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Oh my goodness, y’all, I’ve done it. I found the one recipe that will completely set me back on my new year’s fitness resolution.

Wanna know a secret: The truth is I’m a once-in-a-blue-moon chocoholic. I know, it’s shameful to say to all you chocolate lovers out there.  Most chocolate desserts simply don’t tempt me. So many chocolate cake recipes are too try or else too rich. Tiffin and other such Millionaire Shortbreads are too grainy-sugary and, again, too rich for my tastes. If I’m having a chocolate craving I prefer to forgoe the messy bowls and pans of baking and just grab a bar of Green and Blacks espresso dark chocolate. A couple squares of that and I’m good to go for at least 24 hours.

But I’m telling you, when my hubbie and I saw this brownie recipe on the BBC the other day I felt the early tremors of a conversion experience. The recipe is coming to you  express from Lorraine Pascale over at Baking Made Easy on the BBC. The former model had quite a few yummy recipes on there, I must say. Well worth watching the entire episode on iplayer.

I had to go for a run as soon as these came out of the oven… to justify eating these later — I’m sure the smell alone is worth 100 calories!

The recipe is easy enough:

Just 165g butter, melted in a sauce pan. Take off the heat when melted.

Add 200g of grated dark chocolate to butter. Let stand until melted. Then stir.  (I was on a budget so I used plain ole Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference brand, but I’m sure G&B would be divine).

In a big bowl beat 3 eggs and 2 egg yolks with 2 tsp of vanilla extract. Beat until fluffy.

Add 1 cup of sugar in 2 parts. I used half brown sugar, half white. Beat into the eggs.

Then pour the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture (pour it along the side of the bowl so as not to deflate the fluffy eggs). Add 2 Tbsp flour, 1 Tbsp cocoa powder and 1 pinch of salt. Gently fold in the dry ingredients, careful not to press out the air in the eggs.

Crush about 6 or 7 oreo cookies and fold into the batter. Then pour into a greased baking dish. (I used baking paper as well, as it’s easier to lift the cooked brownies out of the dish.)

Finally, garnish with another 10 or so broken up oreo pieces, submerging them into the batter slightly.

Bake at 350/180* for about 25-30 minutes! I baked mine for about 25 minutes and they were plenty gooey inside, one might even say underdone, (which is the way I like ’em). You do want them to be at least a little gooey inside so don’t over bake.

Let cool completely before cutting them into squares.

Enjoy!

Chestnuts peeping out from under Halloween colored leaves is one of my favorite sights of Fall.  They are the proof positive that Autumn has arrived, as it has here in blustery Bristol.  We don’t really get them in the southern piedmont of North Carolina, so they will forever remind me of trips to cooler climes where fall is fall and not just a hurricane-doused extension of summer.  I got lucky this year with my chestnut sightings as we spent our honeymoon in Maine where the chestnuts literally pile up in the gutters along the sidewalks because there are too many for the squirrels and other chestnut hunters (like, ahem, me) to collect.

Unfortunately, here in Bristol it appears that we’ve come to the end of the chestnuts season.  On my walk on the Downs today (that blessed oasis of greenspace that overlook’s Bristol’s otherwise urban topography), I noticed that almost all the “conkers,” as British school children here call them, had been picked over, and left behindwere only the smashed shells that had formerly encased them.

 


I'm not the only one who is inspired by chestnuts in the Fall. This shop incorporated them into their display window.

 

Now for all you fellow non-Brits, let me explain.  Over here, the fallen chestnuts you see in a park or along the side of a road are good for one thing and one thing only: playing conkers.  When my husband, and just about every other Brit here, sees a chestnut the one thing on their minds is finding the hardest, beastiest kernel, with the most potential for beating all the other conkers in the school yard.  The actual game isn’t all that complicated: You tie a bit of string through a hole in your chestnut and take turns flicking your conker against your oponent’s. Basic enough.  The art, I’m told, comes in how the conker is chosen and prepared for battle.  To hear Luke explain the process, you’d think he was performing a sacred task.  You must find the biggest, roundest conker, he says.  Now for drilling the hole: how do you do it?  Is it better to use an electric drill or whittle it by hand?  How can you be sure of the interior quality of the conker?  Will it harden sufficiently when it’s dried?  Not forgeting that it should be just soft enough to withstand the force of the oponent conker.

It’s all very complicated.  And foreign.  Did I mention I didn’t grow up playing this game?  Now, when I see a chestnut, I think of this.

Hand holding roasted chestnuts in paper bag

Mmmm.  Hot, steamy, buttery roasted chestnuts. In France these  marrons grillés have a kind of magnetic pull on my, already thin wallet. As soon as the first Alpine wind swept across Provence in Autumn, you could be sure the marrons  vendors are stationed on every main street corner, their wood fired grills tempting you with the sweet smells of the roasting chestnuts.

Roasted Chestnuts are roasted thusly:

It’s best to cook them over an open fire, preferably wood. But if you don’t have one to hand, an oven works fine too.

Preheat the oven to 400* (200*C).

Carefully cut an X on the top of each chestnut. This allows the steam to escape; otherwise, they’ll explode!

Spread the nuts on a baking sheet or on the grill (over a fire) cut side up. (Cooking them cut side down will ensure extra crispiness, but this may burn the exposed flesh — it’s up to you).  Sprinkle lightly with water.

Roast for 15-20 minutes until the kernels are tender and the shells come off easily. Remember to move them around often so they don’t burn.

When the chestnuts are ready, you may rap them in a towel and squeeze them to break the shells, but this is only an extra kindness to your guests. Alternately, serve them piping hot in a newspaper cone and let your guests get to work peeling back the lovely, hot skins.

Enjoy!

Tomorrow I’ll post a little more about the game of  “conkers.”

Despite intentionally trying to avoid them, I fell into a trap today; I read an article about graduate unemployment.  The best I can say about it is at least I don’t feel alone. The Independent reckons there are, on average, 69 applicants for every one position; The Guardian has a bleaker outlook: 12,000 applications for 50 places.  Talk about spoiling the rest of my full English breakfast (probably the last I’ll ever be able to afford if The Guardian staff writer is right).

So what did I do with this information?  Did I immediately hop onto the computer and begin– for the 20th time — job hunting?  Fraid not.  Did I fret and flutter and burst into tears?  Well, nearly.

Nope.  I got out my rolling pin and baked some delicious cheese scones. And then I knitted some more of the square cake handbag.  And you know what?  The future didn’t look so bleak afterwards.

We are creative beings; we thrive from positive nurturing and encouragement. With so much discouragement out there, sometimes you have to use your hands to create something beautiful and delicious. It’s what we were made for.

Here we are:  two unemployed graduates… but we seem pretty happy so far.

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"The purpose of art is not a rarified, intellectual distillate -- it is life, intensified, brilliant life." ~ Alain Arias-Misson

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