Archive | August, 2010

The Best Blondies

31 Aug

utter perfectionThis is my 100th post! Hooray! I never thought I had the discipline or the strength of purpose to actually commit to sit down and write a recipe a day, no matter what is happening or where I am. I have to say, I am impressed with myself πŸ˜‰ Long may it continue πŸ™‚ Today, in celebration of this personal milestone, I decided to try a new recipe. I love blondies. I am not so hot on brownies to be honest. They are too overwhelming – that mix between fudgy and crusty, and intense intense chocolate. I dont know what it is, but I like chocolate in almost all ways, but brownies are probably 100th on the list (keeping with the 100th theme!)

But blondies are another story entirely. Studded with chocolate, but not overwhelmed by fudge dough, blondies are chic brownies – brownies with an edge. I used Callebut white and milk chocolate here. Chopped it into chunks and mixed it with a caramelised vanilla batter. It baked shiny and crispy, with edges that were brown and crunchy, but with interiors that were the best of melted chocolate and soft vanilla cookies. Sooo good. Delicious, delectable, and amazingly easy. It took me about 20 minutes to put everything together, and another 20 – 25 to bake. Do not overbake these! They need to be cooked (and when you stick a knife in, they can be squishy, but not liquid), but if you overbake, they will get stone hard and yucky.

I adapted these blondies from a recipe on the Cook’s Illustrated website. I dont do nuts with my sweet baked goods (well on very rare occasions, but thats the exception rather than the rule). I dont know by, but its true. By the by, I also dislike chocolate and orange or lemon. Just does not do it for me. We each have our own tastes, and especially in brownies or blondies, I am a no nuts kind of person. Oh and in carrot cake, but thats another story. Anyway! The Cook’s Illustrated recipe required 1 cup of toasted pecans for these blondies. If you like nuts, toast some pecans (or walnuts or cashews, go crazy with it) and substitute the nuts for 1 cup of chocolate. Otherwise, do as I do, and revel in both milk and white chocolate πŸ™‚

The other major thing I did was I let the butter burn a little as I melted it. I remembered the recipe for the best chocolate chip cookies ever, and how the butter, burnt to a dark brown, added a depth of flavour to the cookies. Well, I didnt burn the butter to that extent, but I let it get a little toasty. Just a hint of light brown colour. It worked really well in the finished product – the blondies had a deep caramelised flavour that came from the union of slightly burnt butter, light brown sugar, vanilla and eggs. Sublime.

This recipe will fit into a 14″ x 8″ pan. Make sure that you double line the pan with aluminum foil, and allow some foil overhang. This lets you lift out the cooled blondies easily. Also, butter that foil to within an inch of its life! With all that caramelisation going on, you want to be able to lift the blondies out easily, and buttering well really does help.

For 1 pan of totally delectable blondies, you will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 12 tbsp butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted, slightly burnt, and then cooled + 1 tbsp for buttering
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 – 6 tsp vanilla essence
  • 2 cups best quality chocolate, chopped, chunks or if you have to, chips (I used 1 cup Callebaut white + 1 cup milk chocolate, chopped)

Preheat your oven to 175C. Prepare your baking pan. Line a 14″ x 8 ” pan (at least 2 – 3″ deep), with double layer of aluminum foil. Allow some overhang, and push it well into the corners. Use 1 tbsp of butter and butter the foil extremely well. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Use a fork to mix well together. Set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan, and allow to burn just a little bit. You want it to foam, subside, and then just start turning light brown. Take off heat and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, in another small bowl, whisk together 2 eggs and 4 – 6 tsp of vanilla. You will know how much vanilla to use, depending on the quality of the vanilla you have. Your judgement is important here, but remember you want a strong vanilla taste. Its the main flavour of the blondie, and you want it to come out well. Set aside the eggs and vanilla.

In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and brown sugar. Add the egg mixture and whisk well. You will have a glossy, shiny, almost caramel like batter. Taste for vanilla and adjust if need be.

Fold the flour in gently, in three parts. Dont overmix. Fold in the chocolate (or the chocolate and pecans if you are so inclined). Using a spatula or wooden spoon, coax the batter into the baking pan. Spread it around to make sure that the entire pan is filled. It may not look like much, but heat is magic – it will puff up the batter and create a phenomenal blondie.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, checking a few minutes before hand to make sure they have not overbaked. The top will be shiny, slightly cracked, and light brown. A toothpick stuck into the blondie will come out with crumbs sticking to it – but if it comes out covered in batter, it needs more time.

yummmOnce done, take out of oven and allow to cool in pan for at least 20 minutes or so. Use the aluminum foil to remove the blondies from the pan, and cut into squares. The tops will be crisp and crackly, the bottoms will be golden and the centres will be squishy and vanilla-y and bursting with melted chocolate. Serve with vanilla ice cream if you want to be overly decadent.

