Thursday, February 26, 2009

Chocolate and Zucchini Muffins

My recent lack of posting has absolutely nothing to do with lack of interest, and everything to do with lack of time. The problem is I need more than 24 hours in a day. Especially with the job I'm doing and trying to organise our wedding in such a short time. It's that hard to book in the big things, but as a friend recently said, the devil's in the detail. We're now at the pointy end of things and have to make decisions about readings and seating arrangements and music and oh yes, vows. Tim's determined that we'll write our own. Great in theory, difficult in practice. 

I've also made what I think is a very sensible decision and will no longer be icing the top tier of the wedding cake as originally planned. I continue to douse it weekly with brandy, but I've found someone to do it who has years of experience. I had an epiphany about a week ago and realised how scary it is that I've never used white icing before, and while I'm totally confident that I will one day be able to master it, I don't think the weeks before one's wedding is the right time to start trying! So in about a week I'll drop off one very heavy, very moist fruit cake, and pick up something that looks like an elegant wedding cake. I've bought a very cool cake topper, so stay tuned for the photos!

But back to the muffins. It's the season for zucchini and my brother Sam's garden is exploding! Time to help him out and since I love zucchini with it's tender sweetness, it wasn't a big ask. Combine it with chocolate and something beautiful happens. The pecans tie it all together. It may sound weird but this combination really works, although it is more of a grown up muffin with the olive oil flavour coming through. Also, I think they're better cold so resist the temptation to heat them up. They really are a lunch box treat you can feel good about.

200g grated zucchini
150g dark chocolate, chopped
100g pecans halves - chopped except for 12
2 cups spelt flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 medium free-range eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Super simple: place the flour in a bowl and stir through the zucchini, chocolate, pecans and sugar. Add the remaining ingredients and combine very well with a wooden spoon.

Spoon the mixture evenly into a 12 hole muffin tin, press a pecan halve gently onto each one. Bake at 180ÂșC (fan forced) for about 20 minutes. You can do the skewer trick to check but 20  minutes is usually right.

Makes 12 large muffins or about 16 medium ones. 

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love & Food

It’s Valentine's day. (Note the excitement). 

What is it about Valentine’s Day that makes people go nuts? Is it the expectation? Is it the thought of rejection? Is it the cost? It's certainly the only day of the year I can think of when complete strangers can openly offer tokens of love (or lust) to another without being reported for stalking. 

My thoughts usually turn to food when thinking about gift giving on Valentine's or any other day. And not just to chocolate either. Frankly, a well cooked pot-roast can be the most romantic thing in the world when it’s served with a juicy, flavoursome gravy and crisp baked potatoes, on fine china, a damask table cloth, and with no mention of me having to help clean up afterwards. I was proposed to after just such a meal. High on the euphoria of a delicious dinner that I didn’t cook (and vast quantities of pink Chandon) the only possible reaction was to burst into laughter and accept. Tim has timing, if nothing else.

However, if a slow-cooked hunk of beef isn’t quite your idea of romance, there are some really good specialist shops around that sell all manner of gourmet delights to tickle the fancy of the most difficult to please.

What you do have to do is have a good think about what you’re trying to achieve. Will chocolates cut it? If so, forget the supermarket or the chocolate heart in red tin foil. Instead, try a specialist sweet shop that offers interesting and exquisite treats. Perhaps rose-scented Turkish delight, or chilli chocolate for a change. For cakes and pastries, there are some brilliant bakeries in Canberra. Tim swears by the Italian bakery in Mawson for fresh cannoli. He won over my mother with that cannoli. It came right after offering her a cold VB. (What was the woman to say?) 

If your sweetheart has a food allergy, think about something that they can really enjoy without having to call the paramedics. Being allergic to wheat, there’s a lot I can’t touch, but the good thing is that there are now some fantastic wheat and gluten-free products around, many of which can be found in the supermarket. A hamper of goodies is thoughtful and shows you’ve paid attention. Major points can be scored.

Personally, I’ve always longed to be presented with a fresh black truffle to call my own. Nothing says ‘I love you’ like expensive fungus, especially if it’s a locally grown truffle. Many people baulk at the price, which is understandable, but it is a unique and memorable gift if you have a true foodie on your hands who’s never had one before. 

