My True Love Gave Me a Milka Colada

eightmaids

Today is the 8th day of Christmas.

So what? Yesterday was the 7th and tomorrow will be the 9th. What’s so special about the 8th that you have to write a blog post about it?

Well, you see – I didn’t get the 7th or the 9th. For that matter, I didn’t get the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th …

Okay, okay – we get the picture. Thanks for the maths lesson – but what are you talking about??

Sorry. Didn’t I say? The fantastically wonderful Clemmie of Innocent Drinks challenged me as one of 12 bloggers to create a non-alcoholic mocktail inspired by the Twelve Days of Christmas. I got the 8th day – eight maids a milking, and all that. Karen got the 1st, Marie got the 2nd, Nanya got the 3rd, Helen got the 4th, Dom got the 5th, Kate (not me – another Kate) got the 6th and Jacqueline got the 7th.

And the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th? Or did you think we wouldn’t notice? It’s hardly advanced number theory here, you know.

Err. Not sure. You’ll have to check Innocent’s Twitter updates for those mocktail recipes – each drink is linked to the matching recipe card on the day itself. BUT … as a special Christmas pressie, Innocent are going to compile all of the mocktails in a downloadable recipe book, which will be available once the 12 days are completed.

And you got the 8th day?

Yep.

Soooo … where’s your milkmaid-inspired recipe then?

Ah, yes. I was wondering who’d be the first to spot that …

Ta daaaah!!

milkacolada

Milka Colada (inspired by the 8th Day of Christmas)

Serves 2

250ml Innocent Tropical juice
250ml coconut milk
3 tbsp condensed milk
2 pineapple wedges for garnish
2 maraschino cherries for garnish

Combine the Innocent Tropical juice, coconut milk and condensed milk in a blender. Add a handful of ice and blend until smooth.

Pour into 2 cocktail glasses and serve with a garnish of pineapple wedge and maraschino cherry on the rim of each glass.

recipecard

To Arthur (or a Celebration of Guinness)

I was invited to join the worldwide celebration of a man named Arthur and a beer named Guinness just before St Patrick’s day a few weeks ago.

Even as an intermittent food blogger, I regularly receive emails from PR companies asking me to post their latest press releases or promote the newest kitchen gadgets on my blog. Unfortunately for them, my blog is a very personal space that I keep deliberately free from paid advertising and ‘freebie’ giveaways. I dislike reading the same official spiel repeated across countless food blogs and find boredom setting in very quickly when I find yet another incredulously rave declaration of the generosity of such-and-such a brand in providing the free samples that inevitably form the basis of an ensuing favourable blog review (the ubiquity of posts on a certain pomegranate juice comes to mind …).

Additionally, I often find that the emails I receive from PRs are impersonal and demanding – “Write this text, post this image, post by this deadline!” – as well as poorly matched to my interests in food blogging. I know that it’s all part of wider, on-going relationship misunderstandings between PRs and food bloggers, as each are confronted by the hitherto unknown workings of the other, so I don’t take offense. I just don’t usually find much to inspire me in these PR emails, that’s all.

However, I try to keep an open mind on these things and I’ve never yet deleted a PR email without having read it through first. So when I received an email from Stephanie about an official Guinness cookbook, I was genuinely interested.

I already have several treasured recipes that include Guinness among their list of ingredients. There’s a sticky gingerbread cake, Rose’s beer bread, a beef stew … Would I like to learn more about the cookbook, Guinness ®: An Official Celebration of 250 Remarkable Years? Well, yes actually – I would!

Stephanie forwarded two recipes from the book for me to try at home – Steak and Guinness Burgers and an Iced Chocolate, Guinness and Orange Cake (recipes below) – and explained that the book had been published to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the founding of Arthur Guinness’ brewery in Dublin. I also contacted Paul Hartley, the author of the recipes in the book, and he kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions about their development.

