Guilt Free Cookies

Do you ever get those moments, when nothing but a biscuit and a cuppa will do? But oh what about the bingo wings and the ‘moment on the lips, lifetime on the hips’? Well, with these little gems, you can have your cake and eat it – or at least your biscuit!

As an avid cook I do like to try out different recipes, just ask my family, they’ll struggle to think of a meal that we’ve had twice in the last year. But they do have their favourite biscuits, peanut butter being one of them (which I’ve posted on here a while back). So I thought it was time for a change.

I love baking rich, indulgent cookies, but my husband has recently been complaining on his expanding waist line. So in order to satisfy his desire for a sweet snack, yet ensuring the button doesn’t fly off his trousers, I made three treats whose recipes are courtesy of the Weight Watchers.

Caramel Cookies
Makes 60

Ingredients

120g butter softened
140g light brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
120g plain flour
120g wholemeal flour
½ tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 200° (fan 180°) and set aside two non stick baking trays. In a large bowl cream together the butter, sugar, egg and vanilla extract. Add the remaining ingredients and beat thoroughly, ideally using an electric mixer. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and roll into a log (or two) approximately 4 cm wide. Wrap tightly in cling film and refrigerate for at least 60 minutes. Cut the dough into 3mm slices and arrange on a baking tray. Bake for 10 minutes until lightly brown. Allow to cool slightly before transferring onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 24

Ingredients

25g butter softened
2 tbs vegetable oil
100g light brown or muscovado sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 pinch of salt
1 egg
100g plain flour
¼ tsp baking powder
75g chocolate chips or broken chocolate – plain, milk or dark

Preheat the oven to 190° (fan 170°) and set aside two non stick baking trays. In a large bowl cream together the butter, oil and sugar until light in texture and paler in colour. Add the vanilla extract, salt and egg and beat well until creamy. Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in the chocolate chips. Drop spoonfuls of the cookie mix onto non stick baking trays and bake for 5 – 8 minutes until golden and spread out. Allow to cool slightly before transferring onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Choc-Peanut Frozen Cookies

Makes 16

Ingredients

60ml skimmed milk
4 tsp heaped, cocoa powder
25 g caster sugar
50g peanut butter
125g oats
2 tbs vegetable oil

In a small pan heat together the milk, cocoa powder and sugar until the cocoa powder and sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and remove the pan from the heat. Add the peanut butter and stir until it has dissolved. Mix in the oats and the oil. Divide the mixture into 16 balls and place on a large tray. Freeze for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

I was actually expecting them to be half the size of ‘normal’ cookies, but no, they were just as big and smelt delicious as they were cooking. The trouble was, they were a bit too moreish, which meant double the amount were eaten! Oh well, looks like I’ll be getting the needle and thread out to reinforce the trouser buttons after all!

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Restaurant Review – Brasserie Blanc, Chichester

Once again, my wonderful mother-in-law invited my husband and I out for lunch, this time to celebrate my husbands birthday (how lucky am I to have a mother-in-law who loves eating out?!). She had recently eaten at Brasserie Blanc in Chichester with friends, and was keen for us to try it.

Since opening its doors in Chichester nearly a year ago, I have heard mixed reviews, not in relation to the food, but to the service and portion size, so it was with interest that we embarked on a taste of France in the centre of Chichester.

We were offered a choice of two menus, the Dine with Wine and the lunch menu. The Dine and Wine is a special offer choice of a 2 course meal for £11 or 3 courses for £13.45, and a glass of wine starting from £1.75 depending on the option of wine you decide upon. My mother-in-law decided on the Dine and Wine and my husband and I chose from the standard lunch menu.

The choices available would satisfy every palate and making the decision of what to have for a starter had me tossing a coin in my head; smoked mackerel or grilled squid, smoked mackerel or grilled squid….the squid won. As luck would have it my husband chose the mackerel so I was able to sample it anyway! The third starter we opted for was goats cheese salad. The starters were delivered in good time and were all delicious. The grilled squid and courgette with a parmesan and rouquette salad was bursting with flavour and delicately dressed with sweet balsamic and I couldn’t fault the dish.

