Saturday, 28 January 2012

Nana's Cupcakes - a Guide of What Not to Do :)

I remember "assisting" my Nan when she was baking those delicious custard cupcakes. There was probably more disturbance than help on my side, and unfortunately I was a bit too small back then to learn how to make them properly.
Now, by cupcakes I mean something sightly different to the iced sponges you see everywhere - the Polish cupcake is more of a sweet pastry case with a gooey filling - all generously dusted with enough icing sugar to give my husband a coughing fit.
These days, this type of cakes is available pretty much in any cake shop, but there's nothing like home-made ones! Maybe it's just me, but that seems to be the case with all cakes - you can buy them to save yourself the hassle of preparation, but the bought ones are never quite as good. Plus, there's a part of my that will make me try to make it 'just the way it should be' :) This time though, as it sometimes happens, not everything went according to the plan. The recipe is really easy and straight forward, yet there are a couple of things to remember, otherwise you'll end up with a disaster like mine!  
I started my preparations with a trip to the supermarket to buy the special baking trays for my cupcakes, as they're meant to be prepared in special ones, to give them their special shape. And bummer - they didn't have them! Not a single one! As it was well cold outside and I really couldn't face a trip to another shop (which might or might not have had the trays) I decided that I would make my own version of the cupcakes and a muffin tray would have to suffice. There's a recipe and a few tips on how to avoid an oven catastrophe that I caused, by not following the recipe to the letter. Take my word for that - an oven covered in baked custard is not exactly a lot of fun! :)

For the pastry you need:

300 g plain flour
150 g butter
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons of thick cream

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl, knead until the dough is smooth and soft. Roll the pastry with a rolling pin until it's about 3 millimetres thick (and it does mean 3 mil. - if it's too thin it might break during baking and the custard will pour out - I know something about it :) Use a cup to cut out circular bits to fill in the trays with (careful not to make any holes in them!) each cupcake will also need another circle as a lid.  

For the custard you need:

0.5 litre of milk
3 tablespoons of plain flour
3 tablespoons of cornflour
1 cup of sugar (coffee cup)

From the 0.5 litre of milk take a cup and mix flour and corn flour with it. Pour the rest of milk into a pan, stir in sugar and vanilla and bring to boil. When it's boiling stir in the mix of milk and flour (keep stirring or whisking vigorously so as it doesn't curdle). Simmer for a few minutes until the custard thickens.  

When both the pastry and custard are ready, fill the trays with pastry and put custard in each cupcake, then close each cake with a lid. Make sure the top is fixed well and won't come off during baking (I didn't and had all my tray and oven covered with custard! Duh!). Bake the cupcakes for about 20 minutes in 190 ºC, and when they are ready (and cool down a bit) take them off the trays, turn them upside-down and sprinkle icing sugar over them. Enjoy!!!
The picture shows a few of the cupcakes that I managed to salvage from my 'oven crisis'. :) Luckily, the taste was spot on!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

My Take on Italian

Italian cuisine is often to be considered to be simple. I guess it is like with elegance - simplicity is the key. Good quality, real Italian ingredients are crucial, combined with a bit a passion, and not too complex a recipe. Pronto! Though, to tell you the truth, my very first steps with Italian cuisine included ... using instant sauces ... Nowadays I can't quite comprehend how anybody can claim they taste of anything, but I guess it takes trying to "the real deal" ...  

The very first thing I cooked from scratch, and we both instantly loved, was spaghetti Pomodoro e Basilico, as the Italian call it. Even though for the Italian it is "primo piato" (first dish), an introduction to the main meal, it is just the matter of the amount, as it surely can be the main meal as well!

All we need is spaghetti pasta, 4-5 ripe, sweet tomatoes, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tablespoon of passata, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, a few basil leaves, salt and pepper to season, grated parmesan, and a bit of love for cooking Italian :)

The sauce:
Put tomatoes into a bowl of hot water for a few minutes so as they are easier to peel. After a few minutes the skin will start to crack on them, when you take them out of water the skin usually peels itself off. Chop tomatoes and put them into a pan with chopped garlic, passata, olive oil and basil leaves.
Bring to to boil stirring from time to time. When it boils season with salt and pepper, and simmer for a few more minutes.
There's no need to add any water to the sauce, however if the tomatoes are not sweet enough you may add a bit of sugar to improve the taste.
Cook pasta according to the instructions on the packet. When it's ready mix it with the sauce, sprinkle frated parmesan on top and it's ready to serve. I usually decorate it with a basil leaf, 'cause I find it cute :) But of course, it's purely for aesthetic reasons.  

