Of Mince Pies & Christmas Crackers

xmas table

As far back as I can remember we have celebrated Christmas in pretty typical Anglo fashion. When we lived in the UK, on Xmas morning, the stockings we put out would be filled not only with smaller gifts, but also oranges and nuts, lunch was roast turkey and pork with all the trimmings (but I recall boiled bacon and pease pudding was served before we adopted the Turkey tradition) and the table wouldn’t have been complete without Christmas Crackers. Of course dessert was always a flaming Xmas pudding served with brandy butter. Other traditions our family subscribed to apart from the Queens speech, included the exotic addition of a fresh pineapple, obligatory bowls of nuts ready to be cracked (only ever Brazils, Hazel and Walnuts) trays of dried dates, crystalised and glace citrus and always, but always, trays and trays of mince pies dusted with a “snow” like layer of icing sugar.

mince pies 5Over the years, many of our family “traditions” like all traditions, have morphed and changed. Once in Australia Xmas stockings became pillow cases, fruit and nuts became lollies, lunch became dinner then dinner became an all day graze (as the turkey and pork took a back seat) and Pavlova joined the pudding table. On the side of the main event, things changed as well, the no longer exotic Pineapple disappeared, thank goodness, the whole cracking nuts thing waned in favour of the ready to eat roasted and salted variety, and sensibly dates and sugared fruits went out in preference to fresh summer fruits like cherries, apricots and mangoes.

But with all these changes, two things have remained constant, Mince Pies and Christmas Crackers. The crackers thing is not surprising, they are as much a symbol of Christmas excess as a present laden tree, but why when everything else has changed did we keep the mince pie tradition? Essentially it was mums “thing”, in fact the more Xmas celebrations changed, the more she embraced her passion for baking and giving away literally thousands of mince pies as Xmas gifts each year for friends and family, and they were universally loved and looked forward to, even by people that had previously professed not to like them.mum - cropped

So what made mum’s pies so popular?, was it the filling, well maybe not, she only ever used “Robertsons” off of the shelf, but she did add copious amounts of brandy, and I mean lots of brandy. Or was it the pastry, no thick, sweet and heavy dough like shop bought long life mutations here, mums pastry was a instead an unsweetened short paste and rolled paper thin. Of course both these elements are important but I think the key ingredient in mums pastry was the love she put into them. I know this is a cliché but I can’t think of another explanation.

The pastry itself though is something mum was famous for amongst family and friends. Passed down by her maternal Nan, it is the only type of pastry she ever made, and it graced everything from blackberry and apple pies through to sausage rolls. Technically it is very similar to an all lard pie crust I like to use, but mum’s recipe differs in two distinct ways, first she used softer self raising flour instead of the plain or bakers I would use and secondly, and critically, the fat she employed (in Australia at least) was “Fairy” pastry margarine.

fruit minceNow this poses a problem for me, I really dislike margarine and prefer to use pure natural fats and for years I tried to make her pastry using only butter, but always without much success. However this year after deciding to honor mum by making her mince pies for the Barossa Farmers Market (albeit with our own fruit mince – see image at right) I decided to give her recipe yet another go with just one amendment and that was to replace margarine with a mixture of butter and lard and hey presto, in a blind tasting I would swear we were eating mum’s pastry.

And I suspect my great grandmother would approve, because by reverting back to butter and lard we have gone full circle, after all margarine was not popularised until the middle of the 20th century and so natural fat would have been the only option when she learnt to make it back in Mrs. Beetons day. So if you feel like getting in the Xmas spirit (or just want a foolproof pastry recipe) why not give the following a try.

