Archives for posts with tag: orange

Orange ginger honey cakePeople are going to think all I eat are cakes and desserts soon. People are going to think I look like all I eat are cakes and desserts; rolling about the place like a big, round cookie. But really, most of the time the meals I eat are simple and easy – salads, soups and what I call funny stove-top vegetable throw-togethers. There really are no boundaries with these sorts of meals. Last Tuesday night’s dinner was a fine example: Brussels sprouts halved, cooked in a tablespoon of oil and a knob of butter then two diced tomatoes thrown in, salt and pepper, fresh thyme and cubes of stale bread. The bread had been sitting on the kitchen table for a few days so I diced it up before I could think too carefully and threw it in with a “what the hell” flick of the wrist. Sometimes not thinking in the kitchen is a damn good idea; this dinner was very, very good.

The Brussels sprouts browned at the cut edge while the outer leaves softened into translucency and the tightly wrapped insides were sweet and toothsome. The tomatoes simmered down to a sauce, herbaceous and with a bit of tang. The pieces of bread, nestled amongst the red and the green, absorbed the sauce and the juices until almost cake-like in texture.
HoneyOrange and Ginger
Occasionally I think people may want to read about these sorts of dinners; this funny, made-up on the spot sort of food. I could write about my mother and her funny, made-up on the spot sort of food. I think I learnt that brazen flick of the wrist motion from her. I love it when she says, while stirring a pot or searching through the spice shelf, “I have no idea what this is or what I’m doing, I’m just going with it.” I love that honesty in cooking, the thrill of being guided by instinct. Forget the recipe books for a while, I say, cook with abandon.
Beaten egg whites
But then I bake a cake and it seems exciting and something of a revelation. The margin for error is greater in baking, I think, than simply throwing together vegetables and herbs in a pan. When a cake emerges from the oven golden and perfect there is a small sigh of relief and then a celebration to be had for this small victory. My kind of cooking, my week day throw-togethers, take place in the moment and without occasion so very rarely are they eaten by anyone but me. These meals are flavourful, yes, and healthy, yes, but they’re not pretty like a cake or uniform like a biscuit.
Olive oil, honey cake
This cake, though, it’s a keeper. It has earthy, floral notes of olive oil and is sweetened with honey and fresh orange juice. The ginger and the orange and the honey; they go very well together. A honey sweetened cake is much more interesting than any white processed sugar counterpart. Honey feels balanced and produces a sweetness with a real flavour. Sugar is not a flavour. There are jubes of crystallised ginger in the batter and grated ginger throughout so there is a spicy warmth to the cake.

There appears to be a lot going on here – Orange! Ginger – ground, root, crsytallised! Olive oil! Honey! Wholemeal flour! But it works, perhaps it’s the wholemeal flours toning everything down a bit, maybe it’s the savoury of the olive oil. This cake is simple and honest. It’s wholesome, a quality I love in a cake. It feels approachable and user-friendly; it’s a scone cake, a Sunday morning tea cake, a snacking cake, a breakfast cake. It is not striving for centre stage or a grand feast, much like my on-the-spot dinners.

Orange Ginger Olive Oil Cake
I adapted this recipe from the Eating Well website – a very good reminder that sweet treats can be made and eaten well. I think this cake would almost be better with ground almonds instead of the mixture of plain flour and wholemeal. Let me know if you try this.

1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup mild flavoured olive oil
2 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger root
5 tablespoons chopped crystallised ginger
1 cup wholemeal flour
2/3 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

juice of an orange
1/4 cup icing sugar

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.

In a small bowl mix together the honey, olive oil, egg yolks, orange zest, grated fresh ginger and the crystallised ginger.

Into a large bowl sift the flours, baking powder, ground ginger and salt.

In a third bowl beat egg whites until soft peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir the honey mixture into the flours then gently fold in the egg whites with a spatula until the mixtures are well combined. Pour the batter into the prepared tin.

Check the cake after 20 minutes, or bake until golden in colour and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for 10 minutes in the tin before turning onto a wire rack to cool. Mix the orange juice and the icing sugar together and drizzle over the warm cake.

