Tag Archives: Almond

Pear & almond tart

I wasn’t sure what to expect following my last post.  Actually, I didn’t think anyone would still be following Sharky Oven Gloves, so I wasn’t expecting much of a reaction at all.  Not only am I touched (and surprised!) by how many of you are still loitering and took the time to comment, it was also really encouraging to hear that I’m not alone in feeling frustrated with the state of affairs within the food blogging community.  Thank you for sticking around guys!

Pear & almond tart 1

With my usual knack for excellent timing, things went a little haywire right after I published that post.  Between a string of minor disasters at the lab, some slightly dramatic strife with somebody (and an apparent alliteration problem), the ensuing feeling of wretchedness, finding out that I have to move house in two weeks and starting to organise the details of that, I’ve had to divert my attention away from the newly revived Sharky Oven Gloves.  But I finally have a recipe for you today: pear and almond tart.

Pear & almond tart 2

The recipe this tart is based on neglected to specify the size of tin required…  So I guessed.  My guess was entirely based on the one size of tart tin that I happen to own, and that guess turned out to be wrong.  The pastry valiantly managed to contain all the filling, but only just.  I’ve ironed out the ratios and made a few other tweaks, resulting in a super scrumptious autumnal tart – pears scream autumn to me, and the almond filling makes the tart all dense and delicious and comforting.  Exactly what one needs to fend off the sudden, unwelcome appearance of winter this week.  As for the pastry, well, yum.  It’s a chocolate pâte sablée, which I always struggle to translate – I think it roughly translates to shortbread pastry.  The internet says “sweet cookie dough” which isn’t especially helpful.  Either way, its delicate chocolateyness works wonderfully with the pears and almonds.

Pear & almond tart 3

Pear & almond tart

Serves 8-10
Adapted from Tartes maison

The pastry can rest in the fridge for up to 2 days, so can be made the day before if time is a little on the tight side.  The recipe makes more recipe than required, but you could try freezing the leftovers or making a little extra tartlet.  The honey at the end is optional, but adds a little bit extra.

Ingredients

For the pastry:
200g all-purpose flour
65g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
150g unsalted butter
1 egg
2 tbsp crème fraîche

For the filling:
120g unsalted butter, room temperature
120g caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
200g ground almonds
4 tsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 large or 4 small pears
Handful of flaked almonds
3 tbsp honey (optional)

Directions

To make the pastry:
1.  Mix the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and salt together in a large bowl.  Rub the cubed butter into the mixture with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

2.  Whisk the egg and crème fraîche together in a small bowl before adding to the flour mixture.  Mix together with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to come together.

3.  Lay out a piece of cling-film, turn the dough out onto it and form into a disc 18cm in diameter.  Wrap in cling-film and refrigerate for at least 30 mins and up to 48h.

4.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.  Butter and flour a 24cm tart tin.

5.  Remove the pastry from the fridge and carefully roll it out on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of 3-4mm.  Carefully transfer it to the prepared tart tin by draping it over the rolling pin (it’s quite a fragile pastry, so delicacy is key here).  Cut off any overhanging pastry and prick the bottom with a fork.  If your kitchen is really hot and the pastry is starting to go soft and sticky, refrigerate the pastry for about 30 mins.  Otherwise, line it with baking paper, add baking beans and blind-bake it for 5 mins.  Reduce the oven temperature to 190°C/fan bake 170°C and blind bake for a further 5-10 mins, until the pastry is just firm.  Remove the baking beans.  Keep the oven at 190°C/fan bake 170°C.

To make the tart:
6.  Whilst the pastry is baking, prepare the filling.  Cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla extract until pale and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating only until just incorporated.  Fold in the ground almonds, flour and cinnamon.  Set aside.

7.  Half the pears lengthwise, peel and core them.  If you’ve used three large pears, cut each half into four segments, if you’ve used four small pears, cut each half into three segments.

8.  Once the pastry is blind-baked, spread the almond filling evenly over the base.  Lay the pears over the top, gently pushing them in.  Scatter the flaked almonds over the top.  Bake for 30-35, mins until the filling is set and golden.

9.  Just before the tart is done, add the honey to a small saucepan and heat over a low heat until very runny.  Brush the honey over the top of the tart as soon as it comes out of the oven (it can be a little difficult not to displace the almonds), then allow the tart to cool in the tin for 10 mins or so, before turning out onto a wire rack.  Serve warm or cooled to room temperature.

Enjoy!

