Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Saturday Night Dinner Party

On the weekend I had a couple of friends & their son over for a bit of a dinner party. As I have just started doing ‘dinners’ again I went all out & spent the day in a baking/cooking frenzy. I thought all of the food was delicious & intend to keep all the recipes to make again & again. In particular the flatbread was so easy & the flavour combinations you could come up with are endless though the garlic & rosemary will be hard to beat, even Chloe loved it, the other little boy didn’t. I am very impressed, Chloe seems to already have an advanced palate, accepting tastes that other kids seem to just spit out. Her is the menu

To start with, the above mentioned Garlic & Rosemary Oil Flatbread, (note I did use the salt as I love the stuff)

For the main course we had Salmon en croute with pea puree served with mashed potato & a garden (from mine!) salad. I though it looked very pretty with the contrast of the pink salmon against the bright green pea mixture all enclosed in the golden brown flaky pastry. It was quite easy to prepare too, I made the pea puree & crème fraiche mixture earlier in the day so all I had to do was assemble & cook when needed. I wasn’t game to do this before as I wasn’t sure if the salmon would make the pastry go all soggy & uncrispable, it would be even better if you could have the whole dish ready to just whack in the oven at the last minute. I loved it though it was a bit on the dry side as I forgot to serve with the lovely crème fraiche herb mix on the side, I kicked myself when I remembered as it was also so delicious & really would have brought the whole dish together, oh well maybe next time I will have my head together & actually get it out of the fridge.

Salmon en croute with Pea Puree

Based on the recipe in a recent Delicious issue

3 cups podded fresh or frozen peas
1 tbspn each chopped mint & flat leaf parsley
200g crème fraiche
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
4 spring onions, finely chopped
4 puff pastry sheets, thawed
Plain flour, to dust
800g piece salmon, skinned, pin-boned (preferably center cut)
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 180c. Place a baking tray inside the oven & allow to heat up. Cook peas in a pan of boiling salted water for 5-6 minutes or 3 minutes if frozen. Drain & cool slightly.

Meanwhile, combine the mint and parsley with the crème fraiche & season. Place 1 tablespoon in a food processor with the peas, lemon zest, onion & pulse to roughly chop. Keep remaining crème fraiche in the fridge until ready to serve.

Lay 2 sheets of pastry down on a sheet of baking paper & join the centre edges to form one long piece. Pile pea mixture down the centre, spread out to the width of the salmon. Season the salmon then place best side down, on top of the pea puree. Brush the exposed pastry around the edges with the beaten egg. Join the other 2 sheets of pastry together & place on top of the salmon, press edges to seal & cut away excess pastry. Carefully turn the package over, and using a small knife, score the top of the pastry in a criss cross pattern, taking care not to cut all of the way through (like I did – oops). Brush with egg & transfer to baking tray in the hot oven & bake for 25 minutes or until pastry is golden. Rest for 2 minutes before serving with the herbed crème fraiche.


And finally dessert was this wicked & decadent apple & rhubarb pie. The pastry was really very good & with 300g of butter & 200g icing sugar plus the rest why wouldn’t it be? It was also nice & light & not tough at all. The filling was so much nicer than just your average apple pie filling, the rhubarb gave it some extra sweetness & the ginger helped to spice it up & make it a real adult pie – the kids were not impressed at all though Chloe was quite partial to the pastry. Again though, I forgot to heat up the syrup to serve with it though in this case I don’t think it did any harm as the calvados cream was more than enough to go with it. Also by this time we had crammed so much food in such a small space of time (the guests had a 2 year old that had to go home to bed quite early) that hardly anyone could even fit the pie in. I didn’t have a problem with this as we have been happily living on leftovers since. Again I made the pastry, filling & cream in advance & assembled at the last minute – same note re assembly – does anyone know – could you put it together & cook later without the whole thing becoming a soggy mess?

