White Chocolate Liqueur

white choc meltDo all creative writers like to cook? I certainly do. Cooking feels as creative as writing, even for something as mundane as making dinner every night.

Last week, I decided to combine a little craftwork with cooking (or rather heating and stirring, it wasn’t that taxing) and came up with these very cute bottles of white chocolate liqueur for my sister’s birthday.

I got the recipe from Prima, but I did find as I made it that I needed to do some adjustments to the basic recipe. The recipe I had suggested simply heating double cream and condensed milk together until just about to boil. Anyone who has ever made caramel for millionaire’s shortbread will know that it burns really easily so slow, gentle heat and continual stirring is a must.

Anyway, here is the recipe. Enjoy!

White Chocolate Liqueur

  • Servings: 30 small bottles, approx
  • Time: 30 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • white choc liqueur400g white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 500ml double cream
  • 397g tin sweetened condensed milk
  • 400ml white rum

Place the double cream and the condensed milk into a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil, stirring frequently (otherwise the condensed milk will stick and burn).

Put the finely chopped white chocolate into a bowl and pour over the hot mixture. Mix well until it has all melted. Leave to cool for five minutes.

Pour in the white rum and mix well to combine. Allow to cool completely. Pour into sterilised bottles, seal and store in the fridge. Will keep for up to a month.

 

I got my little bottles from Miniature Glass Bottles

Plan B – TV, Blackberries and Coconut

Young girls, chocolate and lots of, what else is going to happen?

Young girls, chocolate and lots of, what else is going to happen?

Always have a Plan B, eh? That’s what the wise believe, so my plan B career options currently involve tactics such as:

  • walking past occasional filming crews in my home city; this walk subconsciously translating to the crew (and indeed myself) my latent acting talent and this resulting in a moderately successful TV acting career
  • bramble domination – using the wild blackberries that grow in abundance around me to start a moderately successful cottage industry producing bramble jelly and a blackberry liquer which sells in vast amounts in deli’s, top-notch department stores and high-end hotels
  • winning the Lottery.

As option C is unlikely and not one to base the hopes of your life on, as blackberry supplies can’t be depended on and as my life experience so far has revealed no latent acting talents, an intelligent guess would negate all three options as money-making options. Time to think up something else instead in case the freelance writing gig doesn’t work…

[Incidentally, if any of you are being targeted by affiliate marketers – the folks who post up all the pics of themselves surfing, or drinking a beer whilst dressed in a tee shirt because they only have to work four hours a week blah blah – here is a quick explanation:

[Affiliate marketing for the uninitiated is where you place an ad on an affiliate’s website (someone you sorta know through internet acquaintance). If nothing happens, nobody loses out, in theory. If, as a result, hunners of folks head to your website from your affiliate ad, then bingo… But then you do have to share that exposure with your affiliate if you are an honourable individual. And if you have taken up an affiliate ad, but not checked out your source properly and they are a devious kind of cad who doesn’t pay you their due then, bummer…]

No, my plan B is rather more stellar. The other week I babysat. I opted for active babysitting, which involved the nieces and their assorted friends, and we all embarked on a little chocolate moulding and sweet creation. We came up with some Bounty Balls. Post my babysitting/choccie efforts, I learned that the family of one child so liked the Bounty Balls they would be willing to pay for them. Plan B is looking more achievable don’t you reckon folks?

BOUNTY BALLS

Recipe: makes a lot…

  • 1 x 397g tin condensed milk (it is just me or is that a really weird serving size?)
  • 350g desiccated coconut
  • 400g milk chocolate (you will have extra left over, but better to start with more)

Prepare a baking sheet with a layer of grease-proof paper. Empty the condensed milk into a large bowl and add the desiccated coconut and mix well. Roll into small bowls (about the size of a large marble) but bear in mind that you will probably need to wash your hands after every two or three rollings. Place the balls on a large plate or tray and place in the freezer for about 30 minutes to an hour.

Melt the milk chocolate either over a pan of boiling water or in the microwave (see here for proper chocolate melting techniques) and, using a cocktail stick speared into each coconut ball, dip in the chocolate fully to coat and place on the prepared baking sheet. Leave to set (they won’t take long because of the freezing) and enjoy…

Want to Eat Well in the West?

