Pear, Hazelnut and Rosewater Cake

Pear and hazelnut cakeI love that I don’t have a microwave. When I did own one I barely used it. The occasional reheating and warming milk, that was it. I certainly never used it to cook food in. It just didn’t feel right.  So when I moved into a tiny one bedroom flat with the tiny one person kitchen I decided I didn’t want to take up valuable space with a piece of gadgetry I hardly ever used. I also wanted to keep thing simple and more natural. I don’t have a toaster either, purely to save space. I have to say this has resulted in many a burnt toast as I forget about it under the grill while I’m distracted by something, usually someone’s blog.

People have also looked at me quizzically when I say I really don’t want a thermomix. Don’t get me wrong they certainly have their place, that’s just not in my kitchen. I like that it takes me time to make ice cream, a risotto that needs constant tending, and I like a dough that requires time kneading. I don’t want any machine that takes that pleasure away from me.

In saying all that there are times when you have to be inventive, like softening butter…butter

Still, I wouldn’t change a thing and as Autumn brings cooler evenings I will be welcoming it with my central heater, the kitchen oven.Pear and hazelnut cake

Pear, Hazelnut and Rosewater Cake

100g hazelnuts

100g plain flour

2 tspn baking powder

200g softened unsalted butter

100g caster sugar

100g golden caster sugar

3 eggs

1 tspn vanilla extract

2 not quite ripe pears

Rosewater syrup

2 tbspn caster sugar

4 tblspn water

1 tspn rose water

1 tspn cinnamon

1 tspn dried rose petals

Line a 24cm spring form baking tin. Warm oven to 150°C. Place the hazelnuts in a baking tray and roast for about 15 minutes or until you see the skins cracking. Remove and tip onto a tea towel. Increase oven temperature to 180°C. Gather up the tea towel edges and rub the hazelnuts together so the skins will fall off. Don’t be too fussy about this, some skin left on is fine. Pop them into a food processor and when cooled down a bit whiz them to a fine ground.

Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl and add ground hazelnuts. Cream butter and sugar in large bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating each in well before adding the next. Add vanilla extract with the last egg.  Add flour/hazelnut mix and gently fold through well. Tip into the baking tin and spread out to cover the bottom.

Peel and quarter the pears, slice out the core and then slice the quarter into 3-4 more slices. Lay over the cake in a circle, over lapping is fine.

Bake in the oven for 45-50 minutes. Leave in the tin to cool. To make the syrup, mix the caster sugar and water in a very small saucepan over medium heat, until sugar is dissolved. Then add the rosewater and remove from the heat. Pierce the cake with a skewer to make alot of holes over the cake. Spoon over about 3/4 of the syrup. Sprinkle with cinnamon and dried rose petals.

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Persian Lamb and Barley Soup with Yoghurt Flatbreads

Lamb and barley soupI always find nourishing comfort in soup. If it’s a soft smooth blended soup or a clear broth, it does not matter I am deeply in love with soup. This Persian-inspired soup is a broth of slow cooked lamb with chickpeas, pearl barley and onion. Simple flavours that remind me of soups my mother used to make for me as a child.

These yoghurt flatbreads have become a regular fall back at my place. Mainly due to the fact that I always have the ingredients to hand and they are a cinch to make. It’s from one of my favourite sources of inspiring food that works, Ottolenghi. He has shared the recipe for us here. I often tweak the herbs to suit what I’m making. The recipe calls for fresh coriander but here I have used a pinch of dried mint instead. On other occasions I have substituted fennel seeds, fresh parsley or crush cumin seeds.

lamb and barley soup

Persian Lamb and Barley Soup

1 big tablespoon clarified butter

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 lamb shank

1 large clove garlic, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

60g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained

a pinch of saffron threads

50g pearl barley

1 big handful of chopped parsley

juice 1/2 lemon

1 teaspoon dried mint

1 tablespoon olive oil

Heat a saucepan over medium heat and warm clarified butter. Add onions and soften. Add garlic and turmeric, add lamb shank to brown on all sides. Pour in a litre of boiling water and lower to a gentle simmer. Cover with lid askew and simmer gently for 90 minutes. Add chickpeas and saffron then continue cooking for another hour. Then add pearl barley and cook for 30 minutes. Lamb should be falling off the bone by this stage. Remove the meat from the bone and discard the bone. Add salt and pepper to taste, parsley and lemon juice. Combine mint and olive oil. Serve hot with greek yoghurt, mint oil, crisp fried onion and yoghurt flatbreads.

