New What

Covid Elixir

I am not the type of person that makes new years resolutions along the line “new year – new me”. Perhaps, I came to accept all my (little) vices or more likely I set my goals one small step at a time and those changes are initiated by an arising situation rather than forced by a calendar occasion.

What I do at the start of the new year is getting back to the daily routines: 
getting up before 7am to use those precious hours before the day fully starts, doing my morning exercise that only takes 10 minutes and straightens my core and increases flexibility, and finally drinking what we call our Covid-19 elixir – an immune boosting smoothie. 

The smoothie combines the powers of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties of turmeric, ginger and honey with vitamin C rich grapefruit that are even more beneficial if you are using the fresh ingredients and not the powdered spices. That said, brightly orange fresh turmeric is a very strong natural dye and stains the surfaces and hands alike so I always put on my gloves to keep my fingers and nails clean. 

Covid Elixir

Immune Boosting Smoothie (Covid-19 Elixir)

1 10cm-piece of ginger

3-6 turmeric roots

3 grapefruits

5 tbs honey

Using gloves peel ginger and turmeric, cut into small pieces and put into a blender. 

Roll the grapefruit (so that it releases more juice) and squeeze all the juices into the blender. Some bits are fine too but make sure you remove the pips and white pith as it will make the smoothie quite bitter otherwise.  

Add a good few tablespoons of honey.

Blend for about 2-3 minutes until smooth.

Use the sieve to remove all the ginger fibre to get a silky texture and improve the taste. 

Pour into a glass bottle and keep in the fridge for the daily use. This amount makes our weekly supply.

Pour one small shot each morning and drink with your breakfast. 

Smile and stay well.

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Cards and wishes

AnPost Christmas Card

I believe there is a certain kind of magic in sending the Christmas cards. From the moment of choosing the card design, through printing and sticking the address labels on the envelopes, attaching the stamps, through handwriting the wishes and signing the cards with all family names to finally slipping the cards through the post box. All those steps make you think about the friends and family that will receive them and you hope that with the little piece of card you will share the joy and good will at Christmas.

AnPost Christmas Card

I always loved sending cards and was never fond to swap the tradition to texts, gifs, videos and social media posts. Surely, those messages are quicker to send and instantly delivered but I do enjoy this more time absorbing process. I might skip some Christmas baking in the busy pre-Christmas period but year after year I find time to write the Christmas cards and sitting at the kitchen table I think of all those who are far away yet are close to our heart.

Christmas cards can be a state of art that you would rather keep than sadly dispose of after Christmas. One of my way to keep cards and at the same time reuse them is upcycling them for Christmas decorations storage boxes and you can read all about it in a post here.

When it comes to the card design I only realized that my favourite types of cards, and the ones that would always catch my eye at the shop when choosing Christmas cards, are the ones with snow and animals in various combinations: reindeer, robins, dogs or foxes in the winter wonderland or warm and cosy inside when it’s snowing outside are bet to steal my heart.

This year we picked a card with AnPost theme as so many packages arrived in the post in the last few weeks to help us cope with the non-essential but somehow so essential present shopping. I thought that was most fitting and a great way to show the appreciation. Yet, somehow, come December the postal services got overwhelmed with the pre-Christmas demands and while the Irish cards arrived to all the next day, the international cards travelled a long long time and even though they were sent at the very start of December, they have only just started to arrive in their destinations. I hope they will get there in time and I hope when they open the card they will now that we are thinking of them warmly and dearly this Christmas.

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T is for …

It would seem now is just a perfect time to busy yourself with the DIY and art and craft projects. Kept away from most social interactions during the lockdown. Staying at home during long dark evenings. Hoping creative activities will bring the sense of achievement. All very true. With the tiny little hiccup though, namely the art and craft supplies.

It all started with rather vast collection of stamps that belonged to our beloved grandad. While for the last 30 years I had absolutely no interest in collecting stamps not did I care about their possible (or not) market value, I definitely appreciated the beautiful design of the series: colour palette, attention to detail, motifs, typography … I instantly knew I would like to showcase the artwork, display rather than store in an album and turn this collection into creation.

