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Chocolate brownies

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I’ve had a couple of dinner parties lately mid-week and I’ve found that the best way to stay stress free is to do as much preparation in advance as possible, consequently, last Sunday afternoon, when I returned home from sailing, I made brownies.  They didn’t take long to make and were prepared and cooked in under an hour and made enough to feed 16 people for pudding comfortably.

I have read a lot of recipes that say you must use the very best chocolate when making brownies, however, I have found the cheap and cheerful chocolate from supermarket works really well and as such I’m disinclined to splash out on ridiculously expensive chocolate.  I would recommend trying different types of chocolate to see what works best for you and what you prefer.  My personal preference is anything with 70% or more cocoa.

What makes these brownies stand apart from others that I have made is that they are wonderfully gooey in the middle whilst retaining a slight crust. They are a perfect amount of decadence to finish off a meal.  I tend serve with a mixture of summer berries and either ice cream or soured cream depending on what I have available, but they are also excellent on their own.

Chocolate Brownies (makes 32)

Ingredients:

  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 200g butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200g granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 50g white chocolate (roughly chopped)
  • 50g walnuts (roughly chopped)
  • 50g cocoa powder (sifted)
  • 85g plain flour (sifted)

Steps:

  1. Preheat your oven 180C / 170CFan.
  2. Line a 20cm square cake tin.
  3. Melt butter and dark chocolate in a bowl above a saucepan of barely simmering water.
  4. Whilst the chocolate and butter are melting, whisk eggs, sugar and vanilla until trebled in volume.
  5. Pour in the chocolate mixture and continue to whisk until fully combined.
  6. Then gently fold in flour, cocoa, walnuts and white chocolate.
  7. Pour into the pre-prepared tin and bake in oven for 20-25 mins. Remove the brownies from the oven when they have a slight wobble but a firm crust.
  8. Leave to cool completely in the tin, once cool cut into roughly 32 triangles.
  9. Dust with icing sugar and serve.

Note:  These brownies keep for over a week if stored in an airtight container in a cool place.

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Stilton and fig tart

photo 3I have an abundance of Stilton in my fridge leftover from my brother’s wedding and I have been trying to think up things to make with it. Tonight having seen that figs were on sale in the local supermarket I decided to make a very simple tart. It is a fantastic option for a midweek supper especially if you are having one or two friends over as it takes a matter of minutes to prepare and you can happily chat away whilst it is cooking in the oven.

Whilst I enjoyed it as a main meal with a simple salad, this would make a great starter which you could make into individual portions just by cutting the pastry up into small squares and then following the same steps. This is definitely worth giving a go. A simple and very tasty supper!

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Stilton and fig tart (serves 4)

Ingredients:

– 1 packet of pre-rolled puff pastry
– 100-150g Stilton (cut into small cubes)
– 3 figs (sliced into roughly eighths)
– 1 handful of lardons or bacon bits
– 1-2 tsp honey
– 3-4 sprigs of parsley (chopped)
– 2 tbsp milk
– Olive oil
– Seasoning

Steps:

1. Preheat the oven to 200C.

2. On a high heat fry off the lardons for a couple of minutes. Set to one side and allow to cool slightly.

3. Lay the pastry out on a piece of baking paper on a shallow baking tray, fold over roughly 1cm of the pastry all around the edges to create a lip.

4. Taking a pastry brush, brush a little of the milk all over the pastry.

5. Scatter the stilton and lardons over the pastry then place the pieces of fig evenly over it.

6. Season with pepper and drizzle over a little olive oil before placing in the oven a baking for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.

7. Remove from the oven, drizzle over some honey and scatter over the chopped parsley.

8. Serve warm with a salad. Enjoy.

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Chocolate celebration cake

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My middle brother, Alex, is getting married in August to his lovely fiancée, Jayne, and I cannot wait!  Over recent months there has been much talk of dresses, flowers and of course cakes…  Jayne and Alex have decided to hold a “bake off” at their wedding and have sent the following message out to their guests:

 Wedding Bake Off

We like cake. 

We really like cake, a lot. 

In fact we like cake so much, one wedding cake just won’t be enough… We’re dreaming of a whole table of different wedding cakes, with afternoon tea to follow the ceremony.

We know we have a lot of friends and family members who are amazingly talented bakers.  Can you help us to make our cake dreams come true?

Join our great wedding bake off, and battle it out to be crowned the best wedding cake baker! 

There will be a very democratic judging process on the day…and the favourite wedding cake will be the one that we save and cut in the traditional wedding way.  There are no rules for what to bake or how it is presented, the more creative the better! 

