Saturday, 9 November 2013

Top diggity dawg

All things American have definitely had a big influence on current food trends this side of the pond. For me, my love affair with the food from the US of A began with my obsession with Man vs Food a few years ago. A prime example of TV at its absolute best. Im sure youve all seen it but for any who havent....the host Adam Richman takes you through Americas best food spots, city by city, then attempts a food challenge of epic proportions. It suddenly became acceptable to eat fast food again, not only that huge portions of the stuff and so the world went crazy creating the biggest, dirtiest, greasiest burgers you could imagine.

The nation's obsession with the burger has moved a little to make room for another American classic, the hot dawg. The humble hound has undergone a gourmet makeover of late with producers boasting all beef hotdogs and a range of ludicrously delicious toppings. Ranging from sticky onions, chilli and cheese to deep fried pickles and even mac 'n cheese topped dogs, the options are literally endless. Move over ketchup and mustard, theres a new top dog in town, and it tastes friggin awesome.

These drool worthy dogs are worlds apart from the 49p Ikea specials. A flaccid sweaty frank sitting in a roll so cheap it dissolves almost before it gets to your mouth. Despite the poor quality there is something wrongly delicious about these hotdogs, a guilty pleasure that can be eaten in just a few quick bites after a no doubt horrific shopping trip. The evidence craftily destroyed in under a minute.

What I love most about hotdogs is their ability to be eaten at both my favourite times of year. Bangers are a must at any BBQs during the long, hot summer days. Slightly burnt, topped with charred onions and Heinz ketchup and served in a finger roll with an ice cold beer. Summer in a bun! In sharp contrast, yet just as good, the delicious Bratwursts served in a crusty roll at the delightful German Christmas markets, washed down with a steaming mug of mulled wine. Christmas in a bun! Just dont have too many mulled wines or youll be likely to leave with a LOT of German trinkets your relatives are unlikely to thank you for come Christmas Day. Or a reindeer rug.what?.. it seemed like a good idea at the time.

So for my go at a hot diggity dawgI knew I had a sausage making kit hanging about in the cupboard somewhere that I hadnt had chance to test out yet. Perfect. I could make my own gourmet hotdog. I was thinking stick to the classics and go for a seasoned pork and beef dog, and top it with some rich beef chilli and grated cheese. Yum. Heres how it went.

Chilli, cheese dogs
Makes 6
I doubt you have a sausage making kit at home, so just pick your favourite bangers.

400g steak mince
50g diced chorizo
50g diced pancetta or bacon
1 onion, finely chopped
1 pepper, finely chopped
1 tsp each hot chilli powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, paprika, chilli flakes, garlic powder and onion powder
1 tbsp chipotle paste
1 heaped tbsp. tomato puree
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
glass wine
400ml beef stock
400g can chopped tomatoes
400g can beans
2 squares dark chocolate
bunch coriander, chopped
6 good quality hotdog rolls
100g grated cheese, I used a mix of Monterey jack, as its American innit, mixed with some good old-fashioned cheddar for a cheesy kick.
6 sausages
ketchup and mustard

1 Heat a large dry non stick frying pan, tip in the beef and a pinch of salt and pepper and fry until browned breaking up with a wooden spoon while it cooks to remove any lumps. Pretend the beef is someone you hate in the face and give it a good old bash. (NB the Nev doesnt condone violence of any sort). Once brown, tip out onto a plate.

2 Chuck in the bacon and chorizo. Fry until starting to crisp and all the oils are releasing into the pan, then add the onion and green pepper and cook for about 5 minutes, until soft. Add all the spices, chipotle paste, tomato puree, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup and sugar and mix well. Cook for a coupe of mins then add the wine and bubble until almost evaporated.

3 In goes the stock and the tomatoes along with the beans, now let it simmer. As long as you can really. On a low heat, a couple of hours if you can bear it. Better yet whack it in the slow cooker for the day. Once thickened and chilli like check the seasoning, then add the chocolate and coriander.

