simple Snickers fudge

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All it takes is a saucepan, a wooden spoon and a little frivolity at the supermarket (considered a mere three Snickers bars on this occasion, went for four, obviously) to make this totally delectable fudge. While I may have the occasional whim to while away afternoons crumb coating layer cakes, it’s also nice to be able to whip up treats that take a matter of minutes in kitchens that are definitely not my own. There’s minimal equipment, only one saucepan to clean, and no sugar thermometer gazing involved. The downside is obviously that this fudge is just as easy to eat as it is to make …

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lemongrass tamarind braised chicken and aubergine with sticky soy glaze and caramel ginger peanuts

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I’ve ashamedly been back in New Zealand after a month of glorious European/UK summer holidaying for well over a fortnight, and this has been my first proper foray back into the comforts of the kitchen. Beyond baking a breast of chicken and steaming some broccoli in the microwave (I am aware this makes me sound very virtuous, but I have also been through more jars of almond butter than I would care to admit and have developed a serious gluten free bagel addiction), I’ve really not experimented much – and what’s perhaps more unfortunate, is that I haven’t felt inspired enough to really make the effort to come up with something new to cook.

It’s not so much that I haven’t had ideas (I desperately want to recreate the pea soup that I had alongside ceviche in Palma and dining at Nopi had me realising I need to be a bit more bold than just frying polenta chips). I suppose it’s more that the longer I don’t cook for, the more the concept of creative cooking becomes an intimidating one. Thankfully, eating out at Apache during Wellington on a Plate was enough to reignite a return to the kitchen.

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peanut butter Oreo biscuit slice

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It’s become apparent that my return to baking has involved very little actual baking at all: here I have another no-bake recipe to share. If you’re after something simple but impressive to create in a kitchen with limited equipment, here it is: you can bash up the Oreos using whatever you have on hand (I tend to favour empty wine bottles in lieu of rolling pins if I’m somewhere particularly sparse).

There are endless variations of this biscuit slice out there, and it goes by nearly as many different names: fridge cake, tiffin, etc. etc. Prince William even had a chocolate biscuit cake served at the Royal Wedding for his groom’s cake – a clear testament to how deliciously nostalgic this treat really is.

For me, the beauty of making this slice is not its ease of creation (and I refuse to take proper credit for my imagination of this concoction being in any way clever – it’s very hard to go wrong when cementing together a melange of tasty things with melted chocolate and butter), but how transportable it is. It was the perfect little thing to send as a thank you gift to some very helpful friends – and it should hopefully arrive before I’ve even left the country today (update as I edit this post from Frankfurt Airport, it did indeed arrive safely). The amount yielded when making this slice makes it hard not to share! Should you wish to substitute or even augment my peanut butter/Oreo combination with all manner of decadent additions: chopped up Snickers bars, crushed Maltesers, dates (for health reasons obviously), Tim Tams in lieu of Oreos .. the possibilities are endless, as long as you have enough of the condensed milk/chocolate mixture to stick it together. Go nuts. Add nuts. This slice is your oyster (this slice was evidently not my oyster as I did not use GF cookies as it was for gifting, however they would be easily substituted here).

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no bake Nutella cheesecake with Oreo crust and buttered popcorn brittle

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A few things have happened since I last posted, but those things are definitely not cooking.

I have been doing locum work in Whanganui – the smallest town I’ve ever lived in, like ever – and staying in hospital accommodation (read: a cabin-style 2 bedroom house with a devastatingly broken toaster) since the beginning of June. Life has been ridiculously busy – in part due to the fact I would escape Whanganui, making the 2.5 hour drive to my family home in Wellington as soon as the opportunity presented itself (directly after a night shift, totally sleep deprived or otherwise), and then beyond having my life super-scheduled, I’d been stressing out over interviewing for a Radiology training job. Answering the “where are you from?” question that popped up time to time seemed to inevitably lead to the “I was working in Tauranga, my worldly possessions are in Wellington and now I’m working in Whanganui but ultimately I have no idea where I’m going”. This is the rootless limbo I’ve anxiously experienced and brokenly slept through since submitting my application for a five year Radiology training position in May. It’s utterly terrifying to want something so much, do everything you can to get it, and have to tell people that you’ve done so when the risk of not getting what you want, of not being enough, hangs in the balance.

