Posts Tagged 'recipes'

A RECIPE: Pumpkin mini cakes

Another Magnolia bakery has opened up just down the street from my work. From first thing in the morning to last thing at night there is a line that winds out the door and onto Sixth Avenue in midtown. I stroll past the beautiful windows daily- the shelves neatly displaying jars of cup cake adornments and ingredients in a Martha Stewart-esque way. An industrial-sized Kitchen Aid sits in one corner with glossy butter cream icing beating away as a baker slowly adds sugar and the long glass covered display cases are lined with cupcakes designed to entice. And all I keep thinking as I stroll past this enticing little shop is: why are you people so crazy about these cupcakes? They are dry and taste of nothing but sugar. The overly ambitious swirls of icing, weigh down heavily on the pitifully dry cake bases and taste of not of butter but lard. These cupcakes do nothing for me and I find it so hard to believe that anybody throws the wrapper away feeling satisfied. Munching on sugar cubes would give me the same satisfaction, or lack there of. They are the Sarah Palin’s of the culinary world- attractive, maybe even enticing if you don’t think about it, but completely devoid of substance.

But then I’m not the biggest cake eater- which I probably should have let you in on first. If I’m going to sit down to eat cake then it has to be moist, rich in flavour, and utterly moorish– which Magnolias emphatically are not. As one who would not on most accounts break out into a freakish dance of joy over a cake and one loaded with pumpkin and spices to boot, I implore you to try these. Not only do they rise into beautiful ragged-peaked domes with ease and taste even better the next day but despite their small size they manage to remain dense and squidgy and just a teeny bit sticky. If comfort was a cake these would be they.

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A RECIPE: Pistachio & parmesan tuilles

I’ve had a whole week of producing bleh from the kitchen- and let me tell you it’s been a terribly long week. I planned on developing a dense fig and apple cake with pistachios, buttermilk, orange and honey- a little Middle Eastern, if you will. I cannot even begin to tell you how dull it tasted. How so many well-suited elements could bake into nothingness is beyond me. Just complete and utter bleh! Mediocrity at its finest.

I absolutely abhor waste and so I let it sit on the counter for days hoping that Don would one day feel so peckish that I he would no longer be able to avoid it. Alas, he is so well-fed that nothing became of it and I was forced to accept that my once inspired cake idea was only inspiration for the rubbish bin. Then followed the almond and apple torte, which had so many things going for it- except for the apples, which couldn’t hold their weight in flavour, sandwiched in a rich butter almond casing. Oh, how I pine for the unmatchable Bramley apple. So tart, so crisp and so pertinent in baking. I found myself reluctantly admitting defeat and accepting that my remaining apples would be for dipping in peanut butter or morning porridge only. I was in a state of kitchen block- nothing to cook and nothing worth writing about.

And so it was to my great delight that a recipe calling for pistachio and Parmesan crusted chicken came up at work and I found myself swooning over the crispy shards of Parmesan, the salty pistachios and the freshly chopped herbs- who needed the chicken? You certainly couldn’t taste it once topped with such a mighty crust. I altered the quantities, omitted the chicken and baked off little mounds until cripsy and golden. Perfect as an accompaniment to soups and salads but absolutely impeccable paired with a glass of wine- which is just what I needed after a mediocre week in the kitchen.

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A RECIPE: Avocado & tarragon bites

I’m a officially a canapé snob. I’ve always had an inkling it was in me but my true colours finally came out in all their elitist light at my wedding tasting. It has become a point of contention between my mother and I in the planning process. If I can’t serve amazing canapés then I would rather not serve any at all- which raises the question: is it worse to serve your guests bad food or make them go hungry? I’m not sure there’s a right answer to that question although I believe both scenarios will lead to a disappointing night.

The following are the types of canapés that make my toes curl- the food equivalents of nails on a blackboard. In some cases, perhaps even worse.

1/ Prepackaged canapés that have been in the freezer too long and have taken on that old freezer smell- a cross between freezer burn and salmon.

2/ Canapés that are deep-fried to disguise the cheap and/or flavourless interior.

3/ Canapés that require a description longer than is possible to individually taste in a single bite, just to make them sound fancy.

4/ Canapés that have been made too far in advance and taste a/ soggy b/ stale or c/ old.

