I say the best biscotti recipe ever, but that’s only in the eyes of our children who are fairly undiscerning when it comes to any kind of baked food (basically if it has sugar, eggs, flour and butter it’s a hit). But if I can’t exercise my fondness for hyperbole on my own blog then it’s a poor show, I say.
I’ve been cooking like mad since moving to the seaside. I think it’s because the more stressed I am, the more I cook. And blended family life with six children is quite blooming stressful. We have adolescent strops and six year old meltdowns going on simultaneously, all accompanied by 6am baritone horn recitals. It’s a lovely sort of shouty chaos. Sometimes it’s just shouty chaos, really. Anyway, what happens is things go a bit wrong and the next thing you know I’ve been in the kitchen for three hours, made five different curries and homemade naan bread.
So I made the biscotti which I’d always imagined to be awfully complicated. And they’re really simple, look:
and even nicer with white chocolate drizzled over them (let’s face it, what isn’t?)
So having discovered that making biscotti (they cost a pound a go in Starbucks, y’know) is dead easy, I realised that they’d make the BEST teacher present for Christmas. Wrap them in some cellophane with pretty ribbon and yay, brownie points to make up for all the missed homework, the scruffy children, the forms I forget to fill in…tell me we’re not the only ones?
So I decided that along with the gingerbread biscotti there must be a space for some kind of cranberry deliciousness. I invented this recipe, so if it doesn’t work please come and shout at me. Let’s face it, Nigella’s recipes are pretty hit and miss and she’s still famous.
*best ever biscotti recipe*
(that is to say MY best ever biscotti recipe, which given that it’s the first one I’ve made doesn’t say much, but – oh, anyway, here you are)
Preheat your oven to 170 (fan) or 190 (not fan) or gas mark (I have no idea, you need to check that. Ask Delia, she’ll know)
200g plain flour
150g soft brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
75g dried cranberries
75g flaked almonds
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
You’ll need one large or two smaller greased baking trays.
Throw the flour, sugar and butter into your mixer.
(there are no words to describe how much I love my KitchenAid – even more so when it’s a bit grubby through hard work)
add the spices (I know, that seems like LOADS, but somehow the flavours are really muted if you use a normal amount) and baking powder and mix briefly before adding the cranberries and cinnamon.
What you have now is a rather splodgy dough. Divide in two, and plop onto the baking trays. Shape into sort of rectangular shapes. Whether this is a case of gently prodding or giving up as it lies in an unco-operative manner depends on some kind of strange baking alchemy. Doesn’t make much difference, anyway. (I blame the eggs.)
Pop it in the oven for 15-20 minutes. You want it cracked on top and feeling firmish to the touch.
Take the giant biscuits out of the oven. Do NOT eat. Not even a tiny taste.
Let them cool for five minutes, then slice them into biscotti-sized pieces and place them on another non-stick baking tray, cut side up.
Pop them back in the oven for ten minutes, until they look toasted on the outside, like this:
Then you have to let them cool without eating any. Not even one. I’m really good at this, honestly.
Whilst you’re waiting for them to cool, you can deal with the resultant mess.
I am officially the untidiest and most impetuous cook I know. I hadn’t even cleared away breakfast (hence cereal box) and was supposed to be making apple pie (hence cooking apples from the tree in the garden) and was also working (hence phone).
Anyway, the end result was the best biscotti ever. The children said so, so it must be true.
I am utterly hopeless as a recipe-passer-onner. Once I’ve made something once, I never look at a recipe again (see Cake Wrecks for pictorial evidence that my slapdash methods don’t translate that well to the exact science of baking).
When I had just left university, I worked for a while as a hopeless girl friday in a restaurant kitchen in Augsburg, in Germany (here – if you’re ever in Bavaria, go. I don’t work there now so it’s perfectly safe). The fact that I spoke very little German wasn’t a problem, because Frau Mali, the huge and formidable dishwashing expert, had worked for years on an American army base so she acted as my translator. This, combined with sign language, worked reasonably well (admittedly I did slightly slice off one fingernail, and there were several cheese salads that should have been something entirely different) until the day I managed to set my bottom on fire. I’d been thinking for some time I could smell something dodgy and assumed I’d spilled something on the stove. Eventually I realised things were getting decidedly hot and that the burning smell was my bottom.
Anyway (I tell you what, if this ramble doesn’t convince you I’m an ACE writer I have no idea what will…) the legacy of my time in Germany is a fondness for kümmel (caraway seeds) as a flavouring in almost anything I can get away with.
So – keep up, you lot, this was a recipe post, remember? – first off the beef and ale stew:
Note it is impossible to take a photo of stew that doesn’t look like something unmentionable.
Recipe for beef and ale stew with dumplings, Rachael style:
700g braising steak – you want it really nicely marbled with fat, not the stuff that’s completely red and lean, because whilst it might look good, it won’t taste anywhere near as nice
2 large red onions, chopped into chunks
a couple of cloves of garlic, chopped isn
four medium parsnips
three medium carrots
couple of tomatoes, chopped roughly
tomato puree (a good squirt)
beef stock of some kind
a good handful or two (half a medium sized one?) of chunked butternut squash or pumpkin
a bottle of decently-strong beer (I used Bishops Finger)
Cook the onion and garlic in some butter until soft and translucent, then add the other veg and sweat gently under cover for about ten minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick.
Meanwhile chop the meat into 1.5inch dice (because you’re cooking it for ages, if you make it any smaller it just disintegrates) and then sprinkle it with a good handful of flour and season it with salt and pepper. Brown it in a couple of batches – it’s important that it browns really well and doesn’t end up sweating fatly in the pan, which can happen if you overcrowd it. The thing about stew is if you take a bit of time at the beginning you end up with something utterly heavenly a few hours later.
