Thursday, 31 March 2011

Butternut Goats Cheese Salad and the Dawn of the Spring

There was something different in the woods last night. As I ran through them I could see that they were not the same as they have been. I have to confess that I am a little slow on the uptake and it took me a while to figure out what it was. It was the green. The woods are coming back to life after the grey and brown of winter. Spring is spreading its life-giving fingers through the trees and over the ground, colouring everything green. Last night's run really heralded in the start of the spring and the promise of summer to me. It was light and a bit of blue sky and real sunshine even made an appearance through the trees, a welcome sight after a day of monochrome greyness. The final stretch of that run route takes me through a farm, and I had to laugh out loud to myself as I picked my way through the muddy farmyard, under the watch of the sheep. They were just so funny, lying around on the ground just looking at me. I could not figure out if there expressions were the blank stare of a not too bright animal, or wary curiosity, or indignantion at my trespassing through their mud. Whatever it was I had to laugh.

So today's post is not about a lamb as you may think from my opening sheepy statement, but it is about a lovely Butternut and Goats Cheese Salad that I made last week while on my low-carb pre half marathon eating regime. It was a super tasty and a bit of a final hurrah to the winter squash. Although I do love my butternut so I am sure I'll still get hold of the odd one here and there in the summer. But its the principle of bye-bye winter, hello spring. When roasted butternut is sweet, yet savoury, crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, and with the paprika and cumin it gets a lovely crisp, spicy outside.

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Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Berry Breakfast Smoothie and Not a PB, but a PA

On Sunday I ran the Wilmslow Half Marathon. I had trained. I had worked for it. But still I was not as fast as I was in my last half marathon. That sucks. Not that I am usually fast at all, but I'm speaking relatively here. I honestly don't think that I'm naturally built for running, but its something that I normally enjoy doing, and it allows me to eat cake. So its win win. 

If you have ever run any kind of race before, whether it be a 5k, a Half Marathon or the insanity that is a full Marathon, you will know that racing = pain.  In my case, 2 hours of pain. Which is how long it took me to run the 13.1m/21km. While running along for 2 hours, one has a lot of time to think. And at times I thought about the sports jelly beans I was shoving into my mouth at mile intervals, and wondering if they were doing anything apart from making me gag as I tried to swallow them with dehydrated mouth/throat. I also thought about the 'carbo-loading' preparation that I had done the week before and whether it offered any benefit or not.

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Sunday, 27 March 2011

Strawberry, Almond & White Chocolate Yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake

Before anyone gets confused or misled, this cake is more a bread than a cake, and there ain't no coffee in it.What's the deal with it being called 'Coffee Cake' then you ask? Apparently it is because this kind of bready cake is a good accompaniment to coffee, and they were originally paired by the Dutch, Germans and Scandanavians. You have your morning mug of steaming latte, or your afternoon cappuccino, and this cake will sit next to it like they were made for each other. Personally, I am more than happy to eat this cake with coffee, tea, milk, water, or just straight up. By itself. Its yummy.

This recipe is the March Daring Baker's Challenge. The March 2011 Daring Baker's Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria's Collection and Jamie of Life's a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.

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Friday, 25 March 2011

Blueberry Brown Rice Pudding

Sometimes the simplest things in life are the most pleasurable. Feeling the warmth of the sunshine on your face, sharing a hot, frothy latte with someone in the morning, finishing a run that you just put a bit more effort into than usual, making someone smile. They are not elaborate, complicated, challenging, things. They do not require much effort or hours of dedication. They are simple, but special. This is how I feel about rice pudding.

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Sunday, 20 March 2011

Vodka Cream Pasta and Botched Biscotti

So the other night, after a hectic day, I wanted pasta. Pasta is the food I turn to when I want flavour, and comfort and ease. And I was in the mood for all three. But I wanted something a little different. Something with a twist. And thats when I remembered Vodka Cream Pasta that I had made once before. I found it on Smitten Kitchen and, like everything else on that gorgeous blog, it is sublime. And I have a big bottle of Smirnoff that is just the thing. Now I know some people may say that using fancy Smirnoff in cooking may be some kind of crime, but I think of it like wine. If you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it.

I also had a need to bake something, and seeing that I've been browsing a lot of biscotti recipes lately, I thought that they would be just the thing. Not complicated and easy to fit in with the pasta I was making, in great girl-multi-tasking style. I did however make it a little harder for myself in that I wanted to make a new flavour. Gingerbread white chocolate biscotti. Now I managed to find a recipe for something like this but it had butter in it. And I firmly believe that real biscotti do not have butter in them. So I had to hybrid-ise my recipe. Take a non-butter recipe and gingerbread and white chocolate it up. Not hard, but while making pasta as well - maybe a little challenging.

