Another school classic! My food over the last week or so has been the closest I will get to a time machine, transporting me back to those innocent years prior to adulthood corruption . This was the crowning glory of school dinners, served with pink, strawberry flavoured custard, chocolate crunch was the treat that defined those treasured formative years.
Understandably, I underwent feelings of pity, shock and dismay when I found that my manfriend had never heard of the stuff! Scandalous! Being 3 years younger than myself I thought that perhaps this was one of the things that Jamie got rid of in his butchering of the typical canteen style school dinner. Upon further investigation (in the form of words had with colleagues, friends and family about said subject), I found this to be an invalid conclusion. Those of a similar age to my partner had also experienced chocolate crunch at school with its famous pink partner in crime, some even mention a green peppermint custard companion, something I was never bestowed with.
This led me to thinking. Is chocolate crunch a regional phenomenon? Is it just a Brummie thing? With my manfreind being from Nottingham, further probing of friends from outside of Birmingham found that they had also never heard of it. This explanation was beginning to seem more and more likely. Eventually, further investigation exposed this as an untruth (a friend from the same side of Birmingham had also never heard of it).
Curiouser and curiouser!
This travesty in the form of the depravation of one of childhoods most treasured puds could only be fixed through an accurate dedication to chocolate crunch replication. I was too lazy to make my own custard so the plain (non pink) tinned stuff would have to do.
In all honesty my friends deprivation was a mere excuse for rustling this up. The truth of the matter is, I wanted something easy and chocolatey that could be whipped up in the time it took for my dinner to go down, this literally takes 30mins from start to finish!
A four ingredient wonder, that is too easy to be true. For those who have never tried it, is not unlike an amalgamation of a cake and a biscuit. I assume granulated sugar should always be used to boost the crunchy texture.
Best eaten warm with custard, but can also enjoyed as a cold crunchy snack!
Chocolate Crunch/ Concrete
200g plain flour
200g granulated sugar
100g butter (melted)
50 cocoa powder
Preheat oven to 180. Line tin with baking parchment (I used 20cm square tin). Mix flour, sugar, cocoa. Finger mix (scrunch) until crumbly. Pour mixture into tin. Pack it down until compact (as with shortbread I like to punch it down because its fun). Cook for 20 mins. Once removed sprinkle with a little granulated sugar.
Please note, this is more crunchy when cold, if you like it softer eat straight from the oven!!!
Cheesecake is another sweet marvel discovered in my school days. The notorious turkey twizzler school dinners of my generation have had much bad press, although, I must say that I was never one to complain. The highlights of these joyous years being, 18p double chocolate cookies fresh out of the oven for breakfast (yes breakfast), chips, chocolate concrete and a surprisingly delightful and light vanilla cheesecake. Luckily for my health, I had a pittance to play with and thus could not indulge my every desire, but, when cheesecake was on the menu, I would skimp on the main course to ensure I would not miss out. Chips and cheesecake it is. I have to admit the light as air, heavenly smooth texture of this is still something of a mystery to me, l marvel at how and where their recipe was devised. Divine intervention seems the only clear answer.
This particular recipe came about when looking for a suitable answer to the challenge presented to me in the form of my brothers birthday. A health conscious, gym face who rarely gorges on anything as gluttonous cake, it needed to be special! Who knows when this boy is going to eat cake again! He is so unacquainted with the stuff he cannot even put his finger on what he likes. So it was my job to create something that would be pleasing to a palate so ignorant to the joy that cake can bring to ones soul.
This cake is not for the health conscious, but if you are going to do cake, you need to do it properly. Especially on a landmark occasion, turning a quarter of a century is a big deal and something that must be celebrated without restraint.
I have a confession to make also. I went for the easy no bake option due to bring pressed for time and tired from another soul melting week at work. My intention was to go for the grand gesture of the baked cheesecake but, from experience and much research I believe that this cake is birthday worthy, sweet, smooth and heavenly without the fuss of creating a water bath to retain the smooth texture that I so desire (a cheesecake baked without the water bath does not a happy Louise make)!
Nobody need know that it took a fraction of the time and effort of its baked cousin mwahahahaha.
