Hosting family and friends in our home is something that my husband and enjoy and from time to time we will have “feasts” most times without the expected association with a major holiday like Christmas or Easter (although we typically host friends and family during those periods too).

So when Gbemi and her family flew in from Houston for a short 4 day visit to Lagos it went without saying that we would have them over. Not only is Gbemi and her husband, Debola a very dear friend but she single handedly saved me from a wedding dress fiasco by miraculously making a dress for me in one day! Read all about that drama here.

We also had our fab friends, Bolaji and Okiki Marinho as well as the Ajuluchukwus over. It was a splendid gathering.

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I wanted to keep the menu simple but with a mix of complementary flavours so I settled on Teriyaki Chicken, Spicy Meatballs, Sauteed Potato wedges, Hasselback potatoes, Pilau rice, Sun dried tomato focaccia and Rosemary focaccia (both accompanied by herb butter), Lemon Blueberry Bars, Orange Syrup Cake and Banana Raspberry Swirl ice cream; I basically pulled from my arsenal of favourite recipes.

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It sounds like a lot but the great thing about this menu is that a lot of the dishes can be made a day ahead! So on Saturday I made everything save the potatoes, rice and chicken (which I marinated overnight).

For the Pilau rice recipe check out the “Flavour Infusion; Taste Explosion” post. My recent post titled “Special Cakes and Bakes; This is all it takes” has the decadent Orange Syrup Cake recipe and the banana raspberry swirl ice cream which is completely dairy and sugar free therefore completely guilt free can be found here. Follow the basic recipe and customize it to suit you, in this case I threw in a few raspberries. For a step-by-step guide to making hasselback potatoes please read the Tra-la-la-la-laa-laa-laa post. Spicy meatballs which is an FFF favourite can be found here. The easy focaccia recipe comes with a detailed step-by-step too. Herb butter is easy to make and you can take it anywhere. This version was inspired by a version I saw on We Call him Yes Chef! and I incorporated chopped basil, parsley, red onions, garlic, black pepper and chilli powder.

The teriyaki chicken and lemon blueberry bars were such a hit that I know they will become fixtures in future feasts. Here are the recipes.

The Lemon Bluberry treat was adapted from a recipe I found on Two peas and their Pod

Ingredients:

For the crust:
1 250 gram packet of plain digestives (blitzed to fine crumbs in a food processor; alternatively, you could use graham cracker crumbs and you will need about 2 ½ cups and 1/3 cup sugar)
6 tablespoons butter, melted
Zest of one lemon

For the filling:
4 large egg yolks
2 (14 ounce can) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 ½ cup fresh blueberries

The “How To”

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius and spray an 8”x8” baking dish with cooking spray and line with parchment paper; ensure that there is an overhang on two sides as this will help with lifting it out.

In a medium bowl, combine the digestive crumbs or graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, sugar (if using), and lemon zest. Stir until the crumbs are moist. Using the back of a flat implement like a wooden mallet, press crumbs firmly into prepared pan. Bake the crust for 10 minutes in the oven. Remove from and allow to cool to room temperature. I will advise that you leave the oven on.

While the crust is cooling, make the filling; combine the egg yolks and condensed milk in a medium bowl. Stir in the lemon juice and lemon zest. Continue mixing until it is smooth and begins to slightly thicken then fold in the blueberries.

Pour the lemon blueberry filling evenly over the cooled crust. Bake for 15 minutes, or until it is just set. Remove it from the oven and cool to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour before serving. If you can chill it over night that is even better, just be sure to carefully cover the pan with cling film (don’t let the cling film touch the surface of the dessert). When you are ready to serve, simply lift the parchment paper using the overhang, place on flat surface and slice with a sharp knife.

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The recipe will keep in the ridge for 3-4 days but it so good that I seriously doubt that it will last that long! I mean just look at it!

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For the Teriyaki chicken you will need

Ingredients

1 ½ kg chicken drum sticks
¼ cup dark brown sugar
2 tbs honey
2 tbs sesame oil
1 tbs lemon juice
1 tbs chilli powder
1 tbs chopped fresh ginger (or ¾ tbs powdered ginger)
4 cloves finely minced garlic
1 tbs black pepper
2 tbs dark soy sauce
1 tsp salt

The “How To”

Place all the ingredients except the chicken in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly. Place chicken in a large Ziploc bag and pour the marinade over it ensuring that all pieces are coated. Leave to marinate for at least two hours but if you can leave it overnight that would be better.

