Saturday, 31 December 2011

Sweet potato, squash, chorizo and goats' cheese tart

Ah, ah... Not only were my last two posts all full of whining (mostly about 2011 misfortunes), but the unluck continues until the end of the year... I'm so happy I'll be rid of it by tomorrow, and hopefully 2012 will be a little wee bit more easygoing... So, what happened now? Well, first Santa (I mistyped Satan, I'm wondering about THAT kind of Freudian slip...) brought my 35-year-old boyfriend chickenpox (YES, chickenpox of all things, for the "little" child!), which meant that all plans for New Year's Eve are cancelled, as he has to be in quarantine so he won't give it to the rest of the world. Luckily I had already had it when I was small, so I won't get it, but I'm not going to leave him in house isolation and go out to have fun on my own... A quiet night it is then. I had again many plans for this bank holiday weekend, and I had booked since months a restaurant I wanted to go to for my Birthday dinner (on Tue, which is also the first day back to work, and therefore a miserable day by definition), but all that will have to wait... I have to say I am now getting quite fed up of cancelling things, especially the ones with no refunds. But as I said, I have high hopes for 2012, and it's almost here!

To continue the misfortune story, since the little chickenpox-ridden one was looking like a sad (Dalmatian) puppy, I decided to make this tart that I had in a list of "cool new things to make during the holidays" since a while, and it was indeed really good and managed to lift both of our spirits a tiny bit. After I made it and we ate it, I went to the kitchen to put the plates in the dishwasher, and when I turned on the light it went "poof!", and the kitchen, bathroom and guestroom lights went out... Thinking it must be the fuse, I went with a flashlight (the joys of it being dark already after lunchtime...) and switched all the fuses between themselves, but no result. At the same time, the oven is also not working, but luckily the hob, the lights under the kitchen cupboards, the sockets and subsequently the fridge still have power, so at least we won't starve to death/have takeaway for New Year's Eve or lose all the nice food we have piled up in there. What a better way to start the year than peeing with a candle...

And when I thought, what more can happen, now it's almost 2012, I opened my nut drawer to get some cashew nuts and found that a mouse had taken affectionate bites off pretty much half the stuff in there, and it must have been quite stupid too, as it had taken bites of all the plastic wrappings, but not of the nuts themselves. Argggggggggh... All these nuts are now in the rubbish, fantastic. The ones that survived (the unopened ones and some that were not to its liking it seems) are now safely inside a tupperware, but I really hate the idea that there might be a mouse lurking around somewhere behind the cupboards...

Anyway, enough now, tomorrow is a new day, a new year and hopefully some new good karma! Happy New Year everyone!

Sweet potato, squash, chorizo and goats' cheese tart
Source: Adapted from delicious magazine

Serves 4

  • 375g ready rolled puff pastry
  • 400g sweet potatoes
  • 350g butternut squash
  • ½ tsp whole coriander
  • 1 tsp whole cumin
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 150ml double cream
  • 100g chorizo, chopped into small cubes
  • 80g goats' cheese, crumbled
  • A few leaves of rocket
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning

Line a deep tart tin with the puff pastry, prick the base with a fork, line with scrunched up baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Chill for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Dry fry the cumin and coriander in a small frying pan, until lightly browned and fragrant, then tip into a pestle and mortar and smash into powder. Peel the sweet potatoes and butternut squash and chop into small cubes. Place in a baking tray, making sure that they are all in an even layer, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with the salt, pepper, coriander and cumin. Put in the bottom shelf of the oven, and at the same time put the tart tin in the top shelf of the oven and bake both for 10 minutes.

Leaving the vegetables still in the oven, take out the tart tin, remove the baking beans, and bake for another 10 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the vegetables are softened. Beat the eggs and mix with the double cream, then fold in all the vegetables, adding salt and pepper if required. Pour the mixture into the pastry case, sprinkle the chorizo and goats' cheese over it, and then bake for 20 minutes or until set and browned. Take out of the oven, leave to cool for 5 minutes and then garnish with rocket leaves.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Frangiminci pies (Frangipane-topped mince pies)

Remember what I was saying in my previous post? 2011 has definitely not been a good year, and from what I gather from grumbling friends, not just for me... Thinking that the end of the year couldn't bring any more disasters, we had arranged for my mom and aunt to come and stay with us for the holidays (beautiful visions of endless food, shopping together, visiting Christmas markets and favourite exhibitions + throw a show or two in the mix, arise in my imagination...), however a last-minute old relative being hospitalised in critical condition meant that the trip had to be cancelled, one day before they were meant to arrive.

