The Devil’s In The Dessert

1912: The term ‘cheesecake’ was invented when an actress arriving in N.Y. posed for photographers and revealed more leg that was customary – um. Embarrassing!!

{cheesecake anyone? tea-towel from zazzle}

{cheesecake anyone? tea-towel from zazzle}

I guess this bit of icky etymology is proof that you are what you eat… so I want to start out by offering my profuse and heartfelt apologies. I’ve procrastinated this poor post for months now because it’s very, very dangerous… it’s my adapted recipe for (oh the shame) single-serve microwave baked cheesecakes *immediately grabs knotted ropes for self-flagellation*. I’m not particularly religious (several years in a strict nun-driven school does that to you) but I’m willing to believe that this heavenly stuff is actually the Devil’s work, sent here to Earth to render us all guilty of the deadly sin of Gluttony. It’s so sinfully rich but delicate at the same time, so perfectly proportioned, and so quick that it is pretty useless to try to resist it. I worked through a tub of cream cheese in record time while trying out recipes.

Under normal circumstances I lead a pretty healthy lifestyle involving lots of leafy rabbit food and I enjoy (making an attempt at) staying in shape, but honestly when it comes to this dessert I’m a total hound – no cheesecake-snobbery here. Most people seem to have a love-hate relationship – they love either the baked kind or the refrigerated kind and despise the other. I don’t get that – all’s fair in love and cheesecake. I don’t care if it’s covered in chocolate or piles of berries or completely starkers, if it’s got a biscuit crust or a pastry crust, or no crust at all, I don’t care if it’s firm and crumbly or ooey-gooey. I am willing to do all sorts of unpleasant penance in the form of squats, lunges and the dreaded push-ups, all in the name of eating more cheesecake.

me too

Anyhoo, microwave cheesecake. Usually when it comes to recipes adapted for the microwave, there’s a little disclaimer along the lines of “it’s not that bad considering that it’s come out the microwave, but it can’t be compared to the original”. In the case of this recipe, I say *raspberry noise* to that, it’s no different to one of those enormous bain-marie’d oven-baked time-consuming jobs, and if you live alone it’s a lot healthier because it’s portion-controlled. Cheesecake is never going to make it on the list of healthy foodstuffs but at least this version will take away the temptation to eat an entire full-size one by yourself.

devil in the detail

I tried several online recipes and put in many hours of hard labour, including extensive sensory evaluation to the point of fatigue ;-P, to come up with not one but two recipes *flagellates and tries to remember the words to Hail Mary*. I’m sorry… I meant to stop after the plain vanilla recipe but a cheffy friend whispered the words “Bar-One” in my ear, and in a moment of weakness I concocted a recipe for that too.  Please don’t sue me if this results in your turning into a cheesecakely figure…

chop chop

eggceptionally yummy

For A Single-Serve Plain Cheesecake:

60g cream cheese

2 Tablespoons plain unsweetened yoghurt

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence

2 Tablespoons sugar

1 rounded teaspoon cornflour

Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly in a microwave-safe bowl (I used a ramekin, and a large mug would do the job too). Press play on the microwave and cook on high heat for 90 seconds (I know, right!), stirring every 30 seconds – you will notice that it starts to cook round the edges first, make sure to mix this all back into the middle squidgy bit so everything cooks evenly. Remove from the microwave and DO NOT try to taste it, you will scorch a layer off the surface of your tongue – let it cool down a bit, before popping it in the fridge until it’s at least room temperature. Try to wait til it’s cold – but I know this is not necessarily possible. It will look a bit pockmarked but don’t worry about this, it will taste absolutely divine. Serve topped with fruity goodness – it’ll ease the weight of the guilt on your conscience.

