Friday, 28 February 2014

(Not quite) time to bring out the barbecue: Thai green pork burgers with coriander mayonnaise

Thai pork burgers with coriander mayonnaise

A rare spot of sunshine has got me all excited about the (hopefully) imminent arrival of Spring. It is possible that Spring (and should it be 'Spring' or 'spring' - I have never been sure) is my favourite season. A glimmer of light at the end of the gloom. A season full of promise. Full of new life. Full of asparagus.

LBG's resident dog enjoying the sunshine at the weekend

I actually say this at the start of every new season - each has its merits. I love the cosy log fires of Winter (or winter?!). The long, lazy evenings al fresco of Summer. The crisp air and amber leaves of Autumn. But at the moment, I am excited about the possibility of Spring. So much so that I actually cleared out my pasta/rice/lentil cupboard earlier this week and decanted everything into Kilner jars. I even ventured out into the garden for the first time in months and hacked at a few things with a pair of secateurs (yes, I am aware that this should have been done months ago but gardening in the rain does nothing for me).

I think that the thing I love about Spring is that it is a little like Summer but without the disappointment. You spend more time outdoors, evenings are lighter, colourful flowers start to bloom. If lucky, you might venture out without a coat or think about buying a pair of capri trousers in a lurid shade of pink (or is that just me?!). Summer is all too often a letdown - cancelled barbecues, rained-off picnics and goose pimples on the beach. Last summer was a good one but a rarity in recent years. But a warm, sunny day in Spring is a bonus and definitely cause for celebration. That is why I love Spring.

An early (albeit a tad morbid) glimmer of hope; snowdrops in the village churchyard

All this has virtually nothing to do with the deliciously spicy Thai pork burgers that I made last week. It had been a sunny day and I found myself looking wistfully at the barbecue sitting under its cover and thinking how much I longed for warmer days and the smell of smoky, charring meat. Even by Mr LBG's standards, it was a little early in the year for a barbecue (my money is on him holding out until the first weekend of April) but I couldn't get the idea of homemade burgers out of my mind. Eschewing traditional beef in favour of a porky number, I decided to make spicy Thai burgers to a recipe I've used for years. The recipe in question was given to me by my sister and I think that the found in on a supermarket recipe card back in the days when supermarket recipe cards were still something of a novelty.

These burgers are simplicity itself to whip up and thankfully taste equally good cooked indoors on a griddle pan as they do in the garden over hot coals. Just three ingredients are required for the burgers. The coriander mayonnaise is the perfect compliment, a juicy slice of tomato and a drizzle of sweet chilli sauce are optional but worthy extras. I served these burgers with a side order of sweet potato wedges and a nice crisp salad. A Thai-inspired cucumber and carrot ribbon salad would be good to try next time though.

Thai Green Pork Burgers
Makes 4 burgers
Terrible photos; dark/in a rush/hungry husband etc...

450g good quality pork mince
1 medium red onion
1 heaped tbsp Thai green curry paste

4 burger buns

6tbsp mayonnaise (shop bought is fine)
Large bunch fresh coriander
Squeeze lime juice

Optional: Large tomatoes, sweet chilli sauce

1. Finely chop the red onion. In a large bowl, mix together the pork mince, curry paste and red onions. Season.

2. Heat a griddle pan and mist with a little cooking oil. Fry the burgers for approx 8 mins each side until cooked through. Whilst they are cooking, make the coriander mayo by finely chopping the coriander and mixing with the mayo and a squeeze of lime juice.

3. Warm the burger buns and serve with a blob of mayo on each burger and tomato and sweet chilli sauce if desired.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Random recipes challenge: chocolate tea bread

It has been an extremely busy couple of weeks for one reason or another. It is good to get to Monday morning and actually be looking forward to the week ahead; a quiet one in which I can potter gently rather than gallivanting around the country and trying to cram too many things into each day. I am looking forward to spending some time in the kitchen surrounded by gently simmering casseroles and slowly baked cakes rather than furiously boiling pots and hot sizzling pans.

