Sunday, 26 February 2012

I Like it When My House Smells of Cake at the Weekend

I really like making cakes. Although I have a really sweet tooth, I could venture to say that it is the making of the cake that I enjoy the most, eating it is just an extra :) Carrot cake is one of my favourites, and really easy to make, I guess it could be labelled "fool proof". Initially I used to make it without the icing - I would simply sprinkle icing sugar on top. Yet, I must admit that the icing definitely gives the cake the finishing touch, and fantastically complements the flavour.

For the cake you need:
3-4 large, sweet carrots (the quality of carrots is crucial here - they can really spoil the cake if they aren't sweet enough)
1 apple
2 large cups of flour (250 millilitres)
1 large cup of sugar
1 large cup of oil
4 eggs
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 heaped teaspoon of cinnamon

Peel and finely grate the carrots. Mix flour, sugar and baking powder and cinnamon in a large bowl, add the eggs and oil, stir in grated carrots. Mix all the ingredients well, until the mixture is smooth. Line a baking tray with baking paper (I usually use a 24 cm, round tray). Preheat the oven initially to 100C, then gradually increase the heat to 170C. The cake needs about an hour in the oven, however it is a good to check with a stick if it is ready (put a kebab stick into the middle of the cake and check if it comes out dry (nearly dry, as the cake is quite wet) - if it comes out covered with unbaked cake mixture it needs more time in the oven). If you don't want to use the icing wait until the cake cools down and sprinkle some icing sugar on top.

For the icing you need:
100g of creamy cheese (Philadelphia type)
400 g of icing sugar
50 g of butter

Blend the cheese and butter with a mixer, gradually add icing sugar (add a spoonful or two, keep on mixing, when the mixture is smooth, add more sugar, and so on).
Cut the cake horizontally into two more or less equal parts. Spread half of the icing between the two parts of the cake, put the top half on, and cover the top with the rest of the icing. Put the cake into the fridge so as the icing hardens a bit, or you can eat it straight away.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Chocolate Outside the Kitchen

I am an absolutely untreatable chocoholic. I always crave chocolate - any time night or day. Recently, pampering myself with choccy has gone beyond the edible chocolate, thanks to a cosmetic line discovered in a local shop Natura (I know that Body Shop has recently released similar line, a bit more pricey, yet not quite what I like - can't put my finger on it, but to me it lacks something). I think the first time I bought the chocolate cosmetics as retail therapy when it was getting all grey, wet and horrible outside. As I remember it worked miracles :)
The entire line is based on chocolate with a slight note of orange scent. Divine! And it is just as addictive as eating chocolate is :) I would have my morning bath religiously every weekend - is there anything better than a room filled with chocolate scent, with a bubble bath? On a cold, winter morning - certainly not!

The first item I bought was a bath essence, and fell for it immediately. A small amount of it fills the bath with bubbles in no time. It can be used on its own - even dry skin like mine is moisturised and ever so slightly smells of chocolate.
The bath caviar, on the other hand, I found somewhat disappointing. Though I followed the instructions on the bottle, I would say that it is hardly noticeable - neither the smell, nor any effect on the skin, not even bubbles in the bath! First tried to add some more (and some more again :) , but eventually I gave up. It doesn't do it for me :(
On days when there's not enough time for a morning bath the shower gel does does the job fantastically - it leaves the skin smooth, moisturised and, of course, smelling of chocolate.
The peeling is by far one of the best ones I've used - not too harsh on the skin, but strong enough to leave the skin smooth, the effects on the elbows and knees are spectacular!

The body butter enhances the effects of the bath essence and shower gel - boosts the skin moisture without leaving an unpleasant greasy film on it, and gives it the fabulous chocolate smell that stays on the whole day.
The most recent discovery, I suppose more suitable for spring than dark chocolate - I've just purchased a white chocolate shower gel - and it's just as fantastic as the dark chocolate line.

