Pumpkin cake – an idea for Thanksgiving

Are we the luckiest creatures on the planet? Us, humans? Mum?

I didn’t see it coming. How could I? Just a few minutes earlier his greatest concern was the flavour of the cough sirup. Although the pharmacist claimed that there is no alcohol in it I still blame the cough sirup! After I consoled myself, I asked a question back – which is the mighty weapon when you need one. “Why do you think we humans, could be the luckiest ones?”

“Because if we need water we just turn the tap on and if we need any food we go to the market. It’s not the same for animals, they have to find water and hunt for food…So, do you think we are the luckiest creatures on the planet? Mum?”

I don’t have all the answers, sometimes I am not even close to the answer but I know one thing – we are certainly lucky enough to be able to produce things and make ourselves and others happy. We are lucky to have each other in our lives and for that we should be thankful! Which brings me to the subject of this post.

I did a little research and I found out that Thanksgiving comes to Canada first! I also consulted my husband’s family (the part that live in Canada), to confirm that pumpkin pie is the dessert for that occasion. I was all set for the project. But while I was organising my thoughts on pumpkin pie, this cake was coming back to me over and over again. One learns very fast that ignoring a food urge makes no sense at all. It will find its way to the kitchen and our dinner table anyway! Therefore one should embrace new ideas and go for it.

So, this is not going to be a post about a pumpkin pie. That post will need to wait some other Thanksgiving still to come. Instead we are indulging ourselves with this gorgeous pumpkin cake. I have to say the inspiration came from this carrot cake I made some time ago. I simply love that cake batter and I knew it’d go nicely with pumpkin.

I wonder if we can count this as an Thanksgiving treat? If not, well it is simple a treat, no reason needed.

Pumpkin cake

6 eggs

250 gr sugar

250 ml vegetable oil

300 gr plain flour

120 gr oats

80 gr raisins

1 1/2 teaspoon aluminium free baking powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 vanilla pod

1 teaspoon ginger powder

1 teaspoon cardamom powder

For the icing:

200 gr butter (room temperature)

500 gr cream cheese

200 gr icing sugar

zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon cardamom (optional)

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and line with baking paper three 6″ round baking tins.

Separate egg yolk from egg whites. Whisk egg yolks with sugar for a few minutes until the batter beomes light and fluffy. Reduce the speed of mixer and add oil slowly to it.

Mix the flours with the sea salt and baking powder. Fold into the egg mixture.

Grate pumpkin and add to the flour and egg mixture. Scrape vanilla pod and add to the mixture (or use 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste). Chop raisins and add them to the flour mix as well. Mix until all is combined.

In a separate bowl mix egg whites (with a pinch of salt) until soft peaks form and add to the cake batter,  stirring gently with spatula.

Separate cake batter into three portions (just over 500 gr each). Pour into the baking tins and bake all three cakes at the same time for 40-45 minutes.

Leave on the cooling rack until is cooled completely before assembling.

For the icing, you need to whisk soft butter with icing sugar for 3-4 minutes. Add creme cheese, lemon zest, cardamom if using and whisk until it’s very creamy.

Assembling the cake:

This cake bakes nice and evenly but just in case you need to trim the cake so it’s level, do it before adding frosting.

Place one of the three cakes on the cake plate. Add one full spoon of the frosting and spread with a spatula evenly. Place the second cake on the top and do the same with the frosting. On the third cake add twice the amount of the frosting and spread evenly. Frost the whole cake with the rest of the icing. Decorate the way you like. Enjoy!

Spicy Cauliflower Soup and Pear and Almond Clafoutis

The first creamy soup I ever made, was a cauliflower soup. The reason I remember it is because this soup was included in our new healthy diet I wrote about some time ago. Many things were new and exciting but this particular one stayed with us until current days. It was just a matter of making myself writing down the recipe, as it’s so easy to cook by adding things into a pot and not measuring the ingredients. It is an easy recipe to make and rather seductive in its taste so my guess is that it might become one of your favourite soups.