600g soft cheese
250g double cream
100g Icing Sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract (or 1 vanilla pod if you want to be fancy)
400g strawberries hulled, chopped
2 tbsp caster sugar
For the base;
100g butter (melted)
250g digestive biscuits
Line bottom of 23cm loose bottomed tin with baking parchment. Whizz biscuits in food processor, alternatively place in food bag and bash violently with rolling pin or other suitable blunt object (i find the meat tenderiser works after a long day at work). Mix with melted butter. Pack down into baking tin. Refrigerate.
Mix cream cheese with vanilla extract. Whisk double cream and icing sugar in separate bowl to stiff peak stage (until it is stiff and can stand up without flopping down on itself). Fold cream mixture with cream cheese mixture. Fold in half of chopped strawberries. Pour onto biscuit base. Refrigerate.
Put remaining strawberries in bowl with 2 tbsp of caster sugar. After 30 mins puree in food processor (or mash with potato masher as I did, getting the food processor out seemed like a chore, although, I don’t think I got as much from the strawberries as a result). Pass through sieve and add to top of cheesecake. Leave to set (I left the cheese cake overnight but a few hours will do).
Voila, a deceptively easy, beautifully smooth cheesecake minus the risk of a cracked top or curdled texture. Simplicity at its finest!
Chocolate and chilli. All the rage with food fashionistas, a combination which, at first glance seems a teeny bit ridiculous (why taint something as perfect as chocolate with something as aggressive as chilli?) but, once the surface has been scratched this is a wow flavour pairing that seems so natural one wonders why everyone isn’t doing it. All the time.
Chocolate brownies are a product of my dreams. An American export worth keeping. My lust for these ungodly specimens aroused by my American exchange Year 7 maths teacher Mrs Butler. What a battle axe she was. We all sat to attention for this one, no throwing of paper or hurling of spit in her lessons, for her we all stood to attention, sitting in fear of the time she was to call us up to the board for the ritual humiliation that was writing the answers, which were (in my case) inevitably going to be wrong. Her effictiveness as a maths teacher aside, the lasting effect she had on me was the memory of her American treats. Chocolate brownies were to me an unknown gem, a little taste of gluttonous heaven flown over directly from the states into my humble, deprived lap. In these short snippets of joy, the light was shining down upon my measly brummie soul. Made from the fabric of heaven itself, fudgy, gooey, melt in the mouth indulgent, rich chocolate squares of unadulterated pleasure. Where had these been all my life?
Ever since this defining moment I have set to work finding the perfect brownie recipe. A labour of love of mine it has taken many non perfect (cakey) attempts to come out with what is for me the perfect brownie. This recipe really does work every time (providing you don’t overcook them), a shiny crisp top layer with dark, sensual, gooey under bits. I do believe this is achieved through the whisking of the eggs with the sugar, incorporating the secret ingredient to brownie perfection, air. Knock this out in the later stages and your brownies will be a goner. Treat these with tenderness and affection and with careful folding and attention these will not disappoint. (I cannot take credit for this recipe it can be found here
As a rule it is safe to say one should use best quality dark chocolate. 70% cocoa solids preferable. Look for chocolate that does not contain vegetable oil (although if and when strapped for cash I do have to admit to using Tesco’s no frills 30p dark chocolate and getting good results).
Chocolate and Chilli Brownies
185g Dark Chocolate (broken into small pieces)
85g Plain Flour
185g Unsalted Butter (cut into cubes)
40g Cocoa Powder
100g White Chocolate/Milk Chocolate or mixture of both cut or bashed into small chunks
3 large eggs
275g Golden Caster Sugar
Put dark chocolate and butter into bowl (big enough to fit over top of saucepan without touching the bottom). Fill saucepan quater full with water and put over low heat until reaches a simmer. Place bowl over pan and stir until melted (make sure the bowl does not touch the water in the pan).
Turn oven to 160 (fan), 180 (conventional). Line 20cm square tin. Sift flour and cocoa butter into bowl. Break eggs into bowl. Add Golden Caster Sugar. Whisk until light and creamy (I recommend an electric whisk, although if alike me one is not to hand the resulting dead arm is worth the end result). It should be double it’s original size and should leave a trail for a few seconds when the whisk is wiggled. Pour cooled chocolate over egg mixture.
Fold (carefully) with spatula using figure of 8, plunging in at one side, taking it underneath, bring up at opposite side and again at the middle. Move bowl round after each folding. This part is crucial so as not to knock the air out that you spent all that blood sweat and tears to incorporate!! Sift already sifted dry ingredients mix into wet ingredients. Fold carefully to incorporate. Carefully add chopped white/milk chocolate. Bake for 20 mins.
