November 21, 2008

Caramelised Nuts


I made these nuts to go into Brie & Pesto tarts which worked out OK, but these nuts are so much better just eaten on their own as a snack!

You will need: medium saucepan

  • 1 cup nuts (I used already toasted and slightly salted cashews*)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  1. To make the caramel: sprinkle the sugar evenly over bottom of your pan.
  2. Cook over a medium heat, without stirring, for about 5 minutes until the sugar is melted and has turned a nice amber colour and has the consistency of syrup. Once the sugar starts to melt you can swirl it around the pan to evenly melt all the sugar. When the sugar has melted then you can stir the caramel (stirring too soon will cause the sugar to recrystallise and create a grainy caramel)
  3. Remove from the heat.
  4. Quickly add the nuts to the pan and return to the heat. Stir until the nuts are evenly coated with the caramel.
  5. Transfer to a plate to cool completely.
There are a variety of things you can do with these nuts:
  • Coarsely chop them on a chopping board or put them in a zip-lock bag and smash it on the counter a few times and then use them in recipes on sprinkle on top of ice cream.
  • Create nut clusters (as shown in the picture) by using 2 teaspoons to make little balls and putting on a plate to cool.
  • You can store them in an airtight container up to 2 weeks - but they really won't last that long as they're very moreish!

* If your nuts aren't already toasted then you will need to cook them in medium frying pan over medium heat for 9 to 12 minutes until light golden brown. Transfer to a small bowl.

November 19, 2008

Chewy Cocoa Brownie Cupcakes

Brownie cupcake


With just one week left in San Francisco and lots of baking ingredients to use up, I was on the hunt for a recipe that could help empty the cupboards.

I had an almost full pack of Nestle Toll House Cocoa and on the back was this recipe. I was a bit dubious about making the brownies as I've never had much success in the past - they've always been either too dry or undercooked with no hope of salvation.

But these are an absolute winner! The top is slightly crisp and chewy and the inside is soft and moist.

The recipe called for a 13x9 inch baking pan (which will make 2 dozen brownies) but I didn't have this, so I made cupcakes instead. I used normal sized paper fairy-cake cases and put them in my silicone muffin pan.

They are quite deep, therefore I needed to cook them for the full 25 minutes. When I inserted the toothpick it came out very sticky, but as they cooled down they continued to cook with the residual heat and the end result was perfect.

  • Makes: about a dozen cupcakes
  • Oven temperature: Gas Mark 4/350°F/180°C
  • You will need: muffin/cake pan lined with paper cases*


  • 1 2/3 cups (330g/11.5oz) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks or 180g/6oz) butter or margarine, melted
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups (160g/5.5oz) all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (75g/2.5oz) Nestle Toll House baking cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (110g/4oz) chopped nuts (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/350°F/180°C
  2. Place paper cases in muffin tin.
  3. Combine sugar, butter and water in a large bowl. Stir in eggs and vanilla extract.
  4. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Stir into sugar mixture.
  5. Stir in nuts if using.
  6. Fill paper cases to the top, they don't rise that much so won't overflow.
  7. Bake for 18-25 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in the centre comes out slightly sticky.
  8. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

* Because I used a silicone pan which is really flexible but not very stable, I put it on a baking sheet when I put it in the oven (just thought this might affect the cooking so thought I'd mention it).

November 18, 2008

Mac 'n' cheese, chilli bake with butternut squash

Pasta bake


I had some leftover chili that Steve had cooked and some roasted butternut squash in the fridge and this is something I threw together. I wasn't going to blog it but Steve insisted it was so nice that I should write about it, so I've done my best to remember the quantities, but really it is a dish you can play around with. The roasted butternut squash on the top is really the concept we want to share as it's a surprisingly good addition because it adds so much natural sweetness.
Credit goes to Steve for the photo - I was too busy eating!

  • Serves: 2 generously
  • You will need: small but deep baking dish (I used a 9 x 5 x 3 inch silicone loaf pan)
  • 225g/8oz macaroni
  • About 1 cup leftover chilli
  • About 3/4 pint cheese sauce
  • About 1 cup of roasted butternut squash
  1. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 7/425°F/220°C.
  2. Cook macaroni until just al dente then drain well.
  3. Mix half of the cooked macaroni with the chilli and spoon into a baking dish.
  4. Mix the other half of the macaroni with the cheese sauce and spoon on top of the meaty pasta.
  5. Scatter the roasted butternut squash over the top.
  6. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until the cheese is slightly golden.

