Archives for posts with tag: spice

It takes me a while sometimes to recall the good food I ate as a child. If prompted for fond food memories I probably couldn’t tell you a great deal but over time moments from the past come to mind. Sometimes I forget it’s been a fair few years since I was seven and there’s not a hope of me remembering every evening meal and lunchbox packed. Sometimes this thought saddens me, other times, I find it a relief.

salad time

But I remember our kitchen, small and pokey with heavy wooden drawers and a smooth white door frame between the kitchen a round wooden table. I can’t remember the frame ever having a door but for me it was a climbing frame as I gripped my way to the top and would perch, my back pressed against one side, my bare feet firmly planted on the other, talking to my mother in the kitchen. I never fell.

This kitchen was eventually expanded, my climbing frame busted down and the room opened out. In the new kitchen and the old one and I suppose the other kitchens in other houses that have come since, the same sort of things happened. Hundreds of sandwiches would have been made in my childhood kitchen, oranges peeled and apples chopped, cereal poured. There would have been chocolate cake and banana cake, lasagne and roast chicken, lamb chops, mashed potatoes, tomato on toast, spaghetti bolognaise or meatballs, sausages – family food.

spring rootschickpeas and coriander

I remember special occasion foods – the marmalade glaze on the Christmas ham, the time Mum butterflied and roasted lamb and we ate outside in the middle of a summer day, roasting marshmallows in the flames of the brazier on summer nights. I’ll remember for always the avocado halves with slithers of cold smoked salmon we ate for Christmas entrée several years.

seedsdiced carrots

We had a few traditions too which I remember fondly. Every Saturday morning all four of us would do the supermarket shopping together. Even now, a family trip to the supermarket seems something to be celebrated, even if it’s just to buy yoghurt and bread. But those Saturday mornings were precious, if not exactly for wandering the aisles, but for what came after – Scottish malt loaf, toasted and slathered in butter. Our supermarket’s bakery section made the loaf, my Dad’s favourite, and often on a Saturday morning the bread would still be warm, the raisins soft and plump and the malty flavour almost caramel, the just overdone sort of caramel with near-savoury tones.

Another tradition: to shyly mock my Dad when he made his long-term go-to dinner, the same dinner he made on his cooking nights when flatting – grilled lamb chops with boiled and buttered potatoes, curried carrots and a green vegetable of some sort. Mock is not the right word, I’m not sure what is really, for we never complain – you cannot go wrong with grilled lamb chops and my Dad’s curried carrots are as good as they come. Perhaps mocking, lovingly, was our way of saying thanks for cooking Dad.

But in my food life, what has been as perennial as the grass, are my mother’s salads. She makes a darn good salad. Her green salad – mixed greens + anything really (feta, red onions, fresh or sun-dried tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, apple…), the house salad, as so aptly named by Food Loves Writing, continues to be good and I’ve been eating this sort of salad for most of my life. Her roast vegetable salad, potato salad, left-over-chicken salad, warm lamb salad, beetroot salad, fruit salad, rice salad, quinoa salad, any salad Mum puts her hand to is fresh and inviting, appealing and nourishing.

carrots and spicetossorange

I learned from watching and helping Mum make salads that anything, anything in your fruit bowl, pantry or fridge, can contribute to the texture and vitality of a salad. Take this roasted carrot and chickpea salad – a can of chickpeas and the bung up carrots from the market – but together with a little bit of manipulation, cajoling, becomes something else entirely, something quite wonderful.

toasted chicksprinkled with spice

The carrots, tossed in aromatic spices, were roasted until a dusky orange while chickpeas were toasted lightly in a dry pan, the pattern they formed in the pan reminding me of an open sunflower. Big handfuls of parsley and coriander were chopped up roughly with jagged edges and the kitchen smelled fresh. I drizzled oil and ground salt and pepper over pumpkin seeds and sunflowers, these toasted in the frypan so well they almost didn’t make the salad. A spring onion for crunch and oomph, then a strong, citrus dressing. Everything together, the spices, the herbs, the buttery warmth of spiced roast carrots, the ting of citrus, the salty crunch of seeds and the smooth nutty chickpeas make every bite bright.

roasted carrot and chickpea salad

This salad is for keeps, like my mother’s.

