‘Cute as a Button’ Frownies

Chocolate brownies are pure indulgence in my opinion, and perfect for chocoholics like me. They never fail to impress and are always first to sell out at the local cake sale. I like to eat mine with a hot frothy cappuccino on the side.

But I keep wondering if I could make those little squares of gooey dark loveliness even better. My mind whirred into action recently when I read about an opportunity on Bakingmad.com to have a recipe published in a new baking book that is being created in partnership with Silver Spoon and Macmillian Cancer Support.  The book is called Little Book of Treats and will be sold in Marks and Spencer stores around the country in August and September this year.  Fingers crossed my recipe gets chosen to go in the book.

The brief was to be innovative and exciting, but with a touch of luxuriousness. What better excuse to get my thinking cap on and turn my kitchen into a brownie experimentation lab.

I knew right from the start that my experimentation should primarily involve adding ingredients to the brownie mix, and over the next few days my mind was full of ideas. Most thoughts got dismissed straight away either because they had been done before or they just did not seem special enough. But then an idea came to me which I thought was perfect.

Let me introduce to you my ‘Cute as a Button’ Frownies. No that’s not a spelling mistake.  A Frownie is my very own combination of flapjack and brownie, bringing the best elements of two popular tea time treats into one delicious square of cake.

The main added ingredients are oats, hazelnuts and dates. The end result is a chocolate treat that is more satisfying and gives the lucky person eating it both brownie gooeyness and flapjack chewiness.

Why are they so cute? Because I’ve topped them with my own homemade chocolate buttons which happen to be my favourite decoration at the moment. These could quite easily be topped with a shop brought chocolate button too.

My Frownies are easy to make, look scrumptious and taste amazing.  I don’t think you need any more convincing. Here’s the recipe.

What you need:

  • 200g luxury dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 175g unsalted butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 100g plain flour
  • 100g chopped dates (mine were pre chopped so I let them sit in hot water for 10 mins before I used them just to soften them up a bit.  Don’t forget to drain the water before you add to the mix)
  • 50g chopped hazelnuts
  • 50g oats
  • 3 large eggs
  • 50g white chocolate and a button mould (I got mine from the lovely Sew White) if making own or a packet of chocolate buttons
  • 21 x 27 cm baking tin greased and lined with greaseproof paper
  • Makes 12 medium squares or 24 mini squares

How to make:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170c/325f/gas 3
  2. Put the chocolate and butter in a large heatproof mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water and melt together
  3. Mix in the sugar and stir until dissolved, then add the flour, dates, oats and hazelnuts and give it a good stir
  4. Finally add the eggs and stir again until completely mixed in then pour into the baking tin and gently smooth over
  5. Put in the oven for 25-30 mins.  I tested mine after 25 mins with a knife and it came out with a bit of residue on, but I think for brownies this is fine as they are meant to be gooey inside.  If it is a wet residue then it needs a bit longer
  6. Leave in tin for 10 mins then cool on a wrack.  Cut into desired pieces and decorate with buttons sticking them on with a little bit of melted chocolate

I’m also going to enter this into a favorite blog challenge of mine, Alphabakes hosted this month by Ros from ‘The More Than Occasional Baker‘ blog. Ros shares the hosting of this challenge Caroline from ‘Caroline Makes‘ blog.  This month the letter is B and on the basis that my Frownie creation is a variation of a Brownie, I can link to the letter B and enter 🙂

Don’t forget that my Natural Selection baking hamper giveaway is still running until 24th April and it includes chopped dates!  Just comment on the giveaway blog post to be in with a chance of winning.

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17/04/2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Homemade gifts, Sweet Baking, Uncategorized. 19 comments.

Bean, Pumpkin and Chestnut Chilli with a Very Special Secret Ingredient

Chilli is a regular feature in our household.  It is quick and easy to make, everyone (yes everyone) in my family likes it, it is healthy and low fat, you can make a truck load in just about the same time as it takes to make a normal portion so perfect for when all the aunts and uncles come to stay, you can jazz it up by serving with a nice salad and some garlic bread, it can be made in advance and either kept in the fridge for a couple of days or frozen…and the list goes on.  So why, I can hear you asking, am I messing about with something that is effectively a family dinner institution?  Well, I guess the answer to that is quite simply that I love to put my own spin on recipes.  This normally involves including more of what I like in a dish and creating an opportunity for myself to experiment with flavours.  I have to admit, it is a bit scary at first, but now I pretty much do it all the time.  The reward for being brave is creating a dish that you love which you might never have had otherwise.  There are of course times when it does not go to plan, but after a few swear words and deep breaths, I’m normally able to put it down to experience and take it in my stride.  I have every confidence that you will be able to do the same.

