Friday, May 30, 2014

Ginger and milk chocolate cookies and choosing recipes

Ginger and milk chocolate cookies / Cookies de gengibre e chocolate ao leite

To me, choosing a recipe might be hard sometimes, but it basically involves: a) if I want something sweet or savory, b) the ingredients I have at home, c) the amount of time I have at that moment, d) if I have someone in mind and/or e) there is something new/unusual about the recipe I really want to try.

Libbie Summers’ ginger cookies caught my eye because I absolutely loved her idea of rolling the cookies in minced crystallized ginger before baking them – it was genius! I had to try that. Then I remembered I had the ingredient in my pantry, with some molasses that had to be used within a month, and the choice was made – this time I had no one in mind but myself, for the only person I know that loves crystallized ginger as much as I do lives on the other side of the Atlantic. :)

These cookies pack a strong ginger punch, which is cooled down a bit by the milk chocolate (my addition), and the rolling in the ginger is indeed a great idea. They could have been a wonderful addition to my Christmas series, but if I couldn’t even wait for the cookies to cool to eat a couple of them how on earth would I be able to wait till December to share them with you? :D

Ginger and milk chocolate cookies
slightly adapted from the oh, so beautiful Sweet and Vicious: Baking with Attitude

2 ¼ cups (315g) all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks/170g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (175g) packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
¼ cup molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup minced crystallized ginger, divided use
200g milk chocolate, in chips or chunks
½ cup (100g) demerara sugar

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ground ginger, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg, molasses and vanilla. Gradually mix in the flour mixture. Mix in half the crystallized ginger, then the chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
In a small mixing bowl, stir together the demerara sugar and the remaining crystallized ginger. Using 2 leveled tablespoons of dough per cookie, shape the dough into balls and roll them in the demerara sugar mixture. Place them 5cm (2in) apart on the prepared baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden around the edges. Slide the paper to a wire rack and cool completely.

Makes about 35

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lemon and lavender loaf cake

Lemon and lavender loaf cake / Bolo de lavanda e limão siciliano

Days have been cold here lately – which is something I absolutely love – but that makes it hard for the butter to soften in my freezing kitchen, making my morning baking sessions a bit of a challenge. Add to that that I only had a few spoonfuls of almond meal in the fridge and the idea of baking Nigel Slater’s divine lemon cake had to be postponed.

Nigel’s is currently my favorite lemon cake – with Alisa Huntsman’s simple yet delicious cake right behind it – and my plans were to make it again, swapping the thyme for something else, like caraway seeds or lavender – that was when I remembered seeing a lemon lavender cake in Paul Hollywood’s beautiful cookbook, and since his method involved melted butter it became ideal for my chilly morning. The addition of yogurt and the drizzle poured over the cake in the end make it moist and flavorsome.

If you have time to let your butter soften and have 100g of almond meal around, make Nigel’s cake; if not, Paul’s recipe is exactly what you need – and you can get creative and replace the lavender with whatever strikes your fancy.

Lemon and lavender loaf cake
slightly adapted from the delicious Paul Hollywood's Pies and Puds

250g all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
125g granulated sugar
1 ½ tablespoons edible lavender
2 large eggs
200g full-fat yogurt*
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
100g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

juice of 2 lemons, strained
¼ cup (50g) granulated sugar

Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 1kg loaf pan (around 10x20cm/4x8in base measurement), line it with baking parchment and butter the paper as well.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and lavender.
In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the yogurt, lemon zest, melted butter and vanilla. Pour this onto the dry ingredients and, using a spatula, stir until just combined – do not overmix.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and prick it deeply all over with a cocktail stick. Mix the ingredients for the drizzle together and gradually pour over the hot cake, waiting for portions to be absorbed before pouring more syrup. Cool completely in the pan before slicing.

* I used 170g yogurt + 30g whole milk

Serves 8

Friday, May 23, 2014

Chunky peanut, chocolate, and cinnamon cookies and laughs galore

Chunky peanut, chocolate, and cinnamon cookies / Cookies de amendoim, chocolate e canela

I’m a silly, silly person and laughing is definitely not a problem to me – sometimes I laugh so hard my eyes get all teary and I have trouble finishing reading/watching whatever caused the laughs in the first place. :D

Last week this link made me laugh for more than 10 minutes nonstop – my husband thought I was reading something else but no, it was still the kids (and now that I’ve searched for the link to post here I’m laughing like an idiot again).

