Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Food for the Gods!

The genus name for the humble persimmon actually means "food for the gods". If you're familiar with persimmons you'll know why. I just can't eat enough persimmons come Autumn and I think they might just be in the running to be my favourite fruit.

I've only ever had the non-astringent variety often sold as "sweet persimmons" or sometimes as "vanilla persimmons" in Melbourne, because of the small dark flecks in the flesh of the fruit and the slight vanilla flavour.

There's basically two types of persimmons available commercially - astringent and non-astringent. I'm not sure I've seen the astringent type at any of the markets, maybe they're not readily available here. One reason might be that the non-astringent variety could be more marketable, if you buy and eat an unripe astringent persimmon it apparently tastes awful, as well as being not very good for your health possibly making it less appealing to customers. I'm going to keep my eye out for them though because I'm quite keen to try the astringent ones. I've done a bit of research and everyone seems to think they are far nicer. As long as you wait until they are fully ripe of course.

The astringent variety are inedible when not ripened to a soft jelly-like consistency but the non-astringent variety can be eaten while still firm like an apple all the way through to the point where the inside of the fruit is like a soft jelly. Just remember that the outside of the skin needs to be orange for the fruit to be ripe, and once the fruit has turned brown - don't eat it. This gives the sweet persimmon an amazingly long shelf life. I like them both ways, firm and soft and squishy inside, they're simply delicious. When firm they go very well in salads or anywhere you'd usually use an apple or a crisp pear and beautiful and soft they go very well scooped onto porridge or warmed through and eaten with a good dollop of creamy sheep's milk yoghurt. I'm sure you'll find your own favourite ways to eat these orange beauties.

One thing I love to do with persimmons is to dry them in my food dehydrator, which brings me to the reason for my post.

Drying persimmons! Did you guess that from the photo?

Some people peel the skin off with a vegetable peeler before eating persimmons but you don't have to, the skin is similar to apple skin and entirely edible. I think a previous time I peeled mine before drying them but this time I didn't and the result is very pleasing still, and it was a lot less work.

One reason I'm so keen on drying my own persimmons is because they're not available here at least not that I've seen. I'm not sure I've even seen them in Asian supermarkets, but if you have please drop me a line because I'd love to try some hoshigaki, Japanese style air-dried, whole, astringent persimmons.

Another reason to dry your own fruit is because then you can enjoy dried fruit without the nasty preservatives that commercially dried fruits have on them. A common preservative used is sulfur dioxide which is used to retain the appealing orange colour in dried apricots and is not good for you in large amounts used in commercially dried fruits. Sulfur dioxide can also trigger asthma attacks in asthma suffers.

I dry a lot of fruits and some of my favourites other than persimmons are; banana, apple, mango and pineapple. Hopefully I'll do a post about some of these others soon. Most of the fruits I've mentioned above are exceptionally sweet (as sweet as a lolly), except the apple (although I like them unsweetened you can add a little honey and lemon juice to them which is very nice) and they make wonderfully sweet snacks to eat when you're craving a little sugar. I'm going to use mine in trail mix for when I'm skiing this year and I think they also go really nicely on a cheese platter teamed with a salty cheese such as blue vein or gorgonzola.

Dried Persimmons:

Clean the persimmons thoroughly and dry them.
Cut in half and remove any pips (sometimes they have them sometimes not)
Cut each half into about six little wedges (or whatever size you like)
Lay them onto the trays of the dehydrator and dry according to the instructions of your machine.*
Take out and allow to cool and then store them in an air tight container in a cool dry place.

The dried persimmons will store for many months, probably up to a year.

* I have the Ezi Dri Snackmaker and I think it took about 10 hours to dry the whole 5 trays which was about 3 kg of fresh fruit.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Easter, a birthday, a picnic and a carrot cake

It was my birthday on Easter Monday and I desperately wanted to make a healthy cake for my birthday cake. Would you believe it I've never made carrot cake before, and so thinking that it would be very fitting for an Easter birthday, I decided that carrot cake would be my birthday treat.

So I shopped around for the ingredients, I mostly used organic ingredients, and had great fun sampling all the different sultanas and raisins at what is arguably my favourite stall at the farmer's market, and through that process honed in on exactly what I wanted my cake to be like.

I based the cake on this recipe at Elana's Pantry, a great site I've found that focuses on healthy food suitable to people on restricted diets, but I've changed it a little bit to make it my own. The great thing about this cake is that you can tailor it to suit your tastes or mood. Next time I might try adding a little coconut and experimenting with different dried fruits.

I can't rave about this cake enough. Its rustic, dense, full of flavour, and delicious. It didn't have any of that greasiness to it that some carrot cakes do. I was very proud of it I must say. It was the dessert at a family picnic we had for Easter Sunday!

Just one other thing - although I've named this cake Healthy Carrot Cake (and it probably is one of the healthiest versions I've seen) it still has a fair few calories in it, although it has a lot less oil and sweetener in that the normal variety. Be aware though that this cake is chockers with nuts, has a load of dried fruit in it and is made with a majority of nut flour. I mainly refer to it as healthy because it's made with whole ingredients which makes it better for your body.

Healthy Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Nutty Topping

Cake Ingredients:
2 cups almond meal
1 cup spelt flour 1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp sea salt
5 eggs 1 tsp
vanilla extract
½ cup brown rice syrup
¼ cup camellia tea oil
3 cups grated carrot
1 cup chopped walnuts*
½ cup sultanas
½ cup currants

Frosting Ingredients:
440 gms low fat cream cheese
2 -3 tb creamed honey
1 tsp vanilla extract

Nut Topping Ingredients:
Cinnamon, to taste
Seeds of 1 vanilla bean
1 tsp macadamia oil
100 gms chopped macadamias
100 gms chopped walnuts
spoonful of honey

Cake Method:
1. Mix together the flours, salt and spices in a large mixing bowl.
2. In a separate bowl mix together the wet ingredients with an electric mixer; eggs, oil, syrup, vanilla. Then add carrot, sultanas, currants and walnuts into the wet ingredients.
3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon to combine.
4. Place batter in a deep 18 cm baking tin that has been oiled and has baking on the bottom. Cook for approximately 1 hour in a 180 C oven. After that check for 'doneness' until the cake tester comes out clean.
5. Leave to cool for 5 mins and then turn out onto a cake cooler to cool.

Frosting Method:
Beat ingredients together with an electric mixer until smooth.

Nut Topping Method:
1. Add all the ingredients to a small fry pan and heat until melted and syrupy.
2. Add chopped nuts and heat through until roasted and the syrup has caramelised. Take off heat to cool.

Once all the cake elements have cooled completely spread frosting over cake and down the sides until completely covered with a knife or metal spatula. Then add the nut topping, toasted sunflower seeds and toasted pepitas. Serve.

* Note – I used Tasmanian walnuts they are local (relatively) and are a damn site nicer than Californian ones. They are in season now and I always choose these over their American counterparts when I have the opportunity.