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Tag Archives: brownies

Not On My Watch, Gwyneth

At first I thought that I didn’t like Gwyneth Paltrow. Its an easy conclusion to arrive at, after all she did sob all the way through her Oscar acceptance speech, is married to the most boring man in pop, has perfect hair/skin/figure and bleets on about her wonderful lifestyle on Goop.com. Spare me. But then two things struck me. One is that this woman is good friends with Beyonce and Jay Z. Jealous though I may be, anyone good enough for Miss Single Ladies is good enough for me. I can forgive the boring taste in men when I consider her wonderful taste in friends, especially as I know deep down that one day Beyonce and I will be best friends (humour me, ok?). The second was that I recalled seeing Gwyneth on The Graham Norton Show a couple of years ago where she did a pretty fine job of rapping her way through an NWA track. Best friends with Beyonce and a dab hand at rapping? Why, Gwyneth and I are cut from the very same cloth! How can I hold any sort of grudge against her for her perfect skin when in actual fact we are one and the same. It would be like hating myself and I’m all about self acceptance.

So when my lovely Aunty brought me a housewarming gift of two cookbooks, one being Gwyneth’s ‘Notes From My Kitchen Table’, I was intrigued to see what she could offer me in the way of discovering new dishes and tasty treats. Warning: if you don’t like name dropping then you’d do well to skip the acknowledgments page which reads like a who’s who of A-listers, including my future BFF’s The Carters. If you didn’t already know Gwynnie was well connected, this page would set you straight. One thing that really struck me about her attitude towards food from this book is that she seems slightly scared of it. I’m all for living a healthy lifestyle and an everything in moderation type attitude towards food, but I firmly believe food is to be enjoyed and that too much of a good thing can be bloody wonderful. Life’s too short to make a brownie healthy, which unfortunately Gwyneth seems to have had the time to do. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to eat a brownie or three I want it with side orders of guilt and sugar highs. Gwyneth gives a recipe for brownies that she says are as healthy as possible without sacrificing any of the flavour. When did it become socially acceptable to put agave syrup, soy milk and grain sweetened choc chips (that’s right, not sugar sweetened, grain sweetened) into the mighty brownie? I’ll tell you when: never. A brownie recipe with no sugar or butter is an abomination. If I didn’t want sugar or butter in my diet then well, I’d probably be hugely depressed and locked in a padded cell for my own safety, but that’s beside the point, I’d eat only quinoa and vegetables, not faff about with the brownie. It’s safe to say that I will not be making the brownies from this book. They offend me.

Aside from interfering with brownies, the cookbooks actually pretty good. The majority of recipes are fresh, nutritious and light so if you’re looking for low fat meals this wouldn’t be a bad investment. Crammed full of salads, soups, sandwiches and dinner options you’re bound to find something healthy to eat. To be fair to the author, her father died of cancer and she states in the book that she believes his diet had a part to play in him suffering from the disease so I can understand her caution and attitude towards food. While there aren’t really any properly unhealthy recipes in the book, naturally I gravitated towards the ‘worst’ one. Quellé surprise! This would be French toast made with brioche, that heavenly, buttery, soft, sweet bread which soaked up the egg and vanilla batter exceptionally well. Fried in butter and sprinkled with what Gwyneth states should be a tiny amount of sugar, instructions which I took the liberty of ignoring, the slices of brioche crisped up beautifully. I topped the vanilla absorbed slices with chopped banana, icing sugar and a good drizzle of maple syrup, and tucked right in. The toast itself is crisp on the outside, gooey and moist within and you don’t need me to tell you that the banana and syrup were perfect partners. As Sunday morning breakfasts go, it was up there with the best that bacon can offer. Gwyneth, you’re cookbook passes muster with me, just don’t mess with any other sweet baked goods again.

