Smitten Kitchen’s Favourite Chocolate Chip Cookies. Biscuits. They’re Biscuits.

You might not think there’s a big difference between cookies and biscuits. There is. I haven’t really had to define it IN ACTUAL REAL LIFE WORDS until now but I’ve always consciously been very clear there is a difference.

I think it goes like this:

Cookies

Quite big. A lot big. Like, hand-sized big

Flat

Chewy, albeit often crunchy outside

American in style

Massively sugared

Bikkies

Smaller, like no bigger than palm-sized, and even a palm-sized bikkie is verging on cookie

Less sugar in the mix

Crunchier

Not-American. Unless you’re talking scones, which is what Americans call biscuits. Donald Trump is clearly not their biggest problem.

I don’t know how you feel about my very scientific classification. Truthfully I’m not sure (i) I give a shit, and (ii) it matters. It’s probably one of those really personal things, like whether you bunch or fold loo roll.

BUNCH YOU FOOL, BUNCH.

Anyway. The below recipe is from Smitten Kitchen. Again. She might become my new Donna Hay-type habit. We shall see. They are nice biscuit-cookies. Bisookies. Cookuits. Dunno. Some weird merge of the two. You should make them.

We are recently returned from a quick trip to Stockholm. We dragged NewHuman there with us as it’s a city famously friendly in respect of toddler-themed amusements and, obviously, we were going to hit up the cinnamon buns and saffron Christmas buns really hard. That was the plan until the Boyfriend and I arrived at Sinus-Pressure-Exploding-Head-Snot-Factoryville pre-trip so had to work quite hard not to weep with the full strength that being-in-a-foreign-land-with-a-shithead-2.5 year-old-whilst-properly-ill lends itself to.

Still, we survived, and it was actually mostly fun. I ate elk.

Elk is nice. So are cloudberries and cinnamon buns and Stockholm in general. Could totally live there.

Right. Biscuits. MAKE THEM.

Preheat your oven to 150C (this is what Smitten Kitchen says. I did that then bumped up to 160C for the second lot. Was fine, and better).

So, yeah, preheat your oven to 160C.

Gather:

100 grams caster sugar (I used 150g of golden)
130g firmly packed light brown sugar (I used 50g of muscovado)
115 grams unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1cm pieces
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used 2 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
175g plain flour
200 grams dark chocolate chips (I used 100g)
1 packet of dried sour cherries, around 60g, chopped into 3 or 4 pieces each

(Smitten Kitchen lady says to use 130g of chopped walnuts or pecans. You can do that but you’d be insane to when sour cherries are an option).

  I chopped the cold butter to only very approximately 1cm pieces, as evidenced below. Was fine.
  Cream together the sugars and butter until smooth. This takes a little while cause the butter is cold when you start. Use this time to chop up your sour cherries. By the time  you’re done chopping, the mix will be smooth. Baking is magic.  Add your baking powder. Half a teaspoon is a very controversial measurement. Is it heaped or not? Is it half across or lengthways. HOW DO WE KNOW?

I did the below.
  Also then add your vanilla and egg. Mix well.

Then add your flour – you can keep it all in the mixer for this, no need to use your actual hands.

Once combined and kind of dry – it’ll take a minute or so of high-speed whizzing in the mixer – add your choc chips and sour cherries. Or nuts, if you’re using them. DO NOT USE THEM.

  Then plop about 2 teaspoon’s worth of mix onto a tray, leaving a good amount of room. Don’t, like, compress them or roll them into balls or anything, ok? Just leave them be, unmolested.
  Into the oven for 18 minutes. Smitten Kitchen lady says to take them out when ‘pale golden brown’. That’s how I like to describe NewHuman’s hair, when it is in fact ginger.

Below is this year’s Xmas tree effort. Could be worse. Is usefully a few feet off the ground so NewHuman can only grasp the jingle bells which dangle temptingly from the lower branches and I get to say, ‘Dude, no. NO. I SAID NO!’ a lot. Is fun for all.

  OK here are the done biscuits.

I did try to take a picture of one I’d taken a bite out of, to show you the inside, but the photo was far too fuzzy for public consumption.

I’ve come away to the West of England without bringing some of these with me, a fact I’ve only just realised. I am stupid and also now I’m angry.

Advertisements

How To Prepare A Meat Pie For Mastication

There’s only one proper way to introduce sauce to a meat pie. This is it.

Take one meat pie, heat it up as per instructions on the box.  This is no place for fancy homemade pies.   Take a sharp knife and carefully slice off the lid of the pie. Yes, the lid.

It should look like the below. If it doesn’t, you’ve done it all wrong. Take your sauce of choice. Tomato is the best and most obvious one.

Squeeze the required amount of sauce into the meaty juicy casserole filling.
  Stir it in with a fork. Or a spoon. Or your finger. I don’t care which.

  Replace the lid. It’ll basically look like nothing untoward has ever happened to this pie, even though you just basically undressed it and had a swill around.
Eat.

Eat well. Then eat nothing else all day due to guilt, albeit happily replete guilt.

Smitten Kitchen’s Upside Down Cranberry Cake

I find I’m as saddened and appalled, in these times of regular tragedy and ill-informed mass murder, by the response of many people to said events as by those who commit them.  It’s too easy to fuel my little version of annoyed anger at those amongst us who respond so terribly to these tragedies, who spray revenge-flavoured rhetoric, calling for  separation of peoples and for closed borders. I find myself shocked by what people say about those in need, about people fleeing violence and war that we, in our comfortable and privileged positions, cannot even begin to comprehend. Like, really.

I know this isn’t really cooking blog fodder but I’ve kept quiet on social media about it all as I wanted to take some time to figure out what I thought outside of the maelstrom of noise emanating via Facebook and Twitter. I don’t think anything particularly sophisticated as it happens, but I do feel appalled that such a common and popular response to fear-fuelled terror and murder is to recommend pretty much the same in revenge. A very flawed approach to my mind. And listen, I’m sure all my thinking on this is flawed but at least I’m trying to think about it. I’m trying hard not to just respond but to consider, and learn, and review, and reflect. It’s tough to do when emotional response is such a strong motivator for opinion.

