Category Archives: Parties

Little sous vide cheesecakes

I am no stranger to gadgets. My dad used to say “un’altro gadget” (another gadget) but, although I made mistakes early on, everything I buy I pretty much use and enjoy: it earns its place and keep in our kitchen.

For instance, some years ago, I looked at sous vide cooking but, back then, the domestic sous vide machines were pretty big and I just knew that the space they took up, I’d rather  put an ice cream maker in, given my heritage.

But a few weeks ago, we had friends Natalie and Micah round for lunch and Micah mentioned they had a sous vide and how things had changed; that they were now little bigger than stick blenders and you stuck them in a pan that you already had. And how they cooked the most amazing meat [and fish and other things].

HipstamaticPhoto-587397863.867480.jpg

The Joule sous vide, with plug for size comparison

So I looked and I bought.

Although the Anova is pretty popular (Martha Stewart’s chef uses one), it didn’t work that well for me – I couldn’t get it to work with the app and I am such a technophile that this mattered to me. (It doesn’t have to work with an app, you can just use the machine.) So I returned it bought a Joule instead which ONLY works via an app, which may annoy you but I love it. The app has all sorts of pre-set timings and temperatures and it’s soo easy. The Joule is also more powerful than the Anova (all but the Anova Pro which is much more expensive).

If you are thinking, WTF is she on about, then you can read  all about sous vide here. But it is, essentially, cooking food at a very precise temperature in a water bath.

I cooked a chicken breast in it and it was amazing, so moist and let’s not even get started on the steaks it cooks. It doesn’t brown but you can finish meat off in a frying pan for a final sear. The beauty of sous vide, other than it cooks to perfection, is that you can prep food and leave it, which really suits the way I cook.

But, cheesecakes.

You can also use sous vide to cook little cheese cakes and chocolate puddings. You can adapt this one below by adding fruit compote at the end or a biscuit base. We made them with Oreo cookies (use the double filled ones, one per portion – so if using the recipe below you would use six – blitzed in a blender and distributed amongst the jars and pressed down, then you put the cheesecake batter on top – you can use any extra crumbs to put on top of the cheesecakes just before you eat them) but you could use digestive biscuits with a bit of melted butter to bring them all together if you fancy a more traditional cheesecake base.

You need six 135ml mason-style jars. I use these ones.  They are perfect for these mini desserts and many others you can make sous vide. You can also use Weck jars (use the seal and the clips and I guess, regular jam jars but I haven’t yet.

Sorry about the Amazon link for the jars but Lakeland will start selling them come the autumn.

Ingredients for six people

(Six double fill Oreos if using)

225g cream cheese

110g of caster sugar

110g creme fraiche

Three eggs

Grated zest of a lemon (I always use organic when I use the zest of citrus fruits)

Method

You can do this in a food processor but it’s not difficult to mix it up by hand. Mix together the cream cheese and the caster sugar, then add the creme fraiche, the lemon zest and the three eggs one at a time. Make sure everything is really well combined.

If you are using a biscuit base you will already have pressed it in the jars.

Distribute evenly amongst the six jars up to the ‘thread’, seal until they are finger tip tight (ie you can unscrew using just your finger tips), set your sous vide to 80C and 90 mins, and when up to temperature, submerge the jars (I use a jar tong, be careful of your fingers).

When done take out, cool then refrigerate for a couple of hours.

I know this recipe isn’t relevant to those of you without a sous vide but you know…if you like kit I’ve given you lots of reasons to buy some.

Olive oil flatbreads

These are so useful to make in a batch and then freeze. To defrost simply leave at room temperature for a bit or microwave for 10 seconds and eat immediately.

I love the meditative nature of making these. I make them on a large, flat skillet pan, prepping the ones still to cook by first rolling them into balls, then squashing into discs and finally rolling them out. I do this in stages – a mini production line – so the gluten has time to relax in between. I can’t get these super thin, but then I don’t really want to. They are really soft and tasty.

