Thursday, September 29, 2011

So many bananas!

I currently have about a dozen ripe bananas sitting in my freezer, waiting for me to bake with them.  You know when you buy a bunch of bananas but they begin to get spotty and black before you have the time to eat them all? This happens to me and my flatmate quite a lot; to me because I only like to eat them when they are yellow and firm and as soon as they are getting soft I don't want them anymore. But I can't just bake as soon as the bananas are over-ripe because then I would end up baking (and eating the baked goods) far too often. The answer is to do why my mother always did and chuck them in the freezer (with the skins on, that is)! I remember once when I was much younger finding a plate in the freezer (seriously, a dinner plate, in the freezer!) with a big pile of black bananas on it and nobody could remember how long ago that had been put in there. So I took them out and made a couple of big banana cakes, which are popular back home but not so common here. Today though I am not making cake, I am making banana bread.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More Soup ...

Amazingly enough, it is not actually soup weather here in Galway this week. We are having one last bout of mild weather before the winter really sets in - there was even some blue sky and sunshine! Nevertheless, I have been making soup, because I like soup no matter what the weather is doing. In concession to the nice(ish) weather this week's soup is green: it's light and sprightly and fresh, as if all the rain is due to it being spring and not autumn. Of course I for one can be optimistic because in New Zealand it is actually spring and when I arrive there it will be summer! A real summer, in which there should be no need for hot soup. I do not actually plan my soup (and other food) around the weather though, I was planning on making this anyway. Traditionally pea soup seems to be made with dried split peas, but I wanted to use frozen ones which I was hoping would taste more like fresh peas, so I had a look about at recipes and there are of course loads out there. Not that I bothered to follow a recipe, soup doesn't really need one anyway.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Quinoa-stuffed Peppers

Today is a very exciting day in the blogger part of my life, because I got three comments! I don't get many of those, it always really brightens my day. So despite the dark, cloudy sky and cold rain outside my window, my day is bright enough and I am feeling verbose so it is a great time to procrastinate and write about food! To be exact, the meal that I have made myself for tonight's dinner, which was really well needed after going out running in this cold, miserable weather! I'm also giving into the baking bug and whipping up some cookies, because I have these apples, too many apples, and I struggle to eat fruit just as it is so I like to turn it into stuff, even though it is then no longer very healthy and guilt-free. Oh well. Later this week I will make apple muffins but for now I am making apple cookies, which I have posted about once before, but that time I used white chocolate, while this time they are chocolate-less (oh no!) and full of sultanas instead. It's not really breaking the once-a-week rule though, because these cookies are for a reason - to make sure that I am in the good-books with my technicians here at work.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Orange Chicken Casserole

This week's meal to keep me going a few days is a casserole, because that is what the weather calls for. I had a recipe for chicken cacciatore but then I decided that I didn't feel like a tomato based sauce so I went back to the old standby of making things up. I've always liked putting orange with chicken and I love gravy, but my sauce ended up much richer than a simple gravy. Not to mention more full of vegetables than chicken. Now what I would like to go with it is mashed potato but I have no potatoes so for now I will have to settle for rice. My bottle of awful white wine is finally all used up, and the next time that I make this I will leave the wine out and see how it is with a milder sauce. Maybe add chunks of potato to help thicken up the sauce. Casseroles and stews are great because they are so easy, you just throw everything into the one pot and leave it to cook for a couple of hours. By the end of which the house should be warm and full of cooking smells and the cold outside kept at bay for the evening.

Orange Chicken Casserole

500 grams chicken pieces (or more if your casserole dish is big enough)
1 brown onion
1 red pepper
2 large carrots
1 cup white wine (or another cup of chicken stock)
1 cup chicken stock
Juice of 1 orange
2-3 tablespoon bisto powder (or cornflour)
1 tablespoon dried mixed herbs (anything that includes thyme, sage and marjoram will be good)
Salt and pepper

Turn the oven on toabout 180 degrees fan bake. While it is heating chop all the vegetables into chunks and if you are trying to be healthy take the skin off of the chicken. Then throw it all into a big casserole dish (at least 2 litres) and sprinkle the herbs and thickener (bisto or flour) over the top.