Roasted Carrot and Chickpea Salad

3 carrots, diced
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons oil
1 can chickpeas (about 400 grams)
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
1 handful fresh coriander and parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 lemon, rind and juice

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Place the carrots in a bowl with the spices and oil, toss until well combined. Pour onto an oven tray and bake for roughly 25 minutes or until tender.

Heat a frying pan. Drain the chickpeas and rinse well. Place in the hot pan and toss until warmed and slightly toasty. Place the chickpeas in a bowl with the roasted carrots, sliced spring onion and the roughly chopped herbs. Stir lightly.

Mix the seeds with a little oil, salt and pepper, then toast in a hot pan until quivering with heat. Sprinkle the seeds over the chickpeas and carrots.

Zest the lemon into a jar, add the lemon juice with a glug of oil and shake well. Pour over the salad.

Enjoy.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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.

We have been living in our little house for a year now, about the same time as I have been writing this blog. There are quirks to this house, as there are with any old house. Wooden houses built pre-1900 on a fault line are perhaps what real-estate agents call “character homes.”

Draws don’t slide smoothly, windows don’t properly meet with their frames, and doors sometimes swing open or stay firmly stuck. There is natural ventilation: curtains sway as the breeze whistles through the cracks and broken seals of our windows and doors. During an earthquake it is the noise our house makes that scares me the most – glass rattles and the wooden joints seem to push and pull away from each other in deafening tones.

But here we have had dinner parties, planted a garden, drunk coffee and eaten brunch on the balcony, blasted dirty country music to the traffic and runners of Thorndon. There are often flowers on the mantel piece, or new things on our walls – feather masks made by Francesca, cake  plates, posters, mirrors, teaspoons. We like that people like our little house.

For the days we spent moving into our flat I made jam doughnut muffins. Despite the name, these muffins are light, moreish really. I like the process by which you create the “doughnut” effect: dip their rounded tops in melted butter and roll them through cinnamon sugar. These muffins feel carefully made, more so than the ‘whip up in 10 minutes variety.’ I like breaking them apart to reveal their dark pink jam centre.

My mother is good at making muffins and we have them for many occasions, but for me, muffins seem synonymous with busy days. Days for painting, or working outside, for long ambling walks, or picnics, or for car trips. And for days spent packing, sorting and heavy lifting.

I baked these muffins again, as a one year anniversary of living here. Now I only need for this flat to be full of people again.

Jam Doughnut Muffins

This recipe comes from an old fundraising muffin book for Kimi Ora School in Thorndon. We have been making these muffins for as long as I can remember.

1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup canola or sunflower oil
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
jam

For the topping:
1/2 cup melted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Grease or line a muffin tray. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon in a bowl. In a separate bowl mix thoroughly the oil, first measure of sugar, the egg and the milk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid. Mix until just combined. Fill half of each muffin hole with batter then place a half teaspoon of jam in the centre. Top with another teaspoon of batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Shake out muffins while hot and dip the top in melted butter followed by the cinnamon-sugar. Leave to cool.

Enjoy x

A vegetable drawer clean out prompted this soup; a stray spring onion, a half leek, spinach just shy of becoming limp. It was late when I began cooking, nearly 9 o’clock, and the slow steaming of leek and onions sounded so appealing. My soups very rarely follow a recipe. I go by ingredients on hand and a desire for texture and consistency; thick and creamy, or more of a thin broth.

This soup is of the broth variety with sweet cubes of kumara* and thick strips of spinach. The leek, spring onion and brown onion were cooked slowly to retain their soft green colour and gentle flavour. Red and golden kumara were simmered with the onions and chicken stock until just cooked and slightly toothsome. I tossed in half a bay leaf and a few sprigs of thyme, adding a depth of flavour to the chicken stock. A final grating of ginger cut through the richness of the stock. This very subtle heat sits snugly at the back of your mouth, a reminder that there is goodness here.

For a an extra flourish I made a yoghurt sauce with a squeeze of lemon juice, ground cumin and parsley. This could add a finishing touch to so many dishes – curries and vegetable stews, baked potatoes, a dipping sauce for vegetable crudités, even other soups of the classical sort. A swirl of this fresh yoghurt through pumpkin or roasted mushroom soup would be refreshing. Feel free to change the herb, or the spice for something more mellow, or more upbeat.

