The Pink Whisk’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

On Saturday we went to one of the local garage showrooms to look at and test drive a couple of cars. On the way back, we had to go to the supermarket as, rather unusually, we had run out of bread (Mr Foodie’s bread is so good we eat it pretty quickly and he hadn’t had a chance to make any). While he was in there, Mr Foodie spotted that a certain brand of chocolate chip cookies were on offer and decided to buy some but found they had sold out! He returned to the car looking rather disappointed so that evening I took pity on him and made a batch.

I used the Pink Whisk’s chocolate chip cookies recipe which I’ve made a couple of times before but this time I decided to change the flavour chocolate chip and chopped hazelnuts in honour of the well known brand. The great thing about it is you can use whatever you have in the cupboard to flavour them as long as you put in 200g of it. Ruth gives a number of suggestions in her recipe.

I decided to make this in the food processor (we don’t own a mixer) as the mixture gets very stiff towards the end so is quite hard work on your arms but you can make it by hand as well. First you cream together butter and sugar. As there is quite a lot of sugar in this recipe, you get more of a thick paste rather than the nice light fluffy mix you get when making a cake. Next you add 1 egg and vanilla extract. My mixture curdled at this point (it always seems to no matter what I do) but I just carried on beating until both were mixed in. After that you add flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and baking powder then, once all that is mixed in, you stir in your oats. Finally you add whatever you want to flavour your cookies with. I put in 100g of chocolate chips and 100g of chopped hazelnuts (I just bought the already chopped nuts from the supermarket but you could chop your own). In the past I have made these cookies just with chocolate chips and also chocolate chip and raisin. The food processor was really struggling to mix this by now and, as I didn’t want my nuts and chocolate pulverised into oblivion, I stirred these last ingredients in by hand.

You then roll the mixture into balls about 1.5inch in diameter and put on well greased baking trays (or you can line them with non-stick baking paper but I didn’t bother to this time and they didn’t stick). They are quick to cook – it took just 8 minutes for mine to be golden brown at the edges. Then take them out of the oven but leave to cool on the trays for 10 minutes before removing and putting on a wire rack to finish cooling otherwise they will fall apart. We have 2 baking trays (and I needed 3) so there was a delay in putting the last batch in but it didn’t make any difference to the mixture. Ruth says her recipe makes 24, I got 27.

The cookies are lovely and chewy (and especially delicious when they are still warm as the chocolate chip are still molten). The nuts worked really well so I’ll definitely be making this combination again and probably trying out a few more of Ruth’s suggestions. They are quick and easy to make so handy if unexpected visitors turn up demanding to be fed!!!

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Cherry and Almond Traybake

Last Christmas Mr Foodie and the jBug gave me Mary Berry’s Baking Bible and a traybake tin (or ‘traybake train’ as the jBug likes to call it). On the face of it. it seems a rather boring and practical present but I was quite excited to get my first ever baking cookbook and a tin so I could make some of the recipes. I’ve baked quite a few of the traybakes as most of them are of “weigh everything into a bowl, beat for a few minutes, put in the tin and bake” school of baking. This is ideal with a rather impatient 2 year old around who is happier to eat what I produce rather than help to make it! Traybakes are also good as you get a reasonable quantity of cake for not a lot of effort. This may sound a little odd but most of what I bake gets sent to Mr Foodie’s work and with a traybake there is enough to share but also some left over for us to eat :-) . The cherry and almond caught my eye as it sounded light and summery. You can use fresh cherries for this recipe but I decided against this. As the cherry season is quite short, I prefer to just eat them raw instead!!

The recipe only has a few steps. First you grease and line your traybake train. Then you wash and quarter your cherries as apparently this stops them sinking to the bottom of the cake. At this point I didn’t read the recipe properly. It states to quarter them, put in a sieve and then rinse under running water. I put them into the sieve whole, rinsed, quartered and then rinsed again. I was quite glad I did this as I hate chopping up sticky glace cherries and this made them much easier to cut as they were hardly sticky at all. Then you put the cherries on kitchen paper and leave them to dry. I actually did this part first thing in the morning so by the time I came to make the traybake later in the day, they were fairly dry (the 28 degree heat outside probably helped too!)

