Tag Archives: picnics

Chocolate Chip Cookies once again…

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Last week I got a very kind message from a friend about a large batch of cookies he made for 40 people. I never made such a big quantity all at once because thank goodness I never had to feed such a large group. (I admire anyone who is able to cook in this way without hitting the panic button.) I cannot believe that I wrote about this recipe almost two years ago today, on the 27th May to be exact! Nigella’s book Kitchen was only a few months old then. Must be a weird coincidence. Since then I made these chocolate chip beauties countless times and they are loved.

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Recently I went ahead and bought a small ice-cream scoop which turns out to be very convenient for all kinds of cookies and muffins. Sometimes the right tools make the job easier, and an extra ice-cream scoop hasn’t done anyone any harm yet! (It was also a good excuse to run to the catering shop which is only a ten minute walk away from here. Happy days!) This quantity yielded me 24 smallish cookies.

  • 150g unsalted butter, softened
  • 125g soft light brown sugar
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, cold from the fridge
  • 300g plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 300g dark chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 175 degrees C (fan) and line a couple of baking trays with baking greaseproof paper.

Melt the butter. The easier method is in the microwave using short blasts. Set aside to cool a little.

Put both sugars in a large bowl. Pour in the melted butter and whisk vigorously.

Then beat in the vanilla extract and the eggs until the mixture is light and creamy. Slowly mix in the plain flour and the baking powder and gently mix again.

Fold in the chocolate chips.

Using a small ice-cream scoop, drop the cookie mixture down onto your lined baking trays. Make sure to keep them around 6 cm apart because they will expand while baking. Keep the cookie dough bown in the fridge to keep it cool in between the batches.

Bake for approximately 17 minutes, while keeping an eye on them. Take them out of the oven as soon as their edges turn a little golden. Leave them to cool for a while on the trays before turning them out on a wire rack. Remember you want a soft cookie on the inside so don’t overbake them.

At the risk of sounding boring, I do love making these. And there’s always some in my bag when I have a day full of errands! Enjoy! R xx

(Adapted from Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home by Nigella Lawson, Chatto & Windus, 2010.)

Warm Rice Salad with Halloumi

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I have a recurring dream. A warm Spring evening, a quiet beach, clear blue sea, a deckchair, plenty of fresh ice cold water and a cocktail. Nothing big really. Just a little peace and quiet. J says “in your dreams” and he’s right: the image will stay there though – at least for the time being. Of course the scene would not be complete without something good to eat.

Recreating the dream is difficult, especially when you’re living in a one bedroom flat miles away from the water, but cooking an easy lunch takes no more than thirty minutes. I tend to eat this sort of meal when I am alone, but lately I have been making this quite frequently. There are loads of good things to say about a salad: one, you can include/exclude any ingredient you like; two, you don’t really need to go to the shops for one specific item, and three, you can easily increase the quantities according to the number of people you want to feed. At this point you will probably protest: does one really have halloumi as a stand-by? Not usually no, but I must admit I do buy it often. As well as its salty taste, it doesn’t melt in a hot pan. Don’t think about adding it to a pizza instead of mozzarella then, but it found a place here, and it is certainly well-deserved.

Serves 2-4

  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 2 cups cold water
  • around 1 teaspoon turmeric (optional, but I love the colour)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 spring onions, roughly chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon garam masala (optional)
  • 6 chestnut mushrooms, roughly sliced
  • 100g fresh spinach, washed and left whole
  • pinch of salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2-3 large vine tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 150g Cypriot halloumi, cubed
  • juice of half a small lemon

Wash the rice underneath cold running water until the water is clear. (Another option would be to put the rice in a pan and add around a tablespoon of vegetable oil and let the rice heat up while stirring it. Then you can add the water as usual.) Place the rice in a pan, cover it with the cold water, add the turmeric, put it on the hob on medium heat. When it starts to bubble away, decrease the heat to minimum (if using a gas cooker) and let it absorb all the water till it is tender. If using an electric cooker like me, switch off the ring on which you are cooking the rice, and let the rice cook by absorption.

Heat a large shallow pan, pour in the olive oil, and tip in the garlic, spring onions and garam masala. You can substitute this with mixed spice if you wish. After a couple of minutes add the chesnut mushrooms and spinach, salt and pepper, and cover the pan to let the spinach wilt. I don’t like to cook the mushrooms too much, but this is totally up to you. When the spinach has drastically decreased in volume, add the tomatoes and the halloumi. Stir everything together and switch the heat off.

