Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Peanut butter cookies

Lately I've been baking tasty treats a couple of times a week. I have the time and I've always enjoyed baking. It's my down time and I love experimenting and creating. Tim's not complaining because he's living the dream with slices and cookies almost every day in his lunch box. In fact, I have a freezer full of goodies that should last a couple of weeks if I stopped baking today...unless Tim discovers my stash.

Recently I picked up the free Coles magazine. I've rifled through previous editions in the past for ideas, noting that the food looks accessible and family-friendly. I think that the benefit of a magazine put out by a supermarket is that it contains recipes for the average person that are generally straight forward, quick to make, good value and contain easily obtainable ingredients.

Anyway, in this year's Autumn edition, I found a recipe for peanut butter cookies. For a change I stuck to the recipe, word for word, except I forgot to chop the scorched peanuts. It didn't matter. They worked out well although I thought they were a little dry. This could be because I used light peanut butter, but if I make them again I'll probably use a little more butter or slightly less plain flour. In any case, Tim loved them, they're quick to throw together and could be a fun one for the kids to try.

200g butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 cup self-raising flour
200g scorched peanuts, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 160ºC or 140ºC fan forced. Line two large baking trays with non-stick baking paper.

Using electric beaters, beat butter, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl until light and creamy. Beat in peanut butter. Sift flours over the butter mixture and use a non-serated knife to mix to a dough. (I used an electric mixer on low). Add the scorched peanuts and m ix through with a knife.

Roll heaped tablespoons of dough into balls and place onto prepared trays. Flatten to about 1.5cm. Bake for 15 minutes, until lightly golden underneath. They will still be soft.Leave on trays for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chocolate Anzac slice

Over the past few days Tim and I have talked about whether to go to any of the local dawn services, memorials, parades or other events planned for today. We've both done all of that before and while both of us are fully aware of the significance of Anzac Day and respectful of those it serves to memorialise, we really wanted, and needed, a day at home.

This morning Tim and I awoke to the carry-ons of Ladybug. We leapt out of bed and went running to see what was wrong. Nothing was wrong, but the farmer had moved his cows into the paddock that runs alongside our driveway. The Bug was just letting us know. Then we remembered it was Anzac Day and we could still go to the local memorial service if we wanted to. We decided against it.

I personally find Anzac Day services moving and emotional and something that's worth going to at least once in your lifetime. I had an uncle go to Vietnam. My mother says he was never the same after that. Tim had two great uncles die in Japanese POW camps during WWII. His grandfather served in Borneo and was much affected, although people didn't tend to talk much about it then.

We're now living in a very small town with streets named for families that lived here for generations. I imagine that people still remember the names of men on the local cenotaph. I always find it sad that all over Australia, the smallest towns gave the largest percentages of their young men to wars fought almost a century ago.

To change tracks slightly, I think it's great that we have an every day reminder of something so important, albeit in the form of the Anzac cookie. These tasty morsals are something every Aussie kid has grown up with and thankfully people keep on baking and sharing them. This year, inspired by a recipe my friend Dimi shared with me, I made something slightly different - chocolate Anzac slice. It's every bit as easy as making cookies, and perfect for your lunch box.

2 cups self raising flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup coconut
1 cup sugar
250g butter
4 tbsp golden syrup
4 tbsp hot water
4 tbsp cocoa
2 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp bicarb soda
melted chocolate - optional

Preheat oven to 160ºC. Line a flat baking tin or lamington pan with baking paper.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, rolled oats, coconut, sugar an cocoa.

In a medium sized pan, melt the butter with the golden syrup. Add the vanilla. In a cup, mix the bicarb with the water and add to the completely melted butter mix. It will froth up. Add this to the dry ingredients and combine well.

Press the mixture into the tin and bake for 15-20 minutes. When cool drizzle melted chocolate across, cut into squares and keep in an airtight container. Oh, and enjoy!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Passion fruit pavlova roll

My love affair with passion fruit continued over the weekend. I've now used all the passion fruit curd I made last week, but I still have plenty of little gems clinging to the vine and ripening daily. I suspect they won't last much longer but I will enjoy them while they're here.

On the weekend I decided to attempt a pavlova roll. I must confess that meringue isn't my best thing. Whether I follow a recipe or not, I find it a bit of a hit and miss affair. That being said, I've been dying to make pavlova for ages and since I had loads of passion fruit curd left, I thought I'd give it a go. I've seen pavlova rolls in books and magazines over the years and think they look really pretty. I also figured they'd be a little different to serving great big slabs of pavlova, especially since Tim is not a pav fan.

After doing some research, I decided I should keep things simple. Just egg white, sugar and a little vanilla. No messing about with cream of tartar, vinegar or corn flour. I wound up with a lovely thick, glossy meringue mix. I spread it on the paper hoping for the best and slid it into the oven. Then I waited and watched. I worried about how unevenly it rose in the oven, but once I took it out and it cooled, it evened out. I was quite pleased with how the whole thing came together, and enjoyed the sliver I tried when I cut the ends off so it would fit on the plate. Then I gave it away.

