What’s Been Cooking?

Hello, everyone — long time no blog. Apologies for my blogosphere absence; I have been lacking in motivation recently, still a bit burnt out from last fall’s DELTA course (I passed all three modules on the first go, thank goodness). I’ve also been wondering what the point is of re-blogging recipes that I haven’t changed all that much. And, if I do continue blogging, in which direction I’d like this blog to go. More musical? More sporty? More education-related? I’d love to hear what you enjoy most about my blog, so please leave a comment and let me know what you’d like to see more of.

Now to today’s topic: what’s been cooking in my kitchen? I’ve tried some great new recipes lately (okay, in the past six months…) but haven’t modified them much, so I’ll just link to the original recipes below. Here are some highlights:

parmesan, kale, & white bean soup + tortellini

parmesan, kale, & white bean soup + tortellini

  • Parmesan Broth with Kale, White Beans, & Tortellini (smitten kitchen). F and I collected parmesan rinds in the freezer for an entire year before we had enough to make Deb’s soup. It was worth the wait — umami-salty, warming, and satisfying. We added tortellini for some extra heft.
  • Miso-Coconut Chicken Soup (i am a food blog). I made this one way back in September. Unfortunately, F was sick that weekend so I ended up eating most of it myself, but I loved it and look forward to making it again at a time when we can both enjoy it. Creamy but not too rich, great over rice.
  • The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies (i am a food blog). These. are. SO. good. Crispy edges, moist and chewy insides. F dubbed them “maybe the best cookies I’ve ever had.” Now that’s saying something! Use whatever chocolate you want (I used extra dark) and don’t leave off the sprinkling of sea salt on top. I passed this recipe onto J, whose family devoured them in no time.
lemon poppy seed muffins

lemon poppy seed muffins

  • Double Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins (Cookie +  Kate). In my mind, it is hard to beat the combination of lemon and poppy seeds. Let’s be honest, lemon-anything is pretty great. I had combined lemon and poppy seeds before in pancakes but not in muffins. This recipe presented great flavors, although the muffins were a teensy bit dry for me.
  • Lemon Cornmeal Cake with Lemon Glaze (Bon Appétit). F was away last weekend and I wanted to surprise him with something tasty upon his return home. He loves lemon cake, so I tried out this one, which had been sitting in my “make this” bookmarks for ages. It was fantastic, remaining moist for a couple of days. I took a bunch to work and four of us devoured it pretty quickly. F’s only comment was that it could be even more lemony, so next time I’ll use the zest of 2 lemons in the cake batter.

Of course, those aren’t the only things I’ve been cooking. We’ve done many of the usual dinner rotations, like pizza and roasted root vegetables and various stir fries. I reprised chocolate beet cake for dinner with friends last month — this time adding a tasty pink cream cheese frosting — and whipped up an apple dutch baby pancake for a Sunday brunch.

What have you been cooking up recently?

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Go for Baroque: Singing Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610

I’ve come to realize that chorus concert days are sort of like track meets: it takes a lot of endurance, focus, and conservation of energy to get through a long afternoon and evening. We have a 3-hour afternoon rehearsal, an hour-ish break, and then the concert. Like track meets, it’s tricky to figure out how and when to eat on concert days. I usually have to leave the house around lunchtime, travel an hour or so to the venue, sing for a couple hours, take a short break, sing more, take a longer break, and perform. I’ve finally discovered that frequent ingestion of high-energy food is the key to keeping me going on concert day: nibbles of oatcakes and cheese, a peanut butter and banana sandwich, apples, even sports drink.

Anyway, all that goes on in the background of rehearsing and performing incredible music in gorgeous venues, as I was fortunate enough to do as part of the Crouch End Festival Chorus this weekend. We performed Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, accompanied by the period-instrument English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble and fronted by a fantastic group of soloists. The venue was also beautiful: 300-year-old St. John’s Smith Square, a large church just south of Westminster Abbey that is now used primarily as a music venue (not surprisingly, as the acoustics are wonderful).

