Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Pumpkin Panna Cotta

Happy Halloween!

I adore the run up to Halloween. Black and orange confections start appearing in bakery windows. Spiders and vampires perched on cakes. The seasonal sections of shops go from the bright pinks, blues and yellows of summer to the dark, spooky and mysterious blacks, oranges and purples, holding off the red, greens and sparkles of Christmas. A quick jaunt into town will inevitably lead to you seeing a small child, trailing its parents, swinging a scythe or wearing a witch hat. Large purple bins of pumpkins crop up.

If you want to eat your pumpkins rather than carve them, here is an easy recipe to put together.

Makes 2


125ml semi-skimmed milk
125ml double cream
70gr pumpkin purée
3tbsp pumpkin spice syrup
10gr granulated sugar
1 1/2 level tsp powdered gelantine (around 6-7gr). I used Dr. Oetker powdered gelantine. 1 sachet set around a 570ml of liquid. Half a sachet provided a slightly firm set.


1, Blend the milk, double cream, pumpkin purée, spice syrup and sugar together until smooth. Pass this through a sieve and heat in a small saucepan over a medium heat.
2, Bring it to a gentle simmer and remove from the heat. Whisk briskly and add in the gelatine powder in two or three batches. Carry on whisking until the gelatine has dissolved completely. If the gelatine clumps, set it over a very low heat and whisk briskly. Do not bring to the boil.
3, Pour into two short tumblers, cover with cling film and cool in the fridge until set which will take a couple of hours.

Pumpkin Purée
To make a simple pumpkin purée, divide a small sweet edible pumpkin into 8 pieces and removed the seeds and stringy bits. Steam for 15-20 minutes or until the flesh is soft. Leave to cool, uncovered and peel off the skin. Mash the flesh with a fork and pass it through a sieve. Store in the fridge until use.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Pumpkin Spice Syrup

No matter how cold you get, how wind blown you get, how damp around the edges you get - this syrup will soothe it all away.

Just a couple of tablespoons in a cup of coffee is all you need.

450ml water
300gr granulated sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2tsp whole cloves
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2tsp ground ginger
2tbsp steamed puréed pumpkin

1, In a small saucepan, over a medium heat stir the sugar into the water until it dissolves and bring it to a gentle simmer.
2, Add in all the spices and pumpkin
 and simmer for 10 minutes.
3, Remove from the heat and leave to cool completely.
4, Fish out the whole spices and strain through a piece of muslin.
5, Decant into sterilised bottles or jars.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Slow Cooker Brownies

I'm not entirely sure that four hours is an acceptable time to wait for brownies. You could make every other brownie recipe on this blog and still have a good few hours left. I mean, I love my slow cooker, it gets used for things like soup, stews, pulled pork, poached chickens, stock, steaming puddings and makes the best baked beans. but four hours..?

Perhaps there should be a law against it but I'm a sucker for all things slow cooker and an equal sucker for trying out things that are a little kooky.

As I have a big slow cooker, it's oval rather than round, and I didn't want a paper thin brownie, I cooked mine in a cake tin, suspended on two saucers, rather than pouring the brownie batter straight into the slow cooker. The result was a wonderfully fudgey and chewy centred brownie with a firm edge.

200gr dark chocolate
125gr butter
200gr caster sugar
2 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
1tbsp cocoa powder
170gr plain flour

2 heatproof saucers
125ml water
7inch cake tin, greased and lined

1, Turn on your slow cooker to the low setting, set the two saucers into the bottom with the water. Attach the lid and prepare your cake tin.
2, In a saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate together over a low heat. When smooth, remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Leave this to cool slightly before beating in the eggs and vanilla extract.
3, Sift in the cocoa powder and plain flour and fold through until just combined.
4, Pour into your prepared cake tin and smooth out the top.
5, Pop it into your slow cooker, on the saucers, and reattach the lid.
6, Slow cook/bake/steam (delete as appropriate), for three and a half hours. I know it'll be tempting to open up the lid but you'll lose precious heat and will have to cook it for longer.
7, After three and a half hours is up, turn it up to medium for half an hour. Now is the time to check, an inserted skewer may come out with a few smears of chocolate, but it should feel firm around the edges with a slightly softer centre. Turn out onto a wire cooling rack and cool slightly. It's delicious warm or cold.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Christmas Damson Gin and 7am

Please do not let the title of this post sway you into thinking that I drink gin at 7am. This gin, however, sings Christmas, and as Dotcomgiftshop have challenged their favourite bloggers to remember they're favourite (or worst) Christmas presents, I thought I'd accompany my story with a nip of pure Christmas. You can see Dotcomgiftshop's Christmas range here.

This gin is designed to be drunk on Christmas Eve. A splash in a glass of champagne. When you've done all the prep you can for the next day. When you sit and indulge each other with tales of anything Christmassy. And this one is one of my favourites.


It's strange how an affection for a time can fluctuate from childhood to adulthood.

