Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Best ever carrot cake

I love carrot cake. I can kid myself it's semi-healthy (300 grams of carrot surely counts as 1 of your 5 a day, right? RIGHT?), it always works and is sure to impress. It's perfect if you never baked a cake before, absolutely foolproof. Oh, and did I mention it's delicious? Not too sweet, moist, covered with a delicate and soft cream cheese frosting. Ah. So if you want to: impress your other half / get oohs and aaahs from people in your office / surprise someone for their birthday / feel like a smug little baker (tick appropriate option) make this cake. Ok. Thanks.
The recipe comes from my trusted source. I use a standard spring form tin with removable bottom and use 1.5 quantities of ingredients for a cake that can be cut in half and sandwiched with frosting. I double the frosting ingredients because, well, you can never have too much of cream cheese goodness. The cake itself can be made the day before, cooled and stored in the fridge. It also keeps amazingly well for a couple of days and doesn't dry out. It's a cake that keeps on giving. Ok, I'll shut up now, you get it, it's an awesome cake.

You'll need:

For the cake:
450 g plain flour
3 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
300 g soft brown sugar
6 eggs
375 ml oil (I use vegetable oil)
2 oranges
1 lemon
300 g carrots, finely grated

For the frosting:

250 g butter at room temperature
100 g icing sugar, sifted
500 g cream cheese (I always use full fat Philadelphia)

a few pecans for decoration

Preheat your oven to 150 C/ 130 C fan and line the bottom of the springform tin with baking parchment.

Sift flour, baking powder, bicarb, sugar and cinnamon into a big mixing bowl and stir to mix everything together.

Whisk eggs with oil, then add zest of lemon and two oranges.

Add grated carrots to the oil and egg mix and stir.
Add the wet mix to flour, sugar and cinnamon then fold through with a spoon or spatula until all the flour is incorporated.

Pour batter into the tin and bake for 1 hr 20 minutes or until the skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Leave the cake to cool and make the frosting. Combine sugar and butter in a mixing bowl, beat with electric mixer until all the sugar is incorporated, then add cream cheese and whisk for a few more minutes until the frosting is smooth and well mixed.

Once the cake is cooled, cut it in half and sandwich with half the frosting. Spread the rest of the frosting on top, smooth with a knife and decorate with pecans.

Devour your slice and don't share :)

Apologies for the atrocious quality of the last picture - the cake was a leaving do present for my friend from work and the pics were taken with a phone.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Instagrub (and more)

puffed wheat and smoothie // red lips and stripes // carrot cake (recipe soon!)
more smoothies // cottage cheese, fruit and almonds // cool poster in a burger joint
the best burger ever! // more breakfast // smoky prawn chowder

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Smoky corn chowder with prawns

What do you get when you mix prawns, bacon and corn? Indulgent deliciousness, that's what. 
I never made chowder before. I found the recipe on Pinterest (where else?) and impulsively decided I need chowder in my life. And after making it this week I can definitely say this: I need chowder in my life. Like, every day. Thick, creamy, packed with flavour, smoky, slightly spicy. Healthy (corn and prawns, hello!) yet indulgent and comforting. Convinced yet? 
Then let's begin!

The recipe makes enough chowder for two and is slightly modified from a recipe I found on a blog called Bev Cooks (by the way, something tells me I'm going to visit that blog very often). As the recipe used American ingredients and measurements I had to improvise and change a few things. I also added chipotle paste for extra smokiness and a little kick.

You'll need:

200 g raw prawns
75 g streaky unsmoked bacon, chopped into quite small pieces
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 heaped tsp of vegetable stock powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp chipotle paste
2 cobs of corn, kernels removed (about 200 g corn in total. If you can't find fresh corn, canned should do!)
3 heaped tbsps creme fraiche (I used half fat version)
oil for frying

few basil leaves, chopped, to garnish

Start by prepping the veggies: finely chop the onion, mince the garlic and slice the kernels off the corn cob into a bowl.

Fry bacon in the frying pan until nice and crispy, then remove from the pan and place on a paper towel to drain off the fat.

