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Sick days

cargoinice

There are people I know who, through out their school and work careers so far, have never taken a day of sick leave.  I can remember being awed and slightly mystified in primary school by a couple of my friends who had, at that point, had never stayed home in bed reading books or watching movies due to an upset tummy or a sore throat for even one single day.  And it’s not, it simply can’t be, that these young folks were born with immune systems made of iron and had never, in fact, been ill.  I’d be willing to bet that these brave souls are the type of people who, even at the tender age of 6, would tenaciously blow their noses, do up their shoe laces and hunker down for the day, ignoring the throbbing head or the faint nausea in the quest for higher learning.  Take the ever diligent and steadfast Mr P, for instance.  For starters, nine times out of ten, if he succumbs to a malady, which is rare in any event, the lad waits until the onset of a weekend, preferably a long one, to do so, so as not to inconvenience any of his colleagues at work who would have to shoulder his load should he be absent from the office.  And having done so he retires quietly and without much fuss to the comforts of the bed, asking for nothing and sleeping much.  Having  done this for a maximum of one day he most often runs a hot shower, dons a clean shirt and carries himself back off into the world as if none of this had ever occurred. (Naturally, I find this a little unnerving, especially in light of the fact that I try so hard to play the good nurse maid, offering glasses of cold juice, hot tea and comforting soups as I would think need be; most being graciously declined with a small sigh.)

I am very definitely not one of those people.

Perhaps it’s the 1930’s starlet in me. Perhaps I’m just too weak for this world.  At the slightest and earliest indication of the onset of the wee common cold I bewail my fate loudly to any who would listen (or who are withing a 50m circle of my voice), clutch desperately at a bottle of cold-n-flu and take to my bed in a flurry of discarded garments and extra blankets for at least 3 days.  After which I retire, my face a tabloid of stoic bravery, to the couch for a further day or so while insisting on constant care in the form of cold juice, hot tea and comforting soups, all the while coughing loudly into a large, white hanky.

Such has been my fate this week.  A parting gift from one of the 416 passengers aboard either of two flights from O.R. Thambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Schipol International in Amsterdam and from there back here to chilly Toronto.  Not quite the perfect end to a three week long holiday back to my homeland, but there you have it. *cough *splutter.

Thank you to everyone who’s continued to bother reading this spot while I’ve been gone and I do hope not to keep you waiting for fresh meat, as it were, too much longer.  Right now, however, I have to get back to my stoic position on the couch before it gets cold.

*sneeze

stella

Welcome to 2009, everyone.  I know, it’s the 10th already.  And already everyone is saying Already.  As in, “Wow, it’s already the 10th!  How did that happen?”  In any event, I hope you all had a fabulous holiday season and are back at it, breaking New Years Resolutions and trying to get rid of that extra bit of “you” that seems to have somehow applied itself, as if by magic, to your bottom/hips/tummy.  Thank you, Christmas Pudding. We had a marvelous time here at lick your own bowl.  We toasted and roasted our way through a disproportionately pleasant number of feasts. We had the kitchen candles burning at both ends and by the end of it all we sat fat and happy, and looked back with gluttonous grins at the piles and piles of dishes waiting to be cleaned.  This was our third Christmas here in Toronto and we finally found ourselves feeling a lot more in the swing of it all.  It’s not easy getting used to Christmas time in a foreign country with no family.  Back in my home country I could picture everybody lounging around the pool, toasting with frosty drinks and organising an impromptu game of cricket with a tennis ball and a couple party hats to mark the boundaries.  This year, however, we found ourselves truely reveling in the season and all it has to offer in a cold climate.  Christmas, and any holiday/celebration comes down to tradition, to doing the same thing, to the fun of looking forward to a particular way of doing things.  Chez Mr P and I we’re in our third year of our own Christmas traditions and it all starts to feel a lot more familiar and, well, traditional.  After a magnificent and decadent Christmas Eve dinner hosted by our fabulous and flamboyant friend Mr W we woke up late, had a cozy coffee and eggy muffins on the couch opening gifts and feeling smug.  Our Christmas dinner with friends was another drawn out affair with the accomplished Mr P whipping up his usual, and fabulous, beef wellington.

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After 5 Christmas puddings and a plethora of other indulgences we’ll probably be laying a little low on the calories here at Lick Your Own Bowl.  I get the feeling, though, that we won’t be alone.  Just to taunt you all a little, however, here’s a wee dish the Iridescent Mr P and I had before the real feasting began.

