Saturday, 27 February 2010

The very first reveal

So today is the very first reveal date for my Daring Bakers challenge. My first challenge and my first official reveal and the anticipation of what next month's challenge will be, its all very exciting! I found the Tiramisu quite a challenge I have to admit. I have never made such a complicated dessert before and it stretched my kitchen skills quite considerably. I found the marscapone the most challenging part. It is not a complicated method on paper but the practice is something else. It kind of worked but it was not the consistency I would have liked and I will certainly have to give it another go as I hate not getting something just right. But the Zabaglione and Pastry Cream turned out beautifully and the Savoiardi although not the most beautiful I have ever seen tasted lovely and gave the Tiramisu a firm but delicate base. Another slight problem i ran into was the construction. I did not have a dish that was exactly the right size so the one I ended up using was slightly too small and the top of my tiramisu came up over the edge of the dish which was less than ideal. At the end of the day I was happy with it as a first attempt and I have learned some valuable skills and I am confident that the next time I make a Tiramisu it will be considerably better! It tasted divine, and after all, they do say that the proof of the pudding is in the eating...

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Soooo behind

I know, I know, I have been absolutely awful with dong blog posts for the last week. It has been a crazily hectic week though and so much has happened so I really do have a valid excuse! Last week I was alone again for a lot of the week so I lived off Butternut Soup mostly and spent all my evenings in the gym to keep me busy and to keep trying to work off those stubborn post-Christmas pounds which seem like they have settled for good and are strongly resisting all my efforts to get rid of them. My only real culinary success last week was finishing my Tiramisu which is this month's Daring Bakers Challenge. I can't post pictures of it yet as it is not the 'reveal date' but I can say that it tasted absolutely yummy. To be honest it was not the prettiest Tiramisu that I have ever seen - I do need more practice in constructing them - but it did taste yummy. The Zabaglione/Pastry Cream/Whipped Cream combination was a smooth and creamy, not too sweet and not too rich, just right. I may attempt another one before the month is out to see if I can get the outcome any prettier and more worthy of being posted with all the other challenge results.

One side effect of making Tiramisu is that you are left with a lot of egg whites. I ended up with about 5 of them in the fridge by the end of the weekend and not wanting them to go to waste, I proceeded to make meringues. I haven't made meringues in ages and they can be rather fickle things, sometimes turning out well and sometimes not so much. This batch turned out ok, and they are current;y in a tin in my kitchen awaiting their fate. I am pondering filling them with a chocolate ganache or something as plain old meringues can be a bit boring and a bit too much of a sugar hit without something to break it up. Now to hunt down a good ganache recipe, I have heard that the chocolate to cream proportions is an age-old debate and there are numerous variations on the mixture, so which one will be worthy when it comes to filling my little meringues?

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Great beginnings

This months Daring Baker's chellenge is Tiramisu, so I have decided to start on this rather intimidating but very exciting project this week. It takes about 2-3 days to make due to refridgeration times required, so I thought I'd start last night, construct it tonight, and then it will be done by tomorrow when I have a friend (aka Guinea-Pig) coming over for dinner who I would love to impress with a made-from-scratch culinary masterpiece. Now I will not be able to show photos of the finished creation until the official Daring Bakers reveal date on the 1/3, but I can show pictures of the process of construction, which is not a simple process I'll have you know. The challenge includes making Marscapone from scratch, which I started last night and am praying actually looks like marscapone and not butter/curdled cream when I come to use it later. Last night I also started the Zabaglione (is that or is that not a very fun word to say?) and the Pastry Cream which require overnight refridgeration before use. The Zabaglione involved Egg Yolks and sugar and the liqor (Tia Maria in this case), and the Pastry Cream is egg yolk, sugar and milk made into something similar to an egg custard's smooth & creamy consistency. Both smell delicious and I can't wait to use them in the construction process tonight.

The plan for tonight is to make the Ladyfingers/Savoiardi (Sponge finger biscuits) which will be interesting as I have never done anything like them before. If they turn out acceptable I will then construct the Tiramisu and hopefully it will be a beautiful and delicious masterpiece (I believe in the power of positive thinking!). So until tomorrow, fingers crossed and wish me luck!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Simple but effective

The thing I love about pasta is that its so versatile. There are endless possibilities when it comes to pasta and what you can do with it. This is something that I was grateful for last night when I came to make my tomato, basil and brie pasta, and found that I did not in fact have any brie. But as is always something that can be found to put on pasta, even in the most meagre of fridge-contents, all was not lost. There were cherry tomatoes and basil in the fridge, a good foundation for any pasta sauce. There was also chorizo, spinach and parmesan. A bit of fire, a bit of sweet tomato, a bit of veg, perfect! :) So dinner ended up as an improvised pasta sauce containing all of the above, and it wasn't bad at all.

