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Category Archives: Chocolate

Warning: This Post Is Bad For Your Health

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Now I like a sugar high as much as the next person, but this past weekend there’s a good chance I took it too far. Brownie cookies. Jam doughnut muffins. I don’t even need to write anything more for you to understand the levels of butter and sugar needed for such baked goods. Much like Road Dahl characters, everything you need to know is all in the name. Miss Honey was always going to be an absolute darling and Augustus Gloop only ever a greedy bastard. And so brownie cookies and jam doughnut muffins are inevitably naughty. In my defence (although it would never stand up in court) I did have friends over for coffee, visited family and took part in a recruitment day at work so the goodies were shared. Spreading not only the love, but also the calories.

Brownie cookies then come from Smitten Kitchen, one of the newest additions to the collection. I’ve not yet ventured into the savoury section of the book, despite the fact that every time I dive in to pick a recipe I go in with the best of intentions. But the significantly sized sweet section of the book always draws me in and I conveniently forget the existence of the salad section. There is nothing sweet in the book that I don’t instantly want to cook. These cookies are an absolute doddle to make, although not owning an electric mixer puts you at an advantage if you want to build those biceps up whilst also working on your domestic goddess skills. One day I will have one of those beautifully glossy KitchenAid mixers (pistachio green is my current favourite) and so until then nothing else will do. If I were to compromise on a lesser model I would then be stuck with it for life, so I’m more than happy to save and continue to bake the hard way. I’m such a martyr.

The best part about making these cookies is rolling them out and getting the cookie cutters out of the drawer. I just don’t feel like I use cookie cutters enough, it’s immensely satisfying to feel the soft dough yield to the cookie cutter and to see the devastation you’ve inflicted upon that poor, innocent cookie dough. It’s like being a war lord, only without the dodgy morality and inability to sleep at night. These brownie cookies deliver exactly what you expect: they have the exterior crispness of a biscuit, the softness of a brownie within and taste purely of chocolate. They’re at their best on the day they’re baked, but are still all too edible 24 hours on. I should *warn* you that this recipe makes a lot of bite-sized biscuits (approx 70 using a 4cm cookie cutter) and also *warn* that the raw dough is even more edible than the end product. I *definitely* didn’t eat spoonfuls of the stuff while it was cooling in the fridge. No siree.

As well as this I made jam doughnut muffins. All the taste of a fried doughnut without the hassle of deep frying, right? Well, almost. These are in essence a plain vanilla muffin with a dollop of jam in the middle, then rolled in melted butter and sugar once cooked. They come from the wonderful mind of Nigella Lawson and can be found in HTBADG, in the kids section. Move over kids, these treats are wasted on you. I served these to a friend and her two year old daughter while they were still a little warm from the oven, which is probably the best way to eat them if you want to emulate the deliciousness of a freshly fried doughnut from a van at the fair. I thought they were nice, nothing amazing but certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up if offered them. These went down pretty well with everyone who had them though out the day and I think if they were smaller they might be better. After the bite size brownie cookies I think there’s something to be said for mini versions of sweet treats. Although why I’m trying to perfect doughnuts I’ll never know, what with fairground doughnuts and Krispy Kreme already firm favourites on our fair isle, and Dunking’ Donuts on its way (The Boyfriend cannot get enough of DD coffee on holiday, so he is sure to be making regular trips once over here) making doughnuts at home seems completely pointless. Sure is fun trying though.

 

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Chocolate, Citrusy Goodness

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You can always tell when The Boyfriend’s gone on his travels again by the sugar content of whatever food I happen to be cooking and blogging about. If it isn’t putting you at risk of diabetes, I don’t want to know. Step forward brown butter, chocolate, orange and rosemary cookies from Gizzi Erskine’s Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts (no prizes which side this treat falls on). If chocolate cookies can’t lift the spirits, nothing can.

I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t in love with cookies. Whether it was going through the biscuit tin after getting in from school or buying giant, fresh, gooey cookies from the canteen to get me though GCSE Maths lessons, cookies have been there. As an adult, Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream has soothed after disastrous job interviews (during a maths test for an interview with a bank I panicked, writing out completely non-sensical sums and getting the answers totally wrong, wishing I was allowed to use a calculator. Upon finishing the interviewer gently reminded me of the calculator I’d been told I could use, which had been placed right next to the paper covered in maths gibberish. No, I didn’t get the job. Don’t even ask about the role play element of the interview), soul destroying hangovers and terrible days at work. Cookies are the best. The frustration with cookies is that it’s so difficult to bake a batch that aren’t dry and crumbly, dry being the enemy of a cookie lover. You want gooey cookies when fresh out of the oven which turn chewy once out of the oven for a few hours. I don’t think it’s possible to get a homemade cookie that stays gooey for longer than a couple of hours, although if anyone knows of a recipe for one please send me it!

