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Mr Awesome & The Election Widow October 22, 2010

Best-Lawyer-Friend (the BLF) is doing it tough at the moment. She recently shucked off the mad mad world of corporate law and its absurd demands on her time* in order to occasionally make it home for dinner, witness daylight hours and see her own beloved, the adored Mr Awesome. Great, you may say, doesn’t sound tough, sounds sensible and generally better. And it would be, were it not A Double Election Year. Mr Awesome – who brings cups of tea unbidden (oh, the bliss), who can soothe the BLF in her times of woe, who can make damn fine mojitos in the press of a blender-button, and who can whisper the secrets of men to the small person – is a policy advisor to a state politician. For all intents and purposes, he will be but a figment of the BLF’s imagination for the next six weeks. On the upside, she can come to faux-farmville to mourn the temporary loss of Mr Awesome, and we can feed her things like this:

Consolation Tart

Pie Crust:

50 grams of dessicated coconut

50 grams of almond meal

250 grams of plain flour

175 grams of unsalted butter, not chilled but not very soft either, chopped into ~1cm cubes

50 grams of caster sugar

1 egg

Whizz the coconut, almond meal and flour in your food processor to combine.

With the processor running, drop in the cubes of butter, then the sugar and lastly the egg.

Continue to whizz until all ingredients are well incorporated.

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured bench. Knead very briefly, just to bring together.

Shape the dough into a disc (so much easier for later rolling), wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least half an hour.

In the meantime, butter your pie dish (glass or metal-with-removable-base are both fine)

After chilling, remove from the fridge and unwrap.

Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper, rolling until the dough is big enough to fit your dish and ~3-4mm thick.

Line your pie dish with the dough, trimming the top edge neatly. Remember, the dough will shrink a little with baking, so you can leave an overhang if you like.

Return the lined pie dish to the fridge and chill for at least half an hour.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius (160 fan forced).

Line your chilled pastry with baking paper and weigh down with baking beads/rice.

Blind bake for 15 minutes.

Remove the beads/rice and paper and bake for a further 5-7 minutes, until crisp and golden.

Set aside to cool.

The filling:

The bottom layer is lemon curd

75 grams of unsalted butter, chopped

3 eggs

50 grams of caster sugar

150 mls of lemon juice (~3 lemons), strained

zest of 3 lemons, very finely chopped/grated

Set up a sieve over a medium bowl, resting in another bowl of iced water.

In a medium saucepan melt the butter over low heat.

Add all the other ingredients and stir over low heat until thickening. Do not boil or you will scramble the eggs.

When the curd coats the back of a wooden spoon thickly, take off the heat immediately and pour through the sieve into the prepared bowl.

Allow to cool and thicken, stirring occasionally.

The next layer is pastry cream –

2 egg yolks

1/4 of a cup of caster sugar

20 grams of cornflour, sifted

20 grams of plain flour, sifted

300 mls of full fat milk

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

20 grams of unsalted butter

~80 mls of thickened cream

Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornflour, flour and two tablespoons of the milk in a medium mixing bowl until smooth.

Put the rest of the milk in a medium non-stick saucepan and bring it to the boil on the stove.

Slowly whisk the boiling milk into the egg yolk mixture, whisking until completely incorporated.

Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over a low heat for about 4-5 minutes until thick and smooth. Taste as you go – the mixture should be thickened and not floury to taste. Cook a little longer if it tastes too floury.

Stir in the vanilla extract and butter.

Transfer to a clean bowl and cover with clingfilm, pressing the clingfilm directly onto the surface to prevent a skin forming.

Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Whisk the cream into soft peaks. Fold into the cooled pastry cream.

To make up:

Spread about 1/2 a cup of lemon curd (more will do no harm at all) in the bottom of your cooled pie shell. Spread this with the pastry cream. Top with a punnet of fresh blueberries and dust with icing sugar. Chill for an hour or so to set. Take out of the fridge a little while before serving, just to take the chill off and bring out the full flavour of the blueberries. Slice generously and serve.

A crunchy, buttery crust with a hint of coconut (again, more coconut in the pastry and less almond meal wouldn’t hurt at all), tangy curd, velvety pastry cream and juicy blueberries. Heaven, heaven, heaven. Even the beloved was mighty impressed (and more than a little peevish that I nabbed the last piece).