I did manage to fit in a little baking towards the end of last week when I took on the random recipe challenge hosted by Dominic at Belleau Kitchen. This month he has joined forces with with Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog who hosts the monthly 'We Should Cocoa' challenging us to select a random chocolate recipe from our collections of recipe books. Running my hand along the bookshelves, the first book I selected turned out to be Delia Smith's 'Summer Collection'. A quick check in the index revealed that chocolate is apparently a seasonal item as it does not feature in this book (which has now gone down in my estimation - surely chocolate is essential year-round?). Fearing the next random book choice would be something equally bereft of chocolate, I decided to make things easier by pulling out the four chocolate-themed books I happen to own. I did a quick shuffle and ended up with a book that was given to me years ago and which I have never found to be particularly inspiring. Disappointing! 

I considered a quick swap for the Green and Black's book I had been hoping for but decided that this would not be true to the challenge. The book in question is a small hardback entitled 'Chocolate' and is written by Jacqueline Bellefontaine. First published in 1999, the book feels rather dated but does include many tempting recipes including a chocolate queen of puddings, white chocolate truffle cake and chocolate zabaglione. Sadly when opening the book at a random page, I did not open it on any of these pages. I wasn't too disappointed though as it opened on a chocolate tea bread. I am a huge fan of loaf cakes and particularly like a fruit-packed tea loaf spread with butter so thought this would be a pretty good variation. The picture looked tempting and the ingredients included raisins, chocolate chips, orange rind and walnuts which I felt would all work together.

Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed with this bake. Despite following the recipe, it felt like a heavy brick once baked and cooled. Upon eating it was heavy, dry and dense and definitely needed butter. Most definitely a tea bread as opposed to a loaf cake! I took it to my parents' house for the weekend where my mother declared that it would be quite nice without the chocolate despite my protestations that this rather defeat the object of a chocolate tea bread. Mr LBG thought it would be improved if spread with Nutella and thought it was overbaked. I felt there were too many eggs in the recipe (four for a standard loaf cake) and that this might have contributed to the dense texture.

Sadly, not a recipe I shall be repeating but a great opportunity to dust off and old cook book. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

Soup and bread to soothe the soul: celeriac and blue cheese soda bread and carrot, parsnip and coriander soup

Carrot, parsnip and coriander soup with celeriac and blue cheese soda bread

When will the rain stop? A question on the lips of many at the moment. We live in close proximity to a brook which floods and it is a nerve-wracking time. We have (so far, grabbing onto the wooden table for dear life) been fortunate to remain dry unlike the many across the UK who are struggling to deal with the carnage left by the hideous conditions this year. As I type, the rain is once again falling and the wind is whipping through the village. Wheelie bins are being blown down the street, trees are bending awkwardly in the gusts with their roots clinging on for dear life. Water is bubbling out of the drains and I have one eye on the brook, keeping check on the ever-rising level of water.

This winter has been a miserable one so far. Bring me the snow and ice any time over this incessant rain and wind. Compared to many, we are very fortunate, but I have to admit that the conditions are beginning to get me down. Life with an active toddler is no fun in this weather. Yes, the buggy has a rain-cover and yes, we both have waterproofs but, to be honest, being out and about in the pouring rain whilst pushing a buggy is not a great deal of fun. So we are largely spending time at home and, whilst cosy days at home can be fun, I am starting to get a little cabin fever. Not helped by the fact that my little boy is under the weather and exceptionally clingy!

Brushing with beaten egg gives a lovely shiny crust

This sort of weather demands soup. There is simply nothing else that will do for lunch on a dreary day such as this. Almost as good as a hug, a bowl of really tasty, hot soup warms you up from within in the same way as a morning bowl of porridge. My vegetable drawer is currently heavy to celeriac. I have three. Now, I love celeriac but nobody needs three celeriac. I toyed with making a celeriac soup but then I remembered a recipe card that had come with my last veg box for a celeriac and blue cheese soda bread. Bread-making and I do not normally get on well. It is for this reason that I purchased a bread maker which does the job brilliantly. I am not sure what it is, but I am never pleased with the results and have rather consigned it to the 'things I don't do well' list. Soda bread, however, is my friend. No yeast required! Quick and simple bread that is fairly foolproof. My kind of bread-making. This recipe could hardly be easier; you simply grate some celeriac and mix with flour and Stilton, add an egg and some milk, shape the dough and bake in the oven. No proving, no kneading. 

Serve the bread warm whilst the Stilton is still oozy!

