Oaty Mincemeat Squares

Oaty Mincemeat Shortbread 3

I often make something we imaginatively call Jammy Oaty Slice – can you guess what is in it?  Of course you can and I highly recommend it as a delicious tea time offering.  The other day I was looking at a tray of it cooling ready for scoffing and it reminded me of the mincemeat slice that used to adorn the bakers’ shelf at Christmas in Yorkshire.  Heavily dredged with icing sugar, it was completely white from the top and the layers were crisp and even (really!) in the way only a practised hand can accomplish.

So of course I had to have a go at making it myself.  Whilst I love mince pies, my immediate family (i.e. the ones I actually live with) don’t like anything with cooked raisins or dried fruit.   This means that if I make mince pies then I am the only one who will eat them unless we have friends over and when it comes to a Christmas cake…. Well, suffice it to say I ate all of the the last one which graced a tin in our house.  All of it and I made another in January because I had enjoyed it so much…..

These little squares are much safer then.  Rather than a huge cake winking at me from the corner I can safely eat one of these treasures with a cup of tea on a daily basis without having to book into the gym afterwards.   Like two layers of shortbread with mincemeat in between, somehow better than a traditional mince pie if that is not too shocking a statement? The oats add an extra element which is just right and of course go a good way towards balancing out the sugar and butter.  Heading for health food is what I say….

Oaty Mincemeat Shortbread

Oaty Mincemeat Squares

If you want to go for the original Jammy Oaty Slice then just replace the mincemeant with jam, I favour raspberry.  However, please do give them a go this Christmas, they are a million times easier than mince pies if you need to make a batch for a sale and are just delicious.

250g plain flour

125g oats

135g caster sugar

200g cold butter

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon fine salt

450g mincemeat

Icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180.  Line a tin of approximately 23cmx32cm  with baking parchment.  Whizz together the flour, oats, butter, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Tip half of the mixture into the baking tin and press it to cover the base in an even layer.  Spread the mincemeat over this and then sprinkle the remainder of the mix evenly over the mincemeat and press it down gently.   Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden on top.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely before dusting with icing sugar and cutting into squares.

Oaty Mincemeat Shortbread 2

 

 

Ginger Shortbread

Ginger Shortbread

Half term is a perfect time to get children into the kitchen and these biscuits are a great place to start.  Delicious, crisp, gingery shortbread which are simple to make and employ a useful 3:2:1 ratio in the recipe which is easy to remember and keeps maths in mind even away from school (is that mean of me?).  More importantly cooking something from scratch gives children a huge sense of achievement and their pride in themselves as they offer the biscuits to family and friends is worth any mess in the kitchen.

I must confess to having a bee in my bonnet about children and cooking.  I worry that cooking skills are not being passed on and their importance overlooked.  Nutritionally, emotionally and practically, learning to feed yourself well and to cook is essential and yet it doesn’t seem to get the focus I think it deserves.  If we don’t teach children how to cook for themselves from raw ingredients then we will raise a generation of microwave cookers.

The raw ingredients bit is key here.  Anyone can bung a ready made lasagne in the microwave and cook it.  All you will end up with though, is, well a lasagne.  However, if you take a potato, how many ways are there to cook that?   Twenty or thirty possibilities for your dinner present themselves, but, to be fair, you have to learn how to make them, rather than just read timing instructions on a box.  There lies your conundrum – potatoes, cheap and accessible but requiring a little attention and knowledge;  or a packaged lasagne probably containing preservatives and perhaps more salt and sugar than is advisable, certainly more expensive but easy to heat.

So whilst I am not expecting every 10 year old to be able to rustle up a Coq au Vin or a souffle, learning to cook is a life skill and these biscuits are a good place to start.  You can leave the ginger out if that is not your thing or alternatively, make the buttermilk scones I wrote about last month.   These shortbread are meltingly delicious so make some for those times when you need to sit down with a cup of tea and something sweet to settle your nerves and it is too early for gin – after all it is half term.

Ginger Shortbread 2

Ginger Shortbread

This is a pretty straightforward recipe using 150g flour, 100g butter and 50g sugar but I like to use 100g plain flour and 50g of cornflour to ensure that crispness.  If you don’t have any cornflour they will still work well with 150g plain flour.

