Real Brownies!

So like I said, in recent months I’ve seen all manner of “healthy” brownies parading virtuously around Internet Land. Gluten free, sugar free, grain free, made with beetroot, beans, courgettes, mayonnaise, mashed avocado, mashed banana, and my personal least favourite – cauliflower (that person was quickly unfollowed on pinterest). Would you eat them? Have you tried them? Let me know in the comments section.

BROWNIES AREN’T MEANT TO BE HEALTHY!

Now I’ve got that off my chest, it’s time to revisit this recipe for wonderfully naughty peanut butter brownies, that were cake of the month way back in 2015. They were based on a ‘Peanut Butter Brownie Bomb’ that I was fortunate enough to try at the Chocolate Festival in Oxford one year.

If you already have a favourite brownie recipe, use that. Otherwise you can’t go wrong with this recipe based on the one found in The Hummingbird Bakery book.

Basic Brownies

With this recipe as a starting point you can make any flavour that takes your fancy.

  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 175g butter
  • 325g golden caster sugar
  • 130g plain flour
  • 3 eggs (any size)

Preheat the oven to 170°c/gas mark 3. Grease and line a rectangular traybake tin.

Break the chocolate into chunks and put in a saucepan/heatproof bowl with the butter. If you use a medium to large saucepan/bowl you can do all the mixing in it and save on washing up. Place over a pan of simmering water and stir gently till melted.

Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Sift in the flour and mix well. Beat in the eggs.

Pour into the prepared tin [Add extra ingredients at this point; for peanut butter brownies take half a jar of crunchy peanut butter and sweeten to taste with icing sugar. Dot the brownie mixture with the peanut butter] bake for around 30 mins. It should be glazed and flaky looking on top but still a little soft in the middle but a little over cooking won’t hurt it. Leave to cool in the tin, on top of a wire rack.

Makes 12 to 18 squares

PB brownies are particularly good if topped with milk chocolate. Melt 200g of a good quality milk chocolate and spread over the cooled brownie slab. leave to set then cut into squares or cut into small squares and completely coat each square in chocolate (you can thank me later).

George

Meet George. George is a gall bladder. My gall bladder. George is inflamed. He dissaproves of red meat, cheese, cream, butter, chocolate and biscuits. He’s not too sure about sugary or spicy foods either. Tea and coffee annoy him. The worst thing is he’s so arbitrary, he might let a sneaky piece of cake pass, but then kick up a fuss about something as innocent as a bowl of cornflakes. The whole thing is seriously impacting on my mental wellbeing. Eating? Well it’s practically my number 1 hobby!

Me: “I will eat some of this yummy and nutritious food”

George: “Why don’t I just go ahead and make some stones right now?”

Me: “Just a little bit?”

George: “FOOL! Now you must be punished!”

Cue bloating, stabbing pains and severe poopies.

George is a jerk.

The Winter Of Our Discontent

Look! Proof that we can have weather other than rain!

Buttered Crumbs is very interested in the Danish concept of “Hygge” and perhaps more so in the German concept of “Gemutlichkeit”, which is very similar but much easier to say.

Holly, of the decor8 blog sums them up very neatly in an article on how to create Hygge at home:

“a space or situation that is warm and cosy, that induces a cheerful mood and peace of mind, without a need to hurry or worry, and with a connotation of belonging and social acceptance”.

http://decor8blog.com/2014/12/22/10-ways-to-create-hygge-at-home/

It’s all very much what the Buttered Crumbs blog is all about, though I am concentrating on the foodie aspect.

It has been said that Denmark has a high suicide rate, possibly linked to the miserable winters. This is rather unfair; on a 2012 Suicide Rate WHO list of 170 countries, Denmark came in at number 82, with 25 other European countries ahead of it and way behind Canada, the U.S and Australia. England came in at 105, it’s very hard to be suicidal while comsuming a cup of tea and some Jammy Dodgers. In actuality Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world, with high levels of personal wellbeing, so they must be on to something. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34345791

Don’t you wish we had an English word like Hygge or Gemutlichkeit? What would it mean to you? Tea and biscuits, long walks in the country, seaside towns, chips eaten piping hot out of the bag, afternoon tea, Sunday lunch, lemonade and a bag of crisps at the pub on a summer afternoon, stately homes, feeding the ducks, crochet blankets, listening to a storm while tucked up in bed, all these spring to mind but how could you sum them up in one word? English can be such a poetic language but fails us here. How about Elevensesque or Tea’n’biscuitish? Any ideas?

This post is gluten free.

Buttered Crumbs is not into food fads and trendy diets. I don’t stress about the various fashions in healthy superfoods or the latest media hyped this-food-will-give-you-cancer-and-make-you-ugly scares. But I do have a tummy ache.

