Feeling grumpy, I marched myself off to the shops on Saturday, a bottle of pure maple syrup and a box of silken tofu on my mind. In the quiet back streets, sun on my back, mood gradually improving, I scattered a group - not quite a murder- of crows feasting on something foul in a cool, dark garden hedge. Moments when wildness meets urbanity are visual feasts in and of themselves, always cheering, and my love of shiny blue-black birds knows no bounds.
Took it as a good sign.
Two weeks of not-quite-right in our camp saw some subtle dietary shifts, the sameold sameold solutions I draw upon to cure whatever ails. There are times when chicken soup fixes all (hot ginger tea, too) but increasingly, it's the elimination of dairy that feels best. Dessert, though, that I find hard. Especially when I want things kept ultra simple.
The above photo - by UK photographer Sara Taylor, a woman I cannot find on the web - comes from Simon Hope's long out of print New Food for a Vegetarian Family. Taylor's photographs have a quiet beauty about them, calm compositions with a seductive use of soft focus and bright colour. I took a photo myself but it did not do Hope's clever dessert any justice (not at all), so instead, you get the photo that made me bookmark this recipe long, long ago. These are good. Wish I'd made them sooner.
Simon Hope's tofu and blueberry brûlée
Hope calls it a brûlée, and it is, I think, pretty close to the mark. Remarkably easy to pull together. He suggests you can try other soft/poached fruit and I'm thinking that rhubarb would be grand. Basically, play around. Make it your own. Adapted, but only slightly, for 2.
125g (4oz) frozen blueberries
125-150g (4- 5 oz) silken tofu (half a block)
2 tsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
25g (1 oz) pine nuts, toasted and roughly chopped
60g (2 oz) demerara sugar
Thaw the blueberries on a piece of kitchen paper.
Using a fork whisk tofu, maple syrup and vanilla together in a bowl until smooth. Add the thawed blueberries and whisk - lazily - for 1 minute. Divide mixture between 2 small dishes, sprinkle with the nuts and chill for 1 hour.
Remove dishes from fridge and place them right near your stove top. You're making caramel - the brûléed bit - so pay it the attention hot burning sugar requires. In a small, heavy saucepan, melt the sugar with just the tiniest splash of water until it is dissolved and turns a caramel colour. Don't stir, but swirl the pan around and be very careful, please. When ready, pour a thin layer on top of each and return to the fridge for another hour or so of chilling.
I started out cooking a whole fish a couple of years ago using Stephanie Alexander's method in her Cook's Companion. The results were kinda underwhelming, though I'm pretty sure the fault was mine. Somehow, her rules felt wrong. Anyway. My go-to whole fish guide has become AOF's cooking whole fish. The snapper above was cooked from memory a week after she taught me how, one freezing Saturday night mid-winter. AOF rubbed him with a fresh chermoula paste, then roasted him whole on thick slices of potato, tomato and the best green olives I have ever eaten. Radicchio, fennel and orange salad on the side; a really great big red to drink. It served two women who obviously enjoy eating, one cat, and one dog.
These two silvery fellows- a mere $6.00-worth of bonito - were cooked a couple of weeks ago; slashed, stuffed with lemon and thyme and baked on sliced tomatoes using her ideas. Wonderful. We got three meals over three nights from them and that's hard to argue against for fishy, fleshy value.
Rocket is going into everything. I smeared a rocket pesto - rocket, shiro miso, Tasmanian walnuts (they are so, so good - get 'em fresh while you still can), oil, lemon at the end - on the base of Thursday night's tart, topped it with caramelised fennel and onions, green olives and finished with slices of hothouse tomato. Gorgeous. Halfway through, I realised I've made some version of the tart at least once a fortnight for the last few years.
This is a silky dough; pliable, agreeable, doable even when you can't think straight. The very opposite, then, of the temperamental shortcrust I've come to know and love. When I want pastry, on those days when I feel like pushing the boat out, taking my time over a beautiful tart, I want it to be short. Really short. A high ratio of cold, unsalted butter to flour, which is why I actually end up make it so rarely. Though clearly not afraid of fat, I feel far better for having introduced this lower-fat dough into the mix.
Thank you, once again, Deborah Madison.
