In Annabel Crabb's accidental second career as the host of political cooking show Kitchen Cabinet, she negotiates her way into the homes of Australian politicians, bringing dessert - the internationally recognised culinary code for "I come in peace".
Now, in Special Delivery, Crabb has teamed up with her best friend from childhood, fellow food tragic and Kitchen Cabinet recipe consultant Wendy Sharpe, to bring you recipes for those knockout desserts as well as tons more ideas for soups, salads, pastries, breads and other treats ideally suited to make and take to those you love. The following is a selection.
Makes about 700g
This recipe makes a fair amount of passionfruit curd. It will keep for up to two weeks in the fridge, and will find its way onto pancakes, tarts and croissants, in between sponge cakes and biscuits, or even into a pavlova with whipped cream. I took just such a passionfruit pavlova to former prime minister Kevin Rudd's house once. He wasn't much for sweets, as it turned out, but his daughter Jessica loved the curd so much I discreetly left her the jar. If you know someone who feels the same way, a jar of this would be the perfect gift for them.
110g castor sugar
4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
125g unsalted butter, cubed
pulp from 8 passionfruit, strained
juice of ½ lemon
In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, whisk the sugar, eggs and egg yolks together until pale.
Now whisk in the butter, cube by cube, and keep whisking over the heat: the butter will melt and the mixture will gradually thicken to a nice, custardy texture.
Finally, whisk in the passionfruit pulp and lemon juice and wait for the curd to thicken up again, then immediately transfer it to a bowl (if using straightaway) or sterilised jars (see page 32), covering the surface with plastic wrap so it doesn't form a skin as it cools.
TO TRANSPORT: Spoon the curd into small screw-top jars, giving them a bonnet of muslin (cheesecloth) tied with string, if you like. Pop in your basket and away you go. Remind the recipient to keep their jar of curd in the fridge, and to eat it within two weeks.
Pantry challenge gratin
In the weeks before my partner Jeremy and I moved back to Australia from London, we enforced the "pantry challenge", whereby every meal had to be cooked using something in the cupboard, so we could run our pantry reserves down to nix.
For no good reason I can think of, I had at some stage bought a five-kilo bag of quinoa, so that went into tuna patties and some sort of quinoa sushi, to which I'm afraid Wendy was repeatedly subjected. Anyway, there's no quinoa at all in this recipe, but it does mostly use things you might have lurking in your cupboard.
Great for when friends drop in, as they say – or, more saliently, very good for whipping up and sticking in a basket for baking on-site in the home of another. This gratin is very rich, so we've sized it as a side dish. It goes well with many things; some Puy-style lentils or a crisp green salad is a good idea too.
1 leek, well washed and outer green leaves discarded, finely chopped
olive oil, for frying
a little white wine or water, if needed
175g cooked cannellini beans
75g creme fraiche or sour cream
2½ tablespoons cream
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 x 335g jar white asparagus, drained
30g coarse fresh breadcrumbs
50g finely grated parmesan
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 160C. In a frying pan over low to medium heat, fry the leek in the smallest amount of oil, adding a little white wine or water if it starts to stick. When the leek has wilted a bit, take the pan off the heat and mix in the beans. Mix the two creams with the mustard until smooth.
Take a shallow baking dish about 20 x 15 cm and spread about a tablespoon of the cream mixture over the base. Lay the asparagus spears on top, spoon over the leek and bean mixture, then pour over the rest of the cream mixture.
Combine the breadcrumbs, parmesan and parsley, then sprinkle over the gratin. (Just by the by, I recommend having a secret stash of this gratin topping in the freezer, ready to sprinkle at a minute's notice – it is also good on lasagne and other baked pasta dishes.) Bake your gratin for about 25 minutes, or until it is crispy, with bubbling cream underneath.
TO TRANSPORT: Par-bake the gratin for about 15 minutes and leave to cool prior to transporting, then finish cooking at your destination, just before serving.
Blueberry and orange cake with lady grey syrup
In our little bit of the Adelaide Plains, shearing was one of those times of year – like harvest – where, all of a sudden, everyone was incredibly busy round the clock. Country kitchens sprang into action, producing hot meals, sandwiches, tins and tins of biscuits and wicker trays of cake. The recipients, uniform in their blue singlets, would dispatch the treats in between gulps of crazy-strong, overly sugared tea. I don't think those sheds ever saw lady grey tea, or ricotta for that matter, but this cake pays tribute to the spirit of those countless tea breaks and the women who catered them. It even got the nod from Bill Heffernan (a celebrated bushie and tough nut) and minister/aviatrix Sussan Ley.
Makes 1 x 20 cm cake
150g unsalted butter, softened
125g caster sugar
finely grated zest of 3 oranges
3 eggs, separated
25g almond meal
100g plain flour, plus extra for sprinkling
2 teaspoons baking powder
dash of milk, if needed
100g blueberries, fresh or frozen
Lady grey syrup
3 lady grey tea bags
170ml boiling water
165g caster sugar
juice of ½ orange
Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 20cm spring-form or loose-based cake tin and line with a circle of baking paper. Tip the ricotta into a fine sieve set over a bowl to drain while you make a start on the cake.
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and creamy, then beat in the zest, followed by the egg yolks, one at a time. Add the ricotta and whisk again – the mixture should be quite fluffy. Fold in the almond meal, then sift in the flour and baking powder, mixing to combine.
In another bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt to medium peaks. Take a critical look at the consistency of your cake mixture: if it seems too stiff, to gently accommodate the whisked egg whites, stir in a dash of milk to loosen it. Now carefully fold in the egg whites.
Put your blueberries in a bowl and sprinkle with a scant teaspoon of flour (this will help to stop them from sinking to the bottom of the cake).
Pour half the batter into the prepared tin. Sprinkle over all except a few of the blueberries, avoiding the very edges so the finished cake will have solid walls. Add the rest of the batter and sprinkle with the remaining blueberries, using your finger to push them a little way into the batter.
Bake for 35-40 minutes. It can be tricky to tell when this cake is cooked in the middle. Because it's so moist, a knife will come out clean three to four minutes before it is actually cooked, so give it a little extra time in the oven after this, until it has a golden, slightly crisp crust.
Meanwhile, forge your strong three-bag brew in the boiling water. After 5 minutes, transfer the tea to a small saucepan with the sugar and orange juice. Bring to the boil, then let it bubble away for 5 minutes to make a thin syrup. Leave to cool until just warm, then transfer to a serving jug. Cut the cake into slices, then pour over the syrup when serving.
TO TRANSPORT: Carry your cake in an airtight container, with the jar of syrup riding shotgun.