Pour the liquids over and pop the dish into the oven, uncovered. It should take about two hours for the sauce to get nice and thick, during which time you can prepare your sides of whatever - potato, rice, pasta, vegetables. I had mine with brown basmati and brocolli but potato would have been good. When it seems done season it with salt and pepper if you need to, and you should have enough to feed at least three.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Raisin Bread

When it comes right down to it, while I love bread, I don't really eat that much of it. A good sandwhich on thick soft bread can be great, but when I make bread I find that it is never light and fluffy like the stuff that you buy; while it is nice enough and fine for sandwhiches I generally prefer to buy bread. I save bread-making for things that are a bit more special, not just plain every-day bread. Of course, generally my something-special is actually something-sweet, and I dont' really see much point fighting it so why not just focus on making sweet breads? I've always loved spicy fruit breads, like hot-cross buns and fruit toast. I have tried and had success with hot-cross buns, and for ages I have had this recipe for raisin bread, so I figured it was finally time to try it. Only the first time a tried it a couple of weeks ago it was just about ready to go in the oven when a friend called and suggested the cinema. So off I went, hoping that the oven timer would do it's job and turn the oven off. But what would you know, I was not using the bloody thing correctly! It wasn't just me either, my housemate got muddled up too, it was just not obvious whether it was being set to hours or minutes! Luckily I have had worse food disasters. While the bread was terribly hard on the outside after being baked for 2 hours, the inside was OK and still made good toast.

Now though, on the second attempt, I have decided that this is a perfect fruit-bread recipe, it really is just like what we used to buy when I was a kid. It has to be toasted though, that is the best part. You throw it in the toaster and then spread it with a bit of butter or marg and it soaks into the bread and it is so yummy. Plus it is not really bad for you, it is just bread, hardly any sugar, just lots of raisins. It was easy to make too. Unfortunately I can't for the life of me remember where the recipe came from, and I think it was another blog so that's really terrible that I am just stealing it like that. But in my defence, I have changed the recipe ever so slightly, so it is sort of mine now?

Raisin Bread

1 cup (250 mL) warm water
2 teaspoons dried yeast/10 grams fresh yeast (I used fresh but the recipe originally called for dry)
1/4 cup (55 grams) brown sugar
2 cups (300 grams) strong white flour
1/2 cup (about 80 grams) rolled oats
2 500mg vitamin C tablets
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (170 grams) raisins

* The original recipe called for 1 1/2 cups white flour, 1 cup brown flour, but I had no brown flour so decided to throw oats in, to make up for the otherwise lack of whole-grain. It also called for 2 teaspoons of bread improver and I read that vitamin C is a bread improver. I'm not sure if it is even necessary but it did not harm, so if you have some sort of improver why not throw it in?

For bread, unlike other baking that I do, I always weigh the ingredients instead of trusting to my measuring cups. Which is why I have all the weights in accurately for once instead of just guessing them. As always with bread you begin by making sure that the yeast is active, by placing it in a small bowl together with the warm water and sugar. Only I read that tap water is not neccesarily the best thing for yeast, especially hard water such as what we have here in Galway. So I always boil the kettle and then let the water cool to body temperature and use that. After a few minutes you will know that your yeast is active because you will get frothy bits on the surface of the liquid, and this is called sponging I think.

While the yeast and liquid are sitting for a few minutes, weigh out all your dry ingredients (not including the raisins) and mix them together in a big bowl. Slowly add the liquid to this and mix it gently until it is all incorporated. At this point you may find that the dough is not at all dough yet, but a sticky mixture. That's OK though, I think the recipe just had not quite enough flour in it. Simply coat your clean bench with lots of flour, tip the mixture out, coat your hands in even more flour and begin kneading. The first time around I found that I needed about two good handfuls of flour to get a nice consistency to the dough, but the second time it just needed a little sprinkling every now and then when the dough got too sticky. It should be a little sticky, sort of tacky, but able to be handled without leaving bits of mixture all over your fingers.

Knead the dough for 10 minutes and then return to the mixing bowl and cover. Let it rise until it is double in size, which might take an hour or might take two. Here in Galway the weather is getting cold pretty fast, and my bread is taking much longer to rise than it used to. Eventually though, the bread will have risen enough and it is then time to turn it back out onto the bench and knead it down. It is at this point that you attempt to knead the fruit into the dough and you will find that it is not so easy - this is a very resistant bread dough! Eventually though the fruit will be distributed through the bread. You really should try to keep the second kneading to less than 5 minutes because too much and your bread will be tough.

Take a loaf tin, about 10 cm by 20 cm, and grease it well.  Shape your dough into a log and stuff it into the tin, and let it rise again for 30 minutes or so. While it is rising turn the oven on to 220 degrees celsius.

