Tag Archives: recipe

Another journey, and simple pleasures (aka yum yum squares)

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I’m planning another trip!!! (I know, it feels like I’ve just got back from the last work trip, but this one is a real holiday)

I’m giddy with excitement.

Because, because, because, guy, I’m going to Myanmar!! Think thousands upon thousands of Buddhist temples, giant Buddha statues, rows of novice monks and nuns walking by with alms bowls, slow boats, languid horse and carts, and slower train trips on colonial railways. (See here, this, those and that, and much more. Click on the photos below to go to the original page where I took the images from.)

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This trip will be memorable in other ways, too. Apparently, internet is slow or nonexistent, and there are no internationally connected ATMs outside the two largest cities. And, it’s monsoon season. Friends are expecting lots of selfies standing in puddles, with crazy hair from the high temperatures and 80%+ humidity, and down to my last pennies after failing to find an ATM.

Why Myanmar, you ask?

Reading Naomi Duguid’s book, Burma: Rivers of Flavor (also mentioned here and here) first piqued my interest in the country. While it is a book about food, Ms Duguid also talks about the people, culture, customs, the many different tribes. Most of all, she made me want to go there, taste the mohinga, shan noodles, thoke, tea leaf salad, curries, eat pomelos, mangoes and other tropical fruits, and have a real Burmese meal with all the side dishes.

I wish I was going with Ms Duguid, not the least because, um, I don’t speak Burmese. Instead, I’m hoping sign language will go a long way. Ones like, I’d really like some food, preferably an awesome bowl of mohinga? Or, could you drive me to the massive Buddhas that you can climb into? Or, is this a scheduled stop or are we just sitting here for a wee bit while the overnight bus gets fixed?

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I decided on this trip barely a week ago and paid for the flights on Friday. In between international flights, hotels (thank you Tripadvisor!), visa (fingers crossed….), bus schedules, train fares, calculating how much money I’ll need, and finding the perfect Colonial era hotel for the last night in Yangon, it feels like I’ve barely had time to breathe.

What does a girl do at a time like this? Make something simple, comforting yet utterly indulgent, of course. May I present to you Yum Yum Squares?

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The alphabet post: Apples, Batlow, Cake

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We are almost at the end of our road trip, and have eaten our way around a few villages and towns.

Sure, there are more Aussie meat pies and pub steaks than you can poke a kangaroo paw at; and at least one dinner in an RSL (soldiers and veterans) club Chinese restaurant, which served local favourites like honey chicken and sweet and sour pork… But, we also had freshly caught trout from the pristine Snowy Mountains lakes, home made jams and tea cosies (ok, tea cosies aren’t food, but they might just deserve a post to themselves), local beer, wine and schnapps, just baked bread and pastries, good coffee in surprisingly hipster cafes, and new season apples from Batlow, one of Australia’s apple producing regions at the foot of the Snowy.

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If food was the icing on the cake for the trip, then the rural environment revealed itself to be a multi layered and endlessly fascinating cake.

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One day we were climbing the granite peaks of Mount Kosciuszko, snuggled up in gloves and beanies; another day we were bare feet on the beach, having driven through a patch of rainforest, across rich dairy farms, on a dirt road (in our small city car! and we made it!!) and to the ocean. We looked at a wooden cabin tucked away on oh-so-picturesque acres and wondered if it could become our holiday retreat (maybe, if we had a sea plane that can land on the nearby lake, or became a lady & gent of leisure).

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For days, I had that broad, slow-spoken rural Aussie accent in my ears. Farmer types that greeted each other with “G’day”, “yeah mate”, occasionally “strewth“, and generally as few words as possible. In the evenings, even in the smallest communities we visited, guys greeted other guys – and the publicans – in the local pub over a social beer or two.

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New season apples began appearing in the shops before Easter, and I made this apple cake. While apple season lasts, I’ll probably make this a few more times.

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The recipe is Marie-Hélène’s apple cake, from Dorie Greenspan and adapted by David Lebovitz. Many bloggers have written about this recipe, including the French Fridays with Dorie crew and Fiesta Friday party-goer Patty (though the experience was more, um, exciting for her). This really is a perfect example of pared back elegance.

The cake has more apples than cake batter, it really is all about the apples. The batter is simple, though heady with vanilla and calvados (apple brandy). The whole thing bakes into one moist, wonderful, fragrant whole. It tastes clean, homely, sweet but not too sweet. The combination of apples, vanilla, calvados tempts you back for just one more slice – time and again – until somehow there is no apple cake left.

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This time, I dared to temper with perfection and added a hazelnut/cream topping, which added an extra bit of crunch to the cake. Think of a streusel topping, but with less than a quarter the amount of streusel.

And, to make easy sharing, I baked these in mini cake pans and mini pie dishes. The pie-cakes stayed at home as dessert. The mini cakes went to work to be shared with friends.

I’ve found this is a great way to show off those heirloom apple varieties, as the minimal, simple batter sits back and helps the apples’ flavours to shine, rather than distracting you from the apples.

