Thursday, October 23, 2014

We Should Cocoa: Halloween Chocolate Krispie Monsters

First I must confess this is not an original idea; I saw a picture of these somewhere on pinterest and rather liked the idea of very chocolate rich rice crispie cakes turned into monsters for halloween. Some of the eyes have not worked so well but I think you get the idea.

These are a little fiddly to make as the rice crispie cake blobs are allowed to set and are then dipped in tempered chocolate before quickly adding the smartie eyes and then at the end piping some chocolate pupils to the eyes.

I was planning on making a lot more but quickly tired of carefully spooning out the rice crispie mix into mounds. It was fiddly to get the mound into a nice even shape without dropping bits or getting too straggly edges that might drop off when dipping.
If you already have a favourite chocolate crispie recipe do use that but you will need a mix that is not too dry. Whenever I make things like this I use a mix of milk and dark chocolate to reduce the sweetness and up the cocoa flavour, but all milk would be more traditional.

Second confession is that I have no idea how much chocolate you will need for the dipping. I do a lot of home chocolate making so have large bags of couverture chips in store and to make dipping easier I always work with about 750g or more. What is left over is then used for the next chocolate bake or confection. If you do not feel like dipping your monsters you could get away with just sticking the smartie eyes on the bare mounds but the faces will be so cute or, more importantly, so chocolaty. You could use a chocolate flavoured candy covering/melt for easy dipping but then the scary element would be the taste and texture rather than the look.

150g milk chocolate (or milk/dark mix) broken into pieces
50g butter
60ml golden syrup
100g rice crispies

Extra chocolate for dipping, preferably tempered to get the best finish.
Smarties for eyes
2 baking trays lined with baking parchment
  • If your rice crispie packet has been open a while and you live in a damp climate like I do then you might want to dry the crispies out in a low oven (80C) for 20 minutes or so first.
  • Put the chocolate, butter and golden syrup into a large bowl and gently microwave (or place over a pan of warm water) to melt.
  • Add the crispies into the chocolate, butter, syrup mix and stir gently but thoroughly to make sure all the crispies are well coated with chocolate.
  • Using dessertspoons carefully place mounds of the mix onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
  • Push any straggly edges back into the mound. Try to leave a slightly flattened top to the mound to make it easier to fix the smarties eyes on later.
  • Allow to set in a cool place and if leaving overnight make sure they are in an airtight container.
  • Melt/ temper the chocolate for dipping and then one at a time using a chocolate fork or large tined dinner fork dip each crispie mound into the pool and gently tap off excess chocolate.
  • Carefully transfer the dipped mound onto a second parchment lined baking tray.
  • Place the smartie eyes onto each monster as you go. If the outer coat has set before you get the eyes on, put a drop of melted chocolate onto one side of the smarties and then pop it chocolate side down onto the mound.
  • Once all the mounds are dipped and eyes are on, put some of the remaining melted chocolate into a piping bag and pipe chocolate pupils onto each one in as spooky a manner as you see fit.
I am submitting my chocolate monsters to this month's We Should Cocoa challenge. The October 2014 challenge is being guest hosted by Hannah of  Honey & Dough.
Happy Monster Munching!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kitchen Diary #3

October always seems to be the month in which I pick sloes to make a small batch of sloe gin. There are a few sloe bushes not far from our house that seem to reliably set fruit and of course while starting off the new batch it seems a good idea to sample some of the last. I don't like heavily sweetened drinks so my sloe gin has very little added sugar compared to most but here is a useful article from the Guardian on  How to Make Sloe Gin
I was quite pleased with my bread bake this week which was a plain white boule made with a preferment which is crudely some dough that you start a day or two before the actual bake and which does seem to add flavour.
My loaf is a bit uneven but the crust was nice and crisp and the crumb quite springy so no prizes but no complaints. I have recently found a useful website that has a lot of bread tutorial info including video clips of tricky things to describe like shaping loaves. It is quite detailed so perhaps more for bread geeks but well worth a look: Bread Making 101

My simple recipe for the week is a Ginger Yogurt Sauce to serve with fish. I ate this at Outlaws Fish Kitchen in Port Isaac some months ago and it is included in the book Nathan Outlaw published this year under the same name as the restaurant. They also serve a similar yogurt sauce but with horseradish.

