Dunn Burgering About!

Spring has arrived, a flourish of foliage appearing on the trees & new growth in the garden.  This is also a time of Spring cleaning & doing all those jobs you wanted to do over the Winter, but it was too soggy & cold.  A little bit of sunshine does everyone the power of good too.  While we were out recently, we decided to have a little treat for lunch – a small cheeseburger & fries.  It was not my finest decision & reminded me of a line in a film – “what’s wrong with this picture?”.  The fries were hot but tasteless (no salt) & the burger was sad, cold & rather flat in every respect.  You could have bounced the bun down the motorway, it was that stale!  On the way home, my Husband suggested we make our own burgers.  Although it’s not my forte, I said “hold my spatula!” & that’s how the delicious Dunn Burger happened (named by my wonderful Husband).

It’s been almost 27 years since I last made a proper beef burger.  My Son was a baby, we had gone fishing for the weekend (aka sunbathing with benefits) & took along some of my homemade meatballs.  Someone suggested we make them into burgers instead & they ended up on the grill next to the trout we had caught.  A little surf & turf barbeque ensued & the rest is history.

Fast forward to today & I’ve recreated my delicious burger with a few supporting acts – homemade buns, crispy baked onion rings & my chunky “Aimée chips”.  It took me a whole afternoon to make everything, but it was definitely worth it & let’s face it, if you’re going to do something, might as well do it properly.  Also, I’m no expert on burgers, this is just the way I do it.

To make it easier for you to recreate this dish, I’ve split everything into three sections: burgers, buns & sides.  Not everyone is going to want the buns or side dishes, so this recipe is just for the beef burgers & I’ve put links to the others at the bottom.

Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need (this makes 4 burgers):

500g Minced Beef (10-15% fat content – if you cut the fat, you cut the flavour)
8 rashers Streaky Smoked Bacon
A little Sea Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (for extra pepperiness)
25g Salted Butter
50g Grated Cheese (I used Medium Cheddar)

Optional Extras:
Mustard
Ketchup or Relish
Pickles (I used pickled Cornichons & sliced them)
Crisp Iceberg Lettuce, washed & patted dry
Large Tomatoes, sliced

What to do:

Get 5 pieces of greaseproof paper ready for your raw burgers, approx 6 inchs square – one for each burger & one spare.

Divide the beef into four equal pieces & gently shape each one into a ball.  Be careful not to squeeze them too much, otherwise they will be tough & won’t cook properly.

Put each ball onto a square of greaseproof paper & put the spare piece on top.  Press down evenly to flatten out your burger slightly, until about a half an inch thick.  Remove the top square of paper & use your hands to shape the burger into a circle, flattening down any uneven areas gently.  Repeat with the other three burgers.

Wash & dry your hands again, then sprinkle a little sea salt & pepper over each burger, flipping them over & repeating on the other side.

Stack them up with the greaseproof paper still on them, put them on a plate & wrap in clingfilm.  Place in the fridge for about 30 minutes to rest, as this will help them hold their shape when you cook them later.

Remove the burgers from the fridge & set them aside while you cook the bacon.  Heat a large frying pan or skillet on a medium heat & add the bacon rashers.  There’s no need to add oil at this stage, you want them to render their fat into the pan.  Do not be afraid of the fat – fat is flavour & this is a treat (you won’t be eating burgers for every meal every day).

Once the bacon has started to get some colour to it, transfer the bacon to a baking tray & cover with foil.

Add half the butter to the frying pan & place your burgers into the pan.  Press each one with a spatula, so they make full contact with the hot surface.

Cook for approximately 4-5 minutes each side.  Now I like my burgers cooked well-done, so if you like them more on the rare side, cook them for less time.  When you flip the burgers, press again for a moment to maintain contact with the pan & if desired, add the rest of the butter.

Once your burgers look gnarly & you’re happy with them, pile up a little cheese on each burger & cover with a large saucepan lid or cake tin for a couple of minutes – this will help to melt the cheese.  If you use a cake tin, remember it will get hot, so use tongs to lift it off your burgers.

When the cheese is melted, they’re ready to serve & it’s time to pack those flavour layers into your bun!

Serve these delicious burgers with a side of chunky chips, crispy baked onion rings & a generous green salad.   Usually, I make a dish of homemade mayonnaise too, just for dunking the chips & onion rings in.

