Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year! - My 100th Post and a Review of The Year

One of my New Year's Resolutions for 2010 was to hit the 100 post mark on my blog - and I've just managed it with a few hours to spare!

Rather than post about one recipe I thought it would be more fitting to look back over the year and pick out some of my favourites, new and old. It was pretty hard to narrow it down, and the following is by no means a definitive list, but here are some of my personal highlights.

Old Favourites - the following recipes have been made many times but haven't appeared on my blog before this year.

These really are an old favourite. I've been making them for years and with good reason - they taste great!

This is a Delia classic - rich, cheesy pasta but with a souffle lightness.

This is one of my most favourite cake recipes which has never failed me yet.

The perfect muffin recipe - enough said.

New Discoveries - these are just a small sample of the new recipes I added to my collection of favourites this year.

I had been meaning to try out this recipe for years and I finally got the chance when I took part in the I Should Cocoa challenge in October. I can't wait for a chance to make it again.

I loved the light, fresh flavours in this dish and have made it again more than once since I first tried it in May.

This dish is positively bursting with flavour thanks to the Pomegranate Molasses and was a lovely dinner on a sunny summer's evening.

Another dish full of flavour and the relish was a triumph.

Happy New Year everyone and hears to a fantastic, food-filled 2011!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Mince Pies

Mince pies are without doubt one of my favourite things to make in the run up to Christmas - up until the big day I can't get enough of them. This year in particular I've been on a huge mince pie baking spree, helped largely by my new discovery - freezing them! It sounds obvious but it's just not something I've ever really done before. I am truly converted though - mince pies are undoubtably at their best fresh out of the oven and by freezing them you can keep a constant supply on hand ready for baking.

There are, I've discovered, two options when it comes to freezing. Firstly you can cook your mince pies and then freeze them once cooled. This is fine but when you come to eat them you need to defrost them for several hours before reheating them in the oven. Not good for those urgent mince pie cravings. The second option has proved to be much more successful. Simply make up your pies in their tins and freeze them as they are. Once solid they can be removed from the tin and stored in the freezer in plastic bags. When you fancy one (or two...or three...) just remove from the freezer, return to the tin and bake as normal for 15-20 minutes. You can have a warm mince pie in your paw in under an hour - it's all good.

I have also had great success with a new recipe for pastry that I came across recently on the blog Jam and Clotted Cream. The recipe is as follows but please do check out this blog as you'll find loads of great ideas on there.

Mince Pies

200g plain flour
75g ground almonds
40g caster sugar
125g butter, cubed
1 egg, beaten
Milk or beaten egg to glaze
Approx 350g mincemeat

1) Put the flour, ground almonds, sugar and butter into a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

2) Add the egg slowly (you may not need all of it - any spare can be used to glaze the tops of the pies) and pulse until the mixture starts to come together. Then tip out onto the work surface and knead together briefly until you have a smooth ball of dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

3) If cooking straightaway preheat the oven to 200c.

4) Roll out the pastry and cut out circles slightly bigger that the bun tin holes and press lightly into the tin. You can then cut out slightly smaller circles or stars for the tops of the pies. Fill the pies with mincemeat before placing the tops on.

5) If freezing put the tin in the freezer until the pies are solid then pop them out of the tins and into freezer bags.

6) When you're ready to cook the pies brush the tops with a little milk or beaten egg and, if you like, sprinkle with a little caster sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pies are just turning golden. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out on to wire racks.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Oven-Baked Wild Mushroom Risotto

This is lovely recipe if you're in the mood for something savoury and filling for dinner. It also works really well, in smaller portions, as a starter. This recipe comes from Delia's Vegetarian Collection, although it can be found on her website aswell. I have to confess that I'm not a great lover of Delia's recipes, having had one too many fail on me. Having said that, there are still a few I turn to on a regular basis, and this is one of them.

While there is a bit preparation involved, one of the benefits of this recipe is that it doesn't require a lengthy hob-side session stirring in the stock. Instead it is baked in the oven and just requires a quick stir about halfway through the cooking time. A definite plus if you plan on serving this for friends and don't want to be tied to the kitchen all evening.

You can find the recipe on Delia's website by clicking here. If you don't serve it as a starter it feeds two hungry people nicely.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

And the winner is....

Following on from this post, I'm pleased to announce that the winner of the Hotel Chocolat Chocolate Santa Giveaway is......

The Caked Crusader


If you'd like send me an email with your name and address a box of chocolate santas will be winging it's way to you very soon!

Thanks again to Hotel Chocolat for sponsoring this giveaway.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Orange Madeira Cake

I love cooking with citrus fruits, especially at this time of year when there are so many more available in the shops and there are so many festive recipes to put them in. I had bought some oranges to put into my Christmas cake and mincemeat this weekend but this afternoon I had a sudden urge to bake and this recipe came to mind. I'll have to go out and buy some more oranges now but this lovely cake more than compensates for that!

The only issue I had with this cake was the icing. I foolishly mixed 2 tablespoons of orange juice into the icing sugar in one go and ended up with icing that was too runny. Next time I'll add about a teaspoon at a time.

Orange Madeira Cake
(adapted from Home Cooking by Rachel Allen)

175g/6oz butter, softened
175g/6oz caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs, beaten
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
225g/8oz plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 tsp freshly squeezed orange juice

For the topping
75g/3oz icing sugar
2-3 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

1) Preheat the oven to 170c/325f/gas mark 3. Lightly grease and line a 23 x 13cm (9 x 5 inch) loaf tin.

