Monthly Archives: August 2012

Where’s the click-foomph?

A few days ago The Daily Post at WordPress.com asked bloggers to ponder the importance of sound in blogging as part of their Weekly Writing Challenge. Their suggestions include writing about one’s association of certain sounds with specific memories or favourite sounds. Now I’m not part of Post A Day and I’ve never taken part in the Weekly Writing Challenge, but I started thinking about sounds whilst I was having a staring competition with some sugar whilst it was taking forever its sweet time to dissolve and turn itself into caramel. Actually I started off my chugging train of thought by contemplating cookers. We’ve always had gas cookers – actually, I think our cooker in Louisiana might be an exception to that, but since we left when I was 5, I don’t remember it particularly well so I’m not counting that one. My kitchen here in New Zealand has an induction cooker though and it seems to take so much longer to heat things up.

I miss how immediate gas cookers are – turn it on and boom there’s your source of heat ready to go. No twiddling one’s thumbs whilst the induction plate gradually brings itself to the right temperature. Turn the gas up or down and the change in heat is instant. Switch it off and it can be used as a trivet straightaway. No waiting ages for the induction plates to cool down before being able to set anything down on them which can be very frustrating in a small kitchen with limited counter space. I also miss the sound of igniting a gas cooker, the click-foomph. Or click-click-foomph in my mum’s kitchen. Or click-click-click-click-pause-click-click-click-click-click-pause-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-kafoomph in the case of my grandma’s cooker (uhm, I think it might need replacing…). It’s such a reassuring sound. For starters, it means the gas has been ignited rather than just dissipating into the kitchen, but it also means that scrumptious food is in the process of being cooked or baked. And I’m always a fan of that.

The dull thrumming buzz of the induction plates as they switch on and off to heat up just doesn’t quite compare. It just doesn’t sound as exciting as a foomph, and there isn’t the added bonus of accompanying fire. I like fire (when it’s contained and I can cook on it). But whilst my kitchen here doesn’t have that satisfying click-foomph, it has other little sounds that makes it comforting to be in. The oven makes a distinct humming sound as it heats up. My fridge makes that usual fridge-y murmuring noise (you know the sound I mean, right?), but it also gurgles from time to time. And not just any gurgle, it’s like a gurgling giggle. I have no idea why it does that but now that I’m used to it (it creeped me out a little when I first moved in), it gives a sense of home to my kitchen. Every kitchen has its own unique sounds. Whenever the boiler in my mum’s kitchen in Edinburgh switches on it sounds like a small grenade has exploded in the cupboard. Visitors can get a little disconcerted by it. But all those random noises are what makes that particular kitchen unique. Getting used to them is part of the process of feeling at home in a new place. And once your kitchen feels like home, anything is possible.

Well, except Frangelico caramel sauce in my case, because although I won the staring competition with the sugar (dissolving obviously results in an automatic disqualification), the caramel didn’t come out how I wanted, so the recipe is still a work in progress. Which I’m currently blaming on the induction plates and lack of click-foomph rather than my actual cookery skills.

What noises make your kitchen feel like home? Are there sounds from an old kitchen that you miss?

Gas flame image source

1 September 2012: I woke up this morning to discover that this post had been Freshly Pressed, which was a lovely surprise and a rather smashing start to the weekend! If you’ve found your way here through that, then welcome (and if you haven’t, then welcome to you, too) and thank you for clicking through! If all this cooker-talk has made you hungry, do have a poke around the recipe index (in the tab at the top) – whether you ‘re lucky enough to have a gas stove or not!

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White chocolate & hazelnut naked cupcakes

It appears that I’m going through a hazelnut phase at the moment.  I’m not sure why – perhaps my vestigial Northern hemisphere-oriented seasonal body clock is attempting to convince me to ignore the bright little clumps of daffodils that I pass on my way to and from uni by distracting me with hazelnuts and other such nutty, autumnal flavours because we’re coming up to September and said body clock thinks it should be autumn soon, not spring.  Or perhaps I toast hazelnuts in largeish batches so that I always have toasted hazelnuts available for use straight away when I bake and may have been a little overenthusiastic with the amount of hazelnuts that I toasted on Sunday such that they didn’t all fit into my designated toasted hazelnut jar (don’t judge) so I clearly had to bake with the overflowing ones.  Perhaps there’s an element of both…

Either way, I baked with hazelnuts this weekend.  More specifically, with white chocolate and hazelnuts.  I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’d borrowed Marian Keyes’ Saved by Cake from the library.  One of the recipes that caught my eye was for white chocolate and macadamia nut cupcakes which she suggests can also be made with hazelnuts.  It sounded like an excellent way to sort out my minor toasted hazelnut over-abundance issues.  And indeed the cupcakes turned out wonderfully.  Now I realise that they don’t look like much, but oh boy are they scrumptious, and in fact their “nothing special” look makes tasting them an even more delightful surprise.  The combination of white chocolate and hazelnuts works fantastically well.  The white chocolate flavour subtly permeates right through the cupcakes and the hazelnuts intersperse it with a lovely toasted nutty flavour and also give a great crunch which keeps the cupcakes texturally interesting.

