Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Blackberry and blueberry pie

February 20, 2011

I love the variety and quantity of fruit available during summer, and if I were to make a list of my favourite fruits, the different sorts of berries would certainly come somewhere near the top. I’ve attempted to make such a list in the past but the occupant of the top position changes depending on what fruit I’m currently eating, so it’s really more of a top-ten-fruits-in-no-particular-order list. But berries are definitely in the top ten.

Yesterday the farmer’s markets were overflowing with blackberries and blueberries of the plumpest and sweetest type, so I decided to celebrate by making them into a pie.

A few tips: using only egg yolks (add a bit of extra water) and working your pastry as little as possible ensures it won’t shrink or bloat into an enormous chewy lump. This is because egg whites act as a raising agent (not ideal in pastry), and rolling and kneading will develop the gluten threads, destroying the crumbly, ‘short’ texture. It’s easiest (and quickest) if you use a food processor to rub the butter into the flour. Shortcrust pastry demystified (you can thank me later).

Blackberry and Blueberry Pie

The filling is fairly oozy especially when warm, so add some gelatine if you’d like it a bit more solid. However sometimes the messiness adds to the enjoyment: as with mud pies, so with berry pies.

1 quantity Jamie’s sweet shortcrust pastry (you’ll have some leftover so pop it in the freezer)

500g blackberries

250g blueberries

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1-2 tbs lemon juice

3 tbs sugar (or to taste)

1-2 tbs cornflour

23(ish)cm glass pie dish

Make the pastry according to Jamie’s instructions. While it’s resting in the fridge, start the pie filling.

Put the sugar, cornflour, lemon zest and juice into a saucepan and add the blackberries. Stir over a low heat until sugar is dissolved, then increase heat to medium-high and cook until mixture thickens, ~5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

While the filling is cooling, line your pie dish. First butter and dust with flour to keep pastry from sticking, then cut 6mm slices of pastry and lay them over the bottom and up the sides of the dish. Wet your fingers, press together the edges, and even out any inadvertent topography until you have a nice smooth surface. Pop it in the freezer, pie dish and all, for about 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 180°C.

Bake your tart shell for 15 minutes or until starting to dry out. While it’s baking, roll out half of the remaining pastry. With the cookie cutter of your choice (I used a star because, y’know, I have this thing for stars), cut out enough shapes to sparsely cover the top of your pie. Put the shapes carefully on a lined baking tray, and when the tart shell comes out of the oven, pop them in for about 5 minutes.

Once blackberry mixture is almost cooled, stir through the blueberries: adding them at this stage keeps them from bursting. Pour the berry filling into the tart shell and lay the pastry shapes over the top. Put the whole thing back into the oven for 25 minutes or until the pastry is starting to brown.

Divine served with thick double or clotted cream, either warm or cold.

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Peanut butter cups, anyone?

May 29, 2010

I finally perfected this recipe and had to share. If you’re addicted to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (like me), you will probably greet this post with a mixture of greedy delight and concern—because having not only a large quantity but a better quality version of these on hand is bound to be dangerous!

This recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Peanut Butter Squares in her fantastic book, How to be a Domestic Goddess. I love Nigella, I love her recipes, and I love her eccentric turn of phrase, but in my opinion she got this one wrong. The original version was just too sweet, and any peanut-butter-and-chocolate aficionado will tell you that the true beauty of this marriage lies in the pairing of sweet with salty.

