Plum, pomegranate and pumpkin seed salad

In Summer Cooking, Elizabeth David says that ‘cold stewed plums must be one of the dullest dishes on earth. Accompanied by custard it is one of the most depressing’.

I don’t mind a cold stewed plum myself (and cold proper custard is heavenly). What I find depressing is biting into a purple-skinned plum and discovering that its flesh is golden and mushy. In my opinion, a good plum – stewed or not – is a confounding blend of sweet and sour, with firm, juicy flesh in shades of pale pink, bright crimson or cardinal red.

If you’re a plum-lover – or have a tree and can’t keep up with eating them – here’s a salad we’ve been enjoying a lot in the last couple of weeks.

Plum, pomegranate and pumpkin seed salad

This is the sort of thing you can throw together very easily and people think you’re some kind of salad savant. You can add and subtract ingredients as suits your palate and pantry: some soft cheese might be good, or olives, or even some cooked quinoa (yes, really, though you might want to add a bit more dressing).

1 red onion, finely sliced

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp caster sugar

3 Tbsp red wine vinegar

3 large handfuls baby spinach leaves, washed and dried

2-3 red-fleshed plums, cut into slim wedges

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted in a dry pan until golden

For the dressing:

1 clove garlic, crushed to a paste with a pinch of flaky sea salt

1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses

3 1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Put the onions, salt, sugar and red wine vinegar in a small bowl. Stir to combine, then cover and set aside for at least 15 minutes (longer is fine, though put in the fridge if it’s going to be more than an hour).

When the onions have steeped and you’re nearly ready to eat, put the spinach leaves and plums in a salad bowl. Drain the vinegar from the onions into a small jar. Add the crushed garlic and pomegranate molasses. Shake to mix, then add the olive oil. Shake again until emulsified.

Add the onions to the bowl and drizzle over 3-4 tablespoons of the dressing. Toss gently, then scatter over the pumpkin seeds. Toss again and serve. Serves 3-4.

Fancy more plum recipes? You could try this roasted black doris plum and coconut ice cream, these mulled plums or this blast from the past – a Black Forest plum sandwich!

Prison Bake Brownies & Good Bitches’ Truffles

I did a lot of cool food-related things in 2018. I wrote a book about burgers, I helped judge the second Outstanding Food Producer Awards and I ate in some of London’s most celebrated restaurants. But the very best thing I did was join a group of volunteers teaching baking at one of New Zealand’s largest prisons.

That might not sound very interesting in and of itself (though I can tell you, being behind the wire at a prison is a huge learning experience) until you realise that baking was a bit of a Trojan horse. What we were really trying to teach – along with a few tips and tricks about successfully making biscuits and cakes – was the redemptive power of kindness. The Prison Bake programme, which ran as a short pilot in August and then a three-week stint before Christmas, was the brainchild of Good Bitches Baking. This charity, set up by Marie Fitzgerald and Nic Murray in 2014, now has about 1600 volunteers baking for 135 different recipient organisations every week. Prison Bake is another way of reaching out to the community and spreading what Fitzgerald and Murray call ‘moments of sweetness’.

You might take a dim view of prison rehab, preferring to think of jail being a place where they lock you and and lose the key. You might not think baking a cake is much of a help to someone having a tough time. But it’s hard to argue with the feedback from the prisoners themselves. When asked what they’d learned during the pilot programme, one of them said he’d learned that he could be a kind person – and he didn’t think that was possible. You don’t have to be behind bars to have that kind of learning experience (but it’s even more remarkable if you are).

PRISON BAKE BROWNIES

These brownies were part of the pre-Christmas Prison Bake programme. They’re very simple to mix and make, and you can change it up by using different chocolate or fruit. I think dark chocolate chips and brandy-soaked prunes might be a good combo (though perhaps not quite so prison-friendly).

125g butter

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 cup caster sugar

2 eggs

1 cup plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup frozen raspberries

1/2 cup roughly chopped dark chocolate

Heat the oven to 180C. Line a brownie pan (about 20x30cm) with baking paper.

Set a large pot over medium heat. Add the butter and cocoa, stirring until it melts. Cook for a minute or two, then remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Let it cool until it’s no longer hot to the touch (about 10 minutes).

