Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

I'd like to wish my family, friends and you, my favourite reader a very Merry Christmas!  I hope you are spending a wonderful day with your loved ones, filled with love and happiness, and of course...fabulous food.




I will continue with posts from my Christmas menu (Cheesy Mustard Stuffed Chicken, Roast Potatoes, Cauliflower Cheese, Pumpkin Fritters, Trifle and Cookies and Cream Truffles) but only after New Year, as all the photos are currently on a camera on Phi Phi Island, Thailand. (Silly me forgot to download them!)


Now I think it's time for the traditional post-Christmas lunch nap! 



Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Inside-out Grilled Cheese Sandwich

The humble toasted cheese sandwich.  Also known as grilled cheese sandwich, toasted cheese, toastie or simply grilled cheese.  Quick and easy to make, loved by many and easy to doll up with extra ingredients such as ham, tomato, onions, bacon, fried eggs.  They are a trusted staple in many a corner café and Wimpy in South Africa.


In South Africa (as I suppose in the UK) we use a sandwich toaster to toast our cheese sandwiches.  In the USA however, they use mostly cast iron skillets to fry them to a golden brown, or so I've been told.


I possibly went over the top with the cheese on the inside - just a bit.

A grilled cheese sandwich is something that is taken very seriously in America.  I found this on wikipedia.org:  

"At the Grilled Cheese Invitational cook-off, held annually in Los Angeles, contestants attempt to cook the best grilled cheese sandwich in various categories. The 2008 winner of the Grilled Cheese Invitational "Spaz Trophy", awarded for overall "weirdness", was the "Cake and Mivens" entry, a dessert grilled cheese sandwich that featured the marshmallow peeps confectionery.
On November 23, 2004, a grilled cheese sandwich containing a supposed likeness of the Virgin Mary was sold at auction for $28,000. "Discovered" in 1994, it had remained free of mold for ten years because the butter and oils used to make the sandwich retarded its development.
According to Woman's Day, April is "Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month."

My favourite way of doing a toasted sandwich is still using the "flat" sandwich toaster.  They are hard to find these days though.  The newer "snackwich" toasters turns your sandwich into a jaffle.  Nothing wrong with a jaffle but for me the whole purpose of a toasted cheese sandwich is the cheese that oozes out and becomes crispy on the toaster.  As a kid I always tried to sneak off with the sandwich with the biggest piece of crispy cheese! 


My inside-out, or maybe inside AND out cheese sandwich has crispy cheese on the outside, just the way I like it.  It is guaranteed not good for your diet, but man, does it taste good!  I don't have a cast iron skillet, so my trusty non-stick pan from Ikea had to do the trick.

Inside-out Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Ingredients:
  • a couple of slices of white bread (in Taiwan try to by some non-sweet bread from Carrefour)
  • Cheddar cheese, grated (in Taiwan, use REAL cheese!  Those little wrapped slices of rubbery, yellow/orange stuff...that is NOT cheese, people!)
  • 1 or 2 Tbsp of butter
Method:

  1. Heat your pan to a medium high heat and melt the butter in the pan.
  2. Put a slice of bread in the pan, top with some grated cheese and put another slice of bread on top.  Push the slice of bread down, so the bread and cheese can connect with each other in the sandwich.
  3. Now put as small amount, about 2 teaspoons, of grated cheese on top of the top slice.  Use a egg lifter and flip the whole sandwich over, so the cheese can melt and get a crispy golden brown.  Also put a small amount of cheese on the side that is facing up right now.  When the underside is nice and crisp, flip the sandwich over again and brown the other side.
  4. Let it rest ever so briefly on some kitchen paper, just so that we can say we tried to reduce the fat.  (Who am I trying to kid?  This is the best hangover sandwich, because of the oiliness!)  Serve while hot.