I don’t really like to use much dairy to achieve a creamy structure of a soup. I had to look for a different option. Imagine my joy when I realised that it is possible to make a creamy soup without adding full cream milk. I was over the moon with happiness! If you are one of those you will love it too! Just a tablespoon of  butter makes a whole difference to this soup – plus a lot of whizzing. It needs to be very smooth!

Another important note – the amount of chillies used for this soup is almost scary, but it’s necessary, so don’t avoid it. It goes nicely with the creamy cauliflower and most importantly it’ll make you laugh a lot while eating and afterwards! At least that’s our experience, and it never fails. On both a very cold, or a very hot day, I promise, you would benefit from eating this soup.

To find out more about cauliflower benefits, visit well-beingsecrets.com.

Cauliflower soup

1 cauliflower

1 onion

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

3 small chilli peppers

1 clove garlic

2 stick celery

200 ml water

1 tablespoon of  butter

To prep – wash and chop cauliflower. Peal and dice onion and garlic. Wash and dice celery.

In a large size pot add olive oil and once it’s heated add onion, garlic and diced chilli peppers. Cook and stir for two minutes, then add celery. Cook all together for another 2 minutes and add cauliflower. Pour in water and add salt and pepper.

Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until cauliflower is cooked. At the very end, add butter and stir until it’s all melted.

Leave it to cool down a little before transferring to the blender. Blend the soup until it is very smooth and creamy. I added micro coriander and some chilies before serving but that’s optional.

The famous French treat was just recently seriously considered as one of the leaders in our family’s world of desserts. Its name is – Clafoutis!

I remember the first one I ever made was with cherries. It’s kind of traditional one and as far as little google research goes, we are to use the whole cherries, with pits, in order to achieve an extra flavour.

While I am waiting for the cherry season to share that recipe, I’ve decided to go with pear and almond Clafoutis. It became so popular that I might never get to make a post about the cherry one, we might stick just to pear and almond Clafoutis. Then again, who am I kidding, a recipe not to be tested and posted – impossible! Stay tuned and enjoy pear and almond Clafoutis while pears are in season.

Pear and almond Clafoutis 

3 eggs

220 ml milk

150 gr sugar

80 gr plain flour

1/2 teaspoon almond essence

50 gr almond flakes

30 gr butter for greasing the baking tin

2 pears

Pre heat the oven to 180C. Grease a baking tin with butter.

Peal and slice pears.

Mix the eggs with sugar. Add the flour and mix well to loose any crumbles. Gradually pour in the milk and at the end add almond essence.

Pour 1/2 of the batter into the baking tin previously greased with butter. Arrange pears and pour the rest of the batter on top.

Sprinkle with the almond flakes and bake at 180C for 45-50 minutes or until golden. Dust with powdered sugar before serving. Can be served hot or cold. Enjoy!

Tomatoes stuffed with ground beef and prosciutto

This dish brings back childhood memories as my mother makes the best stuffed veggies (her favourite are stuffed capsicums) in the whole wide world. There is a tiny secret that makes most of her dishes special. She likes to add bacon, pancetta or prosciutto to all her stuffed veggies, and with a good quality of any of those we always end up with a marvellous dinner. Nothing lifts a dish to a masterpiece as good, cured and preferably smoked piece of bacon!

Now that I’ve presented cured meat as a main achiever in this dish I wonder if there is a point in listing other ingredients at all. But there is! This particular dish wouldn’t be as delightful as it is without good and ripe tomatoes. The smell of fresh tomatoes will reflect in your dish so use the best you can find – always! The good quality mozzarella is another of my favourite parts of this dish. Creamy straight from the oven and almost crunchy just after a few minutes outside of the oven makes it an extra treat. Sprinkle of chopped spring onions brings the freshness to the whole idea of a vegetable dish and we all love it! Hope you will too.

Beef and prosciutto stuffed tomatoes

12 tomatoes

1 diced onion

2 diced small carrot

2 diced stalk celery

500 gr grass fed ground beef

50 gr prosciutto

1 fresh bay leaf

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

1 teaspoon good quality balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 pieces of mozzarella

3 tablespoons of grated parmesan

2 spring onions finely chopped

Slice the tops of tomatoes and set aside. Scoop out tomato flesh with a small spoon and keep it aside.