2) Cream the butter in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer to soften it further. Then add the sugar and vanilla extract and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each one, then add the orange zest.

3) Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in with the orange juice. Stop when all the flour is incorporated. Transfer the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and smooth the top.

4) Bake in the oven for 50-55 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

5) For the topping, sift the icing sugar into a small bowl and stir in just enough orange juice to make a soft, but not runny, icing. If you want the icing to stay on the cake, place the cooled cake back in the tin and spread the icing over the top.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Prawn Curry

This is just a quick post so that I can share this lovely prawn curry recipe I came across a couple of weeks ago. I found it on one of my favourite food blogs - The Goddess's Kitchen. I love Maria's blog as the recipes she writes about always sound so tempting and are just the sorts of things I like to cook. This one in particular appealed to me as it sounded perfect for weeknight dinners.

It turned out just as I'd hoped - straightforward and delicious. You could even make the sauce in advance and then add the prawns and reheat it later if you wanted to save some more time.

You can find the recipe here.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

A Hotel Chocolat Giveaway!

When Hotel Chocolat sent me a little box of goodies recently, they included a box of their Tiddly Caramel Chocolate Santas for me to sample. The good news for you is that there is another box of these ready and waiting to be given away to one lucky reader!
Each Santa is made from solid caramel milk chocolate so you get the creaminess of milk chocolate combined with a hit of sugary caramel. If you like your chocolate dark and on the bitter side then these may not be for you as they are very sweet. I, however, loved them and they definitely brightened up a windy autumn evening.

Hotel Chocolat also sell little boxes of Tiddly Milk Chocolate Reindeers and Tiddly White Chocolate Snowmen as part of their Christmas range and all three boxes cost £5 each. Any of them would make a very special addition to someone's Christmas stocking.

So then, if you would like to be in with a chance of winning a box of these little Santas you just need to do the following:

1) Have a look at the Christmas range on the Hotel Chocolat website and try and decide which item you would most like to find under the tree on Christmas Day

2) When you've managed to narrow it down, let me know your answer by leaving a comment in the comments section below this post. Alternatively, you can post your answer on the Half a Pot of Cream Facebook page.

3) The closing date for the giveaway is Friday 26th November at 6pm. The winner will be annouced after 6pm on Sunday 28th November.

4) I'm afraid the giveaway is only open to residents in the UK.

Good Luck!

Oh, and what would I choose? Well, this Classic Christmas H-Box Selection is clearly made for me! Not that I'm dropping hints or anything ; )

Monday, 8 November 2010

Parkin & Cinder Toffee for Bonfire Night

OK so I really should have posted these recipes before November 5th but nevermind! Ah well. Hopefully you'll remember them when you come to plan your Bonfire Night parties next year.

First up we have Parkin. A classic autumnal cake, originating in the North of England and traditionally eaten on Bonfire Night. It's very similar in many ways to gingerbread but with the addition of oats. The ginger, treacle and syrup mix together to make the most fabulous smelling cake - no need for any fancy scented candles when you're cooking this one. It tastes great too and is all the better for being left for a few days before cutting into it.

(adapted from a recipe in Good Food Magazine from years ago)

1 egg
3 tbsp milk
175g/6oz golden syrup
100g/4oz black treacle
85g/3oz light muscovado sugar
225g/8oz butter
100g/4oz medium oatmeal
250g/9oz plain flour
2 rounded tsp ground ginger
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1) Preheat the oven to 160c/gas mark 3/fan oven 140c. Grease a deep 23cm/9inch square cake tin and line with greaseproof paper. Beat the egg in a small bowl and stir in the milk, then set aside.

2) Put the syrup, treacle, sugar and butter in a large pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted. Remove from the heat. Mix together the oatmeal, flour, ginger and bicarbonate of soda, then stir into the syrup mixture, followed by the egg and milk. Combine well to give a batter-like consistency.

3) Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 50-60 minutes until the cake feels firm and a little crusty on top. Leave to cool in the tin, then turn out and peel off the greaseproof paper.

4) Wrap the parkin in clean greasproof paper and foil and leave it for at least three days before you cut - this will allow it to become much softer and stickier. The parkin will keep for up to two weeks.


The second recipe today is for Cinder Toffee. Or Honeycomb. Or Hokey Pokey. Or that stuff you find inside Crunchie bars. I'll leave you to choose your favourite. Whichever you go for this stuff is deadly! In an addictive, super-sugary, keep-your-dentist-on-standby sort of way. And deadly simple to make too - the actual cooking part took me a mere 5 minutes or so.

I really recommend you try this one but don't blame me for any fillings!

Cinder Toffee
(adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson)

200g caster sugar
4 tablespoons golden syrup
1 tablespoon bicarbonate of soda

1) Grease a 21cm square tin generously with butter.

2) Off the heat, mix the sugar and golden syrup in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, then put over a medium to low heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes (this is based on a 20cm diameter saucepan). The mixture is ready to come off the heat when it's a thick bubbling mass, the colour of rusty caramel - no darker.

3) Take off the heat and quickly whisk in the bicarbonate of soda and watch the caramel foam up in an opaque golden cloud (mine didn't foam up that much but it didn't seem to matter). Pour into the waiting tin and leave to set. This will take a few hours. When cold you can set to it with an implement of your choice (I used a rolling pin) and bash it into pieces.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Chocolate & Cobnut Meringue Pie

Aswell as thinking of ways to use my recent supply of chocolate from Hotel Chocolat, I've also been on the lookout for a recipe that fits the bill for this month's We Should Cocoa challenge - a monthly baking challenge where participants have to cook with chocolate and another, pre-selected, ingredient. This month's challenge is being hosted by Choclette from The Chocolate Log Blog and she has selected cobnuts or hazelnuts as the added ingredient.

