Daring Cooks – Nut Butters

I dropped the ball on this month’s challenge, a little – though I’ll manage to scootch my post in just on time ;)! I’ve wanted to try nut butters for a time – specifically cashew butter, used as a substitute for peanut butter, since Andy is allergic.  One thing he’d never tried, therefore, was chicken satay.  Given that this month’s challenge was to use a nut butter with a savoury recipe, that’s what I decided to do!

The July 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. Their sources include Better with Nut Butter by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online.

I actually got my baking challenge done this month before doing this one – despite the fact that I’d know straight away what I intended to cook.  Andy’s been super-busy, though, and when he’s not, things just conspired to put this dish off the menu.  However, I decided last night that I’d make it today, which… was very handy, since I realised this morning that today was my last chance to get this month’s challenge in on time!

It wasn’t hard to make the nut butter itself, and I followed a recipe to make a thai satay sauce (leaving it a tad thicker) as well as their chicken satay marinade.   Both were delicious and I know I’d be more tempted to use nut butters in something with it taking so little time to make, if I can stop myself feeling so guilty about eating half a packet of nuts as a ‘sauce’.

Recipe and details found here.

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Daring Bakers: Chocolate Pavlova with Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse

This month’s challenge was one I was a little daunted by – I’ve never really made meringues before and I pretty didn’t this time, either.  It was definitely a learning experience, and I’ll probably give it another go when I have a few people to feed.

The June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers’ to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard.

So, where did I go wrong?  At the most basic level – I misread the instructions and used the F temperature instead of C!  Whoops.  So, overcooked, very much not fluffy meringue.  What do you do with failed meringue?  Eton Mess!  Well, sortof  ;)  I had already made the mousse, so I combined that with the meringue and blended half a punnet of strawberries as a sauce, then threw the rest of the strawberries on top.  It was cavity-inducing, but pretty tasty.

The actual recipe can be found here.

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Daring Cooks – Pâté & Bread

This month’s Daring Cook’s challenge hit right before I went on holiday and, although I’d originally intended to do more than one type of pâté, I ended up not having the time.  There was also a problem  with getting some of the ingredients (notably trout for the fish version and pork belly for the meat ones, oddly).

Our hostesses this month, Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eatz, and Valerie of a The Chocolate Bunny, chose delicious pate with freshly baked bread as their June Daring Cook’s challenge! They’ve provided us with 4 different pate recipes to choose from and are allowing us to go wild with our homemade bread choice.

Given the problems with ingredients, I decided to go with the vegetarian recipe, half it, and make a few small single terrines rather than one large log – allowing me to freeze some for later.   The recipe and instructions for it and the other pâtés can be found here.  It was really pretty tasty, though I did add some black pepper to the red pepper layer and some extra garlic in the bean layer.  I think, if I was making it again, I’d try it with chickpeas instead of cannellini beans – though they might have trouble staying stiff enough to hold together.  the overall taste was rather like red-pepper hummus – something I love, so no complaints here.

The baguettes, really, gave me more of a problem than the terrine itself.  It took me three tries to get something which approximated a baguette, but I was glad for the experience – it’s really shown me how much the time given to bread for rising affects the outcome of the final bread.  The first baguettes I didn’t even bother to take a picture of – they were odd, tough but apparently tasted ‘ok’ since Andy scoffed them for lunch the next day.  The second set, I used a faster recipe, with less rising time and they simply tasted like dense bread moulded into a baguette shape – I also overcooked them a little, which didn’t help.  Not tasty at all.  The third lot I used the long-rise recipe again, formed them gently and used a longitudinal slit rather than slashes and didn’t let them have a very long ‘rest’ before putting them in the oven.

I experimented with toppings – plain, with cornmeal, and egg.   They all had a very different taste to them, though I think both mine and Andy’s favourite was the cornmeal topped one.

