My comforting banana bread

It is madly snowing in Vancouver today. It is unusual that it snows in the city, only the mountains receive favourable dumps at this time of year. It has not stopped all night and all morning and I guess my son and I will be layering up to enjoy some snow fun making snowballs and snow angels later this afternoon. Right now I am craving comfort, snuggling up on the sofa with a warm slice of banana bread and a cup of tea while I watch the beautiful snowflakes fall.

Snow day in Vancouver Dec '12

My favourite banana bread is one that has a generous quantity of banana in it, soft without crumbling (but not wet), and a nice crust on the outside. There are literally hundred’s of banana recipes out there, and there is always an ingredient or two I don’t like in each recipe so I’ve created by own. When the cold is just too much you can give it a summery feel with coconut and berries.

It was a baking morning today. As much as it is beautiful to look out at all the snow-capped rooftops and trees, it is not at all inviting to step outside and my son was starting to get restless for some activity so he helped me. He had lots of measuring to do with all the dry ingredients and mixing all the wet ones in the well. This kept him happily busy for about half an hour, which is fabulous when you are a parent running out of things to do indoors… however as a precaution you need to know there will be lots of mess!

Mess in the kitchen

photomess

He was particularly delighted to see the final product and give it the first taste test.

Banana Bread (Serves 10)

Ingredients 

oil or butter, to grease and non-stick baking paper

1 1/3 (200g) cups plain flour

1 cup (150g) wholewheat flour

1.5 tsp baking powder

1/3 cup (75g) caster sugar/berry sugar

1/3 cup (75g) brown sugar

1/4 cup (20g) shredded coconut

1 tsp cinnamon

3 eggs lightly whisked

3 large ripe mashed bananas

2/3 cup (160ml) organic virgin coconut oil (melted on low heat)

1.5 tsp of vanilla extract

1/3 cup (75gm) raspberries (frozen and broken up a little so not whole)

Method

1. Preheat oven to 300 F or 150 C. Grease a 7cm-deep 100mm x 200mm (base measurement) loaf pan with oil or melted butter. Line the base and sides with non-stick baking paper.

2. Sift the combined flours and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, coconut and cinnamon and mix through so ingredients are evenly distributed.

3. Make a well in the centre. Add the eggs, banana, oil and vanilla and again mix well. Fold through the frozen raspberries.

4. Pour into the prepared pan. Smooth the surface. Bake for 1 hour and increase temperature to 355 F / 180 C for a further 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.  Set aside in the pan for 15 minutes to cool before lifting out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Note: It is quite a dense mixture so I like to bake it slower and longer to deliver a great result. 

Other combinations I have tried are gluten-free four, banana, blackberries and chocolate and also banana, raspberries and date. They all seem to taste good to me.

Enjoy!

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Beetroot and goat’s cheese tart

I feel a little disappointed in myself for not having posted anything since early October. Well I have a really good reason for that now! I felt a little out of sorts a few days before I stopped writing, and lost my way with inspiration, cooking and the adventures we were getting up to. The only time I remember having a lack of interest in food and cooking was when I was pregnant back in 2009. So there you are…I found out just before Thanksgiving weekend that I was pregnant again!

Anyway, to get me going again I thought I would post this recipe now for our friends Nicola and Steve who we enjoyed it with this weekend. I reserve this recipe for entertaining, because once you find out how good it tastes, you will find it hard to stop at one piece!

Beets have been marching into the stores in droves. They are well and truly a favourite fall produce pick of mine. Leading into winter, they are a vegetable loaded with cold fighting properties; and honestly I think they taste good in just about anything; juices, in burgers (it’s an Aussie thing), baked with your favourite roast beef dish, relish, warm winter salads and this tart recipe by Valli Little which was published in the March issue of delicious. magazine, 2011.

This tart is delectable and although you may think by looking at it that there could be a degree of difficulty because of how amazing it looks, there isn’t! Just follow the recipe and you will be rewarded with this beautiful dish which I would not change in anyway…it’s almost perfect! I have tested it out on guests and we all politely held back from being the first to dive in for another serving. If you are fortunate enough to still have some left, it will just last till the next day – it is best served on day of cooking.