Next you weigh butter, sugar, ground almonds, self raising flour, baking powder and eggs into a bowl along with the grated rind of 2 lemons and beat for a minute until thoroughly mixed. I don’t tend to time this part – I just beat until it looks well blended which works quite well. Then you fold in the cherries and pour the mixture into your tin. Finally you sprinkle on 25g of flaked almonds. This seemed a rather paltry amount so I just randomly sprinkled almonds on until the surface was generously covered. I reckon I used about 75g as it was a 150g packet when I started and only half was left when I had finished. The traybake is then baked for 40 minutes or until the cake has shrunk from the sides of the tin and springs back when you press it with your finger. Exactly 40 minutes later the traybake was ready. After leaving it to cool in the tin, the jBug and I were ready to sample it. The cherries were fairly evenly distributed through the cake (hooray) and the sponge was light and lemony. Personally I felt it needed more cherries as there only seemed to be one or two per slice. I’ll definitely be making it again but perhaps adding some more cherries next time.

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Lollarossa Lettuce and Red Onion Salad with Cornbread and Scrambled Eggs

We’d had a rather large meal at the George and Dragon in the afternoon, and after such a large lunch, dinner is always something of a conundrum. I didn’t want to eat too much, because the calories from lunchtime are still gushing round my system, but equally I have to eat something as twelve hours without eating anything is going to make me feel like death when I wake up… Oh and there were some leftovers that needed finishing, disparate things lying about, like the cornbread we’d made earlier in the week, half a red onion and a few kidney beans.

As the Foodie household is in the middle of a drive to eat more veg, we decided we’d draw some inspiration from Mindy Fox (although not a recipe) and throw something together. Planning went along the lines of, does she use lettuce? Check. Does she use egg? Check. Does she use sweetcorn? Check. does she use kidney beans? No.. but they have to be used up so in they go.

The result could have gone very wrong, but as a (very) light supper this really works when you don’t want anything rich, heavy or complicated. Incidentally, all you need to know how to do is chop veg and sweat onions to make this.

Serves 2

Half a Lolla Rossa lettuce
Half an onion sliced thinly
A couple of chunks of cornbread
2 tbsp sweetcorn
2 tbsp kidney beans
Scrambled eggs
Shaving of parmesan
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Sweat the onions on medium heat whilst you prepare the scrambled eggs. Once they’re both done, toss the onions with the lettuce, sweetcorn and kidney beans and olive oil, plonk on a plate with the cornbread (warmed if you like) and scrambled eggs. Sprinkle with shavings of parmesan and serve

Things to note

We like to do our scrambled eggs very slowly, over a low heat. It comes out a lot creamier that way even if it takes a lot longer than one might expect. The results look a lot yellower than more quickly,done scrambled eggs.

If there’s no Lolla Rossa lettuce, iceberg will probably do, but the former is better.

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The Crank’s Carrot Cake

When I was a child, my parents went through a wholefood phase. Out went butter never to return, white bread was replaced by wholemeal which took forever to chew and stuck in your mouth and pastry suddenly took on an odd shade of brown. Happily cake escaped this change although increasingly Mum used recipes from the Cranks book. One of my favourites was their carrot cake. Dense but moist and packed with flavour. Mum never bothered with the icing as she said it didn’t need it and I agree with her. Recently I actually got round to asking her for the recipe. When I read it through I was a bit puzzled by the term “raw brown sugar”. I asked Mum who said she had always interpreted this to mean demerara sugar. However given that the recipe said to whisk the sugar and eggs until thick and creamy I struggled to see how this would work with demerara. I turned to google for help and opened a minefield of information about sugar. After sifting through a few sites, I decided to try and make this with soft brown sugar.