This post was supposed to happen on St Patrick’s day (or at least in the week following March 17th), but it obviously didn’t. I was planning to bake the cake on the same day that I made the burgers to enjoy the recipes as a two-course Guinness extravaganza, but the slight issue of 173 cupcakes got in the way (more about that story another day). I therefore had to wait until Easter Sunday before finally being able to complete my plans.

The verdict?

Everybody loved the cake at dinnertime on Easter Sunday. In fact, it was even a real success with O, who my regular reader [sic] will know generally dislikes anything sweeter than a pint of beer. I have to confess that I sandwiched the cake layers together with a white chocolate buttercream rather than whipped cream, but that was purely because the major cake-eaters in my family dislike cream with a vengeance. I’m sure any cream lovers out there would find it beautiful with lashings of whipped cream, too.

The burgers had a smaller audience than the cake but were also unanimously declared to be tasty. We found that we needed to cook them for longer than stated in the recipe, but I usually cook meat slightly on the longer side when I’m serving it to kids anyway. Or perhaps our burgers were over-generously sized …

Here’s my conversation with Paul Hartley about the book and his recipes in general …

First of all, how many of your recipes are included in this book?

18 different recipes – some sweet, some savoury.

Are the recipes traditionally Irish in any way (apart from the inclusion of Guinness, that is!)?

Yes, Galway Oyster Bisque. Have you ever been to the Galway oyster festival? I haven’t but am planning to go. Sausages with Guinness gravy and colcannon (which is traditional Irish potato cakes). Beef and Guinness pie is a very traditional Irish dish.

Did you use Guinness in any of your cooking before you developed these recipes?

I’ve cooked with Guinness for years – whenever a recipe called for stout I would reach for the Guinness. Having already been a great fan of cooking with Guinness made this book a real treat for me.

What aspects of Guinness did you have in mind when you set out to develop these recipes?

Cooking savoury dishes was always my favourite so this was a chance to develop sweet Guinness creations in our kitchen.

How does Guinness work in the recipes to create something that is more than just a plain old chocolate cake, for example – does it truly make a difference or is it just there as a gimmick for the anniversary?

Certainly no gimmick – these dishes are definitely taste enhanced by adding Guinness. For as long as recipes were written, Guinness has been used to add depth of flavour to rich fruitcakes, and a heartiness to rich meat stews. Guinness added to batter produces a light and crisp result.

Which do you believe is the most successful recipe?

Steak & Guinness burgers with rosemary & garlic butter.

Did you try anything that really didn’t work out at all?

Whenever you are pushing the culinary boundaries there will always be dishes that just don’t work. Luckily these were few.

How many pints of Guinness did you get through while you were working on these recipes for the book?

Lots, just didn’t keep count…

And finally, do you now cook any of these recipes regularly at home?

I am a partner in Hartleys Café Bistro in Somerset and we regularly include one of the Guinness book recipes on our menu. As for cooking at home, yes sometimes but I’m currently writing the Horlicks cookbook so that’s the cut and thrust of most home cooking right now.

Thank you, Paul :-)

Steak & Guinness burgers with rosemary & garlic butter (reprinted from Guinness ®: An Official Celebration of 250 Remarkable Years with permission from the publishers)

Minced beef is marinated overnight in Guinness, then mixed with roasted red onions, griddled and served topped with rosemary and garlic butter to make a memorable burger.

Preparation time 20 minutes, plus marinating, chilling & freezing
Cooking time 10 minutes
Makes 6 burgers

500 g (1 lb) top-quality lean minced beef, ideally from grass-fed Irish beef
150 ml (¼ pint) draught Guinness
1 large red onion, finely diced
olive oil, for drizzling and oiling
3 smoked streaky bacon rashers, finely diced
1 teaspoon creamed horseradish
1 free-range egg, beaten
½ teaspoon paprika
2 heaped tablespoons plain flour
1 rosemary sprig
75 g (3 oz) butter, softened
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
salt and pepper

step 1   Lay the minced beef out in a shallow dish and cover with the Guinness. Using your hands, massage the Guinness into the meat, cover with clingfilm and leave to marinate in the bottom of the refrigerator for at least 12 hours.