These cookies totally deliver. Taken out of the oven while still pale in the middle, they cool to a perfect consistency and taste wonderful. Orange and rosemary go really well together, you can’t pick out the taste of the rosemary but get a subtle savoury hint on the tip of your tastebuds to complement the sweet chocolate and orange. At risk of sounding like I’m on the payroll of Rosemary PR, rosemary is super good in sweet foods and you should definitely try it. I brought these into work today without mentioning the rosemary and everyone loved them. Rosemary aside, the chunks of milk chocolate are divine and the texture of these cookies can only be described as fudgey. These cookies are practically good for you, after all, rosemary is believed to help improve memory, is antibacterial, can lift your mood and help detox your liver, whilst orange boosts the immune system, regulates blood pressure and can protect the skin. I haven’t researched the nutritional benefits of sugar and melted butter, but how bad can they be? Oh, turns out very. Never mind.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2013 in American, Baking, Books, Chocolate, Cooking, Food

 

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Chocolate Bomb Failure

All mouth and no trousers, that’s me. I’m forever saying or blogging that when The Boyfriend is back, I simply must cook him whatever delicious meal I’ve discovered while he’s away, or whip up a tasty dessert for a Friday night meal. And yet it never quite turns out like that. Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking and I LOVE cooking for the two of us, but spending hours in the kitchen when I could actually be spending time with him seems pointless when we spend so much time apart. It’s not as if our current kitchen is suitable for relaxing in or cooking as a team (oh, but it will be, mark my words, it will be), what with it being small, run down and designed to suit those of a pensionable age, so the cook tends to be alone at the far end of the house. There are few things in life I enjoy more than getting my iPod out and pottering about for hours in the kitchen making bread, cakes, pasta sauces, casseroles or biscuits, but only when I’m alone and can be selfish.

The irony then of this selfish hobby is that the food I have time to cook when he’s away is also the food that is perfect to share with him. I’m not going to make a chocolate soufflé just for me (unlike cake you can’t take soufflé into work the next day to share) but I would deeply resent spending two hours of a Friday night in the kitchen making a soufflé when I could be binging on Breaking Bad and eating Malteser’s with The Boyfriend. This is what led me to make the simplest recipe from a hugely neglected cookbook for a Friday night dessert – chocolate mint bombs from Green & Blacks Ultimate Chocolate Cookbook. Expressing surprise at how a cookbook about chocolate came to be so abandoned? Me too, and I can’t for the life of me explain how I’ve had this book for nearly two years and not cooked from it once. A disgraceful oversight on my part. Especially as I’m head over heels in love with Green & Blacks chocolate, in particular the butterscotch flavour. Oh my god, just writing that has made me desperate for some. Do they deliver? The recipes in it all look scrumptious, you’ve got salted caramel chocolate torte, brownies, white chocolate millefuille, ice creams, soufflés, hot chocolates, truffles and so much more. It’s a chocoholics paradise. Whilst I really, really wanted to cook the chocolate soufflé, the workload for it put me off so I went for possibly the least labour intensive recipe in the book. The other half’s a huge fan of mint chocolate so it seemed like a no brainer. In essence, the ‘bomb’ is in actual fact just a cake mix wodged into a ramekin and baked in the oven. Easy to make ahead, yet there were very few clues as to what this dessert should turn out like. Was it supposed to have a runny centre, be turned out of the ramekin onto a plate? Who knew. Because of this, I’m not sure whether I overcooked it or not, as while tasting perfectly fine (although not as minty as I’d hoped) it was pretty unspectacular and had the texture of dry, heavy cake. Even if it was supposed to have a gooey centre, the cake surrounding it would still be lacklustre. I made the mistake of sacrificing flavour for time. As well as tasting unspectacular, it didn’t look much, so I tried to jazz it up by attempting to dust a teaspoon shape onto it with icing sugar. This failed miserably, and my pride forbids me to put photographic evidence out there.

This dull attempt at dessert then makes me think that maybe once in a while, dedicating some time in the kitchen to get a stunning dessert on the table might not be so bad after all if it tastes amazing. Just don’t expect me to be all that happy about it.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2013 in Baking, Books, Chocolate, Cooking, Food

 

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Skinny Saturday

Every time The Boyfriend goes away I make a decision that at the time feels like a brilliant idea but in the end turns out to be a completely idiotic one. And the decision is always the same one, every time he goes. I know, I’m an idiot. You’d think I would have learnt by now, after all The Boyfriend is regularly working away and has been for two years now. Yet still I think that by spending my first weekend sans Boyfriend all by myself doing solely what I want to do and being completely selfish is the best idea since sliced bread. It isn’t. Oh, it’s all good up until about 7pm on the Saturday, when a quick glance at Facebook reminds me of all the happy couples spending their evening together, or groups of friends getting ready for a night out and makes me go “huh, I probably should have made plans for this weekend”. Obviously, being apart from the person you’re crazy about isn’t tough in the way that cancer is tough, or your house being burnt down is tough, but it still has its challenges that at times make me feel pretty sorry for myself despite the fact that one of the things I dislike most on this Earth are people who feel sorry for themselves. If he’s only back for three weeks like he was very recently, we have an absolute whale of a time. We cram in trips to the cinema, meals out, our favourite foods, catch up with all the friends and family he hasn’t seen for months, have a ridiculous row that we always laugh at a few hours later (the last one of these was fuelled by me drinking a tad too much gin and turning into a huge drama queen), work on the house, plan holidays and spend a lot of time in fits of giggles. In short, it’s awesome. So obviously when he goes away its a pretty spectacular comedown and I think my reasoning behind spending time by myself is that while he’s home I haven’t had any time at all to bake, read, blog, watch Disney films or Sex and the City and I crave some downtime. Maybe next time I’ll just give myself a day of no plans.