Cobnuts, as I have learnt since embarking on this challenge, are just a variety of hazelnut. I was initially just going to stick with hazelnuts, but by chance I came across a big pile of cobnuts for sale at a local farmers market so grabbed a bagful while I had the chance. If you fancy learning more about cobnuts then you might want to take a look at the Kentish Cobnuts Association website.

The recipe I selected this month is one I've had my eye for years and the title suggests great things. Chocolate pastry and a chocolate filling topped with nut-speckled meringue sounded like my kind of pudding and I'm pleased to say it lived up to all my expectations. The pastry was deliciously sweet, the filling was rich and the meringue topping was light with added crunch from the cobnuts.

It was also pretty straightforward to make. Chocolate pastry can be notoriously tricky to roll out but I used my tried and tested method of rolling it out between two pieces of clingfilm and had no problems. I had a bit of a hitch with the filling when I realised I didn't have enough cornflour but I topped it up with plain flour with no obvious problems. The chocolate custard turned out quite thick but I won't know until I try it again whether that was down to the flour. All in all it tasted pretty fantastic and I think it tasted even better the next day when the filling had cooled completely and set even more. This is definitely a 5 star recipe.

Chocolate & Cobnut Meringue Pie
(adapted from Chocolate by Marks & Spencer)

175g/6oz plain flour
75g/3oz unsalted butter
25g/1oz plain chocolate, grated
25g/1oz icing sugar
1 egg
1-2 teaspoons cold water

50g/2oz cornflour
3 egg yolks
25g/1oz caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
600ml/1 pint milk
175g/6oz plain chocolate, chopped (I used my lovely Hotel Chocolat 70% Dark Chocolate Drops again)

3 egg whites
175g/6oz caster sugar
25g/1oz cobnuts (or hazeluts), toasted and finely chopped

1) To make the pastry, sift the flour into a bowl and add the butter, cut into small pieces, then rub it into the flour (I blitz it together in my food processor). Stir in the chocolate, icing sugar, egg yolk and enough water to mix to a firm dough. Knead lightly, then wrap and chill for 30 minutes (I left mine overnight in the fridge but it needed to sit for a while at room temperature to warm it up a bit the next day).

2) Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and use to line a 23cm/9 inch plain or fluted flan ring set on a baking sheet. Bake blind, (by lining the tin with greaseproof paper and filling it with baking beans or dried beans) in a preheated oven, 200c/400f/gas mark 6, for 15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and cook for a further 5 minutes.

3) To make the filling, mix together the cornflour, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla essence and a little of the milk in a large bowl. Bring the remaining milk to the boil in a saucepan. Pour over the egg mixture, stirring.

4) Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook for 2 minutes, stirring until thickened. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted. Pour the mixture into the pastry case.

5) To make the meringue, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Gradually whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Stir the nuts into the meringue.

6) Spoon the mixture over the pie, shaping peaks with the back of a spoon. Place under a preheated hot grill for about 2 minutes (pay attention to this bit! The meringue can turn from pale brown to almost black in seconds - I just caught mine in time!) until the peaks are golden. Serve warm or cold with pouring cream.

Serves 8

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies - Two Varieties

Since my last post about the lovely parcel sent to me by Hotel Chocolat I have been putting my samples to good use. This post is about the first two recipes I tried - both for chocolate chip cookies. When I first saw the chocolate drops in my parcel cookies were the first thing that sprang to mind so I searched through my recipe books for some new inspiration. The recipes I settled on are fairly similar but I thought I try them both anyway. I've been meaning to try the Books for Cooks one for ages and Rachel Allen's peanut butter version sounded really appealing. I was also interested to compare the two different methods for making them with one batch being cooked straight away and the other stored in cling film in the fridge over night before being sliced up and cooked.

So, first up is the Books for Cooks version which were cooked straight away. I found these spread quite a lot which resulted in them having quite thin edges (compared to batch number two below). Nevertheless they tasted really good although I would say they probably didn't need quite so much chocolate in them.

Sarah's Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from a recipe by Sarah Benjamin in The Book for Cooks Collection Volume 6)

150g/5oz plain flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
125g/4oz/1 stick butter, softened
125g/4oz soft brown sugar
50g/1 3/4oz caster sugar
1 tsp natural vanilla extract
1 egg
175g/6oz dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used my Hotel Chocolat 70% Dark Chocolate Drops)

1) Heat the oven to 180c/350f/gas 4. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment

2) Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Beat the butter, sugars and vanilla together until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg with a tablespoon of flour. Add the remaining flour mixture in three batches, blending until the mixture forms a dough. Fold in the chopped chocolate.

3) Drop tablespoons of the cookie dough on the baking parchment lined baking sheets, leaving at least two inches between each one as they will spread.

4) It's best to cook one baking sheet at a time but if you do bake them together be sure to rotate the baking sheets half way through the cooking time. Bake until the cookies are just slightly coloured on top and golden around the edges, about 10-12 minutes. They should be baked until just set - if you over back them the cookies will end up crunchy rather than chewy.