Cool in tin then foist out carefully trying best not to crack perfect shiny top bit.
Please note it is always better to under cook brownies than over cook, when removing from the oven they will still have a slight wobble, this is a good sign. They should still be shiny and crisp at the top.
My quiche. An adaptation of a French classic. For me this weather calls for it. Something that can be enjoyed hot or cold, with salad or vegetables, or in my case a side dish to accompany an impromptu barbecue (how convenient it was to have a humble, freshly made quiche lying around when friends drop by with a disposable barbecue). So not planned.
The word quiche is actually derived from the German word kuchen (meaning cake), and the Germans in fact had their own version of this dish before the French, the difference being the brioche dough that the savoury custard was baked in. Although the quiche as we know it, in the incarnation that I will be cooking today is French in origin.
So whether you want to call it French or German, it is what it is and that sure is tasty.
Quiche can be made with cream, milk or creme fraiche, many recipes I happened upon either chose cream or a mixture of cream and milk to mix with the eggs. I myself have only ever used milk alone to make quiche, and whist I can see the benefits of using cream, I feel that it is an addition of calories and saturated fats to my day that could be better utilised elsewhere- ice cream for pudding anyone? Also I will be loading this mother with cheese which will make up for the richness lost through using semi- skimmed milk. I’d much rather cheese than cream any day.
First for the pastry- shop bought ready to roll pastry of course works just as well but there is nothing like making your own for that fine sense of achievement you get when the quiche emerges soggy bottomless.
Note to self- heat wave is not the pastry makers friend. Perseverance is key to success when inevitable frustration ensues.
Two major points to keep in mind when pastry making.
1. Keep the butter cool. If it starts to melt or go greasy at any point rush it into the fridge as if its life depended on it.
2. Do not overwork. Something that can not be reiterated enough in many forms of baking. Overworking aids gluten development through friction and body heat, leading to shrinkage and toughness, neither of which are desirable qualities in a good short crust.
170g Plain Flour
pinch of salt
100g unsalted butter cut into little squares (about 1cm)
1 egg yolk
2 tbsps ice cold water
Mix egg yolk with water. Sift flour and salt into bowl. Cut butter into flour using scissor motion with two table knives. Rub flour into butter (dip fingers into flour, rub butter with flour using tips of thumb and fingers, pulling flour up above the bowl as you do this helps to keep mixture cool as it falls back into bowl through aerating it). When fine breadcrumbs achieved add half water and mix with table knife. Add the rest in bits until pastry comes together. Bring together into ball and press down to form disc. Wrap in cling film. Chill for 30 mins (at least). Dust flour over clean surface. Roll out and press into tart tin with due care and attention (or roll into weird higgldy piggldy oblong shape, tear and press pieces on to make circle shape required for tin- will one day learn to roll into circles for now I shall call my pastry rustic and leave it at that).
Instead of rubbing together with hands place sifted flour and salt into food processor with diced butter. Whizz until breadcrumbs, remove add eggy water and bring together with hands as above. A bit of a cheat, but less handling is always good and also means less body heat being transferred to the butter. Although in this case I still had to do a bit of rubbing to make sure butter and flour were properly breadcrumbed and had to give it a good rest in the fridge to cool it down a bit after all that action.
Next for the blind bake. I placed roughly ripped baking parchment into my prepared pastried tart tin and added dried chick peas to weigh it down. I refrained from poking the pastry as I did not want the wet mixture to seep through later. I then baked for 15 minutes with the beans in, then removed them and baked for another 10 minutes until golden brown.
Leave to cool down if possible, a method of prevention for the soggy bottom.
Now for the filling……
120g cheddar cheese grated
200g baby leaf spinach cooked
3 medium eggs beaten
1 onion (chopped and fried in a bit of butter)
Salt and Pepper
Combine milk and eggs. Add grated cheese. Roughly tear gorgonzola and add. Add cooked ingredients (spinach and onion). Season. Add freshly grated nutmeg to the mix. Pour into blind baked pastry case. Cook for about 40 mins on 180 or until set. Eat. Enjoy.
This was eaten fast!!
