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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Monday, July 16, 2007

The best stew for winter

It's really cold. The coldest winter in a couple of years, at least. Certainly the coldest I've felt for a while, and I'm loving it...Most of the time I'm loving it. The times when I'm walking from the station to work and my feet have turned numb and my nose is aching are not the times I love it so much. But generally I've always been a cold-weather person, and I think it's partly because of the food; I love anything slow-cooked, casseroled, stewed or Germanic and over the past weeks I've been cooking up a huge pot of something meaty and wet (uhhh...) to have in the fridge for when we come home and it's dark and cold, and we're tired, hungry and perhaps prone to grabbing the first edible thing that springs to hand, which may or may not be a packet of Twisties...
This week I made coq au vin, in honour of Bastille Day, but I've also been dabbling in a spicy, paprika-laden beef & chickpea stew dolloped with yoghurt (gutsy) and an Irish stew made with pearl barley and topped with sliced potatoes that my mum thought was nice, but wasn't what she considered Irish stew (and fair enough -it did seem more of a Lancashire hot pot). But the best stew I've ever made and which gets my juices going just when I look at the photo was one I made for a few friends last winter; the Greek lamb stew from Nigella's How To Eat. Truly, I dreamt about it for weeks afterwards, and I'm going to have to give it another run this winter, especially as my brother is currently living the party life in the Greek Islands and the Greek theme is running strong.

It calls for 2.5kg of lamb shoulder cooked in a bottle of white wine (yes, white), the standard stew veggies, tinned tomatoes, oregano and small pasta shapes. I love stews with pasta cooked in them; they go soft and slurpy and absorb all the tasty liquid. But for me, the crowning glory of this dish is the mix of crumbled feta and dried oregano you scatter over your plate before serving. I love feta cheese anyway, but this was outstanding. Don't skip it. In fact, I'd double the amount - it makes the dish a bit richer, but the sharp saltiness works so well. It's also fabulous with a dribble of chilli oil over the top.
This one gets a really strong recommendation from me, but note, if you have trouble finding lamb shoulder - as we did, even at the Preston market, or are charged a
what-the-f*%#?! price - as we were - an alternative one butcher suggested might be to use lamb shoulder chops, which are cheaper and much easier to find.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Fenix restaurant offer to readers!

I recently started a new job at a newspaper, along with my other part-time position, so I've been a bit distracted recently, but an email yesterday from Ray Capaldi, co-proprietor and chef at Fenix in Richmond spurred me into action. Ray's been checking out the Melbourne food blogging community and discovered the review I wrote about the Desserts of The Future dinner at Fenix during the Melbourne Food & Wine festival. He left a comment on the site and emailed me to say he enjoyed reading the views of somebody on the dining floor. He's very interested in what the public who come to Fenix really think of the restaurant, the food and the hospitality and he was concerned when a few readers indicated that the prices at the restaurant were beyond their means. He wants everybody to experience the Fenix hospitality and food, so he's come up with an idea:

For all Esurientes readers he would like to offer them an exclusive offer of a 5 course degustation with wines for $85 dollars per person any night of the week except Friday or Saturday. The offer stands for all 2007 except December. Readers need to mention this offer on the phone when they book.
(nb. for those who've asked: pronunciation of the blog is Eh-zoo-RI-en-tez. ;-) Or Niki is easy to pronounce )

The 5 course tasting menu with wine is usually around $135, so this is a very generous offer from somebody genuinely interested in getting more people to experience his hospitality,
You can view some of the menus on the website. If you haven't been to Fenix before, you're in for a treat. I think it's the most adventurous and interesting food happening in Melbourne, and the venue, right on the Yarra, is stunning.

In other news, I'm going up to Woodend this weekend to perform, and next week to Sydney to check out a few restaurants: Aria, Balzac and Billy Kwongs are definites. Ray mentioned at that first Fenix dinner that the Sydney restaurant scene is firing right now, so I'm looking forward to trying it.
Also, this blog has been nominated (along with many others) for a Bloggers Choice award, in the Food blog category. You can cast your votes here!


