Dark chocolate cookies

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with cookies, and what makes the perfect cookie. Cookies are quite a personal thing – not everyone likes the same thing, but generally, people can agree on a crispy edge and a softer centre as desired qualities for a jolly good cookie.

For me, a soft cookie is a very good thing. Soft centred, and a little chewy, but not in the way of synthetic, over-sugared supermarket fare. I am also not a fan of the fat, crumby cookies (think Ben’s Cookies) – they are large, but insubstantial and unsatisfying.

Soft cookies get their texture from a mix of sugars and raising agents. Brown sugar gives a chewier texture and caster sugar makes them crispier and crunchier. Baking powder and bicarbonate of soda give them a more open texture – something  I don’t rate in a cookie. 

These cookies are soft and I am careful not to overcook them, so they stay as soft as possible, too. Cooling them briefly on the baking tray will cook them a little further before allowing them to cool on a wire rack, which will prevent them from becoming soggy.

These are deep and dark in flavour. They are incredibly satisfying without being too sweet and sugary. The rest is up to you – I used dark chocolate chunks and toasted hazelnuts, but feel free to add whichever bits you like for texture.

Dark chocolate cookies

Makes around 16-20, depending on size

Ingredients

125g salted butter
125g dark brown soft sugar
125g caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g cocoa powder
220g self-raising flour
200g chocolate pieces, or a mixture of 150g chocolate and 50g fruit or nuts

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Line two large baking trays with non-stick baking paper.

Place the butter and sugars into a bowl or stand mixer and beat together well, until smooth and mid-brown in colour. 

Next, add the beaten egg, salt and vanilla and mix well. And now, sift in the cocoa powder and self raising flour. Beat to form a stiff dough.

Finally, stir in the pieces you are using. Pinch off pieces of mixture and roll into round balls and place well-spread out on to the baking sheets. Once all the mixture is rolled into balls, take a flat-bottomed drinking glass and press the cookies down to flatten them. They still want to be about 10-15mm thick, but it does make them look better once cooked.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes (my oven takes around 12 minutes) until slightly firm around the edges, but retaining a soft centre. Allow to cool on the baking tray for 10 minutes after removing from the oven, then transfer to a wire rack to cool fully (or enjoy whilst warm!)

Chicken, bacon and mushroom pie with Marsala

Chicken, bacon and mushroom pie

It may not be the healthiest of suppers, but there are some times when only a pie will do.

My go-to pie of choice is so often a chicken, bacon and leek pie, but this week, I thought I’d try something a little different. My concern with using mushrooms instead of leeks was that it would be bland, so I added a hefty splash of Marsala to compensate. The result was a rich and deeply flavored pie, which tasted as though it was the result of much more slow, careful cooking than was in fact the case, and as a consequence, has definitely become a firm favourite in our house.

Please let me know if you make this – and I really hope you enjoy the recipe.

Chicken, bacon and mushroom pie

Chicken, bacon and mushroom pie with Marsala

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

30g butter

2 tbsp garlic inflused extra virgin olive oil

500g skinless chicken breast or thighs, chopped into 1” chunks. Shredded roast chicken can be used, too

4 rashers smoked back bacon, cut into strips

150g mushrooms – flat or button – cleaned and sliced into 2-3mm slices

1 heaped tablespoon plain flour

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

Salt and pepper

350ml hot chicken stock

A good glug or Marsala

400g ready made all-butter puff pastry

1 egg yolk

Method 

Preheat the oven to 190C Fan. Set aside a large ovenproof dish.

Place the butter and oil into a large frying pan over a moderate to high heat to melt the butter. Add the chicken, bacon and mushrooms and fry together for around 10 minutes until all ingredients are lightly browned.

Add the flour and stir in to evenly coat the ingredients in the pan.

Next, add the thyme leaves and season well.

Finally, pour in the stock and Marsala and allow to bubble away for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, roll your puff pastry to the appropriate size to fit your dish. Leaving the pastry on the worksurface or on a board, brush the egg over the pastry.

Transfer the contents of the pan into your ovenproof dish. Quickly top with the pastry, cutting a cross in the centre to let any steam out.

Bake the pie in the oven for 35-45 minutes until golden brown and the filling is bubbling.

Serve immediately, accompanied by fresh steamed vegetables.

Tuscan sausage and rosemary ragù

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I spent last week in Tuscany. My base for the week was Radda in Chianti, and I spent the week travelling round the entire Toscana region learning about their food, their wine, their best ingredients and methods of cooking. It was a genuinely fascinating week, and I have so much to share with you about it.

This recipe is one I cooked before I went over to Italy, and it was son interesting to compare it to the food I ate out there. When writing this up back at home, I was debating whether or not to call this recipe Tuscan. It is quite different to the sausage and rosemary pasta I ate near Colle di Val d’Esta. There, extra virgin olive oil was warmed and infused with fresh rosemary, and then the sausage was crumbled into the warm oil, cooked briefly and stirred through pappardelle.

It may not be very authentic, but we tend to prefer a little more sauce to go with our pasta in our house, so I added tomatoes and garlic to make more of a sauce. I retained the Tuscan name in the title as it was made using Tuscan sausages – made, of course, from 100% pork (adding nothing to bulk out the meat), Chianti Classico, spices and seasonings.

I’m not entirely certain what the Tuscan cooks would have to say about this, but it is a delicious, quick and easy supper, served topped with a generous grating of fresh parmesan.

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Tuscan sausage and rosemary ragù

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • A generous glug of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large sprig fresh, fragrant rosemary, plus a little extra to serve
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 4 large Tuscan sausages, casing removed and crumbled
  • 1 tin San Marzano tomatoes, either chopped or crushed
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • Approximately 300g pasta

Method

Place a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.

Meanwhile, pour the oil into a large frying pan. Add the rosemary and turn the heat on to a moderate temperature, allowing the rosemary to infuse for a few minutes.

You can now remove the rosemary sprig if you like, or keep it in for a more intense flavour.

Now, add the crushed garlic and cook gently until fragrant. Crumble in the sausage and cook for 5 minutes or so until lightly browned. Don’t turn the heat up too high or else the garlic will burn.

Next, add the tomatoes, season to taste and allow to cook for around 10-15 minutes until thickened.

This is the time to cook your pasta now, according to the instructions on the pack. Most will take around 7-12 minutes.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain well, retaining a cup of the cooking water.

Put the drained pasta back into the cooking pan, which will still be hot. Add the sausage sauce, cooking water and stir together well.

Serve immediately in warmed bowls with some extra rosemary as a garnish, and plenty of freshly grated parmesan cheese.