Monday, July 31, 2006

Good company

"Hmmm", said the walnut bread to the curly lettuce, "the two of us make a pretty good pair, don’t we? With your crispy freshness and my rich nutty denseness. But I’m just wondering whether we wouldn’t benefit from another friend or two?"

"You’re right", said the curly lettuce to the walnut bread, "I do think a slice of tart goat’s cheese, brushed with manuka honey and grilled to bubbling perfection would sit just beautifully atop your rich nutty denseness."

"Oh yes!", cried the walnut bread, "how perfect. And then, imagine, a shower of shining pomegranate seeds, to contrast with the creaminess..."

"And", added the curly lettuce, "just the briefest splash of vinaigrette."

And both lettuce and walnut bread sighed at the happy creation of gastronomic delight.

And thus was born one of my favourite speedy salads of the summer...

Marie’s Goat and Pom Salad*

  • Several leaves of roughly torn lettuce on a plate (I prefer the curly type with its bright green, crispy and tasty base)

  • One slice thickly cut, toasted walnut bread

  • Atop which, one slice goat’s cheese, brushed with honey and grilled

  • Scatter over a handful of pomegranate seeds

  • A light balsamic dressing (just olive oil and balsamic vinegar) completes it

*thus named because this one was really little sister saucepan’s creation

... and the Delicious Doggy DooDoos (Birthday Cake Part Two)

Following on from my last post, did you notice those little things around the edge of the cake?...

Because there’s a little part of me that thinks birthdays aren’t complete without something of a chocolate nature, I decided to accompany my lemon and berry cake with some little treats I had been meaning to try for a long time, since seeing them on the magnificent Chocolate and Zucchini: Biscuits Chocolat et Feves de Cacao

I’ll refer you to Clotilde for the recipe (click link above)… My only modifications were accidental – I couldn’t find plain cacao nibs, so used chocolate covered ones (a tasty whilst-baking snack I found…) , and I somehow forgot to get cocoa powder in my rush to bake all this in secret, so just substituted flour. The result was still plenty chocolatey enough for me – these are just the right amount of bitter and sweet for me; nicely darkly chocolatey. The somehow heavy lightness, the cute bite-sizeness and a strange compulsion to distinguish whether this is a cake or a biscuit means you really can’t stop at just one.

I added raspberries too, as I had some leftover from the cake. This, I decided, was a good addition. The bites can be a little bit dry so the moist berry in the middle was the perfect foil.

The Crazy Canine Choir Cake...

It’s one of those happy serendipities that people seem to enjoy and appreciate homemade cakes as much as I like planning and making them. I sometimes feel almost guilty receiving thanks and praise when I truly feel the pleasure was all mine – it’s such a treat to have an occasion to bake for.

So it was with B’s birthday. Not long was it since I had read the latest
Australia Vogue Entertaining and Travel and salivated over the lemon and berry cake Jo Miller and Juliet Robb shared in the story about their Long Track Pantry in Jugiong, New South Wales that there was this perfect opportunity to try it out.

I’m a big fan of cakes which use ground almonds, and a big fan too of citrus flavoured cakes, so this already had me sold on two counts. The addition of jewel-like and summery raspberries clinched the deal.

It’s a pretty easy recipe; one of those ones with melted ingredients which you can whip up conveniently quickly. I burnt mine at the edge a tiny bit but it didn’t matter an awful lot. I planned to do a lemon syrup to drizzle over and leave to soak in the day before, but in the event it was sticky and lemony enough already, so me not getting round to it was not too much of a loss.

Dense, crumbly, soft and moist, with tart sweet fruit flavours this is a cake for summer days or a taste of summer on not-so-summery days.

As for decoration it would have been a crime to cover the berries or detract from the lemon-ness with icing, so I opted for a cast of cardboard cutout dogs, a canine choir, to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ in speech bubbles (B being rather a fan of dogs). Though I do say so myself, I was pretty chuffed with my inventiveness and the slightly absurd effect, which continued to make me smile the whole hour I waited for the birthday boy to return home.

Berry and Lemon Cake
(makes 1 x 20cm cake)

1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ cup ground almonds
185g butter
1 cup caster sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup raspberries (or seasonal mixed berries)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 20cm cake tin.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, then stir in ground almonds.

Place butter, sugar, vanilla and lemon juice in a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved.

Gradually mix butter mixture into the flour mixture until just combined

Then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition

Pour batter into prepared tin and evenly distribute the berries on top (I attempted to spell out B’s initials, though it went a bit lopsided in cooking…)

Bake on middle shelf for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle withdraws clean.

Leave cake in pan and leave to cool on wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from tin and leave to cool completely.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A good way to spend three hours

I loved making bread-hedgehogs when I was little. Breadgehogs. My mum would mix and knead the dough and cut off bits for each of us to shape. In between shaping bread rolls into pigs or tortoises or the aforementioned prickly ones, I would sneak bits of bread dough into my mouth, ignoring warnings that it would make my tummy hurt, enjoying the squishy yeastiness. And then we got to eat our little creatures, with their sometimes burnt spikes and snouts and tails.

