Chocolate cupcakes – in defence of Sweet

“Sweet” is one of my favourite words, tastes and sentiments. It’s child-like and when you speak it, it’s like you’ve actually got something sweet on your tongue.

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Some take great offence, though. I once referred to a guy as “sweet” and was told “No guy wants to be referred to as ‘sweet’”. Alright… bitter much? It’s also seen as a fall-back; the go-to adjective when you have nothing nice to say about someone.

Once again I find myself struggling against the perceptions of beautiful, innocent words that have been misappropriated. The English language has so many words – let’s learn a few more and stop mangling the ones we know in order to fill the gaps in our vocabulary.

It’s no secret I love Willie Harcourt-Cooze’s cacao recipes. They are deliciously sweet, but it’s the perfect blend of sweet and bitter from the  cacao that achieves balance, letting the sweet shine through without being obnoxious and diabetes-inducing.

His chocolate cupcakes are just superb. They’re fluffy, rich, and the icing is just a thin layer of cacao, sugar and water. It’s a very grown-up dessert; foregoing over-indulgence for the simple beauty of the quality ingredients.

This cupcake is the pedestal sweet belongs on.

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Chocolate Cupcakes

50g cacao (I used 70% Lindt chocolate), finely grated
125g unsalted butter
125g castor sugar
2 large eggs
125g self-raising flour
2 tbs milk

For the icing:
50ml water
20g castor sugar
20g grated cacao
Speckled eggs

Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Put cupcake liners in your cupcake pan (12).
Melt cacao by placing in a heatproof bowl (I use a Pyrex) on top of a pot of simmering water.
Whizz butter and sugar in a food processor until creamed. Add eggs and combine. Add flour and mix again. Stir in melted cacao and milk. Empty the mix into the cupcake cases and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack.

For the icing, boil water and sugar in a small pot until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the cacao and boil until everything is well mixed. Empty into a bowl and cool in the fridge.

Once the cakes are cool, paint on the thin cacao icing with a small paintbrush. Decorate with almond slivers or speckled eggs, to add whimsy.

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Banana Fritters with Vanilla and Saffron Soft Cream

Trying new things in the kitchen is necessary for growth. Just like in any other relationship, if you don’t spice things up from time to time and experiment, the pilot light goes out.

That being said – experimenting is tricky. You’re not always sure how your ingredients are going to react to new additions in the kitchen. Sometimes protein won’t stiffen, no matter how much you beat it, and if you’re unfamiliar with your equipment you could end up with white stuff all over your face. Whoops.

But I am not one to shy away from experimentation.

Banana fritters and saffron and vanilla soft cream

Soft Cream. I invented it.

My ice cream wouldn’t get hard for me – perhaps I need to work on my pick-up lines?

I followed a recipe I saw on Lifehacker.com (contain your sniggers, please) for easy peasy ice cream. Simply combine heavy whipping cream and condensed milk and beat on high for about 10 minutes, add flavouring, shove it in the freezer and your surname could be Baskin or Robbins.

A week later my “ice cream” still resembles soft serve on a sunny February day.

Look, it tastes really good. I added saffron and vanilla extract for flavour and it’s a winning combination. It smells like marshmallows. Yum. I know there’s something really simple that resulted in its inability to freeze. But right now I’m over trying to figure out where I went wrong and I’m sticking with my story – soft cream FTW!

I had a few leftover, over-ripe bananas so I hauled out Tannie de Villiers’ Kook en Geniet for a fritter recipe.

I used the recipe for pumpkin fritters and simply replaced the pumpkin with mashed banana.

So everything was working just fine until the first batch. The batter was quite runny and I was struggling to wrangle it in the pan. I decided to improvise. I added some more flour and two tablespoons of oats to the batter to thicken it up.

Well, congrats Sam! You’re making flapjacks.

If I’ve learnt anything through trial and error, it’s that you don’t need to do no trying or erring with Tannie de Villiers’ recipes. The first batch of fritters (sans my additions) was by far the tastiest.

