Saturday, 23 April 2011

Emerald Isle

I'm away for a restorative trip to Ireland. I'll be back soon but not before checking out the food scene in Cork and heading along to Ballymaloe Hotel and Cookery School.

I'm currently stuffed full of sausages cooked over a fire pit on Inch Strand smothered with Ballymaloe Relish along with lots of home made lemonade. Report back soon!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Welcoming in the British Asparagus Season

It’s that time of year again! Asparagus tips are peeking through the soil in fields all over the UK. I absolutely adore asparagus; their firm elegant stems, their earthy colour and their mellow flavour. I sometimes wonder if my enjoyment is exaggerated by their fleeting season. It seems that it flies by though the supermarkets are keen to replace their space on the shelves with dread Peruvian tips.

We spotted the first bunches in the supermarket about a week or so ago and since then, we’ve been feasting on it. The Boy’s Mum has an asparagus patch which is yielding tall, delicious tips too. I’m determined to make the most of the asparagus season while it’s upon us and can’t seem to get enough of the lovely stuff. It’s so versatile; poach it, steam it, roast it, griddle it, stir fry it – there are so many options!

British asparagus is one of the few vegetables that has stayed strong in recent years while the production and popularity of other vegetables is moving further and further away from the UK. British asparagus is available in most supermarkets now that the season is in full swing and there are offers on so make the most of its abundance and price. There are pick your own places and local sellers dotted all over the place so keep your eyes peeled while you’re out and about in the countryside.

Start your sparrow-grass feasting with a simple boiled (goose) egg for dunking or this creamy fresh risotto...

Asparagus, Pea & Leek Risotto
Serves two

1 small leek, trimmed, washed and finely sliced
125g (or one pack) fresh asparagus stems
100g frozen peas
1 garlic clove, sliced
150g risotto rice (I used arborio)
100ml dry vermouth or white wine
¼ vegetable or chicken stock cube dissolved in 900ml water
Or 900ml fresh vegetable or chicken stock
30g finely grated parmesan or mature cheese
25g unsalted butter
30g soft goats cheese

- Sweat the leek with a little sunflower oil for about five minutes until tender.
- Meanwhile, in a separate pan, warm your stock until it is just off simmering then prepare the asparagus by bending each stem and allowing them to snap where the tender part ends. Add the woody ends to your stock. Trim the top inch or two of tip off the stem then chop the remaining stem into 5mm pieces.
- By now, the leeks should be nicely softened. Add the garlic and stir through the leeks then add the rice, stirring again until it is combined.
- Allow the rice to cook for a few minutes, stirring it to encourage it to absorb the juices from the leeks.
- Add the vermouth and stir again until it is absorbed
- Add half of the stock - one ladle at a time, stirring it in until it is almost completely absorbed.
- Toss in the chopped asparagus stems and continue to add the rest of the stock as before.
- When all of the stock has been added, test the rice to see if it is tender. If not, add a ladle of hot water as before and continue until the rice is just soft. Although the rice should be thick and the grains plump, the risotto itself should have a soft and loose consistency.
- Add the asparagus tips and frozen peas allowing them to soften in the risotto for a few minutes.
- Stir in the butter and parmesan (or mature cheese) to give a creamy glossy taste and texture. Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve topped with crumbled goats cheese.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Colds and Cake Failure

I’m feeling rather sorry for myself – I have a cold and I feel rotten. The Boy was away last week so I kept myself busy with the following:

Monday: several hours ceroc/modern jive with a little salsa thrown in for good measure.
Tuesday: prework swim followed by post-work pole fitness.
Wednesday: pilates and my weekly fix of core-strength building and gossiping with the local WI.
Thursday: cycled 16 miles.
Friday: yet more ceroc/jive.

Unfortunately, I have been paying for it since by (carelessly) losing my voice and having terrible trouble with my sinuses. I’m starting to realise that I’m not superwoman. This is the price I pay for fitness.

Preparing the marinade

Despite this, we held a big barbecue on Saturday with friends old and new paying us a visit. I marinated chicken thighs and drumsticks for throwing on the grill; some were ‘chinese-style’ with soy, five spice, and ginger while the others were smothered in pounded red onion, parsley, chilli and lemon juice. Both varieties were part baked and then grilled over the barbie to ward off any nasty raw chicken bugs. Despite their double cooking, both flavours came out nicely moist and deliciously smoky from the barbecue. The spicy marinade was particularly good and so simple – just pound half a finely chopped red onion, a whole sliced red chilli, a tablespoon of lemon zest and a tablespoon of parsley in a pestle and mortar then add a glug of oil (I used sunflower).

