Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Piparkukas - Latvian Pepper Cookies

As a child, Christmas meant piragi and piparkukas. Piparkukas translates from the Latvian as 'pepper cookies'. They don't contain pepper, but are fantastic, lightly spiced biscuits. Brilliantly easy to make as the dough is very difficult to overwork and actually responds well to being a little warm. Great for kids to make with a little supervision.

I am sure that this recipe is probably not entirely authentic, but it works well and turns out something that is very similar to what my Granny makes. The quantities quoted below makes  approximately two dozen small biscuits. Feel free to up the quantities and keep the dough (well wrapped) in the fridge. It will last about a week. One Latvian recipe I found gives you the quantities for seven pounds of dough...so evidently you can't make too much! Bring up to room temperature before rolling out or you'll be cursing it.

100g golden syrup
100g dark brown soft sugar
100g butter (or if you want to be authentic, 50g butter and 50g lard)
2 egg yolks
350g plain flour
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground coriander
1tsp ginger
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cream of tartar
Zest of one lemon

Melt the syrup and butter and stir in the spices. Put this into a large bowl and mix in the remaining ingredients until you have a fairly stiff dough. I actually do this using the dough hook in my Kenwood Chef, but it is relatively easy to bring together by hand, and as I've said, pretty difficult to overwork.

The dough is much easier to work with whilst it is slightly warm, which it will be at this point. Lightly flour your work surface, take a workable amount of dough, and roll it out to about 3mm. Cut out your preferred shapes using a cutter. Smaller shapes always seems to work well, and you don't want anything too fiddly as the dough is so thin.

Lift the shapes on to a baking sheet using your fingers or a palette knife. They don't spread at all when baking so you can put them quite close together. If you want a luxurious finish you can glaze them at this point using egg white whisked with a teaspoon of sugar. I tend not to bother...if you do, be sparing as you don't want to weld them to the tray. Gather together the remaining dough and re roll.

I cook these for about 4 - 5 minutes in an 180 degree centigrade oven, but this is something you will need to experiment with as it will depend on your oven. It can take as little as 3 minutes and they can catch quite easily. You're looking for a biscuit with a good snap once cooled. 

The biscuits keep well (as long as you don't tell anyone you've made them). You can of course ice them if you choose, and you can also punch holes in them before baking and then hang them as Christmas tree decorations.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Green Tomatoes

What with the 'interesting' weather we've had this year, combined with a lazy late start to the year from me in our vegetable garden, I ended up with lots of green tomatoes. My cupboards are already fully stocked with chutneys from my wonderful friends, so I really needed to find something else to do with them. A quick request to the cooking community on Twitter produced a host of suggestions including this one for a green tomato salsa courtesy of Valentine Warner.

There are no quantities to this recipe, it's a case of tasting and tweaking as you go along (my favourite kind). Finely chop the tomatoes and fry in a neutral oil, with minced onion and green chillies. Allow to cool and then stir in chopped coriander and lime juice. Easy as that! Valentine Warner suggests eating it with beef in tacos with cheese. We had it with turkey fajitas (still with cheese) and it worked very well indeed.

My husband also made this without the lime juice and scrambled it into his breakfast eggs - apparently also delicious.

Enjoy,and thank you Valentine Warner (thanks also to Becky from Girl Interrupted Eating for your suggestions of fried green tomatoes and chutney with stilton stuffed burgers)!

P.S. I did end up making a tomato chutney to a recipe from Nigel Slater. If you decide to make this I would suggest halving the vinegar amount otherwise you'll be inhaling vinegar fumes for hours and hours. Delicious otherwise.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Huevos Rancheros with Frijoles de la Olla

All of us food bloggers have our own personal food heroes. One of mine is the legendary Valentine Warner. The way this man talks about food is just amazing. He is always so excited and passionate and never fails to inspire. His newest book 'The Good Table' was eagerly awaited by myself. Like his previous books this volume is beautifully presented with photos that make you want to eat the page. Not only that but it is written in a way that expresses Warner's passion and enthusiasm for food. Each recipe is preceded by a description of the dish which also puts it into context in Warner's food history. Along with helpful and educational ingredient notes this book is a joy to read as well as to cook from, because as usual the method and steps for each recipe are very clear.

