Saturday, September 5, 2015

etcetera ... London calling


Rewind time.  By way of explanation for the absence of posts in the past two months, I've been overseas for a wee while. Back to Edinburgh for a fabulous home visit and walk, walk, walk the city streets. Loved it, even though we went mid-summer and the weather was similar to Auckland's winter. Never mind, any sunshine we get is always a bonus. Similar stuff in Dublin visiting Bill's family. It was only when we reached Whitchurch village in Buckinghamshire, England that the temperature upped a bit - but the shorts stayed in the suitcase!


It was while we were at Bill's sister's that we took a day trip to London on the train. Something we do each time we visit. I've been encouraged to do a post on this cafe by a friend who wants to look it up next time she's in London. Happy to recommend. 

We were fortunate indeed to come across The Black Penny cafe (or coffee house, as they call it) as I was just about to lose it with caffeine withdrawal symptoms (sad, I know). We'd ditched the plan to have coffee first to take advantage of a quieter moment at the nearby Sir John Soane museum (more on that below). I instinctively knew the coffee would be good (after a rather hit and miss sampling in the UK) and it was. That and one look at the salads and I wasn't going anywhere else. 



I thought we were in for a bit of a wait as the place was bustling but luckily we got seated in the back room right away.  A large communal table filled the room which had that lovely mix of modern and old with exposed brickwork, wooden panelling and unusual lights, plus a few books to keep this bibliophile happy! 


The food was the star though. Not surprisingly I chose the option of a selection of salads which made me feel virtuous and were just lovely. The other two had generous portions of slow braised chicken legs with roasted fennel, sumac, burnt lemon and feta and proclaimed them delicious. Around our communal table I heard nothing but praise for the food. As much as I wanted to try the cakes or dessert, I was plenty full. If you find yourself in the Bloomsbury/Covent Garden area, go there!

And whilst you are in the area you'd be well advised to pay a visit to the Sir John Soane museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields.  It had been on my TO DO list for years. I wasn't aware of it when I lived in London (even though it was only a short walk from where I worked). Funnily enough, while telling sister-in-law about it, I discovered an article on it in one of those homes and gardens magazines in her house and then found out she'd already been there. Thankfully she was happy to return. Over the years it has gone from being a relative unknown to a must do on the tourist schedule. A mesmerizing and eclectic collection of art, architecture and curiosities, with lots of little surprises, you simply must go! It's unique.









Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sweet Caramel & Oat Slice


I must have got my baking mojo back this weekend. As well as having another batch of homemade muesli ready for the working week ahead, I've been busy baking my favourite lemon cake, this time done as a slice instead of a cake. I was on a roll by then and thought my daughter and her flatmates might appreciate a bit of homemade baking. 

I remembered this slice.  I pestered someone for the recipe after tasting it at work many years ago. A mother had made it for a school camp, or some other trip. I'm not sure (or don't remember!) how it found its way to the staff room but I'm glad it did. It's a wonderfully gooey mix of crunch and caramel that we all fell in love with that day and still tastes as good as I remember.


Sweet Caramel & Oat Slice

Makes approximately 24 small slices

For the filling
385g tin sweetened condensed milk
50 grams butter
2 tbsp golden syrup

For the base
175g butter, softened
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups standard flour
1/2 cup rolled oats


Place the condensed milk, butter and golden syrup in a medium sized saucepan and stir over a low heat for about 5 minutes until the butter has melted and the mixture is golden. Leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.  Grease and line a 23cm x 23cm slice tin with baking paper.

In a cake mixer, or by hand, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla together until pale and creamy. Sift the flour into the mixture, along with the oats and mix them in until incorporated. The mix will be moist and crumbly.  

Press three-quarters of this mix into the base of the prepared tin, ensuring you have an even surface without gaps.

Pour over the caramel filling and spread out evenly with a palette knife. 

Scatter the remaining quarter of the crumble evenly across the top.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden.

Cool in the tin for 15 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool (you should be able to lift out the whole lot by holding onto the overlap of baking paper.  You can refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight and it will be easier to slice.