Preheat oven to 185 degrees Celcius. Heat a large thick bottomed skillet with 2 tbs of vegetable oil and sear chicken pieces, about 1 minute on each side and carefully arrange chicken in a deep roasting pan. Then pour the left over marinade over the chicken. Half way through the cooking time cover the chicken with a piece of foil if it looks like it is drying out. The chicken should be ready after about 30-35 minutes but please check for doneness before turning the oven off.

You should have quite a bit of juice at the bottom of the pan which is superb because this is the base for your glaze.

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Carefully drain the juice into a saucepan and set over medium heat until the juice reduces to a dark slightly thick glaze. Stir occasionally so it doesn’t burn. Glaze all chicken pieces and garnish with a sprinkling of sesame seeds if desired.

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I thoroughly enjoyed having my friends round and for once I was not harried and sweating like an unfit hippo in the final stages of labour!! (Apologies hippos; you are gorgeous pleasantly plump creatures. I was only making an analogy) Making some of the meals ahead took A LOT of pressure off me!

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Everyone enjoyed the meal and most people left with take away packs which gladdened my heart.

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And there you have it; the anatomy of a feast. Read all about another “Anatomy of A feast” which I wrote about a few years ago here.

Summer time is often characterized by the abundance of bright sweet fruits like cherries and berries. When you think of strawberries and cream, you think of sun and Wimbledon. Cherries evoke thoughts of ooey gooey cherry pies….the truth is, I live in country where it is pretty much “summer” for at least 2/3 of the year so there is generally a glut of tropical fruits which I take great advantage of in my food lab. Fruits like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries etc are usually imported and wield a hefty price tag.

This did not deter me one weekend when I went grocery shopping; I just craved something different and decided to splurge on some cherries. When I got home I stared at them and was loathe to eat them…..the portion was disproportionate to the price and I was beginning to query my decision to purchase them. I scoured all my resources for a recipe that would stretch these overpriced fruits and found something quite interesting! A healthy cherry pie muffin! And there was no fancy shmancy prep work involved! Now THAT really got my attention! I adapted my recipe from The Cheeky Kitchen

Ingredients for the Muffins
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 fresh cherries, pitted & halved

For the topping
1/4 cup almond flour. Read this post for an easy way to make your own almond flour.
2 Tbs rolled Oats
2 Tbs caster or icing sugar
1/2 Tbs honey
1 Tbs coconut oil

The “How To”
Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees Celcius.

In a large bowl. beat together all muffin ingredients until well mixed. Spoon mixed batter into a muffin tin prepared with cupcake wrappers. If you don’t have cupcake wrappers you could use squares of parchment paper, pushed in gently into the muffin pan to form a “cup” for your batter. (Pitting the cherries with a knife was a little fiddley but doable).

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In a medium bowl, use a fork to combine all topping ingredients until you get a coarse crumb. Sprinkle it over the batter in each muffin tin (about 1 1/2 tsp for each), then bake in the oven for 18-22 minutes, or until the center of the muffins bounce back to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Top with fresh cherries…..if you have any left to spare 🙂

My family made quick work of this weekend treat which I served with cherry yoghurt, a slice of coconut banana bread and a smidgen of raspberry coulis.

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The tomato is an interesting, and not mention, versatile fruit (we all know that it is a fruit right? Not a vegetable :-)…..good). It’s great to eat raw on it’s own or in sandwiches and salads. It works well when puréed and cooked or used in a gazpacho and it is an amazing garnish.

It’s baby cousin, the cherry tomato, is just a cuter sweeter version of the fruit and I find them impossible to resist.

Here are two cheery cherry tomato inspired meals that are super simple to put together. I’m fact, one of them is a left over make over.

The first is a simple, light, stir fried spaghetti dish with a side of fish.

Ingredients
100 grams spaghetti
1/2 chopped green bell pepper
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tbs vegetable oil
Salt to taste

The “How To”
Cook spaghetti in salted water following packet instructions. Drain and reserve hot spaghetti water.

