Musical Monday: Messiah – Hallelujah Chorus

There’s nothing like listening to this really loud while you’re busy doing pre-Christmas chores… not long to go now!

The best brownies in the world, ever

It’s a big claim, saying you make the best brownies ever, but I do. At least, that’s what various sets of workmates in two hemispheres have told me when I’ve turned up with these little beauties at Christmas time. There’s something about these particular brownies that makes everyone go all sort of dreamy and dazed and happy. Then they tell you how amazing you are, so everyone’s a winner!

Lucy’s Brownies

This recipe, which came from my mum and is possibly an Annabelle White recipe originally, is especially dedicated to my dear former colleague Andy, a talented writer and a brilliant cook who has impeccable taste in music and makes the best cups of tea in the world. Andy, I’ve promised you this recipe for years – now, here it is. Merry Christmas!

The trick with brownies is to undercook them ever so slightly. They should be wobbly in the middle (like Santa) but set around the edges. My trick is to freeze them when they’ve cooled – eliminates any fears about them being too runny and ensures a fudgy texture. This recipe makes LOTS so it’s ideal when you have a lot of brownie lovers to pamper.

450g dark chocolate (I use 70% cocoa solids)
350g butter
1tsp vanilla essence
2Tbsp instant coffee (powder)
2 cups caster sugar
5 eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups plain flour
2 cups cashew nuts (roasted and salted or not, as you prefer)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a large baking dish – like a roasting dish – or several brownie pans.
Put the chocolate, butter, vanilla and coffee into a large saucepan. Melt over gentle heat, stirring occasionally. Let cool to room temperature, then add the sugar. Mix well, then whisk in the eggs. Lastly, fold in the flour and nuts. Pour into the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes (check earlier if you are using small pans), until the edges are firm to touch but the middle is still soft. Let cool in the pan. Turn out carefully, then wrap well in cling film or foil, then put in the freezer. If you’re taking them to work for morning tea, take them out of the freezer just before you go. They thaw quickly (and taste fabulous frozen!). Pile them onto a platter and shower with icing sugar. Add strawberries if seasonally appropriate and serve with love.

Do you have a special end of the week – or working year – treat? Add a link to it here and spread the sweetness of Fridays…

Good enough to eat: Body Scrub

It was called pampepato and it was going to be the answer to all my Christmas present woes. I’d found the recipe for this medieval Italian treat – a kind of panforte – and bought all the ingredients. I set aside an afternoon in my tumbledown kitchen and imagined all the grateful recipients sighing with joy as they bit into their handcrafted festive treat.
Then I took the finished products out of the oven.
“Oh,” my flatmate said, peering over my shoulder. “It looks like a whole lot of cowpats.”

I’ve since learned that Christmas plus stress plus the best will in the world will not necessarily equal success. By this stage in the game it’s far too late to make chutneys and jams, but you can make this – a no-cook, no stress body scrub. And your friends and family will love you for it.

Chocolate Olive Oil Body Scrub
I snitched this recipe from Melissa at Tiny Happy, who has a really gorgeous blog about the things she makes for her shop. I’ve changed the proportions a tiny bit and added cinnamon for a bit of festive spice. It’s moisturising and exfoliating (especially good for getting rid of dodgy fake tan streaks) – and possibly the most waistline-friendly way to get a serious chocolate hit. Enjoy!

1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup brown sugar (not raw sugar, unless you have the hide of an elephant)
1/2 cup cocoa
2tsp cinnamon

Mix everything together until well combined. Add a little more oil or sugar to get the consistency you desire – it should be a nice blend of grittiness and viscosity. Pack into a small glass jar and decorate in a festive fashion.

Thinking pink: Roasted Beetroot Salad

I’ll never forget the day a box of organic fruit and veg turned up at my desk in London. My colleagues poked about in it, making hopeful enquiries about the possibility of there being some organic chocolate inside. Then one of them pulled out a bunch of gloriously crimson beetroot. “What’s this?” she asked, as if it might bite. It took about 10 minutes of convincing her, along with the help of some internet pictures, that it was really, truly beetroot. I’m not sure how she thought it grew. In the tin?

