April 27, 2011

Carrot Cupcakes

Happy Easter!  I hope everyone had a nice break, lucky for us in Australia we got a 5 day break, so there were enough days to relax and get some odd jobs done.

My break started in Yanchep which is about an hour North of Perth.  Some would argue that it is still Perth, but I’m going to say it isn’t.  When you’re driving an hour away from the place you live, it naturally becomes ‘another world’.  Regardless, a small group of us hired a house on the beach and spent three days relaxing, eating, drinking, playing poker, and indulging in a couple of TV marathons – The Only Way is Essex, and Friends.  Yep, quality.

Monday morning my boyfriend Colin and I drove back to Perth for Easter breakfast with my family.  It was yesterday, Tuesday, where the productive part of the break took place.  My brother, Colin and I built a new gate for my house.  Seemed easy enough – new gate, couple of posts, screw some stuff in, put on a latch, easy.  Yeah, no.  6 hours later, three trips to Bunning’s and one trip to the parents to borrow gear, and I have a new gate!  Painting will take place next weekend. 

In the midst of this, I made Carrot Cupcakes.  I made these last Easter as well (original recipe here), so they have become my new tradition, along side of my Individual Chocolate Pavlovas with Cream and Marinated Strawberries I make for Christmas – yep, you have 8 whole months til you get that recipe!

I really like these cakes.  The icing on them is by far the best cream cheese icing because it isn't overly sweet or sour (from the cream cheese).  The cake is subtly spiced so there is a great balance.

1 cup self-raising flour
½ cup plain flour
½ teaspoon bicarbonate soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2/3 cup brown sugar
175ml oil (sunflour, peanut, vegetable works fine)
3 eggs
120ml plain Greek yogurt
2 large carrots, grated
250g cream cheese (Philadelphia)
50g butter, soft
1 tablespoon golden syrup
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
Shredded coconut, to sprinkle on top

Preheat the oven to 175°C.  Line a muffin tin with cupcake cases.

In a bowl, sift together the sr and plain flour, bicarb soda, spices and sugar, and stir.

In a smaller bowl, add the oil, eggs and yoghurt and mix until all ingredients are combined.

Pout the oil mix into the flour mixture and fold together.  Add the grated carrot and fold again.

Spoon the mix into the paper cases until 2/3 full, and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until cook through.  Use a skewer to see if they are done.

Allow to cool on a wire rack.

To make the icing, beat the cream chese, butter and golden syrup until well combined.  Sift in the icing sugar then continue beating until the icing is light and fluffy.  Generously top the cupcakes with the icing, and sprinkle on the coconut to finish.

Makes 12.

April 20, 2011

Bruschetta with Sliced Tomatoes

I struggled with what to call this post – bruschetta, tomato on toast, bruschetta with sliced tomatoes.  You see bruschetta traditionally is just toasted bread with garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper.  Now days when you say bruschetta it’s just assumed it comes with tomatoes.  For me, I’ve always called this dish Tomato on Toast, but if I named the post that you’d probably think I’ve become lazy and run out of ideas.

My family actually has a slight obsession with tomatoes.  While staying in Vasto, my brother and I had a running joke about tomatoes because every day when we drove from Monte Marcone to Vasto we passed tomato fields and men driving utility Lambretta’s with tomatoes in the back.  Our family even make our own tomato sauce (passata).  It’s a half day event where by the end the smell of hot tomatoes is everywhere, and although you start to get sick of it, it’s what we then eat – tomato on toast.

I guess this is why I wanted to do this post.  It’s not a fancy tomato bruschetta – there’s no chopped tomato salad with garlic, red onion, basil and herbs – it’s just a really simple dish.  So simple that it is my comfort food.  If you ask my mum what dish she could live on, it would be this.  My other comfort food is soft boiled eggs with soldiers, but I’ll talk about that another day. 

I make this dish at least once a week, and the key to it being so amazing is the quality of products.  You must use dense bread, like sourdough or ciabatta, and it’s important to use a good quality extra virgin olive oil.  And for the tomatoes - don’t get me started on the tomatoes!  The varieties that work best for this are Roma, or any dark red vine-ripe variety.  And sea salt to finish.  

You can chop up the fresh basil and sprinkle on top, or do what I do which is rip little chunks as I eat.  This recipe serves a greedy one.

