Sunday, 27 November 2011

Marinated feta

I have been experimenting again, and wanted to share the results.

I have feta in my lunchtime salad every day. I usually just have normal feta, nothing special - usually whatever is on special when I'm at the supermarket. I love feta, but I find that sometimes I can't use it all before it goes off. There is nothing worse in my opinion, than wasting food.

By chance the other day, I had the most delicious marinated feta from the deli section at the supermarket. I didn't want to buy a whole block of feta as I was going away for a couple of days, but I still wanted my feta in my salad (I am absolutely a creature of habit when it comes to my workday breakfast and lunch). I spotted the feta in the deli section and decided to give it a go.

Oh my goodness it was delicious!!!

So, I decided to find out if I could recreate this myself. Turns out you can!

I just took my standard feta, chopped it up into chunky bits and jammed it into a jar. Around the feta I layered rosemary, thyme and dried chilli as well as peppercorns. I considered putting some sun-dried tomato in, but decided I had enough flavours. Might try that next time.

If stored in the fridge, the feta should last for at least a month. But, I have no doubt you will have eaten it all before then!

One thing to note if you decide to give this a go - raw garlic is a no-go. Same if you decide to make any kind of flavoured oil. Raw garlic can lead to botulism. There are a number of sites warning of the risk of storing raw garlic in oil. So, best to avoid. I have successfully used dried garlic before to give a lovely garlic tang (Wellingtonians - you can buy this from Moore Wilsons).

Friday, 21 October 2011

Just some of my cupcakes

I experimented with cupcake decorating the other day, so thought I would share them on here.

Firstly, chocolate ganache, a star and glitter. This is probably my favourite.

Chocolate buttercream and some silver sparkly balls.

Red buttercream swirl.

A selection of chocolate buttercream with hand-made decorations.

Coconut and a heart.

Red with a decoration.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Chilli chocolate brownie

It's chocolate challenge time again, thanks to Chocolate Teapot and We Should Cocoa .

This month's challenge was chill.

I have the best recipe for chocolate brownie, and decided this was the perfect time to experiment with it a bit. I'm not sure of the origin of this recipe, it came to me from a friend and a workmate give it to her. It makes an enormous amount of brownie, so unless you have a small army to feed, I would recommend halving it.

330g butter
1 1/4 cups cocoa
1/2 tsp vanilla
2/3 tsp baking powder
2 cups chopped chocolate or chocolate chips
3 1/2 cups sugar
7 eggs (use 4 if halving it)
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt

Melt butter. Pour in cocoa and mix to combine. Add sugar, eggs and vanilla. Mix on high speed until the colour lightens (approx 5 mins). Add flour, baking powder, salt and chocolate chips and mix until just combined. Pour into a large, lined baking dish and bake for one hour and 10 mins at 160 degrees celsius.

To make the chilli brownie, I added about a heaped teaspoon of chilli. I made it a bit hotter than I thought it should be, as I thought the heat would bake out slightly once cooked. Turns out it didn't! But, I actually thought it was pretty good.

It received mixed reviews at work, from "awesome" and "delicious" to "Carina, I love your baking, but that was terrible". Turns out he is not a fan of chilli. I did warn everyone! If you're not a fan of chilli, I would still recommend making this brownie, as it's so tasty.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The best carrot cake ever

I am going to share a secret with you. It's a pretty big secret, but it's so good, is should be shared.

My Mum makes the best-ever carrot cake. It's so good, it's world famous in Whangarei. Whenever I go home, this cake is on the top of my list (even though I can make it myself, my Mum makes it so much better).

So, I'll share it with you.

1 cup wholemeal flour
2 cups raw sugar
1 cup oil (a flavourless oil is best, not olive oil, it's too strong)
1 cup plain flour
4 eggs beaten
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
3 cups grated carrot

4oz room-temperature cream cheese (about half a tub)
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 cups sifted icing sugar
2 oz soft butter
Lemon juice

Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease and line a 10 inch cake tin. (This makes a pretty big cake).

Sift and mix dry ingredients. Add oil and stir well. Stir in beaten eggs and carrot and mix well. Pour into tins.

Bake for about an hour, until a skewer comes out clean.

For the icing, beat the cream cheese and butter together with a wooden spoon until well combined. Gradually add the sifted icing sugar, vanilla and continue to beat. Add lemon juice to taste. (I like a really tangy icing). If you add a lot of lemon juice, you may need to add more icing sugar.

I split my cake and put some icing in the middle of the cake.

I also iced the entire cake. I really love this icing!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Green pancakes with lime butter

On the recommendation of two workmates, I made a delicious dinner last night that I just had to share. I have discovered the most delightful chef - Yotam Ottolenghi. His cookbook, Plenty, is beautiful, just gorgeous. He also writes a regular column for the Guardian

I made the pancakes for dinner last night and served them with haloumi. Yum. I only made about 1/4 of the butter, as 100g would have been way too much. I used lemon instead of lime, as I didn't have any limes. Lemon was pretty tasty. The butter and pancakes are a little time consuming to prepare, but cooking is super quick.

For the lime butter
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
Zest 1 lime plus 2 tbsp lime juice
½ tsp salt
½ tsp white pepper
1 tbsp coriander leaves, picked
½ garlic clove, finely chopped
½ tsp chilli flakes

For the pancakes
110g self-raising flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 egg
50g unsalted butter, melted
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground cumin
150ml milk
10 spring onions, finely sliced
2 green chillies, finely sliced
250g baby spinach
1 egg white
Olive oil, for frying

First, make the lime butter. Put the butter in a medium-sized bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until it turns soft and creamy. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Tip everything out on to a sheet of clingfilm and roll into a sausage shape. Twist the ends to seal, then chill until firm.

