Monday, 28 November 2016

three white loaves - a flour baking report for Homepride Flour


A little background 
As part of my work with Homepride Flour I was asked to test their new Strong White Bread Flour by baking a basic white loaf with three different flours.  This comparison test would allow them to trial the product against two leading brands.  It was a task I took very seriously and of course enjoyed every moment.  I love baking bread by hand and still see this as a treat even though I bake 2 loaves every Friday and have done for the past 10 years. There is nothing quite like the taste of freshly baked bread and of course the aroma that fills the house when baking is worth it alone. Most often I will bake a basic white loaf – flour, yeast, salt, water and a little extra-virgin olive oil. I find the white loaf is the most useful for the weekend and week ahead. If I’m having friends to stay or a dinner party then I mix it up and use more varied flours and shapes for the loaves but white flour is my mainstay.

The recipe I’m using for this test is for one loaf using the ‘low-knead’ method. The recipe can be easily doubled and split at the ‘loaf forming stage’ before the final prove. (I always find it makes sense to make two of something instead of just one if it takes the same effort and energy.)

I’ve gone for the low-knead method as I find it produces a perfect, easy loaf every time. By leaving the ingredients alone before the first low-knead you can genuinely feel the yeast get to work straight away and I love how soft the bread is when it’s ready to eat. Plus, I had three loaves to bake and I didn’t want any repetitive wrist injury for the sake of baking and I think this method saved me slightly!


The flours
I was sent three flours, Tesco Strong White Flour, Allinson Strong White Bread Flour (my current flour of choice) and Homepride Strong White Bread Flour.

I used Allinson Easy Bake Yeast

I made 3 ‘free-form’ loaves, firstly because I prefer this shape but also I felt I would be able to see how well the loaves kept their shape after the second proving.





The results
If you're looking for some incredible taste sensation from one clear outstanding winner then I hate to disappoint... I have to say that the differences between the loaves was negligible. From taste, to texture, to aroma they were all delicious and made a great loaf. Out of the 6 people who tasted them, none of them could tell a marked difference (and people really wanted there to be!) I guess for Homepride this isn't a bad thing.  It means they compare favourably with the top selling flours and this must be a good thing so if you're a bit of a brand junkie like me, it's good to know that one of your favourite brands produces very good quality all British wheat, bread flour... and if you're not so worried about your bread flour then you can stick with your favourite, safe in the knowledge that it's unlikely to be rivalled by another... which I think is what they call a win-win!

The recipe
400g strong white bread flour
1 sachet or 1 heaped teaspoon of fast-action dried yeast
1 heaped teaspoons salt (very important - don't leave this out or your bread will not taste nice)
300ml regular tap water
olive oil and extra flour for dusting

place the flour, yeast and salt in a very large ceramic bowl and stir together, then pour in the water and bring together using a rubber spatula - scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix the dough until all the dry flour is gone and you're left with a sticky, shaggy mess - cover with a tea towel and set aside for 10 mins. - wash and dry your spatula as you will need it clean for the next stage.

oil your work surface with a generous glut of olive oil and using your right hand, wipe the surface in a circular motion to coat the surface in oil. Then, use your oily right hand to remove the dough from the bowl and place it on the oiled surface then take the spatula and scrape clean the bowl, then drizzle the bowl with a little olive oil and using your right hand again, wipe the inside of the bowl to coat it in oil.

knead the dough with your oiled hand 8 times... it doesn't even need to be a sophisticated knead, just a fold, push and quarter turn... you should, even at this stage be able to feel that the dough is soft and light... then place it back into the oiled bowl, cover in a tea towel and set aside for another 10 minutes.

Repeat this twice more and then after the final quick knead, cover the bowl in cling film and set aside until the dough has proved to double the size... this should take roughly and hour but it depends on the warmth of the room

pre-heat the oven to 220C and place an empty baking tray at the bottom of the oven

oil your work surface and tip the dough out onto it. Punch the dough down and make a rough oval shape... you're now going to do some folding and turning that will put air back into the dough and create layers which in turn should create a beautifully aerated loaf... fold down the dough halfway from the top and then fold up the dough over from the bottom. A classic 'gatefold.' Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat the gatefold.

you essentially now have your loaf and can do with it what you like. It could be tucked neatly into a classic loaf tin or you could form it into a round ball or any shape to bake, it's up to you. Whatever shape you decide upon, once it’s shaped – cover it in either a plastic bag or upturned plastic container and let it rpove once more for 30 mins.

once you're ready to bake, spritz the top of the loaf with a spray of cold water, then pat some flour over the top and slash a couple of cuts in the top
quickly open the oven and pour a jug of water into the baking tray in the bottom and then place your loaf into the oven... bake on 220C for 10 minutes and then reduce the heat to 180C for a further 20 minutes... the bottom of the loves should sound hollow when tapped... hard as it may be, set aside to cool completely before eating! 

