Tag Archives: snack

Oatmeal White Chocolate Bars

8 Dec

Totally Decadent, Slightly Healthy ;)I didnt post yesterday because… well, because I was remembering my father. 14 years ago, yesterday, he passed away. And every day, I miss him. I just had nothing I wanted to cook, so I didnt. Instead, I smoked a cigar in his honour, and remembered him over dinner with a person who loved him too.

So today, I wanted to make something that was comforting, easy, and yet very flexible – kind of like my dad! I decided on oatmeal bars because they fascinate me – and AngelKitten suggested that I add marshmallows – kind of like in a rice crispie bar. Intriguing idea. You dont have to add marshmallows if you dont want to – though they certainly give the bars a chewy, burnt, caramelly angle. Basically, you need to add equal amounts of oats and “ingredients” – in this recipe I added marshmallows, pistachios and peanut butter chips. I know. Sounds like a weird mixture, but funnily enough, it works!

And, with the addition of almond meal, this is a gluten free recipe, though if you are very stringent, make sure you get oats that are labeled as gluten free. While oats themselves are gluten free, they are manufactured in factories, and often stored in facilities with other flours – cross contamination can occur, so be aware.

If you want healthy bars, please feel free to substitute dried fruit (cranberries and blueberries suggest themselves), seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame) and all kinds of nuts. But do add the chocolate – it elevates these bars from crunchy granola to oh my goodness gracious, yes please, I will have another one! πŸ˜‰

Makes a large baking pan full – about 20 bars

  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups almond meal
  • 4 cups “taste ingredients” – I used 2 cups marshmallows, 1 1/2 cups peanut butter chips and 1/2 cup pistachios. Feel free to go wild – add whatever your heart desires, but if youre daring, do try this combo. Its delicious!
  • 2 tsp cinnamon or all spice
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 heaping tbsp mascarpone (or cream cheese)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips or chunks
  • 2 – 3 tbsp milk or cream

Preheat your oven to 175C (350F). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl combine the oats, almond meal, taste ingredients, cinnamon, salt, and light brown sugar. Use your hands and toss well to combine completely.

Grate over the butter and toss again to combine.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, mascarpone, honey and vanilla. You should have about a cup of liquid. If more, thats fine. If less, make it up with a touch of milk.

Pour the liquids over the oat mixture and use your hands to combine. You wont think that the mixture will come together at first, but trust me, it will. It will be quite wet.

Turn out into the prepared baking sheet, and bake in the preheated oven for 15 – 20 minutes or until slightly puffed and toasty brown. (If you have used marshmallows, keep a close eye out – they can burn easily).

Let cool for about 20 minutes. While the oat bars are cooling, melt the white chocolate with the milk in a small saucepan over very low heat until liquid.

When the oat bars are cooled, drizzle over the white chocolate. Allow it to firm up, and then cut into bars.

These will keep up to a week in the fridge.

Enjoy these delicious, slightly healthy, rather decadent treats!

White Chocolate Shortbread

11 Nov

I am in full on cookie baking mode. I just put about 200 Starry Starry Night cookies into the freezer, waiting to be baked tomorrow, and I decided to sit and think about what other kind of cookie I could make. I love shortbread – full, rich, simple and classic, but I wanted to give it a twist. As I looked in my store cupboard, I realised I had about a kilogram of Valrhona white chocolate waiting to be made into something fabulous.

I wanted to make white chocolate chip cookies, and I still may do that, but I wondered if there was a way to get white chocolate into a shortbread without making a shortbread with white chocolate chips. I wanted the white chocolate to be in every bite, to permeate the shortbread – to live in its essence πŸ™‚ So I thought about it some more, and looked at the ingredients list – pretty simple, really. Butter, sugar, flour. Vanilla for additional flavour if needed, and a touch of salt. Thats it.

Well, I thought, if I were to add white chocolate, I could bring the sugar content down. But how to add the chocolate without melting it? Melting the chocolate and adding it to shortbread would, I thought, mess with the essential crumby-ness of this classic biscuit. It would make a nice cookie, but it wasnt what I wanted. I was still thinking about the sugar though, and then it came to me… Could I somehow crumb the white chocolate so that it was mixed in with the flour? I could blitz with my immersion blender – and lo! It worked!

This cookie is astoundingly good. Its surprising too – white chocolate just oozes out of its very heartbeat – but you dont see it when you bite into the cookie, so it taste is unexpected and wonderful. Crispy, rich, scented with vanilla and white chocolate, this cookie is so much more wicked than it looks. Enjoy it very soon, with someone you love very much πŸ˜‰

Makes 8 triangles from a 9 or 10 inch pan

  • Approx 1 cup (5 oz/150 g) good quality white chocolate (I used Valrhona disks – otherwise, use a good chocolate bar and roughly chop), cold from the fridge
  • 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup (8 tbsp) butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla

Place white chocolate, flour and salt in a large bowl. Using your hands, mix together until all the white chocolate is completely covered in flour. This is important for the next step, so please dont skip it!

