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Archive for the ‘Naughty but Nice!’ Category

My Dad is a Crunchie fan – he just loves honeycomb – actually you could probably call him a ‘Crunchie nut’ so this is ideal for him!  When I came across this just before last Christmas I just knew I had to make a batch so I could give him some for Christmas (saving some for our family, of course!)  I also made White Christmas Slices and was able to give him and mum mixed box of goodies.  I like the idea of giving handmade presents, sadly its something I rarely have time to do.  This year my mind has been on other things with little time to make those festive extra treats we love: pickles, chutneys, Stollen, Lebkuchen…

I first saw this on the television series accompanying the new (in Christmas 2010) book, Nigella Kitchen by Nigella Lawson.  Such a simple idea and I was able to take down the recipe from the TV.  A shortcut possibility, or for anyone outside the UK who cannot get Crunchie Bars (though they seem to be widely available), would be to use honeycomb, also known as cinder toffee.  I understand this is fairly simple to make and there are various methods online.  Here is just one version: Lets make a crunchie bar (giving first a recipe for honeycomb and then turning it into home made ‘crunchie’ bites) from fellow London based blogger London Eats.  If you use honeycomb rather than Crunchies, then you would need to add more chocolate to account for the missing chocolate covering on the bars.  I found that the finished article was much easier to cut straight from the fridge: once it had started to warm up the portions were not quite so neat and started to crumble.  My one concern was that the finished  article could have looked a little prettier.  I used bars of Sainsbury’s Basics range chocolate, which I understand comes from a very reputable source yet is very resonably priced and was careful not to overheat it.  I am not very experienced with chocolate and I would have liked a smoother finish, however I don’t think this was the fault of the chocolate.  The taste was great.  As an alternative to using lined shallow square or rectangular tins Nigella suggests using disposable foil tins.  I always make sure I rescue these when they come with commercially bought meals, usually desserts or cakes, rather than immediately recycling them.  By the way, don’t worry about using salted peanuts, just shake off any excess salt before use.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Sweet & Salty Crunchie Nut Bars

200g milk chocolate (I used Sainsbury’s Basics range)
100g dark/plain chocolate (I used Sainsbury’s Basics range)
100g unsalted butter (I used slightly less than the 125g in the original recipe)
1 x 15ml tbsp golden syrup
250g salted peanuts (I used Sainsbury’s Basics range)
2 x 80g Crunchie bars

1.  Line a tin about 26cm square or a rectangular tin of similar dimensions with tin foil, smoothing out as much as possible.  Alternatively use disposable foil tins (see note above).

2.  Tip the peanuts into a large hole sieve or colander and shake over the sink to remove excess salt. Tip them into a medium sized mixing bowl. Crumble and add the Crunchie bars. Stir to combine.

3.  Gently melt the butter and golden syrup together in a heavy based pan. As it melts break up and add the chocolate bars. Stir until dissolved, but do not allow to boil.

4.  When the mixture in the pan has just melted pour it over the nuts and broken Crunchies and stir together.

5.  Pour into the lined tin or foil tray.  Spread out to the corners and try to flatten it as possible.  A spatula will help with this.

6.  Cover and place in the refrigerator for several hours.  Remove and slice, working quickly before the mixture starts to warm up, which I found made it more difficult to cut accurately. I could be cut it into chunks, wedges or even random shapes.

7.  Store in the fridge until you are ready to give away.  Placed in small decorative boxes and wrapped with cellophane this makes good Christmas gift.  It could also be served as a ‘naughty nibble’ with a cup of coffee!

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I was intending to start this post by being a bit clever, quoting “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche“, writing something about French Queen Marie Antoinette and mentioning the common inaccurate translation of her phrase as “Let them eat cake”…  I am so glad I checked the details before writing!  The quote is correct, but is often wrongly attributed to Marie Antoinette wife of Louis XVI.  The words were said by Marie-Therese, the wife of King Louis XIV who lived around 100 years previously. So not what I had thought, but interesting nonetheless and I thought worth sharing!  Back to the subject in hand… One of our first purchases on arrival in France is a Brioche loaf. We find it so useful: it keeps well, is good for breakfast and handy for emergency use.  Brioche and Gâche Vendéenne (its cousin from the Vendée region in Western France) are soft, light, puffy and slightly sweet crosses between cake, pastry and bread.  They are made from a yeast dough enriched with butter and egg and often flavoured with rum, brandy or – our favourite – fragrant orange flower water.  Some years ago on holiday I bought recipe postcards and a bottle of orange flower water with the intention of making brioche.  I even bought a fluted Brioche tin.  Until now I had not got round to making the brioche although I have used the tin for jellies! and the orange flower water in other recipes (including Fragrant Marmalade Cake and Moroccan Style Beef Stew with Oranges & Beetroot).