The view from the Metropole

The view from the Metropole

Reader dear, a friend read my pathetic appeal for writing help and came to my aid. Step forward Ms Karen and take a bow. I owe you a debt of gratitude.

To recap, bored witless with my own witterings, I appealed to the generous blog reading public to guest post for me. I suppose my ‘niche’ loose as it is, is writing and food. Karen and her partner are keen foodies – in the nice way, lately the term has become something that is less than complimentary, implying snobbery and elitism. That is certainly not true of my friends who are as at home in a Wetherspoon’s pub as they are in a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Anyhoos, Karen wrote me a lovely piece on her culinary adventures in Cornwall, with reviews of some of the places she went to. The tourism industry is alive and well in Cornwall, which means there are many, many places to eat.

Some of those places take advantage of the hungry hordes and trade off well-established names (ahem!) whilst others go out of their way to provide delicious, exciting food and are happy to cater for special diets. Karen’s a coeliac (celiac my American friends; your spelling makes much more sense*).

Take it away Karen…

The Metropole Hotel, Padstow

After spotting an advert in the local paper, we headed to this wonderful hotel for a spot of lunch and ended up having a 3-course lunch for £10! Absolutely amazing value and wonderful food. So good in fact, we booked for the following week…

Second time round, we both had mackerel pate on toast. As I hadn’t specified I need gluten-free, I just skipped the toast, but the pate was just delightful – just the right amount of seasoning and a lovely taste of mackerel.

For mains, my partner had fish which was cooked perfectly and well-seasoned, while I had gluten-free pasta in cream sauce, which was delicious – if rather heavy for lunch. I did mange to finish it though…

We both had lemon posset with blackberry ice cream and home made short-bread for pudding. I had a wee bite of the short-bread as it wasn’t gluten free, and it tasted delicious and buttery with just the right bite. The lemon posset was a revelation – smooth, creamy and very tangy too. It worked so well with blackberry ice cream.

We would thoroughly recommend the place. It cost us only £10 for three courses and our bill on both days came to only £26.20 as we had water and coffee at the end of the meal. Service was excellent, efficient and very friendly – the hotel is a must is anyone is in Padstow. It is a special offer though – and only on a Wednesday.

No. 6 Padstow

To start with we had a couple of cocktails: Dirty Martini for my partner, which was almost pure alcohol, and I had a Dry Manhattan which was exquisite, very drinkable.

Starters: My partner had smoked haddock with Stornoway black pudding. This was what he had the year before and loved it, but this year he was a bit disappointed as the chef had changed it slightly… (why, why do they do that??) The poached egg on top was slightly over-cooked and it didn’t run out like it did the year before. The dish was over-seasoned, although that could have been down to the fish.

I had goose and pickles. This was goose liver parfait with clotted crème brioche. Smooth parfait, exquisite pickled veg which were small pieces of cucumber, courgette, cauliflower and just the right taste of pickling liquor. The brioche (not gluten free) was melt in the mouth fantastic, definitely worth the tummy ache the following day (and that was only because it was not gluten free).

Mains: My partner had saddle of pork (served pink) with scallop and pea puree, and medley of hazelnut spring (peas, asparagus, green beans and raddish), and pork scratching. He was advised on ordering that the pork would be served pink. He loved it.  The dish also contained slices of apple (paper thin slices) to complement the pork and it worked really well. The pork was delicious and cut like a knife through butter, very moist and tasty.

I had Moorland lamb with hogget** pie, broccoli and salse verde and lamb reduction. Oh that was a divine dish! The real revelation was the hogget pie. I’ve never had hogget before and it was gorgeous, so full of flavour and the pie had pieces of lamb kidneys in it which is not something I normally like, but these were so tasty and complemented the hogget beautifully. The lamb was served pink and was very tender. It was a wonderful main meal, one not to be easily forgotten…

Desserts: We both had Chocolate “Cake”. This was recommended to us by our taxi driver and he was spot on. It consisted of pistachio and chocolate slice topped with pistachio nuts, chocolate ice cream on a bed of chocolate soil. There was also a chocolate sponge with a disc of Caramac on top.

When he presented the dish, the waiter poured hot Caramac sauce onto the disc and we sat there and watched it melt into the sponge to reveal a gooey chocolate fondant inside.  It sounds rather heavy but it was not. Surprisingly it all worked well and was actually quite light, but a definite chocolate lover’s delight.