If you are using a food processor or blender, place the flour chocolate mixture into the machine, and pulse lightly until the white chocolate has crumbed and completely integrated into the flour. If you are using an immersion blender, as I did, place the blender into the flour chocolate mixture, and pulse quickly. Move the bowl around, until all the chocolate has been incorporated into the flour. Set aside in the refrigerator while you prepare the butter mixture.

In a stand mixture, or using a hand held mixer, cream the butter until it is light and fluffy. This usually takes about a minute or two. Add the light brown sugar and cream until it is incorporated into the butter. Add vanilla and mix again.

Remove the flour mixture from the fridge, and add to the butter mixture, adding it in a few batches. The dough will come together quickly.

Butter a spring form pan or a tart pan (about 9 – 10 inches across), and place the dough in the centre. Using your hands, quickly push the dough so that it covers the entire bottom of the pan. Score wedges with a sharp knife (I cut it into 8 pizza wedges – you could do it however you wish), and poke holes in it with the tines of a fork.

Refrigerate the prepared dough for at least an hour, or overnight.

Once youre ready to bake the shortbread, preheat the oven to 175C (350F). Bake the shortbread for about 25 – 35 minutes. Check after about 15 minutes, and if its browning too fast, cover with a little aluminum foil to prevent it from burning. After about 25 minutes check again – it should be crumbly and firm to the touch.

Cool, in the pan, on a rack for about ten minutes. Re-score and re-hole if you feel the shortbread needs it! After about ten minutes, cut the shortbread through with an offset spatula or sharp knife, and allow to cool for a further ten to fifteen minutes. Serve immediately and enjoy!

If you have any leftover, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

 

Pretty Pink Pots – Strawberries + Yogurt Cream

9 Nov

Strawberries + Yogurt CreamI do love a good gadget. Its one of the benefits of cooking regularly, the collection of fascinating bits of cooking kit! Gadgets to me are like jewels and baubles to others πŸ˜‰ Every country I go to, every little market or pasar malam stall or cooking shop – I always look for things that are slightly out of the ordinary, bits and pieces of equipment that I have never seen before but which strike my fancy. When in a foreign country, I always go to the grocery store and check out the kitchen aisle. Its amazing whats hidden in places like these, and people are so happy to explain and share and show. Food, and cooking, connect me to new and different cultures in a wonderful way.

But I am straying off topic (as per usual). I love gadgets, I said. And one of my favourites is the Donvier Wave Yogurt Strainer. Its made by Cuispro, and can be found in most good kitchen shops. I got mine at EuroChef in Plaza Damas for a few bucks because I thought it was nifty. Basically, its a small plastic box with a lid. Inside is a very very fine sieve, shaped into a three dimensional wave, into which you pour yogurt. Pop the lid back on, leave it for a day or so, and your plain old yogurt drains, quickly, efficiently and brilliantly. You get a thick yogurt cheese – depending on how long you leave it in, you have the consistency of thick Greek yogurt or even thicker to a cream cheese like consistency. This is pretty awesome because yogurt is a very healthy foodstuff and with this little beauty, you can really extend its usefulness.

Of course, you can just stick a fine strainer and some cheesecloth over a bowl, pour some yogurt in, cover the whole lot tightly, and then stuff it in your fridge overnight. But it can get messy, and this little gadget makes everything as simple as saying hello! I pour about 3 cups of yogurt in, and within 24 hours, I have a really thick creamy cup of yogurt, with all the liquid drained out on the bottom. You still have all the health giving properties of yogurt, but you can do so much with it now. Mix in a few herbs, salt and fresh cracked black pepper, and you have a divine spread for bagels or toast. Add a couple tablespoons to the blender with some fruit, and you have a really thick and creamy smoothie. Stir a few tablespoons into soup, or use as a substitute for sour cream. Or do what I love best – make pretty pink pots from the yogurt cream and some diced strawberries.

These little pots sit in the fridge and make me smile whenever I open it. Theyre wonderful for breakfast, and fantastic as a sweet ending to lunch or dinner thats not too heavy or overwhelming. Children love them, and you can doll them up with grated chocolate, any other kind of fruit you can dream up, or even flavour the yogurt once its thickened and make a pretty coloured striped parfait. But I like keeping it simple here. The strawberries I found at the open air market over the weekend. Lovely, fat and sweet, but not very pretty – they were the ones that were not chosen for export to the fancy shops. Diced up though, and tossed with a little balsamic and some powdered sugar, they came into their own and made me proud. πŸ™‚ Layered with thick yogurt cream with a hint of vanilla, and sat in the fridge overnight to set, these are a beautiful, healthy and happy making treat. And so easy to make.

If you cant get a Donvier Wave (and given the internet, and proliferation of cooking shops, you really should be able to), use the old school method described below. Its worth it. Youll love it!

