birthday | The Proof of the Pudding


Happy Birthday to me! Well, not me really, but my wee blog is turning two. How time flies. While I celebrate with a large wedge of cake (more on that in a second), let me extend a heart-felt thank you to everybody who visits my little piece of the internet. Thank you to my friends and family who still show enthusiasm for new posts, to old friends who have messaged to tell me how much they enjoyed a particular recipe, to strangers on the other side of the world who share their thoughts, and to my other half who puts up with me insisting on taking 20 pictures of our plates before he can start his dinner (although, he does get to eat all these recipes, so it’s not exactly a terrible deal…).

This week’s recipe was inspired by two different people. The first was a lovely friend who came for dinner last Wednesday and who can’t eat gluten (like, seriously, not just one of these “oh eating a loaf of bread makes me bloated”…tell me something I don’t know); so I needed a completely gluten-free pudding. To me this shouldn’t be a prerequisite to a pudding that isn’t sweet and squidgy and indulgent. Or, more importantly, it shouldn’t mean no cake.

In my quest to find a great gluten-free cake recipe I came across an old folder with an assortment of allergy-friendly baking recipes. Years ago, just after I left high school, I worked with a guy, Paul, who had severe allergies not only to gluten, but also eggs, nuts and legumes. Yup. I’m pretty sure he lived off potatoes, meat and cheese. Although, on second thoughts, that doesn’t sound too bad… Anyway, an allergy to gluten, eggs and nuts makes for an incredibly tricky baking challenge. This folder I found was a collection of various recipes, which (if memory serves correctly) I amalgamated into a few Paul-friendly bakes so that he could get in on the afternoon treats that everyone else in the office got to indulge in. Of course, poor Paul couldn’t have actually eaten this particular recipe because of the eggs and nuts, but in that folder I found a gluten-free lemon cake recipe (I have no idea where I copied it down from I’m afraid!) which used polenta and ground almonds instead of flour. I’ve changed up the lemons for oranges, since it is the season for juicy, sweet oranges and I seem to be developing a theme of orange-flavoured recipes on birthday blogs. I tweaked a few other parts of the recipe and added an orange drizzle topping. This cake is gorgeous: it’s super moist, strong with orange and has a satisfying sugary crunch on top. In fact, there is no reason to save this recipe just for coeliacs, so don’t be put off by the gluten-free billing: everyone deserves a slice of this action!

One year ago:
– Orange and milk-chocolate celebration cakes

Two years ago:
– No-knead cardamom and cinnamon buns

Ingredients 250g butter, softened plus a little extra to grease the cake tin 250g vanilla sugar* or caster sugar 3 large eggs 100g polenta 250g ground almonds 1 tsp baking powder 2 oranges

60g icing sugar

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas Mark 3. Grease a 23cm cake tin with a little butter and line the bottom with a circle of baking parchment. 2. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.


Disclaimer: it’s hard enough to make guacamole photogenic, but when it comes to a brown-coloured bean dip it’s pretty much impossible.

And with my camera skills we’re not off to the best start anyway. But please believe me when I say, if you could taste these two dishes you would be running out to the shops to stock up on pinto beans and forage for ripe avocados (Good luck to you on that last part, by the way. Like, seriously. I had a last minute panic on Thursday night because the 6 avocados someone picked out in the shop were all rock hard, so shoved them in a dark cupboard inside a brown paper bag snuggled up with some ripe bananas. I can’t say the results the next day were astounding, but it did the job well enough).

Anyway, I digress. I made these dips as accompaniments to the Mexican meal we had on my birthday last Friday, but feel free to have these with whatever meal you fancy. Personally, I could eat guacamole straight from the bowl. Sack that actually – just give me a ripe avocado, salt and a spoon and I’m in heaven.

There are so many variations of guacamole out there, so this is just my personal taste. I like my guacamole with bags of flavour from other ingredients aside from avocados and enough lime juice to keep a crew of sailors healthy. The bean dip originally came from our lovely friend Julia and is perfect served with tortilla chips and one (or two) margaritas.