I’m also aware that they don’t look too much like cupcakes – one generally expects cupcakes to be topped off with great big swirls of icing.  Or even small swirls of icing.  But these are icing-less.  The original recipe doesn’t feature icing, and I’d initially thought that I might add some white chocolate-based icing, but when I tasted the cupcakes I realised that icing of any sort would probably just be too much and overpower them.  I was going to call them “muffcakes” since they look rather like muffins due to their lack of icing, but still have the texture of a cupcake.  Then I realised that that sounds like something else entirely – I haven’t looked it up on Urban Dictionary, but I don’t particularly want to.  So I’ve called them “naked cupcakes” instead.  Which I’m not sure is much of an improvement but it does sound slightly classier.  I’m just going to stop talking now and share the recipe.

White chocolate & hazelnut naked cupcakes

Makes 15 cupcakes
Adapted from Saved by Cake

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 fragrant (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.  These cupcakes will keep for a couple of days in an airtight box, but are best eaten sooner rather than later and are perfect for an afternoon tea break.

Ingredients

300g white chocolate
100g unsalted butter
100g toasted hazelnuts
180g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
3 eggs
100g light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

1.  Set out 15 silicone cupcake moulds on a baking tray or line two cupcake/muffin tins with liners.  Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/fan oven 150°C.

2.  Break 200g of the white chocolate into pieces and add to a heatproof bowl with the cubed butter.  Gently melt together over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring often (make sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl as white chocolate can burn very easily and keep an eye on the mixture).  Remove from the heat as soon as the chocolate and butter are smoothly melted together.

3.  Meanwhile, roughly chop the remaining chocolate and the hazelnuts and set aside.  Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt into a medium bowl, stir together and set aside.

4.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and the sugar until the mixture is smooth, thickened and creamy.  Whisk in the vanilla extract and the melted chocolate mixture.  Add the flour mixture and fold in with a spatula until just combined.  Fold in the chopped chocolate and hazelnuts.

5.  Spoon the mixture into the prepared cupcake moulds or liners, not filling the liners more than ¾ full.  Bake for 20-22 mins until risen, golden and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Allow to sit in the silicone moulds for a couple of minutes for the cupcakes to firm up a little before removing and them and transferring to a wire rack to cool fully.

Enjoy!

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Sunday Smiles: From the edges of the solar system to Eden Park

Not the happiest start to Sunday Smiles but I have to mention it: you guys, Neil Armstrong died.  I totally wanted to be an astronaut when I was little, and although my career dreams and aspirations veered off into the direction of the ocean, a little part of me has always remained fascinated by space, so the news saddened me, in the way that the death of a famous person who did something truly great does.  Neil Armstrong was definitely the person with whom I most associate space exploration.  And the moon.  I still think it’s incredible that humans have walked on the moon.  Fun fact: more humans have been to the moon than to the depths of the Earth’s oceans.

So this week’s Sunday Smiles starts off with something space-related:

  • NASA’s Voyager 1 mission is about to leave our solar system.  After 35 years of service, the Voyager missions appear to still be going strong, which is incredible when you consider that we can still communicate with 1970s technology at the fringes of our solar system.  Voyager 1 is currently 18.2 billion km from the Earth and Voyager 2 is currently 14.8 billion km from the Earth, which is apparently the furthest any man-made object has ever travelled.  Isn’t that just awe-inspiring?
  • This altered Oatmeal comic which jointly covers the (crappy) NZ internet situation and the ridiculous delay in TV series being shown here made me laugh.  I’m not supporting illegal downloading (just to make that clear), but I don’t see any logical reason for there to be such a delay on TV series – it’s the 21st century, so it’s not like the series have to be shipped here by boat or something.  And as for the internet situation here… well it’s pretty frustrating when one streams the radio over the internet and it cuts out every ten minutes or so.  I realise these are first world problems, but this is a first world country, so…
  • I’ve already written a whole blog post about them, but my labmates’ reactions to the chocolate, cherry and hazelnut cookies that I baked the other day were so enthusiastic that I couldn’t help but smile.  Other people enjoying something I’ve baked never fails to make me happy.