And bloating, lethargy, brain fog, windy pops etc. Getting a bit fed up with it, so I’m going to try going gluten free for a month to see what happens. I seem to have inherited all of mother’s other health problems, so why not this one too?

What bugs me though is the general assumption by the internet community, that you also want to be paleo, low carb, low fat, sugar free, vegan, raw and “clean” whatever that means!

I’m sorry, but I’m an English woman not a cave man. I like my food cooked. With enough fat, sugar and carbs to make it taste nice. I don’t want weird gloopy substitutes, just food that tastes good in it’s own right, an averagely balanced diet that won’t make me bang my head against the wall in frustration. I like meat and dairy and eggs and cultivated grains and sugar. And nothing will ever convince me that cauliflower is a valid alternative to rice/pasta/pizza base. PIZZA BASE! ARE YOU CRAZY?

For the record, I’m not predjudiced. I like healthy food. I like fruit and veg. But like I said, I’m English, if I don’t get my tea and biscuits I can get pretty cranky.

I did try detoxing once when that was all the rage. A most unpleasant experience! Also, not so long ago while in the local organic food shop, I was tempted to try the (very expensive) raw chocolate bar. The taste was indescribable, indescribably gross that is, I can’t compare it to anything because it was like nothing else I’ve ever tasted! I spat it out. Small Boy spat it out. Eldest Son spat it out. Mr Crumbs…said it was o.k and ate it.

Actually going without bread doesn’t bother me too much. While pregnant with Small Boy I developed a violent antipathy towards sandwiches and have never really recovered!

The next few weeks will be an interesting adventure, I hope you will join me.

Minched Pye*

Call me a Christmas Humbug (wouldn’t be the first time, and it’s true) but I hate:

  • As mentioned before, the way some foods get annexed by popular celebrations so you can’t enjoy them without appearing to join in.
  • Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, mince pies, Christmas…
  • The yearly consumerfest that starts in late October. It’s not Christmas yet dudes.

Each to their own though eh?

Let’s consider for a moment the modern mince pie. Over sweet, too rich, too many raisins with bits of stalk or pips, enough allspice to choke a horse and in the case of factory produced pies, that awful pastry that is thick and cloying or dissapears into unpleasant dust when you bite into it. Do people actually like mince pies or is it just cultural indoctrination, you have to eat them because that’s what you do at Christmas right?

And yet, properly made home made pies with fresh mincemeat, no suet, proper spices and crispy pastry are a thing of unsurpassed beauty.

Try it, and I give you special permission to eat them any time of year!

A Better Mince Pie

Makes 12

For the pastry:

  • 10 oz (270g) plain flour
  • 2.5 oz (45g) butter
  • 2.5 oz (45g) hard vegetable fat or lard
  • pinch of salt

Rub the fats into the flour and salt, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Gradually add small amounts of cold water and stir around with a knife until the dough starts to clump together. Using your hands, bring the clumps together into a ball (adding a touch more water if it’s too dry) and knead briefly until smooth. Chill the dough in the fridge for half an hour.

For the mincemeat:

  • 1 apple, any kind
  • 1oz (30g) raisins
  • 1oz (30g) sultanas
  • 0.5oz (15g) flaked or chopped almonds
  • 1oz (30g) brown sugar
  • 1tbsp booze, whiskey, rum, brandy or suchlike, I used whiskey
  • 1tbsp soft butter
  • ¼ tsp each of ground cloves, ground cinnamon and ground mace (or nutmeg but mace is nicer)
  • the grated zest of one lemon
  • 1tbsp lemon juice

Grate the apple into a bowl. Add all the other ingredients and mix well. You could replace the almonds will any other dried fruit or nut if you like. Leave covered at room temerature for half an hour for the flavours to blend.

Grease a 12 hole patty tin. Pre heat the oven to 190°c/170 fan/gas mark 5.

Roll the pastry out on a floured surface to the thickness of a pound coin. Cut out 12 circles large enough to cover the holes in the tin. A 3.5 inch cutter will probably do it, it depends on your tin and your cutter. Put a teaspoon of mincemeat into each pie, don’t overfill or it will ooze out in the oven. Roll out the pastry again and cut out 12 more, slightly smaller circles. Put one on top of each pie and press down gently.

Poke a small hole in each pie to let the steam out. Brush with milk or beaten egg and sprinkle with a little granulated sugar.

Bake until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Best eaten on the day of baking.

mince2

* possibly, maybe, an old name for a mince pie

Your mamma is so fat…

In a world where we are encouraged (quite rightly) to respect others whatever their race, creed, colour or lifestyle choices, fat bashing still seems to be socially acceptable. I recently saw a comment on youtube suggesting that fat people should only date other fat people because they had similar “interests and hobbies”. I don’t really consider being overweight a “hobby”, it’s not like one day you wake up and decide to collect body fat!

