Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Desserts: Trifle and Ambrosia

For me Christmas day began with food - I had a trifle and a bowl of ambrosia to make, both of which are really great summer desserts for the beautiful, blue-skied day that we had here in Invercargill. Trifle is a pretty classic dessert that is probably made in a million different ways by various families and individuals. My family's version is somewhat different to any I have seen before and my own adaptation of it is what I am posting below. Traditionally the dessert consists of layers of sponge, jelly or jam, fruit and custard. My trifle, on the other hand, uses rasberry fizzy drink. Ambrosia is also quite well known, here in New Zealand at least. It is a dessert that consists of cream, yoghurt, berries, marshmallows and chocolate. When I made it in Ireland nobody had heard of it before and everybody loved it, so I guess it's not just us Kiwi's that think it's good.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Horrifyingly Good Chocolate Fudge Brownie

Why is it horrifying? Because it is so good, so amazingly rich and fudgy, that it just shouldn't be allowed. This was my pre-christmas treat; a few days ago my travels took me to the house of a friend, where I was allowed to indulge my food obsession by cooking and baking for her. The recipe comes from a friend, who himself has just begun a food blog that caters to gluten-free baked goods, called Spade & Spatula. After seeing (and tasting) how amazing this brownie was I had to try it for myself. The recipe I have written below uses normal flour, but the gluten-free version simply uses a pre-mixed gluten-free all purpose flour. For me, the brownie included chopped walnuts and was served with vanilla ice-cream - this dessert followed on from a main course of spaghetti, a recipe that I fall back on constantly because it's really amazingly yummy. So all in all, it was a really satisfying pre-christmas treat. It was just as satisfying the next evening, when more brownie was served for dessert after a main of stuffed chicken breasts and new potatoes with garlic butter, and was still good on the third day as picnic food at the beach (despite the sand). I must say, however, that I really don't much like walnuts, and while a bit of crunch is great I think I will go for some other nut the next time.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Potato Salad, Kiwi Style

Over the last week or so I have been travelling through New Zealand, attempting to be a summer tourist in my own country, but the weather has different plans. So oddly enough, it was warmer way down south than it is up north right now, where I am followed from place to place by grey clouds and rain. I have barely begun to delve back into all of the amazing food that is just a matter of course for those living here, but while still in Invercargill I did have the chance to make a big bowl of potato salad, proper kiwi style, which is very different to the Irish version (which is really mashed potato, served cold) and the German version. Ours is delicious, but what I've written below is my own slight adaptation on account of using up the ingredients I had to hand. You can either use new potatoes or old, new are yummiest but all potatoes are good!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fudge cooking challenge

It's that time of the month again ... cooking challenge time! This month the challenge is fudge and I wanted something unusual, but it can't be something you invent yourself. So during my forays into blog-land I finally came across something that sounded somewhat unusual yet appealing: red velvet fudge. I like the idea of red velvet cake and red is a Christmas colour so I figured it would be fitting. In preparing for the challenge I first brought a thermometer because recipe I read said that you really cannot accurately estimate the right point at which the fudge is ready. Then I made my first successful fudge ever, and even though it was really sweet and rich, the texture was good so I have been using the proportions of that recipe for everything that I have later tried. The first fudge I tried was a butterscotch-like brown sugar fudge, and the second was a vanilla cookies and cream fudge. They were both really good. This one was good too, and I really can't decide what was best, but I'm sure I will have a whole lot of new fudge ideas to try after the cooking challenge is completed!


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Arabic food

Over the next few weeks these food-filled posts may get a little sporadic because I am on holiday in NZ, but I'll probably have time to write and plenty to say about food. Before I left I had the chance to make one last dinner for myself and my housemate and I went for Arabic flavours, because sometimes I miss that sort of food. Now that I will be back in New Zealand maybe I should try make some for my friends there, whose Middle Eastern cuisine is possible limited to hummus. Below is my own recipe for something like kofta, though I doubt it's really proper kofta. Basically, it's lamb meatballs with eastern-style spices. Only mine turned out rather dry, I left them cooking too long. Funnily enough, I always found ground-meat dishes, such as kofta, too dry when in Abu Dhabi - over there we generally stuck to a vegetarian diet. They were OK though, especially when served with a creamy dressing. I had no tahini so settled for yoghurt with a bit of crushed garlic and lemon mixed in. Served with hummus (recipe to come soon) and stuffed peppers it made a meal to remind me of the time I spent in the UAE.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Better Banana Bread

When I say that this banana bread is better, what I mean is that it is better than the other recipe that I have posted, a long time ago, for hazelnut-banana bread. That recipe was good too, it was really yummy, but for one thing I did not keep track of the ingredients so well because I was lazy. Namely, I did not weigh the banana and when I tried to make it again I think I used way more and the bread was really gooey. Also, it has loads of different ingredients because I was simply emptying my cupboard of all my leftover baking ingredients, but that makes it look rather complicated. Finally, it was based on my soda-bread recipe. This following recipe, on the other hand, is more based on banana cake, but with less sugar, butter and eggs (though not by much, if you want healthier, try the other recipe!). It is soft and moist and really banana-y. Not only that, but instead of butter I used up the last of my peanut butter, and you can never go wrong with adding some chocolate. It is really easy to make, it's a simple recipe that comes together really quickly. Finally, instead of a loaf of bread you could of course pour this into muffin tins and have banana muffins!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Chocolate Truffles

Every year for Christmas I make a big batch of chocolate truffles to give to friends. This year the truffle making has occurred early and I am posting early, even though there will be more truffle making later, because the recipe was requested from my little brother (I guess he did appreciate some of my cooking after all!). I used to have other recipes, for instance I remember making white chocolate truffles once, they had honey in them. So when I go home I will have to hunt through my old recipe books to find that one, because I remember it being really good. However, the recipe below is the most simple truffle recipe ever and is the standby that I go to for every special occasion. It's really just chocolate, cream and flavouring of some sort, it's pretty much the same as a chocolate ganache, but with less cream and more chocolate. I use biscuits in my truffles, to add a bit of crunchy texture and flavour. Over here in Ireland you can get these cookies called jaffa cakes, which are a soft biscuit with a layer of orange jelly, covered in chocolate. Chop a packet of those up into your truffles and you have the most amazingly orange-chocolate flavoured treats. Of course, you could also use fruit essences, chopped up dried fruit, liqueurs or just leave them plain.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Really Chocolate Brownies

It's a cold Friday evening, it's chocolate brownie time and again I have no camera! How can I publish pictures of  seriously rich, home-made heart-attack inducing chocolate brownies to tempt everybody into breaking their diets if I don't have my camera? I guess I'll have to make them again sometime soon! It's OK because the recipe needs one last trial anyway, the brownies are a little too dense, they should be gooey-er, so they need less flour I reckon. The recipe below already has the amount of flour reduced and I can guarantee that they will be really good if you follow this recipe, but I must try it myself again and maybe reduce it further before they are absolutely perfect. However, they are of the type of perfection that can only be handled in small portions! I recommend a small piece, heated up a little in the microwave, served with natural yoghurt. It sounds like a bit of an odd mix but is really good. This is how they served the brownies at my favourite cafe from my undergrad years, it was just down the street from where I lived and we would go there on a cold (and sometimes hungover) Sunday to defrost and fatten ourselves up in preparation of impending hibernation. Perhaps you would rather have them with cream or ice-cream but that would be adding even more fat and sugar, the yoghurt is really yummy and it mellows them out a bit so that you can get more in before you go into a food-coma.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Peanut Butter and Jam

Peanut butter and jam, or jelly if that's what you call it, is a great mix and everybody should try it. I love mixing sweet with salty and of course I absolutely have to transform all the flavours that I love into baked goods. I fist made peanut butter and jam muffins when I was going through a muffin phase in my second year of university and back then I thought I was being quite original. Turns out that recipes just like mine are in existence all over the internet and probably in muffin cookbooks everywhere too. But what does it matter whether an idea is origninal or not so long as you get peanut buttery, jammy goodness? I'm posting below my recipe for muffins, they're actually a bit more like cupcakes but I'm gonna let that slide this time round and call them muffins. I forgot to take a picture and this latest batch were actually really different because I had my head in the clouds and forgot to add nearly half of the flour! So they were very dense, moist little cupcakes and the jam sank to the bottom. They were really sweet too, probably because I topped them with raspberry frosting! My spellchecker just informed me that I've been spelling raspberry wrong all this time (I was writing rasberry?!). Woops!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cookies and Cream Fudge

