24 Jul 2016

individual bread + butter puddings

Since we’re all about putting your own spin on things chez Dig In, here’s a neat twist to an old favourite: individual B&B puddings. I would say guaranteed portion control, but as I ate two hot out of the oven and two later than night, fridge-cold and creamy, that’s not really valid.

I got the idea from a library book; one of those London bakery–café books that are very popular (or at least plentiful on my library’s shelves). I remember thinking ‘individual puddings — how cute!’. I probably also thought ‘portion control!’ but that, as I said, has been massively disproven.

I didn’t copy out the recipe because I have my own that’s my ‘go-to’. This time I used torn-up panettone sploshed liberally with sherry, then I poked in some chunks of rich medjool dates, and to the custard I added the zest of an orange. It was a fine combination of flavours, hot or cold.
And cute — very. As I tucked into my first one, I thought that these were definitely brunch-style café offerings. I imagined them served on a shiny white plate with an artful dollop of greek yoghurt and maybe a swirl of blueberry compote around the plate — and a hefty trendy-café price tag. I’m getting carried away, because these are not pretentious at all! They were just a very good spin on a traditional pudding.

So I’m not going to give you a recipe — as I said, I used my go-to and I’m sure you also have a family favourite. The point therefore of this post is perhaps to inspire you to play around with your favourite too.
Individual bread + butter puddings

Instead of cooking these in a bain marie, which is standard B&B pudd practice, I simply lowered the temperature to 160. I made 8, and they took about 30 minutes to cook.

A note to self: use papers to line the tins next time. Perhaps those café style muffin papers that are like a plain piece of parchment pushed in to the tin, all folded and pointy. That would make them easier to remove and make the tin easier to clean!

17 Jul 2016

vanilla + thyme roasted pears


Cooking day. Lentilaise again, this time with my own roasted tomatoes, frozen at the peak of their summer richness. A handful of dried lentils.
 

And blitzing all the base veg (including some broccoli stalks — extra greens!) in the food processor first. An even better version.



Trays of roast veg: dad’s pumpkin, spiked with lemon zest and Moroccan spices. Kipfler potatoes, just salt and rosemary — so good. I kept gobbling them, hot from the baking tray, even though they were meant for weeknight dinners.




Then roasted pears. The week before I’d roasted the pears with harissa and lemon zest, alongside parsnips and pumpkin. But this time I followed a tip off from Lizzy and enjoyed a gorgeous after-dinner treat — and a perfect send-off for the last of dad’s beurre bosc pears. Honeyed, herby and meltingly tender fruit soaking in a rich speckled syrup. I may have to buy some pears to make this again.

Vanilla + thyme roasted pears
Adapted from Liliana’s Kitchen.
  • Preheat oven to 180.
  • Halve and core 4 beurre bosc pears and add them to a baking dish so they are one snug layer, cut side up.
  • In a heatproof jug, combine ¼ cup honey, ½ cup boiled water, the juice of ½ a lemon, and ½ tspn speckly vanilla paste.
  • Pour this over the pears (scraping out those speckles) and sprinkle over some fresh lemon thyme leaves from a few sprigs. Place a small dot of butter in each pear’s hollow.
  • Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Then remove the foil, baste the pears in the juices (you can even turn the pears over if you wish) before returning to oven, uncovered, and cooking for another 20 minutes or so, until fruit is tender.

18 Jun 2016

mid-winter hiatus

Life is topsy-turvy at the moment. My brain is fizzed; I have no creative energy nor time to travel around to everyone else's wonderful blogs. So Dig In is having a small hibernation; hopefully only 3 or 4 weeks. Please don't forget me, please check back soon; and please keep warm and dry over winter - or enjoy a lovely northern summer.
e

12 Jun 2016

garden ramble: frost and rain

As I write this, it is raining gently, it is damp and muggy, and everything is a bit soggy. The weather has been wild everywhere, and while my patch of the world is getting off lightly … can it stop now?