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Tonight, because it’s Anzac day, I’ll be serving some of our apple bounty baked, with an Anzac biscuits (cookies in American English 🙂 ) crumble topping. This is one of my go-to Anzac biscuits recipes, and the Sydney Living Museum blog recently featured a post about this Aussie and New Zealand food icon. Tonight’s crumble will be improvised with beach house pantry staples, probably with a handful of macadamia nuts and spoonfuls of local honey. I might even get some of the Fiesta Friday crowd to play two-up – but only if it’s legal to play on Anzac day in your state!!

Before my excitement bubbles over, I’ll leave you with the apple cake recipe.

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French apple cake
(based on recipe from Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table)

Ingredients

Cake
3/4 cup or 110g flour (I’ve also used 70g plain flour + 50g finely chopped almonds instead)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
4 large apples (a mix of varieties)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup (150g) sugar (I used mostly castor / granulated sugar plus a bit of brown sugar)
3 tablespoons calvados/apple brandy, substitute good brandy or dark rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or more if you don’t have calvados)
8 tablespoons (115g) butter, salted or unsalted, melted and cooled to room temperature

Topping, I made this bit up
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon chopped hazelnuts
1 tablespoon castor sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC and adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven.

2. Heavily butter a 20-23cm springform pan and place it on a baking tray. (Or, 5-6 mini-things, like pie dishes / cake pans)

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, ground almond, baking powder, and salt.

4. Peel and core the apples, then dice into small-med bits. (If using mini-whatever, slice them smaller and thinner, as they will spend less time in the oven)

5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until foamy-ish, then rum/brandy and vanilla. Whisk in half of the flour mixture, then stir in half of the butter, do the same with remaining flour /butter.

6. Fold in the apple until they’re well-coated with the batter and scrape them into the cake pan.

7. Bake for 40 minutes for full sized cake (about 20-25 min for mini-versions), mix topping ingredients together and randomly dollop over cake(s). Return to oven for another 10-20 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean-ish. Let the cake cool for 5 minutes, loosen from the pan and remove.

Home, and a homely pie with walnut pastry

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At the end of the Lord of the Rings series, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin ride back into the Shire, home…at last.

We heaved a similar sigh on returning home from holidays on Monday night. Not that we’ve been fighting dragons or destroying magical rings, but we could finally unpack our suitcases, instinctively recognise the currency again (I never quite figured out the difference between 10 and 20 cent Euro coins), stop thinking about hotel bookings and catch up on this blog!

I can also buy groceries and make dinner on a whim, knowing exactly what is in the pantry and which kitchen utensils are where. (First dinner at home? Rigatoni with crispy prosciutto, baby peas, goats milk fetta and just enough cream cheese to mix everything together)

Don’t get me wrong. Scotland, London, Germany – were beautiful, often magical. I am in love with Hebridean sunlight and kaffee und kuchen in Germany, and am still a little obsessed by black faced sheep. But there is something about home, our little world. Even going back to work on Tuesday was fun, catching up with friends, staying awake though my brain was still on central European time.

I’ll be sorting our 2000-odd holiday snaps for a while, so expect random photos of peat bogs, lochs, black faced sheep, churches and castles at random intervals. Meanwhile, on the theme of home coming, here’s a homely apple, pear and quince pie with walnut pastry.

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Just before going on holidays, I made savoury galettes with the Tuesdays with Dorie group. After the galette, I tweaked the cornmeal pastry recipe, using ground walnuts instead of the cornmeal, and made it into a mini pie.

It was my first time making a lattice top for a pie, and it worked!

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Not your average box mix brownies

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Lately, it feels like life is spinning, rushing past, so, so quickly, and I barely have time to say “woa!”.

Times like this, I like to bake and cook, take time out, slow down, and feel (slightly more) grounded. Baking and cooking helps me to remember that I don’t have to do everything at work before we head off on holiday. Other people will step in and help out, because they are good colleagues, smart people and good friends, and we’ve always helped each other out.

But, when baking starts at 9 or 10pm at night, I’ve been at a loss about what to bake. Nothing that takes too long (baking past midnight is fun but slightly surreal), or requires the Bosch kitchen mixer (our neighbours will start to give me odd looks). And I don’t want to beat eggwhite by hand and develop hausfrau muscles in my right arm only (that would be funny, but surreal and possibly impractical clothes-wise).

Last night, I found the answer. Box mix brownies – with home made box mix.

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I was thinking about house warming presents for some friends we’ve known forever. They have never wanted very much, and have always been happy with what they have. Instead of giving them the usual wine glasses or home furnishings, we wanted to give them something that won’t end up cluttering their modestly minimalist life.

And last night, it came back to me: box mix brownies. I give them the mix of dry ingredients and add-ins, and all they need to do is add butter and eggs. Home made brownies within 30-40 minutes, including baking time.

