Monthly Archives: May 2012

Butternut squash, gorgonzola & sage tart

I’ve had my eye on a squash, gorgonzola and sage tart recipe for quite a while (since butternut squash came into season nearly two months ago actually) but kept running into two minor issues.  Firstly, I couldn’t find any gorgonzola, and secondly, I couldn’t find any sage.  With two of the three main ingredients eluding me, spot the minor flaw in my plan to try the recipe out…  I can deal without access to gorgonzola – after all, I can always substitute a creamy blue if absolutely necessary – but the lack of sage is a tough one because I have quite a few recipes that require sage, and I’ve definitely read recipes in Kiwi publications that call for sage.  So it must be available somewhere, but the question is where?  After weeks and weeks of unsuccessfully scouring the supermarket aisles, I was starting to think that my squash, gorgonzola and sage tart wasn’t going to happen.

Then, at the farmers’ market on Saturday, I spotted some sage.  I snapped up the last bag a little over-enthusiastically and just managed to stop myself from doing a victory dance on the spot.  I think the stallholder lady thought I was a little crazy (imagine if I had done the dance…), but I really didn’t care.  I had sage, therefore I was winning.  (Winning at what, I have no idea.  The great game of tart-making?)  That afternoon I decided to go investigate the big supermarket that’s rather further than the smaller one that I usually go to (and only barely within carrying-heavy-shopping walking distance) and guess what?  They had Kiwi-made gorgonzola-style cheese.  Jackpot!  Incidentally, they also had sage.  Oh.  So clearly my usual supermarket just makes poor stock choices (they both belong to the same chain).  Good to know.  Anyway, armed with my Kiwi gorgonzola and sage, I enthusiastically  tried the tart.  Which took forever, by the way, because I forgot that you’re supposed to roast the squash first.  But it was definitely worth waiting for!  The wonderfully autumnal flavours are perfect together, with the slight sweetness of the butternut squash cut through by the gorgonzola’s “bite,” and the sage adding that little extra dimension.

Squash, gorgonzola & sage tart

Serves 6-8 as a starter, 3-4 as a main course
Adapted from Baking – 100 everyday recipes

Remember to take the roasting time of the butternut squash when planning this recipe (totally not speaking from experience, ahem).  As a rough guide, I found that 500g was half of a large butternut squash.  Pumpkin would also work instead of butternut squash.  If you’re not too keen on blue cheese, I’d suggest reducing the amount of gorgonzola a little bit, but that depends entirely on personal taste.  This tart is delicious eaten both warm and cold, and can easily be prepared in advance, though the pastry will begin to soften after about a day.

Ingredients

500g of butternut squash
1 tsp organic rapeseed oil
Quiche pastry (click for recipe – it’ll make twice as much as you need)
5 tbsp crème fraîche
2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
200g gorgonzola (or similar creamy blue cheese)
10-15 fresh sage leaves

Directions

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.  Butter and flour a 24 cm fluted tart tin.

2.  Cut the butternut squash in half (if necessary) and place the halves cut-side up on a baking tray.  Drizzle the cut side with the oil and bake for 30-40 mins until browned and soft.  Set aside to cool a little, then remove the seeds (you can toast them and use them as a snack).  Scoop the flesh out into a large bowl and throw the skin away.

3.  Meanwhile, whilst the squash is roasting, make the pastry.  Roll it out and line the prepared tart tin.  Trim the edges, prick the pastry with a fork and refrigerate for 30 mins.

4.  Blind bake (line the pastry with baking paper and fill with baking beans) the pastry for 10 mins (the oven should still be at 190°C), then remove the baking beans and baking paper before baking a further 5 mins.

5.  Whilst waiting for the pastry to bake, mash the squash flesh with a fork.  Add 2 tbsp of the crème fraîche, season with freshly ground black pepper and mix together.  Set aside.  In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, egg yolk and remaining crème fraîche and set aside.