Pear & almond tart 4

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Blueberry & almond tart

I’ll be honest, I didn’t do a whole lot of cooking whilst I was in Edinburgh – I took full advantage of my mum’s excellent cooking and effectively enjoyed a whole month of being spoilt.  It was awesome.  One of the few things I produced was when Kat came down and we went over to Craig’s for dinner and an evening which revolved around gin, wine, James Bond and much laughter with a healthy dose of immaturity, reminiscent of many evenings spent together in St Andrews.  The only thing missing were my shark-shaped oven gloves (they were busy guarding the house back in NZ).

Blueberry & almond tart 1

Oven gloves or not, we obviously weren’t about to turn up empty-handed, so we raided my mum’s recipe collection and decided to make a blueberry and almond tart.  I was super excited about being able to bake with summer berries.  Because yay, summer!  And yay, blueberries!  And yay, baking with Kat!  We ate a lot of blueberries that day.  We bought rather more than we needed for the tart, so we ate all the evidence whilst it was baking.  Healthy baking!  (That’s totally how it works, right?)

Blueberry & almond tart 2

The tart came out all purple and moist and delicious, all courtesy of the juices of the blueberries.  As well as looking pretty, it packs a marvellous blueberry flavour punch, wonderfully complemented by the ground almonds which also shine through.  I can’t wait for summer to roll around in NZ and blueberries to come into season so that I can make it again.  That said, frozen blueberries would work perfectly well, but a fruit tart in winter just seems rather anachronistic to me – anybody feel the same?

Blueberry & almond tart 3

Blueberry & almond tart

Serves 6-8
Adapted from a random recipe cutting

You can use either fresh or frozen blueberries – if using frozen then just bake them slightly longer before adding the filling.  I know the oven temperatures seem pretty hot.  The tart is best eaten at room temperature and the day it is made as the pastry will start to go a little soft if kept too long.

Ingredients

1 portion of tart pastry (recipe makes 2 portions)
5-6 heaped tbsp ground almonds
500g blueberries, fresh or frozen
2 eggs
100g crème fraîche
75g caster sugar
Handful flaked almonds, to decorate

Directions

1.  Butter and flour a 24 or 26cm tart tin.  Make the tart pastry, roll it out, transfer to the tart tin and refrigerate for 30 mins.

2.  Pre-heat the oven to 230°C/fan oven 210°C.

3.  Prick the pastry with a fork, sprinkle the ground almonds evenly over it and cover with the blueberries.  Bake for 10 mins.

4.  Meanwhile, beat the eggs together in a medium bowl.  Add the crème fraîche and sugar and whisk together.  Pour evenly over the blueberries, reduce the oven temperature to 200°C/fan oven 180°C and bake for a further 30 mins until golden.  Ten minutes before the end, sprinkle the flaked almonds over the top.  Allow the tart to cool in the tin for about 10 mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool fully.

Enjoy!

Blueberry & almond tart 4

I’m submitting this recipe to Made with Love Mondays which is hosted by Javelin Warrior and is all about making food from scratch.

Made with Love Mondays, hosted by Javelin Warrior

 

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Bleu-blanc-rouge pour le 14 juillet!

We had a potluck party last night to celebrate various happenings at the lab.  The original excuse was somebody being accepted into a PhD programme, but since one of my labmates recently handed in, we added that as a further excuse.  And then “oh, it’s French national day on Sunday?  Let’s celebrate that, too!”  So a Woohoo PhD/no more PhD/Bastille Day party.  Sacré bleu, what an excellent idea!

Macarons tricolores 1

As the lab’s bona fide French person, I wanted to do something relevant to Bastille Day, something French.  I was considering madeleines, a particular speciality of mine, and always a popular offering.  But then I realised that it’s been a while since I made macarons…  And then it hit me: I could make blue, white and red macarons like the French flag, aka macarons tricolores!  So one blue shell, a white filling and a red shell.  I think that qualifies as suitably French.

Macarons tricolores 2

I used a white chocolate ganache for the filling.  I was originally going to add Amaretto, but discovered that we didn’t have any, so I used Frangelico instead.  It was a delicious alternative.  I thought that making two batches of shells would be terribly time-consuming, but actually I was able to make the blue shells whilst the red shells were setting and they then set whilst the red shells were baking.  So actually it worked out rather well.  I didn’t work the blue batch for quite long enough which is why nearly all the blue shells ended up with nipples, which irritates my perfectionist side, but doesn’t affect the taste.

Macarons tricolores 3

The macarons were a hit and definitely a fun way to celebrate le 14 juillet (Bastille Day).  Everybody loved the whole French flag thing, as well as the taste (most important).  Now get your berets on* and have a marvellous 14 juillet.  Maybe even let off some fireworks (if that’s legal where you are).

