Archive | November, 2011

Nutty biscuits

20 Nov

Ginger nutty goodness

When I was wee my two favourite things to bake were peanut butter cookies and tollhouse cookies.  One of these days I’ll dig out the old recipes, if I can find them – the tollhouse cookies recipe I’m pretty sure was from my Aunt Joyce, a brilliant cook and a seriously good baker.  One of my happiest childhood memories is sitting on the bench at her enormous kitchen table while she made pancakes (drop scones to non-Scots) on the rayburn beside us.  It seemed to take her only minutes from having independent ingredients to  these perfect warm pillows of baked goodness, spread with homemade raspberry jam.  Yum.

Yesterday I saw a Jamie Oliver recipe for Nutty Ginger Biscuits, and realised it was a pimped up version of my old peanut butter cookies.  So, I made them this morning.  They are indeed a more sophisticated biscuit than mine ever were, but then it was the 70s when I was baking them, less sophisticated times, especially for rural 12 year olds.

This recipe makes a light crumbly biscuit, not a chewy cookie.  The clementine zest definitely adds a touch of class, and next time I make them I will add some ginger to the dough as well as the nubbin of the crystallised ginger on top.

The recipe comes from Jamie Oliver’s magazine and I’ll be making his Jerky Hocks later, with two enormous ham hocks.  If it works, I’ll share.  I’ve slightly adapted the cookie recipe here, so if you want the original you need to buy his lovely magazine.

Nutty Ginger Biscuits

250g unsalted butter, softened.

140g sugar (I used a mixture of half and half caster and light muscovado)

1 egg yolk (I’ll make meringues later with the white)

2 TBsp crunchy peanut butter (I added 3)

Grated zest of 2 clementines

300g plain flour

2-3 balls of stem ginger from a jar

A few TBsp of desiccated coconut

Preheat oven to 180C / GM4. Line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper.

  1. If the room temperature of your kitchen is as cold a mine, soften your butter.  My mum will do this by leaving it near the rayburn for a while.  But she doesn’t bake any more, so it’s unlikely to happen.  I cut mine into big chunks, put it in the large bowl and zizzed it in the microwave for 40s at half power.  Don’t even attempt this recipe with hard butter
  2. Add the sugar to the butter and beat until light and creamy
  3. Add the egg yolk, clementine zest and peanut butter.  Jamie added some vanilla essence here too, but I forgot and they still tasted yummy
  4. Beat again till combined
  5. Sift in the flour, and mix all together with a large metal spoon.  or wooden would do I suppose.  But don’t use electric beaters – you are just combining at this stage, not attempting to beat more air into it (which I suspect would be self-defeating).
  6. Now, take dessertspoonful size nubbins of dough and evenly space them on the baking sheets.  Squish them down a little, so they are sort of cookie shaped.
  7. Put a wee bit of ginger into the top of each biscuit, and sprinkle with desiccated coconut.
  8. Bake for 9-12 minutes, till golden brown
  9. Let sit on the baking tray for a minute before transferring them to a wire rack to cool.

Freezing biscuit dough.  Have you ever done it? I can’t say I have.  But Jamie says that these freeze well – just freeze them once they are on sheets of greaseproof paper in their rough cookie shapes.  Once frozen, they could probably be stored in a bag, or tub.  To cook from frozen, bake at 180C / GM4 for 10-15 mins till golden. Now, how brilliant would that be?  Must try harder not to bake them all at once next time.

Sausages, mushrooms, chestnuts… lovely autumnal flavours

19 Nov

I love Nigel Slater.  I don’t think that’s too strong an emotion.  He’s a proper cook, and he writes beautifully.  I love good food and good writing, so what is there not to love about him?

I first came across him many many years ago – in the early 90s, with his series of books: Real Fast Food, The 30-minute Cook, and Real Cooking.  See, Nigel was doing this 30 minute mullarkey long before Jamie got on that band wagon.  Mind you, he never professed to help you make a whole meal in 30 minutes, usually just one fabulously tasty course, although often in less than the 30 minutes allotted, so you’d have time to rustle up a second course if you fancied it.

Anyway, Nigel, oh Nigel.  I try to love you on telly too, but I just don’t.  There’s something about your relationship with food (which we know all about, thanks to your excellent memoir, Toast) which is just ever so slightly creepy.  So, if you don’t mind, I’ll probably stick to reading your books and articles in magazines from now on.

However, had I not seen you on TV the other night, I wouldn’t have discovered this gem of a recipe.  It’s a perfect Autumn supper.  Or a Winter supper too probably, but I’m in denial about Winter yet.  I know the clocks have gone back, but I’m still clinging to Autumn for a few weeks yet.  So, Autumnal suppers it will be.

This is what we’re having again tonight.  Adapted of course, because I doubt I have precisely all the right ingredients to hand, although I know I have mushrooms, sausages and chestnuts, so I’m pretty much sorted.

So, thanks Nigel.  And the BBC.

