Monthly Archives: January 2013

Sunday Smiles: Ukulele death metal. It’s a thing…

Sunday SmilesSo…  Another Sunday Smiles on a Monday.  For once, I was actually very nearly all organised and was going to get the post up yesterday evening.  But then I ended up going to a ukulele gig with some people from the lab.  Yup, a ukulele gig.  How’s that for an excuse?  (You weren’t expecting that, were you?)

Let’s jump right in to this week’s Sunday Smiles, which has turned into a bit of a YouTube special:

  • One of my new housemates brought this YouTube offering to my attention: You forgot the blueberries.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but oh my gosh, hilarious – it had me laughing for a good five minutes (which probably says more about me than anything else).  Also, I’m fully aware that it probably makes me a bad person for laughing (I’m over it).  The funny bit is toward the end by the way.
  • I mentioned that we went to a ukulele gig last night, which was marvellous fun – ukuleles make me feel like I should be on a beach under a palm tree, drinking cocktails.  The warm-up act, Bosko & Honey, were just too funny.  And they treated us to ukulele death metal (yes, really) with their song Tuck Me In.  Bonus giggle points for some of the lyrics if you’re immature like me.

To be honest, I’m not going to be able to top the hilarity of ukulele death metal, so I think I’ll just leave it there.  Both videos still have me laughing, which is the primary point of Sunday Smiles.

What made you smile this week?

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When vitamin D doesn’t count as a challenge entry

AlphaBakesThe letter for this month’s AlphaBakes , which is being hosted by Caroline Makes, is “D.”  The deadline was yesterday.  This post should have gone up yesterday, so I’m going to (attempt to) keep it short, and hope that I’ll be able to sneak it in under the radar.  Things like actual uni work and snorkelling and sitting out on the deck in the sun keep getting in the way of blogging (read: I’m doing phenomenally well in the organisational department at the moment).  It’s a hard life up in Leigh, obviously.  However, I didn’t think that surpassing my daily requirement of vitamin D would quite count as a valid entry for the challenge.  Sorry if you all hate me right now, particularly those of you shivering up in the northern hemisphere – I’d send you some sunshine if I could!

Bit choppy out there on the water – won't be going for a swim today…

That’s the view I’m looking at from our deck as I write – I told you it was tough up here.  But anyway, before you all leave in a huff, back to the challenge: something food-related starting with D…  I decided to go for dates, more specifically a date, coffee and walnut cake that I could share with my new housemates.  I probably should have checked whether anybody disliked any of the ingredients before I made the cake, because it turned out that one my housemates isn’t the hugest fan of dates, coffee or walnuts…  Thankfully she loved the cake though (as did everybody else) and even asked for the recipe.  Phew.

This is what happens when you don't check what your new housemates don't like…

The cake itself is wonderfully moist, with a tiny bit of caramelised stickiness that comes courtesy of the dates.  The coffee comes through as a subtle flavour (which is great since none of my housemates are really coffee-drinkers), with the walnuts adding a bit of crunch.  Topping the whole cake off with cream cheese icing just makes it even more scrumptious.  Though, let’s be honest, when is cream cheese icing ever not a good idea?  Apologies for the photo quality by the way – the photos were snapped pretty quickly since we were all more interested in actually eating the cake.

Cream cheese is always a good thing.  Fact.

Date, coffee & walnut cake

Serves 8-10
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

The walnuts don’t have to be toasted, but it’s highly recommended as it does heighten their flavour.  The cake does come out very moist and a little sticky, and I found that it stuck to the serving plate a little which wasn’t ideal, but that may also have been because I didn’t let it cool fully before turning the cake out.  The cake will keep for a couple of days, covered in the fridge, and in fact may even be better the next day, although do let it come to room temperature before serving.

Ingredients

For the cake:
225g pitted dates
250ml strong coffee (proper French press or filter coffee is best)
70g walnuts
150g light brown sugar
120g unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
275g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the icing:
300g icing sugar
175g cream cheese, softened
60g unsalted butter, softened
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

For the cake:
1.  Roughly chop the dates and add to a heatproof bowl.  Brew the coffee and pour over the dates, to cover them.  Set aside to cool.  Add the walnuts to a small frying pan and toast them until fragrant.  Set aside to cool, then roughly chop them.

2.  Once the coffee and dates have cooled, line a 24cm round cake tin with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/fan oven 150°C.

