Sunday, 30 March 2014

Half-Baked Soup - Market Courgette, Kumara (Sweet potato) and Fresh Herbs

I thought we would take a break from cakey sorts (fear not, there will be PLENTY more, so much you will almost get sick of it) and I would share a different sort of baking recipe. 'Tis nearly the season for soup and I was recently inspired to have a go at a (partly) baked version. I think it counts as baking enough to be included here!

To me, a farmers market is a melting pot of inspiration. At the Riccarton/Deans Bush market in Christchurch every Saturday you can buy fresh produce, eggs, meat, condiments and snacks. So this Saturday gone - a mock-summer morning - that's just where we went. In somewhat hipster fashion, we got on our bikes and braved the busy Saturday morning traffic to reach said market.

Two very similar images to the sights that beheld us - thought I'd spare you the blurry phone photos!
We were well-rewarded for our efforts. Among other things, we got our paws on coffee (for Nathan), delicious Middle-Eastern pastries (for me), pepperoni salami (for Nathan), the cheapest bulb of fennel I have ever seen (for me and Nathan, too, little did he know it!), and... a foam cupful of courgette and basil soup. Smooth, creamy and with just enough sharpness from the basil to stop you slipping into a winter's dream.

I had to know what was in it - the woman flitting between the soup stall and half a dozen other stands, with wispy grey hair and wearing hemp-based everything, was quick to inform: fry up an onion and garlic, add a couple of red kumara with your courgettes, and put the chopped up basil in at the very end. Great, I thought, and headed to the nearest produce stall to pick out the biggest courgette of my life with plans for it to be part of my replica of a soupful masterpiece.

Sometimes real life is stranger than fiction: I found this picture on the net while searching for images of "Farmers Market Riccarton", and this one pops up of the very stall I visited with the same soup on offer and the SAME grey-haired woman smiling and her customers! Maybe life is better without the internet...
Back home with the biggest courgette of my life and some lovely fresh fennel.
Nathan was onto it almost before I had formulated the rest of the recipe in my head: "This is going to turn into a blog post about 'Claire's famous courgette and basil soup', isn't it?" I was (and still am) indignant - I am certainly not above crediting my sources. So, wispy-haired, hemp-wearing woman from the Farmer's Market, this one's yours... with slight appropriations for my own purposes!

My first point-of-difference is that my basil plant is not doing as well as my Vietnamese mint plant, so I have the nice, peppery taste of those leaves as my main flavour.

My prolific Vietnamese mint, dwarfing the lemon thyme it shares a pot with.
Next, in the spirit of 'half-baking' I chose to roast the veges. Chunks of gold and orange kumara (sweet potato) went into the oven for a good half hour at 180°C. We were doing well. Then I had the brain-wave to roast the forearm-sized courgette (zucchini). I didn't think it was an entirely bonkers idea: a work colleague had raved about how courgettes can be turned into amazing pasta sauce if they're cut up finely and roasted until they're just mush. 

 What I hadn't factored into my recipe-equation was just how much courgette you need to have for enough 'mush' for a soup like this. After spending a good half hour dicing the thing then more than an hour with the trays in the oven, rotating every 15 mins, I ended up with a fraction of the amount of courgette that I started with. So perhaps next time I'll grate it. I'd also reduce the amount of kumara that I used so that the courgette flavour gets more of a look in. 

...T+60mins...very little change!!!
In the spirit of crediting my sources fully (not like I'm trying to prove a point or anything...), I used recipes from The Food Network and Operation: Get Fit Again! to get a feel for the amounts of stock and veg.

Courgette and Kumara Soup with Fresh Herbs (serves 8-10)

2 large sweet potatoes (orange/gold/purple)

Approx. 8 cups of courgette, finely chopped (if baking) or grated (if not baking)
One large onion
2 tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp green curry paste (more if you want the zing!)
Half a bulb fresh fennel, finely chopped
Approx. 2 L chicken stock (2 Tbsp chicken stock powder dissolved in 2 L boiling water)
1/2 cup coconut cream or fresh pouring cream 2 large handfuls of your favourite fresh herbs, roughly chopped (I used Vietnamese mint because it's going crazy in its pot, but basil, thyme, mint, coriander are all good options).

Chop up the sweet potato into cubes approximately 3cm in size, spread on a lightly oiled roasting dish and bake at 180 degrees Celsius for approximately 30mins. Once cooked, cool in a different continue (to cool faster!) then chop up into small pieces, approximately 2cm diameter. If you prefer to boil them, remember to add the extra time for that to happen (and it's ALWAYS longer than you think once the other ingredients are in, too) to the total simmering time later.

