28 Feb 2016

pate brisee

Life is better in pastry, don’t you think? Certainly summer vegies like zucchinis and tomatoes are elevated when put on a buttery pastry pedestal. The stars of the season — juicy stone fruit like apricots and plums — shine even brighter when wrapped in oh-so-short pastry.

On my holidays I heaved out my marble slab and rolling pin, and re-discovered my love of pastry; specifically, Martha Stewart’s pate brisee. I had all the time in the world to enjoy the pastry making process; though truthfully, when you employ a food processor to whizz the ingredients together, the hard work doesn’t take much time at all.

Galettes are my thing, rustic and very obviously handmade, and that’s because I can’t roll out a perfect circle to save my life. Despite all my best intentions and concentration, things somehow go a bit wonky and pear-shaped! So galettes offer a rustic excuse for my lack of symmetry.

They also get around the need for blind-baking, as fun as that is (and I have the ceramic beads for it!). I mean, I made these empty shells, but despite fridging as advised, and pricking the bases as advised, the sides still shrank down and the bottoms still puffed up:

So, I’m a galette gal.

The beauty of this pate brisee recipe is that it can be used for savoury or sweet offerings without any modification: it is perfectly neutral (and just plain perfect). For example, I used it to encase mandolin-fine zucchini slices, layered over a bed of zesty spring onions and garlic, for a lovely summer lunch:

I made a very fine apricot version (with brown sugar and a little almond meal on the base to help enrich and soak up juices):

I also filled those mini tarts with fresh raspberries and lemon curd, but the pictures didn’t turn out; trust me, they were bursting with flavour!

And in previous years, I’ve rolled out pate brisee to make beautiful tomato tarts. Must do that again soon!

Pate brisee
From Martha Stewart’s ‘Pies and tarts’. This makes enough for two discs of dough, so two medium sized galettes; it's also easily halved.

Basic version:
  • Place 2 ½ cups plain flour, 1 tspn salt and 1 tspn sugar in a food processor and whizz briefly.
  • Add 220 gms cold butter and process until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs; a few larger lumps of butter are perfectly fine.
  • With the machine running, slowly add enough cold water until it just starts to clump together (Martha advises ¼ to ½ cup water).
  • Dump dough onto a clean bench surface or a large bowl, then use your hands to knead and bring the dough together properly (but don't overwork). Divide into two balls, flatten slightly, wrap in clingfilm, and fridge for at least half an hour (you can also freeze it at this stage).
  • You can then roll it out on a floured surface to make your galettes. The general rule I follow is bake at 180 until the pastry is golden and the filling is cooked. I’ve found this can vary wildly, depending on the filling — anything from 30 to 60 minutes — so start checking after 30 minutes.
Cornmeal version:
For a slightly ‘grittier’ version, which I found worked well for vegetable galettes. Substitute ½ cup of the flour for cornmeal/polenta.

Wholemeal version:
For when you want to be a bit healthier! Substitute ½ cup of the flour for wholemeal plain flour.

Cheddar cheese version:
For when you want failure on your hands. Supreme disappointment; went rock hard; only good for the chooks. Don’t go there.

21 Feb 2016

what i did in my garden over the holidays

Watered. Basically, I watered. And then wondered where that water was going.
Towards the end of January we had some rainfall — heavy and tank-filling; as well as just plain misty and annoying. But before that (and since!) it was weeks between drinks. A dry summer where even the weeds curled up and died. Where I contemplated pulling out all my pretty, wilting flowers and replacing them with native shrubs — until my friend F told me even her natives were struggling (then I contemplated ripping everything up and going with fakes).
Lion's plants, which bring nectar birds to my garden

Oh, if you were to pull up in my driveway and look at the front garden, (somehow) you’d see lots of colours from the climbing roses, pelargoniums and larkspurs. But get down close and look at the soil, and you’d see a dustbowl. I do not know where the water I pour in goes; I do not know how anything survives.