Yesterday it was Jimmy Kimmel’s hilarious “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets About Themselves”, with Sofia Vergara and my beloved Gary Oldman having the best reactions to the tweets, and the reason why I got to that link was two friends thinking of me when they say Gary was among the stars. <3

I love it when people think of me when they see something cool, and another thing I love is getting food as a gift – a friend gave me a jar of peanut butter a couple of weeks ago and I turned it into these delicious cookies; it’s a recipe by Martha Stewart, and we all know that when it comes to food Martha can do no wrong.

Chunky peanut, chocolate, and cinnamon cookies
slightly adapted from the wonderful Martha Stewart's Cookies: The Very Best Treats to Bake and to Share

2 cups (280g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks/170g) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup (175g) packed light-brown sugar
½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups (250g) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup roasted, salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Put butter and peanut butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until combined, about 2 minutes. Add sugars; mix 2 minutes. Mix in eggs, then vanilla – scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally. On low speed, gradually add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips and peanuts. Refrigerate dough for 20 minutes – in the meantime, preheat oven to 180°C/350°F and line two large baking sheets with baking paper.

Place 2 leveled tablespoons of dough per cookie onto the prepared sheets, 5cm (2in) apart. Flatten slightly. Bake until just golden, about 13 minutes (while you bake the cookies, keep the remaining dough in the fridge). Slide the paper with the cookies to a wire rack and cool completely.

Makes about 40

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Leek meatballs and what "Breaking Bad" and "Sons of Anarchy" have in common

Leek meatballs / Almôndegas de carne e alho-poró

One of the many reasons why I love Breaking Bad is that the show never compromised – I never felt like something was being done to please the audience, or that something had been suddenly changed to give us a happy ending. I love it when TV shows don’t take the coward route just so the viewers can feel less shocked – for instance, I might not like GoT but I truly admire the courage of the people behind it.

Now that I have finished watching season 1 of the excellent Sons of Anarchy I feel that this is not the coward kind of show, which makes me love it even more - apparently the people behind it don’t compromise either so season 2, here I go, and as soon as possible.

These meatballs, with a huge amount of leeks combined with the beef, were a wonderful surprise: incredibly light in texture, easy to make, delicious and great to have in the freezer (they can go to the oven still frozen, just bake them for a little bit longer), they might not be your typical meatballs but are certainly worth trying.

I might not accept silly, coward TV shows but I’m more than willing to accept meatballs made with more leeks than beef, especially when they taste this good. :)

Leek meatballs
slightly adapted from the über beautiful Jerusalem: A Cookbook

450g leeks, trimmed
300g beef mince
1 fat garlic clove, minced
1 egg
90g breadcrumbs
salt and freshly ground black pepper
handful of parsley leaves, chopped

Cut the leeks into slices, rinse well, and steam them for about 20 minutes until completely soft. Drain and leave to cool. Squeeze any residual water using a colander.
Pulse the leeks in food processor to chop, but don’t turn them into a paste. Transfer to a large bowl and add the beef, garlic, egg, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and parsley. Mix to combine, then try to shape the mixture into balls – the job becomes easier if you lightly wet the palms of your hands. If the mixture is too wet, add 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs and mix again. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Line a large baking sheet with foil and brush the foil lightly with oil. Place the meatballs onto the foil and bake until golden and cooked through (about 30 minutes). Serve immediately.

The uncooked meatballs can be frozen for up to 1 month.

Makes about 25

Monday, May 19, 2014

Chocolate stout cake and a disappointing trailer

Chocolate stout cake / Bolo de chocolate e cerveja stout

Interstellar got announced last November, exactly one year before its release, and it being a Christopher Nolan movie I got immediately interested – there wasn’t much to read about the movie and the teaser did not reveal much, either, so my curiosity went through the roof.

Cut to months later – six, to be more precise – when the official trailer is finally out and for the first time, ever since I watched the amazing Memento, I don’t feel like running to the theaters to watch a Christopher Nolan movie – the trailer just didn’t do it for me. I don’t know if it was Mr. McConaughey, the cheesy family scenes, or that after what Alfonso Cuarón did with Gravity it will be pretty hard for someone else to get to that level when it comes to outer space movies, I just wasn’t thrilled after the trailer, Michael Caine and all.

As far as 2014 goes, Foxcatcher and Gone Girl have been keeping me pretty curious, and before the Interstellar trailer I thought that Nolan would be easily on that list, but no, not this time.

