Dining on mince and slices of quince….

quince botanicalThe quince carries associations of medieval times and walled gardens which I find very intriguing. The fruit tree itself is sufficiently ornamental to make it a tempting choice for the garden. Spring’s prettiest pink and white blossom is followed in late summer by large hard yellow fruit, with a strong pineappley fragrance.

Usually when I have encountered quince, it has been in the form of neat little pottles of solid fruit paste. Quince paste is a lovely choice served with a sharp cheddar or a tangy blue. Dark apricot in colour, it has the sweetness and grittiness of a pear with a slightly more perfumed flavour.

Quince isn’t widely sold commercially, but I spotted a basket of pretty pale lemon quince for $5/kg at my neighbourhood fruit and veg shop and I was tempted to try a little something new.

Paris based cook and my go-to dessert guy David Lebovitz has a good recipe here and a gorgeously rustic quince tarte tatin recipe here . He also found that a lovely waste-not-want-not ruby red quince jelly emerges from reducing the poaching liquid, as quince is very high in the preserver’s best friend, pectin.

I discovered that raw, the fruit is far too hard and tart to eat.  In Turkey, the expression ayvayı yemek (literally “eat the quince”) means a bitter taste in the mouth or unpleasant situation to avoid. But peeled, cored and cut into sections quince can be poached slowly and at length in a sugar syrup with the spice of your choice, vanilla, cinnamon, star anise. The flesh is pale yellow to begin with, and develops a rich pink hue over cooking.

For my first foray into quince cookery, I poached three sliced quinces in a syrup made with brown sugar syrup and a sliced vanilla bean. Aside from the slight trickiness in peeling, cutting and coring such a hard fruit, it really was as easy as stewing apples. The amazing fragrance coming from the kitchen had all family members sitting up and taking notice.

Poached quince makes a delicious dessert with vanilla ice cream, crème fraiche or Greek yoghurt.  In the unlikely event that you have leftovers, it will make or a particularly decadent breakfast fruit with muesli.

Now, I’m starting to wonder where I could make room in my garden for a quince.

Botanical Image credit Wikipedia, artist Philip Miller

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From Scratch – The results of the no-knead bread experiment

bread white boule dark and rye

Regular readers (Hi Ma!) may recall I’ve been playing with no-knead bread recipes, trying to create one of those crusty, artisanal, country style boule loaves you might see at the Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC or,closer to home, up the road at Olaf’s.  The frugal side of me would like to think I can do it for less than the $7.50 market rate for good bread.

And here’s the upshot:: The no knead white bread recipe by Jim Lahey/Sullivan Street Bakery is a definite keeper.  No fluke.  It’s good, really good.  It’s my new go-to bread recipe.

The pros are:

  • It really is the closest you’ll get to making a real ‘artisan’ country style white boule, especially in my kitchen, with my crappy old oven (the Bermuda Triangle of my kitchen renovation)
  • It’s seriously bragworthy in appearance.  If you’re shallow and approval seeking like me, this counts
  • The inside ‘crumb’ is moist and appropriately slightly holey.  It is the bread which disappears from the bench before all others.. It’s delicious and I find it better, more authentic than the artisan bread in five minutes per day method, probably due to the longer fermentation period.
  • The kids like it.  They like to risk dismemberment with the serrated knife and cut it themselves.   The crust is chewy and thick and the minions like to walk around chewing them
  • It’s damned easy with the smallest possible hands on time.  Five minutes to mix, then five minutes shaping plus baking time.
  • While some people will laugh at the idea of a bread which has been left for 12-18 hours to ferment being called easy, or quick, the fact is, it bubbles around in a bowl for 99.8% of that time. If you’re the sort of person who regularly uses a yoghurt maker or remembers to take meat out of the freezer the night before (yeah, sometimes me neither), then you can do it!
  • Makes tasty toast
  • Cheap.  Three cups of flour, 1/4 teaspoon of yeast and some salt aren’t going to break the bank anytime soon.
  • It feels good to make good bread!

The cons are:

  • Sticky business: the fermented dough is quite wet and sticky to handle which takes a little getting used to handling.
  • Burny hot! If you check the method here you’ll see that the loaf’s caramel exterior and moist interior are created by the atmosphere within a lidded metal casserole inside your oven. Getting a red hot metal casserole or ‘dutch oven’ in and out of the oven is a bit tricky.  Those suckers are heavy! If you have removed the knob from the lid, then levering the lid on and off again is trickier still. If your knob is metal, then you’re fine but the black bakelite type ones don’t handle above 240c well, so I have had to remove it and fill the screw hole hole with foil to maintain the seal. As a result, I have been eyeing up those daft silicone non slip oven gloves with a little more serious consideration than usual.
  • It’s a round boule shape, so it’s not conveniently shaped for your lunchbox (that’s a future mission)
  • Not a quick fix.  It’s still bread. If you’re in a hurry, make scones.

