Chocolate orange brownies

You can’t beat a good brownie. Fudgy, dense, and packed with chocolate, they are satisfyingly indulgent, and don’t last long once they’re in the tin.

Luckily, brownies are also one of the simplest bakes you can make. This is a bonus if you have a last minute birthday or event to bring food to (or it’s Saturday night and you’re at home with a bottle of wine and He’s Just Not That Into You…). They are super quick and easy to put together, and require minimal ingredients.

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This recipe is marginally more time consuming if you choose to make the candied orange slices, but they are decorative more than anything. If you do have the time, they add a sweet, chewy addition to the brownies, and bring out the flavour. While the slices are simmering, the tangy orange scent will drift throughout your house like a natural air freshener, so it’s almost worth it just for that.

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However, if you just need a quick chocolate fix (no judgement here), you can whip up the batter in no time. The smell of the citrus zest mixed with silky melted chocolate is almost unbearably tempting, but try not to dive in straight away – the 30 mins or so cooking time is well worth the wait.

It pays to use good quality dark chocolate – at least 70% cocoa. The result will be more chocolatey brownies that add a richness to the sweet orange flavour; intense, indulgent, and inexplicably moreish.

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Ingredients

Makes 12 – 16 brownies

For the brownies

200g dark chocolate

175g butter

275g caster sugar

100g plain flour

30g cocoa powder

2 oranges

3 large eggs, beaten

 

For the candied oranges

200g caster sugar

150ml water

2 oranges

 

Method

  1. Start with the candied orange slices, if making, to allow them time to cool. Thinly slice the two oranges, discarding the ends.
  2. Add the sugar and water to a large saucepan and stir. Heat on a medium heat until starting to gently bubble, and add the orange slices.
  3. Leave to simmer for approximately 30 mins, but do not stir the sugar syrup mixture while cooking. Turn off the heat and lift the slices from the pan with a slotted spatula. Leave to dry on baking tins lined with greaseproof paper. Set aside until ready to serve.
  4. For the brownies, preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan. Grease and line a 33 x 23 x 5-cm baking tray.
  5. Break the chocolate into small pieces in a microwavable bowl. Melt the chocolate in the microwave in short bursts, checking regularly to stir. Keep heating and stirring until there are no chocolate lumps left.
  6. Add the butter and stir until fully melted in the chocolate.
  7. In a large mixing bowl, weigh out the sugar and stir in the melted chocolate mix, beating together until fully combined. Add the flour and cocoa powder and mix thoroughly.
  8. Grate the zest of one orange into the mix. Juice the same orange and add into the mixture, stirring until combined.
  9. Add the beaten eggs and give the mixture one final thorough stir until you have a smooth batter.
  10. Pour the batter into the baking tray and smooth towards the edges. Grate the zest of the second orange over the tray, ensuring there is an even amount of zest in all corners.
  11. Bake in the centre of the oven for 30 – 35 mins, until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tray for 10 mins before transferring to a wire rack.
  12. Slice and serve with the candied orange slices.

Mediterranean stuffed aubergines

 

The Mediterraneans know how to do vegetables. Of course, they have an unfair advantage, with months of sunshine feeding them as they grow, making their produce sweeter, larger, shinier, more colourful – basically, just better – than anything we can grow at home.

Aubergines are always the ones that catch my eye; plump, purple, and piled up high on a market stall, they put our tiny under-ripe vegetables to shame.

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I had the idea for this recipe while strolling round a Sicilian food market. I’d been looking for a good recipe for stuffed aubergines for a while, so even battling through a throng of hungry market-goers, my aubergine-radar must have been on high alert. Bubbling away behind the glass of a hot food counter sat a tray of roasted aubergine halves, over-filled with vibrant tomato sauce and dribbling mozzarella.

By that point the cheese wasn’t the only thing that was dribbling.

