Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cinnamon Oysters

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

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

Cinnamon Oysters
A Kiwi classic from the Edmonds Cookbook

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanilla Buttercream

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

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

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

Monday, July 25, 2011

Potato Salad, German Style

It has come to that time of day when breakfast was a long time ago but lunch still a fair way off, and it is important to take breaks from work, especially at that point where your brain switches off and you can no longer think. At times like these I can of course still think about food so I am going to tell the world (that is, the small world of people that read this) how to make Germany's version of potato salad, that I had last night as my German houseguest wanted to cook for us before she left. It apparently was not quite real german potato salad because these Irish potatoes were not quite firm enough (or maybe we just cooked them too long) and also apparrently the real version, made by dedicated grandmothers, involves very thinly sliced potatoes and is done so fast that it is still hot when served. So this is easier, student-version South-German potato salad. I will write it down quick while I still remember it - we had ours with sausages in an attempt to make a proper German meal, except that they were of course Irish sausages.

German Potato Salad

1 kilogram baby potatoes (or some kind of firm potato)
1 small brown onion
1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Salt (I'm sorry, I don't know how much, maybe just a sprinkle? You can always add more at the end)
3 teaspoons mustard (dijon or wholegrain is good, and actually however much you like till it taste's good)
Pepper to taste
1 cup concentrated vegetable stock

Boil the potatoes whole until they are cooked but firm. Drain the water and then fill to pot with cold water.

Chop the onion up really finely, place in a bowl and add the vinegar and salt. When the potatoes are cold enough to handle peel the skins off (they should be loose from the cold water). Slice them thinly and place in the bowl with the onions. Add the mustard and pepper and stir gently, because you want the potatoes to retain their shape and not be mashed.

Finally add the stock and again stir gently. It can be served hot or cold!

This potato salad was good, better than some I actually had in Germany, as there is some kind of potato salad in Germany and Austria that is really quite acidic, like sauerkraut is. But maybe it is actually the same as this with even more vinegar? So like I said it was good, but of course I will always say the NZ potato salad is better! Although I'm not even sure that we have an official sort of potato salad, maybe it's just that all the families that I know make it in a similar way and elsewhere in the country it is very different? Both types are vastly different from Irish potato salad, which is actually just mashed potatoe. Sure it has mayonaise and chives but then they mash it! That is not salad, it is cold mashed potatoe. Which is all well and good but you might as well call it as it is.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pi Approximation Day

Today is the 22 of July, 22/7, which incidentally is the approximation of Pi, π, and a long time back on actual Pi day (14 March, 3.14) it was suggested that on Pi approximation day we should eat approximations of Pie. Which are more fun and inventive than real pies. My approximation of pies seems to have an Italian theme, with a main course of pizza and 'rice pie', which I have recently learnt is generally called timballo. Back in New Zealand I had an Italian cookbook, I think it might have been an old Woman's Weekly one, with a lot of recipes that I never tried, but one that I still always wanted to try involved lining a pie dish with sliced courgette and then packing it full of cooked rice and baking it to get a slice-able pie-like dish. So this week I have been searching the internet and I did not find the exact image that I had in my head, but what I did find is much better. It seems that a timballo is basically a pie, but there is way more room for variation of the crust. You could use pastry of course but also pasta or rice, and then you fill it with something and put more 'crust' on top. So my version will include rice, already cooked into a risotto, bound with egg to make a proper crust, and filled with a mix of vegetables. As for pizza, that needs no explanation, clearly it is a form of pie with no sides and no top otherwise why would pizza-pie be in a song?

Finally, my dessert creation is something that I have wanted to make for a very long time but I just never got around to it - there is not always so much opportunity to make big decadent desserts and the opportunity for this one never arose. But I remained determined to try it and so here was my opportunity, finally! This recipe is from Cadbury's cookbook, the more recent version. The old cookbook is much better but it does lack this one recipe. My mother brought me this book back when I was in high school and my cooking obsession was just beginning. At the time she worked in a school or some such place, I can't remember where, but at home all educational facilities seem to be part of some book-selling thing where every month a selection of new books is on display in the staff-room for people to browse, and if they like them they can order a copy. So she brought me a cookbook and I am finally going to make that one amazing, intriguing recipe, Velvet Pie. I told a friend of it once and she told me it sounded like impossible pie so I looked that up and yes, it is actually just like impossible pie except it is chocolatey! So let's just get on with it and make one really gigantic post full of pie! Just a quick note - do not be alarmed by the length of the recipes! I like to talk a lot, which shows itself in my writing, but these dishes were all actually really simple.

Rice and Courgette Timballo

This was definately my favourite thing of the evening! Absolutely amazing! It could be done in about 2 hours, but I started the evening before, so that all I had to do was put them together and bake them. So to begin:

2 tablespoons butter or oil (or a mix of both)
1 brown onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup risotto (arborio) rice (250 grams or thereabouts)
1/4 cup white wine (or more stock is fine) (60 mL)
3 cups stock (vegetable or chicken) (750 mL)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup parmesan (optional) (about 4 tablespoons)
salt and pepper to season

2 courgettes
1 bell pepper
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
juice and zest of one lemon
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Now this recipe is to be made in two parts. First, you make the risotto. Take two large pots and in one get your stock simmering. In the other, heat the oil and throw in the onion and garlic. Cook these for a few minutes, then throw in the rice. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or so. Now add the liquid, the wine first if you are using it, slowly, a half cup at a time. Stir all the while and only add more after the liquid is mostly absorbed. It will take about 20 minutes or so, keep the heat about medium and keep stirring as much as you can be bothered. When all the liquid is in, including the lemon, add the cheese and season, then move from the heat and cover the pot and let it sit a good 10 minutes or so (or leave overnight as I did). I guess it doesn't have to be cold, I'm not sure. I think not hot might be good though, or the egg might begin to cook too soon!

