Although there’s a lot to be said for ratios and technique, especially when it comes to baking, sometimes, you look at a recipe, and you just can’t help yourself- you want to adapt it before you’ve even made it once.

That was the case with this cake; I found a recipe for Peach & Yogurt slice and I thought, fuck it, I know I’m right about this. I just knew I wanted more cinnamon. I didn’t feel like creaming butter and sugar. Greek yogurt comes in 200g or 500g or 1 kilo tubs, so I was gonna make it with 200g yogurt, not 250g. I wanted more vanilla, and I thought it would still be too plain, so I sloshed in some botrytis. I don’t like to cook with baking powder if I have SR flour on hand, so I used that instead.

It’s always a good idea to cook with what you have on hand, and what I’ve had on hand lately is peaches. We shop at Aldi a lot of the time and for some things, you have to buy a kilo or more; stone fruit is one of these things. For some reason, fruit in our kitchen is invisible to my partner, so I’ve been eating a lot of peaches lately, thus this cake was born.

If you don’t have peaches, nectarines or plums, you could easily use pears or apples (maybe cook the apples a little first) or berries. Frozen fruit could also work well here, or tinned fruit at a pinch, although you would get a much gooyer fruit top. Whatever you top is with, this cake is moist and light from the butter/yogurt/SR flour combo, and has just enough cinnamon and sweetness to make it anything but dull eating. Serve with a cup of tea if that’s what floats your boat.

Peach and Cinnamon Cake
Adapted from this recipe
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup caster sugar
2 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp botrytis or other sweet white wine
200g ‘normal’ (salted) butter, melted and then left to cool slightly
1 ½ cups self-raising flour
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
200ml full fat greek yoghurt
3 (about 250g) peaches or other stone fruit, halved, stones removed, thinly sliced

Grease a 20 x 30cm slice pan and line the base and 2 long sides with baking paper, allowing the sides to overhang a little. Preheat oven to 180°C.

Whisk the eggs until pale and quite frothy. Continue to whisk, slowly adding the sugar bit by bit. Whisk until all sugar is properly incorporated; more or less dissolved. Add in extract and wine, mix through. Do with the melted butter as with the sugar; continue to whisk the egg mixture, slowly pouring in the cooled butter in a thin stream.

Sift in the flour and cinnamon and fold through with a spatula. Next fold through the yogurt, mixing until completely incorporated.

Spread the mix into the lined tin, tapping on the bench toremove any air bubbles. Press the sliced fruit into the top of the mixture. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until golden and almost firm. Set aside the cool for a few minutes, then pull it out of the tin (using the overhanging baking paper) and let cool on a wire rack. Slice into squares and serve.

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Bircher Muesli (Birchermüesli) was invented by Maximilian Oskar Bircher-Benner in the 19th century and is traditionally a mix of oats, milk, sweetener and grated apple. These days it’s a hipster’s delight of a breakfast food that’s absolutely perfect for anyone who:
a) wants something filling for breakfast,
b) wants to eat something healthy for breakfast, and
c) only wants to make breakfast once every few days.

I make up 3 days of my bircher every Monday for the perfect balance of organised/lazy food prep. This is because I work 3 days in the office and I want to make and take brekky with me once and once only. If you want to make enough for 5 days because you work a normal-person schedule, divide the amounts by 3 and multiply by 5.

This recipe lends itself to substitution, as long as the ratios are right. And the best thing about it? It tastes better over time – your third day of eating this it’s going to taste so much better than the first day. That gives you a brekky to look forward to more with each day of the week!

Lau’s 3-day bircher
2 medium apples, peeled
1 punnet (125g) fresh blueberries
1 cup of untoasted meusli or, failing that, rolled oats
2-3 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or honey
500g plain yogurt (I use the fat free pot set kind)

In a large mixing bowl, grate two apples. Add in the rest of the ingredients and stir well, until completely combined.
Spoon the mixture into an airtight container and refirdgerate, eat over the course of 3 days. Keeps for one week.

What’s your go-to breakfast?

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Like many of you who are in the midst of summer right now, I haven’t been cooking much of late. However, I have been getting back into smoothies come breakky time, so I thought I’d share some tips on how to take a glass of blended fruit and milk to something close to perfection.

