As I have implied before, cheesecake has a special place near my heart and is something that I like to make for those who are close to me. In this week’s post, I make a classic cheesecake for my best friend on her birthday.
While the cheesecake I am more adept at making is a sweeter and an altogether more gluttonous version (see my post on “Mother’s Day Cheesecake”), as my friend has a much cleaner palate I chose to make this more classic and traditional cheesecake. The recipe in question is another of Nigella’s that I’d had my eye on for a while, which resides in her book Kitchen.
As I was to find out, the filling for this cake was other-worldly light yet creamy, while the base consisted of flour and butter, creating a crumbly biscuit foundation for the cream cheese filling. The overall simplicity and homeliness of the cake’s cracked appearance belied its baked deliciousness. And the most convenient part was using the throwaway BBQ foil trays to bake the cake in, which allowed an easy journey on the train from my home to my friend’s.
I acknowledge that the recipe for this cheesecake does require curd cheese rather than cream cheese, however as I couldn’t find any curd cheese I substituted it for the 725g cream cheese and found that this turned out perfectly fine. Certainly I would love to be able to use curd cheese in the recipe if I were to find in the future, as I admit to taking a secret pleasure in finding ingredients that are difficult to come by, such as cocoa pasta (if anyone does find this somewhere in NSW, feel free to comment and let me in on the secret!). Continue reading “Chic & Cheesy”→
If I had to choose one meat to eat for the rest of my life, it would be chicken. Aside from being versatile (as I’m able to use it in so many ways), when cooked properly it is the ultimate tender, succulent food of love; among those I care about, for me to share a chicken is to share my love. An example of such a sharing recipe is chicken fajitas.
I came by my most-loved recipe for chicken fajitas through Nigella Lawson’s cookbook, Kitchen. As documented throughout this blog, this was my first real cookbook to own and it’s well-worn and highly appreciated pages have continued to give me inspiration and justify my love of cooking (not to mention my admiration of Nigella!). Nigella’s chicken fajitas are made to be shared and indeed, one of the many times I have made them in the past was a time when a collection of people I love came to dinner.
Recently I made them again with the intention of sharing my chicken love with my guy. When I first asked him if he’d like to have them of a Friday night, his reply was, “What are chicken fajitas?” I explained to him that they were basically like soft tacos. Delicious ones.
Of course, the mark of someone’s seal of approval when eating is requesting second helpings – my guest was not shy about asking for more!
As you will find from the recipe, the chicken is marinated briefly in lime juice, garlic oil, dried oregano and cumin (along with a bit of sugar and salt), before being fried until cooked on the inside alongside the juicy and soft onion and capsicum.
As for what you can have with it, it is entirely the assemblers choice: grated cheddar, coriander, lettuce, sour cream, spicy tabasco sauce, corn, avocado… or anything else you deem Mexican enough for your own fajitas. For me, I am happy to dispense with the corn and avocado but it is totally up to you.
The rest is chicken history. Good for feeding a family, not bad for leftovers, great for soaking up excess alcohol, art for the true foodie – that is, an appreciative and easily pleased one – what’s not to love?
Once upon a time, in a time where the rules “No hat, no play” and “Eat your fruit and vegetables” gleaned importance, a small child sat on the silver seats at school day after day with a banana as her snack from home. While this was undoubtedly a healthy item to give a child, this child soon grew sick of bananas and began swapping it for something less healthy come recess…
Of course once my well-meaning mother found out I wasn’t eating my lovely bananas, she ceased giving them to me. So my affair with bananas seemed a short-lived experience. However, I was yet to discover the delicious moistness which bananas could potentially provide in other culinary pursuits.
This is evidenced by the creation of these banana choctella muffins. I could immediately see (or in this case, taste) that the addition of mashed bananas to muffins and cakes – not to mention the scrumptious nature of fresh banana bread – was something to be celebrated and adored.
Indeed, the smell of these muffins baking in the oven didn’t repulse me. Far from it. I was salivating. The whole place smelt of fresh baking.
I need hardly say that the bananas were the perfect interior to the muffins, as it created a bouncy and light texture which is what muffins are all about. It also didn’t taste overwhelmingly of bananas; it was a more subtle introduction into my once loathed fruit.
However, I do admit that while mashing the banana itself I felt a little like gagging. Ah, childhood memories!
Of course, the best part was yet to come as I dolloped Nutella onto each muffin in its pink casing. Feeling totally competent, I swirled the Nutella slightly into the batter so as to spread the chocolate hazelnut into the interior of the muffins. Coming out of the oven, I couldn’t resist splodging an extra spoonful of Nutella onto my warm muffin.