Orange flower water can now easily be found in the UK and is the one ingredient we feel gives brioche that little extra something, however it was not an ingredient in my Brioche postcard recipe so I turned first to books and then the Internet for help.  I eventually found the recipe below, Brioche with Fleur d’Oranger posted by Gary at Meltingpan.com  I would have left him a note to say how successful his recipe had been, but could not see where add a comment and the site now seems to have disappeared completely (I have left the links in case it does re-appear). Gary recommended it spread with unsalted butter but never toasted, though I have to say I think it makes lovely toast!  Initially I carefully made a half quantity but will definitely be making the full amount in future.  I used the French method of dough making, where the dough is thrown and scraped which makes the initial extreme stickiness easier to manage.  Do ‘stick’ with the recipe and it will eventually come together into a smooth ball.  Once you have this it can be kneaded in the conventional English way.  Brioche, apparently, makes a delicious rich bread and butter pudding, but I am not sure we will ever have any left to make one!  The recipes for Paddington Pudding (Marmalade Bread & Butter Pudding) or Toffee Apple Croissant Bread & Butter Pudding could easily be adapted.  I shaped my loaf by dividing into three strands and plaiting them before putting into a tin, which is the usual shape of the loaves we buy.  Probably the most familiar shape is the brioche à tête (literally ‘bun with a head’) usually made in the fluted tin with a small ‘top knot’ of dough added on top, similar to a Cottage Loaf.  La Gâche Vendéenne is torpedo shaped and slashed from end to end.  The Brioche (or Couronne) des Rois, translated as King’s Brioche or King’s Crown, comes from Provence in the south of France (this linked recipe looks good but is untried) and is normally a ring shaped loaf decorated with crystallised fruits.  It is served on 6 January at Epiphany, the feast celebrating the Wise Men’s visit to the infant Christ.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Brioche

The original recipe advised that if you have a bread machine you simply put in all the ingredients apart from the butter. Put it on the dough setting and after about 10 minutes (or whenever it alerts you to add nuts or other ingredients) add the softened butter. Although I have a bread machine I used the conventional method so cannot comment on the success or otherwise of using a machine.  The instructions were not very clear but I assume that the brioche was kneaded in the machine but cooked conventionally in the oven.

300g of white flour, sifted
2 eggs, beaten
50ml of milk
10g of dried active yeast
50g of sugar
3 tablespoons of Fleur d’Oranger (Orange Flower Water)
70g of unsalted butter, cubed and softened
1 teaspoon of salt

For the loaf pan(s):
2 tablespoons of melted butter
2 tablespoons of sugar

1.   Preheat oven to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4 and place a pan of water on the lowest rack.

2.  Sieve the flour into a bowl.  Add the salt and sugar and then the dried yeast.

3.  Warm the milk slightly, which helps the yeast to start to grow more quickly and stir into the dry ingredients along with the beaten eggs and orange flower water.

4.  Gently mix together with one hand adding the butter little by little.  The mixture will be very sticky.  Avoid adding extra flour at any point as this makes the dough tough.

5.  Turn out onto a cleaned work surface and start to knead, bringing the edges in with a dough scraper or a palette knife.  It will come together eventually if you keep working at it and the dough will eventually form a soft ball.  Continue stretching and scraping until conventional kneading is possible.  This took at least 20 minutes.

6.  Once you have a soft ball of dough that is no longer sticky put it in a bowl, cover it with a tea-towel and let it sit in a warm place for 20 minutes to allow it to rise.

7.  Meanwhile butter the loaf pan (or pans) and shake over sugar so it is well coated.  The sugar can, of course, be omitted.

8.  When risen knock the dough back and knead well for a further 20 minutes.

9.  Make either one large or two smaller loaves.  Before placing the dough in the pan(s) the dough can be split into three strands and plaited or shaped into a long loaf with a gash cut down its length.

10.  Drop the dough into the prepared loaf pan(s), cover with a clean tea towel and leave it in a warm area for 20-30 minutes to allow it to rise again.