Homebred Strong White Bread Flour is available exclusively at tesco stores.


eat and of course, enjoy!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

sausage, mushroom and pea risotto



... so I have news... In a few weeks time - just in time for Christmas in fact, I will be migrating my blog to a self-hosting site with a lovely new wordpress template.  Yes, i've finally taken the plunge to give this little old blog a facelift.  I'm really not 100% quite sure why i'm doing it but I think it's because I feel like I need a little kick up the backside... a refresh... a new lease of life... and I felt it was something I couldn't do here on clunky old blogger and it means i'll begin 2017 with a fresh outlook on a world that I was increasingly becoming a little tired with.  I've complained before about how busy my real life has become (it feels dreadful to complain about a successful life but it's more a moan about the levels of stress rather than the actual work.) I love what I do in both my events work at The Persuaders and of course I love my blog but I was beginning to resent it all a little - not having the time to blog because work was so busy which made me not want to use up my rare and valuable free time working on the blog but also resenting work which is utterly stupid.  I think i'm over that hump now and I think it came from learning to let go and be free from the chains of the dreaded SEO and just get on and do my thing without having to worry about all that.  Don't get me wrong, I still want Belleau Kitchen to be successful but it needs to be on my terms... so a new platform to shout from is the way forward.  I'll admit that i'm a little nervous about how used to blogger I am and how I hate learning new things but i'm assured that it will all be very user-friendly and that i'll get on just fine.  What it does mean for you lot out there is that there may be some slight disruptions to service over the next couple of weeks but rest assured my url will remain the same and I will be back up and showing off in time to share some rather delicious Christmas goodies I have planned.  Until then, here's a risotto...


sausage, mushroom and pea risotto
so Dad came to stay at the cottage a couple of weeks ago and you know what it's like as a food blogger, you're always trying to think of something to cook that will impress to that your house guests will depart with the knowledge that you do actually know what you're doing and those pictures you post on instagram every week aren't fake... anyway, as it happens, for reasons too dull to explain here  I had to spend the weekend baking a large number of frangipane mince pies for the freezer so that they'd be ready for the demo-cooking i'm doing next weekend at the Food and Gift Fair at the Lincolnshire Showground but this meant that whilst dad was oohing and ahhing over the glorious Christmas aromas wafting in from the kitchen, he couldn't actually eat any of it... and by the time i'd spent all of Saturday and most of Sunday baking I really didn't want to be chained to the kitchen cooking meals... so I made a risotto.  Now this may sound ridiculous to you... surely a risotto is the antithesis of not being chained to the kitchen but actually I love making risotto.  It's my happy place.  I adore watching it all slowly come together.  There's something so satisfying as you slowly add the liquid and watch the rice gently swell and become creamy.  This risotto is divine.  The sausage meat crumbles as you cook it and infuses the whole dish with a wonderfully comfort food vibe and of course the peas just give the whole dish a perky lift at the end... needless to say it went down a storm and the tow of us polished off the lot in one sitting!

serves 4 (or two greedy buggers)
a little butter and olive oil
5 spring onions -roughly chopped
6 good quality sausages - roughly chopped (I used some pork and apple sausages)
150g chestnut mushrooms - sliced
250g risotto rice - arborio rice is my preferred grain
1 glass white white
1 litre good quality vegetable stock
100g fresh or frozen peas
at least 80g of hard cheese such as parmesan or strong cheddar, I actually used a little of both and probably a little more than 100g
1 teaspoon oregano - dried or fresh

in a large pan gently heat plenty of butter and olive oil then saute the spring onions along with the sausages.  The sausages should breakdown into what's essentially a mince but they should brown nicely along with the onions.  Halfway through the cooking add the mushroom slices along with plenty of ground black pepper and fresh herbs and continue to cook until the mushrooms are soft

add the rice and stir around to coat all the grains then turn up the heat a little and throw in the white wine and begin to gently stir

add the stock a cup at a time, stirring gently between each addition... at first the rice will soak up the stock quite greedily as you stir but after the fourth or fifth addition of stock it will take longer and the risotto should be creamier

when you've used up 2 thirds of the stock throw in a handful of grated cheese between each addition of stock and continue to stir.  Once all the stock is gone your rice should be tender.  Throw in a handful of grated cheese and the peas, stir and set aside for 5 mins before serving. The whole process should take roughly 25 minutes but it can sometimes be quicker.  Don't have the heat on too high at any point but not too low either, it's a fine balance.


eat and of course, enjoy!

