Sunday, December 13, 2009

You don't make friends with salad!

Or so the saying goes. So it's lucky that last night when I had a couple of people around for dinner, they were all already old friends, because basically all I served was salad.

In my defense, I had spent the better part of the afternoon drinking beer and eating BBQ shapes in the park for my sister's birthday, so it's not that I didn't want to cook up a storm, so much as I just didn't have the time.

That having been said, it was a very successful dinner. I love having friends who love to eat - not in a really foodie, always searching out the hottest new chef or fanciest, most obscure ingredient kind of way, but in the, let's sit down and consume lots of tastey food and delicious wine all together kind of way.

Unfortunately I didn't manage to get many photos of the dishes I prepared, and the ones I did take weren't fantastic. But, in the interest of conscientious food blogging. Below is a shot of all the dishes served last night (except for dessert.) Clockwise from far left we have:
- roast beetroot, goats cheese, walnut and mixed leaf salad
- homemade humus (I haven't quite perfected that yet)
- zucchini and ricotta tart in a parmesan crust
- white bean, carrot and dill salad
- homemade roast eggplant and yogurt dip
- cheese
- cabbage, raddish apple and mustard seed coleslaw

The only non-salad item on the menu was a the savoury tart. Adapted from one of Heidi's recipe at 101 cookbooks - I'd made it once before with a wholemeal flour and olive oil crust but decided to get a little bit more decadent this time around and use another of Heidi's recipes for a parmesan crust. Sadly, even with the helped of a loaned food processor, the pastry dough recipe just didn't work for me. My dough never really came together properly and stayed kind of pebbley and sandy even when I was trying to squish it into the pie dish. Hmmm - so the recipe that I've given here is with a couple of my amendments to the pastry recipe and a couple of additions to the fillings.

Zucchini and Ricotta Tart
Adapted from 101 cookbooks

1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup wholemeal flour*
120g cold, unsalted butter chopped into 1cm cubes
120g good parmesan, finely grated
1/2tsp salt
2tbs ice cold water
1 egg yolk

Preheat the oven to 180c

Put the flours, salt, butter and parmesan in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times till it's just combined and some of the butter is still in pea sized pieces. Add the iced water 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse a couple of times after each spoonful. Now add the egg yolk and again pulse until just combined.

The dough should come together when you pinch it between your fingers.

Pour the dough into a pie dish and quickly and firmly press it into the shape of the dish, pushing the dough up the sides of the dish as well.

Pop the dish in the fridge for 15 minutes. Pull it out, prick with a fork a couple of times, place a piece of silver foil over the pastry and weigh down gently with pie weights or dry beans. Pop it into the oven for 15 minutes. Take the pastry out of the oven, remove the foil and weights and continue baking for another 10 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and smells delicious!

Allow to cool at least a little before filling.

*You can always use just plain flour for this recipe - the wholemeal flour just makes it a little bit more rustic. However, if you do use only plain flour I would omit the egg yolk from the recipe because it will probably make the dough too wet.


2 medium zucchini - sliced into rounds as thinly as possible
2 cans chopped tomatoes
2 cloves garlic -sliced
2tbs olive oil
300g fresh ricotta
1tsp salt
1/2tsp red chili flakes
handful fresh basil

Either keep the oven hot from baking the pastry or preheat again to 180c

Place the chopped zucchini in a colander and sprinkle on a fair amount of salt. Leave the zucchini to sweat while you start the sauce.

In a small pot, heat up the oil, garlic and chili until it starts to get fragrant, but not allowing the garlic to burn.

Dump in the cans of tomato and simmer for 15 minutes. Salt to taste.

Pick up handfuls of the zucchini and squeeze them well to try and get rid of any excess moisture that's in them.

Take your cooked pastry crust and spread about half the ricotta on the bottom. Then spread about one third of the tomato sauce, followed by about half the zucchini and half the basil, roughly torn. Repeat this process and finish with the last 1/3 of tomato sauce on the top.

Pop it in the oven and let it cook for about 30mins.

Serve warm to friends or cold, directly from the fridge the next morning when you're faced with a sink full of dishes and need some courage!

