Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Mid-Week Munchies...

Weekday dinners can spell a few things in my house. Firstly, panic. Followed by seemingly endless amounts of time spent with my head in the fridge, resorting to sending my Dad over the road to the Co-op, losing him for approximately 45 minutes, only to return with six reduced Cornish pasties, a near out of date packet of prawns and, no doubt, a cremated rotisserie chicken that despite only costing 50p, better resembles an extra from a Lord of the Rings film than anything even vaguely edible.

So, head goes back in the fridge (well, better there than in the oven I suppose..) before settling for something to do with minced beef that almost always emerges from the pot as some kind of variation on a Spaghetti Bolognese theme. Which I don’t mind in the slightest, don’t get me wrong; just as long as it doesn't come in a microwave-proof, plastic lidded container and, most importantly, doesn't contain any ingredients that bear even a passing resemblance to Black Beauty or any of his friends...

Oh yes,  it is the unavoidable story of the moment, the words on every newsreader and local food activists lips;  the Horse-meat Scandal has shocked and outraged the British public, sparking, hallelujah  the kind of opportunity for a Food Revolution that Jamie Oliver would do naked cartwheels through organic lettuce fields for. Wow. What an image. Sorry, must focus; what was I talking about again?

 Ah yes; as ‘holding your horses’ became a phrase more apt to carrying a plateful of Ikea meatballs, and the equine invasion of the frozen food aisle got more airtime than misbehaving MPs or even Katie Price, the real shocker for many a foodie, definitely including myself, was the amount of people for whom a frozen lasagne is actually a regular fixture on the dinner table, and not just when the oven is broken. Whether it is because people feel that they don’t have the time or money to make a meal from scratch, or simply, and this really gets my goat (or pony, as the case may be..) can’t be bothered to try, I can’t help hoping that this scandal might give our attitudes to the food we put into our bodies, the shakeup it needs, and not just by changing the meaning of being so hungry you could ‘eat a horse’.

Jokes aside, and there are many, the fact that people can’t make a good, healthy meal using fresh, healthy ingredients, therefore knowing exactly what they are eating, makes me, well, just a little bit sad. I can understand lacking the funds to create a Michelin starred meal every night, but it really doesn’t take much to avoid resorting to zapping a plastic container of, let’s be honest, god knows what in the microwave. I have had my fair share of budget dinners, living the £5 a week student dream for four spectacular, wine fuelled but, all in all, pretty well fed years. And although spag-bol made a rather starring appearance, it definitely taught me that eating on the cheap doesn’t have to mean opening endless packets of Supernoodles, and certainly doesn’t have to carry the risk of knocking out any of next year’s Grand National hopefuls.

Yes, in between discovering how to make a Cheeky Vimto and (unsuccessfully) trying to iron a skirt using hair straighteners, I became a dab hand at knocking out a dinner for pennies; just taking a little bit of effort and some sneaky supermarket choices to make something really good for a lot less than you would expect.

And this sticky and sweet sesame chicken, with tangy fennel and apple slaw, topped off with spicy paprika wedges, is exactly what I am talking about. Delicious, satisfying and won’t require either a mortgage or hours in the kitchen, I promise. Swap chicken breasts for thighs, use seasonal (and beautiful) cabbage and apples, ramp up the flavours using a few store cupboard essentials and you will have a delicious dinner in no time than your hungry housemates will be chomping at the bit (the last horse joke, I swear..) to delve in to.

Marinated in a punchy honey and sesame seed sauce, spiced delicately with paprika, garlic and thyme, balanced with a sharp slaw dressed with yoghurt, lemon and mustard and topped off with spicy potato wedges, this is one of my all time favourite midweek dinners. It blows the famous, secret-recipe bargain bucket completely out of the drive-thru window on every possible level; this really is finger lickin’ good. And I promise I won’t keep any of the ingredients up my sleeve like a certain white haired Colonel...

Sticky Sesame Chicken thighs

6 chicken thighs (skin on and bone in is best, ans cheapest!)
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 tbsp whiskey (leave this out if you are on a tight budget)
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper or to taste
2 tsp mustard
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 garlic clove, crushed
Few sprigs fresh thyme

Mix all of the marinade ingredients in a large bowl, before adding the chicken thighs, covering and leaving to marinade in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.

Remove the thighs from the marinade and put the chicken into an ovenproof dish. Bake, covered with tinfoil, for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, reduce the remaining marinade in a saucepan until thick and sticky.

