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Fig and almond cake

Ah, a beautiful, juicy fig… and sunshine. And saltwater hugs. It was so good to be back in South Africa, spending time with family and friends. The kids loved every moment (especially the fact that they could wear shorts most of the time) and I enjoyed the slightly more relaxed pace. On our way from Hermanus to Plettenberg Bay, we stopped at a fig farm and bought a whole box of figs for £3.50! We were all salivating in the car the rest of the journey. We enjoyed them in so many different ways: gobbled up whole, sliced into salads, in smoothies, smashed on buttered toast. And then there was the cake, of course. The first piece eaten very quickly with a dollop of mascarpone. The second piece nibbled a little more slowly, savouring its crumbly texture and delicious flavour.

Figs 2

Figs 3

Ingredients

125g unsalted butter, room temperature
65g (1/2 cup loosely packed) light muscovado sugar
3 medium eggs
160g (roughly 1 cup) whole raw almonds
80g (scant ½ cup) spelt flour or gluten-free flour blend
½ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
zest from 3 large organic lemons
12 figs, stalk removed and quartered

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Lightly grease a medium sized ovenproof dish (or cake tin).
  2. Beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for another minute or two.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Process the almonds in a food processor until they resemble a coarse meal. Add this, as well as the flour, baking powder and salt to the mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in the lemon zest.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the greased dish, flatten the top with a spatula and press the fig quarters into the batter.
  6. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until golden and crunchy-looking, and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Do not overbake, as it will dry out.

Figs 1



Rhubarb galette with gingerbread spices

This rhubarb galette with gingerbread spices is delicious, straight from the oven, served with vanilla ice cream or slightly sweetened whipped cream. It is easy to make and you can replace the rhubarb with any fruit in season, but remember to take into account how quickly the fruit cooks when deciding on how large to slice or chop it. Slice apples or ripe pears very thinly, pile berries on top, or try chopped pineapple – they all work fantastically well.

Rhubarb galette

Ingredients for the pastry

225g wholemeal spelt flour (I used buckwheat, which works too, but makes the pastry slightly more fragile)
pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder (usually made by grinding the whole dried vanilla pod) or the seeds from one pod
100g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
40 – 60ml (2 1/2 – 4) tablespoons ice cold water

Ingredients for the fruit topping

5 cups chopped or sliced rhubarb (or other fruit of your choice)
1 cup light muscovado sugar or coconut sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
a few tablespoons ground almonds

Method

  1. In a food processor, pulse the flour, salt, vanilla and butter until it resembles wet sand. You can also do this by hand, by rubbing the butter into the dough with your finger tips.
  2. Now add the cold water little by little until the dough just comes together into a ball.
  3. Remove the dough from the food processor and knead briefly until smooth. It shouldn’t be sticky or crumbly – of too sticky, add more flour, if too dry, add a few more drops of ice water. Shape it into a flat disc.
  4. Roll the dough out between two sheets of baking parchment – you are aiming for a thin sheet about 3mm thick, either round or square’ish, and refrigerate on a baking sheet until firm (about half an hour).
  5. Remove the firm dough from the fridge and place on a large baking sheet (still on the parchment paper). Allow to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F.
  6. Mix together the fruit and spices and as soon as the pastry has reached room temperature. Scatter the ground almonds in a circle in the centre (this will prevent the juices that escape during cooking from making the pastry soggy), and spoon the fruit on top.
  7. Fold over the edges, pinching the pastry here and there to keep it in place, and bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until the pastry is golden and crunchy, and the fruit tender. Allow to cool sightly before serving.


Chocolate bark with macadamia nuts, dried banana and sea salt

Another delicious topping for chocolate bark is a combination of toasted macadamia nuts, dried bananas and flaked sea salt. Drizzle everything with melted milk chocolate and ta-dah!

