Monthly Archives: October 2012

Juniper berry salmon

For this month’s Random Recipes challenge, Dom is giving us freer reign than usual with the theme “store cupboard finds” – we have to dig out a forgotten ingredient that has been languishing at the back of our cupboards and then pick any recipe we want that requires that ingredient.  What a great idea!  So I turned to my cupboard to see what I could dig out. Since I moved country in February, my cupboards aren’t (yet) home to ingredients with hazy back stories and dubious origins.  I do, however, have a little canister of juniper berries that I bought a couple of months ago for some recipe that I tried out but didn’t really enjoy.  Juniper berries aren’t something that I ever normally use, so the canister hasn’t been touched since.  Time to rectify that…

Well, first I had to find a recipe.  My cookbooks only had a few offerings, and they were all rather unrealistic, such as roast goose.  I do enjoy goose, but not enough to willingly eat it every day for a month which, since I live on my own and have a tiny freezer, is what would probably end up happening.  So no roast goose, but no other alternatives in my cookbooks.  Luckily the internet exists.  After poking around on the BBC Good Food site, I came across a salmon recipe that called for juniper berries.  Which was perfect, because I had some salmon living in my freezer, so that cleared up a bit of space.  Double success!

I wasn’t too keen on the salad suggested in the original recipe so I went for orange couscous, but I’d suggest serving a simple green salad on the side, otherwise vegetables (salad is totally a vegetable – you know what I mean) are a little non-existent.  I loved the flavour of the juniper berries with the salmon.  I never would have thought to pair the two together, and I think I’ll be experimenting with that combination again.  I still have some juniper berries left after all.  I also love that they made my flat smell faintly of gin.  Uhm.  That sounded better in my head…

Juniper berry salmon with orange couscous

Serves 2
Salmon barely adapted from BBC Good Food

If you are using frozen salmon, do make sure that it has thawed thoroughly in the fridge before cooking it.  If you don’t have a peppercorn mix, don’t necessarily go out and by some just for this recipe, you can just use black peppercorns.  Since there aren’t any vegetables in this, serving a green salad on the side is a great idea.

Ingredients

For the salmon:
1 tbsp dried juniper berries
1 tsp mixed peppercorns (a black, white, green & pink peppercorn mix)
2 salmon fillets (mine were about 500g together, which I found pretty filling)
About 1 tsp olive oil

For the couscous:
100g couscous (I used wholewheat)
Drizzle of organic rapeseed oil (canola oil)
Small knob of butter
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
Parsley, to serve

Directions

1.  Line a roasting tin with tin foil.  Heat the grill to medium.

2.  Roughly crush the juniper berries and peppercorns with a mortar and pestle (if, like me, you don’t have a mortar and pestle, pop them in a zip-lock bag and roughly crush with a rolling pin).  Place the salmon in the roasting tin and rub with the olive oil and sprinkle the crushed juniper berry and peppercorn mix over the top.  Grill for about 8 mins (the original recipe said 6-7 mins, but I found this wasn’t long enough.  However, this may be more due to my oven than anything else.  Basically, keep an eye on it.), checking that the juniper berries and peppercorns don’t burn.

3.  Whilst the salmon is cooking, prepare the couscous.  Either bring 125ml of water to the boil in a saucepan with the drizzle of oil, then remove from the heat, add the couscous and cover, allowing the couscous to absorb all the water (about 5 mins).  Or add the couscous to a heatproof bowl, add the drizzle of oil and stir through the couscous and add 125ml of boiling water, cover, and allow the couscous to absorb all the water (about 5 mins).  Once the couscous is ready, add the knob of butter, stir through until melted and stir in the orange zest and some freshly ground black pepper.  Keep covered until the salmon is ready.

4.  Immediately serve the salmon accompanied by the couscous topped with freshly chopped parsley, with a green salad on the side.

Enjoy!

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Sunday Smiles: What day of the week is it?

Monday was a day off for us, which was marvellous (though sadly the weather didn’t play ball) but I spent the rest of the week totally out of kilter and confused about what day it was (and nearly forgot that today is Sunday).  Luckily I wasn’t the only bewildered one, so that was rather reassuring.  I’m all up for three-day weekends, but I’d like to request that we get the Friday off rather than the Monday.  Glad we’ve got that straight.

