Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Berry Good!

I love it when inspiration hits.  It can come from nowhere and from there can come great things.  Like staring at my little raspberry bush, thinking about how lovely it was to have grown my own little spartan crop of sweet little berries and how nice they tasted.

Then remembering that I had quite a large bag of berries in the freezer that, while they were not fruit of my vine, were able to satiate my feelings of nostalgia for something sweet and berry-ful. 

I wanted to bake something, and I was thinking of the classic combination of white chocolate and raspberry.  You can usually find these as a muffin, though I wanted to do a riff on this and turn them into a cute little cupcake with the addition of a sweet vanilla butter cream.

The result?  Delicious.  You get the sharpness of the raspberry which cuts the sweetness of the white chocolate.  The butter cream works.  While you may think it a little overkill, it is a lip smacking addition.  There is nothing like feeling a little naughty when it comes to sweet things, so why not up the ante and smother them with frosting?

I took these to work to share for morning tea yesterday and got wonderful reviews.  (My colleagues are my most tough and honest critics).  Definitely part of my baking repertoire from now on.

Raspberry and White Chocolate Chip Cupcakes (Adapted from Best Recipes.com)

2 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup castor sugar
2/3 cup white chocolate chips
120g melted butter, cooled slightly
1 egg
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup frozen raspberries

Preheat oven to 180C.  Line a 12 cup capacity muffin pan with cupcake liners.
Sift flour and baking powder, add sugar and choc chips.  Stir to combine.
Mix milk, melted butter, egg and vanilla and add to dry ingredients, fold gently to combine.  Add raspberries and fold through gently.  Spoon into liners to about 2/3 full and bake for 25 minutes.

Vanilla Butter cream

2 cups icing sugar
1 tbs butter
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbs milk

Sift icing sugar and add butter and mix into the sugar.  Add vanilla and milk, a little at a time, mixing until combined.  With electric beaters, beat until combined and fluffy.  The texture should be light but stiff enough to pipe or spread onto the cooled cakes - if you feel the mixture is too tight, add a little more milk and beat further, if it is too runny, sift in more icing sugar.  You can also add a few drops of food colouring to tint it if desired.

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Friday, May 11, 2012

What does your garden grow?

I live in a rental and there is not much opportunity for me to make the gardens look as lovely as I wish to.  I could if I wanted to spend money on someone else's investment (and over time, I have - I can't help wanting my nest to look appealing for my own benefit). 

Instead I grow things in pots.  I also like to strike cuttings from plants that I have liberated from friends, family or 'in passing' and plump up the garden beds at the front of the house. 

My back patio has evolved from humble ratty beginnings into may own little culinary garden and it is bringing me so much joy.  I am so proud of all my little plants.  They are doing so well.  My garden is a wonderful ambient and sensory place for me to relax and enjoy.

I never thought I would ever grow my own raspberries!  The above photo is the first raspberry that came off the bush.  I was so enamoured with the fact that I cultivated it I had to mark the event with a photo on a pretty plate!  It is so exciting to be able to walk out my back door and pick them, fresh off the bush.  Unfortunately there are only enough at the moment for snacking purposes, but I get such a buzz knowing that they grew from my tender care and love.

 Herbs are essential in my garden.  You would be suprised how much more inspiration you can be filled with when you have beautiful fresh herbs on hand, ready for picking.  My 'must have's' are mint, parsley, thyme and basil.  (Above is my lovely 'Boxwood' basil).  Any of these are a wonderful addition to bring dishes to life.  Especially pasta.  I grow them in the pots I bought them in, in a container (which started its life as a humble automotive oil drip tray can you believe?!) in a sunny spot right by the kitchen door, so all I need to is reach out and pluck them as I need them. 

I love to pick at my herbs and nibble on them while sitting outside while dead-heading daisies and marigolds or just enjoying the space.  Pinching them out from the top encourages more bushy and compact growth so it's a win-win.  After much consideration (as to what I would do with it) I bought a Stevia plant and it is great for guilt-free snacking as it is a natural sweetner.  I simply pick a few leaves and roll a mint leaf around them and it staves off hunger pangs (and makes your breath sweet and minty-fresh!). I haven't experimented yet with it (apparently its sweetness is intensified by drying) though I do plan on trying it in my baking sometime soon. 

I have all kinds of fruit trees, flowers  annuals and perennials.  In addition this year I have Hybrid Tea and Floribunda roses.  I keep pests at bay where possible using organic pesticides - and natural ones, encouraging Lady Beetles and companion planting (aphids hate marigolds!).  Catterpillars are welcome as they turn into beautiful butterflies.  I love how they munch on the leaves, it reminds me of the book 'The Very Hungry Catterpillar'.

My garden is a lovely place for me (as well as Gidget) to sit and contemplate.  To flip through magazines, read my cook books, or to just soak up the beautiful morning sun.  On weekends I treat myself to breakfast at my table.  Warm summer nights are perfect for barbecues too.

You don't need rambling acres of land to enjoy a garden.  Mine is very compact and modest and I love it.  All you need is a small sunny area or windowsill - even the World's greatest gardens started with just one plant.

