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How to make Hummus from scratch...

I'm in that category of people that love hummus, and can it it with almost anything! I simply love that stuff! The only problem  - it's quite expensive when bough ready made, and from supermarket, as the one from delicatessen etc. was never within my tiny budget. And you're getting such a small container for such a big price. But what is hummus anyway? Few simple, and cheap, ingredients blended together. The devil is in the balance, in the right quantities of those few ingredients. So, I set out to make my own! WHY I didn't make it sooner?!?! It's simple, soooo quick (even if you chose to peal the skins of chickpeas, which I always do) and you're getting quite a big batch, even from one can of chickpeas.

The below quantity of ingredients is to my taste, it works for me. First batch of hummus had too much tahini in it, next one was too acidic because of me being too generous with the lemon juice, but throughout some trials and errors I've found my perfect "mix", so feel free to experiment, add more lemon juice or tahini, depending on your individual taste. Extras like coriander and cumin - that was a tip I got from one of the chefs, from the restaurant I work in. I'm planning on making hummus with some caramelized onion, and also one with some grilled/roasted red pepper. It's a great dip/spread to experiment with and find your own favourite!

Out of all the ingredients the only one that you'll have to invest in is the tahini, the bigger size jar is a little pricey, but it will last you for quite long time, as you need only few tablespoons each time you'll be making hummus. Chickpeas are one of the cheapest canned pulses you can buy, and all the seasoning you probably have at home already - so no reason not to make your own version of this popular meze dish!

Hummus is brilliant as a part of your "party spread/table", with just some carrot and celery sticks, crackers on the side, it will be ideal finger food. Also nice as a little nibble when watching TV (that's usually how and when I eat it ;) ) or a light starter.

How to make it...

Sweet potato and coconut soup...

This is a kind of soup perfect for a cold day - the heat from the spices will warm you up, but at the same time won't burn out a hole in your stomach, as the spices are softened slightly by the creamy coconut milk. I'm a huge fan of Indian spices and the whole cuisine - which is one of the richest and most divers in the world! Yes, I will visit India one day, it IS on my "bucket list" ;)

sweet potato and coconut soup

Back to the soup though. It's quite quick to prepare and if you don't have sweet potatoes at hand feel free to use butternut squash, or any other pumpkin for that matter. You can make this soup as spicy or as mild as you like, you can easily adjust the seasoning to your taste - it's mainly chillies, garlic and ginger that give this soup the heat, that warmth. Garam masala and curry powder (especially if it's mild one) give mostly the taste, that round flavour.

Curried sweet potato soup

How to make it...

Mincemeat loaf cake...

If you've run out of time to bake your Christmas cake, or simply not feel like baking it at all, and the sheer thought of baking mince pies gives you shivers - those mincemeat loaves are perfect alternative to both! You have kind of a Christmas cake and that distinctive mince pies taste and smell, here in this simple loaf. It's a cake, that can be a real show stopper (given some love and time to decorate it), it's a cake that you can proudly place on the table after the festive Christmas dinner, and everyone will thank you for that. You'll have a cake, with all those Christmas flavours, but at a fraction of work needed for the traditional one.
You could probably "feed" it with some whiskey or brandy, to make it more special and festive, but I don't think there's a need for it. Mincemeat gives it all those flavours you need and are looking from your Christmas bakes.

Mincemeat loaf cake

Mincemeat keeps the loaves moist and give them that "Christmasy" feeling - all those different spices and sultanas. They also smell like Christmas itself!
You can leave them without any decoration at all - as you'll have almonds and cherries on the top, but I think that simple icing sugar + water glaze and some star sprinkles will make those loaves more "festive".

Mincemeat loaf cake

Making 2 loaf cakes at one time means you have one for now and one to freeze, they freeze very well (up to 2 months). The baked loaf will keep up to a week, just wrap in a clingfilm and keep in an airtight container.

How to make it...

Oxtail stew with butternut squash and cinnamon...

Oxtail is that kind of meat that we tend to forget about, but it's full of flavour and prepared well - long cooking on the bone - there's really few other cuts that can stand next to those big flavours. It's perfect "go to" piece of meat for wintry, slow cooking, comfort food. And it's one of the cheapest cuts too! There'sd a chance you'll have to order it from your local butcher, as we had to do, as unfortunately it's not the most popular cut, hence usually not available on a daily basis.

This recipe comes from Yotam Ottolenghi's "The Cookbook". For the amount of work involved in this dish I was expecting out of this world flavour sensations! Unfortunately it wasn't to be... It IS tasty, it IS a good, fully rounded dish. You can pick up on cinnamon and butternut squash, which  goes really well with oxtail, gremolata gives it a nice kick of freshness and lifts up the whole dish. Recipe calls for a red wine, I went for Shiraz (but think also of Pinotage), as I think that its strong, spicy flavour is just perfect for any wintry cooking! It really reminds me of Christmas. Textures are good too - soft, but not mushy squash and tender meat. Will I make it again though - I really don't think so.

How to make it...

Cinnamon buns...

It's one of those sweet treats, one of those desserts, that are known all over the world, what's more - they're beloved and enjoyed, by those big and small, everywhere. We're tried to make them before, but it was rather unsuccessful attempt... This recipe is completely different though and comes from "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart. It's the name alone that I'm willing to trust without any hesitation. And it didn't disappoint!

Yes, there's a bit of work involved, and it will take quite a lot of time, from the very start, through all the rising of the dough, until they're baked and ready to eat, but... It's all worth it in the end! You won't buy any other cinnamon buns, rolls, nor cinnabons like this! Besides - can anything ever compete with freshly baked, home made buns, cakes, or even cookies?! I doubt it ;)

The simple, yet sweet, enriched dough used to make these cinnamon buns is very versatile. It can also be used to make everything from sticky buns, crumb cakes to even fruit-filled pastries. This dough doesn’t contain eggs, like many other leavened ones, but it can still make all of these products, and more, but with less work than some of the richer recipes.

cinnamon buns

The main difference with these cinnamon buns and many other recipes you might find online, is that these are yeast leavened, whereas the other are usually chemically leavened (with baking soda and powder).

How to make it...