For the pancake batter, put the flour, baking powder, egg, butter, salt, cumin and milk in a mixing bowl, and whisk until smooth. Add the onion and chilli to the batter. Put the spinach in a pan with a splash of water, cook until wilted, drain, squeeze dry, then roughly chop and add to the batter. Whisk the egg white to soft peaks and carefully fold it in to the batter.

Pour a little oil into a heavy frying pan and place on medium-high heat. For each pancake, ladle two to three tablespoons of batter into the pan and press down gently. You should get smallish pancakes, about 7cm in diameter and 1cm thick. Cook for a minute on each side, until a nice golden-green colour. Transfer to a paper towel and repeat, adding oil as needed, until all the mixture is used up. Keep the cooked pancakes warm.

To serve, pile up three pancakes per person and place a disc of flavoured butter on top to melt. Serve a flavoursome leaf salad on the side.

I also think mini versions of these would be so perfect for canapes. Perhaps with cream cheese and salmon. Yum.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Becci's birthday and a pony cake

My friend Becci had a birthday this week and requested a pony cake. She is nuts about horses, is a keen rider and has her own beautiful pony (although the unfortunate fellow does have a girl's name). A standing-up pony was initially requested - a feat I declared out of my scope! Becci persisted, and sent me this link for a pony cake. So, a pony cake it was!

I baked my favourite chocolate cake from Annabel Langbein (see previous post for the recipe) in two round tins. Halfway through making the cakes, I discovered I had run out of flour (and I call myself a baker, tsk tsk!). So, I needed a substitute (it was about 9.00pm, I could not be bothered going out in the dark and cold to get more flour if I could help it). What's the lesson here - always read the recipe through and check you have everything you need before you start! I had wholemeal flour, so decided to give that a go. I think it worked pretty well, the cake had a lot more texture than usual due to the course nature of wholemeal flour, but I think it was slightly more dense than usual, which I liked.

Anyway, the following evening I turned the cakes into a pony using the template above. This is when I discovered my next problem, and decided that I really do need to learn to plan ahead better. I went to put the cut-out shape onto my cake carrier to decorate it, only to discover that it didn't fit! The only thing I could find that it would fit on was my massive roasting tray, and there was no way I was carrying that on the train to work the next morning! The only thing to do was to put the pony on a rapid weight-loss diet.

I trimmed everything up, and made him fit on the carrier. The only downside of this exercise was that I ended up turning the pony into more of a dog. His neck was the main problem - horses have long necks. So, his neck got a reasonably brutal trim, and he lost a bit of his horsey-ness. Not to worry. I iced him with chocolate buttercream and used some black food colouring to create a tail and mane. I think the tail and the mane looked pretty cool, I was really pleased. Pony was supposed to have a blanket. But, I spent such a long time fluffing about with the weight-loss regime, and it got too late to sort out a blanket - it was well past my bed time! I did give him some feet though by mixing some of the darker icing with the lighter to give his feet a bit of a shadow effect.

According to Becci, the cake was yum, so as long as the birthday girl enjoys it, that's the main thing!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Mel's Birthday Cake plus a chocolate challenge

My little sister had a birthday earlier this month and asked for a cake. Of course, I was happy to oblige. Just before I made the cake, my friend alerted me to something she thought I might like - a blog with a chocolate challenge. Chocolate Teapot and We Should Cocoa are the two blogs that host the monthly challenge. I instantly thought a chocolate challenge sounded like a fantastic idea! I was then stoked to discover that this month's challenge was a chocolate masterpiece fit to celebrate We Should Cocoa's 1st virtual birthday party. Well, I decided to create a fantastic chocolate birthday masterpiece! What better than a spectacular black forest gateau. I started with a chocolate cake recipe from Annabel Langbein. This is seriously such a great recipe - super easy and so tasty. I cooked it in two round cake tins and left them to cool overnight. The next day was assembly time. I split each cake in half, and bought a jar of morello cherries from the supermarket - I was amused to see they originated from Turkey. Anyway, I whipped some cream and started layering. The first layer was cream and cherries, the next cream and shaved chocolate, the next a mixture of cream, cherries and chocolate. Yum. I covered the cake in cream - I did two layers to avoid crumbs as I didn't want any of them messing up my cake! On top, I piped some large swirls of cream around the edge of the cake for a cherry each. I wanted it to look quite spectacular, so I made some chocolate shavings. I did this in a rather rudimentary way - by pouring melted chocolate directly onto my (clean) bench and spreading it out thinly. Once cold (I aided this process by opening the window above the bench - the Wellington winter breeze certainly helped) I scraped the chocolate shavings using a metal bbq slice. A little random, but whatever works! I needed something strong enough to withhold the pressure to create the curls. I also made some chocolate shapes to decorate the cake. I piped the melted chocolate onto baking paper and let it set. I just used creative flair to make the shapes - swirls and lines and sweeps, great fun. I piled the chocolate shavings in the middle of the cake and nestled the shapes around the edge. I also piped Mel to sit in the centre of the cake. Around the edges I covered the cake in more chocolate shavings. The finished result? In my opinion, awesome!! Apparently it went down well with Mel's workmates too :)

Sunday, 28 August 2011

My love-affair with Martha Stewart continues - Mushroom and Nut loaf

We had a mid-winter Christmas-inspired dinner the other night at a friend's house. It was a fun and wonderfully delicious evening!