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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Homemade peanut butter cups

These should come with a health warning. There is truly nothing nutritious contained inside, just peanut butter, sugar, butter & chocolate, but f%*@$ they're SO DAMN good!!!
Like many people I'd eyed off the chocolate peanut butter squares in Nigella's Domestic Goddess for years, savouring the idea of making homespun Reese's peanut butter cups, but when I saw her Christmas special last year, and noted she'd changed the idea slightly so they were served in individual mini-muffin cases, I was hooked. When planning food for my 30th drinks party, these were high on the list.

They're as simple to make as chocolate crackles, and don't involve any cooking except for heating up some chocolate, which in typical fashion, I stuffed up. I usually ignore calls for melting chocolate over a double boiler because it's annoying and I don't have a double boiler. I find my heavy Le Creuset pot on low heat works fine. This time, the cooking fairies had their revenge, and the chocolate seized within 30 seconds. It could have been because I chose to use eating chocolate rather than cooking chocolate, and it's more temperamental anyway. But I learnt my lesson, and although I persevered with dumping the chocolate on top of the peanut butter mixture, they looked disgustingly like wombat turds, so I melted another block in the microwave (duh!!) and poured that on top. Hence, these peanut butter cups had a pretty thick layer of chocolate to bite through...all GOOD!
You can have fun making these while gossiping with a friend, because it's slightly tedious work; you need to press peanut butter filling into each cup with your fingers, and then pour chocolate over each one. It's perfect friendship cooking, or something you could enjoy making with kids.

But phwoaaaarrr they're rich. I know of somebody who tried one and dreamt about them all week. I think she succumbed and made a batch of her own. They're worth it.
I found my recipe here:

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Autumnal birthday cake for the autumn of my life....

On the 30th March it was my 30th birthday, and so far it's been an extended one starting with this birthday cake at a rehearsal 4 days beforehand, and a ending with an afternoon drinks party for friends at my house on Easter Monday. In between I've had dinners with family and a very luxurious weekend away in Daylesford, with a lunch at The Lake House and spa treatments daahling! in Hepburn Springs. Still to come is another birthday weekend away with more friends. I like special birthdays! They almost make up for the slight panic you may feel at turning an age where you thought you would be all grown-up, and realising you have a long way to go before that happens.
I didn't want to make another chocolate cake to take for rehearsing friends, so I turned to this one in Nigella's Domestic Goddess: the Autumnal birthday cake. Appropriate as my birthday falls in the first real flush of Melbourne autumn, which is my favourite time of year. The days are warm, clear and sunny, the leaves are turning, the afternoon light is golden and the nights are crisp and I can curl under my doona for the first time in months. Do you like my pseudo-artistic cake decorating efforts with the leaves from our front yard? Hey, I brushed the dirt off first!

The cake is an adaptation of a maple & pecan layer cake cake from the Magnolia Bakery in New York, and it uses 2 full bottles of maple syrup. You know how much that stuff costs? Hell! I might as well make it from GOLD! I nearly reached for the imitation maple-flavoured slop, but slapped myself around the head and reminded myself that I'll only turn 30 once, and if I couldn't buy the good stuff for my good friends then I was a horrible person. At least buy the good stuff for me! Despite the amount of syrup in the cake and the frosting, it wasn't overwhelmingly sweet, although the smell convinced many otherwise. This cake would be a great wasp attractor.

It's a simple, sponge-like cake batter, flavoured with maple, that is best eaten on the day it's made as it tends towards dryness. It was already heading that way that evening. The frosting is a cooked meringue, with the texture of marshmallow fluff, again flavoured with maple syrup, and quite sticky to touch. The pecans provided a textural contrast that was needed, although I was confused by the amount in the recipe, because the picture in Nigella's book definitely doesn't show it covered in as many as specified! The recipe doesn't instruct this, but I toasted the pecans before chopping them in salted butter, and based on my new knowledge from Ray Capaldi at Fenix about the need for salt in nut-based desserts, I added a hefty pinch of my pink Murray River salt flakes. I liked the taste of salt cutting through the sticky meringue.

A note for next time: it calls for a lot of flour - 1/2 kilo of it, and self-raising flour at that. I don't like the squeaky, chalky mouthfeel of SR flour, especially in those quantities, and again armed with my new knowledge from Ray Capaldi about how flour is a cheap filler, next time I would cut down the amount. Hopefully it would still set, but it's worth a try. It might stop the tendency towards dryness too.
It's rich and filling, and we could only manage small slices, although my brother who really doesn't have a sweet tooth came in late at night and found the large wedge leftover. Heating it up in the microwave (dryness factor) he ate the entire CHUNK, which frankly astounds me. I know he likes maple syrup, but....whoa!
No recipe on my site this time, but I found it on another blog. Enjoy!

