Friday, May 28, 2010

Maple, walnut & flaxseed pancakes with strawberries

My stomach feels like it has been thumped with a mallet like a chicken schnitzel - and it's not due to situps, or exercise of any kind.

My sides have split with laughter. It's not just my midriff that's feeling a little tender; my dad and hubby are also a little sore thanks to Modern Family. It's been a long time (think back to when Arrested Development was on air) since I found a funny television show that made me laugh and left me in a good mood after watching it. As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes a little TV can be a good thing.

There's nothing like a good chuckle to get you in a good mood.
The better my mood the more I like to bake as I believe that food cooked with love and joy tastes better than food cooked when grumpy or tired (this may be due in part to the latter moods resulting in more mistakes...).

Apart from laughter, some meals also instantly lift your spirits, and for me, pancakes are one of them. I adore pancakes but they can make me feel a little guilty if I overindulge as they aren't the healthiest things. So imagine my delight at finding a pretty healthy(ish) pancake recipe that is also high in Omega 3s (hint: there was a lot of delight). I ate four of these babies and I didn't even feel guilty...until I went back for another one...

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 8mins.
cooking time: 14mins to make 6 large pancakes.
total: 22mins.

taste: 4.5/5. Flaxseed Fabulous.

I adored these! I loved the texture and the crunch of the walnuts. The were softly sweet and perfect with some fresh, juicy strawberries and extra lashings of maple syrup.

I added a few extra walnuts. I'd love to try them with whole wheat flour, and perhaps a pinch of cinnamon, but honestly they were great as is especially considering they are a more nutritious pancake.

would I make it again: Yes.

recipe: Maple, walnut & flaxseed pancakes

Friday, May 21, 2010

Apple, fruit & nut torte

"The sun did not shine.
It was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house
All that cold, cold, wet day."
Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

The soft cotton sheets peeked out from in between my fingers, clutched tightly within tiny fists. My eyes grew wide with anticipation as I clung to every word, told brilliantly in different voices and tones. Of all the childhood memories I have of my mother, her role as storyteller is what I treasure most.

My love of books was possibly my first love; I was reading on my own before the age of four. But not a dozen books read alone could compare to the one or two read by my mother some nights whilst my brother and I were tucked into bed eagerly awaiting a tantalising tale. No one could tell a story like my mother. I can still hear the low and slightly effeminate English accent of Moon Face or the lyrical purr of Dr Seuss - she made each character leap off the page and created a magical world for us to visit and dream about. One day, I hope to be able to do the same for my children, to not simply read aloud, but to bring each story to life, like my mother did for me.

I want to take this moment to thank my mother for those special nights, so precious in my memory, and to wish her a very Happy 45th Birthday. You might recall this was the cake I made for you on Mother's Day, your birthday cake currently waits patiently for your return home so you may breathe a wish upon its crust and slice a piece to eat.

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time: 20min.
cooking time: 1 hour & 10mins.
total: 1 hour & 30mins.

taste: 4.5/5. A celebration of fruit and nuts.

The cake itself is sweet and soft with a glorious crunchy crust with bursts of zesty cinnamon. This gives way to the wonderfully tart and juicy apple slices. They linger on your tongue allowing you to savour their flavour before the plump sweet raisins come into play with the crunchy pine nuts. Everything is then tied off neatly with the gorgeous hazelnuts.There may be quite a few flavours but they do not overwhelm, instead they create interest and make each mouthful different to the last whilst still allowing the apples to shine.

Hubby was elated with this cake and I was too.
Mine cooked in 1 hour.

would I make it again: Yes.

recipe: Apple Torte

Friday, May 14, 2010

Pomegranate, cucumber, feta & mint salad

Do Not Disturb.

If you could read my thoughts, that would be orbiting around me in neon lights like Saturn's belt. No subtle pastels or Miss Universe sashes, just a CLUB X style, in-your-face sign. The phone is on vibrate, so don't bother callin' either because as the GaGa would put it, I'm kinda biz-ay...doing crap all.
That's right folks, today I am doing neither housework, paid work, errand work or even brain work (apart from typing these few words). I have two weeks worth of tv shows lined up and mugs of tea to drink during and I do not wish to be disturbed.

All was going well until hunger managed to knock on my tummy door persistently enough halfway through finding out Castiel is now human (wtf?) to get me off my bottom and into the kitchen. I had three decent looking guys to get back to in my living room so I wanted something quick, yet tasty and satisfying. This salad was exactly were Dean, Sam and Cas...