My allocated task was a meat-free main dish. Once again, I turned to Martha for inspiration, and once again, I was not disappointed.

I found a recipe for, what Martha calls a Cheese and Nut Loaf. I have modified the name above, as I think that the cheese is not really the star of this loaf - rather the cheese serves as a binding agent.

This was a wonderful, moist, tasty loaf. The consensus around the dinner was that it was certainly an incredibly meaty non-meat loaf!

I used a mixture of dried Mediterranean mushrooms - as that's what I had. I used a mixture of walnuts and cashews and I whizzed everything up in my little processor.

I also made a red wine gravy to go with my loaf. (You can't have Christmas dinner without gravy!) I cooked some onion in butter until it was tender and then added about 2 tablespoons of flour. I then gradually added about a glass of red wine, stirring constantly. Then I added enough mushroom-flavoured water (left over from simmering the dried mushrooms) to make a nice smooth gravy with a good pouring consistency. I forgot to take a photo of the gravy until it was almost all gone! But, I managed to salvage some! The gravy was so delicious, I will totally make it again, I reckon it would go with just about anything. Yum.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Chocolate-Espresso Snowcaps

I love Martha Stewart. Her website is in my favourites and I constantly check it out for ideas and inspiration.

I also love to watch Everyday Baking with John Barricelli. Does this guy have one of the best jobs in the world? Baking for Martha Stewart, wicked.

Anyway, I was watching Everyday Baking the other day and John Barricelli made Chocolate-Espresso Snowcaps, which I thought looked delicious. And they were.

The recipe calls for the mixture to be frozen before baking. I didn't have time for that (I didn't read the recipe properly and only realised this when I got to this step.) So, I just chose to ignore that instruction. And it was fine.

They are a really fudgy, soft cookie. Very moreish and easy to eat! They are also very pretty and make an attractive addition to a morning tea (as was my reason for making them). The feedback from my workmates and our guests was all positive. A definite make-again.

I think they could be easily modified - omit the coffee, dust in cocoa rather than icing sugar (for a less-sweet cookie), flavoured chocolate etc. Although, they taste great just as they are! Enjoy!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Sommer's Birthday Cake

One of my partner's workmates emailed him this week to find out if I would be interested in making a cake. My answer, of course! I love baking, especially for a special occasion!

I was asked to make a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and the lettering. I got to choose the rest of the decorations. Fun!!!

I made a chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting, I filled the cake with whipped cream. I then piped around the cake, top and bottom. My wonderful partner helped me lay out pebbles around the cake, and I made a beautiful fondant bow. I also piped white chocolate lettering. It really was so fun.

Hopefully Sommer loved it and had a fantastic 9th birthday!!!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Lemon meringue cupcakes

A friend turned 25 yesterday so I baked some cupcakes for her :-) She was actually one of the drivers of me starting this blog, so it only seems fitting that I should blog about her birthday cupcakes!

I wanted to make something special and try a new technique. I started out by making a plain vanilla cupcake. Once cool, I piped in limoncello lemon curd (you can find the recipe here). I did this by putting a small, fine tip on my piping bag. I made a small hole in the top of the cupcake with a wooden skewer and then jammed the end of the tip in (there is no prettier way to describe it). You could feel the cupcake filling up with the curd, it was a cool feeling!

I let these settle while I made a meringue topping. I put three egg whites (I should have added to my freezer post yesterday that egg yolks freeze beautifully too - pull them out for a quick custard), about a cup of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar and about 125ml of water into a bowl over simmering water. Beat this until it's thick and glossy and then pipe onto your cupcakes!

According to feedback, the cupcakes were yummy! Piping in the filling worked really well, and you got a nice limoncello surprise when you bit into the cupcake. Yum!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Tip of the week - freezing

I love my freezer. A freezer is your best friend. I wish mine were bigger, there are so many more things I could pack into my freezer, but currently mine is the size of a shoe box.

It has come to my attention that some people are unaware of the beauty of their freezer, and just what it can do for you. Your freezer can save you so much time, and can also save you money by preventing food from spoiling.

Bananas freeze well. If they are too far past it for you to eat, pop them in the freezer until next time you want to make a cake or muffins. Once defrosted (and they defrost really quickly), they are super easy to mash and add to your mixture.

Herbs also freeze well. I currently have little plastic containers of parsley, mint and coriander in my freezer, and I toss them straight into whatever I am cooking.

I have also done the same with ginger. Unpeeled ginger root can be stored in the freezer. Once taken out it defrosts quickly for easy use.

On a more random note, your freezer can save you a ton of time when it comes to weekday lunches. Now, credit where credit is due - I didn't come up with this this idea - full credit must go to a friend. But, it's a great idea and it is so super easy, so I'm going to share it with you. This great idea? Toasted sandwiches! You just prepare what you want on your sandwich - cheese, ham, pineapple etc and pop it in a snaplock sandwich and into the freezer. Take it out in the morning before work and it will be ready to put in the toasted sandwich maker at lunchtime.

Take advantage of your freezer!

Saturday, 30 July 2011


I have been tentatively experimenting with bread recently. My past experiences of homemade bread don't bring back fond memories. Rather, homemade bread for me reminds me of hard, flat, doughy yuckness. I hasten to add that these memories are formed of my own bread-making sessions, not those of my accomplished bread-making friends.

However, I am tackling my food-foes, so bread needed to be tackled.

