Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Carnitas


!WARNING!

If you are a pork fan this recipe may have a significant impact on your life

 !WARNING!

I had some unexpected time this evening and with a spare avocado on my hands (as you do) had decided I needed guacamole. My freezer held some cider braised pulled pork which floated my boat but was just not appropriate with guac.

Consequently, I decided to go "full Mexican" and bought a pork shoulder (as you do) to make carnitas. Clearly a very restrained mid-week meal...



Holy moly, I'm glad I did. This pork was so unbelievably tasty, I must have eaten at least as much as I put on the plate just whilst I was plating. It was so tender yet with a real bite and a caramelised exterior all combining to burst into a beautiful mouthful of porky goodness. It was just immense. Utterly delicious. 

On top of that it was ridiculously easy to make and far far quicker than I had imagined.

To have with the carnitas, I had the aforementioned guac, crackling chunks from the shoulder skin, some re-fried beans and feta, all atop a tortilla. I realise I could have made a burrito roll but this seemed more refined.

Seriously, carnitas vs. pulled pork is now a very close contest. You need to try this out.

Carnitas (recipe taken from Williams-Snoma "Mexican")

Ingredients:
~1.5kg boneless pork shoulder
6 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
Strips of zest from one orange
180 ml orange juice
2tsp sea salt
Oil, if required

Method:
1. Trim the fat from the pork and put in a wide heavy saucepan.
2. Cut the shoulder into 1" strips and then cut in to chunks ~1"x2".
3. Add the pork cubes to the pan with the garlic, orange zest, orange juice and salt. The meat should be in a single layer, if possible.
4. Add enough water to barely cover the meat and bring to the boil over a medium heat.
5. Reduce to a medium-low heat, cover partially and cook for ~1hour until the liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally.
6. If the pork isn't quite tender, add a bit more water and continue cooking.
7. Once the pork is tender and the liquid has evaporated, remove the orange zest and garlic cloves (if possible) then brown the meat in the fat (adding more if required).

Monday, 19 June 2017

Nut and caramel cake

This was a cake-based penance. Somehow I was not informed of an impending colleague's birthday thus failed to provide a cake at a suitable moment. Although there wasn't a great burden of expectation (fortunately), I still felt I had failed so to make up for it I offered to make a bespoke cake. I created this based on the direction of:
I love nuts ... and I love anything fudgy/caramely/toffee ...

It's a triple threat: two layers of pistachio cake sandwiching a walnut cake, held together by a maple and pecan cheese icing and smothered in a caramel buttercream doused liberally with assorted nuts (pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts and pistachios).


I spent ages searching Soho for pistachio paste as I really wanted a green cake. Unfortunately it was all in vein as I just can't find it, anywhere (not even in Italian delis!). If I ever do find it, I will definitely be repeating this cake.


Both the cake recipes are quite unconventional and when they came out of the oven I wasn't that confident with how the bakes had gone. I was really quite worried how this was going to turn out. I needn't have been. All the parts came together remarkably well and complemented each other. The different cake textures came together. The light fragrant flavour of the pistachios was a good counterpoint to the heavier walnut (the lemon providing a delightful, gentle, refreshing zing). The various icings complimented the nuts giving a really rounded flavour: neither too sweet nor too bitter. After a while in the fridge it actually cut remarkably well. On top of that it's actually one of my better looking cakes. And the recipient was very happy with it.


Ridiculously I only managed a quick slice before rushing downstairs to an event and when I came back it was all gone. I was quite disappointed. Both in missing out on cake and not being able to do a more thorough set of tasting notes. Oh well. 

On to the recipe. Be warned: it's not short.

Nut and caramel cake recipe

Ingredients:
Pistachio cake (adapted from a Ruby Tandoh recipe):
200g pistachio
250ml sunflower or almond oil
250g caster sugar
1½ tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
100g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
Walnut cake (from a Jeremy Lee recipe):
350g walnuts, shelled and peeled
4 large eggs, separated
225g caster sugar, plus 1 tbsp extra
The finely grated zest of 1 lemon
50g unsalted butter, melted and kept just warm
Pecan maple cream
50g pecans, toasted and chopped
250g mascapone cheese
~60g maple syrup
50g icing sugar
Double cream, if required
Caramel buttercream
100g caster sugar
50ml water
30g butter, cubed
60ml double cream (or replace half with 30ml milk)
150g butter, softened
100g icing sugar
To decorate:
~200g assorted nut, toasted and chopped (I used 50g each of pecans, walnuts, pistachios and hazelnuts)

