Archives for the month of: March, 2013

A shadowIt’s funny sometimes how priorities change, stack up against each other, as if the different tasks and obligations one has are in competition with each other rather than with the time manager. This is how I feel sometimes, out of touch as everything seems to change around me, so I sit back and see what happens, see how the priorities rearrange themselves.
CauliflowerReady to roastAn eggplant
I realise, obviously, that how duties, assignments and relationships are prioritised and juggled is directed by me. There is not a universal power calling the shots telling me where to be, what to bring, who to email, who to call, what to read, what to write, how to eat well – though God, sometimes I wish there was. I’m a bit of a worry wart, an over-thinker. Some days my worries about things like climate change, recycling, the media, the food industry, the future, travel, careers, money (the list goes on) I find stimulating and motivating. But then there are days, as there have been recently, where I crave to be reckless, to be irresponsible, to live dangerously for a night – staying awake past midnight would be a good start.
ChoppedIn sunSlater like
At the moment, the best it gets is when I have to abandon everything I’m currently working on, leave the computer, put down the pen, and take care of the fruit and vegetables in my kitchen rapidly nearing the end of their life. There were peaches that needed doctoring earlier this week. Beautifully ripe, flavoursome and meaty golden queens, but with soft, brown spots dotting their velvet skins. I pan-roasted thin slices with butter, honey and cinnamon until the fruit was browned at the edges, golden of a different sort. All I had to take care of were those peaches.
LeekHalf rounds
Food – real food, good food – is my outlet, my down time. I like the quiet that settles over me when I look into the fridge or open the cupboard and know that soup can be made, a salad can be tossed and a cake can be baked. When I am in the kitchen everything else falls by the wayside and the desire to be nourished and to provide takes over – I like it most when this becomes priority number one.
RoastedGreen chilli
That is how we came to have this soup the other night, this earthy red, fiery, richly flavoured soup. With vegetables on hand I found myself there, in the kitchen, present in that moment, chopping carrots and an eggplant, de-seeding a red capsicum, dicing cauliflower florets and peeling cloves of garlic. When tossed with oil, salt, pepper and then baked, vegetables will always soften, sweeten. When soft, sweet roasted vegetables are added to a pot of spicy, lemony cooked leeks with vegetable stock and seasoning, well, there’s no going wrong.
Soup oneSoup two
Like most soups and stews, the flavours need a little time to develop. But after a day, or two, the lemon comes through and the chilli adds a heftiness, coating your mouth and stinging your lips. “Wake up!” it says. You can taste the vegetables, every one if you feel your way – the carrots are earthy and the capsicum is sweet, while the eggplant adds a smooth richness and the cauliflower is present in a “sturdy guy at the back” kind of way. The slow cooked vegetables, allowed to soften and crisp in equal measure, give the soup substance and make a hot bowlfull the right meal, the right answer to whatever is on your mind.

Spicy Roast Vegetable Soup
The inspiration for this recipe comes from one of my favourite food blogs, Food Loves Writing. Like Shanna says, it’s more method than recipe when it comes to making soup like this. My soup was on the thicker end of the soup-consistency spectrum and I thought this would be perfect to slump over some hot brown rice or other cooked grain.

Take a bunch of vegetables, chop them into roughly the same size, toss with a good glug of oil and seasoning then roast for at least an hour at 180°C until tender and golden.

While the vegetables cook take a leek or a large onion, chop into half rounds and cook in a large pot with a splash of oil and knob of butter, with chopped up chillis, garlic, ginger, lemon peel and any other spices you like. Once soften remove from heat and leave to sit.

Once the vegetables are cooked, return the onion pot to the heat and add the roasted vegetables with enough stock to just about cover and the juice of a whole lemon. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer for a few minutes then purée.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream or spiced yoghurt.

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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.

