Cooking with children

Cornflake cakes

cornflake cakes

Someone once told me that when you reach 40 your musical tastes stagnate. You no longer consumer new music but rather spend the rest of your life buying records that you wish you’d bought earlier in your life.

Well this seems to have happened to me with regards to recipes. I keep cooking the same old things and seem unable to get excited by anything new. I can often be found scrolling aimlessly through recipes online admiring the pretty photos but failing to find anything that I actually want to eat. If anything they seem to curb my appetite. I find myself looking longingly at the toaster and the egg cupboard.

I am still cooking, it’s just that right now I seem to be keeping to my current repertoire a good percentage of which is now on this blog. I am definitely its biggest user and that’s really why I keep it going. My collection of courgette recipes has certainly proved useful with our current glut. I’m always on the lookout for more but just not ones involving pickled samphire, or freekeh!

Now here’s a recipe for something I definitely do want to eat. I’ve turned 40 and I may now be heading backwards, but seriously, who can resist the lure of a good old fashioned cornflake cake. Made simply with cocoa powder, butter and golden syrup.

I used to make these in the school summer holidays as a child and now I encourage my children to do the same. I’ve never actually made these from a ‘real’ recipe it was more a case of approximation in our house but I’ve now made an effort to attempt to write it down (for future generations – if anyone is still cooking by then!).

Cornflake Cakes

Makes 18 (using muffin size cases)

  • 150g butter
  • 150g golden syrup
  • 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 200g of cornflakes (any brand will do or use rice krispies if you prefer)

Take a saucepan and measure in the butter, golden syrup and cocoa powder. Heat gently until all the ingredients have melted and stir with a wooden spoon until the cocoa powder has no lumps and you have a nice smooth mixture.

In a large mixing bowl measure out the cornflakes. Pour over the chocolate mixture and stir well until every last bit of cornflake is coated in chocolate.

Take a muffin tin and line with muffin cases. Fill each case with the cornflake mixture pressing down well with the back of the spoon to compact a little.

Put in the fridge to set for at least an hour.

PS. I hope to get my experimental, forward-looking self back soon. I have been writing this blog for nearly four years now and I have a feeling I’ve been here before? My local library in Beeston has reopened with a stunning array of cookbooks which will hopefully inspire me.

Post Christmas notes

Happy New Year!

This was the Christmas present I received from my children.

postcard.jpg

This made me so happy – the promise of a delicious sounding meal is the perfect present for me. I am particularly intrigued by the ‘salted caramel light bulb’ – the idea of my 6 year old son who has obviously been watching too many reality cooking competitions.


Despite my last post (where I was very grumpy about Christmas) the festive spirit did eventually kick in and I actually ended up doing quite a bit of seasonal cooking. Mainly with my children as a way to keep them entertained during the holidays.

You will most probably not be interested in reading about these recipes now that Christmas is well and truly over. But I am just making a note of them ready for next year – because the main user of this blog is me!

Scroll down to see recipes for yule log, a gingerbread house and a chocolate salami (or just look at the photos).

Or ignore and wait for my next post which will probably feature something healthy.

Yule log

yule log.jpg

I’ve been making this for a couple of years now but for some reason haven’t posted the recipe. The cake part comes from my trusty Peyton and Byrne British Baking cookbook. The icing is Nigella’s and it is the best chocolate icing I have ever tasted. I’m not a fan of yule log but it always goes down well with the chocolate lovers in my family and makes a good Christmas Day dessert alternative for those crazy people who don’t like Christmas pudding.

For the cake

  • A tablespoon of melted butter for greasing
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 130g of caster sugar, plus 35g
  • 100g of self-raising flour, plus some for dusting
  • 25g of cocoa powder
  • A pinch of cream of tartar
  • A little icing sugar for dusting

For the icing

  • 175g of dark chocolate
  • 250g of icing sugar
  • 225g of soft butter
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 180oC.

Brush a 33cm x 23cm swiss roll tin (or shallow baking tin) with melted butter then line with baking parchment. Brush the parchment lightly all over with melted butter and then dust lightly with flour tipping out the excess.

Beat together the egg yolks and 130g of sugar until pale and creamy.

Sift together the flour and cocoa powder and fold into the egg/sugar mixture.

In a separate, scrupulously clean, glass bowl whisk the egg whites with 35g of sugar and the pinch of cream of tartar until soft peaks form.

Stir a third of the whites into the egg yolk mixture to slacken the mix, then gently fold in the remainder with a metal spoon taking care not to knock out too much air from the mix.

Pour into the prepared tin and spread out as evenly as you can with a palette knife.

Bake for 15 minutes until the cake has risen and is springy to the touch.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes.

Dust the top of the cake with icing sugar and place a layer of clingfilm on top followed by a chopping board. Tip the cake out onto the chopping board, then take the short end and roll up incorporating the clingfilm into the roll. Leave to cool completely all rolled up.

For the icing, melt the chocolate in a microwave or in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Let it cool a little.

Mix together the soft butter and icing sugar until pale in colour. Then add the melted chocolate and the vanilla essence. Beat until smooth.