This is supper for 2 people.  Or starters for 4.

Autumn sausage supper

4 large mushrooms

1oz butter

1 Tbsp olive oil

A couple of good sprigs of thyme, with the leaves picked off them

1-2 Tbsp madeira or sherry, or stock

1 medium onion, or a couple of shallots

4 tasty, herby sausages, Lincolnshire or similar will be good

A sprig of rosemary

4oz fresh breadcrumbs

4oz chestnuts, chopped

Pre-heat oven to 180C / 350F / GM4

  1. Remove the stalks from the mushrooms, and place the mushrooms in a large oven dish.
  2. Place a wee knob of butter in each one and then drizzle them with some olive oil
  3. Sprinkle the thyme leaves into the mushrooms and then glug some madeira all over them
  4. Pop the mushrooms in the oven for 20 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, the sun is probably over the yard arm by now, so you should pour yourself a glass of wine while you do the rest
  6. Roughly chop the onions and sweat in a frying pan with a little butter until golden
  7. Remove the sausage skin and break the meat into chunks and put in the pan with the onions
  8. Throw in the rosemary (either a whole sprig, or chopped up a bit) and add the breadcrumbs and allow to cook through slightly
  9. Add the chopped chestnuts and mix all together
  10. Now, if this has worked out, your 20 minutes for the mushrooms should be pretty much up, if not, put your feet up for a minute or two and have a glug of that wine. Or prepare some savoy cabbage to have as a side
  11. When the mushrooms have had about 20 mins, take them out and heap generous mounds of sausagey stuffing over the top of each mushroom, and all around, either in yummy heaps, or shape into slightly more cheffy balls
  12. Return the dish to the oven for a further half hour.  The stuffing should become crisp and golden
  13. Serve with savoy cabbage, or brussels sprouts (if you can bear them).  I’m going to try a juniper brussels sprouts recipe tonight, in a bid to make the hateful veg acceptable.  The man loves them.

Light Christmas cake

19 Nov

I don’t like Christmas cake.  I don’t like mince pies either.  Or any of those heavy dried fruit baked goods.  Well, I’ve not tried them all, so there might be some exceptions, but as a rule I’m not fond of a heavy fruit cake, or any of its close relations.

But a couple of years ago I discovered a distant cousin and fell in love.  It’s more like a stollen, but without the marzipan.  Or the yeast.  Anyway, it’s a light fruit cake, made with apricots, cherries, figs and lots of nuts.  And it keeps for long enough that you can make it in advance of Christmas and it’s still tasty at Hogmanay.

I’d be making it today, but my man has decided to do a deep clean in the kitchen.  And really, I don’t think it’s worth putting our relationship through the strain there would be if I attempted to make Christmas cake while he deep cleaned around me.  It’s going to be tricky enough tonight, to cook supper like a wee secret mouse, except not leaving a trail of pee and poo behind me like a mouse would.  You did know that mice are incontinent didn’t you?  They just pee wherever they go.  But I digress.

I expect you’re wanting to know the recipe for the cake I will be making some day soon in the super clean kitchen?  Here you go.

Originally published in BBC Good Food Magazine December 2008, an Angela Nilsen recipe.

Lovely Christmas Cake

  • 140g / 5oz soft dried apricots, roughly chopped
  • 100ml / 3 1/2 fl oz apricot or regular brandy
  • 140g / 5oz soft dried figs, roughly chopped
  • 250g / 9oz raisins (I’ll use sultanas)
  • 85g / 3oz glace cherries, quartered
  • 50g / 2oz each of almonds, cashews and brazil nuts – roughly chopped
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 200g / 8oz plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 50g / 2oz ground almonds
  • 200g / 8oz butter, softened
  • 200g /8oz light muscovado sugar
  • 4 eggs

Pre-heat oven to 160C / 140F / GM3

  1. Soak the apricots in the brandy, while you prepare other bits and pieces
  2. Butter and line a deep 20cm round cake tin
  3. Mix together the figs, raisins, cherries, nuts and lemon zest
  4. Combine the flour, baking powder, mixed spice and ground almonds in another bowl
  5. Beat the butter and sugar until creamy in a large bowl (everything else will be added to this one) – prob about 2 mins or so with electric beaters
  6. Add the eggs to the butter-sugar mixture one at a time and beat well after each addition
  7. Gently fold half the flour mixture into the butter mixture.  Then fold the other half, followed by the fruits and nuts, followed by the apricots and brandy.
  8. Spoon the mixture into the tin, smooth the top and make a small dip in the centre.
  9. Bake for 30 mins, then lower the temperature to 150C / GM2 and bake for another 1hour 45 mins.  If it starts to brown too quickly, lay a piece of foil over the top for the last 30 mins – you don’t want it to burn on top.
  10. The cake is done when a skewer stuck all the way in, in the middle of the cake, comes out clean.
  11. Leave the cake in the tin to cool then remove the lining paper and rap well in cling film and foil till ready to decorate.  You could probably skewer it and add more brandy, but I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary and just means that some parents won’t let their kids eat it.

apricots soaking up the brandy goodness

dried fruit and nuts for light Christmas cake

Stir the brandied apricots into the cake mixture

Light Christmas cake cooling on a wire rack

There you have it.  Christmas cake.  All ready for decorating. Or not if you’re my Dad, which I very much suspect you are not.

