When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.

What’s your favourite biscuit? I dabbled with Hobnobs for a while, but they seem a little smug to me, and the Tunnocks Teacake will always have a special place in my heart (although – is it a biscuit or, like the Jaffa, actually a cake? In which case, I allow myself two favourites. That’s not cheating, that’s science) – but I will always come back to the humble bourbon. A classic. And chocolate, as all biscuits will be, when I am in charge.

So, for Valentine’s day this year (oh as if I need an excuse to bake), I decided to have a go at baking my own bourbon biscuits – a little bit inspired by this giant Bourbon my boyfriend brought me home from the shops one day.

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A biscuit the size of my face. The way to my heart.

I got the ingredients from the Good Housekeeping website – seduced by the claim that all recipes are triple tested! – but as Valentine’s Day is a time of gooey love and hearts and smushy stuff, I decided to break out the old heartshape cookie cutters and personalise them a bit.

It’s a really simple recipe, and would make about 15-20 traditionally sized/shaped biscuits. As I made greedy giant sized over stuffed large biscuits, along with a few smaller ones, I got around 10-12 biscuits, and ran out of icing for the last few. No matter. An un-iced Bourbon is still a chocolate biscuit, and therefore not to be sniffed at.

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I’m a softy at heart.

You will need

For the biscuit:

250g (9oz) plain flour, plus extra to dust

125g (4oz) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into cubes

125g (4oz) caster sugar

2tbsp golden syrup

50g (2oz) cocoa powder

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

3tbsp milk

For the filling

75g (3oz) unsalted butter, softened

125g (4oz) icing sugar

15g (½oz) cocoa powder

1. Put all the biscuit ingredients into a food processor and pulse until the mixture clumps together. Tip the dough on to a work surface and bring together. If you don’t have a food processor, I think this biscuit is very similar to a shortbread – so, add the diced butter to the sieved flour, cocoa and bicarbonate of soda, and then rub together until you get a crumb-like mixture. Then add in the sugar, golden syrup and milk and mix in till fully incorporated. Then bring together into a dough as above

2. Roll out the dough on a sheet of baking paper, to about 5mm thickness. Which makes some big-ass bourbon biscuits, so make it a bit thinner if you have a more delicate appetite/are more of a lady than me. Then use your cookie cutter to cut out biscuits to whatever shape you desire. Remember, the biscuits will be sandwiched together, so you need an even number. I had to re-roll out my dough a couple of times to make sure I got the most out of it. Any more than that, I think the dough will get too stick and warm, so try and fit your cookie shapes as close together as possible.

3. Place in the fridge and chill for 30min.

4. Make a cup of tea, play with the cat.

5. Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan) mark 4.

6. Place the biscuits on lined baking trays and bake for 20-25min, or until you realise that as you have made the biscuits different sizes, the smaller hearts are beginning to look a little burnt crispy.

7. Leave to cool completely.

8. To make the filling, put the butter into a large bowl and sift in the icing sugar and cocoa powder and mix until combined. This takes a good lot of effort, as it’s really thick icing (don’t be tempted to add any liquid, it’s meant to be like that). I did it by hand and started to regret it as my biceps began to ache – so if you have a hand mixer, now would be the time to use it.

9. Sandwich the cooled biscuits together with the chocolate filling, using a piping bag if you want a neater finish. Or, like me, your fingers. That icing really is thick.

10. Repeat step 4, with added biscuits.

Today’s quote is from The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera

 

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There was an Old Person of Putney; Whose food was roast spiders and chutney; Which he took with his tea, within sight of the sea; That romantic Old Person of Putney.

It’s that time of the year when thoughts turn to sterilising jars, cutting out circles of fabric with pinking shears, and the sickly sweet smell of cooking sugar and vinegar starts to permeate the flat. Well, if you’re me anyway. Yes, it’s time to dig out the kilner jars, and start making chutney.

