The Overly Developed Imagination of the Only Child

bluemushSo, to herald my recent departure from unemployment, pajamas, self loathing and day time television is a recipe 100% guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart. If hearts have cockles, which I happen to highly doubt. For one thing, this recipe is a slight adaptation from one on the BBC good food website. For those who don’t know me very well BBC good food is to me what cute, captioned pictures of anthropomorphic cats are to most people. The internet equivalent of a sanctuary; a safe, unbreachable, harmonious haven.

RECIPE:

  • 4 portobello mushrooms
  • 4tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, chopped
  • 400g baby spinach
  • frozen puff pastry (block or sheets) defrosted
  • 140g stilton (or other blue cheese) sliced
  • 1 egg, beaten

Preheat your oven to 200’C.

Put the oil in a frying pan and let it heat. Sizzle the mushrooms for a few minutes each side, just until they begin to darken and soften up a little. Put them to the side.

Turn the heat low and using the same frying pan and oil, add the chopped garlic and let it cook for a few seconds. Toasty, golden garlic may be delicious but burnt garlic tastes like the innermost circles of hell. Add the spinach and stir it until it’s wilted to about a millionth of it’s former size. Season the spinach and garlic with salt and pepper and pop it in a sieve to drain. You can use the back of a spoon as a squishing device to speed the process along a little. You want to squeeze out as much liquid as possible or the pastry will be soggy. Which is, as we know, completely unacceptable.

MaryBerryRoll out your pastry (about a £1 thickness) on a lightly floured surface. Using a bowl or plate that is much bigger than the mushrooms as a template cut out 8 circles from the pastry for the tops and bottoms.

On 4 pastry discs, spoon a quarter of the spinach mix, a couple of slices of cheese and add the mushroom (smooth side up) and top with a little more cheese until it kind of looks like a little pixie house (I was an only child, alright? Drop it.) Repeat this for the other 3 mushrooms.

100_1154Brush some beaten egg around the edge of the mushrooms and drape the 4 remaining pastry discs over the top. Use your fingers to press the edges of the pastry together. The bottom disc will be much wider than the top so I like to fold it over in a pretty sort of star pattern. This also seems to seal the pastry better, making the cheese much less likely to leak out of the sides.

100_1165You can also use the left over pastry to make some highly unnecessary but pretty decorations. Glaze the tops with a generous amount of egg and pop them in the oven for around 40mins or until they are very puffed up and golden-brown.

100_1172How sweet are they? Little golden parcels of deliciousness. The blue-cheese tanginess is so good with the meatiness of the mushrooms. They have the added benefit of looking kind of posh as well, so dinner party it up! Impress your in-laws. Or just foil your friends into bringing round copious bottles of wine. It’s a win-win either way!

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Cheesus Christ

cheesyI’ve always, to the dismay and confusion of my sweet-toothed mother, been something of a savoury kid. I’m serious. I’ve eaten salt and vinegar crisps until I have lost all feeling in my lips and tongue. Once, when I was a child, I stole a huge jar of gherkins from the fridge and ate the entire lot while sitting on my swing set. Trust me, unorthodox amount of pickles + swings will result in a phenomenal, earth-shattering heartburn, don’t try it at home. Anyway, what I am trying to say is that surprisingly, from the age of around three, I have in fact had the cravings and habits of your average pregnant woman.

And if you like savoury things, well, cheese is pretty much the God of savoury isn’t it? The Just and Wise Ruler of the Salty Kingdom. And we should worship him in all his many incarnations, soft, crumbly, firm, vintage, blue and… scone-y. So say we all.

These scones are ridiculously easy. If you can stir and operate an oven then you should be pretty much okay. They also taste SO GOOD, super light and cheesy and delicious.

RECIPE:

  • 420g self raising flour
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1/2tsp grated black pepper
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 50g butter, chilled
  • big bunch of fresh herbs (I used thyme, but most things will work, basil, oregano, chives etc)
  • 1 spring onion, chopped
  • 50g strong cheddar, grated
  • 250ml milk

Preheat your oven to 220’C/200’C fan and line a baking tray with a sheet of baking paper.

Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the salt, pepper and cayenne and mix it all together. Add the butter and, using your fingers, rub it into the flour mix. You use exactly the same motion as you would if you were a gangster ominously motioning someone to pay up, just the other way round. Carry on gangster-ing up your kitchen until there are no mega lumps of butter left.

Add your grated cheese and tear in your herbs. Thyme is my favourite, but you could use pretty much anything. Herbs with bigger leaves will need to be chopped finely or they look kind of swampy. Add the milk and stir it all together. The mixture will be a little bit on the dry side but if it seems excessively floury add a tiny drop more milk.