A friend from work recommended sourdough. I happen to really like sourdough, so it was settled. I would make sourdough. Turns out, you can't just make sourdough. Internet research informed me that in order to make sourdough I needed a sourdough starter. Said starter needs to mature and get nice and stinky (hence, sourdough). So began my exploration into sourdough. In a nutshell, a sourdough starter is flour, water and yeast, left to ferment and collect all the wonderful wild yeast in the air. I have seen suggestions for variations of the starter - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall uses rhubarb in his. I decided that, as a first-timer, I should stick with a more simple mix. As long as you feed it (flour and water), the starter should last indefinitely. The starter looks like you imagine a flour and water mix would - a rather insipid colour, with a few bubbles due to the fermentation.

So, with my starter "started", it was time to make sourdough!

I used this recipe to make my sourdough. It's quite a time-consuming process, but only in that you have long gaps where you are waiting for the bread to rise. I don't consider that a problem as I can always amuse myself in the kitchen!

All the ingredients needed a good knead. What a great way to get a workout in the kitchen!!

Leave it to rise and find something else to do in the kitchen.

Lovely and risen!

The finished product! A little darker than I would have liked, I think it was possibly a little to high in the oven. That's easy to fix next time.

The bottom however, was a beautiful golden colour!

I cooked my bread on a pizza stone to try and ensure the oven held the heat. It seemed to work well. The texture of the bread was lovely and soft, no doughy yuckness. So, sourdough - a success! Onto the next bread...

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Some of my favourite blogs

I have a few food blogs that I regularly check out, and I wanted to share them with you. There are some great recipes to be found in these blogs.

I think the prettiest blog absolutely goes to 101 Cookbooks. I love this blog. The author, Heidi, is a photographer and as well as delicious food, she has beautiful photos on her blog. Heidi focuses on natural, whole foods - vegetarian only. I am currently reading her book, Super Natural Cooking, which is a introduction to natural foods. It is really informative and interesting.

Another site with stunning photos is Canelle et Vanille. The recipes on this site are gluten-free and many use a number of natural ingredients.

My sister loves Azelia's Kitchen. Again, beautiful photos, and delicious-looking food.

Another great food blog is Taste Spotting. This is a blog where people can submit recipes after registering with the site. Most recipes link through to a blog or website, so this will make for hours of entertainment from food-lovers as you click through to various other delicious sites.

I discovered Sweetopia this evening by accident. I have not had chance to have a good look around this site, but my initial impression is that I will be making frequent visits to this site! Yum!

If I find any more great blogs in the future, I'll make sure to blog about them. For now, enjoy!

Dinner inspired by Christmas

I had some friends over for dinner last weekend. The weather was miserable, so I decided that we needed some winter warming food. Because we don't go for the heavy, warming food at Christmas time, I decided to experiment with a mid-winter themed dinner.

I have been browsing Martha Stewart's website recently, as she has some wonderful recipes. She has a great Holidays section, where I found some delicious-looking Thanksgiving and Christmas dishes. I was looking for something a bit different, but still with winter-warming qualities. It was difficult to narrow down what I wanted to make; at one stage I had about five or six different recipes open in my browser. It seems I may have to have another mid-winter Christmas dinner to try the other recipes!

But I eventually did narrow it down. Firstly, I roasted a beautiful big chicken (free-range of course). I made Peach Stuffing which was delicious! I really, really enjoyed this stuffing. I had a mini-disaster with the parsley, but that didn't seem to affect the dish. I went to the local market earlier in the day and purchased what I thought was a lovely big bag of organic parsley. The woman selling it obviously thought it was parsley too, as she had labeled it so, and we even had a quick chat about it! Anyway, when it came time to add the parsley, I opened the bag only to discover it was kale! Oh dear. Not to worry, my dish just didn't contain parsley. I'm sure the addition of parsley would have enhanced the flavour though. (I ended up just steaming the kale and serving it with a squeeze of lemon juice and some salt and pepper - delicious).

The next dish I made was Apple, Leek, and Butternut Squash Gratin.It was super easy to make, and delicious. I think I found it had too much liquid in the bottom once cooked. Next time I might ensure the leeks have very little liquid. I don't have any sherry, so I just used white wine instead.

I wish I had a photo of this finished dish, as it really was very pretty. I layered uniform pieces of the apple on top, so it had a lovely pattern when served. In fact, one of my guests was concerned that we were digging into the dessert! I couldn't find any sage for the dish, but it didn't seem to matter. This was a really tasty dish too, I would make it again.

I had heaps of food left over. (I was so paranoid about not having enough, so over-compensated but cooking about twice as much as I needed). However, this was not a problem, as I used the remaining chicken, stuffing, gratin and kale to make a delicious chicken pie. I simply made a roux of butter and flour and gradually added milk until I had a nice thick, creamy sauce. I then added all the left-overs and mixed it well. I baked this in some short pastry and we had pie for lunch and dinner for the next two days. Yum.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Mushroom soup

I cooked dinner for some friends the other night and for a starter made mushroom soup. I love mushroom soup. Growing up, I used to love making mushroom soup after picking mushrooms growing wild on the farm. There would be a small window of opportunity when the mushrooms would flourish and we would be out there picking as many as we could find.

Now that I am a city slicker, I have to resort to store-bought mushrooms. I grabbed a mixture of button mushrooms and the big flat brown mushrooms from my local supermarket. I think if you were willing to widen your search and perhaps go to a specialty vege store, or an Asian supermarket, you might find a wider variety of mushrooms. I had some dried mixed mushrooms, so I re-hydrated them with some boiling water, and added them to my soup.

