Saturday, April 30, 2011

Coffee, Tea, Sweets and Treats

In the haziness of my jet lag, I find myself thinking longingly of the many pep-me-up sweets and treats I have been enjoying over the last two weeks.  Turkey seems to specialise in tea and thick, sweet coffee served with all the sweet side dishes that are a dieter's nightmare.


Wherever you go there are copious glass cups of golden tea, mostly sweetened with crisp, white sugar cubes.  Men sit in their shops, at cafe tables or lounge on walls sipping these warming glasses of chay.  An alternative to chay is Turkish coffee, ground fine and boiled (with or without sugar and musky shards of gum mastic) in copper jugs on stove tops across the country, and then served in delicate espresso-sized demi cups.   It is the most amazing energy hit you will ever come across.  And just now I am thinking rather longingly of a fragrant cup of this viscous drink, because my head feels like it's full of cotton wool and candy floss.



In addition to tea and coffee, Turks also have a huge variety of sweet dishes that make perfect accompaniments to their warming beverages.  Number one has to be the delicately flavoured Turkish delight, morsels of jelly shrouded in powdered sugar and studded with hazelnuts, pistachios or almonds.  These come in piles of cubes, long tubes or huge cones, and have as many flavours as you could possibly imagine.  My favourites include pomegranate & pistachio, and rose water with hazelnuts.  The carrot and apricot rolled in shaved coconut also ain't bad.




Next stop on the sugar hit express has to be baklava - a sweet symphony of crispy filo pastry, crushed nuts and silky rose-water flavoured syrups.  Some are diamond shaped, some come in cigar rolls, others look like bird's nests with pistachios nestling in their crunchy centres.  All are delicious.


My next favourite treat, were the most amazing honey donuts I have ever eaten.  I discovered them while eating a wharf-side local version of a fish burger by the harbour in Istanbul.  I am not even sure what these are called, but they are absolutely delicious.  They have the consistency of crisp churros, soaked in honey syrup and served with crushed pistachios sprinkled over the top.  They are the perfect ending to the fried fish sandwich doused in tart lemon juice and salt.



I also got to try a rather more authentic version of my Turkish rice pudding - I think I got the flavours right, just need to refridgerate it a little more before I serve it in future.  


And just one last footnote... pomegranate juice, crushed in an old fashioned orange juicer.  A stunning colour, with a tartness that is the ideal method clearing the sweetness from your palate when you finish your baklava, Turkish delight or rice pudding.  Highly recommended.  


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Turkish Rose Water Rice Pudding

It's been a lovely sunny weekend and I've been running around like a crazy lady trying to get ready for a trip to Turkey.  For those of you who read my blog (firstly, many thanks), that means that I am probably going to go a little quiet on Four Figs for the next two weeks.  On the upside, I will hopefully be coming back with many wonderful Turkish-food-related posts and photos to share with you.


In preparation for my departure, I decided to cook something inspired by the country I will shortly be visiting, and so I dusted off my favourite Middle Eastern cookbook, Claudia Roden's excellent "Arabesque", covering Moroccan, Lebanese and Turkish cuisine.  I've cooked an awful lot of tagine and bastilla from this delightful tome, but this time I decided on something a little sweeter.  I settled on a delicious and frankly super simple Turkish dessert, which also happens to be a new (for me) take on one of my old favourites - the rice pudding.


This, like the potato gratin in last week's post, is a lovely comfort food dish for chilly autumn nights.  I would normally use some nutmeg on top to finish but the rose water really adds a special something to the pudding.  It also features a crisp caramel topping, melted under the grill, and my own addition of some roasted slivered almonds over the top to give it a little crunch and texture.  I also reduced the amount of milk and eggs, as I based the dish on the ingredients left in my fridge. All in all, this is one more Roden recipe that is going onto high rotation in the Four Figs house.


Turkish Rose Water Rice Pudding

- 150 grams short grain rice (I used arborio, again it was all that I had in the house)
- 350 ml water
- 500 ml full cream milk
- 150 g white sugar
- 1 tablespoon rose water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste, which I prefer because you get lots of nice flecks of vanilla bean in the dish)
- 2 egg yolks, beaten
- 4 tablespoons caster sugar
- 80 grams slivered almonds, roasted

Place the rice in a large saucepan and add the water.  Bring to the boil and then allow to simmer until the water is absorbed, stirring to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.



