Happy 2014!

Public domain image by Lilla Frerichs. Source: publicdomainpictures.net

Public domain image by Lilla Frerichs. Source: publicdomainpictures.net

I have been neglecting Cultural Life recently — my last post was on December 11. Oh dear!

Throughout most of the first half of December, I was busy studying (I have exams a week from today and I am counting down the days until they are over!) and then I was ill over Christmas and was unable to do much at all, apart from sleep. But it is a New Year now and I am expectantly looking forward to taking part in the Daily Post’s ‘Zero to Hero’ 30-day blogging challenge. If you want to take part, check it out here.

Happy New Year! And thank you to all of my readers and followers.


Blog challenge #11: Canada

Flag of Canada

Long time, no blog. Sorry for the absence. My life is currently very busy and very stressful. But this afternoon, I took a little respite to do one of my favorite things: baking. And blogging about baking. Achieving two of my favorite things in one afternoon? Way to go!

When I think of Canadian food, I think of maple syrup. After all, the maple leaf is the iconic symbol on Canada’s flag and according to this maple syrup industry facts sheet on the website of the Ontario Ministry for Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (linked here), Canada is the largest producer of maple syrup in the world.

Maple Syrup Season by Charles Rondeau

You are in for a treat with the following recipe: Maple Crisp Pie. Doesn’t just the name make your mouth water? Anything with maple syrup is appealing to me…I could drink that nectar straight out the bottle. The combination of apple, cinnamon and maple syrup in this recipe is heavenly. I served it with plain yogurt and it was delicious!

Recipe source: Food Network Canada (link for Maple Crisp Pie at Food Network Canada. Recipe courtesy of Anna Olson)

Maple Crisp Pie


2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons oats
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chilled
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons maple syrup
5 Mutsu (Crispin) or Granny Smith apples
4 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg, mixed with 2 tbsp cold water, for brushing

To Assemble


Preheat oven to 350 F.
Combine flour, oats, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Cut in butter the texture of coarse meal. Stir sour cream and maple syrup and add to dough, mixing until it just comes together. Chill dough for 15 minutes.
Peel and slice apples. Toss with maple syrup and cinnamon.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Slide dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place apples and all the syrup into the center of the pastry. Dot with butter.
To Assemble
Fold crust over apples in 5 folds, leaving some of the filling visible. Brush with egg wash and bake for 30-40 minutes, until crust is brown and filling is bubbling.

Have a wonderful weekend! Do you have any baking suggestions you think I should try (with or without maple syrup)? Leave a comment and let me know. 🙂

Blog challenge roundup: the first 10 recipes

I apologize for the lack of activity on the blog for the past month. My weekly post schedule has slipped out the window but I’ve been busy, not to mention the fact that I spent two weeks of July hobbling around in pain, before having surgery on August 1st. Ideas for blog posts haven’t been flowing freely and I haven’t cooked anything exciting in the past month. But I intend to return from my hiatus this week so be sure to look out for frequent posts again and some more delicious recipes!

Recipes from around the world. Picture source: Map Of The World by Jiri Hodan

In the meantime, here is a roundup of the first ten recipes I have cooked as part of the blog challenge I set myself back in February. You can read about that in this post: I’m setting myself a challenge.

Recipe 1: Irish soda bread

For blog challenge recipe 2, Middle Eastern cuisine gave me one of my favorites: hummus

Recipe number 3. A trip to South America: Honduras

Blog challenge 4. I have a special fondness for Greek food and I was delighted by how these Greek koulourakia turned out. I have made this recipe many times since blogging about it and it gives delicious results every time! Greek koulourakia

Blog challenge 5. Nettle soup: this is an easy, money-saving recipe and, despite what you might think, tastes very good! European nettle soup

Blog challenge 6. A simple but yummy Indian curry: Indian curry

Blog challenge 7. Ah, this is possibly my favorite recipe so far from the ones I have cooked for my blog challenge: Valencia orange cake

Blog challenge 8. I threw a load of ingredients together for this and the combination worked very well: Italian-style pasta sauce

Blog challenge 9. A hearty dessert: Traditional English pudding

And finally, blog challenge recipe 10! These are too bad for anyone’s waistline but they are amazing! Blog challenge recipe 10 celebrated the Fourth of July by baking some American brownies.