On a less serious note, I follow Smitten Kitchen on Instagram and the lady posts multiple recipes daily. Christ knows how she does it, although I know she cleverly posts stuff from her archives (which are long and fruitful). One such archived thing is the Upside Down Cranberry Cake. I fancied making it. I have never made an upside down cake before. After I made this one Boyfriend informed that upside down cakes had, actually, been his speciality. We have been together … wait. I just counted. I get 8 years. Can that be right? Surely it can’t be right.  Maybe 7 years. Shit. I should remember, shouldn’t I? Anyway it’s been  A LONG BLOODY TIME and has he cooked me an upside down cake, ever? No. Never. Never even mentioned it. Rude.

I’ve just looked at Facebook to track photos down to when Boyfriend began to appear. 2008. So, seven years and nearly a half more. CHRIST.

Last year I made a delicious cranberry sauce thing, I’m pretty sure I posted it on here actually. Is this the point, were I a proper blogger, I’d link back to that post? Probably. Instead I’m going to recommend you put ‘cranberry’ into the search engine on this page and there it’ll be, along side this post. Easy. This year, on the cranberry front, I tried something different.

This cake is a minor faff, and quite puddingy in the finish – a good option if you’re having people over for lunch or supper and want to serve something tasty, doused in cream. It’s also quite nice the next day. What it’s like after that I don’t know as I foisted the remains of the one I made onto a friend and, I trust, she hoovered it all up. I’ve had no reports of food poisoning so I figure all was well with it.

Right.

Gather:

170g unsalted butter, melted (I used salted. Was fine)

140g packed light brown sugar (I used golden caster sugar. Was fine)
1 tablespoon  molasses (I used golden syrup. WAS BLOODY WELL FINE, JEEZ)
240g plain flour
200g sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (I didn’t use, was fine)
3 large eggs, at room temperature (mine were cold from the fridge. No-one complained)
240g sour cream
230g fresh or frozen cranberries (I used more like 260g, frozen

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste

1

Preheat your oven to 180C, or 190C if not fan. I used a 19cm round springform tin. Go for that, or you could equally as comfortably go for a slightly larger one if you fancied a not-so-tall cake. I think I will, next time. Also, don’t be beholden to the idea of a springform. You’ll see why soon enough.

In one bowl sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together. Or, as I always advocate, whisk them all around a bit in lieu of actual sifting.

2

In a medium saucepan, over a medium heat, put about 60g of the melted butter, brown sugar, golden syrup/molasses and 1/4 cup water (American cups) and bring to a boil.  Once it’s come to the boil just set it aside. Grease your cake tin and line the bottom with parchment. Then, on the outside, cover the bottom and sides with foil and place onto an oven tray, if you’re using a springform. DO AS I SAY.

In an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment (electric hand beaters would do fine here, either way you want/need to harness the raw power of electricity as your puny human arms do not have the strength to get the job done) beat the eggs and sour cream until blended. Add the vanilla, beat, add the remaining butter, beat. Make sure the sides are well scraped down. Then add the dry ingredients and beat till nice and smooth.

5

You’ll have three pots/bowls of things on the go, plus the cake tin. See? I told you. Minor faff.

Pour the hot sugary syrupy mix into the bottom of the cake pan.

4

Add the cranberries, making them into as even a layer as you can manage. Or be bothered to.

7

Then dollop on the batter. It’s quite thick so be careful to gently smooth it, as if you’re managing the hurt feelings of a misogynist boss after you outranked him on an IQ test.

6

Shove it in the oven. It’s supposed to take 45 minutes. Mine took an hour and even then I wasn’t convinced it was done. It’s done when a skewer comes out clean – in essence I think because it’s quite a heavy mix it takes a while to come together.  Smitten Kitchen lady suggests you check earlier and then consistently thereafter as overdoing this cake would not be a good thing.

The leaves have been falling faster than ill-informed opinions, on our street. NewHuman has been taking full advantage. Or, rather, he did until the council, in a fit of efficiency, came by last week with the World’s Biggest Leafblower and a special Vacuum Truck of Magic to scoop them all up. Now there’s no romance left in Autumn, it’s merely a straight run down towards Winter. It must be embraced else it kills us.

13

I had vague thoughts about entering the dog for the Melbourne Cup. She’s fast enough but her jockey just didn’t seem to have his heart in it.

14

Let the cake cool in the pan for a bit, a good 15 mins or so at least, then run a knife around the edge and turn out CAREFULLY – PRETEND IT IS LIKE A BIGGER AND SCARIER KILLER TARTE TARTIN onto a large plate.

Don’t, as seen below, get the foil caught on a bit of the stovetop as you lift the cake tin from the oven tray, thereby dumping the lava-like caramel from the stupid bloody springform tin onto the hob rather than having it soak nicely into the done cake. My finished version was, thus, slightly lighter on soaked-in caramel-cranberry goodness than might otherwise be ideal. When this volcanic tragedy was occurring I was yelling, ‘Boyfriend! Boyfriend! Help!’. This is unlike me. I never ask for help. I cannot think what was going on that I thought needed help. It has been preying on my mind.

8

Below are two shots of the done thing. In whole form, in close up, and cut. See how dense it is? More dense than the frontal lobes of those calling for closed borders.

It’s not gorgeous-looking, this cake, but it is good.

11

12

Brown Butter Tea Cake

I’m going through a disgruntled few days. I have no real reason for it. Work is under control, NewHuman is being cute, Boyfriend is being lovely, Dog is being affectionate even though we sent her to the vet last week to get her teeth cleaned. Which, by the way, cost the same as it would to whiten my teeth; that is, so much that when I had a quote for mine I said, ‘oh no, too expensive’. But here we are, the Dog having enjoyed a general anaesthetic and being returned to us with gleaming gnashers and wonderfully fresh breath.

Yesterday was full of people being shit at their jobs, or just being shits. I am hopeful for better things today but have descended to full self-pity as rather than recovering from last week’s cold I am, instead, apparently steaming full ahead into a new one. POOR ME. Disgruntled of Average Baker.

