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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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When faced with a choice at the French patisserie counter it’s always difficult.  I have already posted a recipe for Tarte au Citron so now, as promised some time ago, here is Tarte aux Poires.  Both are candidates for the title of our favourite, but the jury is still out…  It is a crisp pastry shell filled with cooked pear halves, a delicious soft almondy filling and a top scattered with toasted split almonds and is a relatively straightforward recipe.  Arranging the pears decoratively is not too difficult, just a bit fiddly, but it is worth it for both the positive comments of guests and being able to produce something to keep the family happy!  Another often seen title for Tarte aux Poires is Pear Frangipane Tart, the word frangipane relating to the addition of ground almonds. (More information about this can be found with the recipe for Mincemeat & Almond Delight).  The original recipe I used was called by another relatively common name, Pear Pie Bourdaloue, but the many variations of spelling make the meaning of the name difficult to trace.  Some sources credit a Parisien baker called Coquelin, owner of La Pâtisserie Bourdaloue named after the street in which it stands, who in 1909 baked the first Tarte Bourdaloue aux Poires.  Whatever its origins, however, the numerous recipes for this classic french pear and almond tart all agree with us: it is delicious!

The original version of this recipe Tarte aux Poires comes from the French recipe website Meilleur du chef which is also available translated into English where it is called Cuisine French.  The recipe translation is not perfect – for example it suggests the dish is finished with ‘blond coating’ (nappage blond). This appears to be a product commercially available containing sugar, water and a little apricot flavouring, which gives a slightly sticky finish to the tart.  I substituted a sugar and water glaze, which as far as I can see gives a similar result but is not absolutely necessary.  On many occasions have forgotten to add it or have simply run out of time.

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

Tarte aux Poires Bourdaloue (Pear Frangipane Tart/Pear Pie Bourdaloue)

Shortcrust Pastry – enough to line a 20cm/8inch flan case
100g butter
100g sugar
100g ground almonds
20g flour
40g whipping cream – single if whipping not available
2 eggs
1 or 2 tins pears (enough to give six halves of roughly equal size)
or
Gently poach three whole sweet pears and cut into six halves, removing the cores.
Split almonds to decorate
Granulated sugar dissolved in a little water to make a light syrup (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4.

2.  Line the flan tin with shortcrust pastry, prick with a fork, fill with dried beans and bake blind for about 10 minutes until the pastry starts to set and colour.  Remove beans and set to one side.

3.  Reduce the oven heat to 150oC/300oF/Gas 2

4.  To make the almond cream filling cream together the butter and sugar until it is pale and thick.

5.  Stir in the ground almonds.  Add the eggs one at a time.  Beat well.

6.  Mix in the cream and flour and then beat well to fully combine.

7.  Spoon this almond cream mixture into the blind baked shell, making sure it is level as possible.

8.  Taking each pear half, carefully cut splits lengthways down each piece leaving each slice joined at the top.  Gently ease each half into a fan shape.

9.  Arrange each piece of pear evenly around the dish, carefully easing out the fan shapes.  Some dishes would allow the six pieces in a circle with the points towards the centre.  If the pears are fat and round in shape there may only be space for five pears in the circle in which case the sixth piece can go in the centre.  Gently fan out the pear pieces before you place them on top of the almond cream mixture taking care not to separate them at the point.

10. If not using the sweet coating: Scatter a small handful of split almonds over the tart.  The quantity is up to you – I like to be reasonably generous.  If you intend to add the sugar coating the split almonds are added at the end just before serving and should have been carefully toasted in the oven or under a hot grill.  They burn very quickly and need to be watched as they toast.  Once toasted remove from the tin onto a cold plate to cool.

11.  Bake the tart in a warm oven for 40 to 50 minutes and remove when the top of the tart is golden. The split almonds should be starting to colour but not burn. The low heat will allow the tart to colour slowly whilst the shortcrust pastry bakes thoroughly. The almond cream will rise a little and gradually brown.

12.  Allow the tart to cool.

13.  Optional coating: Dissolve about 2tsp sugar in a very little boiling water.  Alternatively this can be done in a microwave oven.  Brush over the surface of the finished pie for a slightly sticky finish.

14.  Finish the tart by sprinkling over the roasted split almonds.

15.  Serve with cream, ice cream or crème fraîche – or alternatively just as it is.  It makes a delicious dessert, cooled but not long from the oven and can also be served at tea time.  A really good dessert when entertaining, especially as it can be made a little in advance.

