green bean, pea + asparagus salad with vanilla vinaigrette

I’ll admit I’ve never felt strong feelings towards green beans, most likely something I’ve carried through from childhood. Surely the only green things children like are green snakes, green smarties, green leaves (yeah, not that spinach stuff, I mean the sugary spearmint leaves) and so on and so forth. I often scream with excitement when my children eat a couple of green peas (on the inside of course; on the outside I’m truly too scared to even breath or even move in case they sense my satisfaction and then proceed to spit it out and completely ruin my moment of triumph). So when my son saw me eating my vanilla greens, he was quite confused as to how it wasn’t in the shape of a cake. Can you blame him?

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I thought it was about time I put my big girl pants on and acquaint myself with green beans, because if I can love other green veggies, why not spread the love ’round? And if there’s a recipe for persuading even the most stubborn greens eater, this is the one. The warm vanilla vs the zingy apple cider vinegar vs the mint…it just works. These three greens go fabulously together but you can choose whatever you like, such as leek, snow peas or even just simple spinach. I’ve served this salad with fish and even red meat, but it is delicious in it’s own right, not to mention super healthy. It’s safe to say I won’t be neglecting the humble green bean anymore.

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green bean, asparagus + pea salad with vanilla vinaigrette – serves 1, or 2 as a side

you’ll need…

  • 1 bunch of asparagus, woody ends trimmed
  • 100g green beans, ends trimmed
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla powder, or seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
  • handful of mint leaves, to serve

here’s what you do…

  1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil and add a few pinches of salt. Once boiling, pop in your asparagus, beans and peas and put your timer on for 3 minutes (if your asparagus is quite thick, you might need to cook for longer, in which case put it in before the beans and peas and time accordingly). Drain and refresh in cold water.
  2. Meanwhile, for the dressing, combine the oil, vinegar and vanilla and season well.
  3. Assemble greens on the plate, slicing some asparagus spears and beans lengthways in half for presentation. Drizzle over the dressing, scatter with mint leaves and season accordingly.
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vanilla cheesecake with salted caramel topping

Go on, wipe the drool off your keyboard – I don’t want to be responsible for your computer malfunctioning. But I do want to be responsible for the delight you’ll shreek when you make this cheesecake. It’s TDF (to die for) and even, as my uncle would say, to KILL for (because really, who wants to die when you could live and still eat cheesecake?). So, where was I…oh yeah, right. This dessert brought the house down – I didn’t have a negative or even so-so response after everyone had licked their plates clean. It came about as I asked my brother, who just so happens to share my birthday albeit 6 years younger, what type of birthday cake he’d like me to make – and he suggested a cheesecake, and I then jumped over the moon. With excitement! I thought, YES I can make that delicious creation I found on tastespotting the other day, combining my favourite, all-time flavour, vanilla, with a touch of salted caramel .

It really was the perfect end to a perfect birthday week of wining, dining and catch-ups. It’s definitely a week I save up for, as it is not only our birthday but also my husbands birthday two days beforehand. Crazy huh? But its a common thing, partners sharing similar, if not the same, birthdates…kinda cool I think. Soulmate material, for sure.

Tangent…and we’re back. So, I love chocolate, cheesecake, vanilla and caramel, and in this creation, these stars perform a fantastic show. I was going to make my own biscuits for the base, as the recipe suggests, but do you think i found the time to?! Hello Arnott’s choc ripple, you made my day!

All in all it was simple to make, just a bit time consuming, but I would do it all over again if i had the chance (and I say that because I really need a reason to make this – its just too rich to eat all on my own!). UPDATE: The filling overflowed as the biscuits didn’t come high enough up the sides of the tin – I have made this again since, and it turned out perfectly, but of course, I have no photographic proof for you!

choc-crusted vanilla cheesecake with salted caramel topping (adapted from The Former Chef)

you’ll need…

(for crust)

500g buttery, chocolate biscuits (i used Arnott’s choc ripple)

1/2 cup flour

120g butter (i found i needed a bit more to make the crust bind)

(for filling)

900g cream cheese @ room temp

1 cup sugar

4 eggs (always use free range)

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

1/4 cup milk

(topping)

1 cup sour cream

1 tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla paste

(salted caramel)

1 cup sugar

1 cup cream

60g butter

1tsp fleur de sel (or use sea salt – i finally purchased the fleur de sel and man, does it make a difference)

here’s what you do…

1. grind biscuits in food processor until nice and fine. add the flour and pulse to combine, then add butter and continue to pulse until it reaches the consistency of wet sand.

2. press the crumbs into the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan (i lined mine with foil) and then up the sides to form an even crust.

3. preheat fan-forced oven to 150 C.

4. for filling, put the milk in a saucepan with the vanilla and bring just to the boil before turning off. let the milk sit for 15 minutes for the vanilla to infuse.

5. put cream cheese into a bowl (i used my stand mixer) and add the sugar, beating until combined and smooth. add the eggs one at a time, with the mixer on, stopping to scrape down the sides and incorporate ingredients. add the milk/vanilla mix and beat until free of lumps.

