Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mystery Cookies

So this recipe comes from a novel that I once read, by Joanne Fluke. I chose it from the library based entirely on the fact that the cover was bright yellow and it was called 'The Lemon Meringue Pie Murder'.

I love it when novels have recipes in them. This one is part of a series of murder mysteries that are solved by a cookie-baking cafe owner. To be brutally honest, the books aren't really that good (or at least, the single one that I have read). But the recipes seem to be good. Except that they make huge quantities. These mystery cookies are the only recipe that I've actually tried yet from that novel, but they are really, really good. I have posted a similar recipe on here before, but that is my own version of this recipe, to which I added oats and wholemeal flour, and will be trying again very soon just to make sure that the recipe is perfect. This one below is definitely perfect, these cookies are so yummy that I could have eaten an entire tray-full as I was baking them last night. They were best just out of the oven, of course. They are soft and chewy and full of flavour. Just don't tell anybody the secret ingredient until after they have all been eaten!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Spicy Tomato and Lentil Soup

This is one of the many soups in my repertoire that I put together a couple of years back, when I was going through a vegetarian phase and, largely through boredom, decided to colour co-ordinate my meals. So here is a red soup, with tomatoes, red peppers and red lentils. Not only is it red, it's also very yummy and the addition of lentils means that it provides you with some protein and iron. So if you, like me, are happy to live off of soup every now and then, here is a good one that ticks most of the boxes for a healthy diet. We can't be too healthy though, that would be boring. So why not add some home-made croutons that are rich in buttery, salty goodness? This was my first attempt to make croutons and it is a great way to use up homemade bread that looses it's softness so quickly. I love to bake bread but there are not enough people in my house to finish it off while it is still good. Usually I just eat the half-stale bread as toast but I think from now on I will turn a lot of it into croutons. If it ever gets too hot her in Ireland for hot soup I will just have to experiment with cold soups like Gazpacho - I had some in Portugal and it was so delicious! Anyway, let's just get on to today's recipes:

Friday, May 25, 2012

Cupcakes for Two

Sometimes, on a Sunday afternoon, when you're feeling a bit bored or tired, it seems like a good idea to bake something. But the more you bake, the more you eat, and then you'll get fat. So sometimes it is nice to make something really small, just enough for one. A while back I tried to reduce some of my recipes to single servings but that doesn't always work. You can make cookie dough and freeze it, so that you only bake a few cookies at a time. But today I was walking through town and the cupcake cafe had some free samples to give away, after which I wanted to make cupcakes. There is a recipe in my list of recipes-to-try for making a tiny little cake in a tin can, by the Baker Chick, that I have been meaning to make for awhile. I even saved up some tin cans. But then, when it came right down to it, it seemed like a lot of effort to grease the inside of a tin can, when I could just put a paper liner in a muffin tin. So with the recipe for a tin-can cake I made two cupcakes (I coloured them red so that they would be sort of like red velvet cake) and I frosted them with dark chocolate. They were very good, but my efforts to reduce my junk-food intake by making a very small portion was sort of negated by my eating the rest of the chocolate frosting. Oh well.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My first ever attempt at cooking fish ...

Last weekend I tried two new things: cooking fresh fish and both cooking and eating aparagus. How is it that I have never cooked fish before? It seems pretty unbelievable. Of course, I'm not counting the type of fish that comes frozen and covered in crumbs that you just throw in the oven until it's hot. I brought fresh fish, I marinated it and covered it with yummy flavours and baked it in the oven. As for the asparagus, that is a little easier to understand. As a child I did not like most vegetables and I don't think asparagus is a very common one down south of NZ, so I had simply never tried it, which made me wary of trying it now. However, so many people kept telling me how much they love asparagus so I figured it was worth a try. I baked it alongside the fish with all the same flavours and the entire meal was delicious. It's important to eat fish and it was very simple to prepare so I will definately have to include more seafood in my cooking repertoire.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Homemade Focaccia

What I discovered last night: focaccia is amazing! It's so good, I could have just sat there and ate it all. I wasn't sure at first if this bread was going to be a success; I tried a recipe last week that wasn't very good, it was just very dry and tasteless. This time, however, I found a blog that had made a recipe from the Great British Bakeoff, which I have seen an episode of and is full of amazing recipes. The instructions were really detailed and there were pictures - the finished bread looked amazing so it was worth a try. Like ciabatta, this dough is really wet and nothing at all like normal bread dough. The finished produce is very soft and airy and really, really yummy. This recipe made enough for four of us to snack on while we waited for dinner

