Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Strawberry and yoghurt cake

I had my doubts. It was a cake with no eggs, one of the major ingredients was 200ml of warm water, and the tin we had was slightly smaller than the one specified. I shouldn't have worried. The recipe was by Neil Perry, who probably knows a thing or two about cooking. I had a Year 6 sous-chef who exuded calm and confidence, and produced a muffin tin to handily accomodate the excess batter. And the resultant mini-cakes provided an opportunity for decorating fun, with edible wonders foraged from my friends' beautiful Hobart garden. 

Though this cake might seem on paper, a bit strange - the aforementioned lack of eggs, the weirdly large quantity of warm water, and the two hour (!) cooking time, the results more than speak for themselves. Chewy with polenta, tangy with yoghurt and studded with pale pink fruit, this is a real spring time surprise, and versatile too - the sort of thing you could serve at a dinner party (topped with yoghurt and piled high with strawberries), a high tea (prettily pastel), or pack in a lunchbox (sturdy and filling)... or in my case, in my carry on baggage to take back to Sydney as a memory of a lovely weekend in Tasmania.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Kasundi tomato relish

I was going to make something else for the blog this week but the Danish pastry I pulled from the oven Saturday morning was an unmitigated disaster. Happily, this recipe jumped out at me from the arts section of the Herald I was reading to console myself afterwards. Happily, I had most of the ingredients already. Happily, I was passing by the Chinatown fruit and vegetable markets on my way to a dinner at my friends' place Saturday night and was able to stock up on tomatoes and chillis. Happily, the cook at that dinner had some black mustard seeds to spare when I realised I didn't have any (and was too lazy to walk up to the shops to get some the next day). And so it all worked out in the end. I'll give the Danish another go sometime, but til then, slathering this incredible relish on a bacon and egg roll (or a curry, a jaffle, on a cracker with some cheese) makes me very happy indeed.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Labneh with sumac, parsley, lemon and pistachios

You know how all commercially made dips have a vaguely metallic aftertaste? You know how rock hard avocados are when you have a hankering for guacamole? You know how sometimes you can't be bothered roasting eggplants and picking off their blackened skin to make baba ghanouj? Well, the solution to all of your dip dilemmas is probably sitting in your fridge right now and you don't even know it. At least if your fridge is like mine and always contains a tub of Greek yoghurt. 

Labneh is a Middle-eastern marvel - the result of pouring some thick yoghurt (with a little salt stirred in) into a cheesecloth or muslin-lined sieve set over a large bowl and left to drain in the fridge for a day or two. It's a soft, spreadable, infinitely adaptable cheese, which works wonderfully on sandwiches (it's delicious with roast vegetables, lamb or smoked salmon), as well as in salads (especially ones made with grains). Topped with lemon zest, sumac, parsley and pistachios, it becomes the most beautiful dip. Bright, tangy and bursting with flavour. 

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Sydney cheesecake

I asked a friend of mine what sort of cake he wanted for his birthday. He said cheesecake. This threw me for a loop as I like cheesecake just fine but it's not something I ever make. And so the research began. I started out wanting to make an Italian-style ricotta one but was put off by the time involved and taste imagined of the rather elaborate pastry that encased it. I then perused my favourite American cooking blogs to see what I could find but was mildly horrified by the massive quantities of cream cheese and sugar cited by nearly every recipe I came across. And so, I did what any cook of my generation in Australia would do. What I should have done in the first place. I asked Stephanie. Or more accurately, googled Stephanie Alexander cheesecake and bingo. Though still containing bricks plural of cream cheese (and sour cream to boot) this was a lighter, significantly sweeter version of the renowned New York cheesecake, that mainstay of deli cabinets not just in Manhattan but the world over. With a base made from shredded wheatmeal biscuits, the subtle tang of lemon, and a creamy, dreamy consistency, this more than fulfilled the birthday brief.

