What I'm cooking and eating

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas Chocolates


I like making these - they don't have to be just for Christmas, of course.  They do very-nicely-thank-you for Easter, and I made truffles for my father's birthday.


I allow my chocolates to harden off on a silicone baking tray, which is beautifully non-stick.  I expect you could use baking parchment, or those re-usable non-stick liners they sell for cake tins.

You don't absolutely need moulds for the truffles - you can pour them into a shallow plastic dish and allow them to set, and then roll teaspoonsful of the mixture into little balls, perhaps dusting them with cocoa powder or chocolate sprinkles.

So. Makes 72 chocolates and 3 trays-ful of truffles

About 600 grammes really good quality dark cooking chocolate
About 100 grammes less-good quality dark cooking chocolate for the truffles (you can, of course, use the best quality, but it is less necessary)
36 stoned prunes
36 dried apricots
150 ml double cream
30-60 ml spirits of your choice (brandy, Calvados, rum... I used some cranberry-orange gin someone gave me last year)

Break 300 grammes of the fine chocolate into a bowl that you have placed over a panful of simmering water.  Allow these to melt, and stir to ensure they melt smoothly.  Now drop in the prunes, about 9 at a time, fish them out with a long-handled teaspoon, and place them on your baking tray.  Please buy a new packet of both prunes and apricots for this, and don't use the ones you've had drying out in the cupboard since forever!  You can always use them up in stews and couscouses if you're not fond of them as a compote.

When you have done all the prunes, add a further 600 grammes of chocolate, melt it, and repeat with the apricots, which are easier because they are rather more regular in shape, which is why I do them second.

Leave them on the baking tray to harden off. Meanwhile you have some chocolate left over, so dip a couple of prunes and apricots for yourself.  Then add the cream to what's left, and the booze, and stir thoroughly.  It will want more chocolate, so break in another 100 grammes or so (you can use the cheaper chocolate for this, if you prefer).  Once this is all melted and incorporated into itself, spoon into moulds (Lidl occasionally has them, but they are fairly easily obtainable from places like Hobbycraft) or into a shallow plastic box.  Harden off in the fridge. 

Then place each chocolate in a paper case (ubiquitous), and if you want to be grand, make up boxes of a mixture of the chocolates (you can get boxes in Hobbycraft and also on-line, but the postage was eye-watering so I went to Hobbycraft!), seal them and present them to your adoring friends and family!

Of course, if your family like milk chocolate or even white "chocolate" better than plain, no reason you can't use that instead - just make sure it is the best quality you can get.  I've seen all three cooking chocolates in the home baking section of the supermarket.  And you don't have to stick to prunes and apricots - I tried with spoonfuls of sultanas or cranberries, which were lovely although they did tend to come apart a bit.  You could also dip shelled whole nuts - almonds, walnuts, brazils, pecans....  And I expect, although I've not tried, you could dip other home-made sweets - fudge, caramels, even truffles (if you can be bothered to melt yet more chocolate!).

You need to let the chocolates harden about 24 hours, and they're probably best kept very cool, even in the fridge, until you give them away, but they do make a very easy last-minute Christmas present.

You can also dip fresh fruit - sliced bananas, grapes, mandarin orange slices, etc - but these won't keep so you have to eat them pretty much the same day (what a pity!!!).

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Orange hash

A friend posted her recipe for sausage and leek hash. I remember loving corned beef hash as a child but, alas, the Swan Whisperer dislikes corned beef, so it doesn't feature on our menus.

However, when I came to make the hash, I found that I had only a few small new potatoes left.  I did have another bag, but it never "does" to mix two batches of potatoes, they always cook unevenly, and these were maincrop anyway.  But I also had some sweet potatoes, and then there was the end of a butternut squash that wanted used.  So.....

4-5 small new potatoes (of course you can use whatever potatoes you have, but about the amount that one person would eat), cut in half (or into bite-size chunks if you are using ordinary potatoes)
1/2 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1/4 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1-2 leeks, depending on size, washed and chopped
1/2 packed Nuremburg bratwurst (the small herby jobs from Lidl) or other sausages of your choice, cut into chunks.
1 tbs olive or other cooking oil
Seasoning, as liked  (I used some pork seasoning I have from Tesco)
60-100 grammes grated cheese

Put the oil into a large, lidded frying pan, then add the potatoes and leeks, stir and let cook on a lowish heat for 10-15 minutes, then add the sausages, stir again, and leave for another 10-15 minutes.   Season, and stir the grated cheese through before serving.

This could be made vegetarian quite simply by omitting the sausages, or vegan by using cooked chickpeas instead of sausages and stirring through a tahini dressing, some peanut butter or some hummus (or even baba ganoush).  If you don't like cheese, leave that out but perhaps fry an egg and serve that on top.... all sorts of variations, just as I varied my friend's original recipe!