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The first time I made them for myself I made a couple of critical errors; the sauce leaked and my aubergines were paddling in a pool of thin tomato water at the bottom of the baking tray. The trick is to reduce the sauce until it’s rich and thick – almost sticking to the bottom of the pan – which will make the flavours bolder. Also, find the best quality mozzarella to provide a creamy contrast to the tomatoes, rather than just a bland stringy top.

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Since vegetables don’t transport in suitcases particularly well, I’ve had to make do with our thoroughly British produce. Nevertheless, I’ve found that roasting the vegetables, using good olive oil, and adding plenty of fresh basil brings a small amount of Mediterranean sunshine to a grey London day.

 

Ingredients

Serves 4

Olive oil

2 aubergines

1 box cherry tomatoes on the vine

1 onion

1 clove garlic

400g chopped tomatoes

1 tbsp tomato puree

Dried oregano

Fresh basil

1 ball mozzarella

 

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C / Gas Mark 4. Cut both aubergines in half lengthways (leaving the stalk on top intact). Place each half on a baking tray, with the flesh facing upwards.
  2. Using a sharp knife, slice around the flesh of each half, leaving about half a centimetre inside the skin, and being careful not to cut through the skin on the bottom. Score the flesh diagonally both ways, then pull out the cubes of flesh – it should peel away quite easily. Set these cubes aside on a separate baking tray. Add 2 – 3 vines of tomatoes to this tray and rub olive oil into all the vegetables liberally.
  3. Drizzle your aubergine shells with more olive oil and season. Put both trays into the oven for 15 – 20 mins. Watch the aubergines closely to make sure they don’t burn – catch them as they’re just starting to brown.
  4. Meanwhile, dice your onion and soften in a saucepan with some olive oil. Crush the garlic and add it to the pan. Cook for 1 – 2 minutes and then add your chopped tomatoes and tomato puree and cook on a medium heat.
  5. When the vegetables in the oven have finished cooking, take them out and set the aubergine shells aside. Add the diced aubergine to the tomato sauce and carefully pull the tomatoes off the vine and also add to the pan.
  6. Give the sauce a good stir to break up the roasted tomatoes. Tear some fresh basil and add to the sauce, along with the dried oregano. Season well and turn up the heat until the sauce is bubbling. Reduce until you have a very thick sauce – if it’s too watery, your aubergines will leak later.
  7. When the sauce is ready, spoon it evenly between your four aubergine shells on their baking tray. Tear chunks of mozzarella and place them all over each aubergine. Finally, tear some more basil leaves and scatter them over the aubergines.
  8. Place in the oven and cook for 20 mins, until the mozzarella is melted and bubbling.

Banana, walnut & caramel cupcakes

If you have ever thrown away a banana because it is too old and mushy then I hope, after reading this, you never will again.

Bananas rarely last long enough in my house to get to that stage, but when they do, the time is ripe to make a banana cake. If the time genuinely isn’t ripe due to prior commitments then I put the bananas in the freezer to use at a more suitable date. But I never – ever – throw them away.

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When you have brown-spotted bananas, it is very difficult for your cake to go wrong, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you don’t have to worry about flavour; everyone knows the pungent whiff of an overly-matured banana (another reason not to put it in your bin). When mixed with the sponge however, it translates into an intense, but not overpowering, flavour. No bland cakes here.

Secondly, there is zero chance of these cakes being dry, even after several days – in fact, I would even argue that they get better with time, as the flavour ripens and the sponge becomes increasingly moist. The bigger challenge is stopping them from disappearing too quickly.

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Given that the banana is already doing most of the work in these cakes, it wasn’t strictly necessary for me to cut them open and dollop caramel inside. However, I was feeling decadent. Banoffee pie has long proven the success of the banana-caramel combination and it adds a rich, syrupy surprise when you cut into the cake.

I’ve added walnuts to the mix as well; their savoury flavour adds some bite to offset the sweet, gooey sponge for a more sophisticated taste.