I keep them warm in my warming drawer whilst making the whole batch, but a very low oven serves exactly the same purpose.

I make eight out of this recipe, you could make more if you made them smaller as individual (as opposed to ‘tearing’) dipping breads.

 

7g of dried (fast action) yeast

600g strong white bread flour

100ml of extra virgin olive oil (doesn’t have to be super expensive)

350ml of water

half a teaspoon to half a tablespoon of sea salt

(depending on taste. If you’re going to serve these with super-salted food then you don’t have to put too much salt in. The first time make them with the lower amount and see how you go.)

These couldn’t be easier. You mix the 7g of yeast with the 600g strong white bread flour, and mix in the 100ml of olive oil and 350ml of water and, finally, the salt.  Mix to a rough dough just using a fork, and then rest in the bowl for ten minutes whilst you wash your hands and put everything away.

When the ten minutes is up, turn the dough out onto an oiled surface and give it gentle knead for ten seconds, then cover it with a bowl and rest again for ten minutes. Repeat twice more. By this stage you should have a smooth dough, with no bits.

If you plan to make these the same day, oil a bowl, place the dough in it, cover and leave until doubled in size. How long this will take depends on your kitchen. I tend to use a bowl that the original, unproved, dough comes up half way on, that way, I know that when it’s at the surface it’s doubled in size. If you plan to make these later put in a cold place in the fridge (by that I mean, as close to the bottom as possible) for the final prove, you could leave it overnight but I wouldn’t leave it for more than about 12 hours.

When ready to go, take the dough out, lightly knead and divide into eight/how ever many pieces you want to make. Roll into a ball by placing the dough on the flat palm of one hand and cupping the other hand over the top and making circular movements, or whatever works for you.

Then flatten each ball into a disc. Put a dry, large frying pan on a high heat and when you are ready to go roll out as best you can to about 18-20cm – if you’ve divided the dough into eight, obviously smaller if you’re making more than that.

As I said in the intro, you can get into a production line with them, prepping each before it goes on. I get it so that as I put one on to cook, I roll the other one out in preparation so it has time to relax a bit. If you can get them perfectly circular great – I never can.

When ready to cook you slap them into the pan and cook for about 5 mins – if you’re like me you’ll turn them often as I’m a bit of a flipper. You can see they’re done as they brown and go ‘dry’ – no more moist bits. If you need to turn the heat down for the second side do so, but turn up again for the new flat bread going on as it’s the dough hitting the hot skillet heat which causes the bubbles to form, which then blister and blacken.

 

Sticky date and ginger toffee pudding cake

My friend Lucy throws amazing bonfire night parties and at one, a couple of years ago, she made this. Now, I don’t like sticky toffee pudding or any sort of steamed pudding or treacle tart or anything like that. They all make me feel ‘claustrophobic in my mouth’ is the only way I can describe it. So when my partner said “have you tried this sticky toffee pudding” I said “er no, I hate that sort of thing.”

But he persisted and it was so good I ate his portion and then immediately asked Lucy for the recipe. It comes from a book called Friends at My Table by Alice Hart, which seems to be out of print now. And I wanted the original recipe so badly that I actually tracked it down and bought it second hand.

I’ve made this a few times, although nothing comes close to what I remember Lucy’s being like. It makes quite a lot but I’m pleased to report it freezes beautifully – (see note at the bottom).

It’s best made either the day before you want to serve it, or a few hours before and then reheat it before serving (as said, I do it piece by piece in the microwave but you could do the whole cake – or as much as you know you want to serve – in a 120C oven for about ten mins, you just want to revive it). This is in order to let the sauce soak in. But honestly if you serve it all immediately it’s just not the end of the world. But if you want to make the whole thing way in advance and freeze it, it works amazingly that way too – see note at the bottom.

