I concur entirely. Like you I purchase certain organic products because I happen to like them. Generally though I just tend to get fresh, local and seasonal, not organic. Which I believe is far greater on positively impacting the economy and my carbon footprint….
Over the holiday period there was an abundance of cooking and eating decadent food, and I couldn’t help but feel inspired to write this long over-due blog entry….
If you are looking for a show-stopper cake – and enjoy coffee, this may just be the right celebration cake you have been looking for. This requires some preparation, effort and time, but it is well worth it. This is inspired by one of my greatest guilty pleasures, a Ferrero Rocher washed down by a bold, intense double espresso cappuccino. There is something so satisfying and indulgent about chocolate hazelnut cream, with the subtle wafer crunch, all washed down with a robust espresso.
I wanted to recreate these flavors in the form of a traditional Eastern European Tort, similar to that which my Polish Grandmother Jadwiga used to make for special occasions. Her cake contained a walnut lemon cream and a walnut chocolate cream, which our family lovingly referred to as ‘Wine Cake’ for the shear amount of liquor and wine dripping on each layer of sponge. Origins of a classic layer Tort are dubious at best, Hungarians, Austrians and Swedes each taking claim, though it’s fairly certain that the origin is in the general vicinity of Central Eastern Europe. The layers of cream in a traditional Tort are historically more complex and sophisticated than a simple sweet butter cream dolloped atop a cupcake. Much like the traditional tort my Grandmother made, the light, airy sponge in this recipe, is merely a vehicle to hold the intense flavors of the cream in place.
This recipe is enough to make two 9 inch cakes in a spring form tin that can each be sliced in half horizontally, thus yielding a four layer cake that easily serves 12.
The Sponge :
Preheat over to 350* F
Grease sides of the two spring form tins and place a layer of baking parchment on the bottom.
4 large free-range eggs
100g/3½oz caster sugar
100g/3½oz self-raising flour
Place the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and, using an electric hand-held mixer, whisk together for about five minutes, or until the mixture is very pale and thick. The mixture should leave a light trail on the surface when the whisk is lifted. Sift over the flour and fold in gently using a metal spoon or spatula, taking care not to over mix. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and tilt the tin to level the surface. Bake for approx. 20 minutes, or until risen, golden-brown and springy to the touch. Cool in the tin for five minutes then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely before slicing in half horizontally.
While cakes are resting, make the two types of cream.
Chocolate Hazelnut Cream:
3/4cup whole milk
1 heaping tbps all-purpose flour
1 cup ground hazelnuts
1tbsp cocoa powder
Place milk and sifted flour in a saucepan on a medium low heat, whisk continuously until rapid ly bubbling. Add 1 cup of ground hazelnuts and stir to combine. Promptly remove from the heat. Set aside and let this mixture cool.
Separately whisk two sticks of butter with an electric mixture until the butter is light and creamy, about 4 minutes. Slowly add 1.5 cups powdered sugar into butter mixing on low. Add cooled nut mixture to butter sugar cream and stir to combine.
Add 3tbsp hazelnut extract, cocoa powder and 2/3tsp instant espresso granules, stir until evenly incorporated. Set cream aside.
Mascarpone Espresso Cream:
200ml/3½fl oz strong black espresso made from instant espresso granules
2 x 250g/9oz tubs mascarpone cheese
200ml/10½fl oz double cream
3 tbsp icing sugar, sifted
Place the mascarpone cheese in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in the cream and icing sugar to make a creamy, spreadable frosting.
To assemble the cake:
Place first layer of sponge on tray, drizzle with ¼ of espresso mixture and evenly spread 1/3 of white mascarpone cream on top of coffee drenched layer. Place second layer of sponge on top of the white cream. Drench with 1/3 of espresso mixture, evenly spread ½ hazelnut chocolate cream. Repeat with remaining layers of cake, coffee and cream, alternating between white and chocolate cream, reserving the remaining cream – 1 for the sides and 1 for the top. Decorate the top with grated dark chocolate and let cool overnight. This cake is best after resting for at least 24 hours. It is a wet, tiramisu cake and thus needs to remain chilled. Remove from refrigerator for about 20 minutes prior to serving.
