Avocado Pesto Pasta

Linguine with Avocado Pesto

I think avocados are one of the foods which will always be synonymous with ‘grown-up food’ for me. They fall into the category of foods which I didn’t like at all as a child, but have grown to love as I’ve got older – along with olives, capers, spaghetti carbonara, and beans (pulses, rather than green beans). Having spurned avocado as a child, I can’t get enough of it these days – on toast for breakfast; in salads; just on its own… Delicious.

I know what you’re thinking – no posts for two months, and she leaps back in with avocados, without so much as a by-your-leave?! (Actually, I don’t think anyone uses the phrase by-your-leave these days, but I like it). It’s true – I have been away from home and from blogging, and I’m sure I’ll tell you about it as we go along. But for now – back to avocados.

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Avocado is different from some of the food I didn’t like as a child because it was something I really *wanted* to like. It had a sort of mystery to it, a sophistication – something about it was very grown up, and I was annoyed I didn’t like it. My mother was very strict about food as we were growing up – we were expected to eat what was put in front of us, and she was unimpressed by pickiness. This led to some incidents of spaghetti carbonara-induced misery – but there were also certain foods which she would concede it was reasonable for children not to like, and avocados were one of them.

So, I can remember trying both avocado and olives, disliking them, and being told that perhaps I would like them when I grew up – this immediately made me want to like them, because all any child wants is to be more grown up. I also remember my mother and grandmother eating avocado for lunch – half an avocado each, with vinaigrette in the well in the centre, eaten with a spoon. Something about it was so sophisticated – the same goes for olives at a drinks party. The image in my head is of adults standing around with drinks, eating olives from small dishes – oh to attain the dizzy heights of drinking alcohol and liking olives!! Then I would know I had made it.

I’m not sure what changed, and when I started liking avocado. Maybe it was my discovery of guacamole? Either way, seeing as I could now happily eat avocado every day, that must mean I am VERY grown up…?

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This dish is a wonderful way to eat avocado – I had it in a restaurant years ago, and have been recreating it ever since. I don’t often think of avocado as something to eat with warm food, but it works stirred through pasta, especially at this time of year when a bowl of just-warm pasta is both filling, and not too hot. You can adjust the leaves you use in the dish – either adding avocado to a fairly standard pesto genovese base, or replacing some of the basil with, for instance, watercress or rocket, to give a peppery kick to the dish. One thing I would say is to make sure that you include enough avocado – the other flavours in the pesto are strong, and you need enough avocado to make sure its delicious creamy flavour comes through.

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I’ve included crispy bacon in this recipe, but if you would rather make this a meat-free dish you can very easily leave it out. If you do use bacon – if you happen to have a bottle of white wine open, add a splash to the pan as the bacon cooks, if you feel so inclined (I did…). You will be left with what Nigella Lawson describes as ‘a small amount of salty winey syrup’ in her spaghetti carbonara recipe, which is truly wonderful with the bacon. You could also add all sorts of other things to the dish instead of (/as well as…) the bacon – halved cherry tomatoes, some sort of cheese – feta, mozzarella or goats’ cheese spring to mind.

Or, of course, it will be delicious just as it comes.

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Avocado Pesto Pasta 
Serves 2

  • 1.5 ripe avocado*
  • 30g fresh basil (leaves & stalks) – or a mix of basil and other herbs/leaves
  • 1.5 tbsp freshly grated parmesan, plus more to serve
  • 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 200g pasta*
  • 2 rashers streaky bacon – or pancetta/lardons (optional)
  • Splash of white wine (optional)

Start by making the pesto. Peel, de-stone and roughly chop the avocado, and add to the bowl of a food processor along with the basil, parmesan, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil. Process to a rough paste, taste and season with salt and pepper.

Bring a medium pan of salted water to the boil, and cook the pasta according to packet instructions. In the meantime, heat a small frying pan to a fairly high heat, add the bacon, and cook until the bacon starts to crisp. Pour a splash of white wine into the pan and allow the wine to reduce until you have a syrupy glaze.

When the pasta is cooked, drain in a colander – allow some of the cooking water to still cling to the pasta as this will help the sauce and pasta blend. Stir through the pesto and bacon, and serve topped with a grating of fresh parmesan.

Notes:

  • If you have half an avocado left as a result of this, keep the stone in the half you are saving, it will help to stop it going brown.
  • I prefer long pasta for this dish – especially linguine. But there’s no reason you couldn’t make this with pasta shapes if that’s what you have and what you prefer.

4th of July Chicken

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This chicken is called 4th of July Chicken for no other reason than that I made it on 4th July, to take to a picnic that evening. There’s nothing particularly American about it – if anything, I guess it has a slight Italian influence to it. This July 4th was my first in the States – so, in fact my first July 4th full stop, because to be honest it somewhat passes us by in the UK. Not surprising, really.

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I had a very pleasant lazy day, followed by a picnic watching the concert and fireworks at Tanglewood with my friend Vicky. Vicky, it turns out, is the picnic queen, and brought all sorts of treats for us to enjoy, as well as an impressive array of picnic paraphernalia, so we were very well catered for. I brought wine and chicken. It was a fun evening, although as I watched a volley after volley of jubilant fireworks, I couldn’t help but feel you Americans must REALLY hate us Brits…

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Anyway, either way – this is tasty chicken. It’s great for a picnic – we had it just as it comes, but it would also be great to beef up a salad. It’s quick and easy, and you can make it in advance. You also get to flatten a chicken breast with a rolling pin, which is always fun. The herb mix running through the centre can be adapted to use any herbs you like or have to hand.

