Quick, Easy but Not That Cheap Granola

Somewhere between 2007 and 2011, I realised that granola had stopped being associated with lentil weaving and had become a stalwart of brunch menus across the land. It probably happened earlier than this, but I'm not particularly up on the food scene, as evidenced by my use of the phrase 'the food scene'.

I don't live in a cheap area of London. The nearest places to me that serve brunch charge £6 for granola, yoghurt and berries so I've never eaten it in a restaurant.

You would think that buying a box from the shops would be cheaper. Which it is, bowl for bowl. But the price of the good stuff is insane, when you consider that the basic ingredients are oats, nuts, dried or freeze-dried fruit.

So how do the premium brands get away with charging nearly £4 for 400 grams? Truly, it makes me want to punch all the stupid granola in its fancy foil bags. Well, when I decided to try and make my own granola at home, I realised why.

Maple & Walnut Scones

I made these scones in order to participate in this month's Random Recipes. The challenge was to make the recipe on page 30 of the thirtieth cookbook you counted up in your collection.

I've owned the book I selected, 'Baked: New Frontiers in Baking', for four years. Unfortunately, I didn't realise before buying it, that it was a US cookbook, complete with US measurements.

I cannot get my head around the measure-by-volume system that the US uses and the conversions aren't as straightforward as some books would have you believe, so 'Baked' has been gathering dust on my bookshelf (literally: you could see its' outline on the shelf when I pulled it out). However, with the help of a more mathematically-minded friend, this bake turned out just fine.

Easy Strawberry Shortbread Sandwiches

Wimbledon fortnight draws to a close this Sunday.  The UK newspapers would have you believe that Britain's entire population comes together in its' adulation for the tournament. While there are certainly sports and tennis fans who get excited about it, most people who watch aren't avid tennis fans, but like it because of the patriotic, ritualistic and traditional elements of the event.  The tennis whites, the tense tranquility of Centre Court, Murray's Mound (so, so wrong) the gentle 'pock' of a tennis ball bouncing off a ballboy's head...

Ugh, I wonder if it's actually possible to write about Wimbledon without sounding like the AP Stylebook.  Personally, I don't enjoy much at all about Wimbledon. I don't like tennis. I don't like the quaintness of the event, which sits with the genteel cricket on the village green imagery that certain factions like to think of as being quintessential England. 

The worst thing about Wimbledon is that it knocks the regular television programmes around in the schedules. Normally, this isn't too big of a deal, but earlier this year, I discovered a quiz show called 'Pointless'.  It normally shows at 5:15pm but because of the tennis, it's not being shown for the whole Wimbledon period.  So thanks, Wimbledon, for killing my new early-evening tradition of having a pre-dinner drink while shouting at Pointless contestants.

Raspberry Salted Caramel Cheesecake Brownies

I'm going to have to think of a snappier title for these brownies, because I will certainly be making them again.

This brownie was created on an evening of snack frustration.  I had the star ingredients for all my favourite desserts in the fridge, but was one thing short of everything needed to make them properly. Cream cheese to make cheesecake, but no biscuits to make the base. Raspberries and chocolate to make a chocolate torte, but not quite enough chocolate. I'd also made some dulce de leche earlier in the day, to go into a banoffee pie, then remembered too late that you need a whipped cream topping. Oh and some bananas that weren't green and unyielding. Rather than going to the local corner shop, this was my solution.  

I've had dealings with cheesecake brownies before. They are extremely rich, so I thought that adding raspberries would cut through the creaminess, add more interest and texture. The dollop of dulce de leche added to the cheesecake was just for the hell of it and if you're making anything with caramel, it's now the law that you have to throw some salt in there.

So there are lot of different things going on, but they pull together to form a super-loaded brownie that has something for everyone.

I used frozen raspberries in the recipe below, mainly because you can crumble them to pieces in your hand, saving the faff of chopping them up.

If you don't have a brownie pan, use an 8 inch square cake tin. This will make thicker brownies and you will need to increase the baking time by 5 minutes.

