Friday, 30 November 2007

Christmas Cake

I didn't make this one in the slow cooker either, but we've started on our christmas cake. Every year I intend to make one, then decide it's too late, but this year I stood firm and now have a lovely looking fruit cake maturing in a tin in the kitchen. I get so excited in the lead up to Christmas, more so with every passing year. With all the presents purchased, the Christmas cake made and the travel home planned, I just need to get on with some actual slow cooking to take food home and some more christmas treat making.

I used a Nigel Slater recipe but scaled it down to make a cake for an 8" cake tin. I've posted the original recipe for a larger cake but message me for the scaled down quantities. I'll post a picture when it gets its next dose of brandy!

Christmas cake

This is a large cake, enough to feed about 16 or so.

350g butter
175g light muscovado sugar
175g dark muscovado sugar
1kg total weight of dried fruits - prunes, apricots, figs, candied peel, glace cherries
5 large free-range eggs
100g ground almonds
150g shelled hazelnuts
500g total weight vine fruits - raisins, sultanas, currants, cranberries
5 tbs brandy
zest and juice of an orange
zest of a lemon
tsp baking powder
350g plain flour

You will also need a 24-25cm cake tin with a removable base, fully lined with a double layer of lightly buttered greaseproof paper or non-stick baking paper, which should come at least 5cm above the top of the tin.

Set the oven to 160 c/gas 3. Beat the butter and sugar till light and fluffy. I needn't tell you this is much easier with an electric mixer, though I have done it by hand. Don't forget to push the mixture down the sides of the bowl from time to time with a spatula.

While the butter and sugars are beating to a cappuccino-coloured fluff, cut the dried fruits into small pieces, removing the hard fig stalks. Add the eggs to the mixture one at a time - it will curdle but don't worry - then slowly mix in the ground almonds, hazelnuts, all the dried and vine fruits, the brandy and the citrus zest and juice.

Now mix the baking powder and flour together and fold them lightly into the mix. Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing the top gently, and put it in the oven. Leave for an hour, then, without opening the oven door turn down the heat to 150 /gas 2 and cook for 2 hours.

Check to see whether the cake is done by inserting a skewer - a knitting needle will do - into the centre. It should come out with just a few crumbs attached but no trace of raw cake mixture. Take the cake out of the oven and leave it to cool before removing it from the tin.

· The fruit content is no longer confined to currants, sultanas and raisins. Providing you get the ratio of fruit to flour, butter and sugar right, which fruits you include are entirely a matter of choice. So dried figs, cranberries, apricots can all be included. The juicier the fruit the better, so best not use the thin slices of dried fruit such as mango or apple. Glace cherries and dried apricots will keep the cake particularly juicy.

· Look, I know lining the cake tin is a drag but it has to be done, otherwise the edges of the cake will burn. You can't spend enough time on this. I do it while the butter and sugars are creaming in the mixer. A double layer of paper is the trick, skip the process at your peril.

· Rich fruit cakes are amazingly good natured. I once put my cake in the oven and started clearing up the kitchen, only to find most of the flour still on the scales. I simply took the cake out of the oven, mixed in the flour and put it back in the oven. And yes, it came out a treat.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Chilli Con Carne with Chorizo Potatoes

Chilli is the mystical food of the gods. It is also up there with buttery mash and beef stew as Queen of the comfort foods. I've spent years perfecting this recipe. It's the Rugby World Cup final tonight and this is the perfect food to stick on a table and help yourselves to. You don't need a slow cooker to make it, you can also leave it on the hob for a couple of hours. If you're doing this, don't add anything to the slow cooker because you don't have one - leave it all in the same pot and add each component one at a time.

Lots of chilli recipes ask you to put green peppers in, or other random additions like carrots. If you want to do that, go for it. Fry them up towards the end and throw them in for the last 20 minutes of cooking time. It makes you a weirdo though.

Chilli Con Carne

Chilli Con Carne

1 large onion (or 2 medium)
1 clove of garlic
2 tsps chilli powder (add more or less to your taste)
2 heaped tsps ground cumin (or crushed cumin seeds)
455g mince (it's all about the quality of the mince. Go to the butcher, or M&S - even though they sacked Bryan Ferry for a perfectly reasonable comment about the spivviness of Nazis)
2 heaped tsps tomato puree
2 cans chopped tomatoes
5 oz water
2 cans kidney beans
Olive oil, salt and pepper

Chop up your onion and garlic and add to a hot pan coated with olive oil.
Fry until just getting golden and add your chilli powder and cumin, coating the onion/garlic in the mixture.
Heat this for a minute longer and then add this to the bottom of your slow cooker. Turn the cooker onto high and keep the lid on top to sweat the onions.

Add your mince to the pan the onions were just in. This will ensure all of the left over spices get mixed up into the end result. Brown the mince - if at this point there is lots of fat, drain most of it off - then add the tomato puree, stirring it into the mince. Add the tinned tomatoes and water, and bring to the bowl.

Add the mince and tomato mixture into the slow cooker, stirring the onions/garlic in as you do so. Put the lid back on the slow cooker and leave on high for an hour. After an hour turn the slow cooker down to medium or low and leave until you're ready to serve - at least another 2 hours.

30 minutes before you're ready to serve, drain the kidney beans and add to the slow cooker, stirring them into the mix.

Put the chilli into bowls lined with tortillas, for more tasty carbohydrates to end your meal with.
The chorizo potatoes aren't technically a slow cooker recipe - and anyway, your slow cooker is busy making sexy chilli. They're an accompaniment, and a godly one at that.

Chorizo Potatoes

To make these ambrosial delights, you need:

400g baby new potatoes
200g chorizo, finely sliced and sliced into strips
150g pepperdew peppers in oil, sliced into strips
1 clove of garlic
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chilli
Olive oil, salt and pepper

Par boil the baby new potatoes until they're almost cooked, but still firm.
Half the potatoes, and put to one side.
Crush the garlic and add to a frying pan coated in olive oil, fry this garlic lightly
Add the potatoes and fry for 5 minutes, until crispy and golden
Add the strips of chorizo and fry for 3 minutes, until stirred in with the potatoes and browning
Add the paprika and chilli, stir in, and then throw in the pepperdew peppers
Stir all of this up, add salt and pepper, and leave on the pan for another 2-3 minutes to heat up.