Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sesame Street Cupcakes

I like it when people have birthdays, because then I really have an excuse to go over-the-top and bake something awesome. Cake is great, but you need a proper gathering for cake, in somebody's house. Those sort of things don't generally happen amongst people of my age, instead it is all 'let's go for a few drinks somewhere' and you can't take a cake to a pub. So I make cupcakes and I take them to work to share. They're a lot easier than having a big cake that needs to be cut, they're cute, and everybody seems to love them. Especially when I decorate them in some extravagant way. Like making them into sesame street characters.

See, it all started last year, when there was a little charity bake sale on and they had these sesame street cupcakes. I brought one and examined it thoroughly before eating it, then said to my friends that I could surely do that myself, and for the next birthday I made a batch of little Cookie Monsters. That was a year ago and the same birthday has come around again so I decided to stick with the theme and make ... Elmo cupcakes!

Hopefully they get a lot of laughs. Below is a modified version of my fall-back-on cupcake recipe and decorating instructions, and perhaps one day I will add Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird to the list.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New & Improved Chicken & Corn Soup

At the moment Ireland is having a strange little heat wave and despite it being march we have had two weeks of sunshine and warm weather - it got all the way up to 20 degrees (celsius) yesterday! I was in a skirt! Of course, it will get cold again soon, and will probably be freezing for all of April just to make up for it, but I really hope that the unseasonably warm weather is the positive aspect of climate change and will stick around until winter. However, despite the warm weather I have a cold so last night I made a pot of chicken soup. It was delicious. I was hunting through the cupboards looking for ingredients and found a can of sweetcorn kernals, so I decided to revisit chicken & corn soup, only I made a few improvements. My old recipe was really just chicken & corn, while this new one has all sorts of little extras like soy sauce and chilli and ginger. So maybe you could call it asian-inspired chicken & corn soup because I added all of the things that I add to noodle stirfries, like the drunken noodles that I made last week. But it doesn't really need to be called anything other than yum.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Massive Chocolate Overload

If an overdose of chocolate could kill you, this cake would definitely do the trick.

That's not why it is called Wasted Chocolate Cake though, that would be due to the generous splashings of booze. I don't much like the name, it doesn't really do the cake justice, but I will stick with it because all the other bloggers have. I am jumping on a bandwagon (it might be a small one though) and making a cake from the chocolate cake challenge that another blogger, who writes Somewhere In The Middle, took from somebody else's blog. Before that, I don't know where it came from. But as soon as I saw this cake I knew that I had to make it. So it's time to stuff my friends full of food again and make a big pile of pizzas (because the ones that we usually eat on a Friday at the bar are actually really crappy), then serve up this hugely decadent chocolate cake. The assembly of it requires a bit of effort but the cake itself is easy as pie, would be great for loads of occasions, and doesn't have any egg in it, which is great because I forgot to buy them! The chocolate frosting was so good, you would think that it was a chocolate ganache; not so surprising considering how much cocoa powder was in it! My cake is nowhere near as pretty and well photographed as the ones on the other blogs. I will just have to try it again one day!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Drunken Noodles

A little while back I was reminded of how much I love asian-style stirfries and noodle dishes, after eating delicious pad thai at a friend's place. Now I have a whole list (yes, I am a list person, I love lists, I have a lot of them) of noodle recipes to try, and I am finally getting around to using one of them. I am lucky this week, because I have a friend staying with me who misses my food, so I have an excuse to completely over-indulge my food obsession and cook and bake until we are all sick of the sight of food. I found this recipe on a blog hop, by The Misadventures of Mrs B, and at first I thought the name was interesting, but the name is actually misleading and the real recipe is way better than what I thought it might be. Drunken noodles - they are not doused in alcohol but are so spicy that you need to drink a lot of something soothing while you try to eat them! I had to make a couple of changes - I added a lot of vegetables, and the proportion of noodles to meat and vegetables was not to my liking so I have reduced the noodles by half in the recipe below. It is still a really fast, simple recipe. After you have brought any staples that you don't normally have (for me it was hoisin sauce and fish sauce, which turns out to be anchovy sauce, so I could have used worcestershire, but that has loads of random spices in it so wouldn't have been quite right I guess) you can whip this up in all of 20 minutes!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Today is a public holiday here in Ireland and instead of going to work I spent the morning cleaning the house up, so that it is not an absolute mess when my friend from home shows up to stay with me. When the place was nice and clean and I was tired of working, I thought that maybe the nice clean house would benefit from the smell of fresh baking. So I made cookies. I made them really quickly because I had to meet a friend for coffee and I thought she could do with some fresh cookies. They are so fast to whip up when you know what you are doing, so below are not only instructions for baking cookies, but also specific instructions for having fresh cookies ready within 15 minutes from starting. You need an electric egg beater for this to happen. Even without one it would only take 20 minutes though. Here is a photo of some cookies to set your salivary glands salivating:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spicy Vindaloo

