Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Looking Back: The Swan

A while ago i went for afternoon tea at The Swan in Lavenham, and it was quite the treat. Before i get to the food, i have to put in special mention for the location and architecture. Set in a group of buildings dating from the 14th century, The Swan is a breathtaking venue. With uncovered beams inside and out and huge open fires throughout it's many almost sub-rooms, you can't help but feel immediately cosy and amazed.

I went for the Traditional Swan Tea which consisted of freshly brewed tea with a fruit scone and an apple and walnut scone served with clotted cream and preserves. Then there were the freshly baked cakes and pastries and finger sandwiches: smoked salmon with cream cheese and watercress, marmalade glazed ham with grain mustard, cucumber and black pepper and egg mayonnaise with wild rocket.

The food was delicious and the service attentive while letting us just get on with it and enjoy. It really felt like the people cared about the food they had prepared and it was a meal that didn't leave a single space in the stomach! I can't wait to go back and have it all again.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

9. Pasteis de Nata

Portuguese custard tarts

Prepared puff pasty – defrosted but kept cold
1 ¾ cups whole milk
¼ cup cream
4 egg yolks
3 Tbsp white sugar
Pinch salt
2 Tbsp Plain flour
½ cinnamon stick
2 strips lemon peel
½ tsp vanilla extract

1.In a sauce pan add milk, cream, egg yolks, sugar, salt, flour mix well with a whisk to ensure all the ingredients are well combined, do not turn heat on yet.
2.Once all ingredients are combined and there are no lumps of sugar or flour add cinnamon stick, lemon peel and vanilla.
3.Turn heat on to low stirring continuously and gently with whisk. *Note it’s very important to heat the milk slowly, if the milk is heated too quickly, egg yolks could coagulate like scrambled eggs and ruin the consistency of the custard.
4.Continue stirring until it cream becomes quite thick and resembles a rich pudding. Watch for thickening around the edges of the pan, you want a really smooth cream so make certain to get in the sides and bottom edges of the pan.
5.Let cool completely. When cooled, remove cinnamon stick and lemon peel.
6.To avoid milk skin from forming on custard you can place parchment paper on top of warm custard and it will lift out easily when you go to use it to fill puff pasty shells.

Preparing Pastry Shells

1.Preheat oven to 225F (107C) [update: 300 F (148C)]
2.Roll out cold puff pastry dough with pin on floured surface, until 1/4 cm thick.
3.Once rolled out thin, dusk off excess flour and begin rolling puff pastry like a long cigar. Roll pastry snugly but not tight, just enough to avoid a lot of space or air pockets in roll.
4.Place pastry roll length wise and cut in 4cm lengths
5.Then take each cut piece in hand and push down center of roll to meet center of opposite side, gently press pastry with fingers to spread out dough to create what will feel like half of a hallow pastry ball. Work in circular pattern and pastry will start to thin and from a cup shape. If dough gets sticky use a little flour to help it along. Finished shells should be about 1/4cm, thin but not enough to see your hand through. If you like puff pastry you can make the shells a little thicker, but a couple of tries of the finished version will let you know your preference.
6.Place pastry in muffin tray, and spread out to sides but don’t stretch dough upward, just gently press against side of muffin tin to ensure it won’t shrink too much when baking.
7.When all pastry shells are ready fill with pastry cream, do not fill to top. Fill to ¾ or a bit more but leaving 1- 1.5cm at top of pastry.
8.Place custards in oven and bake for 15min, but keep eye on custards as some ovens can burn top quite quickly, while others don’t cook the pastry quickly enough. If pastry around sides looks deep golden colour pastries are done.

This recipe comes straight from Algarve Buzz and as soon as i heard the phrase 'portuguese custard tarts' i was sold as they are one of my favourite sweet treats since first trying them at Borough Market.

