Category Archives: Sweet things

Chocolate tart

Chocolate Tart

6am. Sunday morning. Trying to psych myself up for a toe-curling run around the freezing fields of north north London and it occurs to me how my attitude towards running has changed since childhood. In recent years I’ve found that getting outside in shorts and trainers to be not only extremely physically rewarding, but also a fantastic way to establish the lay of the land when away from home. And it’s so good for the mind too – as long as you can reach escape velocity from the warmth of your kitchen and Country File repeats on BBC2.

Stark contrast then, from when we were fifteen and an early morning run was universally seen as the most harrowing punishment the school could inflict upon an unruly child. I expect though, that it was the menacing pack of power-crazed sixth formers screaming in our ears and forcing us to smash through the icy puddles and do press ups into them that turned an otherwise enjoyable cross country jog into something far less appealing. Interesting that people now pay good money for the same treatment every Sunday morning on Hampstead Heath.

Anyway, the lead up to the run generally starts with a strong cup of coffee and today, the bonus of a slice of last night’s chocolate tart. This one is really simple and while it might not sound very exciting, it’s a classic, and it’s really really good.

Chocolate Tart

Start by making a rich shortcrust pastry. I use James Martin’s recipe – 200g plain flour, 2 tbsp icing sugar and a small pinch of salt rubbed into 100g of cold cubed butter. Then add a beaten egg with a splash of lemon juice and water. Gently pull it all together into a ball and pop it in the fridge for 30 mins to cool and rest.

When it’s rested, roll it out thinly (thinner than a normal tart – you want the crust to be fine and crunchy) and place it in a well buttered loose bottomed tart tin. Prick the pastry all over with a fork and blind bake in the oven at 200c, covered with parchment and filled with baking beans. After about 15 minutes, remove the parchment and continue baking, up to almost 10 minutes. You’re not baking it any more after this, so you want to ensure it’s golden brown. Keep a close eye as you have to get this just right. Underdone and your tart case will be soft. Overdone and it will taste bitter. You do want a crunch though – it’s what works so well contrasted against the creamy filling.

For the filling, take 250g of good dark chocolate, 70g of butter, 4 large tablespoons of honey, a big glug of cognac and melt them all together in a bowl placed over a pan of boiling water. Once melted, gently mix in 300ml of Creme Fraiche and pour the lot into the tart case. Leave it to set and serve it with a jug of double cream.

It’s really good with a glass of Sauternes (obviously).

 

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Poached pears and a crappy old year

 

Poached pears

Well that was a shitty 12 months wasn’t it? Although as a few people have already pointed out, calling it the worst year ever might be slightly overdoing it (google 1347 and black death for a good example of a marginally crappier year). It certainly did mark a low point for political intelligence and maturity though – it’s hard to think of a time when would-be leaders could have so little integrity and such scant empathy towards the people they seek to represent. In fact 2016 should go down in history as the year when politics regressed to the playground (hopefully very briefly) and we the masses paid the price for our collective lack of judgement and our gullibility in the face of a handful of deeply unscrupulous people and their utterly selfish motivations.

There were other far more important events that made 2016 a tough year, but as is often the case, these events also had positive consequences. This is the year that brought my sisters and I closer together than we have been for many years – something that I hope we will now maintain for good. And as I look back on this year, it occurs to me that it’s far too easy to glide through life disconnected to those people who are most important. So I for one will be spending less of 2017 on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and more time with my kids, my sisters and my parents (even if much of that time will be spent via FaceTime) – they are after all, far more important than photos of New York and food (that said, I will also, yet again, try to start writing in here far more regularly)

So let’s start with a new recipe that I tried out when I was with my sisters in Vancouver – it’s far sexier than it sounds and it’s something I’d wanted to do for a while…

Pears poached in red wine
Pick six equally sized pears (I used conference pears) preferably still with the stalks. Peel the pears carefully, without removing the stalks and place them in a saucepan sized such that they just fit, nice and snugly. Add a bottle of good red wine to the saucepan along with 200g of golden caster sugar, a cinnamon stick, a couple of star anise and maybe even a couple of cloves. If you got the size of the saucepan right, the wine should cover the pears fully (if not, you can top up with a little water). Bring the whole thing to the boil and then simmer very, very gently with the lid on for about 30-40 minutes or until the pears a soft to the touch. You can then let the pears cool in the mixture until half an hour before you’re ready to serve. At this point, remove the pears from the wine mixture and place them on a serving plate, then reheat the liquor until it reduces by at least half, forming a rich sweet sauce. Pour the sauce over the pears just before you serve them. They’re perfect served with a really good vanilla ice cream. Unexpectedly good.

