Viewing entries tagged
quick

The Ultimate Chunky Chewy Triple Chocolate Caramel Cookies

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The Ultimate Chunky Chewy Triple Chocolate Caramel Cookies

In my dictionary definition of cookie, I’m going to be demanding. It needs to be thic(ccc)k so that each mouthful contains some of the promised flavours, be they chocolate, nut, or candy. I want it crisp on the outside so that when broken, it gives way to a chewy cookie-dough goo. If there’s chocolate or caramel, they need to be molten. They also need to have enough salt to balance the sweetness and add depth of flavour. 

And, after years of trials, the quest to create the perfect cookie becoming increasingly Sisyphean, I’ve done it. And you need to make them ASAP.

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Vanilla Berry Oatmeal Loaves (refined sugar-free)

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Vanilla Berry Oatmeal Loaves (refined sugar-free)

The ideal combo of oatmeal, pancake and muffin. They’re protein and fibre-full and naturally sweet (no refined sugar), bursting with berries (zero dryness here) and filling. They’re quick to make, and super convenient as they can be made in advance, frozen and defrosted when cravings strike. They also look rather irresistible on any breakfast table, so great for when you have guests.

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Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil Crostata

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Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil Crostata

This is my favourite meal and has been since I was three – the precocious (and pretentious, no doubt) answer to my friends’ parents’ question as to my favourite food. Apart from the fact that there really isn’t anything fancy about it, it’s crazily simple to make. Despite being pastry-based and with a molten bed of mozzarella, it is very light, and perfect for a gathering.

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Thick & Chewy Spice Cookies

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Thick & Chewy Spice Cookies

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OK, so I’m going to tell you about a brilliant new diet to ensure you lose all that Christmas flab.

It throws 5:2, Keto, raw food, Mediterranean and intermittent fasting out of the window. If you’re disillusioned with all those malware-laden pop up adverts on illegal streaming sites that you secretly clicked on promising flat belly magic trick, let me right that for you.

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After some hardcore, scientific studies on how people gain weight, which foods trigger fat gain and how we’re rotting our metabolism, my dad had an epiphany and realised that all these diets were ignoring the obvious.

All those Instagram/YouTube stars chronicling the secrets to peachy bums, thigh gaps, hotdog legs and concave stomachs have been holding back their industry secrets. It’s not food groups that need to be cut out, but letters. All the foods (and often drinks) that stand in the way of a lean, rippling bikini bod have something in common: biscuits, cookies, bread, chocolate, cake, bagels, beer, cocktails, champagne, and brownies. Yes. That’s right – you’ve wasted money and/or time logging on to My Fitness Pal, consulting dieticians, and calorie counting when I have just given you the secret to fat loss. Cut out the Bs and Cs and you are on your way to fitfluencer stardom.

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Pregnancy is the benchmark by which weight gain is measured in my household, and my dad came back from India in his second trimester.

Turns out feasting on gulab jamun, breakfast, lunch and dinner dosas, curry upon curry, daily afternoon tea and even straight up jaggery does that to you. This drastic increase from two to five months’ gestation in the space of two weeks, plus a stomach of steel allowing evasion of the revolting bug that had churned up the rest of my family’s insides, meant that a new diet and regime was mandatory. And when my dad commits to something, he is an all-or-nothing person. And let me tell you, cutting out B and C foods is far easier than you might think. In fact, it’s practically seamless. Don’t worry about cheat meals or relapses because this is a diet that works perfectly with whatever lifestyle you were already leading. 

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My dad’s commitment to the diet has been so fervent and admirable that when I offered him a Jerusalem bagel (from last week) he refused.

He heroically turned down the molten chocolate brownies that I brought into work. He didn’t even respond to me when the exotic perfume of these thick, soft and chewy spice cookies wafted round the house (commendable).

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You see the diet works so well that if you’re clever about it, and careful, you don’t really need to sacrifice anything at all.

His resolve has been so strong that cookies are now banned from our house, as are bagels, biscuits, chocolate and brownies. 

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Instead, we have a whole inventory of agels, and iscuits, hocolate and rownies and ookies.

My dad has had five of these spice ookies today and he’s still fully committed to the diet - and so can you. Just like that one calorie that gets left floating in the can when you have diet coke, so all the muffin-top inducing calories are left behind when the B and C’s are seamlessly spliced from your favourite treat.

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This is the diet to be on because these (c)ookies are the ambrosia of the (c)ookie world – they’re a one bowl wonder and can be whizzed up in a matter of minutes.

There’s no freezing, chilling or resting meaning that they can go from flour packet to final product-in–mouth in about half an hour (pausing en route for some of that dough). I know cookies can be a very subjective, personal and emotional topic, but these are undeniably the top tier: slightly crisp on the outside and soft thic(cc)k and chewy. If you fear that the batch may disappear before you get a look in, feel free to double it – the results will be the same.  They can also be stored in an airtight container in a freezer for up to three months which is ideal if you want to whip them out for unexpected occasions (emergencies). 

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Thick & Chewy Spice Cookies - Recipe

Makes 12-14 cookies

Ingredients

220g white spelt flour (or plain white flour, if you prefer)

2 ½ tsp baking powder

60g caster sugar

1 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 ½ tsp baking soda

100g unsalted butter, at room temperature, roughly cut into cubes

100g golden syrup

20g treacle

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp mixed spice

 

large baking tray lined with baking parchment

 

Method

1)    Preheat oven to 160°C.

2)    If using a food processor (super quick), pour in all the dry ingredients and whizz to combine. Then add in the butter and pulse until the mixture becomes like damp sand. If making by hand, in a large bowl stir together dry ingredients. Then add in the butter and rub into the dry mixture with your fingertips until it reaches a damp sand-like consistency.

3)    In a small pan over a low heat, pour in the syrup and treacle, and stir until combined and warm. Pour into the sand-like mixture, and pulse until it just about comes together into a dough, taking care not to over mix. If making by hand, pour the treacle into the sand-like mixture, and stir together until it forms a dough.

4)    Make the cookies by breaking off pieces of the dough with your hands and rolling them into a sphere. I make each one 35g to ensure that they bake consistently. Then space the spheres on a baking tray at least 5cm apart. Place in the preheated oven to bake for 8-12 minutes until golden but soft to the touch. They will continue to bake once removed from the oven so taking them out slightly underdone ensures that they have a chewy centre. 

5)    Allow to cool before eating (they will be too friable when straight out of the oven), then devour. Once cool, they can be kept in a sealed airtight box in a freezer for up to 3 months.

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Virtuous Vegan Date & Peanut Butter Cookies

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Virtuous Vegan Date & Peanut Butter Cookies

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If I told you that a vegan, refined sugar-free, protein-rich, wheat-free, ancient-grain (and if you so desire, gluten-free) cookie existed, you’d think it was the stuff of myth and legend or, alternatively, something so disgusting that it couldn’t be deemed edible.