6. pour the filling into the pan with the crust, placing the pan onto a lined cookie tray (to catch any buttery drips). bake for 50 min – 1 hour, or until set on top but soft and jiggly in the middle.

7. while that’s happening, mix the sour cream, sugar and vanilla. when the cheesecake is cooked, let it cool for 10 minutes, leaving the oven on, then pour this mix on top and bake for another 10-15 minutes. remove, and let it cool for 1 hour before refrigerating for at least 4 hours.

8. for the topping, melt the sugar in a heavy-based pan, stirring constantly to avoid burning the sugar (i omitted water from my caramel as i found it prevented the sugar from caramelising). once it has all melted and is rich amber/mahogany coloured, pour in the cream and put on very low heat, constantly stirring to melt all the caramel that has hardened from the cream. once all melted, whisk in the butter and salt, and allow to cool.

9. the caramel will be VERY thick and sticky, and i ended up melting it a bit just to liquify it so it could be poured over the cheesecake. it will set quite quickly as it hits the cold cheesecake. then top with a bit of extra fleur de sel, but only right before serving, as the caramel will soak it up if left on there for prolonged periods. enjoy!

lime cheesecake cupcakes

goodness me, what a week of delicious food its been! so delicious i haven’t had the time to blog about it – lucky my camera has a photographic memory. so as you know, i’ve been baking cupcakes like mad, and i generally get a call from my mum around 9pm on her work tea-break aka ‘cupcake testing time’. so when the phone rang at 9pm on this fine Tuesday night, the night i sent her off with a batch of these babies, i was eager to hear what her co-workers, and in turn my new customers, thought. well…it was a resounding ‘MMM’ – they loved them! the best flavour yet. this makes me glad, as i thoroughly enjoyed making each component of the cupcake, mainly because it involved me taste testing along the way. it was also nice to deviate from the stock-standard red velvet with sugared icing-esque flavours that you commonly find (not that theres anything wrong with that or any other generic flavour, i just like a bit of individuality and experimentation).

hey there limey lime

they are a bit of work to assemble/prepare, but oh-so-worth-it, trust me, especially when you bite into the cupcake and find the little lime curd ‘surprise’ inside (quote unquote the Aussie Post employees). the simple, buttery vanilla cupcake from Magnolia, the tart lemon curd, and the cracker-crumb cream cheese frosting altogether is like a party in your mouth, and really only you are invited. i sorta mushed together recipes from all over the shop to end up with the perfect little lime cheesecake cupcake – enjoy.

i promise to include a cross section photo next time! they just got snapped up too quickly (can you blame ’em)

(for the lime curd from shemakesandbakes)

you’ll need…

-1/4 cup lime juice

-zest from 2 limes

-1 egg @ room temp

-2tblsp + 2tsp caster sugar

-60g butter, softened

here’s what you do…

1. whisk all ingredients except for the butter together in a heatproof bowl on top of a simmering saucepan of water (this double-boiler method ensures no lumps, and a smooth, creamy consistency). keep whisking until mixture thickens and can coat the back of a wooden spoon.

2. remove from heat and whisk in the butter, straining into a bowl and covering immediately to avoid a skin forming. place into the fridge to cool down.

(for Magnolia’s ~24 cupcakes – i halved the recipe and it still made around 16 cupcakes)

you’ll need…

-1.5 cup self-raising flour

-1.25 cups plain flour

-225g butter, softened

-2 cups caster sugar (give raw caster a shot)

-4 large eggs, at room temperature

-1 cup milk

-2 tsp pure vanilla paste (don’t scrimp on this part)

here’s what you do…

1. preheat oven to 170°C (my oven is new and strong – 160 was hot enough) and line your cupcake/muffin tin with liners

2. in a small bowl, sift both flours and set aside.

3. in a large bowl, cream the butter until smooth. add sugar gradually and beat for ~3min, or until fluffy.

4. add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, ensuring you split the 3 additions up with the milk and vanilla mix in between (so it should go flour, milk, flour, milk, and end with flour) NOTE: do not overbeat, whatever you do! beat on low speed and only beat until ingredients are just incorporated.

5. spoon the mixture into the cupcake liners, either using a large ice cream scoop, or do what i do and measure out 3 tblsp per liner, making sure they are evenly filled. this will ensure even baking! bake until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, around 15 minutes.

6. remove the cupcakes from the tin immediately to avoid the buttery-goodness seeping through the liner and place onto wire rack to cool completely.

(for the cracker-crumb frosting from thecupcakeproject)

you’ll need…

-60g butter @ room temp

-225g cream cheese @ room temp

-2 cups pure icing sugar

-2 tsp vanilla paste

-1 1/3 cup wheaten biscuits, finely processed (or graham crackers, or any other biscuit you like as a cheesecake crust)

here’s what you do…

1. mix butter and cream cheese with beaters until light and fluffy.