When the thighs have been cooking for half an hour, pour over the sticky sauce and bake,m uncovered for a further 20 minutes, or until sticky and brown.

Serve with the slaw and wedges (below), and some charred corn on the cob.

Fennel and Apple Slaw

½ bulb fennel, finely sliced
½ small red cabbage, finely sliged
1 apple, grated
1 carrot, grated
1 red onion, finely sliced
3 tbsp natural yoghurt
1tsp Dijon mustard
Juice 1 lemon
Salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients, seasoning to taste. Easy-peasy.

Paprika Potato Wedges

5 potatoes, cut into wedges
1 tsp paprika
2 cloves garlic
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Arrange the potatoes and garlic in an ovenproof dish, sprinkle over a few glugs of olive oil, the paprika and season. Bake for about 1 hour, turning at regular intervals, until golden and crispy.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Eating Porky Pies...

As you may have noticed from this post, I seem to have fallen seriously out of love with Valentine’s Day of late. Yup, call Relate, book a last minute romantic weekend to Paris, maybe even buy a puppy; Cupid and I are on a slippery slope to divorce, one lonesome 14th of February at a time.

And if a Valentine's spent watching Loose Women and eating chocolates still hanging around from Christmas are what I have to get used to now that my boyfriend is leading a busy (and far away) life as an Artillery Officer, then I am well and truly getting the practice in. As couples all over the land cuddled up with a bottle of wine or tried to hold hands over candlelit tables for two without setting their sleeves alight; I was in a cold village hall, surrounded by middle aged women in jogging bottoms, trying to stop myself from falling asleep as I rolled about on the floor pretending to do Pilates. And the romance did not stop there; my Mother and I followed our evening of deep breathing and cat stretches with a candlelit fish pie at the pub, encircled by heart shaped napkins and still wearing our trainers and tracksuits.

And, to be honest, aside from the fact that I actually own a tracksuit (and wore it in public), I don’t really see too much wrong with that. Without a boyfriend in the vicinity to lavish me with flowers, chocolates, champagne and anything else expensive (which he obviously would have done...) there is just not really much point. Eating a few of these cupcakes to celebrate is fine, even opening the card that you know is from your Mum but still pretending you have a secret admirer is kind of acceptable; but without someone else sitting on the opposite side of the table, candlelit dinners should really be saved for power cuts.

But it is not all doom and gloom on the romance front; the celebrations were just pushed to the weekend, avoiding the tables scattered with rose petals and dodging the meal deals just perfectly. And the gifts have followed my somewhat unromantic outlook. Continuing the practical theme that led to my boyfriend buying me a Satnav for Christmas, I went for a gift that I am absolutely, 110% sure will not end up hidden under the bed or attracting moths in the wardrobe (like the seemingly miniature shirt I accidentally bought him for Christmas..) Yup, this year, avoiding anything covered in glitter or rose petals, I presented my boyfriend of 4 and a half years, with 4 pork pies. Homemade of course, and based on some pretty solid reasoning.

 It is fair to say that my boyfriend has rather a penchant for these little pies, particularly those from motorway service stations, and has been known to eat six, one after the other, over the course of one car journey. So, based on cold, hard fact, I know that this present will go down a lot better than the miniature shirt. Maybe it was romantic after all?

To be frank though, I hate those plastic wrapped, lurid pink centered, slimy jelly filled parcels that I so often have to wade through to find the seat of R’s car. The almost neon, plasticky meat gives me the heeby-jeebies, and as much as I adore the pastry, it’s not really the done thing to buy a pork pie and eat around the pork. But these little gems, stuffed with real, local, Dingley Dell pork from the brilliant butcher round the corner, flavoured with sage, smoky bacon and sweet, juicy apricots, have well and truly won me over.

One of the biggest surprises resulting from this gift idea, was how easy pork pies actually are to make, proving my Great British Bake Off based pre-conceptions almost entirely wrong. The hot water pastry, made with melted lard and hot water, requires a quick hand and a little bit of organisation, but if you have a muffin tin, these will not prove too much of a disaster. And even if they do not look altogether picture perfect when you put them in the oven, as the juices ooze out from the beautiful pieces of pork (no bright pink plastic here) they will come out looking deliciously rustic and wonderfully homemade. And I really do mean that in a good way...

