Monday, 24 August 2009

Taste and create double choc cookies

I signed up for Taste and Create again this month, and got partnered with Tania from Love Big, Bake Often. Tania is an ice-cream and baking-loving mum with two little 'monkeys' to cook for. At first I was worried about recreating her tasty treats as I don't have an ice cream maker, but then I started discovering the wealth of amazing cookies Tania has made. I had already started compiling a shortlist when she posted a new one - she called them Chocolate Toffee Rounds - basically double choc chip cookies, with added toffee bits. I don't think I need to sell them any further if I quote what Tania said about them: 'rich, chocolately cookie that is reminiscent of a brownie….with all the crispy, chewy edges a true brownie lover looks for!' Enough said. They jumped to the top of the list.

I was surprised at the small amount of butter and flour in the recipe, but it's made up for by lots and lots of dark chocolate. I wasn't quite sure about the toffee chips - I didn't know if they were actual toffee or toffee-flavoured choc chips. I couldn't find either anyway so I left them out, making my cookies a bit more of a traditional double choc chip. They were a cinch to make, and turned out exactly as Tania said - really chocolatey but brownily chewy at the same time. I made a half a batch, and am sending them home with Munchkin Granny, who has some rather special visitors arriving this evening...

Double choc chip cookies (previously known as chocolate toffee rounds) recipe here

And if you want to take part in Taste and Create, go here and sign up!

Friday, 21 August 2009

Epicurean shortbread fingers

I asked The Scientist what he would like me to make him for a trip recently, and he pretty promptly settled on shortbread 'like the sort you get in packs with a cup of tea'. I was quite pleased he felt so strongly about it - I haven't felt very decisive about cooking recently and this way there was no chance I could keep myself awake fretting over the merits of cookies versus bars. Well, less chance at least. I fretted over what to do with the rest of our veg box carrots instead. I've made shortbread bases before - for the millionaire's shortbread I made Eco Sis, for example, but I've always been put off the most traditional standalone recipes because they call for rice flour. My baking cupboard is in enough of a state without allowing myself to buy more speciality ingredients, and we only have brown rice in the house, which probably wouldn't make for a nice fluffy tea time treat.

A couple of weeks ago though, we went to Coventry for a little shopping trip, and I wandered into the market in search of a weigh-shop I knew was there. You know the sort of place - lots of bins of household goods that you help yourself to, and then pay according to weight. This sort of place is my idea of nirvana, and The Scientist was soon weighed down with little bags, with a tolerant expression on his face. The things you can get though! Cake mix! It had never previously occurred to me that you would want to buy cake mix by weight, and with no instructions. Six different types of breakfast cereal, tapioca, flour, washing powder (better not get those two mixed up), custard powder, nuts, spices - and it's only a small shop. I bought at least five or six different things, none of them big, but still, I wasn't expecting change from a fiver. £1.60. I kid you not. I wish we lived in Coventry - and I have never said that before (though I said it again when we found a nice little noodle place for lunch).

Anyway, you may have guessed that I have included this whimsical digression because one of the things I found at the weigh place was rice flour, so I could make the shortbread. Recipes for shortbread seem pretty ubiquitous but I wanted to make sure I hit the maximum heights, so I got out our copy of Marcus Wareing's How to Cook the Perfect... We've never eaten at a Michelin starred restaurant - try that on two academics' salaries with a fusspot semi-vegan as part of the party - but we like Marcus Wareing when he appears on cheffie programs, and his book includes little tips on how to get the best out of the recipe. In this case, it was handle the butter as little as possible, and rub it into the rest of the ingredients by grating it and rolling it all between your palms. The Scientist had been so particular about the shape of the shortbread that I got him to cut it, but - alas - when I took them out of the pan one broke and he was forced to try it. Let's just say that Marcus Wareing is still number one top chef dude in our house. I made his flapjack recipe at the same time, which directs you to part-bake it, then take it out and drizzle melted syrup over the top before returning to the oven. This makes the top moist and the middle crunchy apparently. Or the other way round; I forget. I'll report back on whether that worked when The Scientist gets back. In the meantime I still have those carrots to attend to.

Marcus Wareing's shortbread (from How to Cook the Perfect...)
Makes about 20 pieces

200g plain white flour
Pinch of fine salt
40g ground rice
75g caster sugar, plus extra for dusting
175g unsalted butter, from a chilled 250g block

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and stir in the ground rice and sugar. Grate in the butter, then work it quickly into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Press the mixture into a 20cm square baking tin and level the top. Chill in the fridge for about an hour.

Heat the oven to 140C fan/160C/Gas 3

Bake the shortbread for 40 minutes until light golden. Remove from the oven and prick all over with a fork, then mark into 20 pieces, cutting right through to the bottom of the tin. Dust liberally with caster sugar, then leave to cool before removing from the tin.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Marmite munchies

We all know that nuts and seeds are good for us, don't we? I want to like them, to garner all those juicy little essential fatty acids and minerals, but I just can't get past their - well, nuttiness, frankly. The sight of a hugely magnified picture of peanuts on the side of a KP nut van makes me gag. Seeds aren't as bad, but they're still not anywhere near the top of my list of snacks. Until now. Thanks to the power of marmite, a pile of unappealing seeds has been transformed into my ticket to EFA and B12 goodness.