Monday, 21 November 2016

chocolate truffle meringue pie


... we spent last weekend working outside in Edinburgh and even though it was unbelievably cold (and when I say cold I mean freezing cold... I haven't been that cold in quite some years - it was that unbearable coldness that eats into your bones) it's still my favourite city in the UK.  I love how it feels like a village but is quite clearly an international city with so much history and culture, which also makes it a really romantic place too.  It's also so wonderfully easy for walking around.  You can see the lay of the land from the top of the Castle Rock but you also catch glimpses of the coast as you wander up and down the hills and bridges.  There are some incredible restaurants there too, with some adventurous chefs serving some very interesting Scottish twists on international cuisine.  We stayed at the Ibis Styles hotel in St Andrew's Square which was also rather impressive for both its budget prices but also it's rather clever use of interior design.  But mostly we were impressed with the beautiful Christmas decorations.  The whole city was aglow with such beauty.  Lights twinkling on every street and there was very little tacky stuff but a lot of impressive wreaths wrapped with an abundance of lights... some of them so incredible we actually stopped to stare in wonderment and awe.  The Dome bar was particularly impressive and gave us the full, head-on Christmas experience.  I also ordered my first Amaretto on Ice of the season which always makes me feel so warm and tingly inside...


chocolate truffle meringue pie
an indulgent pudding to say the least but very special there's no doubt... I had a glut of my favourite almond and cream cheese pastry left-over from prepping for my forthcoming demo-cooking  weekend at the Lincolnshire Food and Gift Fair as well as 5 large free-range egg whites so I knew a meringue pie was in the mix.  I would have usually gone for lemon or something else sharp but a surprising lack of lemons combined with a lot of rain meant that I had to make do with what was in the house so the two bars of chocolate become a chocolate truffle pie!  The pastry is genius as it's so rich and so light it doesn't need to be blind-baked yet I promise it will come out perfectly crispy and flaky... I have no idea what happened with the meringue.  It came out of the oven nice and high but seems to have collapsed overnight as it cooled.  Perhaps I over-beated the eggs, so do watch out for this...

for the almond and cream cheese pastry
300g plain flour 
3/4 teaspoon baking powder 
112g caster sugar 
150g unsalted butter 
100g full fat cream cheese (I used cottage cheese which was excellent) 
75g ground almonds 
1 egg yolk a little milk to bind

for the chocolate truffle filling
200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), roughly chopped
150g unsalted butter
60g golden caster sugar
2 large free-range eggs, plus
3 large free-range egg yolks
80g plain flour

for the meringue
5 large free-range egg whites
275g caster sugar (i used coconut sugar)
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
20g cocoa powder

i'm using a 22cm round loose-bottomed fluted tart case which i have generously greased with butter

start with the pastry - sift the flour, baking powder and sugar into a bowl, add the butter and rub until it resembles breadcrumbs - add the cream cheese, ground almonds and egg yolk, take a knife and mix until it comes together into a dough, you may need to add a little milk here, as I did. - chill the dough for at least 30 mins

pre-heat the oven to 180°C

roll out your pastry on a very well-floured surface - I am very generous with the flour on the top and underneath this pastry - and then roll out (I adore this pastry nice and thick)

lay the pastry into the case and gently tease it into the fluted sides and press down then trim the edges, pop it into the fridge whilst you make the truffle filling

for the filling, put the chopped chocolate into a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water (don’t let the water touch the bowl). Melt gently, stirring now and then, then add the butter and stir until combined - remove from the heat and set aside

whisk the sugar, eggs and egg yolks for about 8 minutes until pale and creamy then stir in the melted chocolate until it’s all incorporated, then gently fold in the flour using a large metal spoon... remove the pastry tin from the fridge and spoon the chocolate filling into the pastry case, level the top with a spatula, then bake for 12 minutes.

now make the meringue using an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Gradually whisk in the sugar until you have a stiff, billowy meringue whose peaks stay standing when you lift out the whisk. Beat in the cornflour, cocoa powder and vanilla bean paste.
 
after the chocolate truffle filling has been in the oven for 12 minutes, remove from the oven and lower the oven temperature to 150°C, then using a metal spoon, carefully spoon the meringue on top of the chocolate tart, swirling slightly as you go. 

return the tart to the oven and bake for 20 minutes more or until it has a thin crust on top but is still soft in the centre. Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin.


eat and of course, enjoy!