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Lentil Soup

I have to admit, lentil soup doesn't really look that appetising. It mushy and a funny colour. It is one of my favourite soups though; it has been ever since I first tried it in Dubai. There it was more yellow so perhaps they used a different type of lentil. I use red lentils and my soup always turns out a slightly brown colour. You can add lentils to loads of different foods but this particular soup is purely lentils. I add an onion for flavour, but more important is plenty of cumin and salt. It may not look exactly the same as the delicious soup that I had in Dubai but it tastes pretty good and it is very filling. Plus it is fast and it is cheap, making it a perfect meal for a student. Pair it with some awesome bread, like fresh flatbread, something I have not yet mastered. In Dubai they would just keep bringing out bowls of the most amazing flatbread, soft and chewy and warm. Instead I had mine with ciabatta and that was good too. Lentils are really good for you so this soup will give you a boost of healthy stuff like iron, fibre, folate, vitamins and minerals.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Strawberries and Cream

This month's improv challenge from Frugal Antics is strawberries and cream, which at first I thought sounded a bit simple and boring, especially seeing as I don't much like cream. However, it turns out we can use any product that has cream in the name, which provides far more scope for the imagination. At first I thought I would do a loaf with a cream cheese topping, then I thought perhaps muffins with cream cheese frosting. A while back I saw a blog entry for roast strawberries and just now I have checked what google has to say on the subject. It seems that quite a lot of people are roasting strawberries these days and they all do it in pretty much the same way, with some oil and balsamic vinegar, maybe some sugar, maybe some salt, some even use black pepper! I absolutely had to try it, so that is the strawberry part of the challenge sorted. However, my first efforts at roasting strawberries went just a little awry - an awful lot of liquid came out of those strawberries! So I scooped it all out and am going to use it in a salad dressing perhaps. I have adjusted the recipe below so hopefully there won't be excessive amounts of liquid the next time.

Now, I didn't want to make anything too sweet and ostentatious, just something very normal and easy that I can take to work with me for lunch, or maybe even eat for breakfast. So I decided to make a muffin! But what about the cream? Well these are surprise muffins (because surprise muffins are my favourite type) and the surprise centre to these ones is a dollop of cream cheese! This muffin recipe is based on the berry muffin recipe in one of the Alison Holst cookbooks - I have been using it and adapting it for years, it's pretty much fool-proof. At the last minute I decided to add yet another flavour to these muffins with a lemon glaze, because I love combining lemon and strawberry. Despite the late hour at which I baked these, I couldn't help but try one immediately - they are absolutely delicious!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cold Pasta Salad

When I was in my undergrad in NZ we used to drop into the supermarket to pick up something simple for lunch when we were feeling lazy. The best things were the pizza scrolls from the bakery and the pasta salad from the deli. That, however, was a pricey way to get lunch so I was inspired to make my own version. The one that I remember most from the supermarket was amazing and full of flavour, with smoked chicken and some sort of vinaigrette. I'm not sure why I did not work harder on making the perfect vinaigrette but now I can't really remember what that salad tasted like, so instead I have re-visited the type of pasta salad that I used to make for an easy lunch or dinner. There were many different versions of this, most of which featured some sort of cooked meat, a can of tomatoes with some sort of flavouring or seasoning, some sort of vinegar and plain salad dressing. This time around I have decided not to be lazy and have made my own tomato mixture. I have left out the salad dressing because that sort of thing is very different over here to how it is at home. You also can't get smoked chicken over here, which is a shame because smoked chicken would be perfect in this.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Basic Comfort Food

This post is dedicated to all of my friends who don't think that they can cook. Everybody can cook, they just don't realise it. Loads of delicious things are really, really easy. So I hope that one day this post helps somebody. Below I'm going to spell out really simply how to make a delicious roast dinner to make everybody happy on the weekend. Chicken is my favourite because I don't really like red meat that much, plus is is easier in my opinion and there is a big empty space for stuffing. You can't have a good roast without stuffing and gravy . I don't often make a roast chicken these days because I have nobody to feed, but finally I decided to get a small chicken and make a roast dinner anyway. Now there are lots of leftovers to make amazing sandwiches with (I pack leftover chicken, stuffing, gravy and roast potato in a sandwich to make the best sandwiches ever). There are three very important tasks involved in making a roast chicken - making stuffing, preparing the chicken and then making gravy. It's not at all difficult nor time consuming, as a lot of people imagine it would be. My way of making it involves squeezing an orange over the chicken - I'm not sure why or when I began to do that, but I like it that way.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Even Better Cinnamon Swirls

I really love cinnamon buns. They are just so amazing. Everybody should get to experience how good they can be. The first time that I had Cinnabon I really loved it, but if anything Cinnabon is too much, to the point that it's no longer a good thing. They have cinnamon buns at the supermarket here and sometimes if I am shopping on an empty stomach I buy one, but they're not amazing - perhaps because they are not very fresh. I have a recipe for sultana cinnamon buns from a cookbook that I had lying around but they really were not perfect. They were good fresh out of the oven but not so good later. Plus they were not as rich and sweet as I would have liked. So I have always been looking for something better. I saw a new recipe finally, in which the pictures looked absolutely amazing, from The Baker Chick, with brown butter and cream cheese frosting. Plus she has step-by-step photos, so I haven't bothered this time around. The recipe was quite different to my own - it was a lot larger for one thing, with a richer, sweeter dough and a far shorter cooking time. I followed her recipe almost exactly, only I added some sultanas to the dough. I love the addition of brown butter, not to mention her method of making it in the microwave - it was so much easier and the result was far better. The one problem that I found with these was that the swirls wanted to come undone after they were baked - I think there was far too much sugar, so much so that the layers of dough would not bind together. So I have reduced the sugar, increased the cinnamon and I'm going to be very hard pressed to not make these (and eat the whole lot) every weekend!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Roast Chicken, Apricot and Brie on Ciabatta

