Spinach mousse prawn cocktail

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Modern prawn cocktail

Ahh, the prawn cocktail, that classic dish which – rather than being utterly timeless – does in fact sit solidly in the 1970s.

And the poor thing is not allowed to forget it.

Why is it that this innocuous little dish carries such stigma? That it invariably conjures a blush of shame from the creator and a roll of the eye from the recipient? That since the light-bulb moment in which we all realised what a foolish concoction it clearly was every chef has endeavored either to steer well clear or to transform it? The Gok Wans of the food world decided that this frumpy forty-something clearly needed a style guru to make her acceptable for this hip new era:  let’s ditch the dowdy glass and flatter her with foams, deconstruct and reconstruct and throw a few micro-things in between.

I love a prawn cocktail but, in a vanity-lead effort to create a dish with a touch of flair and individualism, I have to admit to doing a bit of styling of my own. I won’t say I’ve improved on the original and I wouldn’t wish you to believe that I will never make the Classic Prawn Cocktail again, I have simply constructed something that is vaguely reminiscent of it.

‘Twas a bit of fun is all.

PS – It goes with the Beetroot and Fennel Purée in my last post and several other things still to come.

Ingredients

For the prawn mix

100g crème fraîche

50g mayonnaise

(Optional: a 1-2 tsps ketchup)

Zest of 1 lemon

Handful of fresh dill, finely chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

200g cooked, peeled prawns, any size

1/3rd cucumber

For the mousse

2 sheets of gelatin (or enough for approx. 300ml liquid)

50g butter or margarine

2 onions, finely chopped

500g spinach, washed

200g cream cheese or Greek Yoghurt

75ml double cream

Salt and pepper

To garnish

Paprika

Prawn cocktail with cucumber

Begin with the prawn mix.

In a bowl beat together the crème fraîche, mayonnaise, ketchup (if using, for a more authentic marie rose flavour), lemon zest, dill and plenty of black pepper.

Roughly chop the prawns so that they are chunky (if very small this isn’t necessary). Cut the cucumber into quarters lengthways and cut out the seeds. These can be set aside for smoothies or soups. Dice the remaining cucumber into fairly small dice. Add the prawns and cucumber to the crème fraîche mix and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and set aside.

Lemon dill prawns recipe

Next make the spinach mousse.

Place the sheets of gelatin in enough cold water to cover. Set aside.

Spinach mousse recipe

In a large pan melt the butter then add the onions. Cook on a medium-high heat for about 2 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the spinach and continue to stir until this has wilted down completely. Take off the heat and put into a food processor or blender along with the cream cheese and double cream. Blend thoroughly. At this stage mine was not very smooth so I passed it through a sieve before adding salt and pepper to taste, but you may have a smoothie blender or something better than mine, so as long as the mix is not lumpy you should be OK without sieving.

NOTE: If you do sieve at this stage, return the finished purée to the heat so that it is hot enough to dissolve the gelatin in the next step.

Spinach mousse with gelatin recipeSavoury mousse with gelatin

Check the gelatin has gone limp, squeeze out any water and then add it to the hot spinach mix. Beat thoroughly so that the gelatin has as chance to melt and become evenly distributed.

To assemble the cocktails put a layer of the prawn mix at the bottom of shot glasses (or any other glasses of your choice) making sure you have some left to garnish at the end. Top with a good layer of the spinach mousse then put in the fridge for the mousse to set – about 1-2 hours.

Prawn cocktail with a twist

Once set, finish the glasses off with another small dollop of the prawn mix and a pinch of two of paprika.

Spinach and prawn cocktail recipe

Note: If you want to do multi-layered shots, do a thin layer each of the prawn mix and the mousse, leave to chill for 1/2-1 hour. Gently reheat the spinach mousse to melt the gelatin again and then repeat the layering, making sure not to put anything onto the spinach mousse until it has fully set.

(Wo)man cannot survive on writing alone | beetroot & fennel purée

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Vegetable purée

You know you’ve been away too long when WordPress doesn’t remember your password and asks if you want to create a blog. No thank you WP I’ve already got one.

It has been a sorry few months for the ol’ blog and all things related: camera has lain redundant, recipes have remained un-noted and perhaps a drop in interest on my part has resulted in less interesting culinary creations. The only thing that has been well serviced are my hands at the keyboard as I have been writing like a maniac … but not for the blog: my mind has been a-whirring with stories and poems galore while food making and writing have taken a very far back seat. As in “Uh, heLLO? Is anyone THERE?”

