Category Archives: Food

It’s chocolate time!

My sincere apologies for the great big break!  I fully intended to update from a family members computer whilst away, but quite frankly, it just didn’t happen.  Lots of other wonderful stuff did.  Admitedly, as I look at the bleak frozen expanse which happens to be just outside my window right now, I can assure you that I would rather be back in sunny, sunny Florida – more daylight hours, warmer, dryer weather, and wouldn’t you know it, my hair frizzes less, and my skin cleared up.  Hints are no longer being made to Husband – subtelty is obviously not working.  We need to move to the US now.  Sorry England – it’s been nice(ish), but I think I’m more than ready to go home. So there you go.  Ahem.

Onward to more food related things…

I know, I know.  We’ve all had more than enough chocolate over the last few weeks / months to last quite a long while.  But really – is there such a thing?

Admittedly, I can eat enough chocolate to feel just a wee bit ill, but I’ll soon get over it.  And maybe I’m not as excited about it this year as last year, but we got out the Quality Street tins have been on sale since forever, and got more expensive as we got closer to Christmas – score one for us for buying (and eating) about 5 tins in September…  By November, we needed a break, and by December, they just weren’t that exciting any more.

That’s my VERY EXCITED snowflake – just had to pop my kid in there, didn’t I? Totally unrelated, except for a bit of a holiday theme – and to introduce my helper…

A few years back, I used to work for a large UK general retailer with a Milton Keynes based head office.  Milton Keynes has an unfavourable reputation among many people in the UK, but once you get over the round-abouts (and it will teach you how to drive around them like no where else), it’s really rather a nice place .

Point of the story… (random, I know) – there was a shop in the mall in the city centre which sold American foods – the first time I visited, I easily dropped 50 quid with just shear excitement.

I soon learned to contain myself, and began to feel a bit self-righteous about spending enough on a chocolate bar to pay for it’s flight across the Atlantic.  So, feeling a bit homesick one day, and lusting for a peppermint patty, but without one to hand, and tight-fisted as I am, unwilling to fork out my child’s college fund to pay for one, I decided to learn how to make one myself.

It started with a recipe from VegWeb, which gave me the basics, and I just sort of took it from there – after a few tries, I played around a bit with other flavours, and now, every Christmas, and sometimes more often, I make my own cream chocolates – so here’s my recipe for you:

Home made Chocolate Creams

  • sweetened condensed milk (lowfat is ok) – about 400g tin (I think it’s 397g, if we want to be pendantic…)
  • flavouring extract of choice (see flavour options below) – about 1 TBS
  • optional – food colouring – as much as you want for desired colour
  • about 1.5kg icing sugar
  • 500 g chocolate of your choice (I prefer dark chocolate – it works with everything
  • 2-3 TBS fat of choice – oil produces a smoother finish, butter has a nice mouth feel, but can discolour the chocolate
  1. In a large mixing bowl, add milk, flavouring, and colouring if using
  2. Blend well, then start to add in icing sugar – about 120 g at a time
  3. Continue adding icing sugar until your mixture resembles play-doh and is no longer sticky to the touch.  If you’re using a hand mixer – be careful, you don’t want this to happen:
  4. If using a hand mixer or a kitchen-aid, go for the bread hooks – this is not a light dough…
  5. Knead the dough cream a bit with a bit more icing sugar, making sure it’s not at all tacky to the touch
  6. Roll dough into small balls (you can totally make these huge – I just like the bite-size idea better)
  7. Place balls onto cookie sheets lined with greaseproof paper and leave to dry – a few hours at least, best overnight.  They will firm up, and you will be able to flip them and dry the underside after about 2 hours – so do that.  It makes the chocolate dipping bit easier!
  8. Melt chocolate in a bowl over scalding water (I used to do these with microwave melted chocolate – but it’s just easier to melt it properly – just trust me).
  9. Dip cream centres into melted chocolate, using two forks – one to dip, one to drip melted chocolate off cream centre – otherwise you have a big thick chocolate blob with a teeny tiny cream centre.  If you want that – go for it.  We’re easy that way.
  10. Place the chocolate covered cream onto a greaseproof paper lined baking sheet to firm up.
  11. Decorate if desired. 
  12. Store in a cool place, between sheets of greaseproof paper, if stacking
  13. Recipe makes about 4 baking sheets of chocolates