Well, it does exist.

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After an overindulgent stay in NYC, I made these for my birthday. They aren’t overpoweringly sweet, and they aren’t going to be equivalent to the 500 calories a pop thick, fudgy cookies you see in bakeries. However, they are delicious in their own right, soft and just sweet enough. Plus, being vaguely healthy automatically entitles one to devour 5x the quantity. In fact, for a snack to be officially deemed a source of protein, it needs to contain 6g protein. Well, 3 of these cookies contain just that.

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They are extremely quick to conjure up and would be good for that weak-point, late afternoon slump when you crave something sweet, and delicious, too, paired with a (vegan) ice cream for dessert, or even with a wedge of stilton and a dollop of pear compote if you’re going down the non-vegan route. If you want a slightly more savoury option, substitute the dates with figs as in the photos.

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Ingredients (makes 20 medium cookies)

160g pitted medjool dates, roughly chopped (about 10) (if you want a more savoury cookie, substitute dates with figs, as per the photos)

4 tbsp orange juice

4 tbsp water

1 tsp vanilla

½ tsp finely grated orange zest

80g smooth peanut butter

200g spelt flour (or gluten free flour)

½ tsp mixed spice

¼ tsp salt

baking tray lined with baking parchment

4-5cm round cookie cutter

 

Method

1)    Pre-heat oven to 180°C

2)    Place the chopped dates, orange juice, water, vanilla extract and orange zest in a small pan over a medium/high heat and allow to come to a boil. Stir continuously for about 4/5 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated and the dates have turned into a thick, sticky pulp.

3)    Place the date mixture together with the peanut butter in a blender and pulse until smooth. Pour in the spelt flour, mixed spice, and salt and pulse until it comes together to form a slightly sticky dough.

4)    Lightly flour a board and roll out the dough to a 0.5cm thickness. Stamp out cookies with the cutter and place on the baking tray. Bake in the oven for 7-10 minutes until firm and slightly golden. Allow to cool, then devour.

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Roasted Strawberry & Vanilla Cake

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Roasted Strawberry & Vanilla Cake

...& 14 Thoughts from the Kitchen Sink

From the moronic to the morbid, here’s an insight into what happens when I bake and let my mind wander:

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-      Drowning in a vat of sticky bread dough would probably be the worst way to die.

-      When you sieve icing sugar and it puffs into the air in clouds, how many calories are there in one mouthful of air?

-      Why do so many obscure meats taste like chicken and not beef?

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-      What is the significance of sometimes craving baby food - especially rusks, and pureed apple and banana?

-      Why do we delude ourselves that avocado on toast has been ‘smashed’?  I’ve never seen anyone smash an avocado.  I suppose ‘smeared’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.

-      If I could subsist on one food for the rest of my life it would most likely be oats.

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-      Nandos’ ‘hot’ sauce is anachronistic.  It was created about 20 years ago and people’s (i.e.my brother’s and my) tolerance for heat has gone up.  They should downgrade it to ‘medium’.

-      What was the exact moment when someone decided to put sugar, milk, butter and flour together to make the very first cake?

-      How do you know nigella seeds are nigella seeds and not mouse droppings?

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-      If 2017 was the year of slime porn, why can’t 2018 be the year of dough porn? 

-      Earlier this year some pig farmers tried to halt the use of pig terminology as connotative of greed.  Imagine if other farmers were to do the same: we couldn’t exclaim something was cheesy, or call people ugly cows, or ask people with whom we’re angry if they want beef, or complain that bland people are vanilla, or exclaim that someone is mutton dressed up as lamb, or taunt cowards as being chicken…

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-      How many times in my life has a waiter spat in my food on purpose?

-      Why do I have six jars of preserved lemons in my cupboard when I only use a small shaving of one once a year?

-      The smell of freshly baked bread should be a perfume.

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That’s enough musing for one day.

Here’s the recipe for an exceedingly luscious cake. It is succulent, and filled with roasted strawberries so that there is at least one deliquescing in every bite. The berries on the surface turn almost jam-like in the oven.  Absurdly quick and easy to make, it is totally moreish. 

NB. This cake can be made gluten-free by substituting the flour for gluten free. 

Luscious Strawberry cake  

Serves 6-8 (depending on level of greed)

Ingredients

85g unsalted butter, at room temperature

160g caster sugar + 2 tbsp for the topping

1 large egg

120ml milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

190g white spelt flour (or gluten-free equivalent)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

400g strawberries, after having been hulled and halved

20cm diameter round springform cake tin, either totally lined with baking parchment (if you’re feeling lazy and you don’t mind crinkly cake sides), or thoroughly greased with butter and the base lined with a circle of baking parchment

 

Method

1)   Preheat the oven to 180°C. 

2)   Either by hand or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter and sugar together until soft, light and fluffy (which should take about three minutes).  Then pour in the egg, milk and vanilla extract and beat to combine. It may look slightly curdled but that is not a problem.

3)   Into the wet ingredients sieve the flour, baking powder and salt. Gently fold the dry ingredients through until the batter is smooth and fully combined.  Pour into the prepared cake tin.

4)   Arrange the strawberries cut side down in the batter. You make need to overlap some or push some down to fit them all in. Sprinkle the 2 tbsp of caster sugar over the top and place in the oven. 

5)   Bake for 45-55 minutes (depending on oven), checking after 30 minutes. You may need to cover the top with aluminium foil if the surface looks at risk of becoming too dark. When ready, the top should be a deep gold and a cake tester should come out batterless (moisture from the strawberries will prevent it from coming out totally clean).

6)   Allow to cool on a wire rack and devour on the day, or within two days, of baking.

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

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Spring Pea, Spinach & Mint Soup

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Spring Pea, Spinach & Mint Soup

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Nowadays we have the fired-up drama, programmes that are lurid, sweary, and sweaty: Iron Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, the straw-haired, backward-sunglass wearing entity that is Guy Fieri. I still find myself sucked into the carefully contrived vortex of dramatics, where someone burns their hand off or the climax is a grotesquely-sized burger oozing with cellulite-whispering cheese.

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But I have an enduring appreciation for the most simple of concepts that were the foundation for many of today’s cooking programmes: green peppers, red tomato; Ainsley Harriet, metre long streams of oil with one arm tucked behind his back; clotted nests of finely spun sugar; dishes named with achingly tenuous puns. Sometimes I long for those days of Ready Steady Cook in its original format. Particularly captivating was the down to earth “quickie bag” challenge: a handful of seasonal ingredients, an on-the-spot declaration of the dish to be conjured up, followed by a frenzied 10 minutes to make good on the promise. 

