Eurovision hors d’oeuvres

We’re taking finger food to a Eurovision party this year, so I have made devilled eggs and puff-pastry pack two ways.

Eurovision hors d'oeuvres

Devilled egg recipe here. Glut of teeny eggs from newly laying small hens, so used them up in this. Quite faffy, hard to transport and not the sort of fiddly work my clumsy fingers are any good at. I should probably stop even trying anything with piping in it.

Then a block of all butter puff pastry is divided – this time I did 1/3rd tartlets 2/3rds croissants.

Preheat oven to 200 deg C

Roll the pastry, cut rounds. Halve cherry tomatoes and optionally pre-roast them a little in the preheating oven. Stick each tomato half to a pastry round with tomato purée and top with a sprinkling of grated parmesan. Bake until crispy, about 10 minutes.

Eurovision hors d'oeuvres

Roll the remaining pastry and cut into triangles, either from a large circle of rolled pastry, or less wastefully from rectangles. You are looking for very tall isosceles triangles. Place a small piece of cheese (camembert, goats, etc) and half a spoon of interesting chutney (I’m using something from the Garlic Farm) on the wider part and roll them up to form a croissant. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden.

Eurovision hors d'oeuvres

Serve with Meg Pickard’s Eurovision Bingo cards [PDF] .

Pudding club: marshmallow cheesecake

Quite often with recipes as I flick through Olive magazine or follow links on the internet, it’s a new technique that piques my interest. This was one of those. It starts with melting marshmallows in milk and using the gelatin from there as a setting agent.

I used hobnobs for my cheesecake. The idea that a biscuit base doesn’t have to be digestive comes from Nigella’s Grasshopper Pie where she uses bourbon biscuits. I’ve just been to find that recipe again and was amazed to find that uses the same marshmallow technique!

The cheesecake I made was not massively successful – it looked bad because the cream cheese wasn’t beaten enough, the frozen fruit mix was not nice, and the fruit juice soaked into the base and meant that the whole pie did not slice properly but fell apart. Next time I think I would either make a rough jam from the fruit or try blitzing the frozen fruit to a purée and then blitz it through the cheesecake mix to make a sort of smoothie cheesecake.

Anyway, here’s the recipe I was trying to make:

Serves 10

300g marshmallows
200 mls milk
200g biscuits
50g butter
500g cream cheese
150 mls

Line a 23cm tin. Make a biscuit base from 200grams biscuit and 50grams butter.

Melt 300grams of marshmallows in 200mls of milk stirring regularly over a very low heat. Once the marshmallows have fully melted, cool the mix. Mine separated a little at this point.

Melting marshmallows in milk as a first step to a cheesecake

Put most of a bag of defrosted frozen fruit on your biscuit base, reserving some fruit and juice to make a coulis to serve.

Frozen berries on hobnob biscuit base

My original recipe now calls for you to beat 500 grams of cream cheese with a teaspoon of vanilla essence, and whip 150mls of cream. Because that was two separate bowls, I decided not to let the Kenwood do the whipping, which was probably a mistake. Whilst I can whip 150 mls of cream by hand, it does make a bit of a mess of the kitchen. The texture of the final cheesecake shows clearly that the cheese wasn’t beaten enough to fully incorporate with the marshmallow mix.

Adding cream cheese to the cooled, rubbery, separated marshmallow mix

Some recipes get you to microwave the cream cheese a bit to check it properly integrates.

Because of the sugar in the biscuit base and the marshmallows, there’s no need for any more in the fruit.

Final assembly. Didn't beat cheese enough so slightly unfortunate texture / appearance

Pudding club: sticky toffee pudding

I last made this some years ago, when Simon Hopkinson’s cookery programme was on TV. But it seems I didn’t write about it at the time, so here’s a quick post to put things right.

I made it exactly as per this BBC recipe.

It’s a truly delicious recipe – as you’d expect for something that includes over a pint of cream and most of a block of butter, along with a variety of interesting types of sugar, one of which I’d never used till the recipe sent me hunting for it.

The recipe says “serves 4″ but even someone as sceptical of serving sizes as I am would think this recipe comfortably feeds 6.

Sticky toffee pudding for tomorrow's pudding club. Two toffee sauces for assembly.

The other reason this one sticks in the mind is that two years ago when I made it and photographed it and put it on Flickr, some wazzocky company took me to task for using the phrase “pudding club” in the description because they thought they owned it. Fools!

Pudding club: Lancashire hotpot II

I’ve tried this once before – this one worked out better, I think.

Lancashire hotpot for last pudding club of the hols.

I didn’t really read my recipe from last time, just had a quick glance at Delia’s version and the BBC Good Food for quantities. Yes, I did need to buy two supermarket blister packs of lamb chunks at more than a fiver each. (A main course that works out at around £2 each is not unreasonable, really, though is it?) No, I wasn’t going to include kidneys (I wouldn’t mind but P would and I’m guessing two small boys wouldn’t be keen.) Basic stew, chop up some potatoes for the top, uncover halfway through cooking, brush potatoes with butter and brown off.