All that being said, I thankfully – and not without reference to this food blog, actually – successfully interviewed to receive not only my dream Radiology registrar training job, but also in my first choice location. I’ll be moving to Auckland to start work on the 12 December, and it is a weight off my shoulders and ridiculously exciting prospect to actually be able to plan my life with the knowledge I’m working towards a career that really excites me.

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This obviously doesn’t have much to do with the Nutella cheesecake I made, beyond the fact I now have time to dedicate to daydreaming about food again. It gives me so much fulfilment to ask people I like what they like to eat, and then create something beautiful that reflects that. The added bonus of this cheesecake is that I got to swap it for a personal training session – and so my urge to create these dream cakes can now be bartered away for things that are actually useful.

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flourless mandarin cake with white chocolate ganache

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What initially began as an attempt at something refined sugar free for “Junk Free June” quickly escalated to being a cake festooned with home-made honeycomb and smothered in decadent white chocolate ganache. This is not something I so much regard as a failure as a delicious celebration of seasonal fruit.

I can pretty much come up with an occasion to bake for anything, and night shift is always my perfect excuse. What I’m finding difficult at the moment is finding the time to capture my creations in daylight: as I write this, we have finally reached the shortest day of the year. I don’t have a light box, let alone an SLR camera, so I’m forced to make do with the gloomy afternoon clouds – albeit in a beautiful, centrally heated kitchen.

This cake is based around a ubiquitous flourless orange cake I initially saw in the Flavour Thesaurus. The original recipe calls for the fruit to be simmered for an hour. My dear friend Elisha who introduced me to the cake in the first place, quickly alerted me to the vastly simpler alternative of blitzing the citrus in the microwave for mere minutes instead. The cake has since been a complete revelation – and this experiment with mandarins instead of oranges is no exception.

While it would be easy and delicious enough to serve the cake on its own simply with a dusting of icing sugar, the ganache and honeycomb take it to an entire other level. Layer cakes themselves are always impressive to serve, and I love the crunch the honeycomb adds as a contrast to the moist, practically pudding-like cake texture. The cake itself, thanks to the convenience of microwaving, takes less than 15 minutes to put together, so it’s well worth the extra effort of creating the toppings to transform it from elegant dessert into something magical.

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preserved lemon and fig lamb tagine

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In spite of having an undeniable love of food, and a food blog I really try to post regularly to, as a newly single girl, I find it easy to forget the joy of cooking if I let myself fall out of the habit. I offered to cook for my family last week on a bitterly cold winter’s night, and I’m so thankful for this delicious lamb dish in reminding me how much I love preparing food for my loved ones.

As an introverted person, I find it incredibly soothing to have a quiet afternoon dedicated to being in the kitchen, ideally concluded with the sharing of what I’ve prepared over conversation and wine with a few of my favourite people. Although I prefer to cook alone, I never enjoy my food nearly as much without company. Having hours interrupted in the kitchen to make meals is my idea of pure relaxation, however my Dad is quite the opposite and feels that to labour over food is to slave away in the kitchen. As a family, however, it has been important since I was a little girl to eat together. While I may have lamented eating dinner facing my brother opposed to Cartoon Network as a teenager, I now think there’s no better way to catch up with people than to share food: probably why I so often feel compelled to invite friends over for meals!

The cold weather lately has prompted me to return casserole type dishes, and this was an excellent reintroduction. I absolutely loved putting together this fragrant lamb dish that was totally appropriate for the weather. It’s slow cooked over a low heat for a number of hours, resulting in melt-in-the-mouth lamb pieces complimented by tender kumara in an aromatic, Moroccan-style sauce. Thankfully having a well stocked pantry here at my family home means I didn’t have to venture far from the spice cupboard for ingredients, however the spices used here are incredibly useful to have on hand for a number of dishes. The preserved lemons and figs keep for ages – certainly long enough to be kept for a repeat of the tagine without necessarily tasting repetitive. I served it alongside cauliflower pulsed into cous cous, fried with cumin, seasoned with lime juice and garnished with almonds and currants, however regular cous cous would be just as good. This makes plenty to serve 5-6 people.

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coconut chocolate Lindt ball layer cake

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As alluded to heavily in my presentation of this cake on social media platforms, I day dreamed about this cake for some time before its creation, and my cake reality wound up vastly exceeding my cake imaginations. Based entirely around the delectability of melt in my mouth Lindt balls, this cake is all kinds of ridiculously rich in the best possible way.

