Monday, February 25, 2013

Green Tomato Cake with Maple Mascarpone Frosting

Green Tomato Cake Collage

I was surprised to notice the other day that I've been blogging for a little over three and a half years now - where did that time go?!  Less surprising though, was the realisation that I've learnt a thing or two in that time.  Not to sound big-headed, mind you - I do know that what I don't know still massively surpasses what I do know.  But I have picked up the odd thing along the way.

For example, I now know that if you come up with a great idea for a cake that you just know you're going to want to write a blog post about, then it's not such a good idea to bake your cake in the middle of the night and thus not be able to take a decent photo of said cake.  I also know that having decided to set the cake aside in order to capture a good photo in the morning, you shouldn't let someone cut a big hunk out of the cake for supper!  I also know that trying to hurriedly snap off a good photo at 7.00am, before getting ready for work, is going to be no more successful than capturing a decent photo the night before - not only is the light still poor, but working in haste will render 9 out of 10 photos shaky and out of focus.

All these things I know, and yet somehow I still came to break every single one of those rules in the preparation of this post.  I tell you this for two reasons.  Firstly, so that hopefully you won't make the same foolish mistakes I did;  and secondly, and really more importantly, in the hope that you will not judge this cake harshly on the basis of my mediocre photos.  After all, the idea of a green tomato cake might be a little scary to some of you, and it's really going to take some kind of killer photo to sell it. 

Well, I clearly failed on the "knock-out" photo front, but I'm urging you to look beyond the photos, and give this cake a try, for, scary though this may sound, I can promise you that this cake is a stunner.  Trust me on this.

Green Tomato Cake 1
Pedestal cake plate courtesy of Stevens Homewares, Nelson (see details below)

I stumbled upon this idea after I'd been staking up my abundant tomato crop, and a whole lot of green tomatoes fell off the vines.  I did a bit of a google search on green tomatoes, thinking maybe I would come up with a good chutney recipe, when I stumbled upon this recipe from Paula Deen for a green tomato cake.  That definitely peeked my curiosity, and made me think it would be similar in many ways to a carrot cake.  So then I turned to my Mum's recipe for carrot cake,  tricked it up a little, and added a maple and mascarpone frosting using the mascarpone cheese I made last week.

Green Tomato Cake 2

The result is surprisingly light, definitely lighter than your average carrot cake, and incredibly moist.  I served this to several people without telling them what it was, and no-one picked that it had green tomatoes in it.  In fact, once cooked the green tomato becomes almost like apple in both taste and texture.  This was so good I've had requests for a repeat performance, and trust me when I tell you that does not often happen with my baking.  Personally, I can't wait to give it another try, and I think that next time I might make it into little mini cakes.  Might even get a decent photo next time!!

Green Tomato Cake with Maple Mascarpone Frosting Recipe
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

250g (9 oz) plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of salt
100ml (3.5 fl oz) sunflower oil
100ml (3.5 fl oz) olive oil
250g (9 oz) soft brown sugar
3x eggs
2x green tomatoes, finely diced
juice of 1/2 a lemon
100g (3.5 oz) toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

For the frosting
2x cups mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup maple syrup
extra toasted walnuts, a generous handful

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F).  Lightly grease and line a 23cm (9 inch) cake tin.

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  Set aside.

In a separate, large bowl, using an electric beater, cream together the oil and sugar.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after adding each one until the egg is fully incorporated.  Add the diced green tomatoes, lemon juice, and walnuts, and stir to combine.

Add the sifted dry ingredients, and gently fold in until everything is well combined.

Tip the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smooth the top, and bake in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10-15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

Prepare the frosting, by beating together the mascarpone cheese and maple syrup until smooth, then spread over the top and sides of the cooled cake.  Decorate the top with toasted walnuts.

Props courtesy of Stevens Homewares Ltd 

This will be a submission to Sweet New Zealand, inspired by Alessandra Zecchini and hosted this month by Michele at Greedybread.

Sweet New Zealand Badge A

Monday, February 18, 2013

Homemade Mascarpone Cheese

Mascarpone 2

Mascarpone cheese is one of my favourite ingredients to cook with.  Now, admittedly, it doesn't taste particularly exciting on its own, but combined with other flavours it becomes a knock-out.  Mix with a little sugar and scrape in a freshly split vanilla pod, for a fantastic accompaniment to poached stone fruit or pears, or summer berries.  Or use as an ingredient in savoury sauces - I love it stirred into a pan full of sauteed mushrooms for an instant mushroom sauce to go over pasta or polenta, or even a grilled steak if you lean that way.  I even love it mixed with some freshly grated lemon zest and stirred into risotto just before serving.  And of course, where would the classic tiramisu be without it?

For all that, much as I love mascarpone, it's not an ingredient that finds its way into my shopping basket on a regular basis.  The price of mascarpone at the supermarket is ridiculous, and living on a fairly tight budget, as I do, it's something that falls into the "occasional luxury" category rather than a regular stand-by.

But no more.  I have just discovered that not only is mascarpone ridiculously easy to make, but you can make a batch for a fraction of the price of buying it.  I think I can now safely say that mascarpone just pretty much became a staple ingredient in my fridge, and what's more I will never buy store bought again.

