Ricotta, Sweet Potato and Chilly spread + Happy New Year!

Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.
-Les Brown

Ricotta Sweet potato crostini 4

This year, let’s keep it simple, ok? Ok.
Instead of resolutions, let’s make a decision.  One single, easy decision.

This year we will make a decision to be good to ourselves, to understand when it needs to be about us and not those outside of us. An effort will be required, yes. To keep sight of what is in the best interest of our souls often doesn’t come naturally.

Know that it is an effort worth expending.

Let’s give ourselves only the best, without hesitation.  After all, life will only give us what we feel we deserve, no?

Ricotta Sweet potato crostini 3

Twenty fourteen will see us treating ourselves with nothing but kindness, whilst never losing sight of our needs and goals.  It will be the year when we are true to us, when we don’t allow anything, least of all ourselves, to hold us back.

It will be the year we will move forward, shoot for the moon.  Because God knows we deserve it.  And along the way it will finally dawn on us that we do deserve it.

You know what?  Once we understand that, that we have every right to expect the best from the things we pour our hearts into, it will be so much easier to be kinder to ourselves.

And if we do shoot for the moon and land on a star?  Well, no matter……the stars are luminous, and we may just find that they are enough after all.

Ricotta Sweet potato crostini 5

In the interest of keeping things simple, here is a little spread I put together, on a day when the world was like an oven and spending more than ten minutes in the kitchen seemed the most unkind thing I could do to myself.  I had this for lunch, spread thickly onto crostini and with some finely sliced red cabbage and good anchovies piled atop it.  A few drops of white wine vinegar finished it off nicely.  And on that day? Well, it was enough.

You could really use whatever toppings you wanted, but I would suggest a combination of fresh, crunchy and salty with a drizzle of something acidic.

Happy New Year dear readers.  This blog has brought me so much fulfilment in 2013 and you, all of you, are instrumental in that.

Ricotta Sweet potato crostini 2

Ricotta, Sweet Potato and Chilly Spread

Get:

1/2 Habanero Chilly or 1 small red chilli
1/2 cup firm ricotta
1/2 cup boiled sweet potato
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small handful fresh coriander
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp salt

For the Crostini:
1 or 2 baguettes, sliced into 1cm slices
Olive oil

Suggested toppings:
Thinly sliced red cabbage, watercress, alfalfa sprouts etc.  Combine with anchovies, feta or olives and drizzle with a little vinegar of your choice.

Make:

If using a habanero chilly, roast it over an open flame or on a BBQ.  Place half of it, or a small red chilli in the bowl of your food processor with all the other spread ingredients.  Blitz until it is a paste consistency. Taste and add a little salt or olive oil if required, then blitz again.

Brush both sides of the baguette slices with olive oil and grill both sides until toasted to your preference.

Spread the crostini thickly with the ricotta mixture and top with toppings of your choice.

Get out of the kitchen quick and enjoy with something cold in front of the TV.

Ricotta Sweet potato crostini 1

Advertisements

Is it just me or……..

…….are artichokes the most daunting thing ever?  Where did they come from anyway? It’s like some little green martian accidentally dropped one out of his backpack whilst here scoping the earth as a potential new colony for his martian people (meople?).

And actually, the martians use them as war missiles but us crazy humans saw them growing everywhere and thought eating them would be a great idea.  Meanwhile, the little green people are looking down at this funny little planet with its strange inhabitants that are inexplicably making dip out of their weapons.

Blueberries

And I’m surely not the only one who collapses into fits of giggles every-time that meerkat ad airs.  Seriously? I barely even know what they are advertising since I’m usually rolling on the floor by the time they get to the point.

Oh and I can’t be alone in thinking that celebrity is no excuse to try out ludicrous names on your children.  Is anyone else waiting for poor little North West’s parents to announce that it was all just a silly joke and that they actually named her Jane?

Please tell me it’s not just me….

Meringue 3

Also, is anyone else completely in awe that if you whip egg whites long enough and fast enough, they transform into snowy peaks?  The science geek in me is secretly excited every time this happens…..the denaturing of proteins to turn slimy egg whites into glorious edible snow.

And furthermore, you can sweeten and flavour this almost solid white froth and bake it to crispy-chewy mounds.  Mounds that you can top with cream, syrup, fruit or whatever you fancy and call it dessert!

