Love, gratitude and sweet things

This post is a compilation of three separate food experiences this week.

The first is a dessert I made for my parents on Wednesday night. I love being able to utilise seasonal produce in my kitchen and this weeks fresh figs were ripe for the picking.

A whole box of these gorgeous little bursts of flavour and texture for a few dollars at my local greengrocer, Martellis was to good to pass by.

Another foodie thing I love is being able to eat something just as you like it, not as it it should be or as it’s expected to be but just as you like it. . . allow me to explain.

Remember when you were seven years old and you ‘licked the bowl’ as a cake was being made. My best friend and I did this and vowed it definitely tasted better uncooked. We further added that when we grew up our cakes would be served uncooked, a la pudding style! I recently had the same experience with my step-son when we were making a cheesecake mix for his birthday and have since been longing for that sweet smooth creamy mix to be consumed in an appropriate dining experience. The opportunity presented itself with the prospect of my parents coming to dinner mid-week and my lovely little figs crying out to be consumed in the next day or two. I was to make a sweet cheese mixture to be eaten with figs & peaches.

Sweet  Ricotta  with  Fresh  Figs  &  Peaches

400g ricotta cheese(I used low fat on this occasion but I think full cream is yummier)

2 eggs

lemon syrup(juice of 1 lemon cooked over low heat with 1/4 cup sugar)

Combine ricotta & eggs in food processor until smooth and gradually add cooled lemon syrup

Serve with platter of seasonal fruit.

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The second experience was a lovely surprise from an ex-student of mine, a very beautiful lady called Antoinette who comes from the Philippines. She had remembered that I liked her coffee jelly dessert and had made a generous batch for me to take home to my family. I just love it when people remember what brings joy to others and the spontaneously act on this memory, presenting you with some un-expected delicious morsel to savour in your own time.

This jelly is made from gelatin & coffee(instant & no sugar) and set in a tray, then cut into cubes and placed in a mixture of evaporated skim milk and a little condensed milk. Refrigerate.

The magic happens when the coffee jelly and milks combine overnight, the coffee flavour infusing the milk.

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And the third sweet thing wrapped with gratitude was a food gift from Luke(my 19 year old daughter’s boyfriend). One afternoon as he arrived into my kitchen he gave me a ripe banana that he thought I could use in my cooking . . . he is so lovely! So this morning when I was having one of my  frequent ‘I just have to cook something moments’, I thought banana and I thought muffins. The only problem was I got to the end of the muffin making, the muffins were actually baking when I realised I had forgotten to add the banana.. . which was still in the fridge. However they were still great-oatbran & honey work harmoniously together with whatever flavour combinations you use.

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Banana,  date   &  apricot  oatbran  muffins

1 ripe mashed banana(remember to include)

1/4 cup each chopped apricots & dates

1 cup oatbran

1&1/4 cup SR flour

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup raw sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

1 tsp baking powder

(seed mix for topping – optional)

Combine all ingredients except seeds together in bowl until combined.

Bake at 160 degrees in muffin papers/tin sprinkled with seeds for 20 mins or until cooked & golden.

Ginger Sticky Parkin

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Just the name of this alone had me in a state of instant intrigue. Who calls a cake a ‘parkin’?

As I sit here with my favourite red benzer dessert bowl full of the stuff, I am still deciding whether I actually like it!

I definitely like the name. I definitely like the ingredient list. . . more intrigue with use of backstrap molasses. I love the purchase of a new ingredient, so with my recently acquired Berenberg molasses and a recipe from Delicious Magazine that my lovely neighbour Barb was about to throw, I was ready.

The ginger parkin was fun to make, forming a thick brown mix that did not present as anything vaguely edible. With an edibility rating scale scoring no more than a 2.5., the joy was definitely in the mixing of butter with the sugar, molasses & the adding of spelt flour was comfort cooking transporting you back to Anglo baking traditions of the 17th Century.

The verdict of the parkin was weighted between various family members. Here’s a taste of their comments:

“Would taste good with a cup of chai tea, I’m not just saying that to be nice”

“Ginger, no way!”

“Will try some a bit later mum”

“Its really great mum. I like it”

And from me now that I have finished my sampling “Very  nice with a good scoop of vanilla ice-cream, followed by a chai tea”

However all this aside, we all need to try & do new things and enjoy the process of doing so. In a world that is so results orientated let’s never forget the fun of just getting in and having a go.

And at this point a special thanks to my husband for his awesome photos and for never complaining about having to pull out the camera on demand.. .Love you hun.

 Ginger  Sticky Parkin 

1 cup wholemeal spelt flour

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 cup rolled oats

3/4 cup black strap or regular molasses

125g unsalted butter

1 cup rapadura or brown sugar

1/2 cup milk

1 egg, lightly beaten

Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees and line a slice tray with baking paper.

In a bowl combine butter, sugar & molasses and gently melt in microwave. Mix with spoon and then add all dry ingredients until combined.

Combine milk and egg together in cup and add in to parkin mix.

Pour into cake tin and bake for 30-40 mins or until tests clean with skewer.

