Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cranberry Banana Muffins

You're standing in the produce section of your grocery store, and you see this display of perfectly ripe bananas. They look so good. You know they'll be delicious on cereal, or mixed with yogurt, maybe even just on their own. Bananas are delicious. And they're cheap. So you buy a bunch. And they sit on your counter, and time goes by. You might eat one, or even two of them, knowing that you were right, and bananas are awesome, but you'll never finish that whole bunch.  A week later, you have some sad looking bananas, freckled with brown spots or even large splotches of 'rot'.  They're still good, they smell awesome, but you don't really want to eat them.  So what do you do? You make banana muffins!  The mushier the better! Just don't let them cross over that line from 'mushy' to 'rancid'.

Cranberry Banana Muffins
(almost my mum's recipe)
2-4 overripe bananas, slightly mashed
1/2 cup butter (room temperature)
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup milk
1 T white vinegar
1 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1/2 cup dried  cranberries (Craisins)
handful banana chips (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350F/175C and lightly grease the inside of two 12-cup muffin tins (or, alternately, use the same tin twice. It probably won't need to be re-greased).
  2. Mix milk and vinegar in a small dish, allow to sit for ~5 minutes while mixing other ingredients.
  3. Using a mixer, blend together butter and sugars until creamy.
  4. Mix in eggs, bananas and vanilla.
  5. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a measuring cup or bowl.
  6. Add dry ingredients and milk gradually, alternating.
  7. Add in dried cranberries and stir to combine.
  8. Pour batter into muffin cups until 2/3 full. These muffins don't really rise much, so don't expect a 'muffin top'.
  9. Sprinkle banana chips on top, if you're feeling creative.
  10. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  11. Allow to cool slightly before turning out onto a cooling rack.

These can be frozen in airtight containers (ziplock bags work well) and kept for a couple of weeks, or they can be consumed in one sitting in a display of mass gluttony.   Alternately, you can also use a lightly greased loaf tin and make a banana bread. This, of course, is best eaten with a gooey middle.

With the exception of the cranberries, these muffins are a taste of my childhood. My mum used to make these often with leftover bananas.  Occasionally she would add nuts to the recipe as well, although it was never a preference of mine.

Food safety tip: while it is much more delicious to eat this banana 'bread' with a gooey middle, it indicates undercooked egg in the batter which increases the risk of food-borne diseases including E. coli and Salmonella. So proceed at your own risk.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Garlic Naan

So I have a boatload of work to do for my thesis, which means that boyfriend is benefiting from my procrastination tactics. I made  a ho-hum vegetable curry yesterday, but as a side, I made some naan bread. From scratch! YUM!

Garlic Naan Bread
Adapted from: Best Recipes
2-3 cups white flour
1 t dry active yeast (~1/2 a 7g packet)
3/4 cup warm water
2 T olive oil (or ghee, if you have it)
2 1/2 T greek yogurt
2 cloves garlic
1 t white sugar
1 t salt
a pinch of baking powder

  1. Mix water and yeast in a bowl until slightly frothy, then set aside for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Sift flour, sugar, salt and baking powder into a large bowl.  I used 2 cups of flour and found my dough too moist, so making it again, I would use 2 1/2 cups of flour to start, and then add as needed.
  3. Finely chop 2 cloves garlic.
  4. Mix yeast, yogurt, oil and garlic into the flour mixture.
  5. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until a smooth dough is formed.
  6. Put dough back into bowl and cover with a towel, set aside in a warm dry place for 2-4 hours.  I tried a new trick that I learned on MasterChef instead of the towel.  Rub a small amount of oil onto saran wrap, cover bowl with saran wrap and flip upside down so that the dough rests on the plastic wrap, covered by the bowl.
  7. 30 minutes before you want to eat your bread, place two baking trays or pizza stones into the oven and preheat to 200C/400F. A really hot oven is necessary.
  8. Divide dough in 4 to 8 pieces and turn out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead dough until smooth and form into irregular rectangular-ish shapes.
  9. Place 2 pieces of dough on wax paper on each cookie sheet. Brush lightly with oil.
  10. Bake until golden ontop, 5-10 minutes.

So I'll be honest, this was my first try. It didn't turn out looking too much like traditional naan bread, but it was a heck of a lot tastier than the store bought stuff...

Mini Cherry Pie

First words I said when I took a bite of this? "F*** me, that's delicious!". I didn't even know that I liked cherry pie.

Poor boyfriend got dragged around the mall with me today. I was in the mood to window shop. Well, I was actually in the mood to shop but my wallet is pretty dry these days so instead I just bought boring stuff like soap and groceries...  until I got to the kitchenware store.  And I found tiny tart pans! Which I've been wanting for ages! And they were cheap! Can you tell I was excited about this? I still am. I bought a set of 4 non-stick mini-tart pans.   Boyfriend was of course, also enthused with this, as I had promised him if I ever got mini pie dishes I would make him pie more often, since my major complaint is that we never eat the whole pie, so I don't want to make it.