2 slices of sourdough or ciabatta, toasted or grilled
1 large tomato, sliced around half a centimetre thick
1 clove garlic, peeled
Good quality extra virgin olive oil
Dried oregano
Sea salt
A few fresh basil leaves

Rub the warm toast with the garlic clove until the the bread is covered.  Then lightly drizzle on some olive oil.  Lay the tomatoes over the toast, then drizzle a little most oil.  Sprinkle over the oregano and salt, and top with the basil leaves. 

Quantities of the oil, oregano, salt and basil are up to you - for me, it's lots!

Buon appetito!

April 18, 2011

Lavender Cupcakes

Last Monday we celebrated the birthday of one of my closest friends, Sarah, only we didn’t go out for dinner or cook for her, she cooked for us (we’ve got it pretty good hey?).  I guess doing it that way you get to avoid the whole subject of the birthday and it just becomes “come over to mine for dinner!” 

It was here on this very night, that I learnt about the Hummingbird Bakery.  I was in London recently, I went to Notting Hill, I ate on Portobello Road and yet I had no idea about this bakery.  Turns out, with a little help from their cookbook (here), you can enjoy their cupcakes anywhere in the world.

Sarah made the Lavender Cupcakes, and although the concept might seem a little strange, they work - brilliantly in fact.  These particular cupcakes have the softest, sponge-like cake, and the icing is buttery and light – so much better than my last attempt at making cupcakes. 

With this recipe the only thing I altered was I used plain milk in the batter instead of lavender infused milk.  I was making it for people who gave me a worried look when I said “lavender cupcakes”, so used the lavender in only the icing.  They were still delicious, and the fragrance was subtle.  If your wondering where to buy dried lavender, try a tea shop.  I bought mine from T2 after calling a few health food stores and having no luck (try buying an organic dried lavender if possible).

This cupcake recipe is going to become my new favourite.  As I was eating one I started thinking about different combinations, like using a passionfruit pulp concentrate in the icing.

Oh yes, there was one downfall to the recipe.  For some reason I only had enough batter to make 10 instead of the stated 12.  I’m not sure why this was.  Maybe I didn’t beat it long enough – all I know is it was an amazing 10 so I was happy either way.  I’m going to make some more of these and see what happens, if I get another 10, or more, or less.

120ml whole milk
3 tablespoons dried lavender flowers
120g plain flour, sifted
140g caster sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg
25ml whole milk
1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers
250g icing sugar, sifted
80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
A couple of drops of purple food colouring (optional)

In two separate bowls (or cups) put the quantities of lavender and milk for the cake in one, and the measurements for the icing in the other bowl, and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Line a 12-hole cupcake tray with paper cases.

Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder in a bowl, add the butter and beat on a slow speed until the butter has combined with the flour and you are left with a sandy texture.

Strain the lavender from the milk (cupcake measurements) and slowly pour into the flour mixture while beating.  Add the egg and continue beating, scrapping the bowl as you go.  When all ingredients are combined, spoon the mixture into the paper cases until each case is two-thirds full.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.  Leave cupcakes to cool before icing.

In a clean bowl, add the icing, butter and food colouring, and beat on a low speed until the mixtures comes together.  Strain the lavender milk (icing measurements) and slowly pour into the icing mixture, beating as you go.  When all is combined, beat on high for a further few minutes until the icing becomes light and fluffy.

Top the cupcakes with the icing.

April 13, 2011

Thai Pumpkin Soup

Perth has rain!  This makes me so happy, and also my garden happy.  It started to rain on the day of my friend’s wedding so not the best day of the year, however they were lucky enough to enjoy the ceremony outside along the river with no rain - it was as if it stopped for just enough time for them to get married and take some beautiful photos.  The wedding itself was so much fun, so a quick thank you to Taryn and Heath, and congratulations again!

But back to the rain.  Isn't it funny that as soon as it rains we start thinking about putting the heavier doona on the bed, or taking a warmer jacket or cardigan with us everywhere, or my favourite, winter food?  I made a lovely chicken noodle soup last week, so on Sunday I decided to make another one, this time Thai Pumpkin Soup.

I've made this soup in the past and really liked it, but there were a couple of things about it I would have changed.  I originally grabbed it from the ninemsn website (here), and followed it along with a couple exceptions.  The problem was the coconut cream, fish sauce and lime - the three of them in the recommended quantities was just too over-powering.  All the flavour of the pumpkin was lost.  I also thought that the use of ginger and shallots seemed unnecessary because of the red curry paste.

