Wednesday 27 March 2013

Apples, plums, peaches and pioneer women

I can't help myself, I hate to see something nice wasted and if I can make something out of nothing I will give it a go. It is in my DNA and for those of you who knew my Mother well, you would entirely understand what I mean. I love to give gifts from my garden produce and cooking labours and I am always equally happy to receive them in return! This week has been full of funny little incidences that have resulted in such fabulous tasty gifts.
My sister-in-law gave me a jar labelled Free Plum jam, I thought it was a type of plum until it clicked! Silly me. She is a woman clearly in sync with my values and knew we would enjoy such a lovely 'free' tangy spread on our breakfast toast. Fabulous!
Chatting at the gate with my neighbour I noted her lovely little apple tree (once laden with large red apples) was now completely bare of fruit. The previous season I had carte blanche to help myself while minding the chooks and said the apples made a beautiful Tarte Tatin. My neighbour said for such a small tree that must have harvested at least 30 apples. Later in the day a bag full of the same beautiful cooking apples appeared at my door. I made a 'cheats' Tarte Tatin, baked in my small enamel dish. Fabulous!
'cheats' Tarte Tatin
Which leads me to another delight.
It can be said I am a very observant dog walker, mainly on the lookout for wild looking young frisky dogs who can make our dowager one very nervous and unfriendly. It was during one of these walks I noted a tree dropping peaches all over a steep grassy bank near the footpath. Not something you see much nowadays. Looking up, the tree was laden and I assumed someone would soon be picking them. Not so, and on a another daily circuit I could not help myself and quickly filled a bag of the windfalls to take home. Once all the bruised and grubby bits were chopped away and stones removed, a little raw sugar added, they boiled into two cups of delicious stewed peaches. One cup for Peach muffins, one cup drizzled with runny cream for dessert. Fabulous!
And to finish my funny week of tasty gifts, the last bits of harvest from my carrot and beetroot crop (pathetic due to lack of moisture) were roasted with balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, tossed with wild rocket and cherry tomatoes. It had to be one of the tastiest lunches I have made for myself in a while.
A few weeks ago during a discussion with a friend with an interest in Numerology, I was told I have had many incarnations - I am sure one of them was a Pioneer woman, always providing a meal for her family the best way she can!

Friday 22 March 2013

Some days all you feel like is chicken soup...

Some days all you feel like is a bowl of homemade chicken soup.
It has been a very busy week, a visit to see family for the woman and endless project managing the remaining work on the house for the man. However it's good news, as we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. All that remains is completion of the exterior painting. Lucky for us over the last two months the weather has been fabulous in the Capital ( but I hear you say, no good for the farmers and gardeners!).
I was talking to friends yesterday about the endless cups of coffee and tea we have made for our tradesmen since we started in December, and all the baking of morning and afternoon teas. (I did run out of puff and ideas for a couple of weeks, but was saved by a seasonal supply of Girl Guide biscuits - love the chocolate coated ones!) They were so surprised I went to the trouble to do this as they never provided tea or coffee for their workers and certainly did not bake anything. I suppose I was brought up to offer refreshments for trades people working in your home, it's what you do isn't it .... or am I a little old fashioned here? Whenever I hand over a hot cup of coffee or an ice cold drink they are so happy to receive it why wouldn't you do it?
Back to the soup. My freezer is full of homemade stock. The chicken stock is a by-product of cooking a pot full of chicken at least once a week - to feed our ageing pooch. (She is quite an elegant dowager and still wearing the healing scars of a major operation a few weeks ago). Why use that bought stuff when making stock is so 'pimpsy'! Into your chicken liquid, throw handfuls of chopped celery, carrots, leeks and a bouquet garni plus seasoning to taste. Bring to the boil and to intensify the flavour cook gently for about 30-40 minutes, taste test, cool, strain and for convenience, freeze in 'cupful' containers.
I have blogged my alphabet chicken soup before but it occurred to me (while I scooped up the tasty mouthfuls) how such simple recipes can give so much pleasure, and of course they are so quick and easy to make. It does help if you are a soup fan - which I am. Along with a hot buttered crunchy roll it is the perfect lunch on a sunny Autumnal day.
As they say it is 'food for thought' on both counts, I will continue to look after our trades people, I have it on good authority it is really appreciated. And whenever I feel it is time to stop, relax a little and cleanse my soul, a bowl of steaming homemade chicken soup is just the ticket.


