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Sunday, 29 March 2015

Big Apple New York Cheesecake

I bought some cream cheese the other day because it was on offer and I thought I would make a cheesecake. Unfortunately, I failed to engage my brain for the rest of the shopping trip and only realised later that I would also be needing some digestive biscuits for the base, some cream and some sort of flavouring. Cream cheese alone does not make a cheesecake.

Bearing this in mind, the next time I remembered the tub of cream cheese in my fridge, I decided to buy some digestives and whipping cream. I make cheesecake fairly often during the course of the year, particularly when the soft fruit is in abundance and I have various recipes that I use and adapt depending on what I have to hand and what we fancy eating. So, with the appropriate ingredients to hand, I scratched my head and wondered what sort of cheesecake I should make.

I really hadn't thought this through, it being March and all and there being a distinct dearth of soft fruit to hand. I do, of course, have soft fruit in the freezer but as I intend these for jam making they are conveniently frozen in 1 lb portions... or not so convenient when I only need 4-5 oz for a cheesecake. I briefly contemplated a lemon cheesecake but my lemons were past their best and you can't successfully grate the zest from a squishy lemon. So, maybe the answer was a vanilla cheesecake - a cooked vanilla cheesecake, or a New York cheesecake.

I Googled for a recipe but unfortunately the recipes didn't match the ingredients I had, calling instead for 3 tubs of cream cheese or ricotta or creme faiche. No good. Maybe I should just give up until I go shopping again.

Later, whilst making chutney, I was considering the last of the stored apples. About a pound and half of them left and in need of using and I only required a pound of them in my chutney. Half a pound to spare... so many possibilities. But how about an apple cheesecake. Apple cheesecake? Have you even heard of such a thing? As I have already said, I make a lot of cheesecake throughout the year and there are all sorts of possibilities for flavours. I've even made a pumpkin cheese but there are some flavours that just don't work. Mincemeat cheesecake was disgusting and plum doesn't work either! But apple? Pear and vanilla works so why not apple.

So I peeled, cored and chopped the apples, put in half a vanilla pod and just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan then cooked it until it was soft. Then I blended it with a tablespoon of icing sugar and created a satisfying thick puree, dotted with black vanilla seeds. This I added to the cream cheese, sugar, cream and egg required for my basic baked cheesecake recipe and then dolloped it on a crushed biscuit base. Some gently cooking and cooling later and I had created a very pleasing vanilla cheesecake with just a hint of underlying fruitiness. Very much a New York cheesecake but with the hint of apple... apple for the Big Apple... so Big Apple New York Cheesecake. The perfect name and the perfect dessert to finish our Sunday evening roast dinner.

Big Apple New York Cheesecake

6 oz crushed digestive biscuits
2 oz melted butter

8 oz apples
1/2 vanilla pod
1 tablespoons icing sugar
7 oz soft cheese
3 oz caster sugar
1 egg
4 fl oz whipping cream

To make the base: Put the biscuits in a bag and crush them with the end of a rolling pin until finely crushed. Melt the butter and mix it with the biscuit crumbs. Press the mix firmly into the bottom of a flan dish and chill for about 1 hour.

To make the filling: Peel, core and chop the apples and place in a small saucepan with just enough water to cover the base of the pan. Split open the vanilla pod and add to the apple. Cook with the lid on for 10 minutes or so until soft. Remove the vanilla pod then put the apple into a blender with the icing sugar and blend until smooth. Allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 180 °C, gas mark 4. Cream together the cheese and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and cream and whisk until thick. Add the apple puree and stir in. Dollop the creamy filling onto the biscuit base and spread out evenly.  Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes then turn out the oven and leave it in the oven for another 10 minutes. After that open the oven door and leave the cheesecake inside to continue its slow cooling so that it doesn't crack. Serve chilled.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Pumpkin Scones for World Book Day

Many of your will be aware that it was World Book Day last week (5th March). Those with children will probably think of it as a day when your child is invited to go to school dressed up as a character from a book. With such a vast amount of characters to choose from, it can be a challenge to choose one! Anyway, after a brief discussion with my 10 year old daughter, we decided between us that she could go to school as Winnie the Witch using clothing and props we had to hand.

In addition, the children were invited to bring in cakes inspired by cakes mentioned in books. They suggested making the chocolate cake from Ronld Dahl's Matilda, or similar. My daughter, however, inspired by her Winnie the Witch outfit, decided she wanted to make pumpkin scones from Winnie the Witch and the Amazing Pumpkin. She, of course, is used to eating home made cakes with vegetables in and is somewhat unaware that most children would rather eat a chocolate cake decorated liberally with sweets.

I was all for the pumpkin scone idea. I still, amazing, have 6 mini pumpkins sat in my greenhouse in need of eating. And I'm always on the look out for recipes to add to my somewhat ambition target of 101 things to do with pumpkins. I was, however, concerned, that her classmates might consider her... hmmm... a bit weird for bringing in lumpy, dull, vegetable filled scones to a fun bake off. With this in mind I searched the internet for a pumpkin scone recipe that would at least look appealing to the average 10 year old.

Fortunately, it turns out that pumpkin scones are a bit of a thing in the USA and, over there, Starbucks coffee shops sell pumpkin scones to die for (apparently). I don't frequent coffee houses often but I'm pretty sure that Starbucks don't do a pumpkin scone over here. Anyway, the photo I came across showed a triangular scone, smothering in two different types of icing. There were also various "copycat" recipes to help those who are addicted to the scones (but put off my the price) to make them at home. So, after school last week, armed with a print out from the internet and a set of measuring cups (why don't Americans use scales?), we set about making pumpkin scones.

