Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Speculaas



Is it possible for a cookie to be seasonal? After making speculaas last weekend I'd be inclined to argue yes. When it's cold outside, you can't do much better than brown sugar, butter and cinnamon. There's something warming about all of those things, especially when baked into a sweet with an unpronouceable name (your best chance at getting it right is by trying to say it while eating one) and served with your hot beverage of choice.


The darkness comes from the brown sugar and spices (as much mixed spice as cinnamon) and is bolstered by rye flour and almond meal. This is a cookie for blissful hibernation. A winter warmer, designed for dunking.



Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Preserved limes



About this time last year I went to a pickling workshop. It was very Portlandia to be sure - a bunch of white middle class women in hand-sewn aprons gathered around vats of vinegar in a sunny courtyard at the back of a Scandinavian homewares store one Sunday afternoon. Almost definitely, there was a bird on something or someone. But I was more than happy to succumb to a stereotype in order to learn a skill that stands me in good stead for life. That allows me to make the most of seasonal produce and enjoy it any time I like. In addition to pickled fennel and rhubarb we also made preserved limes. 


I'd made preserved lemons before but it never occurred to me do the same with limes. You can use them in cooking in much the same way (as an acidic note in Middle-eastern tagines or stews, grain salads, in pasta or fish dishes, with roast lamb or chicken...) but where these come into their own is in Mexican food, where lime goes with everything from beer to avocado. Which brings me to my favourite way to use them - in guacamole. A little preserved lime, chopped-up roughly, gives an incredible fresh zing and an added bit of texture to a dip that can often be a bit bland. Guacamole's a perennial favourite but really, it's synonymous with summer - beer and sun, beaches and bare feet - when limes aren't as plentiful or cheap as they are now... which makes preserving them the way to go. And if you made them last winter, like me, you can conjure up summer any time you like, no matter what season you're in.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Grapefruit and olive oil cake with bittersweet chocolate



I've been away. From this blog, from my apartment. While I was gone, some interstate friends came to stay at my place. Sadly, our paths didn't cross, but I had just enough time before leaving for the airport to make them a cake so I felt like there was a little bit of me there to greet them.


Though I was headed for summer later that day, it was winter in Sydney and that means citrus. The seasonality of that food family is consistently strange to me as its bright burst of flavour seems more suited to warmer months (when you feel like quenching your thirst with orange juice, tucking into grapefuit for breakfast or squeezing lime into gin and tonics) than the colder ones but maybe in these darker parts of the year we need it more. I'm sure nature had some sort of plan. 


This cake is made with grapefruit, an underused citrus, in my opinion. It's fresh and zingy and pretty orange-pink (if you use the ruby sort, which I'm powerless to resist). The flavour comes from both its zest, and juice - which is intensified by boiling it down to half its quantity. No need to dirty a food processor or a stand mixer. Two bowls will suffice - one for the wet ingredients, one for the dry. The two come together, chopped chocolate is added and it bakes in the oven for just under an hour, enough time to pack a suitcase or have a cup of tea and read the paper (having packed well in advance), depending on what type of traveller you are. But whatever type that is, odds are you'll think about that cake all the time you're away and make it again upon your return... and eat two slices for morning tea with the heater on watching the rain, half in summer, half in winter, which through the haze of jetlag seems somehow very right.


Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Salted caramel ice-cream



Sometime last last year, just in time for summer, I inherited my friends' ice-cream maker. They were moving, their new kitchen didn't have as much storage space as the old one so they were shedding appliances and I was the lucky beneficiary. All through December, January, February, March and April, that ice-cream maker sat on my shelf gathering dust. How to explain this? Maybe that I recognised having ice-cream on tap all the time might not be such a good thing. Maybe it was that I needed to freeze the inner drum of the machine thoroughly first and my freezer was always jam-packed. Maybe it was because the box was out of my line of sight and I forgot about it. I'm not sure. All I know is that finally, last weekend, as the first day of winter approached, I made ice-cream while wearing a jumper with the heater on. I won't be waiting that long again.