  • Time for something cute, check out these adorable koala macarons!  Aren’t they the cutest?
  • Another week, another Tumblr…  The link to Dog Shaming was sent to me by a couple of different people and it also made the rounds in the lab.  If you’ve ever owned a dog, you’ll probably appreciate it.
  • If you’ve ever lived in a touristy city or town, you’ve probably encountered frustration if you’re actually trying to get somewhere but have to bypass hordes of (oblivious) sauntering tourists.  The effect seems to be so much more intense in Edinburgh, possibly because the population doubles during August thanks to the Festival and the Fringe.  Whilst I’m not there this year, this tongue-in-cheek analysis of Edinburgh’s tourist tactics amused me.  The observations are equally valid for anywhere touristy.
  • And finally, as mentioned last week, a friend from St Andrews was in Auckland this weekend and we went to see the All Blacks vs Wallabies match last night.  The All Blacks beat the Wallabies by 22-0 so it wasn’t the most nail-biting rugby I’ve ever seen, but I’m still not over my enthusiasm of seeing the All Blacks play in real life at Eden Park, and we were both totally excited by the whole thing.  Plus the weather was in our favour.  And the haka was played over the PA system as well, which was so much better than when I saw the All Blacks play Ireland a few months ago.

What made you smile this week?

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Chocolate, cherry & hazelnut cookies

This month’s We Should Cocoa challenge is being hosted by Janice over at Farmersgirl Kitchen, and she has chosen “cherry” as the special ingredient.  I got all excited about this, because I adore cherries.  My enthusiasm deflated slightly when I remembered that it’s very much not cherry season here, so I’m a little jealous if you live somewhere with fresh cherries in abundance.  But whilst fresh cherries might be off the cards for me, there are plenty of other options: dried cherries, glacé cherries, preserved cherries and kirsch.  Adding kirsch is one of my favourite ways of jazzing up anything chocolatey – I nearly always add a (liberal) splash of kirsch when making chocolate cake, and when we made Craig’s meerkat cake, the chocolate meerkat cookies were decorated with kirsch icing.

As much as I wanted to make something combining chocolate and kirsch, frustratingly I’ve yet to actually find kirsch here (I heartily welcome any information on how to resolve that).  Luckily, I’ve had a recipe for chocolate and cherry cookies lodged in my brain for the past few weeks, and this was the perfect occasion to try it out (not that I really need an excuse).  It comes from The Boy Who Bakes which I borrowed from the library a few weeks ago, and I’ve been wanting to try it since it jumped out at me as I first flipped through the book, particularly since it uses dried cherries so I wouldn’t have to wait until cherry season.  A flawless plan, but for one minor detail: the small supermarket that I usually shop at apparently doesn’t sell dried cherries.  Dried goji berries, no problem.  But dried cherries, nope, I’d have to make a trip to the larger supermarket that’s further away.  Not in itself a huge problem since it’s still within walking distance (though not so much with heavy shopping), I just needed to find the time.

Having finally stopped off at said larger supermarket on my way back from the aquarium yesterday, I stocked up on dried cherries which meant it was time to (finally) try out the cookies.  It seems to me that adding toasted hazelnuts to chocolatey baked goods is the logical thing to do with it’s cold and windy outside, so I threw some in for good measure.  A smashing idea if I might say so.  Appropriately for We Should Cocoa, these cookies are very chocolatey, so if you’re not a big chocolate fan then these probably aren’t for you.  The dried sour cherries cut through the intense chocolate nicely and the cookies themselves are just a little gooey in the middle, which I love.  A little post-publish addition: these cookies went down an absolute storm with my labmates during our afternoon coffee break – one of them never has seconds for sweet things and ate two, and another is eating vegan all month but decided to make an exception because they looked so good… she also ate two.  Actually, I think everybody ate two.  I can’t give you a better recommendation than that!

Chocolate, cherry & hazelnut cookies

Makes 25 cookies
Adapted from The Boy Who Bakes

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.  These cookies are delicious accompanied by a cup of coffee to wash the chocolateyness down.  They will keep for a few days in an airtight box.

Ingredients

350g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
130g all-purpose flour
50g cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
60g toasted hazelnuts
100g unsalted butter, room temperature
150g light brown sugar
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
100g dried sour cherries

Directions

1.  Line two baking trays with baking paper.  Pre-heat oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C.

2.  Melt 200g of the chocolate by breaking it up and placing in a heat-proof bowl over a bowl of simmering water (ensure that the water doesn’t reach the bottom of the bowl).  Remove from the heat once melted and allow to cool slightly before using.

3.  Meanwhile, roughly chop the remaining chocolate and the toasted hazelnuts and set aside.  Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt into a medium-sized bowl, stir together and set aside.

4.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and two sugars using an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Whisk in the eggs one by one until well incorporated.  Beat in the flour mixture a third at a time, until just incorporated.  Slowly pour the melted chocolate into the mixture with the electric whisk on medium speed, beating until combined.  Stir in the chocolate pieces, hazelnuts and dried cherries.

