Beetroot risotto

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In between my GBBO challenges, I will update with any interesting recipes and ideas I come across.

We receive a bag of veggies delivered to our door every Thursday thanks to the local company Vegie Bag. When I get home each Thursday it’s so exciting wondering what is going to be in the bag. This week, there were loads of beetroots so I did a little research about what I could make with them. It turned out I was spoilt for choice but settled on this risotto.

The cooking

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I began by boiling around 250g of beetroot until soft. At the same time, I prepared 850 ml of stock – chicken or vegetable both work. Once my beets were cooled, they were peeled and then blitzed into a blender along with four tablespoons of the stock into a smooth puree.

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Next, two small onions were chopped and went into a pan with some olive oil. They were cooked until soft and browned slightly. Then, 175g of risotto rice (I actually used paella rice because I had run out of risotto rice and it worked just fine) was added to the pan and stirred for around a minute.

Next, 80ml of wine was added (the recipe said white but I only had rose so used that instead) and stirred in until more or less absorbed.

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A ladle of stock was then poured over and stirred in. Once that was also absorbed, another ladle of stock was added and so on until all of the stock was combined.  This whole process took around 15 minutes.

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Salt, pepper and the juice of one lemon were then added followed by my beetroot paste. The colour by this point was really spectacular. Around 25g of freshly grated Parmesan was then stirred in along with a knob of butter to make the risotto all nice and shiny.

The whole lot was then left to rest for two to three minutes.

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To serve, I spooned some into a bowl, crumbled some feta cheese over the top and garnished with a few salad leaves for a contrast of colour.

Alternative toppings include blue cheese, mascarpone, goats’ cheese, walnuts, horseradish cream or anything else that you fancy really. It is also great served simply on its own or as an accompaniment to a nice piece of red meat.

The eating

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This dish looked really spectacular – the colour was fantastic and the white cheese and green salad leaves were a great contrast to the purple base. It also tasted fantastic, slightly cheesy because of the Parmesan but fresh and earthy because of the beetroot. You couldn’t even tell that I had used the wrong kind of rice.

The feta and salad leaves were a nice addition to cut through the creamy risotto and mix things up a bit.

Just one word of warning, you really don’t need much to fill you up – this recipe was way more than enough for two.

The ratings

Yumminess: 9/10 a great use for all those beetroots

Faffiness: 4/10 fine as a mid-week dinner

Mr S’s verdict: 7/10 A surprisingly tasty vegetarian dish

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GBBO 1: Religieuse

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This traditional French pastry upset a few of the contestants on the Great British Bake Off when it was set as a technical challenge. Basically, they are little choux pastry buns, one on top of each other and named after the French word for nuns, because of their appearance. I had made choux pastry once before and it was pretty successful so I decided this was a good place to start my 2014 challenge.

The cooking

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I began by preheating the oven to 220 degrees and lining baking trays with parchment, on which I drew eight circles around 5 cm in diameter and eight about 2.5 cm across.

60g of butter was then melted in a pan along with 150ml of water. It was then brought to the boil and removed from the heat. 75g of plain flour was then mixed in and stirred vigorously until it formed a soft ball. The mixture then went back over a low heat for three minutes or so, stirring constantly.

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It was then removed from the heat and left to cool slightly before two eggs were whisked in a bit at a time. I use an electric mixer for this bit and found that there is less change of the mixture curdling if you mix it in a new, cold bowl.

The mixture should look smooth and shiny when you have finished. It was then transferred into a piping bag and piped out on to the circles on the baking trays.

Using a damp finger the circles were then smoothed down – just don’t press too hard as the pastry won’t rise properly.

They then went into the oven for ten minutes, followed by another ten to 15 minutes at 190 degrees. I then poked a small hole into each one to let the steam escape before returning them to the oven for five minutes to dry out.

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While the pastry was cooling I turned my attention to the crème pâtissière filling. 500ml of full fat milk and the seeds of one vanilla pod were brought to the boil in a pan. It was removed from the heat and left to cool for 30 seconds.

In a separate bowl six medium egg yolks and 75g of caster sugar were whisked together until pale. 20g of cornflour and 25g of plain flour were then whisked in. The milk was then poured on to the egg mixture and whisked in, before being returned to the pan. It was brought back to the boil and whisked for one minute until thickened. The whole lot then went into a cold bowl with the surface covered with cling film to stop a skin forming. It was then left to go cold in the fridge before being piped into the centre of the choux pastry buns.

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The final element was to make the chocolate ganache. It sounded simple – heat 150ml of double cream until boiling. Remove from the heat and add 200g of dark chocolate, stirring until melted, and then leave to cool.

