Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Plum jam shortbread

Getting some distance to things is sometimes useful. I haven´t spent much time online in the last few weeks, first I was busy preparing for my extended Christmas holiday, getting presents and cards all finished on time, then cleaning the house and packing my bags. When I landed in Finland, it was like coming to a completely different world. I turned off roaming on my phone and all of a sudden I was detached from all the usual communication that keeps me preoccupied. I still have wifi at my Mum´s of course, but the Culinary Consultant has taken over my computer so all I have is my iPad. And now Mum´s computer when I'm writing this, as typing long texts on a touchpad is more than my patience can handle.

I live so closely connected to the internet at home. I check my emails first thing in the morning, check facebook, blog, read blogs and then check the emails last thing before I go to bed. Not so when I'm in Finland. This is a holiday from everything that is routine. I don't have access to my craft room, and I don't need to cook. And I have also been thinking about my relationship to blogging. And how the food blog has become more of a chore than a fun hobby. Which is why I will take some time off to see whether I want to get back to it later in the year. Or whether I just want to focus on the card blog as there will be some more exciting announcements over there soon. So I don't know whether this will be my last blog post for a while or my last food blog post ever. If I do get back to blogging, I will update it on my facebook, twitter and Google+. But for now I wish everyone a wonderful, peaceful and food filled Christmas and a great New Year 2015, may it be even better than last year!!

I will publish a food recipe as well. It's something super quick and easy to put together, bakes relatively quickly and it's absolutely delicious. The original recipe is from The English Kitchen, and it's for lemon curd shortbread.  I thought my home made plum jam would be great substitute as it feels silly buying lemon curd when I have the fridge filled to the brim with home-made goodies. The plum jam is not very sweet and it has a slight sour/bitter flavour to it, just like marmalade has. That's why I love combining it with sweet pastry, it keeps the balance of the flavours, just as I imagine lemon curd would as well. So whether you have lemon curd, plum jam, orange marmalade or something else you want to use up, this shortbread is a great way of doing that.

Plum jam shortbread (serves 8):
225 g all purpose flour
125 g semolina or rice flour
125 g caster sugar
225 g chilled butter, cut into small cubes
200 g plum jam (or lemon curd, or whatever other jam/curd takes your fancy)
2 tbsp caster sugar

The howto: 
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Butter a 21 cm springform tin. In a bowl, mix together the sugar, flour and semolina. Add the cubed butter and rub with the butter into the flour until the texture of coarse sand. Press half of the mixture into the springform tin, and spread the jam on top. Mix the rest of the butter and flour mixture with the additional 2 tbsp sugar and spread the crumble topping onto the jam, pressing down lightly. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the edges start to turn a bit golden. Let cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then cut into eight slices. 

The verdict:
This is a super easy treat you can whip up at any time as it only uses kitchen staples. Perfect for surprise guests. It's amazing how delicious it is, given that only very basic ingredients go in it. It's buttery and crumbly, and it's absolutely irresistible. 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

More Finnish Christmas food

I wrote a bit about Finnish Christmas food with my potato casserole recipe. This oven baked carrot casserole (porkkanalaatikko) is another traditional Finnish Christmas side dish, that would usually be served with ham or turkey. I'm not quite sure why these oven baked casseroles have a reputation of being a lot of work to make, as actually they don't take that much effort. And the best thing is you can make them ahead of time and freeze them. Then all you have to do is defrost them for Christmas eve dinner and pop them in the oven as they only improve from re-heating. Alternatively, you can prepare the casserole but freeze it before baking, and then do the full baking after de-frosting on Christmas Eve (let the casserole de-frost over night in the fridge).

Oven baked carrot casserole (porkkanalaatikko):
2 dl (200 ml or 3/4 cups plus 2 tbsp) short grained rice or "pudding rice" (Finnish puuroriisi)
1/2 litre water
1 litre (full-fat) milk
1 kg carrots
2 eggs
2 tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg (or more to taste)
2 tbsp syrup* (or 1 tbsp sugar) 
breadcrumbs and butter

*Finnish syrup is darker than golden syrup but lighter than treacle. I mix 1/3 treacle with 2/3 golden syrup to get something resembling Finnish syrup

The howto: 
Bring 1/2 litre of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add rice and cook until the water has absorbed. Add the milk, and cook until rice is cooked and a loose porridge forms (about 30-40 mins). Let cool.

Peel and chop carrots. Bring enough water to a boil in a saucepan to cover the carrots. Cook carrots until soft. Drain water and mash carrots (you can use a potato masher, ricer or handheld blender). 

Preheat oven to 150 degrees C. Mix the carrots with the rice porridge and add eggs, spices and syrup. Divide into two oven proof bowls and sprinkle generously with breadcrumbs and place small knobs of butter on top. Bake in the oven for 1 1/2 - 2 hours. The top should be golden, and the carrot bake should be bubbling. In my opinion, a longer baking time makes a more tasty casserole.

