Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Chewy

I’ve been having one of those evenings. You know the ones? Yeah, one of those ones. The ones where you’ve had a kind of unproductive day, then you get a call – dinner date, great, kicked back into action. Dressed nicely, hair looking good. Then you get another call, which you were beginning to suspect anyway, because it comes half an hour late – sorry, cancelled, something came up. Can’t be helped.

So I have no dinner and my hair looks nice for nothing and I trudge on over to Tesco’s to pick up a ready meal, practising my look of aloof desolation, as I really am dressed rather too nicely for this, and also feeling rather sorry for myself.

I am thinking it’s time to bake. I am thinking of a cookie recipe I have been wanting to try for ages but never got around to: The Chewy. I am thinking that if these are the best damn cookies in the world (or even, let’s be honest, just half decent) then this evening might just be salvaged.


Makes around 24
Ingredients
250g butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tbsps milk
1 tbsp vanilla essence
2 1/4 cups bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1.5 cups chocolate chips (or 200g chocolate, chopped)

Method
1. Melt the butter, then cream with the sugars using an electric whisk (or stand mixer, if you’re lucky enough to have one that’s not a repository for kitchen detritus that you have nowhere else to put, so shove it in this handy large bowl so helpfully kept on the counter)
2.  Mix in the egg and yolk, then the milk and vanilla, until well combined
3. Mix together the flour, salt and baking powder in a separate bowl. Add, but by bit, until all combined
4. Stir in the chocolate chips and chill the mixture in the fridge (you can chill for however long you like really – anywhere from half an hour, if you want your cookies ASAP, up to a day and a half. Apparently the flavour improves the longer you chill as the sugar does some sort of magicky caramelly thing which makes them richer and more delicious)
5. Preheat the oven to 180C. Drop balls of mixture onto greased baking sheets, being sure to leave lots of space as they really spread (I did approximately 1/8 a cup of mixture and 6 to a sheet, then for the next round a little less and 7-8 to a sheet). Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown.

Recipe notes
I modified the recipe very minimally, decreasing the salt and chocolate (as I read that they are almost TOO chocolatey… and I didn’t have enough chocolate anyway) and upping the vanilla. They were yum, and just right for eating while curling up on the sofa with a glass of milk and some knitting. I even tried thinking about Big Things like careers and my upcoming wedding. Now I’m not saying that these cookies spurred me into action on either count, though I did finally get around to emailing the caterer, which I had been putting off all week and had been filling me with apprehension for some reason. Coincidence? Maybe, but I have this recipe bookmarked for the next time I want a handful of comfort. Things somehow seem easier to tackle when you have a cookie in one hand and a glass of milk in the other, and if that is all it takes to make me feel better about life in general then, well, I might just help myself to another.

Challah

Rummaging through my baking cupboard the other day I found some sachets of yeast getting near to their use by date. Not wanting to waste the poor little yeasties it was time to come up with some bready treats, and pronto!

As good timing would have it, the very next day one of my colleagues was telling me about how she had made some challah, a type of Jewish bread. It sounded delicious so I begged the recipe off her and set to making it this morning.

Now, I am not an expert in bread-braiding but I think it turned out pretty well! Just the thing for a sunny Sunday too, when you can mix up the dough after breakfast, leave to rise in a sunny porch when you go out for a Sunday stroll with your beloved, and come back to the smell of bread, before it’s even gone near the oven. The only way to improve this scenario would be if we had had a kite to fly, but you know, that’s not really the bread’s fault.

Makes 2 loaves (you can happily freeze one)
Ingredients
Step 1:
2 cups strong white bread flour
1 sachet dried yeast
3 tablespoons honey
1.5 cups lukewarm water

Step 2:
1.5 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons vegetable / corn oil
1 egg
Optional: raisins

Step 3:
1 egg
Oil for greasing
Optional: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds

Method
1. Put the water, honey and yeast in a large bowl, stir lightly and leave for about 10 minutes, by which point it should be a little frothy. Add about 2 cups flour to make a liquidy paste. Leave for another 10 minutes

2. Add all the ingredients for step 2 and stir well. Add flour to take up all the liquid and make a dough that is not too sticky (I don’t know exactly how much flour I used, but it was between 1-2 cups and I erred on the side of more rather than less). Knead to make a smooth dough (or use a mixer with dough hooks). Add the raisins (if using) then cover with a teatowel and leave in a warm place for a couple of hours

3. Preheat the oven to 180C (160 fan) Grease a baking tray, or two if you don’t have a really large one. Split the dough in half then split each half into three. Stretch each portion out into a long strip, lay three strips side by side and plait the dough (hint: start from the middle and plait towards one end, then turn it around and do the same on the other side. Tuck the ends under the loaf)

4. Brush the loaves with beaten egg. If using, sprinkle with seeds. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden, and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped (mine sounded hollow-ish, not as much as when I  have made bread before. I poked in between the plaiting on the bottom with a knife to check it wasn’t still doughy inside)

Recipe notes
Oh my. This was delicious. I had some with butter, fresh from the oven, with a cup of tea. I made some into pudding. The pudding made me want more, so I had a slice of toast (as did Henry). The toast was so good I had another piece. Now, out of the loaf… there is just enough for toast tomorrow morning (and I NEVER have toast on a weekday morning, but as I was chomping down my second post-pudding slice I was already plotting the banana toast sandwich I will have for breakfast tomorrow).