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It all went fine until the last moment, when my ganache split and the oil from the cream separated from the rest of the mixture. I tried making it again from scratch but the same thing happened and on reflection I think I must have been heating my cream too fast. Also, I have since discovered that perhaps Jersey cream isn’t the most stable kind for cooking with. I always like to buy local where I can but perhaps in future I will try a non-local cream to see if that makes a different.

After looking on the internet, one website said you can salvage split ganache by heating again and adding milk a little bit at a time to bring it together again, which worked really well.

However, when I returned to one of my ganaches later and stirred it before dipping my pastry puns in it the texture changed and it began to split again slightly. At this point I had run out of chocolate and decided to go ahead with it anyway, dipping in my buns until half covered.

My other bowl of rescued ganache was left in the fridge for too long and went almost solid so this was put to good use and turned into chocolate truffles by simply being rolled into balls and being dropped into cocoa powder.

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All that was then left to do was assemble my religieuse by placing a smaller filled bun on top of a larger one and piping some whipped cream around the join.

The eating

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These creations looked okay, but they were far from perfect and the buns weren’t as round as they should have been. However, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood would have been impressed at the bake – there were no soggy bottoms and the pastry was crisp and golden.

The crème pâtissière filling was creamy and tasty but slightly on the runny side. Next time I would leave it on the heat to thicken slightly more. The chocolate ganache was also tasty but the texture was not as smooth and the finish not as shiny as it should have been because of the splitting problem.

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Eaten altogether, however, the result was impressive, tasty and a real treat that impressed the guests I served them to. All in all, a solid first attempt at a technical challenge that I’d hope would have kept me in the competition!

The ratings

Yumminess: 8/10 a French classic

Faffiness: 7/10 lots of stages to master

Mr S’s verdict: 8/10 very similar to profiteroles which is always a good thing in my book

On your marks, get set, go!

You may recall that on my last blog I said that in 2014 I would be trying the various challenges from the last series of the Great British Bake Off.

Well, I have finally got around to sorting out my to-do list. And, it looks like I had better get going!

The blog style will stay the same, and I’ll make sure to rate the challenges at the end. I won’t be completing the challenges in the order they appeared on the show but rather as I fancy. Happy reading!

Week 1: Cake

Sandwich cake

Angel food cake with lemon and passion fruit curd

The mother of all chocolate cakes

 

Week 2: Bread

Bread sticks

English muffins

Show stopping loaf

 

Week 3: Desserts

Trifle

Floating islands

Petit fours

 

Week 4: Pies and tarts

Double-crusted fruit pie

Custard tarts

Filo pastry creations

 

Week 5: Biscuits and traybakes

Traybake favourite

Tuiles

Biscuit tower – at least 30cm high

 

Week 6: Sweet dough

Sweet tea loaf

Apricot couronne

Sweet buns

 

Week 7: Pastry

Suet pudding sweet or savoury

Religieuse

3 types of puff pastry creations

 

Week 8: Unconventional flours and desserts

loaf using unusual flour

hazelnut dacquoise

3D novelty cake, dairy free, vegetable cake

 

Week 9: French round

Savoury Canapés, one choux one pastry based

Charlotte Royal

Opera cake

 

Week 10: Final

Savoury picnic pie, shortcut pastry

Pretzels

Wedding cake three tiers

Tips for becoming a domestic god / goddess or just a bit more confident in the kitchen

Ever since I started this blog I have had people asking me for tips in the kitchen or saying how they have tried something after reading one of my posts.

The truth is really very simple – I am no expert and I don’t know all the answers, nor do I claim to. But, with the 2013 challenge now finished I wanted to share some basic tips to help inspire and encourage you. Read them, ignore them, take them all on board and become a whizz in the kitchen – it is entirely up to you.   And, feel free to add your own in the comments section at the bottom.

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Get inspired

Surf the internet, dust off the cook books on your shelves, pick up the odd cookery magazine and don’t forget to collect the recipe cards you often see by the till in the supermarket. It is also worth checking what is in season when for some added inspiration.

Be brave

Anyone can cook, they really can. It is all about having the confidence to try something new and don’t give up if you don’t think it is all going to plan straight away as the final result may surprise you.

Don’t panic

If something doesn’t work, don’t worry. Try it again another time or give it up as a bad job and move on to something new. Cooking is all about trial and error, so don’t be afraid to make some mistakes along the way.

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Be organised

Ingredients are key to a successful cook so make sure you have everything you need and, where possible, use the best quality ingredients. Having said that, remember that you can improvise where necessary, using slightly different ingredients or equipment to achieve the same results.