I ate this at home with a salmon steak marinated in 1-2 tbs of  sriracha chilli sauce and baked until only just cooked. In the book the sauce is served with barbecued chilli-squid. I had some sauce leftover which I served with a roasted butternut squash soup and this too was also a delicious combination. The ginger flavour is quite bold but not overpowering.

150g root ginger peeled and chopped coarsely
200ml greek style yoghurt

  • Blitz the ginger in a blender
  • Tip out onto a square of muslin and gather up so you can now squeeze out the juice without leting any bits escape.
  • Squeeze the juice out into a bowl and measure 3tbs.
  • Stir the ginger juice into the yogurt.
  • season with a pinch of salt.

If you like coriander leaf you can also add 1 tsp or so of freshly chopped leaf to the sauce.

Cookery Books
Autumn does seem to be the time of year when many new cookery books are released in time for the Christmas spending spree. There haven't been many releases I feel I need to buy so far, but one that caught my eye was A Simply Delicious Christmas by Darina Allen. She is one of my long standing food heroes who once put Keith Floyd in his place when he visited her cookery school, so I doubt anyone messes with her.
This is a revised and expanded edition of the much earlier book by the same name that now has a slightly seventies dinner party feel to it including as it does a recipe for the once ubiquitous piped Duchesse potatoes.

Last Sunday was the North Devon Food Festival, held annually in Barnstaple Pannier Market. The organisers do well to make this a free entry festival and it was pretty packed so I hope everyone was happy. There were a good range of food producers from the area including this rather clever chocolate display piece from Copper Hill Chocolates
I spent quite a large part of my visit in the cookery demonstration theater where the star of the day was the charming Michael Caines. I have incredible admiration for this chef who makes a huge contribution to foodie events in the area and is frequently involved with local initiatives and competitions for young and trainee chefs. He had three students from the local college assisting him on Sunday and here they all are just before the demo starts.
Enjoy your week!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Kitchen Diary #2

This has been a quiet week in the kitchen as I have been home alone for much of it and the fridge was full of leftovers that just needed eating up, rather than cooking. I had mysteriously acquired  three packages of carrots so I made a huge batch of carrot, ginger and chilli soup which lasted several days. I am sneaking chilli peppers into whatever I can as I have just harvested all of my remaining chillies and there are quite a few.
The shopping highlight of the week was to find a gorgeous slab of halibut at the fishmonger in Torrington's Pannier market on Thursday. I couldn't resist and cooked it quite plainly and served it with pasta in a fresh tomato sauce.
I have also picked my pumpkin and brought it home from the allotment. For now I am just admiring it, as this is the largest one I have ever grown. Sooner or later though, I am going to have to decide what to do with it.
My bread bake this week was rye, walnut and raisin rolls but they came out a little on the heavy side. I think this was down to trying to cut back too much on the amount of yeast and then not giving the dough long enough to develop. None the less they were very tasty.
At the weekend I made a calvados and apple cake which again, tasted good, but was a bit soggy in the middle. I can never judge when apple cakes are ready and as the cake came out more like pudding it will be served with custard.
Recipe:  Lebanese rice with vermicelli noodles 
I recently discovered Lebanese rice with vermicelli noodles on a visit to Comptoir Libanais in London, and have been making it at home regularly since. I'm not sure why adding noodles to rice makes such a difference to the flavour, and perhaps it is just the browning of the butter, whatever,  I am rather taken by this way of cooking rice.
Serves 2
70g thin vermicelli noodles broken into small ~ 3cm long pieces
140g long grain rice washed
1 tsp butter
approx 300ml water or vegetable stock/bouillon
salt to taste
chopped pistachios to garnish (optional)

  • Melt the butter in a heavy based pan and add the vermicelli.
  • Gently cook the vermicelli noodles in the butter until they turn golden brown.
  • Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter.
  • Add the stock or water and add any additional salt to taste.
  • Simmer for 15-20 minutes until the rice is cooked, adding any additional liquid if needed. The liquid should be completely absorbed by the rice and noodles when completely cooked.
  • Allow the pan to sit covered for a few minutes and then serve.
  • Serve plain or garnished with chopped pistachios.

