Monday, 31 May 2010

SATC 2 and Pineapple Cheesecake with White Chocolate Sauce and Macadamias

It was my mum's birthday on Thursday and we decided to have a joint BBQ family dinner for my sister and her on the Saturday. On Friday, we went to see SATC2 on the first day of it's UK release. There was no way I'd wait a day or a couple of days to see it, it had to be on the actual day of its release; that's how much I love SATC!

But I came out of the cinema feeling deflated, disappointed, underwhelmed, unenthused and unimpressed ... ha ha, I'm sure you get the message! Don't get me wrong, I loved the fashion and the decadence of Abu Dhabi but not in place of actual story lines and the glamour of Manhattan! As my dad (who really dislikes all forms of chick flick my mum tries to drag him to) gleefully quoted from a review he'd heard on the radio, 'there was no sex (yup, it was weird to hear him say that) as only the one who normally gets lots of sex got some and even then; once??? and there was no city, only the desert'. As we came out, my brother in law who was dragged there against his will said, 'It was entertaining, but just really frivolous and superficial', and I had to agree but also clarify that Sex and the City might be frivolous and fun to watch but it usually also has substance! My friends and I reference their numerous dating and life dilemmas because they are so relevant. In conclusion, I'm really sad :( On the bright side, there were some fabulous dresses from Carrie (but who wears a dress with a train at home to watch TV????) and some laugh-out-loud moments so it's not all bad!

Okay, so I promise that there's a link between SATC and today's baking endeavour. Magnolia bakery - I made it a must stop on my last trip to NY after hearing about it on the show and now have two of their cookbooks. This and my next post are recipes from 'At Home with Magnolia' - which is the only one of their books which is not just a cake/desert book. It's also the only one of their books with lots of pictures which is usually a must for cookbooks for me ... so if you're reading Allysa Torey, please make sure all of your upcoming books (and I hope there'll be plenty) have lots of pictures of your beautiful cakes!

This was my sister's birthday cake and I'll post my mum's next. This recipe has been adapted as there are some things we just don't have in the UK (like graham crackers!) and I've changed all the measurements to g and ml from cups and ounces.

Ingredients

Crust
98g unsalted butter, melted
130g ginger nut biscuit crumbs
92g chopped toasted macadamia nuts (see note)
55g sugar

Filling
908g cream cheese (left at room temperature for a few hours to soften)
250g sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 x 227g tins of pineapple chunks, drained thoroughly! I drained them in the tins then drained small portions in my fist, using my fingers to cut them into smaller pieces before putting in the filling.
2 tablespoons double cream
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

White chocolate sauce
340g white chocolate, coarsely chopped
200ml double cream
90g coarsely chopped toasted macadamia nuts, for garnish (see note)

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/Gas Mark 4

1 - To make the Crust: In a medium-size bowl, combine the butter, ginger nut crumbs, macadamia nuts, and sugar.
Press into the bottom of a 10-inch spring form pan.
Bake for 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven, and allow to cool on a wire rack.
Reduce the oven temperature to 165ºC/Gas Mark 3.
2 - To make the filling: In a large bowl, on the low speed of an electric hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until very smooth. Gradually add the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time.
To ensure that the batter has no lumps and that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom of the bowl, stop the mixer several times and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Stir in the pineapple, double cream, and vanilla.
3 - Pour the filling over the crust and set the pan on a baking sheet.
Bake until the edges are set and the center moves only slightly when the pan is shaken, about 1 hour but it could take slightly longer.
At the end of the baking time, turn off the heat, and keeping the oven door slightly ajar, cool the cake in the oven for 1 hour. Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to sit at room temperature for another hour. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or overnight.
Note: my cake had a couple of cracks in the middle once it cooled but don't worry too much about that, the chocolate sauce is pretty thick and will cover any cracks.

