Saturday, January 22, 2011

Super-easy blood plum and mascarpone tart

Some days you just couldn't be bothered.  Maybe you don't have two days to devote to making the perfect ice cream.  Maybe you're tired and it's hot and you really just want to sleep in.  Possibly you have an ironing pile the size of Mt Everest and you've completely run out of clothing.  It could be a combination of all of the above.  Whatever the reason, it's great to have a super-easy "go to" dessert in your repertoire that you can whip up with very little effort but which hits the spot, sweet-wise.  This is such a recipe.

With stone fruit and berries in season at the moment, it's the perfect time for a fruit tart.  But, honestly, who has time to fiddle around with pastry?  If you are feeling super-duper lazy, you could start with a frozen shortcrust pastry base - these are readily accessible in the freezer section of your supermarket, and make for a really easy dessert (there is absolutely nothing wrong with this and I do it myself).  All you have to do is blind-bake the cases once they thaw, fill them with sweetened whipped cream and top with berries or nectarines.  Gold.

In this case, I wanted something easy but which involved a manageable amount of cooking.  I was taking the tart to a dinner party and, when your friends are making the effort to put on a Moroccan feast, it's nice if you've actually put some amount of effort into the dessert.  But not that much effort - I still wanted my afternoon nap!

So that was how this recipe was born.  I have often made crushed biscuit bases for cheesecakes, so I thought I'd use that as the base, and then jazz up the filling by doing half-whipped cream and half-mascarpone.  The blood plums I had bought from the Canberra Farmers' Market that morning were a little bland, believe it or not, so I decided to marinate them in vinegar and sugar for an hour or so, which also gave me a little sweet syrup to drizzle over the top when I served the tart.  Finally, I scattered some blueberries on top for a little colour variation.  The result was delicious, easy and very red-white-and-blue - perfect for Australia Day barbecues if you ask me!

Now, because I was putting the tart together at my friends' place at the last minute - and at the end of a convivial night with a few glasses of wine behind my belt as well - I had a pretty good inkling that I would forget to photograph the end result... and that's exactly what happened.  Luckily, realising in advance that this was the likely outcome, I made a mini-tart at home first.  This was really for two reasons.  Firstly, to photograph for you, dear readers and, secondly, so Mr J could have a taste for his afternoon tea.  You can see though, that you could quite easily convert this recipe to make a number of individual portions if you had six or so scone cutters or egg rings to use as improvised mini tart cases.

So here is the recipe.  Once you realise how easy and versatile this is, it will quickly become a favourite.  Just change the flavourings in the tart base biscuit mix (why not use cinnamon, or orange zest), or add some orange flower water to the whipped cream mix perhaps, or top with whatever fruit is seasonal - make the recipe your own.


Blood plum and mascarpone tart


Crushed biscuit base
-  150 grams arrowroot biscuits (you could also use ginger nuts for a stronger taste, or golliwogs for a chocolate base)
-  60 grams melted butter
-  1 tablespoon lemon zest

-  250 grams mascarpone
-  250 grams whipping cream
-  2 tablespoons icing sugar
-  1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Marinated blood plums
-  6 medium-sized plums, sliced
-  2 tablespoons caster sugar
-  1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (I used blood plum finishing vinegar, but balsamic is great too)

The first thing you need to get done is the biscuit base of your tart.   Start by preheating the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.  Now, grab your arrowroot biscuits and break them up into your food processor.  Whizz until they become crumbs, then add in your melted butter and lemon zest and whizz briefly until combined.

Now spoon your base mix into your buttered tart case (or cases if you are making individual portions) and use a small tumbler or glass jar to press the mix firmly into the base and sides of the case.

Place into the oven for only around 10 minutes, remove and then leave to cool completely on the bench. When it's completely cool, I recommend storing the base in the fridge until you are ready to fill (and eat) it.

Now, in a bowl with a hand beater or using a Kitchenaid (I love mine and it is worth every penny), whip your cream, icing sugar and vanilla extract.  When it's forming nice peaks, remove it and fold into the mascarpone until just combined.  If you are putting this together later, just pop this in a plastic container in the fridge.

Now, slice your plums, pop them in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar.  Toss until they are coated and then drizzle enough vinegar over the top to coat them nicely.  I happened to have some blood plum vinegar in the cupboard which married nicely with the plums I had, but a good balsamic vinegar will do the trick and will work wonders with the most bland of store-bought strawberries.  Leave to marinate in the fridge for up to an hour.  

Finally, you need to put it all together.  Remove the tart bases carefully from the cases.  Don't worry if they crumble a little - when it's covered with whipped cream and fruit no one will know or care!  Once the case is on it's plate, fill with cream, top with fruit and drizzle with a little of the sugar syrup if you wish and you are ready to go!


Friday, January 21, 2011

Canberra Region Farmers' Market

One of the best parts of moving back to Canberra was discovering that the Farmers' Market had been established (and thrived) in my absence.  My first experience of the market was at 630am on a frosty Canberra winter morning when I was wearing less than adequate shoes.   It was good enough that, despite the frostbite, I returned. This winter I was sure to wear beanies, gloves, thermals and a couple of pairs of socks.  The fresh produce and the direct interaction with the growers/pickers/bottlers/butchers is well worth the early hour and the cold.  Now it's summer, though, and the mornings are light, the air is warm and it's such a delight to go to the markets... even if it does mean giving up my Saturday sleep-in.

Going to the markets every Saturday with Mr J has begun to signal the beginning of the weekend and our little ritual has become so important that the Christmas/Summernats break had really thrown us off our routine.  But now the markets are back open again and all is well (despite the absence of The Pig Man, The Bread Man, The Fish Man and The Chicken Man - come back from wherever you may be holidaying - we miss you!).

As you can see from the pictures, if you go early (around 7ish) the crowds aren't too bad, even in summer.  Don't be put off by the fact that it's all supposed to kick off at 8am... the hard-core market groupies turn up around 6am and those committed folk like us around 7am.  Any later and you risk missing out on stuff or having to line up like lemmings for bagels, bread, seafood and eggs.

We tend to start off with a coffee from our favourite stall where we also buy our beans (which they grind to our specification).  This week we've been enjoying a Cuban variety which has "vanilla undertones", but we picked up a Brazilian bean today which allegedly tastes of chocolate... we shall see!

Then the next stop is usually Anne the Egg Lady.  Anne is lovely, her eggs are the freshest around and Mr J refuses to poach me eggs from any other producer.  She also sells delicious smoked trout, which Mr J will flake over the poached eggs, providing just the right amount of salty sharpness to cut through the creamy texture of the eggs.  I like her mushrooms too, but most of all I like Anne.  She's the most cheerful person I've ever met on a freezing winter morning at 630am!

We also love garlic.  Most of our dinners start with butter, garlic and onion.  Or just butter and garlic.  Both Mr J and I have LOVED the fresh garlic season, which has sadly come to an end.  There is nothing better than fresh garlic, pulled soft and sweet from early spring gardens ready to go straight into a pot.  Yum!  Now that most of the local garlic has started to dry, we've switched to buying plaited strands of garlic, ready for the rest of the year (Mum and Uncle Chip both got some for xmas/birthdays).  One supplier we met today had also harvested the seed pods from the top of his garlic plants, which he let us taste.  They have all the garlicky punch of the dried cloves, but with a hint of the sweetness of fresh spring garlic.  What a find!  He'd thrown some of the seeds into a wholemeal loaf of bread, which he had out for tasting and it was amazing.

 One of the most interesting thing at the markets,  other than the delicious produce, is the proliferation of granny trolleys.  You know, the large bags on wheels you used to see only little old ladies trundling around on their way up to the shops.  They are the trendiest must-have at the markets and come in an amazing array of colours.  Ours - a bright red - often seems quite boring by comparison.  Just watch your toes, as people meandering about, their eyes still gummed up with sleep, often run their trolleys over unsuspecting feet!

