Friday, 21 June 2013


These. Are. Phenomenal.

They started life as a double chocolate cookie recipe in The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, and over the last year I've tweaked them by using different flavours, different flours and different brands of dark chocolate.  This is the best combination I've found so far, and they are ridiculously good.  

Although my mantra is cheap and tasty, occasionally it's practically a job requirement for writers to buy three massive bars of chocolate and eat the whole lot.  It's something to do with the plotting process, I believe.  This merely offers a slightly more polite way of doing it.


50g unsalted butter
3 200g bars Bourneville chocolate
2 eggs
170g soft light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange extract (I use Sainsburys Valencian Orange, largely because it's in my cupboard but also because it works well here)
85g plain flour (gluten free flour can be used, but your biscuits won't be as gooey when they cool)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder


1. Preheat your oven to 170C (325F / Gas Mark 3).

2. Break one bar and one row of chocolate into a heatproof bowl and add the butter.  Heat over a saucepan of simmering water, taking care not to let the bowl and the water touch.   Stir until smooth and melted.

3. In a separate large bowl, add the orange extract to the brown sugar, and break in the eggs.  Mix firmly until well combined.

4. Chop another bar and row of chocolate into chunks (these will be your melty chocolate chips).  You should have about 2/3 of a large bar of Bourneville left. Dispose of it as you see fit, and depending on how well your word count's going.

5. Put flour, salt and baking powder into a separate bowl, sifting if you really feel the need.

6. Pour the melted chocolate mixture into the brown sugar and egg mixture.

7. Add the flour mixture and stir well.

8. Add the chocolate chips and mix gently until they are evenly spread throughout.

9. Put a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking tray and put 5 dollops of cookie mixture on the tray.  Be warned, this stuff spreads and your cookies will be enormous, so you don't want them too close together.

10. Bake for 10 minutes.  When they are ready, the surface will be shiny and cracked - don't leave them too long or the edges and base will burn (not good).

11.  Remove from the oven.  They will be very gooey, so slide the greaseproof paper off the baking tray and leave to cool while you bake the next batch.  You should have enough mixture for 11-12 HUGE biscuits.

12. If possible, eat when cool enough to lift, but warm enough to still be melted in the middle.  These are great cold, but even better freshly baked.


I've also made these in vanilla (replace 1/2 teaspoon orange extract with 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract) and mint (replace with 1 teaspoon of mint extract - for some reason the mint needs to be stronger).  A friend has suggested melting an After Eight over the top of the mint ones too when they come out of the oven, though I haven't tried it yet.  I will though...

Just as an aside, during a catastrophic shortage of table salt I used rock salt for one batch, and the results were terrific.  The crackle of salt crystal against chocolate is amazing, although not to everyone's taste.  Personally, I'd recommend it.

Friday, 14 June 2013


When you make your living through creative work, chances are you’ll go through periods of feast and famine. 

While the feast periods are great, lean times can be a chance to get inventive with the contents of your cupboard.  Your finances may not stretch to a take-away but a stay-in can be every bit as good, provided that you ignore the fact that you’re cooking it yourself (wine helps).

This Sweet and Sour chicken recipe uses the spare bits of Thai Chicken Noodles, Feast or Famine Bake and Odds and Sods Stirfry, with the addition of some fresh chicken and tinned pineapple and water chestnuts stockpiled from a wealthy period.  It’s one of our favourites for a Friday night in.  Enjoy.


Rapeseed oil for frying (best choice for helping the batter stick, although olive or vegetable oil will do).
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped finely
Leftover chillies, deseeded and finely chopped (equivalent of two, preferably red)
2 thumb-sized pieces of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
Leftover peppers, cut into strips (equivalent of two, red and green if you can manage it)
400-450g tin chopped pineapple pieces in juice
225g tin water chestnuts in water
100 self-raising flour
175ml chilled soda water
several large tablespoons of cornflour
2 large chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon light brown sugar

Rice and chopped spring onions (optional) to serve

A large, clip top lidded packed lunch box (bear with me).


1. Pre-heat the oven to 120C.

2. Add the soda water to the flour and mix to remove any lumps.

3. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of rapeseed oil to a high heat in a saucepan.

4. Put 3 tablespoons of cornflour in the packed lunch box, add the chicken pieces, fasten the lid and shake vigorously.  See?  Efficient. No mess.

