Two important things happened the day before yesterday. Number one, we had two friends over for dinner, number two, I reached the end of the third week of a “healthy eating” regime (more commonly known as a diet – an unsuccessful one). I was soo ready to enjoy a yummy dinner finished off with a much missed plate/bowl/anything full of sugary sweetness. People sometimes ask what I enjoy more, cooking or baking, sweet or savoury, main course or dessert. I wish I could say “oh I love ..[enter appropriate option].. but I can live without ..[enter other one]… Nope. For me it’s both. I love both, what can I say? I’ve heard it’s characteristic of Taurians to appreciate food. So there’s just nothing I can do really, is there?
I especially like having dinner parties; don’t get me wrong, I’ll still make an effort even if it’s for one (me!), but having people round gets me in a frizz of excitement and menu planning days before the event. This usually results in a pretty large variety of dishes, quantities to feed a small army, and at least one period of blind panic when I just know it will all be a catastrophe. I call it perfectionism; the Mister and my mum call it being psycho and promptly remove themselves from the near vicinity for fear of flying pans and a lot of bad language.
I am getting better at all this, I must say, and each time I feel more in control. I’m also becoming more realistic in terms of what I can achieve in the 3 hours between getting home from work and the estimated time of arrival of our guests. A good example of this is Friday’s meal. I decided on lasagna, since I could prepare the bolognaise and béchamel beforehand, leaving only the assembling and baking for that 3 hour interval. This would give me enough time to make side dishes and dessert! There was still, however, no way I was going to fit in making say a cheesecake. So the night before, after the bolognaise was in the slow cooker and the béchamel was ready in a tupper on the balcony (which I have been using as a huge fridge lately!), I went to bed with my iphone and looked up some recipes.
The first one I chose was for these yummy and easy looking Salted Caramel Chocolate Pots from the BBC Good Food website. They seemed ideal (minus the faffy grissini) especially since I had a can of dulce de leche waiting to be opened. “Ah, but will these be enough?” the obsessive side of my brain chirped, “surely you should provide a second option! And what will you do with the leftover caramel?” (“eat it all with a spoon while watching Law & Order” was the answer from the other side of my brain, but I ignored it). Then inspiration hit! What do I normally use caramel for? Banoffee Pie. What would be easier than that, and wouldn’t leave too many tempting leftovers? Mini Banoffee Pies. Ooh, in a martini glass! Definitely a hostess-with-the-mostess presentation, but with a minimum effort dessert.
The verdict? Top marks all round. The choc pots were great, although very rich. A layer of biscuit (cookie for my US friends) in between might have helped “break” the richness for those whose tooth is a little less sweet, but for me it was fine as is. The banoffees… well they were sublime. So much so that today I dove into my extra one completely forgetting I had put it aside to photograph it for this post. Oops.
Salted Caramel Chocolate Pots from BBC Good Food
Note: the original recipe is for 2 portions, but I doubt anyone could take so much richness in one go. I used the same quantities for 4 smaller servings, having in mind that we would also be eating the banoffees.
What you’ll need:
4 heaped Tbs dulce de leche or canned caramel (*see note at end)
½ tsp salt plus extra to sprinkle on top of the chocolate
85g dark chocolate
85g milk chocolate
100ml heavy cream
What you do:
- Mix caramel with the ½ tsp salt, divide between 4 small glasses and put into the fridge (or on the balcony if it’s cold enough!).
- Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a microwave safe jug. Melt it in the microwave 20 seconds at a time, on high. After each 20 second interval mix it with a spoon and make sure it’s not burning. Try not to lick the spoon. When there are only a few lumps left stop microwaving and just stir it till it’s all smooth. Leave it for a few minutes to cool slightly.
- Mix the cream and milk together, and stir it into the chocolate until incorporated. Pour mixture into the glasses over the caramel (try to get it around the edges first, then the centre). Return to the fridge. Before serving sprinkle some coarse salt on top.
Mini Banoffee Pies
What you’ll need:
6 digestive biscuits (or graham crackers if you’re in the US)
1 Tbs butter
1 large banana
Squeeze of lemon juice
150ml dulce de leche or canned caramel*
150ml heavy cream (cold)
1 tsp powdered drinking chocolate or cocoa OR some grated dark chocolate, to decorate
What you do:
- Crumble your biscuits. You can do that using the zip-lock bag and rolling pin method (I’ve never found this practical), the food processor method (shame to dirty the FP for 6 biccies) or the manual method (break into small pieces and crumble by rubbing together with your fingers). They don’t have to be completed crushed, as we aren’t making a pie base here (if the biscuit sets into a crust it might be hard to break with a spoon in a delicate glass).
- Melt the butter in the microwave and mix into the crumbs, using your hands. Spoon the crumbs into the glasses and gently press into the bottom. Chill (the glasses, not you). Do something else for a few minutes.
- Chop the banana into round pieces and squeeze some lemon juice over them. Mix the banana pieces with the caramel and spoon over the biscuit. Chill.
- Pour the cream into a bowl and whisk until it forms stiff peaks. Spoon cream over the banana/caramel mixture, or use a piping bag if you want to really show off (my need to show off ends when it means washing up fiddly kitchen gadgets or wasting a perfectly good zip-lock bag).
- Sprinkle drinking chocolate (such as Cadbury’s) or cocoa over the top. To make it even prettier grate some dark chocolate and sprinkle that instead. Chill until it’s time to serve.
*Dulce de Leche Note:
You can make your own very easily. Take a can or two of sweetened condensed milk (do NOT open), put them in a deep saucepan, fill with water making sure the cans are covered by an inch or two (depending on how deep your pan is) and bring the water to the boil. When it’s boiling turn the heat down and simmer for 2 hours. Keep checking because the water will evaporate. Top up every so often with boiling water, so the cans are submerged at all times. This is important – honestly – I’ve heard stories of the cans exploding! Turn the heat off and leave the cans to cool in the water for a while. Remove the cans from the pan and let them cool completely. Use up one can by making banoffee pie or mini pies. Leave the other in the fridge for emergencies (or for the next episode of Law & Order!).