Monthly Archives: March 2012

Happy World Whisky Day!

Today is the first World Whisky Day!  Isn’t that exciting?  (Correct answer: yes!!  If you don’t like whisky, bear with me, or just skip this paragraph).  So the day is supposed to be all about celebrating world whiskies, which is wonderful, except that it’s a Tuesday, so as much as I’d love my day to involve tasting lots of whisky, my day will actually consist of sitting at my desk and pulling my hair out whilst trying to understand exactly how one goes about calculating the strengths of magnetic and tide-induced electric fields and trying to organise the logistics of transferring some rays down to the aquarium.  I clearly very much chucked myself into the deep end for my Masters.  Woops.  Anyway, I digress.  So today is not likely to involve much whisky-drinking for me (perhaps a wee dram this evening as I finish unpacking and tidying everything away), I decided to add some whisky to the recipe I’m sharing today.  Because whisky-eating is the next best thing, obviously.

This month’s Random Recipe challenge theme of “lucky number 17” was chosen by Choclette of the Chocolate Log Blog – we had to choose the 17th book on our bookshelves.  The only flaw was that my cookbooks spent most of the month in a box somewhere between Edinburgh and Auckland, and thus not terribly accessible.  So I decided to adapt the rules to doing the 17th recipe in a food magazine that I’d bought on arrival to try and get an idea of what is actually in season here (since it’s the total opposite of the Northern hemisphere and I felt like a total foodie criminal buying apricots in March…).  Well, it was the 17th recipe that I could actually feasibly make (so I didn’t count the recipes that required a food processor, electric whisk or barbecue), which ended up being poached stone fruit with cinnamon honey syrup.  Helloooo delicious-sounding recipe!

As I mentioned earlier, in honour of World Whisky Day, I decided to add some whisky to the recipe.  I used Milford 10 year, which is a New Zealand whisky, since I know absolutely nothing about NZ whisky and figured this would be a good excuse to make a start on that.  This turned out rather delicious, and makes such a wonderful late summer dessert.  It’s so easy to make as well, and can easily be prepared in advance and served cool, or warmed up.  The addition of the whisky was perfect, too, and comes in as a subtle flavour.  I’m submitting this recipe as a second entry to this month’s Simple and in Season blog challenge, since all the ingredients are in season (although it’s coming to the end of the stone fruit season – sad times!), and are definitely local (unlike the mangoes in my mango and chocolate muffins) – even the whisky!  Now that I’ve been reunited with my cookbooks, next month I’ll be back to the proper Random Recipe rules, I promise!

Poached stone fruit with a honey, cinnamon & whisky syrup

Serves 2
Adapted from Food (February March 2012)

I used Milford 10 year whisky, but use whatever good whisky you have available, preferably one with fruity, honey undertones.  The original recipe also used apricots, but I couldn’t find any nice ones, so I just used nectarines and plums, but this would work with most stone fruit.  The total poaching time depends on how ripe the fruit are, so try to choose ripe but still quite firm fruit.  If you want to add a bit more of a whisky kick to it, stir some through the syrup once it’s been taken off the heat.

Ingredients

375ml water
50g light brown sugar
85g liquid honey
4 tbsp whisky (optional to add more at the end)
3 whole cloves
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 peaches
4 plums

Directions

1.  Add the water, sugar, honey, whisky and spices to a medium saucepan (make sure it’s large enough for all the fruit to fit) and bring to the boil.

2.  Turn down the heat, add the larger stone fruits and allow to simmer for about 2 mins before adding the smaller stone fruit.  Allow to poach for 5-15 mins, depending on how ripe the fruit is to start with, until just tender.  (The plums that I used were ready in about 5 mins, but the nectarines took nearly 15 mins.  If the plums start to be too tender, remove them into the serving bowl.)

3.  Remove the fruit into a serving bowl or individual dishes, and return the syrup to the heat.  Simmer down until the reduced by about half.  Remove from the heat and stir in 1-2 tbsp whisky (optional) before spooning over the poached fruit.  Serve with yoghurt, ice cream or dainty little biscuits.

Enjoy!  And happy World Whisky Day!!  (Also, drink responsibly and all that jazz…)

PS – I know that the fruit are a little too large for the martini glass and it looks a bit odd in the photos, but I didn’t have anything else that was vaguely fancy to present them in.