But man (or woman) cannot survive on writing alone and whilst over the last weeks the edible matter has become a mere accomplice to my whimsical escritorial creations, serving only to fuel my mind and certainly not my blog, I have known all along that it would sometime return to centre stage. After all, I have a food blog don’t I?

So, let’s restart with something simple. Beetroot, fennel & onion purée It forms part of a special meal I made a few weeks back, so by posting it I’m only gonna have to post the rest of the meal as well. But I’ll take it easy on you (and me) by doing the thing in stages – far less daunting!

Beetroot purée

Ingredients

1 large onion (100g)

25g butter

1/2 medium fennel (about 100g)

 2 large cooked, skinned beetroot (not in vinegar) (250g)

Small bunch of dill

Salt and pepper

Beetroot fennel purée

Peel and dice the onion. In a small pan melt the butter then add the onion. Place the lid on the pan and sweat on a gentle heat for about 5 minutes.

Fennel purée

Meanwhile remove the roots from the fennel, peel off the layers and rinse them before chopping into rough dice (as a fennel ingénue some years back I didn’t know what parts you could eat. Good news: you can eat it all! My kind of veg.) Add this to the onion pan, give it all a stir then sweat again for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything is soft. Leave to cool.

Fennel purée

Roughly chop the beetroot and the dill, reserving a few sprigs for garnish.

Place all of the ingredients except the reserved dill a blender or liquidizer and whizz until all is puréed to a smooth mixture (or use a hand blender although the effect may not be quite so smooth). Season to taste and serve.

Try this as a dip for breadsticks or as a base for a hefty beef and horseradish sandwich. It’s also great with fish.

 Beetroot and fennel recipe

One would like tea. One requires Fondant Fancies.

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Home made french fancies

…  OK. So my mum doesn’t talk like the Queen. But for Mothering Sunday last weekend I decided that I couldn’t let it pass without treating her like one.

Mothering Sunday 2013 saw my first attempts at making Fondant Fancies. Unfortunately it also saw my phone die … along with all the “Fancy” photos. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise: the past 12 months have proved long enough to recover from the ordeal and this time round I have approached the recipe with new energy, not to mention a little experience under my belt. I now know some of the pitfalls and in this second attempt I aspired to greater heights. They would be better, even if I had a fondant meltdown in the process.

My sister recently called me in a disheartened state: not a regular baker, she had attempted a cake for her husband’s birthday and it hadn’t gone to plan. I tried to console and reassure her, wishing I could transport myself to her house to take charge of either the cake or the screaming baby. The problem is, when you don’t cook something very often you want it to be perfect when you do but lack the experience of someone who does it regularly. Vicious circle really. It’s also partly the reason that I always research at least 5 versions for one recipe before making it for the first time, just to reassure myself that I will be on the right track. The problems start when my research pulls up 5 completely different recipes …

Mr Kipling French Fancies

I did my research for these Fancies but was lucky in that the principles are fairly straight forward: you need a firm but moist sponge, a pourable but not too thin icing, and some buttercream. The most complicated thing is assembling the little darlings without getting pink fondant all over your hands, apron, the other Fancies and pretty much everywhere else in the kitchen. The other important thing is not to cut the sponge squares too big: with buttercream and then fondant icing, the cakes quickly grow, and a dainty Fancy is preferable to a colossal rock of pink squaring up to you and your fork across the table.

So these cakelets take some care in the finishing – be patient, don’t rush, and you’ll end up with a product to be proud of. But the reassuring thing with baking is that, unless you mistake salt for sugar, or incinerate your creation by “slow cooking” it on 220 C degrees, it will usually taste delicious and the recipients won’t mind if its sides are a little wonky or its top sinks. I bet my sister’s husband was delighted with his cake and didn’t notice anything was wrong (especially if she plied him with brandy first, as she suggested she might …)

Note 1: This makes a lot of cakes (I made 49) so halve the mix if desired. 

Note 2: I used ready roll icing to cover most of the cakes, thinning it with water. It gave the most “Mr Kipling-esque” appearance (glossy, shiny) but never set properly so remained a little sticky. The alternative is to make a thick glacé icing using icing sugar and water – it gives a less shiny finish, but sets dry. Both options are given in the recipe below, although I’m not certain how much icing sugar you will need – have plenty as backup. Both icings taste equally good.

