Tuesday, 17 December 2013

After Eight Brownie - The perfect Christmas treat.

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Lets talk dinner parties. I would love nothing more than to host a mad-men-esque evening of elegance, dinner and cocktails for my friends. In my head I swan around in a beautiful dress, mixing martinis, serving food in matching crockery with soft jazz playing in the background.

In reality I don't have a dining room, so my guests have to eat their dinner on their knees, and I tend to panic-cook far too much food, which people feel obliged to eat until they eventually slip into some sort of sugar-coma on my incredibly comfy M&S sofa.

I tend to end up making picky food, which doesn't require a knife and fork to eat. Pizza, flatbreads with various dips, and of course - something sweet to nibble on.

With Christmas getting steadily nearer I like to have a selection of sweet treats to hand for those people who pop in to drop off presents, or for anyone who gives us a gift that we are not expecting.

These Christmas inspired brownies are the perfect quick and easy sweet treat to whip up quickly, yet still impress.

After Eights were always a bit of a Christmas institution in my house growing up. I remember many extremely competitive festive family board games were accompanied by a box of after eight mints and a few too many glasses of wine. In fact, I bet if we pulled out the box of trivial pursuit right now, there would be some After Eight wrappers in there somewhere.

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After Eight Brownies
Ingredients
  • 400g Dark Chocolate
  • 400g Butter
  • 500g Caster Sugar
  • 6 Eggs (medium)
  • 230g Plain Flour
  • 2 teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Packet of After Eight Mints
Instructions
Preheat your oven to 180C and line your brownie tin with either tin foil or greaseproof. (I prefer tin foil)Melt the chocolate and butter together, you can do this in a pan or microwave, whichever you prefer. I use a non stick pan. Leave the chocolate mixture to cool slightlyWhisk the sugar and eggs together (if you were adding additional flavours such as coffee or vanilla, you would whisk it in here)In a separate bowl weigh out the flour, baking powder and salt.Pour the chocolate/butter into the eggs/sugar and whisk until combined. It will be lovely a gooey.Sift in the flour and stir in until all the flour has disappeared. Be careful not to overmix at this point, just until you can no longer see any white flour.Pour roughly half the mixture into your prepared brownie tin. I use a 39cm x 27cm x 2.5cm tin, you could use a deeper tin and adjust the cooking time slightly.Place a single layer of after eights over the brownie mix, if I had been using a smaller tin I might have gone for a double layer.Pour the remaining mix over the top and place in a preheated oven for 25-35 minutes. The top should be crisp and cracking slightly and the middle still slightly fudgey.Once cooked, leave to cool completely then cut into lovely big chunky squares. I found a liberal dusting of icing sugar finished them off nicely.

Do you have any family food traditions at Christmas time? I'd love to hear them.

I received product and ingredient vouchers from After Eight for writing this post, all views are my own.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Sunday Summary - 1st December

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christmas tree

Well looky here. It's December! It is officially OK to put up your Christmas decorations and drink mulled wine to excess! Hurrah! We always put our decorations up the first weekend of December, which luckily this year means the 1st of the month.

I am a little nervous about putting our tree up this year as Ruby (the cat) has never been with us for Christmas and her playful nature and love of all things shiny might be an issue. Although, I don't want to speak to soon, but so far she seems utterly disinterested.

Update The peace lasted all of about 3 hours, we've had to take off all the decorations within her reach and turn the lights off. Merry bloody Christmas.


Butter Wouldn't Melt

How was your week? Get up to much?

I've been busy at work as per usual. Managed to squeeze in a night of comedy on Wednesday though, it was Red Raw night at The Stand Comedy Club in Newcastle. It is £2 on the door and you get to see 10 new acts trying out their material. A friend of ours (Julian Lee) was doing a set, so we went along for support. We had an absolute blast, ended up not getting home until 1:30am, which in hindsight might not have been the best idea as we had work the next day. Thursday was awfully long and sleepy.

I've been doing some Christmas shopping this week too, I am pretty organised with presents so far but don't even talk to me about the food! I have no idea. I think we have settled on pork for dinner, but apart from that I haven't thought about anything else. Although, I did manage to order my Christmas meat on twitter this week! Huge thank to Charlotte's Butchery for their advice and cannot wait to pick up my pork shoulder and ham!