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4th of July Chicken 
Serves two as part of a picnic

For the herb filling:

  • Approx 1 tbsp each of basil and tarragon leaves
  • Approx 1/2 tbsp of thyme leaves
  • 1/2 tbsp capers, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • Juice and zest of 1/4 lemon
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

For the chicken

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 4 slices prosciutto

Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F

Start by making the herb filling. Finely chop all of the herbs, capers and garlic – you can use a food processor for this, if you prefer, but I find it just as easy to do by hand as it’s small amounts. Mix with the remaining ingredients – stir well, and set aside.

Take the first chicken breast and place between two sheets of cling film/plastic wrap. Using a rolling pin, gently but firmly bash the chicken all over until it is approx 1cm/0.5inch thick. Repeat with the second chicken breast. If you don’t have a rolling pin, a bottle of wine makes a good substitution…

Lay two pieces of prosciutto on the work surface, overlapping very slightly, and place one of the flattened chicken breasts on top. Spread half of the herb mixture over the chicken breast – you are aiming for a seam of herbs running through the middle of the chicken, rather than a stuffing as such. Fold any overlapping prosciutto on the right hand side of the chicken into the middle, and then gently roll the chicken into a tight roll. Repeat with the second chicken breast.

Heat a frying pan on the stove to a fairly high heat. Sear the chicken quickly on the outside, before transferring to a baking dish and placing in the oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Allow to cool, slice into rounds and spoon over any cooking juices. Serve at room temperature or very slightly warm.

Note:
I would have preferred to secure the rolls with a toothpick, but I didn’t have any – so I risked cooking them without. I found that one of the chicken breasts was slightly thinner than the other, and this one stayed better rolled when cooking. So, especially if you have no toothpicks, make sure the chicken breasts are nice and thin before filling/rolling.

Cooking with friends

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I had a plan that I was going write this post more than two weeks ago, and I was going to start by telling you that ‘Everything is on the brink of change, here in the Orange Kitchen’. But then life got in the way, and I didn’t write the post, and now here we are, no longer on the brink, but rather right in the midst, of change.

The boys at work!

The boys at work!

And change it most certainly is – I have left behind both my new home in Boston and my life as a lady of leisure, for a little while at least. I have been given the chance to spend the summer at Tanglewood music festival, as part of the team which organises the festival. It’s an amazing chance for me to see how another major classical music festival is run, and I am so excited to be part of it.

Laura cooking with her sister Becca

Laura cooking with her sister Becca

The festival is based in Western Mass, so I’ve moved out to the beautiful town of Lenox for the next nine weeks or so – leaving Noel to fend for himself in the meantime! I was totally unfamiliar with the Berkshires, as the area around Lenox is known, and it is really a joy to get to know it. It is beautiful like you wouldn’t believe – and, while sleepier than Boston, it has plenty to keep me occupied.

The boys preparing Kale chips

The boys preparing Kale chips

This post was also not going to be about cooking with friends. It was going to be a recipe for Spaghetti with Avocado Pesto, which is delicious, and perfect for the warm weather we’re having these days (ahem, and the rain…). But, truth be told, I haven’t had a lot of cooking time recently – I’m working full time, and I’m living on my own, so I’ve been resorting to old faithful standbys.

Dave making his awesome burgers

Dave making his awesome burgers

This weekend, I went down to Connecticut, to my ‘American family’s’ house – the same people we spent Thanksgiving, Christmas and Boxing Day with, and who have very kindly adopted us poor ‘orphans’! We were celebrating my friends Laura & Dave’s wedding in May with a lovely weekend in the garden. We tie-dyed shirts, we drank, we lounged, we played with the dogs, we flew kites – and we cooked together. It was such fun – we made a selection of salads and things for the grill, but really it was all about being in the kitchen together.

Becca & Noel hard at work

Becca & Noel hard at work

I love to cook any which way that comes along – but there is something truly wonderful about doing so with the people most important to you.

A few of the weekend's other activities - kite-flying

A few of the weekend’s other activities – kite-flying

Tie-dying

Tie-dying

Chilling with the dogs!

Chilling with the dogs!

Chipotle & Black Bean Hash, and Griddled Corn with Lime Aioli

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Well, well – it’s been a while, and I’m sorry! I’m finally back in Boston, and it’s been mad – since I’ve been back, we’ve had a friend and then my sister visiting, and been away to New York for a few days. Hectic.

So, to make it up to you, here’s not one, but two recipes – both based in different ways on dishes from two restaurants I love in Boston.

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While our friend Ben was visiting, we went for dinner at Redbones BBQ in Davis Square, which is a great restaurant with both great food and a really fun atmosphere. For the uninitiated among you, BBQ here is not what you do in your garden (in the rain) in England, but rather a way of preparing and cooking meat – more as in BBQ sauce/seasoning. What you do in your garden is grilling – and what you do under the grill is broiling… Keeping up?

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We had a great meal, and left with a pile of leftover smoked brisket and baby back ribs – so I decided to make hash with the leftovers. Hash is something I’ve only really discovered since moving to the States – in the UK, it is really associated with corned beef from a tin, and not particularly appetising. It was popular during and after WWII because fresh meat was not always readily available, and corned beef hash became an economical way to feed a family.

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Economical certainly – but not especially inspiring. So, imagine my delight to discover that over here, it is often on the menu with meat that has never been near a tin – either freshly made corned beef, or, even better in my opinion, leftover barbecue, pulled pork, brisket etc etc. What hasn’t changed from WWII days is that hash is still a very economical option – it is really best made with leftovers, and is a great way to use up leftover meat, especially if you have bits of different leftover meats from say a BBQ/grill. It’s also very versatile – the basic components are meat, potatoes and usually onions, but you can add lots of other things to it, as you wish. It’s great for any time of the day, and is often served for brunch with a fried egg on top (or for dinner with an egg on top…). For mine, I added some black beans, and some dried chipotle, which I thought went well with the leftover BBQ meat.