100g very soft butter

50g golden caster sugar, plus a little extra

Pinch of salt

100g plain flour

50g cornflour

1 heaped teaspoon ground ginger

Preheat the oven to 170.  Cream the butter, sugar and salt together.  You can do this by hand or in a stand mixer.  Then add the flours and ginger and mix until it forms a ball of dough.  Roll out on a lightly floured surface and cut out whatever shapes you like and place on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment.  Sprinkle lightly with caster sugar and then bake in the middle of the oven until golden, about 12-15 minutes but keep an eye on them.  Makes about 20 depending on the size of your biscuits.

 

 

 

Buttermilk Scones

Scones-2

This weekend we had proper blustery, stormy weather.  The sort where you either struggle to walk into the wind or, if you turn around can lean against the wind feeling it almost support you.  I am not so keen on rain but as long as wrapped up well, this chilly, wind howling Wuthering Heights sort of weather is fantastic.  You come home with your hair whipped around your head, tingling ears and a good, healthy, rosy-cheeked glow.  There is something entirely satisfying in this and even more so if a treat awaits you at the end of your walk.

So it was on Saturday afternoon when my little boy and I decided to make scones.  Now I usually think of scones as an outside in the garden, summer tea but I don’t know why.  They take minutes to whip up and are a supremely good treat in front of a cosy fire after an invigorating walk (equally good without the walk too).  Ours were being eaten within an hour of us having the idea and they were great fun to make with my son.  His pride in the finished article means he will not only be keen as mustard to make these again but to perhaps try something new next time to add to his repertoire – win, win.

You may have spotted an error in the whole scone with jam and cream scenario in the top photograph but don’t worry, in the time it took for us to make them, a kind man nipped out and bought clotted cream to accompany the jam on the scones and they were fabulous.

Scones 2

Scones

If you want to make these and don’t have any buttermilk to hand just mix 1/3 yogurt with 2/3 milk up to 300ml.  Bear in mind though that buttermilk has a fairly long (fridge) shelf life and is available in all supermarkets.  You can also use it for my seedy soda bread (April 2013) which is just the ticket with soup and very quick to make (no rising).

450g self-raising flour

100g cold butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

85g golden caster sugar

284ml pot buttermilk (make it up to 300ml with milk)

Preheat the oven to 200.  Whizz the flour and butter together until like breadcrumbs, add the salt and sugar and then gently by hand mix in the buttermilk until it all comes together.  Gently form the dough into a ball and roll out until about 5cm thick.  Cut out to whatever size you like and place on a lightly floured baking sheet.  Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes but check after 12 (if you have made jumbo scones they might need a minute or two more).  This will make 10-12 scones depending on the size you choose.  They are best eaten on the day they are made, which shouldn’t be a problem, but you can reheat the next day if needs be.  Serve with jam and cream (of course!).

Mocha Cookies (or Spooky Cobweb Cookies)

Mocha Cookies 2

Who wouldn’t like a crisp and soft, deeply chocolatey cookie on a windswept October day?  These are a version of some cookies I have made many times and recently I have taken to adding a little coffee, hence the mocha in the name.  This coffee flavour isn’t hugely predominant (so don’t worry if you think your children might not like it) but there is a hint and as ever, coffee seems to boost the chocolate flavour.   Perfect as a little treat but equally at home with ice cream for pudding.  In all honesty I wouldn’t say no to one of these whatever the situation.

The dough is fairly soft and needs to sit in the fridge for an hour or so before you form the balls.  The advantage of this is you can make it ahead and then only use as much dough as you need, the rest will sit happily in the fridge for several days.

The icing sugar makes a lovely marbled effect when it cooks so if you need something sweet for your little devils this Hallowe’en, make these and call them Spooky Cobweb Cookies.

Mocha Cookies

Mocha Cookies 

1 teaspoon instant coffee dissolved in 2 teaspoons boiling water

60g butter

175g plain chocolate

175g plain flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 eggs

140g caster sugar

40g icing sugar

Put the dissolved coffee, butter and chocolate in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and allow to melt then mix and set aside to cool a little.  Whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale then add the cooled chocolate mixture followed by the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt.  Pour the mixture into a bowl and put in the fridge for an hour or so to firm up.  Preheat the oven to 160 and put the icing sugar into a little bowl.  Take teaspoonfuls of the mix and form into little balls, roll them in the icing sugar until well covered and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Using the heel of your hand squash the ball, the sides will split a little but this is what you want.   Bake for 12-14 minutes until firm at the edges.  Cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a cooling rack.  Makes about 30.

