Apricot and Date Bars

My boyfriend loves storebought museli bars for a snack – you know the ones that are all nicely wrapped up in foil, and that you can grab on your way out the door?  Very handy!  I agree that they are convenient, but in my opinion they are:

 

a) overpriced

b) oversweet

c) undersized

 

The other day his favourite kind were on sale (pfff) and still worked out to 2 packages of 5 tiny bars for $6!  That’s 60c each!  I pointed that out to him too, and told him that I would make him some much more delicious museli bars which would be far more healthy and much, much tastier.

 

Even though the store-bought bars are tiiiiiny (about 35 g each), I can hardly eat a whole one because they are soooooo sweet.  I’m not a huge sweet tooth, and for someone who can eat a whole packet of Toffee Pops in an afternoon (ahem), maybe that is OK.  But anyway, I thought that I could do better.

 

The other day I saw a recipe for Honey and Peanut Butter Booster Bars on River Cottage, and I based what I made on this recipe.  I think I’ve sufficiently adapted it to be able to call it its own recipe, so I’ll put it down here…  All my ingredients are approximate, as I don’t tend to record/weigh things (I started out loosely following the River Cottage recipe for the butter, sugar, peanut butter and honey, and then improvised based on what I thought it should look like – you can, of course, do the same).

 

 

Apricot and Date Bars

  • 150 g butter**
  • 150 g brown sugar
  • 2 heaped tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1.5 heaped tablespoons honey
  • Zest of one lemon
** I used an Olive Oil spread instead of butter, purely because I forgot to buy butter at the supermarket.  I think it made the bars a little softer than they would have been with butter, given the “spreadableness” of the Olive Oil spread, but it worked fine, and is a good option if you are cutting out dairy or fat…
Combine these first ingredients in a pot, and heat slowly until they are all melted and combined.  Set aside.
  • 250 – 300 g whole oats (depending on what else you add)
  • 2 handfuls of chopped dried apricots
  • 2 handfuls of chopped dates
  • 2 handfuls of chopped walnuts
  • whatever is leftover in the sesame seed jar (about 1/3 cup is what was in mine)
Add these ingredients, and mix well to combine.  You want a mixture that is not too sloppy, but also not so dry that it won’t stick together in the oven.  Add more oats if your mixture is too wet.  If it’s too dry, you might want to melt a bit more butter and add that.
Press into a lined baking tin (size depends on how thick you want your bars, mine are quite fat!) and bake for 20 – 30 minutes at 160 c (until it goes golden, and before the edges start to burn too much).  Remove from the oven, and if you want to, melt some dark chocolate to spread over the top (I suspected that the chocolate chips on the store-bought bars were a large part of their appeal).  Wait until they are completely cool, and then cut into slices.  I made mine into 12 large bars, you could just as easily make 24 more manageable-sized bars…
Would you like to see mine?  Yes?  OK!
And a close up of the insides…  I spy a date!
Of course, store-bought muesli bars are really, really convenient.  They are all individually wrapped in colourful foil packages, so you can just pop one in your bag (you won’t even notice the extra weight!  They are so light!).  So, I wrapped mine individually in wax paper.  When you do this, remember (unlike me) that waxed paper has a waxy side and a non-waxy side.  You should probably put the waxy side inside the packet…
Look – a blog post that combines Wool and Spoons!  You could also use rubber bands if, unlike me, you don’t have a lot of spare time…
And you can’t have all those muesli bars running wild in your pantry, so they all need to be packaged into their special own box:
One thing I forgot to put on the box was the weight, which even after my dad took one bar for himself, is 1.2 kilograms (1200 grams)!  Compare that to the 175 gram store-bought box.
The price per serve (per bar) for these, which I worked out using some fancy Excel workings, is about $1.50 which may seem quite expensive (it did to me!).  However, I did use some pretty pricey ingredients such as “gourmet” dates, and the nice apricots from Otago instead of Turkey, walnuts, and organic peanut butter.  You could make them a lot cheaper by using other dried fruit such as raisins, and using a lot of seeds like pumpkin seeds instead of more expensive nuts.  I made these ones especially with all my boyfriend’s favourite things in them, to prove to him that they can be a zillion times more delicious than store bought ones!  You also have to remember that my bars weigh about 100 g each, compared to the store-bought ones (costing 60 c per serve), which weight only 35 g each…  So, my bars aren’t super-cheap, but they sure are a lot tastier, judging by the crumbs I have been eating off the bench..
And of course, mine have an extra ingredient, and it’s not high fructose corn syrup…

Peanut Butter Hummus

At the moment I’m sitting at the table at home in Tauranga, having my morning cup of tea and a piece of toast.  I’ve been very busy the last week or so getting ready and packed up to leave Wellington – and finally I made it!  Last week, I went to my friend’s house for a movie and dinner, and made some more dip (see my Pumpkin Dip) to take.  Because I was moving out of my house, I didn’t want to buy any new ingredients, and wanted to use up what was in my cupboard.  I had a can of chickpeas, so I thought that I would make hummus…  Instead of tahini, I put in a few spoons of peanut butter (I know, not quite comparable), and it tasted great!  Here it is all ready to be carried up the hill to my friend’s house:

I put in it:

– One can of chickpeas, drained

– Garlic, finely chopped (not too much, it’s not being cooked, so it’s very garlicky!)

