11 June 2015

Maple Pecan Biscotti

Biscotti is the word Italians use for any kind of biscuit but when we refer to biscotti, it's the thin slices of dough baked until crispy and crunchy that we think of.  The thing I love most about biscotti is that I convince myself it’s a guilt free pleasure simply because there’s no butter involved here. Yes there is sugar but hey, you can’t take away every good thing! These are so easy to make and keep for ages in an airtight container. Pecan and maple syrup are a classic combination but you could use walnut as they did in the original recipe. These biscotti are beautifully crisp, crunchy and delicious with or without the icing drizzled on top.

Maple Pecan Biscotti
Adapted from here

1 cup pecans
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
¼ tspn ground cinnamon
1 tspn baking powder
1¼ cups plain flour
1 egg plus another for brushing over the top
1½ tblspns maple syrup

¼ cup icing sugar
1-2 tblspns maple syrup

Preheat oven to 180c and line a tray with baking paper. Tip on the pecans and toast in the oven for 10 minutes the place on a cutting board and roughly chop, keeping the bits fairly large.

Mix together the pecans, white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and flour. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg and maple syrup together then add this to the flour mixture. It will seem quite hard to mix and you’ll think you need extra liquid but persevere by squeezing it together with your hands until it all comes together. Divide into two pieces.

On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece into a log shape about 5cm wide. Place them on to the lined baking tray and press down slightly to about 1.5cm high. Brush both pieces with beaten egg and bake for 40 minutes until they are golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, don’t let it rest for too long as it will become too hard to slice. Now put the pieces onto a cutting board and use a serrated knife to cut each piece into 1.5cm slices, you can go straight or diagonal, up to you. Use a steady sawing motion as it will be quite hard. Put the pieces back onto the baking tray, reduce the oven temperature to 140c and cook for a further 7-8 minutes or until they are crispy and dry. When ready, remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool completely.
Mix the icing sugar with the maple syrup and drizzle over the top then leave to set. Store in air tight container and they will keep for a couple of weeks. Makes about 25.
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02 June 2015

Lemon Curd

I have never had the luxury before of having my own fruit trees. It is such a treat to go out into the garden and pick produce straight from the growing source itself. The only down side is of course that it comes in abundance all at once and at the moment, I’ve got beautiful, juicy Meyer lemons galore! So what to do with them all. Well of course lemon curd springs to mind. I could just eat this stuff with a spoon straight from the jar, or if I’m honest, straight from the saucepan!

The traditional method for cooking lemon curd is mixing everything together in a heatproof bowl and putting it over simmering water then straining through a sieve to remove any unwanted egg white but after experimenting with a couple of different versions, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just an unnecessary and tiresome step. The brilliant thing about this version is that because the eggs are already incorporated into the butter and sugar mixture, there is no chance of them scrambling as they heat up in the pan. Lemon curd with egg white streaks running through it is not so pretty.  The end result is delicious, creamy, tangy, smooth, luscious and irresistible!

Lemon Curd
Recipe from Fine Cooking

90g unsalted butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2 tspns lemon zest (can use more if you like)
2/3 cup lemon juice

Beat butter and sugar in a medium bowl for two minutes. Slowly add the eggs and egg yolks and keep beating for another minute. Now mix through the juice. At this stage it will look curdled and not so pretty but it will come good in the pan! Pour into a saucepan and cook on a low heat until it’s creamy smooth. Increase the heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes, stirring constantly. Make sure the mixture doesn’t boil but you want it to reach 75c. Remove from the heat and stir in the zest. Pour into two sterilized jars and when cool, refrigerate. Will keep for a couple of weeks if it lasts that long.
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05 May 2015

Pear & Almond Chocolate Cake

I love watching the seasons change and buying produce that reflects those seasons … like peaches in summer, asparagus in spring, cauliflower in winter, pears in autumn. Why would you buy them out if season when they’re not at their best and usually more expensive too. We had friends visit us over the weekend so that was a good enough reason for me to make this and share it with them.  What could be more comforting and welcoming on a chilly autumn day than a gorgeous pear and chocolate cake. This cake was so easy to make and the cider glaze made it moist and super tasty too. The cardamom provided some slight spicy warmth and the tender pear chunks and occasional crunch of almond was a perfect combination.