My self inflicted misery however has done wonders for this blog though. Every cloud! Not content with just one recipe to try out yesterday, I decided to really test Gizzi’s Skinny Weeks and try three of them: breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m aware I should be using more neglected cookbooks and believe me this week I will be using them, but I wanted to have a virtuous Saturday without denying myself that vital component, flavour, and I knew that Gizzi could deliver. Breakfast consisted of what Gizzi likes to call Elvis toasts, which is a far more heart friendly version of The Kings 2000 calorie mammoth fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Gizzi’s come in at a much more reasonable 284 calories, although as it was Saturday I used normal white sliced bread instead of sourdough rye, and a whole banana instead of half so that must bump up the calories a little. Still, for a healthy breakfast it’s scrumptious and comes with the added bonus of half a square of dark chocolate grated over the banana. Half a square may not seem like a lot but it really does go a long way. Who can argue with a chocolate fix at 9am?

Lunch, which came along pretty late after a Primarni binge, was pancetta, farro and bean soup and like most recipes in this book, was completely delicious. I couldn’t find farro in Sainsburys so had to substitute it with farfalline, which are tiny pasta shapes designed to be added to soups. You might look at the pancetta and think this soup shouldn’t be billed as healthy, but in addition to the pancetta the soup also contains onion, carrot, celery, garlic, tomatoes and cannellini beans so you’re getting a considerate amount of goodness from the hefty amount of veg and beans. I didn’t add quite enough stock so my version turned out more like a stew than a soup but tasted no less divine for it. Pancetta is the star flavour shining through, but you also get the sweetness of the tomatoes and plenty of crunch from the mirepoix. To make this soup even better, you’re allowed to sprinkle a small amount of Parmesan over your bowl of soup and you don’t need me to tell you that this takes the soup to diet perfection. I’m very please that I have three portions to take to work with me for lunch this week.

Last but by absolute no means least, for dinner I went with yoghurt chicken curry bowl. Well, it’s just not the weekend in my book (which this sort of is) unless a curry is included somewhere. Looking at the ingredient list it’s impossible to find an ingredient that’s bad for you (normally an ominous sign in a recipe) and yet this curry was one of the best I’ve ever made. You make a paste out of spices, chillies, onion, ginger and garlic, mix it with fat free yoghurt then marinade the chicken in the spicy yoghurt before baking in the oven. Paired with some brown rice and topped with a zingy mango salsa, this was the perfect dish to lift me out of my lonely blues (self inflicted, I must add). The curry on its own packed in lots of flavour and would have been perfectly acceptable without the salsa, but boy is the salsa immense. Don’t make this curry without it! The pairing of sweet yet sharp mango with mint, alongside onion (I should have used red but only had white), tomato and lime juice is phenomenal and made my tongue do a little jig in my mouth. Gorgeous. I want to put it on everything.

The real strength of these recipes is that regardless of trying to lose weight or not, I would cook them all again. And not just for myself either, I see no reason why these dishes couldn’t be served to guests, they are that good. Healthy food has long had a reputation for being dull, uninspiring and bland but Gizzi has completely turned that upside down and filled a cookbook with mouthwatering food that just so happens to be good for you. I’ve barely ventured into the naughty side of the book, and for a woman who likes a good pig out, that’s no small feat.

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Afternoon Tea, Minus The Tea

I don’t like tea. I’ve never liked tea, can’t drink it and I just cannot get my head around the nations obsession with the stuff. I realise I’m the only person in Britain who thinks like this and will probably end up in Pentonville for crimes against patriotism, but I am right. Give me a vanilla latte or frothy cappuccino any day over an insipid cup of tea. I’m prepared for the hate mail.

It came as somewhat of a surprise to me then that I found myself knocking back a vanilla chai latte, and on pondering what chai actually was (if something sounds exotic and foreign then I’m a sucker for it, whether I know what it means or not) discovered through Wikipedia that it was actually a form of black tea. Yes, in a latte, you can imagine my confusion and also the horror that despite everything I stand against when it comes to tea, I found myself very much enjoying some. It helped allay my fears that it tasted absolutely nothing like tea. For those unfamiliar to Chai tea, it originates from India and uses spices like cardamom, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla and the like. In a vanilla latte it tastes very similar to a carrot cake although I can’t quite 100% work that out for certain. Its my new favourite hot drink and you can find tubs of Chai powder in the tea and coffee aisle, give it a go.

The best thing about discovering a new ingredient is finding ways to use it. This is what led me to bake up a slightly adapted version of Gizzi Erskine’s chocolate and Earl Grey cake when I had some friends over on Sunday. For someone who dislikes tea so much I’ve sure used it a lot this past weekend, I know, I’m a huge hypocrite. You can find the recipe for her cake in Kitchen Magic, I’ve never made it in its entirety but it looks absolutely fantastic. I turned this cake into cupcakes and instead of making a chocolate icing and an Earl Grey cream, topped half of them with a simple vanilla buttercream and the other half with a vanilla chai buttercream. Icing these cupcakes nearly gave me an embolism by the way. The buttercream was pretty thick so when I attempted to use my new piping bag set I ended up squeezing the bag too hard resulting in an explosion as the bag split. Suffice to say, the piping bag got binned and while my cupcakes look nowhere near elegant or sophisticated, seeing the bag in my bin did wonders for my stress levels. What with the buttercream being so thick, spreading it on the cupcakes meant the cakes crumbled at times and looked like something a child with poor motor skills would make. These cupcakes have the perfect texture, are moist, light and very chocolatey. I could only really make out the tea flavour on cupcakes that had no icing on whatsoever (I got fed up of ruining cupcakes pretty quickly) and the chai buttercream, whilst being absolutely gorgeous, detracts somewhat from the chocolate & tea flavour of the cupcakes themselves. Saying all that, it really is having your cake and eating it with the chocolate cupcake and the hints of carrot cake lurking in the icing. If you’d like to try this yourself simply add 1 tbsp of chai powder into every 2 tbsp of vanilla buttercream.