With Mr J's focus on breakfast, and tummies already grumbling from all the delicious food we've just smelled, stared longly at and (inevitably) bought, we usually rush home from the markets intent on breakfast.  Sometimes it's the poached eggs and smoked trout from Anne the Egg Lady and sometimes its my homemade granola with yoghurt and chopped fresh fruit from the Stone Fruit Man.  Today we kept it simple, brewed up some Cuban coffee in our plunger and toasted some blueberry bagels from the Bagel Man.  Yum!  And the best part is that it's only 830am, and we've still got the rest of the day to relax and ponder what to do with the blood plums and blueberries I just bought...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Truffled broad bean and mushroom soup

Last weekend I had a few friends around to my place for dinner and whipped up some Guinness and Chocolate Ice Cream for dessert.  But to start the meal I decided a small bowl of soup was in order, made with the last of the broad beans in my freezer.

Now, when you have a boyfriend who, along with some of his mates, has a very large organic vegetable patch (this is not a euphemism) you will eventually have to find a use for a large amount of broad beans.  Apparently putting nitrogen in the soil is something broad beans do very well.  I personally think they make a seriously good soup, amongst other things.  They also freeze up nicely.

The resulting soup recipe originally came about at the height of broad bean season and was a hit at a birthday dinner I put on not long ago.  But it was a new and improved version of the recipe debuted at this weekend's dinner party, which was greatly improved through the addition of some Swiss Brown mushrooms.  I served it in a few of my (formerly) unused and neglected ramekins with a small crouton with a smear of duck pate on the side.

Truffled broad bean and mushroom soup

- 1 1/2 cups broad beans (taken out of the pods so they look like Jack's giant beans)
- 4 cups vegetable stock (tetra packs are just fine)
- 1 large spring/new onion (or a brown onion but the spring onions are sweeter)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms (Swiss Brown if you have them, but no worries if not)
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and chives
- 2 tablespoons butter (I love salted, but whatever floats your boat)
- 1 tablespoon truffle sauce (see picture below)
- 1/2 cup white wine
-  salt to taste

This stuff is the secret ingredient for this soup.  It's an okay cream of broad bean soup without it, but with the truffle sauce, this is amazingly good.  You can get this "special sauce" - which I think of as a mushroom-and-truffle mush - from Essential Ingredient.  Alternatively, just drizzle in some truffle oil just before serving this tasty dish.

So, to start.  Throw your broad beans, whether frozen or fresh, into a saucepan of boiling water and leave them there until they start to look "pruney" like your fingers after a long bath.  Drain them in a colander and run them under cold water to stop the cooking process and make them easier to pull out of their bitter outer skin.  Put on a nice movie or a TV show where you can see it (this is a bit of a boring task) and then pull the inner, sweet green beans out of the darker, greyish shell.  Throw away the outer shells and get working on the base of the soup.

Dice your onion (onions plural if they are smaller) and garlic - I really like the freshly harvested "spring" onions that are on sale at the markets at the moment.  These are the ones that haven't dried out in storage and come attached to their green stalks (which you can happily chop up and add along with the juice, fresh onion).  Now, melt your butter in the bottom of a large saucepan and then throw the onion and garlic in to soften.  When they start to look translucent - but before they start browning - pop in your sliced mushrooms and stir while all the ingredients cook down and the mushrooms start to shrink a little bit.   Add your broad beans until warmed through and, finally, your chopped herbs.   Throw in the white wine on top and stir while it steams and bubbles and then settles down into an even simmer.

Pour your stock on top and let this base simmer until it has reduced by about a third.  At this point, allow the soup to cool a little and then blend it with a Bamix (stick blender) until it is smooth and creamy.  Then, when you are ready to serve, heat up again and add your cream, the truffle mush (ahem, sauce) and salt to taste (truffle salt, if you have it.  I'm not joking, this stuff is the bomb).  Serve immediately.

The recipe as described serves 8 if the portion size is small (a small coffee cup-sized portion) or 4 for a more substantial starter.   If you have a ravenous appetite after a hard day slaving over broad beans at the organic vegetable patch, then I would suggest this would serve 2 with thick slices of crusty bread on the side.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Guinness and Chocolate Ice Cream

After the success of the cinnamon and plum swirl ice cream, I decided it was time to get more adventurous with my ice cream maker.  Having spent a lot of time on David Lebovitz's wonderful food blog ( I discovered references to his Guinness-Milk Chocolate Ice Cream from his cookbook "The Perfect Scoop" (Dear Santa, please bring me a copy some day).  This guy has a seriously kookie approach to ice cream flavours, but what genius!  Caramelised bacon ice cream, for example.  It sounds so wrong it's right.