By all means dress it up with some good ham, tomato or anything else you feel like, with a salad on the side.  And if you feel like adding marshmallows like the people in L.A. - don't tell anyone it was my idea!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Cookies and Cream Truffles

So this morning, between classes and screaming 5 year olds, I grabbed a pen and paper and started working on my menu for Christmas lunch.  I probably would've been able to think more clearly had I been at home on my balcony with cup of steaming coffee and Sade on the Hi-Fi but alas, someone has to bring home the bacon, so to speak.  


Quite a few readers and facebook friends have asked me the question I have been dreading, "So, what are you making for Christmas lunch?  I'm sure it's going to be something fabulous!"  Little do they know that this year is going to be a very difficult one for me.  Not only will this be my 9th Christmas away from my family, but my friends are all out of the country in exotic locations such as Thailand and the Middle East.  For this reason I didn't actually feel like doing anything, no Christmas tree, no Advent Krantz.


Any way, long story short - I get a message from my two Taiwanese jet-setter friends, asking if we couldn't have an early Christmas lunch - at my house, of course!  Panic stations!  What am I going to cook for this early Christmas lunch?  To be honest, I'm not entirely sure yet, but I did find the ingredients for these über delicious Cookies and Cream Truffles on my way home tonight.  They are dead easy to make and all your friends of the female persuasion will love them - guaranteed!




And the best of all?  After I finished the chocolate outer layer, I was left with about a tablespoon of melted chocolate.  What better to whisk up the leftover chocolate in some hot milk and taking a well deserved break with some delicious hot chocolate?


The original recipe is from the Good Food Channel.


Cookies and Cream Truffles




Ingredients:

  • 500g Oreo biscuits (that's about 4 regular packs.  I used the one with the chocolate filling)
  • 250g cream cheese, softened (I softened it by nuking it in the microwave oven for 30 seconds)
  • 400g milk chocolate
  • 100g dark chocolate (You can also use white chocolate but it is too difficult to find in Taiwan)
Method:
  1. Crush the biscuits and blitz them until resembling coffee grounds in a food processor or blender.
  2. Pour the blitzed biscuits into a large mixing bowl and mix in the cream cheese until the white of the cheese is no longer visible.  I used the dough attachments to my trusty electric hand mixer.
  3. Using a teaspoon, roll the mixture into balls and place on a tray lined with wax paper.  Refrigerate for about 40 minutes to an hour.  (I made mine just bite size and got 55 truffles.  You can make them bigger if you want.)
  4. Break the milk chocolate into pieces and place it in a microwave-safe bowl.  Carefully melt it for 20 seconds at a time and stir each time until smooth.
  5. Coat balls with melted chocolate, place on trays lined with wax paper and refrigerate again, to cool.
  6. Finally, melt the dark (or white) chocolate and use a fork to drizzle it over the truffles.  Let it cool.
    Still having trouble with the colour of my photos but you get the idea, right?
    If you put your truffles in some paper liners (those mini cup cake liner things) and in a nice looking box, they will make an excellent Christmas present.  The also make an excellent accompaniment to the after-Christmas-lunch-coffee. 


    Sunday, 12 December 2010

    Pea & Pesto Soup

    One of the ingredients I miss most from South Africa is the humble split pea.  Nothing chases the winter cold away for me like a steaming bowl of split pea soup with some nice crusty bread on the side.  Alas, no split peas to be found on Ilha Formosa.


    So today I tried to make some pea soup using frozen peas and I tarted it up a bit with a few dollops of pesto.  As soon as I started, I realised that I had no more potatoes in the house...and no pesto either.  So I substituted the potatoes with...a can of butter beans!  It worked out really deliciously.