5.  Form heaped tablespoons of dough into balls and place on the prepared baking trays, with up to six per tray.  Bake for 13-15 mins until crisped around the edges.  Cool for 5 mins on the tray before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Enjoy!

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Sunday Smiles: Olympics withdrawal, laundry baskets and conclusively disproving the theory of evolution

I’ve already mentioned the post-Olympic void in my life.  In fact I’ve had several search results this week for “the Olympics are over, now what,” so I’m clearly not alone.  At least the Paralympics are coming up soon (hurry up already!).  You might expect the Olympics Closing Ceremony to feature as one of my Sunday Smiles but if I’m honest I spent most of it somewhat bewildered and wondering what on Earth was going on (goodness knows what the rest of the world was thinking).  Plus, it was the end of the Olympic Games.

So my Sunday Smiles this week, which contains a couple of Olympics withdrawal cures, are:

  • First up, Dan Chung from the Guardian covered the Olympics solely using an iPhone (and a couple of extra lenses), which might not sound too promising, but he had to be pretty inventive for some of his shots and they’re actually rather impressive.  I wish my iPhone photography skills were half as good.  Seriously.  Please refer to Instagram if you’d like proof.
  • Somebody set up a tumblr (a tumblr?  Is that correct?) called Mo Farah Running Away From Things, which is exactly what it says.  My favourites are him running away from the Black Riders, the one below, and him running away from dinosaurs, because, you know, dinosaurs (= awesome!).  Although don’t tell the Creationists, or it’ll probably end up in a textbook since Photoshop this photo shows that dinosaurs and humans are both clearly alive at the same time and is thus conclusive proof that contradicts the theory of evolution.*  (Photo source)

  • In non-Olympics news, the lovely Camilla from Little Macaroon sent me a link to a shark-shaped laundry basket.  Most fabulous laundry basket ever?  Yes!  My birthday isn’t too far off, so uhm, anybody wanting to get me a present…  Ahem.  *Cough*  In the meantime, I wonder how difficult it is to sew large pieces of felt together…  (Photo source)

  • One of my labmates told me about Western Springs Park so I decided to investigate on Saturday afternoon since it was sunny and fairly warm.  There’s a lake in the middle that you can walk around, with plenty of ducks, black swans (there were even a few cygnets!) and other water birds.  But the most amazing thing is that the lake is full of longfin eels (Anguilla dieffenbachii), NZ’s only endemic eel species.  There’s a bridge which they seem to cluster around and the water was teeming with them.  It was so cool to see!

  • The Sky Tower was all multicoloured this weekend to celebrate its 15th birthday.  The colours kept changing and it was a little bit mesmerising to watch.

  • And finally, something that I’m looking forward to next week: one of my friends from St Andrews is in Auckland this weekend and we’re going to the All Blacks vs. Australia match!  SO excited!!!

What made you smile this week?

*The fact that there are kids being taught through a legitimately recognised school system that A) the existence of the Loch Ness Monster has been conclusively proven and that B) this means that the theory of evolution is balderdash utterly terrifies me, so I have to make a joke out of it to cope.  As for the line about Apartheid, words actually fail me.

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Tamarillo time!

I don’t think I’d ever encountered tamarillos, also known as tree tomatoes, until about a month ago.  I certainly don’t remember seeing them in shops in Europe, although I’ve never looked for them, so perhaps I just didn’t notice.  Much like feijoas, another fruit I’ve discovered since moving here, tamarillos are originally from South America but grow well in NZ and are very popular here.  They’re in season from April to November, so I’ll be submitting today’s recipe to the Simple and in Season blog event, which is back home over at Fabulicious Food! this month.  Tamarillos look pretty cool inside with red skin, yellowy-orange flesh and black seeds.  Case in point (you may recognise these if you follow me on Instagram), although these ones have all been skinned:

Pretty funky, right?  I first tried a tamarillo when one of my labmates brought a bag in from her garden several weeks ago.  Which is good because I wouldn’t really have known how to eat them or what to do with them otherwise.  They’re fairly bitter, so apparently they’re often poached in a sugar syrup before eating or very commonly used in chutneys.  That said, they are edible fresh, too, but I think that comes down to a matter of taste.  However you choose to eat them though, make sure to remove the skin because apparently it’s foul (I took everybody’s word for it).  Just cut them in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon if eating fresh (the seeds are fine to eat).

Back when it was feijoa season, I borrowed several NZ baking books from the library since I didn’t really know what exactly to do with them.  Conveniently, said books also contained tamarillo recipes which, in a moment of foresight, I also noted down.  When I was browsing through them to figure out what to do with my tamarillo impulse buy from the farmers’ market, a recipe for tamarillo and walnut cake jumped out at me.  I freaking love walnuts so I was all over this recipe.  The only problem: it was a fairly brief recipe.  The ingredients listed ‘cooked tamarillos’ which didn’t help me much with my fresh tamarillos, but after consulting the internet and a little successful experimentation, I ended it up with cooked tamarillos, which then turned themselves into a rather scrumptious tamarillo and walnut cake.

