Making it mine.

I don’t always feel like blazing a trail.  Every now and again, it’s nice to follow in the footsteps of those who share a passion for similar things and are willing to create and share with the kind of gusto that I secretly hope I have.  My thanks, then, to Nigella Lawson for her commitment to artery-blocking sweet treats and flavours that pack a punch.

Not many Christmas’s ago, the plucky, self-acclaimed domestic goddess shared her recipe for Christmas rocky road bars.  I enjoyed making them and have adapted them each year since to suit my own taste.  This year, I’ve been most happy with the addition of glace ginger.  I knew it would come in handy at some point!  The following recipe is extremely simple, in the same way that the no bake chocolate cake was.  A great one to make with children and so quick to put together.  With only a day or so before the big day, you could easily empty your cupboard of fun stuff and combine it in syrup, butter and chocolate!

Festive rocky road bars (Adapted from Nigella Lawson)

300g dark chocolate

170g butter

125g milk chocolate

100g glace cherrries

100g glace ginger

100g amaretti biscuits

100g almonds

100g marsh mallows

4 tblspoons golden syrup

1 tspoon vanilla extract

Melt the butter and chocolate in a deep saucepan over a low heat.  Stir in the vanilla and the syrup.  Pour in the almonds, cherries and ginger and stir until coated.  Next, crush the biscuits, but not too finely, and mix into the chocolate.

Take the pan off the heat and stir in the marsh mallows.  Tip the mixture into a tin lined with baking paper and refrigerate for a couple of hours until set.  Cut into bars and dust with icing sugar.  Sneak into the kitchen at every opportunity to stuff one into your mouth.

Tomorrow, my sausage and apricot terrine!

Tower of turnovers.

Are food bloggers only writing to fuel their inflated egos?  I think not, but I did read a very aggressive post while checking out some food-related blogs recently.  The blogger was angry at food bloggers who wanted nothing more than to show off about what they were eating, where they were eating and how skillful they were in the kitchen.  Fair enough, nobody wants to read a blog full of boasting, but sadly the writer of this post did not believe that people were genuinely passionate about food.  In fact, he said that the only types of food blog that he could possibly permit were those written by experts in the field, or those that provided recipes for people with special dietary requirements.  Thankfully, I do cater for those with special requirements.  In fact, I’m sure that many of the loyal readers of this blog are butter and sugar-dependent just like me.

Well, there’s only so much negativity I can put up with and it wasn’t long before I’d stumbled across a much more interesting article about the proposed Kingdom Tower in Jeddah that could exceed a kilometre in height!  Yeah, that’s gonna need some serious window cleaners.  Now, if we’re talking about self-aggrandisement, surely there is no greater project that exemplifies this.  It seems such a waste.  All that work and cost for another Four Seasons hotel?  Instead, why not get hold of some cherry jam and some puff pastry and construct a tower made of cherry turnovers? I did! Okay, it didn’t create any jobs and the impact on the economy was negligible, but boy is that cherry jam putting a smile on my wife’s face!

Cherry & marshmallow turnovers

1 block puff pastry (500g)

1 jar cherry jam

80 mini marshmallows

1 egg

coarse white sugar

This is such an easy recipe.  Looking for inspiration and a way to use up the frozen pastry I had, I spotted a jar of unopened Morello cherry jam.  Turnovers sprang into my head, but suddenly, a little food blogger with mini devil horns appeared on my shoulder and hissed, “You’re so obvious!”  I was incensed and let my eyes dart around the cupboard shelves for more ideas.  “Aha!  Mini marshmallows!  Not so obvious now, am I?”  Of course, there was nobody there; just me and some marshmallows, so I got on with the task in hand and tried hard to remember when exactly I first started talking to that little shoulder blogger.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.  Cut the defrosted pastry block into four equal pieces.  Lightly flour your work surface and gently roll out one of the pieces until it is quite thin (less than a centimetre thick).  Cut it into four squares.  Put a tablespoon of jam in the middle of the square.  Place about five mini marshmallows on the jam.  Beat the egg in a small bowl and then brush it around the edges of the square.  This will help to seal it.  Pull one corner over to meet the opposite corner and seal the edge by pressing with a fork.  This will create little ridges around the edge and you’ll have a smooth little triangular parcel.

Repeat these steps and then place the parcels on a foil-lined baking tray.  Brush each turnover with the egg wash and sprinkle lots of course white sugar onto them.  Using a sharp knife, make a couple of slits on the top to allow steam to escape during baking.  Bake in the centre of the oven until golden.  This should take no more than twelve to fifteen minutes.  Let the turnovers cool properly before biting into one.  Hot jam is painful!

I managed to make sixteen turnovers.  More than enough to make a tower.  It’ll never be a kilometre high, but the view (and the smell) from the top was much better than any skyscraper.  It’s amazing what I’ll do to entertain myself.  Feel free to just enjoy your turnovers with a coffee and don’t feel pressured to construct pastry fortifications.  However, if you feel compelled to make a tower and it turns out to be bigger than mine, I promise not to try to beat it.  Promise!

