Easy Monster Truffles

Monster truffles annotated

It’s well documented that I have a secret love for Oreos. If they are spied in a biscuit tin they will be second choice to Jammy Dodgers. As well as just scoffing them Oreos make great edible dirt or in this case the base of easy monster truffles.

This recipe is based on the ridiculously easy oreo truffle recipe which uses just two ingredients: biscuits and cream cheese. This is a great activity for young children as it involved fine motor skills, no heat and a little bit of mess. What is cooking without a bit of mess? I highly recommend wearing disposable gloves to make the truffles as the mixture can get sticky, but don’t worry the truffles will firm up with a brief chill in the fridge. Alternatively you could use the same decoration technique with my rum truffles recipe.

Making coloured coconut is also a great activity for children to get involved with and you’ll be glad to know this involves less mess than you think.

  • Put the desiccated coconut in a freezer bag.
  • Add a small amount of food colouring (ideally the gel kind).
  • Seal the bag.
  • Rub the bag and its contents until the coconut is evenly coloured.
  • Pour out on to a plate and it’s ready to use.

When it comes to the biscuits used in the truffles it doesn’t have to be Oreos, though these give a darker colour, bourbon biscuits work equally well. Also you don’t have to just make monsters, the limit is your spooky imagination.

easy oreo halloween truffles

Monster Truffles

  • 100 g oreo or bourbon biscuits
  • 50 g cream cheese
  • 25 g desiccated coconut
  • green food dye
  • small amount of white sugarpaste
  • small amount of brown or black sugarpaste
  • cocktail stick
  1. Put the biscuits in a freezer bag and break into fine crumbs with a rolling pin. Alternatively pulse in a blender until the biscuits have turned into crumbs.
  2. Mix the biscuits crumbs with the cream cheese until well combined.
  3. Make the green coconut as instructed above.
  4. Roll the truffle mixture into 12 balls then roll in the green coconut.
  5. Place on a piece of baking parchment.
  6. Roll a small ball of white sugarpaste and top with a small ball of brown sugarpaste, then squash this to make the eye.
  7. Attach the eye to the body by pressing the cocktail stick through the eye into the body.
  8. Chill the truffles until ready to eat.

Carrot and Ginger Cakes

Carrot and Ginger Cakes with Cheesecake Icing

Don’t be too shocked. This is the first baking recipe I’ve featured on the blog for a while. I thought I owed you one. It took me until I was an adult to appreciate vegetables in cake. Pre 2001 I thought carrot cake was evil stuff. It’s now on the top list of cakes I regularly bake, or get requested to bake.

  • I use rapeseed oil for the nutty flavour and keep the cake moist
  • Rather than grating carrots I chop them finely skin and all in the blender. I can’t be faffing and risking my knuckles with grating carrots.
  • I add some raisins for juicy sweetness
  • I always serve it with cheesecake icing. The slight tartness of this style of icing works really well with the cake.

These cakes use 3 forms of ginger: fresh, ground and curd. Ginger curd is the type of ingredient you buy for a recipe then you’re left with half a jar wondering what to do with it. It goes well in pancakes, on the bottom layer of a dark chocolate torte, as a sandwich layer in a cake of as it is here in the icing.

Ginger and Carrot Cakes with Ginger Cheesecake Icing

Hint: when making cheesecake icing your butter must be soft or the icing will struggle to come together. If you want to make the icing stiffer so you can pipe it add some more icing sugar, but of course this will make the icing much sweeter.

Carrot & Ginger Cakes
Makes 6 cupcake sized cakes

For the cakes

  • 1 egg
  • 70ml rapeseed oil
  • 100g soft dark sugar
  • 150g finely grated carrots
  • 50g raisins
  • 90g self-raising flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 freshly grated ginger

For the ginger cheesecake icing

  • 25g cream cheese
  • 25g butter, softened
  • 1/2 tsp orange extract
  • 30g ginger preserve/curd
  • 110g icing sugar

 

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 150º. Put 6 cupcake cases in a deep cupcake/muffin tin.
  2. In a bowl beat the egg then stir in the rapeseed oil, sugar and carrots then the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and the two gingers. Yes the mixture looks really rather sloppy and unappetising at this stage but stick with it.
  3. Fill each cupcake case 2/3 full with the mixture. Bake for 30min until cakes are risen and cooked through. Remove from tin and allow to cool.
  4. To make the icing beat together the cream cheese and softened butter until well combined then stir in the orange extract and ginger curd. Gradually beat in the icing sugar until you soft, smooth icing. Spoon the icing on to the cakes.
  5. As this icing contains cream cheese if that cakes are not being eaten within a few hours of being made it’s worth them being kept in the fridge especially during hot weather.