  Flavouring options (in lieu of things I would do differently, because the different flavours are pretty much it…):
The sky’s the limit here – I do peppermint, to which you really should add equal parts mint and vanilla – trust me, as well as strawberry, orange and lemon.  I can imagine these would be wonderful with almond, with an almond stuffed in the centre, or any variation thereon.  You’re only limited by what flavourings you have.  Just remember – if you’re going to do lots of different flavours, do something different to the tops of the chocolates – so you can tell them apart!


Mince pie-cookies?

Christmakkah is in full swing!  No work for a whole 3 weeks!!!! (So excited!), mother-in-law is making Christmas dinner (at her house – score for our side – no cooking or cleaning for me 🙂 And grandparents to look after child).  Holiday in America is just around the corner (and it’s really warm in Florida right now – didn’t have summer over here, so we get it for two weeks over there – score again!).

We had the annual nativity play at the nursery.  That’s my little snowflake in the front (so proud -even if she did cry a bit, and insist that I sit on the stage with her… again).  I’m not sure why a nursery feels it’s a good idea to put a bunch of three and four year-olds on a stage in front of all the parents – so many crying children – not great fun.  But the little ones were snowmen this year – SO CUTE.  They were Christmas puddings last year (do you know how hard it was to find a Christmas pudding costume?  Thank you Sainsbury’s – my Christmas pudding last year had wings and a wand – perfect – but didn’t stop the crying…).  This year, my little one graduated to snowflake.  And she was an awesome spinning snowflake.

Anywho, I’m the Jewish half of the Christmakah celebrations over here – husband is the gentile.  So I didn’t really grow up with mince pies.  Actually, I’d never had one until I moved to the UK.  And to be brutally honest, I don’t much care for them.  Husband and daughter, on the other hand, can get through 6 dozen a day, if given the chance (I think they’re both growing – just in different directions)…

I made mince pies once for husband (before child).  They weren’t his mother’s, so he didn’t eat them.  I decided not to try again.

This year, we tried something different – since Monkey wanted to do some weekend morning baking, and we were short on ingredients, but had some basics to use, and a jar of mincemeat malingering about in the cupboard.  So we turned them into biscuits / cookies (I prefer cookies… obviously).  And the went down really well.  Husband, child, and co-workers have all been fed on them.  Superb.

Mince pie cookies (based on the Borden Nonsuch recipe)

  • 3.25 c flour
  • 0.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sodium bicarb (baking soda)
  • 250 g butter (about 1 cup)
  • 1.5 c demerara sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 411 g jar mince
  1. Mix flour, salt and bicarb in very large mixing bowl
  2. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar, then add eggs and mix well
  3. Add wet bowl to dry bowl and mix well
  4. Add mincemeat and continue to mix until well incorporated
  5. Drop onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper / greaseproof paper and bake at 350 F / 180 C for about 8 minutes, until lightly browned.
  6. Transfer to wire rack to cool before eating / storing.
  7. This makes about 50 cookies –  enough to fill two tins, so be prepared for gifting!

What I would do differently next time

I might consider halving the recipe, but otherwise, these were really nice – everyone’s eaten them, and to me, that’s what makes a great cookie 🙂

Happy holidays!

Little Green Tomato Fail :-(

In keeping up with the current theme of using what’s left over in the garden (and it may be nearly January, but thanks to this rather mild late autumn we were having, for which I have been extremely grateful, whilst remembering sitting outside of businesses in my car in -7 degree weather waiting for interviews last year… ahem, there’s still a little bit of life in there), we finally made the decision / realisation a few weeks ago, that it was time to finish off the tomatoes.