For A Single-Serve Bar-One Cheesecake:

60g cream cheese

1 egg

1/2 large Bar-One chocolate (55g) (dispose of the other half as you see fit…)

1 rounded teaspoon cornflour

Chop the chocolate into rough chunks, and proceed exactly as for the plain version above.

cue angel song

Important Stuff to Note:

  • There is obviously a lack of crunchy crustiness with these recipes – if that’s your thing, consider sprinkling crushed biscuits over the top before serving.
  • It is absolutely imperative that full-fat cheesecake is used. I tried to make myself feel better about posting this by testing low- and medium-fat cream cheeses, but it just doesn’t work – the result is grainy and miserable. If you’re going to be bad – be good at it :-).
  • In case you live in a sadly deprived country with no Bar-Ones to be had, a Mars Bar or similar chocolate/toffee/nougat type should work. But best you just come to SA and get the real thing. On this topic, if you happen to find yourself on Kloof Street in Cape Town, pop into Arnold’s. Order the Bar-One Cheesecake and the Chilli Mojito. Then send me a note of thanks for the heads-up.

Enjoy this little bitty indulgence…

{oops...}

{oops…}

PS: I can’t for the life of me find the plain cheesecake photo’s (they were super-cute – topped with whipped cream and yellow jelly beans). I guess that, in the name of delivering a user-friendly blog post, I need to make another cheesecake and take photo’s? See what I did there…. 😉 This really is like having a little dessert-wielding devil on my shoulder.

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Hearty Appert-ite

soup dogg

Those ancient Greeks who figured out that the earth is spherical, came up with words like “equinox”, proposed wild new theories and whose names all seem to end in “-medes” – they buggered up when it came to the weather. The winter solstice has come and gone down here in the Southern Hemisphere: I remember it clearly: it happened on a Friday and I didn’t go out because hibernation felt appropriate. The thought that it was the midpoint of winter cheered me up enormously – surely that means it’s all the way downhill to summer, right? I’m thinking shorter nights, warmer weather, flip-flops, the triumphant return of grass to my lawn and the ability to enjoy ice-cream again. Not so! Whoever’s in charge of the weather has messed up and it’s colder than ever! It was 3 degrees when I drove to work last week *outraged, with icicles forming on extremities*. Weather-authorities, you slackers, flip the switch for Summer already!

{i disagree}

{… and it’s name was Soup}

Anyway, the only thing getting me through this prolonged winter misery is vast quantities of steamy-hot soup. I love soup; it fills you up, the bowl keeps the chilly paws warm, and most kinds don’t mind being frozen. Some of them do require a bit of time on the stove, but then there’s this 4-Bean & Tomato Soup that’s ready in no time flat, is packed full of good things, and tastes divine with very little effort. Because the key ingredients come out of a can (meaning they are already cooked) (meaning that this will take under 30 minutes), consider this post an ode to Frenchman Nicolas Appert, who first came up with this method of food preservation back in 1809.

I found this recipe in a copy of Pick n Pay’s FreshLiving magazine and it’s come to the rescue on many a cold winter’s evening when I’m in need of soup for the shivering soul. It’s super-tasty – it doesn’t have that “old-person’s-house” taste that many bean soups seem to have, and the chunky texture and tomato give it a salsa vibe (add a chilli!). It’s very filling and even in the face of a midwinter appetite a little goes a long way.

i heart veggies

do the can can

souper

For four generous servings of 4-Bean & Tomato Soup, in lieu of warm weather:

1 onion, peeled and chopped

1 cup of celery, chopped (I throw the leaves in too – waste not, want not)

1 cup of carrots, peeled and chopped/sliced

2 cans of four-bean mix, drained and rinsed (the mix I got consisted of small white beans, chickpeas, red kidney beans and… um… a fourth kind of bean whose name escapes me right now)

1 can chopped, peeled tomatoes

4 cups (1 litre) beef stock

Salt and pepper, to taste

Righty-oh. It goes like this – arrive home from work so cold that you can’t feel your toes anymore, and are uncertain with regard to their existence. Check, just in case.

Heat a glug of sunflower oil in a large pot; add the onion, celery and carrot and fry for about 5 minutes on high heat. Add all the remaining ingredients and simmer until the veggies are completely soft and soup-y.

Remove from the heat and carefully approach with a stick-blender – be careful! Don’t go splashing piping hot soup all over the place. Have a go at it with the blender, it should be chunky but without great big lumps of vegetables hanging around.

That is all. Seriously.