step 2   When ready to make the burgers, spread the onion out in a baking dish, sprinkle lightly with salt and drizzle with oil. Scatter the bacon on top. Roast in a preheated oven, 150°C (300°F), Gas Mark 2, for 15 minutes. Leave to cool.

step 3   Lift the beef out of its marinade, gently squeeze out any excess liquid and put the beef in a large bowl. Add the roasted onion and bacon, the horseradish, egg and paprika, season with pepper and sprinkle the flour over. Using your hands, mix together well. Divide the mixture into 6 equal portions and form into round patties about 2.5 cm (1 inch) thick. Carefully lay the patties on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper, cover with a second sheet of greaseproof paper and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours to firm up.

step 4   Meanwhile, pluck the rosemary leaves from the stem and plunge into boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain, then chop as finely as possible. Add to the softened butter and garlic in a small bowl and beat together well. Lay a piece of clingfilm on a flat surface, form the butter into a sausage about 3.5 cm (1½ inches) in diameter and roll up in the clingfilm. Freeze for 20 minutes until set.

step 5   Lightly oil a griddle pan. Heat until just beginning to smoke, add the burgers and cook over a high heat for about 5 minutes on each side, or until well browned on the outside and just pink inside. Serve immediately, each burger topped with a slice of the rosemary and garlic butter.

Iced chocolate, Guinness and orange cake (reprinted from Guinness ®: An Official Celebration of 250 Remarkable Years with permission from the publishers)

This sumptuous cake is perfect for a special occasion. The recipe may seem a little involved, but it’s easy to accomplish if tackled stage by stage.

Preparation time 45 minutes
Cooking time 1 hour
Serves 8

2 large oranges
250 g (8 oz) caster sugar
175 g (6 oz) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
150 g (5 oz) self-raising flour
25 g (1 oz) cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 free-range eggs, beaten
25 g (1 oz) ground almonds
5 tablespoons draught Guinness
150 ml (¼ pint) double cream

Icing
20 g (¾ oz) unsalted butter
50 g (2 oz) caster sugar
3 tablespoons draught Guinness
100 g (3½ oz) plain dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped

step 1   Peel one orange. Finely grate the zest of the other orange and set aside. Using a sharp knife, pare away the pith from both oranges. Cut the oranges into 5 mm (¼ inch) slices. Put them in a small saucepan and just cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add 50 g (2 oz) of the sugar and continue to simmer until all the liquid has boiled away, watching carefully to ensure that the oranges don’t burn. Leave to cool.

step 2   Beat together the butter and the remaining sugar for the cake in a large bowl until very pale and fluffy. Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking powder, then beat into the butter mixture alternately with the eggs. Add the ground almonds, reserved grated orange zest and Guinness and beat for 3–4 minutes until you have a soft dropping consistency.

step 3   Grease and line the base and sides of 2 x 20 cm (8 inch) round cake tins, then divide the cake mixture equally between the tins, smoothing the surface. Bake the cakes in a preheated oven, 190°C (375°F), Gas Mark 5, for 25 minutes until risen and firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the tins for 5 minutes before carefully turning out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

step 4   Whip the cream in a bowl until soft peaks form, then spread over one of the cakes. Arrange the cooled orange pieces over the cream and carefully place the other cake on top.

step 5   To make the icing, put the butter, sugar and Guinness in a small saucepan. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Leave to soften, then beat gently with a wooden spoon. Leave to cool and thicken. While still warm but not too runny, pour the icing over the cake and use the back of a spoon or a palette knife to spread it evenly.

Elderflower Cordial

I remember the very first time I ever tasted elderflower cordial. It was an extremely hot summer and I had traveled the great distance between the North and the South of England (which is a far greater divide psychologically than physically, as anyone from ‘Up North’ will confirm) to be with my boyfriend during the holidays. As the sun beat down on the yellowing grass, we sipped cool, refreshing drinks of elderflower cordial and loitered with our fellow bellringers in the shady ringing chambers of old church towers.

