Mushroom tartlets

The start to 2020 has been…well…not as we had expected it to be.

There were the fires, the loss of the family farm and our camper-trailer,  and the lingering smoke haze. Then there was the freak hail storm that left my car looking like a golf ball, caterers that pulled out the day before my husband’s birthday party and a mobile cool room who’s compressor decided to blow – meaning it was more of a “hot box” than a cool room.

But here we are. More than half way through February and things are starting to look up. My car was finally assessed as a ‘write off’ (no surprises there) , and I found a replacement car with low kms that I’m hoping pick up next week. The insurance claim for the camper is also in its final stages, and I’m pleased to report that my husband’s birthday went off without any more hitches and a great time was had by all!

So its’s time to get back in the kitchen and get a little creative. Making dishes that I wouldn’t normally make, and trying some new flavours and ingredients. For it’s no secret that the kitchen has always been my happy place.

When I looked back at my photos, I was reminded of one such afternoon in the kitchen – baking. On the menu were these lovely little mushroom tartlets, that we served as an appetiser when we had guests over for dinner.

Mushrooms, cooked in a creamy sauce that was laden with sherry, and served in crispy puff pastry. They were actually quite simple to prepare, from memory, and were a nice alternative to the cheese plate or charcuterie board that we normally serve as a starter.

I think they’d be lovely for lunch too, served with a green salad. I could probably even sneak them into the kids’ lunchboxes, although I’d probably omit the sherry.

So here’s to a 2020 that is filled more with baking and creating, than dealing with insurance companies!

Print Recipe
Mushroom tartlets
Course Appetiser
Servings
tartlets
Ingredients
Course Appetiser
Servings
tartlets
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 180C and grease a 12-hole muffin pan.
  2. Cut puff pastry into 10cm rounds and press into the prepared tin. Prick the bases with a fork. Place some baking paper in each and fill with pastry weights. Bake for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove weights and baking paper and continue to bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.
  4. To make the filling - heat butter in a large frypan and sauté until golden. Add the sherry and allow to evaporate. Add the cream and lemon juice and simmer until the mixture had reduced slightly. Remove from heat and stir through egg yolks. Season to taste.
  5. Spoon the warm filling into the pastry cases, and bake for a further 5 minutes. Serve.
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Black Forest Chocolate Ripple Cake

Having been a child in the 80s/90s, there are so many things that I look back on with fondness.

I remember watching the Goonies or the Never Ending Story when we caught up with our family friends. Having ridden to their house on our bikes – with our stack-hats on, of course, and with our bikes decorated with spokey dokes.

Weekends we’d be up early to watch Rage, watched while we simultaneously ate our breakfast and read the cereal box. After morning sport, my brother and I would ride to the local milk bar to buy a Bubble O’Bill or a packet of skittles (a ruse, I later realised, for it was my Mum’s way of getting us out of the house so she could catch up on housework without children underfoot).

I remember making mixed tapes for long car trips – where the Bangles and Boys 2 Men featured heavily. Countless books were read – the Babysitters Club, Nancy Drew and Choose your own Adventures being my favourites. Our birthday parties were held at McDonalds – with their famous icecream cakes – while “special” family dinners saw us indulge at the all-you-can eat Buffet at Sizzler – where I always made the mistake of filling up on their cheesy toast first.

As for food – I perhaps look back on this era more with nostalgia, than fondness. French onion dip was in strong supply, as was the cabana / cubed cheese combination skewered onto toothpicks and served in an orange. We had Kraft macaroni cheese probably too often, and a Vienetta for dessert was always a welcomed treat.

And then there was the ol’ chocolate ripple cake that my Mum would create on special occasions. Biscuits sandwiched with whipped cream, topped with a crushed up flake or some fresh strawberries.

So perhaps I was feeling a little nostalgic when I decided to create my own version of the ripple cake for last year’s Father’s Day lunch. Jazzed up with cherry liqueur and topped with cherries, strawberries and mint, this version had all the hallmarks of black forest cake with minimal fuss.

I flavoured whipped cream with a little cherry liqueur, along with some cocoa powder. I dipped chocolate ripple biscuits in the liqueur too, before sandwiching them together with the flavoured cream to create a log. I then covered the cake with more cream, and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours before decorating.

Maraschino cherries, sliced strawberries and fresh mint completed the cake, along with a drizzle of melted chocolate and some crushed flake. Then it was back into the fridge until it was time to serve.

The cream softened the biscuits beautifully, turning them from crunchy biscuits into a no-bake cake. Resulting in a dessert that was most certainly fuss-free to pull together, but still rather impressive.

And what a delicious trip down memory lane indeed! Now, where’s the cabana….