I used an Alice Medrich cocoa brownies recipe to make up a box mix. I first saw this recipe on Smitten Kitchen, where Deb explained how she was converted to the idea of a good cocoa brownie, where cocoa is intentionally used in preference to blocks of dark, shiny chocolate. I was intrigued, and this idea lingered in the back of my mind like one of those cat pictures that never quite stop doing the rounds of office emails.

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Musings on autumn and persimmon bread

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Autumn is such a Tween.

We have vacillated between nippy mornings and warm days (apparently, we were in the middle of an autumnal heat wave in Sydney, but you wouldn’t know it at 6am); grey skies and yellow-gold sunsets. The weather, like a girl-child hesitating between two stages of life, can’t make up its mind to put away summer’s strapless dresses and bring out winter’s tea cosies and mittens.

The only certainty is the shorter days that herald every winter. More and more often, I’m leaving work in the dark, and waking up to a dimmer sky.

Poets of every age have written about autumn. Its tempestuous weather, ravishing colours, just-ripened fruits and harvests of grains. The words autumn and fall evoke images of bucolic plenty, but also ideas about the fleeting passage of time. No wonder autumn is such a fickle character.

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It wasn’t until this morning that I had time to sit down, reflect, and notice, I mean really notice, the colours of the season. At the end of a crazy-hectic week, sitting down at the dining table with a large weekend-sized mug of tea was … a moment of quiet gladness.

I had made a persimmon bread-cake during the week. Persimmon seems the right kind of fruit to have in the house while we are surrounded by such gorgeously red leaves falling from neighbouring trees. I love how the fruit becomes soft, squishy, a bag of orange-red goo that you can spoon and slurp. With porridge, yoghurt, or by itself by the spoonful, so I lose none of its unique, slightly buttery yet crisp flavour. Perhaps it’s because persimmons were one of the hallmark fruits of autumn and winter in my part of China, their bright orange-red a reminder of festivities past and to come. Tied with string, they looked like little lanterns.

Edible lanterns!

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Vampire-proof French garlic soup

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If everyone ate more garlic, the world would be a happier place
Ruth Reichl, Comfort Me With Apples

 

I’ve sometimes wondered why people thought garlic helps to ward off vampires. Is it the “righteous” pungency; the undeniable whiff of, um, holiness? Hopes that vampire virus will be killed by garlic’s antioxidants, a belief that no one can chew on a mouthful of raw garlic and survive? Or, is it due to ‘Vampire disease’ or porphyria, the result of in-breeding among the European nobility – is Count Dracula just a misunderstood, new-age (light and garlic-) sensitive guy?

Whatever the reason, I was intrigued by a soup that was described as “[t]his one will keep your house safe from vampires for a year at least.”

This French garlic soup has venerable but mysterious origins. Francois Xavier of fxcuisine found this recipe in Larousse de la cuisine des familles (alas, I couldn’t find that book anywhere, even online), “presented as a family recipe from a Provence mama.” The soup is made with a garlicky olive oil roux, which is mixed with the roasted garlic, cooked to a smooth consistency and slight nuttiness, then thinned with water or stock and simmered to fragrant soupy-ness. There is very little else besides perfectly roasted, semi confited garlic bulbs (which I also blogged about last weekend) and a handful of herbs. Even the pasta to bulk up the soup is, I think, kind of optional.

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This is not a Parisian glamourpuss. Light brown in colour, slightly lumpy in a stew-soupy way, it was a lesson in how brown food is not a food blogger’s photography dream.

But, one taste and I was hooked. Potage de creamy, complex and comforting garlic? Yes please!

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Heavenly ambrosia: quince jam and Hungarian short bread

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Bottom: First, good Peter Quince, say what the play treats on, then read the names of the actors, and so grow to a point.
Quince: Marry, our play is, The most lamentable comedy, and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby.

Midsummer night’s dream, Act 1, Scene 2

Quince. That un-beautiful, knobbly, hard, yellow fruit that appears in fruit shops each autumn. And goes through an almost magical transformation in the kitchen: when cooked, the fruit turns soft, then becomes pink-tinged, then red-tinged; pureed, and cooked over a leisurely stove, the fruit paste becomes a rich, translucent, jewel-like red.

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All this time, a heavenly perfume fills the house. The smell is a kind of perfume that evokes the Arabian Nights, the fabled quality of rose water and vanilla, with such a come-hither, heady, honeyed sweetness. A smell that we could almost taste

We made quince paste on the weekend, in a slow cooker. And the quince paste became the show-stopping star of this Hungarian short bread.

Don’t get me wrong, the Hungarian short bread was sweet, rich, soft-crumbly, airy-light. There was no hint of toughness or overworked dough. This was due to the unusual method of grating frozen dough into the pan rather than rolling out the dough. I have used this method before, for this stunning yet stunningly simple apricot and chocolate tart (link to UKTV website). If you don’t mind granted dough scattered all around the tart pan and on the bench, this pastry is fool proof, and seriously good.

And the Hungarian short bread couldn’t be simpler. Grate frozen dough. Spread quince paste. Grate more frozen dough. Bake. Dust in a snowstorm of icing sugar when the tart is just out of the oven. Cool (barely) and eat.

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