Spiced quince and apple pies

Quince time! Maybe the greatest time of year?

I don’t know, it’s a big call. But really, stewed quinces are so great – on cereal, for dessert served with (soy) ice cream. So versatile! It’s times like these I get a little bit sad that our own quince trees are performing a bit less brilliantly than would be ideal. Possibly an alert to add quince tree TLC to the list of gardening jobs?

That aside, my aunty and uncle brought over a bag of quinces the other day, so the kitchen is well stocked, and today was one of those days where you just need to do some baking to cheer someone up. Good combination, I thought.

With a bit of browsing of the internet for inspiration, I decided on pies. Mostly because I have been making way too many cake-type sweets recently, and no one in my house is eating them at a satisfactory rate to allow me to keep baking more. I also remembered spotting a small ball of pastry in the freezer the other day, which, given the super-tight study schedule I have put myself on, I decided would save me a lot of time. (Please note that I am aware writing blogs isn’t exactly exam revision, but you know… sanity break…)

Armed with slightly-old-but-still-passable short crust pastry, I began my pie adventure.
With a little bit more internet inspiration, I decided that following a recipe was way too hard, and to just basically stew fruit with spices and stick it in the pastry. Can’t really get much simpler than that. I did come across an interesting spice combination on my search though, in the form of Chinese Five Spice. Apparently you can get this in supermarkets, and it’s a combination of ground cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, star anise and peppercorns. I didn’t have this, but I used a similar mix of spices because even on a page, they look great together.

I mentioned in a recent post that I recently acquired some honey from my friend’s hives in suburban Adelaide. I can not describe just how awesome this honey tastes. Especially in tea, but also especially just generally. So the honey makes another appearance in this recipe. Veganise it by replacing with sugar.

These are happy pies for my darling sister. She is pretty great. I hope she is feeling better soon.

Spiced quince and apple pies
Makes 6 mini pies (cupcake sized)

If you don’t have any slightly-old-but-still-passable pastry in your freezer, you could buy some or use this recipe.

Short crust pastry:
170g margarine (dairy free) – I used lite nuttelex (but nuttelex is a bit sus, so if you decide butter is more ethical, go with that)
340g plain flour
pinch of salt
cold water

Rub the margarine into the flour, add salt and just enough cold water to bind into a dough. Roll into ball and leave to rest in fridge for 20mins.

Filling: note that spice measurements are approximate – add to taste
2 small quinces, peeled, cored and diced
1 apple, cored and diced
2 heaped tablespoons delicious honey (or sugar or other sweetener)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 pinch fennel seeds, ground
2 stars of anise
water

Make up pastry, and allow to rest in the fridge while you make the pie filling. Preheat oven to 180C and lightly grease a six-cup muffin pan.

Place all filling ingredients in a medium sized saucepan, and add water to about half the level of the fruit. Stir together well, and bring to the boil on medium heat. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally until fruit becomes soft and all liquid is gone. Allow to cool slightly and remove stars of anise from the mixture. (This may take a bit of searching.)

In the mean time, roll out pastry between 2 pieces of baking paper to around 2-3mm thick. Cut circles the appropriate size to fit your muffin pans, and line each cup. Save a little pastry for lids or lattice on top.

Fill each pastry-lined cup with filling, and top each with strips of pastry in a lattice, or whatever other creative design you please. If you have a lot of pastry left, you can make lids for the pies, but remember to puncture some holes in them if you do.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until pastry is golden. Allow to cool slightly in pans before removing. Serve warm alone, or with some kind of vanilla ice cream or dairy-free substitute if that’s how you roll.

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Honey-glazed earl grey and persimmon muffins – Sweet Adventures Blog Hop

This is something new for me. The Sweet Adventures Blog Hop (this month hosted by 84th & 3rd), is a monthly dessert link-up, whereby you submit a post relating to the month’s theme, and then become linked up with everyone else who does so in a neat little list, so you can read everyone’s wonderful recipes.

The theme for May is ‘What’s your cup of tea?’ – and if you have a little click on some of those links above, you can see the list of delightful adventures going on around this theme.

I have to admit to getting a little bit experimental with my entry here. Firstly, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a persimmon, let alone cooked with one. It was just one of those times where there were a few pieces of fruit in a bowl in the kitchen, looking a little bit sad, so it made sense to put them out of their misery and turn them into something a bit more appealing.

I can’t say I’ve ever used honey instead of sugar before either. However, I met up with a lovely uni friend today, whose Dad is a newly registered apiarist, and is selling his honey from hives in their suburban Adelaide backyard. How could I resist the sweet calling from happy hives?