French fancies recipe

Ingredients

For the cake

200g butter or margarine

250g caster sugar

3 large eggs

75g Greek or natural yoghurt

1 tsp vanilla extract OR zest of 1 large lemon

275g self raising flour

For the filling & buttercream

Fruit jam or jelly (with no pips or bits)

150g butter, at room temperature

250g icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract OR zest of 1 lemon

For the icing & decorating

800g ready roll icing OR 1kg (?) icing sugar

Pink and yellow food colouring

50g each of dark chocolate and white chocolate

Begin by lining a large shallow tin or dish (measuring approx. 27cm x 27cm) with well greased baking paper (or approx. 14cm x 14cm for half the recipe). Set aside.

Next make the cake. In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar until smooth and pale. Add the eggs and beat thoroughly to combine.

Fondant fancies recipefondant fancy recipe

Next stir in the vanilla extract or lemon zest and the yoghurt. finally sift in the flour and fold in with gentle strokes until it is thoroughly combined. Pour the batter into the baking tin/dish and bake on 170 C degrees fan (190 C degrees conventional oven) for 30 minutes.

When the cake is done leave to cool for 10 minutes in the tin before removing and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack.

French Fancy recipe

Whilst the cake cools make the buttercream. In a deep bowl beat the butter until smooth (ideally with electric beaters). Sift in the icing sugar and beat again until all the sugar is incorporated (I put a tea towel over my beaters and bowl as I do this, to prevent icing sugar dust flying everywhere). Once mixed, add the vanilla extract or lemon juice, and a little water if necessary to make a spreadable paste. Set aside.

Once the cake is cold, trim the edges to make a neat square and level the top. Measure the cake and divide into even sized mini-cakes: mine measured 3cm x 3cm x 3cm (divide the cake into 7 x 7). If your cake seems uneven,just carefully measure and divide it up to make squares no bigger than 4cm all round. Confused? Don’t be! You just want small neat squares, and if that means a lot of trimming, then you’ve got some cakey pickings to munch on!

Fondant Fancies recipe

Using a small, sharp knife cut deep holes out of the centre of each square, being careful not to cut right down to the base. Fill a piping bag with the jam or jelly and squirt in enough to fill the hole. Place the buttercream in a clean piping bag and squirt a little dome on top of the jam to cover it and to make a nice rounded lump.

Mini jam buttercream cakes recipe

Spread the remaining buttercream in a thin layer over the sides of each of the cakes. This doesn’t have to be really neat, but make sure you don’t have huge chunks of buttercream sticking out everywhere or it will make the finished cake sides look uneven.

Put the cakes into the freezer for between 30 minutes and 1 hour to firm up the buttercream.

Mini sponge cakes recipe

Whilst the cakes are chilling, make the icing. Either using the ready roll icing method below (1) or the glacé icing method below (2).

(1) Break the ready roll icing into small chunks and drop them into a mixing bowl. Using electric beaters and holding the bowl firmly, beat the icing until it becomes smooth and starts to stick to the beaters. Dribble in about 60ml of water, beating as you go, until the icing becomes a smooth, thick paste. Add a little more water if necessary.

Divide the mixture into two bowls and add a few drops of pink food colouring to one and yellow food colouring to the other. Stir the icings again until the right colour has been achieved.

French Fancies recipe

(2) Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl. Add VERY small amounts of water at a time, whisking until you have created a thick, smooth, spreadable paste and barely pourable.

Divide the mixture into two bowls and add a few drops of pink food colouring to one and yellow food colouring to the other. Stir the icings again until the right colour has been achieved.

Next, take a few cakes out of the freezer at a time to avoid them all thawing whilst you ice them. Skewer the base of a cake with a fork and carefully drizzle the icing over the top. Spread it around the sides until the cake is covered (you don’t need to ice the base) and then lever it off the fork and onto a large tray or board. Repeat until all the cakes have been covered.

How to make the perfect fondant fancy

Leave the cakes for 1 hour for the icing to firm up (the ready roll icing version will remain quite sticky).

To decorate, melt the chocolates in two separate bowls (either in the microwave or over a pan of gently simmering water). Dip a fork into the dark chocolate and flick it back and forth over the tops of the yellow cakes. Repeat with the white chocolate on the pink cakes. Leave to set then enjoy!

How to make Fondant FanciesTea time treats recipeJammy French Fancies recipe

The Best Carrot Cake

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Healthy home made carrot cake recipe

A few days ago it was my dad’s birthday. It was also my birthday. Yey! It’s lovely having a joint event as it makes it doubly special AND I get the chance to give some presents (which I love) as well as receiving them (which I also love, wink wink). But despite sharing the celebrations, we don’t have to share a cake and that means two cakes in one day! Whoop whoop! My dad chooses the same one every year – a fruity, chocolatey, sugary temptation of a cake – and I usually opt for some little chocolate number with fudgy buttercream and lots of it. But this year I went for something a little different – it’s a carrot cake, but not just any carrot cake: it is a very special carrot cake …

This is the carrot cake that my mum picked up when she was travelling around America one summer during her University holiday. The one she cooked for a friend’s tea party in Oxford at which she met my dad for the first time. The one she bakes for him every Valentine’s day and wedding anniversary. And until a few years ago, I had never even thought about tasting it: carrot cake? But it’s not chocolate cake!