Greengages At the beginning of January I had to attend a week long uni course for a paper studying the creative process. Long days, 13, 15, 18 hours for some groups, in small rooms on hot afternoons. We had spent hours in the weeks leading up to the course thinking on our own creative process; what drives us, our passions, our forms of expression and our greatest influences. During the course we talked with our group, our lecturers and with complete strangers about our crossroads in our lives, our battles with our past or our present. People were desperate for tragedy, for drama, and for darkness; any of my contributions to these discussions were said to be on the lighter side and for that I was made to feel I should apologise.

When most conversations centred on the dark and twisted side of our lives – broken marriages and families, mental illness, lost love ones, destructive relationships – you can imagine I left the subject of food; how we eat, how we grow, how we buy, well alone during that week. What is important to me, what I am passionate about may have raised a few eyebrows, if not elicited a few indignant snorts. But, really, barely a day goes by when I don’t think about what we eat, how we produce and consume food, and how can I, a student in this strange limbo place between university and the ‘real’ world make better, cleaner, fairer food decisions.
Late afternoon sunautumnal blush across cheeks
This is why I’ve been quiet here recently; I’m figuring out how best to do this, this business of eating. I would like to make radical decisions like completely rid my pantry of white flour and white sugar. I would love to have a no-supermarket policy, except for non-food items. I would like to source some of my food directly from the producer, especially dairy products; raw milk, yoghurt and cheese brought from the farm gate or the farmer at the market. But, like so many things in life, we need to find our own style here – like choosing a car, or building a house, a career, a life with someone; change and decision influenced by personal style. I’m loathe to use this term after my week long uni course, but perhaps I’m at a food crossroads.
Cut halves
So, I start small, the very essence of think global, act local. I love the Sunday farmers’ market for its vibrancy and diversity. There is always a sense of anticipation before going to the market and the often chaotic atmosphere requires focus and a clear head. The market is an affront to the senses but this is preferable to the sterile aisles of a supermarket. I have always loved Moore Wilson’s Fresh for the smell – bottled market place, we’ll call it.
Orangede-stoned
But Commonsense Organics, right next door to Big Bad Wolf, is a new favourite place of mine. There is a feel-good factor to shopping here, even if my purchase is simply a couple of apples or the Little Bird macaroons sold at the front counter in glass jars. There are often specials, show casing the very best of the seasonal produce, which is how I came by a kilo of New Zealand greengage plums.
a honey orange syrupa summer windfall
Google delivered entire articles on the magic of the greengage. This notoriously fickle fruit appears to have a somewhat cult following amongst plum lovers. Their green skins, perhaps with a purple blush across the shoulders, yields to a nectar-like, honey yellow flesh within. I popped a few in my mouth, and felt the skins pull and pucker as the fruit burst and I could taste fragrant honey dew melon then the skin was a slight citric tang at the end.
Collapsed and juicya spoonful
I roasted most of the kilo, and I think this is the way to go. Their best properties – colour, tang and texture – are given the room to shine. Roasted simply with only butter, honey and the juice from one orange, this is one of those dishes where the whole is greater than the sum of all parts. Butter acts as the base on which sits the sweetness of the honey, then the citrus of the orange hops on board, while the greengages, collapsed and juicy, deliver a fragrant sweetness so typical of stone fruit. Right at the end of a spoonful, just shy of getting caught in your throat, these plums give a shout, a rather tart shout to remind us what we miss come mid-winter – the delightful balance of sharp and sweet.
a bright compote
Something as simple as a greengage plum, a little green orb, is perhaps insignificant to some. But right now, ingredients like the greengage are new and interesting. They re-direct my focus to broader issues such as provenance, seasonality and the efforts of the growers. A bowl of greengages on my kitchen table is something of an inspiration.

Roasted Greengages
Recipe adapted from the Martha Stewart site.

De-stoning the plums might seem like a hassle but is worth the effort. Get into a routine – slice, twist, tug out the stone.

1 kilogram greengage plums
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Preheat oven to 180°C. Place the butter in a roasting dish and put in the oven to melt. Add the honey and orange juice and stir until mixed – depending on the thickness of your honey you may have to place the syrup in the oven before stirring. Add the cut and stoned greengages and carefully mix to cover in the syrup. Roast for 30-40 minutes until beginning to fall apart.

