Sunday, March 29, 2015

Blondies


A month has slipped by since my last post - something I didn't realize until I saw the date. I'm not complaining - seriously I'm not - but, as fellow food bloggers will know, writing a blog takes some time.  Typing the recipe is the easy part then you've got to be a food stylist, photographer and writer all in one. Sometimes it falls together easily. Mostly it doesn't. It takes dozens of different props, styles, layouts until I'm happy with the result. I take my own photos. This may involve several rounds of shoots. If all else fails, I go out shopping and instruct the amateur photographer to have a go whilst I'm out!  Writing either comes easy or it's a struggle - 99% of the time it's the latter. Some days I write an entire post and wipe it completely the next day, wondering how I ever thought it good enough.  Then on rare occasions I'll write something totally off the cuff and it works. Go figure.

I baked blondies this weekend for the first time. These were from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook but I used pistachios instead of pecan nuts. Blondies are the paler version of brownies (in more ways than one, I think) made with white chocolate. The end result was very tasty but  more "cakey" than fudgy brownie. I may have over-beaten the mixture or overcooked them (though I took them out a good 15 minutes before the recommended time) but I did note later that some other bloggers had the same result. They're still worth doing, just don't over-mix and keep an eye on them cooking. They need to be a bit soft in the middle when you remove them from the oven. I would definitely do them again as, apart from shelling the pistachios, they were quick and easy. Would they win over dark chocolate brownies?  I don't think so.

Thanks to my friend for gifting me the lovely little plate in the photo. And whilst I'm crediting the props, my sister hand-knitted the lovely little potholder underneath. It has a pretty floral fabric on the reverse.

Blondies

150g white chocolate, roughly chopped (I used Whittaker's white chocolate)
125g butter
150g caster sugar
2 eggs
1½ tsp vanilla extract or essence
200g plain flour
a pinch of salt
120g shelled pistachios, chopped



Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F).

Line a 33 x 23 x 5cm baking tray with baking paper.

Place the white chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Don’t let the water touch the base of the bowl. Leave until melted and smooth. Remove from heat.


Add the sugar and stir until well incorporated.

Add the eggs and vanilla extract or essence, stirring briskly (but not over-mixing) as you don’t want the eggs to scramble. The mixture may look like it is starting to split but it will be fine.

Add the flour, salt and pistachios and stir until well incorporated.

Spoon the mixture into the lined baking tray and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown and the centre is still soft.

Leave to cool completely.

Makes about 12-14 squares.













Saturday, February 28, 2015

Herb and Rice Salad


I dread the summer barbecue request "can you bring a salad?". I want to scream - No, I can't do salads, please, please let me do dessert!. Instead I cave in and spend the available time thumbing through cookbooks and searching online recipes for a salad that isn't just lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and avocado.

My hopelessness with salads was brought to a head recently whilst reading the lovely Sue's blog Couscous & Consciousness where not only does she show an aptitude for creating a mouth-watering range of salads but also requests readers share their own favourites. 

I obediently searched my blog only to find (much to Sue's amusement) NO salads!  She's kindly given me time to address this and with great fanfare I give you my favourite salad because it's easy, it's fresh and tasty, and everyone who eats it loves it.

I've given the recipe for cooking in a pan on the stovetop but I've successfully cooked this in a rice cooker too, checking the rice to water ratio to fit with the rice cooker guidelines. Make the dressing in advance to save time.

Herb and Rice Salad

2 dessertspoons oil
1 1/2 cups white (or brown) basmati rice
700ml boiling water or vegetable stock
1 tsp salt
50g baby spinach leaves
8 spring onions (white & green parts)
2 heaped teaspoons chopped fresh herbs
(e.g. a mix of thyme, rosemary, sage, marjoram, tarragon
whatever you can get - don't use dried herbs though)
grated rind of 1/2 lemon
Extra grated lemon rind for garnish

Salad dressing

1 tsp rock salt
1/2 tsp black pepper (grind onto baking paper for easy measuring)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
5 tbsp olive oil

Heat the oil in a large saucepan (one with a lid). Stir in the rice then add the boiling water or stock. Add the salt. Stir once and allow to come back to boil. 

Cover with lid and reduce the heat to a bare simmer (you may need to use a simmer mat as you don't want to burn the rice).  Cook very gently for 40-50 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed and rice is just tender. You may find it cooks quicker if you can't reduce your heat enough.