6.  When the pastry has been blind baked, thinly spread the mustard over the base of the quiche, then evenly cover with the squash mixture, making sure to spread it right into the edges of the pastry case.  Crumble or slice the gorgonzola and spread evenly over the top of the squash layer.  Top this with the egg mixture, making sure that it settles evenly across the tart.  Decorate the surface with the sage leaves.  Bake for 30-35 mins until cooked through and golden.  Allow to rest in the tin for 10 mins before turning out and serving accompanied by a green salad.

Enjoy!

PS – I apologise for the dreadful photos – I was pretty hungry by the time this came out of the oven, so I made do with my phone.  Turns out that was a bad plan.

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Feijoa & hazelnut muffins

One of the things that I love most about moving to a new country is discovering new fruit and vegetables.  I’ve spent the last six weeks enthusiastically discovering the feijoa, a fruit which is completely new to me.  Feijoas aren’t actually native to New Zealand – they originate from Brazil* – but they seem to grow very well here and are very popular and many people seem to have feijoa trees in their gardens.  I read somewhere that they are known as pineapple guavas in the rest of the world, but I’m not sure what parts of the world that would be, since I’ve never seen them anywhere else.  And nor have any of the other international students in the lab, including the South Americans.  Have you ever come across them before?

Feijoas fall off the tree when they are ready to eat – how convenient is that?  The flesh is quite firm, with a texture that reminds me a little of a grainy pear, but more pleasant, and the pulp bit in the middle is well… rather pulpy.  I’m terrible at descriptions (in case you hadn’t realised), and I’ve been struggling to describe the flavour, but I’ll do my best.  It’s like a slightly sweeter version of an apple, but with a subtle hint of strawberry.  Which I realise sounds a little odd, but I think that’s the closest that I can get (I would make such an appalling oenologist).  They’re utterly delicious.  To eat them, you cut them in half and scoop out the flesh and pulp, leaving the skin.  You can also bake and cook with them, so I borrowed a feijoa cookbook from the library (because I’m super cool like that) and decided to make muffins.

The only problem with feijoas is that they’re only in season from the beginning of April until the end of May, so you have to make the most of them whilst you can!  I actually made these muffins with the very last feijoas of the season, as I’ve been too busy concentrating on eating them fresh for the last six weeks.  Luckily, feijoas are supposed to freeze very well, so I’ve got some in the freezer to bake with over winter.  Perhaps that’s the best tactic – eat them fresh whilst you can, then bake with the frozen ones when you can no longer eat them fresh!  As feijoa season is only just coming to a close, I’m submitting these feijoa and hazelnut muffins to the Simple and in Season blog event for May, which is celebrating its first birthday this month!  The blog event was started by Ren at Fabulicious Food and is being hosted by Urvashi over at The Botanical Baker this month.

The muffins have a surprise dollop of cream cheese in the middle, similar in concept to the pumpkin and cream cheese muffins that I made a while ago, but the cream cheese didn’t hold its shape and sort of melted into the muffin, leaving a small cavity in the middle of the muffin (see the photo at the bottom of the post).  I’m not sure why it happened – perhaps the cream cheese here is different, or perhaps the oven was too hot – and whilst they were very tasty with the tartness of the cream cheese perfectly cutting through the sweetness of the feijoa, it looks a bit odd when you bite into the muffins and there’s a hole in the middle.  I made a couple without the cream cheese in the middle and they were just as delicious, so I’d say that the cream cheese centre is optional (though recommended if you can deal with them being slightly less presentable).  The flavour of the feijoas really permeates the muffins, which I love – you can taste their subtle sweetness, but it’s not overwhelming – and I also love the slightly crunchy topping.  I’m totally into hazelnuts at the moment, so I substituted them in for the walnuts that were in the original recipe, and the flavours worked wonderfully together.  So if you ever happen across some feijoas and aren’t sure what to do with them, I’d strongly suggest tasting one and then baking these muffins!

