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Hurry up and grow August 31, 2010

Filed under: Things that aren't sweet — titchandboofer @ 11:32 am
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Late last summer I planted asparagus seeds. This was a seriously long-term investment in our culinary future. Although the tiny seedlings popped up – perfect asparagus in miniature – within weeks, there won’t be any harvesting for another eighteen months. Until then they grow, achingly slowly, in our raised vegetable bed, taunting me with their tiny perfection. On the upside, once an asparagus bed gets going you can leave it in place for years and years (seven or perhaps twenty, depending which source you might believe). Once something is planted in the garden, no matter what stage of its development, I am reluctant to buy it elsewhere. Partly this is thriftiness (or stinginess, if that’s your angle), partly it’s about attempting to honour the principles of eating seasonally, and partly it’s about the satisfaction of making do with what one has to hand. Sometimes though, as with eggs, I cave in to desire.

Cheat’s Risotto

2 tablespoons of olive oil

50 grams of unsalted butter

2 shallots, finely chopped

330 grams of arborio rice (or other risotto rice, as you wish)

250 mls of white wine (I keep a 2 litre cask of dry white in the pantry for just such a thing)

1 litre of vegetable stock (I use 2 massel ultra stock cubes) hot

3 bunches of asparagus

1 cup of grated parmesan

zest & juice of a lemon (homegrown, slightly redemptive)

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large saucepan/deep sided, wide frypan over low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 3-5 minutes until softened.

Increase the heat to medium, add the rice and stir to coat the grains.

Add the wine and stir for 1-2 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.

Gradually add the hot stock, one ladleful at a time, allowing each to absorb before adding the next. Now there are two schools of thought on this process – stirring vs non-stirring with occasional swirling. If you stir, particularly if it’s vigorous, your end result will be a thicker texture. If you swirl occasionally the end result is a looser risotto. Entirely up to you.

Carry on until the rice is cooked but not too soft. This will take 20-30 minutes. It’s best if you don’t wander off during this time. Inattention can lead to a much gluggier result.

In the meantime, trim the woody ends off the asparagus. Peel the stalks, leaving the tips intact. Chop into ~5cm segments.

Blanch in boiling, salted water for about 3 minutes, until just tender. The tips will be bright green. Drain, then refresh in cold water. I have read a theory that putting the peelings into the water you’ll blanch the asparagus in gives an extra-asparagusy flavour. I tried this and just found it fiddly without an appreciable difference in flavour.

When the risotto is almost done, add the asparagus, parmesan, lemon zest and juice. Gently combine then season with sea salt and black pepper to taste. Cover and set aside for 5 minutes, then serve.

It’s hard to turn down a good risotto. Some are dreadful. I once worked in a pub where the name risotto was given to cooked rice fried up with chunks of whatever and peas (always with the peas) then sprinkled with parmesan. Fine to eat if you’re a house-sharing uni student, at the end of a feet-blistering shift, if you need a heavy dose of carbs and salt, and you can disguise its hideousness with the wine bottle rejects of the night. Not fine if you’re bothering to cook yourself a dinner you plan to enjoy.

This is worth the moderate amount of effort and attention. For extra carby-deliciousness, serve it up with chunks of fresh crusty bread slathered with real butter. Oh and a bit of white wine won’t go astray.

 

Passing through?

Filed under: Midwifery,Parenting — titchandboofer @ 9:39 am
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Some months ago I was asked to co-author an article with one of my lovely-midwife-friends, on the topic of birth as a rite of passage, for Barefoot magazine. As can be the way with writing, the words went off in their own direction and what resulted instead was a story of the small one’s birth from both of our perspectives (my LMF was also my private midwife). ‘Birth as a rite of passage’ is an enormous, unwieldy theme. For any person, it is all too easy to get bogged down in the nitty gritty of either facet. For me, the co-existing perspectives of midwife and mother lead to deep entanglement of thought in the realms of both. As my LMF and I tried to exert a coherent and shared grip on the entire concept and put pen to paper, or hands to keyboard, we got more intimate with our own ideas but further and further from either consensus or an article shorter than a thesis. The confines of small’s birth at least gave us a helpful boundary around a shared experience.