If you want a nice soft crust, brush a bit of milk over the top of the dough, or even whisk together an egg yolk with some milk and brush that over. Bake for 10 minutes in the hot oven and then reduce the temperature to 180 degrees and bake until it is cooked through and a nice toasted-brown colour on the outside, about 30 minutes. Bread is always best if you leave it to sit for awhile, it will cook a little more in the middle. Fruit bread is delicious toasted!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Warm soup in cold Galway

Well here in Galway there is no need to look out the window before getting dressed for the day because it will undoubtably be cold and wet. Summer barely arrived and has now gone for good, and the clouds will probably not lift until next May. The only true answer to this dreariness would be to go find some tropical island on which I could spend the day lying in the sand, but that sadly is pure fantasy and I must settle for grey skies for another couple of months. At this time of year my thoughts seem to revolve around nice warm food and I would prefer to spend my days in the kitchen than at work. However, the dire state of my bank account does not currently allow me to go cooking-mad, and it's not like I have hordes of hungry people to feed, so for now I will settle for soup. Soup is great: it is easy, it is cheap, it can be an entire meal, you can freeze it for later, you can add lots of flavours or make do with just a couple of vegetables that have been hanging out in the cupboard for ages. It's also a really easy way to get in lots of the vegetables that you need, especially at this time of year when the variety of summer is not so easily available.

So this week's pot of soup (actually I don't have a really big soup pot, I would really like one) is pumpkin, though here in Ireland all I can get is butternut, which is not quite the same but pretty close. For just a simple pumpkin soup you can just boil it up, along with onion and bacon and whatever else you want for flavour, and then process it till it's smooth. For this soup though you first roast the ingredients, which tends to give it a slightly different flavour. The first time I made it I used wild bacon, which turned out to be much saltier than I was expecting, so after a bowl of soup you were left really thirsty. I like salt though, so I didn't mind. Soon it will be October and for a brief few weeks there will be real pumpkins in the supermarket! I have loads of pumpkin recipes so keep an eye out if you, like me, love pumpkin. Even if you don't, you should try it, because it's one of those amazing vegetables that is really good for you, with all sorts of vitamins and minerals and anti-oxidants, not to mention it may have anit-diabetic, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties. It is really good roasted and savoury, but even better in a sweet dish like pie or muffins.

Roast Pumpkin Soup

1 butternut squash or 1/2 grey pumpkin
1 brown onion
4 cloves garlic
*200 grams bacon

Thyme, oregano and rosemary - about one teaspoon each if dried, a bit more if fresh
Olive oil

Heat the oven to about 180 degrees celsius.

Chop the squash or pumpkin and the onion into large chunks, and roughly chop the garlic. Toss the chopped pumpkin and onion together with the garlic, herbs and oil (just enough oil to coat them nicely, maybe a couple of tablespoons?). If you have bacon and want some extra protein in your soup, chop this up and throw it in with the pumpkin. Keep in mind though that bacon is salty, so you may not need extra salt later. Not to mention that processed pig meat has carcinogenic properties and nobody should eat too much of it.

Spread the whole lot out in a roasting dish and place in the oven until the pumpkin is soft and browned, maybe 20 or 30 minutes, depending on how large the chunks are.

If you have a big food processor, you could at this point throw all your roasted vegetables into that along with a couple of cups of boiling water and give it a good whizz, and then all it will need is a bit of salt and pepper and you're finished!

However, I do not have a big food processor, so if you don't either use a saucepan like I do. Move the roasted pumpkin into a large saucepan. Pour water over until it covers the pumpkin, maybe a couple of cups. Of course, it depends how thick you want your soup to be, and you can always add more water later. I didn't add it to the ingredients above, as it is entirely optional, but if you like you can also sprinkle a chicken stock cube into the water, if you like nice strong flavours, though if you are adding bacon you really won't need it. Use your stick-blender to make it nice and smooth, and bring your soup to the boil. Season with salt and pepper as you like and you're done!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Childhood treats from NZ

Today we're going to take a trip down memory lane while I share with you something that all kiwi kids love, and everybody else loves after I have shared it with them: chocolate fudge-cake. It's really simple, the type of thing that children themselves will learn to make. There are loads of different recipes out there and I myself never actually made this as a child, only when I moved overseas and wanted to make treats for friends. Did I mention that it is unbaked? I should have sooner because that is one of the great things about this. It's really good if you want to make something desserty and have no oven on hand! It uses crushed plain biscuits, which in NZ are called Wine biscuits for some reason but here in Ireland the closest thing I can find is Tea biscuits. Some recipes call for eggs, some for condensed milk and some for normal milk. I have read comments about not wanting to use eggs because they're not really cooked, and could give you salmonella. Now, I'm afraid to tell you this, all you people that read magazines and the internet and just assume them to be knowledgeable, trustful sources, but this is not really true. I mean, if the chicken has salmonella, then you may not want to eat the egg raw. There is not much point anyway, unless it is for a specific dish, seeing as you actually get much more protein from cooked egg than raw egg. The risk of salmonella in an egg is incredibly low and even if you did have a raw egg that had the bacteria in it, you might not be infected as your immune system is actually pretty good at its job. If you buy clean, uncracked eggs and keep them in the fridge, you should be right. Yet, despite the fact that I think it unlikely that you would get salmonella from eating fudge-cake made with eggs, my own recipe from my friend's mum (my second family really) uses milk, so there is nothing to worry about!