Meringue 1

Oh yes, the theme of this month’s Sweet Adventures Blog Hop, hosted by Claire K Creations, was Meringue Madness so I just had to try my hand at fructose-free meringues.  I replaced caster sugar with dextrose and although they bled a bit, this didn’t seem to affect them in the end and they were pretty darn good.  You could flavour these with whatever essence takes your fancy (I intend to try rosewater next time) and top them just about anything.  I went with this fructose-free lemon curd, some cream and some lovely fresh blueberries.

Meringue 4

Fructose-free Meringues

Makes 6

Modified from Donna Hay Magazine

Get:

4 egg whites
1 cup dextrose powder
1 tsp white vinegar

Make:

Preheat the oven to 120 C.

Beat egg whites initially on low speed, then on high speed until stiff peaks form.

Drizzle in vinegar and any flavouring, and sprinkle in dextrose bit  by bit, beating briefly with each addition.  Beat until sugar is completely incorporated.

Line a baking tray with baking paper or a silicone mat and grease lightly.  Dollop large scoops of the mixture onto the tray and flatten out slightly.  Bake on the middle shelf for 40 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave them in there to cool for an hour or so.

Top with whatever you like and serve.

Meringue 2

Chocolate-Drizzled Macaroon Cookies for August SABH

I spend a lot of time in my own little world. Call it a Piscean trait or an only child thing that la-la land seems to be a second home for me.

It’s nice up there you know, and for the most part I have no complaints.  But being somewhat of a space cadet leads to some muddled and sometimes embarrassing effects.

Macaroon Cookies 4

There was that time during my primary school days in Mumbai.  It was a Tuesday and I somehow had it in my seven year old mind that it was a Wednesday, a day when school finished at noon.  So little me waited at the school gates for my mum, slightly puzzled as to why I wasn’t surrounded by the usual crowd of kids waiting and parents collecting.

To add insult to injury, despite normally being a perfectly angelic student, I was reprimanded for my confusion and wound up utterly humiliated!

Macaroon Cookies 1

Last week, the days of the calendar jumped around without any warning again.  I got my Mondays mixed up and posted this Indian spiced cookie recipe for Sweet Adventures Blog Hop, hosted by The Sticky and Sweet.  Seconds after I hit publish, I realised that SABH week was actually this week!

My embarrassment was significantly soothed with the realisation that two batches of cookies can only be better than one.  So I set about to put together another batch.

Macaroon Cookies 3

This is a macaroon like cookie- not the fancy schmancy high maintenance French macarons that are currently on a mission for world dominance.  No, this is like the much simpler coconut macaroon but with other good things added in.

Think of the egg whites as merely a vehicle for all the awesome nuttiness.   You can totally personalise these.  Add almost whatever you want- other nuts, dried fruit or chocolate chips.  The original recipe which is the inspiration for this uses chunks of marzipan.  If you want this to be totally fructose-free, leave out the cranberries and use unsweetened or fructose-free chocolate.

Chocolate-drizzled Macaroon Cookies

Inspired by these cookies from The Tiffin Box

Makes 20-25

Get:

4 egg whites
1/2 cup rice syrup and honey
1/2 cup almonds
3/4 cup almond meal
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup cranberries
10-12 squares dark chocolate

Make:

Preheat the oven to 150 C.

Roast the almonds on a baking tray for about 15 mins.  Allow to cool and chop roughly.

Whip the egg whites to soft peaks.  Fold in the syrup gently.  Sift in the almond meal.  Add the coconut, almonds and cranberries and fold all the ingredients together gently, being careful to preserve as much of the lightness as possible.

Line 2 or 3 baking trays with baking paper and grease the paper for insurance purposes.  Place tablespoon sized dollops of the batter on the paper with about 2 cm between dollops.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the cookies have browned a little.  Allow to cool.

Melt the chocolate in a Bain Marie or double boiler, or in the microwave in 20-30 second bursts.  Using a fork, drizzle the cookies with chocolate.

Macaroon Cookies 2

Fructose-free Baking: Coconut Cake Bars

Ok, it’s been just over a month since I finished the 8-week I Quit Sugar program (read about that here and here) and I have to say that I have slipped, like once…..or twice….or thrice.  I have had a couple of binge days where no amount of self cajoling has kept me away from the dark chocolate and nothing but a brownie will do.  And I have had those days where that gorgeous fudge that that client has brought in simply can’t be ignored.

