Monday, September 15, 2014

Biscoff Muffins with Pecans #MuffinMonday

Creamy Biscoff spread added into batter makes a beautiful muffin that is just the right amount of sweet for breakfast or a snack. That is to say, just sweet enough but not too sweet, even with another drizzle of Biscoff on top of the crunchy baked in pecans. 

Hoarding or saving - tomayto, tomahto
From years of living in places where supplies were short and I had to haul essentials like peanut butter and pancake syrup in my suitcase each year after our long leave, I became a hoarder. Not on the lines of those poor souls who can barely move about their homes for the stuff piled high to the ceiling on that sad, sad television show,  but still. I would buy packets of taco seasonings, chocolate chips, smoked sausage and the like and use them sparingly until we came into the home stretch of spring semester when I knew that another home leave was close at hand. THEN, I was more profligate, adding chocolate chips to all baked goods, dicing the sausage into omelets and sharing peanut butter with the dog. Okay, that never happened. But you know what, I can now. Even my precious Jif (Fat reduced too!) is readily available here so I have tried very hard not to buy extra and hoard it. This does not apply to items purchased on holidays.

Last year I came back from a trip with a jar of Biscoff, that lovely spread, sometimes called speculoos after the Dutch spice cookies of which it’s made. For more than a year it’s been in my cupboard, mocking me. I was waiting for that special recipe, that great occasion that would warrant the opening of a bottle of cookie spread! Sad, huh? Well, today, I did it. The jar was opened to make muffins, to share with some lovely friends. Which makes this a special occasion. And that's the way this should work.

Do you hoard anything? What do you save just for a “special” occasion? Have you ever saved something so long that it is no longer good?

2 cups or 250g flour
1/2 cup or 100g sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup or 180ml milk
1/3 cup or about 90g Biscoff spread
1/4 cup or 60ml vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For topping
1/2 cup or 70g whole pecans
1/4 cup or about 70g Biscoff spread

Preheat the oven to 350°F or 180°C and either grease your 12-cup muffin tin or line it with paper liners.

Chop your pecans roughly with a sharp knife.

In one big mixing bowl, add your dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Mix well and set aside.

In small mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, oil, Biscoff and vanilla together thoroughly. Because of the raw eggs, resist drinking this silky rich mixture, no matter how wonderful it looks.

Fold the liquids to the dry mixture, stopping when they are just mixed.

Divide the batter between your prepared muffins cups. Scatter the pecans evenly on the muffin batter and press them down gently till they are stuck.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Drizzle the last 1/4 cup of the Biscoff on top the muffins. You can warm it briefly in the microwave if need be. I used an icing decorator bag and a small tip so the warmth of my hands was enough to get things drizzling.

Remove from the muffin tin and finish cooling on a rack.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Pea and Bacon Risotto

As author Stephanie Le says, once you have the technique down, risotto is quick and easy to make. Best of all, a good basic risotto recipe can be customized to suit your own taste. This version with crispy bacon and peas, from her recently released cookbook, Easy Gourmet, is an ideal starting point.

As a cookbook junkie, it’s hard to resist the offer of a new cookbook, especially when it’s gorgeous and written by a fellow blogger who I am half in love with. I say only half because the awe gets in the way. I mean, really! Have you met Stephanie Le of I am a Food Blog yet? Her dishes are gorgeous! The flavors, the textures, the styling, the props! It’s no wonder that she won the Editors’ Choice Award and Blog of the Year (!) from Saveur magazine this year. So I love her like some people love famous movie stars. It’s love tinged with the sad and certain knowledge that it will no doubt remain unrequited. But that’s okay, because I can still stalk her online and in the pages of her beautiful book with its easy to follow, deliciously different recipes.

Stephanie’s lovely book is called Easy Gourmet – Awesome Recipes Anyone Can Cook. < That there is an Amazon affiliate link in case you can’t wait and want to order your own, but go have a look at the book on Stephanie’s site as well right here. Isn’t it beautiful? Even more awe-inspiring is that she designed every part of it as well! I am in full on food blogger crush mode.