Now, on to this week’s Sunday Smiles:

  • Long story short, I’ve spent a fair bit of time on the Go Pro website this week looking things up, and came across this lovely soothing video of beautiful autumnal foliage and mist in… uhm… somewhere (it doesn’t specify).  It’s shot from a remote control plane thingy.
  • Have you seen The Intouchables?  I saw it when it was released in France last Christmas, but it’s only just been released here (not sure why), so I went to see it again with some of my labmates.  It was just as fantastic as I remembered, and they loved it, too.  If you get the chance, I definitely recommend it – a film about a tetraplegic and his carer who come from totally different walks of life might not sound like a barrel of laughs, but it’s excellent, I promise.
  • I don’t think we’ve had a dreadful biology joke in a while, so here’s one for you:  Why had the two algae never had sex?  …Because they had a planktonic relationship.  Badum-tschhhh!  It comes courtesy of a labmate.
  • So The Hobbit (part 1…) is having its premiere here in NZ some time soon (possibly next week?), though it’s not out in cinemas until mid-December.  Apparently there’s a whole bunch of stuff going on in Wellington in honour of this.  I read somewhere that they’re temporarily changing Wellington’s name to “The Middle of Middle Earth” or something and possibly even bringing out special stamps for the airport (I heard it on the radio, so this may or may not actually be true).  Speaking of Wellington airport…  A giant Gollum is now currently gracing the arrivals hall – amazing or what?!
  • I’ve previously mentioned my love for Downton Abbey, so I was in utter awe when I came across this video of Downton Abbey character impressions, all done by the same guy.  Just a warning: it contains spoilers of Season 3, so you might not want to watch it just yet if you’re not watching the series on the UK schedule.  Anyway, the sound quality is slightly off, but I’m in awe of this guy’s imitation abilities.  Just wow.
  • There was a random BMX showcase thing going on in Aotea Square this weekend, with a bunch of performance artists also doing stuff.  I’m not really sure why, but I stumbled across these goings on yesterday and since it was sunny and warm, I hung around to watch.  It was a little bit like being in Edinburgh during the Fringe, but less crowded and without the rain.  Anyway, the BMX part was utterly amazing.  I’ve no idea why you’d want to launch yourself up a ramp on a teeny little bike and do flips and shit when your only landing options are a wooden ramp or concrete, but it’s pretty impressive to watch.

What made you smile this week?

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N is for Nutella

This month’s letter for the AlphaBakes challenge, which is being hosted by Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker, is “N.”  On reading this, Nutella immediately sprang to mind, but I wanted to try and come up with something a little less… obvious – I’m kind of expecting about half of the entries to be Nutella based.  The day before the deadline however, the only alternatives I’ve managed to come up with are nuts, nutmeg and noodles.  Nuts seems a little too broad (I feel it’s like using fruit for F – does that really count?), nutmeg is something I tend to use as an accent rather than a main flavour (again, does that count?) and noodles just weren’t inspiring me.

So I’ve had to give in to my total addiction to Nutella and go down that route…  Gutted.  About a year and a half ago I made some utterly scrumptious Nutella fudge brownies – they’re still one of my favourite baked goods because they’re not only delectable but also incredibly easy to throw together.  One bowl, a whisk, lots of Nutella and an oven and you’re sorted.  Their sheer simplicity is actually a bit of an issue – it’s almost too quick and easy to whip up a batch.  On the other hand, they’re great if you’re a little pressed for time, and guaranteed everybody will like them.  Unless they’re allergic to nuts.  But they’d definitely enjoy them before going into anaphylactic shock.

I decided to try and make an egg-free version of the brownies using the replacing-an-egg-with-banana trick so that everybody at the lab could enjoy them.  My first attempt was tasty enough, but they just didn’t quite live up to the original.  I tweaked the recipe a little further and the results were rather better.  The one thing that irks me is that the middles sank on cooling.  I presume that in the original version, the egg provides structure to the brownies when it cooks, whereas obviously without the egg this isn’t the case.  And baking them for longer would result in a loss of the fudginess.  But they’re still pretty (a dusting of icing sugar helps with that) and, more importantly, super yummy.  Indeed, they were devoured by the lab… except the person who doesn’t like chocolate.  It’s difficult to please everyone!  If there’s no particular reason for you to bake egg-free, I’d recommend my original version since it’s a little quicker to throw together and I do slightly prefer the texture.