Chop prosciutto to approximately 1×1 cm pieces.

Sauté the onion, carrot and celery with bay leaf for a few minutes. Add the meat and stir until it is almost cooked. Pour in tomato flesh and cook on a low temperature until liquid is reduced. Add the balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and leave it to cool down for a few minutes.

Arrange tomatoes, cut side up, in an olive oil greased baking dish. Stuff meat mixture into tomatoes. Place tops on tomatoes and top up with small pieces of mozzarella. Grate parmesan on top and bake at 180C for 45 minutes. Sprinkle with spring onions before serving.

The three berries sorbet, a summer treat in the middle of a winter

This morning I have an hour just for myself! The young one needs a haircut and his father is about to take him to a barber shop. That is never an easy job. The seven year old doesn’t understand the point of cutting his hair as it will grow back again and that makes him unhappy. He is a child who embraces logic so I tease him by saying that if he doesn’t cut his hair it’ll grow so long, maybe down to his feet and he won’t be able to do anything, including making a new lego building. I assume that the fact that he had to stop playing with lego blocks in order to go to the barber shop is what made him unhappy in the first place. He looks at me and his eyes are saying, “Mum your imagination is beyond me,” but he goes to the barber’s giving up his logic as deep down he knows a haircut is much needed.

Now I am sitting on my sofa in front of a large window, looking at the blue sky and the rays shining through the Christmas tree on our balcony. If I look long enough at that bright sky and those fluffy white clouds would I be able to feel summer in the middle of winter? The picture is tricky as it looks so real, and if I didn’t have an extra layer of clothing on me and the window in front of me closed to stop the cold from coming in, I would easily believe my eyes. I guess life combines imagination and reality all the time, but at the same time it gives us a chance to choose the preference.

On this particular morning it is hard to decide, so I choose to take an illogical action to make a sorbet in the middle of winter, purely in order to bring a dash of summer to our table. The three berries sorbet and its wonderful taste and glorious colour will make us smile as I am smiling right now looking at those fluffy clouds. And it’ll certainly ease the irrational circle of “growing hair – barber shop visits”.

Making sorbet is one of the easiest tasks in the kitchen, and I am not just saying this! The beauty is that you get a delightfully refreshing treat. The only trick is to have the right amount of the three ingredients: fruit, water and sugar. The right balance of water and sugar in particular is the key to a successful sorbet! If there is more water than we need, the sorbet will become crystallised and not smooth, and if we don’t have enough sugar the same will happen.

As much as we like using seasonal produce, this is tricky in itself as in a country as big as Australia there is alway a season for certain fruits or vegetables and it’s only a matter of day or two to ship them across the country. Strawberries and raspberries are not in season in Victoria, but you can find them in Queensland and maybe WA. The ones that are hard to find even when in season are blackberries, so I used the frozen ones, as we all really like them. It worked fine.

Three berries sorbet

300 g strawberries

300 g raspberries

100 g blackberries (I used frozen ones )

200 ml water

200 g sugar

juice of 1 lemon

Pour water into a saucepan, add the sugar and keep on a low heat until the sugar dissolves.

Blend all the fruits into the blender, add lemon juice and dissolved sugar into it. Once all is combined transfer into a container that can go in the freezer.

Leave it in the freezer for at least 4 hours before serving.

Cured Ocean Trout with lemon creme fraiche and coriander

We produce, serve and eat. We share as often as possible but most of the time it’s just us, the family of three conquering a dinner table. Because of that, updating this blog just with sweets as much as we love them, was starting to be too sweet for all of us. So occasionally I am going for the other option like this one for example. A treat for sure and a mighty one! Cured ocean trout!

I believe that most of the time our productivity depends on either how keen we are to do something or how trained or informed on the subject we are. That applies to producing food as well. If one is not well informed or lacks in technique, but is keen to do it, they can do it, for sure. I thought that this technique would be a daunting one until I found the courage to do it. Now I am thinking how I should never let my fear stand between me and any task in the future. My mission is accomplished, let me know – how did you go?