*I tell you, fellow shift-workers, we may complain about our late/earlies, the rotating roster, the grimness of night duty, but we do our work and leave. Not so for the BLF, frequently chained to her desk until the wee hours of the morning then expected back, freshly besuited, for the start of the next day. No excuses, no time off in lieu, no flexi-time, no overtime pay, no glory. And all in heels. Give me eight hours of dodging bodily fluids, fluffing pillows and evicting annoying visitors any day.

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Wet day program October 16, 2010

6am – The small one begins his day with a long, leisurely breastfeed. I doze, listening to the rain pelting down. It hasn’t stopped raining for more than 24 hrs now. Lush spring weather, sunny one day, pouring for a week, the garden green and leafy, casting deep deep pockets of shade.

7:19am – Small starts his morning stampede over the pillows. He is up up up! Things to do, places to explore, drawers to empty. I pull up the bedroom blind, squinting blearily. The garden is grey? Hail. Thick piles of hailstones skirting every tree and plant. The rain still falls.

7:30am – Let the chooks out. Bloody hell it’s cold. Hail coats the chook house roof and ramp. Six of the seven chooks leap lightly from deck to ground, scoffing grain as soon as their claws touch down. Betty slides the length of the ramp, hail scattering in her wake, landing with an undignified squawk.

7:42am – Breakfast. Sock puppet with dubious french accent has great success in convincing small to eat a substantial amount of porridge and not-All-Bran. Raining. Seedling tomatoes and eggplants on porch are barely visible above the hail. Hope they survive.

8:30am – Raining. Shan’t take small to be netball cheer squad today. Wonder if they’ll play? Another whole day inside ahead of us. Good thing small can spend anything up to an hour playing with the washing machine. He treats it with the rapt fascination one would have for a portal to another world.

9:16am – Wander vaguely in kitchen, picking up things and putting them down again. Find some forgotten pumpkin seeds, mysteriously stashed in bookshelf. Would plant them, but it’s raining. Decide to make biscuits.

9:25am Biscuits

inspired by Nigella Lawson

260 grams of wholemeal spelt flour (or whatever plain flour you have to hand)

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1/2 a teaspoon of salt

200 grams of unsalted butter at room temperature (a warm room)

120 grams of brown sugar

2 tablespoons of instant espresso powder

2 eggs

200 grams of dark chocolate, chopped

100 grams of walnuts, fairly finely chopped

icing sugar to dust (if you don’t have any it doesn’t matter at all)

Preheat your oven to 170 degrees (150 fan forced)

Line two baking trays

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl. You can do it with an electric mixer, but a wooden spoon is sufficient.

Add the coffee powder and mix to combine well.

Add the eggs and mix to combine well.

Stir in the flour mixture, mixing to a sticky, cookie-dough consistency.

Stir in the chopped chocolate.

Now, you have a choice here:

Option 1

Spoon generous tablespoonfuls of dough onto your trays, leaving 4-5cm between each blob to allow for spread.

Bake for about 15 minutes.

Cool for a few minutes on the trays, then transfer to wire racks.

This is what I did with the first half of the dough. While they baked, I was feeding small and watching some random cooking show on TV. With excellent timing, Karen Martini is on and making some kind of Italian coffee biscuits, crusted with chopped pistachios. Miss most of segment, but think is excellent idea. Remember walnuts in pantry. Ah ha!

Option 2

Shape generous tablespoonfuls of dough into balls and roll in chopped walnuts.

Arrange on trays with 4-5 cm between each ball.

Press down lightly.

Turn oven down to 160 degrees celsius (140 fan forced), to prevent nuts from burning.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, until golden and just firm to touch.

Allow to cool on trays for a few minutes, then transfer to wire racks.

10:15am – The small one and I snuggle up on the couch, under a woolly blanket, with a teetering pile of books. Rain lashes the windows. We snuggle and read until lunch time. Heaven.

12pm – Lunch. Services of dubiously accented sock not required. Small fading fast. Tuck him into bed and wonder when one is old enough to wallow in the pleasure of falling asleep to the sound of rain.

2:34pm – Wrap us both up to brave the three metre walk to the car. Drive the sodden streets to M’s seventh birthday party. ABBA. Hysterical shrieking. Much tiny booty shaking. Party food. Small develops love affair with sparkly disco ball.

4:15pm – Another couch. Tea.

8:31pm – Small sleeping. Finish off powerpoint notes for upcoming talk. Wonder out loud how expensive a projector might be. Am firmly instructed to forget about projector. Blog. Tea. Biscuits. Good without walnut. Better with.