For those of you with access to the original recipe, the main changes I’ve made are to reduce the amount of sugar in the peanut-butter base, and to increase the peanut-butter to chocolate ratio.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Slice

75g dark muscovado sugar (subsitute brown sugar, but muscovado is really what you want)

150g icing sugar, sifted

75g unsalted butter

300g peanut butter (smooth and crunchy are both fine, depends how you want the texture of the slice)

flour, to bind (I used rice flour to make this gluten-free, how much you need will depend on what sort of flour you use and how oily your pb is)

200g milk chocolate

100g dark chocolate

50g unsalted butter, extra

Put the muscovado sugar, icing sugar and peanut butter in a food processor and whiz briefly until combined (if you don’t have a food processor first think seriously about buying one as they are the most useful kitchen appliance ever, then stir the ingredients together in a bowl). Melt the butter and whiz into the peanut butter mixture. Add the flour between pulses, a sprinkle at a time, or until the mixture binds together and is no longer wet. Don’t worry if you still have small lumps of muscovado sugar, it’s nicer that way. Press this mixture into a baking tray lined with baking paper (choose the size of your tray based on how thick you want the slice to be).

To make the topping, melt the chocolates and butter together until smooth. An aside about chocolate choices: I’ve recently been buying chocolate chips as an express chocolate cooking option, since they are already in nice small bits. However for this recipe I wouldn’t recommend the sort that say ‘holds shape once baked’ as your chocolate mixture will be a bit dry and not easily spreadable. Go instead for ‘chocolate melts’ (or if you have time and inclination, buy a block and break it up).

Let the chocolate cool a little and then spread over the base. Put the tin in the fridge to set. Serve at room temperature, cut into squares. Attempt not to eat the lot in one go.

Here is all that is left of mine. Not so pretty, but damn tasty!

I’d like to point out that I didn’t eat it all by myself, I made this to take into work for morning tea. And there are at least two dozen people who can corroborate this story.

Starry cupcake papers of unlimited potential

May 2, 2010

Purchased at The Essential Ingredient in Kingston. I think I can feel another batch of cupcakes coming on…

Yellow

April 23, 2010

Last night I made lemon cupcakes using this recipe.

I’m a big fan of lemons and of cupcakes, and adding the two together seemed like a wonderful idea. It also seemed like a good excuse to celebrate pale yellow, since both lemons and cupcakes are yellow, and I seriously heart pale yellow. Can you tell?

The cupcakes are delish with a beautiful texture (previous cupcake recipes I’ve tried have been a bit dry), although next time I would make them more lemony. But the yellowness of cupcakes, icing and decorations was perfectly judged :)

Cold mornings

April 12, 2010

More bearable with hot porridge.

Easter

April 6, 2010

I hope you had a lovely weekend too :)

Markets

February 13, 2010

Some treasures found at the Farmer’s Markets and the Gorman House Markets today.

Vintage buttons, silver-plated Grosvenor ‘Christine’ coffee spoons, and heirloom cherry tomatoes :)

Holidays = cooking

February 3, 2010

I don’t know why that’s true, but it always is for me. Even when we go back home at Christmas, crossing half the country to kitchens strange and eerie, we do heaps of cooking. If I have a day off to potter around the house, I end up with a pantry full of food. I’ve decided it’s not worth fighting.

For example. Newly returned to Canberra after Christmas, tired from the long drive and dreading work on Monday, I spent the weekend making stock. Huh? Sounds crazy, I know, but if you’ve never made your own stock, you’ve never made great soup. No, you just haven’t. Try this recipe.

Last weekend I made hot cross buns using Donna Hay’s fantastic recipe.

Awesome.

I made these once before, last Easter (would you believe?). And OMGOMG, the hot cross buns you make yourself completely flatten every other hot cross bun you’ve ever eaten.

I realise it’s not Easter, but I like hot cross buns, and don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t eat them at other times of the year. I also realise that I could quite legitimately call them ‘sticky buns’ and eat them whenever I fancy if I but left the crosses off, but then they wouldn’t be all hot and cross (or warm and upset, as Phil likes to call them). And then what would be the point?

Another tasty addition to our recent menu has been the bushels, yes, BUSHELS of tomatoes I’ve been picking from my friend’s garden. Said friend, the lovely Amanda, is away for two weeks and guess who gets the privelige of looking after the vegie garden? Ohhhh yesss. Homegrown tomato heaven here we come! There’s been Sophie Dahl’s lovely ratatouille (using zucchini and eggplant from the same garden), Jamie’s tomato and capsicum soup (with homemade chicken stock), and his tasty squashed tomato and smashed olive salad, which went down very nicely with some souvlaki and pitas.