There are of course many factors that contribute to obesity, lack of education about healthy eating, poverty, lack of exercise, health issues and so on. I dare say many of us could try harder, but..

We are designed to eat and store fat for leaner times and the food industry is geared to make us buy and eat as much as possible. Manufacturers and supermarkets use a cunning variety of psychological tricks to make us feel hungry, to buy more and to crave more.  In supermarkets for instance: the smell of fresh bread (or doughnuts) and pictures of people eating, both make us want to eat too. Unhealthy foods seem to get a disproportional amount of advertising, sugar and fat fill our brains with feel good chemicals and like any drug you need more and more to get the same buzz. Pringles for example, are allegedly designed to have the same snap and crunch as a fresh vegetable, triggering a response in the brain to eat more (so that’s why once you pop you can’t stop?) (mmm, Pringles)

According to research scientist Margaret Leitch, losing weight is “physically painful” as we were designed to store calories not to lose them. Our bodies just haven’t caught on to the fact that modern life is so much more sedentary. So are we fighting a losing battle and destined for the floating chairs in the  Wall-e film?

Leitch stresses the importance of behavioural  changes such as getting enough sleep and exercising, not because you will lose weight, but for it’s positive effect on our moods. I suppose if we are feeling good about ourselves, we are less likely to engage in self destructive eating habits? I guess I would have to read the book “Fat Planet” which is most likely available in all good book stores etc, etc, to find out more.

Anyway, the point is there is no simple answer for why we eat all the pies, or what to do about it. Positive behaviour is a good place to start, so off to bed with you and if possible walk to the office tomorrow!

The Great Curdling Myth

“To the making of books there is no end, and much devotion to them is wearisome to the flesh” – Solomon Ecclesiastes 12:12

This could just as easily read “to the making of cookery books there is no end”, so many books, so many authors, so much conflicting advice. Home baking is the current trend with every chef, celebrity and food writer jumping on the band wagon (hey, I liked cakes before they were fashionable!)

A lot has been said about curdled cake mixture (see picture above) which happens when the butter and/or eggs are not at the same ideal room temperature, the butter doesn’t emulsify fully and you see tiny little blobs of it in the mixture. Most of the information I have read on the subject is negative, from tips on how to “fix” the problem, to the what I consider criminal advice to chuck it out and start again. Which considering the room temperature of the kitchen isn’t likely to have changed much in the last ten minutes, will lead novice bakers to conclude that they are hopeless failures and give up.

So, let me give you the benefit of thirty years of baking experience: as long as the butter isn’t straight out of the fridge IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER!

risencakeBehold! An adequately risen cake (made from the batter in the top picture) with a moist and tender crumb.

Don’t panic! You are probably a better baker than you think, in the end it’s all about practice makes perfect.

Who are you calling chicken?

Poultry day today, though there is a scarcity of information on the internet as to why, or who started it. Once an expensive treat, chicken is now the second most widely consumed meat after pork. Rather than trotting out my favourite chicken or egg recipe, I would like us to spare a thought for these often mistreated animals.

High demand for cheap meat and eggs means intensive farming, centered on profits not animal welfare. A quick search on the internet will reveal the horrific conditions they have to put up with. I implore you to buy free range eggs and meat wherever possible, or if money is tight to at least buy British, as our welfare standards are much higher than some of the countries we import meat from.

Thankfully battery cages have now been banned in the E.U and replaced with “enriched cages” which allow a little natural behaviour, though quite frankly I don’t think they’re much better. After 12-18 months of intensive egg laying the birds are culled. There are charities such as The British Hen Welfare Trust who do their best to collect and re house as many of these hens as possible and give them a happy retirement. http://www.bhwt.org.uk/

Chickens are beautiful and engaging creatures, I always say that there is nothing as happy as a happy chicken and seeing a sickly, ragged and scared bird blossom into a fluffy, friendly (and still productive) bundle of joy, is a wonderful thing to experience. If you have some basic experience of chicken keeping, I highly recommend adopting a small flock of ex-cage hens.hero dustThis is Hero on the day we got her, being dusted for mites. You can see how ragged her feathers are and how most of her neck feathers are worn off from sticking her head through the bars of the cage. What you can’t see is how badly her beak was damaged. All cage hens have the tip of their beak cut off to stop them pecking each other (it seems to make sense but is widely believed to cause long term pain and suffering to the bird) They took way too much off Hero’s beak making it difficult for her to eat. She changed from the scrawny thing you see here to a plump and sociable creature who loved to follow us around pecking our shoes. She led a full and happy life and I was there to make her as comfortable as possible in her last moments.moriatyMoriarty was in a similar state, see how enlarged her comb is from living in over heated conditions, all the feathers on her back were missing and her poor little red pecked botty with its tuft of feathers, looked just like a shuttlecock! She’s still very timid, though Meg, who we got at the same time, is as bold as they come. They all have different personalities and are a delight to watch as instinct kicks in and they learn how to behave naturally for the first time in their lives!