Super keen French Mel

Yup, super keen French person, right here.  Cocorico!  (That wasn’t last night by the way, but a few weeks ago when France played the All Blacks at Eden Park.  France lost.  Quelle surprise.)

Macarons Tricolores

Makes about 80 small macarons (so about 160 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!
Ganache recipe by Sharky Oven Gloves

Obviously making two colours of shells is totally optional, but it does make these macarons fun, and is actually not as time-consuming as you’d expect.  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:
150g room temperature egg whites
270g icing sugar
180g ground almonds
100g caster sugar
Red & blue food colouring paste or gel (optional)

For the ganache filling:
40g whipping cream (NZ: pure cream)
150g white chocolate
30g Frangelico or Amaretto

Directions

To make the macaron shells:
1.  Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare two piping bags with plain round piping tips of the same size (if you only have one, you can wash it in between the two batches of shells, but make sure to dry it thoroughly).

2.  Split the egg whites evenly between two large mixing bowls.  If you can’t get it exactly evenly, adjust the proportions of all the other ingredients according to the weight of the egg whites.

3.  Blend half of the icing sugar (135g) and half of the ground almonds (90g) together (don’t skip this step!).  Sift them through a medium sieve into a bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

4.  Make the French meringue by whisking the one of the bowls of egg whites into glossy firm peaks, gradually adding half the caster sugar (50g).  Add a few drops of the red food colouring gel to the mixture just before the end and mix well to get the shade of red that you wish.

5.  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.

6.  Transfer the mixture to one of the previously prepared piping bags and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 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.

7.  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.

8.  Whilst the red shells are setting, repeat steps 2-7 with the remaining shell ingredients, but this time add blue food colouring to make the batch of blue shells.

9.  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 one red and one blue shell up by size.

To make the ganache filling & assemble:
10.  Whilst the macarons are setting and cooking, make the ganache filling.  Heat the cream, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the chocolate (broken into pieces) and the Frangelico.  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?).  Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to thicken on the countertop (or in the fridge if absolutely necessary – if it’s taking too long or not setting).

11.  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.

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

Enjoy!

*I’m allowed to stereotype because I’m French.

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Kumara, cardamom & chocolate cake

Goodness, it’s been a while since I showed some signs of life, hasn’t it?  I previously mentioned that things were likely to be a bit quiet as I knuckled down and got on with this whole MSc thesis-writing lark,* however  I didn’t quite expect to more or less completely disappear from the online world (with the exception of Instagram – have I ever mentioned my addiction?).  A scheduled post about one of the best cakes ever (shameless plug, what?) not going up several weeks ago (let’s pretend that I didn’t only just notice today) rather helped to reinforce this absence.  I am, however, still alive and kicking.  I’ve been baking, too, to de-stress a bit and take a break from thesis-writing.  I just haven’t had the time to take any half-decent photos or write recipes up.  Or collate any Sunday Smiles posts either for that matter.

Bet you'll never guess what kind of cake this is…  Oh wait.

AlphaBakesWhilst Microsoft Word and Excel get their act together, unfreeze and stop repeatedly crashing on me (I’ve had a fantastic morning…), I thought I’d share this utterly amazing kumara, cardamom & chocolate cake with you.  Anybody thinking that kumara is some terribly exotic, amazing new ingredient that’ll be impossible to find in a normal shop, it’s just the Kiwi (and Australian I think?) name for sweet potato.  Rather conveniently, the challenge letter for AlphaBakes happens to be “K,” so I’m sending this cake in as my entry to Caroline Makes, this month’s host.

Cake in progress

After a classic case of forgetting to check a recipe for quantities before going shopping and consequently overestimating the amount, I ended up with some surplus orange kumara the other day and decided that some cake was in order.  I dug out a recipe that I’ve had bookmarked since last year, and threw some chocolate in, just because I could.  I added some cinnamon in too, since I’m actually incapable of not adding cinnamon to pretty much everything during autumn and winter (in spring and summer I only add it to about 50% of everything…  I might have a cinnamon problem).  The cake came out wonderfully moist and utterly scrumptious – the combination of kumara and cardamom was a pleasant discovery for me.  The cake also happens to be gluten-free, but you’d never guess it (I feel gluten-free baking has a reputation for rather heavy and dry results, but I haven’t dabble much with gluten-free, so I could be wrong).  Suffice to say, the lab loved it.

This totally wasn't my breakfast.  Ahem.