5/ Fussy canapés that most commonly involve an generic pastry base on which a small tower of indecipherable ingredients are mounded.

6/ Awkward to eat canapés that require either a/ tipping your head back to eat b/ putting your glass down to eat or c/ crumbs down your dress.

7/ Anything on a skewer. What are you supposed to do with the skewer afterwards- pick you teeth?!

8/ Canapés that involve dipping. If everyone stuck to the one dunk rule then this would be marginally more acceptable but inevitably they do not and besides which, dips don’t look so pretty after they’ve been dunked in to.

My mother and I haven’t quite come to an agreement about whether or not our guests will be forced to starve at my wedding but if I had it my way- these avocado & tarragon bites would be on the list. I was given this idea by a visiting chef at my culinary school who for the life of me I cannot remember or I would be crediting. Who knew that tarragon and avocado on a salty cheese biscuit would make for such a winning team? Simple, pleasantly surprising to eat and with all the right textures- this kind of canapés makes me very happy.

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A RECIPE: Vietnamese-ish prawn lettuce cups

There are some foods that I think you just have to accept the fact that you’re going to get messy for- like sucking on mango seeds, cracking crabs and spaghetti bolgonase. Personally I’m a big fan of what I like to refer to as interactive eating, which takes more thought than the typical fork to mouth operation. I’m referring to the kind of foods where you need to tie your hair back, wrap a bib around your neck, roll up your sleeves, hunch over your plate, use your hands to scoop and shovel and you’ll need an agile tongue to catch the dribbles down your chin.

When my sister and I went to India last year, I found myself immersed in a culture fully committed to eating with your hands- or rather, hand (and it better be the right one). At every meal we used chapatis, (flatbreads made out of chickpea or lentil flour) to scoop up our curries and dahls . There was no aimless shoveling food into our gobs we had to really look at the food, feel and manipulate the food in our hands and finally taste the food. And for the rest of the trip our hands stank of the food- we were fully engaged by the food and we lived for our next chana masala. Stateside, these kinds of meals are perhaps not first date material- but then again, so long as your both eating the same thing it could turn out to be a great ice breaker.

This recipe is one of those interactive foods, of the salad kind. Beautifully presented- colourful and multi-shaped and textured but just a heck of lot easier to eat with your hands. But if you’re one of those people who insists on eating pizza or burgers with a knife and fork then by all means go ahead and be civilised, it certainly won’t taste bad. I guarantee, however, that you will get a lot more satisfaction by eating this with your hands. When Don and I sat down to eat this at the weekend we didn’t even bother with plating it up we just had a bowl of crispy romaine and a bowl of the prawn mixture and we tucked in, wrapping the filling in the lettuce cups and mopping the leaves in pools of dressing. On second thought, this is great date material, just perhaps not a great one when you’re trying to impress the in-laws.

There is however, one drawback to making this salad. It requires patience- that virtue of which I lack. Unfortunately, it’s the finely julienned vegetables that keep this salad so light and delicate. Chunks of carrot just will not do. My mandolin turned out to be my knight in shining armour, shredding each vegetable into perfect strips- but for those of you who do not own said armoury, you will at the very least need a good knife or in the worst case scenario a box grater.

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QUICK FIXES: 5 ways with courgette

If you’re not a courgette enthusiast then you’re probably finding the farmers markets and food bloggers rather tedious of late. Fortunately, for myself I adore them- which is why I’m jumping on the courgette bandwagon. Well, it would be rude not too.

Here are five of my own quick ideas to help you use up your courgette

Grilled courgette with feta and mint

Slice courgette thinly into any shape you like, lightly brush with oil and cook on a grill until nicely char-striped on both sides. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with Maldon Salt and scatter over crumbled feta and freshly torn mint leaves. This is also great served as bruschetta.

Simple roasted courgette salad

Roast chunks of courgette and yellow squash coated generously in good olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper until golden.  Toss with freshly steamed green beans or a can of rinsed and drained beans (your choice). Squeeze over lemon juice to serve.