My best friend decided to pay me a visit on Sunday so, in anticipation, I decided to make some little cakes and try out a new recipe. Egg-free banana and honey cup cakes with chopped walnuts. They were not what you’d call a resounding success...


They sunk. Damnit! This might have been something to do with over filling the cake cases - school girl error! The finished cakes were extremely sweet and sticky, stubbornly bonding themselves to their cake cases. I think the recipe still needs some work! With half an hour to spare, I was still determined to have something sweet to put on the table. We were house-sitting for The Boy’s parents so I had their kitchen - and their gadgets - at my disposal. I knocked up a quick chocolate sponge with the help of their Kenwood chef (one day, I will have one!) which was ready just in time.

Now, back to my steamy cave (namely a bowl filled with boiling water and a blob of Vicks with a towel over the top) for more recuperation!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Liverpool Adventures

Liverpool means many things to many people. To some, it’s the music and the infamous Beatles. To The Boy and his family, it’s football – his Dad has supported LFC since he was little and still hedges his bets on the ballot for tickets. To my family, it’s art and the new Tate.

My first visit to the city was primarily orientated around a visit to Anfield with The Boy but we decided to make a weekend of it. Here’s our pick for food and rooms...

View from our room

Where we stayed: Hope Street Hotel, 40 Hope Street, Liverpool

When looking up nice places to stay, one of my prerequisites was a huge bath. This might seem strange but I’ve become increasingly addicted to epically proportioned bath tubs since staying the Langdale Chase Hotel at on the banks of Windermere. After a few searches, we found the Hope Street Hotel which had good Tripadvisor reviews with mixed reviews on their breakfasts.

Our room was nicely appointed with an amazing bed – I don’t think I’ve ever had such a comfy mattress. Natural wood finishes have been used throughout the hotel and this is echoed in each room. The bathroom had the required large bath and a gloriously strong walk-in shower. The lighting in the bathroom kept me entertained for a full five minutes too – they’re controlled by a touch on/off plate but (as I read in the room guide provided) if you hold your finger 10mm or so away and slide up or down, the lights brighten or dim. Sad, I know but great for setting the mood for a relaxing bath.

The luxurious mattress made for a fantastic night’s sleep though our room was pretty hot during the night and the air conditioning in our room didn’t want to work. Still, we trooped down to The London Carriage Works, the restaurant situated in the ground floor of the hotel for breakfast. It’s a pretty stunning venue with slanting panels of textured glass acting as screens among the tables. Breakfast is expensive but it is a good meal – the continental buffet was groaning with fresh fruit, cured meats, pastries and cereals. I came away with a plate of melon and prosciutto to start with and then went on to have a cooked breakfast. They were happy to swap out the black pudding for their vegetarian alternative which was made from red onion and was very tasty. Not sure why I’m not that keen on proper black pudding – the colour is rather off putting...

Where we ate: Host, 31 Hope Street, Liverpool

While researching the hotel, one reviewer recommended Host, conveniently located over the road from the Hope Street Hotel. Curiosity may have seen off the unfortunate cat but, with so many positive reviews, we decided to give it a go.

Make sure that you arrive early and book in advance – we forgot to do the latter but the staff were very understanding and fitted us in. They were very busy with a constant stream of people coming and out – some for cocktails at the bar and others for the food. The meals themselves were absolutely delicious – quick, fresh and full of complex oriental flavours.

Quite seriously, if you're in the area, I would recommend giving Host a go. It's not terribly expensive and they offer something for everyone, whether you're a keen carnivore, a vibrant vegan or a glam gluten-free gourmet. Highly recommended.

The evening was made even more memorable when I made friends with the locals - a woman gifted me with a safety pin for my ‘friendly’ halter top which was determined to come undone. So kind!

