Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Hotel Chocolat Giveaway.....And the winner is......

Thanks to everyone who entered the Hotel Chocolat giveaway.  I can now announce that the winner of the Hotel Chocolat Classic Christmas Selection Box is....

Beth S Paton


Please email me your address and I'll arrange for your prize to be delivered as soon as possible.

Thanks again to Hotel Chocolat for giving me the opportunity to run this great competition.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

We Should Cocoa - Chocolate & Caramelised Apple Cake

It's been a while since I entered the We Should Cocoa monthly challenge, where bloggers make and share recipes that include chocolate and another ingredient suggested the challenge host for that month.  I was determined to join in again this month but when I saw the theme I wasn't convinced I was going find a recipe to fit the bill.

This time the challenge is being hosted by Chele from the Chocolate Teapot blog and her chosen theme is apples, which is not something you automatically think to pair with chocolate.  Pears, yes, but apples? After a bit of searching I found a few apple recipes you could add chocolate to but what I really wanted was the reverse - a chocolate recipe you could add apples to.  In the end I settled on the idea for a really good chocolate apple cake and at about the same time it also occurred to me that I had the perfect cake tin for the job.  Well, "tin" isn't quite the correct word as this is one of those flexible rubber cake moulds that I bought on a whim several years ago.  I have used it a grand total of zero times since I decided I just had to have it and in the intervening years it's mostly been gathering dust in my cupboard and occasionally falling out on to my head.

As you can see, though, it's the perfect shape for this recipe and I loved the way the cake looked when it was turned out.

The cake recipe is more brownie-based than a standard sponge as it contains melted chocolate and cocoa powder which gives it a good chocolatey flavour and a wonderful, slightly gooey texture in the middle.  The apple complemented the chocolate perfectly and all-in-all it was very well received by my most discerning critics (ie my family).  I definitely be making this one again.

Chocolate & Caramelised Apple Cake

2 bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut into approx 24 slices
1oz/25g butter
1oz/25g sugar

For the cake
4oz/115g butter
1 1/4 oz/40g dark chocolate, broken up
3/4 oz/20g cocoa powder
2 eggs, separated
4oz/115g caster sugar
3oz/75g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons milk

1) Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas 4.  Grease and line a 20cm cake tin.

2) Melt the 1oz of butter in a frying pan over a medium to high heat until it starts to bubble then add the apple slices and fry for a few minutes on each side until golden.  Increase the heat and sprinkle over the sugar and 1 tablespoon of water.  When the sauce begins to turn golden, stir the apples in the pan until they are coated in the caramel.

3) Melt the remaining butter in a small saucepan over a low heat, then add the cocoa and chocolate and stir until melted.  Remove from the heat.

4) Whisk the egg yolks until they are foamy then beat in the sugar.  Add the chocolate mixture, slowly at first, then sift in the flour and baking powder and mix well.  Add the milk and mix until smooth.

5) Whisk the egg whites in a separate, clean, dry bowl until stiff then carefully fold into the cake mix, being careful not to knock the air out.

6) Line the bottom of the cake tin with the sliced apples (you may not need all the slices) and any remaining caramel, then carefully pour the cake mix over the top and smooth the surface.  Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes.  At the end of this time the middle of the cake will still be unnervingly undercooked but try not to worry, this will set into a gooey fudginess in due course.  Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin before carefully turning out.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Hotel Chocolat Classic Christmas Selection Review & Giveaway

Despite the uncharacteristically mild weather there's no escaping the fact that Christmas is just around the corner. The shops are putting up their decorations, supermarkets are stocking up with Christmas goodies and sentimental adverts are appearing on the television (John Lewis will be receiving my bill for tissues shortly). I know some complain that the Christmas Season begins too early in this country but I say bring it on!

It's great to have a reason to brighten up the darkening days and last week a little sparkly ray of sunshine arrived on my doorstep in the form of a package from Hotel Chocolat. It's no secret that I'm a fan of their chocolates so I was delighted when they offered me the chance to review one of their Christmas Chocolate Boxes.

The package in question contained their Sleekster Classic Christmas Selection Box, a Christmassy version of their fabulous selection boxes containing 28 chocolates, including pralines, caramels and truffles, all spiced and flavoured with seasonal delights such as mulled wine, gingerbread, cinnamon and even chilli, to name just a few.

I couldn't possibly pick a favourite, but some of the highlights for me were the gorgeous, comforting flavours in the gingerbread truffle, the light and fruity Christmas Mess and the very festive Zesty Marzipan Star. All were delicious though and there's no doubt that one of these boxes would be very gratefully received by any chocolate lover this Christmas.

