Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Dark Chocolate and Stem Ginger Cookies

I've been a cookie monster this week. I've made Scottish shortbreads flavoured with lemon zest, with cardamom and with vanilla seeds (more of those later). I've made American chewy cookies with chocolate chips, marshmallows and smarties, I've made Smitten Kitchen's World Peace cookies and I've searched for the perfect adult-friendly chocolate cookie.

Grown-up cookies are not too sweet, not too sugary and not too colourful. They have rich and decadant flavours and sometimes traditional, sometimes startling combinations. This is my favourite recipe of the week so far but we are still in the development stage.... I have a feeling these might become biscotti before the week is out. To be continued.....

Dark Chocolate and Stem Ginger Cookies
345g plain flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
250g butter
200g caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
2 tbsp chopped stem ginger

Preheat the oven to 175C.
Beat the sugar and butter together until light and airy.
Whisk in the beaten egg and vanilla extract.
In a seperate bowl, sift the flour together with the cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
Stir the dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Then stir in the chocolate and ginger. Bring the mixture together, it will be soft. Scoop walnut sized balls of dough and spread out on cookie sheets - give them lots of space, they will spread out.
Bake for 12 minutes then allow to cool slightly on the baking trays, they will firm up as they cool.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Fresh Soup, Hummus and Roast Vegetable Panini, and a Lovely Cake to Finish

I have not written very much for the last couple of weeks. Life just got in the way. However, now I am very excited and more than a little bit nervous to say that I have taken on the lease on a very lovely local cafe. I am currently on a vertical learning curve (and I've hardly done anything yet) working out rules and regs, ordering and suppliers, insurances and decor.... I've barely had time to plan out all the fun bits (the food and the drinks that is) so any and all suggestions welcome - cakes, sandwich fillings, salads etc etc etc.

I will be asking for more help and ideas and writing at length later but for today, I really need to get back to feeding my family. They are soon to contract scurvy, as these past couple of weeks, most of my time has been spent at the computer and very little making lovely food.

Much as they need a good solid vegetable-filled meal, they are going to spend another week eating cookies, cakes and tray-bakes while I test out recipes for the cafe.... I'm sure there will not be too many complaints!

Fruit Crunchies
100g butter
75g soft brown sugar
1 tbsp golden syrup
100g self-raising flour
a pinch of salt
100g porridge oats
50g finely chopped dates
50g finely chopped dried apricots
50g finely chopped pecan nuts

Preheat the oven to 160C. Prepare a cookie sheet.
On a low heat, melt butter, sugar and syrup together.
In a seperate bowl, sift flour and salt together and add the oats, dried fruit and nuts.
Add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients in the bowl.
Bring together to make a dough. Add a tablespoon or two of water if needed.
Roll the dough into around 20 walnut sized balls.
Place on baking tray and press down with the palm of your hand.
Bake for 12minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack.
Serve with cold milk or hot coffee.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Goat Cheese and Spring Onion Muffins

Savoury muffins! Love them or hate them? I wanted something mild but tangy, light but dense to serve with a steaming bowl of soup. The soup was traditional, hot and unremarkable: red lentils, a little bit of carrot, some onion and garlic, stock, but these muffins elevated it to a new level. Strong goat cheese (I used a sharp crumbly one) melting into the smooth creaminess of the soup is the perfect partner for a mild soup. They are also beautiful made with blue cheese and walnuts.

Goat Cheese and Spring Onion Muffins
220g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
240ml milk
100ml vegetable oil
1 egg
150g goat cheese, crumbled
4 spring onions, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C. Prepare a 12 hole muffin tin.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl.
In a jug, whisk the milk, oil and egg together. Add the cheese and spring onions to the wet ingredients. Stir the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined. Fill the muffin tins and bake for 20 minutes until golden and aromatic. Serve warm.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Spinach and Lemon Hummus

In this wee recipe I am trying to quietly insinuate more vegetables into our family diet. We manage our five-a-day and eat a lot of fruit but sometimes I think my repertoire of family-friendly (read 6-year-old friendy) vegetable dishes is going in ever decreasing circles. So although I throw fresh veg into every soup, fritatta, stir fry and casserole, (and even the odd cake and cookie) I am, like every parent I know, always trying to find ways to make vegetables more enticing.