The verdict:
This is one of those dishes that just have to be on the Christmas table, or else Christmas is ruined. It's really tasty and although so many buy the casseroles ready-made from the store, I think the home-made variety is infinitely better. And it's not that much of a hassle really. I like to make it a day ahead, and then re-heat on the day. The only thing that really takes a bit of time is the carrot peeling, but unless you are making in double or triple serving (and you shouldn't need to unless you are having several dozen guests) this will be more than enough for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and possibly Boxing Day as well. And after that you don't want any more anyways, it's that extra bit delicious because you only get it once a year. However, this is a really cheap dish to make and it makes quite a few servings, so I don't see why you couldn't make it at other times of the year as well, as a thrifty side. Delicious with some ham, turkey or any other meat. I even makes a light lunch all by itself.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Cranberry and white chocolate cookies

I just started my three week Christmas holiday (I'm writing this on Friday night, and schedule it to be published early on Saturday morning). I can't remember the last time I would have three weeks off work. Possibly not in ten years, possibly never. In about four hours we are heading off to the airport to go home to Finland to spend Christmas with friends and family. I will be exhausted when the alarm clock goes off, I'm even contemplating just staying up all night.

The weeks leading up to today have been chaotic, both me and the Culinary Consultant have been working long hours, so everything else has been pushed aside. No proper cooking, no house cleaning, very little crafting and certainly no time to plan what to pack and very little thought about Christmas presents. This year we will make do with very few presents. And I don't mind at all! There has been several difficult times this fall, but everyone has made it through and all I want to do is take it easy, do nothing and just enjoy the simple things. Cook nice food. See friends. Spend time with family. My only regret is that my baby Sis, who is doing a wonderful job on her first year as a medical doctor, can't join us this year. 

I am just sitting on the sofa, writing this while the Culinary Consultant (who has to stay awake tomorrow morning for the two hour drive to the airport) is sound asleep upstairs. I'm really tired too, but at the same time I'm so wound up about travelling tomorrow (oh wait, correction, later today!) that I can't really sleep. I keep going over things in my head. Did I really pack everything I need (most likely not, but it won't really matter) and did I really put the passport in my bag (yes, it was there the last seventy-two times I checked, so I'm sure it's still there). Is my phone charged? Yes. Will I remember to pack the phone and the charger tomorrow morning? Yes, because I never go anywhere without my phone. That's pretty much what is going on in my head at the moment. Oh and that little nagging voice saying I should be in bed, and that I will regret this tomorrow morning. No wait, correction again, later this morning. 

I better get on to today's recipe. I had some leftover cream cheese that just "had" to be used up. And when the Culinary Consultant went digging in one of our kitchen cupboards he found a bag of dried cranberries. So it wasn't so much we wanting cookies as it was divine intervention I think. I used this recipe from a blog called Gimme Some Oven. I didn't make any other changes to the recipe apart from halving it, as I thought two dozen cookies should be enough.

Cranberry and white chocolate cookies (makes about 24):
For the cookies
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (I used less as I always think recipes use too much salt)
115 g butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used 1/2 tsp vanilla paste)
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup cranberries

For the frosting:
115 g cream cheese
1/4 cup white chocolate chips, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
1 cup icing sugar

For the topping:
finely chopped dried cranberries
small chocolate chips or melted white chocolate

The howto:
Preheat oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F). Mix the flour, soda and salt. In another bowl, cream the butter and sugars using an electric mixer. Add the egg and vanilla and keep on whisking. Gradually add the dry ingredients, and mix until batter is smooth. Gently fold in the chocolate chips and cranberries. Wrap dough in cling film and chill for at least an hour.

Place tablespoon sized dollops of the dough onto a parchment paper covered baking sheet, well separated as the cookies expand quite a lot when baking.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. Bring cream cheese for the frosting to room temperature.

When cookies are completely cooled, prepare the frosting. Using an electric mixer, mix the cream cheese with the melted chocolate. Make sure the cream cheese is at room temperature, otherwise the chocolate will solidify. Add the vanilla. Reduce the speed of the mixed and incorporate the icing sugar. Spread onto the cooled cookies. Decorate with cranberries and white chocolate.

The verdict:
These cookies were very sweet. If you don't like very sweet cookies, don't make them, or alternatively just exclude the icing. But if you do like very sweet things, you will love these. And the tartness of the cranberries does cut the sweetness a bit. Needless to say, these disappeared very quickly from our kitchen, I can't imagine who could have eaten a huge batch of cookies in just a few days... They are so pretty with the red cranberries on the white frosting, very Christmas-y and perfect for the season.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Rock cakes

I asked the Culinary Consultant whether there was something in particular he wanted me to bake. Usually I don't get much a reply other than along the lines of "Not really". This time however he did bring up the subject of Rock cakes. I haven't had them before, but I remember the Culinary Consultant has mentioned them a few times. According to Wikipedia they are fruit cakes which have a rough surface resembling rock. They were promoted during the Second World War by the Ministry of Food as they require less sugar and eggs than ordinary cakes. Old ways are often good ways, so I decided to give them a try. I used this recipe from BBC food but added a bit of cinnamon and allspice.

Rock cakes (makes about 12):
225 g self raising flour
75 g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
125 g butter, cubed
150 g dried fruit (such as sultanas, raisins, orange peel, currants)
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 egg
1 tbsp milk
2 tsp vanilla extract (I used one tsp vanilla paste)

The howto:
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Mix the flour, sugar an baking powder and add the butter. With your fingers, rub the butter with the flour mixture until the texture of coarse sand. Mix int the dried fruit and spices. In another bowl, mix the egg, milk and vanilla extract. Add to the flour and butter mixture and stir with a spoon until a rough dough forms. If the dough is too dry to come together, add a tsp of milk. Don't overmix. Using two spoons, drop the dough onto a parchment paper lined baking tray to form rough heaps the size of golf balls. Bake for 15-20 minutes (mine baked for 24 minutes) or until golden on top. Enjoy with tea or coffee while warm.

