Monthly Archives: December 2010

Resolution #2: To (successfully) attempt macarons

Macarons – mmmm…  I adore them – they’re so pretty, so dainty and the combinations of colours and tastes are endless.  I’m actually quite glad that I don’t live anywhere near a macaron-selling pâtisserie, because otherwise I would probably A) bankrupt myself and B) double in size.  So ya, probably a good thing!

How tempting do these Ladurée macarons look?  Don’t try to tell me that you don’t want to eat one (*cough* all) of them…  Here’s another picture (click through for the original source) just to prove my point:

Ok, I think we’ve established that I love macarons, and that I don’t really have access to them in St Andrews.  The obvious solution is to make them myself.  I was actually going to try doing so over the summer, but then never really quite got around to it.  Consequently, I’ve decided that successfully attempting macarons will be one of my resolutions (perhaps challenges might be a better word) for 2011…  Wish me luck – I’ll keep you updated!

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Warm minty feta salad

My amazing friend (and fellow food-lover) Kat and I first tried this salad whilst she was living with me over the summer.  I think it must have been September-ish – so it was still technically summer, but starting to get cold again (which would imply that it had actually been warm this summer – it wasn’t).  A semi-warm salad sounded like an excellent idea.  And indeed it turned out to be rather fantastic.

We both had a bit of a reminiscent craving for it over the weekend.  We decided to have a fridge left-over-based meal before leaving for the holidays, so we made this as a main course.  Yummy!

Apparently we ate most of the feta off the top - oops

We drank a chardonnay – Olivier Leflaive – Les Sétilles 2009 (Bourgogne) with it – which balanced the mint out really well.  Incidentally, I’ve previously ranted about the bizarre cork for the 2008 Les Sétilles, and we were glad to see that they appear to have sorted that out and just used a normal fake cork.

Warm minty feta salad

Serves 2
Adapted from Waitrose.

This salad would work well as a starter, or as a main course, or as a side salad to go with a barbeque (lamb skewers perhaps?).  Simply adjust the amount of each ingredient that goes in (particularly the cheese) as you see fit.  The measurements are completely adjustable anyway – that’s the beauty of salads!

Ingredients

200g of feta cheese (200g is the smallest amount in my local supermarket – might as well just use it all)
4 tbsp mint sauce (use less if you’re not a huge fan of mint)
1 small pack of mixed salad leaves
½ a small cucumber
2 tomatoes
175g jar of black olives in brine, drained
1 tbsp fresh mint, shredded (don’t worry if you don’t have any, just use extra mint sauce in the marinade)
1 tbsp vinaigrette (or more, depending on how saucy you like you salads)

Directions

1.  Cut the feta into about 16 even chunks.  Place these in a small bowl, add the mint sauce and gently mix without breaking up the cheese, until evenly coated.  Set aside to marinate for at least 10 mins.

2.  Cut the tomatoes and cucumber into 2-3cm chunks, along with the salad, if necessary.  Place in a salad bowl with the olive, fresh mint and vinaigrette and toss to combine.

3.  Warm a small non-stick frying pan over a medium to low heat.  Add the feta and cook  gently for about 4 mins, until the cubes start to melt a bit, but don’t colour.  Either spoon the salad into plates and serve the feta on top, or add the feta to the big salad bowl and gently mix.

Enjoy!

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Resolution #1: I want to be a porn star

Fun fact: I love looking at photos of food – I’m one of those people who gets slightly upset when a cookbook doesn’t have any pictures in it.  Mouth-watering photos will make me want to try a recipe (and also help to gauge if it’s going horribly wrong) more than a snazzy title ever will.

Over the weekend, I discovered the world of food photography…  It’s amazing.  Sites dedicated to scrumptious photos of food, most of which you can then click through to get the recipe.  And I discovered that this is known as “food porn” which amuses me no end (I’m really mature like that).

Ah, the title of this post all makes sense now – I want to be a food porn star (I mean really, what were you thinking?!) My food photos so far are nothing special: the white balance is a little off and I haven’t spent 5 hours trying to make the composition perfect (patience is not one of my virtues).  But I thought I’d give it a go anyway – I have nothing to lose…

So I submitted one of the photos from my mince pie post… Taste Spotting rejected it, Food Gawker also rejected it, as did Photograzing (I think – I’m a bit confused by their notification system).  But Dessert Stalking accepted it!  They published it yesterday, and it actually made my day (thank you!)  So I’m not too bothered about getting rejected by the other sites – it’s now turned into a challenge, so by the end of 2011  I’d like to have at least one photo accepted by each of them.  And that would make me a food porn star.  (Or so I like to think!)

Bring. It. On.

[Edit on 24-12: Actually, Photograzing published my mince pie photo yesterday!  I guess they just have a huge submission queue.  Exciting stuff!  You can see it here if you like.]

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It’s nearly Christmas… Time for mince pies!

I have to admit, I’m very picky about my mince pies.  In my book, the less pastry, the better – the filling is my favourite bit.  The vast majority of shop-bought pies just aren’t quite up to my standard – snobbish, I know, but the home-made ones are so much better…

Yummy...!