I had to add a little extra flour as my dough was very sloppy (hence my rather flat 'loaf') but overall, I was impressed with this flavoursome bread. It was a great accompaniment to the warming bowl of soup I made to go alongside. I had a huge bunch of coriander and decided to tweak my usual carrot and coriander soup recipe by adding some parsnip, which worked well. The recipe for the soda bread can be found here and here is the rough recipe for the soup...

Carrot, parsnip and coriander soup
Serves 4

1 large onion, chopped
1 plump clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground coriander
4 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large parsnip, peeled and roughly chopped
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock
large handful fresh coriander

1. Heat a little oil in a large saucepan and sweat the onions until starting to soften and look translucent (5 mins). Add the garlic and coriander and cook for a further minute.

2. Add the chunks of carrot and parsnip, place the lid on the pan and cook on a low heat for five minutes or so. Add the stock and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.

3. Roughly chop the coriander and add to the soup. Remove from heat and blend to a smooth soup with a hand blender or liquidiser. Garnish with a swirl of cream and a little extra coriander, if liked.

I am entering this lovely soup into two blogging challenges. Firstly, No Croutons Required, which this month is hosted by Jacquline at Tinned Tomatoes. Entrants must make a vegetarian soup or salad in order to enter.

Cooking with Herbs

Secondly, I am entering this into Karen's 'Cooking with Herbs' monthly challenge over at Lavender and Lovage. This month she has asked for an Oriental theme if possible to celebrate Chinese New Year. I can't really claim that this is very oriental but I did use heaps of coriander which does lend a very Asian flavour to the soup. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

Birthdays always require cake: lovely lemon layer cake

Cake baking is almost certainly my favourite sort of cooking. I am rarely happier than when the kitchen is filled with the aroma of a cake baking in the oven (...and splattered with the remnants of sticky batter, icing sugar and off-cuts of greaseproof paper - my husband despairs). Of all things, it is a cake that brings the most smiles when placed triumphantly on the table to share with friends or family. 

The constant efforts to shed pounds mean that I do not indulge quite as often as I would like but it doesn't take too much for me to find an excuse to get baking; a gathering of 'Mummy friends', a village fundraiser, weekend guests, new neighbours or simply a bunch of over-ripe bananas languishing in the fruit bowl. Last week was a very busy one but I still managed to squeeze in a spot of cake-bakery in honour of my mother-in-law's birthday. A birthday without cake is unimaginable to me - it was with great excitement and anticipation that I looked forward to viewing my birthday cake for the first time each year as a child. The excitement may not be quite the same these days, but the sight of birthday cake always lifts my spirits!

My lovely mother-in-law is an excellent cook and particularly good at cakes so I have to confess that I felt slightly under pressure when it came to choosing an appropriate cake to bake. We also have quite different tastes and preferences when it comes to cake-baking. She is not a fan of 'goo', preferring her cakes unadorned with the sponge itself the star of the show. I, on the other hand, live for goo. Well, almost. There are other things in my life too, but 'goo' is fairly high on the list. I like my cakes sticky, oozy and slathered with dazzling icing, sandwiched with the jammiest of jams and topped with gorgeous decorations. I try to be 'less is more' but it doesn't really work. I am quite clearly a 'more is more' kind of a person. (Note to self: this could explain my rather wide girth). 

This is not to say that I don't enjoy a plainer cake. I really do. I have a particular passion for an unadorned loaf cake. A simple fruit tea loaf, banana bread, lemon drizzle or (best of all) a fiery ginger cake are all very high on my list of favourite bakes. My mother-in-law and I share a love of loaf cakes and regularly discuss methods and swap recipes. But a loaf cake won't do for a birthday cake. No. To me, a birthday cake should be round (unless a novelty cake in which case any shape will do) and should have at least some sort of icing to make it feel 'special'. Here is where I start to become unstuck. All the round cakes in my repertoire are rather reliant on the sort of 'goo' that my mother-in-law dislikes. Carrot cake (I just can't bring myself to make it without the gorgeous cream cheese icing that I love to o much). Chocolate fudge cake (heavy on sticky, dark icing). Red velvet cake (artificial colouring AND lots of icing - a double no-no). The list goes on... I went over my cake books again and again and knew what had to be done. I had to face my nemesis. The Victoria Sponge. 

