22/12/2011

Royal icing, step by step

Royal Icing
Makes icing to cover a rich fruit cake, approx 20-25cm round

Ingredients:
2 large egg whites
450-500g icing sugar (US: a little over 1lb powdered/confectioners' sugar)
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp glycerine (optional)

Method:
Short description:
Beat the sieved icing sugar into the egg whites gradually, using a wooden spoon, until it's all combined. Then add the lemon juice, and the glycerine (if used). Beat some more until the mixture is smooth and glossy, with stiff peaks that gently topple, and use.

Longer description:
Choose organic free-range eggs if you can, to avoid any risk of illness from raw egg white. If you can find powdered egg white with no additives, by all means use the equivalent amount. If using real eggs, the egg yolks make a good addition to short-crust pastry, or can be used in place of one whole egg in many other recipes.

Sieving the icing sugar is optional. If it has hard lumps, you might want to sieve it, but I never bother. Any slight lumps get beaten out. Theoretically two large egg whites will take 450g (1lb) icing sugar, but I find it varies. So have at least 500g available. Do NOT whip the egg whites - just put them in a large mixing bowl.

Then start adding the icing sugar and stirring it in with a wooden spoon. I don't know why it has to be a wooden spoon rather than an electric mixer, but that's what all the books say. It goes in pretty easily at first. This is what it looks like when you've added about 350g:

It gets a bit more difficult after that. If you have a willing assistant asking to do some stirring, this is the point at which you should probably accept their offer. Add another 50g of icing sugar, and then, when that has gone in, the last 50g. By that stage, it should be looking something like this:

Now add the lemon juice - probably not necessary, but it gives a pleasant taste. Don't bother if you only have bottled lemon juice. Glycerine supposedly it makes the mixture smoother and easier to cut, but I've never used it.

Then beat. And beat some more. Switch hands if you can. Enlist the help of as many other people as are willing, since this is hard work. Keep going, adding more icing sugar if necessary, for at least five minutes, until it looks something like this:

As you lift the spoon out of the mixture, it forms a soft peak, whose tip quickly topples over. You'll know that you need to add more icing sugar if this isn't happening after a few minutes of hard beating. You can just about see in the photo (click it to enlarge, if necessary) that the royal icing has, indeed, become quite glossy at this stage.

Now you are ready to ice your cake. I basically dump most of the icing on top of my cake (which should already have marzipan on it, or possibly a thin layer of regular icing) and then spread it out and decorate. A ruler makes a good way of smoothing the top down, a knife will work around the edges.

If you prefer, you can deliberately make the icing into little peaks, this is called 'rough-icing' and is much easier than trying to make a smooth surface.

17/11/2011

Wheat Tortillas ('wraps')

Wheat Tortillas
wheat tortillasMakes 8 tortillas

Ingredients:
1.5 cup flour (can be half wholemeal)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tblsp butter or margarine
1/2 cup hot water (not boiling)

Extra flour for rolling

Method:
Put the three dry ingredients in a bowl with the butter, and rub in until the mixture resembles very fine breadcrumbs, rather as you would for making pastry or crumble. Alternatively, whizz for a short time in the food processor.

Add the water, and mix well until the mixture forms a slightly sticky ball. If it is very sticky you can add a little extra flour, but it should be quite pliable. Ensure that all the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl, and knead for about twenty seconds. Then leave it to rest for five minutes or so.

Divide the mixture by hand into eight pieces, and roll into small balls. If possible, leave them to rest again for a few minutes. Then, one at a time, roll out on a floured surface,using a well-floured rolling-pin, until they are very thin. The dough is quite stretchy, unlike pastry, and although it seems impossible at first, they will roll extremely thinly if you keep turning and rolling gently, ensuring plenty of flour.

Heat a frying pan until it is very hot - so that a drop of water forms a ball and sizzles. Then cook each tortilla for about thirty seconds on each side. They are very easy to turn over. Wait until you can see little bubbles rising before turning, and watch to make sure they do not burn. A few brown specks are not a problem.

Stack in a clean tea-towel to keep them soft enough to fill for enchiladas or other Mexican-style dishes. If you want to freeze them for later use, do so as soon as they have cooled.