Now, we had an insane number of tomato plants this year – tumbling ones.  Entirely due to my mother-in-law.  Not sure if I should thank her and encourage this again…  I did attempt to rear 25 plants one year – it was the first of the really wet summers, however, and I got tomato rot and didn’t get a single one 😦

That aside, after picking off all the tomatoes, this is what we were left with:

Actually, we had three bowls, but you get the idea – this is a salad bowl, incidentally…

At first, I thought I’d just try to eat them as they were – never really tried it before, but they’re not part of the nightshade family or anything, and other people have cooked with them and survived, so I gave it a go.  They were fantastic on the first day – just popped them in my mouth as a snack – straight.  Tried it again the next day, thinking I’d fallen upon an exceptionally healthy, free snack.  Alas, it wasn’t to be.  Too much acid in the tomatoes to really eat them this way.  My tummy and I were not particularly pleased with the result.

So then I thought I might ripen them a bit.  so they went like this for a week:

Great use for rather old apples…

That worked reasonably well – certainly more red and yellow in there than green by the week’s end.

So on the weekend, after considering a number of potential recipe ideas, I decided to be brave and use them in a savory dish.  We love our pies, and I figured, after Hester at Alchemy in the Kitchen posted a lovely green tomato and gooseberry pie (http://www.alchemyinthekitchen.ie/), that I would give it a try.

I asked Hester if it would be okay to just go all tomato, as my husband has a fear of gooseberries (something to do with his childhood – I think it’s best not to ask…), and she wisely advised me that something was needed to temper the flavour.  Indeed, as I was popping them into my mouth raw, I thought they would have been amazing with plenty of mozzarella or a queso fresco (not widely available in the UK…).  So I thought I would kind of go there.

Realising quite how tart the tomatoes were, I figured I would roast them first, to bring out the sweetness – and not skimp on the oil (for a change).  They did smell divine whilst cooking – alas, smell and flavour disconnect again…

As ever, this came together on a bit of a spur of the moment day, so I went with what I had in my kitchen, as opposed to what would have tasted best.  So here’s a recipe not to try – take my word on it.

Sour Green Tomato Tart

Ingredients:

For the crust:

250 g fine cornmeal
125g cold unsalted butter, diced
1 large egg yolk
a bit of cold water as necessary

Method:

  • Grease tart or cake tin (I used a springform pan as this is what I had)
  • Add cornmeal and butter into a bowl and rub together until fine crumbs form
  • Add egg and continue to mix until a dough forms – add water slowly to help form the dough as necessary
  • Knead dough briefly if possible.  Cornmeal doesn’t work like a flour, so it may be a bit crumbly
  • Put dough into pan and press out to form a crust – the cornmeal will not roll out.  Use a heavy glass to smooth into corners and avoid an overly thick crust.
  • Prick the base with a fork and leave to chill for 30 minutes.
  • Cover in baking paper and add ceramic beans and bake for 20 minutes at 200C
  • Leave to cool slightly before adding filling

Filling:

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 cups of cherry tomatoes – green
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 TBSP oil
  • 3 yellow peppers, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 1/2 c cheese
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200C, if not already warm from crust
  2. Mix tomatoes, garlic, salt and pepper and oil in zip loc bag and toss about to combine flavours
  3. Spread tomatoes onto roasting pan and roast for about 20 minutes
  4. Whilst tomatoes are cooking, soften onion and pepper by placing in the microwave, covered, for 5 minutes
  5. Add tomatoes to pepper and onion, then add eggs and milk and mix well.
  6. Pour into crust
  7. Top with cheese
  8. Bake at 200C for 20-25 minutes, until filling is set
  9. Slice and wince.

Things I would do differently:

  1. Obviously, far fewer green tomatoes – a few might have added a nice punch, but not sooo many.  This would have been really nice with red tomatoes or anything else really – lesson learned!
  2. The cornmeal crust was nice, but a bit too crumbly – I think it could have used another egg to help it bind, and probably been a bit wetter – would maybe cook it as polenta first
  3. More cheese – I just used what I had to hand, and that was all we had – more cheese would have helped temper the flavour a bit more

Macho, macho Duck – he is a winning sensation

When I’m driving to work in the wee hours of the morning (I leave the house at 5:20 am – well before day-light – I dream of the day this will change…), I pop my radio on to BBC Radio 1 (because I want to pretend I’m young and hip).  The DJ is a bloke called Dev, and I’ve enjoyed listening to him for the past few years now.  At about 6am, he’s got this feature called “I’m here all week” (I think?) where a member of the public gets to play DJ for the week, and picks one song a day to a particular theme.  Thursday is First Bought Thursday.  I think most people fudge this to make them sound a bit cooler, because I don’t think anyone’s first record is really going to be Take That, or Metallica or whatever.  I like to pretend that the first record/tape I bought was The Pretender’s Learning to Crawl.  That may be true in that it’s one of the earliest real music albums I requested to be purchased for me, but there were certainly others before that. 

