January 18, 2009

Cooking with Bro (a voyage of discovery through peanut butter and chocolate)…



After a few quiet weeks filled only with the occasional jam session and a raspberry white chocolate mousse cake constructed by Miss Emily for family birthday celebrations, Team Pretty Bake were back in the kitchen and ready to make an impressive start to the New Year.
Our latest baking adventure coincided with a visit from Miss Rose's little bro, and given a vague expression of interest, we were rather excited by the prospect of having a bona fide kitchen slave at our disposal. Perhaps unsurprisingly, said bro adhered to the typical behavioural characteristics observed in the species that is the seventeen year old male, and decided it was way cooler to hang out in his room with his computer than endure the daggy exploits of his older sister, and only ventured out when it was time to feed. Of course, I can fully appreciate this lifestyle which tends to spawn some delightfully lovely individuals (one of whom I lived with for eight years), and little bro was particularly gracious in his acknowledgement of our efforts. He was a pleasure to meet and there is no malice intended in describing his lack of interest for learning from the masters, it's just that we were so looking forward to having our very own minion…
Organised on a whim, there was no specific theme this time around, but with Miss Rose's hankering for something chocolate-peanut-buttery and a few "must try's" in mind, we settled somewhat vaguely on the matter of pies and tarts. Somehow evoking the question of "which one's which?" we, albeit rather confused, chose to respond that surely the answer is obvious. Personally I am unfamiliar with pie (n.) as an insult in modern day vernacular, but will happily accept the challenge of inventing a slur that is as vicious as it is witty if needs be.
Our savouries began with chicken and sweet leek pie. The filling conformed to provincial rustic delights, with the surprise meatballs a thoughtful and tasty addition. Our pastry was a beautiful compromise between structural integrity and flakiness, and we were ultimately pleased with the flavours and presentation that resulted. A feat certainly worthy of fantasies involving being the subject of a certain Johnny Depp character's affections (well, any Johnny Depp character's affections, really)…


Chicken and sweet leek pie with flaky pastry


Next up was a slow-roasted tomato tart, and I'm not sure I can sufficiently convey just how flavoursome this really was. If only we always had time to slow roast tomatoes in real life (indeed, Miss Rose, indeed). Simple in appearance, the hidden power was near overwhelming and served with a salad of rocket, gorgonzola and balsamic, it is an absolute summertime must for anyone with a few slow hours to spare…



Slow-roasted tomato tart

For sweets we took the stereotypical-American approach of going totally overboard, and produced two desserts so insanely rich that our cardiovascular systems stood little chance. I will ease you in with the lesser of two weevils that was our ice cream cake. Feign ignorance if you must - after all, how bad can an ice cream cake really be? Let's just say that when it involves two litres of ice cream, Oreos, three different types of caramel/peanut butter/chocolate bars and ends up smothered in hot fudge sauce, it's probably better not to ask those kinds of questions…

Ice cream cake with hot fudge sauce
And as for the master of coronary killers; well that manifested itself as a double chocolate peanut butter pie. Akin to a cross between a cheesecake and the richest thing you will ever consume in your life, this pie was certainly not for the faint-hearted (seriously, there should be health warnings for this thing). It was, however, divinely delicious when taken in small doses, and a fitting end to our New Year foray into pies and tarts.

Chocolate peanut butter pie
For those of you who often question how with all this fine baking neither of us resembles the back of a bus, I will simply say that moderation (and lengthy walks) is the key. As it happens, this also often results in some rather happy neighbours…





Until next time dear friends; adieu…

January 1, 2009

Summer days...





Following the all-consuming festive madness undertaken by Misses Emily and Rose, we sought a little post-Christmas country respite in the form of yet another fruit picking adventure. Once again we set off down Mornington way in weather less-than-desirably clement, but the promise of a Morello bounty sufficiently fortified our resolve. And with the weather clearing somewhat, we were not disappointed. In Ellisfield Farm we found a lovely country hideaway where sour cherries abound. Our guide for the morning was exceptionally friendly, and after a mere twenty minutes of picking we decided we were adequately laden to produce a few tasty treats. Five and a half kilos later, while recognising our weight estimation needed a little work, we departed deep in discussion as to the fate of our attractive bounty.



