Sweet and Sticky and perfect served warm with ice cream…
What a wild weekend, right? Hopefully – wherever you’re reading this from – you escaped the worst of storm Dennis (the Menace). Here in Cardiff we’ve experienced the worst flooding in at least forty years. The Taff was the highest that I’ve ever seen it, Bute Park and Pontcanna Fields became a swamp on Sunday morning, and the water slurped so far beyond its normal level that swans were seen strolling down streets in Grangetown. Thankfully my house is on a hill, but other’s haven’t been nearly as lucky. It’s been a bizarre and sad weekend, and one best spent cosying up indoors with a good book and plenty of cake. Good thing I whipped this baby up on Friday!
I feel like bananas are a bit of a divisive fruit. I know people who will absolutely no way – under no circumstances – go anywhere near them, and then there are those who find them… a’peeling (har de har). I absolutely love them; I’ve always got a few banging around in my fruit bowl – and whether they’re soft and freckled, or practically green, they’re hands down the star of this Caramel and Banana Upside Down Cake. With a sticky, sweet and slightly crisp caramel crust on the outside, the cake itself is moist and crumbly and slightly spiced with cinnamon (and rum, if you’re feeling it!). Topped with sliced bananas, you can scoff it cold, or even better, slightly warmed with either cream, ice cream or custard.
…I know what you’re thinking. “Hey Nia, where’s the rest of the cake?” Well, funny story. Whilst the cake itself is very, very easy to make – you can’t rush it out of the tin (no matter how good it smells!). Which is exactly what I did and I ended up with hot caramel all over my kitchen counter. Oops. Do yourself a favour; leave the cake to completely cool in the tin before you turn it out and flip it onto a plate. 😉
Sticky Banana Upside Down Cake
For the Banana Caramel Topping:
100g caster sugar
50g dark muscovado sugar
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 large bananas sliced lengthways
For the Cake:
150g self raising flour
125g caster sugar
125g softened butter
2 eggs, whisked
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
100ml dark rum (optional)
Set your oven to 170C. Lightly grease a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin.
To make the caramel, gently heat together the butter, dark muscovado sugar and caster sugar (don’t stir yet!) until melted and combined. Stir in the vanilla bean paste. Pour a little into the bottom of your cake tin, then arrange the bananas (sliced side down) on top. Pour in the rest of the caramel.
To make the cake, cream together the butter and sugar, then stir in the whisked eggs. Sift together the flour, salt and cinnamon, then pour it into the bowl and mix with the butter and sugar. Finally stir in the yogurt (and rum).
Pour the cake batter into the tin on top of the caramel and bananas, then bake for 50 minutes (or until an inserted skewer comes out clean).
Important bit! Lightly run a knife around the edge of the cake, and then leave the cake in the tin to cool (if you release it from the tin at this point then the whole thing will collapse and spew molten caramel EVERYWHERE… Speaking from experience!).
Once the cake has completely cooled, turn it out onto a plate with the bananas and caramel facing up. Serve with cream, custard (or ice cream!).
Valentines Day, Galentines Day… Love Yo’self Day… whichever one of the above you celebrate, the week of looooooove is upon us once again. Sunny and I actually celebrated a couple of weeks ago (here in Wales we celebrate St Dwynwen’s Day instead on the 25th of January) – so I’m totally free this Friday to celebrate the other loves in my life – and that includes myself. I’ve got a hot date with a bathtub, some gin and a good book, and I cannot wait. I’ve also got at least one of these Mini Blood Orange Cheesecakes still bashing around in the fridge; I’ve been saving it to scoff during my soak. 😉
I feel like my go-to for a homemade Valentines Day treat always involves a pack of Blood Oranges. It’s kind of becoming a tradition. Last year I made Blood Orange Curd, as well as this Heart Shaped Blood Orange Upside Down Cake. And who could forget those Blood Orange-Glazed Doughnuts I made the year before that? I think they’re quite possibly my all time favourite. Part of the reason I pick them is because they just happen to be in season this time of year – they’re definitely one of my favourite things to spot in the supermarket during January – but they also happen to be my favourite citrus fruit because I usually find that they’re sweeter and juicier than your bog standard orange. Oh, and lastly, they’re pink, and they’re pretty to look at and photograph. Duh.