I’m not in the country for Christmas this year, and I’m very busy with house things, and practising the ukulele for a cabaret I’m in (sorry to my new neighbours, it’s not the best sound to hear coming through your walls on an evening), so I thought I wouldn’t try anything different this year, and instead make my life a bit easier by revisiting an old favourite – Mary Berry’s Christmas Chutney. This also has the benefit of needing to be made in advance, then left in a cool dark place to mature for a month or so before eating. As I most likely won’t be handing out presents until as while after Christmas day, this suited me fine.

“What could go wrong?” I thought to myself. “I know this recipe like the back of my hand.”

In a genius time saving flash of inspiration, I decided to chop all the vegetables the night before, ready for me to chuck them in a pan as soon as I got home from work the next day (there is a lot of chopping involved in this recipe. I recommend using a) a food processor or b) a gas mask, in order to save your eyes when finely chopping 7 onions. I used neither, as I thought it would be a lovely relaxing thing to do in front of the TV. Relaxing, if running away from the chopping board every five minutes screaming “My eyes! My eyes!” is how you like to chill out of an evening.)

Look! at all the lovely chopping I did… Glance! at the recipe below… Gasp! as you slowly realised you forgot to read the section where it instructs you to peel the tomatoes before chopping… Weep! at the acceptance that you will be having tomato soup for dinner every day for the rest of the week… 

Tomatoes. So many tomatoes. And none of them any use.

Tomatoes. So many tomatoes. And none of them any use.

If ever there was a lesson to be learned about reading the recipe in full before embarking on a project, this would be it.

The recipe makes about 2.5kg worth of chutney. This is a lot of chutney. A lot of chutney. It will fill a lot of those fancy schmancy “presentation jars” you fell in love with at Lakeland. So you need to get sterilising those jars.

Jars. Lots of jars.

Jars. Lots of jars.

I don’t have a dishwasher (although I’m hoping this will change soon – hello, January sales), so my preferred method is to wash the jars in hot soapy water, before placing them upside down on a couple of sheets of newspaper on the oven shelves and putting them in a pre-heated oven (275°F/130°C/Gas 1) for about 15-20 mins.

To stop the glass jars shattering, remember that hot food goes in hot jars, cold food goes in cold jars.

The recipe is below, from the BBC Good Food website.

Ingredients

900g tomatoes

3 red peppers, 1 large aubergine and 1 green pepper (total weight of about 900g/2lb)

6/7 small/medium sized onions (about 700g), peeled and fairly finely chopped, by hand or in a food processor

4 fat cloves garlic, crushed

350g granulated sugar

300ml/½ pint white wine vinegar or distilled malt vinegar

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed

1 tbsp paprika

2 tsp cayenne pepper

1. Peel the tomatoes. I repeat. PEEL THE TOMATOES. To do this, prick them with a sharp knife, place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave for a few seconds then drain and cover with cold water. The skins will now come away easily. “Easily”, but not quickly. Do this bit in front of the telly.

2. Chop the tomatoes and aubergine and seed and chop the peppers. Put in a large heavy-based pan with the chopped onions and crushed garlic and bring to the boil.

3. Cover with a lid, lower the heat and gently simmer for about one hour, stirring occasionally, until tender.

4. Tip the sugar, vinegar, salt, coriander, paprika and cayenne into the pan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Continue to boil for 30 minutes or so, until the mixture achieves a chunky chutney consistency and the surplus watery liquid has evaporated. Take care towards the end of the cooking time to continue stirring so that the chutney doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. I’ve often found this bit has previously taken me almost an hour to do, so make sure you’ve left enough time in your evening. I was sterilising jars and spooning chutney at way past 10pm. Not ideal.

5. Ladle the chutney into sterilised or dishwasher-clean jars, sealing them whilst still hot. Leave to mature for at least a month in a cool dark place.

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The finished product! Not sure how to decorate these yet – need to raid the fabric scraps.

 Today’s quote is from Edward Lear.

Comfort me with apples; for I am sick of love

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Straight out of the oven.

Well this quote is a bit overly dramatic, but kind of fitting for this comforting toffee apple pudding recipe from the Domestic Sluttery website, completely weather appropriate.

