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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Monday, May 30, 2005

Guinness Chocolate Cake

Another foray into the world of cooking-with-Guinness-stout. This recipe comes from my fellow Melbourne blogger, Esther, who mentioned it when she saw the post about my stout, treacle and pear cake a few weeks ago. As luck would have it, when I bought my Cooper's Stout for that cake, I also bought a bottle of Guinness 'just in case'. So, when I decided it was time to try out my two new 1/2 size cake tins, I knew this would be the recipe I would try.
I love these 1/2 size cake tins. They take half a standard cake mix, which is great for me because I love making cakes, but don't love having lots of leftover cake hanging around tempting me. I try to pass off as much as possible, with certain success, but when A told me recently "I can't eat as much cake as you give me!" I knew it was time to do something about this baking issue. I bought a tin in the shape you see above, and I also bought a small flexible silicone mould to try. Both have been excellent, and the silicone mould surprised me by being more of a success than I'd been led to believe.

The raw batter for this cake tastes bloody AWESOME! The Guinness really comes through strongly and complements the chocolate. It was wonderful stuff. The taste wasn't so pronounced when baked, but there was certainly a taste of malt and that tang you get with stout. I decorated it with some funny 'chocolate' sprinkles we can get here (I sincerely doubt the sprinkles have ever seen any form of cocoa bean) and dusted it with some of my new golden lustre powder to make it glamorous and dressy for evening.
Read on for the recipe:

Chocolate Guinness Cake
Recipe & text courtesy of Esther

Makes 1 standard-size cake or 2 1/2 size ones.

175g plain flour
a pinch of baking powder
1 tsp bicarb (baking soda)
110g butter
250g dark brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten up
200ml Guinness (or another stout)
55g cocoa
200gm dark chocolate
1/2 cup cream
1 extra tbsp butter

Line your cake tin well with some spare paper and preheat your oven to 180C.
You need three bowls.
In the first one sift together the flour, baking powder and bicarb.
In a biggish one cream the butter, sugar and eggs.
In the third bowl mix together the Guinness and cocoa – don’t beat it too much as you want the Guinness to stay bubbly.
Now mix all three bowls together, adding them alternately to the biggest bowl. Stir it as little as possible.
Pour it into your tin and wack it in the oven. It should take 45min until it’s not gooey in the middle.
Leave it to cool for a bit and prepare the icing: in a double boiler melt the chocolate, add the cream and extra butter. Pour this chocolatey goodness all over the cake. It will set a bit as it cools but it’s good wet too.
Top with strawberries or kiwi slices or something for true fanciness.

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Friday, May 27, 2005

Veggie Tart

Another one from last week's Eurovision party. When I knew a few people would be coming around I decided to throw something together based on an idea in my new Nigel Slater book, Appetite. He suggests making an easy vegetable tart for friends and parties using puff pastry, caramelised onions and melty cheese (like Taleggio). I decided to bulk it out a bit more as we had a big piece of pumpkin quietly willing itself to a better place. I threw the pumpkin, skin and all in the oven for about an hour and slowly caramelised the onions in some butter and oil.
Take your sheet of pastry (if frozen sheets are good enough for Nigel, they're good enough for me) and cut a border about 2cm in all around; this allows the sides to puff up attractively, whilst keeping the centre flat. Prick the centre with a fork a few times randomly.
I spread the base with some home-made pesto and added the soft, sweet onions and the roasted pumpkin I'd sliced. Worried that the overall taste might be a bit unbalanced towards sweet I added some kalamata olives and salty cheeses we had in the fridge - some fresh Parmesan and a simple cheddar (no Taleggio malingering in our fridge). I dotted it about with a few blobs of light Philly cream cheese, just to add a bit of luxury and some fresh herbs - thyme is good, or oregano, or whatever, and put it in a hot (200c) oven for about 20 minutes.
I'd say that this sort of thing is best straight out of the oven, but the guys who were there were just as happy eating the leftovers cold a few hours later. Simple to prepare, tasty to eat and definitely quicker than making your own pizza base!

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Feathers & Rap

The economic researchers where I work get a very interesting publication called 'Foodweek', which I enjoy reading before passing it onto them. It's the only piece of mail they look enthusiastic about receiving, really. The back page in particular is entertaining; full of little food-industry related snippets and gossip.
Anyway, I just read this and thought it interesting enough to post:

"The US may be close to solving one of its waste problems, with a process developed to turn chicken feathers into plastic. About 1.8 billion kilograms of feathers are generated during poultry production in the country, creating a serious environmental problem. Walter Schmidt, a chemist with the Agricultural Research Service, has found a way to convert chopped feathers to plastic using traditional plastic processing equipment. The resulting product can be moulded like other plastics and has similar properties to polyethylene and polypropane, as well as being biodegradable' March 11 2005. Octomedia.

If this can actually be implemented on a wider scale, it would be excellent. But what are the chances of enough money being allocated to this?

