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To Die For Blondies

To Die For Blondies

What is a Blondie?  It is the dense, more caramel like version of a brownie, but every bit as dense and fudgy in texture. They are incredibly sweet and incredibly moreish.  But what makes a good Blondie?

Quality ingredients.  Good butter.  I use lurkpac, lightly salted.  There is a fine line between too little and too much. 125g does it perfectly.  Any more and they would be greasy.  I melt the butter.  My ex MIL taught me to do that.  It creates a perfect denseness.

I like to use muscovado sugar, or at the very least dark soft brown sugar.  The higher the molasses content, the more fudge-like consistency you will get.  This gets whisked into the melted butter along with 1 large free range egg and some really good vanilla.

I use pure vanilla extract, not artificial.  Dont be tempted to use Vanilla Paste. These are really sweet bars, and you don't want to be adding too much extra in the way of sweetness.  Extract works beautifully.

Plain flour.  No leavening.  Just stir it in with a pinch of salt, just to combine.  Don't overmix, or you might overdevelop the gluten in the flour.  Just mix until there are no dry streaks.

I like to use two kinds of chocolate chips, and again I use quality ones here.  A good semi-sweet and a good white chocolate chip work well.  I like the Kirkland chocolate chips you can get at Costco for the semi sweet ones, and I buy my white chocolate chips at an american supply company. Failing that, get some really good white chocolate, like Green & Blacks and chop it up.

You want the white chocolate to be somewhat creamy and not artificial . . .  and you want the semi sweet chocolate chips to be really semi sweet, again not artificial tasting.  With the Kirkland chocolate chips, even an hour later, they still appear moist and fudgy in the bake, not hard.  I like that.

I bake them in a 9 inch square baking tin.  You could bake them in a smaller tin, but you would need to bake them for longer and you won't end up with the right quality of dense fudginess.  I prefer to cook for a shorter time and go fudgier.

You don't want dry Blondies.  Dry Blondies are no fun.  Fudgy is better.

And that's what you want. Dense and fudgy. Not raw.  I remember attending a cooking show down in London  a number of years back and they had celebrity chef's on baking Brownies and I was NOT impressed.  Their idea of a good Brownie was a raw Brownie.  Seriously.  That's not a good brownie, that's a mess.

Like a good brownie, you should be able to pick up a good blondie in your hands to eat it, without it falling apart or oozing. If its oozing its raw.  It should hold together with a moist dense crumb.  That is what makes a Blondie a "To Die For" Blondie. End of.

*To Die For Blondies*
Makes 9 large
or 18 smaller
Rich, gooey and stogged full of white and semi-sweet chocolate chips.

125g unsalted butter, melted (1/2 cup)
200g muscovado sugar (1 cup, soft brown sugar with a high molasses count)
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large free range egg
140g plain flour (1 cup)
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
90g each white and semi sweet chocolate chips (1/2 cup)

Preheat the oven to 180*C/350*F/ gas mark 4.  Butter a 9 inch square baking tin and line with baking paper, leaving an overhang for lifting out of the pan.

Whisk together the melted butter, sugar, vanilla and egg until well mixed together.  Stir in the flour and salt. Mix to combine.  Stir in both chocolates.  Spread in the prepared baking tin.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until the top appears set, but they still a bit squidgy beneath.  Allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before lifting out.  For 9 servings, cut into 9 even squares.  For 18, cut each square crosswise into a triangle.  Store in an airtight container.

I prefer to serve these cut into triangles.  They are very rich and very sweet.  I think a triangle gives you just enough to enjoy.  Bon Appetit! 

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Marie Rayner
Ham & Mac Bake

Ham & Mac Bake

My last year in high school I started collecting a series of books by the people at Better, Homes & Gardens. They came one every couple of months or so and I thought they were just fabulous.  They were some of the very first cookery books I used.  There were quite a few volumes, each one pertaining to a different cookery subject. One on meat, another on chicken, there was a casseroles one, one on entertaining, etc.  This recipe today came from a volume filled with money saving budget recipes and became a real favourite of my family through the years.

Its a great way to use up some of the ham left over from a roast ham, and in fact, I will sometimes pick up one of those small dinner hams at the grocery store, just so I can make this old standby of mine. 

Cubes of cooked ham are mixed together with cooked macaroni and slices of sweet apple in a delicious, creamy sauce which is lightly flavoured with mustard and brown sugar. I am sure that it sounds a bit unusual, but it really is quite tasty. The original recipe called for plain ordinary mustard, but I now use Dijon, which is not as bright yellow in colour and has a nice depth of flavour without being too sharp.

Of course ham and mustard are perfect partners anyways, and who hasn't enjoyed a brown sugar glazed ham?  I have often heard of people glazing their hams with apple butter, so really using sliced apple in this is not much of a flavour stretch, and the apple is a flavour partner, albeit it somewhat unusual,  that goes amazingly well.

The sauce is creamy without being too rich. You can use whole milk in this but more often than not I use 2% or semi skimmed. It works just fine.  I have even made it with re-constituted evaporated milk in the past when I was really having to pinch the pennies.  All work well.