I’ve recreated the recipe here – it’s super easy and works like magic. And the sauce gets tastier as the days go on (we’re on day three now)

Ingredients

4-5 small or 2-3 large eating apples

125g self-raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

90g caster sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

75g butter, melted and left to cool

1 egg, beaten

175ml milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the topping:

100g brown sugar

30ml maple syrup

225ml boiling water

A couple of handfuls of chopped pecans (I think walnuts would work really well too)

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

2. Peel and slice the apples to about 1cm thick, then use them to line the bottom of a roasting dish (it has to be fairly deep, as the pudding does rise – mine’s a couple of inches deep)

3. Sift the flour, baking powder, caster sugar and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and pour in the butter, egg, milk and vanilla extract, then mix together to form a batter.

4. Now the recipe says to leave it to thicken slightly for 20 minutes, but I ran out of time and didn’t do this. Not sure it makes a huge difference, so let’s call this an optional time-dependent step.

5. Pour the batter evenly over the apples, smoothing down the top.

6. Put the brown sugar and maple syrup into a bowl and top with the boiling water. Stir quickly so the sugar dissolves, then tip the whole lot over the apple batter before sprinkling over the pecans. At this point it looks like you’ve created a hot sticky sweet mess, but trust me – it’s meant to look like that.

7. Honest, don’t worry it’s fine.

8. Bake for 40 minutes until it’s golden-brown and well-risen.

9. Eat it hot with custard or ice-cream (Or cold a couple of days later straight out of the dish. No judging here.)

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Check out that sauce. Hot, sticky and sweet. And very moreish.

Today’s quote is from the Song of Solomon

Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Not only do I agree with the assertion that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but I would go further and say that it has the power to make or break a weekend. A good breakfast of french toast, or pancakes, or huevos rancheros, or just a full English (I could go on) can really set you up for an awesome day of fun in a way that soggy cereal or a limp piece of toast really just doesn’t. 

Blogging's just a excuse for me to show off my new pink scales, if I'm honest with you.

Blogging’s just a excuse for me to show off my new pink scales, if I’m honest with you.

Unfortunately, in the week I don’t the luxury of time to have sit down to such a feast (or rather: I choose my duvet over eggs), and have to resort to breakfast hunched over my desk whilst desperately trying to catch up with emails and hoping no one talks to me until I at least have my coffee in my hand.

There are things I can do to soften that blow – and when I discovered this homemade chocolate coconut granola recipe in the Vintage Tea Party recipe book by the elegantly named Angel Adoree, I knew that I would be breakfasting on this for years to come. It’s really easy to make, chockful of goodness, but with a side portion of sin. Like all the best things in life.

Granola a go go.

Granola a go go.

Ingredients:

240g (8 1/2 oz) rolled oats

175g (6oz) flaked almonds

70g (2 1/2 oz) shredded unsweetened coconut

70g (2 1/2 oz) dark brown sugar

40g (1 1/2 oz) unsweetened cocoa powder

90ml (3fl oz) honey

50ml (2fl oz) vegetable oil

1 tsp ground cinnamon

3/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 120 deg C

2. In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients up to and including the sugar.

3. In a separate bowl, mix all the rest of the ingredients together.

4. Combine the 2 bowls, then pour onto two lined baking sheets.

5. Put in the oven for an hour and a quarter – stir even 15 minutes or so, to stop it baking together in one big lump.

6. Serve up with yoghurt and fresh fruit. Start your day!

I normally also throw in a few handfuls of whatever selection of nuts and seeds I have in my cupboards (pumpkin seeds work really well), and I have only just found somewhere near me that sells shredded coconut – although it says not to, I have made it with dessicated coconut several times, and no one has died as yet. So the moral of this story is, to make granola you can chuck a load of things you like together, mix it with honey and cocoa, bake it, et voila. Good, eh?

 Today’s quote is from the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and wants to see us happy.

pasta

…And here it is. Drunken Penne. Pasta cooked in red wine. Served up with garlic, parmesan, pine nuts and pancetta (ahem… gammon, because there was no pancetta in the supermarket I was in at the time. I bought gammon instead thinking, “What’s the worst that could happen? One of these days my lazy substitutions will come back to bite me on the ass.” And reader, it did – one day I will tell you about my failed attempt at a fig tart, but it’s currently too raw).

