Wednesday 29 May 2013

Poached quince

I wasn't sure about quinces. With their pretty pale yellow hue and bulbous prehistoric form, they always seemed more ornamental than edible. Don't get me wrong - quince paste is just about my favourite thing on earth with a slice of cheese, however when you can buy a slab of that cheaply at your local deli, there's not much incentive to make it yourself. But I had a quince evangelist staying with me on and off for the last five weeks and - hailing from the northern hemisphere (by way of Newcastle, Australia) - she was keen to soak up as much autumnal fruit as she could before returning to summer. And soak she did, submerging fat slices of fruit in sugar syrup and baking them slowly til they turned ruby red and my apartment was filled with the fragrance of vanilla. One night I tried some for dessert. They were sweet, silky and swimming in the sticky scarlet syrup of their juices. I was sold.

Let me start by saying that quinces are no fun at all to peel. Their irregular shape with all its crazy contours makes a simple task utterly frustrating. What's more, in its uncooked state, the fruit is rock hard so if you can imagine coring a rock, well, you will appreciate that the next step isn't any easier. But once that's done, so is all the hard work. After that it's just a matter of slicing them up, tossing them into an oven-proof casserole with the other ingredients, putting the lid on and sliding the whole thing into the oven. My houseguest is gone now, departed early Monday morning on a flight bound for SeaTac. The last thing she ate before heading to the airport was a single slice of poached quince, leaving me with a Tupperware container full of sweet poached fruit with which to remember her... and autumn too.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Orange loaf

So I had some sour cream to use up. A lot of the cooking I do starts this way. As an effort not to waste things. I can't remember now why I had sour cream in the fridge, but I couldn't let half a carton sit and spoil, no matter that it did cost all of $1.25 or thereabouts. I once made batch after batch of chutney just to empty a glass vinegar bottle, which - with its pretty embossed leaf pattern - I had designs on repurposing as a water jug. A good friend pointed out, quite sensibly, that I could have bought the bottle and just tipped its contents down the sink - but I just can't bring myself to waste anything. Besides, it's a good excuse to cook. So. The sour cream. I could have made cornbread. I could have baked a potato. But with all this glorious sunshine Sydney's been enjoying of late, I had organised a weekend picnic, so it seemed a cake was called for. This one I'd bookmarked from a blog a while ago, being a fan of all things orange, in colour and in cooking.

This recipe uses both the zest and juice of the fruit for a full-bodied citrus flavour. The sweetness of the orange is tempered nicely by the tang of the sour cream, which also gives the cake a stunningly smooth texture. It's light yet robust, and in its loaf form, eminently transportable - the perfect picnic cake. I'll be making it again (and again, no doubt as then I'll have the other half of the sour cream carton to use up). 

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Baked beans

In my professional life, I spend a lot of time waiting. For scripts to be read, decisions to be made, productions to be finished... It drives me crazy. I've never done one of those personality tests but I'm sure if I did I'd be classified as some manic crosser-off of tasks on a list, deadline-meeting type, and completely unsuited to my chosen career, which requires a lot of patience. Some things though, I don't mind waiting for. 

Let me start by saying I'm a fan of baked beans. They're not for everyone I know that. There's a low-rent kind of quality to them, that's really (let's be frank here) just all about the can. And the sweet, gloopy, red sludge of sauce that binds together those mushy white beans. I'm sure if you bothered to read the nutritional information on the label you'd see they're full of sugar and salt and all manner of preservatives and things that are bad for you. But I love them anyway. There's nothing more comforting on a cold day than baked beans on toast. It's breakfast, it's lunch, sometimes it's even dinner. And a satisfying one at that. Particularly if that toast is not just toast but grilled cheese, or you add an egg (poached, fried, whatever you like) on top. So while I'm perfectly content with the instant gratification of opening a can, this recipe, which promised something similar in four hours (and that's just the cooking time!) intrigued me. I had a hunch that they were going to be worth it. And boy was I right.

Smoky and sweet, with the subtle tang of vinegar, these are the kind of beans that make you want to be a cowboy, or at least eat like one (alas my allergy to horses prevents me from considering this as an alternative line of work). But the taste is only the beginning of what's so good about them. The smell - as they cook slowly in the oven, infusing your kitchen with the heady aroma of bacon and onion, spices and garlic - is the very definition of warm and cosy. Waiting was never more wonderful.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Lime curd

Every time I visit a hardware store in the United States I want to cry. Not because I'm particularly moved by drill bits and door handles but because all of a sudden I'll round a corner to be confronted with the most beautiful preserving jars at ridiculously low prices. Now I've taken a lot of things back to Australia with me in my suitcase over the years, but working out how to get a larger-than-cabin-baggage size pallet of glass jars back home just defeated me. So imagine my delight when procrastinating on the internet one day in the midst of my jam-making bender, to find an Australian importer who sold them here at a reasonable price, and even better, delivered straight to my door. So on my birthday I ordered myself a dozen.

Limes are out in force right now - juicy, sharp and magnificently green. It was the colour that decided it. I was all set to make lime pickle but then at the last minute changed course, feeling the need to showcase, in my lovely new jars, that gorgeous pastel yellow-green... almost the same shade as the abundant, sleepy-soft autumnal light flooding in through my living room windows at the moment. So my savoury plan got changed to sweet and lime curd it was. There are a lot of recipes out there but this one is a keeper. It uses whole eggs (as opposed to just egg yolks or a combination of yolks and whole eggs) so there's no separation anxiety or wastage of whites.

Lime curd is the perfect marriage of sour and sweet. It's rich and luxurious in taste and texture, yet the citrus tang keeps it light. It's incredible dolloped atop a meringue with some cream, spread lavishly between the layers of a cake, as the filling in individual sweet tart shells (maybe with some chopped pistachios sprinkled on top to complement the colour and add a bit of crunch), or simply eaten straight from the jar.