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It was raw, unedited, unscripted and exposed – a rare combination these days. And that challenge which has now mutated into the MasterChef mystery box challenge is one that I try to set myself every time the contents of the fridge begin to look pitiful. One man’s debris can be another’s feast. All it requires is a little creativity and imagination (unless your fridge stocks only alcohol, like that of several people I know…).

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This soup is so simple that it could almost have been formulated from one of these challenges. The ingredients are few, but their freshness and the way they are only lightly cooked, enhances the flavours. In the UK, we have been starved of spring, but this soup will help compensate in its exuberant and zingy viridity.

Although they are to be enjoyed alongside the soup, the Parmesan spelt crackers featured in the photos are by no means a sideshow, and I shall follow up with the recipe for them. They are frighteningly addictive – I unwittingly crunched through half a batch in one hour.

NB: this can be made vegan by substituting olive oil for butter.

 

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Ingredients (serves 4)

50g butter (substitute with 3 tablespoons olive oil if making vegan)

1 large potato, scrubbed but not peeled, and diced

3 cloves garlic

4 sticks celery, roughly chopped

30g sugar

Large sprig fresh thyme

100ml white wine

1 litre vegetable stock.  (I use Marigold, which is also available as vegan recipe)

500g frozen peas

20g fresh mint, leaves stripped from stalks

100g fresh baby spinach leaves, washed

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp ground black pepper

Method

1. Melt butter over medium heat, or gently heat the olive oil

2. Add potato, garlic, celery, sugar, thyme and pinch salt and pepper, and sweat together for about 10 minutes or until the potato is soft, stirring from time to time

3. Add the wine, and cook until the liquid has reduced by roughly one third

4. Add the stock, and bring the mixture to the boil. Keep boiling for 4 minutes

5. Remove the thyme, add the mint leaves, spinach and peas to the boiling mixture, and remove the pot from the heat immediately

6. Blitz in the liquidizer. Adjust the seasoning, and serve warm. 

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Mini Feta & Cheddar Spelt Scones

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Mini Feta & Cheddar Spelt Scones

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I feel immense joy when I see canapés floating along the horizon of a wine-soaked room. Salty, crunchy, flavour-filled bites to pop into your mouth and stave off hunger. But in reality, the canapés path is far more obstacle- laden. Here are a few of the typical scenarios that I have endured, or have watched others enduring:

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  • The hidden two- biter: where you hesitate over whether to put the whole thing in your mouth, decide to go for it and then have to find a way to swivel the thing around inside your cheeks until it becomes vaguely chewable, all while trying to hold down a conversation
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  • The crumbler – this one disintegrates before it even reaches your mouth. This doesn’t necessarily result in interrupted conversation, but ends up being problematic when you shake hands with someone and end up leaving a stick, flaky deposit in their palm
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  • The burner – you were warned about the heat but went for it anyway. If you were alone you would probably spit it out, but in the interests of politeness and retaining friends, you endure a scorched oesophagus 
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  • The stringer – this is reserved for molten- cheese filled croquetas.  Delicious, yes, but they leave the unsuspecting devourer s with frills around their lips reminiscent of Futurama’s Zoiburg.
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The following will help you steer clear of the above pitfalls: small, savoury and succulent, these are the perfect canapés.  Indeed, they are suitable for consumption at any time. They are crisp on the outside and soft and light inside, flecked with molted feta and cheddar, and with a hint of the more exotic nigella seeds. This recipe makes 18 but I would urge you to double it as they are so addictive.  They are also ridiculously easy and quick to conjure up.

NB. these can be made gluten-free by simply substituting spelt flour with gluten-free)

Mini Feta & Cheddar Spelt Scones (makes 18)

 

Ingredients

100g sour cream

2 tbsp milk

80g mature cheddar cheese, grated

80g feta, roughly diced into 0.5cm cubes

50g unsalted butter, cold and roughly diced into ¾ cm cubes

200g white spelt flour (can substitute with plain flour or gluten-free)

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp nigella seeds

[optional: ½ tsp cayenne pepper]

1 egg, beaten, to glaze

1 large baking tray lined with greaseproof paper

 

Method

1)    Preheat oven to 200°C. In a large bowl by hand, or in a food mixer fitted with a paddle, briefly mix together the sour cream, milk, cheddar, feta and butter. Pour in the flour, baking powder, salt and nigella seeds (and cayenne if using), and mix until just combined into a dough. You may need to knead the dough by hand very slightly for it to come together.

2)    Place dough onto a floured surface, pat into a square and roll it out to roughly 2.5cm thickness. Slice the dough into nine squares, like a noughts and crosses board, and then slice the squares diagonally to form 18 triangles.

3)    Arrange the triangles on the baking tray, leaving at least 3cm between them. Brush them lightly with the beaten egg and place in the oven to bake for 15-20 minutes until golden on the outside. They are best devoured immediately or on the day of baking. 

Adapted from Honey & Co's "Food From the Middle East" recipe for Bouikos

 

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Cinnamon Apple Crumble Pies

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Cinnamon Apple Crumble Pies

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This is the cinnamon apple crumble pie 2.0. Tried, tested, and enhanced...Cinnamon Apple Crumble Pies Soft, crunchy, crumbly, fresh, sweet, and on the cusp of sour – the Gail’s Bakery apple crumble cake is what I crave.  It’s the ultimate winter treat, although I gaze longingly through the bakery window at them year-round.

Cinnamon Apple Crumble Pies

 

 

Cinnamon Apple Crumble PiesI bought the Gail’s Artisan Bakery Cookbook a few months ago in the hope that they had divulged the secret of their signature apple crumble cake. They hadn’t.

Cinnamon Apple Crumble PiesCinnamon Apple Crumble Pies

As a result I’ve just had to develop my own recipe – more wholesome, with more cinnamon and less sugar, I’ve heard they may even be superior…

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Cinnamon Apple Crumble Pies

Cinnamon Apple Crumble Pies

Cinnamon Apple Crumble Pies

 

Ingredients

(Makes 15)

Pastry

320g (11.3 oz) wholegrain spelt flour

110g (3.9oz) icing sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp salt

165g (5.8oz) butter, roughly chopped into cubes

1 large egg, beaten

Apple Filling

700 (1lb 5oz) grams of peeled, cored and coarsely grated Bramley apples (about 3 large apples)

70g (2.5oz) caster sugar

Crumble topping

80g (2.8oz) wholegrain spelt flour

45g (1.6oz) oats

45g (1.6oz) caster sugar

50g (1.7oz)  butter

2 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp salt

15 hole muffin/cupcake tin, greased (usually they come in 12s, in which case you will need 2 x muffin trays

 

Method

Pastry

  1. In a blender, blitz together dry ingredients. Then add in the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles damp sand. Pour in the egg and continue to pulse until the mixture clumps together into a dough. Avoid mixing it more than necessary.
  2. Flatten the dough roughly into a disc and wrap in cling film or baking parchment. Chill in the freezer while you make the other elements.