In pan heat vegetable oil and when it is hot, add the chopped onions and garlic and sautée for a minute, then add pepper and tomatoes for another minute. Add drained spaghetti and back pepper. Mix to ensure that the spaghetti is evenly coated. Add about 1-2 tbs of spaghetti liquid (depending on how dry your pan is). Serve immediately and enjoy.

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For the fish recipe and another great recipe using two types of berries in a dessert, read Flavour Infusion; Taste Explosion

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The second cherry tomato meal is a simple sandwich using left overs from the pork chop meal in this post. I call it the “Caveman sandwich”….for no particular reason other than I thought it was cute name for the sandwich….go figure….:-)

Essentially layer slices of bread with sliced pork chops, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers topped with wasabi and mayo until you have a decent stack. Top with cherry tomatoes for a fun garnish and voilà!

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All meals in this post were met with great enthusiasm and devoured with equal gusto. Throw some cherries and berries into your meals for a pretty delicious eating experience.

FFF Tip of the Day: Berries and tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin c and deliver a good dose of antioxidants to the body. Whenever possible eat them fresh to maximize their full benefits.

To put it simply, I was having major withdrawal symptoms after gorging on focaccia everyday for 5 days and then going cold turkey for 2 weeks. I woke up today just KNOWING that I had to put an end to this deprivation.

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Focaccia served when I was on holiday

Focaccia is one of Italy’s gifts to the flat bread world and it is pronounced foh-cacha.

Usually I avoid making yeast based baked foods but today, I took the bull by the horn like a brave matador and I cowed this Leviathan. At the end of it all, I couldn’t quite believe how easy and relatively fuss free the whole process was and the results were uh-mah-zing!

Right now in my head I have nothing less than 500 hundred varieties that I intend to bake before 2014 runs out.

Here’s the recipe, simple and easy. The fluffy softness of the bread belies the lack of butter in this recipe, yes you heard me right, not an ounce of butter!

I hope the step by step guide will encourage you to make this bejeweled fluffiness.

Ingredients
2 teaspoons rapid-rising dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
3 1/2 to 4 cups flour
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1/4 cup olive oil
Cornmeal, for dusting

Toppings:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 garlic clove (cut in half horizontally and roasted)
1/4 cup slivered sun dried tomato
1 tablespoon coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dry rosemary
2 tablespoons dry chives

Directions
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, proof the yeast by combining it with the warm water and sugar. Stir gently to dissolve.

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Let stand 3 minutes until foam appears.

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Turn mixer on low and slowly add the flour to the bowl. Dissolve salt in 2 tablespoons of water and add it to the mixture then pour in 1/4 cup olive oil.

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When the dough starts to come together, increase the speed to medium. Stop the machine periodically to scrape the dough off the hook.

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Mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary. I ended up using 3 3/4 cups; it’s really up to you but be sure not make the dough too dense, do not exceed 4 cups.

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Turn the dough out onto a work surface and fold over itself a few times.

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Form the dough into a round and place in an oiled bowl, turn to coat the entire ball with oil so it doesn’t form a skin.

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Cover with plastic wrap or damp towel and put in a warm place (I used my oven after warning it for a minute) until doubled in size; about 45 minutes.

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Coat a sheet pan with a little olive oil and dust with corn flour. Once the dough is doubled and domed, turn it out onto the counter. Roll and stretch the dough out to an oblong shape about 1/2-inch thick.

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Lay the flattened dough on the pan and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 15 minutes.

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Now time to prep the toppings.

To be honest you can pretty much use whatever catches your fancy on this bread but I kept mine simple this time around.

You could roast the garlic ahead of the dough preparation, by simply halving a whole clove of garlic without peeling it. Drizzle with olive oil and roast for about 15 minutes in the oven. Alternatively you can peel and the chop garlic and sautée in a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil over low heat.
I had some roasted garlic to hand already from a whole roast chicken I made yesterday.

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Preheat oven to 185 degrees C. Uncover the dough and poke with your fingertips giving the dough lovely dimples for the olive oil and garlic topping to nestle in.

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Brush the surface with more olive oil and then add roasted or sautéed garlic, sundried tomatoes, chives, salt, pepper, and rosemary.

