I’m writing this post on a Sunday afternoon, sitting in my slippers at the kitchen table as clouds drift into previously clear blue skies and the light begins to fade. One boy is napping, the other enjoying a cheeky post-lunch pint with a friend at the pub where we all ate prodigiously after a trip to Kew Gardens: roast chicken and Yorkshires and red cabbage (hello Christmas) and an enormous ‘kids’ serving of battered fish, mash and peas for Nino who practically licked the plate then proceeded to demolish any leftovers on other peoples’ plates. Sunshine, sharing good food and spending time together is what it’s all about: my belly is very full and my heart even fuller. Continue reading
One of the (many) things I love about having a little person in my life is the way he’s made me reappraise my relationship with people I don’t know. Sitting on the quieter side of the social spectrum and living in London where everyone (with a few exceptions) is happy to go about their daily lives without so much as a ‘good morning’, I’m not much one for speaking to strangers if I don’t have to. But it’s impossible not to wave and smile along with Nino’s uninhibited attempts to make friends with any and everyone. Over the past year I’ve found myself striking up conversations in the shops and playground or on the bus. And even the surliest of strangers find it hard not to crack a smile at his full bodied, double handed wave. It’s incredibly sweet to watch. Continue reading
Have you ever discovered something new, only to become more than slightly obsessed with it?
When I was nine, we moved to a bigger house a few streets away from the one I’d grown up in. There were grand plans to build a beautiful kitchen/dining room extension (which is now in place, and the absolute heart of the household), but when we first arrived we had to make do with a teeny tiny kitchen that was actually smaller than our old one. Continue reading
I love my kitchen. Regardless of the day I’m having, if I can take time to brush down the work surfaces, get in front of the stove and rootle around in the cupboards, I’m transported to a happy place. Preparing food is one of my favourite ways to relax, to completely clear my mind and to be as simple or creative as I choose. Cooking is a joy and my kitchen allows that to happen.
Good for me, then, that I don’t have to share it. I don’t mean with my nearest and dearest – Carnivorous Boyfriend and I will happily cook together side by side (as far as space allows) – I mean the kind of shared kitchen of my university years; the endless piles of washing up, slightly scummy surfaces, disappearing pints of milk and a fridge full of other peoples’ long-forgotten leftovers. My cupboards may be fit to bursting and my ingredients organized in a haphazard way, but they’re mine; I know exactly where everything is and I like it that way.
When I was growing up, my parents shared their house in Italy with a family friend. We’d sometimes go on holiday all together but, more often than not, the friend (who didn’t have any children) would visit outside school holidays, meaning we’d sometimes arrive a long time after he’d left. Down one side of the cool, dark kitchen was an enormous wooden cupboard where we stored dry goods. As it could often be up to six months in between our visits, the contents tended to be stripped back to the bare basics; kilner jars of slightly damp salt and sugar, half a packet of leftover risotto rice, a handful of teabags, a tube of tomato purée.
What could be better than a scoop of gianduja ice cream, velvet-smooth and creamy with sweet chocolate undertones and the richness of roasted hazelnuts?
If you’re an ice cream purist, not much. But if you enjoy the sweet things in life on a scale of decadence just tipping into over-indulgence, I’d suggest trying a scoop of gianduja ice cream sandwiched between two crispy, chewy chocolate chip cookies. It’s heaven. Or as close as you’re going to get through a mouthful of frozen dessert anyway. Continue reading
Spain isn’t a country renowned for its desserts. On a recent trip to Barcelona, the majority of our sweet consumption was split between flaky treats from the local pastelerías at breakfast time and a requisite daily ice cream; justified as compulsory thermostat control on the sweltering beach or busy streets. Maybe the rest of the food and drink on offer is just too good; after wedges of tortilla, melting plates of jamón, rich, creamy croquetas and raisin scented sherry, dessert might well be the last thing on your mind.
A couple of weeks ago I posted the results of my recent quest for the perfect chocolate chunk cookie. Dense and chewy, with a crispy edge and large dark chocolate chunks, these giant cookies were definitely up there. But perfection isn’t a finite thing, and yesterday I decided to rustle up another batch, using the lessons I’d learnt from last time round.
Over the last few days I’ve seen quite a few blog posts cropping up with recipes recommending what to do with leftover Easter chocolate. Rocky road, tiffin, brownies, rice crispy cakes, chocolate cake, chocolate sauce and more; these are all suitably worthy resting places for those sad little eggs and shells that didn’t quite make it into the Easter morning binge. But to be honest, I’ve never really had this issue of ‘egg-cess’ (sorry), having subscribed to more of an ‘all or nothing’ approach to anything sweet from a young age. Consuming my own body weight in chocolate before Easter breakfast has now become pretty much standard practice.