Egg-free Nutella fudge brownies

Makes 6
Based on One Ordinary Day

The brownies will sink a bit in the middle on cooling because the centre will still be all fudgy and yummy (and I suspect that the lack of egg results in a slight loss of structure) – a dusting of icing sugar helps make them look pretty anyway.  Don’t worry about the fudginess meaning that they haven’t been cooked through properly or anything – if you look at the ingredients, there isn’t anything for which that might be an issue (such as egg) as they are predominantly composed of Nutella.  The brownies will keep in an airtight container for up to three days (although I rather doubt they’ll even make it into an airtight container!).

Ingredients

½ banana (not an over-ripe one)
175g Nutella
1½ tsp yoghurt
5 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp kirsch
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Icing sugar, to serve (optional)

Directions

1.  Line 6 muffin holes with paper liners or set out silicone moulds on a baking tray.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C.

2.  Mash the half banana to a pulp in a medium-sized bowl (you may want to purée it with a blender).  Add the Nutella and yoghurt and whisk together with an electric whisk until smooth.  Add the flour, kirsch and cinnamon and continue whisking until well blended.

3.  Split the mixture evenly between the muffin liners (I found them to be between ½ and ⅔ full) and bake for about 15 mins.  Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack.  If using silicone cases, allow them to cool in the cases.  Once cooled, sprinkle with icing sugar before serving (totally optional of course, but it adds a nice touch).

Enjoy!

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Guinness gingerbread cupcakes

I got all excited last month about the new blog challenge dreamt up by Janine at Cake of the WeekBaking with Spirit (so excited that I entered it twice…).  Apparently I must come across as a bit of an alcoholic since it turned out that Janine expected my enthusiasm – in the September round-up she admitted/confided that she’d hoped the challenge would be “right up my street.”  For the record, that comment amused me no end – Janine clearly knows me remarkably well!  My enthusiasm for the challenge hasn’t abated, and the alcohol of choice for October is… can you guess?  It’s “beer!”  Because, you know, Oktoberfest.  Clever, eh?

Now, I have a little confession: I don’t like beer.  There are a couple of exceptions – I do quite enjoy fruit beers (although I’m not sure they really count as beer), and I’ve had one or two beers that tasted pretty good for a few sips but then they warmed up too much and the hoppy flavour started coming through too much for me to finish the bottle.  I really wish I did like beer though – I suspect that there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had in good beer and I feel like I’m missing out.  And I don’t like being left out.  I think part of the problem is that I’m not particularly knowledgeable about beer, so I wouldn’t know where to start.

Luckily, Baking with Spirit is about baking or cooking with beer rather than drinking it.  I baked some rather scrumptious chocolate Guinness cupcakes about a year ago, but that’s been my sole foray into baking with beer.  I really had no idea what I was going to make, so I was sort of hoping that something would magically come to me.  And then, a few days ago, I came across a recipe for Guinness gingerbread cupcakes.  Bingo!  The combination of Guinness and gingerbread completely intrigued me – I would never even have thought to pair them together.

Boy am I glad that I tried the recipe out, because these cupcakes are phenomenal.  It’s a dark gingerbread, packed full of spices, wonderfully gingery and with a fabulous undertone of treacle that is perfectly matched by the Guinness, which comes through subtly enough but definitely adds depth to the flavours going on in the cupcakes.  They’re also surprisingly light.  I was initially going to make the recipe as one large cake, but after a stressful day I decided that cupcakes were the way forward since the piping bit calms me.  Don’t be put off if you don’t like Guinness – I cannot stand it as a drink, yet I can’t get enough of these cupcakes.

Guinness gingerbread cupcakes

Makes 24
Adapted from Tea with Bea

In the icing I used the Equagold vanilla extract with star anise that I won in a giveaway the other week as I felt the hint of star anise would complement the spices in the gingerbread, but normal vanilla extract would also work, and is what I would ordinarily have used (I don’t usually have vanilla extract with star anise).  These cupcakes will keep for a few days in an airtight container kept away from any direct heat or sunlight (the icing will get a bit melty if it gets too warm), but not in the fridge.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:
250ml Guinness
250g black treacle
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
280g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground cloves
Pinch salt
1 heaped tbsp fresh finely grated ginger (a piece of about 2-3 cm)
3 eggs
100g caster sugar
100g dark brown sugar
200ml organic rapeseed oil (canola oil)

For the icing:
225g cream cheese
60g unsalted butter, softened
175g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used vanilla extract with star anise)
2 tbsp honey
Crystallised ginger pieces, to decorate (optional)

Directions

To make the cupcakes:
1.  Add the Guinness and black treacle to a tall saucepan (it needs to be tall because the mixture will bubble violently in the next step, and you don’t want it to overflow) and heat over a high heat.  Remove from the heat once the mixture comes to the boil, and stir in the bicarbonate of soda (this is the bubbling violently bit).  Set aside to cool completely whilst preparing the rest of the cupcake mixture.

