Archive for the 'Afternoon treats' Category

Gluten-free shortbread

GF shortbread

I’ve been trying to avoid gluten these past few months. I’d heard it can interfere with thyroid function and as I have this beastly little thyroid that has been playing tricks on my metabolism, sleeping habits and general well being for the past six years I thought I’d give it a go.  I’m not sure what I did to piss my thyroid off but it’s may as well have upped and left for all the good it’s doing. Thus far it hasn’t seem to make a difference how much goodness I put into my body my paltry little thyroid gland  sits all high and mighty refusing to work on its own. Well, of course he’s quite happy for me to shell out at the drug store month after month to keep him ticking over but I’m trying to kick his little habit. I’ve called him Fred, because clearly his lack of pro-activeness warrants him male status. I thought perhaps if I starved useless Fred of gluten that he just may start behaving himself again. It’s worked on Don, why not on a lazy thyroid gland?

GF shortbreadOkay, so I’ve never attempted to starve my husband but whilst I’ve been working in West Virginia these past few months he has lost quite a few pounds. Point proven.

Anyway, starving Fred of gluten hasn’t had the desired response I was after. Clearly I need to give him a much more severe beating, the softly softly approach is not going to win him over.

GF shortbread

But whilst gluten-free living hasn’t given my proper thyroid functioning it has opened me up to a whole new world of grains and flours. Quinoa flour, chickpea flour, brown rice flour, coconut flour (!) who knew! All of which, I might add have enjoyed a pleasantly smooth trip through my digestive system without the usual halt in proceedings for a midnight bloating party.
I’ve also been surprisingly pleased with how easy it is to bake without gluten- sure the flavour and the texture is different- but isn’t that what we foodies are always after, something different? I’m sold. This is the kind of shortbread I want to stick a slab of cheddar on and call lunch. But lets be honest, Fred would take that chunk of cheese and find a nice little place for it to nestle down for eternity in my backside. Cheers, Fred- you useless old git.

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English scones, revisited


Is it just me or have things cooled down quite dramatically in the past two weeks? I’m running in a long sleeve tee-shirt and sweats, my feet have demanded my Ugg boots to make a reappearance and I’ve eaten soup the past three days. I could be wrong, but something says that winter is poking it’s chilly head around the corner, to me.

Being that I’ve spend the past six weeks in West Virginia, around a bunch of English crew I’ve been feeling a few pangs for food from home, and not my Brooklyn home. Perhaps it’s the offerings of Galaxy chocolate and Walker’s Shortbread but I’m now dreaming about Yorkshire puddings, curries (because everyone knows they are practically English) and scones. With clotted cream and jam, of course.

I’ve made these before but I think you’ll forgive me once you make them. They make me feel ever so British, even in a place where people prefer biscuits and say things like hey, ya’ll. But don’t you go pronouncing them Sc-owns- it’s more like Skons where I come from. A sc-own is what you’ll find behind the glass in Starbucks- not an ounce of authenticity, I’ll have you know.

These have a crisp outer shell, which when you slice it open presents a soft buttery pillow of layers- the perfect bed for a slathering of clotted cream and jam. Oh, yes. Or perhaps I should say Yee-ha!

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Raspberry & hazelnut brownies

For any of you who were wondering-Don’s coping just fine without me. He’s been cooking up a storm at home- fish pie, beef stew with dumplings (with dumplings!), Thai green curry, the best pasta bake ever made in the world (the man’s own words) and these chocolate and raspberry brownies. It was not supposed to be this way. He was supposed to struggle and live off of the frozen packages that I left him. He was supposed to call for directions on reheating and sheepishly admit that yes, he did order another pizza in. He wasn’t supposed to thrive in my absence!
raspberry & hazelnut brownie

He made these brownies with a mate and in two weeks time he’s having a dinner party- a dinner party! I’m a afraid to come home! What if I don’t fit into my little slot in our home. What if we fight over who gets to cook dinner or whose spaghetti bolognase is better!? What if he decides he doesn’t need me around anymore!? Well, at least I know my little fish needs me- I know he’s not getting fed as often as he’d like.

Decadent chocolate & raspberry brownies

The only comforting thing I can think of right now is these raspberry and hazelnut brownies. They are sensational, if I do say so myself. But what recipe with three bars of Green & Blacks 70% cocoa chocolate isn’t sensational? Melted down with butter so their fudgy and dense, bound with a smattering of toasted ground hazelnuts and then dotted with sweet and sour tasting raspberries and it’s hello, lover.

Can I even call these brownies? You probably won’t ever see them piled on a cake stand. No, no you’ll probably scoop it straight from the tin, and don’t be surprised if you feel an overwhelming urge to hide yourself away with the whole batch and a spoon. Best to whip these up with a partner in crime to prevent any rash behaviour.