3.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric whisk, until light and fluffy.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs together, then whisk into the butter and sugar a little at a time, followed by 2 tbsp of the flour.

4.  Sift the remaining flour, baking powder, spices and salt into a medium bowl and stir together.  Add half of this mixture to the butter mixture and whisk together.  With a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the dates, coffee and vanilla extract.  Once incorporated, fold in the remaining flour mixture, followed by 50g of the walnuts.

5.  In a small ramekin, dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in 2 tbsp of hot water, then stir into the cake mixture before spooning into the prepared cake tin.

6.  Bake for 50-55 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely into the tin before turning out onto a serving plate to ice.

For the icing:
7.  Once the cake is fully cooled, sift the icing sugar into a large bowl.  Add the butter, cream cheese, lemon zest and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth.  Spread over the cake and sprinkle with the remaining walnuts.

Enjoy!

Oh hey there Instagram…

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Peanut butter & cocoa nib cookies

January – the month of resolutions.  The month that going to the gym or pool becomes a real mission because they’re full of people being all resolute.  The month that when you bake things, people tell you they’re on a diet which involves eating three slices of melon as a main meal (because there’s nothing tastier than an unseasonal melon), snacking on a cherry tomato should they get peckish and finishing the lot off with a tub of ice-cream for dessert.  You might think I’m kidding, but I have actually encountered somebody who followed a similar meal plan.  It didn’t do them much (any) good.  Anyway.  I digress.  January can be a tough month for bakers if people start refusing offered cake (what an idea).

No melon or cherry tomatoes in sight

We Should CocoaLuckily, Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog, who is hosting this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge, has come up with a solution by choosing the theme “sugar-free” – a theme which, I must admit, horrified me when I first saw it.  Not because I’m a sugar addict, but because I hadn’t finished reading the rules so I hadn’t realised that “natural” sugars such as honey or maple syrup were fine, and I was drawing an utter blank in terms of inspiration – I absolutely refuse to use artificial sweeteners.  I had visions of something like this:

I've no idea how one would make cake without any ingredients either…

I have no idea what “no ingredients fruit & nut cake” is either, but it made Kat and I laugh when we stopped off at a café in Cambridge (that’ll be Cambridge, NZ) on our way to Hobbiton.  In the end, Kat and I decided to make cookies for the challenge – the start of our friendship due to chocolate chip cookies, so it seemed fitting.  We followed the rules, but we did it the Mel way – sure, we didn’t use any sugar, but we did add a shit-tonne* of honey instead.  Totally allowed.

No sugar, but tonnes of honey.  Totally good for you, right?

These cookies gave me the opportunity to try out the cinnamon cocoa nibs that I won from the lovely Lucy over at The KitchenMaid a few months ago – cocoa nibs don’t have any sugar added to them, so they also fitted the rules perfectly.  Since we’re both fans of the combination of chocolate and peanut butter, we decided to substitute peanut butter instead of butter in the cookies, but I think this might be why they came out a little dry.  They’re excellent for dunking into a glass of milk or cup of tea though, so they were still yummy.  Next time, I think I’ll add about 25g of butter to the mix just to make them slightly moister.  I really loved the little bursts of intense cocoa flavour from the cocoa nibs – I’d never used cocoa nibs before, so I wasn’t too sure what to expect.

Peanut butter & cocoa nib cookies

Makes about 24 cookies
Adapted from Nana Clare’s Kitchen

These cookies came out fairly dry (not inedibly dry though!), so I’d suggest perhaps adding 25g of unsalted butter at the same time as the peanut butter in order to remedy this.  Dark chocolate chips would also work really well instead of cocoa nibs.  These cookies will keep for a few days in an airtight biscuit tin.

Ingredients

170g runny honey
130g natural crunchy peanut butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
190g all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
20g cinnamon cocoa nibs (or normal cocoa nibs with 1 tsp ground cinnamon)

Directions

1.  Butter a couple of baking trays.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/fan oven.

2.  In a large bowl, cream together the honey and peanut butter with an electric whisk.  Whisk in the egg and vanilla extract.

3.  Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt (and ground cinnamon if using) into the peanut butter mixture and whisk until just bended.  Fold in the cocoa nibs.  Form teaspoons of dough into balls and place on the baking trays, spaced out a little so that the cookies have space to spread.  Flatten each ball slightly with a fork.

4.  Bake for 8-12 mins until golden (check they don’t catch), then turn out onto wire racks to cool.

Enjoy!