The not-overly-informative recipe also failed to specify the size of cake tin to use.  Just a minor detail.  I clearly picked one that was a little too large so the cake ended up a little thinner than I’d have liked, but that’s really just a pernickety presentation issue and luckily doesn’t affect the taste.  Based on their bitterness, I wasn’t too sure how tamarillos would work out in baked goods, but actually the tamarillo flavour wasn’t quite as strong as I was expecting, and there’s no trace of bitterness whatsoever.  I love that the walnutty taste comes through really well, and is well balanced by the lemon icing.  Basically, I really enjoyed this cake (and so did the lab, my trustee taste-testers) and if you happen across some tamarillos and are unsure what to do with them, give this a go!  I’m also submitting this cake to this month’s AlphaBakes challenge which is being hosted by Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker.  This month’s random letter is “T” like tamarillo, which is a rather marvellous coincidence since I actually bought the tamarillos before reading the challenge.

Tamarillo & walnut cake

Serves 6-8
Adapted from A fruit cookbook

Once the tamarillos have been cooked, do taste one to check that they aren’t too bitter.  If they are, drain them. sprinkle with a little sugar and sit for ten mins or so before using.  I used a 24cm cake tin but the came out much thinner than I would have liked, so I’d suggest using a 20cm cake tin, or even an 18cm one to get a thicker cake.  If using a 24cm cake tin as I did, do watch that it doesn’t over-bake.  The icing is optional, but adds a delicious touch.  You could also use a simple lemon drizzle icing if you prefer.

Ingredients

For the cooked tamarillos:
4 or 5 tamarillos (about 220g, gives about 200g when cooked)
½ lemon
2 heaped tbsp caster sugar (more if using red tamarillos)

For the cake:
50g shelled walnuts, plus extra handful to decorate
185g all-purpose flour
1¾ tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
2 eggs
100g unsalted butter
180g light brown sugar
40g mixed candied peel

For the icing:
55g unsalted butter
250g icing sugar
1 unwaxed lemon
1-2 tsp cream

Directions

To cook the tamarillos:
1.  Place the tamarillos in a heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water over them.  Allow to sit for 2-3 mins, then skin them, starting by lopping off the stalk with a sharp knife and peeling off the rest of the skin (the skin peels away very easily once started).  Slice the skinned tamarillos and place in a medium-sized saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice.  Add enough water to barely cover the fruit, cover the saucepan and gently simmer until the fruit is soft (this took about 15 mins for me).  Remove the cooked tamarillo slices and drain them well before chopping up (you should have about 190g cooked tamarillos).  Set aside.

To make the cake:
2.  Butter a 20cm round cake tin.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C.

3.  Roughly chop all of the walnuts and toast them in a frying pan over low heat until fragrant.  Toss frequently and be careful that they don’t burn.  Set aside to cool.

4.  Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a medium-sized bowl.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy.  Whisk in the eggs until well incorporated.

5.  Alternate between stirring in some of the flour mixture and some of the chopped tamarillos.  Then stir in the peel and 50g of the chopped toasted walnuts.  Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for 1-1¼ h, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean (if using a 24cm cake tin like I did, start checking after 45 mins).  Leave the cake in the tin for 15 mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing:
6.  Once the cake is cool, make the icing.  Beat together the butter and icing sugar.  Once well incorporated, whisk in the zest and juice of the lemon.  Mix in the cream to reach the desired consistency.  Pour icing over the fully cooled cake, smooth if necessary using a palette knife or spatula and top with the remaining toasted chopped walnuts.

Enjoy!

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The Olympics are over… now what? Banana mousse, that’s what.

So.  The Olympics are over and normal life has resumed.  Does anybody else feel like there’s a gaping hole in the shape of fiver inter-linked rings in their lives now?  At least it’s only for a couple of weeks until the Paralympics start (hurry up already!), but in the mean time, comfort food is clearly the order of the day.  What’s that?  The point of the games was to inspire everybody to go be sporty and all?  Well that’s all good, but people still have to eat, so comfort food wins out for today.  I’ve got the perfect comfort dessert for you – not only is it delicious, but it’s also exceptionally easy and quick to prepare…  Fast food with no McDonald’s in sight.

