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.

Friday, 18 October 2013

How do you like your eggs?

Fried, coddled, scrambled, with a kiss? The possibilities are endless, and with a box of free-range eggs around the £1.50 mark in most supermarkets they’re perfect when payday still seems a long way off. Much less risky than a payday loan too…

Looking back over the years, eggs have always been a staple part of my diet in various forms. From my very early years, when I wouldn’t dare eat the yolk. I though the yellow colour must mean it was the ‘chick’ part of the egg (don’t ask). Rather handily my brother wouldn’t eat the white so we could trade, I’m pretty sure that was one of the main reasons the Mother wanted another child, she was sick to the back teeth of all the wasted eggs. Days at uni where various egg concoctions were the only thing you could afford to eat just before the end of term. We obviously weren’t completely penniless but we had priorities and alcohol trumped food. Always. Strange extreme fad diets; embarked upon a few days before an impossibly tight dress needed to be squeezed in to. All you were allowed to eat was boiled eggs, black coffee and grapefruit. Why do we do it to ourselves? Delicious buttery eggs benedict eaten in a fluffy hotel dressing gown as a special treat. That was a particularly fond experience.

As I very much doubt any of you are desperate for my take on boiled eggs ala grapefruit this weeks recipe is going to be the awesome eggs Benedict. The recipe for eggs Benedict dates all the way back to around 1894 in New York City. There are a few competing stories as to how it came about but the one I like best is this:

Legend has it that a hungover Wall Street broker who was having breakfast in the Waldorf hotel invented the dish. His name was Lemuel Benedict and in his hungover state he couldn’t decide what he wanted from the menu so he ordered a variety of things such as a buttered English muffin, poached eggs, crispy bacon and hollandaise sauce. Now we’ve all been there, faced with a stonker of a hangover and a hunger that needs to be fed you can never commit to one thing you want. So, anyway, turns out the chef was so impressed with the results of the random breakfast pick and mix he put it on the menu as a tribute. See, whoever said nothing was achieved with a hangover, was mistaken. Thank God Alka-seltza hadn’t been invented then, that’s all I can say.

Anyway enough of the history lesson. I like eggs Benedict. To me it feels like you’re having a proper treat when you breakfast, or brunch, on this. Something to savour and enjoy at the weekend when time is not of the essence but relaxation is. It also looks way more impressive than it is to make, which is always a bonus.

If you want to make your own muffins, like I did, then try my previous recipe here. My easy recipe for hollandaise takes all the stress out of making it and you can even poach your eggs in advance if the thought makes you nervous. So go on, treat yourself this weekend- you deserve it! *Hangover not essential.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Eggs Benedict
Serves 2

2 English muffins, split and lightly toasted (see my recipe)
6 rashers streak bacon or 3-4 rashers back bacon
6 large eggs, REALLY fresh, or poaching will be a nightmare!
110g butter, diced
2  tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp lemon juice
a little chopped tarragon or chives (very optional, don’t go out just to buy this)

1 Make the hollandaise. I like this recipe because it holds well. Usually hollandaise must be served as soon as it’s ready but adding some of the beaten whites stabilises it. Totes amazeballs, right?!. Separate 2 of the eggs, put the yolks into the small bowl of a food processor. Pour half the vinegar and all the lemon juice into a small pan, bring up to the boil then with the motor running add this to the eggs. Pop the butter into the same pan and melt. Once melted add this to the eggs (the motor should still be running) in a thin steady stream.

2 Turn off. Whip the whites until just holding their shape. I add about 1- 2 tbsp to the hollandaise. Just enough to make it a nice pouring consistency. Season, add the tarragon or chives (if using) set aside.

3 Grill the bacon until crispy. Poach the eggs in boiling water with the rest of the vinegar added. Put each egg into a small cup, then spin the water 3-4 times and crack the egg into the middle, it should spin around itself. Move to the side with a slotted spoon and repeat until all 4 are in. Remove with a slotted spoon. You can do this in advance and keep them in a container of cold water, then just dunk into simmering water to reheat just before eating.

4 Assemble. Muffin, bacon, egg, hollandaise. EAT. Be happy

Thursday, 10 October 2013

All the fun, without the (pizza) bun.

During a trip to the high street last week, for a bit of non-essential spending, I was alerted to something that made my skin crawl. Anyone whose read my blog before will know that I’m definitely not a pizza snob. I’ve had more than my fair few slices of dirty pizza, some so bad that the Italians would consider revoking my entrance into their wnderful country. But THIS (what can only be describe as a pizza mutilation) THIS really pushed me over the edge. It was Pizza Hut’s latest offering, the cheeseburger pizza crust.  I mean, Jesus, the over styled picture doesn’t even do it any favours, can you imagine  what it looks like in real life? If anyone has actually dared to tried this beast, and wants to prove me wrong, I’d love for you to get in touch. Surely I can’t be alone here, can I?? Even there smug slogan makes me feel nauseous. “All the fun without the bun.” I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for that moment of creative marketing genius…

That said, me and bread do have a bit of a problem, the problem is I can’t stop eating it. Similarly I seem to have this problem with pizza too, hardly a shocker really seeing as the main element to a pizza is dough. I had an idea for these cool little pizza buns when I was hungry the other day so decided to give them a go and guess what…..THEY. ARE. AMAZING. Having said that they are highly addictive, I can’t promise you that you wont eat them all before anyone else even gets a look in, hell I almost didn’t get the pictures taken. I use a pack of bread mix, it makes this recipe really easy and it’s the perfect amount of dough too, but you could make the dough from scratch if you want to.

In all seriousness these are prefect to take to work or make a great lunchbox treat for the small fry’s to take to school. Just don’t blame me when at 3am you find yourself in the kitchen rooting through your child’s lunchbox….

Pizza Buns
Makes about 12

500g pack ciabatta bread mix, I like Wrights, it always works.
Oil for greasing
About 300g tomato sauce, make your own (I did, obvs) or use ready made pasta sauce or passata if you like. Decisions, decisions.
abut 200g Mozzarella cheese, controversially I use the one that comes in a big lump, think it’s called mozzarella pizza cheese. I wouldn’t normally BUT this is better than the balls of mozzarella as they are quite wet and make these buns a bit soggy. 
Grated parmesan, about 25g
Fresh basil, oregano, chilli flakes, sea salt and pepper
You can leave them as they are or add whatever toppings you like, I went for ham and sweetcorn but try tuna, olives, anchovies, capers, sundried tomatoes, fresh chilli, spinach, pepperoni (you get the picture) Don’t overfill though or they wont roll up…

1 Make up the dough following packet instruction, knead for 5-10 mins, then leave in an oiled bowl, covered with oiled cling film (or I use a clean shower cap) in a warm place, until doubled in size. About an hour.

2 Get all your toppings ready now, I grate half of the mozzarella and cut the other half into cubes, so you get the odd pocket of melted cheese.

3 Roll out the dough to a rectangle shape, on oiled non-stick paper as big as you can get it without the dough being too thin. Spread on the sauce then scatter on toppings, cheese first. Roll up from the longest side upwards, use the paper to help you get it really tight, seal the ends with some oil to help them stick.

4 Using a sharp oiled knife trim the very ends then cut into about 12. Oil a pizza tray and a small sandwich tin and arrange the rolls in a circle, with one In the middle. Cover with oiled cling and leave in a warm place, until the have grown about ½ as big again, about 45 mins.

5 Heat oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7. Put in the oven, then turn down to 200C/180C/gas 6 and cook for 14-16 mins, until puffed up and golden. Allow to cool a little before eating (if you can, good luck!)