Monday, June 21, 2010

Caramelised Onion and Fennel Seed Tart

I'm not sure how many of you look forward to Saturdays for the same reasons I do. You see, Saturdays are market days. They're bustling with basket wielding, trolley pushing folk, searching for the freshest and cheapest produce. On the other side of the stalls are the producers - ready to talk about their wares and the best ways to use them. They are beekeepers, market gardeners, charcutiers, hobby farmers, bakers, and wine and cheesemakers.

Cheese is a definite weakness for me. Rich, sticky triple cream brie, a sturdy Gouda, an amber hued Leicester and a smooth and creamy Chevre L Ail make a cheese board fit for royalty. The weekend markets are teaming with fresh products to pair with cheese. Homemade relishes, fresh and dried figs, raw honey, cured meats, crusty bubbly sour dough and crisp pears. One thing I haven't found at the markets is a worthy pastry item to serve alongside the award winning cheeses from the local cheese makers - Witches Chase Cheese Co. Until last night...

Last night when the kitchen, and surrounding neighbourhood were taken hostage by the sweet heady aroma of sweet onions and the fennel seeds which remind me of proper Middle Eastern curries.

Now I want fennel seeds in my caramelised onions all the time, and I'll stamp my feet if I don't get them! *Ahem*, so... moving on (and behaving like an adult now), I used a simple pizza dough for the base, but you could easily use a butter puff pastry sheet. Which I will definitely do next time. There aren't many things that aren't made better by adding puff pastry. And watch the temperature of your oven - I turned it up for the pizza base, but should have reduced it a bit after the first few minutes. Those onions laden with natural sugars developed over 5 hours of slow cooking are prone to pushing past the point of caramelisation very quickly.

Served alongside a well-dressed bitter green salad, a cheeseboard and a glass of vino or cider = perfect. long. afternoon. bliss.

Caramelised Onion and Fennel Seed Tart

2 sheets butter puff pastry, or enough pizza dough for 2 pizzas
6 large brown or spanish (or both) onion, sliced finely
2 tsp whole fennel seeds
60g butter
60ml olive oil
4 tabs wholegrain mustard
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated

Over a medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil and toast the fennel seeds until they change colour slightly. Add the sliced onions and reduce heat to the lowest setting. I cooked these for almost 5 hours because I never wanted that smell to end (4 hours with the lid on), but about an hour with the lid off will work as well. They should be very soft and an even pale brown colour. I had to taste about 8 times just to make sure they were right. ;o)

Over the base, spread the mustard evenly, then the cooled onions, and top with the grated cheese. From here you'll need to follow the directions for the base - but watch them after the first 10 minutes and adjust temperature to prevent them from burning.

Please make these onions - even if it doesn't make it to the tart stage. I could have eaten all of this just on its own, and almost did. Jar it up, freeze it, schmear it on sour dough or spoon it on some cheese. So good.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Gooey St Louis Butter Cake

It has butter, it has sugar, it has vanilla, then it has more butter and more sugar. Sold yet? It has a semi sweet yeast cake bottom, and a topping made from a buttered up biscuit dough. This topping dough melts into the base, forming a gooey caramelised topping. The topping will tack your back chompers together. Think toffee, caramel, toasted marshmallows and fairy floss.

When you mix up your yeast and milk mixture with a fork, take the fork out before tipping it into the mixer. Fork 0. KitchenAid 1.


 Quality testing at its finest. Taste it once, poke it twice. The base and topping pass the standards.


Did I mention butter, sugar and vanilla with the ratio weighted heavily towards the butter component? You've been warned. I kid you not. Oh, and see the topping below? It's sticky! Brush your teeth after this one, kids. Below that - Gooey St Louis Butter cake, up on a pedestal, where it rightfully belongs.


Gooey St Louis Butter Cake
3 tab milk
1 3/4 tsp yeast
100g butter
3 tab sugar
1 tsp salt
1 egg
1 3/4 cups plain flour

200g butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 heaped tabs glucose
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 heaped cup plain flour
Icing sugar to serve

Base: In a small bowl or glass, mix the milk and yeast together with 2 tabs warm water. If you're using instant dry yeast, don't expect foam, just little bubbles. Cream the butter, sugar and salt then add the egg. Add the flour and the yeast mixture alternately, finishing with the flour. Knead with a dough hook for about 7 minutes. Pat out into a greased ceramic or heavy based tray. About 8" by 12". Cover and allow to rise for a couple of hours.

