Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Best Pizza Ever - Squash, Walnut and Goat's Cheese from St Helen's Farm

Best Pizza Recipe
The best vegetarian pizza ever may be a tall claim, but I adore a good winter squash and this homemade crust with a flavoursome chocolate tomato sauce topped off with squash, walnuts and goat's cheese does it for me. And not just me, CT and my mother were full of praise and neither of them are vegetarian.

I'm extremely fond of winter squash, it has a sweet nutty flavour and the bright orange colour is just what is needed to brighten things up at this time of year. What with one thing and another, we've been unable to grow any this year, so I have to make do with buying butternut squash. These are OK, but not nearly as good as an Uchiki Kuri for example - a round orange Japanese squash with dense sweet orange flesh that keeps well right through the winter.

Goat's Milk Products
Recently a wonderful goaty hamper turned up on the doorstep, full of good goaty things from St Helen's Farm in Yorkshire. It was even accompanied by an actual goat. I wasn't quite certain if she was there to ensure safe arrival or to keep a critical eye on my activities.  I have a real soft spot for these lively, inquisitive and capricious animals. Growing up, I used to spend time on a smallholding and when there it was my job to take the two goats, Starlight and Moonlight out to the fields in the morning and bring them back in the evening. I even had a go at milking them, but have to confess I never really got the hang of it. I also didn't find their milk delicious. I drank it, but it had quite a strong caprine taste that some people find off-putting.

Goat's Milk
I was very pleased to find that this was not the case with the milk from the good goats of St Helen's Farm. There is a bit of a goaty tang, but nothing too distracting and it gives the milk character making a welcome change from cow's milk. "Deliciously mild, it states on the pack and we could not disagree. This is good news as goat's milk is not only nutritious, but has a structure similar to human breast milk which makes it more easily tolerated by people with a lactose intolerance. It is also quite nutritious with more calcium, potassium and vitamin A than cow's milk. The skimmed milk made a most delicious breakfast smoothie with banana, oats, chia seeds and raw cocoa powder. We also used it to make porridge, where it worked to good effect. The semi-skimmed milk was perfect for making hot chocolate, which at this time of year is, quite frankly, essential. Very thoughtfully, our little goat brought a couple of mugs along with her, so we were able to sip our beverage whilst admiring her  sister nannies. We saved the full fat milk for pouring on our muesli and for a recipe that will be appearing at a later date.

Goat's Yogurt
I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to yogurt - I like it natural. So, I was slightly hesitant about trying the yogurt pots with fruit. The yogurt made up the bulk of the pot, with a layer of fruit puree at the bottom. I liked this, as not only did it look pretty, but I was able to try the yogurt on it's own and then mix as much or as little of the puree as I desired on each spoonful. The yogurt with mango and lime was my first choice - I'm a sucker for mango. The yogurt was smooth and creamy all on its own and the limey mango gave bursts of flavour which were veryt welcome indeed.  I'm a convert and thought this made a very nice dessert. This came together with a pot of blueberry & rosehip, which was nice, but not as lively. Pots of yogurt stirred with honey are sitting invitingly in the fridge. The pots weigh 125g and come in packs of two.

Goat's Milk Smoothies
The full fat live yogurt was absolutely delicious and it didn't taste in the least bit goaty. It was mild and creamy and fabulous eaten just as it was. However, we did use some of it to top our breakfast muesli and to accompany a curry and it enhanced both. We also had a pot of 0% fat goat's milk yogurt and whilst I'm not normally a fan of fat free, this one was quite tasty. It worked best in smoothies and in cooking, where I found that it didn't separate out as much as ordinary yogurt does.

There was also a pack of butter in the hamper, which I'm looking forward to trying. I've been holding off doing so, however, as I'm saving it for the recipe mentioned earlier.

Squash Pizza Recipe
For the pizza, I used "Mild and Creamy Goats Cheese", which wasn't creamy at all. It was a hard cheese with a grainy texture; it had bite and depth with a good, if mild, flavour. I thought it quite delicious and happily polished off the remaining half in my cheese sandwiches. As I am a big cheese fan, I was really pleased to have a 240g pack of their mature version too. This was very similar to the mild, but with more depth and flavour. It reminded me of a good cheddar and can be used in exactly the same way. I was planning on using it with some of the butter to make goat's cheese scones, but it went the way of the first and was consumed with relish along with my homemade bread and apple chutney.