Alternatives:
Can be made as individual tarts containing one pear fan each.
Other fruits are often substituted for the pears: especially apricot, apple, plums and blueberries – near Christmas I often make Mincemeat & Almond Delight which is similar but with a sweet mincemeat based filling
Other ground nuts can be substituted for the almonds. Pistachio is particularly delicious and pale green in colour even when baked.

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The Peanut, or groundnut as it is sometimes known, is both versatile and protein rich.  Peanut butter, a popular spread, has filled the sandwiches of generations of schoolchildren as well as being a mainstay for expeditions including those to the South and North Poles, plus peanut based paste products have been used to help feed malnourished children in developing countries.  Here in the UK, though, peanuts rarely feature as a cooking ingredient.  Apart from in peanut butter, they are more often thought of as a party snack item, although they are sometimes added, ground and/or whole in biscuits and very occasionally cooked into a nut loaf or nut burgers.  In other parts of the world, including South America, South East Asia, India and parts of Africa, the peanut is widely used either whole, ground into flour or with the oil used for frying in both savoury and sweet recipes.  In India peanuts are eaten in a number of ways: roasted and salted, sometimes with chilli powder added, they can be a savoury snack – and a sweet version when processed with sugar; they can be boiled or give added crunch to salads.  The peanut is native to and almost certainly originated in Peru where specimens can be dated back several millennia.  One well known Peruvian recipe, Papas con Ocopa, is a smooth sauce of roasted peanuts, hot peppers, roasted onions, garlic and oil, served poured over boiled potatoes. On the other side of the world the Indonesians have a number of spicy peanut based sauces, the most well known being Satay and Gado-gado.  In Africa too, where this recipe originates, the peanut commonly appears as an ingredient in stews, both with or without meat.

The original recipe for Chicken & Peanut Stew, comes from the Tesco website as part of a series of international recipes to celebrate World Cup 2010.  Its flavours originate from West Africa and the recipe was taken from the book The Soul Of A New Cuisine: A Discovery Of The Foods And Flavours Of Africa, by Marcus Samuelsson.  In the end I used mostly the same basic method and ingredients with a few slight variations: less chilli and ginger, though more of both would be fine, and I used poached pre-cooked chicken (although chicken thighs would be a good alternative) and added a sweet potato for good measure.  I was concerned that cooking the peanuts would make them lose their crunch but I need not have worried.  The stew was mostly soft in texture but with a delicious peanutty flavour and crunch.  It is a delicious and unusual recipe, not difficult to make and one which I will definitely be repeating.

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

West African Style Chicken & Peanut Stew
(Serves 4)

2 medium onions, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2·5cm/1in pieces
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2·5cm/1in pieces
½-1 small chilli – deseed and remove membranes
2.5cm/1inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
2 bay leaves
6 peppercorns, white if available
900ml/1½ pints of water
1tsp chicken stock liquid/½stock cube (unless using fresh chicken pieces)
12ozs cold cooked chicken
or
4 large boneless, skinless chicken thighs
200g/7ozs peanuts, salted or unsalted (seasoning can be adjusted later)
3tbsp olive oil
2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cut into 5cm/2in cubes
4 tomatoes, cut into quarters
500g/1Ib spinach, tough stems removed, washed
Salt, if needed

1.  Put the onion, carrot, sweet potato, chilli, ginger, bay leaves and peppercorns, along with the water and the stock powder/liquid/cube into a medium sized saucepan.  Bring to a boil over a high heat and then reduce the heat to medium.

2.  If using fresh meat it should be added now – previously cooked meat is added later when the potatoes are cooked.  Add the chicken thigh pieces to the pan.  Simmer, uncovered for 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

3.  Toast the peanuts in a dry frying pan on medium heat, shaking occasionally, until you can smell them roasting and they are golden brown.  Once cool, grind 100g /3½oz (half) of the toasted peanuts to a powder.  (This will be used to thicken the stew. The remaining peanuts should be kept whole.)  Put the pan on one side to use later for frying the potatoes.

4.  Remove the chicken from the cooking liquid and put on one side.  Throw away the bay leaves.  Liquidise about half of the vegetable and stock mixture until smooth and then re-combine with the unliquidised mixture and set aside.  If you want a less chunky stew then liquidise all the vegetable and stock mixture.

5.  Put the oil in the frying pan used for roasting peanuts over a medium heat.  Put in the potato pieces and sauté for about 10 minutes until golden brown.