    Pea & Pesto Soup


    Ingredients:

    • 2 medium onions, chopped
    • 4 cloves of garlic (2 if you are in South Africa.  The garlic in Taiwan isn't as potent)
    • 500g frozen peas
    • 1 tin (240g drained) butter beans
    • 1 liter (or a little more) of stock (I used chicken stock)
    • 3 to 4 Tbsp of basil pesto*
    • 1Tbsp olive oil
    Method:
    1. Fry the onions and garlic in a pot until soft but not brown.
    2. Add the peas and butter beans and pour in the stock.  Cover the pot and let it simmer for 10 to 12 minutes.
    3. Scoop out about a third of the peas and reserve (pop the beans back in if you caught any)
    4. Use a blender to blend the peas and beans to a smooth consistency.  Add the reserved whole peas.
    5. Add the pesto to the soup and stir through.  Use more, if you want.  Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper, if needed.
    6. Serve with croutons, crispy fried bacon pieces or Parmesan chips...and of course, some fresh crusty bread.


    *  I didn't have any store bought pesto, so I blitzed together a handful of basil leaves, about 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil and a handful of grated Parmesan cheese.  I didn't add any pine nuts, but you can if you have some handy.

    Excuse me, waiter...

     Seven years and ten months ago, I arrived in the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan.  At the time I left South Africa, I knew very little about where I was going or what it looked like.  I didn't even know where I was going to work.  My agent (now my friend) Maggie just said, "Don't worry about anything.  I'll have a job for you when you arrive."

    Now, in my mind's eye, I had an image of a mixture between a tropical island and the images one gets of China in the old movies:  red lanterns, very obedient students and the smell of incense... Oh, and somehow everyone can speak English.

    Well, how rude my awakening was is a story for another day.  In fact very few people speak English outside of Taipei.  In my early years in Taiwan, I was always very excited to find a restaurant that had a menu in English.

    So, for your reading pleasure, I present the English menu of a coffee shop in Yinge, a town very famous for its ceramics (and not so famous for its English!)


    "Excuse me waiter, could I please have the 'Chicken of the oyster bad-mannered'?  Mind you, item G looks delicious too!  Oh, what should I order!"




    "My friend here will have the Nine-storyed Baconian's pasta." (...which was bacon pasta with basil, in case you were wondering...)


    Welcome to my world!

    A Cheat's Easiest FESTIVE Choc-Chip Cookies, Ever!

    As Magnum P.I. used to say, "I know what you're thinking..."  


    You're thinking, more of the same.  I'm thinking, hang on...I still have a pack of Betty Crocker's French Vanilla cake mix left after my last venture into baking choc-chip cookies.  I'm thinking I have 2 packets of M&M's in my cupboard.  I'm also thinking, "Wouldn't they look very festive and Christmas-y with the M&M's almost looking like brightly coloured baubles or flashing fairy lights on a Christmas tree?"


    For me the result wasn't exactly as I saw it in my mind's eye.  The violently bright colours on the M&M's tend to run into the cookie dough a bit but I am sure your kids won't mind that at all.




    To everyone that has sent me a Christmas card, my heartfelt thanks!  In a country where Christmas isn't celebrated, far from one's family and friends, it is always great to get one!


    A Cheat's Easiest FESTIVE Choc-Chip Cookies, Ever!


    Ingredients & Method:


    Follow this recipe exactly like before.  This time I substituted chocolate cake mix for French Vanilla.  I also substituted the choc-chips with M&M's.  One cup should be enough. 




    And speaking of Christmas cards, you don't need to send me one but I would LOVE some comments on my posts!  I  really appreciate them.

    Sunday, 5 December 2010

    Sunday Potatoes

    Growing up in the Swartland, our family pretty much stuck to the traditional Sunday thing.  Church in the morning, Sunday School after and then...for me the highlight of the week - Sunday lunch.  This always consisted of a roast, two or three veggies and a pudding.  But no Sunday lunch was complete without "braai aartappels" as roast potatoes are called in Afrikaans.


    I remember my paternal grandmother had a special oven casserole that she only used for making roast potatoes.  This is also the way Miss Lawson advocates for her "best ever" roast potatoes.  However, for me the mere thought of having to clean off the burnt oil splatters from my little Taiwanese oven, is the stuff of nightmares.  So I just deep fry in sunflower oil, in my trusty old wok.