I'd thought before about seasoning and baking some seeds like the ones you can buy, but had never yet got round to it. The idea for the marmite was from a cookbook of Munchkin Granny's - a Marmite Cookbook in fact. I have no idea where it came from; one of Kiwi Sis's friends was obsessed by marmite, but I can't think that it extended to planting recipe ideas in other people's kitchens. Anyway, it was so easy that I whipped up a batch in about five minutes flat when I got home, and I've been snacking on them ever since.

Having established just how easy it is to turn seeds into something I'd actually want to eat I'm keen to explore other flavour options now, and other seeds. Before you know it I will be a pinnacle of good health. Either that or essentially fat :) But I think the nuts are a step too far.

Marmite seeds (from My Mate in the Kitchen; the Marmite cookbook)
1 Tbsp marmite
1 Tbsp boiling water
150g seeds (the recipe said pumpkin; I used sunflower)

Mix marmite and hot water, and pour over seeds. Stir to coat them all. Spread the seeds out on a baking sheet (I put them on a silicone sheet to stop them sticking and ease cleaning up). Grill for about 8 minutes, but start checking after 4 or 5. The book says 4-5 total but mine took longer to get crunchy. Leave them to cool, then stir them around to separate the big clumps, and store in an airtight jar.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Banana, lentil and pepper salad

Yes, that really is banana in my salad. I was thinking of ways to use up some leftover lentils, and fancied pairing it in a salad with some fruit and something crunchy. I had some small sweet peppers which would do for crunch, and some leaves and cherry tomatoes. I nearly went for mango for my fruit component but then I accidentally ate the mango (it happens). But then I remembered a very simple but tasty salad of banana and celery with curry powder some friends made for us a while back. That original recipe had come from am Oxfam Fair Trade cookbook, which I have since picked up in a charity shop - the recipe was donated by the singer Dido, who says it's weird but it works. It does. And it worked in this salad too. I stirred some plain yogurt and curry powder through the lentils, then added chopped pepper, tomato and banana, and tossed it all around with the leaves. I loved the fruity sweetness alongside the tang of curry powder and the crunch of pepper. And the lentils made it good and filling.

I'm sending this to Lisa and Jacqueline for this month's pepper-themed round of No Croutons Required.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Courgette, carrot and halloumi burgers

Tonight's dinner was inspired by a burger Munchkin Granny and Eco Sis had at Borough Market a few weeks ago. It was a halloumi burger, but it was sweet and carroty as well and I had burger envy. I only had a taste so I didn't have too much to go on in recreating it - halloumi and carrot was about as far as I got. I was thinking of adapting our favourite smoked tofu burger, but when I did some searching for possible ideas I found something that sounded very similar on - of all places for a cheesey burger - the weightwatchers website. It also had courgette in it which appealed as we got lots in our veg box this week and it's only me that eats them. Substance was added with tofu and sweetcorn, and flavour with coriander.

When I started making it I wanted to try to avoid using egg as I was making half a batch and didn't want half an egg hanging around. There was no way the mixture was going to adhere on its own - in fact even with the half egg it wasn't looking too promising, and I had to go out to the gym leaving The Scientist to work his kitchen science magic. I got back to a nice smell coming from the oven, and quite a pleased looking boyfriend. He'd just mashed it all up better in the mini processor and that convinced it to hold together. He also used some wheatgerm to give it a coating, and had happily added grated courgette to my half of the mixture.

These burgers were amazing; my new top favourite thing to go in a bun. The halloumi (which is a mix of goat's and sheep's cheese - though some also contain cow's milk) actually wasn't particularly noticeable as a flavour on its own - but the whole was delightfully fresh and tasty. The corn was probably the key flavour, but it was all gratifyingly similar to what I remembered of the Borough market burger - and not laden with bad stuff either. We liked them so much that I made another batch a few days later, so the half egg wasn't wasted after all. The first time we ate them in wholemeal pittas with lettuce and condiments, with some edamame and seaweed salad on the side, and the second time with pittas again, but with stir-fried chard, chickpeas and tomatoes.

Courgette, carrot and halloumi burgers: recipe from but the link seems to be broken, so I'll copy it out here. This is for the full quantity

Makes about 8

300g carrots, grated
1 medium courgette, grated
1 medium onion, finely chopped
50g sweetcorn
150g tofu, chopped
75g fresh breadcrumbs
1 medium egg
100g halloumi, chopped
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp each salt and pepper [I'm sure I didn't use nearly this much I just seasoned the mixture at the end]

Preheat the oven to 200C/Fan 180C/Gas 6. Mist a large baking sheet with oil spray

Put all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix well, seasoning to taste. [I found it easier to put it all in the food processor to get it really well mixed up]

Form into 8 burgers and place on baking tray [we added some wheatgerm as coating]. Bake 20-25 minutes and serve in wholemeal pittas.