6.   Add the chicken pieces that have been set aside or the pieces of cold cooked chicken and toss for about 10 minutes so they start to brown a little, adding a little extra oil if needed. Remove the pan from the heat.

7.  Return the vegetable purée mixture to the saucepan and bring to the boil.  Stir in both the ground peanuts and the remaining 100g/3½oz whole toasted peanuts until well combined.

8.  Add the tomatoes, browned chicken, potatoes and spinach.  Simmer for around 5 minutes until completely heated through and the spinach has wilted.  Remove from the heat, taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

9.  Serve with rice or crusty bread, if required, as an addition to the potatoes already in the stew.

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I have long been on the look out for a good Nut Burger/Cutlet/Rissole recipe.  From time to time I buy ready made Goodlife (Fairtrade) Nut Cutlets which are useful for a quick meal, but want to find a successful recipe to make something similar myself.  I may well end up experimenting using some of the ingredients from the back of the packet however there is one recipe I have made that is rather good and just needs a bit of ‘tweaking’ before I post it!  This recipe for Nut Rissoles is definitely a ‘keeper’ and one of the quickest nut ‘burger’ recipes I have come across, although the recipe is finished in a tomato sauce rather than grilled or baked, which keeps the rissoles moist.  The little patties are quickly mixed and shaped while the sauce is cooking.  After that it is just a quick 25-30 minutes in the oven.

The recipe comes from Rose Elliot’s Complete Vegetarian Cookbook.  Originally called Brown Nut Rissoles in Tomato Sauce the recipe suggests using almonds or hazelnuts.  I used a mixture of almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts.  The cheese and egg in the recipe is not noticeable and helps to bind the mixture together.  I see no reason why these Rissoles might not be frozen as I have previously made nut burgers in bulk and stored them in the freezer.

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

Nut Rissoles with Tomato Sauce
(Serves 3-4)

1 quantity of  Simple Tomato Sauce (sauce in original recipe has no herbs)

Nut Rissoles
1 small onion, finely chopped & fried in 1tbsp olive oil
125g/4ozs roughly chopped nuts, single variety or mixed
50g/2ozs soft white or wholemeal breadcrumbs
50g/2ozs Cheddar cheese, finely grated
2 heaped tsp tomato purée
1 egg
½tsp dried thyme
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1.  Preheat the oven to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4.

2.  Before making the rissoles make Simple Tomato Sauce and leave it to simmer.

3.  Mix the rissole ingredients together well, season to taste and form into 6 to 8 equally sized slightly flattened balls with your hands.

4.  Place them in the base of a shallow greased dish and pour over the tomato sauce.

5.  Bake for 25 -30 minutes.

6.  Serve with pasta or rice sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese plus a green vegetable or green salad.

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At our regular church Sunday lunches, a roast dinner with all the trimmings has been followed by a ‘proper’ pudding: a selection of fruit crumbles, which are both easy to make and tasty.  It has been interesting to see what variations people have brought and one of the most unusual and popular has been a chocolate and banana crumble with a nutty topping.  (I have previously written about crumbles and have been collecting ideas for alternative toppings: see Basic Recipe: Sweet Crumble Mixtures.)

That was back in early February and a short while later I discovered a small recipe card in Sainsburys supermarket with a fairly similar recipe called Choc-banana Crumble, (also here) recommended as a Mothering Sunday treat. It was also part of the 2010 Fairtrade fortnight campaign (22 February – 7 March) encouraging consumers to change one or more shopping item in their basket to a Fairly Traded alternative, as the recipe includes Fairly Traded ingredients: chocolate powder, bananas, sugar and nuts. (The Fairtrade Foundation seeks to promote justice and sustainable development, encouraging consumers to buy Fairly Traded items to give a fair deal to marginalised producers in developing countries.)  When I made the Sainsbury version we found it rather dry but the second time I improved this by adding orange zest and juice, which also stopped the bananas from browning.  The orange, along with dessicated coconut, also added much more depth to the flavour.  Pineapple juice (not very popular in our house, which is why I did not choose it) would make a good alternative to the orange juice, making this crumble even more tropical.  The bananas need to be fairly ripe: I have used underripe bananas but they did not soften properly and made the dish seem flavourless.

