Baking Epiphanies

Rocky Road Bars

Adapted from Nigella Express (well, not adapted, this is pretty much the original recipe)

I have no excuse for this. It’s chocolate and marshmallows and rich tea biscuits (which come in shiny gold packets and cost 39 cents, hello!) all gunked together. It’s no-brainer delicious and also no-brainer “I SO shouldn’t be eating this”.

But it’s exactly the thing to eat when life gets rocky and you’re all “screw this I’m going to eat chocolate till I die”…

Wake up the next morning with a chocolate hangover.

Eat salad for the next 5 days.

Crisis. Averted.

Ingredients

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into chunks

10 oz good quality dark chocolate

3 tablespoons Lyle’s Golden syrup (or light corn syrup)

6 oz (2 small packets) Rich Tea biscuits (I used Goya brand Maria biscuits)

2 cups mini marshmallows

Method

Melt the butter, chocolate and golden syrup in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water.

Remove half a cup of the melted chocolate mixture and set aside.

Crush the tea biscuits until you have  biscuit rubble and pour this, along with the marshmallows into the bowl of melted chocolate. Mix everything together, getting everything coated with the chocolate as evenly as you can. The mixture is going to seem a bit dry but don’t panic. It’s meant to be rubbly.

Grease a 9 inch square aluminum foil pan, or line a 9 inch pan with foil, and grease the foil with butter.

Plop in the chocolatey rubble and smooth everything out with a spatula. Dribble the reserved half cup of melted chocolate over the top to create a thin chocolate layer. Use your spatula to smooth out the top and spread the chocolate even over the nooks and crannies.

Leave to set in the refrigerator for 2 hours, at the very least. (I know you won’t be able to hold out any longer than that).

Remove from the pan and cut into chunks.

Makes 24 small squares or one humongous square for anyone who’s particularly desperate.

S’mores Cookies

Adapted from Eleanor Klivans’ Big Fat Cookies

These cookies are out of control. They are not very pretty to look at. But they are out of control in the taste department.

 We know marshmallows get soft and gooey in a regular fireside S’more.

And we know marshmallows get caramelly and sticky from making Rice Krispies.

These cookies are the best of both those Utopian worlds.

Gooey, melty, sticky, chewy, chocolately, graham-crackery goodness.

The original recipe calls for using graham cracker crumbs, but I went with buying the sheets then crumbling them up myself. I like the texture of having a few bigger pieces of graham crackers dotted throughout the cookie. Because there is so little flour used here, you really get full on graham cracker flavor.

If you under-bake them a little, you get maximum gooeyness, but they are going to tend to fall apart. I found them to be most delicious this way.

 If you’re more into having them look cohesive (these are not pretty suckers), then make sure to bake them longer so that they hold together. They will be a little crispier, and the marshmallows will have melted into that clear, sticky caramelly thing around the edges.

Either way, they are phenomenally delicious.

Ingredients

¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

18 sheets (2 packets) graham crackers

¼ cup flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 ½ cups miniature marshmallows

Method

Preheat oven to 325.

Place the graham crackers in a food storage bag and bash with a rolling pin until you have mostly crumbs with a few larger pieces. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Crack in the egg and pour in the vanilla extract. Beat until well incorporated.

Gradually pour in the graham cracker crumbs, flour and salt. Mix until combined.

Add the chocolate chips and marshmallows and mix well.

Using an ice cream scoop or ¼ cup measure, drop rounded balls of dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet, 4 inches apart. Flatten the tops of the cookies slightly so that they are about ¾ of an inch thick.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. The edges of the cookies will look clear and caramelly, while the centers may still have bits of white marshmallow peeking out.

Cool for 5 minutes on baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack using a big spatula.

Makes 15 ooey gooey cookies.

Airy Fairy Raspberry Pavlova

Raspberry Pavlova With Chocolate Cream

(Adapted from Nigella Lawson Fresh, though this is pretty much the standard recipe for pav. And yes I do own ALL of Nigella’s books.)

I have to sheepishly but brazenly confess to pulling out the Cool Whip for this.

I know Cool Whip is made out of all sorts of things it shouldn’t be made out of and that we shouldn’t be eating but it IS my summer weakness.

Berries and Cool Whip. A girl has to have her vices.

 I completely understand the Cool Whip snobbery though.

So you can of course, use real whipped cream with a little cocoa powder mixed in and perhaps a touch of sugar and vanilla to sweeten it up. I won’t make you buy the Cool Whip

And Pavlova – I mean, why are we not eating more of this people? It’s like cake but without the calories! Perfect for a light summer dessert. Just as long as you don’t go insane with the cream (or you can if you want, it’s your Pavlova), it’s…well, it’s magical.

