recipes for a healthy life

Christmas Chocolate Bark


When I was growing up the purple Cadbury’s wrapper was an iconic symbol of chocolate. My mum’s best friend Auntie Bernadette used to call over and we always knew she would bring a big bag of chocolate bars. Seeing as there were 6 of us, this wasn’t a regular event. There was always a race to get to the bag early in the queue otherwise there was a danger of being left with the Cadbury’s fruit and nut – something you definitely wanted to avoid. I don’t think I knew any kid who liked fruit and nut in chocolate. If you were unlucky in this old style version of hunger games, you had to pick out the nuts and fruit in order to have a decent bit of chocolate.

I have changed since then and regularly combine the two. Here are my two favourite kinds of chocolate bark recipes – although I have noticed Eva has a preference for picking out pieces with more marshmallows.

Chocolate Bark with Dried Fruit and Nuts
200gr semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used 80% but you may prefer less bitter)
100Gr less bitter chocolate say 53%, chopped
4oz chopped mixed nuts (I used pecans almonds hazlenuts walnuts)
4oz mixed dried fruits – I prepare more cranberries in my mix – chopped if there are any large pieces.

Combine all but 30gr of the chocolate into a heat proof bowl and melt gently over a pot of simmering water.
Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining chocolate until it is all melted. This is a simple method to give you a bit of a snap in your chocolate. (It isn’t quite perfect tempering but will work pretty well – always keep aside 10% of you amount of chocolate)
Line a baking tray with parchment paper
Pour the melted chocolate over the paper and spread out to form a rectangle not too thin.
Sprinkle the nuts and fruit over the chocolate.
Set aside for 2 hours until firm. Cut the bark in slabs and serve at room temperature.
Store in an airtight container.

And for the kids……
Chocolate Bark with Toasted Coconut and Marshmallows
Same as above but replace the fruit and nuts with
toasted Coconut chips and small marshmallows.

Spicy Thai Soup with Meatballs and Pickled Veg

Cold weather, numb fingers, seeing your breath – this is the perfect antidote, hot spicy, the contrast of the sweet & sour crisp vegetables is a perfect balance to the coconut laced spicy soup. A great recipe you could have ready for when you come in from a long cold walk over Christmas. There I finally said the C word…. .

1-IMG_7867 OO&L

Thai Meatballs
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1lb minced beef, lamb or pork
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp Kecap manis
1 red chilli finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
salt and pepper

Tip the meat into a large bowl and add the garlic, chilli, ginger, fish sauce, kecap manis, plenty of salt and pepper and leave to marinate a while. Shape the meat into small balls. Heat a decent amount of oil in a frying pan and cook the meatballs over a medium heat until browned on the underside, flip and cook the other side until browned. You can continue cooking on the pan until just cooked through and set aside until the soup is ready.

Thai Green Veg Soup
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled mashed and chopped
2 Tbsp green curry paste
400ml can coconut milk
1¾ l veg or chicken stock
5 kaffir lime leaves if you can get them – well chopped
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 bunch spring onions, the white sliced on the diagonal and the green finely chopped
2 Bok Choi – the white sliced more finely than the green, and separated.
280g pack fine green beans, trimmed and chopped
juice 2 limes, plus wedges to serve
small bunch Thai Basil if you can get it

Heat the oil, add the onion and fry for a few minutes to soften without colouring.
Add the curry paste, coconut milk, chicken or veg stock, lime leaves and fish sauce, then simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the spring onions bok choi and green beans and cook for 4-6 mins, until the beans are just tender. If you were able to get the basil, blitz it with the lime juice and add to the soup with the sliced spring onion and green top of the bok choi. (Otherwise just add the lime juice without the basil). Give a final taste for seasoning, add the meatballs and heat through.
Serve with lime wedges and pickled vegetables for a delicious filling comforting meal.

Pickled Veg
A selection of thinly sliced carrot, deseeded cucumber, spring onion, very thin slices of cauliflower
Pickling juice
100ml each of water and white wine vinegar heated gently to dissolve 3 tbsp sugar
Take off the heat and let cool. Add your veggies and set aside until needed

Bourbon Creme Anglaise & Pear Frangipane Tart


I am going to be honest – this recipe is all about the creme anglaise, The pear tart is just a vehicle to deliver the taste – a custard delivery system really – the tart is great and full of flavour but definitely taking second stage to the creme anglaise. My other half rescued the bourbon from a party and I’m not sure he quite intended for it to be used for cooking but it is now in the kitchen – possession being 9/10ths of the law and all that. This is delicious, warming, creamy and with a delicious adult only sweet kick from the bourbon. This will be great with lots of autumn and winter desserts apple tart, mince pies and Christmas pudding too, come Christmas.

Bourbon Creme Anglaise
1 vanilla pod
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
30ml Bourbon

Scrape the vanilla seeds into a pan with the milk and add the pod.
Bring to a simmer over a medium heat
Whisk the eggs and sugar together until the mixture is pale yellow
Whisk a little of the hot milk into the egg sugar mix to warm the eggs
(It is handy to put a damp cloth under the bowl to stop it moving round when you are pouring).
and then slowly whisk in the rest of the milk.
Pour back into the pot, put back on the heat but turn the heat down so it is gently heating the mixture. Stir all the while until the mix thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
Strain the mixture into a bowl and set it over a bowl of ice to cool it for about 10 minutes.
Stir in the bourbon and use or store in the fridge in an airtight container with some cling on the top to prevent a milk skim forming.