The pasta went beautifully. As usual I made loads, but I am generally grateful for the leftovers on a home alone night when I don't cook. Like last night. A long, busy day. A tired, aching body. And no strength to even lift a spatula. Leftover vodka cream pasta = perfect solution. Pair it with a smooth glass of chilean cabernet and thats the start of a (well earned!) relaxing hour or two on the sofa. I could do with some leftover pasta tonight. Ran a half marathon route today and my feet are protesting loudly whenever I ask them to take me anywhere. Hence I am sat down writing this and wondering what I can have for dinner. There's still some fresh pesto in the fridge, hmmmmm.

Anyway, I digress. Sorry. Pasta turned out lovely. Its basically idiot proof. But the Biscotti experiment, not so much.  So the dough came together just fine. I balanced out what I put in with taking some out, so I thought that the chemistry of the whole baking process would still work, but something didn't. Work that is.

I think I am going to blame my oven. Not my lack of full attention. Yeah, that sounds good. Honestly, I do blame my oven. As I am sure I have said before, its a fan oven and has the tendency to be over-zealous. Sometimes I can correctly counter the blowing heat but I think this time I didn't work so well. The outer crust of the dough was very hard and crispy. Fine. But the inside was still raw and just didn't hold together when I started cutting the loaf into individual biscotti.

So the biscotti, although they tasted amazing, were far from pretty. They were crumbly. There was not even one perfect one for me to photograph. Not one. But, as my tastebuds are blind they did not mind :) I will be re-attempting those biscotti again. Some time when I can give them the attention that they deserve, and make sure that the firey oven beast is tamed. So watch this space for the recipe. It will come when  get it right.


Vodka Cream Pasta

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, once around the pan in a slow stream

1 tablespoon butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 shallots, minced

1 cup vodka

1 cup chicken stock

2 tins chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon chilli flakes

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Coarse salt and pepper

400g pasta, such as penne or tagliatelle

1/2 cup double cream

2 large handfuls fresh basil, shredded or torn

Heat a large frying pan over moderate heat. Add oil, butter, garlic, and shallots. Gently saute shallots for 3 to 5 minutes. Add vodka to the pan. Reduce vodka by half, this will take 2 or 3 minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, dried basil and oregano, chilli flakes and nutmeg. Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer until saucy and thick in consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

While sauce simmers, cook pasta in salted boiling water until cooked to al dente.

Stir cream into sauce. When sauce returns to a bubble, remove it from heat. Drain pasta. Toss hot pasta with sauce and basil leaves. Serve and enjoy!


Orignal From: Vodka Cream Pasta and Botched Biscotti

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Brown Butter Cinnamon Brown Sugar Monkey Bread


I was asked the other day what it is that like like about baking/cooking. Is it the eating? Is it the construction process? Is it the challenge? Is it the making something that people enjoy? When I think about it, I am sure that its a combination of all of the above, but mostly - I enjoy the construction. The mixing and whisking and folding and beating and kneading and (you get the picture right? I thought so. I'll stop going on and on now) and then seeing if it all turns out ok. Even if it doesn't I still enjoy it. Weird, right? I also hugely enjoy making people smile. I have been given this opportunity a few times recently and honestly, nothing beats it. It is wonderous what a little thought and a little sugar can do for someone who is having a bad day. Its like the saying (I don't know who originally said it) which goes something along the lines of  'a baker is a witch who conjures smiles'.


Why do I blog then? I was asking myself that same question this morning while reading an article in the latest Delicious Magazine about food bloggers. I don't write because I think people are reading, because I am really not convinced that anyone (besides my mum) reads what I write. I don't write because I have any aspirations to become famous or gain any type of notoriety. So why do I write? Because I enjoy riting, I always have. When I was a teenager I would start writing novels that never got beyone a dozen pages or so before I lost inspiration, but I just loved reading and wanted to write. And teh easiest thing to write about, is something that you love. I could never blog about cars or fashion, but cooking... I like to cook and I like to write about it. So I guess I do it for me. If there is anyone else out there reading this, I am doing it for you too. Thank you for reading. You're fabulous.  
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Sunday, 13 March 2011

Ceviche - Courtesy of the Daring Cooks

Kathlyn of Bake Like a Ninja was our Daring Cooks' March 2011 hostess. Kathlyn challenges us to make two classic Peruvian dishes: Ceviche de Pescado from "Peruvian Cooking – Basic Recipes" by Annik Franco Barreau. And Papas Rellenas adapted from a home recipe by Kathlyn's Spanish teacher, Mayra.