Hence, depression ensues = time to make sweets descends upon me. I am a quite strong proponent of the Como agua para chocolate theory (if you're sad, you'll make sad food, if you're happy your food will taste amazing and bring happiness to those who eat it), so I'd rather just cheer up and make sweets, than have my feelings ruin a good bowl of dough. And since I've never made mince pies before in my life, and I was planning to anyway (I had found a "alternative" inspiring recipe in delicious magazine and had already made the mincemeat a month ago in anticipation), I quickly set to make these. Having never tried it, I was a bit sceptical, but they were a resounding success, and people told me that they were even the best ones they've had (my answer was "it must be the alcohol"). Since they are not covered with the typical pastry on top, but with a frangipane-like almond mix, I decided I shall call them "frangiminci pies"!

I guess everything can be looked at optimistically. I've had a bloody cold of some sort or other since the 19th of November, which kind of goes away only to "dress up" as something else and come back with a vengeance, culminating in a recent fever, and a few days spent working from home. Dangerous thing this working from home. While normally you wouldn't go to the office and work with a fever, being at home kind of gives you the idea that "oh, well, yeah, maybe, it's just a little bit of work", which eventually ends up in hours spent sitting in front of the PC. However, if my mom and aunt HAD come, things could potentially be worse, I could have given them the cold, we could have all be sniffling during Xmas, plus I wouldn't have stayed to work from home, and made these mince pies. On a day that really no work from home could be done. Because the Internet and all systems in my company were down. Just for the irony of the matter, may I add that we are an "online" company. Giggles ensue + mince pies are made during working hours = that's the spirit of Christmas!

Frangiminci pies
Source: Adapted from delicious magazine

Makes around 30

For the mincemeat

  • 2 green eating apples
  • Zest and juice of 1½ lemon
  • 500g dried mixed fruit (I used one from Tesco, should be a mix of raisins, currants, sultanas and candied citrus peel) 
  • 25g chopped almonds
  • 130g vegetable suet
  • 500g soft brown sugar
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • 60ml cognac or brandy
  • 50ml Cointreau

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Core the apples and bake them in a lidded dish for 1 hour. They are ready when they are soft and the peel has sort of exploded around them. Scoop out the flesh of the apples and place in a big bowl to cool. When in room temperature, add the lemon zest and juice, and then the rest of the ingredients, mixing well with each addition. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave it to rest in a cool place, stirring every few hours. It can be used on the same day, but ideally you should allow it to "develop" over a month, so after a couple of days of stirring move it into sterilized jars and seal, making sure there are as few air bubbles as possible. I allowed it to rest for 25 days, and it was yummy.

For the mince pies

For the pastry
  • 350g plain flour
  • 125g caster sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 125g butter, cold from the fridge
  • 3 eggs (2 whole and 1 yolk)

For the frangipane
  • 150g butter, at room temperature
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 40g plain flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbsp rum

For topping
  • Flaked almonds
  • Icing sugar

To make the pastry put in a food processor the flour, sugar, salt, butter and pulse until the mix resembles breadcrumbs. With the processor running, slowly add the eggs until a dough is just formed. Take the dough out, knead it a bit, wrap it with cling film and cool in the fridge.

To make the frangipane topping, beat the butter in a food processor or mixer until soft. With the processor/mixer running, slowly add the sugar, almonds, eggs and rum, until well incorporated. Move to a bowl and chill for at least 15 minutes.