What it didn’t allow for was any meandering into the social paradigm, any talk of the meanings placed on birth by the modern woman (well, to be more specific, the white, middle-class, english-speaking woman of Australia, who is all I can really speak of with a speck of authority) and the society in which she lives. So what is this paradigm What are these meanings? What order can I create out of my tangled thoughts? How much can I assert my viewpoint without being critical and alienating?

To be flat out negative, I think the importance of birth as a rite of passage has been diminished to the point of non-existence. My cynical self believes that the modern, capitalist world has turned becoming a parent into yet another consumer experience. It’s no longer about being transformed, stepping away from one self toward a new self, irreversibly. It is all about acquiring a baby. Sometimes this is couched in ‘becoming a family’, but let’s not kid ourselves, this is just one more way of saying ‘as a couple, we are getting a new thing’. A new thing, in a natural progression of new things: holiday, engagement, wedding, house, coffee machine, car, a fancier phone, a pregnancy, a baby, mountain of largely unnecessary stuff for baby, newer bigger car, newer bigger house, newer baby, holiday (and yes, I’m  aware that I am generalising wildly, but that doesn’t make me wrong)….. Becoming a parent is just one more opportunity for us to be aggressively marketed to and it starts before you’ve even conceived. ‘Take this supplement! Scientifically proven to make a better baby!’ ‘Buy this pill for your man! Give him the gift of higher quality sperm!’ ‘Eat this cereal! Your ovaries will thank you!’ I know that taking prenatal supplements isn’t an inherently bad practice (unless you’re the woman who unwittingly took ten times the recommended dose of folate) but it’s certainly not bad for business either. There’s not nearly as much money to be made from telling people how to maximise their ability to conceive without drugs. In pregnancy the pressure builds a little more. ‘Book into our private hospital! We have a big sparkly nursery!’ ‘Use this cream! You’ll never get a stretch mark!’ ‘Buy this special seat-belt!’  ‘Buy bottles now! Every mother needs them just in case!’ Then comes labour and birth. ‘Wear this labour dress! You don’t want to be stuck looking bad in hubby’s old t-shirt!’ ‘Take the drugs! Don’t be uncomfortable!’ ‘Listen to this music! Your unborn child will already be smarter!’ And once your child is out in the world the marketing pressure that parents are exposed to intensifies further, cunningly devised to play into every fear and anxiety they are vulnerable to. ‘Worried if your baby is sick? Buy this drug! Use this dummy that doubles as a thermometer!’ ‘Afraid your baby will stop breathing? Use this motion-detecting cot alarm! Buy these multi-point baby monitors!’ ‘Want your baby to sleep? Buy our disembodied, plush model-hands so you can trick your baby into thinking you are holding him! Bathe her in this bubble-bath! Slather him in this cream! Use this dummy!’ ‘Want your baby to be smart? Buy this toy/music/book/dvd/mobile/walker/bouncer/class! It’s never to soon to be over-stimulated!’ ‘Want your baby to be healthy? Buy this fortified formula! We’ll pretend it’s for toddlers but you know it’s really for babies!’ On and on and on and on. And that’s just the stuff you’re meant to be buying, never mind the image of modern motherhood you’re meant to be buying into.

Which takes me back to the notion of transformation – and this is where things are even more depressing. For an event to truly be a rite of passage it must involve change, irreversible, life-altering, monumental change. The transitions through menarche and menopause, from boy to man, from parent to grandparent, the events of starting school, finishing school, leaving home for the first time, retiring, all times of change. Change that, for the most part, is celebrated. Yet we have an image of motherhood held up for us that glorifies an absence of change. How many articles exhort you to get your old body back? How many articles indirectly encourage this, documenting celebrity mothers and their miraculous bodies, manicured nails and glossy hair? How many methods are being peddled, promising to produce a baby so controlled it couldn’t possibly inconvenience you? How pervasive is the notion that babies should be cutely silent and sedated, predictable and compliant? How negative the adjective ‘mumsy’? Because whatever you do, you shouldn’t actually look like a mother. Dammit, you should look sexy – boobs up, tummy flat, stretch-marks erased (if you were so irresponsible as to come by them in the first place), back-in-your-skinny-jeans-slim and absolutely no leaking. You should be out there, working, shopping, socialising, having coffee, having it all. The message is strong: have a baby – you needn’t let it change your life.

