Saturday 30 November 2013

Chocolate Sauced Banana Brioche Buns

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If any of you have been reading my blog for very long you will know by now that I am rather lazy when it comes to cooking.  Not that I am not capable of doing complicated and labor intensive recipes.  I am more than capable . . . but if I can find a quick and easy way of doing something and have it come out top delish, then I am all for it!    

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I was watching food tv the other day  while I was dusting, as you do (doesn't everyone??) and I just caught the end of this recipe that a guy (don't even know his hame) was making and it looked simple and easy.  I kind of caught the grasp of what he was/had done and I could remember certain elements and so I kind of threw them together and this is what I came up with.  

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I love brioche . . . those sweet, soft butter buns . . . so good with a nice hot drink, or warmed and spread with butter and ham . . . or nutella.   (Don't judge me!)  This recipe used those lovely little finger brioche, along with bananas caramelized under a grill.  

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You slip the caramelized bananas into that sweet buttery bun, and then slather it with a rich chocolate sauce, top with toasted almonds and dust with  some icing sugar.   Easy peasy.  

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Nobody has to know how quick and easy it was.  It can be our little secret.  I reckon the only way this could get better would be if you added a caramel sauce and some chopped marachino cherries.  Sounds like a banana split to me!

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*Chocolate Sauced Banana Brioche Buns*
Makes 4 servings
A quick simple dessert that will have your family licking their chops! 

For the Chocolate Sauce:
4 ounces good quality unsweetened chocolate
190g granulated sugar (1 cup )
pinch salt
1 TBS butter
230ml single cream (1 cup)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract 

you will also need:
2 small bananas
3 TBS golden Caster Sugar
4 brioche finger rolls
1 rounded TBS of toasted flaked almonds
Icing sugar to dust
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream to serve 

First make the chocolate sauce.  Place the chocolate in the top of a double boiler, over simmering water. (Or a bowl that will fit over a saucepan without the bottom touching the simmering water underneath)  Melt slowly, stirring occasionally.  Once the chocolate has melted place the top of the double boiler directly on the burner, over low heat, and whisk in the sugar, butter, salt and single cream.  Cook and whisk to combine and melt the butter.  Increase the heat to medium and cook for a further 4 minutes or so (without allowing the mixture to boil) until the sauce thickens.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla. Keep warm. 

Preheat the grill to high.  Peel the bananas and cut in half lengthwise.  Place them onto a lined baking sheet. Sprinkle evenly with the caster sugar.  Pop under the grill and grill them until the sugar melts and begins to caramelize. Keep an eye on them as it won't take very long.  You don't want the bananas cooked, just glazed.  While this is happening, warm the brioche in a hot oven. 

Take four dessert plates.  Top each with a warm brioche which you have sliced down the middle almost all the way through.  Place a glazed banana in the centre of each.  Drizzle with some chocolate sauce and toss some flaked almonds over each.  Dust with icing sugar.  Serve immediately with either a dollop of whipped cream on top or a scoop of ice cream.  You can pour more chocolate sauce over the ice cream if you wish. 

Note - This will make a lot of chocolate sauce, but no worries as it keeps well in the fridge.  Just reheat gently to use.

Friday 29 November 2013

I am such a lucky gal . . .

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I do get sent the nicest things.   This week I got this handy candy apple red Kitchen Aid Mezzaluna from the people at Red Candy.   If you aren't familiar with Red Candy, it's a company which specializes in all things red!  If Funky Home Accessories and ravishing Red Kitchen Accessories are your cup of tea, then this is the place for you!

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The Kitchen Aid Mezzaluna is a fine edged stainless steel cutter.  You cut things merely by rocking the sharp fine edges stainless steel blade over them.     It has a comfy red sure grip handle which feels really comfortable in the hands and comes with a matching red blade cover which helps to protect the blade from scratches and you from getting cut when you reach into the drawer. It's also dishwasher safe.

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I've been using it all week for chopping all sorts . . . onions, carrots, herbs, etc. and it has performed very well.   It also comes with a one year hassle free replacement and Lifetime Limited Warranty.  It's ace, which is just what you would expect from the Kitchen Aid brand.

£28 at Red Candy.

Many thanks to Red Candy for sending these to me!

Something else which I received which is really nice are the Holy Lama Spice Drops.  I was send an assortment of five different ones  . . . Garlic extract, Peppermint extract, Garama Masala Extract, Tea Massala extract and Cinnamon extract.