Butter the holes of a muffin tray (I had a 12-hole tin, which I used 3 times to make all the pies). Roll out one third of the pastry on a well floured counter, until it is 3mm thick. With a fluted cookie cutter cut out 8cm rounds, and push them lightly into the muffin tin holes. Chill the whole muffin tray for 15 minutes, before filling with a big spoonful of mincemeat, and topping with a heaped teaspoonful of frangipane. Preheat the oven to 180°C, sprinkle the mince pies with the flaked almonds and bake for 20-25 minutes, until nicely browned.

Remove from the muffin tray while still hot and cool on a rack. I prefer my mince pies warm, so when you want to eat them put in an oven preheated to 160°C for 10 minutes, and then dust with icing sugar.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Kourampiedes (Traditional Greek Christmas sweets)

I know, I know. It's been a long time, no post. Oral spank spank. But I haven't given up, oh ye who worry and pester me! It's just sometimes takes up time. Like, ALL OF IT. In the last few months a few hundred thousand distracting things happened, which took me away from blogging and pretty much from humanity, a few among which are:

  • Buying a house (well, ehem a flat-sort-of-thing, only it's not flat, it goes up into the attic, and then down, and then up the stairs again into the garden, I should probably say "buying an up-and-down not-so-flat")
  • "Fixing" the house (including creating a super-wow kitchen from a "meh" kitchen, finally I have some counter space that is bigger than a postage stamp!)
  • Moving house (that takes a normal person one day, it took us 2 weeks and the unpacking and putting things in place 3 months...)
  • Getting fired from my job (the politically correct term, I believe, is "made redundant") while all of the above was happening (and then rehired in a slightly different role, as it turned out I was not really THAT redundant, minus my whole team which is now represented by a big empty space in my office, sad frowny face...)
  • Doing DIY (the volume of IKEA boxes we recycled was about the same as that of our dining room. That probably says a lot about our new dining room = 2 m²)
  • Travelling (Paris - to avoid the Royal Wedding frenzy, Greece - to join the family frenzy, Greece again - for the funeral of a very dear, young, talented friend who died pointlessly at 32, Japan - last-minute opportunity that could not be missed etc.)

So, now that things have sort of (just sort of) quietened down a bit, it's time to quickly dish out some Greek sweets for Christmas, just in case I tempt any late-Xmas-sweet-makers with these inspired, tree-shaped beauties!

I usually make these traditional sweets with my mom's recipe (passed down through generations) but this time I wanted to try something a bit more alternative, so I looked around and got inspired by Stelios Parliaros, who adds pistachios and rum to the mix, a sacrilege that probably would be met with some great ass-whooping by my elderly female relatives, but which surprisingly worked quite well. Since traditionally kourampiedes are sprinkled with orange blossom water, I thought of using Cointreau instead of rum, and I also mixed and smashed pistachios and almonds together which in the original recipe are left separated (some kourampiedes with one, some with the other), but if you can have the best of both worlds why not mix and match?

Have a great Christmas, and I hope 2012 brings a bit less panic, sorrow, hecticness and unexpected chaos in all our lives!

Kourampiedes (Κουραμπιέδες)
Source: Adapted from Stelios Parliaros

Makes around 30

  • 100g almonds (not blanched)
  • 40g pistachios (not blanched)
  • 300g butter
  • 110g icing sugar
  • 600g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 30ml Cointreau
  • 300g icing sugar (for coating)

Preheat the oven to 180°C, place the almonds in a tray and roast for 6 minutes then add the pistachios and roast all the nuts for a further 6-7 minutes. When cooled, chop or smash into small pieces (I used a plastic bag and a rolling pin, but be careful, don’t turn them into dust, you need to have some bite there!)

Mix the butter with the 110g of icing sugar in a big food processor or mixer until light and fluffy. Add one by one the flour, baking powder, vanilla extract and Cointreau and mix well until all the ingredients are evenly incorporated.

Stir in the chopped nuts, and shape into rounds, or cut out different shapes with Christmassy cookie cutters. Place on a tray lined with baking parchment, making sure there is a 6-7 cm distance between them, as they tend to spread, and bake for 30 minutes (or until browned).