Serves 2.

Sticky Fruit Flapjacks

Fruit FlapjacksSometimes that saying “life wasn’t meant to be easy” feels like it rings true more often than not. I don’t mean to depress you but it’s true, yes. Those are the times I feel like hibernating in my little flat surrounded by all the beautiful things that comfort and bring me joy. Lounging on the couch watching old movies, reading cookbooks and even polishing the silver could keep me content.

Although it’s probably when I should be getting out and about, not letting things get me down but sometimes I just don’t feel like it. This recipe arose out of one of those days.

Sticky Fruit Flapjacks

100g unsalted butter (sometimes I use half butter half sunflower oil)

100g golden caster sugar

100g honey

100g dried fruit ( I used a mixture of dates, figs, and cranberries)

100g of mixed nuts and seeds ( I used half walnuts and then sunflower, sesame and pepita seeds)

A large handful of shredded coconut

50g ground almonds

200g rolled oats (sometimes I mix in some barley or spelt flakes)

Preheat oven to 150°C. Gently heat the butter, honey and sugar in a small saucepan over a low heat. While this is happening, chop the dried fruit and nuts into small pieces. Place them in a large bowl along with the rest of the dry ingredients. Once the butter, honey and sugar have melted and combined together, pour into dry ingredients and mix together well. Tip into a lined baking tray (approx. 26cmx18cm). Press down into the tray. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top begins to turn golden brown. Remove and leave to cool completely cooled before cutting. They will be soft and sticky. Keep in an airtight container for up to 4-5 days.

Warm courgette, pearl barley, white bean and basil salad

Courgette saladGee I’m finding it hard to get back into work this year! Is anyone else having the same problem? or is that a silly question. I don’t know if it’s the glorious beach weather or the fact that I’m so over my job that is causing this. I suspect a bit of both.

Quite often I have to eat lunch around 1130am before I go to work and end up having dinner when I get home, anywhere from 730pm -1100pm. So, in summer, these are the dishes I live off, quick fridge and cupboard creations.

Yes it’s vegetarian but I make most of my salads that way. If anything a whisper of shredded chicken or if you want to make it even more substantial some pan fried lamb fillet would work well.

Warm courgette, pearl barley, white bean and basil salad

1 medium courgette

about 55g pearl barley

about 100g cooked white beans (I used cannelini)

1 small spring onion, finely chopped

2 sprigs of basil

persian fetta (optional)

ground pepperberries

Dressing

I large tablespoon greek yogurt

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

1 tablespoon good extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

Put pearl barley in a small saucepan, cover with water so it’s about an inch above the barley and bring to boil on the stovetop. Reduce to a simmer for 12-15 minutes until cooked but still retaining some bite. While the pearl barley is cooking, slice the courgette. Lightly oil (I used spray) a med-hot pan and lay courgette in a single layer. Lightly oil the side facing up while in the pan and add salt and pepper. Turn then over when lightly browned. Don’t cook the courgette to a mush, you want them to be lightly browned and just cooked through. Mix all the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. Adjust to taste.

To assemble scatter half the drained pearl barley in your dish, top with half your spring onions, and half your white beans, lay some courgettes over top, and repeat. Top with basil leaves, a small amount of crumbled fetta, dollop a few teaspoons of the dressing around and sprinkle with ground pepperberries. If you don’t like a dairy overload you can choose either the fetta or dressing but I like a little of both. The dressing will keep for two weeks in the fridge. It’s great on other salads too.

A New Year and A New Beginning…

Whether you’re the type who makes New Years Resolutions or not, a new year is the perfect time to regroup, look at the year past, what you can learn from it and where you can go from here. Usually these things don’t just happen by themselves, you have to make the effort to sit down, relax and contemplate.white peach iced tea

If your happy with where life is taking you, that’s fab, but most of us want more, and in doing that it takes effort.