Feijoa & hazelnut muffins

Makes 13-14 muffins
Adapted from The Feijoa Recipe Book

To toast the hazelnuts, spread them out on a baking tray, place in an oven pre-heated to 180°C and roast for 10 min, until they smell toasty (be sure to keep an eye on them so they don’t burn).  Rub the hazelnuts in a clean tea towel to remove most of the skins, and allow to cool fully before using.  The cream cheese filling is optional, though I do recommend it if you can deal with having a little cavity in the middle of your muffins.  Frozen feijoas would work well for this recipe, although thaw them out before using.

Ingredients

350g feijoas
230g all-purpose flour
100g caster sugar
3 rounded tsp baking powder
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
40g unsalted butter
1 egg
185ml milk
½ tsp vanilla extract

Cream cheese filling (optional):
120g cream cheese
40g icing sugar

Topping:
40g toasted hazelnuts
60g soft brown sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Directions

1.  Line a muffin tin with 14 liners or set out 14 silicone liners on a baking tray.  Pre-heat the oven to fan 190°C.

2.  Prepare the cream cheese filling in a small bowl by whisking the cream cheese with the icing sugar until smooth.  Set aside.

3.  Peel the feijoas and finely chop them (the pulp can make this a bit fiddly.  They don’t have to look presentable though, so don’t worry too much as long as they’re in small pieces).  Set aside.

4.  Sift the flour, caster sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl.  Stir together.

5.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan on low heat or in the microwave.  Lightly beat the egg in a medium-sized bowl.  Add the milk and vanilla extract and mix well.

6.  Add the wet ingredients and the melted butter to the dry ingredients and fold together with a large metal spoon until just combined (the batter should still be a bit lumpy, with some flour still visible).  Gently fold in the chopped feijoas.

7.  Transfer about half a tablespoon of batter to each muffin liner or mould (make sure that the batter covers the bottom, but that there is still enough left to cover the cream cheese layer).  Add a dollop of the cream cheese mixture in each liner on top of the feijoa layer.  Split the remaining feijoa batter between the liners, making sure to completely cover the cream cheese layer.  For the topping, mix the brown sugar and cinnamon together in a ramekin.  Roughly chop the hazelnuts and sprinkle over the muffins, followed by the cinnamon sugar.

8.  Bake for 20-25 mins until golden and well risen.  Allow to cool in the tins for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

Enjoy!

* I have also read that feijoas originate in Chile.  But since the Chilean in our lab says she’s never heard of or seen them in Chile, I’m rather more inclined to believe that they’re from Brazil.  The word “feijoa” also looks more Portuguese than Spanish to me (though I am neither a linguist nor an etymologist).

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Dessert for one… Or maybe three

Cooking for one can be a bit of a pain.  I have so many bookmarked recipes that are for four or more people and not particularly easy to split.  I get bored eating the same thing several times in a row and my freezer is currently full (thanks to a recipe I tried out the other week that made enough food for 6-8 people… which I obviously didn’t forget to check before I started.  Ahem.), which I need to sort out before I start making soup for the winter.  Now I love crumbles, but all my recipes seem to be for large crumbles to feed at least six people.  I could probably eat a whole six-person crumble in one go all by myself… but just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good idea.  So I decided to try making myself a one-person crumble.  Cooking for one shouldn’t mean depriving oneself, it just means trying to adapt things to make smaller quantities.

I was originally going for a pear hazelnut crumble, but as I was rummaging around the fridge, I happened across an apple that was looking a little lonely all by itself, so I decided to make a two-person pear and apple hazelnut crumble.  The two-person crumble turned into a three-person crumble because the fruit turned out to be a tiny bit too much for just two ramekins.  So much for a one-person crumble…  Since I made them in ramekins it’s easy enough to just limit oneself to eating one at a time though, so it’s not much of an issue (otherwise I’d have just another spoonful, and just a little one more, and oh… where did the crumble go?  Woops.).

