Saturday, 28 June 2014

Vanilla Butter Cookies (made with cookie press)

My cookbook collection continues to grow and I will admit that it’s starting to reach an embarrassingly large size. You know you have a problem and that an obsession is reaching a point when it’s almost out of control when you feel that you have to hide it from others. I am now at the stage where I sneak newly acquired cookbooks into the house, hoping that no-one will notice that another book has been added to the shelves.
In my defence, I rarely buy new cookbooks; instead I scour the internet for cheap second-hand books and have been delighted with many of my purchases, which have been relatively inexpensive to buy. This is just as well really, because I think that I am going to have to seriously consider the possibilities of having an extension to my home built to house them all.
If this was my only cookery related obsession, it would probably be tolerable to my nearest and dearest, but unfortunately, I also find it hard to resist buying kitchen gadgets! Now the term ‘gadget’ encompasses a great many things… pasta makers, ice-cream makers, whisks cookie cutters, piping nozzles – the list goes on and on. I justify these purchases by convincing myself that the use of these pieces of equipment will improve my cooking immeasurably, save time and make the food I create look so much more professional. Whilst there is a certain truth in this, the reality is that most of these gadgets and pieces of equipment languish at the back of the kitchen cupboard for most of the time.

One piece of cooking equipment that I was recently seduced by was a cookie press, from which I imagined myself making hundreds of perfectly formed cookies and biscuits at break-neck speed. The reality is that there is a certain knack to producing the cookies, but once you get a feel for it, you will be churning out tasty little shortbread cookies by the dozen. I found that it is better not to use non-stick baking parchment as the cookies don’t stick to the paper when you oppress them out. Greaseproof paper works relatively successful, but I found using reusable silicon mats produced the best results.

These cookies are rather like the Danish butter cookies that are readily available at Christmas. I liked the vanilla flavour of these biscuits, but you could easily ring the changes by using lemon zest or spices instead.


100g butter, softened
70g icing sugar
150g plain flour
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract/paste
To finish:
Caster sugar for sprinkling


1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper or silicone baking sheets.
2. Place the butter and icing sugar in a mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together until light and fluffy. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix together until fully incorporated, to create a soft dough.
3. Spoon the dough into a cookie press (or into a disposable piping bag fitted with a large star nozzle). Following the manufacturer’s instruction, use the cookie press (fitted with the chosen cookie shape attachment) to create individual cookies or pipe out individual cookies using the piping bag.
4. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. The cookies are ready when they are still pale but tinged a light, golden colour.
5. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with caster sugar. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.

Makes 40 (approximately).


Patatas Bravas

I love patatas bravas - a Spanish potato dish often served as part of a tapas menu in Spanish bars and restaurants. The dish usually contains potatoes in a tomato based sauce and is regularly served with aioli, a garlic flavoured mayonnaise-like sauce. Some recipes for patatas bravas use a mild tomato sauce alone, but I like the slight heat that the added chilli gives. This is enhanced by the faint background taste of rosemary, but you could use a little thyme instead if you prefer.

This is a perfect dish for serving on a warm summer’s day as part of a range of buffet type dishes, where people can help themselves as they relax in the sun.


1kg waxy potatoes, peeled and chopped into 3cm chunks
50ml olive oil
Sea salt
2tblsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped, 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp sugar
1½ tsp smoked paprika
A sprig of Rosemary
25ml sherry vinegar (I used Pedro Ximenes sherry)
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
To serve:
A large handful of finely chopped, fresh flat leaf parsley


1. Preheat oven to 200C/Fan Oven 180C/Gas Mark 6.
2. Heat the olive oil in a small roasting pan in the oven until hot. Remove from the oven and then add the potatoes, tossing them to make sure that they are evenly coated. Season the potatoes with sea salt and return to the oven for approximately 45 minutes. Check the potatoes after 20 minutes, turning them so that they roast evenly. While the potatoes are roasting you can make the sauce.
3. Put the oil in a medium sized, heavy based saucepan and heat over a moderate heat. Add the onions and fry stirring regularly until they are golden brown (about 6-8 minutes).
4. Add the finely chopped chilli and garlic and fry for a further minute.
5. Add all the other ingredients other than the sherry vinegar and season well. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat so that the sauce is merely blipping away. Cook for about 20 minutes until the sauce has reduced slightly. Add in the vinegar and allow to cook for a further 3-4 minutes.
6. Remove from the heat. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Remove the sprig of rosemary and discard.
To serve:
7. Spoon the sauce into a serving dish and pile the roasted potatoes on top. Sprinkle over the chopped parsley and serve.

