29 June 2015

Rose syrup - oh yes, it's a thing!

My hubby is a great one for syrups that you use in your coffee.  Hazelnut is a favourite, but Caramel has featured and Chocolate is a definite.  However, we'd never indulged in making any.  Well, not if you don't count the Rhubarb Cordial we made last year, which was a very definite hit.   All that changed as soon as I saw this recipe on my friend Choclette's Tin & Thyme blog at http://tinandthyme.uk/2015/06/rose-syrup-and-what-to-do-with-it/.

A Facebook friend who lives in India (hello Jasii! ~waves~) has made rose petal jam successfully in the past, but so far we've not had enough quantity of rose petals to want to denude the beautiful roses for them.

With Choclette's recipe however, you just need one big fat, blowsy fragrant rose in order to make 200ml of the most delicious, Turkish Delight flavoured, warmly pink, headily fragrant quantity of rose syrup.

Scent-imental - one of the roses that donated their petals to the cause
Now I had seen the blog posting the day before I made the syrup and hadn't reacted to it immediately, because our roses are quite new to us and we're still in wonder at how beautiful they are.  However, when we left to go shopping that morning, lo and behold there was a heap of beautiful, perfect red and white striped petals on the ground where our Scent-imental rose had abandoned its biggest bloom to the light rain overnight.  Into a bag they went and with the addition of a small deep red rose (which isn't a fragrant variety, but has the most glorious colour) I was set.

The whole process is so ridiculously and incredibly simple.

Rinse off the petals to remove dead grass and wildlife, dissolve 200g of caster sugar in a pan with 200ml of water over a low heat.  Add the petals, stir occasionally, cook for 30 mins never letting it rise above a nearly-simmer.  Try not to eat great spoonfuls of it as it cooks.  Strain (I strained mine through a tea strainer) into a suitable jar or bottle, cool and refrigerate.

The only thing left to do is to then contemplate all the delicious things you can now do with your little jar of rose coloured, scented and flavoured treasure.

Sweet, syrupy rose scented and flavoured treasure
I put mine over some Greek yoghurt and strawberries while I contemplated.  Oh my goodness but it was good.  In fact, it was beyond good.  It was so good it actually transcends superlatives.


If you have to go and invest in a big blowsy fragrant red or pink rose from the nearest florist, do it.  You SO won't regret it!

For the full recipe and ingredients list go to 

27 June 2015

Saffron & pepper fish stew

Well, I can't bleat on about not being able to source fresh fish any more.  Not with a neighbour like Frank, who goes out sea fishing in his little boat and comes back to present us with Plaice and a huge Cod!  It's just as well we had room in the freezer, because it took me a few days to work out what to do with everything!

(It's also just as well that I have a hubby who will gut fish and lop the head off anyone who needs it.  Fish, that is .. not neighbours.  Although there have been moments .. but I digress).

The Plaice - isn't it gorgeous?
Now I have some small experience with filleting a Plaice (two goes, to be exact), so I was pretty much okay with that.  However, filleting a whopping great Cod?  Never done that before.  Well, I can't say that any more and it was actually surprisingly easy.  Thank you Mr Cod, for making it easier than I thought.

I was quite proud of my filleting efforts, even if my second Cod fillet wouldn't have passed Monica Galetti's critical eye.

Beautiful fat and chunky Cod
I had spent some time contemplating what to do with this fish and, rather than a recipe that demanded fillets to be kept whole, I decided to go with a "chunks of fish" recipe, just in case my filleting left a lot to be desired.  As it was, I could easily have gone for a "full fillet" recipe - but I'll know for next time (if there is one!).

I decided to go with a fish stew, as a very good way of making use of randomly shaped pieces of fish - and anyway, I've always wanted to make a fish stew or a fish curry.  I took hubby's advice in the end, and plumped for the stew.

I put the Plaice on top of the thicker Cod so that it wouldn't cook too quickly

I could see in my mind's eye what I wanted - and I got fairly close to it, I think.  The flavour was great - the fully flavoured ingredients didn't overpower the gentle flavour of the fish and the sauce/broth was an intriguing mix of richness and sweetness, with the wine preventing it from going too far into the sweet.


The colours were beautiful and, with some of hubby's delicious home made bread, it really was something out of the ordinary and truly memorable - for all the right reasons.  I knew it was good, when I heard our son comment "Mum, this is SO good!".  Thumbs up, that's the kind of reaction I like.



