Monday, February 21, 2011

Sticky Toffee Cupcakes with Fleur de Sel Caramel – fall for them!

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There is something about the whole Gym thing that makes me think of battery farming. I much prefer free-range exercise, particularly as I am fortunate enough to live in one of Ireland’s most beautiful counties.
Sticky Toffee Cupcakes - I've fallen for them! 
Free-range exercise offers a dilemma of its own - which route to choose? Which view will be more spectacular today?
The lakes are a no-brainer on a frosty morning when a mist sits just above the surface of the water giving the scene a dreamy Camelot-like quality.  The forest has its own charms, and is full of interesting wild life. If I take my mountain bike there I am quite likely to spot a stag; or a doe with its fawn; or on a really good day, a rare red kite.
My beloved will happily hike with me but refuses to take his mountain bike out. There was that unfortunate incident when his rear wheel slipped off a narrow path and his bike came to a dead stop. Making a brave attempt to balance, he wrestled with the uncooperative contraption for a long moment ... before toppling head-over-heels into a ditch.
Luckily he had a soft landing. Unluckily, it was an evil-smelling liquid mud that was the exact colour and texture of warm caramel sauce. Once I established that only his pride was injured I cried with laughter at the bedraggled sight. I still cannot eat this sticky toffee dessert without snickering at the memory!
Ahem! Anyway, it is light and sticky. It is sweet with little hits of salt in the caramel. Good vanilla ice cream completes the picture. Resign yourself to second helpings.

Did I mention it is also extremely versatile? Swap the dates for some of that left-over christmas mincemeat and a teaspoon of grated orange peel and ditch the salt in the sauce for 4 tablespoons of Grand Marnier liqueur. Magic!
For 12 cupcakes you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 160°C

200g ready-to-eat dried dates, quartered
100mls tea
1 tablespoon treacle (or molasses)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

110g butter
175g dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
250g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine table salt

It's a date!
1          Place the dates, tea and treacle (or molasses) in a saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, until the dates have absorbed most of the liquid. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and the bicarbonate of soda (which will fizz alarmingly but helps make the cake light and fluffy). Leave to cool.
2          While the dates are cooling, line a 12-hole muffin tin with muffin cases.
3          Cream together the butter and sugar until paler in colour and fluffy – an electric mixer/beaters is best for this. Meanwhile in a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt.
4          Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions, and alternating with a tablespoonful of the flour mixture. When the egg has been combined, add the rest of the flour mixture and beat until just combined.
5          Add the cooled dates - they don’t have to be completely cold – and mix until just combined.
6          Divide the mixture between the 12 muffin cases and transfer to the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes until well risen and cooked through. A toothpick inserted in the centre should come out clean. If any mixture adheres, bake for a further 5 minutes and test again.
7          When cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Ooooooh yeaaaaah!
To make the fleur de sel caramel sauce you will need...
... to exercise caution – boiling sugar is very, very hot

180g caster sugar
1 teaspoon white malt vinegar
75g butter, cut into walnut-sized pieces
150mls pouring cream
½ teaspoon fleur de sel salt (or other large crystal salt)

1                   Place the sugar and vinegar in a medium saucepan over a medium heat. After 3 minutes or so, the sugar will start to become liquid. Stir until all the crystals have melted into an amber-coloured syrup.
2                   Add the butter and stir until melted - the mixture will bubble vigorously but will soon subside. Remove from the heat then add the cream and stir until smooth. Finally, stir in the fleur de sel salt. Allow the sauce to cool a little before transferring to a sterilised jar.
Le Salt

To serve, remove the cupcakes from their papers. Warm the cakes and the caramel sauce. Dust the cakes with icing sugar and add a generous puddle of caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.

The first sticky toffee cupcakes of the year, with the first daffodils.
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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Meet Some Stylish Bloggers

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Manu of Manu's Menu is a newly-minted and well-deserved Stylish Blogger. Having received this great accolade, Manu gets to confer 10 other Stylish Bloggers with the award.

I’m delighted that Alchemy was among the recipients. This badge of honour brings with it a number of responsibilities...
I too get to a) select 10 stylish bloggers, inform them and link to them; and b) I must divulge 7 things about myself.
I made my selection based on the passion and enthusiasm these bloggers have for food; their mouth-watering photos; and the fact that I am entertained every time I read their posts and often learn something new. I hope they will delight and entertain you too.
They are, in no particular order...
·          Koci at La Kocinera -
‘The Culinary Adventures of a Quirky College Student’

·          Kimberly at Kimba’s Kitchen -
‘Asian flavours with an Aussie twist’

·          Natasha at Five Star Foodie -
‘Culinary Adventures’

·          michelangelo in the kitchen -
‘Artful Food Styling’

·          Anca and Gerard at Bistro Gerard -
‘Healthy Recipe Journal, (randomly) edited by Jerry the Parrot’

·          Tiffany at Como Water -
‘Simple, delicious, and sometimes decadent vegan and vegetarian cuisine’

·          Kim at Liv Life -
‘Our attempts at living life to its fullest through food, photography, and travel!’

