22 December 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

I love making canapes for parties. I often love it more than the party itself but, not having a sweet tooth, I sometimes feel like I let the side down rather when it comes to the non-savoury goodies. In fact, I never have any. This year whilst making mince pies I decided to push the boat out and attempt a festive sweet treat. I flicked through Nigella's Christmas - which I had been quite dismissive of until recently - and decided on trying out her Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, mostly because Joe was practically licking the picture which is usually a good sign.

They were really easy to make, looked lovely and festive and went down a storm so here it is

NIGELLA LAWSON'S CHOCOLATE PEANUT-BUTTER CUPS

Makes approx 45

For the Base:
50g soft dark brown sugar
200g icing sugar
50g soft butter
200g smooth peanut butter

For the Topping:
200g milk chocolate, chopped
100g dark chocolate, chopped
edible gold buttons or stars (I used little balls that I found in the cook shop in Chiswick)

45-50 petit-four paper cases (I used silver ones, Nigella prefers gold)

1. Mix together the brown sugar, icing sugar, butter and peanut butter - you can either do this by hand, in a freestanding mixer or, like me, in the trusty magimix - until you've got a sandy paste.
The sandy peanut-butter mix

2. Using your hands form small 1 tsp discs to go in the bottom of the petit-four cases. Press the sandy mixture as best you can to form a layer at the bottom of each case. I started off a bit nervously with this and found that I had to go back and re-do some as I was being a bit mean!

3. Melt the chocolates gently in a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water (make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water). You can do this in a microwave if you are brave but I always burn the chocolate.

4. Stir the melted chocolates together and allow to cool a little and then spoon 1 tsp into each of the petit-four case covering the peanut-butter base. I found that I only just had enough to go round so I made 45 instead of Nigella's 48-50 but you can always whizz up some more chocolate so it's not a disaster if you do runout.

5. Decorate with your edible gold button or star or whatever of choice. Put in the fridge to set for 30 minutes or so before serving.

You can make these two days ahead and keep, loosely covered in a cool place. I made them on the day and although they were still yummy a couple of days after the chocolate was quite hard from being in the fridge. I was surprised at how easy and satisfying these were to make - minimum fuss, maximum result. Highly recommended.

20 December 2010

Festive Gush

I try not to just randomly gush on my blogs but really I have to be allowed just a little one. As usual weedling my mother's Christmas present request from her was like pulling teeth - she always wants a macaroni necklace or a tin foil card even though I'm 27 and not the creative daughter (to be fair from my sister she'd expect a fusili necklace with glitter and a card that involved cutting in a straight line). This year I persuaded her that she wanted the non-rotating Babyliss Big Hair that I've wanted for some time. Decision made. This immediately means that it is IMPOSSIBLE to get. You can get the rotating one that everyone says is crap but not the reasonably priced mum-friendly non-rotator.

Soooo... finally last week she decided that she'd like two large breakfast cups but wasn't sure what sort. It turns out that it's probably easier to get a unicorn than it is to get a nice breakfast cup. Eventually we settled on ones from Burleigh which are trusty and lovely and match a cow creamer she has (she LOVES cow creamers... who doesn't to be honest). Great. Ordered them only to have it confirmed that it could take 28 days! Bit horrid not having your presents on the day but did think that it's best to have the right thing rather than anything that arrives on time. Phoned up Burleigh to beg for speed and they said they'd do what they could. Imagine my surprise when two days later a lovely box from them arrives.

Now, there is a slight problem. Instead of the 3/4 pint breakfast cups I ordered I received the 1/3 pint teacups and saucers. Still lovely but not right. This sent me into a spiral of panic - so much so that I actually dreamt about trying to find cups last night. However, one phone call to them and not only was my panic soothed but I was left glowing with pleasure and the urge to say 'well you don't get service like that anymore'. Not only are they going to do their best to get the cups couriered to me as soon as they can they have told me that I can keep the teacups with their compliments as it was their fault for sending them to me. It actually took two or three attempts for them to get this concept through to me. I mean, we have to pay £1.32 every time Joe's dad forwards his post to us. Buy Burleigh everyone it's a wonderful old fashioned shopping experience.