We had some leftover Granny Smith apples and over the weekend I knew I wanted to use them in something. As is usual I stood in my handsome, bankrupting kitchen looking at all the lovely cookbooks on the shelves there, then turned to hunch over my phone like a baking Quasimodo and went straight to the Australian Women’s Weekly website for inspiration. They have approximately a million recipes for tea cake, apple cake, and everything in between. I had some bits and pieces to use up and so I decided, which one should never do in baking, to freestyle the recipe. I did some strange shit. I mostly mean I used self raising flour AND ground almonds. I’m not sure I can recommend you do the same, but regardless the cake turned out a very good version of the kind of thing you want by your side as you sip a hot drink. Not tea. Tea can do one. I don’t get tea. I drink it maybe once a year, around mid-winter, generally after a bracing walk in the Welsh hills. Then I think, ‘Tea, huh? Waste of space’ and don’t drink it again for another year.

When I mean hot drink I pretty much mean coffee.

I have a thing for burnt, or brown, butter, so I decided to melt my butter and brown it a bit, before using, to try give the cake some yummo flavour. It worked, I think. Recommend. So below I will set out what I THINK the recipe should be. I haven’t, like, triple-tested it or anything proper. I made it once. It was fine. Good, in fact. A prosaic kind of cake. The kind of cake who will just sit quietly with you when you’re feeling disgruntled and not try to make you feel better with platitudes or fancy icing or, god forbid, try to be a bloody cupcake.

Dependable, therapeutic cake. There you go.

Preheat your oven to 170C (fan) and grease a cake tin. You could go 20cm round. I went slightly larger square. I’m sure you could use a couple of small loaf tins, too. This cake will not get mad if you experiment with shapes.

Gather:

around 3 apples, peeled and sliced (I did this at the last minute to avoid the whole going brown thing)

2 eggs, separated

around 3/4 cup of milk (don’t use this in one fell swoop – trickle it in as you’ll need to stop when consistency is right)

50g butter

good slosh of quality vanilla extract

100g almond meal

3/4 cup caster sugar

1 cup SR flour (use plain, go on – let me know how it turns out)

And then for when the cake is cooked you want:

20g or so of melted butter. More is fine but less is not fine.

1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon caster sugar

  K. This first bit is a slight pain and may not be necessary, specially if you’re using SR flour. If you’re using plain flour then definitely do it.

Put the eggwhites in a bowl and with an electronic mixer whisk them till firm peaks form. See below for what I mean. If you’re feeling all He-Man then by all means go for it with a hand-held whisk. Good luck with that.
  Then whilst it’s whisking add the sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, till it goes all glossy. Then beat in the egg yolks.

Below you’ll see what I ended up with. Grainy, shiny meringue. It was fine.

  Whilst all that is going on have your butter gently melting in a small saucepan. Then once it’s melted let it continue to bubble away. It’ll stay a buttercup-urine-yellow for a long time and then quite quickly it’ll start to change. It’s hard to get a picture of this to show you the colour so below is the best I could do. I swirled and photo’d. Welcome to brown/burnt butter, y’all.
  With a big metal spoon gently fold through the flour, almonds, milk, butter and extract in alternate goes, beginning and ending with the flour. You may find it’s a bit runny if you use all the milk upfront so remember what I said. If you think it’s too runny just add a little more flour. It’ll look like nursery school glue, with a slightly softer consistency. Tastes ok, though.  Scrape the mix into whatever crazy cake tin you’ve decided on and layer on the apples. You’ll see below that I was a bit parsimonious. That’s not at all like me, I don’t know what I was thinking. Be generous. Sprinkle over with a little caster sugar and shove it in the oven. Should take around 45 mins but test with a skewer from 30 mins and if the skewer comes out clean it’s done.
  Boyfriend did a sterling job of pumpkin carving this year, helping me with any of the latent homesickness guaranteed to descend around this time of year. Shame it rotted before the actual night itself and we instead stuck up a hastily-cut-out version of the same and stuck to the front door with dodgy sellotape. We are nothing if not classy.

Right. When the cake is done turn it out onto a cooling rack and put the cooling rack over some kitchen towel. Whilst the cake is still warm, melt your butter and using a pastry brush feed the cake with it. Use it all. Use more, if you think you should. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle it over the cake whilst the butter is still wet.

  See below for the done thing, uncut, and cut.
   It looks such an odd texture but eats really well. Baking, eh? Wizardry.

I’m going to do some proper work now, sitting in my corner of this offensively open-plan office with a face like, as I described to someone yesterday, Maggie Smith having just sucked on a particularly bitter lemon.

Muesli Bars for NewHuman

One of the toughest things about being a parent of an under-5, I’ve come to realise, is that toddlers seem to have a death-wish. I didn’t sign up to be a lifesaver but pretty much all weekend me and the boyfriend have half an eye trained on NewHuman whilst he undertakes various feats of gravity-defying purpose. I mean, it’s kind of cute, especially when he crashes, but his propensity to smash up his face just prior to a significant event (please see weekend before last when he faceplanted whilst on a bus and the whole bus went ‘oooooooh’ and we were on the way to an appointment with a nice school who probably don’t want to admit kids who look like boxers. Or, thinking about it, kids who take buses to school rather than ride in their parents’ giant city 4x4s. However…) means that half an eye needs to be kept.

I find, although I’m not an obsessive, anxiety-driven type person, that when it comes to NewHuman I am motivated to keep any bad things from happening that might ostensibly be my fault at some point in the future when he will no doubt sit me down and go through a very tidy list of complaints about how things have gone. At the moment I’m obsessed about his teeth and wrangle his complaining lips down like those of a dog, scouring for tartar, and making appointments for him with our (remarkably lovely) dentist, Dave. I’m fairly sure that I want NewHuman to go see Dave so that Dave can tell me what a wonderful job we are doing with NH’s teeth but until those musical words drop from Dave’s laconic lips I’ve gone crazy plaque-hunter.

This is all leading up to me wanting to make sure NH doesn’t have blackly rotten teeth. They are lovely and straight and me and the boyfriend have firm, financially-based hopes that his big-kid teeth come through as nicely. In the interim I can enjoy worrying about cavities, totally NH’s fault because fruit is one of his favourite snacks and OMG FRUIT IS SUGAR OH GOD NOTHING BUT KALE MUST PASS HIS LIPS. Luckily I’ve not actually reached that level of hysteria but I know there are neighbourhoods less than a mile from my own where that approach is status quo.

