Monday, January 26, 2015

Jerk Salmon Salad with Spicy Pineapple Dressing

Jerk Salmon Salad with Spicy Pineapple Dressing 2

It's been a little while since I shared a Secret Recipe Club (**) post with you.  We've been on a brief hiatus over Christmas, but I'm excited that my group is back to posting this week.

*  So what's this Secret Recipe Club you may ask?  The club has over a hundred members, divided into four groups, and each month one member is assigned (in secret) to another member from their group.  That person then selects a recipe (or more) to make, photograph, and prepare a blog post - all in secret.  Then everyone in the group posts their recipe on the same day, and of course the secret is then out.  It's a always a thrill to find out who has posted something from your own blog, and to meet and discover some new blogs.   If you are a food blogger and interested in joining the Secret Recipe Club, be sure to check out the Join SRC page.

Because we've been on a bit of a break, I've had an extra long time to explore and get to know my assigned blog, which this month is Sew You Think You Can Cook, hosted by Lauren who lives in Ohio with her husband and son.  Lauren is an aerospace engineer, and hopes to one day realise her food dream and become a caterer.  As well as her obvious passion for food and blogging, Lauren also loves quilting and cross stitching, which is evident in the quilt-block tutorials you will find on her blog along with all her great recipes.

There were several recipes from Lauren's blog I bookmarked to try:  Cranberry Cinnamon Rolls, Cinnamon Raisin Energy Balls, Coconut Shrimp with Bloody Mary Dip, and Lemony Shrimp Scampy with Orzo.  In the end, I decided Lauren's Spinach Salad with Spicy Pineapple Dressing was the best fit with the healthy eating plan I'm trying to follow this month.

Jerk Salmon Salad with Spicy Pineapple Dressing 3

I did make a couple of changes to fit my current food habits and available ingredients.  Firstly I replaced chicken with salmon, since I'm not eating any meat at the moment and, as a clean out of my fridge revealed a jar of jerk paste needing to be used up, I marinated my salmon with some of that instead of the ancho chilli powder which is not readily available here.  I couldn't get any spinach at the market this week, so I've used cos lettuce instead;  I replaced coriander (cilantro) with mint because that's what I had in the garden;  and I replaced apple cider vinegar with fresh lime juice, again because that's what I had on hand.  I increased the amount of chilli in the dressing as well, and let me tell you that this dressing is so good I could just drink it on it's own.  The combination of sweet pineapple, hot chilli, fresh mint and sour lime is positively irresistible, and was the perfect foil to the oily, spicy salmon.  Thanks for a great recipe, Lauren - this is definitely one I will be repeating.

Jerk Salmon Salad with Spicy Pineapple Dressing 1

Jerk Salmon Salad with Spicy Pineapple Dressing Recipe
adapted from this recipe
at Sew You Think You Can Cook
Serves 2 as a main meal

2x fillets of salmon, pin bones removed
2 teaspoons of jerk paste
olive oil

1/2 a fresh pineapple, core & skin removed and discarded
generous handful of fresh mint leaves
1x clove garlic
1x green chilli, roughly chopped (remove seeds if you prefer)
juice of 1/2 an orange
2 tablespoons lime juice
flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

salad leaves of your choice
thinly sliced red & yellow peppers

Rub jerk paste all over salmon fillets, and set aside in the fridge to marinate for at least two hours.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F).

Meanwhile, make the spicy pineapple dressing.  Cut the fresh pineapple into chunks, and put half of the chunks into a blender - reserve the rest of the pineapple chunks for the salad.  Add the mint leaves, garlic, chilli, orange juice, lime juice, salt and pepper to the blender and blitz until smooth.  Then with the blender running, add extra virgin olive oil in a thin stream, until dressing is smooth and emulsified.  Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.

Place salmon in a lightly greased ovenproof dish, drizzle with a little olive oil, and place in the preheated oven until cooked through - about 8 to 10 minutes depending on the size of your fillets.

While the salmon is cooking, toss salad leaves, red & yellow peppers, and chunks of pineapple together.  Arrange on a serving platter, and drizzle over the dressing.   Remove salmon from the oven, place on top of the salad and drizzle with a little more dressing.  Serve immediately.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I did, and visit the links below to check out all the other great dishes my Secret Recipe Club friends made.



Sunday, January 25, 2015

Saffron Roasted Tomatoes with Labneh and Triple Tomato Quinoa Risotto with Black Olives & Feta

Saffron Roasted Tomatoes with Labneh 2

For the first time since I started this blog, some five and a half years ago, I'm experiencing some serious writer's block.  I've been trying to write this post for the last week, and every time I sit down at the desk to write I allow myself to be distracted by just about anything else - that great "crack house" that is Pinterest (who of us can't get lost in that for hours), a little bit of filing (even though filing is my least favourite thing to do), a couple of scraps of paper, a magazine, I've even developed an uncommon interest in the tiniest speck of dust.  Pretty much anything to distract me from the admission that perhaps I have nothing to say!

Right now it's a glorious Sunday morning, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, the cicadas are chirping, and it is taking every shred of willpower I possess to resist the siren call of the sea and sand.  But I've vowed not to hit the beach until this post is done, so perhaps I better get on with it.

I fully intended to bring you these glorious saffron-roasted tomatoes last week, when my friends and I at I Heart Cook Clubs were exploring the theme Along the Spice Trail with our current chef, Diana Henry.  For reasons already disclosed, that just didn't happen.  Which is sad, because withholding these from you is nothing short of a travesty. On a positive note though, this is Pot Luck week at IHCC, so I still get to share this plate of deliciousness with you.  When I brought you these Maple Roasted Tomatoes, way back when my blog was in its infancy, I thought I was really onto something, and I've been making them that way ever since.  Taking inspiration however from Diana's book A Change of Appetite, and adding harissa and saffron into the mix elevates these tomatoes to something positively sublime.  The kick of heat from the harissa, and the earthiness of the saffron, lend perfect balance to the sweet tomatoes, and some cooling tang from garlicky, herby labneh on top is the perfect accompaniment.

Saffron Roasted Tomatoes with Labneh 1

I didn't depart too much from Diana's recipe, though I pretty much ignored quantities and just used what suited me. This is the kind of dish where you really don't need to adhere to things too closely, which is something I always like in a recipe.  You need to begin by making your labneh ... Set a sieve over a bowl and line it with a paper towel or piece of clean muslin.  Add a few good dollops of natural yoghurt to the sieve, and place in the fridge for several hours until all the liquid has drained away, and you are left with something the consistency of thick cream cheese.  I use lovely thick Greek yoghurt that really only takes a couple of hours, but depending on the yoghurt you start with it may take up to 24 hours.  Once yoghurt has reached it's desired consistency, remove from sieve to a small bowl and mix in a clove of crushed garlic, some chopped herbs of your liking, and season with salt and pepper.  Now onto the tomatoes ... Choose several of your favourite tomatoes - I used a variety of tomatoes picked straight from the garden.  Cut them in half and lay them in a single layer in an ovenproof dish.  In a small bowl mix together a generous slosh or two of olive oil, two or three tablespoons of harissa, and a good pinch of saffron threads.  Pour the mixture over the tomatoes, and turn them to make sure they are well coated all over.  Set the tomatoes cut side up, drizzle liberally with maple syrup, and season generously.  Roast them in a preheated oven, 190 degrees C (375 degrees F) for around 45 minutes, remove from oven, and leave to cool slightly.  Arrange the roasted tomatoes on a platter and top with good dollops of the labneh.  Drizzle with any of the cooking juices, and strew a few toasted almonds and coriander leaves over the top to finish.

These are sensational served warm or at room temperature.  I tossed some of them with a few peppery rocket leaves and served them with this harissa marinated fish.

Triple Tomato Quinoa Risotto with Black Olives & Feta 1

As is frequently the case in my house, however, I did end up with quite a lot of leftovers, which I decided to turn into risotto.  Since I'm on a bit of a "health-kick" at the moment, I experimented with using quinoa for my risotto instead of the traditional arborio rice, and I have to say I was pretty pleased with the results.  The quinoa had a really pleasant nutty flavour and slight chew to it, but the best thing of all was that I wasn't left with that heavy, weighed down kind of feeling afterwards.  This delivered all the comforting satisfaction that you expect from a risotto, with none of the "heft".  I love bringing layers of flavour and texture to a dish, and I achieved that here by using tomatoes three ways - the leftover saffron roasted tomatoes, a few sun-dried tomatoes, and finished off with a few fresh tomatoes.  The other great thing I discovered about using the quinoa in this risotto, is that it reheated really well the next day, which cannot generally be said for a risotto made with arborio rice.  Making risotto with quinoa is definitely set to become a regular feature in my kitchen now, and I can't wait to experiment with a few different flavours.  In the meantime, I hope you'll give this one a try.

On that note, I'm off to the beach now.  Enjoy what's left of your weekend xo

Triple Tomato Quinoa Risotto with Black Olives & Feta 2

Triple Tomato Quinoa Risotto with Black Olives & Feta Recipe
a Couscous & Consciousness original

olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 small leek, finely sliced
1 cup quinoa
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 to 3 cups of vegetable stock, hot
3x saffron-roasted tomatoes (= 6x halves), roughly chopped (see above)
3 or 4 sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
half a dozen fresh cherry tomatoes, halved
generous handful of black olives
chunks of crumbled goat feta - as much or as little as you like
flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
fresh basil leaves, roughly torn, to finish

Heat a good slosh of olive oil in a heavy based pan over medium heat.  Add the leek and garlic to the pan - cooking until they just begin to soften - take care not to burn the garlic.  Almost as soon as you can smell the garlic it is time to add the quinoa to the pan.  Continue cooking the quinoa with the leek and garlic, stirring constantly, until every single grain is coated with the oil and it begins to appear a little "toasted".

Now is the time to add the lemon juice, and continue stirring until virtually all the liquid has been absorbed by the quinoa.  Then reduce the heat a little, and begin to add the stock, one ladleful at a time - stirring constantly until each ladleful has been absorbed before adding the next.

Keep stirring and adding stock until the quinoa has plumped up and is tender (but not mushy) to the bite - this will probably take around 20 minutes.  Round about the 10 minute mark, stir in the chopped roasted tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes.

Once the quinoa is cooked, remove from the heat, stir in the fresh tomatoes, olives, feta and basil.  Taste, then season to your liking with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  Stir to combine, then cover and leave to rest for 5 minutes to enable all the flavours to infuse.

Serve immediately, with some extra fresh basil on top.

If you would like to get to know Diana Henry a little better, and to see what everyone else has cooked up this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links (who knows, you might even want to join the journey and cook along with us) ...

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... or check out A Change of Appetite and Diana's many other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, or Fishpond NZ.



Monday, January 12, 2015

Pink Grapefruit, Prawn & Toasted Coconut Salad

Pink Grapefruit, Prawn & Toasted Coconut Salad 3

I've spent a lot of my time over the last few weeks decluttering.  Like a woman possessed, I have bit by bit gone through every room and cupboard in the house, having a major clean-out of all that stuff I've been hanging onto "just in case" it's ever needed one day.

I have spoken to my yoga students often about staying in the present, living in the moment, and yet despite that I have managed to surround myself with a whole lot of stuff because of some attachment to a time long past, or possible need in some uncertain future.  It's ridiculous, it doesn't amount to staying present, and it's all been suffocating me.

I have to say I'm surprised how long it's taken to work my way through the house, and I'm not finished yet (there's still the bathroom and kitchen cupboards) to go, but I guess I'm not going to deal with 40 years of accumulated clap-trap in five minutes.  Now don't get me wrong, it's not like I would have made an ideal candidate for "World's Greatest Hoarders", but there was a lot of stuff.

There's no doubt this is an incredibly freeing process - it's given me a real sense of lightening the load, and allowing space for change.

Pink Grapefruit, Prawn & Toasted Coconut Salad 2

So what does all of this have to do with this dish?  Well, part of my decluttering process has extended to trying to give the freezer a bit of a clean-out, wherein I found a bag of prawns that needed to be used up.  Since we have another Mystery Box Challenge this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs, which requires us to make a dish from anyone of our IHCC chefs using at least three of these ingredients: potatoes, buttermilk, flour, paprika, onion, leafy greens, lemon, honey, prawns, and feta - it seemed like the ideal time to use those prawns.

I'd had Diana Henry's recipe in A Change of Appetite for A Warm Salad of Pink Grapefruit, Prawns, and Toasted Coconut bookmarked for quite a while, and since with a little adaptation the recipe enabled me to use prawns, leafy greens and honey, this looked like the perfect dish to meet the mystery box challenge.

I made only very minimal changes to the recipe, briefly oven-roasting the prawns instead of pan frying them, since I always look for any opportunity I can to avoid standing over a frying pan, and for a bit of extra kick I added some red pepper flakes to the prawns while the roasted.  I also replaced sugar in the dressing with honey, and replaced groundnut oil with a combination of olive oil and sesame oil.

This made a wonderful light meal, absolutely bursting with flavour and interesting texture - soft, velvety leaves provide a cooling background to spicy prawns and the citrusy, sweet-tart burst of the grapefruit, accompanied by the crunch of the coconut, peanuts and sesame seeds.  This is definitely a dish I can see myself repeating often over the remainder of summer - I can even see it inspiring a few variations.

Pink Grapefruit, Prawn & Toasted Coconut Salad 1

Pink Grapefruit, Prawn & Toasted Coconut Salad Recipe
Adapted (barely) from recipe by Diana Henry
from A Change of Appetite
Serves 2 as a light meal

for the dressing:
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil

for the salad:
2x pink grapefruit
1 cup shaved coconut from a fresh coconut
1 tablespoon olive oil
350g (12 oz) fresh prawns, shelled & deveined
red pepper flakes
flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
leafy salad greens
bunch of fresh mint leaves
1x red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
large handful roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (360 degrees F).

Begin by making the dressing.  Place all the ingredients in a small jug, whisk to combine, and set aside.

Prepare the grapefruit - remove the peel and all the white pith from the grapefruit, then, working over a bowl, remove the segments by running a sharp knife between the membrane and the flesh on each side of the segment to release the segment.  Discard the membrane, set the flesh aside.

Using a hammer or the back of a heavy knife, break the coconut shell open and prise out the flesh.  Using a vegetable peeler, shave the coconut into thin slices.  Dry fry the shaved coconut in a pan over medium heat until golden.  This happens quickly, so don't leave the kitchen.

In a bowl toss together the prawns, olive oil, generous pinch of red pepper flakes, flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Spread prawns in a single layer in an ovenproof dish and roast in the preheated oven until cooked through - this only takes a few minutes.

Remove from the oven and immediately toss with the grapefruit segments, red chilli and half the dressing.

Arrange salad greens and mint on serving plates, and arrange prawns and grapefruit amongst the salad leaves.  Scatter toasted coconut, peanuts, and sesame seeds over the top, and drizzle with the remaining dressing.

Serve immediately.

If you would like to get to know Diana Henry a little better, and to see what everyone else has cooked up this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links (who knows, you might even want to join the journey and cook along with us) ...

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... or check out A Change of Appetite and Diana's many other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, or Fishpond NZ.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Spicy Red Lentil & Carrot Koftas with Tahini Sauce & Pomegranate

Spicy Red Lentil & Carrot Koftas 2

Happy New Year to you all, my friends.  I don't know how things have played out for you, but it's been a hectic holiday season for me, filled with visits from family around the country and around the world.  The weather has been perfect;  we've enjoyed the outdoors;  we've talked and laughed a lot;  and we've eaten a lot.  Oh boy, did we eat a lot.  There's certainly been one bowl of ice cream, one glass of wine, and one slice of Christmas cake too many squeezed under my belt over the last couple of weeks.

So today the holidays are over, it's back to work, and time to get back to a bit of healthy eating.  To give my system a major cleanse, I'm embarking on a month of eliminating caffeine, alcohol, meat, wheat, refined sugar and dairy.  Fortunately, our theme this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs is Happy Healthy, which could not be a better way to start off the year.

These Spicy Red Lentil & Carrot Koftas with a tahini sauce and pomegranate, which I adapted ever so slightly from a recipe by Diana Henry from A Change of Appetite, are the perfect way to celebrate our Happy Healthy theme and to kick start my cleanse.  It's hard to believe that anything which packs so much flavour, texture, and good looks could possibly be good for you, but these make for a seriously healthy lunch and, with a little "belly-full" of pomegranate seeds in each kofta, they look almost celebratory.  Often as soon as we start to remove some of the not-so-healthy elements from our meals, dishes can sometimes end up feeling a little less than satisfying ... not so with these babies.  These are so amazingly flavourful and satisfying, I would make these again even if I wasn't on a health kick.  I hope you'll give them a try.

Spicy Red Lentil & Carrot Koftas 1

Spicy Red Lentil & Carrot Koftas with Tahini Sauce & Pomegranate Recipe
Adapted from recipe by Diana Henry
from A Change of Appetite

For the koftas:
90g (3-1/4 oz) red lentils
1 cup water
50g (1-3/4 oz) bulgur wheat
200g (7 oz) carrots, roughly chopped
pinch of sugar
flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2x cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoky paprika
4 tablespoons harissa
juice of 1x lemon
large bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
pomegranate seeds

For the tahini sauce:
2 tablespoons tahini
1/4 cup water
juice of 1/2 lemon
1x clove garlic, finely chopped
flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

To serve:
bunch of baby spinach leaves

To make the koftas, start by putting the lentils in a small pan with the water.  Set over medium heat, bring to the boil, cover pot, reduce heat and simmer until the lentils are soft - about 20 minutes.  Remove pan from the heat, stir the bulgur wheat into the lentils, cover the pot again, and set aside for 20 minutes for the wheat grains to plump up and soften.

Place carrots in another small pot.  Just cover carrots with water, add the pinch of sugar to the pan, and season generously with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Boil until the carrots are completely soft, remove from the heat, drain, and mash to a puree.  Add to the lentil mixture.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a small saute pan.  Add garlic to the pan.  As soon as the garlic becomes fragrant, add the cumin and paprika to the pan, and stir for a minute.  Add the harissa to the pan, and cook for another minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from the heat.

Stir garlic and spice mixture into the lentil and carrot mixture.  Add lemon juice, half of the coriander, and the remaining olive oil.  Mix everything together well, taste and adjust seasoning if required.  Form the mixture into small balls, pressing a small indentation into the centre of each one, filling the indentation with a few pomegranate seeds.

To make the tahini sauce - mix all the ingredients together, adding more water if needed to achieve a pouring consistency.  Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.

To serve, arrange baby spinach leaves and remaining coriander on a serving platter.  Arrange koftas amongst the salad leaves, and drizzle tahini sauce over the top.

Spicy Red Lentil & Carrot Koftas 3

If you would like to get to know Diana Henry a little better, and to see what everyone else has cooked up this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links (who knows, you might even want to join the journey and cook along with us) ...

Diana Henry badge 1A

... or check out A Change of Appetite and Diana's many other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, or Fishpond NZ.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Boozy Peaches (aka Peaches in Sticky Wine)

Peaches in Sticky Wine

According to Shakespeare, "brevity is the soul of wit".  That being said, I fear this post may be rather long on the brevity (is that really possible), and short on the wit.

The long and short of it is that this has been a week that really got away from me, and if I don't get this post out in the space of a very short lunch break today, it isn't going to happen.

So getting straight to the point, this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs, where we continue our journey with the gorgeous Diana Henry, we are creating Gifts From the Heart.  With Christmas just around the corner, it's a great opportunity to explore some of those edible gifts that we cooks like to give to family and friends over the holiday season.

I knew I would find something in my copy of "Salt Sugar Smoke" - in fact I found many things which will make wonderful festive gifts, but I decided that nothing could be as simple to make, nor impressive to receive as a jar of these Boozy Peaches.

Diana's original recipe uses apricots soaked in muscat, but I used what I had - a bag of dried peaches and a bottle of dessert wine.  Really the variables are limitless.  It's just dried fruit packed into a sterilised jar, covered with booze, and then left in a cool, dark place for the fruit to plump up in the alcohol.  According to Diana, these will keep for a very long time, though I defy you to actually do that, and are just perfect for an instant and luxurious dessert.  I'm thinking that chilling these before using them would be a nice touch, and a couple of these with a generous dollop of thick Greek yoghurt would be heavenly.

Not sure yet who is going to be the lucky recipient of this jar as a Christmas prezzie, but I'm willing to take offers.

Boozy Peaches (Peaches in Sticky Wine) Recipe
Ever so slightly adapted from recipe by Diana Henry
from Salt Sugar Smoke

Take a large sterilised jar

Fill jar to approximately 2/3 full with dried peaches
(apricots, plums or pears would all be good alternatives)

 Add one bottle of a sticky dessert wine

Ensure that you have left enough room in the jar for the fruit to plump up.  After a few days add more wine if all the fruit is no longer covered.

Store in a cool, dark place until you are ready to use.

If you would like to get to know Diana Henry a little better, and to see what everyone else has cooked up this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links (who knows, you might even want to join the journey and cook along with us) ...

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Tropical Fruit Christmas Cake

Tropical Fruit Christmas Cake

Every year since I started this blog it's been on my mind to post a Christmas cake recipe but, best laid plans and all of that, some years I just didn't get around to making a cake, other years the cake got made but planning for a blog post was off and somehow posting a Christmas cake recipe in the middle of January just didn't make sense.

This year, with family coming (from near and far) to stay over the Christmas holidays, it's an even bet that my hostessing skills will be called into serious question if I don't produce said cake.  Serendipitously, it's our monthly Pot Luck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs, and I felt sure that at least one of our IHCC chefs would have a Christmas cake recipe I could try.  I was pretty certain that if I looked hard enough Nigella Lawson, Donna Hay, Nigel Slater, Jamie Oliver and our current chef, Diana Henry, would probably all offer something suitable.

As it turned out, the first place I searched was Donna Hay's website, and on finding her Christmas cake recipe, I needed look no further.  Because we celebrate Christmas here in New Zealand in the height of summer, I decided to give my cake more of a tropical vibe than the traditional, rich, dark cake.  I used Donna's recipe as a basic template for quantities of eggs, butter, sugar, flour, etc, but I replaced most of the fruit with more tropically inspired dried fruit.  In keeping with my tropical theme I soaked the fruit in ginger beer instead of sherry, and replaced almonds with macadamia nuts.  I also added some rose water, orange flower water, and almond extract to the soaking liquid, as well as adding some ground ginger and nutmeg in with the spices.

I'd love to show you a slice of this cake and tell you how it tastes, but what you see in the picture is the cake straight out of the oven.  It has several hours of cooling in the tin ahead of it, before it could be sliced, and anyway, you know that it's bad luck to cut the cake before Christmas.  Of course, there's always a few spoonfuls of the mixture that don't make it into the cake tin, and if what I tasted out of the bowl is anything to go by we are in for a wonderful cake.

I think this cake will be delightful as it is, without any further adornment, but if you like to go the whole marzipan and royal icing route that would be great too.  Personally, I'm thinking that Christmas Eve this cake will get a liberal blanket of a white chocolate, ginger and cream cheese frosting - what do you think?

Tropical Fruit Christmas Cake 2

Tropical Fruit Christmas Cake Recipe
Inspired by this recipe from Donna Hay

1.1 kg (2-1/2 lb) mixed dried fruit
(I used a combination of jumbo raisins, cherries, mixed peel, apricots, pineapple, figs, prunes and rock melon)
100g (3-1/2 oz) macadamia nuts
300 ml (1-1/4 cups) ginger beer
2 tablespoons rose water
2 tablespoons orange flower water
1 tablespoon almond extract
300g (10-1/2 oz) butter, room temperature
220g (7-3/4 oz) soft brown sugar
2x vanilla beans
4x eggs
375g (13 oz) plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, ground ginger, mixed spice & nutmeg
1/4 cup ginger beer, extra

Place all the mixed fruit and nuts into a large bowl, cutting larger pieces of fruit as you go - I cut everything into pieces about the size of the cherries.  Pour the first measure of ginger beer over the fruit, along with the rose water, orange flower water and almond extract.  Mix everything together well, cover bowl with a clean tea towel, and place in a cool, dark place to soak for 24 hours.  Give it a stir occasionally if you think of it.

Preheat oven to 140 degrees C (275 degrees F).  Grease a 20cm (8 inch) square cake tin, and line with two layers of non-stick baking paper, greasing each layer of paper as you go.

Place butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Split the vanilla beans lengthwise down the middle and scrape out the seeds, adding the seeds to the butter and brown sugar.  Set the machine running, and beat the mixture for 5 to 8 minutes, until light and creamy.  Add the eggs to the mixture, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Sift together flour, baking soda and spices.  Add to the soaked fruit, and stir well to ensure that all the fruit is well coated with the flour.  Lastly add the butter and sugar mixture, and stir until everything is well combined.

Spoon the mixture into the tin (reserving a couple of good spoonfuls for the cook), smooth the top, and place in the preheated oven.  Bake for 2 hours 25 minutes to 2 hours 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean - I'd suggest you start testing after 2 hours 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven, and brush the top of the cake liberally with the extra ginger beer while still warm.  Allow to cool in the tin completely before removing and wrapping well in plastic wrap to store.  Should keep for at least four weeks.

If you would like to get to know Donna Hay a little better, or any of our other IHCC chefs, and to see what everyone else has cooked up this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links (who knows, you might even want to join the journey and cook along with us) ...

