it happens to everybody

Recipe: The Cake to Cure All Heart Ache

Finally it's here, after all the talking that I've done: the Banananana Cake. It has many names, originally it was apparently Heart Ache Cake, which then got renamed to Heart's Joy Cake in Monkeyfood's posting of the recipe. I call it Banananana Cake because it amuses me. Call it what you will, it is delicious, not to mention quick and easy. I have already made it on several occasion, including a bake sale where it got sold out in no time. The original recipe comes with chocolate glacing and coconut flakes for "dusting" the pan, but I've never used the chocolate (shock! horror! I know) and I prefer simple breadcrumbs for dusting the pan.

Banananana Cake or The Cake to Cure All Heart Ache

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Well, that's it for now. Remember, if you have recipes to pimp, feel free to point them out to me. I'd love to hear about them.
it happens to everybody

Recipe: Potato Focaccia

Hello, hello. Long time, no see. I'm afraid summer has somewhat subdued my enthusiasm for cooking, mostly because you just don't feel like standing in front of a stove when it's hot outside. Oh, and then there's also the fact that I haven't been in my own kitchen for a few weeks now.

However, the other day I got a huge craving for some focaccia. Now, there's a bread that is sinfully desirable. The crunchy crust, the soft interior, the delicious topping... What's there not to love?

It was also surprisingly simple. It was quick to mix, and easy to handle as long as you remembered to oil your hands. I used this recipe:

Potato Focaccia at Cook (Almost) Anything Once

I can tell you, it turned out perfectly. Pretty good for a first time focaccia baker, I might say. The only thing was that since I only did half a recipe, I accidentally made it a bit too thin, so that there wasn't much of that tasty, soft interior.

Also, the topping is something I will have to experiment more with in the future as it didn't turn out quite as tasty as I would have hoped for. If (when!) you make this, do try other toppings. I'd love to hear about your combos. I hear rosemary-garlic is good (how could it not be?), but I'd also love to hear about some more unorthodox solutions.

Get baking, people! It's worth it.
when I think about you

Recipe: Cream Cheese Chicken "Pockets" and a Warm Broccoli-Apple Salad

One of the biggest - and possibly the lamest - reasons for why I rarely eat meat is that I don't really know what to do with it. It seems that in order to get it to taste like anything, you always need to go that extra mile and know that special trick before you get anything even half decent out of it, and even then, it's mostly just so-so. It just doesn't seem worth the time, the money (!) or the effort.

But then there are times when I do try because, let's face it, there's still a little carnivore screaming inside of me, and since I have few ideological reasons to stand up to that whiny brat, occasionally I give in. Usually in the form of chicken.

Now, chicken has always been problematic to me. I hate, hate I tell you, the ready-marinaded chicken bits that they sell in the stores. They taste like plastic and manure. So, I always buy unseasoned, skinless breast fillets that I then either use as is or cut into thin slices to use in a wok (that's a good thing, by the way, because even though it takes a bit more time, you get those wonderfully thin, quick-to-fry slices like in the Chinese restaurants). And I always end up with tasteless, dry/chewy, not-so-satisfying excuses for chicken, no matter how much marinating I do. Life's a bitch, right?

Except not this time. This long yarn was a prelude to explain why exactly I am now so incredibly pleased with myself as I write this post. Because I really am enthralled by how well this recipe turned out. I had previously heard, and then tried, this thing called brining - soaking your meat in salt-water solution for a few hours, basically - that is supposed to make the meat more tender. And it does as promised. I've tried it before. But. The problem is that even with brining, I haven't been able to add any taste to the meat.

This time, though, I found the perfect recipe. It was moist. It was flavourful. For the first time since those lime-cinnamon-cumin lamb chops, meat felt like worth the effort. And what effort? No effort! This took a minute to get into the salt-water solution and into the fridge to wait until I go about my daily business, then five minutes to get into the oven. Simple. The technique puts the seasoning right in the middle of the meat, and so it gets to really soak in instead of just flopping about on top. I nicked this idea from a magazine (Hyvä Terveys: Kevyt Kokki, Spring 2008) but varied it a bit.

