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Monthly Archives: February 2015

Caramelized Balsamic Figs

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Figs are in season in Sydney now and are beautiful, plentiful and well priced. Green figs are the most common variety found but you can sometimes get your hands on those beautiful black figs which looks so spectacular on their own, or caramelized with sugar and balsamic vinegar as I did in a post last year.

I cooked them again last night  – using green figs this time. I ate half for dessert and I am looking forward to finishing the rest with muesli for breakfast.

Here is the original post.

The recipe is based on something from Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course. The caramelisation of the figs comes from creating a toffee syrup and adding butter and balsamic vinegar.

Ingredients

4 firm black figs

2 tbs icing sugar

2 tbls balsamic vinegar

4 tbs caster sugar

20 g butter, divided into knobs

Method

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C.

Place figs in a bowl and sprinkle with icing sugar. Drizzle over 1tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Roll the figs in the icing sugar and balsamic to make sure they are well covered.

Melt the caster sugar in an oven proof dish or frying pan over a low heat. The sugar will melt and turn a deep caramel colour. Be careful not to stir the sugar as it will crystallize.

Add the knobs of butter, stirring carefully to amalgamate. Add the other tablespoon of balsamic and 1 tablespoon of water. Carefully taste – the sauce is hot – and add a little more vinegar if the sauce needs more piquancy, or a little more water if the sauce is too thick.

Add the figs and gently baste with the liquid.

Place the dish in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.

Baste the figs a couple of times during cooking.

Serve warm or at room temperature with thick cream for dessert or yoghurt for breakfast.

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Paul Simon and Sting in the Hunter Valley: The Odd Couple

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A warm February night in the Hunter Valley. It was Valentine’s Day and a waning moon. Is that significant? Is love on the decline in our increasingly  commercial culture?

A group of old friends, school and uni, were gathered for the Paul Simon and Sting gig at Hope Estate. It seemed like yesterday I was at the same venue under balmy skies to watch the consummate act of the Rolling Stones (review here) go through their geriatric paces.

Geriatric is not a word you would use to describe the 64 year-old Sting, whose rippling muscles defined his slender torso. Sporting a hipster beard, he’s still got it. I was a Sting tragic in the 80s, and still have a fascination for his musical breadth and diverse interests. I was richly rewarded on Saturday night. He featured a lot of his wonderful jazz influenced 80s repertoire. When The World Is Running Down and Driven To Tears were probably less accessible for the audience than Roxanne, but they made my night as I had last seen them performed live in the 80s with Sting’s epic jazz line-up of Branford Marsalis, Darryl Jones, Kenny Kirkland and Omar Hakim.

Paul Simon is a little worn. But not bad for 74, his performing style is not the main attraction. A consummate song writer, with the commonality with Sting of an interest in world rhythms, hearing him perform his music which had its genesis 50 years ago was a pleasure. I listened rather than watched.

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover and Still Crazy after all These Years were lyrical and moody, while Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes was wonderfully delivered and had the audience dancing in the aisles.

The Odd Couple did a couple of things that surprised me. When they sang each other’s songs they were really impressive. Simon’s rendition of Sting’s Fragile was poignant: highlighting the song’s political message. Sting’s back-story of America as the sound track to his first tour of the US gave a lovely new narrative twist to Simon’s lyrics.

I was least impressed with their duo singing. Their vocal styles are so different and don’t quite match. Not such a problem on Sting’s stuff, it really grated on Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel numbers. Sting is no Art Garfunkel, and I missed the pure, choir boy harmonies of the early Garfunkel. The Boxer, my favourite song of the original duo, in Saturday’s performance became formulaic and lacking in narrative strength. And the encore of Bridge Over Troubled Water, mostly delivered by Sting, was mundane and without real emotion. You just have to listen to Garfunkel’s singing of Simon’s lyrics to appreciate the beauty of the song.

It was a great night. I love to see musical legends of the 20th century perform live. These two, while not being a match made in heaven, were able to deliver a fairly representative selection of their musical history. And they clearly respect each other as musicians and people. There was a lot of hugging on stage, between the short one and the tall one, which was rather sweet.

And returning to Valentine’s Day – love off stage was there too. My old school friend and her husband, long time partners, danced bare foot in the aisles, absorbed in the moment and in each other, reviving even this old cynic’s view of life and love.

Paul Simon and Sting: Hope Estate Hunter Valley, 14 February 2015

 

 

Mixed Berry Muffins

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Lots of mixed berries make these muffins moist. I varied my usual recipe from The Moosewood Cookbook by adding some ground almonds to the dry ingredients. This gave the muffins a softer texture. Cooking the muffins in flexible silicon molds lined with muffin papers gave the muffins a nice high shape.

Ingredients – Base Mixture

1 and 1/4 cups plain flour + 1/2 cup ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bi-carbonate soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup raw sugar
1/3 cup oil
1 beaten egg
3/4 cup milk
Demerara sugar for sprinkling on tops of muffins

Mixed Berries

3/4 cup fresh raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and blueberries

Method

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C or 160 degrees C fan forced. Line 6 silicon muffin molds with muffin papers. If you don’t have these molds, use an ordinary muffin tin. If you use the muffin papers and three quarters fill them you will get 6 muffins.

Mix the dry ingredients for the base mixture with a spoon in a bowl until well combined.  In another bowl mix the oil, beaten egg and milk.

Gently fold in the mixed berries.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin papers.  Sprinkle the tops with a little demerara sugar for extra crunch. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

Remove from the oven – eat  warm or cold.

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Mini Upside Down Cakes

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Here is another way to vary the basic cupcake recipe. I made some mini upside down cakes, placing some nectarine slices in the bottom of my silicon muffin molds. I sprinkled a spoonful of ginger nut crumble over the fruit then topped up with the cake mixture. For this recipe I used half self-raising flour and half ground almonds.

They were very moist, fruity and the crumble added crunch.  The little cakes turned out well, helped by lining the base of each mold with a little disc of baking paper.

This recipe makes 6 muffin sized cakes.

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Ingredients

1 medium nectarine (peach or plum would be great too)

Crumble

3 ginger nuts biscuits

1 tbls plain flour

1 tbls caster sugar

1/2 tbls butter

Cupcake mixture

60g self-raising flour

65g ground almonds

125g caster sugar

125g butter

2 large free-range eggs

2 tblsp milk

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C or 160 degrees C fanforced. Spray the molds with baking spray unless you are using silicon molds. Cut 6 discs of baking paper and line the muffin molds.

Slice the nectarine finely and place a couple of slices onto the baking paper in each mold. Bash the ginger nuts into crumbs, and rub in the flour, sugar and butter to make the crumble. Divide the crumble mixture between the 6 molds, sprinkling on top of the nectarine slices.

Put the rest of the ingredients into the food processor except the milk and blitz till smooth. Add the milk while pulsing to make a soft, dropping consistency.

Spoon the mixture into the molds. Place the molds into the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes or until the cakes are cooked and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Cool the cakes for 5 minutes. Loosen each cake by running a knife around the sides of the mold. Carefully invert the molds onto a serving plate. Remove the paper discs. The fruit should be intact on top of each cake. If the cakes have risen unevenly, you can trim the bottom (the original top of the cake) to make them sit straight.

Serve as is for afternoon tea, or with cream as a dessert.

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