It is so nice to have time to sit and write for my blog again. Since the last post I have been looking after a road works crew which has involved a lot of cooking and, not quite so enjoyable, cleaning. And just to keep things interesting we've had average January maximum temps of 41.7 degrees C.
As you might imagine, there is not much happening in the vegetable garden. What was alive was wiped out in a pretty fierce hail storm about two weeks ago. Sadly the fruit trees copped a beating and my lovely crop of guavas is all but destroyed- the fruit is badly damaged and I think it will all fall off without ripening. Tom had watermelons growing well but the vines were so damaged that most of them couldn't feed the fruit attached and several big melons rotted. I noticed this morning that all the white trunked gum trees look like they are suffering from measles- a latent result of being peppered with hail stones. (left)
On the upside, over a period of about a week we had 80 wonderful millimetres of rain. The river flowed nicely and the country around the homestead has turned a lovely emerald green. I won't talk about the mozzies! Before the rain there were very few insects at all (not even flies) but the air is now swarming with them and the shrill from cicadas is almost deafening. Unfortunately the caterpillars are having a field day on the new growth and my lovely water spinach, which survived the hail and was just getting big enough for a feed, is now a mass of leafless stalks!
So, I haven't got much to talk about in terms of cooking from the garden and instead thought I'd share some secrets from the pantry; namely, boozy dried fruit. Prunes in port and raisins in rum to be precise. Both of these are exceptionally easy to make and yet add a real wow factor to desserts, particularly good for time poor cooks wanting to impress visitors. They also make great Christmas presents-especially for older male members of the family who, in my experience, are tricky to buy for.
The rummy raisins could not be easier- you simply fill a glass jar with raisins (or even sultanas), top it up with dark rum and let them mature for a week or so before using. I mainly use mine in one of my favourite recipes, Apple, Rum and Raisin Cake, and in that Aussie male favourite ice-cream, rum and raisin. I have also added them to a bread and butter pudding for a decadent adult twist on an old fashioned favourite.
Apple, Rum and Raisin Cake
3/4 cup caster sugar
125g unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup rummy raisins, drained
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat your oven to 180 deg C. Line a 20cm springform tin with baking paper. If you double the recipe use a 30cm tin and increase the baking time about 15 minutes.
Put chopped apple into a bowl and sprinkle with the sugar. Stir and leave to stand while you get on with the dry ingredients.
Sift flour, bicarb, salt and spices together.
Blend melted butter and egg into the apple.
Add the dry ingredients, stirring until just mixed. Add the raisins and nuts and just combine.
Bake at 180 deg C for about 50 mins.
Cool 10 mins before turning out and cooling completely. Sprinkle with icing sugar to serve.
The prunes are slightly more complex but still very simple. They are scrumptious over vanilla ice-cream or a bowl of thick Greek yoghurt, can replace the raisins in the apple cake above or added to any chocolate cake or pudding mixture, and are wonderful dotted in my favourite quick dessert, chocolate brownie. My thanks to my sister in law Pam for this recipe.
|Chocolate brownie with prunes, before baking|
Prunes in Port
750g pitted prunes
3 cups port
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
rind of one lemon and one orange.
Heat all ingredients together until boiling. Let cool and then pack prunes into jars and pour over the liquid. Allow to mature for a week or so before using. They will keep for ages in the cupboard but I've never left them long enough to find out exactly how long!