Apple Filling

  • Place all ingredients in a pan and stir over a high heat for about 5 minutes until the apple turns soft but some texture still remains.  Strain the mixture using a sieve, pressing down to get rid of excess liquid (about 250ml, which incidentally tastes like a delicious mulled cider).  Set aside to cool.

Crumble

  • Place all ingredients in a blender and pulse until the mixture resembles damp sand.

Assembly

  1. Preheat an oven to 180˚C.
  2. On a floured surface, roll out the chilled pasty to a thickness of 0.5cm. Cut the pastry into circles with an area similar to that of the muffin tin holes (about 8-10cm), and press each circle in the holes. You may need to patchwork the pieces together.
  3. Prick the pastry lining the muffin holes with a fork, and bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, or cooked through and beginning to golden slightly.
  4. Take the tin out of the oven and spoon 2tbsp of the cooked apple into each pastry shells. Top the cakes by spooning a few tablespoons of the crumb topping over each cake, patting it down and then sprinkling the rest of the mixture over.  I like to clump some of it together before scattering it over in order to add further texture and rustic appeal.
  5. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes until the crumble topping is golden and crisp. Serve hot or cold.

Cinnamon Apple Crumble Pies

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Morroccan Spiced Linzer Jam Cookies

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Morroccan Spiced Linzer Jam Cookies

Afternoon tea.  What do you think of when someone says those words? Tiers of fluffy isosceles sandwiches, miniature entremets layered with fruit, caramel, and chocolate, and maybe a scone glistening with strawberries.  Crisp napkins, high ceilings, the tinkling of fine bone china…

Near where I live there is an Austrian tea room.  The window is filled with garish glace cherry- adorned, deflated pastries, crusted squiggles of festering cream, and opera cake melding into a brown sludge. It opened 60 years ago, and the décor and pastries appear not to have been refreshed since.

Morroccan Spiced Linzer Jam Cookies

Inside, it is dark and cramped, and the airless atmosphere is thickened with hot breath and the oversweet smell of fat and sugar.

Their Linzer biscuits, however, remind me of Jammie Dodgers – those jam-filled, shortbread biscuits of my childhood that only other people’s mothers allowed – and inspired me to re- interpret them. 

These have a slight Moroccan edge: spiced, delicate with a slight chewiness, filled with the tangy conserve of your choice.

I like marmalade for the tart/bitter contrast against the sweetness of the pastry, but strawberry also works well.  Of course, you can go for any shape, but I am rather taken by the cog-like –quirky take on a Jammie Dodger look.

Ingredients

290g (10.125 ounces) white spelt flour (or plain flour if unavailable)

140g (5 ounces) ground almonds

100g (3.5 ounces) caster sugar

¼ tsp salt

2 ½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp ground cloves

¼ tsp almond extract

1 tsp grated lemon zest (about ½ lemon)

1 tsp grated orange zest (about ½ medium orange)

225g (8 ounces) unsalted butter

200g (7 ounces) marmalade or jam of choice (I used marmalade and strawberry)

30g (1 ounce) icing sugar

Large and small cookie cutters (I used 7cm and 3.5cm diameter rings)

2 large baking sheets, lined with baking parhcment

Method

  1. Pour flour, ground almonds, caster sugar, salt cinnoman, cloves,orange and lemons zest, and almond extract into a food processor and pulse until fully combined.  Add in the chopped butter and pulse again until the mixture forms a damp sand-like texture.  Keep pulsing until it clumps tighter to form a dough.
  2. Divide the dough into two rounds and flatten both onto sheets of baking parchment, wrap them and place them in the freezer for about 20 minutes or the fridge for an hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 160˚C (325˚F). Remove the disks of dough from the freezer/fridge – if they are too firm to roll, let them sit for a few minutes.  Ona thoroughly floured board, roll one disk out to a 3mm (1/8 inch) thickness. Cut out as many cookies as possible and set aside the scraps.  Space the disks out on the baking trays as you go. Repeat with the second disk and use the smaller cutter to cut out small holes from the rounds.  Press together the accumulated scraps and roll out again.  Make sure there are an equal number of whole circles to circles with a cut out circle.  A tip to avoid the cutter sticking in the dough is to dip it in flour first.
  4. Place the trays in the oven and bake for 12- 15 minutes until the cookies are golden but still soft to the touch – they will continue to cook as they cool. When cool, for aesthetic effect, sieve the icing sugar onto the rounds with the circles cut out of them. Then spread a teaspoon of the jam/marmalade onto the complete circles, and lightly press the cut-out layer on top.  Devour, delicately, of course…
Morroccan Spiced Linzer Jam Cookies
Morroccan Spiced Linzer Jam Cookies

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Strawberry Crumble Bars

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Strawberry Crumble Bars

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Strawberry Crumble Bars What’s your crumble-to-fruit ratio?  If you’re the kind who favours a preponderance of stewed fruit with an insubstantial fairy dusting of oaty-flour, turn away now.  If you lean towards the lavish when it comes to crumble proportion - good.  Read on…

Strawberry Crumble Bars

Strawberry Crumble Bars Strawberry Crumble Bars

I have experienced many a crumble: from damson to mulberry to cherry to apple, from autumn to winter to spring to summer. But regardless of the lusciousness of the interior, the crumbles that garner the most attention, that leave people scratching way at the remaining crumbs that have become forged to the side of the pan in yearning for more, are the ones with a superabundance of crumble topping.

Strawberry Crumble Bars

Crunchy, nutty, warming and eminently comforting – this is what a good crumble should be.  Enough so that you don’t worry about rationing the crumble in your bowl to suit the amount of fruit – enough so that every mouthful has a good proportion of both.

IMG_5024A good crumble, as with so many things, should leave you wanting more.

Strawberry Crumble Bars

But what if you don’t want to have to face the risk of eating the whole pot by mistake – or at least you if do want to be able to eat the whole lot, do so in a more measured way?

Strawberry Crumble Bars

What if you want to extend the experience beyond the comfort of your kitchen i.e. a portable crumble?