Favorites can be disappointing, even if it’s once in a thousand times, except for Nigella: this super moist, dense and delicious cake – one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve ever made or tried – goes to the list of great recipes only adds to the list of great recipes Ms. Lawson has brought us over the years. And if that wasn’t enough, the tangy icing is irresistible, too, and it complements the flavor of the cake perfectly.

Chocolate stout cake
slightly adapted from the delicious Feast: Food to Celebrate Life

1 cup (240ml) stout beer
250g unsalted butter, room temperature, chopped
75g cocoa powder
2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
150ml sour cream*
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
275g all purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking soda
pinch of salt

220g cream cheese, room temperature
100g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup (80ml) double cream (or whipping cream)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter a 23cm (9in) springform pan and line the bottom with a circle of baking paper, buttering it as well (I used one with a removable bottom).
Pour the beer and butter into a large wide saucepan and heat until the butter's melted. Cool for a couple of minutes, then whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into saucepan. Whisk in the flour, baking soda and salt.
Pour into the prepared pan bake for 45-60 minutes (a skewer inserted in the center should come out clean). Cool completely in the pan over a wire rack.
Carefully unmold the cake, remove the paper and transfer to a serving plate.

Make the icing: using an electric mixer, whip the cream cheese until smooth, sieve over the icing sugar, add the vanilla and then beat them both together until creamy. Add the cream and beat again until it makes a spreadable consistency. Ice the top of the cake.

* homemade sour cream: to make 1 cup of sour cream, mix 1 cup (240ml) heavy cream with 2-3 teaspoons lemon juice in a bowl. Whisk until it starts to thicken. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 1 hour or until thicker (I usually leave mine on the counter overnight – except on very warm nights – and it turns out thick and silky in the following morning; refrigerate for a creamier texture)

Serves 10-12

Friday, May 16, 2014

Pine nut and Marsala biscotti and making a very interesting fairy tale

Pine nut and Marsala biscotti / Biscotti de pinoli e Marsala

At the risk of you thinking I have a heart of stone (after I told you I don’t like animated movies) I’ll confess that I’m not into fairy tales, either – I did love Alice in Wonderland as a kid, but then I went to college and learned not so great things about Lewis Carroll, so I never cared for it again the way I used to.

But, same as with biblical stories, attach great people to the project and I’m instantly interested: I learned this morning that Cinderella is directed by Kenneth Branagh – whom I adore both as an actor and as a director – and Cate Blanchett will be the Stepmother – if Charlize Theron kicked ass as the villain in that silly Snow White movie, can you imagine what Cate will do? And directed by Mr. Branagh? There's more: Helena Bonham Carter will be The Fairy Godmother and my bets are that they’re either thinking outside the box here or we’ll see the craziest Fairy Godmother of all time. :D

I’m no stranger to biscotti, as you know, and almond biscotti is something I love – however, when I opened the freezer to get the almonds I noticed I did not have any around. Bummer. But there they were, the two packages of pine nuts I’d brought from NY (because here pine nuts cost a small fortune) just begging to be used. I made the biscotti with the pine nuts instead thinking that they would either be a great idea or a waste of my precious ingredients – luckily, they turned out delicious.

Now what do you think will be the case with Helena? :D

Pine nut and Marsala biscotti
adapted from Dolci: Italy's Sweets

385g all purpose flour
150g granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon table salt
3 heaping tablespoons honey
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
finely grated zest of 1 large orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100ml Marsala wine
120g pine nuts, lightly toasted and cooled – or use almonds as the original recipes calls for

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line a large baking sheet with foil.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, honey, eggs, egg yolks, butter, orange zest, vanilla and Marsala. With an electric mixer, mix just until a dough forms, then mix in the pine nuts – dough is sticky, but add a tiny bit of flour if it’s too sticky.
Divide the dough into 3 equal portions and, using wet hands, form each into a 25x5cm (10x2in) cylinder. Place them 5cm (2in) apart onto the baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until slightly golden and firm.
Carefully slide the foil with the logs onto a wire rack and cool for 8 minutes. Line the sheet with baking paper. Using a sharp knife and one firm cut, slice each log diagonally into 1.5cm slices, place them onto the sheet, side by side, and bake for 8 minutes or until golden. Turn the biscotti and bake until golden on the other side as well. Cool completely on the sheet.
The biscotti can be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about 35

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Predictions and beef stew - or according to my husband, THE beef stew

Beef stew / Picadinho de carne

Years ago I read an article on how the 2012 Oscars would be about the battle between Glenn Close and Meryl Streep, for Albert Nobbs and The Iron Lady respectively. Months went by, not everyone was that thrilled with Glenn’s performance (I adore her, think she should have two Oscars already but haven’t seen the movie yet), Viola Davis rose up to the occasion, becoming Meryl’s main opponent, and the latter took home the statue even though it should have gone to Rooney Mara’s hands.