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These tortillas will not be as soft and pliant as the kind you can buy in the supermarket, but are considerably less expensive. They are a bit fiddly to make, but if you have an assistant it can work well to have one person rolling while the other cooks.

However, if you are in the kitchen on your own, it's possible to stack the uncooked tortillas roughly on something like a bread-board; they will not stick, due to the extra flour used in rolling.

Note for those who do not use measuring cups: a cup of flour weighs about 100-120g, and half a cup of water is around 130ml. Since quantities are not very exact in this recipe, cup measuring works well. 

06/09/2011

Spanokopitta (spinach and cheese pie)

Spanokopitta
spanokopita - cheese and spinach pieMakes about 6-8 servings

Ingredients:
1 pack frozen puff pastry (500g), thawed
OR
about 14 sheets filo pastry

filling:
1 large onion (or two small)
2-3 tblsp olive oil
400-450g feta cheese (US: about one pound)
100-150g cheddar or other hard cheese (US: 4 ounces)
4 eggs
400-450g frozen spinach (US: about one pound)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch of black pepper
extra egg or milk for glazing (optional)

Method:
Initial preparation: make sure that the pastry is thawed - preferably overnight in the fridge. Defrost the spinach, over a colander or large sieve, so that the liquid drains away. Chop the onion finely. Grease or line a flat swiss-roll type baking tin around 20x30cm size (US: 9x12 inches).

When you are ready to make the spanokopitta, heat the oven to 190C (US: 375F)

Gently fry the onion pieces in the olive oil over a medium heat, stirring, until they are softened and translucent. Allow to cool slightly, while you grate the hard cheese, and beat the eggs lightly.

Place the feta cheese in a large bowl, and use a fork to break it up roughly. Stir in the grated cheese and eggs, and mix well.

Press the spinach down in the sieve so that most of the remaining liquid drains out, then add it to the cheese mixture with the onions, nutmeg, and a little pepper. Mix again to combine.

Roll the puff pastry to a large rectangle, or two smaller ones, on a well-floured working surface, turning frequently. Roll it as thin as possible without breaking it, until it is a little more than twice the size of the prepared tin (or, if using filo pastry, place the sheets along the tin so that they overlap and form a large rectangle (or two smaller ones).

Spoon the cheese and spinach mixture evenly into the pastry base (or bases), leaving a gap of about 2cm around each edge. Take a little water, and dampen the edges, then fold the sides in, pushing the ends together, to form a parcel.

If you want to glaze the spanokopitta, use a pastry brush to cover it with milk or lightly beaten egg. Bake for about 40-45 minutes until golden brown and well risen.


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Spanokopitta is a traditional Greek or Cypriot pastry, readily available in bite-sized or single portion pies, ready-made. I prefer to make my own, which has a higher proportion of filling, and is ideal for a meal when entertaining vegetarians who are happy to eat dairy products and eggs. You can make your own puff pastry if you prefer, but I find it too much effort! Puff pastry works well so long as you can roll it thinly enough, although filo pastry is more traditional and does not need rolling!

The ingredient amounts are approximate, and can easily be adjusted to taste. If you want to make just one pie, to serve 3-4 people, it's easy to halve the ingredients; if you have a 500g block of pastry, thaw it just enough to be able to cut it in half then return the unwanted section to the freezer.

You should not need to add any salt, as feta cheese is quite salty already. But you could use different herbs or spices to vary the flavours. If you prefer to use fresh spinach, you would need about 800g (US: one and a half pounds) which should be prepared and lightly steamed before using.

Serve spanokopitta with cooked vegetables or a big green salad. Any leftovers can be refrigerated and eaten cold.

18/06/2011

Home-made granola

Granolahome-made granola
Makes about 1kg (2 pounds)

Ingredients:
6 cups (about 500g) oats

flexible dry ingredients:
1/2 cup almond meal (or ground almonds or wholemeal flour)
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup flaxseeds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1-2 tsp cinnamon

flexible wet ingredients:
2/3 cup honey or carob syrup
2/3 cup olive or vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla essence (optional)

optional other ingredients:
raisins, chopped apricots, other nuts seeds or dried fruit

Method:
Heat oven to 180C. Spread the oats in an ungreased roasting pan or similar large ovenproof dish, and cook, dry, for about 10-15 minutes, stirring about half way through to ensure they cook evenly, and to stop the edges burning.