Also, can anyone confirm the veracity of this?:

"McDonald's has once again incited its critics with its latest marketing ploy - paying rappers to use the word BigMac in their song lyrics. McDonald's in the US has offered rap artists up to $US5 every time a song mentioning the word BigMac is played on US radio stations.....[general reporting on outraged obesity experts and consumer groups etc.]...McDonald's will have last say over the lyrics, but the artists will have control over how the word is incorporated into the track. The plan is part of the "I'm Lovin' It' advertising campaign, and the company hopes to have several songs using the burger name by mid-year." 8 April 2005. Octomedia.

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The Pot Spot

A question to be answered.....

No....not what you're thinking. Although I did just hear about a friend's partner who opened a garden supplies store called The Pot Shop. He's being pestered for business cards by teenage boys...
But this is a question referring to my Le Creuset pan, above. What you see is the frying pan, which also acts as a lid, when it's flipped over, for a deeper pot. I love this mini Le Creuset set, which I acquired for the enormous cost of.....a bottle of red wine!
My boss at the time was having a mad clearout of her house after her divorce, and this was one of her wedding presents. She wasn't very interested in cooking, so brought it into work and asked for any takers. I was onto that thing like an Olympic wrestler. I mean, seriously, who could believe that luck! A Le Creuset set, the type I've wanted for years, just dropping into my lap (hmmm....ouch)! I couldn't just take it away for nothing so offered some money. She asked for a bottle of red wine. Everyone was happy.
But this has to do with those grotty black bits in the pan which appear every time I try to cook something in it - particularly if I use it to cook a piece of meat. Those baked-on black things take a huuuuge amount of time and effort to remove, with scrubbing brush, scrubby sponge things, even in desperation soft steel wool (very lightly. That stuff is useless. How often have you had it crumble to pieces in your hands?). Until the next time, when they just return. I'm at the point now where I'm choosing not to use it for anything but a lid for the pot.
So my question is: am I being disturbingly suburban about the need for gleaming pans, or is this black patina something I actually want to encourage? Is that buildup the type of thing Le Creuset pans are supposed to generate, and makes them so good? If it isn't, and it really is just black grot, can anybody suggest a better way of cleaning it that doesn't involve 20 minutes swearing at it under a hot tap?

Speaking of pans, this is a cast-iron griddle pan I bought last week at a kitchenwares store in Sydney Road, Brunswick. It weighs a bloody ton; you could kill somebody by whacking them with this. I shudder to think of the day I drop it on my foot (because I just know it will happen...). And you know the best bit about it.....it cost all of......$6.60!!! Can you believe it?? I thought my eyes had finally given out when I saw the price tag. Surely there was a zero missing. But nope, $6.60. Incredible. I can see the chargrilled lines on meats and vegetables in my future.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Fairy Cakes

To go with our Eurovision party, I decided to make a few garishly coloured and decorated fairy cakes. I mean, what better way to complement the garish and decorated song contest itself?? I also knew my friend H would appreciate them; they're definitely her style!
These really are so quick to make and bake and unlike other decorated plain cakes, the cake itself is moist and has lots of flavour. I'm so used to iced fairy cakes being dry and sawdusty that these were a pleasant suprise.
I stayed with the advice of keeping the cake plain and simple, and went to town on the decorations! It was the first time I've used Royal Icing, and it didn't have any instructions on the bag, so I just added a few dribbles of water. Seemed to work - I mean, it's not milk or anything you're supposed to add, is it? Royal icing sets fairly hard, so it makes a nice, flat top to your cakes.
I fished around our cake decorating box (an old plastic icecream container), which has pretty much gone unusued since we stopped having kiddie birthday cakes and found some really funny little decorations - including some red food colouring that I reckon was last used when my brother turned 9! I eeked a little more out of the bottle, but then had to submit it to the rubbish - 15 years was pretty good service, though! Don't you love that almost radioactive blue colour? Mmmm....food colouring.
I used a bit of everything I found in that ice cream container and had more fun that you think a grown woman should have sticking on little clown candles, Aussie flags, holly leaves and mini roses all over the top.
There's just something about little iced cupcakes that brings out the child in everyone, and all grinned happily and scarfed these down. Even the blokes!
Recipe here:

Fairy Cakes
From: How to be a Domestic Goddess, N. Lawson

125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
2 large eggs
125g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons milk
250g royal icing mixture (I found mine at a baking shop. But you can also make your own. Do a Google search. I don't recommend the boxes of solid ready-made stuff you can get in Aussie supermarkets. They're only good for wedding cakes.)
12-bun muffin tin lined with 12 muffin papers

