Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Will work for Biltong - The Sequel

Well hallo there. Fancy seeing you here. Come here often?

People, I can't begin to explain how much I've missed this little blog of mine. It was more than a year ago that I told everybody I'll be gone for a few weeks, and be back when I'm not as tired. In the meantime I've come to the realisation that I'll probably be tired for at least the next few years, what with a super busy 3 year old and another Little One on the way (yes!). But I've decided that if I'm going to be tired, I might as well be happy too. And this blog is one of the things that make me very happy.

I've managed to keep up with a few lovely people through Facebook and Pinterest, but unfortunately not everybody. My apologies. I'm looking forward to making up for it.

I was on the verge of coming back several times, and now that it's almost Christmas, I can't help myself. Christmas brings out the worst in me. I'm not having Christmas lunch at my house this year, but I'll probably try and make a dessert or two. And, of course, the cookies. Can't help it. Whenever I hear Jingle Bells on repeat in every shop I go into, it's like a switch is turned on in my brain, and I start researching cookie recipes. Maybe also a Christmas cake this year? Mince pies? Oooh, the possibilities.

Thank you to everybody who enquired about when I'm coming back to blogging. The friends I've made here are among my favourites. It's good to be back.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bye for now

I remember when I was still in primary school, I used to watch a television show each afternoon with my grandmother called "Agter elke man" (Behind every man). It was called a drama, but looking back, it was really nothing more than a soap opera. There was backstabbing, saucy affairs, murder, and a lovely old lady called aunty Stienie.

Aunty Stienie was the mother of the bad boy Bruce Beyers (played by Steve Hofmeyer, who now appears not to have done much acting in this role). She walked around in slippers, wore a house coat everywhere and had her hair in curlers most of the day. She also had an array of catch phrases she shouted at her neighbours, and her usual goodbye was a cheery "Bye for now!"

Which is what this post is all about. For the last few weeks I have really struggled getting around to writing, as you might have noticed. My days seem to be consumed with my lovely Little Girl, who doesn't believe in doing anything in half measures, trying to keep up with clearing up the shambles around us, and giving my husband something remotely edible for dinner at night. After bathtime and bedtime, I have no energy left. I am exhausted. The only free time I have left is at night, if I don't collapse into bed at nine, and the occasional Saturday when the Little Girl is visiting her aussie grandmother.

I have tried to do some cooking and writing at night, but not only am I really to tired to do something worthwhile, my husband gets that abandoned look on his face whenever I open my laptop. Add to this the exam I have to do to be able to go back to a job I don't particularly want to, and all the study for that I still have to fit in somehow.

So I have made the very difficult decision of taking a break from blogging for now. It breaks my heart, honestly. I have made more friends through my computer than I have the last 3 years in person in my new country. I promise I will keep on following all of you, and read your posts, try your recipes when I can, and leave comments often. I am going to miss this very, very much.

Hopefully it won't be for long. I will count the days until I'm back.

Bye for now.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Healthy Toblerone Cookies

 Let me get right to the crux of the matter: There are several ways you can add chocolate to a dish to make it healthier. Impossible, you say? I'll show you how.
  • Chocolate is a valuable source of dairy, magnesium, iron and anti-oxidants
  • If you choose the fruit and nut - variety, it's one of your five serves for the day, plus some healthy fats from the nuts
  • Choose a bar with orange for some vitamin C.
  • It's a known fact that white chocolate and dark chocolate cancel each other out, so if you want to add zero calories to your recipe, add equal amounts of both.
There you go. You're welcome.

I made this cookies because I have LOTS of Toblerone in my pantry to work through, as well as some muesli that didn't reach the required breakfast standards of our family. Our favourite muesli hails from sunny South Africa, and is called Nature's Source Luxury Strawberry & Yoghurt Cereal. It is delicious with little bits of sweet yoghurt and dried strawberry, together with the necessary healthy bits like oats. We love it, and I buy several boxes from our local supermarket when it's in stock. Unfortunately they don't always have it, having to import it from another continent, I suspect. So, occasionally we run out. And it was during one of these dry times that we were forced to look for a standby muesli. The first one we tested were inedible. I tried a bit, chucking it in the bin after a couple of mouthfuls. The Fabulous Man tried some, and threw it away too. Out went the whole packet. The second one we tried were better, but not what I would call muesli nirvana. I was reluctant to throw away another almost full box of muesli, so I decided to look for other ways to use it.