Not bad for a fridge raid supper.

Sweet Onion, Kumara and Spinach Soup
Soups are such a lovely thing to make; once you have the basic formula you can change the ingredients and quantities as you please. I like a soup that seems to stradle the lines between soup and stew but you could puree it once cooked for something most definitely in the soup camp. Like I said, I don’t really follow a recipe so the words below are more of a general guide.

Oh and, * kumara is sweet potato for all non-kiwi readers.

a knob of butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium brown onion
1-2 spring onions
3 cloves garlic
1/2 to a whole leek
3-5 kumara, red, golden or brown
chicken or vegetable stock, 500-750ml, heated
thyme sprigs, bay leaf
a thumb sized piece of ginger
a large handful or two of spinach

In a large pot heat the butter and oil over low-medium heat. Slice the leek and the onions into half rounds then into thin strips. Add to butter and oil and stir to coat. Slice the spring onion into thin rounds and add to pot. Finely dice the garlic and add to onions. Cook slowly until soft.

Dice kumara into 1-2cm cubes and add to the onions. Cover the pot and cook the kumara for a few minutes. Add the stock until barely covering the vegetables. Throw in the herbs and grate half the ginger into the soup. Place the rest of the ginger whole into the pot. Bring to the boil and simmer until the kumara is just cooked. (This will depend how finely diced the kumara is so keep checking, maybe 10-15 minutes.) Roughly chop the spinach and stir through the soup until just wilted. Remove from heat.

For the yoghurt sauce mix 4 tablespoons yoghurt, a few leaves of finely chopped parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice, a couple of pinches salt and a half teaspoon of cumin. Stir well.

Dollop a generous spoonful on top of the soup and serve with crusty bread.

My walk to university each morning takes me through Lambton Quay, Willis street, Manners Street and Cuba Street, the trunk line of Wellington. Lambton Quay at 8am is full of dark suits and high heels clipping on the brick paving. Men and women wrap their hands around take-away coffee cups, heads down, off to work. But on Cuba Street everything looks different. The sun is beginning to hit the top of the buildings at this time of the morning and the street is a patchwork of sun and shadow. On Cuba Street people drink their coffee indoors, some might even call this brunch.

I notice the people first of all. I smiled to myself when I saw the man who looked like he had stepped off the set of a Beatles video; he was bearded and had a certain swagger about him. He was eating a cupcake with mint blue coloured frosting which was falling through his beard. There was a man twirling and waxing his dreadlocks on a park bench. There is the sad looking woman who I imagined was beautiful at a point in her life, before whatever demons she now has took hold. The colourful hippies set up shop on a blanket selling their crochet hats and knotted bracelets. There are buskers – people are literally singing and dancing in the street. You might see men drinking flat whites from beer handles, or the American card trick guy, his black top hat visible above the heads of school girls gathered around him, or the woman who is dressed every day from head to toe in army camouflage.

I pass by the bucket fountain with its splish-splosh inelegance and clunky lack of grace. I walk past Matterhorn; the black sandwich board outside with a chalk drawing of a steaming coffee and an open packet of cigarettes appears a false representation of the top notch food served inside. Further up is Olive and Midnight Espresso. Then Logan Brown with its bright red door and Floriditas with their drooping lights and swirly wall paper: beacons of the Wellington culinary scene.

I look at the buildings now too. They took a while to notice, not because they aren’t beautiful – I think these buildings are some of the most beautiful in Wellington – but because we never seem to look up while we walk. So, look up, I tell you. I see a vast array of colours, the intricate details and a mix of past and present.

Near the top of Cuba street I look for the changing spaces. The new grafitti art, the new posters and footpath stickers. I watch every day as one shop begins to close down and a new gallery is built. Day by day I have seen this gallery space become whole – last week the floor tiles were unveiled and the walls are now a clean white.

As Cuba Street ends there is the Kreuzberg summer café. Their menu is titled Good Things and they sometimes have $5 Pimm’s cup during happy hour. I like that. The road here, for a long time, was artfully decorated in white paint splatters. Shooting drops radiated from a large splodge of paint. A paint can or bucket must have dropped from the construction site above. I would have like to have seen that.

