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.

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*

Macaroni Cheese

macaroni cheese

I have a strange relationship with macaroni cheese.  It evokes very fond memories of my big sister and I being left ‘home alone’ whilst ‘the Runtles’ went out.  Usually on a Saturday evening.  Usually for something to eat.

Consequently, we had to make our own tea, and, as a treat, were allowed to open a tin.

*leaves slight pause for the excitement to die down*

So, aside from Tomato Soup, which was an obvious favourite but really had to be left for ‘poorly days’, there was a whole section on the ‘tinned food shelf in the cupboard’ dedicated to Saturday tea food, our favourites of which were tinned Ravioli, tinned Spaghetti Bolognese and tinned Macaroni.

Invariably I plumped for the tinned Macaroni Cheese and would warm it up in the pan, plop it into a bowl, add a spoonful of Branston Pickle, put the bowl and a drink on a tray, and carry it, with an inner glee, into the lounge.

You see not only were we allowed food from a tin, we were also, as a special treat and as long as we kept the food on a tray, allowed to eat our tea in the lounge.  In front of the television.

*another pause to reflect on the absolute giddiness I still feel*

Now I know to many this is now de rigueur.  Indeed it may be said that sitting around the table is now the treat.  But then, as now, I hold very dear, time spent sitting round the table, with all it’s little rituals.  A table tells a story that unfolds through time, both physically and emotionally.

Anyway.  This is where the story takes an unexpected turn.  You see, although the build up was fabulous, the actual eating of said Macaroni Cheese was always a disappointment.  It got very boring, very quickly.  There was just not enough going on to entertain my palette, and inevitably, the slight taste of wallpaper paste would always come to the fore, leaving me dissatisfied and slightly irritated that I had, yet again, plumped for the tin of bland.  To be fair, on reflection they were all pretty disgusting.

As a consequence of this I have never had Macaroni Cheese as one of my ‘go to’ recipes, although I know for many, it is a comfort food extraordinaire.  I don’t think this position for me will ever change, but I have always wanted to rectify my slight apathy at making it.  Having made a few unconvincing attempts, I decided to give Nigella’s recipe a go.

I know what you’re thinking, why did I not try that recipe immediately?  And I’d like to give you an answer, I really would.  But unfortunately I’m not sure why I never tried it before.  Tell you what though, it’s absolutely delicious and most definitely my ‘go to’ macaroni cheese from now on.

So, down to business.  You cook 250g of macaroni.  Meanwhile put 250g of evaporated milk, 250g of grated cheese and 2 eggs into a bowl.  Mix.  Add the cooked macaroni.  Grate some nutmeg and add salt and pepper to taste.

Put into a dish and place in the oven, gas mark 7 for approximately 15 minutes.  To be honest it took more like 30 minutes in my oven, but then my oven has a mind of it’s own and is, as we all know, quite temperamental.

The most important thing to remember here is that the macaroni cheese should be spread out over quite a large surface area. Think width, not depth.

We ate it with steamed broccoli, but it would be delicious on it’s own or as part of a big dinner experience.  I believe our friends across the pond eat it as a complement to ham, others put it together with salad.  Whichever way you decide to eat this macaroni cheese, one thing is for certain, you will definitely be making it again.

Butternut Squash Risotto

butternut squash risotto

I love risotto.  It’s comforting, adaptable and an absolute doddle to make.  Which is great as the wee boy and I are home alone and not the most perky.  We are doing that energy wave thing.  You know the one?  One minute you feel absolutely fine, the next you can hardly move.

Enter risotto and it’s shining, creamy rice.

I gently saute an onion in butter on a low heat until it begins to turn translucent, then add rice and black pepper.  Stir.

Now then today, having just made some chicken stock, I added that to the rice, gradually, but it could be vegetable stock, beef stock, whatever you fancy which compliments the meat or vegetables you are using.  However, if you like to add white wine, do it before you begin to add the rest of the liquid.

Why?

Well, because you want the alcohol to evaporate leaving the flavour.  That taste sensation doesn’t have the same impact if you add the wine with the rest of the liquid.

That said, I don’t tend to add wine, not because I don’t like it in there, but because, usually, I don’t have any opened wine around.  What am I saying?  I feel I may be creating the wrong picture here.  What I mean is I don’t usually have any wine around.  I’m a ‘buy it, drink it’ kinda gal.  However, on those rare occasions when there may be some left in the bottle which has been hanging around for a few days, Nigella has a canny little trick of bagging it up, sealing it and putting it in the freezer. I admire this idea greatly but just forget to do it.