Fabulously flavoursome, this fine burger is a tower of taste. You might need both hands for this one!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

PS: Here are the links for the buns & sides:

For the buns – You’d Better Bun-lieve It!

For the side dishes – Sides by Side!

 

 

You’d Better Bun-lieve It!

Most of us buy bread, usually for ease & because quite frankly, we all lead busy lives & don’t always have the time to make our own.  There’s definitely no shame in that!  All the hard work has been done by some kindly, experienced baker & it’s even been sliced for us.  Personally, I like to have a bit of both – bake my own & buy some for convenience too.  I find making bread a relaxing experience, a chance to lose myself in thought (that’s when I get all my best ideas) & tone up my arms at the same time – bonus!  No fancy machines, equipment or unpronounceable ingredients, just good old fashioned elbow-grease & a bit of flour, water & yeast.

Having baked my own bread for a few decades now (who’s counting?!), I know it can be quite daunting to those who haven’t tried it.   Sometimes the mere thought of baking bread can send people into a tizz.  “Isn’t it messy?”, “don’t you need special equipment?” & “doesn’t it takes hours to make?” are some of the questions I’m often asked.  The answers are yes (getting messy is part of the fun), no, you don’t need special equipment & no, it doesn’t take hours.  Also, you don’t need to sit & watch over it – I make the dough, get on with other things while it’s proving & then go back to it. 

This recipe is for my Dunn Buns & they take less than a couple of hours to make, from start to finish.  Plus, you can bake them in advance (they freeze very well & retain their fluffy interior).  These gorgeously glossy topped buns are made with an enriched dough, meaning they don’t fall apart when crammed with a filling & hold their crumbs when sliced, making them perfect for burgers, breaded chicken & of course, bacon & eggs too.  They are pillowy soft with a smooth golden top & retain their shape as you eat (there’s nothing worse than when your bun goes flat & doughy).

Let’s get those beautiful buns baked & bronzed.  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

500g Strong White Bread Flour (plus extra for kneading, etc)
10g Fast Acting Yeast
1 large Free Range Egg
300ml Lukewarm Water
1 large tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil (keep the bottle handy for later)
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
A little melted butter for the tin (or a butter wrapper will do)

For the topping:
2 heaped teaspoons Sesame Seeds
1 large Free Range Egg, beaten with a pinch of Sea Salt

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper.  Brush the greaseproof paper with the melted butter or give it rub all over with a butter wrapper (I always keep a few wrappers in the fridge, ready for greasing baking tins & such).  You can go without the greaseproof layer if you like.  I find it helps keep the bun bottoms soft, while still giving them colour.

Mix the flour, sea salt & yeast into a large mixing bowl.

Crack the egg into a measuring jug & top up with the lukewarm water to just about 400ml.  Give everything a whisk with a fork to break up the egg & blend it into the water.   If it gets a little frothy on top, that’s fine.

Tip the egg & water mixture into the flour, along with the olive oil.  Give everything a good mix with the fork, making sure you get right to the bottom of the bowl.

Once it’s all gathered into a sticky dough, tip it onto a lightly floured worktop.  I use a pastry scraper to make sure I get all the dough out of the bowl.  You will need a bit more flour as you go along, as it will be quite sticky to start.   Set your mixing bowl aside, you’ll need it later.

Knead firmly for about 8-10 minutes, stretching the dough away from you with the heel of one hand & pulling it back towards you.  Try not to tear the dough as you do this.  Repeat & keep going until the dough is a smooth & supple ball.  If you need a bit of flour as you knead, sprinkle a little onto the worktop & use the pastry scraper to loosen the dough if it gets sticky.

When you’re finished kneading, dust a little flour into the bottom of your original mixing bowl & place your dough inside, sprinkle a little flour on top & cover with either clingfilm lightly coated in olive oil or a dry tea-towel/cloth.

Leave the bowl in a draught-free, warm place to prove for about an hour, until you can see a little dome on the top where it’s risen & grown to almost twice the size.

Once your dough has proved, tip it out onto a lightly floured work surface (keep the oiled clingfilm/cloth from the bowl, you’ll need it again in a moment).  Give the dough a quick knead for a moment to knock out any big bubbles (don’t over-do it though, just a few seconds is fine).