1. Make your smoothie mostly fruit

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, as someone who isn’t a big fan of fruit unless somebody else has cut it up for me and garnished it with lashings of whipped cream, this is a sure fire way to get a big serve of multiple fruits in one go, without losing out on fibre as you do when juicing. Secondly, because milk isn’t the main ingredient, those who are lactose sensitive/intolerant or like to avoid dairy won’t be missing out – you can sub in juice, soy milk, soy yogurt, almond or rice milk, even coconut milk, as long as you chill it first.

2. Fill the glass, not the beaker/blender/food processor

In the past, I was forever getting the quantities (or the ratio of ingredients) wrong when it came to smoothies. I’d whack a bunch of ingredients in the beaker for my stick blender, blend away like mad, topple the lot into my glass and find I’d made too much/not enough/it was too watery. These days, I just fill as many glasses with fruit as needed, top with yogurt or ice cream, and fill to the brim with milk. Pour the glass/es into the blender and viola! The perfect size.

3. Freeze your fruit

This will give you a thickshake or melted ice cream consistency, making the smoothie feel treat-like rather than medicinal. It also means you can save your fruit before it goes strange by chopping, portioning and freezing it ready for smoothies. Your smoothie will be cold, delicious, and so thick you could eat it with a spoon. In fact, if you pop it in the freezer for half an hour you could even serve it as dessert.

4. Use 4 fruits or less

In the smoothie pictured, I have fresh mango, half a frozen banana, frozen strawberry pieces and the pulp of two passionfruit. I’ve noticed keeping things to 4 fruits or less gives a cleaner taste. Also, one of the strongest flavours in the smoothie is banana, which makes sense because bananas are one of the sweetest fruits you can buy, so I never put in more than half a banana unless I want that to be the only flavour. The worst smoothies I’ve had don’t taste like anything in particular because there are so many kinds of fruit in there that no one flavour stands out. So whatever your fave fruit is, go heavy on that.

5. Use a straw

Ok, so this is just a personal preference of mine, but doesn’t life just feel that much more luxurious when you’re sipping your drink through a straw? I’m not saying you’ll feel like you’re on a northern Brazillian beach or anything, but a straw can’t hurt. Hell, why not chuck in a cocktail umbrella for good measure.

What’s your fave smoothie recipe?

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1. The Presentation of all things Food
Crisp white tablecloths without paper covers. The old-world charm of BA restaurants. And more recently, the beautifully arranged fruit and vegetable stands in every neighbourhood. Although the aesthetic can be homogeneous, there is something lovely about the Porteños’ eye for detail when it comes to food.

BA fruit and veg

2. Cake is sold by weight
In panaderias, smaller cakes, pastries and biscuits from medialunas (small croissants or ‘half moons’) factures to alfajores are often sold by weight rather than quantity. There’s something very decadent about ordering half a kilo of a combination of meringue, dulce de leche and sponge cake to take away.

cakes by weight

3. Fresh OJ
Fresh Orange juice is like running water here and not, in the words of Basil Fawlty, ‘rather sticky’. Cafés, restaurants and confiterias all make and serve it, as do some convenience stores and market stalls. It makes that breakfast of coffee and pastry seem a tad more balanced.

4. Garapiñadas
These sugar-coated nuts, usually peanuts or almonds, are cooked and sold by the side of the road in autumn and winter. In the mornings you can see the vendors wheeling their carts to their allocated spots for the day. It’s the kind of snack that is considered gourmet and is expensive where I come from, but here in Buenos Aires a small packet of garapiñadas costs only 2 or 3 pesos (about 50 Aussie cents). Freshly made and with fresh peanuts, they are more addictive than peanut butter. And since peanut butter doesn’t really exist here, they make a tasty substitute.

5. Delivery
One of the most fantastic things about this city, besides most restaurants being open until around 2:00 am is that practically anything you want can be delivered. You want empanadas at midnight? Done. A coffee and a medialuna at 10:00 am? No worries. Most shopfronts have their phone number displayed so that customer can ring up and order what they like. It’s not uncommon to see waiters with a covered tray in hand dodging traffic as they try not to spill coffee for someone a few doors down. There’s no minimum delivery and no delivery charge.

I am ashamed to admit that the only thing I remember of Cyclone Larry is that it meant I could no longer afford bananas. Suddenly they were a luxury item at around $14/kilo. I remember the café I worked at having to pay more for a loaf of banana bread than I’ve seen before or since. What I didn’t know at the time was that my definition of banana may differ from that of the major supermarkets. But more on that later.