It's time for the monthly cooking challenge again, with this month's challenge being a grilled cheese sandwhich. What on earth sort of a cooking challenge is that? To me a toasted sandwich is not really cooking at all so I was actually thinking of skipping this month's challenge. But then I decided to bend the rules and really make this my own. The point of the challenge is to use another blogger's recipe, and there are plenty of them out there because it turns out that grilled cheese sandwiches are really popular in America, so much so that April was their national grilled cheese month. However, when they say grill they don't actually mean what I do, I guess it's just one of those semantics issues that I run into so often with American recipes. For me, to grill something is to put it in the oven, on the top shelf, right beneath the hot element. So that is what I am going to do. I was thinking of doing NZ cheese rolls, because the world needs to be introduced to such an amazing but simple snack. But I also wanted to make my own bread for it and make a proper sandwich that I could really enjoy. Like this one:

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Muffin Tin Pies

Amongst my very extensive muffin tin collection is a texas muffin tin for making giant muffins. However, I eat enough baked goods as it is without making them giant. So my poor muffin tin does not get a lot of use. But who said that a muffin tin had to be for muffins anyway? Years ago I had a recipe for beef pies made in a giant muffin tin but when I finally got around to making them again I discovered that I didn't have a copy of that recipe anywhere. So I just made up a new one. The filling is a rich beef mince mixture with tomatoes and a thick gravy. The pastry recipe that I have included is shortcrust pastry and is suitable for both the bottom and top of the pie, but you don't have to go to the trouble of making it yourself, you could buy the frozen sheets (they are so easy, they're already rolled and everything!). If you want you could use puff or flaky pastry for the top. The filling made enough for about 8 small pies. I blind baked the bases, then when they were cold I filled them, put more pastry on the top and froze them. Now I can easily take a pie from the freezer, defrost it and bake it for just 10 minutes or so, which is great on these cold, windy Galway days when you are hungry and too tired to go to any effort at all.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Potato Crisp Cookies

This week I decided that it was high time I had a go at making cookies with potato chips, because I have heard about it in the past and it sounds good. Strange, but good. When I was in my first year of university a friend showed me how great it is to mix potato chips and M&Ms together, all in the same mouthful. Plus, recently, I have seen recipes for chocolate-dipped potato chips, so that just goes to show that mixing salty and sweet is the next big thing. I had a look at several different recipes and finally chose this one because it looked like it would make the most, and that the cookies would be soft and chewy. However, just potato chips wasn't enough for me. This recipe originally called for peanut butter chips or butterscotch chips but that sort of thing isn't so easy to get here in Ireland. Instead I have added mini M&Ms, as a throwback to my undergrad days and because I like colour.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Vegetarian Bolognaise

There was a time, quite a long time ago now actually, when I stuck to a mostly vegetarian diet. A large part of it was because I was somewhat broke at the time, but it was also an effort to make my diet healthier by learning how to eat more vegetables. When you grow up being a fussy, picky eater and saying that you don't like vegetables there is a lot that you miss out on, and when I decided it was time to eat properly I had no idea of how to cook anything other than ordinary, boring vegetables like peas and carrots, not to mention how to get all the nutrition that I needed without meat. So I discovered a lot of things about myself when I went vegetarian - it turns out that I really like broccoli for one thing, and sweet potato and pumpkin  are amazing! How did I not like them as a child? I definitely don't like cabbage and cauliflower, but mushrooms don't actually taste that bad, they just have a slimy texture. Texture is important for me and there are loads of things that I don't like to eat because of that - I hardly ever eat courgettes and aubergines because they have a funny texture. Still, while vegetables can be great there are times that you crave meat oriented comfort foods like roast chicken, real beef lasagna and a good spaghetti bolognaise. I wouldn't even want to try to replace roast chicken with something else, but I did learn that I could make a very 'real' bolognaise sauce, with a thick, meaty texture, using only vegetables. It turns out that the trick is to use the type of vegetables that have a tough, fibrous texture, which I often don't like, and to puree them with a hand-blender until the sauce is reduced to a really small chunks. So here is a very good mimic of bolognaise which is surely very healthy, full of mushrooms for vitamins B & D and iron, courgette for vitamins A & C and folate, and red pepper and tomatoes to provide loads of antioxidants.