Follow a recipe

Even the best chefs use recipes and when you find a good one remember to store it somewhere for next time.

Use your intuition

This will come with confidence and experience. If something doesn’t look right, give it time and if it still isn’t working then adjust it to try and make it right. For example, add more liquid, more flour, whisk it a bit more or leave it in the oven for longer.

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Invest

You don’t need flashy equipment most of the time to cook up a storm. However, some things will really make your life easier. For example, a high temperature thermometer (such as a sugar one) will be a big help with preserves, fudges and frying and an electric whisk will save you a lot of arm ache.

Cheat

You get a huge sense of achievement from cooking from scratch but sometimes it doesn’t make sense – financial or timing wise, particularly – to do it all yourself. So don’t be worried about cheating here and there. Supermarkets have so many ready prepared bits and pieces to help make your cooking easier.

And most of all… enjoy it!

Remember that cooking should be enjoyable. If you don’t like doing it there are so many good alternatives in shops and supermarkets that you really don’t have to. But, if like me you get a buzz out of creating something for yourself then go for it, have fun and try not to get stressed out – although that last bit is sometimes easier said than done (as Mr S will testify).

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 Lucy’s Kitchen during 2013 in numbers

8 dinner parties

7 gifts

6 deliveries to work

5,940g of flour

65 eggs

1 cut finger

4 very burnt crumpets

3 lots of curdled cream

1 very patient husband as photographer

0 bouts of food poisoning

Lucy’s Kitchen – 2013 in review

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It all started with a plate of rather rubbery looking homemade pasta.

Smothered in pesto made from scratch and accompanied by a salad, Lucy’s Kitchen was born.

In the 12 months since that fateful cooking episode, which incidentally led to a plate of food that tasted better than it looked, I have produced 52 different creations – one for every week of 2013.

All were dishes that I had never tried to cook before and all, with few exceptions, were edible.

There have been cakes, biscuits, desserts, curries, salads, super-sized sandwiches, and dips. There were macaroons, pastries, sweets, stews and stuffed Wellingtons. And, as we neared the end of the year there was stuffing, more cake, edible Christmas gifts and even a soufflé – something that it turns out is nowhere near as scary to make as some would have you believe.

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There have been highs – like the time I discovered that I could actually make quite nice jam and the occasion when I delivered a colourful celebration cake to a friend’s party. And there have been lows – like the time when I managed to curdle three lots of cream in a row by whipping it too fast.

There have been tears, tantrums and burnt crumpets, but there have also been smiles, compliments and requests for more that have had me swelling with pride.

The good bits have, without exception, outweighed the bad. And the whole experience has been both good fun and a great education in the kitchen.

It had all started at the end of 2012 when I went to see a physiotherapist as a result of neck pain. She asked what my hobbies and interests were and aside from sounding like a childish workaholic whose only out of the office interest was ‘hanging out with my friends’ there was little else I could say.

Following that episode and inspired by my husband who the year before had taken a photograph every day for a year for what is known as a project 365, I Googled my first pasta recipe and set about flouring my work surface and turning myself into a domestic goddess. Of sorts, anyway.

Each and every recipe has taught me something different, both about cooking in general but also about myself. For example, it turns out that I have pretty good intuition in the kitchen and the ability to improvise if needed.

By contrast, I really hate chopping garlic and I am not a fan of pumpkin pie.

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The recipe I have returned to the most during the year is one from the early weeks and is relatively simple – blueberry pancakes.

Made in the traditional American way and laden with fruit and maple syrup, they have become a firm favourite for any house guests, my young nieces and nephews particularly.

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On another occasion I produced a brie wrapped in prosciutto and baked in homemade brioche that, although technical to master, was delicious and was a bake I was extremely proud of. I have not made it since but fully intend to put my newfound skills in this area to use again soon.

When the rhubarb season returns I will also be rustling up a new batch of rhubarb and ginger jam, which has kept many members of my family in jam for much of the year and converted my self-professed jam hating husband to a lover of the preserve.

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I was always spoilt for choice in my recipes and 52 weeks was never going to be enough.

So, with that in mind and a renewed energy to keep up my new hobby in 2014 I have set myself a fresh challenge. Not only will my blog be occasionally updated with new recipes, some old favourites and some new.

But, I will also be attempting all of the challenges featured on the last season of the BBC’s Great British Bake Off.

The challenges, which will include the obligatory technical bakes, showstoppers and signature creations, will all be completed during 2014.

