Vanilla Marshmallows

One of the things I do this time of year is try a recipe that I have never tried before, something sweet, so I can give the end product as a gift.
Really, this is not very wise considering I am planning on giving these things as gifts, and should they go wrong I would have to rush out to the shops at the last minute!

I’ve made fudge in the past, truffles and some disastrous too vinegary red onion marmalade.

This year I thought I’d try marshmallows, I’d seen them on River Cottage a few months back and they looked too delicious not to try. I love sweets but the shop bought marshmallows are always disappointing.

Boiling sugar, mince pies in the background!

I used the River Cottage recipe but tweaked it a little to my taste.
I didn’t go for the beetroot but instead prepared some vanilla sugar ahead of time (2 weeks in a tub with a couple of split vanilla pods) and also infused some spent vanilla pods in the hot water before I added the gelatine.

The vanilla taste comes through very well, I’d love to try other things next time – maybe infusing with fruit tea.
You also don’t need a mixer for this but you do really need an electric whisk to save your arms, and obviously the thermometer is a total must.

I took my marshmallows out of the tin after about 3 hours but I left it on a powdered board overnight to set further, this makes them a lot less sticky to cut into pieces.

These take an afternoon to make but they are definitely worth it, they are nothing like the shop bought variety at all. I can’t wait to hear the verdict from those receiving them! I will of course be keeping some for myself, for coffee dunking purposes.

xx

roast tomato soup with tiny toasties

I wonder what percentage of tomato soup is made on a dreary Monday evening?

Yesterday was no except, rain, wind and getting dark early. I normally crave soup or stew on days like that, this time it was a rich tomato soup. I’d noticed several of my favourite food blogs had come up with tomato soup recipes recently along with the traditional American addition of grilled cheese (or cheese toasties) – which I’d never had before with it.

I like to roast my tomatoes for soup, it really brings the flavour out and turns not so special supermarket tomatoes into something wonderful. When I’m making a quick and cheap lunch soup I roast canned chopped tomatoes instead of fresh ones.


Roast Tomato Soup with Tiny Cheese Toasties

For Soup
6 large tomatoes – peeled (with a vegetable peeler or boil and peel skins off)
2 fat cloves of garlic
approx 200ml of chicken stock (I had some in the freezer that I’d made a couple of weeks ago)
1/2 red onion
splash of double cream
s&p

For Toasties
French stick
Cheddar
Parmesan
Mustard

(You can also experiment with gruyere, emmental or even something like double gloucester)

For the Soup

Cut peeled tomatoes into quarters and add to a roasting tin with the cloves of garlic (keep the skins on the garlic, you want them to roast inside and become sweet and flavoursome) and a drizzle of good olive oil. Roast on high on the top shelf for approx 10 – 15 mins.
When they are ready mush them up with the back of a spoon. Take out the garlic cloves , remove skins and chop roughly.

Fry diced red onion in a little olive oil and butter until soft, add in garlic cloves followed by tomatoes. Simmer for a few minutes before adding the stock. Bring to the boil and then simmer slowly for 10 minutes. Blend and then stir in a little double cream once off the heat.

For Tiny Cheese Toasties

Cut french stick into as many slices as you’d like toasties, approx 1 inch thick.
Add a little english mustard to one side of each piece of bread.

Fry half the slices, mustard side up, in a little butter until brown on one side. Remove from pan and do the same with the other slices – this time layering with thinly sliced parmesan and cheddar, pop the first set of fried slices on top. Cook slowly until the cheese melts. I found a lot of american recipes use a weight to help the cheese melt, I used my heavy casserole lid.
If the bread starts to brown too much and the cheese isn’t melting remove the top layer and pop them under the grill to melt the cheese.

Ladle soup in to a big bowl and serve with the toasties. I guarantee this will warm you up from top to toe!

xx

Perfecting Pastry with a Pecan Pie

I’ve never had much luck with pastry. My shells always shrunk or drooped in or didn’t cook enough or cooked too much. My pies and tarts sometimes tasted ok but they never looked neat and tidy.

I usually blamed it on my oven, its not the best and it has trouble keeping the right temperature.

But I think I just didn’t have the right recipe… or the right equipment. Yes I was guilty of trying to make a tart case with just a normal shallow cake tin.

