Date Cake

It has been far too long between posts.  Now that I am well settled in my new home and have retired permanently from my teaching, I have decided to post a recipe a month on this site as well as anything else I find topical.

The month of Ramadan started a few days ago and since dates figure prominently in the breaking of the fast each evening, I have decided to post this date cake which contains both dates and walnuts and plenty of butter which keeps it moist for days.

Looking forward to your comments.  Enjoy!


date cake (1 of 1)

Date Cake recipe    

1 cup pitted dates (soaked in 1 cup hot water with 1 tsp. bicarb. overnight)
250 gm butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups SR flour

Cream the butter and sugar.  Beat in the eggs and stir in the dates with their soaking water and the chopped walnuts.  Fold in the flour and pour into a well greased ring tin.

Bake in a moderate oven 45 mins.

Icing

1  cup icing sugar
1 tsp. coffee
1 dessert spoon cocoa
few drops vanilla essence
milk

Blend the dry ingredients with the coffee and vanilla essence adding just enough milk to make a smooth icing.  Ice the cooled cake and decorate with walnut halves.

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Vietnamese Chicken Salad – Goi Ga

A few weeks ago, Anna Diep invited me to lead an amazing culinary tour of Vietnam for her company Red Packet Tours. How exciting, I thought! What a trip to look forward to!

My history with Vietnamese food goes back some 25 years, from the first time I tasted Pho in 1987, to writing “The Vietnamese Cookbook” published by Viking Books in 1995, accompanying thousands of people through the Vietnamese precinct of Victoria Street in Melbourne and holding Vietnamese cooking classes in my studio until just recently.

Vietnam is a stunningly beautiful country with a wonderful, refined and tasty cuisine including  “salads” featuring chicken, seafood, prawn and pork.

Over the years, and during my trips to Vietnam I have eaten many versions of  this chicken salad made with different vegetables such as cabbage, cucumber, lotus stem or simply with onion and baby Vietnamese mint. The recipe below is my favourite, quick and easy to make, fresh and delicious!

If you would like to come with me to Vietnam and try other versions among countless other delicacies, contact Anna and book in for the May 2013 Tour.

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GOI GA

2 chicken breasts (or an equal quantity of boiled chicken  eg from soup)

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons sugar

1 white onion, cut into halves and thinly sliced

1 large cucumber, cut in half and thinly sliced

1 large carrot (shredded)

2 tablespoons shredded Vietnamese mint

1 tbsp shredded shiso

1/2 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped

1/2 cup chopped fried peanuts

1 tablespoon crisp fried shallots

Bring the chicken breasts to a boil in some salted water and cook until just cooked through.  Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle.  (If using boiled chicken from soup, simply shred.)

While the chicken is cooling, mix the vinegar with the salt, pepper and sugar and marinate the sliced onion in this mixture for at least 30 minutes.

Pull the cooled chicken into shreds with your fingers and mix with the cucumber and carrot.  Add the marinated onion slices together with their juice.

Add the shredded herbs, chilli and peanuts tossing to combine.  Season with some nuoc mam to taste and put onto a serving plate  Garnish with the crisp fried shallots.

Serve with some  prawn crackers.

NUOC MAM

1/2 fresh red chilli
1/4 clove garlic
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
8 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons fish sauce

Chop the chilli and the garlic together finely.  Dissolve the sugar in the water in a saucepan over a low flame and then stir in the vinegar and the fish sauce. Bring to the boil and then turn off and allow to cool

Transfer to a serving bowl and add some of the chopped chilli and garlic to taste.

Moroccan Mint Tea

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be heading off to Morocco again to lead another of my culinary tours. One of the highlights of the time spend travelling around the Kingdom of Morocco is the drinking of tea infused with different kinds of mint and other aromatic herbs – a gesture of hospitality and a way to engage with the people we meet along the way.
Mint is the most common herb infused in Moroccan tea but it is often accompanied with seasonal additions, fresh Seville orange blossoms in the spring and Wormwood in the winter.  The desert people like to add marjoram whereas I have tasted tea brewed with thyme and sage in the Atlas Mountains.  Marrakech is known for its “atay m’khalet” or mixed herb tea containing a selection of herbs including two kinds of mint, lemon scented verbena, rose geranium, sage, wormwood and marjoram and very delicious it is!  The Moroccans use loaf sugar which I have described in a previous post entitled “Moroccan Sugar Cones”.