My first album I remember having was a Disney album.  All the characters had their own songs, and I remember singing and dancing along.  The one I most remember, however, was Donald Duck’s song – Macho Macho Duck – sung, you guessed it, to the tune of Macho Macho Man.  And whenever I have anything remotely Mexican flavoured (which, in our current place of abode, must be home made – very sad place to live sometimes…) makes me want to sing “Nacho, Nacho Duck!”- Sometimes I do, out loud, if no one else is around.

So after a long day at work, knowing that I was hungry, and Husband was likely to be hungry too, and needing something quick, easy and relatively healthy, I polished off my quacking shoes and got on with this simple dinner (many thanks to The Kitchen Noob for the inspiration / reminder! http://thekitchennoob.blogspot.com/2011/11/beans-n-rice-rice-n-beans.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FBGBQn+%28The+Kitchen+Noob%29):

No Nacho Chicken Bowl

  • 400 g chicken breast (or whatever protein you want – could omit if you wanted a no-chicken bowl…)
  • 400 g tin black eyed peas, drained
  • 400 g tin red kidney beans, drained
  • 1 bag boil in a bag rice (I have issues with rice – don’t ask…)
  • 1 200g jar salsa
  • 1 400 g carton chopped tomatoes
  • As much hot sauce as you can handle (I used Fat Cat brand – see below)
  • 2 stock cubes
  • for serving:  shredded cheese, avocado, nacho chips (if you wanted a Nacho chicken bowl!), sour cream/yoghurt, etc
  1. Add stock cubes to large pot of boiling water and leave to dissolve
  2. When stock is dissolved, add chicken breasts to stock to boiling stock to poach for as long as you like (I tend to leave mine for about 20 minutes, but have done longer – poaching leaves it tender no matter how long it’s in there – unless you go overboard)
  3. Once chicken is cooked, set aside, and add rice to boiling stock
  4. In a separate bowl, mix beans, tomato and salsa.
  5. When chicken is cool enough to handle, chop and add to bean mix
  6. Cover bean mix and microwave for about 5 minutes, until heated through (or the English equivalent – Piping hot!)
  7. Season to taste with hot sauce.
  8. When rice is done cooking, dish up into bowls, top with warm bean mix and toppings of choice.
  9. Dinner is served.

Tony Chachere is my Hero

Around 2001, on a trip home, I discovered something which was to have a major impact on my cooking, and to a degree, improve my quality of life.  Enter Tony Chachere’s:Apologies for the rubbish picture – maybe the BlackBerry phone camera wasn’t the way to go with that one, huh?

I’m a spicy food fan – my mom used to slip hot peppers into our salads growing up.  My dad has fond memories of growing up with something called schoog (which I found is both a hot chili paste and a sweet drink – there are some Hebrew words that I’ve never quite come to terms with – imagine asking for one and getting the other.  Um, no.)

My husband is not.  But as we’ve been together for nearly a decade now (where does the time go – oh yeah.  There), he’s learning to love it.

Enter Tony’s – salty and spicy.  Perfection in a shaker as far as I’m concerned.  And the uses!!!

  • mix it with Parmesan cheese over pasta – yum
  • use it to season a pot of black bean, sweet potato and pepper stew – yum
  • shake some on top of chicken or veg when roasting
  • soups, stews, roasted meats and veg (great on potatoes) you want it spicy and a bit salty (I do love my salt), add Tony’s

Tony’s Roasted Courgette/Zucchini sticks

Ingredients:

  • Two large or four medium courgettes – cut into batons
  • spoon full of oil of you choice
  • generous shaking(s) of Tony’s to taste
  1. Put courgette into a zip loc bag
  2. Add oil, then Tony’s to bag
  3. Zip closed
  4. Shake, shake, shake
  5. Pour into roasting dish
  6. Pop in an oven (doesn’t really need to pre-heat) and turn it to about 400F/200C and roast to your liking (I like mine a bit dark, so left it in there fore about 45 minutes)Things I would do differently
  • Make more – so good.  Can’t wait to restock on my Tony’s in January!