And lastly; tea. The magic ingredient that is rather integral to this whole undertaking. I probably need to refine my methods for extracting the tea flavour (because there was some crazy stuff happening in my kitchen this afternoon), but I’ve had a think, and refined it for ease of replication in the recipe below.

These muffins are not too sweet, and the flavours are pretty subtle; probably quite appropriate for breakfast, as they’re quite healthy too (low-fat and egg and dairy-free). You might like to ramp up the tea flavour a bit by making a strong brew, and be careful with the honey on top – if it runs down the edges of the muffins, it makes them hard to get out of the patty pans. This could be a good thing though, if you want an excuse to get every last bit of muffin from the paper… I’m sure some experimentation will work this one out – perhaps just a dollop of honey in the centre. For a first try at an invented recipe though, these muffins are not bad. I mean, I ate two of them when I was supposed to just be ‘tasting’ them, so…

Well here you go. Honey-glazed earl grey and persimmon muffins. My first attempt at entering the world of the Sweet Adventures Blog Hop.

Honey-glazed persimmon muffins

Makes 10 muffins

1/2 cup persimmon flesh, mashed (the persimmon I used was so soft, mashing wasn’t necessary)
1 persimmon, diced
1 persimmon, sliced horizontally (to get the star pattern)
1/2 cup soy milk
1/2 cup boiling water (to make tea)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 earl grey teabags
extra honey to drizzle

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a muffin tin with paper liners.

Brew some strong earl grey using around 3 teabags, and 1/2 cup boiling water. Heat soy milk in a small saucepan with the hot tea-water and tea bags to extract some more flavour.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder to remove any lumps. In a small bowl, mix mashed persimmon, 1/2 cup honey, tea-infused soy milk and water, and vegetable oil. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and whisk until combined. Carefully fold in diced persimmon pieces, then distribute evenly among muffin pans.

Ensure tops are level, then place one persimmon slice on top of each muffin. Drizzle a small amount of honey on top, preferably in the centre so it doesn’t end up around the muffin instead of on it.

Bake for around 30 minutes, or until golden brown and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Sweet Adventures Blog Hop

This post is part of the Sweet Adventures Blog Hop. Head over here and scroll down to see the list of other blogs taking part in the hop!

Choc berry chickpea slice

On the weekend, I got a little creative. (The best kind of weekend, right?)
I challenged myself to make a slice, using the berries that have been sitting in the freezer for longer than I care to admit. Not knowing exactly how to make a slice, I experimented and was quite pleased with the results. After refining the recipe slightly, I am now happy to report that this is quite delicious, and also has chickpeas in it! I’m yet to try it with only chickpeas (and no flour), but if you experiment yourself with this one, please let me know how it goes!

I love using chickpeas in baking because they’re such a great little alternative to flour, and so full of protein that you can feel a little bit less guilty for indulging in baked goods – winning! These are also vegan (if you use vegan chocolate). Huzzah!

Chickpea tip: We always have chickpeas pre-cooked and frozen in small portions in zip lock bags. Cook up a whole heap at once, then you can just use them as you need, rather than having to think ahead in order to soak them in time for your meals!

*Edit – Take a look at Lemon chickpea slice for a light and lemony variation.

Choc berry chickpea slice

1 cup chickpeas, cooked
1 cup plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup raw sugar
2 chia eggs (2 tablespoons ground chia seeds, whisked with 6 tablespoons water)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup water
1 cup mixed berries (or whatever berries you please) – could be fresh or frozen
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips, or block chocolate cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 180C, and line a baking pan (of the sort you would make brownies in), about 20cm x 30cm.

Make up your chia eggs in a small bowl and allow to sit for a few minutes. Meanwhile, whizz chickpeas in a food processor until they resemble something between breadcrumbs and flour:

Place them in a large bowl with all other dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon). Whisk together to mix and get rid of any lumps.

In a medium bowl, whisk together oil, chia eggs, vanilla essence and water until well mixed. It should be quite thick. Then add this mixture to the dry ingredients, and mix until well combined. Carefully fold in berries and chocolate until just mixed.

Pour mixture into prepared tin and bake for around 40 minutes, or until golden brown and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Allow to cool for a while in pan before removing to cool on a wire rack. Once cool, slice into bars or squares, and serve dusted with icing sugar.

**Don’t be concerned if they look a bit undercooked once you’ve sliced them. These are really moist and fudgey due to the moisture from the berries, which gives them a really great texture.

Ginger pumpkin brownies.

I wrote a post last year (here) about ginger pumpkin brownies. After posting a photo on facebook yesterday of some I baked for a friend, a few peeps have asked for the recipe. This is good because I really should have posted it in the first place. So thanks friends for the motivation!

This recipe comes courtesy of Frankie Magazine, via my wonderful friend Gail.