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Squash, Walnut Goat's Cheese Pizza
A homemade crust with a chocolate tomato sauce and flavourful toppings, makes this one of the most delicious vegetarian pizzas you are ever likely to eat.
  • 250g flour (half wholemeal spelt, half white)
  • 1 tsp dried active yeast
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp maca powder (optional)
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 160ml warm water
  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 1 small onion - sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic - chopped
  • 1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 fresh red chilli - chopped
  • 1 small fresh rosemary sprig - finely chopped
  • 4 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 tsp tamari
  • 15g dark chocolate
  • 1 large handful walnuts
  • 100g hard goat's cheese - cut into small slices
  • 20 small cherry tomatoes - halved
1. Whisk the yeast into the hot water and leave for a couple of minutes.2. Place flour, salt and maca (if using) into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast followed by 1 tbsp of olive oil.3. Stir until just combined, then knead on an oiled surface for a good ten minutes or so when the dough should be smooth and elastic. Place back in the bowl, cover and leave to rise for an hour or until doubled in size.4. Peel, core and seed the butternut squash, then chop into small cubes. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a medium sized saucepan and fry the squash cubes over moderate heat, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes, until just soft.5. Remove the squash from the pan and set aside. Add the remaining tbsp of olive oil and fry the onion gently for a few minutes. Add the garlic and chilli and fry for another couple of minutes.6. Add the tomatoes, herbs and tamar Cover ind allow to simmer for fifteen minutes or so when the sauce should be thick enough not to fall off the pasta, but not too dry. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate, stir and leave to cool.7. Heat the oven to 200℃. Cut the dough into four pieces and roll them out as thinly as you can. Place onto oven trays.8. Cover the four pizza bases with the tomato sauce to about 1 cm from the edge. Scatter the squash cubes over the top, followed by the tomatoes and then the walnuts. Place the cheese strategically around the pizza then bake for ten minutes or until the crust has browned and the pizza looks done.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4

Cooking with Herbs this month is all about parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Well I used two of these in my pizza, so I'm happily sending one off  to Karen over at Lavender and Lovage.

Very sensibly Shaheen, over at Allotment 2 Kitchen has chosen Halloween colours for this month's Vegetable Palette. October is a month full of colour and pumpkin bounty and my squash pizza fits right in.

With pumpkin very much in season this month, I'm also sending one of these off to Ren Behan for Simple and in Season.

For this pizza I used the butternut squash that was left over from making my pumpkin, pecan, chocolate cake. It also used a handful of tomatoes that had grown "wild" in our plot, but were a little past their best. So one of these also goes to Vohn's Vittles where this month's No Food Waste Challenge is being hosted on behalf of Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary.

It's been a while since I submitted anything to Recipe of the Week, so I'm sending one of these off to Emily at A Mummy Too.

Many thanks to St Helen's Farm and Purple Cow for the hamper of delicious goat's milk products. I was not required to write a positive review and as always, all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Chocolate Pecan Pumpkin Cake for Halloween

Chocolate Halloween Cake
For years I've raged against the invasion of the very American Halloween and associated trick or treating; in the UK, we have All Hallows Eve, from which Halloween is derived. Just five days later we have our very own Guy Fawkes Night, with its pagan effigy burning associations - OK Guy Fawkes was a catholic, but never mind. Well, finally I've come to the conclusion that if you can't beat them you'd better join them! In fact I had no choice as this month's We Should Cocoa theme is Halloween.

For Random Recipes this month, Dom has tasked us with picking a recipe from the internet. His suggestion was to type a theme into the search box and then pick a recipe randomly from the first ten that appear. I was game. To bag several challenges in one, I searched for chocolate and pumpkin, thereby getting We Should Cocoa in as well as Tea Time Treats which has vegetables as this month's theme.  The recipe that popped up was Dan Lepard's pumpkin chocolate mud cake - perfect.

Pumpkin Halloween Cake
It's been a while since I made a Dan Lepard recipe, or should I say tinkered with one. I did of course change things around just a little by replacing vanilla with fennel, adding coffee to the mix and changing the quantities. I included some maca powder as I often do, just so I can tell myself the cake is good for me. I also added cream cheese to the icing to give it a bit more character and make it less sweet and sickly.