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Banana Fritters
2 cups of mashed banana
1/2 cup of flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 egg, beaten
pinch of salt
1 tbs oats if preferred (they were tasty)
butter for frying (tastier than oil)

Mix bananas, flour, salt and baking powder. Add egg and mix together.
Heat butter in pan. Add spoonfuls of batter to pan. Fry for about a minute or two, check if it’s lifting easily, flip and fry for another minute or until golden brown on both sides. Drain on roller towel. Repeat until batter is finished. I didn’t sprinkle with sugar as I served with soft cream.

Serve with soft cream, or ice cream. Use it, don’t use it…

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Mom’s Pancakes

The greatest gift my mom gave me in the kitchen was encouragement.

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When I was six I cooked my first meal – boiled carrots and tomatoes. Mom was awfully impressed. Since she had me making tea from the age of four, she had no argument to get me away from the hot stove.

A few years later I was making custard, scrambled eggs and of course, more tea. I learnt to cut the batter for fluffy scones and beat egg whites for her famous cauliflower soufflé.

Mom taught me to flip pancakes by telling me not to be afraid of them falling on the floor.

Now they never do.

Tonight, to wash down 13 years of missing her, I heated that very same small frying pan she taught me to cook in. I mixed pancake batter in the white lipped mixing bowl she was so fond of. I followed her recipe to the tee. And it was glorious.

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Denise’s Pancakes
Makes approximately 10 sideplate-sized pancakes

1 cup of flour
1 jumbo egg
1 cup of milk
A pinch of salt
Spray and Cook
¼ cup of white or brown sugar
2 tbs ground cinnamon
1 lime (or lemon)

Whisk the flour, egg, milk and salt together in a mixing bowl. Leave to stand for a few minutes.

Mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Bring a small frying pan to a high heat. Cover it with Spray and Cook, or, as Mom did it, wet a piece of kitchen towel with a bit of oil and wipe the pan with it.

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Once it’s piping hot, pour a ladle full of the batter into the pan and swirl until it covers the base of the pan. Be sure not to put too much batter in – it should form a thin layer. Return to the plate on the stove.

Once the sides start peeling away from pan, shake it loose and flip it over. If you’re not feeling confident, turn it with an egg lifter.

Return the pan to the heat once turned and wait until it bubbles again. It should now be done, but flip once more to be sure, looking out for a golden tinge to each side of the pancake.

When it looks done to you, transfer to a plate and sprinkle cinnamon sugar liberally over the hot pancake.

Spray some more non-stick solution into the pan and repeat the pancake process all the way through.

The heat from the pancakes as you stack them on top of one another will melt the cinnamon sugar, creating a delicious syrup.

Once you’ve finished all the batter, cut the lime in half and squeeze some juice over the pancakes for a fruity tang. Roll up and devour!

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How to cook like me… and Heston

I’ve recently watched the Channel 4 series, How To Cook Like Heston.

It’s invigorating, and this morning I tried his recipe for scrambled eggs. I’ve been doing it wrong all these years!

His methods fly in the face of widely trusted ways and recipes, but hey, it’s Heston, so it must be good. Right?

I have no doubt his chips are deliciously crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle, but seriously, who has time to cook chips three times? It seems simpler to just mainline the starch and sniff the glucose.

At what point is something too much effort?

I suppose I’m being a little hypocritical here. I’ll decorate a cake for hours only to have it guzzled down in minutes. It’s still worth it for me, as long as I got to take a good picture.

But chips that were boiled, chucked in the freezer for an hour and then fried twice? I don’t know… By the time they’re done I’ve eaten the burger and downed the milkshake and no longer yearn for that heady GI spike.

Great stuff, Heston. Your potatoes and steak taste the best. I’m not arguing that. I just feel that as we are already such elaborate consumers, such wasteful creatures, such over-doers, I could do with some tips on how to do less processing of ingredients, not more.

In my case, laziness is the mother of my “inventions”.

* I never peel potatoes. Potato salad, crash hot potatoes, roast potatoes… all better with skin. As a result I’ve stopped making mash. My diet is thankful.

* Have you tried raw oats with your yoghurt instead of muesli? Omnomnom. And so much better for you than muesli. Plus you only have to pick up one item from the cereal aisle instead of two.

* Want risotto but don’t want to stir for 45 minutes non-stop? Either substitute the Arborio rice with barley or bake your risotto in a covered dish in the oven instead.