This recipe is the result of an afternoon of experimentation, and for want of a better expression, I think it has been a ‘roaring success’!  It’s vegetarian, because I don’t eat meat.  But fear not, I will also tell you how and where to add some meat because I know for some (my husband being one of them) chilli without meat is a crime.

Part of my motivation for this dish was in fact this months We Should Cocoa blog challenge set by Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog.  The theme is ‘savoury and vegetarian’, and as with all We should Cocoa challenges, chocolate must be included.  I have got to say, this stumped me for quite a while, but then I remembered that special chocolate that had a whole TV series dedicated to it a couple of years back and which I have always wanted to try.  A little bit of internet research later and I found out I was thinking of Willie’s Supreme Cacao. It’s 100% cacao and although it looks like chocolate, it is not something you want to eat raw. I tried!!  The theory behind adding this to dishes, apart from it being cool, is that is adds a depth of flavour and chocolate compliments chilli beautifully.  So the very special ingredient in this chilli is cacao, but for the sake of ease, lets call it chocolate!  If you can’t get hold of Willie’s chocolate, some unsweetened cocoa powder will be a good alternative.

So go on, give this a go and impress everyone who will listen with your culinary knowledge (cacao, depth of flavour etc) and most importantly your willingness to try something a little bit different with splendid results.

Serves 2 adults and 3 children easily with a bit left over for kids tea later in the week

What you will need:

  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed,
  • 1 tin of cannellini beans or leave this out and add a 500g pack of minced beef
  • 1 tin of black beans (or kidney beans if you can’t get black)
  • Half a medium pumpkin or 1 medium butternut squash cut into squares
  • 200g chestnuts (I brought mine in a pack)
  • 1 romano pepper chopped
  • 1 tsp of ground cumin
  • 1 tsp of cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp of ground paprika
  • 1 tsp of ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp of grated cacao or 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1tsp chilli powder
  • 1/2 pint of vegetable stock
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 350g of tomato passata (about half a bottle)
  • Pinch of pepper for seasoning

  How to make:

  1. Preheat you oven to 180c/350f/gas 4.  Put your cubes of pumpkin into a roasting tray, sprinkle with olive oil and cook in the oven for 30-40 mins.  I like to roast pumpkin for most dishes as it brings out the sweetness and flavour
  2. Put your onions and garlic in a large saucepan and start to cook gently with a bit of olive oil.  Once soft, add the pepper.  Then add all the spices apart from the chocolate and cook for a further 5 minutes
  3. Now add beans/meat and cook for 5-10 mins (more like 10 mins if you have meat)
  4. Now add chestnuts, chopped tomato and passata and cook for 10 mins
  5. Add the vegetable stock and season with pepper.  Cook on a low heat for about 25-30 mins
  6. Towards the end of this cooking time, add the roasted pumpkin, and right at the end stir in the grated chocolate
  7. Serve with plain basmati rice

I’m also going to enter this post into the Fabulicious Food‘s Family Friendly Friday challenge.

PS:  Willie did not sponsor me to write this post

PPS:  There are still a few places left for my very first Bake Club evening, so if you live in the Sevenoaks area take a look at my Bake Club post for more info on how to book.

07/02/2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , . Family dinners, Savory Baking, Vegetarian. 10 comments.

New Year Blog Challenge – Low Calorie Blueberry Muffins

This week has been quite exciting.  The people at Bakingmad.com were looking for food bloggers to take part in a new year healthy baking challenge. Always up for a challenge, especially a baking one I got in touch and they sent me a list of low calorie baking recipes and asked me to choose one to make and review. So I picked low calorie blueberry muffins because I was interested to see if a low calorie version would be just as good as the real thing.

A link to the recipe I used is here.

A few days later the postman knocked on my door and gave me a little cardboard box. Inside was a packet of Allinson’s nature friendly flour and packet of Silver Spoon half spoon sugar.  When reading the small print on the packs I was pleasantly surprised at the reasons why the flour is branded nature friendly.  It uses conservation grade wheat which is where farmers actively manage their farmland to promote bio-diversity and conditions where wildlife can flourish.  I like the sound of that.  But reading the back of the silver spoon half spoon sugar pack I was a bit disappointed to see that it contained artificial sweetener.  Not something I really like to use if I’m honest, but then there is half the sugar required in this recipe to a normal blueberry muffin recipe (I checked) and so that is quite a bonus especially if you are on the dreaded new year diet.

