When I first arrived in the States and was looking for something to do, I joined a volunteer group that worked in schools during Summer and helped out teachers. This was pretty soon after we’d moved here. Everything was just new and we were just learning how to speak American. During a lesson about their favourite chocolate sundaes a students asked me how to spell “caramel” but pronounced in the typical American way of “car-mel”. So I asked to her to “sound” it out, she did, and wrote “karmel”. This left me in quite a pickle. For the life of me I couldn’t explain to her why carmel, was spelt “caramel”. I’m still waiting to figure that one out, and simply provide this poor girl with an explanation better than; that’s just the way it is.
Salted caramel is my flavour of choice for macarons and one of my absolute favourite cupcake flavours, if done well. Unfortunately, it often isn’t. I’ve had caramels with far too much salt, with not enough salt. With caramel and salt separate and then big hunks of salt sprinkled on top. There have been caramels that weren’t caramelised enough and others that were far too caramelly. Here’s my version. You can omit the salt if you’re after just a caramel sauce. The key is to add salt to your taste and only if you want.
- 1 cup sugar
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup cream
- 1 tsp. salt (or to taste)
Place the sugar in a medium saucepan and place on medium heat. As the sugar melts stir, don’t worry about the lumps, just keep stirring.
Once all the sugar has melted, you’ll see the sugar syrup becoming a dark brown/amber colour.
Add the butter to the sugar and it will bubble, keep stirring. Take the bubbling sugar off the heat and add the cream. Keep stirring. The mixture will bubble, please take care.
Once the mixture is smooth add the salt, taste and leave to cool. I tend to add my salt bit by bit, tasting and every point. Refrigerate any excess.
This sauce is fabulous to spice up some buttercream, amazing warm over ice cream or on top of cheesecake.
Here’s something ironic. I write a food recipe blog and I have trouble following recipes. I’m forever substituting, deleting, thinking I know better and generally being a know-it-all. Mr Firehouse is always commenting on this fact. Recently he spied me working in the kitchen, pen and paper in hand. He wanted to know what I was writing and I commented that I was writing down accurate measurements for a recipe, to blog about later. He was genuinely shocked. You see, I think he thought that my inability to follow a recipe was innate, something I couldn’t control. But often-times it’s not. Partly it’s my curiosity. Will it taste better with brown sugar instead of white? Will it cook faster if I parboil? And partly it’s a kind of experience. I know that the flavours of one recipe might be perfect, but I prefer not to follow the cooking instructions, because I’ve done it before, my way, and it’s worked. Sometimes, like for this particular loaf, it’s seasonality. I loved the idea of a yoghurty, moist, citrusy cake but blueberries are not in season and rather than use the frozen (and often just as good ones) I thought of trying a classic American fall combination of cranberry and orange. The recipe for the cake comes from Donna Hay and was shared with me by my good friend and fellow baker Jill, all the way from Australia. I added the crumble topping for extra texture and also because as you now know, I can’t leave well enough alone.
- 150g unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup caster/superfinesugar
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup yoghurt
- 1 tbsp. finely grated orange zest
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1½ cups self-raising/self-rising flour, sifted
- 150 g fresh cranberries
- 2 tbsp. cold butter chopped
- 2 tbsp. of brown sugar
- 3 tbsp. of flour
Preheat oven to 160C /325F. Place the butter, sugar, eggs,yoghurt, orange zest and vanilla in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the flour and whisk until well combined.
Fold through the cranberries and spoon into a lightly greased loaf tin lined with non-stick baking paper.
In a separate bowl place all of the crumble ingredients and using just the tips of your fingers rub them all together until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.
Sprinkle over the loaf and bake for 1 hour–1 hour 10 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer.