Petrol station oatmeal cookies

When I was a little girl, one of my favourite things to do on a Sunday morning was to go to the CVS with my dad to pick up the paper.  Not to enjoy the journey or anything, but because he always bought me candy when we got to the drug store (my particular favourite was, and still is, Toffifee, but I would swing with whatever floated my boat at the time…).

I kind of have a similar tradition with my little girl.

Because I work about 50 miles from home, and drive a car powered on petrol rather than diesel (purchased well before I had a 100 mile a day commute), and because one of my big driving fears is running out of fuel, I tend to fill up my car about twice a week.  You won’t be surprised to know that food, fuel and childcare costs use 66% of my take home pay, with the balance going to my wonderful student loan for the three University degrees I’m not using because I couldn’t afford to… (Not bitter, really…).

So on Saturday morning, Monks and I head out to the petrol station well before Daddy wakes up.  I get a tank full of gas, and she gets a treat for breakfast.  If I’m feeling a bit flush, I might even swing for a coffee for myself (Monks doesn’t like coffee – before you call Family Services, she’s only tried decaf – she no longer asks to try my coffee in the morning).

This Saturday, when we got inside the petrol station, Monks had a good rummage around – there wasn’t much to choose from as they hadn’t stocked up on the day’s pastries yet (not sure why they don’t do this before they open… but that’s okay – we’ll moan about that another time).  She eventually settled on some pan au chocolats and then found these:

I know I can whip up some cookies in no time at home, but she seemed so eager, and it’s just been one of those weeks (Monday began with a flat tire, broken front axle of the car, migraine headache, 3 hours sleep, etc. – the week finished better than it began, but really, it wasn’t a very big ask…)

She usually has a bit of a bite to each in the car on the way home – yes, I let my kid have cookies for breakfast.  I often had cake for breakfast on the weekends growing up.  I still got in to Oxford.  So I’m going with it.

When I got her in the car, I asked her if she wanted a cookie or a chocolate croissant (because her French lessons provided by the insanely expensive nursery apparently don’t extend beyond Frere Jacques), and she said she wanted the raisin cookie.  Bless.  She thought the chocolate chips were raisins.  She was devastated to hear they were not raisins, but chunks of chocolate (we’re still working on her with the whole chocolate thing – she clearly takes after her dad), so agreed to the croissant.  The only way to return a smile to her face was to promise her that we would make some raisin cookies when we got home.  So that’s just what we did.

Not- petrol station Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1c sugar (I used demerara)
  • 0.5 c butter, softened
  • 0.33 c golden syrup or honey
  • 2 large or 3 small eggs
  • 1.75 c flour
  • 2 c rolled oats (mine had added wheat bran – go fibre!)
  • 1.125 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 c raisins
  • 0.5 – 0.75 c chocolate chunks (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F/180C, and line cookie sheets with greaseproof paper
  2. Mix sugar, butter, golden syrup or honey and eggs (ideal if you have a helper)
  3. In separate bowl, mix flour, oats, baking soda and salt, then add raisins and chocolate if using (if you have a family member who recently left you with a 4 pound bag of assorted hershey’s chocolates – definitely use chocolates – particularly if you have gotten through the majority of the bag alone over a 2.5 week period)
  4. Mix wet into dry bowl
  5. Once well combined, either with wet hands or teaspoons (or tablespoons if you want really big cookies) drop blobs of dough onto cookie sheets (these don’t spread hugely, so aim for about 1.5-2″ apart between cookies – I went for 9-12 per baking tray, and only two of my cookies came out holding hands, which is sweet in its own way)
  6. Bake for 8-10 minutes
  7. Let cool for a few minutes on baking tray before transferring onto wire rack to coolMy daughter almost shares a particularly vexatious habit with my husband – he doesn’t like to eat home baked goods whilst they are still warm (what planet is he from?!).  As usual, I blame my mother-in-law.

