Fruit Loaf

Fruit Bread

One of my favourite indulgences is eating in bed.   It’s something I have, for as long as I remember, always relished.  Initially, it was reminiscent of recovery – tomato soup, warm bread roll and honey – the usual ‘getting better’ food.  As I sashayed into adulthood it captured the lazy day off when nothing and nobody came between me, the radio, and my bed. Other than perhaps a long bath.  The icing on the cake being the warm sunshine streaming through the window and gently stroking my face. In fact, afternoon eating in bed has become a feature of every stage of my life. These days it is something I love to indulge in with the wee one, and the other day we did just that.

Invariably, these moments are not planned which gives them an even more heightened sense of guilty pleasure, although it does also mean that the food in question can be a mish-mash of things we have in, rather than a gourmet dinner. And so it was that, on our most recent afternoon of indulgence, fruit loaf became our piece de resistance.

Toasted, obviously, and then lathered with butter, fruit loaf slices placed perfectly on a plate, the delight of taking it back upstairs, plumping the pillows, putting the cup of tea on the side ready for that mid meal slurp then turning up the radio, is indescribable.  A moment worth savouring if only because of the heightened sense of anticipation it stokes.

We may not be in the South of France, in fact the sun may only be making a guest appearance, but my oh my do we know how to live.  And if you’ve never tried this act of complete indulgence, may I suggest you do.  Not for just breakfast, but in the middle of the afternoon when you know you should be doing something else, or at least out of bed.  I tell you, there is absolutely nothing quite like it.

Caramelised Onions

Caramelised Onions

So often in life there seem to be things which elude us.  Circumstances, opportunities, events.  Invariably we can now hear about, through social media and other sources, where people are going, what they are doing, what is on, where, and how wonderful it will be.

But it is worth remembering that not everyone will go to everything, and that to live life vicariously through another is to miss what is right in front of your nose.  It may also be said that, with the plethora of food commentary, delightfully innovative recipes and ideas that flood our lives through all different types of media, we often miss the simple pleasures.  Such as conquering how to cook the perfect caramelised onions.

I would like to announce at this point, that I think I may have cracked it.

It’s a small step I know, but for me, one that has taken many failed attempts.  And what, you may ask, brought about this ‘eureka’ moment?  Sugar.

You may remember a while back, that we did a little experiment, and, for a short period of time, resisted as many forms of the sweet substance as we possibly could.  Which in itself was pretty successful.  But if you enjoy cooking, as I most certainly do, there comes a point where you have to search you soul and question whether something so fundamental to your being is worth rejecting.  For me it is a definite ‘no’.

That in no way means that I wish to advocate a sugar indulgence, but I have come to the conclusion that I want sugar in my life.  It’s a choice.  I am not, I realise, interested in it’s alternative.  And believe me, I have researched the many possibilities.  But no, sugar is here to stay.

So, having acknowledged that sugar is a lifetime commitment, I have begun looking into ways it can actually enhance simple foodstuffs without an overindulgent attitude to it. And it is to this end that I have found out how to make the most wonderful caramelised onions.

Firstly, pop a little oil and a knob of butter into a frying pan. Warm on a low heat until the butter has melted then add the sliced onions.  And here’s the piece of wonderment and joy.  Add a sprinkling of salt and sugar to the onions and fry, slowly, turning regularly, until the whole pan of onions begin to go a beautiful, shiny golden brown, allowing some of the onions to crisp up ever so slightly.

Turn off the heat and let them have a rest.

If you’re going to put them into something like a flan, make sure they’re cold.  If you’re putting them in hot dogs, reheat for thirty seconds or so.

Either way, these little beauties will do you proud and enhance your day like nothing else.  Perhaps a slight exaggeration there, but truly, they are magnificent and will give your day that extra sparkle when perhaps you may have, up to this point, not felt that it’s quite lived up to expectation.

