Saturday, May 28, 2011

Impromptu Coconut Cookies

So I am in Bremen, Germany now, for the next few weeks, and before I left Galway I had to use up all of my perishable food. Which meant I had to bake something to use up the eggs! I could have made something savoury of course but I have a sweet tooth so I decided that making cookies would also help me to use up the last of my milk (because the two go together very nicely). I had coconut in the cupboard and some coconut cream, so I made it up as I went along and here is the delicous result:

Coconut Cookies

½ cup (125 grams) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
½ cup coconut cream (the real solid stuff, not the watery milk part)
1 cup coconut
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180 ° C.
Cream the butter with the sugar. Add the egg and beat well.
Beat in coconut cream and coconut, then mix in the flour and baking powder.
Place teaspoons of dough on baking tray and bake for 15 minutes.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Spaghetti and Chocolate Cupcakes . . .

Not together though of course. The spaghetti part, because spaghetti is great, I made it for a friend the other night and was reminded how much I love spaghetti. And the chocolate cupcakes because I had a birthday to bake for, and I guess I just like to show off my baking art work. So as always when you have a meal we will start with the savoury and move on to the sweet after. I want to share my spaghetti sauce recipe because it's pretty awesome and that's not just severe self-promotion because I actually got the recipe from the Australian Woman's Weekly years ago and haven't even modified it, it's that good, and really easy too.. We're not talking spaghetti bolognaise here though, this is just tomatoes. There's not much more to say about it, I have a soft spot for pasta and I assume everybody else does too so I will get to the point, which is of course the recipe:

Tomato Spaghetti Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cans chopped tomatoes (plain, unseasoned)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
2 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
30 grams butter

Heat the oil, then add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent.

Add the tomatoes, herbs, sauce and sugar. Bring to the boil and then turn the heat right down and simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the sauce is thick. While it simmers, you have loads of time to get water boiling, throw your pasta in and steam some vegetables for serving on the side! Maybe chucking some garlic bread in the oven ...

Stir in butter just before serving (this is the important bit, it somehow changes the entire flavour and consistency of the sauce!).

Of course it is to be served over pasta or some kind, I really don't think I need to include the specifics of that in a recipe. Although I've noticed so many people put the pasta on when they begin a sauce, but pasta only takes like 10 minutes and sauce could take a half hour. So your pasta will be all over-cooked and mushy. You say you like it like that? It's still just not right. But whatever, everybody can just do as they please. This also makes a really good pizza sauce.

So how about the chocolate cupcakes? Am I now going to give you a delicious chocolatey recipe? I think I will, but not actually the one I used the other night. I had this new recipe to try, had it for ages actually. You know how there are ofthen recipes on the back of the box of cocoa or the bag of sugar? Well, back in NZ I took a recipe from Pam's cocoa I think it was, for a chocolate coconut layer cake. Only the interesting thing about this cake is that the coconut layer is baked in. So I decided to finally try this and also convert it to cupcakes because it was not a party but just a casual birthday celebration. Only as I was making the mixture I thought it was a bit odd, the coconut layer was just coconut and milk and sugar. The idea is to layer the cake mixture, then the coconut, then the rest of the cake mixture. But after baking the coconut had not solidified and so the cupcakes did not easily remain whole. Maybe a large cake would be a little more successfull but not much I think. Nevertheless we cemented the cupcakes together with frosting and decorated them (with spiders, in case you cannot distinguish my artwork), and I changed the recipe because I do like the idea. I will try it again, and if it is delicious I will then share! For now, my never-fail chocolate cupcake standby (and I don't think that today we need to go into the details of why these are cupcakes and not muffins).


125 grams butter
½ cup castor sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon custard powder
¼ cup milk
*3 tablespoons cocoa
*Fruit essences or zest
*½ cup chocolate chips

First preheat the oven to 190 degrees celsius and grease your cupcake/muffin pan (should make 12).

Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla essence together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.