Which leads nicely into the topic of lamb.

The souvlaki above was the first dish made from the assorted cuts of meat now in our freezer, which used to be half a lamb. That’s right folks, I wasn’t kidding when I said I loved lamb, and now an entire half of one (minus souvlaki) is sitting in my freezer, nicely portioned into cuts of my choice. And this wasn’t just a rubbing-hands-greedily kind of purchase, there is some sense behind it.

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about sustainable cooking practises and ethical farming, and decided that where I can, I’d like to start choosing more Earth-friendly-animal-friendly meat: or as I like to call it, ‘happy’ meat. Think free-range, hormone free, stress-free slaughter, organic, etc. Being a student and liking meat these choices aren’t going to happen all the time, but I figure every little bit helps—and buying in bulk is a wallet-friendly move. I bought my half lamb from Wyntrade Lamb. I’m hoping the socially conscious farming is reflected in the taste, and as we eat more of it I’ll let you know—but the souvlaki was definitely a good start.

Anyway, here’s to good eating, many more meals of lamb, and countless lazy days spent baking.

Summer bliss

January 26, 2010

Please excuse me if I’ve been away longer than anticipated, but I’ve been having the most wonderful summer. And I’d like to share some of it with you, if in a rather whirlwind fashion.

Before Christmas, I mentioned that Phil and I were heading north—to Queensland, to spend time with family, friends, the beach, and other important things. We were away for almost three weeks, all of which was just delightful. Although squashing all your obligations into a couple of weeks can be exhausting, for us it’s definitely worth it—we don’t really have a chance to see our special people at other times of the year.

The drive up (yes, drive—over 1100 km according to Google maps) was the easiest it’s ever been, perhaps because the oppressive heat arrived later than usual. And waiting for us in Toowoomba were family dinners, coffee dates with friends, and the familiar (if slightly awkward) atmosphere of the town you grew up in. But you have to make the most of where you are, and this is not difficult when surrounded by the people you love. And I have to admit a somewhat guilty pleasure in some of the things that survive in regional towns, but would never survive in cities. Like Christmas lights competitions!

Garish, but somehow satisfying.

Christmas day was lovely as ever—I love how being with your family or loved ones can turn a normal day and an unexceptional setting into something special. The little traditions are important too, like my family’s Christmas breakfast. To the outside observer, pastry and fruit may not be anything special, but to me they mean a lot.

And an afternoon spent with the in-laws at my brother-in-law’s house continued the perfect day—who could want more than lazing around, playing with the kids, and eating till you burst? That’s my kind of Christmas—laid back.

On Boxing day Phil and I headed up to the Sunshine coast with my parents, for a glorious beachside week. Cue plenty of swimming, walking in the sand, and lazing around on the balcony, with a side order of shopping and folk festivals.

Perfect. I miss Queensland beaches so much during the year—the southern ones are never quite the same. Maybe that’s partly to do with my nostalgia kicking in again.

Our beach week over, it was time to head back south. Stopping briefly in Brisbane to see some of our most special friends, we journeyed back, this time down the coast road. Like every year we decided to spend a little time in Bellingen—a sort of holiday from our holiday, if you will—time to spend with each other before getting back home. Ah, Bellingen! Have I told you of the wonders of Bellingen yet? Never mind, that’s coming later this week.

And since getting home—well, you know how time passes. I had a hectic first week back at work, and a week at a Summer School in Melbourne. And it has been SO HOT. I still feel like the year hasn’t really started for me, but I’m working on that. There has, of course, been a degree of knitting, and perhaps more spinning than usual, and the huge amount of cooking that normally happens when I’m in holiday mode. Ooh, I can’t wait to share it with you. But I don’t really want summer to end.