After last month’s excuse for a nosy snoop around other bloggers’ bookshelves, we’re going “back to the very beginning” for this month’s Random Recipes, meaning back to the original rules of randomly picking a book, then randomly picking a recipe from said book.  Simple.  I used the random number button on my calculator as usual, which directed me to book number five, which turned out to be Cuisine Express, a convenient choice since the recipes are all fairly quick to prepare, though a fair few of the shortcut ingredients aren’t very easy to find outside of France (and are usually expensive if you do), which isn’t ideal.  I needn’t have worried though, since the random number button directed me to page 146, giving me a choice of several different quick fruit mousse recipes.

As delicious and tempting as the raspberry or peach mousses sounded, it’s very much not raspberry nor peach season here, so I chose the banana express mousse.  It definitely lives up to its name as it only takes ten minutes to prepare, although it does require at least two hours of chilling in the fridge before serving.  But actually that’s great because it’s a dessert that can be prepared in advance or even the night before, which is always helpful.  The mousse itself is lovely and creamy and smooth, and the banana flavour comes through strongly, which is great.  I added some honey on a whim since I’ve got a bit of a sore throat so I’m adding honey to things left, right and centre at the moment and that was a delicious little added extra, as were the banana slices and toasted walnuts.  They’re all optional extras, but they can take this from an everyday dessert to one presentable enough to finish up a dinner party without much extra effort (always a bonus!).  Serving it in martini glasses or champagne coupes also automatically makes it look fancier.  Here’s to speedy comfort food!

Banana express mousse

Serves 4
Adapted from Cuisine Express

Although very quick to prepare, don’t forget to plan for the 2h of refrigeration.  The mousse can be refrigerated for longer, even overnight if necessary – the lemon juice keeps the banana from going all brown.  This can work as a fancy dessert served in martini glasses, champagne coupes or other fancy glassware, or an everyday dessert served in little ramekins or bowls.  The decorations on top are totally optional, but do add a little bit of pizzazz to the presentation.  Whilst brown sugar would go really well with the bananas, I decided to stick with white sugar as I’m not sure that using brown would result in the most presentable of colours.

Ingredients

5 bananas (includes 1 to serve which is optional)
1 lemon
40g caster sugar
200ml whipping cream
20g icing sugar
6 walnut halves (optional)
Honey, to serve (optional)

Directions

1.  Peel four of the bananas (keep the fifth one unpeeled until needed) and pop them in a blender along with the juice of the lemon and the caster sugar.  Whizz together until totally smooth.

2.  In a large bowl, whip the cream.  As it begins to firm up, add the icing sugar and continue whisking until firm.  Gently add the banana mixture to the whipped cream and carefully fold together.  Split equally between four martini glasses/champagne coupes/ramekins/bowls.  Refrigerate for at least 2h.

3.  Whilst the mousse is chilling, roughly chop the walnuts and toast in a frying pan over a low heat until fragrant.  Allow to cool and set aside until needed.

4.  To serve, peel and slice the last banana, lay three slices of banana in the middle of each individual mousse, and top with the toasted walnuts and a drizzle of honey.  Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

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Sunday Smiles: More Olympics… and that’s about it

This has been a bit of an uneventful week.  I had grand plans for the weekend but they were totally thwarted by my waking up yesterday morning with a throat so sore that I could barely swallow, which was suspiciously reminiscent of my previous encounters with tonsillitis.  I feel a little better today, so I really really hope that it isn’t.  I guess I’ll just have to wait and see, and my plans will have to wait for next weekend…

My Olympics-dominated Sunday Smiles this week are:

  • One of New Zealand’s big, popular comedic talents are the Flight of the Conchords duo.  They had a reunion tour around NZ a couple of month’s ago, and I kept hearing about them but didn’t know any of there work.  This week I finally watched the first season of the Flight of the Conchords TV series.  I wasn’t too convinced by the first few episodes, but it definitely grew on me and I actually found it rather hilarious by the end.
  • As I mentioned in Friday’s post, I have a copy of River Cottage Veg Every Day from the library at the moment – I’ve tried a couple of other dishes in addition to the chachouka that I posted, such as the scrumptious mushroom risoniotto (look out for a blog post soonish).  They all turned out wonderful, and I really like the book.  I predict that there will be a copy residing on my bookshelves permanently in the near future.

