Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Warm apricot pie

I'm from Brisbane, and I live in Sydney but of all the Australian state capitals I think Hobart might be my favourite: the steep hills dotted with sweet timber houses, Mt Wellington looming large over the city, the seemingly infinite amount of water all around... There's amazing food, Antarctic icebreakers moored in the harbour, dusty op-shops bursting with treasures, and gardens barely able to contain their abundance of flowers and fruit. It's home to both an internationally acclaimed art museum, described by its founder as a "subversive adult Disneyland" and a CWA (Country Women's Association) shop selling a vast range of locally-made knits, jams and preserves. And then there are my friends, who I visited this weekend. Though the excuse for the trip was to visit the recently-opened MONA (sadly the CWA shop was shut!) no shiny new art museum stocked with thought-provoking pieces - however impressive - can compete with the pleasure of spending time with them, their delightful daughters, and the girls' various pets (three chickens, two cats, two guinea pigs and too many guppies to count). On an appropriately grey and blustery Saturday morning, we went for a long walk on the beach at Storm Bay, collecting shells and entertaining elaborate fantasies of houses on nearby Betsey Island (alas 15,000 pairs of penguins have beaten us to it - the island is their breeding ground and so is, appropriately, a nature reserve). 

On the way back, we detoured to pick apricots in the backyard of some friends of theirs. The tree was so laden with fruit that the branches were literally dragging on the ground. In no time we'd filled a huge bucket (and eaten more than a few while picking) without looking like we'd even made a dent.  

So while Sunday was a day of jam and chutney making, Saturday night was all about pie.  Soft orange pillows of fruit wrapped in buttery pastry, served up before bed time with some cream freshly whipped by the industrial grade Kitchen Aid mixer snapped up for a bargain at a garage sale on the way home.  Only in Hobart.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Florida orange pie

I love old postcards. And I love pie. Somebody who knows these two things about me recently sent me this: 

The oranges against the orange background are amazing, as are the scalloped edges, on the postcard and the pie.  Even better, the recipe was on the back.  I knew instantly I had to make it. Though pie by name, this is essentially a cheesecake, an old-school one at that - moreish biscuit base, fluffy cream cheese filling and "baked" in the refrigerator, rather than the oven.  It's the kind of dessert you'd find in the slowly rotating glass display case of a diner (another thing I love).  You might not notice it at first, in amongst all the towering meringues, and lattice crusts, and struesel toppings barely containing their berries below, but your eye would be drawn to it eventually, its orange tint enticing.  If you ordered it, you'd be rewarded: light, smooth and bursting with the bright tang of citrus, this is a pie worth posting - both with a stamp, and on a blog.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Cherry jam

At the risk of sounding downright un-Australian, I'm not crazy about summer.  The three months from December to February are a bit of an endurance test for me - a marathon of sweat and sunscreen.  It's not all bad though.  This time of year offers up many wonders as well, so sublime they make you forget all about the 42 degree (that's 109 Fahrenheit) day Sydney served up last week.  In no particular order here are my top five: swimming in ocean pools, daylight saving, good movies (a brilliant excuse to get into some air-conditioning), the cricket and, last but certainly not least... stone fruit.  Nectarines, plums, peaches, apricots, cherries... summer fruit is the best.  Before this weekend, I'd never made jam, but the idea of sealing up my favourite fruit in a jar for me to enjoy on a future cold, dark winter's morning spread on a piece of toast was hugely appealing.

So on a bright, hot and blustery mid-January's day, I headed down the Hume Highway to a friend's beautiful, new, air-conditioned house.  I found a recipe.  She found some jars.  We split the cost of a bag of cherries.  I pitted, she chopped, we took turns stirring, and a couple of hours later we had jam that was darkly delicious, sighingly sweet, and bursting with the flavour of the season.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Middle Eastern orange cake

If you’re in your thirties, live in Australia and like to cook, odds are that prominent in your kitchen is a fat orange tome.  Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion is the cookbook of my generation.  Arranged by ingredient, it goes from A-Z with more recipes and cooking advice than you can possibly imagine.  Got a surfeit of asparagus and no idea what to do with it?  Ask Stephanie.  Want instructions for how to roast lamb?  Look under L.  Wondering what dill goes with?  You know the answer.  I’ve made many things from it over the years, but none more than this cake.  Maybe because in colour it matches the book.  Or maybe because it’s so effortless (apart from the boiling of the oranges, which you can do ahead of time, it's merely a matter of combining a small number of ingredients).  Maybe it’s because it’s made with almond meal, and therefore able to be served to my growing number of gluten-free friends and family.  Maybe just because it’s so good.   

So from an Australian classic, a Middle Eastern recipe that made two Americans very happy when I made it as their wedding cake last year.  Amy and Ewan, this one’s for you.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Sausage rolls

My friend Gill is the bravest person I know.  The last couple of years have been big for her.  She changed careers, bought her first house and taught herself to surf.  Not in that order.  The surfing came first.  In the beginning, she told me, her main motivation was the sausage roll she’d reward herself with after being pummelled by the cruel, cold waves of the Victorian coastline.  And while I don’t necessarily understand the compulsion to paddle out into shark-infested waters, or wear a figure-hugging wetsuit, the sausage roll... that, I understand. 

The sausage roll is a permanent fixture of the beachside takeaway in Australia.  They’re not the prettiest food, it must be said.  Ugly, stubby, and usually sweaty from their heated display case, they’re dull brown on the outside and kind of grey within.  The addition of tomato sauce doesn’t so much as liven up the look as suggest some kind of massacre.  But none of this matters because when you’ve been in the water and you come out and you crave something hot and salty that’s going to fill you up and make you happy, this is what you go for.  This is what makes sense.  My homemade version isn’t fancy – all the ingredients you can easily get at the local supermarket – but something made by hand instead being mass-produced can’t help turn out a tad more refined, taste a tad more like well, actual food, than straight sustenance.  Don’t hold that against them.  If you close your eyes you can pretend you’re eating it straight out of a grease-soaked paper bag, with pruney fingers and sand between your toes.
Gill got the keys to her house just before Christmas.  It’s teeny, and an hour and a half from the city she lives and works in, but it’s all hers and best of all it’s minutes from the beach.  I can’t wait to go visit and make her some sausage rolls.  She deserves them.