Monday, October 31, 2011

a few of our favourite things

Libby: Last week was a good week for me and fruit tarts. I managed to visit two of my favourite bakeries: Central Baking Depot in Sydney (little sister of Bourke Street Bakery and Silo in Canberra thanks to a work trip. The tart from Central Baking Depot was a barberry & fig frangipane creation with beautifully flaky pastry. It was my first experience of barberries and I found they tasted like sharp blackcurrants. The tart from Silo was a classic custard & passionfruit tart with short pastry. If you ever find yourself in Canberra, seek out the Silo bakery in Kingston (near the government part of town) this delightful bakery will change your opinion of Canberra and make you think of the city in a more favourable light.

Miriam: There's a particularly overgrown area of Jasmine just near my house. Having recently been informed that Jasmine is in fact a weed, I feel no guilt when I help myself to a few sprigs. They look so pretty in a jar on the windowsill and their a lovely scent fills the house. It's nice to know I'm doing my bit to help control this weed!

Becs:  They are not the most glamourous ingredient but inned beans are such a useful pantry staple. I continue to make this delicious cannellini bean dip, and hummus a fair bit as Daisy enjoys them both. Chickpeas are going  into summer salads too and I just love a tasty Mexican-style bean dip. We get through a fair few, so to save constant restocking at the supermarket a visit was paid to Med Foods to bulk buy trays of chickpeas, cannellini and red kidney beans.  I know it is much cheaper to soak and cook dried ones but the convenience of the tinned ones does it for me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

chocolate cake for Daisy

It was Daisy's birthday party on the weekend.  I had briefly contemplated the construction of a Dorothy the Dinosaur cake, but decided against it in favour of the angst-free option combining three of her favourite foods - chocolate, strawberries and marshmallows (mamos). The cake was Nigella's Chocolate Guinness cake - over the past few months this cake has cemented itself as my new favourite. Nigella describes it as damp and delicious,which covers it perfectly.

I paired it with Alice Medrich's fast fudge frosting -  this was the first time I had tried this unusual  method of making icing and I loved it.  The cocoa-based frosting can double as a chocolate sauce if melted down,and it had a beautifully glossy,  gooey texture, just as chocolaty as ganache but without the richness. The frosting recipe below makes enough to generously sandwich and ice this cake.

We ate the cake with the fresh strawberries and mamos, a spoonful of berry compote and a dollop of cream. So delicious. Served this way the cake will feed around 20ish people.  Next year = no doubt Dorothy or her 2012 equivalent as requested by a more knowing Miss D will grace the brithday table.

Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake

250ml Guinness

250g unsalted butter
75g cocoa
400g caster sugar
140ml sour cream  or yoghurt
2 eggs
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
275g plain flour
2.5 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C, and butter and line a 23cm springform tin.

Pour the Guinness into a large wide saucepan, add the butter - in spoons or slices - and heat until the butter's melted, at which time you should whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the brown, buttery, beery pan and finally whisk in the flour and bicarb.

Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined tin and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Leave to cool completely in the tin on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake.  

Fast fudge frosting

120g unsalted butter

1.5 c sugar
1.5 c cocoa
1.5 c cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a saucepan,melt butter. Stir in the sugar and cocoa. Gradually stir in the cream. Heat over medium heat, stirring till everything is mixed well and is smooth and hot but not boiling. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and a pinch or two of salt, to taste.Set aside to cool. (I left it overnight, after which it was the perfect consistency to spread.)

Daisy made the most of her proximity to the abundance of marshmallows...

Happy Birthday Daisy x

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

a few of our favourite things...

Becs: Judging by the number of flowers in my strawberry patch it should be a bumper crop of berries this Christmas. I spent Labour Day happily pottering in the garden. The strawberries were tidied up and tomatoes, beans, potatoes, snow and sweetpeas were planted. Not such good news is that this summer Christchurch has a water ban due to EQ damage -here's hoping for a Spring shower or two...

Miriam: I love summer salads. I made this one with baby spinach, chicken, red pepper and fresh mango. And then, the extra treat was cashew nuts that I dry fried in a pan and added some sugar to till it went all gooey and caramelised. Yum!

Monday, October 17, 2011

a few of our favourite things...

Libby: Becs picked up three of these cast aluminium gem irons at a local church garage sale for an amazing $1 each! She had first pick at some incredible bargains as she was invited to the sale "preview"!

One tray travelled up to Wellington with Mum and Dad over the weekend and I tried them out on Sunday afternoon. Those sturdy little logs in the background are my first attempt at ginger gems - I was working from an old Edmond's cookbook recipe and instructions were scant so I wasn't quite as light-handed with the mixture as I should have been. My gems were a little on the tough side. Gems are quick and reasonably economical to whip up so I'll give it another go soon to work on my technique.