Perfect Dinner

30 Aug

Tonight, after all the celebrations, birthdays, feasts, intricate foods and menus, we had the perfect late summer dinner. Simple, direct, earthy, satisfying. Tasting exactly of the vegetable and fruit that were served because almost nothing was done to them except to cook them lightly and serve them with love. A feast for the senses, and pleasure for the palate.

Artichokes, steamed in the microwave – a methodology of MZ’s which worked well, and produced succulent artichokes in 15 minutes. Served with a sparkling bright yellow lemon butter sauce.

with lemon butter sauce

The lemon butter sauce was made by whisking together a melted stick of butter, 2 tbsp olive oil, some salt, and the juice of half a lemon. We ate the artichokes with our hands, sharing a paring knife when we got to the heart, to get the prickly bits out. The bowl of lemon butter was communal. Truly a family meal.

Finished by the most beautiful, ripe, sweet, honeyed cantaloupe. Cut into chunks.

Perfect summer taste

Unadorned, tasting of summer sun. So sweet, so succulent. M said it was the most perfect cantaloupe she had ever tasted. I agreed. I didnt think it could get any better than that. But then…

and cantaloupe

Vanilla ice cream and cantaloupe. Have you ever tried it? Unbelievable mind blowing perfection.

The simplest of meals… The most perfect combination. How gorgeous.

MoMA Obsessions

29 Aug

I wrote in an earlier post about how most passionate cooks have obsessions – knives they love, immersion blenders, wax paper! Well, my sister left a copy of the Museum of Modern Art catalogue on my bed for me the other day, and I am truly obsessed. Their kitchen stuff is amazing … not only does it look gorgeous (oh how I wish my whole kitchen was design chic!) but some of it is bloody brilliant too! If I had an unlimited budget for this trip to the US, these are the things I would bring home with me:

An adjustable rolling pin. USD$20.00. How clever is this?! Not only does the rolling pin have measurements printed on it (so you know youve rolled out enough for a 9 diametre inch pan, for example) but it also has disks which you slot onto either end of the pin. These disks will ensure that you get the proper thickness of dough – from 1/4″, 3/8″, 1/16″, 1/8″ – wonderful for a pastry cook who needs to follow precise instructions.

Garlic crusher – USD$25.00. Clever and beautiful all at the same time! This sculptural piece of steel pulverises garlic in one easy roll. Much easier to clean than a garlic press, and because its made of steel, you can use it to wash your hands of the garlic smell too! I love this piece. Its something I would use all the time!

Jar Tops – USD$25.00. Green, sexy and clever, all rolled into one! Repurpose those glass jars with universal screw caps. Theres shakers, pourers and cruets. I think I might have to get this… so smart! I love the idea of using a pourer for milk, and then repurposing another glass jar and using the pourer for a sauce. Such a useful set to have in any kitchen.

I have been looking for a good knife sharpener for a long long time. I have tried loads of different sharpeners, but I never get it quite right. This one (USD$65.00) uses water, and coarse, medium and fine grinding wheels to ensure a perfect blade. And with my knife obsession, it is worth it to look after them well. My hands tell the story of poorly sharpened or blunt knives – theyre just not worth it if you cook often!

This pan scraper (USD$15.00) was designed by Martin Puryear, and accompanied a major exhibition of his work at MoMA in 2007. It looks like a piece of art and is supremely functional. Its blade rotates 360 degrees, and yet it is made of nylon so it wont harm non stick pan surfaces. Wonderful for cleanup, to get all the bits and pieces out of a pan or pot or dish, and beautiful to look at. I want one!

Talk about art! This spaghetti measure (USD$26.00), designed by Paolo Gerosa, and made by Alessi is stunning. Each loop measures out a certain amount of spaghetti – for 1, 2 or 5 people. Depending on how many you are serving, you just do a little math and you have exact measurements! It looks like a knuckle duster, and I wish my whole kitchen was designed with beautiful objects like this in mind.

