September 30, 2011
Spring, what Spring?
That's the feeling here in cold, cloudy Canberra at the moment.
Our long awaited long-weekend promises wind, rain and sundry other nasties instead of soft Spring sunshine and open windows. Sigh...
To combat the blues that the weather is bringing, I decided to cook some greens to lift my spirits and remind me that Spring is really here.
Fresh little peas and crisp, sweet lettuce are some of the delights of the season. It's a bit early still in my garden, but the local markets are bursting at the seams with fresh veggies just waiting to be consumed by healthy appetites.
In a brave move away from stick-to-your-ribs hearty winter meals, I decided to go with a soup I first made for one of my apprenticeship exams, Fresh Pea and Lettuce Soup. Lovely and light, soft and silky, fresh and fabulous! The perfect light lunch or first course for a Spring feast.
Now, don't screw up your nose at cooked lettuce. Just because you haven't tried it before doesn't mean it isn't any good. Trust me. There are references to lettuce soup in ancient Roman cookbooks, and even Escoffier included several recipes in his repertoire. So with a pedigree like that, you might want to be brave and give it a go yourself.
Fresh Pea and Lettuce Soup
500g fresh garden peas
(or you can use frozen, just don't tell anyone)
Half a head of lettuce
1 white onion
500ml chicken stock
100-250ml lactose free cream
Few stems of mint
1/2 - 1 tsp white castor sugar
Chop the white onion quite small, and sweat it down in a splash of oil or butter. You don't want to brown it at all, just cook it down slowly to soften it and bring out the natural sweetness. When it's about halfway done I like to pop in a couple of stems of mint and let them wilt down too as they release their flavour. Pull out the stems before the next step.
Pour in the stock, bring to the simmer, then add in the peas. The tender peas shouldn't really need cooking, just heating all the way through. Try not to let them boil away as we want to keep a vibrant flavour and colour.
Once well heated, take it off the heat and add in the shredded lettuce and stir it through. The heat in the stock and peas will quickly wilt the lettuce down. Pop in a dozen or so mint leaves, and the cream - starting with a small amount.
Blend the soup thoroughly. You want a soft silky texture, not gritty from unmashed pea skins. Add in more cream as needed to get a nice light soup.
Taste for seasoning. You'll certainly need the salt to carry the flavours, you might need a pinch or so of sugar to boost the natural sweetness, and if necessary, you could add a tiny splash of WHITE balsamic for a bit of sweet acidity. If this is served cold, you'll need to taste it again after chilling as flavours tend to dampen in the fridge.
I also made some prosciutto shards by baking some slices in the oven until crisp and earthshatteringly crunchy, and some parmesan crisps by piling finely grated shreds onto a baking sheet and baking until just starting to melt together. Just for some gratuitous foodie bling.
I love this soup cold, but it's lovely warm too. Not hot, just nicely warm- the way the sun should be at this time of year. Gentle and mild, like the flavours of the lettuce and peas smoothed out with cream.
A big, thick Winter soup is usually served in a big, thick bowl- but this is a light, fresh Spring soup so I served it in a glass to reflect that - and to thumb my nose at the sleet outside!
So, my Dearest Readers,
have you ever eaten cooked lettuce, and how are you spending your long weekend?
September 25, 2011
You say Po-tay-to, I say Po-tar-to...
or in this case,
One is a biscuit made of egg whites and almond meal, shaped into discs that have a hard shell and sandwiched together with a soft flavoured centre. This is a Macaron:
And one is typically made of sweetened coconut mixed with egg white, with a moist chewy middle.
This is the one I grew up calling a Macaroon, and I have to say that pastry chef extraordinaire Adriano Zumbo, agrees with me. Perhaps it's an Aussie thing?
Both are delicious, but while the Macaron is notoriously hard to master, the Macaroon is virtually idiot-proof. Perhaps this is the reason why we Aussies love it so much? :)
There is no sifting, no weighing, nothing harder than separating a couple of eggs- and if you accidentally do get a speck of yolk in, they won't even care! Just lots of easy, yummy promises that the Macaroon is happy to deliver.
