Nigella Lawson: Chocolate Mint Cookies

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I think I went on a bit of a baking frenzy recently.  You know those moments (or perhaps you don’t), when you start looking at cookbooks and next thing you know you have highlighted several recipes that you absolutely MUST create!  This happens to me from time to time and forces me to glue myself to the kitchen until the moment passes.

 

Usually when this happens I have to look at the calendar to see what events are coming up so that I can share some of my baked goods (this helps me justify excess baking).  Thankfully, my family and I head off to church every Sunday, so I always have somehwere to take my treats – morning tea often features something I have baked.  This is satisfying for all concerned.

 

Recently I baked Nigella’s Chocolate Mint Cookies. These are funny little rock cake like cookies that seem to check all the boxes for a great biscuit.

 

The thing I liked about these biscuits (apart form the fact that they disappeared in seconds) are that they are so easy to make.  They are a no fuss biscuit, packed with chocolatey flavour and a hint of mint.  They come together so quickly and they sit on the biscuit tray in little piles of dough.  They are so unassuming in their yumminess.  The texture also works as there are little choc chips throughout the dough which adds to the little surprise when you take the first bite.

 

Another lovely aspect of these biscuits is the peppermint glaze drizzled over the top of the cooling biscuit.  It’s unexpected.  I loved watching people’s faces as they took the first bite.  The hint of mint is a surprise and very welcome.

 

If you are looking to whip up some biscuits for friends or just needing options for kid’s recess boxes, then these biscuits really work.  I imagine they would freeze well too (although mine never made it that far).  I love baking ahead and having biscuits ready in the freezer for my son.  It makes me feel like such an accomplished parent (I take whatever I can to achieve that).

 

Delly

 

Tempura Zucchini Flowers

Every summer, without fail, I grow more zucchini plants than I need. I think it happens because I buy a punnet of seedlings and there are always at least six tiny zuchini plants in it. Some years I losea few seedlings to snails or mistreatment. Some years, all of them survive. Those are the years when dealing with excess zucchinis becomes almost a full time occupation.

This year four out of the six survived and all four of them are producing fruit. You can see here how big and lush they’re looking – forming a backdrop to this photo of my niece.

Alice in a yellow dress I made.

The plants are so big they’re even providing shade for my chickens.

I love that my zucchinis are now big enough that the chickens can shelter in the shade of them.

Every year I try to come up with more and better ways of eating them. I’ll aim to explore some of those ideas here. One thing I’ve meant to do for years and never have is eat some of the flowers themselves. It strikes me as an elegant way of managing the zucchini population. Eat some of the flowers before they become enormous green zucchinis! If you’ve never heard of doing such a thing, trust me, it’s worth trying. I recall eating them, stuffed and battered, at a lunch once. I was transfixed. They were sublime. I don’t know why I waited so long to try my hand at it when it was so simple.

All over the net you’ll find recipes for stuffed zucchini flowers. I decided not to stuff them, for my first attempt, mainly because most recipes stuff them with cheese and I’m currently dairy free (that’s a whole other series of post topics!). Also, stuffing them seemed more fiddly than I wanted to be on my first go. So I decided in the end to simply coat them in a light tempura batter using a recipe I found here.

At dawn yesterday (because I happened to be up and because it seemed wise to pick them before the heat of the day kicked in) I picked eight zucchini flowers. Both male and female. The male flowers are on a stalk. The female flowers have small zucchinis attached.

Today I will cook zucchini flowers for the first time! That should slow down production...

I kept them on a plate in the fridge until later in the day when I needed them. I was worried they were fragile and wouldn’t be as good by the end of the day but they were fine.

I washed them gently – they weren’t very dirty but my chickens scratch around them a lot so there was some soil to remove. I carefully cut out the stamen and other bits in the centre of the flowers (not easy when the female flowers were still closed!). Then I mixed up the tempura batter (see recipe here) and we cooked them in olive oil in the wok, outside on the BBQ’s wok burner. The whole process took about ten minutes. After letting them drain on paper towel for a few minutes, we poured a glass of Rose wine and ate our delicate flowers happily.

Been waiting all day for my zucchini flowers and a glass of rosè

I left the small zucchinis attached and was really pleased I did so. They fried quickly and were so tasty at the end of the flowers!

I would like my tempura batter to be a little thinner next time (more water, I suppose) but that’s about the only thing I’d change. There was possibly more batter on them than I’d like but it’s a minor quibble. And I think they should be eaten quickly, before the crunch goes from the batter. My husband described the flavour as zucchini flavoured air. Quite apt really.