This week is London Chocolate week, I cannot get to any of the events but I am compensating by munching on some rather handsome Michel Cluizel Neapolitans. This coming weekend, October 17th-19th is the London Salon du Chocolat where a huge range of international chocolatiers will be exhibiting.
Happy Chocolate Week!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Kitchen Diary #1

I am going to try and do a quick post each week to chat about some of the recipes I have been cooking, interesting articles I have read, new books on the shelf or anything that I hope might be of interest to anyone that drops by.

I'll try and keep it organised but method is not one of my strengths so bear with me.


This week I have tried the Soy Roasted Cashews from author and blogger chocolate and zucchini. I was glad to use up some almost out of date whole cashews lurking in the larder and although you need to start the recipe a day ahead to allow the nuts to absorb the soy sauce this is a very simple 2 ingredient trick that transforms the cashews into a moreish snack with minimal effort.


I bought 'Brilliant Bread', by James Morton soon after it was published in 2013, but have only recently started using it enough to feel I could recommend it. James Morton was a contestant in the 2012 Great British Bake off series, and it was clear from the start he could bake excellent bread, though I don't agree with some of the things he says in his introduction about 'other' bread books. Brilliant Bread though, has some very easy to follow, and very reliable recipes. The range it covers is good with sections on basic loaves, flavoured breads, sourdough, enriched breads, laminated doughs and a few none yeasted items too. I have made the banana muffins and they were as good as any others I have made.  I've made the rye and raisin bread twice but the second time I swapped apricots and some hazelnuts for the raisins. Both times I produced a very flavoursome loaf with a nice chewy, but thin crust. Here is the apricot version.


Chef Chris Eden of the Driftwood Hotel
On Sunday I went along to day two of the Boscastle Food, Art and Craft Festival. This is a really fun even in North Cornwall that manages to attract some of the best chefs working in, or connected to Cornwall, who give some cracking cookery demonstrations. For an entrance price of just £3 you get to watch some very talented chefs and if you are lucky sample some of the dishes. There is also plenty of excellent local food to sample, and to take away with you. For my lunch I had the best crab sandwich ever, thanks to the joint work of the Boscastle Fishing Company who supplied the crab and the Wellington Hotel who were turning it out as filled focaccia sandwiches.
Sorry about the odd picture but I am sat down waiting for the next demo and have just been handed this huge crab sandwich and a glass of Tintagel Castle Gold beer; and I'm not sure I can take a photo without tragically dropping one of them so the lap seemed the safest place to park the sandwich!

I just caught the end of the demo by Andy Appleton of Fifteen Cornwall who prepared venison with a squash and chestnut caponata that also got to taste. This 'squash caponata' is cooked separately to the venison so it could be served along with many others roasts or vegetarian options. Cubes of roasted crown prince squash are cooked with onion, cherry tomatoes, fennel root, chilli, chestnuts, thyme and dried cranberries steeped in balsamic vinegar. It made a delicious sweet and sour medly that would be wonderful at Christmas.  I'm planning on cooking it soon.

Have a great week!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

White Chocolate and Cardamom Rice Pudding with Rose and Raspberry Sauce

I rarely eat white chocolate on its own as I find it very sweet and just not as enjoyable as a good milk chocolate, but I cook with it quite often. I had been thinking of making a white chocolate cheesecake when I came across this rice pudding recipe and I am glad I changed my plans as this made the most gorgeous creamy dessert.  I have taken my recipe from one I found on the epicurious recipe web site and have only adjusted it a little to reduce the sugar and use whole cardamom pods, not ground spice.