You should have some bacon fat left in the pan - place your prawns in the pan and fry for about 1 minute on each side - be careful not to overcook them. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add a bit of olive oil to the pan if necessary, then fry off onion, garlic, chipotle paste, paprika and pepper for about 5 minutes. I didn't add any salt as bacon and stock are already quite salty.

Once the onion and garlic are softened add corn to the pan and fry some more. While the corn is frying, boil some water and make about 250-350 ml of stock. Add 3 tablespoons of creme fraiche to the pan, stir in, then add stock, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes place half of the chowder in a bowl or a deep dish and quickly blitz it with a hand held blender (or pulse in a food processor). The mix should stay a bit chunky. Return the blitzed mix to the pan and stir. Mix in most of the prawns and bacon bits, stir again and serve, topped with reserved prawns, bacon and torn basil. Use some toasted bread or baguette to mop up the sauce. Delish.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Monday, 20 August 2012

Instagrub (and more)

These pictures were supposed to be posted yesterday but I was trying not to do too much as it was so hot! I swear my flat was like a sauna. So here we go. Bits and pieces of last week through Instagram.

nectarines and greek yoghurt - my favourite dessert | maple syrup cookie | cool mural on the way to work
belgian waffle with tarte tatin ice cream | moi | cute snack
healthy food haul | beans | quinoa salad for lunch

Friday, 17 August 2012

Mexican chicken stew with beans and lime quinoa

Frikkin' delicious. Those two words best describe this amazing stew.
Shame on me for discovering quinoa so late. I know how this happened. I just thought it will taste too healthy (come on, you know what I mean?). I thought it's difficult to get it right. Trust me, there's something about me cooking grains... Bulghar wheat, rice - massive fail, tears and frustration. After reading about the health benefits of quinoa (tonnes of protein, calcium and fiber) I had to try it. And, what do ya know. I'm a quinoa convert. Fanatic. I found a recipe for warm and nutty cinnamon quinoa. Quinoa salads. Quinoa brownies (whaaaaat?!). You get the picture. Quinoa = awesomeness.

My mum sent me this funny email called 'Women - that's what we're like'. The first line describes me perfectly: I don't read any manuals or instructions. I keep pushing the buttons until it works. Yup. But you know what I discovered? The cooking instructions you see on the back of food packets? Well, turns out they are there for a reason. And cooking quinoa was easy once I actually read and applied them. Ha.

This recipe was my inspiration. I modified it ever so slightly, reducing the amount of chipotle paste (this stuff is hot!) and replacing pinto beans with aduki beans.

To make this frikkin' delicious and healthy mexican chicken stew for two hungry quinoa lovers you'll need:

2 chicken breasts (250-300 g)
1 tsp chipotle paste (if you cannot find chipotle paste, you can use a mix of hot and smoked paprika)
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
1 pepper
2 carrots
small bunch of coriander
1 tbsp sugar
olive oil

1 stock cube
120 g quinoa
1 can of pinto or aduki beans, drained and rinsed
creme fraiche or natural yoghurt, to serve

Start by prepping the veggies. Grate carrots, finely chop onions and garlic and slice peppers into quite big chunks. 

Heat a bit of oil in a frying pan, add carrots, onion and garlic and fry until they soften (about 5 minutes). Add peppers and chipotle paste, a bit of salt and pepper and fry some more.

After about 3 minutes add tomatoes plus a tinful of water and a tablespoon of sugar and a bit of chopped coriander. Leave half of the coriander for garnish.
Slice chicken breasts into long strips and pop into the pan. They should be covered with the sauce. Don't worry about the sauce being watery, it will reduce as the chicken cooks.

Now measure 120 g of quinoa and rinse it with cold water. Add it to the pot and cover with 360 ml of cold water. Crumble a stock cube, pop the lid on, turn the gas on (medium) and cook for 20 minutes. You don't need to stir it, add more water or anything like that - it will be perfectly cooked. Just make sure the gas is medium/low so the quinoa is simmering gently.