I couldn’t have such a heavy emphasis on tea in all this baking and not include some homemade scones, courtesy of Nigella’s HTBADG, aka, The Best Cookbook Of All Time. After all, it was sunny and I have a lovely garden, afternoon tea just seemed like the British thing to do on such an occasion. Although with the heat we quenched our thirst with squash and kept the tea in the cakes. As of yet I have no table but a duvet cover on the grass sufficed! I’d never made scones before but I can tell you now that I will be making them all the time, they are so ridiculously easy to make. Why anyone would ever buy those dry, heavy lumps in cellophane from the shops when they are a cinch to make from scratch and taste so dreamy whilst still warm from the oven I have no idea. They are ridiculously light for something that consists mostly of flour and butter. I’m not sure there’s another recipe that so eloquently highlights how simple and tasty home made baked goods can be. If you’re a beginner to baking these would be a great place to start: easy, tasty, moreish and guaranteed to get rave reviews from whoever you feed them to. Smothered in clotted cream and jam, there is nothing better to eat while enjoying a brief spell of English sunshine. Nigella calls these ‘Lily’s Scones’ in the book: Lily, whoever you are, I salute you.

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Let Them Eat Cake

Let no one ever say that I ever do things by half. Just one week into the oven being delivered and fitted and I’ve already made three cakes. Oh yes, my baking addiction is back on track which just goes to show that cold turkey really does not work. At least where the chemical reaction between sugar, flour and eggs is concerned, anyway. Taking a cake out of the oven and covering it in icing fills me with delight, whilst eating said cake and sharing with friends and family just makes me feel very happy to be alive. It sounds cheesy, but food really does bring people together and it’s rare to attend an event without food being at the centre of things. The best things about cakes beside the fact they taste scrumptious is that they are completely unnecessary; full of ingredients that are of no nutritional benefit and expensive to make, to me cakes embody just how much humans eat for pleasure instead of just simply surviving, at least if money allows. Life is short, lets eat well and enjoy what we put in our cake holes (a literal description of my mouth this weekend).

My first cake of the week was a red velvet, the much loved American cake topped with a cream cheese frosting. I got the recipe from my favourite food blog Smitten Kitchen which is basically the food blog all others aspire to be. You really should check it out although if you deign to come back here after seeing the perfection of SK I can only apologise for my sloppy work. I’m just not cut out to test, re-test and then re-re-test recipes for your cooking pleasure, but I’m very glad that SK does, her recipes are fantastic and her cookbook is on my wish list. This cake is made up of three layers so it is a big cake and all the more fantastic for that. The cake uses a lot of cocoa powder which means that you need to use a larger quantity of red food dye to overpower, if you will, the colour of the cocoa. I was 5 tablespoons short of what was needed dye wise so my cake was more brown velvet which was not as striking and attractive as the traditional version but so be it. Taste wise though it was great, with the cocoa coming through very strong which is not always the case with red velvet. The cream cheese frosting would not set despite my best efforts and while icing the cake crumbs would mingle with the icing, resulting in a lumpy and rather unattractive cake. No matter, it still looked pretty impressive and triumphant, standing there high and mighty in the true spirit of Americana.

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Not wanting to stop with the one cake, this weekend I cracked open the Nigella books. In my eyes it’s not home until a Nigella treat has been baked so to make up for lost time I baked two. Common sense, no? Feast gave me just what I was looking for, a chocolate Malteser cake from her Chocolate Cake Hall Of Fame chapter. I feel it should be obligatory for every cookbook to have a similar chapter as there is no finer thing to pull out of the oven than a chocolate cake. Although don’t quote me on that next time I’m extolling the virtues of a roast dinner. This cake is pretty decadent, what with being sandwiched and covered in a cocoa and Horlick’s buttercream icing and then studded with Maltesers. The cake itself is quite fudgey with a malty, chocolatey flavour but the real star is the icing. As you can well imagine I was full of despair when there was small amount of icing leftover in the bowl for me to eat, the taste is what I would describe as something along the lines of malty fudge with a chocolate undertone. This cake is a winner and I highly recommend you make it, however you’ll get no complaints from me if you were to only make the icing. Heavenly.

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Last by by no means least, I made raspberry bakewell slices from Kitchen, a pretty mammoth Nigella cookbook but one which has served up many delights in our home. Not strictly speaking a cake, instead a pastry base filled with jam, raspberries and frangipane (one of my favourite words ever, it just sounds so made up), but does it really matter? This recipe epitomises why I love Nigella so much. Other cookbooks would tell you to make a pastry, roll it out to a specific thickness and then drape over your baking tin, which is what can put people off pastry making because it is such a ball ache. Nigella saves the day by making it as simple as possible, just combine all your pastry ingredients and then press into the tin with your knuckles. Perfection itself and completely stress free. I think I took these out of the oven too early as on cutting into squares the middle fell apart and they aren’t quite as solid as they probably should be but they are by no means inedible. They are too edible in fact. Crisp, buttery, sweet pastry with a fruity, jammy middle topped with almond frangipane and flaked almonds, they are seriously tasty. Sour from the fruit but with enough sweetness to balance the whole thing out. I wish they’d kept their shape a bit more but all is forgiven when tasted. If you’re worrying about my arteries, cholesterol and waistline after this excessive and somewhat obsessive baking binge, fret no more as I had a steady stream of visitors today who I weighed down with cake whether they wanted it or not. I just can’t wait now for The Boyfriend to get back from his travels in Kiev so I can cook his favourite meals that until now have been out of reach. It’s safe to say that the slow cooker and George Foreman grill have been tucked well out of the way to gather years of dust. Good riddance.

