Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cold-Weather Cooking

bread pudding

Winter is just around the corner – the nights are starting to get chilly, scarves and boots and back in fashion and I’ve been craving warm, comforting food. Around this time of year, the kitchen is one of my favourite places to be second only to under a blanket. Cold-weather cooking makes the winter easier to bear. Hearty soups and stews are on the menu, along with pies and puddings. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The other day I told you all about my adventures with making Tartine Bakery’s brioche recipe. It was certainly an interesting experience! I ended up making five small loaves of brioche. One was eaten for breakfast, warm out of the oven, there are three are currently sitting in my freezer waiting for next time and the final loaf became bread pudding.

Once all the hard work was done, putting the pudding together was an absolutely cinch. I made my brioche puddings in small individual ramekins rather than in a large dish and added a handful of raspberries to each for a bit of extra flavour. You could of course use almost any kind of seasonal fruit, or sultanas, or even omit it altogether and serve the puddings with a fruit sauce instead.

Interestingly the custard is not cooked prior to being added to the puddings, which surprised me a little as I had never made bread pudding before. But as the puddings are baked, the custard cooks in the oven and sets slightly as it cools. It is important not to overcrowd the brioche slices when assembling the pudding as they expand once the custard is added.

Brioche Bread Pudding
Adapted from Tartine Bakery Cookbook
Makes 4 small puddings

• 6 brioche slices, cut 1 inch thick
• Fresh or frozen raspberries

Custard
• 4 large eggs
• ½ cup sugar
• 2 cups milk
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• ½ teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Butter four small ramekins, or line with non-stick baking paper.
2. Arrange the brioche slices on a baking sheet and place in the oven until lightly toasted, 4-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
3. To make the custard, crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Add the sugar and whisk until smooth. Add the milk, vanilla and salt and whisk until fully incorporated. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve over a small jug. This will make pouring the custard into the dish much easier.
4. Place the toasted brioche into prepared ramekins, cutting or tearing them to fit as needed, and scatter raspberries between the layers of brioche. Pour the custard evenly over the bread. You may not be able to add all the custard at this point. Let sit for about 10 minutes or so to absorb.
5. Just before baking, top the dishes with more custard if the previous addition has been completely absorbed. Cover the dishes with aluminium foil and baking for about 1 hour. To test for done-ness, uncover the dish, slip a knife into the center and push the bread aside. If the custard is still very liquid, bake for another 10 minures. If only a little liquid remains, the pudding is ready. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: May

strudel

It’s Daring Bakers time again, with yet another creative challenge – my tenth, hasn’t the time flown? One of the things I love most about the Daring Bakers is that I am constantly making recipes I’d never even thought to try on my own, and this is most certainly one of them.

The May challenge consisted of:
• Making strudel dough
• Our choice of filling

I found it quite easy to make the dough, and even though I rolled it very very thinly, I wonder if it was thin enough as I had a fairly thick layer of breadcrumbs. For my strudel filling, I chose apples a mixture of apples and pears, with pecans, vanilla and a splash of brandy. I also upped the amount of cinnamon to 2 teaspoons because half a teaspoon seemed nowhere near enough in an apple dessert!

I enjoyed this dessert and was pretty happy with the way it turned out. The apples and pears were beautiful together and the pecans gave it a lovely change of texture. I would like to play with other fillings if I make this in the future. Cherries, when they’re in season or bananas, walnuts and chocolate seem like delicious options.

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Strudel Dough

• 1 1/3 cups unbleached flour
• 1/8 teaspoon salt
• 7 tablespoons water, plus more if needed

• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough

• ½ teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
 Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).
3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
 Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.
4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fingers Crossed

brioche

I’ve been well and truly bitten by the bread-baking bug, and whether this has anything to do with Molly’s theory I’m unsure, but I hope it doesn’t stop anytime soon. I love kneading the dough and the wonderful smells of bread baking that emanate from my kitchen. While originally, this month’s Tartine Cookbook challenge was going to be brownies on page 160, I’d made a similar dessert recently and was eager to try something else. Something like brioche, perhaps.

I have made brioche before with a much simpler recipe – it was almost too easy – so I was keen to try Tartine’s, wondering if it would taste different. This recipe is very time consuming because there is a lot of waiting around, and making these took practically the whole weekend. The recipe could have been a bit more detailed in explaining what to look out for, rather than how long it should take, because in quite a few parts I was left scratching my head, doing what I thought sounded right and keeping my fingers firmly crossed.

