Monday, April 14, 2014

Pear and almond muffins and the joys of fall

Pear and almond muffins / Muffins de amendoa e pera

I know that many people feel sad when they look out the window and see a cloudy, rainy day, but not me: I actually feel joy in my heart when the weather is like that, as it is today here in Sao Paulo (for the record, I do like sunny days when the weather is cold – I think it’s the best of both worlds).

It’s fall here now (but let’s keep it down or the temperatures might decide to go over 30°C again), time for soups and stews, hot cocoa, and for apples and pears, fruits I adore – and this year I intend to bake with quinces, too. These tender, delicious muffins, with a hint of lemon and almond, were worth all the trouble I had getting them out of the pan – their delicate texture paired with the moisture from the pears made it difficult for me to unmold them, but nothing that a bit of patience and some cursing couldn’t solve. ;)

Pear and almond muffins
slightly adapted from the über beautiful Love, Bake, Nourish: Healthier cakes and desserts full of fruit and flavor

Fruit topping:
2 small pears, cored and thinly sliced
20g unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon demerara sugar

Muffins:
125g unsalted butter, softened
65g mild honey
100g granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g all purpose flour, sifted
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
60g almond meal (finely ground almonds)
50ml whole milk, room temperature
finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Generously butter a 12-cup muffin pan or line it with paper cases (I buttered mine but it was hard to remove the cakes from it, so I suggest using paper cases, like my friend Valentina did).
Place the pear slices in a bowl, drizzle with the melted butter and sprinkle with the demerara sugar. Toss to coat, then lay the slices in the bottom of each muffin cup, pressing firmly.

Muffins: using an electric mixer, cream butter, honey and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a spoonful of the flour if the mixture looks curdled. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Beat in the vanilla. With a rubber spatula, fold in the remaining flour, baking powder, salt, almond meal, milk and lemon zest, mixing just until incorporated. Spoon the batter over the pear slices, then bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes or until golden and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan over a wire rack for 5 minutes, then carefully unmold and transfer to the wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sticky chicken wings and comfort zones

Sticky chicken wings / Asinhas de frango grudentinhas e deliciosas

I admire people who step out of their comfort zone: it’s not an easy thing to do, not everyone’s ready for it, so kudos to those who do it. But at the same time I wonder that if you’re doing something really well, why not l keep doing it?

Life is about balance, I suppose.

That came to mind when I saw the poster for Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars – there he is again, working with Robert Pattinson (the guy who made it impossible for me to watch more than 30 minutes of Cosmopolis). Oh, David, enough already – it’s fine to change things every now and then, I admire you for that, but cut the crap and go back to working with Viggo, please. Go back to that talented comfort zone, I beg of you.

When I want something good for lunch and don’t have time to search around I stay in my foodie comfort zone and turn to the usual suspects: Nigella, Martha, Jamie – they rarely disappoint. Bill Granger is part of that list, too, with his always easy and delicious recipes, like these chicken wings that are dead simple to make and will have you licking your fingers as you eat them.

Sticky chicken wings
slightly adapted from the delicious Holiday

4 ½ tablespoons mirin
4 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
3 teaspoons granulated or caster sugar
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
juice of 1 lime
freshly ground black pepper
16 chicken wings, tips removed and halved at the joints
thinly sliced spring onions, to serve

Combine mirin, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger, cumin, lime juice and black pepper in a shallow, non-metallic dish. Coat the chicken pieces with the marinade, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (or up to overnight).

Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F. Line a large baking sheet with a double layer of foil and brush the foil lightly with canola oil. Lift the chicken pieces from the marinade and place them onto the prepared sheet, without overlapping. Roast for 30 minutes, turning once.
Meanwhile, pour the marinade into a small saucepan and simmer until reduced by half. Pour it over the chicken and roast for 10-15 minutes longer or until chicken is sticky and deep golden brown. Sprinkle with the spring onions and serve at once.

Serves 4

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lemon Madeira cake and the power of syrup

Lemon Madeira cake / Bolo Madeira de limão siciliano

Yes, I have baked another lemon cake. Again. It’s an addiction, I can’t control myself. :D

Cakes are my favorite thing to bake, lemon is my favorite flavor, and I usually have one or two around in the fridge, so it’s a no brainer. However, when this cake cooled and I sliced it, I felt it needed something else – it was a plain cake (the kind I love), but it needed a lift: it needed to be brushed with hot lemony syrup – that turned a good cake into a wonderful one.

I guess that the people in charge of Mad Men decided to brush hot, lemony syrup all over the show halfway through the sixth season – hurray! \0/

Lemon Madeira cake
slightly adapted from the gorgeous Seasonal Baking

Cake:
100g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
280g all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
4 large eggs
300g granulated sugar
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
juice of 1 lemon
150ml heavy cream

Syrup:
2 tablespoons lemon juice
50g granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Generously butter and flour a 10-cup capacity Bundt pan.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs, sugar and lemon zest until really light, fluffy and thickened. With a large spoon gently fold in the cream, followed by the flour mixture and lastly the melted butter and lemon juice. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes, then carefully unmold into a wire rack to cool completely.
Syrup: place the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until it starts to boil. Simmer for 1 minute, then remove from the heat and brush the cake generously with the hot syrup. Cool completely before serving.

Serves 10-12

Monday, April 7, 2014

Iced berries with limoncello white chocolate sauce and "Noah"

Iced berries with limoncello white chocolate sauce / Frutas vermelhas com calda de chocolate branco e limoncello

What makes an atheist go to the movies to watch a movie based on a biblical story? In my case, Darren Aronofsky – he’s one of my favorite directors and I’ll watch anything the man does, even if it involves something I don’t believe in.

I find it incredible that Aronofsky did a movie about a character from the bible and yet he doesn’t paint it with heavy religious tones – his Noah is human, and because of that he is flawed (and played to perfection by Russell Crowe). It is interesting to see traces of Aronofsky’s previous movies in Noah, such as the visual of Noah’s dreams, the many times suffocating music and, my favorite part in the whole movie, when he tells his family about how the world was created – that was extremely beautiful and by the end of the scene I had tears in my eyes.

I don’t think Noah is Aronofsky’s best film so far and it’s definitely not my favorite – Requiem for a Dream is – but it is still much better than many films I’ve seen lately. I can trust him to make something unusual and interesting every time, even if not a favorite of mine – I know he’ll deliver something to be talked about, something to be discussed, and that’s more than I can say about many directors out there. He created something beautiful even when he had the money drastically reduced (and to think that Brad Pitt left the project to be in the insignificant Troy – how lame is that?).

The same way I can trust Aronofsky when it comes to films, I know I can trust Nigella when it comes to food – I would probably have ignored this recipe if it wasn’t for her; it might not be my all-time favorite dessert but it is certainly a good idea for unexpected, last-minute cravings (or guests).

Iced berries with limoncello white chocolate sauce
from the wonderful Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration

500g frozen mixed berries (unthawed)
4 tablespoons limoncello – I used homemade
1 cup (240ml) heavy cream
200g white chocolate, finely chopped

Take the berries out of the freezer and arrange them in a single layer in a dish or plate that has a small lip (so that the sauce doesn’t drip off later). Sprinkle with two tablespoons of limoncello and leave for five minutes – while that goes on, put the cream and the remaining two tablespoons of the limoncello in a small saucepan and heat it until just about to come to the boil, but not actually boiling. Take the pan off the heat and add the white chocolate, then swirl the pan about so that it is all submerged. Swirl the saucepan once again to make sure the chocolate melts.
Using a rubber spatula, gently stir the chocolate-cream mixture until smooth, then pour it over the berries and serve immediately.