11.  Place in the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes.  The finished loaf/loaves will be golden brown and doubled in size.

12.  Turn out of the pan(s) and cook on a wire rack.  Eat and enjoy!

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Back in the 1970’s I watched Ken Hom cooking Sesame Prawn Toast on TV in his classic TV show Chinese Cookery and although he said they were simple to make, it still took me years to get round to having a go.  Whatever else I order in a Chinese restaurant I always feel I have somehow missed out if I don’t have at least one piece of Sesame Prawn Toast – I have also eaten them in a Thai restaurant where they tasted much the same.  In one really good local restaurant they are just one element of a mixed starter dish so I don’t even have to choose!  It is some time since I have cooked a multi dish Chinese meal so earlier this year I took my opportunity.  It was mum’s birthday.  I know that I can take a bit more risk with something I have not made before – my family and parents are very forgiving guinea pigs – so our starter was, of course, sesame prawn toast.  As I had thought it was a straightforwad recipe and it and the meal a resounding success.

The recipe is a fairly standard one, as far as I can see, and comes from the BBC book that accompanied the TV series: Ken Hom’s Chinese Cookery.  The mixture and the finished uncooked toasts can be made in advance (always an advantage) chilled and then cooked just prior to serving.  Although the original recipe was deep fried I found that the toasts could also be shallow fried.  After draining on kitchen paper I popped them into the oven, which had been on to cook the duck breast for the Duck with Chinese Style Plum Sauce I was also serving.  This kept the toasts warm and crisped them even more.  A version of the recipe can also be found at This Morning Recipes but includes water chestnuts and pork, which are not in the original recipe.  It also specifies just the white of the egg which I have kept as I think it an improvement on my recipe.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Sesame Prawn Toast
(Makes about 30 pieces)
For the base
10 slices bread, very thinly sliced (a square loaf looks neater when cut up)
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds (or more as required)
450ml (15 fl oz) sunflower oil (original suggests groundnut/peanut
For the prawn paste mixture
450g/1lb uncooked prawns, peeled & finely chopped
1tsp salt
½tsp freshly ground white pepper
1 egg white
2tbsp finely chopped spring onions, white part only
2tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
1tbsp of light soy sauce
1tsp of sesame oil

1.  Chop the prawns finely until they are a paste and place in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients.  Mix well until it is a smooth consistency that will be easy to spread. (If available, use a food processor.)

2.  Remove the crusts from the bread and cut each slice into about three ‘fingers’ – rectangles of around 7.5 x 2.5cm  (3 x 1 inch).  Alternatively cut into triangles: 2 large or 4 small.

3.  Spread the prawn paste over the pieces of bread.  Each should be about 3 mm (⅛inch) deep, although it can be spread more thinly if preferred.

4.  Sprinkle the toasts generously with sesame seeds and press well in.

5. Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer, frying pan or a wok to medium heat.  Fry the toasts paste side downwards, several at the same time, for 2 to 3 minutes.  Turn them over and fry for a further 2 minutes or until golden brown.

6.  Remove with a slotted spoon, place on kitchen paper to drain and place in the oven or under a gentle grill to keep warm. (The toasts will have to be cooked in several batches.)

7.  It is recommended that the toasts are served at once.  However, they can be kept for a short while (say 5-10 minutes at most) and even finished in a warm oven, in which case it is helpful if they are slightly less browned in the fryer or wok.  Beware leaving them too long as they will harden and could quickly burn.

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Here in the UK, rice pudding has long been associated with nursery food (blame the Victorians, perhaps), school dinners or, at best, comfort food for the Winter.  When slowly baked in the oven the milk reduces, the rice becomes thick and a brown skin forms on the top.  The flavouring, apart from sugar, comes from a sprinkling of nutmeg and sometimes (rather unusually) a bay leaf.  Safe, but unexciting – and to some people a complete turn off.  Spanish rice pudding, however, is something entirely different and it would be so easy for the uninitiated to miss out on a treat.  Spaniards appear to have a very sweet tooth and love their creamy desserts.  The sweet vanilla custards crema catalana (a version of the French crème brûlée) and flan (similar to crème caramel) are both very popular, as is this very un-British rice pudding.  Flavoured with vanilla, coconut, cinnamon, lemon and orange rind it is served chilled and is a popular sweetener at the end of the meal in restaurants and tapas bars.  This is not a dish for a winter day (or the nursery) but ideal to finish off a summery meal.  My family’s verdict was that this was really delicious so I shall certainly be making it again, especially as it was so easy.  I would definitely serve it as part of a Spanish themed meal, possibly with some fresh fruit.  Caramel oranges would be ideal and in keeping with the Spanish theme.  A Spanish biscuit or small churro as an extra would be a good addition in place of some of the suggested serving toppings.

