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.

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I’m going to eat seasonally. Is Chorizo in season?

Is eating seasonally something you find easy to do?  I find that it is easy to buy some seasonal items, but not all of the time.  Large supermarkets push seasonal produce when it suits them and a lot of people rely on supermarkets to inform them about what is in season.  It’s much better, however, to find out for yourself and look ahead to the coming months so that you can plan what to cook and pair seasonal ingredients together in dishes.

A good start is http://eatseasonably.co.uk/ which really helps me see things at a glance.  Eating produce at the time of year that it grows best means that it tastes better, is more readily available and therefore cheaper, and is better for the environment.

At the moment, cos lettuce (or romaine) is in season and I thought it would be a good opportunity to make a fun salad with it.  Yeah, another salad!  What’s up with me?  Anyway, rather than churn out a predictable Caesar, I had a look in the fridge to see what would inspire me.  Spotting some double cream and Chorizo, I thought a cool dressing would be good to accompany grilled turkey steaks.  I used plenty of lovely tomatoes to bump up the salad and it all turned into something very colourful, very tasty and rather seasonal.  It felt good.  See what you think.

Grilled turkey salad with Chorizo dressing

2 turkey steaks

1 cos lettuce

4 tomatoes

100ml double cream

50g thinly sliced Chorizo

3 tblspoons parmesan (grated)

1 slice wholemeal bread

1 tspoon dried oregano

salt

pepper

olive oil

I brushed the turkey steaks with olive oil and ground some black pepper on them.  I used a griddle to cook them for a few minutes each side, but you could use a grill or a griddle pan.  As long as they aren’t pink in the middle, they’re good.  Don’t cook them for too long, or they will dry out.

Meanwhile, I removed two good leaves from the lettuce and kept them whole to serve the salad in.  I washed them and set them aside.  I washed the rest of the leaves and roughly chopped them.  Next, I cut the tomatoes into pieces and sprinkled salt onto them.  I put the leaves and tomatoes in a bowl ready for the dressing.

To make the dressing, I put a tablespoon of olive oil in a milk pan and chopped all but a couple of slices of Chorizo into little pieces.  I gently fried the Chorizo until it released that lovely paprika-coloured oil and then stirred in the cream.  Once the dressing was a light pink colour, I stirred in the parmesan and kept stirring until it was melted.  I tasted the dressing and seasoned it.

Using the wholemeal bread, I made croutons.  I cut the slice of bread into big squares and tossed them in olive oil and dried oregano.  Then I baked them in the oven on a tray lined with foil on the highest heat for a few minutes until crispy.

I let the turkey steaks rest for a moment and then sliced them diagonally.  I tossed the lettuce and tomatoes in the dressing which had cooled a little and then served the salad in one of the lettuce leaves with the croutons, a row of the grilled turkey strips and some extra Chorizo for garnish.  You could sprinkle extra parmesan on too.

Maybe it was the cheese and Chorizo that made me enjoy this salad so much.  With the double cream dressing, it wasn’t the healthiest of salads.  Tasty though!

Why I’m not known for my lightness of touch.

The thing about a secret drizzle cake, is that nobody knows it’s a drizzle cake until they eat it, and even then, they’re not sure.  All they know is that it’s incredibly moist.

I am a huge fan of lemon drizzle cake and particularly those with poppy seeds in them.  I think that the sticky, sweetness and moist centre are just perfect.  It occurred to me recently, that I don’t know of any other types of drizzle cake.  This brought me to a question so staggeringly obvious that I could only answer with action: can I make a chocolate drizzle cake?

With N out of the house and the baby asleep, I set about completing what had now become a mission of the utmost importance.

My usual downfall is my need to represent flavours fully in every dish.  My poorest concoctions tend to be recipes in which I have added too much of something.  It happens more often than it should.  I sprinkle some cinnamon into a dish and then I think, “How will that tiny amount make a difference?  How will anyone even detect it?  Why bother putting such a miniscule amount in?  Need more.  Must have more.  And then some more to make sure”.  Dish is finished.  Dimitri tastes the dish and,  “Bin.  Must go in bin”.

It’s rare that I knowingly pull off subtlety.  Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to thread needles while wearing boxing gloves.  I want there to be little hints of this, a suggestion of that, a slight background accent, an ever so delicate nuance within the combination of flavours.  Imagining my food were a painting, I’d be looking to achieve a gentle merging of light and colour that was akin to the work of Degas.  On a given Sunday (or in this case, Thursday), I am more likely to turn out a propaganda poster from the forties: bold, uncompromising, and all the subtlety of a brick.

Before I’d even cracked an egg into the bowl, I knew that with this chocolate cake, I should actually embrace my heavy-handed approach.  Why not produce a chocolate cake so uncompromising in its chocolateness that it would terrify every other cake on the shelf.  A chocolate cake so rich and dark that Victoria sponge cakes blush as he catches them in his steady gaze.  A cake so self-assured that the cup cakes huddle together to steady their nerves and the old fruit loaf keeps still and wishes he were younger and braver.  Yes, I would make a secret chocolate drizzle cake.  I would include lots of real chocolate.  I would use Amaretto, a shot of Bailey’s, cinnamon by the truck-load and enough syrup to fill a bath.  How do you make a secret chocolate drizzle cake?  I’ll show you.

Secret chocolate drizzle cake

(For the cake)

200g dark chocolate

5 eggs

250g butter

160g plain flour

100ml Amaretto

120g dark brown sugar

1 tblspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

(For the syrup)

250ml water

200g sugar

(For the filling)

140ml double cream

100g plain cooking chocolate

50ml Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur

(For decoration)

A tub of chocolate fudge icing

glace cherries

dark chocolate for grating

Before we begin, this isn’t really a recipe for the kids.  It’s a chocolate cake for the grown-ups.  Yay!  It’s also a rather long recipe, but here goes!