I hope you will join me as I embark on the next ten recipes! These are the remaining countries and I have recipes to find and make for all of them: Canada, Australia, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, Portugal, Singapore, New Zealand, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, Czech Republic, Belgium, Brazil, Turkey, Japan, Austria, Serbia, Costa Rica, Norway, Georgia, Belarus, Romania, Slovakia, Nigeria, Egypt, South Korea and Myanmar.

Quite a challenge!


Blog challenge recipe #10: American brownies

As you all know, yesterday was the Fourth of July — Independence Day — and so it seemed appropriate for #10 of my blog challenge recipes to have a U.S. theme.

US flag. Source: Wikipedia

Brownies were invented in the US; for the history of the brownie, check out ‘The History of the Brownie at The Nibble. I always thought cheesecake originated from the US too but I read that it was actually first invented in Ancient Greece. However, I think cheesecake recipes have changed just a bit in the 2500 years since Ancient Greece! If you want to read more about the invention and history of cheesecake, this page at What’s Cooking America is very informative.

New York cheesecake is a classic US specialty and it is my favorite type of cheesecake. Deliciously creamy with a hint of vanilla is how I like mine. I also love brownies. A good chocolate brownie should have a fudgy texture, firm yet scrumptiously gooey inside. Combining brownies and cheesecake in one recipe sounds too good to be true. But you can never have too much of a good thing, right?

Cheesecake Swirled Brownies
(recipe source: this page at Frugal Feeding. All credit for this recipe belongs to Frugal Feeding)

Makes 10-16


• 100g salted butter

• 40g cocoa powder, as dark as possible

• 50g dark chocolate

• 2 medium eggs

• 225g light muscovado sugar

• 50g self-raising flour

• 200g cream cheese

• 1 egg yolk


1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C and grease a suitable baking tray. Melt the butter gently in a pan on the stove, to this whisk in the cocoa powder. Once added, combine this with the chocolate in small chunks until it has all melted together. In a mixing bowl, while the chocolate is melting, whisk together the eggs and sugar using a hand mixer.

2. Add the egg mixture to the chocolate in the saucepan and mix thoroughly. Gently fold in the flour and pour the brownie batter into the lined baking tray.

3. Beat together the cream cheese and egg yolk. Dot this mixture around the brownie mixture and swirl in with a thin knife. Bake for 25 minutes and not a moment longer, they need to have a hard shell on the outside and be very gooey on the inside.

Swirly brownie mixture

4. Leave the brownies to cool a little before turning them out. Pop them in the freezer for a little while before chopping.

The finished goods! Delicious, velvety and very, very moreish.


A culinary weekend

I spent a lot of time in the kitchen this weekend, making Italian-style pasta sauce for my eighth blog challenge recipe and traditional English barley and berry pudding for my nineth.

As well as these two scrumptious recipes, I made falafel using this recipe from Nade in the Kitchen. Nadine (aka Nade) has a fabulous food blog which I highly recommend.

And on Sunday, while the pudding was baking in the oven, I popped a loaf of bread in to bake too. For the results, see the photo below!

Tasty, golden, delicious bread — mmm!

What did you cook or bake this past weekend?


Blog challenge recipe #9: traditional English pudding

Every country has its own varieties of sweet treats and tasty desserts but baked (and on occasion, steamed) puddings are a particularly English specialty: roly-poly pudding, Christmas pudding, bread and butter pudding, bread pudding, Bakewell pudding…

The English flag

I was recently browsing The Guardian website for new recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall — I’ve introduced you to him before in my posts A cookbook review and a recipe too, Blog challenge #5: nettle soup and Beetroot and walnut hummus. He is a frequent contributor to their website and I enjoy cooking many of his recipes.

Anyhow, I digress… while I was browsing, I found this: a barley and berry pudding recipe. Since the recipe is a simple and traditionally English baked pudding, I thought it would be perfect for my blog challenge recipe number nine. And on Sunday, I made it for dessert. The verdict: delicious!