This is how I made:

Chocolate Pecan Pumpkin Cake

  • Melted 175g unsalted butter and 225g of dark chocolate (72%) in a large pan over gently heat.
  • Removed from the heat and beat in 275g sugar (half dark and half light).
  • Beat in three duck eggs (can be replaced with large hens eggs).
  • Stirred in 3 drops of Holy Lama fennel extract.
  • Beat in 275ml warm coffee.
  • Grated 120g butternut squash (the only pumpkin I could get) and stirred this in together with 100g chopped pecans.
  • Sifted in 250g flour (half wholemeal, half white), 3 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp maca powder.
  • Stirred until just combined then scraped the mixture into a deep 9" silicone mould and baked at 180℃ for 55 mins.
  • Left to cool for 15 mins, then turned out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Melted 20g unsalted butter.
  • Mixed into some of the 160g icing sugar.
  • Beat in 50g cream cheese, followed by a little more of the icing sugar.
  • Added a slug of rum and mixed in with some more icing sugar.
  • Added 50g double cream, followed by the rest of the icing sugar and beat until smooth.
  • Placed the cake on a stand and spread the icing over the top.
  • Attempted to create a spider's web on top with some ready bought black icing I happened to have acquired. 
  • Added some chocolate pumpkin faces for good measure.

Pumpkin Halloween Cake
The cake was such a success, I shall be making this one again. It was soft, light and mousse like with a welcome crunch from the pecans and the fennel note gave an intriguing, "what is this?" It wasn't overly sweet, which is good because the icing was. The rum icing may have been sweet, but it was nonetheless delicious and complemented the cake well. An added bonus was that it lasted well over a week and was just as good at the end as at the beginning.

Finally giving in, I have made a Halloween bake  and it's all down to the devilish Hannah over at Honey & Dough, who is guest hosting We Should Cocoa this month.

Random Recipes was the driving force behind the bake with the theme of something sweet  randomly selected from the internet. This is a splendid monthly challenge from Dom over at Belleau Kitchen where we never quite know what recipe we will land up with next.

Ensuring I would get a recipe containing pumpkin meant I could also send this off to Karen over at Lavender and Lovage for her Tea Time Treats, where the theme is vegetables this month. This monthly challenge is co-hosted by Jane over at The Hedge Combers.

With rum in the icing and squash in the pumpkin in the cake, I reckon this is just right for this month's Baking with Spirit over at Cake of the Week where the theme is autumnal.

Love Cake over at JibberJabberUK is also all about the dark side this month, so I am sending this Ness's way.

With hidden veg in the form of pumpkin, I'm sending this off to Extra Veg. Normally hosted over at Fuss Free Flavours and Utterly Scrummy Food for Families, it's being guest hosted this month by Emily over at A Mummy Too.

And a slice has got to Let's Cook for Halloween over at Simply Food.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Chocolate Week: Day Seven

Well, it's been a busy seven days in the chocolate world and Chocolate Week has culminated in the prestigious Chocolate Show in London this weekend. For me, the grand culmination is a box of bean to bar chocolates from around the world. I'm very excited.

The team at Cocoa Runners have a particularly difficult job it seems. They spend their time travelling around the world in search of less well known artisan bean to bar (or even tree to bar) chocolate makers. They get to try a myriad of different chocolate products and then select the best for our delectation. They are specifically interested in small batch craft bars, single origin bars and rare chocolate that is ethically produced. Real chocolate is their passion and they are not interested in mass produced offering or ones that contain palm oil and other unnecessary additives. Many of the bars are hand wrapped as well as hand crafted.

Based in the UK, though I couldn't work out if it was in London or Newton Abbot, Cocoa Runners offer three different ways of buying chocolate to those of us based in the UK and Europe.

  1. a monthly chocolate club box which is posted through your letterbox at £14.95
  2. gift boxes to suit whatever occasion you may require them for 
  3. a "chocolate library" from which you can choose any of the three hundred craft bars stocked.

The box I received was a discovery tasting one and when I broke into it, a whole new world of chocolate opened out before me. I found a pleasing selection of bars from different producers, most of which were beautifully packaged in foil and cardboard and all with varying tastes and textures; I'd not come across any of them before. A set of cards indicating the type of chocolate and background accompanied the box as did some guidelines on how to taste this food of the gods. Some of the cards were missing from my pack, which meant I didn't get the detail on everything I had.