Do check out the MoMA online shop. Their things are exquisite. Curated shopping for form, function and design. Just such a feast for the senses! And a big dent for the credit card πŸ˜‰

Shopping as Cooking

29 Aug

So today was a big one for the family – it was ZPA’s naming day! She got all dressed up and gorgeous, and the whole family was on hand to celebrate. I knew that when we came back from the ceremony, we would be hungry, and want to eat. But I also knew that the house would be full the night before, making it a tad difficult to sort out any before-hand cooking. When there are two boys sleeping 10 feet away from the kitchen, you dont really want to be banging pots and pans, and frying up stuff. What to do? One of the things I do best… Cook with my credit card πŸ˜‰

Shopping as cooking is a skill in and of itself. Presenting a meal to people, especially tired, hungry, happy people, is a delicate balance. You want to feed them well, and in a celebratory way, but you also dont want to keep them waiting. They (and you) want to walk in the door and be able to sit down and eat within a few minutes. They also dont want to be totally overwhelmed by a hundred different tastes – so even if you are going to make a spread, you need to edit. Sometimes I do cook ahead meals, but when I cant, I shop for the very best ingredients, wonderful prepared foods, and serve my family’s favourite kind of meal – a spread of breads, cheese, fish, vegetables, fruits and sweets that can be combined into delicious bites – and each person can pick and choose for themselves what they want, and how much they want.

This kind of shopping is something you must go into with forethought. Who are you presenting this meal to? What kind of occasion? How old are the people sitting around the table, and does anyone have allergies, special needs, specific likes or dislikes? If you know someone will be sitting down to eat this meal who has a peanut allergy, then dont serve peanuts in even one thing! A smorgasbord like this is asking for food contamination – dont do it! If you have vegans and vegetarians, cater heavily to them. In my opinion, people will eat loads of vegetarian offerings in a feast like this, and much less of the meats and things like chicken salad.

I love shopping for a feast of this kind because it so closely reflects the process of cooking. When I cook, I think about the people who will eat the meal. I think about their likes and dislikes, the things that they find luxurious, their special quirks. I try and cater to those things because in that service, there is an expression of love. Same thing here. Its a way to show the people you are serving that this is personal to them – and you include not only luxuries, but things that you think might interest or titillate their senses.

Plus, leftovers make a wonderful dinner for an exhausted household!

We were 7 sitting down to eat, ranging from 70 – 11 years old. This is what we had.

  • Fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • Fresh sourdough bread
  • Bagels – plain, sesame, everything
  • Smoked salmon, a whole plateful, with sliced lemon and capers
  • Smoked whitefish salad
  • Taramasalata
  • Cream cheese + butter
  • Three different kinds of cheese – a soft ripe brie like cheese, made locally, a sharp cheddar, and a parmesan
  • Quince paste
  • Seaweed salad
  • Hummus
  • Apple cake
  • Fruit salad with greek yogurt
  • Cinnamon mini muffins
  • Cinnamon rolls
  • Ice tea
  • Lemonade
  • Coffee

It was a feast, and it was satisfying and delicious.

Quick Palak Paneer

28 Aug

Iin America! went to Whole Foods today, and was again overwhelmed by the bounty that was there. But I knew I had a load of things to do today, so it was a quick trip (my Mum was also with me … that slows and speeds things up in a strange way). It was an in and out shop – and I was thinking of what to make for dinner. There was a huge bunch of gorgeous baby spinach. And there was ready made paneer (a bland Indian cheese that cooks well, and soaks up all the flavour of what ever dish you put it in). And that was it. Tacos for the young-uns (well, the adults had some too), and palak paneer for the adults. It took less than 20 minutes, and it was delicious.

It was also a palak paneer that was cobbled together with what I could find at the shops. I didnt really have access to the kind of spice cupboard that I would have back home. This palak paneer you can make just about anywhere in the world! And the great thing about this dish is that you can make it vegan. Use a firm tofu, ready spiced and baked if possible, and slice it and add. It has the same creaminess as the paneer, and adds similar protein. Use coconut cream (not milk) in place of the cream or milk, and you have a delectable vegan feast.

Just imagine a gorgeous green mass, with a turmeric yellow sauce, and creamy chunks of cheese. It was satisfying and healthy, and oh so easy. Just remember to taste and adjust for seasoning. You put in so much spinach that you might well need to add more salt and pepper at the end.