PS. Three of these were eaten within an hour of opening the box- I told you they would go down 

Apricot, Sage and Bacon Pork Pies.


400g pork shoulder, diced into small pieces
125g streaky bacon, diced
Handful of dried apricots, diced
1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
½ tsp allspice
¼ tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper


450g strong white flour
Large pinch of salt
50ml milk
150g lard (chopped into small pieces)
Beaten egg, to glaze

To finish

100ml hot chicken stock
1 gelatine leaf

Preheat the oven to 180oc

To make the filling, mix the pork shoulder (chopped into small pieces,) bacon, apricots, sage and spices. Season well and test by frying a small piece of the mixture in a hot pan and tasting.

Now make the pastry. In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients. Heat the milk and 50ml of water in a small saucepan and add the lard.

Heat gently until all of the fat has melted, before bringing just to the boil.

Pour the hot mixture onto the flour and mix using a wooden spoon. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and (if cool enough to handle) knead slightly.

Now it is essential to work quickly, before the pastry gets cold and cracks. Take two thirds of the dough and separate into 8 pieces.

Put each piece into a hole of muffin tin. Using your thumb, work the pastry up the sides of the tin, leaving about ½ a centimetre overlapping the edge of each hole. When you have a thin pastry case, make absolutely sure that you have no holes in the pastry- If you do the jelly will seep out and make everything soggy later.

Divide the pork between the pastry cases. Now roll out the remaining pastry for the lids. Cut into rounds (about 8cm in diameter) and brush around their edges with the beaten egg.

Place on the pie, egg side down, before crimping the edges together using a fork or your fingers.

Make a steam hole in the top of each pie, glaze with egg and bake for 50 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and crisp.

Leave to cool in the tins, and make the jelly.

Soak the gelatine in cold water until soft. Squeeze out the excess water, before whisking into the hot stock. Using the nozzle from a piping bag, pour a small amount of the stock mixture through the hole in the top of each pie. Leave to cool completely in the fridge, for at least a few hours or overnight. 

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Friday, 15 February 2013

Cake for the Cold...

Just lately, looking out of the window is almost always greeted with a big, soggy slap in the face of flat, grey skies and shiver-inducing drizzle. Oh yes, we all feel it as we struggle to extract ourselves from the warm cocoon that is our bed; winter is still having a whale of a time, basking in the attention of amber weather warnings that continue to splatter the weather map, ignoring all of our pleas to get back to Siberia or from wherever whence they came. The chilly, not quite sub-zero, but definitely sub-pleasant temperatures mean that I have taken the controversial step of wearing my fleece lined slipper socks inside my boots to go to work, and would rather wear completely mismatched gloves than bare my chapped mitts to the bitter, and now slightly boring, elements- As has become worryingly evident, the snow is doing nothing for my fashion sense. Thankfully, street-cred is not something I worry about too much, living in a small village in Suffolk where Joules wellies are about as high fashion as most get; but I would like to reduce my jumper quota to one a day now please...

When the first flurries of the snow fell in January, it was on with the bobble hats and straight out in the garden to build a snowman, throwing perfectly aimed snowballs into my boyfriends face and drinking hot chocolate at a rate that was starting to get slightly ridiculous. Now, with a sprinkling of the white stuff still dusting the garden, I can’t help feeling that Mother Nature had better start brushing up on her parenting skills. Call Supernanny quick, this has gone on long enough; the snow has been causing havoc and runny noses long past its curfew- ground it, sit it on the naughty step; anything to make it bugger off.

Phew, sorry about the moan, but I am pining for spring. And not just because of all the foil wrapped chocolate eggs that we will be encouraged to eat in a few weeks time; give me daffodils, replace the freezing temperatures with snowdrops and I will be much happier, and might even take my precious slipper socks off. If they are not already welded to my feet.

 There are, however, a few good things about the face-numbing temperatures; for one, my permanent red-flush has dramatically reduced my blusher usage, which was getting to be a rather expensive hobby- well, if they will make YSL packaging so damn pretty...Most of all though, I seem to get rather more forgiving of the cold when I am tucking in to a big slice of homemade cake and steaming mug of tea, with the need to warm my almost reptilian blood to a reasonable temperature providing a sort-of reasonable excuse. Yup, baking is my knee-jerk reaction to the cold weather, and filling the house with the buttery smell of this ginger cake is almost good enough to make me forget the chipping of the all too familiar layer of ice from the car windscreen that is no doubt going to have to be done before work tomorrow.

