Walnut Shortbread with Chocolate Drizzles

Walnut shortbread

Walnut shortbread with chocolate drizzle recipe

Sometimes I have a deep strong urge to have biscuits. I don’t usually have packets in the flat so it inevitably leads to baking my own. Shortbread is one of my go-to recipes as it is easy and always delicious. You can alter the recipe too by adding bits like nuts, chocolate, seeds, and so on, as it is a good base. You can also use caster sugar or icing sugar to get a slightly crumblier texture with the former than the latter. However, this is if you aren’t staunchly conservative about how shortbread should be made, i.e. traditionally. I once made”disco ball shortbread” by adding silver sugar balls which was quite fun and silly (picture at the end) .

This recipe takes 15 minutes to prepare and 15 minutes to bake so from urge to satisfaction can be as little as 30 minutes!

What you need:

75g walnut pieces

250g plain flour

175g unsalted butter, softened

85g icing sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

50g dark chocolate, broken into pieces

What you need to do:

1. Heat the oven to 180C.

2. Roast the walnuts in the oven for 5 minutes, remove and set aside.

3. Beat the softened butter  with a wooden spoon until it is really soft and smooth.

4. Add the icing sugar, dessert spoon at a time, and mix it in until it is blended well with the butter.

5. Add the half teaspoon of vanilla extract and mix that in well.

6. Add the flour and blend it with the buttery mixture, adding the nuts as you mix.

7. Take pieces of the dough, around the size of a ping pong ball, and flatten them into circles at about a centimetre thickness.

8. Place them on a greaseproof lined baking tray, not too close together, and bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven. Turn the trays around half way through so the shortbreads bake evenly.

9. Once the shortbreads are lightly golden, remove them from the oven and allow to cool.

10. Melt the chocolate over a gentle heat and drizzle it over the shortbreads and voila, they are ready to satisfy the urge!

Disco ball shortbread

Disco ball shortbread!

Dauphinoise Potatoes with Mackerel

There are lots of recipes for Dauphinoise potatoes and they sometimes involve cheese but this is the way I like them – super creamy with mackerel. My mother used to make this a lot and friends always love it when I make it for them. I had this the other evening with a delicious salad from Ottolenghi’s book “Jerusalem” – dates, almonds, thinly sliced red onion, baby spinach and lemon juice. The salad is so good that I’ve been eating it for lunch every day this week!! In the photo above it looks as though the cream has split, it hasn’t, I took the photo the day after I made the dish and it had been in the fridge. Not the best image but the sunlight is beautiful!

Takes 10 minutes to prepare // 1 hour 20 minutes to cook // serves 4

What you need:

600ml double cream

1kg new potatoes

3 dessert spoons of mustard with seeds

250g smoked mackerel

A large baking dish

What you need to do:

1. Heat the oven to 170C.

2. Wash and slice the potatoes into lengths and 2-3mm wide.

3. Mix the mustard into the cream.

4. Break the smoked mackerel into bite sized pieces.

5. Lay the potato slices in the baking dish overlapping and on top of each other with the mackerel spread about evenly and pour the cream and mustard mix over it.

6. Put the dish in the oven and bake for an hour and 20 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the potatoes are tender when you put a knife into them.

Christmas Treats: Brandy and Ginger Baubles

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Last weekend I had a pre-Christmas cosy pot luck feast with friends. I love pot luck dinners for their element of surprise and to be able to enjoy a range of tasty morcels. We had an enormous roast chicken with herby pork stuffing roasted on a bed of sliced lemons, carrots, potatoes and onions, puréed potatoes and parsnips (funnily enough this felt a bit like bread sauce!), pea and pancetta muffins, brussel sprouts with chopped chestnuts and pancetta, cheddar and herb scones, and a leek and mushroom pie. I hasten to add that there were 10 of us before you think I’m a greedy so and so. For dessert I made a chocolate Christmas cake (the recipe is one by Eric Lanlard which I read whilst relaxing in a bubble bath a few nights before – I highly recommend this relaxing activity of reading recipes in a bubble bath!). I only put marzipan on half the cake as marzipan isn’t adored by everyone. I am one of the adorers! I even mopped up the melted chocolate left over in the bowl from making the cake with a wodge of marzipan! An Italian friend made a Torta della Nonna (Granny’s Cake) which is like a  pastry pie with a custard filling topped with a sprinkle of pine nuts and finally we had Brandy and Ginger Baubles! The star of this post!

These are ludicrously easy to make and they trick you into thinking that you are eating truffles!