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To go alongside this, I recreated a dish from a fantastic tapas restaurant in Boston – Toro. It’s somewhere we love to eat, and in fact we first went on my very first trip to Boston – and have been back several times since. The food is amazing – encompassing all the old favourites, alongside more unusual offerings such as crispy pork belly with roasted pumpkin, crispy brussel sprouts, chantenay carrots and kimchi vegetables, or, our favourite last time, Kabayaki glazed beef short ribs with chilled farro, cucumbers, radish and hazelnuts.

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The food is immaculate – perfectly balanced and incredibly delicious; we have never had a bad plate there. However, as we were finishing our first visit, the table to one side of us were getting very excited over their soon-to-arrive order of grilled corn with alioli, lime, espelette pepper and aged cheese. Dubbed ‘La Especialidad de la Casa’ on the menu, we had somehow missed this and asked what the fuss was about. The table next to us waxed lyrical, and we knew that on our next visit, we had to try the corn!

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We duly did – and it was fantastic. So, so simple, but incredibly delicious, and I have wanted to try to recreate it for a while at home. Mine wasn’t as good as Toro’s, of course, but I was pleased and it brought back great memories for us both!

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Chipotle & Black Bean Hash 
Serves 2

  • 2 large/3 medium potatoes, either raw or pre-cooked
  • Leftover meat – I used smoked brisket, baby back ribs, and roast pork
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 dried chipotle peppers, to taste, chopped
  • 1/2 tin black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup beef stock (you may not need all of this)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 2 eggs (optional)
  • Fresh coriander, chopped, to garnish

If using raw potatoes, cut into halves and place in a saucepan. Cover with cold water and add a little salt, then bring to the boil and simmer until fairly soft but not falling apart – 5-10 minutes. Drain the potatoes, and allow to cool until they’re cool enough to be handled. If using leftover potatoes, skip this step.

Cut the potatoes into small cubes. Heat a little oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, and fry the potatoes until they begin to brown. Add the meat, onions, beans, chipotles and beef stock, and cook until the stock has reduced and the onions are soft. The potatoes should still be slightly crisp. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Just before the hash is finished, fry two eggs. Serve the hash, topped with a fried egg, and garnished with coriander.

Griddled Corn with Lime Aioli
Inspired by Toro’s Maíz Asado con Alioli y Queso Cotija
Serves 2

For the aioli:

  • 1 large/2 small egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup oil (I used a mix of olive oil and canola oil)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed (use more or less to taste)
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime, to taste
  • Salt and pepper

For the corn:

  • 2 corns on the cob, with husks
  • Grated cotija (or other South American hard cheese) to serve

Heat a griddle pan over a high heat until very hot. Place the corn in its husks on the griddle, and cook for around 15 minutes. Once the husks start to blacken, peel them back and put the corn back on the griddle until the kernels are slightly charred.

In the meantime, make the aioli. Place the egg yolks in a bowl and beat well with a whisk. Stir in the garlic. Gradually add the oil to the yolks in a thin stream, beating constantly. The mix should thicken and become creamy – you may not need all of the oil. Season with salt, pepper and lime juice to taste.

Serve the corn topped with aioli, grated cheese, and freshly ground black pepper.

Courgette and Bacon Risotto

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The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed, from this week’s photos and last, that I have not been in my Orange Kitchen. This is because I was in London for the past two weeks – and the photos in these two posts are taken in either my brother’s kitchen, or at Ollie & Anna’s house, for whom the Chocolate Pudding was made.

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I had to go back to London to sort out a new visa, which was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends and family. Sunday lunch x2: first cooked by Ollie, delicious beef, puffy Yorkshires, and Ollie’s speciality cauliflower cheese; and second in a London pub, catching up with old friends. Beer Wednesday & curry, lunch with friends, drinks with the girls from work, (the other) Ollie & El’s housewarming party, a lazy bank holiday Monday on the South Bank – I’ve been well and truly spoiled.

And the weather – the weather was glorious! The very best of English spring/summer days: warm, but not too hot, maybe a light breeze. And is there anywhere more beautiful than London on a sunny day?

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This is the type of weather which begs for light, fresh food. My brother and I made a delicious supper the other day of a broad bean, pea, courgette, mint and feta salad, and some asparagus wrapped in parma ham with hollandaise sauce – so simple, and so delicious. Another night, I made a risotto with courgette and bacon. One of the things I love about risotto and pasta is how great they are all year round. You can have rich, dark, meaty pastas or a warm, comforting mushroom risotto in the winter, but just as delicious are the light, fresh pastas and risotto which make a feature of green vegetables.

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Courgettes are one of my very favourite vegetables. I love them any way they come – steamed, griddled, roasted, raw in a salad, all delicious in my book. They marry really well with salty little bites of bacon, and the soft, almost creamy flesh is delicious in risotto. As with so many risotto dishes, this is very adaptable – last time I made it, I included lemon and pine nuts, and this time, I stirred through some leftover feta at the end. I think it definitely needs something like lemon or feta (different as those two things are!) – something sharp and zingy to lift it.

