Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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Cookies are not very difficult to make. It’s easy to bake a good quality batch at home, but I guess they can turn out bad if not made with care. As with almost all sweet things that need chocolate, it’s important to have a cool environment. I make these cookies regularly throughout the year but in the summer I just freeze the chocolate chunks or chips beforehand just to make sure that they won’t melt while I handle them. That did happen once and although they were good, the chocolate just melted in the mixture. Another thing which helps is to use chunks instead of chips. I can’t find decent sized chocolate chips here so I make my own. I place one or two 100g bars of the stuff into a plastic bag and bash it with a rolling pin until I get small chocolate cubes. I must admit they still end up being large-ish but the larger the chunk, the larger the cookie, so who’s in?

I tried and liked many chocolate chip cookie recipes, so what I will give you is the most recent one I came across and made. This is taken from Nigella’s Kitchen with minor changes. They are a treat. I managed to make a batch of 18 large cookies out of this. You’ll need:

  • 150g soft unsalted butter
  • 125g soft brown sugar
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, cold from the fridge
  • 300g plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 300g chocolate chunks
  1. Preheat your oven to 170ºC/Gas Mark 3 and line a couple of baking trays with baking paper or silicone sheets.
  2. Melt the butter either on the stove or in the microwave in short blasts. Be careful not to burn it. Put both sugars in a bowl with the cooled melted butter and whisk.
  3. Beat in the vanilla extract and the eggs till the mixture is creamy. Slowly mix in the flour and the baking powder and gently mix everything again. Now is the time to fold in the chocolate chunks.
  4. Using a small ice-cream scoop or a US ¼ cup measure (or your hands if you like and if they’re not too warm), drop the cookie mixture down onto your lined baking trays. Make sure you place them around 6-8cm apart because they will expand in the oven. Try to keep the cookie dough bowl in the fridge to keep it cool in between batches.
  5. Bake for around 17-18 minutes. Keep an eye on them and take them out as soon as their edges turn a little golden. Leave to cool for a while before turning them on a wire rack. Do not over-bake.

Note: Uncooked cookie dough will keep for 3 months in the freezer in an airtight container or sandwich bags. What I do is this: set aside a small batch of formed cookies on a tray and insert these in the freezer. When set, take them out and transfer them into a large sandwich bag. When needed put them back on a lined baking tray and bake into a preheated oven for around 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

Rob x

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Random thoughts, books…and a recipe.

So, yesterday I made a huge mistake. J and I went to the University of Surrey for an event with Professors Jim al-Khalili and Brian Cox. No, that is *not* it…the mistake I mean. The interview was fantastic and we really enjoyed watching these two great minds discussing physics, music, broadcasting and the likes. What has all this to do with food? I didn’t have anything to eat before heading out and I was hungry. While waiting in line, J was tweeting away and I was deciding whether to leave the long queue to get myself a sandwich or starve for a couple of hours. A small sacrifice for the opportunity to watch your two heroes on stage, no? Yes. Then it was question time. After an hour of cheerful banter between the gentlemen, someone handed over to them a pile of questions for Prof. Cox to answer. The cards were in a sort of fruit bowl. Was it or was it not? I still have my doubts but that did it for me. So even though it was surreal to see the Professors on stage, I was not totally there. Pathetic of me, I know. Then someone asked Prof. Cox whether he liked Marmite. That’s what I would like (I thought): a big bowl of Spaghetti with Marmite (see Nigella’s Kitchen page 49). Here it is with some changes. The lesson is now learnt.

For 2-3 people you will need:

  • 250g dried spaghetti
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 1-2 tablespoons Marmite (depending on how strong you want the sauce to be)
  • freshly grated cheese, to taste
  1. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.
  2. Before you drain the pasta and when it is almost completely done, melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the Marmite and around 1 tablespoon of water from the pasta. Mix well.
  3. Reserve another ½ cup of boiling water, drain the pasta and pour the Marmite concoction over it. You could add some or all the water to combine this mixture if needed. Serve the pasta with some grated cheese.

Just a note: It goes without saying that this recipe is very salty. So don’t cook it too often if like me you tend to avoid salt.

(For whoever wants to watch the Brian Cox interview you can watch it now on the University of Surrey’s You Tube channel.)

