Monthly Archives: September 2012

Sunday Smiles: Marine biology geek-outs & knockwurst

New Zealand went into summer time today, which means the clocks went forward through the night.  I’m super excited about being one step closer to summer, but mildly unimpressed at losing an hour of sleep.  You win some, you lose some.  And waking up to bright sunshine definitely helped, particularly since a couple of days ago, the forecast for this weekend was solid rain.

So on to this week’s Sunday Smiles:

  • First off, this photo of the Space Shuttle Endeavour flying over San Francisco’s Bay Bridge is rather amazing.  I was totally into space and astronauts when I was little, and I still find the Space Shuttle awe-inspiring.  Even if it’s attached to a 747 (or whatever kind of plane that is).
  • The Great Barrier Reef has been put on Google Street View.  I’d heard that this was going to happen, but thought it was currently still being photographed.  Clearly I’m just behind in my news…  Anyway, it’s amazing, fabulous for procrastination and we totally had a marine biology geek-out the other day in the lab.  We’re super cool like that.
  • Clearly it’s marine biology geek-out week, although if you’re a little squeamish, you might not be too keen on this one.  The technicians have some starfish in tanks at the moment (possibly for a lab, but I’m not sure) and on Friday they were consuming some little crabs that were in the same tank.  I’m not sure if they were supposed to do that or not, but regardless, it’s rather awesome.  Because the starfish are attached to the clear sides of the tank, you can see the trapped crabs, and, totally exciting, the starfish’s stomachs.  Quick biology lesson: many starfish species digest their prey outside their body by everting their stomachs.  It’s kind of utterly amazing.  And also pretty slow I think.  I’m rather intrigued to see what state these crabs will be in tomorrow (there’s actually a tiny little crab to the right of the larger one, but it’s difficult to see in the photo):

  • Check out these amazing light paintings set around Los Angeles.  I really like the dinosaur ones (because dinosaurs!), but the one of the campers is so clever.  People are so skilled!  I can hardly draw on paper, never mind with light in a photograph.  Just wow.
  • I’m not the greatest fan of London’s Underground (give me Paris’ metro any day – oooo controversial), but these guerrilla Underground signs make me want to take it just to see if I can spot one.  They amused me.
  • And finally, it appears that OPI have brought out a Germany collection of nail varnishes (I’ve no idea why).  It’s not clear whether a miniature painting of the Fallen Madonna With The Big Boobies comes hidden in the bottle of My Very First Knockwurst or not.*  (If you’ve landed on this page after some strange search and haven’t found what you’re actually looking for then I do apologise.)

What made you smile this week?

*If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, you should watch ‘Allo ‘Allo (British sense of humour highly recommended…).

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Warm cauliflower, feta & almond salad

Nestled within my lengthy list of first world irritations and peeves is one which frequently shoots right up the list when I’m baking or cooking: measuring dry ingredients in terms of volume.  I’m looking at you, USA.  New Zealand and Australia, you’re guilty, too, though admittedly a little less so.  Things like caster sugar and flour I can deal with (I still think it’s ridiculous, but at least it’s easy enough to convert to a weight).  It’s when we get to things like raisins, nuts, chocolate chips that it starts to be an issue.  Things that it makes no sense to measure as a volume.  And then we get to the truly ridiculous.  Exhibit A: “3 cups of bite-size pieces of cauliflower.”

“3 cups of bite-size pieces of cauliflower” doesn’t help me a great deal when I’m doing my shopping and cauliflower comes in whole heads, not bite-sized pieces.  Perhaps some people have the magical ability of looking at produce and being able to accurately estimate what volume it will take up when chopped up.  I do not have this magical ability.  This isn’t helped by the fact that I suck at anything that involves estimating.  In fact, I nearly didn’t try this warm cauliflower, feta and almond salad out, solely on account of the specified 3 cups of bite-sized pieces of cauliflower.

Luckily I did though, because this salad is truly delicious, both warm or cooled to room temperature.  It’s super versatile as well, and works on its own as a light meal, as a side dish or as a more substantial meal when mixed with couscous or pasta.  I’m a little on-the-fence about cauliflower – I like it in gratin form with a béchamel sauce and covered in cheese, but other than that I usually find it a little bland and boring.  I was more attracted by the rest of the salad’s ingredients – red onion, lemon, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, feta, almonds – than the cauliflower.  But I actually think that cauliflower works wonderfully here.  It adds a lovely crunch (a cooked crunch though, not a raw crunch), and since most of the other ingredients are quite flavourful, it helps mellow that out and balance them all together.  This is one of my new favourite warm salads.  Not only is it scrumptious, it’s easy enough to prepare and is entirely “from scratch.”  As a result, I’m submitting it to this week’s Made With Love Mondays, hosted by Javelin Warrior.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I found 3 cups of bite-sized pieces of cauliflower to be just a little less than one cauliflower.  I measured it out of interest whilst I was preparing the salad.

Warm cauliflower, feta & almond salad

Serves 3-4 as a light meal or starter
Adapted from Dish, August-September 2012

This salad is an incredibly versatile dish.  It works as a light salad on its own or can be used as a side dish (the original recipe serves it with chicken).  It can also be turned into a more substantial meal by adding couscous or pasta, which is great for a packed lunch, since it’s delicious whether served warm or cooled.  As with any salad, the ingredient quantities are really more guidelines than set in stone.