Kumara, cardamom & chocolate cake

Serves 10-12
Adapted from The KitchenMaid

I’m rather liberal with spices, so if you’re not into strong flavours, you may wish to reduce the cardamom down to 3 tsp.  I’ve yet to locate good quality dark chocolate chips (with more than 70% cocoa) that aren’t overly sweet, so I prefer using good dark chocolate and just chopping it up myself, however if you do have good dark chocolate chips, feel free to use them.  This cake also works as loaves or mini loaves (great for breakfast…), though the baking times will have to be adjusted (probably around 50 mins for two loaves or about 35 mins as mini loaves, though don’t hold me to that).  The drizzle is, of course, optional.  The cake will keep for a few days in an airtight box.

Ingredients

For the cake:
450g orange kumara (sweet potato)
150g dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips (at least 70%)
300g unsalted butter, softened
300g caster sugar
1½ tsp vanilla extract
6 eggs, room temperature
225g ground almonds
4 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt

For the drizzle (optional):
100g icing sugar
¾ tsp ground cardamom
Just under 1 tbsp boiling water

Directions

To prepare the cake:
1.  Preheat the oven to 205°C/fan 185°C.

2.  Scrub the kumara and pierce the skin several times with a fork.  Place on a 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 mash the flesh in a small bowl with a fork – you should have around 325g of cooked flesh.  Set aside.

3.  Reduce the oven temperature to 195°C/fan 175°C.  Line the bottom of a 24cm round cake tin with baking paper.

4.  If using chocolate and not chocolate chips, chop the chocolate up and set aside.

5.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric whisk until light and fluffy, then add the vanilla extract.  Beat the eggs in, one at a time, adding about 1 tbsp of ground almond with each egg (this will help prevent the mixture from curdling).

6.  Add the remaining ground almonds, the spices, baking powder, salt, mashed kumara and chopped-up chocolate and stir together with a spatula or spoon.  Evenly pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 1h-1h10, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean (if the cake starts to brown a little too much on top, just cover it with aluminium foil).  Allow to cool for 10 mins in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack to cool fully.

To prepare the drizzle:
7.  Once the cake has cooled fully, add all the drizzle ingredients to a small bowl and whisk together until smooth.  Pour into a freezer bag, snip a small corner off and drizzle over the cake.

Enjoy!

Also makes an excellent breakfast in mini loaf form…  I'm all about cake for breakfast, doncha know.

*Heavy sarcasm alert.  It’s anything but a lark, just in case anybody was unsure.

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Happy ever-so-slightly belated Chinese New Year!

I’m afraid that life has completely gotten in the way of blogging.  Again.  I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the past few weeks in the lab fighting the incredible slowness of the one computer that runs the programme that I need for my research.  Which doesn’t really make me want to come home and spend more time staring at a computer screen.  Then there’s the minor detail that I’ve decided to move up to Leigh permanently (well, until the end of my MSc) because I love it so much here.  So I’ve been back and forth between Auckland and Leigh over the past two weeks to pack up my Auckland flat and also deal with visa extension applications and other such joys.  And between all of that, please don’t hate me too much (especially if you’re in the northern hemisphere) but we’ve been having such a wonderful summer that it’s been impossible to resist the call of the outdoors.

Any post with dragons in is automatically awesome, right?

Today’s post should have gone up about two weeks ago.  For Chinese New Year.  Evidently that didn’t happen.  However, since today is the Chinese Lantern Festival, which is still part of the New Year celebrations (from what I understand), I’m totally letting myself off on that one.  We went to the Lantern Festival in Auckland yesterday, and there were some super awesome lanterns (funny that).  Including a whole montage of penguins and polar bears, which, before anybody gets upset about the ecological inaccuracy of that (I totally did before I read the explanatory panel), was apparently meant to symbolise China’s scientific interest in both polar regions.  Still not sure how that’s quite relevant to New Year, but it sure looked awesome!

Penguins and polar bears – always so closely with Chinese New Year…

One of my housemates is Chinese and another is Chinese-Malaysian, and they cooked a big Chinese New Year’s Eve meal for us (which was totally amazing).  I was asked to make a dessert (it took my housemates about a week to figure out that I’m not half bad in that department).  I wanted something fairly light and bite-sized – I had no idea how many people would be coming, but was sure that the main meal would be pretty filling – that I could preferably prepare the evening before so as not to get in the way of my housemates’ preparations on the day.  In the end I settled on that most Chinese of desserts: chocolate and ginger macarons.  Because ginger is totally a Chinese flavour, and I made the shells red and piped Chinese characters in gold on the top of each macaron, which means they’re clearly Chinese New Year-themed.  Ok, so it’s a little tenuous, but everybody loved them and they went down an absolute treat.  (Phew!)

