Saturday, 31 August 2013

The Best Chocolate Fudge Cake!

Surely, when baking a cake, it's mandatory to lick the bowl clean once you're finished? It's the law, isn't it? I remember this being a great treat when I was a child. My mum always baked us delicious cakes for our birthdays, and always made an effort to be as creative as possible, fashioning us caterpillars, Noah's Arks, dogs, and guitars out of sponge and icing. And when her creation was finished, we would always be invited to take a spoon and scrape the remaining cake mix and icing out of the bowls to be enjoyed there and then. Sometimes, I actually think that the raw cake mix is even better than the cake itself. (But it wouldn't look as impressive to be presented with, and I suppose the candles wouldn't really stay in place so well - could be a bit dangerous.)

I always took these cakes for granted (and I think I once even complained that I hadn't got the cake I wanted - what a brat!) - but now I see how lucky we were to always have a delicious, homemade cake to celebrate our special days. One lesson learned though, was never to bake a cake at the same time as you are decorating the kitchen....let's just say that Dulux and Crown don't make cake flavourings for a very good reason. We learned this the year that my mum baked a caterpillar cake for one of my sisters. To this day, my mum can't bring herself to eat cake that's shaped like a caterpillar (and she has as sweet a tooth as me, so that's saying something!).

So, all these years, and all these cakes.... Yesterday was my mum's birthday, and when one of my sisters said she was going to buy a cake to present to my mum at her birthday meal, I immediately said I'd bake one instead. After all, she who bakes all of our cakes surely deserves a home-baked caked too? Now, I do not consider myself a baker, but I have some recipes that will always turn out a good cake. This chocolate fudge cake is one of those.

I have never tweaked this recipe, other than to use vegetable oil in place of sunflower oil, which works just as well (oh, and I may have slightly increased the amount of cocoa in the icing this time!), so I will just direct to you to the BBC Good Food site, where I got this recipe originally. The only other thing I would say is that ovens can vary, so in my oven, I find 20 minutes is enough (the recipe says 25 - 30), so I would suggest checking it after 20 to see how it's doing. You wouldn't want to burn it! The best way to check is with a metal skewer. Insert it into the centre of the cake - if it comes out clean, the cake is done. If there is still some cake mix stuck to it, pop the cake back in the oven.

This cake has always been a huge hit with whomever I've baked it for - my boyfriend, my family, workmates...and it always, always turns out right. I also have no problem making this without an electric mixer. I use an electric whisk, as per the instructions, and other than that, just a mixing bowl and wooden spoon does the job fine*.

This recipe gives you a really light, moist, delicious cake, that is equally delicious cold or, if you want the full chocolate fudge experience, heated up in the microwave and served with a little cream poured over. Actually, I lied when I said I'd never really tweaked this recipe - I did make it once with chocolate ganache instead of butter icing, for a friend who finds the buttercream too sweet. That works well too, if you prefer the richer taste of ganache. But if you are going to heat it up, I'd recommend sticking with the icing as per the recipe, as it would just be too easy to slightly burn the ganache on reheating.

If you are looking for an easy, delicious cake to wow your friends with, you just can't go wrong with this one. (And yes, I scraped the bowl clean after making is the law, after all!)

* I should mention that you will also need other basic equipment, like a sieve, wooden spoon, cooling rack, etc.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

What to Expect from Katie in the (Veggie) Kitchen...

Tonight was a leftovers night - I reheated some of my aubergine risotto from last week and it was still pretty good, I have to say (though nothing can beat fresh from the pan). I went for a swim after work, so didn't feel like cooking by the time I got home at 7.45 - and I'm always starving after a swim! - so leftovers it was.

But I really wanted to blog about something, even though I wasn't cooking, so I thought I'd use this as an opportunity to tell you about some of my ideas for this blog. What you, my lovely readers, can expect to see me blogging about over the coming days, weeks, months, and years.

I have had my first request already, as one reader asked me about vegetarian jelly (Jell-O to my American friends!) - does it exist, where can it be found, and is it any good? So that is one future post you can expect. I have done some research, but need to go out and buy and then prepare and actually taste the various offerings. So if you're looking for the best animal-free jelly, I will have a post for you just around the corner!

I would also like to give some ideas of quick, tasty lunches that are easy to pack up and take to work. I know that I am always looking for more interesting lunches but they also need to be quick to prepare. I often get questions from my workmates about what I'm having for lunch, as it looks so good, so I figure my ideas might be of interest to you too!

A challenge I have been set by a couple of friends is really easy vegetarian recipes for people with a fear of the kitchen! I remember Carrie Bradshaw once commenting that she uses her oven to store sweaters - if you can relate to that, then I hope to give you some basic recipes that you can follow and enjoy, and will cause you to find a new home for those sweaters!

