Archive for January, 2008

A RECIPE: Coconut muffins with lime curd

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Ever since I produced these fabulous (if I do say so myself) cookies, I’ve become borderline obsessive compulsive about testing recipes with coconut oil. I get into little ruts like this on a fairly regular basis- like at breakfast for instance. Breakfast is the only meal of the day where I become infatuated with a particular thing and stick with it for six months to a year, unable to break the habit. That is until I’m forced to and then I, reluctantly at first move on to something else. For instance I have just broken the Total 2% yogurt with mango and blueberries phase and I’m now back to porridge dolloped with yogurt and sprinkled with grapenuts (sometimes berries). Every other meal of the day is different but breakfast is where I get stuck. And so I’ve digressed. Coconut oil is now consuming my every culinary thought and as I discover its versatility I’m becoming more and more infatuated.

Partially it’s the smell. Unscrewing a jar of coconut oil is like opening a bag of coffee to me. I just have to shove my nose inside and inhale like it’s the last breath I’ll take in all day. So, in lieu of my preoccupation with the use of coconut oil, this weeked I baked muffins. Lots of muffins. Lots of muffins that are now piled high in my freezer crying out for people to come over and eat so that they don’t fall out everytime that I open the door. It took me a while to come up with something that worked because I wanted to incorporate the lemon-lime curd I had in the fridge- initially with the idea that I would fill them with the curd. But it all became too tricky and so I stuck with spooning over the curd after the cooking (which is optional but highly recommended). Instead you could cut them open and spread with jam or honey. Enjoy and please pass on any suggestions for coconut oil that you have! Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Coconut muffins with lime curd’

In the kitchen with Don

It is on rare occasions that I will turn to Don and say “why don’t you sort out dinner tonight?” or even rarer say “I would love for you to cook me dinner tonight!”.  And when I do, it’s usually on a Sunday (when I’ve been at work and he hasn’t), I’m tired and I’m in the mood for a spaghetti bolognase, which minus the incident where he dropped the whole box of Maldon sea salt into sauce, he’s remarkably good at making.  Of course the other reason that I allow him too cook on a Sunday is because I’m generally not around on a Sunday and it has become apparent over the course of our relationship that the two of us in the kitchen are less than compatible.  For one thing, Don doesn’t like to follow recipes and he likes to “experiment”, a word, which when uttered from his smirking lips as he mischeviously waggles his fingers in the air, make my blood boil.  I’ve always found it rather fascinating that a man who has a very successful career in consulting ie: telling other what they’re doing wrong and how to fix it, can’t read the fine print- for example: “Don, that says 1 tsp chilli powder not 10.” It’s not that I’m a bad teacher but for me the kitchen is a place of combined calm and order and Don’s just not an complying student.

Don cooking is like a child with a free spirit. Essentially, he ignores some of the most basic  rules of cooking – like don’t sweat onions on a high heat or preheat the oven before you try to bake the cake.  The first time he cooked for me he made pea soup (green) for starter and thai green curry soup- it was a green soup theme and one that he thought was rather clever.  At the time, I was a culinary student having it drilled into me how important it was to mix up colours, tastes and textures from course to course and found it was all rather sweet, if ignorant. The honeymoon period quickly ended though and when Don and I moved in together and I discovered that the free spirit extended far beyond the menu planning and experimenting (smirk, waggle waggle) and also left the kitchen in a state of  complete and utter devastation.  I did not know that an individual could be capable of such destruction and abuse whilst happily marvelling his own inner genius and breathing like he was at an Ashram.

It is on this note, with which I now feel that I can appropriately defend my concerns when Don called me at work this past Sunday asking “what ingredients in the cupboard can I use?”

“what are you cooking?”

“flapjack-type-thingys-hey, do we have any coconut?”

Of course, it was on this one particular occasion that Don really did show off his inner genius and when I came home and he said “you might want to prepare yourself before you open the fridge for a feeling of complete insubordination and inadequacy”

“really?” I said, smirking.

I opened the fridge and low and behold were the most beautiful “flapjack-type-thingys” topped lavishly with nuts and chocolates and were it not for the fact that the sun had gone down I would have photographed them immediately.  Of course, we all know that looks can be deceiving and so I obviously had to taste them- and yes, I had a moment of complete inadequacy. The kitchen however remained in a state of turmoil- so I did have something to complain about.

A RECIPE: Vegan chocolate chip cookies

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The lifestyle of a vegan appeals to me, as equally does a lifestyle of eating out of a rubbish bin. I’m not criticising and I’m not saying it’s wrong to live as a vegan- it’s just not for me. I like meat and I like cheese, end of story. But just because I’m not vegan, doesn’t mean that I’m not up for trying vegan foods and it was shock, horror and a little head spinning that took place when I discovered that these cookies were not only vegan but they were also some of the best cookies that I’ve ever made in my life. Who knew a cookie without butter and eggs could be better than an “okay, considering it’s healthy” cookie? I have to give credit where credit is due, begrudgingly though it is- the idea came from the Skinny Bitch in the Kitch vegan cookbook (which no I did not buy, I was given because nobody else at work wanted it).