Despite this being my 4th Christmas whilst actually living in the UK, I still get a little bit excited about being able to just buy mincemeat in the supermarket instead of having to track it down in some special expat shop or asking people going to the UK to bring some back if they can.  Outside the UK, mince pies tend to be few and far between.  Depending on where we lived, mincemeat (which, by the way, doesn’t have any meat in it whatsoever) ranged from wallet-shatteringly expensive to non-existent, so we generally only got mince pies if were in Scotland for Christmas.

Having said that, my Scottish grandparents spent Christmas with us once in Norway and brought about half a suitcase of mincemeat with them.  My grandma, mum and I must have spent the whole day in the kitchen, and that’s the first time I’d ever help make mince pies before (for the record, mine were a disaster).  I’ve had my grandma’s recipe ever since and, after a lot of practice, I’ve somehow ended up as the unofficial family mince pie-baker…

Tempting, aren't they?

Mince pies

Makes about 36 small mince pies (with lids)
Adapted from my grandma’s recipe.

The drizzle is completely optional – once cool, you can just sprinkle them with a bit of sugar instead or just leave them as they are.

Ingredients

250g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
125g unsalted butter
60g caster sugar
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 egg
2 jars mincemeat

For the drizzle (optional):
100g icing sugar
7-8 tsp Cointreau

Directions

To make the pastry:
1.  Rub the flour, baking powder and butter together to make fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in the sugar and the spices.

2.  Add the egg and knead together to form a dough.

3.  Split the pastry and roll out thinly (splitting it makes it a lot easier to roll out, and the thickness of the pastry depends on personal preferences – I like lots of filling so I tend to roll the pastry out as thinly as I can get away with).

To make the mince pies:
4.  Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.  Butter some muffin/cupcake/pie tins.

5.  Using a round cutter (I use one with a crimped edge, just because it looks prettier) cut out circles of an appropriate diameter to fit the muffin tins, and use a star cutter (or a smaller round cutter if you want proper lids – I like using stars because they look a bit different) to cut out an equal number of lids.

6.  Line the tins with the pastry circles and prick with a fork.

7.  Spoon in some mincemeat, but not right up to the top (it will bubble over).

8.  Lay the stars over the top and press the ends down to the edge of the pastry casings.  (If you’re using circles as lids, brush with a little milk so that the lids stick, and cut three slits in the top to prevent the pies exploding).

9.  Bake for about 12 mins and cool on a wire rack.

To make the drizzle (optional):
10.  Sift the icing sugar into a small bowl, add the Cointreau and whisk together to form a smooth paste.

11.  Once the pies have fully cooled, spoon the icing into a piping bag with a small nozzle and pipe the icing across the tops of the mince pies in a squiggle.  Leave to set for about 10 mins.

I told you they were better than the shop-bought ones, didn’t I?

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Banana, peanut butter & chocolate muffins

I came across a suggestion in a Waitrose food magazine the other day that said to add banana and peanut butter to a basic muffin recipe for something a little different.  This intrigued me and since I had some bananas that were getting slightly too mature, I decided to try it out whilst waiting for dinner to cook.  I also threw in some chocolate chips and the results were rather yummy…

Banana, peanut butter & chocolate muffins

Makes 18 muffins
Vaguely based on the mint chocolate chip recipe in Mad About Muffins.

These muffins are tasty both warm and cold – I find the banana comes through a bit more when cold though.

Ingredients

350g all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
175g light muscovado sugar
2 eggs, beaten
175ml milk
2 bananas, mashed
100g unsalted butter
3 or 4 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
150g milk chocolate chips

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.  Grease and flour 18 muffin tin sections or line with paper liners.

2.  Sift all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix well.  You might need to push the muscovado through with the back of a spoon.

3.  In a different bowl, mix the beaten eggs, milk, mashed banana and peanut butter, and beat together with a fork.  Meanwhile, melt the butter in the microwave or in a small saucepan.

4.  Add all the wet ingredients, including the melted butter, to the dry ingredients and stir with a large metal spoon until just combined (don’t over-mix!)

5.  Gently fold 100g of the chocolate chips into the batter.

6.  Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin sections.  Sprinkle the tops with the remaining chocolate chips (this is totally optional and is more for decoration than anything else – I didn’t have enough chocolate chips for this bit, and they still tasted lovely).

7.  Bake for 18-22 mins until the well rise and golden and the tops spring back when lightly pressed (don’t press down on a chocolate chip though – they get really hot!)

8.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool a little before eating.

Enjoy!

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Six things to do with… Empty Champagne Bottles

My friends and I get through a fair amount of champagne (not conforming to the St Andrews’ student stereotype at all), mostly because I happen to know the manager of the local bottle shop fairly well, and he happens to know that I have a serious penchant for champagne…  It works out quite well for us!

But once all the champagne has been enjoyed…  What to do with the empty bottles?  (All of these ideas work equally well with normal wine bottles by the way!)

1. Water pitcher – Get some decorative bottle-stops, and use the bottles instead of water pitchers to put on the table for dinner parties.