Aromatic herbs for Infusion in tea
Common Mint           Mentha viridis                       na’ana
Spearmint                  Mentha spicata                           ”
Peppermint                Mentha piperata                  menta
Pennyroyal                Mentha pulegium                 fliou
Lemon Verbena        Lippia citriodora                   louisa
Marjoram                    Origanum marjorana          merddedouch
Rose Genranium      Pelargonium roseum           laatarcha
Sage                            Salvia officinalis                   salmiya
Wormwood                 Artemisia absinthium           shiba

The tea is prepared very carefully and a tea service is used which comprises a tray, teapot, containers for tea, mint and sugar and decorative glasses.

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MOROCCAN MINT TEA

1 heaped teaspoon Gunpowder Green tea (loose leaves)
lump sugar
1 bunch mint, well washed

Bring the kettle to the boil.
Scald the teapot and put the tea leaves into the pot.
Pour in 1/2 glass of boiling water, swirl the pot and immediately pour it out into the glass. This is the “soul” of the tea.
Pour in another glass of boiling water, swirl it around and then pour it out into another glass.  This will be dark and cloudy and should be discarded.
Put a handful of mint into the pot, add the “soul” of the tea and fill the pot with more boiling water.
Add sugar to taste and allow to draw for about 2 minutes (over a low flame for the best result).

Pour the some of the brewed tea into a glass and then pour it back into the pot.
Repeat this process  to make sure the sugar is fully dissolved and then pour out a small glass of tea and taste it.  Add more sugar if required.
Pour the tea into the glasses to only 2/3 full. If poured from on high, the tea will be more aerated and will be topped with a layer of fine bubbles known as r’za (turban in Moroccan Arabic).
This will allow the aroma to develop.

According to tradition, each guest should be offered multiple glasses of tea.

Daphne

It’s a cold rainy Monday morning in Melbourne and I’m sitting at my desk preparing my recipes for cooking class tomorrow.
Over the weekend, my lovely niece gave me quite a few sprigs of daphne from the bush by her front door and I am drinking in the exquisite scent of the small but strongly fragrant blooms.
A native of China and Japan, this bush, also known as winter flowering daphne,  grows well in cool climates which enables it to flourish and flower prolifically in Southern Australia. The most common varieties have pink and white flowers but there is also a white variety, often with yellow and green variegated leaves that has a more citrussy perfume…  If you can get your hands on a sprig of either variety, put it in a vase near your work space or next to your bed and enjoy it during its brief season…. definitely one of life’s little pleasures!

 


Moroccan Preserved Lemons

There are so many lemon trees thriving in the gardens of Melbourne and they are at their peak at the moment. Just last week, I took a wrong turn and as I wove my way through the back streets of Richmond to get to my destination I was amazed by the number of heavily laden boughs hanging over onto the footpaths… just begging to be picked. Two icons of the Melbourne back yard are the Hill’s Hoist and the prolific Eureka lemon tree that bears fruit all year round with the heaviest crop ripening in our winter season.  A friend brought me a huge bag containing about five kilos of the shiniest, most fragrant lemons last week and, as my supply of preserved lemons was dwindling, I set about making a new batch to see me through the next twelve months or so.

I admit that I can’t really be bothered sterilising jars so I use a glazed cylindrical container with a perforated lid that I have had for more than ten years.  It was designed to pickle olives and has proved the ideal container for my lemons. I pack them in really tightly, filling the container right up to the brim and then place the lid and my heaviest mortar and pestle on top to press down on the lemons until the juices run and the level goes down.  I then change the mortar for my smallest one until the level goes down some more and then replace it with a well washed building brick so that the lid keeps pressing down on the lemons and the juice starts to seep through the holes in the lid.
I then leave the container in a cool place for 2 or 3 months… or even longer.  The way to tell if the lemons are ready is to take one out and see that the lemon juice and salt have turned into a viscous salty “syrup” and the lemon flesh comes away from the peel easily.  If the lemons are not properly cured, they will have a bitter, “pithy” flavour.  I prefer using only lemons and salt… with no added extras like cinnamon or, perish the thought, bay leaves which completely denature the fragrance of this wonderful Moroccan ingredient.. irreplaceable in tagines and salads.. divine with sardines!