When I grew up, back in the eighties, collecting stamps was one of the most common hobbies and many a times a girl would get a seemingly innocent invitation from a boy to come for a visit to see the stamp collection. I never got into philately, preferring more innovative and practical hobbies, however I greatly admire the story that a single image on a tiny square or rectangular can tell of a country, its history, landmarks and highlights.

The design I picked was simple. I wanted to shape the stamps into a T – the first later of the family surname that would also honour their previous owner who collected the stamps over his life time. I sorted the sets of stamps by size and then decided to use only the ones of Polish origin, again to make it more meaningful and cherish the memory of our grandad. The next steps seemed very much straightforward. Or were they? Once I managed to buy the black 70X50 IKEA RIBBA frame in between one lockdown and another I did not expect the complications and challenges to get an A1 black card. As all the non-essential shops were closed for at least six weeks I ordered online with the cost of delivery exceeding the cost of product, but hey the project was well worth it. And now the story of funny incidents starts, and even though I did not plan it to be the part of the original blog post it is certainly worth telling here.

The first good news came 10 days later. It was Friday and my order was on its way and being delivered. My excitement was somehow subdued when I came back home and saw a medium size box in the hall. It took me a while trying to imagine any creative way of fitting an A1 size card into that. Simply impossible. We opened the box and unpacked a collection of toddler jigsaw and colouring books. It was clearly not our order and clearly someone else was not getting theirs either today. A few phone calls and an email exchange later, the package was collected and I was promised the correct order was on its way. After another couple of days a package was delivered to the neighbours. It was even smaller than the first one but at least inside was one out of two items that were ordered – the embroidery frame for my daughter’s Home Economics classes. Yet, still no sign of the A1 black card to keep myself busy over the weekend.

All that time my collection of stamps were spread on the frame, carefully arranged in the same size rows, casually minded by our cat, Nero, who choose the spot for his regular daily naps.

On a Saturday morning, a big white van parked in front of the house with another delivery from Arts&Hobby. The courier handed in a very disappointing looking small box that contained, will you guess… the second embroidery frame. Ta-dah! It was at this stage that I decided to make fun of all the situation rather than get frustrated. And so we laughed and laughed and laughed until the door bell rang again and the same courier came back this time handling me a huge flat package with a Do Not Bend label and very visible signs of bending. Happy days! I did not mind if it was bent or not. He was like an angel bringing good tidings. Finally, after five long weeks I could start and hopefully finish my project.

All that happened then went spectacularly smoothly and considerably quickly. First, I made up a T letter shape template. Then attached it to the black card and cut out the shape with a wallpaper knife. The greatest and most creative part was to arrange the stamps so that they fit and fill the shape neatly. I mixed butterflies, flowers, fruit and vegetables with sports, landscapes, paintings and folklore. I threw in a king, a cartoon and some significant events. I rearranged a couple of times to get it just right. Then, I used the spray glue on the back of the frame to attach the stamps and applied the final layer of glue on the top to keep them in place. The next day once the glue dried we could finally frame it and hang the picture on the wall in our home office. This T-art truly took time.

Monogram Art
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Little things

Chimichurri Sauce

In the last few months of living with Covid-19 I have tried to cherish the little local things, the neighbourhood and the people around us.

Like our postman who delivers our abundance of post including numerous online purchases and who, if no one is at home, leaves a note that the packet for us is we know where. 

Like our butcher who remembered a week later that I never packed my pork chops the last time and prepared them again for me free of charge.

Like the An Post office lady who kept for us a set of iconic Father Ted stamps. 

And then of course, we have the neighbours that keep us all sane with small talk, regular check-ins and spontaneous, though considerably small, get-togethers. I cannot stress enough how much comfort it brings to have great neighbours and you can read more about that here in one of the previous post that apparently is one of the most popular ever on this blog. I love the communal spirit and kids knocking on the door to ask if my daughter can come out, borrowing ladders, shears, pots as well as the traditional glass of sugar and exchanging culinary experiments such as plum jam, challah bread, aubergine dip and many many more. It might be a cliché yet, indeed, sharing is caring and creates the bond that helps us manage our day-to-day routines.