First you grate carrots. No doubt a cleaner way would be to get the food processor out and use the appropriate attachment. However the amount of washing up it creates always annoys me (it always seems to be a lot for not a lot of usage and we don’t have a dishwasher) so I opted for the messier box grater option. JBug was kept entertained by eating the bits of carrot that flew off onto the worktop.

Then I weighed all the dry ingredients into a bowl (wholemeal self raising flour, dessicated coconut, raisins, cinnamon and nutmeg) so they would be ready to be mixed in once I had whisked the eggs and sugar. As fast I weighed ingredients in, JBug was putting his hand in the bowl to eat bits of coconut and raisins! Eventually it was all accurately weighed. Next I whisked the eggs and sugar until thick and creamy using a handheld electric whisk. I think this took about 5-10 minutes before it was ready. Then I slowly whisk in the oil, trickle by trickle. Finally I mixed the egg, sugar and oil mixture into the dry ingredients until fully combined.

This was then poured into an 18cm / 7 inch square cake tin which for once is actually the size the recipe specifies! The instructions advise cooking the cake at 190C for 20-25 minutes but, as we have a fan oven, I put it in at 170C instead. At 20 minutes it was still raw but by 30 it was cooked and a lovely pale brown on top. The smell while it was cooking really took me back years – that spicy smell emanating from the oven again. Once it was cool, JBug and I had a slice each. It was just how I remembered it – dense, moist with a very slightly crunch from the dessicated coconut. We were too impatient to eat the cake to bother with the orange icing but if you happen to do so, let me know how it tastes. I’ll definitely be making this again but perhaps in a larger quantity as its fast disappearing.

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Les Trois Garcons – Shoreditch

Any place that has a giraffe and a sequin-encrusted panther on the wall is worth exploring. Les Trois Garcons is in Shoreditch, a quick walk from Shoreditch High Street train station. The decor reminded me of an old stately home, there were ornaments all over the place, with odd idiosyncratic adornments. There was a dolphin wearing a gold chain, and did I mention the giraffe was also wearing a crown? It has the feel of a rather eccentric bistro, you know those little places that you get in Paris off the beaten track.

Service was attentive, waiters were always easy to get hold of and were also very knowledgeable about the food. They recommend the homard Ecossais, a starter of grilled lobster in the shell with lobstery butter. The recommended mains were the John Dory (Fish of the day) and the Chateaubriand for two.

Back in the East, you have to fight your lobster to get at it. It’s served with a nutcracker, and sometimes with a hammer. In the Far East, having to crack and bludgeon your way to the lobster meat is all part of the fun. Call me uncouth, uncultured, what have you, but I am somewhat unused to and easily impressed by delicious lobster that is not a challenge to access. Les Trois Garcons had cooked the lobster perfectly and then neatly re-packed it into the tail. Easy access and delicious food, and I wouldn’t have to endure a big dry-cleaning bill. It was very fresh, and tasted of lobster, which might sound a little odd, but lobsters that haven’t been cooked right, don’t usually taste of lobster. I’m grasping at straws for something to say here, because I know a good lobster dish when I eat one, but articulating exactly what’s great about it is somewhat beyond my feeble mind.

And so.. on to the mains.

This was the first time I’d ever had John Dory. Purchasing it had previously never crossed my mind. Almost half of the fish is its head, and skinflint me doesn’t like to pay for a fish head I’m not going to use, so I never ended up buying it at all. It was a bit different here, they obviously knew what to do with it, serving it lightly fried with a bearnaise sauce. It’s not a strongly flavoured fish, but its flavour is somewhat unique. The chef hadn’t done much to season the fish, so all those subtle flavours were there.

The chateaubriand was nice and melt in the mouth, and by all standards, a good serving of meat. It had been cooked medium rare (the proper medium rare, not the pink side of napalmed). I’m comparing every steak I have to the Hawksmoor, and it compares very favourably, ticking all the boxes although it’s not going to challenge the king of steaks for its crown just yet.

The dessert we had was the cheese board and the tarte tatin, both of which had been recommended by the waiting staff as well as a mate of mine who knew about food.