More fudge! I hope all the recipients of this year's Christmas goodies like sugar because this batch is just as sweet as the last. Once again I have based my fudge idea on ice-cream but this one turned out so much better than the extremely rich brown-sugar fudge that I made the other week. Back when I was a kid I remember going to the shop that was across the road from my school, where they served up the biggest ice-creams possible, and while sometimes we would try new flavours we would more often stick to the tried and true - a scoop of Goldrush and a scoop of Cookies and Cream. Goldrush is hard to properly describe and my fudge didn't do it justice. The cookies and cream fudge, however, is really, really good. Most recipes I found for it were actually white chocolate fudge with oreo cookies, but that was not what I was looking for. The ice-cream is vanilla flavoured, with broken up cookies. So I used a recipe for vanilla fudge that I found on another blog, this one here, and simply added broken up oreo cookies. This fudge took longer to set than the brown-sugar fudge but I like it better.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Custard Creams

I think it is time to admit that I have been for a long time now surpassing my self-imposed limit of baking only once a week. It's not my fault - people keep having events and celebrations that need to be baked for! Besides, Christmas is coming. So this week I baked for a small afternoon tea on at work and I made a recipe given to me by a friend. However, my biscuits turned out completely different, hers were flat and crumbly and soft while mine were small and harder. Thus, I cannot guarantee that your cookies will turn out like the ones below. I can guarantee that they will be delicious, no matter what. I actually prefered my friend's soft, crumbly ones.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sweetcorn Chowder

This week has been awful and rainy, winter is finally catching up to Galway, so a nice pot of soup was really needed to keep the cold at bay. This week I made sweetcorn chowder, because what could be better than a thick, creamy soup full of yummy sweetcorn and bacon. Of course, the bacon could be left out if you are vegetarian, but for the carnivores amongst us it just wouldn't be the same without it. Hopefully there will be no need for soup soon enough, it will be off to NZ, summer and lot's of ice-cream! Until then, however, I will be busy making sweets to give to all my friends and colleagues as early Chrismtas presents before I leave, so the next few posts are going to be sugar, sugar and more sugar. Just to warn you. Not to mention chocolate! For now, however, perhaps there are others out there who need soup so I would strongly recommend reading on and making sweetcorn chowder.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Brown sugar fudge

This weekend I brought a kitchen thermometer and made what was not only my first batch of Christmas treats for the year but was also the first successful fudge that I have ever made. I haven't actually tried to make fudge since I was a kid, but it turns out to not be difficult at all, but a little time consuming and if it were to splash or boil over you'd have an awful mess. So the reason for making fudge is because the next blog cooking challenge I am doing is to find a great fudge recipe. This one was good, but not amazing. I decided that I wanted to make something with the same flavour as Goldrush ice-cream, something that I intend to have plenty of when I'm back in NZ. It is honeycomb flavour and full of pieces of chocolate-covered honeycomb. So it's sort of like a Cadbury crunchie bar. What you see below is brown sugar fudge, also called penuche fudge, and honeycomb is made with golden syrup, which is like brown sugar, so I figured it might be similar, or perhaps like caramel or toffee. It turned out very strong and sweet, with a soft, moist texture.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Best Pumpkin Soup

This was definately the best pumpkin soup that I have made. I have just one more serving of it left in the freezer but luckily it's gotta be the simplest soup I have ever made, so I can make more in pretty much no time at all! I saw a recipe on a blog and once again did not take down the details of it but I didn't really follow it anyway, just the rough idea, which was to use pumpkin that was already pureed, add barley and season it with sage. It worked out great and was fast, there was no peeling chopping pumpkin involved. Of course, in the first place there was actually a lot of preparing pumpkin, but now that I have lots of puree stored in the freezer it's all as easy as pie. So for a really simple and fast but really delicious soup to get you through cold, lazy weekends, you should definately try this one.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lasagna With a Difference

I love lasagna. You can't really go wrong when you have a meal with layers, that shifts from rich and meaty to mild and creamy. Not only that but ir's incredibly adaptable. First of all, everybody has their own recipe for the usual lasagna, which are always totally different. Secondly, you can get creative and turn it into something entirely different by changing the type of meat (or vegetables) that you use, the herbs and spices, even the white sauce. So this week's lasagna is chicken and butternut in a slightly tangy tomato sauce, with a white sauce made with only a little cheese, half normal milk and half buttermilk. However if you're a stickler for the traditional I have another lasagna recipe for you to try right here. I have also learnt this week that both 'lasagna' and 'lasagne' are correct: the word refers to the sheets of pasta and the last letter changes to an 'e' to indicate plurality. My spellchecker wants to change it to end in an 'e' but I really would rather to stick to the way that I have always spelt it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Really Easy Bread

I used to think that making bread would be too difficult and time consuming so it wasn't until earlier this year that I really gave it a go. In the past I had made a couple of attempts that didn't go so well but now I'm really on to it and it turns out that it is so easy! That is why today I am posting the most basic bread recipe I have (I actually thought I had already put it in here but I guess not!), which is made even easier and completely foolproof by using instant yeast. The recipe came from another blog (which I actually still have the details of for once, it's called Farmgirl Fare), but I have changed it slightly since then. I have only just started using the instant yeast because the only store at which I could find the fresh stuff in the city centre has closed down. It seems to work so much better that I think I will stick to it. Sure, maybe it has improvers in it but why should that matter? I often add my own improvers, like vitamin C, so I don't mind that it is already in there. The dough of this bread is amazing to knead, it is so soft that you could just keep going all day (only you shouldn't because that is not so good for the texture of the final product!). Everybody should have a go at baking bread so I hope my recipe might inspire somebody at some point!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mashed Potato Challenge

So awhile ago I came across a blog that had been a part of another blog's group challenge, at which time I found out about all these other blogs that have little link-up parties everyweek, so that everybody can share recipes and get more traffic at the same time. So the most of them you just post something once a week, anything, but there is this one that is a set challenge, a monthly challenge to find a recipe that is somehow really new, make it and post about it. So I joined up!


Friday, November 4, 2011

The Most Amazingly Chocolatey Biscuits in the World

These biscuits are from a recipe that I first found in a recipe book that belonged to one of the girl's that I lived with in my second year of university. I can't remember what their original name is but I call them brownie cookies because they are just like chocolate brownie, in biscuit form. I had to change the recipe a bit - the original was mixed together in a very odd order and the batter was a bit too runny. It is still a very soft cookie mixture, more like batter than dough, so for this post I have included pictures so that it is a proper how-to guide. Now it turns out that although I was baking amazingly chocolate cookies because I have a friend who loves chocolate as much as me, he is not at work to share with today. Not only that but I forgot all about the time difference and have just realised that it is already my birthday in New Zealand! So I guess these can be my birthday treat for the day, which gives me an excuse to eat too many of them!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Warming Winter Meals

This week I am surviving on pasta bake and vegetable soup, both of which I made enough of over the weekend to keep me going for awhile. I had a lot of pumpkin to make use of (and I have still more!) so I am very vegetarian this week, and below I will try to approximate my vegetable pasta bake, although I can't quite remember what proportions I used. I tend to just add stuff until no more will fit but I know a lot of people are not comfortable with just making it up as they go along. It's a great sort of thing for the winter, pasta bakes are sort of like stews and lasagne in that they are warm and filling and more-ish; perfect for the end of a long day at work. They are very re-heatable as well, so you can put portions in the fridge or freezer and have a ready-made meal waiting for you when you get home. Not only is it choc-full of a variety of vegetables, but it's topped off by a creamy cheese sauce, which is what one of my flatmates used to do in my second year of uni and we would always be fighting over the leftovers, it was just so good!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

More halloween food!

Well halloween and the long weekend is over, but I made the most of it and finished it off in the best way possible, which is with food! I first made pumpkin pie a few years ago, in my 3rd year of university I think. I had a friend that loved to cook and bake, just like me, and she had some great ideas. This was one of them, I don't know where her recipe came from but it was so amazing that it converted me into a promoter of adding pumpkin and spice to everything imaginable! I tried to make it here in Ireland once before and it didn't work that well but now I have the trick of working with these bland Irish pumpkins - mash them and strain all the water out! I wasn't sure if it would work but the pie turned out well so I reckon I'm on the right track. All the recipes for pumpkin stuff on the internet call for cans of pumpkin puree, or even pumpkin pie filling, spice included! This is very different to how things are done where I am from, where we generally make everything from scratch, so my recipe includes how to make your own puree, and I have included my recipe for sweet pastry as well.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My first ever blondies ...

