Friday, February 25, 2011

............ thank you Ina

For many that know me well , know that I am not a baker. I enjoy cooking , everyone says I cook well ( thank you) - however "baking" mortifies me .

Being an aquarian , there is a free spirit within us that does not like to be sequestered. Rules are made to be broken and does it really matter if I put in one teaspoon of this or half a teaspoon of the same thing.

In the world of baking it does.You see baking is a precise science, it involves accuracy , it involves good chemical reactions between baking soda and buttermilk which produce the fluffiest cakes , and precise ratios of liquids that help a cake rise and impress.

However , I have started to overcome my phobia of baking, by tackling baking recipes that involve mixing together wet and dry ingredients. How difficult can that be ? I ask myself. Not difficult at all , to me a marriage made in baking heaven . There is room for a little extra of this and smidge of that .

So, I now welcome you to the world of Ina Garten , one of the cooks I idolise , whose recipes never fail me, but always impress .  She is famous for starting all cake recipes with a pound of butter and in an effort to lighten things up she makes this delicious Lemon Yogurt cake  - which is so mind boggling simple I don't know why I did not make this sooner.

The other day I adapted her recipe and turned it into a Lemon- Blueberry Cake - yummy.

Then I was eating one of my favourite oranges, the Cara-Cara orange. So deliciously sweet and juicy , I thought I would try and adapt her recipe and make it with oranges , and for an over the top finale, decorate the top of the cake with glazed orange segments . The inspiration for this came from watching Jamie Oliver's new cooking show ( travelling around europe) where he made a Honey and Pistachio Cake during his trip to Greece.

So, with yoghurt at hand, I used low fat , 2 sturdy mixing bowls , and quite literally 5 minutes of your time ( it takes longer for the oven to reach temperature) - you will make a cake that will impress everyone and give Top Pastry Chefs a run for their money.

This morning I enjoyed sharing this cake with my wonderful neighbour Lisa - goes perfectly with a nice cup of coffee and wonderful conversation.

Cara-Cara Orange Yoghurt Cake with Glazed Oranges
adapted from an Ina Garten recipe and inspired in part by Jamie Oliver

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup low-fat yoghurt ***
1 cup sugar
3 extra large organic eggs at room temperature ( very important)
zest of one cara-cara orange
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
the juice of half an orange


1 cup confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed cara-cara orange juice

Glazed Orange Segments

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
half a cara-cara orange thinly sliced


Preheat oven to 350F and spray a non-stick loaf pan with some canola oil and dust with flour - guaranteed not to stick .

In one bowl measure out the all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt, place to the side.

In another bowl place the yoghurt, 1 cup sugar, room temperature eggs, orange zest, vanilla extract and the juice of half an orange. Whisk until well combined .

Pour the batter in to the floured loaf pan and place in oven, bake for 50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean .

Meanwhile, make the Glazed Orange Segments. Place the water and sugar and water in a saucepan and add the orange slices . Bring to boil then immediately turn down to a simmer , you want the syrup to thicken slowly and cook and soften the orange slices in the meantime. Keep an eye on this step , if it looks like the water is evaporating too quickly , add a splash of hot boiling water and stir gently and continue to cook for approximately 15 minutes.

Once the syrup has been almost absorbed by the oranges turn off the beat and allow to cool . Should the orange glaze become hard and stuck to the saucepan, gently reheat to loosen up the sugar syrup , then place on top of the cake for decoration after you placed the glaze and it has set slightly.

While the orange segments are been cooked make a thin  glaze for the cake, Mix 2 tablespoons orange juice into 1 cup confectioners sugar and mix well until you have a nice runny consistency. Pour over the cake once it has been removed from the loaf pan and cooled.

*** I use the Mountain High brand Low-fat yoghurt. It is best to use a thick style greek style yoghurt , and there are plenty easily available in the supermarkets. A lot of low-fat yoghurt tends to be a little runny and this will ruin the consistency of the batter .

NOTE: you can also make this cake with regular oranges , just not too sure if they will be as sweet as the cara-cara oranges.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tilapia Fish Burgers with Lemon Caper Mayonnaise

In an attempt to make eating fish a lot more fun , I started to make fish burgers. I enjoy nothing more than baking tipalia in the oven , simply dressed with olive oil , a sqeeze of fresh lemon, sprinkled with salt and pepper and herbs de provenance ..... hhmmmm .

However, once I placed the fish it on the dinner table, I could swear I heard a  silent collective groan of "fish again ????" . So when I put on my deceptive mummy cook hat on, I started to think of more interesting ways of serving fish . With some leftover tilapia fillets one day , I played around with interesting and fresh ideas to make a more healthy and interesting burger.

You can add whatever you like to this mixture , it is not caste in stone. You can also use whatever fish fillet your family enjoys. I selected tilapia because it is readily available and is generally a mild fish , be careful if you are using cod as it has a very strong taste and may over power all the other ingredients. Look a this recipe as a guide. The mixture should look colourful and with a nice balance of fish and vegetable ingredients.