Preheat the oven to 200C
This is very simple: put all ingredients except milk in the processor and blitz until smooth. Pulse while adding milk down the funnel, to make a soft, dropping consistency. Spoon and scrape the mixture into the tin, trying to fill each case equally (Nigella suggest you may struggle to fill 12 tins, but I had enough mixture for 15....). Don't fill the tins too much, or you'll just have to cut a lot off the top to ice them later.
Put in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the fairy cakes are cooked and golden on top. As soon as bearable, take the fairy cakes in their cases out of the tin and let cool on a wire rack.
To ice, you need to start with a level base, so once they're cool, cut of any mounded peaks so that you have a flat surface for icing.
Mix up an uncoloured batch of the royal icing and remove a few spoonfuls to other bowls to mix up various colours. Spread icing on the cakes then leave for a moment to dry slightly before sticking on your decorations.
Makes 12-15.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Lamb Pizza

Sydney Road in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick & Coburg is well known for its large number of Middle-Eastern cafes and bakeries. Fantastic flat bread, filo triangles, grilled meats and dips in every possible flavour and colour. The Middle-Eastern countries also have a version of pizza which can sometimes be even better than the standard Italian version. Most often their 'pizzas' are toppd with minced lamb ground with cinnamon, chili and lemon juice; you can imagine how good that would taste!
I was wandering down Sydney Rd at lunchtime last week, and passed a Lebanese bakery where I picked up the little treat above. Instead of a bread base they had used puff pastry and topped it with the spicy lamb, pinenuts and fresh coriander. A perfect size for lunch and you know the best bit? It cost all of $1.70!! When you become so used to paying $6 for a simple sandwich in the CBD, something of this quality and taste at such a low price comes as a pleasant shock!
Ok - A. looked at the photo and went "eewwww...what's that brown stuff?" (or something with a similar ewwww tone.) but to me it looks beautiful! Even more so accompanied by my own oven-dried tomatoes!

Here's a pdf showing Sydney Road's Middle-Eastern delights

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Monday, May 23, 2005

IMBB: Cranberry & Port Wine Jelly with Cream

I only recently discovered how easy it is to use gelatine. It was always something I imagined was reserved for 'serious' chefs creating mousseline scuptures of angels playing lutes and things. But I noticed quite a few of the British chefs including jelly recipes in their books and was intrigued. So far, I've made Nigel Slaters Orange & Cardamom jelly for a previous Sugar High Friday and a lime & coconut jelly of my own creation. They're such a doddle to make, and I hope to create many more. I'm keen to try Nigella's gin & tonic jelly one day, but I'll need to save my pennies to afford that much gin in one dessert!
So, for this IMBB, holted by Elise from Simply Recipes, I knew what I was going to make. This jelly is an idea I found in the Jill Dupleix Very Simple Food, which has jumped out at me every time I've looked at the book. Cranberry juice, sugar, gelatine and a sploosh of port - what could be simpler?
I reduced the amount of gelatine she specifies as I like my jelly softly set and too fragile to turn out. It should shimmer on the spoon and you should be able to suck it through your teeth. :-) I used powdered gelatine, which is not recommended by many chefs, but I haven't found any problems using it. Works fine for me. One sachet sets 500ml, so I found one sachet worked well for this larger scale recipe.
I really loved the taste of this. The tartness of the cranberry juice is tempered by the rich sweetness of the port. We have a very good, very old port in the house which I used, and I think I could have cut down a little on the port, as the taste was strong. But if you have normal household port, the combo should be perfect. I don't think it's a true 'alcoholic' jelly, as you boil up the juice and port beforehand, which probably burns off the alcohol. Top it with some thin cream, to make it look pretty and provide a creamy counterpoint to the light fruity jelly - the cream is definitely a must! I reckon it'd be a perfect light dessert to have in summer sitting outside on a balmy night, so you Northern hemisphere-types are in luck!
Seriously, try this recipe; it's SO easy and SO elegantly effective. It seemed to be really popular with men, who enjoyed it while watching the Eurovision finals last night. :-)
Check out the roundup of all 63 entries on Elise's site.
Click on for the recipe:

Cranberry & Port Wine jelly with Cream
from Jill Dupleix's Very Simple Food

"This sparkling dessert jelly is made with easily obtainable cranberry juice. Add a splosh of port for those old enough to remember port wine jelly."
Serves 4-5

700ml cranberry juice
100g sugar (I used 70g, which was a better balance, I felt)
50ml port
4 sheets of leaf gelatine or 22g powdered gelatine (I used one sachet of 10g - which was perfect)
100ml single cream

In a saucepan, combine the cranberry juice, sugar and port. Heat slowly to just under the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat.
Soak the leaf gelatine in cold water for 3 minutes until blobby, then squeeze out the excess water and whisk the gelatine into the hot cranberry liquid until melted. Or sprinkle the powdered gelatine directly over the hot liquid and leave for 1 minute, then whisk well.
Leave to cool, stirring occasionally. When cool, pour the cranberry liquid into four 150ml martini (or other) glasses or jelly moulds and chill in the fridge until set.
If set in glasses, trickle a little cream over the top of each jelly until you have a smooth cream 'frosting', then serve. If set in moulds, turn out onto plates and drizzle with the cream.

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Sunday, May 22, 2005


Isn't it gorgeous?
Our front yard. Late Sunday afternoon.

