Ice-cream pants and an asparagus radish salad

Of late, there seems to have been much just cause and reason for celebratory eating. A good portion of this happy eating has included the devouring of some excellent ice-cream and gelato.

So much so, that this Cheergerm has been forced to coin the phrase ‘ice-cream pants’.

Definition: when ones trousers/waistbands/knickers/undies/jeans/skirts have become ‘ever so uncomfortably tight’ due to the over indulgence of delicious ice-cream. An example sentence would be:

‘Oh dear, I have ice-cream pants.’

One could be forgiven in thinking that you had spilt ice-cream on your pants. (Whilst this has been known to happen, it is a rare occurrence for the true connoisseur of ice-cream.)

In essence, when you experience the state of ‘ice-cream pants’, it simply means you have been eating a bit too much of the good stuff. It is an indication that you need to reign it in, just a tad.

To counter ice-cream pants, salads such as these will be thrown down my gob on a regular basis. I will also be exercising more and am about to set off on a walk, it will be a long one. A few days or so.

The Hornsby Market had the most divine bunches of Prince like purple asparagus and rosy red radishes. A brand new packet of lemony sumac spice was sitting in the pantry, crying out in its little sumac voice ‘eat me, eat me’. The crunchy, spicy radish goes beautifully with the earthy delicate asparagus and this zingy, sweet dressing. The purple asparagus loses a tad of it’s vibrancy when cooked but still tastes delicious.

ASPARAGUS AND RADISH SALAD

WHAT YOU NEED
2 bunches asparagus (I used purple), woody ends removed and trimmed into 5 cm pieces
4 medium radishes, sliced finely. (I did mine on a mandolin.)
Vinaigrette
2 tbl extra virgin olive oil
1 tbl white wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsps honey
1 tsp sumac
1/4 tsp salt
Zest of one small lemon
Black pepper to taste

HOW YOU DO IT
Boil the asparagus in salted water for two minutes until just tender then immediately refresh the asparagus in cold iced water. Once the asparagus has cooled, drain well and pat dry.
Place asparagus and radish on a shallow platter or in a salad bowl.
Place the vinaigrette ingredients into a small bowl, whisk until combined and pour the mixture over the radish and asparagus. Toss the salad gently.
We ate this with the most awesome bowl of monster cold king prawns (well, the lads and I did) and a scrumptious potato salad.

Cooking Note: Sumac is a deep red, purple spice used mostly in Middle Eastern and Greek cooking. It has a tangy, lemony flavour. It is wonderful sprinkled over a plate of tomatoes or sliced avocado. It can also be used in a marinade or in a dressing, as is done here.

A slight Cheergerm adaptation of a recipe from the Taste of Home website. Link follows the photos.

http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/radish-asparagus-salad#.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hornsby-Market/151427154911192?ref=ts&fref=ts

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Blackheath babes and Vesta

A certain girl, who shall go unnamed (let’s face it, everyone goes unnamed in this blog), recently celebrated a birthday of significance. Maybe this blog should be called The Birthday Blog?

The partying did not stop I tell you. Next on the birthday agenda (far more exciting than a political or meeting agenda) was a girly trip for six, away to the Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney. The funky wee village of Blackheath to be specific. This mountain town is one of my very favourite to visit. (Go on now, I love them all.)

The adorable Blackheath Getaway Cottage is a homey wooden cottage with quaint touches and a stone fireplace. This would have been my fourth stay here. (Shh, don’t tell anyone. I would hate it to become popular.) Cherry blossoms lined the streets and the well known rhodedendron gardens were coming into bloom. This weekend spoke of open fires, champagne and Cuban sandwiches. Fish river coffee and secondhand shops up the wazoo.

Wide greened streets and cookie cutter cottages that you want to shrink, pop in your pocket and take home. A dog show and waratah’s so red, lush and unreal, you think you could have fallen down a rabbit hole into a psychedelic wonderland.

Serious conversation, happy birthday toasts and the kind of ribbing that only a loved one can get away with.

Mountain appropriate glad rags were put on and we trailed out to a celebatory birthday dinner. Our destination was a restaurant that was once the iconic Vulcans and has now morphed into Vesta. Having never eaten at Vulcans, I had no preconceived notion of what this space should be or feel like. It was once the Blackheath Bakery, built in the nineteenth century and was made famous by Philip Searle and Barry Ross in the 1990’s who produced iconic food in the woodfired scotch oven.