If you like, you can ring the changes by adding complementary flavours – I’ve tried chilli, curry spices, fresh thyme, all to very yummy effect. This soup freezes well – I freeze it in a big freezer bag, flattening it so that it is able to stack nicely in the freezer as well as defrost quickly.

saving the soup

Bon Appert-it!

Five Things: Royal Blue Baby

Exciting times people!! All these blue bundles of joy – first up was Kate Middleton yesterday with the future King of England, and this morning one of our own Book Club Bokkies welcomed the cutest little chubby-cheeked nunu-pie of a blue baby into the world. Congrats to both Moms!!

I myself struggle to keep my two potplants alive (they grew far better when I started to neglect them – which says a lot for my maternal skills) and so I doubt I will ever have the opportunity to make one of these amazing cakes, which are used to reveal whether it’s a pink or blue baby….

50 shades of blue

{kind of like a preggers biscuit}

{kind of like a preggers biscuit}

{this one is my favourite - thanks Jani!}

{this one is my favourite – thanks Jani!}

mushy middle

an adventure awaits

 

 

Now that everyone’s quit trying to predict Kate & William’s baby’s gender, everyone’s wildly speculating about the name. The odds are in favour of traditional names James or George; I think the names that come out of this Royal name generator are far more awesome. Mostly because mine is “Duchess CakePoppie the Rich”.

Oranges & Lemons for the 67s

In a matter of hours we celebrate the birthday of Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest men ever in the whole wide world; born in 1918, he turns a whopping 95 years old!! He spent 28 years of his life in prison – and emerged with a great big beaming smile and great taste in print shirts to become our President :-).

In celebration of “Mandela Day” we are all donating 67 minutes of our time to a good cause, in honour of the 67 years Madiba has given to the struggle for social justice – join us!! I’ll be distributing cupcakes, and pledging money for charity for every kilometre I run in 67 minutes on the treadmill (heaven help me…).

{we have cupcakes!}

{we have cupcakes!}

Of course I am not the only person to throw cupcakes at people in the name of goodness – check out what these fantastic Record-winning people at “Cupcakes 4 Kids with Cancer” have been up to this past weekend:

sweetie pie madiba

Everyone seems to be having a ratty, uninspiring couple of weeks and the chilly weather isn’t helping – we are all in dire need of a bit of sunshiney goodness, and what better to inject a bit of zest into life than a nice burst of zingy citrus? Incidentally, Madiba is also feeling under the weather and has been in hospital for some time now – hopefully he is up for a bit of cake and candles tomorrow :-).

This cupcake recipe is based on one from Jenny Colgan’s Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe, one of my favourite “bit of fluff” novels when I need something not too taxing on the grey matter. The cupcakes are full of Vitamin C and have more fibre than the average sweet treat since an orange, skin and all, goes right in. I had been planning to embellish them with candied lemon slices, for which I’d found a recipe – they looked so lovely, diaphanously see-through and posh. My efforts yielded picture-perfect lemon slices BUT… they were bitterly inedible! Taste can never be sacrificed for prettiness in my kitchen. Leave the bitterness behind, people! 

be sweet not bitter

 

Fortunately I had a packet of soft fruit jelly sweeties lurking in the recesses of my cupboard (intended to be bastardised into naughty jelly sweeties for grown-ups…). They don’t look as shmancy as what those lemon slices would have, but I think Madiba’s a fun kind of guy – why else would he do the Madiba Shuffle? – and wouldn’t mind too much.

rainbow nation

I used the cupcakeinator for these, to help save electricity, as it heats up very quickly and takes just 5 minutes for a batch of 8 little cakelets – according to the original recipe, regular cupcakes would take 50 minutes. I’ve never tried that size but this does seem a bit excessive. No-one should be made to wait nearly an hour for cupcakes, surely?

wedgie

chop chop!

liquid sunshine

all fired up

naked cakes

all done

For lots and lots (but not quite 67 – possibly 35) Zesty Orange & Lemon Cupcakes:

1 orange, chopped – skin and all. Your kitchen will smell phenomenal.

1 cup of butter, melted 

1  heaped cup of white sugar

3 eggs

2 cups of self-raising flour

 

Don’t forget to give the cupcakeinator a blast of non-stick cooking spray before firing it up – I don’t trust that stuff they coat all cookware with nowadays. Teflon? It sounds like something you should clean tiles with.