Was it worth all the time and trouble? It had all the hallmarks of a good brioche, but the simple recipe came pretty close in the end. However, I’m glad I gave it a go and I definitely learned a thing or two in the process, and got some bread baking out of my system. Check back on Friday to see what I made with my brioche!

Brioche
Adapted from the Tartine Bakery Cookbook
Makes 3 loaves

Preferment
• ¾ cup low-fat milk
• 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
• 1 ¾ cups bread flour

Dough
• 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
• 5 large eggs
• 1 ¼ cup whole milk
• 3 ½ cups bread flour
• ¼ cup sugar
• 1 tablespoon salt
• 235g unsalted butter, chilled but pliable

Egg Wash
• 2 large egg yolks
• 2 tablespoons heavy cream
• Pinch Salt

1. To make the preferment, warm the milk just enough to take the chill off. Pour into a mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the milk and stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve, and then add the flour, mixing with the spoon until a smooth batter forms. Cover the bowl with a cloth and place in a cool, draft-free area for 1 hour and then in the fridge for at least 1 hour or up to 3 hours to cool down. The mixture will rise until doubled in volume and not yet collapsing.
2. During this time, measure all the ingredients for the dough. To make the dough, transfer the preferment and then the yeast to the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed until the yeast is incorporated into the preferment batter. Stop the mixer as needed and use a spatula to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl.
3. When the mixture comes together into an even well-mixed mass, begin to add the eggs one at a time, increasing the mixer speed to medium to incorporate the eggs.
4. Once the eggs are incorporated, reduce the mixer speed to low and begin to slowly add 1 cup of milk. When fully incorporated, stop the mixer and add the flour, sugar and salt in 3-4 additions. Increase the speed to medium-high and mix until you see a dough forming and it starts to come away cleanly from the sides of the bowl.
5. Turn off the mixer and let the dough rest for 15-20 minutes. Begin mixing again on medium speed until the dough again starts to come away cleanly from the sides of the bowl. At this stage, the dough will appear very silky and elastic.
6. To add the butter, squeeze small amounts through your fingers so they become ribbons as they drop into the bowl. Stop the mixer to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed with a spatula. Don’t mix too much butter in too quickly because the mixture will heat up. When all the butter has been added, allow the mixer to run for another 2 minutes to make sure the butter is fully incorporated. The dough should still be coming away from the sides of the bowl at this point.
7. Now, slowly add the remaining ¼ cup milk in increments of 1 tablespoon and increase the mixer speed to high. Mix until the dough is very smooth and silky and continues to pull cleanly away from the sides of the bowl.
8. Cover the bowl with a cheesecloth or plastic wrap. Put into the freezer for at least 2 hours and then transfer the dough to the refrigerator for 3-5 hours before shaping the dough.
9. Spray three 9x5 inch load pans with cooking spray. Remove the chilled dough from the fridge and roll out until about 1 inch thick. Divide into 3 equal portions. Press each portion into a rectangle the length of the loaf pan and slightly wider than the pan. Starting from a narrow end, roll up the rectangle tightly, pinch the ends and seam to seal, and place seam side down into prepared pan. The pan should be no more than 1/3 full.
10. Place in a draft-free area and let rise for 2-3 hours. During this final rising, the brioche dough should at least double in size and look noticeably puffy but still resilient to the touch.
11. Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F). When loaves are risen, make the egg wash. In a small bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cream and salt until you have a pale yellow mixture. Using a pastry brush, brush the mixture onto the tops of the loaves. Let the wash dry for 10 minutes before baking.
12. Place the loaves in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 175°C (350°F) and bake until the loaves are a uniformly dark golden brown, about 45 minutes longer. Remove the pans from the oven, and immediately turn the loaves out onto wire racks to cool.
13. The loaves can be eaten warm from the oven, or allowed to cool. If you keep them for longer than a day, wrap in plastic wrap and store for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cultural Cuisine

vanilla slice

Most Australians are very passionate about their vanilla slice, and rightly so. Much like the lamington or pavlova, it is part of our cultural cuisine. I guess you could call it the laid-back Aussie cousin to the well-dressed French mille-feuille. National events are held annually in its honour where bakers from around the country compete for the coveted title of Best Vanilla Slice. If you’re in Melbourne this blog will tell you where to find a good one, and the criteria that a really good vanilla slice should meet.

