Archive for July, 2009

A present for me

I’m sat here with a cup of tea and a slither of cake feeling rather pleased with myself. I’ve just given myself a present. And it’s quite the beauty.

I clicked purchase online three days ago and then today it arrived with the friendly UPS man with a goatee. He makes me feel like I deserve a present, which is much nicer that the old one who’s always raising his eyebrows at the number of Amazon presents I receive.

I grabbed at the box and quickly horded it up to the apartment. A present for me? How exciting! I adore buying presents for myself. No junk, no returns and no handwritten thank you notes. It’s much better this way.

I deserved this present.

Justification number one: I just got married. Number two: I’m embarking on a new career. Number three: I deserved one. It’s like a game for me. Three justifications and I’m eligible to click purchase. Three justifications and I win the game.

Don is not going to be happy when he sees what I bought. I wish I could say that it was some sort of male jealousy thing- scared that I will devote more time to my new toy than him- but 1/ he’s used to that and 2/ he will quickly take note of how he may benefit from my new toy.

No, it’s not jealousy that will bother Don- it’s the amount of space it will take up. He won’t like clutter one bit. Clutter schmutter.

I have a brand new Cuisinart Food processor. It sparkles elegantly in the light,  it’s going to make wonderful pastry for me- and it’s tax deductible!

It knows how wonderful it is too. Otherwise it wouldn’t have made itself so darn heavy. It’s weighs far too much to go to the effort of keeping it in a cupboard in between uses. It will have to live on the counter top next to my Kitchen Aid. It was destined to be there, beside me always ready to help me. Two solid kitchen friends.

Now, I’m searching for three more reasons…….

Lemon & cashew nut yogurt cake

Lemon & cashew yogurt cake

I needed a cake. Badly.

This is not a feeling that I’m familiar with. Needing to bake a cake, yes but needing to eat it no. A little sample perhaps but a whole slice to myself gobbled in just a few greedy bites has never provided me with such wicked glee. I didn’t know that a sponge cake could make me so happy!

Now, I consider myself a relatively patient girl but waiting for this cake to cool, simply was not an option. The fragrance danced seductively around my apartment, swaying itself unashamedly in front of my nose until I could take no more. Well, of course in my haste I burnt three fingers removing it from the tin and a bowl was flung to a messy death on the floor but I assure you my friend, it was worth ten broken bowls!

There’s no denying it, I have fallen in love with a sponge cake. It’s spongy yet light. It’s decadent yet perfect for tea. It’s moist yet has a delicate crumb. It’s comforting without being overbearing. It’s love, sweet delicious love.

The bowls smashed pieces were left strew across the kitchen as I propped myself on the counter giddy with happiness. I had gone totally bonkers, for a cake.

A cake that also happens to be an absolute breeze to make, which in my books holds it in a entirely different league to its time-consuming counterparts. You will need not worry about creaming or getting ingredients to room temperature. And forget about the painstaking process of making sure it’s evenly spread in the tin- this one require nothing more than a gentle shake side to side and an even cake will appear in minutes. Of course if it’s exercise you’re after you could always try this one.

This cake does it all the hard work for you. This is the cake to have on standby in your recipe repertoire. For those days when you have unexpected but need-to-impress guest or frankly when you just want something delicious in the oven for yourself. If this were the 1950’s I’d make it for my husband for tea (as it’s not he gets the leftovers the next day).

I can’t of course claim all the credit for this little delight- honestly I can’t even claim half. But as it’s been doctored with in the past I felt the need to do so myself. I started by cutting down on the sugar (my favourite thing to do) and then I swapped the ground almonds for cashews- just to try and I added a pinch of salt- because I think all cakes need a little salt. Finally I got rid of the drizzle icing- you of course could ice it but I couldn’t wait for the little temptress to cool. I honestly I found it charming enough undressed, minus any gaudy accessories.

lemon cashew yogurt cake

Lemon & cashew nut yogurt cake

I think yogurt is a cake’s best friend. It makes it keeps it from drying out whilst maintaining a tender crumb. The secret with this cake is not to get carried away with the stirring. Just enough to combine.

