Thursday, 27 November 2014

Date & Sesame Cookie Bites

Last night I went down to Bristol for a literary salon, which was organised as a fringe event to the Bristol Women's Literature Festival which will be happening in March.

I didn't really know what to expect, having never been to such a thing before. I went with a friend for mutual moral support, without which probably neither of us would have been brave enough to get through the door, but once we arrived it was lovely: the group was fairly small, the atmosphere was friendly, and we enjoyed varied and engaging discussions. We both agreed that we'd definitely go again, even though it is a bit of a trek to get down there.

Everyone was invited to bring a piece to read - be it poetry, essay, or fiction - and we went around the circle taking turns.

I'd been planning to read a passage by Jo Walton for my turn, but then one of the conversations around an earlier reading got on to the subject of defaults in language, at which point I completely changed my mind. I just had to select a passage from Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice, which does some very interesting things with pronouns (I won't go into detail here, but I reviewed it last week over at Strange Charm, if you're interested).

Aside from my extract from a sci-fi novel, we also had poetry, travelogue, art criticism, and historical fiction. All the pieces were very different, and certainly included some authors I'd be interested to read more of.

And I took a box of cookies, which probably didn't do any harm.

Date & Sesame Cookies

It's almost Christmas (shh, I know, but it's true! Less than a month!) and that means cookies will soon be coming out of your ears. I designed this recipe with a seasonal snack table in mind - they're bite sized (so you can try a few different things without feeling guilty) and not too terribly sweet.

Date & Sesame Cookies

Date & Sesame Cookie Bites
Makes approx. 55 mini cookies

3 cups (500g) plain white flour
⅔ cup (180g) white granulated sugar
1 cup (170g) dark molasses sugar
1tsp baking powder
1tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
250g (2¼ American sticks) butter
1 cup (170g) date pieces
6tbsp sesame seeds
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.
  2. Melt the butter (I just zap it for a minute in the microwave) and allow to cool to room temperature.
  3. Mix the flour, sugars, and baking powder in a large bowl (breaking up any larger lumps of sugar).
  4. Add the melted butter, vanilla extract, and eggs. Stir and knead until all combined into a thick dough.
  5. Add the dates and sesame seeds, and knead into the dough until evenly distributed.
  6. Form into small balls, each about the size of a walnut. 
  7. Arrange the balls on a greased baking sheet, and press gently to flatten. Make sure to leave enough space around each cookie, as they will spread to approximately double the size as they cook.
  8. Bake for 8-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Sugar Hats and Feuerzangenbowle (German Mulled Wine)

I was in Darmstadt for a conference, last year, when a friend asked me to take advantage of being in Germany and go shopping on his behalf. Of course, I was happy to agree -- and beyond intrigued when I found out what it was that he wanted.

Sugar hats.

Have you ever heard of a sugar hat? I hadn't. Zuckerhuts are apparently popular in Germany; they're small cones of sugar (like a miniature sugar loaf) that are used in the making of mulled wine.

German mulled wine

I had to visit every supermarket in Darmstadt before I eventually found one place that stocked the supposedly-ubiquitous sugar hats... but then, it was summer, and this is really a festive drink designed to warm you up on cold winter nights.

When Waitrose got in touch to ask if I felt like blogging about mulled wine from around the world, using some wine from the Waitrose Cellar, I remembered that I'd also bought an extra sugar hat for myself. I hadn't got around to using it last Christmas, so I dug it out of the pantry and had a go.

My friend has a whole contraption that he sets up to hold his sugar hat in place and keep the equipment stable, but I had to improvise with a regular kitchen slice balanced on top of the pan.

If you're not passing through Germany yourself, you could get a similar effect by dissolving sugar and rum in the wine, but you'd probably want to reduce the amount of spirits if you weren't burning off most of the alcohol!


Feuerzangenbowle (German Mulled Wine)
For 2 bottles

1 orange
1 lemon
2 bottles red wine (I used Karl H. Johner Pinot Noir)
1 cinnamon stick
6 cloves
1 sugar hat
½cup rum
  1. Zest and juice the orange and lemon.
  2. Gently warm the wine in a large pan, along with the orange and lemon juice, zest, and spices.
  3. Ensure the sugar hat is at room temperature.
  4. Warm the rum, just gently, so that it will burn easily.
  5. Pour enough rum over the sugar hat to saturate it, and light with a match.
  6. Add more rum as required, until the sugar has all dissolved and melted into the wine.
  7. Stir and (optionally) strain before serving.
German mulled wine

German mulled wine

German mulled wine

Monday, 10 November 2014

Old-Fashioned Ginger Cookies (Secret Recipe Club)

My Secret Recipe Club assignment for November was to make a recipe from Loy, who blogs at From Grandma Loy's Kitchen.

I've actually been assigned to cook from this blog once before, back in May, when I made these peanut butter & jam streusel bars. They were such a hit that I knew it wouldn't be a hardship to bake more from her blog, although I did have some trouble narrowing down my choices.

In the end, I picked these old-fashioned ginger strips, a cookie recipe designed to be sliced after baking. I actually made some as individual cookies, too, just to see how that worked out - unsurprisingly they cook slightly quicker that way, which might sometimes be helpful.

These are slightly soft cookies, not hard like the ginger snaps I'd imagined they might resemble. The original recipe has a glaze, but I skipped that part.

I doubled the ginger from the original, so if you like a slightly less spicy cookie, you could cut it down again, but it's not overpowering. I also wasn't quite sure what kind of molasses to use: in the end I went for thick black treacle, which seemed to work fine.