Mini tart pans in hand (or bag, as it were) - we hit the grocery store and I was inspired by a giant jar of Morello sweet pitted cherries.  And the absolute TINIEST tub of vanilla gelato in existence.  I bet that a fresh cherry pie would be absolutely delicious... but this is for those of you who like to make things out of season :)

Did you know they made ice cream tubs so tiny? Neither did I!

This pastry recipe can either be made well ahead and refrigerated (up to 8 hours), or you can follow the instructions below for a 'fast' pastry. If you're using your own pastry recipe, start at step 7.

Mini Cherry Pies
Makes 4 mini pies*
Pie Crust* (adapted from All Recipes)
1 1/4 cups plain flour
1/4 t salt
1/2 cup butter, chilled and cubed
1/4 cup ice water
3/4 T white sugar
Pie Filling
2 cups (~500g) drained cherries from a jar
1 T cornflour
1 T sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon (~2 T)
1 vanilla bean pod (or 1/2 t vanilla extract)
2 small pats of butter
1-2 T milk
1 T sugar
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, to serve.

  1. Mix flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Add the cubed butter and mix until combined, with a grainy texture.  Pastry can either be mixed with an electric beater or by slicing at the dough with two knives.  If you're really classy, you may even have a pastry blender tool, and you can use that too.
  2. Add water in small portions (~1 T at a time), and mix until a dough starts to form.
  3. Knead until combined in the bowl.
  4. If making the pastry ahead, wrap the dough in saran wrap and refrigerate for up to 8 hours.  Otherwise, turn out onto a lightly floured surface.
  5. Roll out the dough until 4-5mm thick, and cut circles just wider than the diameter of the top of the pie or tart tin. 
  6. Fit the dough into four pie tins, pushing down to fit to the edges and sides. Roll leftover dough into a ball and cover in saran wrap. Put the pie tins and leftover dough into the freezer for 10-20 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 190C/375F.
  8. While the pastry is cooling, drain 2 cups cherries. I had a huge jar, so I kept the juice and added it back to the rest of the cherries, figuring I can always use more cherry juice another day.
  9. Toss cherries into a bowl and add the corn flour, sugar and lemon juice.  The amount of sugar and lemon juice can be modified to suit your tastes and the type of cherries you are using.  If you have sour cherries, add more sugar. If you prefer a tart tart, use less sugar and more lemon.
  10. Slice your vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape the vanilla bean out, or add vanilla extract (see below). Mix everything with a spoon and set aside.
  11. Take the leftover dough out of the fridge and roll out once more. You can either cut circles and form solid tops for your pies, or (my preference) form a lattice crust.  There is a link below to some tips on lattice crusts.
  12. Spoon filling into pie tins, you may have extra left over filling, I did. 
  13. Drop two small pats of butter on top of each pie.
  14. For a lattice crust, cut strips of pastry ~1/2" wide and lay on top of pie (see below).
  15. In a small bowl, mix 1-2 T milk with 1-2 T sugar.
  16. Brush top of pastry with milk and sugar mixture to glaze.*
  17. Bake for 5 minutes at 190C/375F, then reduce temperature to 180C/350F for 25 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.
  18. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, whichever you prefer.

Hints, tips and tricks for making pie:
Fun tip - add 1-2 t kirsch or cherry liqueur to the filling for a lovely bit of extra flavour. And if you opt for whipped cream, try adding some kirsch or triple sec to the whipped cream. I'm also told vanilla bourbon whipped cream is brilliant on cherry pie.

* To make a full-sized pie, use this dough recipe. I ended up with a little leftover dough, probably enough to make another mini pie, but alas I only have 4 dishes.  Anyway, for a full sized pie dish, I would double the proportions for the filling, and increase the bake time. 10 minutes at the higher temperature and 35-40 minutes at the lower temperature.

*  Don't feel that you HAVE to use this pastry recipe. Use whatever makes you happy. In general, I would use the pre-made shortcrust pastry from the freezer section of the grocery store.  Today, however, when I went to pull some sheets of shortcrust from the freezer, I found they'd gotten freezer burn, and were broken into tiny pieces.  This led me to a race across the internet trying to figure out what kind of pastry is best made without needing to chill for a few hours.  This was my first time trying this recipe and I was SUPER happy with it. It was easy to make, and it turned out light, flaky and delicious.  This is maybe the 4th or 5th time I've ever made my own pastry though. So I bet there are better recipes out there, and I bet there are better methods, but if you're not sure what's going on in the pastry department, this recipe is a great place to start.