Now I can’t wait for more flowers to bloom. I’m already thinking about how I’ll stuff the next lot.

In case you’ve wondered where our blog went for the last six months, thank you for coming back and reading. We let it slide and are starting 2012 feeling renewed and ready to see where our culinary adventures will take us. We hope you keep reading!

Bells

A Decadent Birthday Cake

Earlier this month, it was my birthday. I knew some weeks ahead that I’d be having a lunch with my parents and other family members in attendance.

It was the perfect opportunity to create a birthday lunch of my choosing. I roasted a 3kg leg of lamb, served it with polenta crusted potatoes (which were, I have to say, nowhere near as good as Delly’s potatoes she’d served me just two weeks earlier. C’est la vie!) and a couple of lovingly selected bottles of red wine.

It was all lovely. But the cake. Oh the cake. That was something I was very excited about.

I put the call out on Twitter one night for people to suggest their favourite birthday cake ideas and a friend from Ireland said I could do worse than check out what Smitten Kitchen had to offer. I knew of Smitten Kitchen by reputation but hadn’t ever really checked out her stuff. As of that moment, I became a new, instant fan. Beautiful food with a philosophy I took to right away. On her About page, she describes how her blog is about “comfort foods stepped up a bit” – it’s not all fancy schmancy – which is of course a matter of opinion. It doesn’t seem fancy to me but maybe if your idea of fancy cooking is to throw in a tin a champignons in your bolognaise (yes I once knew someone who thought that was fancy) then her food is going to seem intimidating. But to me it’s just good, every day ingredients cooked lovingly and creatively. I’m gobsmackingly hooked and there aren’t a huge number of food blogs that do that to me.

I found her Best Birthday Cake seconds after landing on her page and it was all a done deal.

She calls it a yellow cake. I’m reliably informed this is what Americans call a butter cake. Once I understood that, it was all good. Have a look at her cake – the photo she has of the inside of her cake is far better than any I took. Beautifully double-deckered with a generous layer of chocolate icing in the middle. Sublime. Sometimes chocolate on chocolate is too much for me. Chocolate on a buttery vanilla laced cake struck just the right note for me.

Here’s mine. A light, but not too light yellow buttery delicious cake. I think the eggs from my chickens contributed to the colour and taste of this gorgeous cake.

my birthday cake

It felt like a monumental cake, for someone who doesn’t often do monumental. It felt fun, exciting and oh so celebratory. And my lovely niece Alice loved it as much as I did. From the moment I’d iced it and set it on the cake stand on the table, she was hovering with her little spoon, waiting to dig in. That girl is so related to me and Delly. One of her earliest words was ‘cake’ and it’s still a great way to get her attention.

me alice and cake

This is a cake that I know I’ll return to again and again. For a first taste of Smitten Kitchen’s work, it was a great introduction. I’m going back for more.

A note on the icing – it was a first for me. Sour cream, dark chocolate and corn syrup. I’ve never used corn syrup. I was surprised to see it in the recipe but understood her desire had been to create a glossy, rich icing without using icing sugar. So not using icing sugar meant using corn syrup. Makes sense. It was such a gorgeous icing. Rich and glossy and quite grown up. The sour cream tang was delightful.

I need another birthday as an excuse to make this again!

Bells

Bakefest 2011: Monkey Bread

Hi everyone.  It’s been a while hasn’t it.  The blog may have been quiet but my kitchen hasn’t, hence the title.

Recently, my husband and son went away on a “Boys weekend” (actually it was a weekday but it doesn’t sound as catchy).  So, before they left I decided I needed to send them on their way with a hearty breakfast.  I found a recipe for something I had never heard of before. Monkey Bread.  It checked all the boxes – doughy, sugary, buttery, warm with cinnamon.  Yum!  It rang my bell and it was immediately put on my menu.

Bells and I have discussed a lot about preparing bread overnight so that it can be popped into the oven in the morning.  She has proven it is possible, but I needed to try it myself.

Thankfully Ken (my Kenwood Chef) took a lot of the kneading responsibilities for the bread.  He’s such a compliant little appliance.  All I had to do what stand and marvel and then give my dough a warm place to rise.  After the first rise, the dough is cut into many pieces (recipe says 64 pieces) but I didn’t count.  You roll each piece of dough between your hands and then (this is the best part), dip them in melted butter and THEN brown sugar and cinnamon!!!  How about that!

And then they rose overnight in the cold fridge!

