Autumn crème brûlée with spiced pineapple

frangipani and pineapple

Seasons are funny things, aren’t they? In Ireland we tend to have on average, oh, about two days of summertime a year. Three if we’re really lucky. When I was a student these days always conveniently coincided with major exams; in fact I think the gods of Irish summertime still do this. Those guys must hate students.

In Sydney, they have pretty much the exact opposite case. Here, we’ll get about three weeks of winter, tops. Summer glides into autumn, which sometimes threatens to turn into winter, but generally thinks better of it and simply glides back into spring again. We had sunshine and highs of 21 last week, but it is starting to get much cooler and wetter.

spiced pineapple brulee

A major hint that winter is on the way are the two rapidly-shedding frangipani trees outside my house. During the summer these tress keep our bedroom shady and cool, while filling it with the lovely scent of frangipani. At the moment however, they are covering my car in a deluge of dying flowers and leaves, meaning I have to practically dig my way into it every morning.

Two weekends ago, I picked what I think will be the last frangipani flowers of the year and paired them with the last of the autumn pineapples to make a totally-tropical desert. Crème brûlée with spiced pineapple is actually a great choice for this in-between season; the Chinese five spice gives a lovely autumny accent to the summery pineapple. And crème brûlée is just plain awesome no matter what time of the year.

As The Starks say – Winter is coming. Even to Sydney.

Autumn crème brûlée with spiced pineapple

five-spice pineapple creme brulee

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Creamy, sundried surprise

So it’s time for another pasta surprise; because everyone loves pasta and surprises, hoo-raa!

Pasta surprise is all kinds of super and as yumbolicious regulars will know, it’s one of my favourite things to make.

It’s great because you get to clear out the contents of your fridge; while avoiding the supermarket (always good on a midweek evening) and all in under the guise of experimentation. And the big plus? Well it’s pretty hard to go wrong, but if you ever do, you can nearly always do an emergency rescue job with some cheese and a good grill!

This pasta surprise is veering dangerously towards poshness, but I swear it was a fridge clearing exercise that went exceptionally well. So well in fact, that I committed it to memory and made it again and again and again. And you should too.

Creamy, sundried tomato and chicken rigatoni

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Auntie V’s beef stroganoff (well, almost)

Recently I’ve been thinking about family recipes and how they get passed from person to person. It was sparked by a story I heard about a girl who’s friends put together a scrap book of all their family recipes as a wedding gift, how sweet is that?! Certainly beats a set of towels in my book.

I was taught to cook by my Mam. She is (and I can’t stress this strongly enough) an absolutely cracking cook. Everything the woman makes is super delicious. But she’s not very adventurous, so after she taught me the staples (bolognese, chocolate cake, Irish stew, seafood, etc.), I went on to do a lot of discovering and recipe testing all by myself. At the same time, I’d love to pick her brains and write down all of her recipes for safekeeping. Adventurous they may not be, but they formed a very important part of my childhood. Even just the thoughts of her Christmas baked ham brings me to my happy place, mmmmmm…

My aunt is also a wonderful cook, but I fear she’s quite like me and makes up recipes as she goes along, thereby making it slightly difficult to write them down or pass them on. Her stroganoff is legendary; it’s absolutely out-of-this-world delicious! When I was a kid, I loved it so much that whenever she made it, she’d always make an extra plate for me. I have been begging her for the recipe for years now with no luck, although I’m starting to suspect she doesn’t have a clear idea of it herself!

So here is my attempt to recreate my aunt’s stroganoff, but obviously this is subject to change, depending on what we have in the fridge on a given day!

Auntie V’s beef stroganoff (well, almost)

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Totally tropical fool

It was Australia Day last Thursday; I’m not quite sure how it’s taken me a whole four days to get around to posting this. It seems I am the world’s biggest faffer.

I’ve said before how excited I get visiting the greengrocers in Australia, it’s always full of such yummie-looking, exotic goodies, begging to be bought. But the fun doesn’t end there, oh no, I am the proud owner of a passion fruit vine. Yes, I am now, totally tropical.

Said passion fruit vine, has to date, only produced three super-tangy fruit. But that doesn’t matter to me. I still get a kick out of just looking at it, knowing that it’s there, slowly taking over the back garden, being all exotic and unfamiliar.

So to celebrate Australia Day I decided to make a fool from my two favourite Australian fruits: mango and passion fruit. Served with Australia Day semolina shortbread cookies for a bit of crunch and kitsch.

Totally tropical mango and passion fruit fool

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Summery tart

This week spring well and truly descended onto Sydney, and it got HOT. It has been lovely and bright in the mornings and when I leave the office each evening. We’ve started sleeping with the windows open every night.

So, I started what I feel may become a springtime ritual in Australia: I worried about how many bugs we’re going to have come summer (which was sparked by finding a baby huntsman spider in my kitchen, eek); and I fretted about by my poor très-burnable Irish skin.