One might accuse me of being obsessed with tartes. After all, I seem to have them every time they appear. In contrast to the one at L’art du Fromage, this one had puffier pastry, it was almost a croissant, but in a very very good way. With it came a lemon sorbet flavoured ice cream. Now this was an experience, it had all the flavour of lemon sorbet, the slightly sour lemonadey tastes with the tangy aftertaste, except it was creamy. That was a wonderful surprise.

Les Trois Garcons is the sort of place that scores highly on everything, the food is good, the service excellent, the atmosphere wonderfully eccentric. It is the sort of place you go to if you want an all round dining experience, and is an ideal place for a significant other on a big anniversary.

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Dor’s Sticky Toffee Pudding

A while ago a friend came to lunch. As he is a vegetarian, this was a good opportunity to make a richer pudding as we had a lighter main course planned. I chose Dor’s sticky toffee pudding as I had never made it before and had recently got a recipe for it from La Difference Catering. Do go and have a look at her blog and join her facebook page – she has lots of good recipes and plenty of banter! While I made the pudding, I was merrily chatting away so made a major mistake by pouring the sauce that goes on the pudding after it is cooked into the batter before it was put in the oven! Well we ate it anyway but it wasn’t a sticky toffee pudding as you know it. With a packet of dates in the cupboard about to expire, I thought I’d have another go.

You start by making the sauce. This is a delicious combination of butter, cream, caster sugar and soft brown sugar. All you do is pop all the ingredients into a pan, heat slowly until the butter is melted, then bring to the boil and boil until the sauce has thickened the back of the spoon. This takes the full 4 minutes stated in the recipe and you really must keep stirring it the whole time otherwise it will probably burn. This is then poured into the bottom of a 24cm x 24cm dish. I don’t have one that size so I used one that measured 26cm long by 17cm wide. The dish is placed in the freezer while you prepare the dates and make the cake component.

Next you remove the stones from the dates then place them in a mixture of boiling water and bicarbonate of soda to soften. While they are soaking, you make the cake for which you use the creaming method. When you add the dry ingredients you also add in 75g walnuts. I left these out because I didn’t like them. You then take the dish out of the freezer then add the cake batter on top of the sauce that is already there. At this point the mixture was really runny which concerned me as I didn’t remember it being that liquid the first time I made this pudding. I put it in the oven and hoped for the best.

After 30 minutes the cake is supposed to be firm to the touch. Well mine wasn’t. Nor was it 10 minutes later. In fact it was a full hour before it got to that point and unfortunately by then the edges were slightly burnt despite me putting a layer of foil over the top 35 minutes into cooking to prevent this.

Once you take the cake out of the oven, you poke some holes in it using a skewer or cocktail stick then pour the remaining sauce over the top. This is placed under a medium grill for a few minutes with the instructions clearly stating you need to keep a close eye on it as it can easily burn. It seemed to be taking ages so I decided to very quickly write some notes on the process for this blog. Unfortunately this was a big mistake as the sauce split as soon as I took my eye off it! We ate it anyway. Strangely the first attempt tasted more like the sticky toffee pudding. This attempt tasted rather odd with its split sauce although the cake was lovely and moist. I appear to have met my nemesis but shall give it another go – hopefully it will be third time lucky!
And here’s the Recipe

La Difference Catering’s Recommended Sticky Toffee Pudding (from the Guardian April 2011)




Serves 6

175g medjool dates, stoned and roughly chopped
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
300ml boiling water
50g unsalted butter, softened
80g golden caster sugar
80g dark muscovado sugar
2 eggs, beaten
175g flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of ground cloves
75g walnuts

For the sauce
115g unsalted butter
75g golden caster sugar
40g dark muscovado sugar
140ml double cream

Pre-heat the oven to 180C

Butter a baking dish approximately 24cm x 24cm.

Make the sauce by putting all the ingredients into a pan with a pinch of salt and heating slowly until the butter has melted.