I had never heard of blondies as a child, in fact even chocolate brownies were not something that I really remember having until I started baking myself. I think both brownies and blondies might be an american creation, but now the rest of the world has adopted them. Only most people over here assume that blondies are white chocolate, whereas actually they are no-chocolate and you use brown sugar to make a caramell-y cake slice. Somehow I had never got around to doing this before but it has been on my list for years. So this week's baking was blondies with a seasonal kick in the form of blackberries. I saw this on the internet once, blackberry blondies, and the blackberries were sitting on top and looking really good, but mine sank through the batter so I guess the ones I saw must have been baked in two parts. They were still really yum though, this recipe is definately a keeper. They were moist and sticky and sweet.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Irish Food: Stew and Potatoes!

This week is so busy at work that I spent Sunday cooking so that I would have food to eat all week when I finally make it home in the evening. The menu for the week, as well as the soup of the previous post, features beef stew and colcannon, which is Irish mashed potatoes. The stew is not really Irish stew because it has no beer or red wine in it, but I think it still counts. I prefer it with just beef stock, and I used sweet potato instead of normal potatoes because I like them better. But to be a traditional Irish stew it should have normal potato and some of the stock should be replaced by beer (Guinness or some other stout would be best) and red wine. As for the colcannon, I have had this made for me on St Paddy's day by an Irish friend and then to make my own had a quick look on the internet. This dish features kale, which is cabbage but has curly leaves and is much more mild than normal cabbage. I'm sure you can get it everywhere else too but maybe it is only called kale here? So for a warming winter meal keep on reading because it all turned out really delicious!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Simple Sunday Soup

This week's pot of soup is intended to make the most of my sad, tasteless pumpkin and to keep me fed throughout this cold and rainy week. If your pumpkin soup needs a bit of a kick, or for some odd reason you don't like pumpkin, combining it with sweet potato is the answer. The sweet potato taste mostly takes over and adds sweetness. I have included bacon because it goes great in pumpkin soup and I figured the addition of sweet potato doesn't negate this fact. Finally, the soup is curried because I always found curry powder to be a great addition to pumpkin soup. I was at a restaurant last week and they were serving pumpkin and ginger soup, so I figured I'd try that even though I'm not a big fan of ginger. It worked out real nice with the sweetness of the potato. Plus, over the dreary winter months, you should do your best to include lots of garlic and ginger in your food because they are both really great for your immune system and will help to keep you free from colds.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Eggs for Breakfast

So what do you do when you have a bowl of egg yolks in the fridge after using all the whites in a cake or pavlova? You make scrambled eggs for breakfast! I've never been one for eating eggs or meat in the morning but on the weekend when you stay in bed till lunchtime it's far more appealing. I had a dozen egg yolks in the fridge and I figured that all that cholesterol should be manageable now with my gallstones all gone so after cleaning up the huge mess I had left with my cake baking I made breakfast for me and my housemate (even if it's lunchtime it's still breakfast if it's the first thing you have eaten that day). Afterwards she told me that it was the strangest scrambled egg she'd ever had, in a good way, so I figured that maybe I would share my interesting recipe. See, I don't much like ordinary scrambled egg and only ever have it when I have lots of leftover yolks from something else. I know that a lot of people are anti-egg-yolk and you can make omelettes and stuff with egg-white only but it's really not so bad to eat egg yolk sometimes I'm sure, so long as you have a balanced diet what's the problem? So for those that are not anti-egg-yolk, perhaps you would like to try my mostly yolk scrambled eggs. They have a very different taste and are much creamier than the usual scrambled egg.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

An ecosystem in cake form

This weeks baking was a belated birthday cake, decorated as per request with mackerel and phytoplankton. With the addition of the ocean, sky and sunshine I had created a sugary and somewhat fattening ecosystem, which I have a picture of to share with you but sadly I did not take pictures of the cake that lay beneath the frosting. You will just have to take my word for it that it looked good and tasted amazing. The flavour was also requested and it was named by the many appreciative tasters, so following is my recipe for toffee-apple cake. It seems very long and complicated but it really is not at all difficult to make a yummy cake, I just like to talk a lot. If you can sift through my rambling you will see that the instructions are actually really simple.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Problem with Irish Pumpkins

It is finally pumpkin season here in Ireland and to be sure of getting good produce I stopped by the market over the weekend and made sure to ask if these pumpkins were good for eating and not just carving. Of course, I couldn't entirely trust the man selling the vegetables seeing as in my experience Irish people have no idea how to cook pumpkin, eat pumpkin nor what pumpkin should taste like. Is it like this everywhere on this side of the world? Is this why pumpkin goes into pie and muffins but is not roasted and eaten on its own?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

More Muffins

It turns out that this week was national baking week in the UK and also national chocolate week so it's rather fitting that I was planning a big day of baking for the weekend. While stuck in hospital with nothing to do I was watching cooking shows on the tele and there was one that I had never seen before but was really good, called the Great British Bake-off, and I have now found it on the internet so I can steal all the recipes. They did these finger buns, like what we at home in NZ call boston buns, with white icing on the top, and cream and jam in the middle. I have to make those one day! They looked so good! None of that was this inspiration for today's baking though, which has been planned for quite awhile anyway because I have been on a muffin craze lately. Today though I am taking a break from experimenting and sticking with an old, tried and true recipe. These are what my friend's mum used to make sometimes for lunch, and perhaps chocolate muffins are not a good lunch but we didn't care then and I don't much care now. A basket of muffins makes a great lunch. This recipe is from a great muffin book by Alison Holst, it's the second of it's kind and called 'More Marvellous Muffins'. I really hope they work nicely because sometimes my muffins don't and today I am teaching a friend who absolutely loves chocolate muffins.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Home-made Indian Food

Earlier this week I was at the grocery store and they had mangoes for less than 30 cents each - they were just so cheap that I had to buy them. Only then I had to figure out what to do with them. Somehow I landed on the idea of a mango curry, because I remember having something like that in my undergrad years at the food court in Dunedin's approximation of a shopping mall. It wasn't overly good Indian food and actually always left me feeling sort of sick, but I still loved that curry; it was sort of sweet and really creamy. So today I created my own version and then decided to have a go at making naan bread as well. I must say that the curry was much more successful than the bread, but it still wasn't a total failure. I'm not sure how healthy this meal is, coconut cream is high in saturated fat after all, but it definately can count as one or two of your 5+ a day.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lots of rain = lots of soup

So here I am talking about soup again but when you are stuck in such a rainy city as Galway it's the best thing to have when you get home all wet and cold. Currently it is raining a really misty drizzly sort of rain and it's been like this for days, since the weekend. It's not real rain, but it doesn't stop. Not only that but Galway is windy so my umbrella was one of the many to join the umbrella graveyard around the trash bin at the university entrance (it spread to the general vicinity of the bin because the bin had already filled up with broken umbrellas). Luckily I didn't buy that umbrella but found it hanging off of the banister outside my apartment, and I only took it after it had been there for days so I know that nobody was going to claim it. They can't now anyway, it's broken. And even luckier for me, I found another umbrella just yesterday, a nice one with pink flowers. Hopefully it will stand up to the wind. But even with an umbrella keep a part of you dry by the time you have gotten home from work (even when it is only a 10 minute walk) your pant legs are wet and your shoes have leaked water so soup is really necessary.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Lemon & Basil Pasta

This evening's meal is inspired by something I think I saw on the internet. See, I remember reading about pasta and basil but have no idea when or where. So I went through my file or recipes to try and couldn't find it, then I went to google and had a look at a couple or recipes. They all seemed to feature a basic cream sauce but I was looking for something lighter. Then I decided to not bother with recipes and just make it up like I always do. It's really awful weather here today, after going out to get groceries it was quite clear that today is a stay-inside day, so it's time to cook something.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sweet Potato Snacks

Where I'm from, sweet potato is called kumara and it is the yummiest vegetable. It's so good it shouldn't even be classed as a vegetable. I remember being small and not liking it, but I'm not sure that I ever even really tried it. Or maybe I really didn't like it and my taste-buds changed. I know I like far more than I used to and sweet potato is definitely one of them. I was actually surprised to find them here in Ireland, but pleased because I far prefer them to normal potato. At home there are two varieties, red and gold, and they are great for baking, roasting, mashing, including in soups and of course making chips and wedges out of. You can also use them for sweets, just like pumpkin. So at some point I must attempt a sweet potato pie and maybe I should try them in muffins?

Chocolate Bread!

I am trying really hard to go back to the once-a-week baking rule, but it's so hard now that the weather is cold. Plus work is so boring all I do is think about food! It's terrible, it's really true! I get bored at work and start thinking of what I can cook or bake that day, or if that day is already planned I will go on and plan the next day or the week, I'll write a shopping list and look at recipes. Then I begin writing my next planned blog post, so at work I will write about the food I will be making that evening and then as I cook I will fill in the recipe detail and add a photo. Right now I am at work and should be concentrating on something else! Instead I am looking forward to baking bread this evening, because that way I get to bake but it doesn't break the rule. It really doesn't, like any other bread there is very little fat and sugar, just enough for the yeast to thrive. Yet it is chocolate bread! I'm not sure how chocolatey it will taste, it just has a little cocoa in it, but I imagine it will make really good toast.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Chicken Soup (on a warm day!)