This little recipe came from my neighbour, Barra, who is an accomplished  and acclaimed chef. On this particular occasion he ran out of staples, as you would on a Saturday, and popped in to staple some of his recipes for his private dinner cooking party. I was delighted to lend him the staples, the stapler and whatever else and he left me a precious copy of his collection of recipes for that night. Some of them I still need to venture and try to do justice to. This little one I tried several times already – it is simple, quick, full of flavours, crowd-pleasing and super-addictive. It goes amazingly well with steak, barbequed meats, fritters or tapas. It is a little keeper recipe. 

Barra’s Chimichurri Sauce

50g parsley

50g coriander

20g oregano

2 green chilli peppers

2 red chilli peppers

2 cloves of garlic

1 lemon

1 onion

1tsp chilli powder

1 tsp cumin

2 tsp sugar

150ml olive oil

100ml red wine vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Chimichurri Sauce

Finely dice onion, garlic, red and green chilli peppers and combine in a medium bowl.

Finely chop all herbs and add to the mix.

Add all spices and sugar.

Roll the lemon to make it more juicy and squeeze into the bowl keeping the pips out.

Add olive oil, stir to mix and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Share around and enjoy.

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Dog Days

Dog Days Cover

While for some summer 2020 might have been unexciting, uneventful and unadventurous, it definitely was the summer of the lifetime for our dog, Lucky. It was a summer of long walks, endless play of fetch with the kids, splashing in the sea and chasing till his heart’s content. If the dog could tell the story himself it would be the story of adventures, exploring and long days out and about.

Together

While packing bags usually means the people will go away and leave the dog for long days and nights of loneliness and separation, this year it was different. They went on a staycation and the dog could go with them. But that’s not all, rather than travelling in the boot of the car, the dog could very comfortably stay at the back seat all the way to the holiday house.

I will follow you till the edge of the world

Beach

The house was right at the beachfront and each and every morning before the rest of the house was awake the dog went to the beach for his first walk. The beach was wide and sandy with gentle tides and a few streams coming down into sea. The dog would chase the ball, splash into the water, dive underneath the waves and chase the seagulls. Never getting tired and always ready for more.

BEACH VIBES

Fetch

The dog loves to play fetch. And the dog can catch anything. Balls, stick, droplets of water, pebbles (well, not so great for the teeth), sand, and grass – you name it. He lies down and freezes, his eyes fix on the object and his all body ready to throw itself in a chase to catch. He runs, he jumps, he catches, he brings it back and drops it in front of you only to do it again and again and again.

fetch

Jumping

Whoever thought of kicking the sand into the air first, I don’t know. But that is a real dog’s favourite and a real spectacle too. There is this irresistible urge to chase and catch and once you send the sand high in the air, the dog jumps. The mouth open, the body twisting, the legs spread apart. He lands on his four, his muzzle covered with sand and his eyes sparkling and eager for more.

dog Jumping

Cycling

When the people cycle the dog runs. When they cycle along the beach the dog runs by their side. When they cycle up the hill the dog runs by the side of the road and when they cycle down the hill the dogs catches up. Kilometre after kilometre he keeps up with his herd and keeps going on.

dog running

Splashing

The dog can sense the water. Whether it is a small pond in the wood or a lake or the sea he goes straight into in, submerges into the water and waits for a game of catch. He can stay in the water and play for a long time – until his fur is all wet from the tip of his ears to the back of his tail, until his paws are softened and his body is shaking. This is how the dogs goes for a dip.

wet dog

Rest and repeat

And at the end of the day when all gets quiet the dog goes to rest in his bed only to repeat it all again the next day.

dog dreaming

Truly, it was an extraordinary summer for Lucky and never did he seem to have enough or be too tired for more. There are some more quiet and home-bound times ahead now that we will be back at school and work but surely he will get his dose of adventures at the weekends. And if you would like to read more stories about Lucky please check the blog here here here and here.

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Bolognese alla casa

I have some many memories of perfect summer holidays in Italy. Regardless of the region we traveled to, there is always time to take time,  time to eat well, time to celebrate the moments with family and friends. Even though this year is somewhat different, or actually different on so many levels with restrictions, precautions, social responsibilities and limited interactions, while we are having a staycation we will be still trying to recreate the Italian way – sharing food, dining al fresco and having a laugh with friends.