Tasting plate and a delicious hot chocolate

Where we indulged: The Chocolate Cellar, 11 - 13 Hanover Street, Liverpool

You might be familiar with my love of chocolate. I’m not sure whether my sixth (cocoa) sense was tingling or whether fate led us but we found ourselves outside The Chocolate Cellar. Naturally, we had to sample what they had to offer. We tried a tasting plate of their chocolates and a hot chocolate each, which were fantastic. A great place to get souvenirs for chocolate lovers! They also offer workshops – we scoffed while watching a group roll and coat truffles.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Snapshot: Adnams Beer

There's nothing quite like a good British beer. Or ale for that matter. I'm not particularly well versed on the subject so I'm afraid I'm not 100% on the difference. Anyway, a friend came back with from a trip to his ancient home counties with a lovely present - Adnams Broadside. I've never heard of the Adnams brewery before but it has a very interesting values when it comes to sustainability and the environment. They have their own charity, which supports good causes in their local area, and even turn their food and brewery waste into biogas. All in all, a pretty lovely company, really.

Oh and the beer is tasty too! The Broadside that my friend brought around was really tasty and full of flavour. I think I'd drink it on its own because its got a fruity taste that can stand up on its own.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Creamy smoked salmon and prawn pasta

Fancy a luxurious meal without breaking the bank? If you know where to look, there are bargains to be had which are cheaper, tastier and healthier than ready meals. Sainsbury’s (my supermarket of personal choice) ‘Basics’ value range have some great products. Their smoked salmon trimmings are a snip at 87p and are great for sandwiches or in pasta. Their frozen prawns are a bit on a weeny size but are a bargain at 300g for £2.00. We always have some in the fridge for throwing into stir-fries.

I whipped up a dish of creamy spaghetti with prawns and smoked salmon for only £1.38 per portion. Lovely with a green salad (they had British grown round lettuces for 40p when I was last in) or a broad bean salad (made with frozen beans and a little mint). Oh and a glass of white wine too if you’re pushing the boat out!

Creamy smoked salmon and prawn pasta
Serves 2

1 onion, finely chopped
100g frozen prawns, defrosted
120g smoked salmon trimmings
4tbsp half fat crème fraiche
½ pack of dill or basil
1 lemon
150g dried spaghetti

 - Put the spaghetti on to boil.
 - Meanwhile, sweat the onion in a saucepan (large enough to fit the cooked pasta in) for a few minutes until soft. Add the juice and a tsp of finely grated zest from the lemon, cover and turn to a very low heat until the pasta is al dente or just tender.
 - Add the crème fraiche to the pan and stir it into the onion as it melts. Add the prawns and allow to warm through for about a minute (longer if you are using large prawns). Loosen the mixture with a splash of the cooking water from the spaghetti or white wine (if you’ve cracked it open already!) if necessary.
 - Turn off the heat and add ⅔ of the smoked salmon to the mixture along with most of the dill or basil (reserve a few sprigs for decoration if you like).
 - Drain the spaghetti and mix well so that it is coated in the creamy mixture.
 - Serve topped with the remaining salmon and herbs.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Mud Dock, Mission & Milkshakes (or Photo’s and Burrito’s)

Food and drink in interesting company can lead to flashes of group inspiration. On this particular dark night, fuelled by chorizo stew (truly delicious) and Lidl Viognier (not recommended), wine glasses and beer bottles were clinked and waved as we toasted our future endeavour. A photography field trip. How very grown-up!

I have a great camera but I’m something of a rookie when it comes to the technical side (as opposed to the ooh-look-how-pretty side) of photography. In contrast, two of my friends are keen and competent clickers so we decided to spend a day behind our respective lenses in each other’s company. This may not seem very food-orientated but the day was nicely broken up into chunks of photo-taking time interspersed with coffee stops.
Sun deck of the Mud Dock, The Grove, Bristol

The perfect spot for people spotting though it became increasingly packed with couples, squabbling families and groups of friends “doing brunch” and comparing hangovers. The café itself is shares its premises and owners with a bike shop, Cycle Works, which makes for some interesting passersby. The terrace has lovely views over the river and one of Bristol’s three (I think) swing bridges. We intended to use it as a meeting point, a convenient, sunny place from which to plan our route but half an hour of chatting, catch up and general geekery later, we left with latte-filled tummies (£2.50 a mug) but no formalised course. Ah well.
Window seat of Mission Burrito, Park Street, Bristol