The taste of elderflower cordial today transports me straight back to that time. Only now, the boyfriend is my husband and we have three young children who are already in love with the smell and taste of elderflowers.

T smelling elderflowers

Although elderflowers grow abundantly in the hedgerows of Devon, this is the first year that we have collected the flowers to make our own cordial. It was O’s idea last weekend.

elderflowers

My collection of cookbooks on the kitchen bookshelves yielded two recipes for elderflower cordial. The first was by Sophie Grigson and the second was in The Cook’s Scrapbook (a lovely book with a whole section on foods from the wild). At first sight, Sophie Grigson’s recipe seemed the more appealing as the elderflowers only required steeping overnight, rather than the five days called for in the second recipe. However, Sophie’s recipe also used relatively more sugar, and we wanted to avoid making the cordial too sickly sweet. In the end, we decided to combine the two recipes by using less sugar and straining the mixture after one day (largely through fears that it would become a mildewed pond if left for any longer).

Both recipes included citric acid, something which I do not happen to keep in ready supply. Apparently, this acts as a preservative so that the bottled cordial can be kept for up to a year. It also enhances the charateristic sour zing of the elderflowers.

Although citric acid is found naturally in the juice of the lemons that are also used in the recipes, it is in too small a quantity in lemons to provide a substitute for the amount of citric acid required – it would take about thirteen lemons to produce an equivalent amount of citric acid, something which would also override the essence of elderflower in the cordial.

Unfortunately, the larger chain pharmacy stores in the UK no longer stock citric acid because it can be used to make heroin more soluble. However, it is also used in wine-making so can be found in small quantities in home brewing shops. We tracked down a supply locally at Quay Side Easy Brew on the Historic Quay in Exeter.

If you haven’t yet made elderflower cordial, I can reassure you that it is simply the easiest thing to do. The most important part is to make sure that the flowers you gather are fresh and white and not creamy or brown, which means that you have to get the timing right – generally, the flowers will be at their best for only two weeks in the early summer of each year. Apparently, it’s also best not to pick blossoms from beside a road … a piece of advice that we didn’t follow to the letter, although the narrow Devon lanes we get around here could hardly be classified as major motorways ;-) .

elderflower cordial

Elderflower Cordial

2 kg / 4 lb 6 oz caster sugar
1700 ml / 3 pints boiling water
90 g / 3 oz citric acid
30 large elderflower heads, flowers snipped from stems
3 lemons, sliced

Put the sugar into a large bowl and add the boiling water. Stir until all of the sugar has dissolved, then add the citric acid, elderflowers and lemons (we were concerned about the many bugs that seemed to be living in the flowers, so we put the pot on the oven top and boiled everything up for a minute or so … I haven’t seen anywhere that recommends you do this, but it certainly didn’t impair the flavour of our finished cordial at all).

Cover the bowl and leave to stand at room temperature for 24 hours.

Scald a sieve, jug and muslin cloth with boiling water, then strain the cordial through the muslin (double-thickness) into the jug.

Clean and scald 3 or 4 bottles (we used wine bottles with screw caps). Pour the strained cordial into the bottles. Cork or cap the bottles, then store in the fridge.

To drink, dilute one part cordial with two or three parts water (still or sparkling), tonic, soda or gin.

Hot Cinnamon Chocolate

I never imagined I’d be starting a post in Spring with a mug of hot cinnamon chocolate. Surely this would have been much better for those cold depths of winter and flurries of snow that brought Devon to a standstill only a month ago, wouldn’t it?

snowy T

It was T’s first experience of snow. You can tell he wasn’t very impressed by it all!

But now, the birds are furiously building their nests and perching on the telephone wires to sing out their dawn chorus. M is delighted by the exuberant sprouting of yellow daffodils and crocuses (yellow being her favourite colour) and we have welcomed clear blue skies and a burgeoning warmth as a teasing promise of lazy summer days ahead. Yes, it’s hardly the right moment to be thinking of spiced, steamy chocolate.