If it is chocolate cupcakes that you want, add cocoa and mix well. This however can be left out and you will get lovely vanilla cupcakes. Or if you want some other flavour, you could add fruit essence like rasberry or orange, or a small amount of fruit juice, lemon or orange zest, coconut milk instead of ordinary milk, just be imaginative. And of course if they are vanilla, and you don't want them to be plain cake coloured, you could always add a bit of food colouring at this point! Although the last time I did that, I was baking with children whose mother was one of those neurotic know-all suburban housewives that seemed to think the colours make children hyperactive. Newsflash (and you can trust me, I'm a scientist) - unless the child has an intolerance to a certain chemical in red colouring, which is not common, the colours and sugar do not cause hyperactivity. The sense of an occassion, the presence of other children and the attention from adults cause hyperactivity. And why should a child not be a bit hyperactive sometimes anyway?

So to get off my high horse and get on with it: sift the flour, baking powder and custard powder into the batter and give it a good stir. If you want chocolate chip cupcakes, now is the time to add these as well. Then add the milk and give the batter a last mix.

Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and bake for about 15 minutes. Hopefully they rise evenly, because mine often rise to the side! I think maybe it's the oven, or the way I have placed the tray. When they are cooked a skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean. Let the cakes cool for awhile before taking them from the tin or you will risk them falling apart!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chocolate Self-Saucing Pudding

First of all, it turns out that this is a difficult pudding to understand. People just nod and smile but maybe they don't know what I am saying? I had to spell it out for my friend, both the 'self' and the 'sauce' part, and then confirm the pudding part too. Then I had to describe it.

But to get to the point. This is another dish that I remember from childhood. The recipe comes from a big cookbook that Mum had, with a red spine, something like 'The NZ  radio and television cookbook'. Great old thing, loads of good recipes. You could tell this one got a lot of use because the page was chocolatey (probably a result of my own making of it). When Dad was out of town or just not around and dinner time we would sometimes have just pudding instead of a meal, like apple crumble or rice pudding or this chocolate pudding. Sometimes just custard and ice-cream, which people here find odd because apparently both are already side-dishes. Which is rubbish, custard is clearly a dessert in it's own right. They just don't make it properly here. It's more like sauce. Sometimes we would have porridge in the evening too, which other people also think is weird. I would say that the rice pudding and chocolate self-saucing pudding were best though, and if there was leftovers of the chocolate pudding I would have them cold for breakfast the next day. 

Chocolate Self-Saucing Pudding

4 tablespoons butter
½ cup milk
50 grams chocolate (optional)
1 cup flour
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cocoa

3 tablespoons coconut
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 cups hot water

Preheat oven to 200°C. Grease a large casserole dish (at least 2 litre capacity, mine almost always overflows, and make sure it has a lid)

Melt butter (and chocolate if you're using it). Add the milk and dry ingredients, mix well to make a smooth batter. Place the mixture in the greased casserole dish.

Mix together dry sauce ingredients - that is the cocoa, sugar and coconut. Sprinkle over dough.

Pour hot water over the pudding as gently as you can.

Bake with lid on for 50 minutes. Like a cake, it will be done when a skewer comes out clean but that is a little hard to judge due to the sauce. It is very important that the oven is pre-heated and properly hot when the pudding goes in.

Now it is done! Let it cool a little and serve with cream or ice-cream. All my Irish friends thought this was great, for some reason I got the comment 'it's a real proper pudding'. Well what else did they expect?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blueberry Muffins!

One thing that I remember very well from childhood is the blueberry muffins that Mum used to bake. While here it is difficult to find chocolate chips, at home in NZ there is in the baking aisle a huge variety of chocolate to bake with: various brands of chocolate chips, drops, bits, buttons and something produced by Cadbury alone - chocolate balls. These little balls of dark chocolate are so good I used to sneak into the pantry to steal them and blame it on my brother. So Mum's blueberry muffins were actually blueberry and chocolate ball muffins and if you ate them hot the chocolate would hold it's spherical shape somehow but as soon as you bit into it, or even just touched it slightly, the surface tension would break and if you weren't careful you would have molten chocolate dripping onto you or burning your mouth. Yet they were the best muffins so when I had leftover buttermilk in the fridge I decided I would make muffins, and buttermilk makes for good berry muffins so I decided that they would just have to be blueberry with chocolate drops, the closest equivalent I can find to chocolate balls. They don't compare but I did manage to get really good huge blueberries so that made up for it a little. I doubt Mum's muffins used buttermilk and no I do not have her recipe but a berry muffin is a berry muffin, so I actually stole my basic berry muffin recipe from Alison Holst. So NZers may be familiar with this! Still, here is today's interpretation of the recipe:

Blueberry and chocolate buttermilk muffins

3 cups plain flour
6 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cups of white caster sugar
100 grams dark chocolate (chips, drops, balls, pieces, etc).
1 egg
1/4 cup cooking oil (or melted butter)
1 3/4 cups buttermilk (if you use normal milk you may not need so much as buttermilk is somewhat thick)
300 grams blueberries

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease or line 18 muffin holes (I had to make the recipe bigger because a dozen muffins is just not enough yet two dozen a bit much).

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl (sifting the flour and baking powder of course). Stir in the chocolate.

In a separate bowl mix the wet ingredients together well.

Now stir the blueberries into the flour - mixing them into the flour helps to prevent somewhat the colour leaching into the whole mixture. Add the wet ingredients and fold into the dry, being careful not to overmix (not that I can criticise here as muffins really aren't my strong point).

Now carefully spoon the mixture into the muffin pans and bake for about 25 minutes or so, until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Also, a muffin is done when you press the top lightly and it bounces right back. So when the are done take them out, let them rest a few minutes and then turn them out of the pan.

Of course you can eat them immediately! But they are actually better if you let them cool, they are sort of spongy and crumbly when wet but much more solid when cool. You can taste more too if you let them cool.

Now even though I didn't overmix them my muffins did turn out a little odd, I didn't take a photo sadly but I think my oven is rather uneven because they rose more on one side than the other. It's all good though they tasted great!

There is one matter to clear up though. I find myself having this argument often. Is a muffin not the same thing as a cupcake? And the answer is no! It is not! Cupcakes are cakes, baked in a cup or alternatively small pans like bun or muffin pans. The difference is all in the mixture and texture. Cakes are sort of solid yet fluffy, with a soft fine texture. Muffins on the other hand are more spongy, with large air-pockets. While you beat a cake really well you make two separate mixtures for muffins and then mix them only briefly. Of course there are some variants, exceptions we might say, but that only proves the rule! Muffins are definately not cupcakes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pumpkin Bread -

Or, because I am in Galway, Butternut Bread. But that's OK, I always considered butternut to be pumpkin anyway. I'm not really exactly sure what lead me to decide to make bread with pumpkin but I looked it up and plenty of others have done it so why not? I had a whole pile of mashed butternut, and I felt like doing somthing different to the usual. I first figured that if sweet, spicy pumpkin pie and pumpkin muffins are good, and if banana bread is good, why not swap the banana for pumpkin? With cinnamon and nutmeg and allspice. But I never actually got around to that idea because then I thought why not make a yeast bread? Only that didn't seem to go with the sweet spicy idea. So I swapped that idea for herbs and here is what I got:

Savoury Pumpkin Bread

20 grams fresh yeast (or 10 grams dry yeast)
10 grams sugar (2 teaspoons)
10 grams butter (2 teaspoons)
300 grams mashed pumpkin, warmed
1 cup warm water (250 mL)
700 grams flour - I had to use a mixture of strong, wholemeal and plain white flours because oddly enough I ran out of flour!
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

Combine gently the yeast, sugar, butter, pumpkin and water in a large bowl. Let this sit for about 5 minutes while you sift the flour.

Add to the yeast mixture the flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring each addition in vigourously, leaving the last cup of flour aside. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 20 minutes.

Stir the salt, thyme and seeds into the last of the flour (it is important not to add the salt sooner as it is not good for the yeast). Mix the remaining flour into the dough as well as you can and turn it out onto a floured surface.

Knead for 10 minutes. Flour the bowl and place the dough back into it. Sprinkle flour over the top and cover. Leave the dough to rise for 1 hour or until the size has doubled.

Punch the dough down (press the air out of the dough gently). Turn out of the bowl and knead very briefly to remove any remaining air - no more than 2 or 3 minutes. Now shape the dough into whatever you are wanting to bake - loaves, rolls, plaits, etc. Place onto oiled trays and sprinkle with flour (of course if you have a pizza stone of some sort use that instead and just leave the dough on the bench until the oven is hot). At this point you should turn the oven on to 230 degrees celsius.