Ginger Cookies
Makes approx. 48 cookies

180g (¾cup) butter, softened
230g (1 cup) white sugar
1 egg
4tbsp (¼cup) molasses
410g (2½cups) plain flour
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
½tsp salt
1tsp ground ginger
½tsp ground cinnamon
½tsp ground cloves
  1. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and line three baking trays with parchment.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl.
  3. Add the egg and molasses, and combine thoroughly.
  4. Add the flour, bicarb, salt, and spices, and fold in gently, kneading until no dry patches remain.
  5. Divide the dough into six roughly equal portions, and roll each into an even sausage shape.
  6. To make large cookies (for slicing): flatten each sausage to about 1cm thick, and arrange two to a baking tray, leaving plenty of space for them to spread during cooking. 
  7. To make small cookies: cut each sausage into eight pieces, roll each piece into a ball, and flatten between your fingers before arranging on the baking tray.
  8. Cook for 12-15 minutes (large) or 10 minutes (small).
  9. Remove from the tray using a metal slice, and cool on a wire rack.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Pasta Please October Round-Up

The theme for October's Pasta Please challenge was fusion: any pairing of pasta with something other than the traditional Italian sauces was fair game. I had a feeling this was going to be a good theme, and I love the fact that the results are all so completely distinct -- no two dishes even came from the same part of the world.

Don't forget to check out the November edition, hosted by Cate of Cate's Cates, who's challenging us all to make our own homemade pasta. Since there's almost nothing nicer than absolutely fresh pasta, I'm really looking forwards to this one.

Now, on to the October round-up.

Our first entry was by Corina at Searching for Spice. She made this simple but delicious roasted vegetable and harissa pasta. I love middle eastern flavours, and the idea of using harissa a bit like pesto is intriguing (although based on my first experiment with harissa, I'd be very wary about adding a tiny spoonful at a time!). I bet the pine nuts really set off the flavour, too.

Pasta Please founder Jac gave us this conchiglioni pasta salad with sautéed mushrooms, which looks delightfully summery - possibly one for the picnic hamper? Since I've been taking advantage of the unseasonally warm autumn weather to eat outdoors whenever I can, I might even be able to manage that this year.

Helen from Family Friends Food gives us an Asian broth: broccoli mushroom soup with noodles & coconut. In contrast to the cool freshness of Jac's salad, this looks like a warming bowl to wrap your fingers around on a cooler evening. Preferably while curled up in front of an open fire, but maybe that's just me. Either way, it looks like a winner.

I absolutely adore mushroom stroganoff, so the idea of using it as a pasta sauce had instant appeal for me. This soba mushroom stroganoff from Janet at The Taste Space looks not just delicious but incredibly healthy, too (it's even suitable for vegans).

I'd never heard of fideua before I saw this vegetable fideua from The Lawyer's Cookbook. Although she claims it isn't an authentic recreation, it looks ever so tasty, which is the only thing that really matters! Another good choice for winter nights, I reckon.

And finally, Johanna from Green Gourmet Giraffe produced this beautiful gnocchi with Mexican corn. I love gnocchi, and Mexican is one of my favourite cuisines, so I'd definitely enjoy this bowlful. The salad leaves add a nice touch, too, making the whole dish look incredibly vibrant.

Thanks to everyone for taking part - I hope you have time to check out all these delicious recipes, and maybe make something yourself for the November challenge.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Quorn, Pepper & Mushroom Stir-Fry

Quorn & Corn Stir Fry with Rice

As an almost-lifelong veggie, I've never learnt to cook meat. I don't use meat substitutes much, either, probably because I don't have that base to build on. The other day I found myself looking at recipe ideas from @quornfoods on twitter, and ended up inspired to try this vegetarian chicken & rice stir fry from their website.

I couldn't find the Quorn fajita strips that the recipe recommends, so I used chicken-style chunks instead, which look less striking but still tasted good. I also added some mushrooms (because I love them) and dropped the beans (because I was adding mushrooms). It seems I'm chronically incapable of following a recipe without adaptations.

The original recipe claims to serve 4, so I was going to halve it, but when I laid out the ingredients it looked a bit sparse. I got two generous meals out of these quantities, but perhaps I'm just greedy.

I often serve rice with stir-fried vegetables, but this was my first attempt at stirring the rice into the veg before serving. To be honest, I'm not sure I'd do it that way again - this isn't the most visually appealing of dishes, and serving the rice on the side would give a bit of contrast on the plate.

Still, it might not be beautiful, but it was tasty.

Quorn, Pepper & Mushroom Stir-Fry
Serves 2-3

1 large onion
1 red pepper
150g mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
2tbsp olive oil
200g Quorn chicken-style pieces
200g sweetcorn
50g coconut cream
2tbsp tomato puree
½tsp Spanish paprika
black pepper to taste
100g brown basmati rice (250g cooked weight)
  1. Chop the onion and pepper into thin strips, and slice the mushrooms. Crush the garlic.
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, and fry the Quorn for 5-10 minutes, until golden brown.
  3. Add the vegetables, sweetcorn, and garlic, and continue frying for a few more minutes until the vegetables soften.
  4. Dissolve the coconut cream and tomato puree in 2tbsp boiling water, to make a thick paste.
  5. Add the paste to the stir-fry and season with paprika and pepper.
  6. Cook the rice according to the packet instructions, drain, and stir through at the last minute (or serve on the side).

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