 Not being the type of person to shy away from a challenge I have donned my apron and started testing out a couple of ideas I have had for a  wedding cake to see if: (a) it tastes good; and (b) looks presentable.

At the moment I am in two minds about the flavour.  Our family loves a good chocolate cake and the one that I am going to share with you today certainly ticks that box.  However, as the wedding is in August and will hopefully be on a beautifully hot and sunny day, I am of the view that a lovely light lemon cake would go down much better.  The other option is of course to do multiple cakes… but this might be a step to far as I suspect in the days building up to the wedding things are likely to get a little bit busy.

So, about this cake, as I mentioned it is a chocolate cake.  I suppose you are wondering why I think it is worthy for a wedding cake?  Well… it is not just a chocolate cake, it is three layered super light chocolate cake, filled with a rich chocolate mousse and covered in a white chocolate and sour cream icing, decorated with raspberries…

If you like chocolate, I would recommend trying this cake as it is rather decadent!

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Banana and chocolate loaf

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I am not a huge fan of very ripe bananas so when I found myself with several fairly black looking bananas I had to think of something to do with them.  Fortunately one of my colleagues happened to mention fairly recently that their favourite cake is banana loaf so my decision was easy.

First up I should say that banana and chocolate loaf is definitely a cake and not a bread – it is a fairly dense cake and goes extremely well with a cup of tea.  This is the type of cake that doesn’t like to be rushed in the oven, don’t be over anxious and open the door regularly as you will cause the cake to sink and it won’t change the cooking time.  So my advice is be patient, put your feet up read a book and wait for your cake to be ready!

Banana and chocolate loaf

Ingredients :

  • 6oz bananas (peeled and mashed)
  • 4oz soft margarine
  • 6oz caster sugar
  • 8oz plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1tbsp rum
  • 1 heaped tbsp crème fraiche
  • 4oz plain chocolate (broken into small pieces)

Steps:

  1.  Preheat oven to 150C (fan).  Grease and line a loaf tin.
  2. Cream the soft margarine and sugar together in a bowl using an electric whisk.
  3. Slowly beat in the eggs (add a little flour if the mixture looks as if it might curdle).
  4. Whisk in the flour, salt and baking powder.
  5. Then add the mashed banana, crème fraiche, chocolate and rum and mix well.
  6. Pour the cake batter into the loaf tin.  Place in the oven and cook for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer comes out of the cake clean.
  7. Leave the cake to cool before serving.

Salmon fillet served with a rice salad and mango and avocado salsa

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I have been trying out a couple of new ideas for fresh and healthy suppers whilst the weather has been so hot.  During the summer months I normally resort to green salads with bread and cheese or cured meats as they are so easy to make.  However, as a friend of mine was coming over to celebrate her recent engagement I wanted to cook something a little bit more impressive than just a salad…

At the moment the markets around me are full of ripe mangoes and avocados so I thought I would buy some and make a sweet and tangy salsa.  Provided you have a food processor this salsa can be made in a matter of minutes.  If you don’t have a food processor then dice the ingredients to make a slightly chunkier version of the salsa that will be equally as delicious.

For the rice salad, I used leftover rice that I had cooked for supper the previous day and then added a combination of vegetables that are all in season at the moment which meant the salad was packed full of flavour and different textures.  The salad was incredibly fresh and complimented the delicacy of the salmon.

Whilst I enjoyed the combination of the rice salad, salsa and fish I would recommend trying the salsa with grilled chicken and/or tortilla chips and the rice salad would be a good and slightly different side dish at a picnic or BBQ so it worthwhile giving a go.

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Mango and Avocado Salsa

Ingredients:

  • ½ a red onion
  • 1 avocado (peeled and stoned)
  • 1 ripe mango (peeled and stoned)
  • ½ -1 chilli (depending on how spicy you want it)
  • 1 small handful of fresh coriander (finely chopped)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • seasoning

Steps:

  1.  Place the red onion and chilli in a food processer and blitz until they are finely chopped.
  2. Then add the avocado, mango, coriander and blitz in the food processor till smooth.
  3. Pour the mixture out of the food processor into a bowl and stir in the lime juice, lemon juice and coriander season as necessary then decant into another bowl for serving.

Note:  If the salsa is kept covered it will keep in the fridge for a few days.

 

Rice Salad (serves 2-3)

Ingredients:

  • 150g pre-cooked basmati rice
  • 4-5 cherry tomatoes (finely diced)
  • 3-4 radishes (finely diced)
  • 2” cucumber (finely diced)
  • 1 avocado (finely diced)
  • 2tbsp fresh coriander (chopped)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ tbsp olive oil
  • Seasoning

Steps:

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, season well and serve.