To be honest there are very few days that go by where I don’t feel extraordinarily happy to be alive.  Not just because of the wonderful family and friends I have around me, but because, through circumstance of birth, I have been given opportunities which so many people on this amazing planet of ours, just don’t have.

It is to this end that I encourage you all to fully enjoy each day.  Whatever the dish you serve.

Fish Finger Sandwich

fish finger packer

I know what you’re thinking, and you would be right.  But, in my humble opinion everybody needs to indulge in a little fast food every now and then, and this is one of my favourites.

However.

The choice of ingredients are crucial, the cooking method, vital.

Firstly, the bread.

I am partial to white sliced, wholemeal or granary, although now that the particular seeds get a mention in the title of the bread, granary no longer seems the third alternative (I don’t count brown).  Today’s choice of bread is pumpkin and sunflower seed. Delicious.  What you must never do though, is have a fish finger sandwich in a roll, bap, bread cake, bun, stottie, scuffler or any other round bread type affair.  Oh no, no, no, that will never do.

Your bread must ALWAYS be sliced.  And just as a little N.B. don’t buy brown bread. It’s pointless.  If you want brown coloured bread go for wholemeal, much better for you and tastes so much nicer.

Next, the fish finger.

It’s a funny old thing eating something covered in bright orange bread crumbs, as I’ve never seen a loaf of bread that’s bright orange or indeed toasted crumbs that come out bright orange.  To be honest I have absolutely no idea what they put in the crumbs to make them so orange, and quite frankly, I have no intention of ever finding out.  Some things are best left in the ‘don’t want to know’ cupboard.  After all, this is about fast food indulgence which, by it’s very nature, has very little intrinsic health value.

That said, I prefer my fish fingers to have a declaration on the front, some thing along the lines of ‘made with 100%…’ or ‘made entirely from…’.  Probably because it makes me feel better about what I’m eating.  What was that, advertiser’s dream?

*Pops rose tinted glasses back on*

Onto the cooking process.

Place four fish fingers under a medium heat grill, and turn regularly until the fish innards begin to bubble through the breadcrumb topping, and everything goes slightly crispy on the outside.  Meanwhile butter one slice of bread and spread tomato ketchup on another.  With a little black pepper if you fancy a tastebud kick.

When done, place three fish fingers side by side going vertically from left to right on the slice of buttered bread, and one horizontally on top.  Gently crush.

Put the tomato ketchup slice of bread on top of the fish fingers, press ever so slightly, and cut in two.

Take that first bite and sigh deeply at the complete and utter indulgent pleasure of it all.

Brownies

Brownies

There are many cakes that I will probably, through lack of knowledge of their existence, never bake.  But a brownie is not one of them.  Although to be fair, it has only been in the last couple of years that I have even considered making them at home and not just buying them to eat when meeting friends at the coffee shop.

Brownies have recently become synonymous with morning coffee, perhaps in part due to their American origins, although I have a sneaking suspicion that it is more likely because they compliment a hot drink wonderfully, so they, like so many other cakes, have naturally veered towards the morning or afternoon ‘nibble’ slot.   Although according to thenibble.com brownies are actually a bar cookie as opposed to a cake because,

“…brownies are finger food, like cookies, and cake is eaten with a fork”

I don’t know about you, but I can eat cake very nicely without a fork, thank-you. Moreover, I always presumed the classification process was more about how the item was baked and it’s consistency.  But who am I to argue?  Although there is another issue, on our little island, regarding whether it should be taxed or not, based on the classification of whether the food is a biscuit or cake.  And for those of you who are the slightest bit interested, may I guide you to the ‘Jaffa Cake Fiasco’ for more, vitally important and gripping details.   *Ahem*

Meanwhile, the brownie recipe I follow is a gloriously simple one, promoted by the one and only Nigella Lawson, who, for any of you that didn’t see it, read out with wonderful precision, the Eurovision results for our little island this year.  A show dedicated to all things gloriously ironic and ever so slightly camp.  Perfect for our sense of humour.