17 December 2010

My Mince Pies

Everyone has their own way of doing these - different pastries, different fillings, different family traditions to be followed. I love making mince pies but I don't actually like eating them so I base my recipes on Joe's reaction and therefore have created a recipe that's a bit Delia, a bit Nigella and a bit stolen from my Tante Marie cookery course. I do love the idea of making mini ones with stars on top a la Nigella and everyone else but I just can't be bothered to fork out for a tin that at the moment I'm probably only going to use once a year. I'll add it to my Amazon wishlist and see how much it calls to me. So anyway I make big ones with stars on top (sometimes I make macaroon topping which is a nice change if you are a bit over pied). I also buy my mincemeat - maybe next year I'll make Nigella's cranberry one but what with the hamper this year I think I may be biting off more than I can chew.

MINCE PIES (makes about 24 normal size pies)

240g plain flour
60g vegetable shortening/suet, or lard
60g cold butter
juice of 1 orange (or a couple of satsumas if that's what you have)
pinch of salt

350g mincemeat

milk to stick the lids on
icing sugar to dust

You will need a bun tray or two and I use the trusty magimix to make the pastry because it's quick and I'm lazy. I use a crinkle edged cutter but a plain circle would do just as well if that's what you've got.

1. Put the flour, suet/shortening/lard and small cubes of very cold butter in the freezer for 20 mins. Not quite sure why, Nigella recommends it and it does help make a very nice pastry.
My tuppaware of flour and fat

2. Squeeze the orange juice into a bowl, add the pinch of salt and put in the fridge.

3. After the 20 mins put the flour and fats into the magimix and blitz until it's all crumbly. Then start adding the orange juice whilst pulsing the mixture, stopping just before it comes together. The amount of liquid you use really just depends on the size of the orange. Sometimes I use it all and have to add a bit of chilled water sometimes I don't use all of the juice. You have to do this by eye I'm afraid.

4. Anyway, when it looks like it's about to come together tip it out onto a floured surface and bring it together with your hands and knead it about a bit. Divide into two, make sort of flat discs out of them, cover in clingfilm and put in the fridge for half and hour. Pre-heat the oven to 220C/428F/Gas Mark 7.

5. When you are ready to make the pies roll one of the discs out of a floured surface. This is lovely pastry that's really stretchy so you can afford to roll it quite thin but remember you still need a good vehicle for the heavy mince meat. I usually cut out bottoms and tops at the same time - if I'm doing the star tops - so I know I've got even amounts.

6. Place the cut circles in the bun tray and add a teaspoon on the mincemeat. I'm usually quite slapdash about this sort of thing but I actually think it's quite important to just smooth the mincemeat out a bit with the spoon. This makes the tops stay on better when the mincemeat gets all bubbly whilst cooking. Dab around the edge with some milk - I use my finger - and then place the star  on top pressing down on the ends slightly so the milk sticks them to the pie base (this will inevitably unstick during cooking).

7. Cook for about 10 minutes - I check after 9 and take out when they look right to you.

They don't look that beautiful but they do look homemade!
8. You can make these up to a week ahead and just heat up for 2 mins in a hot oven before serving then sprinkle with a little icing sugar and serve with brandy butter.

14 December 2010

Secretly Festive

I'm not sure if it's because I'm a girl, or that I grew up in a house of girls (and my dad), or that my mum partly grew up in Sweden which is Christmas in country form but I'm far more festive than my husband. Now don't get me wrong he likes Christmas as much as the next man but while he likes the festive drinking and binge eating he doesn't feel weepy whilst decorating the tree and he doesn't see the need for the little festive trinkets that keep appearing all over his flat.