Line two 20cm sandwich tins with baking paper and set aside.  Preheat your oven to 170 degrees Celsius.  The first thing to do is to melt the butter, sugar and chocolate together in a bowl over some simmering water.  Set the bowl to one side once everything has melted and let it cool.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs until they are full of air and looking fluffy and bubbly.  They’re ready for the chocolate mixture to be whisked in.  Pour the chocolate carefully into the bowl as you whisk.  Next, add the Amaretto and continue to whisk.

Finally, add the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt and whisk until there are no lumps.  The cake batter is ready.  Divide it between the sandwich tins and bake in the centre of the oven for about twenty to twenty-five minutes until the top is firm.  Check that the cake is done by inserting a skewer into the middle.  If it comes out clean, it’s done.

Only two more things to make; the filling and the syrup.  Let’s do the syrup.  Boil the suagr and water for at least five minutes until you have a thicker liquid.  Set it aside to cool slightly.

When the cakes are done, let them cool and then make lots of holes all over them using a skewer or chopstick.  Try not to go all the way through.  Pour the syrup over the cakes so that they are soaked.  You don’t need to use all of the syrup if the cake will be too soft.  We don’t want the cake to crumble or become soggy.

While the cake absorbs the syrup we can move onto making the filling.  Simply melt everything in a milk pan and stir gently until there are no lumps.  You need to leave this to cool so that you can spread it onto the cake.

Now it’s the construction job.  Place the bottom half of the cake on a plate or cake stand.  Pour and spread the cooled chocolate filling onto the cake and then gently position the top half on it.  When I did this, I hadn’t let the filling cool enough and it oozed everywhere.  Thanks to Betty Crocker, I had a tub of chocolate fudge icing on hand to cover the entire cake.  This kept the filling where it should be and also turned the cake into a secret drizzle cake!  From the outside, it will look just like a regular chocolate fudge cake.

I finished my cake with cherries and chocolate shavings.  No contemporary finish here.  It was retro, but with good reason.  The cherries help me when I come to cutting slices.  I’m a simple creature.

If you want everything to firm up, put the cake in the fridge for a couple of hours.  Try heating a slice in the microwave for fifteen seconds and see it all ooze into chocolate loveliness.  I admit, there are lots of stages in making this cake, but it’s great if you’re feeling indulgent and have the time.  Go on, treat yourself to a big chocolate hug.

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!”

The Queen of Salads.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the online scramble to get as many tomato recipes posted as possible before summer comes to an end.  I know what you’re thinking: Dimitri, you’ve been pouring Cherry Coke on pork, hardly seasonal!  Yeah, I know, but it was great, wasn’t it?  I mean Cherry Coke and pork; Escoffier would love it, I’m sure.  Well, my summers are usually dominated by pizza and anything with plenty of colour.  I love tomatoes and will do my best to eat them as often as possible because they’re just so good for you.  In the salad I ate tonight, however, they were the least exciting ingredient and that doesn’t happen too often.

My wife, N, is of French descent and as such, her love of salad is not a secret.  She loves nothing more than a plate of fresh salad to accompany her meals. Her appreciation of a well dressed or carefully prepared salad is something that must be earned.  When N compliments me on one of my salads, I feel like I’ve truly achieved something (although I’ve never really achieved anything, so I’m only guessing that it feels that way).  The pick of the bunch is, of course, a good ol’ Nicoise.  We both love it because of the tasty balance of flavours.

The summer is beginning to fade, but that doesn’t mean we should start on the road to stews and soups just yet.  Grab a bunch of ingredients and take some time preparing perhaps the greatest salad of them all.

Nicoise pittas (adapted from the French…all of them)

4 wholemeal pittas

4 ripe tomatoes (quartered)

6 anchovies

handful Kalamata olives

2 eggs (hard-boiled and quartered)

1 tin tuna in sunflower oil (drained)

1 onion (finely chopped)

4 tblspoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tspoon Dijon mustard

1 lemon

a handful of lettuce leaves (I used iceberg this time)

Begin by chopping the onion and placing it in a small bowl of water.  Set this aside.  The water makes the flavour of the onion milder which is a real boon when eating it raw as in this salad.  Chop the lettuce leaves and place in a medium bowl.  Make a dressing by whisking together the olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and the Dijon mustard.  Add the tomatoes to the lettuce, pour over the dressing and toss together.  Add the anchovies, tuna, olives and a little black pepper.  Drain the water from the onion and sprinkle over the salad.  It’s unlikely that you’ll need to add salt because the anchovies act as your seasoning.  Toss the salad gently and then place the eggs on top.

You could serve the salad as it is, but tonight, we went for the handheld option.  I grilled some pitta bread and filled each with the salad.  A delightful meal for a summer evening.  Take it from someone who is not a big fan of salads, this one is worth the effort.

Choc-a-block.

There’s a reason for the misspelt title of this post.  It’s the wonderfully aromatic (yes I said aromatic) chocolate cake that I’ve just made.  A new recipe from The Last Piece of Cake?  I wish!  The recipe has been posted by Aoife at Yumbolicious.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, click on the link and have a look!  I had almost all of the ingredients in the cupboard, but I had to make a few adjustments where I was lacking.  I used dark brown sugar, almond extract and added quite a lot of my Green & Black’s chocolate drink powder.  The cake was just as Aoife describes in her post.  The addition of cardamom is genius.  I’m off to cut more slices and smother them in chocolate spread!

A great chocolate cake recipe from Yumbolicious!

And now for something completely different.

It had been a while since I had eaten something for the very first time.  Standing in the fish mongers’ with the baby screaming his head off, I spotted a small box of what I recognised as samphire.  This green and salty marsh plant has been something of a trendy ingredient in recent years and I’d seen it make appearances on food shows that visited coastal towns.  Apart from having what I think is a cool name, samphire really holds no other outward appeal to me.  Having said that, as I collected my change from a purchase of squid, the fish monger followed my gaze towards the samphire resting in a box on the gleaming ice.  “Samphire.  Wanna try some?”  Above the screams of my boy, I said, “Yes, please!” and picked a little to chew on.  Salt, fresh grassy notes, something nearing asparagus?  I quite liked it.  All it needed was butter.  “I’ll have that box too, please”, I shouted nodding at the green strands of something not quite sea and not quite land.

