Saturday, 29 May 2010

Sunshine on a not so sunny day

It's a bank holiday weekend in the UK, so of course, after last weekend's show of sunny skies and temperatures well into the 20s, it's cold, a bit wet and grey.

This sees me sitting, cup of mint tea in hand, pondering my navel and thinking about what would bring a little warmth into the sitting room right now. Enter one special kind of cheese cake - honey, ricotta, saffron. Kind of sunshine on a plate, really. And yes, I know, I'm on a bit of a saffron kick, but life's for living and even though saffron's not the cheapest ingredient in the world, a little goes a long way and for me, the restorative powers are always a consideration. Apparently it's a bit of a goer in the come hither department as well. And if I could find my book about herbs and spices right now, I'd even be able to back that up.

Then I guess there's the bit about this cake being North African in origin, or at least that's what the recipe I read once in a book, a long time ago, and managed to store for later use in my brain, said. Place of origin conjures heat, sun and blue skies, and quite frankly, that works for me!

Two cautionary tips - do not under any circumstances get the cheese ratio back to front. I have managed to do that only once. There is nothing like removing the spring-form tin to see your pride and joy hold together for about ten seconds before almost audibly sighing and collapsing to fill an entire baking tray. Number two - do make sure to run a spatula around the cake before undoing the tin.

So, to the kitchen and the making of the sunshiny goodness.

North African Cheesecake

1 and 3/4 cups raw couscous
2 cups just boiled water
50g slightly salter butter
2 medium eggs
500g ricotta
100g grated mozzarella (grate it yourself - much nicer that way)
1 tbs clear honey
pinch saffron
1 tbs just boiled water
3/4 cup clear honey
1/4 cup water
1 tsp orange blossom water or rose water
1/2 cup unsalted pistachio kernels, belted around so that you've some whole nuts and some crumbs

Place the couscous in a good sized pudding basin, pour on the just boiled water. Cover with cling wrap and leave for around 10 minutes.

In the meantime, place both lots of cheese into a mixing bowl and with the tablespoon of honey added, stir until well combined.

Uncover the couscous and fluff up with a fork. You're not really after anything as grand as individual grains, just not a big lump of the stuff. Add the butter and stir it through. Leave to sit uncovered so that the couscous cools down.

Turn your oven to 190 degrees celsius (fan forced). Butter a 28cm spring-form tin (think that's about the right size).

Once the couscous has cooled down to around body temperature, stir the two eggs through the mixture. Place half the mixture into the spring form tin and flatten to an even layer. Put this in the oven for 8 minutes. When the time is up, take the tin out, put the cheese and honey mixture on top, flatten out to the edges of the tin. Then do the same with the rest of the couscous mixture. Bake for 20 minutes. At the end of the baking time, place the cake, still in its tin, under a grill until the top is golden. Remove from grill and allow to cool in the tin for at least 2 hours.

Place the saffron in a cup or mug and pour the tbs of just boiled water over. Allow to sit.

In a small saucepan on a medium heat, bring the honey and the water to a simmer. Add the saffron and its water and the orange blossom or rose water. Turn off the heat and allow to cool.

When you're ready to cake up, release the spring-form tin after you've run a metal spatula around the cake and place the cake onto a plate. Sprinkle the pistachios on top and pour a few tablespoons of the syrup over the cake. Put the rest of the syrup into a pouring jug of some sort and allow everyone to help themselves - the cake itself isn't too sweet, so this is a nice way for people to control how sweet it ends up being to their own taste.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

A Little Sydney Something

After a bit of a break on the blog front (cooking whilst trying to remain in charge of a nose with a cold is not conducive to being able to taste stuff), I'm back in Australia for a few short weeks, and have decided that cooking up a feast for the Parental Units is a good thing to do.

Enter today's edition of The Sydney Morning Herald's Good Living (which apparently doesn't exist online - rude!), and a rather tasty sounding recipe for chicken with saffron, honey and macadamias. Which I will be doing with almonds. Because it's more fitting and that's what's in the cupboard - any problems, you can talk to my Mum!

The chicken has been sitting for an hour, having a little bonding time with all sorts of flavours, and is now in the oven, doing round one of the cooking. Here's the recipe to follow:

2 onions, halved and cut into 1cm wedges
1 red capsicum, cut into thick strips
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp allspice (ground by hand by moi)
good pinch saffron strands, crushed (I gave them a withering glance and a stern talking to)
4 tbs olive oil
2 tbs lemon juice
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
4 chicken marylands (although due to some trick photography, you'll only see 3 in the photos)
100ml water or white wine
150g nuts (almonds, macadamias, mixed - whatever works)
1 tbs rose water
2 tbs honey
2 tbs coriander leaves

The recipe says for the first step, combine the list to follow in a large bowl. I say cut down on washing up and just put it in a large, shallow, ovenproof dish that you'll then use for the actual cooking. So, combine onions, red capsicum, spices, saffron, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a large baking dish. Slash the drumstick of each maryland in two places, place the chicken into the mix as above, massage in all the yummy flavours and leave to sit for at least an hour, if not overnight in the fridge. If you leave everything in the fridge, allow the ingredients to come up to room temperature before placing them in the oven.

Heat the oven to 190 degrees. Add the wine or water to the baking dish, place in the heated oven and bake for 35 minutes.

Scatter the nuts onto a baking tray and roast in the oven for three minutes until golden. Roughly chop the roasted nuts (I just used flaked almonds to keep things simple). Whisk the honey and rose water together, add the nuts and spoon over the chicken at the end of the 35 minutes. Bake it for another ten minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the nuts are golden.

Serve with the coriander. I did basmati rice with it and a simple green salad with a few mint leaves torn through it. Only one photo as it's very slow to upload for some reason.

N.B. I would suggest at least three hours for marinading and make sure to put salt in with the rice. Also, flaked almonds are perhaps not the best choice here - go with whole nuts, roasted and then roughly chopped (the original recipe got it right).