Friday, January 29, 2010

Honey & cinnamon frosted banana cupcakes

I'm baaaaaack.

As Johnny so frighteningly discovered, 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,' this proverb became R's and my motto last Sunday night after realising how wonderful it is to actually get out of the house, without our laptops, and relax in a new surrounding (Chateau Yering was where we had this revelation FYI).

That night, whilst laying in bed waiting for the elusive Sleep Fairy to come (tardy b*tch), we both decided that we would go to New Zealand the coming Friday, which would coincide with the Australia Day weekend, allowing us to miss only four rather than five days of work (being self employed this means we lose less $$).

The next morning I spent the entire day figuring out how much we could do in 6 days, what I didn't realise was how bloody big New Zealand is, and that driving from Auckland to Queenstown and back again was never going to happen in 6 days if we actually wanted to get out of the car.

Anyway, to cut a long story short - that's for you R ;) - I managed to figure out an awesome, if I say so myself and I do, itinerary that allowed us to see and do a lot in Queenstown, Bay of Islands and Lake Taupo. Having just returned from our most spontaneous holiday yet, I wish I could do it again this weekend, it was THAT much fun.

1.Queenstown, 2 (fur seal) ,3,4. Milford Sounds.
For all those who haven't been to New Zealand, especially you Australians, get your butts down there because it really is a beautiful country. I thought I would show you a few happy snaps from the trip, even though I was too busy actually doing stuff to take proper photographs.

1. Aratiatia Dam. 2. Aratiatia Rapids.3.Huka Falls. 4. Huka Lodge.5. Milford Sounds Stirling Falls.
The reason I am making these cupcake today is all thanks to my father. When he happily accepted my request that he baby-sit our dog and our house, I bought him a few things to eat. Upon returning I found out that he ordered pizza every night and had only depleted our food stock by ONE banana, that's right, ONE banana. As you can imagine, the fruit bowl, or rather the newly appointed fruit cemetery, was filled with fruit long dead and those nearing it's pearly gates. The bananas had to be used first lest they become zombies, and tomorrow, I will show you what I did with the fading peaches.

1. Lake Taupo. 2. 90 Mile Beach. 3. Cape Reinga. 4. Nevis Bungy. 5. Puketi Kauri Forest. 6, 7. Karapiti (Craters of the Moon).

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 12mins (make icing whilst muffins cook).
cooking time: 25mins.
total: 37mins plus cooling time for muffins.

taste: 3.5/5. This is a case of the icing killing the dull cake.

Let's start with the cake; it was very moist with a wonderful chewy, golden exterior, although I do think 25mins was a touch too long. The small chunks of yellow flesh help to remind you that this is a banana cupcake, otherwise the flavour is quite nondescript. Even my small, 1/2tsp of cinnamon added to the batter got lost in the final result. Therefore, as a solo act, it isn't memorable.

Now onto the icing on the cake; by itself, it's billowing, peaks speckled with cinnamon and naughty nutmeg (I added 1/4tsp) are as light as air and dissolve in your smiling mouth. I was a little sad that the gorgeous, clover honey courtesy of New Zealand was washed away by the icing sugar's saccharine supremacy but as an icing, it was lovely.

However, when icing met cake, icing dominated cake into submission.
Despite my caution to smear to less than 1cm height, all I could taste was icing, with bland, cakey chunks occasionally popping up through the icing cloud. It became an icing dictatorship - no banana overthrow allowed.

Overall, as a once a day treat with a cup of tea to wash it down, it would be nice, eaten alone and more than once = sickening for moi.

would I make it again: No - too sweet and not enough banana flavour for a banana cupcake.

recipe: Cinnamon & honey frosted banana cupcakes

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sofia's Kitchen - Coconut petit fours

Apologies for the lack of posts, but trying to organise an overseas holiday in a few days is tough stuff.
But no fear, I will be back next Thursday, and until then, here is the latest installment of Sofia's Kitchen.

Akin to a coconut macaroon, but with a touch more flair.

Coconut Petit Fours
makes 30+

500G  castor sugar
500G  shredded coconut
9 TBLS melted unsalted butter
9 TBLS  self raising flour
9  eggs (small)
1 packet vanilla sugar
glazed cherries, halved


Pre heat oven to 170C

Place sugar in a bowl and add the eggs one at a time beating well.  Beat mixture until light and fluffy.
Add vanilla sugar and melted butter to mixture and beat until combined.  Now put the mixer down and get ready to use your hands!

