October 31, 2011
As promised last week, here's a rich buttery shortbread recipe- just right for dipping soldiers, or for scoffing in the afternoon with a cup of Earl Grey.
Shortbread is a lovely easy biscuit to make, with only 3 ingredients : Butter, Sugar and Flour. How simple is that? Just about everyone has these ingredients in their pantry, right?
This time of year, there's tins of shortbread all through the shops for Christmas- but trust me, it's so much nicer to make your own.
Crisp and crumbly, rich and buttery... mmmmmm.....
1/3 cup Castor Sugar
250g Butter at room temperature
2 1/2 cup Gluten free Flour
Pop everything into a food processor and pulse quickly until a ball forms
Using your finger tips, mix the butter, sugar and flour together until it looks like little breadcrumbs.
Pull it together into a ball, and gently knead it together until it comes together smoothly and cleanly.
Roll the dough out gently if you want to cut out shapes
Pat into a flat disc and dock with a fork.
Mark out wedges with a knife, then pinch the edges together to make a pretty pattern.
Sprinkle with castor sugar for a bit of pretty glittery sweetness.
Place in a pre heated 160*c oven for about 15-20 mins for shapes, or about 40 mins for the round. The dough will be a lovely golden sandy colour, but still very soft.
Leave on the tray for a few minutes, then if you want nice clean wedges, cut through the previously marked lines with a sharp knife. (A secret tip for clean cut shapes is to recut them straight from the oven if they've gone a bit wonky or swelled a little in baking- but don't tell anyone, OK?)
Leave on the tray to cool completely.
Serve when you want something nice and rich, perhaps a bit Christmassy, but watch out for crumbs!
So my Dear Readers,
do you buy tins of shortbread at Christmas time, or will you make your own?
October 24, 2011
My Dad is a Military Man.
He started off in cadets as a school boy, served his country at war, and retired young as a Colonel to take up Gentleman Farming.
Dad is also a traditional man. Dad did everything outside the home- gardening, growing amazing vegetables, mowing, handyman, even BBQ'ing but rarely anything inside like cooking.
Whenever my Mum was ill, and us kiddies were left to Dads tender mercies, he would invariably fall back on his military roots. You remember MASH, don't you, well remember the chow line? That was our house.
Dad would fire up the electric fry pan, throw in some dripping, rummage through any leftovers in the fridge, chop up lots of cabbage and garlic and fry it all up together.
There would be a stack of plates by his side, the cutlery drawer pulled out, and us kids would line up and file past as Dad ladled a big splat of dinner on our plates.
Dad did have a few more culinary secrets up his sleeve though,- Cockies Joy, Vegemite mixed through mashed potatoes, Chapattis on the BBQ... and Egg with Soldiers.
A perfectly boiled egg with runny yolk and little strips of crisp toast to pull dipping from it's depths and gobbled up in our PJ's before bed. Mmmmmm....
This is a much better food memory of my Dad, than the infamous 'Squish my pills up on a gherkin to get me to eat them' Incident, which got messy- very messy.
This is a twist on the traditional Egg and Soldiers- not for Breakfast, not for Supper, but for Dessert. Yes, Dessert.
A rich and creamy Creme Brulee with shortbread Soldiers, served in the eggshell for fun.
To make the little emptied eggs, crack them very carefully, or use an Egg Topper Tool to make a clean crack around the rim of the egg. Empty the egg and separate as usual. Rinse the shell carefully but don't worry too much as it's going to be baked in the oven.
3 Egg Yolks
50 gr Sugar
250 ml Lactose Free Cream
Place the cram and vanilla in a saucepan on medium heat and bring to the boil, turn the heat down low and simmer for a few minutes to let the vanilla infuse.
Meanwhile beat the eggs and sugar until the sugar is dissolved and they are light and fluffy.
Slowly while beating all the time, pour the hot cream onto the egg mixture. Don't pour too quickly, or stop beating or you'll end up with sweetened scrambled eggs- yuck!
Pour the mix back into the saucepan and heat very gently until the mixture just coats the back of a spoon.
Pour the mix carefully into 6 1/2 cup ramekins, or some cute little emptied eggs.
Place the vessels into a baking tray with a folded kitchen cloth on the base. Make sure the sides of the tray reach to at least 2/3 of their height. The cloth is just to insulate the bottom of the ramekins so they bake evenly, otherwise the metal base heats quicker than the sides once filled with water. For the eggies, I just left them on in their cardboard carton sides as it just happens to be the perfect size for them- go figure!
