Monday, 21 November 2011

Learning to Make Things Pretty

Summery Cupcakes

Recently, my wonderful Anibug and I went for a beginners decorating class with Renette. We made these gorgeous summery cupcakes.

All in all it was a wonderful class! For someone like me, who's been playing with decorating for a while, it might be a bit underwhelming. But I loved meeting Renette and buying some tools. And I definitely learned a trick or two. I'll definitely look into doing more classes!

Thanks Renette!

A quick sidenote: this will be my last post for a week or two. My dad was in a car accident and is currently in hospital, so I've spent the whole past week visiting him, and this is the last of the posts I wrote before the accident.

Friday, 18 November 2011

I Say Tomato

Cream of Tomato Soup

Wow I love this soup.. I found it in a magazine once. It was the first tomato soup I'd ever made. And now I will dedicate at least part of my life to making more tomato soup.

This was my one treat to myself. Out of the two weeks that Ralph was away, I managed to have 2 nights alone at home. On the first night, I made this soup and had it for supper, and on the second, I just had it for supper. It defined my happy alone time, and made it super happy. It's got all these great veggies in it, and only a little bit of cream. I could eat it without bread for a super healthy meal, and did I mention is tangy and absolutely gorgeous?

I've never been a fan of spending time alone. Growing up I always wanted to be around people ALL the time. I always make plans with people, and I honestly, honestly can't remember spending time alone at home. This time I've found myself really wanting it, craving it. Just a night or two of wallowing on the couch, watching series, and eating whatever I want. I have to say, I'm now a big fan of it! I'm not naturally a relaxed person, but when I'm alone I find I'm at least a little so. I won't hesitate to do it again.

Tomato Soup

2 onions
2 - 3 celery sticks
2 x 410g cans chopped tomatoes
20 - 40 ml tomato paste
1 - 2 potatoes
1 cube chicken stock
250 ml boiling water
30 ml sugar
black pepper
6 bay leaves
250 ml milk or cream

1) Chop and sautee onion and celery until soft.
2) Add everything except coriander and cream and simmer until potatoes are cooked (about an hour).
3) Add coriander, and cook for a further 5 minutes.
4) Remove the bay leaves, and blend soup until smooth.
5) Add cream or milk (I do half-half).
6) Season to taste and serve.

Here's a hint: do not serve during summer! I ate a bowl of this and spent the rest of the evening trying to cool down. Then the next evening I had another bowl, just because it was sooo good that I didn't care :-).

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Exploding Blueberries

Blueberry Muffins

Don't they just kindof scream 'healthy happy home'? I've made blueberry muffins before, but always with canned blueberries. This time there was a sale on fresh blueberries, and I just had to make something with them.

I made these for my office. I'm really loving my new job, and I wanted to spoil my coworkers with a nice breakfast. It worked really well! All the muffins got eaten, even though they weren't my best ever. I always think about just how lovely it is when someone makes me breakfast or a treat, and giving other people that happy feeling is awesome!

I love how the blueberries exploded in the oven to make streaks on the muffins. Unfortunately, the muffins weren't the greatest. I think this is partly because the recipe is for canned blueberries, not fresh, and partly because I was distracted with cooking supper at the same time. Still, they were wonderfully edible.

I loved going completely overboard with cooking and baking while Ralph was away. I know he doesn't like it when I get completely overwhelmed with doing 10 things at a time. I don't tend to hold back too much when he's around, but I didn't hold back at all while he was away!

Blueberry Muffins
From The Ultimate Book of Baking by Heilie Pienaar

Makes about 16 muffins

280 g cake flour
15 ml baking powder
pinch salt
160 g sugar
100 ml cooking oil
2 extra large eggs
200 ml milk
5 ml vanilla essence
425 g can of blueberries in syrup

1) Preheat oven to 180 C.
2) Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together in one bowl.
3) Mix the oil, eggs, milk and vanilla essence together in a different bowl.
4) Mix the two mixtures together and mix gently.
5) Drain the blueberries, and add to the mixture. Mix gently.
6) Split into muffin tin, and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden on top.
7) Cool on a rack, and eat for a delicious semi healthy breakfast.

I loved having these with tea for breakfast. They were such a lovely start to the day. Next time I make them with fresh blueberries, I plan to add more milk to make them moist. Otherwise, I can't wait.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Love Affair with Baking Books


I ordered this book at the beginning of September, and it just just got here today!! I'm SO excited about it that I had to put it up! Can't wait to get through it! Will have to wait till tomorrow..

