Category Archives: Children

Spelt, nut butter, chocolate chip cookies (aka mummy’s lockdown cookies)

I was craving a very particular kind of cookie when I made these: I wanted peanut butter, I wanted spelt or rye flour rather than white flour, and I wanted oats. Basically something a bit wholegrain, not madly high in sugar but definitely still feeling treaty. Because otherwise, just eat something else no?

This is a mishmash of a few recipes I had and really  tasty with, dare I say it, quite a lot of depth to them (dare I say it because: wanker alert). I’m not usually one to ‘make up’ a recipe (and I don’t feel this is really made up in that way but you know…as close as I’ll get). The chocolate chips still make these feel norty, but the other ingredients lessen the sweet-treat hit that makes you want to eat more and more. So in other words, a good, tasty cookie that isn’t just empty calories.

I used some hazelnut paste in the cupboard that I wanted to use up, but if you don’t have it then any nut butter will do. You absolutely do NOT need it for these and I wouldn’t buy it especially, it’s insanely expensive and rather a waste here but like I said, it was in the cupboard and needed using up so…

You need:

100g soft unsalted butter (or you can use salted and don’t add the salt later)

120g nut butter of your choice (so, I used half hazelnut paste, half peanut butter, crunchy)

150g sugar – I used caster and light brown

Two eggs

90g spelt flour (you can also use wholemeal plain, white plain if you must, or rye)

100g oats, any size or if you want to you can blend them so they are fine. I used large oat flakes which makes them a bit chewy

half a teaspoon of baking powder

a good pinch of salt (unless you are using salted butter in which case you don’t need any)

150g chocolate chips/pieces of your choice. I like to use a mix of small pieces and quite large bits and I use milk and dark because I’m all over the place with what I like

Method:

These make about 24. Oven to 190C you’ll also need a baking parchment lined tray.

Mix together the butter, nut butters and sugar until one big, buttery, sugary whole.

Add the eggs one at a time, until all blended, then add the flour, oats and baking powder with the salt if using. You can do this all by hand, it doesn’t need a lot of mixing.

Finally mix in the chocolate chips gently. You can dollop these onto the tray straight away – use a tablespoon or an ice cream scoop. They don’t spread out madly but give them a little space to do their thing.

You can also chill the mixture in the fridge for a few days. I bake some from fresh, chill the rest and I’ve also chilled then rolled into cling film and stored some in the freezer.

I’ll report back on how they fare.

Mine were done in 9/10 minutes. You want to take them out when they are fairly ‘dry’ looking, it’s okay if they look a bit ‘wet’ just in the middle. I like to flatten them gently with a fork the moment they are out. Leave on the baking tray for a few moments before sliding the parchment straight onto a cooling rack. I really like these still a bit warm so the chocolate is still melting and liable to make a mess so you have to sit still for a moment whilst you eat them.

 

Super fluffy pancakes with cherry berry compote

There are a few reasons this blog exists. Doing the day job I do, it’s nice to have somewhere to write fluffier (all puns intended) pieces. It’s a nice repository for recipes I’ve tried and liked (hence all the notes to myself, at times) and it’s also somewhere for my children to look up family recipes.

I didn’t have that. All the things my grandmothers (nonne) or zie (aunts) made have gone with them. My mum is still alive, thank goodness, but she now doesn’t really remember what she put in what. None of my female relatives ever wrote anything down. (The men in my family didn’t tend to cook. Although my dad made the best fried eggs and he did show me his tricks!) Perhaps they didn’t have time, perhaps they wore the whole “I don’t follow a recipe” thing as a badge of pride. Perhaps it helped them regain control in a world where they they had little control, with no economic independence (not talking about my mum here but those before her) and having to push out baby after baby all in the name of religion. Perhaps having ‘no recipe’ to follow meant that, were they mightily pissed off, as they must have been at times, meant they could at times sabotage things. Adding more or less of an ingredient that someone did/didn’t like.

You take it where you can.

But I am lucky. Thanks to my feminist mum I am financially independent but I do need to follow a recipe and as my eldest starts to grow up, and thoughts of her leaving home settle on the horizon, it’s nice to think that she can, should she so wish, look up recipes for things she enjoyed at home.

These super floofy pancakes as we call them are beloved of my youngest who isn’t a fan of super thin crepes or my oatmeal pancakes so occasionally I make these just for her and every time I have to hunt the recipe (originally from BBC Good Food) down.