* Shit-tonnes are actual SI units by the way.  (Ok, fine, they’re really not.  But they should be.  Might make certain papers a little more entertaining to read…)

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Sunday Smiles: The Monday Elasmobranch Edition

Sunday SmilesWhy hello there.  Welcome to Sunday Smiles…  On Monday.  Evidently I am doing marvellously at the whole being organised thing.  The (mostly) lovely weather and the sea are just too tempting.  I mentioned last week that I only had accommodation until Friday, and I’m sure you were all terribly worried for me, but you’ll be glad to know that that’s sorted (phew) and I’ve moved into a student house which is great, but my blogging time has consequently been even further reduced.  I’ll get myself organised eventually.

Anyway, it’s still Sunday somewhere, so let’s jump into this last week’s Sunday Smiles:

  • By far the most exciting thing to happen this week is that I saw a New Zealand eagle ray (Myliobatis tenuicaudatus) in the wild for the first time ever.  That’s my study species and I’ve been watching them in tanks for the past seven months or so, but it was super exciting to see one in the wild!  Sadly I didn’t have a camera with me so couldn’t get any photos to share with you guys.
  • Sunday Smiles is pretty good evidence that I’m a bit of an Instagram addict, so when I came across a Nickelback parody by College Humour, Look at this Instagram, it made me laugh.  Mostly because it’s largely true.  (Also it contains some swearing.)
  • I’ve been looking for a wine stopper for ages and completely randomly came across this totally amazing shark wine stopper.  Is it not totally amazing?  If anybody is looking to get me a present…  *Unsubtle hint*

Duh-nuh. Duh-nuh. Duh-nuh-duh-nuh-duh-nuh.

  • I’ve previously mentioned that I’m a bit of a stickler for grammar, and although a lot vs. alot isn’t my personal pet hate, this post made me giggle – not only the point of it, but the style in which it is written and the accompanying cartoons.  I actually came across it a while ago, but happened across the link again this week, and thought I’d share…
  • So you know the shark wine stopper above?  Well, I thought I’d have a look at whether there was anything similar going on Etsy.  There wasn’t, but I did come across this baby shark bath robe – why doesn’t it come in an adult size?!  (Hint hint you crafty Etsy people…)

Why wouldn't you make this in adult size?  Why do baby boys get all the cute stuff?  Huh?  HUH?

  • The finding of horse meat in some burgers in the UK and Ireland prompted a bit of a media storm this week.  And as with any big story, there were some rather humorous reactions on Twitter – here’s a round-up of the best horse burger jokes.
  • Between the wild eagle rays and shark-themed things, today’s Sunday Smiles is turning into a bit of an elasmobranch edition, so I’ll just keep running with the theme.  One of my friends regularly sends me links to shark cartoons, and her latest offering amused me greatly since this particular friend and I frequently have some similar not-so-bright moments. (Cartoon source)

Oh yeah, that's right.  I keep forgetting…

  • And finally, in case you’re still having a bad day, my friend Emma sent me an instant cheer up: 19 people having a worse day than you.  I feel the Lindsay Lohan dig at the bottom is a bit harsh, but the other ones all amused me (bad person, etc.).

Enjoy the rest of your day, wherever you are in the world!

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Leftover champagne? Say what?

Woah, 2013 needs to slow down.  I can’t quite believe that it’s already been a whole two weeks since Kat and I opened the fridge on New Year’s Day and were greeted by a rather astonishing sight: an unfinished bottle of champagne.  The concept of leftover champagne may well be foreign to you – indeed it’s an incredibly rare event when I’m involved (assuming it isn’t a case (badum-tschhhh!) of bad champagne…).  So.  What does one do with champagne leftovers?  Despite the teaspoon trick (popping a teaspoon handle down in the bottle which is magically supposed to keep most of the bubbles in, though I’m not sure how), it wasn’t in the bubbliest state so drinking it wasn’t going to be ideal.

