Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Radda in Chianti is one of the 5 Chianti towns in Tuscany. It is one that perched the highest on the Tuscan hill. The highest point I noted on the GPS was at least 700m asl! It’s ca 15km away from San Sano, our Summer hols based location in August this year.

My memory of Radda was not as positive as the rest of the Chianti towns, at least on the gastronomical aspect at the material time and day. Well, unforgettable memories can be either good or bad, right?

We had originally wanted to dine out at Osteria Le Panzanelle in Radda but could not find the restaurant. Instead we ended up at Ristorante Vignale. It had a lovely patio overlooking the most beautiful view of acres and acres of vineyard!

After having one of the most memorable dinners in San Sano the other evening, we assumed every Tuscan restos offered similar quality of amazing foods. Unfortunately, not at Ristorante Vignale. The menu card looked ambitious and sadly, we were sold by the artistic descriptions of the items on the list.

The plates that were brought out to us were stylishly presented, but the execution was very poor.

On paper, the starter I ordered sounded too good to be true: summery and almost music to my ear. In reality, the actual presentation was quite disappointing. There were way too many goat’s cheese on my starter plate that I hardly tasted or saw any truffle-flavoured bread crumbs! The summer salad was just simple iceberg salad. My verdict? A boring ensemble of the so called, The Vignale Summer Salad with pine nuts, walnuts, goats’ cheese and truffle-flavoured bread crumbs

You bet I was looking forward to my main course that sounded pretty alluring; Medieval style spiced young pork stuffed with prunes and apricots. Too bad, the glamorous sounding Medieval porky were merely thinly sliced, hard pieces of rather salty and dry meat smothered with some sauce with a bit of green salad and 4 wedges of very small potatoes.

And finally, I left the verdict of the pannacotta to my older son. He had the pannacotta at Trattoria Grotta della Rana in San Sano the other evening. By comparing with the one at Vignale, his first bite and comment in one word was “Bubblegum!”

Yup, that’s his honest verdict of the oodles of gelatine used in the pannacotta at Ristorante Vignale! What a shame, it looked nice but the taste was something else. What can I say, looks can be deceiving…

Oh by the way, to add salt to injury, my younger son’s dessert of Cheese Cake with fruit coulis and handmade ice-cream missed out the most crucial item. The handmade ice-cream was missing!!

By not crucifying too much of Radda, I’d like to mention that the best part of Radda that remains mesmeric in my mind’s eye was the view.

Night fell and we left Radda without turning back.

We walked the lighted pathway looking forward to a new tomorrow …

Have a great week!

Ciao!

Okay, so technically, spring has begun, but with the blizzards, heavy snow, low temperatures and cold weather of late has made my brain go haywire.

Where are the snowdrops and daffodils? Where are the birds chirping in the trees? For God’s sake, I’m still wearing my winter clothing….. in spring!

I read in our local newspaper that large parts of Europe and North America are experiencing these extraordinary cold climes due to the dramatic melting of the Arctic sea ice.  While it’s getting “warmer” in the Arctic, we are experiencing “Ice Age”!! That, is the symptom of global warming, with the icy cold air blowing from the Arctic to the south.

Scrat is cute, however, I am not dreaming to be an obsessive acorn collector for the rest of my life. LOL!

Dreaming of warmth

A month or two ago, my brother who lives in Canada went ice fishing with his family.  So cool!  I would love to try my hands being an ice angler, sitting on the stool in a heated cabin and catch my day 😉

A picture is worth a thousand words.  Following are pictures of my sister-in-law and my nephews with their perches and whitefish….

1a. Ice fishing_Gull Lake_the boys1b. Ice fishing_cozy cabin

1c. Ice fishing_Kiaw + boys1d.Ice fishing_Ian and his catch

OMG! You wouldn’t believe how much I miss eating fresh fish! To be precise, I miss eating a good plate of “umai” (raw fish salad – the way it’s done in Mukah, a tiny fishing village in Sarawak!). I hope my sisters in Kuching are hearing me loud and clear. That’s one of my eat list in my next trip, Sis 😉

The fish has got to be fresh, super fresh and cut into thin slices or small pieces. Add some chopped bird’s eye chillies, thinly sliced turmeric leaf (daun kunyit), chopped lemon grass, shallots, fresh ginger juice, calamansi juice or lime juice, and salt to taste. Finally, garnish with roasted sago and fresh coriander.  Mmmmm…YUMMY!