 

Mince pies

Pastry (makes 2 doz small pies)

225g                  self raising flour – sifted
35g                    lard
75g                    salted butter – cold in 5mm cubes
35ml                 iced water (approx)

 Method

  • Rub fats into flour gently with fingertips to make a fine crumb
  • Add water and continue to work with fingertips until it starts to come together
  •  Press dough into a flat rectangle, (do not knead)  wrap in plastic film and chill for 20 minutes before using

Mince Pies (to make 2 doz small pies)

1                           recipe pie pastry (above)
350g                    Fruit mince
50ml                    Brandy
2 tablespoons     milk
1ciing sugar to dust

 Method

  • Roll out half the pastry on a floured surface until almost paper thin, using a small (6.5cm) crimped cookie cutter, cut out 24 tops, cover and refrigerate and reserve trimmings separately
  • Roll out remaining pastry to the same thickness as before and using a larger (8cm) plain cutter, cut out 24 bases (you will need to rest and reroll trimmings to achieve the full quantity)
  • Place bases  into small round based patty pan trays pressing into place firmly
  • Mix Brandy and fruit mince and place a heaped teaspoon into the centre of each pie, do not flatten out or push to edges the top will do this for you

mince pies 4

  • Brush lightly the inside of each lid with milk and press milk side down onto the top of each pie sealing around the edges
  • When all pies are filled and covered, brush lightly with remaining milk, prick or cut a small slit in the top of each pie and bake at 170c until golden brownmince pies 3v

Remove from the oven and dust immediately with icing sugar. Enjoy while still warm or cool and store in an airtight container for up to a week if you have strong will power and please don’t refrigerate!

mince pies

Lemon tree very pretty

lemon tree 1

Like almost everyone else, for years I associated vibrantly bright citrus fruits with summer, maybe it’s the association with sunny places like Valencia, Sicily or Morocco or perhaps the memory of lemony ice blocks and cool drinks on hot days,  lemon meringue pie on the picnic table and of course wedges of lemon with shellfish and summer seafood , but I hadn’t make the connection  that summer citrus fruits are the exception rather than the norm.

By contrast, with winter now here in Southern Australia, it is truly the best time of year for this family of fruits. One of the great things they bring to the table is the splash of bright colour and zingy flavor that seems to say “sunny days”. This is especially so as the days get cooler, skies become more grey and winter food as always, gets heavier and dare I say becomes a study in brown!

A great example of this seasonal bounty are the citrus trees in our little garden. The limes are just about over but still hanging in there, now in their “golden” stage , more yellow than green but at their most fragrant and sweet. We have also started to harvest the first of our old fashioned Navel oranges, even if they are still little sour at the moment, and coming on very soon after will be a terrific crop of mandarins that are, as yet, still pretty green, but it is the lemons I am most excited about.

This year has been a bumper season for lemons and even our dwarf Eureka lemon has put on a show. In fact everyone seems to have lemons to give away right now and we have many more than we need for immediate use. Of course finding uses for fresh lemons is not difficult, our featherlight lemon tart is definitely on the agenda as are sweet preserves like lemon curd and marmalade and  some lemon syrup will be great addition to have on hand for summer cocktails.

preserved lemons

But, there are also savoury preserving options. Right along the ancient spice trail from Morocco to Indian lemons and limes are preserved for future use. Pickling is popular in India, with spicy lime or lemon pickle a popular condiment, dried limes or Loomi are very common in the Gulf States and through to Iran, where they provide an astringent, sour and slightly bitter, powdered seasoning, but by far and away the best known preserved citrus has to be the salted lemons or “Msir” of Morocco.

Simply packed in salt this really is the easiest and most foolproof way to preserve lemons. Once ready the fruit pulp will have turned into a jell like paste. This pulp is most often discarded, along with the white pith so that only the skin or zest is consumed so because of this, juicy thin skinned lemons are best suited for this process. Importantly the pickling or salting process transforms the numbing quality one finds in raw zest, instead leaving behind almost artificial fragrant and intense lemony flavours.

lemon 3

Having these on hand is one thing but knowing how to best use them is another. They are fantastic shredded and stirred though warmed cracked green olives as an hors d’oeuvres or used as a late addition to freshen up a long braised tajine, they add a great piquancy and zing to a simple roasted chook and their flavours play off beautifully against sweet roasted red peppers and fresh green herbs in a simple salad, and for me, this alone is a perfect reason to put some of these winter preserves away for a (not so) sunny day.