Ingredients

1 cauliflower
2-3 tbsp organic rapeseed oil (canola oil)
1 large red onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 unwaxed lemon
90 ml white wine
½ tsp ground cumin
Pinch of chilli flakes
5-6 sun-dried tomatoes
Small handful parsley leaves stripped from the stems
Handful roasted skin-on almonds
2 tbsp capers, drained
150g feta

Directions

1.  Chop the cauliflower up into bite-sized pieces.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a high heat.  Add the cauliflower once hot with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until coloured in places.  Add 2 tbsp of water to the pan, cover and cook for a further 2 mins, occasionally shaking the pan.  The cauliflower should still be a little crunchy.  Transfer to a heat-proof bowl and set aside.

2.  Whilst the cauliflower is cooking, dice the onion and set aside.  Return the pan to the heat, add a little more oil if required, add the onion and cook until soft but not brown.  As the onion is cooking, finely dice the garlic, and zest and juice the lemon.  Once the onion is soft, add the garlic, lemon zest and juice, wine, ground cumin and chilli flakes and 85 ml of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 3 mins.

3.  Meanwhile, finely slice the sun-dried tomatoes and chop the parsley.  Roughly chop the almonds and set aside, ready for serving.  Once the onion mixture is ready, stir in the sun-dried tomatoes, capers and most of the parsley, followed by the cauliflower, and season with freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Mix well, remove from the heat and split the cauliflower mixture evenly between plates (or in a large serving bowl), crumble the feta over the top, followed by the roughly chopped almonds and any remaining parsley.

Enjoy!

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Golden kiwifruit pavlova

New Zealand’s most renowned dessert is probably the pavlova.  Incidentally, Australians also claim the pavlova…  Awkward.  You’d be surprised at the amount of argument that goes on between the two countries about who invented pavlovas, although both agree that it was to honour the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova when she visited Australasia in the 1920s.  Since I live in New Zealand, I’ll run with the Kiwi version.  Now, I have a little confession: despite being here for eight months, I’ve never actually eaten a pavlova.  Shocking, I know.  The perfect opportunity to amend this terrible state of affairs came in the form of AlphaBakes, which is hosted by Caroline Makes this month.  The special letter is “P” – P for… pavlova.  No-brainer.  Since I’m upholding the Kiwi version of the pavlova story, I figured that I might as well go for the most appropriate-sounding topping possible: kiwifruit.

Now if you’re thinking that those kiwifruit are looking rather yellowish, then you’d be perfectly correct because I used golden kiwifruit.  I’d never heard of golden kiwifruit until I read my New Zealand guide book – I’d only ever come across the standard green ones before, and I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of green kiwifruit.  But golden kiwifruit, oh my goodness, they’re delicious.  I’m a huge fan.  I find that they’re much more flavourful than their green counterparts, and sweeter, too, which I much prefer.  I buy a box nearly every week, and am building up quite a collection of kiwi spoons (plastic spoons with a cutting bit on the handle so that you can slice the kiwi in half with the knife part and scoop out the flesh with the spoon part – genius).

Kiwifruit are one of the few fruits in season at the moment (that I know of), so I’m also submitting this recipe to Simple and in Season, hosted by Feeding Boys and a Firefighter this month.  It’s also a super-simple dessert to prepare – literally just throw all the ingredients (ok, maybe not throw them, but place them) into a bowl, let the electric whisk do all the work and then pop it into the oven (the meringue, not the electric whisk).  Then just top with whipped cream and fruit and ta-da, you’re done!  Simple as.  Slicing it, on the other hand, isn’t quite as straightforward.  I mean, whoever thought that slicing a meringue would be a good idea?  I found it difficult to make a perfectly clean cut through the fruit, whipped cream and meringue.  I think little individual pavlovas would be far easier to serve, so I’ll try that next time.  Thankfully, shoddy slicing doesn’t affect the taste, and this golden kiwifruit pavlova was rather scrumptious.  Extremely sweet though, so a small slice was enough for me.

Golden kiwifruit pavlova

Serves 8-10
Slightly adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

It’s very important for the mixing bowl and electric whisk beaters to be clean of any grease and thoroughly dry or the egg whites won’t cooperate.  If you’re not confident making meringue, age the egg whites in a jar in the fridge for a few days – this will increase the protein ratio which makes apparently makes the white whip easier.  The meringue will keep for a couple of days on its own so it can be made in advance the day before and then topped with the cream and fruit just before serving.  The pavlova won’t keep very well so is best eaten the same day.

Ingredients

For the meringue:
350g caster sugar
2 egg whites (I had about 65g total), room temperature
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar
½ tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp boiling water

For the topping:
5-6 golden kiwifruit (or green)
200 ml NZ pure cream (or whipping cream)
1-2 tbsp icing sugar

Directions

To make the meringue:
1.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C and place a rack in the centre of the oven.  Line an baking tray with baking paper.  Draw a circle of 23cm in diameter in the middle of the baking paper and flip the baking paper over so that you can see the circle through it.

