Saturday, 19 February 2011

Cookies and milk go together like...

So lately I've been going through a bit of a nibbling phase, roaming around my house trying to find something to graze on, except... grazing is pretty hard to do when there's no food in the house. Two weeks ago is when I thought I needed to go food shopping, one week ago I thought I seriously need to buy food and today? I still had no food. What's a sick girl to do? Too ill to buy food, too peckish to sit at home without restlessly roaming the house, all that I found were sultanas which were kind of nibble food, porridge oats which are definitely not nibble food and a sealed block of chocolate I feel too guilty about breaking into since it was bought for baking.

Tired though I was, baking was my only option to stop myself going mad, so I stayed in the kitchen thinking about what I could do to fix this dire situation I was in. Flapjacks were considered, but with my sore throat, I didn’t think they were going to go down too well, cakes were another option, but then again they just didn’t seem to fit the bill for once… My mind drifted to the chewy cookies I made recently and I realised I haven’t just been craving nibbles; I was craving chewy cookies! Being house bound, I wanted less sweetness and more wholesome cookies so opted to tweak the basic recipe to yield chewy oat cookies, sweetened by sultanas and chocolate chunks. The result was just what I was hoping for – a cookie full goodness, not overly sweet and satisfied my bad case of the munchies.

Chewy Fruit and Oats Cookie
(Makes 24 small)

  • 150g Plain Flour
  • ¼ tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 90g Butter/Margerine
  • 50g Dark Brown Muscovado Sugar
  • 100g Granulated White Sugar
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 25g Mixed Fruit/Sultanas
  • 50g Dark Chocolate, chopped
  • 100g Oats, lightly toasted (optional)
  1. Place the butter in a large pan and melt over a low heat. Meanwhile mix the flour, oats and bicarbonate of soda together well. Set the butter aside to cool slightly.
  2. Beat the sugar into the butter followed by the egg.
  3. Stir in the flour mix until well incorporated, then fold in the chocolate and fruit.
  4. Level the mixture then cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to GM5/190C/375F
  6. Drop teaspoon sized balls onto a baking sheet (I put about 8 on a small tray well spaced) and flatten.
  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges have just about turned golden. They'll continue to cook on the tray for 1 minute then cool on a wire rack.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Get lost in the broths...

My birthday lies almost annoyingly close to Christmas, but luckily I have sweet friends who (most of them anyway) understand that wrapping gifts in festive wrapping paper or writing a birthday message in a Christmas card makes for a very sad birthday girl, seriously. If it's disguised as a Christmas present it would probably be banished under the tree, exiled until Christmas day. Luckily, I do not even have awkward birthday moments any more since my lovely mother gave up trying to squeeze ideas for presents out of me by the time I was 18.  Instead I get lovely money and the benefit or having a birthday close to the BIG day is I get both lots in one go... I know, what's a girl to do? Go crazy on clothes? Buy ridiculous shoes? Splurge on something pretty and shiny? Or wonder into Anthropologie one day in January looking for clothes to splurge said money on, but instead getting "lost" in the homeware department and finds herself almost skipping out of the store with her shiny new purchases of... bowls. Yes bowls; but amazing bowls.  So amazing, I had to keep myself from buying one of every colour.  I digress though, there is a point to me mentioning my mad homeware obsession, and that is that they have inspired me to brave making soups again, but not the smooth ones I usually end up cooking up, but interesting thin soups holding delicate chunks of vegetables and grains to make hot, toasty meals perfect for the current climes where the chill is gone but a wet coolness has replaced it, calling for the need for warmth but without the heaviness of winter stodge.

One soup is my all time favourite so it amazes me that I've only made this twice, but it hails from my beloved Cornucopia at Home cookbook and is just love in a bowl.  The hearty broth is cheered up by shreds of deep green kale and cubes of bright orange carrot peeking thorough. The one thing I must say though - and this applies to all broths - is that the stock must be flavourful, as it unites all the components together. I found that this soup tasted better the next day as all the flavours mingled and developed. Next time, some miso or dried shitake mushrooms would make a wonderful base to dish.