4 Grill the sausages until cooked. Put into the rolls, add a little cheese, top with ketchup and mustard, then a spoon of chilli and more cheese. Eat with lots and lots of napkins.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Trick or treat

I love Halloween. Always have, always will. I think it comes at a great time of the year, right about the time that you realise that winter is here and there is no way out. I think of it as a little pocket of joy in an otherwise bleak month. Something to get excited about when it's that little bit too early to start stockpiling tins of Quality Street and Boots 3 for 2 gift sets that in reality no one actually uses. It’s way better than Valentine’s Day, which I like to think of as the holiday mirror to Halloween. Difference is Valentine’s Day was clearly invented by total losers, whereas Halloween rocks.

I love Halloween because it's by far the coolest of the holidays. It's got ghosts, devils, fake blood, vampires, dressing up, wigs, gross looking food, amazing movies, pranksters, glue, feathers AND it's the one time of year you can successfully use the hilarious "What have you come as ?" joke. Need I say more? Halloween…. you certainly are the whole package.

So what did I do to celebrate this most wonderful of days? Well, like most of the country I was working. However I’d had my decorations up for ages already and was planning on having a few chums over for some drinks the evening after. So all was definitely not lost.

I thought it would be fitting to prepare a few Halloween themed drinks and snacks for my guests to enjoy. Unfortunately though I had to scale down my usual OTT efforts (10 tonne pork pie, 15 thousand egg meringue, red velvet cheesecake from hell) because I now had a full time job. Yep, that’s right kids; someone actually pays to hang out with me all week (I am fully aware this isn’t what I am being paid for, but humour me). So with very little time on my hands I needed to wing it. I was going to go for style over substance, something that looked good. I’m all about the glory and besides if the drinks were strong enough everything would taste ok, riggghhhttt?? 

In a moment of panic I was tempted to just die a load of stuff green. It was quick, simple and would look gross, so ticked all of the boxes. Then my stupid competitive nature got the better of me, so I made a bunch of spooky stuff, some of which must have tasted ok, well nobody died. Here’s the recipe, hope you all had a happy Halloween.

Spooky red velvet and marshamallow ghost cupcakes
Makes 12

For the cupcakes:
 250g plain flour
 2 tbsp cocoa
 2 tsp baking powder
 1/2 tsp of soda
 100g butter, softened
 200g caster sugar
 1 tbsp red food colouring
 1 tsp vanilla paste
 2 large eggs
 175ml buttermilk
 1 tsp white wine vinegar

For the "malloween" frosting (see what I did there)
4 large egg whites
200g sugar
4 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp vanilla extract
Small ball of black icing

1. Put the flour, cocoa, bicarb and baking power in a bowl. Pour the buttermilk and vinegar into a jug. Beat the soft butter and sugar with electric mixers until pale and fluffy, add the vanilla and food colouring and beat in. Beat in 1/3 of the dry ingredients until smooth, then add an egg, beat until smooth, 1/3 dry…you guessed it, until smooth, the final egg, beat until smooth then add the last of the dry stuff, beat again. Pour in the vinegary milk and beat again until you have a mixture that looks like it belongs to red nose day, lovely.

2. Divide between 12 muffin cases and bake for 22 minutes, remove and cool on a wire rack.  Make the icing. Whisk (with electronic mixers) the egg whites, vanilla, cream of tartar and sugar in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water for 3-4 minutes, remove then beat off the heat for 7 minutes, until you have stiff glassy peaks. Transfer to an icing bag and pipe on gohsly swirls. Dot on black eyes.

All the other food is pretty self explanatory.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Munching on a cheesecake

So far, this week has been unusually good to me so as I tap away this week it’s with a big smile on my face.  Recently I’ve taken to posting my blog on a Friday, I like Friday and I like writing my blog, so it seemed like the obvious thing to do. So to mark the end of this happy week I thought it would be nice to create something that would make another happy; I’m selfless like that. Yep this is all about them; absolutely nothing to do with all the brownie points it’s going to earn me…..