Add about two and a half to three cups of dry ingredients, which can be altered to suit personal tastes (see notes below), and mix well. Mix the oil and honey together, and stir in, with the vanilla essence if used, mixing thoroughly to ensure that the dry ingredients are well-covered. Spread the mixture out, and return to the oven. Cook for around 10-15 minutes, until slightly golden, stirring every two or three minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the pan inside, adding optional ingredients if wished, allowing the granola to cool before removing from the tin - overnight is fine.


Store in airtight container. Add optional ingredients if wished, or add them when serving.

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Granola is a breakfast cereal based on cooked oats. It differs from muesli in that the latter is usually based on uncooked oats. I was given some home-made granola by a friend; it was in crunchy clumps, and looked wonderful. I asked for the recipe, and she gave it to me, pretty much as above. I've made it many times, but, alas, have never managed to make clumped granola: it's crunchy, with a few clumps, but mostly the consistency of toasted oats.

As this is an American recipe, the measured quantity of the ingredients is somewhat significant, so it's not possible to give weights as they vary depending on what is used. If you don't have measuring cups, you can use a measuring jug; one American cup measures about the same as eight fluid ounces or about 260 ml.

Any of the dry ingredients is optional and the amounts are flexible, but the total amount should be somewhere around two and a half to three cups. You could try rice flour instead of buckwheat, for instance, or use a cup of sesame seeds instead of the coconut. I use almond meal that's left over from making almond milk, but if you don't have access to that (and if you don't mind wheat/gluten) then regular flour is fine. The great thing with this recipe is that it can be adapted to suit almost any taste.

I use olive oil, but any vegetable oil would be fine. I also tend to use half carob syrup rather than all honey; golden syrup would work, too, although it would be quite sweet. For a treacle taste, molasses or black treacle could probably be used instead of some of the honey - just make sure there's a total of around 2/3 cup of honey-like substances, and 2/3 cup of oil, although if you prefer your granola to be less sweet, you could decrease the honey and increase the oil a little.

If anyone makes this and finds that it clumps nicely, please let me know what you did!

I find this makes enough to last me about three weeks, eating it with extra nuts, fresh fruit and yogurt, and using some fruit juice or milk to moisten.

04/06/2011

Tomato ketchup (using fresh tomatoes)

Tomato Ketchup
home-made tomato ketchupMakes about 700-800ml ketchup (3 cups)

Ingredients:
about 1.5 - 1.7kg fresh tomatoes (US: 3 - 3 1/2 pounds)
1 large onion
4-6 garlic cloves
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp salt
30ml(1 tblsp) freshly squeezed lemon juice
80ml  vinegar - any kind (US: 1/3 cup)
75g sugar (US: 1/3 cup)

Method:
Roughly chop the tomatoes and place in a large saucepan - preferably stainless steel. Peel and dice the onions reasonably finely, then peel and chop or crush the garlic cloves. Add onions and garlic to the pan, along with the paprika, pepper, turmeric and mixed spice.

Put over a fairly gentle heat, and stir a few times as the tomatoes start to make their own juice. Simmer uncovered for about half an hour or so. Switch off the heat when the onions look translucent and very soft, and the mixture has reduced significantly. Prod the mixture a bit with a spoon, and if any of it still feels hard, simmer for another ten or fifteen minutes.

Leave to cool for at least half an hour - it can be considerably longer. Then use a blender - preferably a hand-held one, as it's a great deal simpler to blend in the pan than having to transfer the mixture gradually to a standard blender and then into a fresh saucepan - and liquidise thoroughly. This is very important - make sure all the onions and tomatoes are very well blended.

Now switch the heat on again, and return the pan to the stove. Add the last four ingredients - salt, lemon juice, vinegar and sugar - and stir until mixed. Then leave to simmer for another 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the desired consistency is reached. Note that as it thickens, the mixture will bubble quite violently - this is to be expected, but can be a bit messy, and if it splashes on a hand it's extremely hot.

Cool in the pan after it has thickened, then transfer to suitable covered containers and refrigerate. Keeps for at least two months in the fridge, or can be frozen if you want to keep some of it for longer.