Beetroot and goat’s cheese tart (serves 6)

Ingredients

1 bunch of beetroot (about 400 gm) trimmed

30 gm unsalted butter

1 Tablespoon olive oil

2 red onions. thinly sliced

1/4 cup (60ml) balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons thyme leaves plus extra sprigs

1 Tablespoon caster sugar

150 gm soft goat’s cheese (I bought Salt Spring Island’s creamy goat’s cheese – it’s divine)

2 eggs, lightly beaten

150 ml thickened cream

1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg (ground is fine if you can’t find whole nutmegs)

250 gm creme fraiche or sour cream

1 Tablespoon bottled horseradish

2 tsp Dijon mustard

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Pastry

1 1/3 cups (200 gm) plain flour

100 gm chilled unsalted butter chopped

1 teaspoon thyme leaves

Method

1. Place beetroot in a pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 1 hour, topping with water if necessary, until tender. Drain. Refresh under cold water and leave to cool. Peel and coarsely grate. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, for the pastry, place flour, butter, thyme and a pinch of salt in a food processor and whiz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add 1/4 cup (60ml) chilled water, then process until the mixture comes together in a ball. Enclose in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Lightly grease a 30 cm loose-bottomed tart pan. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry to 5mm thick, then use to line the tart pan. Chill for 15 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 180 C / 355 F. Line pastry with baking paper and fill with pastry weights or uncooked rice. Bake for 10 minutes, remove the paper and the weights, then bake for 5 minutes or until dry and pale golden.

4. Heat the butter and oil in a frypan over medium heat. Add onions and 1 teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes until softened. Add beetroot, vinegar, thyme and sugar, then cook, stirring for 5 minutes or until thickened and syrupy. Spread beetroot mixture over the tart base, then crumble over the cheese.

5. Whisk egg, cream and nutmeg together, then pour into the tart case. Scatter with extra thyme. Bake 35 minutes or until set.

6. Meanwhile, combine the creme fraiche, horseradish, Dijon and lemon juice, then season. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

7. Cut tart into slices and serve warm or cold with horseradish cream.

I like serving this tart with a fennel salad on the side. Enjoy!

Beetroot and goat’s cheese tart – http://www.greenskis.wordpress.com

Rocket ship birthday cake…

I love birthday parties, in fact I love all parties!! I really enjoy the planning part and creating the vision and theme for a party…and then there’s the doing, which I don’t love as much.

Just as well I have a very involved husband who enjoys putting my ‘creative visions’ into action! For our son’s recent 3rd birthday party, he said he wanted a rocket cake. I must say I was happy and relieved three weeks leading up to the big day he had changed his mind from what he previously requested which was a Lightening McQueen cake! This would have caused way more stress to build a car than a rocket (in my mind) so I worked at building enthusiasm and excitement over a rocketing good party theme.

I searched for ideas and inspiration around the theme…as you do, and finally sourced what my cake base was going to be and the type of rocket ship cake I wanted.

I have used a combination of recipes to achieve what I wanted, because that’s what I do to perhaps make things a little more complicated! This is the type of cake you can definitely take breaks with in-between to entertain child, make coffee, clean up toilet training accidents etc, because it is virtually impossible with child to do it all in one go!

Anyway, here is the white cake base mixture recipe I used and slightly adapted which I found on the Whisk-Kid.com for her super epic rainbow cake.

I wanted to create three coloured layers inside the rocket cake to reflect the colours of the icing on the outside. The colours I used in my layered cake were blue, red and yellow.

I wanted to use as much natural colouring as I could in the cake, so the layers were given natural flavours of blackberry, strawberry and lemon.

The cake design for the rocket was sourced from http://www.taste.com.au and called a Flying rocket cake which provided the template.

I used a standard buttercream icing for the outside of the cake.

White Cake – please note, this mixture is enough to make three thin cakes in a 23 cm x 23 cm sized cake tin.

