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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Dark chocolate is good for you. This is what I’ve heard. I’ve also heard red wine is good for my soul, kills cancer and makes a mean risotto. If I pour myself a glass of Rioja, have one of these cookies and watch Masterchef, it’s almost like I’m at the gym doing a Body Sculpt class, right?

Possibly wrong. But if I do a Body Sculpt class, write my project proposal in time and hit my monthly blog target, then I can have some wine and cookies. Now that is productivity that is most certainly good for me.

I made these cookies back when the shops were filled with heart shaped balloons, gushy cards and over-stuffed teddy bears. I said goodbye to the pastel pink offerings of Clinton Cards and instead said hello to zesty orange, dark and delicious soft brown sugar and a hefty block of good-for-the-soul dark chocolate. This is love personified in a cookie, and I urge you to fill your heart with these babies. Served with said red wine, of course.

Dark brown sugar gives these cookies a deeper taste that is reminiscent of syrupy treacle, and the chocolate will melt and ooze into the orange zest, providing your kitchen with the smell of the Christmas stocking favourite, Terry’s Chocolate Orange. But let me assure you, these cookies are far better than anything Santa could leave in an old kilt sock. Simply bake and serve to your sweetheart, even if Valentine’s Day isn’t for another year yet. Say I love you all year round, and say it with cookies.

 

Basic cookie recipe inspired by Edd Kimber

 

Makes 12

You Will Need

113g softened unsalted butter or Stork

110g caster sugar

110g soft dark brown sugar

1 egg, beaten

A dot of vanilla paste

250g plain flour

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 orange, zested

100g 70% dark chocolate

 

Place the sugars and the butter in a large mixing bowl and using a hand mixer, beat for about 3 minutes until soft and creamy. Add the egg a little at a time and the vanilla paste.

Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt and orange zest and add to the sugar and butter mixture in three additions. Fold in the chocolate by hand and wrap the dough tightly in clingfilm. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes or leave in the fridge overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180oc/160oc fan/ Gas Mark 4 and grease two baking trays with butter. Remove the cookie dough from the fridge or freezer and roll into balls about 60g in weight.

Space out evenly on the trays and bake for 13-15 minutes, until golden round the edges but still slightly soft. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve with black coffee for an afternoon treat, pack up for a loved one or enjoy with a glass of red wine.

I’ve been having a bit of a love affair with wholemeal at the moment. Having been home for the holidays, my usual pack of thick, toastie bread was shunned by the family in favour of wholemeal, or worse WeightWatchers bread. That’s right folks, my time at home was filled with weighing out potatoes, crisps that tasted like grit sprayed cardboard and the ultimate blow; using low fat spray instead of my beloved olive oil.

January had brought the dreaded New Year’s Resolutions back into our lives and eating healthily was top priority in my family. At the time, seeing my mother convince my dad to eat one of my soufflés because they had low WeightWatchers points value (You don’t count egg whites or fruit, so they’re practically saintly in WW terms) was pretty damn bizarre. But strangely enough, as I came back to Stirling I found myself gravitating towards the wholemeal bread section at Tesco. I took a body sculpt class. I avoided McDonalds for a whole month. And reader, I feel I’ve caught the bug as well.

As we hurtle towards March, and the Easter eggs begin to line the aisles of our supermarkets the way advent calendars did almost 4 months prior, I still feel like keeping the resolution to eat healthier. And part of that of course, is to keep eating breakfast. Now, I doubt I will be able to kick my black-coffee-in-the-morning-or-I-will-not-function habit like my dad, but I’ve taken inspiration in his dedication to eating the most important meal of the day. I am certainly more of an eat-on-the-go type of gal, and so these breakfast scones are a perfect size to shove in your pocket as you make your way to uni/school/work (delete as appropriate). You can make a batch, freeze them individually and defrost the night before. You can take a long, languid Sunday to make these beauties to go with your morning papers. Whatever you do, I urge you to roll up your sleeves and make these scones. With only a smidgen of sugar, the real flavour comes from the grated apple, and the zested lemon will sing through your kitchen as they bake. With a delicate crunch of oats topping them off, they are so full of flavour and textures, you will forget they’re actually packed with wholemeal. Serve with some apple jam and start the day well with your new friend wholemeal.