The cakey pudding

250g medjool dates, stoned, chopped

100g dark brown sugar

150 unsalted butter, soft

4 little balls of that stem ginger you get in syrup, in jars – finely chop it (don’t throw away the syrup)

2 room temperature eggs

250g plain flour

1.5 teaspoons of baking powder

1 rounded teaspoon of ground ginger

a pinch of salt

60g finely chopped pecans (or walnuts will do but pecans better)

The toffee sauce

300ml of double cream

200g dark brown sugar

pinch salt

3 tablespoons of syrup from the ginger jar

a pinch of ground ginger

This is what you do

Oven to 180C. Line a 20cm x 30cm tin with baking parchment.

Cover the dates with 150ml boiling water and set aside for 20 mins or until you remember them (don’t throw away the liquid they’re in).

Beat together the sugar and butter either by hand or in a food mixer with the whisk attachment. Add three tablespoons of the syrup from the jar (this is separate to the 3 tablespoons you need for the sauce).

Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Now add the flour, baking powder, ground ginger and salt. You can either fold these in gently or just add them to the processor bowl on a slow whisking speed. I am lazy and often do the latter. Add half the nuts, the chopped ginger and all the dates and their soaking water.

Pour into the tin and cook for about 45 mins. I have to check mine after 30 mins as my oven is capricious and does what the hell it wants.

Whilst that’s cooking, and when it’s about 20 mins from being ready, make the sauce as you’ll need to pour it on whilst the cake is warm, but the sauce is warm-but cooled slightly. Nothing is easy in good pudding making.

So to make the sauce you put all the sauce ingredients into the pan and simmer whilst stirring until they are all one beautiful sauce.

When the cake is baked and out of the oven, and the sauce is still warm you prick the cake all over with a skewer and pour over half the sauce (retain the other half for serving with the cake, later). This takes time and if the sauce has gone too cold then warm it up again. It needs to soak in. I don’t always get this right and I often end up with a cake that’s just got sauce on top. Lucy’s was wonderfully unctuous. It’s still nice but not really gooey.

It’s best if you cover and leave it over night, but see above.

To serve, sprinkle over the rest of the nuts and serve with the rest of the sauce (warmed through) and ice cream or cream.

Freezing note: This freezes amazingly well. Just cover with any remaining sauce/nuts and put in an air-tight box. If you wanted to make this way in advance, for a really easy pudding on the day, you could freeze the whole lot: just put all the sauce on the cake and all the nuts and freeze it. If you really wanted to you could then make extra sauce for pouring over on the day but really you don’t need to.

Defrost it for 24hours in the fridge and then either heat up the whole lot in the oven – I would probably do it at 160C for 20 mins for the whole cake but in truth have never done it so see how you go. What I do with left overs is microwave it piece by beautiful piece and then serve with cream.

 

 

 

Prune and dark chocolate brownies

I saw this recipe in my Donna Hay Fresh and Light magazine, which costs me a staggering £9.50 from Selfridges but is, to my mind, worth every penny as each edition yields more recipes than many recipe books which cost double that.

But I saw it and shunned it as I’m not overly a fan of brownies – too sweet for me usually. But due to a rather terrifying health scare a few weeks ago (I had tests and everything is not only fine but I am actually in really good health yay!) I’ve overhauled the way I eat which was long overdue because although I have always eaten with health in mind, I’ve I’m also greedy and at times lazy. So I’ve gone back to planning what I eat (this has always worked really well for me) and maximise nutrients. And it not only shows in the way I feel, but I’ve lost weight and body fat, whilst augmenting my muscle mass (I do big weights twice a week).

Anyway I shunned them but then was fancying a weekend chocolatey treat and decided to try them and I was not disappointed. Now I know that this isn’t a recipe which magically transforms broccoli into brownies, and I know that prunes are very high in sugar. I know all this but prunes have more nutrients than mere sugar and here’s the thing. These are delicious in their own right. My eldest doesn’t like them but my youngest adores them and my partner – who hates brownies – had one and declared it “the best chocolate thing I’ve tasted in a long time”.

So these are still an occasional treat (I only eat stuff like this at the weekend now) but they’re delicious and gluten free.