I have never had ceviche before although I have heard of it. Being a huge fan of sushi the prospect of raw fish did not put me off at all. The thought of using it in a whole new way was exciting, and I decided that I wanted to do something different with it. Make it stand out. Make something thats not like anything I've had/seen/made before. So I looked around online and read loads of recipes using white fish, salmon, herbs, and then one caught my eye. Scallop and Peach Ceviche.

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Friday, 11 March 2011

Spaghetti with Prawns (and other good stuff)

I ache. All over. Even in my running muscles which I thought were strong. Even in muscles I didn't know were there. Especially in mu left hamstring and right quad (in case you hadn't noticed, I'm feeling sorry for myself - currently self medicating with red wine). I am not built for laying flooring. But I do truly believe that manual labour is good for the soul, so the work itself I don't mind. Its the aftermath that I mind. I am in training, that hurts enough. This is too much. Ouch. But... it looks lovely. A transformation. Now I just need to clean up all the dust and confusion.

When one spends one's day laying flooring/painting/other manual labour, one does not have much strength or time to cook. So one makes something that will replenish the weary worker's energy stores, and that is quick and easy but does not compromise on deliciousness. And this prawn pasta is one such dish.

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Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Caribbean Chocolate Brownies

Chocolate. Whoever invented it, thank you. You have given hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of women something that can make them feel better, no matter how bad things may be.

Bad day at work? Chocolate brownie.

Found out your simple car service has a £600 bill attached to it? Chocolate Log.

Coffee break after paining the living room, hallway, and banisters for 5 hours solid? Kit-Kat.

Boyfriend/husband/other half has been away in Barbados surrounded by blonde bimbos for a week and you're home alone? Toblerone.

Gruelling 10 mile uphill trail run in the rain and you finish triumphant but soaked with 2kg of mud attached to each shoe. Hot hot hot chocolate.


So, with my baking craving on, I went to a shop yesterday, innocently looking for bread and smoked salmon to satisfy a sensible lunch requirement, and I walked out with those, and a slab of chocolate.

This slab.

Looks innocent does it?

Now look at it next to a regular 100g slab of chocolate.

Impressed? I thought you might be. I just couldn't resist this (reduced) 950g bar of chocolate. It filled me whith chocolatey inspiration. It had to be mine. Now, I keep thinking about the white chocolate version. I am resisting the temptation to go back. Its hard.

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Friday, 4 March 2011

Chocolate & Date Pinwheel Biscuits

It always interests me watching someone talk about something that they are passionate about. A person's eyes light up and they become animated and happy. It also interests me what gets people passionate. Their child/dog/boyfriend/car/job/cause/etc. The range of human interest is as unlimited as the stars in the sky, and its funny how what incites strong feelings on one person, is often of no interest whatsoever to the person next to them. So we seek out likeminded people with whom we can discuss our passions. Fuel each others fires, remind each other of that which brings us joy.

I have a couple of passions. And like most people I am sure, my passions have changed over the years. When I was a teenager I was madly passionate about horses. Now it is running and cooking/baking that I love. Two very different things but two that turn out to be quite complimentary. I run, therefore I can eat what I bake and not become a whale.

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Tuesday, 1 March 2011

A Creamy Dreamy Crunchy Sweet February - Espresso Panna Cotta and Cherry and Ginger Florentines

The February 2011 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

You know how sometimes, even with the best laid plans and oodles of forethought, life sometimes gets in the way of your plans? Well, I had that this week. Life saw my well prepared, organised, on-time training coming, and it just went ahead and jumped right in the middle of the tracks in front of it causing a de-railing and a significant delay.

Anyway, I digress. I really enjoyed this challenge. I have made panna cotta many times before so that was not new, but I hunted around for a variation on panna cotta that I had not seen/tried before, and thus I came upon Espresso panna cotta. The combination of coffee and cream and vanilla sounded like a match made in heaven, so that was the one I chose. I also chose to make the coffee gelee to snazzy it up a bit. I just wish I'd had cuter, smaller bowls to put it in as the ones I used were kind of a 2-in-1 serving. As in, plenty for 2 people. The panna cotta is pretty rich.

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