The verdict:
The cakes are very quick to prepare and don't take very long to cook, so they are easy treats to make. They did turn out similar to the picture in the original recipe, so I think I got it quite right. The texture of the cakes is lovely and crumbly and the pieces of fruit are really good. I had three as soon as they came out of the oven...

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Tomato, ham and tortelloni soup

This whole Christmas business is seriously cutting into my blogging time. I should have posted this yesterday, but it's been a bit crazy. There's so much to to do, get arranged, last minute online shopping and then that wait to see whether things will make it in time or not. But there's still plenty of time until Christmas, you say. Not quite, as I'm flying back home in just six short days, woop woop!! So anything I need to get arranged while still at home needs to happen very soon. And I won't be able to craft while away, so I am trying very hard to build up a bit of a buffer on the card blog. And I have tried to get all the Christmas presents sorted. What did people do before online shopping?? And I've been trying to find a dress I can fit into as I'm going to my friend's PhD party. I have to admit squeezing into any of my clothes is a bit of a problem at the moment, and I promise I will start living a healthy life soon. After I've eaten all the Christmas goodies... See why I'm having a problem over here? It's called denial!!

I can't wait to get home. Five more days in the office, and then I am looking forward to three weeks of Christmas holiday! I can't remember when I would have had three weeks off work. I look forward to spending time with my family, although my sister won't be able to join us so there will certainly be something important missing. But I am looking forward to see family and friends. I'm especially looking forward to my friend's PhD party, I will get to see so many old colleagues and friends I haven't seen in ages.

From time to time I do eat something resembling healthy food. This tortelloni soup I recently made was really delicious. I wanted to try making a non-vegetarian version of this great tortelloni soup I made a while ago. The other day The Culinary Consultant bought a pack of ham and sausage tortelloni, so I thought why not make a version with some ham.

Tomato, lenti and ham tortelloni soup (serves 4-6): 1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions
2 stalks of celery
2 carrots
1 kg tomatoes (or two cans of tinned tomatoes)
1 l  chicken stock
1 cup lentils
200 g spinch
200 g ham
400 g ham and sausage tortelloni
salt and pepper to taste

The howto:
Finely chop the onions, celery and carrots. Heat oil in a large saucepan, and add onions, celery and carrots. Cook for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock and lentils. Cook for another 10 minutes until the lentils are done. Add the spinach and ham. Add the tortelloni and cook as per instructions on the pack. Taste and add salt or pepper as required. Serve with grated cheese sprinkled on top.

The verdict:
I really liked the vegetarian version of the soup. And I think I liked this version even more. You can replace the lentils with beans if you wish, but I happened to have lentils so I used them. The soup has a great flavour from the tomatoes and the ham. Actually, thinking of it, this would be a perfect recipe for leftover Christmas ham. 

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Finnish Sweetened Potato Casserole

We have entered the magical month of December. It's cold, dark and miserable. But it's also an excuse to start thinking about Christmas food. One of the must have foods on the Finnish Christmas Dinner table are an assortment of oven baked vegetable dishes, called "laatikko" in Finnish. Basically laatikko is the Finnish word for a drawer or box, but it's also used for oven baked dishes. For Christmas you usually make "porkkanalaatikko" (oven baked carrot casserole), "lanttulaatikko" (oven baked swede casserole) and "perunalaatikko" (oven baked potato casserole). They are all relatively easy to make, but take a lot of time. First you need to peel the veg, cook them in water until soft and mash them, and then mix with the rest of the ingredients (usually bread crumbs, syrup, cream and butter) and bake very slowly in a low temperature oven for 2-3 hours to let the flavours really develop. 

The potato casserole, perunalaatikko, takes even more time to prepare than the other two. It needs to be sweetened over night so it should be started the night before. It is also completely in the hands of the food gods to decide whether the sweetening is successful or not. It's a combination of using the right potatoes and having the right temperature for the sweetening process. But no worries, the sweetening process is an old cooking process used before sugar was available. It's a process where the starch in the food is enzymatically broken down to shorter chained carbohydrates, i.e. sugar. These days, you can achieve the same by adding syrup. But I love the tradition of making the casserole using the traditional way. And last year was finally the year when I had a successful sweetening process. I'm not exactly sure what the key to success was, I think it was the right potatoes combined with pure luck.

I nicked the recipe for the potato casserole from the Finnish cooking web site Kotikokki, but most recipes for the casserole are pretty similar. Make sure to pick a starchy, or floury, potato. If it says "good for mash" on the pack, you have pretty much got what you are looking for.

Finnish sweetened potato casserole:
2 kg floury potatoes
2 dl (200 ml, 3/4 cups plus one tbsp) plain flour
50 g butter
0.5-1 l milk (I like to use full fat, as it is Christmas after all...)
2 tbsp syrup (if sweetening is not successful)
salt to taste (start with about 2-3 tsp)