This.  This is what you do with leftover champagne…

Baking with SpiritLuckily, the alcohol of choice for this month’s Baking with Spirit challenge is “champagne” – perfect, although that doesn’t really help in choose what exactly to make.  I feel a little guilty for missing last month’s Baking with Spirit challenge (here’s the round-up) since I went on holiday and generally ran out of time, so I wanted to make something awesome to make up for it, plus it’s also Janine’s birthday month.  That plan failed a little because after much deliberation, we settled on something not particularly original and which may seem a bit of a cop-out, but it’s so delicious that I do hope Janine will forgive me…

Oh look, a champagne cork crept into the photo and everything…

It is, of course, summer here in NZ, and summer means summer berries.  Yay!  Originally we wanted to honour the Kir Royale by poaching some blackcurrants in a champagne syrup (in case you’re not familiar with Kir Royale, it consists of crème de cassis – blackcurrant liqueur – and champagne).  However, we couldn’t find any blackcurrants – I wonder if they’re only available at farmers’ markets or at pick-your-owns.  So our idea morphed into poaching a combination of summer berries in a Kir Royale syrup.  Oh hey there decadence, how you doing?  The champagne is quite a subtle taste, coming through at the start and then turning into a deliciously fruity flavour.

Looks like decadence invited itself to this party

Simple and in SeasonI have a little confession though.  Even though summer berries are in season, we actually used a frozen summer berry mix.  Shock horror, I know, but let me explain.  For a start, I needed to create a bit of space in my freezer, but more importantly, not all of the summer berries in the mix are readily available to buy fresh – as well as the mysterious lack of blackcurrants, I’ve never seen fresh boysenberries, for example.  I’m not sure why that is because the berry mix is from a NZ farm, so they are definitely grown here.  Luckily this dessert works perfectly whether you use fresh or frozen berries.  I’m going to be cheeky and still submit this to Simple and in Season, hosted by Lavender and Lovage this month, since the berries are in season, and I’d have used fresh if I could find them all.  I might be bending the rules a little bit, so I’m just going to smile, wave and move on swiftly to the actual recipe.

Langues de chat make the perfect accompaniment for this general deliciousness

Kir Royale-poached summer berries

Serves 2
Recipe by Sharky Oven Gloves

You can use fresh or frozen berries for this dessert, but if using frozen berries, defrost them in advance and make sure to keep the juice.  You can use berries in whatever combination you like – although definitely make sure to try and get blackcurrants in there.  The dessert is best served with little biscuits to nibble on alongside (although it won’t necessarily be dairy-, egg- and gluten-free anymore) – langues de chat would work perfectly – and serving it in fancy glasses such as champagne saucers or martini glasses really dresses it up.  I sprinkled a bit of raw sugar crystals over the top but most of them ended up dissolving into the poaching liquid, so that ended up being a bit pointless.  If you have any leftover syrup, keep it in the fridge and use it to drizzle over icecream or sorbets.

Ingredients

250g mixed summer berries (blackberries, blackcurrants, blueberries, boysenberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc.)
250g caster sugar
250ml champagne
1 tsp crème de cassis
Langues de chat or other little biscuits, to serve

Directions

1.  Add the sugar, champagne, crème de cassis and 350ml water to a medium saucepan (make sure that it’ll be large enough to fit all the fruit as well) and bring to the boil.

2.  Turn down the heat, and add the fruit (and any juice if using defrosted fruit).  Simmer for about 10-15 mins.

3.  Remove the fruit into a serving bowls or individual dishes or glasses.  Return the poaching liquid to the heat and simmer down until syrupy and reduced by half.  Spoon over the top of the fruit and serve with little biscuits on the side.

Enjoy!

Always a good sign.

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Sunday Smiles: Uhm… Can I distract you with some eagle rays?

Sunday Smiles seems to be taking a bit of a hit at the moment – well, that’s true for the blog in general actually.  I was full of good intentions about getting back to a regular posting frequency this past week, even though I knew it was going to be a very busy week at uni.  Real life won out and that didn’t happen.  In my last post I briefly mentioned something about moving eagle rays, but left it at that.  Time for a little explanation I think, since those darling eagle rays are pretty much the crux of why things have been so busy (and stressful) lately.  If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you might already have a rough idea of what’s been happening over the last week or so.

Meet Bombay. Eagle rays hang out on the bottom of their tanks a lot.

Just as a recap, I moved to NZ in February for an MSc, with a thesis hand-in deadline at the end of February 2013.  So that’s in six weeks.  Currently, I have no results of any sort, which makes it a little difficult to write a thesis.  Basically, over the last nine months or so, my MSc has been steadily going nowhere, mostly because I’ve been having major issues with the technical side of my experiments.  Issues that I haven’t been able to solve since I’m not an electrical engineer and the electrical technician to whom I went for help has been rather useless and I wasn’t pushy enough about it.  Without access to Hermione’s Time-Turner, magically resolving all those technical issues, collecting all my data and producing a coherent 40,000 word thesis in the space of six weeks is evidently not even remotely realistic.  Thankfully, I’ve been granted an extension until the end of May, which is a huge relief.