I liked Delia’s factoid:

This has acquired its name from the time when it was baked at home, then wrapped in blankets to keep hot and provide lunch for a day at the races.

Hotpot then is super appropriate for taking to a friend’s house.

I also liked Delia’s potato topping – more like chips or roasted potatoes than the food processor slices I did last time. I was going for that, but completely failed!

It wasn’t quick, by the time you have browned the meat a fair bit, then given the onions a good long time to almost caramelise on their own, in the juices, then add and soften the celery and carrots. After all that, a further two hours in the oven, which it can almost do on its own apart from the uncovering / browning stage when I felt the need to keep checking that it wasn’t actually burning.

Anyway, pudding club with friends, followed by watching #GBBO as part of a crowd, was an awesome way to end the holidays and not give too much thought to the first day of school tomorrow…

Pudding Club: Raymond Blanc’s pineapple 3 ways

I think Raymond likes to put a challenge in his programmes and dare viewers to make the most complicated possible dishes. How many people does he really expect to have the time to follow such elaborate instructions? Saved for a year when I have days to practise is his “café crème” – a hand made chocolate espresso cup with coffee icecream in it and garnished with sugarcube truffles. (37-step written recipe here)

But for our recent pudding club outing it was his Pineapple 3 Ways dessert I made, another of his signature dishes, and one created for the Queen Mother, who was partial to pineapple.

The recipe is here, and I pretty much followed it as written, should you too fancy faffing for four hours with fruit.

Making caramel is still something I find difficult, and it’s possible I burnt it slightly. Adding cold water to hot caramel in a pan is a weird thing to do, and resulted in the caramel solidifying on the bottom with the water floating on top of it. Eventually it melted again and left me with a sauce for drizzling the roast pineapple in. Every 15 minutes for two hours!

When it came out, it looked like this and I should have served it this way for spectacle, rather than having to cut it up to transport:

Making Raymond Blanc's insanely complicated "pineapple 3 ways"

The roasted pineapple was delicious. If I do this again I will roast two pineapples. The same amount of caramel basting liquid would be fine and it would not be much more work to prepare and cook two. Even after roasting for two hours, I think the core was still pretty tough, so I carved it off and removed it.

The pineapple sorbet recipe is easy and delicious, and definitely something I will make again, although in slightly smaller quantities as it bulked up a lot in the ice cream maker and foamed over the edge of the pot before it froze. It would make a lovely inter-course palate cleanser for one of those no-holds-barred dinner parties.

The dried pineapple was a bit of a disaster. I don’t have a mandolin and could not get the slices thin enough.

Ultimately, six of us – four adults and two children under five – wolfed down two pineapples very quickly, with the children slightly short changed in how much roasted pineapple they got. It certainly wouldn’t have fed 8 adults, hence the idea of using two next time.

As I started to write this I had in mind that it was an enormous faff, but clearly by the time I get to the end I’m starting to think about the next time I do it…

Pudding club: raspberry chiffon squares

A meeting of the pudding club again this evening. Today, however, I am a few days into a somewhat radical, no carb diet. The diet I am on is supposed to be no carbs – no rice, no pasta, no bread, no cereal. Which is proving challenging, but not nearly as challenging as the no-alcohol rule. It’s the holidays! I did choose to start during the holidays as I wasn’t sure how eating like this would make me feel and I didn’t want to be too far off my game in the classroom, but I hadn’t quite factored in how many social occasions there would be.

A no carb, no sugar dessert that isn’t plain fruit is quite a challenge. Next to impossible if you also avoiding highly chemical artificial solutions like sweeteners.

A bit of googling took me to this dessert idea. Blend cream cheese into sugar free jelly and use it, with fruit as a topping for an ersatz cheesecake. Since a biscuit base is out, replace it with blitzed nuts bound by melted butter and maple syrup.

Pudding club: smoked mackerel quiche and crème caramel

Having not seen our pudding club friends for ages, and what with me being on half term and them still working full time, we went to see them this evening taking both courses.

A couple of weeks ago, we gave away a dozen eggs after we had managed to build up a bit of a stock. Since then we have more or less been keeping on top of the girls’ production.

But every now and again it helps to have a meal that gets through quite a lot of them. So this evening, six of us ate 9 eggs in two custard-based dishes: a quiche and a crème caramel.

The quiche was essentially this recipe: Smoked Mackerel and Cheddar Quiche and was completely delicious. I substituted a leek fried in butter for the spring onions, made my own pastry with dried Italian herbs, used own label mature cheddar and slightly less cream, and it was very well received.

My other favourite thing to do with smoked mackerel is this warm mackerel potato salad.