Fill the baking tray with hot water from the kettle to come halfway up the sides of the smaller containers. The easiest way to do this is to place the tray in the oven FIRST, then moving quickly, pour in the water then shut the door. You can certainly pour the water in elsewhere, but then you run the risk of splashing it into the brulee mix and it not setting well, so why run the risk? The water is to give the little lovelies a nice, gentle bath, without a blast of heat, so they bake slowly and set nicely. Make sure you use hot water, otherwise you'll be waiting hours for the water to heat enough in the oven to start cooking the creme brulees. Trust me, I learnt the hard way.
Bake for about 30 mins at 160*c or until just set but with a soft wobble in the middle. The little eggies take from 15 minutes, but you'll need to keep a close eye on them so they don't overcook, or you'll have the equivalent of hard boiled instead of soft boiled yolks.
When they're done, pull the tray out and let them cool enough to pop into the fridge to cool and set.
Sprinkle the tops with a thin even layer of castor sugar. I prefer to build up my layer of toffee gradually rather than try and melt a thick layer that would be easy to burn before it melted. Use a culinary blow torch to caramelise the sugar so it melts to a crisp layer of toffee.
Pop them back in the fridge for a bit to set again. I never like to rush and serve them straight away, as once I got a creme brulee that had a warm liquidy layer under the toffee that wasn't very nice at all. Just give them a little bit to settle back down.
Serve in an egg cup with little shortbread soldiers on the side for dipping. If you don't have a cute little cutter, just make them into fingers like toast ( Shortbread Recipe coming next post ) Cracking through the crisp toffee is just like cracking the top off the egg with a spoon, but much more satisfying!
Otherwise serve in the ramekin with a spoon, still yummy, but not as cute.
So Dear Readers, so you like cute food and what's your favourite childhood food memory?
October 17, 2011
I was in the mood for crunch.
Not the savoury crunch of potato chips, or the virtuous crunch of healthy nuts, but something sweet and delicious that I could whip up in a hurry.
I've been thinking of making Florentines for a while now. Do you know those little biscuits- dried fruit and nuts, wavy chocolate patterned bottom, and usually popular around Christmas time? Yep, that's the one.
I've seen all types of these little babies, from fancy-pantsy artisan ones made with flaked nuts and expensive glace fruits baked into flat lacy discs, to big fat ones kinda like rock-cakes full of cornflakes and sultanas. I wanted a nice, family friendly, cheapish type version that was (of course) gluten and lactose free, so I fiddled around with a few and came up with my own version that I'm quite happy with, and they taste good too!
1/2 cup Castor Sugar
1/2 cup Gluten free Flour
2/3 cup Flaked Almonds
2/3 cup Gluten free Cornflakes
2/3 cup Sultanas
2/3 cup Glace Cherries
Heat the butter and sugar together in a saucepan until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved.
Add in the flour and stir it through thoroughly.
Add in the nuts, fruits and cornflakes,
and mix it all together until they're all coated.
Traditionally the mix would be placed on greased trays with room for spreading, but to make them tidy you have to tidy them up after baking so they are a nice uniform shape. I decided to make it easy for myself by placing spoonfuls in well greased patty cases instead to see what would happen.
Bake for 12- 15 minutes at 180* until a nice light golden colour, they will still be really soft, then let them cool in the pans.
Now, the issue I had with this is that even though I greased the pans, the little suckers stuck fast. The butter and sugar mix caramelises beautifully when baked, giving the Florentines their lovely crunch. I had to stick the pans back in the warm oven for about a minute so they would soften down enough to be able to loosen them with a spoon. Bugger.
I tossed a bit of leftover mix into a silicon patty pan to see if that was a bit better, and they were great! I let them cool totally in the pans and when they were done they just popped right out no problem. That's the secret!
For presentation if you're just making a few, cooking them flat on the tray would definitely look the best, but for bulk lots (or OCD tidy types) this method in the silicon works like a dream- I'll leave the decision up to you, but I like tidy every time!
Traditionally these little biscuits have their bases dipped in chocolate and a wavy patten marked on. I did a few just to show you how pretty they look, but really they're plenty sweet without it.
Easy to make, easy to up-market by just swapping out fancier glace fruits and other nuts for the cornflakes, and way too easy to eat! I think Florentines are a great biscuit for something a bit different from the everyday. The only downside is they're probably a bit better suited to coffee than tea.