I’m reading a number of books at the moment. It’s not always about cooking with me, but it so happens that right now I’m flipping through some recipe books and some biographies, one of which is A Taste of My Life. Raymond Blanc needs no introduction. He is a brilliant chef and a humble man with a great smile. He’s also a genius in the kitchen, which helps! In his BBC programme Kitchen Secrets I was completely amazed at the way he constructed an espresso cup filled with a coffee cream. Watch it here – it’s truly remarkable.

I’m about half way through Blanc’s book, so this is by no means a proper review. (And I won’t say anything bad. If a book is on this blog it’s only because I like it.) I love how he peppers the chapters with different recipes, some of which are derived from his childhood experiences with food. Some descriptions of are a bit too squeamish for me (eg. the pheasant incident on pg. 25) but I can live with them, and part of his mission is to raise awareness anyhow. So really, no harm done. J and I also liked the American guest and the lobster story. Now I would have loved to be there when that happened.

Another book which I recently got from the library is Cook by Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers. Now you’ve got to love Thomasina – she’s so cool! I cannot get hold of the book, unfortunately but I really wish they would reprint it once more. I would be the first to get it. I would have liked to see more food pictures (by now my readers know that I like to see the food before I try any recipes). However it’s a lovely book and it’s colourful – I can’t help but think of M&Ms every time I open it – and that’s a good thing!

Some recipes that I will definitely try include her Roast Chicken with Saffron Cannellini Beans (pg. 100), the Sicilian Oxtail Stew with Garlic, Chilli & Chocolate..yes, chocolate (pg. 91) and the Chocolate Ganache Tart (pg. 214), to mention only a few. There is a good selection of exotic flavours scattered here and there in her recipes but the food remains familiar. It’s a great book for all, especially those who love to feed big crowds without the extra stress. You can find Thomasina here.

Rob x

Lemon Cake – Part 2

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Now there’s no doubt that Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess is full of good stuff. Somehow I find that her recipes here are more refined than those in her other books. To be honest I cannot pin point exactly why; to me they just are. Just try the next recipe, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s one of my favourites: Damp Lemon and Almond Cake. It’s not a flourless cake; you still need some plain flour for this, but if you like almonds like me, you will be completely smitten by this beauty.

If you want to learn from my mistake, I’ll tell you that it is essential that you use baking paper for greasing your cake tin. I didn’t and you can see that mine got a little burnt at the edges. (You will need a 21-23 cm springform tin.) What I can assure you though is this: it was delicious, especially with real vanilla ice-cream! You could serve it alone of course, or with some sort of lemon ice-cream or sorbet, but for me that would be a tad too much. You still don’t know which cake I like best…Let’s start:

  • 225g unsalted butter, softened
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 50g plain flour, or rice flour for a GF version
  • 225g ground almonds
  • ½ teaspoon almond essence
  • juice and zest of 2 lemons

Preheat your oven to 180ºC/Gas Mark 4. Cream the butter and sugar together well. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a quarter of the flour after each egg.

When these have been well combined, gently add the ground almonds, almond essence, lemon zest and juice.

Pour into a very well greased and lined round cake tin and bake for around 1 hour. Mine was done after 55 minutes so every so often please take a look at your cake without opening the oven too much. After 30 minutes cover it with a piece of foil to stop the surface from burning.

After the cake is done remove from the oven and let it cool for around 10 minutes in its tin. Then turn it out slowly onto a rack.

Enjoy!

Rob x

Lemon Cake – Part 1

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A couple of months ago I completed my Nigella recipe book collection by purchasing How to be a Domestic Goddess. When flipping through the pages I found two cakes I wanted to try immediately – two lemon cakes found on pages 12 and 13. I made them both to see which one we liked the most. I will announce the winner a little later.

Here’s the recipe for her Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake. The only thing I left out is the salt. I try to avoid salt as much as possible. Many chefs tell you that salt brings out flavour. I totally get this but when I first tried adding salt to sweet lemon recipes the taste was too strong for me. I will give the recipe as is in Nigella’s book – salt and all. But that is totally optional. I like to call this cake Gill’s Favourite Lemon Cake, in honour of my friend Gill 🙂

For the cake you need:

  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • zest of a lemon
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • pinch of salt (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons milk

For the syrup:

  • around 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 100g icing sugar

Equipment: 23 x 13 x 7cm loaf tin (or similar), properly greased and lined

Preheat your oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. When you line your tin with baking paper make sure it comes up to around 1cm or a bit more to the sides (see photo). This will make unmoulding much easier.