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one. Sift in the flour and baking powder. Fold together gently, then fold in the chocolate. Pour into the prepared pan and dot the raspberries on top (press them in lightly).

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the brownies are set in the middle. Cool in the pan before slicing.

Of course, if going to prison isn’t your thing there are plenty of other ways to support Good Bitches Baking. They’ve got a whole bunch of cool things you can buy to support their fundraising efforts, including the most beautiful cake sprinkles I’ve ever seen. If you wanted to be a very kind person you could buy some sprinkles, make these truffles and then give them away to a person in need of cheering up. (It’s ok if that person is you – self-care takes many forms.)

GOOD BITCHES TRUFFLES

This is more-or-less a Julie Le Clerc recipe from issue 100 of Cuisine magazine (a deeply precious issue that sparks much joy).

250g dark chocolate, roughly chopped (I use Whittaker’s 72% Dark Ghana)
50g butter
125ml cream
3 Tbsp dark rum (or brandy, or whisky, or a liqueur of your choice)
1 egg yolk
1 packet Good Bitches Baking Kindness Sprinkles

Put the chocolate, butter, cream and rum into a heatproof bowl and put into a low oven – or over a saucepan of simmering water, or in a microwave – and melt, stirring occasionally. The oven method is really easy, as long as you don’t forget it’s there. 
Let cool for a minute or two, then stir in the egg yolk until well mixed. Let cool for 10 minutes, then chill in the fridge until set (about an hour).
Roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls – this is a sticky job, don’t even think about answering the phone etc while you’re doing it – then roll in the sprinkles. Store in the fridge, eat at room temperature. Makes about 22 truffles if you don’t accidentally eat the mixture.

To learn more about Good Bitches Baking, visit www.gbb.org.nz

strawberry fools forever

Abraham Lincoln was right when he said that you “can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”. However, one thing that old Abe didn’t know (and possibly didn’t even consider due to other things on his mind) is that you can feed a fool to all of the people, all of the time and they won’t mind a bit.
 
A fool is a classic English pudding, usually made by folding poached fruit through whipped cream or custard. Here I’ve used perfectly ripe strawberries with a tiny sprinkle of orange zest, with a mixture of yoghurt and cream. The yoghurt adds a refreshing tartness (and also means you can justify eating it for breakfast). It’s also very cool with a crisp, thin biscuit on the side for dipping. When you make this it’s best to allow two punnets of strawberries because some will inevitably disappear in the preparation process. The almonds listed in the ingredients also disappeared in the photographing of these examples. Small helpers are so useful, aren’t they?

Strawberry and almond fools

 1-2 punnets strawberries, hulled and diced
1 Tbsp icing sugar
finely grated zest of one orange
1/3 cup cream
1/2 cup yoghurt (I like The Collective Straight Up Culinary Yoghurt)
1/3 cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped
Put most of the strawberries, icing sugar and orange zest in a bowl. Mash together until the strawberries are pulpy but not completely smooth. Whip the cream until it just reaches soft peaks and add to the strawberries with the yoghurt. Fold together gently – the mixture will be streaky – and divide between four small bowls or glasses. Top with the remaining strawberries and the roasted almonds. Serve immediately.
 Need more strawberry inspiration? Here are today’s new crop of Three Ways With… recipes, plus a bunch of strawberry recipes from 2015 that I’d forgotten all about. Time flies, eh?

Raspberry ripple tart

As much as I love a good kitchen-based project, there some things that I would rarely, if ever, bother to make myself. I’d put pastry pretty high on that list, especially when you can buy such fantastic stuff ready-made by companies like Auckland-based French bakery Paneton*. I’ve loved their products for years and the buttery, super-flaky puff pastry has saved me on many a desperate dinner occasion.  In exciting news for chocolate lovers, their chocolate pastry is brilliant too.

My go-to showstopper dessert for a big crowd of people is the Pecan Praline Tart in Dean Brettschneider’s Pie book – essentially, chocolate pastry filled with praline-studded milk chocolate ganache, topped with dark chocolate ganache and a scattering of praline crumbs. But on a long run recently (which is when I do my best thinking about food), I started thinking about something lighter that would have more of a contrast with the pastry. Here’s the result…

Easy Raspberry Ripple Tart

Raspberry ripple tart

I used the Paneton brand discussed above for this tart – it’s very dark, rich and buttery – but if you want to make your own I’d recommend the Dean Brettschneider recipe above. It will be delicious either way. This serves 8-10 depending on greed.

