Saturday, 27 April 2013

Danish apple cake

Sydney is a crazy town. This weekend I saw flocks of women tottering to the races in heels so high they could barely walk, the late April sun shone so brightly you might have mistaken it for a summer's day, and a two bedroom house under the flight path with an outdoor toilet, and a cracked brick façade sold at auction for over three quarters of a million dollars. My friends were hoping to buy the aforementioned house but at that wildly inflated price didn't even make it to the first bid. The least I could do was make them a cake to cheer them up.   

Fortunately, not everything is so crazy expensive in Sydney right now. As it happened, I'd purchased five apples for the grand total of 40 cents at Paddy's Markets in Chinatown on Friday so with a few pantry and fridge staples, a little bit of mixing and folding, peeling, slicing, arranging, and baking, some alternative sweet satisfaction - as capital D Delicious as the apples it was made with - was at hand in under an hour. It might not be a house, but this cake is definitely homey. It brought back memories of the tea cakes my Scottish grandmother (who I strongly suspect had some Danish ancestory somewhere back there) used to put out when we'd visit her after school: simple, sweet, comforting, and perfect with a cup of tea.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Ozark pudding cake

The one piece of kitchen equipment I can't do without isn't anything I had to save up to buy or go to a fancy store to purchase. It isn't anything I have to polish or sharpen, or spend hours cleaning after use. It isn't anything that's ever going to break or chip or go out of fashion. 

I love my cast-iron skillet. It's hands down the most versatile piece of kitchen equipment I own. You can put it on the stove-top or in the oven. For breakfast you can use it to whip up French toast, eggs and bacon or an omelette. For lunch, a frittata or a grilled cheese sandwich. For dinner, it makes easy work of sauces, sausages, even roast chicken. And for dessert, of course, there's nothing better for a Tarte Tatin. I use it to toast spices and pinenuts (because too many of those expensive little suckers have burned out of sight in the oven), brown meat, caramelise onions... There are so many things you can do with a cast iron skillet. But before the Sunday lunch I cooked the weekend before last, I had never made a cake in one. Let me tell you, it was a revelation.

Ozark pudding cake was popularised by US President Harry Truman's wife Bess when she served it to guests at a 1946 White House dinner attended by Winston Churchill. Hailing from the midwest, it was originally made with apples, but this variation uses pears instead. It would be equally scrumptious with either fruit I would think, especially with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream nestled beside it, melting into the still warm-from-the-oven cake.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Pumpkin and feta pie with olive oil pastry

A week ago daylight savings ended in Sydney. It was as if someone flicked a switch and the curtain fell on summer. All of a sudden, the leaves were curling on the trees, I was reaching for jumpers in my wardrobe, and seeing pumpkins and leeks everywhere. Autumn is far and away my favourite season, a magical time of year when you can sit at the table with the windows open and the light streaming in (if you live in an apartment like me and don't have a backyard) and enjoy something hot from the oven. Perfect for long, lazy, Sunday lunch.

This pie neatly encapsulates my cooking for friends philosophy managing to be both a bit special and totally unfussy at the same time. It's substantial (the pumpkin purée bolstered by cheese and eggs, the olive oil pastry surprisingly sturdy) yet not too heavy. It goes beautifully with a salad and fills you right up while leaving plenty of room for dessert. And it goes without saying I made dessert. But that's a story for another day. This post is all about pie... and this time, it's savoury.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Date, cashew and coconut truffles

I eat everything - meat, dairy, gluten, sugar... everything that is, except what those with food allergies, dietary restrictions or particular ethical beliefs routinely eat (and enjoy) because they can't eat those things. I'm squeamish about soy milk. I'm suspicious of margarine and other chemically-manufactured substitute products (though I'm grateful that whatever that is my dad spreads on his toast is lowering his cholesterol). To me, TVP sounds more like a disease than something I'd ever feel like tucking into, and as for tofu ice-cream, I'm not the slightest bit curious. Quite possibly this prejudice of mine is a problem. But I'm not inclined to work on it - not even remotely - when there are recipes like these featuring everyday, natural, wholly delectable ingredients that allow me to cook for the people in my life with dietary restrictions and myself at the same time. We all win.

These truffles contain neither butter nor cream yet they're rich, decadent and delicious while still being gluten-free, dairy-free and even vegan. A lactose-intolerant friend tried one and remarked that it tasted "like it should be much worse for you than it actually is", which was about as high a compliment as it could have possibly received. So go on, have another. I'm going to.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Buttermilk biscuits

I think I must have been a member of the CWA (Country Women's Association) in a past life. How else to explain the fact that there are four different homemade jams in my fridge at the moment? First there was cherry. Then came plum, after the cherry was such a success. And what happened next was Tasmania. Two separate trips, two different jams with apricots foraged from a backyard tree in January and blackberries from the side of the road in March. So. Four jars of jam, and more in the cupboard. It seemed like as good a reason as any to make biscuits. Not biscuits as the CWA would know them, but as found deep in the American south. There, they serve them with fried chicken and smothered in gravy, but I've always been fond of them as a breakfast food, and as a gloriously flaky, lightly leavened, subtly sweet... vehicle for jam.

So on Easter Saturday, the day in between hot cross buns and chocolate, I had a jam gathering: a tray of buttermilk biscuits, an array of jams, and a combined effort on the quiz in the back of the Good Weekend

Biscuits must be in the zeitgeist at the moment. Everywhere I turn online, people seem to be making them. Ordinarily I would have tried these or perhaps given these a go, but when it came down to it, I'm loyal to my original recipe which comes from the Macrina Bakery in Seattle, one of my favourite places in all the world and no better authority on a baked good. Good being the operative word.