The second step is the vegetables. Slice the courgette and the bell peppers really thin. Slice the garlic into thin slivers too, and cut the cherry tomatoes in half or quarters. Toss all together with lemon juice, zest and oil. At this point I left the mix in a bowl overnight,  but if you are doing this all on the one day just throw straight onto a tray and grill in the oven, at about 200 degrees celsius, until it is nicely cooked. Switch the oven to bake and leave it on because it must be nice and hot to cook your pies!

So now you need to put your little rice pies together. I made small ones in my giant texas muffin tin, but you could make a large pie of course in any pie tin or cake dish. So take whatever it is you are using and grease it well! If your rice is in a small bowl or pot you may need to move it in to a larger one, because now you must mix the eggs into it. Then take your eggy rice and press it into your pie dish (or dishes) so that it is like a crust, over the base and up the sides, making sure you have enough rice left to cover the top aswell. Fill your rice-crust with the grilled vegetable filling and then spoon the rest of the rice over the top. Press it down really well!

Finally bake your timballo at about 180 degrees celsius or so for about half an hour. Maybe 45 minutes. It should be crisp and golden on the top. Remove from the oven and let it sit for about 5 minutes, use a knife to make sure the sides are not sticking to the dish, then turn the dish upside down over a plate or tray and your rice-pie should slide right out.

Pizza Dough

My pizza dough comes from an old Italian cookbook that I had, given to me by my friend's mum who had two copies. I used to make it back in NZ, only our student flats were pretty cold and I did not believe it would rise on the bench so I would sit my bowl of dough on the windowsill in the sunshine. But the sun shining through the window and bowl was too concentrated, it would get too hot and kill my yeast! Not to mention that for some reason the recipe has really long rising times, which I think is actually much too long. It works just fine with a shorter rise and so it is my own adapted version that I will give to you today!

3 1/2 cups plain or strong flour (that must be about 500 grams, if one cup is 150 grams or so)
1 cup (250 mL) warm water
1 tablespoon dry yeast, or about 10 grams fresh yeast
2 tablespoons honey (or sugar)
1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil
1/2 teasoon salt

In a large bowl combine water, honey and salt. Add the yeast and mix, then let it sit for five minutes until yeast has dissolved. There should be little frothy bits on the top of the liquid, which shows the yeast is active still. Then add 1 cup of flour and the oil, and mix vigourously (this apparently helps the yeast be active or something, the quick mixing. If you like, after this mixing, let the dough sit 10 minutes or so before continuing. It's called autolysing, to let it rest. But I never used to do this and it worked out fine still).

Add the remaining flour slowly, bit by bit, and mix well until dough comes together in the bowl. There may seem to be too much flour, but at this point tip it out onto a nice clean surface and begin to knead. My original recipe calls for only 1 minute of kneading, but that is not enough, I would go for at least 5 minutes. So then after 5 or 10 minutes of kneading place the dough in a covered bowl and let rise for about an hour, until it has doubled in size. When it is fully risen, if you press your finger deep into the dough the hole should not fill in but remain. About an hour should do though, less if your house is warm.

Punch the dough down (in other words, gently press the air out of it) and let rise again for 30 minutes or so, until double in size, then roll out and use. Except my friend's mum rolls it out first and then let's it rise again in the base shape, then we would press it down and make the pizza. So it is up to you, quite an adaptable recipe, and very simple, you are done already! Now all you need to do is spread sauce over it and cover it with fillings! By the way, this recipe makes enough for two large pizzas, and by large I mean the size of an oven tray. You could make three smaller round pizza's I reckon.

As for pizza sauce, homemade is of course the best! I have a great recipe that usually gets thumbs up all around, I have posted it previously as spaghetti sauce. So as well as using for pasta this versatile tomato sauce makes for a great pizza! If you want smooth pizza sauce blend it, but chunky is good too. The recipe makes far more than you will need for a pizza though, so I guess you will have to have more Italian food the next day!

Velvet Pie

 Finally we reach the dessert, the chocolate pie recipe that I have been meaning to try for so many years! After some internet browsing and a second look at the recipe it seems that this pie is really more like a baked custard, only it has coconut and cocoa. You could leave out the cocoa and get traditional impossible pie, or also leave out the coconut and have just a custard pie. Unfortunately, I'm not a huge fan of egg custard so this dessert was not as fantastic as I envisaged! Of course, everybody else loved it. Not too rich or too sweet was the general consensus, and quite light considering it is a chocolate pudding, so better to have after a big meal than a rich, heavy chocolate cake. Still, I myself am quite a fan of terribly rich, heavy chocolate cake so I think next time I will just bake brownies! On the upside, I got to use my new pie dish and it is so amazing! I love it. It is even a beautiful chocolatey colour, just so that you know that the best sort of pie is chocolate pie. However, let's get on with it.

1/2 cup (75 grams?) plain flour
3 tablespoons cocoa (optional, you could leave it out for normal impossible pie, though alternatively you could use even more for a richer velvet pie)
1 cup coconut (optional, leave out for just custard pie, and I have no idea of the weight of coconut, sorry)
1 cup (about 200 grams) sugar
1 cup (250 mL) cream
1 cup (250 mL) milk
4 eggs
100 grams butter

First preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Grease your pie dish - you want one that is about 25 cm in diameter, with straight sides. I am not sure why the recipe specifies straight sides, surely all pie dishes are like this? Otherwise it would not be a pie? Maybe it is trying to say a deep pie dish, as opposed to a very flat tart-like something?

Now melt the butter, and then in a large bowl lightly beat the eggs. So this recipe is amazingly simple. You just throw all the ingredients in together, so add everything to the beaten eggs. Perhaps sift in the flour and cocoa so that you have no lumps. Mix it together really well, you could use an electric beater if you want, I used a whisk, it doesn't have to be mixed hugely or anything, just enough so it is all mixed in.

Pour the mixture into your prepared dish and place in the oven for 1 hour. I placed mine on an oven tray because I always spill, or things always overflow. It is lucky I did because my dish is one of those in which the base comes out, and to pour liquid into such a thing often means a bit of leakage. It only leaked a very little though so it must have begun to cook and solidify really quickly. I also covered the pie with aluminium foil after 20 minutes because I was worried the top would burn while the middle was still cooking. After an hour the pie seemed solid and when I inserted a skewer it came out clean. So when the pie is done remove from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then enjoy!