So, we don’t have super fresh fish where I live now, but my craving of fish was immense.  I cheated. I bought a bag of frozen tilapia, thawed the fish and transformed them into fish balls. LOL!

2a. Fish balls_tilapia

I was dreaming of a good glug of warm soup!  That’s right. Steamboat (Chinese fondue or Hot Pot)! Chris, if you’re reading this, the post is late, as usual 🙂  This was meant to be posted on the weekend we got back from Rome, the same weekend you had your steamboat as well!  How telepathic.  Ha ha ha!

The Hub of the All-In-One

A Steamboat meal is one of the easiest to prepare.  It’s a great way to break the ice. Did I just say, “ice”?

The only tedious process is the mise en place or prep work of cutting, chopping and slicing the components that go in the hot pot, i.e., meat, fish and vegetables.

Some of the ingredients are pre-cooked, but most meat, seafood and vegetables are raw.  The Steamboat does the cooking for you.  Just throw in the uncooked or raw ingredients and switch the steamboat on high.  The broth will bubble and cook the uncooked and make the soup a lot tastier with the amalgamation of natural bursting flavors from the meat and seafood.  Sheer delight!

My pre-cooked components were the homemade fish balls, homemade chicken meat balls, quail eggs and rice vermicelli.  My raw items were chicken breast meat, beef, prawns, button mushrooms, broccoli and carrots.  There are no hard and fast rules to the ingredients for a homemade Steamboat. The only rule is your creativity and let your imagination run wild with you, but of course the lavish ones would include abalone, lobster, wonton, crab balls, yong tau foo….  The list goes on and on….

3a. Steamboat_fish + chix balls, vermicelli and veg3b. Steamboat_condiments

3c.Steamboat_quali eggs, mushrooms, spring onions + chilli sauce

Steamboat_table 2013

The Hot Pot or the Steamboat is the hub or the centerpiece on the dinner table, usually on the eve of the Chinese New Year.  I am so pleased with my almost 18-year old Hanabishi Steamboat. This was one of the gifts I got from my eldest sister when I moved to Belgium in the autumn of 1995.  At that time, I did not see the importance of the gift (sorry, Sis), which had been stashed away in a cupboard for some years.  My cooking skill then was at sub-zero level.  That’s correct. A Steamboat meal requires almost no cooking and that’s how bad I was.  Tsk! Tsk! Tsk! 😦

Big Sis, I thank YOU from the bottom of my heart for the gift.  I can tell you that the Steamboat has been sailing on every cold journey in Flanders.  It’s the warmest gift ever. Kam Sia!

4a. Steamboat_holy grail4b. Steamboat_centrepiece

 

Spice Up

Since my Hot Pot does not have a divider, I made a non-spicy but flavorsome home-brewed soup base. All you need is plenty of water. I used 5 to 6 litres of water. Throw in the roots of fresh coriander, star anise, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, an onion pricked with some cloves, some black peppercorns, a large carrot, ginger and a small to medium sized daikon.  Season the soup base with salt and pepper and chicken stock cube to taste. I brewed the soup base until it was cooked and used this same soup base to boil my homemade fish and chicken meat balls, which made the soup base even tastier.

Because I chose for a non-spicy soup base version, I made some chilli sauce to go with the soup. It was spicily fantastic that fired up the ears and brains of my three guys. LOL!

All you need is the Mae Pranom Shrimp Flavour Crushed Chilli (or bird’s eye chillies), chopped coriander leaves including the stems, kaffir lime leaves, lime or lemon juice, minced lemongrass, Shaohsing rice wine, light soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and salt to taste.  This has been my no-fail chilli sauce.  It really spiced up my bowl of steamboat soup. I was in 7th Heaven 😛

5a. Steamboat_bowl of soup + chilli sauce

It may look like an under-nourished meal, but trust me, after two rounds we were stuffed!

The Day After

There were plenty of leftovers of the uncooked components. It was too much for the four of us.  The next day, I transformed the leftovers to an appetizing plate of quick stir-fry.  Nothing went to waste at all

By the way, here’s our day after meal. Simply Ho Chiak!

6a. Steamboat_leftovers transformation16b. Steamboat_leftovers transformation2

Have a great weekend!

Cheers!

Related Posts:-

What I miss about the Chinese New Year while growing up in Kuching…

Belgium calling Malaysia and Canada. Hello…?

