Dinner with Rachel


I was having a dinner party last weekend for some good friends of mine, so I thought I’d push the boat out. Chocolate fondants are still ‘on trend’ in the  foodie world – and quite rightly so. They are the most impressive dessert if done correctly and look a lot harder to make than they actually are. Plus, they taste bloody fantastic.

I was watching Rachel Khoo’s show ‘The Little Paris Kitchen’ and saw her make these. I knew right away that it was going to be on my dinner table a few days later – dinner party or no dinner party!

Salted Caramel Chocolate Fondants

Salted Caramel Chocolate Fondants

Thankfully, I found the recipe on Elspeth’s seasonal kitchen.

I followed the well written recipe to the letter and I think they turned out pretty well. The recipe is supposed to make 8, but I found that it made 6 (4 for the dinner party and the remaining two were eaten the next day!)

Ingredients

Makes 8 chocolate fondants

  • 170g dark chocolate, broken into chunks
  • 170g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 170g light brown sugar
  • 85g plain flour
  • 6 eggs, beaten

For the ramekins

  • 30g butter
  • 30g cocoa powder
For the salted caramel filling
  • 150g white caster sugar
  • 150ml double cream
  • 1 tsp coarse sea salt

To make the caramel, put the sugar in a heavy bottom pan and put over a medium heat. Swirl the pan around as the sugar begins to colour, but do not stir! When the caramel has turned a deep brown, add the cream and salt. Watch out here, as it will bubble up in the pan, so don’t lean over it. Use a sugar thermometer and wait until the temperature is 108c. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and cool. (If you don’t have sugar thermometer, the caramel should coat the back of a spoon).

Salted Caramel

Salted Caramel

Butter the ramekins and dust liberally with cocoa powder.  Melt the chocolate and butter in a bain marie (a bowl over simmering water). When just melted, remove from the heat to cool slightly.

Chocolate and butter

Chocolate and butter

When the chocolate/butter mix has cooled slightly, mix in the eggs. Meanwhile, put the flour and sugar in a seperate bowl. Add the chocolate mix to the flour/sugar  and mix.

Chocolate fondant mix

Chocolate fondant mix

Fill the ramekins so they are three quarters full and put in the fridge for at least an hour. Like me, f you’re cooking these for a dinner party, you can prepare these in the morning and then bring them out of the fridge to prepare just before serving.

Put your salted caramel into a piping bag. (Or, as Elspeth says, use a food bag snipped at the corner – genius!). Pipe a good amount of the caramel directly into the puddings, inserting the piping bag into the puddings, but not so far that you touch the bottom of the ramekin.

Salted Caramel piped in and ready to go.

Salted Caramel piped in and ready to go.

Put in the oven at 180c for 15-18 minutes. I use an oven thermometer, because my oven lies to me. As temperature and timing is so important for this recipe, I would highly recommend purchasing one and using it for this recipe.

You’ll know they’re ready to come out when the edges are firm, but the top is still very slightly wobbly. Slide a knife around the edges and turn out onto a plate.

If done right, it should look like this on the outside:

Before the reveal...

Before the reveal…

And like this on the inside.

Awwww yeah.

Awwww yeah.

This is my pudding heaven.

This post is going to be about the dinner we had on 4th July. THAT’S how far behind I am with my posts. But I wasn’t going to skip on this post, because these were all good eats and my half american friend Rach, who prepared most of it, deserves a shout out! Also, I want to share with you a recipe for american ‘biscuits’ which was one of my contributions to the dinner.

I’d never had them before and assumed that they were going to be like savoury scones, which as it turns out, is exactly what they are!

American biscuits

I’m not sure an american would think these are the most authentic biscuits ever – I rolled them out too thinly and I used wholemeal flour instead of plain – but they were beautifully soft in the middle and went very well dipped in some chicken gravy, which I made specially for them.

Recipe here! 

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the board (if you can get White Lily flour, your biscuits will be even better)

1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1 tablespoon baking powder (use one without aluminum)

1 teaspoon kosher salt or 1 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, very cold

1 cup buttermilk (approx)

Directions: 1 Preheat your oven to 450°F.

2 Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, or in the bowl of a food processor.