Samphire does not keep for long.  The pressure was on to make (good) use of it.  I had some nice basa fillets which I was sure would be a good starting point.  Basa is Vietnamese cat-fish and is sustainable.  I passed the boy (now quiet) to N and started to unpack my bags.  N was happy when she saw the squid.  She’d asked me to make some more spaghetti and squid, but she had a puzzled look on her face when I pulled out the box of samphire.  “What have you got there?” she said, frowning.  “Samphire!  It tastes of the sea and I’m gonna cook it for us tomorrow!”  N looked at me like I’d just exchanged our only cow for some magic beans.  Yup, the pressure was on to make very good use of the samphire.

Simple is best.  I made a samphire and lemon cream to pour over the basa fillets after I’d steamed them.  I fried the rest of the samphire in butter and served it all with some boiled vegetables.  Apart from the large amounts of butter, it was a well-balanced meal.  Samphire really does love butter.  N was very impressed with the samphire. Probably fearing it would be disgusting, she was pleasantly surprised.  I was quietly smug because the samphire and lemon cream had been perfect for the fish and my decision to make it up as I went along had really paid off.  Now all I need to do is figure out how to stop my son screaming in public and I’ll be living the dream.

Basa fillets with samphire & lemon cream

Basa fillets

150ml double cream

2 tblspoons finely chopped samphire

1 lemon

65g butter

sea salt

black pepper

Drizzle a little olive oil onto a piece of foil large enough to make a parcel around the basa fillet.  If you love olive oil as much as I do, place the fillet on the foil and drizzle a little more on it.  Grind a little black pepper on the fillet.  Place it on a baking tray in the centre of the oven at 200 degrees Celsius for twenty-five minutes.

Meanwhile, melt half of the butter in a milk pan and add the chopped samphire.  I’d already rinsed the samphire a couple of times in cold water before chopping it to make sure that there wasn’t any sand in it.  Cook the samphire for a few minutes before squeezing the juice of half the lemon into the pan.  Next, stir in the double cream and add some pepper.  Taste it.  Samphire can be very salty, so you may not need to add any salt.  I added a little salt because the cream was too bland at this point.  If you need more lemon, add that too.  A little at a time is best.  Taste it after each addition.  You can’t take it out once it is in, but you can always add more (I can hear my mum talking there).

Keep the heat gentle and stir the cream until you’re happy with the taste.  Add the other half of the butter to the sauce and stir it until completely melted.  You can add more butter if you like, but your arteries may not thank you.

The creamy sauce is actually quite light and doesn’t overpower the flavour of the basa.  I served the fish with some samphire lightly fried in butter for two or three minutes.  Yesterday, I read a post over at kidandkitchen about samphire and egg which was great.  I think I might pair it with egg next time.  What do you think?  Have you tried samphire before?

Thank you for the days.

Alas, the pulled pork in my fridge is now gone.  Every last delicious strand.  It was with some sadness that I put the last of it inside some mini tortillas for lunch.  I spread cream cheese with garlic and herbs on the tortilla, piled the pulled pork high and topped it off with plenty of tomato salsa.

If you’ve read previous posts, you’ll know that I’m just a little enamoured of fresh coriander.  Just a little!  I had to finish the tortillas off with a sprinkling of it.  As soon as I’d taken the photograph, I proceeded to hide the pork under a green mountain of the stuff to the point that it looked like a salad.  Some readers have asked for an alternative to coriander recently.  For simple recipes like this, freshly chopped oregano works well, but obviously it brings a different flavour to the dish.

I’ll be cooking some more meat in the next week or so, starting with my ultimate recipe for perfect barbecue ribs.  Until then, I’ll have fond memories of the pulled pork and the joy it has brought to my plate each day.  Pulled pork, we (me and my stomach) salute you.

6000 miles and a ferry ride to chocolate heaven.

Thousands of lights sparkled on the water as little tug boats puttered across the black harbour.  I knew it was going to be a special night.  My mum and brother were coming to visit us and were arriving early evening.  That meant we could take them into the city and give them a great meal!  When they arrived, we spent an hour or two drinking champagne, laughing together and gazing out at my favourite skyline in the world.

We took a ferry across the harbour and made our way to a popular Australian-run restaurant.  I’d chosen it specifically because of their great puddings and if there’s one thing that lights up my mum’s world, it’s a good pudding.  The finale to the meal was Mars bar cheesecake and some chocolate filo parcels with chocolate sauce for pouring.  My mum was in chocolate heaven, and to this day, I think those little parcels of molten indulgence were the highlight of her trip to Hong Kong.

I’ve been dying to make these for a few years now and finally, very late last night, I did.  Realising that there was no need to make a ganache or mess around with hazelnuts and other distractions, I grabbed the filo out of the fridge and a bar of chocolate and fired up the oven.  I knew exactly what I was going to do and I knew it would take a matter of minutes.

Twelve minutes later, I bit into the crispy filo, felt the warm chocolate ooze onto my tongue and was transported back to that night in Hong Kong.  My mum doesn’t know it yet, but soon she’ll be back in Hong Kong too; and this time, she won’t have to fly six thousand miles.

Chocolate filo parcels

100g of your favourite chocolate

filo pastry

salted butter (melted)

icing sugar

Lay one sheet of filo on a dry surface and brush all over with melted butter.  Gently lay another sheet of filo over the top and smooth it out.  Use a plastic spatula to cut squares with sides measuring about two inches.  Place a square of chocolate in the middle and brush melted butter around it.  Lift the corners to the middle, pinch and twist them gently to seal the parcel.

Brush a line of melted butter onto a baking tray and place each parcel along this line.  Finally, brush a little more (yes, more!) melted butter onto the parcels and put them into the oven at 200 degrees Celsius until they are golden.  They’ll take around six or seven minutes.  Remove the parcels from the oven and place them gently on kitchen paper to cool slightly.  Taking a bite now will leave you with plenty of burns to your mouth, so resist the urge and give them some time.  Dust the parcels with icing sugar and serve.

