Monday, 22 February 2016

Chocolate and pear not upside-down pudding

I saw this recipe, read the instructions and there were things that I didn't like.

Firstly it required putting skillet or frying pan in the oven. Now I know that some frying pans are simply not meant for the oven. I think mine would be OK, but why would I want to risk it?

Secondly, the cake, which has gooey elements, needs to be turned upside-down and there were cautionary words in the instructions to "be careful not to burn yourself". I'm very good at burning myself so I have adapted the recipe to avoid melting frying pan handles and also to avoid heat-related injuries. If you do burn yourself then don't come running to me - I've removed the highest risk element.

You will need a frying pan (not for the oven) and a pie dish - approx 20-25cm in diameter. I'd say a tart or quiche dish wouldn't be deep enough.

You can do quite a bit of preparation ahead of the cooking bit allowing you to appear super organised as you just chuck everything together at the last minute.

Serves 4-8 based on level of appetite and greed


  • 35g butter (preferably unsalted)
  • 250g light brown sugar
  • 4 ripe pears, peeled, cored and thickly sliced (I find pears to be fickle beasts when it comes to ripeness so I used the drained contents of two tins of pears)
  • 150g plain chocolate
  • 180g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 200ml buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk, and frankly who does, then use milk soured with lemon juice - you add the lemon juice, wait a bit and the milk goes all yucky - perfect buttermilk substitute)
  • 75ml vegetable oil (I like to use corn oil)


  • Melt the butter in a frying pan
  • Stir in half the sugar and heat for a couple of minutes stirring continuously until it becomes a light caramel colour
  • Take off the heat and scatter in the pears
  • Ensure the pears are coated in the sugar mixture and then transfer to the pie dish
  • Break the chocolate into bite-sized pieces (or if you’re as much of a glutton as me, maybe half bite-sized pieces)
  • Scatter the chocolate pieces amongst the pears in the dish
  • In a clean bowl mix the flour, cocoa, bicarb and baking powder
  • In a separate jug or bowl which together the eggs, remaining sugar, buttermilk and oil
  • Mix the flour mixture with the egg mixture to form a batter.  This can now be kept in the fridge until needed for the cooking bit.
  • When you’re ready for your domestic god or goddess moment, turn the oven on to 180degrees C (fan).
  • When the oven is at the right temperature pour the batter on top of the pear and sugar and then bake for 40 minutes.
  • Stand for five minutes prior to serving.

The squidgy, oozy nature of this dessert is by design not accident.

Delicious with ice cream, cream or the filthy, dirty squirty aerosol cream that lives in our fridge.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

I'm back and it's pretty ugly

My three months off running has just come to an end.  I can officially re-commence running.

In the intervening time I have acquired trail running shoes and some nice running gear for when it's wet and/or cold.

What I appear to have lost in the same three months is any fitness my previous exercise might have bestowed upon me.

I decided to start from scratch again with the C25K app.  I'm very conscious that if I get at all disheartened with my progress I'll crumble and any willpower or motivation will evaporate.  So if I keep the goals achievable, I'll stick with it.

It was muddy and slippery and my trail running shoes didn't stop my sliding and they still gave me numb toes.  I think I slid less than I would have in regular trainers though and the numb toes thing is just me.

I have been out twice, once in the cold, and once in damp and miserable conditions.  I also have a cold so am taking it easy.

It's OK.  Running is better when it's beautiful and cheery outside but this is OK.  I plan to keep trying.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Smoked mackerel and chive tart

This isn't smocked mackerel and chive tart but smoked mackerel and chive tart.  It's a subtle difference.

I like smoked mackerel in limited quantities and in this recipe the quantities are just right.

If you want to skip the pastry making and buy ready made shortcrust, I won't judge you but this method wasn't difficult, and I speak as a pastryphobe.

You'll need a 22cm tart/quiche tin preferably with removable base, although not essential.  If you only have a 25cm tin then don't fret.  The pastry quantities will still be sufficient but you might want to increase the filling ingredients about 20-25%.  I was in this situation and added a bit more mackerel, crème fraîche, horseradish but not more chives or egg.


