There are three books out this year which have caused a lot of excitement amongst many a food blogger. Unusually, they are all by the same author. It almost feels like a shared success when one of our own gets a cookbook published. Charlotte Pike of Charlotte’s Kitchen Diary went one better than writing her first book and getting it published, however – she managed three all in one go. How she achieved this whilst running a successful business, blogging for the Guardian and Hello magazine and giving cookery demonstrations beats me. It’s an astonishing feat which I put down to a lot of hard work and very good planning.
The Hungry Student – who doesn’t resonate with that concept? As the name implies these books are aimed at students living away from home for the first time and offer simple but tasty recipes that don’t cost the earth. Just a few years out of University herself, Charlotte remembers well what it was like to survive on a very tight food budget. My student years were spent consuming lentils. I have a great fondness for this humble pulse, but my repertoire could have been expanded and any one of these books would have been ideal for the task.
Never mind the hungry student, these books are ideal for the hungry worker too. I know when I get home from work or have been digging down at the plot, I want something hearty, filling and quick. Charlotte delivers plenty of ideas along those lines.
The recipes have all been tried and tested prior to publication, both by Charlotte and a willing team of testers – I know because it was my privilege to be one of them. One year on and I still remember how good those peanut butter blondies were. I really must make them again.
I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the books and finally see what they looked like. As a thank you for the testing, I was sent all three copies. As they arrived around my birthday, I took them to be a very welcome impromptu birthday present. I was really impressed with their overall appearance and ease of use. The covers are fun and colourful. The layout is clear and uncluttered and there are plenty of mouth-watering pictures although sadly not all recipes are accompanied by one. There are some recipes that appear in more than one book, which is a bit annoying if you have the complete set, but to be fair there isn’t too much of an overlap. Published by Quercus, the books can be bought as single editions or as a set and are extremely good value I reckon at only £7.99 per book.
The Hungry Student: Easy Baking
Being a keen baker, this was of course, the very first of the three that I energetically leafed through. Whilst this is an excellent book for the beginner, there are a multitude of recipes that will appeal to the more experienced baker – they certainly appealed to me. It starts with some information and a few handy hints focussing on key ingredients and baking techniques. Chapters include: Small Bakes, Big Bakes, Traybakes, Baked Desserts and the not to be forgotten Breakfast Baking where the picture of a tray of cinnamon buns had me leaping around with delight. Bread has not been forgotten and the chapter on Easy Breads includes some basics such as crusty white loaf, wholemeal soda bread and pizza bases but also some more unusual flatbreads and a spectacular sounding cheesy courgette caterpillar bread loaf, which, with the current courgette glut we are experiencing, is on my list of things to bake soon.
No sooner did I see Charlotte’s recipe for chocolate fudge brownies, than I had to give them a go. I made them for the Liskeard pop-up cafe back in July where they received rave reviews and every single one of them disappeared. Luckily, I did manage to snaffle a piece so I can attest they were truly fudgy with a satisfying crunchy top. In fact, I would go as far as to say these were amongst the best brownies I’ve made and I’ve made quite a few.
The Hungry Student: Vegetarian Cookbook
As well as a host of useful tips on cooking, ingredients and equipment, this book includes a section on How Not to Poison Your Friends – if you value your friends, you will follow this advice. As well as the sort of chapters you’d expect in a student book, such as pasta, curries and easy dinners, there is a handy one on Feeding Friends which gives a few more elaborate recipes and ups the quantities somewhat. The Morning After chapter gives a host of interesting breakfast dishes which are simple but tasty and make a nice change from a bowl of cereal.
