Sunday, 24 March 2013

Traditional Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns,
Hot Cross Buns,
Hot Cross Buns.

The tune to this little ditty was one of the first things I learnt to play on my recorder at primary school! I went to a local C of E school and so the links between hot cross buns and Christianity have never been in doubt in my mind...until now!
Any good Christian family will teach their children that the cross on top of a hot cross bun is directly linked to the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. As long as I can remember before heading to church on Good Friday morning, for the stations of the cross, we would all gather on Mum and Dad’s bed for a breakfast of hot cross buns. But, as I started looking around the internet for a recipe this year I found a few things out about the hot cross bun that I didn’t know...

Although there seems no doubt that hot cross buns are English in origin, they may have been around long before this country became Christian. In fact, it seems they might be another example of a pagan tradition that Christianity took over. There is some suggesting that the spiced buns were eaten when celebrating the goddess Eostre. Now even I can see (or hear) that Eostre sounds a lot like Easter... coincidence I think not!!!
Regardless of whether they are Christian or not, there are also some rather cool superstitions surrounding the hot cross bun. So the story goes...if you bake hot cross buns on Good Friday they will not spoil or go mouldy!!! I’m actually quite tempted to try this one out. Another superstition is that hot cross buns can protect sailors from shipwrecks. I’m afraid I can’t test this one so we’ll just have to trust the internet!

After spending just 20mins surfing the internet, I soon realised that the origins of the humble hot cross buns weren’t quite as straight forward as I originally thought! I just hoped that baking them would be easy.
The fact that they have been around for hundreds of years also brings its own challenges. Do you know just how many varieties of hot cross bun you can get now? I’m talking chocolate, toffee, apple, cinnamon, earl grey, orange blossom – you name it, a supermarket makes it! I’m particularly a fan of the GIANT hot cross bun loaf that Asda do but that’s a whole other ball game!

I decided to begin with I would try a traditional recipe from none other than Mrs Beeton. I’m not a big bread baker as I find no matter what tip or trick I use to kick start my yeast into gear I never quite get it right. BUT by just tweaking the traditional recipe a little bit I was able to SUCCESSFULLY bake my first batch of traditional hot cross buns!!!
The spice balance really is quite a personal thing so feel free to adjust this to your taste: I used a little less than Mrs Beeton calls for and also adjusted the dried fruit used.

Now that I’ve managed to master this traditional version next I will have to take on the supermarkets and attempt a twist on this classic.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Mango and Avocado Salsa

This recipe for me was a really fun one! Just look at the vibrancy and the great mix of colours in that bowl – this mango and avocado salsa just screams joy, fun and laughter. But then again for me, so does Mexican food in general.
In this country most people’s first experiences of Mexican food come in the form of an Old El Paso fajita kit, (or perhaps these days it’s a Discovery pack or your Supermarket’s own brand version...)

When I was growing up Mexican food was really just starting to take off in this country. Old El Paso was seen as a real treat. It was exciting, fun, and all the family could get involved by building their own fajita/taco etc.
We still buy these kits every now and then and ‘fajita night’ is a much loved night in my house. It’s all about getting stuck in, getting a little bit messy and tailoring your food to your mood. Some day’s I’m feeling extra spicy and add mounds of jalapenos. Other day’s I want something creamy and velvety and pile on the sour cream and refried beans.

While there’s nothing wrong with using these kits. It’s really easy to do your own Mexican food at home – without taking these little short cuts. In my second year at university, some friends and I decided to do a “Come Dine with Me” style cooking competition. The idea was that we were all skint and wanted some cheap indoor entertainment. I decided that I wanted to do a Mexican Night. I had a bottle of margarita mix left over from god knows when, and the essential like a pack of chicken, wraps and sour cream could all be brought pretty cheaply. As it was a cookery competition I decided to steer away from the packet mixes and spent hours analysing the back of “fajita spice” packets before raiding my own spice cupboard to come up with my own personalised fajita spice blend.
That spice blend saw me win our little competition (though no prizes unfortunately) and set me up for fajita nights to come!