We ended the meal with a cheese board which had six British cheeses on it. Our favourite was the Tunworth cheese. This is an unpasteurised cow’s milk cheese from Somerset and is full flavoured with a hint of cabbage overtones – sounds weird but it worked brilliantly.

A truly brilliant meal, well worth a visit. Paul Ainsworth has a great knack of putting ordinary ingredients together and turning out sensational flavours and mouth watering meat dishes.  Our bread was home made potato and rosemary and then onion bread (gluten free was not an option on that night as I didn’t want to miss out on anything). Bread was lovely and served with Cornish butter and cod roe, mmm

So there you go. Should you ever be in the Padstow area, you’ll now where to go and when. I like any place that serves up six different kinds of cheese for a cheese board, so pennies and time permitting, my next culinary destination may well be Number 6.

 

 

*Read Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series for his explanation of the missing ‘u’ from American spellings of flavour, neighbour etc. It’s hilarious…

**Hogget is the name for a sheep between lamb and mutton stage. A teenage sheep, I guess.

Cakes, Sausages and Quality Street: You Know it Makes Sense

If I knew you were coming, I'd a baked a cake, baked a cake

If I knew you were coming, I’d a baked a cake, baked a cake

Granted that most of us in the developed world eat for many reasons – few of which are hunger and the necessity of refuelling with nutrient-dense food – my family decided to use food as the basis of celebration and remembrance today.

My nephew came up with the idea of a ‘grandpa’ foods day, as today is the third anniversary of my dad’s death. I suspect that the motivation behind ‘grandpa’ foods day may have been the idea that it was a licence to eat Dairy Milk chocolate all day. My nephew is eight after all. Nonetheless, a meal which showcased all of my dad’s favourite foods was greeted enthusiastically by everyone, including those of us considerably longer in the tooth than eight years old.

The menu was thus:

My own contribution was the Coffee and Walnut Cake. Here’s the recipe:

  • 225g Stork margarine*
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 75g walnuts, chopped finely (the Pampered Chef vegetable chopper makes this really easy)
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1tbsp instant coffee dissolved in 50ml boiling water and allowed to cool

ICING:

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 100g cream cheese
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 1tsp instant coffee, dissolved in 2tbsp boiling water and allowed to cool.
  • 8 walnut halves

1 x 20cm loose-bottomed square cake tin, greased and lined with baking parchment. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

Cream the margarine and sugar together with an electric hand mixer for five minutes. Add a tbsp of the flour and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. You can add in one or two extra tbsps of flour to make this easier. Add the vanilla extract, the cooled coffee and the flour and mix well to combine. Add the finely chopped walnuts and mix with a wooden spoon until distributed equally throughout.

Spoon into the prepared tin and cook in the oven for 40-45 minutes (if you insert a skewer into the cake, it should come out clean). Leave to cool in the tin for five minutes, until turning out onto a wire rack and leaving to cool thoroughly.

For the icing, cream together the butter, cream cheese and icing sugar for five minutes and then add the cooled coffee mixture. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Ice the sides and top of the cake and decorate with the walnut halves. Serves 12-14.

 

*I know, I know – purists would favour unsalted butter (preferably organic, preferably from grass-fed animals) but Stork is the baker’s secret. Light cakes every time! Don’t you reckon?

Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones

Don't throw away your chicken bones folks...

Don’t throw away your chicken bones folks…

I am taking my new-found conversion to carnivore very seriously indeed: today found me creating bone broth having read so many people enthusing about it online.

Basically, it’s stock – the long, slow cooking of bones and vegetables until you have a densely flavoured liquid you can use either as a flavouring for gravies, risottos, soups or drink it as it is. Enthusiasts claim all kinds of marvellous qualities for broth – immune system bolstering, hair, skin and nail improving, cellulite curing and gut healing.

Sadly, no-one said: “Actually, this truly amazing broth also turns you into THE most skilled writer, capable of rattling off 20,000 witty words a week that everyone wants to read. AND it kills off any desire to drink red wine.”

Still, worth a try for the qualities quoted in the second para if not the third hmm? As is my wont, I researched recipes online and then cobbled something together of my very own, using the world’s most marvellous culinary creation – the slow cooker.