Being vegetarian, I was especially pleased to have this book and I remember well the lovely creations I tried out when recipe testing. Lentil shepherd’s pie is a dish I make regularly, but Charlotte’s take on it was quite different to mine with added mushrooms and red wine and it was very good indeed. Veggie toad in the hole is another regular in this household, but I’d not had it with onion gravy before and that notches it up a few levels. Until testing these recipes, I had never baked a risotto in the oven, but the baked squash risotto was delicious and so easy. With plenty of Swiss chard down at the plot, one of the first recipes I made was spiced spinach with black eye beans and very tasty it was too. Baking, of course, gets a mention and I was so intrigued by the chocolate red wine cake, I had to make it immediately. Assuming the concept of leftover wine is not a foreign one to students, this is a brilliant use for it. I jazzed it up a bit with icing and decorations and took it into work where it went down a storm.
The Hungry Student: Cookbook
This is an all round cookbook which includes a bit of everything. As with the others, it starts with sections on stocking up your store cupboard, loving your oven and various other cooking tips and techniques. A section on watching your budget is a particularly useful one for students and includes the suggestion to “see if your parents will take you shopping” which made me laugh. The book was divided into the same chapters as the vegetarian cookbook, although most of the recipes were of course different. Being a bit of a bread head, the chapter In Bread and on Toast grabbed my attention. I’d already tested both the cheese and beer rarebit and the cheese and leek rarebit. The latter was so good, I’ve made it several times subsequently.
As a vegetarian, I still found plenty in the book to keep me going. Coconut rice was one of the first things I tested. Adding coconut milk to basmati rice and serving with toasted sesame seeds is such a simple adaptation, but very effective and quite delicious. I remember the patatas bravas with great fondness, but keep forgetting to make them again. On my list of things to try out soon are the black bean quesadillas and the halloumi and roasted vegetables with lemon dressing – another way of using up courgettes. When I make pancakes, I tend to make English ones, but I was inspired by the tempting photographs for American pancakes in this book and was very pleased I gave them a go. Adding blueberries to the batter is a technique I have subsequently adopted.
In summary these books are for students of life, not just university. That said, as students prepare to head off and face life in a shared kitchen, now is the perfect time to buy these books. Perhaps parents could assist by taking their little darlings book shopping.
Our supply of raw milk is back and we are stupidly excited about it. We lost it over a year ago when our local food shop closed. We can now buy it again at our local pannier market. This means I am now able to make raw food smoothies, which feels like a nice healthy start to the day. I add various ingredients to a basic mix, but this one involves a raw chocolate and almond spread. It makes for a nice breakfast treat and a change from our normal toast.
I’m entering this into Javelin Warrior’s Made with Love Mondays – it may not have taken long to make, but it was certainly made with love.
- 750 millilitres raw milk
- 1 large or 2 small bananas
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 2 tbsp raw chocolate & almond spread
- 2 tbsp rolled oats
Total time: Yield: 1 litre – fills 2 ½ litre glasses or 4 ¼ litre glasses
Continuing on my salty journey from the salted caramelised almond chocolates I made for We Should Cocoa, I couldn’t resist making these salted butterscotch chocolate fondants. This month’s Classic French theme is chocolate fondants and as I had a bar of salted dark chocolate to hand and I do like the combination, I knew the fondants I was going to make would be salted something or other. I thought I would base mine on a recipe for molten chocolate cakes in the French classic Cooking with Chocolate edited by Frederic Bau. I halved the quantity and made a few other changes, but in essence this is, vraiment, une recette classique Française.
This is how I made:
Salted Butterscotch Chocolate Fondants
- Buttered 3 ramekins and dusted with cocoa powder.
- Melted 50g salted butter in a pan over very low heat with 70g salted dark chocolate – I used the Lindt Touch of Salt I recently reviewed. Left to cool a little.
- Whisked 2 eggs with 120g dark brown sugar until thick and tripled in volume.
- Sifted in 1 scant teaspoon of cocoa, 1 scant teaspoon of mesquite and 20g plain flour. Folded in as carefully as possible so as not to lose the air gained by whisking.
- Spooned into the three prepared dishes. There was enough mixture left for a 4th, but I only have three, so I very naughtily polished the remains off and oh, it was so delicious.
- Baked at 180°C for 10 minutes.