Plum and Almond SpongeThe rain came, finally. The hills are misty and the sky is grey and for the first time in over a month the city feels quiet, calm and reflective. We have been high on summer here. Bright days and warm nights, restless without the weight of a sheet or a duvet. There is a sobriety to dull misty rain and while the humidity hangs heavy, for today, this could be the beginning of the end of summer. So to mark the transition of the seasons I sign off to summer with one last plum recipe.
Plums and red wineheartily spiced almond batter
It’s been a bit of a plum summer, really. Plums have been in my fruit bowl more than any other stone fruit this season. There is something humble about the plum quite different to the polished, white-fleshed peaches or nectarines and I don’t feel the plum has the same following of the apricot with their pleasing pink blush, downy skins and child-friendly pull-apart groove. Nearly every piece of food writing or poetry of the plum mentions the bloom – the silvery blue smudge to the skin of the fruit. The obvious association would be with the bloom of a flower, full of the promise of scent and colour. But when I read about the bloom on a plum I tend to think of algae bloom. Moving right along.
fading light, ready to bakegolden and warming
This recipe takes a different sort of plum altogether – the canned plum. The slick patent leather-like skins of the dark purple Black Doris have disappeared and the fruit sits in a sweet, lip-staining juice. (Good for a bit of colour and sparkle in a gin and tonic.) The plums are baked with dollops of heartily spiced, almond sponge spreading over the fruit like a winter quilt. The sponge is tinged burgundy in colour, not necessarily from the plums as you might think, but rather from a splash of red wine in the batter. I’ve made this dish sound decidedly wintery, and the ease of canned fruit does lend this dessert well to cold nights, but come back to the plums for they are sweet and light and fragrant.

The fruit, the fruit – plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines – they’re all so lovely and innocent, but sometimes you just need a bad-ass, a rebel. The red wine is robust; it delivers a strength to the sponge that perhaps contradicts with a traditional Victorian sponge and all its typical associations of lightness and delicacy. But the red wine; it works. It adds ooomph and character.
warm plums and an open crumb
Mum has been making this dessert for a while now; it’s part of our regular repertoire. Like many of the recipes in this rotation, they feel so normal, so regular; delicious for us four perhaps only because of their history in our kitchen. But these recipes are worth sharing and worth eating, no matter the weather.

Plum and Almond Sponge
This recipe comes from a small cookbook from the kitchen of Church Road Winery cook book. Every recipe in here looks great and every recipe lists wine in the ingredients, but we have settled on the plum and almond sponge; it’s our favourite. Time to branch out maybe.

100 grams butter
40 grams brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, separated
130 grams ground almonds
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon caster sugar
6 tablespoons red wine + 4 tablespoons (preferably a weightier varietal like syrah, merlot or a blend)
1/4 teaspoon ground star anise
1 tin Black Doris plums

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Cream butter, egg yolks and brown sugar, then add cloves, ginger, cinnamon and baking powder. Add the first measure of red wine (6 tablespoons), then the ground almonds and stir until just combined. Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then whisk in the caster sugar. Fold the egg whites into the creamed butter mixture.

Place the plums in an oven proof dish and pour over the second measure of red wine. Sprinkle the ground anise over the plums. Spoon the almond batter on top of the plums and smooth with the back of the spoon. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

We serve this with cream or yoghurt; crème fraîche would be nice too. The original recipe suggests a slice of blue cheese and a glass of noble semillon. That sounds very nice, indeed.

lentils with scallops and tomato sauceRick Stein is probably the first chef personality I became familiar with and remains the only one who I have any real affection for. I remember watching one of his TV shows as a child, French Odyssey – it was compulsory family viewing. I loved the sound of his voice, his dog Chalky and how he communicated directly and personally with the cooks, gardeners, growers and local food experts he met as they travelled by barge on a canal through south-west France. Rick Stein speaks as if everything is a marvel, a wonder. It’s easy to become absorbed in his language, moving with the intonations of his voice. To be a television chef engaging your audience is part of the job description but there is an authenticity to Stein and he seems so genuinely enthralled about the food and people around him, as if he too, like his audience, is learning and tasting things for the first time. Perhaps it was this show that first inspired a love of France – the countryside, the people, the language, but most importantly, the food.
brandy poured on prunesprunes soakingpastry base
When the show ended we bought the cookbook and after that our collection of French cookbooks seemed to expand – each one offering new ingredients, new stories and new recipes. But every year or so we come back to Rick Stein’s French Odyssey sometimes for a recipe, but often to look at the pictures and to read the words or the funny inscriptions Georgie and I wrote to Mum Christmas 2005.