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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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French Fancy & Nigella Naughtiness

Thanks very much weather. I had some lovely plans today to do a bit of foodie exploring in London and check out a pickled shark at the Tate (for art, not food. The Chinese craze for shark fin soup makes me sick to my stomach) but the miserable rainy weather put paid to that idea. Not that I can complain too much as it just gave me a rainy day opportunity to try out my new French cookbooks and do a bit of baking. Over the last year I’ve fallen hard for French food and I’m starting to come to the conclusion that deep down I’m actually French. After all, I adore the smell of garlic, eat a lot of cheese and bread, and most importantly, have complete and utter contempt for the general public. But then Saturday mornings in Tesco will do that to a person. I make exceptions of course, but only really for Beyonce, Nigella and the entire cast of New Girl, although it may be a bit of a stretch calling those guys ‘the general public’. So you see, clearly I must have some French ancestors somewhere in my family tree,explaining my love for all things French right now. Lunch today then was that classic, quintessential French recipe, French onion soup from my new cookbook French Brasserie by Daniel Galmiche which is a gorgeous book full of recipes that are easy to cook at home. The ingredients for this soup consist mainly of onions, wine, cheese and baguette, so you couldn’t get more Gallic if you tried. It takes a little while to cook as you have to sweat down the onions to make them soft, golden and release all their flavour but despite this it’s really simple as the most it requires you to do is chop and stir. I have to say, I wasn’t all that won over by this soup which is a real shame as I loved it when I ate some in Paris. However, Daniel does advise getting the best quality onions, preferably the Provence variety, which I must admit I couldn’t be bothered to hunt around for so just bought bog standard onions from the supermarket. Not very Parisian of me I know. Perhaps a better quality onion would have given the soup more taste and taken away the blandness. The one saving grace of this soup is that you top it with cheesy slices of baguette which add some texture and the deep taste of a mature cheddar. The recipe recommended using Comte cheese but the last block was taken right in front of my eyes by some sodding member of the general public (see why I feel such contempt?) so I stuck with some tangy mature cheddar, which always tastes good. I’d definitely like to try this recipe again but not until I’ve sought out some decent onions from a farmers market. I should have known they wouldn’t taste that strong, I didn’t cry once while cutting them into slices. A sure sign of dud onions that is, still having perfect mascara.

It’s been a little while since I cooked a Nigella recipe, but today she is back, and with a bang I must say. I read this article (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/aug/19/nigella-lawson-confessions) the other day and it was as if this woman was me. Nigella has inspired so many people to get in the kitchen and she is such a fantastic writer that you feel you know her through reading her books. It’s not just women she’s enchanted either, I know men who love her books too, although how much of this is owed to her womanly figure and food double entendres rather than her recipes, I wouldn’t like to say. I too fantasise about owning her red chilli fairy lights and stunning Kitchen Aid mixer, but unless I win the lottery it’s unlikely I’ll have £600 spare to buy one. Anyway, the author of the above article references the snow flecked brownies recipe from Feast, and kindly includes the recipe for those without the book, so naturally I had to cook them. This has to be the definitive brownie recipe, because they are an absolute knock out. If a murderous alien race came down to Earth and asked for one good reason not to destroy the entire human race, these brownies are what I’d present them with. You’re welcome Earth. Rich, chocolatey, gooey, soft, warm…. In a word, heaven. I’ve got no problem whatsoever with brownies filled with nuts, cherries etc but the simplicity of these and the sole filling of white choc chips (the snow of the recipe title) is all that is necessary. I used Maldon salt flakes in this recipe, which I highly recommend you do too instead of the salt in your grinder, as the subtle saltiness you get from these flakes cuts right though the richness of the goo and stops it being too sickly sweet. I wish I could describe better the taste of salt in a brownie, but please just take my word for it that its really good. I would not lie to you guys. So once again Nigella justifies her place at the top of the pedestal, and she came along when I needed her most. This week has been an absolute bitch, what with The Boyfriend going and the highs of the last month coming to an end, but at least with a chocolate brownie the world starts to seem right again and with the current weather October really doesn’t seem so far away. The power of The Lawson!

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