I’ve managed to somehow have NH think that a little handful of sunflower and pumpkin seeds is a big-time treat. This may genuinely be my biggest parenting win to date. So, I thought, I’ll bung those in some kind of muesli bar type thing and call it a snack. I’ll sweeten it with honey and stick it together with peanut butter and hey ho that’s me being all organically amazing! So easy.

Thus, below, is my totally-made up, once-tried bash at muesli bars for kids that aren’t full of refined sugar. They’re obviously full of honey and fruit-based sugar (depending on what fruit you go for) but the other big lesson I’ve learnt on this being-responsible-for-someone-elses’s-wellbeing thing is that the lesser of two evils is usually a great compromise.

These are a hit with NH and actually taste pretty nice. They’re a bit crumbly (OK, maybe quite a lot) but I think that’s cause I insist on cooking them.  They’d probably work fine just put in the fridge for a couple of hours to set but I like a toasted muesli bar and I have the dog to collect any crumbs as they fall from NH’s mealy hands.

Put your oven on to about 170C.

Gather:

2 cups porridge oats (I used porridge ones cause rolled ones are mega big)

About 1 more cup’s worth of any mixture of seeds and fruit you fancy. I usually go for pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and either dried apricot or sultana or sour cherry.

Bout 1/2 cup proper peanut butter – this means no evil unsustainably palm-oiled stuff, mostly, and no added sugar

Bout 1/3 cup honey

Bout 1/3 cup sunflower or other tasteless oil

  Oh – below is some of NH’s current fave cereal. Tastes like cardboard. They say it’s got honey in it but a bee must’ve pissed a tiny drop of honey on the factory on its way home one day, there’s no flavour of honey there at all. Anyway it’s crunchy and provides a nice texture so I stick some in. Rice bubbles or actual muesli or whatever would also work. S’up to you. This is a pretty freestyle recipe, yo.
  In a little saucepan over a medium heat slosh together the oil, peanut butter and honey and let melt and mix all together.

Whilst that’s happening, into a bowl shovel the oats, fruit, cereal and seeds and mix around a bit. Metal spoons are easy for this.

  Below is the gloopy peanut butter, honey and oil mix. Urgh. It looks rather like what I imagine a polluted mountain stream in hardcore mining territory in middle America to look like.  Possibly marginally less flammable.
  Mix your liquid stuff into your dry stuff.  I’d recommend you mix through half the liquid stuff and then use your professional judgement in respect of how much to eventually pour in. Take risks.  Pack it into a lightly oiled tray and bung in the oven for about 20 mins or until it gets golden on top. Turn the oven off and leave in there for about another ten mins or so.
  NewHuman has deep feelings for stickers and for things with wheels. When the two combine his ecstasy is difficult to be around.  And I know it’s been a while since the Dog made an appearance, so here she is, as was last night, looking as full as ennui as you could ever hope. Bless.
  Right, take the tin out of the oven and let cool completely before slicing. I then slice it up and individually wrap in clingfilm, then shove in a tupperware, and thus make a minor contribution to the Boyfriend’s sole parenting efforts whilst I have weekly jollies over here in the West of England.

Ottolenghi’s Sticky Chocolate Loaf 

Well, here I am, sitting in my hotel room in a rather nice West of England city, trying not to gaze at the traditionally awful hotel art – it is always so terribly hung and thus gives me a squint and a bad mood – typing a blog post on my iPad.  It’ll no doubt be full of spelling and other errors. 

One of my few skills is that of Very Fast Typing.  It’s the result of the only thing my mum really ever made me do at school – typing classes.  Yes, I’m old enough to have (1) had typing as an elective, and (2) learnt on those big manual machines that required a builder’s arm strength to get the keys to depress. The teacher – Mrs White, often known as Radar as she absolutely 100% had ears on sticks and eyes in the back of her head; nothing got past her on the chat/passing notes front – wouldn’t let you graduate to the very fancy electric typewriters until you’d gained a speed of at least 30wpm on the big heavy bastards.  

Graduate I did and over the next year got up to heady speeds of 60wpm and more.  Jobs involving typing, and the endless bloody parade of university assignments, got me to 100wpm at my peak. It’s aces, touch typing.  Only hangover I have though is the damned habit of 2 spaces after a full stop.  Properly antiquated these days, that is. Anyway the point of all this is that typing on iPads, with just my index fingers, is bloody horrid for those of us who can type properly. I can type multi-syllabic words with ease, without ever needing to look at the keyboard.  I can have a conversation with you about one thing whilst at the same time typing something else. But can I type on an iPad? Hell no. I think mostly cause my brain moves so much faster than my fingers and by the time they’ve caught up I’m just no longer funny.

As I’m working away so much I’m doing far less cooking than normal. This seems to be manifesting itself through the medium of cooking binges, one such 3.5hr mammoth session occurring on Sunday just gone in order to feed some friends for lunch.  3.5hrs for one main, one side, one sauce, one pudding, a 2-part starter and some bread.  Not bad going.  It was all bloody Ottolenghi stuff, though (bread excepted), which means multiple bastarding processes and bowls and ingredients lists as long as the hair I found on my chin the other night. LOOOOOOOONG. I could’ve wound it twice around my face to effect some kind of homemade facelift had I not gone straight in with the tweezers in an hysterical state. I was so whisker-free pre-NewHuman. Lovely and smooth chin, I had.  Now? Caveman.

For pudding I made Ottolenghi’s sticky chocolate loaf, no doubt previewed by this post’s title.  He puts prunes and Armagnac in his but, in lieu of prunes and Armagnac, I used dried apricots and cognac.  He uses yoghurt but I’d already accidentally used mine in the sauce for the main so used sour cream instead.  It all seemed to work out fine. Do what you like.  Clearly it’s fine. I mean, I wouldn’t use, like, figs and Malibu or bananas and vodka. Go with the prune or apricot option.