 

 

Our stay at Hand and Flowers, Marlow

Hand & Flowers

With last year’s summer holiday being The Budget Midlands Staycation™ and the chance of us having a summer holiday this year being very slim, we’ve decided to take foodie mini-breaks instead. First was back in November and the turn of Oxford Malmaison & Le Manoir; this time was the turn of Tom Kerridge’s Hand & Flowers in Berkshire.

Now you’re probably asking how on earth did I manage to bag a room and table and one of the hottest places to eat in the UK with a year-long waiting list. Let’s call it fate. I’ve been occasionally looking at the Hand & Flowers website for the last year since a friend visited in April ’13 and has raved about it since. A couple of months ago in a fit of procrastination and knowing there wouldn’t be a holiday for us this summer something told me to go on to the H&F website. Although the site said no availability I put a random date into the accommodation search and there it was, one room available. Not only was it on a rare date that both of us could make, it was in the amazing Limousin Suite. As I pressed the book button I really didn’t believe we were going until the confirmation came through. A quick chat with the lovely staff there and we’d also secured a table for lunch.

Fast forward 8 weeks, on a glorious spring morning we were whizzing down the frankly tedious M40 for a much-needed break away.

Once checked in we spent a short time waiting in the new bar area before we were shown to our table, a private table to the back of the restaurant. Although we’d had a quick look at the menu online before arriving we’d decided on four rules: 1) we both had to have different dishes, no duplication 2) Hubs has a braver palate than me so if he wanted offal that would be fine. 3) Don’t choose your dish just because it’s the cheapest, go for what you want 4) we’d be going a la carte, though their set lunch is very good value at 3 courses for around £20.

whitebait with sodabread and sourdough H&F

While the Hand & Flowers is a pub and informal in some sense, the service and food is unlike any pub I’ve been to before, explaining its two Michelin stars. The advantage of dining in a Michelin starred pub – you can drink good beer with your meal. This went down very well with Hubs who shunned wine for a few pints of H&F ale.

starters hand and flowers

The meal started with whitebait, sourdough and sodabread. This was soon followed by our starters: soft and raw white asparagus with roasted mushroom and hazelnuts, aged parmesan and lardo for him (bottom); potato risotto with baked potato stock, artichoke, pickled girolles and wild garlic for me (top).

mains hand and flowers

Mains: a rather artistic looking Essex lamb “bun” with sweetbreads and salsa verde for him (top right); tenderloin of Wiltshire pork with pickled mustard leaf, malt glazed cheek, garlic sausage and potato dauphine for me (left) plus we had to have a portion of the highly recommended duck fat chips. If I could regularly eat the duck fat chips and my pork dish I would be a very happy lady.

dessert hand and flowers And finally dessert, possibly my favourite course of the meal. We were really spoilt for choice and as we had a late lunch table we had more or less the whole place to ourself by now. Friends who visited H&F the year before ended up having four puddings between the two of them as they couldn’t pick just one. With rapidly filling stomachs we decided on just two. I had pear souffle with caraway crumble, caramalised white chocolate ice cream and pear sauce (left), whereas Hubs had chocolate ale cale with salted caramel and muscovado ice cream (right). This was served with a small shot of Quadrupel Ale, a 10% beer from Sharp’s Brewery that has a toffee port taste. This cut through the rich chocolate truffle cake perfectly.

 

copper bath Limousin Suite H&F

The lunch bill (including drinks and service) came to around £60/head which I thought was good value given we’ve paid not much less for a meal in a local restaurant with fewer accolades. A late lunch  worked well for us as it meant we could spend the evening chilling, make the most of the giant copper bath in the room plus after 4 courses it meant we had more room for breakfast the following morning.

bed detail H&F

Now I truly judge a place to stay by its bath, bedding, tea tray and breakfast. Bath must be big and deep, bedding must crisp with a feather duvet that hugs you, tea tray must use fresh milk and offer a good choice of freshly baked treats and the breakfast must be better than what you can make at home. Hand & Flowers certainly didn’t disappoint. It was the little touches that made it. Fluffy bathrobes, slippers, generous toiletries and even a few little things like phone chargers and an umbrella for the short walk to the pub.

tea tray H&F

As we’d had a large lunch we just settled for the contents of the tea tray for dinner. No stale catering pack shortbread here. Fresh lardy cake, chunky nut cookies and some Damian Allsop chocolates.