Happy Belated Birthday Mum and Grandaunt – A Canadian Birthday Bash

What? Eleven dishes?!  Yeah…I must be nuts!  All for the sake of a family housewarming we had recently.

The 4-season Family Tradition

Since the demise of my mother-in-law (MIL) in 2006, we agreed to meet up with my husband’s siblings and families four times a year by taking turns.  My husband is the fourth and youngest child, hence the four times = four seasons.

Winter

The starting point of our annual family rendezvous rounds up at my eldest sister-in-law’s place for the New Year’s lunch through dinner.  We exchange gifts and the younger ones recite the New Years’ messages. More gifts reciprocated with big smiles to boot 😀

A typical lunch plate served by my eldest SIL

New Year’s messages 2010, 2011 and 2012 from my younger son to his Mum and Dad, when he was 9, 10 and 11 years old respectively.

Spring

The second sibling – my brother-in-law – transforms his apartment into bunnyland for an entire day! Yep, we meet at his place for Easter lunch up to dinner. A typical main course would be poultry, but this year, he cooked a scrumptious plate of braised rabbit in cherry beer served with good old Belgian fries. Lekker! 😀 

Autumn

The next in turn is my other SIL, where we meet at her place on All Saints’ Day (1st November).  The crux of the day is the visit to the graves of my late MIL and FIL as well as other deceased relatives.  It is also an evening when we are stuffed with staples of pancakes – buckwheat pancakes and crêpes – served either plain or with crispy bacon, and topped with generous drizzles of all kinds of syrups, molasses, fruit jams, muscovado sugar, brown sugar and icing sugar. Lunch is the usual 4-course meal of starter, soup, main and dessert.

Summer

And finally, our ‘contribution’….well, the youngest sibling – my other half – chose the summer theme.

“Let’s rent a holiday cottage in the Ardennes” (south of Belgium, which is the French-speaking part of the country). Yes, BBQ and long walks!  We had been doing that since 2006, however, we had to break the chain this year, mainly due to the fact that we moved house.  Summer 2012 was completely consumed with the work(s) in and around the house.  The family get-together in the Ardennes was expunged, nullified. But then a promise is a promise.  We were not going to give up the family tradition of our ‘contribution’, albeit in a different manner this year!

The only obstacle was setting a date, more to my advantage, because I foresaw it would be one hell of a BIG job – cooking for 15 people!  Since both my husband and I work full time at weekdays, there’s no other alternative than to sacrifice a day or two of my work weekday 😦

And the nutty me did just that!  I took 3 workdays off (Thursday through Monday), planning, shopping and cooking!

Going East through Rocky Mountains!

Okay. I have not been cooking for my in-laws in years, hence, it was time I treated them. Anyway, they helped us a lot during our house move. One of my ways of thanking them, I guess 🙂

I thought the easiest dishes to prepare were what I know best. Asian!

Boy was it the hard way out, but there was NO turning back.  I had all the menus in my head, channeling through thick, knobbly veins in my brain.

“Oh, I’m going to make this, this, that and that…”

By the way, I have a pretty ambitious brain, as far as the culinary journey is concerned. The final count of dishes was actually 13 but 11 made it to the table!  I had completely forgotten to serve one of the dishes and the other one, had to be ignored at the last minute because there was absolutely no time and space to squeeze in for that dish.

One great thing about Asian food is that you can prepare some dishes in advance.  It’s none other than the acar timun (pickled cucumbers).  It goes very well with keropok (prawn crackers). Great finger food and ice-breaker!

However, there are foods that have to be served only when the guests arrived.  I made popiah.  I called this an ‘anti-social’ appetizer for the maker but not for the eaters. LOL!  While I was slaving away rolling sheet after sheet of popiahs, my guests were discreetly crying for more. Nonetheless, it was a stunner and everyone’s favourite!  Delish!

The soup of the day was Tom Yum Koong (Fragrant hot and sour prawn broth). Another stunner that tickled the palate for more! Tom Yum YUMMY!!