(recipe adapted from June 2011 edition of Delicious magazine, credit to Barossa foodie Sherie Hausler)

Everyone loves surprises

DSC_0230After a 6 week break from teaching, going back to work was difficult.

However true surprises are always good medicine, and for me the best surprise or gift is that of the food variety.

So I walk into the staff room and there in my pigeon hole is a bulging brown paper bag wedged tightly amongst a large pile of folders to be marked. . . instant intrigue!

Excitedly  I grabbed the brown paper bag and looking inside revealed my hopes fulfilled – a new and colourful cooking ingredient from a lovely, lovely ex-student.

One of the things I adore about my role as Child Studies Teacher at Nirimba is the rich eclecticism of this place. Western Sydney is truly a cornucopia of cultures colliding within acceptance and learning.

The gift was from a Chinese Student Yan Ping Ding, known as Sunny to me and her classmates. She had remembered I was interested in a Chinese chilli sauce that she had used in a dish as part of our end of year class celebration.

So grateful was I for her thoughtfulness, I was inspired to use it that same night. I stopped off after work at the Cherrybrook local(which has an excellent fresh produce)with the idea of Sang Choy Bow in my head. Fresh chicken mince(I don’t eat pork for ethical reasons), an eggplant(cheap & good atm) and crispy iceberg lettuce later, I am armed and ready for work.

I made the chicken filling by stir frying the mince with garlic, ginger, Sunny’s chilli sauce and a little oil & sherry. I removed this from the wok and then wok fried finely diced shallots,eggplant and broccoli, water chestnuts & bamboo shoots. Added the chicken back in with the veges and thickened with some stock & cornflour. My stepson Mattie insisted on a new technique for cutting the carrots. So they were done ribbon style and lightly stirred through just before serving. Seasoned with a little soy and into lettuce cups dinner was done.

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This is a great way of getting lots of veges into younger people, knowing you are nourishing their bodies and not being subjected to complaints or sour faces is surely a win-win.

And there were left overs for when Grandma visited the next night.

Great beginnings and happy endings

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It’s well known in literary circles that if you have a good start and strong finish it does not mater too much as to what happens in between.

There is of course a culinary parallel about to be made here!

We started with bruschetta and drinks. I like informal starts to entertaining where everyone gathers around the main hub – usually the kitchen island. I take the inside position where I can deal with still to be attended to main course cooking matters and everyone else spills to the outside positions of the island, where they can watch & converse and unwind from the day that has preceded. . . the atmosphere begins!

I used italian pane de casa bread rolls brushed with a mixture of olive oil, butter, garlic and lemon juice lightly oven grilled until golden. Tomatoes were particularly flavoursome this week and I always enjoy making oven roasted tomatoes as they are so versatile – on bruschetta, pasta or as an accompaniment to schnitzel or meat dishes, oven roasted tomatoes make an easy but high impact statement to a meal. These roma tomatoes have been halved and placed on baking paper with a splash of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and few grinds of rock salt(diced shallots are optional). They are then roasted in a slow oven for about 30 mins or until they start to look soft & caramelised. The mushrooms are cooked at a high heat in a cast iron pan(cast iron is my favourite for pan cooking)with a little olive oil. I wait until they are almost cooked and then add some rock salt, squeeze or two of fresh lemon juice and a small handful of lemon thyme from the herb pot. The trick is to slightly squash the tomato onto the bruschetta just before eating so it doesn’t all fall off as you put into your mouth, as well as strategically placing the mushroom pieces so they look good.

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The desert is a coconut rum granita that is based on a recipe from the  food dept blog but I have added some mango juice to the mixture. My husband arranged a tropical fruit platter with papaya, pineapple, longans, peaches(okay, not so tropical) all squeezed over with lime & mint.

The main course – the ‘non-event’, was a barbeque with marinated meats so this dessert was welcomingly refreshing and sweet. . . the perfect happy ending.

The downside. Well, there were three . . .concern of the bacardi to the non-drinkers, the sugar to the diabetics, the cold night that left everyone shivering after their icy indulgences! But then. . . as long as the cook likes it, all is well.

Tribute to Luke Nguyen

Probably my  favourite celebrity chef, Luke’s simultaneously down to earth and passionate approach to food always inspires me.

And how good is Vietnamese cuisine with its fresh and fresher approach to ingredients!

So, Luke has prompted me to create lots of heavily herbed, astringent tasting salads that just cut through the protein & fat of any meat you are eating.

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Tonight’s salad is a combination of the following; green mango slithers, finely julienned cucumber & ginger, avocado in tiny cubes, with lots of fresh mint, coriander & cress. The salad is dressed with a mixture of fresh lime juice, finely chopped lemongrass, fish sauce & sugar to season – all shaken together in a salad dressing jar.

The fish is more like an accompaniment to the salad in my eyes rather than the other way round. I have cooked some fresh barramundi fillets – lightly coated in plain flour then pan fried in a half-half  butter/olive oil mix and seasoned with rock salt.

The enjoyment lies in getting mouthfuls of the fish and salad together – watching the creation of the morsel forming on the fork and then straight onto your tastebuds. Divine . . .