Treat me: Mega muesli bars

On Wednesday night, mindful of the fact that we had a crack team coming to cut down trees and generally sort out the horror of the path to our house, I thought I should make them something for morning tea. I thought some muesli bars would do it, something they could eat in between swinging axes and chainsaws.
I merrily tipped some rice bubbles into a bowl and turned around to find a spoon. When I turned back, there was something crawling out of the bowl.
Now, I know these people are not scared of creepy crawlies, but this was surely a bridge too far. I tipped the lot into the bin and wondered if they did cleanups of pantries as well.
After a cup of tea and a sit down, I conducted a thorough clean/search and destroy mission and gathered all the safe ingredients on the bench. Then I conducted a thorough search of the internet until I found something that I could use them in. When that didn’t work I adapted this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I bet Deb never has mysterious crawling things in her cupboards.

Mega muesli bars
These are big, thick, chewy slabs of nutritious deliciousness, filled with lots of good things and not too sweet. If you don’t have coconut oil, try another neutral oil or – gasp! – butter. Mix and match the nuts, seeds and fruit to suit your (clean, ordered) pantry too.

100g coconut oil
6 Tbsp honey
80ml (1/3 cup) tahini
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup whole oats
1/2 cup oatmeal (if you can’t find oatmeal, whizz 1/2 cup rolled oats in a food processor until fine)
 cups quick rolled oats
a good pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 cup linseeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Heat the oven to 175C and line a brownie pan with baking paper, leaving enough to overhang the tin.
Put the coconut oil, tahini and honey in a small saucepan and heat gently until the oil and honey have melted. Stir well and set aside.
Put all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir well, then pour in the oil mixture and stir until everything is well combined. Press into the prepared tin, smoothing the top with a spatula, then bake for 35 minutes, until golden.
Let cool completely before cutting into bars. If it seems very crumbly, put the tin in the fridge for an hour or so before cutting. If there are lots of crumbs, gather them up and sprinkle them on your yoghurt tomorrow morning.

Have a great weekend everyone x

Treat me: Choc beet banana bread

I have a terrible confession to make. Somehow, against my better judgment, I have become completely addicted to The Block NZ. Three nights a week I find myself glued to an hour of hideous product placement and manipulated ‘drama’ as four couples ‘race’ to do up four dilapidated houses aided by teams of trusty tradies. I despise myself, but I can’t stop watching.

The other night I tried to mix watching it with making some chocolate beetroot banana bread for our neighbours after they kindly lent us their car park. It was all going well until I pulled it out of the oven and realised I’d made a brick that was better suited to hard landscaping than eating. The Block-ers might have forgotten to install their bathroom mirrors, but I’d forgotten the baking powder. And the baking soda. I have vowed never to watch The Block again. Well, at least not until next week…

Chocolate beetroot banana bread
This month the clever Ness of JibberJabberUK is guest hosting my favourite blog challenge, We Should Cocoa. Aided and abetted by challenge founder Choclette, Ness has chosen vegetables as this month’s special guest ingredient. I know beetroot is a bit of an obvious one, but it’s a good addition to this chocolatey banana loaf. As is baking powder. And soda. You have been warned!

3 ripe bananas, mashed
3 eggs
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup milk
1 Tbsp vanilla essence
2 Tbsp lemon juice
120g grated beetroot
2 cups white spelt flour
1/2 cup good quality cocoa
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
50g dark chocolate, smashed into little bits

Preheat the oven to 175C. Grease and line a large loaf tin.
Put the bananas, eggs, sugar, oil, milk, vanilla and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor. Whiz until smooth.
Add the beetroot and pulse until the mixture is uniformly pink. Sift over the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the chocolate. Pulse again until smooth.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

In other news, The Kitchenmaid has been nominated in the Best Kids Food Blog section of the 2013 Munch Food Awards. I feel a bit of a dork asking, but if you’d like to vote for me, you can do so by clicking here.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Treat me: Mini choc-orange tarts

Last Friday I broke my self-imposed charity shop ban and went for a cruise around a couple of my local favourites (no, I’m not telling you where they are). The do-up dolls house I’d spotted through the window of one a few weeks ago had long gone, but I did find a fabulous 70s miniature coffee set – all mine for just $5. After the Small Girl and I played tea parties for the rest of the day I was beginning to wonder if I’d done the right thing in buying it. After we made these teeny-tiny chocolate and orange curd tarts to have with our “coffee” the game got a lot more fun.