As thanksgiving rapidly approaches, which happens to be my favorite holiday, I am reminded that I need to crack down and do Christmas present shopping ASAP! For me it’s all about online shopping with free shipping right to my door step, whilst sipping a nice seasonal martini, from the comforts of my cozy couch! I love soaking up the festive atmosphere outdoors, just not on the weekend to shop, when it’s a mob scene with angry, flustered shop goers, all eager to snag that perfect gift.
If you fancy mixing yourself a nice cocktail to get yourself in a festive mood, why not try this?
Place 4 large ice-cubes in cocktail mixer, add 2.5measures simple dry Russian vodka, Russian standard is good and not too pricey (2.5 large shots or jiggers worth), pinch cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, fill and top off shaker w fresh pressed cloudy apple juice, or pear works well too. Yields two healthy cocktails.
Happy shopping and cheers!
Yeah, it’s Friday! Time to think about the indulgent things that we didn’t have the time, energy and/or inclination to eat/cook during the week. Personally, I have a relaxing, leisurely brunch in mind, shared with friends and family. Perhaps sipping tea, or in my case, freshly pressed apple martinis…seasonal and perfectly acceptable after 11:45am on a weekend…
There is something so comforting about the relaxed, weekend mind-set and thought of lazy mid-day meals. The word “brunch” alone puts a smile on many faces. But the ubiquitous question – the brunch challenge, if you will – “do you have sweet or savory?” for many, is difficult to decide. For many, it depends on the time of day, the earlier it is, the more likely one may be to prefer sweet, the closer it is to mid-day, the more likely one may opt to consume savory, but this is by no means a hard and fast rule. Personally, I end up ordering savory, 75% of the time involving eggs and hollandaise sauce, because, I rarely, if ever make it at home. I am generally successful at persuading my dining companions, 99% of the time, my spouse and daughter, to order something sweet to share also, that way I get a bit of both.
If you want to throw together and easy brunch that will solve the tough decision making process, make something sweet and something savory. In the run up to Thanksgiving, pumpkin is key, I whipped up a pumpkin, bread and butter pudding inspired dish that will tantalize the palate of any pumpkin pie lover, along with a spicy, warming, chorizo and sweet potato frittata.
Savory – Caramelized chorizo, red onion and sweet potato frittata*
1 cup milk
½ cup low fat ricotta
½ cup grated pepper jack cheddar (or other cheese to your liking, alternatively omit altogether if you wish)
½ cup good quality dry Spanish chorizo
½ each red pepper and red onion diced
Tip: Prepare the frittata in an oven-safe skillet, this way you can start the cooking on the stove and then place the frittata in the oven under the broiler to get the top golden brown.
Whisk eggs with milk and ricotta in bowl, set aside. Heat up pan and sauté chorizo for a few minutes, then add onion and pepper, sauté for a few more minutes until soft. Add egg mixture to pan, gently stir to ensure vegetables and meat are evenly distributed. Now leave the mixture alone over moderate heat. It needs to cook about 10 minutes. The idea is to let the eggs cook relatively slowly, you don’t want them to cook to fast and dry out. Once the egg mixture is starting to bubble and set about half way up, sprinkle with grated cheese (if using) and place under broiler for a few minutes. At this stage, watch closely because – speaking from frequent experience – bubbly, golden cheese can turn into a black, charred mess very quickly. It’s a simple task, but it is all too easy to let your eye ‘off the ball’ when you are in the midst of preparing and tidying a messy kitchen for incumbent guests. Once the frittata has attained the desired level of golden brown, promptly remove and let it cool on the side. This is best served room temperature with chili tomato dipping relish or chutney and hunk of nice crunchy, fresh bread.