I hope to also write some product reviews. Much as I love cooking from scratch, I know not everyone loves it as much as I do, and I do think that products such as those in the Quorn range have their place in a vegetarian diet. I sometimes use Quorn chicken pieces in my stir fries, and funnily enough, my meat-eating boyfriend really loves Quorn mince, so we use that too. So I'm hoping that I can review any new meat alternative products that come to market, to let you know what I think of them.

And I love going out for meals, so some restaurant-related chat may find its way onto my blog.

If you have an idea of what you'd like to see me write about, I'd love for you to comment below to let me know. I want to write a blog that is enjoyable to read but also useful, and the best way for me to know I'm doing that, is if you comment and let me know what you want. Simple as that! Thanks in advance :-)

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Sunday Pasta Salad

I woke up today with the sudden desire to make a nice pasta salad - preferably in bulk so I could take it into work for lunch a few days this week. The only problem being that Sunday is our usual food shopping day, so the cupboards are usually pretty bare until we can be bothered to head to the shops. I thought I'd see what I had kicking about in the kitchen anyway, and was pleasantly surprised! So, taking my inspiration from this Jamie Oliver recipe, I decided to put my ingredients together and see if I could create a delicious pasta salad. I was really happy with the result, so thought I would share it with you. I am also getting better at thinking like a blogger, as I managed to take photos not only of the finished product, nor of the finished product and method, but actually of the raw ingredients, the method AND the finished product. Impressive or what? Yes, I thought so too.

This pasta salad is great as it feels so fresh (thanks in part, I think, to using rice vinegar - a tip from Jules at The Stone Soup [another great blog I recommend], who wrote an interesting post on different types of vinegar). Before reading that post, I just blindly followed what the recipe said in terms of what type of vinegar to use - too scared to try a substitution for fear it might ruin the dish. But as usual, Jules gives an honest, no-nonsense introduction to this subject that helped me (and will help you) to be more creative in my use of different vinegars. (Jules's guidance reassures me that never again will I spend an hour and a half traipsing around what feels like every food shop in the west end of Glasgow searching for the cider vinegar that a particular recipe calls for. Not that I have ever done such a thing, of course....!)

It's also not too oily (I use much less oil than Jamie suggests....but then again, I do find that he has a bit of an obsession with the good ol' olive oil, and it's usually safe to use about half of what he suggests). I used artichokes on a whim as I had them in the fridge, but as they were stored in a jar of oil, I drained them on kitchen roll before adding them to the salad. Again, this helps to keep the whole thing nice and light and summery (perhaps the lovely weather today was what inspired me to try this out, come to think of it).

So without further ado, I give you my pasta salad.

150g tricolore fusilli
300g cherry tomatoes
1/4 cucumber
a good handful of stoned black olives
a good handful of artichoke pieces
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp fresh chives
a handful of fresh basil
5 tsp olive oil
2 tsp rice vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste


Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the pasta and garlic cloves (unpeeled). Whilst the pasta is cooking, chop the cucumber, tomatoes, artichokes and olives. I like to chop them all pretty small, as you can see from the picture below, but you can make them as chunky as you like, if you prefer a bit more bite to your salad. Also, finely chop your herbs.

Once the pasta has cooked, drain it and remove the garlic cloves. Put the pasta in a serving bowl. (I like to pat it dry with a bit of kitchen roll, too, to avoid the salad being too watery, and also because it helps the dressing to 'cling' better to the pasta.) Squeeze the garlic out of its skin and mash them up. If you have a mortar and pestle, now is the time to use them, but if, like me, you don't, a small bowl or ramekin and teaspoon/fork works just fine. Add the oil and vinegar, then salt and pepper, and mix well. Mix the dressing into the salad and you're ready to serve it up!

I also, feeling experimental, tried some of the salad with a little mayonnaise mixed in, and it was really good too. If you want a slightly richer tasting salad, I'd recommend the mayo route. Otherwise, just the oil and vinegar dressing is really all you need - completely delicious!

I should point out that the above quantities make enough for two portions (if you're eating it as a light lunch), so if you're wanting to make enough for a few days or a few people, I'd suggest doubling the above. (The only reason I made so little was due to the whole 'cupboards being bare' situation I mentioned earlier!)

