May 30, 2011
When I was a little girl, we had a tree in the garden that produced the most beautiful blossoms I'd ever seen or smelt.
It wasn't the apple tree that grew hard, green specimens that were too tart to eat raw, or the plum tree that had the most amazing deep purple fruit that I've never come across since; but a pretty, low growing tree that in Autumn had great big, stunning, fragrant, furry, golden, knobby fruits hanging off it.
This was the quince tree.
A beautiful old-fashioned fruit that is truly seasonal and not often seen on menus nowadays. Maggie Beer loves it and makes a lovely paste to go with cheese, it's the source of the original marmalade- not oranges, and simply cannot be eaten raw as it is too astringent and not nice at all.
You can also mix quinces nicely in a savoury dish like a tagine- it goes beautifully with lamb and goat, and I believe I mentioned earlier how nicely it matches with cheese.
When quince is cooked, it undergoes a miraculous transformation. The fragrance and flavour reminds me ever so faintly of roses, and when cooked low and slow the colour deepens from creamy to a beautiful, burnished, deep pink.
Mum would usually cut around the horrible gritty parts at the core of the fruit, and stew the quince up on it's own or with apple to make a simple sweet to have with custard. If you cook it quickly, it still tastes nice, but doesn't have a chance to live up to it's true potential.
This is my favourite way to eat quince. Baked in the oven, slowly simmering in sweet sugar syrup. A more grown up and sophisticated version of the stewed fruit from my childhood.
Grab some nice ripe quinces. Most of their furry fuzz should have rubbed off and the fragrance should be discernible if they are nice and mature.
Peel them and drop them quickly into acidulated water to stop them oxidising and turning brown.
Now- this is very important- make sure you core them really well. You know how pears can be a bit gritty? Well quinces are the queen of grittiness! The flesh is lovely and smooth, but around the core there are nasty crunchy gritty bits that can spoil the sublime experience if you miss even the tiniest amount.
Slice them up, or leave them in halves for a more dramatic presentation.
Make a simple sugar syrup with 1 part sugar, 2 parts water, or to taste. Quince have a natural tartness that I find very appealing, and you don't want to overpower them and make them sickly. Sometimes with sweetness less is more. You can however, flavour the syrup with some spices or citrus peel to add a bit more mystique and intrigue.
Pour enough syrup to mostly cover the quinces and then either make a paper cartouche (see previous post) or wrap the pan in alfoil to stop it all evaporating away. If you chose to keep the pieces large like my halves, always place them presentation side down first, and then turn them over after about an hour and a half or so.
Bake the quinces at about 160* for a few hours and until you can slip a knife gently through the flesh with very little resistance.
Serve them warm with some lovely lactose free custard or ice cream, and drizzled with some of the pretty pink juices. No wonder that traditionally the quince is considered to be the 'apple' from the Garden of Eden.
So my dear Readers, can you be tempted with a quince or two?
This month is a Celebratory Month!
Not only did I have a Quite Significant Birthday, but it will also be my First Blogaversary too. Let the good times roll!
To help the party atmosphere I thought I'd have a couple of giveaways in the next few weeks.
On offer this week is a pack of two lovely pink themed Donna Hay Tea towels. So very pretty and really way too nice to wipe dishes with, but whose dishes don't deserve the best?
All you need to do to enter, is to leave a comment at the end of this post, that's it, easy huh? Oh- but you have to make sure I can contact you if you win, so no anonymous comments, OK.
I have really enjoyed this blogging adventure- despite recent Blogger issues like missing posts, grrrrr, and have met some lovely people along the way- like Celia, Anna,Kath, and have such a lovely core group of followers and readers who always make sure to comment. You have no idea how I appreciate you all Lovelies!
I also want to say a special thank you to Lorraine of Notquitenigella, who has commented on every single post from day one. Food blogs as a whole were really new to me, but hers was one I really enjoy and look forward to every morning, so I was so excited to check my poor little tentative first post and discover that Lorraine had condescended to comment on mine! I was so encouraged and haven't looked back since.