Nevertheless, there’s a nip in the air that makes us reluctant to take off our coats too soon and the heavy morning dew soaks our shoes on the walk to school. And while it may be the very beginnings of Spring in our neck of the woods, Autumn is just around the corner for many. Perhaps a warming drink may be just the ticket after all.

However I attempt to justify my sudden irrational craving for hot chocolate, I was pleased today to be able to find a use for some cinnamon sticks that have been slowly making their way towards the very furthest back corner of my cupboard. I bought a big bag of these sticks thinking they would be a saving, only to find that they are so very ‘bark-like’ and woody that I can’t grind them finely enough to use in any cakes, pies or cookies. A huge plank of cinnamon is one thing when subtly adding aroma to a chilli, but quite another when picking splinters of it out from between your teeth as you eat a spiced apple muffin.

cinnamon sticks

Here’s an incredibly simple use for these lumps of wood. Hardly a recipe, you just make your favourite mug of hot chocolate and stir it with a cinnamon stick. Et voilà … (and my trusty book of herbs and spices tells me this is something they like to do with cinnamon sticks in Mexico).

hot cinnamon chocolate

This post is my entry to CLICK: Wood.

Red Sky, Shepherd’s Pie

The theme for this month’s Click food photography event is Red.

And here is my entry:

red

Now, I do know that I’ve a dreadfully long way to go in developing any sort of expertise with a camera. For the moment, at least, I can pretend to blame it on my hardware, an old Olympus point-and-shoot. Push me only a little bit further and I’ll admit that most errors of lighting, composition, focus (see, I’m learning the lingo, if not the techniques!) are actually the fault of the operator … oh, and of the weather ;-) .

I’ll also be the first to confess that, although I am quite capable of doggedly pursuing an obsession, I have a definite tendency to otherwise waffle about and procrastinate when I have no clear goal in mind. My decision to enter this food photography event is therefore largely born out of my desire to find the proverbial carrot (or stick!) that will encourage me to keep improving my snaps.

My decision was also driven however by a longtime fascination with colours. Even as a small child, I adored sorting my crayons into rows ordered by the colour wheel. I could stand for hours, staring deeply into arrangements of coloured towels and embroidery threads in department stores. I still have memories so strong I can almost taste them of the pictures in my first colour board book.

At this point, I should probably be terribly erudite on the subject of wine or provide you with intelligent quotes about the colour, red. Unfortunately, the only sayings that come to mind are one I remember my headmaster teaching us in assembly:

“Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight”

… and my husband’s usual rejoinder whenever I attempt to apply this particular piece of folk wisdom:

“Red sky, shepherd’s pie.”

Which leads me nicely to tonight’s dinner … ;-)

shepherd's pie

Shepherd’s Pie

3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 lb lamb mince (for Shepherd’s Pie) or beef mince (for Cottage Pie)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
150 ml milk
250 ml beef stock
2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
ground black pepper, to taste

6 medium-sized potatoes, peeled
knob of butter
dollop of milk
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the chopped onion, celery and carrot. Fry gently until soft.

Add the mince – break up any lumps with the back of a wooden spoon and fry until browned.

Stir in the Worcestershire sauce and add the milk. Boil until this has reduced to a couple of tablespoons.

Add the stock, herbs and nutmeg. Season to taste. Bring to the boil then simmer for 30 minutes (add a little water if necessary to prevent from sticking).

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes until tender when pierced. Add the butter, milk, nutmeg and pepper. Mash.

Pour the mince mixture into the bottom of an oven-proof bowl. Spoon the mashed potatoes on top. Use a fork to fluff up the top (the spiky ridges will brown in the oven).

Place in the oven (200 degrees C) until bubbling and browned (I put a large baking tray on the lowest shelf to catch anything that bubbles too much).

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