And now let me shimmy, seamlessly, to the ingredients.  You will need 375g butter, 375g good dark chocolate.  Melt together, leave to cool slightly.  Meanwhile, mix together 225g plain flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 300g chopped nuts (usually walnuts, but yesterday I did a mixture of walnuts, pecans and almonds simply because I didn’t have enough walnuts) into a bowl.   Then add six large eggs, 500g castor sugar and 1 tablespoonful of vanilla extract into another bowl and whisk together.

When the melted chocolate mix has cooled slightly, add the whisked egg mixture and then the flour nut combo.  Pour into a greased and lined rectangular dish, depending on the size of brownie you would like.

Cook at gas mark 4 for around 25 minutes.  As soon as the mixture stops wobbling, and the top has cracked and turned a lighter brown, whip them out of the oven and leave to cool before cutting.

Make a coffee (or tea) and sit down, brownie in one hand, drink in the other, for five minutes – or 30 seconds in my case –  of absolute pleasure.

Car Biscuits

car biscuits #2

As those of you who read regularly will know, once a week the wee boy and I have our ‘me and you’ day.  Sometimes these days are filled with places to go and people to meet.  Other times they are less busy which affords us the pleasure of doing something we both enjoy.  Baking.  So, by popular request, today we made car biscuits.

There is nothing special about these biscuits other than they are made together, over time and with love.

For those of you who may have the slightest interest, they are in fact, shortbread biscuits.  250g butter, 88g castor sugar, 275g plain flour and 25g semolina.  The semolina is not a necessity needed to make shortbread, but in my experience it gives that extra ‘shortness’ to the biscuit which I find irresistible.  You may, on the other hand, not enjoy such a ‘short’ biscuit in which case just replace the semolina with plain flour.

Mix butter and sugar together but don’t over cream.  Add the flour and semolina until the whole thing starts to chase itself around the bowl and become one.  Roll out on a floured surface until the mixture is half a centimetre or so thick.  Cut out and place on a butter and floured baking tray.  Prick the biscuits to stop them from rising.  Bake in a warmed oven, gas mark 3 until they look ready.

Take off the baking tray and place on a cooling rack.  Dip into melted chocolate.  Leave to cool.

The wee one has not, until recently, been that interested in using shapes to cut out but was quite insistent that we made cars from a cutter he had found in one of those ‘chuck everything in and put the lid on’ boxes.  And then there was the chocolate. We had actually bought some chocolate buttons from a stall in the market, but sadly they disappeared, slowly but surely, until we weren’t left with enough to dip a cornflake in, so ended up buying a cheap bar from somewhere else and just melting it.

Obviously with the amount of ‘quality control’ that was needed throughout the process, we were not able to dip all the cars into the chocolate, however, it’s quite nice to have a mixture.

Meanwhile the delights of stirring, adding, scooping and cutting have been glorious.

And the biscuits?

Delicious, though I say so myself.

Key Lime Pie

Key lime pie

I have a confession to make.  This is a Nigella recipe filched straight from ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’.   I haven’t altered a thing.

You see, as with everything that has a structure, be that science, language, music, etc. I believe you need to understand the fundamentals in order to play around with the concept.  That’s my excuse anyway.

The other thing is, I have never made Key Lime Pie before, although I have flicked through this book many times.  I think probably one of the things that has made me scan over this recipe and not really consider it before, was the almost nonchalant way she describes how to make it.

There is non of that oozing flamboyance here.  Unlike further along in the book, when, in the preamble to the recipe from her friend Joe Dolce regarding his Italian Cheesecake, she quotes directly from his email, ‘Eat it and weep’.  Still one of my favourite cookbook quotes of all time.

However, we had some limes that needed using up, and a tin of sweetened condensed milk which didn’t actually need eating up but was there – very similar in my book – so I decided to give it a bash.

As with many cheesecake style recipes, this one starts with the digestive biscuit (200g) and butter (50g) combo, whizzed up and squished into a 23cm lined springform tin.  Normally this would be a round one, but we have a 20cm square one which I have only used once so felt it needed an outing.