Flying Rocket Ship cake

Ingredients

226 gm butter, room temperature

426 gm sugar

5 egg whites, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla

426 g plain flour

4 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

350 ml milk, room temperature

Red, yellow and blue GEL food coloring

silver cachous

M & M chocolates

Sour straps

Method

1. Remove ingredients; eggs, butter and milk out of the fridge to let them warm to room temperature. Meanwhile thrown in a handful of washed strawberries into the blender and then strain through sieve to catch the juice. Set bowl aside. Do the same with blackberries and set aside in another bowl. Using a micro-plane grater, shave lemon zest from a lemon and also set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 180 C / 355 F degrees. Oil and line three 23 cm x 23 cm square cake pans or two and reuse one for the third amount of cake mixture.

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

4. Cream the sugar and butter, then add the egg whites (I cracked them all into one bowl) and add them a little at a time. Add the vanilla and mix until fully incorporated. Then alternating between wet and dry, add the milk and flour in two parts. Ensure you stop mixer when adding these otherwise there will be milk and flour everywhere!

5. Divide the batter amongst three bowls. The best way of doing this is to weigh your mixing bowl before you have added any ingredients and then subtract the weight of the bowl from the final measurement after the batter is completed. Divide that number by three and add that weight of batter to each bowl.

6. Add one tablespoon of strawberry juice to bowl number 1, one tablespoon blackberry juice to bowl number 2 and the lemon zest to bowl number 3.  I whisked in a small amount of GEL food colouring into each to achieve a greater depth of colour, but not much as I didn’t want them to be really bright. The colour of the unbaked batter will be the colour of the baked batter. Pour into the pans and bake for 15-20 minutes each or until a skewer just about comes out clean (they will cook a little further in the pans while resting).

7. When you remove from the oven, let them rest on the cooling rack for 20 minutes, in the pan. They may be a little sticky, so flip carefully onto a plate lined with baking paper and cover placing into the fridge to cool quickly for 30 minutes.

Assembly of cake

1. Ensure you have a cake board or plate that measures at least 34cm in width and 40cm in length. I covered mine with foil to give it the space look. Remove cakes from the fridge and place the blue one on a flat board (like a plastic chopping board) still with the baking paper underneath this base one, layer the red cake on top and then the yellow and ensure it is lined up as well as possible. Please note the cakes should have a slight sticky texture to them so they should hold well together, however if corner parts need a little extra sticking, use a small amount of strawberry jam or sugar syrup.

2. I measured each side to check that the three layers were even all around. However should your cake be a little sloped, shave off a tiny bit slowly, slowly with a serrated knife to even up. If you are careful spreading batter mixture into the pans they should be very flat and level.

2. With pre-printed template of rocket cake, place over the top of the cake and pin with toothpicks to secure at sides and tip and very slowly, cut the shapes with a serrated knife. I cannot stress enough it is important to move very slowly! I used a steak knife as it is smaller than a bread knife.

3. Place the cut fins of the rocket cake in their correct place, securing if you need to with sugar syrup.

Note:- At the end of assembly, slip the baking paper out of the bottom base cake carefully (with a pair of extra hands) and spatula if you need it as it can be a little sticky.

Butter icing

Ingredients

250 gm butter, softened

2 cups (320 gm) icing (confectioner’s sugar), sifted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Red and blue GEL food coloring.

1. Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for 6-8 minutes or until pale and creamy. Add the icing sugar and vanilla and beat for a further 10-15 minutes or until light and fluffy.

2. Using a cake spatula, spread the icing over the cake first to do a crumb coat, sealing any edges and joins and then place in the freezer for 20 minutes.

3. Remove cake from freezer. Split icing into three bowls. Add a few drops of blue to one, a few drops of red to another and mix well. The other bowl will remain plain coloured.

4. I started with the red area first, then the blue and then used the spatula to add more plain icing to the white areas and smoothed them out.

5. Finally, the decorations! Cut sour straps to size to neatly separate coloured areas. Place silver cachous and M & M’s all over and then remaining sour straps (which I used a knife to separate strap colours) as the rocket ship blasting fire out the back.

