Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sweet weekend

I hadn't baked anything for weeks so I thought it was high time I took out my books to browse. I knew I wouldn't have too much time on Saturday morning and also, our friends invited over to their house in the afternoon, so that meant another batch of cakes to take over.
If time is of essence, the easiest to make are muffins or cupcakes. I chose the cappuccino cupcakes from How to be a Domestic Goddess. Even though I'm not a coffee drinkker, save the odd cafe latte once in a blue moon, I'm addicted to cakes, chocolates, sweets, etc. with a coffee flavour. I have once made these cupcakes for my mum's workplace party and got demands for the recipe but I didn't get round to tasting them.

Cappuccino cupcakes

125g self-raising flour
125g soft butter
125g sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1 heaped tbsp instant espresso
2-3 tbsp milk

for the icing:
160g white chocolate
60g butter
120g sour cream
260g icing sugar
cocoa powder for dusting

Nigella's instructions are to put everything in the processor (except milk) and blitz. I hate washing up the parts of the processor so I went with the traditional dry and wet ingredients method. The cupcakes needed 20 minutes in 200C pre-heated oven. While they were cooling, I made the icing. Last time I made a note that half the amount of icing is quite enough, so I halved these amounts. The white chocolate has to be melted together with the butter, then after a little cooling you need to add the rest of the ingredients. I don't usually add the amount of sugar stated in a recipe for icing, I added only 100g for the half batch this time. This of course means that the icing is runnier, but a quarter of an hour in the fridge remedies that problem, too.
When the cupcakes were topped with the icing I dusted some cocoa powder over them, which indeed made them look like cappuccino cups as Nigella said. As for the taste, the sponge came out crumblier and drier than I remember with the processor method, but it had a pronounced nut-flavour, which was lovely (nuts and coffee are such a perfect combination, mmmm). But this page got another note: "Don't be lazy to wash up the processor" LOL The result is much better using that nasty device.

Since one of our friends who invited us over doesn't like coffee at all, I couldn't make two batches of this cupcake, I had to come up with something else.
Risking my exclusion from certain foodie circles, I must admit something. I'm not such a great fan of brownies. I mean, the amounts of butter and chocolate a small tray of brownies contains has always made me turn to the next page in any cookbook. But I was craving some chocolate this weekend and suddenly I remembered the brownies in one of my Hungarian cookbooks. I made this quite some time ago and remembered I loved it. Also, the amount of chocolate and the substitution of butter to oil doesn't make this recipe so frightful for me. I'm not sure most people would call it brownies because of the latter but anyway, this was an appealing recipe.

Brownies (from Judit Stahl)

100g chocolate, chopped
100g flour
100g sugar
20g cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp instant espresso (only to emphasise the chocolate flavour, it's not noticable)
2 eggs
100 ml oil (with a neutral taste)
1 handful of chopped nuts

Combine chocolate, flour, sugar, cocoa and baking powder in a bowl. Mix the coffee with one tbsp water in another bowl, add the eggs and oil and whisk. Combine the contents of the two bowl and spread the batter in a 24cm buttered tart tin.
The batter turned out pretty little, I could hardly even it out in the tin. Then I sprinkled it with chopped walnuts and put in the pre-heated 175C oven. The recipe suggested 18-20 minutes baking, but it was pretty soft after that time, so I left it in for another 5 minutes.

The result was a really moist cake but I should have chopped the chocolate more finely, at least it was a bit disturbing to me. Anyway, it was devoured by our friends in no time and all you could hear was "umm" and "oh" so I guess it wasn't so bad after all :)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Greek theme continued

After last week's imaginary trip to Corfu, I decided to continue our travels at least in food and came up yet again with something related to Greek cuisine. I've had this recipe bookmarked in Falling Cloudberries from the moment I opened the book. Anything from Cyprus must be good as it is associated with the happiest week of my whole life, my honeymoon, which was spent there.

Tava is very easy to prepare and the result is a fantastic one-pot dish, full of flavour, excellent!