Pear Frangipane Tart
225g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
110g butter
50gr icing sugar
2 egg yolks
For the frangipane
125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
2 eggs
125g ground almonds
1 tbsp plain flour
For the pears
250g caster sugar, plus 2 tsp extra
4 good-sized pears
1/2 vanilla pod

Oven at 190C / Use a 23cm loose bottom tin.

For the pastry
Tip the flour into a food processor. Add the butter and sugar and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and, pulse until it comes together. Tip out, Knead lightly, until it comes together in a smooth ball – you might need to add 1 teaspoon cold water if the dough is dry and crumbly. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least an hour.

Make the frangipane
Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then fold in the ground almonds and flour. Mix well and chill until needed.

Poach the pears
Put the sugar in a saucepan, pour in 500ml water and place over a medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Peel the pears and add to the pan. Scrape in the vanilla seeds. If needed add some more water to just cover the pears.
Cover with a piece of parchment paper and simmer for about 15 mins until tender.
Remove the pears to a plate to cool.

Finish the tart
Roll out the pastry to a circle large enough to line the tart tin. Patch it together in the tin and mould it up the sides if it breaks a bit. Trim off any excess pastry and spread the frangipane evenly on top. Cut the pears in half lengthways and scoop out the core.
Cut each pear half in slices, fan them out and arrange on top.
Bake for about 50 minutes until the filling is set. Sprinkle with some caster sugar and a few slivered almonds if you like and bake in the oven for a further 10 minutes to finish off the browning. Cool in the tin slightly, then remove and transfer to a wire rack.

Serve with the bourbon anglaise

The best roast chicken

There is a hugely popular movement lately, for slow roasted meats, falling off the bone, casual eating at its best and I do love doing home grown versions of this way of cooking. ‘Man’s food’ my other half calls it, but still very popular in our house where men are in the minority (read, overruled in most things :-) )

I have tried brining and dry rubs as well as combination of the two for bringing out the best of any meat – both work well but for chicken if I’m in a rush, I just use the dry rub and chuck it into the oven. Get a decent bird and this simple roast chicken will be a firm family favourite. It gives a lovely deep smokey flavour and will work on so many meats, pork shoulder, lamb, pork chops even firm fleshed fish will stand up well to this. Make a big batch and it keeps for a good while, make even more and give some out to your friends who will thank you for it. (Just remember to label it well so that people don’t wonder why they are getting dust??

Adapted from Pitt Cue Company Cook book

1tsp Fennel seed
1 tsp Cuimin Seed
1 tsp Black pepper corns
1 tsp Coriander seed
150gr dark Brown sugar or coconut palm sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
50gr salt
15gr smoked paprika
30gr sweet paprika
1 tsp dried organo
1tsp cayenne
1 tsp celery salt

Toast fennel cuimin peppercorns and coriander seeds on a dry pan over medium heat, watch carefully they dont burn and when aromas release tip into a bowl and leave to cool
Blitz and mix thoroughly with the remaining ingredients and keep in a sealed container.

Spicy Roast Chicken

2 heaped tbsp rub
1 free range bird
50gr butter
1 clove garlic peeled and mashed

Mix the rub, butter and garlic together
Make some slashes in the flesh of the chicken then rub the bird
with the mix inside and out.
Cover and leave overnight if possible to marinate at least 2-3 hours
Place your chicken into a roasting tray and cook until the juices run clear.
Serve with some roasted veg and a big chopped salad – Try this one from here

Gooey Chocolate Cake ….. Repeat Gooey

I have been struggling to post for a while, so little time so many recipes. typing this right now, I’m multitasking between email on the work laptop, a paella on the hob and loading up the photos from this delicious extra gooey chocolate cake.  (All this is by way of getting sympathy from those close to home!) Chocolate gets lots of brownie points in my house, gooey gets bows on top and since this also works for gluten free baking – I just couldn’t let another week go by without getting this out there.

Gooey Chocolate Cake
This is so easy, try not over bake and it will crack a little on top – it is all part of the delicious gooey character!

Serves 8
6oz butter
10oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped up- 72%
2.5oz cocoa powder
5 eggs
5oz castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Chocolate Ganache
6oz bittersweet chocolate
4fl oz cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
Fresh fruit to serve

Oven at 180C 160 Fan
Grease and line a 9″ spring form pan
Melt the butter and chocolate together over a pan of gently simmering water
Let cool slightly before stirring in the cocoa and vanilla
Beat the eggs and sugar on high speed until they have tripled
Carefully fold the chocolate mixture into the beaten egg and pour into the tin
Bake for 30 minutes and check – it should just be barely set in the middle.
Bake for a further 5-10 minutes depending on how done it is and how hot your oven is
Cool in the pan for 30 minutes before releasing and tipping out onto a tray and cool completely

For the ganache, chop the chocolate, heat the cream to just under boiling, pour over the chocolate and keep stirring until it has melted completely. Add the vanilla, stir. Let it cool until it thickens slightly but is still pourable and spread over the cake,

Just before serving, place fruit onto the top of the cake, cut in wedges and serve.


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