Serves 6

  • 2 – 3 cups plain yogurt (I use FarmFresh – a wonderful local brand that’s free of preservatives and conditioners)
  • 2 – 3 tbsp heavy cream (optional)
  • 1 – 2 tsp light brown sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean pod, split and scraped or 1 tbsp vanilla essence or paste
  • 1/2 kg (about 1 lb) strawberries
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 – 2 tbsp powdered or caster sugar to taste

This recipe involves no cooking over heat or baking, but it does take time. Its a wonderful dessert to serve at a dinner party, but you do have to plan in advance. You will need at least 2 days before serving to prepare properly. On the first day, you need to make the yogurt cream.

Yogurt StrainerIf you have a Donvier Wave, just pour the yogurt into the box, cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. If you dont have a Wave, find a sieve that will hold at least 3 cups of yogurt, and will fit into a bowl that will go into the fridge. Line the sieve with cheesecloth (or any other clean very fine cloth), and pour the yogurt into the the sieve. Cover with clingwrap, and place in the fridge for at least 24 hours.

Once the yogurt has been in the fridge overnight, it will have drained and will have reduced in volume by about half. If you want to add a little heavy cream to add richness, whisk a few tablespoons of cream in a small bowl. Once the cream holds soft peaks, scoop in the yogurt cream, and whisk together to combine. If you decide not to use the cream (healthy you!), then just transfer the yogurt cream to a small bowl, and whisk it gently.

Sprinkle over the light brown sugar, add the vanilla and whisk gently again. Taste and adjust if you like. Cover and refrigerate while you prepare the strawberries.

Chop the strawberries up quite finely. You will have about 3 cups of strawberries. Transfer to a small bowl. Add the balsamic and a few teaspoons of powdered sugar if the strawberries seem to too tart for your liking. Cover and leave in the fridge for about an hour. The strawberries will interact with the balsamic and sugar and let go of quite a bit of liquid. You dont want to have this in your parfait, so this is a good thing.

Once youre ready to make the parfait, remove the vanilla yogurt cream and strawberries from the fridge. Drain the strawberries in a sieve (the strawberry juice is a sublime cook’s treat) and have six little glass containers cleaned and at the ready. You could use small glasses, shot glasses or anything else that you like. I love the little glass containers from Ikea – they have little covers and look gorgeous.

Using a small teaspoon, fill the containers with a few teaspoons of strawberries, making sure to cover the bottom of the container. Using a separate teaspoon, spoon over a few teaspoons of yogurt cream, making sure you cover the strawberries completely. Alternate like this until you have used everything up – I usually have two stripes of pink luscious strawberries and two vanilla creamy stripes of yogurt. Of course it all depends on what containers you use! I also try and end with yogurt because I think a creamy top just looks dreamy.

Cover your containers, and leave overnight in the fridge. Serve for breakfast, lunch or dinner – or as a healthy yet indulgent snack. Enjoy!

Roasted Tomato Tart

18 Oct

Tart!Tonight’s dinner was a work in progress during the day. It was one of those meals that you find a bit of time for, leave, and then come back to. Slow roasting the tomatoes for the tart took a while, and they really benefitted from being left in a hot oven (that I turned off) when we went out for the day.

I also roasted butternut for a soup – but that one was so simple, a recipe is kind of silly. I basically peeled and seeded a butternut, chopped it up, added a few tablespoons of olive oil and some spice – paprika, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg – salt and pepper, and roasted it in a hot oven (225 C / 450 F) until it was soft. I mashed it, put it in a pot, poured a cup of water over, and brought to the boil. Blended it to a puree, and added a touch of milk and adjusted spices. Pure butternut heaven!

I must admit, I used Whole Foods bought puff pastry (from Dufour – amazing stuff!) for the tart. You could use best quality puff pastry, or make a cheese pastry as per the spinach pie I did the other day. Either way, you want a flat pie – almost a pizza but better πŸ˜‰

I roasted these tomatoes in a very hot oven for about 20 – 25 minutes – until they were very soft, slightly burnt and caramelised, but still holding their shape and size. I then flipped them over, turned the oven off, and went out – and when we got back home, the tomatoes were slightly dried – almost like semi-sun-dried tomatoes. They had intensified in colour and flavour, without losing their shape or size. Absolutely gorgeous. I recommend this if you can – roast for half an hour in the morning, and then just leave them there. When you get home, you will have an amazing tomato dinner waiting for you! These are soooo good in pasta, in a grilled cheese, in salad, soup, just about anywhere you need a pure shot of tomato flavour.

Roasted Semi Dried Tomatoes

You will definitely have extra left over. Seems a shame to roast these tomatoes for just the one tart! Anoint your extras with a bit of olive oil and save in the fridge.

  • 10 – 12 juicy red tomatoes
  • 1 – 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Basil (fresh or dried)
  • 1 tsp light brown sugar
  • 8 – 10 garlic cloves, sliced

Preheat oven to 225C (450F). Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Wash and dry the tomatoes. Slice them thickly (about 3 – 4 slices per fruit), destem if you feel the need, and arrange in a single layer on your baking sheet. Sprinkle olive oil judiciously over all.