Pretzels with roasted garlic and mustard butter

If you have been following this blog for a while now, it would be quite obvious that I lean towards dishes that are easy and quick to prepare. It wasn’t always that way, however, particularly in the now quite distant “BK (Before Kids) Era” when I most certainly had more time on my hands.

Not that I realised it at the time.

But every now and then I get an itch to try something new in the kitchen. Be it a dish I haven’t made before, or to use an ingredient that I haven’t yet tried. When we decided on a German theme for our (not so) recent Fathers Day Linner, memories of walking the streets of Munich with a soft pretzel in hand came flooding back. Another BK Era experience, but one I knew I had to re-create (the pretzel part, at least ) even knowing that it would require a good amount of time.

I found this recipe – which was perfect inspiration and just what I was hoping to create. I started by making a dough, and after leaving it to prove for an hour, divided the dough into 8 portions. Each portion was then rolled into a log, and twisted into the all too familiar pretzel shape.

After resting for another 30 minutes, I simmered the pretzels in water / brown sugar / bicarb soda, until they had started to puff.

After a quick drain, it was time to bake! Before popping the pretzels into the oven, I brushed the tops with a little egg  wash and sprinkle with sea salt flakes.  After 12 minutes in a hot oven, they had turned a gorgeous golden brown.

As for the roasted garlic and mustard butter, well this was definitely the simplest part. I roasted the unpeeled garlic cloves (drizzled with a little oil and enclosed in foil for 20 minutes. Then, when cool enough to handle, I squeezed the garlic from the skin, and added it to softened butter with a good amount of seeded mustard.

When it was time to serve, it was just a matter of plating  the pretzels with a bowl of the butter alongside for our family to help themselves. I was thrilled with the finished product – the pretzels were light and fluffy, and worked beautifully with the garlic  mustard butter. They were a nice alternative to the usual bread or bread roll side  (and not to mention a fantastic trip down memory lane!)

You can find the recipe here.

Stay tuned over the coming weeks for some of the other German-inspired dishes we served!

Choc Mint Layer Cake

I do find it interesting to watch the girls’ palettes evolve as the years pass by.

Miss J used to love bananas and blueberries – but now finds both quite offensive. Her current food preference includes savoury crunchy foods, such as celery, carrots and cucumber, and although she loves chocolate (only plain chocolate)  she wouldn’t dream of trying lollies or sweets or juice.

Miss M, on the other hand, has a clear predilection to sweet foods. So much so that I have no doubt she would eat sugary foods all day long if I’d let her. Thankfully she also loves vegetables and yoghurt. Lots of yoghurt.

Then there is Miss C –  who is far more adventurous than her little sisters when it comes to food. She enjoys a variety of both savoury and sweet foods, with prawn dumplings, avocado, mango and pineapple pizza featuring at the top of her favourite foods list at the moment.

And, as I found out during a recent trip to the cinema, chocolate mint is her first pick when it comes to ice-cream flavours.

So when I asked her what sort of cake we should make for her Aunty’s birthday a little while ago,  I was in no way surprised when “choc mint” was her resounding response.

Being a little short on time, we decided to do a cake hack – thanks to some store-bought mudcakes from Woolies. We did, however, make our own mint-laced buttercream along with a dark chocolate “drip”.

True to form, Miss J and Miss M kept sneaking pieces of the chocolate I had set aside to create the drip, while Miss C was only too happy to lick the bowl after we whipped up the batch of vibrant minty buttercream.

When it was time to decorate – it was all hands on deck – with various mint treats being pushed and placed into position atop the cake. We used aero bars, mint choc balls, malteasers and mint slice, with extra buttercream piped on top and a sprinkle of peppermint crisp.

And while the finished product was not entirely “perfect”, we soon had before us an impressive birthday cake in all its minty glory!  A little over the top in appearance – but relatively simple from a flavour perspective.

Not to mention being actually quite easy to pull together. Assuming that the kids don’t steal all the chocolate decorations during the construction process, that is!

Farmyard Cupcake Toppers

Working with fondant is far from my strong point when it comes to baking. But I have, over the years, being trying to improve my skills, which admittedly remain very basic.

When we settled on a Farmyard theme for Miss M’s recent birthday party, I decided to carry over the theme for a batch of cupcakes she would be taking to daycare. And while I was initially tempted to purchase the toppers (there are so many great cake decorators out there!) I figured that perhaps it was a good opportunity to work on my fondant skills.

Armed with fondant of various colours, – along with edible glue, eyes  and 3 little helpers who were more than eager to assist – we got to work.

First – the pigs!