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Courgette & Bacon Risotto 
Serves 2

  • Approx 50-75g cubed pancetta/lardons/streaky bacon cut into cubes
  • 1 Courgette/Zucchini, cut into small cubes (approx 5mm squares)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 150-200g risotto rice (I used Carnaroli on this occasion)
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • Approx 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • Approx 50g feta, cubed (optional)
  • Squeeze of lemon (optional)
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated parmesan, plus more to serve

Heat a fairly large saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add the cubed pancetta, and allow to fry until fairly brown and crisp. Once the bacon is crisp, reduce the heat to low, and add the onion and garlic. I find that the fat that comes out of the bacon means that you do not need to add any oil, but take a view on this and add a little olive oil if you feel it needs it. Soften the onions slowly until they are soft and lightly browned, and season with salt and pepper, remembering that the bacon is salty. In the meantime, in another pan, bring the stock to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and keep warm.

Once the onions are soft, increase the heat to medium and add the courgettes to the pan – cook for a minute. Add the risotto rice to the pan, and stir to coat the rice in the juices in the pan. Allow to cook for another minute or two, then add the wine. Stir, and allow the rice to absorb the wine. Add  the stock to the pan a ladle at a time, and allow the rice to absorb the liquid before adding another ladle, stirring all the time.

Continue this until the rice is soft and creamy but still has a little bite. If you run out of stock, continue with water. Stir the grated parmesan, feta and/or lemon through the risotto, and check the seasoning.

Serve immediately, topped with more grated parmesan.

Grandma’s Chocolate Pudding

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And now for something completely different.

One of my most enduring childhood memories is family Sunday roast dinners. Going back as far as I can remember, and continuing pretty much up until I left home, my family would sit down together every Sunday for a roast. When I was small, this usually included my mum’s parents, at our house or theirs.  We would all meet after church, the adults would drink sherry, and we would be allowed a coke. Sometimes, we would be joined by friends and neighbours – leading to the now famous incident when I, as a small child, told my grandparents’ local MP off for not eating his vegetables. How embarrassing.

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We have been blessed with our grandparents: my dad’s parents retired before I was born to Alderney, in the Channel Islands, and we spent wonderful summers there as children. My dad’s father died when I was very young, and it is one of my real sadnesses that I didn’t know him better. Dad’s mum, however, was a big feature of our childhood, and in particular of our fantastic holidays in Alderney.

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My mum’s parents, in contrast, were much closer to home, and therefore more involved in day-to-day life. They helped with the school run, and we would sometimes go to them for a night or two for ‘holidays’ – which were probably holidays for everyone except them! They were truly magical times: my grandfather was forever full of magical tales and games; we would spend hours with him in the garden – ‘helping’ with his vegetable patch, building ‘fairy gardens’ (for the fairies to visit), and cubby holes for us to hide in. There were all sorts of fun things in the garden – his shed, which contained all manner of treasures, from a thurible (used for incense in church), to spades and saws and home-made furniture; a mini windmill thing (honestly, I can’t begin to describe it); and his pride and joy – his barbecue. As a red-blooded Australian male, his barbecue was of paramount importance, and his was a home-made triumph: constructed from an old metal oil drum standing on its end, with a section cut out and racks inserted for the coals to sit on, and an old sheet of metal on top to cook on. No barbecue before or since has come close.

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Speaking of cooking – there, as well, my Grandad had a unique approach. My Grandma was never an early riser – in fact, she would send us to bed with the words ‘sleep well, see you in the morning – not too early!’. Grandad was usually up early, and we would come down for breakfast with him. Tea and toast were central – very weak black tea with sugar, and toast dipped in it. To this day, when I want something comforting, I have ‘grandad tea’. His talents didn’t end there, and such classics as orange in a basket (an orange, with two almost quarters cut out of the top to create something like this, but with the orange still in rather than berries, and with sugar sprinkled on the cut sides), ketchup sandwiches, egg-in-a-nest (a piece of toast, with a hole in the middle with an egg cracked in and fried – like this), and Aussie chips (sauteed potatoes, to anyone else…) were legendary.

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Where my Grandad is an outdoors kind of chap, who would prepare breakfast in his vest and pants, and taught us to clean pans with dirt ‘like in the army’, my grandmother was the opposite: always stylish, beautifully turned out, and glamorous to a fault. They went to Australia every year to visit their other children and grandchildren, and the family joke was that Grandma would take an extra suitcase for all the shoes and handbags she would buy! Where he was always early, she was always late – he used to sit in the car when he thought it was time to leave, and she would come out when she thought it was time to leave. On paper, you couldn’t find two more different people – but they were married for more than 55 years, until she died 10 years ago this year.

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She was also a great, if slightly unorthodox, cook – her recipe scrapbook was full of gems. One of the best things about our Sunday roasts was Grandma’s chocolate pudding – in my mind, we had this every week, although I’m sure that can’t be true… Either way, it is so delicious, and simplicity itself to make.

I asked my mum for the recipe for Grandma’s chocolate pudding; she sent it over, along with a word about the recipe which I will share, because it made me laugh, and sums up my Grandma better than I ever could:

‘You will remember that Grandma rarely measured anything carefully and if she didn’t have quite enough of something she would wing it so that is why it was always different.’

Which seems like a very good approach to me!!

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This is what’s known as a self-saucing pudding – which is also why it’s never the same twice. You prepare a batter, and then before baking, sprinkle over a mix of sugar and cocoa powder, and pour over a cup or two of water. This then soaks into the pudding in the oven, creating a layer of sauce underneath. It’s like magic – and, depending on how much water you add, how hot your oven is, how long you cook it for, etc, you might either end up with a chocolatey sauce which you can spoon over the pudding, or a thick, sticky layer, too thick to be properly called a sauce. This also means it’s very forgiving – it’s rarely a problem if it’s in the oven a little longer than planned, which is a good thing if you’re lingering over lunch…

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Grandma’s Chocolate Pudding 
Serves 4-6

  • 4oz / 115g caster sugar
  • 4oz / 115g butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 6oz / 170g self raising flour and cocoa mixed: add 2-3 tbsp cocoa to the measuring bowl, then add enough flour to bring it up to 6oz. You can use more or less cocoa, to taste.

