Monday, 26 April 2010

Sunday Dinner Cornbread

Sunday Dinner Cornbread - The Inky Kitchen

Cornbread makes me think of long summer days sitting in the garden drinking cider and snuffling because my hayfever has acted up and my nose is blocked with pollen. It may sound unpleasant, but I love those days - we don't get that many of them in the UK so you really have to make the most of our short lived and confusingly spontaneous 'heatwaves'.

I think it must be this lack of warm weather that makes me yearn for a life in the South (of America people, as attractive as it seems I don't wish to become a tractor driving, moonshine swilling farmers wife in Devon). I'm thinking of the South where I could have a lovely big wooden house with a wrap around porch and spend my days drinking iced tea and grilling shrimp by the Bayou while listening to Clutch.

In my opinion, second to gumbo, cornbread is the dish that sums up the Deep South for me. It is a very humble dish using few ingredients, all of which are simple and wholesome and turned into something special with delicious spices key to Southern cuisine. Although I cannot say that this recipe is traditional, it is my reworking of a recipe which I believe is fairly authentic, taken from 'The New Orleans Cookbook' by Rima and Richard Collin. I would highly recommend it having tried several recipes, all of them being delicious, especially the Creole Jambalaya, Stuffed Artichokes and Crabmeat Ravigotte. There are also some wonderful dessert and drink recipes which would be perfect for a barbecue.

Sunday Dinner Cornbread - The Inky Kitchen

I have also made this dish for vegetarian friends replacing the bacon with fried diced onions and peppers and cooking the bread in melted vegetable shortening rather than the fat from the meat. It is just as delicious!

Sunday Dinner Cornbread

Serves 6 or more as a side dish
Adapted from 'The New Orleans Cookbook' by Rima and Richard Collin

120g / 1 cup yellow corn meal
120g / 1 cup plain flour
1 tbsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 large egg
250ml / 1 cup milk
60g / 1/4 cup vegetable shortening at room temperature (Such as Trex)
175g / 1 1/4 cups sweetcorn kernels (I used tinned)
250g / about 2 cups smoked bacon, fried in 1 tbsp oil and cut into small pieces
250g / about 2 cups grated cheddar or other firm white cheese
3-4 tbsp of the fat leftover from frying the bacon

Place any size deep baking tray half filled with water on the very bottom of your oven and preheat it to 220 C/ 425 F.

Fry the bacon in 1 tablespoon of oil until crisp, remove from the pan and leave to cool, pouring 3-4 tablespoons of the fat left from the frying into an 8" baking pan. Chop the bacon into small pieces and set aside.

Combine the cornmeal, plain flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, allspice, white pepper and cayenne pepper in a large mixing bowl. Next add the egg and milk, beating with a wooden spoon until smooth, then adding the vegetable shortening and mixing again.

When the mixture is thoroughly combined add the bacon, sweetcorn and all but one handful of the grated cheese, mix and then pour into the baking tray smoothing over the top. Sprinkle over the remaining cheese and you should have something that looks like this...

Sunday Dinner Cornbread - The Inky Kitchen

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until a knife slid into the centre comes out clean with no raw batter on it. If the top looks ready before the centre is cooked just cover it in tin foil and continue cooking for a few more minutes until done.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for ten minutes before cutting into generous pieces. Cornbread is best served warm but is also delicious cooled to room temperature.

The tray half filled with water in the bottom of the oven is an old fashioned trick that helps to crisp the top of baked goods like breads and it really does work!

You could make all manner of additions to this recipe with different vegetables or shredded meats. I think prawns would be lovely fried off with some red and green peppers and onions.

Cornmeal can now be found in most large supermarkets, mostly in the ethnic foods aisle or in Chinese supermarkets. It is basically a medium ground polenta you are looking for.

If you removed the bacon and sweetcorn leaving the recipe a little more plain, it would be lovely used as a topping or crust over a stew or chili - place the cooked stew in an oven proof dish, then spread the cornbread mixture over the top and bake until crisp and golden. Yum!!!

Sunday Dinner Cornbread - The Inky Kitchen

Monday, 19 April 2010

Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes

Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcake - The Inky Kitchen

Cupcakes are my realm. I've been making them for the last 4 or 5 years, originally just as a hobby, then as a little business on the side of my full time job, but always for pleasure. I just find baking a lovely way to spend time, the alchemy of the mixing and the baking and the beautification process of tinting the buttercream, piping pretty swirls and sprinkling with glitters and sugar shapes or crafting little icing roses and deities. Making things pretty has always been my bag.