5) Place the baking sheet on a wire rack for a few minutes to allow the cookies to cool slightly and firm up a little, then transfer the cookies to the wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 30 cookies


Next up, Rachel Allen's Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies. For this batch I followed Rachel's suggestion to wrap the cookie dough in cling film and store it in the fridge until needed. I found this to be a brilliant method and ideal if you if you don't have much time to prepare the cookies right before you need them. All the work can be done a day or more in advance and on the day all you need to do is slice up the cookies and bake as usual. The other benefit, as you can see below, is that you get much neater looking cookies!

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies
(adapted from Food for Living by Rachel Allen)

200g/7oz crunchy peanut butter
200g/7oz butter, softened
250g/9oz light muscovado or soft light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
250g/9oz chocolate, chopped (I used my Hotel Chocolat 40% Milk Chocolate Drops)
350g/12oz plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt

1) Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4

2) In a large bowl beat the peanut butter, soft butter, sugar and vanilla extract until soft and creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then add the chocolate. Sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt and stir to mix.

3) Roll heaped teaspoonfuls of the dough in your hands to form balls, then place them spaced apart on baking trays (there is no need to grease or line them). *

4) Bake in the oven for 12-16 minutes until light golden in colour. Carefully lift them off the trays when cooked and place on a wire rack to cool.

* Alternatively (as I did), roll the dough into a log about 2cm in diameter. Roll up in cling film and place in the fridge. When ready to cook, unwrap the log and cut into slices about 8mm thick. Place on the baking trays and cook as above. The dough can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. You can cut slices from the frozen dough and cook straight away.

Makes about 60 cookies

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Hotel Chocolat's Cocoa Cuisine Range

Hotel Chocolat contacted me recently to ask if I would like them to send me something to sample and review.

Hmmm...let me just think about that for a minute...

Actually I didn't think about it at all. I've been a fan of Hotel Chocolat for quite some time (dissecting and sampling their Tasting Club selection boxes has become a something of a family tradition) so I was embarrassingly quick to reply with a firm yes please!

When the box arrived and I had ripped it open like a kid at Christmas I was delighted to discover two fat bags of chocolate drops, one containing 40% Milk Chocolate Drops and one containing 70% Dark Chocolate Drops. Each bag weighs a substantial 400g and, ingeniously, has a resealable opening (although on the down side this makes it far too easy to sneak handfuls each time I pass by!).

These chocolate drops can be found in Hotel Chocolat's new Cocoa Cuisine range, which offers a lovely selection of chocolate products designed for use in the kitchen (although unlike some "cooking" chocolate they also taste fabulous just as they are). Each bag costs £7.50, which works out at about £1.87 per 100g. A reasonable price, I think, considering the quality of the chocolate (as a comparison 100g of Green & Blacks 70% Dark Chocolate retails at around £1.89). Needless to say I'm very much looking forward to putting these to good use and will be posting about the recipes I've lined up to experiment with over the next week or two.

Also included in my box of delights was a bottle of Hotel Chocolat Classic Milky Liquid Chocolat, a drinking chocolate made with 72% dark chocolate and 50% milk chocolate.

Their drinking chocolate comes in a number of varieties including the very enticing Gingerbread and Winter flavours. All sound like the perfect way to warm up as the weather cools down. I can't wait to sit down with a big mug of this and will post my verdict soon.

Finally, there was also a little something included from Hotel Chocolat's Christmas Gifts range. More on that, together with a little giveaway, in a couple of weeks as we get closer to Christmas.

Many thanks to Hotel Chocolat for sending me these great samples to review.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Somerset Apple Cake's been so long since I last made this cake I had forgotten how great it is. We have apples coming out of our ears at the moment thanks to the two lovely apple trees we have in the garden and this recipe is the perfect way to use a few up. What really makes this cake a bit special is the orange zest - every time I lift the lid on the cake stand I'm greeted with a wonderful waft of citrus and the orangey flavour complements the big chunks of apple so well.

Somerset Apple Cake
(adapted from The Complete Farmhouse Kitchen Cookbook produced in association with Yorkshire TV)

3oz/80g butter
6oz/175g caster sugar
Rind of 1 orange, grated
8oz/225g self-raising flour
1lb/450g Bramley Apples, peeled, cored and cubed
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp milk
Approx 1 tbsp granulated or demerara sugar

1) Grease and flour a 23cm/9inch cake tin. Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4

2) Cream the butter, sugar and orange zest until pale in colour. Mix 1 tablespoon of flour with the apples in a bowl.

3) Add the eggs and milk to the butter and sugar and beat in. Add the remaining flour and apples to the mixture and blend together well. Turn into the tin, sprinkle with the granulated/demerara sugar and bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Toad in the Hole with Roasted Onion Gravy - my go-to recipes

I love Toad in the Hole. It's just perfect for this time of year when you want something warm and comforting to round off the day. The thing I love the best about this dish though, and it's an absolute must for me, is the onion gravy to go with it.

Delia's Roasted Onion Gravy is the best I've come across so far and is super-easy to make. Plus you can make it a few hours in advance if you want to and reheat it later on while the Toad in the Hole is cooking. I didn't have so much luck with her batter recipe though (which is also included in the link below) - I found it turned out a bit flat. I hunted around for an alternative online and came across Anthony Worrall Thompson's version which I had much more success with and have stuck with ever since. It uses twice as much egg and less flour and the end result is a much poofier pudding (that's a technical term for you). Oh, but if you do ever decide to test out Delia's version I do NOT recommend you use a metal roasting tin - I found it sticks something terrible.

Here's a link to Delia's Roasted Onion Gravy (also to be found in How To Cook Book One).