This week has been warm (for Hobart, for this time of year) with days of rain and cloudy skies and low light (and no light). Rain tanks and gauges are full. The last autumn leaves lay abandoned in puddles, and my candy-floss-pink camellia is now a sad, sodden mess.

But all this came after a week of dry, severe frosts and desperately low temperatures. Each day, I would email mum and dad a report: ‘frost bigger than yesterday!’. I love the stark silence of a big frost, just as I love snow-on-the-mountain — as long as I’m not out in it.

So measures were needed for those of us who were outside. Every morning I broke through the ice on my bird baths: sometimes a thin crystalline layer; once, thick and nearly solid. And every day after work, sometimes in bone-chilling dark, I draped my still-tender passionfruit vines in old paint sheets; each morning, I unpegged the sheets that once or twice were stiff and crunchy. Ah, the things we do for our fruit and veg.

But in other parts of the garden, there are promises of warmer, brighter days: the spring bulbs are sending up their green shoots. I even have one small tantalising clump of jonquil buds:

Mum already has snowdrops (or snowflakes?) on show, and a neighbour of hers has fully bloomed jonquils! Poor confused bulbs — but what a joyous sight they must be on these bleak, damp days.

I hope you and your plants are safe, no matter what that crazy, contrary woman Mother Nature is throwing at you.
A delicate winter blossom

5 Jun 2016

On tweaking

No recipes this week; how could I when everything I make lately seems to depart, by accident or design, from the original printed word?

I am, as mum herself has said, my mother’s daughter — I’ve inherited the ability to look at a recipe and assess if something doesn’t quite read right, or could do with a little improvement, before I’ve even picked up a knife or turned on the oven. Or — as I’m sure most of us do — juggle and wiggle with quantities or ingredients or cooking times as we go along, to suit what we have on hand or what we’d like to taste or what just feels right.

So I told you last time that I added extra veg to Annabel’s lentilaise; and did some quick thinking during the cooking to get the texture just right. I enjoyed the final tasty dish so much I’ll make it again this winter, probably with further refinements and additions each time.

Above is a tuna pasta bake that, while tasty and filling, was utterly ordinary and not really worth repeating or indeed mentioning here, except for the fact that I used the recipe merely as a very rough guide for flavours and process — but abandoned the quantities entirely. Otherwise I would have been knee-deep in tuna pasta, for weeks to come; the volumes seemed so generous, so vast — for only four servings! (Who are these people with monstrous appetites?). Strangely though, I needed to ramp up the chilli and lemon zest, even in my much reduced pot.

Finally, the mother of all recent tweaks, this oaty cakey thing that was so loosely adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe that even she would not recognise it.

Mum and I agree that Martha recipes are never straightforward. We’ve both made her recipes essentially unaltered, and instead of the 72 biscuits Martha predicts, we end up with … 12. Or the cake is supposed to fill a large tray, yet in our kitchens, barely stretches to a modest slice tin.

But mostly with Martha recipes, it’s the sweetness. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and tend to under-measure sugar in most of my recipes, but I would defy even the most ardent sugar-sweetie lover to put 2 ½ teaspoons of vanilla into a normal-sized cake. Yes — 2 ½! Are your teeth on edge just thinking about that? That’s on top of the 2 cups of brown sugar! Naturally, I downsized this to the more standard 1 teaspoon.

Maybe even Martha had second thoughts, because the recipe then called for 1 ½ teaspoons of salt. What?! Does that not fizz your brain too? And I wonder (as I do every time, just before I vow never to make another Martha recipe): are these Martha-isms? Does she like extreme flavours? Or is it a cultural thing (I tend to find American recipes on the sweet side)? Or is a me thing?

After these and other adjustments, the resulting cake was surprisingly good (I was prepared for a dud on my hands, despite my confidence in my juggling skills). I was most surprised when my work colleagues whom I fed this too raved about it — one even said it was better than the nutella cake!