One of the Valentine's Day gifts that I gave Jel was a Brie Baker. This is a little kitchen tool that I discovered when looking for a Christmas present for a friend last year, and it is a gem. Jel and I are both big cheese lovers and this miniature casserole dish which is the perfect size to fit a round of Brie or Camembert, is a cheese-lover's dream. We tried it out for the first time last night and all I can say is YUM! We baked a round of camembert with a splash of white wine and a clove of garlic, and it was liquid, creamy heaven. We dipped Moroccan-style herb and poppy-seed crackers in the cheese at it made a sublime, decadent starter. Although I may have to do a double length run tonight to work it off, it was undoubtably worth it.

(Pictures from where I bought the Brie Baker from)

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Return of the muse

Ater a long week without my muse I was back in the kitchen this weekend cooking up a storm. I made  huge batch of last weeks butternut soup to fed me at lunch times in the working week. I also made Nigella's Lamb Tagine from her Christmas cookbook. I know its hardly Christmas any more but I have always wanted to try it an the beautiful, new, shiny cast-iron casserole dish that Jel brought back from America for me seemed like a good an excuse as any to give it a go. It is a very different recipe from the Anthony Worrall-Thompson one that I had tried previously, but it was no less impressive. It was amazingly simple to construct, and once the basic prep was done and it was tucked away safely in the oven to cook slowly for 2 hours, that was it. And it was certainly tasty, a good balance between the onion, garlic, lamb and spices, which were complimented by the sweetness of the dates and pomegranate juice. Served with some plain cous-cous and whichever veg tickles your fancy, you couldn't ask for an easier but still oh-so-impressive Sunday dinner. I'm contemplating making my own Worrall-Thompson/Nigella hybrid Lamb Tagine next time. I love the meaty-richness and pomegranate undertones of the Nigella recipe, but I also like the more genuine moroccan feel of almonds, sultanas, tomatos and apricots in the Worrall-Thompson version, so a hybrid experiment is definitely on the cards. Fingers crossed I wont' turn 2 good dishes into 1 disaster!   


I also did a big cupcake run on Sunday. One of my colleagues who is based in another office was due to come in yesterday and as she is never here when I bring in cake, I promised that I'd bring something in for her. So after trawling through my Cookies, Cupcakes & Other Tempting treats book, I settled on the Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes with white and milk chocolate icing. The recipe stated that it should make 24 so I thought that this was more than sufficient, even for the hungry mouths at work. You can imagine my amazement then when after making up the mixture, it filled 9, yes, 9, paper cases. I was left rather baffled at this phenomenon, and concluded that the writer of this book must be using very, very small cupcake paper cases. But not to be disheartened I started again on a recipe for Super Mocha cupcakes, and I managed to stretch the mixture over 12 cases, so not a bad result overall. I has been hoping to use my new, shiny piping bag (another present my darling man brought me from the US) but by the time the Tagine, Butternut Soup and 2 lots of cupcakes were done, my energy was waning. I had made 2 lots of icing, a white chocolate one, which turned out rather runny and did not even try to hold its shape when piped, and the milk chocolate one ended up stiff enough to stand up by itself and therefore was a challenge to squeeze out of the piping bag. But it was a good learning curve on icing consistency, so better luck next time :)

Thursday, 11 February 2010

A rather flat week

So this week Jel has been away and I have really not done much cooking. I made the butternut soup the other night and I had that for dinner again yesterday, which I really did not mind as it is yummy! But all my plans for chicken enchiladas, lamb and chickpea pilaff and lamb curry have really gone out of the window. Tonight I will probably be on the last of the butternut soup with bread and goat's cheese and then my favourite Anton Berg liqueur chocolates for dessert; a simple dinner for 1. I have needed the time this week though as I am working on a Valentines present for a friend to give to his wife. It was a bit of a last minute request so I have been working frantically to get it done in time, but without my resident handyman to make the box dividers I have my doubts that it will be there before Sunday. I do Pewter craftwork and use it to decorate various items as a hobby and now I have a website and hopefully in the future will make items to sell - a bit of extra 'pocket money' can only be a good thing. While showing the website to our friend Edwin who we were visiting on the weekend, he decided that one of my tea boxes would make a nice Valentines present for his wife Janita. I am very happy that he likes my work but it is a tight deadline that I fear I may miss, but I'm trying my best. (to get an idea of what I am talking about check out my website:

