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.