Black and White Brownies Double Batch Sunday!

Firstly – I want to say thank you to Molly for reminding and encouraging me to get posting again, and that it’s ok that I haven’t for ages ;p

So, Double Batch Sunday makes it sound like a thing – it really isn’t, unless of course we’re talking a double helping of Small Batch coffee in Brighton. But that’s a different matter entirely – what’s happened here, is that my Black and White Brownies, in both chocolate and batter, are apparently soooo good that I have been required to make 2 batches to take to work with us tomorrow – as me and Dave work in the same place, I think it would have caused a revolt if my department got brownies and his didn’t and vice versa.

I made a batch in the summer, for one of Dave’s colleagues birthday, and whilst I proportioned the single batch in a 70:30 split for Dave’s larger team and my smaller team, it became quickly apparent that this was no where enough for either! I had marriage proposals coming in from all directions, requests and demands that I make these brownies a regular occurrence, and people even offering to pay for the ingredients if I would just make more! Though I would be happy to make brownies for a special occasion upon request, I couldn’t possibly ask for money on something I’d only be doing for fun some time in the future.

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So, as we’ve had the whole week off (sheer bliss!) I decided to set the entire of Sunday aside so that I could make two batches of brownies. Unfortunately this did mean I had to make them one after the other, as I only have one square cake tin, and I don’t trust my oven as far as I could throw it to cook two separate things evenly. It does mean though, that we were both able to set aside the whole day and relax, not doing much at all (although this method did create a shedload of washing up, a by product I kind of forgot about :s) Luckily I have had a ‘helping’ hand now and then throughout the day 😉

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These brownies are actually really easy to make, it’s a really good and simple mix, even with the addition of the cheesecake marble topping, and the dark and white chocolate flavours are absolutely gorgeous. It’s a really gooey, sticky mixture without being too dense, and the cheesecake mixture on the top gives it a real difference and lightness in both flavour and texture.

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Check out the BBC Good Food Recipe here!

And Molly, I promise I’ll make up a batch some time soon and bring some over for you 🙂

Lotsa Love! Abbie x

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Chorizo & Mozzarella Gnocchi – Rest Easy Comfort Food

I know I’ve said it time and time again, but I really am discovering more and more recently how massively important cooking and food is to my life. That must seem like a completely redundant statement from someone writing their own food blog, but I do think there is a difference between being enjoying cooking and it truly being your passion. I have so many friends who say the do like cooking, but at the end of a long and stressful day’s work the last thing they want to do is labour in the kitchen for another hour or so. Me however, if I’m stressed or upset or even feeling a bit unwell, the kitchen is the first place I go to. I find cooking and following a recipe so soothing and relaxing, and exciting to watch as it all comes together and turns out into something really tasty!

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One of my all time favourite meals to make, is actually one of the simplest and quickest! I’ve been wanting to share this with you all for ages – this Chorizo & Mozzarella Gnocchi is so perfect for so many reasons. As it is so quick and simple, it’s a brilliant thing to make if you’re in a rush to head back out again, but the best thing with simple recipes is that the small amount of ingredients really can take centre stage. Gnocchi is just the best thing ever, and with the mozzarella it makes this a wonderfully homely, comforting meal. Add to that the cherry tomatoes and chorizo for a bit of freshness a punchy flavour, you just can’t go wrong with this meal.

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Chorizo & Mozzarella Gnocchi – Serves 2

Ingredients

1/2 chorizo ring, finely diced

500g pack gnocchi

125g cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/2 tsp dried basil

1 ball mozzarella, finely diced/shredded

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Method

  1. Add the diced chorizo to a hot frying pan, dry frying until the oils are released and they start to crisp up
  2. Tip in the gnocchi, frying in the chorizo oil until they crisp slightly on the outside, and soften slightly in texture
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes, stirring into the chorizo and gnocchi just to warm through
  4. Follow with the balsamic vinegar and basil, stirring to combine all the flavours
  5. Quickly scatter the mozzarella and give a final gentle stir to mix through, careful to not let the mozzarella melt too much in the pan. Serve immediately.

I hope you all enjoy this quick and easy meal as much as we do, it is certainly a firm favourite in our household!

Lotsa Love, Abbie x

Recipe Recommendations

I was out for lunch with hubby and a group of friends today (Wagamamas – Chicken Teriyaki Donburi ;p Oh the kimchi!) and I had one of those really lovely moments where my friends asked for my advice on something foodie related 🙂 It sounds silly, but it’s a really great feeling that your friends know your ‘speciality’ as it were, and value your opinion in that area enough to ask real questions about it, not just chat because it’s something you’re interested in.

