Thursday, 19 June 2014

{RECIPE}: The Best Brownies, Like Ever.


First, lets talk brownies. You may remember a post from a few months ago where I mentioned that B word is not allowed in my house. I'm sure every food blogger has their achilles heel, that one dish they can't master or hate to attempt, and for me it's brownies (and cheesecake, but that's another story). For years I've tried to master the perfect brownies, but they've always turned out overbaked, or way underbaked, or in the case of a very bad batch of blueberry blondies, smell funky and verge on inedible. At least the pigeons outside my house always eat well; the neighbours are starting to complain.

For several weeks now I have been making and taste-testing batches of brownies. I know, my life is so hard. After eating several bad batches (yeah, I didn't think I could make it a thing either), the moment I realised I had created a batch of good brownies called for fists in the air, and some pretty embarassing dad-dancing, from me. I made them again just to be sure, and yep, not only are these good, but I can without a doubt claim them to be the best damn brownies I have tasted. Like, ever. Forget the bad brownies I've created, because sure in comparison any good brownies will taste good, but I've also eaten a lot of other good brownies that I've loved that aren't mine ... and mine are better. They're the best. There, I said it and I'm not taking it back. I'm not even going to pretend to be humble right now.

If you love your brownies gooey and fudgey and don't mind licking your fingers afterwards (because that's the right way to eat them) then these are perfect for you. If you prefer your brownies cakey (err, why?) then you should give these a go anyway because I can guarantee they'll change your mind.

You guys, hard work and effort tastes so damn good. Lucky for you though, I've done all the work and the recipe is real simple. I feel selfish keeping these to myself, like as if I've just discovered the secret to eternal happiness, or something. Except these brownies really do make me happy and I want to tell the whole world: Here, be happy, too. :)

Hard work and effort also feels really good, and I'm not just talking about these brownies (although every mouthful really does feel like a hug), I'm talking about my exam results. If you follow me on any social media then you probably know by now I'll be graduating with a First-Class Honours! Yay! I am so so proud of myself and all my friends - hey, we've worked hard and we deserve it. While I myself still have no intentions of going into medicine (sorry, Mum and Dad), it'll be pretty cool to have so many Doctor friends. As long as they don't look in my fridge; I think my diet scares them.

I realise things have slowed down a little on the blog and I hope these brownies make up for the silence and keep you going for a few weeks. I'm still in the process of re-branding the site with a comletely new name and design. I've been working 'behind the scenes' for the past few weeks to get it all ready, and I've completely underestimated how much I have left to do. I have tons of new recipes lined up to share with you all, I just need my platform up again!

So why am I re-branding? Let's go back to the brownies thing. I made bad brownies, yuck, and then I worked and worked to improve the recipe and have made, in my opinion, the most amazing (just ask my hips) brownies in the world. Score! A few months ago I wrote a post telling you I was struggling with the workload at university and gotten an F in an assignment. And then I worked and worked, drank an insane amount of coffee and became billy-no-mates for a little while, and now I'm graduating with a first. Score again! (Excuse the world cup brain). Anyway, the moral? Work hard, never give up, and try your best. And if at first you don't succeed, then try and try and try again. Yeah, all that kind of good cheesy stuff. Hey, this is a food blog, lots of cheese is never a bad thing.

Well, that's why I've decided to re-brand the blog, despite a lot of objections from my friends and family. I want to try again. There are a lot of things I wish I would have done differently with this blog, a lot of things I'm still unclear and unsure about and things I know nothing about. I need direction (a lot of it), and who says it's too late to start over? It's never too late! Yes I'm starting again. No, it's not the smartest decision. But yes I'm going to do it anyway. It feels right for me, and I hope you'll welcome the changes and love them as much as I do.