The other dish was more accidental, but definitely one I will be making again.  As per usual, inspiration came from a poke around in the fridge to find food which wanted eating followed by a brief exploration of my store cupboard. The Barley, mushrooms and parsnip all pointed to a rather grey soup, so some carrots went in to brighten this meal up.  Some 45 minutes later and I'm happily curled up with my bowl of goodness.  Bon appetit!

Kale and Barley Broth
(Serves 4)

adapted from Cornucopia at Home by Eleanor Heffernan

  • 1 Onion
  • 2 Carrots
  • 2 Sticks of Celery
  • 1 Leek
  • 5 Bay Leaves
  • 10 Black Peppercorns
  • 1 tsp Thyme
  • 2.5L Water
  • Vegetable Oil
  • 100g Barley
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Onion
  • 2 Carrots
  • 1 Stick of Celery
  • 1 Leek
  • 2 Garlic Cloves
  • 200g Kale, sliced
  • 75g Dill
  • 2L Water
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  1. Cook the barley with 2 bay leaves in plenty of water, bring to the boil then simmer for 45 minutes to an hour until tender with a bite.
  2. Roughly chop the vegetables for the stock and heat some oil in a large pan. Fry gently for 10-15 minutes covered. Add the bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme and water, bring to the boil then gently simmer for 1 hour.
  3.  Strain the stock thoroughly when ready, to get about 2L.
  4. Blanch the kale for 3 minutes or until al dente, quench in cold water and set aside.
  5. To make the soup: Cover the base of a large pan with olive oil and heat. Slice the garlic finely and chop all the vegetables neatly into tiny cubes and sweat gently for 10 minutes, covered.
  6. Add the stock, bring to the boil then simmer for another 10-15 minutes until all the vegetables are tender.
  7. Blend a ladle full of soup with the dill then return to the pan. Add the strained barley and kale, season and serve hot with bread.  
Parsnip and Barley Broth
(Serves 1-2)

  • 15g Butter
  • 1/4 Large Onion
  • 1 Garlic Clove
  • 1cm Thin Knob of Ginger, grated
  • 1 Stick of Celery, sliced
  • 1 Medium Thin Carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1 Parsnip, cubed into 1cm cubes
  • 2-3 Chestnut Mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1/4C/50g Barley
  1. Melt the butter in a pan and add the onions, garlic and ginger. Cook gently, covered for 5 minutes then add everything but the barley and cook covered for another 5-10 minutes. 
  2. Add the barley and mix to coat then add enough hot water to cover everything twice over (about 700ml), season and bring to the boil. Reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the barley is soft with a bite to it. Top up with water if necessary.
  3. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Pasta Comfort

So I've just started up at work again properly, but for some reason it is taking me a lot longer to adjust to being employed in a serious job again.  Over the holidays I worked at my cinema back home, almost daily, almost always long shifts, yet I was fine.  My only conclusion is that my brain is no longer happy trying to pay attention to the likes of law and politics.  Fair enough really, I take my hat off to all you lawyers and politicians out there who have the stamina and genuine curiosity in that area.  I'm sure I will readjust soon, but in the meantime I'll drag my bike and myself up the hill to home sweet home for a comforting bowl of pasta.  At least cooking doesn't take unreasonable amounts of brain power!

Lurking around in my fridge was some leftover cheese sauce from my lasagne made the night before, a couple of mushrooms and scrap ends of cheese, which all went towards making this wonderfully comforting lunch which fed one sleepy person who perked right on up. Enjoy!