Toad in the Hole
(adapted from a recipe by Anthony Worrall Thompson)

For the batter
115g/4oz plain flour
large pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs
300ml/1/2 pint milk

8 good quality sausages
2 tbsp/30g beef dripping or white vegetable fat

1) Make the batter by sifting the flour into a large bowl and adding the salt and pepper. Make a well in the centre and break in the eggs. Gradually beat the eggs into the flour then slowly beat in the milk until the batter is the consistency of double cream. Leave to sit for 30 minutes, or ideally 3-4 hours.

2) Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas mark 6.

3) Heat a large non-stick pan and cook the sausages over a medium heat until golden brown all over.

4) Place the dripping or vegetable fat into an ovenproof dish and put into the oven for 5 minutes or until the fat is hot and hazy. Add the sausages to the dish and pour in the batter. Immediately return the dish to the oven and cook for 35-40 minutes until well-risen and golden brown.

5) Serve with some veg on the side and lots of lovely gravy!

Serves 4-6 (note that Delia's gravy recipe only serves 2-3)

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Whoopie Pies - Classic Chocolate & Buttercream

So then, Whoopie Pies. Apparently these are the new Cupcake. At least they were a few months ago anyway - I may be a little late jumping on this bandwagon. Maybe it's passed me by completely. Who knows! Late or otherwise I finally got around to making some after purchasing a book entirely devoted to Whoopie Pies a few weeks ago. The book, Whoopie Pies by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell is a very attractive, enticing little book full of pie and filling recipes to mix and match and play around with.

For the uninitiated, Whoopie Pies, or Gobs, originated in the US and are little cakey creations filled with a generous amount of marshmallow or buttercream. Wikipedia and other sources tell me that name arose when Amish women baked these for the local farmers' lunchboxes. On discovering them the farmers would shout "Whoopie"!

I decided to start with the basics by trying out the Classic Chococlate Whoopie recipe filled with a vanilla buttercream. I was hoping to try out the traditional marshmallow filling but this calls for a jar of Marshmallow Fluff which is apparently easy find in the US but much harder to track down over here.

I'm kind of in two minds about the finished product. I think I was expecting something lighter, maybe more biscuity, but they actually turned out to be quite dense, heavy and cakey. The buttercream was also very sweet, although the cocoa in the cakes provided a bit of a counterbalance. At the end of the day though I did like them and they seemed to go down pretty well when I took some into work. One thing's for sure, I'll definitely be making them again and trying out some different flavours and combinations.

Note - As this in an American book the ingredients are all measured in cups or, in the case of butter, sticks or tablespoons. I have therefore added my conversions to metric and imperial for those of you who don't have any measuring cups.

Classic Chocolate Whoopie
(adapted from Whoopie Pies by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell)

1 2/3 cup/230g/8 1/2oz cups all-purpose (plain) flour
2/3 cup/90g/3 1/4oz unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons/50g/2oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons/50g/2oz vegetable shortening
1 cup (packed)/170g/6oz dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk

1) Preheat the oven to 375f/190c/gas 5. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2) Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl. In a large bowl beat the butter, shortening and brown sugar on a low speed until just combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat until fluffy and smooth. Add the egg and vanilla and beat for another two minutes.

3) Add half the flour mixture and half the milk to the batter and beat on low until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining flour and milk and beat until completely combined.

4) Using a spoon, drop about 1 tablespoon of batter onto one of the prepared baking sheets and repeat, spacing them at least 2 inches apart.

5) Bake one sheet at a time in the centre of the oven for about 10 minutes each, or until the pies spring back when pressed gently. Remove from the oven and let the cakes cool on the sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Makes about 48 two-inch cakes.

Classic Buttercream

3 cups/420g/15oz confectioners (icing) sugar
1/2 cup/1 stick/110g/4oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 to 4 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

1) Beat the sugar and butter together until the mixture is crumbly, about 1 minute.

2) Add the cream, vanilla and salt and beat on high speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.

3) Pipe or spoon the buttercream onto the pies and sandwich them together.

Friday, 24 September 2010

We Should Cocoa Monthly Challenge - Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies

When I heard that two other food bloggers were organising a new monthly baking challenge AND it involved chocolate my ears pricked up immediately (in the virtual, online sense anyway). Chocolate is one of my most favourite ingredients to work with and provides a base for so many fantastic recipes.

The challenge, We Should Cocoa, is being hosted alternately by Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog and Chele of Chocolate Teapot and the idea is to make something using chocolate each month. The most important rule is that it should include the special ingredient(s) selected by the host for that month.

This month Chele is hosting the challenge and she has chosen raspberries as the special ingredient. No problem for me here - if you want to combine chocolate and raspberries into one recipe then this one is just perfect.

Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies
(adapted from a recipe found in delicious magazine)

200g/7oz quality dark chocolate
200g/7oz unsalted butter, softened
400g/14oz caster sugar
5 eggs
110g/4oz plain flour
400g/14oz cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
120g/4 1/4oz fresh raspberries

1) Preheat the oven to 180c/fan 160c/gas mark 4. Grease and line a 30 x 20cm rectangular cake tin.

2) Please the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water until melted. Set aside to cool slightly.

3) Cream the butter and 250g of the caster sugar until pale, then add 3 of the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one. Stir in the melted chocolate then fold in the flour. Spread three quarters of the mixture into the lined pan.

4) In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese, remaining sugar and eggs and the vanilla extract until smooth, then spread over the chocolate base. Dollop the remaining chocolate mixture over the cream cheese layer and use a fork to swirl the chocolate. Push the raspberries into the top and bake for 40-45 minutes until just firm on top. Allow to cool then cut into squares.