Take out of the oven, and before they have a chance to cool, turn them upside down and sprinkle with icing sugar. Immediately turn them the right way up, sprinkle with sugar again, and rest until cool. After they have cooled down, you can move them to a serving plate and sprinkle them with the rest of the sugar, for that genuine Greek Christmas overdose!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Flourless chocolate brownies with nutella swirl ice cream

This weekend was the first really summery one we've had since last year, and luckily a couple of friends of ours, who had recently bought their first house, invited us for a BBQ on Saturday. The weather was beautiful, just BBQ-perfect, and the food was in infinite supply (just the way I like it!) and very tastily marinaded by the man of the house. But, as every time that there's good weather, what I was craving most for was some ice cream. So Sunday came, same temperature, and the time was ripe for whipping out the ice cream machine (don't think for a second that I haven't made ice cream at home since last summer, I'm an all-winter-ice-cream scoffing freak, but somehow it tastes even better when it's hot outside!) and making something new.

Ever since I went to Rome for the first time in 2003, I have been dreaming of the nutella ice cream I had in gelaterias everywhere. It was my favourite flavour from the ones I tried (and trust me, I tried many!) and for some reason on follow-up visits to Rome in later years the nutella ice cream I so loved was gone. What I wanted was a stracciatela-like vanilla ice cream with little hard nutella swirls you could bite into, and which was heavenly, but it seems it had either gone out of fashion in Rome, or it had been replaced by an "all-nutella" chocolatey-hazelnutty ice cream, which although very nice, was too sweet and chocolatey for me. If presented with the choice of only vanilla or only chocolate ice cream, I'm pretty sure 70-90% of the population would go for only chocolate, but I would go for vanilla, as I find too much chocolate "too much". So stracciatela is one of my favourite gelato flavours of all time, as it combines both vanilla and chocolate in just the right proportions.

Inspired by this, and not having tried to make stracciatela at home, I tried to invent a stracciatelonutella version, using a trusted recipe for vanilla ice cream and adding warmed up nutella in swirls before the ice cream was fully set in the freezer. It came out heavenly, and brought back all those memories of Roman Spring in 2003...

However, since the other half is not a big fan of ice cream (yes I know, does that species exist in nature, especially in its male version?), I had to make something to satisfy his puppy-dog look of "and I'm not getting any dessert? Bouhou!", that would go with the nutella ice cream. I've made these brownies dozens of times before, they always come out fantastic and the extra bonus that they are flourless makes them suitable for people who are gluten intolerant, plus you can sort of pretend they're healthier (which the other half does) and feel a bit less guilty (as if the chocolate, butter and almonds are not enough to make you rounder!). Instead of baking them in a tray, I got inspired by Tartelette and baked them in individual tart tins, which made them perfect for topping with generous ice cream scoops. Getting carried away, I added 3 scoops on mine one night, and then I had to be removed by a crane from the sofa and gently placed on my bed, to avoid bursting. I have to say, that's never to be done again...I'm sure there's a moral somewhere there about too much of a good thing... but I haven't heard of it yet...

Flourless chocolate brownies with nutella swirl ice cream
Source: Adapted from Allegra McEvedy and Gourmet Worrier

Makes 8 brownies and 800ml ice cream

For the brownies

  • 175g 70% dark chocolate, chopped
  • 90g butter
  • 2 ½ tbsp strong coffee
  • 2 eggs
  • 220g granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 125g ground almonds
  • ½ tsp baking powder

For the ice cream

  • 2 cups full fat milk
  • 1 cup double cream
  • 1 cup single cream
  • 8 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract with seeds (or vanilla seeds from 1 pod), I used this one
  • 2 rounded tbsp nutella

For the brownies melt the chocolate and butter in a bain-marie, and stir in the coffee (it's 2 ½ tbsp of brewed coffee, not coffee powder!). In a big bowl whisk the eggs and sugar for 4 minutes, add the vanilla extract, and stir in the chocolate mix. Add the ground almonds and baking powder, making sure you mix well until everything's incorporated. Pour into a buttered tin or pyrex dish (or individual tart cases, as I did in this case) and bake at 160ºC for 35 minutes (25 minutes if it's in tart cases).