My starting point for this recipe was a combination of two found online.  The first – my main source – was from The Times Online: Cinnamon Rice Pudding with a few ideas from the Canadian site Lululuathome, although I did not add either the egg or condensed milk suggested in this second recipe.  The first time I used part milk and part coconut milk made from 25g dessicated coconut soaked in 250ml boiling water.  A better alternative, which avoids having to discard the coconut, is to use all milk and add 1oz/25g coconut powder.  Another alternative would be to use a can of coconut milk, which is available in a low fat version, topped up with milk.  I took my quantities from the Times recipe, which is supposed to serve 4-6 but this would give very small portions: I prefer to think of it as for 3-4 people, even though it is rich.  If it was cooked for slightly less time the portions would be larger but a little more runny.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Arroz con Leche
Spanish Style Rice Pudding
(Serves 3-4)

1¾ pints/1 litre milk (whole or half fat)
1 small/medium cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves or a tiny pinch of ground cloves (optional)
Zest strips peeled from a lemon
Zest strips peeled from an orange (plus a few thin zest strips – see below)
4ozs/125g 
short-grain rice (Spanish Calasparra or UK Pudding Rice)
3ozs/100g caster sugar (could reduce a little)
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp ground cinnamon to serve
A few thin orange zest strips to serve (optional)
A little dessicated coconut (optional)

1.  Remove the zest from the fruit with a potato peeler, making sure no white pith is included.  Put the milk, cinnamon stick and clove (if using) in a saucepan along with the lemon and orange zests.  Bring to the boil then take off the heat and put to one side.

2.  Leave for the flavours to infuse for 30 minutes. Strain and throw away the rinds and cinnamon stick.

3.  Return the milk and heat through in the saucepan.  Bring to a simmer and then add the rice.

4.  Cook on a low to medium heat.  Stir the rice and milk regularly for 10 minutes so it does not start to stick or burn.  Add the sugar and vanilla extract.  Continue to cook, stirring regularly for a further 10 minutes.

5.  When the rice mixture has thickened and the grains are cooked (they should be soft when squeezed between a thumb and finger) remove from the heat.

6.  Allow the rice mixture to cool and then chill in the  fridge.

7.  Serve chilled in small dishes dusted with cinnamon and a few strips of orange zest and/or dessicated coconut.

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Inspired by the afternoon tea at Belgique I was treated to some weeks ago by a friend and mentioned previously, I thought I would try something similar for my mother as a Mothering Sunday treat.  Our tea at Belgique came on a tiered cakestand: little filled rolls on the bottom layer, cakes in the middle and chocolate-y nibbles on the top and with individual pots of tea.  (I have a cake stand hidden away somewhere, but was unable to track it down so instead tea was served at table on separate plates – I could have asked mum to bring hers, but it would have spoiled the surprise!)  What did we eat?  I knew that everyone would have had Sunday lunch so I decided not to serve anything too heavy.  I made two types of cake: a Boiled Fruit Cake (recipe to follow) and Whole Orange Cake, baked a batch of Delia Smith’s Devonshire Scones for a cream tea and alongside these cooked some part-baked half size French sticks from the supermarket.  When these were cooled I sliced each stick in half lengthways and added butter, then filled one with mashed tinned salmon and thin cucumber slices (one of mum’s favourites) and the other with sliced roast ham and tomato.  Each stick was cut into six pieces making a dozen large-bite sized ‘sandwiches’ (mini baguette bites) which nestled on a bed of lettuce and was scattered with a little mustard and cress.  For full menu details see further down…

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A word about Mothering Sunday, which here in the UK we celebrate at a different time to the USA.  Its origins are actually not really about celebrating motherhood.  I am currently reading a very helpful Lent book (spiritual reading for the six and half weeks of Lent: Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday) called Giving it Up by Maggi Dawn.  Today she writes:

‘In 16th-century Britain, the fourth Sunday in Lent was called Refreshment Sunday.  All the Lent rules were relaxed and the church expected people to return to their ‘mother’ church or cathedral for that day’s service.  The day became known as Mothering Sunday, not through association with mothers but because of the journey made to the ‘mother’ church.  In an age when children as young as ten left home to take up work or apprenticeships elsewhere, this was often the only day in the year when whole families would be reunited.  By the 17th-century it had become a public holiday, when servants and apprentices were given the day off so that they could fulfil their duties to the church.  They often stopped to pick flowers along the way and some brought with them a special cake made from fine wheat flour called simila, which has evolved into the simnel cake…  The tradition of keeping Mothering Sunday was strengthened in the 19th-century when those in domestic service were allowed to return to their own communities, as they would not be home for Easter. … Over the past few decades, Mothering Sunday has been recast as Mother’s Day, a move that has grown out of consumerism rather than theology.  Turning Mothering Sunday into Mother’s Day has almost eclipsed the original meaning of the day …’

I do agree with her, but nonetheless it was good to treat my mum – and my dad – and the rest of the family!

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Afternoon Tea for Mothering Sunday

Mini Baguette Bites: Salmon & Cucumber
Mini Baguette Bites: Ham & Tomato
(alternatives: egg mayonnaise & cress, tuna mayonnaise & cucumber – brie & cranberry sauce – cheese & pickle or chutney – cheese & tomato – bacon & tomato relish – avocado & bacon – Mexican Style Chicken & Pepper Salad – Coronation Chicken – mashed avocado & grated carrot …)
Garnish: Lettuce – Mustard & Cress

Cream Tea: Devonshire Scones
with butter, jam (blackcurrant) and whipped double cream

Whole Orange Cake
Boiled Fruit Cake (recipe to follow)
(and some chocolate biscuits …)

Tea to drink

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There is some confusion over the origins of the Tarte Tatin with the suggestion that it probably resulted from a kitchen error: it sounds as if the cook was trying to cover up the mistake with a pastry lid and instead created a classic!   Until recently I had thought it was complicated, putting me off trying out the recipe.  Perhaps it was the French style name, which added a certain mystique!  In truth, however, Tarte Tatin is simply an upside down pie containing caramelised fruit which is not at all difficult to make – at least not this version.  Tarte Tatin is commonly made with firm dessert apples, which hold their shape and so are preferable to using cooking apples.  However this version caught my eye, even though I was a Tarte Tatin novice (to be honest, I had some ripe bananas which needed using, which helped make up my mind).  Tarte Tatin seems a very versatile dish as it can be made with a variety of fruits: pears, peaches or pineapple are suggestions I have read but I think plums or apricots would be good too. (I ate a pineapple and coconut version on holiday last year.)  A savoury version using tomatoes or onions is also possible.   Now I realise how straightforward it is to make, especially using shop bought ready made Puff Pastry, I really must have a go at the apple version.  Watch this space and I will eventually add a link! 

This recipe came from the ASDA supermarket free instore magazine from Jan 2010, originally called Banana Toffee Tart but renamed by me.  I reduced the quantity of fat and sugar from 75g to just 30g of each as I felt that there was rather too much liquid and it was over oily.  I first served this Tarte Tatin at a family midweek birthday supper and was surprised how quickly it was made.  I think it would be good made as individual tarts, perhaps in crumpet, muffin or egg poaching rings set in a larger frying pan.  Serve this dessert with custard, cream or ice cream, but my personal opinion is that soured cream or crème fraîche would be better to counter the sweetness – this is a very sweet dessert!

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Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin
(Serves 4)

30g Butter
30g soft light brown sugar
8 medium Bananas, just ripe
375g ready rolled puff pastry
½tsp ground nutmeg

1.  Preheat the oven to 180oC Fan/200oC/400oF/Gas 6.  If you have a suitably sized frying pan with a handle that will stand the heat of the oven this can be made in one pan.

2.  On a floured surface, roll out the pastry into a round shape just a little larger than the pan or tin.

3.  To make the butterscotch sauce, melt the butter and sugar together in a pan (or the frying pan).  Simmer for 2-3 minutes until they are well dissolved, hot and bubbling.  If using the frying pan then remove half of the butterscotch mixture and set aside otherwise pour half of the butterscotch mixture into the base of a 25cm shallow round tin (without a removable base). 

4.  Lay the bananas evenly in the pan or tin in a single layer.  This can either be done leaving the bananas whole or cutting them into chunks of even thickness.  Pour over the remainder of the butterscotch mixture.