Gosh, where to begin? Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 is a remarkable 90-minute piece, full of florid early Baroque runs, trills, and invitations for improvisation for the soloists and musicians. The chorus is split into two choirs for most of the piece, as the various movements demand up to 10 different vocal parts. Traditionally, the choir would have been all men and boys, but in today’s modern age the top 3-4 parts are sung by women. It’s also really meant for a chamber choir, with just a few voices per part, but our director (DT) decided to go for the challenge of getting 140 of us to sound like a small choir. Here’s the masterful John Eliot Gardiner leading his professional Monteverdi Choir in a performance of the Vespers:

Intonation and blend are key in a piece like this, which requires a pure sound and Italianate Latin vowels. Diction is tough to coordinate and execute well — especially Latin, as these Brits speak with so many diphthongs! — with so many singers. And the standards were high, as we were accompanied by the well-known English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble, who could probably play the Vespers in their sleep! (side note: cornetts are really cool and the theorbo was likened to a “Renaissance banjo” by DT.) Not to mention the incredible soloists, all clearly trained in the unique early Baroque style, which requires so much vocal control to sing all those 16th and 32nd notes. Highlights include the two sopranos singing “Pulchra es” (24:15 in the above video) and the tenor duet/trio with baritone, “Duo seraphim” (36:24, above).

Although I may be biased, I think we pulled it off. Even if not, it was certainly challenging and great fun to sing. Despite the Vespers being a religious piece, DT kept emphasizing that, in fact, Monteverdi’s music is incredibly sensual and erotic (ever seen/listened to his operas? I can still remember seeing Oberlin Opera Theatre perform Poppea back in 2008 and being struck by the sensuality of the 17th-century music). I completely agree. Part of what I enjoyed about singing the Vespers of 1610 is the variety of moods and styles in the piece: in some sections we had to sound like a children’s choir, while in others we broadened our sound to that of a symphonic choir. It was a real treat to sing this 400-year-old piece of music and start to get inside its complexities. Well done all!

Recipe: Whole Wheat Focaccia

I’m new to bread-making from scratch. Although I make pizza dough pretty regularly, that has generally been the extent of my yeast-dough endeavors. But last fall I decided to take the leap and try my hand at some “real” homemade bread. Focaccia turned out to be a good choice, as it’s straightforward and not too tricky to get the right texture or crust. I followed Martha Rose Shulman’s directions over on her NY Times Recipes for Health space — do what she does, and you’ll get a lovely olive-oil scented, rosemary-studded focaccia, great for dipping into soups or munching on its own.

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I don’t have a stand mixer so I’m only including directions for how to do this by hand. Head to Shulman’s original recipe for instructions on how to make the focaccia using a stand mixer.

Whole Wheat Focaccia (adapted from Martha Rose Shulman; makes 1 large focaccia)

Ingredients

  • 8g (2 tsp) active dry yeast
  • 5g (1 tsp) sugar
  • 340g (1.5 cups) lukewarm water
  • 25g (2 tbsp) olive oil + 25g for drizzling
  • 250g (2 cups) whole wheat flour
  • 200-220g (~1.75 cups) all-purpose (plain) flour + more for kneading
  • 13g (1.75 tsp) salt
  • optional: handful fresh rosemary, roughly chopped; sea salt

Procedure

  • In a large bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, and water and stir until the yeast and sugar dissolve.
  • Add 25g olive oil along with the whole wheat flour, 200g of the plain flour, and salt. Mix briefly with a wooden spoon. Tip the dough out onto a floured surface, set a timer for 8-10 minutes and knead continuously with your hands. Add plain flour as needed during the kneading; by the end of 10 minutes, the dough should form a sticky ball. Shape it into a ball.
  • Lightly oil a large bowl with olive oil. Put the dough ball into it and cover both sides of the ball with oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place for 1.5-2 hours (or in the fridge for 4-8 hours), until it has doubled.
  • After the first rising, punch down the dough, cover it with oiled plastic wrap, and let it rest for 15 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 215C (425F) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Oil the paper generously. Press out (or roll) the dough into the rectangular sheet pan until it reaches all sides and corners. It’s easier to do this by rolling or pressing a bit, then waiting 5 minutes, then rolling or pressing again — repeat until the dough reaches the pan’s edges.
  • Cover the dough with a damp towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
  • Before baking, dimple the dough with your fingertips, drizzle some olive oil over it, and sprinkle on some rosemary and sea salt.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a deep golden brown. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Roasted Carrot Hummus with a Kick

