Category Archives: Parties

Prune and dark chocolate brownies

I saw this recipe in my Donna Hay Fresh and Light magazine, which costs me a staggering £9.50 from Selfridges but is, to my mind, worth every penny as each edition yields more recipes than many recipe books which cost double that.

But I saw it and shunned it as I’m not overly a fan of brownies – too sweet for me usually. But due to a rather terrifying health scare a few weeks ago (I had tests and everything is not only fine but I am actually in really good health yay!) I’ve overhauled the way I eat which was long overdue because although I have always eaten with health in mind, I’ve I’m also greedy and at times lazy. So I’ve gone back to planning what I eat (this has always worked really well for me) and maximise nutrients. And it not only shows in the way I feel, but I’ve lost weight and body fat, whilst augmenting my muscle mass (I do big weights twice a week).

Anyway I shunned them but then was fancying a weekend chocolatey treat and decided to try them and I was not disappointed. Now I know that this isn’t a recipe which magically transforms broccoli into brownies, and I know that prunes are very high in sugar. I know all this but prunes have more nutrients than mere sugar and here’s the thing. These are delicious in their own right. My eldest doesn’t like them but my youngest adores them and my partner – who hates brownies – had one and declared it “the best chocolate thing I’ve tasted in a long time”.

So these are still an occasional treat (I only eat stuff like this at the weekend now) but they’re delicious and gluten free.

The brownies

255g prunes, take the stones out

50g of dark chocolate, melted (Hay asks for 70% but I use these chocolate chips for nearly all my cooking now and they are delicious)

60 ml of light olive oil

80ml maple syrup

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

80g ground almonds

25g cocoa powder (I use raw organic, no idea if it’s better but it makes me feel better looking at the packet)

2 eggs

The chocolate ganache

80g dark chocolate

60ml of cream (Hay says to use coconut milk but I used cream as that’s what I had, you could use milk)

 

Pre heat the oven to 180C. You need a 20cm square baking tin, preferably with a removal bottom, if not make sure the baking paper you line it with comes up the sides so you can carefully lift it out later. If you scrunch up the baking paper first it sits in the tin more easily.

Take 170g of the prunes and put them in a jug, cover with boiling water for about ten minutes. I scissor cut the remaining prunes into small pieces and put in a small bowl for later (don’t forget them!) or you could of course chop them with a knife on a board.

Drain the prunes (discard the water) and place in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients for the brownies and whizz up with a hand held blender (or you could put in a food processor, I did as I was told). When done, scatter in and mix in the prune pieces. Put the mixture in the tin and cook for 25-30 minutes. The middle should be firm when pressed but you do want them a bit squidgy.

They will be very soft, so keep in the tin and when cold gently take out. Make the ganache by very gently heating the chocolate and cream in a small pan (I would never usually melt chocolate like this, I’d use a bain marie set up, but I was hungry and it was fine). Spread over the top. If you can, wait a while before slicing up and eating. Store in the fridge where they do harden up.

IMG_7999

I have no idea how long these last as they were practically all gone in 24 hours.

Note: the main image is the brownies a day later, after being taken out of the fridge, the image in the text is of them first iced and sliced – with some missing for, ahem, testing purposes.

 

 

 

Strawberry cheesecake ice cream (no ice cream machine necessary)

I do love a cheesecake and, in these days of heat and dust, am preferring to take my food in liquid, or frozen form. This recipe then, was timely. It’s originally from Waitrose magazine but I’ve adapted it slightly.

If you don’t like cheesecake you won’t like this but if you do, prepare thyself for a treat. This is exquisite just a few hours after freezing, when it’s still soft but starting to hold its form. But it keeps for a good few weeks in the freezer, just let it warm a little before scooping.

You’ll need

200g strawberries

1 tablespoon of icing sugar

A good squeeze of lemon juice – approx 1 tablespoon

250g cream cheese

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

397g can condensed milk (note: it’s possible to buy own brand, Waitrose as one example does it, do try to avoid Nestle products)

450ml whipping cream

100g Lotus Biscoff biscuits, roughly crushed (other types will also do)

What you do

Whizz up the hulled strawberries with the icing sugar and the lemon juice, and set aside.

Separately whisk (I do it in my food mixer) the cream cheese until soft, then add the vanilla extract and finally the whipping cream. Whisk for a few minutes until soft peaks form and hold.

Get a suitable container which can go in the freezer (this makes about 2L I think), pour in half the ‘creamy’ mixture, then add half the strawberry mixture and mix around. You don’t want to mix it so much that it starts to resemble strawberry ice cream – you want a ripple. But avoid having great rivers of ripple. I did this the first time; you can see it in the picture, just a bit too much ripple, I mixed it a tad more second time round and it was better. It’s not wrong to have thick ripple, but the ripple part has a higher water content so is more icy in the mixture, which is more noticeable when the cream cheese/cream part is so utterly pillowy. Scatter over half the biscuits. Repeat for the next layer.