So, as I take a break from whining (sorry about that, I am starting to think that I have SADS..) I will put my mind to better, scrummier things. Spicy, sticky ginger cake is not only totally delicious, but also my favourite way to use up the beautiful rhubarb (used in these pancakes) that is just starting to force its way into season. Double whammy. Lighter than your average gingerbread, with golden syrup in the place of treacle (thankfully; sticky things don’t really agree with me- I have spent most of this afternoon trying to get syrup out of my hair) with the sweetness balanced by the beautiful neon pink fruit; I like to top the sticky cake with some gingery cream cheese icing to make it just that bit more special. This will definitely warm you up as the cold snap continues; maybe even save a slice for your beloved as a post Valentine treat? I will try to restrain myself until mine gets here on Saturday; no guarantees though...

Ginger and Rhubarb Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Addapted from this Nigel Slater recipe, this beautifully moist afternoon tea winner is almost guaranteed not to fail, the perfect cake if the last time you unearthed the cake tin did not have the happy ending you were expecting. So easy, and so good.

Rhubarb and Ginger Cake.

250g self raising flour
2tsp ground ginger
½ tsp mixed spice
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt
200g golden syrup
2tbsp syrup from a jar of stem ginger
3 pieces stem ginger, chopped
1 ½ sticks of rhubarb, chopped
Zest 1 orange
125g muscavado sugar
2 large eggs
240ml milk

Gingery Cream Cheese Frosting

100g cream cheese
70g butter                 
270g icing sugar       
2 pieces stem ginger, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180oc and line a 20x20cm square cake tin.

In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, spices, salt and bicarb.

In a saucepan, heat the syrups and butter until melted and starting to bubble. Add the sugar, rhubarb and chopped ginger and leave to bubble for a few minutes, stirring occasionally to stop the fruit from sticking, before removing from the heat.

Slowly add this mixture with the orange zest, to the dry ingredients, stirring until all ingredients are combined well.

Mix the milk and eggs in a jug and beat into the batter (Don’t worry; the mixture should be pretty sloppy.)

Pour into the cake tin and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until well risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

For the icing, beat all of the ingredients together using an electric mixer or whisk, adding more icing sugar if the frosting is a bit wet.

When the cake is cooled, spread with the icing and leave for about 30 minutes to set before cutting into squares and tucking in.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Flippin' Lovely...

As I discovered while in America last year, a time spent practically living in aluminium and leather clad diners, chomping down on Cobb salads and slurping malted milkshakes whenever given the opportunity; pancakes are a hungry girl’s best friend. The star-spangled showstoppers of an American breakfast menu, I ate them speckled with banana polka dots, topped with fresh berries and Chantilly cream, and even smothered in hot apple sauce and sizzling sausages. Yup, I was indeed hungry a lot, and pancakes helped me out of the notorious hunger-induced personality coma on more than one occasion.

From all those plate sized, pillowy stacks that I consumed by the bucket-load in the US, to the infinitely more flippable, paper-thin creations that us Brits douse in lemon and sugar and try to avoid getting stuck to the ceiling, who would’ve thought that a bit of flour, egg and milk would be such an enduring hit? Yes, although they are essentially just a few small ingredients away from the gloop we all remember using to stick newspaper to a balloon at primary school, pancakes have been flipped and feasted upon since prehistoric times- beating porridge and even the humble loaf as the world’s first cereal based favourite. And for good reason, all you need is a few cheap-as-chips ingredients, a pan, and this one is kind of essential, some kind of heat- Well, the cavemen didn’t make fire for nothing...

As the perfect host for a huge variety of both sweet and savoury toppings and fillings, pancakes bask in the same levels of kitchen popularity as Justin Beiber does on Twitter; at every turn there is another delicious ingredient desperate to get involved with these ridiculously versatile rounds of batter (the pancakes I mean, not the Beibernator.) There is of course the quintessential Shrove Tuesday staple of lemon and sugar, with bottles and bags of the stuff pushed right to the front of the supermarket shelves as the big day approaches, but why not take a break from all the familiar sprinkling and squeezing and push the boat out a little this year?

How about the old-American favourite streaky bacon and maple syrup? Or maybe bananas and pineapple cooked in rum and brown sugar; with some delicious coconut yoghurt (Rachel’s Organic is amazing)? Chocolate chips, stewed cinnamon apples, blueberries, nutella, icecream; the possibilities are pretty much endless. Even if savoury is more your thing; try filling a few thin crepes with roasted butternut squash, walnuts, spinach and blue cheese, rolling and placing in a dish, before smothering in crème fraiche and parmesan and baking in a hot oven.

