a few batches.

As they brown remove them and set aside.

Chop up two large onions.

Turn the heat down a little and add these to the pan (with a little more oil if needed and cook the onions for about 5 minutes until they are lightly coloured.

Add a couple of chopped garlic cloves and put them meat back in the pan.

Add a tbsp plain flour to the dish to soak up the juices and a tbps smoked paprika (or normal paprika if you can't get smoked).

Stir it all in.

Add 400g chopped tomatoes and a good splash of red wine.

Season well and put a lid on the pan. Cook in the centre of the oven for 2 hours at 140 degrees C (this is a slow cooked meal!) The sauce will thicken during the cooking time.

Meanwhile chop up a couple of red peppers (I love peppers so often add quite a few!)

When the beef has cooked for two hours add the peppers, give it a good stir.

Cook for another 30 minutes.

When you are ready to serve stir in about 200ml plain yoghurt.

Serve with brown rice and green beans for a lovely wholesome meal.

A delicious that takes so little effort on your part.

Til soon.....

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The best soft chocolate chip cookies ever!

I've made many many different types of biscuits and most I have enjoyed but haven't quite hit the spot. I've adapted several recipes but often the biscuit is not soft enough, or the chocolate pieces completely melt and disappear into the biscuit or the taste isn't quite there.

These biscuits though tick every box and then some. They are soft and crumbly, the taste delicious and the chocolate pieces remain whole yet melting. They are as good (actually better) than the large cookies you can buy in the supermarkets fresh from their bakeries (whose recipes are a closely guarded secret!)

Part of the reason for the success of these cookies are the two different sugars that melt and caramelise in the oven at different temperatures. The other trick is using whole bars of chocolate that you smash down rather than chocolate drops or buttons which melt into the biscuit and just disappear. Using proper chunks of chocolate and cooking quickly means that although the chocolate melts and becomes lovely and goey it doesn't completely blend into the rest of the biscuit. The biscuit dough can be made in advance and then stored in the fridge or freezer which means you can have gorgeous freshly baked biscuits whenever you like.

Depending on the size of your biscuits this makes around 25-30 biscuits. Being by combining 225g butter, 175g caster sugar,175g soft brown sugar and 1tsp vanilla extract until they are fluffy and creamy.

Then whisk in two eggs.

In a separate bowl combing 350g plain flour, 0.5 tsp bicarbonate soda and 0.5 tsp baking powder.

Then add this to the liquid mix and combine.

Take 300g- 350g of chocolate (you can use milk, white or dark- here I used milk and white since it was for kids and they sometimes find the dark too strong). If they are in 100g packets don't unwrap them but bash them with a rolling pin until they are smashed into pieces.

Add this to the mixture and stir in.

Split the mixture in half and roll each half into a fat sausage and wrap in clingfilm. It will be quite a wet and sticky mixture so flour the surface and your hands when dealing with it.

These can be stored in the fridge until you need them (or frozen) and it is great since it means you can have them all but ready and then just bake once you want them. You can really impress friends by inviting them round for a coffee and having fresh cookies within 10 minutes of walking through the door!

When ready to bake preheat the oven to 190 degrees C and slice the sausage dough into slices of a couple of centimetres (just under an inch). Put on a lined baking sheet- leaving lots of space between each for the biscuits to spread.

Bake for just 9 minutes.

They will look quite pale when you take them out of the oven but they will continue hardening as they cool and if you leave it longer then the chocolate won't be still in proper chunks and the biscuits will be hard and over-cooked.

Leave for a few minutes to cool and then enjoy while still warm. They are also still delicious once cool and store well (if you can resist!). Seriously the perfect biscuit.

Til soon....