Here’s another thing, today our risotto was butternut squash which I had cooked in the oven beforehand, so added to the rice just a couple of minutes before the end.  If you’re doing mushroom risotto the technique would be different.  Still a doddle though.

Anyway, you’ll know the rice is cooked when it has a creamy, soft, nutty texture.  I have taken to adding the parmesan shavings on top of the risotto, but occasionally I stir it into the rice.  As I say, it’s diversity, along with it’s comforting textures, are just two of a risotto’s many qualities.

Meanwhile, I must now leave you and sink, graciously, into the sofa.

Turkey

turkey

Of all the different meats, turkey is the one I find I have the least confidence in cooking.  And the only reason for this, is that other than at Christmas time, we never eat it.  If I’m absolutely honest, I don’t really care for it that much.  It always seems quite tasteless to me.  However, that could be because, actually, I have never quite succeeded in cooking it properly.

I remember once buying a no nonsense, 5 star hotel bred turkey that had been read a story at bedtime all it’s life whilst being allowed to roam free during the day, every day.  In a nutshell, it couldn’t have had a better life if I had dedicated my whole time to hand rearing it.

After we invested in said bird, I duly followed Nigella’s ‘soaking a turkey’ recipe, which included amongst many other things, star anise and allspice berries.  In essence, this highly privileged bird was soaked in a no nonsense infusing juice and treated, even in death, like a King.

It still tasted rubbish.

So it is with some trepidation that I have spent today, roasting a very large turkey, for a very large Christmas meal.  But the story starts before this…

Having had the above experience, and knowing the budget was tight, I bought an extra large frozen turkey from my local supermarket, covered it, and left it in the outhouse to defrost, slowly, for a few days.  After 24 hours I thought I’d better check to see how we were getting on.  All was well, although hardly any of the turkey had defrosted.

It was some time later that, in passing, I thought I’d have another cheekie peek.  The bird felt much more malleable, so I thought I should bring it into the kitchen for a closer inspection.  Imagine my horror, then, when I realised a not so small chunk had been nibbled out of the bird.   I have glared at both cats since, and asked them directly, whether they were the turkey munching culprit, but, as with any cat, they just stare back at me with semi glazed indifference, and a look that says,

‘Who cares about what happened yesterday?’

I concluded, after much soul searching, that birdy would be cooking for many hours and therefore more than likely bacteria free by then, so I cleaned up the aforementioned unmentionable, and allowed the bird to continue to defrost.  This time swathed in bags and secreted into the top of our wardrobe.

Which brings me back to today’s cooking.

Having squeezed the bird and all it’s bits and pieces into the oven, covered with tin foil, I nipped out to pick up the wee boy and left himself in charge.

On my return there was a more than slight wiff of ‘burn’ in the kitchen, so, I opened the door and was greeted by a magicians puff of smoke and an even stronger smell of ‘burn’.  It turns out that our oven had a disagreement with the tin foil tray said bird was bathed in, obviously it was too close to the flame.  Himself had checked the bird, but only at the front, wondered what the smell was, and opened a window.

Never mind, it was only the tray.   And a wing.   And they taste awful anyway…

Christmas Cake – Step One

Christmas Cake

They do say the longer you leave it between making and eating a Christmas Cake, the more moist the cake becomes.

I have never managed to be so ahead of schedule that I make it many, many weeks or months before the big day, but I do always ensure that it is made before my birthday, which, as I used to tell anyone that would listen when I was young, is a month before God.

To be honest, I still drag that gag out every now and again as it makes me laugh, but funnily enough, I tend to get blank looks back.  Apart from the wee boys who do still titter at it.  This is probably because I have overused it on the majority of people. Very much like the only other joke I remember.

What, you’d like to hear it?  Oh, ok.

Ahem *clears throat*

What did Batman say to Robin before they got in the car?

Get in the car Robin

You see, even now as I write it, I cannot help but smile.

I was once touring around Northern Italy with a wonderful company called The People Show.  Having to spend many hours on the bus, and being the youngest there, it took me a while to speak up, but I eventually decided to tell a joke. Unfortunately, I forgot the punchline, which took me at least 24 hours to remember. It gave the gang something to gently and lovingly tease me about, and made me realise that I will never be a stand up, joke telling, comedienne.