Pomegranate, Feta, Cucumber & Mint Salad
serves 4 - 6

    * 2 pomegranates
    * 200g feta
    * 2 Lebanese cucumbers, diced small
    * 1/3 cup mint leaves, roughly chopped
    * 2 tsp sumac
    * 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
    * 3 tbsp extra-virgin
    * olive oil
    * Salt

Break open pomegranates and remove seeds (I like to whack mine with a rolling pin). Crumble feta (I prefer to use creamy Greek) into largish pieces. Combine seeds, feta, cucumbers, onion and herbs in a large bowl.

When ready to serve add the sumac, vinegar, oil and salt and toss to combine. Best served cold.

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time: 10mins.
total: 10mins.

taste: 4/5. Never a dull mouthfull.

I knew from the ingredient list alone I would love this. (Side note: how much does that green plate NOT go well with the salad, this is what happens when you rush things, live and learn).

The first taste I got was the cool, crunchy cucumber flecked with salt bathed in the lemony-dressing. Then came the creamy, tangy goat's cheese followed by the juicy, tartly sweet pomegranate rounded off with the refreshing mint. Like the Awesome Foursome, there's no odd ones out. I enjoyed eating it so much I went back for seconds, and my husband's left over firsts.

I omitted the red onion, tomato and corainder from the original recipe.

would I make it again: yes.

recipe: Pomegranate, Feta, Cucumber & Mint Salad

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Honey & spice poached pear

Only a short post today as I have some French lessons and laundry waiting impatiently for me to get to them.

I love desserts, and I tend to make at least two to three per week. I also tend to be the one who eats 90% of said desserts, and if, like most, they are packed full of sugar, it's not such a good thing. I could scale back to one dessert per week, but I am stubborn and simply have too many recipes to that need to be tried. Therefore, I aim to find a dessert now and then that isn't 'really bad' health wise.
This particular dessert is a single serving of fruit with only some honey to sweeten it, and spices to bring it to life. You can't get a healthier yet still sweetly satisfying dessert.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 5mins.
cooking time: approx 20mins depending on the ripeness of the pears.
total: 25mins.

taste: 4/5. Simple and scrumptious.

I personally loved its simplicity and subtle sweetness. The spices work like clockwork together to create a warm and pleasant depth of flavour.

I used 4tsp of minced ginger and I doubled the spices (except the vanilla)

My sugar-addicted husband and father said these were a 'touch bland', so for the mouths that don't appreciate subtlety and flavour not derived from sugar, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of melted chocolate and I'm sure they will fall for this dish too. I love it as it is and think it's a fantastic healthier dessert. 

Would I make it again: Yes. This would be great as a sweet treat for kids.

recipe: Honey & spice poached pears

Monday, May 10, 2010

Brioche french toast

 “Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying  of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”
James Beard (1903-1985)

Truer words have not been spoken.
Being born of European heritage, not one day would pass without bread, in fact, almost not one meal would pass without it. It was as constant as the rising of the sun, and perhaps as comforting.

Ask anyone about the smell of freshly baked bread and I assure you a smile will appear before their answer. That heavenly scent, whilst indescribable, leaves you with an innocent warmth that emanates from your core. Even sweeter still for me is the perfume of toast, if I could bottle it I would. I cannot tell you how many times I have asked 'what is that wonderful smell coming from your kitchen' to be told, 'I am just making toast...'

Whenever we dine out I always get excited to see what bread we will be given as I feel it allows me to know what to expect of their food. If given cold, stale or flavourless bread I know to lower my expectations, but should I find soft bread that steams as I tear it in two I know I am in for a treat.

Despite my love for bread, I have never made it myself. I have a deep respect for bakers who rise whilst the sun still slumbers to knead and bake until morning, so that the rest of us have something on which to smear our jams. I figured that unless I had hours to spend I just would not be able to make it. And for years I was fine with this. And then one evening, as I prepared to make dinner, I realised that the recipe called for brioche, having none and being too late to get any I started to panic. Racing to my laptop I optimistically hoped that perhaps I could find a 'shortcut' recipe that would give me brioche in a few hours for dinner. Five or so clicks later, I stumbled upon Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day - and voila, I was retrieving a glorious loaf of brioche from my oven four hours later. Granted it's not as pretty and maybe not as light as a brioche given the proper kneading and preparation, it's more than adequate should you find yourself with little time and in need of bread.  I loved baking my own bread so much that I cannot wait to set aside some time and do it again.

Whilst we enjoyed the brioche in its battered eggy cloak, in all honesty, we enjoyed it most with a simple smear of butter straight from the oven; that in itself is perfection.

Picture taken two days after baking.