I have some old favourites in my recipe arsenal, like these Mulled Wine Frangiane Pies which are a great aternative to boring old mince pies with the added bonus of making your whole house smell amazingly festive. Or there is always good old fashion gingerbread, always a winner

Speaking of Gingerbread, if you are in Newcastle and looking for something to do today, get yourself down to the Hancock Museum from 2pm for the Gingerbread House Challenge! Lots of activities for the kids, and some amazing gingerbread creations to see (and eat!), its all for a great cause; The Sick Children's Trust.

If you have any winning christmas recipes, please do share them in the comments.

Finally, I wanted to end this little rambling post with some of my favourite blogs of the week, I read so many wonderful blogs, so I thought I'd share some of the highlights from the last week;

Overnight Cinnamon Buns from M Bakes.
Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing from London Bakes.
French Onion Pastry Puffs from Joy the Baker.

I also stumbled across ThatGalJenna through instagram, and although it is not food related, I want to steal this girls entire wardrobe!

Hope you all have a lovely week!

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Whiskey Flavoured Scottish Tablet.

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Today is St Andrews Day in Scotland. I have Scottish grandparents and red hair so I think of myself as a honorary Scot, or at least I do on St Andrews Day and Burns Night so I can justify eating vast quantities of Haggis and Shortbread.

Yesterday at work we had a little celebration at lunch time, we ate haggis pies (pictured above) and everyone brought something Scottish in to share. Someone had already chosen to bring Shortbread so I decided to try something new and make Tablet.

I scoured the internet for a recipe and found one that looked relatively easy, although after I began cooking I realised there were glaring holes in the recipe which left me wondering if what I was doing was at all right, I ended up goggling furiously towards the end looking for pictures of what my tablet should look like.

I shouldn't have worried as it all turned out fine in the end.

whiskey scottish tabletwhiskey scottish tablet

This recipe made about 100-130 small squares, I used a 39cm x 27cm x 2.5cm baking tray and it only filled half of it, but the consistency of the tablet meant I could mould it into one end of the tin quite easily.

print recipe
Whiskey Scottish Tablet
Ingredients
  • 150ml Semi-skimmed Milk
  • 500g Granulated Sugar
  • 397g tin Condensed Milk
  • 2 teaspoons Whiskey or Bourbon (could sub for vanilla or other flavouring)
  • Greaseproof Paper (Enough to line a shallow 25mm tin)
Instructions
Pop the sugar and milk into a large heavy bottomed saucepan, I used my biggest pan as the temperature gets pretty high so any splashes would be seriously painful. Bring to the boil for around 5-6 minutes until the sugar is dissolved. I stirred it occasionally. (I wasn't sure if I was suppose to stir it at this stage, but it didn't do any harm)Add the tin of condensed milk (slowly to avoid splashing) and stir constantly for 20 minutes. It is important to not stop stirring.After 20 minutes it should have thickened and turned a caramel colour, add the whiskey and stir for another 30 second to combinetake off the heat and stir quickly for a minute or so, as it will start to thicken and harden as it cools.pour into a shallow baking tin, which should be lined with grease proof paper. It will be hardening fast so smoosh it in and push it right into the corners.leave it for around 15 minutes to cool and set, then lift the tablet out of the tin (using the greaseproof) and chop into small squares. It is ready to serve immediately, or store it in an airtight container, it should keep for 2-3 weeks (if it lasts that long!)

I scheduled this post for this morning, then woke up to the awful news of the helicopter crash in Glasgow. I just wanted to add that my thoughts are with those involved xx

Friday, 29 November 2013

Black & White Coconut Cookies.

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cookies for santa
I feel like I should preface this blog post with the fact that I have managed to munch my way through 4 (that's right, 4!!!) of these magically moreish cookies in the past 23 minutes. Seriously, if I hadn't made them myself I would of sworn they contained crack.