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Daring Bakers – Piece Montée

When Mishi came over for dinner a few weeks back she commented on the fact that I’ve really taken to baking – something I’ve always professed a mild aversion to due to so many failures at it when I was younger.  I made all sorts of weird, wacky and wonderful but utterly inedible ‘cakes’ as a kid and I also had a bad habit of not using measures or doing substitutes which didn’t work.  Now that I’m a bit older, and have a bit more patience, I find it easier to stick to recipes and I have a teeny bit more experience with ingredients – so my substitutions usually work out a lot better if I do make them (though not always).

Thus when I signed up for Daring Cooks, after a few days of uhming and ahhing, I also signed up for Daring Bakers which, as you can imagine, is along similar lines.  The last few months they’d been making things like Tiramasu, Gingerbread Houses and Orange Tian.  All were complex and a good way more adventurous than anything I’d ever made but I figured they weren’t too scary for a beginner.

So I waited, sort-of patiently, for this months challenge recipe to roll around.  Then I gawped.  Then I thought  ‘aw crap’.   Then I tried it anyway.  If you haven’t guessed from the title, the recipe for this month was Piece Montée or Croquembouche.  If you’ve no idea what that is, go have a look at google image search for a start.   It’s choux pastry puffs, filled with flavoured crème pâtissière (egg-custard-like creamy filling), stacked high and held together with either chocolate or caramel and decorated with shiny, fancy nice looking stuff.  All in all, it looks amazing as a dish.

But I had to cook it?  Eep.

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

I will say, now, that in the end this actually felt easier than the cooking challenge for this month did to me!  The recipe and directions were very well written and made it easy enough for a beginner like me to actually make this dish.  Now, I’ve never even made my own pastry before, so that’s quite something!

The challenges all have a degree of freedom and a degree of ‘control’  – that is, something which everyone has to attempt to do the same.  In this case, the recipe for the pastry was to be used exactly, but we were free to make our own fillings and choose what to stick it together and decorate it with.  I had a quick shufti through my fridge and decided I’d try to do something with the blueberries I had.  What goes well with blueberries?  Citrus! (which, oddly enough, they love as an amendment to soil they grow in).  So, blueberries and lemon zest – what about the crème? At first I figured I’d just go with the plain vanilla, then toyed with the idea of the coffee recipe which was posted, but I thought it’d compete with the fruit too much.  After a while, an idea came to me – why not tea?  And, since I had it, Lady Grey – which is a nice, soft tasting tea with a touch of citrus. Sorted!

I actually made the puffs the evening before I was going to make the whole thing, knowing it’d be a footer and a long slog to get everything done at once.  It also meant that if I messed it up, I could try again, hehe.  It was the first time in many, many years that I’ve used a proper piping bag (as opposed to a wrapped up piece of greaseproof) and it was so much fun.  I had gotten it for this challenge and I’m now looking for more excuses to use it ;)

Choux pastry is very odd to make – and requires a wee bit of precision, but not, overall, that difficult if you follow the instructions.   I halved the recipe given, as there were only going to be two of us to eat it, and it still ended up being so much that Andy took some to work and I had a few more puffs for lunch the day after!  The sugar, being modelled above by Andy’s hand, was actually the hardest part for me.   I burned the first lot and had to re-do it and I didn’t manage the nice spun-sugar I wanted to try but it did taste really good with the fruit, so I’m glad I went with that rather than chocolate.

Although mine was not nearly as spectacular as some of the other bakers, I am proud of my creation.  I baked, I got to use my creative side in both flavour choice and how it looked and, as a bonus, it actually tasted really good!

(I’ll post a link to the daring recipe and directions when I get back from holiday – this is set up to post automatically, but I can’t link to the recipe post as it wasn’t up before I left, being as the challenge had still not been made public.)

Here’s the link to the recipe and instructions!

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Leek & Goat’s Cheese Parcels with Asparagus

This was a super-simple recipe from BBC GoodFood.  I usually assume that anything with pastry is going to take time and be fiddly to do – but this bucked that trend completely. Pre-made puff pastry, rolled out, cut into squares, stuff the filling into it after softening it, bung in the oven, eat 25 minutes later.  It was so simple, in fact, that I had time to rustle up a béchamel/parsley sauce to go with the fresh asparagus whilst I waited without feeling at all rushed.

