Sunday, September 23, 2012

Madeira unassuming delight

Originally from England, this sponge cake has a firm, yet light texture. By no means fancy or deluxe, but by all means yummy and delightful!

This post is a must as this cake provides an unassumingly GOOD recipe, which I feel obliged to pass on. Not only a Jamie Oliver recipe (and therefore quality!) but most importantly, the wow effect I got after taking a bite of this cake, was big…and made me reach for many more bites J

Did you know?…
The Madeira Cake is sometimes mistakenly thought to originate from the Madeira Islands; however, that is not the case as it was instead named after the Madeira wine, which was popular in England at the time and was often served with the cake.

Simple, quick and perfect for your coffee or tea in the afternoon (or any time of the day really!).


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

I have only met a handful of 'Trinis' (Trinidadians) in my lifetime but I must say, every single one of them has a massive heart, fantastic personality and a love for life! One day I hope to make it to Trinidad and Tobago - that small island in the Caribbean, where the 'carnival' season' is supposedly more colorful and alive than in Rio! (This is not a claim as I have not been...only what I hear ;) )

Although the 'Pineapple Upside Down cake' comes from the US (the Hawaiian pineapple company really brought it to life in 1925), it seems to be a leading favorite on the Trini island and it was through a Trini friend that I stumbled onto this recipe. Something new...something different? Why not!?

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Recipe found online here.
Adapted from Gourmet, February 2000
1/2 medium pineapple, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cored
3/4 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/2 cup unsweetened pineapple juice
2 tablespoons dark rum for sprinkling over cake
Special equipment: A well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet. If you lack a cast-iron skillet of this size, make the caramel in a small pot and scrape it into the bottom of a similarly-sized cake pan. (I used a 9″ cake pan in the pictures above.)
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Make topping: Cut pineapple crosswise into 3/8-inch-thick pieces. Melt butter in skillet. Add brown sugar and simmer over moderate heat, stirring, four minutes. Remove from heat. Arrange pineapple on top of sugar mixture in concentric circles, overlapping pieces slightly.
Make batter: Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in granulated sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and rum. Add half of flour mixture and beat on low speed just until blended. Beat in pineapple juice, then add remaining flour mixture, beating just until blended. (Batter may appear slightly curdled.)
Spoon batter over pineapple topping and spread evenly. Bake cake in middle of oven until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cake stand in skillet five minutes. Invert a plate over skillet and invert cake onto plate (keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together). Replace any pineapple stuck to bottom of skillet. Sprinkle rum over cake and cool on plate on a rack.
Serve cake just warm or at room temperature.
Do ahead: Cake may be made one day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Warm Tuscan nights

Wine. Good food. Romance. These words come to mind when one dreams of Tuscany.
Your eyes feed on rolling hills and olive trees; on terra cotta brick and cypress pines. Your nose tingles with the scent of oregano and basil herbs…and your whole body feels warm from that typical bright Tuscan sun.

We escaped to the Chianti region, between Firenze (Florence) and Siena, where you will not come across one drop of bad wine. Chianti red wine is quite special as it must contain at least 80-100% Sangiovese grapes to be labeled Chianti. 

Tuscany offers an abundance of accommodation, leaving you spoilt for choice. No matter what your budget is, you’ll find something that suits you. My only tip is to stay somewhere with a pool. Check out local farmers markets on the weekend in 'Greve in Chianti' and eat THE most delicious ice cream in Castellina in Chianti – a place called Gelateria l'Antica Delizia. TDF ice cream!!! No joke.

Our accommodation in Castellina in Chianti
Tuscany provides an opportunity to escape. To dream. To romanticize. To disconnect. No wonder it is the number one holiday destination for couple and romance. The Italians are warm, welcoming and share love through their beautiful food.

Beautiful Siena
For all males in this world - treat your lady to a weekend in Tuscany. Your heart will return filled with love and you’ll long to return for yet another romantic getaway.

My eyes definitely sparkled. A lot.

Grazie Italia.

Read further for some additional tips on Tuscany...towns, food, shopping...(note that these all come from a Tuscan local):