Strawberry Crumble Bars

Try these – fruity, nutty, fresh, and summery, with a subtle tang and not overly-sweet.  They are extremely quick and easy to make and, more importantly, the crumble–to-fruit ratio is verging on perfect…

Strawberry Crumble Bars

 

Ingredients

Base

115g sugar

½ tsp baking powder

210g white spelt flour (substitute any flour of your choice: plain, gluten-free or otherwise)

115g unsalted butter, roughly chopped

½ egg

¼ tsp salt

Finely grated zest of 1/2 orange

Juice of ½ orange

2 generous cups of strawberries, quartered

1 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp cornstarch

1 tsp vanilla bean paste (substitute with 1 tsp of vanilla bean extract if unavailable)

 

Crumble topping

20g unsalted butter

40g sugar

70g oats

30g finely chopped walnuts (remove if allergic)

50g white spelt flour (substitute with any flour of your choice, plain, gluten-free or otherwise)

Pinch of salt

20cm x 20cm tin lined with baking parchment (or a pan of similar area)

 

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 190˚C. Pour sugar, baking powder, flour, salt, and zest in a blender and pulse to combine.  Add butter and egg, and pulse until fully combined and has reached a slightly clumpy, damp sand consistency.  Pour this into the lined baking pan, and press down to create an even base layer.
  2. In a bowl, stir together chopped strawberries, orange juice, orange zest and cornstarch. Sprinkle evenly over the base layer (including the fruit juices.)
  3. Make the topping by pulsing together the butter, sugar, oats, flour and salt until fully combined and sand-like in texture. Stir in the walnuts, then sprinkle the mixture over the strawberries.
  4. Bake in oven for 30 – 40 minutes until the top is golden brown and the base is cooked through. Make sure to check after 20 minutes - you may need to cover the crumble with tin foil to prevent the top from catching (depending on your oven’s temperament). Once cooked, remove from the oven and slice into squares.  Eat immediately or later.

Strawberry Crumble Bars

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The Best Bircher Muesli

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The Best Bircher Muesli

'Oats: a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people’ Samuel Johnson, The Dictionary of the English Language, 1755

If I were the type of person that leafed (ironically) through Cosmo, and stumbled across one of those lazy, page-filling content, tree diagrams which happened to ask “what is your spirit animal?”, I know what mine would be. A horse.  Well, at least that’s what it would have been during the second year of my time at university in terms of comestibles…

Essay crises necessitate fuel in order to feed the adrenaline and, for me, that fuel came in the form of oats.

When you have a 9 am deadline approaching, and there is only one hour remaining, every minute is precious - so there is no time to spare for cooking oats over the hob until they break down into a creamy mulch.

The Best Bircher Muesli

That’s the excuse I gave myself.  Instead, I developed the rather grotesque habit of eating oats straight from the packet, raw and desiccated. In my maddened and pressured state, I savoured the clagginess of the oats, where you can’t quite conjure up enough saliva to swallow them.  Ideal.

I have since moved on from this stage (with the very occasional relapse) to a more acceptable way of dealing with my love of oats: Bircher muesli, invented by Bircher Benner, a pioneer of raw foodism, in the late 19th century as a way of curing his jaundice.  It worked.

I feel, somewhat justifiably, that it runs in my blood (thick & creamy): my great-great-uncle was a frequent patient at Benner’s rather avant garde  Swiss raw food clinic and, one sunny day, he stepped down from a plane on an impromptu visit from Scotland to South Africa with no clothes besides the ones on his back, a vegetable juicing contraption which he trailed behind him on a rickety little cart, and a proselytising passion for Bircher muesli.

The Best Bircher Muesli

I have tried many a Bircher muesli, from Swiss versions to Vietnamese attempts, but I feel I have concocted the ultimate version (excuse my arrogance).  Creamy, healthy, juicy, and exotic, it’s effectively manna, and I would happily have it for every meal of the day (jaundiced or not).

The Best Bircher Muesli  (Serves 5)

Ingredients

2 Braeburn apples, grated

Juice of 1/2 lemon

200ml orange juice

200g natural yogurt

200g almond and coconut milk (can be substituted with dairy or non-dairy alternatives)

3 tbsp maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla bean paste (if you can’t get hold of this, omit it, or substitute with ½ tsp vanilla extract)

50g desiccated coconut, lightly toasted in a pan on a low heat until pale gold)

200g porridge oats

Pinch of salt

200g of fresh fruit of your choice (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, figs, sliced banana work well)

40g coconut chips (optional but adds great texture)

Method

  1. In a large bowl mix together all the ingredients apart from the fresh fruit and optional coconut chips. If you are making this the night before, cover the bowl with cling film and place in the fridge overnight to let the oats soak up the flavours.  If you are serving the muesli immediately, stir the mixture for a couple of minutes to break down the oats until they are creamy.
  2. If you are leaving the muesli overnight, allow it to come to room temperature before serving. Scatter mixed berries and fruits and coconut chips over the top and serve.

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Spiced Blueberry Tart

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Spiced Blueberry Tart

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Is it just me, or is anyone else sick of logging on to Facebook, innocently hoping to drain away half an hour of one’s day (minimum) by looking at pictures of people one may or may not have half met once trying to prove how much fun they are having by posting pictures of themselves with friends/family, strained smiles stretched across their faces, and who are clearly not that immersed in the fun as they have had to spend half an hour trying to get one decent picture out of the hundred they’ve taken to emblazon it across their Facebook wall and maybe, just maybe, turn it into a cover photo?

And then – BAM - your gaze is diverted,

and you are staring down into the depths of a garishly coloured plastic bowl filled with some unidentifiable artificial gunk, pink fleshy hands massaging some other substance into it to form some putty-like emulsion which is then mushed and squeezed and squidged into a plastic mould, whizzed up, and extruded through a bag and…… oh look, it’s that Gooey Oreo, Jellied Eel and Green Marshmallow Mini Coffee Cup that “you’ve always wanted to make for your slumber party with the gals”.

Here’s an antidote.  It is simple yet sophisticated, humble yet sumptuous, tangy but not cloyingly sweet, and light yet not so light when you’ve had 4+ pieces….

Ingredients

Pastry

200g white spelt flour (can be substituted with plain flour)

100g butter, roughly cubed

2 tbsp icing sugar

¼ tsp salt

1 small egg, beaten

12 x 36cm tart tin, greased and dusted with flour

Blueberry filling

800g frozen blueberries

250g caster sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

2 tbsp cornflour

Zest of ½ medium sized orange

Method

  1. Place flour, butter, icing sugar and salt in a food processor, and blitz until it resembles damp sand. Pour in the beaten egg, and pulse until the mixture combines to form a soft dough.  Remove from the processor, wrap in baking parchment and place in the fridge for half an hour (or freezer for 10-15 minutes) – this will prevent the dough from shrinking when it bakes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Lightly dust a surface with flour and roll out the dough in a rough rectangle to 0.5cm thickness. Roll the pastry around a rolling pin and transfer to the tin, pressing it into the fluting (if, indeed, your tin is fluted). Run a knife along the top edge of the tin to remove excess pastry. Prick the base of the pastry a few times with a fork, and place back in the fridge for 30 minutes (or freezer for 10 minutes).
  3. Prepare the pastry for blind baking by lining the inside with a sheet of tin foil and filling it with baking beads to weigh it down while it bakes and to prevent it from shrinking. Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is dry and beginning to turn golden.  If it is cooking too slowly, you can remove the beads and tin foil after 15 minutes and continue to bake.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
  4. To make the spiced blueberry filling, place a large pan over a high heat and pour in all the ingredients. Stir continuously until the sugar is dissolved in the juice that runs off the blueberries. When the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium-high and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent it from catching, until the liquid is almost completely reduced and with the viscosity somewhere between a syrup and a jam. Allow to cool to room temperature, then pour into the pre-baked pastry case.
Spiced Blueberry Tart