I don't often make cookies, I can never seem to get them just right. I like my cookies chunky with a slight hint of chewiness to them. Every time I have tried making them I've ended up with a thin overly chewy creation, or a thick, short, crumbly biscuit. I just haven't found the perfect formula.

These cookies are pretty darn close to perfection for me, and strangely get even better with age!

christmas cookies

The key ingredient in this recipe is Coconut Oil rather than butter. I have been seeing coconut oil popping up all over the place recently, beauty bloggers are raving about its moisturising qualities for both skin and hair, food bloggers are all over it in baking and popcorn making. So when I saw a jar in Holland and Barratt I thought I'd see what all the fuss was about.

The way some people talk about this stuff it sounds like a cure-all for just about everything. I tried it on my hair, it was alright, smelled amazing but I didn't notice a massive change in texture or shine. I tried it on my body... again it was nice, smelled amazing, made things feel softer.

By far my favourite use for it so far has been these cookies, I reserve the right to change my mind when I try the popcorn though.

If you've got a great coconut oil recipe, please share it in the comments!

The coconut oil has a wonderful subtle coconut flavour which in addition to the desiccated coconut really makes this recipe special. I used three types of chocolate in my cookies but it would totally work with just one, its very adaptable.

print recipe
Black & White Coconut Cookies
This recipe makes 12 large cookies or around 18 smaller ones.
Ingredients
  • 125g Dark Chocolate
  • 135g Plain Flour
  • 15g Desiccated Coconut
  • 30g Cocoa Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
  • half a teaspoon Salt
  • 125g Coconut Oil
  • 75g Light Muscavado Sugar
  • 50g Caster Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 200g Chopped White and Milk Chocolate (or you can use chips if you prefer)
Instructions
Preheat the oven to 170CStart by melting the 125g of dark chocolate. Cream the coconut oil and sugars together, I used my Kitchenaid for this, but you can do it by hand. It took about 2-3 minutes in the mixer.Add the melted chocolate to the oil/sugar mixer and combine.Mix in the egg and vanilla extract next and beat until combined.Sift in the dry ingredients followed by the chopped chocolate pieces.Pop your dough in the fridge to firm up slightly before shaping.Roll into equal sized balls and press down on the top lightly, they spread in the oven so leave enough room between each cookie for spreading.Bake at 170C for 15-18 minutes, you want the cooking to still be slightly soft when you take them out, they will firm as they cool.

Now, if you'll excuse me I am off to dunk one of these bad boys into a cup of tea while I plan my Christmas menu for this year. I am totally not on the ball with Christmas food planning, so if you have any inspiration or advice please share it!

Also, I have it on good authority that Santa loves coconut, so these would be the perfect cookie to leave out on December 24th. Just saying.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Winter Warmer: Spicy Carrot Soup

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winter warming soup

Well it is officially winter, I don't know about you but Jack Frost has definitely been nipping at my nose. The temperature may be dropping but my appetite seems to be increasing at a remarkable rate, all thoughts of eating healthily and losing weight have gone out of the window and all I can think about is big cosy duvets and eating. Its like I am secretly a bear and am preparing for hibernation.

Please tell me there is some science based reason for this and I am not just a greedy guts!

Anyway, I made this soup months and months ago but never posted the recipe, so I thought I'd share something warm, comforting AND healthy. Partly as its cold and soup is warm, but also to remind myself that this is what I should be eating.

So please see this post as a giant reminder sign to myself screaming "EAT ME""

spicy carrot soup

I bought a small jar of Laksa paste from Sainsburys on a whim, it added a lovely freshness to the soup. You can sub this with anything really, whatever spices you love. I found Harissa also works really well too.

The chilli powder is from The Spicery, it is a lovely mild yet flavourful spice. You could replace with regular chilli powder or paprika.

print recipe
Spicy Carrot Soup
Ingredients
  • 3-4 large, peeled. Carrots
  • 1, small Red Onion
  • 1 tablespoon Laksa Paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kasmiri Chilli Powder
  • 1 Veggie Stock Cube (made up to 1.5 pints)
  • 1-2 cloves Garlic
Instructions
Roughly chop the carrot, onion and garlic ( I used lazy garlic, which is prechopped).gently fry off the onion and garlic on a low heat for a couple of minutes.Add the Laksa Paste and chilli powder and stir.Throw in the carrots and pour over the stock.Leave to simmer until the carrots are soft and your house smells amazing.Blitz in a blender (or with a stick blender) until smooth.You can stir in a little creme fraiche or natural yoghurt at the end if you like.

