Honey and oatmeal biscuits

September 28, 2009 § 2 Comments

For me, honey and oats are individually brilliant components for comfort food, and so combining them should ideally create an ‘ultimate’ comfort food? Perhaps not ultimate, but these biscuits definitely come close. The sweet combination of the honey with the warm flavours of the oats is a perfect pick-me-up for those days when everything’s feeling a bit stormy, outside or inside.

Honey is widely known for its applications in culinary practices but also as a remedy for various minor ailments such as sore throat, coughs and colds. Soothing and calming, it is often added as an alternative to sugar in various herbal infusions, like chamomile tea.

Oats can be crushed or rolled to produce oatmeal which is chiefly eaten as porridge but can also be very useful in baking, as well as for brewing beer. The therapeutic properties of oats are mainly for soothing the skin and minor conditions associated with the skin, while the oats themselves are deemed ‘healthy’ foods as they have cholesterol-lowering properties, are more slowly digested and thus make you feel fuller.

Therapeutics aside, both of these ingredients have the very things that comfort food should have: a soothing and calming effect that makes you feel full, but without having to overeat.

Rolled oats and demerara sugar

I started off with quite small quantities as I wanted to see how the biscuits turned out before making more, so I will probably make a bigger batch playing around with some of the ingredients at a later time. I will double the measurements here for convenience, but feel free to use the original quantities if you want to make a smaller batch.

You will need:

  • 150g butter
  • 150g demerara sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 150g plain flour (also known as all-purpose flour)
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 150g organic porridge oats

Grease a large baking tray (or two baking trays) and preheat your oven to 170°C to start with. Then you’ll want to mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl: porridge oats, flour, sugar and bicarbonate of soda. In a saucepan, melt the butter on a low heat and then add the honey. Mix these together until they are golden in colour and smooth, but don’t overheat the mixture. Add the honey butter to the dry ingredients and combine well.

Dry mixture, then combined with honey butter

Flour your hands and then shape the dough into little balls, placing them on the greased baking tray (or trays if you need more). Compress each ball very slightly as you place them on the tray.

Biscuit dough

Bake the biscuits for 20-25 minutes in the oven, or until golden on top. Remove them from the baking tray and cool them on a wire rack. The recipe should make around 30 biscuits in total. Then, sit back, grab a few biscuits and a big mug of tea (or milk) and relax.

Honey and oatmeal biscuits

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Upma

September 25, 2009 § Leave a comment

Upma is traditionally a South Indian breakfast dish, quite similar to porridge, but more savoury, using onion, ginger and coriander to provide flavour. As a kid I was terrible when it came to breakfast foods – I could never settle on one I liked! My parents would buy a cereal that I was fond of one day only to find that I’d refused to eat it the next… it was only when I returned home from university the first few times that I started to really develop a taste for this simple yet wholesome dish, and now it’s my breakfast of choice!

Ideally, you would use an ingredient called ‘rava’ which is a soft wheat semolina, however if you can’t find rava, semolina is a perfectly acceptable subsitute. To prepare the semolina as an ingredient for the upma you’ll need to dry roast it in a wide frying pan, with a touch of ghee or butter if you wish. You’ll also need a number of ingredients which you can easily find in ethnic stores or in the ‘World Foods’ sections of most supermarkets. These include mustard seeds, cumin seeds and turmeric, although lentils are also an essential ingredient to making this protein-packed breakfast. Natco is a good brand to go for, generally.

Semolina and spices

Start off by dry-roasting approximately 200g of semolina just until it turns golden. Don’t let any of it burn. Once you’ve done that, set it aside.

For the upma you’ll need:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 inch fresh root ginger chopped
  • ½ bird’s eye green chilli, diced
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander
  • 1½ tbsp oil (olive oil or vegetable oil)
  • ½ tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp white urid lentils (Natco sells a bag of this in most supermarkets)
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp turmeric (optional)
  • a pinch of asafoetida (also known as Hing)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 200g dry-roasted semolina
  • 250ml boiling water
  • salt and sugar to taste
  • dessicated coconut to serve (optional)

From the outset it looks like a lot of ingredients but these can be used in plenty of different dishes, and a large variety of Indian dishes. To start, heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan on a high heat, first adding the mustard seeds, then urid lentils, cumin seeds and a pinch of asafoetida. You can add the turmeric at this stage however this will turn your upma a bright shade of yellow so its entirely optional. I chose not to add it to my dish. Fry the spices for around 2-3 minutes, promptly adding the chopped onion, ginger and chilli and giving the mixture a good stir. Fry the vegetables for around 5 minutes.