I’ve tried a few different ideas using the filo parcel premise.  I’ve put half a glace cherry inside with a square of chocolate on top (it worked, but you’ll have to make the filo square slightly bigger).  Serving this at the end of a meal means you can have fun by serving a trio of white, milk and dark chocolate parcels.  You could add chopped nuts, peanut butter, marsh mallow, all kinds of little surprises!  They would also be nice served with a little extra chocolate sauce, if you’re a real chocoholic.  Whatever you do, it’ll feel like a wonderful little treat!  Enjoy!

You ain’t from around here, are ya, boy?

In Texas, people have been shot for serving nachos incorrectly.  Okay, that’s not true.  Sorry.  Closer to the truth, is the fact that those in the know will not pile a plate high with tortilla chips and a mountain of melted cheese and call themselves a Texan.  A cursory glance around the world of online nacho appreciation will reveal that discerning nacho lovers prefer their chips to be dressed and served individually.

This came as something of a revelation to me.  Granted, I’m a Greek-born, British citizen, raised on a combination of shepherds pie and olives (though not together), so there’s no reason that I would have any expertise in the nacho department.  That sounded odd, but stick with me.  I have always been ignorant in my cheese-melting bliss and have spent hours chomping through plates full of cheese-coated tortilla chips.  To my credit, I always spread the chips in a thin layer so as to coat each one with cheese, but still, there wasn’t a great deal of care involved.

With enough pulled pork in my fridge to feed my extended family, I knew it was time to try something fun with it.  I’ve seen other bloggers dress their nachos with cheese and a jalapeno and I’ve seen some pulled pork with cheese and barbecue sauce too.  As usual, I stacked the nachos my way.

I chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) and sprinkled it onto each chip.  Next came the pulled pork followed by gorgeous Cheddar cheese and topped with a slice of jalapeno.  Straight into the oven until the cheese had melted and then straight into my belly!  They were very satisfying.  The sweet smokiness of the pork, the freshness of the coriander, the comfort of the cheese, and the crunch and spice of the jalapeno and the tortilla chip.  I have been converted.  It took a little bit of love and care, but it was so worth it.  Is it authentic?  I don’t know.  If you’re reading this and you’re from Texas, please don’t shoot me…

Barbecue brunch bliss.

I don’t eat breakfast.  It’s not the choice of breakfast options that puts me off.  I like cereal and I like toast and I like most breakfast choices (though I did once turn my nose up at tuna salad in Kyoto- that’s not breakfast food!)  When I wake up, I just don’t feel like eating.  An hour is about the length of time needed for my body to realise that I’m no longer sleeping.  If I wake up close to lunch time, however, then you can pretty much forget everything I just said.  If lunch were a place, it would be my permanent residence.

Which brings us to brunch.  Brunch means different things to different people.  To me?  It’s an excuse to have lunch early (and if I’m clever, I get to have lunch too!)  Having made a stack of pulled pork, I chose to start the day off well by making full use of it in all its tasty glory.

I’ll just have to accept that what I made is not going to be everyone’s idea of tasty, but believe me, I enjoyed it a lot.  I toasted some wholemeal bread, slapped mayo on the bottom slice, piled up lambs lettuce, went crazy with the amount of pulled pork on top of that and finished it all off with a fried egg and a squirt of barbecue sauce.  Now tell me if that ain’t a way to get the day going!

Like I said, I don’t eat breakfast; but if the pulled pork lasts, you may see me at the breakfast table every darn morning!

Cherry chipotle pulled pork rolls.

“You’re gonna cook pork in Cherry Coke?”, my brother exclaimed.  “Why would you do that?”  Well, my little well-meaning bro, because it’s gonna taste great!  As you may have gathered, I’m a big brisket fan and I get quite excited at the prospect of cooking large pieces of meat over long periods of time.  I usually build up to these moments.  I’ll spend a few weeks just cooking regular meals and pottering around with sauces, cakes, bread and other recipes.  Then, I begin to get an idea in my head about the next slow-cooked meat dish and I think through all of the details and ingredients.  When it’s all clear in my head, I set a date, and that, my friends, is when I know that I won’t rest until that dish is cooked.  Today is that day.

When my dear brother comes round to visit (and therefore, to eat), I cook meat.  G is a big food fan, but has a special place in his stomach for meat.  He keeps his emotions well hidden for the most part, but meat can move him.  I’ve been planning to make some pulled pork and when I had a look online, I saw what could be the most comforting pulled pork recipe ever.  It won’t surprise you to learn that it came from The Pioneer Woman.  Being a southern girl, her recipe calls for Dr. Pepper, but I’ve always been a Cherry Coke kinda fella.  I figured that a good glug of Cherry Cola would be just the ticket for a big shoulder of pork.

So then, got my three-month old boy in his car seat, windows down and we drove over the hill towards the butcher’s with The Goonies chase theme playing just loud enough that he could sleep and daddy could feel giddy.  I got 1.5kg of pork, a bottle of Cherry Coke and hopped back in the car with a huge grin on my face.  Back home, it was less than five minutes before a lot of pork and plenty of flavour was in the oven for the long haul.

Once it was done, I decided to use it in a rather unexpected way.  I made little filo rolls!  I reckon these could be made in miniature and served as a starter.

So with a nod to The Pioneer Woman, I present one of the tastiest ways to enjoy pork shoulder.  I have a feeling that I’ll be posting another recipe or two this week using the pulled pork, unless I eat it all in one night, that is!

Cherry chipotle pulled pork rolls (pulled pork adapted from The Pioneer Woman)

1.5kg pork shoulder

500ml Cherry Coke

2 onions (quartered)

200g chipotles in adobo sauce

filo pastry

melted butter

salt

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The meat needs to cook for six hours, so start early!  Spread the onions on the bottom of a casserole and place the meat on top.  Rub plenty of salt onto the pork and then pour the chipotles over it.  Rub the sauce over the pork with the back of a spoon and then tip all of the Cherry Coke over it.  That bad boy is ready for the oven; 150 degrees Celsius for six hours.  It’s a good idea to turn the meat every hour or so to let all of that flavourful loveliness get into it.

