Chocolate strawberries

Chocolate dipped strawberries are a special favourite of mine – we had a big pile of them instead of a cake at our wedding reception which was great fun! I think they look lovely and they are very simple and easy to make. In this photo I have displayed them on little tiny doilys which I made by using a Cheery Lynn die through my Grand Calibur – it’s the one called Sophia’s Heart – very sweet!

To make the strawberries, choose the chocolate you like best – plain, milk, white whatever and melt in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Take this stage slowly and you will get a better result. It is quicker to melt in the microwave if you are in a hurry but do be endlessly careful and not overheat/overcook the chocolate or it will be ruined.

Once you have the chocolate just melted (not too runny) then using a cocktail stick pressed in through the centre of the strawberry top, dip and swirl in the chocolate. Keep twirling slowly to give the chocolate a chance to stop dripping and then lay gently on greaseproof paper or a non stick baking sheet (very handy). Once they are set, place them in the fridge until needed.

A few extra pointers about these. Do not make more than 24 hours in advance and don’t get the chocolate too runny or it all gets very messy, just melt the chocolate enough and no more. Finally you can dip in melted chocolate as above and then as an extra, dip into finely chopped nuts – which makes an interesting change.

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Infusing oil with herbs and spices

Oils infused with herbs and flavours are very handy to have in the kitchen. They can alter a salad from yawn to yum in a flash. I particularly like basil oil and use rosemary oil when I am roasting lamb. You can infuse any variety of oil, I use a mild olive oil for infusions destined for salad and then any mild vegetable oil if you plan to use it for roasting etc.

It is important to use dried ingredients, if you use wet basil or fresh garlic, it contains a large percentage of water and this can cause bacteria to grow in the oil and give you botulism, which is not worth the risk.

So choose your dried ingredient (or dry them by hanging in a dark place for a week or so) and an attractive bottle. I try and remember that any old bottle produces oil that tastes just as nice but I do love pretty bottles! You can buy bottles that would make lovely gifts filled with oils from Lakeland the kitchen company.

Insert dried ingredients into your bottle and then fill up with oil. Leave on a sunny windowsill for a couple of weeks before using – there see that doesn’t stretch anyone’s cooking abilities! I recommend keeping the infused oil in the fridge just to be safe and I usually err on the side of making it little and often rather than vast quantities that will take forever to finish.

My suggestions for things to flavour the oils would be dried lemon/orange peel, basil, rosemary, garlic, chilli and so many more that I am sure you can think of… they make a lovely nibble before a meal as a dip with chunks of a really good or unusual bread too!

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Chocolate brownies at the NEC…

We all need a bit of a treat when we have to stand up for about four days at the NEC Hobbycraft exhibition – so we thought maybe chocolate brownies would be the answer… and it certainly seemed to go down well with everyone that tried them!

One tip – by trying to save time and melting the chocolate in the microwave on batch two, I would say it definitely did not improve the mix. So I’d suggest staying with the slow but sure method of melting the chocolate over hot water!

The only thing I can’t vouch for is the healthiness of this recipe – I think it comes under the naughty but nice category!

And one other hint – I used foil roasting tins from Tesco – means you can fold them up and throw them away rather than washing up after you have finished. Also, the thin tinfoil keeps the brownies cooking evenly rather than getting a burnt outside and too gooey inside – these were just divine all the way through!

Ingredients.

  • 150g dark chocolate (I used 79%),100g of milk chocolate
  • 300g golden caster sugar, 3 large eggs, 250g of butter
  • 120g plain flour, 60g cocoa powder (I used Green and Black’s)
  • ½ teaspoon of baking powder, pinch of ground sea salt
  • Icing sugar to dust after baking

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Line the tinfoil roasting tray with greaseproof paper and butter the paper slightly. It makes the brownies easy to get out once they are cooked.
  2. Melt the butter, dark and milk chocolate in a large bowl over simmering water.
  3. Beat the eggs in a cup and in another separate bowl sift the flour.
  4. Add the sugar to the warm chocolate mix and stir thoroughly. Add the eggs and mix. Finally add all the other ingredients and fold and mix everything until you have a good consistency.
  5. Pour the mixture into the tray, bake in the oven for about 20/25 minutes. Oven temperatures vary so keep checking. Use a skewer or knife and stick it in the middle of the brownie, it should come out a tiny bit sticky which means they are done. Cool in the tray for about an hour so they are 100% set. Then dust with icing sugar.

 

 

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Breakfast ‘to go’!

So many people skip breakfast as they “just don’t have time” well these have to be the fastest options ever! I thought it would be fun to share them with you… It takes precisely 2 minutes (oh and the time to crack an egg!) – go on give it a try!

Breakfast Cup

  • As completely as possible, line the bottom and sides of a microwaveable teacup or small bowl with a single rasher of bacon (streaky or back).
  • Carefully break into it a fresh egg. Prick the yolk with the tip of a knife so it won’t explode.
  • Microwave the cup on high for 1 minute. Allow to rest for 1 minute, then check to see how cooked it is. Zap it again in 15-second bursts if necessary.

Veggie breakfast Cup

Substitute a medium-large fresh tomato for the bacon. Cut off the top, the remove and discard the seeds and any loose flesh from the centre. Place this in your teacup and break the egg into it – piercing the yolk as before. You may find it takes as much as a minute longer to coo due to the thickness of the tomato.

Variations

  • For a ‘full English’ use the bacon and the tomato, with a few extra seconds of cooking time.
  • Try adding some grated cheese while the egg is still warm, or a dash of sauce if you like it spicy.
  • Try a ring of thinly sliced pepperoni or ham instead of the bacon.

 

 

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Cod, basil & tomato with a potato thatch

What is it about fish pie that is so warming? I don’t know the answer, I only know it is! With a green salad, this makes an ideal dish for lunch or a family supper.

Serves 8

You will need:           

  • 1kg/2lb smoked cod
  • 1kg/2lb white cod
  • 600ml/1 pint milk
  • 2 sprigs basil
  • 1 sprig lemon thyme
  • 75g/3oz butter
  • 1 onion peeled and chopped
  • 75g/3oz flour
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 tbsp chopped basil

For the thatch

  • 12 medium sized old potatoes
  • 50g/2oz butter
  • 300ml/2 pint milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley 
  1. Place both kinds of fish in a roasting pan with the milk, 1.2 litres/1 pint water and the herbs. Simmer for about 3-4 minutes. Leave to cool in the liquid for about 20 minutes. Drain the fish, reserving the liquid for use in the sauce. Flake the fish, taking care to remove any skin and bone.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan, add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes until tender but not browned. Add the flour, tomato pure and half the basil. Gradually add the reserved fish stock, adding a little more milk if necessary to make a fairly thin sauce. Bring this to the boil, season with salt and pepper and add the remaining basil. Add the fish carefully, and stir gently. Pour into an ovenproof dish.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4. Boil the potatoes until tender. Add the butter and milk and mash well. Add salt and pepper to taste and cover the fish, forking it up to create a pattern. If you like, you can freeze the pie at this stage.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve with chopped parsley.

 

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