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Crunchy Chocolate and Peanut cupcakes

Here’s a delicious recipe for crunchy chocolate and peanut cupcakes. Our wonderful baking bookkeeper, Jo B, produced these cracking cupcakes for our member of staff Maggie, who was celebrating her birthday!

Makes 12

For the cakes:

  • 125g butter
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, large
  • 125g of self-raising flour, sifted
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 75g milk chocolate chips

For the frosting:

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 160g smooth peanut butter (nice with almond butter too)
  • 60g icing sugar, sifted
  • 21/2 tbsp milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 170˚C/150˚C fan /gas mark 3 and line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases. For the cakes, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs then beat well until thoroughly combined. Add the flour and milk and mix until smooth and fully incorporated.
  2. Fold the chocolate chips into the cake mixture then divide equally between the paper cases. Bake for 18-20 mins or until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the tins and place on a wire rack to cool.
  3. For the frosting, beat the butter and peanut butter together until smooth and fluffy. Add the icing sugar and milk and beat together slowly until combined then beat a little faster until soft
  4. Now make the honeycomb which, by the way, could be used in ice cream or just gobbled by grandchildren!
  5. 200g caster sugar, 4 tablespoons golden syrup, 3 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda and chocolate to melt (optional)
  6. Put sugar and syrup into a pan and bring to the boil. Then gently simmer for 6 minutes. Add the bicarb and mix around quickly because it will immediately begin to fizz.
  7. Pour into a greased tray (the butter wrapper works well if you have one) and leave for 5 minutes, then gently begin prising from the tin. Leave for another 5 minutes and completely remove from tin. Break into pieces and keep in an airtight container.
  8. To clean the pan, add water and bring to the boil and just use the spoon to scrape.
  9. You can then half dip pieces of the honeycomb in chocolate if you wish – indeed I suspect serving just the honeycomb dipped in chocolate could get great granny points for me!

 

 

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Homemade bread

I have been making my own soup for years and we have long been thinking we might try making homemade bread to go with the soup – instant homemade lunches!

However this good idea was shelved along with so many others we have, as we got busier and busier. Then whilst at my sister’s house last week we got up one morning to the most amazing smell of bread .. I wondered if she had one of those part-baked loaves in the oven or some frozen croissants, but this really was a very strong scent… enough to raise Richard into an enthusiastic early breakfast!

Kate (my sister) assured us it was real home made bread, courtesy of her bread making machine and it was sitting waiting for us to road test the latest loaf. Cutting a long and delicious story short, it was wonderful and Richard especially, was madly keen as he loves bread and cheese or bread and soup even more than I do.

So courtesy of Amazon we pressed a button and this machine arrived a day or so later. Richard has now taken full control and it is obviously going to be a man thing, a bit like the BBQ. However you will hear no complaints from me – it’s lovely to share the cooking.

We have tried three different recipes this week: a French bread (delicious but a different shape to usual French bread obviously!), a standard white and a 50/50% wholemeal and white and I can honestly say that every crumb has been consumed and little Grace, our granddaughter, gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to the ‘Grandpa’ bread she ate for lunch today.

We chose the Panasonic SD-2511 as that’s what my sister had – seemed easier than choosing a different one and it not being as good. Then all you really need to keep in the cupboard is strong flour, water, salt, dried yeast and a touch of butter. There are plenty of other things you can add but the basics have worked well so far.

I have bought several books on machine bread making and I think we will be trying loaves with delicious little extras like olives or pecan nuts and maple syrup soon. But for now, I think it is unlikely we will bother to buy much regular bread from the supermarket as we just love having it all set on a timer and having that smell of baking bread first thing in the morning.

 

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When food gets weird…!

I always find it interesting how dishes and styles of food go in and out of fashion and how, sometimes, food gets weird! The Elizabethans had their sweetmeats while the Victorians used oysters in almost everything. Obviously, recipes reflect the cost and availability of ingredients – oysters used to be cheap, while chicken was a luxury.

