Passion fruit and liquorice macarons

It’s been a bit quiet over here, but not so quiet that there hasn’t been any cooking going on! This past weekend I finally got a chance to make macarons again, and although this may sound like a somewhat strange pairing, there is a little back-story to it. A few months ago, round April time, I jetted off with a friend to a not so sunny Iceland. We were hoping to spot the Northern lights but alas it was not to be. What we did manage to fit in was a long soak in the Blue Lagoon and a mini road trip. En route to Reykjavik we had a short stopover in Copenhagen. Anyone who has ventured Scandinavia way would have noticed an almost unholy love for all things liquorice. I love the stuff myself, and so have no problem in tucking in and indulging in it. I made a new (to me) discovery in Kastrup duty free in the form of Lakrids Liquorice. There was a small store tucked away in the corner and on the counter top a bowl full of liquorice balls (soft liquorice) covered in white chocolate and passion fruit to taste. When you first hear the combination it sounds pretty awful. Or it did to me. But never one to turn down a freebee, I tried it (also because you can’t have a opinion if you don’t at least try it right!), it was one of the most amazing things I have ever eaten. Who knew liquorice and passion fruit would be a match made in heaven. I left the store not only with a  tub of the balls but also some liquorice powder (very finely ground) that I fully intended on cooking with the moment I got home.  As with most things the balls got eaten pretty quickly and the liquorice powder was shoved into my cupboard to be used at a later date. And there it sat and stared at me for months and month’s until finally one day I had to use it.

There was another little discovery that led to these macarons. Passion fruit powder – who knew it even existed! I was wondering through Whole Foods the other day (as you do) spying out some bits and bobs and came across a shelf with several different fruit powders, passion fruit being one of them. Personally I find that when using fresh passion fruit, although delicious, the flavour is muted so I was excited to try the powder out. It was delicious – but I added way to much powder to the butter cream with the result being that the liquorice flavour was almost completely wiped out. Rather than being a distinct liquorice flavour there was a more of a hint. But they were still delish, enough so that you should go try them out!

Passion fruit and Liquorice Macarons

  • 200 g icing  sugar
  • 110 g ground almonds
  • 2 table spoons of powdered liquorice
  • 95 g aged egg whites
  • 30 g castor sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • 2-3 drops of lemon (plus extra for cleaning the bowl)

Sift the icing sugar, liquorice and ground almonds into a bowl, stir to combine and set to one side. In a separate, clean bowl (I put a few drops of lemon into the bowl and wipe it over the surface – apparently this removes any excess oil), whip the egg whites, salt and lemon drops  to a very soft peak and then gradually add the sugar (1 teaspoon at a time) until you get  a glossy meringue. Stop as soon as you have reached this stage.

Now add dry ingredients to the meringue and fold it in, you want to remove some of the air from the meringue so you don’t have to be too delicate.   The mixture should, within a few strokes start to fall back on its self and blend back into the mixture. Most recipes state that this process should take a maximum of 50 turns; I think its fewer than that.

Place the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a large plain and pipe small rounds onto grease proof paper lining a flat baking tray. Once done, bang the tray against the counter top, gently but firmly, to remove any bubbles from the piped shells.  Now let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to dry. When they have had time to dry, preheat your over to 130 degrees Celsius and baked them for 25-30 minutes. They should come away from the grease proof paper easily. Let them cool and pop them in the fridge until you are ready to fill with butter cream.

Passion fruit butter cream:

  • 140g soft butter
  • 280g icing sugar
  • 1-2 tbsp milk
  • 1 tablespoon of passion fruit powder (add more to your taste)

Blend all the ingredients together and adjust to your taste. You want a think butter cream so only add the milk if you really need to. Pipe the mixture onto one shell and top with a second of a similar size. Store in the fridge for 3-4 days or eat right now!






