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.