Sprinkle with salt, pepper, basil and sugar. Add sliced garlic (I usually stick one or two on top of each tomato slice).

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until the tomatoes are oozing juice, blistered a bit, but still holding their shape and size.

Take the baking sheet out of the oven, switch off the oven, and flip the tomatoes over. Put back into oven and leave for at least 2 hours if not the whole day.

Roasted Tomato Tart

  • 1 large sheet puff pastry (or cheese crust pastry to line a baking sheet)
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • 2 tbsp ricotta or cottage cheese
  • 1 tbsp cream cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 + 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • Roasted tomatoes

Preheat oven to 180C (375F). Line a baking sheet or pan with parchment paper.

Remove parchment paper from the baking pan, and place flat on table. Place a sheet of puff pastry (or a square of your own made cheese pastry) onto the parchment.

Roll out the pastry to to a rectangle about 18″ by 12″ and then fold over the edges by about 2 inches all around. Pinch to make sure the folded over edges stick, and using a fork, prick holes in the centre of the pastry. Slide onto your baking sheet or pan, and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the pastry has puffed up and is a light golden brown.

If you are using puff pastry, remove from the oven, and dig out about half of the centre layers. You will have very puffed edges, and a crisp centre.

Beat together the sour cream, ricotta, cream cheese, garlic, egg, salt and pepper and 1/4 cup of grated cheese. Pour into the centre of the pastry.

Arrange the roasted tomatoes on top of the mixture, and sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese, making sure you dont cover the tomatoes completely.

Bake in the oven for a further 20 minutes or so, or until the centre is puffed and browned.

Slice into pieces and enjoy! This can be served at room temperature, or even from the fridge the next day and is still very scrummy.

 

Late Night Snack

11 Oct

11.49 pm

We had a big brunch/lunch today – a frittata with leeks, zucchini (courgettes) and a touch of blue cheese, a plum crisp with vanilla scented yogurt, chocolate croissants. I was totally un-hungry until a few minutes ago. I just realised I am starving….

So creep, creep, creep into the kitchen to prepare one of my all time favourite quick bites…

In South Africa (where my mother is from), if you order muffins or any other breakfast breads, most restaurants and cafes will serve you bread, butter, jam and cheese. Jam and cheese is as ubiquitous in South Africa as peanut butter and jelly is in the US. I love jam and cheese more because these two uniquely complement each other, and raise each individual ingredient into a perfect mouthful.

1 slice of multi-grain or other dark whole wheat bread (though I have prepared this with a biscuit and an english muffin with positive results).

Toasted. So its warm, slightly crisp and will melt the tiny smear of butter/marg I spread on it.

Then… some salty cheese. Not a lot. If its creamy, like tonight’s Fromager d’Affinois, I use just a little bit. Enough so it melds with the butter, and softens in the warmth of the toast’s embrace. I want that stinky cheese hit, and a bit of salty creaminess.

And then… to contrast with the cheese, and bring a bright sparkle, a little jam – or in this case, Membrillo – quince paste. Wonderful honeyed caramel notes, sweetness to contrast with the cheese. Again, just a thin sliver of a slice, placed carefully on the cheese. Magenta against creamy pale.

Sliced in half, and sat down at the kitchen table to eat, because, after all.. this is food, and we must respect and savour it. Not rush, not stuff, but enjoy. Taste the mingling of flavours. Allow tummy and appetite to be satisfied. May be a warm cup of herbal tea alongside.

Perfect for a snack before bed.

I ate it so happily, I didnt think to have time for a picture! Too bad πŸ˜‰

Sweet dreams!

Zucchini Bread

8 Sep

DeliciousToday was a day of memories… I dont know why, may be because I chatted with old friends, and video conferenced for a while with family back home, but today was a day for remembering. It was also a Whole Foods day (which makes it a fabulous day) and once again I was inspired and amazed by the produce, the freshness, the colour, the beauty of all the gorgeous fruits and vegetables.

Because of that certain melancholy memory feeling to today, I decided to make zucchini bread. This is a wonderful bread, spicy, warm, gorgeous crust, hearty and yet very good for you. I love zucchini bread because its a wonderful way to get non vegetable eaters to eat their greens! How can that simple squash be transformed into a bread that tastes as if it was sent from the Goddesses? I dont know, but I do love it so. Our mother used to make zucchini bread, and though that recipe has been lost, I think I came pretty close to making something that has the same comforting, loving feeling to it.

This bread freezes exceptionally well. Its wonderful slathered with butter (or margarine if youre a vegan!) and it is fantastic sliced and toasted. I remember thick slices, slightly burnt at the edges, salted butter seeping onto the surface of the bread. Pure comfort. Pure happiness. Its also a great bread to give to little ones who are just starting to eat, because of the vegetables and because it teaches them about spice and taste and texture.

This recipe will make a large loaf. If you only have small loaf pans, divide into two. Baking time is still roughly the same. Make some, its easy, I promise. And make memories of your own πŸ™‚

I used eggs in this recipe, but if you are vegan, they are easily replaced by 1 cup of applesauce. You will get the same texture and deliciousness as if you used eggs.