Months ago I read another article about Oscar predictions, on how the 2014 Award would hold the duel between Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman. Well, that never happened: Diana tanked big time and apparently Grace of Monaco is taking the same route.

The moment I saw the first released photo of Daniel Day Lewis in character as Lincoln I knew for sure he would sweep each and every award out there, and I have the feeling Steve Carell will do the same with Foxcatcher – you can come back here months from now and either congratulate me or make fun of me. :D

Predicting Oscar winners can be a tricky thing, but predicting if a dish will turn out good is a lot easier: as I cooked this beef stew, crisping the bacon first, then browning the beef, then sweating the vegetables –
building layers of flavor, as Jamie Oliver would say – I knew it would taste amazing, and it did. What I couldn’t have imagined, however, was that my husband would call this the best beef stew he’d ever had – that was a surprise, and a very nice one. <3 Beef stew, or according to my husband, THE beef stew
slightly adapted from Do-Ahead Dinners: How to Feed Friends and Family Without the Frenzy

½ large onion
1 medium carrot, peeled
1 small stick of celery
2 garlic cloves, peeled
olive oil
70g bacon in small cubes
500g round steak in bite sized pieces
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons crushed canned tomatoes
2/3 cup (160ml) red wine – not your cheapest, not your best
2 tablespoons water
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh oregano, + a few leaves extra for serving

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F. Place the onion, carrot, celery and garlic in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Set aside.
Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large ovenproof pan and fry the bacon until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon. Put the beef and flour in a freezer bag along with a good pinch of salt and pepper and give the bag a vigorous shake to coat the meat. In batches, brown the beef all over on a high heat and remove to a bowl (place it in the same bowl of the bacon and avoid excess washing up). :)
Reduce the heat and add the butter, followed shortly by the vegetables and another pinch of salt and pepper. Gently cook, stirring occasionally, until softened – about 10 minutes. Return the meat to the pan along with the bacon, tomato purée, wine, water and herbs. Bring to a boil, cover and pop in the oven for 2 hours (check after 1 hour and add water if necessary). Taste the sauce for seasoning and serve – if not serving at once, cool completely and refrigerate.

I refrigerated it overnight and it tasted even more delicious; just let the saucepan come to room temperature, add a splash of water and reheat it over low heat.

Serves 2 (with some leftovers)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Port cake and visual songs

Port cake / Bolo de vinho do Porto

Some of the songs I love, besides being great music, are very visual to me – I can picture the scenes as the lyrics go by a lot easier than other songs, it’s like having my very own private video clip inside my head. :)

While listening to “Am I Right?”,“Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” or “The Golden Path”, I can easily imagine all the actions while they’re singing because of all the details; I picture two gentleman having a conversation when Morten Harket sings the first verse of “Manhattan Skyline” – it’s impossible not to.

I could not however imagine what a cake with ½ cup of fortified wine in the batter would be like (in this cake the raisins got boozed up so heavily that there wasn’t much Marsala left to go in the batter), therefore the sherry cake recipe I saw on Delicious magazine got me really curious. I ended up baking it but used Port instead, and the result was a very unusually flavored cake – but not in a fussy way – and so tender it was hard to slice it.

Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but something worth trying at least once, especially if when it comes to cakes all you can picture in your head are the usual suspects like lemon, orange and apple ones. ;)

Port cake
slightly adapted from the always wonderful Delicious UK

225g all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
125g unsalted butter, softened
125g granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200ml Ruby Port wine
Icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter a 20cm (8in) square pan, line the bottom with baking paper, butter the paper and dust everything with flour, taping out the excess.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy and pale. Beat in the eggs, one by one, then beat in vanilla. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in half the dry ingredients. Add the wine and fold in along with the remaining dry ingredients (at this poing I wasn’t happy with the consistency of the batter and added 20g all purpose flour).
Pour everything into the prepared cake pan and bake for 35-40 minutes until risen and cooked through (a skewer inserted in the center of the cake should come out clean).
Cool completely in the pan, then carefully turn out, remove the paper and transfer to a serving plate. Dust with icing sugar.

Makes 16 squares

Friday, May 9, 2014

Linguine with porcini and vegetable bolognese, soothing simplicity and striking complexity

Linguine with porcini and vegetable bolognese / Linguine com bolonhesa de legumes e porcini

“Sweet Sixteen” is not the only song I listen to five, six times in a row – I have other old favorites, songs that are so perfect to me that I hit the repeat button as soon as they start playing.

