Monday, 23 November 2015

Upcycled Chocolate Peanut Biscuits

Chocolate peanut biscuits from the Edmonds cookbook were the first biscuits I ever made. We used to call them “Peanut Brownies” but that was before the American Brownie was introduced – and the cake-like rich Brownie is a not at all like the crisp peanut biscuits I used to make.
This is the original recipe.. well nearly original I did add in some raisins with the peanuts.
My friend Sandra gave me a lovely gift of Valrhona – Poudre de cacao (cocoa powder) from France. I was eager to try it out, and chocolate peanut biscuits immediately came to mind, especially as they would be good to pop into Beau’s school lunchbox.
Valrhona is called the “Rolls Royce” of the chocolate world and works directly with the cocoa plantations using Fair Trade principles for many years. It is stocked at Sabato Fine Food Company, Auckland and you can order online a host of fine European ingredients. Click on this link to learn more about Valrhona Chocolate.
I  improved the original biscuit by using this beautiful rich cocoa powder – they were delicious. But Beau reminded me that peanuts were not allowed at school because one of his classmates is allergic to nuts.
I needed to find an alternative and discovered another  chocolate biscuit recipe that looked intriguing because it used Spanish paprika and a salty sprinkle on top.  I know salted caramel works, so salted chocolate biscuits might too.
The chocolate biscuit base of my old favourite looked a better recipe so I decided to just change the extra flavourings, and of course use the rich cocoa powder.
One of these cake racks are a good and cheap investment to help your baking success.

Salted chocolate, raisin and pumpkin seed biscuits

(Preheat the oven to 180ºC and this mix makes two trays)
125 g of butter
1 cup of sugar
1 egg
1½ cups of flour
2 Tbsp of cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp Spanish smoked paprika (original recipe suggested hot but I used what I had)
Pinch of salt
¾ cup of pumpkin seeds
½ cup of raisins (you could also use Craisins or currants)
½ cup of chocolate chips, chopped pieces, chocolate chunks – (use whatever you have in the pantry)
Flaked Sea Salt – I like to use Maldon sea salt because the flakes crush easily
I remember the thrill of using the Kenwood mixer when making those first biscuits and a cake mixer does speed up the process but everything can be made in a bowl with a wooden spoon and a little human energy.
Soften the butter and sugar and beat until its light and creamy, then beat in the egg.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, pinch of salt, and Spanish paprika and add to the mixer.
I used the contents of one of the small packets of pumpkin seeds from the supermarket.  It’s important to use fresh seeds to get the most nutritional value and flavour from these mighty seeds.  I have also used sunflower seeds and I’m keen to try Linseed too.
I usually add the pumpkin seeds, raisins and chocolate chunks by hand, but you can use a mixer.
It’s the first time I have used this type of chocolate pieces and I liked them in the biscuits. They are thin squares.  I snapped each square in half or quarters before adding.
Take a teaspoon full of mix and form into a ball with your hands and place on a tray covered with baking paper.
Top left: a teaspoon of mix, Bottom left: rolled into a ball, Right: flattened with a form.
This mix makes two trays and approximately 32 biscuits. Now with a fork dip into a glass of water and gently flatten the balls.  The water helps to prevent the fork from sticking to the mix.
Finally before putting into the oven, pinch flaked sea salt and crush a little over each flattened biscuit – just a little – too much salt and it will spoil the biscuit.
It’s difficult to get a really even sprinkle – just rub fingers together and keep them moving over the biscuits.
Place into the oven, first tray slightly above the half way line  of the oven and the second tray as close to half way as possible and bake for 15 minutes or until cooked.  The time will depend on your oven and if using a fan oven reduce the temperature down to 170ºC.  In a non-fan oven half way through cooking swap the trays to get even cooking.   I generally do one tray and pop it into the oven and then do the other so that the first batch can have room to cool on a rack while the others finish cooking.   It’s important to use a cooling rack so that they have plenty of air circulation allowing them to cool quickly and stay crisp.
Alternatively use Spelt flour instead of plain white flour as it produces a better biscuit crunch outcome and some who cannot have wheat products can eat spelt flour products with no side affects.  But it is an expensive choice and I keep my spelt flour for my favourite Wanaka Gingernut biscuits.
Gingernuts with Wanaka bg
I couldn’t pick out the paprika flavour but I think it added to the richness. If you used a hot paprika there would be a little heat…perhaps not advisable for five year old lunch boxes.
Upcycle is a popular word of the moment and usually pertains to art, furniture and building projects where the old fashioned or unwanted materials of are re-used or reworked to gain new value.
“Daphne at 7” – my sister Kerry is an expert at upcycling. She re-uses animal skulls and blankets to create artworks. The head is a homage to Daphne the goat and will be a whimsical welcome  to her newly established B&B  “7” in Macandrew Bay, Dunedin. The head is mounted on green formica  cut out of a table to fit the bathroom basin.
I think it’s a word that can also be used in the world of cooking as there are many recipes either forgotten or thought not to be exciting enough that with a little rethinking can become an up to date delight.
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The salt you can choose whether or not to add – but it does seem to highlight the flavour of the chocolate.
Not that the classic peanut chocolate biscuit has passed its use by date, but, in these days of higher incidence of food allergies it sometimes pays to upcycle the classic so that everyone can enjoy them.  If you want to make the old favourite just add peanuts and nothing else to the chocolate biscuit base.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Whangarei Growers Market and New Zealand spinach