Galway is still having oddly fine weather, in between bouts of cold and rain. The sky is blue and it's 15 degrees out (that's celsius). Yet I have a cold, they have been going around and now it's my turn, apparently. Still, it's a great opportunity to take the afternoon off of work and treat myself to chicken soup! I haven't made chicken soup in years, I always go for vegetables these days, or a packet of soup because by the time you are sick you don't always have the energy to make something from scratch. So the next few pots of soup that I make will be chicken; I have no fall-back recipe so it's time to try a few different ones.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Apple Surprise Muffins

Awhile ago I got an email from a friend that I used to live with and she said that she remembered coming home after class to find that I had been baking weird and random muffins again, which reminded me that I did used to experiment with muffins a lot more. These days I seem to be obsessed with biscuits but muffins are so great for sharing, and a batch doesn't make too many so they are consumed quickly (and not left lying around, tempting me to eat more of them).Though half my muffin recipes are probably closer to cupcakes, I still intend to revisit them all until I have them immortalised on the internet. However, for today I am going with a brand new recipe in my attempt to create true muffins - as in healthy, bread-like muffins without loads of fat and sugar.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Shepard's Pie

Whether you know it as shepard's or cottage pie, this is an amazing dish. How can it get better than a rich, meaty filling covered in gravy and covered in mashed potato? Unless you are vegetarian of course. But even then you could just use a substitute, there's no need to miss out! Apparently it was originally called a cottage pie; it was a dish of the poor that could use up leftover meat and potato. Some say that shepard's pie is the same made with mutton instead of beef but I reckon that is probably a bit of a myth. Back home I grew up calling it shepard's pie no matter what type of meat you use. There are a million different ways that you could make this and below is my own version, but like everything can be adapted.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

So many bananas!

I currently have about a dozen ripe bananas sitting in my freezer, waiting for me to bake with them.  You know when you buy a bunch of bananas but they begin to get spotty and black before you have the time to eat them all? This happens to me and my flatmate quite a lot; to me because I only like to eat them when they are yellow and firm and as soon as they are getting soft I don't want them anymore. But I can't just bake as soon as the bananas are over-ripe because then I would end up baking (and eating the baked goods) far too often. The answer is to do why my mother always did and chuck them in the freezer (with the skins on, that is)! I remember once when I was much younger finding a plate in the freezer (seriously, a dinner plate, in the freezer!) with a big pile of black bananas on it and nobody could remember how long ago that had been put in there. So I took them out and made a couple of big banana cakes, which are popular back home but not so common here. Today though I am not making cake, I am making banana bread.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More Soup ...

Amazingly enough, it is not actually soup weather here in Galway this week. We are having one last bout of mild weather before the winter really sets in - there was even some blue sky and sunshine! Nevertheless, I have been making soup, because I like soup no matter what the weather is doing. In concession to the nice(ish) weather this week's soup is green: it's light and sprightly and fresh, as if all the rain is due to it being spring and not autumn. Of course I for one can be optimistic because in New Zealand it is actually spring and when I arrive there it will be summer! A real summer, in which there should be no need for hot soup. I do not actually plan my soup (and other food) around the weather though, I was planning on making this anyway. Traditionally pea soup seems to be made with dried split peas, but I wanted to use frozen ones which I was hoping would taste more like fresh peas, so I had a look about at recipes and there are of course loads out there. Not that I bothered to follow a recipe, soup doesn't really need one anyway.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Quinoa-stuffed Peppers

Today is a very exciting day in the blogger part of my life, because I got three comments! I don't get many of those, it always really brightens my day. So despite the dark, cloudy sky and cold rain outside my window, my day is bright enough and I am feeling verbose so it is a great time to procrastinate and write about food! To be exact, the meal that I have made myself for tonight's dinner, which was really well needed after going out running in this cold, miserable weather! I'm also giving into the baking bug and whipping up some cookies, because I have these apples, too many apples, and I struggle to eat fruit just as it is so I like to turn it into stuff, even though it is then no longer very healthy and guilt-free. Oh well. Later this week I will make apple muffins but for now I am making apple cookies, which I have posted about once before, but that time I used white chocolate, while this time they are chocolate-less (oh no!) and full of sultanas instead. It's not really breaking the once-a-week rule though, because these cookies are for a reason - to make sure that I am in the good-books with my technicians here at work.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Orange Chicken Casserole

This week's meal to keep me going a few days is a casserole, because that is what the weather calls for. I had a recipe for chicken cacciatore but then I decided that I didn't feel like a tomato based sauce so I went back to the old standby of making things up. I've always liked putting orange with chicken and I love gravy, but my sauce ended up much richer than a simple gravy. Not to mention more full of vegetables than chicken. Now what I would like to go with it is mashed potato but I have no potatoes so for now I will have to settle for rice. My bottle of awful white wine is finally all used up, and the next time that I make this I will leave the wine out and see how it is with a milder sauce. Maybe add chunks of potato to help thicken up the sauce. Casseroles and stews are great because they are so easy, you just throw everything into the one pot and leave it to cook for a couple of hours. By the end of which the house should be warm and full of cooking smells and the cold outside kept at bay for the evening.

Orange Chicken Casserole

500 grams chicken pieces (or more if your casserole dish is big enough)
1 brown onion
1 red pepper
2 large carrots
1 cup white wine (or another cup of chicken stock)
1 cup chicken stock
Juice of 1 orange
2-3 tablespoon bisto powder (or cornflour)
1 tablespoon dried mixed herbs (anything that includes thyme, sage and marjoram will be good)
Salt and pepper

Turn the oven on toabout 180 degrees fan bake. While it is heating chop all the vegetables into chunks and if you are trying to be healthy take the skin off of the chicken. Then throw it all into a big casserole dish (at least 2 litres) and sprinkle the herbs and thickener (bisto or flour) over the top.

Pour the liquids over and pop the dish into the oven, uncovered. It should take about two hours for the sauce to get nice and thick, during which time you can prepare your sides of whatever - potato, rice, pasta, vegetables. I had mine with brown basmati and brocolli but potato would have been good. When it seems done season it with salt and pepper if you need to, and you should have enough to feed at least three.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Raisin Bread

When it comes right down to it, while I love bread, I don't really eat that much of it. A good sandwhich on thick soft bread can be great, but when I make bread I find that it is never light and fluffy like the stuff that you buy; while it is nice enough and fine for sandwhiches I generally prefer to buy bread. I save bread-making for things that are a bit more special, not just plain every-day bread. Of course, generally my something-special is actually something-sweet, and I dont' really see much point fighting it so why not just focus on making sweet breads? I've always loved spicy fruit breads, like hot-cross buns and fruit toast. I have tried and had success with hot-cross buns, and for ages I have had this recipe for raisin bread, so I figured it was finally time to try it. Only the first time a tried it a couple of weeks ago it was just about ready to go in the oven when a friend called and suggested the cinema. So off I went, hoping that the oven timer would do it's job and turn the oven off. But what would you know, I was not using the bloody thing correctly! It wasn't just me either, my housemate got muddled up too, it was just not obvious whether it was being set to hours or minutes! Luckily I have had worse food disasters. While the bread was terribly hard on the outside after being baked for 2 hours, the inside was OK and still made good toast.

Now though, on the second attempt, I have decided that this is a perfect fruit-bread recipe, it really is just like what we used to buy when I was a kid. It has to be toasted though, that is the best part. You throw it in the toaster and then spread it with a bit of butter or marg and it soaks into the bread and it is so yummy. Plus it is not really bad for you, it is just bread, hardly any sugar, just lots of raisins. It was easy to make too. Unfortunately I can't for the life of me remember where the recipe came from, and I think it was another blog so that's really terrible that I am just stealing it like that. But in my defence, I have changed the recipe ever so slightly, so it is sort of mine now?

Raisin Bread

1 cup (250 mL) warm water
2 teaspoons dried yeast/10 grams fresh yeast (I used fresh but the recipe originally called for dry)
1/4 cup (55 grams) brown sugar
2 cups (300 grams) strong white flour
1/2 cup (about 80 grams) rolled oats
2 500mg vitamin C tablets
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (170 grams) raisins

* The original recipe called for 1 1/2 cups white flour, 1 cup brown flour, but I had no brown flour so decided to throw oats in, to make up for the otherwise lack of whole-grain. It also called for 2 teaspoons of bread improver and I read that vitamin C is a bread improver. I'm not sure if it is even necessary but it did not harm, so if you have some sort of improver why not throw it in?