While rice is cooking, chop up the spinach leaves and spring onions finely. Once the rice is ready, fork these into it, along with the chopped herbs and grated lemon rind.  Cover the pan with a folded tea towel and set aside for 10 minutes.

To make the dressing, place all the ingredients in a small glass jar with a lid and shake until blended.

Place the rice in a serving bowl, pour over the salad dressing and fluff it up with a fork.

Top with some grated lemon rind.

Can be served warm or cold.








Tuesday, February 10, 2015

etcetera ... Bracu restaurant

Cured tuna

So tell me, why would you drive all the way into the city when you can have this?

It’s a perfect summer’s evening and we’re seated on a balcony overlooking olive groves.  We’ve opted for an early dinner and a few diners are smattered around the old villa that holds the restaurant. Conversations are low and unobtrusive.  I feel the day’s work and cares beginning to melt away.

So begins our evening at Bracu restaurant.

A last minute change of mind brought us here. I‘d been charged with a dinner venue for just the two of us. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the choice of restaurants in Auckland and I’d got to the stage of overthinking where to go. Then I thought about Bill driving home from work mid-week and having to drive back into the city for an evening meal. Why not stay local and have a bit of a splurge? We’d been to Bracu for brunch and had always been meaning to go for dinner. Now was the night to try it.

Fifteen minutes’ drive later and we’re there. An amuse-bouche is set before us with handmade bread and the estate’s own olive oil. With a glass of wine in hand, the relaxation vibes are really kicking in.

Not normally one to order seafood, I surprised myself by choosing (and enjoying) the cured tuna. It came with paper-thin apple spheres; tiny cubes of apple jelly; avocado and nasturtiums – exquisite little bursts of taste to complement the fish.


Bill opted for the heartier Rabbit and Duck terrine, which came with a delicious thick slab of homemade brioche and (I think?) a flavoured butter. There were so many extras on each dish, it was hard not to sound like an annoying child with constant questions for the staff. I am chiding myself for not photographing the actual menu presented and taking notes. I mistakenly trusted my memory to work and it proved me wrong yet again.



My main course of beef (meltingly tender), cauliflower, mustard and burnt onion was perfect. The cauliflower was so silken in texture it was hard to imagine it had once been tough and knobbly. The highlight though was the crispy, whisper-thin dried cabbage leaf – amazing.



Bill chose the lamb rump. Take a look at the photograph above - it tasted every bit as good as it looked. We shared a salad of fresh garden leaves and radish with buttermilk dressing.


Lastly, my favourite part of a meal – dessert, yay!  All the preceding dishes had been so good and the desserts were no exception. We decided to split the dishes as I couldn’t decide between the two berries on offer. Bill commented that in the time it took for him to photograph the strawberry terrine placed in front of him, I’d wolfed down half of the raspberry and dark chocolate dessert and was impatiently waiting for half of his. All I can say is that he’s lucky I didn’t eat ALL of it.


We found staff to be friendly, relaxed and knowledgeable (I was impressed - they had so much to remember!). When it came to choose a syrah for the mains, the wait staff were more than happy to talk us through a couple of options and offered us a taste to help us decide our own personal preference and we opted for two different choices. Picking wine by the glass has its advantages.

Pleasantly sated, we set off on the short trip home watching the sun go down over the Bombay Hills as we left.


This was such a pleasant and relaxing experience that we can't wait to return.  Why would we drive all the way into the city when we have this on our doorstep?  Why, indeed?












Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Mango Lassi



It's been hot of late and yesterday was very hot. The kind of day when you don't feel like eating much.  Late afternoon I made this and took myself off to a shady spot with a book.  

Lassi is a yoghurt based drink popular in India. It's hard for me to say the word as my Scottish origins change it to a very broad "lassie" which changes its meaning entirely. That aside, it's cool, comforting and silky rich and there's not much exertion required. Just right for summer.

Mango Lassi


Serves 1


1/4 cup Greek or plain yoghurt
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 fresh mango, skin removed and cut into cubes
2 large ice cubes

Place all the ingredients in a blender and whizz until all combined.  Pour into a glass to serve. 

I like the thickness of the drink but you can add a little extra orange juice or milk if you prefer.



Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Summer Berry Tiramisu



I’ve had this recipe for a very long time. It came from the now-defunct Hotel du Vin (south of Auckland) with no chef name attributed to it. I’ve looked at it on occasion but thought it may be too time consuming or difficult. It isn’t really. In fact it’s a very simple process that just needs some time for the layers to chill or set.