I rolled out some pink fondant, then cut four large circles for the faces, four smaller circles for the nose, and four more circles that I cut in half and shaped into ears. Glued together with the edible glue, and finished with the pre-made edible eyes…

Next up – the chickens!

I rolled out yellow fondant, and cut four large circles for the bodies, and four small circles that were then cut in half to make the wings. I used red fondant cut into small triangles for the beaks, and again, edible eyes.

And finally, the cows!

These were probably the most fiddly. I used four circles of white fondant for the faces, four smaller pink circles for the noses, then shaped smaller black circles (again, cut in half) for the ears and the “spots”.

After a few hours of construction, we had ourselves some farmyard cupcake toppers! I let them sit out (uncovered) overnight, so that they could firm up a little, then attached them to cupcakes with a swirl of buttercream. And thanks to a cardboard cupcake box (purchased from Latorta), we were able to easily transfer them to daycare for the kids to enjoy!

I was so happy with how they turned out – and can’t wait to try my hand at another theme sometime soon! Using pre-coloured fondant (as opposed to colouring my own) was probably not the cheapest option, but it definitely saved me a bit of time – not to mention avoiding the inevitable staining of hands…

Strawberry Cheesecake

I don’t tend to bake sweet treats much these days. Not because I don’t enjoy it (I really do!) – its just that I generally crave savoury snacks over sweet – particularly when the weather is warmer. But now that the days are getting shorter, and t-shirts are being replaced with snuggly knits and scarves – there is something quite comforting about indulging in something sweet.

This strawberry cheesecake made an appearance at our Easter lunch. Actually it was one of two cakes we made for the occasion (the other being a tim tam cheesecake). I loved its simplicity – and the fact that the beautiful strawberries were the star of the show. It was also a non-baked version – so we could pull it together the day before.

I used shortbread for the base – flavoured with a little coconut. The creamy filling was made with cream cheese, cream, sweetened condensed milk and, of course, fresh strawberries. Jazzed up with a little fresh lime juice and zest.

The overall result was a cheesecake that was effortlessly delicious. Packed with flavour (and had me going back for seconds in the days that followed). A nice break from the chocolate overload over Easter too!

Print Recipe
Strawberry Cheesecake
Course Baking
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Baking
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Grease and line a springform baking tin.
  2. Process biscuits and coconut until they are a fine crumb. Add the melted butter, and process until combined. Press into the prepared tin, and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  3. Add the cream cheese and condensed milk to a clean food processor, and process until smooth. Add 400g of the strawberries and cream, and continue to process until smooth.
  4. Heat the lime juice in a small saucepan until simmering. Squeeze the water out of the gelatine leaves, and add to the heated juice. Stir until dissolved, then allow to cool slightly.
  5. Add the gelatine mix to the processor, along with the lime zest, and process until combined. Carefully pour the mixture on top of the base, and refrigerate until set.
  6. Remove the cake from the tin, and top with extra strawberries to serve.
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Savoury cheese and ham muffins

Why is it always the case that during the school week I have to (sometimes literally) drag the kids out of bed, yet on Sunday – when we can all sleep in – they are up at 5.30am and ready to start the day!?

Yes, as I lay in bed this morning, enjoying what I thought was going to be a little extra snooze time, the all-to-familiar call came through the monitor. Followed by a  little patter of feet down the hall. No amount of coaxing could get the girls back to bed, so that was it – our day officially started.

We played games, we ate breakfast (and second breakfast), we read stories, we more than likely annoyed the neighbours when we took the fun outside (sorry), and we even did a little baking.  And all before 9.00am.

On the menu? Savoury muffins – made with only 6 ingredients.

Flour, grated cheese, ham, milk, egg and olive oil. Kept very simple on this occasion as I plan to use them in the kids’ lunch boxes this week (and anything ‘green’ or ‘unusual’ is likely to be met with disdain at the moment).

While I measured the ingredients, the girls had fun stirring them and dividing them amongst the cases. Into the oven for 20 minutes, and we soon had ourselves a tasty morning tea.

I love the simplicity of this recipe – but it could easily be jazzed up for more adventurous palates. Some fresh herbs, sundried tomatoes or zucchini would be lovely, or even some olives if you had some on hand.

Oh and the littlest one, in particular,  wasted no time in sampling our efforts!





Print Recipe


Savoury cheese and ham muffins

Course Baking
Cuisine Baking
Keyword muffin

Servings
muffins


Ingredients

Course Baking
Cuisine Baking
Keyword muffin

Servings
muffins


Ingredients


Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 200C and line a muffin tray with paper cases.

  2. Place the sifted flour, 3/4 of the cheese and the ham in a large bowl. Stir to combine.

  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg and olive oil.