Then turn up the heat and bring to the boil.

Boil for about 4 minutes, until the sauce has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Pour half the sauce into the base of the dish and then put it in the freezer while you make the rest of the pudding.

Put the dates and bicarbonate of soda in a heatproof dish and cover with the boiling water.

Leave to soften while you prepare the rest of the pudding

Beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy.

Then beat in the eggs, a little at a time.

Stir in the flour, baking powder, cloves and a pinch of salt until well combined.

Add the dates and their soaking water, and the walnuts, and mix well.

Take the dish out of the freezer and pour the batter on top of the toffee sauce.

Put into the oven for 30 minutes, until firm to the touch, and then take out of the oven.

Heat the grill to medium, and poke a few small holes evenly over the surface with a skewer or fork, and then pour over the rest of the sauce.

Put briefly under the grill, keeping an eye on it as it can easily burn. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

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Ham and Gruyere Sandwich

Blighty has a strong tradition in inventing something really cool, exporting it and then having everyone else get better at it than we are. Cases in point, cricket, rugby, soccer and of course, the sandwich. Sandwiches in Blighty are forgettable things, designed to be eaten whilst your mind is on something else. They aren’t meant to, or should I say aren’t capable of taking centre stage, not like the Dagwood sandwich I once had in Florida.

This is exactly why we’re chuffed to have found the sandwich section on Sumptuous Spoonfuls. This week’s is our take on the Sweet Hot Habanero Ham & Gruyere Sandwich

We had to cut a few corners when we made this, as Habanero pepper jelly isn’t easy to get hold of here, and we’d run out of turmeric.

Alas, no photo as the sun had gone down by the time I got my hands on it, and the poor light made it look sad and forlorn. We’ll be doing this again soon I’m sure, and I’ll get the photo then :)

This sandwich is not difficult to make and as long as you can scoop, measure and grill, you’ll be ok. And so, on with the show.

The key to this sandwich is in the spread as it is this that brings all of the ingredients together.

Spread Ingredients
1 tbsp pepper jelly – we used Tobagonian pepper jelly
1 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1/4 tsp garlic salt

Nothing much to it. Mix it all together. This makes enough for two sandwiches.

The sandwich – Ingredients for one sandwich

2 slices white bread (medium). We used my Rule 54 bread (recipe pending) but any good quality white will do the trick
1-2 slices of ham
Slices of gruyere cheese (thin) to cover the ham
A handful of herby salad

Toast the slices of bread lightly, then put the ham and cheese on one slice. Melt the cheese onto the ham under a medium grill. You want to melt the cheese fairly slowly. If it melts too quickly it’ll go crunchy and bubble, which isn’t what we’re looking for. We just want to get it nice and molten. Keep an eye on it as this sort of thing has a habit of looking like nothing is happening and then suddenly going black.

Put the spread on the other slice and when the cheese is melted, put both slices together and serve immediately with the herby salad either in the sandwich or on the side.

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Kitchen Gadgets – The iPad

Photo by Sean McEntee

There is something about gadgets that make men go all funny. I should know, there have been many occasions when I have drooled over that extra gigabyte, enthused about 1080p HDTV’s and had KitchenAid envy.

We don’t have too many kitchen gadgets, mainly because of space and cost, so what gadgets we do have, need to do a lot of things, which brings me to the following fact.

My favourite kitchen gadget is my iPad

But why? It will not crack eggs, nor will knead dough. Its not got any moving parts on it, it won’t heat anything and you certainly can’t use it to mix anything up.

The iPad’s talent is its ease of use, and its ability to display information. It can present almost any media you can think of.

Need that recipe displayed, no problem. Need to refer to another recipe? No worries, just bring it up – no pulling out another recipe book. Don’t know how to knead? Watch that video there and then! Stumped by how to joint a chicken, watch the video, pause it, do it and then carry on.