The syrup I have served with this is a mixture of rose petal jam and sieved raspberry puree which goes very well with the cardamom flavours but the rice is pretty good on its own and I think all manner of fruit syrups and compotes would go well with this.

For the Rice Pudding
a half cup of round grain rice (I just use a rissotto rice for puddings)
a third cup of milk
a half cup of whipping cream
3 whole green cardamom pods
1tbs white sugar
85g good quality white chocolate (the Lidl 200g bars are very good value)

  • Place the rice, sugar, milk, 3 whole cardamom pods and cream in a saucepan and bring up to a simmer.
  • Continue to simmer very gently for 30-45 minutes; cooking time will vary with the type of rice you are using so start checking after 20-25 minutes and if it is getting a little dry add in a tablespoon or two of water.
  • Stop cooking once the rice is tender.
  • Take the pan off the heat and gently stir in the white chocolate.
  • Check for sweetness and add extra sugar to taste.
  • Remove the three cardamom pods and discard them.

To Make the Sauce
The quantities below will just make a small amount of sauce but you can scale up if you think you might like this served with other things too.

3 tbs sieved raspberry puree
2 tbs of rose petal jam

Stir the raspberry puree and rose petal jam well together. I kept the jam as it was from the jar but if you want to remove any 'bits' from the sauce you might want to sieve out any rose petal pieces.

I was able to glean a few autumn raspberries from the garden but you could just as easily use pre-frozen raspberries. I don't like raspberry pips so I always lightly cook  (usually in the microwave) and sieve raspberries before adding them to sauces.

This Autumn Raspberry variety is Polka and it has produced lovely large fruits.

My rose petal jam came from a middle-east food store and it has a rather more syrupy than set jelly texture, so using it in cooking has been more successful than spreading it on toast!

Finally to serve you might like to sprinkle a few chopped unsalted pistachio nuts on for colour and texture.

I like the rice to be served just warm and to pour a small puddle of sauce into the middle.

The quantities will just serve four people but if you sneak too many tasters while you are making it you may only have enough to serve three. I found the rice to be very moreish and had consumed quite a lot by the time it actually got dished up.
I am submitting this recipe to the September challenge of Choclette's We Should Cocoa blog spot as the theme this month is to cook up a dish that combines jam and chocolate. Choclette's  Chocolate Log Blog web site has a wonderful selection of recipes and if you like rose flavouring you will find several good ideas for using it in her recipe collection.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Bouchon Bakery Cookbook 'Fuhgeddaboudits'

This is the slightly unusual name for a chocolate covered Rice Krispie Treat 'made better' by the Bouchon Bakery team and as they say in the recipe introduction they have taken the basic 'treat' part as is and then covered it with a layer of caramel and dipped each piece in chocolate. This is one of the simplest recipes in the book so long as you are happy tempering chocolate#.

I find the physical format of the book puts me off using it; basically it is a very heavy book weighing over 2.5 kg and an awkward square shape. Too big to fit in my book stand it has to sit flat on the counter and then seems to take up half of my work space measuring  28cm x 56cm when open. But I whinge too easily, and this is really a very well written bakery book that has not skipped on any of the details you will need to get a professional level of product consistently right.
Bouchon Bakery Cookbook (Signed by Chef Keller)
My only error on this recipe was to allow the cut cripies to sit out uncovered for too long on a humid day and I paid for that with not so crisp crispies. For personal preference I would also up the amount of caramel to twice the given amount.


100g unsalted butter
225g store bought marshmallows
127g Rice Krispies

130g bought dairy caramels (I added 2 tbs double cream to aid melting) ##

260g high cocoa content, tempered# milk chocolate (I worked with a larger amount to make dipping easier)

Fleur de sel for sprinkling  (I missed that bit out)

I made my treats into bar shapes but the recipe calls for rounds that are formed in a silicone mould with 6.5cm diameter cavities. I'll keep my notes to the bars as these are so much easier to work with and can be cut to whatever size you want.