2. mix in the icing sugar gradually, followed by the vanilla and then the crackers.

to assemble cupcakes…

1. using a melon baller, cupcake corer or just your everyday paring knife, cut a small section of the cupcake out from the middle, and either trim it down to replace it once the cupcake is filled, or do what we did and eat little mouthfuls of it with the left over curd/icing

2. spoon a tiny amount of lime curd into the hole you’ve just made, making sure you dont overfill as we are also piping icing onto the cupcake and you want it to stick down nicely.

3. pipe the icing onto the cupcake as you please – and top with a bit of lime zest to finish it off. voila!

smokey brown sugar + vanilla ice cream

smokey vanilla + brown sugar ice cream

gosh i love a good vanilla bean. especially when combined with cream, sugar and eggs – what could be more heavenly? i have toyed around with a few different vanilla recipes, and i think i can finally settle with this one for a while. running your spoon through the creamy landscape, latching onto beans as you go – it seriously feels like a soft cloud at your fingertips. the vanilla i’ve used can be purchased from Vanilla Plantations and is A-Grade Ground Bourbon Vanilla Powder – so basically its the whole vanilla pod ground up with the beans and all. now, this makes your ice cream look speckled and slightly grey-tinged, but the taste is the same, if not better – you get a certain smokiness from the vanilla that i haven’t been able to attain through using the paste. and, this stuff works out to be a LOT cheaper considering a few teaspoons of the paste can cost you over $10! i love this stuff – it makes its way into my morning oats, into smoothies, desserts…it has rustic visual appeal. the original recipe calls for caster sugar, but try it with the raw stuff – you’ll get a more earthy flavour. my latest batch, i made with brown sugar and oh my! it imparts a subtle caramel flavour that really is something else. it is the perfect marriage with a rich brownie or even a lemon pudding.

smokey brown sugar + vanilla ice cream

freshly churned

smokey vanilla + brown sugar ice cream (adapted from Ice Cream – The Perfect Weekend Treat)

you’ll need…

600ml whipping cream (or half single cream and half double cream – from experience, the former tastes better)

1 vanilla pod (or equivalent in powder/paste)

4 egg yolks

100g brown sugar (or raw caster sugar)

here’s what you do…

1. pour the cream into a large heavy-based saucepan with the vanilla. if you’re using the whole pod, scrape the beans into the pan and place the pod in there also. bring almost to the boil, then remove from heat and leave to infuse for 20 minutes.

2. put the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl, whisking together until mixture is pale and eggs leave a trail when whisk is lifted. remove the pod if using, then slowly add the cream to the egg mix, constantly stirring with a wooden spoon.

3. strain the mix back into the saucepan, and cook over low heat for 10 or so minutes until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. take care, as the mixture could curdle if left to boil.

4. remove custard from heat and immediately pour into ice-cream maker (my machine is one that doesn’t require the mixture to be cooled down beforehand – you may need to check yours is the same). churn, churn, churn (according to the manufacturer, of course). alternatively, freeze the mix, uncovered, for 1-2 hrs, or until an edge begins to form. turn the custard into a bowl and stir with a fork or beat until smooth, returning to the freezer for another 2-3 hours until firm.

5. enjoy many times over.

Magnolia’s vanilla cupcakes + a lemony surprise: lemon curd cupcakes

as if I didn’t think my husband could possibly love me more, I went and did something silly like fill a cupcake with lemon curd. and by silly, I mean omghowfrigginamazing. he loves anything citrus, you see. recently I have been baking cupcakes like they’re going outta fashion, when in fact, they are so in vogue. kinda like Madonna with the pointy-cup bras, but a little more delicious.

I started with a classic vanilla cupcake – seeing as vanilla is my secret lover and one day I hope to immerse myself in a bath filled with it’s tiny little beans. I offered to bake 50 cupcakes for my cousins’ twins who turned 1 last week. so all last week, leading up to the party, I practiced and practiced and almost gave my family diabetes so I could perfect the recipe and technique and produce a most lip-smackingly, vanilla-rich cupcake, and I can proudly say I am well on my way! I used
Magnolia’s famous vanilla cupcake recipe
, and teamed it up with a pink and blue-tinted vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream from Pick Yin that was to die for (TDF). I ended up throwing in some white chocolate towards the last few batches just to spice things up, and I’m glad I did as it complemented the vanilla cupcakes beautifully.

Magnolia’s vanilla with tinted white chocolate buttercream

morecupcakes

my laziness paid off! failing to clean the piping bag between colours gave this two-tone effect

next flavour destination – lemon land. as I mentioned earlier, I discovered the sneaky notion of hiding lemon curd in cupcakes. how inventive! I simply used the basic vanilla cupcake I had been working with, and once baked, I cut out a tiny insert in the middle (making sure not to hit the bottom of the cupcake liner) just big enough for me to spoon some fresh curd into. I topped  it with a lemony-vanilla buttercream (I simply added lemon curd at the end until my heart desired), and called it a day. my apologies, but I forgot to take a photo of the cupcake cut in two – you’ll just have to take my word that there was indeed lemon curd inside!

mm gotta love that little zing you get from the freshly zested lemon

next stop – lime cupcakes with a graham cracker-crumbed frosting. stay tuned!