The howto:
Peel and chop potatoes. Cook in salted water until soft, pour off the water and mash potatoes. Let the mash cool until about 50 degrees C (feels warm but not hot), add half of the butter and half of the flour into the mash and mix well. Sprinkle the rest of the flour on top of the mash, put the lid back onto the saucepan and let sweeten in a warm place for at least 6 hours, or over night. The temperature should stay between 50 and 75 degrees C, but I wrapped my saucepan in a towel and left in the kitchen over night and the sweetening process worked well. The next morning you should find your mash softer than it was the night before, and with a sweeter flavour. The mash also changes colour to almost grey on top where the flour was. Give the mash a good mix, and add milk until soft (softer than normal mash, but not quite runny). If the sweetening has not been successful, also add the syrup for extra sweetness. Mix in salt to taste. Place in one big or two medium sized oven proof buttered bowls and dot the rest of the butter on top of the casserole. The casserole will bubble while cooking, so leave one and a half to two inches space in the bowls. Cook in 200 degrees for the first 30 minutes and then in 150 degrees for another two hours. The casserole will turn dark around the edges of the bowl. I love this crunchy bit, but you can just leave it uneaten if you find it unappetising. If the top gets too dark, you can cover the casserole with aluminium foil when baking.
The verdict:
I have had varying success with this dish through the years. Last Christmas it turned out perfect. The reason I like the traditional sweetening instead of taking the easy way out of just using syrup is that it tastes different, or maybe that's in my head but I think it's sweet but not too sweet. But each to their own. Year after year one of the subjects being discussed during the Christmas dinner is whether that year's potato casserole is as good as the one Mum/Grandma made and whether it's better or worse than the year before. 

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Liege waffles

This is a post I found in my drafts folder which for some reason never got published at the time of writing. I'm not sure why, as these are in my opinion the best waffles I have ever made. They definitely rival the wonderful Belgian Waffles sold at the Cambridge marketplace, although after some industrial espionage, the dough for the marketplace waffles is very different from the one used here, it's much more solid (it's not scooped, it's in actual lumps which the Waffle Guy puts in his proper full-on iron waffle maker), and it's also darker so I'm suspecting some sort of treacle etc. is used in there. But nonetheless, for being home made waffles made by Claude (my rather cheap waffle maker I bough online) they are as close to perfection as you can get in my humble opinion.
In the last week I have learned a lot about waffles. One thing I have learned is that to make authentic Liege waffles, you need pearl sugar. Funnily enough, it's something I happened to have in my cupboard as I have imported it from back home, but I haven't been able to find it in any store here in the UK. Apparently it's also very important that you have proper pearl sugar made from sugar beets for the right caramelisation. I was also a bit worried to embark on this road as all the recipes said you have to be really careful to find the very narrow heat range where the sugar will caramelise and not burn and you should have an infrared thermometer to make sure you have the right temperature. I might have been really lucky, but I managed to find a good setting on my waffle maker almost immediately. 

Recipe from allrecipies.com here

Liege waffles (makes 8):
7 g instant yeast
1 1/2 tbsp cater sugar
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract 
1 cup (225 g) melted butter
1 1/2 cups pearl sugar (I only added 1 cup)

The howto:
Mix yeast, flour, caster sugar and salt. Add the milk, eggs, vanilla extract and melted butter and mix. The original recipe suggests you should let the dough rise for about 30 minutes, but nothing had happened to my dough in that time. I think it's because the butter makes it such a rich dough. I left mine for about three hours after which it had risen well and looked fluffy. After the dough has risen, mix in the pearl sugar. The original recipe says you can store the dough in the fridge over night shaped into single servings wrapped in plastic wrap.

All recipes for Liege waffles say you should keep your waffle maker on a low setting to not burn the pearl sugar. I turned down the temperature on my very cheap basic waffle maker and had to turn it right back up to a bit past medium again to the same setting I use for any other waffles to get the beautiful golden brown caramelisation and I had absolutely no problem with burnt sugar. If you are not sure, turn down your waffle maker a bit and keep an eye on it while cooking the first waffle. For me, using a somewhat over medium setting and cooking for 7 minutes per waffle was a perfect setting. 

The verdict:
These waffles come out of the waffle iron quite soft, but leave them on a wire rack for a minute or two and they develop that amazing crunchy crust. They are also rather sweet, I only added 1 cup of the pearl sugar and they were still on the sweet side. Also, they are very rich with all that butter. I'm convinced it's the combination of butter and sugar which makes them so incredibly dreamy and crunchy, but I think next time I will try to reduce the amount of butter somewhat. I really felt quite bad eating the waffles despite them being so incredibly delicious because of the indulgent amount of butter. But out of several different waffle recipes I have tried lately, these are by far superior to any others and much more similar to the amazing Belgian waffles you can get at the marketplace in Cambridge. These are definitely amazing waffles, maybe something to save for a special occasion such as a birthday, or a Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Leek and potato soup

This is not the most exciting recipe. This is a sensible mid-week lunch. It's also something I just took out of the freezer to have for lunch at work tomorrow. The reason I had to take it out of the freezer is that the fridge freezer we have in the garage just gave up the ghost. Unfortunately there wasn't quite enough room in our other freezers to find a new home for everything, so the least valuable things had to go, and everything I could cram into our fridge will be eaten in the next few days. Including three pizzas...

So it's safe to say today wasn't the best day ever. But at least I know tomorrow I will have a tasty lunch. This is a simple soup, perfect for hump day, when it is still a long way to go to the happiness that is the weekend. On a day when you are not yet completely over your cold, and need something hot and soothing to keep you warm. And it's perfect to freeze, should your freezer be more reliable than mine, so that you too will have a serving of hot soup if you happen to have a day when you need a steaming hot bowl of soup.
Leek and potato soup (serves 4-6):
3 leeks
8-10 medium potatoes
1 onion
1 l vegetable stock
1/2 - 1 cup single cream
1/2 - 1 tsp salt

The howto:
Chop the onion and leek. Roughly chop potatoes into cubes. Place the stock, leeks, potatoes and onions in a large saucepan and cook until potatoes are soft. Take off the heat and blend. Add the cream and salt to taste. Bring back to a boil and let cook for a few minutes. Serve hot. 