Serves 4 – 6, with rice

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 large onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Knob of fresh ginger (about the size of your pinkie), grated
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp red chili pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • Large bunch of fresh baby spinach (about 4 – 6 cups, chopped) or 1 bag frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup milk, half and half, cream, or coconut milk
  • 1 packet paneer (about 1 cup chopped) Note: if you cannot find paneer, substitute with Mexican queso blanco, or firm ricotta, sliced and pan fried. Or, if you want to be vegan, add firm tofu, preferably one that has been baked and flavoured.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and sesame oil until shimmering. Add the onions, garlic and ginger, and stir to combine. Let the onions soften a bit, and then add the spices and salt and pepper. Let saute for at least 5 minutes or so, on medium low heat. You want the spices to become fragrant, and cook a little. This will impact hugely on the end taste of the dish. Just make sure they dont burn!

Add the spinach all at once. Raise heat to high, and wilt the spinach completely, mixing it in well with the onions and spices. Add the water, and let cook down, and taste and adjust for seasoning. Add the milk or cream, and let reduce a little. Adjust for seasoning again, and add the paneer. Cook for at least 5 minutes on a medium low fire. You want the paneer incorporated into the gravy, and you want it to taste of spices and spinach.

You can make this ahead at least a few hours. Reheat on low for a few minutes, and serve with rice and some chutney.

Mixed Vegetable Phyllo

27 Aug

With loads of mixed vegetables!Oh what a day! Blissed out baby mode, and when it came time to make dinner, I realised we had nothing in the fridge but bits and pieces – a handful of spinach, a few artichoke hearts, quarter of a butternut. Some days, you dont have one thing to work with, but many many little odds and ends of things. On days like these, I like to make something that will incorporate all the left over bits – a pie, tart, pasta sauce, even a bread pudding …

Tomorrow we go to Whole Foods once again, but tonight was incorporate all the remaining handfuls and try and make something yummy night. This is one reason why I love phyllo dough. I am not a master Greekie cook (like my beloved Osisters – their spanakopita is phenomenal!) but I do like its ease of use, its pliability and its wonderful presentation. I dont know why, but people feel very manja-ed (Malaysian word – means spoiledbelovedcaredforlookedafter all rolled into one!) when you present them with a baked good – pies, tarts, pastries of all kinds. People love them, and the presence of a crust seems to elevate a rather normal meal into something special. On a night like tonight, phyllo dough enabled me to incorporate lots of things quickly and seamlessly… and delectably!

I would never ever try and make my own phyllo dough. Its waaaaaay too delicate and intricate a process. Rather, I purchase the best phyllo I can find, and am thankful to those who take (almost) all the work out of it for me! There are a few general rules for working with phyllo. Use butter if you want a rich tart, and use olive oil if you want a slightly lighter version. Set up everything you need before you even begin to unwrap the phyllo because as soon as you do, you need to work quickly and efficiently. Phyllo will dry out or start to melt and stick together, so know what you want to do, and do it fast. And always try and work on grease proof or wax paper. This allows you to preheat your pan (I use a jelly roll or large flat cookie pan for this free form recipe) in the oven, and then slide your creation onto it, still on the wax paper. The bottom of the phyllo pie will be crisped because of the immediate contact with hot pan, and you wont get that soggy bottom which generally occurs when you bake the phyllo on a cold pan. And finally, try and drain as much of the moisture out of the filling as you can. You need some moisture to bind the vegetables, but dont put a very wet filling into the pie – it will leak and get soggy and be yucky. If you are making a vegan version, just boil all the juices down into a thickened sauce and use it in place of the ricotta and egg.

This will serve 6 hungry – 8 people

I am going to tell you what I put into this pie, but really, use up what you’ve got in the fridge – from tomatoes and carrots to spinach and pine nuts. You will need about 4 – 6 cups of cooked filling in total.

For the filling

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 large Vidalia onion, minced
  • 3 – 4 garlic cloves, minced fine
  • Small handful (may be 1/4 cup) sun dried tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 – 1/2 butternut
  • 1 + 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup mixed dried mushrooms – I used chanterelles, porcini and shiitake
  • Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chopped spinach
  • 1/2 cup chopped french beans
  • 1 cup chopped asparagus
  • 1/2 cup artichoke hearts
  • 3 heaping tbsp ricotta (optional)
  • 2 eggs (optional)
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta (optional) – use toasted pine nuts instead if you are a vegan!

In a large, non stick frying pan, heat the olive oil and saute the onions, garlic and sun dried tomatoes together until the onions are softened and glossy, and have browned a little.

Add salt, pepper, oregano and paprika, and stir well.