Serve with yoghurt, cream or as a thick compote atop a buttery cake. The plums will keep for up to a week in the fridge but it pays to reheat before serving so the butter in the syrup melts.

Carrots, scrubbed and chopped lengthwiseI remember how I began 2012: in Central Otago, the peak of summer, drinking local wines and eating freshly picked stone fruit. We all sat outside on the first day of the year, in short sleeves, probably drinking rosé, rolling the number around on our tongues, 2012. It sounded good, clean, even. It was going to be a good year and, for the most part, it was. I was sorry to see 2012 roll ever so easily into 2013, with little ceremony or pomp. Thank goodness for Christmas.

Christmas always seems a far better way to say good-bye to one year and welcome in the next, and our Christmas this year, well, we let 2012 go out with a bang. On Christmas Eve, the temperature in the late 20s (celsius), Mum and I made mayonnaise, furiously whisking until perspiration glistened on our foreheads. But it was beautiful mayonnaise, the real deal, a shiny yellow and a flavour that you just want to keep in your mouth.
Hot smoked salmon platter + home made mayo
The next day was hot, fan yourself with your napkin hot – the hottest Christmas day in Wellington since 1934. We started with fresh summer fruit – melon, green and coral pink, nectarines and white flesh peaches, strawberries and plump blueberries. We stuffed a turkey breast then set a leg of lamb onto roast. I stirred a handful of finely diced dill into half of the mayonnaise and wasabi into the other half, just enough to make the back of your throat tingle. We began with a smoked salmon platter – buckwheat toasts, fried capers popped open like crunchy salty flowers, gherkins and oat crackers, and so began our afternoon, a tide like motion of ebbs and flows between the kitchen and the table.
marinade for scallops
Lamb leg ready to roastTender and moist turkey breast
There were scallops marinated with citrus, chilli and coriander – their delicate orange and cream spheres bursting with a soft sweetness and a mere whisper of heat. There was the leg of lamb, rubbed down with rosemary and garlic and roasted to a perfect medium – sweet, savoury, herbaceous – New Zealand lamb at its best. A turkey breast nearly halved, flattened and therapeutically beaten then stuffed with Big Bad Wolf sausage, char grilled capsicum and spinach from our garden. Our favourite Christmas salad, a trio of red, green and white, green beans blanched to a pleasing snap and brighter colour, crumbled feta with plum coloured smudges from the roasted beetroot. Boiled new season potatoes, the joy of summer Christmas, with curls of butter and torn herbs.
Cinnamon and cumin roasted carrotsorange rounds
Then this salad, my new favourite, roasted carrot and orange salad. It is no secret my love of roasted carrots - their tender sweetness and bright warmth pull me in every time, no matter the weather. The salad is a wonderful mess of shapes, colours and textures – long rectangles and full rounds, burnt orange and near yellow, flecked with dark spices.
Roasted carrot and orange saladA trio of saladsChristmas colours
In between courses we drank lemoncello, declared how much we all love it, and opened another bottle of Riesling. My uncle Adrian and his partner Nicola made dessert: fresh fruit of every colour, strawberries, grapes, nectarines, peaches and my first raspberries of the season. A dairy free and gluten free trifle that, had we not been told the slight nutty flavour was rice milk custard and the nubbly texture a ground almond sponge, would have fooled us for the more traditional cream and plain flour variety. We ate trifle by the bowl full. There were home made brandy snaps – thin and wafer biscuit like, holding within their lacy edges the taste of real ginger rather than a generic sweetness like the store bought sort. We filled them with cream as we ate them – fill, bite, fill, bite.
summer by the bowl full
It’s mid-January already. Christmas feels long gone and with it, 2012, but the feast we shared that day seems a good a way as any to welcome in a new year. There is not much we can do about the speed at which the years change, except to live each year wholly and fully. Perhaps that is why I loved 2012 so much and, also why I have barely realised 2013 is well under way.

Roast Carrot and Orange Salad
Taken from the Cuisine Christmas issue 2010 The salad is a cinch to make if you happen to have a bottle of orange blossom water lying around, but I’m sure it will be fine without.

