Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Danish Apple and Berry Cake

I have had this recipe for a very long while and cooked it many times.  It's one of those hearty winter puddings that you couldn't imagine eating in the middle of summer - kind of goes with lamb and barley soup and more of a pie than a cake.

Like many people, I didn't really have a past until I turned forty - that is, I did, but it didn't concern me - I just lived in the moment and then, it just kind of descended upon me and spun me up like a ball of fairy floss on a stick that just keeps on growing.  Well, my mind was turning the other day with sticky sweet memories thinking about my mother's pies and how good her pastry was - so I rang her to ask her secret and her reply was 'cold hands' - so there you go.  She doesn't make her famous pastry anymore but I hope mine would get her smile of approval.

800g can of pie apples or 1kg fresh cooking apples, peeled, sliced and stewed until soft with a little honey or sugar without adding any water - do it gently!
1 cup blackberries (optional) added to the apples just before they finish stewing
NOTE: if you are not adding berries, add some cinnamon and sultanas to the apples
2 1/4 cups self-raising flour (I use wholemeal)
2/3 cup cornflour (this gives the pastry it's crispy, crunchiness)
2/3 cup caster sugar
200 g butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup milk

1.  Preheat oven to 180oC
2.  Lightly grease 23cm springform pan
3.  Put the sifted flours, sugar and butter into a food processor bowl and process until mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
4.  Pour in the egg, vanilla and milk and process until mixture wraps around the blades.
5.  Roll out 2/3 of mixture and press into cake tin reserving 1/3 for lid.
6.  Spoon in apple and berry mixture, then cover with pastry lid.  Roll over edge of pastry to form sealed crown.
7.  Glaze with a beaten egg and bake for about 50 minutes or until golden.

This is not an elegant desert and is supposed to be rustic looking.

NOTE:  You can use any fruit to add to the apples - rhubarb, raspberries, blackcurrants etc - just make sure that the fruit is par-cooked, but not sloppy when you put it in the pie otherwise the pastry will be soggy and the whole thing will fall apart!

To serve: Lightly dust with icing sugar and it is definitely obligatory to serve this with custard.  Seconds anyone?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Lamb, bean and barley soup

I am sure there is a version of this recipe for every village around the world that keeps sheep - it was certainly a big part of the British Isles' culinary delights when I was growing up - just with different names (not that Brixton in south-east London was a village that kept sheep, the odd goat maybe, but you get my drift!).  In our house it was known as 'white stew' - because of the barley, onions, leeks and turnips - very pale looking, but delicious and hearty never-the-less and made with the cheapest, tastiest cuts of lamb - something on the bone. This very British of dishes crops up in all parts of the country as Scotch broth, Lancashire hot pot, Irish stew and Welsh lamb broth - cheap, hearty non-nonsense food.

Since venturing further afield I have found versions of this dish cropping up all over the place; in rural France, northern Italy, the Middle East and Greece. And, I suppose that this one is a rustic mix of all of those I have tried and enjoyed.

The evenings are drawing in, the nights are getting colder so it's time for a winter warmer - a really hearty soup.

This one came about because I was looking after my son's dog while he was away working. Groover arrived with his bed and a bag of fresh 'lamb off-cuts'.  Further investigation revealed a couple kilos of prime lamb - neck chops - the best cuts for making casseroles and soups, and yes folks, this is what I made  my soup from - the dog bones - just don't tell my son!  Groover did get the scraps though - and a big bowl of soup.  You might as well make a lot because it takes a while to cook and the leftovers will freeze really well.

1 kilo of lamb neck chops - best end of neck or neck rosettes.
1 cup of borlotti beans, soaked overnight
1 cup of chick peas, soaked overnight
3/4 cup pearl barley
1 large brown onion, chopped finely
1 leek, white part washed and chopped (optional)
2 sticks of celery, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped (waxy kind best)
1 bunch fresh parsley (click here to find out why parsley is so good for you)
Salt and pepper

Trim meat of any fat.
Place with other ingredients (except parsley) into a large stewing pan and cover with water.
Bring to boil and skim off any scum.
Simmer slowly for about 3 hours.
You may need to top up with a little more water as the barley and beans swell.
When it is cooked take the meat off the bones and return to the soup.
Add the chopped parsley.
Optional extras; swede, turnip and fresh peas, and a squeeze of lemon juice before serving.

TOP TIP:  After you have cooked it, if you put it in the fridge over night, the fat will rise to the surface and becomes really easy to remove before you re-heat it.

Groover, he doesn't look deprived does he?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Tacca integrifolia - Bat Flower

Tacca integrifolia
Bat Flower

WHAT:  This is one of those truly strange specimens of the plant world - really too weird to be called beautiful, but never-the-less fascinating and a real show stopper;  have had a steady stream of people coming by for a viewing of this quite incredible plant since it came my way as a gift - certainly infinitely more interesting that a tub of talcum powder!

Common to south-east Asia, I was also surprised to find that certain species are also native to the northern tropical parts of Australia as well as Africa.

It comes in this white and black/purple flowering variety as well as a totally black specimen Tacca chantrieri.

The leaves are also spectacular, glossy green and huge - some of the ones on my specimen reach over 50cm long.

The flower appears in bud as a kind of folded over white hand.  These paper-like fingers (sepals) begin to separate revealing purple pods inside with lots of white whiskers growing out of the side.  The petals of the purple pods (individual flowers) begin to recurve, exposing the inner part of the flower, and the white whiskers just get longer and longer, with the ends turning purple as it matures.  Each inflorescence lasts about a month and, by that time, the whiskers are not white at all, but totally purple - very strange!

White whiskers turning purple!

HOW  Tacca is not really a difficult plant to grow if you just remember a few things:
  • This is a tropical plant.
  • Don't let me dry out in the summertime.
  • Don't over-water me in the winter.
  • Put me in partial shade - not full sun.
  • Feed me regularly.
  • Will not tolerate very chilly winter weather (below 15oC) - so, if that's your place, find a nice warm, protected spot for me when it's cold outside.
  • Give me a continuous stream of admirers - I'm a bit of a show-off!
As the Bat Flower is part of the arrowroot family (similar also to Canna Lilies) it is easy to propagate by dividing the root - best done in early spring.

"In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous".  Aristotle