Tag Archives: orangette

Home

I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.
~ Maya Angelou

I’m home. Or am I?

I’ve experienced the feeling of being ‘at home’ in a few places over the last month, far from my bed, bathroom, kitchen, etc… and now that I am back in my flat, I feel like a stranger. Like I’m in someone else’s home, living someone else’s life.

Know what I mean? It is great, but painful, to be home. Where everything is ‘different different but same’ (a slight twist on this).

This trip is one of the craziest and best trips I’ve ever gone on, and not just because my sweet friend Steven convinced me that it was a good idea to go with him to Universal Studios in Singapore and go on ALL the roller coasters (save the Cylon because I refuse to be flipped upside down five times in rapid succession), or because I got to spend a few days and share a donkey burger and other wonderful fare with Jane in Beijing. Enjoying perfect summery weather the whole time.

I also got to experience family on a whole new level. My aunt managed to locate Granddad’s relatives and ancestral home in a province in China last year and my uncles, aunts and grandparents arranged to visit them this year. I joined the party at the last minute, and am I glad I got the opportunity to go along! I knew it would be a special trip for Granddad since he hadn’t been back in about 80 years – and it was, but I was surprised to be so personally affected by it too.

We arrived at the airport in Jieyang to a welcome party worthy of celebrities. An entourage of people holding a giant red banner surged towards us, simultaneously talking excitedly to my granddad who was caught by surprise and slightly teary (I just gaped stupidly – it’s all I could do). His tears then began to cause my own eyes to glisten… anyway, thus began six days of getting acquainted with family I had never known about…

There were many moments when I looked around me, at all these good-looking faces I was seeing for the first time in my life, speaking a dialect I term as my third language, in a place I had never thought I would visit… feeling strangely comfortable. Thinking, “wow. This is what family is.” Everyone together, no one texting/surfing the internet/glued to some technological device… just being human, laughing, talking, sharing, being. Distinct personalities emerged, my newfound distant cousins and I found ourselves doing an informal language exchange and being silly at a window-shattering karaoke session, and I was overwhelmed (there is no other word) by it all. We drank a lot of tea (they make fabulous tea of different varieties – I got quite addicted to it); ate too much; went sightseeing; practised speaking dialect and mandarin (I’m still trying to get back into this speaking English thing). In between, I got to catch up with my uncles and aunts, and listen to Granddad tell me stories of his youth which he had never told before.

There were so many conversations, unfamiliar sights, cultural differences, etc to take in that each night I fell into bed full of wonder and unprocessed thoughts…

And now, here I am. Wondering how life will ever be the same again… and yet thoroughly thankful that life is not dull, that life continues to teach and surprise, and show me love and grace.

P.S. On the note of home… banana cake is a good remedy for homesickness. Something to do with the smell, I think. I used this recipe as a base, substituting sour cream with yoghurt, cake flour with normal, and omitting the chocolate ganache to suit what I had on hand. Oh, and I threw in a handful of chocolate buttons into the mix and baked the cake in a bundt pan, just ‘cos.

Advertisements

Poached pears and Charlie Brown

Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.
~ Dr. Seuss

What to do with Monday Blues:

Kick them into a corner… let them whimper.

Open every window and blast “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (link via one of my favourite blogs The Breakfast Bachelor).

Get down on your knees and scrub the floor à la Cinderella.

Wash your hands, like hygiene really matters.

Peel and poach some pears.

Make some chocolate sauce.

Talk to the Paul of your universe (he is my macchiato-and-noodle-loving, way-talented-at-dancing, kinder-than-your-Gran friend who also helped me, via long distance email, to pick the photos you see on this post tonight. I took so many photos, I drove myself batty trying to decide which ones to use.) ;-)

Have three soft luscious golden winegingercinnamon-infused chocolate-coated pear halves for your dinner.

Nothing else.

No steak. No veg. No pasta.

Keep listenin’ to “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.

