Brandy Snaps

I remember growing up in the 1970s and many a weekend punctuated by my parents’ dinner parties. All that rushing around in the daytime concocting wonderful dishes – Dad normally on the mains and mum on the desserts. Then the tidy up, quick bath and ready to receive guests. Featured in many of those evenings were after dinner drinks: port, brandy and liqueurs, which sadly have largely fallen out of fashion these days and the 1970s-iconic brandy snaps. Shop bought, full of sugary whipped cream, I remember praying that they wouldn’t all be eaten and inevitably they weren’t (I suspect I was allocated one or two from the outset). There is nothing quite like the crunch of the golden, lacy brandy snap quickly followed by the luscious cream; the combination of which made the taste buds wake up and party! They’ve been on my list for a while so here’s the first attempt. I decided against the traditional cigar shape, thinking that might stretch me too far this time around. But having done them once, I’ll give that a go next time.

Makes 12 good sized brandy snap bowls

What you need…

2 x large baking sheets, lined with baking parchment or ‘Bake-O-Glide’ (see Tips)

60g unsalted butter

2 tablespoons golden syrup

60g caster sugar

60g plain flour, sifted

½ teaspoon ground ginger, sifted

What to do…

Heat the butter, syrup and sugar in a medium pan until the mixture is fully melted and smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature for about 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180°c / 350° f / gas 4.

Tip the flour and ginger into the butter mixture ands stir to make a thick paste.

Dollop 4 tablespoons of the brandy snap mixture onto each of the lined baking sheets – spacing far apart – they REALLY spread.

Put one tray in the oven and bake in the oven for 7-8 minutes, until deep golden and lacy.

Remove the first tray from the oven and pop the other one in.

Allow the first batch to cool for a few minutes until they are slightly firm but still pliable. Lift them out, one at a time, and mould them over an upturned glass/teacup or ramekin to make a bowl shape. They take a couple of minutes to set so maybe have three or four glasses. Once set, transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

After 7-8 minutes baking, remove the second set from the oven and repeat the cooling, moulding, cooling process with them. I split the brandy snap cooking into two to give myself enough time to mould the first four without worrying that the second four might be hardening too much to shape.

Once cool, store them in an airtight container until you’re ready to serve. Serve these sweet, crunchy bowls with whatever takes your fancy. They work particularly well with strong-flavoured ice cream (e.g. salted caramel, brandy, coffee) or cream topped with seasonal fruits, as shown in the image. Enjoy! Especially good with an espresso coffee on the side!

Tips…

Only in the last month did I discover Bake-O-Glide. Having far too much Champagne and canapés at my friend Susan’s house, I watched as she put tray after tray of food in her Aga, re-using the same Bake-O-Glide. Each time, the canapés really did glide off the lined baking trays with ease. No scrubbing or soaking afterwards. She simply put the Bake-O-Glide in the dishwasher and then it was ready for use again. A total convert, I now use this all the time – it’s not expensive, easily available (ordered off the Internet and it arrived the next day) and can be used 100s of times. If you already know about this stuff, you’ll think I’m bonkers; if not, order some now: total revelation!

To get the golden syrup to slide easily off your tablespoon, first wipe the spoon with olive oil – works brilliantly (saw this on Simply Nigella).

Inspired by…

Good Housekeeping

How easy…

They are not difficult but you do have to give them your full attention.

Two-Ways Salmon Pasta with Basil and Lemon

This is a lovely pasta dish that is simultaneously light but comforting, zesty and fresh but soothing on the stomach. It comes from a book published in the early 1990s by the wonderful Keith Floyd called ‘Floyd on Hangovers’ – a witty little tome that contains advice on detoxing and a selection of recipes for the day after the night before! Having never suffered a hangover (I know, I’m sorry!) I’m not sure why I was bought the book and have since mislaid it, but I’ve been doing this version of one of his recipes for years. It seems a fitting one for New Year’s Day, I thought, although we enjoy it throughout the year.