 

 

 

Camping, with asparagus

Asparagus

Camping. The great divider. It’s a bit like liver, in that as many people hate it as love it (and it’s best not overdone). But either way, If you’re going to do it, then there’s really only one way to do it (apart from briefly) and that’s to steer totally clear of organised campsites, teepees, yurts and any other half-arsed modern equivalent of the form.
A tent, a fire, food and drink – that’s really all you need.

In la la land.

Sadly, in the real world and with three kids you need a car full of crap including, but not limited to, iPods, iPads, iPhones, chargers, crisps, chocolates, books, magazines, pillows, sleeping bags, bags full of clothes (enough for a week in my daughter’s case), a barbeque, coals, lighter fluid, torches, kitchen roll, about four plastic bags (the ones that take 1,000 years to decompose) of food from the supermarket, waterproofs and plenty of beer, wine and any other alcohol you can get your hands on to get you through hour upon hour of cold, dark nighttime.

And if that doesn’t put you off, and you still plan on doing it, at least make sure you eat well when you’re sitting in your fold-up chairs that you picked up at the service station and that will just about last the weekend if you’re lucky. Here are a few ideas that seemed to go down pretty well:

Char grilled asparagus

Get a bunch of asparagus, rub generously with salt, pepper and lots of olive oil. Stick it on the barbeque. Cook it.

Spicy chicken

Get a load of chicken pieces, rub generously with a mixture of the following (that you can make in advance and bring with you in a jar): three cardamom pods, two star anise, two tablespoons of cumin seeds, coriander seeds and sea salt, one tablespoon of peppercorns, fennel seeds, and half a cinnamon stick, all ground into a powder. Stick them on the barbeque. Cook them.

Grilled pineapple

Get a pineapple. Peel it and cut it into thick slices. Stick them on the barbeque. Cook them.

Eynsham Lock

Rhubarb…

Rhubarb compote

I have my father to thank for this one (and my ex wife who let me steal the rhubarb from her garden…)

It’s a great way to use up fruit and it makes a better breakfast than most (t’s also surprisingly good when you get back from the pub). And it means you can stick two fingers up at Pret a Manger who’ll try to charge you £3 for the same thing.

Rhubarb and Banana Compote

If this takes longer than eight minutes to prepare, you need help.

Cut up your rhubarb stalks into chunks and put in a large saucepan with a few tablespoons of caster sugar (vanilla caster sugar if you have some prepared). Throw in a few tablespoons of water and a star anise, then heat gently until the rhubarb starts to break down just a little, stirring regularly. Chuck in a sliced banana and continue to cook for just another minute and take off the heat. There should still be plenty of pieces of rhubarb just holding their form.

Let the whole lot cool down and stick it in a container in the fridge – it will do you for at least a week. Serve it with yoghurt and a little mint, and a couple of spoonfuls of granola if you’re feeling adventurous.

Thinking about it – it would be the perfect base for a rhubarb martini too – give it a try (maybe without the banana and yoghurt…)

Ten big ones…

Oh yes. As it turns out, this week saw the 10,000th page view on dad at the weekend – which, while I am intelligent enough to know is minuscule in most blogging terms, still managed to give me a not insignificant amount of trouser excitement as I watched the counter tick over into quintuple digits.

And what better way to mark ten thousand views on the blog than to cook ten over sized chocolate cookies with the boys? (Yes, I know there are only 9 in the photo, but I defy you to cook these and not nab one – impossible).

So, without wanting to support the trend for upping the ante on the amount of different types of chocolate you can cram into a single cookie (M&S are certainly the worst offenders here), but still trying to build some sort of connection with the monumental blogging achievement I had just reached, I thought quintuple chocolate cookies would be rather apt. But then the thought of sending my children to an early suger-and-fat-induced grave (and the fact that each cookie would probably cost over a tenner) I decided to tone it down a little and keep it simple. “Shame and poop!” I hear you cry, and I agree, not exactly a great celebration, but thinking about it, it’s not really a great achievement so probably fitting…

Ten big bastard chocolate cookies (with M&Ms)

Loosely based on a Nigella recipe this one – and very simple:

In a mixer, beat 125g of butter and 100g of golden caster sugar until the mix is light and has almost lost its colour. Now, into the mix add 100g of melted chocolate, an egg, 100g of plain flour, 50g of ground almonds, 40g of really good quality cocoa, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. Gently bring the mixture together (you can still use the mixer for this) and once it has reached a sooth consistency, add a large bag of chocolate M&Ms.

Give it a final whizz and spoon out the mix in large blobs onto a baking tray covered in baking parchment. Make sure you give them room as they will spread out during the cooking process. Stick them in the oven at 175c for about 19 minutes. When you take them out they will look undercooked – that’s good – you must make sure you don’t overcook them as you want them to be a little crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle – all this will happen when they cool (on a rack please).

If you can make these in secret without the kids seeing, smelling or most importantly, tasting them, all the better…

Not quite Magnolia Bakery…

…but you have to start somewhere.