However, not all of them are as simple as Billy Idol’s beautiful creation: there are times when the only thing I want to listen to is Marc Almond’s powerful vocals, backed up with those loud and vibrant arrangements.

“Loving You, Hating Me” is a song I deeply love (as some of you already know), and I think it gets even more fantastic in the last one and a half minutes, with the arrangement going wild and Marc’s voice doing the same – depending on my mood I have to be careful not to sing it at the top of my lungs (which can be tricky if there are other people nearby). :D

There are days for Billy’s soothing simplicity, and there are days for Marc’s striking complexity, just as there are days for good old bolognese sauce and days for this delicious vegetarian version – it took me nine years to convince my husband to eat mushrooms and this was how I managed to do it (for the record, he loved the sauce and could not believe how tasty it was even though there wasn’t one single gram of meat in it). :)

Linguine with porcini and vegetable bolognese
slightly adapted from the amazing Delicious Australia

15g dried porcini mushrooms
400g linguine
2 small carrots, roughly chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
200g button mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
½ cup tomato sauce – I used homemade
½ cup (120ml) red wine
3 tablespoons water
½ cup sour cream*
grated parmesan or pecorino, to serve

Soak porcini in ½ cup (120ml) boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid, and chop.
Whiz carrot, onion, mushrooms and garlic in a food processor to finely chop.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add the finely chopped vegetables. Cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the herbs, tomato sauce and drained porcini, then cook, stirring, for 1 minute or until fragrant.
Add the wine, water and reserved porcini liquid. Season with salt and pepper, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes or until slightly thickened. Stir through the sour cream and cook for 2 minutes.
In the meantime, cook linguine in a large saucepan of boiling, salted water according to the packet instructions.
Drain the linguine, reserving a little of the cooking water, and add it to the sauce. Toss to coat, adding the reserved water, if needed (I did not). Serve with the parmesan or pecorino (I used the latter).

*homemade sour cream: to make 1 cup of sour cream, mix 1 cup (240ml) heavy cream with 2-3 teaspoons lemon juice in a bowl. Whisk until it starts to thicken. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 1 hour or until thicker (I usually leave mine on the counter overnight – except on very warm nights – and it turns out thick and silky in the following morning; refrigerate for a creamier texture)

Serves 4

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Cocoa-marzipan pound cake and a trailer that changed my mind

Cocoa-marzipan pound cake / Bolo de chocolate e marzipã

This morning I found out that there will be a TV show about Commissioner Gordon's life way before Batman and I have to say that the idea did not seem very interesting to me at first; however, after I watched the trailer, I changed my mind completely (again, the joy of a perfectly put together trailer!).

I cannot wait to see how the villains will be portrayed, and I got especially impressed by Robin Taylor – I don’t think that I have watched anything with him, but that crazy look on his face, the nose and the hair look so perfect for Penguin the he won my heart over. I’ll just forget that Jada Pinkett Smith managed to suck in less than five seconds onscreen and consider this a perfect trailer. :)

And if I’m willing to forget one or two details that aren’t so great on what I’ve seen of Gotham, I won’t do the same with the almond paste I have in my freezer: there was some left from making Sarah Carey’s cookies, so I used it in David Lebovitz’ cake – as you can see, just as a TV show my kitchen is packed with celebrities. ;)

Cocoa-marzipan pound cake
slightly adapted from here

1 ½ cups (210g) all-purpose flour
½ cup (45g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon table salt
¾ cup (200g/7 ounces) almond paste – I used homemade, recipe here
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
1 cup (226g/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons Amaretto
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
½ cup (120ml) whole milk, room temperature
½ cup sliced almonds (optional)

Preheat oven to 160°C/325°F. Butter two 21cm (8½in) loaf pans and dust with flour, tapping out excess.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat almond paste and sugar until almond paste is broken up into very fine pieces. Add butter and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in Amaretto and vanilla.
Stir in half of the dry ingredients, then the milk. Then mix in the remaining dry ingredients.
Divide batter between the prepared pans and smooth tops of the cakes.
Evenly sprinkle tops with sliced almonds. Bake cakes for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool completely in the pans over a wire rack.

These cakes will keep up to 3 days at room temperature, or if double-wrapped, can be frozen for up to 1 month.