My batch of homemade mascarpone cost me $3.49 to make, and yielded 300g.  By comparison, store bought mascarpone averaged out across the board at $8.11 for 300g.  So making mine at home worked out at less than half the price.  And you know what else I like about that?  When I examined most packets of store bought product, the ingredients listed usually showed cream, food acid, thickeners and stablisers.  My homemade version contained just cream and lemon juice - that's it - nothing else - nada!

Now of course, because it is lacking in any preservatives, it won't keep as long as store-bought product - you will need to use it within 4-5 days.  But seriously, you're not making this stuff just to have it sitting around.  So, go and give it a try - find out just how easy this is.  Then eat the lot and make another batch - at this price you can afford to.

Homemade Mascarpone Recipe
Makes approx 300g (10-1/2 oz)
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

500ml cream (17 fl oz)
1 tablespoon lemon juice

You will also need:

Put cream into a small to medium sized, heavy bottom saucepan over medium heat, and heat cream until it reaches a temperature of 88 degrees C (190 degrees F).  Stir regularly to make sure it doesn't catch on the bottom, and don't leave unattended - if it boils over, not only will your mascarpone be ruined, but you will have a nasty mess to clean up.

Once temperature has been reached, add the lemon juice to the pan, and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes.  You will feel the cream start to thicken almost immediately the lemon juice is added.  Try to maintain temperature at 88 degrees C (190 degrees F) throughout, and stir constantly.

Remove pan from the heat and allow to cool for about half an hour.

Line a sieve with four layers of muslin, and place over a bowl.   Pour the cooled cream into the lined sieve, cover with plastic wrap, and put in the fridge for several hours (overnight is ideal) allowing any whey to drain away and the mascarpone to thicken.  I only had about a tablespoon of whey drain off, and my mascarpone thickened up a lot overnight.

Scoop the strained cheese into an airtight container and store in the fridge.  Use within a week.

Make sure you visit again soon to discover how I used my mascarpone in a Maple Mascarpone Frosting for a Green Tomato & Walnut cake - sounds weird I know, but trust me when I tell you it was sublime.  I also used the mascarpone in a roasted tomato and mascarpone sauce for pasta, which I will also share with you shortly.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Tomato, Basil & Mozzarella Salad

Tomato, Basil & Mozzarella Salad 3

We're all well acquainted with that old line, "When life gives you lemons ....", etc.  Well, right now, life is giving me tomatoes - lots and lots and lots of them.  This is not a complaint, mind.  Having just grown my first ever successful tomato crop, I still get a huge thrill out of harvesting a big bowl of these beauties every day.

Tomato, Basil & Mozzarella Salad 2

Many of them end up in pasta dishes;  roasted with potatoes, black olives, and a piece of snapper;  grilled on the barbeque;  or thickly sliced and sauteed in butter with lots of freshly ground black pepper, then tipped over hot toast and topped with a poached egg.  In the weeks ahead, many will end up as pasta sauce or slow-roasted and stashed in the freezer for use during the winter months to come.

But if you are lucky enough to be able to pick tomatoes, straight from the garden, at the absolutely perfect moment of ripeness and still warm from the sun, then there is no doubt that the best way to enjoy them is very simply - teaming them up with the best quality ingredients you can lay your hands on.  To me that means basil, also picked straight from the garden;  the best extra virgin olive oil you can afford - I used Moon Over Martinborough's Crescent Moon Blend;  and mozzarella, buffalo would be ideal if you can find it and your budget will run to it - if not, have a go at making your own, as I did.

Tomato, Basil & Mozzarella Salad 1

Tomato, Basil & Mozzarella Salad Recipe
(This is really more of a method rather than a recipe - quantities are not critical)

tomatoes, as many as you like
(use an assortment of colours & sizes, even including green ones)
mozzarella, one large ball
fresh basil leaves, generous handful
flaky sea salt
extra virgin olive oil

Cut tomatoes - some into thick slices, some into wedges, some roughly chopped.  Smaller cherry tomatoes can be just halved or even left whole if they are tiny.  The point is to avoid "uniformity".  Spread tomatoes over a large flat platter.

Cut mozzarella into rough slices, or tear into pieces, as you like, and distribute amongst the tomatoes.

Sprinkle liberally with sea salt.

Roughly tear basil leaves into pieces and strew over the salad.

Lastly, drizzle everything liberally with extra virgin olive oil.

Allow to stand at room temperature for around 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavours to mingle.

Of course you can serve this as an accompaniment to just about anything - simple oven-roasted chicken, steak or fish straight off the barbeque - the possibilities are really limitless.  Personally, I like it best on its own (I can easily make a meal of this), with some good, crusty bread on the side to mop up the juices.

Eating a dish like this always puts a smile on my face.  But so much more than that, it makes my heart smile, and it humbles me.  It reminds me that, no matter how clever we think we can get in the kitchen, we can never improve on nature's simple packaging - the best food of all is that which hasn't been messed with, but which has just been paired with a few other "like-minded" ingredients.  Like a good marriage, they don't compete with each other, they simply bring out the best in each other, and make us feel better for having been in their company.

I'm sharing this post at Gallery of Favourites, hosted by my friend April at The 21st Century Housewife;  at See Ya In the Gumbo, hosted by the lovely Michelle at Ms. enPlace;  at Foodie Friday, hosted by Designs by Gollum; and at My Meatless Mondays hosted by Chaya at My Sweet and Savory.

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