The brown sugar and mesquite worked as I’d hoped and produced a really good salted butterscotch flavour. The same cannot be said for my turning out which ended in disaster at the first attempt, so I didn’t try with the other two. They tasted fabulous anyway and CT on his return from the daily grind seemed to cheer up no end when he knew what was on the menu.
I am entering these into Classic French the monthly theme from Jen of Blue Kitchen Bakes and this month hosted by Claire of Under the Blue Gum Tree who has chosen that most luscious of desserts: chocolate fondants.
When I first saw these Afternoon Tea chocolates from Sent With a Loving Kiss, I was smitten and got very excited. This may not be a closely guarded secret, but I do have a weakness for afternoon tea. I am far more likely to give a tea party than I am a dinner party and if ever anyone wants to take me out (which doesn’t happen nearly enough) afternoon tea is what I would choose for preference. Luckily, I didn’t need to drop heavy hints to my nearest and dearest as I was sent a box to review.
Inside the box sat a cute little tin decorated with colourful teapots. When I opened the tin, the enticing smell of sweet chocolate leapt out at me and I was hard put not to take a bite immediately. The tin consists of twelve chocolate discs playfully decorated with dainty cupcakes, teapots and milk jugs: two dark, four white and six milk – something there to suit most tastes. Much as I wanted to dig into these straight away, I am being very restrained and saving them for a future afternoon tea party, or even for decorating an extra special cake.
Apart from the afternoon tea theme, I particularly liked being able to personalise the tins with my own messages. For my tin, I asked for the inscription “everything stops for tea”. I should have added “and if it doesn’t it ought to” but foolishly omitted that bit. This makes for a nice keepsake for the recipient once the chocolates have been demolished. I’m looking forward to using mine as a fun container for homemade biscuits or even chocolates.
These delightful chocolate discs are one of the many unique gifts available from Sent With a Loving Kiss which can be sent as a thank you, birthday present or for any other occasion desired. Other similar chocolate tin sets that caught my eye include Garden Party and Shopoholic Chocoholic. Tins come in all shapes and sizes, however with varying chocolate contents to match. Handmade in Hampshire from Belgium couverture chocolate, the ingredients are of good quality, containing no vegetable fat and only natural vanilla. The dark chocolate contains a minimum of 53% chocolate solids, the milk 33% and the white has a minimum of 28% cocoa butter. The chocolate weighs in at 125g and the tins can be personalised to give your own special message. At £19.99, these are not cheap, but they are an enjoyable, quirky, individual gift that I think would make anyone’s day.
This month for Random Recipes we were asked to take 10 seconds to grab one book and run. Dom reckoned with no time to think, we would automatically go for our most useful book. My go to baking book is Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess, which coincidentally is the book that featured in last month’s Random Recipes. If I need a reminder on how to make something or need a reliable recipe, then this is the first book I turn to. This doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best or even most comprehensive baking book I own, although I suspect it probably is, but I’ve had the book for many many years and it is like an old familiar.
The next task was to randomly pick a recipe. When I asked CT to pick a number, he obligingly came up with no. 15 which was Nigella’s Victoria Sponge. I have made a Victoria innumerable times, but I have never used Nigella’s recipe before. She suggests substituting some of the flour for cornflour. I’m always interested in trying different methods and ingredients, so I was keen to see what, if any, difference this made. On the three page spread that this classic took up, chocolate was not even mentioned once – harrumph! With a sponge, this is really not a problem as it can generally be filled with whatever you like. I decided I would fill it with the fig and pomegranate jam I made last year and a chocolate buttercream – chocolate and figs are a good combination I reckon.
This is how I made:
Fig and Chocolate Victoria Sandwich
- Creamed 225g unsalted butter with 225g vanilla sugar (golden caster) until pale and airy.
- Beat in 1 tsp chocolate extract.
- Beat in 4 eggs (2 medium hens eggs and 2 large duck eggs).
- Sifted in 200g flour (half wholemeal spelt and half white), 25g cornflour and 1½ tsp baking powder. Stirred in as gently as possible.