Around the corner on Hopper street is the Supreme Coffee Factory. This is where my walk gets really good, for the air is filled with the most incredible scent. If the wind is right and its suitably early, the smell of roasting coffee beans drifts around you. It smells of melting chocolate, bitter coffee, burnt toast, baking biscuits and maybe a little bit of burning rubber. It smells hot and bittersweet and slightly acrid. I love it, it’s the high point of my walk, this smell.

During these autumn days, in the morning when the sun is low, I want to sit on the concrete wall by the Supreme Factory, near the electrician’s shop, the council flats and the abandoned bathroom showroom. I would sit there, not worrying about being late for class, because in this part of town, punctuality doesn’t matter. I would unwrap those biscuits you see up there. They have the air of an ANZAC biscuit, but with the heat of ginger and the sticky sweetness of dates and sultanas. They match the smell in the air, although, they would be equally well matched with a proper coffee, in a proper cup. But, hey we are near Cuba street, things are different here.

I’ve never been much of a biscuit person. My father makes a darn tasty chocolate oat cookie. Two batches are never the same but that is part of their charm. I like the idea of a biscuit – a single entity, everything you need, and everything that is good, in one spoonful of dough. And yet, I prefer cake, something which can be eaten with a fork and yoghurt or cream. Cake feels like more of an event.

But here are those biscuits. They have a bit of chew, a bit of crisp. It may seem like a lot is going on in these biscuits. But then, like Cuba Street, they just seem to work and to win your over with their slight eccentricities. They may very well become my biscuit of choice.

Date and Ginger ANZAC Biscuits

150 grams butter, softened
200 grams soft brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
1 1/4 cups flour
6-8 dates
25 grams sultanas
1 tablespoon golden syrup
4 tablespoons warm water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
sunflower seeds/pumpkin seeds/slivered almonds (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 180°. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Cream butter and sugar together until smooth. Add ground ginger and beat for 2 minutes more. Add oats, coconut and flour. Mix through – it may be easier to use your hands at this point. Roughly chop the dried fruit. Place in a small saucepan with the warm water and golden syrup. Heat, stirring occasionally until just bubbling. Remove from heat and add the baking soda. Stir. Pour the hot fluffy mixture into the biscuit dough and mix well.

Spoon dough into walnut sized balls and place a suitable distance apart. Flatten ever so slightly with a wet fork. In the grooves from the fork sprinkle a pinch of sunflower seeds/slivered almonds/pumpkin seeds or a mixture of them all. Place in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes or until nicely golden. Remove from ovena dn allow the biscuits to cool for 5 minutes on the baking tray before moving to a cooling rack. They will feel quite soft but they crisp up as they cool.

Enjoy with coffee, in whatever form you take it, or tea. Or any other beverage!

Fruit bread holds a certain healing power in my mind. It must be heavily spiced and laden with fruit. These sorts of breads, whether buns or loaves, speak of comfort and cups of tea, a sunday afternoon wrapped in a blanket watching movies. A few weeks ago I received two text messages in less than a hour from friends telling me how their days had been improved, or could be improved, with fruit toast. Not even chocolate has the same capacity to bring such homely comfort.

It may seem I have missed my opportunity for spiced fruit bread immediately after Easter when I am sure many of us have eaten our fill of hot cross buns. Though, in saying that, I could live on spiced fruit bread. Every Easter I gorge myself on hot cross buns. I can’t get enough. Cut in half and toasted, slathered with butter and jam. Or heated in the microwave with thin slices of butter already inside the bun so the slightly salted butter melts within the bread. I like the hot cross buns that are so loaded with fruit and candied peel they appear almost undercooked and soggy.

Hot cross buns come and go so quickly, like other autumnal delights – feijoas, quince, radish. When Easter is over I wonder why hot cross buns aren’t available year round, knowing full well that hot cross buns hold such magic only because of their brief appearance. But dried fruit embedded in heavily spiced bread can be eaten any time of year. Think of this raisin bread as a hair of the dog type treatment to get us over Easter, and if you are this way inclined, this bread may keep you going until next year’s buns roll around.

Lois Daish’s raisin bread is from her beautiful book A Good Year. This is a book I have written about before; a book that appears rather plain until you start flicking through and realise you could quite easily make every recipe. It is a book I turn to often, sometimes just to read, because not only are the recipes wonderful, so are the words which describe them.