For those of you who have perservered with this post all the way to the end of the recipe - you will now be rewarded with another photo - nothing food related, just some lovely flowers that have been sitting on the ledge above my kitchen sink the last couple of days... they're really very pretty!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Didn't your mother ever tell you...

That too many cherries will give you a tummy ache?!

Mine did – but that didn’t stop me gorging myself on kilos of them last weekend when we went cherry and berry picking in Silvan, near the Dandenongs, about 45 minutes outside of Melbourne.

We paid $7 entry to cover the cherries that we would eat whilst picking (oh boy did I make sure I got my money’s worth), were handed a bucket and pointed in the direction of heavily fruit-laden cherry trees at the end of the track.

Ever wondered why cherries are so bloody expensive? It’s because picking them is a seriously labour intensive activity! It takes a loooong time to fill 2 buckets with cherries, especially if like me, you adopt the “one for you, one for me” method of picking.

After the cherries came the blackberries and raspberries. What a revelation! What amazing, beautiful, tasty little morsels! I hate to sound so much like an inner-city girl, but seeing those deep red berries peeking out from behind the bushy leaves, looking like, well, flowers, and then popping them in your mouth and realising that it’s actually a raspberry, like, the same thing that comes in punnets at the supermarket seemed a little ridiculous but very wonderful!

We headed home with our bountiful bounty, stuffing a few more cherries and berries into my mouth on the way. Once home, I had rolled around on the floor for a while emitting cherry-tummy-ache induced moans and groans, and then decided that 7kg of fruit is too much for regular human consumption. There was only one thing for it – a jam session! After a quick tribute to Bob Marley, we got down to business: the very messy business of pitting cherries and the very dangerous business of sterilising jars.

Jam is really an incredibly easy thing to make – it’s really just equal quantities of fruit and sugar, juice of a lemon or two (and if it’s fruit without a lot of natural pectin – like cherries) a bit of extra pectin or jamsetta which you can easily pick up from the supermarket.

To quote my fellow jammer, “jam-making is an easy but fraught process” – so I’ve taken lots of photos for you to follow.

Home-made jam is an entirely different thing to supermarket jam! For one thing, it tastes like fruit rather than sugar, for another it's totally natural and therefore healthy ;) - so what are you waiting for? Don an apron, boil some jars, and get jamming!

For cherries, and all stone fruit the first step is to pit all the fruit. With cherries this can be a very messy business. I was lucky enough to be using an olive pitter which made life much easier, nevertheless it took about an hour to pit 3kg of cherries!

Next, throw all the fruit in the biggest pot you have along with an equal quantity of sugar - so we had 3kg of pitted cherries and 3kg of white sugar.

Put the pot onto a very low heat - you don't want the sugar to burn at all. Let the whole thing heat up very very slowly, stirring occasionally. The sugar will begin to dissolve and the cherries to release juices so it will start looking delicious and syrupy. At this stage, squeeze in some lemon juice - we used 2 lemons.

Continue to heat it all up, stirring to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom and eventually the mixture will begin to hubble and bubble. At this stage, if you're using jamsetta/extra pectin, throw it in. Also, you'll find that the boiling produces a fair bit of foamy "scum" that rises to the top. Even though for us it was a hot pink foam that looked quite delicious, we skimmed it off because that's what you're meant to do when you're jamming.

To test if the jam is ready, splodge a bit on a plate and pop it in the freezer. If, after about 30secs the jam comes out set (no longer liquid but not quite a solid) your jam is ready. And so begins the dangerous part!

Gently and carefully remove all the jars that you've been sterilizing (by boiling on the stove for a while) from the hot water and place on a heat-proof surface.

At this stage you want to act as quickly as possible to make sure the jars are still hot and sterile when you pop the jam in. Quickly and carefully ladle the jam into the jars and wearing gloves or using a couple of tea towels, screw the jar lids on tightly.

Give the jars a good clean (because they'll inevitably get disgustingly sticky) and leave them on the benchtop to cool over night.

And taadaa - Jam!

Enjoy on toast, in baking, from a spoon or any other usual jam enjoyment activities which I will leave up to your imagination.