Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cookie Carnival - April

This month’s cookie carnival recipe is Toasted Almond Lemon Bars from the Sweet Melissa Baking Book. There is actually a new baking group (like Tuesdays with Dorie) who are baking their way through this book. I must say I was tempted to join, but two things stopped me – once was a time thing, and the other was that sometimes it is nice to be able to bake and blog about things that you choose to make. TWD is probably enough for me at the moment.

But, I was excited to get the opportunity to bake a recipe from this book. I love almonds and I love lemony thing (although do prefer chocolate things actually), so I had high expectations for this recipe. The base is a shortbread base with toasted sliced almonds in it, topped with a lemon curd like filling. I halved the recipe to make a small slice tin. I didn’t love this recipe. I found that the base wasn’t quite as crisp as I would have liked and the filling not as lemony as I would have liked. The filling actually had almond essence in it as well, but I left that out, mainly because I haven’t fully unpacked my spices etc yet, and couldn’t be bothered looking for it!

By the way, I am normally a good sleeper, but couldnt last night - this photo was taken at 3am this morning.

I am sure that there are lots of great recipes in the Sweet Melissa Baking book, but for me, I wouldn’t make this one again. You can check out the cookie carnival here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rachel Allen, Bake

One of the things that we have in the new house that we didn’t have before is Food TV. I cant believe that as a dedicated cook and baker I have existed this long without it :0) Actually, to be honest, I am not a huge TV person and I do have limited time to watch it, but I have been enjoying Rachel Allen, Bake. I love her soft lilting Irish accent. And, being a sucker for cook books, I recently bought her book that goes with the TV series.

Last night was both the first time that I have baked cookies in my new oven and the first time to make something from Rachel’s book. My husband said that he fancied chocolate chip cookies, so I made Rachel’s basic biscuit recipe, varying it to make the cookies dark chocolate with white chocolate chunks. The recipe was so simple – butter, sugar and flour and the cookies turned out just as I like them – quite shortbready. I used dutched cocoa which gave a wonderful depth of flavour and chunks of milky bar. I loved the easiness of these cookies and can see them becoming a favourite as I experiment with different variations.

Double Chocolate Cookies (adapted from Rachel Allen, Bake)

110g sugar
225g butter
225g flour
50g dutched cocoa
180g white chocolate cut into chunks

• Cream butter and sugar
• Stir in flour and cocoa and lastly chocolate chunks
• Roll into balls, place on trays and flatten slightly with a fork
• Bake at 170c for about 15 minutes

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

TWD - Chocolate Cream Tart

Well, I hope to have my baking groove back with this Chocolate Cream Tart which is Kim from Scrumptious Photography’s TWD pick this week. I didn’t even get to do the Daring Bakers challenge for this month, but I took yesterday off work and even though the kitchen is still not complete, I have at least sorted out the scullery which means that finally, my baking gear is mostly unpacked! The other thing I unpacked was a box with some new tea towels in it that I had been collecting for the new house – today I have 37 new tea towels hanging on my line. OCD – who me?

This tart was a great thing to be the first baked item (other than the disappointing muffins last week) in my new oven. I quartered the recipe and made two small tarts. The pastry is a delicious chocolate shortcrust pastry. I used dutched cocoa which gave it a lovely rich, chocolate flavour. The filling is basically a chocolate custard. I could have eaten the whole lot by itself – very yummy and very easy to make. The cooked pie crust is then filled with the chilled custard and topped with whipped cream. Yum! Chocolate, pastry and cream – I think this is my favourite April TWD recipe.

See what the other TWDers thought here. I promise to be a better blogger after my total lapse this month during the house move!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Anzac Cookies

Tomorrow is Anzac Day – the day which commemorates Australian and New Zealand troops landing on the shores of Gallipoli in World War one – April 25, 1915. Anzac biscuits are the biscuits sent to the men at war by the women back home – they are made with oats and golden syrup and are particularly hardy, meaning that they could be sent to the other side of the world. Anzac Day is a special day for most New Zealanders and for me it is the day I think of my great grandfather, who I never knew, but was wounded in the battle of the Somme and my granddad who died when I was 11, but who served the entire 6 years of WW II. I cant imagine going off to war as a 19 year old and coming back 25 – it must have been horrific.