The verdict:
This is a very mild soup. I love how the flavours of potato and leak go together so well. If you want to keep things healthy you can cut out the cream, or reduce the amount. But I think it brings such a wonderful softness to the flavours. Just taste the soup before and after adding the cream and you will know what I'm talking about.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Biscoff and chocolate cookies

Many food bloggers are are always trying to find the ultimate cookie recipe. Some like their cookies crunchy, others like them chewy. I like any cookies. Soft, crunchy, chewy or any other kind. They are just different aspects of the same ultimate delight. So while others work hard trying to perfect their recipes to be just so-and-so or this-and-that, I just enjoy the cookie recipes they create. There are all these ideas about how cookie dough improves when it's stored in the fridge for a few days. A few DAYS? I can't even leave it to chill for a few hours. When I want my cookies now, I want them NOW. And that's the ultimate genius with cookies, they are pretty quick to make, if you don't insist on leaving them in the fridge for days. About 10 minutes to whip up the dough and then about 10 minutes in the oven. If you are in a cookie emergency, like I was the other day, you can have cookies on the table in less than half an hour. Now THAT's what I call a perfect cookie!!

On a side note, how ironic is it that this recipe uses Biscoff spread, which basically is cookies made into a spread, to make cookies. Yes, it's a bit weird. At least this time I managed to save enough cookie butter to actually make cookies, last time I bought Biscoff spread I just ate it straight out of the jar and had almost none left to bake with. 

This recipe was one that I have pinned ages ago, just in case of a Biscoff cookie emergency. It's from a blog called Buns In My Oven, but it's originally from a book by Katrina Bahl called The Biscoff Cookie & Spread cookbook. The original recipe says it makes about 30 cookies, I made mine bigger so I got 16 cookies and hence had to increase the cooking time a bit. I don't like small cookies, they just make me sad. A cookie should be a good size, it's very rewarding to have a big cookie in my opinion. But you can of course make the cookies any size you want.

Biscoff and chocolate cookies (makes 16-30):
120 g butter at room temperature
120 g Biscoff spread
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla (I used 2/3 tsp vanilla paste)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt (I omitted this as I used salted butter)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 cup chocolate chips

The howto:
Cream together butter, Biscoff spread and the sugars. Keep on whisking and add the egg and vanilla. In another bowl, mix the dry ingredients and combine with the butter and sugar mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. 

Make balls or use a cookie scoop to drop balls of cough onto a cooke sheet, leaving space between for the cookies to expand. Place in fridge for 30 minutes to chill (I have a confession... I skipped this step and the cookies still turned out nice, although if you have more patience than me you should probably do it to give the butter some time to chill before baking).  Preheat oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F). Bake for 8-15 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies. The original recipe, which says the recipe makes 30 cookies says to bake them 8-10 minutes, my larger cookies (16 cookies from the dough) were done in 15 minutes. Place on wire rack to cool.

The verdict:
These were very nice cookies, soft on the inside and slightly chewy on the outside. The one thing that did surprise me was that the Biscoff flavour did get very mild after baking the dough compared to how the dough tasted before baking. 

I used dark chocolate chips as that was what I had in my cupboard when my cookie craving struck. I can't stockpile milk chocolate chips as I just eat them straight out of the bag... But I think milk chocolate would go great with these cookies as well, and that's what recommended in the original recipe. The cookies are perfect served with a glass of cold milk.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Apple sauce and fudge snickerdoodle bread

The term bread in the name of today's recipe most certainly refers only to the shape of the thing, as it's most definitely a cake. I don't mind at all! And you could convince yourself to think it's almost healthy. It has some whole meal flour after all. And the butter is replaced by apple sauce and oil. So yes, let's all stick our heads in the sand and pretend it's healthy, because I bet you can't stop at one slice. Or maybe you can, which means to say you are more disciplined than I am. But then again, that's not much to brag about as my self control is non-existent. Especially when it comes to carbs. And in this case, the carbs are accompanied by delicious apple sauce, fudge, sugar and cinnamon. It must count as one of your five a day because of the apple, right?

This recipe is directly copied from This Gal Cooks. When this bread came up on my blog feed I immediately pinned it to bake as soon as I made a batch of stewed apple. I assumed that would work to replace the apple sauce, which it did very well.  Also, I'm not quite sure of the difference between butterscotch and fudge chunks, I couldn't find the former, so I'm assuming it's about equivalent with the latter. Probably a US vs. UK thing.  

Apple, fudge and snickerdoodle bread (makes 1 loaf):
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup wholewheat flour
3/4 cup caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp apple pie spice (I don't have any, so I added some cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cloves, would have added some ground ginger as well, but had just run out)
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup apple sauce (I used our home-made stewed apple)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup water
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup fudge chunks (or butterscotch chips)
(1 tbsp flour)
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

The howto:
Preheat oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F). Prepare your loaf tin by buttering if needed. I used my trusty silicone loaf tin which I never butter, and everything always pops out perfectly fine.

In a bowl, mix together the flours, caster sugar, baking powder and spices. In another bowl, mix together the apple sauce, oil, brown sugar, water, eggs and vanilla extract. Combine the dry ingredients into the wet, mix as little as possible. If you want to, coat the butterscotch/fudge chunks in flour (I skipped this step) and mix into the batter. Pour into the loaf tin. Mix the tbsp of brown sugar with cinnamon and sprinkle on top of the bread. Bake for about an hour, until a cake tester comes out clean. If the top gets too dark, cover with foil. Let cool completely before cutting.
The Verdict:
I have eaten three slices of this bread for breakfast. 'Nuff said.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Home made fish and chips

Today's post is a very rare treat, as we hardly ever make anything deep fried. But the other day the Culinary Consultant had a craving for fish and chips so I thought why not try and make our own, and it turned out much better than expected!