For the raspberry curd:

2 cups frozen raspberries

1 Tbsp water

juice of 1 lemon

6 egg yolks

1 cup caster sugar

80g unsalted butter

For the tart:

About 300g chocolate pastry

1 cup cream

Extra raspberries, for garnishing

Start by preparing the tart shell. Heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 30 x 10cm tart tin. Ease the pastry into the tin, leaving plenty of overhang. Chill for 20 minutes.

Bake blind for 10 minutes, then remove the weights and paper and bake for another 10 minutes until the pastry is dry to touch and crisp. Remove to a rack to cool. Trim any overhang (the resulting pieces are a good cook’s perk, though you will struggle to get any if there are little helpers around) and set aside.

To make the raspberry curd, put the raspberries and the water in a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Cook for three to five minutes, until the fruit collapses, then remove from the heat. Push the raspberries through a fine sieve, discarding any seeds. This should make about 120ml (just under half a cup) of puree. Squeeze in enough lemon juice to make it up to 150ml. Set aside.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together, then pour into the saucepan you used earlier. Add the butter and raspberry-lemon juice. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly (this will take about five minutes). When the mixture is bubbling, remove from the heat. Stir well and transfer to a bowl to cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the tart.

About an hour before serving, whip the cream to soft peaks. Fold in the curd to create a ripple effect, then pour this mixture into the pastry shell. Carefully put the tart in the fridge until ready to serve. Decorate with more raspberries before serving. A shower of grated chocolate – white or dark – wouldn’t go amiss on top, either. This serves 8-10 depending on greed.

But wait, there’s more…

It’s highly likely that you’ll end up with some leftover pastry when making this tart. If you can stop yourself from eating it raw, I recommend turning it into easy ice cream sandwiches. All you need to do is cut the pastry into rounds, bake for about 10 mins at 180C and let cool. While you’re waiting, cut the ice cream into the same shapes and freeze. Sandwich the biscuits together with ice cream, dust with icing sugar and serve. This makes about 10 tiny ice cream sandwiches, which is just enough to leave them all wanting more.

*Please note, this is NOT a ‘sponsored’ post. In other words, I have not received any payment to say nice things about Paneton. In the interests of full disclosure, Paneton did send me a packet of their chocolate pastry to try recently. I was so impressed by it that I’ve since bought it twice more with my own hard-earned money (and I’ll definitely buy it again). I don’t think you can get a better recommendation than that!

Frozen persimmon sorbet

Have you been struck by the dreaded winter lurgy yet? It has cut a swathe through our small household in the last week and I don’t think it’s done with us yet. I lost my voice over the weekend, then lost my hearing as soon as it came back. Worst of all, I’ve lost my sense of taste – unless it’s chocolate or chilli, I’ve been reduced to eating for texture only. This is profoundly depressing.

I’m hoping that my current high levels of persimmon consumption will speed my recovery. Persimmons are high in vitamin C and look extremely cheerful in the kitchen. Oranges are not the only fruit at this time of year, after all.

This week’s Three Ways With… column is devoted to the not-so-humble persimmon, which I have been consuming in huge quantities lately (so imagine how much sicker I could have been!) The following recipe for frozen persimmon sorbet will be extremely soothing if you’re unwell, but you don’t have to be poorly to enjoy it. 

Frozen persimmon sorbet

I was extremely sceptical when I read about this recipe – and I did have to experiment with it a bit to make it work – but it’s a nice bit of fun to try (with minimal effort required). All you need to do is freeze as many persimmons as you have diners for a minimum of three hours. At least 45 minutes before serving, remove the persimmons from the freezer. Slice off the tops and let the fruit sit at room temperature. After 45 minutes they will be icy cold, but soft enough to spoon out the frosty flesh. For an extra treat, pass around a bowl of whipped cream.

If this sounds like too much hassle, be reliably informed that you can freeze peeled, sliced persimmons and whiz them up in smoothies. And if you have a dehydrator, dried persimmon slices are absolute heaven (thanks Ann for the lovely specimens below).