In a large bowl whisk together the butter and sugar, then add the eggs and lemon zest and beat well. Fold in the flour and salt (you can leave the salt out), and add the milk. Pour the batter into the loaf tin and place it in the oven. In the meantime prepare the syrup (see method below). Bake for around 45 minutes, or until golden and check with a skewer or knife to make sure it’s done.

Prepare the syrup by placing the lemon juice and icing sugar in a small pot over the heat and stir gently until the sugar dissolves. Puncture tiny holes with a cake tester or skewer in the cake and pour the syrup over the cake while it is still in the tin. Make sure the middle part absorbes as much liquid as the sides.

When the cake is completely cold, lift it out from the tin. If the cake is still warm it might crumble.

This cake is so easy and so yummy that it will become a regular treat – you’ll see! Check out the next post for the second recipe.

Enjoy!

Rob x

Lemon Risotto

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For the past few days I’ve been thinking about how nice it would be to have someone else prepare a meal for me during those few days that I’m either too tired to cook or when I’m less inspired or lack ideas. Yes it happens to all of us…*sigh*. In fact today is one of those days. Thankfully I have dinner ready in the fridge so I don’t have to worry about that now. However even though occasionally I tend to keep ready-made pesto for a quick plate of pasta, there are easy solutions for those instances when only a little stirring is required.

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Easy can mean a lot of things; soups, pasta and rice dishes or even a roast would do. Two posts ago I gave you a recipe from James Tanner which is almost too easy to believe, and it beats the usual bread and cheese supper. As for desserts he has a recipe for a Chocolate and Almond Torte which I want to try very soon. This recipe for risotto is slightly adapted from Nigella Bites. You need:

  • 2 spring onions or one small white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stick of celery, finely chopped
  • 60g butter, unsalted
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 300g arborio rice
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tablespoons grated cheese, parmesan or kefalotiri
  • 60ml cream
  • pepper, to taste

In a wide saucepan, heat the oil, 30g of the butter, onions and celery. Cook this until softened, stirring almost continuously. Add all the rice, again stirring to coat with the onion mixture. Meanwhile prepare the vegetable stock. (I find that using stock powder, like Marigold gives you a more delicate flavour than using a cubes. In an ideal world you would use fresh stock which you can get at the supermarket.)

Pour some stock into the rice and keep stirring till this is absorbed. Repeat this till the rice is cooked. You may need all the stock and add some boiling water from the kettle.

Stir the lemon zest and dried rosemary in the risotto. In a separate small bowl beat the egg, lemon juice, grated cheese, pepper and cream. Remove the risotto from the heat and add this cheesy mixture to the rice and add the remaining butter. You could also add some salt to taste.

Serve on it’s own or with some grilled salmon, which I rub with olive oil, salt and pepper, and fresh lemon juice. The risotto serves 2 – 3.

Enjoy!

Rob x

 

Chocolate Birthday Cake

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I couldn’t quite choose what to write about today. However, just now a friend of mine tweeted about chocolate cake and birthdays. Don’t you just love Twitter? I do. It’s nice to be a child: you go to some friends’ birthday parties, and sometimes you get to invite them to yours. And the grown-ups do all the work for you. Smashing. I always say that children have the best social lives. The highlight of a birthday party is of course the cake, even though one might argue that it’s actually the presents! So let’s say that they are equally important. And let’s also say that every excuse is a good excuse for chocolate cake. I tried this recipe quite a while ago; I definitely didn’t wait for my birthday to bake it.

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In my view, Nigella’s book Feast is one of the books to go for if you want something special for a party. As with many of her books, it’s like an encyclopaedia, and there’s a whole section on chocolate and chocolate cakes. The cakes here can also be quite rich, but is that really a bad thing? Let’s face it, you won’t make it or eat it that often, and what’s a birthday celebration without a smooth chocolate-melt-in-the-mouth cake?

You need sour cream for this. I had a tub of the stuff just sitting in the fridge doing nothing. Classic: you buy one ingredient for a particular recipe, then you almost always end up with extra which ultimately goes bad. What a waste. So I flipped frantically through the books till I came across Nigella’s Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake. Don’t be fooled by the length of the method. It’s really easy to make. This is totally her recipe.