So Share the Love I say, and don't forget to comment to win!
May 24, 2011
Recently, I heard on the Blogvine about an interesting challenge going on over at Murdoch Books. They have a team working their way through Stephane Reynaud's '365 Good Reasons to Sit Down to Eat' Cookbook. This sounded like a fun idea, so I stuck my hand up and volunteered for a few of the recipes.
In a nutshell, you pick a few dishes you'd like to try, cook them on or before the day they are listed in the book, and send them in to the co coordinator who'll put up your post and pics a couple of days later. It's nice to think outside your square sometimes, and cook someone else's style, but luckily this first recipe I was given isn't too much of a stretch at all.
This is the link to the challenge for any of you who might want to check out how it's going.
What with working all week, fighting the flu, and a perpetually hungry family, when it came to cooking a recipe for this challenge I have to admit that I was glad I had one that was family dinner friendly as this killed two birds with one stone and gave me a bit of breathing space. I loved the sound of this one as lamb is our favourite meat and the veggies were a nice change from the usual potatoes and peas that my hubby craves.
So today, for your dining pleasure, we have Stephane Reynaud's Rack of Lamb with Pesto and Turnips.
3 Bunches baby Turnips
50 gr butter or dairy free spread
1 Tab sugar
Lamb rack with 8 Cutlets
Bunch of Rocket
80 gr Parmesan Cheese
Juice of a lemon
2 Garlic cloves
Salt and Pepper
Search as I might, there were just no turnips available anywhere this week. Decisions, decisions, what to do... I decided to go with some other yummy root vegetable to keep within the spirit of the recipe, cue the mystery spheres. Can you guess what they are? Swedes , of course. Swedes are not known for their subtlety, as they range in size from large to huge, and the original recipe called for baby turnips, so I cannily employed a melon baller to break them down into manageable mouthfuls. The green gems are baby Brussel Sprouts, just for a bit of veggie bling.
First I want to prep the vegetables. The Swedes are tough little suckers that will require a bit more time than called for in the original recipe, so I want those on first. All I did was peel the swede, then use a melon baller in the usual manner to create the spheres. The Brussels – I just realised we sound quite European with Swedes and Brussels, don’t we- are even easier to prepare, just pull off the top layer of leaves, trim the stem, and cut a small cross in the base of each stalk. Easy-peasy.
Place them in a pan, cover with water and add the butter and sugar. Cover with a bit of baking paper and cook on low heat until they’re cooked through.
Now, to the lamb. I got this lovely rack from my favourite butcher, and he nicely scored the outside and Frenched them for me- A third nation! This just means that the ends of the bones on the cutlets are exposed and cleaned off for presentation. Actually, this is one of the best parts, as the thin bits of meat go nice and crispy which I love, but they also burn really fast which will spoil the look the of the dish, hence the clean up. In the actual recipe, the racks are just popped into the oven for a bit, but as we know, there are racks, and there are Racks. This particular Rack is definitely a Double D. As with all racks of this size, it needs a bit of support to be at its’ best. To give mine a lift, I’m going to sear it well in a hot pan first to get a good bit of colour going and start the cooking process. A great kitchen investment is a frying pan that can be put in the oven, this way you can keep all the lovely juices and caramelised bits that stick in the pan to use in your gravies, and also to save washing up another pan at the end of the night, what’s not to love about that?
So, sear the lamb on fairly high heat until it has a nice colour, then put into the preheated 180* oven for about 15mins or cooked to your preference- my family likes it fairly cooked through, pull out, and cover with a piece of foil while it rests. This is really important, the resting process allows the meat proteins to relax and the juices redistribute evenly resulting in a much more tender piece of meat.
While the meat is resting, make the pesto. This is all done in the food processor, blender, or with a stick blender in a few seconds flat. Pop all the ingredients into the machine of choice, and blitz away until you have a nice smooth puree. If it’s a bit thick, add a splash of olive oil to thin it out. Don’t make this too far ahead of time, as the gorgeous green will start to lose some of its vibrancy as it oxidises. The lemon juice will help, but better just do it last thing to be on the safe side.
Time to plate up, people. Put a nice spoonful of pesto on the plate and smear it bravely across the width, now stand back and admire the contrast of colour and congratulate yourself on your daring. Carve between the bones of the rack to get nice even cutlets, and place them on the plate. Try and get a bit of height, it will look more ‘restauranty’. Grab the pot of veggies and give them a good shake around to glaze the veggies with the buttery residue in the bottom. This will make them nice and shiny- oh and they’ll taste good too. Place these artistically near the meat and add a dot or three more pesto for that final fling of restaurant bling.
I’m sure your guests will love this meal. It tastes great and is really pretty too. There aren’t really many steps, and each happily falls into place after the other without having to rush. By the time the veggies are done, the meat is ready to go and the pesto is waiting. You get more time to spend with your guests and only need about 30 minutes to create a masterpiece.
Style and substance all at once, fantastic!
So Readers, what do you think of this challenge?
May 21, 2011
My Rice cooker is one of my favourite pieces of kitchen equipment.
It takes all the guess work out of making perfect rice every time, it's never soggy or undercooked, and will sit there on the bench happily ticking away making mounds of fluffiness while freeing up the all important stove top. It will even keep it nice and hot for ages, so you can just set and forget, Fantastic!
Did you know you can do so much more than just plain rice in a rice cooker? I use mine to steam veggies, make risotto and rice pilafs as well. They all turn out great and with very little effort, again-fantastic! There is even a cookbook dedicated to this piece of kitchen wizardry called,'The Everything Rice Cooker Cookbook' by Tigerfish, who has a great blog herself, Teczscape- An Escape to Food.
Anyway, today is foggy and COLD, outside Google says the temperature for Canberra is 4*, and as I currently have builders (messy builders- who break things!) traipsing through my house, the door has been wide open since 8am meaning the inside approximates the outside very, very closely.
This calls for loud girly music to punish them, cue every Glee album including the Warblers, not giving them brownies as I had intended (maybe, it IS cold so I may relent) and warm, soft, sticky rice pudding flavoured with yummy pandan and cardamon. And this I WON"T share with them at all.
Pandan leaves are fairly easy to find now. I have seen them at the big supermarkets from time to time, but I get mine from the Asian shops. They only cost about $2 for a bunch, and if I don't use them all I just freeze them in a zippy bag for later. Don't worry if you can't get this, you can add a glug of good vanilla instead- Pandan is sometimes referred to as the vanilla of Asia as it's used as commonly there as plain vanilla is in the west.
Pandan and Cardamon Rice Pudding
1 cup of Rice
short grain is good for this, but I only had my usual mix 'Jasmati' a blend of jasmine for flavour and basmati for it lower GI goodness
3 cups approx of Coconut milk
about 1/4 cup of Palm sugar
Good few Cardamon pods
Good pinch of Salt
Shred the pandan leaf to help it release it's flavour, then tie in a knot or bow
Hit the cardamon pods with the bottom of a saucepan or rolling pin to get the little seeds out. Hit these seeds in turn to crush them a bit. I like to get a bit of the seed with a good hit of flavour.
Roughly shave the sugar. This is lovely and deep in flavour that goes well with the musty earthiness of cardamon. If you can't find it just use dark brown sugar, not castor.
Put everything in the rice cooker and stir it around a bit, make sure the pandan is mostly covered over by the liquid.
Turn the cooker on, and wait patiently for the magic to happen.
When the cooker thinks that this is ready, give it a stir around, check for seasoning- you might need a bit more sugar, and see if the rice is as soft as you want it. I normally put in a touch more liquid and turn it on for about another half cycle to mush the rice a bit more.You should be able to discern the grains, but they should be soft enough for that requisite not-much-chewing comfort eating.
I like to serve this nice and hot with a drizzle of palm sugar syrup - 1/2 cup palm sugar, 1 1/2 cups water simmered in a pan until reduced and syrupy, and a splash of coconut cream for extra loving.
Yummm.... Cup this in your hands, breathe in the sweet scent and hint of spices, close your eyes, and let it cleanse your hurt feelings and comfort your bruised sensibilities....... ahhhhhh......