So after a huge amount of food (there were also lemon curd tarts, they were delicious, I must get the recipe and try them one day) everybody was very full and tired but Pi Approximation Day was a success. Now I think it is time to stop preparing and eating excessive amounts of food before I cause an obesity epidemic in Ireland. I will try really hard to stick to my baking once a week rule. I have had suggestions of other recipes I have made that should go in here, like my chocolate truffles. But that may have to wait as I generally like to make something before posting it up, and truffles are so amazingly rich and compulsively edible that I usually restrict them to Christmas time. Still, I cannot stop baking so keep watch for new treats - I think next week's baking may be apricot & white chocolate cookies. Or cinnamon oysters. We'll see!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pinky Bar Slice

In New Zealand Cadbury's make a bar called a Pinky and it is delicious. It is also amazingly simple, I have no idea why it is only in NZ. It is mostly pink marshmallow, with a layer of caramel on the top and covered in chocolate. It is great alternative to a Mars bar or something so heavy, it is light and fluffy and if you are concerned about your diet it has slightly less calories than those bars that are all nougat and peanuts. I miss it. The ad for it on TV when I was a child featured the song 'Leader of the Pack' and was an animated black and white drawing with just small bits of colour, and was something to do with a group of girls symphathising (through song) with a girl who's boyfriend is a bit wild and has roared off on a motorbike, which I think crashes (there is the sound of tires screeching in the song) and somehow this relates to Pinky bars. I think it is just because it is sort of girly. Great song though.

So a couple of weeks ago I was talking with friends and somehow marshmallow came up, I can't even remember the conversation now but it was something to do with the marshmallow plant and how marshmallow was made. Now it turns out that there is such a thing as a marshmallow plant and the first candy was made with it by extracting the sap or boiling the root and sweetening it, way back in Egyptian times, and then much later the French began whipping it, and finally they swapped the plant for gelatine and cornflour and automated the process. Giving us modern marshmallows. But the possibility of making such a thing yourself at home was in doubt despite my assurances to the contrary. Of course you can make marshmallow at home! It is good. My friend's aunty used to make marshmallow shortcake so I promised that I would make some to prove that it can be done and is delicious. Of course as always happened I couldn't stop there, I had to go further and want more than just marshmallow shortcake.

The inspiration to improve the marshmallow shortcake came last week, while eating banoffie muffins and thinking about what I should do with the leftover caramel in order to preven myself just from eating it straight from the jar and then feeling terribly ill. I thought to myself that I should make caramel slice, but I had already planned to make marshmallow shortcake at some point and I really wanted to try this recipe again because it has been years since I used it. Then I thought, would it be too much to add a layer of caramel between the marshmallow and the shortcake? I racked my brains trying to think of an example of such a combination just to prove that I wasn't overdoing it. Finally I realised that of course a Pinky bar has both marshmallow and caramel! Thus a new recipe was born.

Caramel Marshmallow Shortcake
(A.K.A. Pinky Bar Slice)

125 grams butter
3/4 cup (160 grams or so) sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 3/4 cup (275 grams) plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon custard powder

Caramel (optional, leave it out to make simple marshmallow shortcake)

3 teaspoons gelatine
3 tablespoons (50 mL) boiling water
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar
2/3 cup (160 mL) water
1 teaspoon vanilla essence (or rasberry/strawberry for different flavoured marshmallow, or even a couple of teaspoons of jam. I used rasberry jam and vanilla essence)
Red food colouring
1 teaspoon cornflour

Dessicated coconut

Now, I realise that this seems like a huge list of ingredients but really it is not so complicated! I mean, it is more work than plain old cookies and even a cake, on account of the marshmallow. But it still only took me about an hour, and I don't even have a cake mixer, had to hold the beater for ages.

To begin! The shortcake base comes first and is easy. Turn the oven on to 180 degrees celsius and grease a square or rectangle tin ( I had to use two because I have no swiss roll tin, the classic slice tin that we use at home, only small tins, I really must find myself one!). Soften the butter a little and then cream in the sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla essence and beat well. Sift in the dry ingredients and mix well - you may have to use your hands to do this as it forms a rather stiff dough. Then press the dough into the prepared tin and pop into the oven for 10 minutes. As I said above, it's been a very long time since I made this recipe, and following it I baked the base for 15 minutes but it is far too crisp! It is really a biscuity shortbread base so to make it more chewy (and more slicable) I would really recommend only baking for 10 minutes.

While the shortcake is cooking you can begin the marshmallow. My own recipe was copied down from my friend a long time ago and is not very detailed, I could not quite remember how the mixture is supposed to look so I googled it and got some hints. Thus I have changed the method slightly, for instance wikihow told me to place the gelatine in cold water and let it sit for a little while. I'm not sure why, but sure why not try it? Only I still used boiling water, just let it sit awhile. So here goes, if you have a cake mixer I suggest using it as you need to beat this for like 15 minutes or so.

Take your first measure of water and place in a large bowl, then sprinkle the gelatine on top. Give it a mix, but it won't dissolve in such a small volume of water. Just let it sit. While the gelatine soaks place the sugar and second measure of water in a pot and bring to the boil (a heavy-bottomed pot is best, helps spread out the heat and stops the sugar sticking to the bottom and burning). Once it has boiled take it from the heat and pour it into the gelatine mixture. Add your flavouring and colour and begin beating! I did this in steps because I got bored of beating, so I gave it a good mix and then let it sit and cool, and then beat it again for awhile, like 5 minutes at a time, and then let it sit and cool further. (During this time do not forget to take the shortcake out of the oven!) I kept doing this and after it was sort of thick and pale just barely warm added the cornflour, sifted over the top. I have read that you should mix it with the sugar at the boiling step but I have not done so in the past and did not want to create a big gluey mess. This way worked like a charm, immediately the mixture thickened and got creamier. I kept on beating it and letting it cool until it was quite thick - it should be like stiff egg whites. Finally I was ready to put my layers together.

