Archives for the month of: November, 2012

As a child it would be fair to say I had a few food related issues. I liked to eat and was an adventurous eater compared to some children, but the seed of healthful eating had been planted early on. I remember asking my mother before I tried something new like an avocado or a zucchini, “Is it good for me?” I would probably have eaten anything had I believed it was good for me. I don’t think I was motivated by a desire to be thinner – body consciousness had not yet become a catch phrase at the tender age of 7 or 8 or 9 – rather I was aware of having healthy insides. The body is a temple, as my father says.

Fast food very rarely tempted me as a child, in fact I was known to pale and dry retch at the thought of McDonald’s or Burger King. I couldn’t go to the movies for a while due to the hideous smell of butter popcorn and the thought of sitting in a movie theatre with chocolate and greasy hands. After birthday or sleep over parties, days and nights spent gorging on cake, lollies, chips and fizzy drinks, I would come home feeling like I needed a cold shower, to go for a 100 kilometre run and to eat nothing but raw carrot sticks for a week. I felt I needed to redeem myself in some way, to take care of my body. Instead, possibly trying to instill a sense of rationality and moderation in her children, my mother would feed us a bowl of mashed vegetables – potato, carrot, pumpkin, cauliflower, broccoli, sometimes blanched spinach streaked throughout. We felt better instantly.

These days, this need for cleansing food comes around less often mostly because I have a natural inclination towards salads and lean proteins. I enjoy eating well. But working in the hospitality sector can be challenging in trying to have some sense of control over what and when I eat. Sometimes the food is just so damn good I really do need two helpings of chocolate mousse cake for dinner. And other times I find myself nibbling on bread crusts and that’s that.

Working at Big Bad Wolf Charcuterie is wonderful. The sausages, terrines, dried and cured meats, pork pies and spit roast pork sandwiches are the best around, and when people say gosh, it must be great to work here, it really, really is. But I’m exhausting myself living on a diet of meat, meat and more meat. Sausages for breakfast – I want to try them all – tomato, beef and bacon; pork and fennel; pork, watercress, anchovy and potato; beef, cheddar and caper. The day I had the Big Bad Blood sausage for breakfast (kidney, heart and liver) was a wild day indeed. But now is the time to bring a little greenery and, that all important word, moderation into my diet.

This blog is not motivated by a specific diet, vegetarianism, veganism, a carb free diet, or low fat. This is not a space to extol the virtues of healthy eating, for while they are numerous and important, this blog and my food is dictated by taste. This space is for the appreciation of all good food – the fruit and vegetables, the fish and seafood, the nuts and grains, yoghurt and ice cream, the cakes and sweet treats, the dinner meals; light soups or salads alongside the heavier stews or highly spiced curries or pastas. Moderation is the name of the game.

So today, I made these fruit and nut truffles – vegan, dairy and gluten free. These baby truffles are sweet with dried fruit, with the slight crunch of sesame seeds and blitzed almonds, the faint creaminess of coconut milk and all wrapped up with the bitterness of cocoa. These baby truffles are my re-aquaintance with a different way of cooking and a different way of eating. It helps that they are bite sized, perfect for a little sweet treat.

There is something so festive about truffles coated in cocoa, chopped nuts or dessicated coconut. The truffles sit beside me as I type and I can smell their nutty, bitter aroma. We always make several types of truffles for Christmas. This year I’m adding these to the list for moderation applies at Christmas, too.

Fruit and Nut Truffles

A quick note on the dried fruit: Soak in hot water for 10 or so minutes, then drain but reserve a tablespoon of the soaking liquid. Also, I used one third of a cup of raw almonds as that is all I had. A half cup would be fine, possibly even better. On that note, feel free to play with the fruit and nut varieties and quantities.

1 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/3 cup raw almonds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
4 tablespoons ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut cream – the thick layer from the top of the can
zest of half a lemon
2 tablespoons cocoa powder

Blitz the almonds in a food processor until finely chopped. Pour into a mixing bowl with the sesame seeds, ground almonds and cinnamon. Mix well.

Place the soaked fruit in the processor with the tablespoon of reserved soaking liquid and the vanilla extract. Pulse until the fruit is nearly a paste. Spoon into the bowl with the almonds and seeds. Add the coconut cream and grated lemon zest and mix until thoroughly combined.

Place the cocoa powder on a plate and roll each truffle into a tiny bite sized ball – they are quite sweet so you don’t need a lot. Roll the truffle through the cocoa powder. Once all the truffles are coated keep truffles refrigerated.

Serve as an after dinner sweet treat with tea, or during the day as a little pick-up.

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I’m not sure what else can be said about spiced apple cake that hasn’t been said before. I could follow suit of the northern hemisphere at the moment and talk about the latest windfall of apple picking, and how ever to use up 20 pounds of apples if not in a spiced apple cake, earthy and sweet and unequivocally autumnal? (Although they would say fall.) But it is not fall here, and apple picking, for all its romance, is not available.

I could write of the warming homeliness of cinnamon, allspice and ginger, of how it seems appropriate to bunker down, perhaps beneath a blanket and with a mug of black tea when eating spiced apple cake. But here, summer is finally waving hello. It is the time of year to stay outdoors, to eat ice cream and, in a few months, juicy stone fruit.

I could write of the nubbliness of rolled oats. Of how oats undergo an amazing transformation from plain cereal to soft and luxurious and worthy of the title sweet treat or dessert when mixed with butter and brown sugar. I could write about the contrast in texture with, perhaps, broken walnut pieces. But truth be told, this is a simple spiced apple cake, plain and sweet, no walnuts or nubbly oats, just apple, spice and a few raisins.

I could write about the spiced apple cakes my mother used to make, for there have been several. Our most popular apple cake has a strudel-esque topping that always seems to marble with the cake batter, ruining the effect, but is no less delicious.

Perhaps, like banana bread, we do not need any more words or recipes for spiced apple cake.

And yet, here I am.

For me the most surprising part of this cake is the preparation of the two apples. Peeled, yes. But rather than roughly diced apple breaking the surface of the cake and creating little pockets of soft apple within the batter, the apples are thinly sliced, as you would for an apple tart. The sliced apples are then covered with all of the sugar, not a modest few tablespoons while the rest of the measure is creamed with butter as we would expect.

The two apples go a long way. The thin slices fill the cake out nicely; no ounce of batter is left apple-less. The slices cook down to near nothingness, their fragrance seeping throughout the cake, but cut a slice and pale streaks of apple are throughout.

I may make apple cakes like this from now on – apples sliced over apples diced.

And there we are, those are my words on spiced apple cake.

Spiced Apple Cake

I doubled the measure of spices and reduced the amount of sugar by 25 grams; below is the recipe to my adjustments. I also used one Granny Smith and one braeburn apple as that’s what I had on hand, but any good cooking apples will do. If you are using a sweeter variety, or adding more dried fruit the sugar can be further reduced to 200 grams.

The cake is best served warm with crème fraîche.

2 apples (see note above)
1 egg
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
125 grams butter
225 grams sugar
185 grams flour
75 grams raisins

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

Peel and slice apples thinly. Place in a large bowl and mix in the sugar.

Melt butter then leave to cool for several minutes before mixing in the egg. Pour the butter mixture over the apples and stir well. Sift dry ingredients over the apples and combine until just mixed.

Pour into cake tin and bake 50 minutes to an hour or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Dust with icing sugar to serve.