I’ve been keen to try the Bristol branch of Mission Burrito for a while and with our shutter fingers starting to tire, we decided to stop in on a quest for sustenance. It proved to be a fantastic place to pause in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Park Street. Again, the window seat is a fantastic place to people watch – the canopy kept us nicely shaded from the surprisingly strong Spring sunshine. This branch is a big change from the St Michael's Street branch in Oxford that I know and love; there's space to sit and enjoy your food. Saying that, the food is more of the same delicious, speedy, satisfying fare. I went for a carnitas burrito, which at £5.95 isn't cheap for lunch but you get a lot of bang for your buck and it fills you up until...
At the bar of Rocatillo's Diner, Queens Row, Bristol

Milkshake time! Rocatillos is an American-style diner nestled on Clifton's "Triangle" which does kick-ass breakfasts but their real headliner is their MILKSHAKES. Seriously. For £3.95, you get a stainless steel jug of delicious artery clogging goodness. I had to share with one of my friends otherwise it would've been waaaay too much to handle after everything else. My other trip companion went for an 'Extra Thick' milkshake which lived up to its name - you could stand a spoon up in it without any sway!

And later... Highbury Vaults (on St Michael's Hill) for a swifty pint in their shady courtyard garden. Lovely though my glass was dirty. Bleugh.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Herbacious Healing

Click the image for a full-size, readable-with-out-a-magnifying-glass version

Did you know that the lovely little jars of herbs and spices could do much more than just flavour and fragrance your meals? As a doctor's daughter, I'm naturally cynical of anything that claims a certain food or drink can work miracles or, equally, lead to a painful death. This is mainly because we get so much conflicting information on the subject of health and because our overly keen media likes to jump on any study that might scare people and drag it kicking and screaming into our consciousness.

Anyway, I found this article interesting (even if it is cods wallop*).

*Not that I'm saying that it definitely is, of course...

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Pitney Farm Shop and Goose Eggs for Lunch

 Pitney Farm Shop in the sunshine

Hasn’t the weather been glorious!? I adore the sunshine and have been in my absolute element for the last few days. The Boy and I share a two bedroom first floor flat for the last year and a bit; it’s great but the one thing that I’m missing is a garden. I long to grow my own fruit, vegetables and herbs (not everything can be grown on a window cill like this or on our drive way like this) as well as soaking up the sunshine while something yummy sizzles on the barbeque. But most of all, I miss being able to spend time outside when the weather is so good.

It seemed natural on Saturday to jump into the car on Saturday and set out on a mini-adventure in search of Pitney Farm Shop which I’d seen featured on Fiona Beckett’s Food and Wine Finds. I was delighted to see that there was positively reviewed small business relatively nearby to where we live. I had originally thought that I might cycle there but, at over 12 miles each way, I didn’t have time. I would be tempted on another day though.

Organic Swiss Chard

The shop was remarkably easy to find despite being nestled in the midst of the Somerset countryside and the pretty village of Pitney. We pulled off the narrow country lane and into the yard, dodging hens as we parked. The shop is located on the working farm with a little ‘Veg Shack’ shed full of organic vegetables sourced as locally as possible (though their onions, avocadoes and lemons were from Spain when we visited) and a little shop with all sorts of goodies. They stock various cuts of meats, sausages and meatballs, chocolate, cheeses, pastries, cakes and chutneys as well as local beer. The shop is small itself but is perfectly formed and absolutely stuffed full of delicious morsels – I particularly liked the pasties, which are baked locally and have a sign guiding you to your chosen flavour by the orientation and number of slits in the pastry.

Clever Pasties
We chose some different types of kale, some white onions, a very ripe avocado and some local Maryland cheese. While the lady behind the counter rang through our purchases, our gaze was drawn to a large dish of fresh goose eggs next to the till. Both of us were tempted so we added two to our basket for lunch.

Eggs, eggs, everywhere!

After we had paid up and our eggs had been lovingly swaddled in tissue paper, we crossed the yard to say hello to the newborn lambs in the barn. The Boy was very patient while I crooned and cooed over the tiny delicate lambs (so fluffy!) which had been born only that morning. The barn holds cows and pigs as well as older lambs and a few rogue chickens which had obviously escaped from the large runs of free-range chickens on the other side of the farm. It was evident that the escapees were very happy with their freedom – we spotted several clutches of eggs dotted around in cosy spots.