For some tips on scraping vanilla pods, check out this video. It's a bit finicky, but the flavour difference is well worth it:

There are a million and one ways to top a pie, from stars and hearts to a traditional double crust and finally the lattice. With mini pies, the lattice is pretty straightforward and intuitive, but for tips, check out this slideshow from Bon Appetit, or these step-by-step instructions from Simply Recipes.

And my final comment, is about the glaze. A lot of people recommend using an egg white instead of milk and sugar to brush the top of the pastry. That's all personal preference.  You'll get a shinier finish with egg, but it doesn't affect the taste, so don't sweat about it. I just don't ever know what to do with that leftover egg yolk.

Oh wait, one more. I like butter in my pastry, but shortening, especially vegetable shortening, also makes a fab pastry. And then you've got vegan pie. (ok, the ice cream also is non-vegan, but hey I bet you can find some at a specialty store).

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Buffalo Chicken Wraps

So I was talking to someone the other day, and they asked me why they're called 'Buffalo chicken wings', or why it's called 'Buffalo' seasoning. I totally made up my answer and said it was because that's how fresh buffalo tastes. Yes, because buffalo tastes like a chicken wing ^_^.  On a foodblog quest of epic procrastination today during lunch, I discovered that Buffalo flavouring comes from Buffalo Chicken Wings which were from Buffalo, New York, according to Wikipedia.

I have a secret weakness for Buffalo chicken tender wraps. It's one of my favourite foods in the world.  Almost every recipe I've looked at online calls for either Frank's Red Hot sauce, or 'buffalo sauce'.  And I have a bit of a peeve for recipes that call for specific sauces, because, you know, brands are not universal.  Turns out, Franks Red Hot is actually a cayenne based hot pepper sauce, so if you can't find that particular brand (and it is a good brand, widely available across North America), you can look for a substitute. That's what I did.

OR... a suitable cayenne pepper sauce substitute, I found Byron Bay Chilli Co. Cayenne Chilli Sauce with Lime. It's delicious!
Buffalo Chicken Wraps
modified from: August/September 2005 Eating Well: Buffalo Chicken Wraps
10 chicken tenders
3 T white vinegar
2 T cayenne pepper sauce (e.g. Franks Red Hot)
1/4 t cayenne powder
2-3 T light mayonnaise
2-3 T greek yogurt
1/4 - 1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled
1 green onion
1 tomato
1/2 red pepper
handful lettuce
salt and pepper
oil, for cooking

  1. In a small bowl, crumble blue cheese, stir in greek yogurt, mayonnaise, 1 T of the white vinegar and fresh cracked pepper to taste. Mix well and set aside for 30+ minutes on counter to combine flavours.
  2. In another bowl, combine the remaining 2 T white vinegar with hot sauce and cayenne pepper, feel free to add spiciness to suit your tastes.
  3. Wash, dry and coarsely chop lettuce, tomato, green onion and red pepper.
  4. Heat a swirl of oil to medium-high in a large frying pan, lightly dust tenders with salt and pepper, then fry until golden on the outside: 3-5 minutes per side. If you're unsure, cut open a larger piece and check that there is no pink in the middle. Food poisoning ruins everything.
  5. When chicken is cooked through, remove from heat and drain oil (pat dry with paper towels).
  6. Shred chicken with a knife or with two forks, and dump into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Pour over cayenne sauce mixture and mix well to coat all chicken.
  7. Layer wraps (we used sourdough wraps, yum!) with blue cheese sauce, chicken, green onions, tomato, pepper and lettuce.  Add more hot sauce if desired. Fold and enjoy :D

For tips on folding wraps, check out this simple illustrated guide:

And if you haven't tried Frank's Red Hot... you should. It's one of the top two hot sauces ever made (the other, of course, being Sriracha, and no I don't know which one is better).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lemon Sponge Cake

So, I was sitting in my office this Thursday, just minding my own business and trying to force myself to read this maths textbook (which is both incredibly useful and incredibly boring) when my supervisor strolls in.  I spy a box in his hands, "Ohh! A present for me? Awww, shucks!"
Turns out it actually was for me. It was a box of eggs. Fresh eggs. From his chickens.  AWESOME!

Seriously, look at the colour of these yolks!

So I spent the rest of the day thinking 'what can I do that is gonna make good use of these fresh eggs'. Sponge cake. Sponge cake is what I can do. Or at least I assumed I could do it, it didn't seem too hard.  It wasn't.  I started off with what I think was my granny's recipe for sponge cake, and then I played with it a bit. Which is probably kinda dangerous for the first time making a recipe, but it turned out well anyway.

