Tuesday 24 November 2009

Chocolate brownies

Heavy, rich, velvety chocolate brownies for a wicked indulgence

Sorry for the rubbish photo, my camera is in a sulk today. Anyway, these brownies are fantastic. They are so good that I made two batches in two days due to demand. They take about 5 minutes to prepare and 15 minutes to bake so they are officially the quickest thing I have ever baked from start to finish. My brother also assures me that they are the tastiest thing I have ever baked. Double win!


5 oz margarine
2 eggs
8 oz caster sugar
3.5 oz flour
2 oz cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 heaped tsp instant coffee


Chop up the margarine, chuck it in a big bowl and put it in the microwave until it melts. Once it's all smooth and liquid, mix in the cocoa powder, and then the sugar.

Dissolve the coffee in a tiny bit of hot water (just enough water so that the granules dissolve properly) and add this to the mix along with the vanilla extract. Add the eggs, one at the time, then mix in the flour.

Pour into a baking tin and bake at 160 celcius (fan oven) for approximately 15 minutes. The cooking time will vary according to your oven and also how thick your brownies are by virtue of your baking tin. There are really 3 ways to check if they are done (and these rules apply to all baked sponges really). Firstly, put a skewer into the centre of the brownies - if it comes out gooey, they're not done yet. If it comes out almost clean, they are done. Second, touch the top of the brownies with your finger; if the sponge springs back until your touch, it's cooked. Finally, look at the edges of the sponge - if it's starting to pull away from the sides of the baking tray, it's ready to come out of the oven.

Leave to cool, cut into squares, and distribute amongst people whom you wish to impress.

Monday 16 November 2009

Raspberry and white chocolate trifle

Sweet boozey birthday trifle, personalised with crushed chocolate lettering.


For the sponge:
- 3 eggs
- 3oz caster sugar
- 3 oz plain flour, sieved

For the custard:
- 1 pint full-fat milk
- 55ml cream
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 egg yolks
- 1oz caster sugar
- 2 level tsp cornflour
- 1 big bar of white chocolate, chopped

- 1 packet of fresh raspberries
- Raspberry jam
- Bristol cream sherry
- Whipped cream

- To make the sponge, preheat the oven to 160 degrees celcius (that's for a fan oven - try 180 if using a conventional oven).
- Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together with an electric beater until thick and pale. Fold in the flour gently using a metal spoon.
- Pour into a greased baking tin and bake for 10 - 15 minutes; it is cooked when it is golden and springy to the touch.
- When the sponge has cooled completely, cut it in half through the middle. Place one half in the bottom of your trifle bowl and douse liberally with sherry. Spread the other piece of sponge thickly with raspberry jam, and place it in the dish on top of the previous layer. Again, douse with sherry.
- Place the fresh raspberries on top of the sponge, evenly spacing them.
- Next order of business is to make the custard. You can absolutely cheat and use custard from a packet if you want to; the trifle will still taste amazing, but if you have the time and the gumption it is a real treat to have homemade custard.
- Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan, add the vanilla extract, and bring to a simmer slowly over a low heat.
- Meanwhile, mix together the egg yolks, sugar and conflour with an electric beater until really well blended.
- Pour the milk and cream mixture into the eggs and sugar. Be sure to whisk nonstop at this stage.
- Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and stir it gently over a low heat until it thickens. Add the white chocolate and stir until melted.
- Spoon the custard evenly over the raspberries and sponge and allow to cool.
- Finally, spoon a layer of whipped cream on top of the custard and the trifle is complete.
- We served with some sweet dessert wine, and as you can see the trifle didn't last too long:

Afterwards, a bit of a catnap was in order. See what I did there? Catnap? I'll get my coat.



Spinach and ricotta for the vegetarians; chicken, leek & mushroom for the meat eaters.

This was our main course for the dinner party. It was a brilliant choice because it could be prepared in advance and then popped in the oven to cook for half an hour before serving. It was also easy to make a veggie dish that didn't make our vegetarian guest feel like they were missing out on anything. We served this with a big mixed salad and a heap of wine. The winning component in this dish is the sauce. It's incredibly rich and decadent - definitely not something you'd eat very often - so it really felt like a treat and a special meal. I found myself scraping leftover sauce out of the dish the next morning in a hungover state, wishing there was more.


