Archives for posts with tag: brandy

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

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.


I remember my Nana once complaining about the awful oil slick of a carrot cake she had eaten at a department store in town. It looked perfectly good in the cabinet, she said, and then once served on a plate, the oil practically spilled from its cut sides, leaving a sticky sheen on the plate.

I think of this story every time I make a carrot cake, and I have made a fair few carrot cakes. They are of the high, well risen, fruit, nut and spice variety with a generous spread of cream cheese frosting. Never have they been too oily, thank goodness, but they do pack a punch – that cream cheese frosting can really get to you.Recently while watching re-runs of Nigella Kitchen I saw her demonstrate a recipe for a more simple carrot cake, one with no frosting at all. It had sultanas soaked in brandy, was made with olive oil and almost marigold in colour. But in all honesty, what appealed to me most was the way Nigella whispered and sighed her description of the cake as a modest disc, one that will damply crumble as you cut it.

If modest disc and damply crumble do not make you swoon slightly at the thought of it, then let me add this: the cake is almost custard-like in texture, soft and sweet. The sultanas burst with the rich flavour of cooked brandy. As for the olive oil, ground almonds and carrots, each one is wholesome in their own right but together they are a tri-factor of earthy sweetness. On top of the cake are bark-like shards of almond for a toothsome crunch.I can’t imagine an occasion for which the former style of carrot cake – the big hulking sort with an inch of rich icing – would be more suitable than this soft and delicate version. My Nana would have loved this cake – not least for the sultanas simmered in brandy.

Venetian Carrot Cake
A Nigella Lawson recipe

According to Nigella, this version of carrot cake was made by Jews in the Venetian Ghetto during the time of the Venetian Republic.

2 medium carrots
75 grams sultanas
60ml brandy or rum
150 grams caster sugar
125ml regular olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
250 grams ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 lemon finely grated zest and juice
a small handful whole almonds or slivers

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a 23cm springform tin with baking paper and brush the sides with olive oil.

Coarsely grate the carrots then wrap them in a double layer of kitchen towels to soak up excess liquid. Set aside.

Put the sultanas and the brandy or rum in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Set aside.

Whisk the sugar and olive oil until pale and well combined. Add the vanilla extract, eggs and whisk again. When well mixed fold in the ground almonds, nutmeg, grated carrots, sultanas (and brandy left in the saucepan), and the lemon zest and juice.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface. Roughly chop the whole almonds and sprinkle over the top of the cake. Place cake in oven for 30-40 minutes (mine cooked for closer to 45 minutes and was still very moist in the centre), or until the top is golden and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let the cake sit in its tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes before releasing the spring then leaving to cool.

Serve with cream or yoghurt.