2.  Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C.  Line two cupcake tins with cupcake liners or set out 24 silicone liners on baking trays.

3.  Sift the flour, baking powder, spices and salt into a medium-sized mixing bowl and stir together.

4.  Peel the ginger and finely grate it, adding it to a large mixing bowl.  Add the eggs and two sugars and whisk together.  Make sure there aren’t any little clumps of brown sugar left, then gradually mix in the oil.  Whisk in the cooled Guinness syrup.

5.  Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula or spoon until just combined (it’ll be quite a liquidy mixture).

6.  Spoon the mixture into the the prepared liners or moulds, filling them about ⅘ full.  Bake for 25-35 mins until the tops are springy to touch and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Remove from the tins or silicone moulds and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

To make the icing:
7.  Prepare a piping bag with your chosen piping nozzle (I used a Wilton 1M large star nozzle).

8.  Whisk together the cream cheese and butter in a medium-sized bowl with an electric whisk until smooth.  Sift in the icing sugar and add the vanilla extract and honey and whisk until light and fluffy.  Transfer to the prepared piping bag and pipe swirls onto the cupcakes.

9.  Chop the crystallised ginger pieces and sprinkle them over the cupcakes to decorate.

Enjoy!

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Sunday Smiles: Triathletes are bonkers

It’s a long weekend for us here in New Zealand because tomorrow (Monday) is Labour Day.  Which to me sounds like either everybody should be working really hard or having a baby (ya, no thanks).  But quite to the contrary, it’s a day off. Huzzah!  Too bad the weather hasn’t really cooperated – yesterday was pretty good, but today was dire.  And tomorrow looks like more of the same, which is annoying, but I won’t lie – there is something satisfying about waking up to the sound rain on the windows when you know you can stay in bed a little longer.

So my Sunday Smiles for this week are:

  • Are you on Pinterest?  I am, but only sporadically – I’m not sure how I feel about it.  So much of it seems… superficial. Perhaps it’s just that I’m not particularly crafty or creative or something.  So this rant article about Pinterest made me laugh – there’s a fair bit of truth in it (and some swearing, too).
  • Fact: life is short, and sometimes it’s also terrifying.  These ecard thingies are all over facebook, but this one really made me laugh: (Cartoon source)

  • Julia Gillard (Prime Minister of Australia) has been getting a lot of flak from the leader of the opposition, and this week she snapped and gave a rather vitriolic speech labelling him as a misogynist.  Apparently the speech wasn’t all that well received in Australia because of the context of the debate, but as a stand-alone speech dismantling her opponent, I take my hat off to her, regardless of her politics.
  • I came across this dialogue between a chemistry professor and his 3 year-old daughter.  Makes me feel better about not always understanding chemistry…
  • Oh my gosh, check out this video of lightning, filmed at 7,207 frames per second and then slowed down so that the 33 second video is actually about a tenth of a second of real time.  Anyway, I just think it’s totally awesome.  I may have watched it 5 times…
  • And finally, it’s been the ITU Triathlon World Championship Grand Final this weekend here in Auckland.  The women’s race was yesterday, and the men’s was today.  I shared the pool earlier with some triathletes who were warming up (great way to feel super unfit by the way – needless to say, I stayed well away from their lanes).  You know that dire weather that I mentioned?  Ya, I got caught in an utter deluge on my way home, which took me along part of the cycling route, so I took shelter under a convenient building awning and watched most of the cycling (didn’t help much with the whole feeling unfit thing…).  I’m obviously a total expert on the triathlon after London 2012, so it was pretty exciting to watch, as was the sprint finish between Brownlee and Gomez right at the end of the race (which I watched on TV).  I have no idea how they managed to bring out a sprint finish at the end of an exhausting race (Auckland is built on volcanoes, so there are plenty of steep hills all over the place – great fun to cycle/run up, obviously) in horrid weather conditions.  I can only conclude the triathletes are bonkers (in a good way).  Gomez won the actual race by 1 second, but Brownlee ended up winning the overall championship.  Go Team GB!  Here’s Jonny Brownlee leading the cycling pack in the pouring rain (the other Brownlee brother wasn’t competing):

What made you smile this week?