For bread, unlike other baking that I do, I always weigh the ingredients instead of trusting to my measuring cups. Which is why I have all the weights in accurately for once instead of just guessing them. As always with bread you begin by making sure that the yeast is active, by placing it in a small bowl together with the warm water and sugar. Only I read that tap water is not neccesarily the best thing for yeast, especially hard water such as what we have here in Galway. So I always boil the kettle and then let the water cool to body temperature and use that. After a few minutes you will know that your yeast is active because you will get frothy bits on the surface of the liquid, and this is called sponging I think.

While the yeast and liquid are sitting for a few minutes, weigh out all your dry ingredients (not including the raisins) and mix them together in a big bowl. Slowly add the liquid to this and mix it gently until it is all incorporated. At this point you may find that the dough is not at all dough yet, but a sticky mixture. That's OK though, I think the recipe just had not quite enough flour in it. Simply coat your clean bench with lots of flour, tip the mixture out, coat your hands in even more flour and begin kneading. The first time around I found that I needed about two good handfuls of flour to get a nice consistency to the dough, but the second time it just needed a little sprinkling every now and then when the dough got too sticky. It should be a little sticky, sort of tacky, but able to be handled without leaving bits of mixture all over your fingers.

Knead the dough for 10 minutes and then return to the mixing bowl and cover. Let it rise until it is double in size, which might take an hour or might take two. Here in Galway the weather is getting cold pretty fast, and my bread is taking much longer to rise than it used to. Eventually though, the bread will have risen enough and it is then time to turn it back out onto the bench and knead it down. It is at this point that you attempt to knead the fruit into the dough and you will find that it is not so easy - this is a very resistant bread dough! Eventually though the fruit will be distributed through the bread. You really should try to keep the second kneading to less than 5 minutes because too much and your bread will be tough.

Take a loaf tin, about 10 cm by 20 cm, and grease it well.  Shape your dough into a log and stuff it into the tin, and let it rise again for 30 minutes or so. While it is rising turn the oven on to 220 degrees celsius.

If you want a nice soft crust, brush a bit of milk over the top of the dough, or even whisk together an egg yolk with some milk and brush that over. Bake for 10 minutes in the hot oven and then reduce the temperature to 180 degrees and bake until it is cooked through and a nice toasted-brown colour on the outside, about 30 minutes. Bread is always best if you leave it to sit for awhile, it will cook a little more in the middle. Fruit bread is delicious toasted!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Warm soup in cold Galway

Well here in Galway there is no need to look out the window before getting dressed for the day because it will undoubtably be cold and wet. Summer barely arrived and has now gone for good, and the clouds will probably not lift until next May. The only true answer to this dreariness would be to go find some tropical island on which I could spend the day lying in the sand, but that sadly is pure fantasy and I must settle for grey skies for another couple of months. At this time of year my thoughts seem to revolve around nice warm food and I would prefer to spend my days in the kitchen than at work. However, the dire state of my bank account does not currently allow me to go cooking-mad, and it's not like I have hordes of hungry people to feed, so for now I will settle for soup. Soup is great: it is easy, it is cheap, it can be an entire meal, you can freeze it for later, you can add lots of flavours or make do with just a couple of vegetables that have been hanging out in the cupboard for ages. It's also a really easy way to get in lots of the vegetables that you need, especially at this time of year when the variety of summer is not so easily available.

So this week's pot of soup (actually I don't have a really big soup pot, I would really like one) is pumpkin, though here in Ireland all I can get is butternut, which is not quite the same but pretty close. For just a simple pumpkin soup you can just boil it up, along with onion and bacon and whatever else you want for flavour, and then process it till it's smooth. For this soup though you first roast the ingredients, which tends to give it a slightly different flavour. The first time I made it I used wild bacon, which turned out to be much saltier than I was expecting, so after a bowl of soup you were left really thirsty. I like salt though, so I didn't mind. Soon it will be October and for a brief few weeks there will be real pumpkins in the supermarket! I have loads of pumpkin recipes so keep an eye out if you, like me, love pumpkin. Even if you don't, you should try it, because it's one of those amazing vegetables that is really good for you, with all sorts of vitamins and minerals and anti-oxidants, not to mention it may have anit-diabetic, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties. It is really good roasted and savoury, but even better in a sweet dish like pie or muffins.

Roast Pumpkin Soup

1 butternut squash or 1/2 grey pumpkin
1 brown onion
4 cloves garlic
*200 grams bacon

Thyme, oregano and rosemary - about one teaspoon each if dried, a bit more if fresh
Olive oil

Heat the oven to about 180 degrees celsius.

Chop the squash or pumpkin and the onion into large chunks, and roughly chop the garlic. Toss the chopped pumpkin and onion together with the garlic, herbs and oil (just enough oil to coat them nicely, maybe a couple of tablespoons?). If you have bacon and want some extra protein in your soup, chop this up and throw it in with the pumpkin. Keep in mind though that bacon is salty, so you may not need extra salt later. Not to mention that processed pig meat has carcinogenic properties and nobody should eat too much of it.

Spread the whole lot out in a roasting dish and place in the oven until the pumpkin is soft and browned, maybe 20 or 30 minutes, depending on how large the chunks are.

If you have a big food processor, you could at this point throw all your roasted vegetables into that along with a couple of cups of boiling water and give it a good whizz, and then all it will need is a bit of salt and pepper and you're finished!

However, I do not have a big food processor, so if you don't either use a saucepan like I do. Move the roasted pumpkin into a large saucepan. Pour water over until it covers the pumpkin, maybe a couple of cups. Of course, it depends how thick you want your soup to be, and you can always add more water later. I didn't add it to the ingredients above, as it is entirely optional, but if you like you can also sprinkle a chicken stock cube into the water, if you like nice strong flavours, though if you are adding bacon you really won't need it. Use your stick-blender to make it nice and smooth, and bring your soup to the boil. Season with salt and pepper as you like and you're done!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Childhood treats from NZ

Today we're going to take a trip down memory lane while I share with you something that all kiwi kids love, and everybody else loves after I have shared it with them: chocolate fudge-cake. It's really simple, the type of thing that children themselves will learn to make. There are loads of different recipes out there and I myself never actually made this as a child, only when I moved overseas and wanted to make treats for friends. Did I mention that it is unbaked? I should have sooner because that is one of the great things about this. It's really good if you want to make something desserty and have no oven on hand! It uses crushed plain biscuits, which in NZ are called Wine biscuits for some reason but here in Ireland the closest thing I can find is Tea biscuits. Some recipes call for eggs, some for condensed milk and some for normal milk. I have read comments about not wanting to use eggs because they're not really cooked, and could give you salmonella. Now, I'm afraid to tell you this, all you people that read magazines and the internet and just assume them to be knowledgeable, trustful sources, but this is not really true. I mean, if the chicken has salmonella, then you may not want to eat the egg raw. There is not much point anyway, unless it is for a specific dish, seeing as you actually get much more protein from cooked egg than raw egg. The risk of salmonella in an egg is incredibly low and even if you did have a raw egg that had the bacteria in it, you might not be infected as your immune system is actually pretty good at its job. If you buy clean, uncracked eggs and keep them in the fridge, you should be right. Yet, despite the fact that I think it unlikely that you would get salmonella from eating fudge-cake made with eggs, my own recipe from my friend's mum (my second family really) uses milk, so there is nothing to worry about!

Chocolate Fudge Cake

250 grams plain biscuits
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 cup milk
125 grams butter
125 grams sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts (this is not absolutely required, and at home people often use walnuts, which I don't even like)
*Mini marshmallows (my own addition, to make it sort of like rocky road)
*Chocolate icing
-1 cup icing sugar
-3 tablespoons cocoa powder (or a bit more if you like it dark)
-1 tablespoon butter
-2 tablespoons boiling water

Prepare a rectangle slice tin, like a swiss roll tin or something, by greasing it well or lining it with non-stick baking paper.

Melt the butter and sugar together in a pan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.

Let this mixture cool and then add the cocoa, vanilla and milk.

Crush the biscuits (a food processor makes this much easier). You want some of it to be crumbs but some still in chunky pieces. Add to the biscuits the nuts, and if you want the marshmallow version add those now too, and combine it all as well as you can.

Pour the chocolate mixture over and mix well. Press it into the prepared tin and chill it until it is hard.

