Archive for December, 2008

A RECIPE: Chunky florentines

chunky florentines

I’m training for a marathon. That’s 26.2 miles of running, in layman’s terms. As if I didn’t have enough to do what with a demanding job, a wedding to plan, my fiancé, Don to feed and blog readers to please; I’m running a marathon. In five weeks. Bang smack over the busiest weeks at work ( I believe some people refer to these weeks as the holidays. Wimps.). And this weekend I’ve been running in snow storms, two inches of powder and sheet ice. Clearly the fact that I have lost my mind is no longer a point in question. It’s when the actual mind-upping-and-leaving-thing occurred that is left to be interpreted. Was it the decision to run a marathon in the first place or the fact that I’m still running in snow storms and frankly quite enjoying my addiction to running and lack of social life? Does it even matter? Anyway, there were half a dozen other crazy New Yorkers out running in the snow/ice combo yesterday. Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s mad enough to think running with an ice cream-like headache without the pleasure of the actual cream is not only normal but intensely enjoyable. No comments please, Don.

The only joy that I’m not finding through running is the hunger. I’m hungry all of the time. All of the time. Even when I’m trying to sleep I wake up to persistent rumblings. I’m beginning to know what it feels like to be Don. Well, not the running part- the only place Don runs is to meetings he’s late for or when there’s a beer at stake. Both occur relatively frequently. No comments please, Don.

The hardest part about being hungry all the time is making healthy decisions- those decisions where one is supposed think before one ravages and digests. Calories are no longer calories anymore- it’s how many good carbs are you eating (and that’s not necessarily good in the mmm mmm good sense), how much protein you’re eating and how little fat. Eating has never seemed so tedious. What happened to listening to what your body wants to eat- like: I feel like eating fresh from the oven French bread slathered in butter. I thought running miles = don’t have to worry so much about nutrition. How deceived I was.

In any case, there is a little more lee-way for treats and since Don forgot to hand out my freshly baked and decoratively packaged chocolate chip cookies to our doormen until they were a week old and stale I had two excuses to bake this weekend. No comments please, Don.

I’ve always loved florentines with their crisp buttery thin lace shells scattered with chopped nuts, candied orange and glace cherries, delicately painted on one side with dark chocolate. And I have made them this way, and they were quite delicious. Except that these days I have less time on my hands and with an increasing amount of time on my feet, spending a whole day over a single recipe has become less appealing. Besides which, I’m not sure I know anyone who would describe me as delicate (no comments please, Don) and so it seemed to make sense to make a chunkier, bolder, easier-to-make florentine. One that can be bitten into rather than nibbled on in lady-like fashion. So you’ll find in this recipe that there are no chopped nuts or fruit no multiple baking trays to line and no individual cookies to spread evenly among the trays. This is the one-pot-wonder of florentines (plus a saucepan and a bowl). I’ve omitted the glace cherries and candied orange because I figured some people might have difficulty finding them and besides, I didn’t have any left. And whilst running in the snow storm is perfectly acceptable, walking four blocks to the supermarket seems perfectly mad to me. Shut up, Don.

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A RECIPE: Chocolate orange christmas fruit cake

Chocolate orange christmas fruit cake

I’ve always been put off making fruit cakes for Christmas. For one thing, you have to be organised enough to think about making one weeks before Christmas, then you have to think about soaking your fruit in booze the night before you make the cake, then you have to double line a cake tin really well so that the cake doesn’t burn during its 3-4 hour stint in the oven. Then, after staying up late into the evening waiting for your cake to finish baking you have to wait a few weeks to eat it- feeding it weekly with precious booze that you spent a fortune on and would rather be having in a cocktail with this minute rather than giving it to a cake you still have to wait weeks to eat. And then you result in a heavy fruit booze-laced cake, which needs to be decorated with marzipan (yuck) and some sort of royal or fondant icing. This has never appealed to my lack of patience nor to my lack of ability to pre-think let alone pre-plan.

