Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Summer Christmas Fruitcake

I found this recipe sometime shortly after Christmas 2007; the mixture of tropical fruits and whole nuts caught my eye. The cake is really simple, and unlike many "grape based" fruitcakes doesn't require you to soak the fruit in alcohol for hours or days in advance - but you do still need to be sufficiently organised to bake the cake a month before Christmas. For all the rum this cake is doused in, the rum flavour isn't overpowering, it's really quite delicious.

Summer Fruitcake
Makes 1 20 cm cake
Adapted from Under the High Chair; originally from Martha Stewart's Backhouse Family Fruitcake

170 g softened unsalted butter, plus more for pan
110 g cup raisins
130 g dried pineapple, chopped into1 cm inch pieces
160 g dried apricots, chopped
200 g dates, pitted and chopped
120 g dried paw paw
140 g whole blanched almonds
265 g whole Brazil nuts
210 g plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
240 g light-brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp allspice
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tbsp dark rum, plus more for dousing

Heat a conventional oven to 150°C. Brush a circular 20 cm cake pan with softened butter; line the bottom and sides of the pan with baking parchment.

Combine fruits and nuts in a bowl and set aside. Sift the flours, baking powder, and salt. In a second bowl cream butter and sugar until fluffy, then add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Add vanilla and rum. In two additions, add dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Fold in the fruit and nuts. Transfer the batter into pan. Bake until golden and set, about two and a half hours. Cover with foil if it colours too much.

Cool on wire rack. Remove from pan; discard parchment. Wrap in a clean linen tea towel. Brush all over with a quarter of a cup of dark rum. Store in a cool, dry place; douse with 3 tablespoons of rum weekly for at least 1 month before serving.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Lunch

We don't celebrate Christmas, but I do like to make an elaborate lunch once a year. This years required a fair bit of planning and incorporated lots of fresh seasonal fruit. The bread was an unexpected success, I've never worked such a wet dough by hand. The biggest disappointment was the ham glaze - it gave the ham a nice spicy flavour - but didn't melt into the glorious shiny coating I expected; the pickled cherries were great. The sorbets were fabulous, the nectarine was the better of the two and the cake was delicious - not at all like a typical Christmas cake - I'll post the recipe later in the week.

Acme's Herb Slabs (Artisan Baking - Maggie Glezer)
Hummous - Lebanese style (New Flavours of the Lebanese Table - Nada Saleh)
Beetroot Dip
Chicken Liver Parfait (jamie's kitchen - Jamie Oliver)

Leg Ham with Danks Street Glaze and Pickled Cherries (Danks Street Depot - Jared Ingersoll)
Rosemary-Rock Salt Roast Potatoes
Green Salad with Walnuts and Roasted Beetroot and an Orange Vinaigrette

Cherry Sorbet (The Perfect Scoop - David Lebovitz)
Nectarine Sorbet (The Perfect Scoop - David Lebovitz)
Fruit Cake

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

BBQ Tarragon Chicken

The massive tarragon looms behind the Webber

I have a French tarragon problem. This is the first year I've grown tarragon in my potted Canberra garden and my tarragon has thrived in the dry conditions. It grew massive, really truly humongous. I started to worry it might overshadow the lime tree it shares a pot with.

So I set out to find ways to use it. French tarragon has a bitter anise flavour, I tried it as a salad green but found the flavour was too powerful. I have found two other ways to use it. First I cut off a few handfuls, I carefully picked the leaves from stalks and fed them into my half-full bottle of white wine vinegar. I left the bottle of vinegar and leaves on the kitchen window sill for a couple of weeks and have been using it to make a simple vinaigrette with olive oil, it's lovely on a simple green salad.

My second successful tarragon experiment began when I bought a Webber Kettle BBQ at a charity garage sale. Now the afternoons are getting longer and it's too hot in the kitchen, it's nice to cook outdoors. I searched for recipes combining meats and tarragon and settled on a chicken tarragon combo. The tarragon and charcoal impart a delicious flavour on the meat, it's great hot or cold so it doesn't hurt to cook more than one bird at a time. We sometimes eat this chicken with BBQ baby potatoes roasted in duck fat and with thyme; plain roasted butternut pumpkin is good too.

I still have too much tarragon; but at least I'm working out what to do with it.

BBQ Tarragon Chicken
1 whole free range chicken 1-1.4 kg
1/2 cup loosely packed tarragon leaves
1 lemon
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp rock salt

Use kitchen shears or a knife to trim off the large deposits of fat around the chicken's cavity, then spatchcock the bird. A simple method is turn the chicken breast side down, then remove the spine by cutting down both sides of it. Flip the bird skin side up and press hard between the breasts to break the breast bone. Fold the wings in above the legs to help stop them from drying out or burning.

Peel the zest from the lemon, then cut the zest and tarragon into a rough dice. Feed about half of the tarragon and zest mixture under the skin of the chicken around the breasts and the thighs, the skin should lift away fairly easily around the edges. Make sure to pull the skin back over the meat when you are finished. Coat the skin side of the chicken with the oil, salt and the remaining tarragon/zest mixture. You can put the chicken back in the fridge for a few hours at this point if you need to.

