Thursday, January 27, 2011

If at all possible, try and have a South African mother

Yesterday The Fabulous Man and I had our third wedding anniversary. Great, isn't it? Sometimes I can't believe time is going by so quickly, and at other times it feels as if we've been together forever. It's true what they say: The married life is indeed the good life. We decided that for our anniversary we wanted to go to the Australian Open, the Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne each year. We got tickets, the Little Girl was dropped off at her aussie grandmother's house for the day, and we caught the train into the city (just the train bit for me was an outing - I'm a cheap date these days).

And this is where we got to see this man:

Image found here

Roger Federer is my all time favourite tennis player. He is friendly, has a great sense of humour, a beautiful wife and twin girls, and, of course, a South African mother. Did you know that? And, I'm sure you'll agree with me, it's obviously these South African genes of him which doesn't only make him an all round great guy, but also one of the greatest tennis players of all times. Yesterday he played against his fellow countryman Stanislas Wawrinka, aka Stan the Man, aka Cheese Boy (as dubbed by the slightly tipsy girl sitting behind us, damn that delicious bubbly pink moscato), and it was an experience. One of the great things about mr. Federer is how easy he makes it all look. To my (admittedly untrained) eyes, it seemed as if he was out there just hitting a few balls, trying out a couple of shots, while poor Cheese Boy was running around like a mad thing trying to get to the ball. I felt really sorry for him. It's a pity, because I really liked the look of him in the earlier rounds, and I also like supporting the underdog. Unless the underdog is playing Roger Federer. Then he's on his own.

I can back up my South African mother theory by looking at my Little Girl. This girl has the same sense of humour, friendly nature and staying power than mr. Federer. In fact, I'd like to challenge him to try and keep up with her running around and climbing onto anything and everything all day long. He might be the world's best tennis player (that Nadal guy is just an imposter, if you ask me), but I think he'll meet his match with her.

Now, suppose you are in the unfortunate position of not having a South African mother. Let me tell you what to do. You go into your kitchen and make these wickedly delicious espresso brownies. The recipe is based on the one from the lovely Nigella Lawson (who I believe doesn't have a South African mother either, so you see, all is not lost). They will unfortunately not change your mother's nationality, but they will cause such a massive endorphin rush throughout your body that you won't even care. I know, I'm friendly like that. You can thank me later.

I decided to put an espresso spin on the classic brownie, and I did that in two ways. Firstly, you add some chocolate covered coffee beans (I made my own), and secondly you make an espresso "sludge" by boiling down some freshly made sweetened espresso to a very thick glaze, and add this as well. I'm sure I don't need to tell you how good this is, and I'm also sure that I don't need to tell you not to give this to children, unless you want said children to run around like little Roger Federers. Of course, if your child is half South African, or even full South African, may God give you strength, then you don't need espresso brownies to get them to run around like maniacs. But at least they will be very, very friendly little maniacs.

I am sending this recipe to the fabulous new event, Forever Nigella, hosted by the lovely Sarah from Maison Cupcake. The current theme is "Seduced by Chocolate", and I think these brownies are worthy little contenders.

Espresso Brownies
Makes about 20

375g + 100g dark chocolate
1/2 cup of your favourite coffee beans
3 tablespoons ground espresso beans
2 tablespoons brown sugar
500ml boiling water
375g unsalted butter
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
500g caster sugar
225g all purpose flour

To make your chocolate coated coffee beans: Melt the 100g of dark chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, or in the microwave oven if you're feeling brave. Mix in the coffee beans, and spread it out on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper to cool. Chop them up roughly. You want little crunchy coffee bits, not massive hunks.

Make a strong espresso with the ground coffee and the boiling water. Add the brown sugar and stir. Pour the coffee into a small saucepan, and boil over high heat until you're left with a thick coffee sludge barely covering the bottom of the saucepan. Let it cool while you get on with the rest of the recipe.

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Butter and line a 33 x 23 x 5 cm brownie tin.

Melt the butter and the remaining chocolate together in a big saucepan. Let it cool for about 5 minutes. Mix the eggs, sugar and vanilla in a bowl. Mix in with the chocolate mixture, then add the coffee sludge, flour and salt, and mix until smooth. Finally add the chocolate covered coffee beans, plus any leftover chocolate left on the baking sheet, and mix just until combined.

Pour the mixture into your prepared tin, and bake for 25-35 minutes. Cool in the tin.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Of dogs and children.

Weekend to me used to mean sleeping late. The Fabulous Man and I, in our pre-Little Girl days, used to wake up around 9, have a cup of tea, a bit of a chat, and then what we called our morning sleep, until about noon. Those were what people fondly call "the good old days". When we got our puppies, we even trained them to sleep late on weekends, and I was very much impressed with our efforts. One of my friends had a theory that if you can raise a dog, you can raise a child, and I looked forward to having a baby who will sleep until 10 on weekends. Of course, said friend is childless still today, and I'm looking forward to one day discussing this theory with her in detail.