Serves 4-6

Friday, April 4, 2014

Roast curry chicken, something strong and something milder

Roast curry chicken / Frango assado com pasta de curry vermelha

As I started reading the news about the books bound in human flesh discovered in Harvard I immediately thought of Sam Raimi and The Evil Dead, only to discover at the end of the piece that the writer had thought of them, too. :)

Movies are a matter of taste, just as food is: this über simple roast chicken, tenderized by the buttermilk and spiced by the red curry paste, is a nice idea even for busier days, since the oven does all the work – you just need time to let the marinade do its thing while the chicken rests in the refrigerator. However, not everyone likes super spicy food, and since curry pastes vary in heat, strength and intensity of flavor taste the one you have at hand before adding it to the marinade: it might be super strong as the 1981 movie, or a lot milder like the 2013 version. ;)

Roast curry chicken
adapted from the delicious and stunning Feed Me Now!

3 tablespoons whole milk
juice of 3 large limes
3 tablespoons red-curry paste*
2 garlic cloves, pound to a paste
salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 chicken pieces – use the ones you like the most

In a large shallow bowl, combine the milk and lime juice and set aside for 10 minutes (you’ll get buttermilk). Add the curry paste, garlic, salt and pepper and mix to combine. Add the chicken pieces, turn to coat, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 190°/375°F. Line a large roasting pan (large enough to hold the chicken pieces without overlapping) with a triple layer of foil and brush it lightly with oil. Arrange the chicken pieces side by side on top of the foil and pour over the marinade. Bake for about 60-70 minutes or until deep golden brown (cook it to your liking).
Serve immediately.

*curry pastes vary in heat, strength and intensity of flavor, so taste it before using it and adjust the amount accordingly – I used this one

Serves 4

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Apple-pecan muffins and being brave (?)

Apple pecan muffins / Muffins de maçã e pecã

The thing I’ve heard the most in these nearly two weeks of a pixie cut is “wow, you’re so brave!”, and I still haven’t found out how to properly reply to that since I don’t think courage has anything to do with getting a haircut – I don’t feel I should be congratulated since I haven’t done anything, well, brave. :)

It’s obvious that I want my hair to look good, but I’m not attached to it in terms of length, have never been. I just don’t think that long = beautiful necessarily, but apparently most of the women I know do, my sister included. I was having my nails done the other day when I saw a young girl (early twenties, I thought) getting a pixie, and the hair stylist (a man) looked at me and said: “I’ve been cutting hair for as long as I can remember and I’m rarely asked for this kind of cut... I love it, but most women just don’t go for it. I guess that the ones that do don’t really care about other people’s opinion” – I smiled at him, nodded and remembered this text I’d read a while ago. I guess it is just my cheekbones (and my round face) against the world (and I know a thing or two about cheekbones, I’ll tell ya). ;D

Now, if you really wanna talk courage, bake these muffins and eat only one – that is what I call being brave. :D

Apple-pecan muffins
slightly adapted from the delicious The Seasonal Baker: Easy Recipes from My Home Kitchen to Make Year-Round

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1 tablespoon + ¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar
2 cups (280g) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ cup (120ml) canola oil
2 large eggs
¾ cup (180ml) whole milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
150g chopped pecans, lightly toasted and cooled + 12 pecan halves for garnish
demerara sugar, for sprinkling

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the diced apple and 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar, and cook until the apples are tender but not mushy, 5-7 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F. Butter a standard 12-cup muffin pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining ¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar and the oil to blend. Add the eggs, milk, and vanilla and whisk to blend. Add to the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula just until the flour has been absorbed – do not overmix, batter will be lumpy. Gently fold in the cooked apple and chopped pecans.
Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups. Top each muffin with a pecan half and sprinkle with demerara sugar.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until muffins are golden and risen and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool in the pan over a wire rack for 5 minutes, then carefully unmold and transfer to rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12 – I halved the recipe and got 8 muffins using this pan

Monday, March 31, 2014

Banana-jam swirl bread and versatility

Banana-jam swirl bread / Bolo de banana mesclado com geleia

As I opened my freezer to get egg whites to make financiers I found four frozen bananas stashed there, sitting next to a bag of peas. I immediately thought “ok, financiers and banana cake” – nothing wrong with that, right? :)

Then I opened the fridge to get some butter and saw a jar of raspberry jam (I can’t live without jam, so I bought another jar right after I used what I had around to make these blondies) – that triggered my memory: I was almost 100% sure I’d seen a jam swirled banana bread somewhere (here, to be more precise). So I decided my banana cake (or bread, in this case) would have a jam swirl, but raspberry, since I find strawberry jam a tad too sweet. The marbled effect looked beautiful and the flavor was great, too.

Banana cakes or muffins are versatile little beauties, aren’t they? They taste delicious plain, with berries, chocolate, coconut, maple syrup, honey, with lemon icing and with jam – they remind me of the talented (and handsome) Mark Ruffalo, who I saw this morning being cute and funny in the trailer for Begin Again, and physically transformed and dark in the movie I most want to watch this year.

Banana-jam swirl bread
from the delicious Better Homes and Gardens Baking: More than 350 Recipes Plus Tips and Techniques

2 cups (280g) all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup very ripe mashed bananas (about 4 medium)
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
½ cup (120ml) canola oil or melted butter (I used ¼ cup of each)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 22.5x12.5cm (9x5in) loaf pan, line it with baking paper and butter the paper as well.

In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture; set aside.
In a medium bowl combine eggs, bananas, sugar, oil and vanilla. Add egg mixture all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy). Transfer batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly. Spoon jam on top of the batter and use a knife or thin metal spatula to swirl jam into batter. Bake for 55-60 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then carefully remove from the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Serves 8-10

Friday, March 28, 2014

Chorizo, beef and couscous stuffed peppers - dedicated to two certain kids

Chorizo, beef and couscous stuffed peppers / Pimentões recheados com carne, cuscuz marroquino e chorizo

As I was reading the “news” days ago on People online, I found out that Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin have separated. Ok, alright, divorces happen, they’re part of life. People are already making fun of their “conscious uncoupling” (lol), I’m no saint and must confess that this link made me laugh out loud – I guess that it’s a matter of time before the kids ask to live with dad instead of mom, right? :D

When the kids move to Chris Martin’s house he can even cook this recipe for them: these stuffed peppers are delicious and while they’re in the oven dad can play with the kids or even write them a special song – mommy won’t be around to forbid them to eat bell peppers... :D

Chorizo, beef and couscous stuffed peppers
slightly adapted from Dish magazine

6 long red peppers or red bell peppers
¼ cup couscous
¼ cup boiling water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 chorizo sausage, finely chopped
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
400g beef mince
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 400g-can chopped tomatoes
handful fresh basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
Sauce: Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and cook the onion, garlic and paprika until the onion is tender. Stir in the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Add the basil, stir to combine, cover and remove from the heat. Set aside.

Peppers: Combine the couscous and water in a small bowl, cover and leave for 10 minutes
Trim the stems off the peppers and remove the seeds, keeping the peppers whole. Place in large heatproof dish and pour over enough boiling water to cover. Leave for 5 minutes then lift out and drain well. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan and cook the onion, carrot, garlic and paprika until the onion is tender. Stir in the chorizo and parsley and cook for 1 minute. Tip into a large bowl and cool. Add the couscous and mince, season generously and combine well.

To assemble: Holding each pepper upright, drop in small pieces of the stuffing then use the handle of a wooden spoon to gently push it right to the bottom of the pepper. Continue until full to the top and repeat with the remaining peppers. You may not use all of the filling. Tip the tomato sauce into a large shallow baking dish and place the peppers and their stems, on top (I secured the tops with toothpicks before baking the peppers). Roll any unused filling into balls and place around the peppers. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake for a further 10 minutes until golden and the peppers are tender when pierced with a skewer.

