Monday, January 30, 2012

plum crazy

As much as I adore being on holiday, returning to work does bring some kind of routine and structure back into life.  Conversely, with less time, more seems to get done.  I will, of course, be eating these words in a few weeks when it all gets too much for me and when I will be longing for another holiday.

Last year around this time, my first blog post ever featured plum jam.  Once again, the two plum trees are laden with plump fruit and the annual plum and vanilla jam has been made and I have stewed plums, freezing them in servable sizes for later use.

Looking for other ideas for plums, I spied Toast’s blog post on plum and lemon cake (here). Hardly waiting for breath, I made it as soon as I jumped off the blog.  Something I hardly ever do.  It was oh so quick and easy and such a gorgeous result.

Then I had a disastrous attempt at a recipe for Plum Clafoutis where the batter separated and although it was edible, it didn’t look good, and I couldn’t face it, so it got binned.

But my overall favourite would have to be this plum and chocolate slice that I adapted from a cherry, cream cheese and chocolate slice by Genevieve McGough –  from Cuisine magazine November 2005.

Food pleasure for me is often in direct relation to the amount of fat and sugar contained therein, so I was not surprised at my choice.  However, I did baulk more than a little when I read:

300g dark chocolate
300g butter
365g sugar
250g cream cheese

Okay, I baulked a lot.  Post-Christmas, I am trying to return to eating as usual which, much as I’d like it, doesn’t involve desserts, continuous chocolate treats and give us our wine, our daily wine, so the mere scanning of my eyes over these three ingredients set off an alarm. 

So what’s a girl to do?  I compromised and halved the recipe. Me and halving recipes is a bad combination.  It goes something like this. 

Mistake No. 1 – Not thinking
I’ve already measured the plums working on a whole recipe

Mistake No. 2 – I don’t write it down
I start off efficiently calculating half of 300g, 250g, etc.  then…

Mistake No. 3 – I forget
So when I get to, in this case, the water, I’m gaily sploshing in the full amount, and just as the chocolate, butter and water overdose are melting, I remember and start spooning out what I fathom is half the water, which by now has butter merging into it.  Oh dear…

All I am saying is don’t be like me.  Use the full recipe, which I’ve given here, or know what you’re doing.  Fortunately it all turned out exceedingly well in the end.

The original recipe was for cherries, so use them if you prefer (250g cherries, stalks removed, stoned and halved).  As plums have larger stones than cherries, I reckoned on 400g plums (which, as I mentioned above was my calculation for the whole recipe).  If you’ve any plum syrup left over, use as an addition to a breakfast of muesli and yogurt, or porridge or add to baking such as muffins, etc. I can vouch for it being yum!

So, what was the slice like?  Well worth making. I expect my version was a bit fruitier than the original (remembering I had the full portion of fruit and half the batter!) and that may have affected the texture, which was lighter than I expected. I absolutely loved it though and so did everyone else.  It had a rich, chocolatey-mousse taste, with the moistness of sweetened, but still somewhat tart, jammy plums and velvety cream cheese - reminiscent of a raspberry brownie. 

Honestly, the photograph does not do it justice and I intend to make it again soon!  I might even try a version omitting the cream cheese just to taste what that’s like. (That will be the low-fat version then?)

Sadly, once I’ve exhausted all the plum recipes (and myself), the neighbouring plum tree ripens and is left sad, lonely and neglected.  Well not really, I will try to pass them around but you would not believe how many times bags of plums, ready to donate to friends, family and work colleagues have been left behind on the kitchen table!

Plum tree with most of the plums picked or eaten by birds

plum and chocolate slice

400g plums
1¾ cup (365g) caster sugar
185ml water
300g dark chocolate (I used Whittaker’s Dark Ghana 72% cocoa)
300g butter
5 eggs
1 ½ cups (210g) plain flour
250g cream cheese

Preheat oven to 150°C.

Grease a 32cm x 22 x 5 baking tin and line with baking paper.

Halve and quarter plums, removing stalk and stones.

Place 50g of the sugar and 85ml of the water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Add the plums and simmer for 10 minutes.  Leave to cool.

Melt chocolate, butter and remaining water in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.  Stir to combine and leave to cool.

Whisk the eggs and remaining sugar on high speed in an electric mixer for about 10 minutes until all the sugar has dissolved.