Spread the diced courgette on an oven tray and bake for an hour at 180 deg C, or until it smells really good! Alternatively, grate it and set aside.

Dice the onion and fry in a little oil (1-2 tbsp) in the bottom of a large heavy-bottomed soup or stock pot. Add the garlic and continue to fry until the onion is translucent.

Onion and garlic while playing around with the 'chrome' filter on my camera phone :)
Add the sweet potato, courgette, fennel, curry paste and 1.5L of the stock to the onion and garlic. Cover and simmer for approximately half an hour. 

Colourful mixture!

Remove from heat and add fresh herbs. Set on a heat-proof board and using either a potato masher or whizz-stick if you have one, blend until no clumps of vegetable remain. I don't recommend pouring this mixture into a blender because it's usually so hot that it's not safe for YOU!

You may want to add the rest of your stock to get a smoother, thinner texture but it's up to you whether you want more of a thick chowder or not. Also add the coconut cream at this stage and stir well. Serve immediately or freeze in small containers. Stores in fridge for up to five days.

There you have it! Bon appetit for a delicious quick dinner or warm mid-week lunch...

Perfect pick-me-up at work...minus the burnt toast!!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Baking flail: when things go wrong... (Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing)

Last weekend, I had a baking flail. In fact, the only reason it wasn't an all-out fail was because I learned a thing or four while I stuffed up. Both taste and look took a hit, I'm afraid - but I am very thankful that not a word of criticism was uttered by the receivers of said baking flail, the morning congregation at our church. Sometimes you have a dud and you just have to make the most of it, so I'm glad that they were still eaten up! I feel that you need to see these pictures, whether you've had your own baking failures, or if you've never set foot in a kitchen for fear of failing, fear no longer...and join the club!!!

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

I tried a new-to-me recipe for red velvet cupcakes: Garrett McCord's recipe at Simply Recipes. I used his suggestion of adding a tablespoon of distilled vinegar to a cup of milk to make my own buttermilk. I also roughly followed his instructions for the icing, and needed all 3 cups of powdered (Kiwis read icing) sugar, sifted first. Sifting icing sugar is a good habit to get into - it really helps keep icing/frosting consistent. Garrett's icing recipe made enough to pipe rosettes onto all the cupcakes.

All up, I was disappointed: the cupcakes were too firm (not velvety) and not really a decent red colour. I'm not ready to recommend this recipe yet. Perhaps some of you could have a go and let me know what I did wrong

I could have accidently over-mixed them using the 'folding' function on my mixer; it's a fairly universal baking fact that small cakes need the barest of mixing to keep them aerated enough to rise into light and fluffy morsels.

Another possibility is that I simply over-baked them.

Colouring the cupcakes was about the only thing I managed to not OVER-do! I didn't have a lot of liquid red colouring so tried to use my gel colour instead, but found out that it didn't blend in very well; the ingredients in a mixture like that are too heterogeneous in texture and consistency so the gel didn't have as much effect. Note to self for next time!

Without sounding like too much of a downer, the icing even when pear-shaped. I made the mistake of using low fat cream cheese for the icing. Taste-wise, I know well myself that low fat cream cheese is always a poor cousin to the full fattier version. So as a punishment for my lesser fat crimes, the icing started to separate due to the insufficient fat content.

Insufficient fat content made the icing separate (not properly mix) and crack along the edges of the rosettes
Isn't it great that you can learn from my mistakes? ;-)

And flailing all, just remember: a multitude of ills can be covered by edible glitter!!! Really popular with kids (little AND big!) :)

I promise there will be a less 'flailing' post to come shortly to show that success can be just around the corner...

Friday, 14 March 2014

Whiskey Truffles (or, A Great Night In!)

I've got an exciting weekend of baking ahead, but I still have a recipe that I tried out last weekend to report on, so here's the starter before the main event!

Whiskey connoisseur I am not. Fortunately, my husband is (learning to be one)! Rather, I should say that this recipe appealed to me at all because I knew that it would appeal to him, though that's not to say that any baking would normally go astray... In any case, since whiskey is not my drop of choice, I thought that if anything could make it palatable to me, it's chocolate!

And who better to provide that choco-droppo fix than Jo Seagar, New Zealand's answer to Betty Crocker. A familiar face to the NZ public for her cookery prowess, Jo and her husband have set up a cafe and cook store in rural North Canterbury which one day I hope to visit as it's not too far from Christchurch. They also run a cooking school and have released a recipe book from it (naturally entitled, 'The Cook School Recipes') which I have got my hot little hands on! Jo's recipe for whiskey truffles is the second I have tried from the book but there are many other delicious-looking morsels I intend to replicate.

