Tag Archives: cranberries

A tale about kale: kale salad with raisins, walnuts and pecorino

kale-walnut-salad-03

Here I am, on a Monday night, trying to think of a witty, captivating way to introduce a kale salad. I could wax lyrical about its impressive pedigree: from Barbuto in NY via Deb Perelman’s kitchen to yours truly. I could go all food anthropology on you and talk about the similar ingredients found in pasta or even bread from that island off Italy (disclaimer: only in the world according to Google).

Or, I can just sit back and tell you about this salad – the flavours, textures, ideas.

Because, this way, I won’t have to talk about how this is yet another kale salad. I can just say – this salad doesn’t make me feel like I’m eating grass. Grass is virtuous to be sure, and good for moo-cows, but I prefer my grass a little more mediated by cows, say in the form of pecorino cheese.

Then, I can tell you the salad is savoury, sweet, tart. These bold flavours complement (but not mellow) kales earthiness – think Ottolenghi’s way with radicchio in Plenty. The textures vary between lemon-softened kale, plumped raisins, crunchy walnuts and crumbly-creamy pecorino.

I’ve served variations of the salad at two elaborate dinners, a Moroccan/Sicilian epic, and our similarly epic Christmas lunch. Both times, it was hoovered up, with people asking about it as they peered into the salad bowl for more.

kale-walnut-salad-04
Continue reading

A beachside Christmas, a recipe for spicy cranberries and raisins

raisins-spicy-01

Christmas lunch has come and gone. Once again, I didn’t take photos during lunch, as I didn’t want to interrupt the festivities. This morning, I sat in a garden looking out over the ocean, in a white tee and white sun hat, writing down notes from the meal: what worked, what can be better next time.

I was peaceful, lulled into daydreams, detached from the comings and goings in the house, yet more aware, alert to the sounds and sights of nature around me. The sun was shining; turning the ocean shades of royal blue, deep sea blue, turquoise. The sun made dappled patterns through a tree. It was warm on my back, yet a sea breeze brushed across my notepad. The waves continually crashed on the rocks, again, and again. White clouds formed fantastical patterns on the edge of an equally blue unending sky.

sea-view-01

Inside the house, guests talked about local traditions over tea and slices of Sri Lankan Christmas cake. Every year, the local fire brigade dresses up as Santa and his helpers, drives a fire truck to every local house and popular beaches, and gives out lollies to children (and the young at heart). It is one of my favourite part of Christmas on the South Coast – anyone can go to a shopping centre and have their photo taken with Santa, but how many have caught a bag of lollies from Santa standing on top of a big red fire truck?  

santa-firetruck

I digress.

Here is our Christmas lunch menu, which featured flavours from Sicily and Morocco rather than Ye Olde England. The recipe for spicy cranberries and raisins follows – halfway between a pickle and a chutney, a nod to tradition in an unorthodox Christmas meal. Recipes for a few other dishes will be posted over the next month or so.

Continue reading

Blue Mountains before bushfires, and the simplest granola cookies

blackheath-03

(Recipe for granola cookies at the end of this post)

Blue Mountains, part of our Great Dividing Range and the stuff of pioneering Australian stories. It’s particularly famous for the Three Sisters – a rock formation that attracts all kinds of tourists to the town of Katoomba. Since it is a 1-2 hour drive or a train ride out of Sydney, it has long been a place for Sydneysiders to spend a weekend, a few days or even weeks, unwinding, remembering a slower pace of life.

It is also one of the places that are in danger from bushfires every year, during the annual October to March ‘bushfire season’.

This year, the bushfires have started early around Sydney and in the Blue Mountains. Thursday afternoon saw Sydney’s famous blue sky turn an ominous orange-yellow from the smoke – even this morning, our cityscape looked unnaturally sepia, as though we woke up in the world of Instagram. A colleague who has a house in the lower Blue Mountains is at home soaking their house with water, and having the rural fire service doing back burning just outside of their backyard. Gulp. Anyone who has driven around rural Australia has probably seen the hectares of black tree stumps, running over hills and down into valleys to the edges of rivers, and also hectares of living trees with trunks and branches blackened by fire.