600 grams carrots, scrubbed and halved lengthwise
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
sea salt to taste
4 oranges
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon orange water
1/4 cup finely sliced mint

Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Place the scrubbed and cut carrots in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of the oil, cinnamon, cumin and salt. Stir well to combine. Place on an oven tray lined with baking paper and roast for 40 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile place the juice of one orange in a large bowl with the remaining oil, sugar and orange flower water. Slice the rind and the pith off the oranges and slice into rounds. Set the orange slices to one side.

When the carrots are cooked add them to the orange vinaigrette and set aside. The salad can be served warm or cold so just before serving add the sliced orange rounds and sliced mint, toss well and place on a serving dish.

This salad goes very well with lamb.

Almond and Orange ShortbreadI remember one particular Christmas day when I was probably about 8 or 9 and it was hot. I was given bright yellow togs (swim suit) for Christmas that had a keyhole clasp at the back and I think they had a brocade like pattern on them. I swam in those togs until they near wore through and the bright yellow faded to the colour of butter. But that Christmas we spent all day in the garden playing petanque and in the afternoon we turned on the sprinkler and christened our new togs. I remember these togs so fondly for this was possibly the last Christmas day of endless hot sunshine.
rolled in almondlike a dough caterpillar The next year we were in long sleeves and jeans. And every year since then our summer in Wellington seems to have shifted and come Christmas we are still plagued by spring winds and the accompanying unpredictability. Last week we had two days of 25 degrees and it was glorious. Everyone was optimistic for a hot, even if brief, summer. But north of New Zealand cyclone Evan lashes the islands of the Pacific and the cyclone’s most southern tendrils might just whip the North Island by the end of the week. Two days ago, from the hills down to the harbour, Wellington was shrouded beneath a thick fog.
orange and almond log
When we wait with trepidation nearly every year to see what Christmas weather will bring, knowing it’s likely to be dull, it seems quite sensible for Christmas to be in winter. A day spent inside with a lit fire, hot drinks, heavy roasts and biscuits scented with the most warming of spices. But down here in the south Pacific we hang on desperately to this idyllic image of a barbecue Christmas playing beach cricket and wearing t-shirt and shorts. In Wellington we should find a happy medium. I’m guessing we’ll find this through food, somewhere between the spinach and tarragon stuffed turkey breast wrapped in bacon and the bright red strawberries and soft raspberries.
like a long ficelleorange and almond shortbread
However, after all that hand wringing and lamenting at the often appalling Wellington climate which, I’m sorry, seems such a feature of this blog, there are a few Christmas mainstays no matter which you hemisphere you reside: Christmas cookies. I like the romance and the heady spice of an Italian or German Christmas biscuit; spiked with citrus, perhaps of the candied variety, and almost potent with cinnamon, ginger, mace and cloves. But it is the decidedly more British biscuit, the shortbread, that caught my attention this year.
almond crusted shortbreadbrushed with orange blossom
Whether the Scots believe in adding ground almonds, orange zest and a splash of orange blossom water to their beloved shortbread is yet to be investigated, but I definitely do. These biscuits are good; it’s barely half six in the morning and I’ve already eaten two, contemplating the crispness, the shortness, if you will, of the biscuit. There is the smallest of shatters as you bite beneath the almond crust, and the familiar flavour of buttery, mellow shortbread comes to the fore. But then there is something else entirely – the sweet zest of orange, the woody green hint of cloves and the dab of orange blossom water brushed onto the surface of the hot biscuits whispers floral notes.

It’s strangely Christmas-y in this regard, perhaps of the southern hemisphere sort with summer flowers and our native Christmas tree.

Orange and Almond Shortbread
Recipe heavily adapted from here.

It is best to be timid when brushing the liquid onto the hot biscuits. The almond is a subtle flavour and you don’t want anything too overpowering nor do you want to soften the biscuit.