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Saturday, May 21, 2005

SHF: No-churn Lime & Thai Basil icecream

I was sitting at work during my lunch break, idly reading through blogs when I found a SHF entry on Grab Your Fork. Oh no! It's Sugar High Friday? Already?? I consider myself to be pretty good at keeping up with SHF and IMBB dates, so I was disappointed with myself that I hadn't even heard about this one. I know it must have been coming up, but.....oops! Bugger!
In fact, double bugger because whipping up something sugary and citrussy that evening really didn't fit in with my long-established plans to sit back and giggle relentlessly at the Eurovision Song Contest semi-finals. Hmmm...whatever I chose to make had to be very quick and easy.

Those who know me know that I'm am Eurovision crazy. Krayzee! It's my life-long dream to be in the real audience of the contest one day before I die. Although if they keep being held in difficult places like Ukraine and Turkey, that dream may not eventuate! I love everything about Eurovision; the frocks, the poncy dance moves, the ubiquitous piano accordians and bagpipes, the nonsensical lyrics sung in accented-English by countries who really shouldn't, the blatantly political voting system (Greece: "We award 12 points to Cyprus....again!"), Terry Wogan's ascerbic commentary, and their rampant inability to sing any song remotely in tune. I have every Eurovision song from the last 6 years on my iPod, and yes, my friends think I'm insane. The semi-finals were a beauty this year; we had accordians galore, dancing blokes in puffy shirts, dresses that threatened to pop right off and others that were whipped off by the poncy blokes in puffy shirts, sign-language, YODELLING with cowbells (!) and even a granny in a wheelchair playing the drums! You just can't get any better than that. Finals are tomorrow night and I've planned a party. I can't wait!

So, what could I whip up that wouldn't interfere with my viewing? Icecream! Specifically, the lemon icecream in Nigella's books made with whipped cream and which doesn't need an icecream maker. Perfect! I've made it once before and remembered how damn simple and tasty it is; very tangy but very rich. All you do is zest and juice some lemons or limes and leave them to sit with some icing sugar for a while. I chose mainly limes and decided to add about a handful of Thai basil leaves to this mixture, because I liked the idea of basil and lime (I think I've had that combination before in a sorbet...) and also because I was already using the basil in my dinner (I made my own pesto!).

During a break between songs (just before the Norwegian cock-rockers with lipstick and 80s heavy-metal permed hair came on. Brilliant!) I came down and whipped up some cream then folded it into the lime juice mixture. Then I threw it into the freezer. And that's it. Simple lime and basil icecream, that takes all of 10 minutes to make, and tastes wonderful. And doesn't interfere with your vitally important tv viewing!!
Read on for the recipe:

No churn Lime and Thai Basil icecream
Based on Nigella's assiette au citron.

Juice of 3 lemons (or limes)
Zest of 2 lemons (or limes. Or any combination of the two)
Handful Thai basil leaves (or normal basil)
125g icing (powdered) sugar
425mls cream.

Stir together the juice, zest and basil with the icing sugar and let steep for 30 minutes. Then whip cream til soft-peak stage, and whisk in the sweented lime/lemon juice, zest and all (though I prefer to strain the zest out as it's not so nice to chew through a whole lot of zest in a scoop of icecream). Turn into a shallow container and freeze til set, letting it ripen in fridge for half an hour or so before serving.

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Oven Dried Tomatoes

I made my own oven dried tomatoes this week! Yes, just writing that makes me feel so homely and a little smug. Hehehe - I make my own dried tomatoes....and what do you do with your life? Although...it starts to sound worryingly like I'll turn into one of those sad people that Nigel Slater writes about who start smugly making everything when they don't need to, out of some misplaced sense of superiority. He points out, 'how often have you had homemade pasta or a pizza base that was actually inferior to the quality stuff you can buy nowdays?' And I have to agree; I've tasted some bad homemade pasta and cardboardy homemade pizza bases.
But, these dried tomatoes don't fit into that category, and you don't have to worry about me turning into that kind of person; I'm yet to even make my own bread! (and my day-long effort making stupendously awful Hot Cross Buns taught me well that when there are such good ones to buy, that I shouldn't even bother wasting a whole day attempting something better. Or worse. I think I have yeast issues...)
But....lots of tomatoes in the fridge, and I'm the only person in our household who eats fresh tomatoes. Incredible, isn't it?? How can you not love a fresh tomato?? Oh, they'll eat them as pasta sauce or tomato paste, but not in salads, not grilled, not on a sandwich. Bah! So they wouldn't start rotting I decided to do something I've been considering for a while, and reinforced itself as I read my new Jill Dupleix book - slice them up, throw them in a cool oven for a long time with some seasonings and go to bed. Ok - I didn't go to bed, but that's the option she describes.