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Bake on the bottom rack for 15 to 20 minutes. Watch it closely after the 15minute mark to ensure it doesn’t burn.

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It was thrilling to see the final results. The sundried tomatoes and garlic were like rubies and pearls studding the bread.

We had focaccia sandwich for brunch and every single person loved it; the munchkins included! It was worth every single minute!

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After this meal we all took naps! Lol!

FFF Tip of the Day: Don’t be afraid to customize the toppings for this recipe. Just ensure that you keep the flavours balanced.

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There are only so many ways to make cakes, or so I thought. I’d like to clear up a small detail though; I have no pastry making training nor am I am authority. Also, I am not big on sweet pastry, I tend more towards the savory end of the spectrum. Having said that there a few cakes that have stood out; by now I think half the planet is conversant with my lemon poppy seed cake obssession.

During a recent internet trawl, I found two recipes that literally called out to me. Helped by the fact that I had all the ingredients to hand I could not rest until I made them. And thus began my night time baking sessions.

Both recipes were so simple that I wondered why they weren’t more popular……or maybe I move in the wrong cake circles. The first was a recipe for a blueberry lemon poke cake, From my post, “When life throws You a Lemon” you will quickly realise that I approve of anything that has lemons in it and even more so when paired with blueberries but on this occasion, I didn’t have blueberries. However, I had a freezer full of raspberries and in the spirit of giving things a twist, I decided to make it a two berry cake! So I filled it with raspberry coulis and topped it with fresh strawberries.

Here’s what you will need. 

Ingredients For the White Cake 

2¼ cups cake flour 

1 Tablespoon baking powder 

½ tsp salt 

1¼ cups buttermilk, at room temperature 

4 extra large egg whites, at room temperature 

1½ cups granulated sugar 

8 Tablespoons (4-ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature 

1 vanilla bean or 1 1/2 tsp vanilla essence 

 For the coulis
Please read my post on how to make a raspberry coulis. And for the Frosting
I used store bought cream cheese frosting. 1 carton strawberries was sufficient for the garnish 

 The “How To”

Preheat the oven to180 degrees Celcius. Butter and flour a 9 x 13-inch baking pan; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and egg whites.
In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until they are light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Split the vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds and add it in; scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue beating. 

Add flour mixture in portions still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk-egg mixture, beating continuously to get an even mix, then add the rest of the dry ingredients.
Beat batter for a couple of minutes to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cake cool completely in pan on a wire rack, at least one hour.

Here’s why it s called a poke cake; using a fork poke holes in the cake (the cake should have plenty of poked holes).

Carefully pour your cooled raspberry coulis into the holes; it helps if you use a cup that had a spout. Then spread the cream cheese topping evenly over cake and place fresh strawberries on top for garnish. 

 Store this cake covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

This delightsome treat did not make it back to the refrigerator it all but disappeared on the table. There just seemed to be something magical about the raspberry soaked cake and the black flecks of vanilla that made us want to eat more of it.

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Note: if you don’t have came flour don’t panic, you can make your own. All you need is all purpose flour and corn flour. Measure out a cup of all purpose flour then take out two table spoons (put them back in the flour pack) and replace with two tablespoons of corn flour. Do this until you have the desired quantity for the recipe. The sift the flour mix in a large bowl and sift again into another bowl, do this 4 – 5 times. This helps to mix the flour through properly and to aerate the mix. There! Cake flour!

A day later, barely over the guilt of eating so much cake, I found another amazing recipe on David Lebovitz site.

When I read his recipe, there was no doubt in my mind that I would make it. Not only did it sound decadent, I just happened to have every single ingredient in my kitchen! I didn’t have to scamper off to find one ingredient or the other. In fact, I had a big jar of orange syrup idling away in my refrigerator!

I did not attempt to tweak or personalise this recipe, I followed it to the letter and I had no regrets! It turned out perfectly! My husband and I dubbed it “Burst if Sunshine” because that is exactly what it was.

We shared it with friends, hubby took a huge chunk to work and everyone who ate it was mesmerized. You absolutely must try it!

You an find the recipe here

Well, now that I think of it, I made a tiny adjustment to the recipe. Since I already had orange syrup, I did not go through the process of candying my oranges and opted to use fresh slices instead as a garnish.