After watching The Princess and The Frog on the weekend, I have this strange desire to make a Shrimp Gumbo. The movie was set in New Orleans and the leading lady was a talented cook who specialised in her daddy's recipe for Shrimp Gumbo. It has never even occured to me to attmept to make anything like a Gumbo, but I am quite tickled by the idea now and itching to give it a go. I have trawled through oodles of recipes online and I really don't have a clue which one to try, but I have selected one that sounds nice and had a couple of good reviews and maybe if I can make it to the Fishmonger I have yet to try, this weekend may be the time to take the plunge. It is hard to find nice, fresh prawns so I think that the fate of the dish depends on whether nice prawns are anywhere to be found locally. I do find it funny that nice seafood is harder to find here in Manchester where we are only and hour from the sea than it was in Johannesburg where we were at least 6 hours from the nearest coastline. One of the many things I miss about home...

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Warm comforts

There is nothing quite like the promise of a warm bowl of fabulous-smelling soup when you have come in from the cold after a hard gym session. One hot shower and some simple cooking later, and I was digging into my spiced butternut soup with fresh sundried tomato and parmesan bread and some smooth, creamy goats cheese. Satisfyingly filling but relatively healthy, it made for the perfect dinner tonight when I desperately needed comfort from the throbbing in the back of my neck which threatens to turn into a headache and from my legs which feel like lead after the run at the gym. Some roasted butternut with chilli and thyme blended up with softened onion and garlic and some toasted and ground up cumin and coriander seeds. A bit of stock and salt and pepper and yum.

I found an absolutely amazing recipe online tonight which I am absolutely dying to try. It is for Cappuccino Fudge Cheesecake. It looks like all my favourite things mixed up by magic and turned into an edible slice of heaven... chocolate, coffee, Kahlua, Rum, biscuits, cream cheese, and more. Now I just need an excuse to make it - someone give me an excuse!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Miso & Muffins

After a busy weekend visiting friends and their lovely little daughter in Birmingham, there was not a lot of time for thinking about what I am going to cook this week. But this afternoon I was able to sit down and browse my latest Delicious Magazine and my Tempting Treats cookbook and see what tickled my tastebuds for the week ahead, half of which will be solo cooking for 1 and so all the more challenging. After perusing my options and then braving the shops, I decided to make Rum and Raisin muffins tonight. I love Rum and Raisin, in ice-cream normally, but never having tried it in muffins I though that was a culinary experiment worth trying. So they are in the oven and I can't wait to sample one as soon as they come out.

Dinner took a bit of a back seat tonight as I'm working on a valentine's day gift for a friend and I'm on a tight deadline and the muffins were 2nd priority so dinner was a slightly sad 3rd. I had some shitake mushrooms in the fridge which needed using and as I had more than my fair share of fattening food this weekend, a light, healthy miso soup was the order of the day. Nothing could be simpler, veg stock a cinnamon stick and ginger, along with some miso powder, spring onions, spinach and chicken and of course, the mushrooms. No oil or fat to be seen which gives my poor stomach a rest from the abuse of red wine and far too much chocolate which I have indulged in this weekend. (I'm not counting the muffins as I haven't had one yet!) 20 minutes and dinner is served.