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The friends in question are a married couple, and I mentioned something me and Dave were having for dinner later in the week, so they asked if I followed recipes with my cooking, and what books/sources did I use. They’d gotten into a bit of a rut meal wise, cooking the same old things time and time again, so they were after a little inspiration as to where to find new recipes to mix things up a little. As someone who suffers from exactly the opposite problem – always eager to try new recipes so that I forget to come back to the good ones again – I was happy to oblige!

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My top source for recipes has got to be BBC Good Food – be it searching for a particular ingredient within a recipe on their website, flicking through Instagram for some gorgeous looking meals or reading through the latest Good Food magazine, the odds are that if I’m cooking it, it’s from BBC Good Food. Not only are the recipes almost always top quality, we very rarely have a duff meal, but the instructions are simple to follow, it’s so handy having everything online so I can look ingredients up whilst I’m out and about, and sharing is really easy as well, from saving the recipes to my Good Food account, to messaging a friend a recommended recipe – like one of my all time favourites, Chicken Biryani.

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The variety is of course vast – the cuisine to the difficulty, as well as showcasing a wide range of chefs alongside the Good Food Editors. Both the website and the magazine always have really interesting articles about things like local produce, the low down on all the different uses for a certain ingredient, as well as focusing on seasonality and being very health conscious. that being said, there is always room for some extremely decadent and not so healthy options as well, including my now famous Black and White Brownies that went down a storm at work this week! I had marriage proposals and everything! ;p So with a track record like that, it’s no wonder that BBC Good Food is my go to recipe source.

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I do still love my collection of cookbooks though – which I hope to expand exponentially over the next few years once we’ve moved and I’ve got some proper storage space back! I’ve got a couple of folders of recipes from home, as well as ye olde faithful 30 Minute Reader’s Digest Cookbook which saw me through my leap from mum-taught cooking to developing my cooking skills for myself. The best thing about this is the pictures for each recipe – as you will see that is an essential part of what makes a good cookbook for me – and the heavily broken down step-by-step instructions. Nothing is left to the imagination, which is so great for a learning cook. It is already well loved and a little sticky on certain recipes, but I will certainly be hanging on to this for a very long time indeed.

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Other noteworthy books in my collection include those of Nadia G – chef and comedienne, the star of Bitchin Kitchen. I learned a lot of kitchen tricks from Nadia G, mesmerised by her incredible Italian-Canadian accent, bizarre kitchen decor and phenomenal outfits. She takes a lot of her cooking from her Italian roots, then throws in some weird and wacky twists just for the hell of it, which pretty much always turn out to taste perfection. She is absolutely mental in the best possible way, and her shows (and books) are absolutely hilarious, if not for the faint hearted. It’s a slight shame from a cooking fan point of view that she is focusing more on her passion for music right now, which isn’t my cup of tea, but all the best to her and kudos for doing what she wants. Regardless, for some really great recipes that will make anyone enjoy cooking that bit more just for the entertainment value, give Bitchin Kitchen a go, along with her two cookbooks.

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Whilst I love all kinds of cuisines, both eating and cooking, the foundation of my cooking is firmly seated in Italian cuisine. These were the kind of meals we ate a lot of at home, pasta being super easy for my mum to whip up a batch of for all kinds of occasions, and also a really great starting point for getting me to learn the skill of timings! As such, I love my Gino D’Acampo Gino’s Pasta recipe book as a go to for any time I want some authentic Italian pasta. The simplicity of Italian cooking is so wonderful, and yet the flavours it yields make it really something very special indeed.

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I also love my Nigella Lawson books – Nigella Express Nigellissima. Though Nigella is the first one to proclaim her cooking is by no means authentic Italian but inspired – it is still obviously firmly in the roots of pretty much anything she does and I love how she places the importance of the cooking on the end result, being able to enjoy the meal you’ve just cooked. If that means being a little lazy, a little self indulgent… then why the hell not? I am hoping to use a few of her recipes for Christmas this year – I love the idea of Romanesco used in place of broccoli for a truly festive vegetable side dish! And the turkey wrapped and stuffed with all sorts of Italian goodness… yum!!!

