Why is food such a big part of our celebrations? Don’t get me wrong, I’m really glad it is as I absolutely love food, but it seems that we as a human race can’t get together without sharing in the love of munching on something delicious. No matter what religion, nationality or creed you belong to or align yourself with, food somehow becomes a part of the celebration. We can’t even farewell someone who has passed from this world without having “a good feed” as my Kiwi friends say.
As for me, I’m not a chicken and prefer not to refer to meal times as “a feed” but each to their own :).
As so many of us have just finished celebrating Hannukah (Jewish), Christmas (Christian) or Yule (Pagan) or are about to celebrate Makar Sankranti (Hindu) or Milad un Nabi (Muslim celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad), food, whether traditional or seasonal, has been or will be a very big part of it.
Post celebration we all murmur about how we’ve overdone it and need a new diet or head back to the gym… How many of us include this in our list of New Year Resolutions? I don’t believe in New Year Resolutions but I find nothing wrong with wanting to better ourselves, learn something new, practice self discipline or step outside of our comfort zone completely. A new year brings new opportunities. Many have enjoyed a holiday, however brief, where we’ve (hopefully) been able to spend time with friends and loved ones rejuvenating our souls and preparing for a new chapter. As for me, I will continue to make food a very big part of our celebrations and enjoy every mouthful.
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp caster sugar
380 g Highlander Caramel Sauce (you won’t use the whole tin)
125 g dark chocolate (50 – 70% cocoa)
icing sugar to dust
whipped cream to serve
- Preheat the oven to 200°C. Cut the sheet of puff pastry into 5 cm strips. Halve the strips to make 10 smaller rectangles. Make sure you cut them with the tip of a sharp knife so the edges are clean cut/crisp as this ensures they rise nicely.
- Brush the pastry rectangles with the egg yolk and sprinkle over the sugar. Place the strips on a baking tray and bake them in the preheated oven for 10 minutes until they have risen and are golden. Allow to cool on the tray.
- Meanwhile, melt the dark chocolate over a double boiler (or in a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water) and slice the bananas on an angle.
- Once the pastry has cooled, slice each rectangle open.
- Spread a layer of the caramel sauce on the bottom of one half rectangle, top it with banana slices and spread over a layer of melted chocolate.
- Repeat Step 5, topping the stack with a third pastry rectangle. Repeat this process with the remaining pastries.
- Dust the stacks with the icing sugar and serve them with the whipped cream.
- Made in 25 minutes and makes 6 stacks.
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Well, there are only two sleeps left until Christmas day and I’m sure my little one isn’t the only one almost bursting with excitement. I’ve been meaning to get to a few bananas in the fruit basket, but as there is so much fruit on offer at this time of year, I went a little crazy this past weekend and came home with a box loaded with kiwi fruit, mangoes, oranges, apples, strawberries, bananas, a pineapple and plenty of others so I just haven’t been able to gobble them up fast enough yet, although I’m thoroughly enjoying my fresh morning smoothie.
These particular bananas were a little past their best and instead of baking banana bread, I decided to try something different. I cut this recipe out of a newspaper insert a long time ago as the combination of ingredients intrigued me, but I’d never actually got round to baking them. I think it is a Donna Hay recipe, but can’t quite remember. Today was the day and although you might think that biting into a layer of plain caramel instead of icing might be incredibly rich, surprisingly, it isn’t as the basic banana cupcake batter (to me it’s more of a muffin really, but no-one’s arguing) softens the richness of the caramel.
For added yumminess, I grated one of my favourite chocolates, Peppermint Crisp over the top and in keeping with the spirit of Christmas and all things Christmas themed, the red and green wrappers and lollies completed the look.
1¼ cups plain flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder, sifted
1 cup caster sugar
125 g unsalted butter, melted
¾ cup milk
½ tsp vanilla extract
1½ cups mashed banana
380 g store-bought caramel filling
- Preheat the oven to 160°C.
- Place all ingredients (except for the caramel) into a bowl and whisk until well combined. It is a little runnier than you’d expect, but don’t be put off – that is the way it is supposed to be.
- Spoon into 12 x ½ cup-capacity muffin tins lined with paper cases and bake for 27 – 29 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Note that because of the banana, there may be a bit of sticky residue on the end of the skewer but this could be banana and not batter. Don’t over bake the cupcake/muffin.