I showed my sister the new name and she hates it. But I don't care, I love it (okay, I care a little). My friends have warned me I'll be losing a lot of traffic, and starting from scratch essentially means the past 2 years on this blog will have amounted to nothing. Well, not necessarily. I think I've learned a lot about blogging over the 2 years, but if there's anything the re-brand has taught me is that I've still go a long way to go and a lot to learn. I have several other reasons for re-branding (which I'll share in a later post, soon) but one reason is because I want to be a better blogger. I want to take my blog to the 'next level', and considering I've just accepted, and will have to juggle, a new post-grad placement with a 2 hours commute each way, I know it won't be easy. (Spoiler alert: postgrads eat just as much Ramen and bleed coffee, too). It's a good thing I'm not afraid of hard work - time to roll my sleeves up and get my hands dirty in cake and coding.

The re-brand is a risk, which is why I'm taking things slow and taking the time to try to educate myself first so I can do things right. I'm super excited though! But, only time will tell whether I made the right decision. Let's make some brownies while we wait, okay?

The Best Brownies. Like, Ever.

THE RECIPE: Preheat oven 170C/325F/ Gas mark 3. Grease and line a 9x9 baking dish. Makes 9 squares.

INGREDIENTS:
190g butter
190g dark choc
4 eggs
280g golden caster sugar
90g self raising flour
45g cocoa
100g milk choc, roughly chopped
Optional: sprinkle of icing sugar

METHOD:
1. Bring water in a pan to a boil and then turn down the heat to let it simmer. Place the butter and dark chocolate in a heat proof bowl over the pan and let them melt. Once melted, stir to combine and then leave to cool to room temperature.

2. In a seperate bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs. Pour in the melted butter and chocolate mixture and combine. In a seperate bowl, sift together the flour and cocoa powder and then sift this into the egg mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips.

3. Pour the mixture into a greased and lined 9x9 baking dish and place in the oven for 45-50 minutes. Once baked, leave in the dish until completely cooled. Remove from the dish and cut into squares. Optional: dust with icing sugar.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

{RECIPE}: Banana Bread



I haven't posted at all in the last two weeks (if you've missed me then I think you should come say Hi on my social networks!) and I have two reasons for that. One) The end of school means I now have an insane amount of free time to finally do all the things I haven't had the time for. In the last couple of weeks I've read, watched movies, eaten out almost everday, gone shopping, caught up with people I haven't seen in years, confirmed my post-grad choice, attended a sleepover, booked my first holiday in 10 years, and helped organise, baked for, and enjoyed my cousins engagement party yesterday. Life has been crazy busy and I've been loving every second of it, but unfortunately it didn't leave me with much time to check in on here.

I've hinted for a few months now of changes I wanted to make to the blog. Over time those ideas have morfed from just a few tweaks here and there to a complete new look and re-brand. I want to change everything and start from scratch. It will still be a food blog and I already have a new name for it, but I've been advised by a number of people to not go ahead with it - I've worked on this blog for over 2 years now and have slowly shaped it into something real that not only I enjoy, but others too. My traffic will suffer the most, but honestly? It was never about that in the first place. I'm more worried about losing the few readers who I've built strong relationships with. I won't go into any details just yet, there's still a lot left to figure out and I want to make the transition with as little disruption as possible and hope it won't be too much bother for people to make themselves at home in my new site when its finally up. I'm so excited for the changes and hope you like what I have planned! 

But that bring me to reason two. Considering this site won't be up for much longer, I'm trying to invest more time in setting up the new one. So until the transition is made you may not find me here as often. I'll still be posting here for the next few months at least (I want to take things slow because a) I'm not so good at all the techy/coding stuff and am having to wiki everything and b) that crazy schedule I mentioned earlier). So if things get a bit quiet around here then feel free to visit the archives or get chatty on any of my social networks. See you there! 

Anyway. Banana bread. When it comes to my food, or even just life in general I suppose, I'm really not into anything all that fancy. Banana bread is hands down my favourite cake, but I rarely get the opportunity to make it because the bananas in my house rarely last long enough. I even had to hide a couple from the rest of my family (and myself) to get the chance to make this. In terms of food essentials that always make it onto the shopping list, bananas come way before milk and eggs (but after bread and butter because as you all know I live on toast).