But after each fire, the bush regenerates – and some plants have evolved to do so. The black stumps grow green shoots, seeds sprout; flowers tempt insects and animals back. Our plants may not have the softest petals, or the most ornamental leaves, but you’ve got to give them kudos for being tough enough to survive our sunburnt country, with droughts and flooding rains – and fires.

The photos in this post are from the Blue Mountains, taken just before bushfire season. The area isn’t yet affected by bushfires, and I hope it will be unscathed this year.

blackheath-04

We spent the first weekend of this month in Blackheath, a town nestled into the quieter back half of the Blue Mountains. It was a long, three-day weekend, and we spent most of it walking around tracks in the surrounding bushland, catching up around bottles of red wine, and eating good food.

The bush around Blackheath wowed me, again. This is such a quintessential “Australian” landscape with bleached colours and too-harsh sun. 

blackheath-07

Once our eyes adjusted to the brightness around us, I found layers of textures, patterns and contours all around us. Walking on ridges, we saw trees silhouetted against the empty space and bright, blue sky. The cicadas were out in full force. On the way back, we saw so many cicada shells – almost looking like jewelled brooches – clinging to a bushfire-blacked tree.

blackheath-08blackheath-06

Continue reading

What’s in a name? Cucidati and X cookies

cucidati1

What prompts you to try a recipe? Is it the ingredients? A technique to learn? The photo?

Or the name?

I am attracted to names that have culture or history behind them, especially if they evoke the smells and flavours of places long ago and far away. Why have pinwheels when there is rugelache, sweet bread when there is krantz or babka, meat loaf when we can have farsumagru, pasties instead of borek or saltenas, or chocolate scrolls when there is kakaós csiga?

(Then, I am also fascinated by recipes with unusual ingredients and techniques. Like turduken, or the Tabrizi kofteh, or 90% hydration bread, or making Ratatouille’s ratatouille.)

Reading about these recipes, their origins and histories, and each step involved, is almost as good as tasting the food itself. I suppose, I studied literature at university and have always been susceptible to the magic of a well-turned phrase. Also as the saying goes: “This is what recipes are, stories of pretend meals.”  

cucidati4cucidati7

Cucidati is one of these recipes that got my attention with an intriguing name. A spiced Italian fig cookie that is made at Christmas, the name means ‘little bracelets’. Italians, especially Sicilians, still call these “mum’s cookies” and for them, it wouldn’t be Christmas without cucidati.

While the cookies might be like a version of fig newtons or other filled cookies, the name cucidati and the distinctive crescent shape made the recipe intriguing. I’ve read different versions of the recipe and wondered about who made the first batch of cucidati (and is the singular form of the noun cucidato?), whether it came from Sicily and shows the influence of Arabic cuisine in the spiced fig filling, and whether anyone ever tried to wear it as a bracelet.

Continue reading

Hot cross buns, or, how not to make rock cakes

hot-cross-buns2

(with apologies for the photos taken on a phone)

I remember the first time I saw home made hot cross buns. A colleague in Canberra had worked as a chef in a former life, and to mark our first Easter in the nation’s capital, he brought enough hot cross buns for everyone in our graduate year.

It seemed a miraculous thing to me, the ability to pull real hot cross buns out of a home oven. I also remember the buns were moist, darkly spiced, laden with plump raisins. But more than anything I remember his assurance “they are easy to make.”

A few years later, I have learned to make things with yeast – croissants, pizza, ciabatta – and this year, I was determined to tackle hot cross buns. After all, Alan said they were easy.

My first attempt was a dismal failure. The recipe called for far too much flour compared to the amount of milk, egg and butter. The dough had the texture of scones (or American biscuit) dough. Even after adding extra milk, what came out of the oven was more like rock cakes than English buns. (this really tested my faith in Australian Gourmet Traveller)

For the second attempt, I turned to my bread bible, the River Cottage Bread Handbook.

And, almost miraculously, the buns came together just like that. And the whole Gander household (including Mr Gander’s mum and grandmother – more brownie points for me) had toasted home made hot cross buns for Easter Friday.

hot-cross-buns1

 

Continue reading