A slice of barley and berry pudding

I made a few changes to the recipe, however:

1. I used brown sugar, not granulated.
2. Also, I drastically reduced the amount of sugar from 1 cup (200 grams) to slightly less than half a cup (75 grams) because I really don’t think the pudding needs that amount of sugar. It would have been too sweet for me if I had used 1 cup of sugar.
3. I added 2 tbsp honey to the batter.
4. I cooked the pearl barley for a lot longer than the recipe states: at least 1 hour. The barley was still slightly firm even after I had cooked it for an hour. I recommend you follow the cooking instructions on the pack.

I tried eating it both warm and cold but it definitely needs to be served warm. I recommend serving with yogurt or cream.

By the way, the recipe does use UK measures so if you don’t have a digital scale, you’ll need to use a measurement converter — this one at Gourmet Sleuth is helpful. But don’t worry if your measurements aren’t exact; I often adjust quantities of ingredients and most all of my cooking is successful!


Blog challenge recipe #8: Italian-style pasta sauce

So, here is my blog challenge recipe numero otto!

You might have noticed the “-style” in the title above. Although the recipe uses ingredients commonly found in Italian cooking (eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes…) I would call my recipe inspired by Italian flavors: the recipe is one that I improvised last night.

bandiera d’Italia

Italian-style pasta sauce

Ingredients (serves 2, adjust ingredient quantities as required)

2 tbsp olive oil
½ large red onion, diced
½ eggplant, chopped into cubes
½ large zucchini (or 1 medium one), diced
½ head of broccoli, chopped into small florets
8 – 10 white/button mushrooms, chopped
4 – 5 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked for 2 hours and then chopped
½ tsp hot smoked paprika (optional)
½ tsp dried basil
½ tsp oregano
Fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped (to taste)
Sea salt and black pepper (to taste)


1. If you are using packaged sun-dried tomatoes (as opposed to the ones in oil in jars), you will need to soak them in hot water from a kettle for 2 – 3 hours before use.

Sun dried tomatoes, after soaking for two hours

2. Chop the red onion and crush or chop the garlic.

Red onion

3. Heat the olive oil gently in a pan and add the onion and garlic, plus hot smoked paprika (if using). Cook at a moderate heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Use a lid to speed up cooking time.

4. Add the chopped eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms and cook for a further 10 minutes. Be wary of the eggplant sticking to the pan. In my experience, it has a tendency to soak up the oil like a sponge. Stir often and add a little extra olive oil if necessary.

Chopped zucchini

5. Add the chopped sun-dried tomatoes, broccoli florets, dried basil and oregano to the pan, along with a small amount of salt and black pepper. Stir and cook on a moderate heat for 10 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender.

6. Add the fresh basil leaves shortly before serving and stir into the sauce. I served it with olives and penne pasta topped with goats’ cheese. Enjoy!

Olives — a perfect accompaniment to pasta


Blog challenge recipe #7: Valencia orange cake

It has been way too long since my last Blog Challenge post. Here is numéro siete. This time, I chose a recipe from Spain.

National flag of Spain

Spanish food is amazing and I love tapas dishes but I don’t have much experience with Spanish desserts. So, this past weekend, I did a little research and discovered that orange cake is a popular Spanish treat. And because orange cake sounds so delicious, I baked one using the recipe below. The cake is delicious, full of flavor, with a very rich taste. Here it is!

A slice of Valencia orange cake

Thank you very much to Erica at Comfy Belly for giving me permission to reproduce the recipe text here. I recommend checking out her site (linked above)! I found it when I was searching for an orange cake recipe and will definitely be returning frequently for culinary inspiration and healthy new recipes.

Valencia Orange Cake
(recipe source here)


2 organic Valencia oranges
4 eggs
1 cup of honey
2 cups of blanched almond flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt


1. Place two whole organic Valencia oranges in a pot with enough water to cover them. Add a tightly sealed lid. The oranges will float, but they should be mostly covered. Simmer them in the pot for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. When you can easily glide a toothpick or fork through them, they are ready. You can add water to them while they are cooking, if necessary.
2. Cool the oranges for a few minutes, slice them into wedges and remove any pits or inedible parts (like the nub where the stem was).
3. Process the oranges until you have a smooth, orange paste without lumps.
4. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. (I bake using a convection oven setting, so I place the temperature at 300 degrees F).
5. To get a slightly lighter cake, separate the egg yolks and egg whites, and then whip the egg whites separately until stiff peaks form.
6. In a bowl, beat eggs (or egg yolks if separated) until well blended, and then beat in the honey and dry ingredients (baking soda, salt, and almond flour).
7. Fold in the almond flour and orange paste into the egg and honey mixture and blend well.
8. If you whipped the egg whites separately, here is where you want to fold the egg whites into the rest of the batter.
9. Use a spring form pan or a well buttered baking pan. Butter or oil the
bottom of the spring form pan. No need to butter the sides of the
spring form pan.
10. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Make sure to bake it thoroughly, especially in the center, or it may settle when it cools. Even if it settles, it still tastes wonderful.
11. Enjoy!