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Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad

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Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad

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Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad  

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood SaladSuperfood

Line breaks: super|food

Pronunciation: /ˈsuːpəfuːd/

Culina definition: ‘superfoods’ – a marketing ploy term assigned to natural ingredients which have been neglected on shop shelves for a while and could do with a PR boost.  They have nutritional benefits similar to many other natural ingredients and have the potential to reduce the risk of disease if you consume at least your body weight in said superfood in under an hour.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad Cauliflower, pomegranate seeds, quinoa and walnuts have all ridden the calculated PR wave to health fame in the last few years, and indeed that is possibly why they have drifted on to my kitchen shelves.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad Ignoring their “superfood” status, they are particularly delicious when combined.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood SaladThis salad sits at the other end of the spectrum from the straggly, limp green leaf type.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood SaladIt is crunchy, sweet, umami, nutty, juicy, and looks resplendent studded with glistening pomegranate jewels.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood SaladCauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood SaladIt’s also ridiculously quick to whizz up and can be prepared up to a day in advance (sans dressing, and refrigerated).

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad

Recipe

Ingredients

100g quinoa

220g cauliflower

180g pomegranate seeds (1 pomegranate approx.)

200g feta, crumbled

100g walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

50g fresh coriander, finely chopped

 

Dressing

10g garlic, crushed

1 tsp salt

4 tbsp tahini

8 tbsp natural yogurt

6 tbsp lemon juice

 

Method

  1. In a medium sized pan boil 1 litre of water over a high heat. Pour in the quinoa and allow it to simmer for 10-15 minutes until the grains are translucent but still slightly al dente.  Drain the quinoa in a sieve and set it aside to cool.
  2. Chop the cauliflower roughly, and blitz in a blender, pulsing until it resembles coarse couscous. If you don’t have a blender, you can grate the cauliflower by hand to achieve a similar effect.
  3. In a large serving bowl, mix together the quinoa, cauliflower, pomegranate seeds, feta, walnuts and coriander.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients to combine. Pour as much as desired of the dressing over the salad just before serving and mix it through.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad

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Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

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Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

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Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza Pizza is in his DNA.  Five generations of golden, thin, crispiness. One recipe.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The pizza oven is raging, rapidly devouring its feed of dry wood and spitting out sweet nutty smoke.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

 

 

He comes every summer in his Ape brimming with plump mushrooms of dough.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

A light sprinkle of flour on a wooden board, and he gets to work.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

With wrist flicks and little rotations the round becomes a disc, airborne momentarily to ensure evenness.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

A careful spiral of passata with the back of a spoon,

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

a shower of mozzarella,

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

and a scattering of whatever’s in the garden: fiori di zucchini, melanzane, pepperoncini…

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The flurry of flour continues into the night.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The dinner table is a moderation-free zone.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

He only stops when even the strictest of eaters has lost count of the number of pizzas (not slices) he/she has consumed, and physical incapacity is the only limitation.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

He doesn’t even really stop there: a couple more are sent to the table per domani.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

A pizza “hangover” ensues along with the inevitable promises of “never again” “not for another year”.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

But as soon as I hit London soil again I want to relieve that pizza-lover’s fantasy and so I make these.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

They’re crisp, thin, verdant, and fresh.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

I don’t believe in barren crusts or meanness so the ingredients are abundant and go right up to and beyond the edge of the base.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

I use spelt instead of plain flour (as usual) to reduce the GI level and add a nuttier more complex flavour to the dough.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The added bonus of this recipe is that it is ridiculously quick.  Kneading is kept to a minimum (5 minutes) and the rising time is the shortest you’ll ever find for pizza dough – ½ hour.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The balsamic-maple reduction is optional but I include it to add extra caramelised sweetness, extra tang and a touch of drama.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

 

Ingredients – makes 4 pizzas

Base

250ml warm water

3 tsp dried yeast (fast active yeast)

500g white spelt flour

1 ½ tsp salt

1 tbsp olive oil

 

Topping

750g asparagus

30g garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tbsp olive oil

1 1/4 tsp salt

Grated zest of ½ lemon

A few grinds of Pepper

400g mozzarella (4 balls), chopped finely into cubes

100g parmesan, grated

3 spring onions, thinly sliced

Small bunch of chives, finely chopped

2 red chillies (optional), finely sliced

 

2 large baking trays or 4 medium baking trays, greased and dusted with flour

 

Maple Balsamic Reduction (optional)

120ml balsamic vinegar

2 tsp maple syrup

 

Method

  1. Heat oven to 120˚C for 5 minutes then switch it off.
  2. In the bowl of a mixer (or large bowl if making by hand) pour in warm water and sprinkle yeast over it. Allow to stand for 5 minutes for the yeast to activate.
  3. Stir in flour, salt and oil. Knead by hand for 5 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or in a machine fitted with a dough hook for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and when you press your thumb into it, it bounces back up.
  4. Divide dough into two and place each half in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and place in warmed oven.  Allow to rise for 30 minutes or until doubled, then remove from oven and preheat it to its highest temperature, usually 250˚C.
  5. While the dough is rising, use a vegetable peeler to shave the asparagus: place the asparagus flat on a surface, and holding it at the woody end, shave it from above the woody end to the top of the spear. I sometimes use the ends to make a stock for asparagus risotto.
  6. Place the ribbons in a bowl and mix with garlic, oil, salt, lemon zest and pepper.
  7. Once risen, divide each half into two and roll out each quarter into a 0.5cm thick disc. Place on tray and scatter each disc with mozzarella, parmesan, and shaved asparagus.  Bake in oven for 15-20 minutes until golden and bubbling.
  8. Once baked, scatter with spring onions, chives, and chillies, if using. Drizzle with balsamic reduction, if desired, and serve immediately.

 

Maple Balsamic reduction

  1. Boil balsamic and maple syrup together over a high heat for about 5 minutes until it thickens slightly to consistency more like that of pure maple syrup. Allow to cool for 1 minute, and drizzle over pizzas.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

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Coconut & Strawberry Jam Thumbprint Cookies

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Coconut & Strawberry Jam Thumbprint Cookies

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Coconut & Strawberry Jam Thumbprint Cookies Standing on a dining room chair to reach the kitchen counter top, swamped by my grandmother’s floral apron, and covered head to toe in drifts of white flour, at three years’ old I felt important and grown up. But first my grandparents and I would visit art galleries, going for afternoon tea (lemon cake for me, always), sitting on the top deck of the bus, drawing, painting, drinking more tea, and then, finally, at the end of the day, my grandmother would let me help her bake her oat and ginger cherry-bejewelled cookies – what I knew and still know as “Granny Biscuits”.  They are still in ready supply whenever I visit my grandmother’s house, and are as chewy, oaty and delicately sweet as they’ve ever been.