For the ice cream mix the milk, single cream, double cream and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is melted. Cool and add the vanilla extract. Churn in an ice cream machine for 30 minutes. Melt the nutella in a saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, and be careful that it just melts and doesn't burn.

Put a layer of the vanilla ice cream in the freezable container you'll store the ice cream in, top with 1 tbsp of the nutella and swirl around with the spoon or a skewer. The nutella will freeze in place almost immediately so you have to be quick. Top this with the rest of the vanilla ice cream, and then with the remaining nutella, swirling again quickly. Freeze until set and serve in scoops over the brownies, while they're still warm. The day after you can rewarm the brownies in the microwave, they become soft and gooey on the inside and are even better!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Butternut squash, pine nut and sage ravioli

A few weeks ago, as I mentioned in a previous post, my partner was in Athens for business, and I was left alone in London craving souvlaki, Greek pizza and everything else that he was posting in facebook as a status update with the words "I am eating Greek X now...yuuummm". However, to make it up to me (all those hours of suffering looking at facebook photos with my friends...grrr...) he was contracted to carry back a suitcaseful of Greek treats, plus the greatest (and heaviest) of them all, my mom's ancient pasta maker.

This little gem, a Marcato Ampia, was bought sometime in the 1980s by my mom who thought it would be a trendy item of kitchenalia (things imported from Italy were a big deal at the time in the Greek culinary gadget world!), plus it might at some point help her in making filo. Yes, filo. Now, anyone who knows what filo is can guess that the experiment failed miserably, and the pasta maker (clue, the suggested use is "in the NAME" μαμά!) stayed stacked in a cupboard, miserably gathering dust over the years, as my mom proclaimed "this metal thing is rubbish, all dough stick and do not clean!" (forgive the stereotypical Greek "translation"). After having gone through dozens of cookbooks, online recipes, and Italian friends' stories, I realised that making your own fresh pasta is not a scary task, and remembered the poor old Marcato, and resuscitated it finally!

My partner might have grumbled about carrying all that weight (mom had persuaded me it weighed only 1 kilo - more like 4 that is...), but in the long term he has come to terms with the "inconvenience", as the pasta this machine makes is AMAZING! And since I paid nothing for an "antique" item, I can't even complain about the investment. Plus there's something essentially romantic about kitchen bits and pieces being passed down from generation to generation (even the unused ones!), that makes me a bit sentimental.

Anyways, so pasta machine in hand (or rather on counter - it's too heavy to carry around purposelessly) I was ready for experimentation. And what would be the first recipe? Lasagne, tagliatelle, linguine? Nah, I need more challenging stuff, with filling! Quick search in my head, quick search on the internet, and definitely butternut squash overpowered all other options. I absolutely love ravioli di zucca al burro e salvia (pumpkin and sage ravioli) and as I had some butternut squash and pine nuts, I went for a classic recipe by Rick Stein, changing a few things along the way, and getting a few invaluable tips from Italian friends.

The ravioli turned out amazing, the filling was the best one I've had (up to now my favourite shop-bought ones were the award-winning Tesco Finest Pumpkin Ravioli) and definitely was beyond compare with even the Tesco ones! If you don't have a pasta machine it's still possible to make homemade pasta, but much more effortful, and since you can buy one not too expensively, it's highly recommended. You know what goes in your pasta, it can be as fresh as your eggs, and you will choose your filling, amount of salt and everything else (I actually didn't need to put any salt at all, the parmesan is enough, which is an extra bonus!)

Butternut squash, pine nut and sage ravioli
Source: Dough by my Italian friend's mom and filling inspired by Rick Stein

Serves 2

For the pasta

  • 100g "00" flour
  • 1 egg
  • Big pinch of salt

For the filling

  • 200g butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • A big pinch of crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 25g grated parmesan cheese
  • A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2-3 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce

  • 40g butter
  • 1 tbsp crushed dried sage leaves
  • A few parmesan shavings for topping 
  • 1 tbsp toasted pine nuts for topping
  • Freshly ground mixed peppercorns

Put the cubed butternut squash in an overproof dish, toss with the olive oil, the fennel seeds and some black pepper and roast for 30 minutes at 220°C until tender and caramelised. Cool slightly and mash with a potato masher.