I'm passive to 7am now. I'm up and on the way to work.

7am slipped from my vocabulary when I was a teenager. When I worked a 17minute walk from my office. When 7am was only good when you cruise towards it from the other side, smelling like sweet alcopops, dancing sweat and cigarette smoke. And your vision and balance is all blurry. (From, erm, lack of sleep and those stupid high heels...)

But when you're a child, waiting until 7am on Christmas day is barely short of torture. A late night was supposed to make us sleep in, but that would never work on Christmas Day morning. But that was the curfew. 7am. No exit from your room until 7am. 7am! A cry of "He's been! He's beeeeen!" was the opening call.

7am then became a flurry of ripping open our stockings on our parents bed (an impressive balancing act as I have three older siblings), sneaking a few chocolate coins in before eating a huge breakfast before the main presents were opened.

The lounge door was closed until after breakfast and a sneak peek before the platters of sausages, bacon, toast, eggs were set down on the dining room tablewith jugs of fresh orange juice and coffee was when I first set my eyes on it. A big boxy thing. With a pitched top. Two sets of tiny, painted terracotta chimneys poking out of the crisp shiny wrapping paper at either end. Next to the tree. Multicoloured bulbs projecting plastic ornament silhouettes onto it. A rustle of fake fir needles as the cat sleepily slunk behind it.

The true beauty of it revealed when the wrapping paper had been stripped away with a childish abandon. A doll's house. All handmade. Soft pink with raised and painted white corner stones. A hand painted plaque which carried the name of the house. The best Christmas present I have ever received. Well worth the 7am wait.

Christmas Damson Gin


70cl good quality gin
500gr damsons
200gr white granulated sugar
5 cloves
1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half
3 cardamom pods
1tsp whole all spice berries


1, Prick each of the damsons a few times (mine got a thorough stabbing with a fork) and place into a large preserving jar. Pour in the sugar and gin.
2, Attach lid and give it a good shake.
3, Pop in the cloves and firmly reattach the lid.
4, Store in a dry and cool place and shake every couple of days for the next week. Put the rest of the whole spices in and repeat the storing and shaking process for another 6-8 weeks.
5, Place a colander over a mixing bowl and line the colander with a clean piece of muslin or a new jay cloth. Pour the contents of the jar out into the colander.
6, Gather the edges up and secure using an elastic band, suspend this over the bowl for at least 5 minutes so you get as much liquid out as possible. Do not squeeze or you'll end up with a cloudy, rather than a clear gin.
7, Decant into a sterilised bottle.

My christmas damson gin isn't quite ready, this is my damson vodka which I made in last year. It's the same method sans the spices. I've also got a damson and vanilla vodka on the go - the same process again but instead of the whole spices, simply pop in a split vanilla pod. You can scrape out the seeds and use them in something else first if you wish.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

We Should Cocoa: Pumpkin Seed Bread and a Sandwich

This month's We Should Cocoa pumpkin challenge is hosted by Nat from The Hungry Hinny. Last month's cocktail round up for We Should Cocoa's 2nd birthday can be found here.

I’m very rarely on my own. That sounds like a strange thing to say but it’s true. There is always someone or something happening. From a ringing phone to a chattering cat winding around my legs as I cook. The incessant ping of phone notifications. From dinner for two to a busy train carriage.

But I was on my own yesterday. A whole day off.

I didnt have anything to do nor did I have to answer to anyone. I could do whatever I like. I could go and eat burgers. I could go for a drive. I didnt have to even wear make up. I could turn my phone off. I could attempt to get the garden ready for winter. I could do a bit more Christmas knitting/crocheting. I could lie on the sofa with a face mask on, eat pitta chips and shout at Jeremy Kyle. The latter being the most likely.

I went food shopping before 8am. Blame my body clock. I ate pitta chips and shouted at day time TV. I wore a face mask whilst making bread. I ignored the knock on the front door (a clandestine peek, with dough covered hands, confirmed it was just a windows salesman). Roasted slices of butternut squash and cooked bacon with a cocoa maple glaze. I ate this sandwich.

Then I watched The Man Who Knew Too Much. Cleaned. Did some laundry. Painted my nails. Danced until I was bruised and aching. Had a bath. It was a good day. But very quiet.

Pumpkin Seed Bread


80gr pumpkin seeds
420gr strong white bread flour
1 sachet of easy blend yeast
1tsp table salt
25gr butter
1tbsp olive oil
250ml-300ml warm water


1, Preheat oven to 200o/c and place the pumpkin seeds in a heat proof bowl. Roast for 8-10 minutes, tossing every 2 minutes until golden brown, hissing and split. Leave these to cool before blending into a fine meal.