Serves 4-6 – I filled two very large peppers with half the recipe for the filling and got 6 meatballs; I baked everything using 1 whole sauce recipe

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Salted peanut blondies and "Wallander"

Salted peanut blondies / Blondies de amendoim salgado

Since I got to the end of the third season of The Killing a couple of days ago – cannot wait for Netflix to launch season four – I needed a new show to follow (I realize that I sound like an addict, but well, I am addicted to TV shows, so there you have it). The idea was to start American Horror Story but I bumped into Wallander and then competition was over because of my love for Sir Kenneth Branagh.

I’m still at the beginning of season 1, but liking it a lot already – Mr. Branagh can do no wrong, he’s a fantastic actor. It’s a crime-drama show, which is always good in my book, and Loki is part of the cast – what’s not to like? :D

When I’m in a hurry and/or uninspired to choose something to bake, I usually resort to brownies; however, lately I’ve been going for blondies instead, for they’re equally easy to make – I’m beginning to think that blondies can do no wrong, especially if they’re freckled with milk chocolate and topped with salted peanuts – yum. :)

Salted peanut blondies
slightly adapted from the beautiful Sweet

2 cups (280g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks/170g) unsalted butter, softened
250g light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
115g milk chocolate, in chips or small chunks
100g salted peanuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 20x30cm (8x12in) baking pan, line it with foil leaving an overhang on the two long opposite sides and butter the foil as well.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. On low speed, add the dry ingredients ½ cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Add the chocolate chips and beat until evenly distributed, about 1 minute.
Spread the batter into the prepared baking sheet, smooth the top, then sprinkle with the chopped peanuts. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the edges appear crisp and the top is slightly golden. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out with a few moist crumbs. Cool completely in the pan over a wire rack. Cut into squares or bars to serve.

Makes 32 blondies

Monday, March 24, 2014

Cream, orange and lime cake and how I got to my latest TV obsession

Cream, orange and lime cake / Bolo de creme de leite, laranja e limão

I’ve been tormenting you about The Killing for many posts but I haven’t told you how I got to the show – it was because of Robocop.

I was interested in the movie for a number of reasons: José Padilha directed it, the original is a favorite of mine and also because of the amazing cast. However, I knew nothing about the leading actor – I’d seen Joel Kinnaman for seconds in Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and that was it. I liked Robocop a lot and after watching the movie I began reading about it – I got to Kinnaman, then to The Killing, and when my friend Neyara told me I would certainly love the series I gave it a go, only to become addicted by the end of the first episode and devour season after season (but you already know that). ;)

Moderation doesn’t seem to be something I’m familiar with when it comes to TV series or movies, and apparently I lack it in the kitchen, too: I’d bought heavy creamt to make the chocolate ice cream in popsicle form again – my husband can’t get enough of it – but I lost track of the amount of cream and all of a sudden there was a tub in the fridge about to go bad. I couldn’t let that happen, so I adapted a cake recipe I’d seen on Delicious made with clotted cream and that turned out to be a very smart – and flavorsome – move. ;)

Cream, orange and lime cake
slightly adapted from the great Delicious magazine UK

Cake:
4 large eggs
450g granulated sugar
2 cups heavy cream
finely grated zest of 2 oranges
finely grated zest of 3 limes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
400g all purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
generous pinch of table salt

Drizzle:
juice of the limes and the oranges zest for the cake
8 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter two 900g/2lb-loaf pans, line them with baking paper and butter the paper as well.
With an electric mixer, whisk the eggs and sugar for 3-5 minutes until pale, thick and nearly double in size. Gently beat in the cream with the zests and vanilla until smooth, sift the flour, baking powder and salt over the mixture and fold in gently. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for about 1 hour until a skewer pushed into the middle comes out clean. (Cover the cake with foil if it’s browning too quickly, but not before the 30 minute mark or the cake might sink.)
Towards the end of the cooking time, make the drizzle: put all the juices in a small saucepan and heat gently until the mixture bubbles. Leave to cool for 2 minutes, then add the sugar.
As soon as the cakes are cooked, remove from the oven and pierce them all over with a metal skewer. Gradually pour over the hot drizzle, letting it sink before adding more. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then carefully unmold onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 2 loaves, each serving 6-8

Friday, March 21, 2014

Ham and arugula quiche and something good that won't last long

Ham and arugula quiche / Quiche de presunto e rúcula

As I move towards the last episodes of The Killing, I keep thinking of how unfair it is for such a fantastic TV show to be cancelled at such an early stage (the show’s been cancelled twice, actually, which is even more shocking). I’ve read that Netflix has ordered a fourth season consisting of six episodes to conclude the series – thank you, Netflix – but it is still hard for me to understand how something so good can last so little – the über boring Frasier had eleven seasons, for crying out loud.

Quiches are something I never eat unless I make them (or my grandmother – she makes mean quiches) – the soggy pastry usually tastes like nothing and the filling is tough and equally flavorless. :S When I eat quiche I want the pastry to be buttery and flaky and the filling to be silky, with a little wobble. The recipe I bring today is slightly different: the base is made with puff pastry – which was perfect for me since I was short on time that day – and the parmesan sprinkled on top of the filling creates a golden and crisp topping. Yum – thank you, Donna.

I guess that good food made properly is like good TV series: we don’t get them often, so when we do we should enjoy them to the fullest.

Ham and arugula quiche
from the always delicious Donna Hay magazine

1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, finely chopped
8 eggs
1 cup (240ml) single cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 sheets store-bought puff pastry, thawed
250g sliced ham, torn
2 cups baby arugula leaves
½ cup finely ground parmesan

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F and place a large baking sheet inside to heat up. Heat a frying pan over high heat, add the butter and onion and cook for 1-2 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a large bowl and cool. Add the eggs, cream, salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Line two 18cm loose-bottomed lightly buttered fluted tart pans with the pastry and trim the edges. Prick the cakes with a fork. Refrigerate for 10 minutes. Divide the ham and arugula between the tart shells and carefully pour over the egg mixture. Sprinkle with the parmesan and transfer to the oven (onto the baking sheet). Bake for about 30 minutes or until tops are puffed and golden.
Cool slightly and serve.

serves 8 - I made three 10cm (4in) tartlets eyeballing the amounts of rocket and ham and using 1 300g-sheet of puff pastry, 3 eggs, 1/3 cup cream, pinch of freshly ground nutmeg, ½ onion, 1 tablespoon butter and 3 tablespoons parmesan

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Plum and marzipan torta with cardamom sugar for the end of the summer

Plum and marzipan torta with cardamom sugar / Bolo de ameixa e marzipã com cardamomo

I cannot wait for fall to come – I never liked hot days and have had enough with the high temperatures around here. Summer was never a favorite of mine, not even when I was a kid, so you can imagine how uncomfortable these past months have been for me.

There is one good thing about summer: the delicious produce we have at this time of the year. Corn, tomatoes and stone fruits – my favorites. However, while flipping some cookbooks weeks ago, it suddenly hit me: summer is almost over and I haven’t baked or cooked much with stone fruit. I love them so much yet I keep baking recipes with citrus or chocolate or peanut butter – I should enjoy these beauties while there’s still time.