Pear & Almond Chocolate Cake
Recipe from Honey & Jam

1 cup boiling water
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups plain flour
2 tspns baking powder
1-2 tspns ground cardamom (depending on how much spice you like)
1 tspn salt
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tblspn vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 pears, peeled and diced
½ cup slivered almonds

1 cup pear cider
3 tblspns brown sugar
2 tblspns butter
½ tspn cinnamon (or cardamom)

Heat oven to 180c. Brush or spray a 12-15 cup Bundt or ring tin with oil. In a medium bowl or jug, whisk together 1 cup boiling water and cocoa powder. In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt. In a larger bowl, beat the brown sugar, vegetable oil and vanilla with electric beaters until combined. Now add the eggs and blend again. Beat the mixture until it’s smooth. Add half of the flour mixture then pour in the cocoa mixture. Tip in the rest of the flour and beat to blend. Using a spatula, fold in the pears and almonds and transfer the batter to the prepared pan.

Bake the cake for about 1 hour until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the cake for 10 minutes before inverting onto a cake rack to cool. Place the cake rack over a plate so that it will catch the glaze when it’s spooned over.

In a small saucepan, mix together the cider, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon. Boil for 5 minutes then remove from heat. When the cake is cool, spoon over the glaze, some will run down the sides but hopefully most will get absorbed into the cake then sift over some icing sugar.
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24 April 2015

Choc Orange Biscuits

I barely seem to have time for baking these days but when we had a friend come to stay for the weekend recently I felt the need to have something moreish on hand to have with a cuppa. In the original recipe for these biscuits, chilli and cinnamon were used to spice things up but I decided on a different take and blended in some grated orange rind instead which gave a glorious fresh tang. It couldn’t get any easier than this really, think ‘biscuit brownie cross’ and that pretty much sums these up. When baked, the biscuits have a beautiful cracked appearance with a soft fudgy centre and plenty of full-on chocolate flavour. Heaven.

Choc Orange Biscuits
Inspired from Scientifically Sweet

110g plain flour
45g unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tspn baking soda
¼ tspn salt
85g dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 egg
110g packed brown sugar
1/3 cup castor sugar
1 tspn vanilla extract
grated zest from 1 orange
75g melted butter

Heat the oven to 180c and line two trays with baking paper.

Sift all the dry ingredients into a bowl then stir through the chopped chocolate. In another bowl, stir together the egg, both sugars, vanilla extract and orange rind and mix with a fork until smooth. Now stir in the melted butter. Pour this mixture into the flour mixture and stir gently until it just comes together. Cover and put in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Roll tablespoons of the mix into balls and place on the trays, space them about 5cm apart. Bake until they start to crack and the edges feel set with a slight softness remaining in the centre, should take about 8-10 minutes. They will be fudgy in the middle but that’s OK. Put them on a wire rack to cool where they will set further. Makes 20.
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20 March 2015

Apricot Crumble Slice

This recipe is an oldie but definitely a goodie. It’s from the pages of a very old Women’s Weekly magazine and I used to make it quite regularly many years ago, it was one of my son’s favourites when he was a growing lad. So as he and his fiancĂ© were visiting us recently, I thought I would drag this one out of the archives for old times sake. Even after all these years it still went down a treat!

Apricot Crumble Slice
Recipe from a very old Australian Women’s Weekly

90g butter
1/3 cup raw sugar
1 egg
1½ cups plain flour

250g dried apricotrs, chopped
1½ cups water
2 tblspns raw sugar

½ cup plain wholemeal flour (I used white)
½ cup coconut
1/3 cup rolled oats
½ cup raw sugar
½ tspn mixed spice
125g butter, melted

Grease a 27cm x 21cm pan. Cream the butter and sugar together until creamy, then add the egg and beat until mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in the sifted flour. Press this down firmly and evenly into the tin and bake at 190c for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.