3 Cut the butter into chunks and cut into the flour until it resembles course meal.

4 If using a food processor, just pulse a few times until this consistency is achieved.

5 Add the buttermilk and mix JUST until combined.

6 If it appears on the dry side, add a bit more buttermilk. It should be very wet.

7 Turn the dough out onto a floured board.

8 Gently, gently PAT (do NOT roll with a rolling pin) the dough out until it’s about 1/2″ thick. Fold the dough about 5 times, gently press the dough down to a 1 inch thick.

9 Use a round cutter to cut into rounds.

10 You can gently knead the scraps together and make a few more, but they will not be anywhere near as good as the first ones.

11 Place the biscuits on a cookie sheet- if you like soft sides, put them touching each other.

12 If you like”crusty” sides, put them about 1 inch apart- these will not rise as high as the biscuits put close together.

13 Bake for about 10-12 minutes- the biscuits will be a beautiful light golden brown on top and bottom.

14 Do not overbake.

15 Note: The key to real biscuits is not in the ingredients, but in the handling of the dough.

16 The dough must be handled as little as possible or you will have tough biscuits.

17 I have found that a food processor produces superior biscuits, because the ingredients stay colder and there’s less chance of overmixing.

18 You also must pat the dough out with your hands, lightly.

19 Rolling with a rolling pin is a guaranteed way to overstimulate the gluten, resulting in a tougher biscuit.

20 Note 2: You can make these biscuits, cut them, put them on cookie sheets and freeze them for up to a month.

21 When you want fresh biscuits, simply place them frozen on the cookie sheet and bake at 450°F for about 20 minutes.

Burgers and Pulled Pork

Rach prepared loads of tasty food, including homemade burgers, green bean and mushroom casserole and my favourite potato salad ever. Aside from the biscuits and gravy, I contributed some pulled pork - because, well, any excuse to eat it really!

Green Bean Casserole

Rachel’s famous potato salad

Of course, an american themed dinner wouldn’t be complete without an apple pie – which Rach made with crisco – which is by far the weirdest substance I have seen in my life. It does, however, make great pastry.

Apple pie and cream

As it was a lovely day, we decided to take a blanket and go and eat in the park, which I think is the best way to eat anything.

Happy 4th July everyone – perhaps I’ll get around to writing about my holiday in July sometime before Christmas :)

I love fajitas. Quick, easy and tasty, they were a staple meal of mine when I was at university. However, Kieran will not eat them, so I don’t get to have them that often. So I jumped at the chance to make them when Rachel was over for dinner last week. Usually, I just use a packet mix, but I really wanted to make my own this time. It’s surprisingly difficult to find a recipe for homemade fajita seasoning. My two usual recipe websites, bbcgoodfood.com and deliciousmagazine.co.uk both had fajita recipes – but they both called for a packet seasoning mix. Yeah, thanks, I could have worked that one out for myself!

So of course, the answer was found in the blogging world. I found a great looking recipe at the cooking nurse and decided to use that! I had all the ingredients already in the store cupboard and took no time at all to put together. And it was lovely – exactly the right level of spice for me. I had a couple of pork loins that needed to be used so I sliced them thinly and fried them up with the spice mix, chopped onions and peppers and a dash of honey. Delicious!

Pork fajita mix, with peppers and onions.

With it, I also decided to take advantage of the fact that I could eat raw tomatoes (Kieran can’t bear them) so I made a mild salsa from chopped cherry tomatoes, coriander, spring onions, oil and white wine vinegar.

Tomato and Coriander Salsa

Throw it all together with some mashed avocado, sour cream, salad and grated cheese and you get one of these:

Ohh yeah.

One of my best friends is half american, so I often try and make some american themed dishes when she comes over for dinner, but usually adapt them a little. See Italian Meatloaf, for example.

After our recent delicious dinners at Southern 11, I thought I’d give some good old southern american cuisine a try. I’ve made my own version of southern fried chicken many times and served that with corn on the cob, fries, spicy mayo (mayo mixed with harissa) and cornbread.

I’ve never tried cornbread in my life so have no idea what it’s supposed to turn out like.  However, from pictures on the internet and the general look and feel of it, I think it turned out pretty well. It was soft and well, like a savoury cake really.