Serves 4-6.

Albondigas - Tapas-Style Meatballs in a Tomato Sauce

Tapas and tapas-style dishes seem to be very popular at the moment. Tapas are snack-like dishes which are traditionally served in Spanish bars and restaurants. The word tapas is derived from the Spanish word tapar, which means to cover. Originally tapas were slices of bread or meat which were balanced on the rims of wine-glasses to prevent flies from landing in the wine or sherry in between sips. Invariably, over the course of an evening in a hot bar and as more wine was imbibed, the drinkers would nibble on these edible glass covers… and tapas were born.
Tapas are based on the idea of sharing; a selection of dishes is presented to or chosen by a group of diners and they all take small samples of each. This is similar to the dining approach used when eating Italian antipasto or Chinese dim sum and is one of the aspects of tapas that I love – food should be about conviviality, friendship and sharing and community.
At their simplest, tapas can consist of small bowls of olives, salted almonds or chorizo sausage, but as time has gone by a whole range of sophisticated and exotic tapas dishes have been developed. Some dishes are intended to be served cold, but many are also served hot or warm.

One of the most popular tapas dishes and one that anyone who has visited or holidayed in Spain will be familiar with is albondigas or meatballs served in a rich tomato sauce. It is really important that the tomato sauce is well flavoured and is given a chance to reduce and thicken a little. If you allow it to remain watery, it lacks the flavour punch that is required and you will wonder why you bothered. I like to add rosemary to the sauce and a little sherry vinegar as this accentuates the sweetness of the tomatoes and makes for a more rounded flavour on the palate. If liked, you can also include half a very finely chopped red chilli to add a little spicy heat. As usual, taste as you go along and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Have confidence in you cooking and trust in your own taste. I often look upon recipes as guides rather than formulae that have to be slavishly followed. Granted, with baking, which relies upon precise measurements and processes being followed, it is probably advisable to follow the recipe exactly, but with the type of cooking that this recipe for albondigas involves, you can be a little more adventurous.


500g minced beef
1 small onion, chopped very finely
1 garlic clove, chopped finely
1 handful of flat-leaf parsley finely chopped
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
2tblsp olive oil
2tblsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped into small dice
1-2 sprigs of thyme
1 sprig of rosemary
250ml full-bodied red wine
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1tblsp sherry vinegar
Salt & freshly ground black pepper


1. Preheat the oven to 200C/Fan Oven 180C/Gas Mark 6.
2. Put all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl, season with a little sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper and work together with your hands until well mixed together.
3. Using your hands, form little balls (about 4cms in diameter) out of the meat mixture. Place the formed meatballs in a roasting dish, drizzle over the olive oil and roast in the oven for 15 minutes.
4. Heat the oil in a medium-large sized saucepan over a moderate heat. Add the onion, garlic and carrot and fry gently, stirring occasionally until softened but not coloured (about 7 minutes).
5. Add the sprigs of thyme and rosemary and then add the glass of wine. Allow the wine to reduce by almost a half and then add the tin of chopped tomatoes. Allow this to bubble gently for about 10 minutes and then add the roasted meatballs and the sherry vinegar. Allow to bubble over a low heat for a further ten minutes and then spoon into a large serving bowl and serve.

Serves 4-6.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Chocolate & Raspberry Cheesecake Swirl Brownies

I am a great fan of raspberries and love to use them in my cooking when they are in season. As an easily perishable fruit, raspberries can be very expensive to buy, but sometimes when I see them on sale, I find them hard to resist and I am easily seduced by their fruity allure. The ironic thing is that raspberries are relatively easy to grow, yet I have still to apply myself to the task in a focused way. I don’t know why I am so lackadaisical about doing so, because I love to eat them and have little problem in finding ways to use them in my cooking.