But all this tweaking on my feet has left me exhausted. I’m yearning for a cake I don’t have to second guess, a casserole I don’t have to rescue, biscuits that will work. So I’ve returned to some winter faves: my orange ricotta cupcakes, and soon, my syrupy orange upside cake.

Happy tweaking to you all!


29 May 2016

lentilaise



At the supermarket I saw a harried looking woman rudely shoving great handfuls of snow peas into a plastic bag. I was stunned by the force that she handled the peas with — especially considering they were $16 a kilo. At that price, I’d be picking them out more tenderly (at that price, I left them on the shelf).
 
Then I turned to the broccoli, were I saw another woman brutally snap off the stalks and throw them back in the bins before thundering off. I wanted to say something about the stalks being just as delicious, and discarding them was wasteful, but she looked like she might be just as brutal to me.
 
I was shocked at the disrespect, anger and thoughtlessness of those shoppers! Now that I’m buying most of my veg, I make sure I’m choosing the best quality for my money — I don’t want bruised or tattered greens — but I also think of the farmers who grew the produce, and respect their hard work to give me food.

***
 
So moving into winter means buying veg, and it means making heartier dishes like this one. The weather has been strangely, wonderfully mild (punctuated by the odd frigid day), but this week the temperatures plummeted properly, and something more substantial than a roast vegie salad was called for (though that is not to be sneezed at).
 
I finally made some ‘lentilaise’, the legume version of bolognaise. If you’re counting your five a day, this does it, plus some: a base of onions and garlic and carrots and celery and capsicum; chunks of parsnip and wedges of mushrooms; and finally the lentils and some tinned tomatoes and lots of parsley and marjoram (or oregano? I can’t tell the difference).
 
I thought it should have been tomato-ier, but it’s been a long time since I made bolognaise to remember exactly what it should be like; maybe too I was confusing this with a richer pasta sauce. And next time I would use less carrot (carrotaise?); it was a bit too sweet and orange, and I needed to add more of those woody herbs and a tad more tomato paste to balance that.
 
But overall, this bubbling big pot of goodness was winter comfort food. I served it with some fluffy brown rice … and green peas (normal ones) and broccoli (stalks and all).
 
Lentilaise
Adapted from Annabel Crabb’s ‘Special delivery’. I added capsicum and parsnip to the list of vegies. Next time I would blitz the onion, carrot and celery in the food processor first, as my 'finely diced' was still rather chunky; I did an awkward thing of fishing out the parsnip and mushroom chunks then ladling the sauce into my food processor to refine it, then ladling it back into the pot…
  • In a large heavy casserole pot, heat a generous amount of olive oil and add these vege that you have finely chopped or food-processed: one onion, 2 stalks of celery, 1-2 carrots and half a yellow capsicum. Also add some small chunks of parsnip. Put the lid on and cook away till the finer veg is soft (the parsnip will take longer).
  • Once that base veg is soft, add at least 2 tbspns tomato paste, 3 fat cloves of garlic that you’ve chopped or sliced, 150-175 gms mushrooms that you’ve chopped, and a good slosh of wine (I used white). Give it a good stir and pop the lid on to cook for a few more minutes.
  • Now add a tin of chopped tomatoes; then half-fill the tin with water and swish that in too. Add a good pinch of salt and generous amounts of flavoursome herbs like marjoram/oregano and parsley. I used fresh herbs because I still have them growing in the garden, but Annabel specified 1 tspn of dried Italian herbs.
  • Let this simmer away until your parsnip, the hardier of the ingredients, is tender. Then add a drained 400 gm tin of lentils and heat thru, plus more chopped parsley. Serve with love and respect.