Vesta is an intimate, rustic and charming space. The woodfired oven sits at the back of the open kitchen for all to see. This oven is a magical kingdom within itself; producing plates of seasonal, slow cooked food tinged with the smokiness that only real fire can produce.

A ruby red blood orange and Campari cocktail was enjoyed by two of our number and a cracking bottle of Provenance Pinot Gris from Victoria was ordered and promptly consumed. Woodfired walnut bread was dipped in olive oil and dukkah and we nibbled on smoked paprika almonds and marinated olives.

My standout dish was a silky light and rich, twice cooked Manchego goats cheese soufflé. I would walk to the Blue Mountains on burning hot tar just to get this down my gob again. The experience of mopping up that cheese sauce with bread requires a sonnet to be written in its honour and bards to sing to its glory. I appreciated my next dish, lobster tail with a blood orange and chervil dressing with asparagus. It was light and spoke of spring, the perfect dish after the rich soufflé.

I managed to grab a mouthful of the delicately smoky and unctuous Persian lamb ragout with dill rice and the very good ratatouille with polenta and Bulgarian feta. These dishes were also served in the black cast iron pans they were cooked in. What’s not to love about food served right from the belly of the oven? Even the sides were grand. Broccolini with garlic breadcrumbs and crispy oven roasted kipfler potatoes.

Because this was a birthday celebration, one candle holding, embarrassment causing ice-cream bombe comprising of a strawberry sorbet and honeycomb ice cream was ordered. We stuffed a gorgeous tasting spoonful into our straining stomachs. Just another wafer thin slice? I think not. Thank goodness we had the walk back to the cottage.

As we left, Vesta was heaving with a mixed crowd of the older well heeled set and uber-cool young, bearded hipsters. (Well, the blokes were bearded, I didn’t notice any moustachioed chicks.) The only question left to ask is, whose birthday is it next?

http://www.blackheathgetaway.com.au/default.asp

http://www.vestablackheath.com.au

http://www.provenancewine.com.au/get-wines-direct-buy-online/


Pavlova zen and my hive

With a trio of family birthdays to celebrate, the house was packed to the rafters. Fizzy wine bottles were popping and we all talked over each other (nothing new there). We began the evening by chowing down on a selection of Bruny Island Cheese Co cheeses and some fat, salty olives.

At one point I was in another room in the house, collecting something or other.
I managed to stop and still myself (not an easy task) and listen to the hubbub. It was a loud and happy buzz, which made me think. This is my hive, my source of happiness. It’s not always harmonious (we ain’t a cult for goodness sakes) but even when our voices are raised in gleeful disagreement, there is no better sound.

To help celebrate three birthdays there were fittingly, three desserts. The pavlova, Sister 2’s amazeballs baked cheesecake and some decadently iced chocolate cupcakes.

The Yak adores pavlova and it is a super gluten free dessert. This rather large version is as light as a unicorns tinkle and as fluffy as a fairy tutu. It has a crisp outer shell and a marshmallow interior that is synonymous with a good pavlova. (Well, that’s how we like them here, feel free to disagree.) My very favourite fruit to accompany this dessert is that somewhat saucy, acidic passionfruit. This crazy fruit brings a wonderful acidic zing that perfectly counterbalances the sugary hit of the pav.

I pride myself on my meringue skill. (This is up there with my other useful talent of attracting the attention of random crazy strangers in the street.) You may have heard this all before but for what it’s worth, here are my top meringue tips.

1. Don’t use new eggs, older egg white works better.
2. Bring the eggs to room temperature.
3. Make sure your bowl (stainless steel or glass) is very clean and totally dry. Water is your enemy at this point.
4. No egg yolk in your whites.
5. Beat your eggs to a stiff peak before adding the sugar, always add that pinch of salt first.
6. Add your sugar slowly, then beat until the sugar is dissolved and no longer gritty. Do not rush this process. You will not regret this, this is the Zen of Pavlova. Patience is a virtue when it comes to meringue. This is not a job you can rush if you want to achieve that stiff, white glossy goop that is synonymous with this much beloved dessert.