If you're using a charcoal BBQ light it, when the coals are ashed over it's ready. Insert a meat thermometer though the leg and thigh of the chicken then place it in the centre of the BBQ and put the lid on. The chicken is cooked when the internal temperature reaches 77°C/170°F, which takes around 45-50 minutes.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Cherry pitting is slow and messy with a hand held tool like mine. I bought my Avanti cherry & olive pitter at the Salvation Army some time ago since with a plan to make cherry jam in summer. At first it only saw some scant action on olives, it really isn't much good for olives - it forces out a cylindrical plug of flesh and seed - you lose less olive by crushing the fruit with the back of your knife and peeling the flesh away from the seed. I used it to pit cherries for the first time Sunday, it's better at cherries than olives, it's easy to target the seed and I was able to pit a kilo of fruit in about 40 minutes, it would have been faster if the tool didn't lock in the half-open position so frequently. If I pitted cherries more than once a year I'd be looking for a better designed tool.

I could be convinced to make a lot more jam if I had one of these

And this is how the pros do it

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cherries Three Ways

One of the good things about living in Canberra is the abundance of local stone fruit available during the summer. Today's haul was a 5kg case of black cherries. One kilogram was gifted to The Accountant, one kilo pickled, one kilo turned into a boozy conserve to spoon over ice cream and cakes, and about 750 grams became jam and the rest were picked over and nibbled on - but many of the remainder were past there prime; at $3 a kilo I can't complain.

I like to store my preserves in French La Parfait preserving jars that I buy compulsively op-shops. I can't find a reasonably priced source for jar rings in Canberra or from any Australian online retailer, I got these lovely red ones in a supermarket some where on the journey from Toulouse over the Pyrenees; I need to work out a way to get some more! I label my preserves with Time Tape and Sharpie, it's something I picked up from the lab. Like the brochure says Time Tape is a paper tape that's oil, water and acid resistant, it stays sticky between -23 and 121 degrees Celsius; it peels off easily and at worst may get brittle after a couple of years, I have no idea how someone outside science or medicine could get some.

I pickled the cherries following the recipe in Jared Ingersoll's Danks Street Depot book. The recipe differs from other pickled cherry recipes where it calls for the cherries to added to the boiling vinegar and kept on the stove for 5 minutes. I got a 1L jar of pickled cherries and 300ml of extra pickling liquid. I won't know what they taste like 'til Christmas.

For the cherry jam, I used David Lebovitz' No-Recipe Cherry Jam guidelines; I had 3 cups of cherries stewed with the zest and juice of 2 lemons and added 2 cups of sugar. This made a 500ml jar with a tiny bit left over which was delicious mixed into vanilla ice cream.

Finally the cherry conserve was made using a recipe from a little cookbook published in 1983, written by English author Bridget Jones called Jams, Pickles and Chutneys. I have made about 1/3 of the recipes in this book and they have all been great. Due to an unforeseen shortage of brandy, half of the alcohol in mine was apple and pear eau de vie. These conserves will also remain closed 'til Christmas, but I trust Bridget enough to share the recipe

Cherry Conserve
Makes enough to fill a 1L jar
Jams, Pickles and Chutneys by Bridget Jones

1 kg sour cherries
1 kg white sugar
150 ml brandy or orange liqueur

Stone the fruit and place it in a large non-reactive saucepan with the sugar and alcohol. Stir the mixture over a low heat until the sugar dissolves and then bring the mixture to a boil. Once the mixture has reached boiling point reduce the temperature so it simmers gently. Let the mixture simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally, after the hour has passed the liquid should have reduced by about a third.

Pour the conserve into heat sterilised jars. Process in a water bath if you want to keep the conserve for more than 6 months. Allow the conserve to mature for about a month before eating.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Third Time Lucky Tea Cake

Tea cake II, with apples

I first made this tea cake on Sunday for a work do the Archivist was having on Monday, choosing apple tea cake to use up some small Fuji apples. I woke up at 6 am to bake this cake again for a friend from works' birthday morning tea - but thanks to a delivery mess-up I couldn't attend to try it, so I made it again this afternoon to have with friends tonight! The third time I made the cake I had finished all the apples and had to make it with Packham pears - yum.

I grabbed a recipe from the internet Sunday night, using the internet recipes has bitten me on the arse on several occasions, the tea cake recipe that I used for the base of my recipe is from the head chef at Fifteen in Melbourne - Tobbie Puttock. -I seriously doubt that the recipe was tested as written since the cooking time is completely wrong (fan-forced vs. conventional electric can't explain the 30 extra minutes it takes to bake this cake - not that the recipe specifies an oven type anyway!) and the batter over-leavened so the fruit disappeared beneath the surface of the baked cake. I've had three attempts to perfect my version, and my changes produce a lovely cake with golden caramelised fruit.