When the pork is done, remove it from the gravy and use two forks to shred the soft meat.  Put all of the meat back in gravy and mix well.  I found that there was enough meat to soak up the gravy and my butcher had trimmed most of the fat of the pork.  This meant that I didn’t have to skim off excess fat from the gravy.  You may have to, depending on how fatty the cut of meat is.

Obviously, it’s gonna be hard to resist eating some of the pork, but once you’ve done that, move onto preparing the rolls.  Place a sheet of filo on a dry work top and gently score down the middle using a plastic spatula.  This will create two lengths that you can roll up.  Brush melted butter over the entire piece of filo and then spoon a generous amount of the pork at one end of the pastry.  Begin to roll the pastry up and gently tuck in the sides as you go.  Place the rolls gently onto a baking tray lined with baking paper and brush with more melted butter.  Cook them for thirty minutes at 190 degrees Celsius on the middle shelf until golden.

It’s up to you how many you make.  With 1.5kg of boneless pork shoulder, you could make one heck of a lot!  I made six good-sized rolls with a generous amount of pork inside.  That’s because I’ve got plans for the remaining pulled pork and filo pastry.  I served the rolls with a little salad and a cool dollop of mayo.  My word, I was a happy lad.  Don’t worry, I saved a few for my little brother.  He ain’t heavy…but a he will be after a few of these beauties!

Vitamin P.

I’m so excited!  Tomorrow is pulled pork day (and night)!  That means I’ll be making use of my chipotles and hopefully creating something very special indeed.  I’m planning to cook the pork low and slow.  If I begin early enough, I’ll still have enough light to photograph the results and share some deliciousness with you.  I’m gonna be having lots of dreams about slow-cooked meat and the resulting gravy tonight.  As Allegra Mcevedy puts it, every family needs a good dose of “Vitamin P”.  Until then, my friends in food…

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Trying to explain carrot cake to a Frenchman.

I’ll hold my hands up now and declare that it’s true.  I wrote at length about carrot cake.  Heck, I even baked a few!  One thing’s for sure, the recipe for this most comforting of cakes has yet to make an appearance on the blog.  “A travesty!”,  I hear you cry.  Yes, I’m aware that it is listed in the recipe drop-down menu.  “What other crimes against cakes have you committed?”, I hear you demand.  Let’s all just get a grip here.  We’re talking about cake.  A good cake, but a cake none-the-less.

Before you start throwing cinnamon in my eyes and prodding me with a wooden spoon, let me just say that the following recipe is one that has taken a long time to perfect and I’m very proud of it.  Don’t go printing it off for any old chap in the street, or one of those friends that you accepted as a friend online, but if you saw them in the street you’d dive into a shop before they saw you.  You know the ones I’m talking about.  This is a recipe that I believe will lead you to a slice of something rather special.  It’s our little secret that we can smugly keep to ourselves while basking in the praise from those lucky enough to eat it.  Okay, okay..give it to whoever you like!  The world needs good cake.

It’ll be September soon and my French father-in-law will be making his way across the water with a suitcase full of saucisson and Cotes Du Rhone.  It was on his last visit that I had to explain what carrot cake was, all the time watching him scrutinise my every facial expression for some grain of dishonesty.  He was convinced I was pulling his leg.  “But you say that the carrot is in the cake?”  He just couldn’t understand how this could be and he was even more surprised when I explained that it was not savoury.  It wasn’t until he sampled a slice, and then a second, and then another that I saw he was convinced, converted and content.  “This is a good one”, he said, “Who could believe that the carrot is inside it? Perfect!” 

My perfect carrot cake

(For the cake)

300g carrots (grated)

250g wholemeal flour

175g Muscovado sugar

175g light brown sugar

175ml vegetable oil

3 eggs

2 tblspoons Greek yoghurt

2 tspoons vanilla extract

2 tspoons cinnamon

1 tspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 tspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 tspoon salt

(For the icing)

200g cream cheese

120g icing sugar

3 tblspoons double cream

2 tspoons cinnamon

zest of 1/2 lemon

Begin by beating the eggs, vanilla, oil and all of the sugar in a medium-sized bowl.  Next, add the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, bicarbonate of soda and salt to the bowl and give it a good stir.  I usually add the Greek yoghurt next and stir it in.  Finally, stir in all of the grated carrots.

Pour the cake mixture into a 20cm cake tin and bake in the oven at 150 degrees Celsius for about an hour and a half.  It’s best to check the cake by sliding a knife into the centre.  You’ll know it’s done when the knife comes out clean.  Leave the cake to cool before trying to remove it from the tin.

For the icing, just give all of the ingredients a whisk and spread over the cooled cake.  You can grate extra lemon zest onto the cake or even add some curls of zest for decoration.  To be honest, this cake rarely lasts long enough to warrant careful decoration!

PS  I usually make this cake in a shallow sandwich tin and use the rest of the cake batter to fill a loaf tin.  I bake them both at the same time, but I put the loaf out of sight and eat it when nobody is looking.  A little carrot cake loaf is so much easier to hide! 

You had me at “Peanut butter”.

Fairtrade is the way forward.

What do you do with spare peanut butter?  Yes, I tackle all of life’s big questions.  After making the blondies, I had some peanut butter left.  The simplest option involves me grabbing the nearest spoon and simply tucking in.  Yes, I’m that sophisticated.  Fans of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups will already be familiar with the excellent marriage of chocolate and peanut butter.  I’ve made my own before, but this time, I thought it would be fun to use ice-cube trays for the molds.

Reading fun posts on blogs like The Smart Cookie Cook, is a great way to get inspired.  When I read the peanut butter and Oreo post, I knew that I had to make something where peanut butter was the star.  That’s really why I love these chunks of chocolate and peanut butter.