There’s a place and time for all things indulgent, and Heston’s delicious food is indeed that. And if I ever get to eat at The Fat Duck, I really hope he went to the trouble of cooking my chips three times.

For now though, there’s a place for shortcuts, less processing and more enjoying. It’s in my kitchen and in my tummy.

 

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El Tesoro Mousse Cake

I’m not particularly fastidious in the kitchen.

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I work with dashes, dollops and good measures instead of grams, millilitres and cups. It’s part laziness, part curiosity. It also leaves more room for the magic to happen, or so I like to tell myself.

This isn’t always a safe approach with baking. I’ve said before that baking is way more scientific than cooking and more than once I’ve had to turf a dessert because of my lack of exactitude. I remember watching my milk tart crust literally bubble away in the oven because of too much butter. I also blame it on the summer heat, but ja… Those bubbles were little pieces of my heart burning into the pie dish.

It’s true – the proof really is in the pudding. One of my favourite recipe books, Willie’s Chocolate Factory by Willie Harcourt-Cooze, is my go-to not because I’m the biggest chocolate fan, but because his recipes are simple, easy to follow and the results are always just as promised. No under-delivery here.

I’ve made his Cloud Forest Cake a few times and it is a sure-fire winner. Here’s a photo:

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Yesterday I tried my hand at the El Tesoro Mousse Cake. Less ingredients, less work – and more of the result is left up to the magic.

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Get the El Tesoro Mousse Cake recipe here.

While mine is hardly as neat and tidy and the picture in the book (again, I’m not fastidious), it does taste like heaven, and that’s all I really need. I dusted it with cocoa powder and icing sugar and decorated it with a few gold-sprinked rose petals. Aren’t I just too ougat?

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Saffron Barley Risotto

The days and nights are hot and windy this time of year in Cape Town.

That means one of my favourite dishes, risotto, often takes a back seat until around May when the cold gives me an excuse to  load up on carbs and cheese and get all pudgy in the middle.

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However, I’ve always been one to break habit, flip off the status quo and do whatever the hell I like, despite the weather. Like going to the movies on a beautifully sunny day. Ah, blessed aircon…

On one particularly hot summer day recently, I spent the afternoon watching Nigellissima with my dear friend Wynand.

The beautiful and inspiring Nigella whipped up saffron orzotto with pearl barley as a side dish for her lip-licking roast chicken.

Last year Wynand brought me some saffron all the way from Barcelona so I decided this was all fate and whatever – and I would make the orzotto – with my own twists of course.

Saffron Barley Risotto

1 cup of pearl barley
1 onion, diced finely
2 tsp chopped garlic
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs butter
1L chicken stock
Some wine (optional)
1/4 tsp saffron
1 baby marrow, grated
Grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil and butter in a pot or pan over a medium heat. I’ve learnt over and over again that the pot doesn’t need to be THAT hot, Sam… You’re not grilling a steak here!

Fry the onions in the fat mix until translucent. Then add the garlic and fry for a minute more. Add the pearl barley and coat in the fat for a minute or so. Don’t let the grains stick to the pot. Trust me – I’ve done the hard, wasteful work for you.

Heat the saffron in the microwave for 90 seconds. Then crush with a mortar and pestle, or the back of a knife if you accidentally broke your pestle in the sick last time…

Add the crushed golden goodness to your stock. Pour all the stock (and wine if you’re so inclined as I am) into the pot, make sure the heat is lowish, give it a stir and let it cook, bubbling ever so gently.

This is the wonderful thing about barley risotto – no need to massage the rice as one does with normal risotto. You can just let it cook. Don’t go get into a 318-picture photo gallery on Facebook and forget about it now, but basically you won’t be building any biceps making this dish. Just keep your eye on it and give it a stir every now and then.

Once it has thickened a bit, add the baby marrow. Once all the stock has been absorbed, add the seasoning and parmesan, saving some for garnish. If it’s too thick, add some more wine, stock or water and stir.

It’s ridiculously easy for something that sounds so fancy. Nigella added some mascarpone to hers which sounds fantastically artery-clogging. Go for it.

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Serve as is or as a side dish with any lovely meat such as roast chicken or pork fillet.