Not too many Cook's Tips for you with this one, just :


1.  I used a wok to make it in, as I felt it gave more control than a deep saucepan.

2.  Make sure not to allow the garlic to burn, so as not to make it bitter.

3.  Once the fish has been added, make sure to stir gently so as to keep the fish chunks as large as possible.  You don't want fish mash!


I can't recommend this one highly enough.  Quite apart from being exceptionally good for you, it tastes amazing and is fun to eat with the dippy bread.  I suspect that even people who are a bit leery of fish, would like this one - so long as they like saffron!

SAFFRON & PEPPER FISH STEW    (serves 4)

Ingredients :

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, half chopped finely, half sliced, then quartered
2 large garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 red pepper, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
a pinch of sea salt
a half a tsp of ground black pepper
half of a butternut squash, diced
1 fennel bulb, sliced
1 large vine ripened tomato, diced
a good pinch of saffron threads
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
half a tsp dried parsley
4 strips of orange zest
250ml white wine
250ml water
2 tsp fish stock powder (or sufficient cubes for 500ml liquid)
80g sliced black olives
500g cod fillets, skinned
300g plaice fillets, skinned
lemon quarters for garnish.

Method :

1.  Heat the olive oil in a deep saucepan or large wok.  Once good and hot, add the onion, garlic and both peppers with the sea salt and black pepper.  Stir fry over a moderate heat until the onion is transparent and the peppers have softened.  Don't allow the garlic to burn.

2.  Add the butternut squash, fennel and tomato and continue to stir fry until the fennel appears slightly softened.

3.  Add the saffron, bay, thyme, parsley and orange zest and stir to combine.

4.  Add the wine and allow it to frizzle and reduce to around half, stirring throughout.

5.  Add the water and stock powder/cube(s) and stir to combine.  Bring to a lively simmer and cook with a lid on but stirring occasionally, until the saffron colour is well established and the flavours have combined nicely.  Keep tasting the sauce - you will know when it is ready.  Adjust the amount of black pepper, if it requires it.

6.  Remove the lid, add the black olives and stir through.  Continue to simmer until the sauce has reduced significantly and intensified.  Do not allow it to run dry, however!  Taste for seasoning - particularly salt at this stage.

7.  Place the fish on top of the mixture and replace the lid.  Cook on a gentle heat until the fish is almost done, then break it into large chunks and stir in the liquid that it will have produced, taking care not to break up the fish too much.

8.  If the stew is still rather dry, add a little more hot water - bit by bit - until it reaches a nice saucy consistency.

9.  Serve in warmed bowls with chunky bread for dipping and a lemon quarter to squeeze over.

Printable version


22 June 2015

Beautifully healthy banana, oat & chocolate munchy bars

Get this - the recipe contains no eggs, no flour and no fat other than that in the chocolate!  ~confused look~  I know!  How does it work?  Well, beautifully, is the answer - and before we go any further, I can see that this recipe would be a great candidate for those who are after a gluten-free cake recipe.  Just make sure that the oats you choose are gluten free versions.

When this recipe was drawn to my attention by a Facebook friend, I immediately thought "that has to be done".  I just couldn't see how an eggless, flourless, fatless cake bar could possibly taste like anything more than birdseed - and soggy birdseed at that.

Having made it, though, I can see how it works and what's more it takes just a twinkling to put together and I would anticipate could be adapted in many different and delicious ways.


The original recipe - which I followed to the letter .. oh hang on, no I didn't.  ~koff~  It'd be a cold day in hell when I EVER follow a recipe to the letter *chuckle* .. is here, on the Ambitious Kitchen blog.  Now you might have a more capable computer than me, but that blog slows my computer to a confused crawl, so I thought I'd blog my version of the recipe as soon as possible.

These yummy cake bars are just delicious.  We're using them as a treat to go with a cup of coffee at mid-morning or a cup of tea in the afternoon, but as you can eat them both warm and cold, I can quite easily see them with some ice cream or a spoonful of yoghurt as a dessert.  They really are that adaptable.

The flavour is reminiscent of a banana bread (perhaps not surprisingly, as the older the banana the better), but the texture is more of a sticky Brownie kind of affair.  The chocolate chips are scrummy but I can equally see them being luscious with a diced tart apple, or semi-dried apricots, coconut or even dates!  Mix and match - keep the chocolate chips but only add half and make up the rest with apple dice.  I can see there are going to be many and varied versions in our future.