Combine the apricots and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered for around 15 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed and the apricots are tender. Stir in the sugar, remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

Combine all the topping ingredients together in a bowl and mix well.

Carefully spread the apricot filling over the base and sprinkle over the crumble topping. Bake at 190c for 20 minutes. Cool the slice in the pan before cutting.
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27 February 2015

Baked Plums with Ginger

As mentioned in a previous post, we have had so many plums from our little plum tree. I’ve given them away, made jam, made desserts and also had them every morning for breakfast. We had just enough left over for one last gasp … a delicious tray of baked plums with ginger. The original recipe used Marsala in the sauce but as I didn't have any, I substituted with a sweet, sticky dessert wine which worked well. Served with creamy Greek yoghurt, these were a treat worthy of our last taste of summer fruits.

Baked Plums with Ginger
Slighty adapted recipe from Italy on my Mind

10-12 plums, I used Narrabeen (original recipe used 6 nectarines, so you could do that too)
1½ tspns grated fresh ginger
50g brown sugar
juice of ½ lime
2 tblspns sweet dessert wine (original recipe used Marsala)
½ cup water

Halve the plums (or nectarines) and remove the stones. Heat the oven to 180c. Pop the plums into a bowl along with the ginger, sugar, lime juice and dessert wine. Give everything a good toss around until the plums are nicely coated. Place the plums cut side up in a roasting tray that has been lined with baking paper. Pour the water into the tray and bake for 20 minutes. Fruit should be cooked but still firm and retaining its shape. Serve the plums with the gorgeous sauce spooned over.
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21 February 2015

Garlic Toasts

There’s nothing more satisfying or enjoyable than an ice cold beer or wine as the sun is setting after a day working in the scorching heat. We were doing just that the other day when I had the sudden urge for garlic bread to go with it but wasn’t patient enough to go through the whole bread slicing, buttering and wrapping routine, not to mention having to wait for it to bake for 20 minutes! I remembered a recipe that I’d found on the Saveur website that required no baking and was the answer to my garlic bread craving. So easy, so quick and so scrumptious!

Garlic Toasts
Slightly adapted recipe from Saveur

6 slices ciabatta bread (or a baguette or in fact any bread you have)
4 tblspns unsalted butter, softened
½ tblspn olive oil
2-3 tblspns freshly grated parmesan (use more if you want it cheesier)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tblspns parsley, chopped
¼ tspn chilli flakes

Slice the ciabatta into 2cm slices. Really you could use up any bread that you have and slice it up whichever way you want. Combine the butter, oil, parmesan, garlic, chilli and parsley in a bowl. Toast one side of the bread then spread the other side with the garlic butter. Place under a hot grill for a few minutes until golden and bubbling. Serve immediately.
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12 February 2015

Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes

When the temperature is hovering around 40c as it has been here lately, the last thing you want to do is slave over a hot stove for too long or have the oven heating up the kitchen. This pasta dish with sweet cherry tomatoes is so easy and refreshing, a perfect dinner for a hot summer night. The only cooking required here is boiling up some pasta and by the time it’s cooked, the cool tomatoes are ready to be tossed through. Add as much shaved parmesan over the top as you like.

Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes

250g cherry tomatoes, mixed colours
2 tblspns olive oil
1 tblspn balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
handful fresh basil, roughly sliced
200g spaghetti
shaved parmesan

Get a large pot of salted water to boiling point then add the spaghetti. While that’s cooking, halve or quarter the cherry tomatoes and put in a bowl with the oil, balsamic, basil, salt and pepper and mix well. By now the spaghetti should be cooked so drain it and toss through the tomato mixture. Divide into two bowls and top with shaved parmesan. Serves 2.
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07 February 2015

Acqua Pazza

Acqua Pazza literally means ‘crazy water’ in Italian and I first came upon this dish at a wonderful little Italian restaurant in Osaka of all places! There, the fish was served whole in the most flavourful broth and was so melt in the mouth tender, it was just sublime. I scoured the internet in search of the recipe only to find that as usual, there are numerous ways to cook this Italian fisherman’s classic. I’ve only just now gotten around to giving it a go and decided on the chunky white fish fillet version. I also added the crunchy topping from yet another adaptation I came across and together, the result was delicious. Make sure you don’t cook the sauce down too much as you want to have some of that crazy water in your bowl, ready to be soaked up with some lovely crusty bread.

Acqua Pazza
Adapted from Italianicious

3 Roma tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
1 long red chilli, cut into 4 pieces
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 tblspn olive oil
2 pieces of chunky white fish
2 small sprigs thyme
about 10 Italian parsley leaves
100ml white wine
few basil leaves
pinch dried chilli flakes (optional)

1 tblspn pine nuts
1 tblspn freshly grated parmesan cheese
½ tblspn olive oil
handful of fresh breadcrumbs
1 tblspn chopped basil leaves

Get the breadcrumb mixture made first by whizzing up the pine nuts, parmesan, olive oil and basil in a food processor, then add the breadcrumbs and mix again until everything is combined. Spread this out on a tray and bake in the oven at 180c for about 10 minutes until dry and crispy, keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t brown too much. Set aside to cool.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and add the whole garlic cloves, chilli pieces and dried chilli flakes, cook for a minute. Now pop the fish into the pan and season with salt and pepper. After a minute, turn the fish then add the thyme, parsley leaves and wine to the pan. Simmer for a few minutes to evaporate slightly. Add the tomatoes, basil leaves and about 100ml of water to the pan, cover and simmer until the fish is cooked through.

Remove the fish to a plate and keep warm. Increase the heat and continue cooking the sauce until slightly reduced but not too much, you want to keep some liquid in the pan. Use a fork to crush the softened garlic cloves and mix through the sauce. Place the fish into serving dishes, spoon tomatoes on top and pour the sauce over the fish then sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture. Serves 2.
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02 February 2015

Plum Jam

The up side to having fruit trees is the ability to pick as much fresh fruit from the garden as you want. The down side to having fruit trees is also being able to pick as much fresh fruit as much as you want! It’s a double edged sword … having seasonal fruit in abundance, but not being able to use all of it. Having said that, I have lost about a third of my plum crop to the birds, despite covering the tree with netting, they seem to have a crafty way of still getting through and dining out at my expense. However, there are still plenty to go around and while we have been enjoying them for breakfast, lunch and dessert, there is only so much we can eat while they are still at their best. So I made up a batch of jam which turned out really well, setting beautifully and tasting great. I used the yellow fleshed Narrabeen plums but you could easily use the dark Satsuma variety instead which would give you that gorgeous deep ruby red colour.

Plum Jam

1.5kg plums
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup water
1kg sugar

Put the whole plums, lemon juice and water into a large pan and bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is soft and has broken down. Use a ladle to scoop the fruit into a sieve over a large bowl and press most of the pulp through, discarding the pips. Now tip all of the pulpy mixture back into saucepan and stir through the sugar. Have this at a low rolling boil for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking to the base. Every now and then, skim the white froth from the surface and discard.

Meanwhile, put a saucer into the freezer to get really cold. Wash your jars and place them into an oven at 150c for about 15-20 minutes to sterilize.

When the jam has been boiling for about 20 minutes, place a teaspoonful onto the cold saucer, leave for about 20 seconds, then use your finger to press it towards the centre from the side. If it wrinkles up and stays pretty much in position, then it’s done. If it still runs too much, continue to simmer the jam and try again 10 minutes later.

Once you’ve reach a satisfactory setting point, ladle the jam into the hot sterilized jars, seal and store. Makes 4 x 400ml jars.
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