I have to sneak things in. An advent candle here, red napkins there. I've got round the lights problem by insisting on have fairy lights in my kitchen all year round, which he disapproves of but puts up with (literally puts up actually as I seem to get a new string every three months or so). Lucky for him my bank account fell over before I was able to purchase the Swedish angel chimes I wanted but I will be getting them next year... I've already put them on a new list I've started for next years Christmas purchases.

Festive Fridge

We're having a sophisticated and grown up drinks party next weekend that will descend into a booze fuelled and ridiculous festive boogie at some stage and I went and stocked my fridge up for it yesterday and realised that nothing makes Joe more excited than me loading the trolley up with 7 packs of butter and nothing makes me happier than seeing this...
Note excess butter, cream and smoked trout

6 December 2010

I heart Lakeland

Ok I don't 'heart' them. That's bollocks. I think it's more realistic to say I have an unhealthy obsession with Lakeland. So unhealthy that there is a bulging box of kilner jars, jam lids and cordial bottles in the middle of our bedroom floor between me and my bathroom. I knew it had got bad when Joe smirked up to me with a tube of edible silver stars which he'd found on our spare bed. Up until recently our spare room had been half Joe's study and half my imaginary secret place when things could be kept and their presence there would cancel out their purchase cost. But now we have people staying and my sickness is staring me in the face every morning as I try to get dressed in sub-zero temperatures.


Please note tasteful washing drying on radiator
The problem escalated when I decided to make Joe's family a hamper for Christmas. In seven years we've managed to avoid spending Christmas together - people think this is weird but we're perfectly happy about it, I think Joe welcomes the 4 day nag break (he manages to be in a no-signal zone in Cheshire most years). This year I was going to be with them but they've decided to go to France and little Miss Mouse is not old enough to have a passport yet so we will be in Hampshire with my parents cuddling the dog and cleaning up her continuous peeing (the little princess doesn't like the cold). So, rather than get them a load of individual presents they won't want (they all posses massive brains which I can't keep up with) I thought what a lovely idea to make them a foody hamper.

I immediately ordered kilner jars, jam jars, jam lids, labels, decorations and edible stars and then realised that this could backfire horribly. I could be sending Joe to France with a box full of disgusting horrors in various different size jars. Too late! Three massive Lakeland boxes appeared at my desk and I've been elbow deep in shallots and vodka ever since. I'm hoping that if it is all gross I'll just never know about it.

I'm having the last laugh though - this obsession has contributed towards Joe allowing me to get  a new pantry cupboard in my teeny tiny kitchen as I'm now making so many chutneys, vinegars, jams and oils that I'm keeping ingredients in cardboard boxes on the kitchen floor and even he can see this is not ideal. I'm so excited it's literally all I think about - I lay awake the other night planning what would go on what shelf.

Eek another box just arrived...

3 December 2010

New Baby Brownies

I find it really hard to know what to get friends who have just had babies as they get loads of presents and some people are off some things and some people will only use one type of thing so I always try and bake something instead. New parents are likely to have lots of visitors so I think it probably helps to have baked goods to offer them, I also thing a quick sugar fix that can be eaten one handed is a must for nursing mothers! So in honour of little Lilly who was born on Tuesday here are my New Baby Brownies.

NEW BABY BROWNIES

Preheat the oven to 180C/356F/Gas Mark 4

300g caster sugar (I like to use golden caster sugar here but you don't have to)
250g butter
250g chocolate, broken into pieces and 50g put aside
3 large eggs and 1 extra egg yolk, beaten with a fork
60g plain flour
60g good quality cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

I make them in a disposable foil roasting tin because they never have to go anywhere else and when they're finished it can just be thrown away but any Swiss roll tin will do - the small it is the fatter they'll be and vice versa. If you are using a non-disposable Swiss roll tin then you'll need to line the bottom with baking paper.