180 grams soft butter
125 grams icing sugar
80 grams ground almonds (plus extra for dusting and rolling).
115 grams plain flour
65 grams cornflour
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
finely grated zest of half an orange
orange blossom water or orange liqueur

Cream the butter and the icing sugar until pale and creamy. Sift the dry ingredients plus the orange zest. Mix with a spoon or your hands until just combined. On a clean dry surface sprinkle ground almonds and turn out shortbread mixture. Roll dough through the ground almonds and form into a long sausage shape, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. In the meantime pre-heat the oven to 160°C and line a baking tray.

Unwrap the dough and slice into 1.5 centimetre rounds. Place on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes. Once the biscuits have been removed from the oven use a pastry brush to lightly brush on orange blossom water or another orange liqueur like Cointreau. Leave to cool for 30 minutes before dusting in icing sugar if you choose.

This compote is wintery with the earthy notes of spice, but summery with the sweetness of fruit. It’s soft and luscious, it tastes of Christmas with cloves and cinnamon, sweet and faintly of brandy or port. It’s warming, in a sense, comforting perhaps. It’s fresh and clean also. In other words, it’s endlessly versatile.

Dried fruit compotes have been part of our fridge staples for a few years now. Mainly they were born out of a need for something different in the middle of winter than apples and mandarins, or trying to make a dent in a large bag of dried apricots or dried figs. We would soak them overnight in hot water sweetened with a squeeze of orange, a peeling of rind, a teaspoon of sugar and drop or two of vanilla. The next morning the fruit would be plump and almost silken while the vanilla-citrus syrup had perfumed the apricots or figs. We eat the compote atop soaked oats and yoghurt for breakfast, or vanilla ice cream for dessert. But this fruit compote is slightly more structured in its preparation. That’s not to say you can’t whip it up in 10 minutes (plus soaking time), or alter the recipe to your tastes, but the point is, there is a recipe, and it comes from quite a delightful book, La Cigale.

I was driving across town the other morning with my parents, or rather they were driving me due to such intense exhaustion that I moved back home for a day of care and comfort and good food. They began telling me the story of La Cigale, the French market and café in Auckland. The car radio was switched off and as we drove closer and closer to our destination the story was described with an increasing sense of urgency; it needed to be told.

The long story short, my father said, is a New Zealand woman whose family owned a fabric importing business. They travelled through Europe sourcing fabrics and along the way fell in love with France. Later the woman, with her husband, took over the fabric business but motivated by a changing economy and a passion for all things French, they turned the fabric warehouse in Auckland into a French bistro and market. It is now something of an institution.

I have never been to La Cigale, though I have heard plenty of wonderful things about it. If this fruit compote is anything to go by, La Cigale – the book, the market, the bistro – is a delicious little pocket of France in New Zealand. One last note, the dried fruit is soaked in black tea. We used earl grey blue flower for more perfumed, floral hints. I think weak black tea would be best – strong tannins might tarnish the softness of the fruit. In saying that, perhaps a white tea would work well too.

Dried Fruit Compote

Feel free to change the fruit to your liking, and to add more cold tea for extra moisture or desired consistency.

250 grams each of stoned dates, figs (cut in half), prunes, apricots
250 grams mixed dried fruit – pears, peaches, pineapple, apple, etc
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
juice and rind of 2 oranges
2 cups cold tea

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Leave to infuse in the pot for 3 to 4 hours.

This is what I have been enjoying recently: batch toasted granola. It’s nothing new, or even particularly exciting, unless, like me, you think warm granola is the sort of thing to write home about. It’s got all the usual things going on: oats, dried fruit, a squeeze of citrus, maybe a few nuts and a teaspoon of honey, but it’s the process of making it that I like.

There is no recipe as such, simply throw together what is available. I like to use rolled oats and jumbo oats for a more interesting texture, but just one sort would be fine. (About 1/2 cup of oats altogether, per person.) Add cinnamon, ground ginger, perhaps some roughly chopped almonds or hazelnuts, a few sultanas or dried cranberries, a pinch of salt. Melt together a generous knob of butter, honey and a squeeze of orange in a hot pan. Add the dry granola, stirring to moisten then continue to toss. Watch the oats darken and the dried fruit plump with the hot butter.

This is such a wonderful way to start the day; to smell the toasted oats, and then to eat them all. There is something about making granola to put in a large jar and last a week, but there is something equally lovely in making a bowlfull of warm, fresh granola for immediate consumption with yoghurt and fruit.