- Allow to cool in the trays for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.
- Place the caramel into a bowl and whisk until smooth, then spread onto the cupcakes/muffins and decorate as you see fit. The original recipe just left them plain.
- You could also cut out a tiny piece of the centre of the cupcake and fill it with caramel, then stick the cut-out back on top before spreading more caramel onto the top. A lovely caramel surprise in the centre!
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One of the things I love about Summer is the availability of fresh berries. With so much choice on offer, I look for different ways of including them in meals and snacks so we don’t end up thinking: Strawberries again! Not that I would probably get there, but variety is the spice of life, or so they say.
While digging through my collection of old Summer season recipe magazines, I was delighted to come across this little old favourite. As they are mini muffins, they aredainty in size and perfect for little hands, lunch boxes or picnics. Their texture is light and they stay fresh for up to 3 days when kept in an air tight container. Did you know you can freeze muffins? So why not make a double batch and pop half of the baked and cooled ones into a sealed freezer bag as they will store for up to 3 months in the freezer. You can add the frozen muffin to a lunch box and it will have defrosted nicely by the time you’re ready to eat it. Don’t microwave them to defrost them though, it’s best to let them thaw naturally or leave them in the fridge overnight. To freshen muffins, microwave the defrosted muffin (or one that is slightly past it’s freshest day) on Medium (50%) power in 30 second bursts until you’re happy with it.
This recipe suggests mixing up a bowl of chocolate ganache/fondue to dip the little muffins into – strawberries and chocolate…what could be better?
One last tip to take note of when preparing the mixture, be careful you don’t over-mix when combining the ingredients. It’s quite OK to leave it lumpy and bumpy as over-mixing results in a tough texture and a muffin with a flat top.
1¼ cups self-raising flour
¼ cup caster sugar
⅔ cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
45 g butter, melted
icing sugar to dust
For the Chocolate Sauce if you’re in the mood:
200 g dark eating chocolate, chopped
½ cup cream
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan forced. Grease 2 x 12-hole mini muffin trays.
- Chop 6 of the strawberries finely and quarter the remainder.
- Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the sugar and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre. Combine the milk, egg and butter in a jug and pour into the well. Add finely chopped strawberries and stir until just combined, using a large metal spoon.
- Spoon the mixture into the prepared holes and top each with a quarter strawberry.
- Bake for 10 – 2 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes and then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- For the sauce: Meanwhile, place the chocolate and cream in a medium heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (do not let the bowl touch the water). Stir for a few minutes until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is combined.
- Dust the muffins with icing sugar and serve with the chocolate sauce for dipping, alternatively, just eat them as they are.
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Yesterday my hubby cooked an extra chicken on the Weber which is always a treat for me as I then don’t have to think too long about what to cook for dinner. Having said that, I don’t normally have to think too long anyway as I am pretty good at meal planning and normally have at least two weeks worth of meals planned with all the ingredients (at least all the pantry type ingredients) on hand and ready to go. I don’t believe in attaching a specific meal to any particular day as I may not feel like eating “X, Y & Z” on that particular night, but at least by having a general plan, I can mix the days around and still have a meal on the table pretty quickly.
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t like using store-bought jars or packets of sauce or mixes. I prefer to make my own, thereby knowing they’re fresh and exactly what’s gone into them, keeping as many of those nasty chemicals and preservatives out of our bodies.
Another pet hate of mine is waste. My meal plans allow me to group meals together that contain the same ingredient, so the sour cream, for example, gets used up before being forgotten about in the fridge and then having to be thrown out.
But back to my pre-prepared chicken :). The original salad contained ham, but as with most things, I like to put my own slant on them and use recipes as a guideline. Tonight the chicken, shredded and cold, was perfect to replace the ham, although this is a great opportunity to use up leftover ham after Christmas. A few chopped fresh veggies and dinner was ready in less than 15 minutes. A deliciously fresh light summer evening meal.
cold cooked ham or chicken, or nothing if you’re vegetarian
1 cucumber, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
1 can sweet corn, drained
1 carrot, peeled and grated
4 – 6 gherkins, depending on their size, finely chopped
½ cup grated tasty cheese, or parmesan/pecorino to give it a different taste
2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 Tbsp basil and cashew pesto (optional)
- Dice all veggies so that the pieces are all of a similar size. Place into a large serving bowl.