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Desserts of the Future

On Monday night I turned up at Fenix demanding my just desserts. My friend had emailed me soon after the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival program came out asking if I'd be interested in going along to a dessert dinner at Fenix. It was expensive, so I hesitated, but then remembered I've been wanting to eat there for ages, ever since Raymond Capaldi really embraced the whole molecular gastronomy thing. I ate at Reserve when George Calombaris had just started there, and remember my mum's reaction to her blue cheese and dark chocolate crab-meat patty creation when it appeared in front of her (I seem to recall it all worked together??), and I caught a few episodes of Heston Blumenthal's latest series when I was in the UK last year. So, I figured we'd get to sample some pretty interesting flavours and combinations. Plus, who doesn't think the idea of a dinner which includes 1 main and 4 desserts matched with wines doesn't sound like a Very Good Thing?!

Raymond Capaldi came out and set us all straight immediately. He's got some presence, that man, plus an accent straight out of Billy Connolly:
"Right, so desserts are not meant to be sweet."
Huh? Confusion all 'round. Hell, we're not going to get desserts made of savoury stuff, are we??
Yes, and no. His belief (and I think it's a sound one) is that the overwhelming sensation of a dessert should not be only sugar and sweetness. There should be a mix of flavours and taste sensations, and a good dessert should make use of all 5 tastes our tongues can sense. He's big on unami as one of them, so seaweed takes a starring role in many. Salt is important in desserts too, especially when using nuts or chocolate.
He went on to explain that recipes found in popular foodie magazines are created for the lowest common denominator and are full of unnecessary extenders. Flour is one such nasty extender, and his own example was the Fenix basic chocolate souffle, which has all the flour removed, hence creating a much more intense flavour and delicate texture. Once a customer requested a sticky date pudding, which isn't on their menu, so he Googled a recipe and told the staff to remove 1/2 the flour and double the sauce. They argued it wouldn't set, and told him his reputation would be on the line when it flopped, but it turned out to be the best sticky date pudding they'd ever tasted; just set and wobbling on the plate. As somebody who tends to bake more often than your basic Joe, and who shouldn't be eating vast quantities of flour, this idea interests me.
Enough of the theories: onto the food.

So we wouldn't only be eating desserts, we started with a main course of 36 hour cooked lamb. Sorry about the crap photo; I hadn't worked out my manual settings yet!
This was exquisite. The lamb neck meat was cooked at 58 degrees C for 1.5 days, which meant that the meat never got so hot that the fat escaped into the pan. Instead, the meat cooked extremely slowly, with the fat remaining inside keeping it lubricated. After 36 hours, the lamb was still pink inside and so tender we didn't need to use knives. We had a velvety sauce made of pureed char-grilled eggplants, almonds, garlic etc. and a bit of roasted capsicum (not a turd, despite the photo). I'd be really keen to replicate this at home. It'd be one of the only things from the night I'd be capable of doing!

A special guest on the night was Will Goldfarb from Room 4 Dessert; a high-end dessert bar in New York. He gave us a talk (very lovely guy, but slightly pointless talk) before the meal began, and this first dessert, was one of his creations. I knew when I saw something as mundane as ice-cream sandwich on the menu, that it would actually be something pretty special. Hey, probably something with foams and liquid nitrogen?! Actually, it was pretty simple; a sweet-dough biscuit topped with vanilla icecream and a scoop of Epoisses cheese topped with smoked salt. Will said it plays on peoples' love for things sweet, fatty and salty and, sure, I could have eaten at least 5 of these, but maybe it was just 'cos I was hungry; because if I'm being completely honest what it tasted like was a bit of soft camembert and icecream on a shortbread biscuit! Great icecream and amazing cheese, but still.... We couldn't taste the smoked salt. Each part was lovely, but it was definitely a head-spin to eat icecream and salty, creamy cheese together. The simplest dessert on the night, but I remember the taste and texture intensely.