Cannelloni pasta
1 big bag spinach
1 tub ricotta cheese
3 chicken breasts
1 leek, cleaned and finely chopped
Two handfuls of mushrooms, finely chopped
1 tub cottage cheese

For the sauce:
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 bottle white wine
1.5 pints single cream
1 pint milk
About 1 tablespoon of Herbes de provence (dried)
Salt, pepper

- Prepare the veggie cannelloni first. In a food processor, whizz up all the spinach until it's very finely chopped. Chuck it in a bowl with the ricotta and add a couple of handfuls of breadcrums. Mix well, and stuff this mixture into the cannelloni. This takes a bit of time, so sit down at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and prepare to get your hands very messy. Place the filled cannelloni in a single layer in a baking dish and set aside.
- Now prepare the chicken version. Cook the chicken breasts on a pan in olive oil until they are done all the way through; this takes 10 or 15 mins. Once cooked, chuck the chicken into the food processor and blend until the chicken is in nice small pieces. Place this into a big bowl.
- Melt some butter in a pan and saute the mushroom and leek for 5 mins, just until the vegetables have softened. Add this into the chicken, throw in the cottage cheese and mix thoroughly.
- Stuff this mixture into cannelloni, and again place it on a single layer in a dish.
- Time to make the sauce, the sauce of which dreams are made. Heat some butter in a large saucepan and add the onions, carrots, celery and bay leaves. Saute for 10 minutes or so, until the vegetables are soft. Add in the whole bottle of white wine and simmer with the lid on for another 10 minutes, to get all the flavours of the vegetables into the wine.
- After 10 minutes, strain the wine through a sieve or colander to remove the vegetables and bay leaves - these can now be discarded as they have given all their flavour.
- Add the cream and milk to the wine and mix gently. Add approx 1 tablespoon of herbes de provence and a good dose of salt and pepper.
- The next step is to thicken the sauce. To do this, take a tablespoon of white flour and a tablespoon of butter. Put them in a bowl and mash them together with a fork to make a roux. Add this into the sauce and stir well; the sauce will begin to thicken as it simmers. Add more roux until the sauce is the thickness you want; ideally you want it thick enough that it will properly coat the pasta and not just drip off the sides.
- Pour the sauce over the cannelloni dishes so that all the pasta is covered.
- Cook in a moderate oven (160 or 170 degrees) for approximately 30 minutes, until the pasta is cooked and the top of the dish is beginning to brown. Serve immediately, to delighted friends.

Baileys coffee

My favourite after-dinner drink.

I don't drink coffee very often, but I do love a creamy boozey coffee after a special meal. These beauties are easy to make once you know what you're doing, and they look impressive when serving to guests.

- Good quality coffee
- Baileys (even better, get the cheaper equivalent in Tesco or Aldi for 7 euro a bottle)
- Sugar
- Cream, whipped

- Brew the coffee; make it quite strong so that the flavour is able to come through the Baileys and the cream.
- Pour a generous shot of Baileys into each coffee glass, add 1 spoon of sugar and top up with coffee. Stir really well to make sure the sugar is dissolved.
- Pour some boiling water into a mug and get yourself a metal spoon, preferably a soup spoon if you have one. Dip the spoon into the hot water and then get a spoonful of whipped cream. Allow the cream to slide gently off the hot spoon on to the side of the coffee glass; this way the cream won't sink and you will have a perfect layer of cream at the top.
- Sprinkle with cocoa powder or coffee granules and serve.


Creamy, moist and rich without being too heavy; the perfect dessert.

Martin and I served this as our dessert at our Come Dine With Me party. It is easy to make, and also simple to present in a beautiful way as you can make it in individual ramekins and keep everything neat very easily.I decorated the top of each dessert with the first letter of each guest's name to make it personalised. I think I just wanted an excuse to cut up bits of cardboard and play around with cocoa powder for a while; it was fun!