    Poached pears with quick chocolate sauce
    Inspired by Orangette and Nigel Slater
    Ingredients:
    500ml leftover white wine (I’m still attempting to clear my post-Thanksgiving stash…)
    500ml water
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1 tbsp vanilla essence
    Juice of half a lemon
    1 cinnamon stick
    1 knob of ginger
    4 sturdy, ripe pears (I used Bosc)
    For the chocolate sauce*:
    8 squares dark chocolate (I used Whittaker’s)
    1 tsp instant coffee powder
    2 tbsp hot water
    1/2 tsp butter
    Method to my madness:
    Combine the sugar, water, wine, vanilla essence and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Throw in the ginger and cinnamon stick. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer. Peel and halve the pears, and remove the cores with a sharp knife and teaspoon. Place the pear halves in the simmering syrup and allow to cook for around 20-30 minutes, or until tender. They should be golden and bordering on translucent.
    When you are satisfied with how the pears look and feel, remove the saucepan from the heat and leave to cool (or not, if you are hungry).
    Pour the coffee powder, hot water and chocolate squares into a microwave-proof jug or container and microwave for approximately 20 seconds. Take it out and give it a stir, and microwave for a few more seconds if needed (do it in bursts of a few seconds, so nothing burns!). Once the chocolate has all melted, stir in the butter. You should now have a glossy, velvety sauce.
    Drain and plate the pears, drizzle the warm chocolate sauce* over it all, and tuck in.
    Yields 3-4 servings.
    * I made just enough sauce for three pear halves, for that is all I ate tonight – adjust quantities of ingredients to make as much sauce as you need/like.

Ratatouille

The world is a looking glass and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face.
~ William Makepeace Thackeray

A vegetable bouquet melting into a slurred rainbow…

This is my (modified) rendition of Molly Wizenberg’s ratatouille (included in her book “A Homemade Life”):

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Cut an eggplant into circles, brush both sides of the eggplant circles with olive oil (use your hands if you are lazy) and arrange them in a single layer on a lined baking tray. Pop the tray into the oven and let the circles get tender and brown (but not as brown as some of mine! See below.) It should take approx. 20-30 minutes, depending on how thick your circles are. When they are done, let them cool slightly and cut into wedges (I just quarter each circle).

While the eggplant is cooking, cut your veges. Smash garlic cloves. Cut zucchinis into semi-circles. Chop tomatoes. Strip rosemary branches, save the leaves and toss the rest (if using fresh – I didn’t have any last night, so I used dried rosemary and some dried basil). Dice capsicums. Chop onions, if using (I didn’t have any last night, so I just added more tomatoes. Just go with the flow).

Set a deep saucepan on the stove, add a mini slosh of olive oil, and fry the zucchini semi-circles till lightly golden. Rescue and set aside. Add a little more oil into the pan if the pan is dry, then throw in the capsicum squares, onion (if using) and garlic, fry till the fragrance begins to cling to your clothes and the capsicum begins to sweat. Add the tomatoes, rosemary and any other herbs you are using. Salt and pepper it as you wish. Toss in a bay leaf for good measure. Stir, smell, watch the colours swirl… lower the heat, cover for five minutes. Add the eggplant and cooked zucchini. Cook on low heat for 10-15 minutes, until all the vegetables are nicely cooked.

There will be plenty to share, or to refrigerate and enjoy the next day (this is one dish that actually makes for amazing leftovers).

I like to make this when I have one or two people over for dinner, or when I’m alone. When alone, I tend to boil some pasta, poach an egg, stir in the ratatouille and eat standing by the window as the sun disappears behind the hills.

Honey, cinnamon and plums

He felt like he was in a kind of moon soup, with the stars turning slowly above him and his thoughts floating past like ingredients. He felt he was drowning in it.
~ Nigel Cox, Waiting for Einstein

They won’t come.

The pictures and words I’ve been saving up over the last few days to share with you… some in my camera, some in my mind. Snapshots of a (wonderful and mostly sunny) weekend in Wellington; thoughts on life; stories of eating, giving and receiving.

I’m almost irritated that they are piled high behind the door, refusing to come out. But it’s no use – I’ve been hovering here for over an hour, perched on the edge of my seat with a hot water bottle on my lap, typing and erasing, sighing and humming. They’re refusing to let me post them here.

I’m not sure why.

So I’ll let them simmer on in hiding… meanwhile, would you like to talk about Cake?