Anna’s Guacamole

Ingredients (makes a lot! – enough for 12 people as a side) 6 avocados 3 tomatoes 2 small red onions 3 garlic cloves 2/3 red chilli Half a bunch of coriander 1 ½ limes

Salt and pepper

Method
1. Halve the avocados and remove the stone. Scoop out the avocado flesh with a spoon – this should be pretty easy if the avocados are ripe. Mash in a large bowl with a fork

2. Finely chop the red onions, garlic, chilli and coriander and mix into the mashed avocado.

3. If you can be bothered, skin the tomatoes. I think this gives a nicer texture to the guacamole, but is definitely not essential. Do this by dropping the tomatoes into a pan of boiling water for 30 seconds and then peeling back the skin – again this should be pretty easy if the tomatoes are ripe. Remove the seeds (also not essential but will avoid a sloppy texture), chop and add to the guacamole.

4. Mix in the juice of one lime and season generously with salt and pepper. Adjust the balance of lime, salt and pepper to taste.

If you’re not serving this immediately then pour over the juice of half a lime in order to stop the guacamole browning, cover in cling film and pop in the fridge. Definitely eat on the day of making.

Zingy Bean Dip

Ingredients (makes a lot!) 2 tins of pinto beans, or other similar beans like borlotti beans 2 tomatoes Garlic cloves 2 limes Half a bunch of coriander Half a bunch of parsley 2 spring onions 2 tsp cumin

Salt and pepper

Method 1. Skin the tomatoes following the instructions in the recipe above. 2. Chop the spring onion, garlic cloves and herbs. 3. Drain the beans and add all the ingredients to a large bowl or blender. Liquidise or blend, depending on what equipment you have to hand. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

I had a really wonderful birthday, made so special by the company, the fabulous presents, the (strong) margaritas expertly made by dad…
…and this spectacular chocolate cake made by the ridiculously talented Kirsten…

Still dreaming about that buttercream filling…


Last Friday I gave you a sneak peak of what I was about to cook, and I’ve finally recovered from the weekend enough to write up the recipe for the main event of my birthday dinner: Puerco en Naranja (or Pork cooked in Orange Juice). This is a stunning recipe and perfect for a really special occasion. It takes a bit of time, but it is so worth it.

Mum ordered the pork from the butchers (it’s an unusual cut, so you will probably need to order from your local butcher, or at least visit the meat counter at the supermarket. However, if you fancy the flavour of this dish without the cost, you could try the same marinade with a cheap cut of pork like shoulder or even chops and just adjust the cooking times and technique). I gave the butcher the name for the order. He returned with the biggest cut of pork loin I’ve ever seen, chuckled and commented “Spears: never a small order”. Well he’s not wrong. But to be fair, every last morsel of meat was devoured.

Ingredients (serves 10 to 12) 9 lbs rib-end pork loin, with the bones chined and the skin scored (ask your butcher to do this for you) 10 cloves of garlic 2 tbsp salt 4 tsp oregano 24 peppercorns

6 oranges

Method 1. Pierce any exposed meat with a sharp knife and place skin side up in a large roasting tin.

2. Crush the garlic, salt, oregano and peppercorns using a mortar and pestle. Add the juice of 2 of the oranges and mix.

3. Slather the marinade all over the pork and give it a good massage, rubbing it into any cracks or cuts. Cover in cling film and leave in the fridge for at least one hour, but ideally overnight. We had particularly tasty results with the meat this time, which we are sure was at least in part due to the overnight (12 hours plus) marinade. 4. Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Remove the pork from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature. Pour the juice of 2 more of the oranges over the pork and pop the orange skins in the roasting tin. Cover with tin foil and roast for 2 hours.

5. Drain off most of the juices and keep aside for later. Turn the pork and bake for a further hour uncovered. Baste every 20 minutes or so.

6. Turn the oven up to 200C/180C fan/Gas Mark 6. Turn the pork skin side up again and cook until the meat has browned and the skin has caramelised (this will take approximately 30 minutes).

7. Skim off any fat from the reserved juices, add the juice of the final two oranges and bubble over a high heat until reduced to a thick sauce.