While the magic cupcake machine is heating up, beat the sugar, melted butter and eggs together, mix in the chopped orange, then stir in the flour. Wasn’t that easy? Make another batch – maybe 67 is a possibility after all! (I ran out of oranges, oops).

Bake until a skewer (aka the tip of a steak knife) comes out clean, and allow to cool.

salvador dali cupcake

This is the point at which you neglect to make candied lemon slices because they are GROSS. Instead, mix lots of icing sugar (maybe 500g? I never measure) with freshly-squeezed lemon juice to form a spreadable, drippy, droopy kind of icing (ok the juice can come out of a bottle. I just had a spare lemon hanging around looking sorry for itself). Spread this over the cooled cupcakes and wodge a jelly sweet on the top for a bit of prettiness. Doh! I just remembered that I had yellow and orange sprinkles handy, dang nabbit.

Enjoy handing out citrusy sunshiney yumminess on a great day to honour a great man, yay!

happy birthday tata madiba

Let’s make every day a Mandela Day 🙂 xoxo

PS: Have you read Long Walk to Freedom yet? Do! 

What The Fudge!

Fudge used to be my worst confectionery nightmare.

you said it

It is an endlessly fascinating sweet with millions of variations – plain old vanilla fudge, chocolate fudge, little bits & pieces fudge, soft melty fudge, buttery leaves-you-with-shiny-fingers fudge, firm grainy fudge – but no matter what “foolproof” recipe I tried, it had always been a dismal fudgey failure. My many failed attempts put fear in my heart when it comes to either cooking or consuming the sweet little squares.  This excerpt from Under the Tuscan Sun really struck a chord with me:

“Throughout her childhood, except for a batch of obsidian-like fudge, Ashley disdained the kitchen”

– Frances Mayes

I used to stand outside the American Fudge Factory shop and look on at the bulk fudge-making process with envy and grave resignation. I so much wanted to wield that gigantic spade device and magically transform a big pot of caramelised gloop into beautiful, melt-in-the-mouth fudge.

Then, a few weeks ago, I saw a copy of Ideas magazine with the words “We Love Vintage” on the front. If you really want to sell me something, use the word vintage. I’m a total sucker (more on that in an upcoming post…). While flipping through the magazine, a friend and I came across the recipe section which was all about old-fashioned sweets – and when we got to the recipe for fudge, her eyes glazed over and I swear she almost licked the magazine… the photo accompanying the recipe is absolutely gorgeous, an entire loaf of fudge! She was looking at that picture the way a bored cougar looks at Fabio the pool-boy… so I decided that I would give fudge another go, and give my friend a loaf of fudge for her birthday.

{pretty good match, right?}

{pretty good match, right?}

Due to a multitude of little life things, the fudge-making process was scheduled for 10pm on a Thursday evening after my wood-carving class… if you can help it, try NOT to make fudge at 10pm on a Thursday. It makes for a very sleepy and inefficient Friday (but Agnes’ appreciation for the gift more than made up for it 🙂 ).

The original recipe states that it takes about 30 minutes *faux-coughs to hide the word LIARS issuing forth from mouth*. I was being extra-careful and it took HOURS. In retrospect, a cast-iron pot definitely prolongs the cooling time (however, this allowed for a welcome nap – face-down on the kitchen counter). The recipe also states that it yields 16-24 squares *shouts the word LIARS without attempting to conceal it*. Unless you are making squares large enough to inflict damage when flung, this will make a small loaf plus about 24 squares.

tooth cavity central

pretty in pearl

don't panic

buttery bottoms up

white shade of pale

delicately tan

farty fudge

finger lickin good

tin tin's favourite kitchenware

Old-School Fudge:

800g (940ml) sugar – this recipe is not a friend of teeth. But it tastes really good.

300ml milk

35ml golden syrup

40ml liquid glucose (can be substituted with more golden syrup) (glucose is brain food… perhaps this fudge will make you smarter?).