First spread your caramel over the base - you needn't cool the base first. If it is warm the caramel will melt and spread easier. If it is cold, that's OK too. Then you gently pour or spoon the marshmallow over. It should be thick and viscous and hold it's shape a little, so that if there is too much mixture it will not spill and drip but hold together on the top of the slice. But to thicken properly it needs to cool for a good few hours. If you like you can sprinkle coconut over the top, that is what I have always done for marshmallow shortcake. However, in turning this into Pinky Bar Slice I think it needs a bit of chocolate! Not too much though or it will give us all diabetes. However before the chocolate step it must be chilled and set so that we don't end up make a big spilt marshmallow mess.

To add the final touch to my creation I melted about 75 grams of dark chocolate (by which I mean the plain ordinary baking stuff, about 50 % cocoa solids) over a pot of boiling water. I intended to drizzle it over but my melted chocolate turned out not to be drizzleable! So I spread it, and it turns out that marshmallow does not like being spread on! It feels very strange and gelatinous and sort of began to seep over the edges (because I had removed it from the tin). So I had to tidy up the edges of course, and the marshmallow tastes really good! However, three layers is generally enough and on second thoughts I think the chocolate was a total extravagance and that it should have been left without. Maybe just a sprinkling of coconut to help reduce the stickiness, or maybe left plain.

Now it is late and I must go to sleep. I have sampled far too much of the caramel, marshmallow and chocolate and am left with a tummy-ache. It is time for bed and hopefully in the morning I will actually get up when my alarm rings and go for a run. That way I will feel very hungry and up to eating such a ridiculously decadent treat as what I have baked this week!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Peanut Butter Nutter

The problem with having peanut butter in the house is that I am always tempted to just eat it, by the spoonful. The jar that I had on the shelf wasn't even great quality peanut butter so a spoonful was generally pretty disappointing. Not to mention terribly high in cholesterol. So this evenings plan was to use it all up along with everything else that had been in the fridge and freezer too long by making satay. By which I mean a slightly spicy peanut sauce over chicken and vegetables. I know that traditional satay does not neccesarily have peanuts yet in my mind satay is always a peanut sauce. I guess it is like the many other ethnic foods that the western world has taken and run with. So of course packing a meal with so much peanut butter (four serves would be about a quarter of a cup each!) is far from a low fat meal but on the upside, lean chicken breasts provide a good portion of protein, carrots and peppers are bright and colourful and full of vitamins and if you use brown rice you will get the benefits of wholegrains. Now I am actually procrastinating right now and using food to escape doing work that I should have finished already because 9.30 pm is far too late to get anything done, so I guess I should hurry up with the recipe so that I can get to work.

Satay Chicken

2 cups brown rice (plus 4 cups/1 litre of water)
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 onion
3 chicken breasts
Chopped vegetables - carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, brocolli, etc.
500 mL water
1 cup (250 grams) peanut butter
1 teaspoon each ground cumin and coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon crushed chilli
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Place the rice in a large pot with 2 cups of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and leave it to simmer until the rice is cooked, about 20 minutes or so.

Meanwhile chop the onion roughly, heat the oil in a large pan and then throw the onion in. While the onion is cooking cut the chicken into pieces of whatever size you like. Add this to the pan and give it a bit of a stir.

While the chicken is cooking (you should probably keep stirring it every now and then) chop the vegetables. When the chicken appears to be cooked on all sides throw the vegetables in and keep stirring it occasionaly. You should maybe give the rice a bit of a stir too, make sure it's not sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Now add the rest of the ingredients to the pan and stir gently until it is well mixed. Simmer until the sauce has thickened and the rice is cooked.

You are finished! In my opinion an incredibly easy meal and according to those partaking in tonights meal really yummy too. It makes enough for four quite large servings an dof course if you like things spicy add plenty more chilli.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cinnamon Swirls

The first time that I ever had Cinnabon I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever tasted. The second time I had it I realised that it is just amazingly sweet and over the top. But that is not to say that they are not on to a good thing, they just took it a step too far. The general idea of a cinnamon rolled bun is a good one, practically a Chelsea bun only minus the mixed peel, which I for one have never been a fan of. Last weekend I was tired and hungover and tossing up whether to make impromptu brownies or try something new. The thing about brownies is while they always were a good cheer-you-up on a rainy tired Sunday food, it was me alone in the house so not only would I be breaking the bake once a week rule but I would probably eat far too much of it myself. So finally I decided to try a recipe I found for cinnamon swirls - I came across it by chance as I was flicking through a cook book one evening because what better book to read than a cook book? Plus bread isn't included in the no baking rule, even sweet bread. Unfortunately in my tired state my getting off the couch was restricted to the ad-breaks. The recipe said bake 20-30 minutes but it turns out 30 minutes was a bit too long and they were not perfect. So I will try them again today!

The dough for this bread is really nice, it is so soft that I could just keep on kneading it. The recipe calls for pouring a maple syrup glaze over the finished buns but I decided to go for a different option. Last week I tried syrup (golden syrup though as maple syrup is not common here) but they were so sticky. So this week I went for a thin vanilla icing swirled over the top. Although now it is really a little removed from bread, I think adding the icing is really pushing the bake once a week rule. I will just have to invite friends over to devour them in order to prevent my self from that delicious cinnamon-bready fate.

Cinnamon Swirls

10 grams fresh yeast (or 1 teaspoon dried yeast)
2 tablespoons butter
125 mL milk
1 egg
225 grams strong bread flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, softened
2 teaspoons cinnamon
50 grams brown sugar
50 grams sultanas or currants

On the stove or in the microwave melt the butter, add the milk and heat very shortly until it is just warm (if it is hot let it cool before continuing). Whisk in the egg and then add the yeast. Let it sit for about 5 minutes.