I picked it for Christmas dessert. It looked sensational and showcased summer's lovely fresh berries.  It gives a nod to trifle but with more elegance.  I liked the individual portions - just the right size and no temptation to over-indulge.

I started making it on Christmas Eve then wondered if the sponge base would be soggy the next day. Thankfully it was fine and even tasted good the following day when we shared the last one.

Bill kindly made the individual moulds for me (personal mould-maker) and they worked a treat.

I could have added some embellishments such as a swipe of lemon curd or fresh raspberries dotted on the plate but it was just perfect as it was.

As another year draws to a close I am pleased to still be writing on this blog, perhaps not as often as I would like but that too is fine as I want to continue to enjoy baking, cooking and writing about it without every having to see it as a chore. 

Thank you for reading and for all your comments. Have a very good new year x



Summer Berry Tiramisu

Serves 6

You will need 6 ring moulds (without a base) 4cm high and 6cm in diameter (mine were 7cm in diameter)


1 store-bought plain sponge
1 cup mascarpone
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
¼ cup Limoncello (the original recipe used Kahlua but I preferred the more summery taste of lemons)
¼ cup cream (whipped lightly)
1 punnet blueberries
1 punnet strawberries, hulled & quartered
1 cup raspberry puree*
1 tsp gelatine

*For the raspberry puree I used defrosted frozen raspberries (with a few fresh ones thrown in) blended or mashed and then put through a sieve to remove the seeds. This makes a clear raspberry puree.  Sadly I can’t remember how many raspberries I used to make a full cup of puree as I just kept doing more until I got the right amount.

Using one of the ring moulds, cut three circles from the sponge then carefully cut them in half horizontally so you have six circles of sponge in total.

Grease the inside of the ring moulds lightly. Place on a small tray that can hold the six moulds.

Place the six sponge bases in the base of each ring mould. Using half of the Limoncello (1/8 cup), drizzle evenly over the sponge bases. Place in fridge whilst you make the next layer.

In a bowl, lightly mix the mascarpone, icing sugar, cream and remainder of Limoncello.  Spread evenly over the sponge bases and level the tops with a palette knife. Ensure there is enough space (about 1cm) at the top of each mould for the last layer of fruit and jelly. Return to the fridge for at least 3 hours until set.

Place the berries decoratively on top of the custard. Return to fridge.

Dissolve the gelatine in water as per instructions on pack using enough gelatine powder or sheets to set 250ml of raspberry puree. I used powdered gelatine as I did not have sheets.  This is my method: Pour 85ml of hot water into a small bowl and whisk in 2 teaspoons of gelatine powder until fully dissolved and no dry bits left. Gently warm the raspberry puree in a saucepan over low heat. Add gelatine/water and mix until completely dissolved.  Set aside to cool.

Cover the tops of the tiramisu moulds evenly with raspberry puree jelly. Refrigerate for an hour or until set.

Remove from fridge about half an hour before serving.  The desserts should slip fairly easily from the moulds onto individual plates.













Sunday, December 7, 2014

Homemade Mince & Cheese Pies


It was Nigel Slater who said A pie teases us, with only a hint of what is to come under its golden crust. And there is the dilemma. What is inside the pie?  I am like the fair weather sailor, only venturing on board if a calm, sunny day bids.  It's the same with pies. I want to know what I'm getting before I embark on the tasting.

The easiest remedy then is to make my own so I know exactly what lurks under the golden crust. So I did.  I even went as far as making my own puff pastry which was not my initial intent but I am so glad I did. If you're not in a rush, give it a go. It is at once therapeutic and satisfying (more so when it turns out fine).

When I made this some weeks ago it seemed appropriate for the weather, at times tempting with hints of summer, then blowing cold and rainy. I opted to stay in the kitchen, keeping warm.  For most of the day I baked - Afghan biscuits first (see previous post), then this pie (well, there were three individual ones actually). In the process I attempted to improve my flour dusting and rolling pin techniques so that with one expert flick of the hand the board would be evenly and finely dusted and a few rolls of the pin and the pastry would be straight and even.  Ah well, that was the idea but I have a long way to go...


Individual Mince & Cheese Pies

There's a lot of chilling and resting so make sure you read the recipe through and allow plenty of time.