Gather:

220g pitted Agen prunes (I used a 250g bag of good dried apricots. Was probably a bit less in the end because I donated two pieces to NewHuman’s rapacious appetite, no doubt rotting his teeth in the process. I never said I’d be any good at this parenting thing…)

100ml Armagnac or cognac

115g plain flour

15g good cocoa powder (I used a bit more)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Pinch of salt. Not sea salt, fine kitchen salt please

60ml sunflower oil

60ml buttermilk or yoghurt (as I said, I used sour cream)

1 egg, from a happy chicken, please

30g caster sugar

60g light brown sugar

2 tablespoons molasses (I used golden syrup, bugger buying a big lot of molasses just for this)

150g good dark chocolate, chopped (I used 70%)

For the syrup:

80ml water

80g cup caster sugar

The leftover cognac or Armagnac from when you soaked the fruit or 2 tablespoons of new if you’re wasteful

First thing you do (after putting oven on to preheat at 170C and lining two smallish loaf tins) if using apricots is cut half of them up into quarters. If you’re using prunes, don’t bother, just divide them into two lots.  Put the chopped half and the booze into a saucepan over a medium heat and warm up.  Ottolenghi says until just warm. I was busy with a million other things so they definitely boiled. Was fine. Put to one side to cool a bit.

  Sift your flour, baking powder, bicarb, cocoa and salt. As I hope you know by know I never sift. If I’m feeling good I’ll whisk. I didn’t even whisk this time.  I forked. 

Then, as you can see below, you make cake mayonnaise.  Kind of.  Put the remaining fruit (the stuff not currently absolutely pissed in its warm booze-bath) into a food processor with the oil and the buttermilk or yoghurt. Whazz it up till it looks like shiny mayonnaise-y paste.

Scrape it all into a bowl and with a whisk mix in the egg, then the sugars, both, and the molasses/golden syrup.  I actually did it in the opposite order. Was fine.  

  Should look like the above. 

Chop your chocolate. I bloody love chopping chocolate.  I’m not sure why but it’s one of those viscerally satisfying activities. Set it aside.
  Fold in your flour et al with a spatula, making sure everything is nicely incorporated.  Mix through the chopped chocolate. 

Looks like poo-sick, as we have come to expect of all the best bakes.
Evenly distribute between your two lined loaf tins.  You’ll note below I used pre-made liners. I had no time to neatly line them myself so I went with the very common supermarket ones. For shame.

Get your boozy fruit and start to push into the cake mix.  If you are using prunes chop them into halves or quarters first. It’s gross AND delicious.   You can see below kind of what I mean, I hope. But push them down into the cake mix a little more than you can see in the photo.  Mostly cover them.    

  Into the oven with the sticky little suckers. About 45 minutes should do you, till a skewer comes out clean.

In another saucepan combine the water and sugar for the syrup, over a medium heat, swirl it around a bit till the sugar dissolves.  Once dissolved take it off the heat and pour in the remaining booze from the boozy fruit.  Let cool while the cakes cook.

Once  cooked take out and poke into it with a skewer, multiple times, like a Live Action Role Play enthusiast at a medieval re-enactment. But, like, for real. Actually skewer it.

Then using a pastry brush generously slather on the syrup, all of it.  The loaves can take it. They love it. They are greedy for it. Don’t be shy.    Take note of NewHuman’s top.  I’m not allowed to complain about the weather but let’s just say the heating has come on recently.  

Right. Below is the done loaf thing, topped with a bit of leftover syrup (oh yeah, if you’re having company keep some syrup behind for serving, it’ll make you look fancy). Cause I’m posh and classy and that I also dumped on some leftover boozy fruit. Was yum. Eat with vanilla ice cream.

 
 

Smitten Kitchen’s Baked Orzo with Eggplant

G’day from Bristol! I write as a victorious Australian, offering well-meant but essentially cold comfort to my English colleagues and compatriots on the occasion of their loss in the Rugby World Cup. I don’t care about rugby. At least I didn’t previously. I’ve only recently gotten my head around the difference between League and Union. League (the final having just been played in Australia) and Union (the World Cup being played here in the UK) look, to all intents and purposes to anyone not a rabid fan, pretty much the same. That is to say, a game played on some nice spongey lawn in which men of gargantuan proportions grab each other in a manner reminiscent of long-lost ogres having a somewhat aggressive family reunion, and then scrabble around on said lawn like hungry chickens.

Having said that I enjoyed the game between England and Australia over the weekend, and not just because Australia won. I went on a very rare night out with a friend on Friday, very moderate drinking, good amounts of food taken on and home before midnight, yet I suffered the BITCHY BITCH HELL-BITCHES of all hangovers. I am sure it can’t have just been hangover, I was too sick. Anyway all day Saturday was spent mostly in bed, variously rocketing up from prone position in response to fast-moving nausea and then rocking back and forth like Girl Interrupted as the increased blood pressure attempted to blow my eyeballs out from the inside. Boyfriend put in a sterling effort looking after NewHuman all day and as such on Sunday, when I woke miraculously recovered (no doubt in part due to Australia’s sporting brilliance), some kind of reward for his hard work was required. Anyway by the time the rugby started I was beginning to regain a level of human-ness and, thus, the game will always be remembered fondly. By me.

I thought about what he’d like the most – meat, something smokey and barbecued, a nice pairing with beer – and decided to go vegetarian. I’m good to him and to his digestion. Also I’ve yet again left him with a vast amount to eat as never-ending leftovers on these single-parenting days he survives whilst I’m away.

I say Smitten Kitchen in the post title, which it is, but she adapted it from an Ottolenghi recipe so I’m firmly within my happy Ottolenghi place with this one. I went with her version cause I think I agreed with her changes but of course I made a few of my own, mostly involving doubling the amount of cheese involved. It was the right decision. I made this in a vast, vast rush, having gotten back from a lunch with visiting friends and only having an hour to get it prepped and cooked before presenting some of it to NewHuman for supper. It actually took just over that, all told, but was worth it. Not if you’re NewHuman, however. More to come on that front.  Smitten Kitchen says this recipe is for four, but she might mean rugby players. It’s a lot. Good for leftovers.