So vindaloo at any ordinary Indian take-out, or even a proper Indian restaurant, is usually really spicy. So I wasn't sure about this recipe, which is not spicy at all (which is why I am making it). However, I looked it up and it seems that the very spicy curry that we call vindaloo is something that we (as in, people outside of India) have mostly just invented. The real vindaloo is an Indian version of a Portugese dish that features meat, garlic, kashmiri chillies and wine or vinegar. Also, the meat is traditionally pork, which is definitely not the way they do it in any Indian restaurants that I've ever been to! So this recipe, from Not Your Ordinary Recipes, is a pretty good estimate and easy to make with what I already have in my kitchen. I exchanged tomato paste and stock for the can of tomatoes that the recipe originally called for, and I added some chilli (thought not, technically, the correct type of chilli, just a crushed chilli paste, because real chillies are way too spicy for me!). I was also too hungry to take proper photos, but the blog that I got this off of has a lot of very good photos that show the entire process so if you are stuck, definitely check it out.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sour Cream & Chives Potato Bake

So I have gone and joined another cooking challenge, only this one satisfies my need to just throw things together with no recipe - it is an improv cooking challenge!

Improv Challenge

There are two ingredients specified for every month and you can do whatever you like with them. This month the ingredients are potatoes and cheese and instead of being inventive I have made something that has been on my list for awhile. Today I am giving you yet another recipe for potatoes from my mother, or at least, somewhat based on something that my mother used to make. Only this time I'm not actually sure if I like this as a child. We called it scalloped potatoes, which is the same as a potato bake or potato gratin, and it is basically thin slices of potato cooked in a milky cheese sauce. From what I remember of having this as a child, it was very milky and had big pieces of onion. I remember just picking out the crispy cheese top and the best looking slices of potato and leaving all of the rest. Now, however, I am not so fussy and am making a recipe that is to my own liking. I have tried to make this before, a long time ago, when I was first really beginning to cook, and I remember it taking forever for the potatoes to cook - probably because I filled the dish up far too much. I also remember a flatmate of mine making this, only absolutely coating it in nutmeg, which has pretty much put me off of that spice for good. However, that same flatmate had a pretty good version of macaroni and cheese, parts of which I may commandeer at some point, so I guess I should not hold her nutmeg addiction against her.

So, enough of the rambling, how about I just get on to my super awesome (extra cheesy) version of scalloped potatoes?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pumpkin Pie Cinnamon Swirls

Today is Pi day! And I completely forgot about it! So at work today I was thinking, perhaps I should go home and make apple pie? But I have no apples, no milk and not much butter and I didn't want to go to the shop, because yesterday I got so frustrated having to wait in line at the supermarket. They would never let the queue get that long at supermarkets in NZ! So I gave up on that idea. But for ages now I have been meaning to make cinnamon swirls again, but with pumpkin-pie filling. So my Pi day recipe is not a pie, but a pie-inspired treat, that was really yummy, and I am going to have a second one because I am tired.

Quinoa Pilaf

In my little apartment kitchen there are generally always dishes waiting to be done, largely because I am constantly cooking and baking. I don't mind doing the dishes, but sometimes I just get so tired of it. So you would think that I would try to cut down on the dishes, right? Well, that's easier said than done. Instead I just try to pile them tidier. However, I do have a couple of one-pot recipes and this is one of them. My basic pilaf recipe came from the classic NZ Edmond's cookbook, obviously one of the newer versions because the old ones wouldn't have anything so foreign as this. It's a great student meal because you can make it with any scraps of meat or vegetables that you have, and any sort of stock and rice will do. I used to bake it in a casserole dish in the oven but technically pilaf is supposed to be done on the stove, over low heat. This dish has a million variations and is known by almost as many names, as it's a staple sort of dish from many different countries. It's commonly called pilaf or pilau, and I reckon that spanish paella is also a version of the same thing. I had not made this dish in a very long time when I came across a recipe on another blog for quinoa pilaf, and though that I should give it a try. In the end, however, instead of making that recipe I just added some quinoa to my own recipe, instead of the meat that I would usually add. So now this is pilaf is vegetarian but still packed full of protein!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Simple Soy & Honey Stirfry