 

Makes 8 Scones

You Will Need

113g wholemeal flour

113g self raising flour

55g butter (or low fat spread if you’re feeling super virtuous)

1 ½ tablespoons caster sugar

`1 small apple, grated

1 lemon, zested

60ml milk

1 egg yolk

A small handful of porridge oats to decorate

Preheat the oven to 200oc/180oc fan/ gas mark 4. Grease a baking sheet with butter and set aside. Add the two flours and butter to a large mixing bowl and rub through your fingertips lightly until the mix resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and add the apple and lemon zest.

Pour in the milk and mix with your hands until soft dough is formed.

Lightly dust a work surface with self raising flour and flatten the dough with the palms of your hands until about 1.5cm thick. Cut out rounds with a small cutter and place on the baking tray, gathering up the scraps and flattening again until all the dough is used.

Brush the tops of the scones with the beaten egg yolk and top with a sprinkling of porridge oats. Place in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack and serve slightly warm.

After all the excitement of Valentine’s Day; the boxes of chocolate, the bottles of fine wine, the inevitable card from your mum…it’s now time to celebrate the far superior holiday of February: Shrove Tuesday (or, its cooler name, Pancake Day). All across the country, people will be dusting off their frying pans, cracking open dozens of eggs and quite possibly enduring the near miss of a bag of flour cascading from the barely used ‘baking cupboard’. But the thought that terrifies me most is the idea of my nearest and dearest picking up a plastic jug of ‘just add water’ pancake batter and hopping into the kitchen with some seriously high expectations. Personally, my idea of a pancake isn’t one that is spewing out additives like a jumbled alphabet. The simplicity of pancakes means few ingredients and the ability to flavour with anything you like, without resorting to plastic bottles of jiffy lemon. The smell of a freshly cut lemon will change your pancake topping ways for good and a simple sprinkling of sugar shows just how easy it is to make pancakes into a sweet little dessert.

But what do you think of when the word pancake is mentioned? For me, it’s all a bit of a jumble. What I remember from my childhood Shrove days are a cross between a crêpe and a drop scone; large and inviting, but not thin and crispy. Everyone’s interpretation of the holiday is different, so I’ve provided you with two recipes to satisfy all camps. The sweet, crispy crêpes with a delicate topping of sugar are a lighter alternative to my toffee apple inspired stack of fluffy American pancakes. And of course, if neither recipe tickles your fancy, you could always go savoury and try my Warm Spice Pancakes with Crispy Bacon. Whichever version you prefer, just get busy in the kitchen and fill your tummy with some seriously good food. Just stay away from anything in a plastic bottle. It’s what the pancake gods would have wanted.

 

Simple Crêpes with Lemon and Sugar

Adapted from delicious. magazine March2011

 

You Will Need

150g plain flour

75g caster sugar

1 egg, plus 1 yolk

300ml milk

2 tablespoons melted butter, plus extra for frying

A dot of vanilla paste/extract

Add the flour to a large bowl along with the sugar and a pinch of salt. Add the egg and the yolk and begin to beat with a wooden spoon. Gradually add the milk until the mixture becomes a runny batter.

Stir in the melted butter and vanilla, and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place a frying pan over a medium heat and grease the pan a little with some extra butter, removing any excess with kitchen paper.

Once the pan is hot enough, add a ladleful of batter to the pan and swirl it around until it reaches all the corners. Wait until the batter has cooked on top of the pancake before flipping over with a spatula. Cook the other side until golden and add to a warmed plate. Sprinkle with caster sugar and repeat, until the mixture is all used up.

To serve, squeeze over some lemon juice and sprinkle with some more caster sugar.

 

 

Fluffy American Pancakes with Caramelised Apples

 You Will Need

100g self raising flour

25g caster sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

1 egg

100ml milk

Butter for greasing

 

For the apples

2 dessert apples, peeled and cut into segments

2 tablespoons caster sugar

1 squeeze lemon juice

A knob of butter

 

Add the flour, sugar and spices together in a large bowl and mix together with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs, and using a hand whisk, mix until incorporated. Slowly add the milk until you have a thick, but runny batter consistency.

Heat the frying pan over a medium heat, and add a dot of butter, removing any excess with kitchen paper. Add a spoonful of batter to the pan and leave to rise, until the top begins to bubble. Flip over with a spatula and cook for a further minute until golden. Remove from the pan and place on a warmed plate or a clean tea towel. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.

Once you have finished making the pancakes, add some more butter to the pan and let it melt. Add the apples, remaining caster sugar and leave to cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once cooked through and syrupy, remove from the heat.

To serve, stack up a couple of the pancakes and spoon over the caramelised apples with a little of the remaining juices.

 

A few months ago, I headed off to the SECC in Glasgow, notepad in my hand and finger on the voice recorder app on my phone, ready to act like the perfect food journalist at the Good Food Show. As I was handed over the plastic press pass that screamed I was a fully fledged journalist, I finally felt like I knew what I was doing.

All of these confident feelings slip away the moment you have your first taste of ‘professional journalism’ (i.e. not stuck behind a teeny mini Mac whilst Air TV are arsing about with swords behind you). My first opportunity came when last year’s Masterchef finalist Sara had finished a cookery demonstration featuring macarons. There was ample opportunity to stride over, thrust my battered HTC under her nose and demand her egg white- folding technique. But instead, I dithered and scurried away to hide amongst the displays.

Of course, being alone in a situation like that is a normal thing for a journalist, so my whole experience at the event was to observe, learn and improve for the next time. My confidence was boosted when a lovely company called DeviliShh happily stood and spoke about their dessert cheats product and I walked away with an armful of samples. Rooster potatoes sang the praises of their purple tatties and I chatted away, munching on an indigo coloured potato wedge. And a company with a penchant for air dried vegetable crisps proudly told me about their desire to keep their products away from supermarkets. As I sat in the journalists holding pen, scoffing a bag of said crisps and scribbling down notes, I felt like I had properly began to find my feet as a food journalist.

Afterwards, I retreated back to the arena to watch a few demonstrations in the pre-booked theatre, where the likes of Antony Worrall Thompson (who is now slightly more famous for pinching cheese from his local Tesco than his rant on a drawbridge on I’m a Celebrity about rice portioning) and Tom Kitchin created luscious dishes before the eyes of a clearly delighted audience. Kitchin has something of a soft spot for knobbly veg, and recently sang the praises of the celeriac in delicious. magazine’s ‘Knobbly Veg’ campaign. In the theatre he was no different, and he displayed the vegetable an impressive three ways topped with slices of juicy pheasant. There was no denying the dish looked amazing and I was suitably impressed by the bobbly thing that looked like an ugly turnip, and thus began my hunt to find one.

And lo, it has taken me 3 months, but the offending veg has been hunted down in my local Tesco. Taking inspiration from Mr Kitchin, I’ve roasted the celeriac and turned it into a delicious soup, adding a citrus hint with a touch of lemon to complement its creamy texture. This soup is great on its own, but taking the time to make your own parsnip crisps will be a rewarding venture. I’m sure the vegetable crisp company won’t hold a grudge against me for doing so, and maybe one day I’ll get Sara’s folding technique to perfect my macarons.

You Will Need

1 celeriac

2-3 garlic cloves, skin on

3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 parsnip

1 white onion

2 pints chicken or vegetable stock

1 lemon

A handful of grated parmesan

Salt and pepper to taste

Double cream to serve

Preheat the oven to 200oc/180oc fan/Gas Mark 4. Using a large knife, carefully remove the skin of the celeriac and wash until clean. Cut into 1cm chunks and place on a baking sheet. On a chopping board using the back of a knife, crush the garlic cloves and place them whole on the baking sheet. Drizzle with one tablespoon of the oil, season and roast for 50 minutes, turning regularly.

Thinly slice the parsnip using a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler and lay on a baking sheet. Drizzle with one tablespoon of olive oil, season and coat well. Add to the oven after the celeriac has been roasting for 30 minutes, turning regularly.

With 20 minutes to go, heat the remaining oil in a large stock pot. Chop the onion finely and add to the pan, slowly cooking until translucent. Once the celeriac has cooked, add to the pan and squeeze in the insides of the garlic. Cover with the stock and bring to the boil.

Once heated through, remove from the hob and blitz with a hand blender until smooth. You may need to add a little boiling water at this point to thin the soup slightly. Add the zest of the lemon, a squeeze of its juice and the parmesan and stir until incorporated. Season well and return to the hob whilst heated through.

To serve, ladle into bowls, drizzle over some double cream and add the parsnip crisps on top with a twist of black pepper.

Let’s get one thing clear; ALL of us can make a meal in well under 30 minutes. Boiling water, pasta, reheat sauce, place in bowl, done (as another chef quips). But Jamie Oliver’s new cookbook, the foodie’s equivalent of a concept album, requires a little more creativity than that. And an extra arm. True the majority of the time you are frantically scrabbling at the skin of an onion wondering why the bugger won’t peel, when if you took your time, you would probably do it quicker. This does bring down my overall opinion of the book, as I feel like I’m in a race against time to crank out the goods (even timing my first meal to see how long it really takes). But what you will find is an abundance of fresh ingredients that will fill your kitchen which such amazing smells you can almost forgive him his god-like speed at peeling an onion.

Having picked at different menus since receiving the book last Christmas, I decided one night to cook an entire meal for my family. Having enjoyed numerous holidays in Portugal (as well as a few Nandos) I thought piri piri chicken thighs, crushed potatoes with feta, a green salad  and a dessert of custard tarts sounded like a good one to go for. Plus I had seen him cook it on the television version of his book, so had a rough idea of how it would go.

Beginning the chicken was fairly simple, slashing the meat to allow the sauce to penetrate better, and crisping up the skin in a grill pan beforehand. Whilst it’s cooking, getting on with tarts is simple too. But once they go in the oven it all starts to get a bit hectic. You have the potatoes to wash, make the custard filling for the tarts, keeping an eye on the chicken and the sauce to blend. All in an 8 minute time frame. What sounds relatively easy quickly descends into a blind panic when making the sauce. How many tablespoons of vinegar? Oh no a lemon pip fell in the blender! Why don’t I have long enough nails to peel the garlic! Dammit I’ve picked the bluntest knife in the drawer to chop the chilli! Couple this with dashing round the kitchen to the tune of the timer beeping furiously began to unravel me slightly. And then, when the tarts are made, you’re ho-humming waiting for everything to cook. What you shouldn’t do at this point is make up the potatoes, because they will sit on the table rapidly cooling so that when the chicken FINALLY cooks (which is longer than 30 minutes let me assure you) it’s more like potato salad than hot dressed potatoes. It’s also worth noting that after the initial stir for the caramel topping for the tarts, you shouldn’t continue stirring as the recipe implies, as this means it won’t turn to caramel, more like runny honey. Still, it tasted lovely.

Of course, the finished meal did make a wonderful impression on the family, and all the rushing and blending and panicking felt slightly worth it…when they finally arrived home 30 minutes after I had finished. Perhaps I should stick to quality over speed in the future; then my meal may actually be ready on time.

Did you ever read that book at school? I think I only ever got to it once; at my first primary it was the most sought-after book on the shelf at reading time after The Jolly Postman. Despite only getting my grubby 5 year old mitts on Each Peach, Pear Plum once, its great name and bright pages were enough to stay with me 16 years later. A delicious blend of nursery characters, fruit and rhyme, the book won many awards for author and illustrator husband and wife team, the Alhbergs. Their children’s books, filled with colour and creativity, were so fun it was no wonder everyone was desperate to read them, in our bright blue jumpers and knotted green ties. And what better way to pay homage, than by creating a smoothie in Each Peach Pear Plum’s name?

Now, I may have reworked the title of the book slightly with this smoothie; swapping plums for blueberries, but the end product is still a great burst of fruit and fun. This is a great morning pick-me-up and so simple to make, that I’m surprised I never thought of using my stick blender to make smoothies before. All the prep that’s required is a little chopping and peeling, and then simply blend to make a colourful drink that will make up three of your five a day. That is fruit maths I can get behind. Now, if you will excuse me, I think I’ve spied Tom Thumb…

 Serves 1

You Will Need

2 tinned peach halves, sliced (alternatively, use one fresh ripe peach, peeled and sliced)

1 small handful blueberries

1 pear, peeled and sliced

1 sprig of mint, leaves removed

1 teaspoon honey

Add all the ingredients into a jug and using a stick blender, whizz until smooth. Taste, and add a little more honey if required. Pour into a glass or clean jar, top up with ice cubes if desired and add a straw.