Makes 2 loaves– a piece of advice from me: don’t halve the recipe – just make the two cakes. They’re so delicious one will be gone so fast you’ll regret not making the two loaves. :D

Monday, May 5, 2014

Milky Way and chocolate chip cookies and a movie that oscillates too much

Milky Way and chocolate chip cookies / Cookies de Milky Way e chocolate amargo

Despite being addicted to both movies and music I’m not into musicals – with very few exceptions (one that comes to mind right now is Moulin Rouge), it seems impossible for me to enjoy that kind of movie, no matter how hard I try – like the four times I tried watching Chicago with no success (the movie made me fall asleep every single time and I wasn’t even tired).

Last night, however, I gave Hustle & Flow a go, because I remembered all the fuss created by the movie back when it was released and how praised Terrence Howard’s performance was; indeed Howard is amazing as Djay – and I never expected much from him as an actor – and I found really wonderful to watch a movie with a cast formed basically by black actors (how rare is that?), but by the end of it I had mixed feelings, and the reason was that I thought it oscillated too much: there were great scenes permeated with scenes that added nothing to the story or were poorly written/acted, and it kept going that way up until the end. It’s not a bad movie at all, but I certainly expected more from it.

Chocolate chip cookies, on the other hand, hardly ever disappoint, and Jo Wheatley’s are no exception – crunchy around the edges and soft in the middle, they are great all the way, no oscillation in sight.
The original recipe calls for dark chocolate only, but after I added chopped candy bars to brownies and got these as a result I thought it was about time I tried doing the same with another classic, and when I tried one cookie still warm from the oven I knew I’d done good. :D

Milky Way and chocolate chip cookies
slightly adapted from the oh, so delicious A Passion for Baking

185g unsalted butter, room temperature
200g light brown sugar
125g demerara sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
400g all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
100g dark chocolate, chopped – I used one with 70% cocoa solids
4 Milky Way bars, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper*.
Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugars until light and creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and scrape the sides of the bowl after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.
On low speed, add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and mix just until combined. Still on low speed, mix in the chocolate chunks and the chopped candy bars (if necessary, finish mixing with a rubber spatula).
Place 2 leveled tablespoons of dough per cookie onto the prepared sheets, 5cm (2in) apart. Bake for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven and sharply bang the baking tray on the work surface to deflate the cookies, then return to the oven for a further 6-8 minutes until pale golden brown.
Cool on the sheets over a wire rack.

* some bits of nougat/caramel might melt and stuck to the paper once cold – to avoid that, while the cookies are still warm, gently release them from the paper and reshape the cookies into a circle if the melted bits run off and change their shape; I thought of using foil instead of baking paper to avoid the sticking issue, but then I thought the foil would transfer more heat to the cookies and make them too flat

Makes about 38 large cookies

Friday, May 2, 2014

Hasselback potatoes with oregano and lemon crumbs, a great song and simple things

Hasselback potatoes with oregano and lemon crumbs / Batatas hasselback com crostinha de limão siciliano e orégano

Some songs have been favorites of mine for as long as I can remember, and I never get tired of listening to them.

As I was listening to “Sweet Sixteen” yesterday I kept thinking of the beauty of the song’s arrangement, and of how simple it is, with just a couple of instruments. Then I listened to it four or five times in a row, savoring those chords. It is truly a beautiful song (despite the sad story behind it), one that I first listened to when I was a kid and that I’m pretty sure I’ll be listening to when I’m 70.

From time to time I write here about simple things, how great they are to me. I guess that one doesn’t need much to create something beautiful like Billy Idol’s song, and that can be applied to food. Like cakes, simple savory dishes are also something close to my heart, something I feel like eating on a daily basis, and adding a twist here and there doesn’t change their essence – it just makes them even more delicious.

In today’s recipe, the humble potato, a root veggie I love (the German blood in my veins is probably responsible for part of that love) gets transformed into a flower, with full of flavor petals. The potatoes would be delicious already roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper only, but the zesty crumbs on top makes them extra special and irresistible.

Hasselback potatoes with oregano and lemon crumbs
slightly adapted from the always delicious Olive magazine

8 small potatoes
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
2 tablespoons dried breadcrumbs
finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F.
Place the potatoes on a wooden spoon then slice downwards thinly until the knife touches the spoon (don’t slice all the way through).
Place the potatoes cut side up on a roasting pan and brush with some oil – making sure the oil drips among the slices – then season with salt and pepper. Roast for 50 minutes.
Mix the oregano, breadcrumbs, lemon zest in a small bowl, season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle over the potatoes and roast them for another 10 minutes or until topping is golden and potatoes are tender.

Serves 4

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