November 7, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Choc chip cookies


This is a recipe I got off the back of a bag of flour and they're pretty good cookies, especially straight out of the oven when they're soft and chewy and the chocolate is all melted and gooey!

  • Makes: about 18 cookies
  • You will need: Baking/cookie sheet, greased
  • Oven temperature: Gas Mark 5/375°F/190°C


  • 1/4 cup butter, softened*
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup All purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup (6oz) semisweet chocolate pieces


  1. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 5/375°F/190°C.
  2. Cream butter and both sugars.
  3. Add the egg and the vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.
  4. Sift/mix together flour, salt and baking soda. Stir into creamed mixture and blend well.
  5. Add the chocolate pieces and stir in by hand.
  6. Drop teaspoons of the mixture onto the baking sheet about 2 inches apart.
  7. Bake in oven for 10-12 minutes and remove from the sheet immediately so they stay soft.


At step 5 you can also add to the mixture:

  • 1 cup of peanuts
  • 1/2 cup of peanut butter (a little experiment and although the taste is a bit weird at first, they're still pretty yummy!)
* I have a confession to make: I got the quantity of butter for this recipe wrong and only used 1/4 cup instead of 1/2 cup, but I think the cookies still tasted great and it makes them healthier!

November 6, 2008

Rice Pilaf


This is Alton Brown's method for cooking rice pilaf and it's brilliant! The rice was perfectly cooked, each grain separated and fluffy.

He says you shouldn't use the 1:2 rice to water ratio as there will be too much water. So you will need to remember the following measures:
  • To serve 2 people = 1 cup rice = 1 1/2 cups water
  • To serve 4 people = 2 cups rice = 2 3/4 cups water
  • To serve 6 people = 3 cups rice = 3 1/2 cups water
I cooked 1 cup of rice and I can vouch that his ratio works. Next time I will cook 2 cups of rice as the result was so delicious that Steve wanted more!
'Pilaf' is the cooking method, so you can add whatever extra ingredients to this basic recipe. He recommends using long grain rice.

  • Serves: 2 
  • You will need: 1 medium saucepan with a tight fitting lid, 1 damp tea-towel*
  • Oven temperature: Gas Mark 4/350°F/180°C
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 1 cup rice (I used long grain jasmine rice)
  • 1 1/2 cups stock (I used chicken from a cube)
  1. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/350°F/180°C.
  2. Heat the oil and sweat the onion and garlic until softened over a low heat, don't allow to brown.
  3. Add the rice and gently fry until it smells 'nutty', about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the stock, stir once and bring to a boil.
  5. Cover the saucepan with the damp tea-towel (it must be damp otherwise you might set it on fire!) and clamp on the lid. Fold up the corners of the tea-towel over the lid so that it's not hanging loose.
  6. Put the saucepan in the preheated oven and cook for 15 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and leave for 10-15 minutes with the lid still on, as during this time the rice is still cooking and absorbing the liquid.
* The tea-towel will capture any condensation that forms on the lid and prevent it from dropping back into the rice. I was a bit worried about putting the tea-towel in the oven, but absolutely no harm came to it during the making of this recipe.

Thai Chook Pie (Chicken Curry)

Thai Chook Pie wide


We first had Thai Chook Pie at the Ben and Jerry's Sundae Festival from the Pieminister stall and instantly fell in love with it. This recipe isn't an exact replica as they use shortcrust pastry and I have only used the pastry to cover the filling (so it's more of a pot pie) but I think it's a pretty good version and makes a nice change from serving Thai curry with rice.