I grew up largely a vegetarian, but occasionally my dear Dad would rub his hands together at dinner time and his eyes would twinkle with anticipation as he whistled and sang his way through frying up a batch of bangers for our mash.  With this being very nearly the only meat we ever cooked at home you can bet they became synonymous with good times and Treat!  Back in my kitchen it’s a bit of an occasion too.  Ivan made a point of wooing me, when the wooing was still new for us, with a plate of very masculine and entirely smitt-able bangers and mash.  Mostly, they remain his domain in kitchen, but now and again I like to surprise him with a dish that I just know will bring out the child inside him a little.  Such a dish is this.  Be warned!

*Note: Obviously I didn’t make the sausages myself.  And obviously, they being such an integral part of the dish, the better the sausages the better the meal.  No one can buy industrial pork sausages and get gourmet bangers.

**Note: some people prefer to boil the potatoes whole, cool them, peel them then mash them.  Help yourself, if that ‘s your method.  I find it too time consuming to wait for the potatoes to cool enough to handle them so I peel and chop them before boiling.

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Super Duper Bangers and Mash

For the Mash:
2 large potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
Olive Oil (about ¼ cup)
¼ cup milk
3 Tbsp Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

For the “Kraut”
Olive oil for frying
300g or so green cabbage, sliced thinly
1 large red onion, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic
juice of ½ lime
1 tsp brown sugar
½ Tbsp Worcester sauce
salt to taste

4 best pork bangers (I used organic hand made ones from the Healthy Butcher)

– Start with the Kraut.  Heat some olive oil in a large pan and gently saute the onions, garlic and cabbage, stirring often, until soft.  Add the lime juice, sugar and Worcester sauce and continue cooking over a medium heat until caramelised, about 15 – 20 minutes.

– In the meantime, boil the potatoes in a large pot of water until tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

– While the potatoes are boiling, heat up a thick based frying pan and fry the sausages until cooked through, turning often.  The time here will depend on the thickness of your sausage.

– Check the seasoning of the cabbage mix.  It should be somewhat sweet/sour.  Adjust with more lime/sugar/salt to taste.

– Mash the potatoes with the oil, milk and mustard.  Season with salt and pepper.

– Heap a plate full of mash, top with bangers and cabbage.

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Well, one can deny it no longer: the season is upon us.  The season of snowdrifts and blizzards and brilliant blue skies.  The season of children throwing snowballs at each other and throwing themselves down hills on toboggans and sleighs.  The season of hot, mulled apple cider; of long, lazy evenings spent adrift on the couch in front of the blazing fire and the season of baking to beat all baking.  The kitchen here at lick your own bowl has been a beautiful scene of domestic industry the last few weeks.  I find that even people who don’t usually do any baking will pop a batch off cookies in the oven at this time of year.  I love the baking, even after a week in the kitchen mixing and rolling and washing, when my shoulders are tender and my back is aching.  Last year I stuck to fairly traditional Christmas cookies: gingerbread men, peanut butter cookies, molasses drops and choc orange harlequins.  This year I decided to mix it up a little and add a bit of Grown-up to the mix.  I made Italian Amaretti, Spiced chocolate sandwiches with cinnamon and chili and Pepparkakors.  I also whipped up a batch of mice pies from Nigella Lawson’s ‘Domestic Goddess’ and a batch of mini apple tarts in a cheddar pastry for our Christmas party.

I do love the Christmas/Holiday/Winter season.  Whatever your roots and however you like to celebrate it you have to admit that if you take advantage of all the season has to offer you can not help but love it.  Living in a foreign country with no family near by has brought me to the conclusion that this season is very much what you make of it.  Am I going to let a silly thing like being far from home stop me from Christmassing myself and those around me ’till the cows come home?  I think not. And part of that is either creating your own new traditions, or continuing on those that have been with you since childhood.

When I was a little girl my grandmother used to live with us.  Aren’t I lucky?  Well, more than you know!  While the granny-flat my grandparents lived in didn’t have a big old kitchen, and granny didn’t do an awful lot of baking in it, at Christmas time there would be cookies galore and most important of all, a few, big Christmas Puddings hanging above the window waiting for the day we each got a bowl of the warm, sticky, sweet pud and tucked through it to find the hidden coins somewhere in there.  Some of us children (and there was an entire gang of us on Christmas day) didn’t really like the more adult flavours of the pudding, but boy, that didn’t stop any of us if there was money to be found!  Now, I haven’t resurrected that particular little gem of a tradition before, but by golly a Christmas dinner is just not a Christmas dinner without a pudding.