On a totally off-the-topic note, I had a thought today. We I had a quite a few actually, it would be hard to function as a person in the world without thoughts, but I had a big, profound thought. I think it stemmed from The Princess and the Frog - which was the movie that we took Vashanna (3 years old) to yesterday. It is not a movie that I would normally watch, I have nothing against animations but it was not 3d, it was not pixar-level amazing graphics. It was just a modest little animated movie with a cute 'underdog girl goes through trials and tribulations and gets to marry a handsome prince' storyline. But it made me remember something and I have been thinking about it ever since. It made me remember that I don't have to make a lot of money, I don't have to have a big, important job. Those are not the things in life that we look back on when we are in the twilight of our lives. The things we look back on are the life things. The laughter and the friends and the love and the family. Something happened a few months ago that set me on the wrong road, thinking that the end of my path was doom and misery unless I make a 'success' of myself and made more money. But that is not what is important, and I will not let myself be made to feel like that any more. I am not a rich-and-important person, I am a getting-by-and-surviving person. I am not a happiness-and-light person, I am dark-and-cloudy, but I try to be a good person every day. I try to love with all I have without letting my fear of the future overcome me, and I try to make people smile, without being sad that I don't have a best friend to call at night and talk to about the funny things that happened in my day and how my muffins always rise skew. Skew like they are being blown by a strong wind while they are trying to rise. They want to rise straight-up but the oven just won't let them. So now I am going to sample one of my skew muffins and smile and finish my design and go to sleep happy.

So until tomorrow, happy cooking.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Imminent Suger Overload

Last night I finished making my Graham Crackers and undertook the construction of the infamous Nanaimo bars. The graham cracker dough was quite unlike anything that I have worked with before. It was very soft but with a crumbly yet sticky tecture. Rather bizarre. So rolling out the dough was an interesting operation, and as I did not have hours to do it and make them all pretty and perfect, I just rolled and cut rather haphazardly. The ones for the bars would have to be blended into crumbs anyway so who really cares about appearance? So after being rolled, cut, chilled and then baked for 25 minutes I had Graham Crackers. rather brittle and with a taste that seemed oddly familiar but I could not quite put my finger on what it was that it reminded me of.

Once the crackers had cooled I blended up the ugliest of the lot and made the rest of the bars - which was not hard but a lot of work really. Butter, sugar and cocoa powder were melted down to be mixed with the cracker crumbs, coconut and almonds for the base which was pressed into a tin. Then the icing-like middle layer was made up from icing sugar, butter and custard powder then spread over the cracker-base. Then chocolate and butter were melted down and poured over the custardy icing layer and the tin went into the fridge to chill until firm. Once sifficiently chilled I managed to remove the slab from the tin without dessimating the chocolate layer too much and then cut it into 4cm x 4cm squares. They are very, very sweet so bigger pieces may induce a sugar-coma in the unsuspecting consumer. I do find it rather a challenge to cut up any bar/square confectionary that is covered in a layer of chocolate. It is not easy to cut it up without cracking the chocolate into a broken and very messy looking surface. A far cry from the smooth clean-edged perfection that I can only hope to achieve. I did attempt to cut it with a hot knife this time to see if it helped, and to a certain extent it did although the chocolate melted a bit too much in some parts and smeared down the nice, clean sides. It is all a learning curve and maybe next time I'll be able to perfect the technique and end up with crisp, clean edges. This time I did have a couple that looked nice from a certain angle so one of them was my model for the photo. They do not all look like this, believe me.

So this weekend I was going to attmept my Tiramisu but we are off to Birmingham tonight to see some friends, so tonight I am making a quick pizza before we hit the road, and then the rest of the weekend I will have to take as it comes. I like surprises so that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Until next time, happy cooking

Thursday, 4 February 2010

A new kind of chicken and some sticky dough

Yesterday was the typical busy weekday. I was at work until a little after 5pm, then off to the gym for my 45 mins of running and my weights circuit, then home and shower and try to keep myself on my feet for cooking while my legs are feeling decidedly jelly-ish and in real danger of buckling under me while I have a knife in my hand. As I was feeling rather exhausted the plan was simple but tasty. I also needed to start the dough for my Graham Crackers so that I can construct my Nanaimo bars tonight. The dough needs to be chilled overnight so some degree of planning is required. The dough was very simple to get to the chilling stage. Into the food processor with all 3 types of flour (Sweet/glutinous rice flour, Tapioca Starch/Flour and Sorghum Flour), dark brown sugar, Bicarb and salt. Whizzed it all up and then added cubes of cold butter then as soon as the breadcrumb-like stage is reached, add the milk, vanilla extract and honey until the dough comes together. The dough is very soft and will be interesting to roll out, but at the moment it is in a pretty rectangle shape in the fridge awaiting its completion tonight.

Once the dough was wrapped up and happy in the fridge, I started with dinner which was an interesting asian-style chicken with jasmine rice and soya beans. The chicken was unbelievable easy and very tasty which I was rather impressed with. The sauce teamed up well with a plain rice and after boiling the soya beans for a couple of minutes I simple seasoned them with sea salt and finely chopped chilli. All in all it was ready in about 20 minutes so for a simple yet tasty weekday dish this one certainly worked for me.