Indonesian Satay sauce

There is a certain amount of danger with having a title post as Indonesian Satay sauce. Not because it is in any way, shape or form controversial but rather because labelling something as from one specific country is dangerous. Sauces, like many things, evolve over time and one traditional recipe may vary in many ways from another but still be from one region. When I was in Bali, I OD’ed on satay sauce. It became such and obsession that when the waiter would come and take our order people would turn to me and say Satay! We had some amazing food in Bali and when there was no Satay or Gado Gado on the menu I would happily try something new. But for the most part I was scared that if I did not get the Satay I would be missing out on the best Satay yet and regret it! Weird I know, but hey! The variations in the quality of the Satay sauces I ate was astounding. From touristy restaurants where you could clearly taste the overwhelming flavour of peanut butter to tiny little village restaurants with the most unbelievable Satay sauce, their complexity and flavour due to being homemade versus shop bought. I have been craving Satay. Like badly.

I didn’t think it would be too complicated to make, and it’s not really. That is, if you don’t mind making a sauce that is just one component of a meal that has about 400 different ingredients not all of which are immediately available at the supermarket. I really wanted to make a sauce that was not based on peanut butter but rather roasted peanuts, in my mind, a more authentic flavour that would have me instantly transported back Bali. Working my way though various recipes there were some common ingredients and some that I had never heard of. To my surprise, coconut was common to all – surprising as I hate coconut. I pride myself on being able to pick a coconut flavour out even when used in the smallest amount. But no, this time it did escape me.

What I did manage to end up with was a sauce that was, as I remember it, pretty close to that I ate in copious amounts a year ago. I was missing the heat and the humidity and the beach (of course), but the satay – well that was spot on.

Satay Sauce

Most of this recipe is from here. Adapted to my taste and what I could find in store!

  • 10 shallots
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 5 red chilies
  • 1/2 cm fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 3 tablespoons of a neutral cooking oil
  • 30 g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp tamarind pulp, dissolve in 2 tbsp hot water
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 lemongrass stalk bashed a bit
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cardamom pod
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 150 cc coconut milk
  • 200g roast peanuts (unsalted), ground in a pestle and mortar
  • 200ml hot water
  • Salt to taste

Place the tamarind in boiling water to soften. Peel and quarter the shallots, garlic, and fresh chilies (left the seeds in) and place in a blender. Blend until you have a roughly chopped mixture. Now add the ginger and blend until you have a smooth paste. Now, pound your tamarind and caster sugar in a pestle and mortar until you have a smooth paste. Fry the chili mixture and tamarind in a pan for about 5 minutes Now add the kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass stalk, spices and coconut milk and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. During this time pound the peanuts in a pestle and mortar until they are broken up, then add them to the simmering mixture. Stir well and remove from the heat. My mixture was quite thick so I added hot water until I had a consistency that I was happy with. Just before serving, I reheated the sauce and then removed the kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass stalks, cloves and cardamom pod, place the mixture in a blender and plused it until I have a consistency I was happy with. Serve with grilled chicken skewers and noodles.



Sunshine and corn bread

It’s not often that I get to use the words sunshine in a post title so best I make the most of it now and get it in there. As far as I have experience, London summers can be a bit hit and miss. Each spring predictions of heat waves, sunshine and soaring temperatures from the Met office raise our hopes and get us dreaming of weekends in the park basking in full sunshine, Pimms in hand working on that summer glow. Each autumn, however, new rainfall records and summer lows are generally what summer has summed up to be.

It was sunny this past weekend. Not exceedingly hot, but sunny. I can’t actually stress that point enough…it was SUNNY! So, what do we all do as soon as the weather permits it? Well, you pull the braai (BBQ) out, dust it off – or in this case remove the spiders and cobwebs as it’s been that long since it was used, and fire it up! You also fire up the oven as nothing goes says BBQ like corn bread.

I generally like side dishes, and the more the merrier. I can’t remember when the first time I had corn bread, I do remember a bread that was flavoured with a packet of white onion soup (at least I think it was), but with the BBQ’s I remember there was always a basket of white rolls or a tin foil wrapped garlic bread (home made of course) that was placed on the BBQ alongside all the meat. I remember loving the rich, buttery, herby/garlic-y inner portion of the roll that you could tear away from the crust (which would of course be discarded). Back then being covered in, and smelling like, garlic was the least of our worries. I can still inhale a piece of hot garlic bread but a hunk of corn bread with chilies and cheese hits the spot too. It’s not as rich, so you can eat more, and has for the past two days made a lovely alternative breakfast to oats in the morning. Nothing like a little chili hit to wake you up. This particular corn bread was made in a tray rather than a loaf tin and it baked beautifully. It’s gluten free too – not by design but rather as a consequence of it being made with polenta only with no added flour. The 100 % polenta also makes for a lovely crumbly texture.