Bone Broth AKA Chicken Stock:

  • 500g (roughly) chicken bones*
  • 2tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots,, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
  • 8-10 black peppercorns, ground in a pestle and mortar (optional, I put these in because I like heat)
  • Handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 2tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • Handful fresh sage leaves

Put all of the ingredients into your slow cooker and cover with cold water. Place on a low setting and cook for roughly 4-18 hours (the longer you leave it, the more mineral content you get out of the bones). You may need to top the water levels up from time to time. Strain once finished and use the liquid for stock or add a little sea salt to taste and drink as a broth.

 

 

*You can store chicken bones in the freezer until you’ve built up enough of a quantity.

 

 

Ssh! A Confession…

Tucking into sausages with gusto...

Tucking into sausages with gusto…

Come closer, I have a secret to tell you. Huddle round, concentrate and I will expand.

I have given up on vegetarianism and am now a committed carnivore. Part of me is still rather ashamed of this; 20 years as a vegetarian, latterly with fish thrown in. I apologise to the cows, pigs, lambs, chickens and ducks (and there will be a few more mammals and birds on that list too, once I’ve sampled them) for my mean contrivance to end their lives. Particularly apologies should go to the pigs, as sausages and black pudding are now among my favourite foods.

When you’ve been a vegetarian for as long as I had, it felt like part of my identity. And it made me feel like a nicer, morally superior person as I was not the type to be swayed by a bacon sandwich the way folklore has it for many would-be veggies and the world was not cutting down swathes of forest on my behalf to feed up animal protein. Plus, I love animals, I really, really do and commercial meat production can be absolutely disgusting.

Here’s the rub though. I mostly follow a low carb diet to keep my blood sugar levels as stable as possible. I stumbled across this a few years ago through Dr Richard Bernstein’s book, The Diabetes Solution. He’s a pretty impressive individual – he put himself through medical school so that he could prove his own theories on diabetes management – but heavens, his methods are very, very strict indeed, with a daily intake of just 40g of carbohydrate (6g for breakfast, 12 for lunch and dinner). I like to eat a bit more veg and fruit so I aim for about 75g a day.

I’d coped with a low-carbohydrate diet initially by adding fish to my diet. After a while, it began to feel a bit monotonous – fish, cheese and eggs day in day out – so I added in meat some weeks ago. In an attempt to keep some virtue to my food choices, I’ve only been eating meat from our local butcher, which is locally sourced, grass-fed and bred in reasonably good conditions.

It turns out that I really love meat. A great, juicy burger topped with cheese (sans bun, obviously), good quality bacon, black pudding, meat loaf, slow-cooked shoulder of lamb… Experiments have been plentiful and fun. The only thing I haven’t been fussed about was steak. The cheap cuts are the best – which is just as well, given my lack of regular income these days.

Anyway, in a final homage to my vegetarian years, I thought I’d share with you a favourite recipe; Spicy ratatouille cooked in the slow cooker. The great thing about cooking the veg this way is that they maintain their shape much better than when you cook it on top of the stove and it’s really, really delicious. Top it with crumbled goat’s cheese and brown it briefly under the grill.

Spicy Ratatouilleserves 4

  • 1 large aubergine
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large courgette
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 500ml passata
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 green chilli, diced (keep the seeds in for extra heat)
  • 1tsp tomato puree
  • 1tsp caster sugar
  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Chop the aubergine, red pepper and courgette into equal-sized chunks. Slip the top off the fennel and cut into big slices. Finely dice the onion. Put all of the ingredients into your slow cooker and top up with a little extra water (about 50-100ml). Cover and cook on a low setting for 3-4 hours.

For the record, each portion of this has approximately 149 calories and 18g carbohydrate.

Honeymoon Heaven: Food Glorious Food

Petals, I am about to embark on a delayed honeymoon. It’s going to involve a motorbike, a visit to the Culloden battlefield, a spa treatment or two and loads and loads of lovely food.

Nights one and two feature a six-course taster menu. Day three will include a stop over at the Hungry Highlander in Braemar, a fish and chip shop popular with bikers possibly due to the ginormous portions it serves up. Day five will take in the Michelin-starred delights of Sangster’s in Elie – I’ve drooled over the menu; seared scallops with lentil and coriander dhal to start? Or twice-baked cheese souffle? Seared monkfish tail for the next course and what about course number three – cheese with truffle honey, grapes and apples or a warm chocolate fondant? Mmm, mmm.

Our culinary tour ends with a stop-off at the world-famous Anstruther Fish Bar.