  • There’s a section of my blog stats that tells me what search terms have directed visitors to my blog.  The last few weeks haven’t provided any funny ones, but this week the internet apparently thought that I’d be a good source of information on “the fear of running out of butter” and “accidentally gave 4 year old too much caffeine.”  Both amused me.  Sucks to be the second person though.
  • The Olympics carried on this week, and although I’m not the biggest fan of athletics (I get bored of it after a while), since the coverage here is mostly highlights, I watched it anyway.  I’m so glad that I was able to see one of Saudi Arabia’s first two female Olympic athletes compete in the women’s 800m (the other was in the judo, but I didn’t really watch it). She had to compete in full sleeves and leggings and headscarf, which can’t be terribly practical and must be boiling given that most other athletes are in little two-pieces and she went out in the heats (to an ovation from the crowd), but what an achievement for her.  Although I’ve read that there has been a lot of backlash and criticism against the two female athletes back in Saudi Arabia, so perhaps it’s doesn’t represent as much progress at it may initially seem.  I also loved seeing other “underdog” athletes, such as the rower from Ghana.  I can’t be the only one who just watches events because they’re on without any actual knowledge of them.  The other day I discovered the keirin.  Seriously, have you seen it?  It’s a cycling race where the competitors follow a motorised bike for several laps, which gets slightly faster each lap, then disappears and everybody cycles as fast as they can.  Well, that’s my interpretation anyway.  It’s the oddest thing to watch.  Also, the motorised bike guy looks like he should be in a Tintin cartoon (just me?).  Also what’s up with the race where there are two cyclists and they cycle along at a glacial pace and then out of nowhere put on a crazy burst of speed.  Could anybody explain the tactics behind that one?  Along the same lines of sports that don’t seem to make much sense, have you seen the canoeing where the canoeists (?) paddle whilst kneeling rather than sitting?  Who thought that was a good idea?  (Anybody have any stats on the number of people that fall out whilst racing?  I spent the whole race expecting somebody to over-balance.)  Also speed walking – who came up with that and made it an official sport?  It looks so uncomfortable (and difficult not to break into a run).  Less than a day to go before the Closing Ceremony…  I don’t want the Olympics to end!  At least there will be the Paralympics soon!  (Photo source)

What made you smile this week?

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Just bear with me whilst I wax lyrical about Auckland’s public libraries

I mentioned in this post that I’d requested a copy of the River Cottage Veg Every Day! book from my local library.  I requested it back in April, but apparently half of Auckland had the same idea (ok, a slight exaggeration perhaps…) so there was quite a waiting list for it.  Of course, I could have just gone and bought it rather than wait, but I’ve resolved not to buy any more books (cookbooks or otherwise) if I can borrow them from the library because A) books from the library are generally free, B) books from the library only temporarily eat up valuable and limited bookshelf space, C) library books won’t take up expensive box space when I next move country, D) if I detest a book I can just give it back rather than being annoyed that I spent good money on it when I could have used said money to buy butter or gin, and E) if I love a book so much that I know I will definitely read it again or realistically cook more than ten recipes from it, I can then go out and buy it, knowing that it will be a worthwhile investment.  Basically, it’s like test-driving books.  Particularly when it comes to cookery books (so should that be test-cooking?).

This plan only works because the Auckland public library system is brilliant.  All the public libraries across Auckland are managed by the council (apparently this is a relatively recent development and only happened in the last couple of years) and all linked up to the same computer system.  So when I request a book, it will come from whichever library has it available, it’ll be delivered to the library of my choice, and, most importantly, there aren’t any inter-library loan charges involved.  To me this seems the most blatantly logical way to run a network of libraries, but apparently it doesn’t work like that in, say, Edinburgh.  Since this system covers 55 libraries (yes, 55!), you won’t be too surprised to hear that the selection of books is very comprehensive and includes the latest releases (albeit often accompanied by long waiting lists).  This was something that I was extremely pleased, and indeed impressed, to discover.

So anyway, back to River Cottage Veg Every Day!, which is what this post was actually supposed to be about, rather than my over-enthusiasm for Auckland’s public libraries.  I finally made it to the top of the waiting list and was able to pick up a copy about a fortnight ago.  Flicking through it randomly, there were plenty of recipes that I wanted to try and I couldn’t choose what to try out.  I decided to be logical and start reading from the beginning and pick out one recipe to start with.  I got as far as the second recipe, chachouka, a North African dish which I’d never heard of but looked pretty damn delicious in the accompanying photo.  It’s a spiced (but not spicy) and flavourful sort of stew that consists of peppers, onions and tomatoes, topped with baked eggs.  It’s perfect for a lunch or light dinner, and I loved it!  The egg means that the leftovers don’t reheat all that well, so I’ll be keeping this one bookmarked for when I have guests over.

Chachouka

Serves 4
Adapted from River Cottage Veg Every Day!

Be warned that this dish does take a wee while to cook, but it isn’t difficult to prepare and doesn’t take too much effort.  This is best eaten as soon as it is prepared, accompanied by a simple green salad and bread to mop up the egg yolk.  This dish doesn’t really make for great leftovers – unsurprisingly, the egg yolks cooked completely when I reheated the leftovers for lunch the next day, so I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as when freshly cooked, although the pepper and onion mixture was still delicious.