It took a bit of fiddling around to convert the recipe to UK measurements and still have to come together properly. Just to be sure, I made them again at the weekend before sharing the recipe with you. As I had recently made a batch of Plum & Cinnamon Jam, it made sense to use this as a drizzle instead of one of the types of icing. Anyway, if you happen to have a spare pumpkin to hand, I would recommend making these scones. Or you could save the recipe for the autumn, or you could buy yourself a tin of pumpkin puree.

Pumpkin Scones (makes 16)

10 oz self-raising flour
4 oz unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
2 oz light brown sugar
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
2 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 oz pumpkin puree
1 egg yolk or a little milk
2 oz icing sugar
1 tbsp milk
2 tbsp Plum & Cinnamon Jam

Preheat oven to 200°C, gas 6 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Rub the butter, flour and salt together to form a breadcrumb consistency. Add the bicarb, sugar and spices and mix. Add the pumpkin and egg and bring together as a dough. If sticky, add a little flour. Roll out onto a floured surface into a square about 1 inch thick. Cut into quarters and then cut each quarter in half diagonally to make 8 triangles. Then cut each triangle in half to make 16 smaller triangles. Place the scones onto the baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden. Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool completely. In the meantime, mix the icing sugar and milk together to make icing. Once the scones are cool, drizzle this over each scone to cover. Leave to harden. Later, warm the jam then use a chopstick to drizzle the jam over the icing in a zigzag pattern. Eat the same day or within 3 days.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Extra Tasty Shepherds Pie

Due to impending home renovations, I need to move my freezers from their current position and I figured it would be a good deal easier to do if they were empty. It sounds a bit crazy to have more than one freezer but I do depend heavily on them. In the kitchen I have a fridge freezer but general family food tends to spill over into a small chest freezer. This is mainly because I batch cook at the weekends and freeze homemade "ready meals" for convenient midweek meals. The other freezer I use for storing the copious amounts of fruit that I harvest during the summer and autumn.

I've given myself a few weeks to work my way to the bottom of the freezers and I have at least glimpsed the bottom of the chest freezer and have even made an inventory so I can plan meals and not buy stuff we don't need. I also instigated compulsory crumble eating over the weekend to eat up the crumbles that I made in the autumn. This measure seemed particularly popular was the family!

The fruit freezer is more problematic as it is still pretty full and mainly with the pints and pints of tomato puree I created from the bumper tomato harvest. I have made several batches of different tomato-themed chutney but there is only so much demand for chutney. I figured I should try to think of ways of eating the stuff in everyday meals. The only thing is, Steve isn't a huge fan of pasta and can only be persuaded to eat it about once a month and, you know what, there are lots of very tasty and convenient jars of tomato-based pasta sauces on the market.

I have in the past used tomato puree to create a Bolognese with minced beef. This can then be used to make lasagna or used with spaghetti.  My youngest daughter is a huge fan and I enjoy it too but my eldest daughter hates anything with minced beef in it and Steve's stomach finds it difficult to deal with so I don't make it very often.

Over the weekend, whilst thumbing through a Waitrose "newspaper", I spied a recipe for lamb and lentils shepherds pie. Steve likes a shepherds pie when made with lamb mince and this recipe called for 250g of minced lamb and 225g of tomato puree so I thought I'd give it a go. As it turned out, the smallest pack of minced lamb I could buy was 500g so that meant a double recipe and a whole pint of tomato puree! One down...

Of course, I couldn't help but fiddle with the recipe. It lacked some obvious tasty ingredients such  as celery, mushrooms, pancetta and garlic and the suggested amount of lentils seemed a bit over the top to me. In addition, my friends Emma and Sarah had bought me a hamper of unusual ingredients for my birthday and set me the challenge of using them creatively and this seemed like a good opportunity to try a couple of those out. A squeeze of umami paste in mashed potato is a taste revelation, if you're never tried it. And chipotle paste used in moderation added a depth of flavour to the mince.

Anyway, I have successfully used up 1 pint of tomato puree from the freezer (passata would work well if you don't have this glut issue) and we had a tasty dinner. The need to make a double recipe, however, means I now have a few extra portions of shepherds pie to put in the freezer I'm supposed to be emptying. Epic fail, as my daughter would say!

Shepherds Pie (makes enough for 2 meals for 4 people)

Olive oil
500g lamb mince
2 onions, chopped
4 carrots, diced
Half stick of celery, chopped
500ml tomato puree/passata
77g pancetta
4 mushrooms, chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon chipotle paste (optional)
450ml vegetable stock
250g red lentils
Salt & pepper
800g potatoes, diced
A chunk of swede, diced
1 parsnip, diced
55g butter
A squeeze of umami paste (optional)

Heat some oil in a large frying pan, season and brown the mince. Add the onions, carrots and celery and fry for 5 minutes. In the meantime, heat the passata in a large pan, such as a stock pot. Empty the frying pan into the stock pot. In the frying pan, fry the passata, mushroom and garlic for 5 minutes then stir in the chipotle pasta if using. Add this to the tomato puree then add the stock and lentils. Put the lid on the pan and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add more water if needed. In the meantime, preheat oven to 180°C, gas 4 and prepare the potatoes, swede and parsnip and boil until soft. Drain and tip into a bowl and add the butter, umami (if using), salt and pepper and a splash of olive oil and mash until smooth. Spoon a suitable amount of the mince into an oven proof dish and top with an appropriate amount of mash then place in the oven for about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, grate over the cheese and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. Serve hot with some fresh vegetables. Assemble the remaining mince and mash into suitable freezer/oven containers, label and freeze.