2.  Add all the meringue ingredients to a large bowl, adding the boiling water last.  Immediately whisk for 10-12 minutes with an electric whisk on high speed until shiny with stiff peaks.  Spoon into the circle on the baking paper and spread it evenly with a spatula, smoothing it as much as possible.

3.  Bake for 10 mins, reduce the heat to 150°C/fan oven 130°C and bake a further 45 mins.  Turn off the heat and allow the meringue to cool in the oven for at least an hour (overnight is fine).

To assemble:
4.  When ready to serve, peel and slice the kiwifruit and set aside.  Carefully peel the baking paper off the bottom of the meringue and transfer to a serving plate.

5.  Whip the cream and icing sugar together until stiff and spread it over the top of the meringue, smoothing the top with a spatula.  Top with the sliced kiwifruit and serve immediately.

Enjoy!

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Sunday Smiles: A last Olympic huzzah!

I spent most of this week rather wiped out from the tummy bug that ambushed me last weekend – an entire day of vomiting and not eating much for two days really does floor you.  I didn’t have enough energy (nor the desire) to cook something more complicated than plain pasta until Tuesday evening, and even then my energy only extended as far as chopping up some kumara and roasting it in the oven… and then adding it to pasta.  Being ill is miserable.  And if I barely had the energy to cook, I certainly didn’t have enough energy to bake.  No baking for an entire week.  Sad times.  Luckily, in an unusual fit of organisation, I had this week’s blog posts prepared, and there were quite a few things that brightened up the week.

Here are my Sunday Smiles for this week:

  • The third season of Downton Abbey has started!  Huzzah!  Yes, it’s rather ridiculous, and yes, some of the plot points are dubious, but it’s utterly addictive and I’m hooked.  I won’t give anything away in case you haven’t watched it, but it looks like Season Three is shaping up to be just as addictive as its predecessors.
  • I’ve heard whispers that strawberries are very nearly in season here…  I’m beyond excited.  I adore strawberries.
  • New Zealand offered the perfect antidote to any Olympics and Paralympics withdrawal symptoms this week with the Gold medal ceremony for Valerie Adams (women’s shot put).  The original winner from Belarus was caught doping, so Valerie Adams, who also won Gold in Beijing, was upgraded from Silver medallist to Gold medallist.  After some delays with getting the Gold medal back (apparently) and further delays whilst Valerie Adams was participating in other competitions, an official medal presentation ceremony was finally held on Wednesday evening here in Auckland.  The Sky Tower was lit in gold for the occasion.

  • But that’s not all.  This was the first ever Olympic Gold medal ceremony to be held on NZ soil, so the Kiwis went all out and ended it with seven minutes of fireworks simultaneously in Auckland and Wellington.  Can you imagine if NZ actually hosted the Olympics?!  It would be amazing.  Not to mention hilarious – my favourite part of the ceremony, which I must admit resembled more of a school prize-giving than the very official London Olympic ceremonies, was the part where the “MC” thanks Auckland’s mayor for having an easier to pronounce name than the Tongan royals present.  I kid you not.  You can watch the ceremony here in case you missed it or just want to listen to Kiwi accents (there are several speeches at the start, so the actual medal presentation part starts around 31:30, and the Auckland fireworks at around 45:00).  I bundled up warm and went down to the Waterfront to watch the fireworks, which were beautiful.

  • On a more sobering note, I heard about Operation Sugar this week, which aims to provide birthday cakes (baked by volunteer bakers) for critically ill children in NZ.  I think this is a fantastic idea, although from what I understand (I need to read the information email properly) cakes need to be able to feed 40 people which might be a little past my abilities, so I’m not sure whether I can really commit yet.  But I absolutely do want to spread the word!!!  So if you’re a baker in NZ and you’re interested, head over to their facebook page for more information.
  • The iPhone 5 and the new iOS release seem to have been the big tech news this week.  I haven’t upgraded to iOS 6 yet (I was going to but then got distracted and forgot about it), but from what I’ve heard the new Apple Maps app is dreadful.  There’s a whole tumblr dedicated to it (of course): The Amazing iOS 6 Maps.  Whilst very amusing, I’m not sure how keen I am to update because I use the Google Maps app a lot.
  • You may have noticed that I have a slight Instagram addiction…  If you also share my over-enthusiasm for Instagram, you might appreciate the Instagram song which Craig sent me this week.
  • And finally, this meme made me laugh about 56 times more than it should have…  Don’t judge my sense of humour.  Thank you Emma for brightening up my week no end – alpaca lunch next time we go for a picnic.  In the meantime, I think I’ll be printing this out on Monday and pinning it next to my desk.  (Not sure of the original source)

What made you smile this week?

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Spiced apple camomile & honey cupcakes

It may be spring soon (hurry up already!) here, but, with the exception of a couple of days last week, the weather over the last few weeks seems to think that it’s autumn.  Dull, grey and blustery.  It’s enough to make one crave apples and all those wonderfully wintery spices, even if pretty flowers are beginning to bloom instead of the leaves turning spectacular colours.  So when I decided to try out a recipe that called for camomile tea and I opened my tea cupboard to get the camomile, I was immediately distracted by a packet of spiced apple camomile.  And as simply as that, I decided to try spiced apple camomile and honey cupcakes instead of just simple camomile and honey cupcakes.  Which is perfect for those of you in the northern hemisphere where it actually is autumn.