  1. Line the base of a 2cm deep brownie/deep baking pan (20cmx30cm size approx) with parchment paper and grease the sides if pan is not none-stick.
  2. Weigh the Rice Krispies into a large bowl.
  3. Melt the butter in a medium size saucepan on a low heat and then add the marshmallows.
  4. Using a silicone spatula (or other nonstick spatula) stir the marshmallows until melted and then pour onto the Rice Krispies. The mix gets very gloopy.
  5. Quickly stir all to coat the cereal evenly and then tip out into the lined baking tray and level as quickly as possible.
  6. While the base is cooling gently melt the caramels over a low heat. I added a couple of scant  tablespoons of cream to get a slightly softer caramel but this is personal choice as I am wary of chewy caramel and my dentist bills. You just need a little, you are not making caramel sauce.
  7. Once the caramel is melted, pour it over the marshmallow crispie base, spreading it out evenly and leave to set.
  8. Once cool turn the base out onto a board and using a sharp knife cut into the size squares or bars you want.
  9. Line up the cut bars on a sheet of non-stick paper or a silicone mat (they get sticky!) and arrange another tray lined with non stick paper to take the pieces once they are dipped. 
  10. Get your chocolate ready to dip by tempering it using whatever method you prefer#.
  11. Arrange your dipping setup by having the undipped pieces on one side of the chocolate bowl and the tray for placing the dipped pieces on the other side. I am right handed so I place undipped pieces to the left of the bowl and the dipped pieces on the right hand side. As you are placing a dipped piece onto the tray put in down on the far right hand top corner and work towards yourself and then down a row so each time you are not carrying anything over the top of an already dipped item. This avoids those many random drips landing on already dipped pieces. That's the theory, I am not very disciplined so tend to mess the system up every time.
Dipping hints:
  • You want work fairly quickly so the chocolate does not cool too much and go out of temper.
  • Keep stirring the chocolate between dipping every 2-3 blocks so you keep the temperature uniform throughout the bowl. I use a narrow silicone spoon that I  keep in the bowl while I am working but be sure the handle is long enough that it will not fall and get submerged into the pool of chocolate.
  • Keep the caramel layer on the top, if you think the item has flipped over in the pool of chocolate flip it back before trying to lift out as the fork will sink in to the caramel if the item is lifted out upside down.
  • Use a chocolate dipping fork or a large narrow tined dinner fork, this helps to drain off excess chocolate. A plastic fork with the middle tines snapped off may also work but is better on smaller items.
  • Carefully place a bar into the pool of chocolate, caramel side up and using the stirring spoon flood the top surface with chocolate to get a complete covering and then lift out and allow the excess to drain off into the bowl before transferring the bar to the separate sheet. 
  • Gently tapping the fork handle onto the side of the bowl can help but be careful as all too easily the whole bar will just drop off the fork.
  • If too much chocolate stays on the piece it will run off into a large base (see below) when the item is placed on the cooling paper which looks a bit clumsy but who complains about extra chocolate.
 Once the bars have cooled you can of course carefully cut off the excess chocolate from the base.
These went in to work and went down a 'treat'!

I am submitting my 'Fuhgeddaboudits' to this month's We Should Cocoa - Marshmallows blog challenge which is being guest hosted by Rebecca of  BakeNQuilt who chose marshmallows as the special ingredient for August. The 'We Should Cocoa' monthly challenges are managed by Choclette over at Chocolate Log Blog where you will find all manner of delicious chocolate recipes.

