Sunday, 29 July 2012

apple-cucumber pickles: a taste of yellow

I was really sad to hear that Barbara of Winos and Foodies had lost her battle with cancer.

She was such a lovely lady and I had the pleasure to finally meet her face-to-face last November at the Australian food bloggers conference: Eat Drink Blog.

Barbara’s one wish was to eat a piece of her 87th birthday cake, but unfortunately she passed away before she made the date. This sad wish very much reminds me of losing my mum.

After being diagnosed with a brain tumour, two surgeries, radiotherapy and chemotherapy didn’t seem to help and although we wouldn’t admit it, we both knew she wouldn’t win this battle.

One day, cuddled up in bed with a cup of tea, I said “You won’t ever get to meet my children, and you won’t be at my wedding, but promise you’ll make my 21st birthday.” She swore she would.

She kept her promise. When the clocked ticked over midnight to mark my birthday, I whispered to her that she had kept her promise and, at 4am on my 21st birthday, she passed away.

That was eleven years ago and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and shed quiet tears.

To commemorate Barbara, and our loved ones who have had cancer, bloggers are taking part in the Taste of Yellow Monthly Mingle, hosted by London-based South African, Jeanne from Cooksister.

This event requires us to make something yellow, combing Barbara's LiveStrong with a Taste of Yellow event (a yellow themed cooking event that took place on LiveStrong Day) and the Monthly Mingle event by Meeta from What’s For Lunch Honey?

I used to participate in Meeta’s Monthly Mingle quite a lot, but life just seems to get in the way of blogging these days (if you hadn’t already noticed the big gaps between my posts). I should put more effort in again, as cooking and sharing my recipes is one of the things I truly love to do. It’s an artistic expression that I value in my life and I shouldn’t let work and other mundane matters prevent me from pursuing this.

Barbara has reminded me, again, that you should focus on what you love because life is too short and unpredictable not too.

I discovered these quirky heirloom cucumbers at my local farmers market back during Sydney’s summer, so it’s a recipe I’ve had up my sleeve for some time, waiting for the right moment to post it.

Apple cucumbers, as you can see, are round, yellow skinned types with creamy white flesh. They are very crisp and juicy, perfect for pickling, but their skin is a little tough so slice thinly.

Cucumbers are more than 95% water and are technically a fruit, with most of the flavour in the seeds. Apparently they’re one of the oldest veggies in the world, having been cultivated for thousands of years in Asia.

Heirloom Apple-Cucumber Pickles

Anna’s very own recipe.

4 apple-cucumbers, sliced
1 shallot, sliced
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds


1. Stuff the cucumber into a sterilised preserving jar.

2. Combine all the other ingredients in a saucepan.

3. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 seconds to release the flavours of the spices.

4. Pour the boiling liquid over the cucumber, then seal the jar.

5. Cool to room temperature then refrigerate for 24 hours before serving.

Note: Keeps up to 2 weeks. Serve with smoked salmon, on hamburgers and sandwiches or in salads.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

pounti: auvergne pork & prune meatloaf

Some time ago I read about “pounti” or “picoücel” a special pork, prune and bacon cake from the Auvergne region of France. It uses the famous prunes of the region and is served either cold or fried in slabs.

Ever since I read about this pork cake, I dreamt of coming up with my own meatloaf inspired by those flavours, and in fact made it one of my 2012 Food Challenges to come up with a meatloaf recipe.

Ta daaaa!

The results were pleasing. The prunes and sage matched perfectly with the sweet-salty pork meat.

It’s quite a rich meal, so I recommend serving with a refreshing side, such as watercress dressed in olive oil and lemon juice.

Auvergne Pork & Prune Meatloaf (Pounti)

Anna’s very own recipe. Serves 4.

5 rashers bacon, finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
5 garlic cloves, crushed
500g pork mince
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (see notes)
200g prunes, pitted & halved
2 tablespoons sage, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten lightly


1. Preheat the oven to 180’C.

2. Cook the bacon in a dry frying pan until crispy. Set aside to cool.

3. Using the fat from the bacon, sauté the onion, garlic and sage until soft. Set aside to cool.

4. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients together by hand, using your fingers to knead the mixture together into a meat dough.

5. Place in a baking loaf and bake in the oven for around 1 hour or until the meat is cooked through the juices run clear.

6. Remove from oven and allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting in and eating.

Note: put one torn, fresh bread roll in a food processor and blitz until it turns into fluffy crumbs. Don’t process for too long or the heat of the machine may make the bread damp.

Friday, 6 July 2012

brown sugar meringue w verjuice figs & honey-cinnamon yoghurt

These are divine. The outside are perfectly crisp and break with a pop under your fork, yet the inside is a fluffy, sticky, gooey texture almost like a melted marshmallow.

And the flavour! You can certainly taste those perfect burnt, dark toffee sugars.

I first tried brown sugar meringues at a wonderful slow food wine dinner at Mumu Grill in Crows Nest, and although I have yet to venture across the Harbour Bridge to the far northern shores of Sydney, to dine at this restaurant again, the wonderful meal is branded into my food memory, especially the “brown sugar pavlova”.

This is one of my 2012 Food Challenges, to recreate recipes I had experienced at restaurants and boy does this recipe tick all the boxes.

It was a while ago since I ate the Mumu Grill version, but accompanied with the verjuice figs and the sourness of yoghurt, I might even bravely claim that my version is better.

Brown Sugar Meringue w Verjuice Figs & Honey-Cinnamon Yoghurt

Anna’s very own recipe. Serves 6.

3 egg whites, at room temperature
100g dark brown sugar
50g caster sugar
Pinch of Tahitian vanilla salt
½ cup pomegranate seeds
125ml thick low fat Greek yoghurt
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon cinnamon
18 dried figs
⅓ cup verjuice
⅓ cup caster sugar, extra


1. Preheat the oven to 120°C.

2. In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.

3. In another bowl, combine the sugars and salt and stir thoroughly.

4. Beat in the sugar mixture in 1 tablespoon batches, making sure each amount is incorporated before adding more.

5. Beat until the meringue is thick and glossy, holding its shape (peaks).

6. Spoon meringue into six small mounds, leaving space for them to spread and using spoon to create peaked tops.

7. Bake in the centre of the oven for 60 minutes, then prop open oven door slightly and leave to cool for one hour before removing. Cool one more hour before serving.

8. Meanwhile, prepare the figs by heating the verjuice and ⅓ cup caster sugar until boiling. Add figs then bring to the boil and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow figs to cool in syrup.

9. Make the yoghurt by mixing with the honey and cinnamon, then return it to the fridge.

10. To prepare the dish, take a meringue then dollop the honey-cinnamon yoghurt around it. Top with figs and pomegranate seeds.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

smoked apple & chestnut ravioli w cinnamon apple butter

Back in 2007, a few days after our wedding, Jonas and I visited Rockpool, back in it's original iteration when it was one of Sydney's finest, and ordered their extensive degustation menu with premium matching wines. It still stands as the most expensive meal of my entire life, and with the same money we could have bought an overseas airfare and possibly accommodation. Don’t ask, suffice to say it was expensive.

But the memory was also priceless, as it was our wedding gift to each other and many of the dishes we ate on that evening have remained with us.

One in particular was an apple and chestnut ravioli, a dish served to Jonas in his vegetarian days. It was a confusion of sweet and savoury apple and cinnamon and herbs. A clever combination that was executed perfectly.

This year, as one of my 2012 Food Challenges, I decided I needed to recreate recipes I had experienced at restaurants. This was one of them, but I decided to put my own twist on it by using smoked apples, that I hot smoked myself in my Nipper Kipper smoker.

While it was a somewhat complicated recipe (a lot of steps to go through), I feel really rewarded for my efforts.

It was a very elegant dish and would be a big hit at a swanky dinner party.

Unfortunately for me, every shop I visited was out of wonton wrappers so when I finely found some they were square rather than round. Please go with the round versions, they will be much prettier.

And be sure to top your dishes with fresh herbs. They really cut through the intensity of the rich glaze sauce.

I used butter and chicken stock, but you could easily make this a vegetarian version with veggie stock or a vegan version with olive oil instead of butter and go with non-egg-based pasta.

Any leftover ravioli filling can be set in the fridge and eaten as a vegetarian paté.

Smoked Apple & Chestnut Ravioli w Cinnamon Apple Butter

Anna’s very own recipe. Serves 4.


Smoked apples
2 green apples
Wood chips

32 round egg wonton wrappers (for 16 ravioli)
2 tablespoons chopped sage
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon smoked salt
½ white onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 teaspoon freshly milled black pepper
1½ smoked apple, chopped
100g chestnut purée
Butter for frying
Beaten egg, for sealing wonton wrappers

Butter Sauce
50g butter
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup verjuice
Sprig of lemon thyme, picked over
½ smoked apple, chopped
½ cup chicken consommé
¼ cup boiling water
1 teaspoon sugar
Black pepper
Fresh sage leaves, small and picked over


For the smoked apples

1. I peeled mine but left the core in.

2. Then I sprinkled about a tablespoon of dampened apple wood dust over some aluminium foil, placed my rack above it, then placed the two apples in and shut the top.

3. With the mentholated spirits lit, I removed the apples after about 20 minutes. This was probably about 5-10 minutes of heating up and 5-10 minutes of pure smoking.

4. When I removed them, they were warm, still fairly white and the outside was mildly soft but the inside was still hard.

5. I didn’t want to cook them any more than this as the smoke flavour would become overwhelming and somewhat acrid, ruining the balance of the dish.

6. Core each apple and chop into cubes: 1½ apples will go into the ravioli and ½ an apple will go into the sauce.

For the sauce

1. In a pan, heat the butter, onion powder, ground cinnamon, black pepper and salt until butter starts to brown and bubble.

2. Add verjuice and lemon thyme and bring to the boil.

3. Add apple, sugar, chicken consommé and boiling water, then bring to the boil and reduce for 5 minutes.

4. The sauce is done when the apple is soft and the liquid has reduced to a dark brown glaze (about ½ cup).

5. Keep warm while you cook the ravioli.

For the ravioli

1. Using a little butter, sauté onion and garlic until soft. Set aside.

2. Heating a little extra butter, add the sage leaves and heat until almost crispy. Set aside.

3. Using the sage-scented butter, add the chopped apples, smoked salt and pepper and fry until the apple is browned and soft.

4. Put the chestnut purée, cooked apple, onion and sage into the food processor and blend into a purée.

5. Line a tray or plastic container with baking paper, for the ravioli.

6. Lay wonton wrappers out on flat surface and brush with beaten egg (egg wash).

7. Put small dollops of purée on half the wrappers, then top them with the remaining wrappers, being sure the gently press out any air pockets when sealing them.

8. Lay the finished ravioli on the baking tray, with paper baking between layers to prevent sticking. Refrigerate for 5 minutes (to firm) or until ready to cook.

9. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil, then simmer ravioli until it rises to the surface and the pasta is cooked through.

10. Drain onto paper towels then plate, drizzling with sauce and apples, sage and thyme leaves.

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