As delicious as it is, I feel that on this occasion that I should share some of the nutritional benefits (and the reasons why the recipe was in the book, I guess). Both salmon and basil have anti-oxidant qualities, with the former offering omega 3 and vitamins D and B12 and the latter providing vitamins A, K, C, magnesium, iron, potassium and calcium (who knew?!!!!) and from lemon of course, vitamin c. So there’s a real ‘feel-good’ aspect to this one – great kick off for the New Year!

Serves 2

What you need…

A splash olive oil

2 salmon fillets

2 lemons

120g smoked salmon

Sea salt and black pepper for seasoning

2 good handfuls of basil, torn

Pasta of your choice (I prefer gluten-free)

What to do…

Preheat the oven to 200°c / 400°f / gas 6.

Rub olive oil all over a piece of foil and pop the salmon fillets in it. Squeeze half a lemon over the fish, season and then make the foil into a loose parcel. Pop in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the fish is cooked al dente.

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and pop in your pasta according to the packaging instructions – mine normally takes about 12 minutes.

In another large saucepan, squeeze into it the juice of 1½ lemon plus some sea salt and loads of roughly ground black pepper. Roughly tear up the smoked salmon into bite-sized pieces and arrange around the top edges of the saucepan – some will drop into the lemon juice – no worries. Using a fork, remove the skin from the oven-baked salmon and flake the fish into chunks, tipping them into the saucepan as you do. Throw the basil in over the top.

When your pasta is cooked, turn on the heat under the saucepan with all the ingredients in to moderate. Drain the pasta and tip into the salmon, basil, lemon juice mixture. Splash in a little olive oil and then mix everything together, incorporating the salmon from the edges of the saucepan evenly throughout.

Then, simply serve and enjoy your lovely, fresh, enlivening and gentle two-ways salmon pasta with basil and lemon!

Inspired by…

Keith Floyd, Floyd on Hangovers

How easy…

Very, very easy. A good one for a mid- eek supper

 

 

 

 

Truly Scrumptious Salted Caramel Ice Cream

I’ve never made ice cream before but somewhere down the line I’ve acquired an ice-cream maker. However, when I decided to try out this recipe I didn’t realise that the bowl had to be put in the freezer 24 hours beforehand! So, this one was done by hand and having done it once this way, I’m afraid that the machine is back where it came from, at the back of the cupboard. This ice cream is an absolute cinch to make and tastes truly scrumptious! Not only that, but it’s quite a soft ice cream, so if you have a bit of craving for ice-cream NOW, there’s no waiting about whilst it softens enough to scoop. So, this first attempt will be quickly followed by a second, third, fourth…try it and enjoy!

Serves 6 – 8 (unless you keep it secret, in which case just the 1!)

What you need…

170g caster sugar

225ml double cream

150ml milk

4 egg yolks

½ teaspoon sea salt

What you do…

Place a medium sized saucepan on a high heat and add 140g of the caster sugar. Heat, shaking the pan occasionally until the sugar melts into a rich caramel colour.

Take off the heat and slowly add the double cream, using a balloon whisk to incorporate it into the sugar. Bring back to the boil. Pour in the milk, again whisking in.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl use an electric hand-held whisk to beat together the egg yolks and remaining 30g caster sugar until you have a pale, mousse-like mixture. Pour the hot caramel into the bowl and whisk the lot together. Set aside to cool down.

Add the salt to the cooled mixture and pour it all into a deep plastic bowl and pop it in your freezer.

After 45 minutes, take it out of the freezer and whisk vigorously using your electric hand-held whisk – it will have started to freeze around the edges – break up the frozen sections and return to the freezer.

Repeat this process another three times at 45-minute intervals and then leave it – it should be ready within 4 hours of first going in the freezer.