5.  Lay the pastry over the bananas in the pan and lightly tuck in the edges around the edge.  Make 2 or 3 small slashes in the pastry.

6.  Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden and crisped.

6.  Remove the tin or pan from the oven.  Leave to stand for 3-4 minutes before carefully inverting onto a plate so that the banana faces upwards.

7.  Sprinkle the tart generously with nutmeg. 

8.  Serve immediately with crème fraîche, soured cream, cream, custard or ice cream.

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At the end of November I made several cakes to feed friends at a church event, settling on a Mixed Fruit & Ginger version of our favourite (never known to fail) Knock Up Fruit Cake, a double sized Fragrant Marmalade Cake, made in two sandwich tins with more marmalade spread in the middle plus, as a nod towards Christmas and having come across the recipe the previous week, these White Christmas Slices.  They proved to be very ‘moreish’ and I am thinking of making some more batches to give away at Christmas.

I discovered this competition winning recipe by Caroline Richards for White Christmas Slices in my local Sainsbury’s supermarket: one of many free cards available, in this case giving new ideas for Christmas food.  It appealed because, not only did I have everything available at home (apart from the inexpensive and easily bought coconut biscuits and the white chocolate), it also looked quick, easy and did not require baking.  I rarely make a recipe exactly as written and adapted this just a little.  Firstly, I cut the amount of butter by one third as I do not like to add too much unnecessary fat.  Secondly, I felt the original recipe was lacking something and decided the something was fruit, or similar.  To compensate I added dried cranberries to give one of the flavours of Christmas: glacé cherries, sultanas/raisins, dried apricot, fig or date or even crystallised ginger could be added instead.  In fact I have decided that this successful – and useful – little recipe is highly adaptable, so variations may be posted here.  I have my eye on a gingery version, which I know would be a great hit here!  These slices are quite rich so do not make them too large:  I cut mine into bite sized squares.

Update 22.12.12:  I have just made my third batch of these this year – they go like hot cakes, or should that be hot slices!  I have also made Nigella Lawson’s Sweet & Salty Crunch Nut Bars, from her new book Kitchen, but the post will have to wait for another occasion.

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White Christmas Slices
(Makes 20-24 small pieces)

200g dark chocolate
75g unsalted butter
400g coconut cookies
2tbsp runny honey
200g white chocolate
50g desiccated coconut
50g dried cranberries or alternative (see my suggestions) – optional

1.  Gently heat the dark chocolate, butter and runny honey together in a pan, stirring with a spoon until the chocolate and butter are melted.

2.  Crush the biscuits in a bag until they are large chunks and crumbs.  Do not crush too much.  Add to the melted chocolate along with the dried cranberries, if using. 

3.   Carefully stir, continuing for about 5 minutes until well coated and so the mixture starts to cook.

4.  Using a spoon, press the mixture down well into a 30cm x 20cm baking tray lined with foil (or cling film as suggested in the original recipe, but foil is easier to handle).

5.  Gently melt the white chocolate over a low heat.  Do not overheat as the white chocolate spoils very easily. Drizzle over the biscuit base and spread out. (The base may be unevenly covered and dark patches may show through, but this does not matter.)

6.  Sprinkle over the desiccated coconut.  Place a layer of cling film on top and chill for 4 hours.  If you are short of time then the covered tray can be placed in the freezer for about an hour, but do not leave too long as chocolate is better if it is not frozen for an extended period.  Do not cut from frozen as it will shatter. 

7.  Once it is set, place the block on a board and while it is still cold cut into small squares with a sharp knife.  If it warms up it is more likely to crumble, and should be returned to the fridge to harden before cutting.   I cut my block 6 squares by 4 squares, giving 24 bite sized pieces.

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Some time ago, in my search for alternative fruit curd recipes I found one for Banoffee Curd, posted by vintagehearth, which I have just got round to making.  I have to say it was delicious!

I made two slight changes, using soft light brown rather than dark brown sugar for a paler colour and adding lemon juice.  The sharpness of the lemon cuts through the sweetness of the curd and has the added bonus of helping keep the bananas pale in colour.  My only other advice would be to double the quantity of this recipe.  It takes only a little longer to cook a double batch and the single jar (and a bit over) yielded by 2 eggs is gone too quickly!  Apart from spreading on bread or toast, this would be wonderful as a cake filling or could be layered with crushed biscuits and cream or sweetened crème fraîche with some slices of fresh banana for an easy dessert.   When hunting for the original recipe again, I came across a second almost identical recipe, at the fruits of my labour which is for four rather than two eggs.  I would still add the lemon juice as well. 