Mini Rijsttafel (= Rice Table)

My mini rijsttafel consisted of fragrant nasi kuning or nasi kunyit.  The yellow colour of the rice comes from the amalgamation of the turmeric (powder) with the rice and the fragrance comes from the aromatic pandan leaves, plus lemongrass and a handful of kaffir lime leaves, soaked in some coconut milk and a sprinkle of salt.  The results you see in the following photos went through 2 steaming methods –one barely survived – and coupled with loads of panic-stricken moments.  I will publish this story in my next post. 😉

The yellow fragrant rice goes well with beef rendang, but I did not make rendang that day.  It was beef curry.  It was not just an ordinary beef curry, because I blended my own spices 😀

First, I dry roasted the fennel seeds, cumin seeds, black cardamom, white cardamom, black and white peppercorns, fenugreek seeds and coriander seeds. When the spices are dry roasted, they exude an amazing aroma and draw out sublime flavours in a matter of moments. The wet ingredients included shallots, garlic, onions, ginger, galangal, red and green chillies and tomatoes.  The whole spices and herbs that went in the pot were lemongrass, cinnamon stick, cloves, 2 knotted pandan leaves and kaffir lime leaves. I did not use a lot of coconut milk but more beef broth.  After all, it’s not supposed to be beef rendang! Just before serving, throw in some chopped fresh coriander leaves and stir once or twice before platting the dish up. What can I say?  It was simply divine.  If only you were in my kitchen that day 😀

The next dish was everyone’s favourite.  It was the Ngo Hiang. I grew up eating this on festive occasions – New Year, Chinese New Year, Easter and Christmas.  It was one of the star dishes my Mum used to make.  We never got tired of eating Mum’s Ngo Hiang, hence, this is a dish that was passed on from Mum to daughter 😉

My in-laws were particularly intrigued by the extraordinary flavours from the Ngo Hiang.  Ngo Hiang” is a teochew word for five spices, but actually is a sausage rolled up in soya beancurd sheet. The ingredients I used were minced meat (mix of kalf and pork), prawns, dried shiitake, chopped carrots, garlic, onion, chopped fresh coriander, spring onions, an egg to bind, salt to taste, a pinch of 5-spice powder, a dash of sesame oil and freshly milled white pepper. Yes, white pepper, please.

An Asian rijsttafel is never complete without a fish dish. I wish I could find a white pomfret, or a whole sea bass or red snapper.  Anyway, I ended up with frozen rolled fillets of sole.  Instead of steaming the fish, I baked them in the oven. Tasted just as great!

This is a very quick and easy dish. The only time consuming factor is the mise en place (prep work of cutting, slicing and chopping).  

As you can see from the photographs, I chopped and sliced quite a lot of shallots, onions, yellow and red peppers, spring onions, ginger, cherry tomatoes, fresh coriander, lime juice, salt and pepper and a good glug of Shaoxing rice wine.

Oh, by the way, we are not completely carnivores. Cold salads make great side dishes to the spicy and flavourful Asian dishes.

My personal favourite is the cool cucumber-tomato-red onion salad.  A mouthful to say and I promise you it goes divinely well with curries.

Super easy. Forget the wok. Not a single drop of oil. All you need are cucumbers, tomatoes, shallots (red onions), fresh coriander, lime or lemon juice, salt, sugar and freshly milled pepper.

Et voilá!

I thought one salad dish was just not enough.  I made another one, with a hint of Middle Eastern flavours. It was the carrot and radish salad. You can find the recipe here.

Next on the list were sandwiches.  We had these for high tea/ coffee. I made two types: egg-chives sandwich and Asian flavoured turkey meat sandwich.

Needless to say, the main ingredients in the egg-chives sandwich are hard boiled eggs and chives!  Well, of course you need to pep it up with a little squirt of mayonnaise, some salt and freshly milled black pepper to taste.

My Asian version of the turkey meat sandwich included, of course, the cold cooked turkey.  To that, I added some light mayonnaise, a bit of tomato ketchup, sweet chilli sauce, fresh coriander, salt and pepper.

Here was the sandwich filling I made, but sadly, I did not get the chance to take a picture of the filled up sandwich.  They were all gone before I positioned my camera.

My poor rhubarb chutney was completely forgotten.  It did not make its way to the table. I will share with you in a later post some stories about this.

The dessert I thought I could squeeze in on my menu list was withdrawn at the last moment. I had wanted to make tiramisu but seeing that I did not have enough space in my fridge, I had to put the idea aside.  Ijsboerke Dame Blanche came to the rescue, instead 🙂

From Noon till Dusk: Guests, gifts, nightfall…

My guests arrived as per schedule on Saturday, 29th September at 12 noon.

We were dressed for the occasion – an informal family get-together.  It was great seeing them again since our last rendezvous at my BIL’s place for the Easter gathering.