Serves: one greedy girl in several sittings (or 8 lucky guests)
Diet Facts: Oh who cares, it’s love

125ml/1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used 0% Greek)
150g/ 3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
150g/1 cup plain flour
pinch of salt
75g/1/2 cup ground cashew nuts (or almonds)
2 tsp baking powder
125ml/1/2 cup canola oil
2 tsp lemon zest

1/ Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Spray an 20cm/8″ cake tin with cooking spray or grease lightly with oil.

2/ In a large bowl combine the yogurt sugar and eggs until just combined.

3/ Add the flour, salt, ground cashew nuts and baking powder and stir again until just combined.

4/ Add the oil and lemon zest and gently fold in until until incorporated. Pour into the cake tin. Shake the tin lightly side to side to make it even and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes or until springy to touch and gently pulling away from the sides of the tin.

A RECIPE: Light tuna salad with lemon & tarragon dressing

Iight tuna salad

I’m still on a salad kick. I can’t help it, there just so easy. No sweating in a hot kitchen, no pans to scrub, no stove tops to wipe off. It’s just a little bit of whisking and small amount of chopping and then dumped into a bowl, toss, toss and serve. Who doesn’t want to make salad for dinner when it sounds as easy as that? Effortless cooking, if ever there was such a thing.

But besides salads being just about the simplest thing there is to make, they can also be pretty darn good for you too- so long as you don’t douse them in dressing, that is. And most importantly, being a salad need not imply ice burg, cucumber and tomatoes.

Cannelloni beans and tuna are no strangers to one another in the world of culinary companions but mostly I find these salads to be heavy and a little bland or oily. I’ve tried to lighten this one up a bit so that it’s not just a mouthful of tuna and beans. Plus I’ve added a bit of cheese, because I think all salads can do with a bit of cheese in their leaves. You can of course use the dressing of your choice but tarragon goes remarkably well with tuna and of course the fennel, should you decide to use it. I added the peas for a touch of sweetness but you could just as easily slice up some mangetout or sugar snaps and have the added bonus of crunch. The favourite feature of this salad though, is that it tastes great the next day- which is more than can be said for your average mixed green salad.

So, enjoy the lack of sweating at the stove top tonight, revel in the fact that you will only have a couple of things to wash up and feel openly smug about the fact that not only did you eat a healthy dinner- but that lunch for tomorrow is already made. Ahh, the joys of salad.

light tuna & bean salad

Light tuna salad with lemon & tarragon dressing

Serves 2 generously
Diet facts: Gluten free, Vegetarian without the tuna

for the salad:
100g/heaping 1/2 cup frozen peas
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced (red onion is fine, use 1/4 small)
1/2 fennel bulb, outer layer removed and very finely sliced (or use 2 celery stalks)
1 can tuna (best quality you can find) drained
50g/ 2 oz feta cheese
100g/ 4 oz cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 can cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp chopped tarragon
bibb lettuce to serve

for the dressing:
1 spring onion, finely diced
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp honey
1 Tbsp finely chopped tarragon
salt and pepper to taste

1/ Pour some boiling water over the peas and let sit for a minute before draining. Toss together with the remaining salad ingredients, except for the lettuce leaves

2/ To make the dressing, whisk together the spring onion, dijon and lemon juice until combined. Keep whisking as you gradually add the olive oil so that the liquid emulsifies. Stir through the tarragon and honey and taste for seasoning.

A RECIPE: Waldorf with a twist

Waldorf salad with a twist

Waldorf salad was one of those side dishes that my mother made for a weekend lunch. I’m not sure that it really mattered to me what it was served with but more often that not it came alongside a quiche or Ploughman’s lunch. It was a very basic affair- celery, apple and peanuts lightly coated in mayonnaise- certainly not a meal itself but memorable nevertheless. I can’t recall ever calling it something as pretentious as Waldorf salad though- it was probably more like that celery and apple thing but essentially Waldorf is what it was.

It’s been ages since I’ve had mum’s Waldorf salad, but the other day I was craving some crunch and lets face it celery alone (even during spurts of virtuous eating) is rarely enough. Poor Don- he has felt rather shortchanged this past week since our return from honeymoon. Too many meals of rice and beans has left me with a rather desperate need for fruits and vegetables and Don has come home from his new job each night this week hoping for a big steak only to see salad on the table. Again.