The recipe is actually, as self confessed, quite simple and fun to make- shaping the pastry cases is particularly fun and novel! We did run into a couple of issues with this recipe though which, had i have read the comments, might have been avoided. The big change to make is cooking temperature- i went with the suggested 150C which was just too low. The custard and pastry started to cook too slowly and rather than 'setting' puffed up massively. Definitely a higher temperature (possibly as high as your oven can go- ours is 220C) for the next attempt.

Also, the recipe doesn't state a quantity for the puff pastry outside of 'prepared' so i just went with a shop bought 500g packet*. Although the cooking may have affected the outcome, i did feel like 500g of puff pastry could stretch comfortably to make 18 tarts as they were slightly dough heavy. Whether this would require an increase in the custard mixture, i'm not sure, but i will definitely experiment next time i make these.

These 'issues' aside, the tarts were still lovely with the custard having a lovely texture and flavour without being too sweet. Plus, although it is purely aesthetic, the tart cases do have the trademark swirl on the base which is a nice touch. If i ever go to Lisbon, which i hopefully will, i must must must make sure i try Pasteis de Belem, the first and original Portuguese custard tart which are still sold from the original shop.

*must try making my own puff pastry!

Friday, 18 February 2011


I made some banana bread earlier this week after my mum gave me a bunch of very ripe bananas- a very good recipe which has stayed nice and moist throughout the important quality for banana bread!

On a friends recommendation, i made some toffee popcorn to have with a film tonight. Pretty quick and easy, despite my apprehension of working with sugar, to give a very pleasing and naughty-feeling treat. From this... this!

Also, Sainsbury's had Kettle Chips on offer- 3 for £3, couldn't resist. Especially after seeing the jalapeno!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

8. Courgette and Rosemary Focaccia

For the dough:
500g strong white bread flour
5g powdered yeast
10g fine salt
325ml warm water
1 tbsp olive oil

For the topping:
A generous drizzle of olive oil
A sprinkle of rock salt
A couple of rosemary twigs, leaves stripped
A few slithers of courgette, thinly sliced with a peeler

Mix the flour, yeast, salt and water in a bowl to form a sticky dough. Add the oil, mix it in then turn the dough out onto a clean work surface. Knead until smooth and silky, about ten minutes.

Shape the dough into a ball and coat with a little extra oil. Leave to rise in a clean bowl covered with a plastic bag. When it has doubled in size, top it onto the work surface and press into a rough rectangle. Place in a lightly oiled shallow baking tray, measuring about 26x36cm. Press the dough in with your fingers, right into the corners, then leave to rise covered for about half an hour. Pre-heat the oven to 250C (or as high as it will go).

When the bread looks puffed up and airy use your finger tips to poke deep holes across the whole surface, almost to the bottom. Place small-ish torn off pieces of courgette into the wholes and poke in. Drizzle the top generously, but not swimmingly, with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and rosemary. Bake for about ten minutes then turn the oven down to about 200C and bake for a further ten minutes.

I'm getting a bit ahead of myself with this 52 recipe thing, i've already done two months worth and have another one lined up for Saturday night! The dough for this recipe is from a lovely little book called 'Bread' by Daniel Stevens. It's the third in the 'River Cottage Handbook' series and i can't recommend it enough!

I decided on courgette and rosemary as a topping following it's success on the top of some pizza earlier in the week. Plus i had the courgette leftover, so it was using something up! I also prepared the courgette during the day and left it in a bowl with the olive oil and rosemary sprigs that i'd be using for the toppings, so things could start mingling flavours.

All-in-all i'm fairly chuffed with how it turned out for my first focaccia attempt. I do think i could have left it to rise more once it was in the baking tray; i'd panicked myself with images of an overflown doughy mess as i was leaving it for longer than half an hour while i went out, so left it in a cooler place which i think impaired the rising too much. Also the oven only goes up to 220C so i just left it on that temperature for the full 20 mins (possibly slightly longer) and it came out fine.

Definitely going to be making this again, probably with great frequency!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

7. Almond Biscotti

145g blanched whole almonds
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
260g plain flour
150g granulated white sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

Preheat oven to 180C and toast the almonds for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned and fragrant. Let cool and then chop coarsely.