You can add raisins and nuts to this recipe if you like (about half a cup each) but I like my zucchini bread pure. If you do add, walnuts are particularly good with this bread.

For one large loaf, you will need:

  • 2 eggs (or if vegan, use 1 cup apple sauce plus 1 tsp lemon juice)
  • 1 cup canola or other light vegetable oil
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla essence
  • 2 1/2 cups flour (I used whole wheat flour, but use any kind you have – all purpose is fine)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 – 2 1/2 cups grated zucchini, skin on – about 2 medium sized zucchini

Preheat the oven to 175C (350 F). Line a large loaf tin with baking paper. I cut a piece of baking paper that was about three times larger than the base of my loaf pan, and then cut into each of the four corners of the paper at a 45 degree angle. This made it easier to line the baking pan and fold over the edges.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Add the oil, sugars, and vanilla essence, and whisk until thick and glossy.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Use a spatula to make sure all the spices are well integrated into the flour.

In three batches, mix the flour into the oil mixture, taking care not to over mix.

Wash the zucchini well, and then top and tail it, and grate finely. Measure out the zucchini into the batter. 2 regular sized zucchini usually gives me about 2 1/2 cups of grated zucchini. If you have a bit more or a bit less, its fine. Just dont go above 3 cups.

Mix the zucchini gently into the batter, ensuring that its well incorporated.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan, and bake in the preheated oven for an hour to an hour and a half, or until a tester comes out with only crumbs attached. If you bake beyond an hour, check every ten minutes or so to ensure it does not over bake.

Enjoy the scent that permeates your house, and allow the zucchini bread to cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing and devouring, and making some comforting memories of your own!

The Best Blondies

31 Aug

utter perfectionThis is my 100th post! Hooray! I never thought I had the discipline or the strength of purpose to actually commit to sit down and write a recipe a day, no matter what is happening or where I am. I have to say, I am impressed with myself πŸ˜‰ Long may it continue πŸ™‚ Today, in celebration of this personal milestone, I decided to try a new recipe. I love blondies. I am not so hot on brownies to be honest. They are too overwhelming – that mix between fudgy and crusty, and intense intense chocolate. I dont know what it is, but I like chocolate in almost all ways, but brownies are probably 100th on the list (keeping with the 100th theme!)

But blondies are another story entirely. Studded with chocolate, but not overwhelmed by fudge dough, blondies are chic brownies – brownies with an edge. I used Callebut white and milk chocolate here. Chopped it into chunks and mixed it with a caramelised vanilla batter. It baked shiny and crispy, with edges that were brown and crunchy, but with interiors that were the best of melted chocolate and soft vanilla cookies. Sooo good. Delicious, delectable, and amazingly easy. It took me about 20 minutes to put everything together, and another 20 – 25 to bake. Do not overbake these! They need to be cooked (and when you stick a knife in, they can be squishy, but not liquid), but if you overbake, they will get stone hard and yucky.

I adapted these blondies from a recipe on the Cook’s Illustrated website. I dont do nuts with my sweet baked goods (well on very rare occasions, but thats the exception rather than the rule). I dont know by, but its true. By the by, I also dislike chocolate and orange or lemon. Just does not do it for me. We each have our own tastes, and especially in brownies or blondies, I am a no nuts kind of person. Oh and in carrot cake, but thats another story. Anyway! The Cook’s Illustrated recipe required 1 cup of toasted pecans for these blondies. If you like nuts, toast some pecans (or walnuts or cashews, go crazy with it) and substitute the nuts for 1 cup of chocolate. Otherwise, do as I do, and revel in both milk and white chocolate πŸ™‚

The other major thing I did was I let the butter burn a little as I melted it. I remembered the recipe for the best chocolate chip cookies ever, and how the butter, burnt to a dark brown, added a depth of flavour to the cookies. Well, I didnt burn the butter to that extent, but I let it get a little toasty. Just a hint of light brown colour. It worked really well in the finished product – the blondies had a deep caramelised flavour that came from the union of slightly burnt butter, light brown sugar, vanilla and eggs. Sublime.

This recipe will fit into a 14″ x 8″ pan. Make sure that you double line the pan with aluminum foil, and allow some foil overhang. This lets you lift out the cooled blondies easily. Also, butter that foil to within an inch of its life! With all that caramelisation going on, you want to be able to lift the blondies out easily, and buttering well really does help.