These miniature cheesecakes are a bit of a throwback to the horrendously 80s cheesecake that my Mum and Dad used to buy down the freezer aisle when I was a kid (…and they still do to this day). You know, the one with the bright orange jelly and tangerine segments on top? The parts are all there, I’ve just shrunk it down to cupcake size and given it a bit of a face-lift. The base is made from blitzed Biscoff biscuits, the creamy, baked cheesecake filling has that slightly tangy New York Cheesecake flavour, and then it’s all topped off with a vegetarian blood orange jelly and a candied blood orange segment. They’re really easy to make and are a sweet way of treating your favourite people this Valentines Day.
Mini Blood Orange Cheesecakes
For the Cheesecakes:
24 Biscoff biscuits (around 180g)
30g melted butter
360g full fat cream cheese
70g sour cream
110g caster sugar
zest of one blood orange
2 eggs, whisked
For the jelly:
juice of one blood orange (about 100ml)
200ml cold water
50g caster sugar
1 sachet of veggie gel
For the candied Blood Orange segments:
1 blood orange, thinly sliced
200ml caster sugar
Grab a muffin tray and line it with ten muffin cases. Heat your oven to 180°C (fan).
First, make the cheesecake base: blitz your biscuits in a food processor until they’re soft and grainy (…and look a lot like sand!). Stir in the melted butter, and then spoon a little bit of the mixture into each muffin case. Gently press down to a create a level base. Make sure you don’t pack it down too much or your base is going to be hard when it sets.You want it to crumble a little.
To make the creamy cheesecake filling, whisk together the cream cheese, sour cream, caster sugar, eggs and blood orange zest. You want an airy, smooth texture (no lumps!); the smoother it is, the creamier the cheesecake. Divide that mixture equally between the muffin cases, and then bake for 20 minutes. The cheesecakes will puff and rise in the oven, and they’ll probably crack a little. You’ll know they’re done when they start to tan a little on top. Leave them in the muffin tray in their cases to cool.
While your cheesecakes are cooling, make the candied blood orange segments. Sounds difficult, but it’s actually really easy. First, grab a deep saucepan, pop your sliced blood orange segments into it and then cover them with water. Bring them to the boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes until the peel goes soft. Remove the blood orange segments and pop them in a bowl of cold water. Don’t throw away the water in the saucepan – it’s packed full of juice and you’re going to use it to make the syrup. Measure 200ml of that juice and then pour it back in the saucepan with the caster sugar. Dissolve the sugar on a low heat, and then pop the blood orange segments in. Allow them to simmer on a low heat in the syrup for 30 minutes – turning them occasionally to coat both sides. Once done, fish them out and then leave them to cool on a piece of baking paper.
Once your cheesecakes have cooled completely, make the jelly. Again, not as tricky as it sounds! Combine your blood orange juice and 200ml of cold water. Stir in the caster sugar until it dissolves, and then do the same with the veggie gel (watch out for lumps!). Pour the mixture into a saucepan and bring it to the boil – and then divide it between your cheesecake cups. Top each one with a candied blood orange slice.
Put the cheesecakes in the fridge to set and cool for at least 2 hours before scoffing. 😉
Mamma mia! No more faffing around with sourdough starters – just soft and chewy (and scoffable) pizza in a snap…
Look, you can chuck whatever the hell you want on top of a pizza – pineapples, mushrooms or just plain old cheese and tomato, it doesn’t bother me – it’s the base that’s always been the deal breaker for me. It’s got to be thin and slightly crisp underneath (if you’re one of those people who are partial to deep dish then you can just go ahead and let yourself out right now). It’s got to be evenly cooked all the way through (how many times have I made pizza at home only to end up with a soggy middle?). And lastly, the crust has got to be soft and chewy – the archetype for a good sourdough pizza. The best sourdough pizza I’ve ever eaten was at Franco Manca back when I lived in London. Sunny dragged me to this tiny canteen in Brixton, shoved a menu under my nose and then quietly informed me that no other pizza would ever compare to what I was about to eat. And he was right. If you’ve ever been to Franco Manca then you’ll know they’ve got quite a small and specific menu; it’s all about stripping pizza back, using only top quality ingredients and instead of doing lots of different flavours and toppings pretty well – they do only three or four, but do them to perfection. And the sourdough base? Oh lordy.