    Sunday Potatoes


    Ingredients:

    • potatoes, about 1 medium sized per person, peeled*
    • water, boiling
    • salt
    • oil for deep frying

    Method:


    1. Cut the potatoes in thirds, at angles if you can.
    2. Bring the water to a boil, add the salt and potatoes.
    3. Parboil the potatoes for about 5 minutes until almost done.
    4. Drain off the water and allow the potatoes to cool.  I leave them on my balcony for about 10 minutes.
    5. After the potatoes cooled down, shake them around in the pot or colander to ruff them up a bit.  This helps to make them nice and crispy on the outside later.
    6. Carefully drop the potatoes (in batches usually) in the hot oil and fry until golden brown and crispy.  Drain on some kitchen paper and  serve immediately.


    * These days most cookbooks will tell you to use this or that type of potato.  This is great for when you live in a western country where there actually are different kinds of potatoes.  However, on my tropical Ilha Formosa there are no different kinds...just potatoes!

    Thursday, 2 December 2010

    A Cheat's Easiest Choc-Chip Cookies, Ever!

    Yes, here I go again...I am cheating.  I am going to tell you how to make the easiest choc-chip cookies, ever!  And it's going to be quick-quick, because some of us have a day job.  So at first I thought, I probably shouldn't do another "cheat" recipe, but hey, if Nigella Lawson can bring out "Nigella Express: 130 Recipes for Good Food, Fast", and Jamie Oliver his latest "Jamie's 30-minute Meals" then who am I to click my tongue at a few short cuts? 


    I found this recipe on YouTube, of all places.  The person who uploaded it goes by the name of PrincessDiana161 and you should really watch her videos.  She is a great cook and really funny!




    A Cheat's Easiest Choc-Chip Cookies, Ever!


    Ingredients:
    • 1 packet of cake mix (You can you any brand or type you like.  I used Betty Crocker's Devil's Food Chocolate Cake Mix)
    • 1/2 cup of sunflower oil
    • 2 eggs, room temperature
    • 2 cups of chocolate chips (or nuts, if you'd like)
    Method:
    1. Pre-heat your oven to 180C
    2. Sift the packet of cake mix into a mixing bowl and add the oil and eggs.
    3. Mix with an electric beater until well mixed and a dough forms.
    4. Add the choc-chips and mix.
    5. Grease a baking sheet and scoop the cookie dough, about table spoon size, and arrange them on your baking sheet.
    6. Flatten them out slightly with you fingers and make sure that there is about 2 - 3cm space between each.
    7. Bake for 8 - 13 minutes, depending on your oven.  A toothpick should come out clean.  Let your cookies cool on the baking sheet for about 3 minutes.  Remove and let them cook completely on a wire rack.
    The come out nice and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, just the way I like them.  Enjoy with a glass of milk, or better still - leave them out for Father Christmas.  He might just upgrade you from soap-on-a-rope to an i-Pad!

    Sunday, 28 November 2010

    A Cheat's Angry Panda Eet-Sum-Mors

    Ask a South African if they like shortbread and they might not know what you are talking about.  However, ask them about "Eet-Sum-Mor" and they are sure to have eaten them at one time or another.  My dad swears by them.  He says they are the only biscuits he can eat that won't give him heartburn.  Whether this is a fact or not, is debatable (but not with him!).


    The Eet-Sum-Mor name was given to these biscuits by Mr Albert Baumann, somewhere in the 1940's when he and his cousin came up with a way for a machine to make shortbread.  You see, before that shortbread was made by hand.  Any way, their Eet-Sum-Mors went on sale in Durban and the rest, as the cliché goes, was history...and so was my dad's heartburn!


    Just down the road from me, there is a baking/catering supply shop called...well, to be honest, I have NO idea what the place is called.  Some long-timer expats call it "D.I.Y.", which is basically what the locals call anything (read cooking & baking) they can make by themselves.  I call it the "Purple and Yellow shop" because...I'm sure you can work it out for yourself.