VKD_0648

But you know what? I don’t actually feel that guilty. I guess firstly because I never intended to be completely sugar-free for life.  I always knew I’d re-introduce the S-word back into my life in the form of the (occasional) treat and while recently I seem to have stretched the definition of ‘occasional’, I have certainly noticed some changes in my attitude to sugar.

For one thing, my tastes when it comes to sugary treats has refined and while it seems nothing will cure me of my chocolate obsession, I seem to be able to resist the cheap, sugar-laden ‘confectionary’ type chocolate.  I previously would have crammed any cocoa-related substance indiscriminately into my mouth at break-neck speed, just in case all the chocolate factories in the world happened to burn down in the next five minutes.  But now, I seem to very partial to high quality dark chocolate……the good stuff, as any addict would say.

I can also quite happily walk past a bag of lollies or a pack of biscuits without turning into a human vacuum cleaner and have also been able to resist many cakes and such without too much drama.

VKD_0676

Then there was that weak moment, or succession of moments,  when I came home from a Saturday at work madly craving a chocolaty treat.

That evening, after discovering an Adriano Zumbo brownie packet mix in the cupboard, the mixture may or may not have met with a couple of eggs and some butter and made its way into the oven.

Thirty- five minutes later, about a quarter of the pan may or may not have disappeared.

It’s my word against the brownies’ so I guess we’ll never know how it all happened.

VKD_0667

Aside from struggling a little with the transition from ‘sugar-detox’ to ‘just treating myself to the good stuff every now and then’, the other thing I struggled with is not being able to bake while I was trying to detox.  So I’ve been playing around with some fructose-free recipes and hit up my stash of cookbooks to see if I could modify an existing recipe.

I dug out a squat, fat little book called ‘500 Cookies’ by Phillipa Vanstone and found a recipe called ‘Coconut Wedges’.  I tweaked some things, added some saffron (it’s the Indian in me) and came up with something that I will call Fructose-free Coconut Cake bars.  If you don’t mind the fructose, you can of course use any other syrup such as honey, maple-syrup or golden syrup.

These little dudes are like the anti-brownie.  While brownies are the good stuff, these bars have the stuff that’s good for you.

These are dense, crumbly little numbers, somewhere between a cake and a bread, that you could totally get away with eating for breakfast.  They of course, also make a great healthy snack which I suspect is their original intention.

VKD_0692

Fructose-Free Coconut Cake Bars
Makes 12-15
Adapted from ‘500 Cookies’ by Phillipa Vanstone

Get:

1/4 tsp or generous pinch saffron strands
1 tbsp milk, warmed
3/4 cup plain (all-purpose) flour
1/2 cup wholemeal flour
1/2  tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bi-carb soda
1/2 cup rolled or quick oats
1 1/2 cup shredded or desiccated coconut + 1/4 cup extra
1/2 tsp all-spice
1 cup walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
3/4 to 1 cup rice malt syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

Make:

Preheat the oven to 175 C.

In a small bowl, add the saffron strands to the warm milk and stir until the milk is coloured. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the flours, baking powder and baking soda.  Add 1 1/2 cups coconut, the oats and all-spice and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk the oil with the syrup.  Whisk in the eggs, vanilla and milk with saffron.  Pour the wet mixture into the bowl with the dry mixture and stir through gently until just combined.

Pour the mixture into a 30cm x 20cm baking tin and smooth out evenly.  My mixture didn’t fill the entire tin and there was about 2 inches empty at one end.  Sprinkle extra coconut over the top.  If using desiccated coconut to sprinkle, do this about 5-7 mins into the baking process so it doesn’t burn.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 12-15 mins.  Test by inserting a clean knife or skewer into the centre of the cake- if it comes out clean, it’s done!
Allow to cool and slice into bars, about 7 cm x 4cm.

Notes:

Ok, so the saffron is a luxury and very nice but probably optional.

Vanilla extract has a little sugar in it.  If you need this to be completely fructose free, use vanilla powder or the seeds from 1/2 a vanilla bean.

If you don’t have coconut oil, a neutral oil such as vegetable oil should work.