Choc bark blog 1

Chocolate bark with macadamia nuts, dried banana and sea salt

Makes enough for 2 – 4 little bags

Ingredients

150g dark chocolate (minimum 60% cocoa solids)

large pinch of sea salt flakes

30g (1/4 cup) macadamia nuts, toasted for 5 minutes at 180˚C pre-heated

30g dried bananas, finely chopped

5g popped quinoa, optional

20g milk chocolate

Method

  1. Melt 2/3 of the dark chocolate in a double boiler until just melted, stirring continuously. As soon as it has melted, stir in the rest of the chocolate until all has melted.  You could also melt the chocolate in a microwave in 15 second bursts, stirring after each, until just melted. Do not let the chocolate get warm.
  2. Pour the melted chocolate onto a large piece of greaseproof paper and quickly spread out to about 1/4” thickness with a spatula.
  3. Quickly scatter  over all the toppings  evenly.
  4. While the bark is cooling, melt the milk chocolate in the same way as the dark chocolate.  Either drizzle this over the bark with a spoon or use a small sandwich bag (or piping bag) to pipe the melted chocolate onto the bark. Set aside to cool completely.
  5. Peel away the paper and snap into pieces.


Rhubarb and apple crumble

It’s rhubarb season! The word “forced” used to lead me to believe that this kind of rhubarb is somehow inferior, but I have since come to love this delicious late winter treat. Lifting sections of the rhubarb roots and bringing them under the cover of a greenhouse or other warmer place, shutting out all light, creates stems that grow pale. This means the light-starved plants desperately reach out in search of light and thereby produce smooth, bright crimson stems (rather than green ones created post photosynthesis). The Rhubarb Triangle in West Yorkshire produces some of the world’s finest. Forced rhubarb is less bitter than the traditional, non-forced stalks and needs less sugar to balance the tartness. Pretty in pink and less astringent – perfect!

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Rhubarb and apple crumble

Serves 4 – 6

Ingredients for the fruit filling

500g rhubarb, washed and sliced into 1/2 cm pieces

2 apples, cored and thinly sliced

zest of 1 orange

juice of 2 oranges

40g dark muscovado sugar

1 cinnamon stick, broken into 2 or 3 pieces

Ingredients for the topping

85g cold unsalted butter (preferably organic) or ice cold coconut oil, cut into little cubes

50g mixed nuts, roughly chopped (I used a combination of almonds, pecans and walnuts)

30g demerara sugar

70g muesli base (mine is a mix of oat, rye and quinoa flakes, but you can use any combination)

70g wholemeal rye flour (or use wholemeal spelt or you favourite gluten-free mix)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch of salt

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (370°F).
  2. Mix all the ingredients for the filling in a large bowl, then transfer to a medium ovenproof dish and cover with a lid or foil. Bake for 45 minutes (or until the fruit is tender when tested with a sharp knife), stirring carefully half-way through the cooking time.
  3. In the meantime, place all the topping ingredients apart from the butter in a bowl and mix well. Now add the butter (or coconut oil) and quickly rub into the dry ingredients until it comes together and you are able to form large clumps. Spread the clumps out on a baking sheet and place in the oven with the fruit. The crumble topping should be ready after about 30 minutes, but use a spatula to turn the pieces over gently half way.
  4. To serve, divide the fruit amongst 4 – 6 bowls, spoon over the delicious juices, scatter the crumble over the fruit and serve with vanilla-sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream of your choice.

Note: If you use coconut oil and gluten-free flour, your crumble will be a much finer texture, but still crunchy and delicious.

crumble 1

crumble 2

 



Bergamot and cucumber salad

I only recently discovered my love for Earl Grey tea. Not the regular kind, mind you. It was the combination of Redbush tea from my homeland with the intoxicating aroma from the Bergamot oil that swayed me. The Bergamot orange (sometimes mistakenly referred to as a lemon) was created more than 300 years ago in Southern Italy when a sour orange was crossed with a citron/lemon/lime/Palestine sweet lime. No one is quite sure. The oil is extracted from the rind and used in Earl Grey teas, as well as fragrances, aromatherapy and to flavour dishes. Here I’ve put them to good use in a refreshing salad dressing with cucumber and blueberries. But the options really are endless…

Bergamot lemons (1)

Bergamot lemon cucumber salad

If you cannot find Bergamot oranges (in season from December to February) try a combination of lemon, grapefruit and orange or tangerine, although the distinctive floral, slightly bitter flavour is difficult to replicate.