Chicken Pockets with Cream Cheese Filling
Time: 5 minutes preparation (+3hr optional brining) & 20 minutes cooking
makes enough for two

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Since I am a good girl and aware of healthy things, I can't live on meat alone. Therefore, there needed to be some colourful veggies (you know vegetables, right? those thingies that they try to give you instead of fries at McDonald's?). Now, this recipe comes from a Swedish television cook called Tina... Something. Um. Sorry, Tina, you're a lovely woman but I can't remember your surname for the life of me. I was watching her show yesterday while eating lunch, and she was preparing all-vegetarian meals (remarkable for a TV cook who isn't a vegetarian herself, I might add). She then made this very simple, warm salad that I just had to try immediately because who has ever heard of combining apples with broccoli and then frying them? Not me! ...You have probably, but I am ignorant of such things so let me pretend for a while that it was something uniquely brilliant. New or old, it still worked, it was quick, and it was tasty. I recommend.

Tina's Warm Broccoli-Apple Salad
serves two

~200g broccoli
one apple
one small red onion
a dash of oil for frying
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the veggies, the broccoli into bite-sized bits, the apple and onion you can cut lenght-wise into "boats", it just gives a nice body to the salad.

Heat oil over medium heat in a large frying pan or wok, add broccoli and season with salt and pepper. Fry for a couple of minutes. Add onion, fry a minute more, then add apple. Fry for a few minutes until the salad is heated through, the onion is tender and the broccoli is done but still crunchy. Serve immediately while still warm.
how many chips do you want?

[Recipe] Garlic Bread

Okay, so I broke my promise: there has been no Banananana Cake. Yet. I'll get to it because it is deliiiiicious. When I can be bothered to translate it.

In the mean time, here's a quick tip for Garlic Bread.

Take any basic bread roll recipe (I used the one on the side of my flour pack and it turned out great), but only raising it once. Shape it to a large, flat, pizza-like shape on your oven tray. Press as much garlic as you dare, mix it with oil, and then spread over the bread. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven at 220C/430F until it gets colour - watch out so that the garlic doesn't burn! That would taste horrible. For variation, try adding fresh herbs.

And that's that. Have a nice weekend everybody!

Potatas Bravas

This is one of my all time favourite dishes, based on a recipe from "Waitrose" and tinkered with a bit in the light of experience. You can eat this as a supper dish on it's own, or use it as a side dish with grilled or barbecued meats when you're eating outdoors. In which case serve with alioli (garlic mayonnaise-Catalan style,)and a green salad. Don't bother trying to eat this with wine, unless you have a *very* robust red, you just won't taste it. Knock it back with a chilled beer!

For 4 (supper) or 6 (side), you will need;
1Kg of new or salad potatoes
250g of Spanish chorizo, (at the least a paprika-pepper type sausage.)
2 Romano peppers
2 red onions
500g of cherry tomatoes, (can be substituted with canned chopped plum variety but drain them first)
1 tspn freshly chopped red chilli
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbspn freshly chopped parsley
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 200 C, Gas Mk 6, put baking tray in to heat.
Wash the potatoes- leave the skins on and chop roughly so that pieces are of equal size chunks.
Parboil for 10 mins and drain.
Chop chorizo into cubes or chunks, slice the red onions into wedges and chop the peppers into chunks. When the potatoes are done mix them together with the onions, peppers and chorizo, season to taste and drizzle with a little olive oil in the baking tray.(Once the chorizo starts to cook it will leak lovely hot paprika oils, you just need enough olive oil to "moisten" everything.) Stir it all round thoroughly and pop in the oven for 15 mins.
Meanwhile, chop the chilli and crush the garlic. Drain toms if using canned and reserve the juice, the dish should be fairly loose but not runny. You can add more juice if needed.
Remove tray from oven and stir in the toms, chilli and garlic. Put back in oven for another 15-20 mins.
Test that the potatoes are cooked through, then stir in the fresh parsley and serve from the tray. Yummy.
For a vegetarian version leave out the chorizo and add more olive oil and a tspn of paprika.
(for real authenticity use pimenton picante if you have it.)
And here it is;(My photo, taken of the last batch I made! :)

it happens to everybody

[tips] cooking doesn't have to be stressful: making use of your freezer.