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At work I organize weekly drop-in workshops for our learners on various aspects of mental and physical health. This involves liaising with local organizations to bring in speakers to share their expertise. Last month, we were able to take eight of our learners to the Shoreditch Trust’s Healthy Living Centre for a healthy cooking workshop. Among the sugar-less and salt-less dishes we made was this delicious roasted carrot hummus. So easy, so vibrant, so healthy.

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I’ve made this multiple times at home since the workshop, and it has received high praise from F. You don’t even need anything to dip in it or spread it on — just grab a spoon and dig in.

Roasted Carrot Hummus with a Kick (adapted from The Shoreditch Trust Food Programme; makes 1.5-2 cups of hummus)

Ingredients

  • 8 carrots, peeled & cut into thick coins
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • to taste: ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • juice of 1/2 orange (add more to taste)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • handful of chopped parsley or coriander

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 180C.
  • Toss the chopped carrots with olive oil, red pepper flakes, whole garlic cloves, & black pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
  • When the carrots are roasted, put them in a large bowl or food processor and add the tahini, cumin, orange juice, lemon juice, & parsley/coriander. Blend with an immersion blender or in the food processor until smooth.

Enjoy!

Year in Review: 2014

Happy New Year! Frohes neues Jahr! З Новим Роком!

I can hardly believe it’s already 2015, can you? 2014 was quite a year, I hardly know how to sum it up. For brevity’s sake, let’s go with some good ol’ bullet points.

2014 by the numbers:

  • blog posts published: 92 or so
  • books read: too many to count — some for fun and lots for my MA course
  • miles run: 549 (quite a lot less than last year, due to hip/knee issues)
  • miles cycled: 2,028.65 (mostly commuting in London, but a decent amount of road cycling in the first half of the year)
  • courses completed: 2 (1 MA in English & 1 DELTA course)
  • countries been in: England, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Germany, USA
  • weddings attended: 2

Looking back on my intentions for 2014, I more or less achieved most of them, although things like improving my German and staying in better touch with friends and family could always be worked on. My main intention for 2015 is to find a healthy balance between work, exercise, time with F, and my other hobbies like cooking. That comes with some sub-intentions, like building up my running mileage and speed without getting injured.

In some blog-related reflecting, here are two listicles of my top posts — via views and via my opinion — from 2014:

The 10 most popular posts in 2014 (your favorites?):

My 10 favorite posts/moments in 2014 (in no particular order):

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2015

Recipe: Maple Pecan Bars

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There’s something about the combination of maple and pecan that is extremely delicious and satisfying. Around Thanksgiving last month, I thought about trying my hand at a pecan pie. But then I saw this recipe from The Kitchn and knew I had to make pecan bars instead. And really, they combine the best parts of pecan pie — crunchy-sweet topping and crust — while disposing of that weird, gooey middle layer that often forms in the pie.

And oh were these a success. F said they are one of the best things I’ve ever baked — and that’s saying something, given the amount of baking I’ve done in the past few years. A few co-workers also got nibbles and gave the bars high praise. Honestly, these are almost too good to share.

**Update, New Year’s Day 2015: I made these for NY Eve dessert for friends in Germany, with walnuts instead of pecans — the latter are hard to find in Germany — and they got more rave reviews. More of a reason to make them now.**

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The pecan bars do take some time to put together, but they’re quite straightforward if you patiently follow the steps (you can speed things up by chilling in the freezer). Take some time to make them this weekend as an addition to your holiday baking — share if you dare! You will not be disappointed.

Maple Pecan Bars (adapted from The Kitchn; makes 16 large bars or 24-32 small bars — enough for a crowd)

Ingredients

  • Crust:
    • 2.25 cups plain/AP flour
    • 6 tbsp brown sugar (I used dark; feel free to use light)
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 16 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Topping/Filling:
    • 8 tbsp unsalted butter
    • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar (I used dark; feel free to use light)
    • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup (feel free to sub in some honey, but it won’t taste as good)
    • 2 tbsp heavy cream OR creme fraiche
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • pinch of salt
    • 3 cups chopped pecans (OR walnuts)

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 175C (350F) and line a 9×13-inch (23×33-cm) baking dish with parchment paper (leave an overhang on all sides so you can get the bars out later).
  • Make the crust: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, and salt. Pour in the melted butter and vanilla. Stir with a fork until the mixture turns thick and sandy — it will be moist and a bit greasy. Use a rubber spatula to press the mixture evenly into the baking dish. Put the dish in the freezer for 10 minutes (or fridge for 30 minutes) to let the dough firm up. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the crust is set and dry but not yet golden.
  • Let crust cool for 20-30 minutes before adding the filling (you can speed this up in the fridge or freezer).
  • Make the topping/filling: In a medium saucepan, heat the butter, brown sugar, and maple syrup over medium heat until the butter is melted and the sugar has dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cream/creme fraiche, vanilla, and salt. Fold in the pecans.
  • Add the topping/filling to the crust: Pour the nut mixture over the crust and use a spatula to spread it evenly over the shortbread. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until the filling is hot and very bubbly at the edges.
  • Take the bars out of the oven and let cool and set overnight so the bars can firm up. You can speed this up by putting the bars in the fridge.
  • When you’re ready to slice the bars, lift them out of the pan using the parchment paper and cut them into squares. They’ll keep covered at room temperature for up to 5 days (but probably won’t last that long!).

Enjoy!

Recipe: Cranberry-Orange Buns

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The first time I saw the recipe, I knew I had to make them. As may be apparent from previous recipes, I have a soft spot for cranberries…obviously I was excited to add these to my arsenal. These are like cinnamon buns but with cranberries and orange.

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And oh man are they good. They certainly lived up to expectations. A rich, moist, orangey dough binds together tart-sweet cranberries for a mouthful of deliciousness. Although I know smitten kitchen recipes turn out perfectly if made as written, I took a risk and doubled the amount of cranberries while cutting down a bit on the brown sugar for the filling. It worked — and they don’t even need frosting (although feel free to prepare some if you want).

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These may become a holiday staple, great for a weekend brunch as you can prepare them the day before and bake them from the fridge in the morning (or at noon, as it was by the time I got back from my long run). Don’t be daunted by the prep time — it’s really quite a simple process, and you won’t regret the results.

ready to roll

ready to roll

Cranberry-Orange Buns (adapted from smitten kitchen; makes 12 buns — just halve the recipe for fewer)

Ingredients

  • Dough:
    • 4 egg yolks
    • 1 whole egg
    • 50g (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
    • 85g (6 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted (+ a little more, to grease pan)
    • 175mL (3/4 cup) buttermilk
    • zest of 3/4 orange
    • 470g (3.75 cups) plain/AP flour (+ more for dusting counter)
    • 7g (2.25 tsp) instant dry yeast
    • 1.25 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp sunflower oil (for bowl)
  • Filling:
    • 20g (1.5 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted
    • 175g (3/4 cup) brown sugar, packed (I used dark; feel free to use light)
    • ~250g (2-2.5 cups) fresh cranberries
    • zest of 1/4 orange

