Archives for the month of: May, 2013

citrussimple lemon cake

Ever since I made Skye Gyngell’s lemon and poppyseed cake last year I have been meaning to share our standard, go-to lemon cake recipe. It’s so understated that we often forget it about. But the recipe, copied in my mother’s hand into the green binder, shows it came from a 1998 issue of Cuisine magazine. We have been making this cake, and often forgetting about it, for nearly 15 years. You could say we’ve had small lemon cake revelations for 15 years.

recipe binderLimeWhen life hands you a lemon (lime)zest

This cake is little, almost pathetically so. But it’s light, moist and the lemon flavour is bang on the mark. This cake is of my favourite sort, the no-icing sort. Instead a sugar and lemon juice syrup is poured on the cake fresh from the oven. Like pouring brandy on a hot Christmas cake, this seems the most kindly of gestures for a cake. Like tying a child’s shoelace or wrapping a scarf around a loved one’s neck, it’s a small gesture but it makes a difference. The sugar forms a thin crust on top so there is the slightest crunch when you eat it, and if, like me, you never bother to strain your citrus juice, there are small bursts of lemon flesh scattered across the cake.

cut limejuicemore juice

I was going to began this post in what I feel follows a common thread amongst blog writers – the constant search for the better, different, more exciting, more challenging recipes, but then so often the family classics prove to be the best. If nothing else, these recipes are dependable. They can often be made in a jiffy, are very forgiving in terms of swapping this for that, and they please a crowd. These are all valid points and no reason at all to discredit the everyday and the dependable, but I’m beginning to see a trend in my kitchen.

lime juice and sugar syrupcake with bumpy edgesLemon cake

I made a crumble last week; rhubarb and apple with a spiced topping packed full of nuts and oats. I like my crumble to be a perfectly suitable substitute for breakfast, the crumble to be more liked baked muesli than dessert. With crumble I feel you can skimp on the sugar as long as the ratio of fruit to crisp is 2:1. You see, I’m intimate with the crumble. But the other dishes that make up a varied, diverse and exciting life? I’m less intimate with those.

There are so many opportunities to progress as a cook. I’m going to start reading cook books again, and actually cook from them. I’m going to experiment with flavours and ingredients.

On that note, I share with you a dead easy lemon cake recipe because, let’s face it, despite promises to be brave and fearless in the kitchen, we all need an easy lemon cake recipe up our sleeves.

Sugar and Lemon Cake

A quick note – I made this recipe with limes instead of lemons, so feel free to play around with the citrus. I didn’t have any milk so used lime juice instead. This worked out fine, except I think the extra fat from the milk helps to keep the cake moist and round out the flavours. Perhaps go half and half, milk and citrus juice, if after a stronger citrus flavour. The recipe below is the original.

125 grams butter
175 grams sugar
2 eggs, beaten
175 grams self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
zest of lemon
1/2 cup milk

juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons sugar

Pre-heat oven to 180°C and line a small 20 cm tin. Cream butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. Add the beaten eggs, a little at time, beating after each addition. Fold in the dry ingredients plus the lemon zest and the milk. Pour into prepared tin and bake for 35-45 minutes. (Check after 30 minutes depending on how much extra citrus you added.)

Stir together the sugar and lemon juice for the syrup. Pour over the hot, cooked cake. Leave to cool in tin, however, best served slightly warm.


Camp fireBeneath the tree

I found these photos on my phone this week – they’re a bit out of date, taken on a camping trip Perrin and I took in early December last year. It was a great weekend. We were in the middle of nowhere, well that’s what it felt like to me. I couldn’t tell you where was north or south and we drove a winding gravel road through farmland and scrubby bush to get to the little plot of land Perrin’s mother owns. We slept in a tent – boiling, sweating hot one night and absolutely freezing cold the next – and traipsed around in gumboots, bathed in a creek, dug a hole for the toilet – the whole 9 yards.

We had to slash down thigh-high thistles with an axe to navigate our campsite and we built a fire beneath the long, sweeping branches of a willow tree. In one corner of the property was an old, crumbling school house which looked as if a vagrant or two had taken shelter there over the years. The red brick chimney had fallen down so we negotiated the rotten floor boards to ferry bricks across the paddock to build a fire.

fireFire and logs

We roasted marshmallows on twigs whittled at the end to make a spike and we ate hot, greasy fried egg and bacon sandwiches on the first night. We wrapped potatoes in tin foil and when they were cooked, we broke them open to release the steam and nibble at the hot, fluffy insides. This sounds funny, but even now, 6 months later, I remember the potato tasting just how you imagine a potato to taste, savoury and earthy and clean, before you add the salt, pepper, butter, cheese, stock or herbs.

Marshmallows on sticksChocolate biscuit marshmallow sandwichfire streak onefire streak twofire streak three

The second day the drizzle cleared to be fine and hot. We found broken branches suitable for hiking sticks and walked through the nearby pine forest. The forest was filled with light streaming through the trees, giving everything a silvery touch. Wild goats ran along the path in front of us before they would dart up the hillside. There were fox gloves everywhere with slender, bell shaped purple flowers and bowed heads. We found an old boot on a tree stump and I wondered which forest worker had walked out with only one shoe on.

old bootwild goatsfox glovesfield of fox gloves

That night, because I’m a lucky lady, Perrin treated me to boil-up. Perrin waded in the creek to find the wild watercress, and we hacked two carrots and more potatoes with Perrin’s hunting knife. If approached like pot-au-feu I can see how boil-up would be great – potatoes, carrots, sausages or chops, and watercress in a broth. Salt would have been nice, but there is something humbling in eating so simply.

watercressboil-upour camp sitebon appetit

QuinceQuick! For those of you in New Zealand/southern hemisphere find some quince before winter truly takes hold. Make quince paste, jam or jelly, scrub the furry fruit, cut, roast and boil away, stock up for a whole winter of cheese boards. If you are like me at the moment this leap into action, this leap into the kitchen will be just the thing to anchor everything in place.