Hummus starts life as a pretty healthy snack, tahini, chickpeas, garlic and olive oil all make it one of the better mid-morning or lunch options, but to give it an iron-rich kick and produce the most beautiful colour, throw in a couple of big handfuls of fresh new season's greens and give it some zing with lots of fresh lemon juice and zest. As I've said before on this recipe with crispy lamb, I love hummus and my family eat an unhealthy amount of it each week so any variation on a theme is worth a try. For a little bit of added crunch, throw a handful of toasted pine nuts over the top just before serving. Serve with baked pitta chips or chopped crudites.

Spinach and Lemon Hummus           with baked pitta chips

For the hummus:
2 large handfuls of baby spinach leaves
400g tin chickpeas, drained
1 lemon, juice and zest
2 tbsp tahini
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
100ml olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp plain greek yogurt

Wash the spinach and, while still wet, throw into a heavy based pan. Put a lid on, turn the heat on and allow it to steam in its own liquid for a minute or two till wilted. Drain off the cooking liquor in the base of the pan and squeeze out the spinach to remove any remaining liquid.
Blend the spinach with all the rest of the hummus ingredients together in a food processor until smooth.
Spread thinly across a large plate.

For the baked pitta chips:
4 pitta breads
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp sea salt

Heat the oven to 180C.
Cut the pitta breads into small triangles. Lay out on a baking sheet. Drizzle the olive oil over the top. Sprinkle a little paprika and sea salt on to each triangle.
Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes till fragrant and golden.  

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Muscovado Baked Beans

Will this winter never end? Will the snow never go away? Will the temperature ever rise above zero again?

I've never felt so desperate for spring to arrive as this year. Even on days like today where the air is crisp, the sun bright and the buds beginning to emerge - you know, the very best kind of winter day that reaffirms all you believe about living and loving the seasons, I am desperate. I have to brace myself to even leave the house now because I am dog tired of thick snow, extreme cold, black ice, wearing layers and seeing my own breath.

The only thing to do in the face of such despair is cook. So back to winter warmers, I've been hunting through my vast cookbook collection and through piles of newspaper clippings and recipes written on scraps of paper to find something that I have not made in a while, something to simultaneously warm our bones against the onslaught of this endless Scottish winter and properly cheer me up.

Muscovado Baked Bean Crumble (a mouthful in more than one way)

A good glug of olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp paprika
2x 400g tin haricot beans (or 250g dried beans, soaked and cooked according to pack instructions)
1x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
3 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp dijon mustard

(optional 2 tbsp plum chutney)
150ml beer (I used corona)
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the crumble topping:
100g cold butter
100g flour
75g porridge oats
100g strong cheddar cheese

Pre-heat oven to 200C.
To make the beans:
Heat olive oil in a heavy based pan and saute the onion and garlic till soft.
Add paprika, beans and tomatoes. Stir well then add the sugar, ketchup, mustard and chutney if using. Stir well then add beer to thin the sauce a little. Season with thyme, a few grinds of black pepper and a hefty pinch of salt. Allow to simmer gently for around 20 minutes to allow the flavours to combine. Add a little water if required.

For the crumble:
Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then stir in the oats and cheese.

To assemble:
Put the beans into an ovenproof dish and top with the crumble mixture.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until golden and burbling.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Banana Yogurt Muffins

I've been on the most wonderful hillwalking trip to the Lake District for the weekend, eating rich food and hanging out with my girlfriends. Gorgeous though it was, I've come home totally exhausted and planning to eat less, drink less wine, run harder and generally get back to basics with food. 

To this end, as well as organising lots of long runs and quiet nights, (it should last a week or so!) I am trying out healthier breakfast and snack recipes. I'd rather go hungry than find myself eating healthy food that tastes of nothing so need to find ways of getting the health benefits while making food that really tastes great. These muffins are unbelievably morish (maybe not such a good thing) but have a healthy dose of bran and natural yogurt.

Banana Muffins with yogurt and bran
250g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g caster sugar
75g bran
3 small overripe bananas
4tbsp vegetable oil
4 tbsp natural yogurt
100ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180C. Fill a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.
Put the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate, sugar and bran into a bowl and mix well.
In another bowl, mash the bananas together with the oil, yogurt, milk and vanilla. Whisk together well.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir together until only just combined. Fill the muffin cups and bake for 15-20 minutes until risen and golden.