- Stirred in 2 tbsp sour milk (ordinary milk is fine, but sour helps with the rise).
- Divided mixture between two 21 cm cake moulds and baked at 180°C for 25 minutes until the cakes were risen, golden and firm to the touch.
- Turned first cake out of the mould to cool. And this is where disaster struck. I normally leave the cakes to cool in the moulds for ten minutes before turning out, but in my eagerness I didn’t listen to the warning bells in my head. Large chunks stuck to the bottom of the mould and my first cake was a mess. I dutifully left the second one in it’s mould for 15 minutes before turning out and it was absolutely fine.
- Melted 15g of dark chocolate (72%) in a bowl over a pan of hot water.
- Creamed 50g unsalted butter with 100g golden icing sugar until pale and fully incorporated.
- Beat in the chocolate.
- Beat in 1 tbsp double cream.
- Placed all the pieces from the broken cake together to form a round as best I could.
- Covered this with the contents from a small jar of fig and pomegranate jam.
- Spread the buttercream over the bottom of the intact cake and placed this, bottom side up on top of the broken one.
- Dusted the top with caster sugar, then immediately cut a slice to see a) if it would hold together and b) how it tasted.
I am eating that slice now and can attest that despite its rather crumpled look, the cake held together and tastes wonderful. The jam and buttercream are a good combination, but I actually think the jam with whipped cream would have been a better one – less sweet and would have allowed the jam to really shine. I’m not sure I really noticed any difference having used cornflour but it wasn’t a double blind trial.
Summertime and the living is easy – or at least it is when the good people of Lindt send me a box of chocolates to try. It’s good to ring the changes as well as reacquaint oneself with familiar stalwarts. So as well as a selection of their new fun summer range Hello, it was reassuring to receive a bar of Lindt Excellence 70% Cocoa which I know well. Also included was another Lindt Excellence bar I’ve seen before but never tasted: a Touch of Sea Salt. This dark 47% bar is not for the vegan in your life as it contains butterfat. It is however rather tasty even if a “touch of sea salt” is a bit of an understatement. I would describe this as distinctly salty. So what else did I get? Down to business:
Chocolate Bits – a box of nine chocolates designed to lighten your mood.
Nougat crunch – I went to this one first as I love nougat. It was a smooth milk chocolate with a creamy filling and lots of crunchy bits. I didn’t find it to be particularly distinctive and I couldn’t detect any honey flavour.
Caramel Brownie – this was my favourite. It had a layer of rich liquid caramel on top of a dark chocolate truffle base with some sort of crunchy bits.
Cookies and Cream – this had plenty of crunchy dark cookie pieces amongst a creamy white filling. I liked the contrast in colours and textures, but it was very sweet.
I preferred the bars – 39g of punchy flavour in six bite size pieces. The Summer of Love may be more than forty years ago, but there is a breezy optimism in these bars which are a tonic to middle aged cynicism.
Coconut Love – white chocolate filled with a coconut cream. As soon as I opened the packet, the scent of coconut pervaded the room. It contained pieces of chewy coconut which gave additional texture – a bit like a Bounty bar, but creamier. There were fruity undertones which I particularly liked.
Berry Affair – white chocolate filled with a fruity cream and bits of real cherry and blackberry. The cherry was the dominant flavour, but I got a faint hint of blackberries too.
Lime Splash – solid white chocolate with a mouth puckering lime flavour which is tasty and painful both at the same time. A damn fine antidote to the sickliness that too much white chocolate can engender.
Strawberry Kick – solid white chocolate with a kick of lime and strawberry bits embedded within. This had a good strawberry flavour whilst being nice and tart; no overwhelming sourness as in the case of the Lime Splash. Most of all, it reminded me of sherbert. It wasn’t too sweet either. This was my favourite bar.
Coffee Blast – milk chocolate covering a coffee cream with crunchy pieces of real coffee. Blast is the right word said CT. Being the coffee lover in the household, he got to eat this one. The coffee is good and strong with the bitterness trumping the sweetness and a smokiness permeating through – like a cup of coffee round a camp fire. Enough already, put that harmonica away.
