Sweet sweet Friday: We Should Cocoa – Raspberry Choc Nut Bars

Warning: this post may be dangerous to your health. But don’t blame me, blame Choclette and Chele of the Chocolate Teapot. They’ve started up We Should Cocoa, a monthly challenge to food bloggers (floggers?) involving chocolate and a special guest ingredient.

September’s guest star is raspberries, which was a bit tricky given that it’s wild, wet spring outside here and fresh raspberries are a distant dream. But then I remembered an Ottolenghi recipe that I’d lovingly lingered over but never made. Could it be adapted to include chocolate?

The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. And, believe me, this little baby will knock your socks off. It’s got nuts, chocolate, raspberry jam and rather a lot of unsalted New Zealand butter. But there are whole oats in there too, plus some milk. It’s practically healthy!
Here’s the recipe, taken from the first Ottolenghi cookbook and tampered with here and there. Wishing you a sweet, sweet Friday and a joyous weekend.

Raspberry Chocolate Nut Bars
A crunchy nut topping, a soft berry middle and a crisp, buttery bottom. Delish!

Base:
120g plain flour
1/3 tsp baking powder
60g caster sugar
pinch of salt
100g unsalted butter, diced
80g whole rolled oats (often called ‘jumbo’ oats)

Filling:
250g good quality raspberry jam
80g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Topping:
70g flaked almonds
70g hazelnuts, roughly chopped
50g long thread coconut
100g unsalted butter
50g caster sugar
40ml milk
1 tsp vanilla essence (I actually used brandy – because that’s the sort of woman I am, the sort that has plenty of brandy in the house but no vanilla)

Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease and line a 20cm square tin.
Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt into a large bowl, then rub in the butter with your fingertips until it forms crumbs. Stir in the oats to combine, then tip into the prepared tin. Don’t press down too much, so the base stays light. Bake for 20 minutes or until light brown.
While the base is cooking, place the nuts and coconut in a large bowl. Put the butter, sugar, milk and vanilla into a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour this mixture over the nuts and stir well.
When the base has had its 20 minute sojourn, remove it from the oven and spread with the jam – be gentle or the base will break up everywhere. Sprinkle on the chocolate chunks, then pack the nut mixture evenly over the top. Return to the oven for another 25-30 minutes, until it’s golden brown.
Leave until cold to cut into bars. A little of this goes a long way…

Parsley, sage and running out of time

My quest to use up everything in the house before we move (in 12 days, argh!) is continuing apace. In some ways I feel incredibly organised because I know that we’ll be having a risotto, two pasta dishes, something with venison and something involving cannellini beans, baby beetroot and a bag of frozen corn kernels in the days to come. Hmmm. And definitely some Szechuan takeaways.

But last night was all about parsley and Parmesan. For my birthday two months ago my sister sent me a mysterious courier package with a note saying that her new philosopy was to only give “useful” presents. Inside was a kilo of proper Parmesan, a rare treat in this little corner of the world. I never thought we’d get through it in time but it’s amazing how cavalier you get when you’ve got a lot of a luxury ingredient and a short time in which to use it. The Small Girl must be the only toddler in town to get Parmesan on toast for lunch.

Anyway. The other things we have in abundance at the moment are lemons and parsley. The tiny seedling I planted a year ago has blossomed into a huge, regenerating bush obliterating everything I planted around it. With a packet of spaghetti in the pantry, we were set.

Spring Spaghetti

This is fresh, zingy and can be made in the time it takes for the pasta to cook. (Well, in theory. It took me ages last night but that’s because other affairs of state took me away from my rightful place at the kitchen counter.) Bon appetit!

For two very hungry people:

220g spaghetti
2-3 juicy lemons, zested and juiced
about 1/4 cup olive oil
a few tablespoons of capers
a few handfuls of grated Parmesan
a few handfuls of finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper

Cook the pasta according to packet directions until al dente. While it’s cooking, mix all other ingredients in a large serving bowl. Taste for seasoning and to adjust lemon/oil proportions if necessary. Drain the pasta and toss it through the lemon/parsley mix, then pile into warmed bowls. Eat with gusto.

Guilty pleasures: A little pie

Confession time. Over the winter the Small Girl and I have been having a weekly pie-shaped treat, the sort that is low on nutritional value and high on nostalgic charm (well, nostalgic for me at least).

When we came back to New Zealand a year ago I realised how incredibly distinctive the smell of an old-fashioned Kiwi bakery is. It’s sweet and savoury at the same time, a combination of filled rolls packed with ham and salad, golden pies brimming with steak and cheese and lamingtons oozing cream and jam. This smell is as definitively Kiwi as the All Blacks and no 8 wire – and it’s quite reassuring to know that it still exists. Most of these bakeries are now run by Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants, who have become keepers of the old ways. Perhaps they recognised early on that the way to a New Zealander’s heart was through their stomach and that stomach would like a pie, a filled roll and a date scone, thanks very much.

Anyway, the Boy Wonder grew up big and strong on this kind of traditional Antipodean snack and I’m hoping the Small Girl will inherit at least some of his super powers. She abhors potato in any form except this one, a piped crown of whipped mash (I suspect it’s not even real potato, but I try not to think about that) hiding a little pool of gravied mince, which is held in a pastry case. The baby food gurus would probably have a fit, but I am working on the principle that a little of what you fancy can sometimes do you good. In any case, it’s part of her heritage. I’d be being a bad mother to deny her that.

Do you have a secret bakery treat from your corner of the world?

Spring detox

Lovely Joan at Sempiterna Me has been musing about spring and what it means to us in New Zealand. I’ve just read that it’s rained for 35 of the last 40 days, which makes it very good weather for considering such matters. The seasons are less marked here and sometimes it’s difficult to really feel the change; there’s not the same bursting into life after the dark days of winter, the same sense of rebirth.

As her post points out, this should be the time of Lenten fasting, a kind of detox season after the hearty meals of winter. I think she’s right, but it’s too chilly for salad when there’s driving rain outside.
The upside of this warm, wet weather is that creamy-fleshed cauliflowers are currently in abundance, stacked high at the grocer’s and incredibly cheap. It’s never been the most fashionable of vegetables thanks to years of being overcooked or drowned in gluggy cheese sauce, but I think the humble cauliflower deserves a bit of recognition.

Here’s a simple soup just perfect for the season, based on a Stephanie Alexander recipe. The original includes a spoonful of Vegemite (!) but I’ve omitted it and added a squeeze of lemon juice instead. I’ve also topped it with an improvised gremolata of flatleaf parsley, lemon zest and Parmesan but it’s delicious on its own.

Easy Spring Cauliflower Soup

Spring Soup

1 litre chicken stock (homemade for preference, carton for convenience)
1 cauliflower, chopped (include the stalk)
salt and pepper
handfuls of parsley
zest and juice of a lemon
handfuls of grated Parmesan

Heat the stock to a gentle boil and throw in the cauliflower. Simmer until tender, then puree in a food processor or with a stick blender. Season to taste and squirt in the lemon juice. Reheat gently and decant into warm bowls, then sprinkle generously with the parsley and Parmesan. Serves four.

Musical Monday: Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us

A busy weekend – Ottolenghi’s apple and olive oil cake, a sort-of braised venison with red wine and mushrooms, lots of Volare bread, a family reunion of sorts, a long drive and a new tooth for the Small Girl. This is what I listened to to keep sane(ish). A storm of busy-ness is coming our way and it’s nice to have some distraction…