I asked my Mom if she still had the original recipe for the pudding, but life being what it is, it has gotten lost in the drift of various house moves and general life.  After much research and a kind gift of a recipe from a honest-to-goodness British family friend, I concocted a new recipe that I’m hoping will be made for many years to come.

So, a few things about Christmas pudding: I’ve found that the Canadians I’ve encountered so far don’t really know what to do with a Christmas pud.  I gave a bunch of little ones away last year as gifts, with illustrated instructions, and you can imagine my horror when I discovered that all were thrown away because (a) nobody knew just what to do with the pud (b) the instructions seemed too foreign and (c) they all figured that after a week/month of the pud sitting in the cupboard it would surely no longer be any good.  Oh my.  I still have one small pudding in my cupboard that I saved from last year, religiously sprinkling with brandy every now and again, that I intend to eat with the gleeful Mr P on boxing day.  Le sigh.

Now, you can pop off to your local deli/gourmande and pic up a ready made little plastic tub of pud, which you could nook on the day.  And take all the joy out of it while you’re about it.  Look, it really isn’t that difficult a thing to make and once you’ve done it once you’ll wonder why you ever thought it a chore.  So, in the hope that it will encourage a few  folks out there to make their own this year, I set out a little photo essay on making Christmas Pud.

I’m not going to give you the recipe this year, just the basic technique. There are plenty of good recipes out there.  I like the ones that use Guinness, or some other dark stout, and I like to use a lot of different types of dried fruit, not just raisins, currants and dates.  I particularly like dried cherries, blueberries, apricots, cranberries and lots of dried figs.  The hardest part is the mixing of the pud, which does take a little elbow grease, but traditionally a family lets everyone have a stir, making a wish while doing so, to impart all the joy and hopes of each family member onto the pud (sweet, huh?) so it can be a lot less work, and more fun that way.

Once the batter is all mixed up, you divvy it out into pudding basins (I prefer the cream ceramic ones, but glass or plastic will do if that’s what you have), seal the bowls with a layer of foil and parchment, and steam for 6 – 8 hours.  Once the puds are steamed, you uncover them, prick holes all the way through with a skewer and tipple a little brandy or rum over the top, reseal the puds and put in the cupboard.  Once a week you can open them up and check, tipple a little more brandy/rum and reseal.  You can (in fact, you should) make these babies well in advance to let the flavours develop.  I use these as my introduction to Christmas baking, making them up towards the mid/end of November, but you can make them as early as October if you like.  They last as long as you can bear to not eat them, just keep checking them once in a while (about once a month or so is fine) and keep adding a little alcohol to the top.

The easiest way to steam a pud is in a pot with an upside down saucer on the bottom, with water coming half way up the pudding basin sides.  With the stove on a low setting, a and a very, very gentle simmer going on, you can happily leave the puds steaming merrily away for the 6 – 8 hours while you carry on with life en general.  On the day you want to eat them, they do require a further steaming of around 2 hours before serving.

I unmould the pudding onto the serving plate, top with a sprig of holly and flambe with some brandy/vodka at the table.  Traditionally one would serve it with brandy butter, but I personally find this too rich and prefer plain, whipped cream.

Fill your pudding basin, leaving about an inch to the rim:

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Layer a piece of foil over a piece of baking parchment, large enough to cover the top of the pudding basin with a good two inch over hang.  Fold a pleat down the middle so there’s space for steam and pudding to expand while steaming:

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Cover the basin firmly:

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Cut a piece of kitchen string long enough to wrap around the top of the basin four times.  Now wrap the string around the basin, under the rim, twice and secure with a knot, leaving a long piece of string, like a tail:

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Pull the ‘tail’ back over the top of the basin, giving a little slack:

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Tie the tail firmly to the string wrapped under the rim, to create a handle:

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Now you ca safely lift the pudding into and out of the pot for steaming.  Trim the overhanging foil/parchment to a bit less than an inch.

When you’ve steamed the pudding, remove the cover, skewer and tipple with your choice of booze and allow to cool.  When cool, recover (you may want to cut new seals, with the pleat and all, if the first ones were ruined in the steaming) and retie the string.  I leave the handle tieing until the day I want to steam them again, so that I can more easily unseal them to add some brandy.

Here’s wishing you all a very merry, safe and warm holiday season wherever you may be.  May you be well fed and a little plumper at the end of it all.

Love!

