Friday, February 6, 2015

Lemon and thyme divine

Lemon and thyme lamb; an amazing throwback to my childhood

Lemon and thyme cake; the twist of thyme gives this citrusy delight a kick

Lemon and thyme divine

As a child growing up, the rule in our house was, on your birthday, you got to pick the meal for dinner that night. I usually picked one of two things; either my mum's lasagne, or lemon and thyme lamb.
My mum's 30-yr old recipe card
Lemon and thyme lamb is a favourite. I've got a picture of my mum's recipe card for it; the recipe card must be 30 years old and is from the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation. When I moved out of home 15 years ago, I photocopied a bunch of my mum's recipes - ones I'd loved my mum making as I grew up - and they formed the basis for what is now the seven volumes of recipe scrapbooks I have in my kitchen.

But since Emperor D is not a fan of lamb, I never get to make it. Until recently. On a spur of the moment decision, we headed home to Australia for Christmas. I returned to Europe before New Year, but D stayed on until late January, leaving me home alone for a few weeks - and free to cook what I pleased.

With the weather cold and wintry, I spent one morning on the couch flicking through my recipe volumes, searching for inspiration. I came across lemon and thyme and lamb and was suddenly struck with making it; I hadn't had it - either made for me or making it myself - for years. I invited a friend over, Sophia, who being Greek, appreciates the combination of lamb and lemon. But having it with thyme - instead of the usual Greek combination with rosemary - was something new for her.
Lemon and thyme lamb
Throwing together the onion and lots of garlic, the lemon and thyme is added with cubes of diced lamb and white wine, then left to either bake or gently simmer on the stove for 1.5 hours. I chose to put it all into my faithful bright blue Le Creuset cast iron casserole pot, throw it in the oven, and allow it to slowly cook away.

Pulling it out of the oven and lifting off the lid, the delicious aroma of lemon, garlic and lamb hits my nose. Served simply with white rice, the first bite takes me back to my 11th birthday, May 1991. The lamb is melt-in-your-mouth tender, and together with the combination of the citrusy lemon, slightly minty/peppery thyme and garlic, it just works. There’s the zing from the lemon, which I love, but which is slightly tempered by the thyme and the strong flavour of lamb. Love it.

Lemon and thyme cake
It’s strange to have two key flavours represented in both a savoury main and a dessert like a cake. But I found a recipe for lemon and thyme cake recently that I thought I’d try. It’s a twist on a simple lemon cake, with the thyme giving a delicate kick.

Easy to make, it’s simply butter and sugar creamed together, plus eggs, lemon zest, a small amount of thyme leaves, flour, and almond meal – which makes it light. What makes it super moist – and delicious – is a syrup of lemon juice, sugar and thyme leaves that is poured into skewered holes of the hot cake as it comes from the oven.

I’ve made this a couple of times now and it’s a winner with everyone. The moist, light cake is packed with the flavour of citrusy, tangy lemons, offset by the sweetness of the sugar and given a slight uplift with the thyme. Served with my favourite Gruyère double cream (bliss!), it’s the perfect tea time treat.

Savoury or sweet, two recipes prove that, together, lemon and thyme are divine. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Oh Jerusalem

Not quite flawless food, but not too far off

Oh Jerusalem

I recently joined a group of like-wise foodie-minded expats in a small cooking club. Think of it as a book club - mind, there are actually books involved, since a cook book is chosen - but with the addition of good food. Before we meet, one person chooses a cook book from their collection, and the rest choose a recipe. We all meet, cook our chosen recipes, share the dishes and then discuss what we liked, or didn't like, what we thought of the recipe we chose and the book over all.
Selection of amazing food from Jerusalem 

For the first meeting, my friends Janet and Maya chose Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. It's an amazing book, a feast of Jewish, Arabic, Mediterranean and Middle-East cuisine. Among the food chosen was lamb meatballs with barberries, yoghurt and herbs; felafel; chard with tahini, yoghurt and buttered pine nuts; beef meatballs with fava beans and lemon; and clementine and almond syrup cake. The dishes chosen were absolutely incredible; gorgeous food.

I chose roasted chicken with Jerusalem artichoke and lemon. It was incredibly easy. Other than simmering Jerusalem artichokes - which I'd never even seen before, I admit, let alone tried - it was chucking everything in a bowl, marinating it overnight and then roasting it.
Roast chicken with Jerusalem artichoke and lemon

I really liked this - the tender chicken, the lemon, pink peppercorns, shallots, garlic, thyme and tarragon all worked well. The Jerusalem artichoke though I wasn't sold on. Not sure why - maybe it was because I wasn't sure what to expect, but I found the flavour a little too bitter for the rest of the recipe. This dish as a whole though was delicious and was a nice contrast to the other, more meatier, heartier dishes on the table. Having said that, the jury is still out on the Jerusalem artichoke; I'd need to make this again before I could decide whether it belongs in the dish.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Little pumpkin parcels of delight

Light, fluffy sweet potato gnocchi is heaven on a plate

Little pumpkin parcels of delight

Emperor D has been on a bit of a carb war lately. Several months ago, he went off refined white pasta and rice, switching - at first - to brown pasta and rice, and now he's gone a step further and cut rice out completely. Because I flatly refuse to give up pasta, he's stuck with the wholemeal stuff, at least. I haven't followed his lead, however - being too much of a lover of white pasta and disliking brown rice - so occasionally it causes a bit of tension at dinner, especially now there's always an extra pot to wash up (or try to fit in the dishwasher). 

Little parcels of  light pumpkin deliciousness
After making the ravioli with the pasta maker a few weeks ago, I decided not long after it was time to give gnocchi another shot. Usually, Emperor D is the one who makes gnocchi, seeming to have a natural gift for it. But having received a gnocchi board from my mum for Christmas (along with the ravioli cutters I'd used the week before), and having brought my potato ricer from home two years earlier but yet to use it, I decided it was time I gave it a try again.

With Emperor D reluctant to have a white potato gnocchi, I decided to try a lower carb version in a sweet potato gnocchi. I found a few good recipes through a google search, but ultimately went with the recipe found on American chef and food blogger Kelly Senyei's website, Just a Taste.

The recipe looked simple and easy to make, but I usually have an aversion to ricotta. I figured the sweetness of the sweet potato would balance it out, so decided to go with the recipe as it was listed. 

I'm glad I did. Not having a microwave - an occasional lament that I soon get over - I decided to steam the sweet potato using my rice cooker. They were a little underdone, meaning the middle of each was still quite hard, so I had to leave a little bit of each out. After passing the potato through the ricer, and mixing with the ricotta, I added as little flour as I could get away with, in order not to make them too dense and heavy. 

One word: yum!
Being left with a ball of soft, and just a little sticky, dough, it's simply a matter of rolling them out into long sausages and cutting them up into little parcels of gnocchi. Finally, I give my gnocchi board a go, and gently roll each one down it, leaving slight indentations on the outside and a small dent to finish, to make sure the shape can catch as much of the sauce as possible. 

After quickly boiling the gnocchi and making the burnt butter with sage leaves and balsamic sauce, it's time to plate up and eat. I had invited a couple of friends who are also on a low-carb kick, given there was plenty of gnocchi for four people. It went down a treat. Little pumpkin parcels of delight. The light, slightly sweet gnocchi was perfectly matched with the nutty flavour of the burnt butter and the tang of the balsamic in the sauce they were tossed through. It was easy to go back for seconds, yet as it's lighter than traditional gnocchi, it left me feeling satisfied, but not uncomfortably heavy or over-full. 

This is a easily a recipe that will go into my repertoire for those weekends spent cooking in. Can't wait to make it again! 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Summer wrapped in ravioli

Mint, peas and marscapone; the gorgeous taste of summer wrapped up in ravioli
Summer wrapped in ravioli

I've been subscribing to delicious. - probably Australia's best foodie magazine - for a few years now. I've kept the subscription up while I've been living in Switzerland and get it delivered here. I still love ripping open the plastic it comes wrapped in and spending a lazy morning, usually on a Sunday over a cup of tea, idly flicking through the colourful, glossy pages, and turning down the corners of the pages with the recipes I want to save for later. 
There's just one problem with getting an Australian magazine delivered in Switzerland; the recipes in them are 6 months out of sync with the season I'm living in. Being summer at home and winter here in Switzerland, it means that, at the moment, issues are arriving bursting with recipes for ice cream, salads and desserts full of summer berries. Meanwhile, I'm still stuck in hearty comfort food mode.
Gorgeous pea and mascarpone ravioli

But there was one summer recipe which - despite the weather outside - I couldn't resist giving a try. Pea and mascarpone ravioliwith sage burnt butter allowed me to give Betty a whirl with the pasta machine attachments I had bought a year or so ago and had only used once or twice. I was given extra incentive with the pasta making accessories my mum had given me for Christmas, including ravioli cutters.
Pasta is easy enough to make, but ravioli is all about the filling.