I’ve only been there once but I found my trip to the Cheesecake Factory completely overwhelming. Faced with a normal size menu I struggle to reach a decision, but this menu was more like the short novel I wrote back when I was 13 (not a success, might I add). How does anyone choose???. You can’t just pick one thing. It’s impossible. Instead, in a fit of wanton food lust you indulge and reach your entire weeks calorie limit in one sitting. I can imagine my menu browsing habit of repeating most items listed, lead by “ohhh, look they’ve got…” was pretty annoying for my dining compadre. Don’t get me wrong though, I very much enjoyed my Cheesecake Factory experience and plan to rush back next time I’m stateside.

So anyway, I needed to recreate their red velvet cheesecake for a friend who swore it was the best thing he’d ever eaten. A quick Google search provided me with an image but one small problem, I’d never actually tried it. According to their website I needed to aim for:

“Moist layers of Red Velvet Cake and our original Cheesecake covered with our special Cheesecake Factory cream cheese frosting.”

I had a few issues with this sentence. The word moist should be banned when referring to food; it makes me want to be sick in my mouth. Secondly, I get why they would capitalize ‘Cheesecake Factory’ but why red velvet? Why the word cheesecake when not used as the restaurants name? Lastly their “special frosting’ sounds a bit dubious to me…but anyway, that’s not the issue here. I needed to get to work. Quickly. This was going to take a long time. I knew how to make red velvet cake, I’d made vanilla cheesecake so often that I could probably make it in my sleep and cream cheese frosting, pah, no problemo! Alas, it was time to put my apron where my mouth was (not literally).

So, how did it turn out? Well you’d have to ask the aforementioned friend for an honest answer but I’d go with pretty damn well. Try the recipe for yourself and if anyone has tasted the original I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have a great weekend.

*Warning, this serves a LOT of people. Make sure you have a gang of friends and family around to share with. Also watch this while you eat, instant smiles all around. 

For the cheesecake filling:

900g full fat soft cheese
250g caster sugar
1.5 tsp vanilla paste
3 tbsp plain flour
3 very large eggs
300ml pot sour cream

For the red velvet cakes:

      250g plain flour
      2 tbsp cocoa
      2 tsp baking powder
      1/2 tsp of soda
      100g butter, softened
      200g caster sugar
      1 tbsp red food colouring
      1 tsp vanilla paste
      2 large eggs
      175ml buttermilk
      1 tsp white wine vinegar

For the “special frosting”:

250g full fat soft cheese, at room temperature
4 tsp vanilla paste
100g unsalted butter, at room temp
600g icing sugar

1 Heat oven to 170C/150C fan/Gas 3. Grease and line 4 20cm sandwich tins with baking parchment. Use an extra strip for the two cheesecake tins to help to get them out. (I know you may be thinking, I don’t have 4 tins, well you have 2 options, make two at a time or go to poundland, where guess what, they’re only 1 measly pound each.)

2 Make the cheesecake layer first. Put all the ingredients in a really big bowl, then beat with electric mixers until smooth. Pour into the two prepared tins, then bake on the lower shelf of the oven (if you’re doing the cakes at the same time) Or in the middle if not. Set your timer for an hour.

3 Meanwhile, put the flour, cocoa, bicarb and baking power in a bowl. Pour the buttermilk and vinegar into a jug. Beat the soft butter and sugar with electric mixers until pale and fluffy, add the vanilla and food colouring and beat in. Beat in 1/3 of the dry ingredients until smooth, then add an egg, beat until smooth, 1/3 dry…you guessed it, until smooth, the final egg, beat until smooth then add the last of the dry stuff, beat again. Pour in the vinegary milk and beat again until you have a mixture that looks like it belongs to red nose day, lovely.

4 Divide between tins, bake on the middle shelf, above the cheesecakes, for 22-25 minutes, they should feel firm and springy, and when a toothpick is inserted it will come out clean.

5 Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then loosen by running a cutlery knife around the edge and cool completely on a wire rack. Let the cheesecakes cool in the turned off oven for 20 minutes, then remove, cool and chill for a couple of hours, until cold.

6 Beat the butter, soft cheese and sifted icing sugar for the frosting until smooth.


If you need to level off the red velvet cakes with a serrated knife so both the base and the tops are flat. Place on a serving plate, spread with a thin layer of frosting, then top with cheesecake, frosting, red velvet, frosting, cheesecake then using a pallet knife cover the whole thing in frosting. Chill until ready to serve.