I won’t recreate the recipe here, as I took it wholesale from the Domestic Sluttery website. To cook the pasta in wine, you just need to boil it in salted water for around 3-4 minutes first, then add it to a pan of red wine which has been heated to the boil, and cook for a further 6-7 minutes (or until the pasta is cooked and has turned burgundy).

I suspect it would taste even better if I used the proper ingredients, but it was delicious as it was. And now I’m wondering what else I can boil in wine. Any ideas?

Today’s quote is from Benjamin Franklin

We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.

Despite the last gasp of Summer we are enjoying at the moment, when I came across this delicious Lamb pie recipe in my most recent copy of WI Life magazine ( amongst the adverts for “relaxation trousers” and watercolour painting) I couldn’t resist trying it out, despite its unseasonal nature.

Added bonus – finally using my birthday present (my birthday was in February), a shiny shiny red and beautiful iron casserole dish. Look – bask in it’s beautiful shiny redness!

  dish

The recipe itself is fairly simple, although it is best done on a lazy Sunday afternoon, when you have 5 hours available to slow roast your meat. The recipe in the magazine called for 4 lamb shanks, but I used a shoulder joint instead, as it was what they had in the supermarket I was in at the time… It also asks for puy lentils, but I could only find green lentils. How different can a lentil be, anyway? I also made some changes to the mash on the top, they didn’t mention adding any butter or milk to make it creamy, and as nobody likes dry mash (apart from an old Uni friend who used to eat Smash straight from the packet, but that’s probably best glossed over), I added a generous dollop of butter, and then cheese on top. Because everybody loves cheese.

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It went down a treat – as you can tell by the picture, we couldn’t wait for my phone to recharge to take a photo before digging in. And by the time we ate (post cinema trip to The Way Way Back – go see it!), it was quite late, so I apologise for the poor quality photo.

Ingredients

Lamb shoulder joint (about 1kg worth) (I imagine any cut would work – the original recipe was 4 lamb shanks)

Generous slug of olive oil

Half a bottle of red wine

6 garlic cloves (no need to peel or chop)

Handful of dried mixed herbs

50ml (2 fl oz) stock

Dash of hot chilli sauce

3 bay leaves

3 tsp plain flour

100ml (3 1/2 fl oz) water

2 x 400g cans of lentils, drained

8 shallots, finely chopped

1.25kg (2 1/2 lb) potatoes, peeled and chopped

Large knob of butter

Pinch of ground nutmeg

Salt & pepper

Grated cheese (for topping)

1. Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/Gas Mark 1

2. Put the lamb and all the ingredients up to and including the bay leaves in a lidded casserole dish and cook in the preheated oven for 4-5 hours, or until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.

3. Get the sunday papers, and pour yourself a glass of wine. Why not, it’s already opened!

4. Once cooked, set aside the meat to cool, then strain the sauce through a sieve into a small saucepan.

5. When the meat is cool enough to handle, strip the meat from the bones and discard any fat.

6. Boil the potatoes until tender, then drain and mash with the butter, nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

7. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.

8. Bring the strained lamb sauce to a hard boil for about 2 mines, then reduce to a gentle simmer.

9. Mix the flour and water together to a paste, and then whisk into the sauce – trying to get rid of any lumps.

10. Bring back to the boil, and season to taste.

11. Place the lentils in the bottom of the casserole dish, followed by the shallots, then the meat. Add enough sauce to cover the meat, then top with the mashed potato, spreading to the edge of the dish to prevent sauce from leaking. Sprinkle with the grated cheese, then cook in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

12. Set aside for 10 minutes before serving (if you can wait that long).

The recipe made about 5-6 large portions, and we served it up with a big pile of peas, as all good pies should be. We’ve still got about a half a bottle of red to use up (I know, I know, there’s no such thing as half a bottle of booze), and so I’m thinking of making this Drunken Spaghetti, from the Domestic Sluttery website. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Today’s quote from David Mamet’s Boston Marriage.