Anyway, I was talking up the deliciousness of my soup at work the next day, and my workmate asked for the recipe, so here it is. This is based on the Edmonds Cook Book version, and Jamie Oliver's recipe but as always, I have modified them both to suit.

Melt a knob of butter and some olive oil in a saucepan, add a chopped onion, some garlic and about 500g of chopped mushrooms (depending on how many servings you want - this will make enough for about four). I also added my re-hydrated mixed mushrooms. Cook until the onion is clear and then add a few tablespoons of flour. Cook for a few minutes, and then add three cups of liquid. I used a mixture of milk and stock, but you can use only stock if you want. Vege stock is fine, but chicken stock also works really well.

Boil this mixture for about 5-10 minutes. Add some salt and pepper and parsley to taste. At this point, I used my stick blender to blend up some of the soup (I just gave it a few bursts in the pan - I wanted to keep some of the texture). When serving, I prefer to squeeze some lemon onto my soup. My partner is not a fan however, so I served the soup up with a wedge of lemon beside for my guests if they wanted.

This is super tasty - enjoy!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Limoncello Meringue Pies

I got a wonderful book for my birthday last year - The Australian Women's Weekly High Tea. It is full of wonderful treats, and I have made a number of the goodies out of it.

I had a number of lemons that I needed to use up, so I decided to make these cute little limoncello pies. The limoncello curd filling was easy to make. Whisk together 3 egg yolks and 1/2 cup caster sugar until pale and thick. Whisk in 1/4 cup of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon lemon zest and stir over a saucepan of simmering water until the mixture coats the back of a spoon (12 minutes). Remove from the heat and and gradually whisk in 90g of cold butter until combined. Stir in 1 tablespoon of limoncello and chill.

The rest was really straightforward, although time consuming. I only had one 12-hole mini muffin tin; the process would have been much quicker if I had another tin. Basically, you make a sweet short pastry that you press into the mini muffin pan and chill. Then bake the cases until golden and cool.

Make a meringue with egg whites and caster sugar. Spoon the limoncello curd into the tarts and top with a swirl of meringue. Pop it into a hot oven and cook until the meringue is just set.

These were so, so delicious. I couldn't stop eating them! Yum! Even though these are a little more fiddly to make, they are totally worth making.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

More pumpkin muffins

I made pumpkin soup for dinner the other night. Super easy - put the raw pumpkin, potato, onion, stock and a few spices (cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper) into the slow cooker and left it for the day. (As I have mentioned before, I love my slow cooker!) Just before tea, I got out my stick blender to turn it into soup. It was so tasty, with a nice spicy bite to it from the cayenne.

We had the leftover soup for lunch today, but I had a bowl extra that I didn't want to chill and reheat again. I decided to try and use it. Because I made the soup quite savoury, I thought sweet muffins wouldn't quite work. So, after a quick google, I decided to make Pumpkin and Cheese Muffins

What a find! These muffins are beautiful! Such a wonderful light texture and so super tasty. The recipe calls for cheddar cheese, but I had Edam in the fridge and it worked. The uncooked mixture was a little more dry than I expected or am used to.

The finished product though, was pretty close to perfect. I will certainly make these again, and I don't think you would need to be restricted to pumpkin. Curried kumara would be a good one to try. My soup was quite thick, so you would need to ensure that whatever puree you used wasn't too runny. If using pumpkin, I think you could substitute the cheese for feta, and add some spinach. If adding spinach, I would make sure the spinach didn't add too much liquid. Yum. I will do some more experimenting and let you know how I get on.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Pumpkin muffins

I had excess pumpkin that needed using up this weekend. I roasted and mashed it and then had to decide what to do. So, I decided to try muffins.

I used a really basic recipe; dry ingredients of wholemeal flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, ground ginger, brown sugar, walnut pieces and wet ingredients of butter, oil, the mashed pumpkin, milk and eggs.

The result? Yum. A lovely texture, nice and moist with good flavour. The roasted pumpkin (as opposed to boiled or microwaved) gives a much nuttier taste which I really like.

I topped the muffins with cinnamon sugar, made with raw sugar. Yum

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Banana Peanut Butter Cake

I made myself a birthday cake today (it's a bit rough when you have to make your own cake!) Inspired by my friend Susan who regularly has peanut butter and banana on toast, I decided to make a banana peanut butter cake. I used a basic banana cake recipe and put a little less banana and added some peanut butter.

The result - yum!

I iced my cake with chocolate peanut butter ganache. I put some cream on the stove with chocolate, butter and peanut butter. Once the cream was almost bubbling, I removed it from the heat and whisked until everything was combined. I didn't quite have enough (I ran out of cream), so I added a bit of icing sugar to bulk it up.

Chocolate and peanut butter really are good friends. Turns out, banana and peanut butter also are too!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

My idea of the perfect dinner

Yup, this is it, my idea of the perfect dinner. Seafood. All from beautiful Northland, and all gathered and caught by my family.

The scallops were so big and tasty. Although I didn't dive for them, I did help shuck them! I cooked them very simply in butter and garlic.

We also had some fresh snapper which we dusted in flour and again, cooked in butter.

Lastly, we had a beautiful crayfish, thanks to my brother. I boiled it for five minutes, cut it in half and then finished it off in a griddle pan. Again with butter and garlic. Delicious!

I love to keep seafood very simple, especially when it is this fresh and such good quality. To top off this extra-special meal, my friend headed down to the fish and chip shop and came back with half a dozen fresh bluff oysters. Heaven on a plate!!