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time: 4 hours.
cooking time: 30mins.
total: 4hours & 30mins.

taste: 4/5. Knead a quick brioche? Then try this.

Even without an eggwash to gloss its crust it came out with a lovely burnt umber sheen.
I rested mine at room temperature for 1 hour before chilling in the fridge for 2 hours and then placing it in a tin at room temperature for 1 hour before baking at 200C for 30mins.
As it was only stirred with a spoon I found mine had some lumps in dough form, but they smoothed out during cooking.
Still warm from the oven it was soft and gently sweet; a smear of salty butter made it sing.

Once it began to get stale I used it to make a simple french toast with maple syrup, cinnamon, bananas & a dollop of creme fraiche. I found that it didn't soak up the egg as well as white breads do but it still tasted great.

Would I make it again: Yes. I would love to try this again, however next time I would use my paddle attachment to combine the ingredients to achieve a smoother more incorporated dough and would also use an eggwash for the top.

recipe: Brioche

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Zucchini soup

I seem to have hit the proverbial peak.

I feel as though my energy is slowly tumbling down the hill headed for the inevitable burned-out ditch. May is bursting at the seams; all of the events struggling to remain within the hessian sack as I carry it from room to room, day by day. The gentler Birthdays get shoved below as Mother's Day elbows its way to the top; it likes attention. The work-related tasks sit heavy at the bottom, like lumps of coal, they know they'll get their turn regardless of where they lay, their weight ensures that - as no one wants to drag them around for long.

At eight days in, the sack hardly feels lighter. With 3 birthdays, 1 Mother's Day split into 2, and an extended family BBQ still to go, this month is a little overstuffed. Couple that with more work (thanks for the dive Mr Stockmarket), and a new time-intensive side project I'm feeling a little thin around the edges.

It's times like these that previously enjoyable activities, like cooking, suddenly begin to look like chores. Just when I was reaching for the take-out folder my mother stopped by with a bowl of soup. A nicely warm, clover-green zucchini soup. She wanted me to take some photographs, and I in turn got dinner, a pretty good trade if you ask me...

As I didn't make it, I won't be rating it but I will try to explain it's flavour...
If I had to describe its taste I would say it's simply zucchini - this soup is soft and subtle with the delicate mild grassiness of the zucchini intertwined with luscious cream. There is a background sweetness bestowed by the onions and garlic but they merely strum quietly in the background. Zucchini is one of those vegetables, that when cast alongside others it blossoms, but if given sole responsibility for the flavour of a dish it tends to shy away. I thoroughly enjoyed this while I ate it, but a day later its taste eluded me, like a message washed from the sand by the surge of the ocean. Perhaps someone can better describe what zucchini soup tastes like...

recipe: Zucchini soup

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Strawberry-rhubarb crisps with cardamom & nutmeg

It wasn't long before the concrete buildings became forests of matchstick trees, their long slender trunks growing on either side of the steep curved roads. The sunlight would flicker through them like an old slide-show projector, mesmerising us with its morse-code light. The longer we drove the more the trees outnumbered the man-made buildings until finally we came to the sign we were looking for: Grants picnic ground in Sherbroke forest.

Excitement filled my bones, as what lay ahead was something I have always wanted to do, and in fact, it was #14 on my life list. The anticipation rose as I caught glimpses of white through the window as we pulled into the parking lot, the gravel crunching beneath the slick rubber tires.

Opening the car doors we heard them; a concert of bird calls, each chirp melding with another - I began to smile.

We skipped into the shop to purchase five packets of seeds and made our way out onto the picnic grounds. The birds were everywhere and none too shy. The large white cockatoos with their fluorescent yellow mohawks are the first to greet us, flapping their large wings as they landed on our shoulders, or as some of the more cunning ones did, climbed our legs like ladders to get to our pockets, where the seed packets were. We were warned to keep a firm grip on the paper packets as the cockatoos will grab them at the first chance to fly away and greedily consume their meal in privacy.

The next bird to wander over was the shy gallah, pretty with their soft muted grey feathers splashed with flamingo pink chests. They fed from our hands, but only on ground level. Some mistook our fingers for seeds though as we were rewarded with a sharp nip. Thankfully their beaks did not pierce our skin.

And then there were the beautiful rosellas - all flame and brilliance with their crimson bodies and indigo feathers, some tinged with jade edges. They were the gentlest and the most fun to feed due to their small size. As they were intimidated by the cockatoos we had to go beneath the trees so they could jump onto our palms without being bothered by the larger birds. Their tiny claws wrapped around our fingers as they softly flicked the seeds into their mouth with their tiny tongue, stopping to look up at us every now and then. They ate with the grace of a ballerina. R was lucky enough to have two eating from his hands at once. Later on he found  himself with three large cockatoos perched on his shoulders and arms, rather like a modern pirate.

