February 25, 2012

Salted brownie with cashews

Last year I mastered the art of the red velvet cake. I feel I have made enough to do them in my sleep. I've made red velvet layer cakes that blew peoples minds, turned them into cupcakes, mini cupcakes and even got asked if I'd make a few wedding cakes. In my mind, I have mastered the red velvet cake and that pleases me no end.

This year I have been playing around with chocolate, to be more specific a classic fudge brownie.
While visiting in Chicago this January I noticed salted caramel was all the rage, so when I saw a tub of it in WholeFoods I picked up a tub to see what all the fuss was about. YUM! Bite size pieces of caramel coated in chocolate and then sprinkled with flaked salt. I'd eat one...then two, you can see the pattern I'm sure.

Salty sweet is one of my favourite combinations, however, I knew I didn't want to whip up a batch of caramels on a regular basis so I thought about putting the chocolate and salt combo together in something that is a popular sweet treat and that is how I came up with a brownie.

I first tried my idea out using salted pistachio nuts.

I have to tell you that this is the only photo I took because it got gobbled up faster than I could snap a pic! The smell drove me wild while baking, I had my neighbour over for dinner the night I made it and she went back for seconds while sipping a glass of red (perfect partnering!).

A few weeks later (I mean let's face it, if you bake chocolate brownie you eat it and there is only so much chocolate I want in the house due to my lack of self control!) I found a bag of unopened raw cashews in the cupboard and decided to give them a go with my favourite brownie recipe. The salt idea came once the raw cashews were on top of the brownie mix looking kind of plain and boring. I sprinkled on some sea salt, popped them in the oven and waited.....

These are my end result!

I cut them into bite size pieces and took them off to a meeting I was attending that evening. To my relief they were a massive hit. Not being a real nut lover, I have to say I am happy with the result and so are the boys. Nic and Alex gobbled them down in seconds while Max and I picked off the nuts and eat them slowly, enjoying the salty sweet flavours. Maybe this is the winning combo? or is there another nut I have missed?

February 19, 2012

Finishing Touches

One of my favourite family meals is a stir fry. I don't have a favourite recipe because I am always digging around in the fridge trying to use up the leftover veggies, or I'll get a craving for a certain vegetable, buy loads of it and then figure out how the rest of the family will stand eating it in copious amounts (I have had a taste for mushrooms lately).

I think I have stated in a fair few of my posts that I don't believe it hiding vegetables from the kids, instead I like to mix them with foodie bits I know they will like and it also means I won't get "Oh,this is disgusting" when they first lay eyes on the prepared meal (I learnt this when Max was going through his 'everything is DISGUSTING' phase, a word you really don't want to hear when you have just spend 20 minutes in the kitchen after a long hard day at work!)

Everyone in my family loves eggs cooked every way except scrambled so my good old fall back when it comes to sprucing up a stir fry is to make a three egg omelet. I'll always add fresh herbs (like basil, coriander or parsley) fish sauce and fresh garlic. Always make sure you have a hot wok, add a little bit of oil (2 tablespoons) and then cook your eggs really quickly. I never cook them all the way through because you don't want the omelet to be rubbery. Once they are almost done, flip the omelet over turn off the heat and slide it onto a paper towel to cool while you make your stir fry.
When it comes to serving, I cut the omelet into strips and pop it on top so it looks quite impressive.

Another taste sensation I tried out last week was quickly roasting cashew nuts in Chinese 5 spice with chili flakes. Again, just before I cooked the stir fry, I heated up about a 1/4 cup of peanut oil in the wok, lightly warmed the oil then added the cashews, once they were turning golden I added some fresh garlic slices then quickly strained off the oil, doused the nuts in 5 spice, chili flakes and salt then let them cool.
I find I can get away with adding dried chili flakes to nuts without the kids being to concerned about the spice because they are mixed in with all the other flavours.

My average veggie stir fry just got really interesting and was gobbled down in record speed. I didn't however manage to get away with excessive amounts of mushrooms but I did notice they ate more than usual, so win/win for me!

