Friday, 13 November 2015

Printed Chocolates

Let me talk to you about chocolate (never a chore). More specifically, Printed Chocolates

Pretty cool - and pretty tasty too. 

Good quality Belgian chocolate - milk, dark, white - and great flavours such as salted caramel and a delicious mint filling. It's already a winner in my book but what makes Printed Chocolates really interesting is the 'printed' element. Edible ink printed directly onto the chocolate sets Printed Chocolates apart from other novelty bars that you might have come across.

The other great thing about Printed Chocolates is the thought and imagination that has gone into them. In the run up to the General Election, Ipad-sized bars, a specific flavour representing each prime ministerial candidate... 

For the recent Rugby World Cup (did you miss it? such things are not possible here in Wales), each member of the Welsh squad received a commemorative bar. if you're running a business and looking for something different to the average business card, well, how does a chocolate business card sound? The other great idea is to use Printed Chocolates as wedding favours or thank yous. I just wish they'd been around when the Husband and I got married...

The force behind Printed Chocolates is Lee Ann Smith who has re-ignited a passion for chocolate making that she's harboured since childhood in South Africa. The less clement climate of South West Wales, where she's made her home, led her to retreat to her kitchen where Printed Chocolates was born. I met Lee Ann through the Women in Rural Enterprise networking organisation, and when she asked me if I'd write a blog I was only too happy to oblige.

Of course, what you're really wanting to know is how do they taste? Well, they taste great. 

There's no flavour from the edible inks that are used to customise the chocolates, so all you get is a chocolate hit. The flavoured bars I tried, salted caramel and mint, were balanced well so the chocolate casings and fillings complemented each other rather than one flavour overwhelming the other. I enjoyed them a great deal. I also very much enjoyed the little bag of truffles Lee Ann sent me to try along with the bars. Inspired by something she'd seen on Australian MasterChef, she'd created a dessert she hadn't been that happy with but turned into truffle form and rolled in crumble topping - bingo - something very delicious indeed.

If you're in business and looking for a quirky, chocolatey promotional vehicle, or if you're looking for a way to give a personalised gift for an event, these are a fantastic option! 

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Pollo Alla Cacciatora (or Hunters Chicken - with apologies to the hunter, the chicken, and Nigella Lawson)

Cooking to the clock - not for me. I can rarely put a meal on the table at the time I've estimated to allow everyone else to get on with other things. All these challenges - Masterchef, BakeOff - where you have to produce your finest in a set amount of time? Putting aside the fact that I don't generally watch them and don't really approve of them, I could NEVER do that. I'd be completely rubbish. May be that's why I don't approve. But I digress. 

You'll remember, perhaps, my fling with Jamie Oliver and his 30 Minute Meals? Definitely stressful, even if the dinner that resulted was rather delicious - and (here's the crux of it) NOT AN ENJOYABLE EXPERIENCE AT ALL. Flinging stuff around, feeling up against it. Cooking is something I genuinely use to relax. It sounds so trite, but all that chopping, stirring, tasting - I love it. But the more time pressure there is on me to get food on the table, the less I enjoy it.

I have, in fact, been feeling very much up against it recently in various elements of life. Combine that with my ridiculous need to cook proper food for the kids (and the Husband, although he's away this week) every night, relaxation or not, and it's not a happy picture. In my last menu planning session, I turned, for inspiration, to Nigella Express. I haven't paid that much attention to Express apart from a rather fabulous cheesecake offering that's graced a number of our smarter occasions in the last few years. Pollo Alla Cacciatora caught my eye (it's on page 296 of my version), and onto the meal plan it went. When you're feeling under pressure, and Nigella says you can have "tea on the table from scratch in comfortably under half an hour" well - it's almost irresistible.

Of course, I had failed to have on hand some of the ingredients that meant the meal could in fact achieve that golden 30 minutes, and I added in some extras, but, as Nigella says, the fact that this is an old recipe "grants a certain amount of licence". Anyway, it was delicious. I'm sure the hunter would have approved. I hope Nigella would too. And it did only take a smidge longer than 30 mins...