Weigh the flour and mix it in to the liquid gradually, leaving aside about half a cup. After mixing briskly let it sit for about quarter of an hour or so, before kneading. I'm not sure how neccessary it is, it is not included in the recipe but my other successful bread recipes suggest letting the dough rest like this, something about the stirring and resting helps make the gluten elasticy or something. So anyway, whether you leave it to rest or not the next step is to add the salt to the rest of the flour and mix that into the dough (you add the salt last to keep it as far from the yeast as possible).

Sprinkle flour over your clean work surface and your hands and roll the dough out of the bowl. Knead it gently for about 5 minutes or so, it should be nice and soft and just a little sticky - if it is sticking to your hands just put a little flour on them. It should stay very soft and not dry out or get crumbly.

Sprinkle flour in the bottom of your bowl (so the dough doesn't stick to it) and place your kneaded dough back in, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for 30 minutes or however long it takes to double in size, I guess it will depend on how warm it is.

While you wait for the dough to rise prepare the cinnamon filling by creaming together the second measure of butter, the cinnamon and the brown sugar. Also at this point you should grease a baking tray or square tin.

When the dough has risen, turn it out onto your floured work surface and give it a very quick knead (like for about 1 minute) and then pat it down into a rectangle, about 30 cm by 20 cm. Spread the dough with the cinnamon mixture and then sprinkle with the sultanas. Roll the dough length-ways and cut into 12 slices. Arrange the slices in your tin and allow to rise again for about 30 minutes or so. At this point you should turn the oven on to preheat to 190 degrees celsius. I actually let them rise for about an hour and a half today because I went off for a cup of tea in town with a friend, but they still turned out ok!

Finally Place your tin in the oven and bake for 20 minutes! When they come out you can brush them with maple syrup or golden syrup or make a sugar syrup, or you can ice them as I did with the following recipe:

Vanilla Cinnamon Glaze

1/2 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon butter
A pinch of cinnamon
1-2 tablespoons boiling water

Sift the icing sugar into a small bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir quickly until smooth. Spoon over the hot buns. Today's cinnamon swirls were rated as very good, better than the last time, really really great, so I guess the extra rising time was not a bad thing and the vanilla glaze seemed to go down a treat.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Banoffie Muffins

Thursday has finally rolled around and after a day of terrible procrastination, in which I went for two tea breaks, one lunch break, went apartment hunting and watched an acrobactics show, it is time to bake! Funnily enough, I just now met a friend of a friend and got to chatting and after admitting that I was going home to bake, the highlight of my week, discovered that I was talking to a fellow foodie! He also tries to attempt to limit his baking to once a week and has a housemate who does the dishes in return for being cooked for. So my day has already been going pretty well and is about to get better because now it is time to bake muffins!

These muffins are my own recipe, something I made up years ago upon being given a gift of dulce-de-leche from Argentina. Over there they apparently spread it on toast but of course I used it for baking. And it is caramel, by the way, or toffee if that is what you are more familiar with. Really thick, dense caramel. A common lunch or afternoon tea treat by a friend's mother was chocolate surprise muffins, in which the surprise was a teaspoon of jam in the middle, so I decided to swap the jam for my dulce-de-leche. Then I was clearly thinking of banoffie pie and decided to put a teaspoon of caramel in the centre and have all the goodness of banana and toffee in muffin form! And you know I thought I was so original, at one point I googled it and found no other recipes. But what would you know, it turns out that down under we spell banoffie wrong - I only just discovered this. If you spell it banoffee instead you find that there are loads of muffin recipes out there. How sad. However, this is still my unique version, and being spelt the kiwi way maybe others will find it who also spell the word wrong, and most of the recipes I looked at were very different to mine, there were only a couple that used the idea of a teaspoon of soft caramel in the centre. Most used hard bits of caramel fudge or caramel sauce over the top. So now that I have had my very small rant and proven my own inventiveness I should really just get on with it.

Banoffie Muffins

Begin the night before and prepare caramel of some sort (unless you have pre-made like a jar of dulce-de-leche, a can of caramel or a rather solid caramel sauce). You could make it with butter and brown sugar and milk but that is time consuming and messy. The best thing to do is to take a can of condensed milk and boil it for a long time. You could open it and empty it into a saucepan and simmer for ages, but you would have to keep stirring it. There is a much simpler option which many already know of, it's quite common, though when I first heard of it a few years ago I thought it a little strange.

Basically, you take a can of condensed milk, place it in a large pot and cover it with water (and also you should take the paper label off). Bring the water to the boil and keep it simmering for at least 3 hours. Keep an eye on the water level though, don't let it get lower than the can because apparently it could explode! This has never happened to me luckily. You also need to leave the can to cool completely after it's done, thus the need to prepare it the night before. Otherwise it will for one be really hot but also when you open the can the pressure inside will cause the caramel to spurt out and make a big sticky mess on the walls or ceiling or yourself. This has happened to me. Now, to get on with it!

2 cups plain flour (about 300 grams)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup caster sugar (or just any sugar will do) (and that's about 125 grams)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 mashed bananas (200 grams or so)
100 grams butter, melted
1 cup milk (250 mL)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

First, preheat the oven to 200 degreees celsius and grease or line your muffin pans.

Take a large bowl and sift into the dry ingredients (except the sugar, that won't go through the sifter of course, just throw that in separately). Then give it a bit of a mix and make a bit of a well in the centre of the bowl.

In another bowl combine the melted butter, milk, egg and vanilla essence. Beat or whisk and then add the mashed bananas. Mix as much as you like - if you want lumps of banana don't mix to much, if you want really smooth muffins mix it really well.

Now take the wet mixture and pour it into the dry, folding the two mixtures together until they are just combined. It is okay if you still see pockets of flour, I surely needn't explain that muffins must not be overmixed?

Finally we are up to the fun part, and see how easy that was? It amazes me how many people think that baking is difficult and time consuming. Take a desert spoon and place a spoonful of mixture or so into each muffin hole, not filling them to more than half but making sure that there is enough in each hole so that the caramel doesn't leak through the bottom.

Next, take a teaspoon and place a teaspoonful of caramel in the centre of each muffin. Top it off with another large spoonful of muffin mixture.