Apple, rhubarb & ginger pie with calvados cream

Based on the recipe published in a recent Delicious issue, extracted from Philip Johnson’s ‘Decadence’

100g unsalted butter
6 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, thickly sliced
370g brown sugar
10 rhubarb stalks, trimmed, strings removed, cut into 3sm pieces
1 cinnamon quill
1 vanilla bean, split lengthways, seeds scraped
Pinch of nutmeg
2 tspn grated fresh ginger
grated zest & juice of 1 lemon
1 egg, beaten

300g unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g icing sugar
2 egg yolks, plus 2 lightly beaten eggs, to brush
500g plain flour, sifted

Calvados cream
1 cup (250ml) pure (thin) cream
2 tbsn icing sugar
¼ cup (60ml) Calvados (apple brandy)

For the pastry, cream butter & sugar together in a food processor. Add egg yolks, mix well, then add the flour & mix to just bring the pastry together, add 1-2 tbspns chilled water if necessary. Knead lightly on a floured surface & refrigerate for 1 hour.

Grease a 24cm loose bottomed tart pan. Roll out half the pastry to 3mm thick & gently ease into the pan, trimming the edges. Refrigerate for a further 30 minutes. Roll out remaining pastry to 3mm thick to use as the pie lid, enclose in plastic wrap & refrigerate until needed.

Blind bake pastry shell in a preheated 180c oven. Cover base & sides of pastry with baking paper & fill with pastry weights, bake for 10-12 minutes, remove lining & weights, brush with some of the beaten egg & bake for a further 5-8 minutes until golden. Set aside to cool.

Melt the butter in a heavy based pan over medium heat. Increase heat to high, add apple & cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the sugar & rhubarb and stir to combine. Add the cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg & ginger & cook for 6-8 minutes until the fruit just begins to soften. Stir in the zest & juice. Remove from heat & strain, reserving the cooking liquid & discard the cinnamon quill & vanilla pod. Spread the fruit in a shallow dish & allow to cool.

Spoon the filling into the pastry case, brush edges with egg, then top with pastry lid. Trim edges & crimp together to seal. Brush top with egg. Make 2 incisions in to the top to allow steam to escape, then bake for 40 minutes or until golden.

Meanwhile, in a pan, bring the reserved cooking liquid to the boil, then reduce the heat & simmer for 10 minutes or until reduced to a syrupy consistency. Set aside.

For Cream, whisk cream with sugar until soft peaks form. Fold through Calvados, refrigerate until required.

Serve wedges of pie with syrup drizzled over the top & a dollop of cream.


Some people seem to think I am crazy cooking so much but as you know I love it & love the excuse to cook all day & things I wouldn’t normally do just for the 2 of us

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Another great pancake recipe

To start the long weekend off I thought it would be nice to cook up a hot brekkie and of course my favourite is still pancakes. The pancakes in this recipe were nothing new and were quite simple for a change, ie no whisking up egg whites separately to fold in for a light & airy effect as a lot of recipes seem to do nowadays. Despite this they were incredibly light & fluffy & the thing that made them was the sensational blueberry butter, very bad smothering on that much butter disguised as fruit but irresistible let me tell you. Luckily I had a quick glance at the recipe the night before & noted that you had to let the butter set for 2 – 3 hours so I whipped it up the night before. With Chloe there is no waiting 2-3 hours for breakfast & let me tell you she has not been a huge pancake fan so far but absolutely loved these ones. Once again I managed to use at least one item from my garden, lemons & to save money I used frozen blueberries which for a recipe like this where freshness doesn’t matter it is much more economical, the price of a 300g bag was cheaper than one 150g punnet by far.

Buttermilk pancakes with blueberry & lemon butter

A Rick Stein recipe from a recent (?) issue of Delicious

Make the butter a day ahead

50g unsalted butter
1 ½ cups (225g) self raising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup (55g) caster sugar
175ml each buttermilk * milk
2 eggs
1 tspn vanilla extract
icing sugar, to dust

Blueberry & Lemon Butter

150g blueberries
¼ cup (caster sugar
finely grated zest & juice of half a lemon
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature

For butter, cook berries, sugar & juice in a small pan over low heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar. Increase heat to medium-low for 1 minute until fruit just bursts. Add butter & zest. Remove from heat, stir to combine (don’t crush berries). Pour into 4 ramekins and chill for 2-3 hours or overnight until thick (it wont harden).