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Buy a mint plant, get a free surprise caterpillar

This month’s We Should Cocoa was hosted by Chele over at Chocolate Teapot, and she chose the theme “something green“, which I think is pretty self-explanatory.  The very first thing that popped into my head when I first read the theme was a delicious recipe for mint chocolate chip muffins from Mad About Muffins, my go-to book for muffin recipes.  A few days later, I realised that the only copy of the recipe that I have is in the actual book in my shipment which was being rifled through waiting for clearance by NZ Customs.  Minor issue there.  I also figured that mint and chocolate was probably going to be a fairly popular combination for the challenge, so perhaps I should do something else…

I mentioned this to Kat over a Skype chat (thank goodness for Skype), and it turns out that she happened to have a copy of the recipe, from when she’d stayed with me over the summer of 2010 – the summer which I think really cemented our friendship, and during which we spent a large amount of time baking together (gin and wine may have featured pretty heavily, too, which are always great for cementing friendships).  So I knew that I just had to make the muffins, in honour of that, and all the fun we had in St Andrews, because I baked these up several times for various parties, and they always went down really well.  And also because the only bakeware that I have with me are my muffin moulds.  Well, that’s not strictly true – all my stuff arrived yesterday (hurrah!!!), but it’s still being unpacked, so it’s not exactly readily accessible to bake with yet.  It makes me sad that I won’t be able to share this batch with Kat though.

At the Farmers’ Market last weekend I bought a few basic herb plants (basil, parsley, thyme and mint), so I decided to add some of the fresh mint to the muffins, just because I could.  After noticing a few rather sizeable chunks missing from several of the leaves that had most definitely been intact last Saturday, I discovered that the mint plant had come with a free caterpillar.  Said caterpillar didn’t touch any of the other herbs, only the mint, so I don’t think it’ll be suffering from halitosis any time soon (total anthropomorphism, I know, shhhh!).  I realise that this isn’t exactly a disaster, but I’m bad enough at keeping plants in good condition (I am very much not green-fingered) in the first place, without throwing something that eats them into the mix.  So between the caterpillar and the leaves I used for this recipe, the plant is looking a little sorry for itself now…  Hopefully it’ll grow back pretty quickly.  I had hoped that the mint leaves would make darker flecks of green through the light green of the muffin, but that didn’t happen – perhaps if I’d used far more it would have been more visible.  They still tasted delicious though – wonderfully moist, with a good minty flavour, balanced out by the chocolate.  I should add that the muffins also came out slightly darker on top than usual because I’m still getting used to having an oven that actually works properly.

Mint chocolate chip muffins

Makes 14 muffins
Recipe adapted from Mad About Muffins

The green food colouring is obviously optional, but it adds a fun touch.  This time I used a smidgeon of “leaf green” gel colouring, but I’ve used standard green liquid colouring in the past, and it works perfectly, too, so just use what you have.  The original recipe doesn’t use any crème de menthe, but it helps with the colour and the flavour – if you don’t want to use any, just use a total of 190ml of milk.  These muffins are delicious warm, but I do also love them cold with a glass of milk for breakfast.  As with most muffins, these won’t keep for very long, but can be stored overnight in an air-tight container.

Ingredients

340g all-purpose flour
130g caster sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
Handful of fresh mint leaves
100g unsalted butter
2 eggs
150ml milk
40ml crème de menthe
¾ tsp natural peppermint extract
½ tsp liquid green food colouring (or a smidgeon of gel colouring)
200g dark chocolate chips

Directions

1.  Line a muffin tray with 14 liners or set out silicone moulds on a baking sheet.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.

2.  Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and mix together.  Rinse the mint leaves, pat them dry, chop them (somewhere between finely chopped and roughly chopped is good) and stir into the dry ingredients.

3.  Melt the butter in a small bowl in the microwave or in a small saucepan.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, lightly beat the two eggs with a fork.  Add the milk, crème de menthe, peppermint extract and green food colouring and lightly beat together (if using gel colouring, make sure that it doesn’t fall into a little lump at the bottom of the bowl).

4.  Add the wet ingredients and the melted butter to the dry ingredients and stir with a large metal spoon until just combined (the batter should be a bit lumpy with some flour still visible).