Monday, 23 January 2012

Keep Warm on a Winter Night!

With winter still here, and with temperatures staying below zero I've got another suggestion how to keep warm on a winter night. For those who would rather opt for something more than hot chocolate, polish booze selection has plenty to choose from . Personally, in the autumn-winter season I go for two things - mulled wine (properly spiced - so as it is plenty fragrant), or better still - mead! I don't think I need to describe mulled wine to anyone, though mead deserves a brief description as it's not quite as widely known, yet it is one of the products my home country takes pride in!
Also known as "drinking honey" or "honey wine", mead used to be a traditional drink in Medieval European countries (especially Poland and Lithuania), where monks used to keep bees for wax, and mead was basically a by-product, believe it on not!
It is an alcoholic drink created by combining fermented honey with water, and it often comes in nice clay, Medieval-style bottles as shown in the pictures below. There are four varieties named according to proportion of mead to water., thus we have:

Półtorak (1.5 unit of honey to 1 unit of water) - by far the best, vastly superior over the other types. Really sweeeeeeeeeeet :) For me - ideal!  

Dwójniak (1 unit of mead to 1 unit of water) - not far behind the "póltorak" - a good alternative for those who don't have such a sweet tooth :)

Trójniak (1 unit of mead to 2 units of water) though this type has its fans, to me, it is like a cheap substitute. If I can get półtorak or dwójniak, I will pass on this one!  

Czwórniak (1 unit of mead to 3 units of water) - might be a experience for beginners - to help you decide if you are at all in this kind of drinks.  

I have recently found out that meads are also diluted further, to "piątniak" type (1 unit of mead to 4 units of water) - and I find it really hard to believe that you can taste anything in it, then again, I've always been fussy with food and drinks :)

All meads can be served either cold or hot, however I must say that heating it up highlights the scent and adds the finishing touch to the entire mead experience. Thus, I always heat my mead, and keep it hot, or insist on having it served hot if I order it at cafes. At home I've got a clever little thing shown in the picture bellow that keeps my mead hot and fills the room with a wonderful scent. 
The only tricky thing here is that the meads are so sweet and nice tasting that it's easy to forget how strong they really are! And believe you me, they are strong - containing between 8 and 18% of alcohol. Nothing will keep you warmer on a freezing winter night! :)

Friday, 20 January 2012

Winter Ladies and Gentlemen!

It's hard to believe that it took until now to see some snow this winter! No snow in December, no white Christmas, and when everybody got really and truly fed up with the omnipresent colour gray - surprise! The snow had arrived. Finally we've got the evenings with white flakes dancing outside the windows, and mornings with the whole world covered with white fluff. There's always been something magical about snow for me. I've always loved  wrapping myself in a warm blanket and sipping hot cocoa or chocolate while looking at the white painted world outside. 

Speaking of hot choccy, I've got a great recipe for a winter cuppa for two, or two servings for one, since it's that good! It really is dead easy to prepare and there's no way to spoil it, no matter how much of a cooking klutz one might be! Better still - I've hear that not only is it delicious, but apparently there's something about the way the fats from chocolate and milk combine in this mixture that makes it incredibly healthy! Could one ask for more? :-)

We need:

1 bar of dark chocolate (should be at least 70%)

0.5 litre of milk

Some honey to taste (1 or 2 table spoons is enough for me, and I have a really sweet tooth! )

Optionally you might add a pinch of any spices to your liking: cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, orange zest, or even a mixture of those. If you enjoy unusual tastes you may want to try adding some chili or green pepper (careful with the amount here :)

Break the chocolate bar into small pieces (you may chop it or put it in a plastic bag and smash it with a mullet a bit). Dilute the chocolate in 1 cup of milk (at this stage you can stir in the spices of your choice), and bring the rest of milk to boil.  

When it boils, take it off the stove and pour the diluted chocolate in. Stir well so as it blends. Simmer it for about 3 minutes, but don't allow it to boil.

Now the mixture needs to be cooled - you can put the pan into cold water (be careful not to let the water get into the chocolate mix, though! :) This way, the drink will begin to thicken. Depending how thick you want your drink to be, you need to repeat the heating and cooling procedure a few times.

When you decide it's as thick as you want it to, or that you don't want to wait any longer :) stir in some honey, if you want it sweet, pour the chocolate into cups and enjoy your drink!