Put some flour on a work surface and gently knead the dough together. Don’t over do it, just make sure the mixture is holding together.

Pat the dough flat, it should be about 2cm high and then cut it into approx 5cm rounds. You don’t need a cutter for this, use anything, a small cup, a bowl, a wine glass… or even just roughly with a knife. You should get around 10-12 little discs.

Pop them on the baking tray and into the oven for about 12mins. Give them plenty of space above them in the oven because they should rise nicely.

And there you go (almost) instant cheese gratification. Amen.

100_0796These would be really nice with a hot bowl of soup. Or, as the boyfriend informed me, with some “chive creme fraiche”. Because yes, he is the campest straight man on the planet.

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Falafels: An Incoherent Truth

 

falafalThere are, on this planet, only a couple of truths that are universally acknowledged. One of these is that drunk people make a mess. To progress this idea could be to argue that drunk people will make a spectacular mess, merrily, and often in record time. It’s inescapable, and therefore should be embraced whole-heartedly. The fact that drunk people enjoy making a mess is, in fact, the sole reason behind the existence of many of our most celebrated dishes. Do you really think the Mexicans would have invented nachos if they hadn’t invented tequila first? What other purpose does a kebab actually have? Do you think chips and cheese would even exist without drunk people?

And so I bring you falafel wraps. These are the perfect drunken food. DIY wrap-making can be messy at the best of times, even when your sobriety is not actually in question. So you have the added bonus of watching your friends trying to navigate a cheesy, leaking wrap into their silly drunk faces. It’s pretty much the equivalent of giving them a hair-trigger Super Soaker full of hot sauce. Amazing.

RECIPE: (serves 3-4)

Falafel

  • 1 x 400g tin of mixed beans
  • 1 x 400g tin of chickpeas
  • 1 lemon
  • 1tbsp harrissa
  • 1tsp allspice
  • 1tbsp plain flour
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander
  • olive oil

Sides

  • 2 bell peppers, roughly chopped
  • 4 spring onions, as above
  • 8 small tortillas
  • 2tbsp mango chutney
  • 250g cottage cheese
  • cherry tomatoes
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1/2 clove garlic
  • 1 lime
  • sweetcorn

Drain the chickpeas and the mixed beans in a colander. Make sure all the gunk from the tin has come off, or your falafels will end up smooshy. Nobody wants a smooshy falafel. Put them in the food processor, grate in the lemon zest and season with salt and pepper. Add the harrissa, allspice, flour and coriander and blitz everything together. It doesn’t matter if it it doesn’t have a perfectly smooth consistency, the falafel are actually nicer with a bit of texture, and besides, your drunk, so what do you care?

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Scrape out the mixture and (with slightly wet hands) shape it into 8 to 10 balls. Squish them flat, heat a tbsp of oil in a frying pan and cook the falafel on both sides turning them when they are nice and crispy.

Fry up the bell peppers with the spring onions. It’s alright if the peppers go a little black, they’ll be sweeter that way, so you can let your drunken mind wander… just not too far. Put them in a bowl.

Put the tomatoes, chilli, garlic and some more coriander in the processor with the lime juice. Whiz it up till it’s smooth and salsa-y, season and put it in a serving dish. Mix the cottage cheese with the mango chutney or sweet chilli sauce – both is good trust me, I know it sounds bizarre – and put it into another bowl. Other nice bowls of stuff could be sweetcorn, some chopped cherry tomatoes and grated cheese. I know this already sounds washing up heavy, it’s worth it, I just hope you have polite friends.

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Put the tortillas in a microwave for about 45 seconds, or warm them in the oven. Pop them on a plate and let battle commence.

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I will warn you: Do not serve this to your in-laws unless they are either forgiving, like-minded or suitably plied with alcohol. You are going to end up looking like a toddler with problematic motor skills.

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Not, unfortunately, a close acquaintance of the Muffin Man

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I must confess that I am not a massive muffin maker. This is mostly because something inherent in their easily portable, bite-sized goodness suggests an obligation to “share”. I also find that my personal food-based guilt is exponentially linked to numbers and not to size. For example eating one entire cake is basically just a minor slip-up whereas eating twelve whole muffins could arguably be considered gross misconduct.

However, when you are attending a party where lots of little (and big) fingers are likely to be in attendance, muffins can come in pretty handy. Or fingery. And these muffins are super moist and silky because of the mashed bananas so that, unlike most muffins which dry out after less than half a day, these will stay good for about 3 days after baking. Not that they are at all likely to stick around that long. This recipe is also great because it genuinely takes less than half an hour from start to finish. This means that if, to your embarrassment, you recently discovered that man-flu can be catching, they really don’t take all that much effort to rustle up.

