26 Feb 2014

citrus hazelnut olive oil cake

Or, the Mystery of the Very Burnt Cake: 

‘I can’t post this now!’ I wailed to mum, who was visiting for the day while dad was at the cricket. We’d made this promising cake together, but only 20 minutes into baking, something started to smell wrong. Very wrong.

Then again, as mum sliced and scraped the burnt top layer off — practical women that we are, mum and I weren’t going to let a little charcoal get in the way of our morning tea — I realised that I’ve shared many disasters with you. Remember the exploding honey cakes? The raw rhubarb cobbler? There was a glimmer of possibility amongst the (literally) charred ruins that the cake and my blog post could be saved.

One bite of the salvaged cake (then another, and another) with its layered flavours and textures made me think that — black stuff notwithstanding — this was an excellent cake. The rich hazelnut meal evoked Frangelico liqueur; there were elusive citrus notes from the orange and lemon zest; and a slight grassiness from the olive oil. The texture was damp and chewy — again, from the hazelnut and almond meal — and pleasingly gritty from the small amount of polenta.

In our flap to rescue the cake — quick, cover with foil! reduce the oven temperature! — I quite forgot I was supposed to make an orange syrup to drizzle over it. Oh well. We decided the cake didn’t need it. Our nerves didn’t need it.

So you may think I’m mad sharing this with you — especially when I honestly do not know whether it was the recipe, ingredients, oven or baker that caused the cake to burn. Mum and I tried to deduce why it happened — the oven temperate and setting were correct, and surely the ingredients weren’t that combustible — but everything seemed as it should be. And in the end, it turned out, and more than 'just okay'.

So please consider it. It is honestly one of the most intriguing and delicious cakes I’ve made in a while.

Citrus hazelnut olive oil cake
Adapted from Family Circle magazine, Winter 2013 edition. I give you the baking temp and times specified in the recipe, not what we resorted to to avert complete disaster.
  • Prep a 22cm springform tin; preheat your oven to 180.
  • Cream 3 eggs with 1 cup sugar until pale and thick (if you have a freestanding mixer, get this going first, so it can work away while you get on with the other ingredients).
  • In a small saucepan, combine 120 mls light-flavoured olive oil, 100 gms butter, zest of 1 orange and zest of 1 or 2 lemons (you should have an equal amount of each zest, and you should have a good tablespoon of zest combined). Heat over a low temperature until the butter is melted and mixture is warm.
  • Once the eggs and sugar are thick, take the warm oil and zest mixture and slowly pour into your egg mix, while still whisking (this is where a freestanding mixer is your friend).
  • Combine the dry ingredients in a seperate bowl: 150 gms hazelnut meal, 50 gms almond meal, 1/3 cup polenta, 1/3 cup plain flour and 1 tsp baking powder. Then gently fold this into your eggy-oily mix. You should have a thick but pourable batter.
  • Pour the batter into the tin, bake for 50-60 minutes or until done (it will still be moist inside). Let cool for few minutes before releasing from the springform tin.