And whatever you do, don’t be dwelling on your birth experience. If it was awful it doesn’t matter, because (chant with me now) all that matters is a healthy mum and a healthy baby. If it was great just shut up, or you’ll make the other whiny mothers feel guilty and inadequate. Anyway, why are you even thinking the birth was about you? Clearly your pregnancy was a temporary and potentially life-threatening condition, treated heroically by our state of the art medical system. All you had to do was show up and get handed a baby at the end. There’s nothing special about having a baby. Women all over the world do it every day, squatting in rice paddies and fields and whatnot, and you don’t hear them banging on about it ad nauseum.

But it is special. And when the cynical ranter in me takes a break and the dewy-eyed midwife steps in, I’d even say it is magical. No matter how many times I see it happen, it is magical to watch a whole new person come into the world, a person that has been there, out of sight, curled up behind a wall of skin and muscle for fortyish weeks. It’s magical to see women birth their babies and cross over the threshold to parenthood, sometimes sweetly, sometimes with a lurch and a crash. I love bearing witness to those first few hours of naked emotion, naked bodies, tears and blood, shock and awe. Before the cleaning up, tidying up, washing, dressing, wrapping, texting, calling and anxiety begin. But if the message I’m reading, socially and culturally, is that birth is no biggie then should I care? Maybe women don’t care. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s the idealistic hippy in me, yearning for a scene from Spiritual Midwifery, where all the sweetly smiling, long-haired, vegetarian folks are kissing and singing as the newest arrival slithers into Ina May Gaskin’s hands. You could almost have convinced me of the error of my convictions, before I crossed the threshold myself. Yes, as a student midwife and even as a newly minted midwife, my only image of the transformational power of birth was a scene like that. I would have argued that birth has to be felt, that a woman needed to immerse herself in the raw physicality of it to truly appreciate her female power, to be truly transformed. I don’t believe that anymore. Yes, I believe in the importance of natural, physiological labour and birth, but not for the same reasons. I don’t think a normal labour should be messed with, but that’s because I’ve seen the damage that can be done to a woman and her baby, not because I feel we’d be interrupting her passage to powerful, enlightened motherhood. Now I believe that whether a woman births her baby through the tumult of labour, or has her baby lifted out under the glare of surgical lights, or even if she adopts her baby, she still walks the wild and vulnerable path to motherhood. She is changed and can never be the same again. She could bear the pain of her baby dying or of giving her baby up for adoption but she cannot undo becoming a mother.

This passage should be honoured, tended carefully, rejoiced in. Whichever way they do it, women need to be held up by their friends, family and carers when they become mothers. They are vulnerable and need to be able to find and wield their own power, they need safety but not rescuing, they need love but not infantilising. They need open minds and hearts surrounding them, allowing them to change and enabling them to know the changes within intimately. That knowledge, that is power.

 

White nemesis August 28, 2010

One of my lovely-midwife-friends is engaged! Well, to be absolutely accurate, two of the LMFs are engaged and I give a third one about six months before she too sprouts a sparkly rock on her ring finger. But back to the point – the LMF of this story had her engagement party last night. She and her fiance (both as cute as buttons can be) celebrated their engagement with their friends and family in a hall bedecked with twinkling fairy lights, with ivy winding about candles, with photos of the two of them looking button-cute and with tables groaning beneath plates of all sorts of food (there was middle-eastern lamb that I would have sold a relative for, not small obviously, but any of the extended family). A week ago this LMF was at small’s birthday party. We were chatting about her upcoming celebration and how all the guests were bringing food. I half-jokingly offered to make the cake, thinking ‘oh it would be lovely to be able to do it for her’ but also thinking ‘surely she would have that all wrapped up by now’. Not, as it seemed. Huzzah! Gift baking! Not just fun and indulgent but completely sanctioned by the beloved at any time.