For me, the flipping is going to begin at Breakfast. Yup, as this blog probably makes unavoidably clear, I am a huge lover of any kind of cake; so, on the day that we are actually encouraged to eat them in preparation for the Lenten fast that we will no-doubt all be embarking upon on Wednesday (PAH), I am not going to waste any time. Inspired by the fruit filled, unbelievably delicious, big-as-your-face pancakes that I ate for (very late) breakfast in a Philidelphia last year, these gorgeously light ginger and oat American pancakes, smothered in strawberry and rhubarb compote and topped with natural yoghurt are definitely on the menu in the Gaffer house. Inspired by the beautifully pink forced rhubarb that I spotted in the greengrocers, I just make the compote a day or so before, whip up the batter and whaddya know, your brekkie is ready in a flash.

And if cooking a breakfast any more complicated than Readybrek on a school-day still sounds a little too much like hard work (I don’t blame you), then these are the perfect lazy weekend treat. Double or triple the recipe depending on how many sleeping shapes you have managed to accumulate on your sofa or living room floor, they will love you for it, this is a very impressive, and totally moreish start to the day. And if you are feeling slightly less virtuous than topping your breakfast with rhubarb, maybe throw some chocolate chips in to the batter and top with sliced banana and syrup; it is the weekend after all!

 However they reach your table, as you sit with one hand holding the Sunday paper, and the other happily engaged in transporting yummy forkfuls to your mouth, you will never look at those coco-pops again...                 
Gingery Oat Pancakes with Strawberry and Rhubarb Compote. Serves 5 hungry people...


4 sticks of rhubarb, chopped
8 strawberries, quartered
2tbsp light brown soft sugar
2 tbsp caster sugar
Juice and Zest of 1 orange
2 tbsp syrup from a jar of stem ginger


200g plain flour (wholemeal works well)
120g rolled oats
2 heaped tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
5 Large eggs
2tbsp natural yoghurt
200ml milk
2 balls of stem ginger, chopped, plus 3tbsp of the syrup

Honey and natural yoghurt, to serve.

To make the compote, put all of the ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the fruit is soft and the compote is quite thick and syrupy. 
Make a day or so in advance and keep in the fridge if you are short for time, or just fancy a lie in!

Now, make the pancake batter; in a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients, make a well in the centre and whisk in the eggs and yoghurt.

Beat in the milk and ginger (including the syrup) to make a thick batter.

Heat a slightly oiled pan until quite hot. Spoon large circles on to the pan, cook until bubbling, flip and cook on the other side until golden.

Stack on to a plate, top with the compote, spoon over some natural yoghurt and a drizzle of honey. Yum!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Cupcakes and Cupid...

Love it or hate it, there is no avoiding February 14th. Cupid and his arrow are fast approaching, floating on a cloud of glittering red rose petals and champagne flutes, striking blind panic into the supposedly fluttering hearts of many as they try to decide between bottles of perfume that smell exactly the same, and dread in to those of others, who spend the whole day dodging couples, too engrossed in gazing in to each other’s eyes to notice those trying to share the pavement.  It is the one day that red roses have devoted their whole lives to, the night that suddenly inspires chefs all over the land to scribble ‘chocolate sharing plate’ on the Valentines set menu, AGAIN, and most worryingly, the time that sees scores of unsuspecting, panic-stricken boys, carrying the entirely unpractical and even more ugly teddy bear in ‘I LOVE YOU’ screaming t-shirt straight to the till. Much to the woe of many an on looking girlfriend...

And then there are those, a group that, this year in particular, I definitely fall in to, that just don’t really get it. Those who you are more likely to find in Topshop than Hallmarks, who don’t quite understand why on this day in February they are coerced into buying heart shaped chocolates, or to cook something in a red, also heart shaped, casserole dish. Not that I am unromantic, but this year, as has been the case for the past few busy Valetines, life has meant that the 14th doesn’t really have the same appeal. With a boyfriend who will be spending his Valentines climbing up ropes and navigating around fields as he gets a few steps closer to becoming an Officer in the Royal Artillery, Valentines will undoubtedly pass me by.