Cooking with my crockpot

I'm not a fan of winter, it's fair to say. However, winter does have one positive point as far as I'm concerned - winter food! Winter means I can dig out my crockpot and crank it up. I use my crockpot several times a week. I find it easy, convenient and the resulting dinner is so, so tasty.

I have a really basic crockpot (not unlike the one below). It has two settings, high and low. I purchased a timer for about $6 from a hardware store (Mitre 10 or Bunnings I think), so I can control when it switches on and off. I used to turn it on before work, but was finding that sometimes the meals dried out as they were on for almost 10 hours. I set the timer to switch my crockpot on around 10-11am and off again at 6 (depending on what I am cooking).

As I mentioned in an earlier post I often use my crockpot for cooking stock. But, it has so many other uses. Curries, casseroles, stews, and more.

When I am cooking meat in my crockpot, I only use the very cheapest of cuts. It's a waste to use more expensive cuts of meat in a crockpot, as you are not doing them justice. A crockpot is slow, gentle cooking. I prefer chuck and stewing steak, shin, shanks and lamb neck. I have also had success with chicken thighs and legs.

Further to my experimentation with lentils, I made a very successful lentil and chickpea curry the other day. I used red curry paste, coconut milk, vege and of course, lentils and chickpeas. (I pre-cooked the lentils and chickpeas - I keep a store ready in my freezer).

Now, I must admit, I am a little bit of a freak when it comes to being orgainsed. As well as frozen chickpeas, I also keep ready-to-go crockpot meat in my freezer. I find that meat tends to only come in giant packs. So, I get it home, chop it into bite-sized pieces and put enough for a meal in a snap-lock bag and toss it in the freezer. The night before, I then take the pre-chopped meat out of the freezer, put it in the crockpot with whatever else I'm using, set the timer and it's ready to go. I don't have time to be fussing about with it before work.

You may be wondering, what about browning the meat? Well, I don't. I don't find it adds anything, and it's also annoying. It creates a mess and for little gain. Jamie Oliver agrees with me. He did an experiment with browned and un-browned meat, and decided he actually liked the un-browned better.

Some of my favourite crockpot meals are beef stews with red wine, vege (onion, carrot, kumara, potato, pumpkin - I use whatever I have), beef stock, chilli and loads of salt and pepper. You can also add soy sauce, garlic, tinned tomato and various herbs and spices you might like. The great thing about a beef stew is there are no hard and fast rules. You just have to make sure you have enough liquid (at least a couple of cups), and some depth of flavour.

The same goes for lamb. Lamb, rosemary and apricots are all good friends and I made a tasty Moroccan-inspired stew the other day with lamb neck. Lamb, garlic, red wine and orange is also a tasty combination.

If you are using meat on a bone (shin, neck, tail, shanks etc), don't worry about the bones, just put the whole lot in the croackpot, by the time it has finished cooking the bones will be clean and you just have to fish them out before you serve. They add so much flavour.

There are so many things you can do with a crockpot, I would recommend getting it out of the cupboard and experimenting. It's hard to go wrong, just make sure you have enough liquid (if in doubt use more rather than less) and make sure you cook it for at least six hours. Any less and your meat will still be tough and not meltingly tender like it should be. Enjoy!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Caramel apple pie

I did some more experimenting this afternoon. My workmate made the most delicious bannoffee pie on Friday, and it got me thinking whether the same could be done with all my excess apples. I decided to give it a go.

I made caramel using sweetened condensed milk, butter and brown sugar. I blind baked store-bought sweet shortcrust pastry in my flan tin. (I rarely make my own pastry, it is one of the few things I prefer to buy ready-made. I find that the time and effort to make my own far exceeds the convenience of having ready-to-go pastry in my freezer).

I sliced up my apples and mixed them with sugar and flour. I spread the slightly cooled caramel on the pre-cooked pastry and then spread the apple on top. I baked it in the oven for about half an hour.

The end result was a sticky, sweet, delicious pie-like dish. I was so pleased. We had a slice for dessert, however I could only eat a small sliver, as it's very sweet. I think I would like to try it again and put the apple under the caramel, to see what happens.

Chocolate, banana and almond meal cupcakes

A few weeks ago, I had a few bananas to use up. A workmate had recommended I check out her favourite food blog and on it I found a recipe I thought I might try. It's such a beautiful blog, with wonderful photos.

Anyway, I found some gluten free cupcakes on her website and decided to give them a go. As ever, I didn't follow the recipe exactly, but you can find it here.

I had three bananas, which was more than the recipe called for, but I wanted to use them up. I used regular flour, brown sugar, omitted the rice flour and used 100g of almond meal.

The result was delicious. A lovely almost fudgy cupcake. I sent them to work with my other half and had interesting and very exciting feedback. Some could not taste the banana, which surprised me. Nevertheless, they said they really liked them. One workmate even said he would happily pay for them. Now, that is awesome feedback!

I iced them with chocolate icing, and added a touch of edible glitter to pretty them up.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Apple pie

I stayed with a friend last weekend and as we were wandering around her yard, I noticed two wonderful apples trees groaning with apples leaning from the yard next door into hers. Her two excitable dogs were having a great time eating them and chasing them around the yard, but I saw an opportunity.

We loaded up a bag with as many apples as we could reach, leaping up to grab branches to pull the apples closer (she is about as tall as me, so we only scratched the bottom!) One of the trees had green apples and the other red apples. They really were wonderful trees; beautiful big fruit with a bright shine and a gorgeous colour.