Having spent much of the past two weeks poring over epicure: chocolate, I had ideas. Too many ideas. The LMFs engagement story is utterly romantic. It all began in the dead of the night, there was mystery, there were aeroplanes, there was even a sea-plane, there was swimming, there were fish, and of course the popping-of-the-question, all by the love of her life. A heart shaped cake seemed the right choice. But one heart seemed small and lonely. Almost as importantly, it only enabled the use of one recipe.

Two Hearts

Part One:

“Coco the burlesque wonder cake” (I could not pass up an opportunity to make a cake with such an impressive name – thank you to Ben Johnson of thelovebite.com, very very much)

175 grams of unsalted butter at room temperature

1/3 of a cup of cocoa

2/3 of a cup of caster sugar

1 1/2 cups of self-raising flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1/2 a cup of golden syrup

3/4 of a cup of sour cream

2 eggs

For the cake –

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celsius (180 fan forced)

Butter and line a tine (~22cm diameter)

Put all the ingredients in a food processor. Whizz until well combined. Pour into your prepared tin.

Bake for ten minutes, then reduce the heat by 20 degrees and bake for another half an hour. It’s done when you poke the top gently and it springs back.

Cool in the tin for about ten minutes then turn onto a rack and cool completely.

Frosting:

50 grams of unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 a cup of sour cream

3 tablespoons of golden syrup

80 grams of dark eating chocolate, melted

3 cups of icing sugar, sifted

1/4 of a cup of cocoa

25 grams of dark eating chocolate, chopped into little bits

Put all the ingredients except the chopped chocolate into the food processor. Whizz until well combined. Add the chopped chocolate and pulse to splinter it a little. Spread over the cooled cake. This cake is luscious – the golden syrup gives the cake and the icing a hint of caramel; there is a generous amount of icing; the chocolate splintered through the icing adds bite and a bittersweet edge. It doesn’t surprise me that this cake is rumoured to receive fan mail. I’m tempted to send a little note myself.

Part Two:

“Lisa’s white chocolate cake”. Not such an exciting title, but this LMF does like her chocolate and I was aiming for contrast.

125 mls of water

200 grams of caster sugar

80 grams of unsalted butter, chopped

100 grams of white chocolate broken into pieces

2 eggs, lightly beaten

100 grams of self-raising flour, sifted

30 grams of cocoa powder (yes, you read correctly, cocoa – the cake is not white to look at, until it’s slathered with icing)

1 cup of frozen raspberries (my tweak)

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees celsius (170 fan forced).

Butter and line your tin.

Bring the water to the boil in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar, stirring until dissolved. Take off the heat.

Add the butter and white chocolate. Stir until melted. Cool slightly.

Whisk in the eggs. Sift in the flour and cocoa. Mix until well combined.

Pour into your prepared tin (it will be pourable) and tap the tin to settle any bubbles. Drop in your raspberries at the last minute (they will sink, but will still be tasty).

Bake for about half an hour. When done an inserted skewer will come out clean.

Cool in the tin.

For the icing:

Up until this point everything was very smooth sailing. Perfect. Tasty cakes. Excellent first batch of icing for cake number one. Layout ideas coming along nicely. Found a tray that meant I wouldn’t have to venture out to buy a cake board. Then I started on the white chocolate ganache. I haven’t baked with white chocolate for a long time and now I remember why. It is an abomination. It does not behave like chocolate. It doesn’t cooperate.

1 cup of thickened cream

200 grams of white chocolate, chopped

1 teaspoon of unsalted butter

~1 1/2 cups of icing sugar, sifted (yes I know, not traditionally a ganache component, all will be explained)

Heat the cream in a saucepan over low heat. Add the chocolate, mixing until it is melted. Add the butter and mix to combine. Remove from heat. Allow to cool and thicken, stirring occasionally.

Right. Well the first time I tried to be clever – I tried to treat the ganache like the version from the Nutella cake, whisking to cool and thicken it into a mousse-like consistency. So it split. Tasty, but kind of nasty to look at.

Nevermind, thinks I, I have enough things for a second batch. Gently I repeat the melting and stirring process, then leave it alone. It cools. It does not thicken. I put it in the fridge. It does not thicken. I put it in the freezer. It does not thicken. Time is running out. We should have left for lovely party an hour ago.

In desperation, I put a bit on the cake, hoping it will set in the manner of ice-magic touching ice-cream. No.

