Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Raspberry Bakewell Cake

When a new colleague of mine told me her birthday was coming up, I did what any food-obsessed young lad desperately trying to make friends in a strange environment would do; I told her I'd make her a cake. As it happened, on the eve of the big day there was a pretty important football match that would require my full attention leaving me in a bit of a predicament. Either I let her down on her special day (obviously not an option), I didn't get to sit down, put my feet up, drink beer and watch the football (VERY obviously not an option), or I found a quick and totally delicious option that kept everyone happy. This cake was that option.
So with an hour and a half to go before kickoff it was time to get my bake on. Rinse 200g of fresh raspberries and set aside whilst you make the cake batter. It's ok, I'm about to crack open a beer and then I'm going to watch football...like a man.
I thought it only appropriate to enjoy a Polish beer before I was about to enjoy a football match being played in Poland. Well actually it was being played in Ukraine, but the sentiment was there anyway. Tyskie is a great beer, but it always reminds me of when I used to work in a bar and the same small select group of guys used to come in and drink Tyskie. One of them wore a cowboy hat. HE WORE A COWBOY HAT IN BLEEDING MANCHESTER. Some people...
140g each of ground almonds, softened butter, self-raising flour and caster sugar. 2 eggs and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Mix everything together until nice and smooth and pretty darned delicious (just a taste though...raw eggs can make you bleugh).
Grease a deep 20cm springform tin with copious amounts of butter and then fill with half of the batter, then scatter the raspberries on, then spread the rest of the batter on top. It might get a bit squishy but that's all good, and it looks all marble-like which makes for a nice photo.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 50 minutes, or if you or your girlfriend 'accidentally' turns the oven off (definitely not me, definitely not her, but definitely her) about 40 minutes plus an additional 10-15 minutes checking regularly. I'm probably in trouble for writing this.
Dust with icing sugar and leave to cool, then crack open another Polish cowboy beer and watch the football. Job well done. For the record the cake went down a treat with the birthday girl and the rest of the office, and England won the football. Job very well done.

Ingredients
200g raspberries
140g caster sugar
140g self-raising flour
140g butter
140g ground almonds
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
icing sugar

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Pizzagne

About three weeks ago I got a call from my buddy Jake. 'So I've been thinking,' he shouted over the whirr of busy London traffic in the background. 'I love pizza.' 'Hey I love pizza too' I replied. 'And I love lasagne.' 'Dude, I LOVE lasagne too' I excitedly yelled back, not quite sure where he was going with this, but thoroughly enjoying our Bill & Ted-esque foodie moment. 'So let's make them both..and eat them both...TOGETHER. Can it be done?' 'Anything can be done Jake,' I said, my mind racing as I began to understand the Italian portmanteau of a meal that he was suggesting. 'Get the beers in, I'm coming round yours next weekend,' he exclaimed, 'now all we need is a name.' 'Pizzagne,' I replied - 'Done.'
And so a week later, Jake arrived, bringing with him Dave and Kieran, and we headed off to buy all of the necessary (and some arguably unnecessary) ingredients to put together our feast of epic proportions. £83, several kilos of meat, a tub of raspberry ripple ice cream, 24 beers and a bottle of port later and we were ready to start cooking. 
After quick appetite-building game of football out in the sun, the lads settled down to watch some TV and drink beers whilst I got stuck in with the dirty work. I started off by making my pizza dough, the recipe for which you can find here
When I mentioned the hours of work ahead of us (me) and that I was planning on using tinned tomatoes, the lads gave me an icy stare and started using words like 'amateur' and 'cutting corners'. I don't think their reverse psychology worked on me, but I definitely left that supermarket with an enormous bag of fresh tomatoes.
When I first started working in restaurants, it felt like all I ever did was peel tomatoes, so luckily I've got it down to a T. Crisscross on one side with a sharp knife then dunk them in boiling water for 30 seconds to a minute. Drain, stick them in cold water and the skin comes right off. Squelchy. I blitzed these up with some onion, red chilli, bell peppers, garlic, herbs and spices to taste and you've got a delicious, fresh tomato sauce - happy boys? I also put together a white sauce roundabout now...it was all starting to come together, exciting stuff.
With everything else out of the way, it was time for the meat. Mince beef, sausage meat, bacon, chicken and chorizo - the pizzagne was going to have it all. I had a hand with the cutting up of the bacon...with all this meat it was definitely going to be a two-man job. We cooked off the mince and the sausage meat in a pan and added the bacon. Nothing special there. At this point it's probably worth saying that I like my food to taste good and to look good, and I consider it a job very well done if I can tick both those boxes. Sometimes, however, you have to forfeit aesthetic beauty for something that just tastes damn good. This is one of those times.
Jake has spent a fair amount of time in Spain, so when it came to the chorizo I took a step back and let the man do his thing. He sliced it up, cooked it off in some paprika and port (which, ermm...was exactly what we had intended to do with it) and the result was this rich, delicious, smokey chorizo sausage. Superb. The man's not just a pretty face (and a very pretty face it has to be said).
I greased a couple of baking trays and lined them with the dough I made earlier. Standard tomato sauce and two types of cheese then covered one with chicken and the other with Jake's special sausage (wink wink). Bung them in the oven at 200C or so for about 20 minutes or so. Exact science here. For the record, the tinned tomatoes were a failsafe measure to bulk it out!
With everything ready, it was time to put it all together. Whilst we pondered about making one, towering pizzagne, sadly the baking trays would not allow for such awesomeness, so we decided to split them into two. Good idea that in the end, as it turns out that pizzagne makes a remarkable hangover sponge, ideal for the morning after the night before. Note the dirty marks on the wall? Tip.Of.The.Iceberg.
After a layer of the meaty, tomatoey goodness, followed by lasagne sheets and white sauce, we plopped the pizzas on top and began to repeat the process. Things were smelling pretty fantastic, we were in the home stretch!
Remember what I said about looking good? Extra cheese, including a few slices of the processed American stuff. I'm sure it came from a cow...right? Who cares, it melts nicely and tastes like a dream. And we were done! Put them in the oven for about 40 minutes at 200C, and wait....
So this is the unfortunate consequence of several hours of cooking, and drinking, and cooking whilst drinking. Needless to say I woke up to my kitchen in a very similar state, and the early (mid) morning bacon sandwiches did little to help the cause..worth it in the end I think! Note the time on the oven? At this point Kieran had cancelled his date for that evening and pushed his taxi back once already...the things we do for pizzagne,
The end result. On the surface this might look like a very sloppy lasagne...
...and from the side it might look like a very sloppy lasagne. But that added layer of doughy, meaty, cheesy pizza was just unbelievable. Every mouthful was bursting with all of the flavours that you would want and expect from such an immense combination of dishes, and I think we all agreed that it was a success, and then some.
See, I told you he was pretty.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Chicken Satay with Spicy Noodle Salad

