Thursday 30 January 2014

A Cake for Wolf - Celebrating 45 years at Villa

We use food to mark and celebrate the many milestones that life brings us. Birthdays come and go; anniversaries, arrivals and departures all carry their own set of rituals and conventions. Though the details of these differ, the one thing they have in common is the sharing of food. Food nourishes our bodies, but also our souls. Breaking bread with our friends is more than just sustenance, it's showing kindness, taking the time to craft a special treat for someone else. 

This week it was my very great pleasure to make a cake for my colleague Wolf Just. He is a Villa legend who has taught at the school for upward of 45 years. Yesterday he told me that he was now teaching the third generation of Villa girls and many of the current staff remember him as their teacher. His teaching and story telling is legend among all those he has taught. Now 45 years is a fair while to teach English to the teenage bred and so this occasion called for a cake of some distinction. I wanted to acknowledge his subject area and also all the many thousands of photographs he has taken for the school. At the same time I didn't want the gluten free people amongst my colleagues to miss out on their helping of cake. And so I came up with the two 'book' layers of cake, the flowers and the chocolate photos and lettering. The bottom 'book' layer of the cake is Carrot and Black current. The recipe is here. I just doubled the recipe, left the cranberries out and added a handful of black currents to the mixture before baking it in a large cake tin. The top 'book' layer is a Gluten free Spiced Apple cake which I am very happy to say I adapted myself. 

Gluten Free Spiced Apple Cake

1 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
100g butter - melted
2 large apples
1 cup bakels Gluten free flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup walnuts - chopped

Preheat the oven to 175deg. C and line a 20cm square baking tin.

Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy.

Using a spatula, fold the melted butter into the egg and sugar mixture.

Peel, core and chop the apples into even sized pieces.

Once the apples are chopped be quick with the remainder of the mixing so the apples don't brown. 
Sift the dry ingredients and fold them into the batter.

Lastly add the apples and walnuts and fold together.

Pour the batter into the baking tin and bake for about 40 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
 Take the cake from the oven and let it cool in the tin. The cake texture is very delicate and needs to be gently handled.

I made a butter cream frosting and flavoured it with orange liqueur. 

For the carrot and black current cake I made Cream Cheese frosting and added blackcurrant juice for colour and flavour.

Wolf did the cutting and speech honours in his usual witty way. Congratulations to you my friend - 45 years and still going strong. 

Monday 27 January 2014

Summer Time Juicing

We were very fortunate to be given a juicer for Christmas. My sister has had this particular Oscar model for some time and we liked the ease of use and the simple clean up. Juicing is a confirmed favourite pass time for Little Miss 4 any time we visited Auntie Charmaine, so when Uncle John offered to gift us one for Christmas we were more than happy with the idea. 

Here is just one of the very many possible juicing combinations. Any fruit or vegetable you have in the garden or the fridge will likely make a great juicing option. It's helpful to include a lemon or a piece of fresh ginger to compliment the main ingredients.

Medium to hard fruits seem to be the most successful. We did try a banana once, but it turned to squish. Combinations seem to work best if you want to include vegetables. Broccoli on its own is an acquired taste, but combined with apple, a lemon, peach and some ginger stem, its really very good. Kale is a very trendy vegetable at the moment. It is very easy to cultivate and grows right through the winter in most climates.

Today's Juice Combo - makes enough for 3 glasses

2 apples
2 oranges
1 beetroot
1 lemon
a few stalks of cavalo nero - it's a type of kale

Wash all the fruit and veg. Prepare it for juicing by cutting up the apples, core and all; cut the stem and tail from the beetroot and cut into pieces, leaving the skin on; cut the skin and pith from the lemon and oranges and cut up. 

Cut the thick central stem from the cavalo nero and discard it.

In whatever order you please push the fruit and veg into the juicer. The juice drips out into one container and the dry pulp come out the end into another container. 

Once you have juiced all the ingredients, stir the juice and taste it to see if it need a little more lemon. 

All done! 

We always drink our juice fresh, but it can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge. The dry pulp is a great addition to the compost heap. 

I'm planning on taking juice to work for those days when I don't have much time for lunch. Happy juicing!

Sunday 26 January 2014

Making Heston Blumenthal's Lemon Tart

It is very good advice that, when you have guests arriving, it is never a great idea to make an untried recipe. Racking my brain for dessert ideas the other day, a fit of bravery took over and I Googled up the Lemon Tart recipe I had seen a few nights earlier on Heston Blumenthal's How to Cook Like Heston (TV One, 8pm Saturdays, if you're a New Zealand watcher). It's a safe assumption that if Heston has published it then he has probably trialled the recipe about 25 times, so I through caution to the wind, told myself I too could cook like Heston and hit the print button.