Whangarei Heads is always a delight to visit, so much so that we usually don’t want to leave. But on our last visit our friend Heather Hunt insisted we be on the road by 7am to experience the Whangarei Growers Market held early every Saturday morning.
Microgreens, Keri Keri oranges, duck eggs and entertainers all at the Whangarei Growers Market.
Heather is right, the growers market is excellent.  Of course, coming from the South, my eyes focused first on the large $5 bags of Keri Keri oranges and then a bag of Ben Yen lemons for $2. How I will miss citrus when we move back to Dunedin.
I spoke to a stall holder selling “duck-egg blue” duck eggs.  Half a dozen duck eggs went into my bag as I’m curious to see if using duck eggs rather than hen eggs, will result in a better cake.
Then I spied first of the season golden Butter Beans grown outside by a Keri Keri grower. They were a bit of a treat at $5 a small bag but then to my reckoning growers producing the first for the bean season deserve that extra reward.
My best contribution to the evening meal would be a salad so I made for the organic veggie stall that also sells ready made salads. Kaleslaw instead of Coleslaw…this made me smile. How smart to incorporate the vegetable of the moment, kale, into a coleslaw mix. It was a vibrant and plentiful stall and a good place to browse while listening to a great version of Leonard Cohen’s “Allelujah” performed by young local musicians.
New Zealand Spinach Tetragonia tetragonioides, is also known as Botany Bay spinach, Cook’s cabbage, kōkihi, or sea spinach. These names do indicate that this plant is a native of Australia and New Zealand. This photo was taken at a beach near Farewell Spit, Golden Bay.
It was here I spied the bag of New Zealand Spinach. I’ve never seen this vegetable for sale before although I have foraged for it in it’s natural habitat on sandy dunes and coastal places.  The horticulturally grown plants in the bag had larger and lush leaves compared to those in the wild.
Our neighbouring plotholder, John, at Sanctuary Community Gardens grew really great spinach Spinacia oleracea this winter (May 2015).
New Zealand spinach is not a real spinach but has that similar triangular leaf shape and can be used as a spinach replacement. Its succulent spongy texture will allow it to survive hot and dry conditions, making it an ideal spinach alternative when it’s too hot for real spinach to thrive.
Purple-green Rambo radish micro-greens caught my eye.  This is the first time I have purchased micro-greens. I’m curious about growing them myself so I quizzed the grower.
Finally meeting up again with Heather and Peter, we calculated if we would have the ingredients between us to make a quick and easy dinner as we had a big day exploring the Bay of Islands ahead.  Heather had in her bag a side of smoked gem fish and freshly dug potatoes.
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The smoked gem fish was gently heated to serve – easy and simply delicious.
Peter sourced our entree with a camembert from Grinning Gecko cheesemakers,  James and Catherine McNamara. The name of their cheese was inspired by the green geckos that live in the manuka and kanuka on their property at Whangarei Heads.
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Ben Barr, another Whangarei Head’s resident, took this photo and could be called a “Geeko”…as there’s nothing he doesn’t know about geckos and is a passionate protector of this little local. We were lucky to have his company along with the remainder of the Grinning Gecko cheese for Sunday lunch at Heather and Martins.
I had more than enough ingredients for a salad and I was keen to try the New Zealand Spinach as the green salad base.
My Whangarei salad would comprise of New Zealand Spinach, Rambo radish micro-greens, Lebanese cucumber, and oranges from the Whangarei Growers market, bulb fennel from my community garden in Auckland and spring onions from Heather’s garden.
New Zealand spinach is high in oxalic acid, like sorrel, so best to avoid eating it raw in large quantities because it can inhibit your body from absorbing other nutrients.  Cooking it will greatly reduce the oxalic acid but will destroy the high vitamin C content.

