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Archive for the ‘Childhood Favourites’ Category

There is nothing that aggrieves me more than being out of biscuits (or cookies, if you will), particularly on a holiday. Instead of having my usual tea and biscuits for breakfast, I have to revert to (gasp!) toast or cereal!
I know it sounds unhealthy but I have an agreement with my stomach: he won’t hurt, if I feed him high cocoa chocolate based foods at various points throughout the day. Sometimes he shirks on his agreement and hurts anyway but I continue to eat chocolate regardless.
So, what’s a girl to do without biscuits and/or chocolate? Make chocolate biscuits of course! And for one of the best cookie recipes I have ever cooked, I turned to Great Cookies by the wonderful Carole Walter. This is is a fantastic book, beautifully photographed with every type of cookie recipe imaginable, from drop cookies to speculaas, pinwheels to biscotti and everything else in between. Of course, I have only ever cooked one recipe from this book: Walter’s unbeatable Oatmeal Cookies.
I used to hate anything with oatmeal because it would always provoke an outbreak of stomach ache, so I avoided this wholesome tasting cereal like the plague. However, since I now have the aforementioned agreement with said stomach, I like to experiment with foods that I previously couldn’t eat. And fortunately, I have discovered there is quite a lot now that I can eat without too much discomfort.
IBS is a really unpleasant disorder. In my case, it causes severe bloating, headaches, cramping and nausea if I eat too much wheat or dairy produce. I take medication before each meal which does greatly reduce the symptoms but fellow sufferers will know that this isn’t always the answer. I have suffered from it since I was old enough to suffer from the stresses of the real world, sixteen or seventeen years old and when I first approached the doctors with my complaint about persistent stomach aches, they put it down to poor diet. IBS didn’t really exist (in the UK at least) back then.
Thankfully, reasonably effective anti-spasmodics have been introduced and some people (like my work colleague who finds that beer causes his outbreaks) can control theirs purely by cutting out ‘trigger’ foods.
I, on the other hand, rely purely on the tablets because I refuse to let the illness spoil my culinary life. The only foods I have strictly cut back on are dairy based foods like yoghurt, milk (and milkshakes), coffee with milk, and ice cream. Also, chocolate with a high milk content has to be eaten with care. Fortunately we have 70% cocoa which I can eat. Nuts are usually a big no-no if they are of the harder variety (for example, peanuts, brazil nuts or hazelnuts).
“But, enough about your stomach!” I hear you cry, “what about those cookies?”
Ah yes. The Cookies. Oatmeal cookies, studded generously with large chunks of dark chocolate and mahogany hunks of pecan. The original recipe calls for walnuts but I find that Pecans have a sweeter taste but generous bite.
The wonderful thing about cookie recipes is that you can alter the flavourings to suit your palate (or in my case, stomach) or store cupboard. These would taste just as good without the chocolate or nuts, just plain old fantastic oatmeal cookies.
Going against most recommendations, I halved the recipe, straight down the middle, for the simple reason that whilst I could eat 3 dozen of this oatie beauties, my stomach and I would come to serious blows. And despite this, the recipe turned out perfectly: these cookies/biscuits are crisp on the bottom, chewy in the middle. If you eat them still hot, the chocolate chunks still run fluidly throughout and there is nothing nicer than eating melted chocolate. When cold, they are just as good.
Being the true American that he is, Paul ate his with a glass of milk. I simply ate mine whilst watching the Road to Perdition, crumbs falling all over as the film reached its tense crescendo.