So today was the day I decided to complete the challenge.  I set everything up and called my 6 year to see if she wanted to help.  There is no electric mixer involved, just a little whisking and stirring, so she could pretty much do everything, which I think she found very rewarding. She took ages putting the batter in the cases and it was lovely to see her take care to do it properly and really get into the task.

They came out of the oven looking beautiful. Nicely risen with a few gorgeous purple blueberries bubbling at the surface. And I have to say they tasted pretty good too!  They would certainly hit the mid afternoon ‘snack attack’ spot and I definitely did not feel quite as guilty eating one of these in comparison to a normal muffin or slice of cake.  Might even pack one in my gym bag tomorrow as a treat for afterwards.  I’m going to freeze a few too as I think they would be nice as an alternative to breakfast at some point in the week, especially if I’m running late and need breakfast on the go.  My 6 year old loved them!  She came through to the kitchen after eating one and said they were delicious!  This is quite a compliment as she has a sweet tooth, so I guess she did not notice the fact that these had a lot less sugar in which is great.

Overall, I would say these are a quick and easy muffin recipe which is certainly worth a try.  Next time I’m tempted to swap the flour to wholemeal self raising and to try it with the same amount of normal sugar to see how that tastes and turns out. Anyone gets there before me let me know.

Disclaimer- I do not work for Baking Mad nor did not get paid to write this review.

14/01/2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Homemade for the kids, Sweet Baking. 8 comments.

Easy Peasy Oriental Style Salmon Fillets

Only 4 days until Christmas, and it is all starting to get a bit hectic in my house.  Don’t think I have been to bed before midnight this last week, but finally the mince pies are made and the presents are wrapped.  Can’t help wondering if I have forgotten something though.  It worries me that in my haste to perfect things down the smallest detail that I will have forgotten something major. It only occurred to me not so long ago that my guests are staying for more than Christmas day and so will also need feeding in addition to their Christmas dinner!  The challenge here has been to think of things that are quick and easy but also keeps up the ‘domestic goddess’ appearance!  I also like to cook a meal at some point over this time that is fairly light and not as calorific as all the other foods typically eaten at Christmas.  I always end up craving a bit of green veg, just to make me feel a bit more normal.  This is particularly the case this year with all my baking in recent weeks.  Every time I get a glass out of the cupboard the mince pies on sitting beautifully on a plate on the side shout my name, and when I open the fridge the ‘spare’ truffles look longingly at me.  What is a girl to do??

This recipe is perfect for Christmas eve, and ticks all the ‘boxes’ I mentioned above.  You can prepare the salmon earlier in the day to marinate, and then at dinner time just pop them in the oven, get your rice coking and don’t forget the steam a bit of green veg to go with it!  It is a recipe which I have been doing for years and is totally my own creation.  I just tried a bit of this and a bit of that, and over time I think it has really become perfected.  This is a great time to share it with you.

What you will need:

  • 1 salmon fillet for each person eating
  • Basmati rice
  • Green veg
  • Foil to wrap parcel up each salmon fillet

For each salmon fillet add to following to make marinade:

  • 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp teriyaki sauce
  • 1tsp tamari sauce
  • 1 tsp runny honey
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • Sprinkle of  fresh coriander
  • Sprinkle of fresh ginger chopped
  • Sprinkle of dried chilli flakes

How to make:

  1. Place each fillet of salmon on a piece of foil large enough to cover it and seal together at the top.  Wrap the foil around the salmon but don’t seal together so that the salmon is still exposed
  2. Add all the marinade ingredients onto the salmon and seal the foil together.  Put in the fridge for at least an hour, if not more
  3. When you are ready to cook, heat the oven to 180c/350f/gas 4 and bake for 20 mins
  4. Whilst the salmon is cooking, prepare your rice and vegetables
  5. Take salmon out of oven and carefully out of foil wrapper.  Serve with rice and vegetables and pour the juice over the salmon, (this is one of the best bits especially when mixed with a bit of rice)

All that is left for me to say is I hope you enjoy your baking, thanks for your support, and I wish you all a fabulous Christmas! I’ll be back in the new year 🙂

20/12/2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Christmas baking, Savory Baking, Uncategorized. 3 comments.

