28 Jul 2012

Ode to eggs

Eggs from mum's chooks. Chicken fabric from Frangipani Fabrics.

Isn’t there something so fundamentally amazing about an egg? Eggs top my list of favourite ingredients (yes, I have a list of favourite ingredients. Don’t you?). And lots of other people must think this way, too; have you noticed that many cookbooks, especially old school sort of basic ones, devote a chapter to the egg and all its glorious possibilities? I know they want to teach you some cooking basics, but to me these chapters confirm … the joy of eggs.

If I’m feeling lazy, or too-tired-to-cook, or unwell, or just plain can’t-be-bothered, I still hear a sensible voice in my head (that sounds remarkably like my mother’s) saying ‘eat something or you’ll get sick and die’ (tough love, my mother). So I get out the carton of eggs.

Because eggs are nutritious, straightforward, neat, quick. Soft boiled eggs, two, are a favourite – just eggs in all their simple wondrousness. Just a smidgeon of salt and pepper to snuggle around the flavour of those two beautiful yolky globes. And soft-boiled eggs are like a hug from your mother when you’re tired or under the weather: comforting.

It’s a family tradition of ours to have eggs on Sunday for supper, though I’ve let this slide a little – largely because I sometimes have eggs for supper on Tuesday, or Friday. There is a secret smug pleasure in being a single girl and having eggs as your main meal during the week: ‘Oh, I wish I could do that!’ say paired-off friends who have to cook meat and two veg – A Proper Meal - every night for their males (I have been known to occasionally eat just cake for dinner and that elicits the exact same response).

Sometimes it’s boiled eggs (my preference is for soft to just-firm, never hard). Sometimes it’s folded eggs, as I think Bill Grainger does them, where they are lighly beaten with cream and gently moved around a small pan until they look like silky golden folds. I have those silicone egg poachers, and though I have had less success with them than I have hoped, I will persevere – because, as I said, sometimes an egg should be plain, without even cream or butter or oil. But then, a fried egg all crispy and slightly greasy around the edges is a pretty good thing to slide onto a piece of just-buttered wholegrain toast.

And it goes without saying that good egg meals can only be made with good eggs. My preference – my luck – is to have eggs from mum’s chooks. They look and taste so much better. But if the girls are off the lay then I buy moral, ethical eggs. Happy chooks are happy eggs.

What's your favourite way to eat eggs?

23 Jul 2012

The ultimate brownie

Every woman needs a good brownie recipe in her repertoire (actually, every man does too). Say the word 'brownie' and you speak to a special place in a woman's heart, a place where the world is beautiful, peaceful, warm and wonderful. And a little bit self-indulgent, a little bit naughty.

Maybe you're in the quiet of your kitchen, with a cup of steaming tea and a square of oven-warm deliciousness washing away the stresses of the week. Maybe it's late at night, you're in your PJs and on your way to bed, but you detour via the kitchen and before you know it, you're eating a stolen slice from the fridge (cold brownies have their devotees). Maybe you've already had two squares today but what the heck, no one's looking, you'll have another! (These are of course strictly hypothetical situations and did NOT occur at my place over the weekend.)

Brownies can mean different things to different people. My idea of the perfect brownie is the obligatory shiny, crackly, chewy top, with a dark fudgy centre. I occasionally toy with the idea of throwing in a handful of walnuts (a classic addition) but then chicken out and decide I don't want anything interrupting, corrupting, that soft sumptiousness.

Here is the joy of a brownie: you can make it your own. Nuts, or no nuts. Raspberries, or no raspberries. Coffee, cinnamon, or not. Something tipsy, or - actually, there's no 'or' here, I definitely add something boozy to my brownies! Frangelico is a favourite, but this time I used sweet, syrupy Tia Maria.

The special touch to this batch of brownies came from prunes, soaked in the Tia Maria - for almost six weeks (talk about delayed gratification). Plumptious, tender, wicked little bombs. They added to the squidge factor of these brownies, not detracted.

So everyone should have a good brownie recipe in their repertoire. Here is mine.

The ultimate brownie
Adapted from Glamour magazine Feb 2004. The joy of a brownie is that it is melt-and-mix, so when the urge hits you, you can act on it immediately (unless of course you're soaking prunes in alcohol for six weeks). So what are you waiting for?
  • Preheat oven to 180 and line a brownie tin with paper.
  • Melt 105 grams butter, 1 tbspn light olive oil, and 115 grams dark cooking chocolate in a double boiler set up (bowl over saucepan of simmering water, not directly touching the water).
  • While that's happening (keep your eye on it), in another bowl whisk up 2 large eggs, 1/4 tspn salt, 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 1 tspn vanilla.
  • Then add the combined choc-oil-butter mixture. It will get sort of rubbery!
  • At this point, add your flavourings. I added the prunes (18; don't ask how I arrived at that number) which I'd soaked in 125 ml of Tia Maria; I also added 2 tbspns of the leftover TM. You could add about 2 tbspns of any alcohol you like that pairs well with chocolate (Frangelico, rum, brandy, Grand Marnier); or coffee, or a good handful of nuts, raisins; or some cinnamon. Up to you.
  • Then fold in 1/2 cup of plain flour (yes, that's right - not much at all).
  • Pour into brownie tin, lick the bowl and spoon, and place in oven to bake for about 45 to 50 minutes - the top should go shiny, the edges will pull away from the tin, and a skewer will still come out a little damp.
  • Enjoy, guilt-free.

19 Jul 2012

Raspberry coconut cake

Leftover Week is drawing to a close – I can actually see empty shelf space and the back wall of the freezer compartment! This week I defrosted a serve of raspberry cake, then last night discovered that I’d written about it in my journal (in April), not long before I started Dig In. Recipe link below.

Sometimes it only takes one bite to know if a 55 minute wait has been worth it. If your tastebuds sing, if you are already planning to go back for a second slice before you’ve even finished your first wodge (while it’s still oven warm!). To know a recipe is not just a keeper but one you want to make again. And soon.

I can probably count on one hand the cakes on my repeat list. Because I copy, tear or print out so many new recipes to try, I am usually on a forward-only journey to plough my way through the small forest of paper. Because of this, I don’t do many repeats.

But ones I do make again – Donna Hay’s upside down orange syrup cake. The cream cheese cake topped with jam or fruit, made recently (twice, in a row). Mathew Evans’ lemony lemon cupcakes – torn out of a magazine and signed by Mathew himself! Bread and butter puddings feature regularly in winter months. Nigella’s damp chocolate cake.

Here is another to add to that list. On the first truly cold day of the year, I bid farewell to a heady summer with its best fruits – raspberries – in this berry and coconut cake.

This was a straightforward cake: cream butter and sugar, add eggs and vanilla then flour and coconut. I tweaked – I used roughly half white/half wholemeal (instead of all wholemeal). I used sour cream instead of milk, because I had a tub of sour cream in the fridge. And instead of folding the raspberries through the batter, I put half the cake batter down, then scattered across enough raspberries to make a decent layer, then topped with the other half of the batter (which was incredibly stiff, from the coconut I think, so perhaps I’d use less next time).

I was shocked at the amount of sugar – I actually checked I was reading it correctly. I blanched, but closed my eyes and tipped it in anyway. If it was inedible, I reasoned, I’d pass it on to mum’s chooks. Surprisingly, the final cake was not teeth-on-edge sweet, but the top developed a chewy, crackly top, not unlike a good brownie. Bravo then to all that sugar.

And of course, those juicy, pink raspberries, oozing though the moist cake – perfection.

This is a lovely, chewy, coconutty reminder of a beautiful summer. Definitely one to make again – at any time of the year.

Raspberry coconut cake
From ‘French ties: Love, life and recipes’ by Jane Webster (I can’t actually find my copy; please go to the official site - it has such a pretty picture).
I used a 23 centimetre cake tin (not springform). The cake batter is really stiff once you add the coconut – you’ll really have to smear it about firmly with your spoon or spatula with the bottom layer, and use for your fingers to dot the top layer over the berries. Don’t worry if you don’t completely cover the fruit – mine spread as it cooked.

18 Jul 2012

De-junk your kitchen

Halfway thru Leftover Week – just pasta puttanesca and pumpkin soup to go on the dinner front! Here’s another entry from the deep-freeze of my journals (Feb this year). I hope you enjoy. Perhaps you even identify with me a little?
I cannot read a home magazine or one of my beloved Ikea catalogs without sooner or later moving from the couch and into the kitchen in search of a makeover to deliver. Or the laundry, or the bookshelves. These magazines create an itch to re-arrange and re-organise and re-style, in my own limited way (since I don’t have a block of Marseilles savon or artful roll of wallpaper to hand – not at 9.30 at night, anyway).
This usually results in re-organising the ingredients in my pantry. Yes, that is my guilty secret (actually I have worse inclinations, like re-organising my cutlery drawer or tea towel stash). I decant half empty jars of walnuts into smaller jars, so the supply looks more substantial (and aesthetically pleasing) and the shelf space is better used. I transfer things from one container to another, creating new groupings, like with like. And then I usually label the daylights out of everything. Yes, I know.
Last week, I was prompted to re-arrange my baking drawers by the purchase of my new measuring jug. Because I’d somehow lost my other one (how do you lose a measuring jug?). Out come shoe boxes, clean and saved for just this kind of re-purposing – corralling my measuring spoons, scoops, cups and jugs into new and exciting combinations!
About a month ago, I also got ruthless with the plastics – the ice cream containers, takeaway containers, yoghurt pots; the ones with lid and the ones without (however in a short time they have multiplied again; every time I open the cupboard door I risk being bonked on the head by a falling container). I sorted thru the salt and pepper and found a new display spot for them on the bench (the yellow Twinings tin I kept the salt flakes in was too pretty to hide behind cupboard doors!).
I get this wonderfully calm feeling when I stand back and survey the results. When I open the drawers and doors, or walk back into the room solely to have another peek at my handiwork (only five minutes after leaving the room. Again - yes, I know).
There’s this calm optimism that my life will be better – that I am now a better person. That life is now smoother, more logical, and more liberated because of this beautiful underlying structure I have imposed on things. I am fully aware that I’m thinking that the next day will somehow be better and brighter because of this magazine-induced frenzy to sort my flour collection.
I chuckle to myself – I can see thru all of this! And then I think, I really should get back to my more productive and less OCD hobbies. Like folding my socks just so.

16 Jul 2012

Banana cupcakes

True to the spirit of Leftover Week, I'm going back thru my cooking journals. This entry comes from April 2011 (so watch out for cobwebs). No pictures, but there is a recipe. This piece also seems a fitting post for Leftover Week (it appears I used to be more diligent about the labelling bizo). So reheat carefully and enjoy.

Sometimes what you cook comes from desire: a craving for the simple pleasure of a roast chicken, its tender white flesh gently flavoured with lemon and thyme and the skin crisped by butter and salt; or for the gloopy indulgence of a chocolate self-saucing pudding (even more desirable when you know you have it all to yourself).

Sometimes the seasons drive your appetite: winter’s cold dark days require the sustenance of a slow-cooked apple and pork stew, rich with prunes and served with stodgy, lumpen, smashed potatoes (proving there is a time and place for stodge and lumps). Bright summer days mean frozen jewels of raspberries, homemade ice cream, and plenty of both.

But sometimes what I cook and eat is forced upon me by something altogether more prosaic: cleaning out the pantry. Using up a lingering ingredient. The pure dull necessity of getting rid of something.

My friend L talks about ‘eating down the pantry’ — not buying any more pasta until the 17 half-used packets she already has are all gone; having risotto for a week to plough through the arborio (which makes me think: it’s always the carbohydrates that multiply). Every time I open my mother’s huge pantry, I am sure she could rise to the challenge admirably and go six months without needing a trip to the supermarket. She’s stocked up for a nuclear winter, I’m sure. 

I can never throw food out, into the garbage. Maybe it will benefit the compost; perhaps our dog or my parents’ chickens will enjoy it. Leftovers are frozen for a weekend when I’m feeling lazy and can’t be bothered cooking. Since I’ve started labelling things properly (that is, what the food is and exactly when it was frozen), I have a lot less UFOs — unidentified frozen objects — to contend with; in fact, simply writing the date compels me to dig out the container within a few weeks. It’s like a deadline.

But usually the culprit is bananas. I’m forever seduced by those bright, perfectly yellow hands of fruit, and I try to eat one a day. But there’s always one or two that decide to ripen at an alarming rate and, fussy thing that I am, make me crinkle my nose up at their squishy brownness. So I peel them and stash them in a bag in the freezer until I have enough for the saviour, the guilt-free recycler of over-ripe bananas: banana cake (you could even tell yourself that you intended to save a couple expressly for the purpose of turning into cake, if it makes you feel better).

Sometimes banana cake should be just banana cake - no spice, no nuts, no choc chips; nothing to detract from its humid quintessential banana-y-ness. Sometimes it should have all those extras, just because. This recipe from Martha Stewart falls into the first camp. As the recipe is cupcakes, you also have perfect single-serve portions, which will quickly be gobbled up. No chance of having leftovers to label and stash in the freezer here.
Banana cupcakes
From the Martha Stewart website. You should not even attempt a banana cake with fruit you can eat. The flavour is not as deep. My mother’s trick: whiz your thawed bananas in the processor; this ensures the resulting puree is evenly distributed through the cake batter
  • Preheat oven to 180 and prepare a 12-cup muffin tin.
  • Whizz up 1 1/2 cups of banana (frozen and/or fresh) in the food processor. Then add 110 grams butter that you have melted, 2 lovely large eggs, and 1/2 tspn vanilla. Transfer to a bowl.
  • Stir in 3/4 cups sugar (using a little brown sugar instead of all white would add to the richness).
  • Sift into this 1 1/2 cup plain flour, 1 tspn baking powder, 1/2 tspn baking soda, and a generous pinch of salt.
  • Divide evenly between muffin holes and bake for 25-30 minutes or until done.
  • Enjoy as is or whip some cream and drizzle with Top n Fill.

Humble pie

Biggest thank you to my lovely friend L, with amazing insider technical knowledge, for shedding light on my dilemma. It appears the problem is not Blogger as I was panicking about, but something installed by my workplace. So I cannot even view my own blog at work! Heartfelt thank yous also to my friends (and official calmer-downers) B, J, D and BB for their reassurances that the outside world can still read Dig In.

Please be patient

Something freaky (obviously) has happened to my layout. I have no idea what ... I'm panicking! I've asked my friend B (who helped me set up Dig In) to see if she can work out how to fix it. In the meantime, I apologise, and if any of you also have any idea how to fix the template layout, please let me know. At this point I'm very willing to hand over details if you can look in and help.
My apologies again. I'm good at writing (and eating), not this kind of stuff.

15 Jul 2012

Leftover Week

This is Leftover Week. Leftover Week occurs a couple of times a year at my place, usually:

  • after a weekend down at my parents', when I can't be bothered doing my big weekly cook-up when I return on Sunday night
  • when the freezer is so full of plastic containers (many unlabelled) that I can't fit any more in.

It's a good feeling to clean everything out and see some empty shelf space again. Having Leftover Week is even better because it's not chipping away at the containers here and there, a little bit at a time. It's a focussed attack on the freezer! It's eating with a mission!

Even if that mission is at times a journey into the frozen unknown. It's those unlabelled containers I mentioned - the ones that, at the time, I thought 'Oh, I'll remember what that is - it's so obvious!'. No, once thawed they never turn out to be what you expect. Pumpkin soup is curried chicken casserole. Note to self: label. Yes it's uptight, but seven months down the track, you'll thank me.

My challenge this week is to get through:

  1. a couple of serves of puttanesca sauce; all that's needed is some pasta (either casarecce or pantacce, my current favourite types)
  2. some roasted pumpkin. Not enough for a full meal, but sufficient to moosh onto toast for a light snack after my Tuesday night yoga class
  3. corn soup, made with some starchy old corn kernels. Lovely sweet flavour (made with the last of my homemade chicken stock, garlic and celery) - but those tough old Grandpa kernels made it more like creamed corn! That's okay, I like creamed corn
  4. a pumpkin soup of mum's. I can't even remember when she gave it to me. This year?
  5. what I call 'kitchen sink pasta' - made at the end of last week with all the last odds and sods in the vegie crisper - everything, that is, but the kitchen sink (so I think this means I'm having leftovers actually made from leftovers)
  6. one solitary cherry pudding
  7. a slice of raspberry cake?
  8. two portions of orange self-saucing pudding
  9. hacky end bits of what is possibly chocolate cake. I don't remember... when did I last make chocolate cake? Oh, yes, Nigella's!
  10. two unknown cupcakes. It's good to have surpises in life.
Wish me luck! If, by chance, I finish all these before the week is out, then I will not buy more groceries. No! That defeats the purpose of Leftover Week. I shall, perversely, just eat toast - with eggs for dinner or with jam for desserts.

Do you have your own version of Leftover Week?

12 Jul 2012

Orange self-saucing pudding

What colour are your oranges?

No, I'm not being facetious. Are yours just orange? Or are they a lovely pinky-red colour?

In the work fruit bowl last week were red oranges. Not blood oranges, but incredibly juicy globes with rosy flesh - so pretty! They reminded me of pink grapefruit, so I was surprised by how sweet they were (my mind was expecting something lip-puckeringly tart). The label mentioned lycopene, I'm sure, so perhaps they'd been crossed with a tomato? Hmm. Best not ask.

So at the end of the week, I snaffled the leftover red oranges and whispered to them: you are destined for something great.

Self-saucing pudding.

What more could a piece of fruit aspire to, at this time of year? I dug out a recipe last made last winter (or the winter before?). It's the best kind of pudding: a dense, tummy-filling cake layer, and a sticky, sweet sauce, like liquid marmalade. This, too, is one of those magical ones where you carefully pour the bright orange liquid (a rich colour from the red oranges) over the top of the cake batter, and somehow, in the oven, while you're not looking, the world turns upside down and the cake has a shiny, crackly top and all the liquid is submerged beneath. How does that happen? Perhaps next time I shall pull up a stool and watch thru the oven door, just to see if I can catch this magic trick.

Orange and almond self-saucing pudding
Torn from Good Taste magazine July 2010. The most labour intensive part is juicing the oranges, so do this first. Otherwise, this is a quick melt-and-mix batter; once you have the bicep-aching juicing out of the way, the rest is pretty speedy. Pudding, here I come!
  • Preheat oven to 180, grease a 1.5 litre baking dish.
  • Zest the oranges first (it's easier to zest 'full' oranges): I zested two. Then juice - you need 1 1/2 cups of juice.
  • Combine 1 cup SR flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup almond meal, and the zest.
  • Melt 50 grams of butter then add to this 1/2 cup milk and 1 egg.  Pour this into the dry ingredients and combine, then spoon this into your baking dish.
  • Combine 1 scant tbspn cornflour with 1/2 cup sugar, then sprinkle this over the pudding. It looks like an awful lot of white stuff, but soldier on bravely.
  • Now, put the OJ in a small saucepan and bring just to the boil; whip off the heat then ladle it over the back of a spoon and over the pudding (the old 'back of the spoon' trick 'softens' the pour of the juice onto the batter, so you don't get big dings in your batter).
  • Put in oven and bake 45-50 minutes or until you see the cake top emerge and a skewer (only inserted halfway) comes out clean.

9 Jul 2012

Jamie Oliver's broccoli pasta. Sort of

The universe is conspiring against me.

  • My beautiful, fully-functioning new rangehood was made in Italy.

  • MasterChef - which irritates me endlessly and I will stop watching it - is in Italy this week (I'll stop watching next week).

  • I spent oodles of time and money in one of my favourite shops, the Italian Pantry, stocking up on new pasta shapes and old favourites (and trying to distinguish between spaghetti #8 and #9).

  • I turned to my neglected Jamie Oliver '30-minute meals' for ideas and the bookmark was already in Broccoli orecchiette.

So, I busted out of my roasted veg rut (which is no bad place to be, really) to try a new pasta recipe.

This bright green sauce is essentially the tender, sweet stalks of the broccoli, blitzed up with some tangy flavours. I  never throw the stalks away anyway, but this was a new way to use them (the cooked florets were tossed thru at the end). It was quick and easy; it doesn't take much effort to throw a handful of ingredients into a food processor bowl.

The colour, emerald bright, was uplifting on such an ordinary, sunless day. And the flavours were fresh and uplifting, too. With each mouthful I got a little bit of each ingredient: the beautiful broccoli (one of my favourite vegetables), then the creamy sharpness of the parmesan, a zip of capers, and the afterglow of the chili (the aromas of the ingredients hits you as you cook the sauce, too).

If I haven't yet given you enough reasons to make this pasta sauce yourself, then here is another. This could be easily adapted to your own tastes, the season, what's in your pantry. Summertime? Add basil. Want more zing? Add spring onions and lemon zest. Don't want heat? Leave out the chili.

Finally, I used one of the new pastas I bought, a flat short pasta called 'pantacce' with pretty ruffled edges that catch the sauce beautifully (it will also be perfect with a tomato-based sauce).

Broccoli pasta sauce
Very loosely based on the recipe from Jamie Oliver's '30-minute meals'. Very loosely.
This quantity made 4 serves, so boil enough short pasta for that - JO used 500 grams orecchiette; I used 250 grams pantacce.
  • Take one big lovely head of broccoli. Cut the stalks off, taking as much as possible.
  • Steam the florets (I also steamed some brussel sprouts I wanted to use up).
  • Put the stalks in a food processor (my stalk wasn't very big, so I added a generous scoop of thawed frozen peas, and I'm glad I did).
  • Then add your flavours. I added a small teaspoon of rinsed capers, one of my small red chilis, a couple of fat cloves of garlic (JO used anchovies, too).
  • At this point, I misread the recipe and also added the half a cup of parmesan - which was supposed to be folded thru at the end. Oops!
  • Tip this paste into a medium-hot frypan with a good glug of olive oil and cook for a few minutes. Add enough hot water (and I added a slosh of wine for depth) to make a loose sauce (because my cheese was already in there, I needed a fair bit, but if you omit your cheese as you are supposed to, you may not need as much liquid. I hope I'm making sense).
  • Once the sauce is bubbling along, add your cooked pasta and steamed veg (and this is when you're supposed to add the half cup of grated parmesan!) and fold thru to coat well.
  • Bellisimo!

8 Jul 2012

Doing the dishes

I would not call myself a domestic goddess by any stretch - I am not terribly diligent about dusting and polishing, for example.

But there is one regular household chore that (thankfully) I actually quite enjoy: doing the dishes.

And I mean, the old-fashioned way, with hot sudsy water, washing up gloves (pink by preference), a thick sponge and a glamourously sparkly metallic scourer. Yes, I like washing the dishes by hand - even when it feels as if I have been standing at the sink again, and again, and again. I stack up the dish rack (on a serving tray lined with a couple of old tea towels to catch the drips), then drape over a pretty, time-faded embroidered tablecloth (I like doing the dishes but not seeing them). Let them air dry, then unpack, put them away, and start again.

No dishwasher for me. In fact, when I moved into my home seven years ago (seven years ago!), I had the dishwasher that was here disconnected, and I sold it to someone at work (my parents promptly bought me a bar freezer that fitted the space and my needs perfectly).

Washing the dishes is calming and meditative, even when the sink is full and the pile of used saucepans, bowls and spoons appears insurmountable. Perhaps it is the sense of purpose, work, achievement - you are doing something, you are moving the 'stuff' from one state to another, from being unclean in the sink to being clean and sparkly in the drainer. A to B (I also get this sense when I do the laundry, transforming the clothes from being dirty in the hamper to being folded neatly in the basket, ready to be put away).

Perhaps it is the hot suds. I use the hot tap only - and my hot H20 is very hot. A pair of gloves for armour (as I said, pink please) and I am good to go. I let my mind wander over the character in a book I am reading or a TV show I'll be watching once I'm finished at the sink, or turn over the conversations of the day. Sometimes I run through my to do list. Sometimes I 'write', composing sentences. And sometimes I just think about what I'm washing: where I got this wooden spoon from, the love I have for my big red le Creuset, the fact I have had this cutlery set for so many years but never tire of its clean modern lines.

Before I know it, the sink is empty, the windows are steamed up, and I can remove my kitchen apron, squeeze out the sponge and unpeel my pink gloves with a good sharp snap.

Dishes are done and 'kitchen closed', as my mother says, for another day.

Do you like doing the dishes too? What's your favourite household chore?

2 Jul 2012

Can you help?

I accidentally 'followed' myself. Can't work out how to 'unfollow' myself. Can a fellow blogger tell me what to do? Thank you, and good night! e

Cherry pudding

A week of indulgence - those generously-sized sticky date pudding with the ladlings of rich caramel sauce and dollops of sour cream, every night; the silverbeet in its buttery pastry with ricotta blobs, every lunch; and pasta, just about every dinner. I needed to cut back a little, choose something simpler, something less rich, less weighed down by butter and sugar and carbs. It puts me in the mind to be very spartan.

Also, I was not feeling inspired this week to do anything fancy or new with my lunchtime cook-up. I wanted something warming - the forecast for this week is more of the same low temperatures - but nothing too much trouble. Nothing too much.

When I'm in this mood, for being strict and virtuous, to get back on track after a bit of excess, brown rice always seems like a good idea. It's undeniably healthy, has a lovely nutty flavour, is nicely chewy, and is filling. So I set my rice cooker to work in the corner while I roasted some chunks of pumpkin (more of that magnificent pumpking from dad), butternut and pencil-thin baby carrots rescued from the work fruitbowl. I dusted these with my now-favourite mix of smoky paprika, hot chilli flakes, plus some crushed garlic. This, I knew, would warm me up nicely in the cold week ahead.

To alleviate the unrelenting orangeness before me, I steamed the last of some dark brocolli and tender, beautiful brussel sprouts. I tumbled this altogether, assembled into five little lunch containers - sorted.

Of course, going on the straight and narrow does not mean giving up sweeties. Oh no! This is not a diet. And I cannot fathom a day without cake. I cannot fathom a home without a cake or batch of biscuits or clutch of cupcakes (what is the collective for cupcakes?) or a bowl of pudding waiting patiently in the kitchen. Quelle horreur.

No, I would still make a pudding, just something less overwhelming than last week's caramel-drenched wonders. Something with fruit - that would even be good for me!

So I made these little cherry upside-down puddings. I used frozen cherries stashed away during the sumer months; you could use tinned ones if you aren't blessed like me (I wonder about the recipe - printed in a magazine only recently - that called for fresh cherries. At this time of the year? Where?).

I simmered these as directed, but with a splosh of my secret weapon: rosewater. Rosewater's perfumey prettiness is so lovely with cherries, as I discovered this summer when I was cooking a full-size cherry galette and decided to add a dash, just to see what would happen.

The cherries go in the bottom of muffin tin holes and are topped by a very simple butter cake mixture. However, I watched in alarm as these baked - and rose, and grew, and towered into very impressively-domed cakes. Which would be quite okay if they were normal cupcakes - but heavens, how would they sit upside down? They would topple over ungracefully!

So I gently sliced off (and ate) their 'tops' so these would become their flat 'bottoms'. Still, I have no idea how it happened, or if it will happen to you.

My only quibble here is I would have added the cherry juice into the muffin holes with the fruit, instead of draining them as specified, so I got a more syrupy end result. But these are lovely and soft and moist. A pudding for when you are being good.

Cherry puddings
From the Coles supermarket seasonal magazine

  • Preheat your oven to 180, grease a texas muffin tin (6 hole) and put a disk of paper down the bottom (cut the bottom out of a patty-paper; quicker than drawing circles on baking paper).
  • First, the fruit. Take 400 grams frozen (or tinned) cherries, add 1 tbspn liquid from the tin (or water), a splosh of rosewater (no more than 1 tspn) and 1 tbspn vanilla sugar (though the recipe said to omit this if using tinned cherries in syrup).  Bring to simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes. You will have some liquid left; the recipe said to drain but I added some cornflour to thicken and would keep/use this, as noted above.
  • Next, the cake batter: Cream 150 grams butter plus 1/2 cup sugar, then add two eggs and 1 tspn vanilla extract. Sift and stir in 2/3 cups SR flour and 2/3 cups plain flour, then 1/2 cup milk (I put a spoonful of sour cream in the half-cup measure and topped it up with soy milk). Stir until blended - it was quite a stiff batter.
  • Assemble the pudds: Divide the cherries (and some or all of the syrup) between the muffin tins, then top with the cake batter. Bake 20-25 minutes until done. Once out of the oven, if yours have risen like mine, slice the domes off, then turn out of the tins and remove the paper disks (feel free to lick these). Enjoy!

1 Jul 2012

Q & A

Before I threw a couple of very old supermarket magazines into the recycling bin, I saw that the last pages were quick interviews with chefs. I thought it would be fun to take the questions and give my own answers. Suffice to say, my answers may not be as high-falutin’ or as aspirational as theirs. But I’m being honest.

What is the secret to a great recipe?

It should work. Simple. I shouldn’t have to fill in any gaps in instructions, I shouldn’t have to phone my mum up and ask ‘Do you think they’ve left baking powder out?’ or ‘Do they really mean that much salt?’. It shouldn’t take 30 minutes extra time in the oven. And if it looked vaguely like the dish in the picture — bonus!

How can we cook a restaurant-quality meal at home?

We can’t. That’s why we go out to a restaurant — to have something you can’t cook at home. Home cooking should be home cooking.

What is your number one rule in the kitchen?

Clean up after yourself, and ideally as you go along. Boring but it keeps the kitchen from looking like a bomb site and lessens cleaning up time afterwards (therefore better for your sanity). And it’s essential if you have limited bench space.

If I can add further ‘rules’, they would be: don’t get stressed, play some nice music – or enjoy some calming silence, and take the time to enjoy the process of cooking. Sometimes you have to cook quick (and eat quick), but it’s lovely when you can have the time to watch the ingredients come together to form a delicious meal.

Oh, and always lick the bowl.

What meal best reminds you of your childhood?

Golden syrup dumplings (even though I think my recipe is now better than mum’s – sorry mum). Eggs on toast on a Sunday night. Marble cake for birthdays.

Can you give us some inspiration for a quick and easy weeknight meal?

Leftovers. But if you want me to be serious, steamed vegies with a blob of pesto stirred thru.

What’s in your fridge at home right now?

You want the lot? Always eggs, cheese, butter, sour cream. Condiments — mostly my mother’s homemade jars of magic, like pickles and jams and preserved lemon. A small tub of homemade pesto, thawing from the freezer, for a summer hit – it’s dated January this year. A bowl of prunes soaking in some brandy for a future recipe (watch this space). Half a lemon. My marble rolling pin. Not much – it’s Sunday, and I do like to eat everything down for a fresh start each week.

If we asked you what are the essential ingredients in any kitchen, what would be on your list?

Eggs, butter, lemons, vegies, salt and pepper, olive oil. With those simple ingredients, plus some carbs like pasta or rice, you could have an easy, healthy, sustaining meal. Add in pantry ingredients for baking — flour, vanilla, sugars — and I’m set.

I'd love to hear your answers!