Mini chocolate orange tarts
This recipe is a mash-up of several components that have appeared in various guises on this blog. The pastry is a tweaked version of the one I use for Christmas Mince Pies and the curd in the filling is inspired by a great comment an anonymous user once left on a post. Don’t be put off by the length of the recipe – you can potter about making various bits and pieces and then it all comes together at the end. You can also cheat and use storebought curd. I won’t judge you. I’ve given the curd and pastry recipes first – keep reading for instructions on what happens when you’ve made these parts. I make just 12 tarts, but there is enough curd and pastry to make 24 (so you can make a batch one day and then it’s each to whip up another the next).

For the orange curd filling:
4 free-range egg yolks
2/3 cup caster sugar
125ml freshly squeezed orange juice
60g butter, diced

Put the egg yolks and sugar in a small pot and beat together until well blended. Add the juice and butter. Put the pot over medium-high heat and stir constantly until it comes to simmering point. As soon as the bubbles appear, remove from the heat. Keep stirring for another minute or so, then pour into a sterilised jar. This makes about 450ml, of which you will use half in this recipe. Refrigerate when cold.

For the pastry:
250g plain flour
50g dessicated coconut
100g icing sugar
190g fridge-cold butter, diced
1 egg yolk
1Tbsp ice-cold water

Put the flour, coconut, sugar and butter into a food processor. Beat or whiz until you get a breadcrumb-y texture. Combine the egg yolk and water in a cup, then add to the bowl and beat or pulse until the mixture clumps. Press the mixture together into two discs with your hands. Wrap each one well. Put one in the fridge and the other in a cool place for 20 minutes.
When you’re ready to roll, so to speak, heat the oven to 170C.
Get two large pieces of greaseproof paper or cling film and place the non-refrigerated pastry disc between them. This makes everything much, much easier and you don’t have to scrape pastry bits off the worktop or your rolling pin. Roll out to about 3mm thick. Using a suitable cutter or glass, stamp out 12 rounds to fit into a greased mini muffin tin. Put the pastry-lined tin in the fridge for 10 minutes, then bake for about 12 minutes, until the pastry is golden and dry to touch. Remove to a rack to cool.

When you’re ready to make the tarts, put about 150g of room temperature curd into a small bowl and mix with 150g room temperature cream cheese. Beat until smooth – it’s important both are at room temperature or the mixture will be lumpy.
Divide this mixture between the cooled pastry cases, then put in the fridge for 20 minutes.
While that’s happening, melt 100g good dark chocolate using your preferred method (double boiler, microwave, mind control). Remove the tarts from the fridge and spoon a little chocolate on top of each one. Let set, then take to your next tiny tea party. Store any uneaten tarts in the fridge, where they will be good for about five days.

Have a good weekend, everyone. I’m planning to throw off a last-gasp winter lurgy and plant a wildflower meadow, in that order. What are you up to?

Treat me: Secret pumpkin muffins

There is a reasonably famous New Zealand journalist who takes himself extremely seriously, yet every time I see him on TV I want to laugh. You see, although he is all sharp suits and pancake makeup now, I remember when he was at journalism school with a bad mullet hairdo and a collection of dreadful acrylic jerseys that could have belonged to David Bain. I used to see this guy three times a week, not because I was at journalism school but because I’d stupidly got myself a job delivering muffins there and he was one of my best customers.

Three mornings a week, before I ran up the hill to sit through French grammar classes, I donned my ‘Muffinstuff – We Deliver’ t-shirt and trudged around the central city delivering muffins made by a pair of madwomen who paid me barely anything AND made me pay for any muffins that broke on the way.

While I walked I spent a lot of the time imagining the things I could say to the horrible office workers on my route instead of just smiling sweetly and encouraging them to spend up. It was a huge relief when I got a job washing dishes somewhere else instead, not least because I had become two-thirds muffin top by the end of it. And now, well, Mullet Man is on billboards and here I am, making muffins. But at least I don’t have to deliver them.

Secret pumpkin muffins
Most baking recipes involving pumpkin or carrot or zucchini often make gleeful reference to how you can fool your children/spouse/co-workers into eating these dreaded vegetables. This time I’ve turned that around completely by hiding something else inside a light, tender pumpkin batter.

300g peeled, seeded pumpkin (about 450g, with the skin on and seeds in)
125g unsalted butter
4 Tbsp brown sugar
3 Tbsp golden syrup
220g white spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp chilli powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
100ml plain yoghurt
12 squares of good quality dark chocolate (I use Whittakers Dark Ghana)

Heat oven to 175C and grease a 12-hole muffin pan.
Prepare the pumpkin first – cut it into chunks and put it in a small pot. Cover with water and bring to the boil over medium heat. Cook until soft – around 10 minutes – then drain well and mash to a smooth puree. Add the butter to the pot. The heat from the pumpkin will make it begin to melt, which is exactly what you want.