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There’s something special, to me, about a whole roast chicken.  Well, any bird in the oven, really.  I roasted my first turkey last year for Thanksgiving, in a snug little cottage on a windswept and storm battered peninsula in Newfoundland and it was just wonderful.  I mean, the dinner was lovely and all, but the moment, the coup de grace, was bringing that bird, golden brown and steaming hot, to the table.  It’s hard not to smile in anticipation when the bird is brought to the table.  Whole roast birds say Holiday and Celebration to me in a way a frosted martini never could.  A golden bird on the table tells tales of friends and family gathered together to share a meal and be satisfied.  So, every now and then the ever epicurean Mr P and I throw a bird in the oven, regardless of occasion or lack thereof, and have ourselves a little feast for two.  A chicken, I’ve found, is just about the right size for the two of us to have an impressive dinner and leave enough left over meat for at least two pasta sauces and a chicken mayo sandwich or two.

Also, quite frankly, I love a roast because it’s just so easy and so little fuss.  Great for entertaining, one can prep the bird and veg in advance pop it in the oven at the right time and then not only does your house smell simply divine by the time the guests arrive but you don’t have to spend the evening stirring pots and checking the sauce on the stove while missing out on the juicy chit chat over cocktails with the company.

When buying a bird I always buy organic, free range if possible.  I do the same with my eggs.  I don’t want to go into the politics of industrially reared animals and the inhumane conditions they’re kept in.  Other than it being the socially responsible thing to do, organic free range chickens just taste better.  An animal carries it’s lifestyle in it’s flavour at the end of the day, not to mention it’s nutrition.

I only recently started doing a roast with a thermometer (instead of the juice-runs-clear method) and, for me, there’s no other way to go.  It’s not let me down yet!

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Roast Chicken with Garlic and Dijon
and a Sun Dried Tomato Stuffing

1 large, organic chicken
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp prepared Dijon mustard
salt and pepper (about a teaspoon of each)

10 cloves garlic, just peeled

for the stuffing:
¼ cup bread crumbs
6 – 8 sun dried tomatoes, drained (if in oil) and chopped
1 large onion, chopped coarsely
2 large cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
¼ cup white wine
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp salt
black pepper

– take the bird out of the fridge an hour before cooking it, to let it warm up to room temperature.

– preheat your oven to 400˚ F, with the rack in the middle.

– rinse the bird, inside and out, and pat dry.

– mix all the ingredients for the stuffing in a bowl.

– whisk together the Dijon, oil and salt and pepper.  They won’t want to mix very well, that’s okay.

– with your fingers, gently separate the skin on the breast from the meat.  I find it quite easy to start at the neck end and carefully work a couple fingers between the skin and meat.

– stuff 3 of the garlic cloves down each breast, between the skin and the meat.

– at the thickest part of the tight, make a deep slice with a sharp knife, cross ways to the length.  Push 2 garlic cloves into each gash.

– now stuff the cavity of the chicken with the sun dried tomato mix.

Tie the chicken up with kitchen string. instructions here if you need them.

– rub the oil/Dijon mix evenly over the skin of the chicken.

– place the chicken, breast side down, on a rack in a roasting pan.  I put my potatoes, if we’re having, in with the chicken, but  I usually roast other veg (like carrots, onions, sweet potatoes and parsnips) in a separate dish.

– roast the chicken this way for 10 or 15 minutes, then take it out the oven, turn it breast side up and roast again for about 30 minutes, checking often, until the juices run clear or a thermometer inserted between the body and thigh is at 165˚ F.

– if you notice that the skin is getting too brown before the bird is cooked, put a loose piece of tin foil over the top of the bird to protect it.

– when the bird is done, remove from oven, place a piece of foil and a tea towl on top of it and let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.


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tomato-tart-1

Every couple has it’s story; the telling of which makes them look somewhat coyly at each other and smile knowingly and that raise, once again, all those fluttery, buttery feelings of l’amour. The dashing Mr P and I met in a gorgeous little restaurant serving fabulous little meals, and if that wasn’t an omen for a happy future, I couldn’t tell you what would be.  The speciality of that restaurant, the dish we would in the future, on numerous special occasions re-order and be delighted with every time, was, as so many brilliant signature dishes are, a simple, homely affair prepared to simple perfection.  A tomato tart, to tomatoey, so tarty that it seemed, surely, a cinch to whip up at home.  Time and again we’d order that tart, savouring each bite, meditating over each flavour and then I’d go home and try to recreate this seemingly simple delight.  To no avail.  No amount of research, no pugnacious attempt at different ingredients, different temperatures and different seasonings brought that tart out of my oven.  Well, to each chef his secret, and the chef of that lover’s treat will sink his ship with the recipe on board.