Monday, 14 November 2016

caramelised onion and cheddar 'tear n share' loaf




... as regular and observant readers of the blog will know, the lovely people at Homepride Flour have been providing me with their self-raising and plain flour for a few months now as i'm part of their Homepride Bakers community... I've been baking, using only this flour and i'm sure you'll agree that the results speak for themselves.  I'll be totally honest with you and say that up until being part of this community I genuinely didn't think twice about which brand of flour I purchased, normally going directly to the supermarket own brand and have never had an issue but I can see the difference in the Homepride flour - the fact that it's pre-sieved is blatantly obvious the moment you touch it - but also the fact that it comes in the resealable boxes is handy beyond what I would have ever thought.  I've always loved the brand and grew up with the bowler-hatted little icon Fred on TV adverts as a little boy.  Mum even had a set of ceramic Fred flour jars that I believe she still has to this day.  As well as the nostalgia and of course quality, to me the brand represents the best of British, particularly this year with the announcement that all their flour comes from 100% British wheat which of course if wonderful for our farmers.

Homepride also have another very exciting announcement to make, one which I have had the privilege of working on in secret with them for some time... this week they will launch their first ever Strong White Bread Flour!  The flour is very good.  I've been developing and testing recipes with it for the past couple of months and i've baked some exceptional loaves.  I even completed a very interested taste test comparing three of the UK's best-selling bread flours alongside this new flour and it faired very favourably.  It comes in the traditional sealed, round edged box and completes the perfect set of flours for your larder.  The flour will be sold exclusively in Tesco stores and online at tesco.com.  I love that a brand as traditional as Homepride has recognised the growing trend in home bread baking and with the popularity in such shows as the Great British Bake-Off, has moved with the times to develop a new flour to meet the needs of the population.  So often these retro brands sit in a world of nostalgia and don't move to develop or change but thankfully wise little Fred is not so stubborn and continues to strive for quality.


caramelised onion and cheddar 'tear n share' loaf
as part of my recipe development for the launch of the new Homepride Strong Bread Flour I was asked bake a regular white loaf, which I will post the results of another time, along with something a little more complex, such as this divine 'tear n share' loaf.  I adore caramelised onions and onion bread in general.  There is nothing better than the glorious aroma of toasted onion bread and this tear and share loaf toasts beautifully and delivers that deeply rich scent very generously.  This bread works well with a fondue or dips and so great for the forthcoming party season but also works well with a bowl of soup - a great sharing meal if you have friends popping by, simply bung a large bowl of soup on the table and this loaf and let them all tuck in... utterly heavenly.

500g Homepride Strong White Bread Flour
7g / 1 teaspoon / 1 sachet – fast action yeast
7g / 1 teaspoon fine salt
350ml luke warm water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 large white onions – peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
a large nob of butter
fresh rosemary and thyme
100g strong cheddar – finely grated

start with the onions – in a large pan, heat the olive oil and butter and throw in the onions and the sugar and stir around until all the onions are coated, then turn the heat down and let them gently sweat and simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid the onions sticking

after 30 minutes, add the fresh herbs and plenty of salt and pepper and stir in. leave on the heat for another 30 minutes or until the onions are a dark golden brown and gloriously sticky and caramelised.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the flour, yeast and salt with the water and stir together using a rubber spatula. Turn out onto a well floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until soft and elastic (this process can be done really easily in a stand mixer with a dough hook, for 15 minutes)

Oil a large bowl, add the dough, cover tightly with cling film and set aside to prove for at least 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Take a roasting tin (roughly 12inches x 8inches) and oil it very generously and set aside.