Other variations of this cookie could involve swapping chocolate for raisins or dried cranberries, various nuts or seeds, if you want a slightly healthier version.

oatmeal-cookiesOATMEAL COOKIES adapted from Carole Walter’s Great Cookies
Makes about 20 cookies that are 2.5″ wide, roughly
Ingredients:
1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1 1/4 Cup Oatmeal (not instant)
1/6 Cup Caster (or granulated) Sugar
3/4 Cup Plain Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter (not really soft)
1 Tablespoon Corn Syrup or Golden Syrup
1 Small Egg
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Chocolate Chips (I hit a bar of Lindt 70% chocolate repeatedly against a work surface to break them into decent size chunks)
1 Cup Chopped Pecans, or nut of your choice
METHOD:
Preheat oven to 180c. Line two baking sheets with baking paper or lightly oil them.
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the brown and white sugar and a third of the oatmeal until sand-like. This will take about 3 minutes.
Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder together. Stir in the rest of the oatmeal. Set aside.
Using your stand alone mixer or electric hand whisk, blend the butter with corn syrup on low speed until light.
Beat in the processed oatmeal/sugar mixture in three additions. Add the egg and vanilla extract.
Turning the speed up to medium, add the sifted flour in three more additions, mixing until only just combined.
Finally, fold in the nuts and chocolate chips.
Using either a couple of teaspoons or a small ice cream scoop (which I highly recommend!), drop spoonfuls onto the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between each scoopful. They will spread out during cooking but not horrendously.
Bake for 10-12 minutes or until starting to turn golden around the edges.
Leave to cool for a couple of minutes on the baking sheets then remove to a cooling rack.
According to Walter, these cookies will last 2 weeks in an airtight tin. I doubt that they will last that long!

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Cocoa (Pasta) Nibs

Paul and I went Christmas shopping at the weekend to our local shopping “mall”. We figured it would be sensible to go early and avoid large crowds but we forgot that there’s one thing that malls attract at any time of the year and that’s large crowds.  No matter. We had lunch at Yo! Sushi, a rather overrated fast food Sushi Bar that promises far more than it can offer, particularly on a Sunday lunchtime.  Our fast sushi was followed rather curiously by some Krispy Kreme donuts which do not taste the same over here as they do in the US. Why is that?

Anyway, to cut a long, tedious story slightly shorter, we popped into Hotel Chocolat. I am already a member of their tasting club and often spend many a lustful lunch hour drooling over their expensive looking chocolates, which are actually quite reasonably priced, considering their admirable ethical policies, which can often price other chocolate brands out of the “normal” buyers market.

After 10 minutes spent running around like a child in a candy store (that would be an oversized grown up in a posh chocolate store then), we purchased a gift for one of Paul’s employees, an advent calendar for me and several of their mini slabs of chocolate. At this point, Paul is trying frantically to usher me over to the cashier when I spot a selection of rather unusual cooking ingredients. Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar? Cocoa Pasta? Cocoa Bean and Chilli Olive oil? These guys really are putting their neck out selling this kind of artisinal (read: slow selling) ingredient.pasta-11Never did this seem truer than when the cashier asked me to let him know how the pasta tastes as they “don’t seem to sell a lot of it”.

So, I picked up a packet of the cocoa pasta, intruiged by its rich colour and £5.00 price tag (possibly what puts other customers off). Would it really taste of cocoa or just dye all my other food brown? I couldn’t wait to try it and find out.

I was tempted with a savoury sauce but Paul wanted Macaroni Cheese for tea. OK, so we’ll have Macaroni Cheese followed by Cocoa Pasta Pudding for dessert.

He set to work on the Mac and Cheese and I pondered the Chocolate Pasta sitting in front of me. I have always had a soft spot for my mum’s baked Macaroni Pudding which is a derivition of Rice Pudding, which is to say, rice (or pasta) baked in milk with sugar in the oven over a low heat. Sounds plain and I suppose it is, but it’s good plain. Comforting, nursery food.

So, to keep things simple (and dodge the flying pans and flecks of grated cheese as Paul prepared his meal), I simply poured the dried Cocoa Pasta into a baking dish and covered it with a mixture of cream and milk, then sprinkled it with some soft brown sugar. I cooked it in the oven at a low temperature (150c) and checked after 30 minutes to see if it needed any more milk. It did.