My favourite meat

December 18, 2009

WARNING: This post may be unsavoury for vegetarians.

Earlier this week I was casting around for something to write about for Favourite Friday, and somewhat unexpectedly found the answer staring up at me from my dinner plate. Lamb!

It’s funny that it’s never before occurred to me to write about my love for lamb, since everyone who knows me is surely by now sick of me waxing lyrical about it every time meat comes up in conversation. But I guess sometimes I don’t realise obvious things…remember my owls epiphany?

Anyway, on to the meat course.

Lamb is a dish I have always loved. Roast lamb, lamb stew, lamb chops, lamb curry, lamb fillet, and best of all: lamb cutlets. I’m rather predictable, because just about any time we go to a fancy restaurant I order the lamb. I just love the flavour and tenderness of beautifully cooked, medium-rare, lean lamb.

I’ve always been something of a red-meat girl. I don’t eat much pork and it was only after Phil and I moved in together that I really started eating chicken (previously I believed all chicken was dry and tasteless, but that man does amazing things with poultry). I love beef—there’s nothing like a good steak, and it’s a meat that’s not only versatile but usually relatively cheap. And of course, I love lamb. It’s funny, often, when we dine out, because I quite like red meat but Phil quite likes chicken—and the restaurant industry seems to have this idea that men order red meat and women order white meat. That’s quite possibly true for most people, but it’s funny to see waiters looking a little nonplussed when I say ‘actually, the steak is for me.’

It’s hard to describe just why I like lamb more than beef, but I’ll try. Lamb seems to have a depth of flavour that beef doesn’t. It can be more savoury, more meaty, if you like, although at times I’d also describe it as sweeter. Perhaps you could say it’s more gamy? In any case, I tend to think of beef as a straightforward flavour, and lamb as a complex flavour. I guess the meat is also juicier, since most cuts of lamb have a little more fat on them—but this doesn’t mean lamb has to be greasy, which is the main objection I’ve heard from lamb’s opponents. The trick is to buy leaner cuts: avoid chump and forequarter chops, and instead go for frenched cutlets, backstrap/fillet, leg steaks, or diced shoulder. They’re generally more expensive, but definitely worth it, and who doesn’t deserve a treat every now and then?

Enough talk. Now I’d like to share with you my favourite quick-and-easy way of cooking lamb cutlets, as in the photo above. Although there’s a little bit of preparation it’s the fun sort, where you get your fingers dirty. Remember how much you loved that at kindy?

Juicy tender lamb cutlets in a crispy crumb

3 lamb cutlets per person (you could have two per person, but let’s be honest, you’re going to want to eat an extra one anyway)

plain flour

1 egg

dry breadcrumbs (the sort you buy in a box from the supermarket)

herbs or spices if you’re feeling fancy

These are best cooked on a rack in the oven. Preheat your oven to 200°C. If you don’t have a roasting tray with a built in rack, you can put the lamb cutlets directly onto the oven racks with a baking tray underneath to catch any juices. If you don’t want to do this they will cook fine on a lightly greased baking tray, but one side won’t be crispy.

Put a handful of flour on one plate and a handful of breadcrumbs on another. If you’re feeling fancy, mix some herbs or spices into the breadcrumbs. I often just use black pepper. Crack your egg into a wide, shallow bowl and mix it up a bit.

Now start your production line. Take one lamb cutlet, dip it into the flour until it’s all covered (even the bone handle), then into the egg, then into the breadcrumbs, making sure it’s completely covered at each dipping. Place on the rack. Repeat with remaining cutlets. Flour, egg, breadcrumbs. Easy!

Pop your crumbed cutlets into the oven. Cooking time will vary depending on how you like your meat and what your oven is like, but for medium-rare it usually takes me about 15 minutes. A metal skewer is useful to check whether they are hot inside.

Once done, eat with your fingers so you can properly gnaw all the tasty-crispy bits off the bone. Yum!

I really urge you to try this, as it’s so tasty and easy. And I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Lamb forever!