However.  That’s not to say I won’t stop trying, and while I’ll have to satisfy myself with the thought that the original tomato tart sits safely in it’s intended home, I’ll keep on whipping up versions of my own.  None of which have come as close, if not in adherence to what the original seemed to be, at least in overall effect to that perfect tomato tart as this one has.  Perhaps it’s the concentrated flavours of the cherry tomatoes, or perhaps it’s the mixture between the sheep’s milk and parmigiana cheeses, which in truth I used simply because I wanted to finish up the last bit of an excellent chunk of sheep’s milk cheese I had lying around in the fridge.  Or perhaps it had to do with the teff flour in the pastry, of which the original surely had none.  Truth is I just don’t know.  I do know, however, that this tomato tart was a dream, a reminiscence, a revival of old memories and caused one or two coy glances on the parts of Mr P and myself.

*note: I made the pastry using teff pastry, which worked brilliantly, but if you want a blander crust use plain flour one to one for the teff.

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Super Delicious Tomato Tarts

For the pastry:
½ cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup plain flour

¼ cup teff flour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp dried oregano
½ cup / 1 stick cold butter, unsalted, cubed
¼- ⅓ cup iced water

for the tart:
3 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 punnet (about 300g) baby cherry tomatoes, halved on the equator
50 grams hard sheep’s milk cheese, like a percorino, finely grated
50 grams parmigiano regano, finely grated
1 cup basil leaves, washed
black pepper

make the pastry:
– combine all the dry ingredients, mixing well.

– rub the cold butter into the dry ingredients until you have a mixture resembling oats porridge.

– add just enough water so that a dough just starts to form.  As soon as it all starts coming together, stop mixing.  Gather the dough into a ball, flatten it a bit, cover it in cling film and refrigerate for about 40 mins.

– in a small bowl, mix the tomato paste, garlic, shallot, vinegar and oil.  Let mixture rest at room temperature while the pastry chills

– preheat the oven to 400˚F

– divide the dough disc into two.  Roll each piece to form a long rectangular shape, about 20cm by 30 cm

– spread half the tomato paste mixture on each rectangle, to withing 1½ inches, 4cm, of the edge

– combine the two cheeses and sprinkle half the mixture over each base on top of the tomato mix.

– now top each base with the basil leaves and then finish off with the tomato halves, skin side down, still keeping that 1½ half edge of raw pastry.  Give each tart a generous grinding of black pepper.

– fold the bare edges of pastry up and over the side of each tart, folding and crimping as you go to secure.  Don’t worry if it looks a little messy, that’s half the charm.

– bake for 25 minutes and then leave to rest outside the oven for about 5 minutes before eating.


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Right.  Everybody ready?  Have your woolens unpacked, your summer window-screens packed up and your fireplace cleaned out?  It’s Autumn here at Lick Your Own Bowl, officially as of today.  Weather ignored, I’ve been obstinate here on the blog in getting the Summer over and done with before moving on to meatier things.  And to start you off, a little breakfast me thinks.  The always ravenous Mr P will never, ever, ever turn down a breakfast of pancakes.  Say what you like, there really is nothing better than a fresh batch of pancakes for breakfast to make you feel young again. He could have scoffed down a whole roast chicken dinner the night before, pudding included and wake up saying, “I don’t know, I think I just want a coffee for breakfast” and all I have to do is smile lightly and ask, “Pancakes?” and you can see the sparkle of appetite creep back into those eyes.  He’ll be setting the table and boiling the kettle for coffee before I can get a mixing bowl out.

Now, I have a little secret I carry deep in my breast and I’ll whisper it in your ear.  Don’t tell a soul, you understand.  What happens on this blog stays on this blog, okay?  I think if I keep it secret enough it won’t actually be that true, that this little secret, if kept in a little box for long enough, will one day just cease to exist. I was diagnosed (urgh, I hate that word, non?) with a slight wheat, uh, allergy is I think the best way to describe it, and was advised to avoid wheat in my diet.  Which, as you can see, is exactly what I do. But, I do try some other flours, now and again, though it must be confessed nothing to do with anything medical but rather a love for trying different flavours.  I’ve not yet managed a truly wheat free recipe yet, but that will come one day.  In the mean time I happily mix a variety of flours to get what I want.  Chestnut and quinoa flours have featured as two of my favourites and now I can add to that Teff Flour.  Teff is the smallest of the worlds grains, rich in all sorts of stuff that’s good for you and originally from Ethiopia.  It’s darker than wheat and it’s texture is grainier.  It’s flavour is full and somewhat nutty and I have to say, having used it in some pastries and even to thicken some sauces now, it’s a fabulous, must have flour.  It seems especially suited to heavier meals in cold weather.  These pancakes, which I’ve nicknamed Pancakes Noir in light of their colour and the Molasses I chose to serve them with, are really good.  They’re kind of nutty and far less doughy than those made with plain flour.