Later, we enjoyed a delicious lunch of soft boiled goose eggs with early British asparagus for dipping. Size aside, goose eggs aren't really any different to hens eggs. Taste-wise, they taste pretty much the same but you get more of the good stuff. To soft boil, place in a saucepan and cover with cold water (this is to prevent them from cracking as they cook). Put on the hob on a medium heat. When the water starts to boil, time them for 8 minutes and you should come out with a nicely hard white and runny yolk though this does differ depending on the size of the egg. A yummy lunch time treat!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Fragrant Aubergine Salad

It’s Friday and the weather is fine which makes me a very happy girlie indeed. The sunshine is meant to last all through the weekend here, which makes sitting in an office all week worthwhile. The first wafts of barbeque smoke have already been rising so I’m certain that there’ll be lots of people partaking in a little al fresco grilling over the weekend.

I’ve been enjoying a delicious and uncomplicated salad this week which my family used to make from Ainsley Harriot’s Meals in Minutes cookbook. It’s ideal for a barbeque or picnic as it’s seriously easy to make (have it roasting away while you slap your sausages on the Barbie) and is great hot or cold. Any leftovers are pretty amazing the next day too; I’ve added them to a tasty and super speedy salad of spinach and roasted peppers for my work lunchbox this week.

Tasty Leftovers

While we’re on the subject of aubergine, you’ll notice that my recipe doesn’t include a stage for salting as you may have seen elsewhere. The Boy and I actually did an experiment a while back as we were thoroughly confused about whether you should or shouldn’t salt (namely because the recipes tell you to but I don’t recall my parents ever doing so without any detrimental effects). We sliced up an aubergine, salted half before cooking and fried the other half without. There was honestly no difference between the two except that the salted aubergine was, well, more salty. I haven’t bothered salting aubergine before cooking since then and generally miss out the step if it appears in recipes.

Aubergine Salad

Simple and Fragrant Roast Aubergine Salad
Serves 4 as a side dish

2 aubergines
Tight handful of mint leaves, chopped
Tight handful of coriander, chopped
Juice of half a lime (or lemon)
1 shallot, finely chopped
Sunflower oil for roasting

- Preheat the oven to 190C.
- Prepare the aubergines by slicing off the top and chopping the flesh into 2 – 3cm cubes then toss in 1 tbsp of oil.
- Spread out on a tray (I used a silicon sheet underneath to prevent it from sticking) and roast for 20 – 25 minutes turning every so often until the flesh starts to go golden brown around the edges.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly for a few minutes then sprinkle with juice, shallot and herbs. Stir thoroughly to combine.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Veggie Curry with delicious dhal

Our Indian Feast

I promised you savoury and savoury is what you shall get. Both The Boy and I love Indian food but I’m generally against having take away’s because of the fat involved (they’re great as an occasional treat, obviously!). I also think that by the time you’ve chosen what you want, found the number, placed your order and picked up your meal (or had delivered), you might as well have made your own.

Much as I'd like to make my curry paste from scratch for every Indian-inspired meal that I cook, our spice box is already filled to bursting and is refusing to receive any more herbs or spices. Instead, I rely on Patak's curry paste which I think is pretty good for curry in a hurry. Their range of pastes can be used as marinades too so they're a versatile investment.

The day after curry night is always a treat too because it makes amazing leftovers. Day-after curry is always tastier - must be something to do with flavours infusing and mellowing. Yum!

Vegetable Curry
Serves 4 with rice
1 onion, sliced
2 tbsp of curry paste (I use Patak’s)
½ chilli, chopped (or to taste)
1 tsp sugar
1 cauliflower, separated into florets and any stem chopped
1 courgette, sliced
4 leaves of savoy cabbage, sliced and the stem removed and chopped
1 tin of plum tomatoes, chopped (or tin of chopped tomatoes)
3 tight handfuls of washed spinach
Sunflower oil for frying

- Gently fry the onion and chilli in a little sunflower oil in a saucepan or wok with a lid for a few minutes until softened.
- Add the curry paste, stir through the onions and gently cook for about 3 minutes to release the flavours.
- Add the cauliflower, sugar and the tomatoes then cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add the courgette and cabbage and simmer for a further 10 minutes. All of the vegetables should be tender at this stage.
- Turn off the heat under the pan. Taste and season the curry with salt and pepper.
- Add the spinach into the curry, stir through and firmly cover. It will only take a few minutes to wilt down. Serve with rice and mango chutney.