Procedure

  • Make the dough: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, melted butter, buttermilk, & 3/4 orange zest (you can do this in a stand mixer if you have one — I don’t). Add the yeast, salt, & 2 cups of the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. Add the rest of the flour & mix until the dough comes together, then turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead (or run the mixer with a dough hook) for 5 minutes . Don’t add more flour, as it will toughen the dough. Oil a large bowl and place the dough in it — cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 2-2.5 hours or until the dough has doubled.
  • Once the dough has risen, prepare the filling: Melt the butter and set aside. Put the cranberries in a food processor and pulse until they’re in quite small chunks but not totally pureed. Set aside.
  • Butter a 9×13-inch (23×33-cm) baking dish.
  • Assemble the buns: Flour a countertop and turn the dough out onto it. Roll the dough into a rectangle that’s about 18×12 inches (45×30.5 cm), with the long side closest to you. Brush the dough with the melted butter, then sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over it — go as close to the edges as you dare. Scatter the ground cranberries evenly over the sugar, then sprinkle the rest of the orange zest over everything.
  • Gently roll the dough into a long log, keeping it as tight as you can. Use a serrated knife to very gently saw the log into 12 sections, each of about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm). Arrange the buns in the baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 16 hours.
  • In the morning, bake the buns: take the dish out of the fridge about half an hour before you want to bake the buns. Heat the oven to 175C (350F), then bake the buns for 25-30 minutes, until they’re golden and puffed up, with an internal temperature of about 85C (190F). (You may have to cover them with foil for the last 10 minutes so they don’t burn on top) Serve warm.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Zucchini & Millet Salad with Lemon-Coriander Dressing

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As the holiday season descends and the sweet treats mount up, I sometimes find myself craving a colorful, wholesome salad. This zucchini and millet salad ought to do the trick. Succulent, olive oil-sautéed zucchini complements earthy toasted pumpkin seeds and fluffy millet. The lemon-coriander dressing zings it all together, and pan-fried halloumi adds extra protein and a salty punch.

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Zucchini & Millet Salad with Lemon-Coriander Dressing (adapted from my darling lemon thyme; serves 3-4 generously)

Ingredients

  • Salad:
    • 1.5 cups cooked millet
    • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
    • 2 medium-large zucchini, sliced into thin rounds
  • Lemon-Coriander Dressing:
    • 1 bunch fresh coriander (cilantro), roughly chopped
    • juice of 2 lemons
    • 1/4 cup (60mL) olive oil
    • 1 garlic clove
    • 1/2 tsp cumin
    • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
    • to taste: salt
  • optional: 1-2 blocks halloumi cheese, sliced medium-thick

Procedure

  • If you haven’t already done it, cook the millet (see link above).
  • While the millet is cooking, prepare the zucchini by sautéing rounds in olive oil over medium-high heat, stirring often. When the zucchini rounds are golden-brown and soft, remove them from the heat and put into a large bowl.
  • While you’re cooking the zucchini, you can toast the pumpkin seeds over medium heat in a small skillet.
  • Fry the halloumi in a little bit of oil over medium-high heat until nicely browned on each side.
  • Make the dressing: combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor (or use an immersion blender), processing until smooth. Add a little cold water if the dressing is too thick.
  • Combine the millet, zucchini, pumpkin seeds, and dressing in the large bowl and toss. Serve the halloumi on the side.

Enjoy!

Race Recap: Perivale 5, 2014 edition

Way before I entered what is now dubbed my Autumn of Madness 2014 (aka taking on full time work and a DELTA course at the same time), I had signed up for this year’s edition of the Perivale 5 mile race, having enjoyed the flat course and 5-mile distance last year. However, the Autumn of Madness saw me running less than 10 miles/week for four months or so, which meant I had to adjust my expectations for this year’s race and had little chance of going head-to-head with Jo and Caroline.

No matter — I decided to aim for around 40 minutes and run a relaxed race, pushing hard only if I felt like it.

This race is well-organized and low-key yet competitive, a mixture of club and non-club runners. The two-lap course is flat but unmemorable, consisting mostly of suburban sidewalks with a jaunt through a park and finishing on a track.

There was a runner in a Santa costume pacing for 40 minutes, so I decided to stay close to him if possible and try to run a negative split, like I did in September’s 10k. I ended up running just in front of Santa for the first few miles, which I ran steadily at 7:50, 8:00 and 8:00 — nice and consistent, spurred on by a few runners around me who would surge and fall back periodically.