The general thing to do in NZ is to then ice it with chocolate icing, which may seem sort of like overkill but it really isn't. Plain chocolate icing is really easy. You simply sift your icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl, place your dollop of butter on the top, pour the boiling water over and give it a good beat!

Monday, September 19, 2011

A great big chocolate cake

When I think of a great big chocolate cake, my mind immediately turns to the story Matilday by Roald Dahl. There is a scene in which a chubby boy has been accused of stealing a slice of the Trunchball's special chocolate cake, and as punishment he is forced to eat a huge one all on his own, in front of the school. While the book does a great job at describing it, it cannot really conjure up an image of the amazingly huge, dark, gooey cake that is shown in the movie. It is that mouthwatering image that I always aim for when I make a chocolate cake. I don't think I have every quite achieved it though. However, this cake is in general a huge favourite. On this occasion there was a big housewarming party/weekend away for which I was asked to help with the baking. I'm not sure if I was really required, most people can bake, but I think many people see it as a chore, whereas I find it fun. So it was a treat for me, and saved others the hassle. I am going to spread out the deliciousness though, so today I am only going to tell you about the cake. The massive cake. We doubled the recipe and used my largest tin, 25 cm diameter. It really was over-the-top, and while a nice big cake looks good and gets lots of comments, they tend to not get eaten when everybody is drinking and partying. So we had to work on it the next day.

Now, the thing about a mudcake is the recipe will often call for coffee, because coffee is used to enhance the flavour of chocolate. Only the first time I ever made a mudcake I was quite young and got somewhat confused at the point where I was supposed to add a cup of coffee. The recipe didn't specify hot, liquid coffee you see, and they usually don't. It just said '1 cup instant coffee'. So I took a guess and filled up my measuring cup with instant coffee. Needless to say, the cake was not good. It was sort of grainy and crunchy and tasted only of coffee. Of all my kitchen disasters, this was the only one bad enough to cause a sleepless night, but I think that may be something to do with the amount of caffiene in a single piece. I learnt my lesson very well though, and these days make a very good mudcake. The coffee is not even entirely neccessary, on this occassion I had none and made do without; the cake was not quite as rich and dark as usual but was still a big hit.

Chocolate Mudcake

1 cup buttermilk
150 grams butter
250 grams chocolate (at least 50% cocoa solids, more if you like)
1 cup strong, hot coffee (or just water)
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla essence
Chocolate ganache:
-400 grams chocolate (whatever you like, milk, dark, white, it's all good)
-1 1/2 cups cream

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease the tin that you want to use. A round tin of about 20 cm diameter should do the trick. The mixture is very runny so if you use a springform tin line it well! Last time I did not heed my own warning and the mixture went everywhere! To stop it burning and making an awful smell I had to take the cake out of the oven once it had cooked enough to stop leaking everywhere and scrape away all the cake from the tray (because I had at least though to put a tray under the cake tin), and then quickly put the cake back before the middle sunk. And then I ate all the scraped up bits of course. But to get to the point - for this cake line the inside of a springform tin with baking paper, a single sheet pressed down that comes all the way up the sides, and also maybe wrap tin-foil around the outside for just in case.

So to continue - in a saucepan combine the chocolate, butter and coffee and heat until the chocolate and butter are melted and smooth.

Beat the eggs (they don't need to be separated) and then mix this into the chocolate mixture. Do the same for the milk. I know a lot of cakes ask for the milk and flour to be added bit by bit alternately, but that isn't really necessary here.

Sift the dry ingredients into the batter and mix well. If your flour has its own raising agents leave out the baking powder! When the batter is all mixed well together (I know you are not meant to overmix a cake, but you still need to give it a good mix. Where is the line to be drawn?!) Pour it into the prepared tin (that you should then place on a tray, even if it is not a springform tin, just in case it overflows, though I hope that it doesn't).

Bake for about 1 hour, until a skewer or fork inserted into the middle comes out clean! Let the cake cool for awhile before trying to remove it from the pan, and then let it cool completely before frosting. This was my first time using a gas oven and I think it was a lot hotter than a realised, because the top of the cake got very dark! It's all good though, when it cooled I sliced off the top and nobody was the wiser!

As for the frosting: this simple ganache is really easy. Simply break the chocolate up into a saucepan and pour the cream over. Heat gently and stir until the chocolate is all melted and the mixture smooth. Cool the mixture, which will become sort of thick. You don't want it to be runny or it will simply run off the cake, so give it about an hour to cool, until  you can see that it will stay where you put it. You can pour it over a cake while it is still slightly warm, or let it cool a bit further and then spread it. If you want it to be fluffier, like frosting, beat it slightly. It should be pipe-able too. The best thing to do for this cake is to use a long knife or piece of cotton to cut the cake into two halves, sandwhich them back together with ganache and then spread more ganache on top. Back home we always used to spread the middle with rasberry jam too. This time I sprinkled rasberries and blueberries over the middle and then more over the top.

So to follow on from the massive chocolate overdose - more chocolate! In NZ we have a treat that we call chocolate fudge cake, of which similar things are known by other names in other countries. For this occasion we turned it into rocky road by adding nuts and marshmallows, which I will post about tomorrow. Then, to give our poor tummies a rest from all that chocolate, there were vanilla cupcakes, with chocolate chips of course!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A bad bottle of wine

A few weeks ago, ages ago now actually, I won pub quiz with some friends (for the first time every!) and the prize was not very amazing, and included a very cheap bottle of wine. So what do you do when you know that this particular bottle of wine doesn't taste very nice anyway and will only make you very sick if you try to drink it? You cook with it of course! But really, how much can you cook with wine? Normally you would use a little wine in the food and then drink the rest. So what do I do with a whole bottle of wine? How long will it stay good enough to cook with, and how good does that have to be anyway? Well, I opened it ages ago now, and made a risotto, but there was still so much left! I started searching for more things to make an came across loads of recipes, but the difficulty is then to have people to cook for. Not to mention that I'm currently too broke to be experimenting with food and buying nice things. I did try one new thing though (and I hope that the wine is still good for something more next week).

I was intending on making pasta you see, because I am trying to stick to a low fat diet until my little gallstone problem is gone, and pasta with a tomato sauce is relatively healthy. I generally use the same old spaghetti sauce recipe, but in order to make use of this wine I have finally branched out. And now I have two good recipes to pull out over and over again, because this particular pasta sauce turned out really well! It was thick and rich and just a little sweet. I think I found it on the website, because when it comes to food magazines I can't help but be a little patriotic. So I will share the foodie-ness for all those that have a bad bottle of wine in the fridge, seeing as I seem to be only writing about sweets lately (of which there will be a fair amount to say next week, seeing as for the weekend I am pretending that I am not on any sort of diet).

Tomato Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 finely chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or chopped finely
1 medium carrot, diced up really small
1/2 red capsicum/bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
400 gram can tomatoes
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper to season

So of course you begin by taking a largish saucepan and heating the oil in it. Add the onion and garlic and stir for awhile, until they are soft.

Now add the carrot and capsicum and keep on stirring for a few minutes.

Stir in the tomatoe paste, tomatoes, wine and sugar. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 or 20 minutes, just until the sauce is nice and thick (and while it is simmering you can get your pasta cooked).

Season with salt and pepper, and if you have something like fresh basil throw that in too if you like, though I found it entirely unnecessary.

I really hope that the rest of the wine is OK sitting there in the fridge and that next week I can use it to make a stew or something. And that is enough for real proper food this week, watch this space for chocolatey goodness.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Belgian Food

So after two weeks in Belgium (missing my kitchen so much!), what do I have to say about Belgian food? Well, first of all, when you travel you will notice that locals always want you to try this and that but really, in Europe at least, local food is rarely as unique as the locals seem to think. No matter where you go there are pancakes, and potato pancakes, and after a lot of confusion due to the language difference you finally get it across that we actually have the exact same food at home. So I didn't bother with pancakes here, but was told I must try the fries. Why? Apparently they are something special and different. The truth - they are just fries. Belgium claims to be the real inventor of french fries, in Bruges there is even a musuem about it. But fried food is never really my cup of tea and these did not change my mind.

So of course everybody knows that Belgium is famous for chocolate. Certain cities especially have loads of little chocolate shops. But, as is to be expected with artisan, hand-made sweets, they are rather pricey. And there are no free samples. Of course, you don't even really need to try them, there is so much there that if you let yourself you would just make yourself sick. All you really need to do is step into a nice little chocolate shop and you will be overwhelmed by the wonderful smell of delicious chocolate. I did of course buy some as gifts and sample a little - it is good. If I had the money and the stomach capacity I would love to sample all of it, but I guess that will have to wait for another occasion.