It’s probably not fair for me to proclaim it is the best cake I’ve made to date, given that I haven’t actually tried all of them owing to my celiac ways, but it’s definitely the cake I’m most proud of. The height of four layers creates such impressive elegance. There was really no way to just have a “small” piece, given that when sliced, you’d wind up with a tall, albeit slim, portion. Such slivers may perhaps have been “enough”, but despite how rich the cake was, I went back for many, many helpings, just as soon as my food coma began to slightly abate. I’m absolutely terrible at goodbyes, so this cake was my gesture to the Emergency Department I finished up working at over the weekend.

This gluten free cake is not crumbly or dry in any way, and instead the fudgey, dense texture lends itself to being perfectly complimented by the Swiss meringue buttercream. I always find the dread of making such a frosting is vastly worse than the creating itself. Rather than the traditional butter/icing sugar buttercream, which, though delicious, lends itself towards being cloyingly sweet, SMB uses caster sugar and the whipping of egg whites over heat to create a buttery, smooth cake companion reminiscent of French patisseries. It’s a little bit intimidating, but very forgiving, and whips up beautifully with some coaxing even when it appears it’s all turned to a curdled mess.

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Nutella rocky road

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This rocky road is seriously something special.

Mixing the melted chocolate with the Nutella creates a texture to the rocky road that’s almost like a truffle of the Guylian variety. The richness of this is offset by the chewy marshmallow (best served straight from the fridge) and crunchy salted nuts. The sprinkles on top aren’t essential, but they’re so cute I might as well deem them totally necessary. It hasn’t taken me long to answer how easy it is to use up nearly 800g of Nutella in the space of a week: the jars in the pantry are proof.

Oftentimes, purchasing the components to make what is essentially many delicious things (marshmallows, nuts, etc) cemented together with chocolate can wind up being a little expensive. When Cadbury is on special for 2 for $5 family size blocks, however, this magical treat can be whipped up for under $20. It’s ridiculously easy to make and even easier to eat. It’s the perfect gift to whip up in 10 minutes – and ready to slice in an hour or two, however it’s actually so delicious I have a hard time not devouring the entire batch myself…

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siracha roasted chicken with potatoes, leeks and garlic yoghurt dressing

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The beauty of this tray bake is that it can simply be served with the rocket sprinkled on top, drizzled with dressing, making it a veritable one pan meal. It’s the ultimate in lazy dining, however while it takes less than twenty minutes to prepare and an hour to cook, the caramelised leeks and punchy dressing make it taste vastly more involved. I love the sweet flavour of the leeks with the chicken, and cooking with bone-in, darker meat cuts mean there’s no risk of serving a dry dish.

My luscious aunt Linda is an absolute whizz in the kitchen, especially when it comes to impressively presented meals she claims she has just “thrown together”. It comes as no surprise that she introduced me to this incredible autumnal meal. Leeks are in season for the colder months, but so easily forgotten in the vegetable aisle; I have her to thank for this delicious reminder. I seriously think this dinner is going to become one I’m in danger of getting sick of from cooking it so regularly. The variety of colours and textures mean it looks elegant enough to serve as part of an easy get together with friends, but it doesn’t require so much fuss or fancy ingredients that it’s not a possibility on a school night. This is exactly the kind of food I’m proud to cook for people, and it’s beauty is in its simplicity to prepare.

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chocolate mud cupcakes with Nutella buttercream

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If my Instagram feed is anything to go by, the hybridisation of treats is huge at the moment. My appreciation for iterations on lolly cake based cheesecakes and gigantic lamington cakes led to my own imagination coming up with these cupcakes – turning afghan biscuits into cake form, with the addition of Nutella. The recipe I’ve provided here is a simplified version – in part because my gluten free afghan biscuits were if anything, too buttery (and that’s coming from me), and also because four components to a cupcake feels like I’m overcomplicating things for the sake of it.

And what more could you want from a cupcake beyond a tender cake crumb and adequate frosting:cupcake ratio? The Nutella buttercream is ridiculously fluffy and delicious – with the yoghurt addition cutting through the sweetness just enough. The chocolate mudcake underneath is a recipe from Bake Play Smile that I just can’t quit. It’s foolproof, uses simple ingredients, and yields a surprisingly rich and moist result. It also makes a gigantic quantity of cake – as evidenced in my photos via the loaf cake I opted to make in lieu of extra cupcakes. I always find myself compelled to bake things while on night shift – perhaps because I have so much difficulty sleeping that the kitchen provides an alternative form of soothing. In any case, bringing along this platter is always an excellent test for crowd pleasing, and these treats was an all round success.

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