Salty, Cheesy Comfort

Chicken Risotto

It's something I spend AGES dreaming about and looking forward to. I love the warm, salty, gooey comfort it provides. I feel like there's nothing it can't fix with its dreamy hugs..

There's a terrible secret about Ralph, a dark mystery that threatens our relationship every day. He passionately and unapologetically doesn't like risotto. So.. When he goes away I make a giant batch of risotto and just wallow in it.

When I was still at varsity I think there were only 2 things I knew how to cook: brownies and risotto (there was this packet cheese sauce mix I used to add cheese and bacon to, but I don't think it counts). I would make GIANT batches of it, and my mom and I would eat it for like a week.. I LOVED it. When studying, I would just eat bowlful after bowlful. It always brings back the best memories. 

Chicken Risotto

4 large leeks
4 chicken breasts
1 - 1.5 liters chicken stock
1 cup Arborio rice
1 cup white wine (I used Splattered Toad)
1 1/2 cups grated pecorino cheese
salt and pepper

1) Chop the leek into small pieces, and the chicken into bite size pieces (I like to make the chicken pieces quite small).
2) Take a non stick frying pan and fry the leeks in olive oil until soft. Add the chicken and fry until it's cooked and browning. Turn off the heat and set aside.
3) Get a medium pot out (the one in which you make the non-huge soups), and put a good couple of glugs of olive oil in. Set on a medium heat.
4) Add the rice, and stir until it is well coated.
5) Add the wine to the rice, and stir until it gets absorbed.
6) Add about a cup of chicken stock, and let the rice cook, while stirring occasionally, until the stock gets absorbed. Add another cup, and once that's absorbed, add the leeks and chicken.
7) Keep adding stock and waiting for it to be absorbed until the rice is soft and the sauce is gooey.
8) Add the pecorino cheese and stir through.
9) Add salt and pepper to taste.
10) Serve on cold winter nights, or just sad or anxious nights to make yourself feel warm and hopeful.

So it turned out I made too little.. I had Tessa and Andrew (Ralph's neighbors) over. Two lessons I learned here: Firstly, not everyone likes chicken risotto as much as I do (while I was licking my lips, Andrew was trying his best to get through a couple of mouthfuls) and, if you're going to have people over for supper, there won't be as much risotto leftover! I had to make a whole other batch to have for lunch this week :-).

Friday, 11 November 2011

What's better than a cherry?

Cherries dipped in white chocolate

I know- this is a hack of a recipe.. But it's cherry season! I want to celebrate! I didn't want to cook cherries in something, and I did have a dream bar at home..

I wish I had more photos, but.. well these were too good to photograph properly before eating.. They were the perfect dessert, healthy fruit, with a thin layer of yummy, yummy chocolate.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about healthy food. With Weight Watchers, I'm forced to be constantly aware of my weight. Lately, it's been a bit of an issue. I've been trying to get back into a good exercise and eating routine. So I'm trying really hard to do some form of exercise most days, and eat more fruit and veggies in general. These cherries for dessert were both enticing and nutritious. I think Joan (my Weight Watchers group leader) would be proud!

These were super easy. I put a bowl over a pot of gently boiling water, broke the chocolate into blocks, put it in the bowl, and stirred continuously. When the chocolate was melted, I dipped the cherries in it.. As it's summer here, when we ate the cherries the chocolate was still soft. It was lovely. However, I did put the cherries in the fridge overnight and took them to work as a Friday treat for everyone. By then, the chocolate had set and was crunchy and decadent.. The cherries weren't sour, but were definitely not too sweet. They went perfectly with the chocolate.

Cherry season is just beginning so I'm hoping to make more things really soon! For now though, I have special stuff planned for Ralph's return this weekend..

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Best Mac & Cheese

My Mac & Cheese

This is it: my mac and cheese. The one I measure all others against. The one that NEVER loses. The one that gets me the most compliments ever time- no fail. You know how everyone talks down a bit about the old style mac and cheese. The one you have to make a roux for? Fortunately and unfortunately, this is that one.

I'm having a super sad day today. My grandma left this morning and I won't see her for another year. She's so wonderful, loving and kind. Every time I think of her sweet happy face I want to cry. Ralph is on holiday, so I get to wallow on the couch alone at home. I do wish I had his warm hugs around..

Ralph was away last week as well, so I thought I would use the opportunity to have a nice quiet evening with Lauren, my roommate. Yes, I have a home, with a roommate- the place where I don't spend any time between visiting family and Ralph's kitchen- I mean Ralph. I do have great news on that front- I've bought a house, with it's own tiny kitchen! I'll be moving in there at the end of the month- can't wait! I plan to take my cooking to a whole new level.