I love to go back to my dream holidays in Italy six summers ago. Staying in a Sicilian rustic cottage surrounded by lemon trees and bushes of grapes. Sitting by the pool, having a siesta, reading a crime story of Inspector Montalbano by Andrea Camilleri. Relaxing in hammocks and watching the lizards climb up the walls. Picking dark yellow, sunripe, juicy lemons and making a big jug of refreshing lemonade. Dining at the veranda and enjoying the sun set.

Whenever you cook on your holidays, pasta is a sure dish to serve. It is such a great crowd-pleaser and the Italians perfected it over centuries. You can read an amazing twisted history of pasta here.  Pasta is simple, it needs only few ingredients, common utensils and some basic cooking skills. It seldom goes wrong but then a trick or two can take it to the next level. It is, in fact, the know-how and the little things that make it a signature dish.

spaghetti

I discovered the best home made bolognese recipe by trying to use up some barbecued meat leftovers. Hamburgers, sausages, kebabs, steaks, pork ribs, pork neck, chicken drumsticks – you name it, minced and slowly cooked with tomatoes. The sauce is summery, rich, juicy and meaty. The kids love it and there is never enough. It is so amazingly good that sometimes we purposefully get more on the grill to have all the selection of leftovers for the distinctive pasta sauce. Obviously, each time you end up with a slightly different mixture but you always get the incredible flavour and rich taste.

ragu

There is not too much preparation time. The most time consuming part is mincing. And it is really important to mince the meats. If you chop the meats, you get chunks. If you blend the meats, you get paste. While if you mince, all the flavours mingle together and form an ideal texture. We use our vintage cast iron mincer that we once found in the deepest corner of the cellar. We restored the rusty utensil that belonged to our grandparents and I could not be happier to use it for cooking family recipes.

passata

I prefer to use passata as a tomato sauce base rather than tinned chopped tomatoes as it gives a better and more thick texture. The meat will take a lot of tomato liquid so you might combine a big jar of passata with a tin of tomatoes and even a splash of tomato puree for an more intense red shade. Cooking time is essential here. Leave it simmer for at least 2 hours as the longer you cook the ragu the better. And if you ever wonder how you pronounce some of the most common Italian words check here.

pasta

Spaghetti bolognese alla casa

100 g of spaghetti (or any other pasta of your choice) per person

750 g jar of passata or 500 g carton of passata plus a can of chopped tomatoes

3 tbl of tomato paste

1 tbl balsamic vinegar or a splash of red wine

500 g – 750 g selection of barbecued meat (minced)

3 tbs olive oil

2 onions (chopped)

1 small carrot (chopped)

2 springs of dry oregano

salt and pepper to taste

basil leaves, chili flakes and Parmesan to serve

Splash some olive oil in a large pot, add the chopped onion and gently fry for about 10 minutes until it gets shiny. Stir every now and then. Add carrot, cook for  3 minutes, then add all the mince meat and stir for another few minutes. Add the passata and/or chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Rinse the containers with a splash of water, swirl around to get any remaining tomato juices and add to the pot. Add balsamic vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir the sauce and gently bring to boil. Cover the pot with lid and simmer on the lowest heat for at least 2 hours. Keep checking on it and add some water if needed.

Once the sauce is ready, turn of the heat and cook the pasta. Measure 100 g of pasta of your choice per person. Spaghetti or less common bucatini works best for us. Boil a large pot of water. Once the water is boiling, add salt and then add the pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain on a sieve and mix in with the sauce.

bolognese

Serve with homemade lemonade, Parmesan and pot of fresh basil on side and some bread to clean up the plate. Enjoy around the table with friends and possibly al fresco.

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When the nettles teach you dance

NETTLE

When the school finishes I always think of a story from the book that I got as my end-of-school award years ago.  A book bursting with colours and cheerful illustrations that unveils adventures of two bold rascals: ZooZoo and Funio, their kind if eccentric auntie, Teetlee, and a smart supercool girl, Ala, who all live on a peculiar holiday destination island of Umplee-Tumplee. Funny and curious things happen there that involve flying octopus, dog-size snail, ballerina roses and snapping pea pods. You can read one of them here on the blog. This particular story is of nettles and a very unusual training they provide.