Given the recent interest by Mr J in the stouts and porters from our local micro-brewed beer store - Plonk - I figured a Guinness and chocolate ice cream would go down very well with the significant other.  And, as fate would have it, an appropriate occasion came along, as I was having a gaggle of friends around for dinner, so I whipped Snowy's (the ice cream maker) base in the freezer and began my plotting.

Unfortunately for the original recipe, the day I went to the shops to buy the ingredients I had just undergone a particularly painful visit to the dentist and so was not in the right frame of mind to be trawling the supermarket (the lower portion of my face was completely numb, and I was trying not to drool in public).  As a result, I missed half the ingredients and I needed to adapt the recipe somewhat to take account of what I had in the (newly organised) pantry.  As a result, the ice cream went from milk chocolate to a mix of milk-and-dark.  I had some 70 per cent Lindt and interspersed it with the last of my easter chocolate eggs from last year, which had miraculously survived untouched in my liquor cabinet (hurrah)!  I also substituted normal sugar for brown sugar, to enhance the caramel undertones to the dish.  And, as I made the custard with the milk and cream over the heat - not including the cream in the end with the cooling chocolate mix - I ended up adding another 1/2 cup of cream.   All of this is included in the recipe below.

The result was a much richer, darker more bitter flavour which I think perfectly suits the Guinness, and I served it with a shot of Young's Double Chocolate Stout (yes, it is an actual flavour) from Plonk.  It's brewed in the UK and, according to Mr J, tastes like a "milkshake in a beer bottle".  It is rather tasty and has really brought me over to stout.  Yum!  And it comes in a pretty bottle too... alas, I am still rather shallow in my beer selection.

Guinness & Chocolate Ice Cream

-  7 ounces mixed milk and dark chocolate (finely chopped)
-  1 cup full cream milk
-  1/2 cup brown sugar
-  4 egg yolks
-  1 1/2 cups thickened cream
-  3/4 cup Guinness
-  pinch of salt
-  1 teaspoon vanilla extract

I started by chopping up the chocolate finely and popping it into a large mixing bowl.  You'll be pouring the hot custard (through a sieve) onto this later, and then melting it into the mix, so the bowl needs to be quite large.

In a smaller bowl, separate the egg yolks and beat them with a whisk.  Now, everything is prepared, you can start making the custard base.

On the stove, pop your milk, 1 cup of the thickened cream and the brown sugar in a saucepan and mix on a medium heat until it's warm (but not boiling).  Then, bit-by-bit, gradually empty it into the bowl with the egg yolks - whisk it continually as you gradually pour this in, then pop it back into the saucepan.  Set it back on the heat until it thickens and clings to the back of your spoon.

Now, pour the custard through the sieve into the chocolate bowl - this eliminates any chunky bits that may have developed in your custard (happens to the best of us).  Stir until the custard has melted all the chocolate and it looks like the waterfall in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  Resist the temptation to begin drinking the liquid deliciousness.  Add in the last 1/2 cup of cream and stir until combined.

Cover the bowl with cling film and (when it's cooled off a little bit) pop it in the fridge overnight to cool.  In order to ensure you get the best possible results, you need to let this cool completely - like a giant chocolate milkshake.

The next morning, get the ice cream maker base out of the freezer, set up your churner and pour your (chilled) chocolate custard in.  This mix, I think due to the alcohol content, didn't churn into a particularly set mix.  It was more like half-melted soft serve, but persevere!  I popped it into a plastic container, stuck it in the fridge for about 6 hours and it - was - AMAZING!  Thank you, David Lebovitz.  This recipe will definitely be a repeat offender.  It's dark, rich and subtle with just the undertone of stout.  Beautiful.

I served a single scoop with blue berries and a side shot of matching stout.  It received rave reviews from both Mr J and the other dinner guests.