  • Serves: 4
  • You will need: 1 large frying pan, 4 pie dishes/oven proof bowls (or 1 large dish)
  • Oven temperature: Gas Mark 6/400°C/200°C


  • 2 Tbsp corn flour slaked with 2 Tbsp water
  • 4 chicken breast fillets, cut into 2cm cubes
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • A few mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 Tbsp Thai green curry paste
  • 400ml can coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • Squeeze of lime or lemon juice
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
  • Beaten egg or milk to glaze


  1. Season the cornflour paste with salt and pepper. Toss chicken pieces in the paste and leave to rest in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over high heat, then cook the chicken, in batches, for 5-6 minutes or until golden brown on all sides. Add the mushrooms and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the coconut cream, lime/lemon juice and sugar.
  4. Increase the heat and simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce is nice and thick. Allow to cool.
  5. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 6/400°C/200°C.
  6. Lay pastry out on a work surface and cut two 1cm wide strips from the sides of each sheet so you have 4 pastry strips.
  7. To create the pie tops, place one of the pie dishes upside down on the pastry sheets and use it as a template to cut out 4 circles, 1cm larger than the rim of the dish or bowl.
  8. Divide curry mixture between the pie dishes and sprinkle the frozen peas on top.
  9. Press a pastry strip around each rim and brush with water. Carefully place the pie tops over the filling and rim and press firmly around edges to seal well. Trim edges with a sharp knife.
  10. Brush pie tops with beaten egg or milk.
  11. Bake for 20 minutes or until puffed and golden.

November 1, 2008

Tsukune - Pork Balls on sticks

Pork Balls


I got the inspiration for this recipe by one of my favourite Japanese anime shows, Samurai Champloo, as the 3 main characters are always on the search for food and they seem to eat food on sticks a lot.

So a quick search on Google resulted in Tsukune. I have adapted a recipe I found to add more flavour, but the basic method for making them is the same. They are cooked in two stages but it really isn't that complicated.

I think these would be great on the BBQ as you can prepare and cook them up to step 5 and then finish them over the hot coals.

The original recipe bastes the pork balls with Yakitori sauce but that calls for 1 Tablespoon of Mirin and 5 Tablespoons of Sake, both of which I didn't have as they're quite expensive and I wouldn't be able to use them up during our time in SF. So I substituted the Mirin and Sake with Hoisin Sauce to invent my own sauce!

  • Makes: 12 Pork Balls
  • Cooking Method: grill/broiler or BBQ


For the Pork Balls:

  • 300g/11oz minced/ground pork (or you can use chicken or turkey)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp corn flour/starch
  • 6tbsp dried breadcrumbs (I used panko)
  • 1 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic, grated (optional)
  • The juice from 1 inch piece fresh grated ginger root


For "Poor Mandy's Yakitori Sauce"

  • 5 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch blended with 5ml/1 teaspoon water
  • 2 Tablespoons Hoisin Sauce

Directions for the Sauce:

  1. In a small pan, mix all the ingredients for the "yakitori sauce", except for the cornstarch liquid. Bring to a gentle boil then reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes or until the sauce has slightly reduced. Add the cornstarch liquid and stir until the sauce is thick.

Directions for the Pork Balls:

  1. Soak 4 bamboo skewers in water for a few hours.
  2. Put all the ingredients the pork balls in a medium bowl and mix until well combined. (You can use a food processor if you have it).
  3. Wet your hands and scoop about a tablespoonful of the mixture into your palm and shape it into a small ball about the size of a golf ball. Make all 12 balls.
  4. Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil. Add the pork balls and boil for about 7 minutes or until the colour of the meat changes and the balls float to the surface.
  5. Remove the balls from the pan and drain well on kitchen paper.
  6. Toss the pork balls in a little bit of oil - this will help them brown.
  7. Thread 3 balls on each skewer and cook under a medium grill/broiler or on a barbecue, keeping the skewer hands away from the fire. Turn them every few minutes until they are evenly browned.
  8. Brush with sauce and return to the heat.
  9. Repeat the brushing process twice, turning the balls to coat evenly so that the sauce caramelises.

NO BAMBOO STICKS? Don't worry, you can just put your balls on a baking sheet and cook under the grill, turning them often and basting with the sauce.

I served the Pork Balls with stir-fried spaghetti with mixed vegetables. My Dad often uses spaghetti/pasta instead of noodles and I think it makes a nice alternative/substitute:

Blanch some broccoli and drain. Saute 1/2 onion and some sliced mushrooms in a large pan. Add thinly sliced carrots and cook for a couple of minutes then add the broccoli. Add enough cooked spaghetti for 2 people and stir-fry for a few minutes. Add about 4 tablespoons of oyster sauce and make sure everything is nicely coated.

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