Cross fingers for another sunny day. The last piece of corn bread was devoured for breakfast this morning and I need a reason for more!

Gluten free chili and cheese corn bread

Original recipe here.

I swoped out the fresh chili for 2 teaspoons of chili powder to the dry mix and then sprinkled chili flakes on top (be generous). Once the wet and dry ingredients were mixed I added 125 g of sweetcorn. To make it gluten free make sure you use gluten free baking powder. I love all of HFW recipes, and this one comes highly recommended!



Macaron Diaries: Attempt # 7 – Vanilla ‘Ice Cream’ Macarons

It’s been a while since I have done a macaron post. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. For a while there I thought I lost my touch. Every time I made them they either cracked, or took ages to bake, or stuck the to baking sheet or failed to form feet. So finally I had to admit temporary defeat and give them a break so that my cooking confidence was not completely shattered.

I am happy to say that I now have my macaron mojo back!

Part of the reason I had to get back on the macaron bandwagon was that my loveliest cousin asked me to give her a little demonstration. I had a small ***Freak out*** and then realised that I had better get practicing and try and figure out what was going wrong so that she and I could spend a little quality time over some meringue. I had always been a fan of the Italian method for making macarons, where you whisk boiling sugar into the egg whites to form a stable meringue. Now, the immediate problem with this was that she has two little ones and boiling sugar and children should probably be kept as far away from each other as possible. So I needed to practice a new technique.

Anybody care to guess how may different ‘fail proof’ recipes for macarons there are out there? More that a handful I tell you! I eventually used this recipe and it worked a treat. In fact it worked so well that I decided to make them again. The mascarpone filling was amazing – like, literally, amazing. It tasted just like vanilla ice cream, hence the title! The one thing that was a bit disappointing was that it made the macarons very wet after 24 hours. So I would say that with this filling, eat them after 1-2 hours in the fridge and try not to leave them overnight. Not that very many of mine lasted that long!

Vanilla ‘Ice cream’ Macarons

Adapted slightly from the recipe in the link above.

  • 133 gr icing/powdered sugar
  • 73 gr ground almonds
  • 60 gr aged egg whites
  • 33 g golden caster sugar
  • 2 drops of lemon juice
  • a pinch of salt

In bowl, mix the ground almond and icing sugar until fully mixed. Ina second, large, bowl place the egg whites 2 drops of lemon and pinch of salt (according to Raymond Blanc this stabilises the egg whites). Whisk until they just start to form peaks and then slowly add the caster sugar a little at a time until it has all been added and your egg whites are the consistence of shaving cream. Then gently fold in the ground almonds and icing sugar and fold until you have something that falls from the spatula like magma (and actual description I see all the time!) and settles back into the mixture – it should take no more than 50 folds!. Place the mixture into a piping bad with a 1/2″ tip and pipe equal size rounds, the batter will spread so space them out, onto parchment paper lined baking sheet. Now hold the sheet pan and hit it down onto the counter quite hard. You want to pop all the little bubbles that may be inside. Then leave your piped macarons on the counter to dry for 30 min to 1 hour. Then bake at 150 ‘ C for 15 / 20 minutes. They should form feet and once cooled pull off from the parchment paper easily.

Vanilla Filling

  • 250 g mascarpone
  • 4 tablespoons of double cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 3 teaspoons geranium flower syrup
  • 2 teaspoons icing sugar

Beat the cream until it forms soft peaks, add the rest of the ingredients and whisk until combined. Pipe between macaron shells and place in the fridge for 1-2 hours. Eat!



Aztec cupcakes: Cinnamon, chili and chocolate cupcakes

I can’t promise that this is going to be the last cupcake post for a while. Not only are they are just too good to give up at the moment but I keep getting requests for more – which means I get to be experimental.

Well, experimental is probably a bit of an exaggeration. It’s not like these cupcakes are a flavour combination that makes you question whether or not you dare eat one. But, they are not your run of the mill vanilla or chocolate.

