Monday, July 27, 2020

Gingerbread with lemony apples & crème fraîche

July 25, 2020

Our Ottolenghi Cooking Club met online for dinner over the weekend. This mode of meeting is suboptimal in one important way - we can't share each other's foods and therefore try six or more dishes! It was still such a pleasure to chat to everyone, and to marvel at the chocoflan that our host spent all afternoon preparing.

For our part, we cooked our dishes a day early and ate them as reheated leftovers. For the main course, Michael revisited the over-the-top lasagne with four kinds of mushroom and five kinds of cheese. For dessert, I decided upon this Sweet recipe. It's a tall, warm gingerbread cake served with apples and crème fraîche.

The cake is simply put together, and doesn't require an electric beater. It's intended to include pieces of stem ginger, which is a new ingredient to me. I didn't have the energy to make my own, and substituted uncrystallised ginger instead - it sank to the bottom of the cake, but provided the right boost of flavour. In the apple recipe, I traded dark rum for the intended brandy to use what we had on hand. The apples ended up tasting more strongly of lemon juice than liquor anyway, so I've performed a substitute on their name too.

This recipe is just as filling and comforting as I'd hoped, and looks a little special without being excessive. The cake would also make for a fine unpretentious afternoon tea without all the trimmings.

Gingerbread with lemony apples & crème fraîche
(very slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh's Sweet)

300g treacle or molasses
100g brown sugar
120g caster sugar
220g butter, melted and cooled slightly
3 eggs
zest of 1 orange
400g plain flour
1 tablespoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
300mL boiling water
100g stem ginger (I used 100g uncrystallised ginger), roughly chopped into 1/2 cm pieces

lemony apples
5 golden delicious or pink lady apples
50g butter
120g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
zest of 1 lemon
50mL brandy or dark rum
50mL lemon juice
pinch of salt

400g crème fraîche

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Choose a cake tin - options include a 20cm square or round springform tin, or a 23cm bundt tin. Grease/flour a bundt; line a springform tin with paper, going up beyond the height of the sides, and grease it too.

In a large bowl, whisk together the treacle/molasses, brown sugar, caster sugar, and melted butter. Check that it's not too warm from the butter, then whisk in the eggs and orange zest. Sift over the flour, bicarb soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt, and stir to combine. Pour over the just-boiled water and whisk thoroughly to combine. Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 50 minutes, until the cake passes the skewer test. (I think I baked mine for 60 minutes.) Allow the cake to cool for at least 10 minutes before it is transferred to a serving plate.

During the second half of the baking or while the cake is cooling, peel and core the apples and cut them into 1-1.5 cm slices. Set a large frypan over high heat and add the apples. Cook them, tossing them around every couple minutes, until they're golden. Transfer the apples to a bowl and return the frypan to the heat, turning it down to medium. Melt the butter in the frypan, then add the sugar, vanilla and lemon zest, stirring well. Add the apples back into the pan, stirring to coat them in the sugar mixture. Add the brandy/rum, lemon juice and salt, and cook until the sauce is thick.

Serve the cake in warm slices with spoonfuls of apple and crème fraîche on the side.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Sicilian fennel & parmesan dumplings in tomato sauce

July 18, 2020

We've been getting big fennel bulbs in our veggie boxes pretty regularly this winter, which has challenged us to shift away from our regular stable of meals a bit. We've made a fennel and walnut pie and a fennel-quinoa salad and this week we dived into another new dish: Ottolenghi's fennel and parmesan dumplings in tomato sauce. Even in work-from-home times, this is a weekend dish - there are quite a few different processes and the whole thing is the kind of fiddly that nobody's got the energy for on a work day.

Luckily, the result is something really, really good. The cooked down fennel is rich and almost sweet, with the parmesan cutting through with some sharpness. The sauce is a pretty simple tomato sauce, but it works perfectly with these dumplings. If you can bring yourself to deal with the faffing involved, you'll be richly rewarded.

Sicilian fennel & parmesan dumplings in tomato sauce
(slightly adapted from an Ottolenghi recipe via his Guardian column)

1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and diced finely
1/3 cup currants
1/4 cup pine nuts, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted and crushed
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
breadcrumbs from 2 slices of bread (we used 2 crushed Weetbix and it worked fine)
50g parmesan, finely grated
grated zest of 2 lemons
2 eggs, beaten
30g dill, finely chopped
20g basil, finely chopped
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 onion, diced finely
~250g tomatoes (the original recipe specifies cherry tomatoes, but we just used regular sized ones chopped up a bit)
180ml passata (we used jar sauce, the lazy option)
1 tablespoon caster sugar
10g basil leaves, finely chopped

Cook the fennel in a big pot of boiling water for fifteen minutes. Add the currants and cook for five more minutes and then drain everything into a colander or sieve. Transfer the mix to something like muslin (we use a clean Chux wipe) and squeeze out as much liquid as you can - you'll squeeze out heaps. The less moisture left in the mix, the better your chances of your dumplings staying together later on. Refrigerate your mixture until it's cold.

Stir the rest of the dumpling ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate that mixture as well.