I've been eyeing up several recipes for the past few weeks and have finally had time to cook one. Having had my first experience of Huevos Rancheros only a few weeks ago, and having discovered a new liking for eggs, this recipe seemed like a good one to try. I'm also a lover of beans in all forms, so the accompanying Frijoles de la Olla also appealed.

Warner's recipe for the dish consists of corn tortillas layered with a cooked salsa/sauce, fried eggs and stewed black beans. The salsa is nicely pokey, with an acidic hit provided from some lime juice added towards the end of the cooking. Received a raised eyebrow from me when it first hit the back of my throat on tasting for seasoning, but it actually cuts through the richness of the eggs and beans in a very pleasant way without being overpowering. I reckon this would also be good on a decent burger.

The stewed beans couldn't be easier, but they do need some time to bubble down on the stove. Some advice on stirring from Warner ensures you end up with a lovely creamy texture. Any leftovers will warm up nicely. Quite frankly anything that involves a bit of lard in the cooking gets my vote! I'd fry my eggs in the lard too.

I've seen a few recipes for Huevos Rancheros and they all differ slightly. Some without beans, or with chorizo. Perhaps with cheese and/or avocado. I figure it's one of those dishes where everyone has their own version and they are probably all as authentic as each other. Traditionally a breakfast dish, believe me this went down well as a dinner dish.

So here we go, Huevos Rancheros with Frijoles de la Olla:

Corn tortillas with the black beans.




For the recipes you will have to buy the book. It is well worth every penny, even at full price...but if you buy it from that well known internet book store you'll barely notice the dent in your wallet. I'm pretty sure this is one book that you will keep coming back to.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Piragi (or the birthday baking blues).

So, for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to throw an afternoon tea party for 80 people in honour of my birthday. Splendid idea, only as budgets are tight I would have to do the baking myself rather than pay for a caterer...perhaps not so splendid after all. Still...how difficult could it be? I've always said whilst attending various functions that I could do it better for less money. Here was my chance to prove it. Armed with (my now trusty) Kenwood Chef and promise of freezer space (I don't have a freezer) from a friend, what could possibly go wrong?? The perfect time for an attack of the baking blues to strike! You know, when even your most trusted of recipes that never fail you fail you. That's what could go wrong!

It all started with a dodgy batch of priagi....

For those of you who don't know, piragi are a staple of the Latvian buffet table celebration. A lovely dough parcel filled with bacon and onion. The perfect savoury snack for filling a peckish hole, or lining the stomach in advance of some serious partying. Here's a picture of a fairly decent batch from Christmas last year.

I've made hundreds of batches of piragi, more over the past few years than I could care to remember. Before that I was at either Granny's or Vecamama's knee (both my granny's are Latvian, but one is Granny, the other Vecamama) whilst they made them, not to mention the efforts of my father, aunts and various members of the extended Latvian family. You start by making a white plain yeast bread dough (use your favourite recipe - the pizza one from most bread makers works fine too). Whilst this is proving you cook up a bacon and onion mixture. Ratios are down to the individual cook, but I normally do about 750g bacon and two largish onions, which is enough for a 2lb quantity of dough (by that I mean the weight of the flour). You could probably get away with less bacon if you're a proper Latvian (according to my Dad) and are a bit mean with the filling! You chop up the bacon (off cuts are fine, and at least half of it should be smoked) in to smallish chunks and do the same with the onion. Fry off in a pan together with a little pepper and nutmeg until the onions are translucent and the bacon is cooked (not crispy). You can of course do this the day before and keep covered in the fridge.

Once the dough has proved, knock it back, divide it in to manageable chunks (remembering to keep the remainder covered). Then roll or stretch out (stretching is traditional apparently, but takes forever and I've never had a problem with rolling the dough) until about 3mm thick. Use a round pastry cutter, or glass and cut rounds out of the dough. Size is up to you. I've eaten piragi that are bite size and some that are far more substantial. I use a cutter which is about the diameter of a pint glass. Brush the rounds with beaten egg or milk and then drop some filling in to the centre of the round. You want enough to fill it once it has been folded in half, but not so full you can't seal it easily.