PAVLOVA

WHAT YOU NEED
6 egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of salt
2 cups caster sugar, sifted
1/4 tsp vanilla bean powder or 1/2 tsp vanilla paste or essence
1 tbl cornflour
2 tsp vinegar

HOW YOU DO IT
Heat the oven to 180C.
Place baking paper on a large tray and draw a 22 cm circle for a flatter pavlova or a 20cm circle for a taller version. (It will spread a little.) Turn the paper pencil side down on the baking tray.
Beat the egg whites and pinch of salt with an electric beater on low until they stand in firm peaks.
Keep beating the egg white on low adding the sugar a tablespoon at a time.
Once all of the sugar is added, continue beating on a medium speed until the meringue is no longer gritty to the touch. This takes about 5 minutes or so.
Fold through the vanilla, cornflour and vinegar.
Spread the mixture with a large spoon onto the prepared tray and place in the oven. Drop temperature down to 130 (120 fan forced) and bake for one hour. Rotate every 20 minutes to ensure even baking and colouring.
Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the pavlova cool down in the oven.
Expect cracks on the surface and the pavlova may collapse a little as it cools, don’t panic, this is all ok.
Topped with whipped cream and your favourite fruit. Think passionfruit, strawberries, mangoes, nectarines, peaches and kiwi fruit. Use one fruit or make it a fruity salad.

A Cheergerm adaptation based on a crazy New Zealand teatowel recipe, a Margaret Fulton recipe and an online Annabel Langbein recipe

IMG_4816


http://www.annabel-langbein.com/recipes/fantasy-pavlova/62/

http://www.brunyislandcheese.com.au/


A side of herb polenta bake and an aside

Yak: You are a good lad, will you look after me when I am old?
Kid 2: Probably, but I might be somewhere else.
Me: Kid 2, if I were you, I would start running now. Unfortunately, I have nowhere left to run.

This hearty side of polenta is magnificent Yak food. It helps trick convince The Yak into feeling like he is not ‘missing out’. There is very little that this side dish doesn’t go with. We have scoffed it down with a ratatouille like vegetarian sauce as well as a creamy braised mushroom dish. It goes beautifully with a myriad of casseroles or good piece of meat or fish. Breakfast for dinner? Try it with a fried or poached egg and some steamed asparagus.

Chuck in whatever herb combination tickles your fancy. No fresh herbs? Then throw in a teaspoon of dried Italian herbs and let them steep in the stock whilst it comes to the boil. This version has parsley, thyme and a smidgen of sage. In the time it took me to prepare the thyme (boom tish) for this dish, my lads had gone to high school, got degrees, travelled the world and started families. Picking the leaves off thyme is one of the worst kitchen jobs. I would love to say I find it meditative but I don’t.

Take note if you will, of the beautiful wooden board that this polenta sits upon. Uncle R, a veritable goldmine of funny and punny one liners and the master of the ‘aside’ made this for me back in 1993. Whilst staying in Christchurch, NZ, with the always hospitable Uncle R and Aunty L, we took a day trip to Akaroa and stopped in at French Farm winery for a snack with flavour. Some of the food was served upon divine wooden boards that were labelled ‘French Farm Vineyards’. I admired them greatly and Uncle R, a collector of bits of wood (as well as of puns) said ‘Don’t worry niece, I shall make you a board just as nice as this one.’ (He would have said this in a silly voice, cause that’s how he rolls.)

Back at their house, he whipped up a piece of kauri (wood) into this gorgeous wee board, copying the details from the one back at the vineyard. It is exactly the same as the original version I had coveted. Bar one thing. It’s made with the love, care and thoughtful detail of my uncle, and it is far better than anything I could have ever purchased for myself. And that my friends, is something that you just don’t get bored of.

GARLIC AND HERB POLENTA BAKE

WHAT YOU NEED
1 cup gluten free veggie stock and 2 cups water (the original recipe calls for 3 cups of stock but I find it too salty for my taste.)
1 cup instant polenta
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley, sage, thyme, oregano) this is a bit flexible I have also used 1-2 to 1 cup with great results.
3 tbl grated Parmesan
30g butter
Salt to taste
3 tbl grated Parmesan extra for topping

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 15cm x 15cm baking dish with baking paper. I use a larger one and it makes a wedge of polenta that is about 22cm x 18cm and 3cm high.)
Bring the stock and water to the boil in a medium saucepan.
Pour in the polenta and cook over a medium heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly, the mixture should be very thick.
Stir in the garlic, chopped herbs, parmesan and butter and taste for seasoning.
Pour/spread the mixture into the baking dish. Smooth the surface and sprinkle with the extra Parmesan.
Bake for 20-30 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden brown.
Cut into triangles, squares or into whatever damn crazy shape you wish.
Serves 8 with one piece each.