The flavours of pear, apple and toasted hazelnut complement each other so well, and are really the perfect autumnal combination.  I don’t think I’ve ever matched all three flavours together before, but I’ll definitely be trying the combination out again!  Since the hazelnut flavour in these crumbles absolutely shines through, I’m submitting this to this month’s AlphaBakes challenge, which is being hosted by Caroline Makes, because the random letter is “H” – H for hazelnut, but also for honey, which also features.  I’m not entirely sure whether the challenge is only for baked goods, or whether anything that has seen the inside of a hot oven is fair game.  I’m going with the latter…

Pear & apple hazelnut crumble

Serves 3
Recipe from my imagination

To toast the hazelnuts, spread them out on a baking tray, place in an oven pre-heated to 180°C and roast for 10 min, until they smell toasty (be sure to keep an eye on them so they don’t burn).  Rub the hazelnuts in a clean tea towel to remove most of the skins, and allow to cool fully before using.  I used a bosc pear and a braeburn apple since that’s what I had in the fridge.  If using a small apple and small pear, you could probably fit the slices into just two ramekins instead of three.  I always think that crumble is best served with pouring cream or ice cream.

Ingredients

40g flour
25g unsalted butter
4 heaped tsp light brown sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
20g porridge oats
20g toasted hazelnuts
1 medium apple
1 medium pear
2-3 tbsp Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur)
2-3 tbsp honey

Directions

1.  Add the sugar, flour and cinnamon to a medium-sized bowl.  Cut the butter into small cubes and rub into the sugar and flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

2.  Roughly chop the hazelnuts and stir into the crumble mixture with the porridge oats.  Set aside.

3.  Slice the apples and pears (you might need to cut the slices into two or three to fit them into the ramekins) and mix together.  Set out three ovenproof ramekins (mine are 0.2 litres) and split the apple and pear mixture between them.  Drizzle with about 1 tbsp of Frangelico per ramekin, followed by about 1 tbsp of honey, then top with the crumble mixture, evenly split between the three ramekins.  Don’t pat down the crumble mixture, but make sure that it covers the fruit more or less evenly.

4.  Place the ramekins on a baking tray and bake for 25-30 mins until the crumble is golden.  Serve immediately, accompanied by pouring cream or ice cream.

Enjoy!

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Mint & ginger mini palmiers

Something terribly exciting happened on Wednesday – the Bookshelf Saga which has been ongoing since I moved into my flat at the beginning of March came to its conclusion.  To cut a long rant story short, my landlord didn’t consider a bookshelf to be a fairly standard piece of furniture and decided that it would “overcrowd the flat” (which is total nonsense by the way – somebody is clearly just being stingy).  However, since I really do need a bookshelf, I had to buy one myself, and it (finally) arrived on Wednesday.  Definitely the highlight of my week (I need to get out more) and now all my books, folders and DVDs are neatly arranged on shelves instead of being unceremoniously piled up in a corner.  And guess what?  The bookshelf doesn’t overcrowd the flat.  Not even remotely.  In fact, it has uncrowded the flat by freeing up all that space that the piles of books, etc. were taking up.  Just as well I don’t have my landlord’s email address or I would seriously consider emailing him a photo saying “I told you so.”  Not that I’m petty like that or anything.  Obviously.

My new bookshelf means that all my cookbooks are now neatly lined up – much more practical for choosing my Random Recipe entry than trying to count books scattered about in various piles.  This month’s theme is “first and last” which means randomly picking a cookbook and then making either the first or last recipe (or both, if you’re feeling keen). The random number button on my trusty calculator directed me to book number 5, which turned out to be Cusine Express, a French book full of quickly-prepared recipes.  I wasn’t too enthralled by anything on the first page of recipes, so I flipped to the very last page, where there were eight recipes to choose from (spoilt by choice, I know).  I opted for the mint and ginger mini palmiers, partly because I was intrigued by the combination of mint and ginger together, and partly because I’ve been a big fan of palmiers since I was a little girl, but never actually tried making them myself.

These aren’t quite like the slightly sticky palmiers you get in French pâtisseries, so I was a tiny little bit disappointed initially, but once you get past that, they are rather tasty in their own right, and I can’t wait to have a couple for my afternoon snack later.  The mint and ginger go together remarkably well – the freshness of the mint counterbalances the slight hotness of the ginger.  They’re missing that slightly caramelised covering that I loved when I was little (and still love) – next time I might try sprinkling some brown sugar over the top before baking, or lightly brushing a sugar syrup over the top as they come out of the oven.  I’ll definitely be trying these again – they’re so straightforward and hardly take any effort.  Except grating the ginger, which does take effort if you do it by hand, but it’s worth it.