Now you can make your sauce. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the garlic, onion and a good sprinkle of salt. Cook for five minutes, stirring regularly, until the onion has started to go golden. Add the tomatoes and cook for another three minutes, until they've softened. Pour in the passata and stir through the caster sugar and basil, plus 3/4 cup water. Bring to a simmer and then turn the heat down, gently cooking it all for 20 minutes. 

Leave the sauce to cool for a bit and then stick-blend it all until it's smooth. Now it's dumpling time.

Combine the two sets of dumpling ingredients into one big bowl and mix everything together thoroughly. Use your hands to form it into eight equally sized dumplings - they'll be pretty big. Compress them as best you can - a couple of ours fell apart during the frying phase and the tighter you can pack them the more resilient they'll be. 

Heat your veggie oil in a frying pan and, when it's hot, gently place the dumplings in the pan. Fry for about 8 minutes, turning regularly to get it all nice and golden - you'll have to be super gentle, because they'll want to fall apart. Once they're cooked, gently combine them with your tomato sauce - try to get them all coated in it (again, be careful not to disintegrate them). Heat everything up to a light simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes and then serve! We ate our with pearl couscous, but any kind of carb-y accompaniment would do I think (they'd actually make for an amazing meatball sub filling!).

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Mum's orange cake

July 18, 2020

A month ago I made an orange cake. It was a really great cake, but it also had me feeling a bit wistful for the orange cake that my mum would occasionally make as a treat. Although it certainly felt special to us, Mum's cake wasn't anything over-the-top, simply baked in a rectangular tin and sprinkled with icing sugar. I remember it having a distinctive lightweight but rich texture.

Mum emailed me a photo of her recipe, which is actually from The Margaret Fulton Cookbook. Both oranges and eggs are turning up regularly in our Local Drop deliveries, so I was ready to bake it for myself within days. The only notable variation on your standard cake baking here is that the eggs are separated and the whites are whipped to form stiff peaks before being folded into the batter - that must be where that light texture came from!

My cake was almost as good as I remember Mum making it, although it was a bit crustier than hers. While I have a fairly regular-looking loaf pan, I recall Mum using a longer, narrower tin with a smaller cross-section. I'd guess that this allows her to bake it for less time, and this makes for a more lightly coloured and barely-crusted cake.

While all this butter and eggs clearly isn't vegan-friendly, I wonder if this cake style would lend itself well to some aquafaba adaptation. Maybe that's the direction my orange cake-baking needs to take next.

Mum's orange cake
(actually from The Margaret Fulton Cookbook,
with a small flour conversion from me)

2 eggs, separated
113g butter, at room temperature
grated rind and juice of 1 orange
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 cup plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
icing sugar, for serving

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Prepare a loaf or ring cake tin with oil, butter, flour and/or baking paper.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.

In a separate medium bowl, cream together the butter, orange rind and sugar. Beat in the egg yolks. Sift in the flour, baking powder and sugar, then the orange juice, until well combined. Fold in the egg whites.

Pour the cake batter into the cake tin and bake for 35-40 minutes. Allow it to cool slightly, and sift over some icing sugar to serve.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Lemon self-saucing pudding

July 12, 2020

We had quite the weekend of food preparation and sharing! On Saturday I made huge batches of sausage rolls, cauliflower salad and ginger biscuits; on Sunday I cycled half the bounty across to some friends with a new baby. Meanwhile, Michael received over a dozen lemons in what was otherwise a book exchange, and a neighbour left freshly-baked focaccia by our door.

By the time the lemons arrived I'd spent enough hours away from the kitchen to begin plotting their use. How about some cordial? And I've got some vegan lemon curd recipes tucked away. What if Michael tried preserving some? Oh, and then there's lemon delicious pudding, which I was sure that Leigh Drew had included in Veganissimo!. (She had.) I had to browse through my online recipes, and I found a lemon self-saucing pudding among them too. Funnily enough, it was an earlier version of Leigh Drew's recipe.

The Veganissimo! and online sources for Leigh Drew's lemon self-saucing pudding are not identical. I liked that the online version used custard powder (which I have and rarely use), and I noticed that the Veganissimo! version makes use of cornflour and a pinch of turmeric instead. I'm also noticing now that the Veganissimo! recipe has extra baking powder and some flaxseed meal, which I'd imagine makes for a puffier, spongier pudding.

That said, I have no complaints about the puffiness of the online recipe - it was custard yellow and cakey, with a thick sauce. Leigh mentioned online that her intention here was to recreate a family recipe, and it fits with my sense of family comfort foods too.

Lemon self-saucing pudding

1 cup plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons custard powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons margarine
1 cup soymilk

dry topping
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons custard powder

wet topping
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 cup boiling water

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Grease a small, high-walled casserole or baking dish.

In a medium-large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and custard powder. Stir in the sugar and lemon zest. Melt the margarine over the stove or in a microwave, and whisk in the soymilk. Pour this liquid into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour the batter into the baking dish.

In a small-medium bowl, stir together the dry topping ingredients. Sprinkle them over the pudding batter.