The hardest part about cookbook blog tours for me is making the recipe as it is written because I am not a very good recipe follower. But how can I tell you a recipe is wonderful if I haven’t actually made it properly? So I have to discipline myself and follow the instructions. In the case of this risotto, I changed only two things.

I couldn’t find thick cut bacon here so I used six slices of the normal stuff, hoping the weight would be about the same. And since I had to start by frying my bacon till crispy, and I was going to use the same saucepan to cook the risotto, I used an equal amount of bacon fat in place of the butter and oil to sauté the onions and toast the rice. That said, I’m going to leave the ingredient list and recipe exactly as it is in the book, so you can do it Stephanie’s way. I recommend you use the weights if possible as they are the most accurate way to make sure you have the right proportion of rice to peas and cheese.

Recipe printed with permission from Page Street Publishing. Any adaptations are in parentheses.

4 1⁄2 cups or 1L chicken stock
1 tablespoon or 15g butter
1 teaspoon or 5ml oil
1 cup or 228g Arborio rice
1⁄2 small onion, diced
1⁄2 cup or 64g frozen peas, thawed
4 slices cooked thick-cut bacon, cut in 1-inch or 2 1/2cm pieces
1⁄4 cup or 45g freshly grated Parmesan

In a medium stockpot, heat the stock to a gentle simmer. (Stephanie advises that warming the stock first is essential to making great risotto.)

Melt the butter with the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the diced onions and cook until translucent, 1-2 minutes.

Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the rice.

Toast the rice, about 3-4 minutes, until slightly translucent.

Turn the heat down to medium and add a ladle of hot stock.

Stir into the rice until the liquid is mostly absorbed.

Continue stirring and adding hot stock as the rice absorbs it.

Taste after about 15 minutes.

If the rice is soft but with a bit of bite, it’s ready. (Mine took quite a bit longer but I think I had my fire lower than medium.)

If still uncooked, continue adding stock a ladle at a time. (You might not use all the stock.)

When done, remove from the heat and stir in the peas, bacon and cheese.

Taste and season with salt and pepper. Enjoy immediately. (We added our own pepper sauce, because we love things spicy but, with the saltiness of the Parmesan, a special wedge my husband brought back from Italy, additional salt was not necessary.)


If you’d like to try out a few more recipes from this amazing book, here’s a list of the links so far on the blog book tour. That cod is next on my list to try, followed closely by the hot wings. Or maybe the mushrooms. Seriously, you all, everything looks so good!

*Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to the book, Easy Gourmet – Awesome Recipes Anyone Can Cook.  If you buy after clicking on my link, I make some small change from the sale and you are still charged the normal price. I received a copy of this book for review purposes, with no other personal compensation. All opinions are entirely my own.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fiona’s Wonderful Bread #BreadBakers

This classic wheat bread recipe makes two loaves of some of the best sandwich bread I’ve ever tasted. Approach it with confidence and it won’t let you down. 

Our new bread baking group
My friend, Renee and I have created a new blog group for bread bakers called, ahem, Bread Bakers. Pretty catchy, huh? As host of our inaugural month, Renee chose the theme Favorite Breads, so I want to share one with you that is special to our family, along with some memories of the dear woman who baked it, week in and week out for as long as I knew her. Make sure to scroll on down to the bottom of this post for links to the rest of the Favorite Breads and information on how to join the group.

The back story
If you’ve been reading along here for a while, you might already know the story of how I met my husband’s lovely father and his delightful wife, back in 1985. It’s a good one and this special bread is even mentioned there. Go have a quick read. I’ll wait here.

For those of you who already know the story of my first private airplane ride,
here's a photo of the happy couple on one of their visits to our home in Paris.