Earthy Mushroom Spaghetti
(Serves 1 greedy person)

  • 75-100g Spaghetti
  • 1/2 Sm Onion
  • 2 Garlic Cloves
  • 15g Butter
  • 100g Chestnut Mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 25g Manchego (Ewe) Cheese, finely grated (optional)
  • Few Chive strands to garnish
  • About 200ml Leftover Cheese Sauce (or see below to make from scratch)
Cheese Sauce:
  • 1 tsp flour
  • 10g butter
  • 200ml Milk
  • 1/4 tsp Dried Thyme
  • 25g Extra Mature Cheddar, grated
  • Salt and Pepper 
  1. Boil some salted water for the pasta, then make the cheese sauce - I like my sauce quite thin so I use less flour.  Add more flour if you want it thicker.  Melt 10g butter in a small pan, add the flour and beat around for a minute or so to cook the flour. Whisk in the milk gradually then add the herbs and season. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until thickened, add the cheese and set aside.
  2. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for about 9-11 minutes until al dente.
  3. Melt the rest of the butter in another pan and fry the garlic and onions gently, covered for 5 minutes until the onions look tender. 
  4. Turn up the heat and add the mushrooms then fry for another 5-10 minutes or until they start to brown.
  5. Season with pepper, mix in the cheese sauce and heat through.
  6. When the pasta is done, drain then mix in with the mushroom sauce until well combined. Stir in most of the Manchego cheese briefly.
  7. Serve sprinkled with the remaining Manchego cheese and garnish with chives.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Muffins

Every month or so I have cake duty for SPLAT! at St Ebbes, a play group for toddlers where mummies can enjoy a slice of cake, hear about Jesus and just socialise.  I get the special dietary requirements duty and I've had some good results and some not so good results when trying to produce cakes and biscuits which contained no wheat, milk, butter, oats.... apart from the Tunisian orange cake and layered chocolate cake, the rest tend to either go stale immediately or taste powdery and dry, or worst: taste and feel disgusting, so much so I feel bad handing them over!

My birthday was in December and amongst my wish list was a dinky little book written by Jennifer Katzinger, founder of the Flying Apron Bakery based in Seattle.  Apart from type errors regarding number of muffin cups to pour batter into, it is a very good read and the recipes work beautifully - well the two that I've tried.  I won't lie, the batter looked unpromising, but the result was magic.  There's no other word for it when I think about what goes into your typical muffin: flour, butter, sugar, eggs.... all of which are absent from these deliciously soft muffins.  If you're intolerant to gluten or dairy, or just vegan, this book is amazing.  Naturally the honey is easily interchanged with agave nectar or maple syrup.  Below, I'll leave you with two recipes adapted from my beloved copy of the flying apron's gluten-free and vegan baking book.

Carrot Muffins
(Makes 16)

  • 1C Rice Flour
  • 1/2C + 1/8C Gram Flour
  • 0.75 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 0.75 tsp Ground Cinnamon 
  • 1/2C Groundnut Oil
  • 1C Water
  • 1C Honey
  • 3 Sm Carrots, Finely grated
  • 1C Unsweetened Dessicated Coconut
  • 1C Chopped Mixed Nuts
  • 1/2C Mixed Dried Fruit
  1. Pre-heat the oven to GM4/180C/350F
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the oil, water and honey.  In another bowl mix together the carrots, nuts, fruit and coconut, and in a final bowl, mix together the rice and gram flours, cinnamon and bicarbonate of soda.
  3. Whisk the flour mix into the wet mixture until well combined.  Fold in the carrot mixture until just combined and divide among muffin cases.
  4. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the tops are  golden and firm to the touch.

Lemon & Poppy Seed Muffins
(Makes 14)

  • 1.5C Rice Flour
  • 3/4C Gram flour
  • 1.5 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 1/2C Olive Oil
  • 1C Water
  • 1/2tsp Cider Vinegar
  • 1/2C Maple Syrup
  • 1/2C Golden Syrup
  • Zest of 2 Lemons
  • 1/3C Poppy Seeds 
  1. Pre-heat the oven to GM5/190C/375F
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the oil, water, vinegar, golden and maple syrup.  In another bowl, whisk the rice flour, gram flour, bicarbonate of soda, poppy seeds and lemon zest together well.
  3. Whisk the dry mixture into the wet mixture until well combined.  
  4. Pour the batter evenly between about 14 muffin cases and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden and firm to the touch.