Since then (and since moving far away from Franco Manca…) I’ve been desperately trying to come up with a sourdough pizza dupe that I can make at home. Trouble is, it’s near impossible to replicate that soft and chewy texture and crisp underside without a proper pizza oven. Still, I wanted to see if I could find a way around that slight handicap. I’ve tried sourdough starters (too much faff), I’ve tried pizza stones, I’ve tried about fifty different doughs, and I have stretched and tossed (behave) until my arms have ached… Have I ever come anywhere close to replicating that pillowy soft vehicle for cheese and tomato? Have I heck. Until now! It’s pretty damn close, and pretty damn good. Even better, it doesn’t involve keeping a jar of flour, water and yeast alive for at least a week beforehand (I mean I have a dog, I don’t need another pet to feed), nor does it require any vigorous stretching or acrobatic throwing. Just some light kneading, an hour to prove and that’s it. Part cook it on a hot skillet to crisp up the base, and then finish it off under the grill. Easy. 🙂
Cheat’s Sourdough Pizza
For the dough:
1 tsp dried active yeast*
1 tbsp runny honey
75ml warm water
200ml warm semi skimmed milk
150ml plain yogurt
50ml sour cream
1/2 tsp salt
500g strong bread flour
*make sure you use dried active yeast instead of instant yeast for this recipe – it creates a softer, chewier dough with a better rise.
For the toppings:
Handful of chopped basil leaves
Pour the warm water and honey into a large mixing bowl, and then stir in the yeast. Leave the yeast to activate for ten minutes (you should start to see tiny pin-prick bubbles across the surface of the water or a slight brown foam when it’s ready).
Next, stir in the warm milk, yogurt, sour cream, salt and flour. Stir together to create a sticky (very sticky!) dough. Oil your hands with some of the olive oil, then turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. It’ll be sticky, it’ll be messy – but persevere with it, it’ll be worth it in the end!
Pop the dough into a lightly oil bowl, cover with clingfilm, and then leave somewhere warm for an hour until doubled in size.
Split the dough (this recipe creates plenty of it, so wrap tightly whatever you’re not going to use with clingfilm and stick it in the fridge) and then turn it out onto a floured surface. No need to stretch it or work it, just roll it out thinly into whatever shape of pizza you’re going for.
Heat up a frying pan, or flat skillet until it’s burning hot. Lightly brush one side of the pizza with olive oil, then place face down onto the frying pan. Heat for a couple of minutes on one side, and then lightly brush with oil and flip it. You’ll know when to flip because bubbles will start to rise on the surface of the dough as it cooks. Cook for no more than a minute and then take it off the heat.
Spread the tomato passata across the bubbled side of the pizza, followed by the mozzarella (as well as whatever other toppings you fancy), then cook it under the grill in the oven for about 3-5 minutes until the cheese starts to bubble. Sprinkle with basil, then scoff!
Seriously, is there anything better than a steaming plate of beans on toast? Especially this time of year when it’s grim and gloomy, and you get home in the dark and the drizzle and you just can’t be bothered to cook and the Chinese Takeaway is bloody closed (ours takes a three week long break every January on a count of Chinese New Year – EXACTLY when I need them the most – the nerve!)… For breakfast, lunch or brinner (not a typo – that’s “breakfast for dinner” for the uninitiated – you’re welcome btw), it’s always a winner when you’re in a pinch and just can’t be arsed to cook anything else.
(…Or blog about anything else? Hey c’mon, I’m having a slow January, alright?)
There’s always a healthy stash of tins of baked beans in my kitchen cupboard (none of that Branston nonsense; I’m a Heinz until I die kinda girl) – that’s the easy bit – it’s the bread that’s the trickier side to this duo. It’s got to be a doorstop wedge of fluffy, perfectly toasted bread to compliment a soggy slop of beans – which isn’t necessarily as readily available as it sounds. Thankfully, my husband’s taken up the only area of baking that I seriously struggle with and I’ve been finding myself drowning in homemade loaves (…definitely not complaining). Last weekend he played around with a lovely recipe fished out of an old recipe book for Oatmeal Bread – which made a pillowy soft loaf with a crispy, golden crust. As soon as I chewed down on a corner I knew it was THE weekend loaf to have on the recipe roster – perfect for sandwiches, dippy eggs and – oh yes – a banging plate of beans on toast. 🙂
Simple Sunday Morning Oat Loaf
For the dough:
170g strong, white flour
85g wholemeal flour
1 tsp salt
30g melted butter
1 tsp clear honey
15g dried active yeast
1 egg, beaten
55g porridge oats
200ml semi skimmed milk
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp porridge oats
Gently boil the milk, then pour into a mixing bowl with the oats. Allow it to cool to about 30°C, then stir in the honey and yeast. Leave for 10 minutes to allow the yeast to do it’s thing (you should start to see tiny, pinprick bubbles – or a slight foam).