The Finished Dish - Barely Redeemed by the Choc Chips

After a little while in the oven, the kitchen was filled with a rich aroma of chocolate. Imagine if you were baking a chocolate cake – this is exactly how the pasta smells. Intruiged at how deeply chocolately it promised to be, I managed to eat a large plateful of Mac N Cheese and then wondered at how I could possibly eat yet another pasta dish that night.

But in the spirit of the experiment, I managed to dish some up and try it. As you can see from the picture below, it looks a little gruesome, a little gungy and a lot unappetising (and this was one of the better shots of it), and I felt that it needed an extra chocolatey hit to make it “pop!” flavourwise, so I added a sprinkling of choco-caramel chips and these melted quite delectably over the pasta, adding a further dimension to the dish.

My opinion of the pasta served as a pudding is somewhat mixed. The pasta didn’t taste strongly enough of the cocoa to flavour the dish discernably and this was my reasoning behind using a fairly bland, creamy sauce. I wanted to taste the pasta and to be knocked out by it. Unfortunately this didn’t happen. However, I suspect that it may work better with a spicy tomato sauce, something that the cocoa can enhance rather than be the main ingredient.

So, stay tuned for Part 2 of our Cocoa Pasta Experiment – The Savoury Course and, if you’ve tried Cocoa Pasta, I’d love to know what you thought of it and how you prepared it!

Cocoa Pasta is available via Mail Order or instore from Hotel Chocolat.

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So I’m cooking lunch for my mum and, at 10.30am the same morning she asks me what we’re having:

Mum: “Meat?”

Me: “No.”

Mum: {pleading voice} “Not vegetarian?!”

Me: “No.”

Mum: “So…it must be fish?”

Me: “Yes, yes it’s fish”

Mum: “Oh. So have you made a big dessert then?”

Me: “No. Did you want dessert?”

Mum: “Well, fish isn’t very filling and if it’s a fish dish I haven’t had before, I probably won’t like it.” Me: “So you want dessert so fill up on. Just in case?”

Mum: “Well, you do write for this chocolate blog now so it might make sense to give yourself something to write about. Pleeeeease?”

End of telephone conversation.

I suppose I should be offended really but I’m used to my family’s complete and utter fear of what they see as my maverick style of cooking. And all because I’ve cooked maybe 3 or 4 really dud dishes over the last 10 years. And I think that’s pretty good odds myself.

But, I like a challenge so I start rustling around my cookbooks. Paul suggests the 30 minutes chocolate puddings but I don’t want any extemporaneous faff when I get to my mums so I find this perfect recipe, ironically in a cookbook that my mother bought me for my birthday, called Good Food 101 Chocolate Treats: Chocolate Brownie Cake.

Yes, it’s a Brownie baked in a cake tin but it’s more than that. It is fast. All the sugars, chocolate and butter and melted together in a saucepan and then your flour, cocoa and baking powders are stirred in. Almost like your American Dump Cake. Not only is it fast and easy, it is incredibly rich and delicious. I think this could be alluded to the additions of Golden Syrup and cocoa powder, not generally used in traditional brownies.

Anyway, I baked the Chocolate Brownie Cake and was thrilled to see it had the traditional ooey, gooey middle and rich, deep flavour.

We served it with some single cream and raspberries (Paul had vanilla ice cream but then, he is American). Mother was pleased. Oh, and she said the fish dish was filling too…

CHOCOLATE BROWNIE CAKE – serves 6-8

Ingredients:

100g Butter

175g Caster Sugar

75g Muscovado Sugar (light)

125g Good Quality Dark Chocolate, chopped

1 Tbsp Golden Syrup

2 Large Eggs, beaten

1 Tsp Vanilla Extract

100g Plain Flour

½ Tsp Baking Powder

2 Tbsp Cocoa Powder

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 180c.

Line an 8” Cake tin.

In a large saucepan, gently melt together the chocolate, butter, golden syrup and sugars until the mixture is amalgamated and quite smooth.

Remove from heat, beat in the eggs and vanilla and sift in the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder. Stir thoroughly and pour into your prepared cake tin.