 With these I literally decided to spice things up a bit…we all know that chili and chocolate are something of a match made in Heaven, so that spice was a sure thing. But I wanted to do something more than just add chili. I remembered a hot chocolate I tasted once before. I think it was called Aztec hot chocolate (it was a while ago!). But it had chili, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg in it and was delicious. So, why not add those too!

Topped with a Swiss chocolate buttercream icing and these fast became irresistible. You can temper the chili to suit your tastes, but I enjoyed the warm heat left once you had finished the cupcake. I added chili to the icing as well – you know, just for a little extra kick!

Aztec cupcakes: Chocolate, chili and spice.

I used this cupcake recipe and to the batter added, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 a teaspoon of chili powder, 1/4 teaspoon of chili flakes and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.

Swiss chocolate buttercream:

  • 100g 70 % dark chocolate – chopped
  • 150 g unsalted butter, room temperature cut into cubes.
  • 2 egg whites
  • 50 g caster sugar

Melt the chocolate in the microwave and then set aside to cool. Place the egg whites and sugar in a glass or pyrex mixing bowl over a pot of simmering water just until the sugar has dissolved (takes no time at all). The mix should not feel grainy between your fingers. Take it off the heat and using a stand mixer or an electric mixer, whisk on medium until the egg whites form stiff peaks and are cool to touch. Now, gradually add soft butter a few cubes at a time while still beating. The icing goes through a stage of looking watery and as if it has separated – do not worry, this is normal. Carry on beating and eventually it will come together. When you have the consistency you are happy with, using a spatula fold in cooled chocolate. Now pipe!



Veg-ing out: Pear and Parsnip cupcakes with Streusel topping.

Vegetables have been on my mind all week. Not because of some on-going health kick, but rather because I am loving trying out different veggies in cupcakes. You could say that I am consumed by them (and in turn, consume then too)!  We all know the obvious ones to use – pumpkin and carrot, but last weeks sweet potato cupcakes were a personal revelation and so, with a little courage in my heart, I pushed my baking boundary a bit further and ended up with something I think is just plain delicious: parsnip and pear… hello there new match made in Heaven!

The one thing about all this experimentation with vegetables is that I have quite a few cupcakes to palm off to people. This has it benefits too as I get some useful feedback as to what works and what doesn’t, but it has turned me into one of those wierd people who both watches others while they eat and fires questions at them as they chew.

Do you like it?

Are they moist enough and can you taste the spices/pear/parsnip?

Are they better than the ones I made last week?

Weirdly enough, it makes people a bit nervous if you watching them chew and swallow!  But so far, the general opinion is that we are onto a bunch of winners.

I am already thinking about next weeks flavour combo, a few suggestions have been made…beetroot and chili anyone?

Pear and Parsnip cupcakes with streusel topping

Makes 12

  • 3 medium sized pears, peeled and quartered
  • half a cinnamon stick
  • 20 g dark brown sugar
  • 150 g roasted parsnip
  • 150 g plain yogurt
  • 100g vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg and ground ginger
  • 75 g golden caster sugar
  • 30 g ground almonds
  • 120 g gluten free self raising flour

For the streusel topping: dice 35 g of cold butter and rub into 50 g of flour, 25 g of golden caster sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.

Peel, quarter and core the pears and poach until soft in enough water to just cover the pears with the dark brown sugar and cinnamon stick. When soft, dice the pears and set to one side to cool. Set the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Peel and dice 6 medium sized parsnips and roast in a little oil until soft but not crispy. Set to one side a cool for 5 minutes and then weigh out 150 g. Now,Set the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. In a blender, place the diced parsnip and yogurt and blend until smooth. Then add the oil, eggs, vanilla, sugar and spices and blend until well combined. When smooth, add the almonds and flour and blend until just combined. Remove the blade from the blender and stir in the pear pieces (gently as you don’t want to break them up). Spoon into a lined cupcake tin and top with streusel topping. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.