Bake your muffins for 12 to 15 minutes. They should rise evenly and have rounded tops, not pointy tops. Mine did not even rise much at all - I wonder if maybe my baking powder is getting a bit old? A skewer inserted into a muffin should come out clean but this may be hard to judge with all the sticky caramel! Let them cool for about 5 minutes while still in the pan, then carefully pop them out and let them cool the rest of the way, or eat them while they are warm and gooey.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Seeing as I do not have a family or large group of flatmates to feed these days I tend to just make one, maybe two, proper meals a week. So this week's exciting dinner - lasagna! Because like Garfield I would live off of lasagna if I could. Amazingly enough I had never had lasagna until I was about 11 or so, when I was staying at a friend's house, and it was so great that when I went home I told my mother she had to make lasagna. Then I learnt how to make it. So when it comes right down to it I guess lasagna is the reason that I learnt how to cook. Over the years I have continued making lasagna until it has become what is today, my own version of one of may favourite dishes. I know that everybody already makes lasagna in their own way but I'm going to share my version anyway just for the fun and for those poeple that actually don't know how to cook or who might just miss getting to eat my lasagna. Though it is unlikely that any of those people actually read this.

As often happens to me in everything I do I have of course had a fair number of kitchen disasters, one of which involves lasagna. Now I'm not talking about putting too much in the dish and having it overflow, that's a pretty common occurrence in my world. No, what happened a few years ago was all because a friend told me that her mother always made lasagna early, let it get cold and then reheated it, because it's best that way. I figured I should try that so I cooked early in the day and put it in the oven, then had to dash off to a lecture (I was in undergrad at the time). I left a message for my flatmate to turn the oven off at a specific time and when I got home three hours later the house smelt so intensely of food I immediate knocked on her door and asked did she not turn off the oven? And what would you know but she had not got my message! By this stage the rest of our flatmates were home and we quickly turned off the oven and took out an incredibly black lasagna. It smelt really good though, so we broke through the top layer and found that the middle layer was just fine, really perfect in fact. So we all grabbed a fork and demolished the middle layer, but sadly the bottom layer was also rather black and solid. So that night we ordered pizza for dinner.

Well with that being a fair warning to anybody who wants to be clever and get their cooking over and done with early to always be there to turn off the oven, I guess it is time to lay down some detailed instructions and hope that somebody is actually in need of them. Then with real meals aside we can begin to look forward to this week's baking - trust me it's going to be really good!


1 box lasagna sheets (fresh or dried, it's all good, I always use dried because I am a poor student)

Olive oil
1 large onion
garlic - as much as you like
400 grams lean beef mince
3 cans (400 grams each) tomatoes
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons bisto, made into a paste with a little cold water (or just a bit of cornflour, to thicken the sauce up)
1 teaspoon each dried oregano, basil and thyme (or whatever herbs you please, fresh or dried)
Black pepper to taste

2-3 tablespoons butter, margerine or olive oil
2-3 tablespoons plain flour
2-3 cups (250 mL metric cups that is) milk
200 grams grated cheddar cheese

Wow, that is a lot of ingredients. But really, lasagna is not actually too labour intensive or time consuming. No more than an hour between beginning and putting it in the oven. So, to begin - chop up your onion. Heat the oil in a large pan and throw the chopped onion in. While it cooks, crush the garlic and then add that too.

Once the onion is quite cooked, transparent but not brown, add the mince and cook until it is brown all over, using a wooden spoon to stir it and break it up a bit - you want it to be nice and crumbly. Now, here is a very important bit that a lot of people will be horrified about but really, it is necessary. You  must drain the pan of all the water and fat. A lot of water comes out of the mince and if you leave it in the pan firstly, your sauce will not thicken so well and secondly, you will have pools of grease on the top. There really is no need for the extra cholesterol and it will be much better if you drain it. You really don't lose the flavour, just the fat.

Now that you have drained the excess liquid from your pan you can add the rest of the ingredients - the tomatoes and herbs and bisto mixed with a little water. Balsamic vinegar is good but if you don't have any don't worry about it, I never used to use it. In fact I used to throw in some worcestershire sauce for a bit of extra flavour. Simmer your sauce while you prepare everything else. If it seems to taste a bit watery and you want it stronger add some tomato puree, or some beef stock, or both. If you want spice, add crushed chilli!

While the meat sauce is simmering it is time to prepare the white sauce. First grate your 200 grams of cheese and set it aside. Now place your butter/oil/margerine in a medium sized pot and heat - when it is hot and the flour and mix it to make a roux. It should not be runny, but not crumbly either. Sort of smooth. And it should be sizzling, you want the flour to cook a little, for like one minute, but keep stirring it. You don't want it to go brown! Next you simply add the milk very gradually, stirring it into the roux quite briskly so that it does not go lumpy. If there are lumps a whisk should help get rid of them. You want to do it slowly enough that the sauce alway is quite thick, if you add to much milk and make it runny just keep cooking it until it thickens before adding more, keeping the heat at sort of a medium temperature.

The amount of white sauce you make is up to you, I always like to have plenty but 2 cups should be enough. Only continue to add milk while the sauce remains thick, roughly 1 cup per tablespoon of flour but I usually find that makes a runny sauce, a little less milk is good. I use about 3 tablespoons of flour but 2 and a half cups of milk. Finally of course, when your sauce is ready and thick you season with a bit of salt and pepper and add cheese, not too much though. A creamy sauce is best so no more than half of the cheese.

We are now ready to put our lasagna together! First taste both sauces and add salt or pepper if it's needed. Turn on the oven to 180 degrees celsius and get out a large lasagna dish (seriously, this makes a lot, you need a really large dish or two smaller ones). I generally use a ladle and place one big ladleful of the meat sauce on the bottom of the dish. Enough to cover the whole dish but only in a thin layer. Next goes a layer of the lasagna sheets and then a ladleful or two of cheese sauce. And repeat! Finish with a layer of cheese sauce and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Now we don't want the layers to be too thick or the lasagna will not hold it's shape later on. And if you fill the dish to the top you will have my usual problem of everything overflowing! A large tray underneath helps, saves on having to clean the oven.