Photo courtesy of ESM AC

Can you spot Santa? (photo courtesy of ESM AC)

As we entered mile 4, I decided to pick up the pace and a runner with hot pink compression socks settled in beside me, which helped spur me along for much of that mile. “The fourth mile always feels the longest,” I commented to her at one point. Noting that I ran mile 4 in 7:47, I dug in for the last mile. It helped that a woman I passed with 3/4 of a mile to go encouraged me by saying, “Go on, there’s loads left in you!” Yes, there is, I thought and picked up my pace.

Coming around parallel to the track with about 600 meters to go, I saw Jo and Caroline finishing and yelled encouragement to them. With just a lap of the track left, I picked up my pace a little more and passed a few tiring runners on the final backstretch before coming around to the finish in 38:53 (average 7:46/mi). My last mile was by far the fastest, at 7:12, and I was happy to be under 39 minutes — sure, three minutes slower than last year’s race, but given the fact that I haven’t done any speed work since the summer, I’m quite pleased and glad not to have lost too much fitness.

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Recipe: Dianne’s Cranberry Cake

For me, Thanksgiving is not complete without something cranberry-ey, and all the better if cranberries appear in multiple guises: in my family, they usually appear in cranberry sauce, a surprisingly delicious jello “salad,” and this incredible cranberry upside-down cake.

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Ever since I can remember, my mom has made this cranberry cake for Thanksgiving — and often for Christmas, too, on my request. For me, it is an inseparable part of Thanksgiving and of the wintry holiday season in general. There’s something about that combination of whole cranberries baked into an orangey cake batter and topped with homemade whipped cream that puts a smile on everyone’s face.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and it’s one of the things I miss most about not living closer to home. Since Thanksgiving’s not celebrated in the UK, it’s hard to take off that random week in November. Last year, we had a lovely Thanksgiving celebration with Sarah and Joe, but alas they’re back in the US of A now (miss you guys!). F and I were going to try and host our own Thanksgiving this year, but my all-consuming DELTA course and various other scheduling conflicts mean it probably won’t happen.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t make some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes! With the holiday coming up on Thursday and the DELTA course starting to taper off (less than 2 weeks & 3 assignments to go…), I decided to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon in the warm kitchen making cranberry cake.

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The cake is pretty easy to put together: pour some cranberries into a well-buttered cake pan, whip up the thick batter, spread it over the cranberries and bake! With luck, you’ll be able to invert your cake without incident and spread it with some warm jam for a finishing touch. Mine turned out a bit on the rustic side, as I used a springform cake pan which is a little bigger than your standard round cake tin — the cake was thus a bit thinner and stickier. I probably could’ve baked it for a little less time, but it still turned out deliciously and tasted exactly like it should. Go make it and you’ll know what I mean.

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Dianne’s Cranberry (Upside-Down) Cake (my mom’s recipe, adapted years ago from a Gourmet magazine; makes 1 cake)

Ingredients

  • Cranberries:
    • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1lb/16oz/500g fresh (or frozen) whole cranberries, rinsed, picked over & dried
  • Cake batter:
    • 1.25 cups all purpose (plain) flour
    • 1.5 tsp baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • zest of 1 orange
    • 1/2 cup milk (I used semi-skimmed)
  • Topping (optional):
    • 1/3 cup currant or other closely-related jam/jelly (I used F’s mom’s black currant jam, as that’s what we had)

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 350F (175C).
  • Butter a round cake pan with the 3 tbsp butter. Sprinkle the 1/2 cup of sugar evenly over the butter, and pour in the rinsed and dried cranberries.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, and orange until well-combined.
  • Alternate adding the 1/2 cup milk and flour mixture to the butter-egg mixture, beating until well-combined. The batter will be quite thick.
  • Spread the batter over the cranberries, sealing the edges and smoothing the top.
  • Bake for 1 hour, until the top is well-browned. Let cool for 20 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a platter.
  • Heat the jam (if using) in a saucepan, then brush it over the top of the cake. Top with homemade whipped cream, if desired (plain yogurt is also nice, for the more health-conscious out there), and enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Homemade Muesli with no added sugar

First of all, apologies for my long absence. The last three and a half months have been crazy busy with a new full-time job and a part-time super-intensive DELTA course. Less than three weeks to go in the course, and then I can take a breath and start cooking again. In the meantime, I’ve taken some quiet on Sunday evening to present you with a recipe I’ve wanted to post for a while.

