Saturday, March 27, 2010

Plum & almond cakes

 It seems that yesterday was so relaxing, that my mind decided it did not need sleep last night.

I tried everything to quieten it down, I shushed it softly, I sang it lullabies, I even tried to calmly breathe it to sleep, but no luck. Hours walked pased me in the darkness of my room, waving me hello and goodbye as the next one came. And all the while my mind was blank, switched on, but blank. No ideas to be examined, no thoughts to be filed accordingly just n o t h i n g... I didn't toss or turn, I just lay there, calm but awake. Thankfully not long after 4am waved hello, I fell asleep before I could see him go. And then I dreamed a weeks worth of dreams in just over 3hours - a truly bizarre night.

Even so, I actually awoke with a little more energy than my usual extreme lethargy and managed to make some French Toast and clean the house for more than five minutes (a seasonal clean is still on my to-do-list). Around 2pm I found that I had watched all of the recorded shows on my IQ and read all of the blog updates on my laptop. As I had done a decent amount of cleaning, and I reserve reading for bedtime, I thought I'd make something completely unplanned. Now, that is in bold for a reason - I like to plan EVERYTHING. I have more lists (both paper and digital) and spreadsheets than hairs on my head. The weekly menu is just one grain of sand in my beach of organisation-sickness.

Breakfasts, lunches, brunches, dinners, desserts and snacks are all chosen on a Sunday night before the Monday shop (my husband thankfully didn't rate 'spontaneity' high on his list of traits he'd like in his life partner). Therefore, when I decided to make these cakes (plums were chosen as I had some in the fridge to eat for snacks) I had to make some improvisations as I didn't have all of the ingredients on hand, as it was unplanned (I'm beginning to sound like Fezzik with my little accidental rhymes). Fingers crossed, they are still edible.

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time: 25mins (including stewing/cooling plums, and unless your hands are made of steel, you'll need to let them cool before you peel...sorry for rhyming again).
cooking time: 25mins.
total: 50mins.

taste: 4.5/5. Talk as if you had a plum in your mouth, a very tasty plum.

Firstly, I have to mention the beautiful aromas that emanated from both the stewed plums with their cinnamon and vanilla, to the fresh-out-of-the-oven sweetness these babies filled my house with - DIVINE. The delicious perfume alone makes them worth baking.

The cake is perfect - it is beyond moist, studded with crunchy sweet-as-milk almonds (I had no walnuts) and that perfect combination of a chewy, bronzed crust with a soft, fluffy centre. You can taste a hint of the fragrant cinnamon and vanilla flecked pureed plums within the cake, but only a hint. Then comes the wonderfully tart plums with their vibrant juice that flows through the sweet cake like a pristine river, bringing it to life. I would have loved an extra slice or two so that each mouthful was as well balanced as the last.

I used 5 plums, I would keep the puree the same amount but would add an extra two slices of plum to the top, so around 2 extra plums worth.

Apart from subbing the walnuts with almond meal I also used regular white (but un-bleached) flour. I would love to try this as written, not only because it is healthier but I am intrigued as to how it would change the texture and flavour.

This made 9 regular sized muffins.

would I make it again: Yes.

recipe: Plum and walnut cakes.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Oatmeal, fig & walnut bars

Taken straight out of the oven - once cooled the bar and filling firm up.
I find it rather fitting that Autumn is upon us; most days I feel like a crimson leaf with sunburned edges separated from my branch, incessantly blown about by the wind, hoping to land amongst the springy grass and rest, if just for a moment.

During all of my whirling and twirling and floating about I haven't stopped to enjoy this season; as if a movie I have been waiting to see is finally on television, and instead of sitting down to enjoy it, I am too busy vacuuming the house when in all honesty, IT CAN WAIT.

Today, there were plenty of things that needed to be done, but I thought it more important to my mental health that they wait until tomorrow. Because I'd much rather spend today humming along to uplifting French music whilst I knead butter and oats together with my fingertips and happily gaze upon the rainbow lorikeets swaying on the plum tree's branches than tick tasks off a bloody list.

I am aware that when my husband asks what I did today, it won't sound like much to him, but to me, it will have been a day well spent.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 40mins (includes cooling time).
cooking time: 25mins.
total: 1hour & 5mins.

taste: 3.5/5. Patience pays off.