So Dear Readers, are you a coffee or tea type of person?
October 11, 2011
I love cookbooks.
Google is fine for some things, but there's just nothing like holding something concrete in your hands and flicking through the pages.
I have books from all cuisines and disciplines, from Commercial Catering to Kiddies parties, and of course I'm always interested in Gluten Free cooking.
I found this little book at the Newsagent down the road for less than $10, and flicked through it to see if anything caught my eye. I hate it when a gluten-free book cops out and is just about plain meat and veg recipes without straying from the beaten path and exploring some 'real' gluten free cooking with baking and desserts as well.
This book ticks all the boxes. Great breakfasts, lunches and snacks with a comprehensive introduction on Coeliac disease and Gluten InTolerance as well.
I was really taken with the recipe for Quinoa Compote, no gluten, no dairy, not even any sugar! Simply letting dried fruits stew down with the grain to create a Cosy Compote of Culinary Complexity.
Quinoa is available everywhere nowadays. I got mine from handy-dandy Woolies for quite a reasonable price, same with the juice and fruits. Of course you could use organic, or unpasteurised, but I usually like to keep the main recipe simple with ingredients that are easy to buy at any supermarket.
My little cheffy twist is with accessorising the meal. I used a Dutch apple syrup made from concentrated apple juice and sugarbeet that I got at the Deli to drizzle on top for a bit of extra yum, and some lactose free fresh cream for smoothing it all out nicely, and a few shaved almonds for crunch. You could use a bit of honey, or syrup, or even brown sugar, and some plain lactose free yogurt would add a nice tartness.
Sweet Quinoa Fruit Compote
500 grm dried fruit, roughly chopped
I used a mix of dates, raisins, pears and peaches
1/2 cup Quinoa
3 cups unsweetened Apple Juice
1 1/2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
teaspoon Orange Blossom Water, or zest of an orange
First of all, wash the quinoa. When I first tried this new food the taste really put me off.
Quinoa is naturally coated with a substance called Saponin that is unpleasantly bitter and kind of musty tasting, but it can easily be washed off in warm water for a minute or so making the experience so much better. It took me long time to get over that first taste, and it wasn't until I heard about this tip that I was prepared to get the packet from the back of the cupboard and try my luck again.
Place the apple juice, cinnamon stick and orange zest or blossom water in a saucepan and bring it to the boil.
Add the rinsed quinoa, dried fruit and water, and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the quinoa is soft and translucent.
I usually don't cook it this long, as I like the slight nuttiness and texture, but I figured I'd try it out and it worked great.
Serve hot or warm.
I preferred mine warm, but I think it would even be nice cold.
What a great breakfast, full of fibre, protein, vegan and even delicious to boot. I would happily serve this up in my Cafe on the regular menu, but why not try it yourself at home next weekend with a great coffee or tea and a leisurely read of the paper.
So Dear Readers, is Breakfast your favourite meal of the day?
October 6, 2011
My Dad has a big mulberry tree in his goat pen. It's kept nicely trimmed from the ground up by the goats, but when the fruit are ripe, it's a race to beat the parrots to them each day.
I was just talking to my sister about mulberries this morning. I was lamenting the fact that I couldn't find any here at home, when I stumbled across some punnets at our local markets. Talk about cooking karma!
I snaffled some straight away... then wondered what on earth to do with them.
I didn't want to go broke buying enough to make jam or a pie, so looked around for inspiration.
As I let my eye roam over the fresh spring goodies, I noticed there were shades of purple everywhere! Huge purple cabbages with crinkly leaves, eggplants of all different shapes and sizes, artichokes with dusky edges, tall spears of asparagus with tips of green and mauve, and even pure purple potatoes!
It was a sign.
No sweet berry recipe this time, instead a Mauve Mulberry Medley of savoriness in a Marvellous sauce.
Mulberries aren't as sweet as blackberries, or quite as earthy in their flavour. They have a slight mild acidity that's nice for a change, but feel free to use blackberries if you can't get hold of any mulberries.
I want to play with this today. It's got a few techniques, and is quite cheffy, so please indulge me as I get it out my system for a while. I'll explain out the sauce , but I'm just going to give the basic outline for the rest of the plate. You should be able to make a puree and cook a steak, and if you don't- well just come along for the ride instead!
For veggies I chose those pretty little asparagus spears, and some gorgeous little baby artichokes.