What you need for this job is a bit of patience to start with, a good piece of ocean trout, some spices and herbs. Also the a good baguette and creme fraiche for serving and if you add a glass of wine to it you are well off for a great brunch or lunch. Over time I’ve tried a different versions and the one I am sharing today is my most favourite one.

Cured Ocean Trout with lemon creme fraiche and coriander

500 gr ocean trout

200 gr sugar

200 gr salt

1 star anise

3 coriander seeds

2 whole black pepper

1/4 bunch of coriander

For serving:

1 baguette

100 ml creme fraiche

zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon capers

1 shallot – sliced thinly

coriander for decoration

Clean and wash the piece of ocean trout. Dry with a cloth to remove any extra water.

Grind the spices in a mortal and pestle. Mix the salt and sugar, add the spices and mix all until combined.

Place clear wrap on the working bench (it needs to be long enough to wrap the whole piece of fish) and cover the middle of the glad wrap with half of the sugar and salt mixture. Place the fish on it and sprinkle lemon zest and coriander on the top. Pour the other half of the sugar and salt mixture on the top and wrap tightly with clear wrap. You need to do it three times, so the fish is nicely tucked in the sugar and salt mixture. The first layer will be the hardest one to wrap, but you’ll have to manage somehow if you want to finish the job. On the second layer it’s easier to tighten the clear wrap around the ocean trout, which is necessary if you want the fish to be cured. Thus it’s very important that trout is also equally covered with sugar and salt mixture.

Leave in the fridge for 48 hours but you have to turn it over after 24 hours so it’s cured evenly.

When it’s done take it from the fridge and wash thoroughly. Dry with the clean kitchen towel and place in an airtight container, whole or sliced. You can keep it in the fridge for several days.

Add lemon zest to creme fraiche and stir until all lemon zest is nicely incorporated into the creme fraiche.

To assemble: spread creme fraiche on a slice of the baguette. Place one thin piece of ocean trout on the top and sprinkle capers, shallots and coriander.

I say nothing can beat that colour to start with but the taste – well you have to try it yourself!

Buckwheat tart with kale, Duch carrots and chèvre

Do you know when to use the terms as “tart”, “quiche” or “pie”. Do you find it confusing? They all represent the same dish just with tiny differences. With “tart” you have to be precise if it is sweet or savoury, because it could be either. “Quiche” is always savoury so you are safe there. “Pie” could also be equally confusing as “tart” so make sure to name it properly. When you add a flan or galette to the list, phew, it is so confusing that you really want to go to the basic and use the name as you need it.

A savoury tart with kale and a few more vegetables and of course a goat’s cheese would be a precise name for this one. I emphasise the goat’s cheese as for me a savoury tart alway goes with it. I am afraid my love for this cheese makes me less creative but I promise that any new ideas will be shared here as soon as they come along.

When I make a tart or quiche base I use a simple ratio method of 2 portions of flour, 1 portion of butter and liquid (quite often just water) to bind it. To the savoury tarts I add various herbs, fresh or dry. To the sweet versions besides just a bit of sugar, I add preferable spices. The rest is a creative process of adding different fillings and that’s up to you and your preferences.

I used kale, red onion, Dutch carrots and chèvre for this one. Although all the ingredients in this tart are quite powerful, just recently I was introduced to the site that tells you more about superfood like kale and I would like to share it with you.

Buckwheat tart with kale, Duch carrots and chèvre

200 g buckwheat flour

100 g rice flour

150 g butter

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

4 tablespoons water

For the filling:

1 bunch kale

1 red onion

1 bunch Dutch carrots

4 eggs

150 g ricotta

80 ml greek yoghurt

30 g  grated parmesan cheese plus 1 tablespoon

1 teaspoon sea salt

100 g chèvre

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a tart tin (20 cm round shape) a with removable base. If  using one without the removable base then line the tart tin with baking paper so it’s easier to remove the tart once baked.

