Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Italian Summertime


Maybe it's not summer in Italy. But making and eating bruschetta makes me feel that way. I feel.. Beautiful and sophisticated.. Like I'm wearing a silk scarf and giggling over a lunch with too much good wine. 

The flavours in this dish are a level above those I normally use. It tastes subtly of olives and Basil. The acid of the tomatoes is soothed by the olive oil. I loved the crunch of the bread with the tomatoes. I loved it so much that I'll definitely use a Ciabatta loaf next time as it gets even more crunch, and it's what I should have used in the first place..

I really loved this dish- it's like a gateway to appreciating more complex flavours. I find it hard to try new things with food, so I try to take a small step at a time. I love it when it pays off! It was simple enough to make, the only slightly messy part was skinning the tomatoes, which I'd never done before so it was really interesting! The stinging I felt on my fingers from the tomato juice hurt so good!

Delia was my mom's favourite TV chef when she still had her shows. My mom loved her mostly for keeping her kitchen so clean :-).

Bruschetta with Tomato and Basil
from Delia

6 rosa tomatoes (you can use another variety, these are the ones I got)
A couple of tablespoons of chopped fresh Basil
2 tsp Olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

1 french or ciabatta loaf, sliced thinly
1 clove of garlic, peeled and rubbed in a little salt
About 4 tblspn Olive oil for drizzling

1) Put the tomatoes into a bowl and pour boiling water over them, covering them completely. Wait for 1 minute, then drain. You can now remove the skins quite easily. Chop the tomatoes coursely.
2) Add a couple of teaspoons of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and all the Basil and stir through. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.
3) Toast the bread under the grill on both sides, until dark golden.
4) Take a sharp knife and make 3 slashes across each slice, then rub with the garlic. Finally, drizzle about half a tablespoon of olive oil on each slice.
5) Top the bread with the tomato mixture, making a little mound.

Delia says that it's hard to believe that something so simple could be so wonderful- I couldn't say it better myself!

Friday, 22 June 2012

My Out of the Packet Secret

Spaghetti Bolognese

I wasn't always brave enough to try to cook things from scratch. When I had to start cooking for myself and Ralph, we made a LOT of things out of packets. One of those things was bolognese. But no more! I am free of the shame of the packet sauce! All thanks to Smitten Kitchen.

Whenever I tried to make bolognese myself, it didn't have the rich colour and gooeyness of the packet sauce. I didn't give up, and for the past few years have tried lots of different recipes, none of which were terrible, I was just looking for that appetising colour and that gooey factor, and all I was getting was tomatoey mince. I even tried a proper italian recipe that takes 4-5 hours to cook and uses everything but the kitchen sink. No luck.

Then Smitten Kitchen did a lasagna. When I saw the colour of that sauce I was SOLD. I've been working crazy hours lately so I only got to try it out a couple of weeks later, on a Saturday night. I bought all the ingredients, which luckily included a bottle of wine. The recipe used all wine but a glass, which worked out perfectly for me who, after having that glass forgot all my problems and slid around the house in my socks, giggling loudly to myself. Damn I'm a lightweight..

It turns out the key to that gorgeous gorgeous colour is tomato paste and red wine. I might play around with also adding some canned tomatoes- but for now this is MORE than delicious enough!! Next I make a proper homemade lasagna!

Spagetti Bolognese
From Smitten Kitchen

1 Medium onion
1 Large carrot
2 Ribs celery
3 Cloves garlic
2-3 tblsp olive oil
Salt & Pepper
1 kg Lean beef mince
1 1/4 cups Tomato paste
2 cups Red wine
2 Bay leaves
A few sprigs of Thyme

Serves 4
Cooking Time: About 5 hours, but an impatient person's 3

1) Chop up onion, carrot, celery and garlic finely.
2) Place a heavy bottomed pan on a high heat, and pour in the olive oil. Add the chopped veggies, and season them with salt and pepper. Fry them until they're nicely browned. This should take about 15 minutes.
3) Add the mince to the veggies, and add salt and pepper. Fry the mince until it's nicely brown- and I mean with small bits of caramelised brown! This should take about another 15 minutes.