I made these anzac biscuits before we moved back into our house. They are crunchy, but chewy and quite moreish. Best served with a glass of milk! The recipe is on my blog here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Not much going on in my kitchen....

There hasn’t been much baking at all going on since the week before Easter. We did get our kitchen bench on Monday night (and it is beautiful!), but we still don’t have cupboard doors and drawer fronts. I don’t really want to unpack too much until we have those, as the amount of dust created when anything new is installed is quite incredible!! But, on Sunday afternoon I thought that I better make some muffins for my husband for his morning teas during the week. I felt like making a new recipe given that there haven’t been too many new recipes made lately, so l looked in my new Allyson Gofton book, Bake that my sister gave me as a house warming present and chose the blueberry muffins.

Now, when I made muffins for my husband, I usually add in some bran or wholemeal flour so that he thinks that they are healthy! But I decided to stick with Allyson’s recipe (although I did use oil instead of butter – and reduced the amount and used one egg instead of two) and make plain blueberry muffins. Well, they didn’t turn out quite as I wanted. I found that they spread a bit across the trays and I just didn’t really like them. They had sidewards peaks and I think that is because they had baking soda in them. I like to use just baking powder in muffins. And I don’t think it was my new oven, I think it was the recipe. There are so many other recipes in Bake that I want to try, but for the moment I think I will stick to my tried and true, every day blueberry muffin recipe that I created myself.

My Blueberry and Bran Muffins

1 c each wholemeal and plain flour
½ c bran
4 tsp baking powder
¾ c sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 c milk
1 egg
¼ c rice bran oil (or other flavourless oil)
1 c blueberries

• Combine flours, bran, baking powder, sugar and cinnamon
• Whisk together the milk, egg and oil with a fork
• Stir blueberries through dry ingredients, then gently fold in the liquid
• Spoon into muffin cases and bake at 200c for about 18 minutes or until cooked through

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

TWD - Four Star Chocolate Bread Pudding

This week’s TWD recipe was chosen by Lauren of Upper East Side Chronicle and is Four Star Chocolate Bread Pudding. Once upon a time I thought that bread pudding sounded the most revolting thing ever, but after making a chocolate and banana bread and butter pudding about 8 years ago, I was converted. It’s not something I make often though so it was nice to get another opportunity.

This bread pudding is not bread and butter pudding – it’s just bread pudding and I actually found that the lack of butter also meant lack in richness. The bread pudding was really easy to make - cube your stale bread, make a custard with sugar, milk, cream, eggs and chocolate, pour over and bake. I adjusted the recipe a bit, quartering it to make two small ramekins (one each for me and my husband) and I used all milk (low fat at that), no cream. I had to go and buy some bread to make the pudding as I didn’t have any leftover bits in the freezer, and I went with ciabatta – but I think that this particular recipe really does need a richer bread like brioche.

While this pudding was ok, I didn’t like it nearly as much as bread and butter pudding where you spread your bread with butter before soaking it in the custard. I think it is a good example of results speaking for the ingredients – if I had used the cream, full fat milk and brioche I think I would have got a richer, more delicious dessert.

See how the other TWDers did here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Baking For Hospice

I made these cupcakes a couple of weeks ago for the monthly baking for hospice arranged by one of my readers, Nessie. The cupcakes are called Banana Fudge Cupcakes and the recipe is from the Crabapple Bakery Cupcake book. Unfortunately it is packed away, so I cant give you the exact recipe, but I can give you the idea.

The cupcakes are little banana cupcakes, studded with chopped macadamia nuts. I would suggest just using your favourite banana cake recipe. The icing is a chocolate buttercream – usual buttercream made with butter, icing sugar, cocoa and a little milk.. I topped the cupcakes with scorched almonds which I thought looked a little bit like Easter eggs. En masse the cupcakes looked quite effective. In the crabapple bakery book they topped their cupcakes with chocolate dipped macadamia nuts and drizzled them with white chocolate. I didn’t have any white chocolate at home when I made these, but I do like the idea of the drizzle.