In a medium size bowl mix the flours, salt and add butter chopped into very small cubes. Crumble the butter with fingers until is the size of peas. Add egg, water and and kneed the dough just until all is mixed and smooth. Leave in an airtight container in the fridge for an hour to rest.

In the meantime make the filling. Peal and slice the onion. Wash kale and remove the stems. Chop coarsely. Place large pot on the stove add olive oil and sauté onions for three minutes. Add kale and salt, stir and cover with lid. Leave on a low heat for another minute or until kale changes colour into a bright green. Take off the the stove and remove the lid to slow down the cooking process.

Wash carrots using a sponge, carefully removing all the soil or dust. Remove the green parts.

In a medium size bowl mix eggs, add salt, ricotta, parmesan and yoghurt and stir until all combined.

Take the dough out of the fridge and roll between two sheets of baking paper into a round shape, 5 cm in diameter bigger than the size of the tart tin. Transfer the tart base into the tart tin. Arrange, trim and crimp the edges. Prick the bottom of the tart base with a fork and leave it in the freezer for another half an hour.

Once tart base is well chilled take it out of the freezer, line with baking paper, fill with beans and bake for solid 20 minutes.

Take the tart base out of the oven and fill with onion and kale mixture. Pour the eggs and cheeses mixture on the top.

Arrange Dutch carrots on the top, pressing them gently into the filling. Grate parmesan on top and bake for  40 minutes or until carrots are baked.

Sprinkle with chèvre just before serving.

Lamington cake

My first visit to Australia was a very short one. It happened almost unintentionally as Sydney airport was the last stop on our way to New Zealand. We landed at 5am. The first thing I noticed was the heavy rain outside. Somehow I didn’t expect that! The picture of Australia I imagined had nothing to do with the reality I could see through the windows. Also, I guess after being high in the air for so many hours we expected the same light to meet us on the ground. Certainly not heavy rain!

My thoughts switched very quickly to my immediate needs as after a very long and emotionally difficult flight all we needed was a cup of coffee and a quiet place to enjoy it. It was quiet at the airport, that’s for sure! Hard to see a living soul if I want to be precise, not to mention a coffee or any kind of treat. All the coffee shops were closed and all the treats one could see were behind the windows of display fridges. That was a sad picture. All I could think was: “Is this how things are on this side of the world?” It makes me feel sad just thinking about it, even now. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect much from visiting an airport but visiting Australia for the first time I thought even airports would be more exciting. At least that’s how I saw things back then. (In our defence, we were very young).

Sometimes we see the world through different eyes. Sometimes things might look sad, and other times happy but that still might not be the real picture. So I’ll tell you about my first real visit to Sydney.

Just a few years later I had a chance to visit Sydney in a much happier mood to start with. The fact that our trip was to happen just after celebrating the new millennium in New Zealand attributed to the whole happy arrangement. Still happy from a glass or two of wine and most importantly for surviving the biggest threat mankind experienced, the millennium bug and all other unnamed bugs, we headed for another new experience. An Australia Day to celebrate in Sydney and I dare to say – the most glamorous city in Australia. How exciting!

Needless to say those days were as nothing we experienced before especially when it comes to watching the fireworks, eating the lamingtons and coping with the rain! Unexpectedly and far from our expectations, on that magnificent day it rained almost throughout the whole day and when it didn’t it was so humid that we wished for the rain to start again. We needed an excuse for hiding within the plastic raincoats we had to invest in on the spot (and I am never ever to show that picture of me in a raincoat of an undefined blue colour standing on an open field covered with wheat hay).

But I have to tell you that the fireworks around Darling Harbour were magnificent! And the lamingtons, well I still do remember those. These are their reincarnation. Beautiful, moist and festive. Enjoy!

Lamington cake

I used my favourite sponge cake, enriched with olive oil. Olive oil will give the cake an extra flavour as well as a different texture. This way the lamington base is thicker or sturdier if you like to see it that way.