Mint & ginger mini palmiers

Makes about 30
Adapted from Cuisine Express

You can, of course, make your own puff pastry, but I don’t really have the time for that, so I nearly always use shop-bought puff pastry, and I find that it works just as well, though make sure that when buying it, you choose puff pastry that has been made with all butter.  These make a wonderful afternoon snack, accompanied by a cup of tea.  These are best eaten on the day that they are made, but will keep overnight in an air-tight box (although they may lose a little bit of their crunchiness).

Ingredients

6 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint leaves (about 18-20 g)
4 tbsp finely grated ginger (about a 5-6 cm piece)
5 tbsp organic rapeseed oil
Icing sugar
350g all-butter puff pastry

Directions

1.  Mix the mint leaves, ginger and oil in a small bowl to make a paste.

2.  Roll the puff pastry out on a surface sprinkled with icing sugar into a rectangle of about 30 x 40 cm.

3.  Spread the mint and ginger paste over the surface of the pastry.  Fold or roll the pastry along a long edge to the middle, and do the same from the other side so that the two rolled/folded bits meet in the middle.  Press the whole “log” of pastry into a roll, wrap in cling film and chill in the freezer for 25 mins.

4.  Line two baking trays with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 210°C.

5.  Remove the puff pastry log from the freezer and cut into 10-12mm thick slices (don’t worry if there are little gaps between the pastry rolls – they pastry will expand in the oven).  Place on the baking trays and bake for 15 mins until golden.  Transfer the palmiers to cooling racks and dust with icing sugar.  Allow to cool fully.

Enjoy!

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Toothy’s Travels – Auckland: Auckland Zoo

You may not be too surprised to hear that I love zoos and aquariums.  I basically just turn into a super-geeky big kid (because I totally act like an adult the rest of the time, ahem).  So I didn’t hesitate for even a millisecond when one of my friends asked if I wanted to go to Auckland Zoo…  We were incredibly lucky with the weather – it was sunny and fairly warm all day – perfect for a day of wandering outside discovering a new zoo!

Auckland Zoo has a Kiwi House, which I was totally excited about.  I hadn’t ever seen a kiwi before (unsurprisingly, since they’re endangered, don’t do terribly well in cities and are most active at night…  Oh and also endemic to NZ) and they’re only the national bird and all…  Let me tell you – they’re adorable.  And bigger than I was expecting.  I thought they were about the size of your fist, but no, North Island brown kiwi (Apteryx mantelli) are a bit bigger than a chicken.  I’ve clearly only been looking at photos of kiwi chicks (which I think should be called kiwilets – how cute does that sound?).  Woops.  To be fair, birds aren’t really my area of zoological expertise.  Aaanyway, so kiwi may be super-cute, but they’re also super-difficult to get a photo of because most of the kiwi display is darker than my camera could pick up.  The only part where there’s enough light for a photo is right up against the viewing window, and one of the kiwi spent the longest time foraging with great enthusiasm just outside the zone of enough light.  So I have about 20 photos of some leaves surrounded by blackness, but if you edit them to within an inch of their lives, you come out with this:

Not my best ever photo, but oh my gosh it’s a real live kiwi in the middle of foraging! it’s better than the original which really just looks like some leaves and a lot of black.  It’s also rather better than the one photo that I did manage to get whilst the kiwi ventured into the zone of enough light for photos.  This is what a kiwi’s backside looks like, in case you’ve ever wondered:

Along with the excellently-done part all about native New Zealand fauna, parts of the rest of the zoo are also themed – the African savannah, the primates, Australian fauna and the tropics.  Some of the animals seemed a bit randomly placed though, such as the otters that seem to be in the primate section, and the red pandas, of which there are two, but not particularly near to each other.  There might be a logic to that, but it escapes me.  Most of the paths to get around are twisty, so not ideal if you want to get anywhere quickly since there aren’t a lot of direct routes, but zoos are all about sauntering along anyway.  And if you are in a slight rush to get to, say, the penguin feeding, it’s fairly easy to just knock a few small kids out of your way bypass those that are in less of a hurry.