If you don’t feel like going to the extreme of developing your own spice blend, I don’t blame you! BUT there are other ways you can jazz up a Mexican meal without resorting to packets.
Take the jars of salsa for example. Travel to Mexico and I promise you the slop we buy in a jar that seeps a greyish-red liquid is NOT salsa. In fact they have hundreds of different salsas...none of which look like that!

SO, I propose you make your own salsa to serve alongside tacos, fajitas, enchiladas, or even just a delicious bit of steak as I did here. (But that’s for another day!)
I think the key to making a good salsa is to go for the key colour groups – green, red and yellow.

For example -
Green: coriander (cilantro), lime, avocado, green pepper, jalapenos

Red: tomatoes (fresh not tinned/canned), red pepper, red onion, watermelon, grapefruit, chilli peppers
Yellow: yellow pepper, sweetcorn, lemon, mango

You can mix and match any of these ingredients to make a fab Mexican inspired salsa! One thing I must say, when choosing ingredients from the colour groups above; don’t be afraid to add in fruit. The juice of lemons and limes is an obvious choice to give the salsa a bit of zing, but chunks of watermelon, grapefruit and mango all bring another flavour dimension and texture to the salsa.
I think this salsa works well for that exact reason. Not only does it include fresh mango, but also avocado which adds a creamy texture to the salsa and balances out the sharp lime juice.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Lamb Rogan Josh

Indian is by far one of my favourite cuisines and I know I’m not alone! The Indian often gives Chinese a run for its money in the country’s favourite take-away food.

When I was younger I didn’t ever eat Indian food. We’ve always been the kind of family that orders a takeaway for special occasions (like birthdays) or evenings where the routines gone out of the window (like parents evening for example). BUT the Indian takeaway leaflets were always left in the drawer until Mum and Dad were home alone.
I remember trying my first piece of Chicken Tikka. I had never tasted anything like it before! It was so new and different that I genuinely couldn’t tell if I liked it or not. I wanted to try more, but I was scared that my parents would order me a dish and I wouldn’t be able to finish it. After all, trying one piece of Chicken Tikka isn’t quite the same as sitting down to a plate of keema naan, pilau rice and a creamy curry.

It turns out my sister HATED her taste so that was that...I never really got a chance to try curry again properly until I was in my early teens. To this day I maintain I fell in love with Jon (AND cooking) because he cooked the best curries! Ok...we both know they were out of a jar, but I had never had a homemade curry until I started going for dinner at Jon’s house. They were always vegetarian (sometimes which extra quorn pieces) and served with fluffy basmati rice. That was it...I was hooked!
When I passed this news on to my parents it was decided we’d start ordering Indian take-aways as a family. No more Dominoes or Chinese. The Indian was king. By this point my sister was always round her boyfriends, so once a month on a Saturday night, I started working my way through the local curry house's menu.

As it turns out, I like ALL types of curries – from creamy Kormas and butter chickens, to spicy Jalfrezis. I also love garlic naans, peshwari naans, keema naans, chapattis, parathas, pilau rice, lemon rice...basically there isn’t ONE thing on the menu I don’t like. Sometimes I’ll order lamb, sometimes chicken, sometime prawn and sometimes veggie. No curry is off limits.
Despite saying this, one curry has had a special place in my heart all these years. The Rogan Josh.

I don’t actually remember when this became my “go-to” curry but if we were ordering in a hurry or weren’t ordering a giant Indian feast, I’d simply order a Rogan Josh. I loved the rich sauce with tomatoes and green peppers mopped up with a keema naan – to me it was heaven!
Until my post on a Low Fat Chicken Korma I hadn’t tried recreating my take-away favourites at home. I have no friends or family from India who could teach me all their secrets, and I just can’t justify using ghee in my home cooking (I swear I would weigh a tonne overnight!) So I’ve always steered clear.