February 12, 2012

Paella the kids love

How can you not love a good paella?
Easy to whip up, full of yummy seafood, chorizo and spice not to mention it's excellent for filling my growing boys hollow legs!

I sometimes forget how simple and quick it is to cook a paella at home, and then once I make it I vow to do it at least once a month.......OK this doesn't happen but seriously it should. I mean, my youngest hates risotto. Won't eat it and curls his lip up at the sight of it, however, when I made a beautiful big pan of paella the other night bursting with mussels, pippis, prawns, chorizo and chicken- he was the fist to dig in!

I have a feeling it had something to do with the fun shellfish aspect of a paella. It's interesting to look at, you can pick up pieces of shellfish in your fingers and then eat a spicy piece of sausage with rice afterwards.....what's not to like about that?

 But then again, I wonder if it was the promise of double choc ice cream that really sealed the deal?

I like to think it really was the seafood but photos do speak a thousand words...right?

February 9, 2012

Lamingtons--Max's first batch

It has been a busy this week. The kids are back at school and straight back into homework, trumpet practice and complaining about all the homework- yep, just as I remember!

Max is in grade five this year and Nic and I can hardly believe where the time has gone. It only feels like yesterday that he was learning to walk and now he is wanting to learn how to make lamingtons.

This year in the 5th grade the kids have weekly projects to complete. They have a grid of several options, and get to choose a project they would like to work on that week and then talk about it on Friday in class. Monday just past, Max informs me he MUST make lamingtons because it was one of his school projects. It didn't sound unreasonable so I didn't bother checking the sheet and it also bought on a wave of excitement in the homework hour and who was I complain about that?

Max ended up making his first batch of lamingtons from scratch over two days (on my advice of leaving the cake to dry out a little so the icing would hold better, much to his annoyance) and did a great job. When I went to refer to his sheet about something I spotted that in fact you didn't actually have to make the lamingtons only find a recipe and write it in the homework book!

I love the idea of getting older kids to read an assortment of miscellaneous documents, such as we all read everyday and the fact that he actually wanted to make the lamingtons and take them into class and share them around make me really proud of him....now I just need him to learn how to clean up after himself and he would be perfect!

What's the first step when you cook something Max?

Oh, read the recipe! Ok now weigh out all the ingredients and make sure you have everything....

two eggs...yep, sounds right but you tell me? What does your recipe tell you?

That's right, sometimes you have to use your muscles when baking...

Ok in the oven to bake and make the whole house smell yummy.

Day 2 and the fun begins with chocolate coating and.....

rolling the lamingtons in coconut. After the first five were done, I jumped in and gave him a hand as he was a bit overwhelmed with doing the whole 26 of them!
I hope your class enjoys all your hard work tomorrow Max, well done x.

February 1, 2012

Aaron's kitchen

One of my favourite places in Evanston would have to be right here......Aaron and Susan's kitchen.

Not only do I love standing is such a beautiful kitchen with my favourite colour splashed all over their back wall, but I haven't yet had a bad meal come out of this kitchen....and trust me, I've had a few meals here.
When I first walked into their kitchen years ago, I was gob smacked at the beauty and simplicity of the space not to mention the functionality of it. 

It is the central part of the house where friends and family gather in the comfort and warmth of the kitchen while sipping vino and picking at the offerings of cheese and salmon, chatting to whoever is cooking (and that would be Aaron!)

We sat down to a wonderful salad of grapefruit and a new Irish blue cheese the lovely Roisin snapped up from Kerrygold. I wasn't sure it would be a good match but I have to say it worked beautifully and the drizzle of balsamic tied it together beautifully. It was probably a good thing we started with a salad because in pure Aaron style we visited the classic cooking methods of New Orleans and had a fantastic shrimp pasta tossed in cream, spices and some Kerrygold herb and garlic butter (you just can't get in Australia).

I am looking forward to my next visit and will be popping on an apron and helping out instead of just eating and talking like I did this trip, hence the extra kilos hanging on around the waist!

For an extra peek at beautiful kitchens and Italian furnishings check out their website, you never know you might be drooling over your own dream kitchen!