So, I thought for this salad, I would at least add some meat- for his plate, anyway. I read around for ideas of what to put in my Waldorf salad but in the end it came down to what I had hanging out in my produce drawers. Strawberries, some fennel, a bit of tarragon and dried cranberries- because why not? I think this would satisfy most anyone’s crunchy cravings. Oh, and Don’s response to another evening of health food?

“Helm…”

“Um, actually it’s Baxter now, darling”

“Mrs. Baxter. This is a blog-worthy salad.”

What a great husband.

waldorf with a twist

Waldorf with a twist

Sweet, crunchy, salty and sweetwhat more could a salad ask for?

Serves: 4
Diet Facts: nutritious and delicious

for the salad:
1 celery heart, sliced (roughly 1 cm/.5 inches)
1/2 fennel bulb, very finely sliced
1 apple (I prefer Granny smith), chopped
100g/ 4 oz strawberries, hulled and quartered
50/ 1/3 cup dried cranberries
75g unsalted roasted peanuts

300g cooked chicken or turkey breasts, cubed

for the dressing: (you can use all mayo or all yogurt but I find that the mix adds just the right amount of richness)
1 Tbsp mayonnaise (light is fine)
2 Tbsp Greek or plain yogurt (fat free is fine)
Juice 1 lemon
2 Tbsp chopped tarragon (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

1/ Toss together all of the salad ingredients in a large bowl.

2/ In a small bowl mix together the dressing ingredients. Pour over the salad ingredients and toss to combine.

A RECIPE: Rainbow chard with lemon, capers & parmesan

swiss chard

I haven’t played around with cooking vegetables too much in the past- I might roast them or drizzle with extra olive oil but rarely do I provide them with enough excitement to award them a dinner plate of their own. Enter rainbow chard. When it comes to greens, chard is my favourite; second only to spinach. It comes a close second only because a/ it’s not as versatile as spinach as in you wouldn’t want to eat it raw and it takes longer to cook and b/ because it requires more cleaning which amounts to more effort, which is something that I lack come 5pm. But having said that this dish really requires minimal effort as there’s very little to it- perfect for after work when you crave a bowlful of health that doesn’t call for iceburg lettuce or tofu.

It also uses up mostly ingredients that I designate a essentials in my home stores. You know the one’s: olive oil, garlic, lemons, anchovies, capers and birds eye chilies- all little ingredients that offer a whopping blast of flavour. And only having to go out to buy one ingredient makes me feel rather smug. In fact, it used up so many of my essential ingredients that trying to name this dish became somewhat of an annoyance. How to sell a plate of greens to a hungry reader? I hate to list all the ingredients in the title- but it was infuriatingly hard not to with this recipe. And what I finally settled on certainly does not amount to the intense amount of joy you will have with each bite. Plain steamed greens, these are not.

The recipe itself is based on the one in the July issue of Gourmet magazine. I loved the idea of pairing lemon juice and Parmesan with the sauteed chard, but in order to make this a satisfying meal in it’s own right I felt it needed a few extra flavours and a poached egg on top just makes the meal complete. I started by scaling the dish down to serve one rather than six- partly because I really only eat all vegetable dinners when Don is out and because how many people have a pot large enough to cook 31bs of leafy greens in anyway? The recipe already called for anchovies, but frankly not enough to make a difference and I couldn’t resist adding a little heat in the form of a birds eye chili, plus capers go so well with lemon and parmesan. Like I said before, this dish deserves a plate of its own.

chard stemschard with poached egg

Rainbow chard with lemon, capers & parmesan

This dish has so much character that you can happily munch on a whole plate for dinner but it works equally well as a side dish to a simply grilled piece of fish or chicken. My favourite thing is to top it with a poached egg and let the runny yolk drizzle through the gaps.