The meringue is airy fairy, light as a feather – almost makes you think it wasn’t even there.

Except for that lingering sweetness on your tongue.

Ingredients

For the Pavlova

4 egg whites

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon white vinegar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Assembly

1 cup Cool Whip (or whipped cream)

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

1 pint raspberries

Method

Preheat the oven to 350.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Draw an 8 inch round in the center of the parchment using a cake tin. Set aside.

Whisk the egg whites until they are satiny white. Gradually add the sugar while the whites are still whisking until you have a smooth, glossy mixture. Sift in the cornstarch, pour in the vinegar and vanilla extract, then gently fold everything until well incorporated.

Carefully mound the egg whites into the 8 inch round on your parchment. It doesn’t have to be perfect but smooth everything out as best as you can. Place the baking sheet into the oven then immediately turn the oven down to 300.

Bake for about 30 minutes. The pavlova is done when the edges are crisp and lightly browned, the top is dry but it still feels spongy beneath.

Turn off the oven, open the door slightly and leave to cool completely.

To assemble, whisk together the cream and cocoa powder. Dollop onto the center of the meringue and smooth to the edges. Place the raspberries on top, however you please.

Makes 8 airy fairy slices.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Adapted from Nigella Lawson Kitchen

Let’s face it, the reason we love Red Velvet Cake is because it’s red.

I also think we just love the word “velvet”.

When you put them together, we don’t stand a chance.

Red Velvet? Yes please.

It’s even better in cupcake form. Coz cupcakes are easier to eat.

Also, cupcakes are cute. They’re so cute they survived food trend burnout.

And everybody loves Cream Cheese Frosting.

Or any frosting, really.

(“Frosting” is also a great word. If I were a pet person, I’d totally have a pet named Mrs. Frosting.)

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:

1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup (100 gm) all purpose flour

1 tablespoon cocoa powder, sifted

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temp

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tablespoon red food coloring

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg, room temp

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, room temp

1/2 teaspoon cider (or white) vinegar

For the Cream Cheese Icing:

8 oz confectioner’s sugar

2 oz cream cheese, soft

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, soft

1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar (or vanilla extract)

Cocoa powder for dusting (optional)

Method

Cupcakes:

Preheat the oven to 325. Line a cupcake tin with cupcake liners.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then beat in the food coloring and vanilla.

Add a spoonful of the flour mixture, beat, then add the egg and beat until incorporated. Gradually add the rest of the flour mixture, being careful not to over mix.

Pour in the buttermilk and vinegar and beat again until you have a cohesive batter.

Divide into a cupcake tin, filling each cup about 1/3 of the way full.

Bake 15-20 minutes are until the tops spring back when you touch them (or when a tester comes out clean). Cool on a wire rack.

Icing:

In a small bowl, whisk the icing sugar, butter and cream cheese together until the mixture is creamy. Add the vinegar or vanilla and incorporate well.

When the cupcakes are completely cool, ice the cupcakes however you please. I used a piping bag though the results are far from professional! Dust with cocoa powder if desired.

Makes 12 really red cupcakes.

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Heavily Adapted from Cooking Light

The original recipe for this is very involved. Very.

 You have to sear chicken thighs, then roast them in the oven, then shred them and then there’s like a bazillion other steps and pots and pans and blenders and all sorts of high drama.

 I thought, really, it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

So this is the lazier version of that casserole but in my opinion, just as good.

It does have a lot of ingredients, but most of it is stuff you’re likely to already have on hand.

 Plus, the bonus is that this is a lighter recipe, coming to around 400 calories per serving, and you get a good hefty serving for that.

No reason not to make it!

Ingredients

1  lb ground chicken

1 onion, finely chopped

6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon crushed chili flakes

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon oregano

salt to taste

1 cup frozen corn kernels

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1 plum tomato, chopped

3 oz reduced fat cream cheese

2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapenos

1 cup chicken broth, plus 1/4 cup water

2/3 cup salsa verde

9 corn tortillas

1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Method

For Filling

Coat a non-stick pan with cooking spray or a small amount of oil. Saute the ground chicken, along with half of the onion and half the garlic. Break up the chicken with a wooden spoon. Add the chili flakes, cumin, oregano and salt and mix well. Toss in the frozen corn kernels and cook until chicken is no longer raw, onions are translucent and corn is warmed through.

Set aside to cool for about 5 minutes.

Once the chicken has cooled, add and stir in the chopped tomato, cream cheese, pickled jalapenos and cilantro.