Though I have only ever made it using happy eggs (the kind that come from happy, useful and valued home chickens), I don’t doubt you could make the recipe vegan with your preferred egg replacement (mine is the chia egg).

I also replace butter with a non-dairy alternative; usually nuttlex, but I think coconut oil would work well too (virgin, NOT extra-virgin).

This recipe also has the greatest method for melting chocolate I have ever encountered. Such a win.

Happy baking, friends :)

Ginger pumpkin brownies

250g peeled, seeded pumpkin, chopped into chunks
250g butter (or alternative), diced
250g dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa solids), roughly chopped
3 eggs
250g caster sugar
150g wholemeal spelt flour – kind to wheat sensitive tummies (I just use regular wholemeal)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/2 cup crystallised ginger**, roughly chopped

**I think this is a pretty good recipe for crystallised ginger, but feel free to use whatever method you like.

Steam or boil the pumpkin until tender, then mash to a smooth puree. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a brownie pan (about 20cm x 30cm).

Put the chocolate and butter into a heatproof bowl and melt gently by putting it into the warming oven. Keep an eye on it – t will take 5 – 10 minutes. This is a stress free, easy way of melting chocolate without having to worry about double boilers and the like. Let it cool slightly to room temperature.

Beat the eggs and sugar together until combined and thick, then beat in the cooled chocolate and butter. Add the pumpkin and stir to combine. Sift over the flour, baking powder, salt and spices and throw in ginger, then fold in gently. Don’t be too enthusiastic: you want it mixed, not beaten to death.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 20-25 minuts. Timing is everything with brownies – you want them firm at the edges, but still slightly wobbly in the middle. Leave them in the tin to cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack before cutting into bars or squares as you see fit.

Dust with icing sugar if you please.

Lentil granola – you must try this!

Yesterday, I made lentil granola.

Today, I can not stop eating lentil granola.

The recipe comes via stonesoup, and is incredible. Also gluten/oat free, and very easy to make.

I used dessicated coconut, as I didn’t have any shaved, and I chopped my almonds and added raisins to the mix.

You could adapt this recipe in any number of ways. If you want a vegan version, just substitute the honey for agave or your sweetener of choice. You could also add any of your granola favourites, like macadamias, cranberries, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pepitas, currants, or whatever tickles your fancy.

Not too sweet, and very high in protein, I would definitely recommend giving this one a go.

Cooking from abundance.

There is nothing more satisfying than walking through the garden and making a meal from what’s available. Ever found yourself deciding on dinner then going to the shops to buy ingredients? If so, you might like to read on and discover the joys of creating from what’s available. If you start with what you already have, there’s very little chance you can go down the wrong path and cook out of season, over-processed or well-travelled “food” (read: items from the supermarket). Cooking from the abundance of your garden also gives you this crazy-brilliant feel-good buzz. True! Harvesting actually releases dopamine, and makes you feel good, supposedly a remnant from our hunter-gatherer days, where finding food triggered a release of dopamine, resulting in a feeling of bliss or mild euphoria. (Also supposedly the same process in play with compulsive shopping – ever heard of retail therapy?) But I digress!

Those who know me will be aware that I spent the past 6 months in Victoria, travelling, learning, wwoofing and exploring.

For those not in the know, WWOOF stands for ‘willing workers on organic farms’, and is basically a program whereby you stay on host farms and properties as a wwoofer, working approximately 4-6 hours per day in exchange for food and board, while receiving the benefits of learning and sharing skills, knowledge and culture with your hosts. Pretty cool way of exploring the world.

We spent three weeks at the end of last year on a permaculture property in Violet Town, which was super-peaceful, had an abundance of fruit, and where each day was started with a trip to the olive grove to milk the goat. Our second host was in Castlemaine, where we had stayed several times previously, and ended up being our semi-permanent home for around four months. A secluded and semi-cleared bush property on a hill with a yurt dwelling and a huge vegetable garden.

With each host, we mostly had meals provided, but on occasion (like when we got the chance to farm-sit the Violet Town property for four days) the garden and kitchen were entirely ours to express our culinary creativity. I have to say that while in Violet Town, there wasn’t all that much in the way of abundance except for a lot of greens, goats milk/cheese/yoghurt and fruit. If there is one thing I learnt at that farm it was this:

It is very hard to go wrong if you combine garlic, olive oil, salt and chilli.

This is a winning combination, and even if you only add a few leaves of chard to these ingredients, you already have a pretty delicious side dish.

By the time we got to the second property, we were pretty well into zucchini season. Queue “101 ways with zucchini”. I made everything: pasta sauce, chocolate muffins, stuffed zucchinis, pickle, sandwich fillings… you name it. I’m pretty certain that by March I alone was consuming an average of three zucchinis per week.