Freeze. Eat.

Gingernuts

Gingernuts are not anything I’d really buy in the supermarket but, home made, they are not only delicious, but also super-easy.

This year I decided that, each and every month I would make a positive, healthy change.

This is because I have slid into rather bad habits since late 2016, which was a traumatic year for me. So January was all about giving up NOTHING but instilling an exercise routine – which I have done. And February we are giving up all shop bought cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolate etc. (aside from high days and holidays, because my children adore the loathsome Fox’s Party Rings for a birthday..).

But home made we can still have. I’m not ready for any sort of deprivation just yet.

I made these a few weeks ago, for a friend who loves ginger. The original recipe is Delia and I’ve adapted it slightly.  The original is from Delia’s Complete Cookery Course which is from 40 years ago and the original recipe calls for margarine. Delia’s more recent incarnations changed it to butter.

You need

110g self raising flour

Two level teaspoons of ground ginger

1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

40g granulated sugar

50g butter, from the fridge, sliced into little pieces

50g golden syrup

1 piece of stem ginger in syrup, drained and chopped (you could also use the syrup in part exchange for the golden syrup)

This is what you do

Heat the oven to 190C.

Put the flour, ginger, bicarb and sugar into a bowl and mix around. Add the butter and rub between fingers to make like fine breadcrumbs. Now add the chopped stem ginger and the golden syrup. Mix together lightly to form a dough.

Break off little pieces (my mixture made about 12), roll gently between your palms, put on a baking parchment lined tray, flatten with a fork or your hand.

Bake for a scant seven minutes. Delia says 10-15 mins and I’m not sure what would have been going on in her oven back in the day, mine are over cooked at eight minutes so watch them carefully. In 15 minutes these would be incinerated.

Take out, cool, eat, yum.

Milk shake mix-ins

This is a great way to use up scrappy bits of ice cream ‘n’ bits you may have, or just to amuse yourself for five minutes in the kitchen – it’s permissible to buy ice cream just to make these, too.

I got the idea from an ice cream shop in Aldeburgh called The IceCreamery – which is well worth a visit if you are in the area. Here you select your ice cream ‘base’ – vanilla, chocolate, strawberry etc., then add a ‘mix in’. And here’s where it gets fun, and slightly diabetic-inducingly crazy.

The mix-ins can be M&Ms, Jaffa Cakes, Oreos and a million other alternatives, and these get added/crushed into your ice cream to give you a custom-made ice cream.

Or you can have it made into a milk shake.

My eldest chose vanilla and Oreos and my youngest chose chocolate and M&Ms. I watched, in awe/horror as about four scoops of ice cream were put into a mixer and then – in the case of the M&Ms – a WHOLE PACKET of M&Ms were put in. I would never, in a million years, let my youngest (who is tiny) eat a whole packet of M&Ms in one go, let alone with four scoops of ice cream.

But I had to metaphorically shut my eyes and switch off my inner mummy-OMG-ness and just go with it.

The milk shake was amazing, I hesitate to say the best ever as of course the best ever milk shakes were those my dad made for me in his cafe, when I was a child. But aside from that:

BEST EVER.

The vanilla and Oreos was particularly memory-hogging.

So when I got home I sought to recreate these but using less ice cream and less mix-ins and the way I make them isn’t more calorie-laden than a regular ice cream in a cone, I put two scant ice cream scoops in my Nutribullet, with some milk and some mix-ins (like one cookie if it’s an Oreo, maybe one and a half) and blend the whole thing together.  So far we’ve done:

Strawberry ice cream with fresh mint

Strawberry ice cream with Milky Way Magic stars

Chocolate and fresh mint

Coffee ice cream with Oreos

Vanilla and Oreos

Vanilla and Milky Way Magic stars

Vanilla and jam ‘doughnut’ sponge crumbs (these were left over from some Nigella jam doughnut muffins which my eldest made which stuck to the tin and I scraped out and froze and I add them straight into the mix and it works beautifully).

Chocolate and peanut butter……you get the idea.

Of course I had to buy the special cups and lids and straws.

26 July 2016 update: I made raspberry cheesecake milkshakes today: vanilla ice cream, frozen jam doughnut sponge crumbs, fresh raspberries, milk and a dollop cream cheese. DELICIOUS. I didn’t have one (just tasted it) otherwise I’d be the size of a house come the weekend with all the milk-shaking we have going on..

