Category Archives: Cooking

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 – 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

Where’s the Kitchen

I read an article recently stating that one in six women struggle to cook, with over half of them admitting that they leave the kitchen duties to their husband. Incredibly, one in twenty women acknowledged that they don’t know how to boil an egg. To say that initially I was dumbfounded by these figures is an understatement, but having thought about today’s society, I can actually believe it.

Some of my friends cook but I would say that probably only a handful of them do so from scratch, a few more tend to rustle up the evening meal with the assistance of jars and packets but many of them either use ready meals, frozen foods that get bunged in the oven with the chips, or have takeaways. Thinking about those few who tend to cook from scratch, we do all have one thing in common…..dieting. There’s nothing quite like a group of 40 something women all attempting to reverse the dreaded middle aged spread to focus the mind on what we put in our mouth. This small group of women, including myself, who all seem to be part of a particular world famous diet club, make the time to lovingly prepare meals for ourselves and our loved ones, even those who do have hectic lives with small children.

One of the main reasons, or dare I say it, excuses, why women of my age don’t cook homemade meals, is apparently lack of time and passion. Now the passion part I do understand. I mean, I don’t play golf. Never had done, never will do. I have no passion for the pastime whatsoever and really don’t get the attraction with whacking a little ball around a field with a metal stick, unlike my husband who would spend every weekend playing if he could, providing it didn’t interrupt the motor racing of course. But lets be honest, golf isn’t a necessity (I’m ducking under the desk as I say that to avoid the barrage of expletives from hubby!), whereas food is.

Sadly though, many women feel cooking is not a luxury pastime, but simply another item in the long list of household chores that needs to be ticked off with efficiency and speed. Some I’m sure only feel this way so they have time to plonk themselves on the sofa after a stressful day in the office or with the children, in time to escape with the latest instalment of Corrienders, with a glass of Chardonnay. But some do genuinely have little time in between tidy the house, walking the dog, bathing the children, doing the laundry, reading the bedtime story, more tidying up, feed the cat….you get the picture.

Now I’m not going to preach, and as many have said before me, a meal can be cooked from scratch in the same time it takes to order and have your pizza delivered. Enough said.

So what price do we pay for the ever decline of home cooking, of experimenting and sharing recipes and more importantly, of passing cooking and baking skills to the next generation?

My 16 year old daughter appears to have little desire to cook, although occasionally she does enjoy covering my kitchen in flour and icing sugar whilst baking. I can only hope with the ‘mother daughter time’ we have, she one day suggests we cook up a storm in the kitchen so she can learn and experiment and in later years have happy memories and a plethora of recipes which she can pass down to her children. I can’t force her to share my passion, but I do worry that when she eventually leaves home she’ll live off marmite on toast and fairy cakes!

Duchess

Pass The Salt

Most of us are aware of the dangers of too much salt in our diet and what it can possibly lead to; high blood pressure, stroke, water retention, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, swelling, difficulty breathing and heart failure to name but a few. So why do ‘celebrity’ chefs still add copious amounts of salt to their delights, like confetti over a bride? A good pinch here, a generous sprinkle there, it all adds up to, well, heart failure.

Now the reason I’m singling out celebrity chefs is because the usual suspect such as food manufactures and fast food restaurants (I use the word restaurant in the loosest of terms when alongside ‘fast food’) get a regular bashing by the press and the government for all the ‘hidden’ salts in the produce, whereas chefs appear to be unregulated so have managed to crawl under the radar, (not to mention just having seen Mr Ramsay pour a small salt mountain into his fish paste). Not only that, but you can’t switch on your television without a familiar face being at home, in a market kitchen or in a hell’s kitchen primed and ready, steady to cook. Some of us look up to these chefs, admire them, are inspired by them, yet aren’t they luring us to go against the recommended guidelines which could lead to damaging our health?

Of course we have the ability to make our own choices in life, whether it be to add or not to add, to pinch and sprinkle or abstain. But celebrity chefs should be setting an example, especially to all the new comers to cooking who haven’t yet discovered the delights of other flavourings and seasonings. Surely they should be setting an example for the next generation of chefs and cooks as well?

Could it be our favoured chefs are dwelling on our past, after all salt has been used for many thousands of years? Historically salt was prized. Its reputation can be found in phrases like, “Worth one’s salt,” since people, especially the Romans, were often paid in salt. The word itself is derived from the Latin salarium, or salary. Historically, Roman’s lived to 48 years old though; maybe a poor diet was a contributing factor to their early demise!

Don’t get me wrong, salt has it’s place in moderation, as far as I’m concerned. We need salt, it’s vital for the smooth running of our bodies. My jury is still out though on how much salt actually enhances the flavour of a meal. I can remember my Gran, thus same Biscuit Tin Gran, adding salt to her tomatoes and hard boiled eggs, and I also remember liking it when I tried it, but not because it enhanced the flavour of the tomato or the egg, but because I liked the saltiness and the tingle on my tongue. For me, it did nothing but detract from the actual flavour of the food. Why would you want to add salt to a tomato and suppress the natural sweetness of this fruit?

You’ve probably guessed, but I don’t add salt to my cooking and I’ve not had any complaints yet! My family aren’t polite enough not to give their constructive criticism on any meal I cook, so be assured, I would have been told by now if salt was a requirement. Instead I use various ingredients to add flavour, such as fresh herbs, spices, citrus fruit, vinegar and garlic.

Salt is by no means a banned substance from our house, and very occasionally I will use salt if I really feel it is necessary; I’ve also been known to overindulge on salt and vinegar crisps, you know the ones, once you pop…..oh so true! A little of what you fancy is a saying I adopt when necessary and it acts as a great get out to be able indulge in a little wine, a little chocolate, a little cheese. But for me I think I’ll pass on the salt.

That is of course, until I visit a celebrity chefs restaurant!