RECIPE:

  • 3 very ripe, or over-ripe bananas, peeled
  • 125ml vegetable oil, or melted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 100g soft brown sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 3tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1tsp bicarbinate of soda
  • 50g milk or dark chocolate (optional)

I used 5 very small, lunchbox bananas for this, which worked perfectly because they are so sweet. I don’t think the smaller variety exist outside of Australia though, so if you’re in the UK stick to the normal sized ones, making sure that they are very ripe. I also must stress that because this recipe relies quite a lot on cocoa powder, especially if you aren’t using chocolate as well, that it has to be really, really good quality. Brits, you can’t go wrong with Green & Blacks.

Preheat your oven to 200’C and line a muffin tin with muffin cases. This mixture can either make 12 regular sized breakfast muffins or about 18-20 mini ones.

Mash the bananas in a large bowl with a fork and, while mashing, pour in the oil or melted butter followed by the eggs and sugar. Mix the flour, cocoa and bicarb together and then add this slowly to the mixture, beating all the time.

Break up the chocolate into chips. You can do this by putting it in a zip-lock bag, squeezing the air out, closing it and then beating the crap out of it with a rolling pin. This doubles as a fairly viable anger-management aid, so feel free to really go for it.

Add the broken chocolate to the mixture, give it a good stir and then spoon it into the muffin cases and pop them in the oven for 15-20 minutes. You should notice that the mixture is silky smooth and totally lickable. Reserve anything left in the bowl for scraping out whilst the muffins are in the oven. Consider it foreplay for the muffin-y goodness to come.

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They should come out nice and plump and rounded. And in less than 30 minutes time? Not bad work for a Sunday morning where by all rights you should be in bed with panadol and lemsip and a soothing, comforting episode of The Walking Dead, I’m sure you’ll agree.

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Among the reviews I think it should be noted that I overheard a small child telling her friend that they were “very chocolate-y”. So there. Michelin-stardom, here I come.

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When in doubt, blame your friends.

parmesan shortbread

So… I have a slightly embarrassing confession to make today. What I actually wanted to do my next post on was home-made pizza dough. There’s nothing better than home-made pizza. Unless, of course, you have a terrible hangover, are hiding in your duvet fort and crying about your evidently misspent youth. Then, obviously, the convenience of a delivery is preferable. But ONLY then.

Think about it, what’s not to love about DIY pizza? You get to pick your own toppings (however ridiculous, and I am talking Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles here…) arrange them however you want, make a giant mess and generally indulge your inner child for the day. This was my plan. I had a couple of friends coming over for the evening and thought this might be a good opportunity. If only I had known how misguided I was…

It was all going well until the pizzas came out of the oven. My back must have been turned for about five minutes and then… the unimaginable happened, a complete and utter betrayal.

They ATE them.

No, seriously, they ate them INSTANTLY. There are no photographs, no evidence that these pizzas ever even existed in the first place other than a few crumbs, some lingering food babies and the distant memory of perfection.

At some point, I will have to do Dough 2 (The Rise of Dough) just to prove I am not going all Emperor’s New Clothes on you but for now I have decided to give you parmesan shortbread instead. Mostly because, on a gorgeous, sunny day like this, there is nothing better than wine and when there is wine there is nothing better than cheesy, melt-in-the-mouth yumminess to go with it.

RECIPE:

  • 150g plain flour
  • 75g parmesan, grated
  • 100g soft, unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • fresh thyme (optional)

Word to the wise here – please do not use pre-grated parmesan. Why? It tastes of sawdust.

Mix all the ingredients together, either by hand or in a food processor, until they start to come together in a clumpy mass (technical term). Tip this on to a slightly floured work surface and knead it for about 30 seconds or until the dough is smoother and less crumbly.

Half the mixture and roll each half into a long, sausage-like cylinder. Wrap tightly in cling-film and pop in the fridge for about 45 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180’C/160’C (fan assisted). The brief sojourn in the fridge should make the dough much easier to cut into little coin-shapes about 1/2 inch thick. Ladies might like to take this opportunity to relieve their innermost penis-envy. Freud eat your heart out.

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I like to press tiny thyme leaves onto them, more for prettiness than anything else, and then pop them in the oven on a baking sheet lined with baking paper for about 15-20 minutes. Let them cool for a few minutes before eating them, if you can wait that long.

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There you have it! Tiny little morsels of yumminess and sophistication. The perfect wine-soaker-uppers. You could almost pretend you are a proper grown-up after making these. Almost.

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