In further desperation, I start whisking icing sugar into it. Ah ha!! Success! Lovely texture, not quite tooth-achingly sweet, very white.

I put this on the cake. The previous, runny stuff slooshes off from beneath the new icing and onto the tray. I mop it up with half a roll of paper towel while the beloved, small and another LMF watch with a kind of amused horror. Frantic smoodging of icing continues. Cake ends up well covered, if not as perfectly pretty as I would have liked. In the meantime I have melted some extra dark chocolate and piped a message out onto some baking paper. Miraculously it has set and can even be extricated from the paper and transferred to the cake without stuffing it up irreparably. With zero time to spare, cake is complete.

Sadly I cannot show you a photo of the finished cakes in all their glory. For one thing, the hurried photo I took before we sprinted out the door was pretty appalling. More importantly, the anonymity of my LMF and her own beloved would be compromised. Best just to look at the second last photo and use your imagination. My last pieces of advice: if you want white chocolate just buy a block of Cadbury Dream. Then eat it. If you want glorious cake and mouthwatering ganache, use 70%+ dark eating chocolate, the tastiest you can afford.

 

Stop Press: Strike ends after union boss engineers release of isolated worker

Filed under: Days of our chickens' lives — titchandboofer @ 5:06 am
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Celebrations went on for several hours on Friday, here in faux-farmville, heralding the end of a fortnight’s industrial dispute. Union members, headed by their boss Agnes D Hen, had been protesting and picketing throughout the daylight hours, pausing only briefly to eat and dig up the odd garden bed. Their concerns? The solitary confinement of one of their colleagues and the subsequent employment of three unknown workers. There had been allegations of employers resorting to the use of child labour and the harbouring of possibly illegal immigrants. All egg laying had ceased for the duration.

One union member, calling herself only Lola, disclosed to the press that she was disappointed that after months of dedicated work her employers seemed deaf to her concerns regarding ongoing working conditions. She described morale as being at an all-time low, with the isolation of her co-worker striking fear into the hearts of the whole group. “If they can do that to Betty, who’s never shown up late a day in her life, what’s to stop them doing it to any of us?” she bok-bokked.

It wasn’t until late Thursday that management seemed to heed the seriousness of the workforce’s concerns. A reunion between all workers, overseen by Agnes, was promptly facilitated. Light was shed on the mystery surrounding the possibly illegal, underage workers, after management outlined the details of their position within the company. Misunderstandings now behind them, relations took an immediate turn for the better.

As a new day dawned over faux-farmville, the entire company stepped out for breakfast proudly, readying themselves for a long day of garden maintenance. Behind them in their still warm nests? A clutch of fresh eggs.

 

Temporary enchantment August 27, 2010

Filed under: Things that aren't sweet — titchandboofer @ 4:15 am
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I was bewitched by MasterChef, utterly sucked into the hype, drama and ‘suspense’, watching it, talking about it, texting constantly with one of the LMFs through every episode, trying out the recipes, reading about the contestants and their post-MC ‘journeys’ (I know, gag and puke, the word is ruined forever). Not to over-dramatise (well, much), but it was hard to imagine a post-MC world here. What the hell would we find to watch every night? Then it finished. And strangely I don’t miss it. I have rediscovered the glory of channel 2 and now it’s hard to imagine how MC had such a power over me. I hate reality television. The constant repetition, the breathless voice-overs, the urgency of every staged altercation between contestant and contest, the presenters, the supposedly subtle product placement (so subtle that entire articles have been dedicated to its artistry) and the puffed-up self importance of the whole shebang. Jeez, they’re poaching an egg, not splitting the atom. The only upside to MC, as opposed to some of the other gems that have graced our screens, is that the product can live on beyond the show. Everyone needs to eat. No one really needs to run around in hot pants with 75 litre backpacks, shrieking at their partner and abusing foreign taxi drivers. At least not daily. This recipe lives on for us on a regular basis:

Kylie Kwong’s only-slightly-tampered-with Eggplant with Chilli Sauce

3 large eggplants (never stint on eggplant, it’s lush)

5 tablespoons of peanut oil

1/2 a bunch of coriander, leaves, stems and roots all finely sliced

3 spring onions, finely sliced

1 teaspoon of the sichuan pepper and salt

For the chilli sauce:

1/2 a cup of peanut oil

6 long red chillies, de-seeded and roughly chopped (KK keeps the seeds in, which is fine if you want to blow your head off and drink a litre of milk)

10 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

8cm piece of fresh ginger, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon of tamari soy sauce

For the sichuan pepper and salt:

1 tablespoon of sichuan peppercorns (don’t stress too much on the sichuan, we just use ordinary peppercorns and they’re still excellent)

3 tablespoons of sea salt (rocks or flakes)

To do:

Halve the eggplants and cut into irregular 5cm chunks. Spread over a couple of baking trays and sprinkle liberally with sea salt. Set aside for about an hour. Rinse well, drain and pat dry with paper towel. This process removes all the bitter juices from the eggplant. DO NOT SKIP THIS.

To prepare the pepper and salt, dry roast the peppercorns and salt flakes in a small pan until fragrant and the peppercorns are popping a little. Remove from the heat, cool, then grind up with a mortar and pestle. Set aside. You can keep the excess in an airtight container with your other herbs and spices.

To make the chilli sauce, heat the 1/2 cup of oil in your wok until shimmering slightly. Add the chilli, garlic and ginger, stirring constantly over medium heat for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to stir for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir through the tamari.

Now for the eggplant: heat the 5 tablespoons of peanut oil in the wok until shimmering slightly. Add the eggplant and cook over high heat for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low and cook for a further 5-7 minutes, until tender.

Add the chilli sauce to the eggplant and stir together for about a minute. Toss over the coriander and spring onions, stirring to combine.

Transfer to a serving bowl/plate and sprinkle with the pepper/salt combination. Serve with steamed jasmine rice. This amount makes about 4 generous serves. Good for dinner or lunch. Reheats well. Spicy without burning and salty without overwhelming. Soft eggplant contrasts with the crunch of ginger and coriander root. Yum.

 

Layer upon layer August 26, 2010

Filed under: Things that aren't sweet — titchandboofer @ 11:11 am
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Do you remember the children’s book The Magic Pudding? The star of the story was a grumpy pudding who could walk and talk and, if I remember correctly, play cards. Magical, because he could be any flavour that you wished for and he never ran out. I don’t recall all the finer details (and possibly have confused bits with Bottersnikes and Gumbles), but I think there was a fair bit of tramping about in the bush, card-playing by the fire, a koala with impressive whiskers, tea drinking and, of course, eating of the foul-tempered pudding. Must have been Australian. Anyhow, rainbow chard is just like the magic pudding, without the attitude or the ability to taste like golden-syrup dumplings (now there’s an idea). Months ago, late Summer if I remember correctly, I filled a little seed-planter with seed raising mix, scattered some seeds in and waited. In the early days I was super excited just to see the seedlings pushing their way up out of the soil. I tended them carefully, watering regularly, chatting to them and marveling at how the colours of the plant were so distinct, even in miniature. They grew strong enough to transplant into the raised vegie bed out the back, sheltering under bird-net to guard them from Agnes. By this time it was late Autumn and I was distracted by other projects, so I just left them to fend for themselves. They grew and grew and grew some more. I snapped off great pot’s full for wintery soups, ricotta pies and braising. I pick it by the handful for the chooks. I even pickled some (don’t bother). I cut bags of the stuff to give to people (anyone who’d take it, The Granny, her work colleagues, the man next door, the woman at the post office). And there’s still masses of it. Really, masses. We’re going to be eating it forever. So now I’m trying to find cunning ways to squeeze it into any dish going.

Grown-Up Lasagne

Adapted from a Valli Little recipe that appeared in delicious. in July 2007

1.2 kilograms of butternut pumpkin, peeled and cut into ~2cm chunks

a generous couple of tablespoons of olive oil

1/2 a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes

1 tablespoon of chopped sage, plus about 20 leaves to serve

1/4 of a teaspoon of ground nutmeg

350 grams of ricotta

1 large saucepan of fresh rainbow chard (AKA silverbeet/swiss chard/five-colour silverbeet)

1 egg

1 cup of grated parmesan, plus extra to serve

8 fresh lasagne sheets

100 grams of unsalted butter

2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees celsius (170 fan forced)

Butter up a baking dish (square or oval, it won’t matter as long as it’s about 1.5 litres in volume and you don’t mind fiddling about with trimming the lasagne sheets to fit)

Put your chopped pumpkin on a baking tray. Drizzle with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the chilli flakes.

