Chocolate Cake (and 50 posts!)

Oh yeah! It's a celebration, all right. I'm celebrating achieving what I set out to accomplish at the beginning of the year - namely to start a food blog (check!) and to get to fifty posts before the year is up! Looks like I made it! We still have a month and a bit of the year to go but I'm proud of myself for getting there so quickly. This was just the beginning of my journey and I hope you all follow me whilst this blog grows and evolves. Now I've reached 50 posts I've activated another thing on my to-do list but this one's a bit of a secret. Once it's completed I'll let you lovely people in on it. Also this site WILL be changing soon enough with a new logo and hopefully a new design.

I had hoped to bring you the new design today (and that's partly the reason for the delay) but it's taking longer than I anticipated. To make up for it, I've included a chocolate cake recipe in this post. I made this for my dad's birthday and it went down really well. It's pure chocolate bliss. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Chocolate Cake
200g dark chocolate (I used 76%)
200g butter
1 shot of espresso
175g type '00' pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking power
250g light Muscovado sugar
50g golden caster sugar (optional)
25-50g cocoa
3 eggs
75ml creme fraiche
125ml water

Chocolate Ganache
200g dark chocolate
300ml double cream
4 tbsp caster sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 140C. Butter and line a 8'' cake tin. Melt 200g of chocolate, the butter and 125ml of water in a pan on a low heat. When fully melted add the shot of espresso to the mixture. In a bowl whisk the eggs until pale and fluffy and beat in the creme fraiche. Add the melted chocolate mixture slowly to the egg mixture mixing constantly. Add the dry ingredients in steps (sugar then flour then baking powder then cocoa) making sure to beat thoroughly so everything is fully incorporated. Pour into the cake tin and bake for 1hr 15mins - 1hr 25mins or when a toothpick inserted into the deepest part of the cake yields dryish crumbs. Cool on a wire rack.

To make the ganache: break up the remaining pieces of chocolate into smallish bits and place in a bowl. Heat up the cream and the sugar in a pan on a medium heat and take off just before it reaches boiling point (it starts to froth but not bubble over). Pour the cream onto the chocolate pieces and whisk until the chocolate melts. Wait for the ganache to cool down slightly before placing in the fridge for half an hour. In the meantime split the chocolate cake horizontally into two. Also make some flakes or curls of chocolate using a sharp knife. Take out the ganache from the fridge and spread 1/4 of it in between the two layers of cake. Sandwich down and spread the remaining 3/4 of ganache onto the surface of the cake with a pallet knife. Place the cake into the fridge for an hour for the ganache to set slightly and serve. Although it might be a bit of overkill some thick cream might be a good contrast to the pure chocolateyness of this cake.

Roast Quail with a Cannellini Bean Stew and Chestnuts

It's the 8th of November already? Where the hell did all that time go? By my estimations this year has been only six months long. Am I feeling the effects of time and ageing? Is global warming making the autumnal weather colder or am I just I mean, I actually hurt my hip last week! My hip! I might as well put my name down on the NHS waiting list for a hip replacement because by the time my turn comes around I'll bloody well need it. Nursing my faulty hip, I took solace in writing absolute garbage for NaNoWriMo this past week. It's great emptying the cache of blunted creativity lurking around in my mind but I'm not sure how viable my 'novel' actually is.

So I took my creativity and went back to the kitchen where I had a few disasters and one or two successes. This is one of those successes. I love quail but I usually have it barbecued so I went in search of a new recipe. I consulted The Complete Robuchon by (surprise, surprise) Joel Robuchon and came away with a great recipe for roasted quail but I needed something to pair it with. One epiphany later and I was making Roast Quail with a Cannellini Bean Stew and Chestnuts. I'm not sure where I got the idea from but this definitely went down as a success.

Roast Quail
4 quail
4 dessert spoons of butter
4 sprigs of thyme
4 cloves of garlic - finely chopped
a good amount of fleur de sel
a sprinkle of white pepper

Cannellini Bean Stew
1 can cannellini beans - drained
2 spring onions
4-5 Chantenay carrots - diced finely
1 stalk of celery - diced finely
1 dessert spoon of butter mixed with 1 teaspoon rapeseed oil
1 cup of chicken stock
1 teaspoon freshly picked marjoram
a splash of white wine vinegar

a handful of Italian chestnuts - oven roasted, peeled and diced*

* To cook chestnuts: pierce the skin and cook for 10 mins on full heat in the oven (the skin will split when they're cooked). Alternatively roast your chestnuts on the barbecue!

Preheat your oven to 250C/475F and lightly grease a deep baking tray.Trim and clean your quail. Combine butter, thyme, garlic and half of the fleur de sel and spread on the quail (in the cavity and on top of the breast and legs). Rub the remaining fleur de sel and pepper on the skin of the quail and place them in the baking tray on their sides. Cook for five minutes and turn the birds so the breasts are facing down. Turn onto the other side after another five minutes and then complete the rotation and cook for another five minutes. After twenty minutes of cooking (in total after every rotation has taken place) sit the quail on their backs and spoon over the juices and roast for a few more minutes until the skin has browned. Cover with foil and let the birds rest for 5 or so minutes.

The stew takes 20 minutes to cook so you want to be prepared to start cooking the beans when the birds go in to the oven. Sauté the onions, celery and carrots in the butter and oil mixture until softened. Add the beans, the marjoram and the chicken stock and cook for 15 minutes (stirring occasionally). Add a splash of vinegar and season to taste. Spoon the bean stew onto a plate, place one quail on each plate and scatter with the chopped chestnuts. Top with the juices from the roasted quail and/or truffle oil if you fancy it. Eat and be happy!

Kishk Soup

Another week, another soup. I can't believe it has actually been a whole week since I last posted. I've had one of the strangest weeks of my life but I think I'll save that story for my autobiography (yeah, right). However, something that kept me going through the past seven days was the promise of good simple autumnal food. This time of year is great for richer, more filling foods and nothing fulfils more than a good bowl of soup and some crusty bread.

One of the things I really associate with this time of year is this version of kishk soup. Kishk is a fermented mixture of dried yoghurt and cracked wheat which is a very popular staple in the mountainous regions of central Lebanon. When I was younger we usually ate kishk as a topping on mana'eesh and even then it was on special occasions. Although my parents made it at home, I always savoured our trips to the local Lebanese bakery where they would make the most exquisite kishk mana'eesh. It wasn't until I was in my teenage years that I started to appreciate kishk soup and how good my parents use of it was. My dad's version in particular is the one that inspired me to have a go and this is what I came up with. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do!

2 beef tomatoes - diced
1 medium onion - diced
2 cloves of garlic - crushed
1 tablespoon of butter
1 cup of kishk
2-1/2 cups of water
seasoning (if needed)
1 tablespoon of pine nuts
1 tablespoon of almonds
a few parsley leaves

Fry the onions in butter and a little olive oil until translucent. Add the garlic and fry for 20 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook gently for five minutes. Pour in the dried kishk and water into the pan and raise the temperature. You want the soup to be at a gentle boil (a bit further than a simmer). Cook for 10-15 minutes (the soup should get thicker and will continue to do so as you take it off the heat). Taste the soup and season if necessary. In another pan fry the almonds and pine nuts in a little oil until golden brown. Fill a bowl with the soup, scatter on a few of the nuts and top with a few parsley leaves. Serve with crusty bread.