When you have a cold, you're supposed to eat soup, right? Because chicken is good for a cold? But you are also supposed to have drinks with honey in them, and garlic is good for your immune system, and I'm pretty sure that ginger has warming, immune boosting properties as well. So how do you put all of these things together really quickly on a Sunday evening when you are starving and your flatmate has a terrible cold? You make a stirfry! A chicken, honey, garlic, ginger stirfry. With soy sauce of course. And broccoli, because it's really rich in vitamin C, and carrots because they are full of antioxidants. Not only is it full of good food and fast to make, but it's one of those one-bowl meals that you can easily eat while curled up under a blanket in front of a movie. Hopefully your movie will be better than mine was though - I watched a movie called 'The Grey' in which a handful of men survived a plane crash, only to be hunted down and eaten by wolves. Not really my type of movie, I'll stick to my not-so-serious, happy ending movies. Luckily, watching scary and gruesome things on tele does not put me off my food, so I still managed to enjoy my dinner!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Savoury Muffins

This weekend, instead of baking bread as I usually do, I finally got around to one of the many recipes on my list of things to make - savoury muffins! This is the first of several different types of savoury muffin that I'm going to bake. To begin with I revisited an old recipe that I haven't used in years, originally from an Alison Holst muffin cookbook. The thing is, I can't for the life of me remember if this is the original recipe or my modification of it. I do know that the original recipe called for fresh herbs and I never have any (on account of not having a garden) so I have had to used dried. Maybe they would be better with fresh. They are also supposed to be mini-muffins and I brought a mini-muffin tin the other day (it is so little and cute!) so half of my muffins were mini, and the other half full-size. These make a really good afternoon snack or lunch, especially if you eat them warm with a bit of butter! They are yummy when they are cold too - I just at the last one as my morning snack because work is disappointing this morning and I needed something to munch on.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A big dish of Cannelloni

Mmm, cannelloni! It's like lasagna, but in tube form! It's so good, but I had actually never had this (maybe I had never even heard of it) until my 3rd year of university. My friends and I needed a 4th flatmate so we put signs up around campus and chose the first non-crazy person that called us. Turns out that she was a great cook who made an amazing white sauce, which featured in both her pasta bake and cannelloni. I immediately tried my own cannelloni, with varying results, but I blame that on having to cook the tubes first. Instant cannelloni tubes made life much easier, but this isn't a dish that I make very often. It's the type of thing that takes a little more time than other meals, a lot more dishes, and really needs a lot more people to eat it. So a dinner party was called for! I made this to take to a friend's, where we all brought a dish and proceeded to eat far too much. This is a meatless cannelloni but the sauces are rich enough to make up for that; I highly doubt that anybody will complain about the lack of meat!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Inappropriately Named Cookies

Once again I am baking and post about an old New Zealand classic, and again it is a super-delicious biscuit, but this one has a really strange name - Afghans!

I never thought it was strange until I moved overseas, but when you stop to think about it, why is a cookie called an Afghan? Does it have anything to do with the Afghan people or the country Afghanistan? Does the fact that it's a brown coloured cookie have anything to do with the name? I have read one account that these cookies were first made in NZ (or Australia but that is really unlikely) by an Afghan immigrant. But I don't much believe that, surely immigrants would continue making food based upon their own national cuisine and not suddenly pick up on the more European habit of baking cookies? I've also read accounts that the cookies look like the craggy mountains of Afghanistan or even resemble the Afghan people. Personally, I would say that the name probably originated from the inescapable racism of the older generations - after hearing my own great-grandmother's casual references to darkies I wouldn't be surprised if somebody, somewhere, made a dark coloured cookie and named it after whatever dark-skinned people where commonly known or being talked about at the time. Who cares though, the cookies are delicious and really simple and they will always be world famous in New Zealand. It's not like it's the only strangely named cookie out there - all over food-blog-land at the moment are recipes to do with Samoas cookies, which may seem perfectly normal to American people who grew up with Girl Scout cookies but to me it seemed really odd - why are there cookies named after Samoa, which have no connection at all to the country, its people and their cuisine? They look yummy though, I'm going to have to try them one day.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Spaghetti Challenge