Recipe from The Gluten-free Kitchen by Sue Shepherd

http://frenchfarm.co.nz/wordpress/


Hungry Games and Scott’s Farewell Square

As of late, I have been immersed in what is known as YA (Young Adult) fiction. It happens to involve a lot of ‘end of the world’ type scenarios. It is here we usually read of a hapless teenager who has found him or herself in a dystopian society where survival of the fittest is the order of the day. They fall chastely in love with another luckless adolescent or mayhaps a vampire, all whilst changing the course of history.

I have come to the conclusion that if I were to be suddenly transported into such a scenario, I would not last long. I would simply poop my pants and suffer a major heart attack whilst being shot at/hunted by mutated animals/jumping from train to train/taking part in a battle to the death or wearing a shimmering on fire mockingjay type outfit. I would be the sad loser who lay down and just died of fright.

With that, I give you this old school Weet-Bix slice. In my own adolescence there was often a version of this wheaty bake waiting at home. Made by mum in an attempt to ward off any ‘Hunger Games’ type scenarios that may have occurred between myself and my three sisters. In turn, it is now one of my lads fave morning or afternoon tea delights.

My mum usually baked a melt and mix version but I have provided here a creamed butter and sugar version from my fave NZ baking cookbook, ‘Ladies: A Plate’. This slice is named Scott’s Farewell Square due to the fact that the famous explorer Captain Scott’s last expedition, sailed from Port Chalmers New Zealand, in November 1910. Alexa Johnston, the author of this cookbook, tells us that the recipe appears in a 1960’s Dunedin church recipe book. She imagines that a plate of this moreish slice may have been given to the ill fated Scott and his team before they sailed away to the South Pole.

This is the kind of hearty baking that will sustain hungry adventurers of all ages. (I have decided to enrol my lads in a survivalist course, just to maximise their chance of staying alive if things go bottoms up in the future. At the very least, they need to know how to shoot a bow and arrow or stake an evil vampire if needs be.)

SCOTT’S FAREWELL SQUARE

WHAT YOU NEED
115g butter
1 cup/140g brown sugar, coconut or rapadura sugar
1 egg
2 tsps golden syrup
1 1/3 cups/170g wholemeal flour
1 pinch salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbl Cocoa powder
4 Weet-Bix finely crumbled
1 cup/85g desiccated coconut
3/4 cup/100g chopped dates

Icing
3/4 cup icing sugar
2 tbl Cocoa powder
1 tsp butter, melted
Extra coconut for sprinkling

WHAT YOU DO
Preheat oven to 180C and line a shallow tin with baking paper. (The slice is roughly 22 x 22cm so I used a bigger tray but not all of it.)
Cream butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl (I used a mixer) until light and fluffy.
Add the egg and golden syrup and mix until it comes together.
Sit in the flour, salt, baking powder and cocoa powder.
Mix in the Weet-Bix, coconut and dates and stir thoroughly to combine.
Spread evenly (about 1.5cm – 2cm thick) into a baking tin and bake for 15-20 minutes.
Remove from the oven, let cool in the tin for about 15 minutes then put on a wire rack to cool.

Icing
Sift the icing sugar and cocoa together into a bowl.
Make a thin chocolate icing by adding the melted butter and a little hot water to mix to a spreading consistency.
Spread over the cooled slice, sprinkle with the extra coconut and cut into squares when the icing has set.
Makes 16 squares.

Cooking Notes: the original recipe also calls for 55g each of raisins and chopped walnuts. I leave them out due to sproglets preferences but feel free to chuck them in. I have knocked back the amount of sugar and icing sugar from the original recipe and used wholemeal flour.

A Slightly Cheergerm adaptation from ‘Ladies A Plate’ by Alexa Johnston.

A gluten free Weetbix made from sorghum was recently released in Australia so a GF version slice will be posted in the near future, as well as a melt and mix chocolate Weetbix slice recipe.