Chop the butternut quite fine – you want little cubes about the size of the nail on your pinkie. You want it to have body, but you want the butternut to cook quickly. Add to the pan, and saute for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Add 1 cup of hot water, and allow to bubble and cook for a while on medium high heat.

In a separate small bowl, immerse the dried mushrooms in another cup of boiling water. Leave for at least 10 minutes, whilst the butternut is bubbling away.

Once the mushrooms have softened, take them out of the water, and chop roughly, and add to the pan. Most of the water from cooking the butternut should have boiled away. Add about half a cup of the mushroom water, and allow to cook for a further five minutes or so. Taste and adjust seasoning. Sometimes I add a little cinnamon for depth of flavour, or more salt, pepper and spices.

Turn off the heat (you should still have a significant amount of liquid in the pan), and transfer the contents of the pan to a sieve set over a small bowl. I usually use the mushroom bowl, cleaned out! Let the liquid drip through, and using your spatula or spoon, press down on the onion-butternut-mushroom mixture so that most of the liquid drains through. Reserve the cooking liquid, either to use as the base of a sauce for the pie, or as the binding liquid if you are baking for vegans.

Transfer the mixture back to the pan, and over medium heat, add the spinach, beans, asparagus and artichoke hearts. Saute briefly until completely combined, but make sure that the greenery does not cook too long – you want it to retain its colour and taste!

Tumble the vegetable mixture into a bowl, and set aside for at least ten minutes to allow it to cool.

If you are cooking vegan, transfer the cooking liquid to the pan, and boil it down until reduced by at least half. It needs to be thick and syrupy. You could add some wine to this if you like, though I didnt have any available. Add a few tablespoons to the vegetable mixture to bind it properly, and give it some body.

Otherwise, beat together the ricotta, eggs and feta, and mix gently through the vegetable mixture. Taste and adjust for seasoning, and set aside.

Phyllo Assembly

  • 7 – 9 large phyllo leaves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil and pastry brush
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta or toasted pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 200 C and put a jelly roll or cookie pan into the oven to preheat.

Lay out your work surface. On a clean tea towel or a strip of waxed paper, unroll your phyllo dough. Have a small bowl with olive oil and a pastry brush handy. Also have a small bowl containing your feta, and your bowl of prepared vegetables.

Tear a strip of waxed paper long enough to fit your baking pan. Lay a phyllo sheet on the paper (my phyllo dough covered almost the entire paper), and gently brush with a bit of olive oil. Continue to layer leaves of phyllo dough, brushing each layer with olive oil. Its okay if the phyllo tears – just patch it up with olive oil, and keep going. You want to work quickly but surely, and dont worry about covering every inch of the pastry with olive oil – you really just want to give it a gentle brushing. I used 7 layers, but you can use as many as you want.

Sprinkle your crumbled feta onto the dough, going straight down lengthways the middle of the dough. Leave a 2 inch space on either side.

Spoon your vegetable filling over the feta, mounding it, and leaving space on either side. You will now have what looks like a log of vegetables centred on your phyllo dough.

To complete the pie, fold over both short sides, like an envelope, and then fold the longer ends over each other. Using the waxed paper, flip the phyllo log over on itself, so that the seam is bottom side down. Centre the phyllo log on the waxed paper. Brush the top with olive oil.

Using oven mits, take the hot baking pan out of the oven. Using the waxed paper, transfer the paper and the phyllo log onto the hot pan, and put back into the oven.

Bake for about 25 – 30 minutes, or until the phyllo is browned and crispy.

Let sit for a few minutes once out of the oven before slicing and serving.

With Sauce!Sauce

If you are not baking a vegan version of this, use the reserved cooking liquid as the basis for a lovely sauce to serve with the phyllo pie. I boiled the cooking liquid until slightly reduced, and then lowered the heat and added a few tablespoons of creme fraiche, a tablespoon of pesto sauce, some salt and pepper, and a few drops of balsamic. I whisked everything together, and served in a little jug to pour over. It was delicious!

Roast Butternut Salad

26 Aug

I am exhausted tonight so this will be a short post! So it goes in a house with baby and multiple generations! I loved this salad. Perfect as a side dish – or if you want, add a few shavings of parmesan, or some salty feta, or a couple dollops of creamy sweet ricotta – or if you are vegan, a few chickpeas – for the protein, and you have lunch! Best served cold, the butternut is oven roasted ahead of time and refrigerated. So when it comes time to serving, its really a matter of putting it all together and devouring.