Unroll the cake and spread with an even layer of icing. Then cover the outside of the log with icing and use a skewer to make log like marks.

Dust with icing sugar just before serving.

NOTE: For a less rich cake, make half the amount of icing and fill the centre of the roll with whipped cream saving the chocolate icing for just the outside.


 

Mary Berry’s Gingerbread House

gingerbread-house-1

I once made a gingerbread house from a kit. It was fun to make but inedible. The gingerbread itself was vile – stale and tasteless.

Elizabeth and I had a lot of fun making this one from scratch but it wasn’t easy. She made the gingerbread mix but I did the rolling and cutting out using this template:

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/tv/christmasbakeoff/gingerbread_house.pdf

Do follow Mary’s advice about rolling between baking parchment it makes it much easier. Also remember to trim the gingerbread after cooking using the template as a guide as it will have spread a bit. I forgot to do this but it would have been easier if I had. I had a lot of gingerbread left over which I made into biscuits. The gingerbread itself is absolutely delicious.

Next year I’m going off piste and designing my own template.

For the gingerbread

  • 375g of butter
  • 300g of dark muscovado sugar
  • 150g of golden syrup
  • 900g of plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tablespoons of ground ginger

For the icing

  • 3 egg whites
  • 675g of icing sugar, sifted
  • 3 teaspoons of lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180oC fan.

Melt the butter, sugar and syrup together in a large pan. Sieve the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger together into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the melted butter mixture, stir it in and, when cool enough to handle, knead to a stiff dough.

Divide the mixture into five equally-sized pieces, cut one of these pieces in half (so you have six pieces in total). Roll each piece out between two sheets of baking parchment until it is about ¾cm thick. Using the templates as a guide cut out all the sections and slide onto baking trays before baking.

For the pieces with windows remove from the oven after 7-8 minutes, sprinkle boiled sweets (crushed with a pestle and mortar) into the window holes and return to the oven for another 3-4 minutes until the sweets have melted.

For the other pieces (without windows) bake for 10-12 minutes.

You will need to do this in batches unless you have a very large oven and several baking trays.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes, then trim around the templates again to give clean, sharp edges. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack. You will not be able to remove the windowed pieces from the baking parchment until the windows have cooled and hardened completely.

For the icing, whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until frothy. Using a wooden spoon or a hand-held electric mixer on slow speed, add the icing sugar a tablespoonful at a time. Stir in the lemon juice and beat the icing until it is very stiff and white and stands up in peaks.

On a cake board spread a layer of icing thinly over the surface to stick the house on to and to create a snow effect.

Use the icing to glue all the pieces together and assemble the house. It is helpful to have another pair of hands but the mixture sticks and hardens very quickly so this part is not as tricky at it looks. Mary suggests using cocktail sticks to hold the roof in place but I didn’t find this necessary.

I don’t believe in being prescriptive about the decoration. Buy lots of sweets and chocolate buttons and be creative. Use a little blob of icing to glue each sweet to the gingerbread and pipe icing around the edges of the house if you want a neat look.

For younger children just smear the icing all over the surface and then let them add sweets in any way they like. Try to let go of any urge to be neat and tidy and buy extra sweets as for everyone that goes on the house another will go in the mouth.

gingerbread.jpg


 

Nigella’s Chocolate Salami

chocolate salami.jpg

This is good fun – it’s basically a chocolate biscuit fridge cake doing a very good impression of a giant meat salami. It flummoxed everyone in my family. It keeps very well in the fridge so it can be made well in advance. My husband is still ploughing through ours and will not entertain the idea of throwing it out.

  • 250g of good quality dark chocolate
  • 250g of amaretti or rich tea biscuits (I used rich tea because I do not like almond flavourings)
  • 100g of softened butter
  • 150g of caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of amaretto liqueur (I used brandy instead)
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 75g of almonds, roughly chopped
  • 75g of hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • 50g of pistachios, roughly chopped
  • Icing sugar to decorate

Melt the chocolate either in a microwave (which is what I do) or in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Set aside to cool a little.

Smash up the biscuits in a polythene bag with a rolling pin. You want a rough texture not dust.

In a mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar and add the eggs one by one. Then mix in the liqueur. Don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled.

Sift the cocoa powder into the melted chocolate and then stir the whole lot into the egg mixture.

Finally add the crushed biscuits and nuts and mix thoroughly to make sure that everything is covered with chocolate. Put in the fridge for half an hour to firm up a bit.

Now for the shaping. Lay a couple of sheets of cling film onto your work surface and tip the chocolate mixture into the middle.

Shape the mixture into a rough sausage shape (approximately 30 cm long) and then roll up with cling film and twist the ends of the clingfilm to tighten. Then put it in the fridge for to set for at least 6 hours but overnight would be better.

Dust your work surface with icing sugar. Take the salami out of the fridge and tie some string onto the twisted clingfilm of one end. Trim away as much cling film as you can but leave the two twisted ends. Dust the whole salami and your hands with icing sugar and then string up the salami – this is tricky to describe but this video is helpful. Finish by tying the twisted end with string. Roll up in tin foil or a new layer of clingfilm until you are ready to serve.

Serve fridge cold.