Blog challenge recipe #6: India

If you are a new visitor to my blog, you can read about my blog challenge here in my post ‘I’m setting myself a challenge’.

For the sixth recipe in my blog challenge, I decided to head to India (not literally!) and cook a delicious curry. So far the title, ‘challenge’, has been slightly misleading because none of the recipes I’ve cooked are especially challenging. But sometimes simple is best! I hope to work some challenges into my cooking during the next few weeks and since I have had blog visitors from nearly forty countries, I have plenty of opportunities to cook unusual dishes and investigate different world cuisines.


Public domain image: Spices by Jiří Dokoupil

When you think of Indian food, you probably think of curry. It is a staple dish in many Asian countries, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and there are thousands of different types of curry. In India alone, curries vary according to tradition and region, for instance, in Kerala (a state in south-west India) curries are often vegetarian and are made with creamy coconut along with spices such as coriander and turmeric.

Coconut palm tree

Public domain image: Coconut 1 by Greg Getten

The recipe which follows is one which I created using basic ingredients from the store cupboard. Simple, nutritious and very, very tasty! It took me approx. 15 minutes to prepare and about 30 mins to cook. I made this for dinner last night and didn’t bother measuring out ingredients so the quantities listed here are very approximate and you will have to adjust according to the amount of servings you need — recipe below serves 2 with generous portions. Feel free to alter, change or add anything (it might be nice with a few crushed garlic cloves) and as always, let me know if you enjoyed it and share your thoughts in the comments section.

Potato and cabbage curry

10 baby potatoes, chopped into chunks
½ green cabbage, chopped into shreds
1 onion, finely chopped
Cream of coconut – a block of compressed coconut, not coconut milk. I used approx. ½ cup of this.
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp coriander
Black pepper to taste
A 2 cm chuck of fresh ginger, finely chopped
5 tablespoons olive oil
Boiled water


1. Finely chop the onion and gently saute in the olive oil. While the onion is cooking, prepare the curry paste mix. Add the creamed coconut, chopped ginger and spices to a blender with approx. ½ cup of boiled water and blend until the coconut is dissolved and no lumps remain.
2. Wash the potatoes and chop them into approx. 3 cm chunks. Add them to the onion along with the coconut mix. Cook on a moderate heat, stirring frequently.
3. When the potatoes are nearly tender, add the chopped cabbage. Add just enough water to almost cover the vegetables and cook for a further 10 – 15 minutes, until the cabbage is cooked but not overdone (overcooked cabbage = eww!) and the potatoes are soft. I served it with steamed carrot sticks and brown basmati rice.


Blog challenge #5: nettle soup


Public domain image: Nettle Flower by Максим Кукушкин

Recipe number 5 of my blog challenge comes from Panem….no, not really. Just kidding! Please ignore my current Hunger Games obsession. But it does sound like something they would eat in District 12 because it’s inexpensive, simple and nutritious. No one knows the exact origin for nettle soup but it’s a traditional recipe in Northern and Eastern Europe, in countries like France, Sweden, Poland and Ukraine. Since I have had blog visitors from all of those countries, this is the perfect recipe for my fifth challenge.

I followed Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s nettle soup recipe (link) and it is really delicious. Because you’ll need to sort through the nettles when you’ve picked them to avoid bits of grass and stalks, the method I used is to blanch them in boiling water for five minutes, making sure all the nettles are covered by the water. After that, I carefully drain them and rinse them in cold water. The boiling water gets rid of the stings so they are fine to handle and chop if necessary.

I hope you enjoy the recipe! Don’t be deterred by the unusual sound of it. You will probably be pleasantly surprised by the taste.