110 g plain flour

145 g sugar

1/2 teaspoon aluminium free baking powder

3 eggs

100 ml milk

130 ml olive oil

150 g strawberry jam (I used this jam)

For cocoa icing:

120 g cocoa powder

220 g powdered sugar

50 ml warm water (or more if needed)

200 g desiccated coconut, to coat

Pre heat the oven to 180C. Grease a baking tin on the sides (I used 22cm round cake tin) or line it with baking paper.

Separate the eggs and whisk egg whites. Whisk for about 3-4 minutes or until they reach soft peak.

In a separate bowl sift flour, add baking powder and stir.

Whisk egg yolks with hand whisker add milk and good quality olive oil as this will affect the taste of the cake. Add flour to it and mix until you get smooth and thick batter. Add egg whites while gently string with spatula. Try not to brake the fluffiness.

Pour the batter into the baking tin and bake for 25 minutes. Check the cake with a cake tester before taking out of the oven.

Leave on the cooling rack to cool completely.

Slice the cake horizontally in half  and spread one half with the jam. Top with the other half and leave it to set (I left in in the fridge overnight).

To make the cocoa icing you need to sift the cocoa and the icing sugar into the bowl. Add hot water just to combine, melt and mix all ingredients. My suggestion is not to make it too runny.

Spread desiccated coconut onto a baking sheet.

Cut the cake into 12 slices. Dip each into the cocoa icing and leave for minute or two on the cooling rack for the extra cocoa liquid to drain. It is less messy that way.

Roll each slice of the cake in the desiccated coconut and leave on the cooling rack to dry before placing into cake box.

Chocolate chip hot cross buns

One of the best parts of being a parent to me is the opportunity to exercise the brain cells and watch the learning curve grow every single day. I am not referring to the child’s learning curve here but ours, the parents’. I learn from my child every day! Most of the time something rather simple, and other times something amazing, but I equally enjoy the benefit of both. My favourite example of a simple and an ordinary hint would be our hot cross bun discovery a few weeks ago. I didn’t take these little treats seriously until my son pointed that way.

On one of our cruises through the city and bookstores/ice-cream shops days, which are nicely aligned,  with long  working hours, so a rather late afternoon stroll is possible, we decided to add a cherry on top by visiting a bakery as well. The choice fell on the chocolate chip hot cross bun, straight after the chocolate ice-cream, but on some days we have more fun than usual. The mother (me), decided to skip this treat but the son insisted I have a bite at least, as he (lucky for me) likes to share his experiences with me. One bite was enough to realise what I was missing all those years and needless to say – hot cross buns are on our menu from now on.

When I started thinking about the recipe the first thing that crossed my mind was this beautiful and unforgettable post about hot cross buns (just as all the others on the same blog) followed by a recipe, and my decision was made even before I had a chance to think any further.

I started with regular hot cross buns (as “one learns from scratch” is my motto) but the family was quite indifferent to them so I changed the recipe over to chocolate chip hot cross buns. I have to adjust the recipe to our needs and include the chocolate almost every time, and this time was no exception. Not that I am complaining, but honestly, the mother (me), needs to start a detox as soon as possible.
Chocolate chip hot cross buns

225 milk

50 gr butter

450 gr 00 flour

50 gr sugar

2 teaspoons dry yeast

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

zest of 1 lemon

150 gr dark chocolate chips

For the syrup:

20 ml water

100 raw sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 rind of lemon

For the crosses:

2 tablespoons plain flour

1 tablespoon cocoa

1 tablespoon water

 

Melt the butter in a pot with the milk on a very low heat. Leave aside to cool or to speed the process place it in the fridge until it is cooled to room temperature. If the milk is too hot it’ll kill the yeast, if it’s too cold it’ll slow down the rising of the dough so room temperature is the best option.

Mix the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, cinnamon and ginger powder using a stand mixer.

Whisk the egg lightly, add zest of one lemon and pour into the cooled milk and butter mixture.

Fold wet ingredients into the bowl with dry ingredients and start the mixer using kneed option. Work on the dough for 3 minutes, add chocolate bits and continue for another 3 minutes. I find this new stand mixer technique so easy and rewording that I am becoming a huge fan of the stand mixer era.