The Stone Heads and the Shorter Way to School

(Translated from Polish original Latająca Ośmiornica by Mirosław Stecewicz and Leon Korn)
There are two ways leading from the round house of Auntie Teetlee to school. The longer one that goes through the local park and the shorter one that goes through the lane of the Stone Heads. The Stone Heads stand magnificently like trees on each side of the path and you need to bow to every single one of them to pass through. If you do not bow, the Stone Heads begin to rock and move back and forth until they hit you with their stone forehead. So, if you forget to be polite and kind you will leave with bruises all over your body.
All the kids know perfectly well of that and choose a safer longer way through the park. So did Zoozoo and Funio. But then one day Zoozoo decided to take the shorter route.
‘Listen, ‘ he said to Funio, ‘There’s something more beyond the Stone Heads. A sort of green tunnel. I saw it yesterday when Ala was walking that way. First, she bowed to all the Stone Heads. She invented various bows as if she did not want to repeat the same bow for any of the Stone Heads. And then, when she entered the Green Tunnel, she started to twirl and spin around. You could see her legs and hands swinging  in the air as if she was doing handstands. So today,  we will follow her and discover what is was.’
‘No, no, no, no, no,’ said Funio, ‘You will have to go on your own. My neck is too stiff today and there’s no way I could bow to the Stone Heads.’
And so they split and each went their own way. Funio, who chose the longer way, got to school first. And he waited a good while until Zoozoo finally arrived. And what a sight he was! His hands and legs were itchy red and Zoozoo was scratching himself with anger.
‘What’s the matter with you?’ shouted Funio, ‘Were you attacked by a scourge of mosquitoes?’
‘Much worst than that,’ sighted Zoozoo ‘You were right all the way, Funio, to take the longer way. Well, the Stone Heads lane was not that bad, at all. I bowed gently to each head and nothing happened. But once you pass the Stone Heads, you enter the Nettle Tunnel. And there are nettles the size of sunflowers on each side of the path. Absolutely unbelievable.’

Book Illustration by Sławomir Jezierski

“Listen, Zoozoo,” the nettles said to me, “The Stone Heads teach you to be polite and we teach you to dance. Now, are you willing to dance or do you need a little help from us?”
‘They looked so terrifying that I really had no choice. I waved my hands and legs the best I could but apparently that was not good enough and so the nettles began to help me. I mean, they stung me. When I left the tunnel I could hear them muttering, “Not so bad for the first time. Just needs a bit of work, that’s it.'”
‘And what you say to that, Funio?’, Zoozoo asked.
‘I think,’ Funio slowly replied, ‘that you should avoid the shorter way to school.’
‘As if I could,’ Zoozoo said,’ ‘But that’s not even the end of the story.’
‘Not the end,’ Funio shouted, ‘So there was something else!?’
Zoozoo nodded sadly. ‘As  soon as I leaped out of the Nettle Tunnel I bumped into Ala. Guess what, she was waiting there for me. She shook her head, threw her long plait in the air, fluttered her eyelashes and said “Not bad for the first time. A bit more practice and I might even have a partner for the annual ball.”
‘So you see, Funio, that’s why I will have to take the shorter way to school now.’ Zoozoo said. ‘I will have to bow to the Stone Heads and dance with the Nettles. I could not possibly disappoint the girl.’

Dancing with Nettles
Book Illustration by Sławomir Jezierski

Hope you will think of the story the next time you’re out and about and trying to pass between the nettles. You might even try a little dance.

Have a happy and healthy summer.

 

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Lambs in the sky

Lambs in the sky

If you think of one of the most idyllic childhood scene it will be lying on the grass and gazing at the sky, watching the clouds go by and trying to define their shapes.

“This one looks like an elephant. Just see its trunk raising and the ears flapping.”

“Hey, look at that one! Can you see a rabbit? What a fluffy tail it has.”

“Wait, there … have you seen the one that is just like a giant teapot?” “Yeah, and a bit of steam coming out of the spout!”

Those are the moments of pure bliss, not a care in the world when the time seems to stop.