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A New(ish) Season

Autumn is a lovely time of year here in Queensland.  Along with spring, it is my favourite season.  Autumn is when the weather is just starting to cool down as it comes into winter, and my tummy always craves things that are warm and satisfying.  Come to think of it, when does it not crave anything!

I bought some beautiful new season apples at the supermarket yesterday.  I love how they look in the bowl just as they are as a still life. 

Of course now my mind starts to race at what I could do with them.  I love the smell of apples stewing.  All that lovely aroma, laced with clove, cinnamon and nutmeg.  It is comforting and enveloping like a warm hug.  Especially on a cold rainy day. 

Stewed fruits are delicious hot or cold.  With ice cream, cream, custard or alone.  Apple is particularly nice mixed into yoghurt or muesli or on my new found favourite - Latkes (with a hearty dollop of sour cream).

Apple and Rhubarb would have to be one of my all time favourite stewed fruit combos.To stew the fruit it's basically thus: 

Cut a few ribs of rhubarb and 2 or three peeled and cored apples into chunks.  Place into a saucepan with a few tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (You can also add cinnamon/cloves etc here to taste).  Bring to a gentle simmer.  The fruit will yield some moisture, so you will not need to add water, but if you wish you can add a little splash of water to help the cooking process along.  If you are trying to cut down on your sugar intake, add a little apple juice in lieu of some of the sugar.  Cook for about 10 mins.  Once the fruit is fork tender, remove from the heat and clamp on a lid.  Use as desired. 

On a side note, if you are using young rhubarb it should be nice and tender.  If it is older it may be a little stringy so just run a potato peeler along the stalks to remove some of the strings.

My Dad makes a really great apple pie.  I always love his baking.  I have tried to get some recipes from him, but his recipes are more like 'a bit of this, bit of that, bung it in the oven' kind of thing.  Somehow what he does seems to work - I guess I get my baking courageousness from him.  Even if he isn't as experimental as I am with flavours and textures it is nice to know that he has had some influence!

Maybe when I'm done admiring my beautiful bowl of apples I will just eat them as is, cut them into wedges and spread them with Nutella (yum!) or bake them into a pie.  If I go out and talk nicely to my rhubarb plant there may even be a whiff of that too.

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Little Mouthfuls of Gorgeousness

For the past few months I have been looking for recipes that I remember eating when I was a kid.  You know, the stuff that you eat today that reminds you of what 'Grandma used to make'.  The things that make you giddy and smile to remember the simpler times, when your mouth wasn't quite big enough to cram in a whole piece of cake, or your mother was constantly dabbing away at the cream all over your fingers and face. 

Baking has had a resurgence in popularity lately, and things to me seem a little too primped and technical.  I am looking for the good old fashioned things, sponge cakes with jam and cream, pies with home made pastry and sticky gooey caramel fillings (Even if I can never bring myself to try boiling a can of condensed milk to make caramel - kids don't try this at home).  All the good stuff that we remember eating as kids, is the stuff I am yearning for today. 

As you know I am quite the fan of little individual baked treats.  Even though I love a grand layered cake at the best of times, these are easy and fun to bake, look sweet, petite and best of all, when it comes to serving you don't have to have the 'who's going to cut the cake' argument.

Jelly cakes have become my latest little love.  I used to eat these as a kid and have had a craving for them in the past few weeks.  They are these delightful little patty cakes, filled with cream and rolled in semi-set jelly and coconut.  They look so dainty and pretty.  Making them again brings back so many fond memories.

I love them piled high on a pretty plate and shared among friends.

Perfect with a lovely hot cup of tea. 

Jelly Cakes - Recipe adapted from Taste.com.au

60g butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup milk
85g packet of Port Wine jelly crystals
1 cup boiling water
1 cup cold water
3 cups dessicated coconut
1/2 cup thickened cream, whipped

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 12 x 2 tablespoon capacity patty pan. (Oil spray is perfect for greasing these pans) Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, a little at a time, beating until well combined.  Sift flour, baking powder and salt.  Gently fold in half the flour and half the milk. Repeat with remaining flour and milk.

Spoon about 1 tsp of the mixture into patty pan. (You may need more depending on the size of your patty pans - if you use muffin pans, use a tablespoon of mixture) Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool cakes on a wire rack.

Cut each cake in half horizontally. Sandwich halves back together using 1 teaspoon of cream.  Place in refrigerator for 10-20 mins.  (I find this step really helps the cream to adhere the cake halves together and makes them easier to roll in jelly and coconut.  You could also freeze the cakes at this stage if you wish and jelly/coconut later).

Stir jelly and boiling water together in a bowl until crystals are dissolved. Stir in cold water. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until cold and slightly thick.

Place coconut into a large bowl.   Roll cakes, 1 cake at a time, into jelly. Gently shake off  excess jelly. Toss cakes in coconut until well coated. Place onto a lined tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until set.

These cakes freeze well.  Just pull out of the freezer and place on a plate for 20-30 mins to reach room temperature.  Great for when you have company coming and want to have a little special something that looks like you have slaved all morning away on!

Feel free to experiment with different jelly flavours.  I especially like Port Wine because it gives the cakes a lovely pink hue.

Until next time...

Kitty xx