I needed to ground the dish a little on the plate, usually I'd go a starch, but thought the creaminess of a cauliflower puree would work just as well.
The crowning glory of cheffiness for this dish is going to be purple potato crisps. Sticking up on top as more of a garnish than anything else, just 'cause they're pretty and purple too.
I needed to pick a protein first, I could have gone with venison or kangaroo, but opted instead for a nice piece of fillet steak. I picked a nice big piece, but for smaller portions I cut the meat in two and tied it with string to keep a nice round shape.
Steak should never be cooked straight from the fridge. It needs to come up to about room temperature first, it will cook more evenly as the heat penetrates the steak better when it doesn't have a freezing cold core. Even if you like your steak rare you don't want it seared on the outside, but cold in the middle. The fibres are nice and relaxed as well, not all tight, and I find the juices settle better during the resting time before serving.
Rub your room temperature steak with some high-smoke-point oil and season well with salt. Don't use olive oil for frying as it smokes really quickly, and I want a good sear.
Have a fry pan heating, you want it nice and hot. Cast iron is great for this, whether a griddle pan or not, or a metal pan that can go in the oven is good if you like your steak more well done. The reason for this is so you can pop the steak in the oven to keep cooking through gently once you've got a nice crust going over the flame. Cook steak until done to your liking. Don't forget to take off the string- I left it on BigJ's steak, and he had to pull it out of his mouth- a real restaurant NoNo!
Make a cauliflower puree by steaming it so it goes nice and soft, but not soggy. Puree really well with cream, and season with salt and white pepper to avoid little black flecks spoiling the look.It should be lovely and silky smooth.
The lovely fresh asparagus won't take much cooking at all. We want a nice crunch not flaccid limp veggies.
They don't need to be mucked around with much, just give them a basic clean up by pulling off the outer leaves, cutting off the top third, them steam them with the asparagus until softened.
Peel the purple potatoes and slice very, very thinly. A mandolin is great for this and nice and quick too. Fry them in about an inch of oil until nice an d crispy just like a 'real' potato crisp. Pull them out, season with salt, and drain on a rack.
Now the Mulberry sauce.
Start with 1 1/2 cups of good quality beef stock and reduce it down by about a quarter by boiling.
Add in a chopped shallot, 1/2 cup of port, a splash of balsamic vinegar -I just happen to have some Mulberry balsamic sitting in my pantry!, a good handful of mulberries, and reduce down by another third or so, squishing the berries now and then to release the juices.
Once the sauce is nice a syrupy, strain trough a fine sieve, mashing down to extract all the mulberry flavour. Put it back in a clean saucepan and taste for seasoning.
It should be tart but slightly sweet, with some acidity to it as well. If the flavour needs a bit of a lift, you could stir through a teaspoon of cranberry or redcurrant jelly to add a bit more sweetness.
Put it back on the heat and pop in a good spoonful of butter.
Stir or whisk through thoroughly to make the sauce rich and thicken it slightly. Add in a few more mulberries whole, we don't want to really cook them, but just heat through gently and keep their shape. Keep warm on a low heat.
OK. After all that, we're ready to plate up at last!
Put a puddle of puree in the centre of your plate/ bowl. We want it to be a bit wider than the size of the steak.
Place the steak on top gently, nestling it into the cauliflower.
Ring the steak with the asparagus spears or balance the asparagus leaning across the steak at an angle- very artistic.
Place the artichokes to the side
Drizzle the sauce over the steak, or around it, just be sure not to swamp the plate. The creamy cauliflower will be spoiled if it's covered.
Get your purple potato chips and stand them on top of the steak as a garnish. Use the sauce to help stick them on.
Get the whole mulberries from the sauce and place them with or between the chips for the final flourish of fanciness.
Whew! Thanks for sticking with me so far.
In a commercial kitchen, all this would be prepped far in advance. The steak would be ready trimmed and tied, the veggies would be prepped and pre-blanched, the chips would be ready to pop in the oil last minute, and the sauce would be ready to just finish off with the butter and whole berries while the steak finished cooking.
Doing it all from scratch is a lot of work, and I'll be suitably impressed if you're brave enough to go through with it all at once. It only took me about 1/2 an hour from start to finish, not bad for a meal for three- but then, I'm used to the fiddly bits!
All that's left now is to sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labour. I hope you enjoy it, and decide it was all worth while after all.
So Dear Readers, do you like mulberries,
and would you use them for savoury or sweet?