For the sauce:

  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • 3-4 tsp sugar
  • 1 – 2 cups water (see instructions below)

Preheat the oven to 175C / 350F.

Cream the sugar and butter together until they are light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs. Gently fold the flour/cocoa mix into the batter.

Grease a baking dish (the one we used was about 8inx6in), and spread the mix in the dish – you need to make sure there is at least 1.5in between the batter and the top of the dish.

When you are ready to bake, sprinkle the sugar and cocoa over the dish, and pour over the water. The amount you use will depend on the size of the dish – you are looking for all the batter to be covered by about 1cm water. Bake for around 30-40 minutes, until the top is shiny and slightly cracked.

Serve with pouring cream.

Boston’s Tragedy

When I started this blog, I was very clear in my mind that its purpose was as a food blog – a blog for recipes, for sharing tips and ideas. I try to include snippets of my life here, and memories behind various recipes, but I felt very strongly when I started out that the posts had to be first and foremost about food – and I still do.

Sometimes, though, something comes along in life, which at one and the same time renders you speechless, and makes you want to shout out loud. For me, yesterday’s tragic events in Boston is one of those things – and so I hope you will forgive me while I digress.

First, and most importantly – Noel and I, and our friends and loved ones here, are safe and well, and for this I am so very thankful. In fact, I was on a plane, having left Johannesburg moments before the blasts, and so knew nothing until I landed at JFK this morning and my phone went beserk. I am pathetically grateful not only that I was far away, but also that I didn’t find out until I had landed and therefore didn’t have to spend the 15 hours of the flight wondering if friends were safe, with no way of finding out.

My initial reaction was, and still is, shock that someone could do this to my beloved adopted city. That someone can target an event such as this – an event swarming with families, for one thing – beggars belief. Loss of life is always a tragedy, in some capacity or another, and we can find ourselves on shaky ground when we start to categorise one death as more or less tragic than another. But the cowardice of something like this – the sheer, willful, indiscriminate desire to do harm – makes me rage inside.

It is hard not to feel full of despair at moments like these, especially when they occur so close to home. However, as I mourn Boston’s loss, as I am saddened for the families who have lost loved ones, the people whose lives will never be the same again, I remember a speech I once heard, and which I would like to share with you.

When I am not swanning around on a year off, my day job is as part of the team which organises the BBC Proms concerts in London each summer. The culmination of this two-month music festival is the Last Night of the Proms – a gaudy, celebratory affair, hailed as a national treasure by some and a jingoistic anachronism by others. The 2009 Last Night of the Proms will always have a special place in my heart, because it was the first time I attended the event.

Each year, the BBC Symphony Orchestra performs, along with the BBC Symphony Chorus, and whichever conductor is chosen to direct proceedings is expected to give a speech. This is no mean feat – the concert is broadcast live on BBC Radio and TV, and across the world in more countries than I can begin to remember. In 2009, David Robertson, that year’s conductor, gave a speech which has stuck with me ever since, and which came back to me as I faced yesterday’s horrific events. You can view the whole speech here – it is a wonderfully funny, witty, self-deprecating speech, but I would especially like to share the final few minutes with you:

‘I’d like to keep it short. One of the things which happens in this extraordinary society where today people are watching this around the globe in real time right while it’s happening here… music is this thing which is always fleeting from us and always escaping and that we always wish we could hold on to, and that’s what makes the Last Night of the Proms so wonderful.

But in this same society, we have the possibility of daily updates of extraordinary instances of man’s tremendous inhumanity to man. And so, when you’re a musician you often think, ‘well is anything that I’m doing having any worth at all trying to combat this, trying to work for unity’. So let me leave you with this. You see behind me a Symphony Orchestra. Every single one of the instruments has an entirely different background and history: they come from different places on the globe; they’ve had different developments; they sound different; they look different; they don’t actually interact at all. And yet – if we were to lose one single one of the instrumentalists on the stage, we would feel an incredible lack. And so when the next time your soul sinks, assailed with some sort of horrid indication that people can’t get along together, please remember the orchestra, which is a very powerful symbol – that the things which unite us are far, far stronger than the things which would seem to keep us apart.’

I take great comfort from these words. They remind me that for every ‘instance of man’s tremendous inhumanity to man’, there are instances of hope – of people who, with no thought for themselves, come to the aid of their fellow men. There are countless stories emerging from yesterday – one which sticks with me is the men who finished the marathon and kept running till they reached the hospital, so that they could donate blood.

I believe that in order for us to find a way past this atrocity and others like it, we have to look to find the same humanity in our enemies that we see in our friends. I believe that we have to try, even when it seems hopeless, to find those things which unite us, and try to find a way to make them more important than the things which seem to keep us apart. And so I look to the orchestra, that wonderful example of unity, and I hope that, one day, we will get there.