    Now I know that this is supposed to be all about home cooking and baking in my little train kitchen, but hey...it's my blog and I'll cheat if I want to!  So, I was poking around in the freezers of the "Purple and Yellow shop", looking for puff pastry, when I came across these packets of frozen, pre-shaped, pre-cut Eet-Sum-Mor dough.




    See those evil pandas checking you out!
    And I thought this would be just the kind of biscuits that my (Taiwanese) god-daughter would like.  Now these ones have a chocolate cross in the middle, but what REALLY caught by eye was the pack with the very angry and evil looking pandas!


    This is really so convenient and easy to make (if you can read Chinese, that is)!  All you need to do it pre-heat your oven to 180C, open the pack and take out as many biscuits as you want to bake.  It even comes in a very handy, resealable zip-loc bag!


    Space your biscuits evenly on a lined baking sheet and pop it in the oven for between 10 and 13 minutes.
    In the mean time, boil the kettle and make some tea.  Or some steaming hot chocolate with marshmallows.  Keep an eye on your biscuits as they can burn quite easily!  When they've take on a light, golden brown colour, you can take them out of the oven, pour your tea and relax with your book.  And hopefully you won't get any heartburn!
    Evil Pandas and my favourite tea: Teh Sabah from Malaysia.
    My god-daughter Kylie Yao, eating an Angry Panda.

    Cheesy Mustard Stuffed Chicken

    I love cheese, any kind of cheese, it doesn't matter.  I'll wake up in the middle of the night with a craving for cheese and I would eat it everyday if I could afford it.  But, unfortunately cheese doesn't really rate as something eaten by your average Taiwanese, so the decent stuff is expensive and hard to come by.


    One of my colleagues the other day, "I really want to eat cheese, but I really don't know how.  Like...uhhmmm...how does one eat cheese?"  To which I replied, "Well dear, just open your mouth and shove it in!"


    Shame, I do understand her predicament but how do you explain to someone, that hasn't grown up with it, how to eat it?  Also, a big percentage of what passes as cheese in Taiwan are little individually wrapped squares of processed cheese, like the yellow stuff you find on your Big Mac.


    So, whenever I know my friends are visiting Costco (BIG American wholesaler), my order is always the same, "Please bring me some mozzarella, extra mature cheddar, and of course some salami.


    Which brings me to bacon, our favourite side dish (according to Pieter Pieterse) in South Africa.  Mmmmm...bacon.....  Any way, I've made this recipe for stuffed chicken breasts a few times and it has always come out really tasty and moist.  I usually stuff it with mozzarella, but today I used Philadelphia Cream Cheese.  It was good, even if I have to say so myself!   Please give it a try.  I am sure it will become one of your favourites!


    Cheesy Mustard Stuffed Chicken
    Ingredients:

    • 125g cream cheese (or mozzarella, broken into pieces)
    • 50g strong cheddar cheese, grated
    • 1 Tbsp. wholegrain mustard
    • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
    • 8 streaky bacon rashers 

    Method:

    1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
    2. Mix the cheese and mustard.
    3. Carefully cut a pocket into the side of each chicken breast.
    4. Stuff the cheese mix into each pocket.
    5. Wrap each breast with 2 rashers of bacon.  Don't wrap it too tight, just tight enough to keep everything together.
    6. Put your chicken breasts on a baking tray and pop it in the oven.  Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on your oven.



    If you like oozing cheese (some people don't!) then use the mozzarella.  As you can see in these photos, the cream cheese doesn't ooze, but it is still very tasty.  So choose one or the other - whatever blows up your skirt!