After leaving the bread to rise again for about 20-30 minutes the oven should be nice and hot so quickly slip the bread into the oven and bake for about half an hour or until it is done!

Bonus point for this bread - it is orange!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Spaghetti Bolognaise

Everybody has their own version of bolognaise, I have tried many and they are always different. My own I have been making for many years now. I make it thick and strong, all meat and tomatoes because I believe that real bolognaise shouldn't have vegetables in it, only on the side. Generally I serve brocolli on the side because it just seems to go well with spaghetti, and it adds a nice touch of colour. So tonight I made spaghetti bolognaise for the first time in I don't know how long and now I will share my recipe, just in case others want to forgo their own versions to try something a bit different instead. Also, I have discovered that over here they don't call it spag-bol. I always hated that word anyway but it is much faster than saying the whole thing. So is it just a New Zealand thing? Or is it an everywhere except Ireland thing? Anyway, to the point:

Spaghetti Bolognaise

2 tablespoons oil
1 brown onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon crushed chillies
400 grams beef mince
2 (400g) cans chopped tomatoes
1 cup water
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cube oxo beef stock (or 1 teaspoon beef stock but oxo is the best, it's the strongest in flavour, or you could use vegemite)
1 tablespoon beef bisto (or 1 packet brown onion gravy, or 1 tablespoon cornflour)
2 teaspoons each dried thyme, basil and oregano (or 2 tablespoons fresh)
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce

Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion and cook on low heat until soft and translucent.

Add the garlic and chilli and cook for a couple of minutes, until fragrant. Then add the mince and cook, stirring, until browned. Carefully drain away the fat.

Add all the rest of the ingredients and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down and keep simmer while the sauce thickens.

In the meantime set a large pot of water to boil, adding about a tablespoon each of salt and oil (the oil will form a layer on top of the water, to keep it from frothing up and boiling over after the pasta is added). When the water is boiling add spaghetti and cook for about 10 minutes, until soft. By which time the sauce should be good and thick.

Drain the spaghetti and add any final seasoning to the sauce (like salt, pepper, maybe more chilli, anything really). Pile the bolognaise on the spaghetti and sprinkle with cheese if you like.

And enjoy!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Irish Soda Bread

 The thing about this bread is that, technically, it's a cake. When I arrived here it was winter so I ate a lot of soup, and everywhere soup is served with brown bread. But this bread tasted very different to normal bread, sort of soft and crumbly and sweet - cake-like I thought. It turns out I was right, it is cake. This brown bread is actually soda bread, it doesn't use yeast but baking soda instead. On one of the tours I went on with my mother the bus driver was a real old guy who didn't really have the knack for being a tour guide. He did repeat everything he said at least twice but what he was saying was not so much  history and interesting facts as the really good brown bread that the made at the pub where we were to stop for lunch. I'm not really sure about the nutritional benefit of such bread - it's probably not that much different to normal bread I guess. Like any bread, you always want to eat more, but if you can manage to supress those urges somewhat I'm sure it's a very good addition to your diet. It's very good with butter and honey. And it's really good with soup. It is faster to make than normal bread because there is no rising. It is sort of like muffins - you mix the wet and dry separately and then put the two together, and the texture of the mixture is sort of like muffins too. Of course the final cooked product is nothing like muffins. So everybody here has an adaptation of soda bread, and I was given a recipe from my mate Luke who is also food-obsessed but not to the extent that I am. Now here is my own slight adaptation, which was primarily necessary to convert the measurements into the metric cups that I am accustomed to.