A very Chinese dessert.  Ahem.

I didn’t just pick some totally random Chinese characters by the way.  One of them is which means prosperity or blessing – obviously an important symbol for New Year – and the other is shé which means snake – because it’s the year of the snake.  My housemates wrote them out for me to copy, so any mistakes are totally not my fault.  I’m really happy with how they turned out though – adding the characters really just made them that little bit extra special.

Mad Chinese piping skills!

We Should CocoaI’m submitting these macarons to this month’s We Should Cocoa, which is being hosted by Jen over at Blue Kitchen Bakes, who has chosen “ginger” as the special ingredient to be combined with chocolate.  An awesome choice, might I add, since I do love ginger.  The bitterness of the dark chocolate in the ganache cut through the heat of the ginger wonderfully and also went some way to counterbalancing the sweetness of the shells.  The ganache is pretty intensely chocolatey though, so if you’re not a huge dark chocolate fan, be warned that you might not be able to wolf down a whole batch.

These all disappeared rather quickly over the course of the evening

Chocolate & ginger 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 Sharky Oven Gloves
Royal icing recipe adapted from Joy of Baking

Colouring the shells and piping Chinese characters on them is obviously totally optional.  The recipe for the royal icing decorations on top makes far more than you’ll need, but any leftovers will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for a few weeks.  The ganache can be a little finnicky and is best if you can avoid cooling it in the fridge as it may cool too quickly and harden. If you do need to cool it in the fridge, just make sure not to forget about it!  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:
100g room temperature egg whites (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand)
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar
Red food colouring paste or gel (optional)

For the ganache filling:
40g whipping cream (NZ: pure cream)
20g unsalted butter
150g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
40g Frangelico (or Amaretto)
1 tbsp ground ginger

For the royal icing decorations:
1 egg white
1 tsp Frangelico (or Amaretto)
250–280g icing sugar
Yellow or gold food colouring paste or gel

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.

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.  Add a few drops of the red food colouring gel to the mixture just before the end and mix well to get the shade of red that you wish.

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 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.  Heat the cream, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the butter and chocolate chocolate (broken into pieces), the Frangelico and sift in the ginger.  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?).  Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to thicken on the countertop (or in the fridge if absolutely necessary – if it’s taking too long or not setting).

9.  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.

10.  Leave in the fridge for a few hours in an airtight container to set before piping decorations on top.

To decorate the macarons:
11.  Prepare a piping bag with a very thin round tip.

12.  Sift 250g of the icing sugar into a medium-sized bowl, and add the egg white, Frangelico (or Amaretto) and a drop or two of the food colouring gel (the amount to add will depend on how intense you want the colour to be, obviously).  Whisk them together with an electric mixer until the mixture is stiff and can be used to pipe without running.  If the mixture is not reaching a stiff stage, add more icing sugar a little at a time and keep mixing.

13.  Transfer the mixture to the piping bag and pipe the decorations on top of the set macarons.  Allow the mixture to set before returning to the fridge so that the macarons have spent at least 24h setting before serving (I know, it’s difficult! But so worth it!!)

Enjoy!

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A snack fit for a hungry hobbit

Happy Waitangi Day for yesterday to any New Zealanders out there – I hope you all enjoyed your day off and had the same beautiful weather as we did!  I was actually in the lab trying to fix up some of the cameras I need for my experiments.  It might not sound like the most thrilling way to spend a public holiday, but at least it didn’t require too much intense thinking and I knew that I’d be going for a lovely long swim once I got back.  Until a tsunami warning was put out after the earthquake in the Solomon Islands.*  Having to stay away from beaches and out of the sea thwarted my plans for a swim somewhat.  So instead,  I made a slight dent in the backlog of blog posts from the safety of our hilltop house.  Because blogging and exercise are totally interchangeable, right?

This post has nothing to do with tsunamis by the way.

Today’s recipe dates back from Kat was visiting over New Year’s.  (What blogging backlog?)  I’ve previously mentioned that we went on a little trip to Hobbiton whilst she was here.  Neither of us survive day trips without some sort of snack to keep us going – much like any self-respecting hobbit, actually – so we decided to make some homemade granola bars to take along with us.  I have a jar of raisins permanently soaking in rum, so we decided to dig into that and throw some into the granola bars.  Because why wouldn’t you?  Adding rum to granola bars obviously means that we’re winning at life.