A frolicking Cocoa in Ellisfield Farm's Morello orchard


A quick stop for strawberries at a chaotic Sunny Ridge indicated we were not the only ones who thought it was a good day for berries. Fortunately a season at its peak meant pre-packaged purchases were most reasonable, and we made a hasty retreat from the irate masses, only to find that our blueberry destination had sold out and would not be open for picking until early in the New Year. Needless to say we were more than a little disappointed, but an invitation to spend an afternoon at the beach meant we did not dwell on this for long.

I am not sure how many of you have spent family summer holidays at the seaside, so you may be perfectly accustomed to this, but as we crawled down the coast towards Rye it became ever apparent that an exceptionally large proportion of the states population had descended on these typically tiny coastal communities for the summer. Our route was awash with tents, swimming paraphernalia, fluorescent, cream-covered children and eskys. Honestly, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a better example of stereotypical Australiana. It was a little outside my area of comfort, but while a family-packed coast may not be my idea of a relaxing holiday, the beach itself was beautiful and we had a lovely afternoon with Miss Lisa and her boys. Miss Rose in her head-turning beach attire (not in quite the way you'd expect from that comment, though) enjoyed the grittiness of beach construction with Mr. D and Mr. L, after which we all retired to Miss Lisa's holiday abode for afternoon tea.


Miss Rose – sexy… and creative


Rye pier and Mr. D


A fortified Mr. L


Scones were baked in deliciously retro appliances and enjoyed, topped of course, with Team Pretty Bake strawberry and blackberry jams. 'Twas a most pleasant way to spend the afternoon indeed so thanks to Miss Lisa and family for the invitation (and congratulations to Miss Lisa for being wise to the ways of making oneself available as a taste-tester for Sunday baking with TPB – hint hint, peoples).


Knobs


It had already been a long day, but our Morello's could not wait, so on returning to Miss Rose's metropolitan haven we immediately began our preserves. A sour cherry jam, spiced pickled cherries and preserved sour cherries were all prepared and bottled (not to mention syrups of the spiced cherry and sweet cherry variety), and we retired to contemplate how best to sample our produce and work on more creative blog presentations (as I realise that endless photos of stuff in jars is becoming quite tedious).


Sour Morello Jam



Preserved Cherries

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The following day we finished off our sweet preserved sour cherries (and no, they do not cancel to become neutral cherries, thank you), prepared a second batch of the rapidly disappearing strawberry jam, and undertook Stephanie's peach chutney before setting about making dinner and dessert.


Stephanie's Peach Chutney


Miss Rose prepared what I am willing to admit is the best roast pork I have ever eaten, complete with crispy crackling and just thoroughly delicious. Accompanied by roasted pumpkin, cauliflower and fennel, a side of green beans and potato mash, and quite predictably a few spiced sour cherries, this spectacular meal was delivered to neighbours and enjoyed by all.



Crackling roast pork with roasted pumpkin, cauliflower and fennel, beans and mash


For dessert, well, let's just say chocolate cherry cake and leave it at that, shall we?


Chocolate cherry cake – yum!


And so with that the year's eve came to an end without much ado. A fine meal shared with a dear friend and a night in bed alone with a good book. If it weren't for the cacophony of midnight explosions that indicated others had reasons to celebrate, one could easily have been excused for thinking this was just another night in our 'each day as it comes' existence. And this was exactly how I wanted it to be. So thank you to Miss Rose for understanding and not making a fuss, to friends and family for their thoughts and well wishes, and to the lovely ladies from YBP for sharing their grief and support, and who in their own ways are living this nightmare with me. A safe and prosperous New Year to you all. I do hope it will be a happier one.