Friday, 30 April 2010

More Autumn Gold

Pretty! Here are some quinces sitting in the dish, when I was testing them to see if they would fit. They cme from Pialligo, via Choku Bai Jo. The next step was to wash all the fluff off, and chop off the stem ends and get them ready for roasting. I put them on the bottom shelf of the oven, which I was roasting some tomatoes on the top shelf.

Recipe: Pot roast quinces
5 quinces
150ml honey
vanilla bean shards

Wash quinces well, chop off the tops and trim the tail, and place in a pot just the right size to wedge them all in upright.
Pour over the honey, and drop in the vanilla.
Add water to cover two thirds of the way up.
Bake slowly at 120-140C for two or three hours, turning a couple of times.
If it seems to be getting too dry, put the cover on the pot for the last hour or so.

Notes: the cooking time is quite arbitrary, they can go a very long time without disintegrating. They blush a pale pink when just done, and the longer you cook them, the darker this colour gets, all the way to a deep burgundy. You can eat the skins, or peel them off if you don't like the texture. But do cook them in the skin, it helps to enrich the juices.

Serve warm with cream or icecream (Maggie Beer's quince & bitter almond would be a nice luxury). Cut some up to go with porridge or yoghurt for breakfast. Cover with a sponge topping for an old fashioned pudding or scone dough for a cobbler. Whatever you like to do with stewed fruit.

I used up the remnants of the vanilla bean I'd used in the creme caramel, washed of course. And a large part of a jar of generic honey that I thought was a bit boring. I prefer my honeys powerful, like stringybark and ironbark, or interesting like lavender, coffee-blossom and orange-blossom. This was a good way to use it up.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Old fashioned things, and the importance of numeracy

My good friend B1 has been out of town a lot, for personal reasons that I won't go into on this blog. Recently she was back, and hinted shamelessly at me about lamb shanks and creme caramel. So what could I do but comply? I even managed to put this together on a weeknight by dint of moderate planning ahead.

I didn't quite manage enough forward planning to get market lamb, so I had to get the shanks from Woolworths, who sell them as whole bones, not the easier to manage French trimmed version. They're not particularly cheap - they averaged about $4.50 a piece, which for the actual amount of meat makes it's cheaper to buy a hunk of rump steak.

I do actually remember when they were cheap - the offcut bit, good for a soup, or a cheap family meal, but not fit to bring out for company. That was before the revival of the slow cooked homestyle food in fancy restaurants. My Mum hasn't kept up with the trends, and a while ago was horrified when some visiting friends chose to eat lamb shanks at a fancy restaurant. To her generation, it sounds like ordering spam. But really, it's good - I remember trying to bags the shank end of the lamb roast whenever possible. Sticky, tender and full of flavour.

I more or less followed this recipe from, which involves browning the meat & veg, then a slow cook in red wine, tomatoes and stock, with lots of herbs, and in my addition, some strips of lean bacon. For six lamb shanks, that's two tins of tomatoes and a whole bottle of red, then stock to top up. Then it's overnight in the huge cooking pot in a very slow oven (120) - my slow cooker was too small to take them. Simply reheat for dinner. I served it with mash, which I enriched with a little leftover cream, and frozen baby peas. Half the shanks minus bone, and most of the veg and sauce went into the freezer, to be a ragout later on. With the Italian tomato, garlic and rosemary flavours, it should go well with pasta.

I had leftover cream, of course, from the creme caramel. This is another easy one to cook ahead, I made the caramel on a Monday night, baked the custard on Tuesday and served them on Wednesday. In this case, I used a Maggie Beer recipe, from the Maggie's Harvest book. I looked up several to get the proportions, and decided to use the one with the whole eggs. I have too many egg whites in the freezer already.

The importance of numeracy comes in here. Check the recipe and see if you can spot the problem!

Recipe: Maggie Beer's Creme Caramel
110g sugar
125ml water
4 large eggs
125g caster sugar
250ml cream
300ml milk
1 vanilla bean

First, make the caramel. Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved. Continue to heat until it turns into a dark amber colour - watch carefully when it first starts to turn, because it can be quite quick to change. Pour the hot caramel into 4x120ml capacity individual ramekins, and swirl a little to get it around the edges. Leave to set.

Heat the milk and cream together with the vanilla bean and scraped out seeds. Bring to just off boiling, then remove from heat and let cool. Overnight is fine. Later, make the custard by beating the eggs, sugar and re-warmed vanilla infused milk together. Strain this into a jug.

Prepare a large roasting tin with a folded tea-towel on the base, then the caramel ramekins. Pour the custard into the ramekins in situ, then gently pour hot water around them to soak the tea towel. Fill up as high as you can manage around the edges of the ramekins, without getting water into the custard when you move it.

Bake in a 180 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until set. Allow to cool in their water-bath, then refrigerate until ready. To serve, run a knife around the edge of the ramekin and invert it onto a plate. The caramel will mostly have dissolved into a sauce, though if you've done a thick layer there may be some left.

Actually I reduced the sugar in the custard from the 145g in the recipe, and slightly changed the milk/cream balance because I had low fat milk in the house. (Hers: 375ml milk, 190ml cream.)