Let me know what you think if you make this!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

More Ottolenghi - Marinated Buffalo Mozzarella and Tomato

Yesterday I wrote a bit about how fussy Yotam Ottolenghi can seem when writing about his recipes in his book, Plenty. So fussy that it would almost put me off trying some of his recipes, actually. But I decided to give myself a challenge and see if I could do his Marinated Buffalo Mozzarella and Tomato any justice using bog-standard, supermarket-bought ingredients. After all, I figure that this is what most people will end up using. I actually went one step further and bought the cheapest mozzarella I could find, just to be bad! (Um, ok, and to save money...) So I tried this recipe using Tesco Everyday Value mozzarella and Tesco 'juicy cherry tomatoes' (that's what the box said they were!). All other ingredients were for the marinade, and I had all of these on hand, with two exceptions. I had no lemon to get lemon zest, so instead I opted for a splash of lemon juice from a bottle (shock! Horror!), and I didn't have any fresh oregano, so I used dried instead (remember to always reduce the quantity if you're using dried herbs as an alternative to fresh, as the flavours are intensified).

Now, I have to give top marks to Mr Ottolenghi on the simplicity of this recipe. It really is extremely easy to prepare and takes hardly any time (if you don't count the 15-30 minutes' time that the mozzarella is to sit in the marinade - which I don't). I'll give you a quick run-down of how I made this, so you can get an idea of just how easy-peasy it really is.

My makeshift mortar and pestle!
The first step is to dry-fry 1/2 a teaspoon of fennel seeds until they pop - at this point, transfer to a mortar and pestle and crush the seeds. I don't have a mortar and pestle (hint hint, if anyone wants to buy me a present!), so I just crushed the seeds with a teaspoon in a ramekin (but any small bowl could be used), and this worked very well. Tip into a small bowl (if you have crushed the seeds in a bowl rather than a mortar and pestle, then obviously just keep them in that bowl, and congratulate yourself on saving on a bit of washing up) and add the following ingredients: grated zest of one lemon (or a splash of lemon juice), 15 finely chopped basil leaves, 2 teaspoons of chopped oregano (or 1 teaspoon of dried), 2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil, 2 teaspoons of rapeseed oil, 1 garlic clove (crushed), 1/2 a teaspoon of sea salt, and black pepper. This is your marinade.

The marinade
Ottolenghi suggests ripping the mozzarella (250g) into chunks and then smearing these with your marinade. But to me, it makes a lot more sense to just add the mozzarella chunks straight into the bowl and mix it up a bit to ensure all the mozzarella is covered by the marinade. That way, no marinade is wasted and also it's a less messy process. Win-win!

You then let the mozzarella sit in the marinade for 15 to 30 minutes, then chop your tomatoes into wedges and serve together with the mozzarella. The recipe suggests drizzling with extra olive oil, but I didn't do this, partly because I was so excited to try out the salad that I forgot (oops) and partly because I don't really feel it needs any extra oil.

Mozzarella in the marinade
So what was the verdict? I really enjoyed this. I had originally intended to taste some tonight so I could blog about it and take the rest into work for my lunch tomorrow, but it was so good that I gobbled it all up!  (I hasten to add at this point that I had only made a half portion, so although I am greedy, I'm not as greedy as it may have just sounded.) The fennel really shines through and gives the dish an unusual taste, and it looks beautiful, with all the ripped up basil (and I'm sure if you had fresh oregano it would only look even better).

The finished product - delicious!
But what about the 'poor' quality of my ingredients, I hear you cry! Well, I have to say, that with the mozzarella the star of this dish, I might buy slightly better quality cheese next time. But it would all depend on the occasion. If it were just to be a lunchbox filler, I'm quite happy with the cheap mozzarella - it tasted nice enough to me. But if I were serving it to guests, I'd probably prefer to know I was serving slightly higher quality fare. And the tomatoes? Actually, I really enjoyed my straight-from-the-fridge tomatoes in this salad! Yes, I'm sure it would be absolutely delicious with a lovingly homegrown fruit instead, but honestly, I wouldn't waste any time or money searching for the perfect tomato for this recipe. Go with a type of tomato that you enjoy, and you'll be fine. I am not a huge fan of regular-sized tomatoes, so tend to substitute the sweeter cherry tomatoes in a lot of dishes that call for ordinary tomatoes. So doing the same here worked just fine.

Marinated mozzarella and tomato 
I am hoping that perhaps I can get some tomatoes growing in my wee patch of garden next year, so perhaps at that point I will try this recipe with home-grown tomatoes instead and see what I think, but I can't imagine it making that much of a difference. What do you think? How important is the quality of ingredients to you? And does anyone grow tomatoes (or anything else that could grow well in a pot in the harsh Scottish climate) that could give me some tips? (I'm not the most green-fingered, but I am enthusiastic and hope I will learn quickly!)