Next, add the milk and simmer on a very low heat until it is absorbed and the rice soft, but there is still a little bit of liquid in the pan.  Don't forget to stir so it doesn't stick.  Now add in the white sugar and vanilla and stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Turn off the heat and add the rose water and mix in.

In a small separate bowl place a small amount of the hot rice, then beat in the egg yolks.  Finally, add this   to the pot of rice and stir until the mixture thickens.  Pour it into a heatproof baking dish and, when it's cooled a little, pop it into the fridge until the rice pudding is completely cold.


When the dish is cold, sprinkle the caster sugar over the top and place the baking dish under an open grill.  It will bubble, melt and eventually turn into a lovely crisp, golden caramel topping.  While I left the dish to cool, I sprinkled slivered roasted almonds on top.  As the caramel hardened, the almond turned into a delicious brittle on top and added a wonderfully crunchy texture to the dessert.  Finally, I put the pudding into the fridge to chill, and served it cold.

This creamy, sweet and musky pudding had a fantastic mix of tastes and textures, and comes highly recommended.  For the next two weeks - cook, bake and enjoy!  And bon voyage.



Saturday, April 9, 2011

Blue Cheese Potato Gratin

When the nights are turning chilly and the leaves are falling from the trees, it's time to bring out those comfort-food dishes that are a delight to share with friends over a glass of vino.  For me, potato gratin is an old favourite.  It has all the (naughty) things I love to eat in one dish; potatoes, cream and cheese.  What's not to like? Unless you are on a diet of course.

Saturday morning started off with an autumn fog and an early start - I headed off to the farmers' market, hopeful that the Potato Man would be there with his delicious Dutch Cream potatoes, and he didn't disappoint.  Rather excitingly, he also informed me that it was harvest time and next week he'd be back with a whole lot of new varieties to try.  So there is no doubt that potatoes are likely to feature throughout autumn and winter on Four Figs.  He highly recommended the Pink Eye potato for roasting - I can't wait to try it out.



Now, potato gratin can come across as a little plain, so sometimes it's good to mix it up a little and give the old classic some variety.  Usually when I am feeling creative, I will add mushrooms and truffle salt (yes, I am obsessed with truffle everything).  But this time I was inspired by the Cheese Man at the markets, who - while taciturn - had the most deliciously gooey blue cheese on display this morning.


I couldn't resist putting a new spin on my favourite gratin by adding some of this deliciousness to what was already a hugely fattening - and hence tasty - dish.  In for a penny, in for a (few) pound(s), after all!  The blue cheese gave the gratin a musky depth of flavour that, while not obvious, really added a certain something to the complexity of what is a pretty straightforward dish.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Blue Cheese Potato Gratin


- 150 grams chopped blue cheese (I chose gooey, but crumbly would also be delicious)
- 250 grams grated cheddar cheese
- 1 kilogram peeled potatoes (I love Dutch Creams, but something that holds its shape well is important)
- 600 ml thickened cream
- 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
- a pinch of salt

I started by peeling and then washing my potatoes, which were wonderfully crusted with fresh earth when I bought them from the potato man this morning.  I love my ceramic peeler - it is much easier to use than a regular peeler and stays sharp much longer, so beware your fingers if you slip! I have lost a lot of skin off my knuckles over the years.


When the potatoes are peeled and clean, I plopped them into room temperature water in a large saucepan and cooked them for about 30 minutes.  Test them to make sure they are both cooked before you take them off the hob.  You want them cooked but not overcooked and soft - they should hold their shape when you cut them.  The cooking time will vary depending on the size and type of potato you use, so keep an eye on them and test them with a knife periodically.  When they were done I emptied the steaming potatoes out into a colander and rinsed them under cold water to stop the cooking process.   Set them aside to cool.



Next, preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius (gosh dang it, I used fan forced, so sue me).  While that's heating up, empty the cream into a jug and mix through the crushed garlic and a pinch of salt.   Set aside.  Then grate the cheddar cheese in one bowl, and dice or crumble your blue cheese into another bowl depending on its texture.  (Warning: gratuitous cheese photos follow.)



When all your other ingredients are ready, slice your potatoes lengthwise to around a 5 millimetre thickness.  Lay them out overlapping in the base of your baking dish.  When you have a single overlapping layer of yummy potatoes, pour half your cream over the potatoes and then sprinkle half your grated cheddar over the top.


Next, sprinkle all your blue cheese over the top of that, and try not to think about how bad this dish is for both your arteries and your hips.