Pickled Lemons

5 lemons
5 tablespoons sea salt
125ml lemon juice

Method

  • Wash lemons well and cut into quarters lengthwise without quite cutting through so that the lemon remains in one piece joined at the stem end.

lemon 4

  • Sprinkle inside the lemons well with salt and pack tightly into a preserving jar adding remaining salt between layers.

lemon 2

  • Fill jar with lemon juice and seal, place jars in a warm place for about 4 weeks turning jars occasionally

lemon 1

 

 

 

 

Kale…FFS……its just ancient cabbage …..

To be honest I have had it with the mania surrounding Kale, not that I don’t like the stuff, it has its place, but talk about over exposed and over hyped. Seriously does anyone really “love” the taste of Kale juice or think that shredded kale in a salad is “amazing” and don’t get me started on Kale chips…..

Sure it has really healthy properties, and can taste pretty good when cooked correctly, but these simple “headless” members of the cabbage family are punching way above their weight right now and I have no doubt that down the track this “healthy trend” will be consigned to the “loony fad” bin along with pet rocks, cabbage patch kids and hopefully cold drip coffee but that’s another rant!

yummy kale juice

So this week when the “latest” Kale phenomenon “Kalettes” hit the media with a fanfare, enough was enough. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3088556/Meet-Kalette-hottest-new-vegetable-hybrid-hitting-Australia-mash-trendy-Kale-BRUSSEL-SPROUTS.html So now we have a new hybrid that apparently took the Northern hemisphere by storm last year so now of course its our turn. In reality of course this “new vegetable” is just another branch among many in the Brassica family.

Maybe it’s best to get a few things straight about Kale. Firstly all members of this genus started life from a humble wild cabbage or Colewort as is was known historically, and over the past 3000 or so years we have seen this “weed” (for that’s what wort means) gradually “improved” to develop the vegetables we know today that include: Cauliflower (Cole-i-flower) Broccoli (Broc-cole-i) Collard greens (Cole-ard) and Borecole (Bor-i-cole) amongst others.

Wild Cabbage

 

Essentially variations of  the English “Col” meaning cabbage or kale  are used similarly in different languages to name members of this family, for example, Col (Spanish) Kool (Dutch) Kohl (German) Kail (Celtic) Kal (Scandinavian) Couve (Portuguese) Cavolo (Italy) and finally Chou (French) and Choy (Chinese). For those interested the following is worth reading http://wordhistories.com/2014/03/24/cabbage-chou/

Now, taken to its logical extension, this “Kalette” hybrid is simply put, Kale, an ancient improvement on Colewort, crossed with Brussels sprouts, one of the more recent cultivars from the same plant with the result a kind of reverse engineering and I’m pretty sure we’ve probably been here before except we didn’t have major seed companies and supermarkets invested in their success.

So what’s my objection to humble Kale?, well its certainly not the vegetable itself, I actually really like it as part of my Dutch mother-in-laws’  “Stamppot” where the Borecole or Curly kale or Boerenkool as she calls it, is cooked with potatoes, mashed and served with rookwurst  (a delicious smoked pork sausage) and with my Irish heritage I am no stranger to it through that stalwart of the Gaelic kitchen, Colcannon (pictured below) which is equally good with pork sausages, chops, crispy belly or maybe its just good with pork full stop.

colcannon

I also remember a stomping great plant that towered over me in our backyard in the UK when I was a little tacker and back then, Kale was a very common veggie patch and allotment staple (think community garden) because it grew like a weed at a time during and post WWII when nutritious vegetables were in short supply, no hint of its rock star status back then, so yes I have had my share of Kale, boiled or steamed with lots of salted butter and white pepper and its fine this way as well.

No, its just that frankly, despite what some may say its not a cure all, its just another cruciferous vegetable, and there is a whole big world of brassica’s out there to choose from, (and that come with a lot less self righteous indignation I might add). No please give me gai lan, bok choy, or a nice small savoy cabbage or heaven help me tiny sweet baby Brussels sprouts that have been grown somewhere nice and frosty (which brings out the sweetness) rather than pander to yet another super food trend.

So in keeping to my rant I post the following recipe for one my favourite cabbage dishes. Not surprisingly for those that know me it is Indian in origin (actually specifically Bengali) but it is comfortingly enough familiar to the western palate to be a great winter food to accompany rich meats like Duck, Goose or even pork . However at risk of being labeled a hypocrite, I need to note that it does contain that other recently lauded “super food” turmeric, except here it is performing its ancient role as a calmative along with the other digestive spices, not only to help make it delicious but to mitigate the potentially sulphurous effects of these leafy greens and definitely not to save the world or make my skin more lustrous, Enjoy!

banda1

Bandhakopir Bhaji

1 tablespoon      sunflower or mustard oil
2 teaspoons       panch phoron
2 teaspoon         turmeric
1 small                green chilli – chopped
1 small                onion – chopped
1 clove                garlic – crushed
1 cm                     ginger – grated
¼                        white cabbage – shredded
2 teaspoons       sugar
1 teaspoon          salt
2 tablespoons   tamarind water

Method

  • Heat oil and fry panch phoron until seeds pop, add turmeric and chilli and fry briefly

banda3

  • Add onion and ginger and cook golden then add garlic and cook briefly until fragrant.

banda2

  • Toss cabbage through, then add all remaining ingredients, cover and cook quickly until cabbage wilts and liquids evaporate

IMG_20150529_145824

I may be colour blind, but I do know what green tastes like!

basket

“Eat the Weeds”……..I’m certainly not the first person to use this phrase, nor to suggest that there is  a bounty of free, nutritious greens growing right under our noses. After all if you have a productive vegetable garden, you need to keep on top of the weeds and instead of spraying them with poison or hoeing them in, if they’re  edible then why not put them on the plate. So as the landscape greens up as winter closes in, many of these emerging and potentially invasive weeds have genuine culinary value. Take the sour sob for example, I would be surprised if most people growing up in South Australia, had not at some time tasted the lemony sourness of this pretty yellow weed. More properly known as Oxalis  or by the fancier moniker of “wood sorrel” I have used its tangy sourness to give “zing” to variations on Salsa Verde and Sauce Gribache, especially with lambs tongue or brawn.

sour sobs

Next on the list of edible “nuisance” plants would have to be the Dandelion. Named in “Old French” for it’s leaves resemblance to a set of lions teeth or “Dente De Lion”, this plant is the root source for all modern chicory, endive and lettuces. Of course anyone that has eaten Dandelions will be familiar with their bitter digestif qualities, and also know that the tender young leaves are by far the best. Unfortunately though, in keeping with the French connection, and supporting its reputation as a diuretic, a salad of these young leaves is known as “Pissenlit” or literally “piss in bed” however in moderation with crispy bacon lardons and a good vinaigrette, they are delicious.

dandelion

But that’s not all, right now there are literally a dozen other common “weeds”that can easily be found or foraged in my garden, from purslane and chick weed, to sow thistle, prickly lettuce and plantain. None of these have ever been intentionally cultivated nor purposely allowed to run to seed, (and just a quick note for chefs, restaurateurs and spin doctors out there, this is what foraged means, it doesn’t refer to things you have planted, or bought from a commercial source) but my all time favourite at this time of year are the really young nettles that are starting to carpet my veggie patch.

pick

Yes we are talking about nasty, evil, stinging nettles, but I genuinely look forward to their emergence each year as they really are a delicious culinary herb,  in fact more a vegetable than a weed. Not only do they clearly have the greenest flavor of all leafy vegetables, but they are packed with vitamins and minerals, almost certainly richer in iron than spinach and higher in protein than cabbage.  At this early stage in their growth, their “stinging ability” is lessened,  and they are tender and pure in flavor when compared with more mature plants, (cooking destroys or neutralizes the formic acid that provides the “sting” anyway, but it is still a good idea to wear gloves to pick them!) Importantly, when young, as part of this delicious risotto, and right now I can think of no better reason to keep on top of the weeds.