Raspberries and chocolate are another of those flavour marriages, which I regularly go on about, that are just meant to be. Fresh raspberries whilst sweet can also have a slight tartness to them which cuts through the richness of many recipes which include chocolate.
These brownies are a case in point, being incredibly rich and almost sinfully indulgent to eat… but I love foods like this; you know they are a little naughty, but you just can’t say ‘no’!

The brownies are rich and fudgy; made even more so by the addition of a cheesecake swirl. As such, the brownies are perfect for serving as a dessert and they work very well served with a dollop of cream or a scoop of raspberry sorbet.

When cooking brownies, I would always advise removing them from the oven when they seem to be still slightly undercooked. Cakey brownies tend to be dry to eat and the whole point of brownies is that they are slightly moist and gooey. This is a relatively simple recipe so provided you follow the timings that I have given, you should have no problems.


Brownie mixture:
200g dark chocolate melted and allowed to cool slightly
200g butter softened
250g caster sugar
3 eggs
115g plain flour, sifted
400g cream cheese
150g caster sugar
2 large eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
125g fresh raspberries


1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Line a square 23cm x 23cm x 6cm shallow tin with non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
Chocolate brownies:
2. Using a hand-held electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, stir in the melted chocolate. Fold in the flour, making sure that it is well incorporated.
3. Spread two-thirds of the brownie mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing it out.
Cream cheese mixture:
4. In a separate bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, caster sugar, eggs and vanilla extract together until the mixture is smooth.
5. Spread the cheesecake in a layer over the brownie in the prepared tin. Drop spoonfuls of the remaining brownie mixture randomly over the top. Use a skewer to swirl the cheesecake mixture and the chocolate mixture together. Press the raspberries into the top and bake in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes or until the mixture is cooked through and risen. (Note: It is the nature of brownies not to be cakey but to be more fudgy in texture, so remove from the oven before they are completely set… they will continue cooking as they cool).
6. Allow to cool completely and cut into squares.
Makes 16.


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

A while back, I went absolutely cupcake crazy, baking them all the time and desperately trying to invent new and wacky flavour combinations. Without a doubt, cupcakes were the darlings of the baking world for a couple of years. But, as with most trends, time moves on and something new comes along to take their place; since then macarons, whoopee pies, éclairs and doughnuts have all had their moment in the sun. Whilst I am an eager participant in all these baking trends, I also like good old retro style bakes.

When I was a child we never made cupcakes, though we were aware of them courtesy of American television shows and films. What we had were ‘buns’ or fairy cakes (buns with glace icing and if you were feeling very decadent a few coloured sprinkles on top), but we didn’t have cupcakes which were considered completely extravagant, being so much bigger than our little sponge cake buns. Also, cupcakes tend to always be covered in rich blousy coloured buttercream icings; my grandmother would have considered them vulgar and ostentatious!

But I do love cupcakes and they definitely have a place in my baking arsenal. Having discarded my misplaced desires to seek out unusual flavour pairings just to appear different and a bit of a baking trend-setter, I find that I much prefer using classic combinations. One of my favourite flavour mixes is that of chocolate with raspberry or chocolate with vanilla, but I’m not sure which of the two I like better. Loathe to force myself into making a decision, I decided to use all three flavour elements in these cupcakes. I have baked a simple chocolate sponge cake, covered it in vanilla flavoured buttercream icing and finished it off with fresh raspberries. These are really tasty and incredibly simple to make. The quantities given make 12 cupcakes, but you may want to consider making a double batch, because they are popular and disappear in minutes!


150g butter, softened
150g caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
175g self-raising flour
25g cocoa powder
Vanilla Buttercream:
125g butter, softened
250g icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
To finish:
12 fresh raspberries


1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Place 12 cupcake cases of your choice into a 12-hole cupcake tin and set aside.
2. Using a hand-held electric mixer. Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl until very light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs mixing well after addition to avoid the mixture curdling.
3. Sift the flour and cocoa powder together and fold into the butter and egg mixture until fully incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the 12 cupcake cases. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until well-risen and a thin skewer inserted carefully into one comes out clean.
4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before topping with buttercream icing.
Vanilla Buttercream:
5. Place all the ingredients in a bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together until light and fluffy. Place the buttercream in a disposable piping bag fitteld with a 1cm star nozzle and pipe a generous swirl of buttercream on top of each cupcake.
To finish:
6. Place a fresh raspberry on top of each cupcake.

Makes 12.