I apologise in advance for my lack of exact measures, with meals like this I don’t tend to work like that, so any measures I do give are approximations. I usually just rely on eye adding if needs be and being stingy with things like salt that wield the power of ruining a meal with one shake too many, tasting as I go along.
So anyway I shall kick off with a lovely simple meal, rather a treat for my manfriend and I the ubiquitous Sirloin Steak!! (This sumptuous piece of meat wholly deserving of the capital letters it has acquired!)
The Sirloin is of course one of the greatest cuts of Steak one can acquire, and is without a doubt one handsome piece of meat. Something often eyed up, but seldom purchased due to the ever present lack of funds that usually besieges me. But not this week! The window shopper (food perv) in me was delighted to find fifty percent off in my local Co-Op, thank you there is a god!
After getting the steak home and eyeing it lovingly as it rested on my counter (bringing it down to room temperature ready to be cooked), I prepared my sides, which are of cause lesser in comparison, but just as important to the success of my meal. If I’m going to eat steak I’m going to do it properly!
First of all a couple of red skinned potatoes for some spiced potato wedges. I say spiced, in this case I am using my one stop, go to spice mix for these which is Caribbean Everyday Seasoning (or All-Purpose Seasoning depending on the brand). This seasoning saves a lot of dishes from the throwaway fate of the bland, perking it up with a mixture of salt, chilli, paprika, onion, celery, coriander and cumin (in no particular order). This should, however, come with a disclaimer as it can easily be overused, it is generally around 72% salt and so one should not be too liberal with this. I often mix it with extra paprika if I am going to use it for potato wedges, which I have done in this case. I have in the past made my own version of the spice mix in order to have control over the salt content using the spices listed above.
I recommend red skinned potatoes for everything!! They are especially great for wedges.
Spiced Potato Wedges
3 tbsp Olive Oil
Carribean Everyday Seasoning
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
couple of potatoes chopped into wedges
Put oil into largish bowl. Pour in seasoning (to taste). Mix to create seasoning coloured oil (red in this case). Add chopped potatoes. Dig your hands in and get messy until all potatoes are evenly covered. Transfer to baking tray in single layer. Cook on about 200 for at least 20 minutes. Poke with sharp object to check if cooked.
Next in my line up of sexy sides is roasted broccoli. This bits pretty simple just wash it, cut it, put it on a baking tray, drizzle with oil of choosing and roast until looks done, after about 10-15 mins (I am a little ad-hoc with these things but usually seem to get it right without looking at my watch, some might call it intuition, I call it a nose for smelling the almost burnt). Roasted broccoli is something only recently discovered by myself and has been gracing many a plate of mine ever since. This takes broccoli to a whole new level that I didn’t even know existed, silly me.
My final addition to this extravagant for the likes of me meal is a classic player in the sides game, the somewhat obvious choice, garlic mushrooms. Mushrooms and steak go together like, well mushrooms and steak, no analogy needed here to explain my choice, its pretty damn simple, yet always effective. Nevermind the fact that mushrooms are full of lovely nutrients such as selenium, copper, potassium and vitamin D and magically manage to retain them whether fried, grilled or microwaved, Oh My!
4 tbsp Butter
Mushrooms, (about half a punnet)
2 Garlic Cloves
Parsley (fresh or dried, in my case dried)
Celery (or table) Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Slice mushrooms. Melt butter in pan. Add Garlic (crushed, or in my case grated due to lack of a garlic cutter). Add Parsley Add salt and pepper. Fry for a bit. Smell the nice smells. Add mushrooms. Stir until coated. Cook for around 5- 10 mins on low to medium heat (for me this is number three on the biggest ring of my electrical hob) until done.
Now for the Steak. This was cooked in a griddle pan so I could achieve the lovely liney effect Burger King is so good at. The griddle pan was then placed on the hob with the heat on high (about 5). I stroked my (room temperature) beauties in a little Everyday Seasoning and black pepper (black pepper will do if no Everyday Seasoning graces your cupboards). When the pan was hot I mercilessly threw my lovelies in and cooked them until medium rare. This is said to be around 3 mins on each side but a trick as suggested by Harold McGee in his miraculous work of food reference and general knowledge, On Food and Cooking, is to turn the steak frequently in order to prevent overcooking, as this ensures neither side has the time to absorb or release large amounts of heat. This method unfortunately did not bode well for my of fancy lines (doh) but it does produce excellent results every time.