Makes about 15

Thanks to Chele for hosting this month's challenge. To have a look at all of the other entries this month make sure you visit her Chocolate Teapot blog after the 26th of September.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Byron Bay Cookies - a Review

When I heard that the people from Beyond The Bean were looking for people to review the Byron Bay Cookies that they supply to various coffee houses I was more than happy to oblige. A few days later the lovely box full of goodies you can see above arrived on my doorstep. I was expecting one little pack but instead I received a lovely selection box of cookies of various flavours.

Originating, not surprisingly, in Byron Bay in Australia these cookies are now baked in the UK using locally sourced ingredients. And I was very pleased to see that for the most part they do not contain palm oil (the exception being the fudge pieces used in the 'Dotty' Smarties cookie). For reasons why you should think twice about using products containing palm oil have a look here. The range has been fully approved by The Vegetarian Society and the Gluten-Free cookies have been approved by The Coeliac Society.

When I first opened the box and saw the individual packets I couldn't help but be reminded of those uninspiring little packets of biscuits that you so often find on hotel tea-trays. A closer inspection, however, put my mind, and stomach, at rest. These are no ordinary biscuits. As you can see from the picture at the bottom of the post these are biscuits and then some. Each one weighs in at approximately 60g and with a calorie content of around 450 per 100g this is a snack to be taken seriously.

So, the different flavours...

Strawberry & Clotted Cream Shortbread - My first thought when I tried this one was "a bit too sweet". I find things with white chocolate often are and the addition of dried strawberries only added to the sugar hit. Funnily enough though this didn't stop me guzzling the whole pack of six cookies like I was trying to break some sort of record.

Fig & Pecan Cookie - This one was really nice. Not too sweet with a wholesome chewy, crunchy texture. They reminded me of the classic Fig Roll only much more interesting.

Lemon Macadamia Nut Shortbread - Lovely crumbly shortbread with a zingy lemon flavour.

Triple Choc Fudge Cookie - Mmmm....seriously chocolatey these ones with big chunks of chocolate and fudge throughout. Lush.

Gluten-free "Dotty" Triple Chocolate Cookie - The colourful packaging for this one suggests that it is aimed at children. However I can't imagine my children getting through a whole one of these in one sitting or, should I say, I can't imagine me letting them. This one had quite a dry texture possibly, I guess, because it was gluten free. It was still very nice though and the smarties on top were a welcome addition.

White Choc Chunk & Macadamia Nut Cookie - Sweet crumbly shortbread with generous chunks of white chocolate. Very nice.

White Choc Chunk & Macadamia Nut Cookie (Gluten Free) - Apart from a slightly drier texture this tasted just the same as the non-gluten free version - sweet and chocolatey.

Sticky Date & Ginger with Walnut Cookie - I really liked this one a lot. Chewy dates, crunchy nuts and a warming hint of ginger and cinnamon in the background. I could eat these all day long.

And my favourite? Well, depending on my mood I think that would have to be either the Sticky Date & Ginger or the Triple Chocolate Fudge. Both winners in my book.

Thanks to Beyond the Bean for giving me the opportunity to try these. They were a real hit and I will definitely be looking out for them in my local coffee shops in the future.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

A Simple Scrambled Egg Supper

There's nothing complex at all about this recipe - just a nice little supper dish when you fancy something quick and easy. The soda farls make it filling enough to have for tea which is great for those evenings when you don't want to spend any longer than necessary standing at the stove.

Cheese and Watercress Scramble
(adapted from a recipe by Sarah Buenfeld in Good Food Magazine)

2 soda farls (usually sold in packs of two, alongside the bread and rolls)
4 large eggs
4 tbsp milk
50g/2oz mature cheddar cheese
generous knob of butter
10 cherry tomatoes
generous handful of watercress (I don't always bother with this if I don't have some to hand)

1) Split the soda farls and put them in a toaster or under the grill to toast on both sides. Meanwhile, beat together the eggs and milk with a good sprinkling of salt and some black pepper. Grate the cheese.

2) Heat the butter in a small-to-medium sized frying pan (preferably non-stick) and when melted add the tomatoes and cook them for about 3 minutes over a fairly high heat, shaking the pan occasionally until they start to soften and the skins split.

3) Pour the eggs into the pan and leave them undisturbed for about 10 seconds. Stir and leave to settle again, then stir again until the eggs are almost scrambled. Sprinkle in the cheese, roughly chop and add the watercress if using, then remove the pan from the heat. Butter the farls and put on serving plates, pile the scramble on and serve straight away.

Serves 2

If you're looking for another way with scrambled eggs have a look at the Curried Scrambled Eggs I posted about last year.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Rhubarb Yoghurt Jelly

This recipe has been on my pending pile since the summer and now the evenings are drawing in (and aren't they just at a rate of knots?!) I'd thought I dig it out and post it as a reminder of warmer days. This was one of the things I made as part of my Big Fat Greek Yoghurt Experiment when the lovely people at Total supplied me with a VERY large quantity of Greek Yoghurt to play with.

Anyway, this recipe wouldn't get anyone through to the final of Masterchef, in fact it's a bit of a stretch to even call it a recipe. It's an old favourite, though, and certainly worth a mention. To be honest I don't think the greek yoghurt worked as well as regular natural yoghurt as it didn't mix in particularly well. Still tasted good though.

I should say that the following recipe is merely a rough guide - it doesn't matter in the slightest if you have more or less of any of the ingredients.