It’s a perfect tool for reference and also for learning. You can display pictures of what your cooking is supposed to look like when you get to that point of the recipe, and judge instantly whether you’ve gone wrong or not. You can crossreference your own notes with the recipes whose ideas you drew from and you can search on the fly for ideas even whilst you’re cooking.

It doesn’t end there either.

You can prop it up almost anywhere, and use almost any part of your arm (or nose for that matter) to operate it. In fact, you can buy a stylus for it, which will allow you to prod it into action. Stylii can be mounted on the end of a chopstick, and that means you don’t need clean hands to operate the iPad.

Apple have done a great job, it’s easy to use and also portable enough for it to occupy a small corner of your worktop.

I use Evernote on my iPad, and it’s a free app (although I pay for it), which allows me to clip directly from my web browser, so I’ll never forget that recipe that looked oh so good. If you’re browsing on your PC and find something you think you want to try out, just clip it, sync it and when you look at Evernote on your iPad, it’ll just be there.

It can play your favourite tunes in the background whilst you’re cooking, and if you hit a quiet spot during proceedings, you can watch TV, check out blogs and podcasts, and if you’re particularly frustrated, slay zombies!

My iPad may frequently be in need of cleaning, as by the end of the cooking day it’s usually got bits of dough stuck to it, and will smell faintly of garlic, but I really couldn’t do without it!

P.S. The best thing to clean an iPad? Baby wipes! I swear they remove just about anything!

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How to Fry Bacon Perfectly (If You Have Time)

This video here gives a very interesting method to fry bacon.

You use water! Intrigued, I gave this a go.

The water allows the bacon to cook without drying out as is poaching rather than frying, and the heat also allows the fat in the bacon to render. When the water has boiled away, the fat left in the pan fries the bacon, and allows you to get a nice crispy finish.

Like any worthwhile kitchen skill, it’ll take a couple of goes to get right, but the resuls are worth it. The bacon is nice and crispy without getting too brittle. It works better with streaky than back bacon, the higher fat content makes it easier to get it nice and crispy.

Things I noticed

It’s slooooooow. It took about 20 minutes to get one batch of rashers done. Conventional way takes less than 5 minutes. Does the difference justify the time? It’s worth it if you have the time, but most of the time, bacon is a quick food for me so I wouldn’t be doing this too often.

The bacon does become sligthly less bacony. Some of the seasoning and baconiness of the bacon leaches into the water. Its still in the oil that is rendered, but a little bit of flavour escapes which is not so bad as the bacon I get from my butcher has a very strong flavour.

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Rocket, Spinach, Asparagus and Butternut squash salad

Hooray for experimental cooking. This dish was one of those I’ll-throw-something-together dishes that happened to work. The idea for it grew out of the fried egg and asparagus I had at Locanda Locatelli and a recipe I could only vaguely remember that I read a while ago (It has since come back to me in Mindy Fox’s The Perfectly Tossed Salad)

It’s really good as a light supper, or, without the egg. an accompaniment to something much meatier, like burgers, a barbecue or a roast.

Serves 2 as a light supper (You might want to monkey with the quantities to get what suits you best)

300g of rocket
300g of spinach
300g butternut squash, diced
3tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 eggs for frying
8-12 spears of asparagus, halved down the middle
A dash of balsamic vinegar

Put th oven on at 180 and roast the squash for about 10-15 minutes or until soft. You can also do this in the pan as all you need is to get the squash soft.

Put a pan on medium heat and add the asparagus stalks, keep the spear ends aside for now. Fry the stalks until they just start to soften and then add the spear ends, they cook quicker and this way you can make sure it all finishes cooking at the same time.

Toss the spinach, rocket, asparagus and squash together

Gently fry the garlic in the oil left in the pan. When its given up it’s flavour add it to the rest of the ingredients and toss well.

Fry the eggs over easy or sunny side up but make sure you keep the yolk runny. Plonk them on top of the tossed salad and serve immediately.

Things I’ve found

Nicely cooked asparagus and runny egg yolk are a marriage made in heaven.

The egg is a big protein addition to make it a supper. The dish does just as well without it.

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