Why would you use normal raisins when you can use rum-raisins?

Oats, nuts and (rum-soaked) dried fruit all contribute to a good snack that keeps you going, and we added some dark chocolate chips just because.  We threw in some macadamia nut butter that I had loitering in my cupboard, which turned out to be a rather excellent idea.  If you don’t happen to come across some on offer at a farmers’ market, I’d suggest almond butter or even peanut butter (although peanut butter would have a much stronger flavour).  These granola bars are pretty soft so they may crumble a little with transport, but if you wrap them up well in baking paper, it won’t be a problem.

We had planned on taking photos of the granola bars in Hobbiton…  But we got a little distracted and forgot.  Woops.

Almond, ginger & rum-raisin granola bars

Makes 12 bars
Adapted from BBC Good Food

The great thing about these bars is that all the ingredients are easily changed – substitute different nuts, different dried fruit, more (or fewer) chocolate chips or crystallised ginger, etc.  If you don’t have macadamia nut butter (I only have some because I came across some at a farmers’ market), almond butter would work well, as would peanut butter (though peanut butter will have a stronger flavour).  I used manuka honey for the flavour, but use whatever you’ve got available (or a mixture).  Soaking the raisins in rum is obviously optional, but highly recommended (unless you’re making these for kids, obviously…).  The bars are best wrapped in baking paper to transport them (they won’t stick to the baking paper), and will keep well for a few days in an airtight container (they’ll probably last longer actually, but we ate them all…).

Ingredients

100g raisins
Spiced rum
200g oats
100g slivered or flaked almonds
50g butter
50g light brown sugar
50g macadamia nut butter
3 tbsp honey
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
50g crystallised ginger
50g dark chocolate chips (at least 70%)

Directions

1.  Add the raisins to a bowl or jar and cover with spiced rum.  Soak for at least 1h, but the longer the better (top tip: I always keep a jar of raisins soaking in rum.  You know, for emergencies…).

2.  Line a 25 x 19 cm baking tin with baking paper (otherwise you won’t be able to get the granola bars out afterwards).  Pre-heat the oven to 160°C/fan oven 140°C.

3.  Add the oats and almonds to a roasting tin or lipped baking tray, stir and toast for 5-10 mins in the oven, until fragrant.  Leave the oven on.

4.  Meanwhile, add the butter, macadamia nut butter, brown sugar and honey to a large saucepan and melt together.  Once smooth, stir in the spices, then add the toasted oats, chocolate chips, chopped crystallised ginger and raisins.  Stir together until well coated, transfer to the prepared tin, press down evenly and bake for 30 mins.  Allow to cool fully in the tin before cutting into bars or squares.  Wrap in baking paper to transport.

Enjoy!

Granola bars with rum.  Winning at life.

*The warning was eventually cancelled and no tsunami turned up, so nobody panic.

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Keftas with raisin & almond couscous

One of the things I love about New Zealand is the lamb.  The lamb here tastes wonderful.  So I was rather pleased when a lamb recipe was thrown my way by this month’s Random Recipes challenge.  The theme for this month was “random birthday number” – we had to use our birth date to pick our book – in my case, the 14th book on the shelf, which was Guide de cuisine de l’Étudiant, a French student cook book which was a gift from my French aunt and uncle.  It’s a good book because it has a range of straightforward recipes for one, two and groups of people, so covers all sorts of occasions.  The random number button on my calculator directed me to page 147, which is a recipe for keftas, or North African lamb meatballs.

Now, the original recipe calls for ras-el-hanout, but I couldn’t find any – I have seen some here, but I can’t remember where, which is obviously super helpful.  So I had to make up a substitution based on various articles online.  Thankfully it worked out and the meatballs were actually fantastically delicious, although perhaps a little too oniony, so I’ve reduced the amount of onion in the recipe here.  What I also love about these meatballs is that they can be fried or baked (I personally preferred baked), and they’d probably work wonderfully on the BBQ as well.  I served the keftas with a side of raisin and almond couscous, which is easy to prepare whilst the meatballs are cooking.  I’m also submitting these keftas to this month’s Simple and in Season over at Fabulicious Food! since lamb is in season here, and this recipe is definitely super simple to prepare!

Keftas with raisin & almond couscous

Serves 3-4
Keftas adapted from Guide de cuisine de l’Étudiant
Couscous recipe by Sharky Oven Gloves

I thought there was a little too much onion when I made these, so I’ve reduced the quantity in the recipe given here (so yours won’t look quite as oniony as the photos in the post).  Don’t be put off by the number of spices in the recipe – if you’re missing one you can probably get away with leaving it out, particularly if it’s a spice that you don’t often (or ever) use.  The skewers are optional, but fun.  I’ve read that you should soak skewers in water before using them so that they don’t burn when cooking, but I forgot to do this and didn’t have a problem with burnt skewers.