Miriam: I've been a bit remiss with my favourite things lately. But that's not because I don't have favourite things. In fact, most nights before going to sleep I try to reflect on my 3 favourite things of the day (I exempt food from this activity, as otherwise breakfast, lunch and dinner would have it covered). Research shows doing this exercise every day increases happiness. Click here if you want some instructions, then give it a go and see if you notice a difference.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lamb, tomato & feta pies

I was intrigued when I saw these pies in Ray McVinnies food section in the Sunday magazine. I have never been a fan of Ray's recipes, but lately his dishes in Sunday have looked more attractive. On that basis (and the fact that we had lamb mince to use up) I thought I'd give this one a go. I actually didn't use his dough recipe as I didn't have semolina, so instead used my go-to basic bread dough, which I think worked just fine for this recipe.

Although the tarts look quite impressive, I'm not sure they had quite the depth of flavour I would have liked. As my flatmate Jane said, they kind-of tasted exactly how you would expect lamb mince to taste. As the lamb mince is cooked in the dough, there was no opportunity to pour off the was somewhat disconcerting the see the tarts filled with fat as they were cooking. Although the fat seemed to be absorbed during the cooking, I could definitely taste it when I ate them. I think if I was to make them again, I'd serve them with a mint & yoghurt mixture on top which may help to cut through the fat. Or perhaps I you could cook the lamb mince first, drain off some of the fat then cook it inside the dough?

Here's the recipe as per the Sunday magazine:
Lamb, tomato & feta pies

250ml lukewarm water
1 Tbsp dried yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
400g high-grade flour
100g fine Italian semolina
olive oil for the bowl

800g lamb mince
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbst dried oregano
3 Tbsp chopped parsley, plus extra for serving
salt and pepper
200g creamy feta, crumbled
250 cheery tomatoes, halved

Put the water into mixing bowl, add yeast and sugar. Let stand in warm place until the yeast has dissolved and mixture is frothy. Mix well. Add flour and semolina. Mix well, then knead for 10 mins until smooth and elastic. Place dough in an olive-oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise until it has doubled in bulk. Preheat oven to 220C. Put lamb, garlic, oregano and parsley into a bowl, Season well with 1tsp salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Mix thoroughly.

Divide dough into 6 portions and roll each into an oval shape about 20cm long and 12cm wide.

Place 1 portion of lamb mixture, broken into small lumps, down the middle of each dough oval. Sprinkle each with feta and tomatoes. Brush edges of each oval with watter and pull them up, pinching the ends to make a canoe shape. Place pies on a baking tray and leave to rise for 10 minutes then bake for 20 mins or until the pies are well cooked.

Monday, October 10, 2011

a few of our favourite things...

Libby: I don't like having the same thing for lunch or dinner two days in a row but I will quite happily eat oats for breakfast day-in, day-out. In cool weather I eat them cooked as porridge and in warmer weather I like them soaked overnight to make bircher muesli. Now that we've had a glimpse of spring I've made the switch to bircher. My "recipe" is a simple, cheap mix of oats, a few raisins and a small handful of whatever seeds I have - sesame, sunflower, pumpkin - soaked overnight in milk. In the morning I stir in yoghurt and as long as I'm not about to miss the bus, grate in 1/2 an apple. It's very portable. More often than not, it comes to work with me to be eaten a little later on.

Becs: I have several of these spice tins and they are so handy. Much tidier than having loads of little jars and bags cluttering up the pantry, and easy to use when cooking as there is only one lid to take off. I bought mine at various Asian food stores, they do vary in quality it seems, so go for the heavier stainless steel and ensure the lid fits on snugly. I group my spices how I would usually cook with them, so keep sweeter ones separate. I was inspired to make a chicken curry for dinner after seeing Al Brown's version on Get Fresh; yesterday was quite a spice filled day with lunch enjoyed at the Vegetarian Expo - we ate the most delicious samosas with cumin seed-flecked pastry and a date and tamarind chutney, I love a good samosa.

Monday, October 3, 2011

a few of our favourite things

Miriam: I love this dinner for a slightly more healthy version of unhealthy corn chip based nachos. These ones have homemade tortillas chips, a spicy bean and mince mixture, avocado, sour cream and lots of cheese. Lewi, Jane and I sat round the coffee table and ate this for dinner straight from the pizza stone. For a more precise recipe for this, see Sarah's vegetarian version here.

Becs: I am a big fan of Kings Seeds in Katikati. They sell an impressive array of fruit and vege seeds, lots of them being heirloom or organic, as well as flora and fauna. You order your selection via their website (they also send out thick catalogues that are great to browse through, the variety of weird and wonderful vegetables will amaze you) and a courier drops them off a couple of days later. I can never get through a full pack of seeds before they reach their expiry date, so if you want to share some of mine just leave a comment on this post and I will send out one reader a seed selection!

Libby: Cookbooks are about the only books I buy these days. I think of them as "reference books" and to me, they hold so much more value than novels that I'd read once and pass on. My Abuela's Table by Daniella Germain is the latest addition to my cookbook collection and it's easily the most beautifully illustrated cookbook on my shelf. It's a collection of recipes from the author's Mexican grandmother all accompanied by the cutest hand drawn illustrations. This book makes me want to have my own little Mexican fiesta, complete with home made corn tortillas and tamales (if I can figure out where to get banana leaves in Wellington!)
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