Cover the bowl with clear wrap and leave the dough to rise for just over an hour or until is doubled.

In the mean time make the flour paste for crosses by mixing all the ingredients, adding water only if needed. The paste needs to be thick but workable.

To make the syrup – place sugar, water, lemon and cinnamon on a low heat and cook until sugar dissolves and water becomes syrupy and golden in colour, at the same time being careful not to burn it.

Divide dough into 12 equal size pieces and arrange them onto a baking tray. Make the crosses using a piping bag and leave them to rise for another 25-30 minutes or until they double in size again.

Bake for 15-20 minutes on 200C or until golden brown.

Brush the buns with syrup (which is cooled down by now) after you take them out of the oven, sprinkle little raw sugar on them and leave them just a few minutes to cool down before your first bite!

Carob cake

Many years ago we moved to New Zealand, looking for new and bright adventures. A new start included everything being new to us. New country to explore, new people to meet, new jobs to start, and new life experiences! Perfect you would say! Except, there was one thing quite old and ruined in this perfect new world of ours, and that was the first house we decided to buy. The house we laid our yes on was neglected and unloved but we were young and enthusiastic back then and thus we thought it should be ours! We thought to fix it and live happily in it for many years to come.

We started with a rather impressive group of builders, but once some walls were removed, French door opened and bathroom and kitchen nicely done, we thought that it was a good time for us to move in! We knew that the walls needed to be done, and a few more jobs on top of that, but thought that we could do it! And we did! The house looked magnificent, at least to us, but peeling five layers of wall paper and a few other jobs were more than we could handle. After just a few weeks of living in the unfinished house we experienced such changes with our health that I had no other choice but to react the only way I knew – we changed our diet completely! All delicatessens and as you can imagine a lot of processed food was thrown in the bin and a new batch of greens (fresh and organic), found its way to our kitchen. So at least we had  healthy food on the menu every day and long walks along the beach (in-between house needing to be finished).

Now when I think about it, I am partially thankful to that experience as eating well is always a good choice. At the same time we could have done without the stress of poisoning our bodies I guess. As I said in the beginning of this story, being young and enthusiastic…can do more damage than good sometimes.

It took us almost a year to finish renovating the house. We lived another two years in it before moving across the world –  again.

While learning about healthy choices, by reading, talking to practitioners and friends, I came across carob as a new ingredient. I loved it from the very start and as carob was another way of having chocolate (that is how I saw it) I had to come up with a cake recipe. At this time we didn’t have a strong network of bloggers and finding recipes was sometimes a struggle. One would rely on books or, if you were lucky as I was, a dear friend could give you a recipe that you would adore. It stayed all these years in my recipe book, waiting for this moment to shine! It’s a wonderfully moist and comforting cake. Carob has magical ways to make you feel healthy and at the same time to be part of this sweet and delicious cake. It’s a Mediterranean tree and although it grows mostly along the Adriatic sea (I am referring to my background otherwise you’ll find carob in many other countries) if you go for a walk in one of Belgrade’s park called Topcider you will be pleasantly surprised by many carob trees! The park ground is literally covered with carob legumes at the  beginning of May, which is also a spring season.

According to some previous knowledge and recent google research – carob is rich with proteins, magnesium, calcium, iron and a whole list of vitamins like, A,B, B2, B3 and D. It found its way to the medicine as well, so as I told you – healthy and sweet. It has 40% of sugar! So let’s get back to the cake!

Carob cake

200 gr unsalted butter at room temperature

250 gr sugar

3 eggs at room temperature

100 ml milk at room temperature

200 gr oat flour

50 gr plain flour

100 gr carob powder

1 teaspoon vanilla paste

pinch of sea salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

100 gr jam of your choice for filling (I used strawberry jam as this is the most popular in our household, plus I believe that it’s matches this cake perfectly).