Chocolate Fudge Cake

250 grams plain biscuits
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 cup milk
125 grams butter
125 grams sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts (this is not absolutely required, and at home people often use walnuts, which I don't even like)
*Mini marshmallows (my own addition, to make it sort of like rocky road)
*Chocolate icing
-1 cup icing sugar
-3 tablespoons cocoa powder (or a bit more if you like it dark)
-1 tablespoon butter
-2 tablespoons boiling water

Prepare a rectangle slice tin, like a swiss roll tin or something, by greasing it well or lining it with non-stick baking paper.

Melt the butter and sugar together in a pan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.

Let this mixture cool and then add the cocoa, vanilla and milk.

Crush the biscuits (a food processor makes this much easier). You want some of it to be crumbs but some still in chunky pieces. Add to the biscuits the nuts, and if you want the marshmallow version add those now too, and combine it all as well as you can.

Pour the chocolate mixture over and mix well. Press it into the prepared tin and chill it until it is hard.

The general thing to do in NZ is to then ice it with chocolate icing, which may seem sort of like overkill but it really isn't. Plain chocolate icing is really easy. You simply sift your icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl, place your dollop of butter on the top, pour the boiling water over and give it a good beat!

Monday, September 19, 2011

A great big chocolate cake

When I think of a great big chocolate cake, my mind immediately turns to the story Matilday by Roald Dahl. There is a scene in which a chubby boy has been accused of stealing a slice of the Trunchball's special chocolate cake, and as punishment he is forced to eat a huge one all on his own, in front of the school. While the book does a great job at describing it, it cannot really conjure up an image of the amazingly huge, dark, gooey cake that is shown in the movie. It is that mouthwatering image that I always aim for when I make a chocolate cake. I don't think I have every quite achieved it though. However, this cake is in general a huge favourite. On this occasion there was a big housewarming party/weekend away for which I was asked to help with the baking. I'm not sure if I was really required, most people can bake, but I think many people see it as a chore, whereas I find it fun. So it was a treat for me, and saved others the hassle. I am going to spread out the deliciousness though, so today I am only going to tell you about the cake. The massive cake. We doubled the recipe and used my largest tin, 25 cm diameter. It really was over-the-top, and while a nice big cake looks good and gets lots of comments, they tend to not get eaten when everybody is drinking and partying. So we had to work on it the next day.

Now, the thing about a mudcake is the recipe will often call for coffee, because coffee is used to enhance the flavour of chocolate. Only the first time I ever made a mudcake I was quite young and got somewhat confused at the point where I was supposed to add a cup of coffee. The recipe didn't specify hot, liquid coffee you see, and they usually don't. It just said '1 cup instant coffee'. So I took a guess and filled up my measuring cup with instant coffee. Needless to say, the cake was not good. It was sort of grainy and crunchy and tasted only of coffee. Of all my kitchen disasters, this was the only one bad enough to cause a sleepless night, but I think that may be something to do with the amount of caffiene in a single piece. I learnt my lesson very well though, and these days make a very good mudcake. The coffee is not even entirely neccessary, on this occassion I had none and made do without; the cake was not quite as rich and dark as usual but was still a big hit.

Chocolate Mudcake

1 cup buttermilk
150 grams butter
250 grams chocolate (at least 50% cocoa solids, more if you like)
1 cup strong, hot coffee (or just water)
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla essence
Chocolate ganache:
-400 grams chocolate (whatever you like, milk, dark, white, it's all good)
-1 1/2 cups cream

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease the tin that you want to use. A round tin of about 20 cm diameter should do the trick. The mixture is very runny so if you use a springform tin line it well! Last time I did not heed my own warning and the mixture went everywhere! To stop it burning and making an awful smell I had to take the cake out of the oven once it had cooked enough to stop leaking everywhere and scrape away all the cake from the tray (because I had at least though to put a tray under the cake tin), and then quickly put the cake back before the middle sunk. And then I ate all the scraped up bits of course. But to get to the point - for this cake line the inside of a springform tin with baking paper, a single sheet pressed down that comes all the way up the sides, and also maybe wrap tin-foil around the outside for just in case.