I got back into breadmaking in my teens, experimenting with recipes out of Laurel’s Kitchen and Stan and Floss Dworkin’s Bread Book. This time the kneading was my own and the results all the more exciting for it. I still vividly remember a rich wholemeal loaf with eggs and oil and sugar in that tasted like heaven and had me crowing with pride to the rest of the family, who were not quite as impressed as I.

In Haringay House Two I got into a habit of baking enough for one loaf and several rolls to freeze, which saw me through the week. I don’t seem to get the time to do that now. You need three full hours from start to finish.

The whole process is so full of satisfaction though. Mixing the dough, rolling up your sleeves and using all your body weight to push and pull and twist and pummel. Slamming it down on the side, working out daily rages as you work the dough. Feeling it change in your hands, become more pliant and welcoming. Seeing it risen and full of life, punching it down. Smelling that belly-warming smile-inducing fresh bread smell, seeing the steam rise from the first slice that you always chop straight out of the oven, even though you think you should wait a bit. Butter melting on soft crumbs, the crunch and chew of a good crust. And that perfectly sated fullness that shop-bought bread just can’t supply.

My favourite faithful stand-by bread recipe is one for French bread from Laurel’s Kitchen. Laurel uses half wholemeal and half white flour, but I prefer just wholemeal. I measure in cups, and I’ve used many different ones; I don’t own a measuring cup. A smallish mug or tumbler should do, or if you buy an individual small pot of yoghurt, that works well too.

Laurel’s French Bread

1 cup natural yoghurt
1 and a half cups warm water
6 cups flour, plus some for dusting board and hands
1 sachet (grams?) dried fast-action yeast
Any additions you want – my favourite is walnut

Mix the yoghurt with the water – it wants to be about the temperature of your hand. Too cold and the yeast will take too long to wake up and rising will take much longer, too hot and you’ll just kill them off.

Pour the yeast in and mix around a bit.

Add three cups of flour and mix in with a spoon.

Add the final three cups of flour and get your hands dirty – use your fingers to mix it into a dough.

Turn the whole lot out on to a floured surface, rub dough off your fingers, and flour them well.

Knead for about 15 minutes, until the dough is feeling nice and pliant and is smooth with tiny satiny wrinkles in it.

Put in a big oiled bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave to rise for about one hour or until it is twice the original size. Test for readiness by gently pushing a finger in. if the dough bounces back it can rise some more. If the dent stays, it’s ready.

Punch down the dough – literally punch it in the middle to knock all the air out. Then give a second knead, just for a couple of minutes this time. Add any additions at this stage.

Shape it – I flatten it into an oblong, fold the two outside quarters (lengthwise) into the centre line, and then fold in half. Then pinch the edges together to get a short fat baguette shape. This means you don’t need a loaf tin.

Put on a greased baking tray, or loaf tin if you prefer, and again leave to rise until twice its size. Put straight in to a preheated oven, about gas 6, for 40 minutes or until brown on top and hollow sounding when knocked on the bottom with a knuckle.


Friday, July 07, 2006

If you can't beat them... stew them

What is it about supermarkets and fruit? Do they imagine that I purchase plums because I can not work out where to buy cricket balls? Do they think I am going to test the quality of my nectarines by dropping them from a three-storey building? Maybe they believe I want to use apricots as missiles to scare away neighbourhood cats digging up my gardens...

Ok, or perhaps it is just to do with such boring issues as shelf life and profit margins and transportation. Whatever, they seem universally unknowledgable of the concept of 'ripe'.

When I can I'll buy my fruit from markets, or the stalls on the streets who can manage to procure fruit that actually smells and feels like fruit... But more often than not it's late when I'm shopping and I'm in a big refrigerated building with a basket.

Peaches and nectarines do often ripen if left on the side, but I ended up last week with a punnet of plums threatening to chip my molars.

So, not too confident that they would ever reach the luscious maturity they should have been allowed to, I decided the only way forward was breaking them down.

Halved and stoned, I popped them in a pan with a cinnamon stick, some orange peel and a sprinkling of brown sugar. After 30 or so minutes they succumbed to the gentle heating and were bubbling happily, soft and fragrant, in a fabulously pink viscous sauce. (NB - a note of caution, don't go and watch Big Brother whilst they are on, unless you have a big saucepan and a very low heat - otherwise your hob, as mine, may end up looking like a fantastic vermilion swimming pool).

As it happens, this compote was the serendipitous answer to my breakfast woes - with yoga before work, I don't have time to breakfast at home. A pot of compote and a pot of thick greek yoghurt in the work fridge means I have been able to easily fill my belly every morning with a summery fruity bowl of pink and white. yum!