Even though I haven’t done any baking in my new kitchen (all my baking ingredients are packed away – bench top arrives on Monday!!), I have cooked a few meals. So far we have had a mushroom risotto, chicken breasts topped with sliced almonds, cinnamon and smoked paprika and served with an orzo salad, and a fish dish cooked on top of the stove with tomatoes, olives and baby spinach leaves and served with rice and broccoli. Last night I made meatballs with minced beef, toasted pinenuts, ras al hanout (a Moroccan spice blend), smoked Maldon sea salt and crushed garlic. I served it with a bughar wheat salad that had seeded, chopped tomatoes, baby rocket and lemon juice tossed through, extra rocket with avocado and natural yoghurt. This is actually my favourite kind of after work meal – it is quick and easy to prepare and I love meatballs and I also love Moroccan flavours.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sewing Not Baking

Hopefully next week I will have some more baking tales. In the meantime I did want to share with you this gorgeous pin cushion that my dear friend in London sent to me for my birthday. I got a sewing machine for my birthday and started sewing lessons in February. I have made my first item which is a summer weight dressing gown in a pretty floral fabric. Maybe one day I will be brave enough to post a photo of it. The one thing I didn’t have was a pin cushion, so I was so delighted when this lovely Cath Kidston one arrived in the post. Before we moved last week I cut out a pair of floral cotton lounge pants to wear in the evenings when I get home from work. I cant wait to sew them up – I may have to make some time in the weekend...

I also don’t know if I have ever blogged about my tea towel obsession. I love tea towels – I use so many of them, as I tend to use them more as handtowels when I am cooking. I have been buying new tea towels for our new house ever since we moved out of our old house about 20 months ago. Most of them are packed up still, but pictured above is a small selection of some that weren’t packed up that I have bought in the last couple of months. The only problem is that I cant bare to convert some of my old tea towels into rags.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Coconut Whispers

The weekend before Easter I did some more baking for hospice and part of my baking package was these coconut whispers. The recipe came from Ladies, A Plate and makes lovely little sweet cookies that are almost macaroon like – probably only for the fact that they have got coconut in them, as the recipe is not remotely like that of a macaroon recipe. Crispy on the outside, but with the lovely chewiness that coconut gives, these were easy cookies to make and have very few ingredients. Unfortunately I cant give you the recipe today as all my cook books are still packed up.

My sister gave me Alyson Gofton’s new book Bake as a house warming present. Baking must be having a revival as since the publishing of Ladies, A Plate, I have noticed a few new cook books on the market featuring baking recipes. This new book had a gorgeous pink cover and devotes one recipe to a page with every recipe being photographed. There are lots of old fashioned favourites (chocolate self saucing pudding, variations on shortbread, anzac biscuits etc) as well as some new recipes that I am looking forward to trying out once my new kitchen is up and running.

There have been a couple of minor hiccups with the new kitchen – one being that the smaller oven and one of the dish drawers they gave us iridium finish rather than stainless steel (don’t know why because all of the other appliances are stainless steel) and we wont have a kitchen bench until next week – at the moment we have got a temporary sink and bench on the island. I will wait and post some photos of the kitchen once it is all complete.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

No TWD for me this week

I am sad to say that for the 4th time in 13 months I wasnt able to complete this week's TWD challenge. We were moving over the weekend and our house is not quite finished, so I dont really have a properly functioning kitchen just yet. I aim to be back on the TWD wagon next week.

One thing I did do in the weekend though was take my 5 year old niece to a cupcake decorating class. We made Easter bunny cupcakes and that is my one above.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Happy Easter!

I havent had much time for baking this week with packing to move and a million other things going on! So this is a very short post. I made these Easter egg cookies in the weekend to send in a gift box I was putting together and also for my 5 year old niece who is visiting with my Mum over Easter. I hope you have a great Easter break

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

You Want Pies with That - April

The You Want Pies With That theme for April was Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It took me a lot of thinking to come up with my pie for this theme, but I was really pleased with the results. Be warned, there is a big story that follows.