1kg lamb, chopped
1.2kg potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 red onions, cut in chunks
4 tbsp chopped parsley
3 tsp cumin seeds
4-5 tomatoes, sliced
125 ml olive oil

Can you find a dish easier to prepare?? You just throw everything in a baking dish, mix it, add 125ml water and cook it in preheated oven at 180C for 2 hours, covered with foil. After uncovering, cook it at 200C until it is nice golden. Easy-peasy. Serve with a simple salad - mine was so simple Jamie Oliver would have screamed LOL. A kind of lettuce slaw with joghurt, which was perfect in the heat we have been having in the past week.

And you know what? A colleague of mine entered my office this morning, holding a box of dessert, saying: "I just came back from Cyprus." Oh, really? Me, too :))

Friday, July 20, 2007

In the mood for Greek

There must be something in what Tessa says at the start of the Greek chapter of Falling Cloudberries: "Greece is magnetic, they say. Once you have stepped on Greek ground it's hard to shake yourself free. Myth has it that it's because your feet become stuck in the rich honey coating this country." I'm not sure it was the honey in my case but I can totally relate to this sentiment even though "technically" I have never stepped on Greek mainland, only on the ground of Corfu (and Cyprus). Interestingly, the Greek culture was the last on my holiday wish list. I've been to many parts of Europe before I reluctantly decided to "invade" this area. I was a fool to wait so long! I was enchanted the moment I saw the Greek hills from the plane. There truly is something in the air, besides the glorious smell of oregano, wild flowers, oranges and olive trees. A smell you will never be able to forget once you get a hint of. The smell of history, the presence of the Greek gods and the amazing peacefulness that lingers on the island (even despite extremely busy tourist-invaded areas).

I was not at all willing to cook anything last weekend, after the abundance of food at my friend's wedding on Saturday, but then I started leafing through Falling Cloudberries and felt an urge to use up the Greek feta and Greek olive oil I fetched at the supermarket the other day, the freshly picked cucumbers and the sweet tomatoes. I had some chicken breast thawing in the fridge, so it was evident I'd make gyros, pitta bread, tzatziki and a tomato salad.

Obviously, the gyros is just a quick version of that yummy dish, thin stripes of chicken breast marinated in olive oil and a spice mix, then fried in a pan. Not too authentic, I'm sure, but a perfect quick dinner.

For the pitta breads I used Tessa's recipe in FC, from the Cypriot chapter.
For 10-12 pittas you need

10g fresh yeast (instant works just fine, just use the conversion suggested by manufacturer)
2 tbsp olive oil
a pinch of sugar
500g strong bread flour (I added about 100g wholemeal in the name of healthy eating ;))
1 tsp salt

There's nothing new under the sun concerning the assembling of the dough. The messy part comes after the dough has risen for about 1 or 1 1/2 hours. Then, you need to punch it back and divide it into 10-12 portions, need 1/2 hour rest under a towel before proceeding with rolling the individual portions and baking them in preheated oven (220 C) on preheated baking trays. Although Tessa advises not to cook two batches at the same time, I used the fan function of my oven and cooked two trays, swapping them half-time. Worked fine for me.

Until the pittas were rising, I prepared the side dishes. For the tzatziki I grated a cucumber coarsely, then salted it and let it sit in a colander to get rid of the juices. When it was done, I pressed it down with a wooden spoon to make sure all the juices were gone. Then I mixed it with yoghurt and some sour cream (to get the right consistency because there's no Greek yoghurt available here to my greatest sorrow), and garlic oil.

For the tomato salad I just sliced some ripe tomatoes, crumbled in some feta, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with some oregano I brought from Corfu.

The dish was excellent, the tzatziki tasted just like the one I had and had been craving from Corfu, and the pittas were really delicious.
We played some Greek music during dinner and when we closed our eyes, we could almost hear the sea moaning in the distance. A perfect dinner, what more can you ask for??