Daish makes this raisin bread in April which is rather fitting, not only for its Easter connotations but we are also just beginning to get cold here. The leaves are starting to change and the wind has a bite to it. The next time it rains the gutters will flood, the water bursting its dried-leaf banks. It is a nice time of year to make bread.

There is something quite special about making bread, coaxing the dough along, keeping it safe and warm, only then to knead and pummel it, lovingly so, but pummel it nonetheless. Bread making is a soothing process and the home-maker in me revels in it.

There is also something in the taste of home made bread, something quite different to store-bought or bakery bread. The yeast taste is a bit like the malty, hoppy after taste of home brewed ginger beer. The yeast has some weight to it, it seems to anchor all the other flavours of the bread, sort of rounding them out. I imagine yeast to be like the little baker within the bread, kneading and pushing all the actors together, the flour, spices, currants and sultanas, rallying the troups so to speak. I guess that’s the role of yeast in any baking but the flavour of the home baked variety is lovely.

I took two thick slices to eat on my way to work the other day. They barely fit in the toaster but crisped up wonderfully. It was the perfrect start to my day. I thought about texting my friends about my bread, but it was not yet 7am. Even in the name of fruit bread, that might have been too much.

Thank you dear Georgie for the lovely photographs.

Lois Daish’s Raisin Bread
Adapted from A Good Year

The original recipe made two loaves so I halved the quantities but added more spices and more dried fruit. Next time I will add even more, perhaps some candied peel too. Daish made her bread in an electric mixer, using dough hooks and beaters but I do love hand kneading.

2 tablespoons Surebake yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup milk
85 grams butter, cut into thin slices
1 egg
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
425 grams high grade white flour
1 to 1.5 cups raisins, currants or sultanas (or a mixture of these)

To Glaze:
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon sugar

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a small bowl and set aside for about 10 minutes. Put the milk in a pot and heat unitl lukewarm. Pour the milk into a large bowl, add the chopped butter. When the butter has almost melted add the egg, sugar, salt, spices and yeast mixture. Whisk to combine. Add about half of the flour and continue to whisk until a smooth batter forms. Add the remaining flour and the dried fruit, mix until just combined then turn onto a lightly floured bench. Knead until smooth. Cover the dough with a damp towel and place somewhere warm to rise for 3 hours, or until doubled in bulk.

Turn the risen dough onto a lightly floured bench and lightly knead. Form dough into an oblong shape and place in a large buttered loaf tin. Cover the loaf tin with the damp cloth and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. While the dough rises preheat the oven to 220°C. Put the risen loaf in the oven. After 15 minutes, lower the heat to 190°C and bake for a further 25 minutes or until the loaf is deeply browned. (I covered my loaf in tin foil for the last 5 minutes.)

While the bread is baking make the glaze by heating the milk then stir through the sugar until dissolved. Remove the bread from the oven, tip onto a cooling rack and brush on the glaze.

Eat fresh or toasted. This loaf freezes well and can be toasted straight from the freezer.

 My mother is not much of a sweet dessert person. She enjoys the flavour of ginger, vanilla, lemon, raspberries and blueberries. If my mother has chocolate it is dark and bitter with cocoa. She would be perfectly happy with a strong piece of cheese, a few oat crackers and maybe a handful of grapes or slices of firm pear.

When it comes to cakes, simple is best. Fruits are the stars of these cakes: pears, plums, oranges or apples. They are very rarely big cakes, never the sort with a few centimetres of icing on top. They are of the understated flat variety, like wide discs. Perhaps with a drizzle icing, a shake of icing sugar, or nothing at all.

For my mother’s birthday last week I made Nigel Slater‘s English Apple Cake from his book, The Kitchen Diaries. This is perhaps my most loved cook book. It is simple in its progression through the year. A northern hemisphere year but easily translated. In February there is slow roast lamb with chickpea mash, a treacle tart, a recipe for sausage and black pudding with baked parsnips. In May there are orange and ricotta pancakes, a white bean and tarragon soup and salmon and dill fishcakes. The book is written like a diary, each recipe has an introduction; the inspiration for the recipe, or what occasion it marked. Some entries contain no recipe at all but are titled “A feast of plums” or “An extravagant supper of rare beef, red salad and cheeses.” I love that the word supper describes nearly every dinner dish in the book. Let’s have supper.

