It’s the hottest days of the summer so if you’re anything like me the last thing you want to do is turn on an oven and make the kitchen even hotter. It sometimes means I end up cooking in flip-flops and shorts which can be fine if you’re simmering some vegetables but if you’re going for a full-on blast with the wok then it’s just inevitable something will go wrong. So to help keep you cool these baking pages are not going to be about baking. So what are the alternatives? For desserts there are two well known no-bake options; firstly there are chocolatey biscuit slices and secondly there are cheesecakes. Unfortunately my wife isn’t a big fan of chocolate so option one is out in this house but option two can give a huge range of possibilities and flavours that even my dessert-loathing son has enjoyed… well, some of them at least.

The idea for all of this came about after Smart Energy GB asked me to come up with some energy saving recipes. They’re in charge of rolling out smart meters across the country and one of the main reasons for people to have the new meters installed is for people to be able to see how much energy, and thus money, they are using in near real time. Once I had mine installed it quickly became apparent that one of the quickest ways to rack up the bills was to bake in an oven, thus it was time for some creative thinking. Coming up with solutions to problems was one of the aspects of Bake Off that I most enjoyed last year so it was fun to get back into that groove again. I have adapted the cheesecake to make it seasonal but the savoury recipe this month is just as I came up with for Smart Energy GB. All five of the low energy recipes can be found at smartenergyGB.org/cook-smart

Feta & Spinach steamed buns

Feta & spinach steamed buns
Feta & spinach steamed buns

I think these are a great, fun alternative to baked bread. The principles and recipes are more or less the same as regular bread (yeast, proving etc) but instead of baking the buns they are put in a steamer for 15 minutes. If you don’t currently own a steamer then this recipe will give you another reason to explore the wonderful shops of Mill Road. Some of the Oriental supermarkets sell bamboo steamers that not only look lovely but are cheap and very effective. To speed up the cooking of the buns you can buy multiple layers and stack them up.

Having done quite a bit of photography work in China I often used to have something like these for breakfast filled with some flavoured pork mince. However, I thought it would be fun to give them a bit of a Mediterranean twist hence another one of my cross-cultural foodie experiments came to be. They’re best eaten fresh and warm from the steamer but if you can’t manage them all in one sitting then bag them up and warm them briefly in a microwave again. Don’t worry if the first few buns aren’t too neat – you’ll get the knack of them in the end and it’s a lovely, pliable dough to play with!

Ingredients

350g self raising flour

35g caster sugar

½ tsp fine salt

7tsp instant yeast

1 tbsp veg oil

110ml milk

110ml water

120g feta cheese

200g spinach

generous grating of nutmeg

juice of ½ small lemon

Olive oil & balsamic to serve

Method

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Gently heat the water and milk in a small bowl in a microwave until it is vaguely warm – about 50 seconds. Add to dry ingredients along with vegetable oil and then knead for a few minutes until you have a soft pliable dough. Lightly oil a bowl, place in a bag and leave the dough to rise & double in size – about 1 to 2 hours depending on the temperature.

Meanwhile bring a large pan with about 1cm of water in the bottom to the boil. Put in spinach, turn down heat and simmer for a minute or two. Drain, allow to cool and then squeeze out most of the water. Put spinach on chopping board along with feta cheese. Grate nutmeg on top. Chop and combine everything, then squeeze lemon juice on top along with a couple of grinds of pepper. Chop until everything is mixed in.

Once dough has risen, knock it back and divide into 9 equal portions which should weigh about 70g each. Take each piece of dough and in the palm of the hand or on a lightly oiled surface roll into a sphere. Squash or roll the dough into a circle approx 4 – 5 inches in diameter trying to make the edges thinner than the middle. Take a heaped teaspoonful of the feta mixture and pop it onto the middle of the dough. Wrap the sides up and over the feta so it is totally enclosed. Leave the buns to rest for a few minutes. Meanwhile cut a circle of baking parchment slightly smaller than the base of the steamer. Place the buns on this in the steamer leaving space between them for them to expand. Bring a shallow pan of water to the boil and place the steamer on top and cook for 15 minutes. A good energy saving tip is if you have more than one steamer is to stack them up on top of one another. Eat when still hot / warm. Dunk in a nice olive oil along with some balsamic vinegar.

Blackcurrant and mint cheesecake

Bursting with colour and flavour.
Bursting with colour and flavour.

Blackcurrants are one of those fruits that I am amazed we don’t eat more of them. They pack an amazing flavour punch and are easy to grow yet the only time we generally have them is in Ribena. There’s nothing wrong with Ribena but when used to make jam or a coulis then those rich, fruity flavours can really be allowed to shine. The bushes in my garden are grown from some clippings that my neighbours gave me a couple of years ago. Back then they were little more than twigs with roots on but now they are small bushes that are covered in shiny dark globes. They’re available in some supermarkets at the moment, however if you are lucky enough to live in the Fulbourn area then pop into see Richard at the greengrocers as he should have some. Whilst there stock up on his doughnut peaches – big, juicy, sweet and so tasty they are worth the extra expense compared to the miserly supermarket efforts.

Ingredients

80g unsalted butter

220g shortbread biscuits

400g blackcurrants

200g caster sugar

handful of mint leaves

150g double cream

100g white chocolate

600g full fat cream cheese

100g caster sugar

large pinch of salt

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Meanwhile put the shortbreads in a strong plastic bag and beat with a rolling pin until they are in crumbs. Pour onto the melted butter and mix in with a wooden spoon. Line a 9 inch springform tin with baking parchment and cover with the shortbread mix. Squash down with a wooden spoon or the base of flat glass or mug. Chill in the fridge. Meanwhile warm the double cream in a bowl in a microwave for about one minutes. Break the white chocolate into pieces and put in the cream bowl. Leave it for about a minute and then stir. After a while the chocolate should melt but if there are still some lumps warm it in the microwave for 10 seconds at a time until they disappear. Leave to cool to about room temperature. Next the coulis: put the blackcurrants, sugar and mint in a small pan and gently warm. Don’t be tempted to add water as after a while the berries will burst and release their juices. Simmer for about 5 minutes before squashing it all through a sieve. Allow this to cool to about room temperature (or colder) too.

In a large mixing bowl put the cream cheese, white chocolate mixture, caster sugar, salt and 200g of the coulis. Beat for a couple of minutes until it start to thicken and hold its shape. Add another 100g of the coulis and partially fold it in – the idea is to give a marbled, streaky look. Tip out onto the base, flatten with a pallet knife and then chill in the fridge for a couple of hours. When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the tin before removing the sides. Cut into generous slices and pour an extra few blobs of coulis on top. Retire to a shady spot in the garden and snooze.

Keeping it Cool

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