The brownies

255g prunes, take the stones out

50g of dark chocolate, melted (Hay asks for 70% but I use these chocolate chips for nearly all my cooking now and they are delicious)

60 ml of light olive oil

80ml maple syrup

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

80g ground almonds

25g cocoa powder (I use raw organic, no idea if it’s better but it makes me feel better looking at the packet)

2 eggs

The chocolate ganache

80g dark chocolate

60ml of cream (Hay says to use coconut milk but I used cream as that’s what I had, you could use milk)

 

Pre heat the oven to 180C. You need a 20cm square baking tin, preferably with a removal bottom, if not make sure the baking paper you line it with comes up the sides so you can carefully lift it out later. If you scrunch up the baking paper first it sits in the tin more easily.

Take 170g of the prunes and put them in a jug, cover with boiling water for about ten minutes. I scissor cut the remaining prunes into small pieces and put in a small bowl for later (don’t forget them!) or you could of course chop them with a knife on a board.

Drain the prunes (discard the water) and place in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients for the brownies and whizz up with a hand held blender (or you could put in a food processor, I did as I was told). When done, scatter in and mix in the prune pieces. Put the mixture in the tin and cook for 25-30 minutes. The middle should be firm when pressed but you do want them a bit squidgy.

They will be very soft, so keep in the tin and when cold gently take out. Make the ganache by very gently heating the chocolate and cream in a small pan (I would never usually melt chocolate like this, I’d use a bain marie set up, but I was hungry and it was fine). Spread over the top. If you can, wait a while before slicing up and eating. Store in the fridge where they do harden up.

IMG_7999

I have no idea how long these last as they were practically all gone in 24 hours.

Note: the main image is the brownies a day later, after being taken out of the fridge, the image in the text is of them first iced and sliced – with some missing for, ahem, testing purposes.

Note to self: Put walnuts in next time.

 

 

 

Strawberry cheesecake ice cream (no ice cream machine necessary)

I do love a cheesecake and, in these days of heat and dust, am preferring to take my food in liquid, or frozen form. This recipe then, was timely. It’s originally from Waitrose magazine but I’ve adapted it slightly.

If you don’t like cheesecake you won’t like this but if you do, prepare thyself for a treat. This is exquisite just a few hours after freezing, when it’s still soft but starting to hold its form. But it keeps for a good few weeks in the freezer, just let it warm a little before scooping.

You’ll need

200g strawberries

1 tablespoon of icing sugar

A good squeeze of lemon juice – approx 1 tablespoon

250g cream cheese

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

397g can condensed milk (note: it’s possible to buy own brand, Waitrose as one example does it, do try to avoid Nestle products)

450ml whipping cream

100g Lotus Biscoff biscuits, roughly crushed (other types will also do)

What you do

Whizz up the hulled strawberries with the icing sugar and the lemon juice, and set aside.

Separately whisk (I do it in my food mixer) the cream cheese until soft, then add the vanilla extract and finally the whipping cream. Whisk for a few minutes until soft peaks form and hold.

Get a suitable container which can go in the freezer (this makes about 2L I think), pour in half the ‘creamy’ mixture, then add half the strawberry mixture and mix around. You don’t want to mix it so much that it starts to resemble strawberry ice cream – you want a ripple. But avoid having great rivers of ripple. I did this the first time; you can see it in the picture, just a bit too much ripple, I mixed it a tad more second time round and it was better. It’s not wrong to have thick ripple, but the ripple part has a higher water content so is more icy in the mixture, which is more noticeable when the cream cheese/cream part is so utterly pillowy. Scatter over half the biscuits. Repeat for the next layer.

Freeze. Eat.

Gingernuts

Gingernuts are not anything I’d really buy in the supermarket but, home made, they are not only delicious, but also super-easy.

This year I decided that, each and every month I would make a positive, healthy change.

This is because I have slid into rather bad habits since late 2016, which was a traumatic year for me. So January was all about giving up NOTHING but instilling an exercise routine – which I have done. And February we are giving up all shop bought cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolate etc. (aside from high days and holidays, because my children adore the loathsome Fox’s Party Rings for a birthday..).

