September 30, 2012

Spring green...

I love spring. As the days lengthen and the birds begin to wake a little earlier I find myself revelling in the colourful sprays of spring bulbs and sun-kissed afternoons heady with the perfume of blossoms and freshly cut grass. Memories from my younger days come flooding back and I get that child-like sense of anticipation for once again being allowed to go and play outdoors...

In the kitchen spring is all about colours, and one of my favourites would have to be green. Asparagus, broad beans, avocados and basil - it's about freshness and simplicity, and enjoying everything our flourishing gardens have to offer. While I don't have a vegie patch of my own I'm fortunate to delight in the spoils of a nearby family plot, and there was a particularly exciting gift on the doorstep this week:

Such a glorious specimen was deserving of something special, and I thought it high time to give these delectably comforting stuffed cabbage leaves a go.

Traditionally sporting a rich, meaty filling, this vegetarian take was light and almost refreshing, with a delightful lemony tang that was offset by the creaminess of walnuts and sweetness of currants which were studded throughout.

Another welcome sight that was dotted throughout the market stalls this week was some of the early warm weather tomatoes, just perfect for my first foray into a new acquisition via the ever-fabulous salad, tabbouleh.

Rich with herbs and acid tang this was freshness at its best, and since we're not quite free from the cooler evenings just yet, I have a feeling it will go rather nicely with that chicken I have happily roasting away in the oven. Rather nicely indeed...

September 23, 2012

C is for cookie...

In the long list of things that I enjoy cooking I'd have to say that biscuits are right up there when it comes to the ultimate baked treat. A small indulgence, they're infinitely adaptable, can be thrown together and baked within minutes, and offer that perfect combination of a crisp edge and chewy centre that, fresh from the oven, is both comforting and immensely satisfying.

Whether it's a biscuit or a cookie is really a matter of personal choice, as these terms have become relatively interchangeable of late. Personally I will use biscuit to describe the traditional disc of buttery goodness to be had with tea, while reserving cookie for those doughy American monsters, packed full of sugar and chunks that require their own private sitting and border on a meal unto themselves.

I have really fond memories of making biscuits as a child, however, despite their ease of preparation biscuits don't appear all that popular, and as there's a tendency to either try too hard by 'glamming' them up or do a little cost cutting by skimping on the added extras, it's surprisingly difficult to find a good, proper biscuit. Any hankerings, therefore, are usually best satisfied at home, and with said cravings needing sating I simply could not go past these fabulous spelt and ginger cookies, with their lovely chewy texture and big chunks of ginger for flavour.

As for the cookies, it was straight to an American classic in snickerdoodles, these particular ones rich with saffron and vanilla that lent both a real complexity of flavours, and filled the kitchen with a wonderful, heavenly aroma as they baked.

But as the cooling rack was filling up fast I still wasn't quite done, and so last but not least were these marathon cookies, which I'd bookmarked to try for two reasons. As a keen long distance runner these certainly grabbed my attention as a potentially good post-run snack, but what had me especially curious was the use of a bean-based dough.

As we love all things weird and wonderful here at TPB, a cookie recipe that commences with the preparation of what is essentially white bean dip seemed just my ticket, and despite expectations these biscuits turned out to be incredibly light and, thanks to that layer of sesame seeds, had a lovely crunchy exterior to complement their fluffy and fragrant centres. Having already mixed things up by adding in rye flakes and barberries it's easy to see these becoming a regular 'go to' for which the possibilities are endless, and there's certainly going to be some tasty new treats to look forward to after those long weekend sessions.

Yep, love a good biscuit...

September 15, 2012


"...could you use a litre of buttermilk?..."

I hadn't planned on cooking anything special this week, but when the offer came to use up some fabulous Victorian produce the temptation was too much to resist.

For some time I've been meaning to make homemade ricotta, and with a full litre of buttermilk at hand it seemed this was the perfect opportunity to finally give it a go. With just two ingredients it couldn't be simpler, and after a few false starts as I got used to the right curdling point, while there's still plenty of room for improvement what resulted from my first attempt wasn't too shabby.

However, I needed something on which to enjoy my new chef d'oevure (*cough*) and so I decided to try my hand at soda bread with this six-seeded version, which sounded like it would do just the trick.

Reminiscent of a giant scone, while it's not quite your traditional bread texturally the flavours in this loaf are fantastic, and the fact that you can have everything thrown together, baked and slathered with your favourite topping within the hour is also pretty appealing.

 new season Fuerte

homemade ricotta & honey

But that wasn't quite it for the buttermilk, and with a little bit still to go there was just enough room for this seasonal salad of farro, fennel and asparagus, all held together by a delightfully fresh and tangy buttermilk dressing.

Particularly nice beside salmon this was a lovely new addition to the salad line-up, and a pleasing deviation from the pancakes and muffins typically reserved for buttermilk uses. 


September 9, 2012

Studded dough...

Baking during winter is a challenge. While there's that romantic notion of kneading away as the wood fire crackles and the rain tumbles down, the realities of a day job and a cold, inner-city flat mean that I don't get to delight in such fancies as nearly as often as I would like. But the desire is always there, and with a few similarly-themed posts suddenly hitting my to-do list it was time for dough with bits.

I began with orange and oat scones. A classic American recipe - which to me is more of a bread-biscuit hybrid than the traditional fluffy dough that's destined to be embellished with jam and cream - this version had a fabulous flaky texture thanks to the whole wheat flour and oats, and the orange zest added an alluring citrus punch. With the dough itself bordering on savoury, the currants provided an occasional burst of sweetness, and as an afternoon snack with a fresh pot of tea, these triangular treats were most delectable indeed.

For savouries, it was on to black olive bialy. Touted as "an east European cousin of the bagel... only better" these were hard to go past. Simple to prepare, and with a lovely light yet chewy texture, these bialy were a great variation on the humble roll, featuring a delightful little onion-filled pocket that unexpectedly developed from their pre-bake depression.

But what I wanted to try above all else was these pan di Ramerino. As you well know, I'm quite partial to a fruit bun, and so the idea of a sticky, raisin-studded bun flecked with aromatic rosemary taken fresh from the oven was, quite frankly, my idea of heaven. Unlike with most bun recipes, here the rosemary-infused oil was added after first prove, and so I admittedly lost a little confidence as I struggled to form the slippery dough into balls. But with flavour combinations that lend themselves to being 'rustic' the haphazard shaping seemed only appropriate, and what came from the oven was so fragrant and light that I can easily see these becoming a frequent indulgence.

Definitely something to enjoy whilst dreaming of that country estate...