I tried three mixes: The white, whole wheat and rye flour.  What I learned (a no brainer really) was that the recipe is designed for the properties of white flour only, the others were difficult to handle, very wet and not entirely successful.   I have Jim Lahey’s book My Bread now, so I’ll take a closer look at how he handles whole wheat recipes.

bread white wholemeal comparisonAs a result of my going off-piste in my non-informed way, the whole wheat was very disappointing (see loaf to the left). It hardly rose, was dry, and quickly went stale.




Bread rye flatHowever the big surprise was the rye bread.  As rye contains very little gluten, I didn’t expect much of a rise, and as you can see here, it’s pretty flat.  However it was delicious, moist, and flavoursome, slightly tangy and chewy.  It also stayed fresh and edible much longer than expected.  Sliced, it was perfect with avocado and a little haloumi or smoked chicken (all conveniently oblong shaped foods!) It also made really yummy toast.  I would definitely make it again, although I will look at some mixes with higher gluten flours for a more ‘high-rise result’.

If you want to have a go yourself  I’d really encourage you.  Clearly, kneading is not necessary and you can surprise yourself with some pretty delicious and impressive results.  Not to mention saving yourself a bill at the bakery.

Check out the recipe here.

Let me know if you’ve had a play around with no knead recipes.  I’d be keen to hear about any old favourites.  And please let me know if you have a good reliable sandwich loaf recipe.


Would a vegetable by any other name taste as sweet?

Red Capsicum Upright100 Day project #20: Capsicum

Couldn’t you just eat by name alone?  Certain foods just sound like poetry: pomegranate, artichoke, celeriac, mandarin, broccolini, coriander are music to my ears and twice as appetising as they might otherwise be.  Equally appealing is anything that sounds sumptuous in French such as mille feuille, bearnaise or creme brulee.

On the other hand ‘Kohlrabi’ sounds like a skin condition and I grow cauliflower (which sounds like some kind of  birth by-product) only because I can plant the purple one, and call it ‘Violet Queen’.  She’s very pretty too.

Despite their superfood status, their fine flavour and their glorious indigo colour, I sometimes struggle to enjoy the Maori Potato Urenika because of its other name ‘tutaekuri’, which most school children will know means ‘dog poo’.  Talk about your truth in advertising!

Consider then the simple capsicum.  How is it that we come to call it by its Latin name while most of the rest of the world simply calls it a ‘bell pepper’?  I do feel the ‘proper name’ gives a sense of dignity and history to this satisfyingly sculptural vegetable.

I appreciate the capsicum not only for that full-on burst of primary colour but also because they are so damned expensive at the moment, and one of the things I find it hardest to grow.  They take a long time in the sun to ripen, and I’m not always that strategic in my planting.  Note to self on that.

Of course the capsicum is a salad standard, either in crunchy slices or grilled with its skin removed.  Jamie Oliver blitzes a jar of chargrilled for his sausage pasta 15 minute meal.  But on dark winter nights I love to eat capsicum cut in half and roasted gently, packed with half a skinned tomato, an anchovy, some capers and a glug of olive oil.  The other day I tried them with green sicilian olives and a slug of balsamic vinegar and found myself greedily content with the result.


Is this the way to tamarillo?: 100 Day Project #6

Tamarillo‘Is this the way to Amarillo, every night I’ve been hugging my pillow…’

I can’t help it.  Every time I see a tamarillo, or ‘tree tomato’ as they used to be known, in comes this terrible retro “Amarilloearworm, (or this even more tasteless version, featuring several stars who should have known better on many levels).

Turns out my subconscious may not be completely nuts, as the ‘amarillo’ part may well be related to the Spanish for yellow (for which the Texas town Amarillo is named), as these fruit come in a lovely yolky gold  as well as the more familiar jewel red.

The flavour is quite distinctive, tangy and strong.   As children we often ate tamarillos stewed, with icecream, custard or porridge.  The strong deep red juice made for a technicolour experience in the bowl, on clothes, on the floor… Some simply sccop them out with a spoon, but I’d probably need a wee sprinkle of sugar on the cut fruit first.

Nowadays we are more likely to eat them in a fruit crumble.  I tend to use any old recipe, or not even bother with a recipe. But just lately I have been flinging in a handful of coconut into the topping to create a slightly deeper, nuttier flavour.  ‘Dilute’ the tamarillos with stewed apple for the new or picky palate.

As a bonus, these lovelies are just coming into season now which means a very reasonable price of $3.85 per kilo at our local supermarket.  Better eating everyone!

Of course a cheaper and fresher way to eat them is simply to grow them.  And luckily,  the tamarillo is really simple and very rewarding, even for novice gardeners.  It’s a fast-growing, leggy tree with big tobacco-like leaves which would made a fetching addition to your little food forest or garden. The only issue with them is they don’t tend to be that long lived, so for a constant supply we are advised to plant a new tree every 2-4 years.  A price well worth paying in my opinion.

I’m off to Kings garden centre to walk the homegrown tamarillo talk.

And it appears that earworm is coming with me…