I found making them with the ice-cube trays was rewarding.  I even got a bit carried away at the end and used some of the gold paper from the chocolate bars to wrap the chunks individually.  A pointless act, because we both know exactly what was gonna happen to those little mouthfuls of peanut butter loveliness.  Now I have to go and make some more.

Fairtrade peanut butter and pecan chocolate chunks

150g Fairtrade milk chocolate

10 pecans

Fairtrade peanut butter

I haven’t put a measurement for the peanut butter.  The amounts needed are very small because you don’t need very much for each chunk.  This recipe makes ten chocolate chunks, but obviously it would be very easy to make larger quantities.

The pecans will be the top of the chunks when they are popped out.

I broke up the chocolate in a bowl and placed the bowl over a pan of hot water on a low heat.  We are often told by television chefs not to let the water touch the bowl, but it really doesn’t matter, so long as the heat is kept low enough to melt the chocolate slowly.  Melting it too quickly with give you a grainy texture.

Nobody will miss just one, will they?

I placed a pecan half in the bottom of each ice-cube compartment and spooned just enough melted chocolate into it to cover the pecan.  I then put the tray into the freezer for a couple of minutes to set the chocolate.  Next it was time to add the peanut butter.  It’s a good idea to pipe the peanut butter onto the centre of each chunk if you’re making a lot of them.  Since I was only making a mini batch, I just used a little spoon to drop a little ball of peanut butter in.  This would be the filling for the chocolate chunks.

The next bit was fun too. I just topped up the ice-cube tray with the remaining chocolate so that each compartment was level and put them all back in the freezer for another couple of minutes.  When they were set, I popped them out and I have to say that a couple didn’t even make it to a plate!  At one point, I wondered if you’d mind not seeing a photograph of them.  Could I get away with just a description?  My mother-in-law adores peanut butter as much as, if not more so, than me.  A little box of these wrapped in shiny paper may be making its way to her at some point.  In the meantime, I think I’ll just make another batch…for research purposes of course.

Some like it lukewarm.

There’s one part of English culture which I have never taken to and which I still feel alienated from even after many years of being a British citizen.  I’ve become a big fan of pies, I’ve eaten fish and chips by the seaside, I enjoy a nice pint of bitter and a packet of pork scratchings at the pub and I can queue with the best of them.  Even so, I know in my heart that I’ll never be truly accepted because I am not a tea drinker.

The truth of it is that I don’t like hot drinks.  I never have.  Quite honestly, I don’t particularly enjoy anything that is hot.  Don’t get me wrong, I want my food cooked through, but I just won’t eat it until it has cooled down considerably.  It’s the same with hot drinks.  My uncle won’t touch a cup of coffee unless it is so hot that you can melt gold in it.  For me, the very idea of trying to eat or drink hot things evokes memories of burning the roof of my mouth and seeing the sore, tiny bumps on my tongue after biting over-zealously into a toastie oozing molten cheese.  This aversion to heat has prevented me from participating in the daily tea-drinking ceremonies that the English rely on for comfort and as a vehicle for chat and gossip.

Travel, however, broadens the palate as well as the mind.  Time spent in Hong Kong got me semi-addicted to iced lemon tea and I’d grown up adoring frappe.  It was not until a visit to Hungary that I decided to be a little more open-minded. Coffee seems to fuel most activity in Europe and has done for some time.  Sitting outside a cafe with a cup of something hot, dark and sweet is the only way to people-watch in Hungary.  A short stay in the town of Szeged prompted me to do just that one warm evening.  I was delighted by the intensity of the coffee and the satisfying warmth that filled my body.  I began to drink coffee on a daily basis after that.  It felt like a real treat and one that I began looking forward to more and more.  By the time we had returned from our trip, I was buying fresh coffee grounds to fill our cafetière and eagerly looking forward to my next cup.

Of course, I still can’t drink it when it is piping hot; I wait a little for it to cool.  Dunking Lotus biscuits into the coffee helps pass the time.  I stare into the black, swirling liquid and breathe in the tempting aroma.  “Where have you been all my life?” I ask.  The answer is, right in front of my big Greek nose.  I only drink it once a week, but boy do I look forward to it.  Saturday morning, I get out the Lotus biscuits, I set out my Fairtrade mug and I take my time preparing the coffee.  I make a point of buying only Fairtrade coffee and I choose the strongest available.  I figure, if I’m only drinking it once a week, it’s worth doing it properly.  I’m still the only person in the room who doesn’t say, “Ooh, yes please!” when everyone is offered “a brew”, but I’m used to the raised eyebrows denoting slight suspicion.  Hot drinks just aren’t my cup of tea.

Celebrity chefs; they’re just like us, ya know!

Ah, the life of a television chef.  A kitchen casually furnished with the most expensive utensils, pots of fresh herbs, a fridge so large it could lead to Narnia and not a bad camera angle in sight.  Then of course, there’s the lifestyle; endless socialising with every demographic imaginable, hours to kill at the local market and then the unconvincing  speeches about how they juggle a demanding career with family time.

As people have become more interested in food, so chefs have become more interested in our domestic lives.  There’s been a shift towards everyday cooking that seems to be a way of connecting to an ever-growing population of home cooks and food enthusiasts, who genuinely have to balance their food interests with work and family.  A quick look at the titles in the cookery section of the book stores [that folk used to visit] is testament to this;  Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals (Jamie Oliver), A Taste of Home: 200 Quick and Easy Recipes (Angela Hartnett), Real Fast Food (Nigel Slater), Mexican Food Made Simple (Thomasina Miers), River Cottage Everyday (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall), Cooking For Friends: Food From My Table (Gordon Ramsay), Nigella Express and Kitchen: Recipes From The Heart of the Home (Nigella Lawson).

A few months ago, I watched a repeat episode from the undisputed queen of comfort food, Nigella Lawson.  During the programme, Nigella talked about her perfect sun-downer and bowl of chips.  After a long day “at work”, her prefered method of unwinding is to drink an Americano cocktail and munch on some tortilla chips with her Jumbo Chili Sauce.  The recipe for the sauce is from her brother-in-law and it looked so simple that I decided to give it a go.  I thought that even I wouldn’t be able to mess it up.