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Waste not, want not: give your old and past-their-best bananas a new lease of life. Although I can’t promise you won’t be wanting these a little too much.

 

 

Ingredients

Makes 12 cupcakes

For the sponge:

175g butter

175g caster sugar

175g self raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp vanilla extract

2 large, or 3 small, very ripe bananas, mashed

3 large eggs

100g walnuts

1 tin dulche de leche

 

For the icing:

140g icing sugar

70g butter

2 tbsp milk

 

For the decorations (optional)

55g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla essence

2 tbsp hot water

1 banana

2 tbsp dulche de leche

Handful finely chopped walnuts

 

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C / Gas Mark 4. Line a 12-hole cupcake tin with paper cases.
  2. To make the sponge, cream together the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until pale and fluffy. Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold until combined. Add the vanilla essence, mashed bananas and eggs. Using a handheld electric whisk, mix all the ingredients together on a medium setting until you have a smooth batter. Chop the walnuts and gently fold into the mixture.
  3. Divide the batter evenly between the paper cases and bake for 20 mins until lightly golden on top and a knife comes out clean. Set aside on a cooling rack and allow the cakes to cool completely before the next step.
  4. While the cakes are cooling, make the icing. Ensure your butter is at room temperature and add to a medium sized mixing bowl, with the icing sugar. Gently beat the ingredients together with a wooden spoon until combined into a thick paste. Add the milk and use an electric whisk on a low setting to mix into a smooth icing.
  5. To make the caramelised banana decorations, add the sugar, vanilla essence and hot water to a non stick pan and heat until you have caramel. Thickly slice the banana and add the the pan, shaking to ensure it is fully covered. Cook for around 5 minutes until the bananas have turned slightly golden. Set aside to cool.
  6. When your cupcakes are completely cooled, use a sharp knife to cut a portion of sponge out from the top of each cake. Sponge one teaspoon of dulche de leche into the hole and spread around the inside of the cake. Replace the sponge topping and press down gently.
  7. Top each cupcake with your buttercream. Gently heat 2 tbsp of remaining dulche de leche in a pan until runny. Use a spoon to dot the caramel on top of your icing. With a fork, drag the caramel to create lines within the buttercream. Finally, place one caramelised banana on the top of each cake and scatter the chopped walnuts on top.

Ratatouille

I first made this recipe last summer, sleepy and saturated with sun after one of those rare golden days spent on the grass, soaking up the rays. Come the evening all I wanted was something light and hydrating; this recipe fit the bill, and is so simple that it’s since become one of my staples for all seasons. It’s made almost entirely of vegetables, delivering a fresh taste of the Mediterranean (even when the weather doesn’t).

When I first made this dish, I had the good fortune to be able to use home-grown garden vegetables but it works just as well with supermarket veg. Unless, of course, there’s a courgette and aubergine crisis, in which case it might be necessary to try to grow-your-OWN-bergine…

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If you are able to source the vegetables without hassle then, as I say, this is an incredibly simple recipe. Simply chop up all your vegetables and watch them simmer away in one pan, softening and melding into a pulpy ratatouille. Fresh basil lifts the flavour and offers a vibrant colour contrast, if you’re looking to impress when serving.

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Since that sunny summer day, I have been making this consistently throughout the winter, packed out with brown rice and quinoa for healthy Christmas-detoxing lunches. I even escaped the coughs and colds that prowled and circulated through those bitter winter months, so listen to your mother when she tells you to eat your 5-a-day.

But summer is on the horizon again, so I am optimistically preparing for sunny days! Whip up a batch of this and serve with a nice piece of fish for summer on a plate, while we wait for the real thing to arrive.

