Good things: August 2014

Last week I got an advertising-type email from a gym that reminded all recipients that ‘summer bodies are made in winter’. Reader, I threw it in the rubbish.

I don’t know about you, but I’m hoping kaftans and elasticated waistbands are going to be the height of fashion in summer 2015. Various things – birthdays, parties, stressful life events – are conspiring against my ‘summer body’.

Homemade-Pasta-Atlas-Marcato-Machine

Firstly, I found this – a pasta machine at a charity shop for $20, still in its original box, with its original warranty and instructions. I’ve always, always wanted one to play with and although I’ve only used it once so far, I can see plenty of pasta in my future.

Eclairs-With-Coffee-Custard-Chocolate-Icing-And-Walnut-Praline
Eclair image thanks to my colleague and co-baker Lisa

I know DIY pasta has a difficult reputation but it was a cinch compared to some of the things I’ve been making lately. In a moment of weakness I joined the Wellington On a Plate Bake Club team at work, which has meant many a late Sunday night making pies, slices, cakes and eclairs.

The upshot of all of this is that I won our in-house contest against some seriously tough competition and now I have to join the winners of 80+ Bake Clubs this Sunday morning for the final Bake-Off. I normally go for a run on Sunday mornings – but if the gods have decided I need to be in a room full of cakes, I can only go along with their wishes.

Perhaps I’ll take inspiration from these cute cupcakes – these are made by 15-year-old Emily, of three winners in the Better With BRITA contest. Emily, who made bespoke cupcakes for each of the judges – it takes a special kind of talent to make a miniature BRITA water jug out of icing – joins Alex, who made gluten-free brownies and Rekha, who made samosas, at The Big Feastival in London at the end of the month.

I’d love to join them, but my real goal for August is to make something out of My Paris Kitchen. If you haven’t got a copy of this yet, you’re missing out. My lovely sister-in-law gave it to me for my birthday and I think it’s a strong contender for book of the year.

My-Paris-Kitchen-David-Lebovitz-Book-Of-The-Year!

How has August been for you?

Ambrosia, food of the gods

If you grew up in New Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s, there’s a good chance this pudding will be instantly recognisable. If not, it’s high time you got acquainted.

Ambrosia-Recipe-Dessert

This is ambrosia, food of the gods. I remember it sweeping through parties and social occasions of my childhood like a tidal wave of cream, fruit and pineapple lumps. My mother never made it, which gave it extra cachet. To my 10-year-old self, ambrosia was just about the most glamorous pudding ever invented. 

Recipe-For-Ambrosia-Berry-Cream-Dessert

Thirty years later, I can vouch for many of its attributes. The mixture of cream and yoghurt is still tangy and rich, and it’s great fun anticipating the surprise in each mouthful – will it be a marshmallow or a juicy berry? I doubt it’s the food of the modern gods, given its extremely calorific ingredients, but it still makes a great pudding (or a very illicit breakfast).

Whipped-Cream-Berries-Marshmallows

Ambrosia

The great thing about ambrosia is that it doesn’t require any fancy ingredients, can be made for an intimate dinner for two or a feeding frenzy for 20 and it appeals to just about everyone. Children adore it and adults, though they pretend they are too grown up to eat marshmallows, will dig into the bowl as soon as your back is turned. It’s sort of an Antipodean Eton Mess, which makes it the perfect entry for this month’s Sweet New Zealand blogging challenge. This month my lovely friends Michelle and Anna of Munch Cooking are playing host and they’ve given it a Wellington theme to celebrate Wellington On a Plate. It’s also a fitting entry for the August edition of We Should Cocoa, in which guest host Rebecca of BakeNQuilt has chosen marshmallows as the special guest ingredient.

180ml (3/4 cup) cream

2 cups natural yoghurt (I particularly like The Collective’s Straight Up yoghurt in this)

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 cups frozen berries – blueberries, raspberries, boysenberries, blackberries

2 cups mini marshmallows

100g chocolate, roughly chopped

Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Stir through the yoghurt and vanilla, then fold through the berries, marshmallows and chocolate (reserve a little of the chocolate to sprinkle on top). Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes before serving. I think it’s best the day it’s made, unless you’re eating it sneakily for breakfast the morning after. Serves 4-6.

Have a great week, everyone x

The ultimate chocolate beetroot cake

Do you love cake? Then I URGE you to stop whatever you’re doing and make this cake.

Chocolate-Beetroot-Cake-With-Caramel-Cream-Cheese-Frosting

The photo isn’t the best – harsh work lighting – but hopefully you can get a sense of what a mighty cake this is. It’s Nigel Slater’s chocolate beetroot cake, taken from his beautiful book Tender (vol 1). It’s quite an involved cake to make – pureed beetroot, melted chocolate, whisked egg whites – but the results are absolutely worth it.