Finally you place your lasagna in the oven and leave it to cook for an hour. Then turn the oven off and leave it for at least another hour, at the end of which you should serve up your delicious lasagna and try not to eat it all at once because it's even better the day after.

And there are no pictures of lasagna sadly because despite being delicious it's not an overly beautiful looking dish, especially not the very well-cooked one that I made last night, and my food photography is still very poor. I recommend serving with a simple salad, something italian-ish with a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar as a dressing.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Carrot and Coriander Soup

While it is currently not raining and freezing cold in Galway I still felt the need to make soup. May have had something to do with lack of sleep and a bit of a hangover. The evening before a friend had told me about the soup that she had made so I stole her idea and added a bowl of soup to my lounging on the couch watching movies. Hopefully it provided a good boost of vitamins for the day, plus I included lentils for a bit of protein and because they were sitting around in the cupboard. So add some toast and it's a full meal! Not only that but without realising it I was colour co-ordinating - yellow peppers, orange carrots, red lentils. Results in pretty orange soup. So for those suffering from winter weather or those who just want soup, here is my recipe:

Carrot and Coriander Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 brown onion
1 yellow bell pepper
3 large carrots
1 cube/teaspoon chicken stock (but you could leave this out of course)
1/2 cup red lentils
1 teaspoon ground coriander (though if you have fresh it would probably be better)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a medium pot and chop the onion up roughly into smallish pieces. Throw it into the point and give it a stir. Meanwhile, chop up the pepper and add that to the pot. Turn the heat down a little and stir occasionly while you chop your carrots.

Throw the carrots in on top, crumble the chicken stock into the pot, add the lentils and the coriander. Now cover with water and bring to the boil.

Turn the heat down and simmer until the lentils are cooked or just until you feel like getting up and tending to the pot again. Ad breaks are good for this. When the lentils are soft and the carrot cooked take the pot from the stove and get out your stick-blender (if you have one, or pour it into a processor, but that makes so many more dishes). Blend the soup up until it is as smooth or lumpy as you like. Season with salt and pepper and you are done! Now you can continue to wallow on the couch or in front of the fire and enjoy a healthy dose of vegetables while you are at it!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Almond Chocolate-Chippy Biscuits

It is finally Thursday and thus my baking day. I was recently told that I need to get out more, but I do actually get out on quite a regular basis and still the highlight of my week is baking. Getting out and spending time with friends is also way up there on my enjoyable activities list of course, but is it really so bad to look forward to mixing up a batch of cookies? Besides, baking cookies makes the house smell so amazing! Right now the kitchen smells of vanilla and cinnamon and it is so good! In my opinion, while cooking a nice meal can make a place smell good and home-like, I far prefer to cover up those savoury cooking smells with something sweet. For instance, this evening I made spaghetti sauce which is all well and good but to mix up a batch of cookies and fill the apartment with the smell of baking and vanilla has made my evening, and probably my whole week. I will take them to work tomorrow to feed friends and co-workers, mostly out of the kindness of my heart but also partly because a bit of a bribe never goes amiss. These biscuits suit this function perfectly, everybody seems to love them. They have a lot of taste and they are not too sweet but they do have a little bit of chocolate because you really just can't go without and of course nuts for crunchiness.

Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies

125 grams butter (softened, not melted, or you could use margerine)
1 cup sugar (that's about 250 grams, for once I remembered to measure it)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 cup of slivered or flaked almonds (that's about 100 grams)
100 grams (or more) chopped chocolate
2 tablespoons custard powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 pinch of cinnamon
1 and 3/4 cup of plain flour (about 270 grams)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch of salt

To begin with as always turn the oven on to 180 degrees celsius. Then in a large bowl place your soft butter and sugar. For biscuits I almost always use half white sugar and half soft brown sugar but anything is fine really. Using a wooden spoon or an electric mixer cream the butter until it is very well blended (for those not used to baking, to cream the mixture simply means to make it creamy, so just mix it well and you should be right).

Next we begin adding stuff to our mixture. First is the vanilla extract and the egg. The amount of vanilla can of course be varied depending on your own particular taste and the quality of vanilla. If it is cheap vanilla essence you may need more than if you have the really good natural stuff, which is much stronger. But anyway, to get to the point, add the egg and vanilla and mix well. Then throw in the chocolate and almonds and give it a good stir.

Now we must add the dry ingredients and nobody wants a big lump of flour in their biscuit so these things really should be sifted into the mixture. Add the custard powder, cocoa powder and cinnamon (these are all optional, I like the taste, custard will make it more vanilla-y and maybe a bit chewy) and the flour, baking soda and salt (absolutely not optional). Now mix it together as best you can, using your hands at the end if you must (I used to mix cookies by hand with a friend as a child, and then we would leave the rest of the baking to her mum while we went away to lick all of the mixture from our fingers).

So the mixture is ready and it is time to bake. The question is, what size do you want your cookies to be? This evening I made small biscuits, using a small teaspoon to stop me from grabbing so much dough as usual and flattening them out on the tray before baking.

 Now I have so many cute little cookies - they are easier to share this way. For such small cookies I baked each batch for 8 minutes and they have turned out quite crispy. For very large biscuits I would use a real handful and bake for about 15 minutes.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mmm Stew ...

It may seem strange to be making stew in the middle of summer but becomes completely understandable when you take into account the fact that I live in Ireland. In the middle of a long exhausting week where you keep getting rained on stew is perfect and what I threw together last night was given a lot of praise so I figured maybe I should share my recipe, as there are many out there who don't know how to put together a simple delicious stew. I had a little bit of meat in the freezer so this is a beef stew, but really it is primarily tomatoes (vitamin C to keep the immune system going!) and butternut squash (vitamin A so we don't all go blind!), with some lentils thrown in for good measure. So it seems like a rich beef stew but really you are sneaking in all sorts of vitamins and mineral and even those strange people that don't like to eat large helpings of vegetables will wolf this down. At home in NZ I would consider using actual pumpkin but here in Galway butternut is the closest I can get - of course being a kiwi I call it a pumpkin anyway so it's all good. So the recipe?