22 Feb 2014

tale of two heroines


On a hot summer afternoon, after I’ve done an honest morning’s labour in the vegie garden, I love nothing more than to relax with a cup of tea (yes, even on a hot day) and something to read. Magazines are my weakness, whether something full of pretty dresses, or envy-inducing interiors, or I-want-one-like-that-now gardens.
But sometimes one requires more substantial reading, so this summer I started re-reading the Phryne Fisher novels. Granted, Miss Fisher is not War and Peace, but I enjoy being swept away to a world full of the silky clothes, deeply perfumed baths, treacherous situations and, it must be confessed, handsome lovers that Phryne surrounds herself with.
My friend B, who first put me onto the novels, has theorised that Phryne’s vamp life is the perfect antidote for our modern-day grind. While fiercely independent and inspiringly self-sufficient, Phryne also knows the essential restorative powers of a good hot dinner and steamy bath full of pine salts … provided by her loyal hired helps. After one scrap or another, there’s always someone to serve a substantial salade russe or scrub one’s back in the bath. Admit it, isn’t that your end-of-day fantasy? Someone to spoil and cosset you a little?
Glamourous Phryne, who applies perfume before sleep, wears lobelia-coloured gowns, and understands (and calculates) the devastating effect she has on all before her:
‘No, find me the Chanel — no, a dress. Something light and springy — the azure one and a light wrap. That Kashmir shawl, and the silver shoes. I am feeling like a siren, today.’
When was the last time you felt like a siren? It’s something worth pondering when you get dressed tomorrow.
I also read — okay, looked at the pictures in — British gardener Alys Fowler’s book ‘The Edible Garden’. Google for images of Alys and I hardly need tell you that she’s English, do I? All wild red curls like a Rosetti, vintage floral frocks and hand-knitted granny cardigans, looking distinctly feminine in a cottage-y can-do kind of way.
Just as Phryne never surrenders her femininity while solving murders, Alys maintains her sweet girliness while wearing gumboots and digging in the compost. I wouldn’t have a clue what her gardening philosophy is — as I said, I merely looked at the wonderful pictures of chooks running amok in a rambling vegie patch — but her lovely style is just as inspiring as Phryne’s, if totally the opposite.
Yes, it’s practical to wear old Relay for Life shirts and trackpants while gardening, but where is the joy in that? If I’m going to be amongst blue larkspurs and lazy bumblebees and yellow zucchini flowers for a few hours, why not dab on a little lipgloss and look the part? And if getting dirty (and perhaps a little smelly) is on the cards, wouldn’t a printed frock be sweeter armour instead of King Gees with holes in the knees and paint splatters elsewhere?
I will say, a pretty sundress requires more sunblock, and sometimes an overshirt is essential to protect one’s arms against scratchy bushes. But it’s quite cooling and comfy to wear a skirt while gardening. And it does look rather fetching when one’s ensemble is completed by thick socks and blunnies. It’s a sort of don’t-let-these-sweet-looks-deceive-you outfit — I can dig out sheep poo with the best of ’em.
So this summer I have been flitting between who I want to be when I grow up: mysterious dazzling Phryne and sweetly earthy Alys. I can tell who I’m more likely to turn out like – who you’re more likely to find Chez Dig In! A girl can — and should — have heroines to aspire to.

19 Feb 2014

boozy sultana yoghurt cake

When it's your turn on the office-morning-tea roster, here is the cake for you:

Patterned cloth from Frangipani Fabrics

This cake uses three of my favourite ingredients in the kitchen, either to eat or bake with: sultanas (I load my breakfast oats up with them), almond meal, and greek yoghurt (or natural yoghurt. I haven't entirely worked out the difference between the two).

Actually, let's make that four: because this cake is a splendid spin on the tradition sultana cake. How? By soaking the sultanas in old-lady sherry, for as long as possible, until the fruit is as plump as drops of amber. The yoghurt adds a delicious zing to the cake batter, but the sherry imparts a Christmas-like glow all round.

So put your turn on the office roster in your Outlook, with a two week reminder, and start soaking now. You - and your co-workers - won't be disappointed.

Boozy sultana yoghurt cake
On my scrawled out recipe, many years old, I have attributed this to 'In the Kitchen', but I can't find this book on my local library's database or by googling. by Allan Campion and Michelle Curtis.
The recipe specified soaking the sultanas overnight, but I think this is insufficient; if you can go for a week or two, you will be amply rewarded. Why not keep a stash of sultanas-in-sherry in your fridge all the time, just in case?
Finally, I used a ring tin, but have also made individual cupcakes, and the recipe specified a 22 cm tin (I assume round). So use whatever tin you wish, but adjust the cooking time accordingly.
  • Soak 1 cup of sultanas in enough sherry to just cover the fruit (I use a 'medium' sherry). You may want to top this up, especially if you are soaking for a long time. Cover and pop in the fridge to get nicely inebriated; at least overnight or as noted above, for a couple of weeks.
  • When ready to bake, preheat oven to 180 and prep your desired baking tin.
  • Cream 125gms soft butter with 1 cup sugar.
  • Add 2 eggs.
  • Now fold in 1 1/4 cups almond meal, 1 1/2 cups SR flour, and 1 cup greek or natural yoghurt. You should get a nice creamy mix (be sure to lick the bowl!).
  • Now drain your tipsy sultanas, reserving any leftover liquor (drink as a little cook's reward, or pour over a piece of plain cake, or use to start your next batch of boozy sultanas).
  • Fold the sultanas thru your cake batter. Dollop into your tin, then bake. As a guide, this ring tin version took about 45 minutes; I'd noted the cupcakes as 30 minutes; and the original recipe specified 35 minutes. The top will look gently brown, the sides will pull away and a skewer will come out clean.
  • Try just one piece - quality control, of course - then be strong and pop the cake in a container to take to the office morning tea.

13 Feb 2014

the new luxury

You can keep your lobster and caviar, your foam reductions and sous vide whatevers. Because it doesn't get much better than this:

Thick slices of homegrown tomatoes (dad's) on toast. Luscious juicy flavours and that perfect squidgy texture. Nibbly, grainy toast. Jazzed with aniseedy basil leaves, melty haloumi and black pepper. Big mouthfuls in every sense.