For those of my overseas readers who don’t know the history of my country, New Zealand was colonised by the English in the early nineteenth century and was part of the British empire (and now part of the Commonwealth). The Queen is still our reigning monarch and I think she is one of the world’s rich and famous. Now, back in 2004 my husband and I spent some time in Europe and part of that was about three weeks in total staying with friends in London. One particularly memorable, trip we took was to Windsor, a beautiful village just outside of London which is home to Windsor Castle. Going to Windsor Castle was just amazing. The history is incredible (incidentally I have a history degree as well as my law degree – history is my passion). But one of the other incredible things about Windsor was the fudge.

There is the most amazing fudge making shop in Windsor. Actually, I think that there are these fudge shops all over England – we spotted one in Bath as well. The varieties are delicious and you can actually see them making the fudge on a huge marble slab – there is an amazing technique which you have to see to believe. But the taste! Honestly, this is some of the best fudge I have ever tasted. So good that we spent 12 pounds on a box of fudge (roughly NZD $36). So, whenever I think of Windsor castle (where the Queen resides at Easter I think), I think of the fudge we ate in Windsor!

So, my pie for this month is Fudge cheesecake pie with a toffee sauce. I made 4 little individual pies but you could do 3 times the mixture to make a large 22 cm round pie. See how others interpreted the theme here.

Windsor Castle Fudge cheesecake pie

125g crushed wine biscuits (Graham crackers)
75g melted butter
80g cream cheese
80g natural yoghurt
120g white chocolate, melted
50g chopped Russian fudge (make your own or cheat and buy it like I did)
80g brown sugar
50 extra grams butter
80ml cream

· Heat cream, second measure of butter and brown sugar together, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for 5 minutes until thick. Set aside to cool
· Combine crushed biscuits with melted butter, and press into the base of 4 muffin sized moulds. Chill
· Beat cream cheese and yoghurt, then beat in melted chocolate
· Stir in diced Russian fudge and swirl through caramel sauce, reserving some for the topping.
· Spoon cream cheese mixture over the biscuit bases and chill for at least 3 hours
Serve with extra caramel sauce over the top of each pie

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

TWD - Banana Cream Pie

Ok, this is another bad photo of a really yummy dessert. This week’s TWD recipe was chosen by Amy of Sing for your Supper and is Banana Cream Pie. This was delicious and definitely a dessert I would make again. It was a little bit like banoffee pie but with a spiced, caramel custard instead of the caramel filling. I do prefer banoffee pie as caramel is one of those things I just cant resist, but this pie was a pretty good second choice.

The pie uses Dorie’s good for everything pie crust. I think if I was making it again I would use Dorie’s go to tart crust recipe – I prefer my sweet crusts to have an egg yolk in them as I think it gives a lighter and crisper effect. The custard was made in the usual way with milk (I used calci trim which is a low fat, high calcium variety and it worked fine) and egg yolks, but uses brown sugar and a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. I actually left the nutmeg out – only because I was too lazy to grate it! The custard was lovely and caramelly due to the brown sugar instead of white and I think cinnamon is a great spice to use with bananas. You spread half the custard onto the cooked pie crust, then sliced bananas over top, smoothed over the rest of the custard and finally topped the lot with some whipped cream combined with a little natural yoghurt (it was meant to be sour cream, but I hardly ever buy sour cream as the consistency of Cyclops natural yoghurt is similar and it is a lot better for you).

Caramel custard and cream, what could be better! I actually made this pie in a long tart tin and just made 2/3 of the custard. I did use the whole amount of the cream topping though as I wanted to make sure I had enough – I think I could have gotten away with using less cream, because while it was delicious it did take over a little. I will make this pie again though.

Check out what the other TWDers thought here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Versatile Loaf

I really like the versatility of loaves. They are delicious warm, straight out of the oven, but I also love them toasted with yoghurt. I usually tend to slice up the whole loaf and then freeze it in a zip lock bag – that way you can take out one piece at a time. I love gingerbread loaf as part of a cheese platter with blue cheese and I have also used leftover banana loaf to make French toast.