- Peel and grate the carrots and add to the bowl.
- Drain the corn (or use 1 cup of frozen sweet corn and microwave for a minute) and add to the other ingredients.
- Add the grated cheese and chopped parsley.
- Shred the cold cooked chicken or chop the ham and add to the salad.
- Combine the mayonnaise and pesto if using, and fold through the salad.
- Chill before serving.
- I like to serve with lightly salted crispy chips or crackers on the side.
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I hadn’t come across Rocky Road until we moved to New Zealand and was intrigued with what is essentially an unbaked slice of a massive amount of chocolate combined with all kinds of squishy, crunchy, colourful bits and pieces, making it look very interesting. It took a while for me to try it and although I don’t sample it very often, I had reason to try it again recently at a friend’s Baby Shower. That was a white chocolate one and was absolutely delicious. Another friend had a similar recipe and kindly shared it with me, so last week I finally got round to making my own batch. This recipe calls for Baileys, but as with all things, if you don’t have the exact ingredients to hand, substitute with something equally tasty…Cape Velvet worked just as well, but has a slightly different flavour, for obvious reasons.
This was so yummy that I packaged some in gifts boxes for my son’s teachers as end-of-the-year-Thank-You-Christmas-Holiday gifts, but would work equally well being sold off at a School Gala or Church Bazaar stall.
When I make this again I’ll probably cut back on the marshmallows a bit and increase the amount of chocolate to say, 250 or 300 g but everyone who tried this came back for seconds. Probably not the best for kids as the alcohol does give it quite a strong flavour as it isn’t cooked off, but there is such a tiny quantity that it certainly isn’t something to be concerned about.
50 mls Baileys (or Cape Velvet, or I suppose you could experiment with Kahlua too)
200 g dark chocolate (or more if you’re like me)
100 g condensed milk
25 g melted butter
75 g dried cranberries
75 g white chocolate, chopped
75 g digestive biscuits (I used raw pistachios which show up as bright green bits)
200 g mini marshmallows
100 g white chocolate for drizzling
And this is why this recipe is soooooooo easy and quick:
- Melt the first four ingredients in a bowl over hot water. Beat until smooth and cool slightly.
- Stir in the next four ingredients.
- Line a swiss roll tin and press the mixture in, cover and chill.
- Melt the 100 g white chocolate and drizzle it over the top.
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When baking, I generally follow a recipe pretty much exactly as it’s written down and treat it like a science project, until such time as I know the recipe well and then begin experimenting. Each ingredient has a specific purpose and many are paired together in recipes because their properties need to interact and combine in a certain way to create the perfect end result.
But with cooking, I’m far more relaxed and although I can often be found with my nose in a new recipe book or latest edition of a foodie magazine, I tend to use “cooking” recipes as a guide only. Often there is a single ingredient that you might not have on hand or in sufficient quantities, but with a little improvisation and imagination, you can put your own twist on someone else’s creation, making it your own. Sometimes it works beautifully and other times the flavours may not gel completely, but I always think that’s the best way to learn by discovering textures and flavour combinations for yourself.
I had been looking at this recipe for a while before I tried it and when I finally got round to making it, my avocado had ripened beyond all help and the parsley had ceased to be recognisable, so a little creativity was called for. The end result was delicious.
400 g new potatoes, or 4 medium sized standard potatoes
200 g smoked fish
1 bunch fresh asparagus, blanched and chopped into 3 cm pieces (replaced the avocado)
a few slices of red onion finely chopped
handful salad greens (or parsley for garnishing)
For the dressing:
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 Tbsp sour cream
1 Tbsp wholegrain mustard
1 Tbsp basil, parmesan and cashew nut pesto (or 1 Tbsp lemon juice as per the original recipe)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Peel, chop and boil the potatoes until cooked but firm.
- Blanche the asparagus and add to the potato along with the finely chopped onion, flaked smoked fish (making sure you have removed all the bones) and the salad greens.
- Combine all ingredients for the dressing and gently combine with the potato mixture, taking care not to break up the potatoes.
- If you prefer to leave out the pesto and sour cream (a strangely delicious combination, I know), the dressing works well with just mayonnaise, lemon juice and wholegrain mustard.
- Chill before serving.
My family enjoys this light meal with a few crackers on the side.
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