It was good, but I thought it needed refining, so I spent a little time making it more palatable- more of a tickle than a slap.  In essence, what I loved about the dip (and it is a dip, not a sauce), was the amount of coriander in it.  I adore fresh coriander and I’m constantly trying to find vehicles for this wonderfully fragrant friend.  My better half is not keen on coriander at all, but even she has succumbed to it through this very addictive dip.  I now make this on a regular basis to get my coriander hit and I keep it in the fridge ready for that sun-downer moment.  I may not live the life of a celebrity cook, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t deserve some tortilla chips and an Americano.  Actually, make it a Mexican beer and I’ll unwind by telling you how difficult it is to juggle kids, cooking and a photo shoot.  If only.

My perfect nacho dip

1 jar roasted peppers

1 bunch coriander (about 40g)

1 clove garlic

1 red or green chili

1 lime

I always make this using a hand blender because it’s very quick and I can store the dip in the container it’s made in afterwards.  It’s simply a matter of blending everything together, so for taste, the order that you add everything is unimportant.  However, because I make this with a hand blender, I usually put the chili and the garlic in first to avoid them accidentally flying into my eye.

I roughly chop the chili and throw it in followed by the garlic and then all of the coriander.  You must add the stalks.  Too many people throw them away, but they contain the most flavour.  Next, tip in the roasted peppers.  Use peppers packed in oil, not vinegar, otherwise you’ll end up with a nasty after-taste.  Using peppers in oil also means that you don’t need to add any extra oil.  Cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice from one half into the colourful mix.

Now you’re ready to blitz it all.  Once it has reached a nice consistency, you’re ready for dipping!  The great thing about this dip is that you can tailor it to your own taste.  I don’t add salt because the tortilla chips will be salty enough.  I always use a whole bunch of coriander (up to 80g) because I love it.  If I’m in the mood, I’ll add more chilis and keep the seeds in for extra heat.  I love how quick it is to make and it keeps well in the fridge.  Yet another weapon in the battle against gloomy, rained out days!

Any pork in a storm.

As I write to you now, sheets of heavy rain are being whipped, driven and lashed against every single exterior surface of our house.  Garden furniture is rolling in different directions and the dog is doing her best to look casual, when in fact, she’s clearly cowering underneath the dining table.  So much for summer.  Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the North West of England.

In sunnier climes, families and friends are discussing what is on the barbecue and whether or not there will be enough potato salad for everyone.  Sigh.  What I need is some sunshine.  Instead, the bellowing storm is deafening the dog and threatening to tear away the side of our home to reveal each room like a giant dolls’ house.  Armadillo eggs to the rescue!

Armadillo what?  You heard me right!  I was surfing the web (there has to be a better phrase) and came across a recipe for Armadillo eggs.  Delving further, I found an abundance of recipes each with their own take on what is a common appetizer at American barbecues in the South West.  They’re actually jalapenos stuffed with cheese and baked in an oven.  Some recipes call for bacon to be wrapped around the outside of the pepper, others instruct you to mix cheese and sausage meat and use it to stuff the jalapeno before baking.  With so many opinions on what makes an Armadillo egg, I decided to create my own version.  Yeehaw!  Ahem.  They turned out very well and brought some well-needed comfort to me and one rather frightened fluffy friend.

Armadillo eggs

375g sausage meat

165g sweet peppers

130g Cheddar cheese

100g cream cheese

1 green chili (finely chopped)

1 tspoon smoked paprika

I began by mixing together the cream cheese with half of the grated Cheddar.  I used a sharp Cheddar that would give the filling lots of flavour.  In another bowl, I put the sausage meat, chopped chili, smoked paprika and the rest of the grated Cheddar and  squeezed it all with my hands until I was satisfied that it was completely mixed.  This would be the coating for the Armadillo eggs.

I didn’t use jalapenos for this recipe.  Instead, I used a jar of Peppadew peppers.  They’re small and sweet and red and are just made for stuffing!  They are available with more heat and also stuffed with cream cheese, but I don’t like the idea of cream cheese that’s been sitting in vinegar for weeks.  I drained the sweet little beauties and began to take bits of the cream cheese and Cheddar mixture to fill each pepper.  This was quite easy because the Cheddar gives the cream cheese more body and it is easy to handle.

Once the peppers were full and all the cheese used, it was time for the tricky bit.  I thought that packing each pepper in sausage meat would be a doddle, but it took a little time and patience.  My first attempt was the size of a cricket ball.  After a few, they were looking more like meatballs, which is what I was aiming for.  I found that wetting my hands made it easier to handle the meat and stopped it sticking to my hands and breaking up.  My technique was to take some sausage meat, press it onto my palm, place a pepper on it cheese side down and then bring up the sides and mold it gently around.  Like I said, the first few weren’t great, but you kind of get a rhythm going by number five.  In the end, I made twenty Armadillo eggs.

I placed them gently onto a baking tray lined with baking paper.  I love using baking paper because foil often rips easily or sticks to meat.  Also, baking paper is an excellent barrier against grease and let’s face it, with sausage meat, there’s gonna be plenty of that around.

I cooked them in the oven, middle shelf at 170 degrees Celsius for thirty minutes.  They didn’t even need to be turned.  For once, I was patient and waited until they were slightly cooler before tucking in.  They certainly banished the stormy weather for a while.  I’ve kept some of my Armadillo eggs in the fridge- the weather forecast for tomorrow isn’t good.

Do blondes have more fun?

Being married to a greedy chap with a food obsession is frustrating at times, I’m sure.  There’s moaning when meals are dull, there’s a constant stream of food-related chat, large amounts of hard-earned pennies are spent on what seem to be random or unnecessary ingredients and every now and again, a meal is served that the hip kids would label as an “epic fail”.

Don’t get the violins out just yet.  N is a big fan of white chocolate and has the odd day where she completely lucks out.  There are actually two days when this happens.  One is white chocolate cheesecake day.  The other, is blondie day.  Today, it was definitely a blondie day.