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I eat muesli 3-4 times a week for breakfast: cold, with almond milk, extra nuts, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and sliced banana or apple. My struggle with shopping for muesli in the supermarket is finding one that does have tons of added sugar. I have found Jordan’s Natural Muesli here in the UK, which doesn’t add sugar, but I also kept thinking about how easy — and cheap — it would be to make my own muesli, exactly how I want it. So that I did — and the results were just what I wanted. That’s the great thing about making your own muesli: you can put in it exactly what you want, no more and no less. This is my take — feel free to use it as a base for your own experimentation.

Homemade Muesli with no added sugar

Ingredients

  • 2 cups barley flakes
  • 2 cups oats (I used 1/2 porridge/quick oats & 1/2 whole oats)
  • 1 cup nuts (I used 1/2 walnuts & 1/2 almonds)
  • 1 cup seeds (I used a mix of pumpkin & sunflower seeds)
  • 1 cup dried fruit (cherries, cranberries, raisins)

Procedure

  • Put the barley flakes in a large (preferably non-stick) skillet and toast them, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until fragrant. Remove the barley flakes from the pan, put in the oats and toast them.
  • While the oats & barley are toasting, you can toast the nuts and seeds in a smaller skillet over medium heat.
  • When all the toasting is finished, toss all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl and mix with your hands or a wooden spoon. Store in an airtight container.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Eggplant Parmesan

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Foreseeing a free weekend at home and a busy week ahead, I wanted to make something for Sunday dinner that would carry F and me at least through Monday with leftovers. I didn’t feel like cooking meat so browsed through my bookmarked vegetarian recipes and came across this one from Simply Recipes. I’d never actually made eggplant parmesan but was eager to try my hand at it — plus, eggplants are abundant at the moment, so those two factors decided me.

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Eggplant parm does take some time — hence the Sunday evening project — but it’s worth it in the end. The procedure seems complicated, but bear with me, take it step by step, and you will be rewarded with cheesy deliciousness. F gave the it a rave review and it was just as good reheated the next day. I think traditionally the eggplant is fried, but this recipe “healthifys” a little bit by baking the eggplant rounds, saving quite a bit of oil.

Eggplant Parmesan (adapted from Simply Recipes; serves 4-6)

Ingredients

  • 3 large eggplants, sliced into 1/4-1/2 inch slices
  • to taste: salt
  • Simple tomato sauce:
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
    • 2 cans  (~800g ) whole peeled tomatoes
    • 1 large bunch fresh basil, chopped roughly
    • to taste: salt & pepper
  • Eggplant coating:
    • 1.5 cups breadcrumbs
    • 1.25 cups parmesan cheese, divided into 1/4 cup + 1 cup
    • 3/4 cup whole wheat (or plain) flour
    • 4 eggs, beaten
  • to taste: olive oil
  • 600-700g fresh mozzarella, sliced into 1/4 inch slices

Procedure

  • 1.5 hours before prep/assembly time, slice the eggplants and salt both sides of each slice, then lay them on top of paper towels to drain.
  • After 1.5 hours, preheat the oven to 215C (425F) and rub some olive oil over two baking sheets.
  • Bread & bake the eggplant: Pat the eggplant rounds dry. Grate the parmesan and place it in a shallow bowl; add the breadcrumbs and mix together. Put the flour in a second shallow bowl, and in a third bowl whisk the eggs together. One at a time, dredge the eggplant rounds in the flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Place the breaded rounds on the baking sheets, drizzle a little olive oil over them, then bake for 18-20 minutes, flipping the rounds at the halfway point.
  • While the eggplant is baking, make the tomato sauce (if you’re using your own sauce, feel free to ignore this step): combine olive oil, tomatoes, basil, salt, and pepper in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, then let simmer for 10-15 minutes until it begins to thicken and become fragrant. Set aside.
  • Slice the mozzarella.
  • Once the eggplant has finished baking, take it out and lower the oven temperature to 175C (350F).
  • Assemble eggplant parmesan: Spread 1/2 cup of tomato sauce in the bottom of a medium-sized glass baking dish. Place about 1/3 of the eggplant rounds over the sauce in a single layer. Place half the mozzarella on top of the eggplant and sprinkle 1/3 of the parmesan over the mozzarella. Place another 1/3 of the eggplant over the cheese, then spread 1 cup of tomato sauce over those. Add the rest of the mozzarella and 1/3 of the parmesan. Layer the rest of the eggplant rounds over the top, smother with the rest of the tomato sauce, and sprinkle the rest of the parmesan over everything.
  • Bake uncovered for 35 minutes, then let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Whole Grain Bread