Apart from how moreishly delicious they are, the BIG bonus is how easy they are to make.  All you need is a food processor, a bowl for mixing, a spoon and some cup measures.  Oh and a cake tin, of course.  Not to mention an oven, but then we're probably getting into the blinking obvious, now.  *wink*

Not that you'll have any left, but if (for some strange reason) you do, then these cake bars can be frozen.  You can freeze with or without their drizzle, just put them into a freezer container or a freezer bag - I separated mine with a layer of greaseproof paper, just to be sure - and in the freezer they go.  If you want to, once defrosted, you can give them a quick 30 seconds in the microwave to have hot versions for dessert.

There are no Cook's Tips for this one, as they're so simple to make!  So grab your ailing and old age pensioner bananas and give them a rewarding second life.  It's the decent thing to do.  (And don't forget to get the coffee or tea ready!).

BANANA, OAT AND CHOCOLATE MUNCHY BARS   (makes 8)

Ingredients :

2.25 cups coarse porridge oats
0.5 tsp baking powder
0.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
0.25 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 very ripe bananas
2 tsp vanilla extract
0.25 cup mango puree (apple sauce is good too)
0.25 cup runny honey
100g dark chocolate chips

For chocolate drizzle:

4-5 squares of dark chocolate.

Method :

1.  Preheat oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas 4.  Oil a 9 x 9 inch square baking tin (I used a silicone version) with a little olive or light vegetable oil.  Add a strip of baking parchment as wide as the base of the tin, that extends higher than the sides, to aid removal of the cake when cooked.

2.  Place oats into a food processor and whizz until the oats resemble a coarse flour.

3.  Pour the oats into a medium bowl and add the baking powder, bicarb., salt and cinnamon.  Mix them through well and set aside.

4.  Break up the bananas into chunks and put them into the food processor.  Add the vanilla, mango puree (or apple sauce) and honey.  Whizz until all the chunks are gone and the mixture is smooth.

5.  Pour the banana mixture into the oaty mixture, add the chocolate chips and stir until just combined.  Don't be tempted to over-stir.

6.  Pour the resulting mixture into your prepared tin and level the surface.

7.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool for 10-15 minutes in the tin, on a wire rack.  Then, using the greaseproof paper, gently remove the cake and set it onto the rack for drizzling.

8.  Prepare the drizzle by placing the chocolate into a bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water.  Leave the chocolate to melt and don't be tempted to over stir, or the chocolate may seize and separate.

9.  Once melted, remove from the pan of water and using a silicone spatula or the back of a large spoon, drizzle the chocolate over the top of bars.

Cut the bars into 8 pieces and enjoy!

Printable version

13 June 2015

Cornish Pasties - this time with suet pastry

For some reason, I had been hankering after making some Cornish Pasties for the longest time.  However, as hubby is always somewhat dubious about my pastry I hadn't broached the thorny subject.  What made the difference in this instance, was the advent of the suet pastry recipe from Jamie Oliver that I used in the making of the Kate & Will's Wedding Pie.  This pastry has been so successful that it has become both my menfolk's casing of choice for all savoury pies and pasties.

So when I suggested home made Cornish Pasties - for "English baking week" on one of my favourite Facebook pages - but made with the gold star of pastry recipes, hubby was won over and agreed.

Ready for the oven
Now I will admit that as regards the other Cornish Pasty recipe on Rhubarb & Ginger, it doesn't differ a very great deal.  However, I thought it was good to make a whole new blog posting about these pasties as opposed to simply making a note on the original recipe.  Clarity, and all that.  *wink*

All baked and ready for their paper bags and adventure!
Aside from the issue of the pastry, the only other significant differences between the two recipes are that this one uses chopped steak (rather than steak mince) and this one also utilises a half a crumbled Oxo cube by way of seasoning, to just up the flavour profile a wee bit.  Oh - and I paired mine with some healthy stir fried vegetables, whereas the menfolk had the ubiquitous man food of hash browns and baked beans with theirs.

The pasties turned out to be so very successful, as the pastry really is tasty and firm enough to easily cope with the filling.  Hubby felt that there still wasn't enough black pepper in them (even with my including it in the pastry!) for his liking and I do have to agree.  I think another half a teaspoonful would have done the trick, so feel free to add extra to the filling if you're a fan of peppery Cornish pasties.