Mother, my dearest,
This is your Christmas present
for you to use in 2006.
Make lots of dishes so delicious
our lips will be forever licked
Entrées and mains,
with this book you’ll be skipping
through French country lanes.
Savoury, sweet or sour,
everyone knows their mouths will devour!

Before Georgie came home for the summer she emailed us a “List of Delicious-ness,” all the things she would like for us to eat over the summer. Georgie wished for Caribbean pie, lamb and potato curry, Thai beef salad, chocolate self-saucing pudding, roast lamb, pork chops with caramelised apples and onions. Most of the items on the list are firm family favourites that we have been cooking and eating for years and like favourite films and books, none ever tire. I don’t dare to hazard a guess at how many times my mother has made lamb and potato curry. Every time all four of us sit down to a meal, the table set and wine poured, it feels so very long since the last time and even longer since this was habit and normal and the only thing we really knew.
Georgie and IPrunes in light
I have been thinking about what I wrote a few months ago about working and what my working life will look like as it begins to take shape. I thought perhaps I would never have a regular 9 to 5 job, that perhaps I would always have irregular hospitality hours and irregular writing hours on the side. But it’s becoming clear that what I value and look forward to is cooking and eating, most especially dinners. Dinners are great. Irregular hours here and there are not conducive to great dinners, or even dinners at all.
scattered prunesprunes ready for almond brandy mixthick brandy almond cream
So for Georgie’s last night in Wellington we had a great dinner, entrée and dessert taken from Rick Stein’s French Odyssey and the main event taken from Paris, another one of our French focused books. For the entrée Dad and I made seared scallops served on a muddle of lentils with a herb tomato sauce. The lentils were savoury and knubbly, the tomato sauce was bright and garden fresh and the scallops were sweet and tender. For the main course Mum made spiced duck with creamy, wilted, beautiful savoy cabbage. Then Georgie and I made prune and almond tart to honour the list of delicious-ness.
ribbons of brandy almond fillinggolden tart
The pastry is short, almost shatteringly so, with a rich and buttery flavour. The prunes are meltingly tender, moist jubes of brandy sweetness. Then the almond, in its traditional almond role, pulls everything together, balances it out, gives the tart substance and body. The almonds, the brandy, the succulent semi-dried fruit remind me of Christmas flavours. And Christmas in our house really only means one thing – family dinners (and breakfasts and morning teas and lunches and afternoon teas and evening nibbles…)
prune studded tartdessert
This tart recipe reminds me of the economy of many French dishes. While at first glance the ingredients list may appear daunting and the instructions a bit winded, the case is often a little of a lot. This recipe uses only 4 tablespoons of brandy (we add more, as can be seen in our adapted version below), 35 grams of ground almonds and 55 grams of sugar. There is moderation to be found in French cuisine, which Rick Stein I think understands so very well.

Prune Almond Tart
Adapted from Rick Stein’s recipe. Many thanks to Georgie for the gorgeous photos.

300 grams dried or half-dried (mi-cuit) prunes
6 tablespoons brandy
1 large egg, lightly beaten
35 grams ground almonds
55 grams caster sugar
250 grams crème fraîche
icing sugar, for dusting
Extra crème fraîche to serve

Pastry:
225 grams plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
130 grams chilled butter, cut into pieces
1.5 – 2 tablespoons chilled water

For the pastry:
Sift the flour and salt into a food processor or a mixing bowl. Add the pieces of chilled butter and work together until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. With the processor running on low or with the blade of the knife if making pastry manually, stir in the water until it comes into a ball. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead briefly until smooth.