Serves 4 – 6

Ingredients for the salad

2 English cucumbers, peeled if not organic

1 punnet blueberries (about 125g), washed and halved if you prefer

a large handful of pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

Ingredients for the dressing

zest of 2 Bergamot oranges

juice of 1 Bergamot orange

80ml thick Greek yoghurt (or coconut yoghurt)

45ml (3 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, crushed

large pinch of unrefined rock or sea salt

1 – 2 teaspoons raw honey (or maple syrup), or to taste

small bunch of dill, leaves only, finely chopped

Method

  1. Thinly slice the cucumber on the diagonal and gently toss with a pinch of unrefined salt. Place the cucumber slices in a colander over a bowl or in the sink and allow to drain for at least half an hour.
  2. Put all the ingredients for the dressing in a jar, screw on the lid and give it a good shake until the honey is dissolved.
  3. Add the rest of the salad ingredients, toss with the dressing and serve immediately.

Bergamot lemon dressing

Cuke salad

 



Turmeric poached pears with macadamia nut cream

I love brunches so much, that I centre most of my social engagements around them (click here and here for some easy recipe ideas). Not too early, with an array of delectable foods to choose from, most often vegetable-heavy, and no rush to leave, it is by far my favourite kind of meal. I especially like being creative and pushing boundaries when it comes to menu ideas, so I really enjoyed collaborating with M&S on their Super Brunch campaign using their new Chef range cookware.  The products are well-designed, solid and beautiful to look at, and being part of a brunch initiative has me smiling from ear to ear. These pears would make a great addition to any brunch spread, but would also be a spectacular dessert, perhaps with a few candied macadamia nuts scattered over the top.

A lot has been written about curcumin, an active compound in turmeric believed to have many health benefits since they are powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agents. But interestingly enough, turmeric is not that easy for our bodies to assimilate, as most of it is metabolised by the liver before being absorbed. Studies have now shown that eaten with even just a tiny amount of black pepper, absorption of the curcumin is a lot higher, because the chemical compound “piperine” in the pepper inhibits this metabolisation. Bioavailability of curcumin is also higher when eaten with a fat, as it can then be directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lymphatic system thereby in part bypassing the liver.

ms-pears ms-pears-plate

 

Turmeric poached pears with macadamia nut cream

Serves 6

Ingredients for the pears

6 – 7 ripe but firm pears

5cm (2”) piece of fresh turmeric, scrubbed cleaned (or peeled if not organic) and thinly sliced

thumb-sized piece of ginger, scrubbed cleaned (or peeled if not organic) and thinly sliced

a few gratings of coarse freshly ground black pepper

500 – 600ml dry white wine

40ml (2 1/2 tablespoons) maple syrup

 

Ingredients for the macadamia nut cream

140g (1 cup) macadamia nuts, soaked in filtered water for 2 – 4 hours

80ml (1/3 cup) reduced poaching liquid

unrefined salt

 