Sweetness in potato – Sweet Potato Cupcakes

Every now and then I get inspired by recipes and, if you’re me, sit around imagining how they are going to turn out – picture book perfect of course. Nine times out of ten the end result does not resemble anything like you imagined! I had a little cupcake oopsie this past week while baking for a meeting at work (for which there was a less than subtle hint that a lemon flavoured cupcake would go down a treat). I thought I’d be clever and try and fill them with lemon curd, but not the simple way most people do it- by baking them and then filling them once they were baked. No, I wanted to fill them unbaked and then bake them with a curd filling. What I ended up with was a perfect cupcake with a lemon curd bottom as my filling sank and unsurprisingly stayed there. I don’t think my cupcakes were deep enough to hold the filling mid-cake. But not to admit failure, I turned them upside down and called them upside down lemon cakes instead. The lemon curd bottoms ended up being quite nice after all!

I’m not one to let a failure lie, not that anyone said anything (in fact there were no upside down lemon cakes left), I just felt the need to redeem myself. Dumb I know. So this time I went for something I was a little more familiar with but still had the little twist I need to keep me interested. A while back I made a batch of pumpkin spiced cupcakes with a cinnamon cream cheese icing (that I still dream about), it was around thanksgiving time as I managed to find pumpkin puree in the shops. Weirdly, pumpkin is not so common around these parts. Tasteless butternut you can get a dime a dozen – but no pumpkins (besides carving pumpkins that you cannot eat or uber expensive ones in organic, overpriced, deli’s). But I digress. Where were we, my twist. So since there is no pumpkin puree around  until November, why not use sweet potato? For a second I thought this was genius until I did a quick google search and discovered that there are a plethora of sweet potato cupcake recipes online. Seriously, is nothing new anymore! But I carried on regardless. There were a few other things that I wanted from these cupcakes, for one moistness. I sometimes find that gluten free baking can go dry and chewy by the next day, I assume its the flour. So, with these I wanted to use oil instead of butter to try and keep them moist (again, pretty common by a google search). I also wanted to use yogurt asI love the dense cake you get when using buttermilk or yogurt in baking. Lastly, I knew I would use part gluten free flour and part almond flour (or ground almonds), it helps keep them moist – in my hands that is.

The sweet potato was delicious and it meant that I could cut waaay down on the sugar as, roasted, they were so lovely and sweet. I initially sprinkled a few hazelnuts on top but in hindsight the cream cheese icing was so lovely I’d leave them off next time.

So, you want the recipe? Just as a little FYI to leave you on, I have not tried these with normal flour so have no idea if you can swap out the gluten free.

Sweet potato and yoghurt cupcakes with orange cream cheese icing

This make 6 cupcakes

  • 150 g of pureed sweet potato (2 large sweet potatoes)
  • 50 g oil
  • 50 g plain yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • 80 g gluten free flour
  • 20 g ground almonds
  • 50 g dark brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 a teaspoon each of cinnamon, ground ginger and nutmeg
  • chopped hazelnuts (optional)
  • A batch of your favourite cream cheese icing with the zest of 1 orange grated in

Peel and diced (small diced pieces) the sweet potato and roast until soft. Puree in a blender to get a smooth puree with no lumps. I had to shake my blender about a bit to get all the pieces to blend, I resisted adding any water to make it blend easier as I didn’t know what it would do to the final product. So, to make these you need to set the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line a cupcake tin, then get one bowl for the wet ingredients and one for the dry. Place you bowl on the scale and measure out our the sweet potato puree, then pour in 50 g of oil and 50 g of plain yogurt, mix these and then add one egg and beat until smooth. In a separate bowl weigh out all the dry ingredients. Add the dry to the wet and mix until smooth. Place the mixture in the lined cupcake tin and bake for 20 minute – checking after 15 minutes to see if they are done. When done, let them cool and ice however you want with cream cheese and orange icing.



PS. I probably looked at about 50 different recipes to come up with mine, so its not wholly original but cannot claim to be solely form one!

The best cheat ever!