Some notes before you start: Firstly, this is a sandwich cake, so you need two sandwich tins (with or without a removable bases – mine aren’t). Secondly, I had a lot of leftover icing, a lot more than I really needed. Instead of scaling the amount down I chose to make some quick and easy cupcakes (which I will include very soon) and spooned whatever remained over them. In my experience you will have enough to top another cake if you like. Also Nigella suggests that all your ingredients should be at room temperature.

For the cake you will need:

  • 200g plain flour
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 175g soft unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 150ml sour cream

For the American-style icing (or frosting) you need:

  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 175g dark chocolate, broken into small cubes
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 125ml sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat your oven to 180ºC/Gas Mark 4. Line and grease well two sandwich tins.
  2. In a large bowl mix the the flour, sugar, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and beat in the butter till you have a soft and creamy mixture. In another bowl whisk the cocoa, sour cream, vanilla extract and eggs together (you can do this by hand), and beat this with the other mixture in the large bowl.
  3. Divide the cake batter into your two tins and bake for about 50 minutes. Every oven is different so start checking your cakes after around 30 minutes with a skewer or knife. When completely baked, remove the cakes from the oven and put them on a rack to cool for about 10 minutes in their tins. When they are cool enough for you to handle turn them out completely and onto the rack again. Any cracks will be covered by the icing later.
  4. Now for the icing. Melt the chocolate together with the butter in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. (This way is better than melting in the microwave because it is much easier to control and there’s a lesser chance of burning.) When completely melted remove it from over the water and leave to cool. In the meantime, sieve the icing sugar into another bowl.
  5. Add the golden syrup into your melted chocolate mixture which has now cooled. Then add the sour cream, vanilla and the sieved icing sugar. Whisk the lot. Depending on how you want the icing consistency to be, you can now add around a tablespoon of boiling water (for a thinner icing) or some more icing sugar (for a thicker cream). Your icing should be easily spreadable onto the cake so you don’t want it too runny.
  6. Place a piece of baking paper to cover the base of a plate or cake stand (for any access icing that will surely drip) and start assembling your cake: first one cake, then a layer of icing in the middle, then the other cake on top and finally cover with some more icing.

You can either leave the icing as is, or top with some decorations, especially if it’s for a birthday party. Be as creative as you want. I topped mine with colourful decorative sprinkles. I have to remind myself to buy some white sugar daisies next time.

Enjoy!

Rob x

Baked Camembert

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I’ve been MIA these past couple of weeks. J has been on leave and it’s nice to take a break from the computer screen sometimes. What I’m finding difficult is to get into non-holiday mode again, if you know what I mean. Now who wants to stay inside when the Sun’s shining? Not me! So keeping in mind the holidays, a birthday celebration and of course a certain Royal Wedding, here’s my little gift to you.

This is a sweet little recipe from James Tanner and his recently published book James Tanner Takes 5. It’s one of my favourite books, firstly because it’s got photos for every recipe. I’m just a home cook so you can forgive me for saying that. I also love it because the pages are not glossy, so you can see the pages clearly in artificial light. I hate it when I’m flipping through a recipe book late in the evening and have to adjust the angle of the page because I’m blinded by the reflection of light in my eyes! So for me this is a winner. So please chefs, less gloss, more umph!

This is hardly a recipe; it’s assembly takes seconds but it’s really tasty – if cheese is your thing. It makes great party food and it’s an ideal snack for sharing. To avoid double dipping (I hate that) give everyone a teaspoon and a small ramekin if serving at the table. All you need are four ingredients. How neat is that!

  • 250g camembert (in it’s wooden box)
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
  1. Preheat your oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Remove any wax packaging from around the cheese and also the wooden lid. Replace the wax paper with a square piece of kitchen foil big enough to loosely wrap the cheese in. Place the camembert inside the foil and again in the box.
  2. On the surface of the cheese score a few lines with a sharp knife and insert the slices of garlic. Sprinkle with thyme and pour over the maple syrup or honey. Scrunch the foil to cover the cheese (remember: not to tight). Place the lot into a baking dish and bake for around 15 minutes until the cheese is soft and spreadable on the inside.

Serve this with some baguettes. Easy!

Rob x

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