As you know, I have a Little Girl, one who does not sleep until 10 on weekends. Occasionally she sleeps until 9, but only if she refuses to go to sleep until 10 the previous night, and I don't necessarily call that a success. So, out of necessity, these days weekend to me mean breakfast. And if I'm going to be up early, it might as well be a nice breakfast. Our repertoire includes bacon and eggs, french toast, omelettes, eggs a la flamenca. Occasionally we make some sort of crumpet or pancake, and it's under this category which my blueberry cornmeal pancakes fall. I originally found them on the Martha Stewart web while I looked for a recipe to use up some leftover maple syrup I had. The reason I fell in love with it is it inclusion of polenta. A staple in South Africa is what we call pap, or porridge, made with white maize meal, and it's eaten with milk and sugar, sometimes butter, for breakfast, or as a side with your meal, usually the South African farmer's sausage. This nod to my homeland appealed to my nostalgic side, and I whipped some up the other morning.

Of course they were fabulous, and with a good shot of anti-oxidants with the inclusion of the blueberries. Initially I thought they're perfect for the Little Girl, as she got into the habit of eating blueberries straight from the freezer. Except she picked them meticulously from the pancake and threw them on the floor, as you do, before eating the rest of the pancake. Now, if she was a puppy, such naughty behaviour would earn her a squirt from the water bottle, except I have a feeling that's not the done thing with children.

Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes
Serves 4
Recipe from Martha Stewart

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup whole milk
50g unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for the pan
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 cups blueberries (I used frozen, which was fine)

maple syrup for serving
Whisk together flour, cornmeal, 2 tablespoons sugar, the baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk, milk, butter, and egg. Whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined (mixture will be lumpy).

 Heat a large pan over medium heat. Melt some butter to cover the bottom of your frying pan. Spoon about 1/3 cup of batter into the pan at a time. Sprinkle with blueberries, about 2 tablespoons per pancake. Sprinkle the blueberries with a little bit of sugar if you want. I didn't follow this step, and I thought the pancakes were sweet enough without it. Cook until edges are set, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip, and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes more. Repeat with remaining batter and blueberries, adding more butter to the pan and keeping prepared pancakes warm. Serve with the maple syrup, or your condiment of choice.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nutty Chocolate Chip Cookies

It's been more than a week now that I've written about Molly's Chocolate Cake. I've been at a bit of a loss since then, to be honest, because what on earth do you cook after a heavenly cake like that without being disappointed? It's like walking on the moon, or climbing Everest (both feats I am yet to accomplish, in case you wondered) - doesn't everything you do afterwards seem like a bit of an anticlimax? The pasta I cooked was blah, ditto for the chicken. There will forever be in my life a BMCC, and an AMCC (before- and after Molly's Chocolate Cake, respectively). Things that I would previously have been pretty pleased with, now just seem adequate.

I tried to psyche myself up: "Move on, Adele, for goodness sake! It's just a bloody cake!" Or something along those lines. Also, I get hungry on a regular basis, and a girl cannot live on chocolate cake alone. Sad, but true. So I found some cashew nut butter in the pantry left over from my mum's visit, and decided to make cookies. As you do. I was forced to add some chopped up chocolate. Did I mention I have about 3kg of chocolate in my pantry to work through? No? It's a combination of a planned dessert for Christmas which never got made (Christmas Pudding Chocolate Truffles, I'll see you end of the year), a gigantic box of Toblerone bought duty-free by The Fabulous Man, and several other chocolate gifts leftover from the festive season. It will be irresponsible to just let it go off, as I'm sure you'll agree.

I came across this fabulous recipe for flourless almond butter cookies on  Tasty Eats at Home, which I promptly decided would be my comeback cookie. Unfortunately I didn't have enough cashew butter, so I just used natural crunchy peanut butter to make up the difference. To be completely honest, there was quite a bit more peanut butter than cashew butter, so much so that I can't honestly say I tasted any cashews at all in the final result. I'll make this again some time with only cashew butter to see what it tastes like. But it was great as is, and I fell into a familiar habit of eating three cookies still hot from the oven. Delicous. Peanut butter and chocolate are after all one of the classic combinations of life.

So, I'm moving on. MCC will always be a regular in my baking repertoire, but I'm looking forward to finding my next Everest. Or moon. Whichever blows your hair back.

Nutty Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen

1 cup of cashew and/or peanut butter (combined amount)
1 cup soft brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Mix all the ingredients together.