You’ll need:

1 large eggplant (or aubergine, I’ve no wish to be culturally insensitive), cut into 3/4-inch dice – I that is a bloody mammoth eggplant, so I used a lot of baby ones, total of around 600g. They were great as really didn’t need salting.
Salt and black pepper
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 celery stalk, in a 1/4-inch dice
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces (225 grams) orzo, a rice-shaped pasta, rinsed
1 teaspoon (6 grams) tomato paste
1 1/2 cups (355 ml) vegetable stock
1 to 3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped – I used thyme, just leaves picked off, about a tablespoon
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest or more to taste, up to the zest of a whole lemon – I used about a dessertspoon finely chopped
4 ounces (115 grams) mozzarella, firmer is better here, cut into 1/3-inch dice – that’s like, one mozzarella ball. BALLS TO THAT. I used two mozzarella balls, about 200g in total
1 1/2 ounces (a generous 1/2 cup or 45 grams) parmesan, grated – I used more like 3/4 cup
3 medium tomatoes, diced

METHOD

You’re supposed to generously salt your chopped aubergine and leave to drain in a big colander. I did that, actually, but cause I used lovely little baby eggplants it wasn’t really necessary. Next time I know. If you use MEGA EGGPLANT then do this step, rinse well and lay out on a tea towel or similar and dry properly.

Whilst they’re salting get on with chopping celery, carrot, onion and tomatoes. Chop chop. Chop. Chopchopchop. Shitload of chopping.

You could also get your lemon zest in line, garlic ready to crush, thyme ready to use, stock dissolved, cheese chopped and grated. Bloody prep.

Stick your oven on to preheat at 180C.

In a nice big frypan, in two lots, slosh some oil and when it’s all lovely and warm over a medium-high heat chuck in the eggplant. SK says to cook it for 8 mins, stirring occasionally. I did it for more like 5. Was fine. Remove from pan with slotted spoon and drain well on kitchen towel. Both lots, do it.

  In the same pan add the carrot, garlic and onion and cook for about 5 mins, trying not to let onion burn or brown or anything much. You’re trying to get the cooking going here but not add any bitterness.
  Then add the tomato paste (I was generous with mine, put maybe twice as much in as recommended) and the orzo and cook for another two minutes or so.  Right. Take it off the heat, and add (this is why you’ll want a nice big frypan) everything else – eggplant, tomato, cheeses, stock and thyme. It’ll look a little sloppy. That’s good. The orzo needs some liquid.  A good twist of salt and generous amounts of cracked pepper stirred through will be required.
  Shove it all into a big casserole dish and cover tightly with foil, then into the oven for 20 mins. After that time take the foil off – you want a lovely crispy top.  I left it for about 30 mins without foil but go with what your own preference is (if you don’t like crispy tops we cannot be friends, you are clearly altered).  Above is NewHuman caught in the act of actually spitting this out. His head looks mutant and huge. It’s mutant in real life, but not actually huge, it’s poor photo taking skills but really don’t be mad at me, be mad at him. Philistine.

Below is the finished product. Is yum. Benefits from an additional spray of salt and pepper and a good stash of tupperware for leftovers. I expect Boyfriend is eating some tonight. HE HAD BETTER BE.

Chana Masala

Hi there, general public.  I have here that most rare of things – a vegetarian post of savoury nature. Amazing, huh? The reason for this is that Boyfriend is on a kind-of-diet (there is no need, he is tall-ish and svelte-ish and cycles nearly every day but hey ho) and I am currently working away from the familial home for three days a week. I am abandoning the Boyfriend and NewHuman to their own devices and trying not to be too pissed off at how well they’re coping without my micromanagement. Devastating, actually, but luckily I can help by leaving a metric shit-ton of leftovers of the chickpea variety, bound to support Boyfriend’s diet and his weekly fart count in one fell blow.

Good, innit.

There are many things to like about working away, particularly out of London, not least of which is the lack of peak hour commute through London’s sweat-perforated transport systems. I’m usually to be found delivering contracts in the more hellhole-styled locations in the greater British isles, but this time have somehow landed up in a really rather nice city to the West of London. It’s all golden and seemingly bathed in sunlight a lot of the time. I can get good coffee and really good food at slightly-cheaper-but-not-so-cheap-as-to-cause-concern prices than London. I’ve had my finger hovering over RightMove ever since, no doubt increasing Boyfriend’s fart rate but this time due to stamp duty nerves rather than chickpea application.

I’m making myself eat out alone both nights of the week as experience tells me it’s far too easy to load up on shit hummous at whatever local Sainsburys you can find, sit in your hotel room in your tights and singlet and drip crumbs through the hotel pillows whilst watching a repeat of Rick Stein from 1998. It’s not a pretty picture to describe or to live through. So here I am, eating out alone, not eating chickpea leftovers, and winning Monday-Wednesday.

Then I get home and NewHuman says, ‘Away, Mama!’ but not in the sense of, ‘you’ve been away! Yay you are back!’ but more to say, ‘You have been away! Go away some more!’. Little gobshite.

Right, below are the ingredients for what is essentially chickpeas in gravy. A lovely, yummy, spicy Indian style gravy. Go forth and vegetarian the shit out of it. Recipe via Felicity Cloake’s always excellent Guardian column.

  I had taken a really nicely set up picture of the ingredients for you. Then I realised I had forgotten to include the chopped tomatoes cause I’m an idiot and because I was half a glass of JD and coke down (diet, yes yes aspartame death yes yes). So you get, instead, the above representation of how things really look outside Instagram setups.

Please gather, for four quite good servings:

450g of drained tinned chickpeas (I just used 2 tins – Felicity says you can soak your own but also says tinned ones are just as good so why you’d bother soaking hard bullets I have no idea. Get tinned ones, cook smart).

1 tbspn vegetable oil

1 tspn cumin seeds

1 large onion, finely chopped

6 garlic cloves

25g root ginger (I didn’t weigh mine, just used a large chunk)

30g fresh coriander (again I didn’t weigh this. Weigh fresh coriander? wtf? I just ripped a good half a bunch)

2-4 green chillis, roughly chopped, seeds and all (I used 2 large ones, was plenty)

1 tbspn ground coriander

1-2 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp ground turmeric

400g tin of plum tomatoes, chopped

1.5 tsp fine salt

1 tspn garam masala

1 tbspn lemon juice
  Finely chop the onion.

Then in the wazzer thing, or with a hand whizz chopper thingy, chuck your chilli, ginger, garlic and coriander.  Wazz it all into a paste. Like, not chunky but quite fine and as paste-like as you can get.