1. Cream the butter and sugar together - ideally use a Kitchenaid as the mixer on this is ideal, I use my trusty Magimix but if you don't have either then do by hand. This needs to be really creamy though so be prepared for a bit of arm ache if you are doing it manually.

2. Melt the 200g of chocolate pieces in a bowl over a simmering pan of water (make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water). Once the chocolate is melted then take it off the heat and stand to one side.
 
3. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into a bowl.

Sifted dry ingredients
 
4. Slowly add the beaten eggs to the butter and sugar mixing in between additions. If you are using a kitchen aid then remove the bowl once all the eggs are added. I have a Magimix so I tip the mixture into a new mixing bowl.

 5. Break up the remaining 50g of chocolate into small pieces. I do this by putting them in a freezer bag and bashing them with a rolling pin. Very satisfying but slightly annoying for our upstairs neighbours. Add the melted chocolate and chocolate pieces to the butter/sugar/egg mix, folding them in with a metal spoon.
Post-chocolate, pre-flour
6. Finally fold in the dry ingredients - try to be gentle as you don't want to knock all the air out.


7. Pour the mixture into your tin, smooth the top and put in the oven for about 25-30mins. Brownies continue to cook as they cool so you want them to be cooked enough so that a skewer comes out sticky but not covered in raw ingredients when poked in the centre.

8. Leave to cool on a rack in their tin for at least an hour before removing them or cutting them into their squares. If you are being fancy schmancy you can dust with icing sugar. But I never do.


Bad Photos

I'm sorry the photos are so rubbish at the moment. I don't have a camera so I'm taking them on my blackberry. I think that's better than nothing but having just looked at the brownie photos I may well be wrong about that. New camera hopefully imminent... not sure it'll make me a better photographer though.

26 November 2010

Good Girls Chicken Laksa

This is one of my favourite recipes when I want to be healthy but need a little excitement. You can substitute all the good things for bad things if you want. I even use low fat cooking spray but I know some of you will just draw the line at that. It is also great if you are having a girlfriend round who is dieting or a bit of an annoying eater - it looks great but is very non-dangerous on the calorie and fuss front and for this reason I've found it very useful every time wedding season approaches.

Chicken Laksa
Serves 2

Low fat cooking spray (if I were being naughty I'd use stir-fry oil)
2 chicken breasts without the skin
1/2 Onion sliced finely
1/2 red pepper
1tbsp tom yum paste
200ml light coconut milk
225ml chicken stock
60g sugar snap peas
150g rice noodles, I use the straight-to-wok kind because I'm lazy
110g bamboo shoots
Handful of coriander to sprinkle on top
Lime wedges, to go on the side


Now this is a really adaptable recipe as you can use any vegetables you like but I think the red pepper and green beans look great in this.

Red pepper, green beans and onion

1. I brown the chicken pieces first just for five mins in the wok with a spray or two of the low fat cooking oil and then put them to one side.

2. Then I re-spray the wok and add the onions and peppers and cook for 3ish minutes until they are softened.

3. Add the tom yum paste and cook for 2 minutes - I stir a lot at this point to make sure the onions and peppers get a good coating. 

4. Return the chicken pieces add the stock and coconut milk, bring to the boil then put a lid on turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 15-20 mins.


Pre-simmer

5. Add the bamboo shoots, sugar snap peas and noodles and cook for another 4 or so minutes stirring every now and again to break the noodles up (straight to wok noodles break up pretty much by themselves after a couple of minutes of cooking - don't plonk them in and then try to force them apart as you'll break them).

Dish up, sprinkle with coriander and serve. Ta da!

19 November 2010

The Spoils of Work

Occasionally the designers at work will set up a photo shoot for a cover and have to order lots of lovely things for it. Well yesterday there was one that needed very specific roses and I then got to take them home... they are LOVELY and make up for me having been ill for 8 days (8 DAYS!!!). I thought they deserved to be seen by more than just me and the builder who's come to fix the leaky roof.