And, as it turns out, it was the perfect cake for the occasion as the celebration was - at the last minute - postponed for a fortnight. After panicking thinking how on earth was I going to get through an entire cheesecake by myself, I remembered Sara Lee. And so the birthday cake lived happily in the freezer til it was finally laid out to eat last Saturday night. With a backdrop of city lights and a balmy almost-summer breeze, looking sunny and simple and a little bit showy it felt somehow very Sydney. And so, Sydney cheesecake.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Sticky dates

Somehow I have three jars of marmalade in my fridge. I can explain. My mum makes cumquat marmalade, so there's one of hers that made its way south sometime in my carry on baggage. Inspired by a burst of bright orange in the midst of grey winter I recently tried my hand myself with tangelos. And, a few weeks ago, I was gifted a jar of mandarin marmalade (laced with brandy!) by my friend Amy's mum (a wonderful cook), made with fruit from her backyard tree. There's only so much toast you can eat. Or cakes you can make. So it seemed a good time to give this recipe a go. Especially in a week in Sydney when temperatures climbed to mid-summer levels in early spring. When you don't feel like cooking, when the only things you want to eat are cold, when you don't necessarily want to eat that much at all... Dates are delicious all on their own. Caramelly and dense and sighingly sweet. But when you combine them with some sharp citrus and pretty pale green pistachios, they are elevated into an effortless, elegant dessert. Three ingredients, two bites, one spectacular sweet for spring, summer, any season really. 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Graham crackers

In January this year, I did a road trip with a friend down Highway One, on the west coast of the US. The starting point for our trip was San Francisco and before leaving, we stocked up on snacks at the Ferry Plaza Farmers market down at the waterfront. In addition to the many stands outside selling the most amazing fresh produce (and Blue Bottle coffee), there were permanent stores inside just as incredible - cheeses, meats, and bakeries galore... which is how I found myself at Miette, a San Francisco institution, surrounded by delicate pastries, decadent cakes and countless other dazzling sugary treats. My fellow road-tripper Christina, a New Yorker, but frequent visitor to San Fran and Miette, pointed at a downright homely looking cookie - brown, flat, and round. That, she pronounced emphatically. That is what you want. I looked around at the other more obviously enticing choices - pretty pastel macarons, chocolate sabl├ęs glittering with salt crystals, elaborate multi-layer cakes - then at Christina's face, which said trust me and I ordered the graham crackers. I'm so glad I did.  

I'd read about graham crackers for years. They were always in American recipes as the biscuit base of a cheesecake, or in children's books as an after school snack. What were they, I wondered? Like a milk arrowroot? A gingernut? A shredded wheatmeal? Or maybe they were savoury, as the name cracker seemed to imply, like a Vita-Wheat or a Salada. (It occurs to me as I write this how oddly-named every country's traditional biscuits/cookies are) It turns out there is no Australian equivalent. 

Graham crackers are basically buttery, honey-flavoured cookies made with wholemeal flour. As noted, they're nothing to look at, but their homeliness is their greatest strength. There's something incredibly comforting about this unassuming cookie. They're warm (honey! brown sugar!) and delicious and easy to make, the sort of everyday cookie you can rely on. You know what else is everyday? The sunset. I saw plenty of those that trip, as I ate my way through that box of graham crackers. And both were spectacular.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Freekah pilaf

I'm afraid I haven't got into quinoa. For a number of reasons. One, it seems tricky to cook, two, it's expensive, and then there are those allegations about its appropriation by middle-class white folk depleting the supplies of a staple food in its less white, less middle-class country of origin. So my experiments with alternatives to rice and couscous and pasta have led me in a different direction. First to barley, which I love in this risotto, and now to the fantastically-named freekah. Who else to turn to for a recipe to showcase the wonder of this relatively little-known ancient grain but Yotam Ottolenghi? He's got a new cookbook just out - Plenty More - but this is from the original Plenty. All the usual Ottolenghi suspects are there - fresh herbs, onions, yoghurt, spices, garlic...  coming together in a creation that's cool and sweet, warm and nutty and just wonderful. It's a great side dish to serve with meat (roast lamb would be great), or as part of a vegetarian spread, or just to eat in a bowl on its own, like a risotto or fried rice... but a little left-of-centre. With a name like freekah, how could it be anything but?