Ingredients

3 tbsp organic rapeseed oil (canola oil)
2 medium onions
2 garlic cloves
1 red peper
1 yellow pepper
¾ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp ground cumin
Pinch of saffron
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
4 eggs

Directions

1.  Pell and finely slice the onion.  Heat the rapeseed oil in a large frying pan (use an ovenproof one if you have one) and add the onions.  Cook over a medium heat for 8-10 mins, stirring frequently until soft and golden.

2.  Meanwhile, deseed the peppers and finely slice them (I’d suggest slicing more finely than I did in the photos),  Feel and finely chop the garlic cloves.  When the onion is ready, turn the heat down to low and add the peppers and garlic to the pan.  Cook for at least 20 mins, stirring frequently, until the peppers are softened.  Add the spices about 10 mins in.

3.  Add the tin of tomatoes, including the juice, and season with salt and pepper.  Continue to cook over a low heat for 10-15 mins, stirring occasionally.

4.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C.

5.  Adjust the seasoning of the pepper mixture if necessary.  If your frying pan isn’t ovenproof, transfer the mixture to an ovenproof baking dish.  Make four hollows in the mixture and carefully break an egg into each one.  Bake for 10-12 mins, until the egg white is cooked, but the yolk is still runny (it can be a little difficult to tell if the egg yolk is still runny, but basically remove it from the oven as soon as the egg white is cooked).  Serve accompanied by bread and a green salad.

Enjoy!

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Honey, wine and more wine: Auckland Food Show 2012

On Saturday I went to the Auckland edition of the NZ Food Show, held at the ASB Showgrounds.  Having never been, I wasn’t too sure what to expect so decided that I would assume it was along similar lines to the Edinburgh Foodies Festival, which is really my only other experience with a food show or festival.  And indeed it was along similar lines, although much bigger, indoors (excellent idea in winter!) and with significantly less gin, but a heck of a lot more wine – it seemed that about a third of the stands were wine stands.  There were also masterclasses (although they cost $50 to attend, so I passed) and free cooking demos organised.

There range of products on show and on sale was impressive to say the least – honey, wraps, wines and liqueurs, breads, meats, etc. etc. etc.  But there were also non-edible products such as Tupperware (since when is it all so pretty and colourful?!), knives, Skoda cars (no idea what they were doing there) and Kenwood had a huge show area that I didn’t venture into too much because everything was shiny and tempting (and expensive).  There were some very large and commercial companies there (Kenwood, Tupperware, etc.), some that I recognise from the supermarket (Hellers, Dilmah tea, Farrah Wraps, etc.) but also much smaller producers, which I was most eager to discover.  Uhm, I should probably mention at this point that I got a little distracted by all the samples and wine tastings so I have hardly any photos.  Woops.

There were plenty of chutney and jam stands, but they’ve all more or less merged into one in my memory, as have the wine stands (taking notes might have been a good idea since the number of wine stands there made things a little hazy…), and to a certain extent some of the honey stands.  The producers that really stood out for me were:

  • J Friend & Co Honey – I made a beeline (badum-tschhhh!) for all the honey stands, but this is the one that stood out for me.  All their honeys were fantastic, but I particularly enjoyed the pōhutakawa one.  They also had honeycomb available, which was wonderful.
  • Lighthouse Gin – a NZ-made gin and wonderfully smooth.  Also the only gin stand (sad times).
  • Shott fruit syrups – I love fruit-syrup based drinks, but outside of France it can be difficult to find good syrups.  These, however, were fantastic.  My favourites were the honey blackberry and the lemon, ginger and honey (have I mentioned that I love honey?)
  • Genevieve’s Cuisine pâtés – wonderfully smooth and delectable French-style chicken liver pâtés (or parfait as they call it) in a few different flavours (original, black pepper and truffle).  I hope they’ll expand their range from just chicken, because they certainly know what they’re doing.
  • Moreish butchers – a bit of an unusual butcher in that it’s entirely online, but all their meats are free range and organic.  I prefer to see what I’m buying, particularly when it comes to meat, but since I’m still looking for a good butcher here, I might give this a go, depending on their prices.  Their sausage samples were certainly excellent though.
  • Lewis Road Creamery butter – creamy and heavenly and quite possibly the best butter I’ve ever tasted.  Oh, and makes really good butter sculptures, too, in case you were wondering.  Amazing!

So there you go, that’s my little round-up of the NZ Food Show, Auckland.  If you get the chance, I’d highly recommend going along to get a taste for what’s available in terms of local products – the next edition is in Christchurch from 14-16 September, then in Wellington from 24-26 May 2013, and then back in Auckland in August I should expect (all details are on the website).  I think there might be a bit of variation in producers across the different food shows, depending on which producers are local and so on, although I’m not 100% sure about that.

Were you at the Food Show?  What were your highlights?

Wherever you are in the world, enjoy the rest of your day!

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