This loaf is a toasted coconut and vanilla loaf. It was super easy to mix up and toasting the coconut really brings out the coconut flavour. The recipe uses a combination of vanilla extract and vanilla paste giving the lovely little flecks of vanilla seeds through the loaf. The recipe suggested serving the loaf with maple syrup and yoghurt, which I did and it was the perfect accompaniment.

My favourite meal is salmon and it is what I often cook if it is just the two of us for dinner on a Saturday night. This weekend was a fairly quiet one socially, so it was salmon for dinner on Saturday night. I cooked it quite simply, wrapping it in prosciutto and drizzling with balsamic vinegar and roasting. We had it with a very simple salad and crispy oven roasted potatoes.

Toasted Coconut & Vanilla Loaf (Allyson Gofton from Taste magazine)

100g butter
3/4 c sugar
1 tsp each vanilla extract and vanilla paste
2 eggs
2 c self raising flour
1 c thread coconut, toasted
1/2 c natural yoghurt
1/2 c milk

- cream butter, sugar and vanillas. Beat in eggs, one at a time
- fold in remaining ingredients and pour batter into a lined loaf tin
- bake at 180c for 45-55 minutes or until the blade of a thin knife comes out clean
- cool on a rack

Friday, April 3, 2009

Cookies & Q

We went to a wedding in Matarangi in the weekend. It is the most beautiful place – white, white sand and beautiful clear blue water. We had a fabulous time and the weather was stunning. I made the cookies above for the bride and groom. I thought they were quite cute.

Last night I had to take a client to dinner and I chose Q Restaurant at the Westin hotel in the viaduct. It was wonderful! The meal was very delicious – lots of wonderful flavours. The service was a little bit average, but not too bad. We went the whole hog, having an entrée, main and dessert.

My entrée was pumpkin ravioli with sage butter. It was delicious. Lots of parmesan cheese and delicately flavoured pumpkin filling. Perhaps a little more butter than I would have liked, and I didn’t think it was “burnt” enough – you know when you cook butter to a nut brown colour to give it more flavour, I don’t think it was left to brown enough.

My main was divine. I had seared tuna which was served on a small pasta bed, flavoured with olives and pesto. The flavours were delicious and each mouthful was truly a taste sensation. The tuna was seared to perfection – still very rare but not so it was raw in the middle. This was my favourite course. Apart from the ice cream…

Two scoops of the creamiest gelato chocka full of macadamia nuts and white chocolate. It came with a delicate tuile biscuit.

Not quite as good as the French Café, but I would certainly rate Q Restaurant as one of the best I have been to.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A taste of Quince

Because we have been renting and have only had about 1/3 of my kitchen equipment with us, I have not gone full swing into the jam and relish making that I normally do this time of year. However, I have this fascination with quinces and each year I do try and make something with quince. Quinces are a delightful, old fashioned fruit. They look a bit like a cross between an apple and a pear, but they are hard and inedible without cooking them. Slow cooking turns them the most amazing deep red colour and they have a wonderful perfume. They truly are the most incredible fruit.

Most often I make quince jelly which is fabulous on a cheese board and some quince glaze which is like a reduced quince syrup that you can use on ice-cream, to glaze chicken pieces, to brush over a hot tart, etc. Last year for the first time I made quince paste, which I love. I have read how difficult it is to make quince paste, as it takes a long time to thicken enough to make a paste and spits and hisses at you the whole time as you stir the stuff.

However, I used a recipe which was on the foodlovers web site for microwave quince paste. I made this last year and a friend brought some quinces back from the Hawkes Bay and so I made some more a couple of weeks ago. The microwave quince paste is so easy. You simmer your quinces for 3 hours, then puree the flesh in a food processor, add equal amounts of sugar and then microwave, stirring every ten minutes until the paste is thick. The nice part about this recipe is that you can use the leftover simmering water to make quince jelly – which is pictured above.

Next year, or maybe in April or May when I am back in a fully functioning kitchen (actually more than fully functioning as it has two ovens, two dishwashers, two sinks and a large scullery – I am so excited!!!) I would like to try the same method with pears and apples. I wouldn’t simmer the fruit for as long, but I think the same principles would apply. If you do get hold of some quince though, this is a fabulous way to make the delicious flavour last for the whole year.