As much as I am for home cooking and roll my eyes when people say they "don't have time for home cooking", it doesn't mean that I, too, don't get too busy or tired or just lazy for cooking. But that doesn't mean that I should resort to ready-meals or junk food. There are ways around stress and time issues, and really? When you figure those out, you can no longer understand what the fuss was previously all about.

It's curious how there are some things you just don't realise until someone points them out. Simple things that could make your life so much easier without resorting to those yucky store-bought ready-meals; things that could save you not only time and energy but massive amounts of money. Like left-overs. Or planning your meals for the next week or at least the next few days (really, people, you would be surprised how much stress that takes out of cooking, I kid you not; it's a lifesaver especially for those busy weeks but also, it saves a lot of money).

Or making good use of your freezer.

Leslie at Definitely Not Martha made this wonderful post about "cooking for the future", that is, how to save time, energy and money by preparing your own "ready-meals".

In short? Cook a bit of extra, and freeze it. It keeps for a long time, and then you have healthy and delicious homecooked meals available even for those times when time and energy are not in your favour.

I wish I had a freezer. Unfortunately, that is not the case, but you lucky people who do have it should embraze it like the true friend it is.
electrocute that cow

[Recipe] Lentils Are Made of Comfort

[Hello, long time, no post. I'll try to be better.]

I have to admit, I have kind of fallen in love with lentils. They're so easy, they're nutritious and healthy, they're cheap, and they're yummy. What's there not to love. They're especially great for those rainy, clammy, bone-freezing days when all you want to do is curl up in the corner of your couch.

One of the greatest things about lentils is that you can basically come up with as much variations as your imagination can conjure. Add spices of your choice, whatever veggies are huddling in your fridge, and voilá.

The way I prepare lentils is usually either soup or stew. Lentil soup is gratifying in itself, with maybe a slice of bread on the side, but a thick stew is great with rice or, if you're feeling all postmodern, for wrapping up in a tortilla. Or whatever you can think of. From my experience, 4 to 5 parts water to 1 part lentils is usually good for soup, and 3 to 3½ parts water to 1 part lentils works well for stews. You can always adjust the water near the end because it's nigh impossible to overcook lentils.

Today's soup comes from a recipe found at the wonderful blog Pastanjauhantaa. It can easily be made into stew by adding less liquid. The original also had tomato and star anise in it, but I omitted those. I also adjusted the spices to my liking.

Cinnamony Red Lentil Soup
makes 3-4 main courses; preparation time: ~30 minutes.

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Up next: Banananananana Cake a.k.a. The Cake to Cure All Aches.
it happens to everybody

Recipe: Roasted Sweet Potato and Zucchini Soup

Originally, I started creating this recipe for the fantabulous new food blogging event No Croutons Required hosted by Lisa's Kitchen and Tinned Tomatoes (both wonderful blogs concentrating on vegetarian food, by the way, hint hint). So, I dug out my ingredients and scanned my brain for ideas and got cracking - only to discover that the submission deadline had been the day before. Heh.

Oh well, though I couldn't - yet! - participate in my first food blogging event ever, all was not lost because I still got this very delicious soup out of it, so really, who am I to complain. Go check out the wonderful entries of the first roundup though. There are some very tempting recipes there.

To those of you who don't like soups this dish will serve marvelously as a sidedish if you only do the oven part.

I was truly surprised at how well this turned out. The roasting, of course, lends a kind yet strong flavour to the veggies, and the balsamico provides that extra something interesting. I admit, the measurements are a bit slapdash, but then again, this isn't one of those dishes where you ought to measure everything by the milligram. It's cooking, not science.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Zucchini Soup
serves 2 person (as main course)

1 large-ish sweet potato
1 medium zucchini
1 red onion
2-3 tbs vegetable oil (I used turnip rapeseed oil*)
pepper and salt, about 1 teasp each or to taste
1 teasp sugar
about 1 tbs (or a good dash, as I'd rather put it) aceto balsamico di Modena, or any other dark balsamico
1 cup vegetable stock