For Sauce

In a medium saucepan, saute the remaining garlic and onion in  a small amount of oil or cooking spray. Once they’ve softened, pour in the broth, water and salsa verde. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.

To Assemble

Pre-heat the oven to 425.

Cut the corn tortillas into quarters.

Place half a cup of the salsa verde sauce in the bottom of an 8×8 baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Arrange 12 tortilla pieces on top of the sauce. Top the tortillas with half of the chicken mixture.

Repeat this procedure, ending with the tortillas on top. For the final layer, add the rest of the sauce and sprinkle over with the cheese.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown and the casserole is bubbly.

Makes 4 huge servings for rule-breakers of all kinds. Even those on a diet.

Chocolate Orange Loaf Cake

Adapted from Nigella Kitchen

Don’t be fooled by appearances – because while this cake looks like a heavy, dense block of chocolate (never a bad thing, but still) it is surprisingly light and fresh. If you love the chocolate orange combination, this is made for you.

The crumb is not as fine as that of a pound cake, but it is also nowhere near the heavier crumb of a quickbread. It’s somewhere in the middle and pretty near perfect for tea time.

 And if you don’t drink afternoon tea, what are you waiting for? It’s total permission to add one more meal to your day! Brit-style too.

Two interesting notes about the taste – one is that there is no salt in this recipe, which is something I’ve noticed in many of Nigella’s baking recipes. I suppose a bit of testing is in order – I would love to know if salt really does make a difference to baked goods.

My other baking idol, Joanne Chang, insists that it does, so I wouldn’t commit either way. But I do love that Nigella is pretty great at stripping a recipe down to its basics.

 The other thing is that this cake is not overly sweet. In fact, by American standards it’s probably not sweet enough.

I like the subtlety of the sweetness here – it feels like you’re having a treat but not something that screams Dessert with a capital D.

So there you have it – a dense-looking block of cake that’s anything but dense both in terms of texture and flavor.

Ingredients

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temp

2 tablespoons Lyle’s Golden syrup (or dark corn syrup)

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3 tablespoons cocoa powder (the good stuff)

2 eggs, room temperature

zest of 2 oranges

juice of 1 orange

Method

Preheat oven to 325.

Grease a non-stick 2 pound (9 x 5) loaf tin liberally with butter. If you don’t have non-stick, I would line the pan with parchment, and then butter. Liberally.

In a medium bowl, measure out your flour, sift in the cocoa powder and add the baking soda. Mix everything well.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter together with the golden syrup just until incorporated, then add the brown sugar. Beat until light brown and fluffy.

With the mixer on medium-low, add a tablespoon of the flour mixture, wait until it’s mixed in and then crack in the egg. Beat.

Repeating this process, add a couple more spoonfuls of flour, then crack in the second egg.

Continue adding the flour in spoonfuls with the mixer on medium until all the flour is mixed in.

Add the orange zest and juice. Beat again. The mixture may look slightly curdled once the juice is in, but do not worry. All is well.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few sticky crumbs clinging to it.

Makes 12 non-dense slices.

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

Adapted from Nigella Kitchen

I mean, seriously, with all the different blueberry muffin recipes floating around, how are you going to know which one to choose?

Well, the differentiating factor with this recipe is the cornmeal.

 You have the grainy crunch of a lovely sweet corn muffin studded with blueberries that burst in the golden corny interior.

Whew, what a corny description.

But really, that is what sets this blueberry muffin apart and it’s a nice change up from the usual flour based batter.  Nigella’s recipe is really simple, uses the most basic ingredients and takes practically no time to make.

I think these would also be really nice with raspberries, as they are more tart and the tartness against the sweet corn backdrop would be perfection.

Anyway, give these a go. There are only 29,687 more blueberry muffin recipes on the web for you to try. Get crackin’!

Ingredients

1 cup flour

3/4 cup cornmeal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 egg

3/4 cup blueberries

Method

Preheat oven to 400. Line a muffin pan with paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and sugar.

In a measuring cup, measure out the buttermilk, top off with the oil, crack in the egg and whisk everything together.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk till the batter just comes together. Fold in half of the blueberries.

Dollop the batter into the muffin cups. They should each be about two-thirds full.

Adorn the top of each muffin with the remaining blueberries, about 3-4 each.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops are a crunchy golden brown.

Makes 12 easy choices for breakfast.

Mock Pizza

Adapted from Nigella Kitchen

Almost Pizza

Well, calling this a pizza is a bit of a stretch – think of it more as a pizza flavored Yorkshire Pudding. Nigella calls it Crustless Pizza, but this could possibly be misleading to pizza purists.