18 November 2010

Jam Tarts

I love cooking but I think if I could only choose one meal to cook for it would be tea (does that count as a meal? I think so). I really don't have a sweet tooth and I think my favourite meal of the day is breakfast (when I can eat or drink anything bizarrely) but there is something decadent about tea that I just can't help getting excited about. So when my parents decided to come and visit us to pick up some logs (long story involving chainsaws and my garden being massacred) and have tea I thought I'd use it as an excuse to get a bit Enid Blighton and cover my table in goodies. I was going to make crumpets but I ran out of time but I did manage to make jam tarts and ginger biscuits.

The jam tarts were something I've wanted to do for ages because I love the ones you get in a packet but there are never enough apricot and those are me and my dad's favourite. As he's not been well and needs feeding up I went on a bit of an apricot bonanza and then managed to eat at least half of them myself. In that first batch I followed a recipe that used icing sugar but I think caster sugar gives your pastry better consistency. I also found that a lot of recipes tell you to use unsalted butter and then add a pinch of salt but I'm lazy and a devotee of salted butter (I won't have unsalted in the house) so I just ignore that bit. So here's my current favourite jam tart recipe which I think is just perfect for rainy Sunday afternoons and also seem to be a bit of a hit in the office.

JAM TARTS - makes about 16-20

180g plain flour
60g caster sugar
120g butter
2 egg yolks, or 1 eggs yolk and 2 tbsps water

Any kind of jam you want - my favourites are apricot and sweet tip raspberry.

You will need 2 bun trays, a rolling pin and a circular pastry cutter. Pre-heat the oven to 190C/gas mark 5/375F.

1. Sift the flour and sugar together and then rub in the butter. The pastry is better if the butter is cold so chop it up into small squares before adding it to the sugar and flour - this makes it easier to rub in.

2. Add some of the egg liquid and bring the dough together - I do this all with my hands, it's messy but it saves on washing up and you're going to have to use your hands in the end anyway. Use as little of the liquid as possible but remember that you don't want the pastry to be do dry - I find that if I'm using 2 egg yolks (which I prefer) then I use all of it, when I'm using egg yolk and water I don't quite need it all.

3. Make the dough into a flat hamburger shape (making it easier to roll when it's cold), put into a sandwich bag or clingfilm and put in the fridge for at least an hour. All recipes I've read differ on this but I find that after an hour its much nicer to roll and re-roll because the butter is properly chilled. If you are a complete domestic goddess you could whip this up in the morning and have it ready to go whenever you want to make the jam tarts for tea!


 


4. When you are ready take the pastry out of the fridge and roll it out on a floured surface, cut out circles with your pastry cutter and put them in the bun tins.

5. Put the tins in the fridge for 20-30 minutes and then add the jam. Now you only need a heaped teaspoon or so of jam - it's very tempting to overfill them but they'll just bubble over if you do and that means hellish washing up.

6. Put the tarts in the oven for about 10 minutes but keep an eye on them. I think my oven runs a bit hot so it could be that yours take longer - you want the tarts to be looking golden around the edges and the jam to be bubbling.

7. Take the tarts out of the oven and leave to cool on a rack in their tins. After about 10-15 mins you can get them out of the tin and straight onto the rack. I have a trusty metal spatula I use for this but a round tipped knife would do just as well - they should come out quite easily so you can be gentle. Then they are all ready to be eaten - if you want to be fancy you can dust them with icing sugar but I'm not. I think they are quite sweet enough but as I said earlier, I don't really have a sweet tooth.

Apple and Cranberry Crumble

I had some cranberries left over from some chutney I was making, a jar of crumble that my mum had made and some old apples that needed using up so I decided to make my husband a crumble. That sounds like good wife behaviour but I don't like fruit and never really eat pudding so in fact I'm like some kind of feeder - I just make puddings and force Joe to eat them. Crumble is a great pud because it's quick, easy to make and you can add pretty much anything that needs using up but here's my Apple and Cranberry crumble recipe just in case you want a bit of direction - I usually use whatever fruit I have and then choose a dish that's the right size.

