book reviews · recipes

Sophie

It is with barely contained glee that I can announce, we saw the trailer for Spring 2015 here today!

Yes, all of the highlights – bird twittering, daffodil nodding, lawn mowing, cat sprawling and of course sun drenching – were condensed into the happy daylight hours of this late winter Saturday. And if the coming season is anything close to what this trailer alluded to, it’s going to be a cracker! So, inspired by this exciting preview, I thought it fitting that the opening image to this post about Sophie Hansen be the spring illustration from her book, Local is Lovely.

But before I continue, I just need to take a quick side-step up to a soap box, and restate my passionate belief yet again – we all need to continue to cook. We need to take produce from around us, where possible, in it’s simplest form and slice it, mix it, bake it, steam it, roast it, mash it or whatever needs to be done to it to produce nourishing, appealing food to fuel healthy lives. And most vitally, our children need to see this happening. They need to be exposed to basic raw materials being crafted into meals so that when their time comes to take responsibility for their own nutrition and/or the nurture of others, this will be their default. Because it’s what they saw.

They need not have seen elaborate haute cuisine, but simply, basic combinations of fruit, vegetables, proteins and grains with a measure of fats and oils keeping things balanced and delicious. If that means thick slabs of bread loaded with generous slices of tomato, fresh cheese and garden herbs, topped with some pan-crisped salami, then the job is done. And if it can’t happen this way each day because the pace of life takes precedence, then that’s ok – just so long as there are times when it does.

So this now brings me to Sophie, a food writer and one-woman cheersquad for the local farmers/producers in her neighbourhood, within which, her farm in Orange, four hours west of Sydney is located. She is a strong advocate for sourcing food locally not only for the deliciousness of it but also to support the local growers, whom she believes are the heroes of our land. In her beautifully laid out read, you will be taken through the seasons, inspired by earthy delicious cooking using seasonal produce and intrigued by a sprinkling of profiles of her local farmers.

local is love

As well a being just a pleasurable, inspiring read, Sophie’s message within these pages is clear, to source locally, cook seasonally and enjoy the process.

Now I realise that most of us may not be located bang smack in the centre of a regional food bowl, and the local supermarket may be as close as it gets to sourcing our produce, and that’s fine too. It is amazing though, if you attempt to sniff it out, there are sources of locally grown staples, even in inner urban areas that can be drawn upon. I have a free-range egg farm close by and I imagine that many of you have a monthly farmer’s market in your vicinity. Some of us have neighbours with fruit trees whilst others are making it their business to learn the art of foraging and finding wild delights ripe for the taking. My point is, use what is available to you when you can and become aware. It’s not about making sweeping overnight changes, but gradual shifts toward a healthier and therefore more enriched lifetime.

So while you ponder this, here is a Chocolate Blackberry Loaf, one of Sophie’s Winter Baking recipes (that you can receive in a free ebook that can be downloaded when you visit her and sign up for her newsletter) to enjoy.

1 cup plain flour
5 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
good pinch salt
1/4 cup espresso coffee (I used one shot from our little machine at home but you could also make a really strong plunger coffee and use 1/4 cup of that)
1/2 cup natural yogurt
1 tsp vanilla paste
150g unsalted butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
1 cup blackberries (raspberries or blueberries would also be good)

Preheat oven to 180C and grease and line a large loaf tin. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarb and a good pinch of salt and set aside. In another bowl, combine the coffee, yogurt and vanilla and stir well. Now cream the butter and sugar together in an electric mixer, until pale and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Add the yogurt mixture and mix in on low speed. Then, by hand, fold in the flour mixture and finally fold through the blackberries.
Spoon batter into the tin and bake for 45 minutes or until the cake is just pulling away from the tin’s sides and it feels firm to touch

Chocolate Blackberry Loaf

Postscript: and apart from the ethical, nutritional, sustainable and economic values Local is Lovely expounds, anyone who creates a cake recipe combining chocolate, coffee, blackberries and greek yogurt ought to be worth paying attention to.

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family · recipes

Chocolate

chocolate cake

I’m not afraid of spiders,
and lions don’t make me quake,
but there’s one thing I cannot pass,
and that is, and that is,
a chocolate cake!

But why are you afraid of a chocolate cake Grandma? was something I often wondered, when in early childhood, as I followed my grandmother around her garden she would recite this and other childhood rhymes to me. Now, many decades later, I have come to understand the essence of this verse clearly. One of the most divine (and irresistible) experiences of life, is certainly a slice of fresh, lavishly iced, rich chocolate cake.

