Saturday, November 30, 2013

Lovely Lemon Lusciousness

Today I decided to go really old school and bake a very simple, traditional recipe that is not only absolutely delicious, but is also super economical to make. If you or a neighbour has a lemon tree, and you can score some free lemons, it will be even more economical. My old fashioned lemon bars only use a few basic ingredients - but the result is a moist, sweet and tangy treat perfect for afternoon tea, or served with a scoop of ice cream or freshly whipped cream for a lovely dessert.

A luscious sweet treat deserves a pretty plate I say, so I served them on one of my favourite plates - a lovely green and white vintage number - one of a pair that I found in a flea market in Paris. I was on my honeymoon when I found them and every time I use those plates I get all nostalgic thinking of walking the streets of that gorgeous city - and the brilliant time we had. These are my instant feel good plates!

So give these beautiful old fashioned lemon bars a try - and I warn you, they are extremely moreish.

Old Fashioned Lemon Bars

You will need:
For the base: 150g soft butter, 1& 1/2 cups plain flour, 4 eggs, Juice and rind of 2 lemons, 1 & 1/2 cups caster sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt.

For the topping: 2 cups icing sugar, Juice and rind of 1 lemon.

Method: Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a shallow brownie/slice tin with baking paper.

Beat together the flour, sugar, salt and butter.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, lemon juice and lemon zest.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and beat for about 2 minutes. Pour into the lined tin. Note: The mixture will not really rise, so don't choose a tin that is too large, otherwise your lemon bars will be flat as a pancake.

Bake for about 30 minutes. Test with a skewer in the centre of the mixture. If it comes out clean, it's cooked.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

To make the glaze/topping, combine the icing sugar and lemon juice (add more icing sugar or water to make a spreadable consistency if you need to)

Spread the topping evenly over the lemon base, sprinkle the lemon rind over the top. Allow for the topping to set and cut into squares or bars.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pumpkin Pie - Danish/Scottish/Australian Style!

Today's dish has had an interesting journey to get to you - from Denmark - via Scotland, via Australia. The original recipe was passed on to me from my sister, who lives in the Highlands of Scotland. Where she is in the Northern Hemisphere, they have recently celebrated the old festival of Samhain, a celebration marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter on October 31. This old Pagan festival has morphed into what is celebrated around the world in modern times as Halloween. Foods of the harvest are traditionally shared at this time of the year, with pumpkin being a very common ingredient to go into Samhain celebration dishes.

Andrew has been asking me to make a pumpkin pie for a while, and so when my sister sent me a Danish pumpkin pie recipe this week that she had made and recommended - and we had a glut of pumpkin at our house - I thought it was a great time to give it a try. I made a few changes to the original recipe, omitting the brandy (not being brandy drinkers, we didn't have any in the house so I just left it out), tweaking the dairy and spice component and adding vanilla, as well as a pecan/hazelnut pastry base.

You could easily use store bought plain shortcrust pastry for this recipe if you wanted to simplify the preparation, but if you have time, the nutty base is really delicious and adds another taste and texture element to the dish. I used a mixture of ground hazelnut and pecans - just because I had them in the pantry. I blitzed the nuts in the food processor until they were blended finely. You could use almond meal too if you liked.

Pumpkin Pie
with Hazelnut & Pecan Pastry

The pumpkin pie is rich, so I served it in quite small slices, dusted with a little icing sugar and eaten with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, a few walnuts and a drizzle of maple syrup. It would also be great with some thick cream on the side, dusted with some praline.

The very warm, spicy aroma of this dish remind me very much of traditional Christmas flavours. The pumpkin pie would be a great addition to a Christmas dinner - or if you are in the States, Thanksgiving.  Although the flavours are rich, the texture is light, so it gives you lots of taste without heaviness. You could also do little individual tarts which would look fantastic.

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween or Samhain - or even if you are not - this is a delicious dish to serve and share.

Pumpkin Pie
served with walnuts & maple syrup

You will need:

For the pastry - 2 1/2 cups plain flour, 1/3 cup caster sugar, 1/2 cup ground hazelnuts, 1/2 cup ground pecans, 175g chilled butter, 2 egg yolks, 2 tablespoons iced water.

For the filling - 500g peeled pumpkin, 175g brown sugar, 4 eggs, 2 cups cream, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon salt.