Divide into eight equal pieces & gently roll into balls.  Set them onto the greaseproof-lined baking tray, spacing them a few inches apart (they will need room to grow).  Cover lightly with the clingfilm/tea-towel again & leave them to prove for another 20 minutes, until they have doubled again.

Remove the cling film, delicately brush the tops with the beaten egg using very light strokes (they will be a bit squishy & jiggly, so be gentle) & scatter the sesame seeds over them.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 12-15 minutes, until beautifully bronzed on top & the sesame seeds are all toasted.

To check if your buns are baked, pick one up & tap the bottom – if it sounds hollow, they’re ready.

Remove from the baking tray & place on a cooling rack.  Let them cool completely (I know it’s hard to resist, but it will give you tummy ache if you don’t let them cool).  That’s it, your buns are done!  Slice, sandwich & serve!  They will keep for a day in an airtight container or you can always pop a few cooled buns into airtight bags & freeze on the day you bake them.

They are perfect packed with bacon, sausage & eggs for breakfast or even better, layered with burgers, cheese & salad for a weekend treat.  Sometimes, I make miniature versions of these with smaller fillings (perfect for picnics).

If you do have any leftover buns, try making my mini “Dunn Bun” pizzas!  Slice a bun into three generous slices, rub half a garlic clove onto each & top with a spoon of squished tinned tomatoes (tip them in a bowl & get your hands in).  Then add slices of mozzarella or whatever cheese you like, a few mushrooms or peppers & maybe some ham.  Sprinkle with a little Basil, Oregano & black pepper, dust with Parmesan & bake for 8 minutes in a hot oven (220*C) – easy mini bun pizzas!  They’re perfect as a light lunch, swift supper or a simple cheesy snack.

However you eat them, these bronzed & bun-tiful glossy buns are always a fabulous treat!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

Sides by Side!

Whether it’s the weekend or Wednesday, a little indulgence is always nice & doesn’t need to be extravagant.  Sometimes it’s the little things that bring the most joy & that includes a plate of satisfying comfort food.

When a delicious main course is centre stage, it usually requires a couple of supporting acts.  All the best ones do – fish & chips, bacon & eggs, spaghetti & meatballs (the list is endless).  Burgers always require a good bun, but they also need some serious sidekicks like crispy coated onion rings & deliciously chunky chips.  These two sides are a well-loved staple in our household & with good reason.

Firstly, the chunky chips (fondly known by our family as Aimée Chips) accompany everything from fish fingers to roast chicken.  They are ridiculously easy & totally faff-free – chop them up & chuck them in the tin kind of cooking.

Secondly, there are crispy light onion rings that literally melt in the mouth.  These oh-so-delicate flavoursome delicacies are perfectly light & crisp, tasting much naughtier than they actually are.  Before you start worrying about chips & onion rings being deep fried or not very healthy, the best bit is … there’s no frying required because they’re all baked!  That also means no hot pans to stand & watch (because nobody has the time for all that).

Ready to bake it happen?  Starting with my Aimée Chips!  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

6-8 medium Potatoes (nothing fancy, whatever you’ve got is fine)
Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Coarse Semolina Flour

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & get a large roasting tin to cook the chips in.

Wash & dry your potatoes well, leaving the skins on.  Cut them into thick wedges.  Don’t worry about them being exact-sized, just make them at least the thickness of your thumb.  Place them all into a roasting tin.

Drizzle well with the olive oil, then dust with a good pinch each of black pepper & sea salt, about a quarter teaspoon.  Tip: if you’re preparing these in advance, do not add the salt until you are ready to cook them.  The salt will make them rock hard & no amount of cooking will soften them up.

Sprinkle the coarse semolina flour over the chips, shaking everything around to coat them thoroughly.  Place each potato wedge skin-side down in the tin (this helps stop them sticking to the tin, as they’re curved & touching less surface area – little bit of science-y stuff there).

Bake in the centre of the oven at 220*C for about 20-25 minutes, giving them a shake half-way through.  When they’re crispy & deeply golden, remove the tin from the oven & place on a rack.  To keep them warm, place another baking tray loosely over the top (leave a gap to allow steam to escape) & then reheat just before serving for about 5 minutes in a hot oven.