  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir until just combined. Spoon into the prepared cases and top with the remaining cheese.

  5. Bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through.


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ANZAC mango cheesecake

In what can only be described as a momentary lapse in judgment, I decided to do our weekly grocery shop with three kids in tow today. You see, I normally do my weekly shop online. Items are ordered from the comfort of home, they arrive the following day and are delivered literally to my kitchen bench. How easy it that!?

I’m not really sure why I decided to ignore my weekly ritual today.  I did tell myself that it might be nice to do a little aisle wander, see what was on special and what new items had arrived on the shelves. How naïve was I!

For what actually ensued was 3 bored kids who argued and moaned the moment we selected a trolley,  and were well and truly over the whole experience before we even got through aisle 1. It also meant that way too many treats snuck their way into the trolley – and the bill at the end was much more than I would ordinarily spend.

One saving grace was the lovely mangoes we picked up – at a price indicative that the warmer months are coming. And they quickly reminded me of this lovely little cheesecake we made a while back for our Father’s Day linner.

With ANZAC biscuits as the base, this no-bake cheesecake was jazzed up with a jelly layer and topped with fresh mango and passionfruit. I followed this recipe , substituting the lime jelly for mango jelly, and foregoing the mint leaves (only because I didn’t have any on hand).

The result was a beautifully tropical dessert that was pretty easy to pull together – and that could be made a day in advance.

But yes, in case there is any doubt, I will be going back to my regular online grocery order from next week…

Lemon Meringue Pavlova Celebration Cake

I was walking through the shops with the family the other day, pacing ahead as I normally do. The kids were dawdling behind, as was my husband, all of whom are quite happy just meandering along.

But this is not all that unusual, for I do tend to operate at ‘hyper’ speed these days. My morning is spent running from one end of the house to the other, picking up clothes and toys, moving washing into the drier (then inevitably putting another load into the washer). Dishes are put away, lunch boxes are packed and school bags (often literally) thrown into the boot of the car. And that’s all before we leave at 7.30am.

And while this approach is mostly productive, it is tiring. It also means that I often start one task only to be distracted by another, as the seemingly never-ending ‘to do’ list swirls around my head.

So I am trying to find time to slow things down, when I can. My morning walk helps, even if it means rugging up and bracing the frigid temperatures outside in the dark.

Baking also helps. For it is pretty impossible to speed up – unless you want to end up with a bit of a kitchen disaster on your hands!

And this pretty little cake that I made a while ago certainly could not be rushed. It was my husband’s birthday – and knowing he loves both lemon cheesecake and pavlova – it felt like the perfect opportunity to create something new to mark the occasion.

I started by making a pavlova base – baked in a round cake tin until firm (but still a little marshmalloey) on the inside. Once cooled, this was topped with a layer of lemon cheesecake, through which I swirled lemon curd. Baked again – until set – then allowed to cool.

Then it was time to decorate. Fresh raspberries, blueberries and cream, finished with a white chocolate decoration and a couple macarons I came across at the local bakery.

Yes, this was certainly not a cake that could be rushed – and the various elements meant that it took the better part of an entire afternoon to create. But it was fun to design, and to create, and I must say slowing down for a few hours was rather lovely too.

Spinach and ricotta ‘sausage’ rolls

After realising that I can be a bit of a frozen puff-pastry hoarder, I’ve been looking for ways to make sure we use up the packets before they are lost in the depths of our chest freezer. Sausage rolls, in the traditional sense, have been baked in abundance for this reason, and are definitely a ‘go to’ for parties and entertaining. As are my favourite savoury scrolls – which are always a great lunchbox addition.

So when I was looking for a vegetarian dish to contribute to our recent Good Friday lunch, and also a way to finish off the half pack of puff pastry I had in the freezer, these lovely little spinach and ricotta rolls came to be.

Filled with the goodness of spinach, and jazzed up with both ricotta and feta – this vegetarian take on the ol’ sausage roll proved rather delicious. And they will now feature on my ‘bring a plate’ favourites list for sure!

Print Recipe
Spinach and ricotta 'sausage' rolls
Course Baking
Cuisine Vegetarian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings
rolls
Ingredients
Course Baking
Cuisine Vegetarian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings
rolls
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 200C and line 2 trays with baking paper.
  2. Squeeze as much liquid out of the spinach as you can, then place in a large bowl with the ricotta, feta, egg and lemon zest. Stir to combine, and season.
  3. Cut each pastry sheet in half. Place 1/4 of the spinach mixture down the long side of each sheet. Brush the opposite side with egg, and roll to enclose.
  4. Cut each roll into 6 pieces, and place onto the lined baking trays. Brush the tops with a little more egg, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.
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