The cat attempts to join the motorbike tour honeymoon...

The cat attempts to join the motorbike tour honeymoon…

We’ve taken an annual trip to the Anstruther Fish Bar for the last three years and we’ve always been lucky enough to land there in good weather, which means you get sit on the harbour walls eating your fish and chips. I’ll revert to cliches, but vinegar-doused batter and chips tastes so much better when eaten in fresh sea air, so here’s hoping for a fourth year of sunshine…

Marital Bliss in 30 Minutes

Today, with just under 11 weeks to go till I wed, I am going to share with you the secret of making a man happy…
[If you would like this in more detail, please purchase my ebook, where for a mere £79.99, you can discover the key to long-lasting marital happiness. Guaranteed. Hurry. This is a limited offer.]*
So, drum roll… It is, ta dah, the following recipe. Create, present to your man, enjoy happiness in excess quantities**.

Potato and Bacon Bake (serves 2)
500g new potatoes, sliced finely
300ml double cream
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Dried thyme (tsp)
125g lardons
60g Edam cheese, grated
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Put the potatoes into a heavy based saucepan with the cream and the thyme. Lightly crush the garlic and add to the pan. Bring to the boil slightly and then turn the heat to the lowest. Cook gently for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop sticking.
Fry the lardons in a non stick pan until lightly browned. Add to the potato mix and add salt and pepper to taste. Tip the whole lot into an oven-proof dish, top with the grated Edam and cook in the oven for 25 minutes. Serve with green beans and salad.
*Reader, I mock. Sorry, you will have to forgo the wisdom of moi.
**Erm, do not feed this to anyone on a regular basis. It’s possibly not the healthiest of choices…

Lordie… January Blues…

Image

Doing double time on the detox – cakes and wine are playing a much less significant role in my life these days, money spending is at a minimum (I’ve got a wedding to pay for, for heaven’s sake!) and, as I’ve been fairly organised so far, I can’t even write any more lists for said wedding.

Dull, dull double dull!

So, post-work I’m forced to find other ways to entertain myself, such as tidying up the kitchen cupboards. Most of it was tedious, but the ordering of the baking cupboard was joyful and it is now a thing of beauty, which leads me neatly on to another top ten list (thank you Lesley Carter) – the baking essentials:

  1. Digital scales for precise measuring

  2. Cup measures so you can easily use American recipes as well as British ones

  3. Vanilla extract/paste for delicious flavouring

  4. 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate (so many lovely things to create with it)

  5. A good, solid mixing bowl

  6. Condensed milk (see dark chocolate above)

  7. Soft brown sugar

  8. Icing sugar

  9. Stork margarine – use half and half with unsalted butter for lusciously light cakes

  10. ANYTHING from Lakeland.

New Year Shortbread

Happy New Year y’all – health and happiness I hope is yours in 2013…

I was going to write a piece about this being the year of our wedding and my feelings about the approaching nuptials. It would have been philosophical, meaningful and thoughtful. It might even have made sentimentally-minded readers cry (though that might be more related to delayed hangovers than anything else).

But, the urge to blog baking efforts triumphed once more. It’s new year and I’m Scottish so of course, I’m going to blog a shortbread recipe! It’s kind of a last-ditch extravaganza of excess before the usual January healthy eating/wedding diet stuff kicks in (sorry to be a cliché).

A few tips – when you don’t have many ingredients for a recipe, you need to make sure they are the best so very good quality butter and organic flour is a must. I’m a shortbread purist too, so I would never recommend any other ingredients other than flour, butter and sugar (though the odd batch with added chopped up chocolate is OK).

Butter Shortbread

  • 125g butter (you can use salted or unsalted)
  • 140g plain flour
  • 40g cornflour
  • 60g caster sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Lightly grease and line an 8” square baking tin with grease-proof paper. Beat together the butter and sugar and then add the flour. Combine and then turn onto a clean work surface and knead together briefly (you don’t want to overwork shortbread).

Press into the tin and prick all over with a fork. Bake for 20-25 minutes (you want the top to be light golden) and then mark into squares while still warm. Allow to cool in the tin for five minutes and then gently ease out the marked squares. Press them into a saucer of caster sugar to give them a sugar topping and allow to cool completely.

Enjoy with a cup of tea (or for extra decadence – a wee sherry.)