Rhubarb Yoghurt Jelly
(My Mum passed this recipe on to me - original source unknown)

Approx 400g rhubarb
Caster Sugar
1 pack of jelly - I usually use Strawberry or Raspberry
Approx 150g - 200g plain yoghurt

1) Start by chopping up the rhubarb and stewing it in a saucepan over a low heat until soft. You can a little sugar if you like or if the rhubarb is particularly sharp but the jelly will add its own sweetness later on. Leave to cool.

2) When the rhubarb is cool, make up the jelly in a large dish. Leave it in the fridge for a short while to cool down and begin to set (probably half an hour to an hour).

3) When the jelly is cool just mix in the rhubarb and yoghurt and then return it to the fridge to set completely.

Makes one largeish bowlful.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Roasted Pepper, Pancetta and Mascarpone Risotto

Risotto isn't something I make very much. Yes, it's pretty straightforward to make and, on some level, the amount of stirring involved makes the process quite relaxing I suppose. However, I have small children and at the end of the long day if I have to choose between standing at the hob for 30 minutes attending to a saucepan or leaving something to it's own devices while I slump into a chair then I'm afraid the second option is going to win. Having said that, if I'm feeling in the right frame of mind I will dig out the arborio and get stirring. And this recipe in particular really makes the effort worthwhile. The salty pancetta and creamy mascarpone really lift it to another level and turn it into something special.

Roasted Pepper, Pancetta and Mascarpone Risotto
(adapted from a recipe by Valentina Harris in Good Food Magazine)

2 red or yellow peppers (if you're in a rush use sliced roasted peppers from a jar and start the recipe from step 3
50g/2 oz unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
175g/6 oz risotto rice
1 litre/1 1/2 pints vegetable or chicken stock, kept just below boiling point in a pan
50g/2 oz diced pancetta
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp finely chopped flatleaf parsley
3 tbsp mascarpone
50g/2 oz freshly grated parmesan
1 tbsp snipped chives for garnishing

1) Preheat the grill to high, then grill the fresh peppers whole for 10-15 minutes, turning them frequently, until the skins are blackened all over. While they are still warm, put them in a heatproof bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave to stand for about 10 minutes until cool enough to handle.

2) Peel the skin from the peppers - their flesh will be quite brown in patches. Cut them in half, remove and discard all the seeds and membranes, then cut the peppers into thin strips and set aside.

3) Melt the butter in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, then fry the onion very gently for about 10 minutes until soft and transparent. Add the garlic and three quarters of the peppers. Stir together gently over a low heat for about 3 minutes, then add the rice all in one go. Stir until the grains are coated and toasted all over, about 5 minutes. The add the first ladleful of hot stock and stir it in. Cook slowly adding stock until the grains are plump and swollen.

4) Meanwhile, in a separate pan, fry the pancetta with the olive oil until it is brown and crisp. When the rice is cooked to the right degree (in other words neither chalky nor mushy, but just chewy), take it off the heat and stir in seasoning to taste, plus the remaining ingredients. Cover and leave to stand for about 3 minutes before spooning onto serving plates. Sprinkle with the chopped chives and offer extra parmesan at the table.

Serves 2.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

I've received an award!

Thanks so much to Sarah at Sugar & Spice for passing on this award to me.

And now, as per the rules of the award, I have to give you the following information:

1) The name of the person's blog that gave me the award - Sugar & Spice

2) 10 things I love (these are off the top of my head and are in no particular order):

1. Chocolate
2. Cook books
3. Being by the Sea
4. Friends (the TV show)
5. Technology (my laptop, my digital camera, my ipod)
6. Fish & Chips by the Southwold ferry
7. Colston Bassett Stilton
8. Shopping
9. Foodie Trips to London
10. Geocaching (a new hobby!)

3) Now I have to pass this award on to 10 other blogs I read regularly

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Delia's Souffled Macaroni Cheese

OK, so if you were after something light and healthy for your dinner then this probably isn't the recipe for you. This is one to turn to if you fancy something warm, comforting and filling and is an absolute favourite of mine. That said, it's also quite light thanks to the souffle element created by the beaten egg whites folded in at the last minute.

This isn't a quick dish to prepare as it requires a fair bit of grating, egg-separating and measuring before you start, but once it's all ready it doesn't take too long and is pretty fail safe.

I usually pair it up with some oven baked potato wedges for a seriously cheesy carb-fest. Add vegetables if you must but it won't be the same!

You can find the recipe on Delia's website here or in Book One of her How to Cook series.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Rigatoni with Courgettes, Lemon and Basil

A joke for you....

Q: What cheese do you use to hide a small horse?

A: Mascarpone!!

Sorry, but that joke does make me laugh and it is topical as mascarpone is one of the key ingredients in this particular recipe. I always end up with too much of this cheese-that-doesn't-taste-like-cheese as so few recipes call for a whole tub. So I'm always pleased to find a recipe that I can add to my repertoire.

This was a nice pasta dish and one that was quick and simple to make. The flavour is quite plain - there's no cheese or garlic that you so often find in this sort of dish - but sometimes plain is good. And this was.

Rigatoni with Courgettes, Lemon and Basil
(adapted from Food for Living by Rachel Allen)

450g/1 lb rigatoni or other pasta shapes
2 tbsp olive oil
4 small or 2 medium courgettes, halved lengthways, seeds removed and thinly sliced at an angle
100g/4oz mascarpone cheese or soft cream cheese
3 tbsp milk
Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp torn or sliced fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1) Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling water.

2) While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a medium-sized frying pan over a high heat, then add the courgettes. Cook for 3-4 minutes until just softened and lightly golden.

