Tuesday 30 October 2012

Pear and ginger upside-down cake

We all have favourite places.  Places we return to again and again because they make us feel inspired, or comforted, or even just plain old happy.  Macrina Bakery in Seattle is one of these places for meThough there are three stores now, the original, down on 1st Ave is the one I head for like a homing pigeon whenever I find myself in town. I've clocked countless hours there having breakfast, coffee (well, never just coffee) or lunch with people I love, or by myself either staring out the window or writing postcards at their chrysanthemum adorned tables

A couple of years ago, Macrina published a cookbook, generously sharing their recipes, and making it possible for those of us who live far, far away and can't just pop in as much as they might like to, to have a little piece of our favourite place right here in our kitchen.

You can make this with whatever seasonal fruit is to hand - apples, nectarines, plums - but I particularly like the silkiness of the pear against the chewy crumb of the cake.  With its caramel crown and dark, brooding beauty, it looks far more high maintenance than it actually is.  It comes together quickly and is eaten just as fast.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Pumpkin chowder with rice and thyme

Sometimes, life is hard.  And for those times, there's soup.  It's kind of like the edible equivalent of a hug - warm, comforting, generous.  Here, outside my window in Sydney, the leaves flutter pale green and new on the trees.  Spring is definitely in the air but there are still just enough cool days left to wear jumpers, work indoors without resentment and... make soup.  Once you have a pot on the stove, bubbling away, you can relax, knowing that for all the other things that might be swirling around your head, at least you're fed.  And fed well.

There's something about pumpkin soup in particular, that defies difficulty.  I think partly just because of its relentlessly cheerful colour.  While I find a lot of blended vegetable soups bear an unfortunate resemblance to baby or else retirement home food, this one is neither bland or fusty.  The cinnamon imparts a lovely, warm flavour to the pureed pumpkin, the red onion a subtle sweetness, the chilli a nice kick, and the rice an unexpected texture, and a satisfying starchiness. 

For those who'll have a spare pumpkin or three lying around next week, this one's for you.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Sardinian ricotta cake

Like a lot of white middle-class people of my generation, I have a few too many university degrees. My first tertiary study was an Arts degree with a double major in French which I undertook perhaps partly to legitimise my avid reading of Paris Match (and its extensive coverage of ageing French pop stars and minor European royalty). The main things I got out of those three years were two friends called Joanna and this recipe, given to us by a boy in our class. I'm not sure where he got it from - it's way more sophisticated than any 18 year old has any right to be.  But he was French, so perhaps that explains it. The three of us quickly incorporated it into our baking repertoire and all these years later, it's still being made with regularity. For good reason. It's simple, elegant and utterly delicious. Somehow it manages to be both densely squidgy and light, its lemon flavour is subtle yet striking and it works equally well as a showstopping dessert or as an everyday cake, one which tastes especially fine with a cup of the inkiest black coffee. VoilĂ .

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Chicken biryani

Though I've never been to India, I love Indian food: the colours, the flavours, the heat...  It's quick and easy cooking with a minimum of pots and pans, which, as someone with neither a dishwasher or a large kitchen I particularly appreciate.  This dish gets double points on that front as it doesn't even require you to cook rice separately.  Brilliantly, the basmati sits on top of the marinated meat in the same pot, and steams as it's cooked in the oven, infusing with all the glorious flavour of the spices, tang of the yoghurt and sweetness of the onions. 

But far and away the very best thing about Indian food is how - with the addition of store-bought chutney or yoghurt, poppadoms or pickles, naan or roti (or all of the above) - a simple meal can be transformed into a lavish feast.  This is food to share - make a one pot dish (with a minimum of fuss and maximum of flavour), cluster your condiments and breads on the table around it, crack open some beers and dig in.

Tuesday 2 October 2012


About this time last year, my father and I did a road trip in the American midwest.  I was researching a project of mine and he came along for the ride.  Well, technically speaking, it was me who was doing the riding as Dad drove most of the time.  On the agenda were Minnesotan lakes (for me) and notable regional architecture (for him) - from dilapidated barns, to a Frank Lloyd Wright gas station (with an observation deck for you to look over the countryside you've just traversed), to the most beautiful bank in all the world, in Owatonna MN (designed by Louis Sullivan).  We clocked up a lot of miles, saw a lot of pretty leaves and ate a lot of pancakes.  Most days we'd start the morning perusing a laminated plastic menu while sipping bottomless cups of lukewarm coffee, the Rand McNally road atlas open on the table between us. 

Dad came down to visit recently.  We looked at photos from our trip.  And I made him pancakes.

There's something about pancakes for breakfast that is inherently exciting,  hence the inclusion of the exclamation mark in the title of this post.  There are endless variations on the basic combination of eggs, flour, milk and sugar (fruit, nuts, grains, ricotta... the list goes on and on) but when I'm making them at home, I like to keep it simple.