Do NOT eat these hot or even warm, they are much too fickle and the components simply do not play together. These are best when cooled in the fridge and have firmed up to make one cohesive bar.

Despite reducing the sugar slightly these were too sweet for me - I should have known the figs sweetness would be plenty enough, in hindsight, I would only add 1 or 2 tbs sugar to the fig mixture. I used 1cup of brown sugar for the oat crust which was plenty.

The oat-to-fig ratio is spot on, with the jammy centre balanced by the crumbly oats and the crunchy walnuts.

Overall this was just too sweet for me and more fig than I can handle (I can't handle much).

would I make it again: No - I prefer muesli bars when I am aiming for a healthier sweet treat.

recipe: Oatmeal, Fig, and Walnut Bars

Friday, March 19, 2010

Baby carrots with labne & herb salad

A short post for a side dish.

I love side dishes; if a restaurant has not one appetising main, I have more than once happily substituted it with two or more side dishes. You have your usual potato-type dish, but I felt like something with a little more pizzazz and character - not to mention a little more nutriontal value also.

Carrots - well, to be precise, cooked carrots, are something I have only just begun to eat and I am voraciously trying to find recipes that end up being eaten by both myself and my husband. This one not only sounded tasty, but looked exciting and delicious.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 5mins.
cooking time: 25mins.
total: 30mins.

taste: 4/5. Fun to eat.

The combination of flavours was wonderful. I excluded Parsley, as I personally feel Parsley doesn't play well with others and masks every other flavour with its own. The dill and mint added freshness and vitality to the sweet caramelised carrots with their shawl of fennel. Put this together with the zing of the vinegar (I just used Sherry vinegar as I didn't have Pedro Ximenez on hand) and the cool, tang of the labne and you have a winning dish.

Personally, I would have preferred the carrots hotter, rather than letting them cool down as much as written. I say, serve them as soon as the dressing is ready to be poured over their orange bodies.

would I make it again: Yes.

recipe: Baby carrots with labne & herb salad

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rosewater meringues with pomegranate syrup

Vibrant ruby jewels tumble and fall into a glass bowl with each thump of the rolling pin; their juice splatters my hands, staining them like a Pollock Painting.

To behold the inside of a pomegranate, with its garnet gems clinging to the white membranes like precious stones to rocks makes you feel as if you have unearthed a hidden treasure. Although it has only begun to become popular in the kitchen, it has long been written about in Greek Mythology and early religious texts. A mere four so juicy arils earned Persephone 4 months a year in the Underworld with Hades - she just couldn't resist its temptation.

I love pomegranates in savoury dishes as well as sweet - they not only add wonderful flavour but also visual interest. These meringues looked simple yet stunning and I had to try them.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 5mins.
cooking time: 1 hours (make pomegranate syrup whilst they cook).
total: 1hour & 5mins.

taste: 3.5/5. Nice but lacks oomph.

To be honest, I did doubt the dessert-ness of this dish when I spied that it used Greek yoghurt rather than cream, which in hindsight, I would have substituted. The yoghurt's fresh tanginess subdues the sweetness of the pink meringue and paired with the tartly juicy pomegranate and scented rose, this was more of an afternoon treat rather than an evening delight for me.

I cooked the meringues as directed but they didn't have enough of a marshmallow centre for me so I would suggest cooking them as directed for the 50mins and then turning off the oven to dry them.

I used rose water as I simply love rose and didn't want a diluted version.

recipe: Rosewater meringues with pomegranate syrup

would I make it again: No - My mother loved this but I merely liked it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fennel, onion & goat's cheese tarts

This week has been quite the Twilight episode.

If you live in Australia, you no doubt heard about Melbourne's exciting encounter with a super cell storm - I, like almost all Melbournians, have never seen anything quite like it. I was fortunate enough to get home a mere five minutes before the skies turned a midnight black and everything became silent - and not that 'all is calm, all is right' silent, that eerie 'something terrible is a-comin' silent. It wasn't long before a strange helicopter whirring sound enveloped everything and then BAM. A huge ball of ice hits the kitchen window. BAM. Another smashes into the roof. BAM. BAM. BAM. BAM. BAM. You get the picture. Most of the hail was passion-fruit-sized and it's destructive fury was indescribable.