15 May 2016

garden ramble: rain and plantings


Looks cold...
Rain. Rain, rain and more rain. Yes finally — it’s raining! And proper big wet stuff, stuff that’s last longer than the usually fleeting moment, where you think ‘oh, it’s raini—’ and it stops before you even finish the thought. No, for the past week, we have had bucket loads, rain gauges full of the stuff. I even found myself thinking quite a blasphemous thought one night, as I brushed my teeth and listened to the pounding on the roof: oooh it could stop a bit now; I don’t want my garlic to rot.

Because the garlic is, like the rain, seemingly unstoppable. I’d barely poked the cloves in the ground and they were poking back up again! There are 33 of the 35 leafy garlic shoots standing proud and upright (except for the one I trod on last weekend). Such a strong crop, so I have high hopes of a good bounty later in the year. As long as they don’t rot with all this strange rain.

I’ve also put in six sprouting broccoli plants. I love broccoli, and a couple of years ago I grew the purple sprouting variety, which was so pretty. This is normal green stuff, but will be just as delicious. Grow little seedlings!

The passionfruit vine is also very vigorous, and is still producing flowers and fruit, which I have pegged so they’re easier to spot amongst the lush greenery. All I need to do now is watch for frost warnings, so I can go out and swaddle my tender baby. I’m not sure at what age I stop wrapping the vines up, but I’m not taking any risks. Hopefully frost is a little while off, though after a very warm autumn, we hit the cold — or it hit us — with a bang; we’ve already had two big dumpings of snow on the mountain. Tassie weather is so changeable, and always a source of speculation and conversation.
Autumn colour for Jem in Brisbane

Moving out of the vegie garden and into the ornamental side of things, dad planted my four new grevillea plants. I hope these will grow into trees and bushes that provide colour for me, and nectar and spiky habitat for birds.
The varieties are copper rocket, which promises hot pink flowers (one of my favourite colours) throughout the year; and flora mason and semperflorens, with softer coloured pink and apricot flowers, again with a long flowering season. It’s easy to have flowers for birds and bees in the spring and summer, but having some food to attract and nourish them in the cooler months can be a challenge. Though this big blue salvia is proving me very wrong:

Finally I leave you with some winter colour, and an example of Mother Nature doing her best to prove that concrete driveways are no match for a determined lion’s plant. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.



 

8 May 2016

nutella cake


Happy birthday to us!
Let’s celebrate with a big fluffy chocolatey cake smothered with the fudgiest icing ever! Hip hip hooray!

Nutella cake
Adapted from a Women’s Weekly recipe. The recipe specified a deep 22cm round tin; I don’t have one of those, so I used a deep 20 cm and made four little muffins. My friend M, who first made this cake, topped hers with tart red raspberries; I went for spangly silver cachous. Best shared with people singing and oohing and ahhing.

  • Prep your tin (see above) and preheat oven to 180.
  • In a small jug, combine ½ cup cocoa, ½ cup boiling water and a pinch of salt, and stir until it’s a beautiful chocolate slurry.
  • In a large bowl (and if you have a freestanding mixer, use that), beat 185 gms soft butter with ¾ cup white sugar, ¾ cup brown sugar and 1 tspn vanilla.
  • Beat in 3 eggs, then the chocolate slurry (enjoy the swirly patterns!), ½ cup nutella, and 180 mls buttermilk (enjoy the mousse-like texture!). At this point, it is entirely reasonable to have a sneaky taste test. Or two.
  • Now use a wooden spoon to fold thru 1 ½ cups SR flour and ½ cup plain flour. Remember to lick the beaters once you’re finished with your mixer. After all, it’s your birthday.
  • Pour this beautiful batter into your tin and bake for 1 ¼ hours until done. You may need to cover the cake partway through to prevent the top from burning.
  • Once baked, cool on a wire rack in the tin.
  • Meanwhile, gently melt 200gms of dark cooking chocolate, then stir in 1 cup nutella (I actually had slightly less than these quantities, but it turned out very well). Allow to cool a little, then turn out your cake, and pour over the icing. Decorate as you wish — and enjoy!