For mains we decided upon Pork Belly on summer vegetables, liver (served medium rare) and sage mash with buttered cabbage and I chose North Sea cod on salted cod and a tomato sauce. Again we were not disappointed in our decisions. If I had one criticism with my meal, and was being really picky, the skin on my cod was not as crisp as I would have liked it and there was a lot of oil, which I’m assuming was from the salt cod, which made it incredibly rich and I was unable to finish all of it – which is unlike me! But they were personal preferences and if it had detracted from my meal I would have sent it back, however I didn’t and the food was of a high standard that you would expect from a restaurant of this calibre. The cod was cooked to perfection (barring the skin) and the sweetness of the tomato sauce complimented the flavour of the salt cod perfectly.

My husband’s liver dish was cooked to perfection, blushing pink with a creamy sage mash, and my mother-in-law was delighted that the slow cooked pork belly came with ultra crispy crackling, an all time favourite.

We did come to the conclusion though by espying other patrons dishes, that when choosing from the Dine and Wine menu, the portion sizes appeared to be somewhat smaller than dishes from the regular menu. Maybe this was where the complaints had come from as the two options from the main menu were more than satisfactory in size. So much so in fact, we declined the offer of dessert and went straight to the coffee.

As for the staff, I have to say that we received impeccable service from the moment we entered the restaurant to the moment we left. Our waiter was polite and personable with the right level of attentiveness. The plates were cleared quickly, the wobbly table leg was resolved as soon as it was brought to their attention, and the servers that we spoke to throughout our visit were all professional.

The restaurant itself provides a relaxed atmosphere, with décor to match – ironically in the same colours as my kitchen. In the centre of the restaurant is a display of enticing produce to purchase, including oils and vinegars, being two of my many weaknesses, however I did manage to resist getting the credit card out, probably as my husband was keeping on eye on me. Although the restaurant was full to bursting, we never felt overcrowded or had to raise our voices to be heard and due to the clever table planning, romantic couples would still be able to enjoy an intimate meal even with all the hustle and bustle going on around them.

The Dine and Wine menu is exceptional value for money and ideal for an impromptu get together with friends or a light lunch. The Summer Lunch Menu, although noticeably more expensive, is worth the money in my opinion. But it’s not just the food that your hard earned money is being spent on here, it’s the ambience and experience, which I felt was worth every penny – or every penny of my mother-in-law’s anyway!

Star rating: 9 out of 10

Restaurant Review – The Lamb Inn, West Wittering

My wonderful Mother-in-law called the other day to invite my husband and I out for Sunday lunch. Being a foodie I of course jumped at the chance of consuming the culinary delights of another local establishment. We have a small selection of pubs and restaurants in our local area and I am endeavouring to work my way through all of them, which is proving to be an interesting and mixed experience.

The Lamb is a quaint pub situated on the main road running to West Wittering, so is an ideal location for attracting passing traffic. The car park is frequently full during the summer months, with holiday makers and day trippers stopping off before heading to or from the beach, and the pub offers various meal deals throughout the year to keep the locals coming back. Having eaten there only once in the last 5 years, with that only being a quick bar snack to fuel ourselves on our bike ride, I was looking forward to sampling their Sunday lunch menu.

On arriving we went to the bar and asked for a table, with only one being left inside (booking during the summer months is recommended), this all looked promising. If a pub is empty at the weekend during the tourist season, I’d be rather concerned as to why!

The menu consisted of light bar food, such as jacket potatoes, or more substantial meals such as ham, egg and chips. There was a specials board for Sunday lunches, consisting of 4 or 5 starters and main courses, including a Sunday roast, with a choice of beef or turkey. Unusually for a pub, we had table service rather than having to order at the bar, which also included our drinks being brought to us from the bar as well, a nice touch.