I tried making a muesli cookie with Toblerone bits a few days ago, but , surpise surprise, it turned out a disaster. Cooking mojo gone and all that. When I took it out of the oven it tasted all spongy. And that's the best way I can describe it. Like little cakes, only quite tough, and really just quite awful. I tried cooking it for longer, then for shorter, fiddled with my oven's fictional thermostat knob for a bit, tried another batch, but in the end I threw the cookies together with the rest of the cookie dough in the bin. A few days later I tried a Martha Stewart recipe for banana chocolate chip cookies, and again, spongy. I gave one to the Fabulous Man to get his opinion, and he used the exact word: spongy. What on earth am I doing wrong?

Said Fabulous Man went on a business trip this morning, so us girls are on our own. And in my books, girls alone means cookies. With chocolate, of course. Not wanting to tempt fate I went with my own tried and tested chocolate chip cookie recipe, the one I used for my Christmas cookies. I left out the cranberries and pistachios, swapped Toblerone for the white chocolate, and added a cup of muesli. And it worked! I can't tell you how pleased I am. Not only do we have some delicious cookies in the house again, but to make something that doesn't turn out badly is such a relief.

The cookies really are good. Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, with flecks of nutty muesli and melted Toblerone on the inside (if you have them straight from the oven, like we do in our house). If you show a bit more restraint, the Toblerone does firm up, but never really goes back to its hard chocolate consistency. It's great. So, if you need a healthy shot of oats, nuts and anti-oxidants, try these. You never have to think again that eating healthily is boring.

Muesli and Toblerone Cookies
Makes about 36 cookies

1 cup (220g) firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (110g) caster sugar
1 1/2 cups (225g) self-raising flour
1/2 cup (75g) plain flour
1 cup (140g) muesli
185g butter, melted and cooled
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
200g Toblerone, or other chocolate of your choice, broken into pieces

Preheat your oven to 180ºC.

Combine sugars, flours and muesli in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk butter, egg and egg yolk until combined. Stir into sugar mixture until it forms a soft dough. Stir in chocolate.

Place tablespoons full onto prepared trys, allowing for room to spread. Bake for 12 minutes, until lightly brown. Cool on trays.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Work in Progress

The January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert.

I wish it was otherwise, but unfortunately this turned out a disaster for me. When I saw the challenge initially, I had fabulous plans for a whole range of beautiful little jocondes, filled with an array of ice creams, mousses, creams and fruit. Of course, as I normally do, I dawdled too long, and didn't have any time left to do half of what I planned. Then a heat wave struck Melbourne, and it was so stinking hot, I couldn't turn on the oven. The problem is my oven. Apart from being super tiny, it's thermostat dial has fictional numbers on it. I have a separate thermometer inside, but usually it takes me at least an hour's fiddling with the stupid knob to get the temperature where I want it to be. And in this heat, having a hot oven blasting for hours on end wasn't an option.

Cute little flower and dots

At the same time I had a sneaking suspicion that the challenge might not turn out the way I want it to. I've read other people's versions, and if they were having trouble, I knew I definitely would. And I was really reluctant to give up one of my Saturdays for something that might not even work. (The Fabulous Man takes our Little Girl out for the day so I can at least have a shower in peace).  But I did it anyway. And maybe I brought it on myself, but I was right. It was a disaster. Not the joconde bit, mind you. That turned out almost as good as I wanted. It was the inside bit. I decided to make life easy for myself and just make a simple chocolate mousse. The recipe I chose was Nigella's from Domestic Goddess. You know the one which is actually a cake, but she says if you want a mousse chill it instead of bake it? Unfortunately this did not work our for me at all. It was one big mess. It didn't set very well, and when I unmoulded my joconde, it all collapsed in one big sorry-looking puddle. It didn't even taste nice. Horrible gooey texture, tasting suspiciously like raw cake batter. I'll try the joconde recipe again soon and try to make it right, because it looks fabulous. This is not over.

Batter poured over design

Then I looked at the date yesterday, and realised that my blog is one year old! I felt I had to postpone my post about my disastrous jocone, and make something nice for the anniversary. Something nice, and something that cannot possibly fail. You see, for some reason, I have had a lot of mishaps in the kitchen recently. I'm not entirely sure what's happening, but I have obviously lost my cooking mojo. Not that I've ever been great, contrary to my lovely little nephew's opinion. His mum told me that he thought I should definitely enter Masterchef, and would it be okay if they give me my welcome home party when I leave the competition? But then added that it probably won't be necessary, because I will obviously win the competition. Don't you just love the ignorance of kids? I recently saw one of the Junior Masterchef episodes, and I'm telling you, there are 8 year olds who can cook me under the table.