So to continue - in a saucepan combine the chocolate, butter and coffee and heat until the chocolate and butter are melted and smooth.

Beat the eggs (they don't need to be separated) and then mix this into the chocolate mixture. Do the same for the milk. I know a lot of cakes ask for the milk and flour to be added bit by bit alternately, but that isn't really necessary here.

Sift the dry ingredients into the batter and mix well. If your flour has its own raising agents leave out the baking powder! When the batter is all mixed well together (I know you are not meant to overmix a cake, but you still need to give it a good mix. Where is the line to be drawn?!) Pour it into the prepared tin (that you should then place on a tray, even if it is not a springform tin, just in case it overflows, though I hope that it doesn't).

Bake for about 1 hour, until a skewer or fork inserted into the middle comes out clean! Let the cake cool for awhile before trying to remove it from the pan, and then let it cool completely before frosting. This was my first time using a gas oven and I think it was a lot hotter than a realised, because the top of the cake got very dark! It's all good though, when it cooled I sliced off the top and nobody was the wiser!

As for the frosting: this simple ganache is really easy. Simply break the chocolate up into a saucepan and pour the cream over. Heat gently and stir until the chocolate is all melted and the mixture smooth. Cool the mixture, which will become sort of thick. You don't want it to be runny or it will simply run off the cake, so give it about an hour to cool, until  you can see that it will stay where you put it. You can pour it over a cake while it is still slightly warm, or let it cool a bit further and then spread it. If you want it to be fluffier, like frosting, beat it slightly. It should be pipe-able too. The best thing to do for this cake is to use a long knife or piece of cotton to cut the cake into two halves, sandwhich them back together with ganache and then spread more ganache on top. Back home we always used to spread the middle with rasberry jam too. This time I sprinkled rasberries and blueberries over the middle and then more over the top.

So to follow on from the massive chocolate overdose - more chocolate! In NZ we have a treat that we call chocolate fudge cake, of which similar things are known by other names in other countries. For this occasion we turned it into rocky road by adding nuts and marshmallows, which I will post about tomorrow. Then, to give our poor tummies a rest from all that chocolate, there were vanilla cupcakes, with chocolate chips of course!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A bad bottle of wine

A few weeks ago, ages ago now actually, I won pub quiz with some friends (for the first time every!) and the prize was not very amazing, and included a very cheap bottle of wine. So what do you do when you know that this particular bottle of wine doesn't taste very nice anyway and will only make you very sick if you try to drink it? You cook with it of course! But really, how much can you cook with wine? Normally you would use a little wine in the food and then drink the rest. So what do I do with a whole bottle of wine? How long will it stay good enough to cook with, and how good does that have to be anyway? Well, I opened it ages ago now, and made a risotto, but there was still so much left! I started searching for more things to make an came across loads of recipes, but the difficulty is then to have people to cook for. Not to mention that I'm currently too broke to be experimenting with food and buying nice things. I did try one new thing though (and I hope that the wine is still good for something more next week).

I was intending on making pasta you see, because I am trying to stick to a low fat diet until my little gallstone problem is gone, and pasta with a tomato sauce is relatively healthy. I generally use the same old spaghetti sauce recipe, but in order to make use of this wine I have finally branched out. And now I have two good recipes to pull out over and over again, because this particular pasta sauce turned out really well! It was thick and rich and just a little sweet. I think I found it on the website, because when it comes to food magazines I can't help but be a little patriotic. So I will share the foodie-ness for all those that have a bad bottle of wine in the fridge, seeing as I seem to be only writing about sweets lately (of which there will be a fair amount to say next week, seeing as for the weekend I am pretending that I am not on any sort of diet).

Tomato Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 finely chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or chopped finely
1 medium carrot, diced up really small
1/2 red capsicum/bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
400 gram can tomatoes
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper to season

So of course you begin by taking a largish saucepan and heating the oil in it. Add the onion and garlic and stir for awhile, until they are soft.

Now add the carrot and capsicum and keep on stirring for a few minutes.

Stir in the tomatoe paste, tomatoes, wine and sugar. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 or 20 minutes, just until the sauce is nice and thick (and while it is simmering you can get your pasta cooked).

Season with salt and pepper, and if you have something like fresh basil throw that in too if you like, though I found it entirely unnecessary.

I really hope that the rest of the wine is OK sitting there in the fridge and that next week I can use it to make a stew or something. And that is enough for real proper food this week, watch this space for chocolatey goodness.