In the meantime, I say this to you: gather your loved ones around you. Hold those dear to you close, and celebrate everything that is wonderful about each other. Invite all of your friends around for dinner – see! this is about food! – and take joy, even as you mourn, in friendship and love. There are people out there telling us that we must go on with our lives, that this is the strongest message we can send that attacks such as these will not work. I agree – but I think we must take it further, that we must celebrate our lives, even in all their glorious ordinariness. And that this begins with celebrating the most important thing of all – friends, family, and the people you love. It shouldn’t take a tragedy to make us remember this – but sometimes that is the way of the world. And, as you know, I will take any excuse for dinner…

Cooking with my mum – Lamb and Aubergine ragu

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I know, I know, I promised you some South African dishes, and pasta, well, ain’t. I had planned to try my hand at a few things this week, and I don’t really know why I haven’t – so for now, here’s a yummy lamb dish instead.
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For one thing, I have been starved of pasta over the past few weeks. It’s one of my absolute favourite things to eat, probably the one thing I really could eat every day – a legacy, perhaps, from time spent in Rome ten years ago, although I think I’ve always loved it. I read these diets in magazines promising miraculous results – I flip eagerly to the page, and realise, no, you have to give up pasta. In a choice between a super-svelte bikini body and pasta, pasta would win, every time.
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My brother, on the other hand, has given up eating carbs in the evening – with above-mentioned miraculous results – and so while he’s been here in South Africa as well, pasta has been off the menu. It’s a small price to pay for the wonderful holiday we’ve had together – he’s a singer, and was here with some of his singer friends for performances of Handel’s Messiah and Faure’s Requiem, among other things. Once the work in Johannesburg was done, we headed down to the Cape for a wonderful week which was largely based around eating and drinking. The days followed a fairly consistent pattern: rise, at leisure, and breakfast. Set off for the winelands, take in a tasting. Find somewhere delicious for lunch. Decide we should probably do one more tasting before heading home. Roll, slightly sozzled, back into the car for a snooze on the way home. Cook dinner all together.
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It’s pretty high on my list of all-time favourite things to do on holiday. There is something truly magical about tasting wine at the wine farm itself – looking out over the vines, with the most knowledgeable and passionate people possible sharing their wine with you. Add in beautiful sunshine, family and friends, and the fact that I can’t drive and therefore always get to drink – and you have a winner.
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Everyone else has gone home now, and it’s just me and my parents. There’s something strange and wonderful about going home to to your parents – it involves a relinquishing of independence and all its attendant responsibility which is in equal measure liberating and frustrating. Back in my parents’ home, I change from someone who cooks and cleans and washes, who gets themselves to work and social events, to someone almost entirely dependent on my parents for these things. In my defense, this is in part because I can’t drive and getting anywhere in Johannesburg without a car is nigh-on impossible (although I am willing to accept this is not really a defense…)
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As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been very happy both to sit back and enjoy my mother’s wonderful cooking, and to cook with the rest of the group – although there have been a few occasions where I have cooked for my parents. However, even when I’ve done so, I still find myself turning to my mum for help with everything! I ask her ridiculous questions (‘Mum, is this stick of celery ok to use?’ Honestly, how have I survived thus far if I have to ask that?!) – so even when she is sitting on the sofa and I am in the kitchen, I am ‘cooking with my mum’. Not that I mind – it’s a rare treat these days, and she is so full of knowledge, I’d be a fool not to take advantage.
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This dish was the result of me being let loose in the kitchen – and I was really pleased with the results. I’d been meaning to make a lamb and aubergine pasta dish for a while, and the happy coincidence of lamb in the fridge and an afternoon to spare meant I got the chance. This version uses lamb knuckles, which I have to confess I’ve never seen outside of South Africa. It’s a great cut for slow cooking, if you can get it – but if not, any stewing lamb will do. I gave this three hours as the meat was on the bone and had a lot of sinew – if it’s a slightly leaner cut or not on the bone I’d suggest checking from about two hours, though I doubt it will come to grief from a slightly longer cooking if you have it on a slow heat. I had also planned to use minced lamb when I first thought of doing this – and I do think this would work well as an alternative if you prefer, and would also need a shorter cooking time, probably more like one hour.
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I have a love-hate relationship with aubergine – cooked well, it is hard to beat. It has a luxurious, pillowy softness that melts in the mouth – truly wonderful. However, it is so often disappointing, usually because it has been undercooked, and is therefore hard and with none of the silkiness which makes it so delicious. It also soaks up oil, so if it has been sauteed, can be overly greasy. These days, I almost invariably roast the aubergine in the oven, at least briefly, to start the process. It needs less oil than if you were to saute it, and as with all roasting it brings out the sweetness of the aubergines. It also has the advantage of meaning you can put it in the oven for 30 minutes and forget about it, which, as Delia Smith says, is ‘much less tiresome than standing over a frying pan watching them soak up masses of oil’.

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The inspiration for this recipe is the Italian aubergine dish, caponata – an aubergine stew, in which the aubergines are cooked in both vinegar and salt to give a slightly sweet-and-sour taste. The meatiness of the lamb works really well with this – and you can add more or less sugar and vinegar to either make it a feature or a background note. I like the combination of balsamic and either red or white wine vinegar, although I don’t think this is at all authentic!

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Lamb and Aubergine ragu
Prep time: 30mins; Cooking time: 3hrs
Serves 6

  • 750g/1lb 10oz lamb knuckles
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 x 400ml tin tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or to taste)
  • 2 tsp sugar (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tbsp red or white wine vinegar (or to taste)
  • 2 large / 3 small aubergines
  • Sprig of thyme
  • 1tbsp pine nuts
  • Freshly grated parmesan, to serve

Heat the oil in a large skillet/frying pan over a high heat. Season the lamb with salt and pepper, and sear in the pan until well-browned all over – do this in batches, if necessary. Remove the lamb from the pan and set aside.

Reduce the heat to low, and a little more oil if needed, and add the onion, garlic and celery to the pan. Cook over a low heat until the vegetables are very soft. Stir in the tomato puree and season with salt and pepper – allow the mixture to cook for a couple of minutes.