Coconut & Strawberry Jam Thumbprint Cookies

 

 

My grandfather possessed a dangerously sweet tooth, and, as I’ve previously mentioned, was inclined to satisfy this without regard for moderation.  He would sneak into the larder and consume an entire box of glace cherries.

Coconut & Strawberry Jam Thumbprint Cookies

This trait has wound its way down into my family. I name no names, but once the plastic seal has been broken, glace cherries mysteriously disappear at a rapid rate.  Although I admit I have, at several low points in my life, spooned jam without any justifying bread straight into my mouth, the general jam supply in my household is a more reliable presence.

Coconut & Strawberry Jam Thumbprint CookiesSo when recently I came to press the cherries into the Granny Biscuits (an essential step), and found there to be none, jam was a delicious substitute.

Coconut & Strawberry Jam Thumbprint Cookies

This recipe is further adapted with coconut replacing oats to provide a more even coating and a beautiful golden crunch once baked.

You can use whatever jam or marmalade you desire – strawberry and apricot are two of my favourites.

Coconut & Strawberry Jam Thumbprint Cookies

Ingredients (Makes 25-35 approx.)

350g unsalted butter, at room temperature

200g caster sugar

2tsp vanilla extract

Zest of ½ lemon

½  tsp salt

350g white spelt flour

1 egg, beaten with 2 tsp water

200g desiccated coconut

100g strawberry jam

100g apricot jam

 

2 baking trays lined with baking parchment

 

Method

1.)    Preheat oven to 180˚C.

2.)    In a food mixer fitted with the paddle, or in a large bowl with a wooden spoon, beat butter, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and salt together until fluffy and pale.

3.)    Sift in flour and mix together until fully combined and a soft dough is formed.  Flatten the dough into a roughly 2 cm thick disk, wrap in baking parchment, and chill in the freezer for 15 minutes or the fridge for ½ hour.

4.)    Roll the dough into 30g spheres (roughly 3 cm in diameter), dip each one in the beaten egg and then roll in the coconut.  Space the spheres at least 5 cm apart on the baking sheet.

5.)    Press your thumb in the middle of the spheres to create a teaspoon- sized indent.  Fill the indent with a teaspoonful  of the jam of your choice.

6.)    Place in the oven to bake for 15-20 minutes or until cooked through and the coconut turns golden.  Allow to cool and serve.

Coconut & Strawberry Jam Thumbprint Cookies

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Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

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Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

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Last week I panic baked.  My usually dependable supply of Dr Karg’s seeded spelt and emmental and pumpkin seed crisp breads had run dry. Only a few sad seeds in the corner of the packet remained, which I ate mournfully, before desperation led me to pulling open drawers in search of the emergency packet I had hidden from myself.

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Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

My hunt was rewarded with absolutely no trophies.  I must have found them some time before.

Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

Necessity mothered invention: I combined some of my favourite ingredients to make my own version of the crisp breads, and they turned out rather well, perhaps even better than the originals. My family had clearly also been struck by panic, as two batches were devoured in ten minutes…

Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

These crisp breads are ridiculously quick to make, healthy (when you don’t eat the whole batch in one sitting – an almost impossible feat), and delicious.  They’re also versatile – the seeds can be eliminated and/or exchanged for other varieties as desired, and they can be served with hummus, red pepper pesto (see my recipe), guacamole etc.  They can also be made dairy-free by eliminating the cheese.

Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

Ingredients

115g white spelt flour

100g wholemeal spelt flour

¾ tsp salt

30g sesame seeds

15g poppy seeds

30g pumpkin seeds

50g cheddar, grated

50g parmesan grated, + 5g for sprinkling

1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

125ml water

1 tbsp olive oil

1 baking tray, overturned, greased with oil and dusted with flour

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 220˚C. In a large bowl mix dry ingredients together. Pour in water and oil and stir until mixture clumps together into quite a dry dough.  You may need to knead it slightly with your hands.
  2. Place dough on overturned baking tray and roll it out until it reaches the edges of the tray. It should be about 3mm thick.
  3. Sprinkle with the extra parmesan, prick the dough liberally with a fork, and score it into your preferred geometric shapes. I like 4cm x 10cm rectangles.
  4. Place in oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden, and firm to touch. Leave to cool – they will become crisper as they cool.
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

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Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe

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Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe

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Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe Biscotti, or cantucci, as they are known in Tuscany are crunchy and chewy slivers of twice baked and ridiculously moreish, Italian biscuits traditionally containing almonds, and often an abundance of dried fruit.  They are obligatorily dipped into an immodestly full glass of Vin Santo (Italian sweet wine) and held there until the majority of the wine has been absorbed by the biscuit and there’s every chance it will land in one’s lap before it reaches one’s ready and waiting mouth.

Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe

 

Unfortunately, biscotti are endangered in Britain.  Their reputation is marred by the imitation biscotti that have taken up residence in the majority of common coffee chains.

Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe

These poor copies of the true Italian post-prandial biscuit are so dry that they react like silica gel to one’s mouth, so stale that you may need to sacrifice a tooth to consume them.

Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe

For this pleasure the coffee chains also charge a trillion percent mark-up on what are the easiest and most inexpensive biscuits to make.  Also, they’re often sold individually – who stops at just one?

Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe

This recipe is very versatile.  I love strong flavours, and so I paired ginger with orange to give the biscuits a tang, and added the toasted hazelnuts for slight smokiness.  However, these ingredients can be substituted with any dried fruit and nut of your choice, or indeed left plain.  Use 200g of the dried fruit, 250g of the nut of your choice and, in place of the orange & ginger syrups, sub in an extra 2 tbsp honey.

Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe

Ingredients

For the biscuit

500g plain flour

350g sugar

3 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

3 eggs + 1 egg white + 1 egg yolk for later

2 tsp vanilla essence

3 tsp curaçao (triple sec)

250g roasted hazelnuts crushed into halves or slightly smaller pieces

2 tbsp honey

Zest of 1 orange

2 trays lined with baking parchment

For the candied oranges                                                

2 oranges

1 cup water

3/4   cup sugar

For the candied ginger – or 140g store bought

200g ginger peeled and slices into 1/8 inch disks

4 cups of water

170g sugar

 

Candied ginger method

  1. Place sliced and peeled ginger in shallow pan with water and bring to boil.  Allow to simmer with the lid on for 25 minutes
  2. Drain the ginger saving 1 cup of liquid and pour in sugar. Bring to medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to simmer for about 15 minutes until the liquid becomes syrupy and the ginger is translucent.
  3. Place sieve over a bowl and pour the mixture over to drain off the syrup. Reserve both elements for later use.