What you do is slice up your tomatoes, sprinkle them with some salt, pepper, caster sugar and fresh thyme (or oregano or whatever you like), I added a few spashes of balsamic vinegar to mine, which was a great decision. I set them on a rack with a pan underneath to catch drips, and slipped them into a 100 celsuis oven for about 7 hours. Jill recommended a 60 celsius oven overnight, but I started at lunchtime and needed to go to a rehearsal at 7.30, so I figured 100 degrees would work pretty well.
Well, as it happened, I turned off the oven before I ran out to rehearsal, but didn't have time to take them out, so I let them sit in the cooling oven. Then when I came home I forgot to take them out, so they sat there overnight! I can only say it was an inspired 'decision' as these tomatoes turned out wonderfully. They're just like tomato candy. Essence of tomato! They're lightyears better than the ones you can buy at the deli or supermarket. Depending on how I sliced them some are chewy and toothsome, and some are still a little juicy inside. I put them in a jar with some extra-virgin olive oil and they're quickly disappearing from the fridge. So far I've had them on bread, with lentil and vegetable stew, in salads, on their own as I make a swerving detour to the fridge as I walk through the kitchen.....
Next time I'll cut down on the salt and increase the sugar a little to improve the taste balance - they're a little over-the-top saltwise.
It strikes me that these would be an ideal Christmas gift to make for people who have some time, but not a lot of money to spend on gifts. Or even if you want to give something homemade. I'm already collecting jars. :-)
Now, I have to run off again to another rehearsal - we're doing the Tallis 40 part motet Spem in alium broadcast live-to-air across Australia next Saturday evening - exciting stuff!! Stay tuned for my SHF and IMBB entries tomorrow!

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Oven Pork and Oven Veg

Oooh! Vegetable porn! Look at that golden, caramelised garlic! Witness the charred capsicum! See the artistically crinkly pumpkin ;-).
Yes! Note that the pork looks bleacchy and unphotogenic!... So, look at the yummy vegies again... Go on, click on it for more food pornyness.
This meal was supposed to be all about the pork, but ended up with the vegetables as major superstars. See, it's starting to get colder in Melbourne. Despite having an unusually warm Autumn, there's a real chill in the evening air now. The days are still gorgeously sunny and clear, but walking to the train station in the morning and evening fills your lungs with cold, clear air. Autumn is what Melbourne does best; my favourite time of year.
I came home tonight, and before heading straight to the computer to check my email I went up, changed into comfy, slobbing-at-home clothes (is there anything better than pulling on a newly washed comfy top? The crispy, clean washed smell...oh my!), and padded to the kitchen in my fluffy blue moccies to creatively throw together a vegetable and red wine stew, before retiring to the rug by the open fire with my new Nigel Slater cookbook and a glass of the same red, while I smell the stew bubbling away. Yep, all-over happiness.
OK - that has absolutely nothing to do with this meal, but I thought it sounded all poetic and homely. :-)
So, it's not what I'm making tonight, as it's currently still in the oven, and I'm rapidly getting tipsy on the bottle of red wine I opened. Lovely feeling!
This was what I did sometime last week. Or the week before. Who remembers? Who cares? I wanted something interesting for dinner, and found a small fillet of pork in the freezer resting next to a frozen tub of marscapone mixed with salt and pepper. I decided to get out the meat hammer and pound the meat flat to roll it around the marscapone and some avocado going overripe. Oh, did I have such fun bashing my pork; all the stresses and stillness of my workday came out on that bit of meat. WHAM! POW! I added a few sprigs of tarragon to the stuffing, which was a pretty stupidly poor decision, really. I mean, I have fresh sage. Fresh sage goes perfectly with pork. Why didn't I use it? Probably because I'm getting so frustrated at my bunch of tarragon in the freezer, going unused. I want to use my tarragon, dammit! But to be honest, I don't really like the taste of it so much; it certainly didn't work so well with the pork. What can I use to make my tarragon taste more pleasing to me?

At last minute I chopped up some vegies splashed with balsamic vinegar to add to the roasting pan, and these were just fabulous. Actually, the real stars were the red capsicum, which turned out almost candied; so sweet, chewy and crunchy. If they sold packets of Niki's roasted capsicum in pubs and 7/11s they'd have a huge market! (just my own personal marketing idea there...) The garlic was all crispy caramelised on the outside and gooey, fragantly soft on the inside. I think the balsamic was the key, to be honest; it really brought out the sweetness. Perhaps a bit too much with the pumpkin, which I found to be a bit too sweet - maybe that's what you get with organic pumpkin, and I've been tuned to bland supermarket stuff?
But, all up, a yummy dinner, and an even yummier lunch the next day at work.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

What a monster!

Ever seen such a thing?! Any guesses what it might be? :-)

No, not a supersteroid pear. It's a squash! A really big squash my mum bought it at a farmers' market on the weekend. She plans to use it as a room decoration, not to cook it. The farmer told her to just let it sit there and turn orange, then it'll start to dry out and look artistically crinkly.
Of course it goes through an unattractive mouldy stage on the way, but just hold your nose and avert your gaze during then, I guess?

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Chook in Clay

Sorry, not the best photo but this one was taken late in the evening at A's house.