Flavoured layers in rocket ship cake

To follow in theme, the menu of food included; rocket dogs, cornflake meteorites, starry trail mix (selection of moon chocolate rockets, dried fruit selections in different containers), out of this world banana yoghurt muffins and rocket fuel drinks.

With rocket ship and space games like; find the meteorites, pin the planet on the rocket ship, catch the asteroids and pass the light sabre kids were well and truly entertained for a couple of hours!

It was fun, but I am glad birthdays only come once a year!

Pin the planet on the rocket ship game

Flying rocket ship!

Rocket fuel drinks

Out of this world banana muffins

Special Coq au vin

Today is my anniversary and we love to celebrate over a special dinner at a restaurant. My husband suggested French and I suggested (or strongly persuaded), Japanese.

Therefore, a new Japanese restaurant that opened recently in the hip area of Yaletown became the winning choice. I did however want to make my husband a french dish which he loves; Coq au vin…so both of us would be truly happy on our anniversary weekend.

Coq au vin, (in French translates to “rooster with wine”) is as rustic as it gets. There are many variations of the recipe since it was documented in the early 20th century. Obviously, the most important ingredients are the ‘Capon’ (rooster meat) or chicken and the wine. You can use red or white wine, I chose red!

It is always essential to use top quality produce and for this dish I bought a local BC organic farm chicken and a beautiful red wine from the Okanagan valley, BC.

What’s special about this Coq au vin you may ask? Well, it’s made with love of course…and the aromatics of the dish are so seductive and ambrosial.

So here it is, the recipe I prefer to cook. It also freezes especially well too.

Coq au vin with buttery mash (Serves 4)

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons plain flour

10 chicken drumsticks (free-range organic)

4 Tablespoons olive oil

6 naturally smoked middle rindless bacon rashers (as much fat removed off side and ends as possible), cut into 4cm pieces.

10 eschalots (pearl onions), peeled

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 1/4 cups of red wine (I used an Okanagan Cabernet Sauvignon)

1 3/4 cups chicken stock

8 sprigs fresh thyme and more for garnish

3 dried bay leaves

500g button mushrooms

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

1/4 cup brandy

Buttery mash

2kg brushed potatoes, peeled and quartered to the same size

50gm butter

4 Tablespoons extra virgin cold pressed olive oil

Salt to season

1/4 – 1/2 cup of milk if you like a more creamy texture

Method

1) Place the flour in a plastic bag. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken and shake until lightly coated.

2) Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a deep heavy pot over a medium heat. In batches cook the chicken, turning for five minutes or until a golden brown colour. Transfer to a plate.

3) Add the eschalots, bacon and garlic to the pot and cook, tossing, for five minutes or so until the eschalots are a golden colour. Add the wine, stock, thyme and bay leaves and bring to the boil. Add the chicken and reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered for 35 minutes or until tender.

4) Transfer chicken to a plate. Add mushrooms and tomato paste to the remaining stock mixture. Increase the heat to a medium-high and simmer uncovered, for 15 minutes or until sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper and add brandy. Return chicken to the pan and stir to combine on a low heat for five to ten minutes.

5) Meanwhile, to make the mash, add potato to cold water in a saucepan and bring to boil cooking for approximately 25 minutes or until tender. Drain. Add the butter to the pan and return the potatoes to the pan and use a potato masher until smooth. Add the oil and milk while mashing and season with salt and pepper.

6) Arrange coq au vin on plate with mash and some extra thyme to serve. Voila!

Special Coq au vin – http://www.greenskis.wordpress.com

and Enjoy!

Sugo – simple tomato pasta sauce

A few things I will never forget after spending a reasonable amount of time in Italy, ‘with Italians’ in a past life are the foundations of a good pasta ‘sauce'(or sugo in Italian). What I learnt was mostly from watching, given my degree of language skill was only basic.

The formula for an excellent sauce?

> Always shop for the locally sourced produce or grow your own (especially tomatoes)! One of the first memorable food markets I was introduced to in Rome many years ago was ‘Campo de’ Fiori’; literally meaning ‘Field of Flowers’ has historically been one of the longest running fresh vegetable and fish markets since 1869.