Tips: Ingredients can be chopped and changed depending on your tastes and what’s in season. Finely sliced spring greens are a tasty alternative to spinach. If we have lots of vegetables mounting up in the fridge, I’ll cook up a batch of curry. A tin of chickpeas never goes amiss either for a different texture.

Carrot & Lentil Dhal

Serves 4 as a side dish
Adapted from Fiona Beckett's Beyond Baked Beans (review here)

125g red lentils
1 clove garlic
½ vegetable stock cube
½ onion
2 carrots
2 tsp curry powder
2 tbsp fresh coriander
Lime (or lemon) juice, to taste
Sunflower oil for frying

- Boil the kettle while you weigh out the lentils into a saucepan and add the garlic clove whole with a tsp of the curry powder.
- Dissolve the stock cube in a few tbsp of boiling water and then top up with cold water to 500ml.
- Pour the stock over the lentils and bring to the boil. Part cover and simmer on a low heat for 20 – 30 minutes until the lentils are tender and most of the stock has been absorbed. You don’t want the mixture to boil dry and I needed to stir the mixture several times during cooking to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Finely chop the onion and fry in a little oil until it is golden brown.
- Grate the carrot (I did it on the thicker grater to give the dhal some texture) and then add that to the pan with the last of the curry powder. Cook on a low heat for a few minutes until softened.
- When the lentils are ready, fish out the garlic clove and squash with a fork into a smooth paste. Add this and the lentils to the carrot and onion.
- Add the coriander and stir until combined. Season with salt, pepper and lime.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Looking forward to Bristol Harbor Festival

Snapshots of the Harbour Festival

We’ve enjoyed a gorgeous Spring morning here in Somerset. The sun has been shining through the patches of hazy wisps of cloud that meander their way across the sky. Something in the air reminds me of a sunny day enjoyed in Bristol last summer when The Boy and I spent the afternoon ambling along the harbour side. The City’s famous Harbour Festival was gracing the banks of the river and spreading vibrant stalls from the SS Great Britain to Castle Park. There was lots to eat and even more to see.

We nibbled on all sorts of goodies including seafood paella, delicious Pie Minister pies and chocolate crepes.

Bristol’s Harbour Side Festival has been confirmed as running from Saturday 23th until Friday 29th July 2011. Details are already available here.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Almond Brownies

You might be able to tell that I’ve had a few excuses to bake sweet things recently. I’m turning into a bit of a broken record! I’m sorry, dear reader, if you’re losing interest in my recent treats but I promise to change tack soon with some delicious savoury recipes soon.

For the moment though, I have to share one of my all-time favourite baking recipes. I have fond memories of it from the 21st birthday where I first tried it to receiving a photocopy of the chocolate smeared recipe which was cut out of the Guardian which I still treasure today.

The object of my affections is Allegra McEvedy’s Brownies. I’ve been making them periodically ever since my good friend gifted me with the recipe and they truly are a winner. Even better, they are gluten free which meant that I could make a batch for my dear Mama for Mothers Day*.

The brownie itself is pretty easy to make and doesn’t taste as nutty as you would expect from something that is mostly ground almonds. The texture is gorgeous too – very cakey and gooey with a crisp outer shell. Glorious! For my Mum’s batch, I added whole almonds, chopped pecans and chunks of chocolate but they’re just as delicious plain.

Here’s my adapted recipe from Allegra’s which can be found here...

Gluten-Free Almond Brownies
Makes 12

175g dark chocolate
2 tbsp filter coffee or espresso, optional
125g ground almonds
3 large eggs
200g caster sugar
90g unsalted butter
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract

- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Break chocolate into chunks and melt with butter over a pan of boiling water then add the coffee if you're using.
 - In a separate bowl, whisk the sugar and eggs together until creamy. Stir the chocolate mixture in until combined.
 - Mix the almonds and baking powder and then fold then into the chocolatey, eggy mix.
 - Bake for 45 minutes until firm on top and it is piping hot throughout (sink a skewer into the middle to make sure). Sometimes this doesn't set completely when hot but firms up when it has cooled.
Tips: Delicious with chopped nuts or chocolate chips as mentioned above. I’ve made these with Green & Black’s Cherry chocolate which is gorgeous too – ring the changes by using your favourite chocolate.

