I hope every family has its favourite meals and its own family traditions; both help mark the passage of seasons and the passing of time. They help us to stay connected to our family and to our roots and as we grow older they are powerful memories of the past and of special people and events.
Favourites are not necessarily anything particularly spectacular, just part of the fabric of life. Last night I made a couple of ours – good old fashioned roast chicken with baked root veggies and steamed greens followed by the humble pineapple upside down cake. Roast chicken I have found to be one of those meals that meets many people’s comfort food guidelines. After a big day outside, in the cool of the year as it is at present in Tasmania, sitting down to a hearty meal rich in protein and vegetables with lots of colour on the plate leaves one feeling nurtured and loved – even when its you that did the cooking. My vegetarian friends clearly pass on the chicken but enjoy the range of veggies; the chicken can be replaced with a cheese sauce for the steamed vegetables or with the addition of something like marinated tofu that can be added to the baked veg.
And as for pineapple upside down cake – it is something that comes out as the weather cools because I will almost always have the ingredients at hand, its quick and easy to make and basically fool proof! Last night I made it at the request of my son who has been feeling a little under the weather and obviously in the market for some TLC. As I dished it up he said “You know this is one of the first things I remember learning to cook with you and I wrote it down in my recipe book at the time!” His words reminded me that, in the manner of good traditions, it was also one of the first cakes that I remember cooking both at school and with my mum and I still have that recipe written in a very young hand in my first recipe book!
The recipe has evolved a little over time with the glacé cherries of my childhood being replaced with what I consider to be far superior bottled maraschino cherries – they taste so much better but do rather stain the pineapple so if you want the perfect look stick with the glacé variety.
Start by putting the oven on to heat at about 200°C – I say about because you know your oven better than anyone else. Put a large knob of butter into a nine inch pan or equivalent; last night all I could find was my square pan which holds 6 pineapple rings quite well as long as you cut one up. Melt the butter in the warming oven being careful not to let it burn. Remove from the oven and use a brush to ensure that the sides of the pan are well greased then sprinkle a little sugar across the base of the dish. Traditionally I use soft brown sugar but last night I only had raw so that was what I used. Drain a can of sliced pineapple rings – I choose the ones packed in pineapple juice as they have a better flavour and less sugar. Reserve the juice for making the cake mixture and lay the rings in the baking tin. Place cherries of your choice in the centre of each ring and in any other spaces in the pattern that you care to fill.
The cake mixture is made by creaming together half a cup of raw sugar and about 200g of butter – I use normal salted butter but you could choose unsalted. At home I like to work by hand most of the time as I hate cleaning machines and the fuss involved in finding all their pieces but feel very welcome to get out the hand held beaters or the mixer – your choice. Once the butter and sugar mixture is light and fluffy crack an egg into a cup and beat lightly with a fork. This needs to be added to the butter mixture a little at a time and beaten in well before a further addition or you run the risk of the mixture curdling. This is easiest with a mixer but when doing it by hand I add a little flour after each addition of egg and this seems to help prevent problems. The flour I am using is 1 1/2 cups of plain flour with 3 teaspoons of baking power added and both sifted together – you can use self raising flour but I prefer to make my own. Self raising flour that sits for too long unused can lose much of its raising capacity and flour in general can get stale and prone to those nasty little weevils. Thus I prefer to stock my basic flour and add baking powder according to the instructions on the packet (mine says 2 teaspoons to a cup of flour).
Once the egg has been added the remainder of the flour needs to be beaten into the mixture together with enough liquid to make a dropping consistency. For liquid I start with about half of the juice from the pineapple and then milk until the consistency feels right. Some of you will be saying what does ‘feels right’ mean? Unfortunately there is an element of cooking that, as I have said in a previous post, is not an exact science but rather part of the art and that involves becoming a part of the process and using your instincts and feelings – the more you cook the better these get. Once upon a time I did not believe that I would ever make a cake without a recipe – savoury dishes maybe, but cakes no! Then came the day, pre Google I would add, when I was somewhere with no recipe plenty of ingredients and friends looking for cake – and I thought “Heck I have made enough cakes over the years to know the basic principles – just give it a go!” So I did and it worked fine. Have courage – what’s the worst that can happen?
Once the batter is ready, spoon it into the centre of the cake tin and use a palette knife or similar round bladed knife to spread the mixture evenly to the edges of the tin. Place in the middle of the oven and cook for 15 minutes. Check on the cake and turn it through 180° because most ovens do not cook perfectly evenly. If it seems to be browning quickly turn the oven down to 180°C and cook for a further 5 to 7 minutes or until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean. Remove the tin from the oven and allow to stand on a cooling rack for about 5 minutes before turning out carefully onto a serving plate. The cake should pull away from the edges but if not slide a knife around the edge before trying to turn out. Serve with your selection of pouring cream, whipped cream, ice cream or custard.
Please note the photos I use here are taken as I cook meals that are the food that we will be eating and part of my normal day – I make no claims to being the world’s greatest photographer and I have little capacity to spend my time ‘prettying up’ my photos. So what you see is what we eat, cooked in a ‘business as usual’ family kitchen – warts and all! If yours looks better I would love to see the results and welcome your thoughts on what I share.