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Carrot and Cranberry Cake with Saffron Cream Cheese Icing

I’m tickled pink today.

It’s not the impending “ughness” of Valentine’s Day, it’s not a new romance, it’s not anything in particular. I’m just happy because I baked.

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I’m still in my PJs. I woke up this morning and took on an unknown feat in my kitchen. I just finished washing the last bowl. I gotsta get me a kitchen fairy!
This is my first carrot cake, but yet, I was feeling adventurous. There’s no fun in doing anything strictly by the book, even though successful baking often hinges on that principle.

I used SJA de Villiers’ recipe from Kook en Geniet (strictly, I’ve got “Cook and Enjoy” but I just feel like a soutie saying that). That tannie knew how to cook and she was an expert recipe writer, something many good chefs have yet to master. It’s also something very integral to the success of a recipe. It’s so much more than a list of ingredients and an oven temperature…

Naturally though, I needed to put my own spin on things.

So here is my adjusted version of Kook en Geniet‘s Carrot Cake.

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Carrot and Cranberry Cake with Saffron Cream Cheese Icing

Cake:
2 cups cake flour
4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
1tsp salt
1/2 cup soft butter
1/2 cup oil
1 cup castor sugar
1/2 cup muscovado sugar
a splash of water
4 eggs, whisked
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecan nuts
2 cups grated carrot
1 cup dried cranberries

Icing:
1/2 cup soft butter
300g icing sugar
125g hard cream cheese (the block)
1/2 tsp saffron
vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line cake tins (I used one cake tin and one muffin pan).
Sift together flour, spice, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, cream sugar, butter, oil and water until light and creamy. Mine stayed quite fluid. Add eggs and extract and mix. Fold in dry ingredients, then fold in nuts, cranberries and carrot.
FYI – to chop the pecan nuts, I simply took a hammer to the closed packet – and presto.

Transfer batter to the pans and bake for around 45 minutes, but I’d say 35-40 if your oven is a firecracker.

For the icing, beat 1/2 cup icing sugar and butter until creamy. Gradually add more icing sugar until it’s all been mixed in.  Then add the cream cheese. Beat for a very short period until just combined.

Heat saffron for 90s in the microwave. Crush in a mortar and pestle, or, if like me you don’t have one, use a bowl and the back of the knife. Add 1 tsp vanilla extract to the saffron and add the the icing mixture. Mix to combine.

If it’s a hot day, put the icing in the fridge and let is set a little before icing the cake.

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I tried the petal method for the first time on my 70s-inspired heart shaped cake. It was partly successful, but I don’t think cream cheese the best fit for this decorating technique.

For the cupcakes I added some crimson food colouring to the icing for sweet pre-Valentine’s treats, and also to denote the presence of the cranberries.

Yum.

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Mexican Spaghetti Bolognese

I’d totally kill one of those cooking show challenges where the chef has to use all the oddly-matched ingredients in a mystery box to make a meal. I do that at home at least once a week.

While nothing in my spaghetti Bolognese is especially weird or wonderful, the premise still stands – everything was already in my fridge or cupboard.

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Plus, I didn’t even have an onion or oil.  Booya!

So here I found myself at my stove with some baby marrows, a green pepper, mince, a can of tomatoes, a can of beans, some tomato paste, garlic and spaghetti.

I’ve called it Mexican because of the beans and some peri-peri spice which I added to the mince.

Here’s how Sunday night’s dinner went down.

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Mexican Spaghetti Bolognese

A knob of butter
2 baby marrow, grated
½ green pepper, chopped finely
500g lean beef mince
1 tbs crushed garlic
50g packet of tomato paste
1 can of chopped tomatoes
½ can of four bean mix
½ cup of red wine
1 tsp peri peri spice
a few shakes of Worcester sauce
½ tsp of sugar
1 tbs chutney
150g spaghetti
Parmesan to taste

Cook the spaghetti in a lot of salty boiling water.

Heat the butter in a pan and fry the baby marrow and green pepper on a medium heat. Once browned, remove the pan and set aside.