But back to the point- supper for Lauren! I went all out: proper mac & cheese, roast veggies and cherries dipped in white chocolate for dessert (will post next time!). I wanted to have a warm and wonderful evening with the sunniest, cheeriest, warmest person in my life. Lauren rounded the evening off with a nice bottle of Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc.

My Mac & Cheese

fried crispy bacon (optional)

2x 410g cans chopped tomatoes
dried origanum
salt and pepper

120 g butter
about 3 cups flour
about 1 litre of milk
2 cups grated cheddar
1/2 tsp nutmeg

250g elbow macaroni

1) Put both cans of chopped tomatoes in a small pot and boil to reduce. When they're not so thin anymore, add origanum, salt and pepper to taste (and smell FANTASTIC). I tend to add chillies here, either dried, or my favourite Edrico's chillies.
2) At the same time, cook macaroni until al dente. I specify elbow because it find it a bit more whimsical than straight. Am I easy to amuse? Yes, and proud of it! Mix the macaroni with the tomato sauce, and bacon, if you made some.
3) Preheat oven to 180C. Now it's time for the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a smallish pot. Now, start adding the flour, table spoon by tablespoon, until the mixture looks like really dense mash. Stir it around for a bit and let it fry. Turn the heat down to low.
4) Start adding the milk, bit by bit, whilst whisking the mixture to make sure no clumps form. If they do, just keep whisking, but with more feeling! Keep adding milk until the mixture has the consistency of normal milk. Increase the heat to medium and stir as it thickens up. Be patient. It will thicken.
5) Just before it boils, take it off the heat. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper and stir. Now add the cheese in handfuls and stir lots- keep aside a bit though. Add to the macaroni and stir.
6) Tip macaroni into a baking dish, sprinkle with cheese, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until it browns lightly on top.
7) Get ready- this is really, seriously, this-is-not-a-test delicious. Enjoy!

Now, I don't tend to go halfway with comfort dishes like this. I made a WHOLE lot. So I have frozen a ton for Ralph and I to have when he's back, and had a yummy lunch the next day. Now to lie on the couch and watch 30 Rock...

Monday, 7 November 2011

Honey Honey

Honey Candied Apples

Mmmmm the perfect semi healthy treat. I've been wanting to play around with candied apples for a while, and JUST before the weekend, I saw this post by Cook Like a Champion. They rounded off my weekend perfectly. Ralph took these amazing, kindof serene photos of them. I just want to frame them and put them up at my house!

I made these the weekend of the dirty witches fingers and the rose cupcakes, but these were kicking the other two's butts by miles. Why? You ask. Well, I made these to take to friend's house for a braai. These friends, Belinda and Gareth, always have get togethers at their house. They always go to so much trouble, and we always have a wonderful time.

I was playing walking their toddler daughter around the house, when she spotted these in the kitchen. I gave her one, and she continued to eat it ALL DAY. First, she licked off ALL the caramel. And then, for good measure, she ate the apple as well. Apparently the next day she was looking for more. That just means the world to me- no approval is more important for baking than a child's in my opinion.

These were the first candied apples I've ever made. I was so excited. I cleaned the apples thoroughly and Ralph poked the sticks through, and I loved drenching them in the caramel, it's so decadent. I love how it flows off and makes a pool at the bottom. It's just beautiful..

Honey Candied Apples
From Cook Like a Champion

8 - 10 small apples, and same amount of kebab sticks or lollipop sticks
1 cup cream
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup honey

1) Line a tray or baking sheet with a silicone mat. I wouldn't use wax paper here, as the caramel gets quite sticky.
2) Make an ice bath in a large bowl, and make sure your pot fits in and reaches the bath.
3) Wash the apples throughly, and stick sticks through them deeply.
4) Pour the cream into a small pot, add the salt, and heat on a medium heat until bubbles form around the sides.
5) Now, add the honey, bring to the boil, set the heat to medium, and keep stirring continuously with a rubber spatula.
6) You will notice that the nature of the mixture changes, first it boils almost normally, then it boils really high, and when it's ready, it actually settles down again (all in all around 20 minutes). For people who are not fans of rough guides, take a candy thermometer, when the mixture reaches 125 C, it's ready.
7) Take the pot off the heat and set on the ice bath- keep stirring. You'll notice it get thicker, that's when it's time to dip the apples. I used the spoon to pour caramel on them too :-)- I'm not really a minimalist.
8) Put the apples on the silicone to set.