Pollo Alla Cacciatora

Serves 4

Olive oil
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled & finely chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and quite finely chopped
100g pancetta cubes
1 sprig of rosemary, leaves only, finely chopped
500g chicken thigh fillets, cut into 3-4 pieces
salt & pepper
125ml red wine
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp sugar
6 chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1 x 400g cannellini beans

Add a slug of olive oil (about a tablespoon's worth) to a large frying pan, and add the chopped onions and garlic. 

Sweat the onions gently for 5 mins or so then add the pancetta and rosemary and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the chicken and sprinkle a couple of pinches of salt and grinds of pepper, then tip in the wine and bring it up to a bubble. Bubble for a couple of minutes then add the tomatoes, bay leaves and sugar.

Add the sliced mushrooms to the pan.

Turn down the heat and simmer for a good 20 minutes or so till the chicken is cooked. 

Drain the cannellini beans and stir into the sauce. Leave for a couple of minutes to heat up


Monday, 12 October 2015

Rainbow Cake

Does the colour of food make or break a dish? I'm quite a fan of colourful food, but only in the sense that its the ingredients that have made the colour - pink from beetroot, green from spinach, rich orange from chorizo and smoked paprika... On the other hand, the seemingly inevitable brown-ness of most of the curries I make doesn't put me off. 

I don't know if I've mentioned it before but there is a family story - part of the folklore of my father's childhood, in which he produced blue macaroni cheese when it was his turn to cook. No one could stomach it and he was henceforth relieved of cooking duties.

Pink seems to be following in her maternal grandfather (Grumpy, as he is affectionately known)'s footsteps with her love of artificially coloured food. I suppose it's all part of experimenting, perhaps even the same part of her that is currently fascinated by make up and leaves me silently weeping in Boots as I try and dissuade her from spending her pocket money on slut red lipstick with out using the words 'cheap' 'common' or 'tart' - she is only 9, after all...

Anyway, I'd rather garish food than garish lipstick any day over the week. 

And on that note, on Sunday, we made Rainbow Cake

Pink did most of it - it's a pretty straightforward sponge recipe but she needed help with all the faffing about dividing mixture between bowls. From the child who used to say, when invited to bake "Just call me when it's time to lick the bowl. Mummy", this interest in baking is one I do now find myself wishing to nurture (I make no secret of the fact that I used to hate cooking with the kids). In the wake of her setting to and producing a green nutella cake single-handedly a few weeks ago -

(flat and rather solid, but strangely tasty for all that it was a rather lurid colour), this was an opportunity to let her play fast and loose with the food colours. She was especially pleased with the rainbow stripes of cream cheese frosting across the top. We followed the recipe and used Squires Kitchen gel colours - my mum had bought a set and made the same cake a few months ago for some event; and as she was never going to make it again, she passed the colours on. 

The only deviation from the Good Food recipe was that we used cream cheese frosting which included butter rather than the simple cream cheese and icing sugar frosting in the original recipe - my mum had found this frosting quite slimy and the towers of cake had slid around a bit...

Anyway, it's pretty spectacular. Doesn't taste brilliant, but, hey. Fur coat and no knickers isn't always a bad thing...

Monday, 5 October 2015

Raspberry & Chocolate Blondies

Brownies, blondies, from one bake crush to another. 

The other morning, Pink asked me if I was "On energy saving mode, Mummy?" To be fair to her, I had made a comment to the effect that I hadn't yet done something that morning (I forget what - it was undoubtedly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things), and she was relating this in the context of a discussion she had been having at school with a friend about how to counter an allegation of laziness. I thought it was quite inventive, and actually, I rather like the idea of being on energy saving mode, particularly now that the Indian Summer has come, rather abruptly, to a close, the mellow blue skies and hazy warmth of the last couple of weeks replaced by a rather fitful, sullen wind and rain that can't decide whether to spit, shower or torrential downpour (we've had all 3 today). That plus the fact that in the 2 days since Friday, all of a sudden, 6.30 a.m. when we are dragged from our slumber Monday to Friday, is now very dark. Yes, energy saving mode seems very attractive, as does curling up on the sofa in front of a fire and not doing much till Spring...