Candied orange peel method

  1. Slice the peel off the oranges with a knife in thick strips, cutting close to the flesh. Cut the peel into thin 0.5 cm strips and those to roughly 2cm lengths.
  2. Place chopped orange peel, sugar and water in pan and bring to boil. Reduce to medium heat and allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the liquid is mostly evaporated and syrupy and the oranges are translucent and lacking the sourness of their fresh state.

Biscuit method

  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Mix all the dry ingredients together with the toasted hazelnuts in a large bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl separate one egg and place the yolk aside for later use.  Mix together the 3 whole eggs, the egg white of one egg and the other liquid ingredients with the candied orange peel (along with it syrup) and the drained pieces of ginger along with 2 tbsp of the ginger syrup.
  3. Pour liquid mixture into the dry and stir until combined in a stiff dough.
  4. Sprinkle a wooden board with flour and spoon 1/6 of the mixture onto it. Coat your hands in flour and roll the dough out into a 5 cm wide log. Place on tray. Repeat with rest of mixture, leaving a large at least 10cm distance between each piece since it will spread whilst cooking.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes or until deep golden brown. With knife at the ready, take them out and slice diagonally into 3 cm widths and turn them so they’re cut side up.  Turn off the oven and place these back in to dry out for another  10 minutes. Or just leave them in until ready to serve.

Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe

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Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

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Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

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Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe I often spend summers in Italy.  In the evenings, when the vine- ripening summer sun begins to soften and the incessant squeak and rattle of the plough eventually dies, I usually clamber up the nearby hill, meandering across the crest.   On one of my walks, I headed towards the nearby palazzo, along the path bordered by Cyprus spears.

 

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

Lizards basking in the heat still held by the pale ochre walls scuttled away at my footsteps, and a green shutter creaked in the mild breeze.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

The knobbed tree in front stood with its arms filled with waxy green dewdrop-like figs, nodding gently like a recently metamorphosed Ovidian nymph.   I reached to tug at a branch, and a cluster melted softly off it.  The pink juices dripping down my fingers, I gathered two handfuls and made my companion fill his pockets with the good intention of bringing some back for others to try.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

As so often happens, the thoughtful food gift didn’t reach its destination (I ate it), but I went back the next day, and the next.  I was converted from someone with a slight aversion to figs to an obsessive.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

This salad combines the earthy lusciousness of figs with caramel to add depth and sticky sweetness to the dish.  This contrasts with the fresh tanginess of oranges – blood oranges are currently in season so are fantastic to use – and the saltiness of the feta and peppery rocket leaves.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

The dressing is fresh, sweet, salty and savoury, tying all the elements together.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

 

Ingredients  Serves 2 (or 4, as a side)

8 figs, halved

50g caster sugar

juice of 1 orange

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp lemon juice

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses (substitute with balsamic vinegar, if necessary)

¼ tsp salt

2 oranges, peeled and sliced into 1/2 cm discs

100g rocket

100g feta, sliced into ½ cm cubes

 

Method

  1. Place a shallow frying pan over a medium/high heat, pour in sugar and allow to melt, stirring occasionally to prevent it from burning.
  2. Place halved figs face down in the molten sugar and cook in the caramel for 2 minutes. Turn them over to cook for a further 1 minute.  Remove from pan and place on serving plate.
  3. For the dressing, pour the orange juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pomegranate molasses into the caramelised sugar pan and stir until the caramelised sugar has dissolved into the liquid. Remove from stove and stir in lemon juice.
  4. Scatter rocket, orange slices and feta on the serving plate with the figs and drizzle with the dressing.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

Inspired by Ottolenghi

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

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Smoky Tomato & Garlic Spelt Risotto with Crumbled Feta - Recipe

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Smoky Tomato & Garlic Spelt Risotto with Crumbled Feta - Recipe

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Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts In MasterChef Australia (I’m not a fan of the British version) risotto is known as the “death dish”.  The judges groan whenever a contestant confesses that he/she will be serving it.  And quite rightly so, as the results are invariably sludgy, glutinous, crunchy, solid, watery, bland, or resembling something a woman in Ancient Rome might have used as a face pack.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts

 

It is often also the go-to dish for restaurants under pressure to include a vegetarian dish in their repertoire, and this is often disappointing, too, for two reasons:

1.) All too often it becomes a stodgy double cream and rice porridge. In a traditional risotto recipe there is no cream – the creaminess is achieved through breaking down the starch by stirring the grains with a good quality stock.  And no, this isn’t difficult at all.  Don’t believe the hype surrounding the pitfalls; it is really a very simple dish to perfect.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts

2.) In some unwritten chef rulebook there exists the heinous concept that risotto can only be married to butternut squash or mushrooms. It’s not that I dislike either of these, but that I’m just crying out for some more original combination.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts

Risotto doesn’t have to be made with rice either.  I use spelt (or farro) instead for numerous reasons: it has a lower GI, has a nuttier flavour, and has a more interesting texture.  It’s also a hundred times easier to cook well. Obviously, it isn’t strictly ‘risotto’, but the idea is similar.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp butter (15g)

2 medium onions, finely chopped

25g (about 8 cloves) garlic, crushed

2 tbsp sundried tomato paste

2 tsp sugar

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp thyme (fresh or dried)

½ tsp chilli flakes

Grated zest of ½ lemon

¾ tsp smoked paprika

500g passata

250g pearled spelt (or farro)

750ml boiling water

3 tsp vegetable stock

80g toasted pine nuts

1 tsp lemon juice

100g feta

Handful of coriander, to serve

(Serves 4)

 

Method

  1. In a large pot, melt together the butter and oil. Add in the finely chopped onions and garlic, and cook over medium/high heat until the onions are soft and translucent.
  2. Stir in the sundried tomato paste, sugar, balsamic vinegar, thyme, chilli flakes, lemon zest, smoked paprika and a pinch of salt. Cook ingredients together for a couple of minutes.
  3. In a bowl, dissolve the stock in the boiling water, then pour roughly 250ml of this, together with the passata and spelt into the pot, and stir together on a medium heat.
  4. Stir every now then to prevent the spelt from sticking, and add the rest of the water, a ladleful at a time, at roughly 10 minute intervals.
  5. After 40-50 minutes, remove from the heat, stir in toasted pine nuts and lemon juice and season according to taste. The spelt grains should be soft all the way through with no chalkiness, and with some texture remaining.  Most of the water should have been absorbed or evaporated so the consistency is thicker than that of a soup, without being solid, and not thin enough to pour.
  6. To serve, crumble the feta over the top and scatter with coriander.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts

 

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