We all decided to order from the specials board, with my husband and mother-in-law ordered the roast beef with all the trimmings and I opted for poached haddock on crushed new potatoes with a caper, lemon and butter sauce. Our food arrived about 40 minutes later, which was understandable as the place was packed and we didn’t notice the time as we were busy chatting and catching up. The roasts looked acceptable and was served with roast potatoes, carrots, cabbage and cauliflower and a huge yorkshire pudding, which my husband commented was overcooked and hard, indicating that it may have been made a while ago and kept warm. The beef was medium to well done, which is usual when ordering a roast; it would be wonderful to find a pub or restaurant that served their beef medium rare at least, but alas, I’ve yet to find that elusive place. The vegetables were cooked well although had little taste, however the potatoes were a hit and hubby happily polished off his own as well as the one going spare from his mother’s plate.

My dish consisted of two fillets of poached haddock placed on a mound of crushed new potatoes, cauliflower and carrots and a hollandaise sauce with capers, which looked as though it had been sitting for a while and unfortunately the sauce had formed a custard like skin and had separated slightly. The dish lacked colour and was crying out for something green to liven it up, however I wasn’t going to let that put me off.

I don’t think even some greenery would have rescued my meal however; the haddock was overcooked, dry and slightly chewy, the vegetables were unassuming and tasteless and the initial taste of the separated sauce was acidic from the vinegar and capers. It wasn’t until I peeled the custard-like skin back and tried the next layer of sauce that I managed to get a taste of the lemon. I did however have 3 bones included in the fillet, for free! The saving grace of the meal for me was the crushed potatoes which were buttery and seasoned well, that was of course until I clamped down on a peppercorn, which then provided a burst of aromatic flavours which weren’t in keeping with the delicate dish I had ordered. All in all, a disappointment.

With the plates cleared away, we waited for a good 30 minutes before realizing that we were not going to be offered dessert, so had to request the menu, which consisted of pies, crumbles and suet puddings, all of which were a bit heavy following a roast. We therefore decided to pass on the puds and have coffee at home.

The waiting staff were all young teenagers and there appeared to be no supervision in providing them direction, resulting in below average service. We were not asked at any point during our meal if everything was to our liking and we had to request the dessert menu. Having said that, our waiter was polite, courteous and had a smile.

For around £10 per head for an average roast and a below average fish dish (with free bones!), there are plenty of other establishments I would chose above this pub, whose meals are actually worth their prices.

The Lamb is an attractive pub in a prime spot for passing trade and well known amongst the locals. Being fully booked on a Sunday lunch time is an accolade to the management that they have got what it takes to fill their restaurant. Unfortunately, on this particular day, they didn’t in my humble opinion, have what it takes to provide the Sunday lunch experience I was anticipating. Maybe my disappointing meal was a one off, I’d like to think so, therefore to satisfy my curiosity as to whether this was actually the case, I will be eating at The Lamb again, in the not too distant future, with the hope that it won’t be my final visit.

Duchess

The Heart of the Matter

We all need one, we all have one, but most of us take them for granted. The hardest working muscle we possess, I’m talking about the heart. The iconic romantic symbol that we all recognise, epitomising love and friendship. But what of the culinary delights it has to offer? Is that screams of disgust I hear?! Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

My mother served us stuffed hearts as children, and we knew better than to utter the words ‘yuk’ or ‘that’s disgusting’. We ate what was put in front of us, with no fuss. And thank heavens for my mothers no nonsense attitude, or I may well have missed out on this culinary pleasure. She would fill the hearts with stuffing mixture and bake in the oven and serve with mashed potato and gravy. I can safely say that we were the only children at our school who relished the thought of this supper (or had even heard of it). We did have the advantage of having lived in France, so mums cookery repertoire took on a whole new exquisite range. That may have been because when we first moved to Dunkirk, she couldn’t speak French, so may not have realized what she was buying! No matter what the reasons, I am forever grateful for her introducing us to this cheap yet utterly delectable delicacy.