For 1 pan of totally delectable blondies, you will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 12 tbsp butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted, slightly burnt, and then cooled + 1 tbsp for buttering
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 – 6 tsp vanilla essence
  • 2 cups best quality chocolate, chopped, chunks or if you have to, chips (I used 1 cup Callebaut white + 1 cup milk chocolate, chopped)

Preheat your oven to 175C. Prepare your baking pan. Line a 14″ x 8 ” pan (at least 2 – 3″ deep), with double layer of aluminum foil. Allow some overhang, and push it well into the corners. Use 1 tbsp of butter and butter the foil extremely well. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Use a fork to mix well together. Set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan, and allow to burn just a little bit. You want it to foam, subside, and then just start turning light brown. Take off heat and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, in another small bowl, whisk together 2 eggs and 4 – 6 tsp of vanilla. You will know how much vanilla to use, depending on the quality of the vanilla you have. Your judgement is important here, but remember you want a strong vanilla taste. Its the main flavour of the blondie, and you want it to come out well. Set aside the eggs and vanilla.

In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and brown sugar. Add the egg mixture and whisk well. You will have a glossy, shiny, almost caramel like batter. Taste for vanilla and adjust if need be.

Fold the flour in gently, in three parts. Dont overmix. Fold in the chocolate (or the chocolate and pecans if you are so inclined). Using a spatula or wooden spoon, coax the batter into the baking pan. Spread it around to make sure that the entire pan is filled. It may not look like much, but heat is magic – it will puff up the batter and create a phenomenal blondie.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, checking a few minutes before hand to make sure they have not overbaked. The top will be shiny, slightly cracked, and light brown. A toothpick stuck into the blondie will come out with crumbs sticking to it – but if it comes out covered in batter, it needs more time.

yummmOnce done, take out of oven and allow to cool in pan for at least 20 minutes or so. Use the aluminum foil to remove the blondies from the pan, and cut into squares. The tops will be crisp and crackly, the bottoms will be golden and the centres will be squishy and vanilla-y and bursting with melted chocolate. Serve with vanilla ice cream if you want to be overly decadent.

Cinnamon Sugar Cookies

11 Aug

perfect happy memoryI wrote in an earlier post about my late father’s love of white buttered toaste with a sprinkle of sugar. He ate it as a treat, even though he could have most any gourmet food he wished. This taught me that food is about memory as much as it is about taste… And one of my earliest memories is staying over at an Aunt’s house, one sharp sparkling autumn day, with my sister. We woke up in the morning, and she offered us cinnamon toast. We had never had it before (I think I was probably 6 to my sisters 4 years), and eagerly accepted.

What a taste. What an amazing combination. White toast, crispy and warm, melting butter, crackling sugar … and cinnamon. Its a dark scent, almost woody and powdery. Hits of spiciness, sweetness, flowers. Its not a description that comes easily, but when you taste cinnamon, especially for the first time, its as if your taste buds wake up. I have always loved the scent and taste of cinnamon, and its warming fragrance brings memory of autumn, cider, Christmas. When I sat down to write about the actual taste of cinnamon, I realised this is another taste which is intricately wrapped in memory for me.

So today, on the first day of the Ramadan, after an exceedingly hot, busy day, I wanted comfort. Food that is a combination of memory and laughter, and wonderful easy taste. I turned to this recipe for cinnamon sugar cookies which I think I have been making as long as I can remember cooking. These cookies are really delicious, quick to put together, and delightful to give away. The recipe makes a very soft dough. Dont over beat it or you will get tough cookies. Just let it sit, in its creamy buttery sugary-ness, and handle with care when you dip in cinnamon sugar.

Enjoy with much love, and the memory of warmth during the cold…

Makes about 32 cookies, depending on how big or small you want them!

  • 3 tbsp fine granulated white sugar
  • 1 – 2 tbsp cinnamon (depending on how deeply cinnamon you like your cookies – I always use 2 tbsp!)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar – a mix of dark brown, light brown, and white (I use 1/2 cup of each)
  • 1 cup / 2 sticks butter, slightly softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups pastry flour
  • 1 scant tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Preheat your oven to 160C.

Mix the 3 tbsp sugar and cinnamon in a little bowl, and set aside. Make sure you combine thoroughly – the sugar will be a dark brown when done. You will roll the cookie dough in this just before baking.

In a stand mixer bowl, combine your three sugars. I usually beat the sugars together to ensure they are combined well. If you dont have a stand mixture, use electric beaters.

Once the sugars are combined, add the butter, cut into chunks. Let your mixer beat the sugar and butter together until very well combined. This could take a few minutes. Just have some patience.

Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until completely combined. The mixture will be a little soft and fluid. Let it sit for a few minutes minutes. This gives the butter and sugars time to melt into each other.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl, and little by little, mix into the butter sugar mixture. I use a spoon or spatula at this point as I dont want to over mix the cookies! A tender cookie is one which is allowed to come together of its own accord! Again, let sit for a few minutes before moving on to the next step.

Line baking trays with greaseproof paper.

Using a tablespoon, measure out spoon sized pieces of dough (you can make bigger or smaller, according to your preference – this is just how I like to do it!). I usually get about 8 cookies to a sheet.

Using your thumb, drop the dough straight into the sugar/cinnamon mixture, and gently roll it around to coat it completely. Place on baking tray, and pat down gently, so it is not a ball shape, but a little flatter.