The simple charm of the banana choctella muffins belies its true beauty… part of which is that they’re compact enough to bring to school. But since my school days have been made redundant, taking one to work should suffice.
Comforting. Unchallenging. Easy. Cheese. Thyme. Caramelised onion. This bowlfood broth is delicious, warming and goes back to basics in the kitchen.
It’s the season of sickness. Having a weak immune system and a vast preference for sunlight as opposed to icy winds, homemade soup is something that helps me out in (freezing) times of need.
The perfect bowlfood, French onion soup promises the best of comfort. The immune-boosting benefits of onion and garlic bring everything that is needed for those cold winter nights when I’d much rather be under a thick blanket than padding around on the cold kitchen tiles.
To caramelise the onions, you must make sure that you stand by your pan and stir every now and then and keep it over a low heat as burnt onion is the last thing to be desired in your soup. The addition of a little salt is important as it slows down the cooking of the onion and draws out the water within to prevent them from becoming brown.
Meanwhile, the cheesy toast compliments the soup as it is wonderful for dunking and – sprinkled with fresh thyme – smells and tastes heavenly in it’s companionship.
For the cheesy toasts, or croutons as referred to in the recipe, I used a mixture of grated parmesan and cheddar as it was what I had in the fridge at the time. However, there is something to be said for using the stipulated Gruyere, as it is wonderful for melting and goes well with the soup.
It is also worth noting that while you could just use dried thyme in your French onion soup, thyme is such a gorgeous herb (and definitely my favourite herb, in both aroma and taste) that I feel the dried version doesn’t do it justice here; so, if you please, use the fresh stuff.
There’s something to be said for caramel slice; not just eating it, but making it too. Standing by the stove and giving in to the scents of my work as the shortbread is baking in the oven cheers me up on a miserable winter’s day. And while making caramel may seem like a difficult task, it really isn’t…
Believe me, I am the last person in the world who would take pleasure in following a recipe that is complex and mentally sweating (and swearing) over my labours. Therefore, when I say that making caramel is easy it must be true. And the real pleasure here is tasting your slice as you go – not excepting the sweetened condensed milk in the caramel. Yum!
Making caramel is not as complicated as it may appear, however it is important to watch it and keep the temperature consistent as it can burn. I give all the credit for this recipe to Jackie Brooks, the author of the book which I was lucky enough to find on one dreary day…
TIP: To make life easier, bake it in a throwaway BBQ foil tray. This saves on washing up and you can manipulate the bottom and sides to remove the caramel slice with ease!
100 g butter
3 tbsp sugar
60 g cornflour, sifted
3/4 cup plain flour, sifted
125 g butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp honey
400 g sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
200 g dark chocolate, melted
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. To make base, place butter and sugar in a bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Mix in cornflour and flour, turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly, then press into a buttered and lined 20 x 30cm (8 x 12in) shallow cake tin and bake for 25 minutes or until firm.
To make filling, place butter, brown sugar and honey in a saucepan and cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar melts and ingredients are combined. Bring to the boil and simmer for 7 minutes. Beat in condensed milk and vanilla extract, pour filling over base and bake for 20 minutes longer. Set aside to cool completely. Spread melted chocolate over filling, set aside until firm, then cut into squares. Continue reading “The Scent of Caramel”→
During winter, it’s desirable to stay warm and cosy. The same goes for the food we choose to eat when it’s cold – something to sooth and warm us from the inside out. Chicken is the kind of healthy, restorative food that gives me succour in winter and reassures me when life gets a little hectic…
One of my favourite meals to warm me from the inside on a cold winter’s night is Nigella Lawson’s “Poached chicken with lardons and lentils” (from her cookbook, Kitchen). The recipe involves tender chicken, vibrant vegetables, lentils and pancetta or bacon. Once the vegetables, lentils and bacon is cooked, the chicken is placed on top and water is poured in to poach the chicken. By the time the chicken is cooked through, the water has become a stock and has partially absorbed into the vegetables and lentils.
While the original recipe specifies using chicken marylands, I happily use a couple of chicken thighs with the skin on and bone in. Nigella also stipulates that you may use smoked lardons, pancetta or bacon – here, I have chosen to use pancetta.
While I’ll admit, the first time I made this I was experiencing hot rather than cold weather (living in the Top End of Australia at the time), I was in dire need of something to take the hell out of my day. Absorbing myself in my tiny kitchen, chopping away at the vegetables and serenely stirring them together with the bacon in my pan sent me on the path to self-possession.