Tahitian Vanilla Mousse with cucumber sorbet was one that didn't grab my attention on the menu but ended up being our favourite of the night. A advantage of events like this is that they challenge your preconceived ideas about what you like. This is not the sort of thing I'd order on a dessert menu, but it was incredible. The vanilla mousse made with Tahitian vanilla seeds is the long, white sausage. The cucumber sorbet is topped with a mango gel, and a coconut tapioca mixture is down the other end. Along the way is a square of lime jelly, a few bean shoots and cubes of cucumber. What I enjoyed was that each component tasted good on its own, but even better when combined with others. We had fun mixing and matching. Fresh and light and citrussy, this was a winner. Particularly the cucumber sorbet: wow, star of the plate.

Now, what I said before about challenging preconceptions? This "Coffee & Potato" is the type of thing I would have ordered from a menu. The description struck the right notes of interest in me: coffee icecream, hazelnut custard and potato puree, but just didn't do it for us. All of us (we'd made friends by this stage).
Ray described this dish beforehand, pointing out that it wasn't dreamt up in the middle of the night by a crazy person. He said the Ratte potato has a hazelnut taste to it, and hazelnut pairs well with coffee, so he figured they'd work well together. Great idea, in theory. But in reality the puree was not and the texture was all wrong. Coffee icecream: great. Hazelnut custard: gorgeous. But the potato was too dry and powdery, and got caught in your throat. If it had been lubricated just a little more, it might have been more successful, but who knows if adding milk or butter to it would have thrown the taste balance out with the other components? I just couldn't get past the fact that I was eating a lump of dry mashed potato with my icecream and custard! A friend who heard about it said it sounded like something made up by a toddler playing in the kitchen. :-) Not awful, in the realm of all the food in the world, just not the best of what we experienced that night.

This green apple sorbet, with parsnip puree, blackberries and cashew nut jam is another thing I might have overlooked on a menu, but again, I've had my preconceptions challenged. Along with our new friends we decided this was a real winner. Ray had already explained to us that in old-English useage, 'nip' meant something sweet, and parsnips were generally used in cakes and desserts. Sometime in the last 200 years this changed and parsnips are just known for their use in the Sunday roast and veggie soup. I can't say I enjoyed the parsnip puree on its own, but I don't think that was the point. Combined with the tangy apple sorbet and the salty cashew nuts it was a incredible combination. We felt this dessert in particular was made for playing with taste combinations. Cubes of apple combined with salted blackberries and the amazing cashew nut 'jam' is something I remember enjoying.

By the last course we were feeling pretty lightheaded; a different wine had been served with each course, and after our first enthusiastic sparkling we realised that if we were going to drive home, we were going to have to be a bit more careful. At the end of the night you can see how sensible we were, dammit:

The wines were really incredible; I've never had a meal where each course was so perfectly matched with the wine. There was one particular choice all of us disliked intensely when we tasted it (smelled like iodine!) but when combined with the coffee & potato dessertit suddenly worked.
You'll notice that in a dinner of 4 desserts chocolate didn't make an appearance, but that omission was rectified with the petit fours. We had a red fruit 'popsicle': kind of frozen air on a stick; a blackcurrant jelly (like the best jube you've ever tasted) and a salt & vinegar chocolate stick. Uh-huh. Salt & vinegar chocolate! And it was so amazing we were stealing extras from other peoples' plates (how could they possibly leave them??!). Adding salt to chocolate is already widely known to heighten the flavour of chocolate, but the addition of a sweet (possibly balsamic) vinegar was a revelation. Outstanding!
I'm glad I made the decision to go along. It was a real eye-opener of an evening, and enjoyable on many levels. My friend and I were so impressed with Raymond Capaldi's views on food, the service, and the look of the regular menu that we're planning to return for a degustation dinner; and hang the cost!!

