Millionaire’s Shortbread

I loved Millionaire’s Shortbread as a child. Mum used to make it occasionally and I’d sneak downstairs and nick slices out of the biscuit tin.

It’s a wonder that I’ve not attempted to make it before now. I think I’ve always been put off by making the caramel layer, and the fact that it’s a three step process with gaps between each step. You need to plan ahead, which is something I always seem to forget to do. As I had all the ingredients and I was off work (ill again), I decided I had the time to make it.

Making the caramel...

I’d already decided to follow Felicity Cloake’s recipe on the Guardian website, which was easy to follow. I started with the shortbread, which went without drama. I’ve never used semolina in shortbread before, it certainly made the base slightly crunchier.

When the base was cool, I made the caramel, which as it turns out wasn’t that hard. Although I think it’s one of those things that you get better with experience, as it’s all about knowing when to stop the cooking. Once the caramel was cool, I melted the chocolate and slathered it on top.

Chunks of Millionaire's Shortbread...

I always remember Mum cutting her millionaire’s shortbread into fingers. This was so chunky and rich, that I’m not sure you’d have been able to finish a finger. With the office being half empty again, and the fact that you didn’t need that big a chunk, it didn’t get finished. My wife loves millionaire’s shortbread, as do the kids, so I luckily managed to avoid a tricky situation by brining some home.

If I was to make it again, I would make the shortbread and caramel layers slightly thiner, they were both just a bit too thick. This might require a bit more chocolate on top, which is hardly a problem.

Apple and Bramble Crumble

My all time favorite pudding, Autumn isn’t complete without one every weekend.

I’ve loved Apple and Bramble Crumble for as long as I can remember, I used to request it as part of my birthday meal every year when I was younger. No other crumble will suffice, it’s just not right if it doesn’t contain the jewel of the Autumnal hedgerow. I can’t walk past a bramble bush without stopping to stuff my face, it’s one of lifes great pleasures. It’s always a sad day when the last packet of frozen brambles are used up, knowing that it’ll be months and months before the next chance to pluck one from it’s thorny home.

I think one of the beauties of making Apple and Bramble Crumble is how you can tinker with it, but still retain the very essence of the dish. It doesn’t really matter if you use the bog standard recipe from the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book, go all Raymond Blanc and cook the crumble and filling seperatley, or spice up the filling like Tony Singh, the essence of the dish remains.

So last time I made it, I decided to go a bit off piste and rather than just following the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book recipe, I decided to follow Tony’s lead and get the spices out. Sautéing the apples in spiced butter, prior to baking... In with some jaggery, rather than plain white sugar, then a cinnamon stick and a star anise were added and left to infuse while I chopped the apples. Eaters of course, as you want your apples to stay chunky and solid and not turn to mush, like a cooker would. I also used a variety of apples, so each mouthful would yield a slightly different taste and texture.

I’ve found that I need my hob on nearly full whack to get any sort of colour on the apples within the few minutes the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book recipe says to cook them for. In this instance, that meant the aromas coming out of the pan were immense, jaggery certainly makes for a tasty caramelisation. I think maybe a couple more star anise next time though, or a longer infussion, so that flavour comes through a bit more.

All in all, it was a very tasty pimping of an otherwise bog standard Apple and Bramble Crumble and one that warrants a bit more experimentation. Maybe next time I’ll cook the filling and the topping separately and see how that works. Always serving it with ice cream mind, none of this double cream nonsense…

Macaroni Cheese

I love macaroni cheese, I think it’s the combination of pasta and cheese that does it, you canny beat a bit of pasta and cheese, mmmm, pasta and cheese… Anyway, I bought The Geometry of Pasta a while back, I’m not sure why, as it’s not exactly veggie friendly. It’s great to flick through though, as the design of the book is amazing with all the black and white line drawings and any book that tells you how to make Cacio e pepe is a winner as far as I’m concerned.

The recipe for macaroni cheese is quite nice, it doesn’t contain tomato for starters, sorry Felicity, that’s just wrong. It can feel a bit greasy though, which I think it mainly down to the choice of cheese. I need to try it with fontina, rather than cheddar and see if that makes a difference.

Having made this recipe quite a lot, I think the one thing that affects the outcome more than anything else, is the thickness of the bechamel sauce. Too thick and it all becomes a bit of a sticky, lumpy mess when it’s served up. Keeping it on the thinner side, means it’s nice an oozy when served up and feels less like eating a bit greasy brick of pasta.

One other thing about this recipe, is that it claims it serves two as a main course, two giants maybe, as it can easily feed all four of us and leave us all wishing we hadn’t eaten quite as much; so it should serve three normal adults with no worries.

I’ve also been looking at buying Modernist Cuisine at Home, that kind of scientific cooking looks quite interesting, if a bit involved. However, if you do the Amazon look inside thing on this book, you’ll see there is a whole chapter on Mac and Cheese, with a number of different ways of preparing it. The recipes are all there for you to see in the preview, so I’m really tempted to buy some sodium citrate and give a couple of them a try…

Dhal with Naan Bread

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I find that dhal is such a deceptively easy dish to over cook. It looks so watery that the temptation is there to cook it until all of it is absorbed, or evaporated, by which time it’s too thick and stiff when served. Rather then cook it until it looks like how I want it, I cooked it until it was still a bit too runny, so that when it was served, it had stiffened up just a bit and was still nice and slack.

This time I used the recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Everyday, although I’ve used one of Madhur Jaffrey’s in the past; they all seem pretty similar to be honest. It was very tasty and much slacker than I’ve made in the past, which was great. The kids still wouldn’t touch it though…

For me, you have to have your dhal with naan bread; nothing beats scooping up all that soft steaming dhal with a bit of warm soft bread. I’ve made these twice now, the recipe is from Madhur Jaffrey’s Eastern Vegetarian Cooking and while its easy to prepare, it takes ages to actually cook all the naan’s. They need four to five minutes in the pan and another one to one and a half under the grill, so unless you have a very large pan, or two pans you can use, you can probably only make one at a time. With nine to make, it takes quite some time, and resulted in quite a late dinner when I made them for the first time.

I’ll definitely be doing these again, although I might have another go at the dhal recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s book now that I know I need to leave it quite watery in the pan as it will stiffen for serving.