Pour the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Break the egg in a separate bowl, beat well and pour into the centre of the flour "well". With a fork fold in the flour gradually from the outside of the egg towards the centre, mixing well constantly until it's all incorporated, then dig in with your hands and knead until you have a smooth soft ball. If it's too sticky add a bit more flour, if it's too dry add a bit of water, but if your egg is medium sized it should all work perfectly fine. Wrap the ball of dough with cling-film and leave in the fridge to rest for at least 15 minutes.

In the meantime prepare the filling by mixing the mashed butternut squash with the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Once the pasta has had its rest, divide it into two bits and pass each one through a pasta machine, finishing with setting No 7 (the thinnest in my pasta machine). Lay one sheet of pasta on the counter, and place small spoonfuls of the filling in regular intervals, making sure to leave some space between them for the dough to stick. Wet the dough by dipping your finger in a glass of water and rubbing "water lines" between the filling and on the edges. Cover with the second sheet of pasta, pressing down to close and stick, and then cut with a pasta cutter between the ravioli, or if you don't have one you can use a pizza wheel (that's what I did!) or a knife. Trim the ravioli if some are too big and boil for a good 6 minutes (try them to make sure they're not undercooked, it will all depend on the thickness of your pasta sheets) in well-salted water.

Melt the butter with the sage leaves in a small saucepan, drain the pasta and toss in the melted butter, topping with lots of parmesan and some black pepper.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Lemon, lime and lavender cupcakes

Sometimes I bake because it makes me happy, but most of the times I bake as it makes other people happy too. If I ate everything I make solely myself, my ass would be the size of China by now, so happily sharing my love of food with others serves three purposes: I get happy, they get happy, ass stays smallish.

The first sign of slight springiness came yesterday, when I managed to arrive home and it was still daylight, something which hadn't happened since last autumn, and which made me so happy that I decided to bake something to celebrate. My partner having been away for business for the week (in Athens nevertheless, which was unusually snowy but still full of my friends and family that HE was having fun with!) I was in food-smell-welcoming mood, so I decided to go for something he would prefer, and as he's a lemon nut (lemon cake, lemon meringue pie, lemon tart anyone?) I decided to make some lemon cupcakes. As our downstairs neighbour had given us some limes (she works in various events around London, and this week they were promoting, well... of all of things, limes...!) I decided to try a twist on the traditional, and I also added some lavender for good measure, making this the "triple L cupcakes" - Lemon, lime and lavender all in one!

I got inspired by this recipe from James Martin, who is a chef I really like, he's such an amicable guy and always makes me laugh with his additions of endless butter in Saturday Kitchen, and his usual "and if I was a Michelin star chef I would do this little thing with the spoon like that" (at which he does a fancy swirl/splat in the plate, which actually ends up looking pretty Michelin-star-chefy!). I found it bizarrely ironic that the recipe doesn't have butter (how on earth can it be a James Martin recipe? I was so shocked I almost went and licked a stick of butter!) but oil instead, and went for it... The house smelt lovely when the other half arrived, and the cupcakes were quite cute, although they got hard quite quickly. I think next time I'll substitute the oil with butter, (or even better, swede!) but for the time being, here's my adapted recipe, and the first sprigs of spring!

Lemon, lime and lavender cupcakes
Source: James Martin

Makes 12

  • 2 eggs
  • 85g caster sugar
  • 240ml milk
  • 100ml vegetable oil
  • 300g plain flour, sifted
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 lemons, zest only
  • 1 lime, zest only
  • 1 tbsp dried lavender flowers

For the icing

  • 100g icing sugar
  • 1 lemon, juice only
  • a few dried lavender flowers to garnish

Preheat the oven to 200°C, and put some paper cupcake cases in a 12-muffin/cupcake tin. Mix the eggs with the sugar until light and fluffy, then add the milk and oil and combine well. Gradually add the flour mixed with the baking powder, salt, lemon zest and lime zest. Spoon the mixture into the cupcakes cases and bake for 25-30 minutes.

