A busy weekend – Ottolenghi’s apple and olive oil cake, a sort-of braised venison with red wine and mushrooms, lots of Volare bread, a family reunion of sorts, a long drive and a new tooth for the Small Girl. This is what I listened to to keep sane(ish). A storm of busy-ness is coming our way and it’s nice to have some distraction…
Strange I know, but sometimes there is such a thing as too much sugar. These little cookies, on the other hand, are so virtuous that they’re practically candidates for canonisation. There’s no sugar, no dairy and no wheat – but plenty of flavour thanks to sweet, ripe bananas and sticky, chewy dates.
They’re an excellent snack for little people and make a good breakfast substitute for big people on the go. Actually, if you overcook them you could crumble them into a bowl and call it muesli. Otherwise, eat with a glass of cold milk.
3 very ripe bananas
2 cups rolled oats
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup dates, chopped
3 dsp peanut butter/tahini
4 dsp canola oil
Turn the oven to 170C fan bake.
Mash the bananas to a slurry, then stir in all the remaining ingredients until well combined. Leave to sit for 15 minutes (the mixture, not you – though this is the perfect opportunity for a cup of tea and the crossword). Drop tablespoon-sized heaps onto a lined baking tray (you’ll need two trays). These cookies don’t spread in the oven so nestle them up nice and close. Bake for about 20 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool, then store in an airtight container. Makes about 25.
Have a sweet weekend, everyone x
Do you remember Space Dust? It was a sherbet-y, crackly sort of powder that fizzled on your tongue and made your lips tingle. Last night we had the same experience thanks to an amazing takeaway feast (even KitchenMaids need a break from cooking occasionally).
We’ve become addicted to the food at a new Szechuan place in town. We’re usually the only non-Chinese in there and the sweet lady behind the counter always looks a bit concerned when we order, asking if “hot is ok?”
Their Szechuan dumplings, silky little envelopes of minced pork drizzled with a sweet, gingery sauce, are a must, but last night we branched out and ordered ‘chicken with Szechuan pepper’.
When we unpacked it I thought there had been a mistake. There were two enormous boxes, filled to the brim with glistening dried chillies and chunks of spice-coated chicken. We tucked into one, searching out nuggets of chicken buried beneath the chillies. It was hot, but not chilli-hot. Instead, there was this weird sensation, a kind of tingling that started on your tongue and spread to the rest of your mouth.
I’d read about Szechuan pepper before, in Fuschia Dunlop’s amazing memoir, Sharks Fin And Sichuan Pepper, but never tasted it. She describes it in the book:
That incomparable tongue-numbing sensation of Sichuan pepper, a fizzing that starts stealthily and rises to a mouth-streaming, breathtaking crescendo that can last for twenty minutes before it slowly, gradually dies away.
During her time in China Fuschia even searched out fresh Sichuan pepper and ate it straight from the tree. In China, it is venerated not only as a condiment and flavouring but also as a medicinal herb and a symbol of fertility. In remote parts of the Szechuan province the peppercorns are thrown over newlyweds as a sort of confetti. Let’s hope no one gets it in their eyes.
Anyway, it’s the most amazing taste sensation. Needless to say, we devoured every last bit.
I have a secret crush. He’s tall and fair-haired and I can’t stop thinking about him. I think about him when I’m supposed to be working and I think about him when I’m pushing the pram and I even think about him when I’m curled up on the sofa with the Boy Wonder.
The new man of my dreams is Dean Brettschneider, a New Zealand baker who counts Rick Stein, Peter Gordon and Anton Mosiman among his fans thanks to his amazing ways with bread and patisserie. You should see his buns, not to mention his fig and aniseed scone twist or apricot and pistachio tart! But the path of true love never runs smooth and we are going to be parted by the cruel forces of the public library.
I found his book, Global Baker, wedged between tomes on wedding cakes and muffins in the part of the library usually frequented by derelicts in search of a cosy place to snooze. It’s a brilliant collection of advice and recipes for everything from pain au levain to spun sugar cages. Dean (we’re on first-name terms) now works in Shanghai, where he has introduced the Chinese to the delights of chocolate hot cross buns, baked cheesecakes and lamingtons made with red bean paste. I love him. I told the Boy Wonder that I was going to run away to learn the secrets of amazing baking from a man I’d never met. He said, “Great. Have you seen my cellphone?”
I haven’t actually made anything out of his book. Yet. But when I get my own copy I’m going to start at the almond croissants and work all the way through to the xiang cong hua juan bao (Chinese flower steam buns). It’s all about spreading the love.
Some days, when I am being Mrs Super Organised, I start thinking about what we’re going to have for dinner as soon as I get up. I take something out of the freezer, or do bits of prep throughout the day, and dinner magically appears.
|Just like opening a tin…
Other days, it’s a bit more of a challenge. This kitchen is blessed with a big old-fashioned pantry, but there’s nothing more depressing than opening the door to find the shelves are nearly bare (or filled with things that don’t work together, like Valhrona chocolate, basmati rice and two jars of star anise. Actually, that might be quite a combination. But I digress.) But then I found a can of cannellini beans behind a jar of molasses and something clicked. Of course! Posh baked beans – a kind of vegetarian chilli with enough sweetness and heat to chase away the Monday blues and stave off the cold winds whistling in the back door.
Even better, this is easy to make and requires little attention (so you can do it while dancing the toddler two-step – the dance you do when there’s a small person clinging to your legs).
Posh Baked Beans
This is how I did this last night – but feel free to substitute as fits your own bare pantry.
2tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 heaped tsp ground cumin
1 dried chilli or 1/2-1tsp chilli powder (or harissa, or Tabasco)
2tbsp soy sauce
1/2 a tin tomatoes in puree or passata (or even tomato sauce)
1/2 cup water
2tsp molasses (or brown sugar)
1 tin (400g) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
half a lemon
salt and pepper
Saute the onions and garlic in the oil until soft (or while you feed a small person). Add the cumin and chilli and saute for a minute or two more. Add the soy sauce, tomatoes, water and molasses. Stir well and let bubble for a minute or two. Add the drained beans, a squeeze of lemon juice and season to taste. Let bubble away gently for five minutes. At this point you can turn off the heat and wander away to do something else, like make a phone call, have a cup of tea, put a small person in the bath or all of the above.
When you’re ready to eat, cook some rice and greens, or whip up a salad and slice some crunchy bread. This serves two starving, greedy, stressed adults (so there’s enough for three or four more moderate eaters). Now, what are we going to have tonight?