It made me feel like a little kid again, eating these. Belinda and Gareth's daughter enjoyed hers so much that she rubbed it on just about all her toys, clothes, aunties and uncles!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Roses are Pink

Piped Rose Cupcakes

These were dainty and gorgeous, and gentle and delicious. I think that they would be perfect for a bridal shower. I really must keep them in mind. They were so simple and yet so lovely, sweet and feminine. The boys didn't care though- these got devoured! Gorgeous photos you say? Thank you Ralph!

I've been really wanting to make these for a while, and at the same time just dreading them. In the end they actually turned out quite pretty, but I do think I'll keep trying until they resemble Martha's a bit more. Martha's are just so pretty. I don't tend to be good at the detailed things, so I was really hoping that I wouldn't mess them up completely! I have learned a lesson, mostly through decorating: it's mostly about having the courage to try. Things never turn out quite as badly as you think they might! Now I just need to learn this lesson better and not take so long next time.

I bought this book for myself for my birthday. It seems to be fashionable to buy yourself birthday presents, and I had been eyeing this book for months.. I'm super happy I bought it, as it's taken me to a whole new level of baking. I'd never before made such complicated icings, I mean- 5 egg whites? Recipes REQUIRING you to have a stand mixer? I only have a hand- held one, and I have no idea what a paddle attachment is or what it does! Learning these new techniques has been a real adventure.

Now for this recipe, I only used Martha's instructions on how to pipe the icing. I made my favourite standard vanilla cupcake, and plain plain vanilla buttercream. An aside on the buttercream- if you've been reading my brownie posts you'll know that I love baking for my friend Ane. She's a cook and baker's best friend. She just enjoys food so much, she thinks about it, dreams about it.. Kindof like me :-). Now she LOVES buttercream, so although Martha recommended Swiss meringue buttercream, I made normal buttercream instead, as I was making the cupcakes for a braai at which I knew I would see Ane.

I did feel a little guilty making these girly pretty cupcakes for an event which was actually held for a male friend who's visiting from Australia. But I didn't consider one thing: guys will eat ANYTHING. Even if it's pink. Even if it's a flower. As long at it's yummy it's getting eaten. These cupcakes practically disappeared off the tray!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Payback for Hansel and Gretel

Dirty Witches Fingers

I know- everyone's Halloween recipes went out AGES ago. I just didn't feel right making these cookies ahead of time. It's like celebrating your birthday early- it just feels wrong! These cookies were amazing: they look so euwww and taste so great- perfect Halloween.

Aren't they gorgeous? Ralph took the most amazing photos- and got the props! I found these a long time ago on Cake Journal, and bookmarked them with the intention of making them for Halloween. I came across Martha Stewart's recipe for them more recently, and I just trust her so much that I decided I had to try them. I didn't like that Martha painted the 'nails' though, and rather went with Cake Journal's more dirty and creepy look for the fingers (or at least I REALLY tried).

These were a real hit- and I took them everywhere. I took some to my neighbour's house as a snack with  wine, I took some to a welcome party for an old friend and I even took some to work. I really enjoyed the suspicious looks these got! They really looked dirty, and the nails look SO REAL! Then, when you bite into them they're so sweet and delicious, and the nut is slightly salty and crunchy- just gorgeous.

Dirty Witches Fingers
From Martha Stewart, look adapted from Cake Journal

2 eggs
113 g unsalted butter
1/2 cup icing sugar
5 tblspn plain white sugar
pinch salt
1 2/3 cups flour
30 blanched almonds

1) Line two baking sheets with silicone or wax paper. Preheat oven to 180 C.
2) Split one egg, set aside the white, and mix the yolk with the other egg.
3) Cream the butter, both sugars and salt.
4) Add the egg mixture. Mix thoroughly.
5) Add the flour, and mix until well blended.
6) Wrap dough in plastic wrap, and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
7) Unwrap, break in half, putting the other half in the fridge.
8) Break half into 15 pieces. Roll each into a long finger on a lightly floured surface, squeezing to make knuckles. When you're done, use a small knife to make indentations on the back of the knuckles. Brush with the egg white that you set aside. Finally, push in the almonds for nails.
9) Bake for about 10 minutes, or until golden around the sides.
10) Repeat for other half.

These make the house smell like cookies. I love that.. Ralph's house is quite small, and so the smell is there and then it's gone,. It's sad cause you don't walk around the house smelling yummy things. But for those few minutes while these cookies are baking, I am completely home at heart. I'm going to warn you- you might not want to eat these when they come out- they look TOTALLY eeuuwes! But just try one, and they'll grow on you!

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