When done right, a vanilla slice is a beautiful thing. Each of the three elements – the flaky buttery puff pastry, the creamy vanilla custard and the topping, usually fondant icing, but sometimes passionfruit icing or icing sugar – have to each be perfect to create a really spectacular slice. My mum is a big fan of this particular confection, and I had been promsing to make her a vanilla slice for many months now. Her birthday came and went, but Mother’s Day turned out to be the perfect occasion.

Luckily it was proclaimed to be worth the wait, and I honestly wouldn’t change anything when I make this again the future. The custard comes together easily, with the addition of cornflour so it thickens up nicely to set in the fridge. I used a split vanilla bean and infused the milk/cream mixture for an even stronger vanilla flavour, which is what this is all about after all! The puff pastry is baked with a weight on top (I used another baking tray) which ensures that it puffs evenly. It is just an absolutely fantastic recipe, but make sure you have a lot of friends around because it is at its best on the day it’s made.

Vanilla Slice
Recipe adapted from ‘Modern Classics 2’ by Donna Hay
Makes 9 slices

• 2 sheets ready prepared puff pastry, thawed
• Icing sugar, for dusting

Vanilla Custard
• 1 ½ cups milk
• 1 ½ cups cream
• 60g butter
• 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2/3 cup sugar
• 1/3 cup cornflour
• ½ cup water
• 6 egg yolks

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Trim each piece of puff pastry to slightly bigger than the slice tin you are using. Place on baking trays lined with non-stick baking paper. Top each piece with another baking tray as a weight and bake for 35 minutes or until puffed and golden. Cool on racks.
2. To make the custard, place milk, cream and vanilla seeds and vanilla extract in a medium sized saucepan and heat until just before boiling point. Turn off the heat, cover, and allow to infuse for 10-20 minutes.
3. After it is infused, add butter and sugar and cook until hot but not boiling. Mix the cornflour and water to a smooth paste and whisk into the hot milk mixture. Ad the egg yolks and stir, allowing to simmer for 6 minutes or until the mixture has thickened. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
4. Line your slice pan with non-stick baking paper. Place one of the pastry sheets on the bottom, pour in the custard and top with remaining pastry. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until set. Cut into squares using a serrated knife. Dust with icing sugar and serve.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Very Excited

gnocchi

I was very excited to learn about the Daring Cooks, a new group added to the Daring Kitchen family. Based on the same guidelines as the Daring Bakers, but diving headfirst into the wonderful and amazingly varied area of cooking. I signed up right away and couldn’t wait for the first challenge to be announced. However, when I found out it was Ricotta Gnocchi, I felt a little unsure. Ricotta is one of those foods I am trying to like, but I’m not quite there yet. It didn’t help that last year I made similar ricotta dumplings to go into a vegetable soup and I disliked them so much, I never blogged about it!

But, in the spirit of the Daring Cooks, I decided to give the recipe a go anyway. I am not one to back away from a challenge! I am so very glad I did because it was great! It is a nice thing to be surprised at how well a recipe turned out, far better than all of your expectations, and that is how I felt with this dish. The whole process was very simple and only took about an hour of actual hands on time.

Pushing the ricotta through a sieve gave it a lovely smooth texture. I flavoured it with fresh thyme because I wasn’t able to find sage, and it’s one of my favourite wintery herbs. I imagine that this mixture would also make a great filling for ravioli. I decided to lightly pan-sear my gnocchi and made a simple butter and thyme sauce based on the recipe given. I also threw in a handful of walnuts for some extra crunch.

Next time – and I think there will be a next time – I will make the gnocchi a little smaller as they expand while cooking and try to shape them a little more uniformly so they all cook evenly. I really enjoyed this challenge, much more than I originally thought I would, this is a killer recipe that can be tinkered with in so many ways. I am already thinking about what I’ll do differently next time, but that is a story for another day.

Ricotta Gnocchi
Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rogers
Serves 4-6

• 450g fresh ricotta
• 2 cold eggs, lightly beaten
• 15g unsalted butter
• 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
• ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• Pepper, to taste
• Plain flour, for forming the gnocchi

Brown Butter Sauce
• 8 tablespoons butter, sliced
• 2 teaspoons water
• Thyme leaves
• ¼ cup walnuts

1. The day before you made the gnocchi, test the ricotta. If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. Line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.
2. To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible. Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.
3. Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the thyme. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt. Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).
4. Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.
5. In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep. With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl. Using a teaspoon, scoop up some batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your fingertip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.
6. You can either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.
7. Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes. If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.
8. Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them. Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.
9. You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.
10. Bring the water back to the boil and drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon.
11. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add about half the gnocchi and fry until lightly golden. Remove from the pan, and repeat with the other half of the batch. Set aside.
12. Add the butter, water and thyme to the frying pan. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts and the butter starts to brown. Add the walnuts, and return the gnocchi to the pan, swirling to cover them with butter. Serve immediately.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Slow Food

mumu grill

I was lucky enough to be invited along to MuMu Grill’s first ever ‘Take It Slow’ night recently – a celebration of slow food, with matching wines by the Mr Riggs Wine Company. Mumu Grill is an upmarket steakhouse and grill located in Crows Nest. Owner and chef Craig Macindoe believes in using sustainable produce but still being able to offer affordable prices, and his knowledgeable and passionate is evident in everything he says and does.

jamon

A major incentive to arrive early was the promise of a kitchen tour. It was exciting to see behind the scenes of an event such as this one. Craig showed us the lamb in the cool room, and explained a little about how the Arcadia Saltbush lamb was raised and how hanging the meat makes it more tender. We were invited to mingle in the bar, and to try the 18 month Jamon served on Catalan Bread with tomato oil.

arcadia saltbush lamb

Graham Strong from Arcadia Saltbush Lamb expanded on what Craig had explained earlier, telling us more about the diet and lifestyle of the lambs. The Old Man Saltbush is a plant with deep roots into the soil that give the animals the minerals they need and in turn helps to reduce the salinity of the soil. The leg of lamb is slow roasted for 13 hours, and the cutlets from the mid-section are cooked medium-rare. This produces the most spectacularly tender meat you can imagine. It is served with a tasty minted eggplant and white bean puree, green beans and beetroot jus. The flavours all work well with the lamb and this is an absolutely delicious dish.

Ben Riggs chatted to us about the wine being served tonight, and his long and fascinating history in the wine-making business. Proceeds from ‘The Gaffer’ Shiraz (that was served with the lamb) go to acquiring a patent for breast cancer research that could be revolutionary in treating one of the most prevalent diseases in Australia.

double-roasted duck

I was so looking forward to trying the 2 ½ hour double roasted duck. Having been cooked in it’s own juices, the tender meat literally fell off the bones, and had a gorgeous crispy skin. I loved the cute poached pears and the bok choy; the flavours all went beautifully together. It was served with Mr Riggs Shiraz Viognier, a blend of white and red grapes to create more delicate red wine. It was an extremely generous serving and I wondered how I was going to fit in any dessert!

brown sugar pavlova

But when this beauty was set in front of me, I was tempted to lick the plate clean. I’d never had a brown sugar pavlova before, but the taste was amazing, and the pineapple and seasonal fruit was delicious with the whipped cream. I also fell in love with the Mr Riggs Sticky End Viognier, a zesty yet sweet dessert wine made with air-dried, hand picked grapes. It was a wonderful night, and a great chance to share an excellent meal with old friends and new. Check out Lorraine’s, Howard’s, Arwen’s, Jen’s, Steph’s, Simon’s, Shez’s, Anna’s and Trina’s blogs for their posts about the night!

MuMu Grill, Shop 70-76 Alexander St Crows Nest

Mumu Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Rosy Red

tartlet

I was quite excited to find some gorgeous quinces at Harris Farm last week. I went on a shoe-shopping mission and found myself more thrilled to find fruit than boots. I had heard a lot about them and seen them used in very interesting ways, but had never eaten or tried cooking with them before. Now that they are finally in season I jumped at the chance! Quinces are related to apples and pears, but cannot be eaten raw as they have a hard texture and sour taste. However, after a long cooking time, they turn a beautiful rosy red colour, and can be used in many dishes from jams and marmalades to tart tatins, ice creams and cakes.

I decided to try a recipe I’d had my eye on for some time – the apple and quince tart from Kate Zuckerman’s beautiful book ‘The Sweet Life’, still one of my very favourite dessert books. I was tempted to make the pastry in the food processor but decided to do it by hand for a change and it turned out wonderfully. The pastry is buttery and flaky but not too sweet and it complemented the fruit filling perfectly. The quince is cooked slowly on the stove with butter and sugar, and the finished tart is layered with thin slices of apple and drizzled with brown butter before being baked.

