Tuesday, November 23

There's No Business Like Show Business

Life has done a full circle. On Saturday we sunscreened-up and headed for the 150th Kyneton Agricultural Show, the sweet sounds of Creedence Clearwater Revival ringing in my ears courtesy of the teenagers next door. The Snake Handlers were up first. Surprisingly, I had the courage to touch many reptiles, not least of all a junior crocodile (with its mouth taped shut) and an enormous olive python. Mr R was a little more wary and when I bellowed “scaredy cat!” at him he retorted that repeatedly stroking a dry old snake just for the sake of it was not his idea of fun, nor he suspected, the snake’s. Welcome to my world.

Next, and possibly my favourite part of The Show was the poultry competition. This little poppet won ‘Best Behaved Bird’.

I suspect any sort of misbehaviour might mess up that marvellous bouffant, clearly her pride and joy. There were also prizes for ‘Cheekiest Face’ and ‘Best Prepared’. ‘Best Prepared!’ Imagine the prestige back at the hen house. All those early morning exercises, trips to the salon, careful dieting, they paid off!

There were vegetable competitions too, and prizes for the best pavlova, fluffiest scones, loveliest saucer of flowers and biggest bottle of pickles. As the proud inherited owner of a patch of rhubarb, I was pleased to see mine almost measured up to the prize-winning bunches. 

And on doing some research, I was excited to learn that rhubarb is actually a vegetable! (Except in the USA where in 1947 it became a fruit for tax purposes). The rhizomes ('roots') contain stilbene compounds (including rhaponticin) which seem to lower blood glucose levels in diabetic mice.

Not being the weather for hot puddings, I decided to experiment with rhubarb ice-cream and this is what happened… I cut a bunch of rhubarb stalks into even chunks, added half a cup of caster sugar, a tablespoon of water and two capfuls of rosewater then let them simmer away in a small saucepan until the rhubarb had cooked through and broken down. Whilst it was cooling I used a hand mixer to beat one cup of caster sugar with one and a quarter cups of milk (in order to dissolve the sugar). Then I stirred in a 600ml bottle (nearly three cups!) of thickened cream. It’s not called ice-cream for nothing. Once the rhubarb had cooled I stirred that in too and added about three extra capfuls of rosewater. This was then transferred to the ice-cream machine for churning which took about thirty minutes. If you don’t have an ice-cream machine then I'm sorry, sucker! Once churned and a delightful pale pink, I popped it in the freezer for a couple of hours to firm up. Served with strawberries, Master R pronounced it ‘a triumph’. Personally I think I was a tad heavy-handed with the rosewater and that it could have benefited from being served with a sharper fruit or possibly lemony or almondy biscuits. But they're for another day.

  • Rhubarb and Rosewater Ice-cream

Monday, November 15

Return of the Vegi

It's a wonder you're not getting a whiff of day-old garlicky breath through your monitor such was the ferocity of yesterday's Caramelised Garlic and Goats Cheese Tart.  But what a tart!  And what a fine way to kick-off the season of the Summer Sunday Luncheon (SSL). 
Garlic is grown globally, but China is by far the largest producer of garlic, with approximately 10.5 million tonnes (23 billion pounds) annually, accounting for over 77% of world output. India (4.1%) and South Korea (2%) follow, with Russia (1.6%) in fourth place and the United States (where garlic is grown primarily as a cash crop in every state except for Alaska) in fifth place (1.4%). Garlic has been used throughout history for both culinary and medicinal purposes as this man can attest...

And so to the recipe.  For which we have to acknowledge the pretty amazing Mr Yotan Ottolenghi,  (http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/)...  To begin I rolled out some defrosted all-butter puff pastry (from the shop!) that lined the base and edges of a non-stick fluted tart tin.  I stabbed it many times with a fork then sat it in the fridge for 20 minutes to come to terms with its new dimensions.  Whilst it was resting I pre-heated the oven to 180 and cut out a circle of greaseproof paper to put on top of the pastry and under some brown rice (in lieu of ceramic baking beans).  The pastry was then baked blind for 20 minutes before I removed the paper and rice and put it back in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown.  At this point it can be taken out and left to its own devices for as long as it takes you to prepare the filling. 
And what a filling!  Put the peeled cloves of three heads of garlic into a small pan and cover with water.  Bring them to a simmer, blanch for three minutes and then drain well.  Dry the pan, return the cloves to it and then add about a tablespoon of olive oil.  Fry for about two minutes then add a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar (the best a man can get) and 220ml of water. They will look like this -

Which might not look like much, but by God, it smelt like heaven.  Fragrant enough to awaken Mr R from his Sunday morning slumber.  Add nearly a tablespoon of caster sugar, a teaspoon each of freshly chopped rosemary and thyme and a mere quarter of a teaspoon of salt.  Continue simmering until most of the liquid has evaporated and the cloves are coated in a glorious dark caramel syrup. 
To assemble, break 120g of hard goat's cheese and 120g of soft goat's cheese and scatter on the pastry case then spoon over the garlic cloves and syrup.  Whisk together two eggs, 100ml of cream and 100ml creme fraiche with some salt and pepper and pour the mixture into the case making sure to leave the cloves sticking out through the top.  Throw on a few strands of thyme and pop in the oven  (at 160) for 35 to 45 minutes.  Well that's what the recipe said.  In reality my tart took almost an hour to set and then I just turned the oven off and left it in there to keep warm.  Served with a tomato and herb salad and fresh asparagus it went down a treat (though all that cream and cheese will probably be lodged in one's aortic arch for some time to come).