Cranberry, Hazelnut and Honey Granola

We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and at Christmas time it is even more essential, especially if you have the task of cooking the Christmas dinner.  Energy will definitely be required.  However,  if your house is anything like mine, we get through cereal like it is going out of fashion.  I would hate to add up how much we spend a year on the stuff!  The grand total would no doubt cause my husband to choke on his mulled wine,  so I’m not going to actually add it up, but hopefully you get my point.  The other problem is that shop brought cereal often contains hideous amounts of sugar which is obviously not good for anyone, and most of all my children, who on Christmas day will have already eaten numerous chocolate coins and such like before 6.30am!  On Christmas day chocolate at what is effectively the middle of the night has to be allowed, but seeing them eat a healthy breakfast would certainly make me (and them) feel better.  Well, luckily for those of you reading my blog and empathizing with the cereal issues I have outlined above, I have a proposition for you.  The perfect solution is to make some homemade granola.  How can I say that so flippantly I hear you ask?  Well do read on as it will all start to make sense.

This fabulously versatile cereal hits the spot for a number of reasons.  Firstly, oats which are the main ingredient are as David Dickinson likes to say, ‘cheap as chips’ which is good news for your budget, and might actually help you save a few extra pennies towards the cost of Christmas.  Oats are also healthy and give ‘slow release’ energy, which is more likely to get you through to lunch without a sugar crash and the inevitable ‘Mr Tickle’ arm into the biscuit barrel that follows.  I’ve been there and done that many a time, especially after a bad night with the kids, so anything that might help kick this biscuit related habit is surely worth a try.  The other thing to say about granola is that is absolutely delicious, and can be used in a variety of ways including with milk, on top of yogurt, in the children’s snack box to nibble on and as a gorgeous unique gift to a loved one this Christmas.  Do what I did, make double the quantity and bag some up to give away, but keep the remainder for yourself :-).

The recipe I have used is taken from Nigella’s Christmas Cook Book.  A few minor alterations means that it has the, ‘homemade by Fleur‘ stamp, making it even more enjoyable I hope.  I have swapped the blanched almonds in the original recipe to chopped hazelnuts as I prefer them.  Feel free to do the same and make your own swaps too.  Add dried fruit or nuts that you like or have in the cupboard, go with what is in season or what is on offer.  The other change I made is to replace some of the honey for agave syrup.  Agave syrup is a little gem to have at hand, it is a substitute to sugar and honey but has lower GI and slower release sugars.  Most supermarkets or health food shops should sell it.  Here is what it looks like.

The last but by no means least point to make about this granola is that it will be my first ever blog challenge entry.  The Forever Nigella challenge hosted by Sarah at the brilliant Maison Cupcake blog has certainly caught my eye, and I am very excited to be submitting this blog post.  One of many more I hope.

So all that is left to say is put the ingredients on your shopping list and get baking.  This is a wonderful treat which the whole family will enjoy and appreciate.  Be careful though, if Santa finds out you have some of this in the house, you may have an extra guest for breakfast!

What you will need

  • 225g rolled oats
  • 60g sunflower seeds
  • 60g white sesame seeds
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 75g runny honey
  • 75g agave syrup
  • 50g soft brown sugar
  • 60g chopped roasted hazelnuts
  • 60g flaked almonds
  • 50g raisins
  • pinch of table salt
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 150g dried cranberries

Makes enough to fill a 1.2 litre tin or jar, (3-4 small gift bags or 2 large gift bags)

  1. Preheat the oven to 170c/355f/gas 3
  2. Put everything into a large bowl expect the dried cranberries and mix well with a wooden spoon
  3. Spread the mixture onto a couple of lined baking trays and bake for about 40-50 mins
  4. The mixture should be turned over about half way though, and even more if you think it needs it towards the end.  I set my timer for 20 mins then 10, and then 10 and turned it each time.  Keeping an eye on it like this should prevent it from burning, and instead result in a lovely golden crunchy cereal
  5. Once cooled mix in the dried cranberries.  My daughter actually helped me do this so I could take the picture!
  6. If using for gifts this will keep for several weeks bagged up and then placed in an airtight container.  If you have made it for yourself, keep in an airtight tin or jar

05/12/2011. Tags: , , , , , . Christmas baking, Homemade gifts, Sweet Baking. 5 comments.