My boyfriend is half Dutch and has spent a lot of time studying German both here and in Germany; consequently he has an interest in traditional Germanic-style foods. This is a good thing, as I really love those foods as well, and between us we get lots of bratwurst, sauerkraut, stroopwafels and honey cake. Last year, while at a friend's house we saw a pile of odds and ends destined for a garage sale, and amongst them was a Romertopf. We pounced on it and offered money, but our friend said he would be glad to donate it to us for worthy food causes. A Romertopf is a classic Germanic unglazed clay cooking vessel, of Roman origin, that you soak in water before use, then fill with various things that you want to eat, before putting on the clay lid and baking it in the oven. The clay will not absorb the cooking juices but instead let off a bit of humidity during the roasting process and keep the meat nice and moist. It's a healthy and simple way to cook, that was very popular here in Australia during the 70s/80s. I think it should be more popular, because it really is so easy and tasty. How difficult can it be to chuck some meat, vegies and liquid in the oven when you come home from work?; after you've faffed around a bit your dinner is cooked for you!

So, I was sitting at work on Friday when I received an email from him announcing that he was going to cook dinner that night - did 'roce ching' (say it in a lazy Aussie accent) in the Romertopf sound good? You betcha! And you know, to know that somebody is making a nice dinner for you after a long day at work is the most lovely feeling. I smiled each time I thought about it.
Evidentally, fuelled by our discussion about Nigel Slater and his cooking-by-instinct rather than strictly-by-recipe ideas, A read up on cooking times and proportions, and then decided to create his own meal. He stuffed the chicken with lemon and thyme and chopped carrots, parsnip and onion to place around it. He then poured in about 1/2 cup of white wine, which we later realised was a bit too much; combined with the chicken and lemon juices, the vegetables and bottom half of the chicken poached in broth, rather than baked. But I tell you, whoa - carrots poached in wine taste bloody awesome! He added more fresh thyme and parsley over the chicken and cooked it for about 1.5 hours. I turned up just as he making a big pot of creamy mashed potatoes and cooking some green beans. His choice to then make a mustard sauce concerned me; it was really late and I was famished. I could have eaten the Romertopf itself at that point, but sometimes you have to indulge... He had made a special trip to the European supermarket to buy a real crock of Pommery mustard, and added a few spoons to a roux he made of flour, butter and milk. I tasted it and thought it was far too strong for the chicken, but had to eat my words when I realised how perfectly it complemented the sweet, tender meat and vegetables. Yes, sometimes I can be wrong! Doesn't happen often, though! ;-)
The smell when he took the lid off was just incredible - fragrant chickeny, winey, herby steam....mmmm. Nothing says winter is coming like an oven-cooked meal.
Sorry - no photos of his plating of chicken, veggies and mash. We were far too hungry and tucked right in. But if you or your mum has a Romertopf hanging around the kitchen as a folorn derelict of the 70s, I recommend you pull it out and give it a try. There's a great recipe on Johanna's site, that I'm keen to make next.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

New books for this cook - or why the British excite me so...

Click on the photo for an enlargement to see the text
Taken on my bedroom balcony overlooking our swimming pool. Yes I know how lucky I am.... ;-) Admittedly, it wasn't nearly as warm as it looks ; a crisp 13C when I took that photo!

I'm just back from a few days in Brisbane, where I found it to be a fairly uninspiring city (sincere apologies to Brisbane readers, but Melbourne can spoil you so...), although I admit that the weather was warm, sunny and perfect. Just before I left last week I spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon browsing the shelves of Melbourne's Books for Cooks , to use up my birthday gift voucher. I had such a lovely afternoon, topped off by a great dinner in a pub nearby. I do love Books for Cooks - if you can believe it, it is actually a larger store with a wider range of books than the much more famous Books for Cooks in London's Notting Hill! It has a large range of second-hand and rare cookbooks as well as new items, which increases its size, but it doesn't have a kitchen or cafe like the one in London. I went to a fantastic spice workshop there last year, to launch the Hemphill's new book, Spicery, where I was offered so many tasty little tidbits I barely needed dinner - a wonderful, wonderful place!
I browsed the shelves for hours, amusing myself by looking at many, many books occasionally putting one aside to add to my teetering, towering shortlist. I seriously considered Baking By Flavour, which Zarah Maria has so enthusiastically recommended, but it was hardback and expensive. Additionally, the (very friendly, very helpful) shop assistant owned the book and said whilst it was enjoyable, it had a few too many unusual and unavailable ingredients for the Australian cook. It was also in American non-metric measurements, which I really can't cope with - in baking I have to have the accuracy of specific weight measurements! I don't cope well with vague instructions like '16 tablespoons of butter'...just tell me 125 grams, and I'm much more relaxed and confident!
I did notice that the shop was much stronger on British and Australian titles, rather than American ones, I was searching for the Barefoot Contessa book amongst other US ones, but couldn't find many. I briefly considered Thomas Keller's Bouchon, but realised as I was looking through it that what I really wanted was a book written by a passionate foodie, about food that was prepared simply, with a minimum of fuss and without taking all night; nobody wants to sit down for dinner at 11pm. And that thought lead me right back to the British and Australian books. Fuelled by patriotic pride I sat down with Bill Granger's books, that so many overseas foodies rave about (especially "Sydney Food") but I'm a little ashamed to say that they just didn't quite do it for me. Yes, the pictures looked gorgeous, and Bill is a highly sexy man, but I guess living in Australia I'm surrounded by his style of recipes and cooking and I didn't see very much that was new; the type of recipes he creates are too similar to those featured weekly in the cooking sections of the Australian newspapers; light, fresh, summery, simple. Yes, all good, but we're coming into a cold Melbourne winter, and I wanted something more. I realised I wanted something British.