3) In a bowl, mix together the cheese, milk, lemon zest and 1 tablespoon of the basil. Add to the courgettes in the pan and toss together on the heat for 1 minute, until the cheese has melted (I actually took the pan off the heat when I added the cheese as it was starting to bubble away to nothing). Season to taste.

4) Drain the pasta, tip it into the frying pan and mix with the sauce. Divide between plates or bowls and scatter with the remaining basil before serving.

Serves 4

Monday, 2 August 2010

Duck, Orange and Honey Stir-fry with Lots of Greens

I recently came across this lovely stir-fry in Jo Pratt's In the Mood for Food, a really nice cookbook full of tempting recipes and great photography that I dip into on a regular basis. Before I made this recipe I was a bit concerned that it might turn out to be a bit, well, unexciting. But I'm pleased to say that I was proved wrong. The orange, honey and soy sauce provided lots of flavour with the orange in particular really standing out and adding something a bit different.

I also liked the fact that the stir-fry is designed to be a complete meal with noodles being just an optional extra - great if you're trying to cut back on the carbs a bit.

Duck, Orange and Honey Stir-fry with Lots of Greens
(adapted from In the Mood for Food by Jo Pratt)

Grated zest and juice of 1/2 small orange
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 knob (about 15g) fresh ginger, peeled and chopped or finely grated
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1 large or 2 small skinless duck breasts, cut into strips (I used chicken which worked just as well)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1-2 tablespoons sunflower or vegetable oil
2 pak choi, cut into quarters lengthways
100g thin asparagus tips
200g Chinese, tenderstem or traditional broccoli
1 bunch spring onions, cut into 2-3 cm pieces

1) Mix together the orange zest, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and honey in a bowl. Add the duck strips and leave to marinade for up to 30 minutes.

2) Heat a wok over a high heat. Add the sesame seeds and toss around until they are lightly golden. Remove from the pan and return the pan to the heat.

3) Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan and when it is beginning to smoke remove the duck from the marinade (leaving behind as much marinade as possible) and add to the wok. Stir-fry for a few minutes until it is browned and sticky and then transfer to a plate.

4) Add all of the vegetables to the wok with a little extra oil if it looks like it needs it. Stir-fry for about 3 minutes. Mix the orange juice into the remaining marinade and pour in. Cook for a couple of minutes longer for the sauce to thicken and the vegetables to become tender. Return the duck to the wok, stir, then spoon into bowls and scatter with the sesame seeds.

Serves 2

Friday, 30 July 2010

Courgette Cake with Lime Curd filling

Following on from my previous post, if you've managed not to eat all of the lime curd straight from the jar with a spoon then this is the cake to go with it. As I suggested, this really is one of the best layered sponge cakes I've come across and I don't know why it's been so long since I first made it some years ago. Don't let the courgettes put you off - they do a similar job to the carrots in a carrot cake by adding moisture. On it's own this is actually a fairly plain tasting cake, however it has a wonderful texture and, when combined with the lime curd filling and cream cheese icing, turns into something pretty amazing. This truly is a five star recipe.

Courgette Cake
(adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson)

60g/2oz raisins (optional)
250g courgettes (2-3), weighed before grating
2 large eggs
125ml vegetable oil
150g/5 1/2oz caster sugar
225g/8oz self raising flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon baking power

1) Preheat the oven to 180c/gas mark 4. Grease and line two 8inch/21cm sandwich tins.

2) If you're using raisins, put them in a bowl and cover with warm water to plump them up.

3) Wipe the courgettes with a kitchen towel (but don't peel them) then grate using the coarse side of a box grater or similar. Turn them into a sieve over the sink to remove excess water.

4) Put the eggs, oil and sugar into a bowl and beat until creamy. Add the flour, bicarb and baking powder and continue to beat until well combined. Stir in the courgette and drained raisins.

5) Divide the mixture between the tins and bake for 30 minutes until slightly browned and firm to the touch. Leave to cool for 5-10 minutes before turning out on to a wire rack.

For the filling
200g cream cheese
100g icing sugar, sieved
juice of 1 lime, or more to taste
2-3 tablespoons chopped pistachio nuts

1) Beat the cream cheese until smooth.

2) Add the icing sugar, beating well to combine, then stir in the lime juice to taste.

3) Assemble the cake. Put one cake on a serving plate and spread thickly with lime curd. Put the second cake on top and spread with the cream cheese icing. If you feel the icing needs firming up a little put the cake in the fridge for a while. Just before serving, scatter the chopped pistachios over the top.

Serves 8 - 12

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Lime Curd

This post is the precurser to my next one as this is the filling for a most excellent cake. If you think that making your own lime or lemon curd is a task reserved only for the most dedicated cook then please think again. This recipe could not be simpler and produces something that can only be described as divine.

It helps if, like me, you love limes. I adore the smell of limes and in this recipe they add the most delicious fragrance and the perfect sharpness against the background of butter, sugar and eggs. If you make anything this year then please make this!

Lime Curd
(adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson)

75g unsalted butter
3 large eggs
75g caster sugar
125ml lime juice (of approximately 4 limes)
zest of 1 lime
1 x 350ml jar (sterilised by washing thoroughly and drying out in an oven heated to 140c)

1) Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan

2) Add all of the other ingredients and whisk to a custard over a gentle heat (this took me 10-15 minutes. Bear in mind that it will thicken further as it cools)

3) Let it cool before filling a jar (or a cake) with it. Keep in the fridge.

See - easy as pie!