So while I am not exactly going to be queuing up in Tescos with a copy of Chainsaw Massacre and a large bottle of wine this year, I think it is pretty obvious  that cupid is still a few steps behind Father Christmas in my books. Cards I can deal with, I never say no to flowers, but one step into Clintons, one glimpse of a fluffy puppy holding a heart and I may as well just get the ready meal for one and be done with it. Not that I don’t like my boyfriend, he’s pretty good. And, ever the Soldier, he doesn’t really do fluffy teddies...

But there is no point in trying to avoid it, whether you are filling your bedroom with enough rose petals to make even opening the door a struggle, or stocking up on cheap bottles of wine, blood-thirsty thrillers and reconnecting with your old friends Ben and Jerry, there is just no escaping the oncoming storm of hearts and flowers. And unless you have a nuclear bunker handy, you may as well get on with it; resistance is futile, regardless of how your Facebook relationship status reads.

But, although to be honest I am beginning to realise it may simply be that I have a phobia of cuddly toys, and the fact that I cannot escape my notion that Cupid should be sprinkling the romance dust all year round, I am starting to talk myself round. It is nice to have an excuse after all, and as long as Mr Clinton is in no way involved, why not? Even if it just a chance to make these deliciously romantic cupcakes...

Delicately scented with pink grapefruit (which emerged from the fridge around the same time as the disappearing bottle of beer...) fragrant rosewater, and topped with a zingy cream cheese icing, these definitely show the love. Even if that love is headed straight off the cooling rack and smack-bang-wallop, down in one, in to your own mouth. Why the hell not, ‘tis the season after all; they are pink aren’t they?

Pink Grapefruit and Rosewater Cupcakes.

110g unsalted butter, softened
225g golden caster sugar
2 large eggs
150g self raising flour, sifted
125g plain flour, sifted
90ml milk
1 1/2 tbsp fresh pink grapefruit juice
2 tbsp rose water
1tbsp sour cream or natural yoghurt
Grated zest 1 grapefruit

For the icing:

175g cream cheese
125g butter, softened
450g icing sugar, sifted
2 tbsp rose water
Few drops red food colouring

 Preheat the oven to 160oc. Fill a muffin tin with 12 cupcake cases.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat until just combined.

Combine the 2 flours in a large bowl, and the milk, juice, rosewater and yoghurt in a jug. Add half of the flours to the butter mixture, followed by half the wet ingredients, beat well and repeat until all combined. Stir in the grapefruit zest.

Spoon the mixture into the cases, about two-thirds full and bake for 25 minutes or until risen, golden and a skewer comes out clean.

Leave in tins for about 10 minutes to cool, before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing; beat together the butter and cream cheese, before adding the rose water. Add the sifted icing sugar a little at a time and beat until smooth and thick (adding a little more icing sugar if needed.) Beat in the food colouring until you have a soft pink.

When the cupcakes are cool, ice, decorate with a rose petal and a shake of icing sugar and present to your lover!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Friday Night Slice...

The great thing about pizza, and this will come as no bombshell if you have ever read a  delivery menu, is that anything goes. From traditional margarita, or the potato, cream and bacon creation eaten whilst skiing at new year (definite carb-on-carb action going on there..) to my very favourite University staple of ground lamb, aubergine and feta (yup, moussaka pizza please,) thin, crispy, or even deep, soft bases have become the ultimate canvas for kitchen creativity. The ideal way to use up the weird and wonderful goodies left in the fridge at the end of the week, or perhaps just another excuse to indulge your sweet tooth (pizza smothered in Nutella and banana has, of late, become a definite, if slightly sickly, yes..) the pizza is King.  And long may it reign...

Originating in Naples, pizza is now rolled out all over the world, the ultimate fast food, universally loved and endlessly supplied by pizzerias on almost every corner, kneading, cheese scattering and stone baking to order. London alone has embraced Pizza culture to the mozzarella tearing max, with pizza focused rooftop supper clubs in Bethnal Green, two ping-pong and pizza bars (a combination that I never knew I needed but now seems to go together like tea and toast), haunts selling only cornmeal based pies, along with all the usual chainy suspects, keeping the capital  in endless supply.

But there is no wonder that pizza is so deliciously popular. It is the perfect snack on the go, can be rustled up in a flash and has been known to encourage even the worst of sharers (mentioning no names, but I am referring to my boyfriend) to delve in for a communal slice. It is the ultimate fast food and we love it; so much so that there is even a real-life blog dedicated solely to pictures of  famous people eating pizza. Anyone for Beyonce scoffing a margarita? Mrs Obama with an American hot? And no, this time I don't mean Barack...