I had my soup with some rice cakes and half a pot of cottage cheese, t'was delicious!

If you have a winner of a soup recipe (or stews) please share them with me, I have made a few different soups and stews lately which have been lacking in the flavour department.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Stuff What I Did - Episode One

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I have been a blur recently, I've been to so many places and done so many things I have hardly had time to think let alone write about them. Every time I go somewhere in the back of my mind I am thinking about how I would blog about it, taking photos to share with you all, then before I know it its 2 months later and it feels like the moment has passed. I think part of my problem is that I feel compelled to give you a nice long meaty post with hilarious anecdotes up the wazoo... In reality I just don't have time to blog each and every moment, no matter how much I might want to.

So rather than just not mentioning anything I thought I would do little round-up posts. Little snippets of things, restaurants I've loved, events I've gone to, Food I've sampled and just have to tell you about...

I'm sure you get the picture, so without futher ado, here is some stuff what I did "recently" (not that recently but lets pretend, OK?)...

Brewdog Newcastle

One of my favourite parts of the city is Grey Street. It is not only an architectural beauty spot, it also houses the Theatre Royal (pictured) which has had a little facelift recently and is frankly stunning, especially at night. Walking down Grey Street in the evening is lovely and there are lots of wonderful restaurants and bars all the way to the Quayside.

Nestled between Grey St and the Quayside you can find Brewdog. Now until recently I had never really considered Brewdog as a place for me, I am not a big beer drinker and I always felt a bit lost looking at the beer menu.

However, when I was invited to attend an afternoon tea with a punk twist I jumped at the chance. They paired each of their signature ales with various meats, cheeses and cake. (Cake lovingly supplied by Pet Lamb Patisserie)

I was plesently surprised to find how much I enjoyed some of the lighter brews, the Punk IPA and 5am Saint were my favourites. Some of the darker ales were too strong for my liking. Brewdog have bars all over the UK, so dont be scared, go on in and enjoy some quality brews.

>

Urban Night Feast

The second annual Urban Night Feast happened in early October. I had such a great time at the first event back in 2012 I was really looking forward to it. UNF is a street food event which draws vendors from all around the UK to Newcastle basically to have a great big party!

The event is organised by Maunika Gowardhan and although it got a little stick not using "local" street food vendors I personally like the fact that we got a chance to sample some of what the rest of the UK have to offer right on our doorstep. We are lucky enough to have a lot of wonderful street food in Newcastle, it nice to be able to taste and experience a few others without having to buy exorbitant train tickets.

Some of my highlights from this years feast; Luardo's pulled pork burrito, Deeny's "Macbeth" haggis toastie, The Travelling Gin Company's Negroni and Ginola cocktails, Horn OK Please and their amazing bhel puri and finally the wonderful Purl London and their cocktail masterclass.

I paid the extra £12 to go to the Purl masterclass, where I learned all about prohibition cocktails and smoke infused alcohol... To be honest I am struggling to remember what they talked to us about, but I can assure you their "Bribe" cocktail was equal parts tasty and lethal.

All in all a fun night was had by all.

Lane 7 Opening

It seems that you can't take 3 steps without seeing a new place opening in Newcastle at the moment. Not that I'm complaining, it pleases me greatly to see some fun new alternatives to the usual haunts. I heard about Lane 7 through Twitter, the idea was for a boutique bowling alley and restaurant. Forget formica tables, moulded seats and plastic hot-dogs imagine the best bar you’ve ever been to with bowling.

I was really excited to go check it out, especially after Stalking following the chef on twitter and getting a sneak peak at the menu. inspired by classic American dishes, from burgers and ribs to mac n cheese and pulled pork, Screw the bowling I am going for the food!