Nettle Risotto

200g                   baby nettles – freshly picked
1/2 cup               white wine
3 1/2  cups         chicken stock – well seasoned
150g                    butter
50g                      onion
2 cloves              garlic – crushed
1¼ cups             arborio rice
4 tablespoons   Parmessan cheese – grated

Method

  • place nettles in a bowl and cover with cold water to rinse well, pinch out tips and leaves discarding stems (you should end up with about 120g nettle leaves)
  • sprinkle nettles with salt and cover with boiling water, drain immediately and place in cold salted water, squeeze leaves gently,  chop blanched nettles and reserve

wash, blanch,squeeze

  • Melt half the butter and gently fry the onions without colouring, add garlic and sweat until fragrant but without colour.
  • Add rice and stir through butter and onion mixture for a couple of minutes, rice grains should be coated with oil and appear whiter in colour
  • Add the wine and stir until completely absorbed, then add half the hot stock and cook stirring constantly over a low heat until all the liquid is absorbed
  • Continue to add stock as above one ladleful at a time until all 3/4 of the stock has been used, then stir through the chopped nettles.

stock, nettles, cheese

  • Add final portion of stock and cook until fully absorbed, stir in remaining butter and cheese, cover and keep warm for 10 minutes
  • Serving with a little extra shaved Parmesan cheese.

nettle risotto

In a bit of a pickle …..

 

dead leaves

Our house smells kind of awesome right now, let me explain why….

The weather in our fair valley has turned, autumn seems to have come to a premature halt and it certainly looks and feels like winter out there right now. Of course that means our little vegie patch, along with everyone else’s, has entered that semi dormant state, which means before we can recondition the soil and sow our cover crops and some broad beans and garlic for spring, we need to clear the remnant summer vegetable fruits that are clearly struggling now that the cold snap has bitten. Luckily, we have already eaten most of the eggplants and there were only a few lonely zucchini bravely hanging on, but our tomato plants were still hopeful, holding a couple of kilos of green tomatoes that were never going to get any riper or sweeter.

green-tomatoes-600x400 (2)

 

Being a frugal type I really didn’t want to waste them so we decided to preserve, but following which process. Frankly I am not a fan of green tomato chutney but I do love a good South Indian Style Pickle. As with all recipes there are many variations and methodologies but when it comes to green tomato pickles there are a few main schools of thought. Starting out with pretty much the same ingredients, they are either simply salted and fermented or cured in the sun, but both of those take patience and time. Others fast track the process and involve a little cooking, and the following recipe takes this route.

ingredients

At once salty, sour, bitter, spicy and pungent, these pickles are kind of addictive, but oh so simple. Mustard seed and fenugreek are really the heroes and that’s what’s making the house smell so good, but on the down side as a fresh unfermented pickle they don’t last long, but that’s not going to be a problem. And so as I write this blog, despite the cold weather and drizzle, I have fired up our tandoor for some smoky grilled eggplant, yogurt marinated lamb, naan bread and those delicious green tomato pickles…. Excuse me while I eat!

lamb n naan

Green Tomato Pickles

60ml                           mustard oil
1 tablespoon              black mustard seed
½ teaspoon               asafetida powder
1 teaspoon                 fenugreek – ground
1 tablespoon              Kashmiri chili powder
750g                            green tomatoes – roughly cut in 1cm dice
50 ml                          fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon              salt

Method

  • Heat oil in a stainless steel saucepan until almost smoking, remove from heat and allow to cool, then reheat oil, add mustard seed frying gently until it starts to crackle and pop

mustard seed

  • Add asafetida, fenugreek and chili powder and continue to fry for one minute

sizzling spice

  • Add tomatoes, lime juice and salt and bring to a simmer

green toms

  • Cook for 20 – 30 minutes or until the oil starts to separate then remove from the heat, fill into sterilized jars and seal or place in a storage container and refrigerate until needed

pickle

Note: if not sealed into sterilized jars this pickle is best eaten in between 7– 10 days if covered and stored in the fridge

 

Red Gold – Saffron that is!

saffron crocus

Walking around our garden today in the Autumn drizzle, copper leaves cascading off of our old Pear Tree and the first signs of our saffron Crocus’s sprouting through the soil, reminded me of a time over 30 years ago when we lived albeit briefly on the Herts and Essex border in the UK. This was a really beautiful part of the English country side with narrow winding lanes, ancient villages and quaint thatched pubs dispensing real ale. When we lived there, exploring this countryside was a favourite pastime, and we frequently visited the medieval market town of “Saffron Walden” not quite 20km away. Once home to a major saffron industry, several centuries have passed since this fragrant and colourful little crocus was commercially cultivated there, and today, only the name remains as a reference to its past. However, this all got me thinking about the global trade and history of one of my very favourite spices.

crocus

Of course nowadays, saffron is found in just about every supermarket and gourmet store, readily accessible and affordable for everyday cooks but this hasn’t always been the case. Starting as a wild variety of Crocus, probably in the Eastern Mediterranean, over thousands of years Saffron spread across the old world via the Persians who took it east through to the Indus and on to Kashmir, and also via the sea faring Phoenicians that traded it throughout the “Middle Sea” and up along the Atlantic coastline of Spain to the Celtic coasts of Cornwall, where cakes coloured and flavoured with saffron still exist to this day.

Unfortunately over the years the term “Saffron” has been misused to describe almost anything coloured yellow, and certainly when I started in professional kitchens most things labeled “Saffron” as in  “Saffron Rice”were simply coloured with turmeric (which in itself is not a bad thing because Turmeric is an amazingly healthy spice) but  Turmeric as the root of a tropical lily related to ginger bears no relationship in flavor or fragrance to the delicate but powerful stamen of a tiny crocus and a true “Zaffran Pilau” (saffron rice) remains one of the most fragrant and honest examples of just how delicate but powerful this spice can be.

pilaf

And it is this power and intense purity as a dye that saw it used to colour cloth for the highest and most revered in the land. In a culinary sense it has long been used to impart food with the colour of the sun and is thus pretty much always associated with warm and sunny lands like Morocco, Spain, Provence, Iran and India, and of course, no spice or herb history would be complete without reference to its medicinal qualities with natural practitioners regaling it as a cure for many, many ills.

Suffice to say with all this background, over the years a lot of confusion, misinformation and mythology has sprung up around Saffron and even today urban myth holds that Saffron is worth more than gold, in all actuality given todays bullion price it is actually worth about 1/10 of the precious metal per gram.Still at around $3800 per kilo (wholesale) it is hardly cheap but quality differs enormously.

From the rubbish regaled as finest Spanish which is often 3rd or 4th grade at best, to the dubious stuff which is clearly safflower, marigold or other such rubbish (all of which may colour food, but also leave it with a taste of decidedly manky daisies). Then there is the con played out in spice markets around the world, often involving a little sleight of hand,which I have to admit I fell for in the old town of Kochi (Cochin) in Kerala. Famous for its pepper market and spice traders, we chose to visit one that was so fragrant of Saffron from the street we just had to go in, of course this “Kashmiri Saffron” was a bargain and after checking the quality, I decided that it was too good to pass up. Transaction complete the ever polite proprietor insisted on parceling it up for me and it wasn’t until I opened the package several days later and thousands of kilometers away that I realized that the stuff in my tin was absolute rubbish.