Increase the heat slightly, and return the meat to the pan, arranging it in one layer as far as possible. Add the tinned tomatoes, the balsamic vinegar, and 1 tsp of sugar. Bring the pan to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low, cover and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 hours (NB: you can also do this in the oven, at 150c/300F)

In the meantime, prepare the aubergines. Heat the oven to 180C. Cut the aubergine into 1 inch chunks, and arrange on a baking tray. Season with salt, pepper and a little olive oil, and roast in the oven for around 30 minutes, until the pieces are softened and golden.

When the lamb has around 1 hour cooking time to go, stir the aubergine pieces into the dish. Taste at this point and adjust the vinegar/sugar balance if necessary – bearing in mind that the wine vinegar will add more tang than the balsamic. Add a sprig of thyme and allow to cook for another hour.

Just before serving, heat a small pan over a medium heat, and toast the pine nuts until golden brown. Serve with pasta, sprinkled with the pine nuts and parmesan.

Guest post – Thai Prawn Curry

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Hello from beautiful South Africa! I have finally arrived to join my family here in Johannesburg – and not a moment too soon. My journey involved a bus to New York and a night in my friend’s very plush apartment, the subway to JFK and a 14hr flight from JFK to Johannesburg. I arrived on my birthday, and spent most of it asleep!! But it’s wonderful to be here.

I’m taking full advantage of my mum’s wonderful cooking, and so I’m not in the kitchen as much as normal – I am hoping to share with you some South African recipes later in my trip, but for now, I thought I’d share a wonderful guest post my friend Ben wrote. I met Ben just over five years ago when we both worked at the Royal College of Music in London. Ben’s a sound engineer, and worked in the College’s studio, along with Avgoustos, Stevie and Seb. Stevie and Seb both joined the staff at the College about the same time as I did, so we all ended up doing our induction sessions together – the sessions were held in the studio, and Seb famously made me a cup of tea when I arrived very hungover for one of the sessions, so I am devoted to him for life. The studio boys became my partners in crime during my time working at the College – a time I think of very fondly. We would go for lunch most weeks, usually on a Wednesday, to the nearby Imperial College bar for what became known as Beer Wednesday – clue’s in the name there. They kept me entertained at work with silly emails – including, famously, a photo of their pants.

Ben is also living the expat dream – in Amsterdam with his lovely wife Jenny. We keep in touch via facebook and email, and let each other know what recipes we’ve tried recently! Here is his recipe for Prawn Thai Curry, with a lot of helpful tips from Ben which he’s figured out along the way. I can’t wait to make it!

I’ve know Sarah for some time but I had no idea we both shared a love of cooking to the extent that we do. If I’d known we both had this passion I’m sure we would have ventured out together more on the hunt for exciting bites than we did before we both left the UK.

Like so many aspiring foodies I’m a food obsessive. I decide I want to master a particular dish and I don’t move on until I’ve achieved this goal. Recently that’s been sourdough breads, salt-caramel ice cream and flavoured foams but the one I want to discuss today is the Thai Curry. I spent my honeymoon in Thailand and completely fell in love with the cuisine. Beautifully simple and elegant, Thai food takes great tasting ingredients and combines them in a way that just work harmoniously, balancing sweet, sour, spicy and salty into something explosive.

The last time Sarah and I ate together was at Kaosarn in Brixton, London. Brixton market was not only very close to where we lived but had also been heralded as the new food-mecca in London by the british press. Kaosarn was a new Thai restaurant in the market that was causing a few waves. I don’t think I discussed it with Sarah over dinner but during that time I was on the hunt to find the best Thai curry in London. I was fed up of ‘westernised versions’ that just didn’t taste as good as the real thing I remembered eating.

Kaosarn was indeed something to talk about and I would tell anyone traveling to London who likes Thai food to go there, however… there was something about sitting outside what is effectively a cafe in February, covered in blankets provided by the restaurant, that just didn’t bring that feeling or the smells of Thailand back.

Obviously I wasn’t going to match being in Thailand but but i decided that I’d do away with restaurants on this one and match the taste of a great Thai curry at home. I began doing some research and came across David Thompson as many who have an interest in Thai cooking will have done. His book Thai Food really is the bible on Thai cookery and I have never made anything Thai since without referring to this book. Gone are the ‘cheats’ that I found from websites and famous british chefs. You know the ones, substituting ginger for galangal, limes for kaffir limes, fresh chilli for dried long Thai ones etc etc etc. All these things had never produced the authentic result. The following recipe is adapted from that book but to my own taste along with a quick side I thought I’d share as you cannot have a true Thai meal without there being a few dishes.

Prawn Thai Curry
Serves 4

Adapted from David Thompson’s Thai Food

For the Curry:

  • 2 cups coconut cream
  • 1 tbs palm sugar
  • 2 tbs fish sauce
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 200g Prawns
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
  • a little red chili
  • 1 tbs coriander leaves

For the Curry Paste:

  • 6 dried long chillies, deseeded, soaked and drained
  • large pinch salt
  • 1 tbs galangal (10 slices)
  • 4 tbs lemongrass (1 big stalk)
  • 4 tablespoons chopped garlic (8 cloves)
  • 3 tbs sliced red shallot (6 small shallots)
  • 1 tbs scraped and chopped coriander root
  • 10 white peppercorns
  • 1 tsp gapi

Sticky Rice:

  • 300g sticky rice (soaked overnight)

Stir Fried Samphire:

  • 4 garlic cloves
  • pinch of salt
  • 200g samphire
  • 4 tablespoons of water
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • pinch of white pepper
  • pinch of sugar
  • a little oyster sauce

Before beginning the recipe it’s worth noting a few things about the ingredients:

  • Galangal looks a bit like ginger but tastes completely different. Essential in the curry paste and can be bought in most supermarkets now.
  • Coriander root is another one of those things that get substituted with coriander leaf. This is one of the ingredients I’ve come to realise is the most important within the paste and cannot be missed out not only because if you use the leaf you’ll only ever get a green curry. I have only found this in Asian supermarkets but it’s worth hunting down along with Kaffir limes and their leaves. (SP note: to any readers in Boston, I have seen coriander (cilantro) with the root attached in Market Basket. They also stock galangal).