We had a lovely dinner with our friends and Little Miss nearly 5 was overjoyed to see her buddy. After rather a lot of faffing around the Lemon Tart was excellent. Having spent many years telling students to always thoroughly read the recipe before beginning, I failed to take my own advice only to discover that Heston expects the pastry chilled for an hour: good thing The Man of the House was picking Little Miss up from Preschool.

Heston Blumenthal's Lemon Tart 

Slightly tweaked by me - sorry Heston. It serves 12 people, takes ages to make, but is thoroughly worth it!

300g (2 cups) plain flour
150g butter
120g icing sugar
3 large egg yolks
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1/2 lemon, zest finely grated
1 egg white

5 lemons, zest finely grated and juiced
300ml cream
390g caster sugar
9 large eggs
1 large egg yolk

To make the pastry, using a food processor, mix the flour, butter and salt until it becomes a sand-like texture.

In a tall container blitz together the icing sugar and egg yolks with a stick blender.
Add the vanilla seeds and lemon zest to the egg yolk mixture, and then add to the bowl of the food processor and continue to mix until fully combined and a very soft dough has formed.

Mould the dough into a flat rectangle and wrap it in plastic wrap before placing in the fridge. Heston said 'at least 1 hour', my schedules gave me 20 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 190 deg. C. 

Roll the dough between a sheet of baking paper and a sheet of plastic food wrap until it is quite thin. 

The recipe asked to freeze the sheet for 30 minutes: I didn't have that time either, and the average domestic freezer wont fit a pastry sheet, so I just boxed on and removed the baking paper from the pastry, then used the plastic wrap to stabilise the pastry while I put it in the 26cm loose bottomed tart tin. 

Making sure to press it into the edges and leave the pastry hanging over the edge.

Take a sheet of baking paper and scrunch it up several times to eliminate any sharp edges. Prick the dough with a fork all over the surface. 

Place the baking paper on top and add enough coins (or baking beans) to fill the casing one-quarter of the way up. Place in the preheated oven to bake for approximately 20 minutes or until fully cooked. 

LM 4 was quite distressed about me using the contents of her money box to cook the pie.

After 20 minutes, remove the baking paper and coins and, using a pastry brush, brush the entire surface of the pastry case with the egg white. This  will ensure that the pastry is sealed. Return the pastry case to the oven for an additional 10 minutes.
Remove the pastry case from the oven and allow to cool a little before adding the lemon filling. Turn the oven down to 120deg. C.

While the pastry shell is baking make the filling: 

Place all the filling ingredients into a heatproof bowl and mix together using a spatula. 

Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and allow to warm up until the temperature reaches 60ºC. 

At this point, strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a jug. 

With a spoon, remove the bubbles from the surface of the liquid.

Slide the oven rack out a bit, put the warm pastry case inside the oven. Fill the case to the top, slide the rack carefully back in, and bake the tart for approximately 25 minutes or until the temperature of the filling reaches 70ºC. 

I had some filling left over so I just popped it into a couple of ramekins and made mini desserts.

Allow to cool completely at room temperature.
Before serving, trim the overhanging pastry by running a sharp knife round the top of the tart tin and discard the left over pastry. Place the dish on top of an upturned mug and remove the sides of the tin by gently pushing them down. Place the tart, base and all on a large, flat serving plate.

All this might sound like too much trouble, but it is indeed well worth it. Make it once and it wont seem so difficult. We served ours with whipped cream and apricots roasted with brown sugar.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Eating Cookies, and other treats, with our Buddies

Our holiday Plunket group catch ups are an eagerly anticipated part of our social calendar. We try not to talk about it too much in advance because Little Miss 4 can't help herself but formulate elaborate plans about how she will entertain her friends and what we will serve them. This time around, having lacked small company over the holidays, we had to keep reminding her that it was not her birthday, so we were not to get too carried away with the activity planning.

Having recently dined at Harlequin Public House, LM4 was obsessed with the '10 minutes with the cookie jar' dessert, so we re-created it for our buddies - minus the stop watch of course. Here is a little exposé of what we served our Plunket buddies: the recipes are hyperlinked to the original blog posts.

The Cookie Jar, with Afghans, Shortbread and Chocolate Chip Cookies. LM4 was so excited about loading up the cookie jar. 

Quite a lot of biscuit baking happening that morning.

Sticky Lemon  Slice Its always a crowd favourite!

