Spiced Minced Chicken Cups

Friends had been telling me for a while that The Hairy Bikers books are phenomenal when it comes to cooking. My partner being particularly inclined towards their dishes, I decided to get one of their latest books, Asian Adventure. Needless to say, it covers their last tour of quite a lot of cities in some major Asian countries, namely Thailand, Japan and South Korea. I have to say, my friends were right. The book is brilliant and full of new recipes I had no idea I could tap into. I also loved the fact they use original recipe from real people living in those cities, which sometimes they have adapted to make them more UK-friendly (only by means of being able to actually source the ingredients!).

These little cups are just delicious. To be perfectly honest, I could have eaten the filling by the spoonful on its own, but I think the lettuce cups complement it nicely. Don’t worry if you can’t find all of the ingredients, because some can be easily left out and/or modified. Just to give you a for instance, the original recipe called for the leaves of a bunch of mint, coriander and Thai basil to be added to the mixture. I didn’t (I’ll come clean, I forgot to) and the chicken was superb nevertheless. Also, the original recipe called for sticky rice to be used, while I used normal basmati and obtained the same result. You need to be flexible in the kitchen. Also, I don’t see the point in stocking up on ingredients you might use once and then leave there to go off. So, for instance, I use maple syrup instead of mirin (I appreciate it’s not the same, but it does the trick and uses up my maple syrup), dried herbs for the fresh ones (so here I added some dried mint) and so on. Make your life easier!

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Ingredients (for the chicken)

  • 500g boneless, skinless chicken thigh/breast, minced or finely chopped
  • juice of 1 1/2 limes
  • 4 tbsp uncooked rice
  • 50g unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 4 banana shallots, thinly sliced
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves, very finely shredded (optional)
  • 3 spring onions, thinly sliced at an angle
  • 8-10 baby gem lettuce/cos lettuce/cabbage leaves

Ingredients (for the dressing)

  • juice of 1 1/2 limes
  • 4 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 dried chilli, chopped or 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 3 bird’s eye chillies (red or green), deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed and finely chopped
  • thumb-size piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated

Method

  1. To make the dressing, put all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine. Set aside until needed.
  2. Put the chicken in a bowl with the lime juice and leave it to marinate for about 5 minutes.
  3. Place a large pan (or wok) on the heat, add the uncooked rice and dry roast it for a good 5 minutes or until it is golden brown. Yes, it sounds foolish, but stick with me. Tip the roasted rice into a food processor or spice grinder to make it into a coarse powder, then set aside. Add the peanuts to the wok and toast them until golden brown, then also set aside.
  4. Add a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil to the pan and let it heat , then add the marinated chicken. Fry it until it’s cooked and nicely golden (the original recipe said not to, but I think it adds to the flavour). Ensure there are no pink bits remaining and keep on breaking it up with the back of a spoon or a spatula.
  5. Take the pan off the heat, then add the dressing together with the shallots, kaffir lime leaves and spring onions. Sprinkle in the majority of the rice (leave behind about 2 tablespoons), then mix the mixture together and leave to cool for at least 10 minutes.
  6. To finish, you can add some herbs (I didn’t, as explained), then toss the peanuts in the pan too. Place the lettuce leaves on a large serving platter and fill with the chicken mixture. Top with the rest of the ground rice and serve. Best enjoyed at room temperature or cold.

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Blackberry Cupcakes

September and autumn in general are the perfect time to enjoy wild berries. Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and the like (gooseberries too!) are at their best and plentiful. Look for local produce when you are buying them, the UK is renowned for importing about 40% of its produce, sometimes with less than perfect results. If you buy your fruit and veg from a supermarket, don’t be afraid to smell the packets. Usually, the berry ones have small holes to allow the fruits to ‘breathe’. If you can smell the scent of ripe berries, then go ahead. Otherwise, they are very likely to be frozen or refrigerated and have probably lost all of their flavour. If you still don’t believe me, try a simple test. Buy a local punnet of berries and an imported one (from Spain, Italy or wherever). Then, once you’re at home, leave them out of the fridge for a good hour for them to come to room temperature and taste them. I can guarantee you the local ones will be much better – and will have probably cost you less.

These cupcakes are very easy to make. The recipe started in the BBC Good Food magazine as red velvet cakes with blackberries added to it. However, seeing as you don’t need to add food colouring to the icing to make it a deep purple (the blackberries will seek to that), I don’t see the point in adding it to an already dark sponge. You don’t get a red/purple hue anyway and the less chemical stuff we eat, the better. If you’re a purist and don’t like bits of blackberries in your cupcakes, then feel free to substitute them with blueberries, which you can crush to a real pulp. I fear raspberries would be too delicate to work with this, but please try if you’re that way inclined.