Reduce oven temperature to 150C and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl lightly beat the eggs and extracts together.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer) combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Beat until blended (about 30 seconds). Gradually add the egg mixture and beat until a dough forms, adding almonds about halfway through. On a lightly floured surface roll dough into a log about 14 inches (35 cm) long and 3 - 4 inches (8 - 10 cm) wide. Transfer log to the prepared baking sheet and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until firm to the touch (log will spread during baking). Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes.

Transfer log to a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, cut log into slices 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) thick on the diagonal. Arrange evenly on baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes, turn slices over, and bake another 10 minutes or until firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool. Store in an airtight container.

This recipe comes from The Joy Of Baking and is superb! Quite simple and very tasty i only changed minor things such as cutting them in a straight line and not dipping them in chocolate. I can't wait to try some more recipes from The Joy Of Baking.

Sunday, 13 February 2011


A few more busy, but productive, days have gone past and i'm currently perched on the kitchen side waiting for a buzz to tell me that my baking is cooked to perfection! On Friday i headed inland to see nearly all of my family and got treated to many lovely things between lunch at my mum's and tea at my dad's. The first of which was this Strawberry and Mascarpone Swiss Roll from the BBC's Baking Made Easy. Very scrumptious and the perfect balance of healthy-feeling lightness and creamy-sugary naughtiness. I'm also feeding my brother's 'pets' while he is away in London being treated for a tropical disease! I do find snakes very fascinating creatures but i can't help feeling slightly nervous while doing things with them because they are bloody terrifying things.

Still, Kratos seemed pretty pleased with my first attempt at feeding him...bless.

At my dad's i was treated to The Hairy Bikers Bakewell Tart, possibly from Mums Know Best, served with some lovely fresh raspberries and a hugely unhealthy dollop of chantilly cream. I'm sure the cream and raspeberries cancel each other out or something. I have also become caretaker of my dad's old Finepix S7000 since he got his new camera, so should have some good fun getting to know that and taking some nice photos with it (hopefully!).

The kitchen is starting to smell delcious and i think the oven will shortly need my attention. Should be some good to things to report on after tomorrow, especially if the baking goes well!

Thursday, 10 February 2011


This is quite a basic quiche recipe that been twisted into its own version. I particularly like the layer of cream cheese at the bottom- it adds a certain little something!

6oz plain flour
2oz plain wholemeal flour
4oz butter
2-3 tbsps cold water
Pinch salt

Quiche filling
100g cream cheese
Asparagus and/or broccoli, enough to fill the quiche to required veggy-ness
2 large eggs
125ml cream
125ml milk
1 cup freshly grated hard cheese, parmesan or cheddar
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C. Rub the flour and fats for the pastry together until a breadcrumb texture has been reached. Then add the water until it comes together in a ball. Rest in clingfilm for half an hour. When ready, roll out the pastry and line a flan dish and bake blind for 15 minutes. Cool and turn the oven to 180C.

Toss the asparagus in about 1tbsp olive oil and cook on a hot griddle for 2 minutes each side until bright green and just tender. Spread the cream cheese over the bottom of the pastry case and sprinkle with some pepper and grated cheese.

Mix eggs, cream, milk, a little grated cheese, salt and pepper together. Place the asparagus over the cream cheese and pour the egg mixture over, sprinkling the top with a little more grated cheese. Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, until well risen and golden brown.

It's so nice being able to come home and tea just be there and waiting to be eaten. Plus, as it lasts well, you can easily portion off how much you want and served with salad it makes for a reasonably light tea.

6. Chile Con Carne

1kg of beef (stewing steak, silver side or another cheap cut...i opted for brisket)
3 onions
4 cloves of garlic
Olive oil
300g Spicy chorizo
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon cloves
1 large cinnamon stick
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 ancho chillies, deseeded
2 chiles de arbol
2 teaspoons sea salt
Black pepper
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 x 400g tins plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 x 400g tin borlotti beans

Preheat oven to 120C. Take the meat out of the fridge to de-chill. Pulse the onions and garlic in a food processor until finey chopped. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large casserole and sear the meat on all sides until golden. Set to one side and add another small slug of oil to brown the chorizo. Remove and add the onion and garlic, spices, herbs and chillies then cook until soft in the chorizo oil. Sesaon with salt and pepper and add the vinegar, tomatoes, ketchup and sugar.