In the meantime make the lemon icing by mixing the sugar with the lemon juice quickly with a wooden spoon. Cool in the fridge until the cupcakes are out of the oven and totally cooled. Spread the icing over the cooled cupcakes and decorate with the lavender flowers.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Recent culinary adventures abroad...

I know I haven't written a post in a while. A long while. The main reason is that winter has brought with it the infamous English 3 o'clock nights (where by 3 o'clock in the afternoon everything is pitch black) meaning that taking decent photos of things I cook after work (which is mainly when I cook!) has become virtually impossible. As an antidote, we generally try to stay away from this country at this dreary time, and this has resulted in quite a lot of travelling, which – while full of food as usual – does not frequent blogging allow (in Yoda mode). However, since most have been asking for it and have been waiting for it, I wanted to at least post some photos of the most beautiful and delicious things I've had in my travels over the past few months.

2010 being the year of weddings, my three trips in November and December were all in order to attend weddings of friends scattered around the globe. Having being invited to 10 weddings since May, I was at least glad to be able to attend 4. And a funeral. But that's another story...

So, on we headed to Mexico for my boyfriend's good friend's wedding in the beginning of November, and since we were there anyway we decided to stay for 2 weeks (you don't go to the other side of the world and not take advantage, you might as well make the jetlag worth its while!) and visit a couple of places I had never been to before, namely San Miguel De Allende and Guanajuato. They were both beautiful, and I definitely recommend them. San Miguel is this artists' paradise, with picturesque houses in all kinds of colours, lovely relaxing courtyards and lots of good food! And Guanajuato is a bustling student city that competes with San Miguel for the Most-multicoloured-Mexican-city Award.

To start things off though, we first stopped in Mexico City, where my boyfriend's from, and where I've been 3 times before. And when in Mexico City the musts for me are: Brunch at Las Lupitas (lovely little place in Coyoacan, top left photo), some amazing steak and chips in a basket made out of potatoes (!) in the Argentinean Cambalache, and some freshly made tortillas from the corner shop, where they just taste divine warm out of the comal, sprinkled with some salt and rolled up. Mexican heaven...

And then, to finish it off, some cajeta crêpes, and cafe de olla! This coffee is possibly my favourite in the world, no matter how much I like espresso and Greek coffee (Turkish coffee actually, the Greeks just like to call it Greek, chauvinistic remnants of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus...) this just beats them all to a whimpering submission. Flavoured with cinnamon and pilloncillo (raw cane sugar) and "cooked" in a clay pot, even thinking of the earthy smell of this coffee gives me a warm fuzzy feeling! And since we were around during the Mexican Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), we also got to get some sugar skulls as presents, along with a variety of sweets which you can find in the ubiquitous sweet shops scattered in Mexican markets.

On next was the wedding. Of course Mexican weddings revolve around food, food and more food. You start with a tamarind margarita (with salt and chilli powder on the glass rim) at around 1, then go on to lunch, best bit of which was the shark gordita (had tried shark before but I wasn't impressed, this time it was mind-blowing!), desserts (some meringue/cream/fruit concoction that was positively cloud-esque) and then some dancing, more food, dancing, oh, let's have some Mexican sweets, dance a bit more, damn! it's already 7 at night, let's have someone bring around tortas ahogadas (oh god, that was spicy like hell, but oh so delicious I just couldn't stop having more and more despite burning to death... even thinking about it I'm drooling now!) and then on and on the feeding frenzy went!

We tried to pace ourselves, as we knew the next morning we had to have breakfast (the hotel had really cutely enveloped their butter in corn husks, making it look like mini tamales!), and then go to the newlyweds' house for post-wedding brunch. Yes, as if we hadn't been fed constantly until 1 o'clock the previous night (normally it would have been until 5 o'clock in the morning, only it was so bizarrely cold that the wedding guests ran home earlier than expected! Cold in Mexico...who would imagine!), we had to now choose between pozole and chicken flautas. Guess what. I had BOTH. I love chicken flautas, but it was the first time I tried pozole and I have to say it's not my thing. Thank God, at least there's one Mexican thing that I won't need to add to my already full belly next time I go there. Unlike tortilla soup. Oooooh, the tortilla soup. With little pieces of avocado. And chillies. And cheese. Miam miam is all I can say. Drooling just thinking about it now...