We spent a few hours there, stopping to eat some lunch before returning to the birds. Once our pockets had emptied we opted to walk along one of the forest walks, spying a kookaburra perched on a sign as we wound our way though the trees. It was a lovely day.

Arriving home, I refilled the bird feeders on my back porch as the rainbow lorikeets were already waiting patiently in the tree for their lunch. I hope one day they like me enough to come and sit on my shoulder. In the meantime, I am happy to simply watch them through my kitchen window as I stir and knead and bake. Should I ever want to hold a bird in my hand again, I know where to go.

I have re-written the recipe with my adaptations, the original is linked below.

Strawberry-rhubarb crisps with cardamom & nutmeg
serves 4

  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • 85g tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 450g 1/2-inch-thick slices fresh rhubarb
  • 2 cups halved strawberries
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Sweetened whipped cream
For topping:
Mix first 6 ingredients in medium bowl. Add butter; rub in with fingertips until moist clumps form. 

For filling:
Preheat oven to 180C. Butter six 1 1/2-cup baking dishes/ramekins. Combine all ingredients except whipped cream in large bowl; stir to blend. Let stand until juices form, about 15 minutes.
Divide rhubarb mixture among prepared custard cups. Sprinkle topping evenly over mixture in each. Bake until topping is golden brown and crisp and filling is bubbling thickly around edges, about 25 minutes. Serve warm with sweetened whipped cream.

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time: 22mins.
cooking time: 25mins for four mini 1.5 cup dishes.
total: 47mins.

taste: 4.5/5. What crisps strive to be.

The crisp begins with the cardamom, like the opening sentence of a novel it piques your interest. The cerise rhubarb follows with its soft rounded tartness as it embraces the sweetheart sweetness of the strawberry. The vanilla almonds and chunky topping adds textural diversity and wraps the juicy fruits up with its caramel-salty-twine. Lastly, is the orange rind with its fragrant bitter full stop. And there you have it, a complete and perfect story with a beginning, middle and end. Each component works wonderfully with the next creating a marvellous balance of sweet, tart and saltiness.

R didn't enjoy this as much but I found it to be my perfect fruit crumble (or crisp).

would I make it again: Yes with the modifications I made.

original recipe: Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisps with Cardamom and Nutmeg

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Silky butternut squash & parmesan soup

Breathe in.....breathe out....

My mind focuses only on my breath as I lead with my hips into downward dog. Breathe in, breathe out. The hour skipped by so quickly that I felt my feet barely touched the mat. Despite its fleetingness I feel peacefully energised and centred; exactly what I was hoping for. My body slipped into the poses effortlessly, as if it had been waiting patiently for this day to come.
Yoga is something I have always wanted to do, but never did. Fast paced boxing classes or energetic dance classes would always win out, I thought high-energy, calorie-burning exercise would be better for my body. It's only after being told by many that calming activities would benefit me greatly right now that I finally took the long-overdue step. I am glad I did. I needed this change. Yoga helped me to release some of the weight, to breathe again. I didn't realise I had been holding my breath since he passed away; it felt good to exhale some of the pain.

On the way home I stopped past my grandmother's house with the last piece of the pear, ginger & treacle cake. We chatted and she remarked that I looked better. I felt better, I told her. Arriving home I put on my favourite apron, played the Amelie soundtrack (my cooking music) and began to make something to feed my hungry body. As my knife carved into the orange flesh I heard a faint whisper from my tear-stained heart...thank you...

You're welcome.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 5mins.
cooking time: 50mins.
total: 55mins.

taste: 4.5/5. Simple and splendid - it's squash-tastic.

As far as butternut squash or pumpkin soups go, this is my favourite. The fact that it's so easy to make and uses so few ingredients just adds to its appeal.
The soup has a gorgeous silky texture, but as I prefer my soups a little thicker, I increased the butternut by 40% the next time I made it as you can see in the second photo. It was lovely both ways - the latter being slightly sweeter due to the extra caramelised butternut. I'd say my ideal texture lies in the middle, perhaps 20% extra butternut...

The parmesan adds a great cheesy saltiness to the dish without competing with the butter nut- this really is all about the vegetable, as it should be.

The sweating stage took around 15mins for me, rather than 5mins. 

would I make it again: Yes, I have already made it twice, I can see it will become a cold-weather staple.

recipe: Silky butternut squash & parmesan soup