I used to think that the darker the chocolate, the more bitter it would be. Since starting this blog and having the opportunity to try a number of different chocolates from around the world, I have subsequently realised my error. Some of the dark chocolate in this box is less bitter and far more palatable than many types of chocolate I have tried with a lower cocoa content.

I am seriously impressed by the box I received from Cocoa Runners (missing cards aside), I like the concept, the ethos, the packaging, the chance to taste lots of different artisan chocolate bars and the stories behind the companies.

Menakao Milk Chocolate (44%) - launched in 2006 by a fourth generation member of the Cassam Chenai trader family who settled in the North-East of Madagascar, Shahin took the name Menakao from the word mena meaning red, which is the colour of the soil that Madagascar is famous for. With the cocoa beans being bought and processed locally, the Madagascan economy benefits from four times the income produced from fair trade chocolate.

As a lover of dark milk chocolate, I was really looking forward to this one. The scent of tobacco reached my nostrils first. The chocolate, which was slightly grainy in texture released different layers of flavour as it melted. Notes of tobacco with fruity tones mixed with chocolate tasting of caramel was an interesting combination. Madagascar is well known for its fruity chocolate, so this I was expecting, but I hadn't bargained for its earthy nature which left an unfamiliar taste in the mouth. Is this the taste of Madagascar's soil? As with all good chocolate, this is not a bar to be wolfed down but to be eaten over a period of time and savoured. The combination of flavours grew on me as I went along.

Akesson's Madagascar (75% Criollo) - another bar made from beans grown on Madagascar, but this time, produced in Switzerland. The beans are grown organically on the Ambolikapiky Plantation in the North-West of the country. I could smell the fruity notes of this one immediately. I also tasted them as soon as the chocolate hit my mouth with citrus being to the fore. This is a very smooth bar, that melts beautifully on the tongue and really has very little bitterness to speak of. I can see why it won silver in the Academy of Chocolate awards in 2013. The only thing that let this bar down for me was the plastic packaging - the only bit of plastic to appear in the whole box.

Marou Bars from Vietnam - Soya, gluten and dairy free, these dark chocolate bars contain only cocoa solids and cane sugar. Why then, I wonder, do other chocolate bars all contain emulsifiers, usually soya lecithin? These were all wonderfully smooth and had a good snap and shine to them - a conundrum indeed. The Tien Giang 70% has a spicy and fruity scent but tastes very strongly of honey. I couldn't quite believe that there wasn't honey in the actual ingredients. It's very smooth, not at all bitter and leaves the flavour of honey behind in the mouth long after the chocolate disappears. I couldn't get enough of this one and despite milk chocolate being my first love, this was my absolute favourite bar. I'm saving the Lâm Dōng 74% and Bària 76% for another occasion as I want to appreciate the flavours they have to offer and not be overwhelmed by too much chocolate. If the first is anything to go by, I am in for a real treat.

Also included in the box was a little 8g square of organic single origin milk chocolate 53%, which I really loved.  It was smooth and rich with fudgy notes. The square disappeared far too fast and I was sorry not to have  received a much larger bar. There was no tasting card for this one, but it did state on the wrapper that it was produced in San Francisco by TCHO.

Found drifting at the bottom of the box was a tiny square of Le 100% from French chocolatier, Pralus. I have tried 100% chocolate made with no added sugar before and whilst I find it interesting and not at all unpalatable, I think it best used for cooking or making hot chocolate. The chocolate was dark in colour but smelt rich and fruity. It tasted a little bitter but the fruity citrus notes sang out. However, it was strong coffee that lingered on the palate.

Original Beans - this pack contained four 12g bars all made in Switzerland, but from beans sourced from different parts of the world. The chocolate is certified organic and as in the Marou bars, the ingredients are minimal and contain no emulsifiers. Likewise, the bars are smooth, shiny and have a good snap. I tried one of the three dark bars, the Beni Wild Harvest 66% from the Bolivian Amazon. This fairly fizzes on the tongue. The scent of tobacco belied the fruity notes with floral and minty tones. The combination made for an intriguing experience. The Piura Porcelana 75% from the Peruvian Andes, the Cru Virunga 70% from Eastern Congo and Esmeraldas Milk 43% from the Ecuadorian rainforest, I'm keeping for later.

Thanks to Cocoa Runners for sending me one of their chocolate boxes to try. I was not required to write a positive review and as always, all opinions are my own.


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