But an extension itself doesn’t solve the technical hold-ups.  Luckily, the electrical technician up at the Marine Labs in Leigh (I’ve been based down at the School of Biology in Auckland, although I am actually a Leigh student – they’re different departments so it gets a bit complicated) is supposed to be a lifesaver and super helpful.  And he’s also back from paternity leave, so I’m basically pinning my hopes of a solution on him.  Fingers crossed.  But we’re still left with the teeny tiny issue of my experimental subjects – I have three adorable New Zealand eagle rays (Myliobatis tenuicaudatus) that have been hanging out at Kelly Tarlton’s aquarium in Auckland, patiently waiting to be the stars of my experiments.  Kelly Tarlton’s have been looking after them very well (obviously) and have been incredibly kind about housing them for so long, but they need the tank space back, so my eagle rays were effectively homeless.  The School of Biology doesn’t have suitable facilities for housing them, so the only option was to take them up to the Leigh Marine Labs, which does.

Leigh Marine Labs

So we transferred my rays up to Leigh on Thursday – not a complicated operation, but as with anything which involves transporting live animals in tanks of seawater, rather stressful nonetheless.  Both for us and the rays.  Thankfully the rays have all recovered wonderfully and gobbled up their food the next day like little pigs – the best indication that they’ve settled into their new homes (if they weren’t settled, they wouldn’t eat).  So that’s another massive relief.  So now for the final bit of news.  I’ve just told you that my rays are up in Leigh, I’m looking after them, I’m supposed to be talking to one of the Leigh technicians and conducting experiments in Leigh.  So guess where I am?  That’s right, in Leigh.  I’ve moved up for a few months until I’ve got all my data and we can release the rays.

"Hello!  Do you have food?"

Sidenote: the rays tend to move a little too fast for my phone to take sharply focussed photos of them, so apologies for the quality, but that’s the male (I’ve got one male and two females) being inquisitive and probably wanting to be fed.  He was named Winky by the Kelly Tarlton’s aquarists because he only has one eye (he’s always had only one eye, so please nobody get in a tizz about it).  I’ll probably write more about my rays in future posts, once I have some better photos.

All this means that things are a little bit up-in-the-air at the moment.  I’ve got temporary accommodation at the labs until Friday, but after that I have to find somewhere else to live.  There’s no public transport here, I don’t have a car and the nearest supermarket is a 25 min drive away, so I’m very dependent on other people, which I don’t particularly like (being dependent that is, not the actual people – everyone I’ve met so far has been lovely).  So that’s a bit stressful at the moment.  But on the other hand, I can see and hear the sea as I type, with a lovely view of Goat Island.  I’ve been swimming in the sea every day since I got here (my bikini is obviously going to be earning its keep over the next few months).  It’s idyllic.  I’ve only been here for four days and I already love it.  Try not to feel too sorry for me.

Goat Island.  It doesn't have any goats on it anymore, and is surrounded by a marine reserve

So that’s what’s been happening in my life outside the kitchen – with real live elasmobranchs instead of inanimate oven glove ones.  Although I did bring my oven gloves with me (don’t judge – my previous experience of big shared kitchens has been that oven gloves tend to be crusty and gross), and I did whip up a batch of double chocolate muffins yesterday afternoon with the double intention of kick-starting Operation Make My New Labmates Love Me (And Thus Help Me Find Somewhere To Live And Drive Me To The Supermarket) and testing out the ovens here.

It's so hot here that the chocolate started melting a little as I chopped it.  It's a hard life.

Anyway, I will try my hardest to at least get Sunday Smiles back up and running, but it might take a little while to settle back into a regular blog posting routine – I hope you all understand.  I’m sure you’d pick snorkelling over sitting at your laptop, too…

Enjoy the rest of your day, wherever you are in the world!

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Langues de chat

The holidays are over and it’s time to get back into the swing of things.  I opted to start Monday morning off gently by cleaning out some tanks that we needed yesterday for moving eagle rays* – a necessary task, but one that didn’t require too much brain power.  Ideal for the first day back at the lab.  So we’re starting off gently on the blog, too, with a super simple recipe for a little French biscuit called langue de chat, which translates as “cat’s tongue.”  No cats are involved in this recipe, so nobody panic – the name derives from the supposed similarity in appearance between the biscuits and a cat’s tongue.