For that reason I decided to make at least one of the plum recipes I saw on the latest issue of Gourmet Traveller (and I plan on making another next weekend): this torta, or cake, beautifully presented with gleaming plum halves. The addition of marzipan was my idea because anything almond always pairs wonderfully with anything stone fruit – this time was no different and I’m very proud of that. ;)

Plum and marzipan torta with cardamom sugar
slightly adapted from the always stunning Gourmet Traveller

Poached plums:
½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
200ml water
5 plums, halved and stones removed

Cake:
½ cup (120ml) whole milk, room temperature
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 egg
130g granulated sugar
225g all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
60g unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
100g marzipan, in small pieces – I used homemade
2 tablespoons melted butter, for brushing the cake

Cardamom sugar topping:
1 tablespoon icing sugar
¼ teaspoon freshly ground cardamom

For poached plums, stir sugar and water in a medium saucepan over high heat to dissolve sugar, then bring to the simmer. Reduce heat to low, add plums and poach until tender (10-12 minutes). Cool to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 20cm (8in) square cake pan, line the bottom with baking paper and butter the paper as well.
Combine milk and lemon juice in a bowl and set aside for 5 minutes. Whisk the egg and sugar in a separate bowl to combine, then add milk mixture, flour, baking powder, salt, melted butter, vanilla and lemon zest, whisk until smooth, then pour into prepared pan. Drain plums (discard poaching liquid) and press gently into cake batter. Scatter with marzipan pieces and press them lightly into the cake batter. Bake until an inserted skewer comes out clean (25-30 minutes). Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. Turn right way up again (carefully), then brush with melted butter.
For cardamom sugar, combine sugar and cardamom, scatter on top of warm cake and serve warm or at room temperature. The torta is best eaten on the day it’s made.

Serves 6-8 – I made the exact recipe above using a 20x28cm tart pan with a removable bottom

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dark chocolate waffles and Super Mario

Dark chocolate waffles / Waffles de chocolate

It took me a good while, but I finally gave in and bought a waffle maker. :)

For years I avoided buying a waffle iron because I would be the only one eating the waffles, and I really did not need more baked goods going straight to my waistline. :S It also seemed like a waste of money. But then, many months ago, I found out that my partner in crime for all things movie and sweet – my sister – loved waffles, too, and then it hit me: I would have someone to share them with from time to time, someone who appreciates them like I do, and the gadget no longer seemed so unnecessary. :D

So last Saturday we had an afternoon of Super Mario – it’s a modern version of the game, so she kicked my ass big time – followed by freshly made chocolate waffles drizzled with honey. We had loads of fun together – we almost drove my husband nuts with all the laughing – and she loved the waffles (I did, too). :)

Next time I’ll challenge her to play the old Super Mario version (so I can kick her ass) – I’ll just have to choose another waffle recipe to try. :D

Dark chocolate waffles
slightly adapted from Bon Appétit

2 cups (280g) all-purpose flour
½ cup (45g) unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup (44g) brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
3 large eggs, separated
2 cups (480ml) buttermilk*
½ cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
170g (6oz) dark chocolate, finely chopped – I used one with 53% cocoa solids

Preheat oven to 120°C/250°F. Whisk flour, cocoa powder, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add egg yolks, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Blend with a fork, then gradually incorporate dry ingredients, mixing just until combined.
Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat egg whites in a small bowl until soft peaks form. Working in 2 batches, fold egg whites into batter just until combined. Fold in chocolate.
Heat a waffle iron until very hot; lightly coat with nonstick spray. Working in batches, cook waffles until cooked through. Transfer to a wire rack set inside a baking sheet, cover loosely with foil, and keep warm in oven until ready to serve.
Serve waffles with honey.

* homemade buttermilk: to make 1 cup buttermilk place 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a 240ml-capacity measuring cup and complete with whole milk (room temperature). Wait 10 minutes for it to thicken slightly, then use the whole mixture in your recipe

Makes 6 – I got 5

Friday, March 14, 2014

Eggplant “meatballs” and Stephen Holder

Eggplant "meatballs" / Almôndegas de berinjela

Some supporting characters have the power of stealing main characters’ thunder in movies and TV shows – for instance, Amy Poehler is super funny but to me Tom Haverford is the highlight of Parks and Recreation.

I finished the first season of the excellent The Killing and was amazed by Mireille Enos’ strong performance, but Joel Kinnaman was the real surprise here: his Stephen Holder is a delight to watch, adding a much needed – and intelligently made – comic relief to a very dark show. He has the best lines and deliver them perfectly, making me laugh like crazy in several scenes – one of my favorites is the one in which Linden tells him that he can’t eat pork rinds if he’s a vegetarian and he tells her that “pork rinds are junk food, don’t count” (here at 1:10 if you want to enjoy it). :D

These “meatballs”, made out of eggplant with no meat whatsoever, are delicious – I served them with pasta and it was a hit. They’re very soft and it took me a while to shape the mixture into balls so I thought of adding an egg to it, but since my husband kept snacking on the mixture while I tried to rolled it I skipped the egg and added more breadcrumbs instead – it worked like a charm and I just had to be careful while frying them to keep them from falling apart.

I believe these eggplant “meatballs” will be a hit at your house as they were in mine - either if you’re a true vegetarian or a Holder-kind-of-vegetarian. :D

Eggplant “meatballs”
slightly adapted from A Girl Called Jack: 100 Delicious Budget Recipes

1 eggplant
1 onion, finely diced
1 far garlic clove, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
3 large black olives, finely chopped
2 tablespoons canola oil
finely grated zest and juice of 1 small
about ¼ cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
small handful parsley leaves, chopped
small handful basil leaves, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
tomato sauce, to serve

Cut the stems off the ends of the eggplants and halve lengthways. Dice the flesh into chunks and pop into a medium nonstick saucepan or frying pan. Add the onion, garlic, chilli and oliver, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes to brown and soften.

Add the lemon zest and juice, mix to combine, then remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl. Cool slightly. Add the breadcrumbs, parmesan and herbs. Season with salt and pepper. Shape the mixture into tablespoon-sized balls with your hands. Wipe the nonstick frying pan clean with a kitchen towel and pour in remaining 1 tablespoon. Heat over medium heat, then carefully fry the eggplant balls in batches until browned all over. Remove with a slotted spoon and serve with the tomato sauce.

Makes about 12

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Skillingsboller - a delicious project for a rainy day + something to go with it

Skillingsboller

I love baking with nuts and usually have at least one kind of them around – I keep them in the freezer so they’ll last longer without going rancid. Sometimes I go crazy and buy too much of a certain kind of nut and then, even with the help of the freezer, I have to find a way to use the precious ingredients.

The small package of flaked almonds in my freezer begging to be used coincided with the arrival of this adorable cookbook, and being a huge fan of cinnamon rolls only added to the equation – it was easy to pick the first recipe to be tried. The buns turned out delicious, ridiculously tender and perfumed with the cinnamon, with some crunch added by the almonds. They do take some time to be put together, I admit it, but it was a cloudy day and I had no intention to go out, therefore it was a perfect project.

Freshly baked buns + the couch on a rainy day = pure bliss. And if there is something interesting to watch, even better. \0/

Skillingsboller
from the delicious The Book of Buns

Dough:
500g all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons dry yeast
75g granulated sugar
1 cup (240ml) whole milk, heated up to just below boiling point, then cooled to room temperature
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 egg
½ teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
75g unsalted butter, room temperature, chopped

Filling:
100g unsalted butter, room temperature
50g granulated sugar
50g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
150g flaked almonds

Glaze:
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
pinch of salt
pinch of granulated sugar
demerara sugar, for sprinkling the buns

Put the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer, make a well in the center and put the yeast and sugar into the well. Pour the milk over the well, toss some flour over the milk to cover it, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
Add the salt, egg, cardamom and vanilla to the rested mixture and mix at low speed to combine (or mix with a wooden spoon). Mix on low-medium speed for 5 minutes (or knead by hand for 10). Add the butter and mix for another 5 minutes (or 10 by hand), until you get a smooth, elastic dough – at this point my dough was too wet from the butter, so I added 20g all purpose flour and it became smooth and soft. Transfer to a lightly buttered large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for 2 hours.
For the filling, mix the butter, sugars and cinnamon until incorporated. Set aside. Lightly butter a 20x30cm (8x12in) baking pan.