8. Slice the meat – it should fall off the bones beautifully – and pour over the orange cooking liquid.

Serve with wraps, rice and whichever extras you like – we went to town and had beans, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, jalapeños, cheese and lettuce. I’m not sure how many of these are authentically Mexican sides but darn they taste good!
This recipe is in Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico by Diana Kennedy. It was originally passed on to my parents more than 25 years ago by Professor David Weisblat, my dad’s boss while he was a postdoc in California. I’m told that David was a genius at cooking Mexican cuisine, and one night he scrawled this recipe on a scrap of paper for mum and dad. Now we have Diana’s recipe book, but I just love the jumble of words and instructions that David wrote so I thought I’d share it with you:

I (roughly) doubled the original recipe but you can easily scale it back if you’re not feeding such a crowd! So go on, treat yourself.

Recipes for some of the sides are to come later in the week….

It’s been a tough day. Gym. Sauna. Shopping. Manicure. Haircut. Basically, being 24 is pretty stressful so far.

I’m afraid there’s no new recipe today (you’ll have to make do with just one this week, but to be fair it was a good’un). This is the week of birthdays: first Ross, then me and tomorrow my mum’s. Wasn’t I the best birthday present ever for her 24 years ago? But seriously, she got to fulfil her wish of being married and having children before she was 30. Just. I’ve always had impeccable timing.

So today I give you the promise of delicious recipes to come next week. Expect flavour, expect Mexican, and expect meat. For now, here’s a sneak preview of what’s going to be happening in our household tonight…

Happy Friday one and all!

These brownies were a gift, along with a ridiculously sized growler of porter, for a close friend who turns another year older and wiser today. Ok, maybe just older if the antics of Saturday night are considered. I would argue that the basic brownie recipe that these are based on (Nigella Lawson’s in “How To Be a Domestic Goddess”) is the best out there: a bold claim, I know. If you champion a rival recipe then I would love to hear it!

The original recipe adds chopped walnuts to the brownie mix, but I wanted to do something a bit different. A long list of potential edible extras came to mind: white chocolate chips, peanut butter, marshmallows, raspberries, orange zest, Oreos, and so on. Ross demanded “No Fruit”, but in the end he lost that battle. I think I struck a pretty fair compromise though, by balancing out fruit with booze. Rum and raisin is a classic combination – I love rum and raisin ice-cream – and, once that idea had popped into my head, I just couldn’t let it go without making it. Unfortunately, I had sultanas, not raisins, and the dregs of some apricot liquor, not rum. And so Not-Rum-and-Raisin Brownies were born.

Ingredients (Makes about 15 brownies)

Small handful of sultanas A few glugs of fruit liquor or rum 190g butter 190g good quality dark chocolate, 70% cocoa solids is ideal – or higher if you love dark chocolate 3 large eggs 1 tsp vanilla extract 250g caster sugar (Note: this seems like a ridiculous amount of sugar when you weigh it out. We’re making full fat brownies here. Deal with it.) 115g plain flour ½ tsp salt

80g of fudge, chopped into small pieces

Method

1. Soak the sultanas in the liquor and leave for a couple of hours, at least.

2. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan. Butter an 18cm by 28cm tin (at least 3cm deep) and line with baking parchment. If you leave some excess parchment on either of the long sides then lifting the entire bake out of the tin is much easier.

3. Melt the butter and chocolate over a low heat, stirring until glossy and smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

4. Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla in a bowl.

5. Sift the flour into a separate bowl and add the salt.

6. When the chocolate mixture has cooled enough (unwanted scrambled egg action would be a disaster here), beat in the egg and sugar mixture.

7. Combine the chocolate mixture with the flour. Drain the excess liquid from the sultanas and add to the brownie mixture with the fudge. Beat to a smooth batter.

8. Pour the thick brownie mixture into the lined tin, using a spatula to scrape every last drop out. Give the tin a shoogle (technical term) so that the mixture spreads into the corners.

9. Bake for about 25 minutes, depending on how you like your brownies*.

10. Leave to cool on a baking rack and then cut into pieces. Dust liberally with icing sugar.

*The consistency of brownies is very much a personal preference. 25 minutes in the oven produced a wonderfully fudgy consistency, but if you prefer your brownies soft and gooey in the centre then 20 minutes should do it. Any less than that and you might be scooping out your brownies into a bowl. Do remember that the brownies will keep cooking once they are out the oven.

These went down extremely well, if I do say so myself. The hint of booze was just right and the fudge was slightly melted but still chewy. They are very, very rich so one piece is definitely satisfying enough…unless you are the birthday boy, in which case no one is counting!

Happy Birthday Colum!