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. 
2. For the pistachio cakes, grease two 8" round cake tins.
3. Using a food processor, blitz the pistachios until finely ground. Beat the oil with the caster sugar, vanilla extract and eggs to create a batter. In a separate bowl, combine the pistachio, flour, baking powder and salt, then lightly fold it into the batter.
4. Divide the batter between the two tins, level the tops and bake for 25 minutes, or until the cakes are just beginning to shrink from the sides of the tins and a knife inserted into their centres comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tins before removing.
5. For the walnut cake, line an 8" cake tin with parchment.
6. Grind the walnuts quite finely, retaining a little of their texture.
7. Put the egg yolks and sugar into a mixer, beating until pale and greatly increased in volume. Take your time here as the lighter and silkier the mixture, the better the resulting cake.
8. Beat the egg whites in another bowl until peaked and stiff. Add the extra 1 tbsp of caster sugar, continuing to beat until stiff once more.
9. Partially fold the nuts and zest into the egg yolk and sugar mixture. Add one‑third of the beaten whites, mix well, then stir in the remainder. Add the melted butter and mix gently. Swiftly decant the batter into the prepared cake tin.
10. Bake for 45 minutes, or until cooked through, ensuring this by inserting a sharp knife into the middle. If clean when removed, then the cake is done. Rest upon a rack until cool.
11. For the pecan maple cream, beat the mascapone until soft then beat in the maple syrup and icing sugar. This is a balancing act between sweetness and flavour - adjust the proportions of each until you are happy. Add a splash of cream to change the texture to your taste. Stir in the pecans. Firm in the fridge.
12. Level off all the cakes and sandwich together with half the maple pecan cream: pistachio, walnut, pistachio.
13. The butter cream is flavoured with a fresh caramel. To make the caramel put the water and sugar in a pan and heat over a medium heat until it reaches a light golden brown.
14. Add the butter, whisking until melted and combined. Take off the heat and whisk in the cream and milk. Decant into a bowl and leave to cool.
15. Beat the butter until soft and then beat in the icing sugar. Finally beat in the cooled caramel. Again change the amount of icing sugar to taste. Firm in the fridge.
16. To finish the cake. Apply a thin crumb layer of the butter cream all over the cake and refrigerate.
17. Liberally apply the rest of the butter cream to the cake and then press the nuts in to decorate.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Kelpot's chocolate pinata cake

Today was Kelpot's last day, so I spent most of last night putting together her leaving cake. Given that Kelly loves both cake and chocolate it was quite an easy design process.

I ended up with a three tier chocolate and vanilla cake, sandwiched with chocolate fudge icing, covered in white chocolate buttercream and decorated with kingsize buttons.


What I hadn't really figured into my night was all the cooling and waiting. Even though I used the buttercream recipe I had used before I was quite worried by the lack of combination and setting early on. Perseverence paid off and with time it made a very good icing.

That wasn't the end of it though. I had to do a three tier cake because I cut the middle cake into an annulus thus creating a cavity to conceal a landslide of Maltesers, Rolos and Munchies.

I wasn't there for the actual cutting, but had briefed a couple of people so that during the slicing they could be assured that nothing was going wrong.

By all accounts it went well. I came back to an office deafened by the silence of post-cake inactivity, so I think it went down pretty well. However, I will leave the final comment to the text message that I received from a colleague:

"SHUT THE FRONT DOOR THAT CAKE IS THE BIZ"

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Apple beignets

On an idle Sunday morning, with nothing much but culinary exploration to fill my time, it seems apple beignets are a delightful breakfast*.

Hot apple swaddled in a crisp sweet batter. What's not to like? 

OK so it is a faff setting up the deep fat fryer, but there's not really any other way of cooking these; shallow frying just wouldn't do it. My fryer is ever so slightly too small, so I had to cook each slice individually, making it slightly more time consuming, but still worth it, I think. That may also account for the slightly reduced "puff".

I never realised beignets were so simple. I'm not entirely sure you need to rest the batter for two hours. I think you could get away with half an hour. I think it depends just how hungry you are...

The batter makes plenty for encasing two apples, which should give you 10-12 slices.

125g plain flour
30g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
50ml milk
60ml dry cider
2 eating apples 
Oil for deep-frying

Method:
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Add the eggs and whisk until combined.
2. Lightly whisk the milk, cider and eggs to combine and add to the dry ingredients, whisking until smooth. Add the liquids in little by little to avoid lumps. Let it rest for two hours.
3. Peel, core then slice the apples about 5mm thick. Dip them into the batter, then fry in oil at 180°C until golden brown.
4. Dust with sugar to finish and enjoy them while still hot.

*You should know by now that this blog is about eating tasty food, so don't judge. Besides it's one of your 5-a-day...

Monday, 6 March 2017

Chocolate and banana cake

I was "commissioned" (I use inverted commas because I wasn't actually paid) to make a cake for a colleague's birthday. 

