April 30, 2012
The other day,
BigJ bought me home a present.
Most wives get maybe a bunch of flowers, box of chocolates, even some perfume.... I got a bag of prunes.
A big bag.
He assures me he didn't just see a bag of prunes and think of me, or that he thought I may need some intestinal toning, but that he purposely went looking for a treat that would make me happy.
I guess that makes it better.
He's right actually. If he had bought me chocolates I would have been a bit frustrated as I'm trying to lose weight, if he bought flowers I would have been touched but I'd rather he got me a punnet of seedlings, if he bought me perfume.... well, he learnt the hard way about me and my itching, sneezing, puffing, perfume InTolerances. And I do love prunes. So sweet and soft, perfect with yoghurt, cereals, cheese, hard fruits, on their own for a snack, or cooked up with savoury ingredients for a tagine, casserole or stew. What's not to love?
Littlej has been reading the Hunger Games Trilogy. She is a rather reluctant reader, preferring little bites of reading than sitting down and devouring a whole novel at once. She had heard lots about the books from her school mates, and the movie had rave reviews too, so we made a deal- if she read the whole book, I would take her to the movie. I knew that may not win out over her dyslexia reading reluctance, but she did it! And then begged me for the rest of the series too! I bought them the next day, and of course we went to the movie as well.
As further encouragement, I decided to use some of my stash of prunes in a Lamb and Plum Stew as mentioned in the Hunger Games. The heroine loved it, and I figured as the book had already influenced littlej in reading and hairstyle (we are now braiding it like Katniss) maybe it would help with eating the prunes as well, as littlej has never been a fan of any dried fruit either.
Lamb and Plum Stew
1kg lamb, cubed
1/2 cup Honey
1 tab ground Coriander seeds
1 tab ground Cumin
1/2 cup toasted Pinenuts
Cut the lamb into nice big cubes. I used lamb leg as its nice and chunky and works out much cheaper to do it yourself than buying it pre chopped
Cut the stems off the bunch of coriander, and roughly chop the lemon, one of the onions and as many cloves of garlic as you prefer- I used four
Throw them all into a blender with a pinch of salt and about 1 tablespoon of oil
Blend to a nice smooth paste
Mix the lamb and paste together and let it marinate for a couple of hours to let the flavours develop
Scrape most of the paste off the meat- but save it, then brown the lamb in batches in a bit of oil
Sweat off the onion in a splash of oil, and when it starts to go translucent add in the other veggies and the cumin and coriander. I had these gorgeous little carrots from the garden, and some home grown pumpkin to use up as well- lucky me!
Coat them nicely in the oil and spices, then put back in the lamb and reserved marinade paste
Pop in the prunes and honey, and season with salt and pepper, stir well and add in a small amount of water- I used about 1/2 a cup
Put the lid on your pot, bring to the boil, then simmer for about an hour and a half or until the meat is meltingly tender and soft. Don't forget to stir now and then so it doesn't stick
Check your stew for seasoning and honey sweetness, adding a bit more if you need too. Thicken up with some arrowroot if a bit runny, but it should have cooked down nicely
Sprinkle your meal with toasted pine nuts and coriander leaves for an extra burst of flavour and freshness and to make it look pretty.
I served our stew on some cooked quinoa to match in with the grain it was served with in the book. And the verdict? littlej loved it too, and has dibbsed the leftover for tonights dinner as well. What more could I ask for!
So Dear Readers, are you a fan of the humble Prune, and did any novels influence you when you were younger?
April 24, 2012
Has the earth moved for you recently Dear Readers?
Well it certainly did for me a few days ago when I was rudely woken up by an earthquake!!
It was a small earthquake admittedly, but still a real one, and not at all a common occurrence around here. There was a deep rumbling, groaning, noise from the mountains that went on and on, and a bit of window rattling. BigJ and I just lay there in the dark saying 'No way! That had to be an earthquake! No, it couldn't- could it?' The cat came racing down to stare out our window, and act brave, but the dog and children slept soundly through the lot.
The cat and I were a bit twitchy for the rest of the day. Not through fear, it was just unsettling.
It wasn't until the afternoon that I really thought about it, and realised I had spent the entire day in the kitchen. Baking puddings, making veggie soups and purees, lots of stuff I'd been putting off, but obviously in my Comfort Zone. The part of the house I feel most safe and comfortable in. Maybe it's the feeling of being surrounded by fire and sharp knives, or maybe it's the feeling of warmth and scented steaminess raising from the bubbling pots, but I felt comfortable, and happy, and safe.
One of my jobs was to process a whole goodie bag of Jerusalem artichokes that my friendly local Garden Centre gave me. I had bought some to plant a while ago, but I left them a bit long and they didn't amount to anything, so the lovely people there generously gave me a full shopping bag to cook up and enjoy.
Have you tried Jerusalem Artichokes? They are rich and sweet and nutty, and make the most smooth, silky, sublime purees and soups indeed. They are a member of the sunflower family and are sometimes even known as Sunchokes. They are quite healthy but with most the carbohydrate content stored as Inulin instead of starch. This is great for blood sugar, but also means that some people have trouble digesting this food, with rather noisy side effects indeed. Beans contain a small amount of inulin, but Jerusalem Artichokes contain a LOT more... I'll leave the rest to your imagination :) When first eating these lovey tubers, it's best to start with small amounts, this will avoid any hassles or embarrassment the next day, so I decided to introduce you to a nice easy recipe that uses only a little but still showcases their deliciousness.
Seared Scallops on Jerusalem Artichoke Puree
Peel your artichokes. Pop them straight into some acidulated water to stop them turning brown
I like to double boil them. It can really help reducing any side effects. Put them into cold water then bring it to the boil.
Drain immediately, then place them into a fresh pot of cold water, and cook until nice and tender
Drain, then place them back in the hot pot on a gentle heat to steam dry a bit- but watch them and don't let them stick or burn
You can now blend them in a blender, with a stick blender, or pass them through a fine sieve for extra silkiness I like to put the puree back on the heat and while stirring, try and take out as much liquid as possible to have a really thick, rich paste.
This means I can add as much cream or butter as I want to the finished product without it being too runny
Ok, now for the scallops. Aren't these lovely ones indeed!
Pat the scallops dry, then drizzle with oil (not olive oil though or you'll smoke up your kitchen) and season with salt
Get your pan screaming hot, you want to get a good sear on these babies without letting them stew in their juices Cook for only about 30 seconds a side, you don't want these to dry out they will keep cooking off the heat while you plate up
Place a nice splodge of hot puree on serving plate, or lovely scallop shell
Nestle the scallops into the bed of yumminess, then drizzle with a little oil- I used truffle oil, just cause I could :P, then top with some thin and crispy fried Jerusalem artichoke chips for a bit of textural contrast
Oh So Good! What a lovely elegant starter for a dinner party, and a lovely way to introduce a new delicious vegetable to your guests as well, Yummo!
So Dear Readers, have you ever experienced an earthquake, and how did it make you feel?
April 18, 2012
Have you heard of BabyCakes?
It's an amazing gluten-free vegan bakery in NYC that started off with incredible gluten free cup cakes, but has moved on to oh-so-much-more!
I recently purchased Erin McKenna's book, BabyCakes Covers The Classics, and as with her first book, BabyCakes, fell in love with the recipes at sight. None of the recipes use gluten, dairy, eggs or refined sugar at all, and most of the ingredients seem readily available here at the major supermarkets as well- always one of my first considerations for blogging a recipe.
Littlej and I poured over every page, debating the merits and deliciousness of every photo before finally settling on Wonder Buns because of their amazing description of "subtle sticky chewiness, the spicy pockets intermixed with the sweet streaks of joy"
Now, who could pass that up?
I have to admit, there is always a little lost in translation when making a recipe from elsewhere. The flour mix recommended is not one I can buy here, neither is the coconut fat, but I substituted with a supermarket mix and Copha instead. The texture may have suffered slightly, but the buns certainly tasted wonderful, and I think I know what to tweak next to make them even better.
160g Bob's Red Mill all-purpose Gluten free baking Flour
(I used Aldi's Plain gluten free flour)
60g Brown Rice Flour
(I used white)
1 3/4 tsp Xanthan Gum
1 Tab Baking Powder
1 Tab ground Cinnamon
60g melted refined Coconut Oil
(I used Copha)
75ml Agave Nectar
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
225 Ml warm water
(I found that 120ml was sufficient)
60g Rice Flour
(didn't need it)
60ml melted refined Coconut Oil
3 Tab Ground Cinnamon
(I used a mix of my favourite Prunes and Craisons)
Preheat the oven to 170*
Line a baking tray with baking paper
Whisk together the plain flour, rice flour, the arrowroot, xanthan gum baking powder, and cinnamon from the first list until well combined
Add the coconut oil, agave, vanilla and stir until a very thick dry dough forms
Gradually add 2/3 of the water (which was pretty much 120ml) until the dough is slightly tacky, adding more water if needed
* Ok, at this stage I thought the mix was very gritty/grainy, so I smushed it up with my hand until smooth. I really overworked the dough, and over thought the recipe. Sometimes I just need to follow instructions, after all, Erin went to all the trouble of constructing a lovely recipe and I'm sure she doesn't need my interference! My buns ended up quite gummy inside, but I'm sure that won't be the case next time.)
