Monday, July 30, 2012

Ode to Toast

Jamie Oliver calls his 'bruschetta', Nigel Slater insists on only using whole mushrooms (no fancy funghi please!) and slightly burnt government white loaf toast for his, while Gordon Ramsay's Italian version swops bread for chargrilled polenta. And although Jamie's lisp stole my teenage heart, Nigel's writing my soul and Gordon Ramsay's mouth my, er, innocence, none of my culinary heroes have hit the mark quite like Luke Dale Roberts did this past weekend.

What is humbly dubbed 'Mushrooms on toast, grated lemon, parmesan, procini dust' on the menu is in fact the reason I have been dreaming about my meal at The Pot Luck Club & Gallery for the past 3 days. Imagining slabs of toasted buttery brioche topped with sherry glazed mushrooms and drowning in dredgings of Parmesan cheese wafting out of the kitchen and into my mouth, is a tad extreme, even for a food nerd like me. To put a halt to these crazy funghi fantasies, I decided to douse the craving with my own midweek (meat-free Monday) version of this dreamy mushrooms on toast dish. So here it is, my ode to toast; simplicity at its best!

Photograph: The Pot Luck Club & Gallery

Posh mushrooms on toast
(serves 4)

6-8 slices ciabatta, sliced
olive oil, for drizzling
250g mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 glug of old brown sherry
1 knob garlic parsley butter
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper, to taste
crumbled feta cheese or Parmesan and rocket, to garnish

Drizzle the ciabatta slices with olive oil and toast until golden brown. Heat a little oil in a pan until smoking hot and saute the mushrooms until browned. Add the sherry and allow the alcohol to evaporate completely before stirring in the butter, zest and seasoning. Add a spoonful of water and stir to thicken before toppin the ciabatta toast with the mushrooms and crumbling over the feta. Place under the grill again until golden and bubbly. Serve with the rocket.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Chocolate brownie in a cup / Choc chip cookie in a cup

I absolutely love baking up a storm but my family can attest to the fact that I seriously despise washing dishes. As a child I used to put on my own cooking shows in our family kitchen with every ingredient precisely weighed out into its own neat little bowl – just like I'd seen Delia Smith do on her show. This used to drive my mother mad as no matter how many times I'd swear on my spatula to wash the mound of dishes I'd dirtied, it would never happen and my poor mother would be left washing a million condiment bowls while silently praying for a dishwasher. Now that I have to wash my own dishes at the end of a baking marathon, I have a whole lot more appreciation for the recipes that promise minimal time at the kitchen sink. This is one of those – a chocolate chip cookie recipe made in a cup. It is not only perfect for those times where you're craving something to dunk into your tea, coffee or hot chocolate on chilly evenings, but also great for keeping kids busy in the kitchen during the school holidays. And because it's made in the microwave, there is no danger of little fingers being burnt (and the fact that you'll be left with only a few cups and spoons to wash is a huge bonus!). Replace the butter with peanut butter, swop out the chocolate chips for raisins, smarties or whatever the kids' imaginations can conjure up! And once they've mastered the 'cookie in a cup', let them try the 'chocolate brownie in a cup' recipe below – it is delicious!

Choc chip cookies in a cup
(makes 3)

1T butter
2T brown sugar
few drops vanilla essence or extract
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
¼ cup cake flour
2T chocolate chips

Place the butter in a mug and melt in the microwave. Add the sugar, vanilla and salt and stir with a fork. Add the egg yolk and mix well. Stir in the flour and chocolate chips. Lightly grease a microwave safe plate and place 3 mounds of the cookie dough on the plate, leaving enough space in between each. Cook in the microwave on full power for 40 – 60 seconds or until cooked. Remove from the plate with a spatula and allow to cool completely or eat while still hot and gooey! Serve with at tall glass of milk for dunking.