I can still remember the first time I had fish and chips. My sister spent a while in North London as an exchange student years ago and I went to visit her. I think it musth have been my first time in the UK, and we did all the touristy things you do when you go to London for the first time. I remember one evening after a long day of sight seeing, we came back and stopped by the local chippy. My sister told me the Brits have this thing called fish and chips, and they put vinegar on the chips and that's really odd. I remember us going back to her student accommodation where we ate the fish and chips. After dinner we sat in her tiny little room eating Ben and Jerry's Phish Food straight from the tub while watching The X-factor. It was a great visit, but little did we know at that time that we would both end up living in this country permanently.

I have had my fair share of fish and chips while living here in the UK, but I have to admit it's usually not my first choice. The Culinary Consultant however is rather partial to a bit of fish and chips every now and then, and the bigger the fish, the better. As we live pretty much in the middle of nowhere, it's a bit of a drive to the nearest chippy, not to mention the nearest good chippy. So home-made was the only option when a fish and chip craving set in recently. I have to apologise for the photos, as we are now in the time of year when it simply isn't light at any time when I cook, and it's not like you want to keep your fish and chips hanging around until the next day to wait for daylight...

Fish and chips (serves 2):
Salt and pepper
2-3 fillets of white fish of choice (we used cod fillets)
115 g flour plus extra for dusting
150 ml beer (we used an ale called Theakston's Old Peculiar)
1 tsp baking powder
oil for deep frying

3 large jacket potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil

frozen peas
to serve: vinegar and tomato sauce

The Howto:
Peel the potatoes and cut into chunky chips. Preheat oven to 225 degrees C. Parboil potatoes for about 5-6 minutes and drain. Mix with the olive oil and spread onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Place in the pre-heated oven and set the oven timer for 25 minutes.

When the oven timer goes off, your chips will need another 15 or so minutes. During this time, cook the frozen peas and prepare the fish. To prepare the batter, mix the flour, beer and baking powder. Adjust the amount of flour and beer to get a thick batter, about the consistency of thick double cream.  Salt and pepper the fish fillets. We got better results by cutting the fillets up in a few pieces instead of cooking them whole, if you have a proper big deep fryer you might get away with cooking the fish fillets whole. 

Heat oil in a deep fryer or a large saucepan to 190 degrees C. If you don't have a thermometer, you know the oil is hot enough if you put in a small piece of bread and it bubbles away very briskly and the bread turns a golden. If the bubbling is slow, the oil is not hot enough to cook in. Also remember to always keep a lid close when you are deep fry any food, so that you can cover your saucepan in case of an emergency as oil can over heat and catch fire. Cover fish fillets in batter and carefully place them in the oil. Cook for about 4 minutes, making sure to turn them when one side has gone golden brown. This will leave the fish perfectly cooked and the batter lovely golden and crunchy. 

Serve the fish immediately after cooking with chips, peas, vinegar and tomato sauce.

The Verdict:
I've never been a huge fan of fish and chips, but the Culinary Consultant loves getting those huge fish fillets from the local chippy. I have to say I honestly thought our efforts were much better than the chippy we usually go to. Also, I definitely prefer the oven baked chips to the chips from the chippy. With a splash of vinegar and tomato sauce, they are so delicious. The fish also turned out surprisingly good. The batter was actually pretty perfect, it cooked to be golden and very crisp and crunchy. The fish was perfectly cooked, moist and succulent. I wasn't sure how well we would do, cooking fish and chips without a proper deep frier, but it did turn out really delicious, and even the Culinary Consultant said we should definitely do this again.  

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Apple cake with brown butter frosting

I had a big bunch of juicy apples and needed something to use them for. Of course I went looking for a cake recipe, and found this apple cake recipe from Cookies & Cups that I had pinned earlier for and emergency like this. I mean, those apples would have gone bad very soon, I'm convinced of that. And eating them as is just seemed a bit.... too healthy I guess. So obviously adding lots of butter and sugar was the only possible solution to my dilemma. 

At this point I also owe the food blogging community a grand apology. I have not jumped on the browed butter trend before, as I have thought it can't anything too exciting. I mean butter is butter, right? I love butter, of course, but I really didn't think there would be such a big difference. And then I made the frosting, and had a taste... And realised why browed butter is such a huge trend. Just take my word for it, if you haven't jumped on the browed butter bandwagon yet, quickly quickly grab that butter and chuck it in a saucepan. You won't look back!

Apple cake with browned butter frosting (from Cookies & Cups):
225 g unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla paste (or 2 tsp vanilla extract)
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
2 1/2 cups flour
3 cups cubed apple (about 3 large apples)

Browned butter frosting
110 g butter
3 cups icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla paste or 1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp milk

The Howto:
Butter a bundt cake pan. Peel and cube the apples. Preheat oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F). Cream together the butter and sugar. Add vanilla and the eggs one at a time and keep whisking for a bit longer. In another bowl, mix the baking soda, salt, cinnamon and flour. Mix the dry ingredients into the butter and sugar mixture. Fold the apples into the mixture. Transfer to cake pan and bake for 55-60 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10-20 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. 