I find it easiest to pick them up at this point and fold them in half, squeezing them together from one end of the crescent to the other, squeezing out the air. Put them on a baking tray with a little space between them, brush them with milk or beaten egg and bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180 degrees centigrade until the dough is cooked and the top is golden. Can be eaten warm or at room temperature.

My problems came with trying to stick the little blighters together! For some reason my dough wouldn't seal/stick to itself, although it was having plenty of fun sticking to my fingers! Even the ones that did stick together opened up in the oven. This normally only happens if you've trapped air inside the piragi. When they bake the air inside heats up, expands and forces them open. If this does happen to you, cover them with a tea towel when they come out of the oven. The steam softens up the dough a little and allows them to close again. They won't look perfect but they'll still taste just fine. Normally I wouldn't care too much, but the control freak part of my nature, and the need for my baking to be perfect for my birthday party caused me a little bit of stress! The trials of being a Virgo!

By the way, they freeze just fine. Either defrost before eating, or warm from frozen in the oven (covered in foil). They also microwave pretty well (only takes a few seconds) as the dough is supposed to be soft.

They all got eaten at the party, so maybe not a disaster after all, but for more on the 'Birthday Baking Blues' tune in next time (see what I did there?!).

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Estonian egg white cake.

After making all that lemon curd I had lots of egg whites to use up. I did use some to make the meringue for the lemon meringue pie, but there is only so much meringue a girl can eat (unless you are my sister!). Last time I had this problem a quick Google suggested Angel Food Cake as a possible recipe. This is popular in America and is a fat free cake where the egg whites are whipped and folded with flour and cream of tartar and then baked in a 'tube pan' to help it rise and keep the its shape. As I didn't have any cream of tartar I went looking further and found a recipe for a cake called Mumavalgekook, which is an Estonian cake very similar to Angel Food Cake except that it has melted butter folded in to the mixture which gives it a little bit of extra stability when baked. The recipe for Mumavalgekook  I use is from Nami-Nami, another fantastic food blog. Essentially you whip the egg whites (I did using my Kenwood of course) and a little sugar to make a fairly relaxed meringue, and then you  fold in the rest of the sugar, flour and melted butter along with a little vanilla. You have to do this quickly and gently so as not to lose all the air in the mix, and it feels very different to a normal cake batter. I always get slightly worried at this point because you can hear all the bubbles in the egg whites bursting as you fold the dry ingredients in, and you do lose some volume. However, as long as you fold just enough to incorporate the dry ingredients and the butter in and bung it straight in the oven it seems to work fine.

When baked and cooled it had a very springy, but light texture with a nice sugary crust, a bit like the one on boudoir biscuits (ladies fingers). It keeps very well for a few days, and is even nice toasted with a bit of extra butter on. Or you can sandwich a couple of bits together with leftover lemon curd!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The leaning tower of lemon curd cake

The remaining lemon curd was destined for a lovely lemony cake for my colleague's 50th birthday. As often happens on a Sunday, I did way too much sitting on my bum and not enough doing the things I should be. So 7pm rolls round and I'm thinking I should probably pull my finger out and make the cake. I have some new sandwich pans I wanted to try, so this seemed to be a good opportunity. They're nice high/straight sided, loose bottomed pans from Silverwood. I bought them from the excellent Salamander Cookshop, although I've seen them in lots of other cookery shops.

I used my (already) trusty Kenwood to cream the butter and sugar and mix in the eggs. I then fold in the flour, some ground almonds and lemon zest by hand (so as not to over mix) and within a few minutes the layers were in the oven. The new tins seemed to perform very well...they cooked very evenly (despite the horrible hot spots in my rented oven) and the cakes rose well. I'm told having high sided tins helps the cake retain it's rise as it cooks. The sponges also released from the tins pretty easily (although I had buttered and lined).

Unfortunately a set of high sided tins cannot get round the fact that our oven is quite obviously not level, and there is always a little sloping. I try and get round this by trying to line up a thin side with a corresponding fat side when stacking the sponges, but it doesn't always work terribly well and I end up with a leaning cake.

Not quite so bad from the other side (must remember to have this side facing forward when presenting it tomorrow!).

I wish I as better at the whole icing and decorating thing...I do make nice cakes (even if I do say so myself), but I let myself down with the presentation...I guess I just have to keep trying!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

May we live in peace without weeping (meringue)

So dinner prep was going remarkably well for me...I'd managed not had a single strop or meltdown...the gnocchi had come together well, and had been rolled and cut without sticking to every surface.

