Archive for the 'Bars' 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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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: 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.

A RECIPE: Mum’s flapjacks

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My greatest pleasure when I receive compliments for my work in the kitchen is when people say that it’s better than their mothers. Usually said compliment is followed by a lengthy description about the effort and time that their mother had put into making the dish, the time of year it was made and a laborious list of ingredients that went into it. When somebody tells me that it’s not as good as their mothers, I have to be honest I find it difficult to look them in the eye, let alone listen to their tedious story about why their mothers rendition was so much better than mine even though it used boxed cake mix and margarine.

I find myself praising my mothers cooking little and often. Little because I (and I say this with the up most respect, mum) only remembe a handful of truly wonderful things and often because I speak of this handful of glorious dishes like a child mourning the loss of a pet guinea pig.  This goes to be said for most things I eat- if it’s fabulous I bank eternally in my taste memory. If it’s average I’ll forget it and if it’s poor it will on occasion come to haunt my dreams or worse yet a reminder will appear in the form of a bitter taste in my mouth.

Eternally banked in my good memory are the taste of my mothers flapjacks. I expect you want to know why these flapjacks are better than yours, your mothers and Nigellas? So, here comes my lengthy rant: My mum makes the best bloody flapjacks around- and those fortunate enough to try them fresh out of the over are forced into submission. I have school friends who still rave about ‘those squidgy oat things your mum made’. They are the only thing that I can consistently rely on seeing in my mothers depressingly sparse pantry. A reminder that there are no longer three hungry children in the house and yet the flapjacks live on.

What makes mum’s flapjacks so wonderfully special to me is they break all the rules. Firstly, most flapjacks set up hard but mum throws in an extra glug of golden syrup and spoonful of flour which leaves them crunchy on the edges, chewy in the middle and with a delicious sticky bottom. These are not tooth breakers but merely tooth rotters. Secondly, (and I’m sure you can imagine my shock and horror when I discovered this myself) mum uses margarine instead of butter. Yup, marg- that stuff we avoid like processed cheese for all its bad fats and oils. This is the second time in the past month that I’ve been confronted rather hostily by a recipe containing margarine, which I’ve been forced to admit tastes nicer than my own butter counterpart. But why, I hear you ask? In the flapjacks case, my mum just shrugged her shoulders, you can use butter if you like, she said but it makes them too rich. and my mum always used margarine because it’s cheaper. In these economic times who can complain about that? Of course, feel free to use butter- I won’t judge, not now that I have seen the virtues of margarine, but like I said they won’t be my mum’s amazing flapjacks made with butter. And if you’re still fretting about the bad fats popping out to haunt you just remind yourself that you’re much better off making something from scratch with margarine than buying something processed. I’m just saying.

I have pestered my mum for the recipe ever since I started this blog but being something that my mother could competently bake blindfolded it was difficult to get proper answers from her. A recipe that’s stored in somebody’s head is the hardest to get right. How much flour? Oh, one of my dessert spoonfuls, slightly mounded. How much golden syrup? Oh, about a third of the jar. This was no weigh your ingredients to match your eggs weight Victoria sponge. Last weekend, however, I made a trip home, and in a break from the never ending wedding planning to-do list I made it a priority for us to fit in a flapjack lesson- one on one; with a set of scales.

You can thank me later. In the meantime I suggest you buy yourself some margarine- it could be the best decision you’ve made all year.

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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: 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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