Bake for 25-30 minutes (mine took 28 minutes).

Leave to cool in the tin for at least 15 minutes, then cut into slices and serve with cream, ice cream or crème fraiche and some fresh fruit.

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It seems that the days of the corner shop are fading into obscurity. Supermarkets can supply the time-pushed shopper with everything, all under one roof.

However, is this a smart way to shop? The days of my childhood were mostly spent reading but I did look forward to a visit to the local sweet shop where I would buy a quarter of Butterscotch sweets and red shoelaces. As I got older, I, like so many other children, got sucked into collecting bubblegum cards. My favourite were Garbage Pail Kids and regular readers of this blog and our last one will probably find this of no great surprise.

But as the supermarkets grew bigger, these smaller shops became pushed out, made redundant. They couldn’t compete with the low prices being offered in larger stores.  This is a reflection of our faster, one-stop lifestyles, aptly implemented with fast food chains and internet shopping too.
The days of looking forward to visiting the local sweet shop seemed like they were over, but the tide is turning.

Only recently, whilst (I admit it) surfing a well-known internet auction site, I came across a shop selling all the penny sweets I had once loved as a child, but, of more interest to me now, a variety of chocolate bars that are difficult to source. The most startling discovery of all? This shop is not just a cyber-shop with a favicon as its shop front but is an actual living, breathing, functioning sweet shop by the sea-side in Great Yarmouth.

Sweet Dreams Traditional Sweet Shop is just that: old fashioned and sweet. Just how all sweet shops should be. So the external décor isn’t quite reminiscent of the sweet shops of Dickensian times but these days customers (notably children) are lured in by colourful signs and the promise of more colour and excitement inside. And besides, the myriad colours of the jars, filled to the brim of sweets, candys, sherberts and liquorice are enough to make the most anti-sugar person melt.

Sweet Dreams Traditional Sweet Shop was opened by Patricia, Nigel and Andrew on the 9th March 2005 and have recently opened up their cybershop too, providing almost every sweet you can remember from your childhood (and some you can’t), they also cater for the diabetic or person watching their sugar which is thoughtful. And, if you wanted to bring back a gift from your trip to Great Yarmouth, they have a vast selection of Swiss Lindt and British Beeches chocolates, along with Britain’s other well kept chocolate secret, Caleys. In effect, what Patricia, Nigel and Andrew are doing is keeping other British industries going, as well as bolstering the smaller, specialists businesses.

So, next time you visit Great Yarmouth, make sure to pop into Sweet Dreams Traditional Sweet Shop, buy a bag of penny sweets for yourself and a box of chocolates to take home and find yourself revelling in a childhood dream brought to life. And if you can’t get to Great Yarmouth, maybe you can find a traditional sweet shop closer to home (and let me know where they are!!).

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Chocolate Brownies. Possibly the most perfect of all the ways to indulge in Theobroma Cacao. The chocolate hit in a well made brownie is so strong it can feel like you’ve just downed three double espressos in less than 10 seconds flat.
And there’s the non-prep side of things. It takes no time at all to whip up a batch of brownies and even less time to devour them. The only difficult part is melting the chocolate and if you have a microwave then you even remove the double boiler element.
Of course, there is a down side to such a simply wonderful cake. Brownies don’t really look like much other than brown, heavy, stodgy bits of brick. But think again! There lies within a simple, evil genius. People unfamiliar with the Brownie may overlook it once, but once bitten, never again shy.
I baked my first batch of chocolate brownies a few years ago, using a Tamasin Day-Lewis recipe from her Good Tempered Food and found them to be completely and utterly darkly delicious. They are as chocolatey as you could ever imagine, fudgy and dense. I don’t bake them too often though because any good Brownie recipe hinges on using excellent quality chocolate and I covet my expensive chocolate as though it were an internal organ.
The characteristics of the brownie, whether it’s chocolate or otherwise (blondies also exist and are just as yummy) is that moist, almost undercooked middle that takes very little time to get used to. This is where I often have problems. Many of my brownies are under or over cooked but I adore that squidgy middle so much that I have strong reservations about leaving them in the oven for the stated time in the recipe.