5. Remove the dusted pieces of chicken in small batches, dunk in the batter and fry in the rapeseed oil for 2 minutes on each side.  They should be golden and cooked through.  Keep warm in the oven.

6. In a separate pan, gently fry the chopped garlic, chillies and ginger in a tablespoon of rapeseed oil until softened. 

7. Mix one and a half tablespoons of cornflour with 3 tablespoons of the pineapple juice.  Add to the pan along with roughly 350ml water.

8. Add the pineapple pieces, soy sauce, ketchup, sugar and water chestnuts.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

9. Rinse and cook the rice.

10. In a separate pan, flash fry the chopped peppers until seared but not soft.  Add to the sauce mixture.

11. Serve the chicken on the rice, and spoon the sweet and sour sauce mixture on top.
Slice the spring onions diagonally and add as a garnish.  Fab.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


Whenever I find something beautiful or moving in a book, I turn the page down.  This is my copy of The Humans.

Matt Haig has made no secret of his battle with mental illness.  For anyone who has been through it, or witnessed its impact on someone close, it is a life changing experience.  Like most serious issues however, it is probably best explored with a humorous eye and make no mistake The Humans is a very funny book. 

But it is a rare talent that can take a devastating personal episode and transform it into something that sheds light on the human condition, and a rarer one still that can achieve this while telling an entertaining story.  That’s what Matt Haig has accomplished in The Humans, and it is an extraordinary book.

Professor Andrew Martin is dead.  Shortly after solving the Riemann hypothesis, he was murdered by the Vonnadorian assassin who now inhabits his body and is on a high-stakes mission to save the universe.  His brief is simple: find Martin’s theorem, eradicate all trace of it and kill any witnesses.

It seemed a straightforward plan on his own planet where logic and mathematics form the basis of society.  However life on earth – our alien soon discovers - is somewhat more complicated and although he controls Martin’s body he hasn’t retained his knowledge of being human.  This, it fast becomes apparent, is rather a large oversight.

As you’d imagine, the comic repercussions are immediate.  ‘Professor Martin’ struggles to blend in with the most basic human behaviour, a situation not helped by his failure to arrive on earth wearing clothes and his reliance on Cosmopolitan for relationship advice (we’ve all been there).  Unsurprisingly, he ends up in a psychiatric hospital. 

But it is what Haig does with this scenario that makes The Humans so special.  This book is infused with the experience of breakdown, not in a mawkish or preachy sense, but with a subtlety that sits perfectly with the narrative. 

Dissociated from Martin’s identity, our alien is both absorbed by the minutiae of ‘being human’ and a dispassionate observer of it.  As Haig writes in an endnote, ‘when I was in the grips of panic disorder… human life felt as strange for me as it does for the unnamed narrator.’ 

Delicately, he replicates this experience in the reader.  By making what is familiar seem strange and alien, insight and distance are triggered simultaneously.  The effect is to make the reader look at life from a new angle, drawing him in while at the same time keeping him at arm’s length. 

It is a very effective device.  Affection is evoked for the simple things we take for granted, while our more ludicrous pretensions are laid bare.  But it is the conclusions drawn that are so moving.  Take this view of Earth’s strangeness:

‘I tried to see the similarity.  I told myself that here all things were still made of atoms, and that those atoms would work precisely as atoms always do.  They would move towards each other if there was distance between them.  If there was no distance between them, they would repel each other.  That was the most basic law of the universe, and it applied to all things, even here.  There was comfort in that.  The knowledge that wherever you were in the universe, the small things were always exactly the same.  Attracting and repelling.  It was only by not looking closely enough that you saw difference.’

It’s elegant and obvious, when viewed from outside.  And as ‘Professor Martin’ gradually discovers the wonders of being human, so too does the reader.  It’s an ingenious driver for the narrative, for as the tensions of the mission change the reader grows increasingly invested in its outcome.  It’s a process of slowly rediscovering life’s wonder, and it is beautifully done. 

If you’ve ever wondered what makes life both terrifying and special, this is the book for you.  It transforms an intensely personal experience into a story that is both widely relevant and accessible, and  for any writer that's not an easy thing to pull off.  For those who like their insights in bullet points, there's even a seven page checklist of 'advice for a human' towards the end.  It’s funny, poignant and may teach you things you haven't considered about life on earth.  Except number 79 - I think we all suspected that.