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Banoffee Curd
(Makes 1 and a bit jars)

10oz/280g soft light brown sugar
2 medium/large bananas
2oz/50g butter
2 eggs, beaten
Juice of ½ lemon (my addition)

1.  Using a fork mash the bananas in a large heatproof bowl.  (I found that they did not need pushing through a sieve but you can do this if you wish.) 

2.  Mix in the sugar well, which will help break up the bananas.

3.  Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Cut the butter into small pieces and add, stirring until it’s melted.  

4.  Mix in the eggs. Simmer gently until cooked, stirring regularly so that the thicker layer on the bottom is mixed through.

5.   Meanwhile wash the jars well and sterilise.  I usually do this by filling the jars with boiling water and putting the lids in a bowl of boiling water.  I pour away the water just before filling each jar and immediately take the lid from the bowl and screw it on.  Shake as much water from them as possible before filling.
Alternatively put the jars in an oven set to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4 for 10 minutes.  Be careful to put them on a dry surface when removing or they could crack.  Lids can be placed in a small pan of boiling water.  Shake as much water from the lids as possible before filling.

6.  Pot the curd into sterilised jars.  Once the jars are filled and the lids well screwed on, invert them to improve the heat seal.  Turn the jars the right way up once they are cool.

7.  All curds should be stored in the refrigerator and used within a month of production as they contain egg.

More curd recipes… (Comments to be left on the Curds page, please)
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Although some sources try to connect these pastries with Napoleon I of France, it is more likely that they originated from Naples in Italy with the connection with the Emperor made at a later date.  Mille-feuille a French word is translated literally ‘thousand leaves’, referring to the fine layers of puff pastry.  In the UK  the most common version contains thick cream or custard (and sometimes jam as well) plus a feathered decorative icing, when it is is often given the name Cream, Vanilla or Custard Slice.  Whatever the name this pâtisserie is relatively simple to make, especially as if uses ready made puff pastry (make your own if you wish), with the pastry layers made in advance and the layering done within an hour or so of eating to avoid losing the crispness.  This last stage is rather fiddly and time consuming but well worth the effort and should earn appreciative comments from those you are serving!

This recipe called Napoléons with Lemon Cream and Strawberries was found in a small book from the library: French Desserts by Laura Washburn.  It is a variation on the original plainer versions and containing layers of lemon cream and strawberries.  I felt that the finished Napoléons, whilst delicious, could be rather too acidic in flavour for some people.  Using a sweeter, less acidic, lemon curd mixed with extra cream and well sugared strawberries (rather than unsugared) could go some way to solving this.  In my version of the recipe I have substituted my own lemon curd (still lemony but milder), sugaring the strawberries well to counteract their natural sharpness. Thinking further, it would be interesting to try some more combinations using curd and cream mixtures with fruit: orange curd would go well with apricot and lime curd with stem ginger and both could have added chocolate shavings, for example.  If the curd was omitted and the cream was increased then flower flavourings such as rosewater or orange flower water would be delicious in combination with fruit. Dainty individual servings of just a bite each would make an ideal finger buffet snack or single element of a multi part dessert. There are many possibilities for these Napoléons and I shall definitely be doing some experimenting.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Mille-feuilles Napoléon with Lemon Cream & Strawberries
Napoléons au citron et aux fraises
(Makes 10-12 pastries)

500g packet of Puff Pastry (or home made if you wish)
Milk, just a little for brushing
Caster sugar, just a little for sprinkling
2lb/900g strawberries, aproximately
4 or 5 tbsp sugar, depending on sweetness of Strawberries, more if needed
For the lemon cream:
1 jar of lemon curd, home made if possible or good quality
150ml whipping cream, Elmlea half fat if possible
Icing sugar, to dust

1.  Preheat oven to 200oC/400oF/Gas 6

2.  This step can be done well in advance, leaving just the finishing to be done closer to serving.  Roll the Pastry into a large oblong on a floured board and cut into 15 to 18 equally sized 2 x 4 inch/5 x 10cm rectangles.  Place these, spaced out, on baking trays.  Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake for 10-15minutes, or until golden.  Carefully lift onto a wire rack and leave to cool.