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A few newer additions to the collection include Deliciously Ella – a perfect book to have to hand for our low meat diet. If I’m struggling to find anything in any of my other books without meat, her vegan and gluten-free recipes are a great source of inspiration, and are all amazing in their own right anyway! The vegan bean chilli is absolutely incredible, as is the Mexican Quinoa bowl. Again, I’m learning so much from this book and way of eating, I find it all so fascinating and I think that’s a big part of why I enjoy it so much. I’ve always loved learning and discovering new things and ideas, and a lot of what I’m learning from Ella is transferable to other aspects of cooking, like using brown rice in other curry recipes, or quinoa as a complete alternative. Her vibrant and positive attitude is also completely infectious, and the book is totally beautiful in itself which is a massive draw for me.

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On that note, my most recent addition to the cookbook collection, is What Katie Ate at the Weekend. I saw this in Waterstones one day and knew I had to have it before I even opened it – the cover is so beautiful and enticing with its pretty and full to bursting table of food and gorgeous decorations! It’s no wonder the pictures are such an integral part of this cookbook, food photography being Katie’s first occupation, but she is a damn good cook to go along with it! We’ve had a few recipes from this so far, and they are all turning out beautifully 🙂 Again, the really well laid out instructions as well as the photos of each meal make it so easy to cast your eyes over the recipe and think, ‘Yep, I can do that!’

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I really do think it is so important to do your research and think carefully about what recipe books you are going to buy. In the same way that different people learn better from different teachers, not everyone will get on with every set of instructions they are given. Me for example, I cannot get on for the life of me with any of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks. I don’t like the paragraph style instructions, where you have to scan and filter for the information you need for each aspect of the meal, and I find he uses too much of his own wording in the instructions for me to understand it clearly. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that he has so much character and personality to put into his books and writing, I just prefer instructions to be clean, simple and basic. I also struggle (as I keep banging on about) with cookbooks with minimal photos, such as Gordon Ramsay and one of my Thomasina Miers books. I love the recipes I have tried from Mexican Food Made Simple – but there aren’t enough photos to encourage me to make many of the recipes as I’m flicking through, which is a shame. And, as if to prove my point – my Dad loves all of the above chefs and cooks from their books on a regular basis 🙂

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I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting this blog post to be that long! I haven’t even covered the massive enjoyment I get out of reading all my favourite food blogs, or scrolling through Pinterest, and I’ve still got plenty more cookbooks sitting there that I love and use regularly! But these are my favourites, and I hope I’ve given you enough tips to work out the books you can choose for yourselves, or some inspiration to give one of these a go 🙂

What books do you all use? Any unusual or hidden gems you can recommend?!

Lotsa Love, Abbie x

Leftovers or Leftovers? – Chicken & Spinach Curry Recipe

This month has been a pretty tight one for us, and we’re barely even half way through >.< Because of the drama of our Isle of Man Holiday (link to blog post here), we ended up spending much more out of the joint spending account than we had planned in order to make sure we could enjoy what little of the holiday was left. Not that this has completely done us in or anything, but the more we can minimise the impact that has on our savings, the better. And that’s where Leftovers for Lunch really comes into it’s own – it’s the standard way I budget for food shopping anyway, but some weeks I can definitely try a lot harder if I have to ;p

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So I was faced with a tough decision this week – we had a portion of moussaka left in the freezer, which would require nothing more than the yoghurt & feta topping, along with a little salad to pad it out. Definitely a good use of a leftover, with minimal shopping required. But, we also had a pack of tomatoes leftover (or rather inherited – Dave’s parents own a convenience store and we get leftovers from there too!) and I really fancied making a curry from scratch. What with trying to be as good as possible this month and doing the whole bulk-cook and freeze thing, as well as being away for a week or so, I’ve not had much opportunity to get some real good cooking done.

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Well, there was the decision then, wasn’t it? 😉 If I need to justify it further, the moussaka could stay frozen longer whilst the tomatoes would perish! And we simply can’t have that now can we? Besides, I do think it’s important to get a little perspective on these things; we aren’t destitute, and we can afford a little treat like this amongst a whole week of good budget meals. The curry in question was a Chicken & Spinach Curry, from the Reader’s Digest 30 Minute Cookbook. I don’t think this is still available anymore, but this is the book that helped me learn to cook so if you ever see it, I implore you – BUY IT! It’s got so many really nice, simple but delicious meals, I find myself going back to it time and again, remembering how fantastic the dishes are and wishing I remembered to use it more often.

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As this was a fairly saucy curry, we like to have naan instead of rice, but that does mean a little something extra is often needed to finish the meal off, especially as this doesn’t have any chunky vegetables in it. Another firm favourite, is BBC Good Food’s Spicy Cauliflower – so simple and yet so smashing in it flavour! The whole spices, coating the cauliflower and the turmeric turning it that gorgeous golden yellow, it paired perfectly with the Chicken & Spinach curry. This combination was incredible and will without a doubt be the way I serve this meal from now on.