Macaroons are often unflavoured, allowing the sweet coconut to be the star, but I have a bit of a soft spot for Cherry Ripe chocolate bars and this is a great less fattening way of getting a fix without blowing it.
Feel free to mix up the flavourings around a bit, I've used just dried apricots before with no chocolate and they were lovely as well.
Cherry Ripe Macaroons
2 1/2 cups of Desiccated Coconut
2 Egg whites
1/2 cup of Castor Sugar
I chose glace cherries, and some dark chocolate for dipping the bottoms ( 70* is generally lactose free)
Whisk the egg whites up just a little to break them up
Toss in everything else
Use your hand to mix, mix, mix.
You might think it will never be enough liquid to bind the whole lot, but it really is- just be patient! Mix it around and soon you'll be able to squish a handful of the mix together and it will keep it's shape and squish marks.
Roll or mound the mix firmly into about 12 little biscuits.
I tend to shape my lovelies very firmly, as I need conformity for cafe sales, and it's easier to use a mould than to mess about weighing each one. If you like you could add an extra egg white and just sort of scoop a pile on the baking sheet a bit more organically, I won't judge you for this, but it's hard to break an OCD style habit!
Bake at 180* for 10-12 minutes.
They will get a light browning on the edges, but still be slightly soft.
Let them cool for about 5 minutes on the tray before moving them onto a cooling rack
Melt the chocolate, and dip the bottom of each macaroon into it, wiping off the excess. Turn them upside down to set, then dig in and enjoy!
Little mounds of more-ish-ness, still moist and tender in the middle but nice and firm on the outside with just a hint of oven tan. Yummm...
I'm always surprised how easy and yummy these little biscuits turn out.
Really, just 3 basic ingredients, minimum kitchen skills and you can pump out enough for a bake sale or school fete in about half an hour.
Just promise me one thing... don't tell anyone how simple these beauties are, OK? Somethings need to be kept between friends.
So, my Dearest Readers,
would you say Macaroon or Macaron?
September 20, 2011
Do you happen to know Newtons Second Law?
I was recently asked to explain this law by littlej, who is a very bright bunny indeed. Never one to admit defeat (or failings) I replied "Never Eat More Than You Can Lift" For this attempt I received a raised eyebrow, and one of THOSE looks that only a young girl can direct at her mother. Thinking this was the end of it, I thought no more about the conversation until confronted with an indignant child, with a detailed project sheet all about Newton and Rocketry. Apparently littlej had checked my answer with her science teacher- and she hadn't been impressed either.
Ungraciously declining my offer of help, little went on to receive an A for her assignment. She is doing amazingly well at school actually, and she and her school team have just won the state final of a very prestigious academic competition. This means she'll be travelling interstate to compete against teams from all of Australia and the Pacific region- and that we're fundraising like mad to support them.
Anyway, to celebrate her achievement, littlej requested one of her favorite meals 'That Lemony Chicken Thing' You can see why we are so proud, she articulates beautifully :) So to prove that I do know quite a bit about food science at least, last night I cooked up littlej's Winner Winner Chicken Dinner with Lemons,Olive and Rosemary for tea.
I'm not giving exact measurements for this recipe, it sort of grows organically depending on your families taste preferences. Mine loooves the sweet puckeriness of lemon, and the slight salty bitterness of the olives, so I add quite a lot. Your fanmily might like a bit less, that's OK too.
1 chicken, or a selection of chicken portions would be fine
A couple of fresh Lemons for slicing, and one for squeezing
A bunch of Rosemary
Some nice waxy Potatoes
Mixed Olives- I prefer the milder green ones for this, but littlejs likes black
Fresh Garlic Cloves
A glug of nice White Wine
Don't add salt, as the olives leach salt as they cook
My first job was to chop the chicken up into serving portions. This was a pretty small chicken so I just went for quartering it. O f course I could have left it whole, but I wanted it to cook fairly quickly tonight.