2. Gifts – Decant some home-made drink (such as home-made limoncello) into the bottles, re-label them, top it off with a pretty bottle-stopper, tie some ribbon around the neck if you’re feeling particularly enthusiastic, and give it as a gift.

3. Candle holders – Get some of those tall, tapered candles, and voilà, amazing dinner table centre-pieces.

4. Vases – Use a few stems of real or fake flowers.  You might have to put a bit of sand in the bottom, just to stabilise the bottle.

5. Door-stop­ – Fill the bottle with sand and re-cork it, and use it (or several) to prop a door open.  Obviously this won’t work if the door is ridiculously heavy or if the floor is really slippery.  I should add that I’ve never actually tried this, but I think it could work…  Maybe…

6. Christmas tree – Thread fairy lights through the tops of the bottles, pile them up (you’ll need to make cardboard circles to rest the various tiers on) and stick a star in the top one and you’ve got a fabulously decadent Christmas tree, with the added bonus of not having needles everywhere and not having to deal with a dead tree in January.  I’m planning on leaving mine up all year round, and just changing the star to a cardboard shark fin when it’s not Christmas anymore.

Champagne Christmas tree

Amazing?  I think so!  Merry Christmas!!!

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The prize for the weirdest wine cork goes to…

Olivier Leflaive – Les Sétilles 2008 (Bourgogne)

Now, I’m hardly a wine expert, but I’ve uncorked quite a few bottles of wine…  However, uncorking this bottle was a whole new experience.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  The cork turned out to be a bizarre concoction of fake cork (which I have a personal dislike of in the first place) with a ring of black plastic, and then more fake cork in the middle, presumably to be able to insert the corkscrew.  And then a strange plastic cap on the bottom part of the cork.  Which meant that re-corking the bottle was a bit of a fight.  I uncorked it last night and am still perplexed by it!  I’m not sure how well the photos below show it, but hopefully you get the idea.


At this point it would make sense to add my thoughts on the wine itself, but I’ve been ill the last few days and my taste buds have been rather off (and still are a bit!), so that’s probably not a good idea…!  However, I will say that sans fully functioning taste buds it’s a very drinkable wine.  I guess I’ll just have to try it again once I’m fully recovered (if I can get over the cork).

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Pepernoten!

It’s December!  All things related to Christmas are now allowed and I’m no longer a total Scrooge.  But before we get to Christmas, there’s Sinterklaas…

It’s actually quite apt that my first proper recipe blog post is about a Dutch speciality – I was born in The Netherlands, you see.  We moved away before I turned two, so I don’t remember a great deal, but we were back for a few months when I was six and back again for my last four years of Secondary School.  And wherever we’ve lived there have been lots of Dutch people around.  So despite not actually being Dutch, Sinterklaas has always featured on my calendar.

According to the Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas (or St Nicholas) lives in Spain but comes to The Netherlands to celebrate his name day, accompanied by some of his helpers, the notorious Zwarte Piets, who basically just cause mayhem (I was terrified of them when I was six).  On the 5th of December, families will gather together and hand out a few presents that are cleverly wrapped up, often accompanied by a poem about the person receiving the gift.  It’s a whole ritual, and it’s a lot of fun!

In the lead up to Sinterklaas, children leave their shoes out every evening in the hope that they will be filled with biscuits by Sinterklaas through the night.  Well, I say children, but my Dad was always just as enthusiastic as I was about leaving his shoes out…  Pepernoten (loosely translates as “spice nuts”) are one of the traditional biscuits that are distributed at this time of year.  Of course, in The Netherlands, you can buy pepernoten in near-industrial quantities.  In the UK, you cannot.  Not even in small quantities.  I love pepernoten, and I have so many happy memories associated with them, so there’s really only one option…. To make them.

Pepernoten

I should warn you in advance – these take forever to make.  But they are so worth it!  I don’t particularly like aniseed, so I never put any in and they come out just fine.  Also, this recipe is all about the flavours of the spices, so I tend to be quite liberal when it comes to quantities…

Ingredients

175g brown sugar
3 tbsp milk
110g butter
2 tbsp treacle
275g self-rising flour
½ tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp allspice
Pinch of ground coriander
½ tsp ground aniseeds (Optional)
2 pinches of salt

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 180°C.

2.  Pour the milk, treacle, brown sugar and butter into a small saucepan.  Place on a very low heat and stir until it becomes a smooth mix.

3.  Mix the spices together with the flour and baking powder in a large bowl.

4.  Pour the contents of the saucepan into the bowl and knead until it forms a firm and smooth dough (be careful at this point – I stupidly forgot that the treacle mix would be hot earlier, and enthusiastically plunged my hands right in.  Oops.)  Add pinches of salt during kneading.

5.  Make small round balls of dough (a bit bigger than a marble) and place them on a buttered baking tray.  Make sure that they are quite well spaced out in case they decide to melt into each other.

6.  Bake for about 12-15 mins, then allow them to cool and harden for about 1 ½ hours.

Enjoy!

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