Take a spoon or scoop and delve in to check your handiwork – truly scrumptious is the best that I can come up with but that doesn’t cover it – delectable, delicious, delightful…I could go on but really, you just need to try your own truly scrumptious salted caramel ice cream!

Serving suggestion…

Amazing with little sticky toffee puddings, scrumptious chocolate brownies (both on previous blogs) or, as in the picture here, with brandy snaps (recipe to follow) or… on it’s own – just you, the spoon and the ice cream!

Inspired by…

Another foodie blogger: A Spoonful of Sugar (www.aspoonfulofsugarblog.com)

How easy…

Sooooooooo easy, just don’t forget that it’s in the freezer for whisking part!

 

Christmas Breakfast Boudins

The original version of this went down an absolute storm in November – lots of friends tried it and loved it; so last night when I found a packet of pigs in blankets lurking in the fridge, my son suggested this version of the popular Breakfast Boudins. We made them this morning and they were absolutely delightful!

 Makes 6

 What you need…

1 x muffin tin, lightly buttered

1 x small baking tin, lightly buttered/oiled

1 x cookie cutter

3 slices bread

6 rashers back bacon

6 pigs in blankets

6 eggs

Sea salt and black pepper

What to do…

Preheat oven to 180°c / 350°f / gas 4.

Pop the pigs in blankets into the baking tin and then into the oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, choose a cookie cutter that is the same size as the bottom of your muffin tin holes and cut six circles from your bread slices, nestling them snugly into the bottom of six of the holes.

Dry-fry the bacon so that it’s only just cooked and remove from the pan, setting aside until it’s cool enough to handle. Wrap each rasher around the edge of each muffin hole.

Remove the pigs in blankets from the oven and pop one in each muffin hole. Then break an egg into each one.

Season with salt and pepper and pop in the oven for 15 minutes.

Serve your Christmas Breakfast Boudins with steaming mugs of tea or coffee and enjoy a lovely light breakfast with a little reminder of the seasonal festivities! Yum.

Tip…

I reckon that you could also swap out the pigs in blankets for a little spinach and smoked salmon for a different take on this lovely breakfast.

Inspired by…

www.facebook.com/buzzfeedtasty for the original recipe and Connagh, for the inspired twist!

How easy…

Really easy. A lovely, light and different breakfast.

 

Little Sticky Toffee Puddings with Naughty, Decadent Sauce

Soooooo gorgeous, sooooo yummy, soooooo bad for you! Well, in reality I guess the puddings aren’t that bad but the sauce!!!! Simply melt together butter, cream and sugar – that says it all. Oh, and there’s also the ice cream that we like to serve them with – that’s not healthy either, but what a heavenly combination. Like many desserts, it is after all the naughty element that tempts us, making them an absolute treat. These are a real winter favourite in our house. Give them a go, and they will be in your house too!

What you need…

8 x 175g metal pudding basins, thoroughly buttered and with a little round of greaseproof paper in the bottom.

1 x baking tray

175g stoned, chopped dates

175ml boiling water

½ teaspoon vanilla essence

2 teaspoons coffee essence (I use Camp)

¾ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

75g butter, at room temperature

150g caster sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

175g self-raising flour, sifted

for the naughty sauce

175g soft brown sugar

110g butter

6 tablespoons double cream

What to do…

Pre-heat the oven to 180c / 350 °f / gas 4.

Begin by putting the chopped dates in a bowl and pouring the 175ml boiling water over them. Add the vanilla, coffee essence and bicarbonate of soda and leave on one side. Next, in a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric hand whisk until the mixture is pale, light and fluffy.

Gradually add the beaten egg, a little at a time, beating well after each addition. After that, carefully and lightly fold in the sifted flour, using a metal spoon. Then, fold in the date mixture, including the liquid.

Right now, it’ll look really sloppy – that’s fine: it’s supposed to. Divide the mixture equally between the eight pudding basins. Place on a baking tray and pop in the oven for 25 minutes.