Vegetables and semolina

At this stage you add ½ tsp of salt to the vegetables, stir and cover the saucepan for a few minutes. Uncover and pour 250ml of boiling water into the pan, with 1 tbsp of chopped coriander for taste. Cover and let it boil through for 2-3 minutes.

Adding water and coriander

The dry-roasted semolina is ready to go in to the boiled water at this point, so lower the heat and stir it through to thicken the mixture and to avoid lumps. Add a little bit of sugar and then salt to taste. You can serve the upma as it is, or with dessicated coconut sprinkled on top with a few coriander leaves.

Thickened upma

And there you have it: a really tasty savoury breakfast dish that’s packed with protein and will keep you going right up until lunch. If you’ve got the time you can deep-fry a few cashew nuts and chuck them over the top!

Upma

Rose petal jam

September 22, 2009 § 1 Comment

Roses are red, violets are blue, one’s great for eating – perhaps the other one is too? Well, I don’t know about violets but roses are definitely a useful ingredient to have in the kitchen whenever you want to bring a Middle Eastern vibe to your cooking. Turkey especially use rose as an essential ingredient in many of their dishes, including the notorious Turkish Delight. My mother usually brings in the roses from our garden and dries them so that she can grind up the petals to make rose powder… it’s really flexible in its use! I even use a pinch of rose powder in tomato-based pasta sauces sometimes, and it imparts a really unique flavour which you can’t entirely pinpoint but accentuates the taste of the sauce on the whole.

This time I used rose petals for making jam. I’ve been wanting to try this recipe out for a long time, hopefully with scones, but as Navratri has started (Hindu religious festival) I’m not allowed to eat meat or egg, so baking scones is out for now. Jams, in my experience, are a wholly fruit affair and I’d never even experienced non-fruit jams until I went to the Taste Food Festival in Regents Park this summer with my best friend. I tried rosehip jam with flatbreads (and some gorgeous Greve cheese) and absolutely loved the taste, moreso than usual jam. Okay, rosehips are sort of fruit, but they’re not the kind that you pick off the bush and pop in your mouth (I hope?). So I finally decided to try out the recipe to make rose jam, and while it’s not perfect, it’s a good first attempt.

Rose petals

If you remember the chocolate truffles recipe a few days ago, I used a couple of the rose petals I picked for this recipe in that one. To make the jam I used:

  • 50g rose petals (red or pink, strongly scented petals from roses that have not been treated with pesticides) – 2tsp powdered rose (optional)
  • 400g caster sugar (jam sugar would have probably been better!)
  • 200ml boiling water
  • 6tbsp lemon juice

It may seem like a lot of sugar, and the end result is rather sweet, but you can always try and use less if it suits to you. Start off by washing and draining the rose petals, then trimming off the white parts of each petal using scissors. This eliminates any bitterness in the jam. After putting the rose petals into a large bowl you put 100g of sugar in with the petals and mix it in, bruising the petals thoroughly. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave in the refridgerator overnight.

Rose-sugar mixture

The next day, put the 200ml water and 300g sugar together in a heavy based saucepan and boil through until you form a syrup that begins to coat the sides of the pan.

Sugar syrup

At this point you want to add the rose petal-sugar mixture to the sugar syrup you’ve just made, and also 6tbsp lemon juice so that the rose petals retain their colour and so an essential ingredient – citric acid – is also introduced (you could replace the lemon juice with 1tsp of citric acid, but I think the lemon juice gives it a nice flavour too).

Adding rose-sugar mix

Lower the heat and simmer the contents for at least 10-15 minutes, until setting point is reached. You can test for this by dropping a little of the jam onto a cold saucer and poking it with your finger to see if it wrinkles (be careful doing this though, the jam gets VERY hot… let it cool a little). I made the mistake of cooking it for a bit too long so it lost some of its colour and the gelling consistency was a little off, but as long as you don’t stray beyond 20 minutes, you won’t make the same mistake. I also added 2tsp of powdered rose while simmering, but this is entirely optional.