Soda Bread

1 cup wholemeal flour
1 cup white flour
1 cup oats
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
50 g pumpkin and sunflower seeds
1 1/3 cup/350 mL buttermilk
1 egg
2 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180 ° C, grease and flour a loaf tin.
Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl whisk together the wet ingredients.
Combine the two mixtures, mix briefly, pour into loaf tin and place immediately into hot oven.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. A skewer should come out clean. If you knock on the loaf it should sound hollow, as they say about all bread baking, but I find such rules so hard to define. So - a skewer comes out clean, which it should do after 45 minutes or so. Then leave it to cool for a half hour at least and it will continue to bake a bit on the inside.
And there you go! Soda bread!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Risotto and Honeyed Vegetables

Tonight I made a risotto, because I have never made one before. It turns out it is not at all difficult and not even very time consuming. Plus it was really good. You can look up recipes on line and find thousands that are all the same so I used my old standby, the Taste magazine website because I generally assume that if it comes from NZ it must be trustworthy. As always I added a couple of my own additions and then of course I needed vegetables on the side because you must always have plenty of those. Only I wanted interesting vegetables so I cooked them in honey to pander to my sweet tooth.

And so I have a had a rather good evening because I cooked and it turned out exactly as it should have, and now I will write down exactly what I did so that if anybody ever comes across this and is interested they will be able to make risotto also. Apparently it is quite important to use wine to make a real risotto and it did make it taste good although if you have none or are absolutely alcohol free I am sure you will manage just fine. What I really think is absolutely most important is to use risotto rice. You really cannot use just any rice, it won't do the same thing -  it won't get all soft and creamy. Here in Ireland, or in Galway at least, it is a little difficult to find, there is usually only one option, and it is a lot more expensive than normal rice so for now at least I think risotto will be a treat.

Simple Risotto with Chicken

3 cups chicken stock
20 grams butter
1 tablespoon oil
1 brown onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 chicken breast, chopped
220 grams/1 cup risotto rice
½ cup white wine
¼ cup parmesan
Salt and pepper

Place the stock in a large enough saucepan and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down and keep it simmering.
Meanwhile heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and garlic, stir for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the chicken and stir until cooked.
Add the rice to the onion and stir for a couple of minutes, then add the wine. Stir constantly until the liquid has evaporated away.
Add the stock ½ cup at a time, stirring all the while and waiting for the liquid to absorb before each new addition. Cook for about 20 minutes or so, stirring to ensure that the rice does not stick to the bottom, until the risotto is thick and creamy but the rice still slightly firm.
Add the parmesan and season as needed. Remove from the heat and cover for five minutes.

Honeyed Vegetables

2 carrots and 1 cup broccoli (or whatever takes your fancy)
2 tablespoons liquid honey
1 tablespoon butter or oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Chop the vegetables into lengthwise slices.
Heat the oil and honey in a large pan.
Add the vegetables and sesame seeds and stir-fry on high heat for 5-10 minutes (until the vegetables are done to your liking).

Monday, May 2, 2011

Banana bread with hazelnuts

Bananas are a great food. Apparently they are the only food that you could live off of entirely with nothing else and still be thriving and healthy. I think if I were to do that I would very quickly tire of bananas. I think the best thing to do with them is to buy a lot of them, leave them untill they are brown and then bake with them! You can make loads of stuff with bananas - cake, bread, muffins, biscuits - you can even use it in many recipes as a substitute for egg, it will do the same job of binding. Plus anything you make with bananas must surely be part of your 5+ a day. So last night I used the pile of brown bananas I had to make banana bread, which is a recipe based on plain soda bread with the addition of sugar and lots of bananas and a bit of butter and egg and anything else that is in the cupboard that I feel like throwing in. Last night it was hazelnuts and chocolate chips.

Hazelnut Banana Bread

1 cup brown/wholemeal flour
1 cup white flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup ground hazelnuts
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons cinnammon
1 teaspoon allspice
3 large or 5 small bananas, well mashed
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/3 cup melted butter (about 60 grams I think)
1 egg
1 cup chopped hazelnuts and 1/2 cup chocolate chips

So first preheat the oven to 190 degrees celsius and grease a loaf tin, a largish one or two small ones.

Next sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl and combine well. In a separate bowl mix the mashed bananas and liquid ingredients.

Combine the two mixtures and the hazelnuts and chocolate chips, mix lightly and pour into the loaf tin. If you like you can drizzle honey or sprinkle sugar over top.

Bake for about an hour, until a skewer inserted into the loaf comes out clean. It is a very moist mixture so it might be hard to tell but an hour should do the trick. You might have to place tin foil over the loaf to stop the top from getting too dark.

Now the biggest problem with banana bread is making it last because it is very delicious!