QuinceQuince and avocadoIt’s been busy around here: assignments, uni club, assignments, an internship, fundraising sausage sizzle, more assignments and occasionally I have found time to work for actual money which is nice, because you know, the rent doesn’t pay itself. And amongst all the writing about historical print journalism, the political economy of modern news media, the role of a copy-editor and the rules of punctuation, I have helped on photography shoots, defrosted a 5cm wall of ice from my freezer, listened on repeat to an eclectic playlist – Bruce Springsteen, Macklemore, Angus and Julia Stone, the Beach House, Fleetwood Mac.

I’ve had a freezing weekend away in Christchurch, and have been reading up on HTML code, because now seems as good a time as any to become a code geek. I have been reading short stories and essays by and on Katherine Mansfield and I have been devouring anything written by Joan Didion, and God could these women write! I have eaten more kebabs, pizza slices and take-out sushi in the past couple of weeks than I’d like to admit and between our flat and Georgie being at home in Wellington for over a week, I have shared more bottles of wine than I’d like to admit.

quince bathscrubbed quinceWhat I’m leading up to here is that the days have been full and apart from the people and the wine and the great literature I am growing tired of this year. My parents commented the other day about how fast the year is going, can we believe we are a third through 2013 already? I said quite loudly and with a melodramatic exhale of breath, “Thank God!” I feel quite indifferent to the routines of going to class, sitting in a lecture hall, moving from one computer desk to another, moving from one essay writing assignment to another. These feelings are not new or particular to only myself – I think all students feel this as uni wraps up and new projects seem within reach.

roasted and wrinkledpulled apartUnfortunately these feelings of indifference have weedled their way into the kitchen, hence the take-out sushi, kebabs and pizza. But food – good food, real food – has an ability to make us take notice. I’ve written this before, of food’s power to redirect our attention and our priorities.

Avocado and oilavocado, fig, bookAutumn produce has been worthy of attention. Fresh figs, feijoas, quince, the most crisp, tart cooking apples and sweet, juicy eating apples. Local pears, the flesh the softest I have ever eaten and new golden kiwifruit, rich and mellow, quite different to their acidic, green cousins. The last of my summer tomatoes – green and peppery, and four of the most beautiful avocados, so oily and rich, from the tree at the olive grove. In the northern hemisphere people are heralding the arrival of spring produce in all its green glory, but I think we simply like the change in seasons, the chance to honour something new.

avocado in halfgreen tomato and avocadoThis autumn quince proved to be most interesting to cook with. It seems I haven’t learned that raw quince is very sour and shouldn’t be consumed in its raw state, no matter how fragrant it smells or buttercup yellow it is. But cooked into a thick, dark pink paste the quince becomes sweet, the fragrance intensifies, like roses and apples. My kitchen smelled wonderful. Quince paste is a relatively time consuming task but on the day I made it there seemed to be nothing more remedial than standing at the bench peeling the skins from the roasted fruit or stirring gently at the stove.

ready to setQuince pasteQuince and cheesePerrin gave me the quince, passed on to him from a kindly fruit and vegetable shop owner up the road. The figs, scavenged from my neighbour’s tree (who perhaps does not realise figs are $22/kg, never picks them and let’s them ripen for the birds) were eaten in greedy, mischievous lust, ripped open to expose their pink beaded insides. While I stood in my kitchen stirring fruit paste I began to think about scavenged fruit, free fruit and reasons why it seems to feel special, treasured, honoured. Can we appreciate the downy skins of a quince or the crispness of an apple or the spurting juicy seeds of a tomato more when they come from somewhere we know? I don’t mean the supermarket we know, but if we can put a face, a place, a time, a field or a road to food I’m sure it’s likely to be more significant to the consumer and treated with all the respect it deserves.

So these are thoughts that occupy my mind at the moment – an argument for local, community eating. These thoughts and days spent at the stove are valuable and interesting. I make room for them, prioritise them, amongst everything else.

Lois Daish’s Quince Paste (Penny Porritt’s Quince Paste)

I love my Lois Daish book. Every time I look through it I vow to make a blog project out of it – to cook my way through the year with Lois Daish. As for Penny Porritt, I believe she was a Listener columnist at some point, but anyway Daish’s recipe comes from her.

Take your quince and scrub gently to remove the down. Place the whole fruit in a casserole pot or roasting dish and pour over 1/2 cup of water. Cover with a lid or tightly wrapped tin foil and bake at 150°C for 2-3 hours (closer to 3, I would say) until the fruit is pink and tender. Remove from the oven and when cool enough to handle, scrape off the skins, cut each quince in half and pull out the core.

Weigh the fruit and then purée in a blender or pass through a mouli. Place the pulp in a pot and measure out enough sugar to equal 3/4 the weight of the prepared quince. Add to the pan of purée and heat gently, stirring occasionally. Cook gently for about 45 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. The paste is ready when it is so thick that you can drag a wooden spoon through the mix and still see the bottom of the pot.

Lightly oil a shallow heatproof container – I used a similar sized dish that I would make a brownie or slice in. Cool the quince paste for a few minutes and then scrape into the dish. Smooth the top and put somewhere warm and dry for a day or two (I left it in my switched off oven). Once dried out, cut the paste into blocks, wrap in baking paper and store in a plastic container in the fridge.