1 can sweetened condensed milk

50g (55ml) butter

5ml vanilla essence

Heat the sugar, milk and a pinch of salt together over low heat in a saucepan. Have a pastry brush and some water handy to brush down the crystals that form along the sides; keep stirring over low heat until all the sugar dissolves. I had my doubts about this ever happening because that’s a whole lotta sugar – but after what felt like several months, it was all good.

{brush down them crystals!}

{brush down them crystals!}

Add all the other ingredients except for the vanilla essence and bring the mixture to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, giving it an occasional gentle stir. It will gradually change from a pale and oily concoction (at one point mine looked like butt-cheeks) to a lovely emulsified caramel bubbling away. As soon as it reaches soft-ball stage, remove it from the heat to cool down.

Soft-ball stage is a term that has caused me serious panic ever since I first came across it in high-school Home Economics. I understand the theory but somehow it has never really worked for me in practice. This time round, I was armed with a digital thermometer as well as the traditional method of dropping a bit of the mixture into cold water. If you use a thermometer, soft-ball stage happens at 112 – 115 degrees Celsius; in cold water, a little bit dropped in will form a soft squishy ball that holds its shape (mine formed soft snakey shapes, actually).

{brag brag}

{brag brag}

soft blob stage

If you started this at 10pm, now is a good time to take a little nap. When the mixture is lukewarm (about 50 degrees Celsius), add the essence and then beat the bejeezus out of it with a wooden spoon. It will become dull and thick and creamy – the more you beat it, the smaller the crystals will be and the less likely you are to make fudge rock-formations. Pour it into a greased 20cm loaf tin (I didn’t trust this and used greaseproof paper to line the tin), or pour into a lined container to set. I hadn’t anticipated having so much fudge to deal with so hurriedly threw the remainder onto a bit of greaseproof – it kind of looked like a dinosaur poop. Cut into squares with a hot knife and store in an airtight container – or alternately, wrap the loaf and decorate with pretty ribbons.

For Agie

dinopoop

Even though Ideas told fibs about the cooking time and yield, they were totally right about this recipe – it is PHENOMENAL fudge, with the perfect texture and flavour. This recipe has totally cured me of my fear of fudge – yay!!

give me it

Happy (very early) Birthday Agnes!!

Lucky Bum

Five Things: Mozi On Over

Miss me much? I’ve just returned from a few days adventuring in Mozambique… it wasn’t quite the white-sand-waving-palms-cocktails-on-tap holiday I had anticipated (more the knee-deep-lagoon-i-no-speaka-da-english holiday)…

Fortunately the food was all it was cracked up to be – the chicken at Piri-Piri in the capital, Maputo, more than made up for the be-mirrored “guest house” that ripped us off and whose kitchen was directly opposite an ablution block (the breakfast omelet tasted suspiciously like the fish we had observed being fried the previous night).

If ever you find yourself in Bilene, make haste to Sonia’s prawns; ignore the state of the dishcloths and sip on a large icy-cold 2M beer while Sonia prepares an absolute feast for you. She opened up shop for just two of us, and got the prawns fresh from her neighbouring “fishmongers”.

{Sonia - best cook in Bilene}

{Sonia – best cook in Bilene}

{feast your eyes on this prawnography!}

{feast your eyes on this prawnography!}

There’s also the ubiquitous cashew-nut and passion-fruit sellers – everywhere. And when you tell a local cashew-nut seller that you currently have sufficient stock and that you may purchase from him tomorrow, you better believe it that he will be there tomorrow lying in wait with vast quantities of cashew-nuts in the gossamer-thin shopping bags that they use there. You will see cashews in those same bags strung up from trees and poles all along the EN1 (as well as, interestingly, large flapping panties at one particular stall). You will wish to never see another cashew as long as you live.

shady

Unless you are flying to one of those cookie-cutter same-the-world-over resorts, Mozambique is not for the faint-hearted. A trip out there takes a fair amount of pre-planning and I would definitely recommend to follow the rules, avoid Maputo and make a plan to get to Sonia’s Prawns.

green donuts

{sing it, Enya... sail away, sail away, sail away....}

{sing it, Enya… sail away, sail away, sail away….}

PS: Also, arm yourself with vast quantities of cold 2M beers, and if it’s your thing, the super-cheap Tipo Tinto rum – it makes any chaos significantly more tolerable ;-).