These are a fun addition to the Lindt range and you can buy them at the Lindt shop.
I made some wonderful salted butterscotch chocolate fondants from the “touch of sea salt” bar which I shall be blogging about soon. It worked really well in this bake where the saltiness was a big bonus.
Some of you may remember my six course chocolate themed dinner party from a couple of months ago. These spinach, goat’s cheese and chocolate filo triangles are one of the courses I served. I learnt how to make filo triangles on a Middle Eastern mezze course at the Vegetarian Cookery School in Bath a couple of years ago and I’m very glad I did as it’s proved to be invaluable on several occasions.
This is a an adaptable recipe, which I made up as I was devising the evening’s menu. Quantities can be adjusted to suit different tastes and the number of people partaking. When I say spinach, I don’t actually mean spinach; I used what I had to hand which in this case was orach.
This is how I made:
Orach, Goat’s Cheese and Chocolate Filo Triangles
- Sweated 4 finely chopped shallots and 1 clove finely chopped fresh garlic in a little olive oil.
- Added a large handful of freshly washed & still wet orach (spinach like leaf) to the pan and covered with a lid. Simmered until wilted (about 5 minutes) and removed from the heat. I didn’t need to drain this, but it may need it if the mixture is too wet.
- Grated in a little nutmeg and some black pepper.
- Mixed in 50g soft ripe goats cheese.
- Mixed in a few leaves of chopped freshly picked mint.
- Melted 25g unsalted butter.
- Roughly chopped 20g 85% dark chocolate into chunks.
- Cut 3 filo pastry sheets lengthways into 4 long strips & brushed each with melted butter.
- Placed a large teaspoonful of the spinach mixture onto the bottom of the strips.
- Added a couple of the chocolate chunks & wrapped in the pastry to form 12 triangles.
- Brushed with melted butter.
- Baked at 180C for 10 minutes.
The wonderfully creative Elizabeth from her kitchen in Shetland is hosting this month’s We Should Cocoa and she has tasked us with making bite sized chocolates. Flavours are completely up to us. As it happened I’d been given some chocolate flower moulds with sticks as a birthday present from my mother and this seemed the perfect opportunity to try them out and make one of my favourites, almond chocolates.
Having recently posted and entered rhubarb, rose and white chocolate ice cream for We Should Cocoa, I was very tempted to swap it and use this one instead. I reckon this might be the best of the no churn ice-creams I’ve made so far. I’d read somewhere on the internet that roasting strawberries really brought out the flavour, which kind of makes sense as soon as you think about it. So when I was invited to a friend’s celebratory outdoor evening event – gosh it’s so good to be able to plan outdoor events – I thought I’d try making ice-cream with roasted strawberries.
Of course, when it came down to it, I couldn’t for the life of me remember where I’d seen the piece on roasting strawberries, so I just had a go. As strawberries aren’t that tart and this is usually quite a sweet ice-cream, I added a little cider vinegar to the roasting strawberries and reduced the amount of condensed milk used. I also thought I’d try a slightly different and simpler method of making the ice-cream and I’m glad to report, it worked very well.
The roasting did the trick, creating an ice-cream with a fabulous and quite intense strawberry flavour. The texture of this ice-cream is really smooth and quite light, but not in the least bit runny when it melts. Although it didn’t quite feed the five thousand, it had to go round quite a crowd. It was gratefully and vocally appreciated and stood out amongst the other delicacies with which it was served.
I am sending this off to Kate of What Kate Baked for this month’s Tea Time Treats where the theme is Ice-creams, Jellies and Chilled Desserts. This event is alternately hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage.
Roasted Strawberry Ice Cream
- 300g Strawberries
- 100g White chocolate (Green & Blacks)
- 100g Condensed milk
- 600 ml Double cream
- 1 tbsp Cider vinegar
Yield: 1 litre