“You cannot truly say you live well unless you eat well.” – Nigella Lawson
By the time the English mustard and water were added and all was bubbling away with the chicken placed on top, lid clamped on, the smell of my soon-to-be meal alone had restored me to my happy self. Sitting down to eat it was bliss!
This time around – having long returned to a cooler part of the country – this poached chicken has been perfect food to wind down with, wrapped up in a blanket while watching “MasterChef”. Continue reading “Chicken to Sooth the Soul”→
I was never very great at mathematics, however there is one very important equation which I have yet to find fault with. That is, salty + sweetness = a match made in heaven!
The best example I can provide of this significant part of my mathematical (and OK, culinary) education is the perfect balance of peanuts and chocolate when put together.
There have been a fair few recipes I have made which unite these ingredients together (see my post on Mother’s Day Cheesecake) – these peanut butter chocolate chip cookies are a new venture.
As on any given rainy weekend with nothing much to do, baking is one of my favourite pastimes. However I have come to realise that the benefits of these cookies from Nigella Lawson’s Simply Nigella do not just lie in the taste…
Not only are they super easy and quick to make (I knocked them up in under half an hour, not including the cooling time!), they are also both gluten- and dairy-free. Without using any flour at all, only a handful of ingredients are specified in the recipe.
“I can’t seem to stop making these, and as I make them, so they get eaten. Luckily, they are extraordinarily easy to throw together.” – Nigella Lawson, Simply Nigella.
Ultimately, I baked these with the intention of getting my fix of peanut butter and chocolate, as my favourite Whittaker’s Peanut Butter Chocolate bar seems to have been discontinued. And while these cookies provided my fix, I personally feel that the ratio of peanut butter to chocolate is not balanced enough for my taste.
But that is part of the beauty of home cooking: being able to adjust and accommodate to your own tastes.
There are many joys of working in childcare – each day brings something wonderful and warms my heart. However it can also be stressful and knowing this, sometimes I bring something special for my colleagues to brighten their day. This week, it was red velvet cupcakes.
Indeed, making something delicious for people I care about and then sharing it with them is enough to brighten my own day in itself. If I can bring even momentary happiness to someone who’s having a crappy day, it makes me happy to know I could do that.
One of the great things about working in childcare is working with lovely people who appreciate the small things in life, as most do. Hence when I was flicking through my cookbooks looking for my next baking venture and saw these cupcakes, I thought “Why not?”
Although I’m always using Nigella’s books as reference, as it is Nigella week on MasterChef – cue extreme childlike excitement here! – I wanted to honour her as one of the reining influences in my culinary education in this post. Nigella Lawson has inspired me for years, not least because her cookbook Kitchen was the very first cookbook I ever owned. Her voice spoke to me from the pages of her books and taught me how to cook and her TV shows provided comfort for me at times when I just wanted to block out the world.
When I decided to try making these red velvet cupcakes, I was taken aback at the specified use of a teaspoon of cider vinegar in both the sponge and the frosting. I was uncertain about this and the fact that there was buttermilk in the recipe made me wonder what on earth I was getting into.
And then, I was charmed. Do not be afraid of putting these components in your cupcakes, as they are both essential to red velvet. As is the copious amounts of red food colouring which create such a deep, red sponge.
Needless to say, my work buddies were delighted with my efforts.
This Mother’s Day, I wanted to give my lovely mum something that she could indulge in. She’s always doing things for everyone else, me included, and I wanted to celebrate her as the woman who has supported me throughout my life and loved me with no exceptions.
So I went out and bought some ingredients which, when combined, create one of the best cheesecakes I’ve ever had. Anyone who hasn’t already jumped on the peanut and chocolate bandwagon ought to get on it! To my mind, it’s the perfect balance between salty and sweet.
“Everything in moderation, including moderation… For those moments of obligatory in moderation, I have a chocolate peanut butter cheesecake.” – Nigella Lawson, Kitchen TV series.
This particular cheesecake is one of my favourite cakes to make for special occasions (or just when I want to make it a special occasion). It is so easy to make as almost everything is done by combining the ingredients in a food processor – oh, what would I ever do without my handy food processor? – first for the biscuit base and then wiped out and used for the cream cheese filling.
Once this is baked for an hour, the chocolate topping is melted and spread on, set in the oven, then everything cools off and chills in the fridge overnight. You know you’ve done well when you can hear the enamel being scraped off the plate as the person you have made the cheesecake for attempts to get every smudge of chocolate onto their spoon.
Needless to say my super sweet, sweet-toothed mother loves her cake. Not going to lie, I do too…