Now, add another layer of sliced potatoes over the top and all the rest of the cheddar cheese, followed by all the rest of your cream.

Ordinarily, minus the blue cheese, I would add a final sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg, but in this case it would be a little too much given the smokey undertones of the blue.  But if you decide to ditch the two types of cheese, just use the same amount of cheddar as specified in this recipe, and sprinkle away with the nutmeg - it really adds a great twist to the dish.

Finally, pop it in the oven for approximately 30 minutes.  Keep an eye on the dish.  You want the cream to bubble, caramelise and reduce down, and the cheese on top to brown, but don't let the top burn.  The potatoes are already cooked, so you don't have to stress too much about that - the oven baking is really about making the cream bubble and the cheese brown.  That's the key.



When you are happy with the level of cheesiness on top, take it out and let it cool just a little.  You want it to solidify just a bit before you either slice or spoon it out.  It just doesn't get better than potato gratin on a cold night.  And try not to think about the cream!


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Roast Duck Maryland with Figs


It was Friday night and, after a brief foray at post-work drinks (aka the meat market), I escaped the press of suit-clad public servants getting noisily hammered at Realm, and went home for a night of cooking with my Mum.  Mr M joined us with a couple of very lovely bottles of wine, and one of the most the deliciously spontaneous Friday nights of recent times ensured.

My mother has a wonderful butcher next to her office at the Mawson Shops, and she had very thoughtfully brought over some meat for my freezer while I was at work.  She also happened to buy four figs, one for each of the duck marylands she also left in my fridge.  It just seemed to make sense that we'd meet for a catch up over the roasting of the aforementioned duck and figs... and a glass of wine (or two, or more).


Roast Duck with Figs

-  4 duck marylands (these have both the leg and the breast attached, and the skin on)
-  2 tablespoons salt (I like Maldon salt)
-  2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
-  2 tablespoons ground juniper berries
-  1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
-  1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds
-  4 tablespoons olive oil
-  4 figs (sliced in half)
-  3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (I used blood plum vinegar, but it's more difficult to find that the balsamic vinegar)

Fig sauce
-  2 cups chicken stock
-  2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
-  6 large dried figs or 10 small dried figs
-  salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius.  Place the marylands skin-side up in a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with a half tablespoon of salt on each.  Mix the ground spices together and then sprinkle an equal part of the mix on each maryland (but save some for the figs).  Finally place the figs, open side down, in between the duck pieces and drizzle with a small amount of the vinegar  and a sprinkle of the spice mix over each.


When the oven is good and hot, pop the baking tray in.  Leave for approximately 30-40 minutes, until the skin on top is golden and crisp.  Some people may like their duck more pink, so that would require around 20-25 minutes in the oven, I should think.

While the duck is baking, it's time to make the sauce.   Place the stock, Grand Marnier and figs on the stove top in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil and then reduce until the sauce is thick and viscous.  Remove from the heat and cover.

Now, when the duck is ready remove from the oven and place the duck and figs onto a platter and cover with foil to rest while you finish the sauce.  Pop the saucepan back on the hob, and bring to a simmer again.  Add a small amount of the pan juices from the duck baking tray.  This should add colour and flavour to the sauce.  Taste and then add salt if necessary. Now, strain into a sauce boat or jug, so you get the dried figs out of the mix.


Next, plate up the duck with the figs and steamed green beans (at least that's what we served with it).  If you want it to be less salty, brush the salt from the top of the marylands before plating up. I would also suggest serving the duck with mashed potatoes, but I am a big fan of mashed potatoes.  Drizzle the sauce over the top and get stuck in.


Apple Day!




It comes but once a year, when the leaves are changing their colours and the orchards are heavy with shiny, red fruit - Apple Day!  Lothlorien Orchard's annual celebration of the apple harvest was this held this weekend and a group of us ventured out beyond the rural village of Hall to the Lothlorien farm simply to gorge ourselves on freshly pressed apple juice, crepes with apple sauce and cinnamon sugar and steak sandwiches topped with tomato & apple relish.  We also might have purchased as many apple pies as we could carry.




I love Apple Day, I love the paper bags decorated by the farmer's kids, I love the amateur choirs and musical groups performing in the farmhouse's backyard and I adore the toffee apples wrapped in waxed baking paper and tied with twine.  What's not to love about enjoying one of Canberra's wonderful autumn days with your friends and a whole lot of local producers?  So make sure you get along next year!