– Olive oil

– Few spoons of peanut butter (crunchy!)

You can add any other flavours you want to – basically just zizz up the chickpeas, and add enough oil to make it a nice consistency.  Keep adding bits and pieces and experimenting until you get the flavour you want.  I made focaccia bread to go with it, with sliced lemons, chopped olives, and cheese on top (using up all my food again, it made a nice combination!).

Asparagus and Potato Crustless Quiche

My flatmate described my dinner the other night as a crustless quiche, which was exactly what I had in mind when I was making it, as I didn’t have enough eggs to make both a quiche filling *and* a quiche crust.  So it’s sort of a crustless quiche/frittata/giant omelette.

  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup of milk (I use soy)
  • Onions and garlic
  • 1 can of asparagus spears, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 small potatoes, steamed or boiled
  • Cheese

Whip up the eggs and the soy milk, and add a bit of cheese.  Fry some onions and garlic in a cast iron pan (or a pan that is able to be put in the oven).  Add the potatoes and fry for a minute or two.  Pour in the egg mixture, add the asparagus, and distribute the asparagus and potatoes around the pan.  Cook for a while, until almost set, and the put the rest of the cheese on top, and grill until completely set.

Legendary Lemon Cheese Pudding

Last Friday night, my friend Sarah and I had a baking date.  Our baking dates are always wild nights, full of soup, bread, and desert!  Last time we met up, we made an amazing Lemon Cheese Pudding, which my Mum has been making ever since it was made for us by some friends of the family.  In fact, I’m pretty sure Sarah’s boyfriend only proposed to her to get access to this pudding.  Or because she’s an awesome girl, and an amazing baker!   Anyway, this Lemon “Cheese” Pudding is worth a try – it’s so simple and incredibly delicious.  Is is a recipe from the Edmond’s Cookbook, but doesn’t seem to be included in the later version.  It’s in my Mum’s cookbook, but not mine.  I don’t know why they wouldn’t include it!  I think it’s called “Cheese” pudding, because the lemon juice curdles the milk and butter a little, meaning that they puddingy bit looks a little like ricotta cheese or something.  That’s my theory anyway!

– 1 tablespoon of butter (or marg)

– 1/2 cup of sugar

– Juice and rind of one lemon

– Pinch of salt

– 1 cup of milk (usually I use soy milk, and it works fine)

– 2 eggs

– 1 tablespoon of flour

Beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks.  In another bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Add flour, lemon juice and rind, milk and a pinch of salt to the butter and sugar.  Gently fold your egg whites into the lemony mixture, trying not to pop too many bubbles!

Spoon or pour the mixture into ramekins, and place the ramekins in a dish.  Pour boiling water into the dish so that it comes to about half way up the ramekins – Sarah tells me this is so it cooks evenly..  Bake for about 20 mins at 170C.

Here are some happy snaps from our baking date:

Sarah making the lemony mixture.

My wonderfully whipped egg whites.

Sarah mixing the wonderfully whipped whites into the lovely lemon mixture.

Check out Sarah’s blog too, she has some lovely pictures of our baking date (including one of the insides of the pudding – I was in too much of a hurry to eat it to take a photo)..

Tamarillo Crumble

This is a tamarillo.

Look at its deliciousness.  According to the almighty collection of knowledge, Wikipedia, the name tamarillo was made up by some marketing people – they are also known as ‘Tree Tomatos’, but that wasn’t exotic enough.  The name tamarillo is apparently a combination of the Maori word tama meaning ‘leadership’, and the rillo part possibly comes from the Spanish amarillo ‘yellow’ (tamarillos also come in a yellow variety, though the red/purple seems to be the most common around these days).  Last night, I used some plump juicy tamarillos to make a Tamarillo Crumble.

I have a special trick to peeling tamarillos, to maximise the amount of fruit that I get.  This method could be used for other fruits/veges with similar types of skin, like tomatoes.  First of all, cut a cross at the base of the tamarillo.

Then once you’ve done that to all of them, put them in a pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes, or until the skin starts to split (you can sort of see it in this photo, but it’s a wee bit obscured by the steamy water!).