Which brings me to the big push – if you’re at all culinarily inclined, try making something yourself. It needn’t be fancy or difficult, but should be thoughtful and appetising and require an effort. That’s what most people are really looking for. Prepare a meal and set a beautiful table, bake cookies, or make a cake from scratch. Keep it simple if you’re a beginner, or get creative if you’re a confident cook. 

Tim once made me gluten-free cupcakes with what can only be described as homicidal-pink icing and a deluge of heart-shaped decorations on top that had accidentally tumbled out of the container. I overlooked the colour and the fact that packet mix was used because they were made with genuine thoughtfulness, love and affection by a non-cook who wanted to me to know how he felt. Long after the last crumb disappeared, I still remember the look, smell and taste of these little morsels - perfect.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Something to think about...

One of my colleagues sent me this. I'm not sure where it came from and I doubt it's a licence to throw caution to the wind and start eating whatever you want so long as it's washed down with red wine. It did get me (albeit temporarily) thinking about our national obsession with fat content, carb content, sugar content, salt content, portion control, meat intake, fibre, organic origins, etc, etc, etc. So I stopped thinking, went across the road and bought a double chocolate chip, gluten free cookie and my third large coffee for the day. (I would have bought red wine but it was only 10.45am!)


After an exhaustive review of the research literature, here's the final word on nutrition and health:

1.   Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.

2.   Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.

3.   Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.

4.   Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.

5.   Germans drink beer and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.

6.   The French eat foie-gras, full fat cheese and drink red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than us

CONCLUSION: Eat and drink what you like.  Speaking English is apparently what kills you.

(In my limited experience, the Parisians would agree...)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Cooling pomegranite rice salad

It's been almost unbearably hot in Canberra over the last couple of weeks and I have been going through what's a rare phase for me of just not feeling like cooking, or for that matter, sitting in a hot room in front of a hot computer. Don't panic! We've still been eating, but it's been basic. On several occasions, Tim's wandered down to the kitchen to ask me what's for dinner and I've pointed him in the direction of the toaster or the supermarket. Or given him a  sufficiently dirty look to send him on his way in silence. Suffice it to say that my weekends spent in kitchen doesn't hold the same allure when it's in the high 30's before you turn the oven on! 

The upside of this time of year is that we start to see some pomegranites in the supermarket. Pomegranites are one of my favourite things and a real gem. At the moment, what you'll find is imports, but they'll do. I've always thought that pomegranites look ancient and regal with their little crown at one end, and seeds that are like sublime, shining rubies that explode with sweetness in your mouth. Part of the attraction is the knowledge that pomegranites have been enjoyed and revered for thousands of years. I have no doubt that they've had the same mystifying effect on humans for all that time. Anyway, I love them, and the intrepid Tim has grown to love them too, so long as he doesn't have to be involved in prying the seeds from the skin. (It's not that hard).

Anyway, for anyone else who's sweltering in the heat and for whom the oven or stove resembles hell in the suburbs, here's something cool. It's one of our favourite salads and tastes just as good the next day. It's sweet & sour, cooling and refreshing. If you vary it, the main thing is that you hit an even contrast between sweet & savoury - sweet sultanas and pomegranite and savoury carrot, zucchini & herbs. Then the zing of the lemon based dressing to set it off.

2 cups cooked rice, cooled
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped 
1 large carrot, peeled & grated
1 medium zucchini, grated
2 shallots, chopped
1/2 cup sultanas
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (or 1/4 cup pine nuts, dry roasted & chopped)
seeds from 1 large pomegranite

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup or so of lemon juice
1 large clove of garlic
1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 decent pinch of salt

For the salad, just throw everything into a bowl and toss until well combined.

For the dressing, thrown everything in a blender or food processor and whizz until the garlic is finely chopped and everything's well mixed. Taste the dressing - don't be afraid to use more lemon juice. If you're using lemon juice from a bottle, you may need a bit more. You want a nice, zesty kick to it. 

Pour the dressing on and toss the salad until well combined. ENJOY!