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Tastes Like Mojitos

This time last year I rather perversely made an Easter bunny bolognese, which displeased me so much that it went straight into the freezer and there it stayed until we moved and it was chucked away. You’ll be pleased to know that the Easter bunny was spared this year and there was no seasonal symbolic cooking involving cute fluffy rabbits at all. They breed like wildfire, bite, spread vermin and wiped out a lot of native Australian wildlife so I’m not sure why people are so fond of them, but there you have it, we eat lamb but seem horrified at eating those poor baby veal despite the fact they’re killed at the same age sheep are for our Easter roasts. Our eating habits make no sense whatsoever which probably really tickles the French. The only concern I have about veal is that if you eat it it should be British as veal imported from Europe has in general had a pretty horrendous life and spent an awful lot of time in crates. I’m straying a little here seeing as I cooked neither lamb nor veal this weekend, but nevertheless it’s worth knowing.

What with it being a long weekend it felt only right to get stuck in to a bit of baking, using my dads oven. What with it being Easter I had to make something chocolatey, and craving some salted caramel I made Gizzi Erskine’s delicious salted and rosemary caramel millionaires shortbread. I made these last year and fell in love with the odd combination of rosemary and chocolate, yet didn’t quite manage to win anyone else around to them. I took these to a family get together and my cousins twin boys informed me that they would be much better if I used milk chocolate rather than dark. Chocolate is totally wasted on the young! However, I decided this time that maybe I should heed their advice and go for the less intense stuff. Kids, what do they know? While still utterly edible and moreish, these sweet treats need the slight bitterness of dark chocolate to take them from good to great, and being a bit richer its harder to over eat. With milk it’s oh so easy to just have one more. If adding rosemary to millionaires shortbread sounds like one step too far for you, I’d urge you to at least try it. The hint of rosemary stops the caramel from being too sweet and the slight umami taste alongside the chocolate and shortbread really adds something, but I can’t put my finger on what that is exactly.

As well as that, I made a lemon, mint and blueberry loaf cake from the April 2012 edition of Delicious. And Delicious it truly is. You make a simple loaf cake with blueberries, bake and while cooling pour over a mint and lemon sugar syrup and leave to soak up. The key to this cake is using real mint leaves instead of flavouring, and you end up with a soft, fruity cake that has a sharp yet minty crunch on top. Gorgeous, and tastes just like a mojito. In fact, I think this cake would be even better if the blueberries were replaced with raspberries, and the lemon with lime, resulting in what I’d like to call a raspberry mojito cake. Can you imagine anything more tasty than a cocktail turned into a cake? I can’t quite frankly and am now itching to make my own version. The blueberry cake itself is still very good and I love how it looks as though the blueberries exploded within the cake, leaving only a juicy blue stain as a clue that they were there. When you pour the mint syrup over the cake it looks like you’ve poured a delicious bright green sludge over it, but this soon gets absorbed into the sponge, leaving only crunchy sugar behind. Gorgeous.

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Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Baking, Chocolate, Cooking, Food

 

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Baking Up A Taste Of The Tropics

This weekend I finally got the opportunity to get in touch with my inner domestic goddess after a month of slumming it in the slow cooker and microwave. The urge to bake just got too strong so I was lucky to be able to pop out and borrow someone’s oven to scratch the itch and get something warm and comforting on the kitchen counter. There’s nothing like a bit of baking to counteract the stress of a busy week and to take your mind off of missing someone, which was the excuse I gave myself when I decided to bake two treats instead of one. Sometimes, you’ve just got to let yourself go. In truth, I have been working out hard most mornings and walked three miles yesterday while waiting for the car to be MOT’ed, so my greed has been well earned. Before I get to the joy of baking though I feel I must tell you about last nights dinner, mellow meatballs from Nigella Express. You’ve more than likely already got this book as it sold by the truckload when it was released a few years ago, and if you haven’t I strongly suggest you pick up a copy as it is quite simply indispensable. In my kitchen anyway. My copy is looking pretty sorry for itself, covered in food splats, its pages stuck together and spine close to falling apart – all signs of a much loved and reliable cookbook. Some of my favourite recipes from this include chicken schnitzel, flourless brownies, Mexican scrambled eggs, ragu and yesterday’s dinner. I adapted the recipe slightly to suit cooking in the slow cooker, so if you do the same then only put half the amount of stock specified so that you don’t end up with a watery dinner. The meatballs are cooked in a sauce made up of red curry paste, coconut milk, tomatoes and spices, alongside some chickpeas, sweet potatoes and butternut squash. It’s delicious. Spicy but not overly so, sweet, thick and with the goodness of sweet potato, squash and chickpeas. You needn’t make your own meatballs it you don’t have the time or inclination, but as I’ve said before (and it bears saying again what with the recent horse meat scandal) please buy the best meat you can afford so you know what you’re eating. I went for Tesco Finest Aberdeen Angus meatballs which might sound poncy but I only ate a quarter of the meatballs last night and the rest is in the freezer, so I’ve got 3 good quality dinners for the price of one pack of meat. So long as you are happy with the quality of what you’re eating, that’s all that matters. I know this photo doesn’t show the meatballs all that flatteringly, but take my word for it, they’re tasty.