*notes: whisking the dry ingredients for a minute or so helps keep the mixture airy and light.  Also, when incorporating the liquids into the dry ingredients, don’t over mix.  A few lumps in the batter are what you’re looking for.  Trust me.

I served these yummers with black strap molasses, which I simply loved, but the more traditional Mr P stuck to maple syrup and said they were Delicious! like that too.

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Teff Pancakes

¾ cup teff flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup plain flour
⅓ cup corn meal (not flour)
2 Tbsp ground flax
2 ½tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3 Tbsp dark brown, muscovado sugar
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1½ cups plain, fat free yogurt
+⁄- 1 cup milk
3 Tbsp butter, melted plus extra for pan

– whisk all the dry ingredients in a large bowl for about a minute until well incorporated.

– beat up the liquids together in a smaller bowl

– mix the wet into the dry in one go, mixing only long enough to just incorporate the two.  Don’t over mix until smooth!

– pour the melted butter down the side of the pancakes and carefully fold into the batter.

– now, let the batter rest for about 5 to 10 minutes while you heat up a big, heavy based, non stick pan on a medium high heat.

– when the pan is quite hot ladle a soup ladle or a half cup of batter on to the pan.  I can fit 3 pancakes onto one pan, but that will depend on the size of your pan.  A griddle is perfect for this as well, obviously.

– when bubbles start to pop on the surface, after a minute or two, flip the pancakes and cook the other side for a couple minutes until golden brown on both sides.  If you have to flip them a second time, that’s fine.

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Apricot and almond pie

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I got a little crazy in the baking department this weekend.  There was a baby shower for a good friend of mine planned (god bless her precious little socks) and I got myself up to my elbows in cake for the occasion.  I thought, momentarily, about making the ever-appreciated chocolate cake, a safe bet for people whose tastes you don’t quite know.  And I thought about a Victoria Sponge too for it’s crowd pleasing qualities.  And then I thought about the friend whose baby we were showering and about how I just know, deep down, that these good folks would want their precious bebe well versed in the language of foods, various, exotic and experimental, and I knew I had to offer a few flavours not always found on a party board.  Now, if you haven’t already met her and found out for yourself, there really is only one place to go for inspiration for a splendid, voluptuous, mouth-watering Bake of some kind. Dear Debs at Smitten Kitchen has the trump up her sleeve every time.  Having scoured the ends of the earth and the bottom of every food magazine pile and waded her way through a sea of recipes she finds the best, the most sumptuous, simple the most mouth-wateringly delicious cakes out there.  This time, after an hour or so having to dab delicately at my mouth to keep my salivations from the keyboard I found a masterpiece of baking: a Pistachio Petit Four cake.  My dear friend, Ms A, is of a Persian bend and I thought that the pistachio, apricot and almond trio were a perfect tribute.

Having overwhelmed my senses at Deb’s place, I thought I’d leave some space for some other inspiration and dawdled over to Bea’s at La Tartine Gourmand.  Bea has an ability to wave her magic French wand over everything she does and give it that certain je ne sais quoi. I fell in love, instantly, with her Lemon Yogurt cake for a few reasons, not least of which was that it was her dad’s favourite.  I’m a bit of a dad-o-phile myself here and it tugged somewhat on my homesick/family-sick heartstrings.  Also, it’s kind of like a cheese cake, but much lighter and it comes in a pastry.  Pastry?  I’m in!

For the third plate I stayed a little closer to home.  I did a gorgeous walnut banana bread, which I sliced in half through the body, scooped a little bit out of the bottom half and filled with dulce de leche.  So there you go, ma petite belle bebe S: something from your home, something from my home and something half way between the two.  May your life be beautiful and delicious.