In turn, I presented stuffed hearts for supper one evening, to my new then boyfriend (it couldn’t have been that bad as he’s now my husband!) and his daughter. Neither had experienced eating heart before and both devoured the meal with gusto. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for my daughter, who had unbeknown to her eaten heart before, albeit disguised in a casserole. The heart still looked like a heart, just stuffed and covered in gravy, so she could only stomach eating half before turning a delightful shade of green. I’d like to point out now, it was nothing to do with my cooking, but the thought of what she was eating. I’ll go back to ‘hearts in disguise’ in future for her.

Which is recently exactly what I did. My husband admitted after the meal that he actually preferred to have the heart chopped up so it didn’t resemble a pumping muscle quite so much – wuss. Rather than stuffing the heart (quite tricky if it’s diced!) I decided on devilled instead. There are so many recipes out there which vary considerably, but this is my version. This method works well with most offal, and since this meal, I’ve also produced the same dish with kidneys, but added extra crème fraiche for a creamier sauce.

Devilled Hearts – serves 2

2 lambs hearts
1 tsp oil (or one spray of oil)
2 tbs plain seasoned flour
1 onion
1 clove garlic
1 tsp crushed peppercorns
150ml stock
dash of worcester sauce
1 tsp paprika
100g mushrooms
1 heaped tsp wholegrain mustard
2 tbs crème fraiche

Devilled Hearts

Devilled Kidneys

Wash and dice the lambs heart, ensure all sinew is removed. Cover the diced heart in the seasoned flour and coat thoroughly. Chop the onion and garlic. Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the heart, onions and garlic, adding a drop of water if it starts to stick on the bottom of the pan. Add the peppercorns, stock, worcester sauce and paprika, cover and simmer gently for an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the mushrooms and mustard, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in the crème fraiche. Serve with mashed potato and vegetables.

I hope some of you will try this, or a variation of this recipe and with offal being such a cheap option compared to other meats, not only are you expanding your horizons, you’re also saving yourself a pretty penny. Win win as far as I’m concerned!

Duchess

Peanut Butter Brownies

Chocolate brownies are a big hit in our house, especially when made with beetroot, but on this occasion I decided to try a different recipe, from the May edition of The Good Food magazine. I had seen and forgotten about this recipe until stumbling across it a couple of days ago. I don’t know about you, but my usual decision process for sampling a new recipe is by how the picture appears and whether or not it makes me salivate just by looking at the page – this recipe certainly ticked the box!

It’s quite a quick and easy recipe and the results were excellent, even though I do say so myself. The brownies had a slight crunch on the outside, but were beautifully gooey on the inside, just as they should be. A testament of how good they are – my husband has asked me not to make them again as he finds it impossible to resist and has no willpower to only have one or two squares!

PEANUT BUTTER BROWNIES

225g crunchy peanut butter
200g bar dark chocolate , broken into pieces
280g soft light brown sugar
3 medium eggs
100g self-raising flour

Set aside 50g each of the peanut butter and chocolate. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 and line a 20cm square baking tin with baking parchment. Gently melt remaining peanut butter, chocolate and all the sugar in a pan, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has just about melted. Turn off heat and use a wooden spoon to beat in the eggs one by one. Stir in the flour and scrape into the tin.

Melt reserved peanut butter in the microwave on High for 45 secs, or in a pan, until runny, then drizzle over the brownie. Bake for 30-35 mins until it has a crust, but the middle still seems slightly uncooked.

Melt reserved chocolate, drizzle over the brownie, then cool in the tin before cutting into squares.

My hubby has asked that I stop making cakes for a while as he thinks his waist line is expanding too quickly! I couldn’t resist making these though, and did think that as they’re cut into small squares, he could at least have some portion control. Four squares later, it appears he has no control! So either I stop baking (yeah right!) or he finds some willpower – or buys larger trousers!

Spanish Cod

I’m an advocate for quick and easy mid week suppers, when time is fast disappearing after a busy day and you want a tasty satisfying meal in minutes. There are a plethora of speedy suppers to chose from, but this is one of our family favourites, being flavoursome, hearty and relatively healthy (omit the Chorizo if you want to be completely virtuous!). It has even converted my daughter, the long standing fish hater (she calls herself a nonfishatarian), although she will still only eat sea creatures that aren’t ‘fishy’, so no mackerel of sardines will be passing her lips for now – I can live in hope that she will eventually discover that her taste buds would appreciate these ‘fishy’ flavours!