If you’re wondering why those penguins look a little bit blue-ish, that’s because they’re actually blue.  Blue penguins, I know – I totally didn’t know they existed either, but how super-cute and adorable are they?  I’d really like one as a pet, or even two so that they could keep each other company.  Too bad that’s totally illegal.  Anyway, these little blue penguins (Eudyptula minor) or korora to give them their Māori name, are found in New Zealand.  And just like all penguins, they’re hilarious to watch.  These ones are also all rescue penguins, so a couple of them only have one flipper (which only gives them difficulties when trying to dive, but otherwise doesn’t affect them too badly in captivity.  Obviously in the wild they’d probably get munched on by something pretty quickly…).

The twisty nature of the paths does make it a little difficult to find your way around, so I would definitely recommend getting hold of a map if you want to make sure that you see everything.  Apparently you have to pay for maps, but you can download one for free from the zoo’s website before you go if you’re feeling stingey.  It’s also worth checking which animals are being fed on the day that you’re there – the keepers talk about the animals whilst they feed them.  And the giraffe feeding is a particular treat – it’s actually the visitors that do the feeding (though we watched this from afar because the concentration of small children in the queue was a little too high for us to handle).  Talking of feeding, there is a café on site (called Darwin’s which, can I just say, is a great name) that sells sandwiches, pies, burgers, etc., but you can also bring a packed lunch since there are various grassy areas around the zoo where you could have a picnic.

Anyway, enough babbling from me – photos are much more interesting:

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Wherever you are, enjoy the rest of your day!

PS – I had initially intended to post this last Tuesday, but since I took 400 quite a few photos, it’s taken me a while to sort through them…  I told you I get over-enthusiastic about zoos.

PPS – Any OCD scientists out there that are upset that the binomial species names in the slideshow captions aren’t italicised…  It stresses me out, too.  I tried really hard but just couldn’t get it to work.

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Chocolate & almond crackle cookies

I bookmark a lot of recipes, but then never quite get around to making them – I don’t have enough time, something else comes up, I have other things to bake.  Basically, life happens.  Usually I forget about the recipe, and that’s that, although if the recipe is lucky, I’ll happen across it completely by accident a few months later and then actually try it out.  If life doesn’t intervene once again.  Not this recipe though.  I first saw it about three weeks ago, and it’s been on my mind since then.  I was just so intrigued by the appearance of the cookies – they look so… arresting.  A bit of a dramatic description for a cookie perhaps, but I don’t really know how else to describe the wonderful contrast between the dark chocolatey inside poking through the cracks in the white icing sugar shell.  But true to form, every time I thought to myself right, I’m going to try those cookies out this evening something else came up and it just didn’t happen.

Then the other day I got my act together.  It was a bit of a miserable weather day – the rain started about an hour after I left the flat, so I wasn’t very prepared for it (though thankfully I always have an umbrella in my bag – a necessary habit after living in Scotland for four years).  And every time I stepped outside it poured.  I also accidentally got fish guts on my jeans whilst I was feeding my eagle rays at the aquarium in the morning.  Unfortunately, the rain didn’t wash that out.  So not only did I get to the lab slightly damp, but smelling faintly of fish, too.  I really go in for the whole attractive thing, you know?  It turned out to be quite a long day, so by the time I got home (still smelling slightly fishy) I was a little fed up.  I decided that it was time to try these cookies.  Fun fact: “crackle cookies” is rather fun to say (if a bit of a tongue-twister when said too quickly), and I find it really difficult not to smile when I say it.  Automatic mood-lifter.

