Monday, 23 August 2010

Chai and pistachio cupcakes

I think I have previously mentioned my poor record with baked goods. Cakes are the one exception to this, but I recently discovered that I can add biscuits to the list of things that I find quite stressful to make and that generally come out a bit meh. I was trying out this pistachio biscuit recipe by genius baker and former Masterchef finalist Hannah Miles. She describes it as 'quick and easy' (which I'm sure it was for her), whereas I ended up red in the face, with half the kitchen covered in flour and a sink full of washing up. Luckily the final product was quite nice (if a little too sweet for my liking), but I'm not sure it was worth all the stress. But as I still had lots of nuts leftover I thought I'd try and make something else with them.
For me pistachios are always associated with Indian flavours, although of course they appear in a variety of cuisines. But with that in mind, what could be more more Indian than a nice cup of masala chai? Well mine comes out of a tub, rather than the traditional saucepan method, but that makes it the perfect ingredient for baking with. The only downside was that I forgot that chai powder (or at least the Drink Me brand) already contains quite a bit of sugar, so I probably should have reduced the amount in the cake mix. Or perhaps added a plain cream cheese icing.

Recipe (enough for around a dozen)

110g butter
110g caster sugar (this is the maximum I would use if you have a sweet tooth, otherwise reduce to around 90g)
110g self-raising flour
0.5 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1 heaped tblsp chai powder (e.g. Drink me brand)
1 heaped tblsp finely chopped pistachio nuts

Cream together the butter and sugar, then add in the dry ingredients and eggs and beat well to combine. Or else just put everything in a food mixer and leave it to do its work for a few minutes. Spoon into cases in a tray and bake in the middle of an oven for around 20minutes at gas mark 4.
Cardamon is the strongest flavour in the chai powder, but you could easily just use this as a base and add other ground spices of your choice. The little green flecks of pistachio add a mild nutty taste, and the whole thing makes for a nice cake that doesn't actually need any further adornment.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Aubergine raita

So I thought I'd blog about one of things that I made for my MasterChef meal. This aubergine raita is a really nice variation on the traditional cucumber number. It requires a little more effort as you need to cook the aubergine first, but it's definitely worth it. There's not much of a recipe as this is something you'll need to judge by eye and taste, but here are the basic ingredients which will make enough as a side dish for about four people:

1 medium aubergine
Around 250g (half a large pot) Greek yoghurt
Around 2.5tsp ground cumin
Around 1tsp sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Enough vegetable oil to fry aubergine

Firstly slice the aubergine quite thinly. Put a couple of tablespoons of oil in a (non-stick, ideally) frying pan, heat until pretty hot and then drop in some of the aubergine slices. Unless you have a mahoosive pan you will probably need to cook these in at least a couple of batches. The aubergine will suck up most of the oil before it's cooked through properly, but rather than adding more oil, turn the heat down a little, add a few splashes of water and put a lid over the pan. This allows them to effectively steam and finish cooking. Once you're sure that the slices are all thoroughly cooked through, drain on kitchen roll (if required), and put to one side to cool completely.
In the meantime, roast the ground cumin in a dry pan. I would really recommend grinding your own cumin seeds too, as it makes a big difference to the flavour. Roast over a lowish heat for a few minutes, and you should be able to tell when it's done by the nice smell of....well, roast cumin.
Beat the yoghurt a bit with a fork to lighten it, and then add the cooled aubergine, cumin, sugar, and salt and pepper. You could also use plain natural yoghurt instead, or a mix of that and the Greek version. Mix well and ideally leave to sit for a while for the flavours to mingle.
This raita is perfect with other Indian dishes. I eat it with dry, spicy fish but I imagine it would work well with meat too if you are so inclined.
And finally props to my mother for the recipe, and whichever 'auntie' it was that originally passed it on to her.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Piedmont stuffed peppers

I'm pretty neutral about Delia Smith, but it has to be said that she has come up trumps with various recipes that have featured on this blog such as the rhubarb crumble ice cream and profiteroles. There was a sort of retrospective of her 'work' on television a while ago, and it reminded me of a recipe from her Summer Collection book that I always meant to try but never got round to making. As Delia herself says this is not an original recipe but one that was popularised by Elizabeth David. Delia's recipe uses regular bell peppers but I'd really recommend using those sweet, pointy peppers instead. Having tried it with both, the regular peppers were a bit watery and lacking in flavour compared to their pointy brethren.
So to make these Piedmont peppers, just cut them in half length-ways and scoop out any seeds or white pith. Place on a baking tray and put a couple of chopped anchovy fillets, a few slices of garlic, and some halved cherry tomatoes inside each pepper. Season with a little pepper, and drizzle a couple of teaspoons of olive oil (I use the oil the anchovies came in) over each piece of pepper.
Bake in a moderate oven (gas mark 5) for around 45mins or until the peppers are soft and collapsing. These peppers are so quick to prepare they make a great side dish, and could probably be made entirely vegetarian with the substitution of the anchovy with a suitable salty cheese. I served these with some roasted sweet potato and grilled tuna, and it made a great summer dinner. Ideally eaten while pretending to be a Piedmontese peasant.