2, In a large bowl, sift the flour with yeast, salt and ground pumpkin seeds together and rub in the butter.
3, Briefly stir the olive oil into the water and adding slowly, bring the dough together until it just forms a ball.
4, Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball.
5, Clean and lightly oil the bowl, add in the ball of dough and cover with lightly oiled cling film. Leave in a warm place for around an hour or until doubled in size.
6, When doubled, knock back the dough and give it a couple of quick kneads. Reshape into a ball and place into your load pan. This is my favourite loaf pan.
7, Recover with the oiled cling film, return to the warm place and leave it to rise again for another hour or so until, again, doubled in size.
8, Preheat oven to 230o/c and bake for 25-35minutes until golden brown, and the underside sounds hollow when tapped.
9, Leave to cool before slicing.


Peppery salad leaves

Cocoa Glazed Bacon
1, Cocoa glaze the bacon by mixing 1/4tsp of cocoa powder with 1tsp of maple syrup and spreading over four thin rashers of smoked streaky bacon.
2, Grill under a medium heat until just crisp.

Roasted Butternut Squash
1, Preheat oven to 160o/c and lay two round slices of butternut squash on a baking tray. Brush with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a tiny pinch of salt and pepper.
2, Roast for 20-30minutes or until soft and caramelising around the edges. Leave to cool and carefully cut off the tough skin.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Roasted Banana Cake

Our freezer decided to defrost itself on Sunday.

There's were some casualties (rest in sweet peace Ben & Jerrys) but the salvageable parts had to be cooked. I made pies, pasties, stews and more. The oven was on and off, almost constantly. I decided to take advantage and roast some bananas that were also threatening to turn just over ripe.

Roasting really transforms the rich, caramelly notes of the bananas and surprisingly gave this cake a lighter texture.

My recipe calls for melted butter. Roast your bananas, throw in that butter to the still warm pan, give it a little wiggle to submerge the creamy little chunks in that intense banana syrup and then leave the whole lot to cool. Labour saving. I'm into that. Especially when I have to figure out what to do with another packet of half defrosted meat...


Banana Cake
3 whole, unskinned, bananas
1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half
100gr butter, room temperature and chopped into chunks
1tsp baking powder
260gr self raising flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 Ndali vanilla powder (or 1/2 tsp good vanilla extract)
100gr caster sugar
60gr dark brown soft sugar
2 eggs
2tbsp milk

Glace Icing
150gr icing sugar
1-2tbsp water


1, Preheat your oven to 200 o/c and arrange your bananas in a heatproof bowl. Add in the cinnamon stick and roast for 10-15minutes until brown, bubbling and swimming in their own sweet liquor. Drop the oven temperature down to 170o/c and grease/line a deep 7 inch cake tin.
2, Carefully remove from the oven and slide in the butter. Give it a little wiggle to immerse the chunks in the banana-y syrup and leave to one side so that the butter melts and the bananas are cool enough to handle. Peel and discard the skins along with the cinnamon stick and mash the flesh into the melted butter.
3, Sift together the baking powder, flour, cinnamon and vanilla powder together and whisk in the sugars to keep it airy and light.
4, Beat the eggs and milk into the now cooler banana mix and add into the dry ingredients. If you are using vanilla extract instead of vanilla powder, simply beat this in with the eggs and milk too.
5, Gently fold to combine until you have a smooth batter and pour into your prepared cake tin. Smooth the top and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and an inserted skewer comes out clean.
6, Remove from the tin and cool on a cooling rack.
7, Make the icing by stirring the icing sugar with water until you have a thick paste. Spread over the top of your fully cooled cake and leave to drip down the sides.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Ndali Vanilla Gift Swap: Pear & Vanilla Jam

This is one of the gifts I took along to the Ndali Vanilla Event at Fortnum & Mason

Pears are a really hit and miss fruit for me. Buy them rock hard and you start the waiting game of the fruit bowl. A squeeze one day might be akin to fondling a rock. The same squeeze, another day, might leave you frowning and searching for a tissue.

Blush pears are one of my favourites. Ruby red and shiny. The contrast between that and their pure white flesh reminds me of fairytales. I hunted for blush pears for this recipe, hoping that some tinge of of their colour might seep into the jam, but settled for a mix of sturdy conference and dessert pears.


1.4kg peeled, cored and chopped pears (1.4kg prepared pears. I used a mix of firm dessert and conference pears)
600gr jam sugar (sugar with added pectin)
125ml water
2 Ndali vanilla pods, split and seeds scraped out

Makes around 2 pints jam


1, In a large heavy based saucepan, add all the ingredients (except the vanilla) together and set over a low medium heat. Pop a couple of saucers in the fridge for jam testing later.
2, Heat and stir gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring up to a rolling boil, add in the vanilla seeds and pods, stirring occasionally until the pear are soft.
3, Fish out the vanilla pods and blend 2/3 of the jam until smooth and return to the pan.
4, Test whether the jam is ready by dropping a small amount on a chilled saucer and leaving until cool. The jam should wrinkle slightly when touched. My jam measured a temperature of just over 105o/c on a jam thermometer.
5, Pour into sterilised jars, wipe clean and seal

Next time I make this jam, I will probably only use one Ndali vanilla pod, the quality and strength really surprised me!