Add the shredded coconut, and flour and mix well with your hand making sure all ingredients are well combined.  Let mixture sit a little bit for the dry ingredients to absorb the wet.  The mixture should stick to a spoon.  If too watery you can a little more flour and coconut.

Place baking paper down on flat trays and scoop tablespoons of the mixture onto the trays allowing enough room for some spreading.  Place a glazed cherry on top and place into oven until they turn a light golden brown.

Petifours should have a crisp outside with a chewy moist centre.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Olive oil cake

This is a micro post - a mere pre-cursor to another edition of Sofia's Kitchen, soon-to-be-posted.

My husband and I have just gotten into Scrubs - what's great about finding a show late is that you don't have to wait for each episode to come out. However, every tvshow-marathon has a price; the 7th season took up more of my time than expected and I had only one hour to whip something up to take to my grandmother.

It also distracted me from the fact that my house was practically bare - save for the essentials, but even then I was out of milk. So I wracked my brain and came up with an olive oil cake. A dozen searches later and I still hadn't found a recipe that was either quick or that didn't require a dozen eggs or more than one bowl. So I half-arsed it - I figured out a guideline based on the recipes and hoped for the best (or something edible at least).

What I got was probably something close to a tea cake - best eaten on the day it is made. It is only softly fruity with hints of lemon and orange and the nutty-fruitiness of the olive oil. As it isn't very sweet on its own, I ate it with yoghurt and grapes. For a last minute throw-together that takes less than an hour to bake and go, it wasn't half bad at all.

Last-minute Olive Oil Cake

3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup orange juice
1/3 cup milk
1 lemon, zest only
1 1/2 cups plain flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder

Lightly grease an 11 x 22cm loaf tin, and line the base and sides with baking paper. Beat the sugar and eggs together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and creamy. Add the oil, orange juice, milk and lemon zest and beat until well combined. Add the combined, sifted flour and baking powder and slowly beat until just combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake for 30 minutes, or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Cool for 5minutes and serve with poached fruit, yoghurt, tea - whatever takes your fancy.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Molasses cookies

Ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom - if I could create a royal family of spices these lucky five would reign supreme, with cinnamon as King and cardamom as Queen - the other three; their loving, complimentary children.

What I love most about this brood is not only their talent to turn every sweet into something beyond comforting, exciting, enticing and drool-worthy, but their ability to do the same to the savoury side. Now, I don't eat meat any more (not since my Play School watching days, and right before my X-files ones started), but my husband does, and whenever I cook him up some ginger chicken, or pork with cloves, even cinnamon dusted lamb, it more than often results in two thumbs up and a very, very dirty face (fingers often included). Plus, their heady, fragrant aromas and pretty neutral shades also score points (as well as their eligibility as possible alternative children's names - Ginger was my favourite cast-away). The gathering of one or more of these spices are found very frequently in Christmas cooking, after all, it's only right the the Royal Spice family be the stars of that wonderful time of year.

Whenever I strike gold with a recipe that involves more than two of these tasty family members, it goes straight into my recipe pile, nudged towards the top. I am oh so glad freakishly happy I found this recipe as it means my search for a soft, crispy, gingery, Christmas-y spice cookie is finally over. Now, onto my next cookie hunt; the notoriously hard-to-get-right Chocolate Chip Cookie.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 14mins.
cooking time: 23mins for 3 rounds of baking.
total: 37mins.

taste: 4.5/5. Thanks to these bad boys I now have a cookie-addiction. My husband had to stage an intervention last night as I ate my fourth consecutive cookie in 3minutes flat.
They are my dream texture - a slightly crispy outer layer revealing cakey crumbs leading to a glorious, dense, chewy, moist centre. The spices give it a Christmas feel making it the perfect night-cap cookie. Everything is perfectly balanced - no spice tries to best another and although the molasses is the leader, it is clearly a team effort with no one taking the praise alone. It is a sweet cookie but not enough to warrant washing it down with water straight away.
I used a touch less brown sugar and they were still sweet (I also skipped the icing).
I'm not sure what 3/8 of a cup looks like so I used 1/3 cup - and it was just right, any more and it would have been too strong a molasses flavour for me.
I experimented a little with cooking times and I found 5mins50seconds yielded my favourite cookie - firmer than the 5minute and moister than the 6min05seconds.

would I make it again: Yes - when I am clean-and-cookie-free for at least two weeks.

recipe: Molasses Cookies

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Vanilla semolina puddings with cinnamon & raspberry compote

Although the dust has long since settled; crinkled fragments of wrapping paper torn in excitement have been thrown away, and the fallen Scrabble bocks and Jenga bricks, previously used to pass time from last year to this one have returned to their rightful boxes, I have not yet managed to 'return to schedule.'

