Thursday, March 24, 2011

quiet and simple

I think with everything you like to do, sometimes there is a reluctance, a need for freshness or new inspiration. Even with cooking, I sometimes feel stuck in a rut, and uninclined to get my hands dirty.  In these moments, I often just enjoy the beautiful, quiet moments at the table with something simple: a piece of sweet fruit, a cup of strong tea to accompany a good book. Yesterday, I enjoyed a luscious pink grapefruit and quite a nice one it was too. I think it was the first grapefruit I've voluntarily sought out since a bad experience in Italy when I was about 8. Incredible how the mind holds onto food related memories.

In that vein and because I need some travelling vistas to jazz me up today, here are a few other food related travel moments from the last few years : 

2006 - A hilltop cafe in Austria and an odd but delicious coffee-milk ratio in Switzerland
2007 - The New Years Day queue for Schwartz's  beef and pickle sandwiches in Montreal
2008 - Exploring the lanes in Melbourne
2009/10 - Homemade waffles in Tokyo

Have you got any favourite travel food memories? I'd love to know. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

in anticipation of citrus

The women in my family have an interesting relationship with marmalade. My grandmother loved it, I love it, my mother can't stand the stuff. Her condiment of choice is apricot jam which, as it happens, I don't mind either. But my first love is marmalade and when it's cold and rainy out or I'm having a bad day and having a flashback to being 10 and ardently not wanting to go to ballet class (this can sometimes happen when it rains a lot for some reason), it's marmalade on toast (with occasional cheese involvement) that I turn to. The ultimate comfort food.

That's why when I heard about a cake incorporating whole oranges, I almost gasped in excitement. It was marmalade in cake form. I was already tasting the saturated citrus flavours in anticipation. And so, when our friend came over on Friday night, I had the perfect excuse to make it. 

This cake makes a great dessert, with its moist and dense texture, resembling that of a baked cheesecake, but I think it truly shines as a mid-morning tea accompaniment - a small slice to go with a strong cup of Earl Grey and perhaps an Austen or a Brontë.

Whole Orange Cake with Yoghurt Topping
Adapted from The British Larder

For the cake
2 whole fresh oranges
100ml of the cooking water from the oranges
6 whole free range eggs
250g unrefined caster sugar
100g plain flour
200g ground almonds
1tsp baking powder

For the yoghurt topping
2 Tbs natural yoghurt
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
 zest of one orange

Wash the oranges; place them in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring the oranges to the boil and simmer for approximately 1 ½ hours, until completely soft. Let the oranges cool completely in the cooking liquid.

Preheat the oven to 150°C, grease and line a 9-inch round springform pan with baking paper. Place the boiled oranges (skin and all) in a food processor with 100ml of the cooking liquid and puree till a very smooth. Transfer the orange puree to a large mixing bowl, add the eggs and sugar and mix well. Fold the ground almonds into the batter. Sieve the flour and baking powder over the batter and fold the flour in with a metal spoon. The cake batter will be very runny.

Spoon the cake mixture in to the prepared tin, place on the middle shelf of the preheated oven and bake for 1 hour, or until a metal skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.  
For the topping, combine the yoghurt with the confectioners sugar and spoon over a generous slice of cake and garnish with orange zest. 

And another thing, this cake improves with time. Day 2 or 3 is a real treat.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

puttering with capsicums

Life continues to putter along here and, in light of the sad things happening elsewhere at the moment, I've been finding it helpful to focus on being grateful and appreciative for every little thing - the good weather, the fresh food and water we are lucky to have. I've been sliding a little lately in the healthy eating stakes, so that's something I'm trying to turn my mind to more.

The other night I realised that despite their obvious healthy appeal and simplicity, I have never made stuffed capsicums. It was a situation that needed to be remedied. It was also a great opportunity to use up the last bit of quinoa we had lying around - I am a total convert to the numerous ways you can use that protein filled little wonder of a seed, and here's another one for you.  These capsicums should probably be classed more as 'filled' rather than 'stuffed' but you get the idea. 

Stuffed Capsicums with Quinoa and Mushrooms
Serves 2-3

2 large red capsicums
2 tspn olive oil
1 small brown onion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup quinoa
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup water
1 Tbs lemon juice
300g spinach, chopped coarsely
small punnet of mushrooms, chopped
2 Tbs walnuts, almonds or pine nuts, toasted
2 Tbs dried currants
1 cup low fat cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Halve and seed capsicums and place in a large baking dish in the oven to bake for 15 minutes.

Heat oil in a medium saucepan and cook onion and garlic until soft. Add quinoa, stock, water and juice and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes or until the quinoa is tender.  Add in the chopped mushrooms, spinach, nuts and currants and stir cook for a few more minutes.

Remove the capsicum halves from the oven and fill with the quinoa mixture. Top with the cheese and bake for another fifteen minutes or until the cheese starts looking amazing. You'll know when that is.

Any left-over quinoa mixture is great cold as a salad the following day, although I must admit a fair bit of sampling went on whilst I was cooking this so there wasn't a whole lot left over.


Monday, March 14, 2011

in the blink of an eye

Before the weekend, I was going to write about chocolate biscuits, but then it seems like there are more important things to talk about right now. We have friends over in Japan so our thoughts are with them and everyone else affected by the unimaginable events of the past few days.