In this case, creamy mascarpone combined with fresh peas and vibrant mint made for light, refreshing ravioli which screamed summer. The sage-infused burnt butter provided the perfect, yet delicate savoury counter balance to the sweet pea filling.

I’ve always had this thing with seasonal food – don’t eat winter food in summer and vice versa.  But sometimes, when something is this good, it would be criminal to wait six months to try it.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

When chocolate’s not an option

Lemony-coconut makes a great, tropical substitution for chocolate

When chocolate’s not an option

Many of you will know from previous cakes I’ve blogged about that my office has a birthday cake tradition; someone in the office has a birthday, someone else makes a cake and we all spring out from behind our desks at some point during the day, thrusting cake with lit candles underneath the embarrassed, but inevitably unsurprised, person’s nose, half-heartedly singing an out of time and out of tune rendition of Happy Birthday. Bad singing over, candles blown out and cake cut, we stand around together for 10 or 15 minutes discussing the cake – home made, of course (no-one dares dreams of doing a shop-bought job these days) – and anything else not related to work.

Incidentally, it was my birthday the first year I joined the office, that was somehow the catalyst for the compulsory birthday cake. I’m not sure why it came about, but I still remember the first cake made by my friend and colleague Julia, a chocolate concoction with Toblerone chocolate pieces and icing sugar dusted over it, to signify the Alps. I was touched. Not surprised though, because although Julia had hid the cake around the corner from my desk, she blew it by posting it to Facebook and tagging me in the photo five minutes before they actually gave it to me. Still, I remember it being rich and chocolatey.

Fast forward two and a half years, and there’s been good cakes and bad ones, but everyone gets a cake for their birthday and the baking load is shared by most of the office. But since the first chocolate cake for my birthday, we’ve had to change tack and try not to have cakes with chocolate in them as one of my friends and colleagues, Amelia, is allergic to it. How anyone could be allergic to chocolate and still be as calm, rational, friendly and funny as she always is, defies logic. Because of her allergy, Amelia’s birthday or not, chocolate cake is out. It’s been hard.

But also rewarding. Chocolate cake is the natural default one for birthday cakes, but the no chocolate rule has broadened the flavour horizons. Teri, a good friend and colleague of mine, had her birthday approaching and I put my hand up to bake it. Searching through my multitude of recipe volumes and books, anything chocolate or with chocolate in it was instantly vetoed. Amongst my own collection, the amount of non-chocolate recipes was decidedly small.

One stood out, however. Lemon and coconut cake was something I found on, through the Fairfax Australian news sites, a website I’ve increasingly turned to for inspiration. And it was an inspired choice, given lemon is one of Teri’s favourite flavours, so not only was it something that suited the taste of the person whose birthday it was, its non-chocolate status meant it was a winner for Amelia as well. It was easy to make, always a plus on a school night - a simple place all the ingredients into a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon - and the cake itself was light, moist and packed full of lemon punch. The icing – while made in a strange way – was the perfect balance between the sweet icing sugar and a fair amount of tart lemon juice. I think I would've preferred a butter cream icing, but the taste really did complete the taste of a cake that had a fair amount sweetness balanced by zing.

In the end, having to think about flavours other than chocolate has been inspiring and refreshing. Although I'm still partial to the good old chocolate cake, and will go on making them when possible, exploring new flavours can open up your tastebuds to a whole new world they may not previously have encountered. And that's no bad thing.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The impossible made possible

Super easy - not impossible - quiche makes for a tasty meal

The impossible made possible

Awhile back - and yes, it has been awhile given my tendency not to cook and post during summer - I hit upon the need to broaden the repertoire a bit and find a recipe that was easy enough, with few, uncomplicated ingredients, to do on a lazy Sunday or during the week.

