Thursday, 30 September 2010

Chocolate Courgette Cake

Back in those dim and distant days when I was on holiday, I was browsing through Allotment 2 Kitchen and found this recipe.  At that point we still had plenty of courgettes and a friend coming over for supper.  MangoCheeks advised that this cake was particularly good warm with vanilla ice-cream, so pudding for the evening was sorted - thank you MangoCheeks.  Writing this up three weeks later, I can't of course remember exactly what I did because, as regular readers will know, I am virtually incapable of following a recipe exactly.

So this is what I think I did:

  • Creamed 110g unsalted butter with 220g vanilla sugar (instead of 1 tsp vanilla extract).
  • Beat in 2 duck eggs
  • Sifted in 340g flour (spelt wholemeal), 2 tsp baking powder, 4 tbsp cocoa and 1 tsp mixed space.
  • Mixed this in, then added 400g grated courgette.
  • Stirred in 120g Greek yogurt.
  • Spooned mixture into a 9" sq cake thingie and baked for about 45 mins at 180C.
The cake was dense and moist with a fragrant smell and a spicy taste.  We had it straight from the oven but as we didn't happen to have any vanilla ice-cream in the freezer, we used oriental ginger instead which made a lovely accompaniment.  The cake firmed up a bit when cold and was just as good the next day and the one after that and possibly the one after that too!

Monday, 27 September 2010

TOTAL Greek Yogurt

Having been lucky enough to receive a second fridge load of 0%fat and full fat TOTAL Greek yogurt, I set to with a will.  I got a bowl out of the cupboard, a spoon out of the drawer and tucked in to my favourite full fat variety with no additional embellishments - it's so creamy and delicious none were needed.

One of the things I wanted to try this time (here is what I did the first time) was cheese scones as I saw some very nice looking ones over at Tinned Tomatoes a while ago. These were really light, moist and delicious.  They disappeared in a trice when served up for tea, warm from the oven. This is what I did:
  • Rubbed 1oz cold unsalted butter into 8oz flour (2oz wholemeal, 6oz white), 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda, 1 tsp cream of tarter, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp mustard powder and a pinch of cayenne until mixture resembled breadcrumbs.
  • Stirred in 3oz grated cheddar.
  • Mixed in 1 egg, 2 large tbsp of TOTAL full fat yogurt and enough water to form the mixture into a soft dough.
  • Worked quickly with my hands to form this into a round  about 3/4 inch thick then cut out into 5 rounds (these were large scones, so a medium size cutter would produce 8 or 9).
  • Baked at 200C for 12 mins.
Raspberry & White Choc Cupcakes
Chocrutea


Chocolate Birthday Cake
Pistachio & Orange Blossom Cake
As regular readers of my blog will know, since I received the first fridge load of this yogurt I have been a total convert to its use in baking.  My cakes have never been as good - it adds a reliable moistness and gives additional flavour, body and rise which I really value.  I almost feel that something is lacking if I don't use it now.  0% fat and full fat versions are both equally as good, although being a fat loving kind of girl, I prefer the latter.  These are some of the cakes I've made.

As well as using the full fat yogurt to accompany curries and on my breakfast muesli, it also went really well with beetroot.  I just mixed in boiled beetroot that was left to cool and then cut into chunks with the yogurt, a pinch of salt, some pepper and finely chopped dill.  This worked well with golden beets, but produced a bright pink concotion when using purple beets. Yum, if only my beetroot had been more successful this year, I would have eaten a lot more of it.

The only fault I have to find with this yogurt is that it is not organic.  I can only hope this is something they will rectify in the future.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

White Chocolate and Raspberry Cupcakes - We Should Cocoa 1


Having seen this post a long time ago over at Sweet & Simple Bakes, I'd been thinking for a long time I'd like to try a version using fresh raspberries rather than jam. It went on my must not forget list and stayed there.  The We Should Cocoa challenge was the perfect opportunity to remember this and give them a try. More recently, Buttered Crumpet had my mouth watering with her White Chocolate and Raspberry Muffins.  However, the recipe I ended up adapting was this one from Cook Sister which had the bright pink icing I was looking for.  I've really enjoyed watching The Great British Bake Off but I was so insensed after the cake making round when Paul Hollywood gave the thumbs down to the pink raspberry icing, I was determined to thumb my nose at him and make some myself - sometimes I like gaudy or do I mean girly!