Totally look like cat's tongues, right…?

Now in France, langues de chat are fairly run-of-the-mill – you can buy a packet in any supermarket – but outwith France, they’re virtually impossible to find (and extortionately priced if you do).  My mum adores langues de chat but, living in Edinburgh, she doesn’t get to eat them terribly often, so when I happened across a recipe a few years ago, I set about making some as a surprise for her birthday.  I felt a bit silly because I’d never even thought to look for a recipe – like croissants, they’re so readily available that nobody bothers to make them.  Except that unlike croissants, they’re ridiculously easy and quick to make, and homemade langues de chat are infinitely better than their industrial counterparts (and also don’t contain any dubious ingredients like powdered egg whites and palm oil).

Little batons all ready for the oven…

My mum loved them, and now I make langues de chat from time to time as an accompaniment for desserts if I want to jazz them up a little – their characteristic pale centres and browned edges make them all pretty and presentable.  Incidentally, it’s this distinctive appearance that is the trickiest part of these biscuits, as it can be ruined by a few seconds too long in the oven, but taking them out too soon means that they won’t be fully baked.  Watching them like a hawk is recommended.

No prizes for guessing who didn't watch the first batch like a hawk… (The one on the right is from the first batch.)

Apologies for the quality, but see what I mean?  It’s also taken me a few years to get them looking close to perfect – the original recipe suggests using two teaspoons to form the little batons, but they inevitably end up a little wonky.  So this time I decided to try piping the batons and it worked much better.  They’re not perfectly uniform, but more importantly, they’re not wonky, so I’m happy with them (hence why they’re finally making an appearance on ze blog).  So what does one do with langues de chat?  They’re thin, dainty and a little crunchy, but not particularly filling, so they lend themselves well to any kind of accompanying-a-dessert situation – they’re good to serve with sorbets or ice creams, with desserts that would do well with a little added crunch (think poached fruit, chocolate mousse, etc.), or for dipping in syrups or chocolate fondues – or just something to nibble on with a cup of tea.

We hoovered up most of them before I got round to taking photos… These were the only ones left

Langues de chat

Makes about 35
Adapted from Guide de cuisine de l’Etudiant

The batter is incredibly straightforward to make, but the baking part can be a little tricky – keep an eye on them in the oven as a few seconds too long can result in the loss of their distinctive pale centres.  The quantities in this recipe make enough for about 2 or 3 people (because it’s impossible to have just one) with a little bit of snacking on the side, but can easily be scaled up to make more.  They go brilliantly with ice cream, poached fruit, chocolate fondue, or just on their own with a cup of tea.  They’ll keep in an airtight container for 2-3 days (they may start to lose their crunch a little after a couple of days).

Ingredients

4 knobs of unsalted butter (roughly walnut-sized)
2 heaped tbsp caster sugar
1 egg
3 heaped tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

Directions

1.  Prepare a piping bag with a round tip of about 8mm in diameter.  Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan oven 170°C.  Lightly butter a couple of baking sheets.

2.  Only just melt the butter in a small heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Remove from the heat and add the sugar, whisking well until the mixture becomes pale and smooth.  Sift in the flour and mix well, followed by the egg and the vanilla extract, once again mixing until smooth (if the mixture becomes too liquid-y, add a little bit of flour).

3.  Transfer the mixture to the piping bag and pipe thin batons of about 3cm in length onto the baking trays, leaving enough space (about 2-3cm) between each so that they can spread out in the oven.  (Alternatively, you can use two teaspoons to form the batons, but this is a slower, more fiddly method and the biscuits may end up a little wonky.)

4.  Bake for 8-12 mins, making sure to keep an eye on them – only the edges should brown, the middle should stay pale.  (The batter will spread or flatten quite quickly at the start, but if the batter starts to spread too much and the biscuits run into each other, turn the temperature right up to make the batter “seize” and stop it spreading.  When they come out of the oven, cut them apart and return to the oven for about 3 mins so that the edges can dry properly.)

5.  Allow to cool fully on a wire rack before eating.

Enjoy!

*For anybody wondering why the heck I was moving eagle rays, an explanation will find its way into a future post.