It was the first time that I've created a cake by completely drawing on elements that I have previously used. The cake used all recipes that I have used before just in a new combination.

The specification was based on the recipients preferred flavours: chocolate and banana with come caramel thrown in to round things out.

It turned out quiet well, despite being an "assembly" job.

 (Yet again, I forgot about taking photos so rushed...)

The flavours all worked really well together. I was worried that it might be rather too sweet, but that fear was definitely not realised. The banana cream brought a freshness with a depth of flavour coming from the chocolate fudge icing. There was a pleasing banana "aroma" permeating through the whole cake. Despite each mouthful being comprised of different elements, the whole thing worked rather well. It has a well-rounded flavour that was long on the palette. 

I initially thought there many have been some benefit it using a butter-based chocolate cake rather than oil-based. however, this was based on trimmings of the cake in isolation. In combination with the other elements, however, I don't think anything need to change.

The recipe drew on the following elements:

Chocolate cake: Banana, chocolate and peanut butter cake with an added 100g melted chocolate added to the batter


Chocolate fudge icing: Half the amount of Icing 4 from the wedding cake tasting with an added 1tsp of cocoa
 

Caramel icing: Twice the amount of the external frosting from the Caramel cake

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Pancake Day 2017

I love Shrove Tuesday. Any day where an entire nation celebrates a single food stuff is good with me. Most people go down the dessert route: crepes with lemon and sugar as pudding. You can't argue with a classic like that.

I prefer to fully embrace both the pancake and day aspect of the event: three meals, means three opportunities to eat pancakes.

Breakfast - Banana pancakes with banana caramel sauce
 

Lunch - Herb crepes filled with smoked salmon and creme fraiche with capers and cornichon.


Dinner - Layers of pancakes dowsed in maple syrup and stacked with black pudding, bacon, sausage and steak. Topped with a fried egg.


I admit I did go American twice but the toppings were significantly different to justify it and make for a very tasty day. Roll on 2018...

Monday, 30 January 2017

Strawberry gateaux

As part of my annual January task of "eating the freezer", I am often confronted by items that are quite difficult to find a discrete use for. One such item was some strawberry puree which I made with the remains of my glut of strawberries after my first adventure to a PYO last summer.

I was jammed out and had been stuffing myself for days with the beautiful berries and couldn't face any more. I pureed the remaining half pound and popped it in the freezer where it had quietly sat.

I wasn't quite sure what to do with the puree but once the idea of a strawberry cake stuck me, there was no going back. There are many American recipes available but the vast majority seem to include "jell-o" to get the requisite taste and colour. I was determined that jelly should play no part in my cake.



I was pretty pleased with the result. The cake itself clearly tasted of strawberry although it was more subtle. The jam added "smash-you-in-the-face" strawberry hit. There were clearly strawberries in there. The cake was rich and buttery with a slightly close  texture but it was still light. It wasn't too sweet (which I had feared) and the tang of the cream cheese in the icing was welcome.

The odd thing was the crazy grey-ish colour! I put this down to it being all natural ingredients - no colourings used (although I was tempted!). I'm aware it's a bit dull from the outside, I'd decorate with fresh strawberries, if they were in season.

I wonder if I used an oil-based cake rather than butter the flavour, and colour, might be more pronounced. Perhaps I might even make a foray into the world of chiffon cakes. I'll need a lot more strawberries though...

Recipe for Strawberry Cake with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing (adapted from Happy Foodie recipe)

Ingredients:
225g butter
225g caster sugar
4 large eggs
210g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
25g cornflour
225g strawberry puree
1tsp vanilla extract
Strawberry jam for the filling
For the icing:
4oz butter
4oz cream cheese
4oz white chocolate
100ml double cream
2oz icing sugar

Method:
1. Cream the butter and sugar together until white and fluffy.
2. Add the eggs one at a time and beat in. Sifting in a tbsp of flour with each egg will stop the mix splitting.
3. Beat in the strawberry puree and vanilla until combined.
4. Sift in the cornflour, flour and baking powder.
5. Divide the mix between two 8" lined cake tins and bake at 180°C for 25mins, or until done.
6. While the cake is baking, make the icing.
7. Melt the cream and chocolate together in a bain marie. Leave to cool.
8. Beat the butter until soft and pale. Gradually add in the  sugar. Beat in the cooled chocolate and cream mi.
9. Beat thoroughly and refrigerate to cool and thicken.
10. Once the cake and icing are cooled, it is time to construct.
11. Spread a generous layer of jam over one of the cakes. Followed by about a generous helping of the icing (no more than a third) and sandwich the cakes together.
12. Spread a thin layer of icing around the top and sides of the cake and refrigerate. 
13. Once the base layer of icing has set, slather on the remaining icing. 
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