  • Melted 125g unsalted butter with 75g white chocolate
  • Stirred in 150g vanilla sugar (or use 1 tsp vanilla extract)
  • Beat in 2 large eggs
  • Sifted in 180g flour (80g wholemeal, 80g white, 20g coconut), 1 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda.
  • Stirred in 70g Greek yogurt and 50ml water
  • Spooned roughly half of the batter into 12 cupcake cases, placed 2 raspberries in each case then spooned on the rest of the batter.
  • Baked at 180C for 22 mins, then left on a rack to cool.
Meanwhile
  • Heated 100ml double cream to boiling point and poured over 25g chopped white chocolate.  Stirred until smooth then left to cool.
  • Blended 100g raspberries with 2 level tbsp icing sugar then sieved to remove the seeds - this wasn't as easy as I was expecting and it took a while to push the pulp through with a spoon.
  • Whisked the cream until stiff - this also took much longer than I expected.
  • Folded in half of the raspberry puree.  I left the other half to drizzle on top, then at the last moment doubted my artistic drizzling abilities and used a lone raspberry as decoration instead.
These cupcakes were my contribution to a shared Transition meal where we were meant to be bringing along something slow and local.  Well I know chocolate isn't very local, but the wholemeal flour, eggs and raspberries were. If I'd been a bit more organised the butter could have been as well. They produced a really light yet moist sponge and when bitten into produced the closed eyes ecstatic response.  The sponge was sweet but with a lovely tart tang when the hidden raspberries were bitten into.  The raspberry cream was also very light, tasted fruity and was not too sweet making a nice contrast to the sponge beneath.  They certainly disappeared pretty quickly and were pronounced to be "well good".  Yum yum, I will certainly be making these again.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Byron Bay Cookies

First baked twenty years ago in Byron Bay, these cookies were the first to see the Australian sunrise each morning - Byron Bay being the most easterly point in Australia.  Having come along way since the first batch of white choc chunk and macadamia nut cookies, they've now migrated to Britain as well as other parts of the world.

I was particularly attracted by the ethical stance of the company who are continually trying to reduce their carbon footprint.  They use free range eggs and some fairtrade ingredients, many of which are locally sourced, such as their flour, oats, eggs, butter and honey.

A goodly sized box arrived in the post from Beyond the Bean, the main UK distributor for the Byron Bay Cookie Company.  My initial thought was yippee - I always get excited when a parcel arrives in the post. But my first thought after unpacking the  selection of chocolate cookies was, these aren't ordinary cookies, they're doorstops - I know size isn't everything, but these are whoppers.  They were all nearly half an inch thick and weighed in at 60g apiece. One per sitting is enough, unless like me, you are particularly greedy.

The wonderful smell of chocolate wafted upwards as soon as I opened the Triple Choc Fudge packet.  Half biscuit, half cookie they don't resist the bite, but are just the right side of crumbly.  Unlike some chocolate chip cookies which can be quite sickly, these were not too sweet, but were very chocolatey.  The biscuit mixture is liberally studded with chunks of white chocolate, dark chocolate and fudge which provide the majority of the sweetness.

The other cookies came individually wrapped, so would be an ideal packed lunch treat.  Indeed, they would make an excellent walking companion.  Having done some walking around Byron Bay, a couple of these would have been very welcome when hunger pangs set in.  We've spent quite a lot of time this week down at the plot harvesting, digging and tidying up, so I know that these biscuits also make good gardening companions.  CT will also vouch for that one.

The Milk Choc Chunk was my personal favourite having an almost creamy taste and texture with lots of chocolate studded throughout - you can see from the picture that these are by no means chocolate in name only.

CT's favourite was the White Choc Chunk & Macadamia Nut, which was the company's original cookie and I guess has withstood the test of time.  It didn't last long with us though.  He felt macadamia nuts would make anything delicious, but particularly liked the crunchiness of the nuts contrasted with the creamy chocolate.