I love the golden orange happiness of butternut, and I adore how easy it is to cook. Its forgiving, and its natural sweetness automatically caramelises in a hot oven, so you dont really need to add anything in the way of herbs or spices – the vegetable flavours itself beautifully. This is a meal I crave over and over again. I love juxtaposition in my food – the spicy, slightly bitter bite of arugula, and the sweet creamy richness of the butternut are wonderful partners. They compliment and play off each other and make me very happy.

Serves 8 – 10 as a side Β or 4 with left overs for lunch or dinner

  • 1 medium / large butternut, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 – 5 cloves of garlic
  • 2 – 3 cups (I used about 1 packet) arugula / rocket or other bitter green salad leaf
  • 1/4 cup olive oil + 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Toppings: sprouts, cheese (parmesan, feta or ricotta are my favourites, but go wild – try it with blue cheese if you want!), toasted walnuts or pine nuts, avocado

The night before (or morning before) you intend to serve the salad, prepare the butternut.

Preheat your oven to 190 C.

Peel, seed and roughly chop 1 medium to large butternut. Put in a bowl, and pour over 2 tbsp olive oil. Using your hands, mix well, ensuring that all the butternut is coated.

Arrange the butternut on a jelly roll pan or other large shallow baking pan, in a single layer. Salt and pepper well. Arrange the garlic cloves amongst the butternut.

Roast for about 45 minutes, or until you see the butternut beginning to caramelise. I usually try and flip the butternut over half way through the cooking time as well, so that both sides get a bit of browning.

Take out of the oven and let cool to room temperature. Return to bowl, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Just before serving, take the butternut out of the fridge.

Fish the garlic cloves out of the butternut mixture. They should be very soft. Pop them into a small bowl or cup and mash the garlic with a fork. Whisk in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Find a lovely large flat serving platter or plate. Strew the baby arugula over the plate in one beautiful bright green layer.

Tumble the butternut over, and pour about half the dressing over. Reserve the rest to serve on the side if you wish.

Sprinkle one or two toppings of your choice over all, and serve.

Perfect for a hot summer’s day!

Lemon Broccolini

25 Aug

Tart Bright Beautiful and Green!This is another dish from my sister’s feast – the perfect side dish as far as I am concerned. Bright, green, beautiful, and amazingly tasty. Plus, it tastes best if served cold, so you can make it up to one day ahead (though not more) and it will be gorgeous on the day. I love broccoli and broccolini (which is just the baby version)… there is no taste quite like it. I hate it when its boiled to death though, because I think it tastes of *green* and too much cooking just decimates its pure flavour.

You can use broccoli in place of broccolini here, but if you can find it, do use the baby version. Its so delicate, very sweet, and incredibly tasty. It needs very little prep too – the stalks are tender, and all you need to do is just trim the edges and slice them into 2 – 3 inch chunks. I like broccoli with anything – in a soup with some aged cheddar cheese, in a gratin (with more cheese), tossed with butter… but I think this is my absolute favourite. The lemon just enhances that very bright clear flavour – and its surprising because we usually expect the broccoli to be heavy and rich. Toasted almonds add creaminess and a nutty richness to this dish – they are a wonderful balance to the lemon and broccoli.

Two days after our birthday feast, I used the left over broccolini and almonds as the base for a cold vegetable soup (whizzed up with the help of the adored immersion blender!) – it was superb – and the almonds added texture and great depth of flavour.

You can double, triple, or even halve this recipe. Its great to take on a picnic, and wonderful to serve to hoardes of people. Its a tasty addition to a feast, and a perfect side dish for dinner or lunch.

Serves 8

  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds (I liked this to be very almondy – but use less if you like)
  • 2 – 3 cups broccolini or broccoli
  • 1 tsp + 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • Grated peel of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1 lemon

In a dry, non stick pan, over medium high heat, toast the sliced almonds. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to keep the almonds moving in the pan – they can burn in the blink of an eye! Once they are toasted, set aside to cool.

Prepare a bowl with water and ice, if possible. If not, have cold water standing by.

Also, prepare the lemon dressing. In a large-ish bowl, add 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, olive oil, the grated peel of a lemon, and all its juice. Organic lemons have a huge depth of flavour that cannot be matched, and are so worth it in this recipe! Whisk together well. The lemon juice and olive oil will emulsify, and you will have a creamy looking very lemony dressing. Set aside.

Fill a large pot with water, and add 1 tsp salt. Bring to the boil.