Ingredients (makes 8 small tiramisus):

- 1 packet of lady fingers, or some plain sponge if you can't get the fingers
- Coffee, the best you can lay your mitts on
- Dark rum/ brandy/ baileys
- 3 egg yolks
- 1.25 oz caster sugarr
- 1 or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (don't use vanilla essence, it's awful)
- 250g marscapone cheese
- 250ml double cream, lightly whipped
- cocoa powder for decoration

- Make some strong coffee and spike it with booze - dark rum or brandy is good; I had neither so I put in a splash of baileys and it worked really well. Dip the sponge fingers into the coffee and put a layer of wet gooey sponge at the bottom of each ramekin.
- Using an electric mixer (if you don't have one this stage will take a long time), mix together the egg yolks and the caster sugar for at least 10 minutes. The mixture will begin quite thin and yellow but get paler and thicker until it is almost white and double its volume.
- Add in the vanilla extract, marscapone and double cream and mix well.
- Spoon half of this creamy mixture over the first layer of sponge fingers.
- Make another layer of sponge fingers dipped in coffee in each ramekin, and top with the remaining cream mixture.
- To personalise your desserts for a dinner party, cut out some letters from cardboard and lay them on top of your tiramisus. Using a sieve, sprinkle cocoa powder over the top of the tiramisu from a height, and remove the cardboard to reveal your pretty lettering on top of the dessert.

- Place the tiramisu in the fridge to chill, preferably overnight. I served with baileys coffees.

Leek and potato soup

A comforting bowl of hot spiced veggies to hug you warm in the winter

- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 leeks
- 2 potatoes, peeled and diced
- 2 litres chicken stock
- 1 heaped teaspoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon flour

- Heat a knob of butter and a glug of olive oil in a large saucepan on a low-medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and allow them to sweat for 5 mins or so until soft and translucent.
- Add the flour to the onions and stir well. Cook on a low heat, stirring regularly for 1 - 2 mins to make sure the flour is cooked through.
- Add a splash of the hot chicken stock to the pan and stir well. Keep adding small quantities of stock and stirring until the mixture is thin and loose - then chuck the rest of the stock in all in one go.
- Cut down the centre of the leeks lengthways and wash the leeks thoroughly under the tap, fanning out the layers to make sure you get rid of any grit inside the leeks. Chop the leeks and add to the pot.
- Add in the paprika (you can use either sweet or spicy paprika; both will give the soup a lovely warm colour but the latter will make it hot, if you're into that sort of thing), and add the diced potatoes too.
- Simmer with the lid on for approx 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Serve with thick buttered slices of homemade brown bread.

Courgette & parmesan fritters

A fancy take on my old friend the courgette

Some friends of mine and I are partaking in a 'Come Dine With Me' style cooking challenge, in which each couple take turns in hosting a dinner party and then the guests give anonymous scores out of 10 for the evening. Myself and Martin went first, and this was our chosen starter for the evening. We served the fritters hot with cold couscous salad on the side.

Ingredients (serves 4):
- 1 large courgette
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 or 3 slices of bread, whizzed up into breadcrumbs
- 1 clove garlic, minced or crushed
- 1 egg, beaten

- Grate the courgette onto a clean tea towel, then gather up the sides and squeeze the courgette to release the excess water. Once this is done, put the courgette in a bowl and mix in the parmesan, garlic and breadcrumbs.
- Grab a handful of the mixture and work it with your hands to test the consistency. It needs to be wet enough for you to be able to mould it into patties without falling apart, yet dry enough so that it doesn't stick to your hands in a globby mess. If your mixture is too dry at this stage and won't hold together, add a little of the beaten egg to help it bind. If too wet, add more breadcrumbs.
- Form the mixture into about 8 patties and fry them over a medium-low heat in some olive oil for approximately 4 minutes on each side, until golden.

- For the couscous, cook it according to the instructions on the packet. Saute some shallots or finely diced onion slowly in some butter until soft and translucent. Add this to the cooked couscous, with some chopped flat leaf parsley, salt and black pepper. Using a dry frying pan, toast some pine nuts quickly until they start to brown and mix them into the couscous too.

My co-chef plating up the couscous: