Reine de Saba Chocolate Cake for Julie

It is with a great deal of trepidation that we meet new friends in person for the first time. When I say ‘friends’, I mean those relationships forged through blogging or other social media. I refuse to call these friendships ‘virtual’ as they feel quite real along the way, and yet there is a certain level of anxiety about finally meeting in the flesh.

Where's the cream, Mr Tranquillo?
Where’s the cream Mr Tranquillo?

Yesterday my friend Julie from New Zealand visited for lunch. I have got to know Julie quite well through her blog, Frogpondfarm, and pursuant comments. She started out posting about her organic garden but as time ticked by and her passion for photography developed, her posts began to reveal so much more, with forays into the starkly beautiful central Otago countryside of the south island, and her fascination with weathered wooden posts and barbed wire, or dried grasses and flowers, and raising chooks. Her photos of early morning walks with her dog along the thundering West Coast beach in the North Island of New Zealand take my breath away. Her vineyards in the south island produce the ambrosial grapes that go into Toi Toi Pinot Noir wine, a year or two before they loll and sway about in my mouth. Toi Toi Pinot Noir is a most pleasing drop, not only for the taste of that dry, cool terroir of the South Island, but reminiscent of the wines of the Beaune area of France too. It is also well pleasing to my wallet. I knew we would get on well- we have too much in common. The four hours went in a flash.

My favourite Pinot Noir, Toi Toi fron New Zealand.
A favourite Pinot Noir, Toi Toi fron New Zealand.

As we strolled through my desiccated summer garden on the way back to the car, she silently gathered a handful of dried seed from a Marguerite daisy bush. Some to spread about and some for her pocket? It was a precious moment, now frozen in my mind, one that no photo could capture, nor words seize. Seeds are the great mementos in life. It is something that I like to do too.

This well-known and timeless cake goes well with Julie, such a beautiful and warm-hearted woman. The recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander but as Stephanie says in her introduction, it was made famous in the 1960s by Elizabeth David. It is rich and moist, yet so simple to make.

Reine de Saba Chocolate Cake, with Berries in Season

Reine de saba - Chocolate and almond cake.
Reine de saba – Chocolate and almond cake with strawberries from the Orto
  • Butter for greasing
  • 125g dark couverture chocolate, (or 70% chocolate ) chopped roughly
  • 1 tbsp strong espresso coffee
  • 1 tbsp brandy
  • 100g softened unsalted butter
  • 100g¬†cup caster sugar
  • 100g of ground almonds
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Method

Preheat oven to 160C. Butter an 18cm- 20 cm tin and line it with paper. Use a springform tin if you are sure it doesn’t leak, as this cake is fragile and often cracks when turned out.

Combine chocolate, coffee and brandy in a bowl over water or in a double-boiler. Stir when melted and add butter and sugar and mix well. Add almonds and stir in well. Remove bowl from the heat.

Lightly beat the yolks and stir into the bowl. Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Lighten chocolate mixture with a spoonful of whites, then fold in the remaining whites carefully and lightly.

Bake for 40-45 minutes. The cake will test a bit gooey in the centre. Cool completely in the tin before slipping onto a serving plate. Dust with icing sugar.

Reine de Saba, or Queen of Sheba cake.

And a big thanks to lovely Paula for accompanying Julie and driving her out into the wilds here. It was a delight to meet you. You made it all happen

Julie in background, Paula in foreground.
Julie in background, Paula in foreground.

Son in Law Zucchini Pickles

I have been thinking about how to curry favour with my son-in-law as I need a few jobs done and Kyle, a carpenter, is meticulous and super- efficient. Going by the moniker, ‘that tool in the tool box’, a self-inflicted title I might add, Kyle is the man you need when a door doesn’t line up with a wall.

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Not Walt from Breaking Bad. Not Kyle the carpenter. It’s Mr Tranquillo tackling a wall renovation.

I know he likes these pickles: I have seen him hoover down a whole jar in one sitting. They are delightfully old-fashioned but on trend.¬†They often appear on a summer ‘tasting plate’ (an annoying term used in Australia for a mishmash of tit-bits on a plate) in some of the more fashionable wineries and restaurants about town. These pickles were popularised by Stephanie Alexander in the 1990s, taken from her seminal cookbook, The Cook’s Companion, a dictionary styled cookbook which has sold more than 500,000 copies to date. Her ‘bible’ sits on the shelf in many Australian homes. My copy is well-thumbed, splattered and stained.

Basic pickle ingredients. Sugar, vinegar, turmeric, mustard powder, mustard seeds.
Basic pickle ingredients: sugar, vinegar, turmeric, mustard powder, mustard seeds.

During January and February, when it’s not uncommon to pick one kilo of zucchini a day, I make these pickles often and share the jars around. They make a handsome addition to a ploughman’s lunch, or give a vinegary¬†crunch to a cheese sandwich.

Step 1. Add the sliced zucchini and onion , well salted, to a bowl of water.
Step 1. Add the sliced zucchini and onion , well salted, to a bowl of water.

Stephanie’s Zucchini Pickles

  • 1 kilo small zucchini, sliced on the diagonal
  • 3 onions, finely sliced
  • ¬Ĺ¬†cup salt
  • 3 cups white wine vinegar
  • 1/¬Ĺ cups sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon yellow mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
    Step 2. Covered in a vinegar, sugar, turmeric and mustard solution.
    Step 2. Covered in a vinegar, sugar, turmeric and mustard solution

    Toss the zucchini and onion with the salt in a ceramic bowl, then cover with cold water. Leave for one hour. Drain then return to the bowl. Combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and stir over gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil and pour over drained zucchini. Leave to cool. Use at once or pack into sterilized jars and refrigerate. Use within two months. Makes about five medium sized jars.

zucchini pickle jars

*  Stephanie Alexander, The Cooks Companion, Penguin Books, Australia, 1996, p785.

Easy Christmas Thai Prawn Salad

The only year I missed Christmas at home was in 1985, when we spent the day in Koh Samui in Thailand, eating crab curry, with the sound of waves gently lapping in the background. Bliss. So it’s only fitting that a Thai seafood dish pops onto my Christmas menu. I have been making this seafood salad for Christmas for around 15 years now. I gleaned the recipe from my well-thumbed copy of Stephanie Alexander’s The Cooks Companion. It has lovely summer flavours and can be made a few hours ahead. The first time I made it, my sister-in-law drank the juice from the bowl, so the saucing is obviously the best part of the dish and I sometimes make extra, with Joanne in mind. The original recipe by Stephanie calls for 6 small calamari. Given that it’s almost impossible to source fresh calamari at Christmas time in Melbourne, especially small ones, I have substituted prawns and I can happily say, it’s still a great dish.

Thai Prawn Salad
Thai Prawn Salad

The quantity may be doubled or doubled again depending on your Christmas crowd. The recipe below made for a substantial lunch dish for two. If serving alongside other seafood, the amount below would be suitable for four. I am planning to quadruple the amount for the big day ahead, but will keep an eye on the balance of ingredeints as I go.

Cook the prawns until just done.
Cook the prawns until just done.

Thai Prawn Salad.

350 gr medium-sized green prawns

1 granny smith apple unpeeled (or any tart apple)

2 brown or purple shallots

1 tablespoon fresh coriander leaves

1 tablespoon fresh torn mint leaves

1 tablespoon fresh torn Thai basil leaves

3 tablespoons chopped peanuts.

Dressing

2 fresh chillies, seeded and finely sliced

1 tablespoon palm sugar (soft brown sugar may be substituted)

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon fresh lime or lemon juice. ( lime is better)

Method

Make the dressing by mixing the ingredients together in a jug.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the prawns and cook for a couple of minutes or until nicely pink. Shell and devein the prawns. (you can do this before or after cooking. I prefer to cook them with the shell on) Halve the prawns vertically. Reserve.

Core the apple but don’t peel it. Julienne into fine sticks. Finely slice the shallots.

In a serving bowl, mix the apple, prawns, shallots, and herbs. Pour on the dressing and gently toss. Add peanuts to finished dish.

If making this dish ahead of time, leave out the herbs and peanuts until ready to serve. Dress the salad of prawns, apple and shallots, cover well, then refrigerate. Bring out around 15 minutes before serving time to take the chill off the dish, and add the torn herbs, toss and then the peanuts. Of course the peanuts are optional- purchased fried shallots would also add some final crunch.

Thai prawn salad.
Thai prawn salad.

 

Serve with a French Rosé wine. Salute!

Adapted from The Cook’s Companion, Stephanie Alexander, 1996 edition, page 689.

 

In My Kitchen, February 2015

Melbourne is experiencing a very cool summer so far. Not that I mind. Usually in February, I sit in the kitchen staring at the computer, monitoring the temperature, the wind and the fire ratings on the CFA site. This year we are blessed with unseasonable¬†cool weather which is perfect for preserving fruits and garden produce AND I don’t feel so anxious.

In my kitchen are too many strawberries: the cool weather, along with proper netting, means a new flush every few days. We have made strawberry jam and coulis, frozen strawberries and strawberry brandy, tucked away for the cooler months.

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And of course there too many tomatoes. This season, the large tasty varieties are a little slow, so these mini tomatoes fill the gap. I am picking a few kilo of mixed heirloom tomatoes each day- they go on pizza, bruschetta, in soups and sauces or straight into the freezer.

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The zucchini continue to provide amusement when their large zeppelin shapes hide under leaves. The big fellas go to the chooks. ¬†The polite ones make zucchini soup, Greek zucchini fritters, grilled zucchini topping for pizza, ¬†zucchini ripieni con ricotta, zucchini pakhoras, zucchini pasta, and all manner of things, along with their fiori, flowers. I also make a swag of Stephanie Alexander’s zucchini pickles to give away. The pickle is lovely with a ploughman’s lunch.

Preparing the pickle in brine.
Preparing the pickle in brine.
Zucchini pickle alla Stephanie Alexander.
Zucchini pickle alla Stephanie Alexander.

In My kitchen are Lombardi. This month, my adopted nephew, Alberto from Pavia, hangs around in my kitchen after working in the kitchen garden. Alberto cultivates Arborio rice near Pavia, in Italia but has become interested in Australia over the last two years. It’s good to have him back. Renato, in the Babbo Natale hat, is from Milano. Renato, an IT specialist, became a top fencer in his many months here. At last our cows are well contained.

My kitchen garden provides much of the food that is prepared in my kitchen and I would like to thank them both for assisting us with their labour and for their graceful and courteous company.

Along with the kitchen thankyous comes a big one to our generous host, Celia, from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial whose infectious energy is inspirational.