I got them home and cooked up a yummy apple pie. I can't take credit for the wonderful lattice decoration on the top of the pie (thanks Rodney!), but I did make the pastry and filling. It's so simple. Make some basic pastry, chop up your apples (peeled or unpeeled) and toss the apple with some sugar and melted butter and whatever spices you like. I used ground cinnamon and cloves. I love cloves with apple. Not much of either, just enough to have a slight hint. Cook it until golden. Sometimes I add custard powder to the apples, this gives a lovely thick consistency. I brushed the pastry with milk before cooking to give it a lovely shine.

I also stewed up some of the apples and they turned into the most wonderful jammy consistency, I was so pleased. As I have a giant bag full, I am going to have lots of fun making all sorts of wonderful apple recipes. I had an idea the other day for a apple pie made with a layer of caramel, I might give that a go tomorrow (also gives me an excuse to buy a flan dish).

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Fan mail

I think I had my first fan mail today. Talk about exciting. I was sitting at my desk this afternoon when some internal mail landed on my desk. I opened it to find what I can only describe as fan mail. A former colleague of mine had obviously been reading my post on lentils. In the letter she had included four lentil and chickpea recipes, along with a cute note outlining some helpful tips and hints for adapting the recipes.

So, I will make these recipes in the following weeks and let you know how they go. A big thank you for my first fan mail H!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Free Range Debate

For the last year-and-a-bit, I have chosen to only use free range eggs. I decided to start using only free range as I was concerned about the way battery hens are farmed. I have seen a working egg farm, and it's not pretty. The poor hens are squashed into tiny cages, living what can only really be described as a miserable life. I believe that chickens are made to squawk around outside, scratching up everything in sight (including the lovingly-tended garden).

I'll admit, free range eggs are more expensive, but not by much more. In fact, down at my local Sunday markets in the city, free range eggs from a local grower are cheaper than battery eggs at the supermarket.

This year, I also decided that I would only buy free range pork and chicken, for the same reasons as I choose to buy free range eggs. I believe that the animals I eat deserve to have had a quality life.

Why only from this year? Price was my main consideration. Free range chicken and pork, when you can find it, is very expensive. I would estimate about double the price of standard chicken and pork. But, I decided that I was no longer in a position to use price as an excuse not to buy free range. I now buy much less pork and chicken than I used to, both because of the price, and because my local supermarket does not sell free range. It irritates me that my local supermarket does not stock free range pork, and only stocks whole free range chickens. It is one of the main supermarket brands in the country, and is one of the larger stores in the country. It services a large area, with a highly concentrated population.

In Wellington however, I can thoroughly recommend the Island Bay Butcher. The store does not have a website, but I have included a link to their yellow pages details. When I am in the area, I call in here as they have a wonderful range of free range meat. Although, sadly this is not frequently, as it's an almost half hour drive away. (They also have a huge selection of the most delicious gluten-free sausages).

I have found ways to innovate, and use the chicken and pork that I do buy wisely. As I wrote about above, I have discovered lentils, a wonderful way to bulk out a meal. I also add far more vegetables, to for example, curries and stir-fry dishes. I have also been buying a whole chicken (as it's the most cost-effective way to buy free range chicken) and either roasting it and using the leftovers in future meals (one chicken will last two of us for three meals and then I make stock with the carcass), or jointing it and freezing the different portions. Again, this will give us three meals - I use one breast per meal, and use the two thighs and legs for another (rather large) meal.

Why do I not buy free range beef and lamb? Because I think that sheep and cattle get a pretty good deal in New Zealand, and have a pretty good life. I grew up on a farm, so am aware of how our farm animals are treated. I'm just not sure why we can't treat our chickens and pigs the same way as our cows and sheep.

At the end of the day, choosing to buy free range is a personal choice, and is often dictated by price. I am in the fortunate position that I can afford to buy free range, but I know that not everyone can, and indeed, not everyone wants to.

Friday, 15 April 2011


I have been cooking with lentils this week. I have never really successfully used lentils before, except for split red lentils in soups and curries.

This week I made two recipes using puy lentils, purchased from my local Indian food store, and they were both so successful.

First I made this a delicious sausage, red wine and lentil dinner. I really recommend making it. Super easy, and so, so tasty. I used really good quality venison sausages from Lovat Venison, that I picked up from the Sunday markets. Really beautiful sausages that I thoroughly recommend.

I had way too many lentils left over that I needed to use up (next time I make that recipe, I possibly need to evaluate the quantity of lentils I cook!). So, I made a mince and lentil lasagna. It was a great success. It's fair to say, my previous experimentation with lentils have been nothing less than a debacle. However, this lasagna was so tasty!

I cooked up mince, garlic, onion and eggplant, added some tinned tomatoes, red wine and the leftover lentils and layered up the mixture with lasagna sheets and cheese sauce as per usual. The result was wonderful. Next time I am tempted to ditch the mince and just use the lentils!

The best chocolate mousse

I have the best chocolate mousse recipe. It's by Nigella Lawson, and I found it in a newspaper in the UK, such a great find. This is a perfect dinner-party dessert - it's super easy to make, but everyone thinks you have gone to such trouble. You can make it as fancy as you like by serving it in dainty glasses (you only need a very small portion as it's very rich) and dusting with grated chocolate. (In the photo, I grated over while chocolate).

I am not a fan of raw eggs, and every mousse seems to have raw eggs. Not this one. It also has the added advantage that it's so super easy to make. Bung almost everything in a pot, melt it gently, stir in some whipped cream and you're done.

If you don't watch the pot when everything is melting, you can get little bits of hardened chocolate mixture. I have learnt that this is not the end of the world, it just adds some texture and you can pretend that it was supposed to be like that all along.