The crème caramel was à la Dan Lepard.

Pudding Club: canapés

From time to time, Pudding Club extends and there are six of us rather than four (adults) and so we have a three course meal instead of a two course meal. This time I was on starters as our hosts – brave souls – were making Baked Alaska for pudding. And, for entirely understandable reasons, not practising beforehand. Doubly brave!

So for my starters, having plenty of time, I made small amounts of four different canapés.

Firstly, Delia’s Bloody Mary Tomatoes – made pretty much as per the recipe. These were interesting, but didn’t really live up to the description on the front page. Perhaps I am just inured to vodka?

Secondly, there were some pâté-stuffed dates. That is a pretty simple concept really: a pack of sticky sweet Deglet Nour dates and a little tub of Brussels pâté. Slice open the dates, remove the stone and pack the void with a teaspoon of pâté. If there’s a way of making it pretty, I didn’t find it – they ended up looking pretty odd, but tasting pretty good.

The idea came from our recent trip to visit friends in France – they had been very impressed with dried apricots stuffed with foie gras. I don’t like apricots much, and don’t know where you can buy foie gras as an ingredient (and it’s getting harder to find it in restaurants, too) so I improvised.

Finally, two types of tartelet. The idea for this – the bases in particular – came from a recipe on the internet that I forgot to bookmark and so I can’t link to it, but I read and remembered the technique and improvised the oven temperatures and other finer details. You use a small tartlet tin – mine has 15 hollows – and you match a round biscuit cutter slightly bigger. Take a standard sliced loaf of bread – actually, thinner slices might be better – and cut off the crusts and roll the slices thin with a rolling pin. Cut out circles of bread. In a pan, melt a big knob of butter with a crushed garlic clove in it and maybe some spices for interest. I used a few cloves. Use a pastry brush to paint the melted butter thickly on both sides of the circles, place into the pan and weigh down with baking beads to bake blind. After a bit of experimentation, try a 180 deg C oven for about 15 mins – although keep an eye on them as they can burn quite quickly. If your canapé filling does not need cooking, keep them in to a deep golden colour; if you are cooking the canapés take them out before they get that far.

I made 18 canapés in two varieties, although two testers never actually left my kitchen. I made goats cheese, apple chutney and walnut for half; and pesto mozzarella for the others.

All turned out rather well, but the highlight of the evening was definitely the Baked Alaska which turned out sensationally!

PS I have written about canapés before when I made up a recipe for individual canapé Beef Wellingtons, which were rather nice.

Pudding Club: poached pear trifle

This is something I made ages ago but, it appears, neglected to write up.

I have poached pears in red wine a fair few times in the last twelve months, and half the time ended up throwing away the sweetened, spicy red wine poaching liquid. That seems such a waste, and so recently it occurred to me, as it did with the strawberry / rosé wine combo, to turn the liquid into a jelly.

Then that thought led to the thought of making trifle, using the pears, their poaching liquid as the jelly, homemade custard and whipped cream.

Heart attack waiting to happen!

So poach 4 peeled, whole pears in 200mls red wine, 200mls water, 200 grams sugar, and flavour with everything your spice rack can throw at it. I used 1 cinnamon stick, 3 cloves, 4 cardamom pods, a few slices of ginger root, a bay leaf. Boil the pears gently until you can easily run a toothpick through them – time will depend on how ripe they are. Once they are there, turn off the heat until cool then refrigerate overnight.

The following day, core and slice the pears into individual serving bowls. Soak gelatine leaves in cold water, strain and reserve the poaching mix, and bring it back to the boil. Add the gelatine to the poaching mix, stir well, and pour the jelly over the pears. Allow to set.

Make custard – Delia’s quantities were not quite enough for four portions, in my experience. Allow custard to set.

Shortly before serving, whip cream and add to top with sprinkles as preferred.

Can’t quite believe it, but I didn’t take any pictures of this!

Pudding club: profiteroles with mocha filling

Inspired by Chris Noth’s Kitchen Secrets, this week I made a mini pièce montée / croquembouche – which is a French celebration cake made out of a pile of profiteroles.

To mix things up a bit, I used this profiterole recipe (I did need all the eggs, ignore the comments!) and this mocha custard filling.

I made the profiteroles, filled them, and then made a pile by sticking them to the plate with a caramel made of sugar and sherry.

The learning points from the cooking:

You can make profiteroles in advance, but best fill them on the day.

I need a lot more practice piping.

Profiterole filling needs to be completely lump free if you are to have a hope of getting it through a piping nozzle.

Don’t try and make caramel out of unbleached sugar. If you use white, bleached caster sugar, it’s much easier to see when it is turning into caramel. If you use unbleached sugar, it starts off caramel coloured and you have no idea when it is turning.

Here’s a picture:

Michael caramel profiteroles. Got eaten before I remembered to photograph them!