The recipe I have used here is from Sara Jayne Paines – Chocolate The Definitive Guide and is, as the name suggests, rich and fudgy. However, if you are making a lot of Brownies for a large crowd, I would also refer you to the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook‘s Outrageous Brownies recipe which is truly superlative (if bank busting).

CHOCOLATE FUDGE BROWNIES – makes about 10-15 depending on how small you cut your squares

Ingredients:

400g Good Quality Dark Chocolate, at least 65%,  chopped finely

300g Unsalted Butter, diced

4 Eggs

400g Brown Sugar

1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

55g Plain Flour mixed with pinch salt and

2 tsp Baking Powder

285g Pecan Nuts, lightly toasted

8″ x 11.5″ x 2″ tin, floured and buttered

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 160c.

Melt together the butter and chocolate either in a double boiler (this amount takes a long time) or in the microwave.

Meanwhile, whisk lightly together the eggs, vanilla and sugar.

Pour the melted chocolate/butter over the whisked eggs/sugar/vanilla and combine well.

Sift in the flour/baking powder/salt and fold into the mixture.

Finally, fold in the nuts.

Pour the batter into your prepared baking tin and bake for an hour or until a skewer comes out mostly clean.

Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin and cutting into squares.

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Today marks the official start of Chocolate Week, an auspicious observation of all things chocolately. You may ask “why devote a whole week to chocolate”? I would quickly answer:  a week is not long enough to explore every facet of the world’s favourite confectionary. There a literally hundreds of brands of chocolate bars, some candy, some gourmet. And then you have liqueurs, hot chocolates, ice creams, biscuits, nibs and beans. There are Premier Cru, Single Origin, Single Estates, Vintages and Couvertures.  The list is truly endless and for the chocolate fanatic, Chocolate Week gives us the chance to spend even more time indulging in our favourite, well, indulgence.

This week, we at Cocoa Lounge are devoting each day to the ultimate in Chocolate Recipes. Our choices are purely personal but we hope that you will enjoy trying them out. Chocolate is such a generous ingredient that loves the company of other ingredients so please feel free to experiment with our recipes and let us know what you come up with!

To kick off Day 1 of Official Chocolate Week – the ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie.  This recipe comes from my mother-in-law who is from the Dairy State, Wisconsin. This probably accounts for the large amount of butter in these delicious, crumbly, chocolatey cookies. Well, that and the half cup of peanut butter and copious amounts of chocolate chips too….

This recipe makes 30 or so cookies but they do not stay around for long. Warm from the oven, with the chocolate still molten, they are dreamy. When cool they are a softer cookie, not crisp like the ones over here in the UK but this is no bad thing. The peanut butter is an inspired addition and to cut through the richness, I would recommend a dark chocolate. Paul’s Mom uses Hershey’s Mini Kisses which hold their distinctive droplet shape. Unfortunately, us Brits have to make do with chocolate chips or just chopped chocolate.

The batter is super fast to whip up and you can have a batch prepared from bowl to mouth in about an hour.

Other additions would be raisins, white chocolate chips and cranberries, pecans or any nut in general. Omit the chocolate altogether, make a larger cookie and these are great for ice cream sandwiches. Play around, have fun but most of all, enjoy!

JUDITH’S PEANUT BUTTER CHOC CHIP COOKIES – makes approx. 30

Ingredients:

1/2 Cup Peanut Butter, crunchy or smooth depending on preference

3/4 Cup (160g) Butter, softened

1/2 Cup Muscovado Sugar

1/2 Cup White Sugar

1 Egg

1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

1 1/4 Cups Plain Flour

1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda

1/4 Teaspoon Salt

6oz Mini Kisses or 6oz chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 180c.

Line 2 baking sheets with greaseproof paper.