  • 320g ready rolled shortcrust pastry or a block which you roll yourself or:
  • 250g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 140g butter (very cold and cubed)
  • 2 tbsp (roughly) iced water

  • 2 large eggs beaten
  • 180g smoked mackerel
  • 100ml milk
  • 200ml crème fraîche (can be half fat but why would you)
  • 3 tsp creamed horseradish
  • 25g fresh chives - chopped

For the pastry:

  • Add the salt to the flour and then pop in a food processor with the cubed butter
  • Whizz until you get a fine crumb
  • Gradually add water until a dough forms
  • At this point I like to chill for 30 mins but you don't have to
  • Roll out pastry between sheets of greaseproof paper and then line your greased (with butter) tart tin with a bit of pastry overhang, about a centimetre.  I usually trim the pastry with scissors to get an even overhang.  The overhang is there because pastry shrinks when cooked.  Make sure you push the pastry gently into the tin - this is best done with the back of the index finger.
  • Prick the base and sides with a fork, also prick the corner bits at the edge of the base - this area is my bête noire because it always seems to puff up when baked
  • Chill the pastry in its case for 30 mins and put a baking sheet in the oven and turn the oven on to 200°C
  • Blind bake for 15 mins by placing the tin on the baking sheet - this means the tart case with baking parchment (I find the pre-cut and fluted cake tin liners from Lakeland are perfect) and fill with baking beans, or rice or beans or whatever.  These baking beans are sold in a standard amount and I use two lots and make sure they are pushed into the corners.  The reason you bake on a baking sheet is that the pastry is quite a buttery mixture and some butter can ooze whilst baking.  A baking sheet is easier to clean than an oven.
  • Take out and carefully remove baking beans and baking parchment.
  • Bake for another 5 mins (this wasn't in the original recipe but I did it by accident and it seemed to work - if it ain't broke...)
  • Take out and brush base with beaten egg - you can try to brush the sides as well but I found that a bit faffy
  • Bake for another 5 mins
  • Take out of the oven
  • Carefully trim away the pastry overhang.  I use a knife and find this is a tedious and messy process.  Why someone doesn't just produce a tart tin that's a little deeper to accommodate this problem, I just don't know.  It would save me time and stress hormones.
  • Your base can now be filled or can wait until you're ready for the next stage.  You can freeze your case now if you want to.
For the filling:
  • Take the skin off the smoked mackerel.
  • Run your fingers along its spine to feel for bones.  They probably wouldn't do any harm but I like to remove the ones I can feel or see.
  • Tear flesh into smallish pieces (about 2/3 the size of your little finger?) and scatter in your tart case.
  • In a large jug whisk eggs, milk, crème fraîche, horseradish and chives.  You can add a healthy grind of black pepper too if you fancy it.  You're really just combining the ingredients thoroughly here not trying to whip air into the mixture.
  • Pour over the mackerel and then bake for 25-30 minutes.  I used a 25 cm tin and found I was baking it for about 40 minutes to get a golden colour.  You'll also notice that the tart puffs up when baked but sinks down when removed from the oven.  This is perfectly normal.
I wouldn't recommend eating this hot, but if warm or cold it is delicious.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Best pancake recipe

I've tried a few pancake recipes over the years and the one I tried this year is the one I'm sticking with.
It makes ten small pancakes
  • 100g plain flour
  • pinch af salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 300ml milk
  • butter for cooking
  • Put flour in a bowl and add salt.  I have a wonderful big Le Creuset jug that is perfect for this and allows the last dregs to be poured into the frying pan.
  • Make a well in the flour and break the eggs into the well.
  • Add the oil - don't use olive oil because you don't want a strong tasting oil. Rapeseed oil is fine, or corn oil.
  • Add 50ml of the milk.
  • Whisk using hand whisk.  I think using a blender or electric/wand whisk, is overkill.  You are aiming for a sloppy smooth paste consistency.
  • Gradually add remaining milk, mixing all the time.
  • Rest or don’t rest the mix - it doesn’t make any difference.
  • Put a small knob of butter in a frying pan over a medium to high heat and, when it’s bubbling, poor enough mixture to cover two thirds of the pan and whoosh it around so that it covers the whole of the base of the pan.  I use a ladle to try and ensure the same amount (about half a ladle) is used each time.  
  • When the underside has cooked feel free to flip the pancake or use a fish slice if you’re of a more cowardly persuasion (I don’t flip).
  • When the new underside is cooked your pancake is ready.
  • Serve with whatever takes your fancy and start with a new knob of butter for the next pancake.
The depressing thing about making pancakes is that the chef spends all their time making the blasted things and there’s never enough time to eat one.  I end up waiting until the family have had their fill and then I get left with whatever batter is left in the bowl.  I then cook, eat, cook, eat, whereas everyone else enjoys a continual stream of pancakeage.  Pancakes are a lovely treat though and I always mean to enjoy them on more than just Shrove Tuesday.