Why on earth would I do that, you say? Partly because there's no point going to the gym and then coming home and stuffing yourself on sugar and cream. But mainly because we have stumbled into the kind of neighbourhood one can only dream of. It's a place where people actually care about their neighbours (not in a weird, Desperate Housewives sort of way) and make an effort to get along. For example: whoever is out first brings in the next door neighbour's rubbish bins. If one guy is edging his lawn, he edges the lawns on either side of his house. People share home grown veg, kids ride bikes in the street with the knowledge that they're safe, and on the rare occasion that Ladybug wanders, I'm immediately allerted by calls of 'Ladybug's wandering down the street!' so that I can quickly retrieve her. Go the country life!

4 egg whites
1/2 cup caster sugar plus 2 tbsp extra
1 tsp vanilla essence
pulp from two large passion fruit
1 cup passion fruit curd

Preheat oven to 200ºC.

In a perfectly clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Add the vanilla and then the sugar gradually, in about four goes, whisking constantly so it disolves completely. The mixture should look glossy and feel very thick when it's ready.

On a lamington pan lined with baking paper, spread the egg mixture out as evenly as you can. Cook for ten minutes, or until it's very lightly golden.

While it's cooking, tear off a piece of baking paper that's longer than the tray, place it on a flat surface where you have some room to move, and sprinkle with about two tablespoons of caster sugar.

Take the meringue out (don't worry if it's risen unevenly) and turn it upside down onto the prepared paper. Pull the paper off the back of it and let it cool for a few minutes.

Mix about 2/3 of the whipped cream with about 2/3 of the passion fruit pulp. It doesn't have to be completely combined, just sort of mixed in toghether. Spread the mix onto the meringue before it cools right down. [If you want to, you can just put 2/3 of the whipped cream and top with fruit of your choice, such as strawberry or mango].

Roll the meringue from one of the long sides. Take your time and try not to panic. The paper should fall away as you roll. Place it on a long plate and top with the leftover cream mix and drizzle with passion fruit pulp, or alternatively, decorate with more fruit. Refridgerate until you serve it.

NB: To test whether the sugar has dissolved properly, rub a little between your fingers. If it feels gritty, you need to keep whisking.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Isabel has arrived!!!

Congratulations Fleur and David and welcome Isabel!!!

Babies only arrive in the wee small hours and Isabel was no exception. Mum spent the evening in hospital and finally had Issie at 5am this morning. Dad went home to sleep it off. Aunt Lizzie texted me at 5.40am, but I'm not complaining. The best sort of news is worth the early wake-up call. Now I just can't wait to meet the little one.

Cookies and knitting will be in the post in the next few days.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Passionfruit in season

I am lucky enough to have a passion fruit vine in my new back yard. At the moment the fruit is in season and I'm enjoying them with a passion (very bad pun intended). I never used to get in to these little gems of the fruit world, except for special recipes. Now that I have a vine, I'm out there checking every day for ripe fruit. I love the combination of sweet and sour, the colour of sunshine when you open them up, and the crunch of the seeds.

This week I've gotten totally addicted to passion fruit curd. It's a bit of a problem since I'm spending more time at the gymthan I have in years. I don't want all the crunches, lunges and squats to be in vain. But passion fruit curd is so divine, it's hard to keep away from it. It's also so simple and quick to make, and really versatile in its uses. For example, use it as a cake or tart filling, on English muffins or toast, or spooned lavishly over ice cream or meringue.

Today it took me literally under half an hour to make some small, short crust tart shells, filled them with passion fruit curd and topped them with meringue. I placed these under the grill for a few minutes until they started to brown then let them cool. They're perfect to eat alone as a treat or with a dollop of rich, thick cream.

But enough drooling! Here's my recipe for passion fruit curd. I've used 170g of passion fruit pulp because if you're not lucky enough to have a vine, that's the size of tin it comes in.

4 eggs
3 egg yolks
170g passion fruit pulp
3/4 cup caster sugar
150g cold butter
2 tbsp lemon juice
finely grated zest of 1 lemon

In a bowl over simmering water, vigorously whisk the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until the mixture starts to froth and thicken. Don't stop mixing because you don't want to wind up with scrambled eggs. This could take 10 minutes or so but it's worth it. You'll know when it's ready because it becomes pale and frothy. Add the butter and keep whisking while it melts and combines.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the passion fruit pulp, lemon juice and zest. Let it cool down and then refrigerate.

I don't bottle mine as I use it within a few days usually, but this can be properly sealed and preserved if you want to.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Gippsland's working out (and so am I)

It's Monday morning in Gippsland. It's cold, wet and windy and has been for most of the weekend. The sun pops out from time to time but it's only for show. I've dug out my sexy tartan dressing gown that drives Tim wild with desire (not) and I don't plan on changing until after at least my first coffee. Speaking of which, the jug is boiling and in a few minutes I'll go plunge some coffee and decide on toast or breakfast muffin. Toast would be sensible. Muffin would be delicious. I made some yesterday and topped them with a dollop of strong coffee icing. Mmmm...