When the rice is completely cooked, fluff it with a fork. Add it to the salad mixture, give everything a good mix, add the lemon juice, taste and add more seasoning if necessary. Serve either immediately, or take it with you to the beach, or to the garden with a book and a glass of white…It’s your choice.

If you want to bulk up the recipe, you could add cooked chickpeas to the lot.

Enjoy!

Rob x

Pasties

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I love to read old recipe books. In fact, the older they are the more I enjoy them. I don’t know what makes them so appealing, but it’s just how it is. My mum didn’t have lots of recipe books, and she didn’t inherit any from her mum either. She does have one though, in her head, but you have to be a Vulcan and go through a mind-meld to get hold of that! (My mum is always amused when I ask for advice on a recipe; before I got married I didn’t have any idea how to cook or bake. Could she have thought that I would never learn?! mm…) She’s this type of cook: when you ask her for a recipe she says: “oh so, do you have a pen & paper?…yes?…OK…you need…a bit of mixed spice, a bit of curry, some onions…” and on and on. Sounds familiar? And I fume! But hey, since I love her very much, I just say “awww thanks ma – you’re so sweet”, and I then try to get as close as possible to the recipe later on in the kitchen. The same goes for J’s lovely granny. “That’s delicious Na. What did you use?” “A little bit of this & a little bit of that”…etcetera, etcetera, etcetera! I also think though, that there’s something really endearing about that. But I digress…

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My first memory of the following recipe is my mother’s kitchen. I was very little and she baked her socks off every time she threw me some sort of party. She catered for every one, and to this day I don’t know how she did it. What I clearly remember are the kitchen and dining tables full of pigs in blankets (or sausage rolls to you and me) and all sorts of little savoury pies, all filed up on baking trays, ready for the oven, like rows and rows of toy soldiers ready for battle!

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Now what I prefer to bake are the bigger versions, because I’m older I guess! Unfortunately I don’t like the fiddly and never-ending process of assembling small portions of the same thing. Though I have to admit that managing smaller quantities of shortcrust is easier than rolling out a whole pie lid. So this is what I do: I call in the troupes…well my husband…to give us a hand. J tells me that these are good for the weekend; he finds it therapeutic. I really can’t get this, one: because of all the sticky cleaning up afterwards, and two: because flour has a tendency to get under a kitchen’s skin, like icing sugar. (No, I don’t have a dishwasher in case you’re asking.) But a messy kitchen is a happy kitchen so it’s OK!

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In case you have no note of my shortcrust pastry recipe, you can find it here. With 16 oz of pastry you will roughly get 8 decent sized pies. As a cutter I use my soup bowls which measure 17.5cm across. If you have a cookie cutter that big then by all means use it. There will be less risk of breakage. For the filling I used the following:

  • 600g minced beef or beef cut into small chunks
  • 6 small potatoes, cut into smallish dice
  • 3 onions, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon mixed spice
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon curry powder
  • around 2 tablespoons or so of milk for brushing the tops (or a beaten egg)
  1. Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/Gas mark 7.
  2. Place the minced beef, potatoes and onions in a bowl. If you have a mortar and pestle use that to grind the salt, peppercorns, fenugreek and thyme. Use ground salt and pepper if you prefer. Add these to the beef mixture, together with the ground spices. If you’re not squeemish mix everything by hand. If you are, you could ask someone else to help you!
  3. Cut 8 rounds of pastry with your cutter. Loosen them from the surface with a spatula and divide the mixture on one side of each pie as equally as you can between them. Place a thin layer of milk or water on the other side of the pastry, fold and press the edges together, sealing everything well. You can fold the edges on themselves too. Brush the pies with milk or a beaten egg.
  4. Bake at 220ºC (see equivalent above) for the first 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 175ºC/350ºF/Gas mark 4 and bake for another 40 minutes or so, till the pies turn golden brown.

These pies are ideal for picnics or to eat on the go. You can also prepare them before you need them and store them uncooked in the fridge. Tell me what you think if you do try them. Apologies for not posting a picture of the cooked pies. I have some on my Facebook page just in case you want to take a quick look. Thanks. Enjoy!

Rob x