Chop the pumpkin into cubes and steam until very soft (I do this by putting the cubes of pumpkin on a large flat plate, covering with plastic wrap and cooking on high in the microwave for about 6 minutes - you do not need to add any water at all) Place the cooked pumpkin in a strainer for at least 30 minutes and allow the excess moisture to drain away.

In the meantime, make the pastry. Place the flour, sugar, nuts and butter in a food processor and blend until just combined.

Whisk together the egg yolks and cold water. Add to the flour mixture and process until it mixes and then forms a large ball of dough. Do not over process your mixture.

Turn the ball of dough onto a floured board and knead gently until the dough holds together well. Shape into a rough disc shape, cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.

Once the pastry has rested, roll the pastry flat and line a pie dish. Bake at 180C for about 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and set aside.

To make the filling, put the pumpkin and all of the other filling ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. The consistency will be quite runny - don't be concerned - it will firm up during the cooking process.

Pour the filling into the pastry case.

Bake the pie at 180C for about 1 1/4 hours. Allow to cool before dusting with icing sugar. I serve mine with walnuts, a drizzle of maple syrup and a scoop of cream or ice cream.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Night Capers

It's been raining like crazy all day today, so it has been spent cosying up indoors, listening to the rain on the roof and enjoying a luxurious lazy Sunday afternoon. As dinnertime approached, I wanted something tasty robust tasting and comforting - but that didn't require slow cooking or lots of fuss. This dish of pan fried pork cutlet with a zingy and delicious lemon caper sauce fit the bill perfectly, especially when served with some creamy mash and beautiful seasonal asparagus. It was quick to put together, but didn't scrimp on flavour or the comfort food factor.

Andrew reminded me this week that the very first meal I ever cooked him at home was pork cutlets with caper sauce and how much he enjoyed it. I haven't really made it since, which is surprising, as this classic sauce is so simple to do and it tastes delicious. It adds a special element to an otherwise quite simple meal - and you can even make up the butter and freeze it so you have it on hand whenever you feel like it - really worth doing.

This butter based sauce works beautifully with rich meat such as pork, or if you like seafood, salmon steaks or any robust, firm fleshed fish. The acidity and saltiness of the capers, lemon and a touch of anchovy cuts through the richness of the meat, giving a lovely vibrancy to the dish. This is so easy, it barely warrants being called a recipe! Give it a try.

Pan fried pork cutlet
with lemon & caper sauce

You will need:
1-2 pork cutlets per person, 3 tablespoons butter,1 clove finely chopped or crushed garlic, 2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley, 2 teaspoons finely chopped capers (I use the baby ones), 2 anchovies chopped and mashed, 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, pinch of cayenne pepper, salt and pepper.

Combine all ingredients except the pork in a small saucepan. Set aside.

Season the pork. Pan fry or BBQ the pork until cooked as desired. I like it to retain a touch of pinkness in the middle, so it stays succulent. Let the pork rest for 5 minutes.

While the pork is resting, heat the butter in a small saucepan until it melts. Add any of the meat juices from the rested cutlets. Drizzle the butter over the pork just prior to serving (or serve in a small bowl so people can dish up their own sauce)

This dish is delicious with a creamy potato mash and a fresh green vegetable such as asparagus, green beans or broccoli.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Fast & Fresh Friday

It's Friday, it's been a long week and you want something quick, simple and delicious to serve for dinner, right? Well look no further than this packed with flavour dish of Peri-Peri prawns, served with a quick to put together Chimichurri sauce. I cooked mine on the BBQ - which I think gives the prawns that great, charred BBQ taste - but of course you can do this on a grill pan on the stove if you like. Have the BBQ/pan very hot - you want the prawns to cook fast so they are nice and caramelised on the outside, whilst still remaining succulent and sweet inside.

Only choose the freshest prawns - and avoid the imported ones that are flooding our seafood market. If they have travelled a long way to get to your plate, they are unlikely to be a high quality product. A good fishmonger should have all of  their seafood clearly labelled and be able to tell you where their seafood comes from - and if they don't, find another fishmonger!

If prawns aren't your thing, this dish would work beautifully with squid, or any firm fleshed fish too - even a combo would make a great seafood platter. The Chimichurri sauce can also be easily adapted to your taste - feel free to amp up the chilli component if you like it extra spicy, or adjust the vinegar/oil component to suit you. As with all cooking, the golden rule is to taste as you go, and tweak the flavours until you are satisfied with the result.

