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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My new kitchen toy

For my birthday I was given kitchen equipment! Just on time too. A little while ago my piping bag burst, however it was not a very good set that I had anyway, just plastic. Now I have a nice new icing kit, but that's not all! It's one of those things that not only has frosting nozzles but also can be attached to little metal disks for making cookies with. I remember my Mum had one of these, a metal one, as well as a couple of really old metal icing sets, that had belonged to her mother. The icing part of it I've been doing since I was a kid but I never understood how the cookie thing worked. Now that I have my own the first thing I had to do was not decorate a cake or cupcake, but make cookies. I looked it up and the best name for it seems to be a 'cookie-press'. There are recipes to use with one on the internet and I probably should have done that but instead I just made it up as I went along, using a general butter cookie recipe, with an orange kick. Now that I have played with all the fun shapes I guess it is time to make cupcakes for frosting!

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.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blood-red velvet cakes for Halloween!

Here is another cake that I had never had before, never made before and only heard of recently. Red velvet cake appears to be another American invention and just like judging a book by it's cover, I judged this cake by it's name and just had to make it. It turns out that it isn't just a great name, the cake is so good! I did a bit of research to make sure that I was making a proper red velvet cake and not just a red cake. Turns out that there are a few specifics that most recipes get wrong, like it should have oil, not butter, so that it is lighter, and it should have some cocoa but not too much, and I think maybe the baking soda and vinegar/buttermilk are an integral part of it too. So I took a recipe that I found on another blog and only made the slightest changes, like a bit more cocoa and vanilla because I like strong flavours. The recipe is for 24 cupcakes but would also make a big round layer cake. Traditionally it should have white frosting, like a cream cheese frosting or vanilla buttercream. I wanted dark, scary cakes so I used a chocolate glaze. For once I remembered to take photos during the making but didn't take one of the finished product! My scary decorating didn't go well though, I was in too much of a hurry and it was sloppy. So maybe no photo isn't such a bad thing.

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?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Coconut Macaroons

There is a recipe that I have been intending to try out since before last Christmas and for some reason kept putting it off. In Galway last year was a Christmas market and one stand was selling the most amazing coconut macaroons. I had never had anything quite like them, they were these great mounds that were all soft on the inside and so coconut-y and sweet. The sign said that they were made with real coconut and coconut cream so that was my only clue as to how they were made and I have finally gotten around to creating my own version. There are so many recipes out there for macaroons that turn out not to have coconut at all, and all this time I thought that was the essential part. Then there are lots of recipes that use egg whites, others that use condensed milk and only a few that use coconut cream. Not only that but it seems that in some places you can buy desiccated or shredded coconut that has been sweeted. Nevertheless my macaroons got lots of nice comments so for now this recipe will do.

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.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Chewy Banana Biscuits

After a weekend of chocolate I wanted to bake something a bit on the healthy side this week and was intending to revisit a recipe that I have always thought needed a bit of something-extra, but everybody else seems to love it the way it is. A long time ago now I came across a recipe in the Woman's Weekly magazine (not sure if it was Australia or NZ) for biscuits using banana, which I had never heard of before! Only the first time that I made them they turned out very odd, they were sort of soft and they rose a lot; they were like something in-between cake and biscuit. At first I thought it was just the odd proportions of the recipe, which not only included mashed banana but also had butter and quite a lot of egg. Then I realised that the rising might also be affected by the odd habit here in Ireland of including raising agents in the plain flour and not telling you. So I began to experiment, especially after I read that banana can completely replace the eggs and butter in the mixture, which means that you can easily cater to vegans and the lactose intolerant. Last night I was intending on a bit of healthy, low-fat baking but then I realised that in fixing this recipe I did actually end up including butter, or peanut butter. Plus I had a half jar of peanut butter in the cupboard which really needed to be used before I just began to eat it by the spoonful. So I decided to go ahead with them because I really need to start using up all the bananas that have gone black. They might not be absolutely healthy, but then what fun would that be?