But the point is that it’s really yummy and it WILL make you happy.  It’s great as a snack, or with a salad for lunch. It’s a bit naughty and makes you feel like a kid, or I suppose if you’re not in the refuse-to-be-a-grown-up camp, this would be a great meal FOR the kids…

It’s easy and quick and cheaper than ordering real pizza, and you can change up the flavorings any way you please.

Make. Happy.

Eat!

Ingredients

1 egg

2/3 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

pinch of dried oregano

1 cup whole milk

1 cup grated cheese

2 oz pepperoni or turkey pepperoni slices

Method

Preheat oven to 400. Grease a pie dish with butter, oil or cooking spray.

Whisk together the egg, flour, salt, spices, milk and half of the grated cheese. Pour into the pie dish and bake for 25 minutes.

Remove the pie dish from the oven and arrange the pepperoni slices over the crust. Sprinkle over the remaining cheese.

Place the dish back in the oven and bake for 5 more minutes.

Allow the pizza to cool slightly before removing from dish and slicing.

Serves 1 or 2 very happy kids or kids-at-heart.

Rosewater Romance

There is a scene in an old Bollywood film called Pakeezah (which means Pure), where the protagonist, a courtesan, is reading a letter from a man she has never met but has fallen in love with.

She’s lying by a fountain, in the middle of an opulent room, with her long hair soaking in the cool, rose petal laden and presumably fragrant waters of the fountain pool.

Not a bad way to unwind after a hard day’s work.

So much has changed  – or perhaps nothing has – the fountain is now a bathtub and the letter is now an e-mail, no a text – and hopefully the “hard day’s work” doesn’t involve entertaining gentleman callers.

Technology may have progressed but the turmoil of romance remains the same.

It’s not what we do that’s changed – or ever will for human emotions are eternal. It’s how we do them that has undergone such drastic and decidedly un-romantic transformations.

And the how is what makes all the difference, putting the magic and mystery in human existence.

Romance is eternal but romance today is all harrowed frenzy and brisk efficiency – compatibility checklist dating where convenience comes first, love second.

It’s the hard lines of our minds rather than the softer ones of our hearts that run the dating game now.

Really, IS this romance?

Call me a die-hard romantic but Love, my friends is not the place for efficiency, nor convenience. It is not a give and take proposition. It’s not a business deal.

The scent of rosewater makes me imagine a time when there was more time – to dream, to contemplate the fires of our existence, the mysteries of our hearts.

An era when we allowed Love to reveal her mysteries, rather than try to bulldoze her into our schedules or analyze her on Google.

An era of mystics long gone.

So am I the only die-hard romantic out here? Or do I need to get a copy of He’s Just Not That Into You and then proceed to shoot myself?

In the meantime, these Rosewater Almond Macaroons just might tap your inner mystic and make you believe in good old-fashioned romance again.

Rosewater Almond Macaroons

Basic Recipe Adapted from Gourmet, Rosewater Cardamom Borrowed from Nigella Lawson Feast

Other than the obvious intensely nutty-chewy benefits of eating macaroons (NOT the more fashionable and trendy macarons, but old-fashioned, outdated macarooooons), the great fun of making this is the little rosewater trick that will make you feel like a princess or at the very least, a memsahib. (We’ll just leave the courtesan out because I’m pretty sure none of us wants to feel like one).

I know it is standard to use blanched almonds, but I didn’t have any on hand – and anyway, I kind of like the color combination that comes from using the regular ones. The peanuts were an experiment, and I quite liked the result. But just use a whole cup of almonds if you want to go forthe more traditional.

Between the scent of the cardamom, the sugary nuttiness of the nuts and the rosewater, these cookies are guaranteed to transport you somewhere far beyond your computer, smartphone, cubicle or food truck and into the lost, haunted corridors of long-forgotten palaces.

Make them. Eat them. Dream.

Ingredients

3 cardamom pods

1/2 cup raw peanuts

1/2 cup raw almonds

2/3 cup sugar

pinch of salt

1 egg white

2 tablespoons rosewater

8-10 whole almonds for decoration

Method

Preheat the oven to 350.

Crack open the cardamom pods and put the black seeds into a plastic bag. Bash with something heavy until you have a powder.

Process the peanuts, almonds, sugar, cardamom powder and salt in a food processor, pulsing until you have a fine sugary rubble, but not a paste.

Add the egg white and pulse until the mixture comes together.

Sprinkle some of the rosewater onto your clean hands. Using your fragrant princess palms, take tablespoon sized balls of dough and roll to form a ball. Flatten then slightly and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Press one whole almond onto each cookie. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool completely.