Fry the mince and garlic in the pan with the tomato paste and a splash of lemon juice. Once browned, add the peri peri spice and the Worcester sauce. Add the red wine.  Once the wine has cooked away, add the can of tomatoes. Add the sugar and chutney. Cook on low for a few minutes then add the beans and let it cook for a while longer until the sauce thickens. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Transfer the spaghetti and mince sauce into a serving dish and sprinkle with Parmesan.  Slurp it all up.

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Mmmilk Tart

I suffer from a crippling loneliness.

Sometimes it feels like my world suddenly became tiny and enormous all at the same time; my heart pounds and my ears ring from the silence of a phone that hasn’t beeped in hours.

I know there are other sufferers, and the feeling is fleeting and should be handled with a pinch of salt. I prefer to handle it with my favourite dessert.

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Milk tart is my favourite, favourite dessert.

This is however, only the second milk tart I’ve ever made. I’ve always felt a little intimidated by it. Imagine my favourite thing turned out to be a big, gloopy flop? I’d be shattered.

I found a recipe for condensed milk milk tart on Food24 and decided to give it a go. I did however make some changes and some notes.

GET THE RECIPE HERE.

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1. I used Clover’s vanilla Mmmilk instead of normal milk
2. I used half a tin of condensed milk instead of a full tin because the milk was already sweetened, and the thought of all that sweetness hurt my jaw.
3. I added a little saffron to my milk mixture to give it some fragrance and colour – it was beautiful!
4. The crust is a little difficult to spread evenly – must practice.
5. The recipe says the milk mixture will take 5-7 minutes to thicken, but mine took only a minute or two once returned to the heat with the egg mixture. It actually got too thick, but I just beat it with some more milk to thin it out.

The result was delicious. It bounced back softly when pressed and melted in my mouth. Give it a go and share it with someone.

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Spinach and Pea Risotto

I am 1 year and four months single.

This has taken quite the toll on my kitchen forays. Cooking for one is terribly sad.

6-portion mac ‘n cheese, pots of soup that would last days and pancakes and flapjacks to feed an army… I used to cook BIG. Real big.

Adjusting portions has been tough, especially when I say to myself “I’ll cook it and freeze it for another night”.

That doesn’t happen.

A sad episode of Grey’s Anatomy, me, the couch and the leftovers happens.

*I’ve got to get this under control*

But… I’m one Woolies micro-meal away from digestive failure. As a result, I’ve slowly crept my way back into the food cupboard, carefully coaxing my pots and pans out of their dusty hiding spots.

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Risotto is an old favourite. Did you know a skottel braai is great for making risotto? It is. I’ve tried it. So should you. Unfortunately the skottel left with the boyfriend, so I’m back to the stove.

I’ve clearly become a bit rusty as my rice was rather overcooked and the seasoning wasn’t spot-on, but we’re getting there.

Spinach and Pea Risotto with Cream Cheese and Parmesan

A splash of olive oil
a knob of butter
1 tbs of crushed garlic
1 onion, chopped finely
1 cup of Arborio rice
6 cups of chicken stock
a few splashes of wine
100g of English spinach
Half a cup of frozen peas
1 tbs of cream cheese
Parmesan shavings

Heat butter and oil in a pan, or a lovely Le Creuset pot like mine. Don’t go crazy with the heat – keep it at a good medium. Once the butter is melted, add the onions and fry until translucent. Add a splash of lemon juice for whimsy (it also helps the onions not stick to the bottom when you’re not looking). Also add the garlic once onions are almost done.

Then add the rice. Make sure the rice is coated in the oil and butter and fry for a few minutes until some of the grains start to get a little colour. But JUST a little.

Then add a cup of stock. Stir, like you’re massaging the rice. No, really. Don’t laugh. And don’t stop stirring just to Whatsapp that hottie – your rice WILL BURN!

Once the stock has been absorbed, add another cup with a splash of wine (if you haven’t drank it all yet). Continue this stirring/massaging process until the rice is soft and it has formed a nice consistency (not stiff, but the rice shouldn’t be disintegrating).

Then add the spinach, peas, a little bit of stock and cook for a further five minutes. Take off the heat, stir in the cream cheese and leave to stand for a bit while you message said hottie.

Dish up into pretty plates, garnish with some Parmesan and flat leaf parsley and enjoy. You could add some smoked chicken like I did for added gluttony and deliciousness.

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