Fresh from the oven

So, considering the fact that these days I do well if I make Nutella toast without burning the toast, I decided to stick with my Daring Bakers disaster for my anniversary post. Because I think this is the best example of my cooking at the moment. I have lofty ideals and grand plans, but  they seldom work out. Mostly I buy my food at the supermarket and cook something super easy for dinner. But, hopefully, I will get better, and the disasters will get less and less. It's a work in progress.

Finished Joconde

Patterned Joconde-Décor Paste

This amount of paste is a lot, so I suggest you make half the amount, at most.

 200g unsalted butter, softened
 200g Confectioners' (icing) sugar
7 large egg whites - about 200g
220g cake flour
Food coloring gel, paste or liquid

COCOA Décor Paste Variation: Reduce cake flour to 170g. Add 60 g cocoa powder. Sift the flour and cocoa powder together before adding to creamed mixture.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (use stand mixer with blade, hand held mixer, or by hand)

Gradually add egg whites. Beat continuously.

Fold in sifted flour.

Tint batter with coloring to desired color, if not making cocoa variation.

Spread a thin even layer of décor paste approximately 5 mm thick onto silicone baking mat with a spatula, or flat knife. Place mat on an upside down baking sheet. The upside down sheet makes spreading easier with no lip from the pan. (I wasn't sure that it was completely necessary to turn the sheet upside down)

Pattern the décor paste – Here is where you can be creative. Make horizontal /vertical lines (you can use a knife, spatula, cake/pastry comb). Squiggles with your fingers, zig zags, wood grains. Be creative whatever you have at home to make a design can be used. OR use a piping bag. Pipe letters, or polka dots, or a piped design. If you do not have a piping bag. Fill a ziplock bag and snip off corner for a homemade version of one.

Slide the baking sheet with paste into the freezer. Freeze hard. Approx 15 minutes.

Joconde Sponge

85g almond flour/meal - *You can also use hazelnut flour, just omit the butter
75g confectioners' (icing) sugar
 25g cake flour
3 large eggs - about 150g
3 large egg whites - about  90g
10g white granulated sugar or superfine (caster) sugar
30g unsalted butter, melted

In a clean mixing bowl whip the egg whites and white granulated sugar to firm, glossy peeks. Reserve in a separate clean bowl to use later.

Sift almond flour, confectioner’s sugar, cake flour. (This can be done into your dirty egg white bowl)

On medium speed, add the eggs a little at a time. Mix well after each addition. Mix until smooth and light. (If using a stand mixer use blade attachment. If hand held a whisk attachment is fine, or by hand. )

Fold in one third reserved whipped egg whites to almond mixture to lighten the batter. Fold in remaining whipped egg whites. Do not over mix.

Fold in melted butter.

Remove the decor paste from freezer. Quickly pour the Joconde batter over the design. Spread evenly to completely cover the pattern of the Décor paste.

Bake at 475ºF /250ºC until the joconde bounces back when slightly pressed, approx. 15 minutes. You can bake it as is on the upside down pan. Yes, it is a very quick bake, so watch carefully. (I baked mine for 7 monutes at 230ºC)

Cool. Do not leave too long, or you will have difficulty removing it from mat.

Flip cooled cake on to a powdered sugared parchment paper. Remove silpat. Cake should be right side up, and pattern showing! (The powdered sugar helps the cake from sticking when cutting.)

Line the sides and base of your lined mould, and fill with your chosen filling.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

If at all possible, try and have a South African mother

Yesterday The Fabulous Man and I had our third wedding anniversary. Great, isn't it? Sometimes I can't believe time is going by so quickly, and at other times it feels as if we've been together forever. It's true what they say: The married life is indeed the good life. We decided that for our anniversary we wanted to go to the Australian Open, the Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne each year. We got tickets, the Little Girl was dropped off at her aussie grandmother's house for the day, and we caught the train into the city (just the train bit for me was an outing - I'm a cheap date these days).