Setting point

You should then pour it straight into a sterilised jar – I found that the jam fills a 230ml jar perfectly. Let it cool down before you store it in the fridge. And there you go! A different kind of jam that you could eat with scones, have with ice cream, put into a sponge cake, or just have it spread on toast.

Rose jam

Coconut bread

September 21, 2009 § Leave a comment

I’ve been preparing a little treat with the rose petals I picked (and used a couple of in the chocolate truffles a few days ago), which will be ready for tomorrow, so in the meanwhile I’ll update with a mini recipe that I made a long time back. I’ve only got a photograph of the end-product, but it’ll give you an idea of how scrumptious it is.

So, having spent a whole summer in Singapore and Malaysia during 2008 I spent a lot of time eating coconut and coconut-milk based meals. Needless to say I’m incredibly fond of Thai food, coconut desserts and coconut in cooking. Some of my companions were not so fond of having to force-feed themselves coconut on a daily basis and started to crave simple pleasures like bangers and mash (can’t say I blamed them). I didn’t want to attempt a Malaysian dish as I’ve yet to find pandan leaves at a nearby vendor, and while the pandan bread loaves I used to eat out in Singapore were yummy, they were also kind of boring after a while. So, I decided upon coconut bread: a cake-like loaf that wasn’t too tropical to have for breakfast or a snack.

Coconut bread

For this delightful loaf you’ll need:

  • 300ml milk (whole milk is best, but you can probably used semi-skimmed just as easily)
  • 300g plain flour
  • 70g unsalted butter
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 150g dessicated coconut
  • 2 eggs
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 2tsp ground cinnamon

To start, you’ll need to preheat your oven to 180°C. Then combine the eggs and the milk in a bowl, whisking them lightly. If the mixture isn’t very smooth, it’s probably because the eggs weren’t at room temperature or weren’t very fresh – try to use really fresh eggs for this.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pan or in the microwave (be sure to keep an eye on it if you do it in the microwave or it might explode all over the inside – very messy), and put aside. Then sift the plain flour, baking powder and ground cinnamon into a large mixing bowl, adding the sugar and coconut on top. Making a well in the centre, gradually stir in the eggs and milk mixture until the ingredients are combined. At this point you add the melted butter and stir until the mixture is just smooth. Don’t stir it too much!

Grease and line an 8 or 9 inch loaf tin (approximately 21 x 10cm standard size), then pour the mixture into it and  bake for around an hour or until a skewer comes out clean when put through the centre. When it’s done, leave the loaf to cool completely before you remove it from the loaf tin.

You can then slice it up and serve it toasted and buttered, or just as it is! Tastes lovely with some Earl Grey tea.

Chocolate truffles

September 20, 2009 § 2 Comments

A very good friend of mine makes chocolate truffles on a regular basis, and tells me about the different variations of truffles he’s made over the last year or so. As this was my first attempt at making truffles it most likely doesn’t match up, but I reckon the outcome was quite nice indeed. Chocolate’s a wonderful thing to have at hand. It’s there for you when you’re happy, sad, hungry or bored and most of all it’s a brilliantly versatile ingredient. You can use chocolate in cakes, puddings, even chilli con carne! However, this time I used it to make chocolate truffles.

I’m a huge fan of dark chocolate, even though the rest of my family aren’t (hence why I’m eating all the remaining truffles). The little nuances in flavour that you get with dark chocolate are so much more interesting than milk chocolate, and I’ll be honest, I don’t really like white chocolate but that’s only because I’m not too fond of extremely sweet flavours.

Dark Chocolate

The intense flavour of dark chocolate, at least in my honest opinion, is best coupled with delicate flavours that don’t overpower the main flavour of the chocolate. So I opted to make some plain truffles, some flavoured with rose petals, some with chopped slivered almonds and some with lavender sugar (with dried lavender buds!). After a bit of chopping and snipping I was ready to get started.

For the chocolate truffles you’ll need:

  • about 400g of dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids (I used 72% Belgian dark chocolate) chopped into small, even pieces
  • 200ml heavy double cream, or whipping cream
  • cocoa powder to roll them in

Optional ingredients:

  • a handful of chopped slivered almonds
  • a few fresh rose petals, snipped into thin strips (from red or pink roses with a strong scent that haven’t been treated with pesticides)
  • a spoonful of lavender sugar

Lavender sugar

First, you need to chop the chocolate up. The best way to do this is by using a sharp knife and making cuts 5mm apart so that the chocolate fragments as you cut through the bar. You also get fairly small, even pieces using this method. Once the chocolate has been chopped up, heat the cream just until boiling point and then pour over the chocolate. Leave for a few minutes to allow the hot cream to melt the chocolate pieces, then stir. The ganache should be smooth at this point, with no chocolate pieces left unmelted.