When the butter is melted, add the sugar and golden syrup. Stir well, then set the mixture aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices into a large bowl. Add the egg and yoghurt to the pumpkin mixture and stir to combine, then pour into the dry ingredients. Fold together until just combined.

Put a generous spoonful of this batter into each of the prepared muffin cups, then put a square of chocolate on top. Top with the remaining mixture.

Bake for about 18-20 minutes, until the muffins are risen and springy. Leave in the tin for five minutes, then gently turn out onto a rack to cool. Be careful if you bite into one straight out of the oven – the chocolate middle will be very hot.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Treat me: Chocolate Mousse Cake

Our fridge, not to mention our bellies, are still recovering from an epic feast we had last weekend – dinner for six adults and as many children involving a three-kilo piece of pork shoulder, sacks of Turkish buns, a crunchy slaw made from a Savoy cabbage and several fennel bulbs and a vat of homemade barbecue sauce. Amazingly there were still lots of delicious leftovers, which is why I haven’t posted any recipes this week. There was even a bit of the show-stopping pudding left over, which I hid at the back of the fridge as a cook’s perk.

I dreamed this dessert up to celebrate the third birthday of We Should Cocoa – which this month has the thrilling theme of ‘Showstopping Cakes’. This one was such a showstopper that I couldn’t waste any time photographing it, which explains the slightly odd shot below.

Chocolate Mousse Cake
Take a look at the ingredients for this showstopper and you’d be right in thinking that it’s more like a heartstopper – with nearly a litre of cream involved it’s not going to win any Heart Foundation prizes. But it serves at least eight, with a generous slice left over for the cook to hide in the fridge to eat later. There are three stages, but none of them are particularly onerous. You must, however, make the pavlova the day (or night) before you want to serve the cake and allow at least four hours’ resting time in the fridge once you have assembled it. Don’t be put off by the length of the recipe – it’s not at all tricky to do.

For the pavlova base:
2 1/2 cups (560g) caster sugar
6 egg whites
3 Tbsp cocoa

For the mousse:
200g dark chocolate (at least 60 % cocoa solids), roughly chopped
400ml cream. split into 2 x 200ml measures

For the topping:
500ml cream
50g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
50g almonds, roughly chopped (optional)

First, make the pavlova. Heat the oven to 180C and line a tray with baking paper. Put a 28cm cake tin on the baking paper and draw a circle around it – this will help be a guide for the pavlova.
Using a freestanding mixer or a very powerful electric beater, whisk the egg whites until frothy, then gradually whisk in the sugar. Beat for 15 minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved. The mixture will be very thick and glossy. Sift over the cocoa and fold in, then dollop the mixture onto the prepared cake tin. Carefully put the tray into the oven, then bake at 180C for 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to 90C and leave the pavlova in the oven for 10 hours, until very dry and hard. Turn off the heat and let the pavlova cool completely in the oven.

When you are ready to start assembling the cake, get the mousse ready. To do this, heat 200ml of the cream in a medium saucepan until boiling point. Remove from heat and tip in the chocolate. Let it sit for a minute, then stir well until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth and glossy. Set aside to cool briefly while you whip the other 200ml of cream until it forms soft peaks. Gently fold the chocolate mixture into the cream and set aside.

Next, line the bottom and sides of the aforementioned 28cm springform cake tin with plastic wrap. Cut out a circle of the pavlova to fit into the tin. If your pavlova is very tall, slice it horizontally through the middle so you have two discs. Line the bottom of the tin with one of the discs of pavlova (or pack the bottom of the tin with the remaining pieces). Pour over the chocolate mousse, then top with the other disc or pieces of pavlova. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge.

Take a breather for a moment, then whip the 500ml cream to soft peaks. Remove the tin from the fridge and dollop the cream on top of the mousse and cream layers. Scatter with the roughly chopped chocolate and nuts. You can also crumble any remaining pavlova bits on top. Cover loosely with plastic and leave in the fridge for at least four hours to allow the mousse to set and the cream to soak into the crispy meringue.

To serve, carefully unclip the tin and peel away the plastic wrap before transferring the cake to a suitably glamorous dish. Serves 8-10.

Have a great weekend, everyone!