Cover with plastic and refrigerate for 20 minutes
Turn the dough out onto a surface dusted with 40g of the rice flour from the second list, dust the top and a rolling pin with the rest, and roll out dough into a 1cm thick rectangle with the short side facing you
Brush half of the coconut oil all over the top of the dough
Mix the last agave nectar and cinnamon together , then spread the mixture completely over the top of the dough as well
Sprinkle the fruit evenly over the mixture
(oops, lost this photo, so I'll leave it to your imaginations!)
Beginning with the short side closest to you, gently roll the dough onto itself to form a log. I found the spice mix escaped out the sides easily- so be careful! I also think my buns needed to be rolled a little tighter as they didn't puff as much as I had thought they might
Using a sharp knife, cut the log into 2.5 cm wide pieces to make 12 rolls. Mine didn't quite spread that far though, so I cut half of the log into 6 slices, and half into 4 that were 2.5 cm thick
Place the rolls on the baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes
Remove from the oven, then gently brush the top and sides of each bun with the remaining coconut oil.
Bake for 5 more minutes, or until the edges are browned and the centres are slightly soft. I found mine needed yet another 5 minutes, but that was due to the gumminess from overworking
While my buns were cooling, I scooped up all the escaped spiciness and stuffed it all back in the cracks of the buns, it was just too good to lose! The mix firmed up nicely and where it had oozed out of the bottom of the buns it had made a fantastic crust underneath- yummo!
These buns were certainly much nicer warm from the oven as they got fairly chewy and tough once they cooled down. I know I made mistakes this time, the buns were dense and heavy as well, and not as pretty as the ones in the cookbook- but they did taste pretty wonderful after all.
I will certainly give them another go, and this time I promise to leave well enough alone!
So Dear Readers, have you ever messed with a recipe that didn't need messing with, and what was the end result?
April 11, 2012
Well my Lovelies, I hope you had a great long weekend!
We had such a lovely time catching up with friends and brunching and lunching and relaxing, and cooking up a storm with our very own sheep on a spit.
Meet Frank the lamb. Well, that's what the butcher called him anyway so it just kinda stuck for the weekend until we changed it to Dinner. Which was so much better indeed.
This post doesn't include a recipe today, instead it's about the evolution of a raw animal into a delicious meal for those we love. I thought I'd share it with you as well, and hope you catch a glimpse of that love too.
As a basic rule-of-thumb, you should allow about 1kg of the whole raw lamb per person. This sounds a lot, but takes into account the weight of the bones and the amount you lose though fat etc- and leaves plenty of yummy leftovers too!
We placed Frank-the-lamb in the bathtub overnight, wrapped up well in wet cloths and nestled into a bed of ice. Sweet dreams Frank
Early the next morning we got the spit set up and the coals on. They need to be on at least an hour earlier than the meat so they have time to get well alight and really hot.
While this happens, get the lamb ready to go.
I think they're about the same size!
Just to prove it really is the sheep on the spit, not the doggy!
These are the bits and pieces that are needed to secure the lamb onto the spit arm well. We do NOT want it to slip off and into the gritty coals- yuck
Once on, the beastie needs to be sewn up to secure the cavity. This can handily be filled with branches of rosemary, bulbs of garlic, and whole lemons if you like. The meat can also be rubbed with flavourings now too.
Once every thing's in place and the lamb is positioned, you need lots of patience. Lots of it.
All that's required is some basting every half hour or so with vegetable oil, and coating with some flavoured salts and dried herbs, as well as monitoring and adding to the coals.
This little fellow took about 5 hours to cook through the way we like it.
The spit arm can be raised and lowered as required and we moved the coals around to place more heat where required from time to time. Also being careful once the fat starts to really render well and drip onto those hot coals and catching light if we're not careful!
Being short on table room, we elected to carve Frank on the spit arm. Brave men ignoring the heat and odd flame or two to get at the delectable meat, yummo!
The meat is so moist and just kissed with a lovely smokiness that you can't capture with an indoor oven, and fantastic crispy skin that's nearly as good as crackle! Frank was actually very lean with little fat at all, just enough under the skin to self baste nicely.
This is the rest of our feast.
Quinoa salad with pine nuts, dried apricots, herbs and dukkah
Tzatziki with grated cucumber and lots and lots and lots of garlic
Fresh salad with cucumber, tomatoes, and feta cheese
Grilled antipasti with eggplant, artichokes and olives
Pomegranate Mint Sauce made with pomegranate molasses,pomegranate juice, pomegranate balsamic and mint
Our elegant Drinks Station with Pomegranate Punch
Autumn Pavlova with poached pears, dark chocolate ganache and hazelnut praline
We had such a lovely time with loads of fun, friends and of course lots of good food as well. I think any time spent with those you love is never wasted, it's just a shame that not all our family lives close enough to come along.
Now for those of you who can't see past chocolate for Easter, here's a sample of my stash. Haven't I got a family with great taste!
So my Dear Readers, what did you think of Frank the lamb, and what did you get up to this long weekend?