I ate the one leftover pasty the following day for my lunch.  It was just as good, if not better, cold - and with some tasty pickle or relish would not be out of place on the lunch menu of any good Cornish pub.


Now I have a few Cook's Tips for you :

1.  It really is very important that the pastry is handled and worked as little as possible.  The longer it is handled or worked, the tougher it will bake.  As regards the water, I have found that carbonated mineral water adds a little lift, but if you don't have carbonated just ordinary very cold tap water will be sufficient.

2.  I roll the pastry out between two pieces of cling film rather than on a floured surface, which is by far the cleanest way I know of it do it.  Now this has the added benefit, once you've cut out your circle, of providing you with some cling film to close over the top of the pastry and prevent it from drying out while you make the other three!  I found it was worth turning the pastry over before adding the filling, as it was easier to pick it up from the cling film, that way.


3.  If you are using steak, rather than steak mince, you should ensure that the meat has a little bit of fat marbling it, for flavour.  Too lean and your pasties won't have that lovely beefy flavour.

4.  The black pepper is an essential - and more rather than less.


5.  A simple but most effective tip is always to egg wash before you cut the slits or holes in the pastry.  Do it the other way around and the holes will fill with egg which will seal as it cooks - and your pasties will unzip themselves in order to let the steam out.  It is also worth taking care to not let the egg drip off onto the paper lining or it will burn as the pasties cook.

There.  Who'd have thought making pasties could be so complicated?  *chuckle*  It isn't complicated at all really - it's just a matter of avoiding some of the little things that could so easily spoil what would otherwise be a perfect bake.

So now all you need is to find some brown paper bags in which to put your hot pasties, then off you go to somewhere suitably rural in which to eat them, along with lashings of ginger beer and some slabs of fruit cake.  Oh - that would be Dorset pasties then, not Cornish.  *wink*

Either way, in front of the t.v. or on a windswept hillside - enjoy them!

CORNISH PASTIES (suet pastry version)

Ingredients :

For the pastry ...
-  300g all purpose (plain) flour
-  100g vegetable suet
-  100g salted butter
-  pinch of sea salt
-  pinch of fresh ground black pepper
-  120ml very cold water (I use refrigerated and carbonated mineral water).

For the filling ...
-  300g lean beef steak, cut into strips, then diced finely
-  a medium onion, diced
-  1 medium sized potato, peeled and diced finely
-  one quarter (or less) of a swede (rutabaga), peeled and diced finely
-  a good pinch of sea salt
-  1 heaped tsp of freshly ground black pepper (more if you like it!)
-  half a beef Oxo cube, crumbled.

Optional : 1 tsp chopped fresh parsley.

1 egg, for egg wash.

Method :

1.  Firstly make the pastry, by placing all the ingredients but the water into a bowl.  Rub the butter into the flour (doesn't matter if some suet comes along for the ride) until you have small cornflake shapes.

2.  Add the water, mixing through with a knife until the dough begins to come together.  You may need a little more water, or a little less, so add it in a couple of instalments to be on the safe side.  Do not knead the dough at all.  Just pat and push it until it comes together in a ball.

3.  Wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes.

4.  Take the filling ingredients and mix together in a bowl, making sure to crumble the half Oxo cube finely and mix it in well.

5.  Cut the pastry into four even sized pieces and roll each one out into a 4-5 inch circle.

6.  Egg wash around the edge of half of each circle.

7.  Divide the filling evenly between the four pastry circles, placing it on the opposite side to the egg wash.

8.  Fold the free edge gently over the top of the filling, pressing down lightly around the edges to seal.

9.  Crimp the edge in whichever manner you feel most confident, the important thing being that the edges are very well sealed.

10.  Place onto a parchment or non-stick silver foil lined baking tray.

11.  Egg wash the four pasties.

12.  Cut a couple of slits (or make holes) in the top of each pasty.

13.  Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200degC/400degF/Gas 6 for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180degC/350degF/Gas 4 for another 40 minutes.  Remember to turn the baking tray half way through the cooking, to achieve an even bake.

Serve either hot from the oven, or cold the following day with a pickle such as my Rhubarb & Apple Relish.  Gorgeous!