However its not all doom and gloom, Tas-Saff in Tasmania have great quality Australian grown Saffron and even here in SA we have had some commercial harvests, plus we can always grow tiny quantities at home (see above) but most excitingly I have recently discovered an importer of some amazing Iranian saffron marketed under the “Bahraman” brand, and tagged “the red gold of Iran” , this is nothing short of amazing as well as really affordable ( details of suppliers follow) and this is exciting because good quality saffron makes all the difference to so many dishes. Of course this leads to the obvious question of how do I use saffron and then what do I use it for?

zaffran

Firstly, for those not accustomed to using Saffron, always soak the filaments you need in a couple of tablespoons of water for about 20 minutes before adding the liquid and soaked stigmas to the dish. As for favourite recipes, personally I love to braise chicken koftas or thighs in a creamy saffron and almond gravy in the Egyptian way, or use it to make richly fragrant pilaf of rice or mixed grains, of course it is an essential ingredient in Paella and the moors spread its use around the Mediterranean coast with all manner of fish soups and stews like Zarzuela de Mariscos from Spain, Cacciucco from Tuscany and of course the most famous fish soup of all Bouillabaise from Provence.

soaking

And here I am in total agreement with Elizabeth David when she writes in her book Spices, Salts And Aromatics In The English Kitchen :   “if I myself had to choose just one type of dish in which saffron makes an important difference it would be Mediterranean fish soups and stews…..”  So following is my loose version of “Bouillabaisse”. It doesn’t quite carry the correct number or variety of fish and shellfish required of the authentic version and is certainly a little less bony, but it is certainly warming and delicious on a cold autumn day and makes great use of the fabulous fresh seafood found along South Australia’s Mediterranean like coastline.

IMG_3827

 

Bouillabaise
60 ml                                  olive oil
1 teaspoon                         fennel seed
1                                           orange – rind only, thinly peeled strip
2 ea                                      leeks – whites only, finely sliced
3-4 cloves                           garlic – sliced
1 ea                                       fennel bulb –sliced into small wedges

2 med                                  ripe tomatoes – peeled and diced
1 tablespoon                      Pernod
1 litre                                   fish stock
pinch                                    saffron – soaked in 30ml water

500g                                     whole white fish – cut into chunks through the bone
200 g                                    prawns – tails
12                                          whole black mussels – scrubbed and debearded
1 tablespoon                       parsley – shredded

Method

  • Heat oil, add the fennel seeds and orange peel and when just sizzling add the sliced leek, fennel and garlic , lower heat, cover and allow to stew gently until soft, do not allow to colour
  • Increase heat, add tomatoes and Pernod and allow tomatoes to soften a little then add the fish broth and saffron. Bring to a simmer for 5 minutes then add fish and boil hard for 5 minutes
  • Add mussels and prawns, bring back to simmer , add parsley and serve immediately with croutes and rouille.

Rouille
6                             cloves  garlic
2 ea                        egg yolks
pinch                     cayenne pepper
Salt & white pepper to taste

1 ea                        lemons – juice of
1 tsp                      water – lukewarm
250 ml                 olive oil

Method

  • Puree the garlic, egg yolks and seasoning in a food processor or blender.
  • With the blades still turning add lemon juice and water, mix well then add the oil in a thin stream.
  •  Taste the rouille and add more lemon juice, salt and pepper if necessary.

Retail Stockists & Wholesale Enquiries:

In Adelaide Central Market – Bahraman Saffron is available at Lucia’s Fine Foods http://lucias.com.au/

Wholesale – email: sales@aus-ktc.com.au   Website: http://aus-ktc.com.au

One a penny, Two a penny…..

ready to eat

Yesterday our local supermarket was bereft of bread with the usual pre Easter panic shopping but there was a surfeit of those horrible chemical laden, artificial smelling, long life Hot Cross Buns, the ones that started appearing on the shelves the very day the Valentines day chocolate displays were out of the way…. You have to love our “Hallmark Events” culture.

Seeing these sad commercial things sweating it out in their plastic bags, I got to thinking about their origins. I seemed to remember that though they have been associated in our Anglo culture with the event that occurred on a Friday almost 2000 years ago (since at least the late middle ages), but their origin and design actually goes back much further.