Healthy carrot cake recipe

Thankfully, my love for all things carrot knows no bounds these days and I don’t possess the youthful notion that chocolate trumps everything, nor that vegetables are the unfortunate understudies to some greater act. Since discovering carrot cakes, more than a few have passed my lips and – though some are quite delicious – none are a touch on this one. Loaded with a multitude of fruits and nuts which create a wonderful flavour and texture this cake is, simply put, to die for. And it’s healthy to boot.

With all this in mind – and the fact that I have never had this recipe made just for me – how could I not request it now? I have to thank my mum for allowing me to publish this super-special recipe, for letting me bake it myself (after all, baking is a birthday present in itself) and for putting up with me (and my dad!) for so long.

Carrot coconut banana pineapple cake recipe

Note 1: The original recipe was given in cups so I have put these down, but I noted the weights of items as I made the cakes and have also included these. If you do use cups a standard 250ml cup is perfect.

Note 2: Having heard so much about coconut oil recently, I decided to use it here instead of the vegetable oil and to leave out the desiccated coconut too. As it is solid at room temperature I melted it before adding to the batter, but once cooked the finished result was a very firm cake. I actually LOVED it this way, but if you want something lighter simply use vegetable oil and add the desiccated coconut, as in the original recipe.

Recipe using coconut oil

This recipe makes 2 x fat 18-20cm (7-8 inch) sandwich cakes. 

 Ingredients

2 cups (250g) light soft brown sugar

3 cups (340g) wholemeal flour

1/2 cup (60g) desiccated coconut

2 tsps baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup (250ml) vegetable oil OR coconut oil, melted

4 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup (2 large) mashed banana

3 cups (300g) grated carrot

1/2 cup (60g) walnuts, roughly chopped

1/2 cup (90g) raisins OR sultanas – although I added more!

1/2 cup (80g with pits) dates, pits removed and roughly chopped

1 cup (200g) tinned pineapple, roughly chopped

1 quantity of frosting (see below)

Carrot cake recipe

Line 2 fairly deep 18-20cm sandwich tins with greased baking paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, blend together the sugar, flour, desiccated coconut, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

Healthy cake recipe

In a separate bowl, beat together the oil, eggs and vanilla extract then mix them into the dry ingredients until thoroughly combined.

Healthy carrot cake recipeCarrot banana coconut walnut date cake

Mix the banana and carrot into the cake mix, then add the remaining ingredients and stir thoroughly again.

Divide between the two tins and bake in a preheated oven at 160 C degrees fan (180 C degrees conventional oven) for 50-60 minutes, until risen and a skewer comes out clean.

Healthy carrot cake recipeCoconut carrot cake recipe

Remove the cakes from their tins and place on a wire rack to cool completely before peeling off the baking paper.

For the frosting

Honey and cream cheese icing recipe

Several notes on the frosting:

1. The original recipe used a combination of mashed banana, cream cheese, soft brown sugar and a dash of lemon juice. It was delicious, very runny and had a tendency to go brown. This one is equally delicious, not quite as runny and it stays a glorious golden colour. Due to the soft consistency, you may prefer to spread it over a single layer of cake, or replace some of the ricotta with butter for a firmer texture – try beating 150g softened butter, add 350g ricotta then continue as per recipe.     2. I thought that using set honey, melting it and adding it to the ricotta would mean it would firm up in the fridge. It didn’t – it simply didn’t reset. So you could use runny honey here if you’d prefer.

500g Ricotta (or, for a richer icing, full fat cream cheese)

150g honey (set or runny, see note above)

Healthy ricotta icing frosting recipe

Begin by beating the ricotta in a large bowl. Separately, melt the set honey in the microwave or carefully in a pan, being careful not to let it burn.

Pour the melted honey into the ricotta and beat thoroughly to combine. Chill to firm up slightly (it’s also delicious frozen).

Spread the frosting onto your cake (the sponge is quite heavy so oozing will occur between layers if you choose to layer it – see note for frosting above).

Dig in.Healthy wholemeal carrot cake

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