Cover with foil and put in the oven for about 1/2 an hour, until tender. Allow to cool a little.

While this is cooking, rinse your rainbow chard. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in the same large saucepan over low-medium heat. Put the chard in still wet, adding it a handful at a time, pausing between handfuls to allow it to reduce in bulk. Cook until shrunk right down and tender. Tip into a sieve to drain. Set aside.

Buzz the pumpkin, sage and nutmeg in a food processor until smoothish (no need to overdo it). Set aside.

Clean the food processor.

Process the ricotta, egg, parmesan and rainbow chard until well combined.

Lay 2 lasagne sheets on the base of your baking dish. Spread with half the pumpkin. Lay on another 2 lasagne sheets. Spread with half the ricotta/chard mix. Repeat.

Sprinkle extra grated parmesan over the final ricotta/chard layer. Cover with baking paper and foil.

Bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake for a further 15 minutes. When nicely golden, take out of the oven and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.

In the mean time, put the butter, extra sage leaves and walnuts into a small frypan/saucepan. Heat over medium heat until the butter is just foaming.

Serve the lasagne drizzled with the sage butter. This is nothing like traditional, meaty lasagne. It’s rich and buttery, with the beautiful contrasting texture of the walnuts, the heat from the chilli and the subtle but certain flavour of the sage. The rainbow chard doesn’t stand out, but you’ll know it’s there, and you can wallow in the virtue of its dark green leafy goodness, while you mop butter from your chin.

 

Molten August 25, 2010

The beloved has been baking. She does this very occasionally. On a lazy Friday perhaps, or if she’s on holiday. It always makes me nervous, mainly for ludicrous reasons…what if she loses my best tiny spatula, or uses a bad, unvetted recipe, or breaks all the wooden spoons (which could actually happen – she has engineered some unfortunate blender vs. wooden spoon incidents. Oh god, what about the blender?) or blows up the oven? I know I’m not the only one afflicted with ERK (Extreme and Ridiculous Kitchen-possessiveness). You’re out there. You know who you are. We should form a support group.

Fortunately she usually makes the same thing, a pudding which could make anyone overcome just about any affliction, except diabetes. Pure heaven in a ramekin.

Once upon a time I worked in an office. Those of you familiar with working in an office will understand this phenomenon: if a colleague on maternity leave visits with their baby everybody stops work until the baby has exited the building. Apply this to our chickens*. Enough said.

Beloved Pudding

adapted from Annie Bell’s gorgeous desserts

300 grams of dark eating chocolate, broken into pieces

75 grams of unsalted butter, chopped

75 grams of brown sugar

5 eggs (*see above)

40 grams of plain flour, sifted

1 tablespoon of Amaretto (or the liqueur of your choice)

Ice cream, cream or creme fraiche to serve

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees celsius (170 fan forced).

Butter six ramekins (roughly half-cup size).

Melt your chocolate gently. Either do this in a bowl over a pan of just simmering water, or in the microwave on 60% power. Set aside.

Put your butter, sugar, eggs and flour in the bowl of your food processor. Process until smooth. Add the chocolate and process again. Add your generous tablespoonful of delicious Amaretto and give it all one last spin.

Divide equally between the ramekins.

Sit the ramekins on a baking tray and bake for 8-9 minutes, until just rising. There should be a layer of cooked cake on the outer and molten chocolate on the inside.

Serve immediately. If you want to make these ahead, you can get to the ‘divide into ramekins’ bit and then cover each ramekin and put them in the fridge. When you bake them from the fridge add about 3 minutes cooking time.

This is an exceptionally versatile pudding: make it to impress when you have people for dinner (individual puddings are so elegant), make it to heal an ailing beloved of your own who is lolling on the couch moaning about their headache, or make it in thanks for lovely gestures (say, for the person who builds your son a sandpit for his birthday)