In a heat-proof bowl, stir together the wet topping ingredients. Gently pour them over the pudding. Bake the pudding for around 35 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cake is spongey. Allow it to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Red velvet cookie sandwiches

June 27, 2020

Red velvet cakes don't turn up too often around here, much less red velvet cookies. I think the main appeal for me is actually the cream cheese icing that they typically come along with, and there's plenty of that in the centre of these cookie sandwiches from Crazy Vegan Kitchen. I wondered if I could enjoy a vegan version as much as a dairy-based one. The answer is yes, and better still it doesn't even require soaking and grinding my own cashews.

I don't really enjoy the flavour of Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese, and it's currently scarce on the local supermarket shelves anyway. Instead I tried Made With Plants for the first time and liked it more - it's made from both cashews and tofu, and the soy flavour is subtler. It has that velvety, not-completely-smooth texture that many cashew-based cheeses and sauces do. That texture had the icing looking a bit sloppy and curdled when I first whipped it up, but it settled right down after I assembled and refrigerated the cookie sandwiches overnight.

As for the cookies themselves, they're full of red food colouring so I'd recommend taking care of your clothing and cooking tools as you bake! I got a bit lazy about sifting my dry ingredients and, while it wasn't disastrous, I reckon it's worth it to avoid clumps of cocoa and bicarb soda. These cookies rise and spread a lot as they bake, and retain a light, cakey texture after they've cooled.

The first cookie sandwiches we ate, just after I'd iced them, were just fine. But as the recipe author Amrita promised, they really come into their own after some time in the fridge. Not only does the icing firm up, but it melds with the cookies, the bicarb soda mellows, and the small dose of cocoa low-key complements the cream cheese. There's more going on than just that bold splash of artificial colour.

Red velvet cookie sandwiches
(slightly adapted from a recipe on Crazy Vegan Kitchen)

125g margarine
1/4 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour
1/3 cup soymilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 tablespoons red food colouring (I believe Queen Pillar Box Red is vegan!)
1 1/2 cups plain flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

220g vegan cream cheese (I tried this one and liked it!)
55g margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup icing sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour

In a large bowl, beat together the margarine and sugars until fluffy. Stir together the cornflour and soymilk in a mug until the cornflour is dissolved, then beat the mixture into the margarine bowl. Beat in the vanilla and red food colouring. Sift over the flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda, and salt; beat until just combined. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours, ideally overnight.

When the dough is ready, prepare a baking tray or two by lining them with paper and spraying them with oil. Preheat an oven to 175°C.

Retrieve the cookie dough from the fridge and scoop tablespoons of the dough onto the baking tray(s), leaving lots of space between them to spread. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool completely. Match them up into pairs of similar shape and size.

To make the filling, beat together the cream cheese, margarine and vanilla until fluffy. Sift in the icing sugar and cornflour and beat everything together until well combined. Spoon the filling onto one half of each cookie pair and gently sandwich the second cookie on top. These cookie sandwiches are at their best after they've had a day stored in the fridge in an airtight container.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Rachel Ama's peanut stew

June 27, 2019

This stew has been popping up on my social media a bit lately - it seems like it's kind of the recipe of the moment, replacing Alice Roman's famous (and slightly probbo) 'The Stew'. Versions of this seem to be a staple in a number of West African countries, and this vegan version is really great. It's a very simple recipe - whiz up the sauce ingredients and then cook everything in a big pot. I was a bit too trusting of the recipe - make sure your sweet potato is cooked through before you add in your greens. Ours was still way too firm when I added them, which meant that the spinach and herbs kind of cooked down to mush by the time it was actually ready. Luckily it still tasted fantastic. We served it up with quinoa, but it would go equally well with rice, couscous or even straight up.

The key is in the complex spice paste. We toned things down by using regular supermarket red chillies rather than the hotter Scotch bonnets in the recipe (if only because we couldn't easily find them). I was a bit frustrated by how I mucked up the timing, but it was great - we'll definitely make this one again.

Rachel Ama's peanut stew
(slightly adapted from this recipe by Rachel Ama)

spice paste
2 onions, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1 red chilli, seeded and roughly chopped

2 tablespoons peanut oil
500g sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
400g tin black-eyed beans (we couldn't find them easily, so just used mixed beans)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
400g tin chopped tomatoes
500ml veggie stock
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter
200g spinach leaves
juice of a lemon
small bunch of coriander, stems removed, roughly chopped
1 red chilli, seeded and chopped
salt and pepper

Pop all the spice paste ingredients in a food processor and whiz to a smooth paste.

Heat up the peanut oil in a big pot over medium heat and then scrape in the spice paste, cooking for 10 minutes or so. Add more oil if things dry out.

Add the sweet potato, beans and tomato paste - stir thoroughly to combine with the paste mix. Once it's all combined, add the stock, canned tomatoes and peanut butter. 

Cover the pot, reduce the heat a bit and simmer everything until the sweet potato is tender (the recipe says 25 minutes, but it took us closer to 40).

Once the sweet potatoes are cooked, kill the heat and stir in the spinach, coriander, chilli and lemon juice. Once the greens have wilted, check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.