 

MDB: Part two, lemony oomph October 14, 2010

Filed under: Beautiful baking,Moreish puddings — titchandboofer @ 10:31 am
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In which yesterday’s imperfect dessert is magically transformed into a many-layered, gooey, tangy delight:

Free-range lemon curd

75 grams of unsalted butter, chopped

3 eggs

50 grams of caster sugar

150 mls of lemon juice (~3 lemons), strained

zest of 3 lemons, very finely chopped/grated

Set up a sieve over a medium bowl, resting in another bowl of iced water.

In a medium saucepan melt the butter over low heat.

Add all the other ingredients and stir over low heat until thickening. Do not boil or you will scramble the eggs.

When the curd coats the back of a wooden spoon thickly, take off the heat immediately and pour through the sieve into the prepared bowl.

Allow to cool and thicken, stirring occasionally.

Bake another of the puddings, turn into a bowl and top with ice-cream and a couple of generous spoonfuls of curd.

Now that is perfect. A great big burst of tangy lemon, silky ice-cream and white chocolate just hovering in the background.

 

More defiant baking: Part one

If I’ve been out and about during the day, far from the kitchen and thoughts of dessert planning, I sometimes think to myself ‘Ah well, perhaps we don’t need dessert tonight. Perhaps I can just have a cup of tea and maybe a teensy piece of chocolate or twelve’. I’m almost convinced of this. Until about seven thirty pm. Then I get completely distracted, eyes glazing over, while I compile a mental list of potential dessert ingredients. Then I start grilling the beloved:

If I was making pudding, what would you want?

Don’t want pudding, am busy.

But if I was and you did, what would you want? (such a stupid question, beloved cannot understand the overwhelming need to make something different and will invariably suggest making these chocolate fondants)

Don’t want pudding. Thought you weren’t baking today? WHY ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT BAKING? I’M WATCHING MY STORIES!!

What about something with cherries?

NO BAKING! STORIES! CHERRIES BAH!!

Lemon?

Gah. Can’t you just make chocolate fondants?

Hmmm. Lemon. Something quick and lemony? Lemon delicious? No. Boring. Lemon lemon lemon.

muttering… fondant fondant fondant

Hah! Lemon fondants! Would still need chocolate. Hmmm. White chocolate?

Ugh.

That’s it! White chocolate and lemon fondants! (could be way too sweet, but worth a shot)

8pm Puddings

300 grams of white chocolate (at least 35% cocoa butter: ie. Green & Black’s or Whittaker’s)

75 grams of unsalted butter, at room temperature

75 grams of brown sugar

40 grams of plain flour

6 eggs of various sizes*

Zest and juice of a lemon

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius (160 fan forced).

Butter six ramekins/small cups/small glasses.

Gently melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over just simmering water. Set aside to cool a little.

Put the butter, sugar, flour and eggs into a food processor and whizz until combined and smooth.

Add the zest and juice and whizz to incorporate.

With the processor running, add the melted chocolate in a continuous stream.

Divide the batter evenly between the six ramekins.

Bake for 8-9 minutes.

You can prepare these up to two days in advance. Just cover and chill the filled ramekins before the baking stage. I usually do this if I’m only baking for the beloved and I – bake two at first and the remaining four can be plucked out and baked as we like for snacks and whatnot. When you cook them, increase the baking time to about 12 minutes.

Turn out the puddings into bowls and top with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

Dig in…with the first spoonful, the shell of the pudding will burst and molten pudding will ooze out deliciously.

The verdict: almost there, but not quite perfect. The balance of white chocolate to lemon needs to swing more to the lemon for my liking, to balance out the white chocolatey sweetness – next time I would add the zest of two more lemons. I would also use Whittaker’s white chocolate instead of Green & Black’s – the vanilla isn’t needed here and adds unnecessarily to the sweetness. We still have four in the fridge waiting to be baked, so I’m going to cook up some lemon curd this afternoon and try one with that for some added lemony oomph. Watch this space…

In exciting news, Betty is back on the lay after two months of concentrated chick-raising. Pictured (back left) are the shells of two of her gorgeous little eggs. Darker than Lola’s creamy shelled eggs (back right) and Mrs P’s bright white delights (front), Betty’s eggs are light brown, slightly glossy and oblong, with compact golden yolks and very viscous whites.

