Monday, November 28, 2011

raspberry, pear and chocolate loaf

Raspberries seldom last long in our house or, to rephrase, my daughter eats punnets of raspberries in one sitting so I don’t often get the chance to eat them, let alone bake with them.  So when I saw the small punnet in the greengrocer’s, as expensive as they were, I knew I had to have the first, fresh raspberries of the season all to myself.  Not the whole loaf, just the chance to do something with the entire punnet.  But they were tempting to eat all by themselves – pretty, sweet raspberries with no juice leakage or mouldy specimens tucked in the bottom of the pack. I do admit to popping one or two into my mouth.  Just a taste test you see?

The flavour combination of this loaf works well - cool pieces of pear, warm dark chocolate and buds of sweet raspberries.  I had my first taste not long after the cake was removed from the oven.  The chocolate was warm and delivered far more flavour as it melted around my taste buds. So it’s best served warm, but it still tastes good when cool.

Bill thought there was an overbalance of chocolate.  I have to say this had not crossed my mind but I am a chocolate lover so why would it?

Although I’ve called it a “loaf”, I actually poured the mix into small round tins that were once inhabited by 450g smoked fish.  I’m sorry to bring up the subject of smoked fish whilst we’re talking about sweet things but let me assure you the tins were washed well.  I greased and lined them with baking paper for ease of exit.  I find the tins good to use as individual cake gifts but this time, mine never left the house.

I’ve given the recipe and instructions for a loaf.  If you want to use smaller tins, or make muffins adjust the baking time accordingly.  

I’m submitting this for Sweet New Zealand hosted this month by Mairi at Toast. Sweet New Zealand was started by Alessandra Zecchini and you can read more about it here.

raspberry, pear and chocolate loaf

200g butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar
4 large eggs
1¾ cup standard (plain) flour
1½ tsp baking powder
200g dark chocolate, chopped into small chunks
3 pears, peeled, cored and diced
1 small punnet raspberries, de-hulled.

Preheat oven to 180°C.  Lightly grease a 19x9x7cm loaf pan and line with baking paper.

Cream the butter and sugar.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Sift the flour and baking powder into the mix and stir until well combined.

Stir in the chocolate, and gently fold in the pears and raspberries.

Pour into the loaf pan and bake for about an hour or until golden brown on top and cooked through.  Leave for 10 minutes in the loaf pan, and then place on a wire rack to cool.

Tip: Don’t peel and core pears too far in advance as they’ll go brown.

Monday, November 21, 2011

for the love of food

A week later and I am still running on high over last week’s inaugural NZ Food Bloggers’ Conference, so a favourable review of The Tasting Shed in Kumeu in this week’s Canvas magazine rekindled the excitement of the event.  The Tasting Shed was the venue for the conference and it deserved the great write-up it received. Good coffee and yummy chocolate brownies for break and lots of tasting platters with intriguing flavours for lunch - all served up by friendly and helpful staff who didn’t seem to mind the onslaught of cameras and iPhones clicking away at the food.  Over-eager to indulge, I haven’t always managed the knack of photographing the food before eating, but I did manage to capture some of the dishes. 

Roasted beetroot, red onion, green beans, radicchio, feta and walnuts

Romesco marinated chicken thigh, Israeli couscous, parsley and harissa

Braised and rolled pigs head, kohlrabi remoulade and sweet & sour carrot 

Prawns, cider, pickled shallots and garlic puree

After a wee drive from the south of Auckland to the west of Auckland, I admit to some trepidation as I stepped amongst the newly arrived.  But there was no need for apprehension.  Everyone was absolutely lovely and friendly and soon there was the chitter chatter of a bunch of people who had the love of food in common.

There was a lot to take in – not just food! – and I was so impressed at how much I learnt on the day. Here’s what I took home.

Workshops & Presentations

Make the most of…
Andrea Wong -  Web Design and Search Engine Optimization
Make the most of your web layout, use key words in blog name and title; use an easily readable font.  Your “About” is not just an afterthought, so what's yours about?  The last point hit home – I really need to work on mine. 

Use what you’re comfortable with
Jaco Swart - Social Media
Wow, why do I sometimes feel like such a dinosaur?!   As the well-worn saying goes,  “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”  Readers, I went home and “reactivated” my Twitter account.  (My daughter remarked that you couldn’t really reactivate something you hadn’t used!).  Spent a little time getting basic help tutorials and I was off.   I’ve added a few words to my lexicon - hashtag anyone? – but maybe I’ll eventually get the hang of it.  So far, so good and I’ve read some really interesting articles I might otherwise not have seen. I’m also keeping in touch with fellow attendees from the conference.

Know who you are writing for…
Alessandra ZecchiniWriting for Different Media Types
An honest, direct and sometimes funny account of Alessandra’s experiences on what to expect if you want to write professionally.  Alessandra summed it all up very well and gave great tips on approaching people in publishing. 

Keeping it organic
Emma Boyd - Our Kitchen: Fisher & Paykel
Emma was much envied, being one of the contributors to a food blog where two working days per month are given over to photography and contribution to their blog.  The organic part doesn’t so much refer to the produce as to keeping the blog organic in a way that the contributors want it to be and I very much liked that concept.  There’s already a list of foodies looking at F&P’s job vacancies but as I’m not that good at designing appliances I’ll just keep visting their blog – it’s well worth a look.