These 'ugly' strawberries would never pass muster. Image courtesy of John 'K'

With all these natural disasters recently, there seems to be one issue (besides donations and tax levies) that the media uses to relate to those of us on the outside looking in: food prices. Articles on the impact of flooding and cyclone Yasi on fruit, vegetable and sugar cane crops in the immediate future and on the price of winter produce in the months to come, not to mention the loss to our coal and tourism industries, abound.

Obviously, fears are always more newsworthy than assurances. Various experts with clashing opinions are consulted, from economists to heads of major corporations to government officials, all asked to comment on or forecast the impact of these disasters on the average Australian household. Statistics are wheeled out, requoted, tweeted and blogged as people attempt to arm themselves with fact as a way of warding off impending doom.

Bananas from the Mercado Municipal de São Paulo in Brasil. Image courtesy of Fernando Stankuns.

Right now its guesstimate city as to what the outcome will be, but as Queensland accounts for 28% of Australia’s fruit and vegetable production, there is no doubt that there will be an impact. Lettuce, tomatoes, bananas and sugar cane will be affected. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, 60% of Australia’s sweet potato, spring onions, mandarins and zucchini and 80% of Australia’s beetroot comes from flood-affected areas. For these items and more, experts are suggesting substitution (for example, using cabbages instead of lettuce), but warn that the ability to substitute produce will lessen as supplies dwindle and that paying more for fresh produce is inevitable.

Just to make it a tad more complex, experts have pointed out that prices had already increased quite significantly from September to December for reasons wholly unrelated to natural disasters. On top of that, even after that impact of the floods and cyclone passes, prices will continue to climb, as rapid growth of immerging economies increases the demand for food.

Woolworths fruit display at the 2009 Sydney Easter Show. Image courtesy of pj_in_oz.

For an added level of complexity, Coles and Woolworths have ‘relaxed’ their prohibitive quality standards when it comes to appearance, meaning that so-called ‘ugly’ fruit will be temporarily permitted on their pristine shelves. This practice forces us to question the value of such standards and whether it leads to artificial inflation of prices in major supermarkets. Farmers have long argued that there is actually an oversupply of produce on the market, but the major supermarkets reject it on cosmetic grounds, with farmers often overproducing to get perfect fruit and then selling off the excess at a discounted price. According to Brisbane website foodconnect, each year 100,000 tonnes of bananas are chopped up and spread over banana plantations as fertiliser.

Scale of banana ripeness- not a feature considered in determining banana grading. Image courtesy of ergunter.

If I were a proper food blogger, I’d give you a recipe right now using cheap, non-flood affected produce and wait for all the commenters to compliment me on my ingenuity. Or I’d tell you all to start growing your own lettuce/tomatoes/bananas/sugarcane, lazy so-and-sos. Or I’d extol the virtues of farmers markets, claiming that the Duopoly of Australian Supermarkets is evil and anyone who shops there just as bad. But none of that is for me. What I will suggest is that you read the specs for Woolworths Grade 1 bananas here and have a think about whether or not any of them seem relevant to you. These are the kind of framesorks that determint what we see on our supermarket shelves, and what get used as fertiliser.

It’s no secret that Christmas is all about eating, and not just the day of. People often make (or buy) and give treats as gifts, anything from shortbread to jam; rich, wintery foods that will keep for months but when you think abou it, make little sense in the context of an Australian (summer) Christmas. Let’s face it, there are only so many chutneys and flavoured oils you can fit in your pantry. I never really understood why people would make food to give on the most food-laden day of the year. It’s certainly not something I could be bothered doing.

That said, I’m totally in favour of tasting the fruits of someone else’s labour, especially baked goods. Christmas baking is a tradition that many hold dear, including my friend Gina who spent her spare time this week baking fruit mince pies and the traditional Italian Christmas treat paneforte, kind of a distilled, nutty fruitcake.

I took great delight in photographing the ‘pan-for-day’ (as we say in a broad Aussie accent) and all its preparations. Neither Gina nor I could pronounce its name to the satisfaction of her Italian housemate, who took the piss out of us incessantly. That was fine by me. I was taking home a mini paneforte for lunch!