The entire CBD was in knee deep water and snow, every street closed down, every tunnel and most highways. Large building roofs collapsed, shopping centres flooded and it even began to rain inside cinemas. It took over 10 hours before people could drive home, if their cars hadn't washed away or been punch-holed that is. Truly freaky stuff.

Well that was on Saturday, and it's now blue skies and sunshine all the way. You gotta give Melbourne Weather a hand, he keeps it fresh.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 1 hour (includes chilling time).
cooking time: 30mins.
total: 1hour & 30mins.

taste: 4/5. Crusterific!

Surprisingly, what I loved most about this dish, was it's perfect crust. I don't think I will use any other for savoury tarts from now on it was that great.

The filling is subtle, I was actually hoping for a stronger aniseed flavour from the fennel, but it strolled modestly with the onion and egg filling, all taking equal flavour portions. The goat's cheese should be mild, I went for a slightly more pungent one and it added too much bitterness to this delicate tart - something creamy and slightly salty would be perfect. Hubby loved this more than I did.

would I make it again: Yes.

recipe: Fennel, onion & goat's cheese tarts

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Aria Chocolate Tart

Well, hello again March, it's been far too long indeed.

I won't deny it - my song belongs to the late summer breeze and turning leaves that is the beginning of Autumn. To me, March is a collection of the best moments of the previous Seasons - Summer's gentlly warming touch, Spring's painted bouquet, and Winter's invigorating zephyrs. My heaven would be a year of March's.

Month-infatuation aside, I also get excited when it's bounty of beautiful Autumnal produce arrives. Yes, my beloved Nectarine's will slowly bid me farewell, but to help fill the void are Brilliant Berries, Fleshy Figs, Charismatic Corn and Put-me-at-ease Pumpkin to name a few.

I scurry about digging up Autumn recipes to place in my cooking basket, ready and waiting. Whilst I was selecting which ones would make the cut, I needed something to make this week, something special. I saw this tart on Masterchef and wondered if it could defeat the Triple Chocolate Praline Tart that has more requests than any other dish but takes a touch too long to make on the day.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Peach, Jamón ibérico & Buffalo Mozzarella Salad with Rocket & Balsamic

Sometimes the simplest is best.

Inspiration can be found anywhere.
I am particularly susceptible to inspiration's charms. I find my mind is easily tickled and spun into a carousel of ideas and thoughts by something so simple as a dandelion dancing on the breeze's toes, or in this instance, the satisfied grin of my husband after eating a salad at a restaurant. From that one meal, he discovered a new food, a new taste that tickled his tongue - Jamón ibérico.

This inspired me to find some myself so that I could create my own simple salad with it. Surprisingly, I found it on my third stop at a local Jones the Grocer store.
There are three grades, which I found out after the purchase, so I am not sure which grade it was, but suffice to say, hubby was pleasantly surprised to find it on his plate.
The original salad was comprised of Jamón ibérico, black fig, sweet rocket, hazelnut vinaigrette & balsamic jelly, but seeing as though we wanted a short break from figs (our mother in law kindly donated a bag of them from her garden), I thought I'd use some peaches before they disappear for another 9months.

Peach, Jamón ibérico & Buffalo Mozzarella salad
serves 4 as a side dish

50gm rocket, rinsed and dried
2 peaches, sliced into 8
6-8 slices of Jamón ibérico
250g buffalo mozzarella, torn (burrata would also be lovely)
1/2 lemon, juice only
balsamic reduction and olive oil to drizzle
salt and pepper to season

Slice peaches and toss with lemon, olive oil and salt and pepper. Rinse and dry rocket and scatter on plates. Arrange Jamón ibérico, peaches, mozzarella on plate and drizzle balsamic. Serve.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 10mins.
total: 10mins.

taste: 4.5/5. Second-serving-scrumptious.

Hubby liked this so much he had a second serving of it.
This is all about quality ingredients so don't scrimp.
The peaches are luscious and add freshness to the peppery rocket and soft, creamy buffalo mozzarella whilst the balsamic adds sweet tanginess without overpowering the subtle but rich Jamón ibérico.

would I make it again: Yes, I'd definitely continue to play around with the flavours a little.