In a large bowl, mix together the peanut butter, butter, sugars, vanilla and egg until completely amalgamated.

Sift in the flour, baking soda and salt. Using an electric hand whisk, mix until just combined.

Fold in the chocolate.

Leaving plenty of space in between, spoon out the cookie dough onto your baking sheets using a teaspoon or small ice cream scoop.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Leave to cool on the tray for 2 minutes then remove to a cooling rack. They will still be soft but firm up as they cool.

Repeat until all the cookie mixture is used up. As you can see, I reused the baking paper between batches with no harm at all.

Enjoy!

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Isn’t it funny? When you’re a kid, you’ll eat any old chocolate based foodstuff. Cheap cooking chocolate, frozen chocolate gateaux that disappear like a whisp once defrosted, last years chocolate tree decorations this Christmas round…

I remember school dinners. The main courses were really very bad: minced beef in some greyish gravy, greasy chips, instant mashed potato, beef burgers (no bun!) swimming in an industrial sized baking sheet, amply lubricated with weeks old grease. And yet we never complained. Sure, I would deliberately loosen the lid on the squeezy ketchup bottles so that when I squirted some on my food, the lid would come off, pouring water-thinned ketchup all over my food, thereby rendering it inedible. Never underestimate the cunning of a child.

I wonder if we kept our complaints to ourselves because we found the pudding course so delectable? Sometimes it was Arctic Roll, sometimes Red Jelly and White Ice Cream (I doubt that either of this age-old pairing had ever seen a strawberry or vanilla pod), but maybe one day out of the week it would be my favourite: chocolate mousse with Rice Krispie cakes! Oh, such a simple treat but one that I savoured and still miss today. A tiny white porcelain dish filled with (packet mix) milk chocolate mousse, more air than anything else and a crispy cake made with everyone’s favourite cereal on the side. Sure, cornflake cakes were nice too, but they were always mixed together, rather more complexly, with golden syrup and jam, to produce some dentist’s dream.

Ahh, but those Rice Krispie Cakes. The chocolate always slightly soft under the fluorescent lighting of the school hall. You always got sticky fingers as you pulled apart the krispies, a room full of quiet, chocolate covered mouths.

CHOCOLATE RICE KRISPIE CAKES – makes a lot!

Ingredients:

125g Chocolate. I use a good variety these days, but a semi-sweet one. Cadburys Dairy Milk works well for very young children but you might like to try Green and Blacks if you fancy eating them yourself too.

Rice Krispies – 200g but you may need more or less depending on the absorbancy of the chocolate. N.B. If you are making these in larger quantities, supermarket own brands of Rice Krispies work just as well.

To serve: either use brightly coloured cupcake cases of any size or pour into a square baking tin, lightly oiled with a flavourless nut oil. I am being deliberately vague as to the size of the tin because this all depends on how thick/thin you want your rice krispie bars to be.

METHOD:

Place half of the Rice Krispies into a large bowl.

Using a double boiler, or a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, melt the chocolate until it has just melted.

The Complex Process in Action...

The Complex Process in Action..

Stir and pour over the Rice Krispies.  Mix thoroughly with a spatula and pour in the rest of the Rice Krispies if you feel that the mixture is too runny. You are aiming for a light coating but one that will ensure that they stick together.

The Finished Article!

The Finished Article!

Using a teaspoon, fill up your cupcake cases, pressing the chocolate coated Krispies firmly, and leave to cool.

If you prefer to make bars, pour the mixture into the prepared baking tin, again pressing down firmly and leave to cool. Cover with foil and place some tins on top.  Chill in the fridge for several hours. Cut into bars or squares and apply to face.

OPTIONAL EXTRAS: If you really must gild the lily, you could reduce the amount of Rice Krispies and stir in some dried cherries or raisins, peanuts or hazelnuts or mini marshmallows. Or perhaps a combination of all three if you want to go Rocky Road Cocoa-Loco!

ENJOY!

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