4 - To make the white chocolate sauce: I recommend covering the cake in the white chocolate sauce a couple of hours before you serve it and returning it to the fridge until you serve.
In a small saucepan, over very low heat, combine the white chocolate with the heavy cream.
Stir until the white chocolate is completely melted and the sauce is smooth, 3-5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and transfer the sauce to a glass measuring cup. Allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
Place cheesecake on your serving plate, remove from the tin (you might have to run a table knife round the edge to loosen it from the tin) and pour the sauce over the entire top of the cheesecake (letting it drip down the sides) and garnish with the macadamia nuts.

Note: To toast the macadamias, place on a baking sheet in a 180ºC/Gas Mark 4 oven for 12 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Rocky Road Crunch Bars

Nigella Lawson is probably my favourite celebrity chef, and considering I've only watched a total of one of her cooking shows, it is probably a rather high and rash accolade to give out willy nilly but I have good reason for it so hear me out. Her book, 'How to be a Domestic Goddess' has earned her the praise all on it's own! I've tried a few recipes from it and they have all been incredible. The difference between good cooking and Mmmmm I can't-stop-eating-long-enough-to-compliment-you cooking is in the flavours. You can make a perfectly pleasant lemon cake or you can make a lemon cake Nigella stylie with ground almonds instead of flour, which you make three days before you serve it and wrap in foil in the interim to give a moist cake full of lemon flavour with a waft of something familiar which you can't quite place and then you do; hmm it tastes a bit like marzipan. 'A fusion of flavours' was the review from my friend Anna.

Anyway, back to the Rocky Road. They have been adapted from Nigella's 'Nigella Express'. And while I love these Rocky Road Crunch Bars (which I've made at least three times), I don't think the recipes in this book are as flavourful as some of her others. But considering the premise of this book is 'Good Food Fast', I think it's understandable.

These are very easy to whip up for a snack or desert and perfect for children's parties (so long as you remember you have to refrigerate them for at least 2 hours) so give them a go, and let me know how you get on!

Ingredients

125g soft butter
150g dark chocolate, 150g milk chocolate (Nigella's recipe: 300g best-quality dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids) broken into pieces
3 x 15ml tablespoons golden syrup
200g biscuits - mix Rich Tea and Digestive and Caramelised biscuits (Nigella uses Rich Tea only)
100g mini marshmallows
2 teaspoons icing sugar for dusting

1 - Melt the butter, chocolate and golden syrup in a heavy-based saucepan. (I always melt chocolate in a Pyrex bowl which I place in a wok, half filled with water and put on a medium heat on the burner) Scoop out about 125ml of this melted mixture and put to one side.
2 - Put the biscuits into a freezer bag and then bash them with a rolling pin. You are aiming for both crumbs and pieces of biscuits
3 - Fold the biscuit pieces and crumbs into the melted chocolate mixture in the saucepan, and then add the marshmallows.
4 - Tip into a foil tray (24cm square); flatten as best you can with a spatula. Pour the reserved 125ml of melted chocolate over the marshmallow mixture and smooth the top.
5 - Refrigerate for about 2 hours or overnight
6 - Cut into 24 fingers and dust with icing sugar by pushing it gently through a tea strainer or small sieve

Bakers Notes:
 - This allegedly makes 24, I say it makes more like 12 small pieces.
 - I use a mix of biscuits because I love caramelised biscuits and jumped at the chance to use them in a recipe. Nigella suggests Rich Tea so I use those too. And my friend Ben makes spectacular Rocky Road using Digestive biscuits so I also use those. I think using three different types of biscuits adds a little somethin' somethin'.
 - Nigella's recipe only uses 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate; I use a mix of dark chocolate and milk and my dark chocolate usually has about 50% cocoa solids. I think her way tastes good too but I personally think it's a bit highbrow for rocky road, I like mine to taste creamy as well as chocolatey and the only way to achieve this is to throw in some milk chocolate!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Chianti Baked Meatballs

Not strictly a cake or dessert but they're baked! These are from Jo Pratt's 'In the Mood for Food'. I'd never heard of her and picked up this book at some point when I worked at Penguin (It's published by Penguin's Michael Joseph imprint) because it was just so pretty and pink and it's absolutely lovely! It is probably my favourite cook book in terms of looks and the recipes just look incredible - I have to confess that this is the only recipe I've made from it (three times and counting) but this is no reflection on the recipes in the book and everything to do with the fact that I have so many cook books and I try not to show favouritism and cook from all of them equally. It's divided into moods like 'In the Mood for being Healthy' and 'In the Mood for some Comfort' which is a nice way to split up a cookbook and if the rest of the recipes are anything like this one, then they'll be fab!