This month's crazy cooking challenge was spaghetti with a red sauce, and I really wonder what everybody will come up with because while there are many variations of the theme, surely they can't all be that amazingly different from each other? So I decided to not only make a new spaghetti sauce but also to make meatballs! And they were delicious, just so you know. Once again I chose the simple way of find another blogger's recipe by using erecipecards and I found a recipe on Rock Recipes that featured fennel, a vegetable that I had barely heard of, let alone ever used. I had to google it so that I knew what to look for at the vegetable stand (at the market, because the supermarkets here don't sell such outlandish vegetables as fennel). The sauce is roasted and even though I roasted it for an hour I found that the fennel was still not tender, and it had an unusual taste that I was not used to, so I didn't want to have large chunks of it in my sauce. I decided to have another go at the sauce and modify the method a little, but only a very little. As for the meatballs, they were so good! They are also from another blog, called norecipes, and had ricotta cheese in them, another ingredient that I had actually never used before, but  this blog said that ricotta will make the meatballs soft and tender, which was exactly how I wanted them to be!

1 large tablespoon butter
1 fennel bulb, sliced finely
1 brown onion, sliced finely
4 cloves crushed garlic
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
8 or 9 large tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 tablespoon cornflour
Salt and pepper to taste

This sauce is really simple and I liked it better after I adapted it. So, the original recipe said to chop everything into rough chunks and roast in a large pan till everything was tender. Only I found that everything did not get tender. On the other hand, the great thing about this recipe is that it uses fresh tomatoes and doesn't expect you to steam them and peel them and de-seed them first. OK, time to get on with the recipe.

First, heat the butter in a large frying pan. Cut both the onion and fennel in half lengthwise and then slice both very thinly crosswise, so that you get thin half-rings. Then throw these in the pan and toss them about a bit. Add the crushed garlic, brown sugar, oregano and balsamic vinegar and turn the heat down low. Leave it for about 10 minutes or so, stirring every once in a while, until everything is really soft.

Now, turn your oven on to about 200 degrees celsius and get out a roasting pan or casserole dish. Chop the tomatoes up roughly and place them in the dish. Sprinkle over cornflour, salt and pepper and toss it all about. Then add the onion/fennel mixture and stir it through the tomatoes.

Place the dish in the oven for about half and hour, then give everything a stir. Cook for another 20 minutes or so and by that stage your sauce should be really thick and well roasted.

1/2 brown onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
500 grams beef mince
100 grams ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
25 grams parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

So meatballs are pretty simple to make really. I saw one recipe in which everything had to be piled into the bowl in a specific order but that doesn't really seem very necessary. Just place it all in there and give it a good mix. First with a spoon but then you will have to use your hands.

Take small handfuls of the mixture and roll it into balls. You can either fry them in a pan or roast them in the oven or simmer them in the sauce. I chose to brown them in a pan first, rolling them a lot to try and keep the round shape (didn't really work but who said meatballs had to be spherical anyway?). Then I placed them on top of the dish of sauce and let it all roast together.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Creamy Carbonara

I was featured on another linky-party this week! My cheesy brocolli pasta was featured by Melt in Your Mouth Monday! How exciting! That absolutely makes my day! Or at least, my morning. By this evening I will need another nice thing; for instance, a big bowl full of carbonara ...

This recipe originally came from the mother of an old friend of mine,whose carbonara was the first I ever tried.  I made it twice according to her recipe, getting slightly different results each time, and then I made the recipe my own. I'm not a big fan of dairy and I especially don't like cream so a traditional carbonara is generally just too heavy for me. So this recipe substitutes a can of evaporated milk for the cream, which after simmering awhile becomes quite thick and creamy. Carbonara is not only delicious, but also really quick and easy to prepare. I like it best with wide fettucine or really large penne pasta, and I don't much like mushrooms so this recipe doesn't include them, but feel free to add some if you so wish.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Iddy Biddy Cheesy Bread Rolls

The great thing about fast acting yeast is that you can come home from work on a Friday feeling tired and hungry and have fresh bread ready in about an hour. Which is what I did last night. I am still working my way through a feezer full of chicken soup, and while I believe soup to be a very acceptable dinner, it does need a little something added to it to really round things out. The question is, what type of bread did I want? I was tired and didn't want to try out a new recipe, but I wanted something new and different. And cheesy. So I took my new favourite bread recipe and I turned it into little cheese filled dinner rolls! The only problem is that all I had was cheddar cheese and the cheddar here doesn't seem to melt very well. At home all cheese is good for cooking with but this stuff doesn't get properly gooey. So I am recommending that you use a cheese with a strong flavour and good melting ability. Or a mixture of cheeses, like mozarella and parmesan. I think next time I will also add a bit of tomato sauce and little bits of ham and make little pizza rolls. Anyway, I am getting off the point. The point is, here is my recipe for yummy little cheesy bread rolls.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Baking

This week I was going to forego my weekly baking, as the function that I usually take my treats to on a Friday is not on this week. But then I got to thinking about how good it would be to add orange to chocolate chip cookies. Then I thought of adding nuts too, but had the even better idea of adding coconut. So come Thursday evening I just had to bake something. Thus today's cookie was born - orange-coconut-chocolate-chip! Now I have run out of all my baking staples but that's alright because there are cookies to eat!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Quick Pasta for One

You know those mornings when you are getting ready for work and realise that there is no food in the house to take with you for lunch? Today was one of those days. Not only that, but I was busy with lab work so I didn't have time to go out and buy lunch. I had to make do with what I would normally consider to just be snacks until it was finally time for work to be over. So of course, I spent all day considering what I could make for my dinner. Unfortunately, I have already gone over budget for the week so it had to be something simple. But that has an up-side as well - something simple is ready to eat all the sooner! Today was surprisingly clear and warm (well, considering that I'm in Galway, that is) so I decided on something on the light side. And past is my favourite, so there was really much of a decision to make. I had this tube of basil in the fridge (it's like some sort of puree I think) because sometimes it's really hard to find fresh herbs in the supermarket here. I cooked the pasta, quickly sauteed the basil with olive oil, garlic and cherry tomatoes and my dinner was ready!

Pasta with Garlic, Basil and Cherry Tomatoes 
(Recipe can, of course, be made much larger to feed more people)

Pasta for one (I used wholegrain fusilli)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons basil puree (or a handful of fresh basil, torn into pieces)
250 grams cherry tomatoes (1 punnet)
Parmesan for sprinkling

First of all, bring a pot of salted water to the boil and cook your pasta. In the meantime, crush the garlic, tear up the basil if you are using fresh stuff, and chop the cherry tomatoes in half. Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and pepper and then just set everything aside until the pasta is cooked.

Drain the pasta in a colander and take the pot that you cooked it in to heat the olive oil. Quickly add the garlic and basil to the hot oil and sautee for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for another couple of minutes. Then throw the pasta in and stir it about to coat it well with the oil, basil and garlic. Then turn off the heat, pile it into a large pasta bowl, grate a little parmesan over it and your dinner is ready!

You know what? I just realised that this is pretty much exactly the same as another recipe that I posted over summer (in NZ that is), only this time I cooked the garlic, basil and tomatoes before tossing them through the pasta because it is still quite cold here, so lots of warm food is still required. Well, I guess that it's slightly different so I might as well post it, right? It was really yummy, after all.

ANZAC Biscuit Slice

Now, ANZAC day is still some time away, but for awhile I have been thinking of making a slice or bar version, because over here they have something called flapjacks and I reckon they are pretty much the same thing as an ANZAC biscuit. Last weekend was the beginning of my latest sporting venture - hiking up mountains with the mountaineering club. Which requires sustenance so it was the perfect opportunity for trying out an ANZAC slice. They were good, especially with a bit of chocolate icing, but unfortunately the hiking wasn't good. The weather was really atrocious, it was windy and rainy (pretty common for Ireland though) and the hill was steep. The descent was very slippery, and it turns out it is always a very difficult descent, but on this occasion the group was incredibly unlucky and we all witnessed one of the hikers go tumbling quite a distance down the mountain. It looked to be about as bad as it could possibly be, but the guy was actually incredibly lucky and came away with pretty minor injuries, considering how bad it could have been. However, you can imagine how shocked the entire group was. It's all over now though and the poor guy is OK, it's not going to put me off of more hiking, nor of sharing the day's treat with you all:

Also, before we get started with the recipe, there is a lighter note to my week that cheered me up a lot on Monday evening. I was checking out all the linky parties that I link my posts to and who would have thought, but I was featured on one of them! My Pumpkin Muffin recipe was one of the most popular last week on Things that make you say Mmmm. How exciting is that! Then, get this, I was featured again! The second feature is a much smaller linky partie but it has just started so hopefully it will get a lot bigger. My Lime Chicken Stirfry was featured on the Real Housewives Recipe Roundup (they have great alliteration!). Now, on to today's treat!