It turned out to be a rather marvellous idea.  The flavours are distinctly autumnal and delicious but also delicate.  Without wanting to stereotype too much, I’m tempted to describe these cupcakes as “ladylike” – the lightness of the cake part and the honeyed icing make me imagine these cupcakes set out on a dainty china plate at an afternoon tea party for ladies.  The tea (loose-leaf of course, darling, and served by the butler) would be sipped from fine china cups.  There’s something about the flavours that makes me think “vintage” as well.  I’m not really sure why.  If I had a dainty vintage china tea set, it would feature heavily in this post’s photos.  My mum does, but on the other side of the world, so I can’t really borrow it.  I do, however, have a shark mug.  Which is blatantly the same thing.

See, a shark mug is totally all dainty and lady-like.  Pfffft.  I feel this has turned into a rather lady-oriented post and that I should make it clear that whilst these cupcakes may be all dainty and delicate, they’re not just for the ladies – men will love them, too.  I’m basing that statement on the reaction of my labmates – there was “mmmmm”ing all round, but the boys practically inhaled them (although that’s not necessarily unusual).  Anyway since when are cupcakes just for ladies?  Ridiculous idea.  Pfffft.  This is turning into a bit of a ramble, so just a quick note about the honey icing – I chose a set pōhutakawa honey that I picked up at the Auckland Food Show and which has been starting me in the face every time I open my ingredients cupboard.  This recipe was the perfect occasion to crack open the jar and eat a few cheeky spoonfuls whilst waiting for the cupcakes to cool use this wonderful NZ honey for something delicious.

Spiced apple camomile & honey cupcakes

Makes 12
Adapted from Joy the Baker Cookbook

I used Twinings’ spiced apple camomile from tea bags.  Other flavoured camomile teas would probably work wonderfully (as long as they go with the honey icing) as would just plain camomile.  You could also use whole dried camomile rather than from tea bags, in which case chop it fairly finely before measuring out the 3 tbsp required. I chose a set pōhutakawa honey for the icing.  Choose a honey with flavours that will complement the camomile.  If using a runny honey, I’d suggest perhaps using 1 tbsp of honey rather than the 2 tbsp stated in the ingredients list.  The cupcakes will keep in an airtight box at room temperature for up to three days.

Ingredients

To make the cupcakes:
140g all-purpose flour
125g granulated sugar
55g butter, softened
3 tbsp spiced apple camomile (I found this to be about 9 tea bags worth)
1 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp baking soda
120 ml milk
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

To make the icing:
160-180g icing sugar
2 tbsp set honey
4-5 tbsp whipping or NZ pure cream (use heavy or double cream if you can get it)
Ground cinnamon, to decorate

Directions

To make the cupcakes:
1.  Line a cupcake tin with 12 liners or set out 12 silicone cupcake moulds on an baking tray.  Pre-heat the oven to 160°C/fan oven 140°C with a rack placed in the upper third of the oven.

2.  In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, egg and vanilla extract.  Set aside.

3.  Add the flour, sugar, butter, spiced apple camomile, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt to a large bowl and whisk together with an electric whisk on medium speed until the mixture resembles fairly fine breadcrumbs (this takes about 5 mins).

4.  Pour half of the milk mixture into the flour mixture and whisk in until just incorporated.  Pour in the remaining milk mixture.  Turn the electric whisk up to a medium-high speed and beat for 1 minute, until blended well.

5.  Split the evenly batter between the prepared cupcake liners or moulds, filling each only up until about half way (you’ll need to scrape the bowl to get every last drop of batter).  Bake for 17-20 mins until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and leave in the tin or moulds for 10 mins before removing to a wire rack to cool completely (be very careful if using silicon moulds – the cupcakes will be fragile and can easily break apart when being removed from the moulds).

To make the icing:
6.  Once the cupcakes are completely cool, make the icing.  Whisk together 160g of icing sugar, the honey and the cream in a medium bowl until smooth.  If the icing is too runny, add a little more icing sugar as required.  Using a small palette knife, liberally spread the icing over the cupcakes (don’t try to pipe the icing, it won’t work because the icing doesn’t have a thick enough consistency – I know because I tried).  If the icing is too runny and looks like it’s going to escape, pop the cupcakes in the fridge whilst it sets.  Once the icing is set, dust with a little bit of ground cinnamon before serving.

Enjoy!

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Blueberries, polenta and wine. In a cake.

