Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Bonus Post: Lil Ms Squirrel's Chocolate and Cherry Cookies - Food Blogger Cookie Swap

While I was on my mad blogging mission last year, I came across the Food Blogger Cookie Swap a day too late to participate.  In a nutshell, it's a postal 'Secret Santa' between food bloggers.  You bake three dozen cookies and send a dozen to three different people.  You get a dozen cookies from three different bloggers.  So unlike regular Secret Santa, you're never going to be disappointed with your gift.  Hopefully!

Ready for posting
So this year, I decided to take part but my new blog was too young at the final entry date so I had to enter via the 366 Recipe Challenge Blog instead.  I then used this as an excuse to try out several new cookie recipes, held a vote amongst my colleagues and the favourite biscuits were posted out to my (hopefully) lucky recipients.

In third place in the taste test were Dan Lepard's Ginger and Macadamia Cookies.  I had my heart set on using these for my exchange cookies, but there were mixed reviews from my co-workers.  Ginger is a bit of a Marmite flavour which divided opinion.  There was a complaint that they were too thin - they're chewy cookies so they spread a lot on cooking - and one person ate two together, thinking they were thicker than they were.  I then saved some of the dough to bake a few days later and managed to burn this batch so eventually decided not to risk attempting to bake thirty-six of them.

Freshly baked and drizzled
Second place went to another Dan Lepard recipe.  This time his Chilli and Almond biscuits.  I picked them because when people think biscuit, they generally think sweet and I wanted to be different.  You can read all about these over on my new blog 'How to Eat an Elephant'.

And the winning cookie?  Well originally, I was going to bake Nigella's Chocolate Mint Cookies as I liked the idea that they could be an alternative to After Eight's.  I had several half-used pots of chocolate chips in my cupboard so was merrily tipping them all into my bowl when I realised I'd mixed one of the half-empty pots with a load of left over dried cherries the week before when I'd been making my Chocolate and Cherry Bagels.  Luckily I'd not added the peppermint essence first.

As I had made all three batches of cookies on the one day, I'd also managed to run out of plain flour at this point so threw in a bit of pasta flour for good measure.  I think this made for a nice, soft cookie because when I made them with all plain flour for the actual Cookie Swap, they were a little crisper (although it might have been to do with me and my timings!)

Anyway, the cookies went down a storm at work in the taste test and when I took the leftovers from the ones I made for the swap in to work, there was a small scuffle as people rooted through the box seeking out the chocolate and cherry ones.

So here is the recipe, adapted Nigella's original recipe.

For the cookies

  • 150 grams butter (soft)
  • 225 grams light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 150 grams plain flour
  • 75g 00 (pasta) flour
  • 55 grams cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 200 gram dark chocolate chips (I use Waitrose ones)
  • 100g dried sour cherries

To decorate

  • 75g white chocolate, melted
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4.  Lightly grease two baking trays with spray oil.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar.  Beat the eggs together with the vanilla bean paste then combine with the butter and sugar.
  3. Mix the flours, cocoa and baking powder in a bowl and gradually beat in to the creamed mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips and cherries.
  4. Scoop out walnut sized balls of mixture and space evenly across the baking trays.  You will probably need to bake in two batches.
  5. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes and then let them sit on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes before  moving them to a cooling rack. 
  6. Once cold, drizzle with the melted white chocolate.
And a massive thank you to Gill, Jen and Laura for the cookies they sent me!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Best of the Blog - Chorizo and Butter Bean Stew

There was me thinking it would be easy giving up this blog.  But here I am, posting again.  If you've read some of the posts on here, you'll know that day #366 was on September 25th this year.  I promised a last ever post to answer some of the many questions I've been asked about the blog and wrote a penultimate post celebrating a year since starting the blog.

Perfect winter fodder
The Last Post is actually sat in my drafts folder.  Its publication was hampered by an issue with my phone meaning I couldn't get the pictures I wanted for the post off.  It was then further delayed by an unexpected email and even more delayed as I sit and gaze at my navel and ponder exactly when to start my new blog.

Tonight, one thing lead to another and I had to come up with an impromptu meal for me.  Whilst it's been great to have the liberation of being able to just eat cereal or cheese and crackers for tea, I'd planned on something warming tonight (my mum's cauliflower soup) and when that got cancelled, I had to scour the fridge for something else equally 'hug-in-a-bowlish'.