Having said that, yesterday a little bit of Easter egg chocolate did manage to sneak its way into the mixing bowl as I was making my favourite banana loaf recipe. I’d returned home after Easter to a pile of soft, slightly blackened bananas and needed a recipe to salvage them pretty quickly, This sticky, moist banana loaf was the perfect answer- in fact, it simply doesn’t taste the same if the bananas you use aren’t blackened, squidgy and sickly sweet. And the addition of a few nuggets of deliciously dark chocolate prevents the richness of the banana from becoming overpowering.
I mentioned a few weeks ago my discovery of a delicious banana, chocolate and walnut loaf recipe on Gourmet Traveller ‘s blog. I’ve made it a few times since, tweaking the ingredients here and there, and the result is always spot on – dense, moist and nutty inside, crusty and golden on the top, with a richly intense banana flavour and little hits of chocolate. This loaf is delicious as a dessert with natural Greek yoghurt or vanilla ice cream, the perfect tea-time snack served straight up, or an incredible indulgence toasted and smothered in butter. It’s really more of a cake than a loaf though, so arteries take heed if you do decide to go for this final option.
Banana, Chocolate and Walnut Loaf
(adapted from a Gourmet Traveller recipe)
4 large ripe bananas
100g unsalted butter, slightly soft
140g soft brown sugar
2 large free range eggs
50g walnuts, chopped
50g dark chocolate (70% cocoa minimum), chopped
150ml semi-skimmed milk
140g plain flour
140g wholemeal flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 level tbsp demerara sugar
Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease a 900g (2lb) loaf tin with butter and line the base with baking parchment.
Peel and roughly mash the bananas with a fork. In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. Crack in the eggs and whisk further to combine, then stir in the mashed banana, walnuts, chocolate and milk. Stir thoroughly to incorporate all the ingredients – the banana means there may be a few lumps.
Sift the flours and bicarbonate of soda into the bowl and gently fold into the wet mixture until just combined. The key here is to work carefully to preserve the lightness of the cake batter. Pour the batter into your prepared loaf tin and sprinkle with the demerara sugar.
Bake in the oven for 1 hour – you’ll know it’s done when a metal skewer inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean. If it’s still wet with batter, pop your loaf back in the oven for another 15 minutes, covering with foil if the top is browning too much. When cooked, remove from oven and leave to sit for 5 minutes before transferring the loaf out onto a wire ack to cool completely.
If I had a pound for every blog post out there talking about the quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, I would be a very rich girl. Whether it’s UK bloggers lamenting the lack of good recipes using metric measurements, or US bloggers vying for the ultimate ‘just like Mom used to make’ recipe, chocolate chip cookie chat is definitely a hot topic on the baking agenda of the blogosphere.
And not without good reason. There’s nothing better than sinking your teeth into thick, chewy American style cookie, soft in the middle, crispy and buttery round the edges and studded with bittersweet chocolate chunks. We’re not talking ‘dip in your tea and nibble appreciatively’ British style biscuit here, this is a full on super-sweet indulgence best enjoyed with a complete lack of guilt and a giant glass of cold milk.
I recently made a batch of crispy chewy oatmeal and raisin cookies. Oaty, nutty and possibly slightly too worthy, they got me thinking about other cookie recipes to try, and I began my search for the ultimate chocolate chunk cookie recipe (note chunk, not chip – I think coarse chunks of chopped dark chocolate deliver a far superior cookie to their oversweet, manufactured cousin the chip).
After trawling my favourite foodie sites, I was delighted to find that a fellow blogger had already done most of the legwork for me. I arrived at Signe Johansen’s blog Scandilicious through Google search and will definitely be returning to read her simple, beautiful compilation of recipes and foodie thoughts. Signe’s ‘quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie’ took her on a journey through baking books and tweets, allowing her to incorporate tips from various seasoned bakers while weeding out any strange or over-the-top suggestions. The result is the recipe below, which I knew I had to try as soon as I saw her pictures.
Chewy, crispy and not too sweet, with delicious chunks of dark chocolate, this one’s going straight to the top of my ultimate chocolate chunk cookie leader board. I think it’s going to be hard to top, but if you think you’ve got a better recipe I’d love to try it out so please get in touch!