 

Moo October 11, 2010

Filed under: Beautiful baking,Parenting — titchandboofer @ 10:32 am
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A month ago, I wrote about the end of the small person’s exclusive breastfeeding career and his hesitant steps into the world of solid food. Aside from his untimely introduction to Nutella, I had big, wholesome plans for small’s diet. Obviously he would only be eating organic, GM free, fair-traded, ethically sound, teensy carbon-footprint-leaving, nourishing things, which have been hand picked by free-ranging vegetarians and travelled only 1% of a food mile. And that would be just dandy, if he could live on sugar snap peas and eggs. Sadly, he won’t eat either of those, or anything else homegrown, unless you count chook poo. Mainly he likes things that come in the shape of rice grains…like rice and the little bran sticks that come in muesli. Oh, and croissants, macaroons, crispy potatoes, spicy eggplant, fruit toast, wholegrain ‘fruit’ bars, All-Bran (which, incidentally, is most decidedly not ALL bran, but anyhoo), grissini, thai spring rolls, puff pastry and this cake: 

Luscious Chocolate Mousse Cake

Cake –

180 grams of dark eating chocolate, chopped

180 grams of chilled unsalted butter, chopped

6 eggs, separated

180 grams of caster sugar

Mousse –

200 grams of dark eating chocolate, chopped

30 grams of unsalted butter

3 eggs, separated

300 mls of pure (not thickened) cream

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius (160 fan forced).

Butter and line a 23cm springform tin.

Begin with the cake:

Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over just simmering water. Stir until smooth, remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

In the meantime, whisk the eggwhites and a pinch of salt in a large glass (or metal) bowl until soft peaks form. Add half the caster sugar, one tablespoon at a time, whisking until the mixture is thick and glossy.

In another large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until thick and pale. Slowly pour in the chocolate mixture, whisking constantly.

Using a large metal spoon, gently fold in the eggwhites, one third at a time.

Pour gently into your prepared tin and bake for 35-45 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin – it will sink as it cools.

Carefully transfer to a plate. Don’t be deceived by it’s crisp outer shell – this cake is a tender, delicate creature. You need to pop the outer part of the tin off and then ever so gently shimmy the cake across to a plate on the baking paper. And don’t be tempted to invert it for transfer as it will fall apart in your hands and you will cry.

Now for the mousse –

Melt the chocolate and butter in a  heatproof bowl set over just simmering water (yes, I know, sounds familiar). Stir until smooth, then allow to cool to room temperature.

Whisk the eggwhites in a medium size glass bowl until soft peaks form.

Whip the cream into soft peaks in another bowl.

Whisk the egg yolks, one at a time, into the cooled chocolate mixture.

With a large metal spoon, gently fold the eggwhites and cream into the chocolate mixture.

Spread the mousse over the cooled cake, scatter with grated chocolate and refrigerate for about 2 hours until set.

This is not a pretty cake. Frankly, it looks like a cow pat. But damn it tastes good and at least the eggs are free range. Jeez we’re great parents.

 

Flash forward October 9, 2010

Filed under: Beautiful baking,Just bread,Parenting — titchandboofer @ 11:24 am
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One of the great things about having friends with children older than the small person is that we get a preview of what phases and stages kids can go through before we hit them ourselves. Some I’m looking forward to, like the learning to talk bit. Others, like heartstopping need to scale every giant tree, fence and rooftop, not so much. 

Today I discovered another perk to this friends with older children business. Today was the first netball game for one of the LMF’s daughters and the beloved, small and I went along to cheer her on. The sun was shining down, the courts were packed with six year olds in oversize t-shirts and scary women with whistles, we had coffee, we had croissants and it was glorious. Well, it was glorious, for the full three minutes of coffee-clutching, croissant-munching sunbaking we had before the first whistle. Then the shrieking started.

M! FIND A SPACE! RUN TO A SPACE!

STAY ON YOUR PLAYER! STAY WITH THE ONE THAT SAYS GA!

MOVE! MOVE MOVE MOVE! DON’T STEP! DON’T STEP!

sotto voce….if I was coaching, they’d be a well oiled machine

GO M, GO! THE OTHER WAY!

STAY ON YOUR PLAYER! ARMS UP!!! DEFEND!!!!!

Not one of the parents. No. That was the beloved. Who, up until now has been keeping her netballing expertise completely to herself. Just a little glimpse of the future parent.

Anyway. None of that has anything to do with fruit loaf.