Hubby went back to work on the 2nd of January, I however, have chosen to languor in the house, in cotton maxi-dresses, ordering groceries online so that I don't have to drive my car and actually do something. The chores still get done, eventually, but I am having trouble letting go of my holiday laziness. On the positive side, I have managed to do a lot of reading, napping and television watching, all of which get neglected when I am working and being 'productive'. On the downside, my physical appearance has taken a bit of a downturn and I am a little, dare I say it, bored.

This morning I decided that today would be my last day of nothingness - tomorrow I shall be 'back to work' at my computer, staring at stockmarket charts with my dog sleeping happily at my feet. I sometimes get stuck in my office, eyes glued to the screen, which diminshes the time I have to make soemthing to eat and most often this leads to grabbing 1-minute or less snacks such as nuts, fruit, muesli bars, crackers, chocolate etc - not excatly filling or super nutritious food to last me an entire day.
So I set aside an hour today to prepare tomorrow's snacking menu. Seeing as though I had time, I thought I'd make something today to spoil myself with tomorrow, and nothing helps me relax as much as eating semolina; a childhood favourite.

This recipe which include raspberries, a Summer favourite, looked perfect, and I could make enough to  help myself to seconds as well as share some with family.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 2mins to get milk mixture and raspberry compote on the stove.
cooking time: 16mins to cook semolina and put into pots (add more time if you wants yours chilled).
total: 18mins.

taste: 4/5. I tried these both hot from the stove and chilled from the fridge - I much preferred the oatmel-esque comfort the hot and steamy variety gave me - when chilled its flavour is dulled and the texture too gelatinous. When warm, the vanilla flecked innocent, creamy semolina is corrupted wonderfully by the punchy, vibrant raspberries. Without the gutsy raspberries it would be too timid for my palate. Together they form a yin-yang of deliciousness.
I added one teaspoon of cinnamon to the semolina and it gave it only the slightest hint of woody-warmness.
It was also a little sweet for me so next time I would decrease the sugar by 20g or so.
I would also double the amount of raspberry compote as by the time I had reached the lower third of my glass they ruby fruit was gone and it became a little banal.
I also had to add an extra 4 tablespoons of semolina to thicken it up.
Whilst I loved this, hubby couldn't eat more than a spoonful as he doesn't like the texture of semolina, poor thing never got to experience its greatness as a child, and now cannot warm to it as an adult - so more for me:).

would I make it again: Yes.

recipe: Semolina puddings with cinnamon and raspberry compote

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Spiced coconut rice with berries

Happy 2010!

Finished with another decade and onto a new one.
I wonder what this one will be called, so far I have heard it phrased as the 'teens' - I have a feeling that one might stick.

I am so happy the new year has come as it means Christmas and NYE are over and my house can finally stay clean for more than one day. It also means I won't be clocking extraordinary hours in the kitchen, as much as I love cooking, I also love a break now and then.

Hubby and I stayed in NYE with our dog and chose to make New Year's Day a technology free one. Because of our jobs and our love of the internet in our spare time we spend a average minimum of 14 hours per day on our laptops, we also spend at least 2 hours watching a movie or a television show - pretty shocking and our wrists and eyes do pay a price for it. We really wanted to stick to this ban so we drove to Toys R Us and bought a boot load of board games such as Jenga, Scattegories, Trivial Pursuit etc. The end result  - apart from one movie we spent the whole day playing games, playing with the dog and having fun.

In the morning, well around 12:15pm to be exact, we awoke from our NYE slumbers. Seeing as though I had no time limit I thought I'd make a slow breakfast, and nothing sounded better than a comforting rice porridge with antioxidant rich berries.

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time: 10mins.
cooking time: 50mins.
total: 1 hour.

taste: 4/5. The cardamom reigns as King with cinnamon it's servant. The luscious, creamy rice allows hints of coconut to come through, but only briefly as the spices dominate before the tart, luscious berries burst through, dissolving the cream and leaving your mouth refreshed.
The texture was on the runny side for me so I would subtract 100ml of soy milk, and also a touch less cardamom to allow cinnamon a touch more flavour. Overall the berries (I chose blueberries and raspberries), spices and creamy rice (I used carnaroli) contrast and compliment each other beautifully.

would I make it again: No - takes too long for brekkie.

recipe: Spiced coconut rice with berries