Aerial view of the tower. It houses over 80 mini marshmallows and is 8 turnovers tall.

Joy on a plate.

You’ve just created something and it’s really good.  It’s so good that you want to jump and laugh and shout out, so you do.  Then you want to go and tell someone, show someone and point at what you’ve created and exclaim, “Look what I made!”  Joy is kindled.

As an adult, there seem to be fewer and fewer of those moments.  Children seem to be constantly in the throes of creation and discovery is just around every ordinary corner.  Imagine the reaction I just wrote about happening in my kitchen about a year ago.  I’d just finished making barbecue ribs without the help of a book, a friend, or that white page with the little box for you to type in a question and click enter.  I’d just finished making barbecue ribs, I did it on my own, they were wondrous and they were mine.  Now I’m going to share the recipe for them.

My recipe for sweet and sticky barbecue ribs is tailor-made for domestic kitchens.  I know that you can get amazing results by cooking outside and getting so much smoke and flavour from blah blah blah.  Let’s get a cab and head for Real Street.  I live in a wet and windy part of the world with only glimpses of sunshine and a default setting of grey with a chance of greyer.  If you’re blessed enough to live in the sun and are adept at cooking outdoors, then…can I come and stay with you for a while?

The ribs require two hours of uninterrupted cooking, so plan ahead.  You’ll also have to trust me on a couple of things; namely the amount of sugar in the recipe.  I used all the things that I love for the ribs.  You could easily adapt the recipe for your own taste.

Sweet & sticky barbecue ribs

1 sheet of pork ribs

500g light brown sugar

40g garlic salt

1 tblspoon chilli flakes

half cup water

(For the glaze)

4 tblspoons clear honey

2 tblspoons dark soy sauce

3 tblspoons barbecue sauce

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius.  Place the ribs in a roasting tin ready for the rub.  Pour the garlic salt and the chilli flakes into a pestle and mortar and grind for a few minutes.  Rub this all over the ribs including the underside, making sure to be thorough.  Next, tip all of the sugar onto the top of the ribs and pat it down so that you have a thick layer of sugar on top with no meat uncovered.  I’m serious, trust me!

Pour the water into the bottom of the roasting tin (not over the ribs).  The water is going to help steam the meat during cooking.  This will keep it moist and soft.  Cover the roasting tin with two layers (or more) of foil and make a tight seal around the outside.  We don’t want any of that wonderful steam to escape.

Cook in the centre of the oven for two hours.  Don’t be tempted to take a peek lest all that steam disappear.

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About five minutes before the ribs are due out of the oven, mix all the glaze ingredients together with a pastry brush in a little pot or ramekin.  Take the ribs out of the oven and carefully remove the foil.  Fire up your grill (or broiler if you’re from over the pond) ready for the final part.  The ribs will now be cooked through, but looking rather pale and sad.  Time to glaze!

Place the ribs on another tray lined with foil.  Brush the ribs with the glaze and put them under the grill on a medium heat.  As the glaze sets, remove the ribs and brush them with more glaze.  Continue to do this until you run out of glaze.  The idea is to build up sticky layers.  It won’t be long before the sugar in the glaze caramelizes and begins to burn at the edges giving you lovely crispy bits and oodles of flavour.  Did I just say oodles?  Hmmm…I’ve not seen that in type before.  Anyway, don’t panic if edges begin to burn.  A little here and there is perfect.  Just keep a close eye on the ribs because sugar burns quickly.

That’s it!  Done!  Now you just need to cut them up for your friends and soak up the silence as everyone tucks in.  There’s nothing like the slience that settles upon a table of happy eaters.  It’s up there with “Look what I made!”

Salty and sweet?

It’s frustrating if you find yourself wishing to buy particular products that are unavailable because of high demand or worse still, because they don’t exist.  I’ve found the latter to be almost unbearable and being a resourceful young man, I often resolve the situation by making things myself.

A few years ago, Nestle brought out chocolate covered pretzels in the UK.  They were a flop, but they won my undying love.  Salty and sweet at the same time, they had the same qualities that drew me to peanut butter (another food that seems to polarize opinion).  Needless to say, the packets of salty awesomeness began to dwindle on local shelves and it wasn’t long before I was forced to take matters into my own greedy hands.

I find that these chocolate covered pretzels last only a matter of hours because they are very easy to munch on.  Today I dunked some in melted white chocolate (because it’s what was in the cupboard), but I adore dark chocolate and would sooner use that to coat the pretzels.  I used giant pretzels and laid them out on baking paper, but the normal sized pretzels are great too.  You can throw a load into a bowl of melted chocolate and gently fold them into the silky sweet fun!  Great for sharing?  No!  I can’t think of anything worse!

A half dunk looks cool.