To prepare the frosting, melt the butter in a saucepan and brown until gently browned. Remove from the heat and add the icing sugar and vanilla and mix using an electric whisk. Add milk until the frosting is your desired consistency. Frost your cake while trying very hard to resist the urge to eat the frosting right then and there with a spoon right out of the saucepan.

The Verdict:
This cake is great as it's very quick to prepare. The only problem I had was to get it out of the pan. It certainly didn't come out nice and clean, but then again that's what you have frosting for, to cover up the tears and cracks.

The cake is lovely and moist thanks to the apple pieces. But now, let's talk about the frosting. No, wait - let's just sit down and be quiet for a minute to contemplate the awesomeness of the frosting. It's so hard to believe that it's nothing but butter, icing sugar and vanilla. Well, it's not just butter, it's browned  butter. And that makes all the difference. It's like maple syrup and caramel fell in love and had a baby. The most beautiful baby in the world. If all food bloggers in the world are raving about something, it must be something special. Like browned butter. I can't believe I have lived without it for this long. But now I have seen the light.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Cauliflower cheese


The Culinary Consultant has been growing both broccoli and cauliflowers this year, and very successfully if I might add. There is just one teeny tiny problem - the cauliflowers were supposed to be three different cultivars which would produce at different times. Nice idea if it would have worked. However, it seems like all the cauliflowers came out all at once. And they don't keep for very long on the plants before they start going green and woody. So we have been having plenty of cauliflower lately. Last week's cauliflower and bean soup is finally gone, and I thought something slightly less healthy tasting would be great for a change, so I made some cauliflower cheese.

Cauliflower cheese:
1 cauliflower
500 ml milk
50 g butter
4 tbsp flour
1 tsp Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
100 g mature cheddar, grated
a few tbsp bread crumbs

The Howto:
Wash the cauliflower and break into pieces. Bring a large saucepan to boil with enough water to cover the cauliflower, and cook for about five minutes. Take off the heat, discard water and rinse with cold water to stop the boiling. 

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. In a smaller saucepan bring the milk to a boil. In another saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour and cook for a minute or two, but do not let it brown. Slowly add the milk while whisking vigorously with a balloon whisk to produce a smooth white sauce. Add the mustard, two thirds of the cheese and season to taste. 

Put the cauliflower in an oven proof dish, cover with the sauce and sprinkle the top with cheese and bread crumbs. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and bubbly.

The Verdict:
This certainly didn't taste healthy. It was creamy and cheesy and delicious. The perfect way to indulge in some very unhealthy veg. Does it still count towards your five a day if the veg is smothered in a rich creamy bechamel sauce? I would say it does. The best part was certainly the cheesy and crumbly topping. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Roasted chestnuts

A sure sign of fall is that you can find chestnuts in the grocery stores. They are truly a seasonal produce, only available for a few short weeks and then gone again. When I saw them in store, I just had to get some, although they are not the cheapest. My Mum used to make them in a white oven proof dish, so that's also how I also made them. We used to eat ours by the open fire in the living room. As we don't have an open fire, candles had to do instead. But it was just as dark outside as it was back home when we used to have them. 

Roasting chestnuts is very easy, there is only one perilous step when you have to cut the crosses into the skin. It can be quite tough, so you need a sharp knife, and you need to be very careful. Other than that, just pop them in the oven for about 20-25 minutes and you have a delicious meal at your hands. 

In my childhood home, we usually had them just as they were, with a bit of lemon butter on the side, but you need quite a bit of chestnuts to make a full meal, so it's a good idea to serve soup or something else as a "starter" before digging into the chestnuts.

The one annoying thing is you don't know whether you have a good batch of chestnuts before you start peeling them. Sometimes the skin comes off really easily, whereas other times the thin inner, slightly fuzzy, skin won't come off at all and it's really frustrating to eat them. Sometimes if you are unlucky a large proportion of the chestnuts are mouldy, in which case you shouldn't eat them.

Roasted chestnuts:
sea salt (for the dish)
lemon or garlic butter

The Howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Pour sea salt (finger salt is better than fine salt) into an oven proof dish to help the chestnuts stay upright. Using a small sharp knife, cut a cross in the skin of the chestnuts. Roast for 20-25 minutes.

To prepare the lemon or garlic butter, mix lemon juice or roasted garlic with some butter. 

To enjoy your chestnuts, serve them immediately. Serving them in the oven proof dish with the hot salt will help keep them hot while you peel and eat away. Peel the tough outer shell and the fuzzy inner skin and enjoy with a knob of butter.

The Verdict:
We were a bit unlucky with our batch of chestnuts as some of them didn't want to get peeled and the inner fuzzy skin stuck to the nuts, so peeling them was hard work. But they tasted just as delicious as I remembered from when my Mum used to roast them for us on dark autumn evenings. We had about 20 chestnuts each, which is about as many as I usually can be bothered to peel. To make a proper meal out of it, you might want to serve soup or something else as a starter while the chestnuts are roasting. I also think serving them with something on the side, such as these delicious garlic breads would make them more filling. Or you could just eat them as a snack or treat.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

White bean and tortelloni soup

I hosted a dinner party for a bunch of very good friends last week. For once, I decided not to make a mountain out of a molehill and to keep the food very simple. I guess my "clean and simple" mindset from my card crafting is making it's way into the kitchen as well. Instead of planning an intricate three course meal I decided I would stick to something easy and delicious and spend all my time with my guests instead of in the kitchen. 