Mild, melty, gooey goat’s cheese, soft, sweet leeks and light, crunchy pastry.  YUM.  Definitely a recipe I’d recommend trying.

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Oops…

My mild terror about baking reared its ugly head last week when I attempted to make carrot cake.  When I realised I had no carrots, I figured I’d use sweet potato and it all went downhill from there.  Although I seem to be doing fine when following a recipe exactly, I still cannot do large substitutions right, and that annoys me, as I like to experiment a bit ;)

Anyways, suffice to say that when I turned the ‘carrot’ cake out of its tin only half of it came out…  The other half went back in for further baking and, in the end, I was left with a mass of crumby cake bits.  Tasty-ish crumbly cake bits, but nothing much to look at.  What to do with a big pile of crumbled cake mix?  Cake Pops, of course!  Bakerella’s foody-internet-wide famous cake pops blend cake, cream cheese icing and various coatings to make really cute cakes-onna-stick.  I didn’t have any sticks though, so they’d just have to be cake balls.  Still, I was happier at the idea of getting something nice looking out of the mess I’d made.

So this:

Became these:

And then these:

Sweet potato actually makes a nice substitute from carrot but for some reason, there just seemed to be wayyyy too much oil in the recipe with them in it.  I also added some fresh ginger and used more powdered spices than I would have for carrot cake as sweet potato takes flavouring really well.  The cake balls were pretty nice – but the ones I stuck in the freezer were really divine – the oil made stopped them from entirely freezing and have a mouth-feel similar to ice cream cookie dough!

On a completely different, but related note – my cream cheese icing came out well!  Last time I made it, I had some problems (notably being silly by using low-fat cream cheese which turned to water…)  It’s nice to know I can actually make it since I love cream cheese icing.

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Stacked Green Chilli & Grilled Chicken Enchiladas

A while back, when I was going through some cooking blogs, I came across the Daring Kitchen.  The premise of the group is for one (or two) hosts per month to pick a recipe – something a little challenging – and for the people within the group to do that recipe and all post about it on their blogs.  It sounded like a great idea to me as I’ve been trying to up my game in the kitchen and, honestly, it’s a little more fun to cook things knowing you can, even vicariously, share it with others.   What I didn’t expect was the level to which it also allowed me access to a bunch of superb cooks whose ideas on methods of cooking and variations on the theme stimulated my own imagination!

As per the rules:

Our hosts this month, Barbara of Barbara Bakes and Bunnee of Anna+Food have chosen a delicious Stacked Green Chile & Grilled Chicken Enchilada recipe in celebration of Cinco de Mayo! The recipe, featuring a homemade enchilada sauce was found on www.finecooking.com and written by Robb Walsh.

The recipe and directions can also be found here.

I’ve sort-of made enchiladas before.  You know… some tortilla wraps, throw some ‘seasoning’ in some meat, wrap them all up and slather in cheese before sticking them in the oven?  Tasty, fine, but not very exciting.  Sort of like a dry lasagne.  The recipe for these enchiladas was something completely different.  The same elements were all still there – meat, sauce, wrap, & cheese but the taste was explosive.

The sauce in itself is pretty simple – it just takes time and a bit of footering to prepare.  Oh, and I’ll totally own up to forgetting to put on gloves before starting to strip the chillies – I’ve done roasted / skinned bell peppers before and went into auto-pilot on taking the skins off / seeds out until I felt tingling in my fingers.  Whoops!  A quick wash in a strong baking soda solution fixed that, thankfully, and I continued with gloves on.

I had to substitute ‘green chillies’ and some green bell peppers in where there should have been Anaheim chillis and ended up making flour tortillas when my corn ones didn’t work.  I also used ‘Mexicano’ cheddar – the kind Tesco makes where they just pile in a bunch of peppers.  Everything else was done as per the instructions.

My version doesn’t look like much, but it tasted pretty good (with a glass of milk on hand) and I’d definitely try it again with milder chillies.  I also need to try my hand at tortillas again – I’ve tried roti canai, naan, chapatis and tortilla pancakes and only the chapati’s came out like they should – I love most flat breads, though, so I need to work out where I’m going wrong with them :)

If anyone is looking for Mexican ingredients in the central / eastern areas of Scotland, you wouldn’t go far wrong checking out Lupe Pintos.   It’s a teeny little shop, but stocks quite a few ingredients that are hard to get elsewhere.  I got my (canned) tomatillos there.