Spiced Almonds Recipe, June 2013 Round Up

I've found quite a few new things (new to me, anyway!) this month, so I thought I'd share them with you.

Bahlsen Choco Leibniz Orange Biscuits

I'm a big fan of Bahlsen products, particularly their fancy version of the jaffa cake and the Choco Leibniz biscuit. The chocolate juts over the edge of the biscuit, which allows you to nibble the chocolate off, before dunking the biscuit in coffee and sucking the melted chocolate off, then eating the biscuit. This is probably what marketing people call a multi-dimensional eating experience, I call it stringing out the eating of a biscuit.

Anyway, the orange version has apparently been around for years, but I've only spotted it in UK supermarkets in recent months.  Orange chocolate gets sickly very quickly, so the amount on these biscuits is perfect for a nice little hit.  Choco Leibniz are quite often on special offer in Waitrose.

Medjool Dates

Until this month, the only way I ate dates was by cooking them in porridge with sliced banana.  Something about the way they look and feel had always put me off eating them as they come.

As had the scene in Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom, where the spy-monkey tries to kill Indy by poisoning his dates (or I guess, planting poisoned dates in the fruit bowl. Capuchin monkeys are clever, but I don't think they're capable of using a syringe to inject poison into fruit: are they?).

But I was offered coffee, baklava and dates at a dinner I went to  few weeks ago and I have been converted. Dates are now going to be kept as a regular fruit bowl item, so I have something wholesome on hand to finish off a meal.

Liquorice Tea
Ah, the joy of new discoveries via Twitter: it's always nice to find something with no calories that tastes delicious. I'm getting on well with Pukka's Liquorice & Peppermint tea, which you can find in the supermarkets.

Chocolate & Bourbon Torte

This is the other dessert I brought to the barbecue I attended at the weekend.

The host and his partner had promised to serve up a generous portion of pork ribs and one of the best antidotes I know for meat sweats is a dense, dark chocolate torte.

I made a Bourbon chocolate tart (rather than a torte) last year, but the texture of the pastry was a distraction and the filling was bland.  The bland filling was my fault, as I used a not-particularly-exciting chocolate  (the brand rhymes with 'align').  If you're baking something where chocolate makes up more than a quarter of the total mass of the ingredients (see also; brownies), you want to use a chocolate that tastes good when you put a square of it in your mouth.

I love dark chocolate from Madagascar, which as I learnt when I met the owner of Auberge du Chocolat, has fruity, summer berry notes, which I thought would sit well with the dried fruit and toffee notes in the Bourbon.

Scandilicious Toscakaka - Vanilla & Salted Almond Praline Cake

I made this cake last night for a barbecue I'm attending today and I was certain that I'd posted about it before. But I've gone through my archives and can't see it, so here it is. A very buttery, fluffy vanilla cake, topped with a chewy salted almond praline. It's a good cake for picking at over the course of a week; the caramel coating seeps into the cake as the days pass, working to preserve it and to intensify the flavours.

I first tested this cake on my work colleagues. I realised part-way through making it, that I didn't have the full weight of flaked almonds required for the caramel topping, so I topped them up with shredded coconut, this being an alternative topping suggested in the Scandilicious Baking book from which I took the recipe.

Cheddar, Chilli & Courgette Muffins

One of the good things about coming out of blogging hibernation, is that in order to take photographs, I have to tidy my dining table, this being the only space in my flat that provides enough space and natural light to do so.

The dining table tends to act as a Bermuda Triangle for my post and any dry goods in my food shopping, which get abandoned when I get bored with putting away shopping and instead, wonder off to the sofa with a newly-purchased packet of biscuits. Once dumped, things stay there until I have a tidying frenzy, so having a reason to keep the table clear is good.

Another habit I've reacquired recently is buying flowers. This also helps keep on top of clutter. A table full of rubbish is easy to ignore, but a vase of flowers surrounded by rubbish is such a depressing sight, that it compels me to keep the area looking tidy (well, my version of tidy!).