Mocha Cookies 3

 

Cheese Sables with Rosemary Salt

Cheese Biscuits

I remember dinner parties when I was a child – those were the days of going the whole hog – long dresses, velvet jackets, hair up and that 1970’s phenomenon – a selection of puddings.  Now, what was that all about?  If it wasn’t enough that you would wade through a starter and main course, there would always be cheese served with biscuits, grapes, a jar of celery and whatever else but then a choice of puddings.  Perhaps oranges in caramel, a lemon soufflé – the chilled kind rather than oven baked – chocolate roulade or profiteroles.  Always three, always cold.

So different from how we entertain now.  When we have friends for supper, I might make a big stew, pie or paella which can be served at the table (no hostess trolley) with perhaps a salad to follow.  Then depending on our mood, the weather and many other vagaries, cheese (sometimes served with the salad) or a pud.  Rarely both as I am incapable of leaving one or other alone if presented with them both and will then feel like a beached whale at the end of supper.  What I would do with three puddings I don’t know….well I do.  I don’t often serve a starter but prefer to offer something with drinks beforehand.  I can’t quite bring myself to call these canapés as I am not dextrous enough to create those little masterpieces you see in smart restaurants.  No, spiced cherries in bacon, a little onion tart or these cheese biscuits with rosemary salt.

Can there be anything more fantastically savoury and moreish to have with a cocktail than a little cheese biscuit?  That tang and crunch just go perfectly.  These ones are crisp with a good bite from strong cheese and a kick from the cayenne.  Despite the feisty flavour my children adore them.  Make a load to stash away in your freezer ready to whip out when entertaining over Christmas.

As you can see from the photograph I served these with a Negroni and I thought they went together perfectly but naturally the choice of drink is up to you.  Admittedly, one of the friends I gave a Negroni to made a face like I’d give her soapy water to drink and gave me the glass straight back.  You can’t please everyone…..but at least she loved the cheese biscuits!

Cheese Biscuits 2

Cheese Sables with Rosemary Salt

100g soft butter

100g self raising flour

100g strong cheese, grated (I use 50/50 parmesan and vintage cheddar)

A pinch of cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon rosemary, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 180.  Whizz the flour and butter together, add the cheese and cayenne. Mix to a dough and form into a roll, wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up a little as this will make the cutting easier.  Cut into thin slices and put onto a parchment lined baking tray.  Pound the rosemary in a mortar with a pinch of sea salt and sprinkle a little of this onto each biscuit.  Cook for 13-15 minutes until golden on top.  Cool on a wire rack where they will crisp up.  Makes about 25.

 

Flapjacks

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I don’t know if you can beat a flapjack.  Not only because it is quick, so easy and made from things you probably have in the cupboard.  No, more in terms of what it delivers.  Sweet, chewy, toffeeish (is that a word?) and supremely satisfying.  A perfect mouthful.

My children have just been for an adventure in the woods, along with two friends, and part of the supplies taken on this expedition were flapjacks.  Just the thing on a chilly and breezy half term Wednesday.  They came back pink cheeked and jolly from their jaunt and all with room for one more piece – in the nick of time I might add as the friends’ Mother and I were slowly working our way through the rest of the tin.

I have always loved Flapjacks and homemade are infinitely better than bought.  You can customise as you please, chewy or crisp (cook a bit longer) – add raisins, seeds, nuts or chocolate chips.  In short, these are the ideal treat to whip up this half term.  Yes there are many more exotic cakes and confections that you can make if you have the time (and energy).  For me though these hit the mark exactly, quick, easy and somehow just right.

Flapjack 2

Flapjacks

I think of flapjacks as old fashioned and nostalgic and for some reason always make them with Imperial measurements.   I find this the easiest way to remember them and I know these amounts make flapjacks just how we like them.  You can use 4oz of sugar if you want them a little gooier but I find 3 is just right.

5oz butter

3oz  demerara (or any brown) sugar

2 tablespoons golden syrup

Pinch of salt

8oz oats

Preheat the oven to 170 and line a tin around 8 x 26cm with baking parchment.   Put the butter, sugar, syrup and salt into a large pan and melt gently.  Add the oats, give it all a good stir and spread in the prepared tin.  Bake for 10-25 minutes.  Remove from the oven and leave for 5 minutes before marking into bars.  Leave for a further 10-15 minutes before trying to separate – any sooner and they might fall apart.