I love reading about food and I was chuckling over some funny terms recently…

Fusion
A few years ago, ‘fusion’ cookery was all the rage. This always sounded a bit too much like physics to me, but it was the combination of various forms of cookery, so you might have South Asian and Pacific Rim, or Texan and Mexican (Tex-Mex). This is fine it theory, but chefs do get a bit carried away. I remember reading about curried porridge, spaghetti tacos and Japanese Scotch eggs. Hmmm…

Chocolate soil, copyright www.epicurus.com

Soil
One of the very ‘on-trend’ additions to posh restaurant dishes at the moment is soil. I think our friends on Masterchef are probably responsible for introducing this one! Call me old-fashioned (and people do!) but I instantly think of my flowerbeds, and I’m not sure I want a version of this, no matter how delicious, on my plate. It’s just… odd. Mostly, it is dark chocolate and I’d be a lot happier if we stuck to ‘sprinkles’ or possibly even ‘shavings.’ If you want to have a go at making some chocolate soil, there are recipes online. Here’s one from www.epicurus.com

Hand salad
Yes, I know, weird! Apparently, it’s just a salad you eat with your hands, dipping lettuce and cucumber into dressings. So really, it’s simply an American term for what we used to call crudités – dipping veg into dips and sauces. Here’s a recipe idea for hand salad from www.bonappetit.com

A nice bit of hand salad with buttermilk, grapefruit, and mixed seeds, copyright www.bonappetit.com

There are so many trendy terms out there, I sometimes feel I need a translation app to find out what’s on the menu!

Jus ­– why can’t we call it gravy or sauce any more?

Pithivier of chicken, squash and sage by Sally Abé, copyright www.greatbritishchefs.com

Pithivier – it’s a pie! If you want to make a posh pie, have a look here at www.greatbritishchefs.com

Foam – this isn’t quite as bad as soil, but… Anyway, it applies to things that are full of air bubbles… we used to call them things like whipped cream, meringue or mousse!

Deconstructed – this one makes me smile! All the ingredients of a classic dish, but the chef didn’t want to assemble it!

Big dipper
I had to sneak this one in as it left me speechless! For Easter this year, a certain supermarket was offering ostrich eggs for sale. They recommended 50 mins cooking time to produce a runny yolk, perfect for dipping into, like a large, vegetarian fondue. They even suggested using a baguette as a ‘soldier’ I don’t know why… but that struck me as very peculiar!

 

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We eat with our eyes…   

Mmm… I instantly think ‘yum’ with this delicious rich coloured dish of risotto, the pretty addition of nuts, mushrooms and herbs scattered on top is the finishing touch.

We eat with our eyes… That may sound bizarre but it is true! I think most of us recognise that a bland plate of something a bit beige or white isn’t very appetising, so we add a garnish of parsley or lettuce and tomato. Today’s chefs are taking ‘decorating’ to new heights – did you see any of the Great British Menu on TV recently – I mean, wow! Theatre as much as dinner!

Well apparently, there is scientific proof that food that looks good tasted better. Really. There is an emerging new science called ‘gastrophysics’ – sound like an area of science I might actually be interested in LOL – and Oxford University has been looking into how the appearance of food affects how we react to it. Not only does a beautifully arranged plate ‘taste better’, we are also likely to be happy to pay more for a dish laid out artistically than one just plonked on the plate.

Even more strangely, where things are on the plate matters too. While turning the plate around to a different angle can’t possibly affect the flavour, it does influence our appreciation of it.

We also like things prettily laid out on a plate. The current foodie trend to lay out a dish on one side of the plate is, so the researchers have found, not popular with diners!

Left: A fun and interestingly presented portion of fish and chips that you can’t wait to bite into… or (right) a pile of mushy stuff plonked on a plate. Which would you choose?