  Oh yeah – I forgot to do this at the start. Stick your drained and rinsed chickpeas into a saucepan with 500ml of water. Bring to simmer, simmer for 5 mins, then drain, reserving the foul looking simmering water.

So you’ll have chickpeas, onion, paste.
  Put the oil in a nice big high-sided frypan and over a medium heat fry the cumin seeds for a couple of minutes till they get all aromatic and delicious. Open the back door so the neighbours can smell it and get jealous.

Throw in the onion, lower the heat a bit, and cook, stirring a fair amount, till they go golden brown, as demonstrated above. It’ll take longer than you think. Is annoying.

  Then add the paste, sloshing in a little more oil if you like. Cook for a couple of minutes.
  Then add the ground coriander, tumeric and chilli powder. I didn’t add much chilli powder – about 1/3 teaspoon, as the chillis were giving it more than enough heat.

Cook for another couple of minutes.

  Then add the disgusting chickpea water, the chickpeas and the can of tomatoes, and the salt, then stir through. Bring it to a simmer, then turn down and let it gently bubble away for a good 20 minutes or so until it really thickens and starts to reduce a very little bit.

Now is the point in most blog posts where I’d usually post a pic of NewHuman or the dog, but iCloud is being a dick and won’t let me email any photos from my album, and WordPress is being a dick and only gives me the last 25 pics in my phone album as options to post, so instead you get a photo of my face after 15 mins of total fuckery trying to get the thing to work. I’ve modelled this expression on that of a friend, SD (HI SD YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE) who is the queen of the quizzical selfie.
  Right. After twenty minutes or so add the garam masala and lemon juice. Stir through, let cool a bit – we let it cool through dint of dishing it up onto a nice cold plate, as no way we were waiting to plunge our faces into the spicy goodness. Sprinkle with fresh coriander leaves, and serve with flatbread or steamed rice. We went with flatbread and a splodge of sour cream on top. Full delicious. Recommend.

Orange Syrup Cake

Hi. It’s been a while. It’s been a whole summer, actually, pretty sure my last post was May. In England Summer happens as a series of 10-14 days, occurring in fits and starts over June, July and, if you’re lucky, August. This August we’ve not been lucky. It’s a public holiday Monday today, so of course it’s absolutely shitting it down and me and most of UK-based social media are whinging boringly on about it. Fair enough, though. Whilst I’ve stayed warmly at home with a water-phobic whippet, the boyfriend and NewHuman have been tramping around Wimbledon Common no doubt getting illegally muddy and full of the smug vigour that a walk outside in shit weather tends to engender.

Nothing much has been happening here in London, for us. It’s been status quo except that NewHuman continues to evolve into something increasingly resembling an actual human being, albeit one full of opinion and voice without the logic to back anything up. He’s also taking over. See below:

  He refuses to use any of the wheeled vehicles other than the car, although will deign to use the scooter as long as he’s allowed to push it along like a Zimmer frame, rather than actually scooting. Not even the sight of younger and faster-moving children motivates him to switch and scoot which on one hand makes me pleased he’s not a lemming but on the other makes me worry for his cognitive function. The bike gets totally ignored except for the times the boyfriend gets on board ostensibly to show NewHuman how it should work but mostly to test out his aged knees (they fail).
  After over 2 years eschewing any kind of vegetable or food of exotic nature NewHuman has begun to experiment with crazy outlandish flavours such as rice and chicken, as evidenced above. It’s been a revelation for us all, and I bet he’s full excited about the asparagus risotto I have lined up for his supper tonight. And thank feck I can deviate from the fruit-pesto-cruskit roundabout we’ve been on. Oh poor me, etc.

So listen, I am really sorry I’ve been so long between posts. I blame general ennui and possibly the need for some blog long-service leave. It’ll have been four years since I started this blog, come December, and I was getting a bit embarrassed about the plethora of Donna Hay posts, yo. And lazy. There’s been a lot of cooking going on, just ask my and boyfriend’s waistlines. They’ll both confirm it as fact, in between mouthfuls.

Right. Australian Women’s Weekly recipe, this, for an orange and blueberry syrup cake. You can see blueberries in the ingredients pic below. I decided not to use them, but please, do, if you fancy it. I also doubled the amounts because I needed a cake for a visit to a mate tomorrow and there was no way I was making a cake without some of my own. I’ve already had a slice and if the boyfriend doesn’t get home soon there’ll be nary a crumb left for him to wrap his wet face around.

Set your oven to 160-70C fan, or 180C non-fan.

 For one cake, gather:

125g softened butter

110g caster sugar (1/2 cup)

2 eggs

260g SR flour (1 3/4 cups)

125ml yoghurt (1/2 cup) – it doesn’t specify what kind. I only had fruit, so I used fruit. It was fine.

60ml cup orange juice (1/4 cup)

1 tablespoon finely grated or chopped orange rind

If you want – 150g fresh or frozen blueberries

Orange Syrup

3/4 cup caster sugar

1/2 cup orange juice

60ml water

1 tblsp orange rind, grated

The recipe asks you to cook it in a ring tin but I don’t have one so I used a loaf tin. Whichever you use, grease and line it.

Beat the butter and sugar in a bowl, electric mixer will be a dreamy help here, till they’re properly light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the flour and combined yoghurt and juice in two batches.
  My fancy microplane won’t work on zest, and so I had to use the old-style grater then chop. Bloody chore.  Whilst everything is beating to a light and fluffy (and traditionally vomitous) texture, sort your rind and juice your oranges.
  I found it quite a dry mix so added some milk till I felt, deep in my soul, that it was a better mix and that I could then rightly sacrifice it to the heat of the oven. See how you feel. I probably added a further 1/4 cup. Boyfriend’s milk, not mine, obvs.

Put the cake(s) in the oven for about an hour or until a skewer comes out with a nice damp crumb. Not wet mix. Wet mix would be bad.

  Make the syrup now. Really, you need to do it straight away so it’s ready when the cakes come out. Pain in the ass as you probably won’t feel like doing it cause you’ve just spent way too fricking long chopping rind and juicing oranges and scraping yoghurt pots but just bloody well do it.