Roll tablespoonfulls of the dough into balls, and flatten slightly. Allow enough room for spreading.

Bake for 8 -10 minutes, until golden brown.

Cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Easy, isn't it? Enjoy.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Molly's Chocolate Cake

Jeanne from Cookisister posted the loveliest poem on her blog the other day. Please go there and read it quickly. Are you back? Isn't it lovely? We all know that feeling of suddently catching sight of yourself in an unexpected moment. Unfortunately the last time it happened to me was not that great. I saw a picture of myself taken at Christmas, and I was absolutely shocked about the amount of weight I've put on. I blame the fact that we don't have a full-lenghth mirror in our new house. Of course I noticed my jeans not fitting quite as well as they should, but I haven't actually realised how fat I look. Must be all those Christmas Cookies I made and sampled. And ate. So I did what any reasonable person in my situation would do - I made a chocolate cake and ate half of it before it was even properly cooled down.

But it was so worth it. It was after all the recipe from the lovely Molly Wizenberg from the lovely Orangette, whose book A Homemade Life was the January choice for the lovely book club I'm lucky enough to be part of. (I agree, enough with the "lovely"s, but that's what this cake does to you, I swear). What a great book. I enjoyed absolutely every letter of it. Every chapter, every story, every recipe. Orangette is one of the blogs I read from the first post for three days straight until the last when I found it. Her blog has so much character and warmth, and this book only added depth and more background. I loved reading about her childhood, her time in Paris, her memories of her dad, and getting to know the lovely Brandon a little better.

And oh, the recipes. How lovely are the recipes. My favourite thing about a new book these days  is deciding what to cook after reading it. Usually I make up my mind pretty early on. Not with A Homemade Life. Everything sounded so delicious, I changed my mind every few pages. Banana bread with chocolate and crystallized ginger. No, coeurs a la creme with raspberry puree. No, chocolate cupcakes. No, Hooser Pie. Anyway, halfway through the book I realised I'll just have to start from the beginning and work my way through to the end.

Then the book fell into the bath. I love reading in the bath late at night (multifunctioning, you see), and in an unguarded moment the book fell into the water. It was soaked. And, I'm sorry to say, this is not the first book it happened to. You'd think I'd learn my lesson, but no. Still reading in the bath. So I had to race through the last few (wet) pages before it dried out and became impossible to read. I left it open at the last recipe when I finished, just in case I couldn't open the book again without tearing the pages. And the recipe happened to be this one for chocolate cake.

Now, taking the risk of sounding cras, I just want to say that this cake is bloody awesome. Actually, cake is a term applied pretty loosely here. I'm not sure that any recipe calling for a huge amount of chocolate, ditto for the butter, eggs, lots of sugar, and a single tablespoon of flour could technically be called a cake. Not that I mind. "Chocolate" and "too rich" are not words I ever use in the same sentence. I couldn't wait for this cake to come out of the oven. The smell was pure chocolate - dark and rich and smokey. And the sight of all that gooey, wobbly chocolate was more than I could take. Like I mentioned before, it was halfway gone soon after coming out of the pan. This was actually intended for dinner that night with my family-in-law, and I can't tell you how relieved I was when there was only one other taker. So much more for me. In fact, I had to force myself to take a picture of at least the last slice so that I have something to show you, before eating it straight from the plate with my fingers. Sorry about that.

So, the diet starts tomorrow. I'm thinking I'll have to stop sampling recipes from this book at least until I've lost a few centimetres, because I'm absolutely sure they'll all turn out this lovely. Just like the blog and it's author.

Molly's Chocolate Cake
Serves 1, or around 8 if you're more restrained than I am

200g bittersweet chocolate, chopped
200g unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granualted sugar
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Whipped cream, to serve (I never got round to this, but I'm sure it's delicious)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, and butter a 20cm round cake tin. Line the botton of the pan with baking paper, and butter the paper too.

Slowly heat the chocolate and butter in a bowl over simmering water until melted, stirring until smooth. Add the sugar and stir well to incorporate. Set the batter aside to cool for 5 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. Add the flour and stir well until incorporated. The mixture will be dark and sily (yes, indeed, it will)

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin, and bake for about 25 minutes. The top will be lightly cracked, but edges puffed, and the centre of the cake will look set, but wobble ever so slightly when you jiggle the pan.

Let the cake cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn it out onto a serving plate. (you will need two plates to flip it over on).

Supposedly this cake is even better after frozen, and the lovely miss Molly suggests you freeze it for at least 24 hours, then defrost before serving. If you have the self-discipline to do this, you're a better man than I am. It's pretty bloody good straight away. And then about half and hour later. And then 2 hours later for dessert. And the last bit the next morning for breakfast. Try not to make it when there's other people in the house - they might just want a piece.