By now my family have learned when I pull something out of the oven it'll still be a few hours before they're allowed to enjoy it. I still have to let it cool, decorate and photograph and only then does it become theirs. So when I pulled out the banana bread, let it cool just enough to handle and then began slicing it almost immediately, it left my family a little confused. They were pleased they wouldn't have to wait, but disappointed by how 'boring' it looked. But it wasn't long till they were convinced the taste and texture more than made up for its understated appearance.





Banana Bread

THE RECIPE: Preheat oven 170C/325F/Gas mark 3. Makes a 9lb loaf.

INGREDIENTS:
255g soft brown sugar
2 eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed
270g flour
1tsp bp
1 tsp bs
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
130g butter, melted



METHOD:
1. Whisk together the sugar and eggs, and then fold in the mashed bananas.

2. In a seperate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and ginger. Add this to the egg mixture and carefully fold the mixtures together.

3. Melt the butter and leave to cool. Onced cooled, add the butter to the mixture and carefully fold it in.

4. Pour into a greased and lined 9lb loaf tin and bake for approx. 1 hour. Once baked, allow to cool in the tin until cool enough to handle. Turn it out and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack. Can be enjoyed both warm and cold.


Saturday, 24 May 2014

{RECIPE}: Apricot, Coconut and White Chocolate Chip Cookies



I awoke at 8am today, and considering I've been waking up at 5am for the past 2 months, those extra 3 hours made for a seriously good lie-in. I had my last exam yesterday (woop!) and planned to do absolutely nothing today but sleep and read a non-school related book and maybe bake a dozen cookies, or two. But, instead I found myself on my hands and knees, hair tied in a bun, and sleeves rolled up, because it's just so hard to relax when you've got stacks of scientific articles and lecture handouts EVERYWHERE, you know? I can finally see the wood of my desk and the floor of my room.

The only things saved from the bin bags were my textbooks of course. I can't use library books because some people are idiots and don't know how to look after them - they draw and colour on them, tag their names (no one cares you 'were here'), fold the corners, and leave them smelling weird. So instead I buy my all mine, and while they've served me well for the past 3 years, I have no need for them anymore. Do you know how much university textbooks cost? Like, a lot. And mine are all in perfect condition, so hey, if you're after a 5th Edition Alberts et al. Molecular Biology of the Cell, or an unopened copy of Medical Microbiology, then I'm your girl.

My room wasn't the only thing in need of a good clean - I think it's fairly safe to say I've really let myself go this past month. Too much junk food and not enough sleep or working out, and I may have forgotten to shower on occassion. I found a chocolate stain on my elbow one time. And, hey, it's not just me - I think on average more than 63% of my classmates showed up improperly dressed and/or without make up for the first time. Not that anyone cared.

I created these cookies sometime in January for friend and fellow blogger, Federica, who had sent me a dozen of her own cookies during The Gread Food Blooger Cookie Swap. I had saved myself a couple, but the majority of cookies went to Federica. I didn't have the time to bake today, but this was the recipe I was planning to use. I'm not so crazy about white chocolate, but I love dried fruit and am always snacking on them, and the chocolate together with the dried apricots and coconut was definitely a winning combo for me.

I would love to try a recipe with fresh apricots though. We have an apricot tree in our back garden which a couple of years ago grew the most incredible apricots. I can't even describe them, you have to have had tried them yourself to truly understand just how great they tasted. Some of the branches of the tree hang over the fence, and soon word got out about our magical apricot tree and there were numerous occassions where people (complete strangers even) would let themselves into our front garden and lean against the side of the back garden fence to help themselves to a few fruits. I'm pretty sure that's stealing. The net curtains mean you can't see me, but I can definitely see you. We were more than happy to share them though because there were more than we could eat ourselves, and we often invited people to stop leaning on our fence and use the front door instead. It's okay, we have nice neighbours. Sadly the tree hasn't done so well in the last couple of years, but the second it does I'll be saving a few and sending strangers home with not just a bag of apricots but maybe an apricot cake, or a tart, too. 




Apricot, Coconut & White Chocolate Chip Cookies

THE RECIPE: Makes 12 large cookies/ 18 regular cookies. Preheat oven 170C/325F/Gas mark 3.