Stir the sugar, orange juice and water in a small saucepan over heat, don’t let it boil, till the sugar has dissolved. Once dissolved then add the rind and let it simmer, without stirring (pretty complex this, the stirring and non-stirring bits, don’t stuff it up), for five minutes.
  Let it simmer till it goes a lovely darkish colour. Will smell great. Do not taste, will burn.  Done cakes, above.

Use your skewer to poke a lot of holes into the cakes as soon as you take them out of the oven. If they start to look like the enlarged pores you can now see on your own face without the benefit of a magnifying mirror then you’re on your way to a good lot of pokery. Then plug those cakey pores with as much syrup as you can get in. You’ll be surprised, the cake can take it all. It took maybe five mins of gentle spooning to get the whole lot on and in. Looks good. Is messy, less good.

Above is the cake, sliced into. It looks different to that now cause I’ve already sliced into it again. You will, too.

And below, as a reward for your patience, the pup (portrait by my clever mate L), dodgy digestive system not evident in this pic. Bloody dog.

Donna Hay’s Garlic Chickpeas and Chorizo

Good morning.

I often find myself wondering these days about continuing on with this blog seeing as I’m so shit at updating. Remember the glory days of weekly, sometimes bi-weekly updates? That was over-achieving.  It was setting expectations way too high.  I often cook stuff and photograph it, thinking, ‘that’ll be a good blog post’ and then because I have, until recently, been at home with NewHuman pretty much all the time, I don’t get my laptop out very often and doing a blog post on the old iPhone is a major pain in the ass.  I never really bother.

This is not a cry for help, for compliments, or any other self-esteem booster (although obviously I wouldn’t be averse to some wailing and chest-beating on your part if you felt so strongly).  It’s rather a bookmark to let you know that I’m a lazy cow and don’t be surprised if 3-4 weekly posts are all I manage from hereon in. Awful.  I’d be no good trying to make a living out of this thing at all.  Sad.

We are still mining Donna Hay recipes at Casa Average Baker.  It’s got to be a year’s worth now, surely, of hitting up her parsimonious-lipped rendering of supper recipes but to give credit where it’s due she has only disappointed us twice in all that time.  Because the recipes on her ‘What’s for Dinner’ app tend to take around 30 mins max it doesn’t matter if I don’t start cooking till 730pm, we still get to eat at a non-Spanish hour.  Even the boyfriend has been known to gird his loins and get some of her recipes done.

Today is a big day in the UK – it’s national election day.  Unlike Australia they don’t have preferential voting here, you’re allowed to not-vote if you can’t be bothered, and you can only vote for your local MP; you can’t vote for who you’d like to be PM.  It’s really odd but it’s better than not being able to vote at all, so vote this morning I did.  As usual I got a bit emotional – well, emotional for me, which consists of a barely noticeable crinkling of the eyes and a microscopic nostril flare – at the privilege it is to be able to have a say in how your country is run.  Now obviously there are a lot of good and proper arguments about the shitness of current and past and potential future governments and leaders, and the crap nature of parliament and politics in general, but the fact remains that these idiots put a lot of effort into trying to get us to vote for them.  It’s worth taking the opportunity to do so.

I have hope that we’ll lose the current UK govt who have systematically raped and pillaged society for their own benefit, and thus for the benefit of their business cronies, developers, private health funds and so on.  It’s been a rather sickening five years, watching how the sick and ill and unemployed and disabled and women and the elderly have all had the literal rug pulled from underneath them, whilst the rich sit back and pile said rugs up in ever-increasing layers under their own, groaning tables.

Enough. Sorry.

I’m back to work now, ostensibly on a 3-day week contract but also in discussions about another 2-day week one to run concurrently so my life of (really boring but actually very luxurious) leisure, my four-times a week swims and long walks in the park with the dog, flogging NewHuman around in laps to tire him out, they are over.  Basically we ran out of money (THANKS VERY MUCH, NEW KITCHEN) so I’ve been forced to sell my soul once more.

Food.

Chickpeas, eh?  I have spent a long time avoiding them in any form bar that of hoummous. Or hummus.  Or houmus.  Whatever.  In this dish, added to some yum umami flavours and garlic and the smoked paprika burn of chorizo, they are delicious.  Also, coming out of a can you barely even need to be awake to prep them.  Life can be so good.

  Gather, for 2 people:

Chorizo – 2 or 3, depending on size, sliced.  I like hot smoked paprika ones, you choose as you wish.  If you live in Oz please try to avoid the shit supermarket ‘chorizo’.  It’s not chorizo.  Find a good deli.

4 cloves garlic, finely sliced

1 tablespoons shredded lemon zest

250g or so of cherry tomatoes

400g can of chickpeas, drained (and rinsed a bit if you fancy.  I fancied).

1/3 cup or so of basil leaves

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Finely grated parmesan, to serve

  Sorry bout the sideways photo, yeah.  Live with it, though, can you?  In a non-stick frypan fry off your chorizo chunks over a medium-high heat, maybe 3 mins or so each side – you want them golden and going a bit crisp.  NICE.

Then add the sliced garlic and lemon zest and mooch them around together a bit for a minute.

  Chuck the tomatoes into a sieve over the sink and give them a punch.  Fuel yourself with the pent up anger remaining for the person who tracked baby powder through the gym changing rooms earlier and ruined your jeans.

You want to break the tomatoes up a very little to release some of the juice and the seeds.

  Add the tomatoes and chickpeas to the pan.  Stir it around for 3 minutes or so until the whole thing is heated through.    See this thing? I have coveted one for YEARS and never remembered to buy one whenever I went home to Australia, and could never find them here in the UK.  It’s a fat-splatterer-shield, that’s my name for it.  Sits over the frying pan when you’re frying stuff and catches nearly all the spattering fat.  Is BRILLIANT.  Obviously I broke it almost immediately I got it home to London.  She had to sit in the pram on one visit to the park because the ground was too stony to lay down on.  I support her fully in this position.  At other times she behaves much more like a real dog does.

Right – stir through the basil leaves and lemon juice.  I added a bit of black pepper because it’s what I do.

Divide between serving bowls and sprinkle with the parmesan.  There’s no parmesan on display in the below photo because once on it looked a bit wormy.

Eat.  Is almost health.