Okay, I promise that this is the last catch-up-on-summer post I’ll put out here.  It’s nearly December, for goodness sake, and I’ve a plethora of Autumn cooking to catch you up on and I really don’t want this to end in the Summer next with me still waffling on about Christmas baking.  But how, I ask you with cake in my mouth, could I not tell you all about this?  Look at it, don’t you just want a piece?  And, to be honest, with the November rain-snow-yuck glooming down all around us at the moment a little bit of sunny coloured apricotiness can’t do too much harm.

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Apricots are something I actually seldom buy, perhaps only once in the season.  The reason is that they are such a sensitive, delicate little fruit that by the time they get from the tree to the store they always seem to have lost their lovely, translucent glow and their flesh turns to powderiness or mush far quicker than is convenient.  Growing up in South Africa meant, among other things, having access to very fresh, delicious fruit and I can’t help but compare the apricots I’ve bought here with the firmer, juicier ones I remember from childhood.  Nonetheless, there are times when, luck in hand, I run into a crop of apricots so blushing, so sunny and full of optimism that I simply Must Have Them.  This particular lot were simply lovely, a rare treat in a rainy summer.  And having bought far more than I knew we’d manage to eat before they tipped over on to the other side of ripe I knew the best way to use them up would be in a tart. I thought a great compliment to the tartness of the apricots would be the delicate fragrance and flavour of almonds  I achieved this not only by using almond flour in the pastry, but also by fashioning new stones for the halved fruit out of marzipan.  It not only looked quite precious, it tasted, let me tell you, Delicious.

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Almond Apricot Tart

For the pastry:
1 cup plain flour
⅓ cup quinoa flour (or use more plain four to the same value)
¼ cup almond flour (ground almonds)
⅓cup demmerara sugar
¹⁄⁄₈ tsp tumeric powder
big pinch salt
⅓ cup canola or vegetable oil
⅓ cup cold water

12 apricots, halved and stoned

60g marzipan

2 Tbsp honey
¼sp ground cardamom

– mix all three fours and the sugar, tumeric and salt.

– add the oil and mix until the mixture is crumbly and looks like oats and wet sand

– add the water and combine to form a dough.

– rest at room temperature for one hour

– preheat the oven to 375˚F

– roll out the pastry and line a greased pie dish with it, trimming the edges.

– arrange the apricot halves, skin side down, in the pie base

– pinch of marble size pieces of marzipan, roll between your palms to form a ball and place in the centre of each apricot.

– warm the hone a little over a low heat, add the cardamom and drizzle over the apricots.

– Bake for about 35 mins until the pastry is golden and the liquid from the fruit and honey is bubbling.

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Mediteranean Snapper

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A nice big fish is something I will eternally associate with Summer chez moi.  I have brilliant, sparkly memories as a child of going on summer holiday to the ocean and over dosing on good sea food.  South Africa has, if you ask me, some of the best sea food in the world and I look forward with glee to a trip back to my birth country and a seat over looking a pounding surf with a plate of fresh fish and chips.

One of my favourite fish to cook at home is a snapper, preferably whole.  Now, bear in mind that this is a bony little sucker, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommended it as a first date type affair. There’ll be plenty of sucking and plucking and chucking with this on the plate.  But a whole fish is still a great way to go for a barbecue, or in the oven, as convenience allows.

Getting your fish from a fish monger is the beat way to go, if you can.  You can pick the best fish and have it cleaned and descaled while you wait.  Fish doesn’t last, even in the fridge, so either freeze the sucker or eat it same day.

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Preheat the oven to 400˚F

Start by rinsing the fish, inside and out, and pat dry with a paper towel.  Rub a little olive oil on the skin and season with a bit of salt.

Lay a piece of parchment paper large enough to completely wrap the fish in on the counter.

Slice up a large onion and place half of it on the middle of the parchment.

Chop up 5 or 6 sun dried tomatoes and throw these on top of the onions.

Now grab a handful of fresh herbs, what ever you have.  I used a big bunch of parsley, some basil and tarragon.  Mince a big clove of garlic, chop the herbs up, mix the two and put half of this on the onion tomato base.

Put the snapper on top of this mix and repeat the layer: onion, tomato and herbs. Drizzle the whole shebang with olive oil.

Wrap the fish up in the parchment, securing with some string, and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes until the flesh is just flaky.  Let the fish sit for a couple of minutes before serving with a good garden salad.