I love beetroot every which way – raw, roasted, boiled, out of the tin and inserted in a proper Kiwi burger. When I saw some baby beets with their greens still attached at the market in the weekend I couldn’t wait to get them home and make this seasonally appropriate salad. Beetroot is a natural partner for ham and this would be a good addition to a Christmas spread, not least because it’s also good for your liver and your sex drive (according to lovebeetroot.co.uk) at a time of year when both probably need all the help they can get…

Roasted Beetroot Salad
The tinfoil package technique has come from my beloved Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. It keeps the beetroot and garlic soft and moist – and means there’s no oven tray to wash afterwards. This is just as well,  because unless you take a tip from Nigella and wear latex gloves while you’re handling the cooked beetroot, you’ll spend a lot of time feeling like Lady Macbeth and trying to get those crimson stains off your hands.
Note: If you can’t find beetroot with the greens attached, use another robust sort of green leaf, such as spinach or cos lettuce.

500g bunch of baby beetroot, preferably with greens attached but long rat-tail like roots chopped off
3 cloves garlic
a few sprigs of thyme (optional)
splash of olive oil
handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
edible flowers if you have them (nasturtiums, coriander flowers

Dressing:
1tsp honey
1/2 tsp mustard powder (or mustard)
pinch of sea salt and black pepper
3Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2Tbsp red wine vinegar

Preheat the oven to 200C. Wash the beetroot and cut off their greens. Pat the beetroot dry with some kitchen towel and set the leaves aside in a salad spinner or clean teatowel (in the fridge). Take a large piece of foil and put the beetroot, garlic and thyme on top. Drizzle over some olive oil, then fold the foil to fully enclose the contents like a parcel. Put on an oven tray and roast for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the beetroot can be pierced with a skewer. Set aside to cool completely.

When you’re ready to eat, squeeze the garlic cloves out into a small bowl and mash up with the honey, mustard, salt and pepper. Add the oil and garlic and stir well to form a thick dressing. Taste for seasoning.
Shred the beetroot greens and mint leaves into ribbons and pile into a bowl or platter. Peel the beetroot – the skins will slip off easily – and cut into wedges, then scatter on top of the greens. Drizzle with the dressing and you’re good to go.

Sweet sweet Friday: Truffle Fudge

Do you know how hard it is to get a babysitter at this time of year? Trust me, it’s more difficult than getting your hands on the latest Marc Jacobs handbag or sending all your Christmas cards on time. It’s been touch and go, but The Boy Wonder and I are off to a Christmas bash on Saturday night, thanks to dearest Sally stepping into the breach. I’ve promised her dinner, wine, season six of Peep Show, and a shopping mission on Sunday in return. The cherry on top is a box of this dreamy fudge – which also doubles as my entry in this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge. 

Without a doubt, this is the easiest thing I have made all year. It requires about as much effort as making a cup of tea or opening a bottle of wine. In fact, with just three ingredients and a little bit of melting involved, you can probably make it while you’re boiling the kettle or looking for the corkscrew. The hard thing is knowing when to stop eating it…

Dreamy Date Truffle Fudge

250g dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa), roughly chopped
1/2 cup date syrup
1 cup peanut butter

Put all ingredients in a pot and melt together over low heat. Stir well, then pour into a lined dish. Smooth the top (put another piece of baking paper over the top of the mixture and smooth with your hand for the neatest result). Let cool for 10 minutes, then put in the fridge to set (about 20-30 minutes). Turn out and cut into squares. Dust with cocoa if the mood takes you, then pack into a pretty box. Store in the fridge.

Do you have a sweet treat for the end of the week? Post a link here to spread the sweetness of Fridays…