Whangarei Salad: NZ Spinach, Orange & Fennel

Half of the large fennel bulb I sliced very carefully and thinly with a mandolin and used half of the bag of New Zealand spinach leaves, discarding the larger stems and tearing it into bite sized pieces.
Next I mixed the spinach, sliced fennel, chopped onions and some greenery from the fennel with an orange dressing to be absorbed and softened… as you would with a coleslaw.  Normally with softer leaves or crisp greens I would add the dressing just before serving.
The  sweet orange dressing was made from the juice of a Keri Keri orange, a little orange zest, a garlic clove crushed in sea salt, a dash of cider vinegar,  a teaspoon of honey and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. I haven’t given exact measurements as the amount of vinegar and honey you add is up to personal taste and relies on how sweet the orange is.  I found when experimenting with this dressing it was best to dip in a leaf of the spinach to check if the dressing was just right for the salad.
I used two oranges, cutting up the second into pieces to add to the salad along with some chopped almonds. Try to remove all the white pith from the oranges as the pith is bitter.
I added to the marinating salad a sliced up Lebanese cucumber, the Rambo radish sprouts, diced orange and chopped almonds just before serving.
To go with the smoked fish and my salad, Heather made a hot potato salad with chopped red onion, preserved lemon, olives and olive oil (see top right). Final touch was to add the new seasons butter beans.
My Whangarei Salad worked really well with the potatoes, beans and smoked fish.
Captain Cook’s crew found that New Zealand spinach was effective at fighting the symptoms of scurvy and harvested, cooked and preserved the leafy plant for the crew of the “Endeavor” (hence the name “Cook’s Cabbage”). But it was another explorer and botanist,  Joseph Banks, who took it back to England to grow in 1772 and it became very popular.
From one explorer to another…
Heather and Peter enjoying the peaceful Te Waimate Mission at Waimate North, between Paihia and Keri Keri.
Our trip to the Bay of Islands followed the footsteps of another early explorer and naturalist, Charles Darwin. As a young man in his 20’s he made a brief nine day visit to the Bay of Islands in 1835. After the sunshine and friendliness of Tahiti, he was not impressed with a drizzly Christmas in the lawless town of Kororāreka (Russell) and the missionary settlement of Paihia. The highlight of his visit was to the white- washed English settlement and Te Waimate Mission Station.
I wonder if Darwin was served New Zealand spinach during his stay at the mission?
It’s a plant I’m keen to grow under garden conditions as it’s robust, grows well in drought or in coastal saline-rich soils, and is unaffected by bugs or pests. It can also be utilised as a good ground cover to keep moisture in the ground so I am also keen to plant it under fruit trees.
It was greatly appreciated 200+ years ago – I reckon its high time we revived interest in New Zealand spinach.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Almond Pudding Cake for Augustines Apricots

I've been experimenting with my favourite pudding cake recipe to showcase Augustines of Central preserved apricots.
Augustines of Central apricots are stocked in Auckland in the Fine Food section of Auckland's Smith and Caugheys department store.
Our son Gus is the producer of these perfect preserves and he gave me a challenge recently. Could I find a good cake recipe for his apricots? Gus is an excellent chef but really cakes are not his specialty. He was never the one hovering around the cake mixer as a child.  First up I tried a rustic cake recipe from Nigel Slater that Gus suggested.
It was good sized cake but I felt the apricots were a little lost in the cakeyness.
So I turned to my often used Almond Pudding Cake recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "River Cottage Everyday". It's a light cake with a higher ratio of fruit to cake.
A pudding cake can be served warm as a pudding or dessert with cream, custard or yoghurt, or cut up cold with a tea or coffee.
The original recipe uses sweet dessert apples that keep their shape. (Cooking apples or tart apples have too much malac acid to keep their shape). I have used pears and they work really well so try some of those sweet Winter Nelis pears featured in my previous post.
I used OOB organic blueberries from Omaha north of Auckland.
My first experimentation with the Almond Pudding Cake recipe was to use Gus's suggested combination of blueberries and his apricots. I liked this idea for three reasons. First, using two summer fruits preserved in time, one quick frozen and the other in a preserving jar.  Second, using fruits from two ends of New Zealand - north of Auckland for the blueberries and Central Otago for the apricots. Thirdly, the colour combination is gorgeous.
I decided to make this cake again to take to our community garden's work day shared lunch to get some feedback.
This time I cut up the apricots to ensure everyone would get some apricot and to make it more like a cake than a pudding.
I got a great response from my fellow gardeners but I felt it didn't really need the blueberries. The apricots could stand on their own. So too could the blueberries work solo as a feature fruit in this Almond Pudding Cake.