When cooked, leave to cool for five minutes. Slide a small palette knife around each pudding and turn it out. If they’ve risen too much, you may need to lop off the tops so that they will sit evenly on the plate when you turn them (which means you get to sample the sponge – yipppeee: chef’s privileges.

Place the puddings into a shallow baking tray.

Next, make the sauce by tipping all the ingredients into a saucepan and very gently heating them until the sugar has completely dissolved.

To serve, pre-heat the grill to a medium-high setting and pour the sauce over the wee puddings. Place under grill so the tops of the puddings are about 13cm from the heat and let them warm through for five minutes (keep an eye on them: different grills pump out different heats and you don’t want them to burn). The tops should go slightly crunchy and the sauce will be hot and bubbling

Serve your little sticky toffee puddings with naughty, decadent sauce either with double cream or salted caramel ice-cream (recipe to follow later this week). Simply, to die for!

Serving suggestion…

We were given a bottle of Monbazillac, Chateau Peyronnette, 2014, by my cousin’s hubby-to-be, Matt, when they stayed in the run up to Christmas. When I tried this wine with the sticky toffee puddings, it took them from being ‘sodding incredible’ (with the ice cream) to ‘wow! Just wow!’ with the wine!!! Just fabulous!!! One of those experiences without which life just isn’t complete!

Tips….

This recipe is for eight puddings. I always make eight and then freeze those not required at that time in their moulds, which just leaves you to decide how much of the naughty sauce you make – totally yummy, I can eat this by the spoonful…without the puddings! Really, very naughty but wickedly good.

So, for two people: 60g soft brown sugar, 40g butter, 3 tablespoons double cream; for four people: 120g soft brown sugar, 80g butter, 6 tablespoons double cream.

Inspired by…

My friend, Helen, who served them to us at supper one evening and of course, Delia Smith, whose fabulous and ingredient-stained ‘Christmas’ cookery book contains the original recipe, un-tinkered-with.

Tomato and Ricotta Tart

Colourful, light and really tasty, you can throw this tart together in minutes for a really lovely light lunch, starter or tasty snack when you’ve had enough indulging in really rich food. Very lovely. Enjoy!

Serves 4

 What you need…

 15g butter

2 red onions, halved and sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

500g puff pastry

100g ricotta

250g cherry tomatoes, halved

Olive oil for drizzling

A few fresh thyme sprigs, leaves picked

What to do…

Preheat oven to 200°c / 400° / gas 7.

Melt the butter in a pan, add the onions, season and cook gently for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

Lightly flour your work surface and roll out the puff pastry to about 5mm thick. Transfer to a baking tray that has been slightly warmed in the oven but isn’t too hot to handle! Spread over the onion and garlic mix, leaving a 1cm border uncovered. Dollop on the ricotta, scatter over the tomatoes, season well and then drizzle over olive oil, sprinkle with thyme and then pop in the oven for 20 minutes or until the pastry is puffed and golden and the tomatoes are soft and juicy.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly for 5 minutes. Serve your tomato and ricotta tart as a ‘rough cut and share’ snack or starter.

Tip…

Instead of peeling and crushing garlic cloves, use Cooks’ Ingredients frozen, chopped garlic from Waitrose – a quick shake directly into the pan is so much easier!

Goats cheese and olives are a nice alternative to the ricotta.

Inspired by…

Delicious magazine (from a long time ago)

How easy…

Dead easy providing you assemble on the baking tray – the original instructions suggested assembling on your work surface and then transferring to an oven hot baking tray – this required me, my cousin and her husband-to-be to achieved. It’s much easier my way and tastes great!

Stilton and Port

Completely stuffed after Christmas Day but still we eat as the fridge abounds with treats. This one is my favourite – the perfect pairing – Stilton and port!

