Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Peppered apricot & apple

Larry (from Curb Your Enthusiasm): Can I tell you something about apricots? 1 in 30 is a good one. It's such a low percentage fruit.

Growing up I spent a lot of my youth running from my parents car to my grandmother's door as fast as my uncooridnated spindly legs could move. To enter my grandmother's property you had to swing open a whiny metal gate, broken and battered from too many swings. As you took your first step, you had to duck your head should you poke an eye with a heavy, hanging apricot.

Her apricots were always the best; you hardly ever sunk your teeth into a bad one. I have found that when purchasing an apricot, as Larry said, there is a high chance that it will either be too acidic, too bruised, too something. I am fickle when it comes to eating apricots fresh - they have to be just right. I wolf them down once they are dried, but I prefer to cook them fresh to improve their flavour.

This recipe was intriguing - few ingredients, and an odd combination at that.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 5mins.
cooking time: 45mins (includes cooling time).
total: 50mins.

taste: 4.5/5. This is like rain in Summer for your taste buds. The first sensation is the cool, voluptuous cream that envelopes everything with a cloud-like comfort. I used less as I thought it would be too obnoxious but I would definitely use the amount listed next time as it was oddly my favourite part.
I was cautious with the pepper, as my husband and I are pepper/chilli intolerant. The pepper is mild, I used two grinds to dust the fluffy cream of each glass (and also four twists into the whole fruit compote), which perhaps was too little as only once did I detect it's zest.
The marshmallow cream occasionally parted and I tasted the intense, tart apricot with the juicy Granny smith apple. Along with the sour was the citrus punch from the lime, all combined to make an incredibly tart fruity medly. The apricots also gave their distinct sweetness with their soft, spongy flesh that helped to subdue the firmer acidic apple (you could use a sweeter apple but I prefer the tart Granny Smith.)
I used slightly less sugar (74g raw sugar) and it was just the right amount of sweetness for me, as I wanted this to be a refreshing, palate cleansing dessert which it was.
The cream really is necessary for this to work, as the fruits would be too strong and abrupt if eaten without the soft cream.
I had to add a couple of tablespoons of water to get the fruit to become soft and a liquid to form, as it was just sticking to the pan without the extra liquid.
My husband didn't like it as much as me, it found it too 'fruity' but I thoroughly enjoyed its simple complexity and freshness.

would I make it again: Yes. Although hubby didn't rate it too highly (3/5) I enjoyed it and find it a simpler, healthier alternative to most desserts.

recipe: Peppered apricot & apple

Friday, December 11, 2009

Vanilla bean creme brulee with blueberries

Christmas as a child was magical.

All year my brother and I would wait with anticipation as heavy as lead for Christmas to come. When we spied bon-bons at the supermarket and festive wreaths adorning the grey spire of telephone poles and golden stars strewn across shop windows, our excitement would keep us as energetic as the Energiser bunny. But when the Christmas tree lights lit up our lounge room with fragments of rainbows we were beside ourselves with glee. There was just nothing like the night before Christmas; dreaming of Santa Claus, reindeers, elves and the gorgeous, colourful bow-tied gifts that would be waiting for us under the evergreen needles.

But eventually you get older, wiser and discover that just like the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny, Santa Claus isn't the one bringing you the gifts, they are courtesy of your parents trips 4:45am trips to the car or a hidden room. After that the Christmas lights don't transfix you like they used to, the swarm of a Christmas stampede as everyone rushes to buy gifts becomes annoying rather than festive, and then the eventual task of having to buy gifts and make meals for others leads to the feeling that Christmas is a hectic, expensive time of the year. Sometimes it just makes you tired thinking about it. Perhaps it is because my husband and I are no longer children and neither do we have any. I am sure once we see the joy it brings our own children, some of that wonder will rub unto us and remind us of how happy Christmas made us as children, because after all, nothing brings out the child in you like your own child.

This year I am the one holding Christmas for my 30odd relatives. Whilst all my gifts-to-be are wrapped and underneath my 58% completed silver Christmas tree (hubby's pick) I still have to pre-order my copious amounts of meat and seafood for a Christmas Lunch fit for Dionysus himself. All of this organising has definitely frazzled me and I am desperately looking forward to Boxing Day the 26th of December, when I can put my feet up and just do nothing.

In the mean time I felt I should reward my organisational skills with a dessert I always order when out but never make at home -Creme Brulee.

ease: 4/5.
prep time: 25mins.
cooking time: 1 hour.
total: 1 hour & 25mins (plus at least 4 hours chilling time).

taste: 4/5. These would have been awarded a 5/5 when eaten the same day, however after an overnight stay in the fridge the custard left a powdery residue on my tongue after eating, nothing like the smooth, velvet custard from the day before. After only leaving them in the fridge for 4 hours they had a luxuriously vanilla flecked smoothness akin to satin sheets. I used vanilla sugar to sprinkle on top and then melt beneath my blue flame to form a deep, amber toffee crust that cracked beautifully beneath my spoon. The tart indigo berries complimented the sweet creme as beautifully as night compliments day. It is unfortunate that a longer stay in the fridge changed their disposition to 'gritty'.

would I make it again: No, only because it changed texture the next day.

recipe: Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee & Vanilla Sugar

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Vanilla cookies

Somehow I must have sent out a telepathic invitation to the only two insects I don't mind, as the last time I posted, two white butterflies came to cheer me up, and today, hidden underneath my kettle of all places was perhaps the only insect that everyone likes, the shiny scarlet ladybug/ladybird.