The huge copper bath took a good 20 min to fill, could easily fit three people in and was the perfect place to soak away the day with the ipod playing in the background. All that was missing was a glass of something chilled and bubbly.

H&F toiletries

After a restful night sleep we headed back down to the restaurant for breakfast. I was still full from the previous day so settled for croissants and some H&F muesli, none of your dusty muesli here. We’re talking chunks of various dried fruit tossed with honey, oats, bran and nuts. Hubs went for the English breakfast and was pleased to see it featured Stornoway black pudding, something he hadn’t eaten since our honeymoon.

limousin suite detail H&FSo in summary it was truly a wonderful stay at Hand & Flowers and something I would recommend if you have the chance. Everything from the food to the staff and room lived up to our expectations and we have great memories from our 24 hours there.

 

Mum’s Retro Banana Split

mum's banana split (2)

We all have foods that have a nostalgic sense to them. Some of them come straight from a packet, some were picked fresh from the garden, some had mystical methods and ingredients and then there are ones you come back to as an adult and realise they taste as good as you can remember. Disappointingly Butterscotch Angel Delight is not one of these.

This version of banana split was a common treat when I was a child and I still make it as an adult. To be honest it took me a good few years to realise banana splits traditionally come with ice cream. This version doesn’t and is a quick dessert that satisfies a sweet tooth and even manages to cram in a portion of fruit (crafty one mum).

banana split ingredients

Those retro crockery lovers out there will spot what mum served the banana splits in, corn on the cob dishes. A piece of tableware that is getting rarer. The ones in the photo are my mum’s and surprisingly classy given they’re 30-odd years old.

No there is no apologising that this recipe features a few ingredients that you thought you’d never see mentioned on the blog. Most noticeably squirty cream. There I confess it. In the fridge alongside a block of parmesan, sometimes artisan cheese and posh thick creamy yoghurt is a can of squirty cream. It’s essential fridge fodder. Yes it doesn’t taste quite a fine as freshly whipped cream but there are times, like banana split and hot chocolate, when only squirty cream will suffice. Just like bacon sarnies taste their finest with cheap pappy white bread.

Mum’s Banana Split
Makes 1

  • 1 banana
  • Golden syrup
  • Squirty cream
  • Hundreds & thousands
  • Chocolate chips or crumbled Flake
  • Glace cherry (essential)
  1. Peel and slice a banana and place in a suitable bowl.
  2. Drizzle with golden syrup then go mad with squirty cream. Trust me I’m usually nowhere near as restrained as I was in the photos.
  3. Sprinkle with hundreds & thousands and chocolate chips then top with glace cherry.
  4. Eat soon after making otherwise the squirty cream has a tendency of fizzle down.

retro banana split

 

Slow Cooker Lentil Ragu

slow cooked lentil ragu

Since buying our slow cooker before Christmas I’ve tried some of our old favourite recipes in it to see how they fare. Some work very well, some not so much. This is one of the recipes that is improved with a slow low cook. It transforms the sauce into a thick, rich almost meat-like sauce that even satisfied meat-loving Hubs. Technically it is a vegan dish (assuming you use vegan wine and Worcestershire sauce), that is until you load it with cheese like we do.

I often make a big batches of this lentil ragu and freeze in 1-2 portions so a quick dinner is always at hand. We usually serve it with either pasta or couscous but it also works well with rice. What makes this meal even better is that it is a thrifty dish coming in at about 77p per portion.

When ever I use lentils in dishes I tend to use a mixture of both red and green lentils. Red lentils are good for thickening a sauce whereas green lentils give the texture.

This recipe is as easy as it comes. No sautéing of vegetables required. Just throw all the prepped ingredients in the slow cooker, sit back and 5 hours later you have dinner.

Slow Cooker Lentil Ragu

A delicious frugal dish that cooks away in the slow cooker while you work. 

  • 1 onion (finely sliced)
  • 1 carrot (diced)
  • 125 g button mushrooms (halved)
  • 1 red pepper (diced)
  • 100 g dried red lentils
  • 100 g dried green/puy lentils
  • 1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 500 g passata
  • 200 ml vegetable stock
  • 125 ml red wine or port (if making this as a vegan dish make sure the wine/port is vegan)
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (again if making as vegan use a vegan Worcestershire sauce)
  • 1 tbsp dried mixed herbs
  • salt and pepper
  1. Prep all the vegetables and place in the slow cooker along with the remaining ingredients. Stir.
  2. Cook on low for 5-7 hours until sauce is thick and lentils are cooked. It is sometimes worth giving the ragu an occasional stir during cooking and check no more liquid is required. If it does need more water before the end of cooking make sure this is hot water.