The finished tart looked beautiful and tasted even better. The beauty of this dessert is in the simplicity of its flavours – the fruit filling isn’t overcomplicated with other ingredients and allows fruit to take center stage and shine. Kate Zuckerman is right, this tart is just perfect for autumn weather. I think quinces are now my new favourite winter fruit (sorry pears, sorry rhubarb) and I look forward to using them in other ways in the future.

Apple and Quince Tart
Serves 10-12
Recipe from The Sweet Life by Kate Zuckerman

Tart Dough
• 2 cups flour
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 170g butter, chilled

Filling
• 3 large quince
• 55g butter
• ½ cup sugar

Topping
• 4 medium apples, I used Granny Smith
• 55g butter
• ¼ cup sugar

1. To make the tart dough, combine flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the butter forms pea-sized lumps and is coated in flour. Add 4-5 tablespoons of iced water and pulse again. The mixture should not come together at this point, but look dry with a few moist clumps.
2. Empty the contents onto a bench top and, using the heel of your hand, smear the butter with the dry ingredients to marble the butter into the dough. You might need to repeat this process a few times before the dough comes together. Once the dough has formed a ball, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and press down to form a flattened disk. Refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 2 days.
3. To make the quince filling, peel, core and chop the quinces into 1cm pieces. Combine chopped quince, butter and sugar in a medium size saucepan over medium heat. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring every 3-5 minutes to make sure that it’s not sticking to the bottom. Uncover, turn the heat down to low and cool until all the liquid is evaporated and the quince is tender and darkened in colour, 40 minutes. Remove the quince from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. The quince can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.
4. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out into a circle approximately 3mm (1/8inch) thick. Line a removable bottom tart pan with the pastry and trim the edges. Freeze until needed.
5. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Peel, core and quarter the apples. Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, slice the apples as thin as possible and set aside.
6. Remove the tart dough from the freezer. Scrape the cooled quince into the shell and distribute it evenly on the bottom. Begin layering the apples around the edge, overlapping each other by half until the tart is fully covered.
7. In a small frying pan or saucepan, brown the remaining butter and gently drizzle over the apples. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup of sugar on top.
8. Place the tart on a cookie tray and then bake for 70 minutes. Turn the oven down to 180°C (350°F) and bake until the apples have caramelised and the crust has browned. Allow the tart to cool for 30 minutes on a wire rack before removing the metal ring. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. This tart is best on the day it’s made.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Strawberry Picking

strawberry picking

Port Macquarie is a picturesque beachside town, almost 400km north of Sydney on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. It’s where we spent most of our family vacations during my childhood and the home of many fond memories. Settled in 1821 as a convict settlement, it has a rich history present in the architecture of many surviving buildings and even the lobby of our hotel was built with hand made ‘convict bricks’ each with unique markings. It had been quite a few years since my last trip up to Port, but I decided to join my family when they came up this year for a few days of rest and relaxation after Easter. Unfortunately the weather was not as nice as usual, in fact I think there was some record amounts of rain in the time we were up there! The beach was admired from afar, and I was more likely to put on a scarf than a swimming costume.

strawberry picking

The highlight of the trip though, was going strawberry picking. I have long been wanting to pick my own fruit, and I know there are several places outside of Sydney to pick apples and cherries at different times of the year but I don’t drive, which makes things a bit more difficult. I was excited when I found out that there was a pick-your-own strawberry farm nearby and because the strawberries were grown in large greenhouses, you can pick them all year round. There is also a café and a small market where other fresh vegetables are available, including gorgeous vine-ripened tomatoes.

strawberry picking

Ricardoes Tomatoes & Strawberries are located about 10 minutes north of Port Macquarie. Entry is free and you only pay for what you pick. When you arrive, you are given a bucket that holds about a kilogram and a pair of scissors, then you’re sent on your way to the greenhouse where you’ll pick as many gorgeous red strawberries as your bucket will hold. It was so satisfying to scan the aisles and aisles of strawberry plants and come across a perfectly ripe strawberry to add to the bucket, and soon it was full. Even the air smelled wonderful.

strawberry picking

The strawberries were tiny and sweet. I wanted to do something special with them, perhaps make some jam or to adorn a pavlova, but we ended up eating them either plain or for dessert with some nice vanilla ice cream. The kilo we picked disappeared surprisingly quickly, and we considered going back to pick some more but unfortunately there wasn’t time before we came home. We also bought some lovely tomatoes, which were absolutely perfect on some crusty bread with oil, vinegar and fresh basil for an appetizer. Strawberry picking would be a great activity to do with kids, but we all loved it too, and would definitely do it again!

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