APPLE AND CRANBERRY CRUMBLE - serves 3

4 apples (I like bramley's or cox's)
200g cranberries
Demerera or other soft brown sugar
Cinnamon

For the Crumble:
170g plain flour
75g butter
75g demerara

For this amount I used my 24cm le creuset oval dish but any ovenproof dish will do, I also cheat and use my magimix to make the crumble. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4/350F.

1. I make the crumble first and then have it in the mixer ready to go. If you are using a magimix or blender then put on the crumble ingredients in and blitz until... well until it looks like crumble. If you are doing it by hand then rub the butter into the flour, don't over-rub or your crumble won't be crunchy, then stir in the sugar.

2. Peel, core and chop the apples and put in your dish of choice. Sprinkle over the cranberries and then the sugar and cinnamon. I do this by eye - quite a good lot of the sugar usually about 3-4 tbps and about 1tsp of the cinnamon. Then mix this all together gently - I use two spoons for this like tossing a salad.

3. Then cover with a good layer of crumble and put in the oven for about 30-40 minutes. Joe likes it with vanilla ice cream but I think cream looks good too.

16 November 2010

Accidental Date - Tod's Bistro

Due to my husband quitting his job last November and entering the dangerous world of freelance we haven't been on a date since I don't know when. In fact I do know - we went to the The Anglesea Arms for our anniversary and my parents paid for that so I'm not sure it counts. So on Saturday night we were off to a house party in Kings Cross via drinks in Highbury and somewhere around Holland Park I realised we hadn't eaten. Booze on an empty stomach usually means one of us behaves incredibly badly so we thought we'd get a sandwich from somewhere on the way to Public House where the first drinks were held. I drew the line at a Budgens sandwich however and no other places immediately offered themselves so we decided to go into Tods Grill and Bistro... just to see what the menu was like obviously. And then we accidentally had a date.

Now my husband says it's not a date if I pay but we drank booze, shared food and there was a candle present, we even had my parents babysitting the puppy. Sounds like a date to me. It wasn't the cheap evening I had planned (one of the reason I love retro house parties is because you can turn up with your own booze and then drink it all and not spend any more money than that) but the food was gorgeous, the service impeccable and the surprisingness of it all, rather lovely. The restaurant had a great atmosphere - there were old show and movie posters all over the walls which I loved and it was packed which I find can make your experience all the more private. I thought I just wanted something light and the starters looked so good we decided to share some... by some of course I mean 5. Baked goats cheese with apple salad, chorizo bruscetta, calamari, homemade chicken liver pate and homemade gravad lax with toast.

When I met my husband he was a restaurant reviewer who only drew the line at tripe and I was one of the fussiest eaters known to man. This made us pretty incompatible when it came to sharing food. He remained a restaurant reviewer long enough for me to become 2 stone heavier and develop the ability to eat a lot of food long after I'm full - we are perfect restaurant companions. Now there are only four things I'm really fussy about - aubergine, courgette, fruit and offal and the latter has meant that even though it is something that I should love (based on my love of pickles, smoked things and cheese) I can't stand pate.

I have to say I've clung to this as my final attempt to revert to fussy eating and the waist I had when I was 20 but on Saturday night I think my favourite dish was the home made chicken liver pate. It was smooth and tasty without being too livery and we had just the right amount that left you wanting more. I was so particularly surprised by this new love affair as we'd also ordered calamari which I would quite leave my husband for if it wasn't a bit weird to run off with a food stuff. But I think the pate won the evening.

Our accidental date meant we were late for drinks and even later for our house party (at which I'd promised early arrival for moral support) but were beaming on both arrivals and not responsible for the vomit on the 390 to Notting Hill at 3 o'clock that morning so I think I will be advocating more accidental dating in the future.

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