Punch the dough down and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Roll it to a 60x30cm (24x12in) rectangle. Spread the dough evenly with the cinnamon butter, then sprinkle with the almonds. Starting from the longest side of the rectangle, roll the dough tightly into a cylinder and pinch the seams to seal. Cut the cylinder into 12 equal slices and place them, cut side up, into prepared pan. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let the buns prove for 45 minutes – in the meantime, preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F.
In a small bowl, beat together with a fork the egg, water, salt and granulated sugar. Brush the buns with the glaze and sprinkle generously with the demerara sugar and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then unmold and place upside up on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12

Monday, March 10, 2014

Cookies and cream fudge brownies, easy and difficult decisions

Cookies and cream fudge brownies / Brownies com Oreos

Ladies, let’s talk about hair, shall we? ;)

For months now I’ve been thinking of getting a pixie cut, while at the same time I keep in mind the idea of growing my hair long (currently it’s chin length). I haven’t had long hair in several years because a) I like short hair a lot and b) I’m not patient enough to grow it long. And that’s how it goes: one day I decide I’ll go at least past the shoulders with my hair, only to remember Elisabeth Moss’ beautiful hair in the Emmys last year and fall in love with short hair all over again.

I am a nutcase, I know. :D

If only things were easy to decide in life as they are in the kitchen – when my sister called me to ask for thoughts on what to do with a bag of Oreos I immediately said: “brownies!” – it took me no time at all to decide. :) These are Lorraine Pascale’s and they’re really delicious: I ended up underbaking them slightly and the texture got similar to the Guinness brownies I made a while ago – not a bad thing if you’ll ask me. :)

Cookies and cream fudge brownies
from Baking Made Easy

165g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate, finely chopped – I used one with 53% cocoa solids
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
165g soft light brown sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
pinch of salt
180g Oreos, cut into quarters

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 20cm (8in) square baking pan, line it with foil leaving an overhang on two opposite sides and butter the foil as well.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted, remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate. Set aside for 2 minutes, then stir until melted.
Using an electric mixer, whisk the eggs, egg yolks and vanilla together in a large bowl until the eggs begin to get light and fluffy. Add the sugar in two additions, whisking between each. Pour it around the side of the egg mix so as not to knock out the air that has been whisked in. Keep whisking until the mixture becomes stiffer. Once the egg mixture is ready, pour the chocolate into it - again around the sides so as not to knock the air out.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt over the mixture, add a third of the cookies and stir until fully combined, then pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Scatter the remaining cookies over the top, pressing them in slightly. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25–30 minutes. The middle should be very so slightly gooey. Cool completely in the pan. Cut into squares to serve.

Makes 16

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Polentanella (polenta tomato and basil salad) and three characters that seem to be the same

Polentanella (polenta tomato and basil salad) / Polentanella (salada de tomate, manjericão e polenta)

As I was watching Hannibal a couple of days ago I noticed something about Raúl Esparza: I have seen three different TV shows with him and he seems to be playing the same character in all of them. His Dr. Chilton isn’t much different from Rafael Barba, and the latter is quite similar to the ADA he portrayed in Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

I get that not every actor is Leonardo DiCaprio or Christian Bale, but it would be nice to see Esparza playing something different – perhaps he’s just typecast (hello, Ray Liotta).

Changes are good for actors – back in the 80s who could have thought that Tom Hanks would turn into such a talented drama actor? – and it’s good when it comes to food, too: this is nothing more than a panzanella salad in which the bread has been replaced by crispy polenta pieces. I thought it was delicious and with the addition of mozzarella it became a substantial meal, great for summer days.

Polentanella (polenta tomato and basil salad)
adapted from the always wonderful Delicious Australia

400ml vegetable stock
400ml water
200g instant polenta
40g grated parmesan
½ cup (120ml) extra virgin olive oil
450g cherry tomatoes
½ onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup roasted peppers, drained, chopped
3 tablespoons capers, drained
2 small Lebanese cucumbers, chopped
handful fresh basil leaves
250g fresh buffalo mozzarella, torn

Grease a 20cm (8in) square pan. Combine the water and stock in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the polenta and stir until smooth. Over medium heat cook until thickened. Remove, stir in the parmesan, season with salt and pepper, then spread out on prepared pan. Let cool, then refrigerate until set (about 1 hour).
Preheat the oven to 220°C and line a large baking sheet with foil.
turn out the polenta and cut into 2cm thick strips, then break into 2cm pieces. place them onto the lined sheet and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil. bake for 30 minutes or until the polenta turn crisp and golden. Halve half of the cherry tomatoes and add them to the baking sheet with the polenta. Drizzle with 1-2 teaspoons olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast for 15 minutes or until soften.
Dressing: place the onion and vinegar in a small bowl and set aside for 15 minutes. add the remaining olive oil, season with salt and pepper and mix to combine.
In a large bowl, combine the fresh tomatoes, roasted peppers, capers, cucumber and half the basil, pour over the dressing and toss gently to combine. add the roasted tomatoes and polenta bits and toss again. top with the mozzarella and remaining basil and serve.

Serves 4 generously

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Lemon and marzipan drizzle cake and a dull season premiere

Lemon and marzipan drizzle cake / Bolo de marzipã e limão siciliano

Because of the fantastic Top of the Lake I began watching Mad Men again – I guess I missed the lovely Peggy Olson. :)

Three episodes into the sixth season and to me the show has really lost its sparkle – I don’t remember a season premiere as dull as that, and why on earth make it last that long if there was nothing interesting in it (the people behind it should take lessons from the people behind the season premiere of Hannibal). I will go on with Mad Men out of curiosity – I want to know how things will be managed for the show finale – but it won’t be a priority, for sure: Dr. Lecter is back, Sons of Anarchy is very interesting and there are still a couple of episodes left with one of my favorite villains of all time – yes, Mad Men can definitely wait. :)

There was something in my fridge that couldn’t wait, though: the marzipan left from this cake had to be used soon since it lasts in the fridge for only one month. I ended up making two delicious recipes with it and one of them was this lemon cake: moist, moreish, tasty, it gets even better the day after it is made – if it lasts that long. :)

Lemon and marzipan drizzle cake
slightly adapted from here

1 cup (225g/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (225g) granulated sugar
finely grated zest of 3 lemons
juice of 1 lemon
150g marzipan, chopped into small chunks (about 1cm/½in squares) – I used homemade
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup + 1 tablespoon (150g) all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup (100g) ground almonds

Drizzle:
juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons Amaretto (optional)
4 tablespoons granulated sugar (cut to 3 if omitting the Amaretto)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a deep 20cm (8in) round cake pan, line the bottom with a circle of baking paper and butter the paper as well.
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, then add the lemon zest and juice, and the marzipan pieces – try to keep them separate so they don't stick together.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. The mixture will probably curdle because of the lemon juice – don't worry, it will come back together when the flour is added. Beat in the vanilla. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt, stir through the ground almonds, and beat briefly until smooth.

Transfer the mix to the cake pan, level the top and bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes, before turning the oven down to 170°C, and baking for a further 50 minutes*. Cover the top of the cake with foil if it begins to look too dark, but only after it's been cooking for 30 minutes.
About 5 minutes before the end of cooking time, make the drizzle: put the lemon juice and Amaretto in a small saucepan and heat until steaming. Stir through the sugar and cook over medium heat for 1 minute. Remove from the heat. When the cake is cooked, pierce it all over with a skewer and gradually pour over the syrup, waiting for the cake to absorb it before pouring more. Once all the liquid has been absorbed, cool the cake completely in the pan. Carefully unmold, remove the paper and invert it onto a serving plate.

The cake can be kept in an airtight container for 3-4 days.