 

Salmon Fillet (Serves 2)

Ingredients:

  • 2 salmon fillets
  •  paprika
  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • Seasoning

Steps:

  1. Place olive oil in a frying pan and heat on a medium temperature.
  2. Add the salmon fillets (skin side down)
  3. Season the salmon and sprinkle over a little paprika.
  4. Cover the frying pan with a lid, turn the temperature down slightly and cook for 7-10 minutes (or until the salmon is cooked).  Serve on a bed of rice salad with a little of the salsa on top.  Enjoy!

 

 

Vanilla and lemon panna cotta

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A few months ago one of my friends cooked me supper, the whole meal was absolutely delicious however the pudding was exceptional and I have been wanting to try to make it ever since.  The perfect opportunity presented itself a few weeks ago as I was cooking supper to celebrate my birthday with friends and family.  Given that panna cotta needs to set I made it a couple of days in advance which meant I didn’t have to do anything other than wash the berries on the day.

Thanks to my French housemate my kitchen is packed full with every cooking utensil and serving dish that you could possibly want which meant I was able to serve the panna cottas in individual cocottes which was quite fun and very easy for presentation purposes.  So if you can get your hands on mini-cocottes then all the better, otherwise,  ramekins would do the job just as well.

The flavour of the panna cotta is delightful and is a nice balance of sweet, tangy and creamy.  By serving it with raspberries it adds a slight sharpness that cuts through the panna cotta complimenting it beautifully.  This is a brilliant summer pudding good for special occasions or as a bit of a treat.

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Vanilla and lemon panna cotta served with fresh raspberries (makes 6)

Ingredients:

  • 400ml double cream
  • 400ml yogurt
  • 3 gelatine sheets (softened in water)
  • ¼ vanilla pod and seeds
  • zest of 3 lemons
  • 100g caster sugar

To serve:

  • 1-2 punnets of fresh raspberries
  • juice of 1 lemon
  •  1-2tbsp caster sugar

Steps:

  1. Place the yogurt, lemon zest and vanilla seeds in a bowl and stir together.
  2. Put the cream and sugar and vanilla pod into a pan and heat until the sugar has completely dissolved.
  3. Add the gelatine to the pan, and cook until the gelatine is dissolved.
  4. Sieve the cream and sugar mixture into the yogurt (this is to ensure your panna cotta is completely smooth).
  5. Stir the mixture together and then carefully pour into 6 mini cocottes.
  6. Leave to set over night.
  7. Before serving, mix together the fresh raspberries, lemon juice and sugar in a bowl and serve with the panna cotta. Enjoy!

Stuffed chicken breast wrapped in streaky bacon

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I think time must have started speeding up as I have no idea where the weeks let alone the days nor hours…   I am very much back in London mode, where you try to fit in as much as possible during the day.  Whilst it couldn’t be any more different to SW France, I am glad to be back and I’m thoroughly enjoying being able to catch up with my friends throughout the week and heading off to go sailing or do something a little bit different at the weekends.   (If you are missing my tales of SW France, check out Mumsy’s blog http://molleslifeinswfrance.wordpress.com/author/mollesquercy/ for French life from a less food orientated perspective!)

Between all the madness I have been able to keep playing in the kitchen and have been making a few different things including a fish pie parcel (that I was really pleased with and I hope to share the recipe over the course of the next week) and two gluten free lemon drizzle cakes.  The gluten free cakes have caused me a little bit of dismay, I am used to my cakes being fairly light and delicate and the gluten free cakes were definitely not that!  Truth be told the first attempt at making the cake was definitely the best, I used almonds in the place of the flour and it tasted OK despite the cake itself feeling like a lead weight that crumbled everywhere.  The second attempt was, umm let’s say interesting, it is the first time in years that I have actually followed a recipe for a cake because it suggested using a combination ground almonds and mashed potato.  Yup, you read it right, mashed potato.  In fairness to the mashed potato, I think it did make the texture of the cake more like a sponge, but the taste, well that had a lot to be desired!  However, I shall persevere and try and find a gluten free recipe that both looks and tastes good.

One meal that I have repeated a couple of times over the last couple of weeks has been stuffed chicken breast wrapped in streaky bacon.  The joy with this recipe is that you can prepare it the day before if you think you are going to be short of time and then simply throw it in the oven and cook it as soon as you get home and 40 minutes later you have a delicious meal on the table.  The chicken is stuffed with Boursin Cheese which along with wrapping the chicken in streaky bacon keeps the chicken breast beautifully moist.  The only fiddly bit in making this meal is wrapping the chicken breast in the streaky bacon, but once you’ve found the technique it couldn’t be easier!  This is definitely a recipe worth trying!