Once the skins have split, put the tamarillos into some cold water, until they are cold enough to handle.  Then, you can strip their skins right off, and voila, naked tamarillos!

For my crumble, I also used one apple, sliced thinly.  In the past, I’ve also used pear which was delicious!  The tamarillos are quite strong in flavour, so generally need some kind of “base” to the crumble.  Chop up your tamarillos.  Look at the beautiful inside of it!  Just on a side note, your kitchen will look like a murder scene after chopping up the tamarillos.

Mix your fruit together in an oven proof dish, with some brown sugar.  How much you use just depends on your taste, and also what fruit you’re using.  Tamarillos are quite tart, but I don’t like super sweet things, so I used about 3 tablespoons of sugar (remember that the topping will also be sweet).

Now for the topping!  You will need:

  • 50 g butter
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 cup of oats

Just to show off another picture of my cake mixer, here are the jars that I keep all my baking goods in.  I’ve managed to make a whole collection of different sizes and shapes by buying them whenever I see them at second hand shops (although I temporarily inherited some of them from my sister Fern when she went to Japan for a year).  At the second hand shops they are about $2 – $4, and if the rubber sealing ring has dried out or is really old, you can usually buy new ones at shops that sell the new jars for preserving (home shops, The Warehouse etc).

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and the sugar and mix together.  Then add your oats, and coat them in the sugar/butter mixture.  Finally, spread your crumble mixture on your fruit.  Spread it to the edges, and press it down.

Your crumble will probably take about 25 minutes to cook in a 200c oven – depending on how large you cut your fruit pieces, and how crispy you like your crumble.  This is the finished product, doesn’t the juice that has bubbled up over the crumble look delicious!!

Mmmmm close up.  I ate more of the crumble for breakfast this morning, and I’m currently waiting for my dinner (fish curry) to digest so that I can have some more for pud!

Queso Fresco (Fresh Cheese)

I know that Fern has already done a wee how to for this, but this one is especially for Emily, because I promised that I would try to keep up this blog for her…  Plus it gives me a chance to show off some lovely pictures of my cake mixer!

I originally saw this recipe on an episode of World Kitchen, which is a really neat cooking show.  Even though it’s sponsored  by Tegal, so most of the recipes have chicken in them, I quite like it because it’s a great combination of travel and yummy simple recipes.

This one is for Queso Fresco, or fresh cheese.  It’s really surprisingly easy!   All you need is:

  • 2 litres of full cream milk
  • 1 Lemon
  • Some kind of cloth (I used a new dishcloth)

1.  In a big pot, bring the milk to the boil.   Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring the whole time to stop the milk from burning on the bottom of the pot, and forming a skin on the top.

2.  After 10 minutes, add the juice of one lemon.  Your milk will curdle, and look something like this:

3.  Now, you need to drain the whey, you’re left with the curds, which will make your cheese!  I used my cake mixer bowl with a sieve, like this, to make it a bit easier (I only have two hands, after all).

4.  Finally, squeeze some of the liquid off your cheese, and leave it to drip out.  How long you leave it, and how much liquid you squeeze out depends on how hard/soft you want your cheese.  The less liquid, the harder the cheese.  Now comes the picture of my cake mixer, which doubles nicely as a cheese dripper machine…

Unfortunately, in my haste to eat my lovely cheese, I completely forgot to take a photo of the finished product!  I finished it off by sprinkling some salt on the outside, because the flavour of this cheese is quite mild.  If you’re a salty-tooth you may also want to add some salt at the stage when you are draining the whey off.

I used this cheese to garnish a tomato soup type thing, which was yummy indeed!  Fern used it on some pizza bread – yum.  It keeps for a little while in the fridge, keep it in an airtight container, and just give it a sniff to see whether it’s still good.  That’s always my strategy, I hardly ever look at use by dates…

Enjoy!

Pumpkin, Caramelised Onion, Feta and Cashew Dip

I am sitting outside this lovely Sunday morning.  It seems that it’s been raining, because the deck is wet, and there are stormy clouds in the sky.  But!  It’s warm!  It’s actually warm!  Even though the sun isn’t out, there is a definite warmth to the air, which means that spring is well underway!  How exciting.

Last night I went to my friend’s house for dinner, and as we both agreed that chips and dip are a good group, I was tasked to be in charge of that.  My sister had sent me an email a wee while back with a description of what she had made and was eating (not unusual).  She had made a pumpkin dip.  I’d never even really thought of making my own dips, but how easy!  Also a great way to use up bits and pieces of ingredients.  I am just going to put approximate quantities, since really I just made it up as I went along.  The base, of course, is pumpkins.