Next stop on the world trip was Athens, this time for my friend's wedding. My friend being a sweet-toothed girl we indulged not only in the prettiest wedding cake ever (served as individual mini-cake portions!) but in a selection of other little pots of pleasure, all of which of course I had to try. Initially I thought "Just a spoonful of each, so I can tell her which one was the best" and then after I saw that no one was eating the rest, I had to have them all. We don't waste food in my house, and especially cute desserts! (even after an endless wedding buffet!) After a brief stop in Rome to visit a very good friend of mine, who literally showered us in freshly-cut salami and fed us for 10 hours a day during Christmas and Boxing Day, we were off to Palermo in Sicily for the last wedding of the year. Having eaten quite a lot (as you can see by the above) during the preceding months, this was the top of the iceberg. Italians eat a lot, they eat even more in weddings, but what we didn't expect was a 10-course meal of the most amazing variety, of which we could eat a forkful each time, as we were waiting for the next and the next. The one thing that I positively devoured all of, was this sublime salad topped with the most amazing tuna carpaccio (marinated in a toasted hazelnut emulsion) I've ever tasted. I still have drooly dreams about it!

And just as you thought this madness might come to an end, here comes January, with its "most depressing week of the year", which we spent safely tucked in the sun of Singapore and Bali. Quick walk through Little India where colourful bananas were scattered everywhere, and then it was time for some famous Singaporean chilli crab in Jumbo. Burning hot, but oh so good! Even the getting messy bit was enjoyable. A few days later we were having rijsttafel in Bumbu Bali in Tanjung Benoa, and trying some of the best curried fish cooked in banana leaf in Sails in Amed.

A big handful of freshly grilled prawns on the beach (these are what I call gigantosaurus prawns!) were followed by pancakes with palm sugar (that even beats cajeta!) and some of the best food we had in Bali which was in a little café in the middle of the rice fields near Ubud, called Sari Organic. If you see "chicken with mushrooms" in a menu in Britain you definitely don't expect what you see above, and some more palm sugar adoration ensued when our banana fritters arrived with some extra yummy syrup of the palmy kind.

Ubud being kind of the touristic centre of Bali you can find some amazing food there, but we were also lucky to be staying in the area while a religious festival was taking place and the Pura Desa temple was covered in offerings consisting of the most amazingly arranged towers of... food! Apart from cakes and fruit there was also a pretty intricate "chandelier" of meat skewers and I can say my mouth stayed open for quite a while when I realised what it was, as from far away it just looked like a flower arrangement! Having gotten hungry with the cornucopia at the temple we had some sticky cashew nut chicken for dinner, followed by a modern twist to the traditional black rice pudding.

Last but not least, some of my favourite things that I tried in South East Asia were the Indonesian crackers (kind of like the Chinese prawn crackers but waaaaay better!) and SHOCK SHOCK SHOCK, pizza! There were two amazing varieties. One in Gili Air, a tiny island near Lombok, which – sans electricity but for some hotel/restaurant generators – has devised an ingenious idea. Wood-fire pizza ovens. Yes, pizza in Indonesia. And if you manage to get lucky, you get some Italians who have permanently moved there to make the most amazing prawn and mushroom pizza ever for you. Best dough I've had in life, and despite my severe scepticism about combining seafood with cheese, this was one of the most amazing pizzas I've had in the world. Including Italy. Sorry Italians, please don't kill me, did you notice I said that IT WAS AN ITALIAN who made this? Albeit in far more exotic lands. The other amazing pizza was in a Japanese place in a super-mall in Singapore. Again, despite the aforementioned scepticism, and bearing the good experience in Gili Air in mind, I was stunned by how good this prawn, bacon and wasabi mayo pizza was. Yes, wasabi. The Japanese are crazy with their culinary combinations, but that only makes me love them more. Japanese has to be one of my favourite cuisines right now. Definitely.

Ah... so that was eat [sic]. And if you didn't have enough already, I leave you with a smile on a plate...

(Somehow I'm getting peckish again...)

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