The easiest way to do this is to use kitchen shears or strong scissors.
Place the chicken breast side down on a cutting board with the chickens tail facing you.
Find the backbone, and cut alongside of it, across the ribs, all the way to the end.
Do this again on the other side, and you can open out your flat chicken and use the bone for making stock or feed it to your dog.
Cut through the side of the chicken diagonally between the top end of the drumstick and the ribs, all the way across.
Do the same for the other half, and you have two nice portions of breast with wing, and two nice sections of thigh with the drummie.
Slice the potatoes length ways into nice thick wedges.
Same with the lemons.
Peel the garlic cloves- as many as you want.
Put the olives, potatoes, lemons, garlic, chicken and rosemary into a baking dish.
Drizzle over some oil - I was lucky enough to have some rosemary infused oil,
squeeze in the lemon juice and pour in the glug of white wine, then scrunch everything up together to mix the flavours around. You can leave it like this to marinate for a while to let the flavours infuse.
Cover the pan with a lid or some foil, and bake for about 1/2 in a moderately hot oven. This will allow the liquid to start steaming the potatoes and give them a good headstart without drying out the chicken with dry heat.
Pull the lid or foil off, toss everything around to mix well with the pan juices, then bake until the chicken is golden brown and is cooked through.
Serve this up with some greens for colour and a bit of freshness, and drizzle with any remaining pan juices.
This is very yummy. The lemon bakes down and becomes very sweet and almost jammy,but still tart; the garlic mellows, sweetens and softens so it can be squished and spread on the chicken or potatoes; the waxy potatoes hold their shape beautifully but still soak up some of the sweet, salty juices, and the chicken skin browns up for a satisfying crunch of texture.
A great meal that's easy(especially if you you use pre cut portions)yummy, and is cooked in one pan for less washing up. That's certainly worth celebrating even without winning first prize in a competition. Don't you think so?
So my Dearest Readers,
what do you like to celebrate, and were you a good student at school?
September 15, 2011
This has got to be one of the cheapest treats you could possibly make, ever.
So easy, so cheap, no cooking, no fat but so very delicious! Just the thing when you're running short on cash but want to make a something just a bit special.
When I was younger, my big sister would make marshmallows, flavoured with peppermint and rolled in coconut. I wanted to capture this in a dessert that was just as light and fluffy, but a bit more exciting, so decided to go with a mousse with some fruit marbled through to look nice when cut and served.
200 g Castor Sugar (67.6 cents)
100 g gelatin (35.6 cents)
1 1/2 cups boiling water
Flavourings of choice
Icing Sugar for dusting
This rounds out to be a grand total of $1.03 for the lot. Of course you add flavourings, but you usually have some kind of essence or flavour in the pantry, don't you? Or is that just me? Anyway, a little bottle of concentrated flavour is still very inexpensive, so I stick to my guns of saying this is a fun, cheap dessert, that you can tart up as much as you like.
Line a slice tray with baking paper and dust liberally with sifted icing sugar.
Pour the boiling water over the gelatin, and whisk it to get rid of any lumps.
Add in the castor sugar and whisk again until it's all dissolved.
Let it cool down, then pour it into a stand mixer and whisk until it's light and fluffy, and at least 5 times fluffier. This took my mixer about 10 minutes or so.
Add in your preferred flavouring. I choose raspberry essence, supplemented with frozen raspberries for added yumm.
Pour the mass of fluffiness into the pan, and smooth the top.
Place in the fridge to set firmly.
Cut the marshmallow into nice slabs with a wet knife, being very careful not to mess it up with your fingers.
Sprinkle the top with icing sugar, and eat immediately. Enjoy these for a light dessert, or whenever they take your fancy!
This style of marshmallow mousse is not a keeper. It's best used in a day or so, and always kept in the fridge.
So light and fluffy that it just disappears... like a dream of Summer dissolving in your mouth...
So my Favorite Readers, do you have a favourite budget recipe or two?
September 10, 2011
Don't you love it when the new season produce hits the markets?