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BSI Challenge: Oats


This weeks Blogger’s secret ingredient challenge is hosted by Jessica at Johnstone’s Vin Blanc and it was one that I got really excited about- oats. Ahh, oats, glorious oats. We plow through an inordinate amount of oats in our kitchen- sometimes I think I ought to be a spokeswoman for them.  Don and I both eat them for breakfast in mulitiple disguises and I find myself chucking them into all sorts of things for added texture and the health factor doesn’t hurt either.

I was going to come up with a new recipe but on second thought, being that this is a competition I thought I ought to get out the big guns. No ordinary oatmeal, pancake or granola recipe was going to do. I needed to enter my finest oat recipe- or rather my mum’s. This is one of my most popular recipes on the site (thanks mum!) and as far as I’m concerned  it deserves another day in the spotlight.

These are essentially chewy granola bars- bound together using golden syrup and either margarine or butter. The edges are crispy the insides chewy and totally moorish. I think that they are best straight from the oven, before they have even set- but my father likes them after a few days when they’ve….uh, matured, I suppose. Either way, there’s really nothing here not to like.

Go over to Jessica’s site to check out the other entries!

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A RECIPE & VIDEO: Zucchini cake

zucchini cake

I love the word zucchini– it sounds so much more enticing than courgette. Romantic even. It’s so satisfying the way it hums off the tip of your tongue. Zzzzzzuuuuuu….. Anyway, this is more about the cake than the name. Not only is this a fabulous way to use up summers bounty but it looks so much more appealing than most sponge cakes. I dallied with the idea of jazzing it up with a simple icing sugar and lemon mixture- but personally I like it as it is. No jazz required. Don disagreed, but then he didn’t really taste it properly. His tasting was more apt to a pelican swallowing a fish than a process that required any thought. It may even like a traditional carrot cake frosting. Still, you can decide for yourself.
zucchini cake

The cake itself is not airy and light- it’s full of zucchini how could it be? But there are ways to maximise or minimise the amount of density to your liking. White sugar gives you a lighter cake- but it’s still spongy whereas brown sugar gives much more of a brownie-esque texture- it’s denser and richer. With brown sugar it could easily pass as pudding straight from the oven and dolloped with crème fraîche. I also altered the flavourings for the respective sugars- for the white cake I used lemon zest to match its more delicate nature. For the brown sugar one, which would have completely dominated the lemon zest I used something with a bit more oomph to stand up to it- cinnamon.
zucchini cake

One piece of advice I can give you is not to mix the zucchini with the flour before adding to the eggs and sugar mixture. The water from the zucchini leaches out and you’re left with what can only be described a goopey mixture- and all you will taste in the final cake is flour. I tried this, thinking that by coating the zucchini it would evenly distribute itself in the cake. It did not. Do not make the same mistake. There’s really no need to dry off the zucchini just make sure that you work quickly- measure all your ingredients out before you start mixing. No need for stress after all this is zzzzzzuchini cake and love is in the air.

Keep reading to watch me making the cake and for the recipe
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A RECIPE: Buckwheat & poppy seed muffins served with sour cream & brown sugar

buckwheat & poppyseed muffins

I’ve never really been a muffin-for-breakfast kind of girl. Oats– yes, multi-grain bread– yes, yogurt and fruit- yes please, croissants- oh, well I really shouldn’t but maybe just this once. Eating a muffin for breakfast has always struck me as rather a strange thing- like doughnuts. Muffins and doughnuts are sweets- the things you eat at tea-time or you at least have the decency to wait until elevenses for. Before that and my mind just boggles.  Like raiding the biscuit tin and calling it breakfast on the go- wickedly fun, perhaps but sensible no.

It’s confusing times like these when I’m reminded that despite my adoption of many Americanisms (eating with just a fork, walking on the right, sticking one finger up at traffic rather than two) I remain quintessentially very English. Especially when it comes to matters of food.

I confess I am yet to find pleasure in the likes of a street side hot dog, or nachos with fake cheese at the cinema, oh and I recently discovered that iced coffee makes me retch. Of all things American though, what I cannot get my head around, utterly refuse to get my head around is muffins for breakfast. Until today. Well, sort of.

Today, I made muffins with buckwheat flour- they are speckled with poppy seeds peppered with cinnamon and ever so plain. That’s plain not dull or flavourless, mind. No, perhaps plain really is the wrong word. They taste of what they’re supposed to- of buckwheat and poppy seeds with a hint of cinnamon and the warmth of brown sugar- plain and simple. Oh, geez- can anyone help me with a word other than plain here? They are the kind of muffins that demand to be cut in half and sandwiched with a sharp slab of cheddar. At tea time they are quite a different beast. They want to be lavished with a mixture of brown sugar and sour cream- tart and complex sweetness blended in holy matrimony.

buckwheat & poppyseed muffins

If ever a muffin was warranted permission to be served at an English breakfast table then I believe it would be this one. Not because of the plain part because we all know that English food has leaped heaps and bounds from its past reputation. In any case I adapted the recipe from one of Dorie Greenspan’s– a most reputable American baker. So, one could hardly call these English.