Allow the loaf to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
The other night Mr Firehouse and I were having leftover Chinese take-away for dinner. As carefree as I often am with what Mr C eats, I thought it too early to introduce him to MSG. So I cooked a simple vegetarian stirfry with some home-made plum sauce that I knew he liked. You see, one of the things that I read and totally loved in the many parenting, books, websites and blogs I’ve perused is to always include a “loved food”. Something that you know the child will eat. With Callum fruit is a safe bet so plum sauce it was. I added broccoli, capsicum and carrot and finally added some fried eggplant I had on hand. He tasted the carrot, sucked on the broccoli and capsicum but by the end of the meal, there was not an eggplant in sight.
This was exciting! When I first met Mr Firehouse, he did not eat eggplant. Hated it. Would pick it out or not even serve it on a plate. It’s taken nearly five years of marriage to convert him to an eggplant lover. Seems like my son was born one!
So today for dinner I decided to make a sweet and spicy eggplant dish to go with our Moroccan Meatballs. It’s simple, delicious and like most things cooked with eggplant, improves with a little age.
- 3-4 small eggplants chopped into batons (like thick chips or fries)
- 1/2 cup of oil for frying (this will vary)
- 1/2 red onion finely sliced
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 small red capsicum (pepper) sliced
- 1 tbsp. cumin ground
- 1.5 tbsp. brown sugar (or honey, we’re honey free because Mr C shouldn’t have honey till he’s a little older)
- 1 tbsp. white vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
In a large frying pan or skillet add a little of the oil and fry the eggplant in batches until the outside has a nice golden brown colour and the eggplant is nice and soft. Make sure the oil is very hot, as the eggplant will absorb cold oil. As you add the next batch, you might have to add some more oil as well to keep the ‘frying’ going.
Once all the eggplant is fried off, leave to drain on a paper towel for about a half hour. This isn’t critical but helps to get rid of excess oil and make the dish less oily.
In the same fry pan add a tbsp. of oil and add the onion and garlic. Fry until the onion is soft. Add the cumin and fry until nice and fragrant. Finally add the honey/brown sugar, vinegar and a splash of water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and wait for the mixture to start boiling. When the mixture is boiling add the eggplant and the capsicum and warm through. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with some fluffy white rice or flat bread.
Pastry can be a beast. It was a beast that I waited a long time to conquer. The first time I baked a chocolate ganache tart, 2 hours before the guests arrived it broke! I hadn’t quite mastered the removable base on the tin and the very short, crumbly pastry. I hated it! I hated the rolling, the sticking, the pie weights and the blind baking. The results never looked right and it was hours of work for one measly, shrunk, broken tart. But alas, my favourite dessert is a lemon tart and I had two options….make lemon tart or live without lemon tart. It wasn’t really a choice.
A few months ago I was perusing Pinterest and I came across the amazing unshrinkable pastry shell from Smitten Kitchen. It’s not perfect (that probably has something to do with my pastry skills) but it’s pretty close. It’s crisp, it’s short and it’s the perfect accompaniment to any tart filling. Unfortunately I can no longer whinge and moan to Mr Firehouse about my tarts shrinking and thus I have no excuse to not make them any more.
This tart can be made gluten free as well and for that I’m going to send you over to my lovely friend Nat at Not From a Packet Mix, who has wonderful pictures and instructions for a GF sour cream pastry.
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 1/3 cup mango puree
- 4 eggs at room temperature
- 2.5 tablespoons of butter
- 2/3 cup of cream
- ¾ cup of sugar
With this recipe it’s best to bake the tart shell all the way through, so blind bake for 10 minutes, remove the weights and then bake until brown and cooked through.
I normally pour the mango puree into a jug and add the lemon juice a little at a time and taste. Mangoes fluctuate so much in tartness that 1/3 cup lemon juice might be way too much. I normally add lemon juice till I’m happy with the sourness and then make up 2/3 cup with water. Or if you’re a mango fiend, go all mango.
In a medium saucepan place all the ingredients for the filling and place on a low heat. Using a whisk stir continuously until the mix thickens to the consistency of a lemon curd. You will get eggy bits, don’t panic, just strain the mixture into the tart shell and bake for another 20 minutes in the oven at 180 celsius (350 fahrenheit).
The filling should wobble a little in the middle when shaken. Now cool and eat with lots of ice cream.