With all my adjustments I ended up with a great soup - a twist on the classic pumpkin soup that's for sure!  My recommendation is to add the coconut cream and fish sauce a bit at a time and taste to your liking.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (sunflower or peanut is fine)
2 tablespoons red curry paste
½ onion, chopped finely
1.5 kg butternut pumpkin, peeled, de-seeded and chopped coarsely
2 tomatoes, chopped coarsely
4 cups vegetable stock (chicken stock is fine)
½ cup coconut cream
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar

Heat the oil in a large pot and add the curry paste.  Cook off the paste until fragrant, then add the onion and continue cooking until the onion is translucent.  Add the pumpkin and tomato and stir to coated with the paste. 

Add the stock and bring the pot to the boil.  Then reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft and cooked through. 

Blend the soup in batches and return to a clean pot, pushing through a sieve first as you go - this will remove any tomato seeds, skin or rough bit of the curry paste.  Bring the soup back to a gentle simmer and add the coconut cream and fish sauce.  In a small bowl, add the brown sugar and a couple of tablespoons of the soup and mix until the sugar has dissolved. 
Return the sugar to the pot and mix well.

Serves 4-6.

April 11, 2011

Tomato, Feta and Thyme Tart

I'm getting ready for a girls weekend in a couple of weeks, so have been going through my collection of recipes to see what I should make.  It got me thinking of finger food, and then, lunches for work. 

Work lunch for me is a big thing.  I hate going to food courts at lunch time, waiting behind crowds of people to order something that I don't really feel like.  The food I actually feel like eating tends to cost a little more, and I just can't justify spending money on mid week lunch (unless it's a Friday lunch with drinks!).  If buying, I usually get a salad or Japanese, or a boring sandwich.  What's the point of paying $10 for something I can make at home for a couple of dollars?

I had this recipes for a Tomato, Feta & Thyme Tart that I pulled out of an old Madison magazine a couple of years ago (found online here).  It seemed like a great lunch meal, paired with a salad or soup, so I made one yesterday.  It was so simple, and I liked that the ingredients were fridge basics. 

The original recipe called for a self-made short crush pastry, but after making my French Apple Tart, I had leftover puff pastry that I wanted to use.  The original also called for 2 extra egg yolks and 125g of feta, but I found using only 4 eggs I had leftover mixture.  I would advise that if you're using a 23 cm round tin (as used in the original recipe) to add those extra eggs and feta.

Couple of other notes - after 30 minutes my tart was done, but I had to stick it under the grill for a minute or so to get that lovely golden colour.  This is mainly because I have a very old electric oven, so I usually have issues like this.  Also, a drizzle of olive oil and or parmesan (especially if sticking under the grill) finishes the tart off beautifully.

1 ½ sheets frozen puff pastry
1 cup thickened cream
3 eggs
½ cup parmesan, grated
10 cherry tomatoes, cut in half length ways (grape or rosalita varieties work well)
50g feta
2 teaspoons thyme, fresh or dried
Sea salt and black pepper, to season

Preheat the oven to 200°C. 

In a 12 x 35 cm tart tin with removable base, place the sheets of puff pastry over the centre, making sure the corners and side are completely covered.  Use small overlapping pieces of puff pastry to cover any free areas.  Press the edges down with your fingers or the back of a teaspoon, then score the base of the pastry with a fork to allow air to come through while baking.

Place a sheet of baking paper over the pastry and top with baking weights (or something like rice) and blind bake in the oven for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, remove the tin from the oven and discard the paper and weights.  Place the tin back in the oven and cook for a further 5 minutes or until pastry is lightly golden.

Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C. 

In a bowl, add the eggs, cream, parmesan and salt and pepper and mix well.   Place the tomatoes evenly on the tart, and then carefully fill the tart with the egg mixture.  Crumble the feta over the top and sprinkle over the thyme.  Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until set and golden.

Serves 4 as a main.

April 6, 2011

Chicken Noodle Soup

Lately I've been feeling a bit sluggish.  I'm not sure if it's because Perth has had a 63-day heatwave or all my baking has got to me - I'm going with a mixture of both.  Regardless, I've had a craving for light healthy food, in particular soups.  It's not really soup weather but I've already started my research on new recipes.  