You can use white bread for the crumbs, although nowadays I am more apt to use whole wheat. I actually have come to prefer whole wheat bread now because of its almost nutty taste and texture, and of course it is much better for you.  I usually serve this with  salad and pickled beets.

*Ham and Mac Bake*
Serves 4 to 6

This is a wonderful casserole that is not only very tasty, but also very easy on the budget as well.  My children always loved it when they were growing up and it was something different to do with the ham that was leftover from Easter.  I often buy a slab of ham at the shops so that I can make this as well.

225g of uncooked macaroni (2 cups)
65g cup butter (1/4 cup)
45g flour (1/4 cup)
2 TBS Dijon mustard
salt to taste
1/4 tsp pepper
480ml  milk (2 cups)
2 TBS soft light brown sugar, packed
2 cups cubed, fully cooked ham (about half a pound)
2 medium eating apples, peeled and thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 1/4 slices of bread made into soft bread crumbs (about 1 cup)
2 TBS butter melted 

Cook the macaroni in lightly salted boiling water until done, according to the packet directions.  Drain well, rinse with cold water and drain again.  Set aside until needed. 

Preheat the oven to 180*C/350*F/ Gas mark 4.    Melt the 1/4 cup of butter in a saucepan. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring, for one minute over low heat.  Blend in the mustard, salt, pepper and sugar.  In the meantime bring the milk just to the boil.  (Just until bubbles appear around the edges)  Slowly whisk the heated milk into the flour mixture, cooking and stirring it until thickened, smooth and bubbly.  Stir in the cooked macaroni, ham and apple slices.  Turn into a greased 2 litre casserole dish. 

Toss the bread crumbs with the 2 TBS butter and sprinkle evenly over top of the casserole.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned on top.  

Simple, old fashioned and delicous, this recipe would be the perfect way to use up some of that Easter Ham. Over here most people cook lamb for Easter, but the North American in me always wants a baked Ham at Easter.  Old habits die hard.  Bon Appetit! 

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Marie Rayner
Hot Cross Bacon Baps

Hot Cross Bacon Baps

One of the things I love most about the Easter Season of eating is . . .  Hot Cross Buns!  Although they are generally available all year round now it seems, WE, in this house, only ever eat them at Easter.  I think when something becomes an every day thing it loses its specialness, so that is why, like Strawberries, we only ever eat Hot Cross Buns at Easter time.

The tradition of marking buns with a cross on the top goes back a very long way. Pagon Saxons baked cross buns at this time of year to mark the beginning of Spring, in honor of their god Eostre. The cross was representative of the four seasons along with the four quarters of the moon, the wheel of life and a rebirth of the earth after the long Winter.

Christians adapted the cross when an Angilcan monk baked the buns and marked them with a cross in honor of Good Friday.  It wasn't really until Tudor times, under the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1,  that the London clerk of markets issued a decree forbidding the sale of spiced buns at any time other than funerals, Christmas and Good Friday/Easter.

As a child I used to sing this ditty, which was actually the cry of common street-vendors, back in the day . . . 

 ‘Hot cross buns, hot cross buns!
One ha’penny, two ha’penny, hot cross buns!
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons,
One ha’penny, two ha’penny, hot cross buns!’

The buns are usually served on Good Friday, marking the end of Lent and the spices are said to represent the spices used to embalm the Saviour after His crucifixion.

Whatever your take on their significance, one cannot deny that hot cross buns are a delicious Easter flavour and a tradition that helps to mark the joys and promise of this Spring holiday, much needed by many after having gotten through a long cold Winter.

I will admit that I am a Hot Cross Bun purist.  I like  a traditional one, a bun without all the tweaks and chocolate bits, sticky caramel bits, whatever.  Plain, spiced and studded with mixed vine fruits being my chosen poison. Not all are created equal.  I like a well fruited one, so I never opt for the cheapie brands, which more often than not are sadly lacking in both spice and flavour.  I would never settle for a few sad raisins me.  I want an abundance of fruit!

Todd rankles at me buying them even two weeks before Easter.  He reckons they shouldn't come out until Good Friday, and he has a point.  However  . . . he did not turn down my offer this morning of a Hot Cross Bacon Bap!

Unconventional  . . .  perhaps, but so delicious, served toasted and buttered, with a spread of bitter marmalade on the bottoms and a spritz of brown sauce gilding the top of that tasty bacon.  Every mouthful was pure delight.  Don't knock it til you try it!

*Hot Cross Bun Bacon Baps*
Serves 4

This does sound an unusual combination but it probably one of the most delicious Bacon sandwiches you will ever eat. 