This said I have never thought my process of baking to be in any way professional. I have never had any training other than watching my Granny Joyce throwing together a sponge from a recipe ingrained into her psyche, or Nigella sexily spooning glossy globs of batter into shiny golden cases. This has all changed now. I have a new found caking confidence, I feel I can take on those more exotic recipes whose many many steps used to make me recoil in fear. This confidence is all due to the lovely glossy lady shown in the photo below... sorry for the awful quality.


Meet Dita, my newly acquired KitchenAid mixer. She's gorgeous yes? I feel I can write about her on a food blog much more easily than I can talk about her in person. There is only a small section of the world that can comprehend and understand spending £350 on a mixer, and that small section does not include a lot of my friends and colleagues. Pete only gets it because of the sheer amount of times I have ranted at him about how amazing they are and how I've wanted one since I was nine years old (yet again, Nigella's fault). But now his ears and my vocal chords may rest as she inhabits our kitchen, glinting away on the worktop and making my life a hell of a lot easier.

And so here is the first recipe I tried out with her, originally from Southern Living. I know salted caramel may sound a little scary to some, but just think of peanut butter cups - the slight salty edge offsets the sweetness of the chocolate perfectly.

Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcake - The Inky Kitchen

Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes
Adapted from Southern Living
Makes around 36 regular sized cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients
115g (half pat) butter, softened
100g full fat cream cheese, softened
285g caster sugar
165g packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
375g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
200ml sour cream

Ganache Ingredients
200g dark chocolate, chopped
60ml plus 2 tbsp whipping cream

Salted Caramel Buttercream Ingredients
115g (half pat) butter, softened
75g full fat cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 tsp sea salt
400g icing sugar
3 tbsp plus 1 tbsp milk
20 caramel toffees

Sea salt flakes
Caramel toffees, chopped
A little extra dark chocolate, for drizzling

Cupcakes Method
Preheat oven to 180 C /350 F.

Mix butter and cream cheese until well combined and creamy, then beat in the sugars until light and fluffy (around 2-3 minutes). Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each and then add the vanilla extract.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl and gradually add to the butter and sugar mixture alternating with the sour cream, beating well after each addition and then for a further 3 minutes. Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners filling each to around 2/3 full.

Bake for 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean with no liquid batter attached. Let cool completely.

Ganache Method
Put the chopped chocolate and 60ml of whipping cream into a microwavable bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Remove and stir, then cook for a further 30 seconds. Remove from the microwave, add the further 2 tbsp cream and whisk until it slightly thickens. Dip the tops of the cupcakes in the ganache and let stand for at least 30 minutes to set.

Salted Caramel Buttercream Method
Mix butter, cream cheese, vanilla extract and salt until creamy and well combined. Gradually add the icing sugar alternating with the 3tbsp of milk until smooth.

Place the caramel toffees and further 1tbsp milk in a microwavable bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds, remove and stir, heat for a further 30 seconds. Remove from microwave and allow to cool for 2-3 minutes before adding to the buttercream and mixing until silky smooth.

Pipe or spread onto the cupcakes and then top with a sprinkling of sea salt flakes and chopped toffees and a drizzle of dark chocolate.

Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcake - The Inky Kitchen

I didn't think the actual cake recipe used here was all that good. They were quite dry despite the use of sour cream which usually moistens cakes up, and I felt they had a too pronounced eggy flavour that I wasn't keen on. Next time I think I'll use Ina Garten's chocolate cupcakes or my secret mudcake recipe to knock up the cocoa factor a notch.

I used Maldon salt which I crushed up a little in my pestle and mortar as it has a lovely rounded flavour that I thought would work perfectly with the sweet caramel toffees. Maldon salt is available in all major supermarkets and comes in a little green and white box, if you can't find it any good quality sea salt will do.

Irish butter toffees are my favourite and so were the ones I used. It is basically any chewy butter toffee that you need so that they melt, not a hard one like Werther's Original.

Try your hardest not to open the oven door until the minimum cooking time has passed, this will stop any heat escaping which could make the cupcakes sink.

Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcake - The Inky Kitchen

As I had some caramel buttercream left over and needed to make a cake for an afternoon tea session with my lovely friend Polly, I added some crunchy peanut butter to it along with a little additional milk to loosen the mix and used it to sandwich together the layers of a chocolate cake which I then covered in chocolate fudge frosting. It went down a storm, so I suggest you do the same if you have any spare!!!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Basil and Mozzarella Arancini

The Inky Kitchen Arancini

You know when you're watching a cooking show or reading a food blog and you come across a recipe that makes you practically jump in the air shouting 'holy crap I need that in my face NOW'? Yes, I believe you do.

Arancini are one of those things I've been aware of for a while but kept forgetting about, so the jealousy that swept over me when seeing some guy on Food Network chomping on one of these deep fried delights was just the kick in the butt I needed to get experimenting.

I always have reservations about deep frying, I'm not exactly sure why... There have been no hot oil burn incidents in my past, not that I can recall anyway - I've heard that extreme pain can block out memories but I'm pretty sure on this one. I think it might just be my aversion to smelly kitchens and when you fry some stuff you just can't help but get a kitchen full of greasy, fatty air. I could never, ever work in a fish and chip shop that's for sure.

Rambling aside, this 'fear to fry' paranoia was swept right out the door upon viewing the stringy melted mozzarella core of these golden risotto beauties. Unless you have a severe cheese hatred I defy you to look at the following picture and not salivate.

Steamy Arancini Close Up
These babies really are special.

Now this recipe is in no way traditional, it's just my take on it. I've seen arancini filled with meat ragu, diced cooked mushrooms, a thick tomato sauce, even a venison type stew. A few of the concoctions I'd like to try in the future are roasting little vine or cherry tomatoes to encase in the risotto, roasted sweet potato cubes, and perhaps some creamy garlic and spinach.

I used leftover risotto from dinner the evening before which I'd made with lemon, saffron, mushrooms and prawns but use your imagination, these are very versatile little bites. At the end of this post I'll put a few links to some risotto recipes I think would work well in case you haven't developed a serious risotto fetish like I have. There's not a hint of shame there, I promise.

Arancini Close Up

Basil and Mozzarella Arancini
Makes around 12

3 cups of cold risotto
1 packet of pizza mozzarella (the kind that doesn't come in liquid)
12 leaves of basil
2 medium eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups of breadcrumbs *
Enough oil to fill your pan about 3 inches deep **

Cut the mozzarella into twelve 2cm cubes and wrap each one in a leaf of basil. Preparing a little arancini production line will make life a lot easier so put the bowls of beaten egg, breadcrumbs, risotto and mozzarella cubes together with a baking tray next to them.

Grab a small handful of risotto, about the size of a golf ball, and push one of the basil and mozzarella cubes into it. Squish the risotto around it make a ball shape with no gaps in the rice.
Next, coat the ball in the beaten egg and then roll in the breadcrumbs to give an even coverage. Place on the baking tray and repeat until you have all twelve done.

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F and then heat up your oil on the hob. The oil is hot enough to deep fry when you can see ripples in the pan. I usually throw in a pinch of flour to make sure - if it starts to fizzle and cook immediately the oil is ready, if it doesn't let it heat up for a few more minutes and try again.

Fry off the arancini in batches until they are a lovely golden brown, then remove them from the pan and let them sit on kitchen roll for a few minutes for the excess oil to drain off. You can then place these on a baking tray and sit them in the middle of the preheated oven to keep warm while you fry off the other batches.

Arancini are best served warm, not hot and are especially good dipped in a good quality tomato relish!

Lots Of Arancini Close Up

Recipe Notes
I used a half and half mix of traditional breadcrumbs and panko which are the Japanese version to coat my arancini. Panko is coarser and therefore gives a bit more of a crunch, and can now be found in most supermarkets.

Make sure whichever oil you use has a high smoking point such as vegetable, sunflower or a branded frying oil. This will stop your kitchen filling up with smoke and looking and smelling like an Alice Cooper concert.

Lastly, the best pans for deep frying are made of cast iron as they evenly conduct the heat so you don't get 'cool spots' in your oil.

Steaming Arancini

Risotto Recipe Links

Smoked Salmon Risotto from Not So Humble Pie

Mushroom Risotto from Guilty Kitchen

Lemon Risotto with Saffrom from Little Kitchen LnL

Caramelised Onion Risotto from Fake Ginger

Whitby Crab and Wild Garlic Risotto from Louisa Parry

Vegan Pumpkin Risotto from The Post Punk Kitchen

Vegan Mushroom Risotto from Ashley Skabar