 

 

Pomegranate and rose lemonade

I tried making lemonade a few years ago. It was a faff and nobody really liked it. But recently I tried this, from the Waitrose magazine and it was not only really easy, everyone likes it, it’s luridly (but naturally) pink, and you make a basic syrup which you then dilute. So it makes tons. Perfect for a summer party. It’s not overly sweet, either and I’m sure it works out that it has less sugar in than shop-bought. You can also make this with your children. Supervise the sugar boiling bit of course, but that bit only lasts a minute.

Ingredients

150g caster sugar + 100ml of water

200ml pomegranate juice – make sure you by juice and not the drink which will already have sugar in it

The juice of about 5 lemons – you need 200ml of juice

Pared zest of one lemon

1 teaspoon of rose water

Ice cue and sparkling water to serve. You can dilute with still water too, if you like, but sparkling is more fun, if worse for your teeth and bones…

Method

Put the caster sugar with 100ml of cold water into a medium sized saucepan and heat it gently until the sugar has dissolved. You can stir. Once the sugar has dissolved, bring it to the boil for one minute, then turn it off the heat. Do take care around boiling water/sugar as it’s very hot.

Add the lemon and pomegranate juice and pared lemon zest and leave to cool. Once cool add the rose water and then pour into a clean (supposed to be sterilised, but straight out of the dishwasher will do) bottle/container and store in the fridge. You can keep the pared zest in if you like (I do) but bear in mind the longer it stays in, the more lemony/sour it gets.

To serve, pour 60ml of the syrup into a glass, top up with sparkling/still water, ice cubes and drink!

Sonia’s Swiss crescent biscuits

Growing up, my mum made friends with a woman called Sonia, who worked in the dry cleaner’s kinda opposite our flats. The dry cleaning would be wrapped in this lovely navy blue paper, the like of which we seemed to have at home for years afterwards (I guess she gave us some).

We didn’t have a car, growing up, but we used to go out with Sonia and her husband, who drove a red VW Beetle. We would go to the airport and watch the planes take off, in the days when this was still possible. We also went to Windsor castle. I loved our trips out as they were the only car-trips out we had as children. (This isn’t meant to sound sad, we went to Italy a lot and I had a great childhood.)

I have a picture, of us at Windsor castle, me with a right sulk on (I peed on my mum’s lap on the way home, I think I might have done it on purpose, the shame), wearing a very flash red coat and a rabbit fur hat, Sonia and my mum looking really glamorous, but in a totally nonchalant way.

One of the things Sonia used to bring with her were these amazing little hazelnut crescent biscuits. She would have them, layer upon greaseproof-paper layer, in a tin, and as you opened the tin, the smell of them – they were coated with vanilla sugar – would hit you. They were not like any biscuits we could buy, or that my mum made.

Because they were so occasional, they were especially delicious. Sonia also used to bring  a flask of coffee, which I would drink (I was an early caffeine drinker).

When I was seven, my mum and dad opened up a coffee shop on London’s Bayswater Road. I started making cakes and biscuits for my dad’s shop. I started baking. I tried to recreate Sonia’s biscuits but I never could. For some reason I didn’t dare ask her for the recipe, or perhaps I didn’t want to because I didn’t want to make them less special.

Occasionally, these days, I will go to my mum and dad’s house, and Sonia will have been, bringing with her a box of her special biscuits. And just opening the lid of the biscuit tin (she always brings them in a biscuit tin) will transport me back to being a very little girl, sitting in a red VW Beetle, watching planes taking off, treading that fine line between showing my appreciation for her biscuits and eating a fair few, but not toppling over into greed. It’s still a line I struggle with balancing on.

The other day, I saw Sonia and I plucked up the courage to ask her for the recipe. I don’t know why it’s taken me four decades to do so. Amazingly she had it written down (none of that “oh I do it from memory”) and she gave it to me, and, here it is:

250g plain flour

200 butter, unsalted, fridge cold

100g ground hazelnuts (I buy the chopped, toasted version and then grind them, it really makes a difference, but you can use pre-gound hazelnuts or almonds, but it won’t be *quite* as good as if you toast and grind them yourself)

80g icing sugar

5g vanilla sugar (Sonia says you can buy these in little packets but I leave this out and just add a tablespoon of vanilla essence)

Pinch of salt

Caster sugar for after (vanilla sugar if you have it)

In a food processor, pulse the butter and flour until like breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, salt and nuts and then pulse until it comes together in clumps. Don’t over mix. It will work out I promise. Of course you can do this all by hand, but I’m lazy.

If you’ve made it in a processor take it out now and, by hand, bring the mixture together. Chill for 20/30 mins.

Preheat oven to 190C

Take small bits and roll into crescent shapes. I weigh each one to make sure I don’t end up with tiny/huge biscuits, roll into sausage shapes and taper the ends, curve into crescents. If you’re interested, I do them so mine weigh about 21g in raw dough.