INGREDIENTS:
210g unsalted butter
330g light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla essence
390g all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp bicarbonate soda
100g white chocolate, roughly chopped
100g dried apricots, roughly chopped
75g dessicated coconut


METHOD:
1. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and and vanilla essence and mix well.
2. In a seperate bowl, sift together the flour, salt and bicarbonate soda. Add this to the egg mixture and combine well. Fold in the apricots, white chocolate and coconut.

3. Roll the dough into balls (approx. 2 tablespoons per cookie) and place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper - be sure to space them out as they become quite large once baked!). Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

4. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the tray before transferring to a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

{RECIPE}: Sweet Potato and Red Onion Salad with Baby Spinach and Peanuts




I'm going to have to keep it short today, but I wanted to quickly drop by to say Hi and also to tell you I made a salad a couple of nights ago. Obviously I was starting to feel guilty about eating ice cream for my first breakfast for an entire week. Notice how I said first breakfast. Because when you wake up at 5am (actually 6am now - I've been slacking), then you're likely to have a second breakfast at 9am. And be ready to have lunch by 10.30am, if you're me.

Also, I finally went and got myself a free-standing mixer! It's no Kitchen Aid, but it'll do the trick. But I've still got one more exam left so I'm trying really hard to resist playing with it. I haven't baked anything in weeks and I'm pretty sure the migraine I suffered earlier this week is some kind of withdrawal symptom. There's no other explanation. I can't wait for next weekend - I'm looking forward to licking clean that 5.2 litre bowl, but until then it sits on my kitchen counter, teasing me. My little handheld has served me well, but this shiny new toy is bigger and better.

I have less than a week to go until I'm at that weird in-between place of no longer being an undergrad, not really, but not quite a graduate either. Not yet. I ordered my cap and gown earlier this week and suddenly it all felt ten times more real. Well actually it began feeling real when I sat my first exam, and with my final (ever, ever, EVER!) exam looming into view it feels *more* real. Gah. I'm getting ahead of myself, I still have twenty odd lectures to work through and 3 essays to write till I'm officially done, so all the soppy emotional stuff will have to wait. Hey, stop trying to make me cry.

Anyway, that salad I mentioned. I'm pretty good when it comes to getting my five-a-day of fruit (just ask my Instagram), but not so good when it comes to my greens. I'm not a fan of spinach, and I'm kind of surprised I never included it in this list. But, if there's one vegetable I absolutely love, it's sweet potato. I think maybe the 'sweet' part confuses my brain. But I decided to chuck in a handful of baby spinach too, because like I said I'm guilty of working my way through several boxes of Nobbly Bobbly icecream lollys, and I kind of needed to make it up to my body. Throw in some red onion, a handful of peanuts and drown it an olive oil and honey dressing and you've got a beautiful salad. It's packed full of flavours and textures, and I love the colours. I enjoyed it so much I'm actually going to make it again tonight. And then maybe have a Nobbly Bobbly for dessert.



Sweet Potato and Red Onion Salad with Baby Spinach and Peanuts

THE RECIPE: Preheat oven 190C/375F/Gas mark 5. Serves 2 as a main dish/ 4 as a side salad.

INGREDIENTS:
2 sweet potatos
2 red onions
A handful of baby spinach
A handful of peanuts
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey
Salt and pepper to season

METHOD:
1. Slice the potatos and onions into thin rounds, coat generously with olive oil and season. Place in the oven for 30 - 40 minutes.

2. Place a generous handful of baby spinach onto the plate. Top with the baked sweet potato and red onions. Mix together the olive oil and honey, and drizzle over the top. Sprinkle with a handful of peanuts and season with salt and pepper, as desired.



Sunday, 11 May 2014

{GUEST POST}: Free From Foods Doesn't Equal Tasteless Foods + Elderflower and Poppyseed Cake

Four exams down, and just three more to go. I promise you'll like me a lot better when I'm not so stressy anymore. I miss you guys. I'm still AFK so here's Ria to keep you company. I'll see you all again very soon!

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Hi, I'm Ria from Ria's Rosy Lee Tearoom, and I'd like to thank Nazia for inviting me to be her guest blogger this month.