Step forward Mr Bridestock's Chorizo and Butter Bean stew.  It was one of my early makes on this blog and I came about the recipe because my lovely cousin who was partly the inspiration for this blog posted about it on her own blog.  The recipe has particular nostalgia for Laura as it's the first meal that David ever cooked for her.

A little bit of Bridestock
They also got hitched during the course of this blog at an amazing wedding festival where they had a tea tent rammed full of baked goodies - including a Neopolitan Bundt Cake which was another new recipe for me, but I never blogged about it.

I'd forgotten just how amazingly tasty this dish is and it's so simple.  It's definitely going to become a staple store cupboard tea for me throughout this winter.  You can find the recipe here on Laura's blog and my original post on it, complete with rubbish picture here.  The picture above is from when I made it again tonight.  Not much better, but Instagram definitely helped a bit!

Having cooked the recipe again, I decided that I could celebrate 'The Best of the 366 Recipe Challenge' by revisiting some recipes that I really enjoyed and cooking them all over again now the pressure to do different things is off.

So keep your eyes peeled.  The posts will be sporadic but just like with everything else in life - I'm a bit rubbish at letting go of something good!

The aforementioned Neopolitan bundt

A small selection of the cakes in the tea tent

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

One Year On - Chicken and Chorizo Pasta

Well it all began a year ago today and because I a) can't let go just yet and b) still feel guilty that I didn't manage a picture of the very first recipe I tried, I decided to make it again to bring my year full circle.  In fact, I've just realised that if I was to re-cook every recipe that I did over the last year on the same date for the next 12 months, I could avoid the cleaning until 2013.  Now there's a plan....

Actually, it's been quite refreshing today to not have to worry about finding the time to cook something new and photograph and write about it.  When the food plan for today got de-railed by the weather, it didn't matter that what I'd planned for tea was in jeopardy.  Nobody would've cared if I'd not made and blogged about the recipe other than me.

I kept pondering if anyone would care if I skipped a day throughout the last year.  I managed not to with some careful planning and creative thinking at times.  And I've been touched by the number of tweets and emails I've had from people asking if it's really all over.  Although 48,000 page views in just 366 days shows that people are reading the blog, the messages really mean something because it makes me know there are some people out there who actually take the time to read what I write and don't just click a link from Google and then wander off elsewhere when faced by the waffle.

I also spend a lot of time if people are more interested in what I've cooked or what I'm waffling/whining on about on any given day.  Today, the husband gave me perfect blog fodder - which I'll save for the next instalment of my blogging voyage.  I often get asked about if he minds me writing about him.  In truth he does, but he also knows that it's my way of working out my issues with him and laughing at stuff that would otherwise have me down at the doctors looking for narcotics.
366 days on, still need to work on presentation!

What surprised me most was yesterday when I said I'd completed the last of the 366 recipes and posts and there was no more blog and he looked me incredulously and said 'what never ever?  Aren't you going to at least do one a week or something?'  After his comment when I watched Julie and Julia the other day, I was floored that he was happy for me to continue in some way.

Whatever, thank you to everyone who has been with me on this journey.  From the tweets of support, to the bloggers who have let me try and blog about their recipes (in no particular order Sadia, Mike, the two Jules', Dan, Rachel, Fi, Cathryn, Paul and Jaim); Dan Lepard for being the nicest cookbook writer ever and for making my day and following me on Twitter; my Twitter 'Family' (Paul, Kate, Dicky and Maria), Sarah-Jane for letting me coerce her into starting Cake Club; Ewan for letting me join the Olympic Food Challenge; my gorgeous cousin Laura who inspired the blog in the first place; Miss A for keeping me in cracked eggs when it's been a baking day; my second-chief cake tester* who was the best mentor ever; and all other those poor souls who've taken one for the blog and had cake foisted on them (it's a tough job, but someone had to do it).  There's no way I could've made it without you all.

And the biggest thanks of all to my long-suffering husband.  Thank you for betting me that I wouldn't make it - I don't think there's anyone else on this planet that would have made me stick to this challenge so stubbornly as you did.  Thank you for attempting to eat some of the 366 recipes.  I don't thank you for your non-constructive feedback - saying 'I don't like it because I don't like it' is not particularly helpful!  Thank you for putting up with all the washing up - especially when the dishwasher broke right on top of Christmas.  Thank you for moving my cookbooks to the most prominent bookshelf in the house at the weekend and for not burning them as promised.  And thank you for giving me the opportunity to carry on experimenting and writing - even if it is less frequently than before.