*I have a natural contempt of such ‘Halmark Holidays’ and always feel torn – I want to show my Mum that I appreciate her but don’t want to do along with something that the card companies have invented to make money. Hence, I try to go with homemade presents where I can.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Tiffin - By Royal Invitation

I’m not that big on the royal wedding. I mean, it’s always lovely when a couple in love decides to tie the knot and I’m loving the extra day off but I’m not going to be buying any commemorative mugs. My ears did prick up when I heard that Prince William is organising a biscuit cake care of McVities to accompany their traditional wedding cake.

I adore broken biscuit cake. I’m sure I ate it when I was little but it was The Boy who’s brought it into my consciousness recently. His Mum makes a mean batch of refrigerator cake (sometimes also known as Tiffin) and, after trying a slice, I decided that I had to put together my own version.

For those that aren’t in the know, it’s a seriously simple, no bake concoction which is easily adaptable depending on your tastes. Will’s cake will be made from rich tea biscuits, according to McVities Cake Design and Development head chef, but I like to use cookies. The Maryland ones are moreish but Sainsbury’s do a Basics version for a mere 45p. Don’t bother with expensive biscuits though, it’s a waste. A mixture of colours and textures can be nice. I have a vague memory that you could buy broken biscuits by the box, once upon a time, but I can’t remember where and haven’t seen them for ages.

As the name suggests, you have to break up the biscuits. I’ve tried smashing them up inside the packet which can work but sometimes the packet breaks, spraying crumbs and ricocheting chunks of biscuit everywhere. I like to add other bits and pieces, like halved glacé cherries, lumps of chocolate and marshmallows though I think this verges on becoming rocky road. It’s super tasty either way but not at all healthy...

The Royal recipe may be a state secret with McVities in direct liaisons with Buckingham Palace in order to get the recipe just right but you can always give my version a try if you’re curious.

Chocolate Tiffin (or Broken Biscuit Cake or Refrigerator Cake)
Makes 24 bite-size pieces

125g unsalted butter
4 tbsp honey
2 tbsp cocoa powder
250g biscuits
40g marshmallows, snipped into halves or quarters
10 glacé cherries, halved
100g dark chocolate

- Melt butter with honey in the microwave or over a low heat on the hob.
- Meanwhile, empty the biscuits into a clean tea towel. Gather up the ends and hold firmly so that the biscuits can’t escape then bash with a rolling pin to crush. You want some chunks of biscuit so don’t get too enthusiastic!
- Mix the cocoa into the melted butter and pour into a mixing bowl.
- Add the biscuits and mix so that they are completely coated in the buttery mixture.
- Stir in the cherries and marshmallows. It’s good to make sure that they are evenly distributed throughout the mix so that you get some in every mouthful.
- Spread into a 25cm round tin and put into the fridge to harden. This takes about an hour. I put a plate or second tin on top, weighed down with jars or cans to compress it and make it nice and even.
- When cooled, break the chocolate into chunks and melt in a bowl over a pan of boiling water. Spread evenly over the tiffin and leave to cool again.
 - To release from the tin, run a knife around the edge of the tin and sink into hot water for a minute before turning out. Cut into bite-size pieces (it's very sweet!).

Tips: Store in an airtight container. Keeps for a few days before the biscuits start to absorb the butter and go soft (though this adds to the cakey goodness, in my opinion!). Add chopped nuts or raisins for a different texture. You could also substitute the biscuits for gluten-free ones which can be quite crumbly – the buttery mixture will hold them together nicely.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Snapshot: Cookies

I decided to try another of Angela Nilsen's 'Ultimate Make Over' recipes after the success of the brownies earlier in the week. Wandering through the BBC Good Food website (you need never buy another recipe book with this in your 'Favourites'), I came across a recipe for her 'Made Over' cookies.

Sadly, these didn't quite live up to the scrumptuous-ness of the brownies. They're sweet but they just don't quite hit the spot. Also, it claims to make 22 cookies whereas my mixture only yielded about 12. Either Angela makes micro-cookies or somethings rather wrong there.
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