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On to the baking! Flicking through Saved By Cake by Marian Keyes, my eyes were caught on the word ‘orgasmic’, as I’m sure yours would be too. Marian claims that her coconut milk cake elicited texts from friends raving about what an orgasmic tasting cake this is, so with such an appealing description what sort of woman would I be to not bake it? Word of advice for you though if you intend on making this cake or for that matter anything with coconut milk in it. Please do not buy coconut milk from the aisle in the supermarket where you’ll find all the big brand names for world foods, such as Blue Dragon, Old El Paso, Dolmio and the like. Buy it from this aisle and you’ll pay almost £2 for a 400ml can. Buy it from the aisle with all the Polish/Jamaican/Indian products that are typically covered in a foreign language and you’ll pay at the most 99p for the same size tin. There’s often an offer of two for £1 on these tins too. I don’t know what kinda swiz Blue Dragon and Amoy are trying to pull, the swines, but two quid for a tin of milky white liquid is excessive and if you need several tins for the week then its cheaper to get a Thai takeaway than it is to cook a simple curry. It might seem like a big rant over a saving of £1 but the big brands know most people don’t walk down the ‘ethnic’ aisle and charge double for the exact same product. And it really is the exact same product, there is no difference in quality or taste whatsoever. Don’t give them the satisfaction, go down the next aisle along and pick up a tin from a smaller producer that charges fairly. Look for Island Sun (green & white tins) or Dunns River (orange tin) and stick the middle finger up at the big brands. If you don’t shop at Tesco much then you’ll probably struggle finding these tins anywhere else other than Oriental supermarkets, but maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough. Waitrose naturally don’t stock them at all you’ll be surprised to hear. Anyway, that’s the pain dealt with, lets move onto pleasure. The cake doesn’t look like anything special to be honest, its very modest looking with its plain vanilla appearance. But vanilla can be surprisingly decadent and naughty, plus we all know not to judge anything on its appearance. The cooked cake is poked several times then is covered with the warmed, sugary coconut milk and left to soak up the milk overnight. Upon eating, the cake is very heavy from all the liquid but exceptionally moist. I’ve a feeling if you squeezed it the cake would ooze syrup from being completely saturated. While not entirely orgasmic, it is a very very good cake, filled to the brim with coconut which reminded me of a holiday in Cuba, and in the end leaving the eater very satisfied. I tried very hard to avoid any sexual innuendo with the write up of this orgasmic cake but to be honest it was just too easy. Sorry.

I also made a rather large batch of cookies from a much neglected cookbook, The Golden Book Of Chocolate. The Boyfriend bought me this several years ago from a fabulous shop we found in Notting Hill called Books For Cooks. Well you know me, I wasn’t going to walk right past that shop! If you are ever in the area and in the market for a new cookbook, don’t log on to Amazon and go here instead, it’s a great shop. I only wish I lived a little nearer London, purely so I could hang out in this shop on a regular basis. The cookbook itself has not seen any kitchen action for a long time which probably comes as a shock considering my love for chocolate and baking, but there are a lot of typos and ingredients missing which is a big mistake to make when it comes to publishing a cookbook. It’s a massive book though and covers a wide spectrum of chocolate based foods, even covering savoury dishes which I’ve not been brave enough to tackle. And it’s pages are gold. What more could you possibly want from a cookbook aside from accuracy and the correct list of ingredients? I mock, but in actual fact the chocolate and banana chip cookies I made from this book were sublime and not a typo in sight on the page. They were a cinch to make, and the banana flavour came from a mashed up banana and some dried banana chips. I buy bananas every week and come the end of the week I’ve maybe eaten one and the rest are all black and mushy. I know this will be the case and yet every week I can’t help but put another bunch of bananas in my trolley, convinced that this week I will eat all of them. Never mind, there are plenty of recipes that begin with ‘take one overripe banana…’
I hadn’t realised when I started making them that I would be left with 36 cookies but that indeed was the case. Unfortunately for me these cookies are right up my street, with melted choc chips, the crunch of banana chips and a super soft, almost cake like texture that makes them very easy to eat. I hate really crunchy cookies and usually this is what I end up baking, so to have a perfect cookie emerge from the oven was a dream come true. It also takes me straight across the pond to my favourite holidays in Florida with each bite, making them even more desirable. Luckily, The Boyfriend and I have a new baby niece, and if there’s one thing new parents need its sugar, right? I will be handing these over to someone who surely needs them more than I do, before I give myself full on diabetes by the time the week is out. I’m not a fan of peanut butter myself, but I can imagine this could be incorporated into the recipe somewhere somehow if you are suitably nuts about the stuff. The raw cookie dough would also make for a perfect home made cookie dough ice cream, I can see this stuff going beautifully with either vanilla, chocolate or banana ice cream. But it really is just perfect as a cookie, and something I will be whipping up as soon as possible for The Boyfriend once he’s home.