VKD_0672

Goats Cheese and Walnut Mini-Cheesecakes

Over the past week or so I have had a sneaking suspicion about something that today was proven to be irrefutably true, and that is that I have somehow invoked the wrath of the cooking Gods.

It started with the weekend pasta dish for which I made a lovely white wine and cream sauce and invited two of my favourite ingredients, prawns and broccolini (who can resist mini-me vegetables?) to the party.  It was looking awfully promising until I overcooked the pasta, resulting in a nice dinner where there should have been a really, really nice dinner.

VKD_0526

Then there were my experiments in the realm of low-fructose baking.  Now, my forays into unchartered cooking territory don’t always result in applause but I have to say my adventures over the last couple of days well and truly take the cake (pun totally intended) as far as kitchen mishaps go.

Fuelled by my last success with citrus cake, I decided to try my hand at the lemon and poppy seed loaf…… using dextrose instead of sugar.  Suffice it to say that I must’ve truly taken my frustrations out on the unsuspecting batter while mixing, as it absolutely refused to rise.  It still tasted reasonable and the funny synthetic smell imparted by the dextrose that I dusted it with distracted only slightly from the otherwise enjoyable crumb.

Thus was my first lesson in what NOT to do with dextrose.

Don’t worry citrus and poppy seed lovers, that one remains a work in progress.

VKD_0529

The jewel in my crappy cooking week crown was the simple cheesecake recipe I road-tested that turned out to be simply disastrous.  With the look, texture and taste of plastic, this creation was not even a face it’s mother could love.  Alarm bells did go off when I was able to peel the cheesecake off its base in one piece, but taste it I did and what a waste of taste-bud labour that it was.  So I peeled, I dumped and I moved on with a determination to make something, something this week that was worth the ingredients it was made of.

Finally, there was a breakthrough.  A spark of yum in an otherwise ugh week.

What I have for you today hopefully symbolises the end of the week of colossal disasters.  Tiny little savoury cheesecakes (again with the mini things!) with a buttery base that really pack a punch.  A simple recipe, but tasty and would work well for a substantial snack or an appetiser for a dinner party.  Or in my case, a couple of these for breakfast and I was all set for the morning.

These little savoury cheesecakes are totally adaptable- you could throw in some bacon, spinach, whole walnuts or most anything else that floats your boat.  If you have little ones that like to dabble in the kitchen, this would be a great recipe for them to try, as long as you handle the oven side of things.

So enjoy, while I go off to negotiate with whoever up there is in charge of allowing me to cook edible things.

PS: Less than a week left to vote for my post on Cherry Lassi in the SA Writers Centre Food Bloggers Writing Competition!  Click here to be redirected to the voting page.  There’s a chance to will a $100 voucher through the SAWC as well as my eternal gratitude in it for those who vote!

Goats cheese walnut cheesecakes

Goat’s cheese and Ricotta Mini Cheesecakes

Modified from Simply Heaven, a Kraft Philadelphia Cookbook

Makes 6

Get:

For the base:
1/4 cup walnuts, ground
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
Generous pinch salt
15g butter, melted

For the cheesecake layer:
115g Goats Cheese
100g Ricotta cheese or cream cheese
1 small red chilli, finely chopped (optional)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp paprika
Small handful fresh herbs, finely chopped- parsely, chives and dill work well
1/4 red capsicum, finely diced to sprinkle on top
1 egg

Make:

Preheat the oven to 180 C.

Combine the cheeses, chilli, salt, paprika and herbs in a bowl and mix well.  Add the egg and mix thoroughly to a smooth mixture.

For the base, combine ingredients and mix well.

Grease and line 6 cups of a muffin tin with muffin liners or baking paper.  If not using liners, just grease the cups.  I prefer to use liners as this minimises the mess!

Divide the base mixture between the cups and press down evenly.  Divide the cheesecake mixture between the cups and even out a little with a spoon.  Sprinkle the diced red capsicum over the top of the cheesecakes.

Bake for 15 mins on the middle shelf.  The cheesecakes will be slightly soft in the middle when baked, but will firm up on cooling.

Goats Cheese Ricotta Cheesecakes

On a roll

I am a bit of a novice on the bread side of things.  I mean, I love the stuff, it is possibly even my favourite carb.  I would indulge in crusty, soft centred white bread all day if both my gastrointestinal tract and my waistline were more accommodating.  But when it comes to actually baking it?  Well, let’s just say my bread resumé is a short one.