Makes 8-10 Scheherazade-worthy cookies.

Overlooking The Ordinary

As John Lennon so rightly said – life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Usually, those other plans are the big things – some day I’ll be famous, rich, married, published and generally so fabulous that people will be falling at my feet and showering me with rose petals every hour on the hour.

Mm hmm. Right.

In the meantime, there is life. The quiet overlooked moments. The dishes in the sink, the trillionth re-run of America’s Top Model, the tattered t-shirt you refuse to throw away, the yet un-read pile of books on the nightstand, and recipes like this one for Chicken Noodle Salad.

So ordinary that you overlook it. Not special, not trendy. No one’s tweeting about it and it’s not going to win any awards. People might even wonder what kind of an imbecile would post such a recipe (because clearly, people have nothing better to do).

But the fact is, these recipes are what happen while you’re busy making plans for bigger, more spectacular, award-winning, attention-grabbing, book-proposal-launching recipes.

Like when you’re too tired to think and you just want a bowl of starchy rice with some soy sauce and hot sauce splashed on top for dinner.

Or butter. And pasta. Sprinkle of parmesan.

Leftover chicken stir-fried with rice, chilis, peas and crushed bouillon. Yes, I said bouillon. Get over it. It’s not the enemy and works in a pinch. Because I walk to and from the grocery and those freakin’ cartons of chicken stock are heavy.

Ramen. Endless ramen. Veggies, scrambled eggs, soy. Will remain your friend long after your twenties have come and gone.

Fried egg and bacon sandwich with mayo and hot sauce. And chips. And Diet Coke. (Excuse me, you DO save calories from Diet Coke, okay?)

I love those non-recipe recipes. The ordinary “recipes” of daily life. What we eat while we’re watching stuff on Top Chef that most of us, probably, will never eat or attempt to make.

To me, those overlooked eating moments are not throwaway. They are more deeply revealing of who you are than the fanciest recipe you make from following someone else’s instructions. That food speaks more truly to the soul of your kitchen than anything else.

Not many food writers go into that kind of thing – Nigella refers to it a lot which is why I love her. You only have to see one of the midnight fridge raid portions that close her TV shows to relate immediately.

These aren’t the kind of recipes you’ll ever be known for, perhaps it’s not even the kind of recipe you want to write about, but it is still a recipe with a story and a more intimate, revealing story than all the buttercream recipes ever compiled in the world.

Because it’s just what you do in your kitchen, by yourself, that neither you nor anyone else would even notice.

And that’s where life happens.

Chicken Noodle Salad

I think what I had in mind while I was half-consciously tossing this together were the cold noodle salads I used to get at my school cafeteria. Now I know cafeteria food is normally the kind of thing you want to forget, not re-create but just call it one of the perks of going to school in Bangkok. There was a noodle stand where we would buy hot bowls of “sen-mee lukchin” or white rice noodles with meatballs (what the meatballs were actually made of were a source of great debate amongst  7th graders).

By the noodle stand were several bowls of condiments – 9 or 10 of them. The condiments are key to creating noodle soup and my friends and I would spice up our bowls like they were works of art and then have a taste of each others creations to see who had done the best that day.

Quite a world away from a cold turkey sandwich and an apple.

Some drowned their soup in soy, others liked the tang of a particular condiment made from vinegar and red chilis, I was always partial to the fish sauce with thai bird chilis (nam pla prikinoo). You had to sprinkle with crushed red pepper and of course you got extra points for having the spiciest noodle bowl at the table.

You could also opt for noodles without broth, and you had a choice of egg noodles instead of the thin rice noodles. When I was in an egg noodle sort of mood, I would skip the broth, the noodle lady would put on lots of cilantro and bean sprouts and I would douse the whole thing in soy, nam pla and crushed red pepper.

The noodle salad I created here is a much tamer, sub-conscious version of that memory.

Ingredients

4 oz angel hair pasta

¼ cup sliced red onions

1 cup cooked chicken, shredded

2-3 tablespoons soy sauce

3-4 Thai bird chiles, chopped

Big handful cilantro, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts

Method

Soak the red onion in some cold water for 10-15 minutes, then drain and squeeze out the excess water. This takes some of the acrid bite out of the onion.

Cook the pasta then drain and rinse under cold water until the noodles are cold.

In a large bowl, toss the chicken, onions, pasta and soy sauce together. Add the remaining ingredients and toss well.

What can I say, it’s that simple.

Serves 2 extraordinarily ordinary people.

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