All crispy and golden from the oven and then iced with a simple mix of icing sugar and milk.

 

The fun thing with this bread was slowly piling up all the delicious little balls in my bundt pan.  It was so relaxing and gave me a great sense of achievement as I kept peaking in the fridge at the little morsels growing by the hour.  I loved serving it up to the boys (and myself).  Obviously, it was way too much for the three of us to devour at once.  We found ourselves nibbling on it during the morning.  I have frozen the remainder for another day…soon…maybe tomorrow…

You may wonder why I have titled this blog post “Bakefest 2011”.  Well, as my boys were going away for a few days I decided to have a few girlfriends over to feast on some sweets and chat the night away.  So I went a little crazy and baked a few things for their arrival.

A gorgeous Lemon Meringe Pie from another blogger’s site (mine tasted great but was not as pretty – so you can see her creation instead). Nigella’s Crunchy Peanut Nut bars and some gorgeous little mini-cupcakes.

 

Of course, I over catered.  I couldn’t help myself.  Never mind… my workplace benefited the next day.  However, I am now temporarily “baked-out” after Bakefest2011.  But I think it’s safe to say that I will be back in the kitchen any moment now…

 

Delly

Donna Hay: Molten Chocolate Chunk Brownie

Bells and I were recently asked to review Donna Hay’s “Molten Chocolate Chunk Brownie” packet mix.  We were very surprised to be asked as well as a little bit pleased.  I’ve never received a little media pack before with the product in question plus some information.

We had both often talked about whether we would every review a product on our blog and we always came to the decision that we wouldn’t.  However, this box was sent to us with no strings attached, and we thought it might be fun to give an honest review.

Many of our friends would know that Bells and I are pretty scathing when it comes to packet mixes of any kind.  I’ve had some friend apologize for using a cake mix when I’m around.  It’s so silly really.  My moratorium on cake mixes is really for myself only – not for my friends.  I am always just glad someone has baked and been in the kitchen.  One should not force their food snobbery on others (all the time…).

We had friends over last Sunday afternoon and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to bake these brownies and have them assessed by my guests.

 

 

They were really easy to make (as most packet mixes are).  There were only a few steps between opening the packet, throwing it into a bowl and mixing it all together.  Donna suggests we serve these warm.  I managed to serve them up cool and they were still well-received (in fact my 7yo was still eating them 2 days later – he loved them).

My guests enjoyed the brownies very much.  They were crisp on the outside and squishy on the inside with bursts of chunky chocolate squares scattered through the cakey goodness.  I am happy to report that they were genuinely surprised when I mentioned that they were packet brownies.  They thought they were made from scratch.  A compliment to Donna, I believe.

 

 

I didn’t really try them myself.  I’m not really into chocolate on chocolate.  It’s a bit too much for me (yes, there is such a thing as too much chocolate).  However, my family and guinea pigs, I mean – friends, assure me that they were delicious and everything a good brownie should be.

Would I make them again?  No.

Why?  Because I can make brownies myself without the help of a packet mix.

However!!!  As a backup in your cupboard, an emergency treat for guests or perhaps you just love packet mixes – then YES!  These brownies would be great for your pantry.  They don’t seem to have that typical “packet mix” flavour which I feel is usually easily detectable.

So all in all – they get the thumbs up from me.  Word on the street is that they are available in supermarkets – I’m yet to see them though.  I believe they retail at $7.99.

Happy Weekend Baking!

Delly

 

 

Madhur Jaffrey’s ‘Best Eggplant Ever’

Best Eggplant Ever

Ever since I bought my husband Madhur Jaffrey’s ‘The Curry Bible” we’ve been eyeing the dish alluringly named ‘The Best Eggplant Ever” and reminding ourselves we must make it some time. Why it took me so long (more than a year) to get around to it can only be explained by the fact that in skimming the introduction to the dish I noted comments alerting the reader to the laborious nature of the dish.

One day, I kept saying.

Well, one day arrived and it was worth it. Also, it was nowhere near as laborious as I thought. Sure, ten hours is a long time but most of that time the eggplants are just sitting in water. What’s hard about that? Don’t they look wonderful? It may look as if they still have their skin on, but they don’t. That’s just from frying.