What started as an easy post-yoga supper became a truly indulgent summer meal. I savoured every bite, thought to myself 'this is one posh piece of toast!' - and, then, mmm, that the perfect accompaniment to this earthy decadence would be a tall bright glass of bubbly champagne. That's one fancy luxury I'd never knock back. Maybe next time.

6 Feb 2014

rhubarb crumble

When I can buy rhubarb this wow, why do I bother growing my own? That’s what I ponder every Saturday morning when I head to the local farmers market and stock up on armfuls of these thick, dark ruby giants from the man from The Huon (as in the Huon Valley part of Tas). And then when I get home and look at mine, anaemic and as thin as a pencil. You can see how astonishing the market-bought ones are – just compare them to the bananas nearby; they are just as thick! And it’s not just handsome good looks; the rhubarb has a surprisingly lemony flavour.

So I have been stockpiling: one market morning, I bought three kilos, which was chopped and frozen ready for a winter treat (I have a large stash of rhubarb recipes, cakes or puddings, because rhubarb is one of my favourite things, but they are rather wasted on my meagre crop).

The next week, sadly, I dithered over which recipe to use, and then we had a bit of a heatwave and I didn't feel like turning the oven on, which meant that week’s bunch went a little floppy in the fridge — which is a disgraceful way to treat such prized produce. But it was just as good stewed — and such a beautiful rosy colour, one of rhubarb’s surest appeals — and served on my breakfast oats or with a spoonful of natural yoghurt for an afternoon or post-dinner snack.
But let’s do some word association, and if I say ‘rhubarb’, chances are you’ll reply ‘crumble’. What about rhubarb crumble pie? I finally got to try this Martha Stewart recipe, all rolling pastry and rubbing in butter, and it was delicious. Truly made to showcase richly-coloured, zingy rhubarb like this.

But then I thought, as much as I love making pastry and don’t do it enough (it should have been a culinary resolution), we should just stick with tradition – that is, stick with the rhubarb crumble part.

Which doesn’t mean I stayed true to Martha’s recipe. The original had one cup of sugar to six cups of rhubarb — why mask rhubarb’s essential flavour with such an astounding amount of sugar (and risk tooth decay)? Like a puckeringly-good granny smith apple, I don’t mind when rhubarb does that ‘take the enamel off your teeth’ thing. And for some reason, I decided this biscuit-like crumble needed some hazelnut meal in it for extra flavour and a different texture. Don’t ask me how I come to these fiddlings, but I did and they worked.

And finally - look, a mini rhubarby map of Tassie!

Rhubarb crumble
This is wonderful warm, of course; the biscuity topping is light, a bit short, and not so hard. However, I have been eating this fridge-cold while the weather is hot, and the cold fruit is refreshing. Enjoy with a clod of your favourite dairy; mine has been greek yoghurt, which steps up to the rhubarb’s tang nicely.
A note too about baking dishes. The first time I made the pie, I used a small pie dish (about 20cm diameter) so the fruit was heaped; the second time with the crumble I used a larger square pyrex dish and so the fruit layer was thinner. But it doesn't really matter - it's only a crumble - so use your favourite dish.
You can find Martha’s original rhubarb crumble pie recipe here.
  • First, chop about 650 to 700 gms of rhubarb into roughly two cms pieces. Toss into your baking dish - no need to butter the dish, I found - and sprinkle over 1/3 cup sugar (which still looks like a lot but is better than the original!) and 1 1/2 tbspns cornflour. Stir around to coat everything well and set aside while you get on with the next bit.
  • In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 cup white plain flour, 1/4 cup hazelnut meal, 2 tbspns wholemeal plain flour, 1/3 cup light brown sugar and a good pinch of salt. Now rub in 80 gms of butter that is cold but just soft enough to rub in (of course, you could use your food processor for this, but it was the weekend and I was in no hurry). There is a lot of butter in this and towards the end, I swapped delicate fingertips-only rubbing in and just got in and squidged about to ensure it was well combined.
  • Preheat your oven to 180. Dot the topping over the rhubarb, allowing spaces for the juices to bubble up in between.
  • Pop into the oven and cook for 50-60 minutes or until the rhubarb is gently bubbling away and the topping is lightly browned.

1 Feb 2014

garden share collective: february

A garden should have a space to sit, a place from where you can survey what you are growing and creating, make new plans, or simply enjoy the view. Until recently, I had a perfectly good spot - I could watch the ever-busy blackbirds scruff about the sugar-cane mulch and the silverbeet grow ever taller as it went to seed:

But over the Christmas holidays I found an even better vantage point, so I relocated an under-used garden bench to up against the garage wall. I installed a pot of pyrethrum and artfully arranged some old (vintage!) terracotta pots:
I plan on putting strawberries in those empty strawberry pots once the weather cools a tad. Yes, it does get 'too hot' in Hobart!