So knowing this, you would assume that I would keep it very simple, right?  Like, find a good recipe, read and understand it and follow it to the last gram?  Like, bake a few text-book loaves before I got too adventurous?

DSC_0369

Well if you think I’m that sensible, you clearly don’t know me too well.  We have to work on that.  Coffee next week?

Find a good recipe I did……Joy of Joy the Baker, one of my favourite blogs, posted a recipe for Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls which I had mentally bookmarked some time ago.  I finally had a chance to try it.  But follow it to a tee?? I don’t think I’m actually capable of that.

I had to spice it up, make it savoury and of all things, healthy.  Wholemeal flour……whaaaaat??

I had to fill it with a tangy coriander and dill pesto conjured up entirely in my own brain.

Then on a whim, I threw in some feta I found hiding unassumingly in the fridge.

Did I get away with it?  You bet your savoury scrolls I did!

DSC_0379

And the best thing is, you can too.  The possibilities for variations are drool-worthy.  Olive bread with an olive tapenade and rosemary filling? I am all over that like a rash!  Pepita bread with spiced pumpkin puree filling? Why not!

Like all bread, this one takes a little time and elbow grease.  It is left to rise while you vacuum the floors or go out for lunch or write your next blog post or whatever it is you do when you have to wait two hours for something.  Then after you cut the scrolls, you ignore it again for two hours while it rises again.

DSC_0391

But all the effort is well worth it.  At the end of it all you will have eight perfect, filling scrolls for a picnic, breakfast or to pack for lunch.  And you will be glad you kneaded, waited, kneaded again and waited again.

DSC_0384

Wholemeal Coriander and Dill Scrolls

Dough recipe adapted from Saveur October 2008 via Joy the Baker

For the Filling:

Pesto:

1 cup (packed) fresh coriander, leaves and stalks
1 cup (packed) fresh dill, leaves and stalks
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, peeled
3cm piece fresh ginger
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
10 raw cashews
1 tbsp cumin seeds

Other ingredients:

Zest of 1 lemon
40g feta
1 tbsp cumin, toasted

For the Bread:

1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 (7g) package active dry yeast
pinch sugar
1/2 cup milk at room temperature
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 3/4 cups plain wholemeal flour, sifted, plus more for kneading
3/4 teaspoon salt
100g butter, melted, plus more for the pan

Make:

Toast all the cumin (2 tbsp) in a small pan over medium heat until slightly browned and fragrant.

In a large bowl combine yeast, pinch sugar and 1/4 cup water heated to 45 degrees C (a bit warmer than body temp if you do not have a thermometer).  Stir to combine and let sit until frothy and foamy, about 10 minutes.

Add egg, egg yolk and milk.  Whisk until well combined.  Add the flour, 1 tbsp toasted cumin and salt and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough just begins to come together.  Knead the dough for 3-5 mins.

Add the melted butter and continue to knead for about 5-6 minutes.  The dough will be a little wet and sticky.  Remove the dough from the bowl and grease the bowl.  Place the dough back into the bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel.  Leave in a warm place to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

While the dough rises, make the pesto.  Combine the pesto ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and whizz until it reaches coarse paste consistency.

When the dough has doubled in size, place it onto a heavily floured work surface.  Gently knead the dough until it is no longer sticky, adding more flour as needed.  Knead for a few minutes.

Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into an oval of about 7 millimetre thickness, about 20cm x 30cm.

Spread the pesto evenly over the dough.  Grate the lemon zest finely over the top of the pesto.  Sprinkle 1 tbsp cumin seeds and crumbled feta evenly over the top.

Grasp hold of one long edge and roll as tightly as possible until it is one long roll

Place dough roll seam side down on a cutting board.  Using a sharp, thin knife, trim off the uneven edges.

Cut the roll into 8 equal slices.  Place the slices, cut side up and evenly spaced in a greased high-edged metal baking pan.  Cover pan with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours

Heat the oven to 190 degrees C.  Uncover the rolls and bake for 30-35 mins, or until a clean knife inserted into the bread comes out clean.

Notes:

For the second rise, Joy suggests that you could also leave the scrolls in the baking tray in the fridge to rise overnight.  The scrolls should be taken out of the fridge 15 min before baking.

DSC_0389