Once the meat is browned, add it to the veg mixture, and then add the chopped tomatoes, a decent squish of tomato puree, a stock cube (I mean er your own lovingly handmade beef stock, ahem), a shake of caraway seeds (maybe a teaspoonful?) and a pinch of rosemary. Stir it all around a bit, then pour over the beer, and top up with boiling water so it’s just covered. Simmer for a couple of hours, or transfer to the oven for same or slow cooker for the day whilst you go to work.
Half an hour before you eat, make the dumplings:
150g self raising flour
a pinch of salt and water to mix – about 150ml
Add the water carefully – you want the mixture softish but able to make into little dumplings. Shape them into little balls, and pop them on top of the stew covered with a lid for the last half hour.
Meanwhile whilst all this is going on you can make some braised red cabbage.
One red cabbage, shredded
One clove of garlic, chopped finely
One small red onion, chopped
One large cooking apple, peeled, cored, and chopped roughly
Red wine (or mulled wine, if you have any)
Soften the onion and garlic in the butter until translucent. Add the cabbage and apple, and sweat off for a couple of minutes.
Add a large pinch of caraway seeds, a slurp (erm, I suspect maybe two tablespoonfuls?) of balsamic vinegar and the same of maple syrup. Add a glug (look, I can’t HELP IT, I cook whilst drinking wine, listening to Radio 4, refereeing arguments about Nerf Guns, helping with homework and working) of the mulled wine and then simmer on a really low heat for a good hour and a half. Or put in oven or slow cooker. I keep hoping someone will send me one of the posh slow cookers as a blogging perk, but meanwhile mine cost a tenner from Argos and works just as well. That is to say it hasn’t burst into flames yet, but every time I go out I do cross my fingers and hope it won’t.
Some pumpkins, yesterday.
(I was going to write about my favourite pumpkin pie recipe but instead I’ll just urge you to go and have a look at it, instead.)
But before you do any of that, can you please go here and vote for Tales from the Village if you are feeling kind? There’s only another two days until the end of the competition, and getting into the top 25 would be really helpful for promoting my book which is going to be released into the wild in January.
You don’t have to register or anything, and you can vote daily. Shame elections aren’t so exciting, I say.
I think most of you have worked out by now that I’m easily pleased. Iced tea in the sunshine, keeping chickens in the garden, walking in cornfields, pumpkin pie and planning autumn gardens, ladybirds, hoar frost on a dogwalk, apples, cake, crochet, cats. Writing my book (I forgot there was a snippet of the novel on here if you want a sneaky look, and there’s another bit here.
Anyway, you know what I mean. Finding lovely things in the everyday. Little snippets of happiness. So the arrival of this new magazine has filled me with glee (and a slight attack of the ooh-I-want-all-the-pretties-featured-within). Have you seen it yet?
Therapeutic baking. The other day I stood in the little front garden of this new house and pulled out the weeds that were choking the crocuses and dwarf narcissi. The smell of fresh earth hit me and I remembered how good gardening is for the soul. Today I listened to Radio 4 and baked and it was good.
Cupcakes ready to go.
Blueberry muffins (recipe below, they’re really easy and a million times nicer than the horrible oily ones you get in shops).
Not sure how long this lot will last. But they look pretty with their lilac and pale pistachio coloured icing. Someone seems to have eaten all the sprinkly things from my baking cupboard, though. Several someones, I suspect.
Photos above all taken with iPhone because my camera is dead. A new one is stupendously expensive. It might be fixable, but it looks like the cost of fixing it might be more than my battered old Canon is worth. Sob.
Preheat oven to 190c, 375F or Gas 5.
You need 300g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
0.5 tsp bicarb of soda
a pinch of salt
2 beaten eggs
175g light brown sugar
250ml natural yogurt (or buttermilk would work, and milk at a push but reduce the quantity a bit)
125ml melted butter
1tsp vanilla extract
Put the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt in a biggish bowl
Mix the melted butter, eggs, yogurt, sugar and vanilla in another bowl
Mix the two together, adding the blueberries, and just fold it together a bit (lumpy and bits of flour is fine, undermixing is worse than overmixing these)
Divide them into 12 muffin cups and bake for about 12 minutes.
I can’t remember where I originally found this recipe but I’ve been using it for so long I know the quantities off by heart. You can also do banana (a couple of over-ripe bananas mashed) or chocolate chip (big handful and a mouthful for the cook) or (yum) raspberry and white chocolate chips.
It’s another cup of tea post.
It’s a very British thing, weather. A drought was announced, causing huge problems for farmers across the south of England, and it then proceeded to pour with rain for ages, so the garden has gone all jungly but it’s too wet to cut the grass. And the whole of yesterday was so winter-ish that I spent it in bed, writing and drinking tea. Mainly drinking tea, actually, but don’t tell.
We had a little moment of summer this morning after the rain. There’s a recipe for redcurrant jelly here if yours are getting ripe too – not quite sure what you do when you’re leaving the country. I suppose I could just make it all, and give it to friends as something to remember me by? Summer without making jam seems like a strange idea.
Not much chance of making jam with the strawberry harvest. That’s it, so far. The red one was delicious.
Not as delicious as the tiny little wild strawberries we have in a pot, though.
Borage flowers. How something so pretty can grow from such a thuggish plant amazes me. One of them has elbowed its way into the border, shoving my demure little chives out of the way, and telling a rose bush to budge up.
Jungle path. If I was a child, I’d love this. I love it anyway.
The garden in June. You can compare it with the garden at Easter. Funny how things grow when you’re not looking. Like children.
I’ve been so busy that I’ve forgotten to do about a million things this week. This is one of them:
You can vote for me here if you are feeling kind.