Peanut-Butter Banana Biscuits 

1 medium, over-ripe banana (sorry, I forgot to weigh it)
3/4 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar (about 220 grams)
1 3/4 cup plain flour (about 275 grams)
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
100 grams chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and prepare a baking tray - I find that greasing it really doesn't work so well for biscuits and that non-stick baking paper is much better.

In a large bowl mash the banana and then add the peanut butter. Mix it up so that there are no big lumps of banana and then add the sugar and give it another good mix. It's sort of like the creaming method only you don't really need to bother beating it for any length of time.

Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and add the chocolate chips (or chopped up chocolate). Mix it into a dough and I hope that it will have the perfect consistency, but it might not depending on the size of the banana.  If your mixture seems too dry and crumbly add a bit more peanut butter, or if it is too wet add a little more flour. It should be right though.

Roll into balls of whatever size you like and press them down onto the baking tray. These biscuits don't spread out too much so you don't need to leave a huge amount of space between them. For teaspoon-sized balls, bake each tray for about 12-15 minutes. I think the mixture made nearly 40 bikkies, but if you are making giant ones of course there will be less and you will need to bake them for longer. They should remain chewy because there is not too much flour in the mixture, but I'd say that they need at least 12 or 13 minutes to bake, otherwise they will not be so much chewy as just unbaked.

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.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Some sort of shortbread?

It has taken me the better part of a week to get this post written, but I have very good reasons for my tardiness. On Sunday I made delicious cookies for a friend on her birthday, because I was giving her a musical-note cookie cutter and figured I should make cookies to go with it. They are a hard biscuit, good for dipping in tea, and they soften up over a couple of days. So they are sort of like shortbread, but not really at all. Real shortbread is more buttery and sort of crumbly, and I don't think it has egg in the mixture. I didn't know what else to call them though, they are techinically an adaptation of my Christmas cookies, without all the spice. I need to think of a name for them though! I made them in both vanilla and chocolate and they turned out really well so of course the recipe needs to be shared. But I did not do so immediately because I was busy wrapping presents and since then, what would you know, but I have landed myself in hospital, and am waiting to have my gallbladder removed!

So luckily I ate plenty of the biscuits on Sunday because I'm not allowed any now! It's also lucky that I baked over the weekend because now it will be a week till I'm out and back in the kitchen, I can feel the withdrawl symptoms setting in already, and even then I will have to do my best to bake in a fat-free manner for a while. I was planning on making delicious vegetable soup on Monday, with some yummy Irish soda bread, but that plan went down the drain. I will have to wait a very long time before I get my soup. The painkillers are in action and I can eat again, but the food here is bland, I am getting tired of toast, salad and fruit. Plus the porridge, which I was so looking forward too, was terrible! So luckily I have my internet connection sorted and am back in contact with the world, and seeing as I cannot eat sweet things I will have to settle for writing about them. The photos won't be added for awhile though because of course I do not have my camera with me! The biscuits got so many positive comments, so I'd say they're a good choice for anybody looking for a yummy afternoon-tea snack!

Sweet and simple biscuits

150 grams butter
300 grams sugar
1 egg
*1 teaspoon vanilla essence
*1 tablespoon custard powder
*2 tablespoons cocoa powder
300 grams (2 cups) plain flour, plus some
3-4 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.

Soften the butter and cream the sugar into it. When the mixture is somewhat light and fluffy, add the egg and beat into the mixture.

In order to make two different flavours, at this point I divided the mixture in half and placed in two separate bowls. If you don't want both chocolate and vanilla though, I'm sure that you can figure out how to continue. For me though, in half of the mixture I added the vanilla and the custard powder, while in the other half I added the cocoa. I then added half of the flour to each mixture.