Ingredients (This recipe makes enough for about ten regular sized pancakes, enough for three of us, if you want an abundance or there are more of you, then make double. The mixture keeps happily in the fridge for a day or two).

for the pancakes

175g white self raising flour, don’t even think about adding wholemeal here

1 teaspoon of baking powder

A sprinkle of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of caster sugar

1 large egg

75g of buttermilk or yoghurt

165ml of milk

for the compote if you wish

A tin of 150g cherries and berries in natural/light/syrup – don’t sweat it you can work with any of it. You can of course also use fresh or frozen berries if you have them, just cook the latter for longer. If using fresh add a tablespoon of water into the pan.

Method

the compote

Empty the tin of cherries and berries into a saucepan and warm through until gently bubbling. Depending on the juice the berries came in you may need to put half a teaspoon of cornflower to thicken it up. What you want to ideally end up with is a thickish syrup. Tinned fruit takes the least amount of time, fresh a bit longer, frozen the longest. None of it should take too long though, you want the fruit to still have shape but be soft and the syrup to be thickish.  Set aside to eat in a moment. I make the pancakes whilst this is bubbling in the background.

for the pancakes

You literally just tip all the ingredients into a bowl one by one as they are listed and give it a good whisk until there are no lumps or bumps.

Heat up a skillet or frying pan, I dribble a tiny bit of oil on and then brush the pan with my silicon pastry brush. Note a natural pastry brush will melt so don’t do that. You can just try to get the oil to cover the pan. You really don’t need much oil at all. Perhaps on a non stick pan you need none at all, but I don’t use non stick pans.

When the pan is hot, you dollop about two tablespoons (I have a small ladle from Muji which is perfect for this) onto the frying pan, on mine I can do three pancakes at a time. They don’t need much time at all to cook, maybe two mins per side. I like how the second side tends to puff up as you turn onto it.

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I have mine with Greek yoghurt and the compote, my daughter has it with chocolate hazelnut spread, my husband has his with compote, banana and chopped nuts. My eldest doesn’t like them.

 

 

 

Chocolate rye cookies

The desire for these was fuelled after visiting the excellent Wooster’s Bakery in Bury St Edmunds. There is, to my mind, only one bakery which tops Wooster’s for excellence and that’s Pump Street Bakery in Orford (there used to also be an outpost at Snape Maltings which has gone much to my chagrin). If you ever go to Wooster’s be sure to buy the morning buns. If you ever go to Pump Street the gibassiers are what I aim for.

We went to Wooster’s the other day and I saw giant chocolate rye cookies. But as I was busy ordering a morning bun I didn’t feel I could also have a giant chocolate rye cookie.

But I thought of the rye cookies all week and finally gave in and made my own after looking up a ton of recipes on line. It also helped use some some of the staggering amount of chocolate I’d accumulated in the house.

This is an alteration to a Donna Hay recipe, I adapted it have it contain rye flour: you can up the quantities of rye to normal flour if you want to but I do half and half. Try not to look at the terrifying amount of chocolate there-in and the butter. When I melted the chocolate and butter together one of my daughters said: “there’s a heart attack in a bowl”…this made about twenty cookies. I like to think it spreads the risk. You can of course make them even smaller. I’m afraid I ate nearly three on the day I made them for testing purposes. This I don’t recommend.

I also used a mish-mash of chocolate I had in the house, even including some with pretzel pieces in it. I think as long as you don’t veer too far from half of the chocolate being around the 70% mark you can’t go too wrong. You could also bung in some nuts if you wanted to. (I think macadamias would work really well or pecans or…) But these are perfect, and very popular, just as they are. Don’t be temped to overcook them. They come out of the oven looking very soft in the middle but they harden up.

250g unsalted butter cut into a few pieces

400g of chocolate varying from 40-70% (but you know, if you have a bit of 30% don’t sweat it but you don’t want to go too milky for too much of it). Don’t go too high either and definitely no 100%, this isn’t a masochistic biscuit.

4 eggs

220g granulated (note granulated) sugar

175g soft brown sugar

(this is a lot of sugar, I know. In time I may experiment with lowering it slightly but these are biscuits and if you muck about with the sugar quota too much the biscuits won’t have the proper structure)

Two teaspoons of vanilla extract

150g of plain flour (you could also put a bit of wholemeal in there if you fancy a ‘meatier’ biscuit)

150g dark rye flour

sea salt

Oven to 180C – I used fan so I could bake two trays at once.