I think everyone has those dishes that, when eating out, their eyes are immediately drawn to on a menu. For me it's always been mussels, buffalo wings or (up until a recent bad experience) black pudding. For my girlfriend, whenever chicken satay appears on a menu, I can pretty much guarantee that it's what she's choosing. Since she spent some time in Indonesia a few years ago, my girlfriend has been mad on it, whereas I have never been a massive fan. Probably because I never particularly liked peanut butter - weird seeing as I was raised in the states, where PB&J is the national dish - it's never really appealed to me. But, seeing as she made a big effort with my rice pudding, when I found a Jamie Oliver recipe that looked too good to resist (yep, this one is totally lifted...) I figured I would give it a go. And I have to say I've been converted.
A good mixer or blender (ideally both) is needed for this recipe. With the move and everything I hadn't really had much of an opportunity to use the one I got for Christmas, so I was super pumped about getting it out and doing some mixing (kitchen nerd). I was actually just excited to finally make this meal for Charlie as I had been unsuccessful the previous two nights because she got too wrapped up in her book, missed her train station and arrived home too late on Saturday and then went to bed 'for fifteen minutes' at 3.30 on Sunday and woke up too late 5 hours later. Notice a trend? All I can say is thank goodness for four-day weekends. More of them please.
In your mixer, throw in a good handful of coriander leaves, one whole red chili (minus the stalk), a good thumb of ginger, the zest and juice of a lime, a clove of garlic, a couple tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon of soy sauce and about 3 tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter. (I just actually stepped away for a minute to get a snack and ended up with some peanut butter on toast...this stuff is really good, how come nobody told me before? Only took me 25 years I guess...) 
Anyway as J.O. would say, 'wazz' your mixture up until you have a nice paste. Set aside half for a dipping sauce and pour the rest into a small baking tray that you're going to use for your chicken skewers. With the ginger, the lime, the peanut butter, the chilli...the flavours in here are unreal.
About 10-15 minutes before you start cooking, soak your skewers in water. This helps them to not catch on fire, which I've found is always a good thing when cooking. Cut your chicken into large-ish chunks and skewer them, then rub the satay mixture from the baking tray in and around the meat. Stick under a hot grill for about 15 minutes, flipping over halfway through. When you think they're done, drizzle (a word I'm never entirely comfortable typing) some honey over the top and give them an extra 30 seconds under the grill for that amazing caramelised-sugary taste.
Unfortunately, for my spicy noodle salad I don't have much in the way of photos simply because this is where it all started getting a bit hectic in the kitchen trying to juggle several things at once. I'm going to look into hiring a professional photographer who just hangs around my flat waiting to snap everything I cook. I'll accept any applications, payment will be made in meals. No more, no less. Start by toasting some cashew nuts in a hot pan and when they start to brown after 45 seconds or so, add a tablespoon of sesame seeds and a squirt (better than drizzle?) of honey until they start to caramelise almost into little sweets. Take off the heat and set aside. Cook about 250g of egg noodles in boiling water - they only take a couple of minutes - then drain and cool off with cold water. For your spicy salad dressing, blend up a large handful or coriander stalks (set the leaves aside), half of a red onion, the juice of a lime, a red chilli, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon of soy sauce and a teaspoon each of sesame oil and fish sauce. To a large bowl add your noodles, a big handful of coriander leaves, half of your nuts and your dressing. Mix it up nicely and top with the rest of the candied nuts and another red chopped red chilli. There's a lot of spice going down in this recipe...probably best to avoid if you have an aversion to the stuff or run a risk of stomach ulcers. Or just go for it, why not.
And that is you done. Serve it up with some mini gem lettuce leaves and make lettuce wraps. Dive in with your hands and get messy, it's totally necessary. Schmear some satay on the lettuce, bung some noodles and a chunk of chicken on there with a squeeze of lime...heaven. Don't forget the beers.