My preference is for chocolate rather than cocoa in a chocolate cake and moist fudginess (the sour cream takes care of that). Turn out one of these, and let’s see if you have the courage to pass it.

1 cup boiling water
125g dark chocolate, broken up
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
250g softened butter
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
3 eggs separated
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 1/2 cups plain flour
a pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup sour cream

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.
  2. Grease a large bundt tin or two loaf tins.
  3. Combine water, chocolate and bicarb in a bowl and stir until chocolate is melted (it foams up and becomes light and airy). Leave to one side.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy and then beat in the egg yolks one at a time.
  5. Stir in the vanilla and gradually mix through the chocolate mixture.
  6. Sift the remaining three dry ingredients and fold into the mix alternately with the sour cream.
  7. Beat the egg whites until peaks form and fold into the mixture.
  8. Spoon mix gently into prepared tin(s) and bake for40-45 minutes (loaf tins) or 1-1 1/4 hours for large tin. Test with a skewer to ensure cake(s) are cooked through.

Our cake was topped with a chocolate icing – melted butter and chocolate, icing sugar, vanilla essence and 2 tbsp of boiling water, but it is equally good dusted with icing sugar and served with fresh thick cream.

slice of chocolate cake

Postscript: if you reside with locusts, as I do, this recipe is brilliant as the end result will be a large generous cake, or two regulars (one for now and the other for the freezer – if it makes it there)

recipes

Honeycomb

chocolate coated honeycomb

Ever wondered what to do with all that leftover honeycomb and chocolate you have? Nor have I, but if there’s ever a reason to stockpile it, this brownie recipe is the one. Shards of brittle caramelised sugar amongst fudgy chocolate brownie – pair this with a nice cup of tea and you have what I would consider to be the ultimate treat.

As autumn slides in, and with it the cooler evenings, what better way to see you through the complexities of Downton Abbey life than a cup of tea and a good chunk of this.

chocolate honeycomb brownie

In fact, I’m sure if Mrs Patmore had culinary associations with those ‘across the pond’, the resulting recipe exchanges would have made possible the serving of this racy brownie to the drawing-room, and all manner of crises may have been averted.

If only Tom could have chowed down on a piece of this scrumptious bake, I’m sure he would be less inclined to espouse his unpopular political opinions (unfortunately alienating him from his English in-laws). Edith’s recovery from her jilting would have been far more expedient had she been offered a slice,  and the stress caused by the recent financial crisis that almost had the Abbey thrust on the open market, would have swiftly been alleviated. Perhaps if Bates could have been slipped a piece through the bars, there would have been more joy in his life than simply Anna’s letters, and even the sourpuss O’Brien might have seen the positive after a good munch.

And, despite its American origins,  I’m sure Granny would have secretly loved it.

Not a Downton fan and haven’t a clue about anything I’ve just written? Don’t be concerned. If your blood is red (not blue) and you’re up for a bit of luxury in the evening, then here are the steps to take:

1 cup plain flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
180g butter
200g dark chocolate
3 eggs, beaten
100g chocolate coated honeycomb, roughly crushed

  1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees celsius and line a rectangular pan with baking paper.
  2. Combine flour, cocoa, sugar and baking powder. Mix well.
  3. Melt butter and chocolate and pour into dry mix with the eggs. Mix until smooth.
  4. Stir through 3/4 of the honeycomb. Pour into baking pan.
  5. Sprinkle remaining honeycomb evenly over the top and bake for 35 minutes or until firm. Slice when cool.

instagram cadbury

Postscript: Just wanted to include a snap of an old friend who has accompanied me on many baking adventures and who gave a standout performance in this batch of brownies – Cadbury.

gardening · recipes

Red

Bowl of Tomatoes

When faced with a beautiful fresh ingredient, the first response if often to take a complex approach and involve it in an elaborate recipe, only to lose its original charm. As we know, tomatoes are the foundation upon which many wonderful meals are constructed but taken singularly they are a true delight.

Tomato season is at its height right now, and we are being presented with healthy specimens to devour. The truth is, garden stock really outshines supermarket stock when it comes to the flavour of these beauties, so it seemed a shame to mask this in a pasta or casserole. Rather than sacrifice this rarity, I rallied the tomatoes’ flavour cousins: basil and parmesan, and built some rather clumsy rustic bruschetta on sour dough for lunch this week.