1/4c Soy Sauce
1/3c Sherry
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 stick cinnamon
2 whole star anise

bring the above to the boil in a non-stick frying pan, then turn down the heat and add 2 chicken breasts. Cook for 4-5 minutes per side or until cooked through and then serve with rice and your choice of veg. Sweet and simple. Or rather salty and simple to be more specific, but I'm sure you know what I mean.

So the plan tonight is another chicken dish, I'm still trying to decide what what exactly, I'm thinking chicken breast stuffed with something and wrapped in parma ham, but I'll see what inspires me tonight.
until tomorrow, happy cooking.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Mac and Cheese

Before you start thinking I have been eating McDonalds, Mac and Cheese refers to last nights dinner, Macaroni Cheese. I was perusing a few websites and blogs on the weekend and came across this recipe for Mushroom and Herb Macaroni Cheese. I could not remember the last time that I had Macaroni Cheese and I felt and undeniable desire to give it a go. As we had some vegetarian friends over for dinner last night, I though that it would be the perfect time to sample the recipe. It is also not a long or complicated dish so after a day at work and then a spinning session in the gym, I had a simple yet fabulously tasty dinner to tmake that would not take me hours and lead to us eating in the middle of the night. This recipe is certainly not for those that are watching their fat intake as it calls for copious amounts of gruyere and cheddar in the herby bechamel sauce, but as it is a rich, cheesy dish I found that I did not need a huge serving to fill me up. The herbs and mushrooms added a new twist and broke thorugh the cheesyness nicely and the breadcrumb topping finished it off with a seductive golden crispiness. I certainly recommend this dish when you are hungry and want a bit of warm, comforting indulgence on a cold winter night. I was going to serve Sunday's chocolate brownies with a dollop of ice-cream for dessert, but we were all more than full from the pasta so all we needed for a sweet finale was a liqueur chocolate or two before we retired to bed exhausted and basking in the warm glow of red wine, cheese and chocolate. A perfect night.

Mushroom-Herb Macaroni & Cheese

(Serves 4-6 as a main dish)

7 tablespoons butter
500g mushrooms of your choice, roughly chopped
1 shallot, minced
Salt & pepper

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives
3 cups whole milk

170g shredded Gruyere cheese, divided

170g shredded white cheddar cheese, divided

400g pasta of your choice

1 cup breadcrumbs

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Have an approx 25×35cm baking dish ready. Set a pot of water (for the pasta) over high heat and cover.

2. In a large pan, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and shallot and saute, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have cooked down and are browned, 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the vinegar and cook, stirring, until the liquid has cooked off. Turn off the heat and set aside.

3. For the bechemel sauce, in a medium-sized saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, whisk in the flour and cook for about 30 seconds, whisking constantly. Add the herbs and, still whisking, saute for another 30 seconds. In a slow, steady stream, whisk in the milk. Allow the sauce to come to a simmer.

4. While waiting for the sauce to simmer, add the pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook to al dente, or 1-2 minutes less than the box calls for.

5. Once the bechemel sauce simmers, stir in 140g each of the Gruyere and white cheddar cheeses until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat.

7. Strain the pasta and in a large mixing bowl, toss the pasta, the sauce, and the mushrooms. Pour into the baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining 30g each of Gruyere and white cheddar. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture on top of the cheese.

8. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until browned and bubbly. Let sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.

(Recipe courtesy of The Brown Eyed Baker)

I got my February Delicious Magazine in the post yesterday and from the cover recipe, I can't wait to go through it and choose all the yummy looking recipes I am going to cook from it next week. The cover is a Spiced Butternut Soup with Chorizo and just looking it makes my mouth water, so that is definitely going to be on the agenda for next week.

I also have to plan when I am going to make the February Daring Baker Challenge recipe. I have to admit that I got confused and thought that January's recipe was for February, so it is not the Gluten-Free biscuits and Canadian Dessert bars this month, its Tiramisu. Tiramisu with ladyfingers and Marscapone (made from scratch!!! Marscapone, made from scratch!!!). Wow! So I am trying to get over my fear and figure out when I am going to attempt this mammoth task and try not to panic.

Until tomorrow, happy cooking.