Blondies are an alternative to brownies and while I don’t wish to give the impression that I would ever get tired of eating brownies, I do want to promote some thinking outside of that rich, chocolatey box.  I first came across this recipe a few years ago when I was going through what can only be described as a baking frenzy.  Having lived in Hong Kong for a couple of years without an oven, it was a total joy to be back in a kitchen that had more than a microwave and a wok burner.  The baking that followed is almost a blur to me now, but one thing has remained a part of our household since then.  My blondie recipe.  It’s so easy to make that I could burst out laughing just thinking about it.  It requires only two things of you.  The first is that you like white chocolate.  The second is that you like peanut butter.

Blondies (adapted from Rachel Allen)

200g white chocolate (chopped into little chunks)

200g light brown sugar

150g peanut butter

125g plain flour

100g butter

1 egg

1 tspoon baking powder

1 tspoon vanilla extract

If you’re gonna bother making something that relies heavily on two ingredients, it’s worth making sure that those ingredients are well represented.  I’ve adapted this recipe so that every piece and every bite is packed full of fun.  Let’s just say that I’ve cranked up the volume.  For me, there’s no such thing as too sweet.  I used crunchy peanut butter because it gives the blondies extra texture, but the recipe works fine with smooth.

Cream the peanut butter and butter together in a bowl.  In another bowl, combine the sugar, vanilla and egg.  Add this to the peanut butter mixture and stir.  Finally add the flour and baking powder.  It’s a good idea to use your hands to squeeze everything together and form a dough.  When you’ve got a dough, you can mix in the white chocolate.  My mum hates white chocolate, so at this point she would add something else.  Come to think of it, I don’t think she likes peanut butter either.  Hmmm… anyway, once you have a ball of stickiness, you’re ready to transfer it to a baking tray.

Don’t be alarmed.  The dough is not the sort that you can roll out and work with.  The best thing to do is to line a little tray with baking paper and then press the dough onto it.  I begin by putting the dough in the middle and using my palms to flatten and push the dough to the edges.  I use a tray with one inch sides because the blondies will rise during baking.  Upon finishing this stage of the recipe, I guarantee you’ll be full of doubt, but fear not.  Into the middle shelf of the oven at 160 degrees Celsius for about twenty minutes and you’re laughing.

Just golden, but not brown.

The blondies will puff up and turn ever so slightly golden.  Don’t allow them to brown.  The blondies will still be very soft when you take them out.  The hardest part is waiting for them to cool.  If you try to lift them out (and I have), they’ll break up.  If you try to cut them (and I have), they’ll be a mush.  If you prod them with your finger (and I have), well hey, it’s your finger, do what you like.  Once they are completely cool, they will have a wonderful soft, chewy texture and will hold their shape after being cut into little squares.  If your loved ones like white chocolate as much as my wife, you’ll earn major brownie points- or should that be blondie points?  Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Things got meze- part 2. My kingdom for a Greek meatball!

I’ll bet ten drachma that every self-respecting wife and mother in Greece has her own meatball recipe.  In Greece, you’ll find keftedes on the islands and the mainland in all shapes and sizes.  My mum has her way of making them adapted from my yiayia (grandmother).  My mum likes to brown the meatballs and then cook them slowly in a very rich tomato and red wine sauce.  We love her for it and I make a point of wearing something dark if I go round for some- the sauce is the reddest I’ve come across and permanently stains anything that it comes into contact with.

 My meatball recipe is very simple and that’s why I like it.  For the meze, I chose to make lots of small meatballs rather than the large ones that my mum would normally make for a main meal.  In a nod towards my Greek and English heritage, my perfect platter is a combination of the meatballs in that gorgeously rich lava of a sauce and a huge dollop of buttery mashed potato (with carrots in it).  A big bowl of crunchy cabbage salad helps to cleanse the palate if the sauce gets too much.  Here though, is my basic recipe for meatballs.  Perhaps mum will share the sauce recipe with me one day.  Here’s hoping!

Keftedes (Greek meatballs)

500g minced beef

2 eggs

2 slices white bread

1 onion (finely chopped)

150ml water

1 handful fresh parsley (finely chopped)

1 handful fresh mint (finely chopped)

1 tblspoon dried oregano

salt

black pepper

The keftedes begin to cook.

Soak the bread in the water for a little while and when it’s soggy, break it up into small mushy bits.  Combine the bread and all of the other ingredients in a bowl by rolling your sleeves up and going to work on it with your hands.  Season the meatball mixture well and heat plenty of oil in a large frying pan ready to fry the meatballs in batches.You’ll need at least enough oil to completely cover the base of the pan, but ideally, the oil would come half way up the meatballs.  Not a recipe you’ll find in weight loss handbooks, but great as an occassional treat.

It's easy to see which batch needs turning next.

Roll the meat into little balls and place gently into the hot oil.  The trick here is to leave the meatballs alone.  Poke and prod them at your peril.  They will crumble and break if you mess with them.  A couple of minutes should be enough to brown them and allow you to turn them over without destroying them.  At this point, it is worth mentioning that if you haven’t chopped the onion very finely, you’ll have a harder time keeping the meatballs together. If you’re going to cook the meatballs in a sauce, you need only brown them.  Since I was serving the meatballs with a little lemon juice and tzatziki, I had to make sure they were cooked all the way through.  You don’t wanna mess with mince.  Meatballs that are pink in the middle?  Not a chance.

The kitchen paper soaks up excess oil.

Place the cooked meatballs on a plate with some kitchen paper and finish cooking all of the mixture.  You can serve these hot or cold and once they’re cool, they can be refrigerated for a day or two.  Just make sure to reheat them fully if you want them hot.  As a child, I used to love raiding the fridge the day after we’d had meatballs.  I would sneak into the kitchen, grab a plate and squirt tomato ketchup onto it so that I could dip the cold meatballs in it before dinner.  For the meze, I assumed that my guests would be expecting something a little more authentic.  Maybe next time…

Keftedes and tzatziki are a good match.