The only downside of this line is that the smell of chocolate is so strong, and so real that it might be hard to resist the temptation to eat it! ;-)

Monday, 20 February 2012

Super Easy Tomato Soup

My husband surprised me yesterday bringing me a present, a cookbook based on a TV series that I've been watching recently. The programme is situated in a restaurant and generally features the so-called "trendy cooking", rather than traditional recipes, thus I was a bit surprised to find a recipe for tomato soup. When it comes to soups, it's not a secret that they are rather easy to prepare, yet I didn't quite expected a recipe that doesn't require either chicken or vegetable stock! I knew I had to alter the recipe a little, as following the proportions given in the book we would obtain water mixture with a faint tomato flavour - not exactly what we want :)

To make the soup I used:
10 large, ripe tomatoes
1 litre of water
3 bay leaves
4-5 allspice berries
a pinch of dried dill
1 tablespoon of dried vegetables
1 table spoon of butter
salt and pepper to taste
cream or yoghurt
a handful of pasta (farfale or other)

Put tomatoes into a bowl of boiling hot water for about 10 minutes. Take them out and peel - soaking in hot water should make them peel more or less 'automatically'. Then dice them and put into a pan, add butter, salt and pepper, and simmer until tomatoes reduce into a pulp. At the same time boil water (1 litre) with dried vegetables, bay leaves, allspice, dill, salt and pepper. When tomatoes have reduced mix them with blender and add to the water and spices.
Cook pasta according to the instructions on the packet. Serve the soup with pasta, add a tablespoon of cream or yoghurt per plate. All in all, the soup turned out to be a pleasant surprise - a tad different to what I usually make - thicker texture, deep tomato flvour, very nice, indeed.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

A Three Dish Dinner that Shrank!

Every now and then I feel a need to make fuss of a meal and go for a three dish dinner thing. Today was one of those days :) The whole meal was prepared in Italian style, however after the main we were so full that  dessert comprised only of Italian espresso, still delicious though!
I got the idea for the starter from one of the Italian places we frequent for lunches and dinners - bread balls (made of pizza dough) served with pesto genovese (basil based pesto), pesto rosso (pesto with sun dried tomatoes), and salted butter.

For the starter you need:
about half a cup of flour
a pinch of yeast
lukewarm water or milk
a splash of olive oil

Mix all ingredients and knead the dough well until it's soft and playable. Sprinkle olive oil onto it place it in a bowl, and leave in a warm place to grow for about half an hour. Then form small balls and place them on a baking tray, leave some space between them as they'll grow during baking. Preheat the oven to about 180C and place the balls inside. They don't need a lot of time in - as soon as they are golden -brown on top they're ready to be served. Needless to say, they're best served hot.
As I mentioned, they're served with green and red pesto, and salted butter; though, olive oil or balsamic vinegar, or a mixture of both works well with them too.

For main dish we had spaghetti a'la carbonara - one of the meals that stunned me how easy it is to prepare. You do need best quality, proper ingredients, but apart from being careful in order not to turn it into scrambled eggs, the preparation really is a walk in the park!

You need:
Spaghetti pasta
2 eggs
2 yokes
65 gram grated parmesan  (plus some extra for serving)
200 gram pancetta ham (can be replaced with bacon, if necessary)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
1-2 tablespoons of cream
2 garlic cloves
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. Chop garlic cloves finely, and dice pancetta. Heat the oil and butter, fry the garlic and pancetta until garlic is golden. Whip the eggs and yokes, season to taste, and stir in cream (I know the Italians would shun me for thins, but do prefer it a tad creamy!) and parmesan. When pasta is cooked, drain it, add to the frying pan and toss it well. Reduce the heat to minimum and pour in the egg mixture. Stir it all well and put on the plates. Sprinkle parmesan on top and serve.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Doughnut Day!

The last Thursday before the Ash Wednesday is called "Fat Thursday" in my country. It is the last Thursday of carnival, and it used to symbolise the end of the period of fun, partying and feasting, as Lent, the period of somberness and fasting was about to begin on Ash Wednesday. Long time ago, our ancestors had savoury doughnuts, made with pork fat and bacon and would consume them with large quantities of strong alcohol. The tradition of eating doughnuts on "Fat Thursday" has prevailed till this day, and there is even a superstition that if you don't have a doughnut on Fat Thursday, the rest of your year will be full of misery and misfortune!

Thus, all diets have a "day off" and everybody indulges themselves in doughnuts, faworki, carnival roses and other sweets. There are long queues outside cake shops (they take orders for doughnuts a week or so in advance) and every grocery will have a good supply of doughnuts and faworki on this day.
The only downside of the "Fat Thursday" goodies is that they're fairly time-consuming and not that easy to prepare, but I promise they are well worth the effort!