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My inspiration for this recipe came from 'The Loving Path' ketchup recipe, a few months ago. I was fed up of the preservatives in supermarket ketchup, and we have readily available inexpensive fresh tomatoes all year round in Cyprus; I can often find about 3kg for only a euro. A few of them may be squashy, but that doesn't matter at all. (I cut and freeze the rest of the tomatoes in 400g portions, to replace canned tomatoes in other recipes.)

I adapted the recipe gradually, simplifying greatly - for instance, I saw no reason to sieve the mixture to remove the tomato skins, or - as some other recipes suggested - to blanch and skin them first. However, if you like your ketchup smoother than even the best blender can make them, you might want to consider one of those options.

I added turmeric to the spices since it's considered a modern health food, and removed some of the others from the recipe, not wanting it to be too highly spiced. I found my first batch of experimental ketchup tasted too much of cinnamon for my preferences - so I simplified still further. I'm sure many more variations are possible; if you don't like garlic, for instance, you could simply omit it. If you like hot spicy ketchup, try adding some cayenne or even chili powder.

I've found that sometimes I stop the final simmering before it's quite thick enough; this doesn't affect the taste, but means that the texture isn't exactly like commercial ketchup. However, the taste - in my opinion - is out of this world. It tastes, I believe, as all ketchup ought to taste. That bubbly simmering at the end can be quite messy, but it's well worth the effort.

10/03/2011

Toffee (caramel) ice cream

Toffee ice cream
toffee ice creammakes about a litre of ice cream

Ingredients:
one large can of sweetened condensed milk, unopened - about 400g (US: 14oz)
[OR one large can of dulce de leche, similar size]
50g soft brown sugar (US: 1/4 cup)
400ml milk (US: 1 3/4 cups)
250g whipping cream (US: 1/2 lb)

Note: you need an ice cream maker for this recipe

Method:
Place the can of condensed milk on its side in a pan of water, which should cover the can completely. Bring to the boil, gently, then cover and simmer for about three hours. Check from time to time to ensure that the water level still covers the can, and top up with more boiling water as needed. Do NOT let this boil dry!

Turn off the heat, and leave the condensed milk in the water until it has cooled to room temperature. Inside, the milk will have turned into soft toffee, otherwise called dulce de leche.

(If you are in a hurry you can use a can of pre-prepared dulce de leche instead, and omit the boiling stage).

Several hours before you want to make the ice cream, open the can, and scoop the dulce de leche (soft toffee) into a saucepan. Add the soft brown sugar, and about 200ml milk. Stir gently with a balloon whisk, while heating gently on the stove. Stir constantly until the soft brown sugar has dissolved, and the toffee has softened and blended with the milk.

Add the remaining cold milk, stir well, and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Cool for about half an hour, then place in the fridge for at least three hours (or overnight).

When the mixture is well chilled, take another mixing bowl, and whip the cream until it stands in stiff peaks. Pour it all into the toffee mixture in the other bowl, and fold in very gently with just a few strokes. Don't worry about blending it completely - that will happen in the churning stage.

Carefully transfer the mixture to the ice cream churn. Switch on, and churn until the sound changes, or the mixture becomes too thick to churn (about 20-30 minutes). Place in a freezer-proof container, and freeze until needed.


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We came across this recipe many years ago, when - as a joke - my father asked if I could make toffee ice cream. I searched online and found a recipe similar to this, which seemed fairly simple. I tried it, and we thought it excellent. Unfortunately I can no longer find that page - most of the online recipes for toffee (or caramel, as they call it in the USA) ice cream includes several egg yolks.

I usually buy and simmer about three cans of condensed milk together, then keep them in the cupboard for this or other recipes involving dulce de leche. Note that it must be the thick, sweetened condensed milk, NOT evaporated milk (which is unsweetened, and much thinner). We buy a brand of condensed milk called 'Nounou'. Please, please be very careful with the simmering stage. We have never had a problem using a low heat and gentle simmer, but if the water boiled dry, or if you boiled too rapidly, it could potentially explode.

This ice cream is much more compllicated than most of my ice cream recipes, which require little more than whipping a can of evaporated milk and adding some sugar and other optional ingredients before churning. But we feel it's well worthwhile for special occasions. The taste is quite amazing.