Chilli and Chips

Sometimes, I work long and hard to create a fancy meal. I worry about taste and presentation, and fuss with every detail. Other times, a meal just comes together, and ends up as beautiful in the dish as in the mouth, with very little work.

I made a simple chilli the other day to go with a pair of ripe avocados. There was nothing to the chilli—kidney beans, grated carrot, chopped tomatoes, onion, and a whole lot of herbs and spices. My husband made guacamole and grated some cheddar cheese. While the chilli simmered, I made up my fabulous corn chips (so tasty and so easy to make). 

Suddenly, we had a glorious meal—beautiful colours, textures and flavours—and I felt like I’d hardly worked for it. Nice when it all works out that way.

If at First You Don’t Succeed …

A few weeks ago, my dentist rang. not to tell me I was overdue for a checkup, but to ask if I wanted any hazelnuts (we have a long history of trading produce—I try not to arrive at an appointment without some gift from the garden). 

Turns out his hazelnut gift was 10 kilos of nuts! So I’ve been using hazel nuts in everything lately. And, of course, my thoughts turned to homemade Nutella.

There are plenty of recipes online. I chose this one and had a go. The only change I made was to use dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate.

The result was quite good, but not nutty enough for my taste—the chocolate to nut ratio was too high, swamping the flavour of the nuts. It also set too hard—probably because I used dark chocolate instead of the milk chocolate called for in the recipe. 

Of course, that means I’ll just have to make it again … you know, to get it right. I have plenty of hazelnuts.

If at first you don’t succeed …

Too Good Not to Share

A few of the two dozen or so loaves from Saturday.

Saturday was a bread day, so while I headed to the garden in the morning, my husband began making up the dough and getting the fire lit in the oven. As I worked, the familiar scent of wood smoke wafted across the yard. The bread oven smell is different from the smell of the wood burner or a brush fire—from the first wisp of smoke, it declares itself a cooking fire. The smell always gives me a sense of well-being. It tells me that soon there will be a bounty of baked goods, and we will eat well for days on the delicious things we’ll bake.

Bread days are always busy—baking is done on top of the gardening, mowing, and cleaning on the weekend’s to-do list. By mid-day Saturday, I had planted out my peas and hauled a dozen loads of compost to the garden, and the kitchen was full of rising loaves in a variety of shapes and sizes. It was time for me to join the baking. While my husband managed the bread, I chopped vegetables for what would become dinner. 

It was an especially hot oven Saturday. Pitas baked in seconds, kaiser rolls in a handful of minutes, the vegetables came out beautifully caramelised in no time, and focaccia bubbled up quickly and came out sizzling. While the larger loaves baked, I mixed up pound cake and hazelnut biscotti to slip into the oven after the bread was through. 

Dinner was a feast of roast vegetables and salad greens stuffed into fresh pita breads followed by pound cake and biscotti—a celebration of good food after a day of intense work. The only problem with it was there was no one besides us to share it with.

(For those of you who missed it a few years ago, you can check out our kitchen during a bread day in this time lapse video.)

Winter Baking—Anise-scented Fig and Date Swirls

After a week of frosty mornings and gloriously warm sunny days, the weekend has brought us cold, drenching rain. 

So, the only thing for it was to bake!

I stocked up on my homemade granola and made a batch of Mommy’s Magical Crackers, but the fun baking for the day was a batch of fig and date pinwheels. I’ve only made them once before, but loved them. Flavoured with anise and rich in figs, they have a unique taste and texture that improves with age.

These are straight from my favourite cookie cookbook (the book itself is a work of art), The Gourmet Cookie Book. They take more time to make than many cookies, but the results are as attractive as they are delicious—well worth the effort.

1 cup dried figs
1 cup pitted dates
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbs ground anise seeds
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
125 g (1/2 cup) softened butter
125 g (4 oz) cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup raw sugar (optional)

In a food processor or blender, puree figs, dates, water and 2 Tbs sugar. Set aside.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, anise, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl beat together butter, cream cheese, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, egg yolk and flour mixture and beat until a dough forms. Form dough into a disk and wrap in wax paper. Chill about a hour, until firm enough to handle (I found in my winter-cool house I didn’t need to chill the dough at all).

On a floured surface, roll out dough into a 33 x 25 cm (13 x 10-inch) rectangle about 8 mm (1/3-inch) thick. Gently spread fig and date mixture evenly over the top, leaving a narrow border around the edges. Starting at one long edge, roll the dough into a jelly-roll-like log. Optional: roll log in raw sugar to coat. Wrap in waxed paper and chill 4 hours until firm.