So my dearest Readers, what do you eat as comfort food on a cold, cold, foggy day?
May 16, 2011
And these are something a little bit different......
There are absolutely fantastic blogs out there that cater for us InTolerants with amazing recipes using weird and wonderful non-gluten flours with a mixture of starches and flours and protein content - but they are really hard to find and some aren't even available in Australia.
Now these recipes are perfectly suited to the gluten-free lifestyle and produce perfect results every time, but not everyone has them on hand when they Google 'Ginger Kisses- gluten free' or they have an InTolerant friend popping around for dinner. I follow heaps of these blogs myself, and as you gain confidence in InTolerant cooking I would encourage you to as well, but I wanted a blog that people would feel comfortable with all the time, regardless of experience, and one my Cheffy friends could turn to in a hurry and be able to throw together a treat for a special diet that turns up at dinner service without notice. So, I decided to use "mainstream" ingredients that were readily available to most people.
That's why I use generic mix gluten free flours, and lactose free products that you can usually grab at Coles or Woolies on your way home from work. Easy-peasy.
I'm happy to include a new ingredient now and then if it's gaining ground in the 'normal' forums- like cooking magazines and shows, and all over the blogisphere, but mainly to de-mystify it for you and show an example of using it in 'ordinary' cooking.
So today I'm doing a recipe with AGAVE nectar and COCONUT FLOUR.
I recently bought a nifty little cookbook, "Gluten-free Cupcakes by Elana Amsterdam. 50 irresistible recipes made with almond and coconut flour". I thought it looked pretty good and had heard nice things around the blogisphere so wanted to have a look for myself. I hadn't realised that agave was the sweetener of choice, but as that is readily available too; I decided to blog my experiences with the recipe.
I decided that basic vanilla is always going to set the benchmark for a good cupcake. Quite a few of the recipes are fairly similar with variations on a theme, not that that's a bad thing, there is enough variety to keep your sweet tooth happy and healthy at the same time! And a great selection of yummy sounding frostings as well. I consider this to be a good cookbook investment and I'm glad I got it, but now I need to find a source of almond flour! Congratulations to Elana on such a great book.
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons coconut flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs
1/3 cup grape seed oil
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 180*. Line 9 muffin cups with paper liners
In a large bowl, combine the coconut flour, salt, and baking soda. In a medium bowl whisk together the eggs, oil, agave nectar and vanilla extract. Blend the wet ingredients into the coconut flour mixture with a handheld mixer until thoroughly combined.
Scoop 1/4 cup of batter into each prepared muffin cup.
Bake for 18-22 mins until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for an hour, then frost and serve.
So.... what did I think?
Well, the mix is quite thick- but coconut flour does that you know, but maybe a touch too thick? I think I would add just a tablespoon of water. Our Australian measurements are slightly different, and perhaps the flour moisture content varies too.
I was slack and used a whisk to mix the 2 mixes together, as there is a warning in the front of the book about over mixing. It warns that over mixing will result in cupcakes that not only look odd, but also taste rubbery. Next time I will use the mixer and just give it a bit more of a go. The texture is quite moist and dense, but the flavour is just lovely. I only baked these for the 18mins and they were still a bit sticky, but the extra 2 mins I gave them resulted in the slightly burnt top.
Now, just as you should never be seen in public properly adorned, neither should a cupcake. A cupcake is a dainty, pretty little thing and should be given its due in divine frosting. There are some great sounding recipes in the book for various frostings and I decided to keep with the coconut theme and chose the Vegan Coconut Frosting.
Vegan Coconut Frosting
Makes 2 cups
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
1 tablespoon water
1 cup coconut oil, melted over very low heat
(I used Copha solid coconut oil as it can be found at all Woolies and Coles)
In a medium saucepan, bring the coconut milk and agave nectar to a boil over medium heat. Whisk the ingredients together, then decrease the heat and simmer for 2-3 mins to reduce just slightly, stirring frequently.