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To be frank, nothing stops you from trying something new. These cakes are amazing but yet so easy to put together. Surprise yourself and your friends today. All it takes is a little effort. 

FFF Tip of the Day: Reasons to make fruit Sauces and Syrup 

1. Fruit sauces or coulis and syrups are wonderful to make ahead and can save so much time if you do. 

 2. They are also a great way to preserve fruits especially when they are in season and you have tonnes! 

 3. They make an excellent addition most desserts and even breakfast meals. 

4. They are easy to make and require no great technical ability. 

 Need I say more? 🙂

I have never been keen on slaving over hot stoves, cookers, burners, hobs and ovens…….this includes hot pressing irons….which is why I am happy to pay to get my clothes ironed……but I digress….

A quick easy way to prepare meals is to use a variety of complementary spices in making the dish. Pilau rice is a fantastic example; it is big on flavour and requires minimum effort to throw together.

The spices I used in making it comprise of cloves, cardamon, pepper corns, cassia bark, cinnamon, cumin and dry coriander and ginger. Some mixes may include, chili and turmeric. It sounds like a lot but with balanced proportions these aromatic ingredients lend themselves beautifully to the dish.

In some parts of East Africa such as Tanzania, pilau is served only at special occasions like weddings. This so because spices like cloves are highly valued in that region and in fact are exported globally as cash crops.

Ingredients

1 cup basmati rice
2 cups chicken stock or water
1/2 green bell pepper
1/2 onion
1 tbs pilau spice mix (ensure that all spices are represented)
1 tbs vegetable oil.
1/2 tsp crushed chili flakes or cayenne pepper
1 clove garlic
Salt to taste ( adjust quantity depending on stock or if using using plain water)

The “How To”

Using a shallow skillet wide frying pan ( that has a lid) heat the pan dry and then add your spice mix as well as the chili or cayenne. Toast them in the dry hot pan for about a minute; this “activates” the spices, releasing their oils and intensifying their flavours.
Next, add the vegetable oil and chopped onions, garlic and green pepper stir for about 2 minutes until the onions are translucent; be careful not to burn them. Add the rinsed basmati rice to the pan and coat it completely with the spice and onion mix.

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Pour in the stock/water, turn the heat down and put the lid on. Minimise opening the pan until,the rice is cooked. When it is cooked (between 15 – 20 minutes, depending on the quality of the rice) let it sit for a few extra minutes with a dish cloth over the pan, fluff with a fork before serving.

I was feeling extra lazy the day, I made this meal so it went with some grilled beef sausages and a coconut cream sauce.

For the sauce you need 50 grams of butter, 1 cup coconut milk, 1 tsp corn flour, 1 tsp black pepper and salt to taste.

Mix butter and corn flour in a sauce pan over medium heat until you have a roux. Then slowly add in the coconut milk stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper. It is ready when you have a homogenous sauce that lightly coats the back of a spoon.

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When a dear friend and her daughter came round to lunch the other day, I was frazzled because the munchkins were running me ragged. My guests needed nourishment for their tummies.

Rice and fish came to mind but I wanted it to look like I made an effort. The result? Sunny bright saffron rice and lemony herby fish.

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Ingredients
For the fish
2 large white fish fillets (I used cod)
2 tbs herbed butter
1 lemon
1 1/2 Black pepper
1 1/2 cayenne pepper
1 tbs butter
3/4 tbs salt.

For Saffron Rice
2 cups Basmati rice
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 good pinch saffron threads
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbs butter (optional)
Salt (to taste)

The “How To”

Heat the oven to 175 degrees Celcius
Place the the fillets on a shopping board and pat them completely dry with a paper towel. You may halve them or leave them whole depending on your preferred portion size.

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Sprinkle the fillets liberally on both sides with black and cayenne pepper. Then carefully, and evenly season both sides with salt.

Line a roasting pan with foil ensuring that you have an over hang on the sides to allow to allow you wrap the fish up in a parcel as it cooks. Heat a skillet with the table spoon of butter and sear the fellows for about a minute on each side then transfer them to the roasting the pan and squeeze half a lemon over them. Place a couple of slices of lemon on them and distribute the herbed butter as well. Wrap them up and place in the oven. After 17 minutes take them out and leave them to rest for a further 5 minutes stilled wrapped.