Sweet – Pumpkin Pie Bread’n’Butter Pudding
Tis’ the season… for PUMPKIN PIE inspired everything, at least in my kitchen anyway. I love a classic Bread’n’Butter Pudding (link) but this is often made with loads of butter. A near cousin, French Toast, is slightly lighter and requires not butter. This proved to be the show stealer and I am fairly certain, if you enjoy pumpkin pie, you will enjoy this too.
15oz can pumpkin puree
¾ cup whole milk
1/8tsp each allspice, nutmeg, ginger
1/3 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup (plus extra for drizzling on top)
1 loaf of challah, brioche or similar, soft, sweet eggy bread, cut into approx. ½ inch thick slices
1 cup pecans chopped and mixed with 1/2cup demerara sugar
Pre-heat oven to 350*F, use approx. 9in square, non-stick tin or over-safe casserole dish. Whisk eggs, milk pumpkin and spices. Dip each slice of bread in pumpkin, egg mixture and place an even layer in dish, add half of pecan/sugar mixture, then add next layer of soaked bread. The quantities should be enough for approximately two layers. The slices of bread can get torn and dismantled, the idea is to make it as soggy as possible and for the bread to be as well distributed as possible, to ensure it cooks evenly. It doesn’t need to look pretty before going in the oven.
Pour any remaining egg and pumpkin mixture on top and spread with spatula. Sprinkle with remaining sugar/pecan mixture, bake for approximately 30 minutes until just set and top slightly crunchy. Slice into square wedges, sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with a drizzle of warm maple syrup. If desired, prior to serving, heat the maple syrup with a bit of rum or brandy for an extra warm kick!
* I cook frittatas all the time. It’s a perfect dish to prep in advance, takes minimal effort, is consistently tasty and makes a great speedy mid-week supper in a pinch. You can use any combination of vegetables and leftovers in the fridge. It’s a great way to use up a bit of leftover cooked meat, even rice, potatoes or pasta can get thrown in for added texture and taste. There is something so satisfying about pan frying day old leftover spaghetti, it brings new found life into a dish that gets otherwise mushy and disappointing in the microwave.
I recently had the pleasure of having lunch at celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s American brasserie, Bar Americain. True to Flay’s flamboyant form, the restaurant provides an ideal vantage point for people watching, mixing classic French Bistro with classic Hollywood flare. My choice for lunch was a rather scrumptious savory crepe filled with mushroom and butternut squash. Topped with lighted toasted almond and refreshing juicy pomegranate seeds. This autumnal lunch was so delicious, it inspired me to recreate this flavor profile in a more rustic, comforting dinner – lasagna with caramelized mushroom, butternut squash and earthy sage in garlic béchamel. The dish is warming, gratifying and scrumptious, perfect for a cold, dark night. As an added bonus, it gets better after a day or two once reheated in the oven, so dinner is sorted for more than one night during the week.
3 cups raw chopped butternut squash
Approx 10oz sliced mushrooms
2 cloves garlic diced
2tbs fresh sage roughly torn
8oz low fat ricotta
3 cups garlic and cheese béchamel (add garlic powder and 1 clove fresh garlic grated with healthy amount cracked black pepper and pinch nutmeg to classic béchamel recipe)
2tbsp ground dried porcini mushrooms
Lasagna sheets, easy cook
Pinch nutmeg and freshly cracked black pepper
Sauté mushrooms and butternut squash until lightly golden, add fresh sage, nutmeg, garlic, dried mushroom, ricotta, cracked black pepper and salt to taste. The idea is to make a filling similar to that found in a savory crepe.
Layer the dish in thirds as follows: pasta, filling, béchamel (in quarters), you will have enough for three layers. The final top layer no4. will only be béchamel and freshly grated parmesan or pecorino. Bake in moderate oven (about 350*F) for approximately 30 minutes until lightly golden and slightly crunchy on top. Let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.