Who would have thought - so many uses for seaweed and sea vegetables..?
Louise Fawcett - Pacific Harvest Food Product & Demo
As a child we lived upstairs from neighbours from the Isle of Islay who cooked seaweed – at the time it was a very foreign concept to us city Scots! Who would have thought that years later I’d be nibbling on seaweed, nuts and seeds and other food treats from the sea?

Afternoon Tea – with a difference...
Coopers Creek - Vineyard Wine Tasting
I can’t speak for myself about the wine tasting (drinking and driving don’t mix and I’m too much in love with wine to spit it out) but I believe the Coopers Creek Vineyard wine tasting was a great session too.

Where’s the light coming from..? 
Bron Marshall - Food Photography Tips Workshop
When we should have all been waning after a packed schedule, we found renewed energy and enthusiasm for the last session.  Everyone was excited about this one.  I found that concentrating on one or two points and practising with our own cameras was way better than covering a whole lot of things in a short time (and far easier to understand than my “at home” photographer – sorry, Bill, if you are reading this, he, he!).

We really didn’t want to leave, but leave we did, clutching a huge goody-bag of wonderful treats.  But we weren’t finished yet!

Moving into Auckland central, our next host venue for dinner was Cook the Books in Grey Lynn where they efficiently furnished us with drinks on arrival – a tasty non-alcoholic punch for me - and produced tray after tray of fine tasting nibbles.  Zingy Asian flavours in little wonton baskets, miso and corn mini fritters with a to-die-for herb pesto (I could have licked the bowl), mince and mozzarella mini pies (courtesy of I Love Pies).  They were all so good and I wanted to stay longer but for me it was time to head home as I had a long drive. I will definitely be back to Cook The Books for a book browse and maybe a cooking class or two.

On the journey home, I reflected on the wonderful day I had, sated with both food and the meeting of kindred spirits.  It had been a super day and I look forward to meeting these bloggers again and to the next conference!

My thanks to the lovely Allison Pirrie-Mawer of Gourmet Gannet who organized the conference, and to all other helpers, presenters and the sponsors.  Such an amazingly, successful day!


Sunday, November 13, 2011

cheese straws for book club

Just to prove I’m not averse to a savoury bite, here’s some cheese straws I made for book club last Thursday.

I needed something not too fiddly to handle.  You know that moment when you’re sitting with a glass of wine in hand, along with your book, and a plate, when someone offers you food and it’s a complicated juggling and balancing act with no table nearby to spill onto?  And your frightened you’re going to drop everything on to your host’s pale carpet?  Yes, that one.

So, something easy to have with wine, something a little different from crackers and cheese.  That’s not to say the crackers and cheese weren’t lovely.  In fact, savoury crackers and ripe blue cheese partnered with the most perfect pears were so worthy of a second helping – or was it a third? – someone was possibly counting.

I thought of these. Finger shaped finger food!  Perfect.

They were so quick to whizz up in the food processor.  Okay, you’ve got to clean up the mess you made after.  But you can be like me and swan out the door, cheese straws, wine and book (or should it be book, cheese straws and wine?) in hand, leaving someone else to clean up after me.

For the cheese, I used Mainland’s Vintage – a rich, aged cheddar with a sharp bite and crumbly texture.  Description came from the packaging, but really it does taste like that with an additional nutty flavour (or maybe that’s just me?).  Added to the rich, buttery pastry, you have a savoury biscuit that’s pretty hard to resist. If you don’t have said cheese, any mature, sharp cheddar or Parmesan can be used. 

Cut the biscuits into any old shape you want using knives, biscuit cutters, whatever.  You can even cut long strips and then twist them.  I cut mine into long strips and left them plain.  I patiently measured the pastry into 1cm across by 10cm in length to get a uniform size.  But don’t look too closely as I was getting a bit slapdash by the end of this process.

I thought of serving them upstanding in a jar or glass but didn’t have one with a wide enough mouth, so I bundled them up in string-tied parcels and you could just pull one out at a time leaving the rest intact in their little package.  

Back home, the dishes had been done and the leftover cheese straws eaten.  Job done, time for bed!

Next up:  I don’t usually do a preview – mainly because I never know what I’ll be doing next – but next post I’ll be commenting on the inaugural New Zealand Bloggers’ Food Conference which was fantastic and I am still all buzz about it!

cheese straws
Recipe makes approximately 24

125g standard flour
125g mature cheddar cheese, grated
125g very cold butter, grated
½ tsp salt
a small pinch of paprika (or cayenne)

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until mixture just forms a ball.  On a lightly floured board, roll out the pastry to about 1cm thick.  Cut into desired shapes or strips.  Place on a baking tray then chill in the fridge for 10 minutes before baking.

Bake at 200°C for approximately 15-20 minutes until golden-brown.  Watch carefully to ensure the biscuits do not burn.

Leave on tray for a few minutes, then carefully remove to a wire tray to cool.

Hint:  Keep pastry cool and handle as little as possible.