I even found it fairly easy to make. Any bread will take time but this just came together nicely and with minimal fuss. I would make this again in a flash, but I don’t even need to because the great thing is that it made two loaves, so one is happily hibernating in the freezer until I next decide I want some truly excellent toast. The best accolade came from Henry, who when I make something really good will polish his helping off in no time, then turn to me and say with intentional irreverence, “You can make this again”. Any time, my dearest, but I can’t guarantee I’ll share.

Mushroom risotto

I never used to like risotto. I think I’d had a bad risotto at some point, then was more annoyed by the principle of the thing – as a vegetarian, when you eat out you can almost guarantee that for one of the courses, risotto will be one of the two options you can eat (it’s either risotto or some hideous aubergine dish – why? why do people think that vegetarians really like it when you do awful things to aubergine?)

I’ve actually managed to avoid risotto entirely for the past few years, until we went skiing in February. I mentioned my dislike one day, and the chalet hosts looked concerned as we were having mushroom risotto in a couple of days, but I said I’d try it as all the food had been delicious so far (apart from the polenta, but, well, it’s polenta). The risotto was indeed delicious. Flipping through a recipe book the other day I came across a recipe for risotto, and decided to try it for myself.

I didn’t use the recipe from the recipe book though, as they wanted me to microwave it (“which cuts down the need for stirring” – maybe, but you presumably have to tend to your microwave every few minutes anyway). Seeing as I was trying to achieve a risotto that was actually nice, I read up on a few recipes then freestyled it.

Ingredients (serves 2)
100g chestnut mushrooms
1 small onion
knob of butter
100g risotto rice
250ml stock or water
2 tbsp double cream (optional but makes it yummy)
grana padano or parmesan
pepper, to taste

Method
1. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Chop the onion and mushrooms and add to the pan, cooking on a low heat until soft
2. Add the risotto rice and cook until translucent
3. Add the stock bit by bit, stirring until all is absorbed. Keep going until the rice is cooked and you are happy with the consistency (you may not need all the stock)
4. Turn off the heat. Add the cream and stir well, then season with the pepper. Finally, add the cheese (to taste)

Recipe notes
It was delicious! The chestnut mushrooms gave the dish a beautiful sweetness that was just scrummy (so much so, that I would be hesitant to use any other mushrooms). Though I did have to stand and stir, it wasn’t like the risotto required my undivided attention, so it gave me a good opportunity to tidy up the kitchen and get out the things I needed for some cakes I was making. And it took under 30 minutes to make start to finish, so I was hardly chained to the kitchen for an unbearable amount of time. I took the leftovers for lunch and it was equally tasty reheated (so, it did see the inside of a microwave after all). Finally, it was one-pot, so minimal washing up. A weeknight winner if ever there was one!

Leek and cheese crumble

Today is a good day, because today is the day that I have a big stack of wedding invitations ready for posting tomorrow. Yes, invitations made, inserts printed and stuck in, names written, envelopes addressed, stuffed and stamped, and all banded together in a neat little stack.

Planning your wedding is fine if you have approximately 2(+) hours of spare time every single day for about 6 months, and a very long attention span for that sort of thing.

It was about 8pm by the time I started to think about making dinner. The dish I had planned was going to take an hour to make, which just wasn’t going to happen, but it was either that or give in and have filled pasta from the freezer, as apart from leeks, cheese and creme fraiche our fridge was fairly bare. So I changed the recipe and did it in half the time. I don’t think it suffered from it, and I certainly didn’t.

Ingredients
a knob of butter
2 leeks, chopped into rounds
1 onion, finely chopped (or roughly chopped, if you’ve spent half your evening stuffing envelopes, it really doesn’t matter
80g Wendesleydale or other similar cheese
1 slice brown bread, breadcrumbed
some chives, chopped
about 4 generous tbsp creme fraiche (I used around 1/3 of a 300ml pot)
pepper for seasoning

Method
1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium-low heat. Add the leeks and onions, cover and sweat until soft
2. Meanwhile, crumble your cheese into a bowl. Add the breadcrumbs and chives; season with pepper. Preheat the oven to 180C
3.  When the vegetables are cooked, add the creme fraiche to the saucepan and stir until the veg are all covered. Pour into a shallow ovenproof dish, top with the cheese/breadcrumb mixture and bake for around 20 minutes until crisp and golden on top

Recipe notes
So the original recipe has you bake the leeks, which is why it takes so long. I thought it was pretty tasty as is, and using the saucepan doesn’t make any more washing up as you need to warm the creme fraiche through before adding to the leeks anyway. The other thing I like is that it takes 20 minutes in the oven, just long enough to cook some potatoes and veg to go with it, and clean up your kitchen a little bit. So I do declare this recipe a Weeknight Winner!