Tea Cake
Makes 8-10 serves
Based on Tobie Puttock's apple and cinnamon tea cake

95 g softened unsalted butter
125 g cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
175 g cups self raising flour
150 ml milk
2-3 small apples or pears
3 tsp cinnamon sugar or 2 tsp sugar and 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
30 g unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 200°C; grease and line a 20cm (8 inch) round baking tin with baking paper. Cream the softened butter and sugar in a large bowl, add the vanilla and the egg. Alternately add the flour and milk to the mix and beat until smooth. Spread the thick mix to evenly cover the base of the pan.

Peel, quarter, and core the apples and then slice the quarters into thin wedges and place over lapping slices in a wheel pattern on the top of the cake, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the apples. If using pears leave the peel on, but otherwise the preparation is the same.

Place into the middle of the oven and bake for 55-60 minutes (check the cake 10 minutes sooner for a fan-forced oven). Check to see if the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer, if it's cooked it should come out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and let cool in the baking tin for a further 10 minutes, melt the remaining 30 grams of butter and brush over the top of the cake. Then turn the cake out of the pan to cool apple side up. This cake is nice warm, and is best eaten on the day of baking.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Spicy Lentil Soup

The Archivist had to get a wisdom tooth removed; the procedure wasn't especially traumatic by his account, but the dentist recommended soft foods be eaten on the following day. I love soups and braises, and the weather here had turned unseasonally mild. For lunch I made a soup inspired by one my mum used to like to make - using a can of Sanitarium Savoury Lentils and a can of tomato soup with some fresh vegetables added; my version uses some short cuts but is far more satisfying. I used half green and half Australian puy lentils, the puy held up well to the long cooking time and and green started to disintegrate making the tomatoey broth rich and hearty.

Spicy Lentil Soup
Makes 6 serves

1 tbsp olive oil
2 small brown onions, diced
3 small carrots, cut in half length ways and into half-moons
1 cup of celery, cut into crescents
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
1.5 liters chicken or vegetable stock or water
300 g lentils
3 small potatoes, diced into 2 cm cubes
600 ml tomato passata
1 zucchini, cut in half and into half-moons

Sweat the onion, carrot and celery in olive oil in a saucepan of about 3 liter capacity over a low heat, the onions should turn translucent and the vegetables should soften - if the vegetables stick or brown the pan is too hot. Grind the cumin, coriander and black pepper, add these spices and the paprika to the pan. When the spices are fragrant add the stock, lentils, potatoes and passata and let simmer over a low heat for about an hour and a half. Add the zucchini about 10 minutes before serving, other delicate green vegetables like broccoli or baby peas could also be added at this point. Add salt to taste.

This soup reheats well, but you may need to add some water on the second day. It also freezes well.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sunday Pizza

The Archivist and I both enjoy pizza, so about once a month we make some from scratch. I've been using an easy dough recipe I tore from a magazine, possibly Australian Gourmet Traveller, in the late 1990s which always works beautifully - but I think I will try Peter Reinhart's Napoletana Pizza Dough next time. November's pizza featured my home-made pizza sauce, mozzarella, Italian sausage, and green olives; October was an Australian favourite - ham and fresh pineapple and September was prosciutto, parmesan and rocket.

If you happen to be in Canberra, lovely peppery Italian sausage is available at the Go Troppo Fruit Market in the Jamison Centre, Macquarie.

Tomato Sauce for Pizza

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, red or brown
3 cloves of garlic
A pinch of chilli flakes
1 400g tin of tomatoes
1 tbsp fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, marjoram)

Dice the onion, crush and dice the garlic and finely chop the herbs. Pour the oil into a small saucepan and place over a low heat. Add the onion, garlic and chilli and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Crush the tomatoes and add to the pan with the chopped herbs, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Leave the sauce to simmer gently for about 20-25 minutes stirring occasionally. The tomatoes will reduce to a paste like consistency - perfect for spreading on pizza.

This amount of sauce is ideal for the amount of pizza base yielded by the following recipe.

Roman-style Pizza Base
Makes three 28 cm pizzas

3 cups/500 g of bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp white sugar
2 tsp of instant dried yeast or 15 g fresh compressed yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
2 tbsp olive oil

Mix the dry ingredients (if using fresh yeast dissolve in the water) in a large bowl, make a well in the centre, add the water and oil and mix. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board or bench and knead until it is smooth and elastic, usually about 5 minutes. Put the dough into an oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth and leave it in a warm spot until it has doubled.

Preheat the oven to 230 to 250 degrees Celsius. Punch down the risen dough and divide into three portions, and shape using your hands or a rolling pin- each portion will make a 28 cm round pizza. Spread over tomato sauce and leave to rise again for 10 to 15 minutes on a oiled baking tray or in a cast iron fry pan - which is my preferred method. Add toppings and bake in the very hot oven until the crust is golden brown; or bake the base and assemble after removing from the oven for a combination like prosciutto, parmesan and rocket.