Dotty would especially appeal to children as the top is covered in colourfully coated chocolate beans that make for a fun look - the colours used in the beans are all natural. The cookie itself is full of milk chocolate chunks.  This one was sweeter than the others because of the sugar coated beans, but nonetheless tasty for that.

The pack also included a couple of gluten free cookies, A triple chocolate Dotty and White Choc Chunk & Macadamia.  Gluten intolerant cookie lovers will be pleased to know that there is a gluten free version for many in this range.  These tasted particularly creamy, almost like shortbread and had a lovely melt in the mouth feel.  They were however, rather crumbly - one was broken on arrival, the only one that was so, as the others arrived in perfect condition.

Unevenly sized and shaped, these are obviously meant to be reminiscent of home made cookies and I have to say - they are.  Of course, I would now like to try their non-chocolate flavours, having read The Ordinary Cook's review the sticky date ginger and walnut sounds particularly appealing; but then again so does their limited addition strawberries and clotted cream.  All in all, I would be more than happy to munch my way through a few more of these cookies - in a cafe (which is the primary intended market) or in the great outdoors.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Walnut Fudge Brownies

Having arrived home chocolateless from Ghent and with nothing sweet in the house, it didn't take me too long to wonder what I could knock up in a hurry.  A quick look through my books for a brownie recipe I haven't yet tried, revealed these rather gorgeous sounding brownies from Linda Collister's Divine.

This is how I did it - quickly the one pan way:
  • Melted 125g unsalted butter with 100g 85% dark chocolate
  • Stirred in 240g vanilla sugar (or add 1 tsp vanilla extract)
  • Beat in 2 duck eggs.
  • Stirred in 100g flour (85g wholemeal spelt and 15g buckwheat)
  • Stirred in 75g chopped walnuts
  • Poured into a greased 22 cm square tin and baked for 15 mins at 180C
  • Meanwhile .......
  • Melted 100g unsalted butter in the same unwashed pan.
  • Beat in 100g of light muscovado sugar until incorporated.
  • Beat in 2 tbsp double cream
  • Stirred in 75g chopped walnuts
  • Poured this over the not quite cooked brownies and put back in the oven for a further 5 mins.
  • Tried to leave to cool, but couldn't quite manage it - then cut into 16 squares.
For once I didn't overcook my brownies, so they were dense and gooey just how I like them.  The fudge topping made them tooth achingly sweet, but sometimes sweet is just what is needed and these exactly hit the spot.  I was in such a hurry to get my teeth into these that I didn't leave them long enough before cutting so the fudge hadn't set and oozed all over the place.  Not the prettiest brownie I've ever seen, although that is more my fault than theirs, but, oh they were delicious and rather too moreish.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

C4 Cupcakes - Chocolate, Chilli, Courgette, Cinnamon


It was a friend's wedding, so of course I had to make cake - not THE cake, I hasten to add, intricate decorations are not my thing.  So I thought I'd make some cupcakes for the day before the big event when friends and family would be arriving in droves.  As the courgette season was in full swing, we had a veritable stock pile of these amazingly prolific veg - green and yellow both.  So in addition to a few of these tied up with a bow as part of the wedding present, courgette had to find its way into the cakes somehow.  I hummed and hahed and looked at a few recipes.  My aunt had recently sent me a link to the Good Food version of a chocolate and courgette cake, I had a look at the one in my Green and Black's book, the one over at Browniville Girl and the vegan one I made a few weeks ago.  These all went into the melting pot with an extra addition of chilli and came out as these Chocolate, Chilli, Courgette and Cinnamon Cupcakes - C4.