Friday 15 March 2013

What to do with all those zucchinis

I am very jealous of gardeners who can grow zucchinis, it is one vegetable I have been unable (or lack the talent for) to grow in my small garden here in the Capital. It could be the lack of space or the the soil is not right but they do not thrive in my garden in spite of buckets of compost. I can hear you say, 'anybody who has a brain can grow them....!!' but I have tried now for many summers (although not this one which I suspect was a mistake given the fabulous sunshine hours and lack of raging winds here in the Capital). However, this gardening glitch does not stop me enjoying them when in season.
Some weeks ago my B asked for some zucchini recipes, she had so many she had run out of ideas on how to use them. GGrrrrrr I say, I'm jealous....!  but my usual reply would be cheese and grated zucchini muffins, zucchini patties, ratatouille and believe it or not chocolate zucchini cake. However last year I found a wonderful recipe, Zucchini Loaf, that I've made several times now and it is absolutely fabulous. I found this wee gem on the Weight Watchers website and I have served it as a vegetarian main and/or lunch dish on numerous occasions. I am sure once you have tried it, you will be making time and time again. It is equally nice served warm or at room temperature with a tossed salad or (as you can see) with a delicious baked stuffed beef steak tomato. Because the vegetable is 'hidden' you may even entice the little ones to eat a slice of this loaf. Of course if you feel inclined (as I have) you could use the full fat variety of ricotta and feta cheese, it is even more delicious.
Zucchini Loaf - Weight Watchers 2012
3 small zucchini (400g) trimmed and coarsely grated
3 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 c plain flour
1/4 c fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
5 small eggs - separated
2 medium whites
200g low-fat ricotta cheese
120g reduced fat feta cheese - crumbled
4 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 190 C. Spray a 25cmx15cm loaf tin with oil. Line base and sides with baking paper.
Heat a large non-stick fry pan over a high heat and spray with oil.
Add zucchini and onions and cook, stirring for about 2-3 minutes.

Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl. Add nutmeg, flour and parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Gently fold through ricotta, feta and Parmesan.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form. Fold through egg yolks to combine.
Combine egg mixture and zucchini mixture together using a large metal spoon. Transfer mixture to the prepared tin and bake in oven for about 50-55 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through when tested with a skewer.
Set aside to cool for 10 minutes before removing and slicing to serve. 
served as a main or lunch dish
Best eaten on the day but can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 1-2 days and gently reheated  or preferably served at room temperature.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

In search of the perfect chocolate cake..