Having found out about tomatillos through this challenge, I’ve also ended up with two wee pots on my windowsill this week with, hopefully, my own home-grown crop of tomatillos.  I suspect the weather here might be a bit chilly for them to fruit, even in the ‘greenhouse’, but I can hope, right?

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Banana Bread Take 3

Attempt number three at banana bread met with mixed success – this time I actually went for a full-on eggs and butter version, plain white flour with no added extras.  I was almost disappointed at how little difference it made!  It certainly had a little finer crumb, but that just made it feel a bit stodgy and it didn’t taste much sweeter, butterier or richer despite the traditional ingredients.  It’s also still turning out a lot darker than my Gran’s would – I’m beginning to wonder if she made a sponge version, omitting the eggs, as whilst dense and buttery, it was also much lighter in both mouth-feel and colour.  I really need to e-mail Mum and ask…  I may just be remembering things over-fondly or confusing it with another favourite.

The odd light brown marks on top are actually sugar I dropped onto the cake before baking in a criss-cross pattern.  It looked really nice from above, but you’ll have to trust me on that ;)

Still, my quest for a great banana bread will have to continue after I’ve gotten over being sick of the taste of banana.  I’m surprised I haven’t turned yellow, yet.

I have to admit that I didn’t really expect my potted pea plant, which I grew on the living room window, to flower and set fruit but apparently it’s a tenacious little thing.  I had my first peas of the season this week – something I wasn’t expecting for another few months – and they were delicious.  I had almost forgotten the taste of fresh-from-the-pod peas =)

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Banana Bread & Spicing Up Dinner

Another recipe from Joy the Baker, this vegan banana and coconut cake was my second attempt at banana bread.  The first one didn’t turn out so well – it ended up burning despite not being in even nearly as long as the recipe suggested and was a little mealy under the charred bits.  This time I watched it like a hawk and was rewarded with well cooked, but thankfully not over cooked, banana bread.  It was still a little mealy at first (probably because I had to use the  strong whole wheat flour I had rather than bleached, normal whole wheat) but the day after it tasted superb – it also tasted fine after being flung in the freezer for a couple of days.

Although I like doing the vegan versions of baking – reducing our egg and butter intake can only be good – sometimes you need to go out and make it the old-fashioned way for the full flavour.   Maybe next week – I still have more bananas to use up…

Last week, we decided we’d have one of our favourites – spanish potatoes and spanish baked prawns from the ever-reliable BBC GoodFood site.  However, there was some chorizo and physalis in the fridge which had to be used up.  I figured I’d try to make something to fit the other flavours and ended up making a spicy, sweet dish which actually tasted pretty good – one of my few ‘throw-together’ successes.  I fried the chorizo with half a green chilli pepper, added some honey, then threw in the physalis, halved.  Once the physalis was cooked, I added in some spinach, let it wilt and out of that odd match came a succulent little addition to the table.

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Carrot Cakes & Cupcakes

I used this recipe from Joy of Baking, and the cupcake idea and cooking times from Joy the Baker – so much joy going into these!

I always end up overfilling the pans and cases – hence I get these volcanic type cupcakes and cakes, I think.  The cake also took a lot longer to cook than it should have, hence the slightly burnt top – but that came off to ice it, so no harm done!

The icing… did not turn out so well.  I tried to make it with low-fat cream cheese and it came out (I suppose unsurprisingly) a lot more watery than it should have.  It didn’t curdle, though, which I was quite happy about, and it tasted just fine – so I just poured some on!

Blog

The other half helped me figure out what was breaking so badly on i.e. so the site should now be readable across the latest versions of internet explorer,  firefox, safari & chrome – I’ve not got Opera installed on this machine to check it .  It’s a ludicrously bright design, but I was tired of dull, ‘safe’ colours and wanted something that represented me a little better =)

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