Invariably with recipes that use a biscuit base such as this, the recipe insists, or as near as damn it, that you have a food processor to ‘blitz’ the two ingredients together.  I don’t have one of those which is, perhaps, why my biscuit base, despite being bashed to billie-o, never manages to hold itself together.  It does often give me false hope though as there are always parts of it that initially look pretty good and my heart punches the air thinking that, at last, I have managed to make a cohesive biscuit base.

It’s a short lived story.  As soon as I move the blighter, it moves with me.  In all directions.

I’m thinking it may be to do with my impatience not allowing it to linger in the tin enough, not cooling it enough, not letting it be.  Next time.

Meanwhile the filling consists of 5 large egg yolks, 3 egg whites, zest of 3 limes, 150ml lime juice and a 397g tin of sweetened condensed milk.

In Nigella’s recipe blurb she talks about key limes and how it is unnecessary to use actual key limes.  She uses ordinary ones.  I’m afraid I have to hold up my hands and say I am completely lime ignorant.  I have never had a key lime so therefore wouldn’t be able to advise anyone on their importance, or not.

Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks then fold into the yolks (which have been beaten), lime and condensed milk mixture.  Pour on top of the biscuit base and cook on a baking tray which has been lounging in the centre of the oven, gas mark 3. Leave it there for around 25 minutes or until the filling is firm.

Pop onto a wire rack and leave to cool.

Chill well – Nigella’s advice, and who am I to argue?

*pops off to make a margarita*

Eggy Bread

Eggy Bread

This is one of my all time go-to favourite breakfasts.  Or lunches.  Or snacks.  Or suppers.

Why?

Because it is simple and quick to make for anyone of any age or ability, can be made as sweet or savoury and can be eaten in whatever proportion you fancy, either as a full to popping experience, or, as they say round these parts, just enough to ‘put you on’.  Which translated means, keep you going.  It’s one of my favourite phrases which I never tire of hearing.

Now there may be some of you out there who do not refer to this wonderful marriage of egg and bread as Eggy Bread, but instead insist on it’s more formal title of French Toast.  Some believe this name was inspired by the French version of ‘pain perdu’, which in itself means lost bread, or bread that can no longer be used for it’s original purpose.

In fact Eggy Bread is one of those fascinating foodstuffs which has a plethora of potential originality, and therefore, to those of us who are curious about that kind of thing, extremely interesting.  I do concede though, that most people don’t really give that much of Chaucer’s toot about such things. *

Meanwhile, there may be someone who has never dabbled in the making of Eggy Bread, so this is what you’ll need to do.

Whisk eggs and splash of milk together and add your seasoning.  This could be either salt and pepper, cinnamon and vanilla, chilli, etc.  The choice is yours.  I tend to opt for salt and pepper.  Also, the ratio of egg is proportionate to the amount of bread you are hoping to make.  I follow the ratio of 3 eggs to 5 slices of white bread.  You could do one egg per slice and just add the tiniest splash of milk, or indeed no milk at all.  It’s totally up to you.

Cut the bread into quarters and pour over the eggy mixture.  Leave to soak for ten minutes.

Melt a knob of butter in a frying pan and put as many of the quarters as you can into the pan.  Fry until golden brown, turn, repeat.

This is the wee boy’s favourite part of the process.  Well, actually, it’s his second favourite part.  His favourite favourite is the melting of the butter in the pan.  He stands on his chef’s chair, swirling around the butter, looking completely and utterly in control of the situation.  Similarly when the bread is placed in the pan, he delights in giving it a shake.  And I empathise completely.

Anyway, once both sides are cooked to a glorious golden brown, they are ready to serve and for some, that is it.  Others enjoy embellishing with vinegar, Tommy K, HP, sugar, syrup…  the list is endless.

But one thing is for certain, you’ll always, eventually, make more.  It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, but eventually, everyone who has Eggy Bread in their repertoire, revisits.

*Just in case you do, check out this link