 

Whisk the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (hand or stand mixer will do the same job). In a different bowl whisk lightly the eggs and add milk into it. Reduce the speed on your mixer while adding the egg and milk mixture. Once all is well combined add carob and on the end add flours and baking powder, spoon by spoon. Keep the speed of your mixer on low. Mix just until combined and poor into a lined 6″ baking tin.

Bake on 180C for an hour or until done (sometimes I find that I need more time to bake this cake, additional 10 minutes or so). Use the cake tester to make sure the cake is done.

Cool the cake on a cooling rack before cutting in two layers. Spread the jam onto the first layer and cover with the second layer. I never keep this cake in a fridge (but it can be done). It just changes taste a bit and I prefer when it’s nice and soft and on room temperature. The good thing in our case is that it never last for too long so room temperature is ok. Dust with icing sugar and slice into thin pieces as it is a very rich cake.

Like delights in like and peculiar thumbprints

A few years ago, I believe it was about New Year’s time, one of our friends a practical and a well organised woman, made a statement regarding the presents. She implied that she liked handmade, unique, artistic and above all beautiful plates and all other bits and bobs that could come along. It was a pure, simple and clear statement, which made our lives much easier regarding any future present for her. Since then I’ve been truly enjoying buying presents for her as I too love the same bits and bobs and nothing gives me more pleasure. Strangely enough it never occurred to me that I might become a recipient of such beautiful presents myself, which brings us to the million dollar question – How do you see yourself (or how do other people see you)? What is it that you like and what is it that other people think you like? A totally different kind of theme, I know, but if one wants to make a connection between a plate, a cookie and a friendship – one can right?

If I started with “similis simili gaudet” that should have explained everything about the above few lines. But let’s not made just an explanatory short version today, let’s add – a beautiful plate found a beautiful Russian tea cookie and they made a perfect connection. This is obviously a statement for the food blog.

On a different subject, regarding a different theme blog, I’d say – a beautiful plate travelled trough Europe and Asia and patiently waited in airbnb apartments and hotel rooms for weeks and weeks just to land in my kitchen. Because a dear friend found another friend, and a dear friend recognised another friend’s needs, and nothing could stop her, not even the fragility of a tiny plate and the zillion miles between the two destinations to make a friend smile… So the story pretty much goes this way – they lived happily ever after indulging themselves with small and precious presents from time to time; And that is unique, artistic and above all the most beautiful present a person can get. A friend!

Lets not forget the gorgeous Russian tea cookies nicely placed on an equally gorgeous handmade plate.

Walnut thumbprints with pink filling

300 gr flour

50 gr ground walnuts

1 teaspoon sea salt

250 gr powdered sugar

230 gr butter

zest of 1 lemon

2 cherries (I used frozen)

 

Beat butter with 120 gr of  sugar in a stand mixer until pale and fluffy.

(Hand mixer will equally do the trick it’s just that I recently got a present and I have to say I love it. You guessed – it’s a new stand mixer! The very first one in my life. Until now I thought that stand mixers were overrated and I always followed my mother’s easy and simple approach to baking which included a hand mixer, a wooden spoon, and lots of mixing by hand. I am not abandoning that at all but I am gladly adding stand mixer to the lot).

Add flour (previously mixed with salt) and reduce the speed on your mixer so it combines nice and slowly. Add walnuts and lemon zest at the end.

Take the bowl, cover it with clear wrap and leave it in the fridge to rest for an hour.

Once ready take it out of the fridge and roll into 22 gr (if you are as precise as I like to be) or just roll into similar sizes balls. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper, making sure there is enough room in between and bake for 10 minutes on 170C. Take the tray out of the oven and press each cookie with a wooden spoon in the middle to make the desired shape. Bake again for another 15min or until golden brown.

Once baked, leave them for 5 minute or more to cool down before transferring them onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

In the meantime make pink filling by mixing the rest of the powdered sugar with one spoon of lemon juice and one frozen cherry, and then decide if you need to adjust the thickness of the filling by adding more sugar or the colour by adding another cherry. Using a teaspoon fill in every cookie with nice pink filling.

Recipe inspired by Martha’s Stewart pink lemonade thumbprints.