 

Ingredients

Serves 2

1 fat clove of garlic

½ tsp ground cumin

1 red pepper

1 courgette

½ aubergine

10 plum tomatoes, halved

A handful of green olives (optional)

50ml water

Pinch dried oregano

A handful of fresh basil leaves, plus extra to serve

 

Method

  1. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan. Crush the garlic and tip into the pan, along with the cumin. Cook for 1 min.
  2. De-seed and slice the red pepper. Add to the pan and cook for 2 – 3 mins until it starts to soften.
  3. Meanwhile, top and tail the courgette and cut lengthways. Next chop horizontally, so you have semi-circles. Dice the aubergine into chunky cubes and tip both into the pan. Sweat all the vegetables for 2 – 3 mins until they are softened.
  4. Add the cherry tomatoes, olives and the water. Season well and stir in the fresh basil and dried oregano. Cook on a high heat for a 5 – 7 mins until all the vegetables have softened and the water has evaporated. Serve with a couple of fresh basil leaves.

 

Notes

Adapted from: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/pan-fried-sea-bass-ratatouille-basil

Spicy Pork Meatballs

Simply the word meatball brings nostalgic joy to my heart, reminding me of when mum used to have them bubbling away on the hob in a huge casserole dish. They usually only made an appearance by special request for a birthday dinner. I remember the succulent balls of juicy beef drenched in a rich tomato sauce, crumbly parmesan melted over the top and aprons all round so we didn’t stain our school shirts.

Regretfully I’ve never managed to replicate them. My beef meatballs have always ended up dry and disappointingly chewy, not the soft texture they should be. I was initially dubious about pork meatballs (let’s face it, pork is bland) but after the first bite I knew I had finally mastered my own version of meaty, sauce-covered balls! Cue innuendos…

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I had the idea for these pork meatballs last year when I made a more basic version of the recipe. I made a note on my phone at the time to spice them up – quite literally – with a few extra ingredients.

To me they are everything a meatball should be: holds its shape while cooking but like magic falls apart when you eat it, in that melt-in-the-mouth kind of way. Chilli brings the pork to life while the Spanish flavours of chorizo, paprika and olives add a spicy, exotic twist to an Italian classic.

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My birthday is coming up soon so I’ll put in a special request at home, for old time’s sake. Until then though, these porky balls will more than satisfy my craving!

 

Ingredients

Serves 4

 

500g pork mince

2 red chillies

2 peppers (one red, one green)

½ 225g ring chorizo

2 garlic cloves

400g chopped tomatoes

300ml chicken stock

1 tbsp smoked paprika

1 tbsp tomato puree

½ jar pitted green olives

1 tin butter beans

 

Method

  1. First, make the meatballs. Finely dice the chillies and keep the seeds. In a large mixing bowl, add the pork mince along with the chillies and a generous amount of seasoning. Mix everything together thoroughly with your hands until combined. Be careful not to touch your eyes or any other delicate areas of your body for the rest of the day. Chillies hurt.
  2. Split the pork mixture into four roughly even-sized balls. Then split each of these again into 3 so that you have 12 meatballs. Roll these between the palm of your hands to make a good meatball shape.
  3. In a large non-stick frying pan heat a good slug of sunflower oil on a high heat. When the oil is hot, carefully place six of the meatballs in the pan, one at a time. Use cooking tongs or two forks to turn the meatballs regularly, ensuring they get get an even golden brown colour on all sides. When all six are seared, remove from the pan, set aside on a plate and repeat with the remaining six.
  4. Leave the meatballs to one side while making the sauce. Dice the chorizo and slice the two peppers into thin strips. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a casserole dish over a medium heat and add the chorizo and peppers to the pot. Cook for 3 – 4 mins until the chorizo has released its fat and the peppers are softened. Crush the garlic, add to the pan along with the paprika, and cook for 1 – 2 mins more.
  5. Add the chopped tomatoes, chicken stock, tomato puree, butter beans and olives and bring to the boil. Add the meatballs to the pan, ensuring they are covered by the sauce. Cover with a lid and cook in the middle of the oven at Gas 4 for one hour, until the sauce has thickened and the meatballs are cooked through and tender. Serve with rice or crusty bread.