Onto those deliciously delectable onion rings!  No frying pan required, just a large baking tray & a little baking magic.  Hands washed & here we go!

What you need:

2-3 large Brown/Spanish Onions
2 large Free Range Eggs
4oz Plain Flour
2 tablespoons Greek or Natural Yoghurt (full fat or 0% fat is fine)
Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C.  Prepare a large baking tray – line with a sheet of greaseproof paper.  I use Bacofoil Non-Stick Baking Paper for this (it’s strong & textured, so stands up to the heat without disintegrating).  You don’t need to use it, but it stops your onion rings from sticking to the tin & means you use less oil.

Prepare your onions – remove the tops & tails, take off the outer papery skins & cut into thick chunky slices.

Pop out the centres, then each inner onion ring, being careful not to break them.  Place them onto a plate or board & set aside.  The tiny chunky centres can be saved for another day – simple chop them into pieces, spread onto a tray & freeze for 10 minutes.  Once frozen, tip them all into an airtight bag & pop back in the freezer – no big lumps of onion this way & no waste!

Tip the flour into a shallow dish & season with a little salt & pepper.  Give it a good stir to mix well.

In another shallow dish, crack the eggs & add the Greek Yoghurt, along with a little salt & pepper again.  Give it a good whisk with a fork to break up the eggs & blend into a thick, gloopy liquid.

Take an onion ring, coating it in the yoghurt & egg mixture all over, inside & out.  Shake off the excess & drop into the flour.  Coat well, again making sure you cover the inside too.  Don’t worry if the flour goes lumpy, that’s fine.  Lift the onion ring out, shake off the excess flour & pop onto the baking tray.

Repeat this until all the onion rings have been dipped & dunked in egg & flour.  Place them all next to each other on the baking tray & don’t worry about them touching too much.

Drizzle olive oil all over the onion rings (don’t bathe it, just a light drizzle is fine) & bake in the centre of the oven for about 12-15 minutes, turning them over halfway through cooking.

Once they’re crispy & bronzed, carefully remove the onion rings from the tray using a fork or tongs & place onto a cooling rack with a bit of greaseproof paper underneath (just in case there are any oily drips).

Remember to pop your chunky chips back in the oven for a few minutes to warm up (remove the baking tray from the top) & that’s it, they’re all done!   

Perfect piled up next to a beautiful burger or simply stacked up as a savoury snack, these crispy baked beauties are delicious sides by side anytime!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

 

Flaky Pastry Pasties!

It’s this time of year that always seems magical.  Trees have an abundance of Autumnal  toned leaves, as they tumble around like confetti on the breeze, swooning in swathes wherever they land.  Late blooming flowers appear, their vibrant blossoms adding some freshness to the greenery that remains.  Although it’s November, the sun shines just as brightly as in earlier months, spilling spectacular shades across the skies as it arrives & departs each day.

It’s also a great time of year for those comforting dishes, the ones that really hit the spot when you need it.  Sumptuously slow-cooked stews, deeply filled fruit pies & crisp flaky pastries.  We all have our favourites, especially those childhood dishes that evoke fond memories of deliciousness.   The mere mention of puff pastry takes me to a stool in my Mum’s kitchen, watching her create all kinds of pastry treats & especially savoury pasties.  She would make shortcrust pastry ones, filled with her heavenly homemade stew (our version of a Cornish pasty).  Leftovers would be lovingly wrapped in fabulously flaky pastry parcels, deliciously warm & comforting.  And then there were my favourites – crisp buttery puff pastry packed with mashed potatoes, cheese & onion.  There would always be some mashed potatoes leftover from the previous night’s dinner, just enough to make a few pasties for lunch the next day.