"Here you are with some recommendations for places to visit and eat: 
- In Fiesole a place I have been recommended to eat is 'Le Lance'. Close to Fiesole there is another hill called Settignano - worth a visit and to eat at 'La Capponcina'. Close to Settignano in Ponte a Mensola, at at 'Osvaldo'. 
- In Firenze, in Palazzo Vecchio they organize visits for children of different ages called 'Museo die ragazzi'. You may need to call and book the visit (available in different languages and tailored to different ages). For kids, another nice museum is 'Museo of Leonardo da Vinci'. 
- In Firenze, don't miss Ponte Vecchio and a nice walk along the Arno - very romantic around 6-7PM (choose to have an aperitif somewhere). If you rent bikes in Firenze, make sure to picnic at Giardini di Boboli. 
- In Firenze, EAT: if you like fish 'Portofino' but it's not downtown. Alternatively 'Quattro Leoni'; Pizzeria "Edy house", " I tredici gobbi". 
- Moving now towards Siena :if you take the old chianti road from Firenze and you reach Firenze Impruneta, another place to eat is "Il battibecco". 
- Towards Siena, along the same road, nice to visit is Greve in Chianti; if you want to eat there you may go to "da Verrazzano". 
- Other nice places worth a visit are Volpaia, Radda in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti with the Castello di Brolio: there you can have a nice easy lunch. Close to Castellina in Chianti, a nice place where to stop for a quick lunch or dinner is Osteria di Fonterutoli (excellent food and they make their own wine and olive oil as well). 
- Close by, In Vagliagli, nice to visit is "Cantine di dievole" which are excellent wine producers and have a nice restaurant too. This place has breathtaking landscapes. 
- If you make it to Siena, get to Piazza del campo where they run the Palio (it's on August 16, but the celebrations and atmosphere start 2-3 days in advance). If you want to eat in piazza del campo, here are two options: either a basic but good pizza at "Il bandierino", or good food at the nearby restaurant "Il Bigelli" - these are the places where the Sienese go to eat when in Pzza del Campo. 
- In Siena, at the Enoteca Italiana, within the fortress, there is another good restaurant with a beautiful terrasse, great enoteque and they sell wines at the best quality price ratio and with a huge variety. All these restaurants have outside garden or terraces. 
- Going back toward Firenze, you may stop at Monteriggioni, a nice small medieval hamlet on a hill (nice restaurant is "Il castello"); San Gimignano (the town of the towers, worth half an afternoon visit).
- At the seaside, the most recommended place is Forte die Marmi, where you can rent a place by the beach for the day and bicycles. Very top beach establishments (a little expensive but very nice) 10-15 mins close by is Pietrasanta. 
- As for SHOPPING, there are among the best outlets in the surroundings: one is Brunello Cucinelli (they have a store in Sablon, super duper expensive...); the one here is approx. one hour from Siena towards Perugia, another beautiful town. There you find the main production site - besides being a beautiful place, you get the first line cashmere at more than half price. Also approx. 1 hour from Siena close to Arezzo (another beautiful antique town, where each 1st saturday of the month they have one of the most important antique fares. There is the Prada outlet: leather, man and women fashion, worth a visit and very convenient (the place is called "Levane").
Closer to Firenze, there is another big fashion outlet, "the Mall" of all the top brands (Armani, ferragamo, YSL, ect...)."

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Luxurious Blondies – White chocolate brownies with raspberries and meringue topping

The name says it all. These are a real treat, which I am still in love with, despite my overdose J
What do you get when mixing white chocolate with lots of fresh raspberries and top this moist and chewy texture with soft and golden meringue? You get these to-die-for Blondies!

As Dorie Greenspan puts it in her fantastic baking book*…”White Chocolate, orange zest and lots of fresh raspberries make these brownies delicious; topping them with meringue makes them glamorous. The cake layer is slender, delightfully dense and both sweet and tart; the meringue is soft and golden. You can call them brownies, but serve them with a swirl of raspberry coulis and they'll be worthy of a black-tie gala.”

Spot on.

See the full recipe below. It is straight forward and I added in some additional tips, which helped me. Enjoy and try not to overdose, although it will be hard!

White Chocolate Brownies (Blondies)
makes 32 brownies

For the brownies:
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup finely ground almonds
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
4 ounces premium-quality white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup fresh raspberries

For the meringue:
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
½ cup sugar

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Getting ready
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Butter a 9-x-13-inch pan, line the bottom with parchment or wax paper, butter the paper and dust the bottom and sides of the pan with flour; tap out the excess. Put the pan on a baking sheet.

To make the brownies
Whisk together the flour, ground almonds and salt.
Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of only-just-simmering water. Put the butter in the bowl, top with the chopped chocolate and stir frequently until the ingredients are just melted—you don't want them to get so hot that the butter or the white chocolate separates. (White chocolate is finicky, so don't leave the kitchen while it's over the heat—too much heat and it will fall apart or scorch.) Remove the bowl from the pan of water.

Working in the bowl of a stand mixer or in another large bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the eggs and, with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, or until pale and foamy. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and blend in the melted butter and chocolate. Still working on low, mix in the dry ingredients, stirring only until they disappear into the batter. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the raspberries evenly over the batter. Set aside while you make the meringue.
Stella: I would suggest to pre bake this batter for 10min while you prepare the meringue. Once your meringue is done (approx. 10min), pull out the cake pan and top with meringue. Bake fully as directed below.

To make the meringue
In the cleaned mixer bowl with the (clean) whisk attachment, or in another large bowl with cleaned beaters, beat the egg whites with the salt on medium speed until they are foamy and just turn opaque. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and add the sugar in a slow, steady stream. Whip the whites until they form firm but still glossy peaks.
Gently spread the meringue over the brownie batter.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the meringue is browned and crackly and the brownies pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer the pan to a rack and allow to cool to room temperature in the pan.

Cover a cooling rack with a piece of parchment or wax paper, or a silicone baking mat, dust the paper or mat with confectioners' sugar and very gently, so you don't squish the meringue, turn the brownies out onto the rack. Peel away the parchment paper lining and carefully invert the brownies onto a cutting board. Cut into 32 bars, each roughly 2¼ x 11½ inches.

Dust the squares with additional confectioners' sugar if you think they need it and serve as is or with Raspberry Coulis

Kept in the pan and covered lightly with plastic wrap, the brownies can be kept at room temperature overnight. The meringue makes these fragile (and unfreezable). If you omit the meringue, you can wrap the brownies airtight and keep them at room temperature for up to 3 days and frozen for up to 2 months.

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