But home made we can still have. I’m not ready for any sort of deprivation just yet.

I made these a few weeks ago, for a friend who loves ginger. The original recipe is Delia and I’ve adapted it slightly.  The original is from Delia’s Complete Cookery Course which is from 40 years ago and the original recipe calls for margarine. Delia’s more recent incarnations changed it to butter.

You need

110g self raising flour

Two level teaspoons of ground ginger

1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

40g granulated sugar

50g butter, from the fridge, sliced into little pieces

50g golden syrup

1 piece of stem ginger in syrup, drained and chopped (you could also use the syrup in part exchange for the golden syrup)

This is what you do

Heat the oven to 190C.

Put the flour, ginger, bicarb and sugar into a bowl and mix around. Add the butter and rub between fingers to make like fine breadcrumbs. Now add the chopped stem ginger and the golden syrup. Mix together lightly to form a dough.

Break off little pieces (my mixture made about 12), roll gently between your palms, put on a baking parchment lined tray, flatten with a fork or your hand.

Bake for a scant seven minutes. Delia says 10-15 mins and I’m not sure what would have been going on in her oven back in the day, mine are over cooked at eight minutes so watch them carefully. In 15 minutes these would be incinerated.

Take out, cool, eat, yum.

Milk shake mix-ins

This is a great way to use up scrappy bits of ice cream ‘n’ bits you may have, or just to amuse yourself for five minutes in the kitchen – it’s permissible to buy ice cream just to make these, too.

I got the idea from an ice cream shop in Aldeburgh called The IceCreamery – which is well worth a visit if you are in the area. Here you select your ice cream ‘base’ – vanilla, chocolate, strawberry etc., then add a ‘mix in’. And here’s where it gets fun, and slightly diabetic-inducingly crazy.

The mix-ins can be M&Ms, Jaffa Cakes, Oreos and a million other alternatives, and these get added/crushed into your ice cream to give you a custom-made ice cream.

Or you can have it made into a milk shake.

My eldest chose vanilla and Oreos and my youngest chose chocolate and M&Ms. I watched, in awe/horror as about four scoops of ice cream were put into a mixer and then – in the case of the M&Ms – a WHOLE PACKET of M&Ms were put in. I would never, in a million years, let my youngest (who is tiny) eat a whole packet of M&Ms in one go, let alone with four scoops of ice cream.

But I had to metaphorically shut my eyes and switch off my inner mummy-OMG-ness and just go with it.

The milk shake was amazing, I hesitate to say the best ever as of course the best ever milk shakes were those my dad made for me in his cafe, when I was a child. But aside from that:

BEST EVER.

The vanilla and Oreos was particularly memory-hogging.

So when I got home I sought to recreate these but using less ice cream and less mix-ins and the way I make them isn’t more calorie-laden than a regular ice cream in a cone, I put two scant ice cream scoops in my Nutribullet, with some milk and some mix-ins (like one cookie if it’s an Oreo, maybe one and a half) and blend the whole thing together.  So far we’ve done:

Strawberry ice cream with fresh mint

Strawberry ice cream with Milky Way Magic stars

Chocolate and fresh mint

Coffee ice cream with Oreos

Vanilla and Oreos

Vanilla and Milky Way Magic stars

Vanilla and jam ‘doughnut’ sponge crumbs (these were left over from some Nigella jam doughnut muffins which my eldest made which stuck to the tin and I scraped out and froze and I add them straight into the mix and it works beautifully).

Chocolate and peanut butter……you get the idea.

Of course I had to buy the special cups and lids and straws.

26 July 2016 update: I made raspberry cheesecake milkshakes today: vanilla ice cream, frozen jam doughnut sponge crumbs, fresh raspberries, milk and a dollop cream cheese. DELICIOUS. I didn’t have one (just tasted it) otherwise I’d be the size of a house come the weekend with all the milk-shaking we have going on..