4) Add the tomato paste and cook through for about 5 minutes.
5) Now add the red wine, and as soon as it's mixed in, scrape up the the bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cook it until it reduces by half- another 5 minutes.
6) Now, add enough water to the pan to cover the mince and slightly above.
7) Add the bay leaves and Thyme, stir and reduce the heat to allow the mince to simmer very slightly.
8) The mince should simmer to 3 - 4 hours. The water will cook off the sauce, and you will want to replenish it, but only bit by bit, not lots at a time.
9) I got too hungry after 2 hours and served the pasta. It was AMAZING! I can only imagine how it would have tasted if I had more patience! A friend in the office doesn't cook it for more than an hour, and still loves this recipe. So the bottom line is, wait as long as you possibly can, and if you can't, you can't.
10) Serve with pasta of your choosing. If I remember correctly, bolognese should be traditionally served with fettuccine or tagliatelle, but these days we always seem to make it with spaghetti. 

Here's my general rule on pasta: If I'm eating with Ralph- spaghetti all the way! The messiness makes it more fun and delicious! But yeah, around people to whom I want to prove I wasn't raised by wolves, I get it with penne, and love it :-).

Friday, 15 June 2012

A Rant about Happiness

Embarassing yet Delicious Valentines Cake

It's time I came clean about myself (and the ugly cakes I make). I am an optimist. I believe in love. I believe everything will turn out ok. It helps me get through the day. But more than helping get through sad times, on normal days, it makes me REALLY HAPPY. I also believe that it's more about the cake being delicious than pretty, but I think that's just trying to make myself feel better..

I'm getting married. I'm so excited I can hardly think about anything else. I get to be with this person that I outwardly love a whole lot, and secretly love even more, forever!! I feel more optimistic now than I EVER have before in my life. 

But I've found it very hard to stay positive. People just aren't excited about marriage and weddings and love anymore. I've had lecture after lecture about how terrible marriage really is, how my wedding day is really just another day, and how I should protect myself before that bastard runs off with another woman. 

Why is it not okay to lecture people on how wonderful marriage is, how your wedding day is your special day with your family, and your new family- the people you love the most, how some marriages make it, and are happy? It's really getting to me this week!

I just wanted to add my voice to all negative ones and say, here is the truth about my cakes and I. We are both thoroughly silly and happy, and I wouldn't have it any other way!

PS. It's hot milk cake with marshmallow icing. I will post the recipe sometime!

Friday, 8 June 2012

Yummy Bundt Fail

Apple Cake

Yes, I've had another flop. Am I approaching 50/50? Probably. But I refuse to stop trying! This cake may have been broken, but it was absolutely delicious and comforting and everything that an apple cake should be. This cake was like your typical engineer, maybe not ridiculously good looking, but so warm gooey and delicious inside, that you're can't imagine having not given it a chance.

I'm in love with cinnamon. I love cinnamon with rolled oats and yoghurt, I love it with almost any fruit dish, and I will happily buy almost anything cinnamon flavoured, be it edible or otherwise. I could sit and smell it all day.. It makes me think of Christmas, and dreams with clouds and unicorns and Prince Charming.. Speaking of Prince Charming, do you think I could convince Ralph to find someone who can make our entire wedding smell like Cinnamon?

That's my cool apple cutter gadget! See how it cuts out the core AND makes slices? AND has a hole in it so you can hang it off a hook OR on your keychain?? Amazing..

My wonderful Ani gave me a bundt pan for second Christmas (which is just after Christmas and actually her birthday), and I had yet to try it out. And seeing as my addiction to Smitten Kitchen is blossoming at a speed that is likely to get me some sort of website restraining order soon, I had to make her moms apple cake. The problem was.. My bundt pan didn't have a removable center, and my cake refused to come out! So pretty much half of the cake came out, and half stayed in the pan. There is is happy side to the story though! I recently bought Joy the Baker's cookbook, and it's got some hints on getting cakes out of bundt pans, so I plan to keep trying! The key seems to be to let it cool for about half an hour before trying to get it out, but not longer.