I love cooking freshly prepared dishes from scratch and I often do. But sometimes, particularly mid-week, we are all in need of something simple, satisfying and nutritious with minimal effort, and this recipe really hits the mark:
16oz vacuum packed fresh gnocchi
1 small jar good quality, all natural tomato, pepper and eggplant sauce (or other sauce to your liking, try to find something all natural and low in sodium, sugar and fat)
2 cups chopped and steamed cauliflower* or any other vegetables you like (it’s great to pack in a variety of veggies for extra nutrients, textures and tastes)
½ red onion minced and sautéed
4oz fresh mozzarella chopped
2oz freshly grated Parmesan
1oz Italian style breadcrumbs
Handful cherry tomatoes quartered (optional for extra sweet burst)
Pre-heat oven to 350*F. Combine first five ingredients into a casserole dish. Mix last four ingredients in a bowl and sprinkle on top of ingredients in casserole dish. Bake until lightly golden, bubbly, gooey and molten. Serve with mixed salad and freshly chopped basil if desired.
* I often chop and par boil various hardy vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli and kale on the weekend and then store the vegetables in small freezer bags to use throughout the week. Just be sure the vegetables only par boiled and still on the crisp side, so they don’t turn to mush by the time they are unfrozen. They can then be tossed into anything, soups, stir fries, sauces, etc and this saves precious minutes in the prep time required for mid-week suppers.
Toad in a Hole is a classic British staple comfort dish of perfectly browned bangers (ie. sausages) cozily wrapped in golden, crisp Yorkshire Pudding batter (an American pop-over of sorts). I had some Italian sausages in the refrigerator and wanted to make something a bit different and was inspired to do a fusion recipe – Italian Sausage toads in a hole. I often cook Italian sausage sautéed with bitter greens such as broccoli rabe or kale, with garlic and chili and serve with pasta. This is a comfort food dish that I grew up with. Every time I eat it, I think of my dad cooking pasta with me eagerly awaking the final product, waiting to devour and pick out my favorite bits – sausage and greens. It was these classic comfort dish flavors that inspired this dish. Having never done this before, I was not sure how it would turn out. But knowing how much I love Italian sausage and Yorkshire Pudding, I had a feeling it would be a success.
For the filling:
6 links of lean Italian sausage cut into small pieces (traditionally this is flavored with fennel seeds, chili and garlic, I used Italian chicken sausage but pork works equally well)
1/3 red onion minced
1 cup kale finely chopped
5 large, plump sun dried tomatoes and 1 large jarred roasted red pepper, both finely diced
For the batter:
140g plain flour (approx. 7oz)
200ml whole milk
Sunflower or vegetable oil for cooking
Pre-heat oven to 425*, drizzle a little sunflower oil evenly into a large (approx. 12in) baking tray, literally just enough to coat the bottom. Place oiled pan in oven and allow oil to get piping hot.
Meanwhile, sauté the cut up sausage and onions until golden and caramelized. Add kale, sun dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers, sauté a few more minutes until kale just wilted. Set aside off the heat.
Make the batter. Put flour in a bowl and beat in the 4 eggs until smooth. Gradually add 200ml milk and continue to beat until the mix in completely smooth and lump free. Season with dash of salt and cracked black pepper.
Pour the batter into a jug with a spout, then remove hot oiled tin from oven. CAREFULLY and evenly pour the batter into the tin. Place sausage and vegetable mixture on-top of batter and bake for at least 25minutes or until cooked through and golden brown. Don’t open the oven for at least 25 minutes to ensure a good rise and crispy coating. Serve immediately.
This dish is comfort food, pure and simple. Juicy sausage in effectively, oven fried batter with subtle sweet Italian spices. A great weekend treat and late Autumn supper for a cool, crisp evening. I assure you that it will warm and satisfy the mouths and bellies of all who consume it!