I may have mentioned it before but I have a problem when it comes to peanut butter (crunchy, not smooth and never with added flavours). It’s gotten to the point where I am not allowed to have it in the house at anytime. I have no self control around blended peanuts, I ate satay three times a day in Bali for two weeks straight, or peanut flavoured chocolates (Lindt, Reeses Pieces, Kit Kat [I went so far as to vote on the Kit Kat Facebook page to keep this flavour in store]). This problem/obsession is not news to some of you and as such this ice cream should not be one either – if you can call it and ice cream as opposed to a frozen dessert. Given that I have just mentioned my ban on peanut butter in all its forms in my house you may wonder why I was cooking with it this weekend. The truth is I caved at the peanut butter aisle, had I been in a sci-fi movie you would have seen me hit an invisible force field as I tried to escape so naturally in order to save myself I had to take a jar.

It’s almost embarrassing how easy this ice cream is, and how (almost) guilt free it is too if you were to make it without peanut butter I guess, but missing out peanut butter is like missing out on the point of life. I cannot remember where I fist came across this recipe but I have now seen it on TV and read about it. I guess, like most things it got picked up and made its way around until I had seen it several times and finally made it.

It still surprises me how creamy it is, considering it’s made predominantly from bananas. I love that it’s an instant ice cream, no making an exorbitantly rich custard base or taking out a tub and stirring every few hours to get a creamy ice cream. Three ingredients a little blending power and hey presto – ice cream. The one thing I will say is that it freezes rock solid. Its an ice cream that you make and serve or remember to take out the freezer a good 30 minutes before serving. The addition of alcohol may help prevent it freezing as solidly as it does but I have not tested this. For now – its best to make and serve. Which suits me fine – its not like peanut butter ice cream is going to last long in my freezer anyway!

Peanut butter ice cream

Serves 2-4 (depending on how greedy you are).

  • 3 ripe bananas, sliced and frozen
  • 150 ml full fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter (I always go crunchy)

Slice the bananas and place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and in the freezer for a few hours. When frozen, place them in a blender and pout the Greek yogurt over the bananas. Let this stand for about 5 minutes just to let the bananas soften slightly. After 5 minutes blend until smooth. You can add flavours if you want or just eat it as is but I add peanut butter at this point, 1 tablespoon at a time and taste in between until you have the prefect peanut butter ice cream!



Gluten free cornbread muffins with a twist!

This post needs an immediate disclaimer… this is not my imaginative flavour combination, but I am hoping that since imitation is the most sincere form of flattery you’ll forgive me. I was watching a repeat of My Little Paris Kitchen the other day and, although I am convinced I watched the whole series, I didn’t remember this particular recipe. As I was watching Rachel Khoo whip up a batch my mouth was watering and I was noting ingredients down on my shopping list! The recipe was for goats cheese, prune and pistachio cornbread. Umm, hello – YUM!

I made cornbread a little while ago and it was a monumental flop. Of epic proportions. The dam thing would not cook, and when I finally when I decided that it had been cooking for waaay to long (a knife came out clean) it was dense and doughy. But I still ate it – you know, waste not want not! It was, therefore, important for my own cornbread cooking confidence that I get back into the kitchen and try again! That particular flop was a loaf, so I thought I would try and meet another potential flop head on by making cornbread muffins instead. Makes sense right!

These worked out so much better. I discovered that these little muffins are not as delicious as most baked goods are just out the oven. But that may be because the prunes are as hot as molten lava. Give them a minute to cool won’t ya! They do go a bit dry as the cool, but I suspect that’s the gluten free flour – pop them in the oven to warm up a bit and they are as good as new (a bit of butter doesn’t hurt either). If you don’t want gluten free, just substitute the GF flour for plain flour.

Goats cheese, Prune and Pistachio Cornbread Muffins

I used an American recipe as the base hense why some of the measurements are in cups.

  • 1 cup fine polenta
  • 1 cup gluten free flour blend
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 300ml buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 100 g shelled pistachios roughly chopped (I used a whole small packet)
  • 125 g goats cheese chopped (this is equivalent to 1 log in the supermarket)
  • A handful of prunes, pitted and roughly chopped

Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease a muffin tin. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl and all the wet together in a separate bowl. Add the chopped nuts, prunes and goats cheese to the dry ingredients and mix gently. Add the wet ingredients and stir until combines. Portion out into the muffin tin (I got 11 small  muffins) and bake for 25 minutes. Serve warm.



Hot, sour and one too many birds eye chilies.