5.  Gently fold about 150g of the chocolate chips into the batter.  Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin liners, and sprinkle with the remaining chocolate chips.

6.  Bake for 18-22 mins until well risen and the tops spring back when gently pressed down (don’t press down on a chocolate chip though – they get really hot!).  Transfer to a wire rack to cool a little before eating.

Enjoy!

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Toothy’s Travels – Auckland: Volvo Ocean Race stopover

I have some exciting news: I finally have internet at home!  Which means that posting no longer involves covert blogging from my desk in the lab (blogging covertly in the sense that all the text was written and photos edited at home and I just had to upload them once connected to the internet – just to reassure my mum that I haven’t been spending all the time at my desk blogging instead of working hard.  Far from it.  Twitter on the other hand…  Kidding!  Sort of.).  I actually can’t think of a way of smoothly linking my new internet-at-home situation to the rest of this post, so in an attempt to distract you from that, here’s a photo of the Sky Tower, just in case I haven’t posted enough of them recently.  It was taken two Sundays ago from the Viaduct Harbour whilst waiting for some of the Volvo Ocean Race competitors to arrive.

As you can see, the weather was rather dismal.  Pretty similar to the weather we’ve been having since Monday actually (and due to continue until the end of the week – joy).  It wasn’t particularly cold (well, in comparison to Scotland anyway), but it was windy and drizzly and just a bit miserable.  So why, you might ask, would I voluntarily go and loiter in the harbour for several hours?

I’ve already given the answer away, but in case you are just skim-reading and missed it: the Volvo Ocean Race, that’s why.  I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really aware of it before moving to Auckland, so for those of you in the same boat (badum-tschhhhh), it’s a gruelling round-the-world crewed monohull race consisting of 9 legs, which departed from Alicante, Spain in October 2011 and is expected to finish in early July 2012 in Galway, Ireland, covering a total of over 39,000 nautical miles (over 72,000 km).  There are six yachts competing this year.

The race’s Auckland stopover was from the 8th to 18th of March 2012, between the 4th and 5th legs of the race, and the Viaduct Harbour was transformed into a Race Village for the duration.  Although the boats were expected to arrive on the 8th, most of them only arrived on the 11th on account of bad weather, after spending and exhausting 20 days at sea (!) and sailing well over the expected 5,220 nautical miles (9,667 km) from Sanya in China.  I completely missed the news about the delayed arrival of the yachts, so when I wondered down to the Viaduct Harbour on Sunday 11th to go see the boats (that I thought had already arrived), I managed to accidentally time my arrival perfectly with that of the PUMA yacht, which claimed 2nd place for the leg.  I wandered around (read: took lots of photos of boats and the Sky Tower when it was vaguely visible) waiting for the arrival of the next two yachts, which were battling it out for 3rd place: Telefónica and CAMPER, the Kiwi team.  Sadly CAMPER just missed out by 93 seconds – heart-breaking to watch, but they were enthusiastically welcomed back to NZ by everybody with a foghorn anyway (at least that’s what it sounded like).  In true NZ style, the 11-man crew of each yacht was given a Maori welcome, but I couldn’t get any decent photos of that because they had their backs turned to me (so inconsiderate).

The yachts spent a few days hauled out on the docks for maintenance and repairs.  I’m always fascinated to see boats out of the water – they always looks so impressive, if a little bizarre.  I made a detour via the Viaduct Harbour one evening on my way home from uni to see them – thankfully the weather was much more pleasant.  It was definitely pretty awe-inspiring to see these (multi-million dollar) state-of-the-art yachts that are at the forefront of nautical technological advances and design hauled up at such close range.

Each stopover includes an in-port race which counts towards the final results, and a Pro-Am race which doesn’t.  I wasn’t able to watch them, but I do know that CAMPER won the in-port race, much to the delight of the nation.  I also missed the start of the 5th leg on Sunday 18th (thanks to the time difference I was up until 6am following the Six Nations rugby – let’s not mention the results), which I would have liked to see.  The Volvo Ocean Race takes place every four years and the stopovers change, so we’ll see if I ever happen to be in a stopover town when the race is passing through at some point in the future.

The next Volvo Ocean Race stopover is in Itajaí, Brazil, with the yachts expected to arrive on the 4th of April, after sailing at least 6,705 nautical miles (12,418 km), making it the longest leg of the whole race.  If you happen to be in Itajaí around then, I’d definitely recommend going to watch the arrival if you can!