But what has this to do with Christmas cake, I hear you cry.  Absolutely nothing, so let’s crack on.

Now this is the thing.  I follow Nigella’s recipe pretty closely, as I don’t like the taste of candid peel, and prefer pecan nuts to almonds etc.  But what I have realised with Christmas cake is that you need three bowls and a couple of extra bits, and you’re done.  What you put in them is totally up to you.

In my dry stuff bowl I have 300g plain flour, ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger – more cinnamon than the rest, but so that they make up around 3 teaspoons and 150g ground almonds.

In my fruity bowl I have 700g raisins and 300g currants – but you could have whatever combination of dried fruit you like as long as it’s soaked in 400ml of whiskey, bourbon, brandy, apple juice or whatever, put in a pan, brought to the boil, covered, and left overnight to plump up the fruit. Actually, we ended up leaving it about 3 days as we just kept running out of time but hey, all’s well that’s pickled in liquor.

In my wet bowl I have 300g butter, 175g soft dark brown sugar, 4 eggs, 2 tablespoons black treacle and 1 teaspoon almond extract.  Cream the butter and sugar together, add the eggs one by one, then the treacle and extract.

My ‘other stuff’ consists of a tub of glace cherries, and a packet of pecan nuts.  The nuts I chop a little, the cherries I leave alone as I remember, when young, the pure delight of getting a slice of Christmas cake which had a whole cherry inside. Decadence personified.

Then put a dollop of each section into the bowl and stir until it’s all mixed in together.  Put into a prepared tin and bake on a low heat – gas mark 2 – for around 3 – 31/4 hours.

Now this is a great trick.  Once it comes out of the oven, wrap it, tin and all, in a couple of layers of greaseproof paper until it is cold.  This keeps the top of the cake moist (great word).  You may, if you wish, just brush a couple more tablespoons of your chosen liquid over the top before placing the cake in it’s shroud.  This too, will help maintain moisture.

Once cool, wrap in a couple of layers of greaseproof paper, followed by a couple of layers of tin foil, and place in an airtight container, in a darkened place, until Christmas eve – ooooh, I just got a little shiver of excitement there.

Just one last thing.  Some people ‘feed’ their cake weekly by piercing it with a toothpick or relevant utensil, and pouring in a lid full of liquor.  However, I did this last year and felt it was just a little too moist and boozy for my liking, so am skipping that section this year.  Obviously, I will show and share when the moment comes.

Until then, pour yourself a sherry and relax.

Chocolate Banana Muffins

choclate banana muffin

I have, recently, wholehearted adopted the American tradition of eating fresh muffins for breakfast.  To be honest, I’m not even sure it is an American tradition, but America is the country I associate with morning breakfast muffins since the arrival of the sitcom Friends and the coffee shops such as Starbucks and the gang onto our little island, as they do seem to do a rather merry tango with coffee.

Moreover, it feels very decadent to wake up in the morning with so much time on your hands that you can swan into the kitchen with nothing more than a dressing gown on, and rustle up some beautiful muffins.

Make no mistake though, when you see Nigella swan down, glamorously, into her large kitchen, gloriously bedecked in a satin dressing gown, hair perfectly coiffed and make-up beautifully applied, that is not me.

I have more of a pulled through a hedge backwards look, where everything is moving southwards much quicker than expected, except my hair which has made a unilateral decision to venture west.  Or east.  Or sometimes, both.

Nevertheless I rarely look in a mirror first thing in the morning until it is absolutely necessary, and as a consequence, have very successfully managed to convince myself on many an occasion, that I have Nigella glamour.  I’m not sure the postman would agree.

Anyway, this morning, having promised to make muffins for a while to use up the rapidly browning bananas lounging on a hanging affair in our fruit bowl, I set to, bedecked in dressing gown, to make a Nigella recipe.

This is what you will need:

3 very ripe or overripe bananas
125 ml vegetable oil
2 large eggs
100 grams soft light brown sugar
225 grams plain flour
3 tablespoons best-quality cocoa powder (sifted)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Mix the wet ingredients together, the dry ingredients together, then combine wet with dry, spoon into muffin cases (12) and bake for 15 – 20 minutes, gas mark 6 or equivalent.

Once cooked, I woke up himself with a cup of tea and a warm muffin.

Him:  Oh

Me:  What?

Him:  I didn’t expect banana

Silence

I wonder if Nigella gets that response?