So on to the recipe.  Well I enjoyed it just as much as I think I did a year ago when I first tried it.  This time I put creme fraiche in it which made it quite rich.  I also seemed to have masses of pasta - which wasn't bad because I'd not had a proper lunch today (Vanilla Coconut PowerBars do not a good lunch make) but if I make it again, I'd probably drop the pasta to 60g per head - especially as the husband insists on garlic bread with his.  And it definitely needs some green stuff on the side.  I couldn't be faffed to buy rocket which I won't use the rest of this week so salvaged the last tiny bit of my dying basil plant to perch on the top for the picture.

Here's the link to the original recipe which I also neglected to post a year ago.

*Miss A was obviously the first!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Mary Berry's Chocolate Chip and Vanilla Marble Cake

"And now, the end is here, it's time to face the final curtain....I did it my waaaaaaay".  Poor Frank is probably spinning in his grave if he's listening to me wailing My Way as I type.  Here I am, a year on and 366 recipes tried, tested and blogged about.
Boxed up and ready for nursery

I'm on holiday from work this week so I let Miss A choose the final recipe.  Despite starting out with the mindset of changing the way my family eat, I made the rules elastic enough that I could indulge my new-found passion for baking over the past year.  With a rainy day ahead, it seemed the fitting way to end the blog - doing something with Miss A who has also discovered a passion for baking this year.

At the weekend she made a cake under her grandmother's expert eye for my mum's boss.  He still won't believe that she did pretty much everything herself apart from putting it into the oven and taking it out.  And today, she eagerly participated in the marble cake making.
Expert drizzling by my two-year-old

I must admit to being a little impatient at some of the things she's picked up from CBeebies such as the sugar-shuffling, big and small mountains and scooping and sliding with 'John and Millie' the spoons, but I'm so proud that she can work with big numbers, crack eggs, knows what a lemon zester is for and is aware of the perils of the kitchen already.

Now the need to do something new every day has evaporated, we will be practising making all manner of things from my the two childrens cookbooks that I own to try and broaden her horizons and repertoire further.  I only hope this year has been a good experience for her.

As for the cake, the tag line says that "children particularly enjoy the fun of making marble cakes".  That was true this morning.  It didn't do much for my blood pressure though as the kitchen was marbled with chocolate cake mix.  After a good spring clean, we covered the cooled cake in white and dark chocolate drizzle and the kitchen was once again marbled in chocolate.

This was one of Berry's really easy bakes - an all in one mix which you then divide into vanilla and chocolate.  It bakes really well and is probably pretty failsafe.  Although it makes masses of cake.  I managed to divide it into 28 generous pieces.  Miss A wanted to make it to take to nursery for her teachers but there's enough to share around all her friends too if they divide the slices into two for the children.

The recipe is from 100 Cakes and Bakes which I bought to take part in the Weekly Bake Off - something I'll hopefully be doing a bit more now this year is over.

I can't find the recipe online to share, but the book is only about a fiver on Amazon and well worth it.  I will say that I preferred Dan Lepard's Chocolate Crumb Marble Cake with its indulgent top, but for speed, this is definitely a great bake to make.

So that's it.  Well nearly.  There'll be one more post some time this week when I answer questions from The Last Post - feel free to drop by and add a comment if you have any questions you'd like to ask me about this year.  Otherwise, thanks for reading!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Hairy Bikers Chilli Salad Bowls

Whilst idling away my lie in this morning, I happened across an article by Janet Street-Porter which included a part on the subject of this country's fascination with cookery books.  She likened the collecting of cookbooks to an obsession with handbags or shoes.  Expensive, and after the first few, probably unnecessary.  Despite generally finding JS-P a bit irritating, I have to agree with her on this particular point.

It was my collection of cookbooks that set me off on this mission last year.  I had around twenty which I would leaf through, imagining myself lovingly making some of the recipes for my nearest and dearest.  Then reality would surface and I'd just cook whatever made people happy.  And so I promised myself I'd spend a year using the books I had and cooking something new every day.  Did I stick to it?  Nope.