With my friend G’s birthday coming soon, I’ve been looking for a ‘yes cake’. You know, a recipe for cake that makes you say YES, I’m going to make you…?

I flicked impatiently through what felt like TONS of recipes in blogs, magazines, cooking websites – lots of lovely pictures and tasty sounding things, but no ‘yes cake’… and then, late this afternoon, I found it. Nigel Slater’s Pudding Cake of Honey, Cinnamon and Plums. An absolute ‘yes cake’!

Making this, I could imagine myself leaping into a mountain of Autumn leaves, feeling them envelope me in playful laughter, and gazing up at clouds and winking sunshine…

There’s the scent of warmed golden syrup, lyrical like someone you love saying “Honey, I’m home!”; the look and feel of butter – a generous hug, a glove around your senses; the kiss of cinnamon – a sweet and spicy fairy dust, making all it falls on special. All three together make for pretty delirious inhaling.

Oh, and the BROWN in this recipe – the different shades are glorious and luxurious, and chocolate doesn’t even make a guest appearance! There’s the shimmering, luminous brown of the honey + butter + golden syrup melting on the stove – which reminds me first of George’s Marvellous Medicine (Roald Dahl) and then of liquid gold. There’s the butterscotchey, dulce de lechey, yummy-caramelly look and flavour of the flour + golden syrup stirred together into a thick creamy mix – miracle I managed to avoid licking the spoon! Finally, towards the end when the elements combine to form the batter, there comes a demure woolly brown that reminds me of slim ladies, cashmere sweaters and milk chocolate melting in the sun.

This cake presents nearly no challenges – it’s mostly a breeze to make. There is just one point when it’s hard to imagine the cake turning out, those few minutes when the egg mixture splashes and swirls around the flour + golden syrup mix and you’re trying not to associate it with Things of the Bathroom… If not for the saving line in the recipe “it will resist incorporation and look weird at first”, I might have despaired. In the end, however, it comes together very nicely and reminds me that perseverance can sometimes lead to good surprises.

The cake rises effortlessly and proudly in the oven – and oh, I do so enjoy the look of the plums, round and sweet and delicate, on the risen cake, in the square tin. Smile inducing.

I did change a few things in the recipe, mostly due to pantry limitations. Sure hope the taste isn’t compromised – I’ll let you know tomorrow after the birthday girl has had a chance to try it! :-)

[edit] We managed to surprise G with a birthday morning tea. J brought a scrumptious lemon cake, dense and moist and luscious, with crunchy miniature sugar crystals on the top. M brought brownie squares laden with invisible coconut threads. I brought Nigel’s cake. We had a rich morning tea – and all, it seemed, were smiling! I took home an empty cake tin. Happy, happy birthday, G. [/edit]

    Nigel Slater’s Pudding Cake of Honey, Cinnamon, and Plums
    Adapted from Orangette
    Ingredients:
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 slightly heaping tsp baking powder
    1 tsp baking soda
    1 very generous tsp ground cinnamon
    2 pinches salt
    2/3 cup golden syrup
    2 tbsp maple syrup
    125g unsalted butter
    1/2 cup dark muscovado sugar
    1/4 cup caster sugar
    2 large eggs
    1 cup (250ml) milk
    5 ripe plums, pitted and quartered
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking dish, and set aside.
    In a large bowl, sift and combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk well.
    In a saucepan, warm the golden syrup, maple syrup and butter over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. When the butter is melted, stir in the muscovado and caster sugar. Remove the pan from the heat, and set aside to cool for a minute or two.
    Break the eggs into a medium bowl, add the milk, and whisk the mixture.
    Pour the golden syrup mixture into the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. The batter will be very thick at this point. Pour in the egg mixture, and continue to stir – don’t worry if it doesn’t resemble a good cake mix – it will come together and form a loose batter with no traces of flour
    Pour the batter into the prepared pan, then arrange the plums on top. (They will sink.) Bake for 30 minutes; then place a piece of foil loosely over the top of the cake, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more. The cake should look mostly set at this point. Remove the piece of foil, turn off the oven, and leave the cake in there for another 15 minutes. Let it cool for at least 20 minutes, then loosen from the pan and cool completely before slicing.
    See Molly’s recipe here for her version, and additional notes.

This is my first post for Sweet New Zealand (if I’m not too late!) – hosted by the lovely Allison of Pease Pudding this month.

Chocolate and pear cake

Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing
Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing
Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?
~ Abba, Thank You for the Music

2.02am. Eyes sleepily open. Ears ringing with songs from Moulin Rouge. I have always loved this soundtrack, and one of my best memories is dancing to “Elephant Love Medley” on stage with P… but for some reason I have never watched the movie! K watched it with me tonight – I think she was surprised to learn that I hadn’t watched it, and (rightly) thought it was a wrong that should be put right.

It has been a really nice Saturday. I made a new friend G, we chatted at the charming Little & Friday (Newmarket)… which, by the way, you may like to visit on your next trip to Auckland. With mint-infused water, a spotless interior, smiley staff and a delectable selection of goodies like lamingtons resembling mini brown mountains caught in a snow blizzard, berry-filled bread and butter pudding and crisp, inviting savoury tarts – it’s hard not to fall in like within five seconds of entering the place!

I then caught up with one of my favouritest people in Auckland – M. As always, an illuminating exchange. M constantly reminds me of what is true, and real, and everlasting. I make it a point to keep friends who carry truth in their hearts and wear it on their lips – they are worth more than gold.

And this evening, K came over and we cooked together. Have I mentioned how much I love cooking with this girl??

We made lemon risotto, ratatouille and Al Di La’s Torta di Pere – adapted from Saveur, Molly’s recipe in A Homemade Life, and Smitten Kitchen respectively.

There were two half-full boxes of arborio rice in the pantry, which were both sadly infested with moving black dots…(!) So we thought it best to discard them… and K made risotto with normal long grain rice instead.

So I had not known that you could make risotto successfully with non-arborio rice, but we had a very yummy risotto tonight. Cooking mainly by sight, taste and instinct, K whipped up a dish soft, subtle, creamy, punctuated with the fresh flavour of lemons. When in doubt, she just added a little more pinot gris – a good thing to do when making risotto me thinks ;-)

Last time I made ratatouille, it was nice but all cooked in the oven – so this time I decided to try Molly’s recipe. I modified it slightly for quantity and presence/absence of ingredients in my fridge. A bay leaf, fresh rosemary needles and basil, dried mixed herbs, salt and pepper were the primary seasonings.

I really like how Molly’s recipe involves roasting the eggplant beforehand, then cooking all the vegetables in stages – it’s so easy to overcook vegetables especially when you are trying to cook one dish combining a few different types of them! So this was so nice to eat, because they were all cooked just the right amount – soft, but not soggy; lightly scented with the herbs; warm… mmm.

The cake. With such ingredients as dark chocolate, Bosc pears and brown butter, I think we would have eaten it no matter how it emerged from the oven (ok, I would have…)

So luckily I did not have to eat gobbledy gop by myself because, as it turns out, the mix became cake.

What emerged was, as K says, reminiscent of apple pie – but in pear cake form (and with the addition of dark chocolate which provided a rounded, subtle sweetness). We sliced it into slabs, like brownie bars, and ate them with dollops of Greek yoghurt.

For me it tasted like softly roasted, sweet pear cubes tangible against the smoky, mellow, creamy flavour of warm dark chocolate set on a cloud of disappearing cake. By that, I mean the cake was so fluffy that it was like a floating cloud, a fairy’s wand waving itself in and out of my consciousness as I ate.

You know those days when you crave a sizeable chunk of silky rich, calorie-laden, so-decadent-your-teeth-tingle chocolate cake?

This is not a cake for those days.

This is a cake for picnics on a grassy hill, for the moments when your eyes troll through the menu 10,000 times and still nothing sounds ‘right’. It’s a cake to accompany a musical, and nights of singing; a cake to eat whilst standing by the sink, or from the depths of a plushy couch. Most of all, it’s a cake to enjoy with others.

And now it is nearly 4am. Evidently, I am starting to get sleepy and tomorrow morning I will probably read through this and find an incoherent post with more than one typo – but you’re used to that, aren’t you? And you will forgive me, and go and make some cake? Good night world.