Method

  1. Peel the pears, taking care to leave the stalk in tact. Place the pears, turmeric, ginger, black pepper and white wine into a medium, deep saucepan like this one I was recently sent by M&S, and set over medium heat.
  2. Cut a circle out of greaseproof parchment paper just large enough to fit into the saucepan and lay over the pears in the wine (this is called a cartouche and prevents the liquid from evaporating too quickly whilst the fruit is poaching).
  3. As soon as you see tiny bubbles form under your cartouche, turn the heat down very low and allow the pears to poach for 15 minutes. Test with a sharp paring knife – the pears should be tender, but not too soft.
  4. Remove the pears carefully with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  5. Turn the heat up high and boil the wine with the flavourings until it has reduced by about two thirds to three quarters. You will need about 160ml (2/3 cup) of reduced liquid.
  6. Now add the maple syrup, whisk and set aside to cool slightly.
  7. To make the macadamia nut cream, rinse the soaked nuts and place in a blender with roughly half (about 80ml) of the reduced poaching liquid and a small pinch of salt. Blend until the cream is very smooth – if you do not own a high speed blender, you might have to keep going a bit longer.
  8. Serve the pears with the cream and remaining poaching liquid.

ms-syrup

*This blog post was written in collaboration with M&S. All content and photos my own.



Apricot, red currant & butternut cake

I absolutely love cooked apricots, whether in a cake, jam, compote, tart or savoury dish. I find that they offer the perfect balance of flavour, and the vibrant colour is always a treat. This cake has a firm texture and is not very crumbly, so makes for an ideal dessert to take along on a picnic. Use frozen red currants if you can’t find fresh.

apricot cake (2)

Apricot, red currant and butternut squash cake

Makes one 20cm cake

 

Ingredients

3 medium eggs

150ml (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) macadamia nut or extra virgin olive oil

140g (1 cup) palm sugar or dark muscovado sugar

1 vanilla pod, cut into smaller pieces (or just the seeds if you are not using a high-speed blender)

130g (1 cup) wholemeal spelt or buckwheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of sea salt

165g (1 1/2 cups) grated peeled butternut squash

150g red currants, stripped from the stalks

8 small apricots, halved and stone removed

Toasted macadamias, optional

 

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/360°F, and grease a 20cm spring form.
  2. In a blender, whisk together the eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla pod pieces (or vanilla seeds, if not using a strong blender).
  3. Mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the centre and add the egg mix. Stir until just combined.
  4. Stir in the butternut and half the red currants, then scrape into prepared tin.
  5. Place the apricot halves, cut sides down, onto the cake batter and scatter the rest of the currants on top. Use the back of a large spoon to gently press the fruit into the batter.
  6. Bake for about 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean or with a few dry crumbs.  It may need a little longer, depending on your oven.
  7. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
  8. Serve with whipped cream and toasted macadamia nuts.

 

 

 



Strawberry and tomatillo salsa

Tomatillos look like little green tomatoes but are, in fact, related to the cape gooseberry (or physalis). They are a staple in Mexican cooking, and with their tart, refreshing taste, make a great addition to all kinds of dishes, especially salsa verde. Once you’ve removed the husk, rinse them well as they are sticky, then chop or blend and add to guacamole, or cook it down with red onion and chilli for the most delectable sauce. I received mine with my weekly Riverford Organic box, but you could also try online grocers specialising in Mexican ingredients.

Strawberry and tomatillo

Strawberry and tomatillo salsa

Delicious with a Mexican-inspired barbecue or grilled fish, this salsa is a lovely alternative to your regular tomato version. Make sure your strawberries are super sweet – the salsa needs it. Tomatillos are a good source of niacin, potassium, and manganese, and are very rich in vitamin C and vitamin K. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper.

Serves 4 – 6

 

Ingredients

juice of 1 lime

large pinch of sea salt

1 teaspoon raw honey

1/2 red onion, finely diced

200g tomatillos, finely chopped

400g strawberries, hulled and quartered

small bunch fresh coriander, finely chopped

1 – 2 red or green chillies, chopped (deseeded if preferred), optional

 

Method

  1. Whisk together the lime juice, salt and raw honey. Then add the onion and set aside.
  2. Prepare the rest of your ingredients, then toss with the dressed onions and serve.