Okay. I almost called this Fi-Fish Bread because Fi-Fish was her nickname and that is what we called the wonderful bread that Fiona made with such ease and, I would even say, nonchalance. In a world where folks fret over baking with yeast, she made it look effortless. But, so as not to confuse you, my lovely readers, with visions of fishy bread, I decided to go with the title I put on the top of the hand scribbled notes, from when I watched and learned how to make it. Little did I know at the time, but that would be the last time I would see Fiona alive or taste her wonderful bread made by her own hands. So, let me add some advice here: Get that special family recipe! Get it now. We never know what the future holds.

As you can see, it's been used often through the years. This is the first time I've
actually quantified the amount of salt and sugar though. 

Fiona was a survivor. She’d been through the breast cancer wringer: Mastectomy, chemo and rough recovery. With her quick wit, positive outlook and indomitable spirit, we were pretty sure she could beat anything. But, in 2001, after a fabulous spring break week entertaining us all, she went in to the doctor to discuss a mass she’d felt in her abdomen, saying, “Can we get this taken care of before bikini season?” Classic Fiona. We had plans to meet again in the Channel Islands during the summer but, with the new chemo regime, she was unable to travel. We were told she was doing great. Turns out liver cancer is not so easily dislodged. We lost her in October that very same year, and my father-in-law died, one short but traumatic month later, of a broken heart.

Every time I make Fiona’s wonderful bread, I am reminded of the great times, sitting out on their balcony in Freeport, Grand Bahama, where a picnic lunch was always served in the fresh ocean breeze: An assortment of cheeses, green salad with Fiona's homemade vinaigrette, ripe tomato wedges and leftover cold beef or lamb roast, certainly some Branston Pickle, all with thin slices of Fi-Fish bread and chilled white wine. It is the perfect bread and those were perfect lunches.

I miss them. I miss it all.


2 1/4 cups or 530ml very warm water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cups or 410g whole wheat flour
2 cups or 250g strong bread flour
One palm full or 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
One palm full or 1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 packets Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise yeast (1/2 oz or 14g total)

N.B.: The cup to gram converter I usually use at this link here, says that one cup of wheat flour is only 120g. I actually weighed mine and it was 137g so that is the measure I have used in the ingredients list. You can adjust the amount of bread flour you add to compensate. If the dough is starting to look dry, stop before you put it all in. If your dough is too sticky, add a little more than the prescribed amount.

Mix two of the cups or 275g brown flour with the salt, sugar and yeast, in a large mixing bowl and add in the warm water with the oil.

Mix well.

Add in the last of the brown flour and mix again.

Now add the bread flour in gradually, mixing thoroughly as you go. (See note above.) Just let the machine turn as you drop it in by spoonfuls, scraping the bowl down occasionally as you go.

Knead for several minutes on a floured surface, adding a bit more bread flour if necessary.

Put it in a greased bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Leave to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to one hour. Fiona always put hers on top of the water heater in a little cupboard off the kitchen.

I tried to take the two photos at the same distance from the bowl so you could see how much this expanded!

Meanwhile, grease two loaf pans.

Punch the dough down and knead it again briefly.

Cut it the ball in two and roll each half into sausages. Tuck the ends under and place in the greased bread pans, tucked ends under and seam side down.

Before rising

Sprinkle flour on top and cover with a damp tea cloth. Let rise for 40 minutes in a warm place.

After rising

When the time is almost up, preheat your oven to 400°F or 200°C.

Bake the loaves in your preheated oven for 20 minutes.

Just out of the oven!

Tip the loaves out onto a wire rack to cool.



First some thank yous!
Since this is our first group post, let me add a plug in for - and a thank you to - the designer of our Bread Baker logo, Dai Foldes. See more of his beautiful work at

Many thanks to Renee from Magnolia Days for hosting this inaugural month of Bread Bakers! And thank you to our dozen bakers this month. You all jumped on board with such enthusiasm that it's been quite contagious! I hope all of your favorite breads will inspire everyone to get into the kitchen and bake!

And now THE LIST!

About Bread Bakers
#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme.  Follow our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on this home page.

We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient.

If you are a food blogger and would like to join us, just send me an email with your blog URL to

Here's to more fresh bread in months to come!