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Stuffed chicken breast wrapped in streaky bacon

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 12-16 slices of streaky bacon (smoked)
  • 1 Boursin cheese
  • olive oil
  • seasoning

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan.
  2. Remove any sinew from the chicken breasts then, using a sharp knife create a ‘pocket’ in the chicken breast that you are going to stuff the cheese. (I find the easiest way to do this is to work from the ‘fattest’ side of the chicken breast and work carefully inwards, making sure that the cut runs almost the full length of the chicken breast so that you can pack in as much cheese as possible).
  3. Once you have made the ‘pocket cuts’ in the chicken breast, taking a good wedge of the Boursin cheese stuff  the breasts, packing it in firmly, make sure that you press down on the breast to close the ‘pocket’.
  4. Next lay 3-4 slices of the streaky bacon out on top of a chopping board so that they create a rectangle for the chicken breast to be wrapped in.  Place the chicken breast towards one side of the rectangle and then roll up in the bacon, wrapping it as tightly as possible.
  5. Place the chicken breasts on a baking tray, season with black pepper, drizzle over a little olive oil.
  6. Place in the oven and cook for 35-40 minutes.  Serve on a bed of sweet potato mash or couscous with the vegetables of your choice.  Enjoy!

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Toad in the hole (de-constructed)

DSC_0568 (4)I have just returned from Yorkshire, where I spent the weekend with friends and family.  I think that you will be unsurprised to hear that the weekend entailed a lot of cooking and eating…   However, in between meals (which included an outstanding roast that my brothers cooked yesterday evening) we did manage to pack in a couple of good walks in the Dales and by the coast.  Yesterday’s walk down in Robin Hood’s Bay was spectacular.  The scenery was beautiful and to top it off we came across a number of seals sheltering in the rocks that we were walking over. 

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On Saturday evening after a fairly relaxed day I made toad in the hole for everyone.  As we didn’t have a big enough tray to cook the toad in the hole in I decided to “ de-construct” the dish, to put it simply I cooked the Yorkshire puddings and sausages separately and then combined everything once it had all been cooked…  By cooking everything separately made the whole process far easier – the sausages were nicely cooked and the Yorkshire puddings rose beautifully and had a lovely light texture.   I served the toad in the hole with red onion gravy which added a slightly sweet flavour to the dish which worked really well.  I have to say I think this meal is another one of those great comfort foods that are ideal for a cold day, enjoy!

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Toad in the hole (De-constructed)

Ingredients: (serves 6)

  • 18-24 good quality sausages
  • 5oz plain flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 egg
  • 225ml milk
  • Vegetable oil (for cooking with)

Steps:

1.  Preheat oven to 190C Fan.

2.  Place the sausages in a roasting tray and cook for 30-35 minutes

3.  Whilst the sausages are cooking put the flour and salt in a bowl, using a whisk beat the egg into the dry mix.

4.  Slowly add the milk whisking all the time so stop any lumps forming then, decant the batter into a measuring jug.

5.  Take a non-stick muffin tray (with 12 moulds) and pour a little oil roughly ½tsp – 1tsp into the base of each mould.   After the sausages have been cooking for around 20 minutes place the muffin tray in the oven for 3-5 minutes so that the oil is hot then, remove from the oven and pour the batter evenly between each of the pre-oiled moulds and bake for 15-18 minutes.

6.  Once the sausages and the Yorkshire puddings are cooked, remove from the oven and serve, with celeriac and potato mash, veg and red onion gravy (see recipe below).

Red Onion Gravy

Ingredients:

  • 2 red onions (finely sliced)
  • 1tsp sugar
  • 2-3tbsp olive oil
  • 1 heaped tbsp plain flour
  • 1 glass red wine
  • 1 heaped tsp honey (optional)
  • 150-250ml beef stock
  • Seasoning

Steps:

1.  Place the oil, onions and sugar in a saucepan cover with a lid and cook very slowly until the onions are soft (this can up to half an hour).

2.  Once the onions are soft, add the flour and stir well.

3.  Turn up the heat and then slowly add the wine, stirring all the time.  Once all the wine has been added, slowly add the beef stock until you have the consistency you are looking for.