Tomato Bruschetta

If even that seems to be taking things a little too far, slice them in half and season with salt and pepper – a between meal snack that any nutritionist worth their salt would have to approve of.

Brown paper bag

Postscript: Some of you may have noticed I am having a love affair with Instagram at the moment, hence the ”’arty tomarty” images. I urge you to get involved and unearth your inner Annie Leibovitz.

recipes

Vintage

Chocolate Ripple Log

As a child of the 70’s, any mother who produced a chocolate ripple cake for the ”sweets table” at a local function, won my everlasting respect.

Not sure if it’s the fact that its made from my favourite childhood biscuit, it’s delicious on a hot day straight from the fridge Nigella style, or it’s sheer simplicity, but this would be one childhood dessert that has carried over into adulthood for me, without skipping a beat. Sandwiching biscuits together with cream and making a log – it doesn’t come much simpler than that.

So with temperatures currently in the high 30’s, I could think of nothing nicer than opening the refrigerator to a chilled chocolately log at sunset. Extended setting time is required to allow the cream to seep into the biscuits and become all cakey. So, first thing in the morning, once everyone has vacated, pour yourself a coffee and trowel yourself a creamy log. The sense of accomplishment you’ll radiate by 9.30am will astound.

To get your chocolate ripple cake up and running, here is the recipe, straight from the crinkly pack – and if you feel the need to slip on a kaftan before you begin, by all means do.

1 x 250g packet Arnott’s Choc Ripple biscuits
500ml thickened cream
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
cocoa powder

  1. Using an electric mixer, whip together cream, sugar and vanilla until stiff.
  2. Spread a little of the cream along a long serving plate to make a base. Spread one biscuit with 1 ½ teaspoons of cream then top with another biscuit. Top with another 1 ½ teaspoons cream then place biscuits on their side onto the cream base on the serving plate. Repeat until all biscuits have been used to form a log.
  3. Spread remaining cream over entire log. Cover loosely with foil then refrigerate for a minimum of 6 hours to set. Just before serving, dust log with cocoa or sprinkle with grated chocolate if desired. Cut cake diagonally to serve. Serve with seasonal berries.

chocolate ripple sliced

Postscript: A friend will routinely pulverise a packet of chocolate ripples into powder, scoop the resulting crumbles into individual containers, throw in a scattering of sour worm lollies, and market them at fetes and cake stalls as ”Worms in Dirt'” …. just so you know.

recipes

Plum

PlumsFor keen preservers, the produce section at the supermarket or the local fruit shop is a veritable candy store over the summer months. After the monotonous display of apples, pears and bananas over the chilly months, it is easy to be dazzled by the array of mangoes, peaches, nectarines and apricots on offer. Plums arrive a little later and often so briefly, that if excess time is spent admiring and pondering, the window of preserving opportunity slams shut, and another year must pass before these beauties arrive again.

So my friends, do not be caught out. Gather your old jars, select a choice kilogram of nicely ripened plums (any variety) and after an hour or so pottering in the kitchen you will have about five lovely jars of plum jam.

1 kg plums
1 kg jam setting sugar

Remove stones from plums and chop finely or process in the food processor. In a large pan add chopped plums and sugar, and cook over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase heat and boil rapidly for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and test a small amount of jam on a saucer that has been chilled in the freezer. The surface should wrinkle when pushed. Pour hot jam into hot sterilised jars and seal immediately. Leave to cool and then wipe away any stickiness on jars with a damp cloth. Add your labels.

Plum jamPostscript: Purchasing a kilogram of fresh plums is a win –  win situation. You are either going to end up with a well stocked pantry shelf, or if time gets away and good intentions are lost, a lovely fresh feast.

recipes

Ham

slow roasted beans

By this stage of the season, simple is the adjective we reach for when thoughts turn to the day’s upcoming menu.

On recent supermarket visits, I notice basic items – the likes of yoghurt, eggs and honest loaves returning to people’s trolleys in an attempt to restore equilibrium after lavish seasonal feasting. Lovely as it is to enjoy the spoils of Christmas, we eventually seek out the familiar constituents our system and soul relies upon throughout the mainstay of the year.