Once cool, cut into small slices or squares. You don't need to cut the slices too large as it is quite rich. 





Saturday, May 16, 2015

Chocolate, Raspberry & Coconut Slice


It pays to have your eyes tested before reading a recipe.  Lesson learned after I delivered these with a third of the amount of raspberry jam filling required.  That was after checking the recipe twice (I'm blaming the ratio of distance from eye to cookbook!) and not following my own intuition when it spread as a thin layer on the base. Luckily, after they'd cooled I was able to slice the base horizontally and add more jam to each individual slice. It made all the difference to the balance of tastes.

These slices are based on the Louise slice - a base layer of cake topped with raspberry jam and coconut meringue - and given a twist for chocoholics with a chocolate cake base and coconut and chocolate meringue. 

If the thought of three layers troubles you, don't worry, this was a breeze to make. The only strenuous chore was grating the chocolate. I thought there must be a better way but didn't find anything worthwhile on Google - so if you have any tips, let me know. At least it was cold and didn't melt in my hand as it did in summer.

I added a dusting of freeze-dried powder to give a tart burst of raspberry flavour in contrast to the sweetness, plus it looks rather vibrant.

The recipe comes from Fiona Smith in the Treasury of New Zealand Baking (edited by Lauraine Jacobs). It's a keeper of a cookbook full of delicious and reliable recipes.


Chocolate, Raspberry & Coconut Slice

125g butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups standard flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
3/4 cup raspberry jam
100g dark chocolate, grated
1/2 cup desiccated coconut

Optional: freeze-dried raspberry powder

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Grease and line a 18x28 cm baking tin.

Cream the butter and half the sugar in a cake mixer until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time until incorporated. 

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder together and mix into the creamed butter and sugar. As it's quite crumbly, I found the easiest way to do this was to do a short burst on slow whisk to incorporate everything.  Press the mix into the prepared tray. Spread the raspberry jam evenly over the base.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks, then slowly (about a tablespoonful at a time) beat in the remaining sugar until stiff. Fold in the grated chocolate and coconut. Using a palette knife or spatula, spread the meringue mixture evenly over the top.

Bake for 30 minutes or until meringue is golden and firm to touch.

Cool in the tin.  Remove from the tin carefully and cut into squares or slices.  Dust a little freeze-dried raspberry powder over the top of the cakes.


Makes about 16 squares.  Keeps for up to 3 days in an airtight container.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Anzac Biscuits



A few years ago I made a slightly different version of these biscuits which you can find here. Today, I've stuck with the classic version. I was tempted to dip half the biscuits in melted chocolate but having just had two with coffee there really is no need for embellishment.

The biscuits were named after the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) soldiers who fought in the First World War at Gallipoli and were given these long lasting biscuits from their loved ones back home. It was quite poignant to think of their history as I baked and listened on the radio to ANZAC stories on the eve of ANZAC day in New Zealand.

They are very easy to make and most of the ingredients you will have in your cupboard. If you don't have thread coconut, substitute with desiccated coconut but it is worthwhile sourcing the longer thread coconut - I think it looks nicer (and thread is easier to spell than desiccated).

ANZAC Biscuits

makes about 20-24 biscuits

125g butter
2 tbsp cold water
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup coarse thread coconut
1 cup standard flour
1 cup brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C.  Line two baking trays with baking paper.

Place the butter, cold water and golden syrup in a medium to large saucepan and heat until butter is melted and it is almost at boiling point. Add baking soda and remove the pan from the heat. Swirl the pan around to ensure baking soda is incorporated.  Add the oats, coconut, flour and brown sugar to the pan and combine well.

Roll tablespoons of the mix into a ball (I used a mini ice-cream scoop) and place on the baking trays, leaving enough space between the biscuits for them to spread. Press with a fork to flatten.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden. Swap the trays around half way to ensure even baking of both trays of biscuits.

Remove from the oven and leave on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

The biscuits keep well in an airtight container.


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?