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Aztec roasted pumpkin seeds

Those spiced sweet potato cupcakes that I mentioned on Friday did indeed get rid of my October pumpkin-baking itch, but they also opened up a whole new little obsession: roasted pumpkin seeds.  I’d never tried roasting pumpkin seeds before, mostly because I never have pumpkin seeds to roast.  In fact, I bought pumpkin seeds for the first time a couple of weeks ago, on a whim.  I read somewhere that pumpkin seeds are appetite suppressors (but don’t take my word for it – I can’t remember where I read it), so I thought it might be a good idea to keep a packet in my desk for when I get peckish mid-afternoon but didn’t bring a snack.  A flawless plan but for the teeny tiny minor detail that I discovered that I don’t really like raw pumpkin seeds.  To me, they’re bland and a little bit chewy and not particularly enjoyable to eat.  Oh.  Bummer.

So what do you do with a pack of pumpkin seeds that is taking up cupboard space?  You add spices and a little bit of sugar and roast them.  Obviously.  After my first successful attempt last week, I decided that roasted pumpkin seeds were the way forward, and started to think of other flavours to try out.  I remembered that the special ingredient for this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge (which is being hosted by Nat at HungryHinny) is “pumpkin.”  Now, pumpkins and other squashes aren’t in season here anymore, but pumpkin seeds also count…  So what about roasting pumpkin seeds with some cocoa powder?  (Which I realise may actually be the most basic and straightforward way to combine pumpkin and chocolate.)

I decided to take a leaf from the Aztec flavour bible and add cinnamon and chilli powder to the cocoa powder.  I was already familiar with the marvellous combination of chocolate, cinnamon and chilli, and adding the flavours to pumpkin seeds turned out to be a fabulous idea, even if they do look as if they’d just been dug out of the earth (thanks cocoa powder!).  I particularly love the gentle, but satisfying, crunch of the seeds followed by the aftertaste of warmth from the chilli powder.  Now I keep a little tupperware box of roasted pumpkin seeds in my desk and they do the trick nicely if I get the mid-afternoon munchies.  The chilli is especially handy on a cold day.  Oh and they take about 3 minutes to prepare (plus roasting time), so it’s an easy snack to throw together.  So easy and straightforward in fact, that I almost feel like I’m cheating by sending this in as my entry to We Should Cocoa – it’s hardly even a recipe!

Aztec roasted pumpkin seeds

Makes about 100g
Based on Serious Eats

This recipe would work with fresh pumpkin seeds, too – don’t worry too much about cleaning them perfectly as the stringy pumpkin bits will just add flavour (although try to get rid of any big stringy bits as this will make it easier to mix).  You can adjust the amount of chilli powder depending on how much you enjoy spiciness (I’m not a huge spicy person, so the amount specified is just right for me) – I’d suggest tasting the seeds before roasting and adjusting the spices as necessary.  The roasted pumpkin seeds will keep for about two weeks in an airtight container.

Ingredients

100g pumpkin seeds
20g unsalted butter
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
¾ tsp cocoa powder (at least 70%)
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
Just under ¼ tsp chilli powder

Directions

1.  Line a baking tray with tin foil.  Preheat the oven to 175°C/fan 155°C.

2.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan.  Place the pumpkin seeds in a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Add the melted butter and stir until the seeds are fully coated in melted butter.

3.  Add the brown sugar, cocoa powder, ground cinnamon and chilli powder to the seeds and stir until well mixed and coated.  Spread in a single layer on the lined baking tray and bake for 30 mins, stirring every 10 mins.

4.  Allow to cool on the baking tray (the popping noises are normal) and serve or store in an airtight container.

Enjoy!

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Sunday Smiles: From highbrow to lowbrow

On Thursday I realised that it was exactly eight months since I landed in New Zealand.  Eight months?  Wow!  It’s funny because it feels rather longer than that, and yet I can’t believe that it’s already been eight months.  I also realised that I can’t do basic maths because I spent a good hour or two thinking I’d been here for ten months.  Ya… I forgot to subtract February’s two months from October’s ten months.  Ya, hmmm.  Clearly doing basic maths before coffee isn’t my thing.  Or perhaps the fact that it was bright and sunny and warm enough to take morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea outside without a cardigan (!) went to my head.