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Sunday Smiles: A wee catch-up

Sunday SmilesAfter a wee breakSunday Smiles is back!  Well, sort of – I haven’t spent much time online in the last few weeks, so there aren’t any memes or random entries this week and it’s more of a little recap of what’s been happening since my last Sunday Smiles post.

Sunday Smiles (and the blog in general) will be back properly next week, but in the meantime, let’s go on what is essentially a little trip through my Instagram feed from the last few weeks:

  • So for a start, the world didn’t end (in case you hadn’t noticed).  Which is hardly surprising, but jolly good news nonetheless.

Good news indeed!  Also, free wine.

  • I mentioned that my mum and I went on a little jam-packed tour of NZ.  It was amazing.  To be honest, I’m still sort of processing everything that we saw.  I’ll go into more detail about various aspects of the trip in later Toothy’s Travels posts, but in the meantime, here a few photos:

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  • Just in case you live in a cave (with internet access) and weren’t aware, The Hobbit was released.  NZ is going all out – from banks

What about hobbits?  Are they welcome, too?

  • …To Auckland Airport.  I’ll be honest, I love it.  I also got to watch the Hobbit-themed Air New Zealand safety video on an actual aeroplane when we flew back up from Christchurch which was terribly exciting (even if it is rather silly and cringeworthy).

Guarding the… uhm… information desk.

  • Cherries are in season!!  My mum and I were able to get some straight from a producer when we were down in Central Otago, and they were so tasty.  Cherries are one of my favourite fruits but seem to be incredibly expensive here so I don’t think I’ll be eating very many this summer sadly.

CHERRIES!!!

  • Unfortunately, all holidays must come to an end, and after three wonderful weeks, my mum had to go back to Edinburgh.  We don’t know when we’ll next see each other, which is tough, but her departure was made a little easier by the fact that Kat arrived to visit for ten days (although sadly she leaves tomorrow) on her way to Australia, which was super exciting since I haven’t seen her since February.

Kat arrived, and so did the sunshine.  Our tans mostly come courtesy of the Instagram filter though.

  • We went on a little Hogmanay wine tour around Waiheke Island which I think might well be the best thing to do on Hogmanay ever.  Plus it was sunny and warm and the scenery is beautiful.  Oh and the wine was good.  And I got photobombed by a bumblebee, which I didn’t notice until we got home and I looked at the photos properly.

Bumblebee photobomb!

  • We watched The Hobbit, which was super exciting since we were in actual NZ (as opposed to not actual NZ…).  Have you seen it?  What did you think?  There were a few niggles and I’m not keen on the high frame rate and 3D thing – they seemed a little gimmicky to me and I’m not really sure what they actually added to the film – but overall, I loved it.

There was (good) wine involved.  And a cheese platter.  That's right – a cinema with cheese platters.

  • Having watched The Hobbit and re-watched the Lord of the Rings films, we had a bit of a geek-out and went to… Hobbiton!  I’ll write more about it in a future post, but suffice to say, it was a marvellous day out.

The ubiquitous Hobbiton shot.  Anybody home?

  • And finally, I’d just like to share this hilarious little gecko* that was just chilling out in his display case at Auckland Museum when we visited.  I think it sums up the wonderful NZ attitude pretty well.

What's up, bru?

What made you smile this week?

*So… I got so distracted by the actual gecko and its little pose that I forgot to note the actual species…  I think it might be a Northland green gecko (Naultinus grayii), but I’m not 100% sure about that.

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Filed under Sunday Smiles, Travel

Happy New Year 2013!

Guess what?  I’m back!  I know I said Sharky Oven Gloves would be on a break until just after Christmas, but life happened (in a good way, don’t worry!) and I really just wanted to make the most of the last few days of my mum’s visit, and then Kat arrived for her visit (yay!).  And now suddenly it’s next year already.  Woah.  How did that happen?

I’d really just like to thank you all for reading Sharky Oven Gloves throughout 2012, sticking with it through its ups and downs (or perhaps I should say despite some really dull posts).  Even though some of you are still counting down the hours until the end of 2012 (catch up already – we’re 13 hours into 2013 here in NZ), I’d also like to wish you all a Happy New Year!  May 2013 be filled with health and happiness for you and your families, wherever you are in the world.

Fireworks off the Sky Tower – a fabulous combination of two of my favourite things to take photos of.

Sharky Oven Gloves will be back to normal soonish, but in the meantime, enjoy the rest of your day!

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Filed under Ramblings