The original recipe is just chocolate crackle cookies, and I was actually initially going to add hazelnuts, but then at the last minute realised that almonds would also work.  And then I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to use hazelnuts or almonds.  I’m the most indecisive person ever, so I consulted with Craig (luckily he’s used to random baking ideas/questions/panics being thrown into the middle of a conversation about something completely different.  Or just out of the blue.  Some things don’t change, even if you move halfway across the world*), and he suggested almonds.  Which is rather convenient, because “almond” happens to be the secret ingredient for this month’s We Should Cocoa, which is being guest-hosted by Laura over at How to Cook Good Food.  The cookies turned out to be utterly delicious, and were the ideal counter to what was essentially a damp and fishy day.  A little crunchy on the outside and fudgy on the inside – perfect.  The almond flavour definitely goes with the chocolate, but then the combination of dark chocolate and almonds is always a winner.  I brought the cookies into the lab and everybody loved them.  Everything about them actually – the appearance, the texture, the flavours.  Definitely a winner of a cookie!

Chocolate & almond crackle cookies

Makes 20-25 cookies
Adapted from Cuisine, May 2012

These cookies get coated in icing sugar and go into the oven looking a bit like truffles.  As they expand in the oven, the icing sugar coating “cracks” to form their distinctive appearance.  The outside will be crunchy but the middle should stay a little bit fudgy.  The amount of icing sugar required will depend a lot on how big a ramekin or bowl you use when coating the balls of dough – a small ramekin is best.  The cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days (if they last that long!).

Ingredients

40g slivered blanched almonds
175g caster sugar
100g all-purpose flour
60g cocoa powder (at least 70%)
50g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
60g unsalted butter, chilled
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 tbsp icing sugar, for coating (this is just a rough guide)

Directions

1.  Roughly chop the slivered almonds.  Set aside.

2.  Sift the caster sugar, flour, cocoa powder, ground almonds, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir together (you may need to push the ground almonds through the sieve with the back of a spoon).  Dice the butter up into small cubes and add to the bowl.  Rub together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Stir in the chopped almonds.

3.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs.  Beat in the vanilla extract.  Add to the flour and almond mixture and stir together with a metal spoon until incorporated and the mixture begins to come together into a ball (it takes a little while, but it does happen).  Wrap in cling film (or cover the bowl in cling film) and refrigerate for 30-45 mins.

4.  Line two baking trays with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to fan 180°C.  Sift 3 tbsp of icing sugar into a ramekin (don’t put it away yet, you may need to sift more icing sugar later).

5.  Remove the dough from the fridge, and split into walnut-sized balls.  Drop each into the ramekin of icing sugar and roll around to coat well, so they look a bit like truffles (your hands will get messy from the dough, so I suggest using a teaspoon to manoeuvre the balls of dough in the icing sugar and then transferring them to the baking sheets.  Sift more icing sugar into the ramekin as you need it).  Place about 5cm apart on the baking trays.

6.  Bake for 10-12 mins or until just set when lightly touched.  Allow to cool for 5 mins on the baking trays before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Enjoy!

* Thank goodness for the existence of WhatsApp.

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Filed under Recipes, Student Life, Sweet Foods

When is a carbonara not a carbonara?

Winter is definitely starting to creep up on us…  It seems that with the exceptional Indian summer that we’ve had, autumn has been completely by-passed.  The temperatures have dropped a little during the day (ok, so it was still 17°C outside yesterday lunch time, but inside the lab it felt like about 15°C.  Which is really cold when you’re just sitting at your desk not moving much) and rather a lot during the night – it’s cold first thing in the morning.  I think I’m going to have to dig out my bed socks soon (I am obviously the epitome of hotness, in case you didn’t know) and switch to my warmer duvet (though I don’t think I’ll be needing my full-on winter 14.5 tog one here… that might be a little much).  Despite the weather taking a turn for the colder, at least the sunny weather is forecast to continue for at least the rest of this week.  Sunshine makes everything better.  So does pasta.