Yes, this is 'diet' food - about 450cal for the plateful
Well I stuck to the new recipe bit and the blogging bit.  What I didn't stick to was using the recipe books that I had.  I was seduced into buying some new ones that were heavily discounted 'because I need them for my challenge'.  I used recipes from my Good Food Mag subscription.  And I discovered the joys of finding recipes on the internet.  So at the end of this year, I have at least eight more cookery books* than 365 days ago, despite having enough recipe books that if I cooked one new recipe from one of them every day, I'd probably not cook the same thing twice before I die**

At the weekend, when I was out with the girls, one of them mentioned the Hairy Dieters book by the Hairy Bikers.  I'm not a fan of Si and Dave, but having flicked through some of their books at my mum's, I thought that maybe I should add their dieters book to my armoury.  I then wandered off into iPad-land and discovered that some of the recipes were published online anyway.  So did I really need to buy the book?  Probably not.  At least trying some of the online ones might sway me one way or another.  So I settled on trying their chilli bowls recipe tonight.

And this just goes to prove JS-Ps point (you can read the article here***).  I used to make something very similar many moons ago.  Except I served it in a soft tortilla rather than a baked one.  It was a staple diet meal until the husband decided he didn't want it again, and I forgot all about it.  In some respects, it was nice to be reminded of yet another option to add to our weekly repertoire that's family friendly.  But if I'd stirred the old grey matter a little more, I could've thought this one up myself.

Chilli is something I normally batch cook (the husband doesn't like kidney beans) and so I freeze portions so that I can have something different to him for dinners when I'm not a slave to the 366 Recipe Challenge.  Of course, there are plenty of people out there who've never cooked chilli before and would probably appreciate the friendly Bikers' guidance.  But once you've bought a few cook books, you should probably spend your pennies on something else.

The Wahaca book has recipes re-hashed from Mexican Cooking Made Easy.  My two Gordon Ramsay books contain around 30% of the same recipes.  The Hummingbird Bakery are guilty of recycling into the follow up Cake Days.  Even Dan Lepard is guilty, with a significant number of recipes from Short and Sweet also being available online from on the Guardian website****.  And once you own a few baking books, you notice that they all peddle slight variations on the theme of chocolate, coffee, carrot, lemon cake.  There are only so many recipes to go around.  And unless you want to eat Heston-food every night for dinner, it all starts to get a bit samey.

Nevertheless, a year on, I still love my cookery books.  They've fed my imagination since I was a child and used to make up stories in my head that involved intricate scenes of cooking lavish meals and extravagant cakes*****.

So does this mean I'll never buy another cookery book again?  Of course it doesn't.  I am as much as a sucker for cookery books as I am for high heeled shoes.  If there's a little leeway in the budget and a book appeals, I'll buy it.  And I want to buy 'classics' from the Roux brothers and Richard Bertinet.  But I'll definitely check the internet first.

You can save yourself a few quid and find the Hairy Bikers recipe I used online here.  It was an okay family meal and really filling.  I chose to eschew the tortilla bowls and use tacos instead.  I've not eaten tacos for a million years and it was great to know that you can eat three taco shells for only a handful of calories more than a single flour tortilla.  This in itself made the recipe a complete bargain.  If I was feeling extravagant, I'd add chopped coriander to the salad.

And guess what I have for tea tomorrow night?  Yes!  Leftovers.  Because there is only one more recipe to go.  And Miss A has insisted we do cake :o)

*Two were Christmas presents (Lorraine Pascale's Home Cooking Made Easy and the Great British Bake Off Book).  One I've not used at all on this challenge (Jamie's 30 Minute Meals).  One I've lost (James Martin's Masterclass).  One was the best investment ever (Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet).  One was for the Weekly Bake Off Challenge (Mary Berry's 100 cakes and bakes).  The others were Wahaca by Thomasina Miers and Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo.  I'm sure there were one or two others.
**As I child, I believed everyone lived until 100 and died on their 100th birthday just after the party.  I intend to do just this.
***I read the Daily Fail online.  So sue me.
****That said, I never would've gotten my mum into Dan Lepard if I'd not sent her links to recipes from Short and Sweet.
*****I still do this

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Cathryn Dresser's Roasted Vegetable Strudel

I want it to be summer all over again.  Well a proper summer, not the non-event of a summer that we've just had.  But a proper warm, English summer when you know that you have several weeks of good weather guaranteed ahead (the last time this happened was circa 2003) and you can plan an outdoor social event with confidence. Because I want to make and eat this strudel again.  And share it with my nearest and dearest who wouldn't whinge and whine that it's meat free.
Ready to eat

