Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Almond poppy seed cake to celebrate the simple things

Almond poppy seed cake / Bolo de amêndoa e sementes de papoula

I was thinking the other day of things that have the power of making my days better and it was sort of a surprise to acknowledge that most of them are really simple: to arrive home from work and immediately remove my shoes (especially when I am wearing heels), to take a piping hot shower in these cold days – I know it is not good for the skin, but who can resist? –, to put on my pyjamas and relax at the couch with a mug of hot chocolate… Some days can be really difficult and it amazes me how much comfort can be found in small things like these (or maybe I am easy to please, who knows?). :)

As I was cooking lunch last Saturday, it suddenly hit me: I hadn’t baked a cake in a long time – and baking cakes is something that really makes me happy: it falls into the category of simple things that can brighten up my day, the ones I mentioned on the beginning of my post. And there is always the advantage of reaching out for a slice of freshly baked cake between meals when you are half hungry/half craving something sweet and a fruit just won’t do.

This is a recipe I baked a couple of times in the past and like the things I describe on this post it is very simple and yet very good: moist and flavorsome. It goes well on its own, with tea or coffee, but I had such pretty and sweet strawberries in my fridge that I served the cake with them and some whipped cream on the side. Still simple, still good and comforting – like being barefoot after a day on top of stilettos. :)

Almond poppy seed cake
own recipe

¾ cup (105g) all purpose flour
1 cup (100g) almond meal
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1/8 taspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoons poppy seeds
½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
finely grated zest of 1 orange
½ cup (113g) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons Amaretto
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup (130g) plain yogurt

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a round 20cm (8in) cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of baking paper. Butter the paper as well.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond meal, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, rub sugar and orange zest together with your fingertips until sugar is fragrant. Add the butter and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy – scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and the Amaretto.

On slow speed, beat in the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the yogurt in two additions (start and end with the dry ingredients). Beat just until incorporated. Pour into prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until cake is golden and risen and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan over a wire rack. Unmold carefully, peel off the paper and transfer cake to a serving plate.

Serves 8

Friday, July 7, 2017

Roasted butternut squash, bell pepper and chickpea soup with chorizo and a change of mind

Roasted butternut squash, bell pepper and chickpea soup with chorizo / Sopa de abóbora assada, pimentão, grão de bico e chorizo

Those of you who have been around here for a while know that I love cold days and that I also complain a lot about the hot summer temperatures – well, my dear readers, people can change their mind, can’t they? Not sure what happened in the last year, but as of now I no longer like the winter weather – I have felt miserable in the last days waking up to 9-10°C degrees days.

The ones in colder countries are probably laughing out loud now of me calling 9-10°C “cold”, I know. :D

I was never an outdoorsy person (not even as a kid), but in the past months I have been enjoying being outside a lot, especially taking long walks in parks – the smell of the trees brings me a mix of comfort and happiness. Maybe that is the reason why I am so upset with the winter – I miss spending time outside and I am not brave enough to go to the park on a 12°C evening.

A piping hot bowl of soup has been the best dinner option for me lately, and today I bring you a recipe I created with Spain in mind: I found that roasting the squash instead of only cooking it in the stock makes it creamier and adds another dimension of flavor, more caramelized. And who can say no to small bits of crispy chorizo? I certainly cannot – I might not be crazy for pork like my mother was, but bacon and chorizo make my heart beat faster. <3 I was a vegetarian for eight years and during that time the only meat I actually missed was bacon. :)

Roasted butternut squash, bell pepper and chickpea soup with chorizo
own recipe

1kg (2 pounds) butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into cubes
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves
5-6 sprigs of fresh oregano
100g Spanish chorizo, cut in small dice
½ large onion, finely diced
1 small red pepper, finely diced
3 cups (720ml) hot vegetable stock
1 ½ cups (300g) canned chickpeas

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Line a large baking sheet with foil and brush it slightly with some of the olive oil. Transfer the squash to the foil, add the oregano and the garlic and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and mix well with your hands to make sure all ingredients are covered. Spread the pieces of squash and the garlic cloves throughout the foil and arrange the oregano sprigs on top of the squash – make sure the oregano sprigs are coated in olive oil to avoid burning. Roast for 30-35 minutes or until squash is tender. Remove from the oven and when garlic cloves are warm enough to be handled remove the pulp from the skins. Set aside.

In a large saucepan, cook the chorizo over high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden and crispy. Using a slotted spoon, remove chorizo pieces from the pan and set over paper towels. In the rendered fat, cook the onion and the bell pepper, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the squash and cook for 3 minutes. Pour in the stock and once the mixture comes to a boil turn the heat down and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and using a stick blender, blitz the soup until creamy. Stir in the chickpeas, check the seasoning and serve sprinkled with the crispy chorizo bits.

Serves 5-6

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

White chocolate and lemon blondies

White chocolate and lemon blondies / Blondies de chocolate branco e limão siciliano

Back in the days when I was still dreaming of writing a book I remember telling my husband that I intended to add as many citrus recipes to it as possible, and had all types of ideas for lemon baked goods and desserts – the thought of the fruit makes my mouth water already.

However, every time I went to the grocery store the price of the lemons made me cringe, and I would go back home empty handed. I was unemployed then, so I went from wanting a book filled with lemon recipes to choosing very wisely which recipes to use the fruit in. :(

That is one of the reasons why I am so proud of these blondies: they are delicious, perfumed with lemon and the tart flavor of the fruit goes really well with the sweetness of the white chocolate. The lemons were expensive, but it was worth spending that money to make something so tasty (not to mention easy): the blondies were gone very fast in each of the three times I made them.