For the filling:
Place the prunes in a medium bowl and pour over the brandy. Leave to soak for at least one hour, turning them over every now and then to help them soak up the alcohol.
Roll out the pastry on floured surface and then line a greased tart tin, roughly 25 cm across the base. Prick the base with a fork and chill for 20 minutes.
Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Line the pastry base with baking paper and a layer of rice or baking weights and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and bake for another 4-5 minutes. Remove the pastry base and brush with a little of the beaten egg before returning to the oven for a further 2 minutes. Remove the tart, set aside and lower the temperature to 190°C.
Pick the prunes out of their brandy bath and scatter them on the pastry base. To the brandy add the ground almonds, egg, sugar and crème fraîche and beat until smooth. Pour the almond mixture over the prunes and bake for 45 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the centre of the tart comes away clean.

Dust with icing sugar and serve warm or at room temperature with crème fraîche, yoghurt or whipped sweetened cream.

Goodness, that last post was a bit heavy going.

My intention is never to sound political or preachy about food; those conversations can be had via different mediums. This space is simply for the pleasure of good food. So, today let’s talk about cream – beautiful, luxurious, voluptuous cream.
Roasted rhubarb, strawberry punnet, lemon brandy cream
Cream is effortlessly elegant, I think. I love the mouth feel of cream, the softness of the dairy and the savoury richness as it coats my lips. Even when poured onto a dessert or into coffee straight from the bottle with barely a shake, the cream seems to say, “forgive me, dear, for my casual attire.” The jeans and t-shirt of the cream wardrobe.

Cream is so easily transformed from a basic accompaniment to a dessert in itself like rhubarb fool or a frozen parfait. We made syllabub this summer, a light, brandy-spiked cream dessert when strawberries, cream and brandy were a near permanent fixture of our kitchen.
Diced strawberriesSummer redStrawberries and cream
My mother has a forest green ring-bound folder for her recipes. My sister and I have added a few over the years, our handwriting changing with each entry but most of the recipes are written in my mother’s fat, round teacher hand with a little indicator at the top of the page as to the origins of the recipe. We don’t consult this folder much these days; it has become habit to first look through the glossy, well authored cookbooks when seraching for a recipe. So this book, this understated green folder, feels like a memoir of my favourite childhood foods: chocolate caramel slice, weet-bix slice, Jill’s zucchini cake, best ever cheese scones and chocolate oat cookies. Somewhere between chocolate caramel slice and Gaye’s chocolate cake is a recipe for lemon syllabub.
Roasted rhubarb, poached strawberries
I’ve always liked the word, syllabub. Silly bub. Sybil, the silly bub, eats syllabub. It rolls and plays off the tongue in a child-like way. Although for most of my younger years, perhaps even before this summer, I only had the vaguest idea of what syllabub really is. I knew my mother had served it for dinner parties; it sounded exotic and sophisticated, as things are prone to sound when you’re only 8 or 9. Had I tried it, brandy and all, I’m sure I would have loved it.
folded and whippedbest-dressed dessert
But this summer, this best-dressed cream dessert is a new favourite. Cream, like yoghurt and butter, holds other flavours so well, folding them together and nurturing their finest qualities – the warmth of the brandy, the sweet of the strawberries, the tart of the lemon, the sour of the yoghurt. Good enough to eat with a teaspoon from the mixing bowl, but cream so glammed up benefits from a bit of ceremony.

Strawberry Yoghurt Syllabub

We served this syllabub with roasted rhubarb and strawberries, but could also be eaten by itself, perhaps with a dessert biscuit or as dressing for a cake.

250 millilitres cream
1 heaped teaspoon icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
3 teaspoons brandy
grated zest of half a lemon
8-10 strawberries, finely diced
1 cup yoghurt

In a medium bowl place the cream, icing sugar and vanilla essence. Beat until very softly whipped. Add the lemon zest and brandy and continue to beat until just soft. Fold in the strawberries and the yoghurt.

Enjoy.