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Holy Lama Naturals "Spice drops" are a natural transition from powdered or whole spices to easily soluble &  longer lasting, liquid spices!

• Highly concentrated extract of the natural spice
• 3 years shelf life
• Consistent in every drop
• Easy to blend
• No artificial colours, flavours or preservatives!
• Easy to store
• Easy to use and handy time saver
• Ready to use combinations like mulled wine spices, spiced tea, etc.

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Each comes in it's own eye dropper bottle, easy to store and easy to use. No more crushing or grating.  A drop is all you need.  It is recommended that  you add them just at the end of your cooking time, so that doesn't make them very good for baking with, but I have been using them all week and found they added a nice natural flavour to my curries and stews. I especially like the garlic  You can find out more about them and where you can buy them on the Holy Lama Page.  They come in quite a few different varieties.  Many thanks to the Holy Lama people for sending these to me.  I will certainly be using more of them. I especially like the cinnamon, mint and the garlic.  The cinnamon is great in hot drinks, as is the mint (think hot chocolate here!) and the garlic was excellent when added to my soups and stews.

Potato and Parsnip Gratin

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I recently received a lovely Halogen Oven from Argos.  This was something which Todd and I had been thinking about getting for quite some time.   Our friends Sheilagh and Ralph had gotten one last year and waxed rhapsodical about it's qualities and how deliciously it roasted chicken.

You may be wondering that is a Halogen oven?  Well, a Halogen oven is a portable, multi-purpose, table-top oven which uses halogen technology which enables food to be cooked using infrared waves from a halogen light source.  It is said to cook up to 40 % faster than a conventional oven, and in doing so, uses less power and is therefore very economical to use.  A Halogen oven will roast, grill, defrost, bake and steam with the convenience of merely plugging it into an earthed mains power socket.

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It consists of a large glass bowl, which rests on a metal base.  The workings are all in the lid which sits atop the glass bowl. It should come with two racks (a lower one and a taller one) and a set of tongs which are useful for lifting the racks out.   You can also buy special cooking pans that will fit perfectly into the oven.   You can cook either directly on the racks, or in dishes and trays which are the right size to fit in.  There are two control switches on the top, one which controls the temperature of the oven and the other which controls the time.  Easy peasy.

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The first thing I cooked in it was a chicken crown.  It was one I had picked up at the grocery store and was already seasoned with lemon and pepper.  I added a nice knob of butter to the top.  It was quite interesting to watch the oven at work.  That light was really bright.   It didn't stay on the whole time.  It flashed on and off and the fan inside blew the hot air around.

It was a fairly large chicken crown and so I put it in at 200*C/400*F for approximately 45 minutes, which was slightly less than the time recommended in the package.  I was glad that I had.  It does seem to cook a lot quicker than the conventional oven.

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In fact I was quite concerned when I took it out, thinking I had actually cremated it.  Scary!  It looks quite black doesn't it.   But . . .

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The chicken meat itself was really moist and perfectly cooked.  I think the herb mixture on top had caused the skin to blacken somewhat, which really wasn't a problem at all.

Next I decided to cook a potato and parsnip gratin in it.

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It was a very simple gratin, composed simply of thinly sliced potatoes and parsnips, layered  with some chopped onion, herbs and cheese, along with some milk.

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Apparently it can take some vegetables longer too cook in the Halogen Oven than others.  I hedged my bets by slicing mine really thin and the dish was perfectly done in about an hour.  I removed the foil from the top for the last fifteen minutes so that the top would brown.

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It went really well with the chicken.  The vegetables were cooked perfectly, and maintained their shape.  Taking the cover off for the last fifteen minutes made for a lovely golden topping, and it wasn't dry at all.   In short perfect.  I was very impressed with it's performance.

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*Potato and Parsnip Gratin*
Makes 2 to 3 servings  
It takes a while to cook, but it's so delicious it is well worth the wait.  Instructions are for the Halogen oven, but you can just as easily bake this in a regular oven. 

250g of potatoes (generous half pound)
250g of parsnips (generous half pound)
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced
large bunch of parsley
100g of cheddar cheese, grated (3/4 cup)
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 TBS milk
2 TBS butter   

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Remove the lid from the oven and place the lower rack inside.  Replace the lid and preheat the oven o 200*C. 

Peel and very thinly slice the parsnips and potatoes.   Finely chop the onion, garlic and parsley.  Butter a shallow baking dish and layer the potato and parsnip slices into the dish along with 2/3 of the cheese and the onion mixture, seasoning each layer lightly as you go.   Pour over the milk and scatter over the remaining cheese.  Dot the top with butter and cover with tightly with some buttered foil or a lid. 