Apple Cake
From Smitten Kitchen

6 smallish apples (I used Pink Lady)
1 tblsp cinnamon
5 tblsp sugar

2 3/4 cups cake flour
1 tblsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup canola oil
2 cups sugar
60 ml orange juice
2 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
4 eggs

1) Preheat oven to 180 C and thoroughly, thoroughly butter and flour the bundt pan.
2) Peel all the apples, remove the cores, and cut into small chunks. Add the cinnamon
3) Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
4) Mix together the oil, orange juice, vanilla and eggs in a separate bowl.
5) Mix the wet ingredients into the dry.
6) Pour half of the batter into the pan, then sprinkle half of the apples on top. Pour in the other half and top with the rest of the apples.
7) Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a skewer comes out clean.

I can't wait to experiment with this recipe. It's only got cinnamon so there are so many options for cloves, and nutmeg. I think I want to try the same spice mix as the apple pie next time.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Love Love Love

Dulce de Leche/ Caramel Cupcakes

I'm a big fan of Valentines Day. I love cooking for people, it's my way of showing affection. Around valentines day I go COMPLETELY nutburgers. This year I made giant cookies (for neighbors and family), Ralph's cake (a traditionally delicious, but rather ugly cake, no - no pictures!) and these cupcakes (for previous work and new work people).

I really love reading The Foodie Bride. I remember a while ago, when I first subscribed, An update on her blog came through when I was just falling asleep. It was the one about croissants. It read it in my sleepy state and could picture myself exactly where she was describing almost in a dream. The sunny house, the knowledge of warm sleeping children, the quiet, and bliss, and the chaos that follows. I was SOLD. The Bride is a little too adventurous food-wise for me most of the time (I pretty much just like cheese- no funny business!), but I still love to read about what she's up to!

My sweet hearts :-). I made those using white chocolate and colouring and piped over a hundred of them! The taste wonderful, and they really compliment the Dulce de Leche. I love that I could stick little treats  into the cupcakes for people to pop out and nibble on.

Dulce de Leche/ Caramel Cupcakes
From Tracey's Culinary Adventures, originally adapted from Foodie Bride
In South Africa, Dulce de Leche is sold as 'Caramel'

3 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
170 g unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup Dulce de Leche/ Caramel
4 extra-large eggs
1/4 cup Canola oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk

Makes about 24 cupcakes

1) Preheat oven to 180 C
2) Whisk flour, baking powder and bicarb together in a separate bowl.
3) Cream the butter and sugar, until they are light and fluffy.
4) While beating, add the Dulce de Leche bit by bit. Beat well.
5) Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well.
6) Add the oil and the vanilla.
7) Now, add the dry ingredients, alternately with the buttermilk, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.
8) Mix gently until just incorporated.
9) Pour batter into 2 lined cupcake pans, filling them all 1/2 to 3/4 full. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden, and a tested comes out clean.
10) Let them rest for 5 minutes before taking out and putting on a wire rack to cool.

Dulce de Leche/ Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream
From Tracey's Culinary Adventures, originally adapted from Foodie Bride
In South Africa, Dulce de Leche is sold as 'Caramel'

4 extra-large egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar
pinch of salt
340 g unsalted butter
1/3 cup Dulce de Leche/ Caramel
1 tsp vanilla extract

1) Places the egg whites, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl, and beat to combine.
2) Place over a pot of simmering water, and beat constantly until a thermometer reads 70 C
3) Take off the heat, and keep beating until the stiff peaks stage. Make sure the outside of the bowl is cool.
4) Keep beating, and add the butter, a bit at a time. Beat well after each addition.
5) Beat on high speed until icing is thick and smooth.
6) Finally, mix in the Dulce de Leche and vanilla.
7) For me the icing went too runny, and I had to fix it by putting it in the fridge for a while. But it worked just fine after.

These have overtaken the red velvet cupcakes as my favourite. Or maybe not.. I'll have to make both again to make sure.. And maybe just a couple more times after that. This is important business!