On one occasion, when the cupboards were a little bare, I toasted only oats with a sprinkle of spice. Crank the heat and oats cooked like this deliver a depth of flavour quite unexpected. Next time I might take a leaf out of Heidi’s book and try oats this way: a toasted, souped up porridge.

Today in New York City residents are taking to the streets, or should we say to the curb side tables and chairs, in protest against the laws surrounding brunch. Yes, brunch. The leisurely and loveliest of all meals is causing controversy in a city synonymous with dining and the art of eating. In New York it is illegal to serve brunch before noon on a Sunday, lest diners block the footpaths for those on their way to church. The law dates to 1971 but has largely been unenforced; in fact, many eateries claim they never knew the law existed.

Brooklyn residents recently complained of the difficulties many of them experience when walking to church; of navigating the footpaths crowded with restaurant patrons on Sunday mornings. Several New York cafés and restaurants have been issued with tickets and court summons since these complaints were laid. New Yorkers are appalled. Three City Councillors are entering submissions for the legal time to serve brunch on Sundays to be brought forward to 10a.m. One Brooklyn resident, opposed to any changes to the law, asks the people of New York to be watchdogs for illicit brunching. But as most people of New York will argue, no one will stand in the way of a New Yorker and their right to brunch.

The “War on Brunch” is being discussed with an interesting, maybe slightly puritanical, approach. There is little coincidence in the timing of the brunch debate; New York State politicians are also considering a loosening of the laws surrounding drug possession and “public display” of cannabis. Can brunch in New York be considered a public display of self-indulgence? An expression of lazy, joyous consumption? Some newspaper articles have labelled this law an issue of the plate versus the church. I’m for the plate.

Francesca and I made brunch this morning in sympathy for the plight of the poor New Yorker who must “have those bagels with cream cheese or Belgian waffles on a Sunday morning, and nobody should stand in their way.” I made orange and ricotta hot cakes from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries, the most beautiful of cookbooks. Nigel Slater’s writing seems to evoke the quiet calm and joy of a Sunday brunch in every sentence, for every dish. Our brunch was everything a New Yorker would say brunch should be; late in the morning (but well before noon), with strong coffee, and good company.

These hot cakes are made with minimal flour, but instead have stiffly beaten egg whites folded through a mixture of ricotta, sugar and egg yolks. They are heavenly light, almost like a soufflé. The ricotta lends a savoury richness to the hot cakes, while the flecks of orange zest brighten everything up. These hot cakes are good to eat, especially with honey yoghurt and a swirl of maple syrup. If you were to doll these cakes up a bit, I think a spoonful of fluffy stewed apple, or an orange and berry compote, or a brandy spiked orange syrup would only add to the brunch quality. New Yorkers would be proud.

Orange and Ricotta Hot Cakes

250 grams ricotta
4 tablespoons caster sugar
3 eggs, separated
finely grated zest of a large orange
50 grams plain flour
butter for cooking

In a large mixing bowl combine the ricotta, caster sugar and egg yolks. Grate the orange zest into the ricotta mixture and stir it in gently with the flour. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then gently fold the whites into the ricotta mixture.
Warm a non-stick frying pan over a moderate heat and add a small knob of butter, about a teaspoon. When the butter sizzles add a heaped spoonful of mixture into the pan. Cook for a few minutes until bubbles begin to appear on the surface. Use a spatula to flip (take care! They are delicate). Cook until, as Nigel Slater writes, they are coloured appetisingly.
Serve immediately with a dusting of icing sugar, runny jam, yoghurt, compote, syrup or other fruit.

My mother is tightening the reigns in her house. No more treats for a while. Time to cut back, to exercise a little restraint. Less carbs, more protein, she says. That sort of thing. My father sighs and pretends to hate every minute of it.

“No sugar in my coffee,” he grumbles, “no cream, just black. No alcohol, except on weekends. No chocolate, no baking, no more cheese and crackers before dinner. Carrot sticks and hummus. Hardly any bread, and no butter on it anyway.”

