Chocolate Orange biscuits

Is Terry’s Chocolate Orange now solely associated with Christmas? It seems as though it’s joined the likes of mince pies and Lindt reindeer, eaten solely in the festive season. I quite clearly remember the TV advert of bygone days: ‘Tap it, don’t whack it’, Dawn French instructed us. My initial plan with one of these was to chop it up for biscuits, until I recalled this recipe (is all I do praise Delia Smith?), the choice of my very first solo baking project in primary school. Aged nine or ten, I excitedly brought in plastic boxes of these biscuits and put them proudly in the hall for a bake sale. During break-times, I lingered to check the progress of sales, anxious that they be eaten; so my nerves were much soothed to discover that the one of the cleaners, having bought a couple, had returned a little later to buy up the whole lot.

The orange in these biscuits is just right in balancing the dark chocolate, with an ideal level of sweetness. They’re much better suited to a crispy biscuit than a soft one.

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You’ll need (to make around 22 biscuits):

  • 125g butter (Delia stipulated spreadable, but I used salted at room temperature)
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 2 level tsps baking powder
  • 75g chopped dark chocolate (I used a 100g bag of dark chocolate chips)
  • zest of 2 oranges
  • 1 tbsp orange juice
  • extra icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, and line two baking trays with baking paper. Zest both oranges, and juice one of them.

Mix the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon, or an electric hand mixer (much easier). Sift in the flour and baking powder, then add the remaining ingredients, before mixing well to form a dough. (Mine was rather wet, on account of my using too much orange juice.)

Flour a working surface, then roll out the dough to 1cm thickness. Use a cookie cutter to cut out the biscuits, and place them on the trays reasonably spaced apart. (I had to skip this step, and used just a tablespoon to put the dough onto the trays.)

Bake the biscuits for twenty minutes, or until golden brown. After they have cooled, dust with a little extra caster sugar.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Supremely easy Pasta

When you’re looking for a quick dinner fix, pasta is the obvious option. When I’m in a particularly can’t-be-bothered-to-cook-but-need-food-pronto mood, I run a mental inventory of the fridge and the cupboards, before generally putting the kettle on and grabbing a packet of penne.

This evening, I found myself drifting into this kind of mood, after a day of tiresome essay-drafting and reading. I knew, from where I sat at my desk upstairs, that the cupboards were rather empty: but that there were tomatoes, and pasta, and cheese, and that was everything one could need.

I threw together a speedy and easy spinach, garlic, and tomato sauce, to top a big bowl of spaghetti. A good sprinkling of chilli flakes and a generous squirt of lemon juice added plenty of flavour.

You’ll need:

  • 100g of your preferred pasta (spaghetti holds the sauce well)
  • a clove of garlic
  • chilli flakes
  • half a lemon
  • seven or eight cherry / plum tomatoes
  • a few handfuls of fresh spinach, or about three blocks of frozen
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • mature cheddar cheese

Finely chop the clove of garlic and slice the tomatoes in half. Get a pan of water boiling.

Weigh out your pasta, or measure it by hand if you’ve got that pasta-estimation gift. Heat a splash of olive oil in a frying pan.

As the pasta is boiling, begin lightly cooking the tomatoes. When they are beginning to break down, add the garlic, and a teaspoonful of chilli flakes.

If using frozen spinach, put in a bowl with water to cover, and microwave for three minutes on a high heat, or until defrosted. Drain in a colander. If using fresh spinach, begin wilting it into the pan with the tomatoes.

Drain the pasta. Incorporate the tomatoes and spinach, and season well with salt and pepper, and more chilli if needed. Squeeze the lemon over the top.

Dish over the pasta, grate a huge quantity of cheese on top, and dig in!

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Gingerbread biscuits

Come Christmastime, nostalgia calls. For everyone, the festive season comes attached with a set of family-specific traditions – repeated year on year, these form the sacrosanct parts of our memories of Christmas.

For me, these traditions are very simplistic. We don Santa hats to decorate the tree; my mum fills our fabric advent calendars with little chocolates; we spend Christmas Eve writing late cards for the neighbours, and watching Scrooge in black-and-white; we hand-wrap the cat’s presents and watch on Christmas morning as he paws at them, nonplussed. Many of our traditions, like everybody else’s, are food-focused: getting the first mince pies in during November, making a chocolate Yule log on the 23rd, and munching through rather too many tins of Quality Street.

I like to bake a series of sweet treats which I associate only with Christmas. The first of these on my list this year was gingerbread biscuits: perhaps an all-year sight on shelves nowadays, but a December exclusive for me. So, I headed out to buy ingredients for my trusted Delia Smith recipe, who is my go-to chef for cakes and biscuits; however, two shops later, black treacle proved too elusive an item to track down. Not willing to do the recipe injustice by skimping on it, I decided to switch; and here Fate intervened in directing my attention to the back of the light brown sugar packet in my bag, featuring a recipe for gingerbread men.

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This is Tesco’s recipe, and also appears on the pack of their plain flour packet, as I discovered once back home. You’ll need:

  • 350g plain flour, and extra for dusting
  • 125g lightly salted butter, at room temperature
  • 175g soft light brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • an egg
  • gel icing or icing sugar to decorate (feel free to use raisins, chocolate  buttons, Smarties, or whatever you like.)

 

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4, and line three large baking trays with baking paper.

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl with the ginger, cinnamon, and bicarbonate of soda. Add the butter, and use a hand mixer or food processor to pulse to the consistency of breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.

Crack the egg into a bowl and mix well with the golden syrup – I used a teaspoon to scrape the syrup off of the larger spoon, stubborn liquid that it is. It’ll take a minute or two before they’re fully incorporated. Add to the flour bowl.

Mix everything well to form a dough. Press into a ball and place in the fridge for fifteen minutes -this makes it easier to handle.

Lightly dust a kitchen surface, and roll out the dough to half a centimetre’s thickness. Use any cookie cutter shapes you have to hand to form the biscuits; in my cupboard, there stands an old ice-cream tub of smiling dogs and cats, hearts, circles, and a few indistinguishable outlines. I chose a small gingerbread person (unencumbered by gender), a tree, and a star.

Dust the cutters with flour as you go along, to prevent the dough from sticking. Keep rolling the remaining until you’ve used it all up.

Pop in the oven and bake for fifteen minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and leave to cool before decorating. Having no gel icing, I mixed 60g of icing sugar with a few teaspoons of warm water, adding several drops of green food colouring, to decorate the trees and paint the ginger-folks’ faces. Rather sloppily done, in the style of my seven-year-old self. (But a perfectly decorated biscuit has nothing of the spirit of Christmas at all.)

On the whole, I enjoyed this variation of gingerbread biscuits, although I added an extra teaspoon each of ginger and cinnamon, with the sneaking suspicion that the recipe wouldn’t pack enough flavour. The first tray, having been left in the oven slightly longer, provided a crisper biscuit; if you like them softer, stick to the recommended baking time.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Lemon chicken and potato traybake

As the end of term approaches, I plan my meals around using up all my fresh food, as well as my frozen meat, fish, and bread. So imagine my recent surprise as I rummaged through the freezer, and clapped eyes on a bundle of frozen chicken breasts I’d completely forgotten about. Three of them, carefully sealed in freezer bags, sat buried underneath my substantial supply of frozen peas. Thinking I had none left, and not being inclined to stock up with only a few weeks left, chicken hadn’t been on the menu for quite a while. Pleasantly surprised, I dug one piece out to defrost, and set to browsing the web for chicken recipes.

The first to appear on my screen seemed to tick all the boxes, through a providential gift of fate. Lemon and chicken isn’t a combination I had previously tried, but one I could taste clearly beforehand; and I do love the heartiness of roast chicken and potatoes (clearly missing my regular Sunday dinners.) The recipe is here, but I’ll post it as I made it myself.

 

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You’ll need (to serve one hungry student):

  • one skinless, boneless chicken breast (you can use chicken thigh – in which case I’d recommend leaving the skin on, as it is delicious)
  • a large baking potato
  • half a lemon
  • a clove of garlic
  • 1tsp dried rosemary
  • 1tsp dried oregano
  • cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil
  • vegetables to serve: I added a sliced, slightly withered green pepper to the tray, but anything would compliment nicely: courgette, green beans, peas, carrots…

 

The method is brilliantly simple. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, and line a roasting tray with tin foil – believe me, when you see the state of the foil after you’ve removed the cooked potato and chicken, you’ll appreciate this foresight.

In a small mug, make the dressing. Mince the garlic, and mix with a good splash of olive oil, the juice of the lemon, a pinch of salt, pepper, dried herbs, and cayenne pepper to your liking. Incorporate well.

Chop up the potato into small chunks, and arrange in the tray. (The smaller the pieces, the quicker they’ll roast.) Slice the vegetables and place to one side. With your hands, coat the potatoes with half of the dressing. Slide the tray into the oven for ten minutes.

Remove the tray, and place the chicken breast beside the potatoes. If roasting vegetables, slot them into any available space. Coat the chicken and veg with the roast of the marinade.

In with the tray for another half and hour; half way through, turn everything round.

When the chicken is cooked through and the potatoes crispy on the outside, but soft in the centre, plate up and serve with a little natural yoghurt, and a wedge of lemon, if you like.

The herbs, cayenne, and lemon make a great combination, and add a lot of flavour. I do like my food spicy, so went for a generous amount of cayenne; the yoghurt provided a nice cooling-off. This recipe is easy to bulk up for additional people, and makes for a satisfying Sunday dinner.