Salted caramel is having a moment to be sure. With good reason. It's sweet, it's salty, it's sublime. This recipe, from master ice-cream maker David Leibowitz (author of The Perfect Scoop), was inspired by the caramel ice-cream of famed Parisan parlour Berthillion. The secret is in the making of the caramel - you push it to the edge of burnt, which, in combination with the salt, saves it from being too sweet, producing instead a perfectly balanced, utterly decadent yet simple dessert. All you need is a spoon.


Thursday, 14 May 2015

Cardamom cake



For me, the perfect cake to have with coffee is a simple one and this might just be the best. Cardamom's flavour suggests a market in south Asia but the origins of this recipe are further north in Scandinavia, where the ritual of coffee and cake has a name (fika) and a place in the culture. This butter cake is simple and sweet, lightly tangy with lemon and fragrant with cardamom. Though you can absolutely use the spice ready ground (if you do, maybe use half the amount) the seeds, crushed lightly in a mortar and pestle, look beautiful flecked through the crumb of the cake. Its burnished gold exterior and brown sugar warmth make it extra lovely at this time of year, eaten in the (almost) winter sun.


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Parsi tomato chutney



Here are two undisputed facts about my mother:

1. She makes amazing chutney.

2. She is utterly unsentimental. 

Whenever I go home to visit she is always offering to teach me how to make her signature chutneys (green papaya, mango) as "one day she will die and there won't be any more". Unlike my mother, I am sentimental and in deep and comfortable denial about anything ever happening to her, so I refuse to learn. Instead, I've taught myself to make my own. It's different enough to mum's to perpetuate the myth that she will always be around to make the others for me, and so good it passes muster with the great chutney-maker herself. So this year, I made her some. For Mother's Day. Even though she doesn't believe in it.


My friend Elizabeth put me on to this recipe, originally from Niloufer Ichaporia King's book My Bombay Kitchen.  As the name suggests, it's made primarily with tomatoes (easy to chop in large quantities), has a relatively short list of other supermarket-available ingredients, and really requires nothing more than throwing everything into one pot and letting it bubble away for a couple of hours. It's brilliant on a sandwich or served alongside a curry, particularly a hot one as the sweetness of the tomatoes balances it beautifully. It's so good slathered on cornbread, delicious dolloped on a cracker with cheese, and jarred up, makes a lovely present... for mothers who are mortal, and their daughters in denial.



Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Tiramisu



My friend Tammy makes the best tiramisu. So when she became a vegan, a few years ago, I took it hard. As much as I admired her principles, I selfishly lamented the loss of my favourite dairy-laden dessert. I could have made it myself, it's true, but it just wouldn't have been the same. Luckily for me, her stance softened (she's still a very committed vegetarian who eats eggs and dairy as responsibly as possible) and tiramisu is back in my life. 


Tiramisu was big in the 80s. So much so it seems like the dessert equivalent of shoulder pads and big hair. Tammy would say it's timeless though, and she's right. There's so much to love about a dinner party dish that tastes incredible, requires only a few ingredients and can be made (and in fact must be made) ahead of time. Simple flavours that in combination pack a punch: coffee, chocolate, creamy mascarpone and booze. 


The booze is optional really - the original recipe, which can be traced back to the Veneto region of Italy in the 1960s, doesn't include it. I don't normally like alcohol-flavoured things but somehow it works for me here. Maybe because it doesn't overwhelm but melds beautifully with the other ingredients. In translation, tiramisu means "pick me up", which makes it ideal for the end of a long night... or the beginning of a new day. 


Be warned: this is not a quick fix sweet treat: tiramisu needs to be refrigerated for several hours or overnight so that the sponge fingers soften and the flavours have time to develop. Trust me, your patience will be rewarded. It's like eating a cloud. A sweet, caffeinated, slightly drunken cloud.