I'd managed to blind bake my pastry shell without (too much) shrinkage, and filled it with the previously made lemon curd.

My meringue had whipped to a lovely stiff peak and didn't sink into the curd when placed on top.

The above, pre baked meringue picture was proudly posted on Facebook...pride comes before a fall...about halfway through the baking my meringue started weeping, and weeping badly. Lots of liquid and the possibility of thoroughly soggy pastry. A quick Google turned up the information that it was probably all due to my filling being cold before being topped with the meringue. The filling has to be warm to cook the bottom of the meringue to seal in the moisture. Nothing could be done about that...you live and learn I suppose. I resigned myself to soggy pastry. Other than the weeping, it looked ok when it came out the oven.

The decision was made to serve it anyway, and just fess up to the soggy pastry.

Pudding time came around, and although it was a touch tricky to get out of the dish in one piece the pastry was not as soggy as feared...so not perfect, but perfectly edible and the lemon curd and the meringue themselves were pretty good. I'll know to warm the filling before applying the meringue next time!

This is what I do on a Friday night...

As previously mentioned I am having some friends over for dinner tomorrow. I've decided to keep it simple and make gnocchi with pesto. As I've got a few things to do tomorrow I thought I'd get ahead and prepare the potato for the gnocchi tonight. You need quite dry potato for nice light gnocchi, so I bake them in their skins and then scoop the flesh and put it through a ricer.

I've put the potato on a tray to cool and once the potatoes have steamed off, I'll cover the tray with clingfilm and put it in the fridge ready for tomorrow. Recipe and more pictures to follow.

What to do with the skins that are left? My husband made himself some cheesy, jalapeno potato skins with a little splash of worcester sauce for his late evening 'snack'.

MMMMMM, melty cheese.

You can tell I didn't make them....there would've been a lot more cheese!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Lemon curd on a school night

Lemon Curd being cooled in the Kenwood Chef by erikazj

I'm not sure why I thought it a good idea, but at about 9pm last night I thought I would make the lemon curd I need for a couple of recipes that I'm going to make over the weekend. It's been sometime since I've made lemon curd and I'd forgotten how long you can be stood there, stirring it, waiting for it to thicken. To be honest, I think it probably takes so long because after almost scrambling it once,  I'm a bit of a wimp and cook it over the lowest heat possible. Still, even though it takes some time it is actually very easy and very yummy. I have plans to use it in a lovely lemon layer cake for a work colleague's 50th birthday and in a lemon meringue pie for some friends on Saturday. There will probably be plenty left too.

The picture is of the kenwood stirring the lemon curd back to room temperature for me so I could get it in to the fridge before my bedtime!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

So……what do you write in a first blog post? I suppose a little explanation as to why I’m here committing these words to the ether?

2011 sees me turn 30. To be honest, I am not that bothered, or at least I don’t think I am. However, as the day approaches I am beginning to think about all those things I have and have not achieved so far in my short life (I am not the first and won't be the last). One thing I have tried to do over and over again (and it is a many times broken new year’s resolution) is to start (and more importantly) keep a diary. So this is going to be it. My blog. I hope the thought of someone, somewhere reading my words might encourage me not to be too lax in keeping up the entries.

A little about me is perhaps the next logical step?? I like to think I am a relatively normal (whatever that is), liberal, tolerant and caring human being. I suspect I probably am not, that I have ridiculous prejudices and am actually rather grumpy about most things with most people. I do however like to cook, and I definitely like to eat. I like to feed people. In the last couple of years I’ve lost some weight and this process has most upset my previous eating habits! So these days if I want to eat cake or drink wine, I have to run first so that it doesn’t end up straight on my tummy. Grr. I am not a natural athlete and getting myself out the door can be a challenge, but rather strangely on occasion I have been known to enjoy it and it is most definitely now part of my life.

Ooh, a quick word on my blog title…I purchased myself a Kenwood Chef as an early birthday present to myself, which probably isn’t going to help with trying to keep the weight off, but I love the fact it makes my cake making so easy and my husband has joked that I try and find a way to use it in everything I cook…so there you go…Me, my Kenwood and I