* I baked the cake at 180°C/350°F the whole time, total of 60 minutes

Serves 8-10

Friday, February 28, 2014

Cornmeal-pistachio biscotti and going back to dramaville

Cornmeal-pistachio biscotti / Biscotti de fubá e pistache

I try not to be such a creature of habit sometimes but apparently I fail miserably at it. After watching dark drama after dark drama, I felt I needed to take a breather – it was time for a comedy. To avoid repeating the mistake of months ago, I asked the lovely Amanda for some tips on comedies, and despite being a drama kind of gal like me she commented something about Community, Parks and Recreation (that one I already adore) and 30 Rock – I’ve read tons about the latter but never watched it, so I decided to start with it.

I watched the pilot and found it funny and clever; however, by the end of it I felt there was something missing – maybe the tight muscles or the teeth clenching, I don’t know. One day later I was back to dramaville, this time accompanied by Hellboy and Peggy Bundy – if that isn’t sheer perfection I don’t know what is. :D

Every time I feel like baking cookies I have to fight the urge of making biscotti – they are easy to make, taste great and can be kept in an airtight container for a good while – what’s not to love? I sometimes manage to vary a little but end up going back to my addiction – this time I was lured in by the addition of cornmeal to the dough, which turned out to be a delicious idea.

Cornmeal-pistachio biscotti
slightly adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

125g pistachios
¼ cup (56g) cold unsalted butter
½ cup + 2 tablespoons (125g) granulated sugar
1 large cold egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons Amaretto
1 ¼ cups (155g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons fine cornmeal – I used corn flour (not corn starch)
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon table salt

Preheat oven to 165°C/325°F. Line a large baking sheet with baking paper.
Roast the pistachios on a small baking sheet until they are fragrant. Finely chop ¼ cup of the nuts; coarsely chop the remainder.
In a medium bowl, barely cream the butter with the sugar. Beat in the egg, vanilla and Amaretto.
In a separate bowl, combine the nuts, flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Add to the butter mixture and mix until homogenous.
Divide the dough in half. Roll the dough into logs about 2.5cm (1in) in diameter. The dough should be cold enough to handle without difficulty, though you may need to dust the counter with a little additional flour if the logs start to stick.
Place the logs on the baking sheet, spacing them at least a few inches apart; they will swell considerably. Bake until slightly brown and firm on the surface, but yielding to light pressure, 15-20 minutes. Rotate the pan if they are browning unevenly. Don’t underbake, or the baking powder will not complete its job, and the cookies will be hard and dense rather than crisp and with a great coarse texture.
Slide the paper with the logs to a wire rack and let cool for 5-8 minutes. Turn the oven temperature to 180°C/350°F.
Slice the logs on an angle about 1.25cm (½in) thick. Line the warm baking sheet with baking paper. Place the biscotti cut side down on sheet and bake for another 5 minutes or so to brown lightly. Cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

Makes about 30

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Honey cake, relating to characters and "Philomena"

Honey cake / Bolo de mel

I believe it’s part of movie/TV show watching to relate or not to characters, to analyze if we would act like them or not in certain situations – for instance, I would never spend time in a cabin in the middle of the woods and I would certainly never enter a dark attic (or basement) all by myself holding nothing but a lit candle. :D

Speaking of a more serious subject, I watched Philomena yesterday and by the end of the movie I thought it could have been called “Pollyanna”.

Judi Dench is spectacular in the movie – just for a change – and there are several funny moments developed by her character (which reminded me of my paternal grandmother – she’ll say anything that comes to her mind). However, it bothered me much how Philomena deals with the situations she faces, I couldn’t understand it therefore I could not relate – I actually saw myself as the journalist, I would have behaved pretty much like Martin Sixsmith did or worse, I believe. SPOILERS I would have trashed that convent from top to bottom and would have slapped that nun like there was no tomorrow – there would be no forgiving of something so cruel and monstrous. END OF SPOILERS

There is a scene in the movie in which Steve Coogan’s character is having some tea and goes completely bonkers for the cake he’s eating – I felt the same way about this honey cake: it’s extremely simple – no frosting, no filling, nothing – and yet its flavor and texture are absolutely divine. A perfect match for a cup of tea or coffee.

Honey cake
slightly adapted from the delicious and beautiful National Trust Simply Baking

115g mild honey
115g unsalted butter, softened
115g granulated sugar
2 medium eggs*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
225g all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
about 100ml full-fat milk, room temperature, as necessary
icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to fan 180°C/350°F. Butter a 20cm (8in) square pan, line the base with baking paper and butter the paper as well.
If your honey is thick, gently warm over a low heat, then set aside until tepid but still runny.
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the honey, followed by the eggs, a little at a time. Beat in the vanilla. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg over the mixture and fold in, using a rubber spatula. If necessary, add a little milk: the mixture should drop from the spoon in soft blobs (I used only 60ml of the 100ml called for in the recipe). Spoon into the prepared pan and smooth the surface.
Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden, risen and a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan over a wire rack for 30 minutes, then carefully unmold, remove the paper and turn the cake back onto the rack. Cool completely. Dust with icing sugar to serve.

* I always buy large eggs, so I chose the smallest 2 in the package to use in this recipe

Makes 16

Monday, February 24, 2014

Coconut and apricot bars to shake off the sadness

Coconut and apricot bars / Barrinhas de damasco e coco

My sister and I take turns choosing the movies we watch together at the theater, and last Saturday it was her turn to pick it: I wanted Robocop, but she went with The Book Thief.

I haven’t read the book, therefore can’t verify if the movie is faithful to it, but in general I liked the story and I’ll watch anything with Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush, actually. However, the movie made me feel really sad at the end – movies about the Nazism are never easy to watch, but I’d seen more graphic ones on the subject, and up to now I haven't been able to figure out why Liesel’s story had stuck in my head like that.

I went home thinking about it and tried to shake it off by spending some time on the treadmill, with no success. Then I decided to bake something, something sweet, and all that sugar and coconut and apricots took my mind off the sadness for a while – by the time I removed the cake pan from the oven I was feeling a little lighter already, and then I had something tasty to munch on while I watched another episode of House of Cards – the Underwoods make me so nervous I could have chewed all my nails off.

Coconut and apricot bars
slightly adapted from a Bill Granger recipe published by The Independent

Crust:
120g unsalted butter, melted
120g granulated sugar
50g sweetened flaked coconut
150g all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
180g ready to eat dried apricots, chopped

Topping:
150g sweetened flaked coconut
50g granulated sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons apricot jam

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 20cm (8in) square cake pan, line it with foil leaving an overhang on two opposite sides and butter the foil as well.
Crust: in a large bowl, mix the melted butter, sugar, coconut, flour, baking powder, salt and egg. Spoon into the pan and spread the mixture out into an even layer. Dot the chopped apricots over the top. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until slightly golden around the edges.
Make the topping: in a medium bowl, mix the coconut, sugar, egg, salt and vanilla until combined. Remove the pan from the oven, spread over the jam and use 2 spoons to spread out the coconut mixture in a rough, even layer.
Return to the oven and cook for a further 20-30 minutes or until top is golden. Cool completely in the pan, then cut into bars to serve.

Makes 16


Friday, February 21, 2014

Hazelnut, cinnamon and coconut cake, a great mini-series and a truly deserved Golden Globe

Hazelnut, cinnamon and coconut cake / Bolo de avelã, coco e canela

I like watching award shows basically for two reasons: it is great to see my favorite actors and directors get awarded – which, unfortunately, doesn’t happen as often as I would like – and I also love seeing the dresses and hairdos worn by the stars (to later comment on the hits and misses). :D

There is, however, another really good reason: TV shows or movies I haven’t heard of, interesting things to look up and maybe add to my already long “to watch” list.
It was because of Elisabeth Moss’ win at this year’s Golden Globe that I learned of Top of the Lake, and what a great mini-series it is: a dark story created and director by Jane Campion – a badass director whose work I admire –, it is set in beautiful locations in New Zealand, with great writing and acting. I already liked Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson – probably the best thing in Mad Men – and here she’s even more fantastic. She truly deserves the GG she took home, and I don’t know how the Globes ignored Peter Mullan, absolutely amazing as the terrifying Matt.