Printable version


19 May 2015

Review : Kenco Millicano "Dark Roast" and coffee flavoured iced biscuits!

I think it is well documented on this blog, how interested all of us here are in coffee.  It all started with the incredible Aeropress filter coffee maker - a real Damascus moment with regard to coffee flavours.  Then, we got interested in Vietnamese coffee and wound up getting a coffee Phin, which makes a truly impressive single cup of excellent filter coffee.

Then, by a stroke of sheer bad luck, I began to react in a bad way to filter coffee.  IBS has no rules - if it decides you've had enough of enjoying something, then there's absolutely nothing you can do about it.  So for the last few months, I've been bereft of coffee.  Now that's not as critical for me as it might have been for many others, but I enjoy the occasional cup of Joe and I missed it.

You can imagine how torn I was then, when I was offered the chance to review Kenco's new Millicano "Dark Roast" instant coffee.

I eventually agreed to the review on the basis that son & heir loves a cup of instant every so often and he would be able to review the beverage side of the coffee for me.  Additionally, I thought I would make some coffee flavoured biscuits, to review the use of Millicano "Dark Roast" as a coffee flavour in baking.

However, as it turned out, the warm heady aroma of the Millicano instant coffee was so tempting, I decided to take a chance and have a small cup of extremely weak coffee.  Well that worked most deliciously and without any payback, so I've been steadily increasing the amount of granules I use in each cupful.  So far, I'm up to an entire teaspoonful without any repercussions.  So far so good - and coffee!  Yay!

All of which is terrific news, because if I can't drink filter coffee - this Millicano is about the next best thing!  The flavour is everything that corny coffee adverts of old wittered on about, being dark, smokey, rich and satisfying (unlike the corny old coffees of old!).  I think everyone in the family has had a try of the Millicano, with thumbs up all round.  This is one product that is going to continue to appear beside our kettle for quite some time to come.

Having sampled the coffee as a drink, I felt sure that it would do really well as a flavouring in baking.  Now we love the flavour of coffee and it is very welcome in all its incarnations - from the coffee flavoured Revel, through Tiramisu, to a Coffee & Walnut cake.

However, one thing that doesn't turn up very often is a coffee flavoured biscuit.  There are the obvious Coffee Kisses, but they are a mutation between a cake and a biscuit, strictly speaking.  No, I was interested in making a biscuity biscuit.  One that snapped when you broke it and went admirably with a cup of coffee.  I also wanted to make the most of the coffee flavour, but the use of buttercream (as with the coffee kisses) was too cakey.  So I decided to make some coffee rippled, coffee iced, biscuits instead.

See the ripples? Looks like marble!
The idea of rippling the coffee flavour through the biscuit dough was relatively easy to bring about, as I mixed a percentage of the liquid coffee (I used 2 teaspoonfuls, dissolved into a tiny amount of warm water) into the dough, then used the remainder to lightly mix it through, which helped to create the heavier ripple marks.

Now don't go looking for the biscuit recipe, because I wasn't terribly impressed with the one I used.  However, although I've never tried it, the one from Ed Kimber at http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/fancy-iced-biscuits seems to address all the problems I encountered with my batch of biscuits.  You just need to substitute the coffee mixture for his lime zest and vanilla bean paste.


Where the icing is concerned, if you fancy coffee flavoured icing, just substitute the lemon juice for liquid coffee, made up to be heavy on the coffee and light on the liquid.


The very great joy with making iced biscuits, is going crazy with the sugar butterflies and edible glitter thereafter.  *wink*

Well, I can safely say that Kenco's Millicano "Dark Roast" thoroughly lived up to its billing when used as a flavouring.  The biscuits were deliciously nutty from the baking and the coffee flavour was right up there in the flavour spectrum.  The ripples were fun to create and very effective to eat, as the coffee flavour ebbed and flowed across your tongue most satisfactorily.

Because this coffee is so robustly flavoured, it is a fantastic one to use for icing.  Icing sugar can have the effect of wiping out a weaker flavour (which is why it, for example, works so well with lemon) - but the Millicano stood up to the flood of sweetness, holding its own most bravely and refusing to be bowed.

I wanted coffee flavoured biscuits - and that's certainly what I got.  Thumbs up, Kenco Millicano "Dark Roast"!

I have not been paid for this review, but simply received a sample of coffee to try, for which thanks go out to Katie of Golin.







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