Incredible giant chocolate chunk cookies (adapted from Signe Johansen’s blog)
- 300g plain white flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 180g salted butter, melted
- 200g light brown muscovado sugar
- 100g golden caster sugar
- 1 large free range egg plus one large yolk
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 150g dark chocolate, 70% cocoa minimum, coarsely chopped
- Preheat the oven to 160 C/ 325 F. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment and set aside.
- Sieve together the flour, baking powder and sea salt.
- Whisk together the melted butter together with both sugars, then add the large egg, extra yolk and vanilla to the mixture. Whisk again and then stir in the flour, beating the mixture for a few minutes to stretch the gluten strands.
- Fold in the chocolate chips. The cookie dough should feel almost dry now, like a solid lump (Signe says she wishes she’d taken photo at this stage to illustrate, so I made sure I did!) – don’t let the chocolate chips cluster in just one part of the dough.
- Opinion varies on whether to chill the dough before baking or just cook straight away. I was hungry and impatient, but it was a pretty large batch of dough so I divided the mixture in two, chilling half and spooning the other half onto the tray with an ice cream scoop (To note, ice cream scoop sized dough balls result in HUGE cookies!)
- Bake for 15-18 minutes until the cookies are golden, the sides feel firm-ish to the touch but the centre is still quite soft. This is really important as you don’t want to overcook and lose that slight squidgy texture.
- Cooling the cookies on the baking sheets helps keep their chewy consistency so I’d definitely recommend this.
- Once cooled, remove from the tray and serve or store in an air tight container. Yum.
(I made the second batch of chilled dough into smaller cookies, about 2/3 of the size of the palm of my hand. The resulting cookie was chewier and crispier but I’m not sure if this was down to size difference or the fact that I’d chilled it. Not a very fair experiment but I’m not that fussed, both batches tasted incredible)
Oats are pretty amazing things. Packed with nutrients including vitamin E, zinc, selenium, copper, iron and more, they are a good source of protein (I can almost hear carniverous boyfriend shaking his head at this claim. Ok. A good source of protein that tastes good in cookies. Chewy chicken breast cookies just aren’t going to cut it with this little loaf). They can even help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Basically, oats are a good thing.
I first tasted Bircher Muesli several years ago on holiday in the Caribbean, and have been searching for the perfect recipe ever since. Packed with oats, fruit, and mulchy, milky goodness, it is the perfect healthy oaty breakfast. I think I may have just about cracked the perfect blend – blog post to follow soon – but in the meantime, my various attempts mean I have a big old stash of rolled oats sitting in my cupboard.
Some of them have been turned into porridge. A few more met a delicious, sticky end in my adaptation of Dan Lepard’s fudgy tahini flapjacks. And this weekend, another handful made its way into a batch of crispy, chewy oatmeal raisin cookies.
I’m quite particular when it comes to cookies. I like them big (at least the size of my palm), thick and chewy, with a slightly crispy edge. I’m not a tea drinker so I don’t care about dunkability – I want the real American doughy deal, perfect with a glass of milk and more of a delicious dessert than a flimsy biscuit. Buttery, chewy and packed with chunks of chocolate, fruit and nuts, this recipe is the answer. I slightly overcooked mine as you can see from the pictures, but follow the timings below, and they should be spot on.
Tip: To get a thick, chewy cookie that doesn’t collape in a buttery puddle across the baking sheet when heated, chill the dough for at least 2 hours before cooking. Alternatively you could freeze the slightly flattened cookie balls and cook on demand for that ‘fresh out the oven’ warmth – they just need a few minutes longer.
Crispy, chewy oatmeal raisin cookies with walnuts
75g softened butter
85g soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 egg, beaten
50g wholemeal flour
1 tsp ground cinammon
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
75g rolled oats
50g chopped walnuts
50g chocolate chips (optional)
Cream together the butter, sugar, vanilla essence and egg. If you don’t have an electric mixer you can do this by hand, but it really needs to be as smooth as possible, so a good 5-10 mins of beating is required. (healthy oats and an arm workout, this recipe is a winner!)
In a separate bowl whisk together the wholemeal flour, cinammon, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Add the rolled oats then stir into the butter and sugar mixture. Stir in the raisins, walnuts and chocolte chips if using.
Shape the dough into small rounds, flatten slightly and chill in the fridge for two hours. This is optional, but I’d recommend you be patient if you can, the results definitely are better. The dough could make anything between five and twenty cookies depending how giant you like them.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F. Place cookies two inches apart on a non stick baking tray. Bake for 10-15 mins until just coloured – this will give a crispy edge but a soft, doughy middle.
Leave to cool and enjoy.