Bake for about 15 – 18 minutes. The cookies will rise, and then fall. They are done when they have turned a slightly darker shade of brown.

Let cool in trays for at least 5 minutes before cooling completely on racks.

You will have a wonderfully soft cookie with a crispy crunchy crust. Perfect balance.

Share! These are too good not to – and you can make sure other people will make wonderful cinnamon memories too πŸ™‚

Sour Cream Almond Coffee Cake

31 Jul

Sour Cream Coffee CakeThis weekend is rainy and damp – the perfect time for baking. Cakes and cookies, the scent of warm cinnamon and chocolate – all these are, to me, the ultimate comfort. A slice of cake, be it carrot, coffee or chocolate, is a welcoming gift to present a visitor, and they pack wonderfully for on-the-go presents. I love cake – the beautiful crumb, the creamy icings, the melding of flavor and texture. Baking a cake is immensely satisfying – the finished product is an act of magic, bringing together simple ingredients and creating a stunning finished product. I dont trust people who dont like cake πŸ˜‰

And oh, this cake. A humble coffee cake, something you could whip together in half an hour or so, even though it has a filling, topping and batter. Its a simple cake, and it bakes up beautifully – fluffy, cinnamon specked, cream-cheesy interior, with little specs of baked apple, streusel topping. Its surprisingly balanced, and not over-the-top sweet. A wonderful snack, and a delightful breakfast with a cup of hot coffee. My idea of the perfect thing to have in the fridge at all times πŸ™‚

This cake is adapted from Tamasin Day-Lewis from her Kitchen Classics book. She got the recipe from her assistant, who got it from her Auntie Fei. So this recipe has been handed down and redrafted at least four times – which is one of the things I love about cooking. You can tell someone how you made a dish, you can even write out a recipe for them. As soon as they get it home, look in the fridge and realise they have raisins rather than an apple, or creme fraiche rather than sour cream, they substitute and change around and add. Its human nature, but its also what makes cooking so personal. As soon as you have any confidence in the kitchen, you know what you like, and you adapt things to that sense of taste and artistry. Its why I love eating other people’s cooking so much. They expose their sense of taste, colour, texture, flavour and fun through what they cook, and how they cook it.

And I must admit something here. This cake actually has nuts in it! I usually dont go for cake with nuts. Ever. I took the nuts out of the sublime carrot cake from yesterday. I would never make anything chocolate with nuts. I love nuts, but not with sweet, except in this cake (well, may be I would use almond meal in a cake in place of flour in a pinch, but thats another story). Here, the nuts act as the texture component, and elevate the coffee cake with their smoky crunchy bite. They also cut the creaminess of the cake well – its made with sour cream, and layered with cream cheese, so its very rich. The nuts help that richness stay balanced. I use almonds because I find them the least offensive of nuts in sweet things, but you could use hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, or even macadamias if you like.

Making this cake is not hard, but I would certainly make the filling and topping first, before making the batter. That way, the final assembly is quick and easy. Also, you can make it in a bundt pan, but I didnt want to, so I made it in a cake tin. Cooking time is about 10 – 15 minutes less in a bundt pan so watch for that.

Eat this at breakfast or during a coffee break, for a tea time snack or as dessert. Its delicious any which way, but I particularly like it warm from the oven.

Filling

  • 3/4 cup cream cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Please make sure you get a good cream cheese. That Philadelphia stuff is full of stabilisers, gums and other chemicals. If you can find a natural, organic or locally made cream cheese, get that. The difference is huge.

Beat all ingredients together till light and creamy, and set aside.

Topping

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup toasted sliced almonds, divided (note: you can use any nut you like)
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium to large frying pan, toast the almonds (or other nuts) until they become light golden. Divide into 3/4 cup and 1/4 cup. Set the smaller amount aside to use with the filling, and place the 3/4 cup of almonds in a bowl along with the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Melt the butter, add the vanilla extract to the melted butter, and mix into the almond-flour mixture. It will be crumbly. Set aside.

Cake

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 200 ml (about 1 cup) sour cream (you can substitute creme fraiche if you like)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the sour cream and vanilla.

Beat the dry ingredients and sour cream into the butter-sugar-egg mixture bit by bit – I usually mix in a couple tablespoons flour, then a couple tablespoons sour cream, etc, until you have a smooth batter.

Assembly

  • Cake batter
  • 1 large apple (I used a Fuji apple) peeled, cored, and diced (you could use dried cranberries, raisins, or any other fruit you like)
  • 1/4 cup reserved almonds
  • Filling
  • Topping

Preheat oven to 180C.

Butter a cake pan, or Β a bundt pan with removable sides, well. I usually put some baking paper on the bottom of my cake tin, and butter that as well, just to make removal a bit easier.

Pour about half of the cake mixture into the prepared cake tin, and smooth. Sprinkle on the diced apple, and then the reserved almonds. Spoon over the cream cheese filling, making sure you get it smeared up against the sides, and dropped throughout the interior of the pan. Top with the remaining cake batter. Smooth the top, and sprinkle over the filling. Using a fork or spoon, fold over a little batter so that you have spots of batter peaking through the filling.