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lemon Chicken...Italian style

How many times have you looked at that bottle of limoncello in the freezer and thought "My god, that must have been there for at least two years. What are we going to do with it?!" I know we're not the only people to be lured in by the romance of this Italian lemon liqueur: remembering warm summer evenings on a loggia, with a warm breeze tickling the leaves of trees in the olive grove and flowing through your hair, and sweet lemon flavour slipping down your throat. Admittedly, I've only experienced that scenario in my winter-in-Melbourne dreams, and in my life limoncello tends to burn all the way down and makes me cough. Somehow the dream just isn't quite recreated that way you intend, is it?
So, we've had this bottle of liqueur in the freezer for a long time, and I can't remember where or when I found this recipe, but it's just the thing if you find yourself in a similar perplexed state when cleaning out the freezer. I know it was from a food blog, so do let me know if it is yours.
Chicken baked in limoncello...what an idea! It sounds a bit outrageous, and I wasn't sure how it would work out, but the best way to describe it is Lemon Chicken, Italian Style. It really does work well; the sweetness of the limoncello is balanced by fresh lemon juice and summery herbs. I didn't have quite enough limoncello, so made up the difference with vodka....hey, it's all alcohol, and I know people who'd be pretty excited at the idea of chicken baked in vodka.
The ingredients listed are not set in stone; I didn't have lemon thyme, so used fresh rosemary and sage instead. I also added a touch of Spanish paprika to the sauce, which gave a hint of smokiness. Also, my chicken breasts didn't have skin, and in fact 2 of them were actually thighs, as I discovered as I started eating them! I have to admit I preferred the texture of the thighs to the breasts, but I'm a thigh girl after all.... It's a perfect meal for a warm summer's evening, even if it doesn't take place on a Tuscan hillside.
Read on for the recipe:

Chicken baked in limoncello

4 x 180g chicken breasts with skin on
8 garlic cloves
Pared rind & juice of 2 large lemons
6 sprigs lemon thyme
1 cup (250ml) limoncello
50g unsalted butter
2 tbs olive oil

-Place chicken in a non-metallic dish with garlic, rind & juice, thyme & limoncello. Cover & chill for one hour.
-Preheat oven to 180c. Heat butter & oil in a large heavy based frypan over high heat.
-Remove chicken from marinade (reserve marinade) & brown for 2-3 minutes each side.
-Place skin side up in a baking tray & roast for 10 minuts or until cooked through.
-Return frypan to medium heat, ad reserved marinade (including garlic & herbs) & stir for 5 minutes to reduce.
-Remove chicken from oven & rest for 5 minutes. Place on a serving plate, pour over sauce.
-Serve with rice or mashed potatoes and green veg.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Shrove Tuesday today, and for breakfast another batch of those excellent wholemeal buttermilk pancakes I made last year. Mmm - crispy edges from being fried in real butter. :-)

This year my brother splashed out and bought a bottle of real maple syrup ($$$!), but after a scientific taste test with one of each on the plate, I still prefer golden syrup. It's thicker, and stays near the food instead of running far away from it, and it's got that slight bitterness I love.
Wholemeal pancakes...who'da thunk they'd be so good?!

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Too Damn Hot chicken salad

This weekend it's damn hot...too hot! 3 days at the upper end of the 30s is not great incentive for doing much. Flicking half-heartedly through Nigella's Forever Summer a few weeks ago, when it was also too damn hot, revealed this chicken salad that looked pretty good for the weather. Her show of the same name happened to be on that night, and she was making this dish, so with that double whammy I figured it was telling me something!

I've never had Coronation Chicken, the dish she rejigged to make this, but it seemed to contain cooked chicken, mayonnaise, mango chutney, curry powder and apricot puree, which to me sounds like a combination thrown together by a deranged person home from the gym who JUST NEEDS TO EAT RIGHT NOW and doesn't care what they find in the fridge. I don't want to say "eugh" because I know many people of my grandmother's age who seemed to enjoy this....effort, but.....hmmm. Nigella's version also contains cooked chicken, but is much more sensible!
I mixed up a cooked chicken breast with a cubed mango, spring onion, chopped fresh chillies and lime juice and tossed it about with a torn up cos lettuce, a big handful of fresh coriander and a few drops of sesame oil. It's very evidently Asian-inspired, and was perfect for a hot sticky night. The lime juice and chilli kick was perfect, and although I'm really NOT a fan of fruit with meat, the mango and chicken was great together. For a hot night after a damn hot day, it's about all we could cope with - and afterwards I realised it had virtually negligible fat content - bonus!