Now you all know that I prefer homemade puff pastry (all butter & no unnecessary ingredients!), but we don’t always have the time.  This recipe is one that was passed on to me & one I make often for both savoury & sweet treats.  It’s a faster flaky pastry with all the buttery crispness of puff pastry, but takes much less time to make.  Also, don’t worry about special pastry cutters or equipment.  All you need is a small side plate or saucer & a sharp knife.  You should get eight good sized pasties from this recipe, so plenty to go around.  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

For the Pastry:
8oz Self-Raising Flour (plus additional for dusting your worktop)
5oz Salted Butter, cold from the fridge or at least chilled so it’s firm
100ml Cold Water
1 large Egg, beaten (for glazing the pasties)
1/2oz  Melted Butter (for the tin)

For the Filling:
Approx. 8oz Potatoes, peeled & chopped into small chunks
1 tablespoon Semi-Skimmed Milk
1/2 a teaspoon Sea Salt
2oz Butter
4oz Cheese, grated (I use whatever I have in the fridge)
1 medium Red Onion, finely chopped
Freshly ground Black Pepper & a little Sea Salt
Fresh Thyme leaves (just a couple of sprigs)

What to do:

First, let’s make the pastry.  Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl.  Cut the butter into small pieces, dropping them directly into the flour.

Using your fingertips, rub the butter chunks into the flour a little – we don’t want it like fine breadcrumbs, more like a rough rubble texture with plenty of lumps.  This is just breaking down the butter a bit to make rolling easier.

Using a round ended knife, stir the water into the flour mixture to form a soft dough – the bowl should be clean when you’ve finished.

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured worktop & shape into a rough rectangle.  Dust your rolling pin to stop it sticking & roll out the pastry until about half a centimetre thick.

Fold into thirds (fold one end into the middle, then the other over the top), turn it 90 degrees, then roll again (remember to re-dust your work surface to stop it sticking).  Repeat this once more, then very loosely wrap in a sheet of greaseproof paper & place in the fridge for about 15 minutes or so.  This will allow it to rest & the layers to form.

While the pastry is resting, make the mashed potatoes.  Fill the kettle with water & put it on to boil.  Cut the potatoes into small chunks, about a centimetre (this will help them cook faster) & chuck in a deep saucepan.

Add the sea salt & carefully tip on the boiling water from the kettle (no standing around waiting for the pan to heat up), just enough water to cover the potatoes.  Put the lid on & simmer for about 8-10 minutes, until soft enough to cut easily.  Drain well into a colander over the sink.  Give the empty pan a quick wipe with a cloth to remove any moisture, then tip the potatoes back into the pan, ready for mashing.

Add the semi-skimmed milk & butter, then get mashing!  It’s up to you how mashed you want them (personally, I prefer a bit of texture to my mash & always use a manual hand-held masher).  Leave to cool with the lid off (don’t be tempted to put the lid on, as it forms condensation & you’ll end up with watery spuds).

While the mash is cooling, pre-heat the oven to 220*C & prepare your baking tray.  Line it with a sheet of greaseproof paper, lightly brushed with the melted butter (the butter will add colour & crispness to the underside of the pasties as they bake).

Add the finely chopped onions & grated cheese to the potatoes, along with a little seasoning & a sprinkling of Thyme leaves.  Give everything a good stir & have a quick taste to make sure you’re happy with the filling (this takes restraint, because I could just eat it from the pan at this stage).  Set aside.

By now, your pastry will be ready to roll.  Lightly flour your work surface & rolling pin, then roll out the pastry to about half a centimetre in thickness.  Make sure it’s nice & even, but don’t worry about being too precise.

Place your saucer or plate on the pastry, cutting neatly around the edge & repeat until you have cut out as many as you can.  Where you have leftover pieces of pastry, place them on top of each other, reshape & roll out again.  Sometimes, I’ll just shape these last ones with my fingers rather than cutting them out again (trust me, it will all be fine once they’re baked).

Take one of the circles & roll lightly from top to bottom, to make a more oval shape.  Place a couple of spoonfuls of the potato mixture onto the lower half of the pastry, leaving about a centimetre edge of pastry uncovered.  Repeat until you have all your pasties made.

Brush a little beaten egg around the edge of the pastry & fold the top half of the pastry over, pressing the edges together to seal in your filling.  From one corner of the pasty, gradually squish the edges together to form a crust, finishing at the other corner.  Lift onto your prepared baking tray, prick holes with a fork in the top.  Repeat this step, until you have all your pasties made.

Brush them well with the beaten egg & sprinkle on a little black pepper (or grated cheese if you like).  Bake in the centre of the oven for about 25-30 minutes until gorgeously golden topped & piping hot.