This recipe works well with any meaty white fish, in this instance I used cod, although I have used huss in the past which is equally as good. If you don’t like fish, this would also work well with chicken, although the cooking times would need to be increased.

Spanish Cod – serves 2 generous portions

½ tbs oil (I used oil from my sprayer to coat the bottom of the pan)
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
125g Chorizo sausage
1 courgette, sliced
½ chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tin cannelloni beans, drained
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
Handful of parsley or basil
2 cod fillets

Fry the onions and garlic for 5 minutes until soft but not browned, add the chorizo until the oil begin to seep out from the sausage. Add the courgette and fry gently, stirring frequently, until slightly soft. Add the chilli and lemon juice, followed by the tomatoes and beans. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Add the herbs and place the fillets on top of the sauce. Cover the pan and gently simmer for 5 or 6 minutes, turning once, until the fish turns opaque and flakes.

Serve in bowls with crusty bread and a glass of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio.

Coconut Cake

My dear dad celebrated his 71st Birthday recently, and apart from Amazon vouchers his only request was to have a coconut cake made for him, which I duly did. My Gran would always have this honour and I have to admit nothing compares to her masterpiece. She was an excellent cake maker, although I remember her being incredibly self critical about practically every item she made; ‘it’s a little dry; it’s not quite right this time; the oven is playing up’ etc. From coffee and walnut cake to chocolate fairy cakes with melted chocolate and a smartie on top, to gooey meringues to her light coconut cake, they all tasted heavenly to us.

Gran never appeared to use recipes and unfortunately the secrets of her baking died with her. So it was quite a tall order for me to find a recipe that would do her coconut cake justice. She would add glacé cherries and angelica to her coconut cake, however dad obviously wasn’t particularly keen on them and asked for them to be omitted. I found plenty of recipes for coconut cake with lime (which is divine!) or lemon or even banana, but I wanted to start with just a basic coconut recipe. I was recommended the following recipe which is taken from the lovely Nigella’s ‘How To Be A Domestic Goddess’. As my dad isn’t keen on icing I didn’t use any on top but sprinkled the cake with icing sugar instead. I also think this cut down on the sweetness.

For the cake:

225g unsalted butter, softened
225g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 eggs
200g self-raising flour
25g cornflour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
50g desiccated coconut, soaked in 150ml boiling water

For the coconut buttercream within:
25g dessicated coconut
75g soft unsalted butter
150g icing sugar, sieved
1 tablespoon Malibu

For the icing on top:
2-4 tablespoons Malibu
125g instant royal icing (which may be labelled ‘royal icing sugar’)
Preheat the oven to 180°C and butter and line two 21cm sandwich tins.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat into the mixture. Beat in the vanilla.
Add the flour, cornflour and baking powder, and fold until it’s all combined. Stir the soaked coconut in its boiling water and then tip the lot into the batter. Alternatively, blitz everything bar the coconut in the processor until you have a smooth batter, then whizz in the coconut at the end.
Pour into the waiting sandwich tins, and cook for between 25-30 minutes. A skewer should come out more or less clean. Leave to cool in the tins for ten minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool fully.
While the cakes are cooking, toast the 25g coconut for the buttercream in a dry pan, shaking it now and then, until it is nicely golden. Tip it onto a plate to stop it toasting further, and allow it to get completely cold before you make the buttercream.
To make the buttercream, cream together the butter and icing sugar. When you have a smooth paste, beat in the Malibu and then the cold toasted coconut. Spread onto the bottom cake, then place the other cake on top, pushing down gently.
For the topping icing if using – beat together two tablespoons of the Malibu with the instant royal icing. Pour the icing onto the centre of the cake, and allow it to spread out. Let the icing set before serving the cake.

I must admit, the cake smelt delicious as it came out the oven and was very light and slightly moist. As for my toughest coconut cake critic? A big thumbs up!