Perhaps the star locus that illuminates our house is our new extension. Our veranda!! My guests lavished superlatives on it. All we heard were “Wow”, “Cool”, “Stunning”, “Beautiful”…  If you have read my posts herehere and here, you will understand why I magnified the case.

The ‘younger’ guests had the honour of sitting in the veranda, while the ‘oldies’ (ahem!) occupied the dining room. Not cool, I know, but our dining table is not big enough to accommodate 15 guests. Alas!  😦

I simply adore the housewarming gift we got from the family.  A stone owl that weighs a ton! 

Isn’t he cute?  I’ll have to think of a name soon 🙂

 

Time flew in a wink of an eye, and before we knew, night fell upon us.  I quickly sneaked outside to the garden and took these pictures. 

The Aftermath… a battlefield and solace!

Our guests left at 9pm.

We said our goodbyes and until our next meeting at my younger SIL’s place on 1st November.

I advanced to my kitchen and reality struck me in the face.  YIKES!!  Help!

I pinched myself.  All I got was a red painful spot on my left wrist.  Right before my eyes were not staples of edible pancakes, but staples of reality!  The dirty dishes!!!

Thank God for the dishwasher!  Whew! #:-s

Two days of cooking and the dishes that went to the table that day were gone in 30 minutes

Was it worth it? 

Well, I can tell you this.  I was completely and physically worn out the day after.  Boy was I glad there were leftovers.  No cooking for the next two days. Mmmm…..what bliss!

In fact there were plenty of leftovers. Just ‘bad’ estimation, I’m afraid 🙂

With the remaining leftovers, I ladled them in plastic containers and labeled them with the date I first handled them and tucked these in the freezer.  Perfect for a lazy Sunday lunch 😛

The next morning, I checked on Mister Owl. He’s still there. He’s guarded our veranda well, I see.

Will I do this again?  Mmmm……lemme think…

One BIG question mark !

We shall see….

Have a great weekend!

Cheers!

Related Posts –

We have to thank the Aztec ethnics of Mexico for introducing this simple yet magnificent dish! Muchas Gracias!

Guacamole is an avocado-based mousse (sauce). The name is derived from two Aztec Nahuatl words, “ahuacatl” (fruit of the avocado tree) and “molli” (sauce).  It is traditionally made by mashing ripe avocados with pestle and mortar with course sea salt.

With the evolvement of time, wealth and technology, the recipe introduced new ingredients such as tomato, onion, garlic, juice of lemon or lime, chili and coriander leaves. One ingredient that I do not understand why it should be added in a homemade guacamole is the mayonnaise or sour cream (one or the other)!

By the way, the guacamole has become one of the best known dip or condiment to go with corn chips (tortilla chips) and is available in all Tex-Mex eateries. In places where avocados are expensive, guacamole is considered a delicacy.

Making avocados child-friendly

Avocados ranked one of the tops on the “hate list” for children. It must be because of the bland taste and mushy texture. When I cut a slice of raw avocado and gave it to my sons for the first time, they said it was disgusting!

I was promptly challenged by their action.  My sons have put me to the test, without them knowing it.  The day they spitted out the freshly cut slice of avocado was the day I converted my boys!

Here’s how I did it.

Ingredients –

4 ripe avocados (I used the Hass ready-to-eat avocados)

Grated garlic (1 tsp or more if you like garlic)

Very finely chopped onion (1 tsp)

Very finely diced tomatoes (halved and deseeded)

Plenty of chopped fresh coriander (leave some whole leaves for garnishing later)

Juice of 1 lemon (or lime) or more to taste

Course sea salt (I ground these and added to the rest to taste)

Freshly milled black pepper

Small amount of chicken stock cube (not too much, please!)

Peeled pre-boiled grey shrimps

8 lightly sautéed or boiled tiger prawns (for garnishing)

Preparation –

Assemble all the ingredients together, except for the tiger prawns and some whole coriander leaves.

Mash the mixture with a fork.  Do not over-mash and please do not forget to check the balance of taste and flavour to your liking.

The trick to keep your guacamole green

Once avocados are cut and exposed to air, they discolour rather quickly.  Although the taste remains constant, the discoloured guacamole may not look too appetizing. One of the tricks I learnt to keep the guacamole green is by putting the seed of the avocado in the guacamole-mix. The lemon or lime juice also helps in avoiding the colour change.

