The Cranky Bear

Food to keep the crankiness at bay

Blackcurrants

IMGP9359

Cast your mind back, if you will, to late summer. For once it was beautifully long, languorous and mellow; the leaves, whilst still loudly green, are dusty. A kind of tired stillness lies over the countryside, like the aftermath of a children’s birthday party. And glinting amongst the tangle of undergrowth are stings of fat, dark currants.

IMGP9356IMGP9368

My laptop has been broken for quite a while, and so you will have to put up with my eulogising and photos of sunshine when it is in fact mid-November. I’m still struggling to come to terms with it.

IMGP9345IMGP9370

This isn’t going to be a recipe post – instead I’d just like to share these photos with you, and remember the tang of blackcurrant ice cream in my mouth, eaten with thick, pillowy buckwheat pancakes near summer’s close.

IMGP9379IMGP9384IMGP9385Blackcurrant and mint ice cream with buckwheat pancakes and honey

IMGP9387

Advertisements

Strawberry & Pistachio Upside-Down Cake

IMGP9207IMG_8762IMG_8957These pictures of our little veg patch were taken a month apart (there should be a third picture from this month, but everything is now so overgrown I’d be rather ashamed to put it up here) – what has happened in the intervening days and hours I can only describe as the best kind of magic. I am (very) new to vegetable growing, but I find it difficult to believe that years from now I won’t still feel excited when I notice a new seedling coming up, or a flower bursting open, the beans clambering their way sinuously up the canes. Part of the excitement is of course the anticipation of eating something, a subject which, I have to admit, preoccupies much of my waking hours. cake cake2.2 It is a different sort of spell that happens inside the  quiet cloister of the oven, but it is magic nevertheless.

strawberry cake This cake has another magic trick up it’s sleeve – secret strawberries! (Be sure to say the magic words when you flip it over).

It starts with Joy the Baker’s Strawberry Upside-Down cake, then pistachios get involved (pistachios always bring the party).

IMGP9240

For the strawberries

Good dollop of butter

Tablespoon of brown sugar

Strawberries

For the cake

225g caster sugar

225g unsalted butter

4 eggs, lightly beaten

150g flour

75g ground pistachios

pinch of salt

23cm springform cake tin

Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan

Melt the butter for the topping (you’ll need enough to coat the sides and base of the tin), and brush it all over the inside of the cake tin. Sprinkle the brown sugar onto the bottom, and top with the strawberries, sliced into rounds of about 1cm thick (don’t worry about this too much. This cake is meant to be relaxing, not stressful!). Slice enough strawberries for 2 layers, then eat the rest.

Cream together the butter and sugar – it helps a lot to make sure all your ingredients are room temperature before you start (although if this is a spur of the moment, i-need-cake-SOON type of bake, I understand. Just cut the butter into little cubes and mix it on its own to soften, before adding the sugar). Beat in the eggs a little at a time, sifting in a small amount of flour with each addition. Once well combined, sift in the rest of the flour and the pistachios and salt, folding together. Spread on top, being careful not to disturb the sleeping strawberries. Put in the oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool slightly, then take off the sides of the tin and carefully flip over, prising the bottom of the tin off. Eat soon!

IMGP9241

p.s. I’ve managed to delete all of the photos from here, so hopefully will be restoring those over the next few weeks. It’s a fairly tedious business, though!

Fridge Food

Of all the predictably awful daytime TV shows I used to see at my Granny’s house, Ready Steady Cook was one of the ones that I would actually want to watch. I loved watching the chefs dream up a meal from a handful of ingredients that they’d only just seen, and all against the clock.

The ritual of the weekday evening meal sometimes reminds me of this. I stare into the abyss of the fridge, and gather what I can find that looks edible and that I’m in the mood to eat; I grab the slightly wrinkly broccoli, the half finished tub of thick cream, skip over the bag of salad leaves (not today, thank you), and seize upon the block of parmesan. Then, having sat and stared at each other for a bit, I hopefully turn them into something vaguely satisfying.

IMG_8741

(I think you should know that in order to take this picture, which is on the hall floor, I had to bribe my cat with a crumb of cheese to stay in the kitchen, so he wouldn’t shove his whiskers into my potential dinner whilst I crouched over it with the camera).

So without further ado, let’s get dinner on the table! This uses 2 pans, and takes about half an hour (or less if you’re feeling efficient, I have a tendency to faff).

(This serves one hungry person and one not-so-hungry person, but the ingredients can easily be altered and scaled up).

Chop a handful of asparagus spears into thirds, and cut 4 florets of broccoli to roughly the same size. Blanch them for 3 minutes in boiling water, then drain. In the same pan, set water to boil and add 150g pasta to it once it’s tumbling around, cook according to instructions.

In another pan fry 3 finely chopped shallots in a knob of butter and a splash of oil. Once they have been hissing nicely for 5 minutes, add 1/2 a tsp of grain mustard and the zest of half a lemon, and stir over a low heat until the pasta is done.

When the pasta has finished cooking, add a splash of the water to the shallot mixture before draining (this helps the sauce to coat the pasta). Combine the pasta with the shallots, stirring through a good dollop of extra thick cream (about 1 tbsp). Tip out onto plates or bowls, and eat!

IMG_8745edit2(Please excuse the terrible photo, the sun had sunk a fair bit!)

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies

I came across the amazing cakes of Marcella Robin today – her website is here, and Etsy have posted an interesting little video here. The bold, graphic patterns are so beautiful, and it seems like her approach isn’t one of look over taste, which I would admire in a cake decorator.