3.  Slice the strawberries into thin layers, sprinkle generously with sugar and leave to one side.

4.  Within an hour or two before eating whip the cream well and thoroughly combine with the lemon curd.

5.  The pastry rectangles must be completely cool before filling.  Slice each carefully in half.  This is easiest with a serrated knife.  The pastries are made in three layers so choose the best looking top pieces and keep to one side.  The remaining pieces, either tops or bottoms, form the other layers.

5.  Layer the Napoléons together.  First put about 2 teaspoons of cream mixture on a bottom layer.  Cover with about 8 strawberry pieces.  Add a second pastry layer (this will be either a bottom or a top of the halved pieces). Follow again with lemon cream and strawberry pieces.  Finally, add one of the selected top pieces as a lid.

6.  Move each Napoléon to a serving dish as it is completed.

7.  Just before serving dust the completed plate of Napoléons generously with icing sugar.

8.  Serve with additional strawberries and extra cream.  Allow 1 or 2 Napoléons per person, depending on size of serving and appetites of diners.

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Ever since eating this recipe in our home last winter we had been looking forward to trying it at its home this summer in the mountains of France.  We found it on the menu of a pavement cafe just opposite the door of the church at Briançon, a fortified town high in the alps.  Briançon is actually the highest city in the European union, according to French statistics – about the same height as Ben Nevis in Scotland.  The Tartiflette did not disappoint and it was certainly authentic, containing the Reblochon cheese which is a regional speciality, with a slice actually melted on top.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable lunch in a lovely location.  When making my own version some months beforehand I had been unable to find Reblochon (or Taleggio which was suggested as an alternative) so I used grated Mozzarella.  I would look around a little harder though if I was making it for a special occasion (I have seen it since so now know where to go).  Although I used a recipe from a book, I did some research to find out about alternative cheeses.  Waitrose have two recipes.  The first is for a Tartiflette very similar to the one I made, where they suggest substituting Crémier de Chaumes, Epoisses or even mature Irish Ardrahan (unknown to me).  The second recipe is a variation on the basic recipe which uses ripe Brie: Tartiflette with Brie & Bacon.  I have read elsewhere that you can use Pont-l’Évêque.  Sounds as if anything goes, though preferably not too mild a flavour: most importantly, the cheese must melt well…!

My recipe comes from One Step Ahead by Mary Berry, a book from the library with so many lovely recipes that I am loth to return it.  She writes that the mixture can be prepared in advance – up to 12 hours if necessary – and kept in the fridge (though bring it to room temperature before cooking to avoid cracking the dish) but is not suitable for freezing. In the dish we ate on holiday a slice of Reblochon was laid on top of each individual portion dish, so reserve slices of cheese before you grate if you are going to do this.   Although we ate Tartiflette in the Alps during the summer months, it is perfect as a quick and simple winter TV supper eaten round the fire.  Be warned, though: it is not a dish for calorie counters!  Serve with green salad or green vegetable.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Tartiflette
(Serves 4)

Butter for the dish
1lb/500g small potatoes, preferably new
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4-5ozs/125-150g smoked streaky bacon, chopped
4-5ozs/125-150g button mushrooms, halved or quartered
4ozs/125g Reblochon or Taleggio cheese, rind removed
   0r
substitute a similar melting cheese (see above) but the result will not be as authentic
¼pint/150ml single pouring cream (original used double) – I used Elmlea half fat
a little paprika
2tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1.  Butter a shallow ovenproof dish.  Preheat the oven to  200oC/400oF/Gas 6

2.  Boil the potatoes in salted ater until they are tender.  Drain well and, once they have cooled enough to handle, slice them thickly. 

3.  Arrange them in the base of the buttered dish.

4.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion for a few minutes over a high heat.  Add the bacon and fry for a few minutes more.  Turn down the heat, cover the pan and cook for around 20 minutes until it is tender, stirring occasionally.

5. Add the mushrooms to the mixture in the pan, raise the temperature and cook over a high heat for 3 minutes.

6.  Tip the mixture over the potatoes and stir in.

7.   Coarsely grate the cheese – or remaining cheese – over the top of the bacon and potato mixture.

8.  Pour the seasoned cream over the top of the potato mixture, sprinkle with paprika.  Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes until crisp on top and piping hot.

9.  Serve hot sprinkled with parsley and with a green salad on the side.

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