What is wrong with The Victoria Sponge, I hear you ask? The simplest, plainest cake there is. A much-loved symbol of the British teatime tradition. A cake that I am woefully bad at making. I think perhaps that my reliance on 'goo' is really a cover up. A decadent icing can hide a multitude of sins. With a Vicky sponge there is nowhere to hide. My mother-in-law makes a beautiful Victoria Sponge. It is always perfectly and evenly risen with a lovely light and delicate texture.  I know how to make 'The Perfect Victoria Sponge' (weigh the eggs and use the exact same weight of butter, sugar and flour is the method I like best) but somehow I have never quite achieved the results I am after. This is for various reasons but the main one is lack of practise. It is quite simply not a cake that I ever choose to make for myself. I just can't get excited by it. Which isn't to say that I don't enjoy a slice when someone else makes (a far better) one. I have come to the conclusion that in order to make a good Victoria Sponge, you have to love it in the first place.

Anyway, all this aside, I decided that I should make a simple sponge for my mother-in-law. I couldn't bring myself to make an un-iced birthday cake though. I decided that I would stick to the Victoria Sponge base but spruce it up with a burst of lemon. I tried so hard to keep the 'goo' at bay but the more I thought about lemons, the more I thought about other lemony additions. I was torn between filling my cake with lemon curd or with a lemon butter icing. I had already decided upon a glossy white glacé icing for the top. Before I knew it, I had spiralled out of control and baked three layers enabling me to have both fillings as well as the white topping. I toyed with various ideas for decorating (freeze-dried raspberries, candied strips of orange and lemon, a piped 'Happy Birthday' greeting) but in the end kept it reasonably simple with some pretty bought flower decorations.

To my lovely mother-in-law, I say 'sorry'. I tried (I really did) to keep the 'goo' at bay. I tried to bake a cake to please you and not to please me. But I confess, a little bit of me got in the way!

The verdict: for me, this was probably my perfect lemon cake. The only alteration I might consider would be drizzling a little lemon syrup over the warm cakes for yet more lemony flavour and moisture. But sometimes, you just need to learn when to stop!

I chose to bake my cake in three tins but you could easily make one large, deep cake and cut into layers. You will need to bake it for slightly longer, of course.

Lovely lemon layer cake


250g golden caster sugar
250g softened unsalted butter
5 large eggs
250g self-raising flour
1 rounded tsp baking powder
2 tbsp whole milk
finely grated zest 2 lemons

For the buttercream:
85g softened butter
175g icing sugar, sifted
zest and juice 1/2 lemon

4-6 tbsp good quality lemon curd

For the top of the cake:
250g icing sugar, sifted
juice of 1 lemon

1. Preheat oven to 170C. Butter and base line three 20cm loose-bottomed sandwich tins (or see note above).

2. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and very fluffy. I used a stand mixer for this, but you could use an electric whisk too. It is worth spending a good few minutes on this. Also, ensure your butter is nicely softened - mine was a little too hard.

3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition and adding a tablespoon of flour with each one if the mixture starts to curdle. 

4. Sift the flour and baking powder and fold into the cake mixture a little at a time. Mix in the lemon zest and stir gently until all combined. Add milk until you have a soft, dropping consistency.

5. Divide the mixture between the three tins (you can weigh each tin if you want to be really accurate - I didn't). Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the cakes are golden and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger. Remove from oven and cool in the tins for five minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

6. To make the buttercream, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sifted icing sugar and beat like mad until very fluffy indeed (patience pays dividends here). Add lemon zest and juice and beat some more. Set aside.

7. To make the topping, mix sifted icing sugar with enough of the lemon juice to have a smooth, spreadable icing. You may well not need it all - my lemons were rather small - so add a little at a time.

8. To assemble: choose which cake has the flattest surface for the top of the cake and set aside. Spread a little buttercream onto a cake board or plate if wished, to secure the cake in place. Place one layer of sponge on the bottom and spread with a generous layer of buttercream. Place the second sponge on top of this and smother with lemon curd. Place the 'best' layer on top and smooth over the glossy white icing, allowing a little to drip over the sides. A warm palette knife is good for this job. Decorate as wished and serve!

What would your 'perfect' birthday cake be like? Mine would probably be a red velvet cake.