Best Eggplant Ever

It’s a little known secret that Delly and I once jokingly formed an Eggplant Appreciation Society. Years ago. The work undertaken by the society included scanning the internet for eggplant recipes and drooling. We worked hard at that. Once we even had a whole lunch devoted to eggplant – not desserts though – I’m not sure what we ate but I do seem to recall an eggplant soup made from the roasted, pureed flesh. Divine. Sometimes I think we should reinstate the society if only to help eggplant out – it’s so often misunderstood and I think that’s for one reason only – it’s sometimes cooked very badly. Early on I served it undercooked a few times and learned the hard way just how revolting this elegant vegetable can be when served this way. I’m wondering why I ever went back for more! I’m very glad I did though.

Thick, peeled slices of eggplant, soaked in water for up to ten hours, are shallow fried until they are darkly crisp on the outside (the recipe says ‘until golden’ but I prefer them darker) and then dressed in no fewer than three sauces, all of which can be made well ahead but if made at the last minute, don’t take all that much time.

The three sauces are a chickpea and tomato sauce (delightfully tangy and warm), a yoghurt and cumin sauce (that’s the quickest one) and a tamarind chutney (which I cheated on – just mixing up a small amount of tamarind puree with the other ingredients).

When the eggplant slices are dark and crisp on the outside, velvety, creamy smooth on the inside, plate them up, add the chickpea sauce, the yoghurt and a drizzle of tamarind and you’re done.

We had it as a side dish to my husband’s pork curry but it could just as easily be served with some naan or rice and make an excellent main dish. Honestly there’s so much of it.

So it can be found in Madhur Jaffrey’s ‘The curry Bible’ (an excellent book) or someone else has typed it up here, so that I don’t have to.

Enjoy!

Bells

Slow Cooker: Roast Chicken

I’m not sure when it happened, but it seems that a lovely Roast Chicken has become our Sunday night staple.  Partly because it’s easy and I can make stock form the bones and partly because my son loves it (especially the crispy skin) and the polenta crusted roast potatoes I make on the side.

A few years ago someone ( I think it was Bells, but I’m not sure) told me about cooking a whole chicken in the slow cooker.  Since then, I have adapted it slightly and made it my own.  The joy of  a chicken in the slow cooker is that it is hard to screw up (and it stops your oven getting all filthy).  So I thought I would share the process with you and perhaps, in time, it will become your Sunday night staple as well.

When preparing the chicken I usually cut off a little of the excess skin around the bottom area.  I then wash the chicken and pat dry.  Season the inside with salt and pop in a quartered lemon and some herbs (your choice).  I usually tie the legs together with some cooking string just to keep it all neat and tidy.

Chickens release quite a lot of juice.  To ensure that the chicken doesn’t drown in its own juices in the slow cooker, I place on the base of the bowl, enough halved onions (or washed potatoes) to cover the base and allow the chicken to sit on top.  This ensures the chicken is raised and the juices remain underneath the chicken (you can make a great sauce from this as well).

Pour over the chicken some extra virgin olive oil and sea salt flakes (table salt is fine – but I love sea salt flakes).  Pop on the lid and cook for 3hrs on HIGH OR 5-6hrs on LOW.  Contrary to popular belief, I do think you can ruin food in the slow cooker.  If cooked for too long, chicken can become dry and mushy.  So be careful and try to stick to the set time for cooking.

After the set time you end up with a succulent roast chicken (minus the crispy skin – which is a shame).  You do get a little colour on the skin, but nothing like you would if you were to do it in the oven.  If you can accept that – then you will enjoy this chicken.

As an absolute “must” for this dish I also make Polenta crusted roast Potatoes.  You’ll find lots of recipes online for these – but mine are as follows:

Peel your potatoes (I use whatever potatoes I have as well sweet potato) and chop them in half (or quarters if they are large).  I then par-boil them in salted water for 4 minutes (from boiling point).  Drain the potatoes and pop the lid back on, shake them around so that they get a little rough around the edges.  Coat them in polenta (by pouring over the polenta, popping on the lid and shaking them again).  Place the potatoes in the roasting dish and pour over olive oil and sea salt.  Shake them all around again so that most of the oil is covering each potato.  Cook in the oven for about 1 hour at 180C.

This meal is a real winner in our home and oh so easy.  I also cook the chicken in the oven with the potatoes often as well.  No doubt you all know how to do that – but if you want any pointers then let me know and I’ll post about that as well.

Happy long weekend and may it be filled with lots of roast meat and veges!!!  Of and perhaps a pudding too!

Delly

PS.  If you would like to use the chicken juices for a sauce then just pour the juice into a small saucepan.  Add some sea salt and a big glug of white whine.  Then boil it up and allow it to reduce and thicken slightly!!!  Fabulous!

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