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Bern & Luzern

The Bern bear city symbol on a ginger cake
I've been completely pathetic putting up the photos of what-we-ate-in-Europe, and I'm annoyed with myself. I'm not going to abandon this project halfway (or 1/4 way in because there's about another 6 weeks to go!) so I'm resuming it. Even if I only post photos without text, at least I'm finishing something I started!
After Payerne in western-French-speaking Switzerland we stopped for lunch in Bern, only 30 minutes away. Even though it's so close, suddenly everything was in German! In Payerne German was seen as something very foreign, and English even more so, but a few miles down the road it was a different story. Switzerland is fascinating; I love the place.

We were let loose for an hour or so to look around and grab something to eat. I soon discovered in the local market that I was able to communicate in French; in this area where the linguistic borders are so close, most people are at least bi-lingual. And as Bern is the Swiss capital, all the official languages are spoken and understood, even if the signs are in German. I didn't have as much success communicating in Italian, though!
I really liked Bern - it feels more like a small bustling market town than a national capital, and I guess that's because of the unique nature of the Swiss government, with 7 premiers of the cantons sharing the leadership position, and the function of the annual president mainly limited to greeting people at airports.
Miniature vegetables were all over the marketplaces of Europe this time of year. We couldn't figure out the allure of the miniature vegetable. I suspected they were used as autumn table decorations, but does anybody have a more detailed explanation?

The people of Bern have a violent history of eating small babies!

We spent too long wandering around the market and decided to get things to eat on the bus. There were about 10 cheese stalls, so we choose one at random and bought some vacherin and some truffle infused brie. Hoooeyy! Truffle infused brie! My friend who shared this with me is still sending messages raving about it, from her new home in the UK!
You just can't buy brie this ripe in Australia. Look at it - it's oozing! In the centre was another layer of cheese mixed with chopped truffles. This stuff nearly sent us falling to the floor in ecstasy...not a safe thing when driving on windy Swiss roads!

I bought a few day-old crusty rolls and we actually managed to get through that entire hunk of cheese, plus the vacherin. We also bought some local green apples to cut through the richness, and that simple lunch on the bus was a definite food highlight of the whole trip.

We had 2 nights in Luzern, compared to the one hour in Bern, but there are hardly any foodie photos we took. The weather turned rainy and cool for the first time in the trip there, and we were feeling a bit tired, so it was a quiet few days. I was billeted on my own with a student, in a typical student-hovel apartment. I lugged by bags on 3 local buses, hoiked them up 6 flights of stairs in the rain, was shown to my mattress on the floor and was told there wasn't any food in the house for dinner; would I like packet soup or a bowl of cereal? At 4am the housemate came home, newly broken up with his girlfriend, rolling drunk and surrounded by girls and decided to play German heavy-metal and cook spaghetti!! He didn't know there was a visiting Australian in the next room who had to get up in 3 hours to sing at church. Many people might have cried at this stage - I started to laugh and knew I'd look back on this with a smile. The next night I came home to find a pot-smoking party going on around my bed! Fabulous. But actually I had a great time staying with the students, experiencing real Swiss life, and learning a lot about Swiss culture and politics. I didn't have to worry about keeping the bathroom fanatically clean, either! Plus I got to try a variety of flavoured yoghurts, which was all they had in the fridge. Yoghurt in Switzerland isn't considered solely a health food, like here, so you can get choc chip cookie dough yoghurt, chestnut puree yoghurt, butterscotch etc.etc. Yum!

After our evening concert we were taken out for dinner to a Swiss restaurant. Above is the winner of the biggest-sausage-on-tour competition. I shared the fondue with Belinda but looking at that sausage and crispy roesti, I wish I'd chosen that instead.

Here's our Fondue For Two. It was exciting for the first 5 minutes in that "I'm really in Switzerland and eating cheese fondue" kind of way, and then it lost its spark. The only thing we had to dip in it was soft brown bread. Romance aside, a meal of bread and a bloody great pot of melted cheese is actually a bit dull! When I've had fondue here, we've had a variety of vegetables to dip in alongside the bread, which livens up the event. If our bread was toasted it would have at least provided a textural contrast, but the soft bread and soft cheese were a bit too similar. After about 10 minutes Belinda said "This isn't exciting any more".
I would never say to anybody not to have fondue in Switzerland; it's something you definitely have to do, but once is probably enough (I've done it twice now, and am happy to expand into the repertoire of enormous sausages and potato pancakes now!)