Now the thing about this recipe is that at first it seems that there is far too much flour. You have to mix it in as well as you can and then begin kneading. Your hands will get tired but keep going and eventually the mixture will come together and get stiff and shiny. Only I had to reduce the flour, there actually was too much, much more than it says above. It should be right now though. Finally, if the mixture is crumbly and not coming together, begin adding the milk bit by bit. I found the chocolate mixture needed a bit more, for some reason it was crumbly. On the other hand, if the mixture is for some reason too wet to roll out, add a bit more flour!

So I do not actually have a rolling pin and use whatever glass jar or bottle I have on hand - this time it was a lemonade bottle. Nevertheless, I managed to roll out a nice thin dough. You want it to be around a half centimeter thick. Isn't that what they always say though, 5 mm, it's like a generic rolling out rule. If you don't have cookie-cutters, slice into squares or use a drinking glass. Shapes are more fun though. I made big musical notes, and then when I had enough of those made some scallops because I figured I would take some to work too, and sea shapes are fitting for a marine biologist. As I came to the end of the mixture there was no longer enough for a full shape from either dough, so I smooshed them together and made marbled-cookies. They were cool too, maybe I will do that for the whole lot next time.

Anyway, I am clearly rambling because I am stuck here in a bed all day and getting bored. So to get to the point - cut out your cookies, place them on a buttered tray and bake for 10 minutes! They can be placed close together because they will not rise or spread. Let them cool a little before removing from the tray, but they should harden up pretty quickly. For the first day they will be quite hard, crunchy biscuits but they will soften up a bit the next day. Perfect to serve with a cup of tea!

Friday, August 26, 2011

A meal to impress ...

So here I am, back in Ireland, with my lovely kitchen, and my first post upon return is going to be a big one! Last night I made a big, pull out all the stops meal for a friend that went down an absolute treat so now I must of course share my recipes with the world (as in my small world of readers). There are sadly not photos of everything because we were slightly too busy eating. But I am sure that I will make the same again some time so in the future perhaps a photo will appear here? I cannot seem to resist my penchant for Italian food so this lovely meal was very influenced by that - it began with a snack, a starter, of my own take on bruschetta. Then for the main there was plain, simple risotto, sauteed green vegetables and stuffed chicken breasts. Finally, dessert, the most important bit! Dessert did not actually match the meal at all, not one bit, because you see I had missed a few birthday's while away so had to make up for it with cupcakes, and I have had this recipe that I have wanted to try for so long. So the group activity of the evening was to make delicious peanut-butter chocolate-fudge cupcakes! They may not have been the most appropriate dessert for that particular meal but they were so good! So all of these recipes are about to follow, but I often just throw things together so some of this is an estimate of what I did.

Bruschetta with Basil and Cream Cheese

1 baguette
10-15 cherry tomatoes (huge estimate, because for some reason I had huge cherry tomatoes and used only two. I reckon they were about at least twice the size of the cherry tomatoes that one normally buys though)
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1 teaspoon basil paste (probably about a tablespoon or so of chopped fresh basil?)

This I actually prepared the night before. I chopped the tomatoes up really small and put them in a small bowl. I crushed the garlic and stirred that into the tomatoes along with the olive oil, then covered it and left it in the fridge overnight.

To serve, I sliced the baguette and toasted it in the oven. While it was toasting I mixed the cream cheese with the basil. I then simply spread the cheese onto the bread and topped with a spoonful of tomatoe mixture.

Just so that we are clear about this - hugely successful little starter. It was really yummy. And so easy! I have leftover tomatoes so I guess I will just have to have some more this evening ...

Stuffed Chicken Breasts

2 chicken breast fillets
4 slices wholegrain bread
A handful of baby spinach leaves
4 cherry tomatoes
25-50 grams parmesan, grated (sorry, another big estimate. I just used what was left in the fridge!)
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

First of all, the bread is for making breadcrumbs with so chuck it in a food processor and chop it as small as you can (or of course, just buy breadcrumbs, but this is nicer). Then put the breadcrumbs aside in a bowl and to the food processor add the tomatoes, spinach and parmesan. Give it a really good chop, make it as fine as you can.