Takes 20 mins making and 2 hours chilling// Makes about 20 baubles

What you need:

150g gingernut biscuits

100g walnuts

60g icing sugar and a bit more for rolling the truffles in

2 tablespoons brandy

2 tablespoons cocoa powder and a bit more for rolling the truffles in

2 tablespoons golden syrup

What you need to do:

1. Break the biscuits up into about 6 pieces each.

2. Put the walnuts in a blender and blend until well ground.

3. Add the broken gingernuts and blend again.

4. Now put the remaining ingredients into the blender with the mix of walnuts and gingernuts.

I discovered a great way to avoid leaving a sticky mess of golden syrup on a spoon (and thus wasting a bit unless you lick it off!). I had measured the cocoa powder with the spoon before so it had a silky layer of the powder on it so when I squeezed the golden syrup on top it slid off beautifully! Neat!

6. Blend until you see the mixture come together into a ball.

7. Put the ball in a bowl and chill in the fridge for 2 hours.

8. Take the mixture out, sprinkle some icing sugar on one plate and cocoa powder on another, make small balls of the mixture (about the size of a big marble) in the palms of your hands and roll them in the icing sugar or cocoa powder.

That’s all! They’re ready!

You can substitute ingredients such as the walnuts for pecans, for example, to make them more to your taste and use honey instead of golden syrup if you prefer.

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Chocolate Cake with Rich Chocolate Icing

To put another chocolate cake recipe out there seems as necessary as designing another chair! There are many, do we need more? In both cases I’d say yes. So, here is another chocolate cake recipe. Don’t watch this space for a chair design but whilst I’m on the subject this is one of my latest favourites: Maritime S by Benjamin Hubert. Not long ago I went to an evening of vice and virtue at Hampton Court Palace put on by The Idler Academy, coinciding with the exhibition of portraits from Charles II’s court and his mistresses. At one point during the talk we were asked to sit in silence and when a vice like thought popped into our heads we had to put our hands up. Well, within a few moments I was thinking about chocolate cake. Surprise surprise. But my hand hesitated, a vice or a virtue? I think if I were to make a chocolate cake every day and eat it all then it would count as a vice but if I shared it or in fact gave it away, surely that would be a virtue?

To get the chocolate bomb shape I made two cakes – one smaller than the other and put them on top of each other with a spread of icing between them and lashings of icing all over them.

What you need for the cake:

200g butter (softened)

120g soft brown sugar

50g cocoa powder

3 teaspoons coffee granules

3 dessert spoons boiling water

5 eggs

50g dark chocolate, grated

240g self-raising flour

What you need for the icing:

150g dark chocolate (80% cocoa is good)

150ml cream

30g butter

150g icing sugar

4 dessert spoons golden syrup

What you need to do:

1. Heat the oven to 180C and grease the cake tins with butter or some sunflower oil on a piece of kitchen paper.

2. Cream the butter and sugar together with a fork in a large bowl.

3. Put the cocoa powder and coffee granules in a mug, pour the boiling water over them and mix well.

4. Scoop this cocoa coffee paste into the bowl with the butter and sugar mixture and mix it in well.

5. Crack the eggs in and beat them in one at a time.

6. Pour the grated chocolate into the bowl and mix it in well.

7. Add the self-raising flour 40g at a time beating it in well each time, allowing lots of air to be beaten into the mixture.

8. Pour the sponge mixture into the two cake tins.

9. Put them in the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes. Insert a skewer to check that they are ready, it should come out clean.

10. Whilst the cake is baking you can make the icing.

11. Melt the dark chocolate in a microwave or in a bowl sitting on a pan of boiling water (but not touching the water).

12. Allow the chocolate to cool a little then stir in the cream, butter and golden syrup.

13. Then stir the icing sugar in.

14. When the cakes are ready and have cooled place the larger of the two on a plate and spread some icing on top, then place the smaller one on the centre of it and spread the rest of the icing all over it.

15. Sprinkle sugar balls or strands on top for a bit of colour.

Share with friends to feel as virtuous as you can when eating cake!

Sweetcorn Soup

My head always pops up like a meerkat on alert when I hear of or see sweetcorn soup on a menu. I lived in Hong Kong as a child and sweetcorn soup was one of my favourite dishes. On the soup note, on a recent visit to Moro, Exmouth Market EC1R, I had a ridiculously good fava bean soup. Whereas the sweetcorn soup of my childhood was a thininsh one with bits of sweetcorn in it the fava bean soup was of a thick purée like consistency. I wondered if I could make a sweetcorn soup with a similar consistency. The result is certainly thicker (I added cannellini beans to contribute to the texture and add a slightly meaty hint) but not smooth as sweetcorn by nature is a bit bitty rather than the smooth squishy texture of cannellini beans – elegantly put. I think if you have a really good blender it would become more smooth.