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Also worth noting that I used cherry tomatoes for the first time in the curry, and it was one of those marvellous moments when a cooking ‘make-do’ in turn makes the meal 🙂 The flavour of the tomato was so much stronger and richer, and gave the sauce a better consistency too. I would definitely recommend using cherry tomatoes instead of regular tomatoes on this (and most things, it has to be said!)

Chicken & Spinach Curry with tips on cooking with the Spicy Cauliflower

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Oil for frying

1 Small Onion

1 Clove Garlic

1 inch Ginger

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp ground chilli

1/4 tsp garam masala

350g cherry tomatoes

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

150ml double cream

4 naan breads

200g baby spinach

Method:

(Prepare the cauliflower first.)

1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a moderate heat. Peel & chop the onion and fry it in the oil until sorted and turning brown. Peel &  crush the garlic and stir it into the onion.

2. Peel and finely chop the ginger and stir it into the onion with the spices. Cook for a minute, or until the onion is slightly crisp.

3. Half the cherry tomatoes, and add them to the saucepan. Fry over a gentle heat, popping them as they soften, creating a sauce. Cook down to reduce the liquid.

4. Meanwhile, remove any tough sinews from the chicken and cut it into bite-seize chunks.

(Start cooking the spices in the oil, and add the cauliflower, leaving to cook throughout the next stages)

5. Pre-heat the grill/oven for the naan as per instructions. When the tomatoes are ready, increase the pan heat to high, add the chicken and stir-fry until all the pieces have turned white. Season with salt & pepper, then pour in the cream and simmer for 6 mins.

6. Cook the naan as per instructions. Add the spinach to the curry, press it down and stir continuously until it wilts. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat at once and serve with the naan (and cauliflower!)

I absolutely love this meal, and is a great way for finishing leftover tomatoes or spinach, and making it that bit extra special along the way. I hope you all like it as much as I do!

Lotsa Love, Abbie x

Mum’s Bolognese

I feel like I’ve been teasing you all with the meal for a couple of weeks now – as part of my meal planning this week, and a few weeks ago I shared it as a Flashback Friday to the first meal I learnt how to cook 🙂 My Mum’s Bolognese isn’t just the best because it’s my Mum’s, I really do think it is the best and only way to do bolognese – chunky. Granted it did take me a while to learn how to chop up the carrot and celery small enough for it to be easy to eat, but I think bolognese as my first recipe isn’t too bad going 😉

Not only is the chunky bits of veg in there what makes this dish so homely and wonderful, but the addition of the diced pancetta, red wine and – the special ingredient – dried porcini mushrooms. They add a richness and earthy quality unlike any bolognese I’ve ever had, and make the cooking process that bit more enjoyable as the delicious aroma of the soaking mushrooms fills the kitchen. If I had the time, I would literally sit with my nose over the bowl and just breathe in that incredible flavour until they were done.

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But, insane amount of superlatives aside, you want to know how to make it 😉

Mum’s Bolognese

Serves 4

Bolognaise

Ingredients

Olive Oil for Frying

1 Red onion, chopped

1 Garlic clove, crushed

1 Carrot, diced

1 Stick of celery, sliced

160g Diced pancetta

500g minced beef

1 1/2 tins chopped tomatoes

2 tsp Dried oregano

170ml Red wine

50g Dried porcini mushrooms, soaked, drained and chopped

2 tbsp Sundried tomato paste

200g pasta

Parmesan cheese (to serve)

Method

1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onions until soft. Add the garlic, celery, carrots and pancetta. Fry for a few minutes until the pancetta starts to crisp.

2. Add the beef and fry until brown, then drain off all excess fat. Stir in the tomatoes, oregano, red wine and mushrooms. Simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to pack instructions, but remove from the pan and drain just before becoming al dente.

3. Stir in the tomato paste to the bolognaise and heat through for another minute, then add the cooked pasta and stir through for another minute or two to finish cooking in the sauce. Serve with lashings of parmesan cheese 😀

Cooking the pasta in the sauce for the final few minutes is a trick I learnt from Nadia G of Bitchin Kitchen – an absolutely insane Italian-Canadian comedienne/cooking presenter, so she knows what she’s talking about 😉

I hope you enjoy this bolognese as much as my whole family do, and becomes a staple part of your cooking repertoire!