I seem to have more recipes now - in cook books, in my own collection - than I'd ever be able to make, but that doesn't stop me from getting ideas for new things to try from It was while reading the email that drops into my inbox from Taste that I saw the recipe for impossible quiche.

Impossible quiche is one of those recipes that seems to hark back to the 70s and 80s - the daggy type of thing your mother would make. In fact, I think my mum did have a recipe for impossible quiche when I was growing up, but I don't ever remember eating it, fussy child that I was. For me, eggs stopped and started with scrambled eggs on toast.
Impossible quiche al fresco

So coming across this recipe, I was curious enough to give it a try. It was easy enough; mix dry ingredients of chopped ham, grated cheddar, flour, baking powder and onion - spread over base of shallow pie dish - and pour beaten egg and milk over the top.

The quiche sorts itself out while baking. The flour and baking powder form a thin crust on the bottom, while the cheese melts, ham cooks and eggs and milk becomes light and fluffy.

The result? A simple, easy-to-make, tasty quiche, that is light enough for a summer dinner or a picnic. In fact, I did make it for a picnic over summer and the whole thing was polished off in minutes. Which just goes to show the impossible is possible...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Betty now makes pasta

While the pasta was great, nothing could save the bland, soggy lasagne

Betty now makes pasta

I've had my Betty for awhile now. She's great at making cakes, slices, even pizza. But I thought it was time Betty expanded her range of tricks a little, so being a pasta fanatic, I recently invested in a Kitchenaid pasta attachment for her.
Feeding pasta through the attachment

I've made pasta by hand before. It's actually pretty easy and there's something satisfying about eating pasta that you've made yourself. Before I bought the attachment, I used to borrow my mother-in-law's hand cranked pasta machine. Those pasta machines are fine, but there's a little bit more fiddling around - you need to clamp them to a table top, then hand crank the pasta through the machine while feeding it through with one hand, and then needing a third hand at the same time to catch it.

Having a pasta attachment on Betty though is so much easier. The pasta is fed through the rollers automatically using the stand mixer's motor. Without having to hand crank the machine, it allows me the free use of both hands to feed the pasta into the rollers and catch it on the other side at the same time. Good thing too, as rolling some of these pasta sheets out, they were getting pretty long - a couple of metres in length at least.
Loooong pasta sheets rolled out

The recipe for the pasta itself is pretty simple - flour (I used Tipo 00, found in my local Italian grocer), eggs, a splash of water and some salt. Allowing me to be virtually hands off, Betty mixed the ingredients together in a bowl to form dough, briefly kneaded it with the dough hook and I then left it to rest.

Next was the question of what to do with the pasta. The attachment set I bought included tagliatelle and spaghetti cutters, so I had planned to make tagliatelle with a basic chilli, garlic and tomato sauce. But the day before, I spotted some butternut pumpkin, and - it being scarcely ever available - picked some up, decided I could make a vegetarian lasagne with it, especially since Emperor D has been asking me to make one for awhile. I also picked up some sweet potato, another of Emperor D's favourites. So after some research with what I could make with the pumpkin and the sweet potato, I decided to make Lorraine Pascale's Butternut and Sweet Potato Lasagne.

I didn't follow the recipe exactly to plan - I didn't have any sage leaves and didn't use the breadcrumb topping, plus I'm not a fan of ricotta, so used my own much more simple béchamel sauce - but it shouldn't made so much of a difference to turn out to be so bland as it was.
Pumpkin and sweet potato lasagne

The other problem was the lasagne sheets. I'd made fresh lasagne once before, but swore never to do so again. They're of course easy to make, but when I made them the first time, I thought I had to pre boil them, and did so. They became extremely difficult to handle, becoming stuck together, and tore once cooked - it ended up being so hard that I decided I wouldn't do it again. That was a few years ago, and making lasagne this time around I quickly remembered why I said back then I would never do so again. I had the same issues again this time and it turned into a disaster. This time I swear I definitely won't make fresh lasagne again.

The end result was a lasagne that was soggy from too much water, and rather flavourless. I was lucky to eat half a piece. Utter tragedy.

On the upside, I had so much pasta that I was able to make tagliatelle and freeze it, so I'll find a sauce to go with it and make that soon. But with the attachment, I can't wait to make lots of fresh tagliatelle, spaghetti, ravioli - and blog about it.