My and my mum would be watching the white, puffy, cotton ball clouds drifting above and even though I do not remember what shapes they took for us, I do remember a simple, slow-paced verse that my mum will say for me every single time. It went like this

White sheep, white sheep
on a blue hill,
When the wind stops
you all stand still
When the wind blows
You walk away slow
White sheep, white sheep
where do you go?

Lambs in the sky

I loved to listen to my mum soft soothing voice and follow the sheep unrushingly moving up and down and left and right. For a long time I thought this was one of my mum’s little poems that she composed looking at the sky and lightheartedly wondering about the meaning of life, but then she said it was a poem from her English coursebook that she learnt by heart.

little lamb poem 2

The beauty of poems is that they have the amazing power and ability to stay with us for life. Now, it might be a perfect iambic pentameter, a witty limerick or a modern free verse – once they touch that string in you they will stay in your memory forever.

little girls and little lamb
Ela and the little sheep in the 1950s

The funny thing is that growing up in a town my mum and I would see more lambs in the sky than actual in the fields. Here’s the official photo of my mum meeting a sheep. A curious little girl on her way to a picnic looking at the sheep and wondering where’s the rest of the herd, how the grass tastes and where will she be going next.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mum!

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Blissfully Chocolatey Brownies

Some of my best baking recipes are the ones I collect from friends at work. Imagine when you expect just another day in the office, someone brings their freshly baked goods. For no particular reason but for sharing and indulging. As I mentioned before on definitely more than one occasion I do not have a particularly sweet tooth but I cannot resist a homemade carrot cake or banana bread, chocolate cookies or shortbread biscuits. You only get a small bite to taste, as this is the joy of sharing in the office, so I always ask for the recipe to try to recreate that at home. This brownie was referred to as “to die for” and for a very good reason. It is divine. When Alice brought it into the office and sent the usual “please share” email she mentioned she had some leftover chocolate that she used to make the brownie. Well, having a leftover chocolate is pretty unusual not to say unheard of, but this year we had a real abundance of chocolate eggs and none guests due to the social distancing and I was determined to keep some just for this very recipe.

Easter dark chocolate

Brownies

185 g unsalted butter

185 g best quality dark chocolate

85 g plain flour

40 g cocoa powder

1 tsp baking powder

50 g white chocolate

50 g milk chocolate

50 g nuts (optional)

3 large eggs

275 g golden caster sugar

baking and measuring tools

Cut the butter into small cubes and the dark chocolate into small pieces and tip into the medium size metal bowl.

Gently melt the butter and chocolate over a water bath. Stir occasionally, but make sure that no water gets into your mixture. Once combined remove the bowl from the pan and leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 160°C fan/ gas mark 4.

Grease a square 20 cm x 20 cm or a rectangular 25 cm x 15 cm baking tin and line with baking paper.

Sieve the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder into a medium bowl to get rid of any lumps.

Chop the white and milk chocolate into small chunks. Finely chop the nuts if you are using them.

In a large bowl mix the eggs and the golden sugar. Beat them with electric mixer on the maximum speed until thick, creamy and pale. It might take a good few minutes but keep whisking until the mixture has doubled its volume and has the consistency of a milk shake.

Slowly fold the cooled chocolate and butter mixture into the eggy mousse. Use a spatula to combine by going under and over as if you were trying to draw number eight. Be very gentle as you want to keep the mixture airy but keep moving until it is fully combined and dark brown in colour.

Using the sieve dust the chocolatey mixture with the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder and cacao. Make sure to cover the top evenly, then gently fold those in using the same figure of eight action as before. Stop just when your mixture gets fudgy and gooey. Make sure not to overmix.

Finally, stir in the white and milk chocolate chunks and chopped nuts if you are adding any.

Slowly pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Make sure you fill the corners of the tin and gently level the mixture with the spatula.

Put in the oven for 25 mins. After that time check the brownie. The top should be shiny and have a papery crust and the middle should not wobble. If it does, put it back in the over for 5 more minutes. Once ready, take it out of the oven and leave to cool down completely. Then carefully remove from the tin and cut into squares. The brownie is even more delicious the next day so if you can resist the temptation leave some for later and you will not regret it.

brownie

 

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