For an accompanying sauce, use the recipe described above for the pilau rice but add the pan drippings to it to infuse with the lemon and herbs.

To make the saffron rice simply add all ingredients except the butter in a skillet, bring to a boil, put the lid on and simmer until the rice is cooked. Least the rice sit for a few minutes in the pot for a few minutes then add the butter and fluff with a fork.

I added a small salad to garnish the plate and cleanse our palates as we dined. It was essentially sliced cucumbers and tomatoes with a wasabi dressing (it’s purely optional).

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Dessert was a berry treat. In my next post I will share the recipe for the 2 berry poke cake that promptly vanished after lunch.

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It was a delightful day and I enjoyed playing hostess.

FFF tip of the Day

Instead of using better as set out in the recipes here, you could replace with olive oil for a healthier alternative. Even your fresh herbs can be preserved in olive. Simply place washed herbs in ice trays and pour oil oil over them. Freeze and use as desired.

During my vacation I knew that if I didn’t go on the much talked about spice tour I would have nearly gone out of my mind. So I booked the tour and waited excitedly for the day to arrive.

Going through the farm and observing these fragrant tasty herbs and spices in their natural habitat was nothing less than enlightening.

From the weird to the wonderful. Wonderful for me being the opportunity for me to see the vanilla bean plant and actually buy vanilla beans!

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The red fuzzy fruit is said to be used as a pigment in lipsticks. The herbs on the farm are used optimally in making a variety of scents, oils and soaps. In fact my tour guide informed me that the main scent used in making the famous Chanel No. 5 originated from Zanzibar! I was so mesmerized that I gave in and purchased some hand made soap.

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Of course I purchased vanilla beans, some gorgeously hued saffron, mixed spice packet and nutmeg.

I bargained hard and got what I considered to be a superb deal.

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I was now equipped to literally unleash more aromas and flavours on my family and friends…..and I have too. It’s as if I have been seized by a cooking and baking bug. In fact just the other day, I said to myself, “I must be addicted to my oven!”

In my next post, I will share some simple delicious recipes that I have made using my newly acquired spice and herb stash.

FFF tip of the day: Bruising, crushing or toasting certain herbs and spices helps to release their natural oils and intensify their flavours thereby giving more aroma and taste. Pepper corns taste better when they are cracked or crushed, rubbing rosemary leaves between your palms releases it’s heady fragrance which transfers beautifully to your food as it cooks.

If you’re a sweet tooth or a chocoholic or both then chances are high that you indulge in the fudgy comfort of brownies frequently.

When I was approached by a client to make desserts for 50 guests at her birthday party,I had grandiose ideas. The party held at a trendy art gallery and she wanted something that was “arty” and “architectural”. I was buzzing with excitement at the prospects until I was brought crashing down to earth when I was informed that
A. There would be limited access to refrigeration; in fact there was no fridge at the facility just a poky freezer.
B. During the event I would be located in an adjoining room, which would not be air conditioned, and
C. The budget was not unlimited; I hastily cancelled my order for edible gold leaf! Yikes!

This left me in a quandary because I had to figure out how to prepare a beautiful dessert that would not perish in the Lagos warmth and humidity and one that did not rely on refrigeration.

Then it hit me! Brownies! Of course! I quickly decided to incorporate flavours and textures that would complement one another, look beautiful and create a wow factor. This is how I ended up with my gourmet brownies served with raspberry coulis, orange syrup, cream cheese frosting, dankwa and sugar caramel.

The prep work was insane but the results and reactions made it all worth it.

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Here’s a quick guide if you would like to attempt this delightful dessert.

Ingredients for brownies.
1/2 cup butter (113 grams)
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

The “How To”
Preheat oven to 175 degrees C and then grease and flour an 8-inch square pan.

In a large saucepan, melt 1/2 cup butter. Remove from heat, and stir in sugar, eggs, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat in 1/3 cup cocoa, 1/2 cup flour, salt, and baking powder. Spread batter into prepared pan; be sure to use a spatula to even it out in the pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Do not overcook; what you are looking to achieve is a cakey exterior with a moist fudgy interior.

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I find that it is always better to slice the brownies in your desired portion size when it’s still hot then allow to cool completely before taking it out of the pan.