Geez, I love the British, and the new British food writers and chefs. I love their no-nonsense, witty style of writing and the way of returning to home-style cooking. I guess it might be the familiarity of their ingredients, style of language and similar culinary histories, but they feel so comfortable to Australians. For all that we now look to Asia, the UK still features large for much of Australia. The Brits are also looking towards the Asian influence in Australian food - so between the two countries, foodies are having a wonderful time! I spotted some Nigel Slater books on the shelves, and recalled that every Nigel Slater recipe I had seen on the internet had caused me to pause and think "ooooh! that sounds good". In fact, I made his recipe for orange and cardamom jelly last year for a Sugar High Friday.
So, I ended up curled on the overstuffed couch in the window of the shop reading through Slater's 'Appetite'. The first half of his book is prose - ideas about cooking, suggestions about food and his own ideas on preparing meals. In searching for some information to write a proper review of the book, I came across this on another blog, (with a rather unique URL!) and seriously, it says everything I wanted to say, in just the way I wanted to say it, but possibly done better. Thank you!
His book explains everything I knew instictively about cooking but had never heard from someone who actually knew how to cook: recipes are not gospel and should be used only as a guide. He reminds us that recipes were originally used by chefs to keep track of where the housekeeping money was spent. And as he so correctly points out, being told to “put it in the oven for 35 minutes” will not give the same result for everyone, since everyone’s setup is different, everyone’s meal is different. Everyone’s palette is different.
Another thing I love about Nigel Slater’s book is the straightforward way he presents his food. There is no trace of snobbery in his writing. In fact, he writes as elegantly about the delights of a Big Mac as he does of any of his other recipes. Lines like “there is nothing wrong with using a stock cube, not all stock has to be home-made”...
...Also unusual about Nigel Slater’s book is the way the writing lends itself to casual reading. Unlike the other cookbooks in my collection which have a brief introduction and go straight to the recipies, Slater’s book has a conversational tone, and almost half the book is given over to best practices - how to best cook a steak, how to best store food, and how to best enjoy your food. This leads to ‘Appetite’ being the kind of book you can pick up and read at any time, not just when you’re looking for ideas for something to cook.
I also can’t argue with anyone who extols the beauty of a simple sausage and mash done well.

The recipes in Appetite don't have "real' names either, rather they are presented as ideas "A creamy, calming pasta dish" or "a clear reviving soup". Truly, this is an inspirational book, and I can foresee its regular use in our house.
I had a few dollars left from my voucher, and decided I wanted a non-recipe book by a food writer as well. I ended up getting Ruth Reichl's new book 'Garlic and Sapphires' written about her years as food critic of the New York Times. When she arrived in that city after being food critic of the Los Angeles Times, every top restaurant in the city was looking out for her, with photos of her posted to their fridges, and promises of money to waiters who found out information on where she would be dining. So she decided to start reviewing New York's restaruants in disguise; creating characters for herself and noting with amusement or horror at how much the service and politeness at each restaurant altered with each persona she created. Some restaurants horrified me with their pretentiousness toward certain types of people (old women, regular house-wively types), which was exactly what she was hoping to portray in her reviews and this book. I think any foodblogger out there would really enjoy this; particularly if you're from the US. I personally found it interesting how vague the restaurant reviews were; Ruth would visit each place up to 5 times before writing a review, but still the dishes were described so vaguely. The Australian reviews are much more lengthy and detailed about each dish. I'd be interested to learn how reviewers write in other papers around the world)
Up in Brisbane yesterday, we stumbled into a publisher's overstock clearance shop. Not expecting much, we thought we'd be out in a few minutes, but I had my arms full within 30 seconds. The first thing I spotted was Nigel Slater's "Toast" , the story of his childhood in 50s & 60s Britain, remembered through food - fabulous! I've read a few chapters and am really enjoying it - alternately shuddering and laughing at the horrors of 60s suburban British cooking; I think this book will be really great. And for $6.95, who can complain?
I also picked up a copy of Jill Dupleix's Simple Food , which I've wanted for a while. Many Brits and Aussies don't know that Jill is a native Australian who was food writer (and editor?) of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald for many years before being head-hunted by The Times in London to be their cookery writer. I already have her Very Simple Food and Take Three, which I've written about enthusiastically before, and I loved her simple recipes. Like Nigel Slater, they're more ideas than strict recipes - simple in idea (sometimes they make you slap youself over the head and thing "DOH! Why haven't I ever thought of that before?!") and very attractive. She does all her own photography too, you know? I usually grumble about over-talented people, but can't fail to adore Jill. Along with Stephanie Alexander, she's my favourite Australian cookbook writer. And by buying her book this weekend, I partly assuaged my guilt at turning my back on Bill Granger and his Aussie cooking.