Serves 1 as a main, 2 as a side

Diet Facts: Dinner has never been healthier

300g Chard (Rainbow or Swiss)

1 1/2 tsp olive oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled and very finely sliced into slithers

1 birds eye chilli (optional) sliced very thinly, with seeds if you like it very hot

2 large anchovies

zest 1/2 lemon

Juice 1/2 lemon (or to taste)

1 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan

1 heaping Tbsp drained capers

Poached egg, to serve (optional)

1/ Prepare the chard, first by washing it really well in cold water. Drain, chop nasty bits of stalk off and then chop the remaining stalks into roughly 1 inch peices. Cut the leaves into roughly 1 inch strips (keeping separate from the stalks).

2/ Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over a medium heat and add the garlic and chili to the pan. Toss until golden brown, which will take about 30 odd seconds. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

3/ Add the anchovies to the pan, and stand back as they will start to splutter. Break up with a wooden spoon and if you need to add a splash of water to stop from sticking. Once they are mostly disolved (about a minute) add the chopped stalks to the pan. Cook over a medium-high heat for 5 minutes, tossing/stirring from time to time and adding a tablespoon of water if necessary to stop sticking.

4/ After five minutes, add the reserved leaves to the pan, turning so that they can wilt evenly. Cook for a further 8 minutes, continuing to toss and stir until they are fully wilted and some of the stalk ends are going golden.

5/ Remove the pan from the heat and add the garlic, chili and remaining ingredients to the pan, tossing to combine evenly and tasting before adding freshly ground black pepper and sea salt to taste. For a complete meal serve topped with a poached or fried egg.

Finca El Cisne

fresh ginger

The problem with visiting paradise is that you can never stay there long enough and reality hits you twice as hard when you come back. If riding horseback across hills of lush green countryside and through rushing streams in a cowboy hat is what you’d describe as your thing then a visit to Finca El Cisne is a must. Cowboy hats not your thing? What about roaming field after field of fruit trees and being able to cut down a piece when you fancy? Where you can pick avocados from trees when their ready to eat rather than storing them in paper bags for days. Where ginger (photographed above) is pulled straight from the ground. Or how about a place where you sit down to a meal consisting of dish after dish of food; all of which has come out of the ground or plucked from a tree within a two mile radius? Or drinking coffee that was harvested, dried and roasted across the street that’s served with milk that was only milked from a cow an hour ago. And if you still don’t really think it’s your thing then let me just be so bold as to say, it would be after a visit to Finca El Cisne. If ever I had a desire to move out to the countryside and live solely on what I grew- it was after a visit to the Finca. And it’s not because I think it would be easy but once you’ve tasted food this fresh, then you’ll know it’s even harder to go back to Trader Joe’s.

finca el cisne

A diversion in our planned route in Honduras led Don and I to this little gem- and the highlight of our Central American honeymoon. I usually save my reviews for Tripadvisor, but being that this is a foodblog I felt impelled to gush about it on here too. Finca means plantation and Finca el Cisne is primarily a coffee and cardomom plantation that is set in the Honduran hills about 10 km from the Guatemalan border and 25km from the famous Maya ruins in Copan. It is a working farm, with an agrotourism component.  You can stay there, for up to three days and learn about the production of coffee and cardomom- did you know for instance that farmers only earn about $.60 per pound of coffee compared to the $9/10 we pay per pound? Just another reason to buy fairtrade.

But aside from a new insight into the coffee industry,  a visit to the Finca will immerse you in a life where the chickens roam free, bananas grown in on trees, corn is hand milled to make tortillas, cooking is done on woodburning stoves and evening meals are served by candlelight. Oh, and the only noises you can hear are the crickets at night and the roosters warming up their vocals in the morning. There certainly isn’t incessant drilling going on in the aparment above, or the hammering to the one on my left or the noise of traffic out the window…. well, like I said- reality hits twice as hard.

Topado

tapado

Topado is the famous dish of Livingston on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala. A mild but rich stew made with coconut milk, coriander, tomatoes, plantains and full of just about everything in the ocean. In fact eating it was rather like diving into the ocean- uncovering new crustaceans with every spoonful- and there were even a few surprises that I’m sure are placed at the bottom for maximum effect. Served with garlic bread for dipping this is not what I would typically choose to eat on a sweaty Caribbean day but it was certainly worth the bumpy boat ride to get there.

tapado


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