The first recipe that came to mind was Drunken Chicken made by MasterChef Season two contestant Alvin.  I remember watching him make it on TV, and in particular the judge’s response to it - they loved it.  So I took the recipe and went to the shops.  Perth is seriously lacking in good produce - I couldn't find Shaxoing wine in 4 shops!  So after buying a chicken, vegetables and noodles I checked my favourite Asian cookbook Simple Chinese Cooking by Kylie Kwong.  I bought this book years ago and have made numerous recipes from it. 

I decided on two recipes that linked - Chinese Chicken Stock and Chicken Noodle Soup.  The stock was refreshing and light which made the soup very lovely.  I had to add a bit of extra soy as there wasn't in my opinion enough salt.  I also, in my rushed state, forgot to add the mushrooms I bought for this dish.  Feel free to add or subtract an soup ingredients you like.

I think my next Asian-inspired soup challenge is going to be Hainanese Chicken Rice.  I've never had it before so this might be interesting...

1.6 - 2kg whole chicken
10 slices ginger
10 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red onion, roughly chopped
12 spring onion, cut in half
4 litres cold water
1/4 cup soy sauce

Rinse the chicken to clean.  Place all ingredients in a large pot and bring to boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer.  Skim away any impurities.  Continue on a gentle simmer for 2 hours or until you have a lovely fragrant stock.

Remove stock from stove and allow to cool.  Strain the stock through a muslin.  Stock can be stored in the fridge for up 3 days or frozen for 2-3 months.

1/2 bunch bok choy or pak choy, cut into medium sized pieces
450g packet fresh Hokkien noodles, rinsed under hot water
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon ginger, julienne
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon white sugar
400g chicken breast, sliced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 cup spring onions, finely sliced
2 red chillies, finely sliced

Bring the stock to the boil in a large pot.   Add the soy sauce, ginger, oyster sauce and sugar and stir until combined.  Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and add the drained noodles and cook for 30 seconds.  Add the vegetables and chicken and continue cooking for a further 2 minutes.  When chicken is cooked, add sesame oil then remove from the stove.

Serve in a bowl, along with the spring onions and chilli.

Serves 4.

April 4, 2011

Italian Meatballs with Tomato Sauce

I had a craving for Rissoles the other day, and when I told my other half this his initial response was quoting The Castle (for those playing in another country, The Castle is a brilliant Australian movie that embarrassingly depicts a typical Australian family).  It made me think, “Rissoles – are they Australian??”  I did a bit of research and found that yes they are, but they are also a pretty international dish – there are a lot of countries that do their version of the ol’ Rissole.  The Australian version is cooked on a BBQ and usually consumed with tomato sauce (the sweet bottled variety, otherwise known as Ketchup).

So I wondered, what are those things I’ve grown up eating?  They are in fact called Polpette.  Polpettine (smaller version) are the ones that you find in Spaghetti.

This was the first time I’d made these by myself, so I spent the whole day calling mum asking questions (sorry for interrupting your movie mum!).  I’m not sure where this recipe came from but I assume she learnt this in Italy – you see mum spent about 7 years living in Italy after she met my dad there, so even though she’s Australian, she knows good Italian food, great Italian food in fact. 

So below is my tested and successful recipe for Italian Meatballs with Tomato Sauce, and might I add, they were delicious!  I love eating these with some crunchy bread and a salad, but this recipe actually makes quite a bit of sauce, so it would go very well with some pasta.  It makes 12 medium sized balls, but you could adjust to the size you like.


500g beef mince
½ onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
½ cup parmesan, grated
½ cup parsley, chopped finely
2 eggs
Sea salt and black pepper
Flour, for coating
Olive oil
750ml tomato passata
1 tin diced tomatoes (400g)

In a large bowl, add the mince, onion, garlic, breadcrumbs, parmesan, parsley, eggs and salt and pepper, and mix well until all ingredients are combined.  Hands work best with this.

In a small bowl, add a few tablespoons of flour.  Take a large heaped tablespoon of the mince mixture, and using your hands, mould into a ball.  Make sure there are no big cracks in the balls and they are 'sealed'.  Roll the ball into the flour and lightly dust of any excess flour by moving between hands.  When they are evenly coated set aside and continue with the rest of the mixture.

In a large heavy based pot on a medium heat, add a good splash of olive oil.  Add the meatballs in batches, and cooked until the outside is sealed and lightly browned.  When all balls have been sealed, return the rest to the pot and add the tin of tomatoes and the passata.  Add a good pinch of salt and give them a stir.  Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook for 1 hour, or until the sauce has thickened and the acidity in the tomatoes has gone.

Buon appetito!

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