The dog is refusing to even acknowledge me and is buried deep in her basket under a blanket. She's not stupid! She knows its cold and windy and once she's up, she'll be put outside to do whatever she needs to do. Since I'm now attempting to 'get in shape' over the next three months, I'm also tired and stiff this morning, thanks to yesterday's trip to the gym. I know, it gets better.

It's just Monday mornings because on the whole, I'm enjoying the country life style. We live in a tiny town of just a few hundred people. It's close to several bigger towns that have everything one needs, including a kitchen store and a knitting store, right across the road from each other. I have a lemon tree and a passionfruit vine and from our front door we look out across dairy pasture and up to the hills. The neighbours are nice and the Bug is settling in and I'm getting used to not being in the office. Truth be told, I'm loving not being in the office and I'm loving being a student again.

As Tim says, I'll never get this sort of opportunity again so I should make the most of it. He's right. I don't want this time to pass and to feel like I've achieved nothing at the end. On the weekend I decided I needed a plan set down in black and white, for all to see. Right after my second coffee, I'll get to work on it.

Anyway, following Tim's man cold, I got back into the groove of cooking. In the last week I've cooked so much and we've taken a whole lot of photos. I will start posting regularly again. But first, coffee. And toast. Or muffin.

NB. The photo is of sunrise from my front door one day last week.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Meal for a Man-Cold

Tim has a man-cold. He's really, really, really, really sick. Really. He keeps telling me at regular intervals just how sick he really is. Really. He reckons I made him sick except I wasn't as sick as him because I'm not a man so I wouldn't understand how sick he feels.

He searched the internet for treatment for a man-cold. It turns out that it's my job to offer an unending supply of tea, sympathy and tasty treats until he gets better. He is exceptionally hungry. I pointed out that this means he can't be too sick, but I was informed, with conviction, that he gets super hungry when he is especially sick. So I cooked.

It turns out that Tim's man-cold is responsible for booting me back into the kitchen in any serious way. Yesterday I rolled up my sleeves and dusted off my KitchenAid after a considerable absence. It's not that I haven't wanted to cook or that I haven't been cooking. It's just that a I've had a whole lot going on. Moving to a new state, from city to country, adjustment to a new environment, not to mention new kitchen. And then there have been the treks back to Canberra, the study and the fact that it took weeks to get the internet and telephone up and running. It all takes time and effort. At 11pm on Saturday night, after a seven hour drive, I found myself toasting ham and cheese and throwing together tom yum soup out of a packet.

In essence, I'd resorted to just doing the necessary stuff -dinners, lunches, cookies for Tim to take to work to impress his colleagues with. That sort of thing. The man-cold single-handedly drove me to be creative again and to think about what anything I cooked would like in a photograph.

Needless to say, I did my best to fill every gastronomic need my terribly ill husband might have had in order to restore his health. I preserved lemons. (Obviously these didn't do him any good yesterday, but taking photos temporarily distracted him from how sick he is.) I baked a French-ish pear tart and some scorched peanut cookies. Then I turned my mind to dinner. I thought of all the things a man-cold might respond favourablt to and threw them all in: ginger, garlic, onion, chilli, citrus, chicken and lots of wine.

Now you might think it's odd to combine red wine with chicken, but this works. The red wine combined with the sweetness of the fruit, the cinamon and the citrus add body and depth to the chicken that you wouldn't get with white wine. It's sort of a mulled wine flavour with a chilli kick at the end. Perfect for a cool evening or a man-cold.

Verdict? I enjoyed it. It was warming, packed with flavour, healthy and helped clear the sinuses. Tim said it had a lovely texture but he couldn't actually taste a thing. Perhaps he is sick...

500g chicken thighs
50g butter
2tbsp olive oil
4 shallots, finely sliced
2 carrots, peeled and julienned
1/2 brown onion, finely sliced
5cm piece ginger, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely sliced
1 green chilli, finely sliced
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup saltanas
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup muscat (or other sweet wine or fresh orange juice)
2 cups red wine
1 cinamon stick
Salt to taste
Finely chopped continental parsley, slivered almonds and chilli to garnish.

Place the apricots and sultanas in a small bowl. Pour the muscat over, cover with cling film and set aside for at least 15 minutes.

Place the butter and oil together in a heavy sautee pan or saucepan. Brown the thighs on each side, but don't cook through. Remove and set aside.

Add the onion, shallots and garlic and brown slightly. Add the ginger, lemon zest and carrots and stir. Add the apricots, sultanas and cinamon stick. Place the chicken thighs on top of the other ingredients, pour over the red wine and cover.

Cook this very slowly for an hour or until the chicken is full of flavour and falling apart. You can stir occasionally but do so gently so you don't break the ingredients apart. If it's looking too dry, add some more red wine. When the chicken is cooked, pull it apart and stir it through. Add salt to taste.

Serve with rice or couscous. Top with slivered almonds, parsley and more fresh chilli.

NB. You can use chicken drum sticks if you can't get thigh fillets. Just pull the meat off the bone at the end.