Now get yourself a chopping board and two forks. Fish out the chicken strips and shred them, then put back into the pan with the sauce. If the sauce is still watery, turn the heat up a bit to help it evaporate quicker.

Once the quinoa is ready mix it with beans and add zest from a whole lime plus a generous squeeze of lime juice. 

Pop onto a plate, add chicken stew and sprinkle fresh coriander on top. Serve with a dollop of natural yoghurt or creme fraiche.

Finger lickin' good. Yup.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Wednesday pinning

I think I can easily call this week quinoa week. I found so many recipes with quinoa I want to try and I've been pinning like there was no tomorrow. Expect a recipe featuring quinoa sometime this week - most likely Friday!

Here are three gorgeous recipes I found and I'm itching to try:

And finally, one more recipe. I'm ashamed to say I never tried corn chowder, nor have I ever made it. But I'm planning to - next week!

If you want to see more of my pins (mostly food!) follow me here

Monday, 13 August 2012

Candy heaven: Sea salt and chocolate caramels

Word of advice readers. Pinterest is dangerous.
There's too much food porn on it. There you are, minding your own business then bam! you're in your kitchen making caramels. And you bought yourself a food thermometer. So you know, things just got serious.
I mean, take a look at the pictures that spurred me on to make these caramels and you tell me: would you be able to resist? Would you?
As I always found making caramel a bit daunting I made sure I read all the instructions carefully before I started. The recipe is definitely not too complicated (talk about 4 ingredients!), but a bit of patience and a food thermometer are a must!

The recipe I used is a modified version from a blog called Centsationalgirl. The post itself was hilarious and had me in stitches, especially when I got near the end and read that the author forgot to add butter to the caramels (by the way, I was laughing at the way that realisation was described. Not lack of butter. That's a tragedy). I love it when bloggers admit they made a mistake - it's really refreshing. This story had me reminiscing about all the kitchen mishaps I experienced. Like the time I tried to make chicken with puff pastry lattice but used filo pastry and ended up with undercooked chicken in charred flakes. Not good.
But back to candy!

The main modification was halving the quantities - just in case this didn't work out; I now know that I'll be making a double portion next time! I also used golden syrup instead of corn syrup as I think it's not that easy to get it here in the UK. I tried dipping my caramels into melted chocolate but as they are quite soft I was leaving my fingerprints everywhere so decided to drizzle chocolate on top instead.

To make a small tray (about 20-25 small caramels depending on how small you cut them) you'll need:

Note: the measurements are in American cups. My cup is 237ml.

Start off by measuring all your ingredients and lining a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Gently oil/butter the paper - you don't want your caramels sticking to it later! Get a big pot and food thermometer ready.

Pour cream into the pot and bring up almost to the boil on medium heat. Reduce the heat and add sugar and golden syrup. Stir very gently and keep cooking on small heat.

The mixture will start getting a bit frothy and will come up. Don't panic and keep the heat on minimum.

Keep cooking the mix for about 25 minutes with the food thermometer in (I'm pretty sure that's how long it took, although at the time it felt like ages!). The mix will change colour to a light golden brown and will keep getting more and more golden.

Once the temperature on the thermometer reaches 240 F add butter and stir very gently (try not to scrape the bottom as some sugar is probably stuck there - I still haven't figured out a way of avoiding this).

Once you add the butter watch the thermometer and as soon as it reaches 246 F switch the gas off and pour the caramel into the tray. Don't be tempted to scrape the bottom of the pot (burned sugar warning again!).

Leave the caramel for about 10 minutes and sprinkle with sea salt.

Now leave to cool completely for 2 hrs (being very impatient I stuck my tray in the fridge and it worked very well). I cut my caramels before they were drizzled with chocolate, only to do it again once the chocolate set. You live, you learn.

Once the caramel is cool you can melt the chocolate in a bain marie (a glass bowl sat over a pot of simmering water). Drizzle chocolate over the caramel (Jackson Pollock style!), then stick the tray back in the fridge until the chocolate sets.

Cut into small squares and eat. I guarantee you won't stop at just one piece!

PS. Don't be surprised if people ask you to marry them after trying these. Just sayin'.

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