Monday, July 9, 2007

Courgettes again

I guess I'll be eating more courgettes this summer than during the whole year so far. My Granny's plant is abounding in these unnaturally yellow, longish veggies, so I will have to make a thorough research for courgette recipes to try.
When it's courgettes, though, one dish to make is a definite one: courgette fritters. The first time I saw Nigella make these in her Forever Summer show, I was lost and keep making them very often.
The best thing about these fritters is that they are easily alterable. I've tried many variations depending on what I had at home and I realised I'm not too keen on a pronounced mint flavour so either only add a tiny amount of those chopped leaves or only parsley. No sparing with that! Also, when I don't have feta, I love (perhaps actually prefer) using grated smoked cheese which gives another layer of rich flavour to the otherwise not too interesting courgette.

So even though it was Nigella who introduced this perfect light supper to me, I like trying new versions, too. This one comes from Bill's Food, and is basically the same as Nigella's but I needed an excuse to use my new Bill book, you see ;)

Courgette fritters

500g courgette, grated
1/2 tsp sea salt
8 spring onions, chopped (a small brown onion works just fine, too)
125g feta, crumbled
35g chopped parsley
15g chopped mint
2 eggs, beaten
60g flour
sea salt and pepper to taste
60ml olive oil for frying

Put the courgettes in a colander, sprinkle with salt and set aside for 30 min (When I'm in a hurry, I omit this stage and skip to the next. Works fine for me). Squeeze out any excess liquid and pat dry with paper towel.
Mix everything in a huge bowl, then heat the oil in a pan and add tablespoonfuls of the batter, flattening them with the back of the spoon. Fry for about 2 min on each side (or until golden).

Serve with mayo, yoghurt, sour cream or a combination of these.

A breakfast treat

While I try to eat healthy breakfast including milk and cereal, yoghurt, fruit, etc. for breakfast on weekdays, I sometimes like to indulge in treats at the weekends. One of my favourite treats is American pancakes with maple syrup and fresh fruit if available. Or I should say it was. Because recently I found a waffle recipe which keeps climbing back in my mind, urging me to make them again. And again.

I'm a terrible waffle maker. I either have to take out my first waffles in pieces because I'm impatient and open the iron too early and I always put too much batter on the iron and it starts flowing everywhere, argh! Well, from the point of view of my waistlines, this is good news, because I hate cleaning the equipment so sometimes I'm too lazy to make waffles even if I'm craving them LOL

Anyway, these cornmeal waffles with a hint of lemon by Nicole from Baking bites are too good to resist and are worth the extra scrubbing ;)

This time I substituted 1/8 cup of plain flour for wholemeal, just to feel less guilty about my morning treat ;) It worked really well. I even tried cooking them in a pan as American pancakes and they were absolutely fine that way, too (bad news for my waistlines!)

An earlier attempt with strawberries, a hint of icing sugar and maple syrup...

And the most recent one with blueberries...

Monday, July 2, 2007

Back on the wagon!

Well, it's been a long time... There are many reasons, the main being that life's been showing its ugliest face to me for a few months now and I didn't have time nor energy to deal with things other than self-pitying :)

But now, am trying to get my lost "mojo" back and a trip to London certainly helped to bring this about. Those four days were the best days this year so far. I'm not saying I acted like a real foodie and went to posh restaurants or things like that, but something was coming back. I didn't make it to Borough Market due to lack of time, but we did have a stroll on Portobello Road on a Saturday and the supply of the food section was thrilling enough for me, especially the baked goods and sourdough bread which you just can't buy anywhere here :(

We had the most amazing lunch on a bench at the Tower of London, which consisted of a fresh, rustic baguette, fresh feta cheese and amazingly sweet blueberries. The kind of perfect moment you'll remember for a long time.

And the goodies I brought back

Further inspiration came from the June issue of Delicious. I was hooked by the cover of the magazine and that awesome savoury tart including potatoes and courgette. As the first yellow courgette my Granny planted for me in her garden was grown enough, I didn't have to wait long to try this recipe.

I couldn't get any fresh thyme so I had to use dried but it was fine. The tart was really good and eating it made me feel I was on a good way to a healthy diet LOL Well, hubby was not so enthusiastic, his only comment was "and where's the meat?" so I guess I will have to add a few more layers of bacon (that's what I used) next time ;)