Puffed quinoa squares

A relative unknown a few years ago, South American-born Quinoa has since crept into our hearts and is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. This little pseudo-grain is very nutritious, rich in protein and gluten-free to boot, making it an ideal addition to any meal. It is most often cooked and prepared in the same way as rice, but I love grinding and making a delicious breakfast porridge with it. You can also make puffed quinoa as if you were making popcorn. Heat a large heavy bottomed pot (cast iron ones work best) and add about half a cup of quinoa. Keep shaking the pot until most of the seeds have popped. If your pot is deep enough, you won’t need a lid to keep the little nippers at bay.  Tip them out onto a baking sheet to cool and use in muesli, as a topping on yoghurt or in recipes such as these squares below.

Puffed quinoa squares (1)

Puffed quinoa squares

The squares make an excellent after-school snack, as they are a mini version of a complete meal.

Makes about 40

Ingredients

200g (1 1/2 loosely packed cups) soft, dried prunes

125ml coconut water, at room temperature and preferably raw (i.e. unpasteurised)

150ml (125g or 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) liquid coconut oil

125ml (1/2 cup) raw honey

Pinch of sea salt

5 cups puffed quinoa (home-made or store-bought)

90g (1 cup) toasted desiccated coconut

70g (1/2 cup) shelled hemp seeds

70g (1/2 cup) shelled sunflower seeds

 

Method

  1. Soak the prunes in the coconut water whilst you get your other ingredients together.
  2. In a powerful blender, blend the prunes, coconut water and enough of the coconut oil to give you a smooth paste. Scrape into a bowl.
  3. Add the rest of the oil, honey, salt, quinoa, desiccated coconut and seeds, and stir until well combined. Your mixture needs to be sticky and hold together when pressed.
  4. Line a 34cm x 26cm (9” x 13”) tin or oven dish with greaseproof paper, then press the mixture into the tin and refrigerate until set (at least a couple of hours).
  5. Turn out onto a chopping board and cut into squares. They will keep a week or so in the fridge, and freeze really well.

 

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Melon and avocado poke

This is refreshing and utterly summery. Unlike the British weather. (Here’s hoping the guys at the met office are right about that heat wave…) Poke (pronounced poke-keh) is a Hawaiian staple and can be found in many different guises, with chunks of tuna marinated in soy being the most popular and ubiquitous. This is a meat- and fish-free version and something I love eating whilst sat on my garden chair with the sun kissing my toes. It serves 4 as a starter, but I often eat the entire bowlful for lunch. Whatever you do, only attempt this if you can get your hands on seriously good melons.

Version 2

Melon & avocado poké with nori crisps

Serves 4 as a starter

Ingredients for the nori crisps

2 sheets nori

white sesame seeds

sesame oil

sea salt

 

Ingredients for the dressing

15ml (1 tablespoon) extra virgin olive oil

5ml (1 teaspoon) rice wine vinegar

5ml (1 teaspoon) toasted sesame oil

15ml (1 tablespoon) tamari

30ml (2 tablespoons) lemon juice

1/2 – 1 teaspoon raw honey

1 teaspoon each of white and black sesame seeds, plus more for garnish

pinch of dried chilli flakes (or to taste)

1 shallot, very finely chopped

1 large clove garlic, finely chopped

 

Ingredients for the poké

500g (3 1/2 cups) diced watermelon (or a mixture of melons)

2 ripe avocado, cut into small dice

large handful sugar snap peas, thinly sliced lengthways

1 spring onion, finely sliced

sea salt

 

Method

  1. For the nori crisps: Preheat the oven to 140°C (275°F). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Place two sheets of nori, shiny side up, on a chopping board. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush one sheet with water, then press the other one firmly firmly on top to stick the two together.
  2. Now brush the uppermost sheet with sesame oil, sprinkle on some sea salt and sesame seeds, and using scissors or a sharp knife, cut the nori into thin strips.
  3. Arrange the strips in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until they have turned crispy and dark green. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  4. For the dressing: Combine all the ingredients in a jar and give it a good shake. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  5. To serve: Gently toss together the melon and other poké ingredients with the dressing and serve immediately topped with nori crisps.

 

DSC_3376 Melon Poke 2