The basic Chimichurri sauce I have included here is a good one to have up your sleeve, as it works with pretty much any kind of meat or seafood you can think off - particularly the BBQ kind. For vegetarians, it is delicious on grilled eggplant, zucchini or pumpkin. It keeps in the fridge for a few weeks too, so make a big batch during BBQ season so you can have it on hand and ready to serve.

Peri-Peri Prawns
with Chimichurri

You will need:
For the prawns:  About 1kg fresh king prawns in the shell, 1 tablespoon fresh paprika, 1 teaspoon minced chilli (more if you like it spicy), 1 cloves minced or finely chopped garlic,1 teaspoon sea salt, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 tablespoons warm water.

For the  Chimichurri: 200ml olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, 100ml white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon minced chilli (or more if you like it spicy), 1 cup flat leaf parsley, 1 teaspoon oregano, salt to season, a little warm water.

First, make the Chimichurri - put all of  the ingredients in a food processor and process for a few seconds until combined. It the mixture is not liquid enough, add a small amount of warm water. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Remove the shells from the prawns, leaving the tail and the head intact (I do this, as it adds to the flavour and also looks better for presentation - but  if you are really in a rush, just remove the whole shell & head) Remove the digestive tract by making a small incision by the head and using a skewer to pull it out. Set the prawns aside.

In a bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients for the prawns - paprika, chilli, garlic, salt, olive oil and warm water. mix together and then pour over the prawns. Gently combine the prawns with the marinade, mixing well. Cover and allow to marinate in the fridge for at least half an hour. (you can do this overnight if you prefer)

Cook the prawns on a hot BBQ or grill pan, taking care not to overcook them. Serve with the Chimichurri and crusty bread.

Serves 2-4 people


Friday, November 1, 2013

Hazelnut Meringue-A-Rama

Whilst sweet things are not generally my favourite dishes to cook or to eat, I do admit that I love anything remotely meringue-like. Whether they are crispy or mallow-ish, creamy like the Italian style meringue, bite size or king size, I love them. I will say no to cake, but always say yes to pavlova, or pretty meringues in a cake shop window. Today I had a day off and thought I would have a go at making a hazelnut meringue, which is my absolute favourite kind.

The nuts add a great texture dimension, as well as that heavenly hazelnut taste. You could make individual meringues, but today I went with a large round one, which I decided to serve with Chantilly cream and fresh strawberries, which are in season now and are particularly good. I confess that I cracked the meringue a bit when getting it from the tray to the serving dish, but the beauty of this sort of dish is that you can hide any cracks under a delicious topping. No dramas.

The Chantilly cream is very easy to make, (you could add some cocoa to it if you wanted a chocolate cream) but I beg you not to use that awful fake vanilla essence in this recipe - or any other for that matter. Invest in proper vanilla extract - it is worth the few extra dollars I promise. Fake vanilla essence is the work of Satan and has no place in the kitchen, except for cleaning the inside of your fridge with.

Although this dish needs over an hour in the oven, it is actually quite simple, so worth giving a go - even if like me , you aren't really the baking type. You could get really creative with the toppings too - roasted nuts, shaved chocolate, different kinds of seasonal fruit. Drizzling it with raspberry or chocolate sauce would be lovely too. You could also shape the meringue to be taller than mine, if you wanted it to be more pavlova like.

Bon Appetit!

Hazelnut Meringue
with Chantilly Cream & Strawberries

You will need: 4 free range egg whites, 1 cup caster sugar, 1 cup ground hazelnuts, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, 2 teaspoons cornflour, 300ml whipping cream, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 2 tablespoons icing sugar, 1 punnet strawberries.

Method: Preheat the oven to 120C. Line an oven or pizza tray with baking paper.

In a very clean, dry, metal or ceramic bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, a tablespoon full at a time and continue to beat until all combined. Add the cornflour and vinegar until mixed through.

Gently fold in the hazelnuts until evenly mixed. Transfer the mixture to the baking tray and using a spoon or spatula, form the meringue to the desired shape. I build up the sides a little for presentation purposes and for ease of serving later.

Wipe any excess off the baking paper. Bake meringue for 1 hour and 15 minutes. When it is done, turn off the oven and allow the meringue to cool there, without removing it. You can leave the oven door slightly ajar to speed up the process a bit.

In a bowl, combine the cream, sugar and vanilla extract. Beat together until firm enough to spread. Use this to top the cooled meringue. Finish with the strawberries and serve.

Serves 6-8 people