Nigel-Slater-Chocolate-Beetroot-Cake-Twitter-Photo

Nigel was right (I can’t believe I doubted him) – it’s probably the world’s best chocolate cake, full of dark, rich, complex flavours. He tops it with creme fraiche and poppy seeds, but because I was making it for our Bake Club I knew I needed to add a little more wow factor. I topped mine with caramel cream cheese frosting, then scattered over some shards of 72 per cent chocolate and some candied purple carrot. I used this recipe for candied carrot curls as a guide, but on my first attempt I ended up with a smoke-filled kitchen and a tray of burnt carrot strips. I’d recommend cooking the carrot in the syrup for a shorter time period and lowering the oven temperature.

The judges loved it enough – I knocked out the competition easily. Most importantly, I got to savour the very last piece. I might not ever experience it again, but I’ve finally tasted success.

Treat me: Chocolate marmalade bars

I’m calling it now: I think marmalade is about to have a moment. I’ve reached this conclusion via a highly scientific process involving the fact that the Paddington Bear film (starring Colin Firth!) is out later this year and marmalade is sure to be a key marketing tool.

Paddington, in case you’re not familiar with the tale, is passionate about marmalade and never goes anywhere without a marmalade sandwich about his person. If the thought of marmalade sandwiches leaves you cold, then I think one of these chocolate-studded, marmalade-filled bars might persuade you that the bear from Peru was onto a good thing.

Marmalade Chocolate Bars Easy Recipe Recipe/Photo: Lucy Corry

Chocolate Marmalade Bars
With rolled oats, butter and marmalade all key ingredients, you could just about get away with calling these sticky, chewy bars breakfast if it weren’t for the nuggets of dark chocolate and crystallised ginger. This recipe is inspired by these jammy flapjacks, created by the ever-talented Choclette. The combination of thin-cut orange marmalade and chocolate makes these taste like a more wholesome Terry’s Chocolate Orange. If you’re a grapefruit marmalade fan, try some white chocolate chunks instead.

120g butter
400g thin-cut orange marmalade
220g rolled oats
50g dessicated coconut
150g crystallised ginger, cut into small dice
150g good quality dark chocolate, chopped into chunks

Heat the oven to 180C and line a brownie tin (measuring around 19cm x 27cm) with baking paper.
Put the butter and marmalade into a large saucepan and set over gentle heat,  stirring occasionally until the butter has melted. Set aside to cool for five minutes, then stir in the oats, coconut, ginger and half the chocolate until well mixed.
Press into the prepared tin, then scatter the remainder of the chocolate over the top.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Leave to cool completely before cutting. Makes about 20 small bars. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.

This easy recipe is exceptionally timely – not only does the Wellington On A Plate Bake Club kick off next week with a slice challenge, but Karen at Lavender and Lovage, along with Janie of The Hedgecombers, have put a call out for flapjack and traybake recipes for this month’s edition of Tea Time Treats. Check out Janie’s link for more great traybake recipes if you’re needing some #BakeClub inspiration.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

The perfect chocolate smoothie

I don’t want to jinx things, but we are having the best winter ever. There are tomatoes growing in my garden, despite heavy frosts and gusts of wind that feel like they’ve blown straight from Antarctica. A work colleague whose house is hooked up to solar panels says they have more battery power now than they did in mid-summer. It’s not exactly t-shirt and jandals weather, but the sun is out and the days are crisp and clear.

The weather is so good that on Monday, to celebrate the start of the school holidays, we had chocolate smoothies for breakfast. On Friday, to celebrate the last day of term, we had chocolate porridge. I’m a strong contender for Mum Of The Year, don’t you think?

Dairy Free Chocolate Smoothie No Refined Sugar

The perfect chocolate smoothie

The ingredients for these smoothies came from The Big Fair Bake, a Fairtrade initiative designed to showcase the many wonderful ways you can a) support Fairtrade and b) use Fairtrade ingredients. Supporting Fairtrade seems like a no-brainer to me – it’s getting easier all the time to find fairly traded and produced things all the time and I like the idea that I am (in a tiny way, admittedly) helping other families while doing something nice for my own. While The Big Fair Bake is, as the name suggests, all about baking, this is a so-hot-right-now option that doesn’t require you to turn on the oven or even the elements. Now that’s what I call the perfect holiday breakfast.

400ml coconut milk (the Trade Aid one is delicious!)

3 Tbsp good quality cocoa powder

1 Tbsp honey (or more to taste, if you like things really sweet)

3 very ripe bananas, peeled, cut into chunks and frozen

Put everything in a blender and blitz to form a smooth and frothy mixture. Divide between two tall glasses and serve. Pink straws optional, unless you live in my house.