Melt the butter and all the chocolate in a large bowl in a bain marie or in a bowl atop a saucepan of simmering water.  Take off when nearly all melted and continue to stir until smooth.

Whisk together the eggs, all of them, the sugars, both of them, and the vanilla. I confess I did this in a freestanding mixer whilst the chocolate was melting because I’m lazy and like leaving a trail of melted chocolate everywhere. I whisked it for quite a long time, very absent mindedly, on low. When the chocolate has melted set aside for five minutes whilst you get the flours together.

Then, add the chocolate to the eggs/sugar mixture – mixing all the while, gently. Now add the flours a tablespoon at a time.

Now put this in the fridge for ten minutes and line your baking sheets with parchment and find an ice cream scoop or a two -ablespoon-measure or similar.

After ten minutes in the fridge, take out the mixture and, using your scoop or spoon, dollop your cookies one at a time on the baking tray which has been lined with parchment. I did six on one tray, five on another. Don’t over cram them. Sprinkle with sea salt before they go into the oven, don’t panic if you forget – you can do it when they are just out or omit it all together.

Put the mixture back in the fridge whilst you bake the cookies for 8-9 minutes (know your oven but do not overbake). They come out and seem quite molten in the middle. Don’t panic.

I use reusable baking liners so I need them asap after the first batched has baked so I very, very carefully fish-sliced the biscuits off the tray onto the cooling rack, placed the baking liner back on the tray and loaded up again from the cookie mixture just out of the fridge. If you are not so confident, then either give the cookies ten minutes on the tray to firm up before transferring to a cooling rack. Or if you are using re-usable baking parchment slide the whole thing onto a cooling rack with great adeptness, tear off some more parchment and start loading on more cookies to bake.

My eldest, who accompanied me to Amsterdam last year, said these were on a parr with the Van Stepele cookies.

Don’t have a heart attack.

 

Nigella’s rather good banana and chocolate bread (which can be gluten free).

I always associate banana bread with Nigella. I think it’s because, it was in one of the first recipes of hers that I read, I’m sure, that she said baking a banana bread filled the house with a fug of domesticity.

Or some such. Since then I’ve made dozens of banana breads and it usually
disappoints, probably because I keep changing recipes. Faced, however, with a huge batch of frozen, overripe bananas in the freezer (I always freeze overripe bananas) and more chocolate than any sane person needs (this is what happens when you get made Chocolate Correspondent of a national newspaper) I decided to have another go at making banana bread.

Also, for complicated reasons that I don’t fully understand myself, I hadn’t cooked or baked anything in weeks when I first made this last year. Which is really not like me, but this glorious little cake gave me my baking mojo back.

For a writer, I am remarkably picture led where recipes are concerned and thus it was that I found this recipe for Nigella’s Gluten-Free Banana Bread and it was, I confess the picture of the large slabs of chocolate which lured me in.  I planned to make it gluten free (why not) but in the end found no rice flour in my flour cupboard so made it with normal plain flour. I also lowered the sugar and used pecans instead. I think this would also be great made in muffin size. I’ve put the recipe below as I made it – do refer to the original if you wish and if you want to make it gluten-free which this ain’t.

 

175g plain flour

100g ground almonds

two teaspoons of baking power

half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

a quarter teaspoon of sea salt

500g of very ripe bananas (weighed with skin on)

two teaspoons of vanilla extract

100g Greek yoghurt – full fat

Two eggs

125g light olive oil

100g light brown sugar

100g roughly chopped pecans (or any other nut you like)

150g chopped chocolate – I used a mixture of milk and plain in chocolate chip size and quite large chunks

 

You need a 2lb loaf tin for this (Nigella gives the sizes as 24cm x 12cm and mine was roughly that, why don’t cake tin manufacturers put the volume/measurements on the bottom of their tins?). Line this tin. Preheat the oven to 170C.

Mix together the dry ingredients, thus the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.

In a larger bowl (for this will be the one everything else ends up in) place the bananas and mash them up, then mix in the vanilla extract, Greek yoghurt and the eggs one at a time. Then the oil and sugar. When all is better unified than a post-Brexit UK, add the dry ingredients bit by bit until combined. Then finally gently fold in the nuts and chocolate.

Dollop all this in the cake tin and bake for about forty minutes. Nigella says 45-55, my oven seems quite fierce so I started checking it after 35 mins. Also it does depend on how much moisture your bananas hold.

You know it’s done when the top is dry, it springs back, it’s shrunk away a little from the sides and a skewer comes out relatively clean (obviously not if you hit a shard of chocolate).