Here’s my version of the guacamole, prepared as a starter.  No corn chips, but topped up with lightly sautéed tiger prawn. It has become a winner with my guys. I have fully converted my boys, on the same day they spewed the avocado piece. My younger son was then 3 years old!

Yes!  The thrill of victory. 😀

 

Cheers!

Asparagus is available all year round, but spring is by far the best season to sample fresh asparagus. Last Spring, it was, by accident, that I passed by the city of Leuven.  It was one of those few impromptu trips I made with my younger son to the city on a weekend.  I couldn’t remember what it was that we wanted to do at the city, but I remembered ending up having “sushi” at a Japanese restaurant. The sushi was fantastic but this is not what I wanted to write in this post.

After our meal, we wound up at the Grand Place in the centre of Leuven and were astounded by a multitude of people thronging the square.

What’s going on?

If you looked closely at the picture above, the ladies were not posing in front of one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  It was a makeshift structure set up especially during the Agricultural Fair last spring.

White Asparagus

I have never used white asparagus in my cooking; but I bought a bundle of these at the Fair because they were so fresh! When we went home, I was still not very sure what to do with those white asparagus. At first, I wanted to make asparagus soup.  Nah!  That’s too ordinary.

Then I remembered the Flemish (Belgian) version of preparing these asparagus. I got this recipe from one of the local Belgian chefs, Jeroen Meus.

The Belgian kitchen

The Belgian kitchen is the least known kitchen outside of Europe. To really know the true image of the Belgian kitchen, I noticed that “less is more”.  This recipe requires very little, but topnotch ingredients.

Ingredients –

12 white asparagus

Salt

200 g farm butter to make clarified butter (I used Solo Light. Next time will stick to farm butter)

A bunch of curly leaf parsley

4 hard boiled eggs

Nutmeg

Black pepper

Preparation –

Peel the asparagus with a vegetable peeler to remove the woody layer of the asparagus stalk starting from the head down to the end, like so –

Wash the peeled asparagus and apply gentle pressure to the end of the stalk and break the thick woody end.

Fill a cooking pot with cold water and add a pinch of salt. Place the asparagus in the cold water and heat the cooking pot over low heat. Bring the water to the boil and immediately turn off the heat.  Allow the asparagus to rest in the warm water and put a timer on for 5 to 10 minutes depending on the amount and size of the asparagus.

The asparagus should be al dente. Scoop the asparagus and drain them on a clean kitchen towel.

For this dish, you need clarified butter. Gently melt the butter over low heat.  Once the butter has melted, stir gently with a ladle or spoon and remove the residual milk floating on the butter.

Keep the warm clarified butter over very low heat. Add the chopped parsley, lightly mashed hard boiled eggs, grated nutmeg, and freshly milled black pepper and salt to taste.

From the pure, simple and straightforward kitchen – Belgium at her best!

Smakelijk!

This was our starter that day! I concede it’s time I re-visited this dish because it was really YUMMY:-D

Spring Cleaning

By the way, if you are wondering why these posting frenzies lately, I’m just “spring cleaning” my picture folders.  There’re a million and one pictures I took the past years, just waiting patiently to be storied and posted.  Slowly but surely, I’ll get there 😉

Anyway, I am also taking the advantage – this week in particular – to post and post and post….

For the record, the post will be late next week on as the author will be back to real(ality) work, so be warned 😀

See you soon.

Cheers!

When my sons were younger, we used to have LOADS of chocolate Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies lying around the house, weeks before and after Easter – all gifts from their uncles, aunties, late grandma, friends and of course from papa and mama as well.   There was a moment when there were too many of these chocolates around the house that I had to give them away to my colleagues and friends.  Now that my sons have outgrown this phase, I suddenly became fidgety and started ransacking the fridge and cupboards looking for chocolates. Zilch. Nada. Zip!

Then I saw cocoa powder in my kitchen cabinet and that’s how I ended up making this all-in-one-bowl chocolate cake.

Of Cement and Chocolates

If you were following my last post Our Veranda Project: Now you see it, now you don’t (Part 2), I mentioned that our veranda was not 100% completed, and I actually meant it. The contractors came yesterday morning and started cementing the floor of the veranda. That time, I was at home as I took the week off from work.