I’ve had some crazy ideas this year. Some of them I’ve followed through, some didn’t work and some I just sat on. I don’t know where life might take me this year but I do know if I don’t make the effort to change it’s direction I’ll still be in the same place next year and that’s not where I want to be.

Once we’re thrown off our habitual paths, we think all is lost, but it’s only here that the new and the good begins.” – Leo Tolstoy

The Contemplation Drink aka White Peach Iced tea.

Place 4 cups water and 1/4 cup caster sugar into a saucepan and bring to the boil. While this is happening finely chop two very ripe white (or yellow) peaches. Once the water has come to the boil, add the peaches and 4 bags of tea. I have strong loose leaf tea so I used about 4 teaspoons. Cover with saucepan lid and leave to steep for a few minutes. Strain through a reasonably fine sieve, cool, add a squeeze of lemon and refrigerate.

Grissini

There is great satisfaction in making your own bread, of any kind, and grissini is no exception. As you can imagine they taste a million times better than those bland cardboard sticks you buy off the shelf. They are also impressive to bring out if your having people over for drinks or for a pre-dinner snack.

This recipe is simple, no waiting for dough to prove and no kneading. It does require some patient, time consuming rolling though, I will not lie. It’s worth it though and never again will I buy a box of those perfectly formed bland grissini off the shelf. I always say that, everytime I make something like this, I’m surprised by the result.

This recipe was adapted from a recipe by Katie Caldesi in her fabulous book, The Italian Cookery Course.

Grissini

100mls lukewarm milk, whole or half fat

3g dried yeast

160g ‘OO’ or strong flour

25g parmesan

55g soft butter

a large pinch of salt

Heat oven to 160°C. Mix the milk and yeast. In another bowl mix the flour and butter with your hands, so it resembles the texture of breadcrumbs. Add the parmesan and salt and lightly mix in, again with your hands. Add the milk and yeast mixture and mix until it comes together as a soft slightly wet dough. Turn out on a lightly floured bench. Roll out the dough until it it about 3 or 4 mm thick. Slice the dough in half and then start taking 2-3 cm slices. I didn’t take a photo so I have drawn you a picture so you can get the idea. If your clever enough to roll it out into a rectangle thats fantastic but mine always looked like this and I suspect your will too. Obviously you will have to take larger slices where the dough is shorter but really just treat it like soft playdough. This is forgiving dough. Roll into long sticks and gently lay on lined baking tray. Bake in oven for 25-30 minutes.

Rosemary version: Finely chop some rosemary, leave on your chopping board and roll your stick in it before placing on baking tray.

Sesame version: Spread some sesame seeds on you chopping board and roll stick over it. These taste and look good but kind of annoying as all the seeds tend to fall off when your trying to eat it.

Parmesan version: add an extra 25g grated parmesan to the mixture. Or  just separate about a quarter of the dough and gently work about 5-8g extra parmesan into it before rolling out into sticks. 

Olive version: Chop 3-4 olives (green or black) very finely. Add a small pinch to a stick before you have rolled it. Work it into the dough so the olives will be integrated. The added moisture the olives bring will require you to roll it in a little flour on your bench until you are able to handle it easily enough to roll. These are a little more challenging but just require gentle patience.

Prosciutto version: Just simply wrap thin slices of prosciutto around the plain grissini sticks after you have baked it.

Confit Duck with Broad Beans, Peas and Pancetta

Sunday lunch in my family has always upheld been as the best meal of the week, mainly due to Mum’s roast I think. A quick Sunday lunch with my brother still needs to be a bit special and the duck recipe in this months Gourmet Traveller fits the bill perfectly.

It was the first time I had made confit duck, so easy peasy. The only thing you have to watch in this recipe is that you cook the duck on the stovetop at the lowest heat possible. I think I panicked and let it get to a low simmer a few times and I thought it ended up a little overcooked. I did a one stop shop for this and they only had pancetta, not speck, so that’s what I used. It’s a acceptable substitute.

Otherwise this is an easy recipe, from Press Food and Wine in Adelaide, that I would make again. You can find the recipe on the Gourmet Traveller website here.