But life of course goes on, despite the onset of Autumn. There is work to be done, a dog to be walked (whatever the weather) and children to provide with packed lunches and to welcome home from school. These latter activities can of course be done without fancy kitchen activities when you have juggled enough and are 'in energy saving mode' (that's what shops are for, as I have come to appreciate). However, if you too feel like being in energy saving mode, yet also fancy a rather delicious home made bake every now and again, this is for you, particularly if you have a food mixer and can delegate the beating element. There's nothing innovative about the raspberry/chocolate combo, but let's face it, just as this is the time of year for apple and blackberry, plums and star anise, casserole and dumplings, why try to be adventurous?  And let's face it, anything with a tin of condensed milk in it has got to be a good thing.

Raspberry & Chocolate Blondies

Adapted from the Nigella Lawson recipe in Kitchen, you could play about with the chocolate/fruit combo. White choc and blackberries might be quite good...

200g oats
100g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarb
150g unsalted butter (try and take this out of the fridge beforehand)
100g soft light brown sugar
1 tin of condensed milk
1 large egg
100g milk chocolate chips
150g raspberries

Line a brownie tray with foil or greaseproof paper

Put the oats in a bowl and sift in the flour & bicarb.

Beat together the butter and sugar until very pale and creamy then pop the condensed milk and beat that in until well combined.

Reduce the speed, then tip in the oats & flour.

Beat in the egg, then mix in the chocolate, then lastly, and swiftly the raspberries. You could fold these in carefully but I quite like the raspberry ripple effect a quick beat gives the batter. And honestly, I couldn't be bothered to find a spoon...

Scrape the batter into your tin, smooth it down and bake for 35-40 minutes. Use your judgement - as with brownies, you want to take this out of the oven before it's solid. The surface needs to be cooked, but with some (but not too much) wobble underneath which will solidify as it cools in the tin.

Once cold, you can slice it up. Apparently it freezes very well, but why would you?

Monday, 28 September 2015

Welsh Mussels cooked in English Cider

It's a strange thing, living abroad. Before we moved, I never really considered that I was moving to another country - I mean I knew Wales was distinct and had a border - hell, you even have to pay if you cross it at the Severn - but a different COUNTRY? Really?

Well, yes, it most definitely is. My own ignorance has had more than a couple of sharp metaphorical slaps administered over the last 18 months, particularly here, out on the West Wales coast, where you hear Welsh spoken all the time, where most primary education is in Welsh and the best thing on TV at the moment (Y Gwyll) comes with English subtitles. Yes, it's very clear that we are living in a distinct and separate country.

And if you ever make the mistake of thinking Wales is just a small part of Britain, think again. Just come here when Wales are playing England at the rugby, and you can be in no doubt that you are most definitely in another country. 

There are of course, great swathes of rugby playing in England, but here it is religion; and it is national and all encompassing. No moaning rugby widows here, oh no. Rugby seems to define the mood of the nation far more than any other part of Welsh life. Wales is, of course, as diverse as England - areas of wealth and poverty, cities, and villages, mountains and coast - and so naturally there are divisions. People have different politics, different attitudes to Europe, to the issues of the day, but mention the R word, and you will have utter unity.

I find the Welsh love of country fascinating and something to be immensely inspired by. It seems to come from a deep and abiding pride in and love of Wales, rather than hatred of others. The only English people I have seen express similar love of their own country seem to be motivated by hate, and this is not the case in Wales - except, perhaps where the rugby is concerned. Of course, there is still the national passion and pride supporting the Welsh rugby team - but if ever there was a time when a love inspired by hate might become apparent, it is when the boys are playing England at rugby. For days, my Facebook has been full of posts like "I'm supporting Wales in the #RugbyWorldCup - and anyone playing the English". And really, Saturday night, it was just as much about hiding chariots where the sun doesn't shine, about crushing the English as it was about the great game that the Welsh rugby team played. And really, it seemed like the whole of Wales (as evidenced by my Facebook) was watching.  A whole country united behind their team.

It's all water off a duck's back to me - born in England and lived there all my life (apart from various sojourns in France) until now, and not particularly interested in the outcome of any sporting competition, I know I have enough Welsh and Scottish blood in me that I don't feel that this hatred of the English is really about ME - although I probably wouldn't argue the toss with one of my Welsh friends. The fact is, that whatever I feel, I'll probably always be 'English' in the eyes of my Welsh friends here. The Husband, well, I think he'd have preferred not to have to go into work this morning, but he took a deep breath and manned up, practising saying "Well, we've got to let you win sometimes" in the least bitter tone he could muster...