Ingredients

For the keftas:
½ tsp Cayenne pepper
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground coriander seeds
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp turmeric
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
500g minced lamb
1 medium onion
Bamboo skewers (optional)
1½ tsp olive oil (if frying)

For the couscous:
75g raisins
½ tbsp olive oil
150g wholemeal couscous
50g flaked almonds
Knob of butter
Salt & freshly ground pepper
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Fresh parsley, to serve

Directions

1.  Place the raisins for the couscous in a heat-proof bowl and cover with boiling water.  Leave to soak whilst preparing the rest of the meal.

To make the keftas:
2.  If cooking the meatballs in the oven, pre-heat to 220°C/fan oven 200°C.

3.  Add the spices to a large bowl and stir together.  Add the lamb to the bowl and mix well with your hands so that the spices are evenly distributed.

4.  Finely chop the onion and mix it in with the lamb.  Form the mixture into walnut-sized balls, slightly flattening them.  Slide the meatballs onto the skewers (this is optional, particularly if baking the keftas, but recommended if frying them or cooking them on the BBQ).

5.  If baking the meatballs then place them in an oven-proof dish and bake for about 25 mins until browned all over and cooked through.  If frying them, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a high heat.  Add the meatballs and fry for 7 mins before turning them over and frying a further 7 mins.  If BBQing, you’ll have to figure it out yourself.

To make the couscous:
6.  Meanwhile, prepare the accompanying couscous.  Drain the raisins and pour the soaking water into a measuring jug. Set the raisins aside.  Top the raisin soaking liquid up to 175 ml with water and to a saucepan.  Add the olive oil and bring to the boil.  As soon as it begins to boil, add the couscous, stir, cover and remove from the heat.  Allow the couscous to soak up the liquid (this should take about 10 mins).

7.  Toast the flaked almonds until fragrant in a frying pan over a medium heat, taking care not to let them burn.  Once the couscous is ready, add a knob of butter and fluff up the grains with a fork.  Season with salt and pepper and add the ground cinnamon, raisins and almonds and stir through.  Cover to keep warm until the keftas are ready.

8.  Serve the keftas immediately, accompanied by the couscous, sprinkled with chopped fresh parsley.

Enjoy!

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A Bond-themed Cocktail in a Macaron: Leiter Fluid

Super-duper exciting news: Skyfall was finally released in New Zealand yesterday!!  I’ve been vastly unimpressed at having to wait a month after its release in the UK to see it, particularly since I’ve been hearing how good it is.  Miraculously, I’ve managed to avoid hearing about or seeing any spoilers, which, over the course of an entire month spent on facebook and Twitter, is a rather impressive feat, though I’m assuming that I’ve managed this mostly through sheer luck.  And I suspect that perhaps some of my closest friends who share my Bond love have carefully avoided posting spoilers since they knew I wouldn’t be able to watch it yet.  If so, I’m incredibly grateful.  Anyway, the suspense has been killing me.  Not helped by having to walk past a giant Skyfall billboard every day…

I was finally able to watch Skyfall yesterday evening with some of my labmates.  Wow.  Fantastic.  I can’t really say much more without giving away any spoilers, but I loved it.  Whilst Kat, Craig and I were watching our way through all the Bond films during the summer between our third and fourth years of undergrad, Craig made us a particular cocktail one evening.  I believe it’s mentioned in one of the books (possibly Casino Royale), so we didn’t really invent it, but I think he slightly adapted it and then we re-named it.  It consists of equal parts of gin, red vermouth and Campari and then topped off with tonic to fill the glass.  So basically a Negroni with tonic.

But we wanted a Bond-themed name for the cocktail, and we eventually settled on Leiter Fluid (that’s Leiter as in Felix Leiter).  By “we” I really mean Kat and Craig – I’m not particularly inventive, so I was probably more focussed on sampling the drink itself.  Anyway, in honour of Skyfall’s release and also of this month’s Baking with Spirit theme of “gin,” I decided to take the Leiter Fluid and turn it into a macaron.  Leiter Fluid macarons – oh yes.  I decided that the flavours of the drink (particularly the Campari) would pair well with a dark chocolate ganache, and indeed they did, although they ended up coming through rather more subtly than I expected.  Which is no bad thing.  And the sweet shells balance the bitter ganache perfectly.  My only gripe is that the shells didn’t come out quite as swirly as I wanted, but luckily that doesn’t affect the taste!