This month’s Random Recipes challenge has been combined with Tea Time Treats, a blog challenge hosted by Kate at What Cake Baked and Karen at Lavender and Lovage, and the theme is (you guessed it!) “tea time random recipes” – a recipe either from a book or the section of a book that covers tea time treats.  I decided to use randomly pick a recipe from my A Treasury of New Zealand Baking book, which is full of baking recipes (shocking, I know) that are definitely tea time appropriate.  The random number generator on my calculator directed me to page 216, a recipe for blueberry polenta upside-down cake, which also calls for white wine and olive oil in the ingredients list.  Polenta, white wine, olive oil and blueberries?  In a cake?  Intriguing.  And an excellent excuse to clear out some of the frozen blueberry reserves currently taking up space in my freezer.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too convinced and wasn’t sure what to expect.  As curious as I was, if it hadn’t been for Random Recipes, I might not have tried it at all and gone for a “safer” cake option.  By “safer” I mean a recipe that I was fairly sure what the results would be.  You see, I’ve never cooked with polenta before (never mind baked), so I really wasn’t too sure.  But rules are rules.  So off I went on a mission to find some instant polenta.  I wasn’t expecting it to be particularly difficult since after all the recipe book was written in NZ by Kiwi chefs, so all the ingredients must be available here…  But it turned out that my mission required a trip to the big slightly-out-of-the-way supermarket, which (thankfully) did have instant polenta squirrelled away in the international food section.

So, with all the ingredients assembled, time to try out the actual recipe…  I really wasn’t too sure about the whole cake until I was able to try some.  But thankfully my doubts were misplaced.  The top of the cake has a little crunch from the sugar that started off underneath the blueberries (it’s an upside-down cake remember), the blueberries come out slightly mushy and all juicy since they’ve been cooked, and as for the actual cake part, I’d describe it as slightly denser than a sponge cake in texture, which I guess probably comes from the polenta, but not particularly heavy.  The citrus zest, white wine and the olive oil add a distinct fruity flavour which goes wonderfully with the blueberries, although one might not necessarily be able to fully pin down the flavour combination if you didn’t know that wine is one of the ingredients.  I probably wouldn’t have been able to guess.  So if you’re looking for something a little different (and there aren’t any kids involved) I’d definitely suggest giving this a whirl.

Blueberry polenta upside-down cake

Makes 16 slices
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

Since blueberries are out of season at the moment I used frozen ones, which worked wonderfully, but fresh will also work (just be sure to pat them dry after rinsing).  If using frozen blueberries, there’s no need to thaw them first.  I used a very fruity NZ Sauvignon Blanc.  The cake will keep for up to three days if stored in the fridge, but make sure to bring to room temperature before serving.

Ingredients

75g light brown sugar
300g blueberries (fresh or frozen)
185g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
85g instant polenta
200g caster sugar
2 large eggs
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
165 ml fruity dry white wine
165 ml olive oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

1.  Line a 28 x 18 cm rectangular baking tin with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C.

2.  Sprinkle the light brown sugar evenly across the lined baking tin.  Evenly cover with the blueberries.

3.  Sift the flour and baking powder together into a medium bowl.  Add the polenta, stir together and set aside.

4.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the caster sugar, eggs, lemon and orange zests using an electric whisk until pale and very thick.  Gently whisk in the wine, oil and vanilla.  Fold in the flour and polenta mixture and then gently pour over the blueberries in the prepared cake tin (trying to avoid dislodging the blueberries).  Carefully smooth the top if necessary.

5.  Bake in the oven for 60-70 mins until golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 5 mins before inverting onto a serving plate.  Carefully peel off the baking paper, taking care to leave the blueberry topping undisturbed.  Allow to cool fully before slicing into 16 pieces and serving.

Enjoy!

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Sunday Smiles: Flowers, fossils & toast

It’s been a bit of a dull week.  A plodding week, to be honest – not a great deal happened, with the exception of my birthday, and then I was really ill with a tummy bug this weekend that came out of nowhere.  So all in all, fairly uneventful.

Here are my (rather brief) Sunday Smiles for this week:

  • The Paralympics ended last Sunday.  I actually thought that we had a whole other week of them and they were ending today, but nope.  Gutted.  I loved the Closing Ceremony though – and dare I say it, enjoyed it rather better than that of the Olympics.  I mean sure, it was basically a Coldplay concert, but since I happen to quite like Coldplay, that was fine by me.  And there was a lot of fire, which is obviously awesome.  If you missed it, you can watch it here.  I’m rather upset that all this procrastination potential sport is over though.  And we’ve four years to wait for Rio…
  • There are some lovely tulips right by my uni building that I get to see every day.  I love tulips, they’re so bright and colourful.  I really hope that spring hurries up now.

  • Somebody searched “no talking to me until I’ve had my coffee” and landed on my blog.  I don’t know who you are, and I don’t know whether you found what you were looking for (probably not), but I know how you feel.  Thank you for that moment of amusement.
  • Did you know that Google makes you a special birthday Google Doodle if it knows it’s your birthday?  Slightly freaky (Google is watching you…) but kind of amazing, too.  And I’d rather they made me personal Doodles than sell my information.

  • I saw this interesting little news piece about fossils in London, specifically the stones and marble slabs of London.  It’s something I’d never really thought about, and the next time I see some marble I might have a closer look.
  • And finally, something a little silly.  I came across this little toaster USB hub, complete with toast-shaped USB keys.  I admit that it’s totally impractical – I’d lose the USB keys within about ten seconds since they don’t seem to attach to anything (like a keyring).  But adorable nonetheless.  (Image source)

  • Ok, that wasn’t quite the end – let’s finish off with some more pretty spring-like flowers.  I really can’t wait for this winter to be over.

What made you smile this week?

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Cocktail in a Macaron: Mojito

A friend who came up to visit from Wellington about ten days ago asked if I could show her how to make macarons when she was here.  Of course I agreed – it may be a little time-consuming, but I do love making macarons.  We just had to decide what flavour to go for.  Which, considering the near-endless possibilities when it comes to macarons flavours, wasn’t quite as straightforward as it might sound.  We wanted something colourful and for some reason green kept popping into my head, which I kept associating with mint.  And suddenly it struck me: mojito macarons!  Of course!!

There’s something so summery and refreshing about mojitos, and I love them.  They taste like they should be sipped on the beach or by the poolside, whilst on holiday.  It’s not the first time that I’ve made mojito-based baked goods – I made mojito cupcakes a while ago (which, incidentally, I thoroughly recommend if you’re also a mojito fan).  And I’ve actually made mojito macarons before, about a year and a half ago, but with a buttercream-based filling rather than the white chocolate ganache that I used this time.  The buttercream version was just a little too sweet when combined with the already sugary shells, so between the two I much prefer the ganache version.

My initial mojito macarons were made with bright minty green shells since half the fun of macarons is being able to make them all colourful, but it actually looked rather garish and I wasn’t happy with them (one of the reasons I never blogged about them).  I tried swirly shells for the first time when I made kir macarons a few weeks ago, and I loved the swirly shells so much that I decided that I wanted to try them again for these macarons.  The swirly idea turned out to be the perfect way to make the shells colourful without being lurid, and I really think it’s just the right amount of green.  What do you think?

I must confess that I totally forgot to add lime to the ganache.  I was so focused on the mint that the lime just completely slipped from my mind (woops).  So I’d suggest adding the zest of a small lime and about 1 tsp of juice to the ganache to make it more mojito-like, although despite the omission the macarons still tasted just like a mojito (albeit a rather sweet version) and felt all summery whilst we wait for summer to get its skates on and hurry over to the southern hemisphere…  I’m fed up of winter!

After my friend had left to go back to Wellington, packed off with a little box of macarons and the knowledge of how to make more, I looked up the blog challenge themes for this month.  Imagine my pleasant surprise when I read that the theme for this month’s We Should Cocoa, hosted by Choclette at the Chocolate Log Blog, is “cocktail-inspired” – a special theme chosen to celebrate two years of the challenge.  Happy birthday to We Should Cocoa!!!  Mojito macarons clearly fit the bill perfectly – the ganache is made of cocktail, white chocolate and cream – so I’m submitting them.  I then discovered a new blogging challenge started by Janine at Cake of the WeekBaking with Spirit which this month involves baking or cooking with “rum.”  I’ve already entered my banana, hazelnut and spiced rum upside-down cake but I’m also going to submit these macarons since they involve white rum which is just so different to spiced rum (no kidding).

Mojito macarons

Makes about 60 small macarons (so about 120 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!
Ganache recipe by me

Whilst I forgot to add lime, it would make these even more mojito-y.  I’d suggest adding the zest of a small lime and 1 or 2 tsp of freshly-squeezed lime juice to the ganache at the same time as the rum, and decreasing the quantity of rum so that you’re only adding 40g total of liquid (excluding the cream), otherwise the ganache will be too liquidy to set.  Make sure you leave these at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the ganache to soak into the shells a bit.  They’re best stored in an airtight box in the fridge – just remember to bring them out at least 30mins before eating them, so that you can appreciate the flavour fully!

Ingredients

For the macaron shells:
Green food colouring paste or gel (optional)
100g room temperature egg whites (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand)
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar
Raw sugar or golden granulated sugar, to decorate

For the ganache filling:
Small handful of fresh mint leaves (about 4-5 sprigs or 10g)
40g whipping cream (NZ: pure cream)
150g white chocolate
40g white rum
2 drops mint extract (optional)

Directions

To make the macaron shells:
1.  Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain round piping tip.  Brush two or three lines of food colouring up the inside of the prepared piping bag (this might be a bit messy.  I did three stripes, so if you want your shells to have slightly less green, then just paint two stripes).

2.  Blend the icing sugar and ground almonds together (don’t skip this step!).  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

3.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites into glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.

4.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.

5.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 1.5-2cm in diameter).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

6.  Sprinkle the shells with the raw sugar and leave the shells to set for about 30 mins (this helps to produce the feet).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

7.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 8-10 mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3 mins longer).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.

To make the ganache filling:
8.  Whilst the macarons are setting and cooking, make the ganache filling.  Remove the mint leaves from their stalks if necessary, and finely chop.  Set aside.

9.  Heat the cream, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the white chocolate (broken into pieces), the rum and mint extract and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth (don’t let it boil or you will boil off the alcohol and we wouldn’t want that now, would we?).  Once smooth, stir in the chopped mint leaves.  Allow the mixture to thicken in the fridge (or freezer if necessary).

10.  Once cool, use a teaspoon to deposit a dollop of ganache onto one shell of each pair.  Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to squash the shell down onto the filling.