I made these for my brothers birthday dinner (Happy birthday Seye!) with spaghetti, kinda home-made garlic bread and a Waldorf salad. They're pretty easy to make, really tasty and incredibly filling - I'm giving the recipe an 8 out of 10!
Serves four
Takes about an hour to make


Ingredients

For the Meatballs
500g minced beef (I recommend using lean mince)
1 onion, very finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
50g stoned black olives, chopped (I don't like olives so I leave these out)
50g breadcrumbs
25g finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 lightly beaten egg
1 teaspoon paprika
1 long red chilli, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons chopped parsley
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
250ml Chianti red wine
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons caster sugar
a large handful of chopped basil

1 - Preheat the oven to 220ºC / fan 200ºC / gas mark 7

2 - To make the meatballs, all you need to do is mix everything together really well (this is much easier using your hands). Now, using wet hands, divide the mixture into about twelve large or twenty small balls (giving three large or five small meatballs per portion).

3 - Lightly toss the meatballs in the olive oil in an ovenproof sautè pan or a roasting tray. Choose one that is just big enough to fit the meatballs, but not so small that they are squashed together or so big that the liquid evaporates too quickly, leaving less sauce.
4 - Bake the meatballs for 10 minutes, and then pour over the Chianti, turning the meatballs so that they are coated in red wine. There may be some residue in the pan from the meat. This is fine, just stir it into the wine and it will all cook together to give a lovely flavour.


5 - Return to the oven for 10 minutes, and then stir in the chopped tomatoes, sugar and basil. Cook for a further 20-25 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and thickened. I usually cook for almost twice the recommended time as I find it brings out all the flavours of the sauce better and the taste isn't so tomatoey (yeah yeah, I know it's not a word!). Serve straight away with some pasta or baked rosemary potatoes.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Safari Jeep Tour

I wrote this on a trip to the Dominican Republic a couple of years ago. We had just finished climbing up and jumping off waterfalls and were on a safari Jeep tour. We were told that most of the people we saw lived in poverty, and yet they were so happy; living amongst intense greenery and with the ocean on their front steps; waterfalls a short hike away. And I couldn't help but wonder if the definitions of rich and poor as we understand them aren't just a little misleading?

Oh and they're a very interesting people race-wise. It's  a country of mixed race people - 73% multi racial according to Wiki due to the mix between the the original inhabitants of the island and the Spanish who ruled for over three centuries. They have the most amazing colour, like burnished caramel! A lot of the younger guys had blonde curly hair (think Justin Timberlake in his N'Sync days) and really nice strong bodies too, not that I noticed :D

I see you every day
in all your different colours
White and brown. And black.
You come from more states in America than I know
And from England and France and Spain
All so different
yet all of you have money

You look in wonder while our craftspeople create art
which you will pay hand over fist for
You smoke our cigars
Drink our rum
Smell our coffee
Lay under our sun
Swim in our ocean

You believe you have the best of both worlds
Real life with your successful jobs;
where you spend your day sitting at a cramped desk
And here where you get to experience, if only for a few days
How the exotic others live

As I sit on the porch of my very basic home
Where I don't have electricity
Instead I have the ocean in my back yard
And dense green thicket as my garden

As I dance at a beach bar
A beautiful lady writhing in front of me
Cuba Libre in my hand

As I paddle out to sea, sit on my board
Waiting to catch a wave
The sun beating on my back
My sinewy but deceptively strong body
Burned the perfect shade of caramelised brown sugar

As my friends and I go out to the waterfalls
Where we climb unlike you not using ropes and our hands
But leaping from rock to rock
with an agility you only see on your TV screens

I know you will find it hard to believe
But I would never trade places with you