You can add whatever additional ingredients you want at this point, so for example, add the chopped slivered almonds to the ganache mixture and stir, or a spoonful of lavender sugar, or the snipped rose petals. Then transfer the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate for approximately an hour.

Ingredients

Now, when you take the ganache out of the fridge it should be quite set but not too hard. Have a plate or baking tray lined with wax paper or greaseproof paper at hand and then using a melon-baller or two spoons, scoop out the mixture to form roughly shaped balls of ganache. Place each sphere onto the baking paper, as the chocolate will melt as you handle it. Once you have made as many balls as possible, put the tray or plate in the fridge for another 15 minutes.

Ganache balls

After the 15 minutes are up, roll the balls in good quality cocoa powder (mixed with a little caster sugar if you prefer it a bit sweeter) and set aside. For the rose chocolate truffles I added any leftover rose petal snippings to the cocoa powder. They didn’t stick incredibly well, but they’re a nice touch.

Rose chocolate truffles

You can present them as they are, or in a box or little cases to give as a gift, and they keep in the refridgerator for a little while too if you want to keep them all to yourself!

Finished chocolate truffles

Spicy sweet potato oven chips

September 16, 2009 § Leave a comment

I do love using sweet potatoes as an alternative to the usual Maris Piper because it gives a completely different flavour injection into what would usually be a fairly standard dish. Potatoes dominate the snacking arena, but instead of the usual powdery chips and waffles (don’t get me wrong I’m an avid fan of mashed potato) I figured I’d swap the standard fare for something a tad more exotic.

Of course as the name suggests, sweet potato can lack the savoury element needed in snacking foods like chips and mash, but you do need to be a little careful of how much salt you put with it because you can detect the taste much more clearly than you can on usual potato chips. I find that chilli and pepper season this vegetable wonderfully as you get a lovely play on sweet and spicy flavours, while eating a rather healthy meal at the same time.

Ingredients

So to make these yummy chips you’ll need:

  • around 500g of sweet potatoes (about 3 average size potatoes will do)
  • 2½ tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp flaked chillies (I used up to 1 tbsp for extra spice but you can start with about 1 tsp)
  • salt and pepper for seasoning

This will quickly make enough for two as an accompaniment or for one as a snack and you can serve the chips with salsa or whatever sauce you prefer. I just eat them as they are.

You start off by cutting the small ends off the sweet potatoes and peeling them. Once that’s done you cut them in half and then slice each half parallel to the first cut so you have two layers on top of each other. (Try not to cut your fingers off in the process, it can be a bit tricky with the knife). Then you chop the potatoes along the width to make 2cm to 1 inch bitesize pieces.

Peeled and cut

You’re already halfway done (toldya it was quick). Line a baking tray with some aluminium foil and then pour over 1tbsp of the olive oil. Then spread out the sweet potato chips in a single layer, pour over the rest of the oil, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over the chilli flakes. At this point you have to get your hands in and mix the chips in with the seasoning so that they’re all thoroughly coated. If you don’t like getting your hands all oily you can always put the oil, seasoning and chilli in a plastic food bag with the chips and shake it, but it’s more fun this way.

Seasoning

Once all the chips have an even layer of salt, pepper and chilli, spread them out in a single layer and put into a preheated oven at 200°C to cook for 30-35 minutes. After you’ve taken them out you can transfer them straight to a plate or bowl and start snacking on them, or you can serve them with meat, other vegetables or just with a dollop of sour cream.

Oven chips

Introductions

September 14, 2009 § 1 Comment

So, I’m Neha.

I’m 21, have recently graduated and have a lot of love for everything from cooking, to art and photography. Studying for a science degree the last three years didn’t give me much time to dedicate to simple pleasures like cupcakes, but now I have all the time in the world.

Be prepared for some seriously foodie-obsessed ramblings with the occasional photograph-dressing.

Oh, and recipes!

Where Am I?

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