This is what I did:
  • Beat 175ml sunflower oil with two duck eggs and 150g brown sugar until thick, glossy and lump free.
  • Sieved in 200g flour (1/2 wholemeal, 1/2 white), 40g cocoa, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp ground chilli and a pinch of salt.
  • Mixed this together lightly then folded in 200g grated courgette.
  • Spooned into 12 cupcake cases with enough left over to fill a mini loaf tin.
  • Baked at 180C for 18 mins.
  • Heated up 100ml double cream until nearly boiling then poured over 100g chopped 70% dark chocolate.
  • Stirred until smooth then left to cool.
  • Added 1 tbsp chilli liqueur (made by marinading some chillies, a cinnamon stick an some sugar in vodka for quite a long time).
  • Beat until thick enough to ice the cupcakes, then spread over the top with a palate knife.
  • Decorated with little edible gold stars.
Luckily there was enough left over to make an additional mini loaf or I wouldn't have managed to taste these and in the interests of quality control and reporting on my blog, I do like to try things where possible :-)  I was slightly concerned about the level of chilli heat - not everyone has chilli sauce on their toast for breakfast, but on tasting, it turned out to be just right, a perceptible warmth that would have been quite hard to identify without prior knowledge.  Presentation was sorted by a brilliant tip from CityHippyFarmGirl to check out charity shops for suitable containers to present food gifts in.  Although not quite what I had in mind, the silver tray I found showed off the cupcakes effectively although it's hard to tell from the photograph which is by no means one of my best!  These were really rather yummy and I tried not to look too pleased with the positive feedback I received.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Getting Greedy in Ghent

There is so much to say about the wonderful city of Ghent, I hardly know where to begin. It's a city about the size of Plymouth (where I work) and it couldn't be more different. It's flat for a start!  Flat, of course, makes it nice and easy for cycling and it was truly wonderful to see so many cyclists scooting about - how I miss my bike.  This combined with the many cobbled streets acted as a form of traffic calming and presumably a car deterrent - so much of the old city was car free - bliss.

To my shame, the only things I could recall about Belgium (other than chocolate, biscuits and beer) was - ahem - Hercule Poirot and a rather hazy recollection of a poem about bringing good news from Ghent.  On investigation, it turns out that Robert Browning's poem, How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix doesn't actually refer to any historical event - a complete red herring in fact.  I have to say, having spent a week in Ghent, I'm not much the wiser.  However, I did glean a few facts.

Ghent was (and by the amount of rebuilding and refurbishment going on I assume it still is) a wealthy city surrounded by fertile plains. In the 1340s, Jacob van Artevelde was forced into siding with the English during the 100 years war, which ensured Ghent was largely untouched by the devastation which affected much of Northern Europe.  His statue now ordains the Friday Market Square in Ghent and he is now much reveered, despite ending up being killed by an angry mob.  As an aside, it transpires that the renowned John of Gaunt, virtual ruler of England in the 1370s was in fact born in Ghent.  The end result of all this wealth is the most amazing and interesting architecture I think I've seen in an average sized European city.  The sheer number of enormous buildings in themselves is breathtaking, castles, monasteries, cathedral, churches, guild houses, operas, theatres and more.  The photographs I've included here are only a very small selection.  But it's also interesting as architectural styles are very different and no two buildings seem the same.  

No two buildings are the same

Canals Abound
Oldest Shop in Ghent - makes own speciality mustard



Our hotel was conveniently situated in the Town Square.  As soon as we'd dropped off our luggage, we went out to explore the Square which involved much oohing and aahing over the St Bavo's Cathedral, the Belfry Tower and the Royal Dutch Theatre.  Having just reviewed the photos we took, I've realised that neither of us took a picture of the cathedral - honestly! We managed a peek at The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb painted by the brothers Van Eyck but somehow failed to see the Rubens.

It was here I spotted my first chocolate shop - the first of many.  Really, it was astonishing just how many and varied they were.  So many beautiful displays and most looking exceedingly tempting.  The only one I couldn't bring myself to go into was one featuring a window full of fluffy bears sitting amongst the chocolates.  As well as the pralines and truffles one expects from traditional Belgian chocolates, there were lots of more unusual offerings.  Tea flavoured chocolates seemed to crop up in quite a few places.