The original recipe suggests using chocolate melts/baking buttons as the entire chocolate component, however I find that even the dark choc kind can be too sweet on their own. Instead, I used semi-sweet chocolate (Whittakers Dark Ghana, mmmmm...) to coat the truffles with, keeping the dark choc buttons as part of the inner truffle mixture. Nathan had no complaints, which is good enough for me! 

Whiskey Truffles

375g (one packet) dark chocolate baking buttons/chips/drops
1/2 cup cream
2 tablespoons whiskey (I used Johnnie Walker Gold Label, a blend)
Approx. 300g (one and a bit blocks) semi-sweet dark chocolate, or bitter-sweet if you prefer it.

Place the baking buttons, cream and whiskey in a small saucepan and stir gently over a low heat as the chocolate melts. I waited until the chocolate was almost all melted before adding the cream and whiskey. Stir until well combined then remove from heat and chill saucepan with the chocolate mixture still in it, in the fridge - I recommend an hour or longer if you can. 

Once removed from the fridge, roll the mixture into balls the size of large marbles, using two teaspoons if it helps. I found that the mixture was still too soft for this, so I filled an ice cube tray and a chocolate mould. 

Freeze for at least an hour until firm. When I removed the truffles from the ice cube tray and mould, I found they needed to be rolled into a proper ball shape but were firm enough to hold this shape. 

Heat the semi-sweet dark chocolate in a small metal bowl sitting over/inside a saucepan (this is called a bain marie - if you are careful to use a really low heat, you should be able to get away with heating the chocolate directly in the saucepan, but be careful not to burn it!). Once the chocolate is melted and smooth, remove it from the heat. Use a fork and spoon to dip each frozen truffle in chocolate and then place them on a sheet of baking paper to set. 

Yes, that is the water jug and the sink in the same photo - I have a TINY kitchen!!

I then returned the truffles to the freezer so that their filling would remain firm, the texture I like! You can freeze them indefinitely, they don't get too 'solid' to bite because 
of their cream content. 

When selecting your whiskey for this recipe, Nathan suggests going for a blend because the flavour is "well-rounded and consistent for the price you pay"...whatever that means!! I hope that this recipe is a winner with you and/or any whiskey lovers in your life :)

Monday, 10 March 2014

A Nice Ring To It - Rhubarb & Orange Bundt Cake

Wow!!! What a response...85 views in one day for my first post! Even if half of them are, in all likelihood, my own page views, that's still 40 something times that you guys have considered my words worth reading. D'awww... I'm all warm inside just thinking about y'all! 

Now that I know who I'm blogging for, on with the irrepressible baking!

So, cake. It would only make sense for a cake recipe to be the first posted about here. Considering all the dreaming I've done about cake since I first entered the kitchen - a dream that will not be repressed any longer - bring on the cake!!

This recipe I came across while searching for a way to use all three of: my new bundt cake tin (Kiwis read: ring cake tin); leftover buttermilk; AND the copious amounts of rhubarb that our plant has produced during the really rainy days  last week in Christchurch. While we benefited from the rain, my heart goes out to all those who didn't have it as good and whose earthquake damage is compounded now by flooding. 

The original recipe came from Hannah at honey & jam who took her inspiration from 'Rustic Fruit Desserts' by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson. I love the soft, spongy texture that buttermilk gives. Mine was a really yellow colour, probably because I substituted one of the eggs for two eggs yolks (meh, ya gotta use them up somehow!). I made a couple of other tweaks for my own convenience - preferring to use orange zest and juice as I had no fresh lemons.

Here's the recipe and some 'action' pics I took with my iPhone camera. I have an Evil Plan - well, more like an Excellent Plan - to have great photos of the food I make for your eye-candy enjoyment. More on this later ;-)

Approx. 6 cups of rhubarb right there!

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup margarine* or butter (
unsalted if you can get it)
1 3/4 cups white sugar
zest of 1 lemon or orange
3 eggs (or 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks)
Juice of half a lemon or orange
3/4 cup buttermilk

3 cups of rhubarb, trimmed and very thinly sliced (I like to chop up the rhubarb ahead of time and mix in with a couple of tablespoons of castor sugar, then refrigerate until needed); other seasonal fruit in the same quantity could be used - nectarines, apricots, pears; strained of juice though would be wise.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Butter or spray with oil a 10-cup bundt/ring-shaped cake tin.

Sift the 2 1/2 cups flour, the baking powder and salt together in a bowl and whisk to combine. Using a handheld mixer with beaters or a cake mixer with the paddle attachment (K-paddle, if it's a Kenwood), cream the butter, sugar and lemon or orange zest together on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. 

Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition, then stir in the lemon or orange juice. 