Turn mixer to a slow speed and slowly pour in the chocolate mixture until is incorporated.  Switch off mixer, sift in flour and mix briefly with a wooden spoon until flour lumps are gone.

Pour batter into the prepared tin, dot with small blobs of cream cheese and the plums, then drizzle with a little of the plum syrup.

Bake 40-45 minutes or until mixture is cooked through and springs back when pressed lightly with your fingertips or until a skewer comes out with some of the mixture like wet crumbs rather than wet batter.

Leave to cool in the tin. 

Dust with icing sugar if you wish. Cut into squares.  Serve with yogurt or cream for dessert or with a cup of coffee or tea.

Adapted from a recipe by Genevieve McGough
Published in Cuisine magazine, November 2005

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

vanilla panna cotta with Piopio blueberries … and a year older

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me … ♫

That’s the blog singing, not me.  My birthday was lost somewhere between Christmas shopping, Christmas organization and travel plans. Either way, we’re both a year older.

Yes, last Tuesday 10 January was the first anniversary of eat, etc…

And, as if Food Gawker somehow knew 10 January was a special anniversary, my first attempt at a photographic submission, succeeded. Oh, happy days.  Click on the Food Gawker badge in the right hand column if you have no idea what I am talking about. There’s only one photo as yet but first birthdays are kind of special, don’t you think?

Thank you to each and every one of you who has taken the time to stop by.  Sometimes I feel like such a fraud being a food blogger, especially when others have so much more talent.  So I remind myself that I’m not pretending to be anything other than what I am – someone who likes to cook and bake and wants to write about it.  There. Now you know.

Okay, on to the main idea, a creamy little dessert. 

After the Christmas rush (refer paragraph two above and/or my last post if you really want to relive the details. I don’t.), New Year’s Day lunch was a combined celebration – my birthday, Christmas AND New Year - with my sister and her partner, and most of all it was going to be simple.

Panna cotta is one of those easy yet impressive desserts that you make in advance.  It is velvety smooth on the palate and creamy to taste. The cream should be flavoured softly to give just a delicate hint of what’s inside.  Then use what’s in season to accompany it or to decorate. 

We had purchased a 1-litre box of big fat blueberries from the Piopio Orchard on our trip back from Taranaki (and on our way down!). The blueberries are juicy, sweet and better than any blueberries I’ve ever tasted.  No bruised or shriveled ones here and they last really well.  They also sell strawberries, fruit ice creams and coffees.  No wonder they’re so popular. I texted a friend to say the only traffic jam we’d encountered on our way south was the one in the car park at the orchard! 

Back home on New Year’s Day, I didn’t bother to use moulds for the panna cottas (stressless lunch, remember?) but you are welcome to try.  They look just as appealing served in little glasses or ramekins.  Plus, you don’t have the “will they, won’t they slip out whole” factor. I served them with fat blueberries and star shaped sweet shortbread.

Another fine start to a New Year.

vanilla panna cotta with blueberries

3 tsp gelatine
2 tbsp warm water
375ml (1 ½ cups) cream
375ml (1 ½ cups) milk
75g (1/3 cup) caster sugar
1 vanilla pod (or substitute with 1 tsp vanilla essence)
1 small punnet blueberries (or use seasonal fruit of your choice)

Optional: sweet shortbread or similar dessert-type biscuit to serve

Soak the gelatine in the 2 tbsp warm water.  Stir briskly with a fork until the gelatine is completely dissolved.

Using a sharp knife split the vanilla pod lengthways to open but don’t cut right through. 

Place the cream, milk, sugar and vanilla pod in a saucepan and bring slowly to the boil. When it comes to the boil, take the pan off the heat.   Remove the vanilla pod (you can rinse this in water, dry and re-use) and whisk in the soaked gelatine until it is well combined.

Lightly butter or oil* six ramekin dishes or moulds, then pour in the mixture.  Leave to cool, and then chill in the fridge for at least two to three hours until set.

Arrange the blueberries on top of each dish or alongside and serve with a suitable dessert biscuit such as sweet shortbread.

*Use a light, flavourless oil. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

apple butter with sultana scones

It’s amazing how relaxed I am feeling after the assault of Christmas.  It shouldn’t be like that but it was and it is.  I swear I will do it differently each year but it always ends up the same – stress, stress, and more stress.  Enough.

In the oh so wonderful aftermath of rising late, pottering around and having the time to indulge, I am finally finding the peace again. 

Midweek, I made the decision to make sultana scones for breakfast instead of eating breakfast AND then baking AND eating scones for morning tea.  Yes, this is what I call post-Christmas lean eating!  There was a reason.  I have wanted to make apple butter for a long time and I have wanted to participate in Cookbook Sundays, since Sue at Couscous and Consciousness began hosting it a few months ago.  Two very good reasons.

I don’t know much about fruit butters. The first thing I learned was that apple butter does not contain butter.  The second was that I had imagined it would turn out to be a pale, apple sauce-type spread but it was much darker in colour and had the texture of a smooth chutney.  (It was supposed to be the consistency of room temperature butter but my effort was not quite as thick as that). 

Whether or not my first attempt was any good, I liked it.  I imagine it would go well with a good sharp cheddar cheese or a Brie, or served with cold meats especially ham and pork.  It kind of reminded me of a softer, runnier, more intense version of fruit paste. On the sweet side, it could accompany waffles or pancakes or, as I found, scones.  Versatile then.  I am sure some of you reading this will have lots of ideas on pairing apple butter and other fruit butters and I would love to hear some other ideas.

When I was trying to think of how I would eat it, I thought of the taste of stuffed, baked apples and came up with the idea of pairing the butter with sultana scones and I think it works.  Well, you know, it worked for me.

The recipe comes from a book The New Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas, which I bought in Taranaki (New Zealand) many years ago and I am almost sure I have not cooked anything from it.  The bookshop called Simply Read was in a lovely little red building down by the surf coast – a wonderful place to visit.  I am not vegetarian but I do enjoy trying different recipes using vegetables.

This is why Cookbook Sundays appealed to me.  Not just finding a cookbook that I have used seldom (or not at all) and testing a recipe, but finding new things to try and interacting with a wider audience to learn more.

I made a smaller amount of the apple butter recipe given and found that the liquid evaporated so I topped it up.  I have posted the full recipe below (maybe you need to use the full amount so it won’t evaporate!?). 

For the scones, I just used a basic recipe and added some sultanas so they’re really just a pairing up for the apple butter and did not appear in the same book.

The photographer was back at work so it was just me and the point and shoot camera. I had the time and that is part of the enjoyment.  To have the time to shoot the photos inside and if that doesn’t work, try outside.  To take the time to create the mood and style the photo.   To have no rush, except to eat the scones still warm from the oven with a dollop of spicy apple butter on top. Bliss.

Apple butter (makes just over 2 pints or 1.4 litre)
3 ½ lb/1.6kg tart green apples
16 fl oz/450ml apple juice
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp salt
2 tbsp molasses

Peel, quarter and core the apples but don’t discard the peels or cores.  Squeeze a little lemon juice on the quartered apples to keep them from browning. 

Place just the peel and cores in a saucepan with the apple juice and simmer gently for about 30 minutes.  Strain the juice and discard the solids.

Add the quartered apples and the remaining ingredients to the juice and simmer, stirring often, until the apples are very soft.  Press the mixture through a fine sieve or puree in a blender.

Continue cooking the apple butter over a low heat, stirring often, until it is very thick and smooth.  Spoon into hot, sterile jars leaving about 1/3 in/8mm of a gap between the mixture and the top of the jar, and seal.

Sultana scones
Makes about 8-10 scones

2 cups self-raising flour
2 tsp sugar
pinch salt

1¾ oz/50g butter, cold, diced finely or grated
½ cup sultanas
1 cup milk, approximately

Pre-heat oven to 230°C

Grease a baking tin or line a tray with baking paper.

 Sift the flour, sugar and salt into a bowl.

Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Add sultanas and mix gently to combine.

Make a well in the centre of the mix and pour in most of the milk.  Using a wide knife (I use a palette knife), mix together to a soft, sticky dough.  Add more milk from your measure if the mixture is not sticky enough.

On a lightly floured board or surface, gently knead the dough and press out to ¾ inch/2cm thickness.

Using a flour dusted cookie cutter or knife, cut the dough into desired shapes and place the scones close together (almost touching) on the tray or tin.  Brush the tops with a little extra milk.

Bake for 10-15 minutes until the tops are golden and cooked through – the scones should sound hollow when tapped with your fingertips.

Serve with some real butter and a dollop of apple butter.

Scones are best served warm and on the day they are made.  However they can be frozen.