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Kalamata Olive & Oregano Loaf

Kalamata Olive & Oregano Loaf 3

Since becoming a member of Secret Recipe Club*, I've discovered some great, previously unknown to me blogs, and one blog which became a firm favourite right from the start was Karen's Kitchen Stories.

Karen lives in Southern California;  works in recruitment and teaches part time;  has two grown children and two grandchildren;  and has an obsession with baking bread - sourdough in particular - which is immediately obvious when you visit her blog.

Karen's recipe index (and hats off that she actually has one, which in itself elevates her blog to "favourite" status in my books) boasts no less than 182 recipes under the heading "Bread, Flatbread, Yeasted Crackers, and Rolls" - yes, I did actually count them, which may or may not speak volumes about my own obsessiveness.  Put together the recipes under the headings of "Cakes & Cheesecakes", "Cookies, Brownies & Bars",  and "Cupcakes & Muffins", and I'm pretty sure you would find another 180 recipes.  Clearly this woman is a baking Goliath.

Since I am most definitely not, as I have told you before many times, a proficient baker, when I was assigned to Karen's blog for this month's SRC reveal I was both thrilled (a challenge is always exciting) and terrified in equal measure.

Although I don't have a particularly deft touch for making bread, having a go at making sourdough is one of those things which has been on my cooking challenge bucket list for a long time.  There's no question that if making sourdough bread (or any kind of bread) is on your path, Karen's blog would be a fantastic place to start, and within a couple of hours of getting my assignment I'd bookmarked several recipes that I thought would make the shortlist:  No Knead Chocolate Cherry Pecan Bread, Golden Raisin and Fennel Sourdough Pocket Bread, San Francisco Sourdough Bread, and Sourdough Rosemary Bread with Olive Oil.

The only problem is that making sourdough bread requires a certain amount of planning, and with a whole lot of other life stuff getting in the way around our house at the moment, the requisite planning to produce these wonderful breads just hasn't been there.  And then salvation presented itself under the heading of "Quickbreads" - definitely a little better suited to my lifestyle at the moment, although I'm still promising myself that when life slows down a little I will be trying my hand at one of those sourdough loaves.

Kalamata Olive & Oregano Loaf 1

The recipe for Kalamata Olive & Oregano Mini Loaves just about leapt out of the screen at me.  I didn't have any of the cute little mini loaf tins that Karen does, but the recipe did provide for preparing one large loaf as an alternative.  I could do that.  I also happened to have all the ingredients required on hand - except for buttermilk, which can easily enough be made at home by mixing one cup of milk with a tablespoon of lemon juice and letting it stand for 10 minutes.

Karen's original recipe included an onion, lightly sauteed in olive oil before mixing into the batter, which I omitted as I'm just not a huge fan of onions and especially not in baked goods.  Other than that I pretty much followed the recipe exactly.

This loaf has a wonderfully light and moist texture, and the brininess of the olives really shines here.  This is definitely a loaf I would make again.  It is so bursting with flavour that it actually needs no accompaniment, but it would nevertheless be a great "bread" to include with an antipasto platter, or to serve alongside your favourite soup.  I would definitely make this again, and I think a sprinkling of Parmesan over the top might be a nice change-up too.

Kalamata Olive & Oregano Loaf 2

Kalamata Olive & Oregano Loaf Recipe
from Karen's Kitchen Stories

198g (7 oz) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
30g (1 oz) butter, melted
2x large eggs
1 cup pitted and chopped kalamata olives
large handful fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped plus extra for sprinkling on loaves

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F).  Grease and flour a 22cm x 12cm (9 in x 5in) loaf tin.

Sift together flour and baking soda into a large bowl, and mix in the salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, melted butter and eggs.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients.  Pour the buttermilk mixture into the well and stir until only just combined.  Fold in the olives and oregano.

Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and sprinkle the tops with more chopped oregano.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes in the tin before transferring to a cooling rack and serving.

*  So what's this Secret Recipe Club I've been talking about?  The club has over a hundred members, divided into four groups, and each month one member is assigned (in secret) to another member from their group.  That person then selects a recipe (or more) to make, photograph, and prepare a blog post - all in secret.  Then everyone in the group posts their recipe on the same day, and of course the secret is then out.  It's a always a thrill to find out who has posted something from your own blog, and to meet and discover some new blogs.   If you are a food blogger and interested in joining the Secret Recipe Club, be sure to check out the Join SRC page.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I did, and visit the links below to check out all the other great dishes my Secret Recipe Club friends made.