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Perfect Snowed In Food

Snow can be a pain for some, but for me, being able to hunker down at home in snuggly clothes with the heating turned up, a cookbook in hand and nowhere to go is sheer perfection. Admittedly, it’s not entirely perfect what with The Boyfriend not being back for a few days, but I’m adaptable and having free rein over the TV all night is the silver lining I’m clinging to. I’m very thankful too that I have a ridiculously well stocked store cupboard, meaning a quick walk round the corner to the local shop to get fresh food was all I needed to cook up the perfect snow day meal. I did nearly fall over approximately 20 times in front of the much more agile children sledding down the slopes while on my travels, but no matter as I had chocolate in my shopping bag! Green and Blacks chocolate to be precise, the good stuff, the ‘you know it’s payday’ stuff. But more on the chocolate later, we’ve got the savoury stuff to deal with first, which just so happened to be divinely delicious. I’ll be honest, today I didn’t really want to do a lot of experimenting as snowy days call for comfort and warmth, so I turned to one of my all time favourite cookbooks that I know I can rely on time after time. If you assumed Nigella then you would be wrong, for it was Gizzi Erskines’ beautiful book Kitchen Magic that provided me with the recipe for a bowlful of satay chicken noodle soup. I’d not made it before, but this book has given me plenty of tasty Asian meals before and I knew Gizzi wouldn’t let me down. It was perfect. Crispy chicken thighs, spicy Thai tasting broth and slippery rice noodles, what could be better on a day like today? It also took barely any time whatsoever to cook, which is no bad thing when everything smells so good whilst cooking that you just want to scarf it all down in one go. The chicken thighs are coated in spices and despite the fact that I de-skinned them (I know, I know, but I couldn’t justify chicken skin and chocolate now could I? I’m trying to lose weight!) they still ended up being crispy on top and moist within as thighs are fairly hard to overcook unlike the breast. The soup itself contained yellow curry paste, peanut butter, coconut milk and chilli oil amongst other Asian ingredients (store cupboard being put to its full potential) and was exactly what I needed to fight off the winter chill – warming, spicy and full of the complex Thai flavours that make me want to book a flight to Bangkok. If we didn’t have to pay for plasterers, paint and roof tiles I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what I’d be doing right now. Damn you house! Topped with my absolute favourites, mint, coriander and red chilli, it was a blinder of a soup. I’d been very tempted to get a chow mein after walking past the Chinese on the way back from the shop but I am so pleased I resisted and went for this instead, it really is very very good and much better for me than an MSG laden takeaway.

Following on from the soup I made chocolate, cherry and walnut brownies from In The Mood For Food by Jo Pratt. This is definitely my most used cookbook, although it had its heyday if you will when I first got into cooking and cookbooks several years ago, and hasn’t been used as much recently. This is a shame as just like Nigella and Gizzi, you can rely on Jo to give you quality food that tastes gorgeous with minimal effort. I think it’s a woman thing, male chefs like Jamie and Gordon want to wow you and cook food under pressure or impossible time limits, whereas women just want to feed you without all the palaver. It’s not about showing off, it’s about delivering tasty food that doesn’t stress you out when cooking it. Yet again my trusty store cupboard came into play, providing me with glacé cherries, walnuts and the usual baking ingredients. All I needed from the shop was chocolate and butter (just hearing those two words together makes me salivate). The best part about baking brownies though is easily the licking of the bowl afterwards once the brownie mixture that actually made it to the oven is cooking away. I have just two rules regarding licking the bowl and they are as follows: 1) always use a teaspoon, never a tablespoon. A teaspoon means it takes longer to clear the bowl out and tricks your mind into thinking you’ve had more as you have to keep going back for more. 2 licks of a tablespoon compared to 4 in a teaspoon, it’s a no brainer, and 2) if someone is in the house with you, only tell them that its bowl licking time (and no, that really isn’t a euphemism) once you yourself have had a few teaspoons of it yourself. You cooked that bad boy brownie, you reap the rewards and don’t let anyone tell you different. If The Boyfriend tries to get in there with his teaspoon before I’ve had my fill, it’s like a scene from a wildlife programme where the lions are fighting over a zebra carcass. Love means never having to share your brownie mix.

Now I’ve never had a bad brownie, they are pretty hard to mess up as all the ingredients are very tasty on their own, let alone combined, and this brownie was no exception. Crunchy walnuts, sweet and sticky cherries combined with dark chocolate, perfect. The brownies are squidgy in the middle with a crisp top and the tiny amount of sea salt added cuts through the intense sweetness of the gooey brownie. I did try to be inventive and added a capful of Baileys to use up the leftover dregs from Christmas, but there was not even the slightest trace of this in the taste and to be honest when the chocolate tastes as good as it does in this brownie who even cares? Keeping on theme, I dusted them with a blizzard of icing sugar for extra presentational effect. I’ve got to trek over to the house tomorrow in these snowy conditions and I’ll be bringing a tin of these brownies with me, chiefly as fuel for our mate doing the electrics, but also as emergency rations if my car gets stuck for hours on the road. I may not have a shovel, torch or spare jumpers in my boot, but at least I’ll have sugary, chocolatey goodness and really, isn’t that what everyone should have to hand in an emergency situation?