Place on a cooling rack for a few minutes – even if you’re eating them warm, they will be like the surface of the sun right now & melt your mouth.  While they’re cooling a little, grab a few crisp salad leaves or some chunky chips (or both), pile them on a plate & tuck in!

Fabulously flaky pastry, filled with fluffy cheesy potatoes & crisp red onion, these delicious savoury pasties are perfect for a light lunch or lazy supper.  If you do have any leftover pasties, they can be frozen once completely cooled & reheated when you fancy one (pop them in the oven at 200*C, for about 15-20 minutes until piping hot again).

These delicious pasties also make fabulous flaky finger-foods, great for picnics & parties – just make smaller nibble-sized ones & add a spicy tomato dip for dunking!  I use my tomato sauce recipe for meatballs & add a pinch of cayenne to give it a kick (recipe link here: https://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/having-a-ball/).   Next time you have a cheesy comfort food craving, try my easy cheesy mashed potato pasties!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaf It Out Cake!

Autumn is definitely making her presence felt, with sultry November sunrises becoming crisp, chilly mornings splashed with sunshine.  The trees have turned tinted leaves into a stunning array of amber hues & luscious colours.  This collection of colourful foliage always draws my admiration, as they seem to suddenly appear in full beautiful bloom & disappear just as quickly.  Recently, whilst parked under a particularly pretty tree at a local supermarket, I managed to snap some shots of it’s vibrantly golden leaves shimmering in the sunshine.

Nature is my biggest inspiration (as you probably can tell from my sugar artwork) & this time of year is no exception.  It’s a deliciously indulgent season, perfect for hot chocolate & comfort foods to sustain us until Spring.  And what better way to celebrate the changing of the seasons than with a sumptuous chocolate cake, layered with rich dark cherries & fluffy cream!   Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go! 

What you need:

8oz Salted Butter, room temperature
5oz Caster Sugar
3oz Light Muscovado Sugar (Soft Brown Sugar)
6oz Self Raising Flour
2oz Cocoa Powder
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
2 teaspoons Instant Coffee
4 large Free Range Eggs
2 tablespoons Greek Yoghurt

For the topping & filling:
200g Dark/Plain Chocolate, for melting
200g Mascarpone Cheese
300ml Double Cream
1/4 jar Black Cherry Conserve or Jam

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C.  Prepare two deep 7 inch cake tins – I used loose-bottomed ones for this, as it’s easier to remove the cakes when baked.  Smudge a little butter around the tins, sprinkle on a little flour & shake all around until thoroughly coated.  Add a greaseproof paper disc in the bottom of each tin & set them aside.

Sieve all the dry ingredients into a bowl & mix well with a fork.  Put to one side.

Whisk together the butter & sugars, until a soft gold & creamy consistency.

Add an egg, whisk in thoroughly & repeat until all the eggs are incorporated.

Sift half of the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture & using a spatula, fold in until all completely blended.  Add the rest of the dry ingredients & repeat until the mixture is a thick, smooth batter & there is no flour visible.

Add the yoghurt & whisk in well.  This will lighten the mixture & also add a moist texture to the cake.

Split the batter between the two tins evenly, smoothing the tops lightly with the spatula.  Place in the oven (lower rack) for approximately 30 minutes, until the tops are risen & cracked.  Poke a stick of spaghetti in the centre & if it comes out clean, your cakes are done.

Place them in their tins on a cooling rack for about 5 minutes, until the cake sides shrink back from the tin.  The centres will dip slightly, but this is fine.

Run a spatula knife around the edge of each cake to separate it from the tin.  Carefully remove the cakes & place on the racks to cool.  Be very gentle, as your cakes will be fragile & soft.  Leave to cool completely before removing the greaseproof disc gently from underneath.

While the cakes are cooling, let’s make the leaves!  Lay out some strips of greaseproof paper on your worktop, about 6 inches wide & as long as a rolling pin.  Melt the chocolate & tip into a greaseproof piping bag, snip off the very tip & pipe some skeleton leaves on the paper strips.  Pipe the outlines first, then a strip down the middle & smaller ones to the sides.  Don’t worry about them being too perfect – real leaves are all kinds of shapes & sizes.  Pipe as many or as few as you like.  Any leftover chocolate (even I laughed at that one!) can be just squished out onto another sheet of greaseproof & left to set for nibbling later.