4 fruited hot cross buns
12 rashers non-smoked back bacon
softened butter to spread
bitter marmalade to finish along with brown sauce if desired

Heat the oven grill  to high.  Slash the fatty edge of the bacon at 1/3 inch intervalls all along the edge.  Grill the bacon beneath the hot grill until  your desired crispness, flipping it over and grilling on both sides.  Set aside and keep warm.  Slice the hot cross buns in half horizontally.  Pop under the grill and toast on the cut sides only.  Once toasted spread with softened butter.  Spread a portion of marmalde onto the toasted bottoms of each bun.  Lay three rashers of bacon, folded to fit, on top of the marmalade.  Drizzle with brown sauce (if using) place the toasted top buns on top and serve. 

Note - Brown sauce is what we brits call HP sauce. 

I confess I was also tempted to add a layer of cheese, but I restrained myself.  Needless to say these were fabulously tasty, so much so . . .  that I might make us another one for lunch.  Bon Appetit! 

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Marie Rayner
Roast Loin of Pork

Roast Loin of Pork

I had bought a lovely bone in pork loin roast prior to Christmas, which had been in the freezer since then as I just didn't get the chance to cook it.  I remembered it at the weekend and decided to take it out.  It was a lovely piece of meat.  Perfectly sized for four people, or just us two with some nice leftovers.

It was a free-range bone-in loin of pork half roasting joint, skin on, with four rib bones.  The chin bone had been removed, which makes for very easy carving.  I didn't especially want the crackling this time so I trimmed it all off with a sharp knife and discarded it, leaving a nice layer of fat on the outside.

To be honest, I am never really quite sure what to do with the layer of skin. Over here they roast it until it is crisp and serve it as "Cracklin"  . . .  crisp and salty.  I am not a huge fan of this.  Probably because it isn't something I grew up with.  It's also really difficult to get it as crisp as you want for eating purposes simply by roasting it.  I think a lot of places actually deep fry it. We are staying away from that kind of thing in this house.

How I have always done my pork loin roasts is to make deep cuts into the roast, all over it at regular intervals, right down almost to the bottom, using a really sharp knife. My boning knife does a super job.

Then I take peeled cloves of garlic and stuff them into the meat.  For a roast this size, I used four cloves.  You cut them into slivers and then you start stuffing them down into the roast into the holes/slits you cut with your knife.

I use a chopstick for this.  First I push in the chopstick, which makes the slit wider, and then I stuff in the garlic, pressing it down in with the end of the chop stick.  I try to make it so the slivers end up a different spots inside the meat.  Some I will push down all the way and others I will leave nearer the surface.  Don't worry the holes close over when the meat cooks.  You don't end up with a hole-pocked piece of meat, trust me.

After that I sprinkle it all over liberally with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  And that's it.  Just put it into the roasting dish/tin and roast it.  Easy peasy.

I like to serve it with some mashed potatoes, cabbage, carrots, swede and gravy.  With a bit of applesauce on the side, it makes for a beautiful meal. Sometimes I will make a fruity bread stuffing to serve along side as well. Its so tasty!

*A Simple Roast Loin of Pork*
Serves 4
This is a delicious method of cooking a bone in pork loin, which results in tender well flavoured and succulent meat. 

1.1kg free range loin of Pork half roasting  joint (2 1/2 pounds)
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut into slivers
sea salt and black pepper

Remove the meat from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature.  Preheat the oven to 200*C/400*F/ gas mark 6.  

If your roast has the skin on it, using a really sharp boning knife, trim off the skin and discard, leaving a nice layer of fat.  Using the tip of your boning knife, make deep cuts down into the meat, through the fat.  Push a sliver of garlic down into each cut.  Sprinkle all over liberally with salt and black pepper.  Place into a small roasting tin/dish. 

Roast in the preheated oven for 30 minutes per 500g/1 pound plus an additional 20 minutes. My roast took approximately 1 1/2 hours. The juices should run clear. 

Serve hot cut into thick slices.  (I like to cut in between the ribs. This is very easy to do, if the chin bone has been removed.)  

Serve with applesauce and your favourite vegetables.  
You can make a delicious gravy with the pan drippings if you wish.  Remove and discard all of the fat, but 2 TBS of the fat. Put the the 2 TBS pork fat into a saucepan.  Add 2 cups hot stock (chicken) to the pan and scrape up all the brown bits and meat juices. Heat the fat over medium heat and whisk in 2 TBS of flour.  Cook for about a minute.  Slowly whisk in the pan juices/stock.  Cook, whisking constantly, until it bubbles and thickens.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and a bit of thyme if you desire.

We had some of the leftovers today in Cuban Sandwiches.  I have never been to Cuba, but this sandwich has always intrigued me. It has always looked incredibly delicious.

I did a search on Pinterest for a recipe. There was no end of recipes to choose from. I finally decided on one that I found on Saving Room for Dessert.  Most of the other recipes I had looked at called for a layer of Salami, which I didn't have.  This was simply layers of honey ham, roast pork, swiss cheese (I used a Dutch Maasdam), mustard and sour gerkins/pickles.  I used ciabatta rolls.  Buttered and pressed/weighted down and grilled in my iron skillet.  YUM!

The leftover roast pork was perfect in this, with a nice hit of garlic, thinly sliced.  My new favourite sandwich!  Bon Appetit! 

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Marie Rayner

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