Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Tricks for easy Halloween treats

Will you be turning off the lights and hiding behind the sofa when the neighbours' kids come knocking, or will you be dressing up and joining in? Tasteless is the new scary, apparently, and while Miley Cyrus' twerking outfits are taking this Halloween by storm, I prefer the 'pregnant schoolgirl' costume which I read about in a list of what not to wear this year. Here are a few tricks for some easy, last-minute Halloween treats which are certainly not tasteless...

Easiest of all, arm yourself with a packet or two of plastic flies and use them to adorn some cakes. The more delicious the cake, the greater the yuk factor.

Cupcake with plastic flies on it

If savoury's your thing, chow down on Dead Man's Fingers

Or whip up a batch of Rice Krispie Halloween cookies

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Terrifically terrifying treats

Halloween will be here in a couple of weeks, but far more scary than that is those magazines which have started appearing... The ones that tell you how to have a stress-free Christmas (!) whilst showing you how to over-decorate your house, create themed buffets and make gift boxes decorated with semi-precious stones you've mined yourself.

But what if you're domestically challenged or just plain lazy? Here's an idea for Rice Krispie Halloween cakes which you can make in a few minutes or which kids can probably make on their own. (Unsupervised children in the kitchen always guarantees gruesome results of one sort or another.) Plus these might be the most delicious Rice Krispie cakes you have ever tasted. Let me know.

6 Rice Crispie cakes decorated for Halloween
Decorated by Bea, 9 years old

Rice Krispie Halloween cakes

110g butter
110g marshmallows
110g toffees (weighed without wrappers)
140g Rice Krispies
Icing pens

Put the butter, marshmallows and toffees into a saucepan and stir over a medium-low heat until melted. Tip in the Rice Crispies and mix well, then transfer to a lined tin measuring about 22 x 32cm. Press them down firmly until the top is smooth and place in the fridge to cool. Peel off the greaseproof paper and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Decorate with icing pens or - for a more discerning palate - melted chocolate (spiders, cobwebs and witches' hats).

This made 15 - with plenty of tasty offcuts

Six Rice Crispie cakes decorated for Halloween
Decorated by Alice, 9 years old

Monday, 7 October 2013

Chocolate and Ginger cake with a surprise

"I am literally going to be sick" said my daughter as she watched me make a cake with a grated courgette in it. To be fair, the finished article looked and tasted like something you'd eat in a vegan cafe, so I gave it away in pieces - but no-one could identify the mystery ingredient.

A couple of weeks later I served up a sumptuous chocolate and ginger cake which met with great approval and requests for seconds. I kept quiet until they'd finished, then crowed "You've just eaten courgette cake!" (in a childish playground kind of voice). But there were no retching noises, no shrieks of horror, for they had actually enjoyed it.

A divine combination of moist, light chocolatey-gingery sponge topped with gooey chocolate studded with pieces of sweet ginger - and ludicrously easy to make.

chocolate and ginger cake with glossy chocolate icing
Chocolate, courgette and ginger cake

Chocolate, Courgette and Ginger cake

90ml mild and light olive oil
200g caster sugar
2 small eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g grated courgette (peel the skin off and discard any seeds)
175g self raising flour
25g cocoa powder
1½ teaspoons ground ginger
¼ teaspoon salt

Icing: 60ml double cream
100g dark chocolate, chopped
A tablespoon of chopped stem ginger in syrup

Heat the oven to 180/gas 4. Put the olive oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and courgette in a bowl and mix well. Add the flour, cocoa, ginger and salt and mix again. Transfer to a lined 20cm cake tin (or an 18cm square in my case) and bake for 30-35 minutes. Turn out to cool after 10 minutes.

To make the icing: Bring the cream to the boil in a pan. Take it off the heat and stir in the chocolate. When it's melted, add a heaped tablespoon of ginger (not too much syrup), mix again and spoon it over the cake while still warm.

This cake has been entered in the We Should Cocoa recipe challenge hosted by JibberJabberUK (lip-smacking family food) and (the heavenly) Chocolate Log Blog!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Lazy Sunday lunch

Once a teenage girl, always a teenage girl and the mention of 'pulled pork' just makes me want to snigger. But that's what we had today, although I'm calling it 'slow roast pork'. It's the perfect dish for a lazy Sunday - put it in the oven on Saturday night, wake up to a house that smells mouth-wateringly amazing, and eat it at lunchtime (whenever that happens to be - the timings are very elastic). My recipe and method are adapted from one of Nigella's.

I served it with a windfall apple sauce, a simple coleslaw and some roast potatoes. The meat fell off the bone with minimal fork action and we fought over the crisp and chewy crackling. The children were unfeasibly excited to find a large piece of cartilage as well as a sizeable bone - a kind of biology lesson and meal all in one.

pork crackling
Cracking crackling

Slow roast pork

A piece of pork shoulder (bone in) - mine was roughly 3 kilos
6 garlic cloves
A small piece of fresh ginger
2 red chillies
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons sherry vinegar

Serves 4-6

Nigella tells you to start by heating your clean oven to its maximum temperature. Heat your [insert own adjective] oven to its maximum temperature.

Prep the beast: Whizz up the garlic, ginger and chillies in a blender, then add a tablespoon of oil and another of sherry vinegar to make a paste. Sit the pork skin side up on a rack over a roasting tin and score the skin with a sharp knife if it hasn't already been done. Then rub the paste all over the meat, working it into the cut lines of the skin (I wear a pair of rubber gloves whilst doing so). Mix together the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and 3 of sherry vinegar and set aside.

Cook it: Put the pork in the hot oven for 30 minutes, then remove it and turn down the oven to 110/gas mark 1/4. Turn piggy over (skin side down) and put it back in the oven. After about 5 hours I sloshed about a pint of water in the roasting tin and went to bed. I gave it another pint when I woke up, about 9 hours later.

Perfect the crackling: Half an hour before you're ready to eat, turn the pig over again (skin side up), crank up the oven to max and blast it for 30 minutes (be careful not to let it burn).

Friday, 4 October 2013

Shaken not stirred

The pursuit of food has left me with bloody hands and superficial skin wounds today. No, I haven't been scrapping in the aisles of Waitrose, but foraging in the hedgerows. Most of the blackberries have rotted on the bush, but there are still some fine specimens to be had if you have a high pain threshold and a high reach.

Glass storage jar full of vodka, blackberries, sugar
Blackberry vodka in the making

This time last year I posted a recipe for blackberry vodka; I finally got round to making it today. It's ludicrously easy and very economical because you can use the cheapest vodka known to man. Perfect given as Christmas gifts, or mixed with tonic for your own festive celebrations. And it's so quick you can make it while waiting for the kettle to boil.

Red and black blackberries on a branch in the sun
Black beauties

Blackberry Vodka - the recipe

Put 600g blackberries, 200g sugar and 1 litre vodka in a bottle with a tight seal (I used a 2 litre glass storage jar). Shake it up a bit, put it in a cool, dark place and give it shake once a week for the next 12 weeks or so. Then simply strain and re-bottle it.

Conkers on the ground
Inedible, but beautiful