Carefully drape your strips of leaves over a rolling pin & leave until completely set.  They will become curved & softly shaped, perfect for topping your cake.

Next, make the filling!  Whip the mascarpone & double cream in a large bowl until soft peaks, firm enough for piping (go easy, you don’t want it to become too firm).  Tip into a piping bag with the nozzle of your choice – personally, I like to keep it nozzle-free.  Tip:  If your cream does get too firm, add a teaspoon or two of cold semi-skimmed milk to soften it again.

When your cakes are completely cooled, place one on a decorative serving plate & pipe in a pretty pattern around the edge.  For the spots, I pipe on the outer edge inwards.  Spread a layer of the cream mixture in the centre of the cake & evenly spoon on a good layer of the black cherry jam.

Take the other chocolate cake & flip it over, so the flat side is on the top, then place it on top of the filling.  This will leave you with a nice flat surface for decorating!  If you’re serving this later, pop your cake in the fridge in an air-tight container (to stop it drying out).

Pipe swirls on top of the cake at intervals, then add your chocolate leaves to each swirl – don’t forget the one in the centre!   Sometimes, I also grate a little chocolate to sprinkle on the top of everything (optional, but rather lovely).

Time to indulge, so grab some plates & serve!  The fluffy, almost fudge-like texture of the cake is complimented by the cloud of mascarpone cream & crisp, chocolate leaves that crackle as you bite them.  This cake also looks fabulous with frilly white chocolate leaves mixed in with the dark, dusted with grated white chocolate too.   If you have any extra chocolate leaves, save them for nibbling with your morning coffee or add them to the frothy tops of hot chocolate, amid swirls of cream & marshmallows.

Decadent, dark & deliciously indulgent, this rich cherry chocolate cake will wow your guests whatever the occasion.  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

Back to Work, Back to Reality!

Happy New Year everyone!  Hope you all had a fabulous holiday & you’re feeling refreshed! The festive season has finally finished & so has over-indulgence of all varieties.  January always brings everyone back to reality with a bit of a bump.  As I write this, people everywhere are making rules for themselves under the guise of “New Year’s resolutions”, vowing never to drink anything alcoholic ever again, not to let anything sugary pass their lips, or to dance in fountains in a fairy costume (which is a bit dangerous in this weather & makes your wings soggy).  December always seems to be used as an excuse for excess, leaving January to pick up the pieces (as long as they are small & fat-free apparently).

Now I’m not going to start admonishing people for being a bit generous with their portion sizing (that would be the pot calling the kettle), nor am I going to jump on the juicing wagon (think of your teeth people!).  There are two things to remember if you want to look after yourself:  (1) your body’s “In” door is a lot bigger than it’s “Out” door (I’m being polite here), & (2) that age old saying: everything in moderation.  Personally, I don’t do diets & prefer to simply eat until I’ve had enough, leave what I can’t finish & never deny myself anything (within reason obviously).  So, if you’re looking for fat-free dinky diet recipes, you’re going to be slightly disappointed here!   

Food is the fuel to our body’s engine & some get it revving up more than others!  Working lunches are usually a wilted, mystery sandwich from the local shop, accompanied by a packet of crisps, something posing as a sweet (that actually tastes like chocolate-coated cardboard with a bit of birdseed) & a diet Coke.  You’re probably thinking about lunch right now – maybe your day started with a bowl of cereal & a bucket of coffee, so the dragon in your stomach is starting to growl.  Rather than reaching for a rice cake or some other such food of the devil, a bit of prep the day before will sort you right out!  Who bought bags of salad to go with the mountain of cheese over the festive season?  Still in date & probably unopened?  Thought so.  And did you also have a roast dinner on New Year’s Day?  Leftovers languishing in the fridge (with those veg you didn’t cook) are just waiting to be transformed into luscious lunches to keep your motor running.  Right, get your hands washed & aprons on!