So, as there is no better Friday night treat, excluding a real-life rendition of Magic Mike in your living room, or perhaps winning the euro-millions, than a big slice of delicious homemade pizza, washed down with an even bigger glass of (preferably not-homemade) wine, what better recipe to offer you this fine evening.

Loaded with amazing, vibrant toppings, scattered with beautifully fragrant basil, lemon zest and strewn with melting mozzarella that glistens like a baby-oiled Channing Tatum (on the mind, clearly) there is nothing not to like about pizza, and these ones in particular. With thin and crispy bases, a sweet and punchy tomato sauce and a world of toppings to choose from, Friday nights in are back to their best after a cold, grey January; particularly if you have some tasty leftovers ready and waiting in the fridge.

On this occasion, my favourite place in the house held a bounty of goodies, to the point that I actually lost a beer in some kind of bottle rack black hole that has only just turned up a week later...But anyway, thankfully not everything in the fridge went the same way, and I did manage to produce some treats from the depths, ready to adorn my pizzas. Cue slicing of Chorizo  marinating of prawns, ribbonning of courgettes and of course dripping the juice from a bag of mozzarella, Hansel and Gretel style, all the way from the sink to the oven. An unavoidable feature of pizza making, but worth it all the same.

So after mopping the floor with your sock, get the rolling pin ready, flour scattered and oven on, STAT. Lets see if we can knock these beauties out before the end of Silent Witness. I want something slightly more tasty than a cushion to hide behind this week..

 Friday-Night Pizza

Obviously, this is not a solely Friday specific recipe, roll away whatever the occasion, and be creative with the toppings...I adapted the traditional American Hot with what I had; chorizo, peppers, chilli, paprika and goats cheese, which ended up being more of a Spanish creation, whilst the combination of garlicky prawns, courgette ribbons, cherry tomatoes and lemon creme fraiche was a real winner too. And the yumminess doesn't end there, raid the fridge and just go for it!

Pizza Dough (makes 3 thin 14x10 inch pizzas)

300g strong bread flour
1x7g sachet fast-action yeast
1 heaped teaspoon salt
3 tbsp olive oil
175ml warm water

Tomato Sauce

1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tin tomatoes
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp oregano (dried or freshly chopped)
1 tbsp tomato puree

Garlicky Prawn, Courgette and Creme Fraiche Topping
1 pack king prawns
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
Half a courgette, ribbonned using a peeler
Creme Fraiche
Fresh basil leaves, lemon zest and shaved parmesan, to serve

Spanish  Hot Topping
Half a chorizo, sliced
Half a red, orange or yellow pepper, sliced
1 red onion, sliced
1 red chilli, sliced
100g soft goats cheese
1 tsp paprika
Rocket and parmesan shavings, to serve

Preheat the oven to 240°c.

First of all, or even a day or so in advance, I usually crack on with the tomato sauce, leaving it to bubble away until the toppings and base are ready (although, obviously put it in the fridge if you are making it in advance...There is only so much bubbling it can do!)
In a saucepan, fry the onion and garlic in olive oil until softened. Add the rest of the ingredients, season and allow to reduce to a thick sauce. If you are in a rush, you can always use ready made sauce, or just tomato puree, but this is delish!

While the sauce is cooking, make the dough. In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt and yeast. Make a well in the centre and add the oil and water, mixing together with a wooden spoon to combine.
At this stage, if you haven't just painted your Friday night nails, get your hands in there and bring everything together to form a ball.
Turn out on to a floured surface and knead for 8 minutes by hand, thinking of your bingo-wings at all times.
Divide into 3 balls, roll out very thinly into whatever shape you fancy, before transferring to an oiled baking tray. Cover with cling film until needed

If making the prawn pizza, I like to marinate the prawns in the juice and zest of half a lemon, the garlic and salt and pepper. I also mix the creme fraiche with some lemon zest and juice and season, but keep it simple if you are short of time.

When almost ready to eat, with open beers and something good on the telly, spread the sauce on the pizza bases, arrange your chosen toppings and cheese, season, and bake for about 8-10 minutes or until the bases are lightly browned and crispy.

Scatter over the basil, parmesan, lemon zest or rocket accordingly and dig in!