> A good Italian sauce is simplistic not complicated, always using few ingredients to enhance the flavours in each dish. Have you ever seen an Italian eating a pizza that resembles a cake? No, of course not…they enjoy a pizza with a few ingredients without dominating the base for example; tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil and its fabulous!

This authentic pasta sauce is as simple as it gets and it will be hard not to inhale it once ready! I have included a suggestion for children to make it more fun. The name ‘bird’s nest’ has been adopted from a friend who makes this for her children sometimes and I am doing the same for them tomorrow when they all come over for lunch. Please see bottom for guide on putting bird’s nests together. It freezes well too if you want to make the most of all the tomatoes out there right now.

Italians are quite finicky about pairing their sauce with the perfect pasta so to speak…but hey, I’m not Italian so I will break the rules occasionally to suit my family’s tastes.

Generally the rule of thumb is to match a heavy, chunky sauce with a short or chunky pasta like penne, rigatoni, fusilli or even gnocchi and with light, thin sauces, complement by using the longer clingy pastas like linguine, spaghetti, fettuccine etc.

Simple tomato pasta sauce with linguine

Ingredients

1.5kg or 3.5 pounds of very ripe tomatoes

1 teaspoon minced garlic (I love a little more, so I used 1.5 teaspoons)

1.5 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves

1 Tablespoon olive oil for cooking

1 Tablespoon olive oil extra virgin cold pressed for drizzling at end

Handful of fresh basil leaves

Fresh linguine pasta

Method

1. Score a cross with a knife on the bottom of each tomato. Prepare a pot of boiling water and also chilled/iced water. Place each tomato into the pot of boiling water for a minute, and remove placing them into the iced water immediately. Once they have cooled a little, peel the skin off the tomatoes which should be easy. If they are not, you may need to pop them into the boiling water for a minute longer.

2. Quarter or halve the tomatoes; depending on whether you have bought a round or Roma variety and remove seeds with hands over a sieve and bowl so you are not losing any juice. Push as much juice from the pulp and seeds through the sieve as possible and set aside. Chop half the quantity of tomatoes up finely. Place the other half in a food processor with the oregano.

3. Using a heavy bottom pot, heat olive oil over a medium heat. Add garlic to pot. It will only need a minute or two; do not brown or burn. Add tomatoes, salt and boil for 5-10 minutes. Simmer for 45 minutes or a bit longer until it reaches the desired consistency you like.

4. Prepare fresh linguine which should only take three minutes to cook in boiling water. Drain and arrange in dishes. Spoon in the ‘sugo’ with a few torn basil leaves on top, drizzle the extra virgin cold pressed olive oil and enjoy!

Sugo

Tomato pasta sauce

Additions:- If you would like a more intense flavour, a little pecorino cheese grated on top is delicious. If you love the basil flavour, process some basil leaves, parsley and extra virgin cold pressed olive oil together and drizzle on top.

Note: For bird’s nests, twirl and arrange the linguine in a nest like shape. Spoon some hot sauce into the nest and place some baby bocconcini balls on top. That way they will melt a little on the sauce and still resemble white eggs in a nest!

Children's bird's nest pasta

Children’s bird’s nest pasta

Summer berry bakewell cake

I have never been in berry heaven as I am here in Vancouver. Of course, we have berries available in Australia, but they barely stand up to the sweet juicy flavour and large size that we are enjoying here. The price of berries back home are also double or even triple what they cost here too which is a real eye opener.

I would almost ration them out at home on our breakfast cereal or as a snack and fresh raspberries were certainly a big treat for special occasions as they were at the top of the list for most expensive.

Here in our fridge right now there are abundant bowls of blueberries, raspberries filling our shelves and I faced with the tough decision of whether to bake, create or freeze? When a couple of kilograms of berries cost $10, we just can’t eat them fast enough!

I have been busy in the kitchen trying out recipes that have been inspired from some classics. The first I have baked is a British favourite with not much too it but berries, almonds, eggs, flour and sugar. I have adapted the recipe slightly from a BBC Food recipe I found for a Raspberry bakewell cake.