Lotsa Love x

Chickpea & Chorizo Couscous Bowl

This meal is just beyond perfection – I’m obsessed with couscous anyway, I think it’s wonderful in it’s own right and would happily eat bowlful after bowlful with just some harissa rubbed through, some cherry tomatoes and spring onions (http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/8163/harissa-couscous).

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In this meal though, it is used as more of a filler – just to pad out the chickpeas and chorizo enough to turn a light salad into a satisfying main meal. Whilst on holiday with my family a couple of years ago, we were staying in a cottage and tried to balance the meals we cooked ourselves with eating out at restaurants. Whilst we all helped out, mum did do the majority of the cooking so I offered to cook one night, and this meal sprang instantly to mind. The ingredients are simple and few enough to buy, its easy to throw together in an unfamiliar kitchen and was simple to amend quantities to feed the six of us. I’ll be cooking this later in the week and I’m already excited!

Chickpea & Chorizo Couscous Bowl

Serves 2 (easily doubled)

Chickpea & Chorizo Bowl

Ingredients

1/2 chorizo sausage, diced

1/2 red onion, finely diced

250g cherry tomatoes, halved

400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed

50g couscous

50ml vegetable stock

Parsley (fresh or dried)

Method

1. Heat a non-stick frying pan, and dry fry the chorizo until the oils are released and starting to crisp.

2. Add the onion and  cook until tender and caramelised, then tip in the tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes start to burst.

3. Mix the vegetable stock with the couscous, stir with a fork and cover for 3-4mins. Fluff up with a fork.

4. Add the chickpeas to the onions and tomatoes and stir until the chickpeas are warm, the stir through the couscous and parsley to taste.

The beauty with this recipe is that the couscous can be as much or as little of the dish as you like – just make sure you use equal amounts vegetable stock and couscous. I hope you like it!

Lots Love! x

So… Beansprouts. Meh…?

Running off the back of my last Leftovers post where I mentioned needing to use up some leftover beansprouts, I was chatting to a friend who had read the post and picked up on this particular ingredient. Whilst this week the beansprouts were to be used in a crunchy, fresh salad (today in fact, it was gorgeous!) we got onto the subject of beansprouts’ more common use in Asian cuisine. Funnily enough, my friend’s objection was exactly the reason they were so perfect courgette and green lentil salad – the beautiful fresh crunch!

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Always up for a foodie debate, I can completely understand where he was coming from. Generally beansprouts are used in chow meins, with noodles and other softened vegetables like mushrooms, not to mention the tender pork or chicken. So the flash fried beansprouts added at the last minute can come as a bit too much of a contrast in texture for some. But that’s exactly the point, food is so much about personal preference – what adds a delightful freshness to chow mien to me, can confuse and frustrate someone else’s tastebuds, meaning they don’t eat this yummy Chinese dish anywhere near as much as they should!

Another pro to food, is that you can cook it yourself to suit your preference whenever you like 😉 And so, here is my Chicken Chow Mein recipe, for you to cook your beansprouts as long or little as you like!

Chicken & Mushroom Chow Mein

Serves 2

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Ingredients

– 150g medium egg noodles

– dash toasted sesame oil

– 2 chicken breast fillets, sliced into strips

– dash dark soy sauce

– 1tsp Chinese Five Spice

– 1tsp chilli sauce

– 1tbsp cornflour

– 1-2tbsp groundnut oil

– 1 red pepper, finely sliced

– 4-5 fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced

– handful beansprouts

– 2 spring onions, shredded

– 2 tbsp light soy sauce

Method:

1) Cook the noodles in boiling water for 2-3 minutes until just tender. Drain, then rinse under cold running water and drain again. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with a dash of toasted sesame oil to stop the noodles sticking together. Set aside.

2) Put the chicken strips into a bowl, season with a dash of dark soy sauce, and add the five spice and chilli sauce. Mix well, then lightly dust the chicken with cornflour.

3) Heat a wok over a high heat until very hot and add the ground nut oil followed by the chicken, and stir fry for 3-4 minutes until cooked through.

4) Add the red pepper and shiitake mushrooms (and the beansprouts if you want to cook them for longer) and stir fry for 1 minute, then add the beansprouts and spring onions and continue cooking for another 30 seconds. Stir in the noodles and season with light soy sauce, a dash more of toasted sesame oil and freshly ground black pepper.

The best thing about the veggies in this meal is that you really can cook them for as little or long as you like to suit your preference, so take these timings with a pinch of salt 🙂

I hope have given some of you the inspiration to enjoy beansprouts your way!

Lotsa Love x