While the work was going on in our veranda, I decided to bake a cake! Mind you, baking a cake would have been one of the last things on my mind, if not for the measuring cups and spoons I got as a gift from a blogger friend, Chris . That became a wake-up call 😉

Scribbled past with a bright future

Alas, I couldn’t remember where I got this recipe. I had this recipe scribbled on a scruffy piece of paper since time immemorial. The only way to do justice to this scribbled past was to put a name and place for this recipe – on my blog!

I shall call it The forgotten all-in-one-bowl Chocolate Cake. I made a few adjustments and modifications here and there.

Ingredients

2 cups self-raising flour

2 cups sugar (I used 1 cup brown Cassonade Graeffe sugar and 1 cup castor sugar)

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Van Houten’s cocoa powder)

2 tsp baking powder

2 large eggs

A pinch of salt

1 cup buttermilk (I used 1 Tbsp white vinegar and filled the rest with milk measured to 1 cup. Let stand for 5 minutes until thickened)

1 cup vegetable oil (I used Culino corn oil)

1.5 tsp vanilla extract (I used Vahiné Vanillestokjes Poeder)

1 cup boiling water (I added 2 Tbsp Nescafé Gold Dessert instant coffee – trust me, you will not regret!)

Preparation –

1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius

2. Lightly grease and flour the baking dish

3. Put all ingredients (except the boiling water with instant coffee) in a mixing bowl and mix well to form lump-free batter

4. Finally add the boiling water with the instant coffee and mix well for another minute.

Pour the cake batter in the baking dish and bake in the oven for 60 minutes, or insert a skewer in the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is ready.

Et voilà !

  

I did not make the chocolate ganache because I wanted to avoid a messy affair! Instead I dusted some icing sugar on the cake and it was gorgeous.  I was extremely surprised with the result.  The cake was moist, dark, not too sweet and chocolatey – the way it should be.  

I will definitely make this cake again.  The next time I make this cake, I will add some chopped Walnuts. LOL!

With the same batter, I’m very sure we can use it for making cupcakes.  And yes, that’s on my to-do list as well 😉

By the way, I have no fancy KitchenAid or a Kitchen Robot – just a large bowl and a wooden spoon and all my strength and energy 😀

Have I convinced you enough? *wink*

Cheers!

When we moved to our present house three months ago, we inherited a pretty matured garden.  One of the things left by the former owner was this: the walnut tree. This was a picture I took while we were still viewing the house. It was last spring. As you can see, the tree was budding with the green husks distributing extensively on the stalks.

My knowledge of walnuts was closed to zero, zilch, nada! Besides knowing that these nuts grow on trees, I hardly ate walnuts.  They looked too brainy for me.  LOL!

The wonder nut

After the last harvest, and a lot of (messy) work in metamorphosing this wonder nut, it kind of grew on me after just one season. I was determined to find a lot more about Mr (or Ms) Walnut…

If I may say, a walnut is like a human head.  The green leathery fleshy husk is akin to the human skin. When the husk is peeled off, we get the wrinkly hard walnut shell, which – analogically speaking – is the human skull. The shell has two halves and encloses the kernel, which is also made up of two halves (better known, in the human language, as our right and left brains).  What uncanny resemblance, eh?

I read that walnuts (especially in their raw form) contain the highest total level of antioxidants, compared to certain other nuts, such as almonds, peanuts and hazelnuts.

A study has suggested that the consumption of walnuts increases fat oxidation and reduces carbohydrate oxidation without affecting total consumption, suggesting that walnut consumption may improve the use of body fat in overweight adults. Cool!! Exactly what I’m looking for. Walnuts, anyone???  I have a basinful of these nuts at home, waiting to be cracked:-)

Walnuts, walnuts and more walnuts…

By the way, what you see here was the third batch of last year’s harvest! We have given away more than half of the harvest…AND… I have not finished cracking all the walnuts!

I am determined to find out the (real) shelf life of walnuts.  I’m still a novice; a greenhorn in this field.  Give me a couple of seasons. I’ll come back and blog about it 😉 I’m sure in-shell walnuts will have a longer life span than shelled.  Before this year’s harvest loomed on, I thought I should do something with the remaining walnuts before they become rancid.

And, believe you me, there are loads of things I could do with the versatile nut.

Cups of different sizes from the US of A!

By the way, what have cups got to do with walnuts?  Plenty! Read on…

If you have read my post, Baking is not really my cup of tea, or is it? you will know why I hardly baked. That, however, did not deter me in looking up good, yet easy recipes on the net.  But…darn! Most of the measurements are using cups, yes, C*U*P*S of different sizes!!!  For heaven’s sake, I’m into metric system!