Here's a very early morning photo of gorgeous Luzern; lake, Totentanz bridge, tower, mountains surrounding the whole place... Hence the constant daily rain!!

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Choccie cookie bonanza

I haven't yet mentioned that I received a shiny red Kitchen Aid for Christmas, just like the one Plum received and I've been getting stuck into playing around with it. Last week I decided to make a chocolate pavlova for no other reason than the fact that I hadn't yet tried out the whisk attachment. How sad is that? Then I needed to get it out of the house before I ate it all, because it was GOOD.
I was going down to a friend's beachhouse on the Great Ocean Road, so I thought that was a good enough excuse to use the Kitchen Aid again. Surely everyone wants biscuits! I tried out two recipes: one for a choc chip cookie, and another for a peanut butter truffle biscuit that I admit was purely inspired by gluttony, peanut butter truffle - hello?! And the picture in the book was the sort that always made me stop and stare in longing.

But first, the choc chip cookies: these are courtesy of wrestler/movie star The Rock in the WWF cookbook! I read about them on a few different blogs and as so many of you know, I have a quest to find the best choc chip cookie recipe. This one is pretty damn good: I like CCCs with oatmeal in them; it gives heft and chew. But you need pretty damn strong muscles to stir the mixture - hence why you love your Kitchen Aid at a time like this! You can find the recipe here near the bottom of the page, which I halved and still ended up with about 80 cookies. Evidently The Rock enjoys things a little larger than I do...! I used a combination of a chunk of Valrhona dark chocolate and the leftovers of a choc-almond Christmas tree - you know those things made of chopped almonds mixed with chocolate and made into lots of branches in a tree shape - which was tasty but meant they ended up far too nutty. Hours later we were still picking nuts out of our teeth, so next time I'm sticking with normal chocolate. NB - these kept for ages without going manky, too.

The peanut butter truffle cookies come from a random English baking book, the type that includes photos of each step, and the photo shows the things warm from the oven with the truffle filling oozing out and looking delish. As you can see above, there was no oozement going on, but that disappointment aside, these were incredible - but a little tedious to make. You make up a peanut butter & golden syrup dough which is pretty soft and pasty. Combine that with our summer heat and I had to put it in the fridge for a few hours because there was no way I could roll that stuff out. When I could, I flattened a ball into a circle and added a spoonful of the truffle mixture and tried to fold the dough around it, with very varying success. Usually the dough was not dough-like enough to do it without cracking or falling apart, so lots of my cookies had cracked tops where the truffle mixture bubbled out. The taste was fabulous, anyway and I'd definitely make these again when I'm feeling domestic and have a bit of time and patience on my hands.
Read on for the recipe:

Peanut Butter Truffle Cookies
Makes ~20

125 g/4 oz dark chocolate
150ml/1/4 pint double cream*
125g/4oz softened butter
125g/4oz caster sugar
125g/4oz crunchy or smooth peanut butter
4 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp milk
225g/8oz plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1: Preheat oven to 180C/350F 10 minutes before baking. Make the chocolate filling by breaking the chocolate into small pieces and placing in a heatproof bowl.
2: Put the cream into a saucepan and heat for boiling point. Immediately pour over the chocolate
3: Leave to stand for 1-2 minutes, then stir until smooth. Se aside to cool until firm enough to scoop. Do not refrigerate (I needed to. I'm in an Australian summer!)
4: Lightly oil a baking sheet. Cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in the peanut butter, followed the golden syrup and milk.
5: Sift together the flour and bicarb. Add to the peanut butter mixture, mix well and knead until smooth.
6: Flatten 1-2 tablespoons of the cookie mixture on a chopping board
6: Put a spoonful of the chocolate mixture into the centre of the cookie dough, then fold the dough around the chocolate to enclose completely.
8: Put the balls on to the baking sheet and flatten slightly (be careful not to split them open!). Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes until golden**
9: Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely and serve.

*I actually used yoghurt as it's what I had in the fridge. The filling had a slight tang which I liked against the sweet dough.
** I found this time wasn't long enough, as my biscuits became *extremely* soft the next day, and I needed to re-bake them for another 10 minutes so they didn't crumble when I picked them up.

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