Gina had to ring her parents numerous times to get the correct recipe as although it was written down originally, it has undergone endless metamorphoses and adaptations to become what it is today. So this post is significant in that the recipe is finally written down. Next year Gina will have it on hand, and so will anyone else who wants to make it…

Paneforte is quite flexible. You can use any glacé fruit and any nuts you like, just make sure you have the right amounts. If you don’t feel like chopping nuts, you can leave them whole for an ‘extra chunky’ paneforte or pulse them (briefly) in the food processor. If you can only find dried fruit, not glacé you can use it but keep in mind the paneforte will be drier. Gina’s best tip? Buy peeled hazelnuts. Peeling hazelnuts is a pain in the arse. And the Aussie twist? Glacé pineapple.

The Tarantos’ Paneforte
125g peeled hazelnuts
125g blanched almonds
60g glacé apricot
60g glacé pineapple
60g chopped mixed peel

2/3 cup plain flour
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon

60g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup sugar
½ cup honey

Preheat oven to 160°c.

Roast the almonds and hazelnuts in a baking dish. Once cooled, coarsly chop the nuts, along with the glacé fruit.

Sift flour, cocoa and cinnamon together. Stir to combine. Stir nuts and fruit into dry ingredients.

Melt honey and sugar together on a low heat. Bring almost to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes or until thick and syrupy. Take off the heat, let cool for 5-10 minutes and then stir through chocolate until melted.

Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until completely combined. This will take a lot of elbow grease!

Line a 20cm loose-bottomed round quiche tine with baking paper. This is essential – if you just grease the tin the paneforte is sure to stick. Dollop the mixture onto it and cover with a second sheet of baking paper. Press the mixture down to flatten it, right to the edges, to get rid of any air bubbles. Cut off excess paper.

Bake for around 35 minutes or until the paneforte has just lost its sheen. If you overcook it or even burn it, just leave it in an airtight container for a couple of days before serving. This will soften it. Lasts 3 months if not exposed to air.

What dish do you most look forward to at Christmas?

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If you’ve paid attention thus far, you’ll know I eschew any food prep that’s complex or time consuming, unless I know it inside out. I’m also a massive declutterer so I’m not into purchasing appliances unless they’re absolutely necessary (all part and parcel of having a tiny kitchen). In fact, the only thing that made me happier than my aunt giving me her old blender a few years back was a few months back when it broke. ‘Huzzah!’ I thought, ‘Now I can get rid of something!’

The problem with this philosophy is that sometimes you miss out on opportunities. From listening to my friend Gina talk, making ice cream is a complex process. It involves making a custard and having an ice cream maker taking up space in your freezer. Just thinking about doing either of these things makes me sleepy. As a result, I’ve never had a go at homemade ice cream, sorbet or gelato other than a few times with my Grandfather when I was a teen. Or a tween. Some marketing-type-word.

So when I went round to Gina’s to watch her make ice cream I was surprised that it could be so easy. I figured since she was doing all the work, I should supply the ingredients, so we chose a blackberry banana sorbet as I had a kilo of what I thought were blackberries in my freezer at home as well as a banana I’d never gotten round to using. As soon as Ms. G saw them she said ‘They’re not blackberries.’ So we made boysenberry banana sorbet instead.

Since the majority of the ingredients were frozen it only took about 20 minutes in the ice cream machine and then maybe an hour of freezing. Gina picked her ice cream maker up on ebay for twenty bucks but she says that with this recipe, you don’t even need one. Having blended everything together in a food processor, you would simply transfer it into another container and leave it in the freezer, stirring with a whisk every half hour until set. You could hypothetically do this with any recipe but it works best if the ingredients are already frozen. In fact, once the mix was blended we wanted to eat it with a spoon then and there!

Banana Boysenberry Sorbet (from ‘The Perfect Scoop’ by David Lebovitz)
1 medium ripe banana (mine was chopped and then frozen, but it doesn’t matter).
2 cups of frozen boysenberries (you could really use any berries).
½ Cup caster sugar
1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice

Place all ingredients in the food processor and blend until most of the skins are liquidised. You can’t really strain them out because you won’t be left with much.

Chill in the ice cream maker as per its instructions or if you don’t have one, place immediately in the freezer, whisking every half hour until set. Consume ASAP.

What’s your favourite ice cream flavour?

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