Following on from previous posts discussing reduced sugar it made me think about other free from options and how to meet them.  There are often reports on the amount of people selecting foods that are free from increasing, through either health needs or as a lifestyle choice.  I certainly have seen in my tearoom more of a demand for free from foods, and as such through trial and error have become used to accommodating these requests.  So to help you all in the blogosphere I'd like to share the tips and tricks I've learnt along the way!

Dairy Free - This I found the easiest as it's a diet I have to follow personally, and it means almost everything in the tearoom is also dairy free.  Generally it's just a straight swap, so all milk and butter is replaced with soya milk and margarine - N.B. soya milk is better than rice milk when baking as it has a thicker consistency.  This has the added benefit of making cakes more moist than using butter.  

The downfalls though are a soya 'buttercream' will separate quickly at room temperature, and soya milk is still not as thick as whole milk so does not hold as well in some recipes such as a creme patissiere.

Gluten Free - The first gluten free cakes I made were polenta based, which need to have ground almonds added to ensure the texture is  not too coarse.  Polenta can also be quite dry so soaking the cooked cake in a syrup helps it become moist.

As many gluten free customers would say, they are fed up with only having a lemon cake option, I pushed myself to experiment more.  I've found in most cases a straight swap to a gluten free flour in recipes suffice as long as there is something to bind the ingredients.  Many a cake fell apart in the early days until I realised adding dried fruit, bananas, poppy seeds, or marmalade helps the cake hold its form.  The elderflower and poppy seed cake recipe below works well, and has been popular.

Diabetic - Eliminating sugar completely in cakes is difficult as all forms of sugar will cause a peak in the blood whether it's natural, refined, or unrefined.  Choosing sugar that results in less dramatic peaks and is slowly released into the bloodstream is a start.  Anything classed as low GI (Glycaemic Index) is best for this, so whenever I make a diabetic cake where possible I use wholemeal flour and agave nectar as a sugar substitute as both are low in GI.

Vegan - This I have found most challenging.  Although by baking dairy free and using the aforementioned agave nectar instead of honey makes cakes about 75% vegan, cooking without eggs is difficult.  There are egg powder replacements but you never get the same height and texture to the cakes.  I've attempted vegan brownies but they can be quite dry and claggy.  So for now I'll have to keep perserving with vegan cakes until perfected!




Elderflower and Poppyseed Cake

THE RECIPE: Preheat oven 170C/325F/Gas mark 3. 

INGREDIENTS:
For the cake
165g soya margarine
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
50g poppyseeds
Zest of a lemon
1 tbsp elderflower cordial 
1 tbsp orange blossom water
200g gluten free self raising flower
Approx. 40ml soya milk

For the icing
125g icing sugar
3-4 tbsp elderflower cordial 

METHOD:
1. Preheat oven to 170C/Gas mark 3.  Butter and line a 1lb loaf tin.

2. Soften the margarine before adding the sugar and creaming together. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. 

3. Add the poppyseeds, lemon zest, elderflower cordial, and orange blossom water and beat. 

4. Gently fold in the self raising flour. Add the milk a bit at a time, stirring until the mixture is smooth and well combined with no streaks. You may not need to use all the milk to achieve this. 

5. Spoon into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for approx. 45 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean. 

6. Leave cake to cool on a wire rack. Once cooled, mix together the icing sugar and remaining cordial to form a thick but spreadable paste. Spoon over the top and allow to set. Keeps well in an airtight tin for 3-5 days. 

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Ria Chambers is the owner of Ria's Rosy Lee Tearoom, a vintage tearoom in Wellingborough, Northants. The tearoom opened in July 2013 as Ria was fed up with the ever increasing coffee shops who did not know how to serve tea. Prior to that, Ria had spent 10 years in child and health care, but has always baked personally. She has combined these interests and knowledge of nutrition in the tearoom, where she bakes all the cakes on offer using recipe books she had inherited and local historic recipes which have been adapted for modern tastes. Ria also ensures she can accommodate dietary needs where possible. 


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