I was a little perplexed as to how a ladybird came to be crawling along my kettle; carefully I offered my finger and as it crawled along, tickling me, I took it outside and placed it on my bonsai. After I came inside I thought I'd look up what a visit from a ladybird might mean, the most common folklore was that if a ladybird visited you at home, you should count the number of spots on its shell as that would be the amount of money you would unexpectedly receive. Immediately after reading that good omen I raced outside to count spots, but it had already flown off, perhaps to some better-informed person's house. Even though it's just a goodluck superstition thought I'd buy a lottery ticket anyway, who knows, maybe I'll have some ladybird-luck.

I have been busy working and trying to fit as many things in before Christmas and therefore haven't baked much. But today I was really craving something warm from the oven. This recipe was quick, easy and simple - and it filled the house with that wonderful hug of a cookie smell.

Vanilla Snap Biscuits
from Marie Claire Flavours by Donna Hay

185g butter, chopped
1 cup caster sugar
2 1/2cups plain flour
2tsp vanilla extract (or use vanilla seed paste)
1 egg

Place butter, sugar and vanilla in a food processor and process until smooth. Add the flour and egg and process until combined. Remove mixture and wrap in cling-wrap. Refrigerate the dough for 30mins. Preheat the oven to 180C. Roll out the dough on baking paper or lightly floured surface until 5mm thick. Cut the dough, using  7cm round cookie cutter and place the biscuits on the trays lined with baking paper. Bake for 10-13mins until the cookies are golden on the bases. Cool on trays. Makes 24.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 38mins.
cooking time: 10 mins per tray - I had to do two lots.
total: 58mins to make 32 cookies.

taste: 4/5. This is like a shortbread with it's butteryness, however it is moister with a finer crumb and a softness of fragrant vanilla. I added a touch of vanilla seed paste, I would recommend using that rather than extract so that you get the wonderful flecks of black seeds. Also, a light dusting of sugar before going into the oven would make them prettier also.

would I make it again: No - but that's because I'm not really a fan of shortbread.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mascarpone & mango pavlova with mango in vanilla syrup

My steps were short and heavy as my arms bowed under the weight of bags straining to hold their profusion of Christmas-presents-to-be.  I exhaled sharply as I lifted my legs over the front step, exhausted from many hours of shopping and the stinging neck pains that resulted.

At that moment, while I was fumbling for keys, two white butterflies unhurriedly danced between my legs, as if I were a calm tree, and not some crazed woman with holiday frustration. I forgot my search for the keys, my arms no longer complained of exertion and I exhaled with a smile, not a burden. Their dance around my ankles may have only lasted a few seconds, but in those seconds I was refreshed and I could hear my heart laughing. Somehow that one moment erased all of the irritation I had collected during my Christmas shopping.

With my butterfly-induced good mood I decided to make something as equally refreshing and wonderful.

Mascarpone & mango pavlova with mango in vanilla syrup

4 egg whites
220g (1 cup) caster sugar
Mascarpone & mango filling
125g mascarpone
1/3cup thick cream
200ml mango puree (about 1 1/2 mangoes)
1/4tsp vanilla extract
Mango in vanilla syrup
75 (1/3cup) caster sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 cinnamon stick
2 mangoes peeled, stone removed and thinly sliced

Using an electric mixer, beat eggwhite until firm peaks form, then gradually add caster sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating well until sugar is dissolved before adding more, and beat until thick and glossy. Divide mixture among two base and side-lined 22cm springform pans and bake at 140C for 1 hour until firm and dry to the touch. Turn oven off and cool pavlovas with door ajar. For mascarpone and mango filling, combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until firm peaks form. Cover and refrigerate until ready and cinnamon stick in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes or until liquid is reduced and of a syrupy consistency. Place mango slices in a bowl, pour warm syrup over, cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until ready to serve. Place the less perfect meringue on a serving plate, spoon filling over, then top with remaining meringue. Serve slices of pavlova with mango in vanilla syrup.

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time: 10mins to get the pavlova into the oven (make the rest while it cooks for an hour and cools).
cooking time: 5mins to put it all together.
total: 1 hour and 40mins (includes cooling in the oven).

taste: 4.5/5. Beautiful, fragrant vanilla with sweet cinnamon hits your tastebuds first followed by creamy, mango puree that dissolves to reveal chewy, sweet pavlova before your mouth is refreshed by the juicy mango slices. The pavlova allows both incarnations of the mango to shine brightly and please your palate whilst providing a delicious base.

Despite cooking it for 10mins less than recommended, it had already browned too much and was therefore chewier - it also refused to yield to my knife as a donkey does to being pulled, causing the filling to come oozing out and the layers to flatten. Despite this, the flavours made up for the firmer texture and difficulty in serving it. Just keep an eye on it and if it starts to brown turn the oven off.

would I make it again: Yes - it has the potential to be a great dessert to serve to guests.