This is a beautiful cake. Unfortunately I can’t find a picture I took of it so this post will be picture-less until I make it again.

 

Bad mood pasta

This is actually a John Whaite recipe that was published in BBC Good Food October and we adapted it for the four of us (and also changed some of the ingredients and cooking times). It’s from Whaite’s new book A Flash in the Pan.

It’s proper title – its kennel name – is walnut, feta and mint pesto with sweet potato and wholemeal pasta. But I was in the worse mood (for no discernible reason) when I selected this for dinner and in the end was in too much of a funk to make it, so my partner very kindly stepped in.

I had reservations…because…potato and pasta is not a combo I’d usually go for. And the calories per serving, which I’m not a slave to but do glance at, look like a typo (I dare not repeat them here but it’s a hefty amount). But what can I tell you. This dish has instantly gone into my top ten pasta dishes and that’s not easy to do.

Don’t be scared by the wholemeal pasta. I used Rummo Organic Wholemeal Fusilli which I get from the excellent Sous Chef and it was delicious and just added something to it without it being obvious. I think the use of wholemeal pasta elevates this dish to something else.

Anyway, here is the recipe for four:

For the pasta:

400g dried fusilli

Two sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into little dice

For the pesto

120g walnuts

Two handfuls of mint leaves

100g feta, plus a bit extra if you want to crumble on top

200-300ml of extra virgin olive oil

First make the pesto, heat a heavy frying pan and when hot add the walnuts and stir around for about 3-5 minutes. Don’t burn them.

Fill a pan with boiling water (or boil in the pan..), and then when boiling drop in the sweet potato and cook until tender (8-10 mins), fish out and reserve, covered, to keep them warm.

Then add the pasta (in the same water if possible, add more water if you need to but make sure it’s on a rolling boil before you add the pasta), bit of salt and cook for the time on the packet (which always lies but it’s a good starting point). Ours was eight and a half minutes.

Meanwhile put the toasted walnuts, the mint, the feta and the oil in a food processor and some black pepper (Whaite says to add salt here – a teaspoon for the recipe above – but personally we found that too salty so would leave it out). Pulse until coarse.

When pasta is cooked, drain but reserve the cooking water – about a cup full, add that slowly to the pesto until you have a looser mixture – you may need less. Reintroduce the pasta to the pan (off the heat), stir through the pesto, scatter atop the sweet potato and serve in a big dish with scattered, crumbled, feta.

Sit in front of the TV or the fire, kick your shoes off and try not to eat five portions all to yourself.

 

Little sous vide cheesecakes

I am no stranger to gadgets. My dad used to say “un’altro gadget” (another gadget) but, although I made mistakes early on, everything I buy I pretty much use and enjoy: it earns its place and keep in our kitchen.

For instance, some years ago, I looked at sous vide cooking but, back then, the domestic sous vide machines were pretty big and I just knew that the space they took up, I’d rather  put an ice cream maker in, given my heritage.

But a few weeks ago, we had friends Natalie and Micah round for lunch and Micah mentioned they had a sous vide and how things had changed; that they were now little bigger than stick blenders and you stuck them in a pan that you already had. And how they cooked the most amazing meat [and fish and other things].

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The Joule sous vide, with plug for size comparison

So I looked and I bought.

Although the Anova is pretty popular (Martha Stewart’s chef uses one), it didn’t work that well for me – I couldn’t get it to work with the app and I am such a technophile that this mattered to me. (It doesn’t have to work with an app, you can just use the machine.) So I returned it bought a Joule instead which ONLY works via an app, which may annoy you but I love it. The app has all sorts of pre-set timings and temperatures and it’s soo easy. The Joule is also more powerful than the Anova (all but the Anova Pro which is much more expensive).

If you are thinking, WTF is she on about, then you can read  all about sous vide here. But it is, essentially, cooking food at a very precise temperature in a water bath.

I cooked a chicken breast in it and it was amazing, so moist and let’s not even get started on the steaks it cooks. It doesn’t brown but you can finish meat off in a frying pan for a final sear. The beauty of sous vide, other than it cooks to perfection, is that you can prep food and leave it, which really suits the way I cook.

But, cheesecakes.