After your dough has had its first prove, liberally oil a large work surface and turn the dough out onto this. Using your oiled hands, spread the dough out to form a thin, rough rectangle, roughly 20 inches x 12 inches… the dough will be elastic and want to spring back (and the oiled surface won’t help) but leave it for a few minutes and then go back to it and gently tease it larger

Take your caramelised onion and tip it onto the dough rectangle and evenly spread it out covering the entire surface, then sprinkle on the grated cheese, followed by some more fresh herbs and salt and pepper

Carefully roll the long edge up the work surface, creating a long roll of dough and onions, then cut this into sections, each one roughly 3inches wide and place these into your oiled roasting tin until it’s full

Cover the tin with oiled cling film and set aside to prove for 30 minutes and turn your oven on and set to 200C

After 30 mins, remove the cling film and place the bread into the oven for 10 minutes on 200C and then a further 20 minutes on 180C

remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely before eating.


eat and of course, enjoy!



Thursday, 10 November 2016

tenderstem broccoli, spinach and cottage cheese quiche



... what a week.  There was genuinely a moment this week when I didn't know what day it was.  I believe today is Thursday but i'll just have to say it is and then go for it.  Sleepless nights, manic days and oh yes that ridiculous election in America.  It's hard not to be effected by the outcome, particularly when the man who would be got to where is is so divisively with such ugly rhetoric... but this is not the place for that rant... it's perhaps all a little too manic for me to even post much and you don't really want to read stuff about my busy week because you may weep even further into your cornflakes...so i'll leave you all with some lovely pictures of quiche.  Served warm it made a glorious brunch for friends this week and warm quiche has the power to make things good again... maybe I should send one to the white house...


tenderstem broccoli, spinach and cottage cheese quiche
I do love a quiche and whilst they can be quite a summery dish they are lovely any time of year and with all the big Christmas festivities about to happen they're a nice, light way to ease into the season... plus they also work very well as party food.  My mum's staple at any gathering were a couple of 'warm-from-the-oven' quiches and they were always winners.  This broccoli and spinach one is divine and uses cottage cheese for a little healthier difference.  The cottage cheese adds sharpness to the richness of the cream.  Any vegetables work well in a quiche but the tenderstem is particularly good for texture and crunch.

for the pastry
250g plain Homepride flour
100g butter
50g finely grated strong cheddar cheese
3 chive leaves - finely chopped
water to mix

for the filling
1 bunch of spring or salad onions - finely chopped
150g tenderstem broccoli - chopped into decent sized lengths
200g baby spinach leaves
butter and olive oil
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon of fresh lemon thyme or regular thyme
salt and pepper
4 large free-range eggs - beaten
150ml single cream
100ml cottage cheese

i'm using a 25cm, 3cm deep fluted tin with a loose bottom which i've greased well

pre-heat the oven to 160C fan

start with the pastry by rubbing the butter into the flour in a large bowl until you have something resembling breadcrumbs, stir in the grated cheddar  and chopped chives then add a tablespoon or two of cold water and bring together into a dough with your hands, you may need to add a little more water to create the dough but you will feel how 'short' the pastry is.  Flatten out the ball slightly, wrap in cling film and pop in the fridge for at least 30 minutes

in a large pan gently melt a generous amount of butter with a little olive oil and throw in the finely sliced spring onions, let them saute on a gentle heat for about 5 mins... a little colour is nice but don't take it too far.  Add the broccoli, stir well and pop the lid on to let them steam for about 5 mins until they soften a little but still have bite, then add the spinach, lid back on and  let it soften as the broccoli cooks - turn the heat off and let the pan cool on the hob

now your pastry should be ready, roll it out and line your greased quiche pan. Scrunch up some baking parchment to make it pliable, then flatten it out and then lay this into the pastry case and pour some baking beans on top. Blind bake for 15 minutes on 150C

after 15 mins, remove the pastry and carefully lift out the beans - place the pastry back in the oven for another 5 mins to allow the base to turn golden

once your pastry is pale gold, take it out of the oven and set aside whilst you beat the eggs into the cream and cottage cheese - season well.

carefully tip the cooked veg into the pastry case - I do this by hand to get an even arrangement and the veg is usually cooler by this time, finally pour the cream egg mix all over and  bake on 160C for about 15-20 minutes until golden and risen, set aside on a wire rack to cool.  The quiche should easily slide out of the tin.


eat and of course, enjoy!