While on a baking binge of 'never fail cakes' and in pursuit of making a number of requested chocolate cakes for two significant birthdays and a few dinner parties, I have been very busy trying to find the best chocolate cake recipe ever! It has been a lot of tasty fun and I have solved a mystery or two along the way.
To give you a little background. My 'fall back' for a chocolate cake has always been my 1970's Eggless Chocolate cake but to be honest it really doesn't get even close to the perfect variety nowadays, it is now a very boring cake! Not rich enough and not enough chocolaty flavour.
You will recall I made the Drunken Chocolate Torte and posted my feedback on that beauty. To do a test run on another birthday cake I also made Seagers Chocolate Mud Cake At the time Deb was overseeing the making of said cake (she was staying with us). Once cooked (during our taste test) we agreed the cake didn't taste quite right. When I checked on this later I discovered there had been an error in the original recipe book and 1 3/4 c sugar was missing from the cake. Mmmmmm... that will explain it. And the ganache should have had 750grams of chocolate instead of 150gms. To be quite honest that error did not matter so much but omitting the sugar from the cake was fairly significant. Mystery of the salty cake solved!
In spite of this 'boo boo' both cakes were more than edible but some of my foodie mates (and dinner guests) found the Torte a bit too sweet. I probably didn't need the drunken syrup bit drizzled on the side! As it turned out, the sweetness in the Mud Cake was more about the chocolate 'filling' and the ganache rather than the cake part.
In my research I found a similar Mud Cake recipe to Jo Seagars on the Chelsea Sugar website. It may be worth a try as it uses low GI sugar.
Unfortunately both of the recipes I tried required quite a bit of time and skill.... which of course I have in abundance when the recipe is correct, but when scheduling baking and allowing plenty of time to focus on the job at hand, time can be a little challenging for me (so much to do, so little time...). I still had not found that perfect chocolate cake....
Deb and I talk a lot about food, that is eating and creating it!! she certainly shares my love for both. This Chocolate Cake recipe came from her cake repertoire, one that has never failed to please and it is so easy to make, that is, it doesn't take the whole day to assemble. As she had no idea where the recipe or the name of the cake came from, my research uncovered it here  My suspicions proved correct, it originally came from the Southland area (or to be precise - Central Otago) and ended up in Canterbury, it is now firmly in the Capital Living baking file of favourites.
cake right way up
As you can see it is a large cake so really great to serve at a large gathering or party. You can do a bit of forward planning as it has the added advantage of freezing well (un-iced of course). I am about to test this tip as I have made it again today to take down to Christchurch for Henry's 5th birthday dinner in a couple of weeks.
Lady Glenorchy Chocolate Cake
2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup plain yoghurt
¾ cup cocoa
200gm melted butter
2 tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt
3 cups self-raising flour
1 cup strong black coffee (3 tsp instant) cooled
Place all ingredients in the order listed into the food processor and process 1 min. Pour mixture into a large greased cake tin.
cake turned upside down
Bake 160 C 1 ¼ hrs
I used a greased 23cm round tin (with removable base lined with baking paper), or you could use a large greased cake mould ring tin, do not turn out until cold.
This is a moist cake and apparently it has never failed. Worked well for me. I find it easier to ice the cake if it is turned upside down, you tend to get a better finish. When it is ready to be eaten I will use the following recipe. This is the correct list of ingredients.

Ganache – Jo Seagar – The Cook School Recipes
180 ml milk
225 ml cream
750 grams chopped dark chocolate (I use Whittakers)
Place all ingredients in a medium sized saucepan, stir gently over a low heat until it comes to a boil, make sure the chocolate is melted and the mixture smooth. Cool to a room temperature.

Saturday 2 March 2013

Orange and Almond Cake

We all have those great cakes in our repertoire (you make often) because they never fail. This is one of them. I asked for this recipe from the hostess at a luncheon in 1994, so it has been around for a while. I have served it at dinner parties, my book group and for that matter on many special occasions and I have never tired of its lovely flavour and texture. I also like that it is gluten free (if you use gluten free baking powder) and it certainly hits the spot for a quick and easy moist cake that is great to serve at a large gathering. My recipients feedback has always been good too, not everyone likes chocolate desserts so it is a good 'save' substitute.
I have seen similar recipes to this one that requires you to boil the oranges for hours (on a stove top) etc, but why bother when this method of cooking the oranges does the trick! I am not sure of the origin of this particular recipe and I have not baked it in any other tin apart from my large round one but it could be nice as little individual cakes or loaves for a dessert if you wanted to further impress your guests. Obviously you would need to adjust cooking times. Don't be tempted to remove the cake from your tin until it is quite cooled, lining the tin's bottom will ensure it does not stick. I dust it with a little icing sugar and serve with Greek yoghurt or cream on the side. Delish!
As you can see if does brown a little on top, you need to watch this
Orange and Almond Cake 
2 large perfect oranges (spiked)
6 eggs
250 grams Ground Almonds
250 grams Castor Sugar
1 tsp Baking Powder
Cooked spiked oranges for 4 minutes in microwave with a little water.
Cut cooked oranges into 1/4’s, remove any pips and cool.
Place in food mixer and pulp well. Add eggs, sugar, almonds and baking powder and continue to mix until blended.
Pour mixture into a greased  23cm round tin (preferably with removable base and with the bottom lined with baking paper).
Bake at 180°C on a rack in the middle of your oven for about 1 hour – watch the top does not brown too much ( tip - depending on your oven you may need to cover with tinfoil about half way through cooking).
Servings – 10 to 12 pieces.