I enjoy them in a lightly toasted bun with some lettuce a nice shmear of tartare sauce or a nice piquant lemon caper mayonnaise. By keeping all the ingredients chopped and diced small there is no real cooking involved because the fish is cooked and we are merely browning the outside of the burger and heating through all the ingredients. The other secret ingredient is the use of japanese panko breadcrumbs , they keep the burgers light and moist and add a nice little crunch to the outside.

The burgers were devoured by the whole family , second helpings were going on, which I loved .You can always serve these with a green salad, a nice  quinoa salad or bean salad. And as always in classic burger tradition - toasted bun, lettuce and a some condiments - and please not ketchup here - it would be totally sacrilegious.

They would make an excellent starter to an elegant dinner party , served simply on a spring lettuce mix, gently tossed with olive oil and sea sea salt and a few grinds of pepper and a lemon wedge. They can be enjoyed just out of the oven or at room temperature ( my favourite) and they can go a long way for a buffet and or family style dinner.

The burgers are light, refreshing and healthy ..... but please do not mention all the health benefits to the family - that way, you will sell them on the idea of eating a burger - how good they are for them will be between you and me.

Tilapia Fish Burgers
a gg original recipe

4 tilapia center cut fillets (or fish of choice)
olive oil
salt and pepper
herbs de provence
red onion 
red bell pepper
fresh flat leaf parsley
2 green onions
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 egg
1/4 cup good quality mayonnaise
panko breadcrumbs
skim milk ( or whatever you use at home)
canola oil
lemon wedges

Place the tilapia fillets in an oven proof bowl, coat with a little olive oil, season with salt , pepper and herbs de provence , add a splash of cold water and bake in a 400F ( 200C) oven for about 12 minutes or until cooked through and flaking easily.

Remove from oven allow to cool, then place in a bowl and flake with a fork, try to keep the pieces a little chunky ( as you would for crab cakes) so that you can identify the fish pieces in the burger.

Finely chop the red onion, bell pepper, parsley , green onion and add to the fish along with everything else except the panko breadcrumbs, milk and canola oil.

Place about 2 tablespoons panko breadcrumb in a bowl and enough milk to soften the breadcrumb but not become a soggy mess. Allow the breadcrumbs to absorb all the milk then add to the fish mixture. If you end up with too much milk in the bowl- sometimes this is hard to judge - just squeeze the breadcrumb in your hand , place that in the fish mixture and discard the excess milk.

Combine well , your mixture should be moist and just holding together , you may need to a touch more mayonnaise - but be prudent as you do not want a soggy mayonnaise mess.

Place in the fridge for at least an hour to firm up before forming into burgers.

Remove from fridge , form into burger approximately 3 inches wide and no more than 1/2 inch thick . You do not want these to be too thick or they will fall apart in the cooking process and you will end up burning the outside of the burger and the middle part of the burger will be "uncooked".

Preheat a non stick frypan and coat the bottom of the pan - barely, with some canola oil , meanwhile form the burgers and press the outside of each burger in the panko breadcrumbs and shallow fry until a light golden colour.

Place in a pyrex or ovenproof dish and bake in a 400F or 200C oven for about 8-10 minutes until heated through.

Squeeze a fresh lemon before serving.

Lemon Caper Mayonnaise 
a gg original recipe adapted from many a cookbook

1 cup good quality mayonnaise 
the zest and juice of one lemon 
1 tablespoon capers - roughly chopped 
a pinch of salt to taste 
a few grinds of pepper
a splash of olive oil
1 very small garlic clove crushed ( optional)

Combine all of the above and adjust seasoning as needed , allow to develop flavours for at least 6 hours or overnight int he fridge. Spoon on top of the burgers and enjoy.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Fresh Tomato and Feta Pasta Sauce

The snow is piling up outside , we endured the blizzard of 2011 last wednesday ,it is now monday and mother nature has felt the urge to continue to dazzle us with "dancing snowflakes" .... read ..... more snow !!!! read .... more shovelling ...... read " how soon is spring coming ????"

At this point in winter I start to crave freshness in my everyday food. Not that I can walk out onto my patio and pick fresh herbs or pluck a fresh tomato from the vine. Somehow fresh tomato and fresh basil screams summer - fresh tomato with feta cheese and olives etc has a more heartier feel and this screams winter - and the view from the window is definetly winter.

So, what to do with some grape tomatoes that needed to eaten, feta cheese that also needed to be eaten ...... and a jar of kalamata olives , staring me in the face everytime I open the fridge - fresh pasta sauce !!!

Yesterday was Superbowl Sunday , a lazy day in our household . For reasons I cannot explain we were not hooked on the Super Bowl, our team did not make it - therefore, my big gourmet was non plussed about watching the game .