Chocolate brownie in a cup
(makes 1)

4T cake flour
4T brown sugar
2T cocoa powder
2T oil or melted butter
2T water
pinch of salt
few drops vanilla extract
2T chopped nuts or chocolate chips (optional)

Place the flour, sugar and cocoa in a cup and mix well. Add the oil, water, salt and vanilla and stir together with a fork until thoroughly mixed. Place the cup in the microwave and cook on full power for 45-60 seconds until cooked through but still a bit gooey in the middle and moist. Allow to cool slightly and serve immediately with cream or ice cream.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Hot toddies for chilly evenings

Like a comforting hug, or your favourite snuggly slippers, hot toddies are perfect for warming up cold hands and feet when coming in from the cold. I've compiled my 6 favourites to suit all kinds of moods and hopefully you'll find the one for you! The chamomile honey vanilla latte is one of my favourites to cozy up to just before bedtime – chamomile is known for it's sleep inducing properties and will ensure sweet and peaceful dreams while the apple mint green tea is less indulgent – for those moments when you're watching the waistline. Hot coco is my take on hot chocolate, made with coconut milk for something a bit different. Of course, always make sure to use fat-free milk to keep the calories down. My homemade spicy chai is better than anything you'll find on a supermarket shelf; you'll have all the spices in your storecupboard already and it really tastes wonderful. The hot butterscotch is for those spoil-yourself moments and makes a great replacement for dessert when entertaining. And last but not least, the classic hot toddy, Gluhwein is a sure way to warm up body and soul and even better when sipped in front of a roaring fire. What are your favourite winter hot toddies?

Photography by Katelyn Williams

Apple mint green tea
Break open 2 tea bags of mint green tea and place in a saucepan with ½ sliced Granny Smith apple, pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon and bring to a gentle simmer for 2 minutes. Set aside and allow to steep until fragrant. Strain and sweeten with honey, to taste.

Chamomile honey vanilla latte
Brew ½ a pot of strong chamomile tea made with two tea bags. Heat 300ml of fat-free milk with a vanilla pod or few drops of vanilla extract. Divide the strong chamomile into 2 mugs and top with the vanilla milk. Drizzle honey ontop to taste

Hot coco
Heat ½ tin reduced fat coconut milk and 1 cup of fat-free milk with 75g good-quality dark chocolate and a cinnamon stick. Simmer gently for a few minutes until fragrant. Alternatively, replace the chocolate with cocoa powder and adjust the sweetness with honey. Garnish with toasted coconut shavings or for a decadent addition, serve with toasted coconut covered marshmallows.

Homemade spicy chai
In a saucepan, combine 1/4t ground cardamom (or 2-3 cardamom pods, crushed), 4-6 black peppercorns, 4-6 cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, 1T brown sugar (or to taste), the leaves from 2 Darjeeling or Assam tea bags and 2 cups of fat-free milk. Heat gently over low heat for 2 minutes and set aside to brew for 10 minutes before straining, reheating and serving.

Hot Butterscotch
Coat the sides of 2 mugs with tinned caramel or butterscotch sauce (for a quick and easy recipe and step-by-step video click here). Heat 2 cups of fat-free milk with a dash of vanilla extract and pour into cups to serve. For something a little different, serve with a sprinkling of sea salt for a salted caramel version – salt and caramel are perfect partners so give it a try!

In a saucepan, gently heat 3 cups red wine, 1 stick cinnamon, 2T brown sugar, 2-3 cloves, 4 star anise and the peel of 1 orange for 5 minutes. Set aside to infuse before straining, reheating gently and serving.

Some more ideas:
Hot chocolate is a great way to experiment – try infusing the milk with dried chillies, basil leaves or fresh mint before adding the chocolate. Adding liqueurs is also a decadent treat every now and then and the wide variety of flavours mean you can get creative with combinations.
Purchase inexpensive spoons and dip them into dark or white chocolate a few times (allow to set inbetween) and tie together with a pretty ribbon. Package them with some marshmallows and you'll have a thoughtful gift for someone special.