Saturday, 19 January 2013

a delightful dip

Call them what you like; dips, spreads, pastes, purées, tapenade, pesto – they all serve the same purpose and then some! Served simply or resourcefully, unctuous pastes are arguably the most versatile and intoxicating of all condiments.

For honesty itself, dips can be used as their name implies: to ‘dip’ into. Try dipping fresh or roasted vegetables, dried fruits, breadsticks, fresh crusty bread, exotic crackers, char-grilled bruschetta or oven-dried crostini. Then of course, spreading is the other obvious serving manner for these fragrant concoctions.

What I like most about this type of condiment is that they are wonderfully multi-purpose – their uses can be extended way beyond mere dipping and spreading. A tablespoonful or two can be incorporated into everything from home-made pastry, breads and pasta, to sauces, marinades and vinaigrettes to good effect.

Dollop a spoonful of your favourite dip onto a simply cooked piece of fish, chicken or steak and change your main course repertoire forever. Experiment by topping summer salads or noodles, or winter soups or stews with a vividly flavoured pesto. Another idea is to thin down salsa verde with olive oil to form a dressing for salad or sauce to toss through pasta.

All kinds of produce can be pulverised into a dip or paste. Some of my absolute favourites include bright vegetable purees such as carrot, beetroot or spinach. Chickpeas or white beans processed with lots of garlic and good olive oil form appealingly smooth and creamy spreads. Dairy-based dips are also divine; a blend of feta cheese, sour cream and fresh herbs is indescribably luscious.

To cope with any catering emergency, I recommend developing the habit of always having these preparations in the fridge. Intriguing with all that is ground into them and brimming with intense flavour, a good dip added in the right way will lift everyday foods to a higher culinary level.

3 red peppers (sweet bell peppers), halved with seeds removed
Olive oil, to drizzle
1 red chilli (chili), seeds removed, flesh coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup cashew nuts
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Preheat oven to 200°C. Place red pepper halves into a roasting pan and drizzle with a little oil. Roast for 20 minutes or until skins blister. 
2 Remove from oven; place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to cool. This makes the peppers sweat and their skins will peel off easily. Remove and discard skins.
3 Place peppers and any pan juices, chilli and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and whiz to combine.
4 Add cashew nuts and olive oil and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. This dip will last for up to a week, if stored in the fridge.  Serve as part of an antipasto platter, or with fresh vegetable sticks, bread or crackers, to dip.
Makes 2 cups

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Sweet, luscious fruits of summer

The joy of eating a beautifully, ripe, heavily-perfumed, luscious peach – with warm juice running down your chin – is second to none. Some even say that a good stone-fruit season means plenty of hot summers days are in store.
While some of us love the fuzzy sensation of peach skin, others prefer the smooth exterior surface of nectarines. Whichever way you go, all stone-fruits make excellent eating and are versatile cooking subjects. One can be substituted for the other (weight for weight) in most recipes for peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums and sometimes cherries.
Stone-fruit is interchangeable in all sorts of baked goodies too – from cakes and muffins to puddings, pies and tarts. And all stone-fruit is excellent stewed or poached, or made into sauces, jams and relishes. Homemade plum jam is one of my most favourites, though tangy apricot and sour cherry are also hard to beat.
Peaches and nectarines are often available as white, yellow or even blood-red varieties (the flesh reflects these colours) and may be labeled as clingstone or freestone. Freestone fruit, as the name implies, is easier to deal with when preparing fruit for cooking because the fruit comes away from the stone effortlessly.
Plums arrive later in the season but are well worth waiting for. Varieties differ greatly in colour, from green and golden yellow to deep blood-red and purple-black, and differ in levels of sweetness too.
You’ll find roasting or grilling concentrates the sweetness and flavor of stone-fruit – simply dust with a little sugar first. I also love throwing them onto a cleaned barbecue for a quick chargrill, which results in an extra burnt-caramel intensity. All you need is a dollop of whipped cream, thick Greek-style yoghurt, or ice cream and you have the perfect summer pudding.
Voluptuous cherries are just so damned delicious fresh that is seems a shame to cook them at all. That’s why I tend to use them, more often than not, as edible adornments.
Here’s my favourite recipe for Apricot Teacakes, though of course you could use any other stone-fruit for this recipe, as well. These little cakes have a wonderfully dense and damp texture but are actually quite light to eat. They are a long-time favourite treat of mine and I'm excited to share this recipe with you.

Makes 12 small cakes
1 1/2 cups icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar), sifted
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted 
1 cup ground almonds (almond meal)
6 egg whites, lightly beaten
175g / 6oz butter, melted
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
3 apricots, quartered with stones removed (or use plums, peaches, nectarines)
3 tbsp raw sugar (natural cane sugar), to sprinkle
1 Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F fan bake. Grease 12 x 3/4-cup capacity muffin or individual cake pans. Place sugar, flour and ground almonds in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in egg whites, melted butter and lemon zest, then stir briefly to just combine.
2 Divide mixture between prepared pans – each hole should be only two thirds full. Top each with an apricot quarter and sprinkle with a little raw sugar.
3 Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and leave to stand in pans for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.

Chef’s trick: Roast or stew excess plums, peaches, apricots or nectarines and freeze in batches for use later in the year. In cooler months, defrost and use in puddings, such as crumbles or pies.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone! And thanks for your wonderful support of my blog over the past year. I hope 2013 is a bright and brilliant year for us all.
One of my resolutions, well goals, really, that I've made for 2013 is to blog more often. So, I'm making a good start by posting this on New Year's day!
I've been working hard on my photography skills during 2012, so hopefully I can show you the results here. Lately, I've been loving experimenting with dark and mysterious food photography. It seems a bit crazy to be going all dark and moody when January is summertime in New Zealand, but these dark fruits of summer actually really lend themselves to sombre images, as well, as you can see with this photo.
Dark fruits of summer
I've been wanting to master the 'dark look', which is almost like an old-world still life painting, for ages, so I'm thrilled to have captured these shots.

Cherries and plums are my most favourite fruits, so after taking this still life shot I just had to bake something that I could add the fruit to. Chocolate and cherries of course is a combination made in heaven and this combination was my inspiration for these Chocolate Cherry Brownie Cupcakes. I recommend you make them as soon as you can because they really are heavenly. Eating these will certainly get your year off to a good start.
Chocolate Cherry Brownie Cupcakes

Chocolate Cherry Brownie Cupcakes
Makes 12
250g (2 sticks) butter
1 cup caster sugar (superfine sugar)
1 cup firmly-packed soft brown sugar
2/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted
4 small eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup self-raising flour, sifted
1 cup pitted cherries (or use preserved cherries, well drained when cherries are out of season)
Extra cherries, to decorate
Chocolate sauce:
125g / 4oz dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup cream
Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F. Line 12 hole standard muffin pan with paper cases. Place butter and sugars in a large saucepan and gently melt. Stir in cocoa until smooth. Remove to cool slightly, then stir in eggs, a little at a time, followed by flour.
Spoon mixture into paper cases. Press a few cherries into the top of each cupcake. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool in the pan, then carefully lift out. 
To make chocolate sauce, melt chocolate and cream together in a bowl set over a saucepan one quarter full of simmer water (or microwave, if preferred), then stir until smooth. Pour sauce over cupcakes and decorate with extra cherries.