One day I made this using Crunchie chocolate and it worked a treat. It had a lovely subtle hokey pokey flavour with little bits of hokey pokey mixed through. Yum. I think you could add almost any flavour you like; rum, orange, coffee etc. Just adjust the mixture a bit - add some grated orange zest, substitute the vanilla for rum, the hot water for coffee. It's such a versatile recipe.

Click here for the recipe. Enjoy!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Easy, delicious white chocolate cheesecake

Sticking with the white chocolate theme, this is simply the best cheesecake! It's so easy to make (well, relatively easy), and is certainly a favourite of mine. I found it by accident, in a newspaper or magazine one day several years ago. It's a great special occasion, or dinner party dessert. But really, you don't need an excuse!

The recipe says it will keep for up to a week in the fridge, though you would be doing well to resist for that long! However, you do need to make it the day before so it's well chilled when you want to eat it. I top with whatever I have: chopped fruit; tinned fruit; chocolate shavings; passionfruit syrup is particularly delicious.

Due to popular demand, I will start posting recipes as well, so here goes for the cheesecake:

450g cream cheese
1/4 cup caster sugar
3 t cornflour
3 eggs
1 t vanilla essence
3 t finely grated lemon zest
1 1/2 T lemon juice
2 cups sour cream
1 cup cream
220g white chocolate, melted and cooled to lukewarm

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Grease a 20cm springform cake tin and line the base with baking paper. Wrap the outside tightly in a double layer of foil.

Whiz cheese and sugar in a food processor for 30 seconds until smooth. (I don't have a food processor, so I use my hand beater and just make sure it's really well mixed). Keep the motor or beater going, and add the cornflour, then eggs one at a time, stopping every now and again to scrape down the sides. Add vanilla, zest, juice, creams and 1/4 t salt, and process until just combined scraping down the sides. Add chocolate and pulse until smooth. Pour into tin and sit in a large baking dish. Pour hot water into the dish to come halfway up the sides of the tin. Bake for 45 minutes and then leave in the switched-off oven (door closed) for 1 hour. Remove the tin from the dish, remove the foil and cool the cake in the tin on a rack. Cover and chill overnight.

To turn it out, sit the tin on a hot damp towel to loosen the base. Run a palette knife around the edge of the tin, then invert onto a serving plate. Decorate and slice with a hot knife.


Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Spectacular white chocolate cake

Spectacular is not usually a word I use. But, I made this cake for my partner to take to work, and spectacular is the word he used to describe it. Now, to put this in perspective, my darling partner is not usually one for superlatives. However, to be fair, this was a mighty tasty cake.

For white chocolate lovers, I don't think you can get much better. All up, this cake (including icing), has almost 1kg of white chocolate! Yum!

The feedback I received from the other workmates was also favourable - "best so far", "very moist", "you should open a cafe". I was chuffed!

I was impressed by how deliciously moist the cake was. It was a couple of days old by the time I got around to icing it and sending it off with my partner, and it just seemed to improve with age.

I iced the cake with a white chocolate ganache and coated the edges with white chocolate shavings. I made the shavings using a potato peeler, running it along the long edge of a block of chocolate. In the centre of the cake, I mixed white chocolate ganache, whipped cream and Baileys. Yum!

Unfortunately the photos did not come out that well, but I can assure you it was pretty amazing!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Chilli Jam

Mum grew the most amazing chillis this year. They were huge, and you could barely see the plant for all the chillis on it. And they were hot! I made the mistake of chopping them and, once I was done, wiping my unwashed hand against my eye and mouth - bad mistake. I was in so much pain for at least an hour. Learnt my lesson there!

Anyway, I raided Mum's plant when I was home in February (I got a shopping bag full, and it barely looked like I had dented the plant) to make chilli jam. I used Annabel Lanbein's recipe off her TV series, The Free Range Cook. It was pretty easy to make, although because I don't have a decent blender (it's on my wishlist), I think next time I make it I will boil everything up and then blend it with my stick blender. Mum posted me some chillis yesterday (turns out that little plant is still going strong!), so I will make some more this week.

As well as being delicious, it makes a beautiful gift. My friend J Rex's partner took a jar home a couple of weeks ago. J Rex made pumpkin and lentil patties for dinner the other night with chilli jam on the side. The report-back was positive. Always good to hear. (I've also asked for the pumpkin and lentil patties recipe - sounds delicious).

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Chocolate walnut cupcakes with caramel icing

I made chocolate walnut cupcakes on the weekend. While they were super tasty, they were a bit strange. I don't think I would describe them as cupcakes, more like a brownie. The recipe didn't call for any rising agent - no baking powder or baking soda (I did triple-check the recipe), so the cakes were quite dense, definitely more brownie-texture rather than light and fluffy cupcake.

The walnuts in them were delicious - I roasted them first, so they were crunchy and toasty, delicious. The recipe also called for chocolate chips in the mixture - next time I think I would leave them out - the recipe already has 250g of melted dark chocolate which I think was enough.

I iced the cupcakes with a really delicious caramel icing. It was super easy to make and so, so tasty. It was simply butter, brown sugar, cream and golden syrup melted together. Once cooled, you beat in icing sugar. So easy! I bought a tiny jar of that super-cute edible glitter, which I sprinkled on some of the cupcakes. It's so pretty.

I'm going to have another go at these, putting some baking powder in, and leaving the chocolate chips out. I'm also going to make the original recipe again and try baking it in a tray, like a brownie. Yum. I'll let you know how it goes!