4.  Taste and add the honey and season as required.

Warm salad with pear and parma ham

After all the rich food that I have been ‘blogging’ about lately I felt it was about time to do something a little healthier…  This recipe is a great starter that looks good and takes about 5-10 minutes to prepare.  The chicory/endive gives the salad slightly sharp taste and a nice crunchy texture, whilst the warmed and slightly caramelised pear counters that sharpness adding sweet undertones.  There is not much else that can be said about this dish other than give it a go…

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Warm Salad with Pear and Parma Ham (Serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 2 pears (sliced lengthways roughly 3mm in thickness)DSC_0274 (3)
  • 8 slices of Parma ham
  • 3 spears of chicory/endive (finely sliced)
  • knob of butter
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2-3 tsp brown sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • pepper (to season)

Steps:

1.  Place the butter and oil in a frying pan and heat.

2.  Once the butter has melted add sugar and stir until it dissolves.

3.  Add the pears to the frying pan and cook for 2-3 minutes, turning them over after about a minute.

4.  Add the balsamic vinegar and cook for a further minute stirring gently being careful not to break up the pears.

5.  Then plate up – place chicory at bottom of each plate, add the pears, drape over two slices of Parma ham and drizzle over the juices from the pan.

6. Finally season with a little pepper and serve.

Making biscuits

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Sometimes you can’t beat a good biscuit, particularly a biscuit that can withstand being ‘dunked’ in a cup of tea.  I don’t often make biscuits, however this week I have made two batches.  Firstly a slightly more ‘grown up’ biscuit involving ground almonds that are great if you are having a coffee morning.  The second batch was my take on a childhood favourite, the bourbon.

Both of the biscuits are very straightforward to make.   It is a bit faster and less messy if you can use a food processor to mix the ingredients due to the golden syrup in the recipes.  However, if you are prepared to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in then it is just as easy to make the biscuits by hand.  For me the test of a good biscuit is if it stays crunchy on the second day, this largely depends on how long you leave them cooking in the oven.  This can be a little tricky as the golden syrup means that the biscuits can catch and burn quite easily due to the high sugar content.  My advice to prevent this is – watch your biscuits like a hawk whilst they are in the oven and turn the oven down if you think they are cooking too quickly.  When the biscuits come out of the oven they will feel a little soft, but they should harden up nicely if they are left to cool completely on a cooling rack before eating.


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Almond Biscuits

Ingredients:

  • 6oz plain flour
  • 4oz butter
  • 1oz sugar
  • 1oz golden syrup (roughly 2 heaped tsp)
  • 1oz ground almonds
  • a pinch of salt

Steps:

1.  Preheat oven to 190C fan.

2.  Place all of the ingredients in a bowl and crumb together using your fingers, after a few minutes the ingredients should come together.  Alternatively, place the ingredients in a food processor and blitz for a minute, tip crumbs onto the surface and shape into a ball.

3.  Dust a piece of baking paper with sugar and roll out the dough till it is about 2-3mm thick.  Then cut out the biscuits using a cutter or a glass.

4. Continue to roll out scraps of dough until you have used it all.

5.  Place the biscuits on baking trays that have been lined with baking paper.

6.  Bake for 7-10 minutes, make you keep an eye on them as they can burn easily if necessary turn your oven down slightly.

9.  Once cooked, remove from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool completely.  Serve with a cup of tea/coffee.

 

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My Chocolate Bourbons

Ingredients:

For the biscuits:

  • 6oz plain flour
  • 4oz butter
  • 1oz sugar
  • 1oz golden syrup (roughly 2 heaped tsp)
  • 1oz cocoa powder

For the buttercream:

  • 2oz butter (at room temperature)
  • 1oz cocoa powder
  • 4-6oz icing sugar
  • 1tbsp milk

Steps:

1.  Preheat oven to 190C fan.

2.  Place all of the ingredients in a bowl and crumb together using your fingers, after a few minutes the ingredients should come together.  Alternatively, place the ingredients in a food processor and blitz for a minute, tip crumbs onto the surface and shape into a ball.

3.  Dust a piece of baking paper with cocoa powder and roll out the dough till it is about 2-3mm thick.  Then cut out the biscuits using a cutter or a glass.

4. Continue to roll out scraps of dough until you have used it all.

5.  Place the biscuits on baking trays that have been lined with baking paper.

6.  Bake for 7-10 minutes, make you keep an eye on them as they can burn easily if necessary turn your oven down slightly.

9.  Once cooked, remove from oven and place on a cooling rack, whilst you prepare the buttercream.

10.  To make the buttercream, beat the butter until soft, then gradually add the cocoa powder and icing sugar until you have a smooth consistency adding the milk if needed to loosen the mix slightly.

11.  Spoon a little of the buttercream onto half of the biscuits and then sandwich them together by placing a biscuit on top of each of them.  Enjoy!