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 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

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…

The green green grass of home

I don’t know about you but at this time of year I seem to exist on a diet of sugar and toast. In times of old this was supplemented by canapes and champagne (sigh) but those days are long gone. There is plenty of early summer produce about and our miniscule garden is beginning to earn its keep, but there’s no escaping the, err, sweeter side of pre-Christmas.

Alfalfa, flax and fennel sprouts, looking like they’re about to do the dance of the seven veils

Luckily, I’ve rediscovered one of my favourite kitchen magic tricks, sprouting. It took me ages to hunt out some sprout-able beans and seeds (not because it was difficult but because it was way down on the list of Important Things To Do). Then I scoured our local charity shops for the right sort of jar, which took another few outings.

Sprouting the seeds themselves was too easy. It’s a brilliant way to get nutrient-rich greens in an instant – to scatter over a salad or tuck into a peanut butter sandwich – no matter what the weather’s doing.
Here’s how:

1.Put 2-3Tbsp of seeds of your choice in a large glass jar.
2. Half fill the jar with water and cover it with a piece of muslin (or tulle, or other thin fabric that water can drain through easily) and a rubber band.
3. Soak for 10 minutes (for small seeds like alfalfa or fennel). Medium-sized ones such as mung beans will need to soak for four hours and larger ones such as chickpeas should be soaked overnight.
4. Drain the water and leave in a cool, airy place out of direct sunlight. Rinse the seeds twice a day.
Your sprouts will be ready to eat within four to seven days. When they’ve grown enough for your tastes, store them in the fridge where they will keep for a week.

Soothing balm

Is it just me or is everyone in need of a little bit of time out at the moment? I mean, it’s not even December yet and most people seem to be hitting their pre-Christmas meltdown already.

Before you reach for the gin, sit down and take a deep breath (remember to let it go afterwards). Then put the kettle on and brew yourself a cup of soothing lemon balm tea.

The calming properties of lemon balm (melissa officinalis) have been recognised since the Middle Ages. Lemon balm is a member of the mint family (and grows just as voraciously). Its leaves have an intense lemony scent that is both reviving and soothing. Our new house has a tiny bush of it growing in the tangled weeds edging the vegetable patch, but I know it won’t be long before it becomes a thriving monster.

To make lemon balm tea, I just shove a few handfuls of leaves and stems in a teapot and add freshly boiled water, then let it steep for a while. If that sounds too wholesome, Choclette has a recipe for lemon balm ganache which sounds like heaven. After all, lemon balm may help you calm down, but nothing is quite as soothing as chocolate.