After creaming and adding eggs, the mixture is silky smooth and glossy.
Stir in the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the buttermilk in two additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. The batter will be very thick. 

Fold [read: stir carefully with a spatula to keep the mixture aerated] about two thirds of the rhubarb into the wet mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the remaining rhubarb on top. 

I thought this step seemed silly but it worked!
Bake for 30 minutes, then rotate the pan in the oven and cook for another additional 30 to 40 minutes [shorter if you're using a fan-forced oven], or until the cake closest to the centre springs back when lightly touched. Cool the cake in its pan on the wire rack for 30 minutes before inverting and removing the pan.

Voila! That doesn't look too bad, eh?

Lemon/Orange Glaze

2 cups icing sugar, more as needed
Juice of half a lemon or orange
1 tablespoon nearly melted butter or margarine*
To make the lemon/orange glaze, whisk the icing sugar, lemon or orange juice and butter or margarine together. The mixture should be thin enough to pour but thick enough to cling to the crumb and not to pool all around the cake. I had to add water to get it thin enough, however if yours is over-thinned, whisk in more sugar. IMPORTANT: Spread the glaze over the cake as soon as you remove it from the pan.

What's the importance of the 'IMPORTANT', you may ask?! Well, if you wait too long (i.e. as long as I did) your glaze will be less of a light sheen and more of a heavy icing, as mine was...

...but then again, I'd never say no to an iced cake!

As you can see, I wanted to keep any icing mess contained so I lined a tin with baking paper and iced it in-situ. 

So soft and melt-in-your-mouth!
Tea and cake, anyone?!

*[I generally use margarine in cakes because a) it's cheaper, b) it can be dairy-free if you read the labels carefully, and b) it's already softened, so you don't have to kick yourself for forgetting to leave it out of the fridge for a day beforehand, like you would with butter. Lately I've been taken by Country Soft because they make a buttery spread with buttermilk in it that whips up to a beautiful light yellow when it's creamed - just like butter! Also good as it comes in lite.]

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Welcome - to you and me!

Hi there! Thanks for stopping by. Especially when there are a bazillion quadrillion blogs in the blogsphere already, and yet you picked up this little one! 

The 'about me' section is the first I read on any new blog that passes under my nose. Maybe I'm nosy. I don't think I'm alone though... So while I figure out how to make an 'about me' section separate to the regular (ahem) blog posts that I'll (hopefully) be posting, here's the story...

I'm Claire, a kiwi (see the 'location settings' for where New Zealand is if you don't know), Bible-believing Christian, married to Nathan (September 2013), with IBS x 2. What kind of dreadful disease could 'IBS x 2' be, you might ask. Well, I might be taking artistic licence a bit far, but I am stylising this blog after the first of the 'x 2' IBSes (esses?)... Irrepressible Baking Syndrome. Since I first learnt my way around a kitchen (much later than I should have...) I have been fascinated by the art and science of baked goods. I dream about cakes. Google decorating techniques in my 'spare' time. Fantasize about how to use unusual ingredients in as many sweet dishes as Edmonds has designed. And I've found lately that my dreaming has become doing, and that doing *must* be documented to evidence that it has been done. So this blog is the result.

IBS Number Two of the 'x 2' is the IBS that many people will probably link first with the acronym: Irritable Bowel Syndrome. For the past two or so years I have exhibited symptoms of IBS. I say symptoms - rather than a diagnosis - because doctors I've spoken to are reluctant to diagnose IBS, because, according to them, it comes down to symptoms. In my case, it's been a process of elimination (blood tests and the like have confirmed that I do not have any sort of dairy or gluten intolerance) to determine why I get bloaty, queasy, etc, etc - probably best to Google the symptoms for further delightful details. The main ways that IBS affect me are that apples and coffee can no longer be part of my diet in quantities of more than a teaspoon at a time. I don't mean a teaspoon of coffee powder...I mean, a teaspoon of the liquid as a dilution. 

If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, you may have quite different (and probably more severe) dietary restrictions to myself. I've found that some of the FODMAP dietary advice works, some not so much (perhaps that warrants another blog post all together?!). I cannot promise that any of the recipes I post will be ok for you to eat - you'll have to look at the ingredients and make that call for yourself. I'll try and give warning if I'm posting a recipe that didn't bode well for me in particular, but was just too delicious to keep off the screen of this blog (Whisky Truffles are among them). Otherwise, it's up to you to look out for your own needs. 

If you have any recommendations for recipes that I should try for IBS, PLEASE let me know! In the comments below is probably a good place to start, so everyone (whoever everyone is...) can benefit. 

Happy baking, to the bakers that won't be reigned in!