Dinner was therefore lazy and quick , spaghetti with a basic prepared tomato basil sauce for those who wanted that and spaghetti topped with my tomato and feta sauce for those that wanted something a little different. I did not have any capers in the pantry , or else they would also have been a nice touch.

This sauce is gutsy and bold, the flavours will develop the more it sits . It was a heavenly aroma that hit me as soon as the sauce and its beautiful oil marinade hit the hot pasta . For me it did not require any more cheese , the taste was heavenly and filling. In summer you could use the same concept and use tomato, fresh bocconcini, and fresh basil for the penultimate fresh summer sauce.

So for now give this a go and enjoy it with your family .

Fresh Tomato and Feta Pasta Sauce.
a gg original recipe

1 packet grape tomatoes
handful of feta cheese roughly cubed
handful of Kalamata olive - without the stone
freshly ground pepper
a pinch of Maldon sea salt or fleur de sel
good quality extra virgin olive oil
splash of white Balsamic Vinegar
a pinch of good quality Greek dried oregano
tablespoon of capers (optional)

Chop up the tomatoes in a bowl , then add the rest of the ingredients .

Toss to combine and taste. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes .

Meanwhile prepare spaghetti of your choice according to packet directions, drain well , drizzle with a splash of olive oil so it does not stick then serve in individual bowls with the fresh sauce and a spoonful of the delicious marinade that has developed.

This recipe quantity can be adjusted according to the ingredients you have on hand . Be generous with the olive oil - as this becomes the glue that hold the whole dish together.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Filete Rodrigo with fresh Tomatillo Salsa

I love Mexican food , I enjoy the cuisine for its very simplicity and fresh approach. Last Tuesday , with an impending blizzard headed for Chicago, I met up with my expatriate friends and we cooked up another storm of wonderful recipes. While a meteorological storm started brewing outside, safe in the kitchen we ignored the elements , talked about the latest happenings in our families, lent moral support where needed , all the while, whipping up three fantastic dishes , the first of which I am blogging about is "filete Rodrigo".

The name alone intrigues me.  hope the photos do it justice - photographing indoors in a Chicago winter - presents several challenging technical problems. 

I do not know much about the origins if this specific dish, just enough to say that it is named after the chef who created it and bless him, because it is an outstanding little morsel of goodness.

This is a great meal to be enjoyed family style, presents well ( as pictured above) as an appetiser and I guarantee you .... absolute WOW factor at your next cocktail party . We enjoyed it family style on some warmed corn tortillas , smothered with the fresh tomatillo salsa, which was superb . When I got home because i did not have any tortillas I thought it would make a nice presentation on blue corn tortilla chips.

The fish mixture was a savoury combination of tilapia, white onion, fresh cilantro and  maggi seasoning ( secret ingredient ) if you do not have any a touch of tamari soy sauce will do the trick - or you can omit all together.

The salsa was fresh, vibrant in colour, spicy in flavour that made your mouth come alive - the salsa was good enough to enjoy with tortilla chips or tostada.

Next time it is taco night at your home , consider serving a very light and healthy fish taco night where I am sure even the pickiest eater will be challenged to completely convince themselves that this is not worthy of eating.

So thank you to Teresa, my mexican friend, for preparing such a delightful dish to enjoy and giving us another authentic taste of mexican cuisine.

Filete Rodrigo with fresh Tomatillo Salsa


6 large tomatillos - husks removed
3 jalapenos peppers
2 serrano peppers ( optional)
small white onion
salt and pepper to taste
fresh cilantro

Wash and roughly chop the tomatillos and place in a bowl, use a hand held blender to make into a coarse puree. Add the jalapenos seeds included - check for spiciness and add the serano peppers if you would like more heat to the dish.

At this point depending on the heat level of the jalapeno peppers you can add more jalapeno or more serrano. When we were making this dish the jalapenos lacked spice so we added the serranos which certainly made up for the lack of spiciness and made the dish more tasty.

Once you get the desired consistency of salsa add some finely diced white onion and chopped fresh cilantro. Add salt and pepper and check for taste - adjust is needed then allow to sit on the side to allow the flavours to develop.

Filete Rodrigo

4 pieces tilapia fillets
salt and pepper
olive oil
white onion small dice
maggi seasoning a few shakes of the bottle
white vinegar to sharpen the flavour
fresh cilantro
corn tortillas

Season the tilapia with salt and pepper and cook in a non stick pan with a little olive oil , until is is cooked through and flakes easily.

Place in a bowl and allow to cool .

Meanwhile , finely dice one small white onion, add to the flaked and cooled fish along with a splash of both maggi seasoning and white vinegar. toss to combine then add the chopped cilantro - check for seasoning and adjust accordingly.

To serve family style, warm up some corn tortillas add some of the fish mixture then top with the salsa and enjoy the incredible taste sensation.