One of my guests is vegetarian, and I knew my other guests wouldn't mind eating veggie so I decided to just make the whole meal vegetarian instead of having separate options. I was browsing the food blogs I follow in case I would stumble upon inspiration, and there it was right in front of me. How Sweet It Is was featuring a white bean and tortellini soup and I thought that would be perfect. Easy ingredients, and I could partly prep it in advance and then it would only take me a short while to cook it when my guests had arrived. I also served sundried tomato and goats cheese muffins and garlic breads. I didn't have any starters, I just had some olives and grapes out on the table that we nibbled on while enjoying some bubbly before the meal. I had planned to make a crumble for dessert, but it turned out the Culinary Consultant wanted to bake so he made an apple cake and some banana bread for dessert. Although I have to admit we never made it to the banana bread, as we could hardly move after finishing the soup, bread, muffins and apple cake with custard.

I made a double serving of the soup in a huge saucepan as there was five of us for dinner, and I also hoped there would be some left over for me to take to work for lunch the following week, which there was. The original recipe uses tortellini, but as I wanted a vegetarian soup, I went for tortelloni instead. You can easily choose whatever pasta you prefer. 

White bean and tortelloni soup (from How Sweet It Is, serves 4-5):
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 yellow onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp smoked paprika
salt and black pepper to taste
2 tbsp tomato puree
300 g spinach
2 tins (400 g each) crushed tomatoes
2 cans cannellini beans (I used cannellini and butter beans)
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
400 g fresh tortelloni (I used a mix of spinach and ricotta as well as basil pesto)
(1/3 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese)

The howto: 
Chop the onion and garlic. Drain and rinse the beans. Heat oil and butter in a large saucepan. Add onions and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the spices and tomato puree and give it all a good stir. Add spinach and let cook until wilted. Add the crushed tomatoes, beans and vegetable stock and let cook for about 5 minutes. Add the pasta, and cook according to instructions (my fresh tortelloni required 5 minutes of cooking). Make sure not to over-cook the pasta. If you want to, stir in some grated cheese right before serving. I didn't as I was serving this with cheesy garlic bread and cheesy muffins. 

The verdict:
The food was certainly a success, all the guests enjoyed it, and even the Culinary Consultant went back for seconds. I will certainly be making it again, although I think switching to a meat filled pasta would make him like it even more. 

The soup is really tasty, I don't often cook pasta but this was a great way of having some. I used a mix of store bought crushed tomatoes and some of our home-made tomato and garlic sauce from our fantastic sun ripened fresh tomatoes. I usually use very little salt in my food, but to bring out all the flavour from the tomatoes and beans, you want to make sure you season the soup properly. I had some leftovers for a few more days, and it was as tasty when re-heated as it was when first served. I certainly consider this a great success. 

The wonderful thing about the soup is that it hardly required any effort to put together. I chopped the onions and garlic before my guests arrived. When it was time to prepare dinner, I just chucked in the chopped onions and garlic and joined my guests while they were cooking, went back after five minutes and added the spinach, joined my guests, went back to the kitchen to add the tomatoes and beans, joined my guests, and then finally added the pasta. I felt like I hardly missed any of the conversation, and the soup just cooked all by itself. I had also pre-prepared sundried tomato and goat's cheese muffins which I put in the oven when I started the soup, and I also pre-prepared some roasted garlic and mozzarella bread which I popped in the oven 10 minutes before the soup was done. It all worked perfectly together.

Unfortunately I only managed to take very bad photos of the soup on the day I served it. The photo at the top of this post was taken the next day, but at that point most of the liquid had been absorbed into the pasta, so it didn't look much like a soup. It was still tasty, but I included the very bad photo below from when it was still an actual soup.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Roast garlic and mozzarella bread

Today's recipe is a slight twist on the good old garlic bread. This time I decided to make garlic breads using roasted garlic. Roasting the garlic takes away that bitter harshness that raw garlic has, it's much more soft and sweet. I think it's perfect for slightly more subtle garlic bread that don't just scream "I'm a garlic bread and you will repel people for a week after eating me" but instead tempt you to devour multiple of these tasty breads and savour the soft undertones of garlic and still be able to go to work the next morning. 

Roasting the garlic can be done ahead of time, even the day before. I made these for a dinner party recently, and I prepared the garlic butter in the morning, and before dinner all I needed to do was butter slices of bread, cut some mozzarella on top and bake them until golden brown. I haven't added any quantities to the recipe, as one garlic makes plenty of garlic butter (you can keep it in the fridge in a sealed jar for a few days), so you can make as many garlic breads as you need really.

Roast garlic and mozzarella bread:
1 whole garlic
about 100 g butter 
slices of bread of your choice (I used a cheese bread for extra cheesiness)
thinly slized mozzarella (or grated would work as well)

The howto: 
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Wrap the garlic in foil and roast for an hour. Let cool completely. Separate the cloves of garlic. By squeezing the garlic clove, the puree-like roasted flesh will come out of the skin (your hands will have a lovely scent of garlic after doing this, if this doesn't appeal to you, just wear disposable gloves) and mix the garlic with butter. If you use unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt. You can keep the butter in a tightly sealed jar in the fridge for a few days.

When you want to make your bread, preheat oven to 230 degrees. Cut slices of bread of choice and smear with butter (more or less depending on your taste). Top with a slice of mozzarella. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately.

The verdict:
I made these for a dinner party and they all disappeared very quickly. I think that's all I need to say. Are they health food? Of course not. Are they good? Oh yes. Perfect to serve with a tasty soup or as a starter.