Apricot and Almond Pudding Cake

This cake recipe is for a 20 cm springform cake tin, but as I only have a 22 cm tin so used that. It still works but the cake doesn't reach quite the height it would in a 20cm tin. It comes out a little more like a flan which is fine for a dessert.
Grease your tin and line the base with baking paper and preheat the oven to 170°C.
150g butter softened
125g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
1 tsp almond essence (optional - if you like extra almond flavour - I prefer not to add this)
75g self-raising flour
75g ground almonds (or blanched almonds whizzed in a food processor - and I have used whole almonds ground into a meal as well)
Pinch of salt
For caramelizing of the fruit:
8-9 Augustines of Central apricot halves
25 g butter
1 heaped tbsp of brown sugar
To save time and effort just place the apricots on top without the caramelising as unlike the apples the apricots are already cooked. But I enjoyed the extra sweetness as the apricots are lovely and tart and the caramel does create a rich coloured crust.
If using other fruits than the apricots like the original apples you will need 3-4 apples or pears, or around 1½ cups of frozen berries.
It's also an option to add a little cinnamon when caramelising the fruit.
Sift the self raising flour, keeping aside 1 Tbsp of flour and then mix in the ground almond or almond meal. The almond meal is made from whole almonds not blanched ground almonds.
It's important to beat really well the butter and sugar until the sugar almost melts. The secret is to just soften the butter so that it will cream or fluff up.  If too melted it will become a sugar slurry.  Many a time I have left the bowl in the oven too long.  You can fix this by quickly taking out the butter and sugar from the hot bowl and throw into the freezer for around 10 minutes and then repeat the beating process.
It's much easier to use a cake mixer, but you can opt for a bit of a workout and beat with a wooden spoon.  Add the eggs one at a time.  To prevent curdling add 1 Tbsp of the flour measurement with the second egg.
This creaming process will ensure your cake is light, as will sifting the flour.
The final step is to fold in the dry ingredients.  It's important you fold rather than stir or beat to keep the mix light and airy.  My little kitchen helper, Beau, filmed me demonstrating this action. on this link: Beau filming folding flour for cake
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One of the perks helping with baking for Beau is getting the opportunity to lick the mixer.
Spoon the cake evenly into the prepared tin. It's best to start the caramelising while making the cake to ensure the cake goes into the oven quickly.
Melt the brown sugar and butter in a heavy pan and let it sizzle to caramelise a little.  Then add your fruit.  I put the apricots cut side down and only for a minute or two. The apples and pears need to partly cook for about 5 minutes. Keep the pan moving so that they don't stick.
Now it's time to place the fruit on top of the cake mix.
The apple and pears I would do as Hugh suggests and slightly dig them into the cake mix so that they are in the middle of the cake.  I prefer to just place the apricots on top.  The cake will rise around them but it's nicer to see a glimpse of their colour on top of the cake.

Pour over the caramelised juices and bake for around 50 minutes at 170°C.  Be guided by the smell - if you can smell it, the cake is probably getting ready - but to make sure test with a skewer into the centre to see if it comes out clean. Another indication that it's cooked is when it begins to shrink from the edge of the pan.
Augustines apricots on the production line.
Preserved apricots contain as much vitamin A, antioxidants and minerals as a fresh apricot  Unripe fruit will only have half the vitamin A compared to a ripe apricot. All of Gus's apricots are tree ripened so by staying on the tree longer Augustines of Central preserves will have maximum vitamin A content.
Juicy apricots on top of other stone fruits from Seamans on Basil Road off Meeanee Road, Napier
There is nothing more delicious than a tree ripened apricot and as a fresh fruit it's a low calorie fruit with loads of nutrients including vitamin C and soluble fibre. But it's not easy sourcing sweet fresh apricots.  The best apricots in New Zealand come from Central Otago and Hawkes Bay and to get the best, you need to buy from roadside stalls or the excellent Hawkes Bay Farmers Market in Hastings every Sunday or Otago Farmers Market in Dunedin every Saturday morning over the summer.
Not that most of us have to be persuaded to eat an apricot as they are delicious. But it's interesting that apricots, raw, cooked or dried, are particularly good for improving eyesight especially for those of us with ageing eyes who spend a lot of time in front of screens being exposed to harmful blue light.
I've succeeded in my small challenge to find a cake recipe to complement Gus's preserved apricots. It's also a recipe that will work with any seasonal fruit.  
Photos of Gus preserving pears by Photo by Mickey Ross of Micimage
Gus has a much bigger challenge ahead.  He has to source more Central Otago spray free orchards because his 2015 stock has already sold out and more stockists are lining up to stock Augustines of Central in 2016.