As does The Fall, Top of the Lake discusses violence against women and its consequences – not an easy subject to watch but completely necessary to be portrayed (and here it is done in a very realistic way).

I got addicted to Top of the Lake after minutes only and watched the seven episodes in a matter of days (unfortunately there won’t be additional seasons); every time I saw the characters walking near that cold water I felt like having a cup of tea – and a slice of cake wouldn’t hurt, either. :D

This is a recipe I made because I found the combination of hazelnut, cinnamon and coconut an unusual one, and it turned out to be a delicious one (and the yogurt makes the cake moist and tender to boot).

Hazelnut, cinnamon and coconut cake
slightly adapted from the always wonderful Delicious UK

Cake:
4 medium eggs*
2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
230g all purpose flour
50g corn starch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
185ml canola oil
420g plain yogurt
1 cup (100g) sweetened flaked coconut
100g hazelnuts, lightly toasted, cooled and finely chopped

For dusting the cake:
50g icing sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Generously butter a 12-cup nonstick capacity Bundt pan – if using a regular pan without nonstick coating, butter and flour it (I was stubborn and used a 10-cup capacity pan, so I had to bake the excess batter in a 1-cup mini pan).
Using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs and sugar together until thick and pale. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, corn starch, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Stir in the oil, yogurt, coconut and hazelnuts until combined. Stir in the egg mixture.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour/1 hour 20 minutes or until golden and risen and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan over a wire rack for 15 minutes, then carefully unmold onto the rack. Cool completely.
In a small bowl, combine the icing sugar and cinnamon, then sift the mixture over the cake.

* I only buy large eggs, so I chose the smallest 4 in the package to use in this recipe

Serves 10-12

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lime, vanilla and poppy seed madeleines and a very interesting character

Lime, vanilla and poppy seed madeleines / Madeleines de baunilha, limão e sementes de papoula

The young ones reading me today won’t remember it, but back in the 90s a pop group called the Spice Girls became a huge hit and their main motto was “girl power” – I was about eighteen when “Wannabe” was released and, back then, I didn’t think there was anything empowering to women in what the group sang or did (and to be honest I’m 35 now and still don’t get it).

Cut to many years later: because of what I’d been watching, Netflix suggests The Fall, and I got immediately interested in the series both because of its dark nature and of Gillian Anderson – that is how I’m introduced to Stella Gibson, the most feminist character I’d seen on TV shows and definitely one of the most interesting ones. As I watched the five episodes of The Fall – and thought of how much I wanted those five to be fifteen, twenty –, the more I liked Anderson’s character and the more I thought of her as the personification of girl power, so much more than an empty slogan shouted at the top of a hotel in Cannes.

The way Stella behaves and the things she says on the show are truly amazing – I believe she’s sending a message to everyone watching, and it’s a very positive one. That kind of strong female character is a delight to watch and Gillian Anderson is sheer perfection portraying Stella Gibson – the good news is that there will be a second season, so there’s more real girl power coming our way. \0/

And because this is a feminist post about a feminist character, nothing better than a baked good with a woman’s name to go with it.

Lime, vanilla and poppy seed madeleines
slightly adapted from the always stunning Gourmet Traveller

80g unsalted butter
finely grated zest of 1 large lime
65g granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped with the back of a knife
½ tablespoon light brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
½ tablespoon mild honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
115g all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
½ tablespoon poppy seeds
melted butter, extra, for brushing the molds
icing sugar, for dusting

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat, add lime zest and set aside until cooled to room temperature but still liquid (2-3 minutes).
Place the granulated sugar and vanilla beans in the bowl of an electric mixer and rub them together with your fingertips until sugar is fragrant. Add the brown sugar, eggs, honey and vanilla extract and beat until light and fluffy (4-5 minutes). Sift over flour, baking powder and salt, add the poppy seeds and fold through.
Fold in butter mixture a little at a time until just incorporated, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (4 hours or up to overnight).
Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F. Brush twenty two 2-tablespoon capacity madeleine molds with melted butter and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Brush the molds again and refrigerate for another 10 minutes. Divide the mixture between the molds (do not spread it out). Bake until golden and cooked through (8-10 minutes), then immediately unmold onto a wire rack.
Dust with icing sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 22

Monday, February 17, 2014

Salted peanut butter and jelly blondies, two great guys left out of the Oscars and a mediocre movie

Salted peanut butter and jelly blondies / Blondies de manteiga de amendoim e geleia com um toque de sal

When it comes to the Oscars apparently every year there is a very talented person (or more than one) left out of the competition, and I’ve written about it already. This year both Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass were “forgotten” for their remarkable work in Captain Phillips, which is really unfair to me. I wouldn’t say Hanks’ performance was the best among the nominees – that title still belongs to Leo – but it is certainly superior to Christian Bale’s in the mediocre American Hustle and to Matthew McConaughey’s in Dallas Buyers Club.

As far as directors are concerned, David O. Russell’s nomination is just a bad joke and to think that he was included in the game at the expense of Greengrass makes this year’s competition even more ridiculous (I think you’ve already noticed how much I hated American Hustle). :D

After wasting 138 minutes of my life on such a lame movie I needed something tasty and quick to put together – the halfway-through jar of raspberry jam in my fridge (left from the cookies I baked a while ago) and the recently bought jar of peanut butter were combined to create these blondies. As I sliced them into squares and thought of the movie, it hit me that Bradley Cooper – the poor actor who stars in things like The Hangover – is a two-time nominee in a two-year period (for two below the average movies) while it took the Academy more than twenty years to first nominee the best actor in the world – that made me so mad I had to eat a blondie right away. :D

Salted peanut butter and jelly blondies
slightly adapted from Bon Appétit magazine

½ cup (1 stick/113g) unsalted butter, melted
1¼ cups (175g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon table salt
2 large eggs
200g light brown sugar
¾ cup crunchy peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ½ tablespoons raspberry jam
flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a square 20cm (8in) baking pan, line it with foil leaving an overhang on two opposite sides and butter the foil as well.
In a medium bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, baking powder, and table salt. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, peanut butter, butter, and vanilla extract; fold in dry ingredients. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Dollop with the jam. Bake for about 30 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Cool completely in the pan, then cut into squares to serve.

Makes 16


Friday, February 14, 2014

Orange sour cream Bundt cake, the Internet and high-waisted pants

Orange sour cream Bundt cake / Bolo de laranja e sour cream

Days ago, a friend of mine asked the following question on Facebook: “how was your life before the Internet”? I did not answer but have thought about it ever since. I love the Internet and not a day goes by without me using it, even if it is for 5 minutes: it’s great not having to go to the bank to pay a bill, being able to buy movie tickets ahead of time (no lines!), watching movies and TV shows that take forever to arrive here in Brazil (if they arrive at all), and well, I love writing a blog, too. :D

Of course there are horrendous things online, too, but that’s life, isn’t it? There are the good things and the bad things – it’s human nature, I guess (unfortunately).