While the water is coming to the boil, trim your broccolini or broccoli spears. For broccolini, just trim the ends, and slice into manageable chunks… I usually just cut them in half. For broccoli, divide the head into florets, and trim the woody bits off the stalk, and cut into bite sized chunks. Wash briefly in cold water.

As soon as the water has come to the boil, put all the broccolini in. Watch carefully – you may only need a minute or two. Broccoli might take longer, but you want a crisp tender vegetable, with a little bit of crunch left. Do not over boil. You will lose all the freshness!

As soon as the broccolini is snap tender, drain, and pour the bowl of ice water or the cold water over. The broccolini will still be a little warm – this is okay. Shake to drain off as much of the water as possible, and immediately dunk the broccolini into the lemon dressing. Add the almonds, and mix thoroughly. Taste for salt and pepper.

Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Fig Walnut Tart

24 Aug

This tart was something I dreamed up in my imagination, and it turned out better than I could ever have imagined! I made it for my sister’s birthday feast, but it would be phenomenal as a meal on its own – perhaps with a simple side salad of arugula + tomato. It would also be a stunning first course – served either in slices or in little individual tartlets – you could use muffin pans. Its savoury and sweet, incredibly rich, and yet surprisingly light. If you like figs, this is nirvana.

My sister’s husband, BSA, and I were chatting about how I would incorporate all the fresh purple figs that are growing on their tree into my sister’s feast. They are beautiful, and really needed to be used up … I also found some pretty green Calamyrna figs at Whole foods, and I added those too! BSA suggested walnuts – I have to admit I am not a huge fan of the nut in and of itself. I find it bitter and powdery in a funny way. But incorporated into a crust, now thats a different story!

And the figs had to sit in something. I first thought of smearing the base of the tart with blue cheese, but the blue goat’s cheese I found wasnt really blue, and didnt meet my fancy. So instead, I mixed together fresh mascarpone, ricotta and a touch of creme fraiche, with a few eggs. The eggs and ricotta lightened the base – it became almost fluffy, and yet retained a beautiful clean sweetness. Bland, but a perfect counterfoil for the rich luscious figs. I think I was inspired by the wonderful open faced ricotta and fig sandwich I had at Le Pain Quotidien!

I poached the figs in a bit of sweet dessert wine and then reduced the poaching liquid to a thick syrup. I sliced the figs in half, and stuffed each of them with strong soft goat’s cheese and literally tucked them into the pillowy bed of ricotta and mascarpone. They sunk in a little, and I baked the whole thing until the filling was puffed, and the centre didnt jiggle any more. About ten minutes before I thought it would be done, I poured over the poaching syrup and let it bake in.

This was wonderful at room temperature, and really superb the next day, cold. This tart will keep, and the figs are transformed by their bedmates. This is a sensualist’s meal – textural, full of tastes, layers of flavour, and silky smooth. Serve it to those you love. They will be wowed.

I baked the tart in a 9 3/4 inch springform cake pan, and just released the edges when serving. It made for a rustic beautiful tart, but use whatever you have!

Serves 8 – 12 people

For the walnut crust

  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (for extra nuttiness, but if you only have regular flour – use that!)
  • 1/2 – 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 stick (4 tbsp) butter
  • 1 egg

In a food processor (or, as I did, in the wonderful attachment mini processor that came with my sister’s new immersion blender!) pulverise the walnuts until they are a fine coarse meal. In a small bowl, mix together the walnut meal and the flour, and add salt and pepper. Use your judgement when it comes to the salt – I eventually added about 3/4 of a teaspoon, but I was using unsalted butter… you might find you need less if you are using salted.

Grate the butter into the flour mixture, and using your fingers, mix until you have sandy pebbles.

Crack an egg into the bowl, and using your fingers, combine the egg into the flour-butter mixture. You will get a slightly sticky dough. Knead this a couple times in the bowl, and then refrigerate to allow all to come together for about 10 minutes or so.

Preheat the oven to 190 C.

Take the dough out of the fridge, and on a floured surface, roll out. You might find this is difficult, but do your best. The dough will be crumbly. Transfer to a tart pan, or a 9 – 10 inch springform cake pan. Use your fingers to spread out the dough across the bottom of the pan, and up the sides. Its okay if the dough tears, just use slightly wet fingers to patch it up again.

Put the pan in the fridge for 5 minutes to let the dough set, and then prick the dough all over with the tines of a fork.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until the pastry is lightly browned. The butter will have foamed up on the surface of the pastry – this is okay, it will incorporate back in once you take the pastry out of the oven. Cool for at least 20 minutes before assembling.