This box retails at £22.00, or you can currently buy 3 for £20, and can be found online or at one of Hotel Chocolat's many high street stores.

And now for the really good news. I'm delighted to be able to offer my readers the chance to win one of these fab boxes of delight just in time for Christmas. If you would like to be in with a chance of winning, all you have to do is have a look at Hotel Chocolat's Christmas Gifts Collection and then leave a comment below, or on my Facebook page, telling me which one of the goodies on offer you would like to receive this Christmas. For an extra entry, you can also post the following message on Twitter

I've entered the @HalfaPotofCream competition to win a box of @HotelChocolat Classic Christmas Selection chocolates

The competition ends at midnight on Sunday 27th November and I'll announce the winner a couple of days later. Only UK entries allowed I'm afraid. Good luck!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Sausage Pasta Bake

I've been meaning to write about this recipe for positively ages as it's my most favourite pasta bake but until this weekend I haven't been able to get a picture of it. This time, though, I was determined to get a couple of snaps before it was all devoured and, as you can see, I succeeded.

I've always loved sausagey pasta sauces and this one works particularly well with the addition of a layer of cheesy white sauce. The sauce itself has bags of flavour thanks to the addition of red wine and tomato puree, and the inclusion of carrot and spinach make for a pretty well balanced meal.

This isn't a one-pot meal by any means as there are a number of steps involved but it's perfectly fine to prepare it a few hours in advance and leave it covered up until you're ready to put it in the oven. The sausage sauce could also be made in advance and either frozen or kept in the fridge for a couple of days.

I found this recipe in the BBC Good Food Magazine many years ago and have made it over and over since then. The perfect Sunday night dinner!

Sausage Pasta Bake
(taken from BBC Good Food Magazine long ago)

For the sausage sauce
400g good quality pork sausages
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 large carrot, grated
150ml red wine
300ml vegetable stock
3 tbsp tomato puree

For the white sauce
50g butter
50g plain flour
600ml milk
freshly grated nutmeg

500g rigatoni or penne
200g fresh spinach
140g mature cheddar, grated

1) Slit the sausages and remove them from their skins, then chop them into small pieces. Heat the oil in a pan, add the onion and fry for 5 minutes until softened and lightly browned. Stir in the sausages and fry until lightly coloured. Add the carrot, then stir in the wine, stock, tomato puree and season. Bring the sauce to the boil, the simmer uncovered, for about 15 minutes until thickened. Taste and season then set aside.

2) To make the white sauce put the butter, flour and milk in a pan. Gently heat, whisking, until thickened and smooth. Add a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg, season, then simmer for 2 minutes.

3) Preheat the oven to 190c/gas 5/fan 170c. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta, stir well then cook until tender. Remove from the heat, stir in the spinach and, when just wilted, drain well.

4) Tip half the pasta into a shallow ovenproof dish, about 2.2 litres/4 pints, and level. Spoon over the sausage sauce, then cover with the remaining pasta. Pour the white sauce evenly over the top and sprinkle with cheddar. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Leave for 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 6

Friday, 11 November 2011

Moroccan Fish Stew

With the season of indulgence advancing steadily towards us, here's a gratifyingly healthy recipe that will help to balance things out a bit. This is another recipe from Bill Grainger's book, Every Day, and like many of the recipes in this book it was very light and fresh with lovely gentle flavours. Plus, as the main ingredients are fish and couscous you can have it on the table in under 30 minutes.

Moroccan Fish Stew
(adapted from Every Day by Bill Grainger)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 cinnamon stick
pinch cayenne pepper
400g tin chopped tomatoes
pinch of sea salt
500g/1 lb 2oz firm white fish fillets (such as cod, snapper or ling), cut into chunks
400g tin chickpeas, rinsed
2 teaspoons honey
freshly ground black pepper

To serve
fresh coriander leaves
flaked almonds, lightly toasted

1) Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based pan over a medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the onion is translucent.

2) Add the garlic, ginger, cumin, turmeric and cinnamon and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more, or until fragrant.

3) Add the cayenne, tomatoes, salt and 250ml/9 fl oz/1 cup of water and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Add the fish and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the fish is just tender.

4) Add the chickpeas and honey and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Season to taste. Serve garnished with coriander and flaked almonds.

Serves 4

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Rocky Road Crunch Bars

One of the things that pains me the most about the rise in food prices in recent years is the dramatic increase in the price of chocolate. Dark chocolate appears in so many of my favourite recipes but where a couple of years ago 100g of decent 70% dark chocolate cost about a pound, these days you'll easily pay about 50% more than that and even more if you want organic.