·          Zerrin at Give Recipe -
‘Enjoy Turkish Dishes!’

·          Bromography -
‘Discoveries of New York Foodies!’

·          Brandon at Kitchen Konfidence -
‘Inspiration for the Home Cook’

Ok, 7 things about myself...
·          I don’t know who to vote for in the general election next week. Today, I spotted posters for two interesting candidates: Cow Pat, the lavender cow “can she make a bigger mess?” and Willy Cockalorum, “ruffling feathers”.

·          When I was 12, I auditioned for the part of Clara in Dublin City Ballet’s The Nutcracker Suite. I was partly successful, landing the dual roles of dancing bonbon, and cook.

·          I can live without email and internet – but not for very long.

·          I won a holiday to California – my tastebuds have very fond memories of that State.

·          When I am not writing recipes, I write short stories (everyone in Ireland does!)

·          An earthquake wouldn’t disturb me once I have my nose in a good book.

·          I don’t have a sweet tooth... unless there are nice things in the cupboard – things that are WTC - at which time I discover a temporary sweet tooth...

...which reminds me there is still half a jar of caramel sauce and a lonesome sticky toffee cupcake to deal with.
About to get into a sticky situation...

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Honey Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger Crème Fraiche – stirring stuff!

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I have a complete mental block when it comes to buttons on kitchen appliances. My particular downfalls are my electric beaters and my stick blender. When using either, I manage to successfully carry out the task I had in mind – whip cream for example, or blend soup. Easy enough! Job done!

Honey Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger Crème Fraiche

It’s the next bit I find tricky. I switch off the appliance and go to eject the beaters/blade but for some strange reason I am unable to carry out this simple step. Instead, I lift the appliance out of whatever mixture I have been working with – still dripping with cream/soup etc and ... switch... the... damn... thing... back... ON!
At this point, about a tablespoon of cream/soup is dispersed around the kitchen at a centrifugal force of OH MY GOD!!! Have you any idea how much kitchen/person a tablespoonful of liquid will cover? Worse, each droplet has a spinning trajectory which means that it will not only COVER every surface within a 10 foot radius, but it will actually get BEHIND stuff too.
I only ever make this mistake when I have just finished my makeup and blow-dried my hair and guests are about to arrive.
This evening I am taking no chances. My husband is on soup-blending duty and the ginger crème fraiche only requires stirring. Athough...there is still the cream to whip for the cherry profiteroles. After a glass of wine that will be tempting fate. Oh dear - fingers crossed!
Honey I Roasted the Squash!

For 8 servings you will need...
1 butternut squash weighing about 1.2kg
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 carrots, peeled and halved
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon runny honey
6 fat cloves of garlic, unpeeled

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion (think tennis ball-sized), finely chopped
2 sticks celery, peeled and finely chopped
1.5 L vegetable or chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 180°C
1                    Cut the butternut squash into quarters lengthways and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Cut each wedge of squash into half across the middle. Place in a shallow roasting tray with the olive oil. Get your hands in there and anoint each piece of squash with the oil until liberally coated and glistening. Sprinkle with fresh thyme and a little salt and black pepper. Place in the oven for 10 minutes.
2                    After 10 minutes, remove from the oven and add the carrots. Sprinkle the squash with balsamic vinegar and drizzle with honey, making sure each wedge gets a little bit of honey sweetness. Place the tray back in the oven and continue cooking for a further 25 minutes, adding the unpeeled garlic 10 minutes into this cooking time. When the squash is cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool for about 5 minutes.
3                    Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a gentle heat. Add the onion and celery and cook gently without colouring until the onions are soft and translucent - about 5 minutes.
4                     Chop the roasted carrots and add to the saucepan. Remove the skin from the butternut squash before adding to the saucepan. Squeeze the garlic cloves gently until the skin bursts then add the soft garlic pulp to the saucepan. Finally add the stock. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat. Cover and simmer gently for about 15 minutes, then blend. A stick blender is perfect for this job.
Ginger Crème Fraiche - stirred, not shaken!

For the ginger crème fraiche you will need...
6 tablespoons crème fraiche
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

Simply stir the two together and chill until needed.
Just before serving, swirl a little of the ginger cream into the soup.
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