This was however, no easy task. The first batch I made turned out dry- crumbly even. So, I made a few adjustments- an extra egg and swapping the milk for sour cream. Abrahkadabarah! A moist delicate crumb- and one that tastes even better the next day.  They have very little sugar- 4 oz to be exact divvied up between a dozen. What? Did you think I was going to eat a sweet muffin for breakfast? Brown sugar has so much more depth in flavour than white- and I think you’ll find these have plenty, especially if you serve them with the topping. Plus, I’m saving my sugar cravings for these or I have to say I rather fancy the look of these. At more appropriate times, mind.

This recipe is to be entered into the Bloggers Secret Ingredient competition- head over to The Sophisticated Gourmet to see the line-up on Sunday!

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A RECIPE: Chocolate cocoa nib shortbread, revisited


Sometimes, old really is best. There’s that sense of comfort that comes with familiarity- in other words you know what you’re going to get. Recipe testing doesn’t always provide those kinds of assurances.

I don’t usually make a point of claiming favourites but lets just say that if I died from gorging on this chocolate shortbread then it would have been a happy way to go.  As afternoon treat recipes go this one is living with the Gods- well maybe they are sharing a seat with these. If the two of them ever happened to find themselves side by side next to my tea mug in the same afternoon…..oooh well now, that would be asking for trouble.

I’ve tried multiple ways of making them and finally I’ve come up with what I like to refer to as  the ethereal version. And now comes the part where I try to tell you why. Their deeply rich chocolate crumb is guaranteed to sabotage even the most abstemious eaters and hardcore dieters alike. I’m talking, cocoa powder, melted 70% chocolate, chunks of 70% chocolate and cocoa nibs encased in butter, a bit of flour and sugar to hold them together and oh, just a generous pinch of salt for good measure.  These are pure D-I-E-T  S-A-B-O-T-A-G-E and you’ll need to scrub your teeth after to hide the shame evidence. A ticket to chocolate heaven has never been free.

So, if they are so darn good then why did I have to go and change them? Lets just say that I have trouble following recipes- even my own. Plus I think there’s always room for improvement. This time I used a mixture of oat flour and plain flour which gives them just the right texture- they don’t go rock hard in the fridge but they also don’t go soft. I’ve cut down on the salt because I had too many people with uneducated palettes accuse me of loosing control with the salt spoon. They still taste bloody good- they’re just a bit more user friendly. The sugar  was cut down by a third- you won’t notice that there’s less sugar but what you will notice is what great use that expensive chocolate you bought was put to.

I should also mention that it was my gifted friend Dan and his fancy camera who very kindly took these beautiful photos. Dan claimed he was watching his food intake the day he came over- but it did not take persuasion to send him home with half a batch of these little treasures. The remaining half batch  managed to bypass bunking down in the biscuit tin and were polished off with impressive speed and award winning enthusiasm by yours truly and  her husband. Only now that they are gone are we safe from temptation.

chocolate cocoa nib shortbread

Chocolate Cocoa Nib Shortbread

I got the idea for this recipe from another food blogger who made cookies similar to these at work one day. They were totally divine- but being my impatient-self I didn’t want to weigh out tons of ingredients, wait around while the dough chilled and then form into rounds and bake in batches so I made a few ingredient cuts, skipped the chilling and pressed the dough into a tin.

Cocoa nibs (roasted, unshelled chopped cocoa beans) can be bought in gourmet shops- if you go to the effort of seeking them out you will not be disappointed.

You can use all plain flour, but the oat flour gives the shortbread a softer texture- you will want to store them in the fridge.

Makes: 12-24…..

Diet Facts: This recipe is diet sabotage. Do no attempt if you are on a diet.

280g/10 oz bittersweet chocolate (preferably 70 %), chopped and divided

225g/2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened

100g/4 oz light brown soft sugar

150g/1 cup oat flour

150g/ 1 cup plain flour

50g/2 oz unsweetened good quality cocoa powder

50g/1/2 cup cocoa nibs (or chopped nuts)

1/2 tsp kosher salt (1/4 tsp if it’s fine salt)

1 20 x 30 cm baking tin

1/ Heat the oven to 350F/180C/Gas 4. Melt half of the chocolate (I microwave for 1 minute and then stir until it’s fully melted) Beat the butter (ideally in a kitchen aid with the paddle beater) until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until fully combined and creamy (about 1 minute with the mixer, 2 minutes by hand).

2/ Add the melted chocolate and mix until evenly combined. Sift over the 2 flours, cocoa and salt and mix until almost combined. Fold through the cocoa nibs and remaining chopped chocolate by hand. If the mixture is really wet, then add another tablespoonful or two of flour. If not, press mixture into tin evenly. If it’s sticking really badly to your hands then lightly wet them. Prick all over with a fork.

3/ Bake in the oven for 25 minutes- it will continue to cook as it cools. After 10 minutes, cut the squares with a knife but leave in the tin. Allow to cool then store in an airtight container in the fridge.

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