Sort of Jamie Oliver’s Fruit Loaf

30 grams of dried yeast

30 grams of honey

~700 mls of warm water

500 grams of strong white bread flour

500 grams of wholemeal spelt flour

30 grams of salt

1/2 a teaspoon of cinnamon

150 grams of dried dates

200 grams of dried apricots

150 grams of sultanas

Combine the yeast and honey with 300mls of the warm water in a small bowl. Stir well and set aside while you chop the dried fruit and prepare the flour – it will grow right in front of your eyes, foaming up to the bowl’s brim.

Mix the flours, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl.

Add the yeast mixture and stir to combine.

Continue stirring, adding the remaining water until the mixture holds together. You may need a little more or a little less water depending on the particular flour you use.

Add the chopped dried fruit and stir to incorporate.

Dust your benchtop with flour. Turn the dough onto the bench and knead.

Knead for 5-10 minutes, until the dough is pliable and not too sticky.

Separate into two portions.

Butter two large bowls and put one portion in each bowl. Leave to rise in a warm place for about 2 hours. I put each bowl in a plastic bag with a hot heat pack and tie up the bag. This rises the dough beautifully in about 1 hour. The Nanna used to put her dough in bed with an electric blanket on and, if it’s sunny, SF will put hers in the car. Whatever takes your fancy and gets the job done.

Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down to knock the air out, knead lightly for a minute or so, then put it into your tins (or on a tray for a freeform loaf) to rise again.

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

When the dough has risen again bake for 30-40 minutes. To test if it’s cooked, turn out of the tin and knock on the base of the loaf – it should sound hollow. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

For a glossy, sticky finish, brush the still hot loaves with honey.

Slice, slather generously with butter and eat. Yum.

 

One October 6, 2010

Filed under: Beautiful baking — titchandboofer @ 11:41 am
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Seven am, small awake and break-dancing on my pillow. At least we’re not calling it six am any more. Kettle on. Small playing with noisiest toy in whole house. The blue cow says moo. The blue cow says moo. The blue cow says moo. The blue cow says moo. The blue cow says moo. Sodding cow. Should we be teaching small that cows are blue? Nope, don’t care. Must remember to do things on list today. Ring someone. Who? Where is list? Not that list. Other list. Why is beloved pretending to be dead under the doona? Make small’s breakfast of hated porridge extra loudly. Success. Breakfast. Drop in on LMF for tea and mini-playdate. Drink tea in LMF’s yard in glorious sunshine. Small hijacks her work phone and sends random blank messages to her clients. To shops. Unsuccessful attempt at buying food or a wedding gift. Home. Wedge spoonfuls of mystery mash into small’s mouth while he tries desperately to pull my top off.  He breastfeeds like he’s not been fed for days. He sleeps. Still no sign of list. Pay a bill? Cook something? Yes! Food for a friend, another LMF, who’s just had her fourth baby. Macaroni cheese. Brownies. Soul food for the breastfeeding mama. Find letter reminding me to re-enrol in deferred university course. Will I have time to study next year? Small awake, trying to climb up me to plunge his hands into all the pots on the stove. Pouring rain. Chickens all huddled under one shrub. Overgrown chicks trying in vain to squeeze under Betty’s wings. Very entertaining. Alarm going off? Oh, brownies.

Brownies for the Breastfeeding Mama (and her children)

200 grams of dark eating chocolate

125 grams of unsalted butter

1/2 a cup of brown sugar

2 eggs

1 cup of almond meal

1/4 of a cup of plain flour

160 grams of dark eating chocolate, chopped roughly

80 grams of flaked almonds

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius (160 fan forced).

Grease and line a square tin.

In a medium saucepan, melt the 200 grams of dark chocolate with the butter over low heat, stirring until smooth.

Take off the heat and allow to cool for ten minutes.

Stir in the sugar, eggs, almond meal and flour.

Stir in the chopped chocolate and flaked almonds.

Spread into the tin and bake for 25 minutes, until just firm to touch.

Allow to cool in the tin for ten to fifteen minutes.

Turn onto a wire rack. Turn again and dust with icing sugar.

Cut into as many pieces as you like.

Wrap brownies. Think for the hundredth time how useful it would be to have a big basket to carry food in. Must put that on list. Damn. The list. Ring who? Never mind. Everyone in car. Arrive at house of new baby. Baby is breastfeeding, on the brink of blissful sleep. Her older sisters and brother bounce about. Biggest sister carries small off to play. Tea with our friend. We chat about the uni course she has just finished, the same one I am procrastinating about. Hmm. That puts things in perspective.