They will include an attempt to make a charlotte royale (the one from French week that resembled a brain), an intricately layered opera cake, breads made using unusual flours, religieuse (the profiterole type sweet treats that look a bit like mini nuns) and, perhaps the one that I am most daunted by, making puff pastry from scratch.

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It has been encouraging to have so many people tell me that they have tried my recipes themselves after reading about them -both on here and in my regular food page column in the Jersey Evening Post – and I hope that I have inspired some readers to get into the kitchen.

It is easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to cooking and to stick to only what you know and a fair helping of shop-bought ready meals.

But, if Lucy’s Kitchen in 2013 has taught me anything it is that cooking should always be enjoyable. It is satisfying both for your stomach and also your mind.

And, it may surprise you just how accomplished at it you can get with a good recipe, a little bit of patience and some good quality ingredients.

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Finally, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone all over the world who has read my blog during 2013, and I hope you will continue to do so in 2014.

Thanks also to everyone who has been brave enough to try my cooking and most of all thank you to Mr S for his top class photographs that have brought every blog post to life during the year.

Week 52 :: Rainbow cake

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I wanted my last recipe of the year to be a good one, a spectacular one even. While considering what I wanted to cook for the conclusion of my 52 week challenge, I was reminded of something I had seen on the front of a magazine earlier in the year – a rainbow cake.

It was something that I had kept looking at longingly, but never got around to trying. So, I decided it was just the thing to finish off the challenge.

However, it turns out that with my last recipe I was going to learn something important – things don’t always go to plan in the kitchen.

You see, I had, wrongly it turned out, ignored all the dodgy comments on the BBC Good Food website about this recipe and decided to try it anyway. As it turns out, the comments were right and I will add my own warning – do not, I repeat, do not, never ever, use the rainbow cake recipe on the BBC website.

I tried it and while it looked ok, the cake tasted terrible. Me and Mr S had one taste each then threw the whole lot in the bin. It was dry, tasteless and rubbery. The cream cheese icing tasted marginally better but was runny and did a very bad job of coating the outside of the cake.

So, with all this in mind, it was probably a good thing that Mr S managed – accidentally, he swears – to delete all the photos before I’d had a chance to upload them.

It then gave me the perfect opportunity for rainbow cake take 2, and a proper, impressive, and – most importantly of all – tasty end to Lucy’s Kitchen in 2013.

The cooking

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Given my previous bad experience, I did some research to find a good recipe. Almost all I came across suggested using a cake mix base. So, I decided to follow suit and while some people may not like the idea of not making it all from scratch yourself, I can assure you this really is the best way for this cake.

I used Betty Crocker’s vanilla cake mix – two boxes will do the whole cake and gives you the perfect thickness of layers and the texture is great.

You may recall that I am a big fan of Betty’s chocolate cake mix and, it turns out, she is pretty good with vanilla cakes too.

I made the batter in two batches, using one box at a time and according to the instructions – which include adding three eggs, some veg oil and water. The whole lot was then mixed in my trusty Kitchen Aid.

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The mixture was then weighed out into three equal parts per box of mix and put into separate bowls. For me, this was about 233g per portion, but I’d advise you to weigh yours just to make sure as it could be slightly different. Then divide it by three.

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Now comes the fun bit – dying the mixture. On my first attempt I used gel food colourings bought from the supermarket. These worked but my colours were very pastely and not bright and bold. You also had to use a whole tube per cake to get even a hint of colour. The liquid ones you can buy at the supermarket won’t work.

For my second attempt I used professional, extra strength gel food colouring. For all you Jersey people these were bought from Le Lievres. You will get better results if you invest in some of these.

Start by adding a small amount and add more depending on the colour you want – around a teaspoon worked best for me. Remember also that when the cakes cook the colour will lighten so go bright and bold!

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As I was going for a rainbow look I went for purple (made by mixing red and blue), red, orange (made by mixing red and yellow), yellow, green and blue.

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I dyed my three bowls different colours then transferred them to three, greased 20cm cake tins, smoothed them down and popped them into the oven as per the instructions on the cake mixture. Mine took around 15-20 minutes to cook.

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They were then removed from the tins and left to cool.

The whole process was repeated once more with the other colours so that I had six thin sponges all a different colour. If you only have two cake tins or even one you can still manage it, it will just take a bit longer.

Once completely cooled I made my icing. I went for a traditional butter cream as I knew this would be thick enough to cover the cakes well. Unless you have a good recipe for a cream cheese frosting that is thick I would steer away from trying these as they can be runny, a la rainbow cake take 1.