And this is where we got to see this man:

Image found here

Roger Federer is my all time favourite tennis player. He is friendly, has a great sense of humour, a beautiful wife and twin girls, and, of course, a South African mother. Did you know that? And, I'm sure you'll agree with me, it's obviously these South African genes of him which doesn't only make him an all round great guy, but also one of the greatest tennis players of all times. Yesterday he played against his fellow countryman Stanislas Wawrinka, aka Stan the Man, aka Cheese Boy (as dubbed by the slightly tipsy girl sitting behind us, damn that delicious bubbly pink moscato), and it was an experience. One of the great things about mr. Federer is how easy he makes it all look. To my (admittedly untrained) eyes, it seemed as if he was out there just hitting a few balls, trying out a couple of shots, while poor Cheese Boy was running around like a mad thing trying to get to the ball. I felt really sorry for him. It's a pity, because I really liked the look of him in the earlier rounds, and I also like supporting the underdog. Unless the underdog is playing Roger Federer. Then he's on his own.

I can back up my South African mother theory by looking at my Little Girl. This girl has the same sense of humour, friendly nature and staying power than mr. Federer. In fact, I'd like to challenge him to try and keep up with her running around and climbing onto anything and everything all day long. He might be the world's best tennis player (that Nadal guy is just an imposter, if you ask me), but I think he'll meet his match with her.

Now, suppose you are in the unfortunate position of not having a South African mother. Let me tell you what to do. You go into your kitchen and make these wickedly delicious espresso brownies. The recipe is based on the one from the lovely Nigella Lawson (who I believe doesn't have a South African mother either, so you see, all is not lost). They will unfortunately not change your mother's nationality, but they will cause such a massive endorphin rush throughout your body that you won't even care. I know, I'm friendly like that. You can thank me later.

I decided to put an espresso spin on the classic brownie, and I did that in two ways. Firstly, you add some chocolate covered coffee beans (I made my own), and secondly you make an espresso "sludge" by boiling down some freshly made sweetened espresso to a very thick glaze, and add this as well. I'm sure I don't need to tell you how good this is, and I'm also sure that I don't need to tell you not to give this to children, unless you want said children to run around like little Roger Federers. Of course, if your child is half South African, or even full South African, may God give you strength, then you don't need espresso brownies to get them to run around like maniacs. But at least they will be very, very friendly little maniacs.

I am sending this recipe to the fabulous new event, Forever Nigella, hosted by the lovely Sarah from Maison Cupcake. The current theme is "Seduced by Chocolate", and I think these brownies are worthy little contenders.

Espresso Brownies
Makes about 20

375g + 100g dark chocolate
1/2 cup of your favourite coffee beans
3 tablespoons ground espresso beans
2 tablespoons brown sugar
500ml boiling water
375g unsalted butter
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
500g caster sugar
225g all purpose flour

To make your chocolate coated coffee beans: Melt the 100g of dark chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, or in the microwave oven if you're feeling brave. Mix in the coffee beans, and spread it out on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper to cool. Chop them up roughly. You want little crunchy coffee bits, not massive hunks.

Make a strong espresso with the ground coffee and the boiling water. Add the brown sugar and stir. Pour the coffee into a small saucepan, and boil over high heat until you're left with a thick coffee sludge barely covering the bottom of the saucepan. Let it cool while you get on with the rest of the recipe.

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Butter and line a 33 x 23 x 5 cm brownie tin.

Melt the butter and the remaining chocolate together in a big saucepan. Let it cool for about 5 minutes. Mix the eggs, sugar and vanilla in a bowl. Mix in with the chocolate mixture, then add the coffee sludge, flour and salt, and mix until smooth. Finally add the chocolate covered coffee beans, plus any leftover chocolate left on the baking sheet, and mix just until combined.

Pour the mixture into your prepared tin, and bake for 25-35 minutes. Cool in the tin.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Of dogs and children.

Weekend to me used to mean sleeping late. The Fabulous Man and I, in our pre-Little Girl days, used to wake up around 9, have a cup of tea, a bit of a chat, and then what we called our morning sleep, until about noon. Those were what people fondly call "the good old days". When we got our puppies, we even trained them to sleep late on weekends, and I was very much impressed with our efforts. One of my friends had a theory that if you can raise a dog, you can raise a child, and I looked forward to having a baby who will sleep until 10 on weekends. Of course, said friend is childless still today, and I'm looking forward to one day discussing this theory with her in detail.