Homemade rough puff pastry (or use shop-bought)

makes about 3-4 pies depending on your individual tin size

250g high grade plain flour
1 tsp salt
250g butter, at room temperature
approx 150ml cold water

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl.  Roughly chop the butter into small chunks and rub loosely but not completely into the flour - you should still be able to see bits of butter.

Make a well in the bowl and pour in about two-thirds of the cold water.  Mix until you have a firm dough. Cover with cling film, transfer to the fridge for 20 minutes.

Place the dough on a lightly floured board. Knead gently and shape into a rectangle.  Roll in one direction only, keeping the edges straight, until the rectangle is about 20 x 50 cm.  You should still be able to see butter streaks in the pastry.  From the long end, fold the pastry into three (fold the top third down to the centre, then the bottom third up and over that). Cover with cling film and chill for 20 minutes.  Repeat the rolling out, folding and chilling 3 times. Each time you roll, give the dough a quarter turn and roll out to the same size as before. Chill before using in the main recipe.

Filling

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
500g lean beef mince
20g (2 tbsp) plain flour
1 beef stock cube mixed in 3/4 cup hot water
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tbsp Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp each each of dried basil and oregano
salt & pepper to taste
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
200g Tasty (strong cheddar) cheese, grated
1 egg (for egg wash) + 2 tbsp water

Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan and saute the onion and garlic gently for about 5 minutes until onion is translucent.  Add the mince and cook until well browned, using a fork to break down any lumps.  Stir in the flour and cook for about a minute.  Add the beef stock and bring to the boil.  Add the tomato paste, Lea & Perrins, balsamic vinegar, dried herbs and salt and pepper.  Lower the heat and simmer gently for about 15-20 minutes.  Turn off the heat. Stir in the fresh thyme leaves and leave to cool.

When you are ready to assemble and eat, roll out the pastry to approximately 4mm thick and cut to the size of the tin(s) you are using.  You will need pastry to cover the base of the tin and a pastry lid. I used Texan muffin trays which were perfect for single serve pies.  I used a small saucer as a template circle for the base and smaller circles for the lid.

Lightly grease the tins and line with the pastry base.  Fill the pastry almost to the top with the mince mixture then add a small handful of the cheese.

Brush the edge of the pastry with water and place the pastry lid on top.  Seal the edges, trimming off any excess pastry.

Whisk egg and 2 tbsp water together and brush over the pastry.  Rest for 1 hour before baking.  It was cold so I just left mine on the benchtop.  If it's too hot in the kitchen, place them in the fridge to rest.

Preheat oven to 220 degrees C. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown in colour.  Leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool a little bit before eating.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Afghan Biscuits



I love these little Afghan biscuits with their rich, crunchy base and chocolate topping. They are a New Zealand favourite and I find it interesting that the longer I live here the less clear I am about what "belongs" to one country as opposed to another and it all becomes just baking without frontiers. If I've only been eating these since I arrived in NZ then I've certainly missed out and have a lot of catching up to do.

Traditionally these would be topped with a walnut half, but the batch I made were being shared with the nut allergy sufferer, so I topped half with pieces of coconut chips (shaved coconut).  The coconut goes well with the chocolate and I think gives a complementary look to the more traditional biscuit. Perhaps I could start a new trend?

I'm a bit fussy about the cornflakes. They have to be crushed just right. Not too crumbly, not too large. For some reason I hate seeing whole flakes jutting out the biscuit but that's just me always trying to be perfect.

I had some leftover chocolate ganache so used that as topping (which I have to say was a particularly luxurious touch and very nice) but I've given the standard chocolate icing recipe below.  

 Makes about 16-18 biscuits depending on size.


Afghan Biscuits


200g butter, softened
90g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
175g (1 1/4 cups) standard flour
35g (1/4 cup) good quality cocoa powder
55g (1 1/2 cups) cornflakes, lightly crushed

Chocolate icing

1 1/2 cups icing sugar
60g butter
4 tbsp boiling water
1/4 cup cocoa

Walnut halves or coconut chips to decorate.


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease or line a baking tray with baking paper.

In a cake mixer, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and creamy.

Sift in the flour and cocoa and combine thoroughly. Stir in the cornflakes.

Place large tablespoonfuls onto the baking tray (I use a mini ice-cream scoop) and press each biscuit lightly with a fork to flatten slightly.

Bake for 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before icing.  


Icing

In a cake mixer, beat the icing sugar, butter and sifted cocoa together until smooth and ice the biscuits when they are cold. Decorate with a halved walnut or a couple of coconut chips.