Put on a parchment lined trays and cook for 10 mins. Cool and then coat in vanilla caster sugar if you have it, (I put a vanilla pod in a jar of normal caster sugar and just keep it there for, like, ever) normal caster sugar if you don’t.

Then don’t eat four whilst you’re writing a blog post, because that will make you feel really, really sick.

Store in a biscuit tin, each layer interleaved with greaseproof paper.

(Sonia calls these traditional Vienna biscuits but as she’s from Switzerland, I call them Sonia’s Swiss crescent biscuits.)

Tiramisu cheesecake

Tiramisu, for those that don’t yet know, mean’s ‘pull me up’. The English equivalent is ‘pick me up’.

Although I don’t know anyone in Italy who uses tiramisu as anything other than a delicious, indulgent dessert. Zabaglione was used, maybe still is, if you felt a bit under the weather and needed a pick me up. Presumably the warnings about not using raw egg (traditionally an ingredient in zabaglione) hadn’t reached the members of my family who used this as a salve for sick children who were too poorly to go to school.

My dad (from Parma, NE Italy) would sometimes feign illness – something he never does as an adult – as a child in order to stay off school and have zabaglione made for him by his mamma.

Anyway, this is a tiramisu cheesecake. If you don’t like coffee or cheesecake then there is nothing for you in this cheesecake. I think the base is absolutely inspired, but, again, if you don’t like amaretti biscuits (and in truth I don’t, on their own, but somehow they work here) you may not like the slightly bitter hit. But this is a really excellent cheesecake, classy, different, complex. Just don’t be left alone with it. Oh and, once chilled, it’s really the most excellent if you take it out of the fridge for half an hour before eating.

If you plan to make this for an ‘occasion’ – say a special lunch or a dinner – then I really recommend you make it the night before and leave it sitting chilling in the fridge until you serve it. One less job to do, plus with the chilling of the base and the chilling of the cake etc, it does take quite a long time from start to finish. So don’t get caught out.

This was originally from Delicious magazine.

For the base:

275g amaretti biscuits, crushed

75g unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake:

700g mascarpone at room temperature. I use a mixture of 500g mascarpone, cream cheese, ricotta, depending on what I have in the fridge. But I wouldn’t go lower than 500g mascarpone

150g caster sugar

3 large eggs, separated

45ml dark rum

30g plain flour

half a teaspoon of vanilla extract

175g plain chocolate, chopped (of course I didn’t chop mine and just broke up the pieces, because I am lazy like that)

1 tablespoon of finely ground espresso coffee powder – I just use something I have in a dusty jar from the supermarket, even though I have a full on, fuck-off coffee machine which freshly grinds my coffee for me. Next time it will maybe be even more awesome if I used freshly ground espresso powder

3 tablepoons of coffee liqueur. I use Kahlua which is lovely, incidentally, in an after dinner espresso, to make it espresso corretto.

Icing sugar for dusting. I was so greedy and impatient, I forgot this bit

Put the biscuit crumbs in a food processor and pulverise. In a bowl, introduce melted butter to the biscuit crumbs and let them do their thing. Press the crumbs into a 23cm spring form tin (I parchment line the base) and as far up the sides as you can get them (I didn’t do them up the sides and it was fine). Chill for 30 mins or even overnight.

When you are ready to make the cheesecake, preheat the oven to 200C; melt the chocolate in a bowl, atop some simmering water and then leave to cool. Put the mascarpone/cheeses into a bowl and beat until nice and smooth, then beat in the sugar, then the egg yolks.

Now divide this mixture into two bowls.

Into one of these bowls stir in the 30g plain flour, the 45ml of dark rum and the half a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Set aside for a moment.

Remember the melted chocolate? Into it, stir the espresso powder and coffee liqueur. Now stir the chocolatey/coffee/coffee liqueur into the second bowl of cheese mixture.

Put the egg whites into a bowl and whisk until soft peak stage, and now fold half the egg whites into each of the bowls – so half into the flour/rum/vanilla cheesey mix and half into the chocolate/coffee/liqueur mix.

Now dollop alternate spoonfuls of the mixture into the cake tin, give a swirl to gently mix and bake for 45mins to 1 hour. I lowered the temperature of my oven for the last 15 minutes or so only because my oven is fierce. Just keep an eye on it after 45 mins. It should be golden brown but still soft in the centre. Not liquid soft but softly soft, like a bit jelly on a plate.

Turn off the oven and leave the door ajar and leave the cheesecake until completely cold. When cold, chill in the fridge for several hours then it’s ready to be taken out and eaten, either fridge-cold or leave it to warm up a bit at room temperature.

Dust with icing sugar and revel in the calorie count. It’s high.