Takes 5 mins to prepare // 20 mins to cook // Serves 2

What you need:

Half a white onion

50g butter

500ml boiling water

1 vegetable stock cube or 2 teaspoons of stock powder

50g cannellini beans

300g frozen sweetcorn

4 dessert spoons sour cream

Dried chilli flakes

What you need to do:

1. Chop the white onion into small pieces.

2. Put half the butter in a small pan, add the onions and soften them at a low heat.

3. Boil a kettle and pour 500ml of the boiling water into a jug with the crumbled stock cube. Stir then add to the softened onions.

4. Turn the heat up a little and add the frozen sweetcorn and cannellini beans (I prefer using frozen to tinned sweetcorn as the kernels remain plump and hard).

5. Simmer for about 6 minutes. Take off the heat and pour the sweetcorn and beans with a bit of the stock into a food processor and blitz for 30 seconds.

6. Return the blitzed corn and beans to the pan, add the remaining butter, a dollop of sour cream,  stir and continue cooking for about 3 minutes.

7. Turn off the heat and ladle the soup into bowls. Add a drizzle of sour cream on top and a sprinkling of dried chilli flakes.

Speaking of corn there is a very interesting section in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma about just how much corn is present in our lives without even eating it. It’s made into corn syrup which, other than being present in many foods such as soft drinks and even bread, is used to create the glossy sheen on the covers of magazines. If you are interested in where our food comes from and how the food industry has changed our diets this is a very interesting and revealing read.

Quick Lunch: Wholewheat Spaghetti with Sweet Potato and Pea Purée

As you can tell from the title I didn’t make the pasta myself! That would have been a not so quick lunch! If you want to do this recipe and want to make your own spaghetti you can find my spaghetti recipe here. My faithful followers will know that I have a healthy obsession with pea purée. See Pea and Asparagus Risotto, Beetroot and Pea Ravioli and Pea Purée and Camembert Sandwich. Apart from the taste, I love the colour and texture and if you have frozen peas at home and no time to do food shopping it is the easiest thing to whip up, or blitz up!

What you need (serves 2):

100g peas

1 x sweet potato (mine was about 300g)

2 cloves of garlic, sliced into small pieces

120g wholewheat spaghetti

A handful of fennel seeds

What you need to do:

1. Boil a kettle with plenty of water for the pasta and sweet potato.

2. Wash and slice the sweet potato into pieces about 2cm by 2cm. I only skin mine if the skin looks a bit dodgy – by that I mean a bit gnarled and grubby.

3. Boil the sweet potato pieces in a pan of water (from the boiled kettle) for about 8 minutes until they feel quite tender, then drop the peas in and continue to cook for another 3 minutes.

4. Whilst they’re boiling put the spaghetti on the hob in a pan of lightly salted boiling water and cook for 7 minutes or however long your packet states.

4. Drain the sweet potato and peas but reserve a touch of the water. Pour them with the reserved water into the blender, add the pieces of raw garlic and a few glugs of olive oil. Blend for about 30 seconds or until the ingredients form a purée.

5. Drain the pasta, return it to the pan and pour the sweet potato and pea purée on top. On a gentle heat mix the purée into the pasta with a wooden spoon.

6. Serve on plates with a few fennel seeds sprinkled on top.

Lemon Polenta Biscuits

I’m a polenta fan. I like that it can be used in many ways from a thick stodge that you’ve spent hours stirring to sliced and grilled to being combined with flour in cakes and bakes. I’ve made a lemon polenta cake before and had a hankering for biscuits the other day so instead of zipping to the nearest shop for crunch creams I made these biscuits. It’s much more satisfying to eat what you have made plus you know what’s in it!

What you need:

50g butter, cut into cubes

100g polenta

100g plain white flour

50g soft light brown sugar

75ml freshly squeezed lemon juice

grated rind of one lemon

What you need to do:

1. Heat the oven to 170C.

2. Blend the butter and sugar in a bowl then add the flour and polenta and mix well.

3. Add the lemon juice and grated rind and mix well.

4. Take little balls of the dough, flatten them into rounds and place on a buttered, or lined with baking paper, baking tray.

5. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

Enjoyed best at midnight in pyjamas and fluffy slippers with a hot toddy!