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Wherever you are, enjoy the rest of your day!

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What self-respecting parade isn’t complete without a nod to the Potato Famine?

Saturday was St Patrick’s Day – when a large proportion of the Western world pretends to be Irish (aside from those who actually are Irish, obviously), and most of the rest of the world probably spends the day being confused as to what the Hell is going on.  I think Auckland is the first place that I’ve lived where St Patrick’s Day is such a huge celebration – there is an annual St Patrick’s Festival, which included a St Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday morning that I went to see.

This is the first big event that I’ve been to here in New Zealand, and I was (pleasantly) astounded by how chilled out the whole thing was.  The parade went down Queen St (the main street in Auckland’s CBD) and then down to the Viaduct Harbour, which is currently set up as the Volvo Ocean Race Auckland stopover Race Village (more about that in my next blog post…).  I went to the Farmers’ Market before the parade, but was meeting a friend near the start of the parade, so I had to walk most of the length of Queen St just before the parade started.  Considering that Auckland is the largest city in NZ (about ⅓ of the country’s population live here), I was expecting barriers everywhere, severe traffic disruptions and lots of police officers.  The reality was much more pleasant and felt more like a small town parade (I was reminded a little of the Kate Kennedy Procession in St Andrews) – there was not a single barrier to keep the crowd apart from the parade, the traffic was stopped from going down Queen St all of two minutes before the parade got underway and I saw a grand total of 4 police officers the whole length of Queen St.  What a wonderful relaxed attitude!!

The parade itself was good fun to watch.  I think I’d describe it as a little thrown-together, but not in a bad way.  There were four pipe bands spread throughout the parade (waking up to the sound of the bands practicing and warming up about 2h before the start of the parade confused me a lot), various Irish fiddle musicians and groups being towed on floats, and a procession of the crests of all the Irish counties.  Nothing unusual there, but there were also a few groups whose main reason for participating seemed to be that they were just wearing green.  Various Irish pubs were also represented, and in the middle of all of that the Honorary Consul General of Ireland in a vintage car, along with a random Asian drumming/dancing group (wearing leprechaun hats, which clearly made them Irish).  Oh, and the Team New Zealand cheerleading team.  I genuinely have no idea why they were there – I’m not aware that cheerleading is a huge thing in Ireland, and they weren’t even dressed in green.  My personal favourite part of the parade was a group of children carrying sacks of potatoes followed by a carriage of people all in green with ginger wigs – because stereotyping is underrated, clearly.  The Kiwis seem to have a general disregard for being incredibly PC, which I must admit I’m a huge fan of – it’s wonderfully refreshing!  The parade drew to a close with St Patrick blessing everybody, surrounded by snakes and leprechauns (St Patrick was down with the leprechauns, don’t you know).  Amusingly, the float with St Patrick was pulled by a Guinness-branded car – Ireland in an incredibly stereotyped nutshell?

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Wherever you are in the world, I hope you all had an excellent St Patrick’s Day!

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Baking muffins, the impractical way…

In my last post I declared that I was going to be blogging more regularly again, but that clearly hasn’t really happened…  I may have forgotten to factor in the fact that I don’t have internet at home yet.  A minor oversight there.  But, as I also mentioned in my last post, I have moved into my new flat!  Which means that I have a kitchen again, hurrah!  Unfortunately, the crockery and cookware that were supposed to come with the flat haven’t actually made it into the flat yet…  The estate agent was supposed to drop it all off the evening that I moved in, then the next day, then it transpired that the estate agent didn’t actually have any of it yet, so she ordered it online to be delivered to the flat.  Luckily, I came to NZ vaguely prepared: I brought a vegetable knife, a measuring cup, my oven gloves, my apron and my silicone muffin moulds with me in my suitcase.  I’m not kidding (don’t judge me).  My rather resourcefully-assembled breakfast on my first morning in my new flat looked something like this:

I have since managed to borrow a knife, fork, spoon, bowl and saucepan from somebody to tide me over. I missed the delivery on Wednesday because I had to go in to uni to do some really important stuff, like sitting an English test.  Yes, really.  I had to sit a compulsory English test.  Which showed that my “language skills are appropriate for university.”  I’d have thought that would be fairly obvious considering that I was recently awarded an undergraduate degree (which involved writing a dissertation) by a generally well-regarded English-speaking university, but I’ve now sat a slightly pointless computerised test to prove it.  Anyway, I digress.  I’ve been wanting to bake since I moved in, but I’m obviously a little bit limited at the moment.  Any sensible person would have waited until the delivery of all the kitchen stuff today…

But I do love a challenge.  I saw some beautiful mangoes a couple of days ago and decided that I absolutely wanted to bake with them.  Once I have an idea, I tend to want to try it out as soon as possible, so in the absence of any baking tins, my options were limited to using my silicone muffin moulds.  I decided to attempt mango and chocolate muffins.  I had originally intended to include nuts, too, but couldn’t find the ones I wanted.  When I’ve figured out where to get those from, I’ll try my original idea.  In the mean time, I’ll be munching on these, which came out totally delicious, somewhat against the odds.  They aren’t the most perfect-looking muffins I’ve ever made, but considering that it’s the first time that I’ve used my new oven (which seems to heat better than I was expecting) and I made up a large proportion of the recipe as I went along, I’m really pleased with how they came out… I also couldn’t sift the dry ingredients (I don’t have a sieve yet), so they were a little less fluffy than I’m used to, but they taste so fruity and wonderful.  I got much more flesh from the mango than I was expecting, so they’re actually about 40% mango, which makes the muffins wonderfully moist and adds a hint of juicy sweetness which is perfectly counter-balanced by the slightly bitter dark chocolate chips.  I can’t wait to make these again!  (I have another mango in the fridge, I’m seriously tempted…)

The sign in the shop where I got the mangoes from said they were from NZ, but I wasn’t aware that mangoes were grown in NZ and I have a suspicion that they’re actually from Peru…  So I’m not sure if they’re actually local or not, but they are definitely in season, so I’m submitting these to Fabulicious Food‘s Simple and in Season blog challenge, which I’ve missed for the last couple of months.

I’m also submitting these muffins to a new blog challenge that was started last month by Caroline Makes and The More Than Occasional Baker: Alphabakes.  The host randomly picks a letter of the alphabet, and participants have to come up with something which either features a main ingredient or is a type of baked good beginning with that letter.  This month’s host is Caroline Makes, and she has chosen the letter “M“.  Which is obviously an excellent choice of letter.  Not that I’m biased towards the letter of my first name or anything…  These mango and chocolate muffins satisfy both options – do I get bonus points?  Anyway, I shall stop rambling on – the above-mentioned English test obviously didn’t test my ability to be concise, because I’d clearly have failed it.

Mango & chocolate muffins

Makes 10-12 muffins
Adapted from Mad About Muffins

As mentioned above, this is the first time I’ve used this oven, and I had to eye-ball quite a few of the ingredients, so whilst the muffins turned out wonderfully for me, do bear that in mind!  As I don’t have any scales at the moment, I can’t tell you the weight of mango flesh that I used, but just play it by eye.  I had thought of roughly mashing about half the mango and leaving the other half diced, but I forgot about that when I was actually making them.  As with most muffins, these are best eaten within a day of baking.  They make great snacks, but also an excellent breakfast.

Ingredients

1 smallish mango
175g all-purpose flour
¾ tbsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
75g light muscovado sugar
100g unsalted butter
1 egg
125ml yoghurt
5 tbsp milk
75g chocolate chips

Directions

1.  Line 10-12 muffins tin sections with paper liners or set out silicone moulds on a baking tray.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.

2.  Peel the mango and remove as much flesh as possible, dice the mango flesh and set aside.

3.  Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into a large bowl (you may need to push the sugar through with the back of a spoon).  Stir together.

4.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave.  Meanwhile, lightly beat the egg in a small bowl with a fork, then add the yoghurt and milk and mix together.

5.  Add all the wet ingredients, including the butter, to the dry ingredients and stir with a large metal spoon until just combined (don’t overmix – it’s perfect if you can still see a bit of flour).  Gently fold in the diced mango and chocolate chips.

6.  Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin sections.  Bake for 18-22 mins until well risen and golden and the tops spring back when lightly pressed (don’t press down on a chocolate chip though – they get really hot!).  Transfer to a wire rack to cool a little before eating.

Enjoy!

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