    Friday, 26 November 2010

    Sosaties

    Sosatie (pl sosaties) is a traditional South African dish of meat (usually lamb or mutton) cooked on skewers. The term derives from sate ("skewered meat") and saus (spicy sauce). It is of Cape Malay origin, used in Afrikaans, the primary language of the Cape Malays, and the word has gained greater circulation in South Africa.  - Wikipedia.org

    Sosaties have been in our food tradition since the days of the Cape of Good Hope,  probably brought to the Cape from the island of Java.  In its most basic form, it is skewered meat, marinated in a curry sauce.  Traditionally mutton or lamb is used, but beef, pork and chicken can be used too.  They can be cooked in a pan, or in the oven - under the grill.  However, most people will cook sosaties over moderate coals as part of a South African braai.

    Every South African braaier worth their salt has their own recipe, with a little more of "this" and a little less of "that".  See what works for you.


    Marinade

    Ingredients:
    • 5 Tbls smooth apricot jam
    • 5 tsp brown sugar
    • 3 pr 4 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
    • 3 tsp Maizena (corn starch)
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 5 tsp curry powder
    • 75 ml vinegar
    • 2 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp black pepper

    Sosaties

    Ingredients:

    • 3 medium size onions, peeled and quartered
    • 1.5kg mutton or lamb, cut into 2.5cm cubes (or whatever meat you feel like)
    • 1kg pork, also cubed
    • 250g dried apricots, covered with water until plump, then drained (optional)

    Method:

    1. Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a pot and add the onion quarters. Cook on low heat, stirring frequently until the spices are combined, the sugar is melted and the marinade thickens slightly.
    2. Pour the marinade into a large dish and add the meat cubes.  Cover and let the meat marinate in a refrigerator for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.  Turn the meat a few times.
    3. Remove the meat and onions from the marinade and thread onto skewers, alternating the meat and onion with apricots, if using.
    4. Braai the sosaties over moderate coals, turning frequently.  Alternatively, cook it in the oven under the grill for about 25 minutes or until cooked.  Turn frequently.

    Sunday, 14 November 2010

    Cream Cheese Frosting

    This frosting is not so sweet and goes very well with the Carrot & Banana Cake.  This recipe is from www.bbcgoodfood.com.




    Cream Cheese Frosting
    Ingredients:
    • 100g butter, softened
    • 300g cream cheese (like Philadelphia)
    • 100g icing sugar, sifted
    • 5ml vanilla essence
    Method:
    1. Beat the butter until really soft, then beat in the soft cheese, icing sugar and vanilla. 
    2. Use a palette or cutlery knife to swirl the icing on top of the cake, then sprinkle with decorations or chopped nuts.



    Carrot & Banana Cake

    In the early 1990's, just after I left university, my friend Nico and I used to get together once a month, on my day off to do some cooking together.  We ventured into the (rather tricky) realms of trying our hand at traditional South African recipes.  I remember us baking milk tarts in their kitchen in "Barlinka Flats" in Stellenbosh, making an enormous mess because we put too much filling into the pastry shell.  Or making koeksisters of monstrous proportions because we thought the uncooked koeksisters should be more or less the size of the cooked ones.  Anyway, Nico once gave me a recipe for a very easy Carrot & Banana Cake and it came out perfectly every time.


    That recipe was glued into an old, black hard cover exercise book I had for recipes I had collected over the years.  Unfortunately, after my move to Ilha Formosa, almost 8 years ago, I haven't been able to locate that book again.  I mentioned it to fellow South African expat, Connie the other day and she has that exact, same recipe!  Thank you, Connie!  It was a joyous reunion.


    This cake (or fruit loaf, if you want) is super easy to make and it works in our little Taiwan ovens, too.  The ingredients are easy to remember; mostly a cup (250ml) of everything and one or two teaspoons of everything else.  If you have never baked anything else in your life, THIS is where you should start!
    Photo by Shanglin Wu


    Carrot & Banana Cake


    Ingredients:

    • 250ml sugar
    • 250ml sunflower oil ( I would suggest that you don't use olive oil as it has a strong flavour)
    • 3 eggs
    • pinch of salt
    • 375ml flour
    • 15ml ground cinnamon
    • 10ml baking powder
    • 5ml bicarbonate of soda (also called baking soda)
    • 250ml (2 big or 3 smallish) ripe bananas, mashed with a fork
    • 250ml roughly grated carrots
    • 125ml finely chopped nuts (optional, but it does make the texture more interesting)