I took great delight in telling them about the latest food writer and food entreprenuer I had found, Nina Planck. Her philosophy is to reclaim the traditional whole foods of our ancestors; the red meat, full fat dairy products, whole grains, vegetables, lard and butter! My father sighed again, in an if only sort of way. But then he turned to my mother and said, what was that dish you made last week, like the stir fry? What else was in the salad today? We had a great lunch yesterday, didn’t we?

The thing is, my mother could make a pack of rubber-like tofu and bean sprouts taste fantastic. So any eating regime, not matter how severe, is no struggle. Especially not when she decides she simply must do some baking. It looks like a great recipe, she justifies, and it’s gluten free. Pretty much a health food I tell her. And this is how our conversations go.

Regardless of its nutritional make up, this is one of the nicest cakes I have had in a very long time. It is so very moist and light it is similar to a citrus moose. You can feel the air escape between your teeth. It is lovely with yoghurt – full fat, cream top, I say.

Lady Dundee’s Orange Cake
Adapted from Healthy Gluten Free Eating

2 medium orange
200 grams ground almonds, plus a little extra for dusting
3 eggs
200 grams caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder

Scrub the oranges and place them, whole, in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Put a lid on the pot and simmer for 1-2 hours or until the oranges are tender. Change the simmering water up to 3 times to ensure the orange skins are not bitter.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Brush a 20cm spring form cake tin with butter and dust with ground almonds. Place a round of baking paper in the base of the tin.

Halve the cooked oranges, remove the pips and puree the flesh and the peel in a blender until smooth. Beat the eggs and sugar until pale and light. Combine the baking powder and ground almonds, then gently fold into the eggs. Fold in the orange puree. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 1 hour, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the midddle of the cake.

Cool on a wire rack and remove the paper.

Saturday night and I was feeling like a thick, fudgey, dense chocolate something. Maybe with fruit and nuts, maybe a little like panforte. Instead, I made biscotti, which has been on my to-make list all summer. When, finally, biscotti and I are on the same page, so to speak, summer has well and truly passed. We have been hit by what the weather reporters are calling a “weather bomb.” Power is down and rooves are being ripped off in some parts of the country. Here in Wellington it’s miserable and bleak: driving rain and furious winds.

A piece of biscotti to be enjoyed with a small glass of sherry later on, when it’s dark, and all I can hear are the winds beating the trees and the steady drip of rain in the pipes ouside.

 Chocolate and walnut biscotti
Recipe adapted from here and here

2 cups standard flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
60 grams butter, cubed
3/4 cup sugar, raw or white, I used raw demerara sugar
1/2 cup roughly broken walnut pieces
50 grams roughly chopped dark chocolate, I used Lindt Orange Intense
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla essence

Pre-heat oven to 160°. Stir flour and baking powder together in a large bowl. Use your fingertips to rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir through sugar, walnut pieces and chocolate. If you wish, add a small amount orange zest at this point.
Make a well in the centre and pour in the lightly beaten eggs and the vanilla essence. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms thick dough. (I had to add a dash of milk at this point..)

Place dough on a lightly floured surface and give it a quick knead. Divde dough in two and roll each half into a flat-ish log about 5cm wide. Place on a lined baking tray and bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Heat oven to 170°. Slice each piece of biscotti diagonally to about 1cm thick. Place slices back on baking tray and into the oven for 10 minutes or until slightly browned but quite crisp to the touch.

Serve with sherry(!) or with espresso coffee, maybe combine the two, espresso with a shot of sherry. Biscotti would also be a good vehicle for delivering vanilla ice cream, or perhaps salted butter caramel ice cream, to your lips.

This recipe is begging to be adapted: swap the walnuts for almonds, or macadamias, increase the quantity. Remove the nut or the chocolate altogether and add a good handful of roughly chopped dried figs instead. Reduce the flour quantity a little and make it up with some cocoa. Experiment with the sugars, perhaps a decent tablespoon of maple syrup or a half cup of brown sugar for something a little bit richer and caramely. Add a citrus hit with chopped candied peel and a smattering of orange zest. Swap half the flour out for a cup of ground almonds to really bring forth the soft almond bitterness.

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