Another properly famous item of Belgian gastronomy is the Belgian waffle, here in Mons known by the French word 'gaufre'. They are sold by street vendors and are really thick and sweet and cake-like. They coat them in sugar, which gets caramalised when they reheat them. Then if you like they cover them with sauce or cream. They are really good, but you can't even really make them yourself at home because those waffle-makers that you can buy do not make such thick waffles, they would never really turn out quite like this.

The last thing that deserves a mention is not strictly a Belgian speciality, I think they are sold in many places in this part of Europe. They are a type of cookie, and here at least are called 'speculoos'. On this side of the world  you often get a small individually wrapped cookie when you buy a cup of tea or coffee, and when I first had one they were so good I had to find out what they were! In English they are just called 'caramelised biscuits' but I looked up the brand name and found that they are speculoos, like gingerbread but with different spices and darker sugar. They are so yummy that I even looked up recipes and from there was born my recipe for Christmas cookies, which I am going to share today because they don't just have to be for Christmas and they are really yummy! Here you can get a spread of the same flavour, I haven't tried it yet but if it's good I'm sure it will get eaten really quickly!

Spiced Christmas Cookies

150 grams butter
1 egg
300 grams dark brown sugar
500 grams plain flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease or line a cookie tray.

As usual for cookies, cream the butter and sugar together as well as you can, then mix in the eggs and the spices. The flour must be added gradually, until it is quite a solid dough and you are having to knead it to mix more in. At this point it is time to turn your dough out onto a floured surface. Keep on kneading the flour in until it has all been incorporated, and the dough should be stiff and shiny.

Roll your dough out until it is about 5 mm thick and cut it into shapes (you could just cut rectangles if you have no cutters or if it is not Christmas time!). Now my recipe says to bake for 15 minutes but I'm not really sure how accurate that is. I would probably just go with it and if the first batch is overdone then cook the next for a shorter time but these should be quite solid and hard. After a day or two they will soften. And of course if these are for Christmas or some other occasion you may at this point want a recipe for the icing, like the one that I used in the image below!

Royal Icing

This is what you need to use to get shiny hard icing for decorating. It is very simple.

1 egg white
250 grams icing sugar

Simply sift the sugar over the egg white and mix it into a thick paste. It will be white and takes food colouring really well, giving you nice bright colour. It spreads and pipes easily and dries very quickly to give a shiny surface. It is very sweet though!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Chocolate Brownies!

Now this is the second time that I am baking this week, but it is OK, I am not really breaking the once-a-week baking rule because I am actually about to go to Belgium for two weeks where I will have no oven and baking gear. So I am making up for it in advance with a treat that I often used to make on the weekend. Chocolate brownies are hugely varied and I actually have several very different recipes for them but these are the classic ones. The recipe originally came out of the old Cadbury's Cookbook that I had at home, which was full of amazing recipes. I really must find that cookbook when I visit home. So these brownies are amazing in that they have no chocolate, only cocoa, but you would never know that to taste them. I get the feeling though that I have actually altered this recipe at some point, for one I think it originally used far less cocoa than I use, and maybe less eggs too. Of course this recipe is very adaptable, so while I have other recipes for different types of brownie if you want you can actually just take this one and add, say, melted chocolate to make it richer, or chunks of chocolate of different varieties, or leave out the cocoa and melt white chocolate into the mixture. Or leave out all chocolate, use brown sugar and make blondies. It is amazingly fast to make as well, there will be brownies ready in under an hour. So let's cut to the chase and just get on with the recipe.


3 eggs
1 1/2 cups (320 grams) white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
1/2 cup (60 grams) cocoa
180 grams melted butter
3/4 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

First of course you need to preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease your tin - I use a tin that is sort of like a swiss roll tin but a little deeper - it's about 20 by 30 cm and maybe 2 cm deep or so. A square cake tin with sides of 20 to 25 cm will do, or anything that you have and depending on the size you will have flat crispy brownie or fatter, softer brownie.

The mixing of this brownie is quite interesting, it doesn't use the creaming method. You can cream it though, just as normal you could begin with the butter (not melted though) and cream in the sugar, then add the eggs, then the dry ingredients. The mixture will have more air and seem larger and fluffier. But that is not how this recipe is and the original way is good and really easy.

So what you do is you start with the eggs in a large bowl and give them a quick whisk, you add the sugar and vanilla and beat that in as well as you can - this recipe is easily done by hand, no need for an electric mixer here. Sift in the cocoa and beat that in, then the melted butter and beat that in too. Finally sift in the flour and baking powder. If you are adding any melted chocolate or chunks of chocolate now is the time to do it.

Pour your mixture into the prepared tin (if you can for a moment stop eating it that is, because it's a really amazingly sweet and chocolatey mixture). Bake for half an hour to 50 minutes (depends how you like your brownie) - a skewer should come out clean. Now either eat while warm and gooey or let it get cold, it's good no matter what. Have with a glass of milk maybe. A cafe near to where I lived once used to heat up the slices of brownie and serve them with plain yoghurt, it was really good.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Apricot Cookies

The other week I ran into a friend, who introduced me to his friend, who turned out to also love baking and cooking! It was very exciting and we talked food, and now I have stolen his idea. He told me that he makes apricot and white chocolate cookies so here is my own version. Apricots are after all one of my favourite fruits, if I get my hands on a load of fresh ones I would eat them till I'm ill! These cookies are made with dried apricots though. My weekly baking has come a day early this week because I had technicians at work that needed buttering up, and I think cookies will help us all to get through Thursday a little easier. I took my usual chocolate chip cookie recipe and simply altered it slightly. For instance, apricots are very sweet so I decreased the sugar, and I stewed the apricots a little so to make up for the extra water I left out the egg. Then I added loads of vanilla. The result was a cookie dough that had a really amazing texture, perfect for rolling into balls, not too sticky or crumbly at all. I even managed not to begin eating them last night, they were all saved for work, because instead a lovely friend brought me tim-tams! So we spent the evening sewing and then relaxed with hot chocolate and tim-tams. I had forgotten how amazingly delicous they were - you just don't get anything that comes anywhere near comparing to them here in Ireland. I must be careful when I go back to NZ to not get fat because there is so much good food there!

However, now I am off topic so will get straight back to it for the recipe:

Apricot and White Chocolate Cookies

100 grams dried apricots
125 grams butter
1/2 cup white sugar (125 grams)
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
2 cups plain flour (300 grams)
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
100 grams white chocolate

To begin with you need to stew your apricots slightly, so chop them up and place them in a small pot with 1/4 cup (60 mL) water. Get them boiling and simmer gently for awhile, then if you have a stick-blender give them a quick whiz. If you don't, just leave them as they are, which is what I did. Now the next thing is you should really let them to cool a bit or they will melt your butter.

While the apricots are cooling preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius, grease a baking tray, and then cream together your butter and sugar. Of course, cookies will generally turn out OK no matter how you mix them so if you have no electric beater and cannot be bothered beating them so much by hand just mix as much as you can, so long as the butter is all mixed into the sugar.

Next you will add your apricots and vanilla essence to your butter mixture and give it a good stir, or a quick beat with the electric mixer. Then sift in your flour, baking powder and salt. If you have baking soda you could use half a teaspoon of that instead, it will make the biscuits spread more and give them a more golden colour and crispy texture. I had none. Now at this point you want to mix with a spoon because the beater will make a mess of flour everywhere. Just keep on mixing until all the flour is incorporated and the dough is really good and dough-like.

Lastly, it is time to add the chocolate. Chop it up to whatever sort of size you like, or use chips or buttons or something. Tip it into the mixture and mix well with your hands or a spoon. You should now have a soft but firm mixture (that is such an oxymoron but seriously, that is how it should be). Roll your mixture into small balls and press down slightly onto your greased tray. For me this mixture made 25 cookies! Bake each batch for 10 or 12 minutes and then enjoy!!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Stuffed Vegetables

So in an attempt to begin writing more about healthy food, and in doing so eat healthy food because I have not been eating so well today, I went back to a recipe that I first tried a few months ago when making arabic mezze for friends. After living in Abu Dhabi for a few months and enjoying the food there I was really missing such things so decided to make a whole lot of it myself, branch out from the usual hummus and carrots. One of the hits and my favourites of the night was peppers stuffed with a sweet spicy rice mixture. So last night I hunted through the cupboards and threw together as similar a dish as possible, and below I have given both the real recipe and my adaptation. I used brown rice as it is far better than the processed variety, and eggplant even though I'm still not sure that I really like it that much. I just eat it anyway. Incidentaly, it turns out that eggplant is not really a vegetable at all, it is more like a fruit, and classed as a berry, and related to deadly nightshade.