In a small bowl, dissolve the arrowroot powder in water, stirring to make a slurry. Increase the heat under the saucepan to med-high so the mixture is bubbling. Add the arrowroot slurry to the coconut mixture, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens and turns opaque and shiny, about 1 minute. Once the mixture becomes shiny, remove the pan from the heat and gradually blend in the coconut oil with a handheld mixture until well combined.
Allow to cool on the counter for 15 minutes. The mixture will not look like frosting yet- don’t worry; this is OK.Chill the frosting in the refrigerator for 1-1 ½ hours, until the frosting fully solidifies and looks opaque white in colour. Remove from the refrigerator and whip with a handheld mixer until thick and fluffy. The frosting will be sticky looking and lumps will dissolve during whipping.
This is the finished product
Quite nice and definitely coconutty, but not as cloyingly sweet as one made with regular icing sugar. I quite like the effects of the agave nectar that way, but it just isn't as easy to get hold of.
I took these little babies to work this week and they were gobbled down. The best comment was 'You'd never guess these had nothing in them, would you?' Sigh... at least I slooowly educating my fellow chefs and the more they enjoy InTolerant cooking, the more understanding they will be when they have to cook for us.
Changing the world, one gluten at a time.
So Readers, have you ever tried agave or coconut flours?
PS. I'm sorry for the posting issues this last week, but due to a snafu at Blogger all my recent stuff was lost. Sorry for any inconvenience lovelies!
May 7, 2011
High Tea is just so lovely.
I once took my sister for her birthday to a Very Swanky Hotel that specialises in high teas. To go with your dainties you got a lovely glass of sparkling wine as well as endless refills of your choice of tea. The tea was hot, the music was subdued, the waitresses were ever so professional.... until one of the poor girls with a tray full of champagne glasses full of bubbly caught her heel on a rug and dumped the whole lot in my sisters lap! The management was apologetic and covered us in towels, new bubbly was bought at the double, dry cleaning charges were promised- but personally I think a private suite to dry off in while our clothes dried would have been much more appropriate :) We went on to have a nice afternoon of (now complimentary) nibbles and beverages, but I got my own back by taking all the smoked salmon finger sandwiches off the buffet, just eating the salmon and hiding my bread under scrumpled up serviettes. But don't tell, they might remember who I was.
The atmosphere, the slight sense of 'grownup' superiority that makes you wonder what all the little people are doing, the chance to gossip with friends, wear something a little dressy for a change, the scent of Earl Grey drifting from fine china teacups, and perfect tiny little morsels to nibble on- unless of course you're one of us InTolerants who just sip tea wistfully and nibble on an apple in the background or steal sandwich fillings when no one is looking....
I don't think Tea occasions should be just for those special times or just for those non-InTolerants who can eat out without fear. Nor do I think it's acceptable just to crack open a packet of biscuits that call themselves gluten-free, but are made of cardboard and sawdust either. That's why I made these little Ginger Kisses.
Ginger Kisses are tiny little sponges of loveliness, slightly spiced and tasting ever so gently of honey. Sandwiched together with buttercream custard marbled with glace ginger syrup.... Yummm...
More sophisticated than a cupcake, more elegant than a slice, definitely not made of sawdust.
Perfect with a cup of tea.
1/3 cup of castor sugar
1 Tabsp Honey
1/2 cup gluten free flour
1/2 tsp gluten free baking powder
2 tsp mixed spice - ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon
Put eggs, sugar and honey in mixer and whip until tripled in size. We want as much air in this as possible.
Triple sift the dry ingredients, the easiest way to do this is to sift onto a piece of baking paper or flexible cutting sheet then tip into the bowl at the end.
Gently fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture, again be as careful as you can to keep the little air bubbles in so the cakes are nice and fluffy.
Put small spoonfuls into greased patty tins, just barely filling them. And by the way, aren't these the cutest little tins around? I found them in an old pile of junk that someone was getting rid of and ever so kindly took the tins out of their hands. I'm nice like that.
Bake at 180* for about 12 mins. The cakes should just spring back when gently touched with a finger.