I wanted some comfort food when I got home yesterday evening, and a mushroom and spinach carbonara recipe that I’d seen in Cuisine over the weekend fitted the bill perfectly.  I’m not sure that it can quite be described as a carbonara – there’s no pancetta, and I used blue cheese rather than parmesan in the sauce.  But the sauce is made up of barely-cooked eggs and a touch of cream, so it is very carbonara-esque (though apparently there Italian-made carbonara doesn’t involve cream… according to Wikipedia, source of all knowledge).  Are there rules on what can and can’t be called a carbonara?  I’ll call it a carbonara until somebody informs me otherwise.  Mostly because I don’t really know quite what else to call it…

Reason #564 that I love NZ: you can get real shallots here.  So I’ve been adding shallots to almost everything lately because I’m still so excited about that.  Almost everything savoury, I should add, and this was no exception.  The original recipe calls for wide lasagne noodles, but half the fun of a carbonara is elegantly twirling it onto your fork and then inelegantly splattering it all over your chin.  I couldn’t find any tagliatelle, which is my favourite twirly pasta (very technical term), so I went with spaghetti, wholewheat of course, dahling.  I try to use wholewheat pasta whenever I can – it’s better for you after all, no more effort than using normal pasta and doesn’t even take much longer to cook (unlike wholegrain brown rice which takes forever to cook).  It’s a cheat’s way of eating slightly healthier.  Although perhaps slightly negated when you make cream-based sauces to go with it, but shhhh!  In my mind the spinach and wholewheat pasta totally counterbalance the cream, eggs and cheese in this recipe.  That’s how healthy eating works, right…?  Ok, ok, it doesn’t, and this isn’t the healthiest of recipes, but I’m not suggesting that you eat this everyday.  From time to time though, it makes perfect comfort food that can be prepared fairly quickly to boot, which makes it perfect to throw together after a long day in a cold lab.  Now, where did I put my bed socks…?

Mushroom & spinach blue cheese carbonara

Serves 2-3
Adapted from Cuisine (May 2012)

Since the eggs in the sauce are only barely cooked, make sure to use fresh eggs.  If you don’t like blue cheese, you can use 30g of parmesan, as specified in the original recipe, or 80g of feta.  I’m sure that a crumbly goat’s cheese would also work well.  If you are cooking this for vegetarians, make sure to pick a vegetarian-friendly cheese.  I use reduced fat crème fraîche, as that’s just what I always have in the fridge as it’s slightly healthier.  Don’t try and be healthier by using oil instead of butter for the mushrooms though – they won’t taste as good.

Ingredients

20g butter
250g Portobello mushrooms (other mushrooms would work fine)
1 shallot
1 clove of garlic
180g wholewheat spaghetti or tagliatelle
3 eggs
4 tbsp crème fraîche
80g creamy blue cheese, plus extra to serve
200g fresh spinach
Black pepper, to serve

Directions

1.  Bring a large pan of water to the boil with a little salt.

2.  Slice the mushrooms and finely dice the shallot and garlic clove.  Melt the butter in a large frying pan or wok over a medium heat and add the mushrooms, shallot and garlic.  Sauté for about 10 mins, stirring from time to time, until dark and tender.

3.  Meanwhile, add the pasta to the pan of boiling water, and cook until according to package instructions until al dente.

4.  In a small bowl, lightly beat together the eggs and crème fraîche.  Whisk in the crumbled blue cheese and set aside.

5.  Once the mushrooms are cooked, add about 4 tbsp of the pasta cooking water and the spinach (you can slice the spinach if you want – I totally forgot to do so) and stir for a few minutes until the spinach is wilted.

6.  Drain the pasta and return to the saucepan.  Add the egg mixture to the pasta over a low heat, and stir for about a minute so that the eggs begin to cook.  Add the pasta to the mushrooms and spinach fold together (depending on the respective sizes of your saucepan and frying pan/wok it might be easier to add the mushrooms and spinach to the pasta rather than the other way around).

7.  Split between pasta bowls, top with a little crumbled blue cheese, season with black pepper and serve whilst hot.

Enjoy!

PS – The obvious answer to the question in the title is “when it’s in my belly” or some variation thereof.  Bonus points to you if you thought that to yourself on reading it.

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Filed under Recipes, Savoury Foods