Cherry Chocolate pie

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Oh, don’t shoot me.  Another recipe I diligently wrote down while making and have since misplaced somewhere in the maelstrom of my kitchen notes over the last few months.  Listen, people, do as I say and not as I do.  If you’re going to be making up recipes and fabricate wonderful new concoctions in the kitchen, keep a whole notebook, bound and sturdy and without loose pages in which to write said culinary experiments.  Do not, as I do, keep a post-it pad in the cutlery drawer on which to scribble, somewhat illegibly and often covered in some un-named sauce, your moments of cuisinary Eureka.  So bear with me here as I try to back track in my mind and remember what went into this little morsel of yumminess you see before you.

The shell, I remember well, is a simple shortcrust.  No difficulty there.  If you need a recipe, this is a good one, but make only half the required amount as you don’t need a lid for this pie.

The filling was a pint, at least, of dark, almost black, Bing cherries; pitted and halved, or halved and pitted whichever order you like to do that in. 

Next would have been a little bit of flour and a little bit of sugar.  Again, I can’t give you exact measurements, but I’d estimate ⅓cup sugar and a ¼cup plain flour. 

Then a generous amount of dark chocolate, cut into chunks.  Hmmm.  Lets guess at 100g, 70% cocoa.

Of course, the rest seems fairly simple.  Preheat the oven to, oh, 375˚F.  Line a springform cake tin with the pastry and chill in the fridge for 10 mins.  Fill the shell with the cherry/chocolate mix and bake for about 30 mins, or until the pastry is turning a golden brown and the filling is bubbling merrily away.

Chill for about 10 mins outside the oven before removing from the springform.

Brilliant eaten still warm with a good dollop of vanilla ice-cream.

Good luck!  And please, if anyone can see a major blup in my thinking here, shout shout shout.

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strawberry-pistachio-tart-combo1

On a balmy, sensual, early summer night in the season now past the dashing Mr P and I were invited to a dinner, eaten out doors in the charming garden on a very good friend.  She asked for a dessert for 6 and, it being the season of all things fresh and lovely, what better than an ensemble exploding with fresh strawberries.  Now, I’m not going to give you an ingredient by ingredient recipe for these little tarts. It’s simply a version of a typical little fruit tart, not dissimilar to these, or these, using a pate sable and a type of nut custard, like frangipane but with pistachios instead of almonds in both cases.  I love including a fruit in puddings, as you’ve no doubt noticed.  I tend to keep the sugar content a bit lower on the rest of the dessert and rely a lot on the sweetness in the fruit instead.  I think the ultimate difference with these tarts is that the tart shell is baked with the pistachio-cream, then when the tarts are cool the fresh strawberries are added on top.  Somehow, a fresh strawberry is infinitely better than a cooked one on a hot summer evening, don’t you agree?

*note: if you’re battling to get the strawberries to stand nicely on the cool tarts, heat a little strawberry jam and use as a type of glue between the fresh strawberry pieces.

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Strawberry Pistachio Tarts

for the pate sable:
200g butter, softened
pinch salt
⅓ cup icing sugar, sifted
⅓ cup shelled pistachios
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla essence
400ml plain flour

for the pistachio cream:
½cup shelled pistachios
1 egg
⅓ cup sugar
60 ml unsalted butter, softened

Punnet fresh strawberries
3 or 4 Tbls strawberry jam (preferably an all fruit jam)
¼cup shelled pistachios, finely chopped

– first, grind or blend or process the pistachios, in two separate batches for the pastry and the creme, until they are very fine (think ground almonds)

make the pate sable:

– beat the butter with the ground pistachios, salt and sugar until creamy.

– add the egg, vanilla and 1 Tbsp of the flour and beat until smooth.

– add the rest of the flour and combine to form a sticky dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour

make the pistachio creme:

– beat ground pistachios, egg, sugar and butter until smooth. Refrigerate 10 mins until firm.

– preheat the oven to 375˚F

– grease and flour 6 individual tart tins (about 5″ diameter) or, alternatively, one large 9 or 10 inch dish.

– when the pastry is well chilled, roll it out on a floured surface to about 5mm thickness.  Line each tine with pastry, trimming away excess. Keep combining and re-rolling the scraps of dough until all the tins are lined.

– prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork a couple of times.

– divide the pistachio creme between each tart Shell and smooth out.

– bake for about 20 mins until the pastry and the top of the pistachio creme is a lovely pale gold.

– allow the tarts to cool for 10 mins before removing from tins.

– wash, hull and halve the strawberries. Gently heat the strawberry jam.

– when the tarts are completely cooled top with halved strawberries.   Brush a little jam onto the berries of each tart. Top with a sprinkle with the chopped pistachios.

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