11.  Leave in the fridge for at least 24h before serving (I know, it’s difficult!  But so worth it!!)

Enjoy!

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Sunday Smiles: And stuff like that

I got all excited last week about spring finally getting here and all, but apparently the weather had other ideas.  Despite managing to eat lunch out in the courtyard twice this week (but solely because it’s sheltered from the cold wind and it happened not to be raining on those days) the weather has been very changeable and the weather this weekend has been positively autumnal – rainy and awfully blustery.  And not excessively warm either.  Brrrrr.  Thankfully I’ve got a batch of apple spiced camomile and honey cupcakes in the oven smelling fabulous and warming the apartment as I type (and if they taste as good as they smell, they’ll be showing up in a blog post soon).

Here are my (not particularly concise) Sunday Smiles for this week:

  • Firstly, I finally finished watching the Paralympics Opening Ceremony.  I loved it.  I’m always going to be enthusiastic about something that features so much science.  The Large Hadron Collider was even mentioned, and involving Stephen Hawking was a stroke of genius.  Sir Ian McKellen as Prospero was also fantastic (though that’s hardly a surprise) and I loved that he was involved right the way through and even partook in some awkward dancing at the end.  And of course Boris Johnson seemed to be having the time of his life, no matter how bored some of the other dignitaries looked.  I’ve also been watching some of the Paralympics, but not as much as I’d like since I’ve been buys and it’s not on a continual loop on mainstream TV.  But at least most of it is available online for free on the Paralympics channel (the Olympics should take a lesson from that) so I’ve been able to choose what I watch.  Although bizarrely, the live stream isn’t available in NZ, which isn’t too much of an issue since the time zones are inconvenient anyway.
  • The only good thing about this week’s ridiculously changeable weather (I don’t know how many times I’ve simultaneously required sunglasses and an umbrella) is that we’ve been treated to plenty of rainbows.  I spotted this double rainbow over the university as I made way home the other day.  I love rainbows.  They never fail to make me smile.

  • At the same time as the rainbows above, this was the view in the opposite direction.  Sunshine behind the Sky Tower, but pouring rain in front of it.  I really like this photo (even if it meant that I was getting rained on):

  • I came across these completely amazing hand paintings the other day.  I’m always in awe of anybody with artistic talent.  And maybe a tiny little bit jealous, too.
  • I discovered Pyrenées, a French deli, last weekend, which sold some of my favourite cheeses.  Cheeses that I haven’t had since I moved to NZ seven months ago, which is a big deal for me since I am a total cheese fiend…  So I obviously couldn’t leave without buying any, despite the rather astronomical price.  I’m considering them an early birthday present to myself in order to ignore that.  I’ve been happily nibbling way way through some morbier, comté, brie de Meaux and munster this week.

  • Somebody has finally solved the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster.  Manatees, of course!  (Yes, yes, I know, manatees in Scotland, and in a freshwater loch to boot…  It’s still funny though.)  All those tourists will be gutted, I’m sure.  (Cartoon source)

  • And finally, Flight of the Conchords have written a NZ charity single for sick children which was released about two weeks ago (I think it’s part of the Red Nose Day for Cure Kids fundraising).  Now I’ve heard it several times on the radio and been a little confused because it doesn’t really make any sense.  It contains lyrics such as “kids need us to come together, we can make them better [so far so good], we can get them some feta [huh?]” and “John stop blowing all the money on couches,” there are made up words (“lospital” and “mospital” – to rhyme with hospital) and it’s called Feel Inside (and stuff like that) which also happens to be the chorus.  (Actually, the first time I heard it, I thought they were singing “feeling sad (and stuff like that)” which would have made marginally more sense.)  So I decided to look the song up on YouTube out of procrastination as you do.  And it turns out that there’s a whole sketch that goes with the song.  And once you’ve watched it, the song makes complete sense, because Bret and Germaine visited a school and the lyrics are actually based on what the kids said.  The sketch includes the interviews with the children (they start at 5:07) and ends with the song (sung by plenty of famous Kiwi artists, but I don’t know who any of them are, aside from Bret and Germaine).  It’s 15 minutes that will brighten up your day, I promise.

What made you smile this week?

PS – Look what I accidentally broke whilst being removed from its mould…  Woops.  It went down as “quality control” (gutted, ahem) – scrumptious!

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The cake that’s even tastier than it sounds…

I ended up with a bit of a banana surplus this weekend.  I’d bought a bunch of bananas with the intention of making banana mousse again, but then that didn’t end up happening and suddenly I had banana overload.  I could, of course, have just eaten them, but I seem to get bored of bananas on their own after just one, so that tactic didn’t really get me very far.  Mushing them up and freezing them was an other option, but I already seem to have more than enough frozen bananas and limited space in my freezer.  Clearly the solution was to bake with them, and I had the perfect recipe for using up a bunch of bananas plus some of the mashed up ones in my freezer…  I even managed to tie it in with my continuing hazelnut obsession.