From here, I can rest in the shade, pod the broad beans, and still see the blackbirds wreak havoc on my mulch. And do some garden thinking:

  • Dad was right: It's not good to have plants in your vegie garden, even if they attract bees. They start to dominate and crowd out what you are trying to grow for harvest, or crowd you out as you try to get to your crops.
  • Bumblebees make lovely gardening companions. With their deep buzz and lazy, drunken flying patterns, they pose no threat as you work in the garden, no matter how close they get to you (or you to them).
  • So do blackbirds, even if they infuriate me sometimes with their mulch displacement techniques. They are remarkably tame, and seem to know I pose no threat as I work about my garden beds (or maybe they consider them to be their garden beds?).
  • There is no greater pleasure than picking your own peas and beans, especially those first few gatherings, then sitting outside in the soft evening air, surveying your domain as you shell them for dinner.
  • Do not assume you will be able to distinguish between a sugar snap, snowpea and greenfeast pea. LABEL.
  • Tomatoes are a mystery. All the work, the tending: pinching out laterals (which I only vaguely recognise), tying up limbs, not too much water... I'm following dad's instructions but I do not yet understand them. It's probably why I grow so many peas and beans. So much simpler.
From this spot, I can also see the garden space - the layout of the beds and rows in relation to the sun - and I've been mentally plotting improvements for next summer. Tomatoes into a different bed where they get more sun will be the main thing 'next time'. Perhaps dig up another corner of the lawn for more gardening.

I also got inspired to fashion some wobbly duckboards, to lift my walkways between rows off the ground; the aim was to keep them free from, yes, the blackbird-rearranged mulch which obscured my pathways. But it should also mean less compression of the soil. At the end of the season, when I put the vegie patch to sleep for the winter, I shall refine this infrastructure.

So, onto specifics. What have I been growing, watering, feeding, cursing, harvesting since the last time we spoke?

Currently harvesting
  • Beans: borlotti and lazy housewifes.
  • Basil, but not yet enough to make a decent pot of pesto.
Yup, right now that's it. It's a good thing I'm getting zucchini, cabbage, carrots and scarlett runner beans from dad.

Currently growing
  • Second installment of peas: sugar snaps, green feast, snow peas. All labelled.
  • Second installment of beans: yellow, green and purple ones.
  • Tomatoes: still green on the vine, but two black krims (or black russians?), one granny's throwing, and one more (dad's handwriting has worn off the stakes, but a large hefty variety)
  • Black beauty zucchini: my first ever attempt at growing zukes, and I already have some bright yellow flowers!
  • Rainbow chard (silverbeet). I sorely miss having this (and kale) in may garden right now; it is one of my dinner staples. The wee seedlings are growing strong but nowhere near harvest yet.
  • Second installment of beetroot. Due to planting too many, the first lot were only good for the green tops. 
  • Basil. See above.
  • Rhubarb. The least said about this under-performer, the better.
  • A capsicum plant that looks ... very yellow and sickly. Not sure why.
  • Lettuce; but in the last week it's started going to seed and has turned very bitter, so will probably come out soon.
  • Some mystery pumpkin, self-sown from some kitchen scraps I buried as a kind of compost. Not sure exactly what variety I have - something from dad's garden - but a lovely surprise.
Note the blue larkspur doing a spot of photo-bombing

Things to do?
Water. Summer in Hobart tends to be up and down (I'm sure I've said this before). Mostly the mild weather is great for tackling garden chores such as deadheading and pruning without raising much of a lady-like glow, but when it's hot here, the sun stings with a fierceness that never fails to shock (and if you're not protected adequately, burn). If there's a hot northerly wind as well, it's a disaster for the garden.

Even though I have a thick layer of sugar-cane mulch, I also have tender new seedlings that are barely sprouted and need nurturing. So as I'm lucky enough to live quite close to work, on the stinky-hot days I drive home at lunchtime to water the rows, carefully, to keep their roots cool and moist. Someone at work (a non-gardener, obviously) marvelled and thought I was being a tad over the top in my efforts, but we are talking about ensuring my future dinner here, so if I can, I will.

Plus now that I'm back at work, it's a way of staying in touch with my garden during the day. I miss being outside all day - and sitting in my new spot, surveying it all.

Don't forget to see others in the Garden Share. Click on the logo in the column at right to see more green thumbs.