And, hey, what were you thinking of, eh? Cups 😉

Then I “stumbled upon” someone, who is now a friend.  She’s the reason why I started to bake again.  My friend’s name is Chris.  She lives in the States. She’s a blogger, like me.  You can find her here 

I was drooling on her Marble Chiffon Cake (post of Feb 13th) and left this message on her comment box on 14th February.

Quote –

Nasifriet says:

Chris… I can only envy with your result! Me and baking are not a match at all. You made it looked so easy, as your cakes always turn out fab. Maybe I should seriously go for imperial measurements rather than metric 🙂

Unquote –

And hey, presto, I got a personal message from Chris that evening!

Quote –

Hi Nasifriet,

I hope I’m not adding clutter to your inbox. I just wanted to offer to send a set of US measurement cups to you…consider them a belated Christmas gift. Figure the measurement cups will come in pretty handy anytime you would like to try an American recipe instead of having to convert the measurements all the time. Let me know anytime and I’ll pick a set up the next time I’m out.”

Unquote –

It was too good to be true. How could I say “No”? Yeah, bring ‘em over, Chris !  LOL!  The cups arrived at our doorstep in Belgium on 22nd February.  Chris shipped the cups from the USA on 18th February!  Boy was THAT quick!!

The postman delivered this package in the morning on 22nd February. The sender was Chris from the USA

My first cupcakes

Although I have baked cakes, or rather, attempted to bake cakes, I have never made cupcakes.  Funny, but I was quite excited with the idea of making my first cupcakes.  It must be the cups from Chris that nudged me on 😀

Being the typical me, I opted for a “piece of cake” recipe with no-frills, but must include the essential item, walnuts!  Yay! Found it!

I made these Walnut and Cinnamon Cupcakes, using the paper cups I bought at IKEA. Buying the 12-hole muffin mould at IKEA was a mistake.  The moulds were so slender that the cupcakes turned out like cylindrical tubes! Yikes!!  I was not a happy bunny. Luckily, I had a normal 6-hole muffin mould which was used to finish up the rest of the batter.  Mmmm…a lot better looking, but they did not rise as much as I wanted them to. Anyway, I was quite contented with the result of my first cupcakes. And so were the three guys.  The cupcakes were gone as fast they came out of the oven. LOL!

I used fresh cinnamon, grated nutmeg and cardamoms, and ground these up in a pestle and mortar and filter these through a sieve before combining with the rest of the batter.  I used vegetable oil instead of butter and light brown sugar with 2 eggs, milk, flour, baking powder, vanilla extract, a pinch of salt and the star ingredient, chopped walnuts!

From cupcakes to a wholesome cake

I shelled quite a lot of walnuts the last days.  Last Sunday, I used some to make Walnut and Carrot Cake.

Here’s the result!

This was a very easy cake, just like I wanted it to be. It was an all-in-one-bowl cake! As the name of the cake suggested, there’re chopped walnuts and grated carrots besides the rest of the ingredients: 2 eggs lightly beaten, 2 tsp grated zest of an orange, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, a third of a cup orange juice, half cup vegetable oil, two thirds cup brown sugar, one and a half cups self raising flour. Put all the wet ingredients in a large bowl and add in the dry ingredients. Combine to form an amalgamated batter before pouring this into a lightly greased cake tin. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180°C for 45 minutes, or insert a toothpick in the centre of the cake.  If it comes out clean, the cake is ready.

I omitted the frosting bit as I thought it would be too sweet. I did mention “no-frills”, didn’t I? By the way, less is more:-D

Chris, thanks for the cups.  They’re for keeps! Yay!

Here’s a song I hope you and all readers out there will – most definitely – enjoy.  I thought it was perky, cute and catchy. I’d never thought of making or singing a song about walnuts. Walnuts (yeah) do not lie (oh)!

Other ways I’ve used the walnuts, apart from baking –

1)      Instead of snacking on cookies, I’d pop some walnuts in my mouth and eat them as snacks. Great way to reduce your hunger pangs 😉

2)      Sprinkle some roughly chopped walnuts on your salad to add some crunch

3)      Add some chopped walnuts in your yoghurt, oatmeal or breakfast cereal

I’m sure there are many more ways to use the walnuts. For the record, my sons would only go for No 2, in addition to the baked versions 😀

How about you?

Cheers and a happy spring season to ya’ll!