I did manage to convince her to eat one whilst they were warm but not melting chocolatey goodness hot.  She came back for a second one.  Job done.

Things I would do differently, things I learned:

  • The original recipe which I’ve had for about 10 years now (ergo not attributed, as it was scribbled down long ago) has the 1 1/8 of baking soda in it.  This seems really wrong, and leads to a very soft, pillowy cookie.  I wonder if this shouldn’t actually be baking powder, so I will try this next time
  • I bet this would rock with dried cranberries and white chocolate – because most things do.
  • You can cut hershey’s miniatures with scissors – no knife required!These are dollar/pound store scissors (three in the pack) and really did the job well, so the next time someone is so generous with the chocolate, I’m going to take the scissors to them earlier.
  • I could have saved GBP1 by not buying chocolate chunk cookies – next time, ask Monkey what kind of cookies she thinks they are before purchasing!
  • When typing out a recipe for oatmeal cookies – make sure you add the oatmeal

This recipe makes enough biscuits to feed a normal family for about a month.  If they stay in the house with me, I expect they’ll be done before Friday.  So they’re going to work on Monday.

Have a lovely weekend 🙂

Curry in a hurry (cheesey, but true)

Every Friday night, after finishing work, we try to start the weekend right by having a family meal.  This either means going to “The Dinner Store” (bless my little girl), or me cooking something nice/easy at home.  One of my staple Friday night dishes is a quick curry which uses pretty much whatever you have on hand, plus a few quick ingredients.  If it’s spicy, Monks has something different.  This Friday was a spicy one, so Monks happily had her favourite dinner:

We didn’t go for the Charlie and Lola book giveaway this time though.  Maybe next time.

We did use this as an opportunity to learn about ingredients.  She especially liked the turnips because they are partly purple, and you can make turnip flowers on them. Sometimes…

All good things, anyway…

Husband and I had the curry.

My curry recipe is fairly standard, and all surrounds a good curry paste.  Find one you like, and you can have a lovely curry up in no time.  Try different ones too – there’s so many to choose from!

We normally go for Fern’s, which I get from a local market in Oxford.  It rocks my socks…

Unfortunately, we’ve not had the chance to visit said local Oxford market for some time, and Patak’s curry pastes were on sale at the Sainsboring’s, so I thought I’d try something new.  Here’s the result:

Basic curry in a hurry

  • one stock cube or gel stock tub
  • about 1 litre of water
  • about 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • about 2 tbsp minced ginger
  • a good .5 or more cups of curry paste of choice (more or less to taste – used to be able to get away with a few tablespoons, alas, no longer – I tend to use 0.25 to 0.5 of a jar each time)
  • protein of choice (I used black eyed peas and borlotti beans and used the water from the tins instead of adding all the water above)
  • your choice of veg to feed as many as you need (I used one head of cauliflower, four trimmed leeks, two aubergines and one box of chopped tomatoes – my favourite mix is with sweet potato or butternut squash, potato and cauliflower)
  1. Prepare your vegetables in a good sized dice (I like chunks!)
  2. Heat up a dutch oven / large pot over medium heat
  3. Add about 0.25- 0.5 cups of water to pot, then stock, curry paste, garlic and ginger.  Cook whilst stirring occasionally for about 3 minutes – until it looks like you need more water or it will start to stick
  4. Add you basics – onion or leeks, and another 0.5 c of water.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking, and cook for another 3 minutes or so.
  5. Add in your beans and remaining veg (hold off on the tomato, if using, until after your veg has softened up lest they pickle in the tomato juice!), and enough water to not quite cover (depending on how dry a curry you like).
  6. Pop the lid on your pot, turn the heat to medium low, and let simmer until veg is soft.
  7. Eat

I will say that this curry paste was rather on the spicy side (more so than usual!), so a bit of yoghurt really went a long way here.  Probably should have served it with a bit of grain as well, (cous-cous would have indeed been quick), but we all learn from our mistakes, right!  Monks tried it too and said it was yum.  But then she was under strict orders not to spit her food out lest she not be allowed to have dinner with mummy and daddy again.  Perhaps she was biased?