Topping: Heat oven to 180c. Cream butter, sugar, glucose and vanilla. Beat in the egg with 2 tabs of water and then add the flour. Dollop the topping over the risen base and smooth out evenly. Cook for around 30 minutes. It will appear uneven and underdone in the centre, but it will be done. Cool in the pan, then slice and sprinkle with icing sugar to serve. I guess it would be too ridiculous to suggest serving with lightly whipped cream and fresh berries? Yes? I won't suggest that then...

More quality testing. Notice the far away glazed over eyes - she's not joking. It's that good.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

King Valley Free Range Pork

Remember a few posts back when I received the surprise package in the mail from Elizabeth at King Valley Free Range Pork? Well, I thought I should show you what else became of all the mixed cures and cuts I was so lucky to sample. Besides the few slices I snuck all for myself, gently fried, browned and savoured during one of those rare minutes of peace - I'd like to think I got a bit of mileage out of my special present.

There was soup. The streaky belly bacon and became the contrast to a smooth and sweet potato and leek soup.

There was pizza. Simple, homemade pizza base with a little dried oregano woven into the dough, topped with pesto, thinly sliced potato, KVFR bacon and some shavings of Parmesan cheese. 

There was steak. Ridiculously marbled grassfed portherhouse, wrapped in smokey KVFR loin bacon. Seared with a little butter, served alongside some herby, buttery, new potatoes.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tight A$$ Tuesdays: Homemade Pizza Dough and Pizza Bianca

Homemade pizza dough is one of those things - once you try it - no other pizza will do, and once you learn how easy it is - you'll be doing it with your eyes shut. When someone suggests ordering pizza for dinner, I dive for the bread flour and rolling pin just to spare myself from the soggy bases, and over-salted, plastic cheese toppings from the local pizzeria. Some people, in childish bouts of spite, will even challenge unsuspecting family members to get their soggy shop made pizza before the pretty homemade pizza is out of the oven. Trust me, they'll lose. I just know these things...

So, with the mercury dropping, get in there and knead some dough. Between the bingo wings workout and a roaring hot oven, you'll be as warm as toast in no time. The lower temperatures are also great for slow yeast development - you'll get so much more flavour if you can let the dough rise slowly. If you don't have the hours required for that, plonk the dough in a warm spot and watch it rise.

The smell of pizza dough is immediately soothing. A sprinkle of dried oregano combined with the fermenting yeast gives off an aroma to ease the mind. If you have the energy, make a double batch and freeze some of the dough before rising, or par-bake the rolled out base for a super quick meal or snack. If you freeze the dough, thaw it out in the fridge overnight in a greased bowl, letting it rise as it thaws.

The understated pizza above is the beauty known as Pizza Bianca. The toppings are nothing more than extra virgin olive oil, a good sea salt and fresh rosemary massaged into the base. I know, I know, it sounds so boring and plain, but think of pretzels, plain potato chips, or fresh focaccia. You can't argue with how those snacks rate in the moreish stakes.

The second pizza is as simple as smearing some fresh pesto over the base, layering some super thinly sliced potatos and some good streaky bacon. I got to use the last of my King Valley Free Range bacon. A quick flourish of grated parmesan and into the oven to crisp and brown. Seriously, that's about 2 minutes worth of effort.

Homemade Pizza Dough
(Makes 2 large pizzas)

3 cups plain flour (bread flour if you have it)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp yeast
1 cup water, at blood temp
1 tab dried oregano (optional)

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and bring together into a loose mass. If you have a mixer with a dough hook attachment, get it going on a low speed for about 7-10 minutes. If kneading by hand, you'll need to knead for about 10 minutes. If the dough doesn't come together, add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Dough should form a smooth, elastic ball, leaving the sides of the bowl clean. Press the dough with your finger to see if its ready. It will spring back quickly when it's done.

Take dough out of the bowl and drizzle in a little olive oil. Put the dough back in and turn to coat the ball evenly. Cover with cling wrap and leave in a warm spot for 2 hours or so, until doubled in size. The time it takes will depend on the temperature of your room.

Heat oven to highest heat setting. Punch the dough down and roll out to about 5mm. (It's proper to try to stretch the dough, rather than roll it - I usually roll it to the basic shape and then push it out with my fingertips to reach the edges of the tray.) At this point you can let it rise again (another hour), for a fuller flavoured dough, or you can put your toppings on and cook right away.

Cook for 5 minutes at full heat, then reduce to 190c for remainder of cooking time. About 12 minutes, or until browned and dough is cooked through in the centre.