Delectable leftovers must not be ignored either – so constructing a meal that incorporates feast remnants in a toned-down fashion, is the aim. Our succulent ham, after featuring as the celebration table hero, took a backseat to some lovely baby tomatoes and the pantry staple – beans. Here’s how it went:

750g small tomatoes
bulb of garlic separated into individually peeled cloves
200g chopped ham of the bone (small chunks, not thin slices)
salt and pepper
2 cans of beans (butter, cannellini or whatever you prefer) drained and rinsed
1/2cup chicken or vege stock
small bunch of oregano sprigs
feta cheese to serve

Place tomatoes, garlic and ham in a roasting pan, and cook for 30 minutes in a 180 degree celsius oven for 30 minutes. Season with pepper and a little salt. Once the tomatoes are shrivelling and the ham has crisped a little, add the beans, stock and oregano and cook for a further 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and crumble feta over the top. Serve with warmed pita bread.

pita beans hamPostscript:Ham still in plentiful supply, any further suggestions welcome…

 

recipes

steamed

christmas pudding

Whether you make your pudding the night before or three months earlier, it’s going to taste wonderful – because you made it from scratch.

Like sound child rearing, a pudding needs you to be around. You needn’t hover, but it’s vital to be in the background for times when a gentle water top up (nurturing) or a watchful eye (safe-keeping) is required. Don’t think of pudding day as a tie, but rather an opportunity to consolidate and take respite from the hectic lead up – to Christmas.

You can soak the fruit for as long as you like, provided the bowl is covered or sealed – so essentially, it is done in two stages. Once cooked, your wrapped pudding will last for eons – I often make two so we are enjoying the spoils mid-winter.

It’s possible I have experimented with at least twenty recipe versions over the years, but this one has become the favorite. I hope it becomes yours too.

250g sultanas
250g raisins
250g currants
60g mixed peel
handful of glace cherries, halved
125g blanched almonds, chopped
1/2 cup brandy
250g butter
11/4 cups brown sugar
grated rind of 1 orange
4 eggs
1 cup plain flour
1tspn mixed spice
1tspn ground ginger
125g fresh breadcrumbs

  1. Combine fruit and nuts in a large bowl and pour over brandy. Leave overnight, covered.
  2. Cream butter, add sugar and rind and beat until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Stir through sifted flour and spices.
  5. Stir through breadcrumbs and fruit mix until everything is well mixed.
  6. Grease an 8 cup capacity pudding basin and line the base with greased baking paper. Spoon in the pudding mixture. Cover the top with a circle of baking paper. Wrap a sheet of baking paper over the top of the basin and secure tightly around the rim with twine. Make sure the paper has a pleat through the centre to allow for the pudding as it rises.
  7. Place the basin gently into a large pot of boiling water, with enough water that it comes halfway up the side of the basin. (To stop the pudding burning on the base, place an upturned saucer on the bottom of the pot and stand the basin on it.) Cover the pot and let the pudding steam for 6 hours. You will need to check the water level frequently, and top up with boiling water from the kettle when required to keep the level.
  8. When cooked, let pudding completely cool, turn out of the basin and wrap in cling wrap. Store in refrigerator until required.

pudding fruit mix

recipes

Jam

apricot jam

Tell me who’s going to pass by firm ripe apricots at the market for $1.99 per kilo? Not me, and therefore the kitchen has a distinct aroma of stone fruit about it this week.

Spread (thickly) on toast or dolloped over some creamy yoghurt and muesli, apricot jam happens to be one of life’s little pleasures. With the current prices and the jam sugar I mentioned here, there is no reason why you cannot have a pantry shelf full of it either.

As I was stirring the pot, I noticed one of the ‘feature’ tiles in the splashback and it made me smile.

kitchen tile

I must have cleaned and moved past this tile at least a million times, and today the realisation that an apricot keeps watch over the cooktop, came to be. How often are we looking but never really see?

If you would like to get your jars full this week, use the same recipe as I did for the White Peach Jam. Of course you will have to move quickly, because fresh apricots disappear quickly if like me, you live with a group of fruit bats…

apricot jam and apricot

family

Marshmallow

toasting marshmallows

All puffy and golden on the outside, runny gooey and intoxicatingly sweet on the inside, who could pass up a marshmallow plucked straight from the toasting fork?

After adequate consumption of vegetables and accompanying protein, a marshmallow dessert was promised. This involved lighting a scout-laid fire (the responsibility of the resident 14-year-old) in our bespoke outdoor fireplace.

fireplace

Should you have an oversupply of paving stones, house bricks and a sliced up fallen gum tree, you too have the makings of cookout facility such as ours. The only purchase required was for two grill plates and a packet of marshmallows. Money well spent.

As the night wore on, flames became radiant coals, and family conversation became – just that. Far nicer than a bowl of ice-cream in front of a screen.

enjoying the marshmallows