Passion fruit Cupcakes with Raspberry butter cream. To make the raspberry butter cream I just added 2 tablespoons of raspberry jam to the butter cream at the end of the mixing process.

Here is the Chocolate Chip Biscuit Recipe:

100g butter
75g sugar
150g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 175deg. C
Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Fold in the sifted flour and baking powder. Lastly fold in the chocolate chips. Form into biscuit shapes by either rolling into small balls and flattening or, as I have done, using a soup spoon to press the mixture into a biscuit shape. Place the biscuits onto a lined tray and bake for about 10 minutes. The biscuits will be soft until they cool, so best to leave them on the tray.

I'm not sure where the last (almost) 5 years has gone, but our little Plunket group has grown and flourished; little brothers and cousins have swelled the numbers, and now school days loom for our darling babies. Some of us have gone back to work and others stayed at home, but we are all united by the sharing of our journey into motherhood.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Plum Sauce from Mum and Dad's tree

After returning from holiday, we were lucky to snatch a bowl full of plums before the birds devoured them all. I picked through what was left on the tree, and left the pecked ones for the birds to finish later. I've picked plums from this tree all my life. Depending on late frosts, we don't always get any, but this year yielded plenty. Having made plenty of Jam in the last few weeks, I decided on Plum sauce for a change. The recipe is from an old book: The Complete Book of Home Preserving, by Mary Norwak, published in 1978.

Plum Sauce

1kg plums
225g sugar
500ml white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground mustard powder
1 teaspoon nigella seeds

Sterilise a large bottle by washing in hot soapy water then filling with boiling water. I used an old wine bottle.

Place the washed plums into a pot with the other ingredients. Don't worry about removing the stones, they will pop out later in the cooking process.

Stir well, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. 

Sieve and return the puree to the pan. Some of the nigella seeds will be left behind.

Simmer for another 30 to 40 minutes stirring occasionally until the sauce had reduced in volume and thickened. 

Pour the hot sauce into the sterilised bottle and seal.

The sauce can be served as an accompaniment to any cold meat or cheese.

Friday 17 January 2014

Central Otago Black Cherry Jam

There is nothing better for me than getting back to our quiet little corner of the burbs after a great holiday with the family. Our travels took us through some of the best fruit growing areas that Central Otago has to offer, so we called in at the Jones Fruit stall in Cromwell to stock up on some beautiful seasonal fruit. With the car laden down with all our holiday acquisitions and the fruit haul, we trailed out way home. These black cherries were a bargain we could pass up at just $20 for a huge box. 

We divided our fruit haul with my parents, and I thought I would experiment with cherry jam. Cherries don't set very well in jam, so I got some Chelsea Jam Sugar. It cost a little more but guarantees a great setting jam. It sets strawberry jam really well too.

Central Otago Black Cherry Jam

1 kg Pitted black cherries
1 kg Chelsea Jam sugar
about 4 or 5, depending on the size, jars with lids

It doesn't matter what quantity of cherries you have as the recipe calls for equal quantities of fruit and sugar. I wouldn't make any more than about a kg at a time or it becomes difficult to handle.

Clean and sterilise the jars and lids. The dishwasher is handy for this, or you can wash them in hot soapy water then heat in the oven set at 100deg.C. Have the jars and lids ready to go before you start.

Weigh the cherries once the stones are removed. The stones must be removed before the cooking starts. 

Place the cherry flesh into a food processor and pulse until it is roughly chopped. I did this in a couple of batches. Don't over-process or you will end up with slush.

Place the processed fruit and the sugar into a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat gently, stirring constantly until the sugar is all dissolved. 

It might seem like there is not enough liquid in the beginning, but don't worry the mixture will soon start to liquefy. 

Increase the heat and boil rapidly for 4 minutes only. 

It should be boiling rapidly enough that stirring the pot does not stop the boiling. 

Keep a close eye on it so the jam doesn't boil over. Skim and discard any foam that forms on top.

Take the pot from the heat and take a teaspoon of jam and place it onto a cold plate. Place the plate into the fridge or freezer to cool quickly. Test the jam for setting by pushing your finger gently through the jam. If the surface wrinkles the jam is set. 

Using a cup and jug, pour the jam into the prepared jams. Having the jars on a wooden board should prevent any jar breakage caused by differences in the temperature of the jam. Immediately screw the tops on the jars and leave them on the bench to cool completely. Label the jars and store them in a cool dry place.

What a great mid-winter reminder of our summer break. It will be great on toast or croissants, or as a baking ingredient too.