White chocolate and lemon blondies
own recipe

¼ cup (50g) granulated sugar
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
2 ½ tablespoons (35g) unsalted butter, room temperature
200g white chocolate, chopped – divided use
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup (105g) all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a square 20cm (8in) baking pan, line it with foil leaving an overhang on two opposite sides and butter the foil as well.

In a small bowl, rub together with your fingertips the sugar and the lemon zest until sugar is fragrant. Set aside.
In a large bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water) combine 150g of the chocolate and the butter, stirring until they are both melted. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
Whisk in the sugar, followed by the egg and vanilla. With a rubber spatula, fold in the flour, baking powder and salt. Fold in the remaining 50g white chocolate.

Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs. Cool completely in the pan over a wire rack before cutting into squares to serve.

Makes 16

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Beef and leek pide

Beef and leek pide / Pide de carne e alho-poró

I believe that the first time I saw/heard of Turkish pizza was watching one of the episodes of the fantastic Ottolenghi's Mediterranean Island Feast, a long time ago – what he actually made was called lahmacun and it looked absolutely delicious, topped with a fresh salad.

Fast forward many months and I was reading about pide recipes on a magazine (the Australian Delicious, if I am not mistaken) and it looked similar to Ottolenghi’s lahmacun, however shaped slightly differently. I decided to then search about it some more, and ended up making my own version of it.

I first made pides for lunch on a lazy Saturday, already expecting compliments from my husband for he loves sfihas; However, he went so crazy about them that from the second time onwards I started making 1 ½ recipes each time – 4 pides were not enough for the both of us. :D

Beef and leek pide
own recipe, inspired by several others

1 teaspoon dried yeast
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
1/3 cup (80ml) lukewarm water
¼ cup (60ml) lukewarm whole milk
1 ¼ cups (175g) all purpose flour
¼ cup (35g) whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large leek (120g/4oz), white/light green parts only, sliced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
250g (9oz) beef mince
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 ripe tomatoes, deseeded and diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
handful of fresh parsley leaves, chopped

For brushing the dough:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Start with the dough: in the bowl of an electric mixer, combine yeast, sugar, water and milk and mix with a fork. Set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add flours, salt and olive oil and mix using the hook attachment for about 8 minutes or until dough is elastic and smooth – if mixing by hand, 12-14 minutes should be enough. Form dough into a ball, transfer to a large lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a draft-free area for about 1 hour or until doubled in volume.

While dough is proofing, make the filling: heat butter on a large saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add the leek and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the paprika, the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and cook for another 3-5 minutes or until tomatoes are soft. Stir in the parsley, remove from the heat and cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Line a large baking sheet with foil.
Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Roll each portion into a rough 25cm (10in) long oval shape. Spread the cooled filling along the center. Pinch the edges together so your pide looks like a boat. Transfer to the prepared sheet and brush the dough with olive oil and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve at once.

Makes 4

Friday, June 23, 2017

Baked figs with streusel topping and Marsala whipped cream and the reason why we like certain things

Baked figs with streusel topping and Marsala whipped cream / Figos assados com cobertura de farofinha e chantilly de Marsala

Do you ever wonder why you like certain things?

I was making lunch the other day and listening to some music – Toto’s Rosanna was playing. My husband said “I did not know you liked Toto”. I replied “I like this song, because I had an English teacher that loved it, for her name was Rosana”. She was one of the best teachers I had, and on top of that I found her so, so beautiful: she was a redhead and covered with freckles – it was then, at the age of 15, that I started liking my own freckles for until that moment I felt completely awkward with them (no one else in my family, at school or at my street had freckles).

Because of my teacher Rosana I stopped covering my arms in long sleeves even when it was insanely hot. Because of her I stopped hating the way my face looked with freckles everywhere – she never knew that, but she had a big part in my acceptance of my own features. That is why I think of her when I listen to “Rosanna” and my heart is filled with joy.

Now, the figs… I like figs because I first tried them in my godmother’s house, maybe at around 7 or so. The smell of the fruit takes me back to the days I spent with her – figs and peppermint tea, it is impossible for me to try these things without thinking of my godmother. She died a long time ago, however I have lots of fond memories of her.

My godmother was a very sophisticated woman who had travelled the world, so I believe she would like this dessert very much – the figs sort of turn into a creamy jam while in the oven and the Marsala whipped cream pairs beautifully with them. I don’t think the fruit skin benefits from the heat, though, therefore I recommend you eat the pulp and the crumble topping using a spoon and consider the skin a vessel for the deliciousness only. :)

Baked figs with streusel topping and Marsala whipped cream
own creation

For the figs:
6 small figs
½ cup (70g) all purpose flour
3 tablespoons demerara sugar
3 tablespoons (42g) unsalted butter, cold and diced
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt

Marsala whipped cream:
½ heavy cream, very cold
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon Marsala

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line a small baking sheet with foil.

In a small bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Add the butter and rub ingredients with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Cut figs in half lengthwise and place them cut side up on top of the foil. Sprinkle the crumble topping over each fig half, packing it slightly with your fingers to make it adhere to the fruit. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until crumble is golden.

In the meantime, place the cream, sugar and Marsala in a small bowl and whisk until soft peaks form. Serve the figs warm with the whipped cream.

Serves 4

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