On to this week’s Sunday Smiles:

  • I’ve previously mentioned that I find space fascinating, so I was rather excited when I came across these photos of the fully powered-up flight deck of Space Shuttle Endeavour.  Oh my gosh, amazing.  Also, I clearly could never have been an astronaut – it looks way too complicated and I only just figured out how to get emoticons on my phone (I’ve had it for eight months, ahem).  And the seats don’t look too comfortable, either.  I hope space suits are padded.
  • I got an email last weekend from Lucy at The KitchenMaid saying that she’d had to re-draw her Equagold giveaway and that I had won!  Super exciting since I rarely win things.  Anyway, so the goodies arrived this week which was marvellous – now I just have to decide what to do make with them.  Too many options!

  • Somebody sent me a link to Cookie Monster’s Share It Maybe song (his version of Call Me Maybe or whatever that ridiculous song that makes no sense is called).  I do love Cookie Monster.
  • This dissection of a spam email really did make me laugh – we all receive them, and this really is a great way of laughing at it.
  • I love Downton Abbey, so this Downton Labbey comic made me chuckle when I saw it.  (Cartoon source)

  • One of my facebook friends linked to an intriguing-sounding blog called Introvert Fairy Tales.  It describes itself as ‘What “Happily Ever After” looks like when being alone isn’t a problem to be fixed‘ and it’s hilarious.  The posts are few and far between, but I find them really funny (no prizes for guessing that I’m more of an introvert than an extrovert).  My favourite one is about Ariel.
  • There have been Diwali celebrations in Aotea Square (central Auckland’s main big square thing) this weekend and they were setting up on Friday when I was passing through on my way home and there were flower garlands everywhere.  It was so colourful and beautiful, particularly in the sunshine.  I went along yesterday and had a nosy around some of the stalls and watched the concert for a little bit, but it was incredibly windy so I didn’t stay too long.  I could actually hear most of the concert from my flat, where there weren’t 80 km/h gusts.

  • Speaking of Diwali, I’m guessing the celebrations have just come to an end since we’ve just been treated to a massive firework display over Aotea Square, which I could just see by craning my head out of my window.  Grainy photographic evidence:

  • I’m a firm believer in treating oneself to birthday presents, and so for my birthday a month ago I offered myself a ticket to last night’s performance of the Imperial Russian Ballet Company’s Swan Lake, which is touring NZ at the moment.  Swan Lake is probably my favourite ballet because the music is just so expressive, and it was beautifully danced and the costumes were stunning.  I had a few music-related niggles (namely that the music was pre-recorded), but I won’t dwell on that.  I adore watching ballet, and this performance definitely had me enraptured throughout.
  • And finally, just in case you thought I was all highbrow, here’s some lowbrow…  This restaurant is near the pool that I go to, and the name never fails to make me chuckle.  Oh, you thought I was mature…?

What made you smile this week?

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Getting rid of the unseasonal October pumpkin-baking itch

So…  I’ve managed to acquire cuts on the tips of both my index fingers.  One resulted from struggling to get into a plastic carton of grapes (nope, I’ve no idea how I managed it either, but so much for being healthy and eating fruit).  The other came from a minor altercation with a cable tie (again, I’ve no idea either).  Now that we all know that I’m rather skilled at picking up random injuries (you’re perfectly welcome to laugh), my main point is that it hurts a little to type, so I’m going to try and keep this post short (ya, I know, ha ha ha – try is the key word there, ok?).

The majority of the bloggers that I follow are based in the northern hemisphere, so for the last few weeks my Google Reader has been awash with autumnal flavours, pumpkin recipes in particular.  Down here in the southern hemisphere it is, of course, spring, but it feels really strange to me not to be baking with pumpkins and apples and plenty of wintery spices in October, particularly with Hallowe’en coming up.  It’s not so easy to completely reverse seasonal habits and expectations.

To get the need to bake with pumpkin in October out of my system, I decided to bake with kumara (sweet potato).  I know that kumara and pumpkin aren’t the same thing, but pumpkin isn’t really in season any more.  In terms of baking, I think they’re more or less interchangeable anyway.  So I whipped up some spiced kumara cupcakes which turned out lovely and moist, thanks to the kumara.  I love baking with kumara for precisely that reason.  The spices come through wonderfully with the kumara in the cupcakes.  All those flavours are beautifully balanced by the cream cheese icing and the subtle freshness of the lime zest.  And as if they weren’t yummy enough already, I decided to top the cupcakes with roasted pumpkin seeds, just because.  I think I’ve got the need for pumpkin-baking out of my system now.  At least until Hallowe’en…