And did you spot it? If the eggs make up about 200ml, then what we have here is about 650ml of custard. This is not going to fit into 4x120ml ramekins! I spotted the need to get more ramekins - I used six. I also increased the caramel amount by half, which I think was unnecessary, since the caramel layer came out much thicker than it needed to be.

Making the caramel dark gives it a bitter-sweet sharp edge, which makes the dessert more interesting and less cloying. You can make it a bit lighter, if you prefer.

Thursday, 15 April 2010


Bless you!

Is it an egg? Was that an Easter display? No, actually this is a fruit. Though adding some tamarillos and some real eggs might make it into a good Easter display, it's unfortunately very tightly seasonal at the moment. February only.

It's from Bolivia, via Far North Queensland, with a last stop at Ziggy's, in Belconnen Fresh Food Market. I picked up a few to try, way back on some Sunday in February, and I was glad that I thought to check the web first. It came with a little leaflet explaining how you pop them open and slip out the fruit, but that didn't explain that you can infuse the skins for a drink.

Here's some recipes from the growers' website. It's quite a good website for a food supplier: real information, pretty pictures, recipes, no funky but unusable flash, no boring corporate speak. Well done, them!

The fruit is a relative of the mangosteen, and is called achachairu when it's at home. It's got quite large stones which the fruit clings to, and it's a bit tarter and less perfumed than the mangosteen, though with a very similar texture. And cheaper. I'll be looking out for them next year.

I ate them straight, and put the skins in a jar of water in the fridge to infuse. After 24 hours it was quite well coloured, and tasty. It's a little tart and fruity, but much lighter than a juice. More like an iced tea. I didn't think it needed sugar, but then I like my iced tea unsweetened, too.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

What happened at Easter

Plenty! Of course we had the Folk Festival, with our regular visitors A,J & C. Eight year old C was very taken with the kittens, and so we need another photo of them. (Any excuse, eh?) Here they are being uncharacteristically quiet and well-behaved. Archie on the left, Zeppo on the right.

Anyway, this means our annual dinner, and lots of fast food at the folkie. The festival food is actually remarkably good - plenty of fresh veggie options and good ethnic eating. With some junk if you want it, but why would you? The satay chicken and fritter people were my favourite this year. They had chicken breast (or tofu) skewers with thick peanut sauce, served on jasmine rice with a fresh beansprout salad; or zucchini, fetta & corn fritters with sourcream and smoky tomato relish - bacon optional. Spaghetti Junction is another favourite - I do love seeing the fresh spaghetti come spiralling out of the pasta machine. They do a very good vegetarian puttanesca - no anchovies, but with almonds - and their creamy walnut sauce is rather fine, too.

We had our dinner on Friday night, to which HH brought her terrific pot roast chickens in vermouth, with potatoes. I provided entrees, veggies and dessert. All was very successful. The chicken went on to make a few sandwiches and some rather excellent stock which I'm planning to use tonight in a risotto.

For entrees, I went modern and did goat cheese and caramelised onion tartlets set on a salad of rocket and balsamic dressed beetroot. I made up the recipe as I went along, and then I found that it's such a common idea that mine is pretty much the same as the one that's first up when you google. Delia Smith's, in this case. Though I used a plain shortcrust and no thyme, and I made half of them with blue cheese. The goat cheese was a very mild one that I picked up at Choku Bai Jo; the beetroot also from them, home baked then tossed with balsamic glaze.

For veggies, I did yellow pattypan squash roasted with olive oil and herbs (rosemary and bay from the garden). I also steamed some green beans, and tossed through a bit of butter and toasted slivered almonds to make them a bit more special.

And for dessert I wanted to make Key Lime Pie, but I don't know if you can even get key limes of lime juice in Australia. I used plain old Tahitian limes. I followed an Epicurious recipe, noting some suggestions from the comments. If you have a smaller pie plate than specified, the basic recipe could work. But if you have a deeper 25cm spring form pan, then double the filling quantity is definitely the way to go. It would look pretty pathetic at half the depth. I also added the zest of the limes, and used an entire pack of granita biscuits, and did not bother baking the crumb crust. The picture's not the best, but it's an idea. This is quite delicious, and I served shop bought icecream on the side - Maggie Beer's orange and lemon curd, and Serendipity blood orange sorbet.

I remembered near the last minute that pregnant people aren't supposed to eat uncooked eggs, and the pie does contain egg that is probably not heated enough. So I thought of an alternative, and made some poached pears for P. This was a very lucky, as it's a great favourite of hers. Here's the recipe I made up - very easy!

Recipe: Caramel Cider Pears
4 firm pears
375ml cider
4 tblsp dark brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick

Peel the pears, leaving them whole. Do not remove the stalk, but do cut off any fibre-y bits at the base.
Put the pears in a saucepan, with the cider, sugar and cinnamon.
Poach gently for 1 1/2 hours, turning regularly to get even coverage.
Leave the saucepan lid on for the first hour, then remove lid to reduce sauce.

Serve these warm with some Maggie Beer burnt fig, honeycomb and caramel icecream if you can!

Notes: I used corella pears, and a stubby of strongbow dry that someone had left behind at a party sometime - we're not cider drinkers. And also, on the night, I included a somewhat old golden delicious apple, which completely fell to bits and made the sauce a bit thicker and more apple-y.