This was going to be a post about a father and his daughter making cupcakes together, but it just so happens that it’s going to be Valentine’s day in about half an hour so  I think I’ll have a crack at that instead.

Honestly. Does it get any worse? That grown ups, in any sort of relationship need to be reminded to be nice to each other once a year. Doesn’t it make your skin crawl? Don’t you find it even slightly nauseating? I’d almost like to be in a relationship right now, and, starting on 15th February, be the most attentive and loving person for 365* days in a row and then, just for the heck of it, on the 14th February, be a complete and utter arsehole – just to show how much scorn I have for the whole misguided affair.

The amount of arguments I have had in the past about that one year when I apparently did “sod all” on Valentine’s day (and it’s not even true by the way – I cooked dinner – I remember it distinctly) – makes me even more hostile about the whole thing. As far as I’m concerned St Valentine can go and stick his dozen red roses and his bloody chocolate truffles up his arse…

If however, you think differently to me, and you want to offer a gift of love to the partner who you’ve been unfaithful to with alarming regularity over the last twelve months and you think that a few cakes will make it all ok, then have a crack at these little beauties (and try to be a little more artistic than Immie and I were with the icing).

Oreo cupcakes

For the cakes, mix 225g of unsalted butter, 225g of caster suger, 225g self raising flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 4 eggs and a teaspoon of vanilla essence in a bowl and whisk until the mixture has become light in colour and fluffy. Then mix in 10 crushed Oreos.

Spoon the mixture into cases in a muffin tin and bake them the oven at 170c for about 20 minutes. Check them for the last 5 minutes – you really don’t want them to overcook. You’ll know when they’re done by sticking in a cocktail stick – it should come out almost clean (if there’s a little bit of goo that’s good as they’ll continue to cook a little once you take them out). When they are done, let them cool on a wire rack.

Now for the icing – mix 375g of icing sugar and 225g of unsalted butter in a bowl and whisk as before, until light and fluffy – break another 10 broken oreos into the mixer for the last 30 seconds or so. Spread the icing over the cakes and you’re done.

If you don’t want to turn into the size of a house with all that butter, try them without the icing – they’re still pretty good (and let’s be honest, even without the icing each bite still contains more fat than 10 slices of thickly buttered toast).

* 2012 is a leap year. Smartarse.

An attempt at healthy biscuits

Whilst I think being single is healthy on so many levels, I’m starting to wonder whether there is something about living alone that makes me eat and drink far less healthily than I should. Firstly, I’m out more, which needless to say leads to eating and drinking in quantities that I’d like not to think about. But also, when I’m at home I tend to wander between the living room and the fridge, substituting my desire to constantly spew forth banalities with other ways of keeping my mouth full – the most popular of which I’ve found to be stuffing food into it (to be honest I’m not sure there are many other options but I’m open to suggestions).

And so it was that I came upon the novel idea of making biscuits that would fill said mouth while maintaining some sense of healthiness and still, hopefully, tasting rather good.

Chocolate chip ginger oat biscuits

I’ve never been very good with measuring quantities, so every time I’ve made these, they have been slightly different. I think the key is just to get a good balance between sweetness (syrup & honey), ballast (flour & oats), moisture (oil or butter) and interesting bits (chocolate chips & raisins).

Anyway – start with a mixing bowl, into which you put the following: at least two inches of fresh ginger, grated finely (more if you like it spicy), a handful of raisins, 100g of green and blacks dark chocolate broken into little pieces (before you open the pack, smash it a few times on the kitchen counter – that should do it), three handfuls of organic porridge oats and one of plain flour. Now add four tablespoons of honey, a tablespoon of syrup and a few good glugs of sunflower oil (this is me trying to be healthy by avoiding butter, which to be honest would probably taste much better, but as the whole point of this was to be healthy, bear with me and use oil (or ignore me completely and substitute for butter, then tell me how much better yours are than mine). Thinking about it, you could use a little butter and a little oil. You decide. Mix it all together well (I use a kitchen aid mixer at this point).

Now this is where you come in – what you are looking for is a moist but not too sticky biscuit dough that comes together in your hands in one big ball. It should also taste good, so this is the time to add more honey/sugar/syrup/oats/oil to get the flavour and consistency you prefer.

Once you have it, flour a suface, roll out the dough to 8mm thickness (I think the ones in the photo are a little too thick), and cut into biscuits. Bake in the overn at 180c for about 10 minutes, but keep your eye on them – they are inedible if you overcook them. They should go golden brown but still be a little soft when they are done. They’ll continue to harden once you take them out. And be careful of the burning hot melted chocolate when you put them on the cooling rack. If you like, sprinkle a little caster sugar on top of them while they’re still hot.

Once cooled, they are like a cross between a flap jack and a chocolate cookie. But without the butter. So they’re healthy. Kind of.