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The recipe is only really a guide, nothing is set in stone here so just keep tasting and tasting until the balance between the flavours is what you’re after.

Recipe:
The paste is the most important part of a Thai curry so it’s worth taking the time to get this right. The end result should be pureed as finely as possible and smell mellow and rounded as opposed to each individual ingredient coming through. With a view to cooking this curry for friends I have previously made the paste in advance and kept it in the freezer. DO NOT DO THIS! As I discovered the re-thawing process creates an undesired bitter aspect to the curry and completely changes its flavour for the worse.

Traditionally the paste is made by gradually adding the ingredients to a pestle and mortar starting with the hardest. This is the way I would always do the paste if I have time as compared to a food processor as you get much more of a flavour and smell coming from the paste. If you are going to process the paste add a little water to help it along. Similarly if you have time, make the coconut cream yourself from a fresh coconut as the end result is far superior to the canned, blocked or any other form of coconut cream you can buy.

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Ok, first add the coconut cream to the pan over medium heat and then the paste, stir regularly and fry for 5mins until fragrant. Season with the fish sauce and palm sugar. Add coconut milk and simmer until reduced and separated. Add the prawns and half the lime leaves and continue to simmer until the prawns are just cooked. The curry should be salty, a little hot and smell absolutely amazing! Serve with remaining lime leaves, red chilli and coriander.

Pile the rice into a steamer evenly spread, place over boiling water and cook for about 30 minutes, check the rice and if tender in the middle it is ready to serve.

For the samphire pound the garlic and salt together and add it to a hot wok along with the samphire. Stir fry for 3-4 mins until tender then add the water, soy sauce, oyster sauce and sugar and simmer for another minute. Serve with sprinkled white pepper. This also works well with asparagus or sugar snap peas etc.

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Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the final meal, but I was serving friends and they ate it all before I could get the camera out. Bowl up each dish and allow your guests to take bits of everything, there’s something very social about eating like this and it was always the way in which I ate food while in Thailand. I didn’t detail it here but a great sweet that I loved while in Thailand was Coconut Rice & Mango and a perfect
end to this meal. Here is David Thompson’s recipe; http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/thai-sticky-rice-mango.aspx

Melting Moments

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So, exciting news here in the Orange Kitchen. This week, we are cat-sitting for our friend Ari. This is amazingly exciting – I love cats, and I really miss having my own, but it’s just not practical at the moment. So this has been a real treat for us – Lyle is hilarious, he keeps me in stitches. He’s a great mix of silly and snuggly, and I have loved watching him charge up and down the flat like a mad thing, in pursuit of a bottle-top. Although, note to self – remember to shut the bathroom door when showering, unless you want to be attacked through the shower curtain mid-shower.

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In between Noel coming back from two and a half weeks in Japan & China and very important cat care, I haven’t done a whole lot of cooking lately – and I completely failed to go shopping yesterday because I was playing with the cat. So here’s a quick and easy recipe which I loved making when I was younger.

When I was nine, my parents moved from the UK to live in Germany, and I went to boarding school. My school was near where my mum’s parents lived, and I spent many weekends with them, at first on my own and later with my sister who joined me at school when she was old enough. Our weekends were the most wonderful times – we would watch classic Saturday night TV: Blind Date and Gladiators, and we used to do a lot of baking with grandma, making treats to take back to school. She had a very old copy of The Cranks Recipe Book, which had a recipe for Melting Moments – a very simple, but delicious biscuit.

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I’m not really a baker – I find the precision needed frustrating. One of the things I love about cooking is experimenting and adapting recipes and ideas – as I’ve become a more experienced cook, I’ve started to have the confidence to trust my own judgement and know when to add things, what I can substitute, what I can manage without. The exception, for me, is baking. This coupled with the fact that I don’t really have a sweet tooth means I don’t tend to bake that much.

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There are exceptions – and this recipe is one of them! I hope you enjoy – they really take just, erm, moments to prepare (sorry…), which is great if you have a cat which is happy to entertain itself with a ping-pong ball while you’re not doing anything, but needs to play with you and only you when you’re busy! And they’re very moreish. The only change I’ve made to the original recipe is that I’ve always used white flour rather than wholemeal, as that’s what I tend to have in the house, and I used caster sugar instead of raw brown sugar.

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Melting Moments
Slightly adapted from The Cranks Recipe Book

Makes 12-14 biscuits

  • 150/5oz butter or margarine – if using butter, take out of the fridge a bit in advance to soften a little.
  • 75g/30z sugar (I used caster sugar
  • 15ml / 1tbsp beaten egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence (I used extract)
  • 100g/4oz self-raising flour
  • 25g/10 oz porridge oats
  • Extra oats to coat (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180 C/ 350 F. Grease a baking sheet. Begin by creaming together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla essence. Add the flour and oats and bring the batter together – I used a combination of a wooden spoon and my hands!

Form the mix into walnut-sized balls, and arrange well apart on the baking sheet. Flatten slightly, and sprinkle with oats, if using.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely – they will be very soft when they come out of the oven but will harden as they cool.