But the moral of the story is that cooking from abundance is fun. It allows for an incredible amount of creativity and expression, and it’s unlikely that you any two dishes will ever be the same, because the products of the garden are forever changing and evolving.

So here’s a celebration of home-grown-and-cooked meals, with a selection of my favourite farm/garden meals from my travels.

Homemade fettucini with new potatoes, zucchini and mint

Serves 2

Pasta:
300g flour
3 happy eggs

Topping:
2-3 potatoes, boiled and diced
olive oil
sprig mint, chopped
several (2-4 depending on size) cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 spring onions, sliced
1 zucchini, diced
salt and pepper

Place flour on a clean surface, make a well in the centre and crack in eggs. Mix all together, slowly incorporating flour until a dough is achieved. Knead well and allow to rest for an hour in the fridge. If you have a pasta machine, use it now – roll into thin sheets and cut using the fettucini cutter. Otherwise, it’s a rolling pin and knife.

Heat oil in a pan, add zucchini, spring onions, then garlic, cooking until zucchini is soft. Add boiled and diced potatoes and carefully stir in chopped mint, and season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling water for a few minutes until al dente, then drain. Add pasta to pan with other ingredients and some more olive oil. Carefully mix together. Season with more salt and pepper if required, then serve.

Stuffed roasted zucchini

Excuse the shifty photography…
Serves 2

I totally can’t remember the exact quantities here. Just play.

one large zucchini
3 leaves chard/silverbeet
3-4 cloves garlic, diced
olive oil
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
handful fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup (approx) roasted almonds, chopped
salt and pepper

Cut two rounds of zucchini, hollow out (keeping inside intact) and roast in the oven covered in oil and salt. Dice the remaining zucchini (or another one if not enough), including the hollowed out part.

While hollowed zucchini roasts, prepare filling by cooking remaining zucchini until soft with garlic. Add coriander seeds, and finely chopped chard. Toss in almonds, season with salt and pepper, then remove from heat. Stir through tomatoes and fresh coriander.

Stuff the roasted zucchini with the filling, and garnish with fresh coriander.

I served this on toast (as we had an abundance of bread), but it would definitely go much better with a potato rosti or similar.

Spiced potatoes and chickpeas with chapatis

I’m getting pretty tired, and am doing some major procrastination by writing this, so I’ll just give a basic outline of what’s in this.

chickpeas, cooked
potatoes, diced and boiled
onion, chopped
garlic
whole cumin seeds, roasted
salt
olive oil (farm grown might I add)
pepper
fresh coriander

Combine ingredients in a pan in a logical order, and serve with chapatis:

Chapatis:
flour
water
pinch salt

Combine ingredients to form a dough. Roll out and dry fry in a hot pan. Applying pressure with a tea towel can help them puff up :)

Sunday feast.

I am not one to buy into days designed to get people buying stuff. I really despise the culture of consumerism that has become inherent in Mothers’ Day (and Fathers’ Day, Easter, Christmas etc). However, I do really appreciate that there is one day each year when we recognise the awesome role of our mothers. Of course as my Mum reminds me each year, “every day should be Mothers’ Day”, which is true – showing appreciation for the people we love is undoubtedly something we should practice daily. But each year on Mothers’ Day, my sister and I have always gone to special lengths to make it especially nice. This is usually achieved by handmade cards, flowers, and breakfast. This year, Gran was coming over for the afternoon too, and we decided to bake her some things to have with cups of tea. Queue extreme baking morning!

I decided to make crumpets for breakfast. There is absolutely no comparison between homemade and store-bought crumpets. The home-made variety are so much fresher, lighter and flavoursome, plus you can eat them straight from the pan. More on crumpets in a minute.

For Gran, we decided to make a spiced banana loaf cake (my sister’s specialty), and some sweet biscuits (my job). Dad was looking after lunch – roast chicken (as I wouldn’t be there to cause trouble with my picky pragmatic-veganism), plus roasted purple congo potatoes from the garden.

I put my hand up to provide afternoon tea, as Mum’s siblings were coming around. Beetroot chocolate cupcakes. I’d been meaning to try this recipe for ages, and with the beets jumping out of the ground, it seemed logical. Also, I’m in a bit of a chocolate phase right now (having baked ginger pumpkin brownies for a friend’s 21st the night before).

Feast!

And here are some nibbles of the feast that was Sunday. I may add the recipes in separate post later :)

Crumpets

Lemon biscuits + Choc chip caramel biscuits 

Beetroot chocolate cupcakes

(and just for fun, though not a Sunday feast item…)

Ginger pumpkin brownies