As you know, I have a Little Girl, one who does not sleep until 10 on weekends. Occasionally she sleeps until 9, but only if she refuses to go to sleep until 10 the previous night, and I don't necessarily call that a success. So, out of necessity, these days weekend to me mean breakfast. And if I'm going to be up early, it might as well be a nice breakfast. Our repertoire includes bacon and eggs, french toast, omelettes, eggs a la flamenca. Occasionally we make some sort of crumpet or pancake, and it's under this category which my blueberry cornmeal pancakes fall. I originally found them on the Martha Stewart web while I looked for a recipe to use up some leftover maple syrup I had. The reason I fell in love with it is it inclusion of polenta. A staple in South Africa is what we call pap, or porridge, made with white maize meal, and it's eaten with milk and sugar, sometimes butter, for breakfast, or as a side with your meal, usually the South African farmer's sausage. This nod to my homeland appealed to my nostalgic side, and I whipped some up the other morning.

Of course they were fabulous, and with a good shot of anti-oxidants with the inclusion of the blueberries. Initially I thought they're perfect for the Little Girl, as she got into the habit of eating blueberries straight from the freezer. Except she picked them meticulously from the pancake and threw them on the floor, as you do, before eating the rest of the pancake. Now, if she was a puppy, such naughty behaviour would earn her a squirt from the water bottle, except I have a feeling that's not the done thing with children.

Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes
Serves 4
Recipe from Martha Stewart

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup whole milk
50g unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for the pan
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 cups blueberries (I used frozen, which was fine)

maple syrup for serving
Whisk together flour, cornmeal, 2 tablespoons sugar, the baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk, milk, butter, and egg. Whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined (mixture will be lumpy).

 Heat a large pan over medium heat. Melt some butter to cover the bottom of your frying pan. Spoon about 1/3 cup of batter into the pan at a time. Sprinkle with blueberries, about 2 tablespoons per pancake. Sprinkle the blueberries with a little bit of sugar if you want. I didn't follow this step, and I thought the pancakes were sweet enough without it. Cook until edges are set, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip, and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes more. Repeat with remaining batter and blueberries, adding more butter to the pan and keeping prepared pancakes warm. Serve with the maple syrup, or your condiment of choice.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nutty Chocolate Chip Cookies

It's been more than a week now that I've written about Molly's Chocolate Cake. I've been at a bit of a loss since then, to be honest, because what on earth do you cook after a heavenly cake like that without being disappointed? It's like walking on the moon, or climbing Everest (both feats I am yet to accomplish, in case you wondered) - doesn't everything you do afterwards seem like a bit of an anticlimax? The pasta I cooked was blah, ditto for the chicken. There will forever be in my life a BMCC, and an AMCC (before- and after Molly's Chocolate Cake, respectively). Things that I would previously have been pretty pleased with, now just seem adequate.

I tried to psyche myself up: "Move on, Adele, for goodness sake! It's just a bloody cake!" Or something along those lines. Also, I get hungry on a regular basis, and a girl cannot live on chocolate cake alone. Sad, but true. So I found some cashew nut butter in the pantry left over from my mum's visit, and decided to make cookies. As you do. I was forced to add some chopped up chocolate. Did I mention I have about 3kg of chocolate in my pantry to work through? No? It's a combination of a planned dessert for Christmas which never got made (Christmas Pudding Chocolate Truffles, I'll see you end of the year), a gigantic box of Toblerone bought duty-free by The Fabulous Man, and several other chocolate gifts leftover from the festive season. It will be irresponsible to just let it go off, as I'm sure you'll agree.

I came across this fabulous recipe for flourless almond butter cookies on  Tasty Eats at Home, which I promptly decided would be my comeback cookie. Unfortunately I didn't have enough cashew butter, so I just used natural crunchy peanut butter to make up the difference. To be completely honest, there was quite a bit more peanut butter than cashew butter, so much so that I can't honestly say I tasted any cashews at all in the final result. I'll make this again some time with only cashew butter to see what it tastes like. But it was great as is, and I fell into a familiar habit of eating three cookies still hot from the oven. Delicous. Peanut butter and chocolate are after all one of the classic combinations of life.

So, I'm moving on. MCC will always be a regular in my baking repertoire, but I'm looking forward to finding my next Everest. Or moon. Whichever blows your hair back.

Nutty Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen

1 cup of cashew and/or peanut butter (combined amount)
1 cup soft brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Mix all the ingredients together.

Roll tablespoonfulls of the dough into balls, and flatten slightly. Allow enough room for spreading.

Bake for 8 -10 minutes, until golden brown.

Cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Easy, isn't it? Enjoy.