In exactly four days, I will start my final year at university. This would be a rather joyful thought, were it not that I had the ambitious idea of enrolling in a Master program in American Studies, which is something entirely different from what I’ve been studying –and rocking!- so far: languages. Until recently I was truly convinced that after four years of having studied the English language, I would have a solid foundation for this new American adventure, but now I am totally freaking out. What if all the other students are annoying, big-mouthed and opinionated America-loving geeks and I’m just… well… me?
You know what I mean?
Anyway, I think you can all imagine that my stress level is through the roof at this moment. And what better way to relief stress than to bake? Everyone finds himself in a stressful situation at some point in life and we all have different ways of coping with it, but I personally find that the rhythmical stiring of cake batter and the sweet aromas filling my kitchen are way more stress relieving than the typical workout at the gym. I’ll choose the fresh-out-of-the-oven smell over sweat-dripping armpits in a heartbeat. Who’s with me?
So under the guise of “stress reduction” and “at least I’m being productive”, I decided to wreck the whole kitchen baking up not one but three smashing dishes. These recipes are incredibly easy to make but look fantastically impressive on the dinner table. “I can’t believe you made that!”-comments are likely to follow. Like I said, these are both crowd-pleasing and confidence-boosting bakes.
So whether you’re looking for a way to deal with your rising stress-level or whether you just want to surprise your family with a brilliant bake: these are my three show-stopping dishes!
Moroccan chicken filo pie
A magnificent filo parcel filled with North-African spices and moist chicken, it’s hard to think of anything more delicious. Add to that the incredible crunch of the filo pastry, the pretty yellow gloss of the turmeric and the dainty sprinkling of za’atar on top and you are literally in baking heaven!
• Approx. ½ pack of filo pastry
• 3 carrots, finely chopped
• 2 red onions, finely chopped
• 2 chicken breasts, cut into small dices
• Juice of half an orange
• 4 dried apricots, chopped
• 4 dried dates, chopped
• ¼ tsp cinnamon
• ¼ tsp nigella seeds
• ½ tsp ground coriander
• 1 tsp cumin seeds
• 1 tsp turmeric
• 1 tsp ground ginger
• ¼ tsp allspice
• 1 large chilli pepper, finely chopped
• (large) Knob of butter, melted with 1 tsp of turmeric
• Coriander leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C and grease a bundt cake tin. Arrange the pastry squares in the tin, so that they overlap slightly and cover the whole ring of the tin with lots filo left hanging over the outside edges.
2. Brush the pastry with the melted turmeric butter.
3. For the filling, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and brown the chicken pieces. Remove from the pan and set aside. Now add the onions, chilli and carrots to that same pan and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the orange juice and dried fruits and let it simmer until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Add the chicken and all the spices back to the pan and stir well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Pack the filling inside the bundt tin. Lift up the edges of the pastry and fold over to cover the filling. Brush with some of the turmeric butter and now flip the whole lot upside down unto a baking tray. Brush the pastry all over with more turmeric butter and sprinkle on the za’atar.
5. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Just before serving sprinkle on the fresh coriander.
Sticky orange and date cupcakes
There is just something gloriously decadent about a sticky date pudding. That warmth of the spices, that palate-clinging moistness of the dates… Sigh. Can it get any better than this? Apparently it can! If you turn your date pudding into a princess-like cupcake and add orange to create an extra zingy dimension. And to top it all off, I even whacked in some cointreau! (I was – after all- trying to reduce my stress 😉 )
Ingredients (makes 4 large or 6 smaller cupcakes)
• 1 egg
• 60gr dried dates, finely chopped
• Juice of one orange, approx. ½ dl
• ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
• ¼ tsp ground ginger
• ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
• Pinch of cardamom
• 50gr muscovado sugar
• 70gr plain flour
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 60gr butter
• Cointreau, 1 tbsp per cupcake
• Orange marmalade, to glaze
1. Preheat the oven to 160C.
2. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Mix in the butter until you get a sandy consistency.
3. Stir in the chopped dates and whisk in the egg.
4. Add the orange juice and mix until all the ingredients are incorporated.
5. Pour the batter into a prepared cupcake tin and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
6. When the cupcakes are still hot and are still in the tin, pour one tablespoon of cointreau over each cupcake. (Pierce the top of each cupcake a couple of times with a toothpick to make sure the cointreau seeps through). Leave it in the tin to cool slightly before removing.
7. Once cooled, spread a generous layer of marmalade on top of each cupcake.
Courgette galette with tomato tapenade
This recipe is so ridiculously easy, it almost seems embarrassing to write about it, were it not that is so damn delicious! Crisp puff pastry… topped with a generous amount of tomato tapenade… and grilled, juicy courgette slices…with a salty parmesan crust. Mmmm. Things like that really make me salivate!
• One sheet of puff pastry
• 2 small courgettes, in 0,5 cm slices
• Parmesan cheese
• 100gr tomato tapenade
For the tomato tapenade:
• 100gr sundried tomatoes, on olive oil
• 1 clove of garlic
• 2 anchovy fillets
• ½ tbsp capers
1. Make the tapenade by blitzing all the ingredients together in a blender until smooth. Use some of the olive oil from the tomatoes to create a more unctuous texture.
2. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Roll out your sheet of puff pastry on a baking tray and prick it with a fork.
3. Spread a good layer of tapenade on top of the pastry, leaving a boarder around the edge.
4. Meanwhile, grill your courgette slices on a searing hot grill for a couple of minutes on each side. Layer the slices on top of the tapenade, so that they overlap slightly and cover the whole sheet of puff pastry.
5. Fold the outer edges of the pastry over the filling and grate parmesan over the top of the galette.
6. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes.