27 Mar 2013

matthew evans' lemon yoghurt cupcakes

Grey fabric from Frangipani Fabrics

Matthew Evans is back on our TV screens, charming us with tales of rural life in a too-green-to-be-true part of southern Tasmania, and showcasing local characters and food producers. Are you watching?

Some time between his first and second TV series, I dropped in to Matthew's country home. Okay, so it was with my parents and about 20 members of a community group they are part of that organises day trips to rurally-type places. Vineyards, historic farms, whiskey distilleries, olive and raspberry growers; that kind of thing. I've tagged along with them on other occasions; for instance when they visited the resurrected Oatlands Companion Bakery and Callington Mill. We tried our hand at baking sourdough bread with the patient, talented Graham Pritchard and while it was tremendous fun, I found out that I'm hopeless at working with bread dough.

Anyway, one cold day a few years ago, I bunked off work (my friend B came along, too) to visit Matthew's farm. He welcomed us at his gate and was completely gracious about a bunch of strangers wandering around his property and poking our noses into the pig pen, the chook yard and everything in between. We asked him questions but he asked as many in return, mining the experience and knowledge of the retired farmers in the group. He was as friendly and open as he appears on TV - isn't that a lovely thing?

So as we prepared to leave, I boldly asked Matthew if he would sign my lemon juice stained copy of his yoghurt cupcakes recipe. And then I boldly told him how I made them even lemonier by (accidentally) adding the lemon juice (meant for the icing) into the cake batter. I don't remember his exact response now, but he kindly signed the torn-out page for the loopy admirer before waving us goodbye.

Lemony yoghurt cupcakes
This made 12 small paper cup cakes and five normal sized cupcakes. The original recipe advised 12 large cupcakes.
  • Preheat your oven to 180 and prep your muffin tins with baking cases or use those sturdy baking cups (or a mix of the two, as I did).
  • Cream 125 gms soft butter with 1 cup white sugar.
  • Beat in three eggs.
  • Now use a spatula to stir thru the zest of two lemons and the juice of at least one lemon.
  • Stir thru 3/4 cups of natural yoghurt or sour cream.
  • Now fold in 1 and 1/2 cups of SR flour.
  • Spoon the mixture into your baking cups or tins. Bake for 15-20 minutes (depending on their size) until cooked (a skewer will come out clean).
  • These are lovely and buttery when eaten warm out the oven, but the lemon flavour becomes even more pronounced the next day. Magic!

23 Mar 2013

end of summer garden ramble

The corner behind the apricot tree where old bean trellises and tomato stakes hibernate over winter

Over the last few weekends, I've been progressively pulling out, chopping up and digging in the finished beans; yellowing, fading as they reach the end of their productive life. I've cut off the cavolo nero and the curly kale, both thick with aphids and caterpillars; unfit for human consumption but a real treat for mum and dad's chooks. I cut down the tomatoes and pulled up their stakes, knowing I had a lot to learn about growing these.

The lack of real rain this summer and the unfathomably hot temperatures led to the unhealthy state or early demise of many of these vegies, I am sure. In truth, however, I was also inconsistent with my care. As tender bean seedlings emerged, for example, I would regularly apply seaweed solution, but as they matured and when they needed it the most - when they set forth their delicate lilac flowers and set their fruit - I grew neglectful of feeding them. Or, as with my tomatoes, I overwatered; this, I learned firsthand, is just as bad.

I chastened myself for not taking better care of the soil, too. A large chunk of my vegie garden has been reclaimed from the lawn (such as that is) - a couple of years ago, I simply dug up one quadrant of the space, uncovering snaking roots from the nearby apricot and apple trees and much gravel and concrete chunks used as fill. So there has always been much work needed to rehabilitate this and make it a productive, fertile area.
The last bean crop with skinny beans hiding beneath the leaves

I tend to fall back on the excuses 'But I work full-time' and 'It's only me' to brush over any failures (which I do feel keenly). But a few weeks ago - when my neck was in the potentially-vulnerable position between the eager hands of my young physiotherapist - I listened, enthralled and envious, as he described what he grows in his suburban backyard.

'We try to have at least one thing we've grown ourselves at every meal,' he said - a reasonable logic that I think we suburban growers trot out to make ourselves feel better about having to buy most of our fruit or veg from the shops (or gratefully except it from our dads, as I do).

But then he went on to list everything he grew, and I reeled with envy and wonder (as much as one can reel when lying prone on a physio bed).What didn't he grow? Name any leafy green, cruciferous vegie, climber, herb, above-the-ground, below-the-ground edible plant - anything - he was doing it. And successfully by the sound of it, too.

I imagined a veritable Garden of Eden, here on Hobart's eastern shore. I wanted to raid it. I wanted to rise to the challenge and stop making excuses for myself. I left feeling determined to be more, well, determined (and my neck felt better, too).
New silverbeet - about a month old

And then I finally got out of the local library the Little Veggie Patch Co's 'How to grow food in small spaces' (I know I'm about two years behind everyone else). I thought the same things I did with my physio: how do they do that? They make it look easy - too easy. But ... maybe I could?

I've made notes. Notes on what's practical and necessary and realistic for me. Feed up the soil, buy bags of poo - yes. Worm farm? No (too hot; too cold). Grow smaller bush beans, not climbing ones that take over like tenacious octopi and prove difficult to remove from the trellises during garden clean-up. Net against the birds. Strategically grow marigolds and pyrethrum plants, to naturally ward off the white moths that lead to those destructive caterpillars. Grow garlic in a pot - maybe then I can't overwater and rot it.

Get the watering right!

Move the rhubarb. Feed the rhubarb. Do try tomatoes again. Work out codlin moth.

And then some dreaming. A new lemon tree, in a variety that I actually like. And what about a passionfruit vine to cover the back fence between the yellow banksia roses (passionfruit butter!)?

Perhaps this is what gardening is: trying. And trying. And learning, but mostly, just doing it.

May I recommend you drop in on Jo, who has been writing about her recent gardening adventures in Launceston, at All the Blue Day? Some of her recent posts have really resonated with me - and inspired me - and you may like them too. 
A clump of chives; the lushest thing in the garden right now.

apple cinnamon pancakes

To ease my guilt over having pancakes for breakfast, I set about giving them a healthy makeover. I used half wholemeal, half white flour, and added a grated apple for a built-in serve of fruit. The apple led to a dash of cinnamon. And guess what? This take on the original ricotta pancakes is just as light and fluffy, but a little moister and sweeter. So still an indulgent weekend breakfast (compared to my usual fare of oats), only better. A little healthier.

Apple cinnamon pancakes
Still made only five, though the last one was humungous.
  • In a medium bowl, combine half a cup of wholemeal SR flour, half a cup of white SR flour, 1 tbspn vanilla sugar and a pinch of salt.
  • Into this grate 1 apple, including the skin. Shake over this a good dash of cinnamon.
  • In another bowl, combine 3/4 cup milk and 1 egg, then add this to the dry ingredients.
  • Then add 100 gms ricotta and 30 gms or so (that small a bit is hard to measure out precisely!) of butter that you have melted. Stir all until just combined; don't worry if you have sone lumps of ricotta.
  • Over a medium heat in a large non-stick frypan, melt a little more butter then spoon in the pancake mixture, making the pancakes as big as you like but flattening them out if necessary so they cook evenly. Cook for a few minutes on each side until done (though am I the only person who doesn't mind a squidgy bit of batter in there?). Serve with natural yoghurt and fruit and a clear conscience.

22 Mar 2013

the best music

Last night I turned off Mozart and fell asleep listening to the rain.

15 Mar 2013

rosewater cupcakes

I have been accused of being a girly girl – based, I think, on my fondness for wearing colourful dresses and pink lipstick – yet when it comes to the food I cook, I don’t go for pretty. Twirly cupcakes with fancy frosting look like too much hard work: I just want to have my cake and eat it, now. Occasionally I’ll whip some cream, but mostly my cakes go unadorned (naked!).

These cupcakes are unabashedly feminine, even without the cake-world accessories of frosting or sprinkles or shiny silver cachous (though I did make these in some very girly cupcakes, all wavy bands in a perfect lipstick shade!).

It’s the rosewater that does it: so fragrant and heady, it evokes turkish delight and blousy David Austin roses and the colour pink. A little swirl of strawberry jam adds to the sweet flavour and tints the batter a delicate blush (sadly, the hue fades with baking). And I can’t think of a better word to describe the final little cakes than ‘fluffy’.
These were strange cakes in the making. There was hardly any butter, so it didn’t ‘cream’ with the sugar but resembled coarse sand; with the remaining dry ingredients added in it looked like crumbly almond meal. However adding the milk transformed this dubious texture to a smooth, mousse-like batter. They baked beautifully, with a perfectly flat top, just made for decorating with great swirls of frosting if you so desired.
Rosewater cupcakes
The starting point was a rosewater cupcake recipe photocopied from (I think) a Hummingbird Bakery cookbook borrowed from the library. I halved the original recipe and ended up with ten cupcakes.

  • Preheat oven to 180 and line your muffin tins with pretty cupcake papers.
  • Use a hand-held electric whisk to combine 40 gms soft butter with 140 gms sugar.
  • Sift in 120 gms plain flour, ½ tbspn baking powder and a big pinch of salt into the butter/sugar. Mash it in using a silicone spatula and/or your fingers – it should resemble almond meal.
  • In a measuring jug, combine 130 ml full-fat milk with 1 egg and give it a quick whisk with a fork (just to break the egg up). Add 2 tspns rosewater (I use the Queens brand from the supermarket, so adjust if your brand is stronger or more subtle).
  • Pour this into the dry ingredients, add 2 tbspns strawberry jam, and use your electric whisk to combine all the ingredients – it should foam up to a beautiful creamy mousse (licking the bowl is definitely required for this recipe).
  • Divide the mixture between your muffin cases. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly golden on top and a skewer comes out clean.

13 Mar 2013

tea, tea and more tea

I have a drinking problem.

I had to face this fact when I photographed my latest cupcakes – there it was, in shot again, the all-too-familiar sight…

A cup of tea.

I realised that a cup of tea featured in many of my photos. Quite naturally, I should add (but not in a defensive or shameful manner), because it’s highly likely that as I was taking the pic, I was about to eat the subject — or had already started to — and a cup of tea was just the thing to go with it.

So there’s a cup of green tea with an almond croissant; my mother’s Cornish blue tea cup and saucer with the orange and almond cake (that was a good cake, wasn’t it?). The delicate girly spots (another hand me down) with the woeful berry slice. The teapot itself, with one of the crazy cosies knitted by mum, even edged in with the sticky date puddings.

And chances are, that if it’s not actually in shot, there’s a mug or cup off to the side, waiting to be drunk.

I have said before that I am not a coffee person; I am tea all the way, baby. My long-standing favourite is green tea. It is both calming and bolstering; it gets me through work until mid-afternoon, when I need something stronger to push thru the final hour or so. That’s when I might switch to earl grey in the wintertime, and the lighter, brighter lady grey in the warmer months. I also have a post-dinner peppermint tea and a square (or two) of dark chocolate (I must say, I have the most minty peppermint tea at M’s in Melbourne – she grows the best peppermint in the world, and I always leave wishing I could smuggle a root of it through Hobart airport’s quarantine to grow my own).

Here’s what I don’t do: fruit or flower teas of any description. That smoky stuff. Rooibos (which tasted like dust). Chai (shudder). Milk in tea, or sugar. Which may make me boring and unadventurous, but it also makes me the easiest person in the world to make tea for: ‘just the tea and the water, thank you’.

And, it seems, with just about everything I eat and photograph.

8 Mar 2013

tomato tart

So, pastry. Pastry on a hot day, when you're in a fragile mood yourself. It can be done. Witness this tomato tart, where the pastry is short and delectable in the mouth, framing summer's best bounty of home-grown tomatoes (mine and dad's). Don't even attempt to make this with cardboard-bland supermarket tomatoes. You need a big tomato, pleasingly soft when squeezed, that you can cut into thick, thick slices. Real tomatoes with flavour that explodes in your mouth, mellow and sweet and triumphant (if you don't think a tomato can be triumphant, you haven't met the right tomato).

If cooking and eating is about pleasure at the moment, then this tomato tart continues the trip. Because when it works, rhythmically kneading and rolling out pastry beneath your hands is calming and zen. I've read about walking meditation; I'm proposing pastry-making meditation.

Making a stained-glass window with those generous tomato slices - which will collapse pleasingly as they cook - is not to be rushed; you need to admire the beauty of what is and what's to come.

The final delicious assault on your senses will be the addition of summer basil, chives, oregano and garlic, chopped and doused with grassy olive oil. You fairly annoint the tomatoes with this heady mix; their aroma wafting from the oven is a real tease.

On an entirely practical level, this is a fidgety kind of recipe with lots of stages and timings and temperature switches. But please don't let the nuts and bolts get in the way of trying this tomato tart. It is truly summer on a plate, showcasing magnificent flavours and your patience and skills. Quite simply, you must try this.

Tomato tart
Based on Martha Stewart's Tomato pie. While it's delicious eaten cold, the tomatoes will sog the pastry down if left too long, so if that kind of thing bothers you, eat it immediately.
  • First, the pastry. In a food processor combine 1/2 cup wholemeal plain flour, 3/4 cups white plain flour, 1/2 tspn salt, 1/2 tspn sugar and 110 gms cold butter. Whiz up til it becomes crumb-like, then add enough cold water til it comes together.
  • Take out and knead on a floured surface until smooth, then roll out til it fits your chosen pie dish. I used a loose-bottom rectangular one measuring 11 x 34 cms, which I lined with baking paper (just to make sure it would come out okay). Trim the pastry if you have too much overhang or you like neat edges.
  • Once the pastry is fitted in your dish, line it with another sheet of pastry and add some baking weights. Put this in the fridge for half an hour or so.
  • At the end of the chilling time, preheat your oven to 200.
  • Remove the pastry from the fridge, remove the baking weights and paper, prick the base with a fork.
  • Slice up three or four tomatoes (depending on their girth) at least 1 cm thick. Arrange them in the pastry, nice and tight but not overlapping (though really, I'm sure it wouldn't matter too much if they did). Drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes.
  • Reduce the temperature to 180 and bake for another 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, chop a few leaves of fresh basil, a small bunch of chives, the leaves off a branch or two of oregano, and a clove or two of garlic. I'm not going to give you specifics (check Martha if you want) - I probably ended up with a generous tablespoon of herbs. Mix in a small bowl with some olive oil, just enough to cover.
  • At the end of that 10 minutes, remove the tart and dribble your herb and oil mix over the tomatoes. Pop the tart back into the oven and bake for another 20 minutes or until the pastry's golden brown (and that herby smell is driving you insane).
  • Remove from oven, remove from your tin and enjoy hot, warm, or later, cold.

6 Mar 2013

melting moments

The story I have to tell you about these biscuits is this: they are the most sensual thing I've made in a long time. If cooking should be an enjoyable experience, then these are downright pleasurable.

From sifting the snowy white icing sugar onto soft butter, beating it til it transforms to a creamy cloud; not even the dark amber of the vanilla sullies its white purity. The powdery cornflour makes it even silkier; you'll find no resistance as you fold the flour with your wooden spoon, only smoothness. These are not biscuits that you 'bash' up - rather, they invite sleek, dreamy caresses.

Then, somehow, there is enough mass to roll this buttery, palest dough - a word too heavy for this mix - into blonde balls. Even pressing the tines of a fork into each biscuit, flattening them down gently, is a remarkable visual joy. I defy you to make these and not see the beauty in the process.

And of course, in the final product - a tenderly melting biscuit, defiantly pale, and elegant in their spareness.

Melting moments
From the Australian Women's Weekly 'Biscuits, brownies and biscotti'. I halved the recipe, and I did not sandwich them together with a cream as is the norm.
  • Preheat oven to 170 and prepare a couple of baking trays.
  • Cream 125 gms soft butter with 1/4 cup icing sugar (sifted in) and 1/2 tspn vanilla - all til smooth and fluffy.
  • Sift in 3/4 cup plain flour and 1/4 cup cornflour, then fold thru til combined.
  • Working briskly (especially if the weather is warm), take up a small spoonful of mixture - equivalent roughly to 2 tspns - and roll into a ball. Place on your baking trays and flatten gently with a fork dipped in flour.
  • Bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and stand on trays for 5 minutes before transferring to racks to cool.

5 Mar 2013

old beans in tomato sauce

Borlottis should not be this big!

What's that saying, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade? What about, when life hands you tough overgrown borlotti beans... stew them up with tomatoes?

At the end of a busy day, multi-tasking the housework, all I wanted to do was sit down and relax with a book. But my mind wouldn't switch 'off'. I knew if I stood in the vegie patch for a few minutes, I'd re-find my equilibrium. That or I'd go crackers looking at the work I needed to do with my end-of-summer patch.

I bent to say hello to the borlotti beans one last time - they were on my to-do list, to pull out, as they'd finished flowering and popping out their pretty speckled pods. However, they had other plans, and decided to prove me wrong - that or they were having a last hurrah - and I found, amongst the flat yellowing leaves I'd been ignoring for a week - a great handful of swollen pods. Big daddies.

I took them inside, chopped them up and threw them in a pan with some of the glorious garlic I'd bought at the farmers market that morning. I added a slosh of white wine and some roughly chopped tomatoes. I was aiming for a sauce, but the tomatoes released more liquid than I anticipated, so I ended up with a kind of sweet chunky stew. But I achieved my aim of softening those big beans: the vigorous bubbling and good slurp of olive oil meant the pods and the beans inside turned tender in the velvety sauce.