So, when I use it I want to really make it count and this is a recipe that really makes you feel like you've got your money's worth. If you search for Rocky Road online you'll find a variety of different recipes and ultimately you can add pretty much anything you like - digestive biscuits, ginger biscuits, marshmallows and any sort of dried fruit that takes your fancy.

This time I've used Nigella's recipe from her book, Nigella Express, which is one my favourite of her books and contains lots of quick and easy recipes that I've used time and time again.

This is one of the simplest recipes for Rocky Road as it just contains crushed Rich Tea biscuits and marshmallows. Next time I might try adding a handful of raisins to the mix aswell. As this only uses dark chocolate it might not appeal to some children (mine weren't overly keen) so if you want to make a more family friendly version you might want to replace some or all of the dark chocolate with milk. Most adults, though, will love the dark, rich combination of crunchy biscuit and squishy marshmallow. I certainly do and I'm just wondering if I can justify having another piece already.

On a final note, the tin I used was a bit bigger than the one specified so I struggled to cover the whole of the top with the reserved chocolate. When I make it again I think I'll size down, tin-wise, rather than up.

You can find the recipe on Nigella's website here.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Risotto Bolognese

When you think of flavours to add to a risotto, bolognese is not something that immediately comes to mind. However, when I saw that this recipe had been highly recommended on another food blog (Cooking the Books with Kelly Jane) and thought I'd give it a try.

The recipe comes from Nigella's recent book, Kitchen, and while making it I have to confess that I wasn't convinced it was going to work - sorry Nigella! The combination of the meat sauce and the stock seemed to me to be way too much liquid and I was worried it wouldn't all be absorbed by the time the rice had cooked. But I was wrong of course and it turned out just fine with the amount of liquid being exactly what I needed to cook the rice to perfection.

It is a fairly long-winded recipe so it's best saved for a Sunday afternoon or a day when you have lots of time on your hands. Having said that, though, you can prepare the meat sauce in advance and either keep it in the fridge for a day or two or freeze it. I froze half the meat sauce and used the rest to make a half portion of the risotto. This fed two adults and two children with a little bit left over for my lunch the next day.

This is a really delicious recipe which is just full of flavour and definitely worth the extra effort required to make it. 5 stars from me!

Risotto Bolognese
(adapted from Kitchen by Nigella Lawson)

1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 carrot, peeled and halved
1 stick celery, halved
1 small glove of garlic, peeled
handful fresh parsley
75g rindless streaky bacon
4 anchovy fillets (optional)
50g unsalted butter plus 1 x 15ml tablespoon
1/2 teaspoon regular olive oil
250g minced beef, preferably organic
80ml marsala
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 x 15ml tablespoon tomato puree
2 x 15ml tablespoons full-fat milk
2 litres veal stock (500ml plus 1.5 litres), preferably organic (I used beef stock)
2 bay leaves
500g risotto rice
6 x 15ml tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve
salt and pepper to taste

1) Preheat the oven to 150c/gas mark 2. Put the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, parsley, bacon and anchovy into a processor and blend to a fine mush.

2) Heat the 50g butter and 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil in a deep heavy ovenproof casserole with a lid (I don't have one of these so used a large frying pan then transferred everything to a regular, lidded casserole dish). Tip in the contents of the processor and cook for about 5 minutes until softened.

3) Add the meat and let it brown a little, breaking it up in the pan, then add the marsala. Process the tomatoes until smooth and add to the meat. Stir the tomato puree into the milk then add this mixture to the pan, along with the 500ml veal stock and the bay leaves.

4) Bring to the boil on the hob then put on the lid (or transfer to your dish of choice) and put in the oven for 1 hour. After this time, remove it from the oven and take out the bay leaves.

5) Heat the remaining 1.5 litres of stock in a saucepan and keep it warm over a low heat, then put the meat sauce on a low heat next to it.

6) Stir the rice into the meat sauce and then add a ladleful of the hot stock. Stir until the rice and sauce become thick again and then add another ladleful of stock.

7) Continue to add the stock as needed, a ladleful at a time, stirring all the time as you go. Check to see if the rice is cooked after about 18 minutes - you may not need to use all the stock.

8) When it's ready, turn off the heat and stir or beat in the cheese and the extra tablespoon of butter before before seasoning to taste. Serve in warmed, shallow bowls with extra Parmesan on the side.

Serves 6-8