I am unashamedly curious, so the Internet is a really useful tool; for instance, while I watched Her the other day I kept thinking about the high-waisted pants worn by the male characters of the movie – I was sure they meant something, and a couple of clicks helped me find out all about it (Spike Jonze’s said that the pants “'feel kinda like you're being hugged", and that has everything to do with the movie theme, which made me love it even more). <3

The Internet is also very helpful when I need to substitute ingredients: ages ago I read somewhere how to make sour cream at home (since not until recently was the product available here in Brazil). I’ve been using that precious hint in recipes for years now, such as the delicious, moist and irresistible orange cake you see on the photo – if you like cakes drenched in syrup that get even tastier the day after they are baked this recipe is for you (and if you’re a citrus freak like me, you’ll love it, too). :D


Orange sour cream Bundt cake
slightly adapted from here

Cake:
1 cup (226g/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups (250g) granulated sugar, divided use
4 eggs, separated
finely grated zest of 2 large oranges
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (280g) all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 ½ cups sour cream*

Syrup:
¼ cup (50g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (60ml) orange juice
2 tablespoons Cointreau or other orange-flavored liqueur

Glaze:
¾ cup (105g) icing sugar
3-4 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter and flour a 10-cup capacity Bundt or tube pan.
Using an electric mixer, beat butter with 1 cup (200g) of the sugar until light and fluffy; beat in egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in orange zest and vanilla.
In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; on low speed, add to the butter mixture alternately with sour cream, making 3 additions of dry ingredients and 2 of sour cream. In separate bowl and with clean beaters, beat egg whites until frothy; gradually beat in remaining ¼ cup (50g) sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until stiff peaks form. Fold one-third into batter; fold in remainder. Scrape into prepared pan; smooth top.
Bake in center of the oven until risen and golden and a skewer inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes. Carefully turn out onto rack.

While the cake cools in the pan, make the syrup: in small saucepan, bring sugar, orange juice and liqueur to boil over medium heat; reduce heat to low and simmer until reduced to 1/3 cup (80ml), 3-4 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Brush over warm cake. Let cool.

Glaze: in a small bowl, sift the icing sugar, then gradually add the juice, mixing until pourable (add a little more juice if necessary). Slowly pour over cooled cake. Let stand until glaze is dry, about 30 minutes.

*homemade sour cream: to make 1 cup of sour cream, mix 1 cup (240ml) heavy cream with 2-3 teaspoons lemon juice in a bowl. Whisk until it starts to thicken. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 1 hour or until thicker (I usually leave mine on the counter overnight – except on very warm nights – and it turns out thick and silky in the following morning; refrigerate for a creamier texture)

Serves 10-12

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sicilian pasta with tomatoes, garlic and almonds and "Her"

Sicilian pasta with tomatoes, garlic and almonds / Espaguete siciliano com tomates, alho e amêndoas

As I continue my marathon to watch this year’s Oscar nominated movies, I was extremely surprised by how moved I was by Her – though genius sometimes, Spike Jonze’s style to me is on the verge of crazy (right there with Michel Gondry), therefore I really did not expect to love the movie as much as I did.

Joaquin Phoenix is an amazing actor – the Academy should have cut the trophy in half back in 2001 for him and Benicio to share it – and his performance in Her is so sublime it’s difficult to find words to describe it. I could have easily squeezed him in for Best Actor this year, and I could also vote for the film for Best Movie (despite my love for Gravity) and most definitely for Best Writing, Original Screenplay. After I read the film synopsis I kept thinking of how it would be possible for Jonze to find a decent way to end it, but he did and to me it was perfect.

Also surprising, to me, was this recipe: when I saw Nigella cooking it on TV I had no idea that something that simple could be so good – all you have to do is cook some pasta and whiz all the sauce ingredients in food processor. The sauce is not cooked and that makes this dish perfect for the insanely hot days we’ve been having here (less time in front of the stove).

Sicilian pasta with tomatoes, garlic and almonds
slightly adapted from the wonderful Nigellissima: Easy Italian-Inspired Recipes

200g spaghetti (or other pasta of your choice)
100g cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan
10g golden sultanas
1 small garlic clove
1 tablespoon capers (drained)
25g blanched almonds
1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
handful fresh basil

Put abundant water on to boil for the pasta, waiting for it to come to the boil before salting it. Add the pasta and cook according to packet instructions.
While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce by putting all the remaining ingredients, bar the basil, into a processor and blitzing until you have a nubbly-textured sauce.
Just before draining the pasta, remove ½ cup of pasta-cooking water and add ½ tablespoon of it down the funnel of the processor, pulsing as you go.
Return the drained pasta to the hot saucepan, pour over the sauce and toss to coat (add a little more pasta-cooking water if you need it). Sprinkle with the basil and serve.

Serves 2

Monday, February 10, 2014

Citrus and poppy seed slice and bakes, Matthew and Leo

Citrus and poppy seed slice and bakes / Biscoitinhos cítricos com sementes de papoula

I admire actors committed to their craft who are willing to go the extra mile for a part, but getting fat/thin/ugly to play a character must be part of the preparation, not the only highlight – the physical transformation and the talent to play the part must go in hand. Nicole won an Oscar with a prosthetic nose and not much else, while Christian Bale’s impressive weight lost in The Fighter was part of his portrayal of Dicky Eklund, not all of it.

I watched Dallas Buyers Club last week and though not very impressed by the movie – it is an OK movie with great performances, like Monster – the amount of dedication put into characters by both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto is outstanding. I wish Leto had had more screen time for he’s absolutely amazing as Rayon, and Matthew’s contained yet strong performance is something completely different from the movies from his past, but I think that a better script and a more talented director could have gotten much more out of him (he’s even more brilliant in True Detective, for instance).

Having said that, if I were the one choosing the winner for Best Actor in a Leading Role this year Leonardo DiCaprio would take the award home: he is ten times the actor Matthew will ever be (and the latter has evolved quite a lot in the last few years) and his character is a despicable one, even with the sort of comedy route Scorsese chose for the movie, while Matthew’s character has the empathy/sympathy factor going on for him; the Wolf is a complex character that expresses and ignites several different feelings and emotions throughout the three hours of the movie and Leonardo adds layer after layer to the character, making him hateful yet very interesting, and I did not see that in Ron Woodroof – I think that the character could have been taken to a whole new level by someone more talented, such as the very Leo or Christian Bale.

These slice and bake cookies are delicious, buttery and a snap to make – the original recipe called for lemons only but I decided to use oranges, too, and added poppy seeds to make the cookies even more interesting, for they add crunch and make the cookies look beautiful.

You can omit them, of course, for the cookies will still taste great – let’s say that they will be the Matthew McConaughey version while the ones with poppy seeds will be the Leonardo DiCaprio version. ;)

Citrus and poppy seed slice and bakes
slightly adapted from Epicurious

Cookies:
2 ½ cups (350g) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoons table salt
2 ½ tablespoons poppy seeds
1 cup (226g/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar
finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
finely grated zest of 1 large orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks

Icing:
¾ cup (105g) icing sugar
½ tablespoon lemon juice, more if necessary
½ tablespoon orange juice, more if necessary

Cookies: whisk flour, salt and poppy seeds in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter, sugar, lemon and orange zest and vanilla in a large bowl, occasionally scraping down sides, until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg yolks; beat just to blend. Reduce speed to low; add flour mixture and beat, occasionally scraping down sides, just to blend. Divide the dough into two equal parts. Place each on a piece of parchment paper; shape dough into logs. Fold parchment over dough; using a ruler, roll and press into a 3.5 cm (1.4in) log – like Martha does here. Wrap in parchment. Chill in the refrigerator until very firm, about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F; line two large baking sheets with baking paper. Unwrap one log at a time (keep the other in the fridge). Cut into 5mm thick rounds; space 2.5cm (1in) apart onto prepared sheets. Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are firm and golden brown around the edges, 12-14 minutes. Cool slightly on sheets, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the other log.

Icing: whisk sugar and juice in a small bowl, adding more juice by ½-teaspoonfuls if too thick. Spread or drizzle icing over cookies. Let stand until icing sets, about 10 minutes.
The cookies can be stored in an airtight at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Makes about 50

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