Yeasted tart dough
I make this with half spelt, half wholemeal, feeling my way around how much flour each batch requires. Know that it performs beautifully with white flour alone. If eggs aren't your thing, or you haven't any, replace the egg with an extra tablespoon of oil and up the warm water by 2 tablespoons. Works every time.
2 teaspoons of active dried yeast
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
1/2 cup warm water
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 egg, beaten
Good pinch of sea salt
1 3/4 cups wholemeal (wholewheat) flour, plus more as required
Whisk the yeast, sugar and warm water together - remember, not too warm or you'll kill the yeast - in a roomy bowl and set aside in a warm place for 10 minutes. Add the oil, the egg and the sea salt next, then sift in the flour. Hold back some of the bran if your flour's heavy on the stuff. Mix with a spoon until you no longer can, then turn out onto a floured bench. Knead for 3-5 minutes. You may need to add more flour as you go - things should be slightly sticky and nicely elastic when prodded.
Lightly oil a bowl - the one you've just used will be fine - pop in your dough and roll it around a little so that it, too, is lightly oiled. Cover with a tea towel and leave to proof for an hour. Sometimes it doubles, sometimes not. It doesn't really matter, truth be told.
Roll out to fit a loose-bottomed tart tin (there will be overhang, so trim and crimp as required) OR, and this is what I do most often, sit the rolled out dough on a pizza stone*, then fill the centre with whatever you like (so long as it's not too liquid) and fold the edges in to make a rustic-looking open galette-thingy.
Bake at 200 C (400 F) for 30-40 minutes.
*Christina asked a very relevant question: Do I heat the pizza stone? Not always, but when I've put it into the pre-heating oven, the base has often been even better (though make sure you watch those hands on the hot stone - ouch). Cooking time will be a fraction less if you do this.
I've been loving the Word of Mouth column in Saturday's Age so much of late that it didn't occur to me that the words "This is Annie Smithers' last column" might appear this week, if indeed ever. Bugger.
So pleased, then, that I felt it necessary some weeks ago to start clipping and saving my favourites, 'cos the Age's A2 section isn't published online* and today's column, about the Hungry Gap between the colder months, was a beauty. Wish I could share. Perfect reading on this wintry election day.*Well, not as far as I can tell. If you have to google anything for more than a few minutes, it ain't there, I say.
It's cold out, wet too, and I'm sitting here with an unexpected gap in the afternoon. In the oven are two trays of vegetables, tossed with oil and sea salt, roasting away, filling the house - well, only the kitchen in a house of this size - with their delicious out-of-season fug. Truth be told, I've committed a number of culinary crimes against the season this winter and today's miserable outlook made me long for the weekend of sunshine and bare feet just passed.
Fat eggplants and shiny red peppers were begging to come home. Some days you just give in.
Packing has begun. It's a task I seriously love. I am not nostalgic as a rule - I have an unflinching policy about what stays or goes - but for some reason, the fact that we are moving from this large, cold house soon has me pining for the light we'll be leaving behind. It's been the best teacher I have ever had, this place, even better than the last. In more ways than I could have imagined.
We're standing right on the edge of some pretty exciting and hectic times, and I am finally, just today, as the sky closes in and the house begins to freeze over yet again, ready to face them.
For some time now, I've been debating whether or not to keep this little blog going. I have been cooking, quite a lot in fact, but I've not been cooking from recipes and somehow, I never seem to remember to write what I did up. Often it's because I've been enjoying myself too much to bother. Then there's the photos, which, it would be fair to say, have taken over. But a friend reminded me today that it's okay to not always do things to formula; that it's okay to keep things simple. Debate over.
So. Here are some pine mushrooms from June which I cannot remember how I cooked, but whose little skirts I loved. Especially the teeny tiny one on the left.
(Comments are back, yay!)
The silverbeet "red vulcan" is currently going off.
Ditto the calendulas. And the parsley.
We're on the move again, soon. I've started packing up books from time to time. Eleanour Sinclair Rohde's Garden of Herbs (1920) warns that "...in England old-fashioned gardeners will often tell you they never transplant parsley, as it would bring misfortune on everyone in the house".
I have a forest of the stuff.
We're eating a lot of parsley in preparation 'round here, I can tell you...