Beef and Butternut Stew

2 tablespoons oil
1 large onion, chopped roughly
200 grams chopped stewing beef
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 butternut squash, diced into 1cm cubes (roughly)
2 cans tomatoes
1/2 cup lentils
2 tablespoons bisto (or gravy powder, or cornflour + beef stock)
1 teaspoon crushed cumin
1 teaspoon crushed turmeric

First, preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Then heat the oil in a large pan and cook the onion until it is soft. Add the beef and brown on all sides, then add the garlic and fry briefly.

In a large casserole dish (at least 2.5 litres capacity) place the butternut, tomatoes and lentils. If the tomatoes are whole, chop them up a bit. Add the beef and onions and mix it up as well as you can. Now half fill one of the empty cans with water and stir in the bisto and spices. Pour this on top of the meat and vegetables.

Put a lid on the casserole dish and place in the oven for about an hour and a half. I actually only cooked it for an hour, then left the dish in the hot oven because I had to go out and it is so not OK to leave the oven on. When I came back two hours later it was perfect, rich, beefy and tomatoey.

So that is my mid-week meal that I expect to feed me for at least another couple of days (that's right, I forgot to mention, this definately makes enough for about four hungry people) and watch this space because Friday is cookie day!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Chocolate Coconut Marbled Cupcakes!

TGIF! I am so glad it is Friday. Not only is it the end of the week but this particular Friday featured cupcakes! The thought of baking something yummy at the end of the week is what gets me through the drudgery of each day, and feeding sweet treats to various friends and colleagues is a nice way to end the week. Since last Friday's cookies I have been looking forward to baking cupcakes (you see, I must try to limit myself to baking once a week or I would bake every day and end up the size of a house) - chocolate marbled cupcakes in fact. On Monday I decided to make them coconutty. On Tuesday I decided to make them pink. On Wednesday I decided to get out my frosting tips to decorate them pretty. Finally Thursday came around and I spent the evening baking! So while technically coconut is a fruit and thus it is good for you, these cupcakes are really just a huge pile of calories (delicious chocolatey calories). Which is why I take them to work and share them around. Of course, I had to give them a good sample first. So for anybody wishing to make delicious soft coconutty cupcakes, lets proceed immediately with the recipe and I will ramble on another day. For now I will just say that for cakes and frosting you really do need to use real butter and not margerine. Trust me, they will be so much more delicious.

Marbled Cupcakes

300 grams butter, softened but not melted
2 cups white sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup milk
6 T cocoa
1 C coconut
Red food colouring

Preheat the oven to 180 ° celsius and line muffin pans (this recipe makes 18 cupcakes or so). The texture of these cakes is really soft and moist so it is best to use paper cases and not just grease the muffin holes.

Cream the butter and the sugar in a large bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in the vanilla.

Sift in the flour alternately with the milk, beating well after each addition.

Divide the mixture into two bowls. To make coconute-chocolate cupcakes, sift in 6 tablespoons of cocoa powder into one half of the mixture and mix well and in the other, add 1 cup of coconut and mix well. If you want them pink, add some drops of red food colouring. Of course, this is where you can get inventive though. It doesn't have to be chocolate and coconut. You could flavour and colour the divided mixture in any way that you like. If you don't like coconut just leave one half as plain vanilla, or try orange zest or orange juice for jaffa cupcakes. You could use rasberry or strawberry essences or puree, or apple. You could even divide it three ways if you wanted. Which of course makes me want to immediately whip up another batch of cupcakes!

To create the marble effect, place small spoonfuls of the mixtures alternately in each cupcake form, layering them unevenly on top of each other. Only fill the pans up half-way, or three-quarters at the most. If they are smaller and flatter there is more room for frosting and they are so much easier to decorate.

Bake for 20 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. If they have been baked in paper cases of course you can remove them immediately to cool but if you have not used paper you will need to wait for about 10 minutes before removing them from the tin, otherwise they might crumble somewhat as they come out. But not to worry, it is that softness that makes them so good and if a couple break to pieces that is okay, it just means more for the chef to sample!

So lastly, as for frosting, you can of course frost them in anyway that you like. I chose chocolate and sprinkled the top with coconut. I used to have a great recipe for chocolate butter frosting but I must have left it in New Zealand. Not only that but I ran out of butter last night so I had to make a very basic frosting. It was still good, but I think it could have been better. Nevertheless, for those of you that are in need of a frosting recipe I will follow with my own chocolate frosting, it is very simple but tastes pretty good.

Chocolate Frosting

2 cups icing sugar
*2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
70 grams melted dark chocolate
50 grams butter, softened
1/4 cup milk

Sift dry ingredients together. Add the melted chocolate, softened butter and vanilla essence. Beat well.

Add the milk one teaspoon at a time until you have a good consistency - stiff for piping, softer for spreading or more liquid for a glaze effect.

My recipe calls for both cocoa powder and chocolate. This is of course optional. I use both because I generally cook with plain chocolate, about 50% cocoa solids, and for the frosting I find this is not rich enough. If you have darker chocolate, may you will not want more cocoa. If you have no chocolate, increase the cocoa to 1/2 cup. Also, for more of a butter cream double the butter. This made just enough frosting for 18 cupcakes.

So that is it and I hope that somebody out there is inspired to make delicious cupcakes! They made the perfect end to a week of hard work and suffering through an awful cold - in fact it is only now that I really feel better so it must be the cupcakes that finally did it.

On another note, this week also began with foodie goodness, in the terms of getting my first blog follower! Somebody found my chocolate self-saucing pudding and linked to me on her own food blog - looks like the first step towards what will clearly be stardom. Not only that but it turns out June the 26th is chocolate pudding day! How did I never hear of this before?! I must mark it in my diary and do my part to transform and American national tradition into something more international - because chocolate pudding deserves a day of celebration. Or perhaps several days. Would once a week be too much?