Yotam Ottolenghi's Lemon and Aubergine Risotto

So, tonight I decided to try a new recipe from a book that was given to me as a birthday present: Lemon and Aubergine Risotto from Yotam Ottolenghi's book, Plenty. This is a beautiful book, which I love looking through (I sometimes just read cook books for fun, as nice bedtime reading...!), but the one criticism I would make is that sometimes the recipes seem to call for quite obscure ingredients, or time-consuming techniques. Ottolenghi does also seem extremely bothered by the quality of his ingredients.

Now, I'm not saying this is a bad thing - of course it is great to be cook with the freshest, best ingredients you can find, or afford, but sometimes he just seems to take things to extremes. For example, in the introduction to one recipe, he states that he "would ditch the idea at once if [he] couldn't get a ripe, summery tomato, juicy and sweetly intense, a tomato that has never seen a fridge or a chilled truck, only soil and sun". I don't know about you, but that kind of puts me off even trying to make that recipe. Would I really have the time and energy (and possibly money!) to go off on this massive search for the perfect tomato before I could even contemplate making what is essentially a tomato and mozzarella salad? I don't think I would. I have decided to give the recipe a go at some point anyway, with 'average' ingredients and see what I think.

But tonight was all about one of the recipes that seems at first glance a little too time-consuming, but after thinking about how delicious it would probably be, I decided to give it a go. It was also recommended by the friend who gave me the book, and I always love a recommendation!

The time-consuming part of this was the burning (yes, you read that correctly - burning!) of one of the aubergines. This can be done on the flame of a gas hob in about 15 minutes, apparently, so this makes the recipe immediately more appealing if you have a gas hob. But, as you may have guessed, I do not have a gas hob. So method number two it was, then. Method number two involves grilling the whole aubergine under the grill, turning occasionally, for about an hour. See, I told you it was time-consuming! But I have to say, the taste of the flesh that you scoop out of this burnt aubergine is just amazing, and completely worth the effort. My tip for this part of the process, if you have an electric hob, is to do this step in advance - I actually burned my aubergine on Monday afternoon as I had the day off work and thought I'd take advantage of some extra kitchen time to prep! I then stored the pre-burnt auberine in the fridge for a couple of days, only scooping out the flesh tonight when I came to that step in the recipe. This really made a difference to the amount of effort I felt the whole dish took - it was great having that first, annoying step right out of the way already! This actually links in to an idea I saw another - much more established!! - vegetarian blogger (Gemsmaquillage) talking about on YouTube, about prepping all your food at the beginning of the week. I want to talk more about this in another post, but in the meantime, head over to Gemma's blog when you've finished reading this, as it has lots of great ideas!

The rest of the recipe involved cooking a basic risotto (one onion, two cloves of garlic, 200g arborio rice, 120ml white wine [ok, I never measure wine, so there may have been more in my risotto!] and 750ml vegetable stock). Again, Ottolenghi likes to suggest that his readers make their own stock from scratch. Perhaps I am lazy, but when I have been at work all day and just want to make a nice meal for myself, the last thing I feel like doing is making the stock from scratch when I have some stock cubes in the cupboard. So I reached for the trusty stock cubes tonight, I have to admit. Right at the end, two tablespoons of lemon juice, the zest of half a lemon, butter, the aubergine flesh, parmesan and a little salt are added to the risotto. This is left covered for five minutes, and then to serve, a little parmesan, the other half of the lemon zest, some basil leaves, and some fried aubergine cubes are sprinkled on top.

I love risotto, and I love aubergine - if it is properly cooked - but I would never have thought to combine the two. I thought this was absolutely delicious, and looked pretty too. My boyfriend wasn't too impressed when he tasted a bit of the aubergine - but then, in fairness, he has always hated aubergine! This was my last-ditch attempt at converting him. I guess I failed there :-(

Another failure tonight was my camera and my phone camera - unfortunately, my phone is playing up a bit at the moment, so although it seemed that I was able to take a few nice pictures of the risotto, when I actually went back to the gallery, only one had saved. I then got out my trusty camera....but the batteries were dead and I couldn't find any new ones. So, sadly, the picture above is all I have to show for my efforts (well, that plus the leftovers in the fridge). 

I would definitely recommend that you check out Plenty - although I do think some of the recipes seem a little more complicated or time-consuming than I would normally choose, they are great for when you are in the mood to be a little bit more creative in the kitchen. Plus, you can always adapt and incorporate time-saving ideas (like using a stock cube instead of making stock, that kind of thing) to cut down on the time/effort required. And like I said before, it really is a beautiful book to flick through and be inspired by.

I would be really interested to hear what anyone else thinks of Yotam Ottolengi's books/recipes - do you have any more recommendations for me? Or any other good time-saving tips in the kitchen?

Thank you for reading my first ever blog post, and I hope you come back soon for more from my veggie kitchen!