Sunday, September 8, 2013

what to do when your tree only produces a dozen plums

we have a rather ancient plum tree in the garden. it wasn't doing very well, so a couple of years ago, husband severely pruned it back. at first, this appeared to make it very sad. but now, the procedure has quite literally borne fruit and there were plums on it for the first time since we've lived here. they weren't many (only about a dozen), but they were beautiful and sweet. so i knew i had to do something special with them. then a friend posted this recipe for a gingery plum cake on her facebook wall.

i'd been in the kitchen all day, making chutney and raspberry jam and pickles and lasagne and bread when i decided i'd better make the cake before the plums went bad. it was late in the day and i didn't want to make a grocery store run, so although i didn't quite have all the ingredients, i knew i could improvise.

plum gingerbread cake

1 dozen plums, halved and de-stoned
3 spoonfuls of sugar
butter for greasing the pan

the cake:
175 grams butter
100 grams brown sugar
3 discs of palm sugar
80 ml golden syrup
80 ml molasses
2 large eggs
200 ml milk
300 grams flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. cardamon
1/4 tsp. allspice

preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. grease a square pan with butter and line the base of it with baking parchment. butter the paper and sprinkle with sugar. arrange the plums prettily in the bottom with the cut side facing the sugar.

melt the butter and the two kinds of sugar and the syrup in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth and all of the sugar is melted. (this is where i went wrong. i was doing about 12 other things and didn't pay very close attention. my mixture went to a rather rolling boil and began to show early signs of turning to caramel. this, as it turned out, was a very good thing.) remove from heat and allow it to cool for 10 minutes or so before stirring in the eggs. alternate the dry ingredients and milk and mix to a smooth batter.

pour the batter carefully over the plum and bake for 45+ minutes. you can turn it out of the tin if you're serving to guests and want to be fancy, but you can just as well leave it in for easy storage.

notes: do let that sugar-butter mixture get a bit caramel-y, you won't regret it. you can use 175grams of brown sugar, i just didn't have that much left and had some of those palm sugar discs languishing in the cupboard. i also didn't have enough golden syrup in the cupboard, so i topped it off with some of my precious molasses, which made the cake even more like a proper gingerbread, so that was a good thing. 

i can safely advise eating it for breakfast with a bit of cream poured over it. if you serve it as dessert, it would go very nicely with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream. it was a very worthy recipe for my precious plums.

Monday, January 7, 2013

new year's feast

i always have ambivalent feelings about new year's eve. it often seems like much ado about nothing. thousands of kroner of fireworks going up in smoke, often on a foggy, rainy night, where no one can see anything of it anyway. expectations are always high, and so is the pressure to have fun. but this year, we were going to spend the holiday with good friends that we've seen far too little of this year, so we decided to go all out on the new year's food.  i made half a dozen nibbles to start grazing on mid-afternoon (another post will be devoted to those) and bought a beautiful beef roast for the dinner.

there were mocktails for the kids - our friends selected a wide variety of fruit and juices (sparkling and non) that they could use to compose their cocktails in special, glowy glasses. the adults took a more traditional route - crisp gin & tonics, followed by a glass of champagne during the queen's speech and then a nice amarone with dinner.

we didn't sit down to a proper starter thanks to the vast array of nibbles i made, but oysters were a must if we were going to go all out. they were small, but fresh and tasting of the very sea itself. that is until i put a spoonful of finely chopped shallots bathed in astringent red wine vinegar and a crumbling of posh "feinschmecker" bacon on top.

even the non-oyster lovers enjoyed the bacon-topped deliciousness. the kids did too.

after all of the heavy christmas food, i decided a big, abundant salad had to be on the menu. pickley antipasto served as dressing.

antipasto salad

1 package of baby spinach leaves
1 carton cherry tomatoes
6-7 slices of serrano ham (cut in half and rolled up to look pretty)
150 grams posh bacon, diced and fried until crispy
100 grams smoked almonds, chopped and toasted together with the bacon at the very end
handful of green beans, cut bite-sized and lightly steamed
a selection of various pickled or preserved in oil antipasti - artichokes, roasted peppers, olives (green and black), pepperoncini, sun-dried tomatoes, capers if you have them. 

pile it all on a big plate, using the spinach leaves as a bed and arranging it prettily. i used a bit of the herbed olive oil from the artichokes as dressing and tossed on the bacon and almonds on top for crunch.

here's one more shot after i remembered to put the black olives (sabin's favorites) on top.

i served the big salad with a lovely beef roast. we have the best butcher in denmark in a nearby little town (where there is little else, other than this charming butcher) and so i trusted them. it came marinated and even tho' i was chatting away and overcooked it a bit, it was still delicious. my advice is buy the very best you can possibly afford and then it will cover for any mistakes you may make in the preparation.

simple roasted root vegetables and an herbed creme fraiche dressing instead of heavy gravy accompanied the roast. all i did was peel and slice beets, parsnips, carrots and a few potatoes and drizzle with olive oil and a bit of herbed salt and bake for 45 minutes or so. i stirred some of the same herbed salt into the creme fraiche.

after we'd all had one serving of the food, we decided to set off a "table bomb" (bordbombe). usually, they have a few streamers of crepe paper and some small plastic trinkets inside. perhaps a few stars. this one was shaped like a champagne bottle and contained pulverized glitter, which ruined the remains of the salad much of the roasted vegetables. at least it was after we'd all had a good helping of it and we'd had loads of appetizers (more about those soon), so nobody went away hungry. in fact, we were so stuffed that we didn't eat our dessert crepes until breakfast the next day.

i guess we're showing our age a little bit because when the meal was over, it was still a couple of hours 'til midnight, so we changed out of our party clothes, put on sweatpants and played cards. then at midnight, we went out in the rain and watched the fireworks. same procedure as every year.


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