Of course, we watched the game. And (don't tell the Husband) I'm glad Wales won. I love the support the team has, the unfettered pride in watching a good team play brilliantly, and of course, the way the victory is celebrated - by the way, have you seen the video of Ioan Gruffudd dancing around in his pants? If anything is worth a Welsh victory, that is...

Welsh mussels cooked in English Cider

We spent the morning on Saturday before the match foraging for mussels. We're in the grip of the most gorgeous weather at the moment, so we took the opportunity to collect a couple of kilos from a local beach

Our intention was to make something called 'eclade' which we've seen Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall prepare - you cook the mussels by burning pine needles over the top of them and then stir the pine infused mussels into a concoction of shallots and spinach. So while the mussels soaked in sea water, we spent the afternoon trying to find pine needles. 

Easier said than done. We were thwarted, so instead, we cooked the mussels in cider. And very good they were too. We ate them in front of the TV watching the rugby. Welsh mussels cooked in English cider - culinary harmony, if not mirrored on the pitch.

About 2.5 kg mussels - cleaned and debearded
good knob of butter and a splash of olive oil
2 echalion shallots, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 500ml bottle of cider
about 50 ml double cream
freshly ground pepper

You also need a large heavy pan with a lid

Melt the butter in the oil, and gently sweat the shallot and garlic until soft.

Tip in the cider and bring up to the boil before tipping in the cleaned, de-bearded mussels and putting on the lid tightly.

Cook for 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan a couple of times.

Once the mussels have all opened, stir in the cream, and then leave to sit for a couple of minutes (if you can wait) - apparently this allows any residual grit to sink to the bottom of your pan.

Ladle mussels and the cooking liquid into bowls and serve - they are exceptionally good with skinny fries and decent mayo on the side, belgian style, or if you prefer, crusty bread.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Biscotti - or what not to bake during a homework crisis...

Failure. It's a big thing at the moment. We have to let our children fail. They fail at the little things, they learn, they become stronger, more resilient and more able to cope with adult life.

I wholeheartedly agree with this approach to life. I do believe that my role is to love my children, to support them, to be on their side, and to protect them, but that as they get older, the way I do this changes and develops. They need to understand that they have responsibilities as well as the rights they are always telling me about, and that their actions have consequences. For toddlers this could be learning that not getting into the bath by the time I count to 5 means no stories (one of my least favourite evenings, that one, believe me). For 10 year olds who mess about in the morning it could mean having to get dressed in the car on the way to the bus stop (I was tempted put him on the bus in his pyjamas but decided that could wait for the next time - there wasn't one)...

So far, the actions and consequences have been relatively clear cut but Blue is now at secondary school, and the world has suddenly become a more complicated place. The possibilities for failure are many, and the consequences now include such things as detentions, missing the school bus that goes from the end of the road, completely flunking school, and, most serious of all, driving his mother to COMPLETE and UTTER distraction with keeping her counsel while he works it all out

And of course, let him, I must - let him work out how to manage, how to get himself organised - and then offer support and help only when it's asked, all that good stuff. I find it incredibly stressful though - especially when he asks for help with something when it's most inconvenient - like while I am trying to get dressed, drink a cup of tea or even indulging in a spot of late night biscotti baking in advance of a coffee date with a friend the following morning - because he left it to the last minute ...This means biting my tongue when he doesn't get out of bed till 7.30 when he has to leave for the bus at 7.55; when he leaves his homework to the last minute; when he dashes off his homework the night before it's due so he can watch old episodes of Top Gear or Scrap Heap Challenge (why? WHY???) and then reappears at bedtime worrying that he hasn't done it very well...