That, my dear readers, is a banana, hazelnut and spiced rum upside-down cake and I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s even more delicious than it sounds.  One of my labmates declared that it might well be the tastiest baked goods that I’ve ever taken in.  Needless to say, my labmates were terribly enthusiastic when the cake appeared on the table during our afternoon coffee break (it’s also a magic cake, clearly), and even more enthusiastic about demolishing it.  We got some rather jealous looks from people passing through the foyer when they spied the rapidly disappearing cake.

I don’t even know where to start with the praises of this cake.  It’s full of banana flavour (hardly surprising since there are seven in there), it’s wonderfully moist and isn’t nearly as heavy as it looks (thank you cornflour).  The toasted hazelnuts add a lovely crunch and go wonderfully with the banana and spices.  The rum adds to the flavours as well (although – confession – I couldn’t actually taste the alcohol in the rum, just the spiced flavour.  My labmates could though, which probably says more about me than the cake).  The caramelised topping is delicious, but by far the best bit is the topping near the edges of the cake which is all gooey and caramely and sticky and just plain scrumptious.  Sadly my photos just don’t do justice to this cake because I was in a bit of a rush when I took them (tut tut tut).

There’s a new blog challenge on the block (the virtual block.  Which totally doesn’t make any sense, does it?).  Janine at Cake of the Week has started Baking with Spirit, which involves cooking or baking with a different alcohol every month.  Now, at risk of sounding like a stereotypical student, I think this is a completely genius idea, mostly because I tend to bake with alcohol fairly often (although perhaps a little less now since some of my labmates seem to be responsible types and they eat most of my baking).  G&T scones feature on this blog.  Enough said (in fact, I’m a little surprised that I didn’t think of a similar blog challenge!).  So anyway, “rum” is the challenge alcohol for this month’s inaugural challenge, which ties in perfectly with today’s recipe since it uses spiced rum.

Since this cake is so utterly fantastic and really does deserve to be shouted about from the rooftops (because obviously there are a lot of rooftops in the blogosphere), I’m also submitting it to Javelin Warrior‘s Made with Love Mondays blog event, which is all about cooking or baking from scratch.  I’d say that a large proportion of my baking and cooking is “from scratch” so I’m not sure why I’ve never participated before.  Obviously this cake doesn’t fit at all with this week’s suggested theme of “fresh aubergine” but luckily the theme is totally optional.

Banana, hazelnut & spiced rum upside-down cake

Serves 8-10
Adapted from What We’re Eating

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.  The four sliced bananas should be fresh, but for the three mashed up bananas, frozen ones will work perfectly fine (once thawed, obviously).  Tasty both eaten warm or cooled, and is delicious on its own, but also tasty served with crème fraîche and would probably be good with ice-cream if served warm.  The cake will keep for a couple of days, but is best eaten sooner rather than later.

Ingredients

For the caramel sauce:
85g unsalted butter
165g dark brown sugar
60 ml spiced rum
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
Pinch of salt

For the rest of the cake:
70g toasted hazelnuts
7 bananas
175g all-purpose flour
35g cornflour
2½ tsp baking powder
75 ml whole milk
60 ml spiced rum
165g light brown sugar
115g unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves

Directions

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 175°C/fan oven 155°C.  Set out a 24 cm non-stick round cake tin (a little tip: if you happen to have two tins of a similar diameter, pick the deeper one).  Line a baking tray that the cake tin will fit onto with tin foil, making little lips around the edges of the tray (this is to catch any caramel sauce that bubbles over the side of the cake tin).

Prepare the caramel sauce:
2.  Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat.  Once melted, add the dark brown sugar and stir until dissolved.  Remove from the heat and stir in the rum (be warned, it will probably bubble a little violently) and add the spices and salt.  Pour into the prepared cake tin so that the caramel sauce coats the bottom evenly.

Prepare the rest of the cake:
3.  Roughly chop the toasted hazelnuts and sprinkle evenly over the caramel.  Cut four of the bananas in half lengthways and tessellate them in the pan in a single layer, flat side down (don’t worry if some of the bananas break since that makes them a little easier to tessellate).

4.  Mash the remaining three bananas and set aside.  Sift the flour, cornflour and baking powder into a medium bowl, stir together and set aside.  Mix the milk and rum together in a measuring jug or small bowl, set aside.

5.  Cream the butter and brown sugar together with an electric whisk until light and fluffy.  Mix in the eggs one at a time, making sure that each one is fully incorporated.  Whisk in the vanilla extract, spices and mashed bananas.

6.  Add about ⅓ of the flour mixture and beat in until just incorporated.  Scrape down the walls of the bowl using a spatula before adding ½ the milk mixture and beating until just incorporated.  Repeat by adding ⅓ of the flour mixture again, followed by the remaining milk mixture and the remaining flour mixture, beating until barely incorporated each time (be careful about over-beating the batter as it will result in a tougher cake).

7.  Gently pour the cake batter into the cake pan over the top of the bananas, making sure that the batter is evenly distributed.  Bake for 50-55 mins until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and sit the cake tin on a wire rack to cool for 15 mins before placing a serving plate over the top of the tin and inverting the cake out on to it.  The cake should come out easily, but if not, give it a gentle tap on the table whilst still holding it to the plate.  Gently lift the cake tin away and scrape any remaining caramel out of the bottom of the tin and onto the top of the cake with a spatula.

Enjoy!

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