Bake for 55 – 65 minutes depending on your pan, or until a cake tester comes out with crumbs.

Allow to cool on a rack for at least 20 – 30 minutes before unmolding, cutting and devouring.

Enjoy with friends.

Blueberry Banana Smoothie

19 Jul

come to mama!Today, I needed to take a break from all the richness that I cook. Dont get me wrong, I adore burnt cheese, tacos, and cakes. But a woman cannot live like that every day, even if everything is made from scratch, and I try and pay attention to fruits, vegetables, proteins and chocolate πŸ˜‰

Today, I needed to be healthy. I wanted something that would be immensely satisfying, but at the same time would boost my immune system and soothe my rather too full tummy. I wanted something easy to consume, and yet full of vitamins, minerals, and all that other good health stuff.

Miles, my sister’s husband, regularly has a fruit smoothie for breakfast. It inspired me. Fruit smoothies can be decadent and delectable, while at the same time being incredibly good for you. And they are easy to make provided you have a blender or immersion blender. So yes, a smoothie. For breakfast, and that was about it the whole day save some water. I needed to feel full, but at the same time, I needed to give my system a little time to relax. That, and I know I am going to Nathalie’s Gourmet for dinner tomorrow night!

I chose the ingredients for my smoothie very carefully. Blueberries were at the top of my list. These are the ultimate superfood, and I think its just wonderful that they are such a pleasure to consume as well! I did some research, and blueberries just blow me away.

  • Tufts University analyzed 60 fruits and veg for antioxidant properties, and the gorgeous blueberries won, rating highest in their ability to destroy free radicals.
  • They are a veritable youth tonic. AnthocyanidinsΒ in the blueberries stop free radical damage to cell and tissues, veins and vascular system.
  • Blueberries contain a huge amount of vitamin C.
  • Blueberries are better then red wine for protection against heart disease.
  • Ellagic acidΒ in blueberries blocks the metabolic pathways that lead to cancer.
  • Kaempferol a flavinoid that reduces the risk of ovarian cancer is abundant in blueberries.
  • They also contain fibers and tannins which promote digestive health.
  • And the same compounds found in cranberries that prevent or eliminate urinary tract infections are also present in blueberries.

Still not convinced? Just do a search for blueberries online, and be amazed at the extraordinary properties of this fruit.

As a cook, it doesnt hurt that blueberries are just so damn sexy and gorgeous. The blue purple berry is just so beautiful to look at. And the taste – tangy, sweet, sour, bright. Stunning. When blended, blueberries add a stunning purple hue to any smoothie, and I love the fact that you can actually see the healthiness you are about to consume!

A perfect complement to the blueberry, and a pretty amazing fruit in its own right, is my favourite, the banana. Sweet, and creamy, tasty and yet chock full of potassium, fiber, vitamins and minerals, the banana is the perfect addition to any meal. I love bananas anywhichway. Sliced in yogurt as a cooling raita with spice Indian food. Baked in a cake. Eaten on its own. Frozen with chocolate. I froze some bananas (peeled) without chocolate, and they are perfect here. You dont have to add ice to get a cold smoothie because the frozen berries and banana do it for you while adding value.

As the basis for these beautiful fruits, fat free Greek yogurt is phenomenal. It adds its own tangy creamy taste, but is also packed with calcium, phosphorus, riboflavin-vitamin B2, iodine, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid-vitamin B5, zinc, potassium, protein and molybdenum. And, it has wonderful little live bacteria in it which boost the immune system, regulate the digestive tract, and can boost good cholesterol while lowering bad. I try and use low fat or fat free yogurt because to me, it tastes very similar to its fattier sibling, while being much healthier. If you are a vegan, try one of the great soy yogurts out there. They work almost as well, and add a creamy rich consistency to the smoothie.

And finally, honey is a another extraordinary substance – raw honey has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties that astound me. As a sweet alternative to sugar, I think honey cannot be beat. I keep lots of different types of honey in my fridge, but by far my favourite is Leatherwood honey, only found in Tasmania. Its almost medicinal, powerfully honey tasting honey. And sweet enough that you only need a little bit. If you are vegan, agave syrup is a great alternative, and healthy too. Or even a splash of fruit juice.

So, a smoothie for makan today. Delicious, healthy and satisfying. I think I might have a smoothie day every week just to give myself a little rest from all this eating. Whats next? Raspberries and …

For 1 smoothie you will need:

  • 3 small ripe frozen bananas (or 1 regular)
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2 – 3 tbsp low fat yogurt
  • 1/4 cup low fat or fat free milk
  • 1 tsp honey or to taste

In a blender, or small bowl if you are using an immersion blender, combine the banana (chopped), blueberries, yogurt and milk. Pulse to combine. Taste. Add a little honey for sweetness and depth of flavour. Pulse gently again.

Pour into a large glass, and sip slowly, quietly thanking the universe for her bounty.