But, in my pursuit of delicious tasting healthy foods I decided it was time I tried to crack the Rogan Josh.
Rogan Josh is the signature dish of the Kashmir region and is traditionally cooked with lamb. The sauce or gravy is based on browned onions yoghurt, garlic, ginger and spices such as cloves, bay leaves, cardamom and cinnamon all of which you'll find in my recipe. The red colour of the sauce traditionally comes from dried Kashmiri chilies. These can be replaced by paprika which has a similar flavour - again you'll find this in my recipe below. It is not a really hot dish, but instead should be fragrant with a slight chilli heat rather than a kick.

Indian take-aways in countries such as England also include the addition of tomatoes. This gives it a less traditional flavour but also helps bring out the red colour found in the Kashmiri dish.
My recipe falls somewhere in between the two. It has the tomatoes and green peppers that I know so well from my local take-away, but the spices used are very traditional. I’ve also cut down on much of the oil needed to cook the lamb and baked it in the oven for a tender texture so it’s not as unhealthy for you as the take-away variety.

If you have never tried cooking “take-away style” curries at home before, this is a great recipe to start with! You will get a smoother gravy or sauce if you have a blender to hand but it’s not essential, and this can be served with rice or traditional breads.
Here’s the recipe:

Thursday, 7 March 2013

[Mother's Day] Lemon and Passion fruit Swiss Roll

Mothering Sunday (aka Mothers Day) is just around the corner. What are you doing for your Mum this year?

In the UK Mothering Sunday is celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent. This means that it usually falls somewhere from the middle of March until the beginning of April. In 2013 Easter is really early so this year Mothers Day is Sunday the 10th of March. That’s right not very long away at all!
The Mothers Day Gift and Card industry in the UK alone is worth millions (in recent years sales have pushed over the £1billion mark), and year on year flowers are the most popular gift. According to the Experian website the people of Stevenage (that’s me, that’s me! Look it up on a map!) are most likely to visit Flowers websites in March in the run up to Mother’s Day. could go down the route of buying some flowers, a card with some sort of cute fuzzy animal on the front, or perhaps buy her some slippers, make up or other beauty products, OR you could put your purse away and make your Mum something nice for Mother’s Day!
In the past I’ve made all sorts. Last my sister and I made a photo book (a bit like a scrap book) of all of our favourite pictures from her birthday – it had been the big 50! Now she’s got some wonderful memories all in one place – much better than a bunch of flowers...

BUT, this is a food blog after all so I’m going to put to you, the proposition that you make your Mum something delicious for Mother’s Day.
Why not take the Roast Dinner off of your Mum’s hands? If you follow my perfectly timed instructions for this Pork Roast with Apples and Cider gravy you can’t go wrong!

Or, if your Mum is like mine, why not bake her this delicious Swiss Roll. It’s made from a fat-less sponge (meaning the only fat found in it comes from the eggs, there’s no butter in this recipe!) and has a creamy centre made with the tangy yet sweet pulp of the passion fruit.
My Mum loves nothing better than the sit in our lounge with some cake, a cup of tea and good conversation – so that is what I’ll be giving her this Mother’s Day!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Home-made butter

We've all been there- you're cooking away happily when you take your eye off the ball for just one second and BOOM you've got a kitchen disaster on your hands...or have you?

Sometimes kitchen accidents can become kitchen revelations helping you to discover something entirely new and delicious.

Thus is what happened to me on Valentines Day...

2 courses down and copious amounts of pink cava drunk, Mr KG and I were just about ready to serve up dessert. Mr KG had cooked an amazing meal; all I had to do was hand whip some cream to serve with his chocolate lava cake (I hope he'll be sharing the recipe soon!)

I got bored of handwhipping pretty quick so we served up with half whipped cream. After the meal I decided I didn't want to be outdone. So with a bowl of cream and a whisk in my hand I started whisking like I've never whisked before. But in an attempt to whisk even faster, I shut my eyes. By the time I opened them it was over whipped!

At first I was disappointed. I was secretly hoping to sit and eat a bowl of whipped cream as post-dessert-dessert! But then I remembered something I’d seen on the Baker Brother TV show when I was back at uni.

With a little bit of research I realised I’d made butter!
So here’s how to do it...


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