No one would accept a cat or dog being kept in a small cage unable to move around, groom themselves, eat and drink normally, get a bit of privacy or be unable to escape bullying, so remember all of the animals who spend their entire lives suffering so we can eat meat or are euthanized as soon as they are past their prime.

Final Food Fantasy

Biting winds, sleet, rain and hail are harsh reminders that winter is not over yet. On a day like this you need extra comforting comfort food, something rich and slow cooked. Preferably with a sticky chocolatey pudding for afters. The stuff of life style magazine fantasy, where the slow cooked lamb is safely in the Aga while you and your similarly attractive and wellington clad friends leave the comfort of the wood burning stove in your stone built cottage in an historic market town, to go for a bracing walk in the country. On the way back you stop at a charming pub to sample the excellent local ales and ciders. Arriving back at the cottage with cold cheeks but warm bellies, it’s time to put the finishing touches to the meal. Someone opens a bottle of wine and to a background of soft music the evening flows by in laughter and amusing conversation…..

What do I get eh? Trusting my tiny and unpredictable electric oven to do the job and hoping the “vintage” gas fire will keep the living room warm, I dash out through deepest suburbia on the school run. Stopping at the local Co-Op for some peas and carrots. The meal time conversation is centered on Minecraft and other video games, no wine, no music, but at least there is laughter and good food.

Slow cooked Lamb

This works best with a whole leg but a half leg or shoulder would be just fine, but will take less time to cook.

Brown the meat all over in a large casserole dish. Pour over 300ml of white wine 300ml of stock (vegetable, beef or chicken would all work). Surround with whole carrots, the peeled cloves of a bulb of garlic and 2-4 onions, peeled and halved. Cook on a low heat, 120°c or equivalent, for up to seven hours. Reduce the juices in a saucepan by about a third, add a splash of sherry and a spoonful of redcurrant jelly, season to taste. Serve the meat in chunks, with the vegetables and some roast or mashed potatoes.

If you don’t have a casserole dish large enough for a whole leg, use a large roasting tray and give it a tin foil hat, which has the added benefit of stopping mind reading aliens from knowing what you are having for dinner.

based on a recipe in the book: BBC GoodFood Slow-cooking recipes

 

Spring is in the air

There’s a change in the air, you can smell it. Fresh growth is sprouting under the weak sunshine and the birds in the garden are busy collecting nesting materials. The domestic birds: Verity, Scootaloo, Meg and Moriarty, can feel it too and laying is in full swing. Visitors are compelled to leave with half a dozen eggs whether they like it or not.

Do you know what really yanks my chain? The way simple seasonal things have been annexed by popular celebrations. Chocolate eggs are for Easter, pumpkins for Halloween, turkey and cranberries for Christmas, anything red, white and blue is “patriotic”. Well I want them when I want them and refuse to be tied down by man made traditions, so there (raspberry noise)!

Inspired by the busy bird life outside the kitchen window I wanted to made birds nest biscuits (cookies, for any American readers). You probably already have recipes for shortbread and chocolate crispy cakes So go rootle them out and gather the ingredients. You will also need a bag of marshmallows (the proper ones, not Flumps) and about 200g of chocolate mini eggs.

Birds Nest Biscuits

A batch of round shortbread bicuits (I used about 10, with some left over)

A batch of  chocolate cornflake or rice crispy cake mix

Marshmallows

Chocolate mini eggs

Bake the shortbread until pale gold in colour.  Cut some marshmallows in half and put half a mallow on each biscuit. Pop them back in the oven for a couple of minutes until the mallow has melted slightly. Put them on a wire rack to cool.

Prepare the chocolate cornflake mix. Put a large spoonful of mixture on top of each biscuit, covering the marshmallow. Press three chocolate eggs on top of each one and leave till the chocolate has set.

Don’t do what I did and try to melt all of the marshmallows at once in a saucepan. You will never get the resulting sticky mess as far as the biscuits; have you ever read the story of Brer Rabbit and the tar baby? Need I say more!

distorted eggs

Did you know?: The reason that so many flags are red, white and blue is because indigo blue and the colour known as “Turkey Red” were the only reliably colourfast  dyes until chemical dyes were invented in the 1800’s.