Polish doughnuts are a tad different from their American cousins - the dough is slightly different, and they are ball shaped, without a hole in the middle, but stuffed with yummy jam instead. They're also covered with glazing, and some have candied orange peel on top, but I'm not a fan so I gave it a pass.

To make Polish style doughnuts you need:
1 heaped large cup of flour
20 grams of yeast
3 yokes
3 table spoons of icing sugar
2 spoons of butter
4 full spoons of full fat milk
a pinch of salt
2 spoons of alcohol (e.g. vodka)
jam (my favourite dougnut filling is rose hip jam)
3-4 cups of icing sugar and water for the glazing
about 1 kilogram of lard for frying

Mix the yeast with lukewarm milk and leave in a warm place to grow. Mix the yokes with icing sugar using a mixer, until they are smooth, add the yeast mix, alcohol and stir it all well. Add flour, salt and knead the dough well. (It does take a fair bit of kneading - great as an arm and shoulder workout!). When it finally is smooth and soft add warm butter and knead once again, until all the ingredients blend. Place the dough in a bowl, cover it with a tea towel and put in a warm place to grow. When the dough has doubled in volume we can start dividing it into individual doughnuts and fill them with jam. For each doughnut take a spoonful of dough, make a flat sphere of it on your hand and place a drop of jam in the middle. (Jam shouldn't be colder than the dough).

Close the dough around the jam (roll the doughnut in your hands well, to hide the 'seams'). When ready, place the doughnut on a floured surface and prepare the remaining doughnuts. Wait until doughnuts grow (they should be twice their original size), then heat the fat and fry the doughnuts on both size until they are light brown. Take them off the pan and place on kitchen roll-covered plate to cool. Place icing sugar in a bowl and add a few spoons of water. Stir the mixture until it's smooth, then cover the doughnuts with the glazing. You can wait until the glazing dries, or you can enjoy the doughnuts straight away!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

Call it a cliché, but there is no Valentine's Day without hearts all around! Though, I'm glad that the school days, when wearing red on Valentine's Day at some point become compulsory, are over!
Today, however, I couldn't totally resist the spirit of the day and decided to make a heart-shaped pizza for lunch. As I mentioned in my earlier posts - weekday lunches must most of all be quick to prepare -and today was no exception. I've heard from many people that making pizza takes lots of time, but mine was ready in less than 30 minutes! I didn't leave the dough to rest too much- only as long as I needed to peel and slice the mushrooms and prepare tomato sauce (though here I took a shortcut :).
The dough:
All you need for is flour (probably slightly less than 0.5 kilogram, but my pizzas are made so intuitively that the proportions are nothing more than an estimate),
a bit of yeast (I used dry to save time) - probably 1/4 teaspoon
a dash of olive oil
a pinch of salt
lukewarm milk or water
The ingredients need to mixed together and solidly kneaded until it's soft and 'playable' :)

Tomato sauce:
The best tomato sauce is the same one that I use in spaghetti pomodoro é basilico (the recipe is in the post "My Take on Italian"), but if I don't have time, I use tomato puree (quite a lot of it) instead of real tomatoes, mixed with some olive oil, a dash of water, salt and pepper to taste, and oregano and basil.
Then add any toppings of your choice (I felt like mushrooms and olives today) and bake the pizza in hot oven (my fan oven was heated to 170C and I kept my pizza in for about 15 minutes, as the base was rather thin).
Pizza is a rather filling meal, but on a day like today dessert seems like a must! I opted for a cup of coffee with whipped cream on top, garnished with chocolate hearts -corny!!! :)

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Tender Beef in Wine and Mushroom Sauce