I made my icing – remembering I would need lots of it for both sandwiching the cakes and covering them – by combining 750g of icing sugar with 240g of butter in the Kitchen Aid.

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Once well mixed I added 75ml of milk mixed with a few drops of vanilla essence a few spoons at a time, while mixing constantly. The Kitchen Aid was then turned up to full power and left to mix for five minutes. The key with this icing is that the longer you beat it on high speed the lighter it will become.

Once I had a big bowl of light and fluffy icing I began to assemble my cake. I started with a blob of icing on a plate and added my first cake. I started with purple but you can assemble it however you like. A layer of icing then went on the top and another cake was sandwiched on. This process was repeated until I had used up all my six cakes.

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Finally, I smothered the whole lot in my icing. An icing smoother or scraper worked well on the sides to make sure it was all covered and a similar thickness all round. You can add as much or as little icing as you like.

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And that was it – week 52, and my 2013 challenge, complete!

The eating

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This cake was so much better than the first attempt. First of all, it was edible! It was also tasty, moist, soft and had a nice vanilla flavour running through. The icing was also delicious and held it all together really well.

The colours looked great, although if I were to do it again I would try and find a more vibrant red colouring and my orange one could have done with a bit of work too. The green looked the best – in your face, bold and bright.

Well done Betty, you did it again. And, it just goes to show what you can do with a bit of creativity, work and a good cake mix base.

If you have a good sponge recipe I am sure that would work well but I will unashamedly admit that if I do this again I will enlist Betty’s help once more.

An excellent birthday cake – kids especially will love the colours – or a cake for any occasion really. It is large and will feed a LOT of people. You also don’t need much to fill you up.

My niece is already talking about having a rainbow themed birthday party this year, and guess who will be making the cake?

The ratings

Yumminess: 9/10 ‘A good end to a year of cooking’

Faffiness: 6/10 ‘Takes time and patience, but Betty makes it easy and fool-proof’

Mr S’s verdict: 9/10 ‘Much better than the first effort!’

Week 51 :: Stilton and broccoli soufflé

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After cooking in Lucy’s Kitchen for almost a year I decided it was time to try something that everyone always seems to big up as really difficult to cook – a soufflé. It is one of those dishes that I have wanted to try for a while but never got around to.

The cooking

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I began by preheating the oven to 200 degrees. The recipe said to use six large ramekins but I didn’t have any so I decided to use a large oven proof dish instead. The dish was greased with butter and then sprinkled with breadcrumbs all the way around the edge, so it was nicely coated.

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300g of broccoli was then boiled for around five minutes until tender. It was then drained and set aside.

Meanwhile, 50g of butter was melted in a pan and mixed with 60g of plain flour. The mixture was then cooked for around two minutes.

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300 ml of semi-skimmed milk was then beaten in to the butter mixture. It was lumpy at first but the recipe said that didn’t matter. It was brought to the boil and then simmered for two minutes until thick, which also seemed to sort out the lumps.

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It was then added to the broccoli and pureed in a mixer, use can use either a handheld one or a food processor, until smooth. A quarter teaspoon of nutmeg, four medium egg yolks and 100g of crumbled up stilton were then mixed in.

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In a separate bowl the four remaining egg whites were whisked until stiff. They were then gently folded into the broccoli and stilton mixture.

 

 

 

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The whole lot then went into my greased and lined dish and baked in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until risen and golden.

It should be served straight away and the recipe says you can also make the soufflés in advance and chill them, turning them out from the ramekins on to a baking sheet and popping them into the oven for a few minutes to puff up.

The eating

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Obviously, my presentation wasn’t as good as it could have been on this one because I didn’t have any ramekins. However, served into individual dishes it worked out quite well.

And, as it turns out, soufflés really aren’t that difficult to make – well not this one anyway. The mixture was light and fluffy but still firm. It had a nice green colour from the broccoli and it was just cheesy enough and certainly not overpowering. Next time I think I would add a little more cheese to ramp up the flavour.

The best bit was when you got a melted lump of cheese that was oozing out – it really strengthened the flavour and was delicious. I found myself going back for another taste, and another and another so it probably isn’t the healthiest seeing how moreish it is.

However, a pretty impressive first soufflé and one I would recommend you try yourself, perhaps as a starter for a dinner party to really impress your friends.

The ratings

Yumminess: 9/10 ‘Cheesy goodness – stilton and broccoli are a perfect flavour combo’

Faffiness: 5/10 ‘Not as bad as I would have expected’

Mr S’s verdict: 8/10 – ‘A deliciously light and cheesey dish, perfect for a starter.’