Peanut butter squares

peanut squares

Some of you will already be yawning because if you haven’t made Lorraine Pascal’s peanut butter squares I bet you will have eaten one made by someone else. They were quite the thing about three years ago when the TV programme and book came out. I’ve had many but it was only this week that I finally got around to making them myself  (I was at a loose end with two mardy and overheated children to cheer up).

These are good to make with kids because all young children like bashing up digestive biscuits with a rolling pin and breaking up chocolate into small pieces. But if you’re like me you’ll spend most of your time telling them off for trying to eat all the ingredients.

I’m trying to be good at the moment diet-wise, so it was torturous making such deliciously sweet, calorific delights and then trying not to eat them all up. I didn’t actually eat a whole one but I did wolf down all the crumbs left over from cutting them into squares (which probably amounted to more calories anyway). I’m not a huge fan of peanut butter but I do like digestives, Snickers bars and chocolate and so I just love these.

Lorraine Pascal’s peanut butter squares 

Makes 16

  • 150g of butter
  • 200g of good quality chocolate (dark, milk or a mixture)
  • 250g of digestive biscuits
  • 200g of soft light brown sugar
  • 300g of crunchy peanut butter (this is a staggering amount- almost a whole small jar). I only had smooth so I reduced the amount slightly and added some chopped peanuts (which are visible in the above photo).
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • A pinch of salt (my addition because I’m a salt addict)

Line a 20cm square tin with baking parchment, leaving some excess paper hanging over the edges (this makes it easier to lift out once set).

Melt the butter in a large pan over a low heat, or do this in the microwave.

Blitz the digestive biscuits and brown sugar in a blender or food processor until you have fine crumbs. Or do this in the old fashioned way with a plastic bag and a rolling pin (much more fun and less washing up).

Tip the sugar and biscuit crumbs into the melted butter. Stir in the peanut butter and vanilla extract and mix together so everything is well combined. Tip the mixture into the lined tin and press it down really hard with the back of the spoon.

Snap the chocolate into squares and throw into a small bowl. Melt in the microwave in 30 second blasts, stirring well between each addition or sit the bowl over a pan over simmering water.

Pour over the melted chocolate, tilting the tin back and forth a bit so that the whole thing is evenly covered. Pop in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up (or the fridge for an hour).

Once the chocolate is set, remove it from the freezer (or fridge). Lift it out of the tin with the help of the baking parchment. Remove the paper and then use a sharp knife to divide it into 16 squares.

NOTE: I think these are best kept in the fridge until you are ready to eat.

Caramelised brown butter rice krispie treats

brownbutterricekrispietreats

Having eaten half our body weight in pancakes, we made a family pact to give up chocolate for Lent. Not for religious reasons (we are not believers) but just for the challenge.

My six year old daughter Elizabeth still feels guilty about her failed attempt last year when she gave in just two days before Easter for a Mister Donut Chocolate French Cruller. I think she’ll stay strong this time. I’m not so sure about Eddie – he’s only four and I don’t think he’s mastered the art of will power yet.

The children’s school has just finished ‘Healthy Eating Week’ and giving up chocolate ought to fit smugly alongside this. The thing is I’ve been so bombarded with patronising Change4Life propaganda that it’s made me want to rebel and feed my kids sugar.

So I was looking through my ‘recipes to try’ bookmarks for chocolate-free, sugary snacks and these blonde rice krispie treats seemed perfect. They are super trashy with just three ingredients (two highly processed and sugary, one ultra fattening) but you do have to brown some butter which may elevate them into the realms of culinary sophistication.

Don’t expect the soft, gooey texture of the chocolate version here, these have a dry and chewy texture which I was a bit unsure about at first. So I just had to have another one to check. By the fifth I’d decided they were absolutely delicious (but I also felt a bit sick and had to skip lunch).

My children, as you can imagine, went mad for them.

Caramelised brown butter rice krispie treats

(by Julia Moskin for NYT Cooking, written in my own words and converted into grams)

Makes 30 – 50

  • 230g of salted butter, or unsalted butter plus 1/8 teaspoon of salt
  • 300g of marshmallows
  • 240g of Rice Krispies

Line a 24cm by 34cm baking tray (or one with a similar area) with baking parchment and grease with butter.

In a very large pan melt the butter over a medium heat. Then stir the butter and cook until it foams, goes clear and then turns light brown. This takes about 3 minutes and you know it’s done when it starts to smell lovely and nutty (“melting butter is the nicest smell in the whole world” declares my daughter Elizabeth, and I agree).

Now stir in the marshmallows. At first they will look like chewing gum swimming in a pool of grease (not very appetising) but keep stirring and they will eventually amalgamate. You need to cook the mixture for about 3 – 5 minutes, stirring all the time, until it turns a fudgy pale brown colour.

Remove the pan from the heat and empty in the Rice Krispies. Stir well with a silicone spatula. Scrape everything into the baking tray and use your hands to press it all down as evenly as possible.

Leave to cool (there is no need to refrigerate) and then, with a sharp knife, cut into squares or bars as neatly as you can.

no chocolate rice krispie treats with kids

MAD FOR IT!