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Eat, Drink, Be Merry and Go Up A Dress Size

I’d made a vow this Christmas that I was absolutely determined not to break. Up until this year I’ve always had at least a week off over the Christmas/New Year period, and all those days off would have involved at least three of the following; Quality Street, Baileys, cheese, pistachios, wine, cashews, mince pies, Christmas cake, turkey sandwiches, Celebrations, chocolate truffles, Doritos and cocktail sausages.  A fine selection I think you’d agree and that’s just counting the snacks, not the meals. This year though, I’m having to work in between Christmas and New Year, so my vow was to eat as much as humanly possible on my days off to make up for all the binge eating days lost to work, in the hope that all that sugar and fat would trigger a minor health problem that would get me out of work. Well I certainly tried my utmost but it would appear my body is far more capable at dealing with saturated fat than I thought as I ended up on the M1 at 8:30 this morning feeling pretty sorry for myself, and a few pounds heavier. I’ve not done much cooking really and definitely haven’t done a lot of kitchen experimenting due to the fact that I stick to fairly traditional Christmas food, but I’ve made up for this with sheer greed. My main downfall this year would have to be mince pies. I cannot believe I’ve spent the past twenty seven years turning my nose up at them, I’ve been missing out for so long!        Naturally, being the food snob that I am I went for Tesco Finest Mince Pies which are made with Courvoisier and Cognac no less and they are divine. Unfortunately, the obese inner child guiding my appetite meant that I found myself last night diving into a warm mince pie not only swimming in a pool of double cream but also with a big dollop of brandy butter melting onto it. Yes that’s right, two accompaniments, I told you I was taking this vow seriously. If you’ve not had brandy butter before then you need to re-evaluate your Christmas priorities. Butter as it is is already a pretty fine ingredient, but add in some sugar and a slug of brandy and not only have you made butter even more detrimental to your ticker, but it tastes sublime. I could eat it out of the tub purely on its own, no problem, but I do manage to juuuust about stop myself and chuck it on a mince pie instead. It’s booze and pastry heaven and I’m so glad The Boyfriend hasn’t taken to it the way I have, those beauties are all for me.

Of course, the highlight of Christmas food is the most anticipated meal of the year, Christmas dinner, and this year was no exception. We went to the in-laws for dinner this time and it’s a massive understatement to say they fed us well. I’m not exactly stingy with portion sizes myself but the in-laws make my plates look half empty. Plates piled like a little Mt Snowdon with crunchy potatoes roasted in beef dripping, carrots, sprouts (which as tradition dictates, I never eat), mashed swede, parsnips, and then a platter to help ourselves from covered in what seems like never ending turkey, ham, pigs in blankets and sausage meat stuffing. It’s excessive, it’s gluttonous, it’s more than I could ever eat on any other day but it’s bloody amazing. When a few years ago I first finished a plate of their Christmas dinner I felt like I’d finally jumped the last hurdle to true acceptance into the family, proving my appetite was just as hearty as theirs. I know everyone goes crazy for goose fat potatoes this time of year, but worth a go as well is beef dripping, as it delivers super crunchy potatoes with a deep, meaty taste. If it’s good enough for chip shops up north, it’s good enough for me. The turkey was tasty and moist thanks to being roasted breast side down so all the fat soaks into the breast meat, a trick I appreciate hugely as someone who spends Sunday afternoons picking at the underneath of a roast chicken to get the moistest bits. I’ve already converted several others to ‘bottom feeding’, it’s the future people. Basically, Christmas dinner was worth the year long wait, even though I do miss being with my own family for it every other year.

Boxing Day brought with it mine and The Boyfriends usual traditions, which in short are stay in PJ’s, watch films, eat chocolate and cook some gammon. With our gammon The Boyfriend knocked up his ‘signature dish’ (he got the recipe off the BBC food website) of dauphinoise potatoes which are mind blowingly good. How can it not be after all, its only ingredients are potatoes, garlic, double cream and cheese? It’s idiot proof, if anyone could manage to mess that up they should be locked up for crimes against humanity. The soft potatoes in a creamy, cheesy sauce go really well with gammon and mellows the salty taste it can sometimes have, while the saltiness also cuts through the richness of the potatoes. This was pretty salty gammon though and I could only manage one slice which went against all my principles and indeed the vow that I had made. Perhaps if I’d been able to eat one more slice I’d have got that minor health problem that would have got me off work. Damn that ham.

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On to something that I actually cooked myself – the Christmas cake! As I’d never made a Christmas cake before I had to go with my tried and tested favourite cake baker, Nigella Lawson and her book, Christmas. There are loads of varieties of Christmas cake in the book, I was drawn to the chocolate version at first but decided to go down the traditional route for my first attempt. Six weeks after making the cake, it finally got covered in a blanket of marzipan and royal icing and was ready to devour. When I first decorated it I thought it didn’t look too bad for a homemade attempt at decorating, but in a cruel twist everyone on Facebook seemed to upload their cake photos at the same time and mine suddenly seemed very amateurish in comparison to all the other amateur bakers. But you know what, you should never compare yourself to other people otherwise you’ll never be happy, and anyway, it’s about the taste and it tasted wonderful.  Unlike a shop bought cake it wasn’t heavy and dense but surprisingly light, really fruity with a crunch from the walnuts and that delicious taste of marzipan. It wasn’t as boozy as I’d anticipated, with more of a tickle than a kick of alcohol but this didn’t take away from the taste. I’ll just have to keep sneaking more booze into it next year to get it really drunk.

So that was my Christmas, a good one for sure but I can’t wait until next Christmas when we will be in our own home and hopefully a brand spanking new kitchen to cook my first Christmas dinner in – here’s hoping! Hope you all had a fantastic Christmas and didn’t put on too much weight, I’ll be spending January in the gym!

 

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