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/355F. Peel sweet potato and wash zucchini. Dice them, leaving zucchini larger than the sweet potato because it cooks faster. (I halved the sweet potato and then sliced quite thinly in order to reduce cooking time, quartered the zucchini and cut it into pieces of about 2 centimetres wide.) Peel red onion and cut it to eight pieces.
2. Place veggies in a medium sized oven dish. Add oil; 2-3 tbs is an estimation, add enough to oil the veggies properly, just don't drench them. Sprinkle the veggies with pepper, salt and sugar, and then slosh about a tablespoon of balsamico over them. Mix to cover evenly.
3. Cook in oven until sweet potato is tender. Mine took around 45-50 minutes.
4. When the vegetables are done, heat 1 cup of stock in a large pan. Add vegetables and puree. Adjust seasoning (more balsamico may be added at this point as well if needed).

Serve with a dollop of sour cream or cream cheese.

*(Commonly known as canola oil, I think, but turnip rape sounded so nasty I just had to use it. So call my sense of humour twisted. What else is new. Also, turnip rape [Brassica rapa] oil is better for you than oilseed rape oil [Brassica napus], if you want to be picky over your choices - if you want to be even pickier, choose non-cold-pressed over cold-pressed. Brassica rapa oil is the most commonly used oil in Finland. There's the tidbit of the week for you. Wasn't that fascinating?)

(no subject)

Tom Yum Kai
-a fast and crafty version of this classic Thai hot and sour soup.
Adjust chili content for personal taste -this soup is intended to clear the palate not incinerate it!

Ingredients; (For 4.)
2 pints of Chicken Stock (Either home made or the bottled variety is best. Stock cubes really are a last resort.)
1/2 tspn of red chilli.
Dried Galangal root- one slice will do. ("Blue Dragon" do this.)
Dried Kaffir Lime leaves- about three medium sized.
Sliced/shredded pre-cooked chicken, just a handful.
Four mushrooms (Can be omitted)
1 Small nest of Chinese style egg noodles.
Fresh Coriander, roughly chopped.

In a decent sized saucepan dry fry the chilli for a couple of minutes. (This gets the oils out.) Then add the chicken stock and dilute according to manufacturer's instructions for two pints.
Add the galangal root and the lime leaves and bring to the boil. Then add your leftover chicken and quartered mushrooms. Put your noodles in a separate pot and boil for three minutes or until cooked. Remove the galangal and lime leaves and chuck away. Drain noodles and add to soup. (This keeps it clear, otherwise the starch from the noodles makes it go murky!)Total cooking time around 10-15 minutes max. Just before you serve, toss in the coriander so that it's nice and fresh looking.

This should come out as a clear soup with a "garnishing" of noodles, mushrooms and chicken with the coriander floating on the top. If you want to make it more substantial, just add more chicken, noodles and veg-such as diced spring onion- anything that either doesn't need much cooking or has been pre-cooked.
how many chips do you want?

Recipe: Chili Chocolate Muffins

Like I said in the previous post, I was determined to make something chocolatey with chili, fennel and clove. Well, here it is, sans the fennel and clove, I'll experiment with those some other time.

These cupcakes turned out wonderfully fluffy and light. I had some left over cream cheese loitering in the fridge, so I decided to experiment a little. The result was surprisingly good. Now, you can't really taste the cream cheese in these, but I do think it adds a certain texture and it just might have been what made these so fluffy.

The only adjustment I'd make is that next time, I'd maybe try adding a bit more sweetness to balance out the spiciness, maybe a bit more chocolate as well to really bring it to the front from its current backseat position. Also, I'd love to find a way to work kumquat into these because damn those go well with chocolate.

These are quite heavy on the chili, so if you're not used to it, use a little less, only 2 to 2½ teaspoons.

REVISED 16.7.2008: After another try with the recipe, I have now corrected some of the measurements because this really needed to be sweeter. It's still missing something, though, so I'd love to hear any comments/suggestions you guys might have.

Chili Chocolate Cupcakes Muffins
makes 10-12 large ones

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