Next, add the egg and melted butter (make sure it’s cooled – you don’t want to scramble your egg!). Then, sift in both the strong white flour and wholemeal flour, as well as the salt. Stir together to make a soft dough.
Lightly oil your hands, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, then knead by hand for about ten minutes – or until you get a smooth, stretchy dough.
Oil a mixing boil, then chuck in the dough, cover it with clingfilm and leave it somewhere warm to double in size for about an hour and a half.
Lightly grease a 1 lb loaf tin. Knock back the dough, then roughly shape it into a loaf and pop it in the tin. Cover, then leave somewhere warm to rise again for another hour.
Heat your oven to 220°C (fan). Glaze the surface of the loaf with the beaten egg, and sprinkle with oats. Bake for 30 minutes (after 15 minutes cover with paper if you think the crust is going to brown too much), then leave to cool before slicing up and scoffing with great big globs of butter.
…for all the hopeless (flu-infected) ramen-tics out there…
Tell you what, I might as well paint a massive red “X” on my front door to ward off all potential visitors, because the winter lurgy finally came a-knocking last week. Sunny became a walking fountain of mucus first, and then – even though for a while it looked like I was going to dodge it – I got that tell-tale scratching feeling at the back of my throat and knew I was doomed. I’m currently writing this bundled up in my dressing gown, ponging of Olbas Oil and chained to a box of tissues. Breathing through your nose is such an underrated luxury. I miss it.
There’s nothing quite like a massive bowl of ramen when you’re sick, is there? I mean, any and all soups are pretty good when you’re a walking plague victim, but ramen – for me anyway – is the ultimate winner, and I’ll tell you why. All soups are warm and comforting, but ramen goes one step further. It’s full of healthy fresh greens (which you can pick and choose), it’s packed full of flavour (enough to get through to those flu-muffled taste buds), the noodles are filling (so you feel like you’ve actually eaten more than just a bowl of hot water), I defy anyone not to smile at the sight of a perfectly gooey soft boiled egg floating in front of them… and the added chilli garnish will do wonders for a blocked nose.
Now, normally I’d either cart myself down to Wagamama for a bowl of their Shirodashi Ramen (YAS), or pick up a one of the Blue Dragon Ramen Kits, but last week before my cold spiralled out of control and I was still more or less functioning – I felt like making some from scratch. Anyway, I came across a picture of a ramen bowl with grilled corn in it and I was intrigued. I’d never thought of putting sweet corn in a bowl of ramen before, but tell you what – it was a game changer. The sweetness, the crunch, the buttery charred bits… oof. It was exactly what my noodle bowl had been missing all this time. Added to the mushrooms, spring onions, cabbage and obligatory soft boiled egg, it was a winner. 🙂
Vegetarian Ramen with Grilled Sweetcorn
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp garlic paste
2 tsp ginger paste
2 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp yellow miso paste
500ml good quality vegetable stock
handful of spring onions, sliced
1 large corn cob
handful of shittake mushrooms
handful of sliced red cabbage (throw it in as late as possible otherwise it’ll turn your broth blue!)
Warm up your wok or a deep pot on a medium heat, then add the sesame oil. Next create the base for your broth by throwing in and stirring together the mirin, rice wine, soy sauce and miso paste, as well as the garlic and ginger pastes.
Next add the vegetable stock (the better the quality, the better the broth!) and water. Throw in your shittake mushrooms and half of your spring onions. Bring the broth up to the boil, then turn the heat down to low, cover and then leave to simmer for at least half an hour.
In the meantime, slice up your garnishes (that’s the rest of the spring onions and the cabbage) and prepare your corn cob. Slather the corn cob in butter, then wrap it in foil and cook it in the oven at 200°C for 20 minutes. Once cooked, slice into strips.
Check the packet instructions for the noodles – usually you’ll add them to the broth about 10 minutes before you’re ready to eat.
To serve up, first use some tongs to take out the noodles at pop them in the bottom of the bowl. Then ladle the broth over the top. Lastly, garnish with your fresh spring onions, cabbage, corn, soft boiled egg and chilli.