Chewy Triple Chocolate Almond Cookies

What is it about cookies and biscuits that is just so moorish?  Especially when it's not quite cheery enough to ponder outside unless absolutely necessary. One cold weekend I found my mind drifting to the kitchen; it is the natural place to drift to when the house feels empty and cold.  A rummage through the treasure trove and I have myself a promising start for a cheerful batch of cookies.  The night will be filled with dancing, but in the meantime I can bake.

I found this basic recipe on the endless resource pool that is Google in my first year of university, and now lovingly return to it with some modifications.  Scooping out chunks of cookie dough is just so satisfying, feeling the mixture stickily mould in my hands into balls of scrumptious goodness.  After affectionately flattening the discs, they spent a short time basking in the oven to come out as large discs of chewy heaven.  The house is now a warm, glowing haven filled with the sweet scent of chocolate and warm thoughts...

Chewy Triple Chocolate Almond Cookies
(Makes about 20)

325g Plain Flour
1/2 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
175g Butter/Margarine
100g Dark Muscovado Sugar
200g Granulated Sugar
1 Large Egg
1 Egg Yolk
100g Whole Almonds, chopped
50g Dark Chocolate Chips
50g White Chocolate Chunks
  1. Place the butter in a large pan and melt over a low heat. Meanwhile mix the flour and bicarbonate of soda together well.  Set the butter aside to cool slightly.
  2. Beat the sugar into the butter followed by the egg and egg yolk.
  3. Stir in the flour mix until well incorporated, then fold in the chocolate and almonds.
  4. Level the mixture then cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to GM5/190C/375F
  6. Drop walnut sized balls onto a baking sheet (I put about 8 on a small tray well spaced) and flatten.
  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges have just about turned golden.  They'll continue to cook on the tray for 1 minute, then cool on a wire rack.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Carrot and Coriander Plait

I feel I should start this post with a huge apology for being out of action for so long.  Time has flown by in the last couple of months, but now that the festive season is over and life is returning to normal, I should hopefully be back to cooking lots and sharing them with you.  I thought would start the beginning of a new month with bread. We can't go wrong with bread, bread makes my world go round.  Even better, homemade bread... and better than that? Flavoured bread! I decided on carrot and toasted coriander seeds this time, and it was wonderful.  The loaf came out of the oven golden orange with flecks of coriander seeds peeking out at me.

I love making bread, especially on a day where I'm not needed anywhere. Making bread is associated to a day of rest for me.  I knead the dough at my own pace, lovingly tip it into an oiled bowl and potter around the house until it's ready to be knocked down and shaped.  This time I decided to take a walk with my new house mate in the late winter sun, enjoying the warmth on my face as we trundle along.  This time of year is wonderful. Everything smells of hope and a taster of spring is beginning to creep in, reminding me it is only a few months before the sight of daffodils and other colourful joys start popping up again.  Until then though, we have cheerful bread...

Carrot and Coriander Bread
(Makes 2Lb Loaf)

  • 375g Plain Flour
  • 125g Wholemeal Flour
  • A pinch of Salt
  • 70ml Vegetable Oil
  • 1.5 tsp Dried Yeast
  • 240ml Warm Water
  • 1 medium Carrot, peeled and grated
  • 1 Tbsp Coriander Seeds

  1. Mix the yeast and warm water together and leave for 15 minutes to activate and a frothy layer forms on top.
  2. Toast the coriander seeds over a medium heat in a frying pan until lightly browned and aromatic. Tip into a pestle and mortar to bruise the seeds.
  3. Mix together the flours and salt, then combine with the oil.  Once evenly distributed, grate in the carrot and tip in the coriander seeds.  Stir to distribute.
  4. Make a well, pour in the yeast mixture, stir to make a dough and roll out onto a lightly floured surface to knead.  Knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic, and tip into a lightly oiled bowl.  Leave covered in a warm place to double in bulk for about an hour and a half.
  5. Knock the dough down, divide into three balls and roll each one into a long sausage shape.  Press the ends together on one end and plait the strands, sealing the ends together. Pat into shape and leave to prove for 30 minutes more, covered.  Switch on the oven to GM 4/180C/350F to pre-heat.
  6. Bake the plait for 40-45 minutes until lightly golden and the base sounds hollow when knocked.  Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.