I was certainly not disappointed! I went with four friends and I went for the Mac n Cheese (with sweet potato fries) and the others opted for the Pulled Pork Bun, Double Cheese Burger and the Spatch-cock Piri piri Chicken. I don't think any of us spoke for about 10 minutes after the food came, we were far too busy shoving it into our faces.

Seriously, it was good. The Mac n Cheese was not super cheesy (would of loved maybe a bit of blue cheese going on) but the crispy onions and herby breadcrumbs lifted it, making it a wonderfully comforting dish. The sweet potato fries were delicious of course, how could they not be?

We had a quick go at the bowling, which was fun and all but I wouldn't necessarily go rushing back to bowl. Its a great added extra but the best part for me (besides the food) was the overall atmosphere. The clatter of pins, the bold and beautful decor and the attentive and friendly service are what make this place special.

I read a really great post over on Happy Yolks today which talked about places trying so hard to be "hip" and cool that they forget the human element. I can honestly say from my experience Lane 7 gets the balance just right, and I will be going back and I will be trying the salt beef hash.

So hope you enjoyed the first installment of "Stuff What I Did"... Tune in next time for tapas, gin bars and pizza!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like...

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CHRISTMAS!

Before I jump into this post, have we all seem the John Lewis Christmas advert? I know people have mixed opinions on it, but I think its cute, the Hare's sad "I miss my friend" face gets me everytime. Just in case you live under a rock and missed it...

I have a confession to make, I bloody love this time of year, the cold weather, wrapping up in scarves, gloves and coats, going Christmas shopping and trying to find that perfect gift for someone... Bliss.

I love buying presents for people, spending time thinking of something they would love. I pride myself on being a good-gift-buyer. I think letters to Santa and wishlists have their place, but I much prefer the thrill of finding the perfect gift for someone, seeing something and immediately knowing that that special person would LOVE it!

One of my favourite things to do for Christmas is give people hampers, I usually try to build up a selection of goodies and wrap them creatively myself, I've always thought shop bought hampers were a bit stuffy, all shortbread and chutney and absolutely no fun at all.

Boy was I wrong...

I was sent this beautiful hamper of goodies from John Lewis and was bowled over by the selection of sweet treats. It is almost like someone picked each thing especially for me! Chocolate covered pretzels, salted caramel marshmallow, jelly beans, Christmas ginger bread, turkish delight...

John Lewis offer a range of pre-packed food hampers, or a great selection of foodie gifts for you to put into your own hampers.

BTW the Baru Dark Chocolate covered marhsmallows with salted caramel were out of this world!

Ruby is clearly sold on the whole hamper idea, although her reaction to the baubles have me a little worried about our Christmas tree.

Do you do the whole hamper thing at Christmas? I am thinking of doing some homemade bits and bobs to go alongside little gifts this year, maybe some vanilla essence, gingerbread or fudge; please feel free to link to some homemade gift ideas in the comments! I am on the hunt for inspiration.

I was sent this hamper for review purposes

Monday, 18 November 2013

Meal Planning Monday - 18th November.

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Gratuitous Picture of my Cat

I had a very busy week last week, so feel like I didn't cook at all. This week is looking much quieter so I am keen to get back in the kitchen and back to normality a little. I ate out a lot last week and on Wednesday night I ate a massive amount of lovely cheese. At the time it was heavenly but afterwards I was reminded of my possible lactose-intolerance issues. Ugh.

So, I am trying the whole no dairy thing again. Wish me luck!

My breakfast and lunch for the week will include mostly porridge (with lactose-free milk), fruit, soup and leftovers.

Monday
Chicken Enchiladas (half with no cheese for me), using leftover roast chicken from yesterday this is an incredibly easy midweek meal.

Tuesday
BBQ Chicken thighs with homemade wedges and salad

Wednesday
Bangers and mash (loving the cold weather induced winter foods that are sneaking into my plan)

Thursday
Some sort of chilli/ bolognese / cottage pie type dish. Basically something with beef mince, I'll see how I feel on the day.

Friday
Pork chops with boiled potatoes and veg.

A pretty simple and typical meal plan for me, but honestly this is just what I need.

What are you guys eating this week?

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