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Ingredients (for the cupcakes)

  • 300g blackberries, plus 12 extra for decoration
  • 100g butter
  • 100g milk chocolate, broken into chunks
  • 220g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • 2 large eggs

Ingredients (for the icing)

  • 100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 400g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Method

  1. Using a fork, slightly crush half the blackberries in a small bowl. You want the juices to be runny, but try to retain some chunks. Gently melt the butter and the milk chocolate in a saucepan. Set aside to cool, then whisk in the eggs.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases.
  3. Mix the flour, raising agents, sugar, cocoa powder and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Put the kettle on.
  4. Scrape the egg and chocolate mixture into the dry ingredients, then add the crushed berries and 100ml recently boiled water. Mix together until smooth, then divide between the muffin cases and bake for 15 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
  5. Whizz the remaining 150g blackberries to a puree. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat the butter until smooth, then slowly add the icing sugar (I found it best to add it in two batches). Add the vanilla extract, then beat until pale and fluffy, for about 5 minutes. Sieve the blackberry purée and gently fold it into the icing. Spoon it into a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle.
  6. When the cupcakes are cold, pipe a generous amount of icing onto each one, then top with one of the 12 reserved blackberries. Enjoy!

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Chocolate Fudge Cake

The original recipe for this cake is from The Hummingbird Bakery’s own Home Sweet Home cooking book, although they call it Chicago Fudge Cake to honour, they say, the US windy city. Seeing as I have not been to Chicago, nor do I think it really has something to do with fudge, I decided to change to a more generic name. The recipe, however, is the same. This is a glorious and very rich three-tiered chocolate cake, with extra crunch and sweetness provided for by the fudge on top and in between the layers. I added some glitter on top for extra wow effect, but that really is unnecessary. This cake is a prodigy in terms of style and substance. I recently made this towering cake for my birthday party and I am yet to find someone who tried the cake and did not like it. I think the fact it contains approximately half a kilo of dark chocolate helps, although I like to think the combination of rich ganache and sweet caramel is a winner.

As the title says, there should have been fudge on the top, not caramel. Despite having followed the recipe to the letter, I did not manage to get a crumbly fudge but ended up with a toffee fudge instead, the type you would eat on Bonfire Night here in the UK. Don’t get me wrong, it was still delicious and crumbly. Plus I have never been that good with caramel (I tend to get very impatient). The added bonus of this cake is that, if you leave it in the sun or in a warm environment, the caramel on top tends to slightly melt, providing some soft chewy sweetness to bite into… Right, that’s it, go make it now!

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Ingredients (for the fudge)

  • 55g unsalted butter
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 90g light brown sugar
  • 125ml double cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients (for the sponge)

  • 110g cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp instant espresso powder mixed with 240ml recently boiled water / 240ml strong coffee
  • 125ml soured cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 210g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 225g unsalted butter, softened
  • 340g golden caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs

Ingredients (for the chocolate ganache)

  • 725ml double cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 170g unsalted butter
  • 60g golden syrup
  • 450g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped

Method

  1. Start by making the sponges. Grease the sides and line the bottom of 3 x 20cm loose-bottomed sandwich tins with parchment paper. Pre-heat the oven to 170C.
  2. In a medium bowl/jug, mix the cocoa powder with the coffee mixture with a whisk, ensuring there are no lumps. Allow to cool slightly.
  3. In a jug, mixed the now slightly cooled coffee mixture, soured cream and vanilla extract. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and set aside.
  4. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the leaf attachment, cream the butter with the sugar together, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping the bottom and the sides of the bowl after each addition.
  5. On slow speed, start adding the other ingredients by alternating the dry mixture with the coffee and sour cream on. Do not overmix or your cake will be tough. Divide the mixture evenly among the three tins, then bake for 30-35 minutes until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
  6. Next, move on to the ganache. Mix the double cream, vanilla extract, butter and golden syrup in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat, then bring to a gentle simmer.
  7. Transfer the chopped chocolate to a large bowl, then remove the cream mixture from the heat and pour it into the chocolate. Whisk/Mix until smooth, glossy and no pieces of chocolate are visible. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for a couple of hours or until the mixture had hardened but is still soft enough to spread.
  8. Last, prepare the fudge. Line a baking tray with baking parchment (particularly suited are the Silko pads or similar ones). Mix the butter, vanilla extract, sugars and cream in a saucepan, then cook over medium heat, stirring regularly until the sugars have dissolved.
  9. Cook over low-to-medium heat, without stirring, until the sugar reaches the hard crack stage, which corresponds to 150C on a sugar thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat and gently pour the hot caramel on the lined baking tray. Allow to cool completely, then break into shards/pieces.
  10. To assemble the cake, ensure the sponges are completely cool and the ganache is of a spreadable consistency. Place a small dot of the chocolate ganache on the cake stand/platter you will be using and position the first layer on top. This ensures the cake will not move. Spread about 4-5 tablespoons of the ganache on top and smooth it out using a palette knife. Sprinkle with some of the crushed/broken fudge, then top with the following sponge. Continue this way, alternating sponges, ganache and caramel, until you have used all three sponges, then use the ganache to frost the top and sides of the cake and cover it completely. Decorate the top of the cake with the remaining fudge pieces. Enjoy!

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