The book itself irritates me by the very recipe titles alone- why call something “chicken salad” if it’s made using a substitute soy product made to look like chicken. For those who don’t know what a vegan is- let me give you the dictionary definition: ‘a person who omits all animal products from their diet’ and this includes dairy products, eggs and honey. The whole concept of the book rests on the idea that if you cut out meat, dairy and foods with preservatives that you eat then you will be healthier and slimmer (and it implies that the lack of animal in you life will also turn you into a bitch). It’s a nice concept and the book, which is a follow up recipe book to Skinny Bitch, is funny and the recipes straightforward. But they promote using products like soy*, of which there is great debate over and vegan cheese and veganaise which are processed just as much as normal processed cheese and mayonnaise, only without the flavour. Some of the recipes I tried like “Macaroni and four cheeses” not only looked completely indigestible but smelled fake because of the use of fake cheese. Like I said, I can respect these two skinny vegans for their discipline and principals, but I will never be one.

However, the skinny bitches do have a recipe for chocolate chip cookies, which didn’t seem all that healthy to me but having never once eaten a cookie that was marketed for people with dietary intolerances that didn’t taste of cardboard, I was compelled to try. The flavour of the cookie was promising- though I found it a little sweet for my tastes and far too greasy. So, over the past two weeks I have played around with the concept of this recipe multiple times and culinary miracle worker that I am, I ultimately have come up with a couple of far healthier versions without turning myself into a kitchen bitch or compromising on their flavour and dairy-free origins. I say versions, because I found through making slight alterations in the ingredients you could produce an entirely different texture in the cookie- and we all have a type of cookie that we like. For me, I steer away from the soft and chewy cookie- if it hasn’t got crunch and a trail crumbs strewn across my jumper when I take a bite then it’s not my kind of cookie. But you can take your pick when making the recipe below following the guidelines for omitting and adding certain ingredients.

I never thought the day would come when I would add a vegan cookie to my top baking recipes of all time, let alone a relatively healthy one- but here it is, dairy free and ever so addictive. The coconut oil gives a wonderful natural flavour make sure that you use it when it’s in it’s solid form in a jar, like all oils it can melt. I recommend making them only when you have company or you may find your hands wandering to the biscuit tin a little too often- and that might make you a fat bitch in the kitch.

* for more on arguments against soy

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Vegan chocolate chip cookies’

A RECIPE: Marshmallow snowballs

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We all have a little kid inside of us (no I’m not pregnant) and for me this recipe, which is barely a recipe at all brings out the inner child in me in all its childish glory. I actually filched it from my old flat mate in college, Anita, and despite the fact that this was long after I made the proverbial jump from childhood to young adulthood (where I will henceforth remain) it nevertheless has stuck with me. Anita used to make these in the actual tin of condensed milk and I remember it oozing out over the side of the tin and all over her fingers as she stirred in the Digestive Biscuit crumbs. She made them every weekend that we were stuck in the University theatre rehearsing and as for myself (Auntie Annie) I would bake off something new and chocolatey. Pour Anita never stood a chance at getting anywhere near the oven with all my cooking for bake sales and classmates birthdays.

I won’t suggest that you should go and serve these at a fancy dinner party but for fun treat at parties, sporting events or cake sales, these are really simple- especially for baking phobics! Don thinks that they should be served with a dipping bowl of dark chocolate- which I haven’t tried but I can’t help but think that this is a marvelous idea. If you’re afraid of getting your hands dirty then take a seat and find somebody to make them for you- because you don’t want to miss out. Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Marshmallow snowballs’

New Years Solution

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so. – Douglas Adams

As I bundled myself up and stomped up Brooklyn Bridge in my ‘Happy New Years!’ cone hat, popped a bottle of champagne and rung in the new year, it hadn’t even crossed my mind to think of what issues in my life needed resolving. That is until my first five days of the new year were spent having coughing fits and cold sweats whilst similtaneously working my way through several boxes of Puffs with lotion and Vicks tissues, gallons of tea and the last of my Karvel. In my misery I was unsurprisingly able to come up with rather a lot of things that I could improve on to make my life more comfortable- taking more zinc and vitamin C obviously topping the list.

The reason of course that I had not decided upon my resolutions prior to getting the lurgy was because I currently live at work- not for work, just atwork. This has averaged in at around seventy hours per week these past few months- woe is me. When people ask me if I go home and cook at the end of the day I cower in embarrassment- “no of course not, who has time to cook dinner at night?” Whereas once I would avidly spend an hour preparing dinner each night I now find myself little energy or will to cook at the end of each working day- an omelette is about the extent of my imagination come dinner time .