I was almost about to give up and make a pastry case with a ready made shop bought shell (I know, shocking!) but I couldn’t bring myself to buy it. Instead I bought myself a proper tart case and found this recipe for the great unshrinkable tart shell.


It was indeed a great recipe, not too much hassle, the only thing you need is patience whilst the pastry cools in the fridge and freezes in the freezer. It did shrink a tiny bit but it didnt slump or flop and it stayed in shape to give a lovely pecan pie.

I follow A LOT of food blogs on my google reader, but strangely none of them came up with a recipe for pecan pie – is it such a given that everyone should know how to make pecan pie?
I tweeted it and the lovely Alice of Snapdragonbeads gave me her Mum’s authentic pecan pie recipe – (four large eggs, 2/3 cup sugar, 1/2 cup crushed pecans, drop of sherry or bourbon mixed in, I also added cinamonn and a dash of maple syrup).

Whipped it up and poured it into my tart case, baked it for 15 minutes and voila!

Gorgeous! The pastry turned out so well, crisp and sweet and cooked properly all the way round.

(as you can see I also sprinkled it with caster sugar before baking, it didnt really caramelise but it does taste nice! I would suggest using icing sugar or not bothering!).


Watch this space for more tart recipes now that I have found the perfect tart shell!

xx

Alimentum, Cambridge

Lately it seems like we’ve been dining out a lot, I can assure you this is not a very regular occurence but I’m pleased we’ve been out more recently.

One place that we’ve had our eye on for a while is Alimentum, its been open since 2007 and has recently recruited the chef from Midsummer house, the two Michelin starred restaurant in Cambridge. Since he joined in April this year Alimentum has been enjoying a lot more press and is steadily gaining a very good reputation for excellent food.

If you live in Cambridge you’ll know that there is very little choice of restaurants unless you like chains – because of high rents (mainly caused by the University owning 90% of the land and buildings) not many independent restaurants pop up in central Cambridge.

Alimentum prides itself of local and seasonal food (the waiting staff emphasise this greatly) as well as an ethical approach to running their business. They also offer a great deal of good value options as well as their a la carte menu.

We booked for the fixed price pre theatre menu which was very good value, £15.50 for two courses or £18.50 for three.


I started with the artichoke barigoule with goats cheese, I wasn’t exactly sure what this was but I thought I’d try it as I’m terrible at preparing artichokes myself. It turned out to be a stew of artichoke hearts with baby vegetables in a light white wine and mustard sauce. The goats cheese was perfect alongside it and it was beautifully presented.


Mr had Tilbury Meadows rib eye of beef- it was prepared by very thinly slicing rare roast beef with parmesan crisps and a light horseradish cream – a very nice alternative to a carpaccio.


For main I opted for the roast fillet of cod with mussels. Both were extremely fresh and the cod was cooked perfectly, it was served with a delicious spinach and garlic sauce which didn’t taste as iron-y as you would think from a spinach sauce. Mr opted for the confit duck which was cooked to perfection, falling off the bone with a lovely crisp skin.


I again had already chosen my dessert before my starter or main, I went for the chocolate mousse with praline and mascarpone sorbet. I loved the presentation, the mousse was layered on top of a crispy biscuit base and finished with another layer of dark chocolate. The handmade praline was beautiful, the highlight of the pudding. The sorbet was a wonderful idea, it wasn’t as rich as ice cream but still had a nice creamy taste but with the freshness of mascarpone.

Mr had the mulled wine poached pear which was completely christmassy in every way, the wine was spiced just right. It was served with ice cream, a pear crisp and pear puree.

We had a great experience at Alimentum, there are lots of good value options for dining which is something Cambridge badly needs. Alimentum already has 3 AA rosettes and I expect it will gain a few more accolades quite soon.

Prague

Prague Cathedral, Strahov Monastry, Charles Bridge, Astronomical Clock

Despite ALL THE RAIN we saw all the sights in Prague, we particularly like the castle and the cathedral. One of the most interesting places was the Monastry, the buildings were lovely and we had a great meal of goulash in their restaurant.

Unfortunately places on the other side of Charles Bridge – Wenceslas square in particular – have become so touristy and tacky that we didn’t enjoy them very much. There were a lot of czech glass beads for sale but the same hanks of cheap and tacky glass in every other shop spoiled it a bit – and they were more expensive than over here!

The National Museum is worth a visit, they have a great minerology section (for all of you that like gemstones!) and some interesting fossil finds.

x

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