Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer Entertaining {Guacamole, Mojitos, Gazpacho, and Sangria}

The cat's outa the bag now. I recently confessed to my girlfriends that my sole reason for growing mint  (besides the fact that it's the only thing which refuses to die through vast epochs of neglect) is for the mojitos. Yep, when it comes to summer drinkies, I'm a passionate imbiber.

When it was decided to kick off a bachelorette party for a dear friend at my place I immediately stopped picking all the good leaves off the mint and started stalking the shops for quality avocados.  

Guacamole and mojitos are my summer entertaining 'gimmes', and gazpacho (a chilled Spanish tomato soup) and sangria often add to the line-up - tasty and light on the tummy. Certainly fits the bill for a night of teeny dresses and tube-tops whirling on a dance floor.

Debauchery or no debauchery, these are all great do-ahead items suitable even for a quiet, sophisticated, patio gathering. You know the type, that 'respectable' get-together where one may or may not end up whirling anyways on a kitchen-cum-dance floor.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

I Met Him in a Cherry Tree...Part 1 (& Cherry Clafoutis Recipe)

I was in a cherry tree when I heard him for the first time.

"Hey, honey! What's your name?"

My head swiveled round. This cheeky opening line had to be directed at me. I was the only girl in that row of cherries. Tall above the branches, perched on a ladder, admiring the stellar panorama that New Zealand had to offer, I had been minding my own business - trying to pick fast, fill my buckets, and make some decent money that day. 

Or, at least enough money to cover the campsite fee, some organic lamb for dinner, a few beers (Speight's 'Old Dark' for you kiwi-readers), and enough petrol to traipse about elsewhere on the South Island that weekend.
Maybe it was the heat of mid-day, or the boredom of dealing with my own thoughts for too long, but I answered his call.

"Who me?"


"It's Josie."

And so it began. Small talk flew over the tree tops. I climbed down my ladder. I stood at the bottom of his. I noticed his odd, brown, leather work shoes. He began to descend. A baseball hat cast a deep shadow over most of his face. I gasped. He was cuuuute! 

For those who haven't come accross Cherry Clafoutis before, let me just say it is one brilliant use of cherries. No pitting involved, as leaving the pits in is a French tradition which is said to add to the depth of flavour. Real vanilla, eggs, cream, and toasted almonds tossed over top make for the perfect finish to a summer meal.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Strawberries with Ricotta Cream

Strawberries should not be tampered with. They should not be stuck in crumbles, muffins or other doughy goods. They should be eaten simply and with just a bit of sweetness - sugar, cream, a hint of citrus and mint. Period. Finito.

It seems such a waste to have them buried in layers of sweet pasty. I mean, really, anything tastes good in pastry year round, so why go through all that trouble cranking up the oven in June just to have something pale and mushy adorning your cake?

Leave 'em alone, I say. Keep 'em fresh and brilliantly red. Smoothies, hot compote over ice cream, sure, why not? But stick them in the oven for an hour. Oh, please don't.

Sometimes I fiddle around with a shortcake recipe upon which to pile a mound of sliced and sweetened berries on top. Recently, though, I neglected to notice the words 'self-rising' in front of the word 'flour' in the shortcake recipe. Needless to say, I had a pan of flat and crisply burned discs in the oven. 

The light at the end of it all turned out to be a tub of ricotta cheese in the fridge. It had went unused after last-weekends overly-ambitious idea of freshly made tortellini never came to fruition.

This dish, sweetened with maple syrup, brings a refreshing and earthy change to the strawberries and cream duo. This is a fantastic do-ahead item. Just take them out of the fridge 15 minutes before serving, as the flavours in the cream are best mildly cold.

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

Sometimes the mundane is what makes life so enjoyable. It's important to remember to be kind to ourselves, slow down, and enjoy what each day has to offer. Sounds a bit trite? Sure. Yet who among us can't use another reminder to lay off the pressure on ourselves, and our loved ones, just a bit. 

Lemon poppy baked goods are nothing earth shattering, but they are comforting and uplifting. It remains one of my all-time fave flavour combos, which makes sense given that, among waves of food trends, lemon poppy seed cakes, muffins, scones, and waffles still flatter the pages of food magazines and cookbooks year after year. 

To test out my new oven thermometer (purchased due to my hair-pulling gas oven which has a dial with unmarked lines - no numbers, nothing - to set the temperature) I decided I needed to give another crack at the lemon poppy seed muffin. You see, the challenge is to balance the sweetness. Many recipes I've tried fall into one or the other extreme on the sweetness line. These muffins should be suitable for breakkie, yet sweet enough to snack on during that mid-afternoon energy slump. 

And wouldn't you know, I finally hit upon that balance. Maybe it was that oven thermometer that inspired some extra thought and vigilance while hammering out the recipe, or maybe karma just decided it was my morning for a treat. Whatever the case, I can finally share that sought-after recipe. It makes a batch of muffins plus a pan of mini-muffins (better for sharing, or sticking in the freezer for later.) I think raw sugar is the key to maintaining the sweetness balance, but there is a sugary glaze that I made and used over half the muffins...the ones intended for later in the afternoon.

Check out more scrumptious bites at Sweets for Saturday.

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