Any berries would work, Taeberries, blackberries, mulberries etc. If you like more of a moist gooey type cake, then the time specified in the method will achieve this result. If you like your cake a little more fluffy and light, then you need to bake at a slightly higher temperature at the beginning for 15 minutes (approx 200 C / 400 F) and substitute 50gm almond meal for 50gm more self raising flour.

You can easily replace the butter with coconut oil and flour with an alternative like a gluten-free flour for specific dietary options.

Berry bakewell cake

Ingredients

100gm ground almonds/almond meal

140gm butter, softened

140gm caster sugar / berry sugar

180gm self-raising flour

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

250gm raspberries and blueberries (can use fresh or frozen)

2 Tablespoons flaked almonds

AS AN ALTERNATIVE DECORATION TO SPRINKLING FLAKED ALMONDS ON TOP…

Amaretto icing

140gm icing sugar

1 Tablespoon Amaretto

2-3 Tablespoons water

Roasted coconut flakes

Method

1. Heat oven to 180C / 355F and grease and line a deep 20cm loose bottomed cake tin.

2. In a food processor, add the ground almonds, butter, sugar, flour, eggs and vanilla extract until well combined.

3. Spread half the mix over the cake tin and smooth over the top with a spatula or your fingers. Scatter the blueberries and raspberries over, then dollop the remaining cake mixture on top and roughly spread till covered.

4. Either scatter with almonds and bake for 55 minutes until golden. Cool for 30 mins in the tin and then remove from the tin and dust with icing sugar.

OR

5. Bake first for 50mins to an hour and follow icing directions below…

Amaretto icing

1. Mix the two tablespoons of water and Amaretto with the icing sugar until combined. Keep adding water until the icing is thick but not too runny. Drizzle over the top of the cake and scatter roasted coconut flakes over the top.

It’s lovely served with vanilla ice-cream or coconut sorbet. Enjoy!

Ten terrific things with tomatoes…

I must admit that I have not been in the kitchen at all much since on holidays, understandable yes, but on returning home after a few weeks break I have fallen a little out of the habit and have been relying more on easy, quick, convenience foods. This does not mean ‘fast-foods’ as I despise chain food groups and try to avoid them at all costs. For me, instead of preparing from scratch, its pre-made organic pasta sauces, pre-cooked chickens and salads etc.

What I did notice on returning from our vacation, is our tomato plant exploded with the fabulous month of sun we have been enjoying! You cannot beat freshly grown or locally picked tomatoes as they are bursting with flavour and you do notice the difference between ones that have travelled further or from large-scale farms.  Our small cherry variety are super sweet and world’s away in flavour from even some of the organic ones I have been buying. The sweetest part? Watching my son’s excitement as he spots the newly ripened ones on the vine in our garden and jumps to pick them!

It is a medley of tomatoes out there at the moment; their blazing colour of reds, purples, oranges and yellows in all different sizes and shapes was alluring enough to get me back into the spirit of cooking! You can never feel guilty about eating too many tomatoes as they are full of antioxidants including Lycopene which have been linked to heart and bone health. The top three vitamins are C, A and K in that order, help keep blood sugar levels in check and perhaps provide some anti-cancer benefits (at the top of the list is prostate cancer for men’s heath). In addition, they will give you glowing skin, hair, eyes and good teeth!

A colleague of my husband’s wanted to know what to do with all these tomatoes, so I thought I’d start by inspiring some of my favourite recipes which I will slowly post unless anyone wants them urgently!

There are literally thousands of ways to use tomatoes, and I figure why mess with them when they taste so good?

So here’s to keeping it simple with my top 10 all-time tomato recipes…I will post any on request right away.

1. Simple but superb tomato, oregano, basil pasta sauce.

2. Tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil salad

3. Tomato and garlic bruschetta

4. Tomato, egg and pancetta/bacon pizza

5. Mixed tomato and mint salad

6. Tomato Tarte Tatin

7. Tomato and goat’s cheese tartlets

8. Tomato rice pockets

9. Tomato relish

10. Mussels with tomato, chorizo, white wine broth and frites or crusty baguette