  • Pumpkin, about 1/8 th of one
  • 1/3 cup of well cooked brown rice (Fern’s idea to make it a good dippy consistancy)
  • 2 smallish onions
  • Brown sugar, a few tablespoons
  • Small amount of vinegar (balsamic would be best, although i used wine vinegar because I didn’t have any balsamic)
  • Garlic, chopped
  • Feta cheese
  • about 1/2 a cup of cashew nuts
  • salt

Cook the brown rice – go for overcooked rather than still al dente.

Roast the pumpkin in the oven with some olive oil, and any herbs and spices that you might like to add.  I just left the skins on the pumpkin, since they go quite soft, and everything is going to be zizzed up anyway.

Caramelise the finely chopped onions in a pan – fry until soft and then add brown sugar and a splash of vinegar.  Continue cooking until they are really quite soft.  Add the brown rice and some garlic into the pan, and mix it all up (leave some garlic aside to add raw).  Cool, and put into a blender (I have my sister’s stick mixer, which is amazing).  Zizz up until it’s quite smooth, but this doesn’t matter too much.  It depends on how textured you want your dip to be.  Add the cooled pumpkin, crumbled feta, some raw garlic and zizz some more!  Add some salt to taste, if you want.

Transfer the pumpkin mixture to another bowl, and then zizz up the cashew nuts in the blender, or whatever you are using (I guess you could do this by hand, finely chopping/mashing everything).  I used salted cashews, because it was what I had, but in the end it’s a very “go by taste” recipe, so add anything in that you think would work for you.

Finally, mix the cashew nuts in with the pumpkin mixture, and you’ve got one mighty tasty dip.  Just on a side note, Doritos, though they taste amazing, do not work well with this dip, they don’t hold up to the thickness of it.  Make sure you get a corn chip that can handle your dip…  Mine is garnished with paprika and coriander.

And just for another pretty picture, I discovered that we have a big lavender bush in our back yard (or what passes for a back yard anyway) when I was checking out my vege garden yesterday.  My vege garden is going well, although I leave Wellington in a few weeks, so I’m not sure I’ll get to enjoy the vegetables of my labour…  Maybe a miniature salad with lettuce, spinach, and teeny tiny carrots?

Chocolate Chili Puddings

I am at home on a rainy afternoon, and eating the last of these amazing chocolate chili puddings that I made earlier in the week.  So what better to do than to finally get my A in G and start a blog, so that I can show you all the amazingness of these puddings, and hopefully get the recipe right so that you can make them too!

Chocolate Chili Puddings Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 of a block of dark chocolate (I used Whittaker’s 70%)
  • 25 grams of butter
  • 1/2 a cup of sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • About half a cup of milk (I use soy milk)
  • 1 Tablespoon of flour
  • A shake of cinnamon
  • A tiny pinch of chili powder

Method:

Preheat your oven to 160 C, and boil your jug.

Start by separating the eggs, and beating the egg whites until they are stiff.  I use my lovely red mixer for this, and just leave it going while I do everything else.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, and while it’s hot add the chopped up chocolate and put the lid on.  The chocolate will melt, with no need for being fiddly with a double boiler!  Once it looks nice and soft, mix it up with the butter using a fork or a whisk.

To the chocolate and butter mixture, add your sugar and egg yolks (make sure it’s cooled down a wee bit first, we don’t want scrambled eggs).  Then add your flour and stir it in too.  You need a bit of milk to make the mixture quite liquidy – far more liquidy than you would think!  I think I added about half a cup.  You want it to be kind of the consistency of pancake batter.  Because this recipe has whipped up egg whites in it, you don’t need to add any raising agents like baking powder.

For the final touch to your chocolate mixture, add a tiny pinch of chili powder.  This really is the secret ingredient.  It’s what, as my friend put it, makes your throat go “wooooo-ooo-oooo” when you eat it.  If you want to, add a shake of cinnamon too.

Finally, combine your egg whites and the chocolate mixture, being really careful not to burst too many of the egg whites’ bubbles.

Spoon the mixture into ramekins (I used four, but next time will probably use 5 or 6).  Put the ramekins into an ovenproof dish (I just use a pyrex one big enough to fit a few ramekins in).  Pour the hot water around the ramekins, and pop into the oven!  I’m not entirely sure how long I left these in the oven for, it would depend on how saucy you want them.  As you can see, the tops of mine got lovely and cracked, and the inside was quite fudgy.  They probably took about 20 minutes or half an hour to get to that stage,  but if you prefer your pudding to be a bit more saucy, just don’t leave them in the oven as long – experiment!  Pudding recipes are pretty forgiving – I made this one up as I went along, loosely based on a Lemon Cheese Pudding, but more about that later…

Amazing.