Cornbread

It tasted quite nice, but I’m just not sure what you’re supposed to do with it or how you’re supposed to eat it…does it mop up gravy? Do you eat it in the same bite as the chicken? Do you make a sandwich out of it? I’m confused. Any americans out there, who can enlighten me, please do!!

Fried Chicken goujons, Chips, Corn, Spicy Mayo and Cornbread

Makes 20cm square loaf

  • 115g strong white flour
  • 115g fine cornmeal or fine polenta
  • 2tbsp sugar
  • 2.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 250ml milk
  • 25g butter, melted
  1. Preheat the oven to 200c/fan180c/gas6. Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In another bowl, beat the eggs and stir in the milk and melted butter.
  2. Pour the wet ingredients onto the dry and stir just enough to combine. Overmixing will make the cornbread tough. Pour into a buttered 20cm square baking tin and bake for about 30 mins until firm and golden.

Cheesy mince. I don’t know where to start. To say I love this dish would be a bit of an understatement – it’s probably my favourite food dish of all time. This is partially because it is delicious and partially because nothing reminds me of growing up and the comfort foods of home more than cheesy mince.

I have no idea where my mother got this recipe from – much like the beginning of the universe, I like to think there was a ‘big bang’ in her brain that grew into a fabulous recipe, but whatever it’s origins, it has been christened as, and shall remain ‘cheesy mince’. Not the most descriptive, nor appetising name I’ll grant you, so I shall explain further. If I were to compare cheesy mince to another dish, it would probably be moussaka. It has the same flavours and textures, but features potato instead of aubergine.

It’s beef mince, fried with onions. Add a tin of plum tomatoes and a tablespoon or two of tomato puree. Add cinnamon to taste. Yes, cinnamon. It’s the secret ingredient that makes it so delicious. I usually add a couple of tablespoons per pound of mince. Put mixture into a baking tray. Lay pre-boiled sliced potatoes on top. Pour on cheese sauce. Bake until brown. Eat until full as an egg.

So a few weeks ago I was on my way to the cinema with Kieran, when I spotted some people in the window of the Radisson Hotel in Manchester eating dainty things off a cake stand, with a pot of tea at their side. Where is this place? Why don’t I know about it? Why haven’t I been here? …were some of the many questions Kieran had to listen to all afternoon.

As soon as I got home I was on the internet booking a table for the following Sunday. You already know how I feel about tearooms, so imagine the glee at finding somewhere that serves proper afternoon tea. My friend Rachel, is just as excited by tea and cake as me, so we went together and a very genteel and proper time was had by both of us! (My wheat intolerance was forgotten about today – nothing comes between me and a scone).

It’s £14.99 per head, and you each get a pot of leaf tea (I chose Earl Grey, obviously!), finger sandwiches, pastries, cakes and scones.

The finger sandwiches were double layered and we had a variety of fillings including smoked salmon and cream cheese, cheese,  ham and tuna. I particularly enjoyed these because I never eat bread and this is the first sandwich I’d had in many months.

We then had a variety of cakes, each one delicious. Cream horn that had some kind of jam in it:

Carrot cake:

Chocolate Cake:

Fruit Tart:

And last but not least, plain and fruit scones with jam and clotted cream (the only way to do a cream tea – accept no substitutions for clotted cream!)

Unsurprisingly, we were fairly stuffed after wading our way through all that food – you certainly get your money’s worth. It’s just as filling as eating a big lunch and I was so full I actually didn’t have dinner later.  It’s a really nice experience too – we were there for a good hour and a half drinking tea and chatting away.

I might bring out the lace gloves next time :)

Cottage pie is Shepherd’s Pie’s beefier, but still attractive sister.Instead of lamb mince, beef mince is used – but the rest of the core ingredients and method are the same. It was my turn to host dinner with Rachel – and this is a good meal to prepare ahead and feed a lot of people (or in our case, three people having seconds!)

Take a pound of mince and brown in a saucepan with half a chopped onion, and a couple of diced carrots. Season.

Cover with beef stock, and reduce till thickened. If needed stir in some cornflour dissolved in a little water to thicken the sauce. Add a few handfuls of fresh or frozen peas.

Put in a baking dish and top with mashed potato.

Run a fork through the top of the potato so the top gets extra crispy in the oven. Put in a 200c oven for about 10-15 mins until the top goes brown.

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