Mix together the cream cheese with the oregano and tomato mixture, then add a handful of the breadcrumbs so that the mixture sort of holds its shape somewhat. Now comes the trickiest bit - stuffing the chicken breasts. I have read recipes for this sort of thing where you pound the chicken into schnitzel and roll it, but that to me sort of changes it from stuffed chicken breast to something completely different. I like it to still have the right shape. So what I did was slice a sort of pocket lengthwise into the fillets. The difficult but is to not cut right through the flesh at the top or bottom of your little 'pocket'.

So once you have your chicken ready to be stuffed, however you like it, place in a spoonful or so of your cheesy stuffing mixture. You don't want it to be over-full because it will just all fall out when you cook it. The next step, and final step actually before cooking is to coat the outside of the fillets in more breadcrumbs, and sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, maybe a bit more parmesan. I did not use egg for this, just wet my hands under the tap and patted water onto each fillet, then carefully rolled in the breadcrumbs. I was then worried that all the stuffing would leak out so I placed them on the tray with the open side facing up.

These were baked at 180 degrees celsius and were ready after 20 minutes (they were quite small fillets) but I left them in 30 mintues just to be sure! In order to have everything sort of ready at the right time, I had prepared this early and then left it sitting until I was ready to cook it. I toasted the bruschetta first, so the oven was hot, and then popped these directly in.

Sauteed Green Vegetables

1 courgette/zuchinni
1/2 head of brocolli
Baby spinach leaves
1 carrot
2 tablespoons olive oil
25 grams butter
Black pepper to season

First, the courgette needs to be sliced quite thin, to slices no more than a half centimetre thick. The brocolli needs to be chopped into small florets, the carrot cut however you like and the spinach leaves shredded somewhat. Then you are ready to begin! This will take about 10 minutes or so - I began after everything else was pretty much ready to be served. It's really simple.

Heat your oil and butter in a large, flat-bottomed frying pan. When it is hot, throw in the vegetables and simply keep them moving somewhat, because to saute is essentially the same as to stir-fry really. Just keep it all moving around until everything is done to your like. Season with black pepper, and salt if you like. A bit of garlic would be nice, but I did not want to overdo it on the garlic so I left that out of the vegetables on this ocassion.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes

200 grams butter
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
100 grams dark chocolate
3/4 cup sugar (I used half dark brown, half white caster)
1/2 cup sour cream (or normal cream would do)
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 eggs

First of course you need to preheat the oven to 160 degrees celsius and prepare your cupcake tin - this recipe was the perfect amount for 12 cupcakes.

In a saucepan on the stove melt together the butters, chocolate and sugar. When the mixture is smooth and well combined, pour into a large bowl and let it cool somewhat.

When cool, stir in the sour cream. Sift in the flour and cocoa and give this a good stir too.

Lightly beat the eggs in a separate bowl and add them to the mixture, mixing just slightly to combine. Don't over mix here (though if you do, chances are that it won't really matter, maybe your cupcakes will just be a little denser). Spoon the mixture carefully into your cupcake tin, and you should find that it perfectly fills 12 cupcake holes about 3/4 of the way up - the perfect amount for a cupcake really.

Bake for 20 minutes and let them cool, trying to resist eating any before frosting them!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting

75 grams butter
75 grams smooth peanut butter
1 cup (250 grams) icing sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
About 4 tablespoons of milk

Cream together the butters and then sift in the sugar. Cream well, until the texture is like frosting!

Sift in the cocoa powder and continue to beat, adding the milk until the mixture is not too stiff (because you want it to be easy to spread or pipe).

This made the perfect amount for 12 cupcakes so I was quite pleased with that! I piped it on with a star nozzle for that fancy look, but you could just spread it. You could even top it with chopped nuts. I did find though that the frosting was a little salty on account of all the peanut butter so if this is not to your liking you may want to use unsalted normal butter, and maybe peanut butter that does not have added salt, and maybe more butter and less peanut butter. But I liked it the was it was!