[Edit] Recipe as follows:

    Al Di La’s Torta di Pere [Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake]
    Recipe adapted, with a few modifications, from Smitten Kitchen
    Ingredients:
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1 tablespoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    3 eggs, at room-temperature
    115g unsalted butter
    1/4 cup muscovado sugar
    1/4 cup caster sugar
    3 Bosc pears, peeled, in a small dice (next time I will dice them smaller than I did this time)
    3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks (I used Cadbury’s 70%)
    Just a quick initial note: if you can find a cake partner for this one, do – unless you are a whiz at multi-tasking (I am not). You will see why once you get into it!
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 180°C. Oil and flour a 9-inch springform pan (we used a square tin with a removeable base).
    Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside
    Using an electric handheld mixer, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick – approximately nine minutes (it should take around five minutes with a professional Kitchen Aid). It should resemble velvet custard.
    While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium-sized skillet (because it will foam a lot) and cook it until the butter browns and smells nutty/like caramel (about 6 to 8 minutes). Scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes as necessary, to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.
    Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more.
    Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to loose volume, turn the mixture down to stir (we just switched to a normal whisk at this stage), and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume.
    Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 minutes, or a tester comes out clean. Make sure it is fully done before you take it out – if the top is overly brown and it is not cooked in the middle, put a sheet of foil over it and bake till it’s done.
    As mentioned above, we ate it slightly warm with dollops of Greek yoghurt and it was very good. Possible variations include barely whipped cream with a drop of almond extract in it, or buttermilk ice cream, as listed in the original recipe. Enjoy!

[/Edit]

Gâteau au Citron

May your apartment possess a powerful air conditioner; may your evening be filled with the best of company, and may your cakes be always light and lemony.
~ Molly Wizenberg, Orangette

Cakes have personalities. You get motherly carrot cakes; seductive chocolate and berry cakes; dreamlike chiffon cakes… you catch my drift? According to Molly Wizenberg (and I am sure others would agree), this type of [yoghurt] cake “is an old classic in France, the sort of humble treat that a grandmother would make”… I am inclined to nod and go one further – it’s the sort of humble treat that warm and beautiful grandmothers with good humour would make… also, it’s not a cake I’m prepared to wait till I am grandmother-age to bake and serve!

Like a few other recipes I’ve tried from Molly’s impressive repertoire, this cake is at once down to earth and beautiful. Nothing immediately fancy; patient, accommodating. Happy to be served alone, or adorned with fancy hats of berries/icing/whatever. Yet it’s timeless, classy – Coco Chanel in cake form.

I served it unadorned save a light brushing of lemon glaze and dusting of icing sugar. Oh, and yes, with cups of tea.

    Gâteau au Citron or French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon
    Recipe adapted from Orangette
    Ingredients:
    For the cake:
    1/2 cup Greek honey yoghurt
    1 cup sugar
    3 large eggs
    3 jars unbleached all-purpose flour
    2 tsp baking powder
    2 tsp grated lemon zest
    1/2 cup light olive oil
    For the glaze:
    juice from 2 lemons
    1/4 cup icing sugar
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 176°C.
    In a large bowl, combine the yoghurt, sugar, and eggs, stirring until well blended. Add the flour, baking powder, and zest, mixing to just combine. Add the oil and stir to incorporate. Keep stirring until it comes together to form a smooth batter. Pour and scrape the batter into a greased 9-inch round cake pan.
    Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cake feels springy to the touch and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
    Cool cake on a rack for about 20 minutes; then turn it out of the pan to cool completely.
    When the cake is thoroughly cooled, combine the lemon juice and icing sugar in a small bowl and spoon it gently over the cake. The glaze will be thin and will soak in like a syrup.
    Serve at any time of the day.

PS. See Molly’s quote above? I am happy to say that came true for me… I ate slices of this cake with friends in our house, and left the heater off. :-) A nice feeling indeed!

Golden

The beginning is the most important part of the work.
~ Plato

Haven’t made this in a while, and last night I decided to toast a tray of this for my next few breakfasts. Remembered again everything I like about this! So much more fun to make and eat this than to buy and eat a box of Vogel’s too…

Make your own good morning.