Cool for a minute in the pans, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling.
When the little kisses are cool, and just before eating, sandwich these together with some custard butter cream, or whipped cream. To keep the ginger theme going I folded through some of the ginger sauce with some of the finely chopped ginger chunks for extra yumminess. This will make 12 complete little kisses, so you need 2 tins of with 12 holes each.
You can find my buttercream recipe back in the blog a bit, or just quickly make up a custard with 1/2 cup lactose free milk, 1 egg yolk, 1 tab gfree custard powder and 1tab sugar. Whisk over heat until thickened and cool.
Beat in 3 tabs room temperature butter and 1/3 cup icing sugar, until it's light and fluffy.
Fold in some ginger syrup and place generous spoonfuls between the sponge kisses.
These should be served with a lovely cup of Earl Grey Tea, with a side of ambiance and gossip!
May 2, 2011
Have you ever eaten a Rosella?
Not the parrot, the fruit. Also known as Native Hibiscus it's a leggy shrub that grows about 7ft high with small unassuming flowers that grow from a red fleshy calyx that is used as a wonderful fruit.
Like a lot of our native fruits the Rosella is under utilised despite it's deliciousness, and is hard to find mainstream, although I did see a small pile of them for sale at one of the large supermarkets last year and snatched them up quickly! In places where they grow readily you can always find jars of homemade Rosella jam at the CWA or markets as the people here know how fantastic they are.
My dad grows Rosellas on his farm on the Queensland Sunshine Coast, and they are quite labour intensive having to be harvested each day as they ripen and get larger, going between the rows stretching and bending and twisting each little fruit off to avoid damaging the plant. It's actually really peaceful with the noise of the birds calling and various bush insects humming and the tiniest emerald green tree frogs staring out at you between the leaves - but don't tell him I said that or he'll get me to help more often!
The worst part is separating the fruit petals from the green seed core at the bottom of the fruit. The green core is covered in tiny little hair things that prickle and itch and drive you up the wall with scratching. These have to be removed without damaging the fruit around it, so a little tool is pushed through the base of the fruit with a twisting motion and popped of the end. For my photos, I just ripped them apart artistically. The fruit is sold without the core which is the heaviest part of course, so a LOT of fruit is required to make much money. To help with costs, Dad is part of a co-op that on sells the fruit for a group of smaller farmers, to a tea making company and a bush food company.
I was already planning this post with my favourite fruit combination- Rhubarb and Strawberries, when we arrived for a visit and I saw the Rosellas. It seemed a bit silly to do a whole post on a little known and hard to find fruit, but then I realised that their wonderful sweet/tartness was the perfect match for my others. The raspberries were just a serendipitous find at a street stall at an incredible price that found their way into the mix. Rhubarb and strawberries will still taste nice, just not as perfect as this- you will just have to imagine the other flavours along with the birds song, cicadas and treefrog calls.
Roasted Ruby Fruits
A bunch of lovely red rhubarb- I know there are green varieties, but I think the red is prettier
A punnet or two of strawberries
A handful of raspberries
A cup of Rosella petals (or a good imagination)
a quarter cup of sugar
Couple of tablespoons of water
I wanted to roast the fruits to maintain the structural integrity of the rhubarb, it tends to go all stringy if it's stewed, but really you could pop them all in a saucepan if you didn't mind, or were feeling lazy.
Place your rhubarb stalks in the bottom of a roasting pan and sprinkle on the water and a bit of the sugar.
Roast at 150* for about 12 mins or until they are starting to soften up a bit and release some of their juice.
Artistically scatter over your Rosella petals with a bit more sugar
and bake for another 5 minutes.
Cover with the halved strawberries and raspberries and sprinkle on the rest of the sugar, then pop back in the oven for 5-10 mins or until the strawberries are softened and the fruits have released some of their vibrant ruby red juices.
Serve these jewels of loveliness with something rich and velvety like some custard or lightly whipped cream-lactose free of course, and a golden pile of gluten free shortbread crumbs to add a bit of textual contrast.
So Readers, have you ever tried a Rosella before?