Wholewheat pizza night!

First of all, may I direct your attention to the cats' lovely new photos in the sidebar? I have the Norse Goddess to thank for them - she snapped the cats in lots of languid poses while she was here, and I now feel quite guilty for neglecting to capture their cuteness so much myself. Piggle is snapped stretched out in 'I am a lady-cat of leisure and I invite you to stroke me - while putting myself in an almost impossible to reach place' pose, under the spare bed. And Pooky is looking like a man about town at the top of the stairs, from where he likes to keep an eye on the catflap. This is just in case any other cat than piggle pops in, which would be tough given that our cats have magnets on their collars to ensure that only they can get in. Luckily none of the other neighbourhood cats seems to have the same system - probably because we're the only ones uncouth enough to put a catflap in our front door, and thus ruin the look of the terrace.

Man-handled roast tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella

Today's post is our fun Sunday-night dinner from last night. We make pizza periodically, but this time I was moved to try a wholewheat base. I was inspired by the fact that The Scientist enjoyed one at Zeffirelli's restaurant in Ambleside. I used my usual dough recipe, torn from an old copy of Good Food Magazine, but substituted half of the white bread flour for wholemeal bread flour. I also added a generous shake of wheat germ, to up its healthy credentials even more. I was pleased with how soft the dough was as I kneaded it, and it made really tasty pizzas. They were certainly more wholefoody than your average pizza, but then home-made is never the same as you buy in the shops anyway (much better, naturally!). We both liked the extra wholesomeyness - and if that's not a word, it should be.

Potato, smoked garlic, goat's cheese and rosemary

I made several small pizzas this time, partly for variety, and partly because we've found that they don't always cook all the way to the centre if you make big ones. Besides, it makes for more fun variety in the toppings. I always make the dough, and The Scientist usually whips up the tomato sauce, while we both manhandle them onto the baking sheets. I had to do that part on my own this time as he was playing in an online poker tournament and was at a critical point when they needed to go into the oven. That explains why one of them is a little 'lacy' around the edges. I was about to make a joke about that being a professional pizza-maker's term when I remembered that actually I did work as a pizza chef in a restaurant in my university holidays. The fact that I had forgotten tells you something about how memorable the pizzas were there. Not so our dinner pizzas: we made one with slow roasted tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella and one with home-grown potatoes (sliced thin and boiled beforehand), rosemary and goat's cheese to share. I did one with shaved courgette and sweetcorn for me, and The Scientist put some cured meat and mozzarella on his.

Courgette, sweetcorn, roasted tomato and mozzarella

And how does all this cheese square with my dairy-reducing aims? Well it's particularly cow's dairy which I'm avoiding, as it has by far the biggest impact on carbon outputs. My main concerns when it comes to diet and ethics are animal welfare and environmental impact. The conventional dairy farming industry has poor conditions for milk cows, which are milked in pens made when dairy cows were much smaller, demands enormous yields per animal, and is very intensive in terms of land use. Organic is obviously better on all of these counts (although ultimately unsustainable for the whole population) and I do eat some organic cow's yogurt. Sheep and goats are farmed a lot less intensively both in terms of welfare conditions and land use, so when I do fancy some cheese, I seek out varieties using their milk - or in this case, buffalo mozzarella. When I first heard about the latter I thought I was falling for some sort of joke, but it really is made from the milk of water buffaloes. There's even a farm in Warwickshire (and you can get their cheese from Hill Top Farm Shop). And I've discovered that Mozzarella style vegan cheezly does a pretty good job of melting on toast and pizza too. But on the whole I just try to find other things to eat than cheese and I don't very often miss it.

Wholemeal Pizza - adapted from an ancient Good Food Magazine
Serves 4 (makes 2 pizzas - I made five smallish ones but I think that feeding four is a bit optimistic - it would probably feed or four mes, but possibly only two normal hungry people)

150g strong wholemeal bread flour
150g strong bread flour
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
200 ml warm water

Put the flour into a large bowl, then stir in the yeast and salt. Make a well, pour in the warm water and the olive oil and bring together with a wooden spoon until you have a soft, fairly wet dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes until smooth. Cover with a tea towel and set aside. You can leave the dough to rise if you like, but it's not essential for a thin crust [I don't bother usually as it makes for such a quick and easy supper]

Preheat the oven to 240C/Fan 220C/Gas 8, and move the shelves up to high. Put two baking trays into the oven to heat up (or use a pizza stone which I am always tempted by but haven't given in to buying yet).

Roll out the dough. If you've let the dough rise, give it a quick knead, then split into two balls. On a floured surface, roll out the dough into rounds or squares, using a rolling pin. The dough needs to be very thin as it will rise in the oven.

Top as you prefer. Our quickest and easiest tomato is topping is just some watered tomato paste with some seasonings, but otherwise we make up a nice herbed sauce using tinned tomatoes and fresh herbs if we have them.

Remove the baking sheets from the oven and scatter with cornmeal. Slide, peel or tear the pizza dough off whatever you've left it on and onto the baking sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes, alternating the oven positions half way.