Ingredients for the raspberry coulis
250 grams fresh or frozen raspberries
1 tbs icing sugar
Juice from 1/2 lemon

The “How To”

This recipe is dead easy and works well with any soft fruit you can find.

Place all the ingredients in pan and cook until the fruit breaks down.

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The transfer the contents to a blender or food processor and blitz until you get smooth consistency.

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The sieve the sauce to get rid of the seeds. You should have a beautiful glossy ruby sauce that is sweet with a touch of tartness.

Ingredients for the orange syrup.

4 oranges
2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cups water

The “How To”

Wash the oranges thoroughly and slice them.

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Place all the ingredients in a thick bottomed pot and cook until the oranges are translucent and a thick syrup has developed.

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Carefully take out the orange slices (which may be used as a garnish) and allow the syrup to cool; it will get thicker as it cools.

Sugar caramel is essential granulated sugar that has been melted down. Until is molten and golden brown. Pour it into a greased heat proof container and let it set. Then shatter it and use the shards.

Note: molten caramelised sugar is extremely hot and must never be handled with bare hands!

The major prep work is complete and now you are ready to plate! Simply spread cream cheese frosting on the brownies (I used store bought this time) top with dankwa and sprig of mint accompanied by the raspberry coulis and orange syrup.

For more about dankwa, please read this post.

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The dessert was well received; the guests were delighted and surprised which was great for me.

A massive shout out to the best sister in the world; Moe – she hot footed it down to the party to help me amidst the sea of brownies and cream cheese frosting.

As a rule of thumb, I run screaming in the opposite direction when I encounter a recipe that requires the use of yeast as a raising agent.

But when I woke up today with an unrelenting craving for Puffies, I knew that I was done for. Puffies are popularly called puff-puff here in Nigeria and a favourite snack. There is hardly a Nigerian party that you will attend that won’t have these sweet ishy squishy delights as part of the meal offerings. They will usually be part of what we call “small chops” which is essentially finger foods.

Puffies are akin to the infamous French Beignets; consider them to be the African cousin to beignets.

After a hasty assessment, I gathered the ingredients I needed.

Ingredients
3 1/2 cups plain flour
2 1/4 tsp instant active yeast
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups warm water
1tsp freshly grated nutmeg (or store bought ground nutmeg)
Vegetable oil for frying
Icing sugar ( to garnish) optional

The “How To”

In a large bowl combine yeast, sugar, salt and warm water and leave to sit for a couple of minutes. Then add the flour and nut meg. Using your (clean) hands work the dough through until all ingredients are evenly mixed through. The consistency should be sticky and be a dropping consistency. Cover with a damp cloth and place in a warm placed for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Then heat up the oil in a heavy bottomed skillet; you should have at least 3 – 4 inches oh oil. To test the temperature of the oil drop a bitter of the batter in the oil, if it sizzles and rises to the top then the oil is ready.

Proceed to carefully drop balls of the batter in the hot oil. The batter will puff up once it hits the oil (which is where it gets its name) so be mindful of that when you’re determining the size of each one.

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Fry them turning then over until they are evenly golden brown. Drain on paper towels, dust with icing sugar and favourite dip, in my case I paired mine with a raspberry coulis. The sharpness of the coulis was a fab contrast to sweet warm squishy treat.

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In my next post, I will share my recent berry cherry obssession.

FFF Tip of the day: Coulis are a versatile fruit “sauce” that can be made well ahead and keeps well on the deep freezer. The add such vibrancy to dishes that it’s a shame not to try them.

Bright eyed and bushy tailed from my recent personal retreat to sunny Zanzibar I have hit my food lab with renewed vigor. Armed with a variety of spices and dry herbs, it has been an aromatic infusion since my return. But this time my focus will be on using fresh herbs.

Today, I whipped up two simple meals for lunch and breakfast and show cased herbed butter in both meals.

I had bought a bunch of curly leaf parsley on impulse earlier in the week and didn’t want it to perish in my fridge so I chopped it up and mixed it in with 200 grams of butter (at room temperature). To finalize the preservation process, I placed the mixture in some cling film and carefully rolled it into an even cylindrical shape. I plonked in the deep freeze and all but forgot about it. All this happened late one night so I was in no condition to take pictures……I was practically sleep walking…..anyway getting back on track….