If you want to see other recipes you’ll find them all listed here.

Christmas cheer (in November)

13 Nov

I’ve started.

I didn’t mean to.  I prefer to wait till 20 December for my Christmas preparations, as is traditional in my family.  But there are some things that need time to reach perfection.  And anyway, I enjoy pottering about in the kitchen.

So yesterday I bought some fresh cranberries and a bottle of vodka.  Last time I made cranberry vodka it was far too sweet, but was a perfect late night (after too much wine) shot.  So I’m trying it again.  And plum brandy (if only because I have brandy in the cupboard and our plum harvest in the freezer).

The cranberry vanilla vodka starts with layers of sugary syrup, and lighter alcohol

Cranberry Vanilla Vodka

250g cranberries

1/2 vanilla pod

160g caster sugar

1l vodka

You’ll need a kilner jar, larger than a 1l one.  I think mine is probably 1.5l, but not entirely sure.  Hey, it won’t really matter if your jar is too small, you just won’t be able to fit all the vodka in (so use slightly less fruit and sugar too).

  1. Here’s the slightly laborious bit, although I find it meditatively soothing.  Prick each of the cranberries with a fork, and pop them in the jar.
  2. After you’ve added a cranberry layer, spoon in some of the sugar, then layer with more pricked cranberries and more sugar.  Keep going till you’ve put in all the cranberries and sugar. And I know the pricking seems ridiculous, but really, if you don’t do it the flavour won’t leach out into the vodka so much, and you’ll end up with a disappointing drink, having saved yourself a mere 15 minutes sitting down listening to the radio.
  3. Now using a sharp knife split the vanilla pod lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds into the jar.  Throw the empty pods in too, they still have lots of seeds and flavour left in there.
  4. Pour the vodka in on top of the fruit layers, seal the lid and give it a shoogle.
  5. Leave somewhere out of the way, but easy to hand – so it’s not in your way, but you can give it a wee shoogle every day for the next 3 weeks.
  6. Taste it.  If you’d like it sweeter, then make up some basic sugar syrup, with caster sugar and water, and add it to the jar.  If you like it as is, then bottle it up and put a pretty label on it.
  7. Drink.

Plum brandy

Follow the basic method for Cranberry Vanilla Vodka.  I only had a 1l jar, so I layered plums and soft brown sugar till the jar was about half full.  Then I added a star anise and about 1″ cinnamon stick, followed by some brandy.  We’ll see how it turns out… I suspect I’ll wish I’d put more star anise in it.


Jars of alcoholic tastiness


Next weekend I will probably turn my hand to a Stollen.  I’ve never made one before, but much prefer stollen to heavy fruitcake.  Mind you, I do have a recipe for a Christmas Cake which lasts like a normal cake, but is made of nice light fruit, like apricots instead of all that horrid stuff you usually find in a fruitcake.   

Citrussy meaty goodness

10 Nov

I’d got into a bit of a cooking rut.  Or perhaps a meat rut.  I’d buy mince (for meatballs, chilli or bolognese sauce), and chicken (almost infinite possibilities) and beef (stew of some description, more recently in my new slow cooker).

So I realised that if you keep buying the same things, you’ll keep making similar things.  And I bought some pork loin steaks.  Is that even what they are called?  I’m low carbing (love how I’ve turned that into a verb, I low carb, you low carb, we low carb… we all become diet bores!).  And then I had a quick flick through a recent copy of delicious magazine (why do I so that when I already own so many cook books?) for inspiration.  This was utterly delicious and quite unlike anything I would have normally made.

Pork with orange and thyme

The zest and juice of 1 orange

a few sprigs of fresh thyme

2 pork loin steaks

1TBsp muscovado sugar

  1. Splash some oil into a frying pan over a medium heat
  2. Add the orange zest, and the thyme.  You can throw in the whole sprigs if you want, or just the leaves
  3. Fry for about 3 minutes, till the zest is crispy, then take the zest and thyme out of the pan and set aside
  4. Season the pork with salt and pepper and add to the pan.  Cook for 3 minutes each side, or until browned and cooked through
  5. Remove pork from pan and set aside
  6. Deglaze the pan with the orange juice, and add the sugar.  Simmer until well reduced.
  7. Add everything back into the pan again and warm through.
  8. Serve with savoy cabbage.
OK, you could serve it with lots of other things, but I’m still low carbing so it was just perfect with a big mound of bright green savoy cabbage.

It sounds more complicated than it is with all the taking out of the pan and setting aside – just make sure you have a wooden chopping board to rest the meat on (or a warm plate) and you’ll be fine.




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