Thursday, 3 November 2016

a cake for bonfire night



...whilst the global domination of the American version of Halloween is all very well and good - and don't get me wrong, I love Halloween - us Brits must always Remember, Remember, the 5th of November.  Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.  For the 5th of November sees us celebrate the night that Guy Fawkes attempted and failed to blow up parliament.  You hear a lot of grumbling about how Bonfire Night has been forsaken by the great unwashed in favour of Halloween but in fact if you live outside of the major towns and suburbs, a great many of the unwashed celebrate it in style and have done since 1605.  This very evening in-fact, I gave an old jacket to a school-teacher friend who will be using it to create an effigy of Guy Fawkes to be burnt on a giant bonfire they're building at school so they can teach the kids a history lesson.  We're off to a local firework display on Saturday evening taking place in the field of a friendly farmer who is currently building a giant bonfire that i'm convinced can be seen from space.  I cannot wait for the fun to begin!  I believe that these traditions are the kinds of things that are essential to keeping our national identity... they're also great fun and gives us a great excuse for some wonderful food and drink to be consumed on the night...

triple layer bonfire cake
this really is just a bit of fun and i'm sure a slice of each for the people attending the bonfire night will happily tuck in... i've gone for three layers with varying degrees of 'fire' colours and have used the old-faithful Matchmakers to create the sticks and logs for the bonfire.  A bit of a process here but it was all fun to put together and i'm quite please with the results!

for the triple layer sponge 
270g un-salted butter - at room temp
270g granulated sugar
5 large free-range eggs
270g Homepride self-raising flour
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
red food colour gel
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
yellow food colour gel

for the buttercream icing 
200g slightly salted butter – room temp
300g icing sugar
red food colour gel
2 tablespoons cocoa powder

raspberry jam and matchmakers - or chocolate tubes

for the chocolate bonfire flames
200g white chocolate, chopped
red food colour gel
yellow food colour gel

grease and line your baking tins and pre-heat the oven to 170C

in a large bowl add the butter and sugar and beat well until light and fluffy... this will take roughly 4 minutes in a stand mixer

continue beating on a low speed and add 2 of the eggs followed by half the flour and continue to beat on low until combined, followed by the 3 last eggs and the rest of the flour... beat gently until combined, you want a decent, thick batter with a dropping consistency of thick double cream.

divine the batter into 3 even portions in 3 bowls.  In bowl one add the cocoa powder and a few drops of the red food gel and beat together until combined - you're looking for a nice burnt red colour.  In bowl two add the red food gel only - go as shocking as you dare... and in bowl three go for a bright yellow colour.  Remember to beat them all well so that all the colour is combined.

divide the batter between the three cake tins and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the cakes are risen, golden and springy to touch - set aside to cool for 5 mins in their tins and then remove from the tins and let them cool completely.

to make the buttercream, beat the butter until soft and light, then carefully add half the icing sugar and beat in, follow this with the remaining sugar, a little lemon zest and beat till you have a thick but spreadable consistency.  Divide the butter cream in half and to one half beat in some red food colour and the other half beat in the cocoa powder.

to build the cake, layer each cake with a generous slathering of jam followed by the next layer on top... once all the layers are covered simply smooth the chocolate icing on the lower half and then the red icing on the top and upper half - don't worry if the colours bleed into each other, this will add to the effect... next, stick on the matchmakers in very random angles, break a few up... be nice and messy.

to make the chocolate bonfire shards, melt the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl.   One melted, divide into three bowls and add the food to each amount and beat well in

cut 3 lengths of greaseproof paper and roughly spread the chocolate onto each - I kept the layers of chocolate quite thick as I wanted thick shards. Place the greaseproof paper into the fridge to set.

after 30 minutes, take the paper from the fridge and using a large sharp knife, cut it into shards - place these shards randomly onto the top of the cake to create the flames


seeing that this cake is heaped full of chocolate gorgeousness I am linking it to one of my favourite bloggers link-ups - We Should Cocoa devised and hosted by the lovely Choclette over at Tin and Thyme

eat and of course, enjoy!

Thursday, 27 October 2016

mushroom and kale white lasagne



... so cold and flu be done! I went for a training session with the lovely PT this morning and even though I had to drag my tired and sorry arse out of bed and I really didn't feel like it at all it actually did me the world of good.  I feel alive for the first time in weeks.  It's quite amazing how healing it can be when you actually get yourself motivated... I almost wish i'd done it sooner.  Usually it's food that makes everything good again.  What better cure for a malaise is there than a glorious bowl of hot, clear chicken soup... what better way to cheer the day up than with a naughty, triple-layered chocolate cake... and what can be more wonderful for the soul than the smell and taste of freshly baked bread?  The issue is that when you have a cold and a blocked nose you really can't taste anything and I hate a wasted calorie if I can't taste the lovely food.  So my new solution is to get the body moving.  Don't sit around for too long because when you get to a certain age it all starts to seize up and that's no fun for anyone...