Serves 1 very happy person

What you need…

1 large slice of good quality Stilton (we schedule an annual trip to Fortnum & Mason, specifically to facilitate this)

1 bottle of late bottled vintage port

What to do…

Remove Stilton from fridge at least an hour before you want to indulge. Place it on attractive plate or slate: there needs to be some ceremony and decorum for the King of English Cheeses.

When ready, pour a good snifter of port. Take a bite of Stilton and enjoy the unique combination of delicious creaminess with the soft piquancy provided by the blue. Take a sip of Port and indulge in the simple but fabulous combination of the two ingredients. So much more together than merely the sum of two parts. Eat and sip, savouring every decadent moment of your Stilton and port. Ideal fare for a Boxing Day snack!

Inspired by…

Decades of tradition, certainly in our house

How easy…

Mastering the art of simply savouring, indulging and relaxing in this simple treat is perhaps the most difficult element to the whole thing – I recommend practice!

 

 

Christmas Cocktails

 

When I was in my teens, my parents had an annual ritual of inviting friends and neighbours (one and the same?) around for Boxing Day drinks. Proceedings would begin at 11am and conclude at the stroke of 1 o’clock, at which point they would all depart the house to go the pub, where festive celebrations would continue. Apart from being light-headed by midday, what I remember most about these events was the organisation. My mother would get up and prepare the canapés and a buffet in attempt to soak up the vast number of cocktails to be consumed. My job was to make great pitchers of the things in readiness for the onslaught! My father would then trip down the stairs, freshly showered 10 minutes before the first of the guests arrived. For years, this was part of Christmas and it was a real enlivener after Christmas Day. So, here are a couple of my favourites cocktails, not necessarily the those of boxing day! Raising a glass to my dad – cheers!

Champagne Cocktail

Serves 1 person ready to celebrate

What you need…

1 x Champagne flute

1 sugar cube

Cognac/brandy

Champagne

1 maraschino cherry

What to do…

Pop your sugar cube into the bottom of the Champagne flute and pour in enough Cognac/brandy to soak into the cube. Top up with Champagne and chuck in the cherry if liked. Done! One celebration in a glass!

Baileys Espresso Martini

Serves 1 very lucky person

What you need…

1 x cocktail shaker

1 x martini glass

A handful of ice

50ml Baileys

25ml vodka

1 espresso shot

3 coffee beans to decorate (optional)

What to do…

Chuck all the ingredients (with the exception of the coffee beans) into the cocktail shaker. Pop the lid on (!) and shake like mad. Gently pour into your martini glass and decorate with coffee beans, if using. Find a large comfortable chair to sit in with your Baileys espresso martini, sit back, sip, relax, enjoy, repeat the last three instructions until glass is drained. Merry Christmas!

Tequila Sunrise

Serves 1 person looking for some holiday sunshine in a glass

What you need…

1 x highball glass

A handful of ice

50ml tequila

Fresh orange juice to top up

1 tablespoon grenadine

Half an orange slice

1 maraschino cherry

What to do…

Fill the glass up with ice and pour over the tequila. Top up with orange juice. Pour the grenadine down the side of the glass so that it sinks to the bottom.

Garnish your tequila sunrise cocktail with the half an orange slice and cherry.

Sip and savour the pictures that flood your mind of beach, heat, sunshine, blue skies and lapping waves. Enjoy!

Inspired by…

Christmas spirit!

How easy…

You just need the right motivation! Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baklava

When on holiday in Corfu this year, we happened upon a very traditional restaurant that was mainly frequented by locals and would have been pretty much impossible to find except via boat. We visited this fabulously authentic restaurant twice, enjoying the food as much as the sea view over a rickety wooden pontoon. At the end of each meal, we were presented with the most delicious baklava – a dessert widely recognised as the national dessert of those countries that made up the Ottoman Empire. I’ve always liked baklava but this homemade version knocked any shop-bought pretender into touch. It was the family’s grandmother whose job it was to create the dessert for the restaurant’s guests each day. I vowed there and then to do my best to replicate the gorgeousness that was that dessert and this comes pretty close. It’s easy to make but sooooooooo bad for you!!!!