You can also use sous vide to cook little cheese cakes and chocolate puddings. You can adapt this one below by adding fruit compote at the end or a biscuit base. We made them with Oreo cookies (use the double filled ones, one per portion – so if using the recipe below you would use six – blitzed in a blender and distributed amongst the jars and pressed down, then you put the cheesecake batter on top – you can use any extra crumbs to put on top of the cheesecakes just before you eat them) but you could use digestive biscuits with a bit of melted butter to bring them all together if you fancy a more traditional cheesecake base.

You need six 135ml mason-style jars. I use these ones.  They are perfect for these mini desserts and many others you can make sous vide. You can also use Weck jars (use the seal and the clips and I guess, regular jam jars but I haven’t yet.

Sorry about the Amazon link for the jars but Lakeland will start selling them come the autumn.

Ingredients for six people

(Six double fill Oreos if using)

225g cream cheese

110g of caster sugar

110g creme fraiche

Three eggs

Grated zest of a lemon (I always use organic when I use the zest of citrus fruits)

Method

You can do this in a food processor but it’s not difficult to mix it up by hand. Mix together the cream cheese and the caster sugar, then add the creme fraiche, the lemon zest and the three eggs one at a time. Make sure everything is really well combined.

If you are using a biscuit base you will already have pressed it in the jars.

Distribute evenly amongst the six jars up to the ‘thread’, seal until they are finger tip tight (ie you can unscrew using just your finger tips), set your sous vide to 80C and 90 mins, and when up to temperature, submerge the jars (I use a jar tong, be careful of your fingers).

When done take out, cool then refrigerate for a couple of hours.

I know this recipe isn’t relevant to those of you without a sous vide but you know…if you like kit I’ve given you lots of reasons to buy some.

Olive oil flatbreads

These are so useful to make in a batch and then freeze. To defrost simply leave at room temperature for a bit or microwave for 10 seconds and eat immediately.

I love the meditative nature of making these. I make them on a large, flat skillet pan, prepping the ones still to cook by first rolling them into balls, then squashing into discs and finally rolling them out. I do this in stages – a mini production line – so the gluten has time to relax in between. I can’t get these super thin, but then I don’t really want to. They are really soft and tasty.

I keep them warm in my warming drawer whilst making the whole batch, but a very low oven serves exactly the same purpose.

I make eight out of this recipe, you could make more if you made them smaller as individual (as opposed to ‘tearing’) dipping breads.

 

7g of dried (fast action) yeast

600g strong white bread flour

100ml of extra virgin olive oil (doesn’t have to be super expensive)

350ml of water

half a teaspoon to half a tablespoon of sea salt

(depending on taste. If you’re going to serve these with super-salted food then you don’t have to put too much salt in. The first time make them with the lower amount and see how you go.)

These couldn’t be easier. You mix the 7g of yeast with the 600g strong white bread flour, and mix in the 100ml of olive oil and 350ml of water and, finally, the salt.  Mix to a rough dough just using a fork, and then rest in the bowl for ten minutes whilst you wash your hands and put everything away.

When the ten minutes is up, turn the dough out onto an oiled surface and give it gentle knead for ten seconds, then cover it with a bowl and rest again for ten minutes. Repeat twice more. By this stage you should have a smooth dough, with no bits.

If you plan to make these the same day, oil a bowl, place the dough in it, cover and leave until doubled in size. How long this will take depends on your kitchen. I tend to use a bowl that the original, unproved, dough comes up half way on, that way, I know that when it’s at the surface it’s doubled in size. If you plan to make these later put in a cold place in the fridge (by that I mean, as close to the bottom as possible) for the final prove, you could leave it overnight but I wouldn’t leave it for more than about 12 hours.

When ready to go, take the dough out, lightly knead and divide into eight/how ever many pieces you want to make. Roll into a ball by placing the dough on the flat palm of one hand and cupping the other hand over the top and making circular movements, or whatever works for you.

Then flatten each ball into a disc. Put a dry, large frying pan on a high heat and when you are ready to go roll out as best you can to about 18-20cm – if you’ve divided the dough into eight, obviously smaller if you’re making more than that.

As I said in the intro, you can get into a production line with them, prepping each before it goes on. I get it so that as I put one on to cook, I roll the other one out in preparation so it has time to relax a bit. If you can get them perfectly circular great – I never can.

When ready to cook you slap them into the pan and cook for about 5 mins – if you’re like me you’ll turn them often as I’m a bit of a flipper. You can see they’re done as they brown and go ‘dry’ – no more moist bits. If you need to turn the heat down for the second side do so, but turn up again for the new flat bread going on as it’s the dough hitting the hot skillet heat which causes the bubbles to form, which then blister and blacken.