But I’m also learning from this bad season, for next summer, because (perhaps pessimistically) I can only see that this is how it’s going to be — dry, hot summers. So let’s plan for it, to mitigate the tears and frustrations. Plant more of what survived this time (not flourishing, merely staying alive) to be guaranteed some colour. Penstemons are top of the list; somehow those delicate and divinely purple larkspurs put on a good show, as did a clump of these spiky blue things (which prickles notwithstanding, the bees love):

Many things finished very early this season: lavender was over and out by December, as were some other usually reliable perennials. The only way I managed this pretty display of pink phloxes (yes mum, phloxes) and cosmos was by slavishly watering them, just about every day. That was a lot of work to tie myself to.
In my vegie garden, usually reliable stuff that you can sow and grow with your eyes closed and hands tied behind your back just didn't happen. Peas didn't germinate (and when they did, the sparrows nipped them all off — more on that later). Zucchinis grew only about two inches long and then stopped (and tasted bitter).
Lush zuke plants - but very little fruit
This has been frustrating and heartbreaking, and at times I've been ready to give up. All the time and work and energy you devote to the garden, and for what? All the packets of seeds you buy? Puny nasty zucchini! A measly handful of sugar snap peas! All bush and no beans! Pah, that’s not what I signed up for!
My prettiest patch, with spring onions, marigolds, beetroot, beans and self-sown capsicums jostling for space
So I’m given up. Oh, I’ll keep watering everything in some vain hope I’ll get a decent sized carrot, but I’ve decided against doing further sowings, because the elements are too much to battle. I’m now waiting til it’s cooler before I turn my mind to winter plantings. I want summer 2016 to be over, so I can start anew.

I’m also pestering my dad about hammering in more structures once it cools down: for higher and better netting over my vegie beds, to guard against the birds; and that is easy for me to get in and out of. I know the birds are desperate for food in this dry season — but I’m not growing peas and lettuce for sparrows!
 Apricots and plum tree protected above; tomatoes below

It hasn’t been completely bad in the veg patch (and looking back at these pictures, it's all quite lush). My tomatoes are coming on nicely, just enough to enjoy a few each day and cook a tray or too for the freezer. The lazy housewife beans are giving me a modest handful every couple of days (my supply being generously complimented by mum and dad, who currently have scarlet runners coming out of their ears!). They are finished now, but just after Christmas I pulled a small but delicious quantity of beetroot and round Paris carrots. And my fruit trees (as noted in my previous post) offered up small but rich harvests.

Carrots on dead lawn 

The weather around Australia and indeed the world has been crazy this season — so perhaps you too are having a poor time in your garden. If so, I completely empathise — come on over for a cuppa, and we’ll drown our sorrows together.
Orangey 'big beryl' above and classic 'mamma mia' romas (and a couple of black krim) below

14 Feb 2016

what i cooked and ate over my holidays

There is nothing better than a fresh melting moment, is there?

What about one with a generous dab of macadamia chocolate goo?

Thought you’d agree.

The sweet summer indulgence actually kicked off with the much anticipated Christmas pavlova. Oh, wow. What bliss. I could have quite happily eaten the lot (and stolen my parents’ servings mid-fork, too) it was sooo good.

So a couple of weeks later, we made another one, this time with a layer of zappy lemon curd that I made just for the occasion. Mm-mmm.

Mum has perfected the ratio of crisp-and-chewy meringue and pillowy marshmallow filling. Modest clouds of whipped cream and fresh berries — am I making your mouth water? We wondered why we don’t make pavlovas more often; like that other classic, the sponge cake, a pav is deceptively easy to literally whip up and the pay-off is wonderful.

In Hobart, summer finally kicks in around Christmas time, and then sweetness comes from our luscious stone fruits. Decadently fat, dark juicy cherries from dad’s trees; this greedy picker follows the ‘one for the bucket, one for the mouth’ rule. Quality assurance in juicy action! I happily gorged myself on these beauties.


I’ve also been stuffing myself silly on apricots (mine and dad’s), plums (ditto — here's my first modest harvest, below!) and nectarines, which, with their juicy combination of sweet and sharp, are perhaps my favourite summer fruit. Luckily my digestive system copes well with the extra fruit and fibre!
I bought a new enamel colander for collecting harvests. I'm quite in love with it!
Our harvests were modest this year — the dry conditions have meant smaller crops and smaller fruit — which mum and I do agree has an upside; we haven’t been completely overwhelmed by buckets of fruit to cut up and stew or freeze before they spoil. But I am restocking the freezer ahead of the winter months, and that is always satisfying. As were these delicious tarts:

The warmer months also mean lots of colourful healthy veg, too. Sometimes I fall into eating in a monochrome manner — a bowl of greens with vivid pesto, herbs and pasta, all absolutely emerald, can be my idea of heaven. But ‘eating the rainbow’ makes me very happy. How can this not?

Between dad's garden and mine, these are completely home-grown meals!
I’d like to think with a meal like this, I’m eating at my optimum. I can literally feel all those vitamins and antioxidants throwing themselves at me! 
Makes up for those times I indulge in a short little biscuit daubed generously with chocolaty goo...