Spiced kumara cupcakes

Makes 16-18
Cupcakes adapted from Hello Cupcake!
Pumpkin seeds adapted from Serious Eats

The roasted pumpkin seed topping is entirely optional, but does add a lovely little extra something.  There will be leftover pumpkin seeds, and they are great for a snack – store them in an airtight box.  The cupcakes will keep for about two days in an airtight container, but are best eaten sooner rather than later.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:
550g kumaras (sweet potatoes)
300g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Good pinch of salt
250g caster sugar
3 eggs
150 ml organic rapeseed oil (canola oil)
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the roasted pumpkin seeds (optional):
50g pumpkin seeds
2 tsp organic rapeseed oil (canola oil)
2 tsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

For the icing:
300g icing sugar
150g cream cheese
60g unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lime

Directions

To make the cupcakes:
1.  Preheat the oven to 205°C/fan 185°C.  Line a baking tray with baking paper.

2.  Scrub the sweet potato and pierce the skin with a fork.  Place on the baking tray and roast for about 40 mins until there’s no resistance when a knife is inserted through the thickest part.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool until it can be handled.  Peel the skin off and roughly mash the flesh in a small bowl with a fork.  Set aside.

3.  Reduce the oven temperature to 175°C/fan 155°C.  Line a couple of cupcake trays with liners or set out silicone cupcake moulds on a baking tray.

4.  Sift the flour, baking powder, spices and salt into a medium bowl and stir together.  Set aside.

5.  In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together with an electric whisk until pale and very fluffy (this can also be done by hand, although it will take longer).  Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula or wooden spoon.  Then add the mashed sweet potato, oil and vanilla extract to the mixture and fold in until combined.

6.  Split the mixture between the cupcake liners or moulds, not filling them more than ¾ full.  Bake for 20-25 mins until risen and golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Remove the cupcakes from the oven but leave the oven on.  Cool the cupcakes on a wire rack.

To roast the pumpkin seeds:
7.  Line a baking tray with tin foil (aluminium foil).  Mix together the pumpkin seeds and oil in a small bowl until the seeds are well coated.  Then add the sugar and cinnamon and stir well.  Spread over the prepared baking tray and bake, stirring occasionally, for about 30 mins or until the seeds are golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the tray.

To make the icing:
8.  Once the cupcakes are fully cooled, prepare the icing.  Prepare a piping bag with the nozzle of your choice (I used an open star Wilton 1M nozzle but a round one would also look pretty).  Place the bag in a tall glass (this makes it much easier to fill).

9.  Sift the icing sugar into a medium-sized bowl.  Add the rest of the icing ingredients and whisk with an electric whisk (if you want to do it by hand, I’d advise using room temperature cream cheese – it’ll be a bit easier) until smooth and pale.  Fill the prepared piping bag and then pipe sparingly onto the cupcakes (you’ll need all the icing).  Sprinkle roasted pumpkin seeds over the tops of the cupcakes.

Enjoy!

PS – Ok, so I didn’t manage to keep the post that short…  But I realised that if I wrote most of the post on my phone, only my thumbs were required to type – sorted!

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Creamy mushroom orzo

I mentioned the other day a while ago that I’d borrowed Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Everyday! from the library (before tangentially enthusing about my love for Auckland’s public library system…) and tried the chachouka recipe from it, which turned out brilliantly.  And then, aside from a brief (though enthusiastic) mention in a Sunday Smiles post, I never spoke about the book again, which could suggest that none of the other recipes appealed to me, or none of them worked.  What actually happened is that I cooked several recipes, loved them all and had so many others bookmarked to try out that I realised that this was a book worth buying – it was clearly not going languish on my bookshelf, gathering dust.  So that’s precisely what I did: I bought a copy.  But I never quite got around to blogging about those recipes, mostly because I didn’t take photos – I struggle with savoury food photography because I’m not terribly imaginative and I’d usually rather eat my meal hot rather than having to take photos of it whilst it cools.  And I’m also usually hungry.

I did, however, take photos of the creamy mushroom orzo, which was the second dish that I tried from the book (ages ago when mushrooms were still in season over here in the southern hemisphere…  Good timing if you’re in the northern hemisphere though!).  I love mushrooms and often cook them in a cream and wine sauce – my version of the French stalwart that is champignons à la crème.  I’ve always served them with toast, and would never have thought to add orzo, which is a great idea – it makes this more of a substantial meal and more practical to take as a packed lunch (always a bonus).