The best thing about winter is the comfort food. I mean, honestly, no one is ever going to say its the weather now are they. As much as I love tucking into something hearty, after a while it can literally start weighing you down. Comfort food is rich, its usually calorific and for me generally not heavily spiced. Comfort food is a stew or mashed potatoes, its a hot pudding on a miserable night. Its pretty much everything I don’t want to eat right now. Sometimes, even in the depths of midwinter, I need something that sets my tongue alive and awakens my senses. A conversation early last week that began with tequila ended up on Tom Yum soup, and I have not stopped thinking about it since. Hot, sweet, sour and salty – it sounded like the food nirvana I had been searching for.

Tom Yum soup is a clear, spicy soup most typical of those found in Laos and Thailand. The ingredients are relatively simple and I found almost everything I needed in the supermarket (surprisingly fresh prawns were the one thing that stumped me).  I did have to buy pretty much everything I needed for this soup as these are not ingredients that are common in my cupboard. In its most simple form its stock, galangal (I used ginger as I was hesitant to buy a jar of galangal that may sit in my fridge until next winter), kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, lime juice, chilies and fish sauce.

As I could not find fresh prawns this became an improvised vegetarian version. A tiny little word of warning though about birds eye chilies. The last time I bought chilies from the supermarket (the type described as mild, because I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to heat) they were completely lacking in any heat whatsoever. Tomato sauce had more fire than those chilies did. So this time I went for the big guns, the birds eye chilies. The chilies that under normal circumstances I would shy away from. The recipe called for 2 chilies, I used three. When I tasted the soup it was delicious for the first 2-3 seconds. Then all I could feel was burning.

The next 10 minutes was spent fishing bits of chili out the soup and doubling the quantities of water and everything else in an effort to make it edible. All this time my mouth was on fire. And I mean ON FIRE. Once the soup was tempered to something that you are not likely to find Hades sipping on, I added bean sprouts, sliced mushrooms and bak choi. The hot, sour and salty flavours are addictive. Although it did still clear my sinuses, I was left with a very pleasant heat in my mouth. To go along side it, I made Vietnamese Spring rolls, super easy and a lot more filling than they looked. I could have drunk the dipping sauce it was so delicious.

All in all, this kicked winter comfort food in the behind.

Tom Yum Soup

  • Stock (I used 2 L of chicken)
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass bashed and roughly chopped
  • 2 birds eye chilies
  • 4 Kaffir lime leaves torn
  • Ginger, peeled and roughly chopped (I used a piece the length of my thumb)
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons of brown sugar (or palm sugar if you can find it)
  • The juice of 1 1/2 limes
  • 2 bak choi sliced in half
  • a punnet of sliced mushrooms
  • as many bean sprouts as you want

Bring the stock to the boil and add the ginger, lemongrass, chilies, lime leave, fish sauce, and sugar and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust flavours as necessary. Strain the soup and return the liquid to the heat (you want to remove all the bits and inedible pieces). Add the beansprouts, mushrooms and simmer for 10 minutes, then add the bak choi and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Spoon into bowls and enjoy!

Vietnamese Spring rolls

These were quite simple, and there are probably hundreds of ways to make them. This was mine. I made a simple stir-fry with my favourite ingredients including garlic and ginger. I didn’t season with tamari (soy sauce) as there is a dipping sauce and I did not want them to be too salty. When your stir fry is ready, set it to one side, boil the kettle and get your rice paper / spring roll wrappers out. Pour the boiling water into a shallow bowl and gently lower a single rice paper wrapper at a time into the water. It will soften almost immediately. When soft, lay it our on a flat surface and place a spoonful of stir fry ~ 10 cm from the top of the wrapper and leave a gap of about 5 cm on each side. Then fold the top of the wrapper over the filling and then each side (you are making a little parcel). Then gently, but tightly, roll it towards you so that you end up with something that looks like a spring roll. Place to once side and carry on with the rest until your stir fry or wrappers are finished. For the dipping sauce, mix 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, 1 tablespoon of toasted sesame oil, 2 tablespoons of tamari (or soy sauce) and 1 finely sliced spring onion in a small bowl. Then dip and eat away!