But I also hit the interwebs in search of light, bright, summery, yummery food to cook. I’ve resolved to eat no more stodge until May. During my search I found this beautiful tart on one of my favourite websites: Delicious. And it was oh so colourful, simple and delicious. I served it with a crisp green salad it really hit the spot. Plus it gave The Fella ample opportunities to make super hilarious innuendos about all kinds of tarts, like, who doesn’t love a good tart on a hot day? But maybe the less said about that the better….

Tomato, chive and Brie tart

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Messy meringue

This week I got to thinking about how recipes are invented. Now, bear with me here, I’m not being totally stupid. Obviously some stuff just tastes good together, like macaroni and cheese. And clearly the Irish national dish of spuds, bacon and cabbage evolved simply because, way back in the day, there just weren’t many other dinner options. But do you ever think some recipes were ‘invented’ by accident and just kind of caught on?

The reason I ask is, this week I made the traditional English summer desert, Eton Mess. Now, I don’t want to mislead you, I hadn’t originally intended to make it. Instead, I envisioned making a beautiful, white, fluffy, towering pavlova. But unfortunately my meringue looked like it had fallen off the back of a truck and then dragged through a hedge backwards by a pack of wild and ravaging dogs.

But it tasted good, nice and crispy on the outside and slightly chewy in the inside and deliciously sweet. So really, the only option was to smush it up, cover it with cream and pretend that’s what I had really intended to do all the while. And I’d like to think that’s how the recipe was ‘invented’ in the first place!

Eton Mess

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Dreaming of Darina

OK, so I got this book recently and it’s – as we’d say at home – feckin’ deadly! It’s called 700 Forgotten  Kitchen Secrets by Darina Allen, and I recommend that everyone goes out and buys it, immediately.

I know it almost sounds like I’ve been paid to endorse it. Ha! Wouldn’t that be something? No, I’m just really obsessed with it, so much so, I’ve even considered bringing it to read on the train to work in the morning. But, if sales do sky rocket, Darina you can reach me through this blog. And, I won’t want to be paid or anything, a short spell in Ballymaloe will do me just grand, thanks!

Anyways, this book is amazing. It’s full of handy hints, beautiful pictures and great little anecdotes. Reading it makes me want to move home to Ireland and live on a goat farm somewhere on the west coast, making cheese and maybe soap for the tourists. I could keep my own chickens and a cow for milking and maybe even a little hive of bees. Oh, the daydreams I have while trudging through the Sydney underground every morning. Unfortunately, the Fella, having been born and raised here thinks he’s far too cosmopolitan for all that craic. He won’t entertain these notions I have at all, even when I send him pictures of goats being super cute and fun.

So, this post will be the first of many recipes from this fab book. I decided to make creamy chicken and ginger, mainly because I already had all of the ingredients and thus didn’t need to leave the house. But also, it’s just a really interesting recipe. Darina recommends letting the chicken soak in milk for about half an hour before you cook it. The lactic acid in the milk works as a tenderiser; breaking down threads in the meat and making it super soft and delicious. This was just too good an experiment for my super-nerdy-chemist-brain to pass up on, and the result: score! I’m not always a fan of chicken breast, but this was lovely and juicy and tender, and not at all dry or bland. Also, the combination of ginger and cream was something I’d never have put together myself, but it works really well.

Creamy Chicken and Ginger

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Pumpkin predicaments

If I say the word ‘pumpkin’ to you, what do you immediately think of? If it’s Hallowe’en, then you were probably born in the northern hemisphere.

This week I was given a present of a pumpkin. It was beautiful: green with orange speckles, home-grown and organic. It could not have been any cuter. But all I could think was: it’s May, who the hell grows pumpkins in May?? The answer: Australians.

Figuring out the seasons is one of the stranger adjustments I have had to make since moving here. At home, on the fair emerald isle, we all know Australians celebrate Christmas during the summer. We giggle at their stupidity for not knowing Christmas revolves around frost, mulled wine, fairy lights and a whole lot of hearty winter fare; all the while secretly wondering what it would be like to spend it on a sunny beach. This is all well known, so when Christmas rolled around I was prepared for the strangeness of it. It has been other things that have caught me off guard, such as eating hot-cross buns as the leaves are changing colour, sunshine on St. Patrick’s Day and now being given pumpkins in May. Where will it end?!

If Australia is the opposite to Ireland, then May is pretty much like October, right?

So once I had recovered from the shock of all this, I had to figure out what I was going to do with this May pumpkin. And I’m afraid I was very unoriginal, I opted for risotto and pumpkin pie. And here is my rational: pumpkin risotto is all kinds of yum, so that’s pretty much a no brainer; and I’ve never actually tasted pumpkin pie before, so while it might seem unoriginal to some, it’s totally left of field for me.

So that was the menu planned, all that was left to do was crack open the gourd and a bottle of red, cook and enjoy on a (very warm) Sydney autumn evening.

Pumpkin and rosemary risotto

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