So, you are thinking, what has all this stuff got to do with me and my day to day cooking? Well, the same principles apply to what you produce at home. So if you’ve gone to a lot of trouble to produce something delicious, ensure maximum appreciation from your friends and family by taking a moment to make it look interesting on the plate. Even if you are producing something ‘bog standard’, like spag bol or a simple salad, pause to pretty it up a bit and it will, apparently, go down better with your diners!

If you are cooking a special meal for family and friends, you might want to think about what you serve your food on and eat it with as this also makes a difference. White plates and bowls seem to make people rate dishes as being ‘more tasty’, and using heavy cutlery as opposed to light, plastic handled designs also makes people enjoy their food more. What a funny lot we humans are!

What can I say? Seven artfully placed dots and a white pud on a black plate… all wrong surely? Well, I’d still like to eat it though, especially given all the strawberries!

And having said all that… here’s one design idea that you DON’T need to worry about. When I am planting in the garden, or arranging flowers etc. I always go for odd numbers of things (I’ve written about this before), so a cluster of three, five or seven, and so on, it looks more natural and attractive. So, you would think that three, five or seven strawberries or potatoes or whatever would be best on a plate… but no! Gluttony will out and research shows people simply opt for the plate with the most on it! That made me smile :o)

 

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The sands of time…

Copyright Wikipedia

Rummaging around at the back of a kitchen drawer last week, I was puzzled to find my fingers covered in sand! On closer inspection, I found that an old egg timer had given up the ghost and leaked its contents everywhere. This caused an instant attack of nostalgia and set me thinking about old-fashioned gadgets, as opposed to the new ones, like spiralizers and omelette makers, that I have been writing about lately.

I think it’s fair to say you would find an hourglass egg timer in most people’s kitchens until a few years ago. Boiled eggs were a staple for breakfast and hard-boiled eggs regularly appeared in packed lunches and afternoon tea and party sandwiches. Whether you like your boiled egg runny, soft or like a bullet is a very personal thing and using a three-minute egg timer produced a slightly runny egg. Egg timers, or hourglasses as I should really call them, came from a much slower era. You had to pause and keep your eye on the sand as it trickled gently down – none of this multi-tasking, rushing around and waiting for an ear-shattering bleeping to tell you your egg is cooked.

As a child, I found the hourglass my Mother had quite fascinating. I loved the shape and can remember watching it intently, convinced it would stop flowing if I took my eyes off it! The design is simple – two glass bulbs connected vertically by a narrow neck that allows a regulated trickle of material (often sand) from the upper bulb to the lower one. What period of time the glass measures is defined by sand quantity, sand coarseness, bulb size, and neck width. So you can buy three-minute, or four-minute and so on, egg-timers to suit your tastes.

Copyright www.eggrecipes.co.uk

The origin of the hourglass is unclear, but the use of the marine sandglass has been recorded since the 14th century. Marine sandglasses were very popular on board ships, as they were the most dependable measurement of time while at sea as the motion of the ship while sailing did not affect the hourglass. Sailors used the hourglass to help them determine longitude, distance east or west from a certain point, with reasonable accuracy which was of vital importance when you are trying to sail around the world or make accurate maps!

The hourglass also found popularity on land as it was relatively inexpensive, as they required no rare technology to make and their contents were not hard to come by, and their uses became more practical. Hourglasses were commonly seen in use in churches, homes, and work places to measure sermons, cooking time, and time spent on breaks from work.

The sandglass is still widely used as the kitchen egg timer – for cooking eggs, a three-minute timer is typical, hence the name ‘egg timer’ for three-minute hourglasses. We still often use sand timers when we play games such as Pictionary and Boggle.

Rather wonderfully… unlike most other methods of measuring time, the hourglass represents the ‘present’ as being between the past and the future, and this has made it an enduring symbol of time itself. The hourglass, sometimes with the addition of little wings, is often depicted as a symbol that human existence is fleeting and that the ‘sands of time’ will run out for every human life. And that’s a fact that none of us can dispute.

 

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