Speaking of eating the daisies, I have a few things in the ground (quite literally). I’ve become very intrigued by using herbs and plants in my cooking, but I’m having to wait for my specimens to grow up a bit before I pick off all their leaves! I’m also hoping to get cooking properly again this weekend, and update this dusty old corner of the web. I need to stop worrying about how good everything is and just put things up here, actually do something positive. And in the spirit of that, I show you this cake – I only took this picture before I scoffed it all (with a little help from some friends), and the recipe isn’t mine, but I was pleased with it and I feel like this blog should be a record of my cooking, not of my perfectly edited blog photos.

IMG_8574

Rosemary cake with Lemon buttercream

IMG_8522

As the youngest member of my family, it was always my job to run and fetch the back scratcher from it’s resting place on the hall table whenever my granny needed it. It was an odd looking implement with a woven handle and a small wooden hand attached to one end. This cake is the culinary equivalent. By that I do not mean that it can be used to relieve itchy body parts, but rather that it has partially cured my itch for spring.

Image

After about two days of watery spring sunshine we’re back to winter conditions, with snow and deep drifts on all the hills. For the first time in my life, though, I’m not excited by it – I want spring! Warmer weather, fresher flavours, and flowers flowers flowers. Oh and lambs, because they brighten anyone’s day.

IMG_85100

This rosemary cake rumbled around my head for a little while before I actually made it. I eventually settled on a lemon buttercream, and decided to grind the sugar with the rosemary leaves, to try and get a stronger flavour. This admittedly took a while, but I didn’t have anywhere to go and I’d say it was worth it. Plus it turned the sugar (and the cake!) a rather lovely, delicate shade of green.

IMG_8492

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the flavour, but I think it was a success; it’s light and refreshing, without being overpowering or too ‘herby’, and the zesty icing really compliments it. I’m not usually a fan of buttercream icing because I find it too cloying, but here it was just right.

IMG_8524

IMG_852

IMG_85200

Rosemary cake with Lemon Buttercream

175g sugar

2 stalks of rosemary (about 5″ long)

175g unsalted butter (softened)

A few extra leaves of rosemary, very finely chopped

3 eggs, lightly beaten

175g self-raising flour

For the icing:

150g butter

200g icing sugar

Juice and finely grated zest of a lemon

And three 17cm cake tins, greased, the bottoms lined with baking paper

First, remove the rosemary leaves from the stalks and crush a few at a time, adding a little sugar to the mortar with each set of leaves. Unless you have a large mortar, you’ll probably need to do this in stages. Be patient!

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (160ºC for a fan oven). Cream the rosemary sugar with the butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy, before adding the finely chopped rosemary.

Next add the eggs a little at a time, beating in a little flour with each addition.

Sift the rest of the flour into the bowl, and gently fold into the mixture.

Spoon into the prepared tins, smoothing the mixture – for a more even rise, it helps to have a slight dip in the middle.

Bake on the middle shelf for around 20 minutes, or until they are risen and golden, and a skewer comes out clean when poked into the middle.

Place on a wire rack to cool, before removing from the tins and leaving to cool fully.

Make the icing; beat the butter until soft, then sift in the icing sugar. Mix until fully combined. Add the lemon zest, and enough juice to make the icing easily spreadable.

Sandwich the cakes together with a little of the mix, then spread the remaining icing all over the cake.

How to shoot a Wolf

“All men are hungry. They always have been. They must eat, and when they deny themselves the pleasures of carrying out that need, they are cutting off part of their possible fullness, their natural realization of life, whether they are rich or poor.”   M.F.K. Fisher How to Cook a Wolf

Stumbled across this beautiful photo series by Anna Willliams. The way she photographs food is so honest, yet almost reverent – I so admire the way she captures the soft light falling on a bowl of eggs, a bunch of herbs, a delicately trussed bird. The book on which one of her series is based looks very interesting too – written during wartime rationing M.F.K. Fisher talks about how to sustain both the body and the soul through food, something I think everyone would benefit from. In fact, I just ordered my copy!

Blood Orange Polenta Cakes

Image

I absolutely adore blood oranges. Whilst I’m not a huge fan of their less gorey counterparts,  I will stalk the supermarket aisles in search of these, and have been known to elbow other customers at the market out the way to get my hands on some.

Maybe it’s the thrill of variety, each orange revealing a different colour inside, from barely blushing to almost arterial. Or perhaps it’s that some come in brightly coloured twists of paper (I am a sucker for pretty packaging). Whatever the reason, I often buy more than I, an admitted tolerator of fruit, can happily eat. In this instance, the glut met with some loitering polenta and, by way of the GoodFood cookbook, became a cake (of course).

Image

Having made the cakes I decided I needed more of an citrus hit than they were giving me, so made an orange syrup and doused them in it.

Blood orange polenta cake

It paid off! Delectably sticky, these are paw-lickingly good (if I do say so myself).

Blood orange polenta cake

Blood Orange Polenta Cakes (adapted from this very good little book)

n.b. I made 24 little cakes (using a shallow bun tin), and baked them in two batches, but they would work just as well done in bigger tins; you may need to bake them for a little longer, though.

140g unsalted butter

140g caster sugar

75g polenta

Zest of 1/2 an orange

3 large eggs, beaten

140g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp milk

For the syrup

4 large blood oranges

3 level tbsp sugar

Cream the butter and the sugar until pale. Add the polenta and zest and mix, then stir in the eggs, a little at a time.

Sift the flour and baking powder together, then gently fold in, followed by the milk.

Spoon into a 12 hole cake tin lined with paper cases, and bake at 180°C for 20 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before poking several holes in the top of each cake.

Now make the syrup. Juice the oranges and pour into a pan (add a splash of water if the oranges don’t yield much juice). Place over a low heat with the sugar, until it dissolves. Turn up the heat and let it bubble ferociously for a couple of minutes. It’s ready when it has thickened slightly – enough to coat the base of the saucepan if you tilt it. Pour over the cakes, allow them to cool (the hard part), then devour.