I don’t think larger pasta would work nearly as well, it would over-power the dish in terms of texture (does that even make sense?), whereas with the orzo, this dish is still all about the mushrooms and the sauce, and the orzo is more of a background addition that fills it out.  This is really a wonderfully comforting (but not heavy) autumnal or wintery dish.  I really like the addition of the balsamic vinegar – it adds a subtle extra dimension to the flavours, and goes so well with the mushrooms.  Since this recipe is very much made from scratch, I’m submitting it to this week’s Made with Love Mondays over at Javelin Warrior.

Creamy mushroom orzo

Serves 2-3
Adapted from River Cottage Veg Everyday!

Flavourful dark mushrooms, such as chestnut or field mushrooms, are best if you can get them – I used portobello mushrooms since I didn’t have much choice in terms of varieties.  Do use a good quality balsamic vinegar as it will impact the flavour of the dish.

Ingredients

500g mushrooms
Knob of butter
4 cloves of garlic
Small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, to serve
150g orzo pasta (aka risoni)
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp dried thyme
100ml dry white wine
75ml crème fraîche (reduced fat is fine)

Directions

1.  Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, ready to cook the pasta whilst the sauce is being prepared.

2.  Brush the mushrooms, trim the stipes (stems/stalks) and slice thickly.  Melt the butter in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat.  Add half the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until starting to caramelise and the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated.  Remove to a plate and repeat with the other half of the mushrooms (doing it in batches avoids the mushrooms stewing in an overcrowded pan).

3.  Whilst the mushrooms are cooking, chop the garlic cloves and set aside.  Separately, strip the parsley leaves from their stalks, chop and set aside.  Once the second batch of mushrooms is nearly cooked, add the orzo to the boiling water and cook for the amount of time specified on the packet until al dente.  Drain as soon as it is cooked.

4.  Return the first batch of mushrooms to the frying pan, along with the garlic, balsamic vinegar and thyme.  Cook for about 2 mins, stirring frequently.  And the wine and simmer until it has mostly reduced, then reduce the heat a little and add the cream, stirring until just starting to simmer.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

5.  Stir the drained pasta through the mushroom mixture, along with most of the parsley.  Serve immediately, garnished with the remaining chopped parsley.

Enjoy!

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Filed under Recipes, Savoury Foods

Sunday Smiles: A truthful calendar & discovering an island

Uhm, somehow we’ve ended up in October.  Can time slow down a little please?  September seems to have whizzed by, and this week seems to have whizzed by, too.  Possibly because we seem to have spent most it eating cake.

My Sunday Smiles for this week are:

  • A new month means a new calendar page, and once again, my desk calendar speaks words of great wisdom: “Remember that everything looks better in the morning*  * except for your hair which, quite frankly, looks like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards”  The dragged-through-a-hedge-backwards look seems to be one of my particular specialities – how does it know?

  • All that cake that I mentioned?  It might be a little self-indulgent of me, but one of my highlights this week was the egg-free spiced date cake that thankfully worked wonderfully when I really though it had all the odds stacked against it.  Phew!
  • Ok, so, if you’re a regular reader, you may have figured out that I have a rather cheesy sense of humour…  No surprises then that this made me chuckle (cartoon source):

  • It was James Bond Day on Friday, marking 50 years since the release of Dr. No.  The theme song for Skyfall was released, and I don’t know what reviews it has had, but I really like it.  It reminds me of the old school Bond songs.  Have you listened to it?  What did you think?
  • Feeling a little down and want something to make you smile?  These photos of “happy” stingrays will sort you out – I stumbled across them this week and I couldn’t help but crack a smile at them.  (PS – Happy stingrays are a total anthropomorphism, but we’ll just ignore that for now.)
  • We took a day trip to Waiheke Island yesterday which was marvellous fun – discovering a beautiful island 40 mins from central Auckland by ferry is a fabulous way to spend the day.  Particularly when it’s full of vineyards…  Ahem.  The weather was rather blustery (didn’t help the messy hair situation) and couldn’t make up its mind between sunny and overcast, but it didn’t rain so it’s all good.  And the weather doesn’t particularly matter when you’re indoors for wine-tastings…  I can’t wait to go back and explore more wineries of the island – I’m not remotely surprised that people go visit it and then just end up setting up there.

  • And finally, on our way back from Waiheke we were treated to this dramatic view of Harbour Bridge.  I really like it (not so much the associated weather though…).

What made you smile this week?

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