I’m hosting Christmas this year for my family- I say my family but really there will only be four out of seven of us. My sister bailed for a better offer traveling across Asian countries of questionable safety in a Land Rover and my brother decided to head to Nashville to celebrate with his girlfriend’s family. That leaves me with Don, my mum and my dad- all of whom like fruit cake. Which left me thinking that 1/ I  really ought to make a Christmas cake this year 2/ I should buy two bottles of Grand Marnier (or beverage of choice)- one for the cake and one for the patient baker. Note to self: fill ice cube trays in the freezer.

I decided on three recipes Not that I was going to make three cakes only I liked elements from each of them- this was going to be a mix-and-match cake, who knew what would result of it. I was living life on the edge, people.  One of the recipes had been given to me by an old colleague who had developed it for a magazine- I still have it hand written on a scrap of notepaper from three years ago when I had first thought I ought to make a Christmas cake.  The other two came from Nigella- one because it  had the word chocolate in the title and one because it used marmalade and that paired with chocolate seemed like a winning combination to me. I decided on the Grand Marnier for my fruit soaker of choice and replaced the glacé cherries with dried apricots and orange zest because it all cried: Terry’s chocolate orange to me- and frankly that appealed more that fruit cake.

Three weeks a lot of patience and a few measures of Grand Marnier later and it was finally time to decorate the bloody thing. This made me quite grumpy. Usually I love to decorate cakes but I did not want to fanny around with marzipan, which I don’t even like and then wait another two days for it to dry- patience out the window, this was time I did not have. I also did not have any icing sugar and if it wasn’t actually 50 degrees below outside, then it certainly felt like it and I was not in the mood to walk the two freezing blocks to the supermarket. I took the leftover nuts and fruit from making the cake, melted the leftover marmalade in a pan with some honey and the last remaining drops of Grand Marnier and used this sticky glaze to bind the fruits and nuts on the cake. I tied a ribbon around the top for all of five minutes- long enough to take a photograph and then finally was able to sample the dried fruit of my laborious labour. It tasted like fruit cake. Only, it was actually quite tasty. It wasn’t dry- amazingly it wasn’t too boozy and there was a definite undertone of chocolate and orange. Just in time for Christmas. I might even think about making it again next year.

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A Recipe: Squidgy & crisp pumpkin oat bars

squidgy pumpkin oat bars

I’m still hooked on the pumpkin and oats combination. Or maybe it’s just that I’m fixated on finding more ways to use tinned pumpkin than in pumpkin pie (which I happen to adore all of a sudden). These lovely mini cakes kick started my pumpkin phase and even though last weeks pumpkin oat crunch sticks didn’t turn out as originally planned- they made a lovely granola-esque topping for my yogurt.

This weekend I was back trying to create a pumpkin pie-like filling to go between  a buttery sweet oat sandwich. Something that you can eat with your hands with a cup of tea or serve immersed in a bowl custard for pudding. The base and the topping came from Delia’s How to Cook Book Two– she uses it in her recipe for Plum cinnamon oat slices, which are quite wonderful in their own right. It is a sweet and buttery oat mixture, which lends itself well to a less sweet filling and the whole wheat flour provides a wholesome nuttiness to the flavour. I used the same method only to the topping I added chopped pecan nuts for a little texture and I crumbled over the topping (rather like a coffee crumb cake topping) rather than pressing it down, which would have resulted in the topping sinking into the pumpkin filling rather than providing a crisp outerlayer.  Although the downside of a cumbly topping is that the evidence will undoubtedly end up sprinkled down your jumper- the price one pays for delicacy.

The other thing that I changed was that I baked the base before adding the topping. On most accounts, I am not an advoate for baking that requires so much patience as this but by the time that you’ve finished mixing together the filling ingredients it will be ready to come out of the oven. Besides, it’s worth it, for without which it will result in a soggy bottom- of which marathon training in the winter has taught me is best to avoid when at all possible.

And I promise, promise, promise that next week I will give you a week from pumpkins.

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