For pancakes, melt butter in a small pan over low heat. Pour top layer of clear (clarified butter) into a bowl. Discard milky layer at base. Sift flour, baking powder, sugar and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Make a well in the center, add milk & eggs and whisk until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Heat a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Brush with a little clarified butter. Using ¼ cup batter for each, pour 2-3 pancakes into pan, spaced well apart. Cook 2 minutes or until bubbles appear on top. Turn & cook for a further minute until golden. Keep warm while you cook the rest of the pancakes, brushing pan with butter in between batches. Pile 3 pancakes on each plate & serve with a ramekin of butter. Dust with icing sugar. Serves 4.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Cooler Weather = Soup Season

As soon as the weather starts cooling down in Autumn each year I get very excited about cooking soup again. I love to make a big pot every week or so for dinner, the leftovers are then frozen for lunch either at home or to take to work. I have my favorites that I cook again & again, chickpea & leek, tomato & red lentil, pumpkin & of course minestrone to name a few, however I am always looking out for new exciting recipes or boring ones for that matter which offer me some new combinations. So far this Autumn I have tried out a very easy beetroot & vegetable soup – using tinned beets so really very quick, an asparagus soup that didn’t quite hit the mark & this week this great hearty bean & pasta soup. It ticked off all marks on my checklist, yummy, easy, filling & relatively healthy – ie not too much fat content. I also got to use some thyme from the garden & hopefully when the season is right I will also have some zucchini & beans from my very own garden to add.

Bean & Pasta Soup with Autumn greens

Based on the recipe from Donna Hay Autumn 08

¼ cup olive oil
2 onions, chopped
8 cloves garlic, sliced
1/3 cup thyme leaves
8 small zucchini, trimmed & chopped
2 litres chicken stock
200g orechiette pasta
500g green beans, trimmed & halved
sea salt & cracked black pepper
pecorino, to serve

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, thyme & zucchini & cook for 5-8 minutes or until softened (for me this took a lot longer). Add half the stock & stir to combine. Puree with a stick blender until smooth then add the remaining stock & stir. Return to the heat & add the pasta & cook for 10 minutes. Add beans, salt & pepper & cook for a further 3-5 minutes or until pasta is cooked. Top with cheese to serve. Serves 6.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Busy days & first pick of the crop

My apologies to all for the serious lack of posting, my only excuse is that I have been busy, busy, busy. I have been doing a lot of great cooking, though its all been so rushed that by the time I am half way finished eating it, I’m always thinking ‘oops, should have taken a photo of this one’. So what has been keeping me so busy? Well to start with I am back at work 3 days a week which as anyone with kids would know puts a serious dent into my free time. Next I have actually had quite a busy social life lately, weddings, hens nights, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, afternoon sitting in the beer garden at The Retreat with Chloe & some other mums & bubs on a nice sunny afternoon (sadly no alcohol was consumed!), which has all been fabulous fun.

Lastly in my spare time I have been working on our garden – in the photos you can see what a great help Chloe has been with the digging (she screams if we take her out of the dirt!) & also the mixed lettuces nearly ready to eat a couple of weeks ago. Both the veggie patch in the back & the front garden are slowly coming along & the veggie patch in particular I am most pleased with & have my fingers crossed that most things will actually grow & bear fruit. My herb garden is fantastic, it’s so much nicer being able to plant in a garden rather than trying to fit everything in pots on a shelf, a lot easier to keep alive in my opinion too. I have planted, oregano, chives, sweet basil, purple basil, Thai basil, coriander, mint, Vietnamese mint, rosemary, Italian flat leaf & curly parsley, sage & purple sage & tarragon – I think that’s all of them & most are pretty well established so are regularly being thrown into the kitchen pot.

As for the rest I have inherited with the house a very weird looking lemon tree, it has some sort of wasp disease that I have to cut away as soon as the fruit has ripened so the branches that are left look quite awkward. I have my kafir lime tree which I transplanted from my old courtyard, a miniature peach tree, some strawberries, a couple of chilli plants & have now planted some broad beans, leeks, garlic, beetroot, sugar snap & snowpeas. A couple of months & if it all holds on I will be harvesting some beautiful crops from my very own (and first) veggie garden. Oh & I cant forget the lettuces which I have just started picking as needed, much nicer than buying from those supermarket bins or even whole lettuces I find can be quite dodgy lately too.

So there you have it & hopefully so more food blogging very soon as I do have several cakes & a dinner party coming up with some potentially luscious dishes to show off.