Put the dish into the hot oven.  Cook for 60 minutes until piping hot and cooked through.   I uncovered it for the last 15 minutes and got a lovely golden brown top.

Alternately you can do this in a regular oven at the same temperature and for the same time.

I am going to try to bake something in it next.   I think possibly a flourless chocolate cake.  What do you think???

So my verdict.  The oven did indeed cook in a shorter time and so would save a bit on the electric bill, and everything I cooked in it was moist and not dry.  The chicken was especially succulent, which is good for a chicken breast which can dry out so very easily.  It was fairly easy to use.  It is a bit on the bulky side, but I have a very small kitchen and so something doesn't have to be very large in order to cause storage stress.  It is the perfect size for Todd and myself, but I can see where it would be somewhat limiting to anyone who had a large family to cook for.  A small to medium size chicken could fit in quite nicely, but I don't think you would get a large one in, or a small turkey either.  It would have to be very small.

Here is one of the biggest bonus's of all  . . . .

It is basically self cleaning, which is just fabulous!  You just add cool water and a bit of soap to the bowl, once it has cooled down.  (Don't add cold water to a hot bowl!) Turn it onto the clean cycle for about 10 to 15 minutes and Bob's your uncle!  Done!  Most impressive.  All I had to do was to rinse it and wipe it out with a towel to dry.

You can get one of these lovely ovens at Argos right now for £44.99, which is 25% off the regular price.  The delivery time is really quick or you can pick it up sooner if you have an Argos in your immediate area.  I highly recommend.

Thursday 28 November 2013

The 2013 Christmas Wine Guide

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The 2013 Christmas Wine Guide

With Christmas just weeks away you may have started to plan your sumptuous Christmas feast - and there's a lot to consider. Do you opt for the old favourite, turkey, or perhaps something a little more adventurous such as goose? That's before you start worrying about the myriad of side dishes and desserts you'll need to prepare.

The choice of table wine however can often make or break a festive feast, and it can be hard to know exactly what species of grape will accompany a particular meat perfectly. With this in mind, the experts at Hard to Find Wines have put together this guide, offering some suggestions for your Christmas meal to take the stress out of the decision-making process.  

Turkey or Chicken

Both of these birds are the popular choices for the Christmas meal, and one of the best things about them from a wine point of view is that they go so well with a wide range of different wines. Instead, consider the side dishes and accompaniments you will be serving with the meat.  

If you are preparing spring vegetables, for example peas, consider a white wine that has a similar 'green' taste, like a Domaine Phillippe Raimbault Sancerre. If you'd prefer a red wine, a Chianti would work well.

For veg with a more 'earthy' feel consider something like a particularly woodsy Merlot or a Californian Chardonnay like Robert Mondavi Twin Oaks.  


For a roast beef Christmas dinner, Hard to Find Wines would recommend choosing a red that is well-balanced, with firm but smooth settings and an oaky flavour.

Some examples of the sorts of reds that go great with this particular meat include full-bodied, dry Bordeaux wines such as the South African Constantia Uitsig, an Australian Shiraz like Oakridge Over the Shoulder or a bold and spicy Rioja such as the Medievo Crianza.  

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A dry Riesling is ideal if you're going to be making an apple stuffing to accompany your goose, while a sp├Ątlese Riesling is great for cutting through that fat and adding a touch of sweetness.

If red wine is more to your taste then you can't go wrong with a Barolo or Barbaresco, both of which cope well with the rich flavour of the meat thanks to their structure and acidity. For something a little more crowd pleasing however you should probably opt for a Pinot Noir that displays some sweet, silky fruit flavours - don't over work your palate with big tannins.  


This is another popular choice for a Christmas meat selection, and the wine that you choose should depend on the style of pork you're cooking up.

If you're preparing something a bit spicy then something like the Madonna Estate Gew├╝rztraminer would be perfect, offering up nuances of grapefruit and honey alongside a hint of spice and a crisp finish.  

For herbed pork you want to ensure you don't overwhelm the mild flavours of the meat. A creamy Chardonnay should be perfect, especially if there are notes of apple, citrus or oak.

Ultimately the wine you choose will come down to what you like, however by following this advice from the experts, you can feel confident that your tipple will go down a treat alongside your choice of food.

This guest post was written on behalf of Hard to Find Wines, specialist providers of quality wines from all over the world that are hand-picked for their exclusivity.