The English Apple Cake I made for my mother was perfectly fine. It was light and reasonably moist. The cake itself had the pleasing taste of a simple butter cake while the apples on top were slightly stewed and sweet all of their own accord. But I wanted something a little bit more. There is a reason why most apple cake recipes call for cinnamon, mixed spice, or ginger, or chopped dates, broken walnuts, or rolled oats and brown sugar; apple cakes are better with these flavours.

So I made another cake. The equal parts of butter to sugar to flour is a simple cake base to work with and embellish as you please. Apple and Ginger this time, perfect for a blustery autumn day. The warming smell of ginger and the sweet scent of apples was almost overwhelming. It was maple syrupey and slightly heady with spices. This cake was for our friend Jason on his birthday. We had a wonderful birthday dinner on Monday night: a Pegasus Bay riesling with blue cheese and brie to start, then Ollie and Jason’s famous roast chicken and this little cake for dessert with sloppy whipped cream.

We lit birthday candles, Jason made a wish, and then it was gone. This cake barely touched our plates. My mother (and Mr. Slater) would enjoy it.

Apple and Ginger Cake
Adapted from Nigel Slater

130 grams butter
130 grams brown sugar
2 eggs
130 grams plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground ginger, plus 1 teaspoon for apples
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 small knob of fresh ginger, finely grated
2 medium apples, un-peeled & diced
juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons sugar, brown or white
1/2 cup roughly chopped crystallised ginger

Pre-heat oven to 180°. Line a small, shallow round or square tin of about 24 cm. Cream butter and sugar together until lighter in colour, about 4-5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat well after each addition. Sieve dry ingredients and stir through the mixture until just combined. Scrap mixture into tin. Set aside.

In a separate bowl toss together diced apples, lemon juice, sugar and the extra ground ginger. Sprinkle apples on top of the cake with the chopped crystallised ginger. Bake for 45-50 minutes until the batter is golden at the edges and the centre is no longer gooey.

Serve warm with thick yoghurt or whipped cream.

I went for a walk this morning around the waterfront. The harbour was flat, not a sparkly-blue-come-jump-in-me sort of flat but more a dull flat, like the sea was bored. There were hardly any runners, or tourists, or families on Crocodile Bikes. There were a couple of men standing around orange road cones looking at graffiti. There were a few rowers out, their coach standing on the edge of the walkway doing a strange sort of rower Thai chi towards them. I wondered when this walk, this mundane exercise, would be over. Just as I thought that another far more exciting thought entered my head: BRUNCH! Or, more specifically, apple and oat fritters.

I walked home with a renewed sense of vigour, planning the recipe in my head as I went. I was thinking of thick fritters, flecked with the red and green of grated apple, spiced with cinnamon and sweet with honey and apricots. Would it be melodramatic to say that the harbour suddenly seemed more exciting, more blue, more alive with activity??

The basic recipe for these fritters comes from Chocolate and Zucchini. I’ve made this carrot version a few times with oats, leaving out the nutritional yeast and using an egg as a binder. (As long as the eggs are good quality and from free range hens I see no reason to leave them out of my diet.)

Once home, I soaked several chopped dried apricots in a cup of hot water with a tablespoon of honey. In a bigger bowl I mixed 100 grams of rolled oats, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of allspice. I grated one and a half apples. After 15 or so minutes the apricots were softened slightly and nicely sweetened. I stirred the apricots, honey-water and apples into the oats. Taste a pinch at this point, for sweetness. Mix through a beaten egg, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

In the fridge the rolled oats absorb the sweet, spicey, appley water, growing larger and softer, sticking together like Bircher muesli mush. Mmm, doesn’t that sound nice? But, then you melt a knob of butter in a fry pan and mould a heaped spoonful of oat mush into palm sized fritters into the pan. Distract yourself for a moment; empty the dishwasher or make a pot of coffee. Look back at your fritters and see the oats near the heat of the pan begin to bind together as if made with flour. The oat fritters develop a delectable crisp outside with a soft, mealy centre.

I served these oat fritters with yoghurt and a drizzle of apricot jam. Around the plate I sprinkled a small handful of roughly chopped cinnamon sugared almonds which Francesca made. (Recipe to come – they are addictive.)

Makes about 5-6 fritters.