Put all the meat back into the pot with 400ml water, bring up to a simmer then transfer to the oven to cook covered at a low heat. After 2 hours check the meat and add the beans. Cook for a further hour and just before serving pull the meat apart with a pair of forks.

This recipe comes from Thomasina Miers' 'Mexican Food Made Simple' and i can't wait to cook more recipes from it! Obviously i've cooked many chillis before, and cooked quite well if i do say so myself, but when i saw this take by Thomasina i couldn't wait to try a slow-cooked version.

As seen above, i did manage to get some ancho chillis but i did have to replace the chile de arbol with some dried chilli flakes, which she recommends as an alternative in the book. I also didn't use the bay leaves because i couldn't find them! Lastly, i put the cloves and allspice, which i lightly crushed, in a little muslin pouch for easy removal after cooking.

It was a very nice chilli with quite a rich almost fruity flavour and packed plenty of heat. As the title 'easy speedy chile con carne' suggests it was very simple and quick to prepare, and even easier to cook. However, i think i was a bit heavy handed with the water which, as you can see in the below picture, caused there to be a bit of excess fluid! Still tasty though, and i'm just going to make sure i cook what's left off a bit to reduce it down to a thicker sauce.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

5. Toffee Tart

When i was at the primary school age i always remember loving the school dinner desserts- i'm not sure why, they weren't particulaly amazing or imaginative but i just loved them. Alongside the cornflake and jam tart and chocolate crunch, i always loved toffee tart that had diagonal lines of chocolate sprinkles and coconut on top. While reminiscing about such things with friend at uni, i was chuffed to find that she actually knew what i was talking about and, more excitingly, had a recipe for it! She gave me the recipe on a postcard and rather than type it out i thought it'd be nice to share it how i recieved it!

It was a pretty simple recipe, despite requiring a little bit of guessing! I used a 25x18cm tin which the pastry filled just about perfectly. When it came to the filling, after following all of the steps, i did heat up a bit more milk with a smidgen of sugar to whisk in as i felt there wouldn't be quite enough to fill the case. But with another 4fl.oz-ish of milk, it was just the right amount to fill the tart case. A nice little nostalgic recipe to have in the books!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011


It's been a hectic few days, but very enjoyable all the same! On Saturday night i went to a friend's for dinner and drinks which was just an amazingly fun night, not to mention the food! We had some yummy homemade houmous with bread to start and a fantastic chicken and bacon pasta for the main, which i am definitely going to get the recipe of! I made some pistachio ice cream and a bakewell tart to take for dessert which, i think, came out ok! Overall, a brilliant night with some great friends and i can't wait for the next time!

On Monday i travelled down to London to go and see a very good friend. Carrying on the trend started at the weekend, i had a great time catching up with her and enjoying some wine! We went for lunch at Wahaca which was, as always, delicious. We had the pork pibil tacos, black bean tostadas, chorizo and potato quesdillas and chipotle chicken quesadillas with green rice and frijoles sides. Unforunately, we were far too full to contemplate dessert (especially after having Krispy Kreme doughnuts a short while before...) but it was still lovely!

We spent a bit of time wandering around Covent Garden and went into a few shops, including Jack Wills. I particularly loved the original stair case in the building, but could only get this photo before a sales assistant rushed over to explain that there were no photos allowed. Pfft! As is started to get chilly, we headed back home and get some music playing and wine cooling. A bit later on we had dinner which was lovely- honey, lemon and chilli chicken with asparagus. Yum!

While in Covent Garden i, of course, couldn't resist stopping in Cyber Candy to stock up on some American junk food. The Oreo Caksters were buy one get one free!