The most strikingly different shop though was Yuzu, a Japanese inspired chocolatier which also sold Japanese teas and teapots.  Here I found some very unusual flavours and decorations; each chocolate was a piece of modern art.  These I just had to try.  I decided to make a selection of ten.  A difficult decision, but with the aid of the chocolatier, Nicolas Vanaise, a man passionate about his trade, I made my choice as follows:
  • Coconut and black Cavendish tobacco in a special white chocolate from the Dominican Republic.
  • Almond and black Truffle
  • Cinnamon, pepper, ginger, cardamom and vanilla
  • Porcini mushroom (which combined surprisingly well with chocolate)
  • Chai
  • Japanese greet tea
  • Banana caramel
  • Raspberry and rose (my personal favourite, the rose and raspberry well balanced so both flavours came through nicely) affored
  • Indonesian black pepper
  • Absinthe
These didn't come in a beautifully wrapped box, but in a Japanese style plain envelope, which suited them admirably.  Having made my purchase Nicolas then offered me one on the house to eat then and there.  I went for the all dark, which although it had no additional flavouring, was very good indeed.  All of the ganaches were dairy free being made with soya.  This, Nicolas claims, gives a much lighter texture than cream; I can report that the consistency was very good.  Hoorah, vegan friendly chocolates, which meant my vegan work colleague wouldn't have to miss out on the goodies as he normally does.  I thought these were really fun and very interesting, but being a dairy girl at heart, these would never be my chocolates of choice.





Unfortunately, the poor exchange rate meant everything in Ghent was really expensive so I didn't indulge as much as I might have otherwise done.  And, of course, I did have to bring a few presents back.


One of the most delicious sweet treats I had were these famous Ghent cuberdons.  They are made from raspberry puree which has a shelf life of only 4 weeks.  Traditionally, these are cone shaped, firm on the outside and soft on the inside, but we bought some particularly interesting ones which were a house speciality.

Hot chocolate was not forgotten and we sampled a couple of these, one in a cafe and the other in a chocolate shop - guess which was which!  Both were really good, but if truth be told, I think we both enjoyed sitting outside the cafe in a little square sipping our plain chocolate.



Another very pleasant surprise for me was the number of vegetarian cafes and restaurants to be found.  I sampled three of them and saw a couple of others I'd like to have tried.  It's not often I go to places and get spoilt for choice.  All of the meals I had were good, but two of them were exceptional, featuring one of my favourite foods, tempeh.  Lunches served at the conference were also mostly vegetarian and again very good.  Little did I know I was going to a vegetarian foodie mecca.  However, Ghent is even more progressive than this - it promotes Vegetarian Thursdays where over 100 restaurants offer either an exclusive vegetarian menu or at least a good choice.  Hospitals, schools and local government offices also participate in a bid to encourage healthy eating and food sustainability.
       
A post about Belgium would not, of course, be complete without mentioning the beer and I'm sure VegBoxBoy would be most disappointed if I didn't.  Not being a great beer drinker, I didn't go wild, but I did manage to sample a few different beverages and very nice they were too, with a spelt beer being my favourite.  You can see from the photograph that it could take some time to work ones way through the many varieties that are on offer in Belgium - over 800 I believe and that doesn't include the specials.

The conference over, I had to look for accommodation in a cheaper establishment.  It was a bit hit and miss as I plumped for the first place I could find on the internet that looked reasonable and was not already booked.  I chose Beatrice and Marcus B&B which was about a 20 minute fast walk from the Town Square.  Luckily, it was delightful - so much nicer than the bland corporate anonymity of the chain hotel we had been staying in.  Our Flemish hosts were very friendly and helpful, we had a large room, a lovely comfortable bed and an ample yet delicious breakfast which included home made jam.  Well beyond the call of duty, Marcus drove us to the train station on the morning of our departure as we were concerned that the buses might not be running due to the extensive road works being undertaken.

There is so much else to say, this post risks being rather too lengthy and verbose, but I will just mention that Ghent had a really good botanic garden belonging to the university, CT was impressed anyway and spent the best part of a day there and then took me to see it later on in the week.  You may like to see his post on the visit.  I was lucky enough to see a performance of Shake That, courtesy of the conference.  This was a sort of humorous juggling act performed by five Ghent lads using bottles, cocktail shakers and fruit.  In addition Ghent was hosting a jazz festival during our stay and whilst neither of us are big jazz fans, we thought we should put in an appearance.  It was held in the park so we attended on our last evening.  The band was good and the atmosphere was nice and friendly - a pleasant way to take our leave of this wonderful city.

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