...Denby have recently launched a new range of cast iron cookware and they have very kindly sent me this beautiful 30cm round shallow casserole dish to test-drive.  Denby is a classic British tableware brand, founded in 1809.  They've had something of a revival recently, updating their traditional ranges with some stunning contemporary designed tableware that has a clear nod to the brands roots whilst enabling them to not get left behind in the marketplace by newer, style-led companies.  I've been genuinely impressed with their collections and this new addition to the Denby family of stunning and colourful cast iron is more than a welcome.  I love cooking with cast iron. If you've never owned a piece then I implore you to go out there and invest.  Cast Iron is versatile, strong and easy to use, cast from molten iron and then enamelled, this multi-layered manufacturing process means the post heats up faster and stays warmer longer making them brilliant for all kinds of meals and the brilliant thing is that they can go from hob to oven and back again without a worry which means they're ideal for 'one-pot' cooking... I love the weight and solid quality Cast Iron brings.  There is nothing more comforting and warming to the soul than a slow-cooked casserole being delivered to the table is a beautiful, enamelled dish.


mushroom and kale white lasagne
probably not the most classic of dishes to cook in this shallow casserole but then that's another thing that I love about cast iron is that they are so versatile and you can really do what you like with them... I adore this dish.  I love a white lasagne with all that wonderfully velvety cheesy sauce. So creamy and rich and warming.  It's as close to a 'one-pot' meal as I could make it but I had to make the cheesy sauce in another pan or I think i'd have gone slightly mad.  This is a great sharing dish for a manic family meal but it also lasts a couple of days and is rather divine eaten cold, sliced into wedges which is exactly what The Viking and I did, eating it over the weekend for lunches and snacks.  Kale of course is the trendy option for the green in this lasagne but you could use any kind of green leaf from spinach to watercress to nettle, it's entirely up to you.

1 medium onion - finely chopped
2 stalks of celery - finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic - peeled and crushed
150g bag of chopped kale
150g bag of mixed leaves - I used rocket, watercress and spinach
4 portobello or field mushrooms - thickly sliced
fresh rosemary and fresh thyme
1 large teaspoon of orgeno - dried or fresh
olive oil and butter
salt and pepper
roughly 10 sheets of your favourite lasagne

for the cheesy white sauce
550ml full fat milk
200 good quality vegetable stock
75g unsalted butter
2oz plain flour
250g strong cheddar - freshly grated
salt and freshly ground pepper

pre-heat the oven to 170C

start with the white sauce by boiling the kettle to make the vegetable stock, then pour in the milk and stir together so that you have 750ml of liquid... then take a medium sized pan and melt the butter, then remove from the heat and stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until you have a thick paste. Put the pan back on a gentle heat and cook the flour, stirring continuously for about a minute

take the pan off the heat again and add a little of the milk, continuing to stir. Adding the milk slowly and stirring like this will ensure no lumps form. Continue to add the milk a little at a time until it is al encorporated, then return the pan to the heat and cook until the sauce comes to the boil, season, turn down the heat to its very lowest and cook gently for another 15 minutes, making sure to stir often... it should thicken nicely to a smooth thick sauce, then add the grated cheese and stir until melted. - set aside whilst you make the filling...

in your shallow casserole dish, heat some olive oil and butter and then saute the mushrooms with a little oregano, rosemary and thyme until soft, use a medium heat and let them really gently sweat down, after about 10 minutes add a lot of freshly grated pepper and then cook for a further 5 mins or until soft and golden - remove from the dish and set aside

add a little more olive oil to the pan and throw in your celery, garlic and onion and let them gently sweat until soft - roughly 8 minutes, then remove and mix with the mushrooms in a bowl.

turn the heat to very low, add 2 tablespoons of water to the pan and pile your greens in - pop the lid on and let them soften for about 5 mins - remove and set aside.

now it's time to construct the lasagna... I started with a layer of kale followed by a layer of  mushrooms and onions, then a layer of lasagne pasta, then béchamel and then repeated until used up... finish off with the béchamel and perhaps a sprinkling of grated parmesan or cheddar

bake in the oven for 30 mins until piping hot and serve immediately


eat and of course, enjoy!

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