This recipe is from the current series of the Great British Bake Off and to cut a long waffle short, the flavours in this were amazing.  And I didn't even stick to the actual recipe because I don't have the time, space or patience to make my own filo* nor could I find Slipcote Cheese in the local Morrisons and so I made do with regular feta.  I only made enough for one person - okay so it was a greedy one-person portion that could have been eked out to two people with a green salad, a bottle of chilled chablis and a decadent dessert to follow - but I'd love to go the whole strudel (it's meat free, remember?) and serve this at an evening soiree held at the end of a beautiful summer's day.

Although the recipe sounds involved, it's actually not.  Chop up a lot of veg into little pieces and roast them.  Make some couscous.  Wrap it in liberally buttered filo with some cheese and herbs.  Butter again. And again.  This is a very James Martin-esque recipe.  Bake.  And butter again.

Dame Mary admitted during the programme that she finds it perfectly acceptable to buy your own filo so that makes the whole experience easier.  Plus if you read the original recipe, you need to make the pastry on a massive clear space like your huge, country kitchen table** or similar space.  Or just cheat and use shop-bought filo which will save your time and sanity.

Inside - pre-bake
I learnt from this recipe that the art to successful baked Filo wrapped things is to butter in between every layer.  Ordinarily, I just butter the outside to keep the fat down.  But having buttered the pastry to within an inch of its life, the crust was perfect and crispy - just how I like it.  My arteries are slightly more furred than they were this morning, but it was fully worth it.  Definitely on the make again list.

You can find the recipe online here.  Even though the weather is as miserable as sin outside, and everyone only wants to eat huge, fat winter stews, I can highly recommend this little taste of the Mediterranean to blow those autumn blues away.  And I'd like to wish Cat the best of luck with the rest of the GBBO.

*If you didn't see the episode where Cat made this, she was being shown the Filo-whacking technique by one of her fellow bakers and her pastry ended up on the floor, covered in bits of green carpet.  I don't know if this added to or detracted from the bake that was served on the tellybox, but a similar accident in my house would leave it full of dog hair and bits of chewed up crayon - hence why it's easier to use pre-bought pastry.

**Why is it that none of the GBBO contestants have tiny, clutter-filled kitchens like I do?

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Thomasina Miers' Churros y Chocolate

This recipe has been on my to-do-list ever since I first got my grubby mitts on a copy of Thomasina Miers' Mexican Cooking Made Easy (my second favourite book after Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet) and I knew that if I didn't make it today, I probably never would.
Just a light breakfast

It's the kind of thing that you a) have to share with other people and b) couldn't cook in my house because the husband would freak out about the thought of all that hot oil catching fire.  So I decided to make it whilst visiting the Mothership as I knew she'd just about trust me to cook it by myself (see last night's brandy episode) and that my stepdad would do the honours and eat every last scrap.

The recipe supposedly makes 16 3-4" churros and I did consider only making half of the batter but figured that four each would be about right.  In the end, I must have had about 24 3-4" ones (and they all went).  It also makes far more chocolate sauce than it's humanly possible to eat at that time of the morning - but of course that will keep for another time or can be chilled and turned into truffles.

Mount Churros
Aside from the faff of deep frying, the recipe is simplicity itself.  The batter is just flour, oil and water;  the sauce a simple ganache of dark and milk chocolate*, double cream and golden syrup; the "sprinkly bit" cinnamon and caster sugar.  There's no need for a deep fat fryer to cook them - I did mine in a wok filled one-third full with oil.  You just need to be a bit dextrous trying to snip the batter from the piping bag when it's hanging over a pan of hot oil.  I had a couple that stuck together as the previous one floated into the path of the new one I was squeezing out but other than that, everything went to plan.

The only other tip is to either keep the pre-cooked ones warm whilst cooking the others or to serve them to people shortly after draining.  I made all mine first and so the last few were a bit icky when cold but the chocolate sauce definitely made up for it.

I would definitely make these again if I ever had a crowd to feed.  Which will be never.  But definitely worth the effort if you fancy a treat.  If you don't own a copy of Mexican Food Made Easy (then go buy one!) you can find the recipe here.

*It did feel slightly wrong cooking with 250g Finest Peruvian chocolate at 8am.  But only slightly!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...