This bread was the third new recipe I tried over the (now long-past) August Bank Holiday weekend. After making stuffed flatbreads on Saturday and peach crisp on Sunday, I dedicated Monday to my first attempt at making/baking bread from scratch!

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After perusing many a bread recipe and reading tips from various blogs, I settled on this recipe from smitten kitchen (without the cinnamon swirl). Overall, the bread making process was enjoyable — if you have a free few hours, it’s fun to set and re-set the timer to wait/watch the bread proof, knead it a bit, then start to smell it as it bakes. Satisfying, too, to turn out your very own loaf from the pan.

risen & ready for the oven

risen & ready for the oven

In terms of the bread itself, I was very pleased with the taste — nicely wheat-y with some added depth from the rye flour. The crust, however, was disappointingly soft. I think that’s due to my novice bread making skills (or lack thereof), as further reading enlightened me to the fact that for a crustier bread I must bake it free-form and with some added steam in the oven. Note to self for next time! F professed to enjoy this loaf regardless, even though he also prefers a crustier and less crumbly bread.

just add butter

just add butter

Whole-Grain Bread (adapted from smitten kitchen; makes 1 loaf)

Ingredients

  • .63 cups warm water
  • 150g lukewarm milk
  • 25g (2 tbsp) brown sugar
  • 7g (.75 tbsp) instant yeast
  • 28g (1/8 cup) sunflower oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 318g (2.5 cups) whole wheat flour
  • 60g rye flour
  • 10g cornmeal
  • 10g wheat germ
  • 7g (1 tsp) salt

Procedure:

  • Make bread dough: in a large mixing bowl, whisk together water, milk, sugar, & yeast until everything dissolves. Add the oil and half of the beaten egg, and whisk to combine. In another bowl, whisk together the flours, cornmeal, wheatgerm, & salt. Add to the wet mixture and stir with a wooden spoon (or with a paddle in an electric machine) for 1 minute.
  • Let dough rest for 5 minutes.
  • Now mix the dough for 2 minutes, either with a wooden spoon or with a dough hook on medium-low (machine). The dough will become firm and smoother yet stickier and more supple. If it is very wet, add flour a spoonful at a time. Conversely, if it’s quite stiff, add water a spoon at a time. Keep mixing for 4 more minutes.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured counter. Knead it a few times then gather it into a ball. Cover the dough with the empty bowl (upended) and let rest for 10 minutes. Repeat the knead + 10-minut rest process 2 more times.
  • Proof/prove dough: lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough in it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it proof/prove for 60-70 minutes at room temperature or until it has doubled in size. (You can also proof/prove it overnight in the fridge.) While this is happening, lightly grease a loaf pan.
  • Form loaves: turn the dough out onto a floured counter and form it loosely into the shape of your loaf pan. Place it in the loaf pan.
  • Proof/prove #2: cover the loaf pan with lightly greased plastic wrap and let the bread proof/prove for 45-60 minutes at room temperature, or until it has risen to about 1 inch over the pan’s rim. Partway through this process, preheat the oven to 175C (350F).
  • Bake bread (finally!): pop the loaf into the oven and back for about 40 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 88C (190F) and it sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool a bit before turning out of the pan and slicing.

Enjoy!