    Method:


    1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
    2. Cream together (that means beat together) the sugar, oil, eggs and salt until the sugar is dissolved.
    3. Sift together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda; and add to egg mixture.
    4. Stir in the banana, grated carrots and nuts.  Stir until well mixed.
    5. Dump the whole lot into a greased loaf tin and pop it in the oven for +/- an hour, or until a skewer comes out clean.
    Note:
    • This is a fruit loaf, so the top crust will crack - it's supposed to look like that!
    • Because our ovens in Taiwan can be very temperamental, take care not to burn the top of the cake while the inside is still raw.  When the top of your cake has reached the desired level of brownness, simply cover it with a sheet of foil to keep it from burning.
    I usually slice and serve this cake just as it is because the oil makes it beautifully moist.  However, carrot cake is traditionally frosted with a cream cheese frosting and sprinkled with some more chopped nuts.  Recipe for cream cheese frosting to follow.

    Sunday, 7 November 2010

    Banana Bread & Butter Pudding

    I have been quite busy this weekend.  After months of studying and finishing up my Chinese reading and writing course, I now have lots of free time on my hands.  What better to do with your free time than spending it with friends and cooking something delicious to eat.


    This weekend I exchanged my cramped kitchen for the kitchen of the Good Doctor.  He has a great kitchen (Bosch oven, Kitchen Aid mixer and Le Creuset casseroles) for cooking and baking and I always jump at the opportunity to cook there.  We baked a very easy Banana & Carrot cake.  More about that in my next post.


    I had a few very ripe bananas left from yesterday and was searching www.bbcgoodfood.com for some ideas on how to use up these fruit.  I came across this recipe for a Banana Bread & Butter Pudding.  The best part of it is that you can make it in the microwave oven!  No baking in the oven (unless you want to, of course) and you are done in just 20 minutes.  As you won't be browning this in a regular oven, the bread is first toasted in a toaster to give it that rich, golden colour.  The toast also seems to really suck up the milk, egg and cinnamon mixture that later turns into a baked custard.




    Banana Bread & Butter Pudding


    Ingredients:

    • 4 thick slices of white bread 
    • some butter for spreading
    • 1 large or 2 small ripe bananas, peeled and sliced
    • 2 eggs
    • 85g soft brown sugar (or just regular if you don't have brown)
    • half a tsp. of ground cinnamon
    • 450ml milk
    • 1tbsp corn starch (Maizena)
    Method:

    1. Toast the bread in a regular toaster and spread with butter.  Cut the bread into triangles.
    2. Arrange the toasted triangles, butter side up and the banana slices in a microwave safe dish.
    3. Beat together the eggs, sugar, milk and cinnamon until the sugar has dissolved.  In a separate bowl, mix the corn starch with a little of the milk until smooth and add to the milk and egg mixture.
    4. Pour the mixture over the toast and bananas and sprinkle over a little extra sugar.
    5. Bake uncovered for 8 to 10 minutes on high.  Let it stand for another 5 minutes before serving.

    Make it in the oven

    If you don't have a microwave oven you can put the dish together the same way, but don't toast the bread.  Bake it at 180C for 30 to 40 minutes until the egg mixture has set and the bread has turned crisp and golden brown.

    Sunday, 31 October 2010

    Roasted Garlic with Balsamic Vinegar & Olive Oil

    Roasted garlic is one of my favourite things in the world.  Roasting garlic in the oven mellows that harsh raw garlic taste into something sweet and heavenly.  Its creamy texture makes it ideal to spread on crackers or melba toast.  It is dead simple to make as a starter and your guest just breaks off some cloves and spread it themselves.  Make sure to dip your bread in the sticky Balsamic sauce that forms in the bottom of the roasting tin!