Coincidentally, this excessive amount of time spent at work appears to be a bit of an obstacle in achieving my newly laid-out resolutions, which all involve time and more of it. More time put into my well being, more time with Don, more time running, more time cooking, more time enjoying food, more time cooking in the evenings, more time with friends, more time traveling, reading, writing, having fun, more, more, more, more, more time! And if I spent less time at work, allowing more time for these activities, I would spend less time complaining about how many hours I work, which would be good for all of us.  So you see, this year I’ve decided that I don’t have any resolutions. I have a solution- to work less. Now I just have to work out how to tell the boss…

A RECIPE: Yorkshire puddings

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Yorkshire puddings were always a firm favourite in my childhood household. If mum didn’t make Yorkshire puds to compliment our ritual Sunday roast, then it really wasn’t a proper roast. There was something so simplistically thrilling about the anticipation of waiting for them to come to the table that really hasn’t changed for me, even now. You see, having only one oven and something as demanding as Yorkshire puds on the menu, we had to wait until everything else was out before they had time to shine. The temperature was cranked up while the chicken was carved and twenty minutes later the crispy risen puffs arrived at the table still in the little patty cake tin, mum forked them onto our already half eaten plates and we lavishly bathed them in leftover gravy. It’s rather funny to think that Yorkshire puddings used to be served as cheap tummy-fillers before the more expensive meat course- and in our house they were the stars of the show whilst the chicken took a comfortable back seat.

When we first moved to the states, my mother practically gave up on baking, complaining about the ghastly American flour that prevented the treats she had been making for years from rising. Scones came out solid and dense, cakes like flat, tough pancakes, bread like bricks and Yorkshire puds like stodgy hockey pucks. Now that I have come back stateside, I have tried to correct these flat failures, starting with scones and cakes but after a disappointing turnout of Yorkshire puds at my mothers birthday roast in December- it became my duty and mission to once and for all set things right. No flour and egg mixture was going to get me this worked up- Yorkshire Puddings would rise again!

I did some cyber research and found other befuddled expats who had suffered similar rising woes each with their own swear words and theories. The following day I set up an experiment and I admit that the excitement of staring through the oven window to keep tabs on their progress was almost too much for me. I tried using bread flour, I let the batter rest for longer, used butter instead of oil to grease the pans, altered the temperatures, added baking powder, allowed my ingredients to come to room temperature and finally, I added the magical extra egg. You see, (and please contain your yawning) in England, the standard recipe for Yorkshire puddings is 1 egg to approx 110g/4oz flour and 300ml/1/2 pint of milk- but for some unbeknown reason to me use this method with American flour and they will come out like the stodgy hockey pucks my mother made. Like helium is to balloons- eggs are to flour and these little babies nearly blew out of their tin. To bore you just a little longer, using oil gives them a better flavour to butter (which can also burn), bread flour makes them stodgy and if the batter sits it becomes too thick and altering the temperatures during cooking is just a superfluous added step. So here’s to rise of Yorkshire puds, may they never be overshadowed by the chicken again.

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Yorkshire puddings’

A BIG Family Christmas

With a family as big as mine, Christmas remains a far cry away from a quiet little retreat in the country. And on the years when we don’t all manage to fly our carbon fueled feet half way around the globe to meet up, it all feels a bit too quiet.  For one thing, when there are twenty-one family members- including three teenage boys (plus another six men who eat as if they still were), there’s a impressive amount of time, planning and stamina that goes into feeding them throughout the week of Christmas. With several birthdays to celebrate, big family Christmas’s always resemble my first week at University, complete with freshers flu at the end.

I grumbled in a recent posting that the obligation of Christmas present buying was tedium incarnate and whilst this Christmas proved no different to any other, bigger appetites meant there was an increased focus on the need for food. And lots of it. Don and I usually make decisions about what to eat when we’re hungry but here- it was no use deciding what to eat for lunch at lunchtime, menus for mealtimes were devised over lengthy group emails back in October and duties were divided up around the family.  And yet, for some reason, by some stroke of serious luck I managed to slip through the sieve, so to speak, and got off rather lightly. Although there was something rather unnerving about how much I enjoyed not being the one wiping away sweat beads dashing  between stove and dining room table. The price for such a luxury as actually having a holiday when on holiday was to make pavlovas for dessert one night.  Easy.  Or so one would assume.

If I’m ever asked to make a pavlova in somebody else’s kitchen again there will be a few pointers that will need clarifying before I agree to it:

1/  Will there be a bowl big enough to whisk eight egg whites in?

2/ Will there be a baking tin big enough to cook my pavlova on?

3/ Will there be an electric whisk?

To say that I got an arm workout that day would be grossly underselling my efforts. My appreciation for electric kitchen tools has never been more defined- and neither have my biceps for that matter.

Happy New Year!


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