Lemon Sponge Cake with Lemon Glaze
Lemon Sponge Cake
3 eggs, separated
1 cup white sugar
1 T hot water
2 T lemon juice (fresh squeezed is best, ~half a lemon)
1 cup white flour
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
Lemon Glaze
1 1/2 cups icing sugar (or caster sugar)
2 T lemon juice (1/2 a lemon)
1 t lemon rind
1 t vanilla extract
1 T butter, extra soft
1/4 cup orange juice
  1. Preheat oven to 350F/175C.
  2. Beat the egg whites until stiff.  Gradually add 1 T of sugar out of the 1 cup.
  3. Beat the egg yolks until buttery in colour, add remaining cup of sugar. Beat until combined (will probably form a lovely grainy texture).
  4. Combine egg yolks and egg whites, stir to combine - using a spatula, 'fold' the ingredients together so you don't squish the air out of the egg whites.
  5. Add hot water and lemon juice, stir.
  6. Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
  7. Pour batter mixture an ungreased cake tin or bundt pan, bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden in colour and a fork stuck in the middle comes out clean.
  8. Let cake cool completely before removing from tin (~3 hours or overnight).  Run a knife along the edge of the tin to loosen cake and remove. Once cake has cooled, prepare the glaze.  
  9. Whisk or beat together sugar, butter, lemon juice, lemon rind and vanilla with half the orange juice.
  10. Add remaining orange juice to adjust texture.
  11. Pour over cake.

I brought this cake into the office... and the first compliment I got was "I liked the nice, wet icing".  I am pretty sure the glaze is all about preference. I found it a bit too sweet and a bit too wet for me... but that's also because I'm fairly certain you're supposed to use a confectioners sugar / icing sugar... but I didn't have any so I used caster sugar. You might consider using the finer sugar for a lighter icing.

And for the record - drink your morning coffee before taking photos. Sorry for the poor lighting/out of focus-ness.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Flourless Chocolate Brownies

The other weekend, I was invited to a dinner party. The hostess said "oh, don't bring anything", but I can't just do that. It's way too weird. So I decided to bring desserts (I don't think they're big drinkers, so the standard bottle of wine wasn't my first choice).

First I made some Double White Chocolate and Pretzel Peanut Butter Cookies with Sea Salt, which is a recipe I absolutely adore and have made many many times. It's from the ever-awesome  Then I had a moment of sheer panic, what if someone at the party couldn't eat peanuts? What if someone has a gluten allergy? I don't wanna be THAT guy (girl, whatever), so I browsed through my pantry trying to find something, anything else I could make. A second batch of cookies seemed weird, and I didn't have enough chocolate chips left anyway, but I had a big bar of dark chocolate in my freezer which I could use to make chocolate chunks. OR..... BROWNIES.

Definitely brownies.

But I didn't have all the ingredients for my mother's brownie recipe, so I hit the internet and found this recipe, also from  then I cut it down because I only had 2 eggs left.

Flourless Chocolate Brownies
3 1/2 oz dark chocolate
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened, for baking)
icing sugar, to decorate

  1. Preheat oven to 375F/185C.
  2. Break chocolate into smallish chunks.
  3. Start a double boiler.  I use a small sauce pan with a pyrex bowl ontop. It's heatsafe and easy to clean. Make sure the water isn't touching the bottom of the bowl if you use this method.
  4. Put butter and chocolate in double boiler, stir until melted.
  5. Set aside and let cool for 5-10 minutes (put in a clean mixing bowl if you've used a real double boiler, otherwise your pyrex bowl will be fine).
  6. Using a wire whisk, add eggs, sugar and cocoa to chocolate and stir until combined.
  7. Pour into cake tin/slice pan/pie dish (I used a pyrex pie dish).
  8. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until done.
  9. Let sit to cool for 10-15 minutes.
  10. I recommend either using or creating a stencil and decorating with icing sugar once it's cooled. To create a stencil, take a clean piece of paper, fold it and cut out designs as if you're back in kindergarten making snowflakes with your safety scissors. Place the stencil on top of room-temperature brownies. Lightly sprinkle icing sugar on top of stencil (I used a sifting sieve to get even distribution) and then remove stencil and ooh and ahh at your beautiful design.
Note: this does not rise. So, use a pan or tin that will give you your desired thickness. This recipe, in a 9" pie tin, was about 1/2-3/4" thick.  And sinfully delicious.
People will tell you that you can add raisins or nuts to your brownies, but I never do. Mostly because raisins don't belong in brownies and I don't really like nuts in anything.

Sorry that there are no pictures of this, but I was in such a rush that the brownies only came out of the oven about 5 minutes before we left the house, and then they got eaten.

And FYI - I have another blog post (for more unhealthy desserts) in the queue, it should go up later today or tomorrow.  I haven't been posting because I've been boring in the kitchen lately. Or rather, I've been revisiting recipes. I made another two batches of focaccia, using a slightly different recipe for my office. It was a hit.  I also made a batch of mini-bagels last night, to go with breakfast for dinner.  But I'm afraid it's mostly been straight forward pasta or steamed veg with grilled meat. Nothing worth writing home about, or blogging about I suppose.