This last was this evening's little joy. And on inspection, he really hadn't done his homework very well. I won't go into details, but it was rubbish. We have already said to the kids that the important thing is that they do their best. And this most definitely wasn't his best. In the most reasonable tone I could manage, I said it was too late and he could either ask the teacher for extra time to finish the homework or hand it in as it was and take the consequences. He didn't take it well, and in the interests of everyone's peace of mind, we compromised. He went to bed and hour later than normal, but a lot happier. Did I do the right thing? He produced something that was much improved and has, I hope, learnt a lesson. And I managed to keep the tirade about taking responsibility and not wasting life away in front of the TV to a minimum, and mostly - ahem - offered astute observations about how things might be achieved in a less stressful manner next time. I also over-baked my biscotti while delivering my unvitriolic advice ... Not too much, but you know, if I'd been paying more attention, they might have been a little better. Still, I think they were OK.

Cranberry, Macadamia & Hazelnut Biscotti

200g mixed pack of cranberries & macadamia nuts
100g whole hazelnuts
250g strong white flour
1 tsp baking powder
150g caster sugar
grated zest of a large lemon
2 large eggs
2 tsp rum (or you could use vanilla extract if you were feeling less stressed)
icing sugar for dusting

Pre-heat the oven to 180C (160C fan) and line a baking sheet with baking paper.

In a food processor, pulse the nuts and fruit a couple of times to chop them up a little.

Sift the flour & baking powder together, then add the sugar, nuts & fruit and lemon zest, then combine.

Beat the eggs and rum together, then stir into the flour mixture and combine to form a biscuit dough.

Dust a work surface with icing sugar and turn the dough out. Divide it into 3 and form each piece into a log shape and place on the baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven.

Put the logs on a board and slice up into 1cm biscuits - sliced on the diagonal. 

Lay the slices back on the baking sheet and pop back into the oven for 5 -10 minutes. 

Don't engage in a discussion with your son about the best time to do his homework, and the benefits of doing the best job you can first time round. But if you do, and end up leaving the biscotti in the oven for 20 minutes they will probably be OK...

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Chicken & Chorizo Couscous

Yes, I know, I know, another chorizo recipe. But I was talking about this recipe on a Facebook group I'm part of and was looking to see if I'd posted it on this blog as an easy way of passing the recipe on, and I realised that I hadn't - or if I had, I couldn't find it. So here it is. Chicken & Chorizo Couscous.

I'm not a great fan of leftovers of cold meat, but for reasons of economy and saving the planet, it is better to buy a whole chicken and use it up scrupulously, down to the boiling of bones to make stock, rather than buying portions (although I do admit to buying chicken thighs occasionally). This dish has almost become a reason to have a roast chicken at the weekend in itself. It's a ridiculously easy and tasty midweek dish and if you are roasting a chicken this weekend, I suggest you keep back enough cooked meat, and boil up your bones, to knock this up early next week.

This is of course open to various adaptations depending on what you have in the cupboards, and I freely fiddle with quantities and ingredients. I have used tamarind paste in place of harissa, and made it veggie too. You definitely need spice of some sort, though, A bit of a kick, otherwise it's just a bit bland, especially if you're leaving out the chorizo (although why would you?). I also recommend serving with your favourite chilli sauce. Tabasco is good, as is Hot Smoky Bastard.

 And finally, seeing as how we're bring scrupulous, I believe this once came from a Good Food magazine. I can't find it on the Good Food website any more, but the index card I meticulously copied it on to (obviously when I was going through an organised phase) has the initials 'GF' by the recipe title. Anyway, I'm sure they won't mind me repeating it here.

Chicken & Chorizo Couscous

serves 6 (allegedly - but don't bank on it if folks are hungry)

350g couscous
350g cold cooked chicken, chopped into bite-sized pieces
150g cooking chorizo, skinned if necessary and diced
3 medium tomatoes or equivalent cherry tomatoes, chopped up
a couple of handfuls of frozen peas
900ml hot chicken stock 
2 tsp harissa paste
generous pinch of saffron (if you have)
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp olive oil
chopped fresh coriander to serve (optional - more often than not I don't have it but parsley works, or just go without).

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/160 fan.

Combine the couscous, chicken, chorizo, tomatoes and frozen peas in a large dish.

Stir the harissa paste spices and olive oil into the stock, then pour the spicy stock mix over the couscous mixture and stir together.

Cover the dish with foil - or, if it has one, a lid - and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes. Fluff up with a fork before serving.

It really is that simple, and believe me when I tell you it's utterly delicious. If there are leftovers, they are great cold, the next day for lunch.