I've been reflecting on many good times had in Japan over the years, from when I was 10 years old, attending school (and learning how to ride a unicycle on the roof of Nagatacho Primary) to more recently when we stayed with our friend Matt, cooked up a traditional Christmas dinner (complete with turkey, fruit mince pies and peas) and then went bowling. It is hard to believe how quickly things can change in the blink of an eye. It really makes you take stock of what is important, to focus on appreciating the simple things in life and to help if you can

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Baker Street Market

I dare say a few etsy shops have been founded on the grounds of space. I know this one certainly has. My growing interest in vintage kitchenware, tableware and what-not began as a little side hobby and has grown well beyond the capacity of our little (but lovely) kitchen.

So I've opened an Etsy shop - Baker Street Market, which in my imagination is located out the front of Sherlock's fabulous 221B residence and is witness to some interesting comings and goings, but most of all is a place to store some lovely old things with charm and character until they can find a new home. Please do drop in for a visit if you're in the neighbourhood.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A very passionate stew

A few months back we had a run-in with one of our older neighbours over some very loud early morning phone calls conducted in her backyard. There has been a quiet simmering resentment of the non-talking variety since then until last night, when I wandered in our back gate, head full of thoughts of what to make for dinner, and it all went quickly pear shaped.

I'm not normally the sort of person who has run-ins but my wordy did it happen last night. She called me something under her breath and it was game on. The hose came out, hers mind you, which she liberally sprayed me with, insults were traded, neighbours waded in. It was all quite alarming and I will admit just a little bit exciting.

But here's the interesting part.  After I had slammed the door, dumped the groceries, then headed right back outside to call a truce (this took some time as you can imagine) and returned back inside for the second time, I managed to make rather a good veggie stew.  I'll share it with you now, just in case you have the odd run-in of your own or just a hard day and need something quick and nourishing, which you can bang out with minimal fuss and preparation and which tastes good.  

Passionate Stew
Made with what I had in the shopping bag (with help from the freezer)
Serves 4

1 large can of whole peeled tomatoes, blended
1 can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 onion, chopped coarsely
1 large zucchini, chopped
3/4 cup frozen spinach
1 tbs paprika
1 tsp cumin
salt and pepper
olive oil to drizzle

Firstly, to really get into the spirit of things, you need to harrumph around the kitchen for a good few minutes banging down utensils and ingredients as though they are your enemy. Then, once you've cooled down a bit, cook the onions and zucchini in a saucepan on medium heat for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes, paprika and cannellini beans.

Now let it all simmer for about 10 minutes or so, like a nicely brewing rage.  Thaw the frozen spinach and add in to cook for an additional few minutes.

Season with a little salt and pepper (my still slightly shaking hands added quite a lot of pepper, more than I would usually add but then maybe that's the secret) and then ladle into bowls. Drizzle a little olive oil on top and serve on its own or with crackers or crusty bread.

To be eaten with gusto and if possible, whilst recounting tales of victory. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

some bookend moments

Some bookend moments from the weekend. Toast featured highly and there was also some clandestine scoffing of yoghurt and lemon cakes. The sunset is from my parents' backyard (their neighbours have a rather unusual house).

Sadly I forgot to capture the magnificent dinner of roast beef and vegetables that our friends Bec, Robbie and Dash made for us on Saturday night - I was too busy marvelling at the gravy, the all round deliciousness, to remember to take photos. Thanks guys, I'm still licking my chops over that meal!

I have been busily working on a new project for the last few days so my apologies for lack of recipes. There has been cooking but it has been a bit of the rushed, necessity over excitement, variety. Never fear, I'll be back behind my apron in no time. Besides I have some new recently inherited cookware to try out. Exciting times!


Thursday, March 3, 2011

in search of something sweet

Sometimes, when you're busy worrying about what to do with your life, a whole week can go by almost without you even noticing.

I don't know where this last week went. I think it took me the best part of the week to recover from our weekend - up and back to Newcastle on Saturday - where I had the most spectacular ocean trout, a friend's housecooling, followed by the Beach Road Hotel (which was nothing short of utter madness), and a birthday party picnic at Bronte to finish it all off on Sunday, where we enjoyed cupcakes, punch and my friend Anna's spectacular rosewater, lime and semolina cake.

There were a lot of delicious and wonderful moments in there but it was a little hectic and there was some flow-over into the week itself - tears, cheesecake, wine - you know, the usual. Anyway, phew, here we are at Friday, hot on the heels of another weekend, and the first one of Autumn to boot.

And because you've indulged me thus far I'll let you in on a little recipe. This much needed dessert happened one afternoon when I'd opened the cupboards and refrigerator more than a few times in search of something sweet, an old chocolate, something...anything. A little "bing" of inspiration went off in my head as I realised that the cream cheese and lemon I'd spied could be converted into something magnificent. I wasn't about to leave the house for any missing ingredients (such as biscuits) so crustless cheesecake was born and it fitted the bill just nicely.

Crustless Cheesecakes
Adapted from Desserts, by Victoria Chow

150g caster sugar
200g cream cheese
1 egg
Juice from half a lemon

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F and grease 2-3 ramekins. Beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add in the sugar, egg and lemon juice and beat again until smooth.  Pour the mixture into the greased ramekins and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes. You can chill them overnight or you can do as I did and grab a spoon, turn on Hawaii Five-O and dig right in.

Happy Friday everyone and hope you have a relaxing weekend ahead!