Thankfully my trusty old go to pastry text “The New International Confectioner” a book that I have relied on and referred back to for almost 40 years, has a full half  page devoted to the history and mythology of Hot Cross Buns. Steeped in pagan rites, it cites ancient Babylonian fire symbols of a circle with a cross inside and notes that cakes and breads were routinely decorated thus, that the Ancient Greeks did a similar thing with the cross symbolizing the four phases of the moon and in fact many basic breads are still scored in much the same way as would have been the case two thousand years ago.

For example below are images of petrified bread from Pompeii, loaves created following ancient roman texts, modern day Khobz from Morocco, Irish Soda bread and German Easter Bread just to illustrate the form, style and cultural /ethnic traditions that pre-date the commercialization of todays Easter celebration but which all look remarkably familar.

breads

Of course the other misnomer with hot cross buns is the spicing, today, allspice and mixed spice make up the predominant blend, as well as commercial bun spice which is so strong it cant be natural. Interestingly though these spice mixtures are almost certainly Arabic or Levantine in origin, bought back by western Europe by the crusaders, or infused into Europe via the  Caliphate that occupied Spain and the Mediterranean for several centuries.

These sweet spices make up many of the most savoury seasonings in the Arab world and have become greatly used in French cuisine particularly through their incorporation into Quatre Epices. Of course the English adopted the French tradition and used these particular spices in their (originally savoury) mince pies, a fetid beef, suet and dried fruit concoction that was made palatable and sweet smelling by the use of these exotic spices. Clearly they developed a tasting or a liking for these relatively expensive ingredients as they went on to be used almost exclusively in luxury goods like cakes and pastries.

But getting back to where I started, my family all love a good hot cross bun, but I can’t abide the type one buys in the supermarket. So this being Good Friday, and with a little time to spare, I decided to step up and make some for the family. Personally, I like mine a little lighter in spice and not as sickly sweet,  and certainly without the awful mixed peel that tastes like citrus cleaning product, rather in its place Sukkade, a Dutch candied citron that is oh so delicate.

As for the  recipe, it’s pretty straight forward, we made ours in about 3 hours start to finish and the family loves them, I hope you do too.

Hot Cross Buns

500g                       plain flour
300ml                    water – luke warm
15g                          dry yeast
30g                         sugar
Pinch                     nutmeg – ground/grated
¼ teaspoon          clove – ground
½ teaspoon          cinnamon
30g                         butter
1 teaspoon            salt

20g                         Succade (Dutch candied citron peel)
30g                         currants
30g                         sultanas

1                              egg – beaten for glazing buns

Cross Paste
25g                        flour
30g                        water
1 ½ teaspoons    vegetable  oil

Bun Glaze
2 tablespoons    sugar
1 tablespoon      water
pinch of             cinnamon – ground
pinch of             clove – ground

Method – Makes 12:

  • Sift flour, then prepare a starter “sponge” by mixing a quarter of the flour with the sugar and yeast, stir in the water to form a smooth light batter, cover and leave to ferment until foaming and frothy.

bun dough

  • To this “sponge” add the remaining flour, spices, salt and butter and knead well until silky smooth, soft and elastic.

add fruit

 

  • Cover and allow to double, roll out and sprinkle currants, sultanas and Zuckader over, work in lightly, divide into 12 equal portions and shape into small rolls.

bun portion

  • Grease baking dish and place rolls in dish leaving about 1cm all around edges and between rolls to allow for expansion
  • Mix ingredients for “cross paste” and fill into a small piping bag with a fine nozzle and reserve.
  • Cover and allow to double again, buns are ready when they do not spring back when pressed.

egg wash

  • Brush with beaten egg, pipe cross over to decorate and bake in an oven preheated to 200C for 12-15 minutes.

crosses

  • While baking prepare the bun glaze by bringing spices, sugar and water to the boil

baked

  • Remove buns when golden brown on top and bottom, brush with bun glaze while still hot and leave to cool thoroughly (if you can!)