# The Callebaut Institute in Banbury have produced a video of how to temper chocolate in a microwave which is a very clear and tells you what you are doing to the chocolate to get it in temper. They are using their own products but of course the process is the same for all bought 'real' chocolate, bars just need to be chopped up. Link:  Beverley Dunkley on Microwave Tempering.
##This only gave a thin layer of caramel, I would double the amount next time.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tapas for Bloggers Around the World

I have been very slow to wake up to the delights of Spanish cuisine and in particular just how perfect tapas meals are for folks like me who much prefer to graze than restrict themselves to one main dish. Tapas is for me, the ideal tasting menu, you get to choose exactly what you are going to eat and in what order, perfect!

So I finally discovered this huge culinary omission from my life during a short trip to Seville earlier this summer.  Being a small city, Seville is a easy to walk around and we went in May when it was warm but not too warm. I am now dreaming of living somewhere where orange trees just grow in the streets, whole families sit around tapas bars till late in the evening eating and drinking while their children play happily around them; it was all such a beautiful experience.

I cannot hope to recreate the warm friendly buzz of those packed tapas bars back at home but I can hope to learn how to prepare some of the food. To that end I was checking out all of the cookbook sections in the Seville book stores to see what the Spanish might be cooking from, and was particularly taken by a rather modern looking title:
As I do not know more than a few words of Spanish I am relying very heavily on translating each word as I go along, which is slow, but the recipes are quite brief. Many of the tapas dishes in this book remind me of some rather wonderful food we had at restaurant La Azotea which was mentioned in the trip report written by David Lebovitz that inspired me to go to Seville in the first place. Despite our lack of Spanish we were made to feel welcome in all of the places we went to eat, but the staff at La Azotea were particularly warm and friendly, and the food was wonderful. Within minutes of them opening it was standing room only, but somehow they kept track of everything, and everyone, and when I wasn't focusing on the excellent food I was eating, I was mesmerised watching the staff managing the chaos with charm and ease. Actually a few of the places we went were just as busy and just as slick at dealing with it; I couldn't help thinking about experiences back in the UK and wishing they were not so far removed from this.
So my first dish from my new book 'Pintxos' was a simple 'croute' of red pepper, blue cheese and toasted almonds, shown on the mixed plate above at the back.  I used Cornish Blue, a cheese which is a quite fresh and mild blue, that I much prefer to many stronger blue type cheeses. I can get this cheese quite easily in North Devon but it is also available online from the producer.

Cornish Blue Cheese
The croute is a 1cm thick slice of a multi-seed baguette. This is topped with a piece of roasted red pepper which has been marinated in olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. The blue cheese recommended is roquefort which I used the second time but really much preferred the Cornish blue. The amount of cheese allowed for each croute in the recipe is 30g but I used a little less. The cheese is sliced to sit in one piece on top of the pepper and then about 8 grams of toasted almonds are sprinkled on top of the cheese. The retained juices from marinating the peppers are then drizzled on top. The recipe used nibbed almonds but I just had pin almonds in my cupboard and was too lazy to chop them up.

The combination of sweep pepper salty tangy cheese and toasted almonds was unusual but really good.
The other tapas dish that I made for this meal was a tiny portion each of fresh pea and ham soup. I had recently picked the last peas from a small patch in my garden and found some quite mature pods in amongst the more tender ones. I put these slightly more floury peas aside and used them for this soup.
This was really very basic, just the podded peas cooked until tender in some ham stock that I had kept from cooking a ham joint earlier in the week. The peas and stock were then liquidized and sieved to obtain a perfectly smooth soup. To serve, the tiny cup of soup was garnished with some cubes of ham sizzled briefly in butter and added just before serving.  I really like soups served this way in small portions but with intense flavours.
The rest of my tapas plate was pretty much served as bought, Spanish ham, olives, ripe beefsteak tomato and good tinned tuna, prawns, and those lovely little bread sticks we were served everywhere in Seville which I managed to find in my local Marks & Spencer food section.

So I am submitting my Tapas meal to the Bloggers Around the World August food challenge where Christian has already posted up some of his own wonderful tapas dishes .