In My Kitchen, December 2018

The monthly series,┬áIn My Kitchen, has become my record of seasonality. As November’s green crops and broad beans slowly disappear from the garden, making way for December’s zucchini and early tomatoes, so our meals begin to reflect the change in season and the kitchen sings with new excess. The annual garlic crop has been harvested and is hanging out to dry for a month, though a few young specimens have made their way into the kitchen. Organic Australian garlic tastes superb: it takes six months to mature in the garden: it is then gently cleaned, tied and hung for a few weeks to harden, then stripped of its outer casing. Some get plaited but most are stored in a dark spot for the season. This year’s harvest, over 300 bulbs, has been a labour of love, enough to keep the vampires away.

Christmas baking odours permeate my kitchen as dried fruits soak in brandy for a day or a week, followed by the slow baking of fruit cakes, evoking memories of an another time. It’s ironic to be dedicated to the Christmas traditions of the Northern hemisphere when our hot summer season brings such luscious and bountiful fresh fruits to the table. Our loganberries are in full flush, picking a kilo a day is enough at a time. The peaches are about to ripen while the netting of apples, nectarines and pears has come early this year. Meanwhile, the markets are full of mangoes, apricots and cherries. Lighter summer festive desserts based on summer fruits include Pavlova topped with mangoes and tropical fruit, alcohol laced trifles layered with berries and fresh peaches, or berry pur├ęe┬ádrizzled on anything at all, like yoghurt for breakfast, or vanilla ice cream for supper.

I’ve been expanding my sourdough recipe files lately, churning out new breads each week. Celia’s light rye was a favourite, followed by a heavier and darker rye from Breadtopia.┬áI’ve worked on two fruit breads, a fig and fennel sourdough based on a recipe by Maurizio at the Perfect Loaf, and the other, a more economical┬áraisin and fennel loaf. In between, I make my everyday sourdough loaves, using 20% wholemeal, also based on a recipe by Celia. I love the way my loaves take on individual characteristics when baking. Perfectly imperfect but always so tasty. One day, when my bread making routine didn’t coincide with our needs, I made a yeasted olive and rosemary loaf, based on a recipe by Maggie Beer, a quick 3 hour bread, unlike my slow 24 hour fermented breads. It’s a good standby.

Churning out the loaves. Some with happy smiles and crispy ears, others with a snarl.
Looking a lot like Tam O’Shanters, the most delicious bread ever, the fig and fennel festive sourdough

This lovely bunch of roses arrived to dress my kitchen table a few weeks ago, courtesy of my dear friend Diane, a rose aficionado and dedicated gardener. Pierre de Ronsard is a joy to behold. Your immediate inclination is to sniff a rose, but Pierre De Ronsard is not known for its sweet perfume. Its romance lies in the shape and delicate colour. Each bloom is said to hold 400 petals. I am determined to grow this lovely climber next year. It is named after Pierre de Ronsard, a poet in the court of Mary Queen of Scots and a keen gardener.┬áI love fresh flowers throughout the house: there’s always something to pick and enjoy, even though it may not be as dramatic or gorgeous as Di’s roses. A singular stem of a leek in flower, a bunch of flowering chives or mauve blossomed sage, herbs and weeds also look lovely.

Pierre de Ronsard

Thanks once again to Sherry for hosting this series. You can read her funny Christmas post at Sherry’s Pickings, read other bloggers entries, or join in yourself.

And finally, I must mention a food related link this month- a thought-provoking article from The Angry Chef.

https://angry-chef.com/blog/the-modern-chef-s-guide-to-being-angry

And a few links to my December IMK posts from past years. Same same but different?

https://almostitalian.blog/2017/12/06/in-my-kitchen-december-2017/

https://almostitalian.blog/2016/12/02/in-my-indian-kitchen-december-2016/

https://almostitalian.blog/2015/12/01/in-my-kitchen-december-2015/

Get My Swan Costume Ready. School Holiday Pavlova

It’s school holiday time in Melbourne, with kids in the kitchen and mess everywhere. The girls wanted to make something sweet but both have radically different tastes. After some negotiation, a pavlova was agreed upon, after some squabbling about suitable toppings. Before we grabbed the electric beaters, a detour through history into the life of Anna Pavlova was fun, something I had never thought about much before their visit. As Tchaikovsky played in the background, we admired all the beautiful old photos of Anna Pavlova in her divine longer tutus and portraits of her with her pet swan, Jack.

Anna Pavlova with pet swan, Jack
Anna Pavlova with pet swan, Jack. Photo from Pinterest.

We discovered other wonderful facts about Anna’s life, including her last words on her death-bed, “Get my Swan costume ready.” This is now our secret code for beating up egg whites or dying like a swan, which ever comes first.

kids in the kitchen
Kids in the kitchen sculpting a Pavlova

Pavlova is an easy dessert┬áfor young cooks to whip up. It doesn’t matter if it cracks or turns out┬ámisshapen. It will still taste great. Just crack and separate the eggs for them and hand over the electric beaters. They love watching the whites whip up into a big fluffy tutu. Once the eggs are standing up, the younger child adds in the sugar until the boss (me) says they are ready. Add a little cornflour, white vinegar and vanilla and let the kids do the sculpting on a papered tray.