Every now and again the day comes when I hear the question 'Could we possibly have some real meat?'. "The real meat" being something else than chicken, which for some reason tends to appear in a great majority of my favourite meals. So, every now and again I back down, buy some pork or beef to later ask myself why I don't do it more often! Beef, after all is actually the king of meats - not only is it tender, soft and flavoursome, but it is also filling and amazingly simple and quick to prepare.
The idea for this meal has been following me for a few days, and finally today I got around to making it. This beef-based dish is great for lunch or dinner, and in my opinion gives plenty of energy to keep warm, thus it's ideal for this time of year. The simplicity of preparation and short cooking time are just a bonus here! :)
I used about 250-300g piece of beef, which I sliced, seasoned with pepper and put thinly sliced garlic on each side of the chops.The thing to remeber is not to put salt on the meat until the end of cooking, otherwise it will get hard. The meat was fried very briefly on a frying pan with melted butter. Then I moved the meat to a pan, along with the melted butter, added mushrooms and stewed for a about 15-20 minutes until mushrooms began to shrink. Then I added a wealthy serving of red wine, salt and pepper, and a dollop of honey. It simmered for a few more minutes before adding cornflour diluted in a dash of water to thicken the sauce a bit. After adding the cornflour mixture, the sauce has to come to boil, then it thickens, and it's ready. I served it with pureed spuds and salad for my husband.  

Monday, 6 February 2012

Easy and Delicious Cheese Parcels

Although I really like cooking and could spend ages in the kitchen preparing, tasting and 'bringing the meal to perfection', on an average day time is of essence so lunch must be tasty, but  most of all quick. It took us a while to fight the temptation of takeaways or fast food bars (old habits! :) as an option for quick lunch, but by now, I've developed quite a selection of quick and tasty meals.
The luxury of 'slow cooking' is reserved for the weekends and actually, the first time I prepared this meal was indeed at the weekend, as I expected the preparation to be much longer than it really is.  I was quite shocked how quickly the parcels were ready to be served (only to disappear from the plates even faster!).
The meal combines the necessary requirements for a 'weekday lunch' - it is stunningly easy to prepare and truly delicious - could one ask for more? Depending in the imagination they may be square, triangular, or circular shaped. I usually go for squares, so my parcels look like puffy cushions. This time I added a few triangles, but the French pastry I used didn't make my life easy - it was too sticky on the outside, whereas the sides of my parcels wouldn't want to close. It took a bit of effort, but in the end they (mostly:) closed.

To prepare the parcels we need:

A packet of French pastry
150 gram of strong cheese
100 gram of blue cheese
100 gram of smoked ham
2 tablespoons of cream
2 eggs
black pepper

Roll the pastry and cut into squares. Dice the cheese, blue cheese and ham, mix them well in a bowl. Add cream, 1 egg and pepper to taste (no need for salt here, as blue cheese will add the salty flavour. Mix all the ingredients well, then distribute the stuffing on the French pastry squares - leaving 1 cm on the sides uncovered to close the parcels. Be careful not to overfill them. Stick the sides together and make sure they together well, otherwise the filling will pour out during baking it nearly! happened to a few of mine, you can tell from the pictures). Fluff the remaining egg and spread it on top of the parcels with a baking brush (it will add a lovely golden colour). Place the parcels on baking paper covered tray and put them into pre-heated to 200C oven for 15 minutes. That's it - they're ready.
I usually serve them with pesto based sauce, as they might seem too dry on their own. Unfortunately, all the sauces I make tend to be "made to taste", I adjust the amount of ingredients while observing what is happening with the sauce.

For this one we need:

1 or 2 tablespoons of butter
1 or 2 teaspoons of plain all-purpose flour
4-5 tablespoons of pesto genovese (basil pesto)
1 teaspoon of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
some milk

Melt butter in a pan and add flour, stir until the mixture is smooth. Add some milk (not much, it is mostly added to give the sauce volume) and keep on stirring. Spoon in pesto, olive oil and add spices.  Simmer for a few minutes so as it heats up, if it thickens to much you can add more milk. If you want it to be thicker, though, add a little bit more flour (careful with it though - it's easy to overdo and make the sauce too thick and flour tasting). Bon apetit! :)

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Bye Bye Christmas Time...

One of the advantages of living in Poland is the fact the Christmas period here lasts as long as the beginning of February. However, with time flying as it does, not only did I merely notice Christmas at all, but I have just realised that the time has come to remove the decorations.Well, I guess it's high time to do so, as I've read that they're taking down Christmas lights in the city today.
It's a bit sad, as I love walking down the Royal Tract covered with snow and beautifully illuminated. On the positive side though, I have to think about a suitable replacement for the Christmas tree in the corner - guess I shan't be bored!