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

Tropical Banana & Chocolate Crumble
(Serves 6) 

6 Fairtrade bananas, fairly ripe – reserve a few slices to decorate
100g/3½ozs plain flour
80g/2½ozs chilled butter, cut into small cubes
40g/1½oz Fairtrade drinking chocolate
25g/1oz Fairtrade Demerara sugar
50g/2ozs Fairtrade Brazil nuts, roughly chopped
50g/2oz Fairtrade Dessicated coconut
1 large orange, juice and zest – reserve a few strands of zest to decorate

1.  Preheat the oven to 190ºC/170ºC Fan/370oF/Gas 5.

2.  Put the sifted flour, chilled butter, drinking chocolate and sugar in a bowl. Using fingertips, rub the mixture together until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in the nuts and half of the dessicated coconut.

3.  Peel and slice the bananas and reserve a few slices for decoration. Arrange them in the base of a large shallow ovenproof dish.  Sprinkle with orange zest (reserving a few strands to decorate), the remaining dessicated coconut and pour over the orange juice.

4.  Sprinkle the crumble mixture evenly over the bananas.  Decorate with the sliced banana and zest strands

5.  Bake the dish for about 20 minutes or until piping hot.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving. 

6.  Serve with crème fraîche, cream or warm custard.

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It is possible to detect the influence of France in Moroccan cuisine, not unsurprising as the countries have historical links.  This dessert feels as if it is closely related to the French dish Clafoutis (or it’s close relative Flognarde), although the egg custard is replaced by a sweet ground rice pudding mixture.  However the addition of rose water (or orange flower water, which is listed as an alternative) firmly connects this dish with the southern shores of the Mediterranean.  The suggestion of rice pudding might make the casual reader feel that this is a rather homely dish, as they are usually linked with nursery food rather than dinner parties.  However this would make an unusual and delicious dessert as part of N African style meal, especially made in individually sized portions.

The recipe comes from a wonderful book I found in the library, Illustrated Food and Cooking of Africa and the Middle East: A Fascinating Journey Through the Rich and Diverse Cuisines of Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Turkey and Lebanon by Josephine Bacon and Jenni Fleetwood (to give it its full title).  The ingredients are all as listed in the book, except I found it necessary to increase both the ground rice and sugar by 1tbsp.  This increase of the sugar content  is, of course, optional but is recommended for those with a sweet tooth as plums can often be acidic.  I made the original suggestion of Plums combined with Rosewater, but other fruits could also be used.  Orange flower water is a suggested alternative addition and I can imagine that this would be delicious used in combination with Apricots or Peach.  The addition of flaked almonds adds a lovely crunch to the smooth texture of the ground rice: don’t be tempted to omit them. Finally, I added a generous dusting of icing sugar, which enhanced the cracks in the surface of the plums and where their juices had run into the whiteness of the rice.  I further handful of toasted flaked almonds on top would be a good addition, athough not included in the original recipe, particularly for a special occasion.  I am sure this recipe could be made a short while in advance and reheated just before serving, although I would add the sifted icing sugar and additional split almonds just before taking it to the table.

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

Moroccan Style Plum Pudding
(Serves 4)

450g/1lb fresh plums (alternative suggestions – apricots, cherries or greengages)
600ml/1pt skimmed or semi-skimmed (half fat) milk
60ml/4tbsp ground rice
45ml/3tbsp cold water
45ml/3tbsp caster sugar (15ml/1tbsp extra for those with a sweet tooth)
75g/3ozs flaked almonds – reserve a few to toast for decoration (or add a few more)
30ml/2tbsp rosewater (alternatively orange flower water)
icing sugar to dust

1.  Preheat the oven to 190oC/370oF/Gas 5.

2. Remove the stones from the plums and halve them.

3.  Bring the milk to the boil in a pan.

4.  Blend the ground rice with the cold water, a little at a time, mixing well to remove the lumps.  Pour the hot milk over the rice and return it to the pan.  Simmer over a low heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until it thickens.

5.  Stir in the caster sugar and flaked almonds.  Continue to cook for 5 more minutes.  

6.  Stir in the rosewater (or orange flower water).  Simmer for 2 minutes.

7.  Butter a shallow ovenproof dish.  Carefully pour in the almond rice mixture.

8.  Gently arrange the prepared plums (or other fruit) on top, spacing them as evenly as possible.

9.  Bake for 25-30minutes, until the fruit has softened.  As it cooks the fruit juices will run slightly into the white almond-rice mixture, which is unavoidable.

10.  Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately with a little pouring cream or crème fraîche if you like a slightly more sour taste.

11.  Scatter with a few toasted split almonds to decorate.

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