Serves 8

What you need…

1 x 20 cm round baking tin, lightly buttered

6 filo pastry sheets, cut in half to create 12 squares (approx 25cm)

150g chopped nuts – walnuts, pistachios and almonds

1 teaspoon cinnamon powder

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon ground cloves

125g (!!!!!) butter, melted

for the syrup

300g sugar

200g water

40g honey

Zest of one lemon

1 cinnamon stick

What to do…

Pre-heat oven to 150°c / 300°f / gas 2

Melt the butter over a low heat, being careful not to burn it.

In the baking tin, lay one layer of filo pastry, then sprinkle melted butter over it. Repeat this process until you have used six sheets of pastry. You will have corners of pastry hanging over the baking dish – roughly fold them in and sprinkle them with butter.

In a bowl, mix together the chopped nuts, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Sprinkle half the mixture over the filo sheets and then add five more layers of filo pastry and sprinkled butter until you have just one sheet of pastry remaining. Sprinkle the remaining nut mixture on top of the pastry layers and then top with the final pastry sheet – don’t forget to sprinkle over the butter. Again, fold in the overhanging corners and sprinkle with more butter.

Place the baklava in the fridge for 15 minutes to make it easier to cut into portions. Remove from the fridge and, using a sharp knife cut the pastry all the way down into eight portions.

Place the baklava on a low shelf in the oven and bake for 1½ hours, until the pastry is crisp and golden.

Meanwhile, prepare the syrup. Into a small saucepan, mix together all the ingredients and bring to the boil. Boil for about 2 minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Don’t stir the syrup – it can go lumpy if you do. As soon as the baklava is baked, ladle over the some of the hot syrup. Once it has been absorbed, ladle over some more and repeat this process until no more can be absorbed – there’s usually a bit left in the pan but rather too much than too little!

Let the baklava cool down and serve – to die for (literally, with all that butter and sugar!) Simply divine!

Inspired by…

A grandmother in Corfu and a lot of Internet research!

How easy…

Very easy. The outcome far outweighs any effort anyway!

 

 

 

Toasted Walnut and Roquefort Salad

Salads are not just for summer! They are also not boring, well not in this house, anyway. I love this salad and particularly at this time of the year – it is fresh, tasty and feels healthy in comparison to all the heavy meals and naughty desserts. The warmth of the toasted walnuts together with the piquancy of the Roquefort makes for an unexpected and quite delicious pairing – a gorgeous salad that never fails to delight, this is a lovely starter or light lunch.

Serves 4

What you need…

120g walnut halves

120g Roquefort cheese

1 tablespoon walnut oil

Sea salt and black pepper

4 tablespoons olive oil

100g mixed salad leaves, washed and dried

2 big handfuls of basil leaves, torn

for the dressing

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons walnut oil

3 tablespoons olive oil

What to do…

Preheat your oven to 180°c / 350° f / gas 4.

Make the dressing by chucking all the ingredients in a screw-top jar, pop the lid on and shake vigorously.

Pop the walnuts into a small baking tin and pour over 1 tablespoon walnut oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper and pop in the oven for 10 minutes until toasted.

Just before you are ready to serve, chuck your salad leaves into a pretty salad bowl, crumble in the Roquefort, tip in the dressing and finally, the walnuts. Toss your toasted walnut and Roquefort salad so that all the ingredients are evenly mixed and serve immediately. The warmth of the toasted walnuts will soften the Roquefort and taking a forkful of the cheese, nuts and a couple of leaves is quite heavenly! Absolutely delish!

Serving suggestions…

A little garlic bread on the side and a really crisp dry white wine are perfect accompaniments

Inspired by…

No idea – another one ripped out of a magazine years ago – it’s a firm favourite in our house though!

How Easy…

Couldn’t be easier!

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