    Roasted Garlic with Balsamic Vinegar & Olive Oil


    Ingredients:

    • 4 or 5 medium sized heads of garlic, one per person
    • 4 tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
    • 4 tbsp. olive oil
    • a pinch each of mixed herbs, salt and pepper
    Method:
    1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
    2. Carefully cut across the top of each head of garlic, taking off the pointy bits.
    3. Arrange the heads of garlic in a roasting tin.
    4. Mix the vinegar, olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper and pour it over the exposed tops of the garlic.
    5. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes to 1 hour.  When the garlic is soft and squeezable, it is ready.
    Serve with melba toast, crusty bread or crackers.

    Beef & Guinness stew

    Taiwan is not a place of half measures.  It is either sweltering hot, with a very high humidity or it is cold and damp, with the iciness creeping into your bones via the tiled concrete floors.  In between these polar opposites, there is about one or two weeks that one could call spring or autumn with really nice weather.  This past week we saw the half yearly "change of season" and the temperature fell with about 10 ̊C in one week.

    Not that I am complaining, though.  I am most certainly more of a winter person than a summer person (probably because of my build) and I spend a lot more time in my kitchen in the winter.  This week was no exception and I felt the need for something I haven't tried before.  I've always made my beef stews in the style of a bœuf bourguignon, using the red wine to whip the beef into submission.  This time round, as I was walking past the refrigerator at the supermarket, I thought why not try doing the same with Guinness in stead of wine?  Using Guinness is certainly not a new idea, but one that I haven't tried before.

    It takes quite long to do in the oven, but there is very little preparation to do.  You can basically just pop it in the oven and forget about it.  The result however, is so worth the wait.  You get a robust stew with a tasty, rich sauce and it fills your kitchen with the most wonderful aromas.


    Beef & Guinness stew

    Ingredients:

    • 2 large onions, diced
    • 1 tsp. mixed herbs
    • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
    • 1kg of braising steak or stewing beef, cut into cubes (about 4cm by 4cm)
    • 6 tbsp of flour well seasoned with salt and pepper
    • 500ml of Guinness
    • 250ml beef stock (or whatever stock you have available)
    • 2 ripe tomotoes, peeled and chopped
    • 1tsp. sugar
    • 1 punnet of button mushrooms (optional)
    • 1 punnet of baby corn (optional)
    • 1 large or 2 small carrots, diced
    • olive oil for frying 
    Method:
    1. Cook the onions,mixed herbs and garlic with a little olive oil in a large casserole until the onion is softened and translucent. Dust the braising steak in the seasoned flour and brown in a hot pan with a little oil.
    2. When the beef has a good, even colour, add it to the pan with the onions and pour in the Guinness. Top up with the stock to just cover the beef.  Add the chopped tomato, sugar and carrots.
    3. Cover and simmer over a very low heat or transfer to a 150C oven for 2-3 hours until the beef is meltingly tender (check after 2 hours).  If you are using mushrooms and corn, add it during the last hour of cooking.  Season to taste.

    Serve with roasted garlic mash and seasonal vegetables.  Enjoy!

     (Alternatively this stew can also be prepared in a slow cooker.  This stew also freezes well.)


    Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

    You will never want to eat ordinary mash potatoes again!  I served this fragrant, creamy mash with the robust Beef and Guinness stew.

    Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

    Ingredients:

    • 2 medium heads of garlic
    • 3 tbsp. olive oil
    • 900g potatoes, peeled and diced
    • 55g butter, softened
    • 120ml milk, heated
    • salt and pepper to taste
    Method:

    1. Preheat the oven to 180C
    2. Drizzle the garlic with olive oil, wrap it in foil and roast in the oven for 40 minutes to 1 hour until soft.
    3. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the diced potatoes and boil until tender, about 15 minutes.
    4. Drain the potatoes and add the butter and milk.
    5. Cut the garlic in half and squeeze the softened cloves into the potatoes.
    6. Mash together until smooth and creamy.  Season with salt and pepper.