Well, I know I do anyway. We're so lucky in Australia to have such a diversity of climate that we have a huge variety of goodies available at any one time. But, while it's all very well to have access to strawberries in the middle of winter, they're very expensive and like tomatoes, lack the fragrance and beauty that a kiss of the sun wakes in their souls.
Strawberries are beautifully Queensland fresh at the moment with the new season berries pretty good at $8 kg and so very sweet that I really feel the need to show them off.
I thought about a pavlova, pastries, jam, but finally came around to Strawberry Shortcake.
I love shortbread, and first considered layering discs of this with the berries, but decided not to mess to much with a classic and went for the more traditional shortcake instead.
According to Wikipedia, 'Shortbread is different from shortcake, which can be similar to shortbread, but which can be made using vegetable fat instead of butter and always uses a chemical leavening agent such as baking powder, which gives it a different texture.'
Does that confuse you as much as it confused me?
Basically it means that shortcake is more of a scone-type consistency than a biscuity/cookie type crunch. Easy Peasy.
Shortcake should always be layered with billowy clouds of softly whipped cream, and of course lashings of strawberries gently oozing their pretty pink juices to soak into the shortcake for the perfect spring experience.
1 cup GF plain flour
50g Castor sugar
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Bicarb Soda
1/4 cup Lactose free Milk
Squeeze of Lemon juice
Punnet of Strawberries
Lactose free Cream (or cream, mascapone, yogurt etc.)
First things first, we want to get the strawberries going:
Roughly chop the berries and mix with a good handful of sugar. I won't tell you how much to use, because you should do it to taste, but you need enough to lightly coat the berries to draw out the juices.
You can also add in some extra flavourings now if you like- some scraped vanilla seeds, or even a quick splash of balsamic or raspberry balsamic would work really well.
Set aside the berries for an hour or so. The sugar will sweeten and draw out the juices of the berries almost creating a perfect strawberry sauce, yummm...
For the Shortcake:
Mix the milk and lemon juice together to acidulate it. You could use buttermilk instead, but I've not found a lactose free one before, so this will do the trick.
Place the dry ingredients together in a bowl, and mix together.
Rub the butter in with your fingertips until it looks nice and crumby.
(I had to use the mixer as my arms are partly out of action)
Mix the egg and milk mix together, then add into the flour combo and bring it together into a soft ball of dough.
Pat it out nice and thickly and either use a cutter or split it into 4 even pieces.
Brush the tops with milk, or water and sprinkle liberally with extra castor sugar.
Pop on a lined tray and into a pre heated 200*c oven for 10-12 minutes.
Allow to cool down.
Bringing it all together:
Beat the cream (or alternative) with some extra castor sugar until it's softly peaking, you can add in some vanilla too if you like.
Lightly crush the strawberries- I used a potato masher. We don't want a paste, just a rough smashing so the berries will mix through the cream nicely and not slip out of the shortcake the way they would if they were just sliced.
Gently fold the cream and berries together- spoon the berries out carefully leaving the juice behind, or it will thin the cream to much. We're looking for a lovely marbled effect with chunks of berries still intact.
Cut the shortcakes in half with a serrated knife.
Spoon a generous helping of berry cream onto the bottom half of the cake, then place the top half of the cake back on top.
Put a little pile of berries in the middle to look pretty, and spoon over some of the yummy strawberry juices.
Serve straight away, as it's not something that improves with time- and anyway, they're so pretty you won't be able to resist anyway!
These would be great for a BBQ, after a lunch or for afternoon tea. If I wanted them for dessert for a Spring Dinner, I would probably make thin discs of shortbread instead because I think the rich buttery crunch would be more elegant and provide a better contrast of textures. Just a more refined version of the shortcake is all.
littlej wolfed down my most photogenic example within minutes, so I guess that's a certain seal of approval from my family, and she can hardly wait for our own strawberries to fruit. The only problem is picking them before the dog sniffs them out and steals them all for himself!
So my Dear Readers, so you have any sweet treats growing in your garden, and do you have to fight anyone else for them like us?