Basic 4 egg Pavlova Recipe ( serves 6-8 )

  • 4 egg whites ( room temperature)
  • pinch of salt
  • 250 g caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • few drops of pure vanilla

Preheat oven to 180┬░c. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Draw a 20 cm circle on the paper. Beat egg whites and salt until satiny peaks form. Beat in sugar, a third at a time, until meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over cornflour, vinegar and vanilla and fold in lightly. Mound onto paper lined tray and flatten top and smooth the sides. Place in the oven, immediately reduce heat to 150┬░ c and cook for 1┬╝ hours. Turn off the oven and leave pavlova to cool. Invert pavlova and pile with chosen topping.

From Stephanie Alexander’s┬áThe Cook’s Companion

While the meringue cooks and cools, it’s time to make the topping. I usually settle for whipped cream and brandy macerated strawberries or, in season, passionfruit. Daisy was happy to settle for this mundane option but not Charlotte. After rejecting a few of my suggestions, including a lemony custard, she decided on a chocolate mousse filling!! Warning, the following photos of this chocolate mousse┬ápavlova may make you want to utter those dying swan words sooner than expected. This is a pavlova for kids and the young at heart.

Pavlova filled with chocolate mousse.
Pavlova filled with chocolate mousse.

Fast Chocolate Mousse Filling.

  • 200 gr packet of cooking chocolate, 45% solids.
  • a dash of rum or brandy
  • 4 egg yolks
  • ┬╝┬ácup sugar
  • some whipping cream to loosen.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the boiling water. Loosen with a little brandy or rum.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until very pale and thick. Add gradually to the bowl of melted chocolate.

Beat the cream until thick, then add to the chocolate mixture. Stir in well then set in the fridge.

A cake like this calls for some pretty floral cups.
A cake like this calls for some pretty floral cups.

PS. The chocolate mousse topping was ridiculously rich. from Charlotte ­čÖé

Anna Pavlova and jack the swan
Anna Pavlova and Jack the swan

Tropicana Eton Mess

My daughter has raved about a pavlova she made a year ago with a rich mango and passionfruit curd topping. She acquired the recipe for the┬áMango and Passionfruit curd from Lorraine Elliott’s┬áNot Quite Nigella. Lorraine makes pavlovas, all towers of gooey loveliness and there are at least 6 fabulous versions to consider. I often prefer to make mini pavlovas or meringues so that I can string out the exquisite curd a little longer. As the mango season is at its height ( but not for long) I decided it was time to give her recipe a try. It is also a very fitting dessert for Australia Day on January 26th.

Daisy samples the Eton Mess with Mango and Passionfruit curd
Daisy samples the Eton Mess with Mango and Passionfruit curd

Little Daisy, the cheffa, was my main tester. Daisy likes to watch cooking videos to improve her cooking skills and always helps in the kitchen, with her own stool and special knife. She is genuinely my best kitchen hand, her enthusiasm spurs me on.

Little crispy meringues with gooey centres

 Little meringues are easy to whip up and store well in a tin- ready for any young customer with an appetite. They can be served as individual greedy sized desserts, or smashed up and made into an Eton Mess.

The OTT Tropicana Mess
The OTT Tropicana Mess

The small meringue recipe

  • four egg whites
  • 1 cup (220g) caster sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cornflour
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • Preheat oven to 150┬║C. Line two small baking trays with baking paper. Whisk egg whites in an electric mixer until soft peaks form, then add the sugar gradually and beat until they turn glossy. Remove bowl from stand and stir through the cornflour and vinegar.
  • Use a piping bag to make 6 rounds of meringue with slightly walled sides, or make freeform shapes, as pictured above, if you intend to smash them up for Eton Mess. Leave at least 3 cm between each meringue to allow for spreading.
  • Reduce the oven to 120┬║C and bake for 40 minutes. Turn off the oven and allow them to cool completely. Store in an airtight tin for up to 2 weeks.
Eton Mess, smashed merigue, cream and mango and passionfruit curd
Eton Mess, smashed meringue, cream, mango and passionfruit curd

Lorraine Elliott’s┬áMango and Passionfruit Curd

Makes about 3 cups of curd

  • 5 egg yolks
  • ┬ż cup sugar
  • 125g butter, cut into cubes
  • ┬Ż cup passionfruit pulp (about 5 passionfruit)
  • ┬Ż cup mango pulp, processed (about 1 large mango)

  • ┬áHeat a heavy bottomed saucepan on medium heat (4 out of 10 where 10 is the hottest temperature). Place the yolks and sugar and stir until combined. Add the cubes of butter and allow to melt. Stir just stir enough so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

  • ┬áAdd the passionfruit and mango pulp to the pan and allow to thicken stirring occasionally. It will take about 10-15 minutes to thicken and will thicken further upon cooling. Store in sterilised jars.

To Assemble the Desserts

Use parfait glasses or bowls. Roughly smash the meringue and layer with cream, the curd, fresh passionfruit, and repeat, topped with fresh mint leaves.

Other components are whipped cream, more passionfruit, sliced mango, and other tropical fruits in season. Daisy said no to banana so take heed of her advice.

Daisy and her mother share another!

I sent all the components home with five-year old Daisy: the meringues, the whipped cream and the curd so she can practice her assembling to impress her father and sisters.

Daisy's version, made when she went home. Pic taken on her mother's phone.
Daisy’s version, made when she went home. Pic taken on her mother’s phone.

Footnote: Today Lorraine has written up this sweet curd again- check her updated recipe here too.