What you need:

Half a bag of dried Pasta, about 250g (all those leftover bits you’ve been saving will do!)
1 jar Green Pesto
1 ball of Mozzarella or a tub of Bocconcini, drained
200g Pine Nuts
A couple of large spoonfuls of Roasted Veg (recipe further down)
A couple of handfuls of Salad Leaves (Rocket, Baby Spinach, etc – whatever’s in your fridge)
A couple of handfuls of leftover Roast Chicken (optional)
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Sea Salt (for the pasta water)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

For the Roasted Veg:

1 each Red, Green & Yellow Peppers, deseeded & chopped chunky
1 punnet Mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp cloth & halved
1 Courgette, topped & tailed, sliced chunky
1 Red Onion, topped & tailed, outer skin removed & chopped chunky
1 punnet Cherry Tomatoes
2-3 cloves Garlic, chopped finely or left whole (to be smudged onto a slice of warm, thick, fresh bread later maybe)
A few slices of leftover French bread, ripped into chunks
Dried Oregano
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Freshly ground Black Pepper

What to do:

Firstly, pre-heat the oven to 220*C.

Prep your veg as above & chuck them in a lasagne dish or similar (a large pie dish will do).  With the cherry tomatoes, halve them or at least poke a knife into them to make a vent (this is handy if you’re eating them hot – you don’t want exploding molten lava tomato in your mouth!).

Chuck in the chunks of bread (if it’s a day or two old, it’s brilliant for this).  Drizzle a good glug of olive oil over the top, sprinkle on the garlic, pepper & Oregano, then get your hands in & make sure it’s all covered nicely.  You don’t need salt for this, because it will just draw all the moisture out of the veg & leave it in a puddle.

Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, giving everything a turn halfway through with a spoon.

Once cooked, leave to one side while you prep everything else.  These can be also kept in an airtight container in the fridge or frozen (great with some fresh focaccia & a bit of Balsamic vinegar drizzled on top).

In a dry frying pan, toast your pine nuts.  Be very careful here & don’t have the pan too high.  Keep moving the nuts about until they change from a creamy colour to golden.  Put them on a plate to cool.

Fill the kettle & put it on.  Once boiled, pour it into a large saucepan, chuck in some sea salt (about a teaspoonful should be sufficient) & give it a quick stir with a wooden spoon.  Add the pasta & bring to a rolling boil, cooking according to the instructions on the packet.

Once cooked, your pasta should be firm to the bite.  Strain & put back into the pan with a glug of olive oil.  Give it a shake & a stir (the oil will stop it going into a big pasta lump).  Set aside to cool for a bit (especially if you’re making it the night before work, otherwise you’ll just have a pot of steam & soggy stuff for lunch).

Get your lunchboxes ready – you can buy packs of those resealable little plastic tubs from your local supermarket or Wilkinsons & they are perfect for this!

Now, here’s where you can make different pasta salads for some variety (because the same thing will be boring).  Get four or five lunchboxes or bowls & divide the pasta equally into them all.

Tip the whole jar of pesto into the pasta (yes, all of it).  Give it a good stir around, completely coating all the pasta.

Drain your Mozzarella & rip up into small, bite-sized pieces (sometimes I use Bocconcino, which are little Mozzarella balls).  Chuck some into a couple of the pasta lunchboxes.

In two other lunchboxes, add a couple of spoonfuls of the roasted veg & mix in gently.  If you’ve got roast chicken in the fridge that needs eating, rip some of that up & add some to the pasta without Mozzarella.

Grab a couple of handfuls of salad leaves & put in each pasta box you want them in.  Rather than waste any of that leftover salad, chuck it in the blender to be whizzed up with a few untoasted pine nuts, a good grating of Parmesan cheese & a drizzle of olive oil, et voilà! – homemade pesto! Spoon into a jar, stick it in the fridge & save it for another day (try it on hot baby new potatoes, it’s delicious).

Sprinkle pine nuts over them all, adding more where you want & less where you don’t (it’s your lunch, so make it how you like it).

Dust them all with a few grinds of the black pepper, then cram the lids on top (I usually get my hands in & gently mix it up beforehand).  Put in the fridge until you need it.

In the morning, just grab a box before you leave & that’s lunch done!  Plus you might save a bit of money too (always a bonus).

There are lots of variations that you could try, so just raid the fridge & cupboards, use your favourite foods to give you a bit of inspiration & get creating!

So let’s start the New Year with a shot of colour & a luscious lunchbox of flavourful pasta!  Stay hungry! Aimee  😉 x