Courgette Fritatta

Sauté thin slices of spring onion in olive oil in a nonstick frying pan. Fill the pan with thinly sliced courgette rounds and toss over a high heat until beginning to go golden.  Stir in chopped fresh herbs of your choice. Add beaten eggs, seasoned with salt and pepper and let cook for 1 minute, then place top with shreds of proscuitto and place under a hot grill (broiler) until set and lightly golden on top. Slice into wedges to serve

Raw courgette and strawberry salad

Slice courgette paper thin using a mandolin and serve topped with slices of strawberry, toasted chopped walnuts and a drizzle of lemon vinaigrette. Also delicious with a few slices of grilled cheese such as feta or halloumi.

Crispy courgette bites

Brush thin rounds of courgette with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper and equal quantities of panko bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese. Place under a hot grill or in a hot oven until crispy. Serve immediately.

How others are using up their crop:

Zucchini ricotta cheesecake (101 cookbooks)

Spaghetti with zucchini and mint (Bitten– Mark Bittman)

Zucchini fritters (Simply Recipes)

Zucchini strand spaghetti (Smitten Kitchen)

Garlic and herb stuffed zucchini (The Wednesday Chef)

Chocolate & zucchini cake (Chocolate & Zucchini)

A RECIPE: Lemon Victoria sponge cake

There are certain things that I just can’t resist getting my nose into. No, I’m not referring to getting my nose in other people’s business (although I won’t deny that I do like a good sniff of gossip every now and then). What I mean is that I just can’t help myself when it comes smelling. An open bag of coffee, newly washed towels in the morning, Bolognese bubbling on the stove, tomatoes on the vine, fresh cut grass, rain on hot tarmac, brushing your hand through a hedge of lavender, garlic browning in oil. I even have a few guilty really guilty smells- like diverting my route home past the entrance to Subway just so I can breathe in the super-sweet smell of their bread. Like a pig in a trough my nose leads me astray, diving into whatever smell that takes its fancy. If only it led me to the treadmill with such gusto.

I had a cold last week, which clogged up my sinuses like hair in a drain and no matter how many chili flakes I sprinkled on my food or how many eucalyptus steams I did- I just couldn’t budge it. I couldn’t smell or taste anything- my guilty pleasure blown away in one flying snot rocket. I even caught myself tucking into Wasabi peas (which is dislike immensely) without batting an eyelid. I was no longer eating for pleasure; I was eating for the sake of eating. I found myself falling into a deep state of depression- this potentially meant weeks of lost taste buds! What if they never came back? I may as well live on celery and come out of this whole debacle thin!

Back at work, I was a mess. I couldn’t smell that I’d left the gas on the stove. I couldn’t smell my pine nuts burning in the oven. I couldn’t tell if the garlic in my sauce was fresh. Everything that I naturally did in the kitchen was affected by my chronic nasal impairment. The first thing my boyfriend always says as he walks through the front door is: “mmmm, smells good.” Well- trained? Perhaps. But whilst I will usually nod in agreement as I shove him (somewhat) affectionately out of my tiny kitchen; this past week- I lost my marbles. “Does it?!” I raged as I waved my celery stick sword at him. “Good, great. I’m so pleased you can smell this! I hope it tastes like ****!”

Overly dramatic, you’re thinking. I’m not so sure. When I think about it (which as I’ve not been cooking I’ve had a lot of time to do) smell and taste are imprinted in so many of my memories. I regularly smell my childhood walking down the street, ex-boyfriends cologne on the subway, the smell that summer is on its way, that winter is here. And each time I’m reminded of someone or something, I’m reminded of the foods that I associate with that memory. So now you can see my depression. Not only was I bereft of current smell/taste sensations I was also to be denied of any past memories too.

Coming out of this cold was as rewarding as a bottle of water at the end of a long-distance race- well almost. I could feel my senses becoming stronger as I neared my allergy-free finishing line. My thirst for flavours drove me on and made me more and more determined to get this damn cold over and done with. I crossed that final hurdle in the queue at Whole Foods. Two nostrils blowing into a tissue in harmonic unison- the twist and fizzing sound of my lime seltzer water as I removed the cap. Head back as I felt the cool bubbles tingle in my mouth and down my throat. And there it was- that subtle lime-flavour that I had missed out on all week. Water had never tasted so good. My life was back.

I leave you with a recipe that my mother used to make when I was as a child- coming home from school to the smell of this in the oven is something hard to forget- even with a blocked nose.
Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Lemon Victoria sponge cake’

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