Filfil Rumi Mahsi - Arabic Stuffed Peppers

6 green bell peppers
100 grams pine nuts
2 large onions, chopped
1 1/4 cups long grain rice
Olive oil
1/2 cup sultanas
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped mint (optional)
1 tablespoon sugar

Heat the oil in a large pan and lightly fry the pine nuts and chopped onions. Then add the rice and stir for about 5 minutes. Then add the sultanas, a bit of salt and pepper and the sugar and on top of this pour about 2 cups of water (enough that it is about twice the depth of the rice and stuff). Now it must simmer until the water is absorbed.

When the water is absorbed stir in the lemon juice, mint and spices. I have never made this recipe using mint, but maybe it is good. It is good without it too though. Remove the pan from the heat and cover with a lid or tinfoil and just leave it until any last bits of liquid have been absorbed. Then leave it to cool right down.

Now you are ready to stuff your peppers (or whatever it is you are stuffing, aubergines and courgettes are also good). For peppers though, you must cut the top of and carefully take out the center with the seeds. Stuff each pepper with the rice mixture, loosely because if you pack it too tightly they will probably split in the oven. Place the top on the peppers and place them in an oven tray. Sprinkle the  peppers with salt and sugar if you want (I did not) and rub the peppers with a little oil.

Bake in the oven until they are tender. You will probably find that you have far too much rice for 6 peppers, I know that I did. It is yummy though so either stuff more peppers or just eat it!

This evening I did not quite make this, I adapted it somewhat to suit what I had in the cupboard. I stuffed aubergines (or eggplants as I would call them) and I used brown rice. I left out the onion because I had none and am not supposed to eat it anyway. Also I had no pine nuts so I used some almond flakes instead, and not an entire cup full because I did not have that much. I cut the eggplants in half lengthways and carefully took out the flesh from the middle, leaving nearly a centimetre thickness on the skin. I chopped the removed flesh up small and fried it up with the almonds and rice. As usual I did not use mint. So you see you can pretty much adapt this as you like, and also in the past I have made a similar dish with couscous or bulgar wheat.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Savoury Cheese Biscuits

So I have just moved apartment and had to bake something in order to try out the new oven. It seems to be a good one. And in order to not break the once-a-week baking wall I decided to do something savoury, because the rule really only applies to sweet things. But that is really just a huge excuse, it's not like these biscuits were healthy. Sure they have no sugar, but they do have a huge amoung of butter and cheese. So they should still be a sometimes-food and really are not to be eaten as easily as crackers. Of course they are actually really delicious and easy to eat so it's really hard to remember to stop eating them. Especially if there is a nice salsa to dip them in. Or if you just feel like eating. When I was much younger and taking over the cooking of Christmas dinner I had a Christmas themed cookbook and one of the snacks were cheese biscuits shaped like stars. They were a big hit, but this is not that recipe. That recipe is somewhere in NZ, hopefully in storage but maybe lost forever. Instead I had a look on google and in some other recipe books and put this one together, and then just fiddled with it until the consistency was right. I have noticed though that I am doing a huge amount of baking lately, and should probably be cooking more healthy food to write about because I do like to encourage people to eat vegetables. So I will work on that but I just have such a love of baking, I can't seem to stop!

Cheese Biscuits
(this is a really simple recipe by the way)

200 grams grated cheddar cheese
300 grams (2 cups) plain flour
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
150 grams butter
2 egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and have a biscuit tray ready. In a large bowl mix the dry ingredients with the cheese, then chop the butter into cubes and rub into the mixture until it is like bread crumbs. You may need a little more flour, two cups is roughly 300 grams but it depends sometimes. If the mixture is already like dough after the butter then you need more flour. It should be crumbly.

Now in order to make the mixture into a dough add the egg yolks and mix until it everything comes together nicely. If it seems too dry or crumbly you can of course add a little milk and if it is too wet add a little more flour. Then you need to sprinkle flour on  your nice clean bench so that you can roll the dough out, to about 5 mm thick. Then cut it into rectangles or use a cookie cutter to make shapes (like stars, or even better starfish).

Place your biscuits on a tray and bake for 15 minutes. This recipe should make loads, I think I made three and a half trays of biscuits, though perhaps not as many fit as usual due to the star shape. They were devoured pretty promptly, so I guess they must have been pretty good.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cinnamon Oysters

I just discovered that these were a New Zealand invention! So what a great choice to make this week. When I was young and Mum was just getting into weird fashion design stuff she entered the Bluff Oyster Festival Oyster Sack Fashion Show - which is making a piece of clothing from and oyster sack (plastic sacking), which I later got into for a brief stint before uni aswell. We were lucky enough to obtain clean sacks from a fishing company after the first year that she entered, when a friend and I had the misfortune to get sack cleaning duty, outside on a cold day with the hose. In order to thank the kind fishermen for their help we would make plates of cinnamon oysters to take down to them. Now I am making them again to say thank you to the dockmaster here in Galway, who last year spread the word that I was looking for samples of goose-barnacles and thanks to his help I managed to get everything that I needed. I have neglected the thank you gesture for far too long but now I will finally do it. Partially to encourage him to keep on spreading the word about looking for strandings of my study animal, but also because it is of course the proper thing to do. I was debating whether to make these or marine biology cookies with my new cookie cutters (a starfish, a scallop and a jellyfish, from ebay!). These one out because when it comes right down to it they are awesome, while cookies are just cookies.

So what exactly are cinnamon oysters? When I first mention them I often get weird looks and noises of disgust, which makes sense now that I know they are a kiwi thing. They of course are not oysters. They are small cinnamon sponges, baked in patty tins or bun tins or even better, oyster tins. So any flat little cake tin, muffin tins will do but they are too deep so do not have the right shape. Oyster tins are rounded, they have no flat bottom. You make your little sponges and when they are cool you cut them in half and fill with a blob of whipped cream, so it looks like an oyster with it's shell half open. Only I am not a huge fan of cream and it doesn't keep very well, which is important when you intend to take your baking to work the next day or for a walk down to the docks. So I have used a nice creamy buttercream instead, though of coures you can still use cream if you like. It is best though if you add the cream just before serving, and this little dish is really perfect for morning or afternoon tea. In my mind's eye trading the cream for buttercream will make cinnamon oysters a little like ginger kisses. But you know, on second thought maybe ginger kisses are a down-under treat too? And maybe I should attempt to make them? They are really soft, cake-like cookies that are sandwhiched together with vanilla buttercream. They are so amazing! So I am essentially making a cinnamon version, but they will still be oysters because they are sponge, definately not cookie, not even soft cookie, they are one little cake sliced in half and the buttercream is piped in as a bit of a blob, not spread on. So there you go, cinnamon oysters!

Cinnamon Oysters
A Kiwi classic from the Edmonds Cookbook

2 eggs
75 grams caster sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup
50 grams flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

First heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius and grease your oyster tins - or an alternative. I am using shallow bun tins and also muffin tins because I can't help but bake in bulk. Twelve just wouldn't be enough! Grease them well so that your oysters will pop out really easily. This recipe makes 12.

Beat the eggs and sugar until very thick. You will need an electric beater. Even better, a cake mixer because then your arm won't get sore! I beat the mixture for 5 minutes, maybe it needed to be more though, I'm not sure. The eggs will get thick and pale.

Add the golden syrup and beat again. Sift the dry ingredients over the mixture and fold them in gently. Put spoonfuls of the mixture into the tins. Pop the tins directly into the oven and bake for 12 minutes. After removing from the oven let the tins rest for about 5 minutes, then carefully turn the oysters out onto a tray. As soon as I put them in the oven they rose a lot, but then they sunk!

I don't know why, I will have to ask my Mum because they never used to sink. Maybe the oven was too hot, or the mixture not beaten enough, or the mixture mixed too much after the flour was added, or maybe they should just have baking powder as well as baking soda? I will have to try this again. Maybe it was just my bad luck - first time I ever made a sponge it sunk but the next time it was fine. So I don't know why they sunk and I hope that nobody else's sink but if they do that is OK, once they have cream inside nobody will notice.

Let them cool, they should be fully cold, and then carefully slice in half. Fill with cream or buttercream and dust the tops with icing sugar if you like (we always used to do this at home but it is not technically in the recipe).

Vanilla Buttercream

So this little recipe makes a very good buttercream frosting and is by far enough for a dozen cupcakes or to fill and ice a normal size cake.

100 grams butter
250 grams/1 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Up to 6 tablespoons (90 mL) milk

Using your electric beater, or mixing really really well by hand, cream the butter with the icing sugar (you need to sift the icing sugar of course). Add the vanilla essence and a bit of milk, continue beating. Add less milk if you want a stiffer frosting.