Breakfast was a simple fare of sliced bread, fried eggs, beef sausages and baked beans but the kicker was……yes you guessed it! Herbed butter! It just elevated the meal nicely. Isn’t it amazing how a simple inclusion makes a big difference?

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To give your sausages and eggs a mini make over follow these tips.

1. Scour your sausages with diagonal slashes before frying or grilling. Be careful not to slice it through just light cuts.
2. To make your eggs look geometric use a round metal cookie cutter to give the egg definition.

Simply place your non-stick pan on the burner and place a lightly greased or oiled cookie metal cutter in the pan. Add a bit of butter or cooking oil on the pan but inside the cookie cutter. Then carefully crack an egg in a bowl and pour it gently into the cookie cutter. Let the egg set for about 2 minutes; you may season with salt and pepper at thus point. If you like your yolk runny the cook the egg for a further minute and take off the heat. If like me you like your eggs well done then place a lid over the pan for at least two minutes and voilà nicely rounded fried eggs.

Lunch had to easy to make too as I was in no mood for complex dishes. I had marinaded some pork chops yesterday so I just had to figure out what else to pair it with. I settled for sweet potatoes and carrots.

Ingredients.

4 pork chops on the bone (about an inch thIck)
1 tbs wasabi
1 tbs Dijon mustard
1 tbs steak sauce or BBQ sauce
1tsp coarse salt
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tsp cracked black pepper
2 tbs vegetable oil

3 medium sized sweet potatoes
100 grams unsalted butter
1 tsp coarse salt
1 tsp black pepper

3 large carrots
1 tbs honey
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup green grapes

This meal serves 4.

The “How To”

Marinade your chops in a ziplock bag using the mustard, wasabi, steak sauce, sesame oil and salt. Give them a good rub in the bag and leave over night or at least 4 hours in the fridge.

Bring them out to come to room temperature fir at least 20 minutes before you intend cooking them.

Turn on your oven to 195 degrees centigrade.

Wash and peel you potatoes. Chop them in half and cook for about 15 minutes. While the potatoes are cooking commence prepping the chops.

Put a thick bottomed oven proof pan on high heat and add 2 tbs of vegetable oil to it. Leave the pan on for 3 minutes until the oil is very hot and even smoking slightly and carefully add your chops to the pan. (Be sure to scrape off most of the marinade of the meat before seating. This is only so you can use the marinade for a sauce later and also to ensure that the meat is relatively dry when it hits the pan to get good color on it).

Leave chops in the hot pan, heat turned to medium for 3 minutes without touching them. The carefully flip them over using a pair of tongs and put the pan straight into the oven for 10 minutes but keep checking them so as not to over cook and dry them out. From the 6 minute mark check their progress. It is cuit a point when you press on the middle of the meat with your find and it springs back immediately. Do not poke the heat to check for doneness as you will release essential juices.

Once the chops are cooked take them out and transfer them unto a plate and cover with foil to rest for 10 minutest this will allow the meat to “relax” and distribute it’s juices.

The potatoes should be cooked by now. Drain them, add 100 grams of butter and mash until you have a chunky consistency. Cover the pot and set aside. Scrape and slice carrots. Blanch them for about 3 minutes. Drain and drizzle 1 tbs of honey over them and mix through.

Add the marinade to the pan juices from the chops and cook for two minutes until slightly thicker. Sear cherry tomatoes and grapes in 1 tbs of vegetable oil on high heat for 1 1/2 minutes. Now you are ready to plate up and enjoy your meal! A nob of herbed butter completes this delicious meal!

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There was complete silence during this meal and all plates were returned completely devoid of food save for the bone from the chop.

My mum and hubby both took a nap after this meal so it is quite filling; be warned!…..lol!

FFF Tip: it is easier to work with herbed butter when it is frozen that way you can slice the pieces off as required.

A variety of herbs can be preserved in this fashion including basil, coriander, flat leaf parsley and tarragon. If you prefer a healthier route this mode of preservation, you can freeze the herbs in olive oil by placing them in an ice tray and filling with olive oil. Then you just use the required number you frozen cubes for your sauces and meals.