Leiter Fluid 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

I used Gordon’s gin in the ganache since I find that the Campari and red vermouth mask any real subtleties of good gins.  The ganache can be a little finnicky and is best if you can avoid cooling it in the fridge as it may cool too quickly and harden.  If you do need to cool it in the fridge, just make sure not to forget about it!  (Not that I’m speaking from experience…)  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:
Red 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

For the ganache filling:
50g whipping cream (NZ: pure cream)
150g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
20g Campari
20g gin
20g red vermouth
A small glug of tonic

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.  If you want to make the macarons swirly, brush three or four lines of food colouring up the inside of the prepared piping bag (this might be a bit messy.  I did three 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.  If you want to make the shells a uniform colour, add a few drops of food colouring gel to the mixture just before the end and mix well.

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.  Heat the cream, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the chocolate (broken into pieces), the Campari, gin, red vermouth and a glug of tonic 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?).  Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to thicken on the countertop (or in the fridge if necessary – if it’s taking too long or not setting).

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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Lemon macarons of the award-winning variety…

I mentioned the School of Biology baking competition in my last Sunday Smiles.  We later found out that it was actually a pretence to lure us all into the tea room so that we could get ambushed by a Health & Safety lecture.  The theme of the baking competition was ‘Health & Safety,’ so perhaps we should have actually seen that coming…  Anyway, when the theme was announced, for some reason the first science-related H&S thing I thought of were hazard symbols.  Possibly because we have a variety of them all over the various cabinets in the lab.  Plus a lovely biohazard sign on each door to the lab.

Now I could have done hazard symbol-themed cupcakes or something, but I figured that a rather flash entry was in order – it was a baking competition after all…  I decided on macarons with little hazard symbols drawn on top, because macarons tend to look rather fancy-pants and thus seem impressive.  Most of the hazard symbols are black on a yellow background, so I needed yellow shells, and since I like to match a macaron’s colour to its taste, I had to think of a yellow flavour.  Lemon seemed a little obvious, but I was rather stumped for alternatives.

I needn’t have worried though, because I ended up winning “Best Tasting.”  Yay!  To draw the hazard signs I used a handy edible food colouring pen.  I initially thought of doing the biohazard symbol, but my drawing skills aren’t quite up to that, so I limited myself to the radioactivity sign.  Halfway through drawing the radioactivity symbols on the shells, I realised the irony of a French person presenting radioactivity-themed French baked goods at a baking competition in New Zealand…  Awkward.

Several of my labmates missed the competition and were upset that they didn’t get to try the “award-winning” macarons, so I made them a second batch (but with swirly shells this time) since I had plenty of the lemon curd filling left over.  I’m nice like that.  Plus these are just so good that everybody deserves to try one – not only are they fantastically lemony, but the zingy filling perfectly cuts through and balances the sweetness of the shells.  Of the people that I’ve spoken to who aren’t really fans of macarons, most say that they find them too overwhelmingly sweet, which I can totally understand.  If you’re one of those people, these might be the macarons for you.

Lemon macarons

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

The lemon curd recipe makes more curd than you’ll need, but there are plenty of other uses for it (including just eating it out of the jar…), so don’t worry about that.  Make sure you leave the macarons at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the curd 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:
Yellow 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 (optional)
Black edible food colouring pen (optional)

For the filling:
About 150g lemon curd (you won’t need the whole recipe)

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.  If you’re planning on making swirly shells, brush three lines of food colouring up the inside of the prepared piping bag (this might be a bit messy).

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.  Add three or four of drops of yellow food colouring gel or paste to get a pale yellow colour just before the end and mix well.  If making ‘radioactive’ macarons, add a few more drops to get a stronger yellow colour.

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 (only if you’re not planning on drawing on them later) 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.  If making ‘radioactive’ macarons, draw the symbols on the shells using the edible food colouring pen (if any of the shells are looking a little less-than-perfect, they make good practice runs).

To assemble:
8.  Once the shells have fully cooled, use a teaspoon to deposit a good dollop of lemon curd onto one shell of each pair.  Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to push the shell down onto the filling evenly.

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

Enjoy!

PS – This is the marine H&S-themed cake baked by one of our technicians that won the “Best Looking” prize.  Isn’t it amazing?  She even made the little chocolate decorations.  Between the two of us, the Marine Lab cleaned the competition up.  Not that we’re competitive or anything…  Ahem.

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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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