For the filling + assembly

  • 1/2 cup sweet dessert wine (or port wine, or red wine, or white wine, or if youre not into wine, grape or apple juice!)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 10 – 12 ripe fresh figs, whole
  • 1 cup mascarpone
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta
  • 2 heaping tbsp creme fraiche or sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup or so soft goat’s cheese (or blue cheese if you would rather – Cashel Blue might be wonderful here!)

Place wine, water, honey and figs in a medium saucepan that will fit all the figs snugly. Over medium heat, bring the wine to a boil, and then turn heat down, and simmer for about ten minutes. Remove the figs from the wine and allow them to cool separately.

Bring the wine mixture to the boil, and boil steadily until reduced to a very thick syrup. Set aside.

Beat the mascarpone, ricotta, and creme fraiche together until just combined. Beat the eggs into the mixture, and taste. You might want to add a little salt and pepper, but I didnt think it needed it.

Preheat the oven to 190 C

Pour the mascarpone mixture into the cooled walnut tart shell.

Chop the goat’s cheese into bite sized chunks, slice each fig in half from stem to bottom, and stuff the centres with a piece of goat’s cheese. Lay the figs into the mascarpone mixture gently, cut face side up.

Bake the tart for about 30 – 45 minutes, or until the centre does not wobble any more. About ten minutes before it is done (when you see a bare wobble), pour the reserved wine syrup over.

I really liked this cooled to room temperature before serving, particularly in the hot summer night, but if you want to serve it warm or hot, please let it sit for at least 10 – 15 minutes before slicing and devouring!

Enjoy!!!

Birthday Dinner!

23 Aug

Tonight was my beloved sister’s birthday dinner. It was a feast of feasts. I am so full I can barely type, let alone remember all the recipes! So am going to let the pictures do the talking. I will post recipes soon, I promise! Happy Birthday beloved MZ!

By the way, I decided that everything was going to be served cold or at room temperature except for the mushroom pie, which came hot from the oven. It is a hot humid summer’s day, and it was just so much nicer to eat things that were not burning hot. I also found that this really enhanced flavour… things just taste better, in my opinion, when they are not at extremes of temperature (the only exception to this is of course ice cream)… room temperature lets the full flavour come out undisturbed.

Hope you enjoy these pictures as much as we enjoyed the meal – family, friends, laughter and a whole lot of love.

Broccolini with lemon and almonds

Broccolini – very easy, and astoundingly delicious. Toasted almonds. Broccolini (basically baby broccoli with little flowers) given a boiling water bath for a mere minute or two until just tender. Cooled for a moment in ice water. Then dunked into about 1/3 cup olive oil + juice + grated rind of a lemon. Bit of salt and pepper. Toss with almonds and refrigerate overnight. The almonds make this dish really nutty and beautiful, and the lemon makes it bright and sparkly.

Roasted Butternut + Arugula

Roasted butternut on a bed of arugula. A simple olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper dressing sparingly poured over the top. Strewn with sprouts, which I dislike, but which the birthday girl adores!

Parsnip Mash with Truffle Oil

Parsnip mash with truffle oil and cracked black pepper…. easy peasy. Peeled, sliced parsnips, simmered in milk. When soft, drained, mashed with a bit of the reserved milk, some butter, salt and cracked black pepper. About a tablespoon of white truffle oil mixed in at the end. Sublime and silken.

Honey glazed carrots

Gorgeous organic carrots – honey glazed, with a touch of cinnamon and a heap of butter. A little burnt, and a lot delicious. Our Mum’s recipe…

Heirloom tomatoes

Chopped heirloom tomatoes, slicked with olive oil, salt + pepper, and chopped parsley and basil from the garden. So goood!

Fig, ricotta + goat's cheese tart

A fig tart from my imagination that turned out beautifully! A walnut crust, with a ricotta + mascarpone base. Sweet wine poached figs, sliced and stuffed with goat’s cheese. It was REALLY good. I will post the recipe tomorrow!

For the Birthday Woman!

Personalised mushroom pie πŸ˜‰ Portobello, white button, shiitake, and truffle oil, bound with a bit of sour cream, panko and fresh parmesan, baked in a puff pastry crust.

:)

And finally a blackout birthday cake, with lashings of fresh cream.

Happy Happy Birthday to my most beloved sister. You are my heart πŸ™‚