PRESERVED LEMONS

whole lemons
fine sea salt
coarse sea salt

Wash the lemons well and soak in a tub of cold water overnight.  If the lemons are very thick skinned, replace the water each day for 3 days.
Drain the lemons, remove any stems and cut into quarters, but not cutting right through, leaving the bases intact.
Pour a thin layer of fine salt into the bottom of your container or jar.  This will help to draw out the juice from the lemons.  Pack each cut lemon with coarse salt and pack into the container.
Continue this process until all the lemons are salted and packed tightly into the container.  Sprinkle with another thin layer of fine salt and weigh down with a heavy weight.
Store the container in a cool, dark place for 2 to 3 months when the lemons will be ready to use.  They can then be transferred to sterilised jars.

To use, rinse the lemons and remove the flesh, using the peel as a garnish in tajines or cut into tiny dice for use in salads.
A restaurateur I know uses the diced peel with chardonnay vinegar as a dressing for oysters… delicious!

Below are pictures of the thin skinned “Beldi” or local Moroccan lemons that are pickled whole

Bessara

One of the most comforting and easy to prepare soups for the winter months is Moroccan Bessara.  I first came across this delicious dish on my first trip to Morocco. I traversed the country with a young driver called Abdel ‘adim who was an expert in street food and Moroccan music… the best introduction to the simple dishes of the country as well as a stunning collection of tunes.

I still love eating bessara in the Medina of Fes el Bali with a fresh loaf from the neighbourhood bakery and mint tea made by one of the experts of the medina. Can’t think of anything better on a cold day!  If you can’t find ready peeled and split beans, you will have to soak and skin the whole beans (an extremely tedious business).

Bessara

500 g dried small peeled broad (fava) beans
6 cloves garlic, peeled
salt
extra virgin olive oil
ground cumin
hot paprika

Pick over and rinse the broad beans.
Put them  in a saucepan with the garlic, cover with fresh water and bring to the boil. Do not salt at this stage!
Skim any scum that rises to the surface and simmer for an hour or until the broad beans are soft and starting to fall apart.
Stir well with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the pot to make sure that they do not stick and burn and mash them against the sides of the pot until a thick soup is obtained. (or puree with a mixing wand).
Stir in 1/4 cup of olive oil, salt to taste and 1 tbsp cumin and cook for a further five minutes.

Serve in small soup bowls. Pour another tablespoon of oil onto the surface of each bowl of bessara, sprinkle with extra ground cumin and serve with hot pepper or chilli on the side.

Fresh bread and fried eggs make this a filling and satisfying meal.

NB Fresh cumin is of the utmost importance as is the quality of the extra virgin olive oil.

Violet Ice-cream

After quite a bit of thought and fiddling around, I finally came up with a violet ice-cream recipe.  Not too much colour… very subtle flavour, most of it coming as an after-taste, like most perfumes  (think truffle, jasmine… an ethereal waft that floats between the nostrils and the tip of your tongue).

Violet Ice-cream

4 egg yolks
135g sugar
400 ml full cream milk
100 ml heavy cream, chilled
1 tbsp Monin violet syrup
1 tbsp violet liqueur (Creme de Violettes)
2 drops pink food colouring
2 drops blue food colouring

Heat the milk with half the sugar taking care not to let it boil.
Beat the yolks with the remaining sugar until the mixture is thick and white.
Slowly pour the heated milk over the yolk mixture, beating well.
Return the mixture to the saucepan and simmer, whisking continuously, until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon.
Make sure it doesn’t boil.  If you have a candy thermometer, the temperature of the mixture should reach 85°C.  Remove from the heat immediately. Stir well and add the chilled cream. Flavour with the violet syrup and liqueur and tint with the food colouring.
Cool completely and churn in an ice-cream churn.
Garnish with fresh or crystallised violets.

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