Slice into 8 mm (1/3-inch) rounds and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake about 13 minutes at 180ºC (350ºF) until golden.

No-fuss Bliss Balls

I like the idea of the now-ubiquitous protein balls/energy bites/bliss balls/whatever they’re called. I thought they’d be great for my athletic daughter, to keep her weight up.

But when I bought some, we found them more candy bar than energy boost—overly sweet and not particularly tasty, either.

So I was intrigued when I found the book, Energy Bites, by Christine Bailey in the cookbook section of my local library. 

My excitement quickly turned to disappointment as I flicked past recipe after recipe that included such hard-to-find ingredients as xylitol, yacon syrup, matcha, colostrum powder, and lucuma powder. Surely, one should be able to concoct a not-too-sweet high-energy treat from ingredients I already had in the cupboard.

I pulled out my food processor and started dropping things in and buzzing them until I had a mixture of the right consistency and flavour.

  • A cup of walnuts
  • A handful of coconut
  • Two spoonfuls of unsweetened cocoa
  • A handful of dates
  • A few spoonfuls of peanut butter
  • A pinch or two of cayenne pepper
  • Several gratings of coarse salt

The result was bitter with chocolate, rich with nuts, and just a little zingy with salt and cayenne. A definite improvement over the store bought ones, and easy to whip up with staples from my cupboard.

Gifts from the freezer

With love, from the freezer.

Our apple trees struggle against the macrocarpa hedge shading them and sucking away nutrients and moisture from the soil. I’m sure many years ago, when a previous owner planted them, they seemed far enough from the hedge, but today, without aggressive pruning, the hedge would engulf the fruit trees. So we rarely get large harvests of apples, and most years we eat them all fresh, long before they go wrinkly with age. 

This past summer was different. We had extra apples after accepting a big box of them from a friend, and then realising our trees held more than we thought. There was no way we were going to use all of the apples before they dried out, nor did I want the kitchen and dining room littered with baskets and bowls of apples for months. I filled the last of our empty canning jars with applesauce and still had more fruit. So I made a large quantity of apple pie filling, cooking the apples just enough to soften them slightly and release some of their juices. Then I froze it in pie-sized quantities. We enjoyed apple pie all through autumn.

We thought we’d finished the apple pie filling off, but the other day, my husband found a container of it on the bottom of the freezer. To find that pie filling on a cold and rainy weekend was a beautiful gift. A gift from our summer selves and from the freezer itself, which hid it until the need was greatest.

So while rain streamed down the window panes, I made a pie, filling the house with the warming smell of baking cinnamon, apple and pastry. We enjoyed the pie warm with whipped cream by the fire on a dreary night—a wintertime decadence to make us forget the damp and cold.

Thank you, freezer, for the wonderful winter gift.

Orange Coconut Scones

Sunday morning breakfasts aren’t always the best planned meals. Sometimes I start baking before I really know what I want to make. Sometimes I decide to make something, only to discover half way through that we’re missing an ingredient.

Both of those happened this morning. I grabbed a recipe for oat scones, not really wanting them, but not having any better ideas. On my way to the flour bin, I passed the fruit bowl, spilling over with oranges. I could make orange oat scones! I grabbed an orange and started considering how the recipe would change with the addition of grated orange peel. By the time my consideration was over, the new recipe bore little resemblance to the one I was technically following.

I was cutting the butter into the flour mixture when I remembered there were no eggs in the house. Well, I’d have to make my scones without an egg. No problem—scones are just biscuits fancied up with egg and sugar anyway. They’d be fine.

They were more than fine.

They were downright delicious.

So next time you think you want to make oat scones, but decide not to at the last minute, and then find you have no eggs in the house, try these lovely, light and tasty orange coconut scones!

1 1/2 cups wholemeal flour
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
3 Tbs sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
110 g (7 Tbs) cold butter
grated rind of 1 orange
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup + 2 Tbs orange juice
1/2 tsp vanilla

Combine the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the orange rind and coconut. Combine orange juice and vanilla in a measuring cup or small bowl, and then add to the flour mixture. Stir just until moistened (you may need to add a touch more orange juice). Knead briefly to bring the mixture into a ball. Pat the dough out on a floured countertop into a round about 1.5 cm thick (a generous half-inch). Cut into 12 wedges. Place wedges on a greased baking sheet and bake at 210ºC (425ºF) for 13-15 minutes until golden brown.