I rarely indulge in new cookbooks, so this has been an exciting time for me. I'd be interested to know what you've bought recently - do tell!

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake with raspberries

This is the cake I made a few weeks ago for my uncle's 50th birthday; as you can tell, I couldn't decide which photo I liked the best, so you get all of them in a pretty collage. Don't you love little silver cachous? They make something clad in dull brown into something so glamorous, and they do it with such ease (just like an Italian policeman :-) ) Although I'm really keen to try the silver dusting powder Stephanie has used with her chocolate cake!

This is the recipe for the Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake in Nigella's newest book, Feast. When I was trying to decide on a recipe, I looked through her chocolate cakes collection and noticed with surprise that this recipe is almost exactly the same recipe as her Sour Cream Chocolate Cake with Sour Cream Icing in Domestic Goddess. Funny that when I saw that recipe in Domestic Goddess I dismissed it almost right away, thinking it sounded too fussy and a bit weird, but given a new name and the added wow-factor of a photo in Feast, suddenly I was considering it.
I thought the addition of the sour cream to the icing might appeal to those eating it on the night, who were mainly men not big on sweets or chocolate. Along a similar theme, instead of sandwiching it together with the icing, I made up the raspberry cream filling she gives for her Valentine's Day heart cake. Dark chocolate and tart raspberry cream is a great combination.
Out of the three gooey chocolate birthday cakes I've made recently (one I haven't yet posted about) I personally think this was my least favourite. I didn't quite take to the slightly acidic flavour of the sour cream in the icing, and found the texture of the cake to be a little heavy and dense. The raspberry cream filling worked well, but I think there needed to be a little more of it to really taste it.
However, my grandmother told me a few days later that it was the best chocolate cake she's ever had in her life, and the things I didn't like so much about it were exactly the things that made it her favourite! She enjoyed the sour cream icing and loved the raspberries in the cream. So, there you go....definitely worth trying, especially if you may have people around who are not as chocolate obsessed as you may be.

Read on for the recipe:

Old Fashioned Chocolate cake (sour cream chocolate cake with sour cream icing) with raspberries.
Adapted from 'Feast' Nigella Lawson

200g plain flour
200g caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarb
40g cocoa powder
175g soft butter
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
150ml sour cream

75g butter
175g goold quality dark chocolate, in pieces
300g icing sugar
1 tbls golden syrup
125ml sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

200ml whipping cream
200g raspberries

Preheat oven to 180C and prepare two 20cm sandwich tins.
Put all cake ingredients into a food processor and process until you have a thick, smooth batter.
Divide the batter, using a spatula to help you scrape and spread, into the prepared tins and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, which should be around 25-35 minutes.
Remove the cakes, in their tins, to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes before turning out of their tins. Don't worry about cracks as they'll be covered by the icing.
To make the icing, melt the butter and chocolate in a large bowl. While they are cooling, sieve the icing sugar into another bowl (or put in the food processor and blitz) to remove the lumps.
Add the golden syrup to the cooled chocolate mixture, followed by the sour cream and vanilla and when all this is combined whisk in the sieved icing sugar. Or just pour the mixture down the funnel of the food processor on to the icing sugar, with the motor running.
When you've done, you may need to add a little boiling water or icing sugar for consistency.
Choose your cake stand and cut out four strips of baking parchment to form a square outline on it (this stops the icing running down the plate), then sit one of the cakes uppermost (domed) side down.
Whip the cream until thick but not stiff. Add the raspberries and crush with a fork, though not too finely. The cream should turn wonderfully pink, in a rose-and-white mottled fashion. Sandwich the two cakes with this mixture.
Spread the top and sides with the icing and leave a few minutes til set, then pull away the paper strips.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Winning photo!

I recently found out that my photo of the best chocolate truffles in Melbourne was the winner of the aesthetics section of Does My Blog Look Good In This? photo competition this month! I'm stoked! Each month I've been entering, with my favourite monthly photo, only to get to 3rd place or be outvoted. But now, I get a gong - yay! (ok - I shared the prize with another great photo of chocolate truffles!) Thanks to Cathy, Derrick, Alberto, Keiko and Barrett.
I took this photo laying on my bed (what better place to eat chocolate truffles??), and yes, the colour of the flower was the exact same shade of my bed sheet, which was a great coincidence.
I believe I'm supposed to get some little html badge to put on my sidebar :-) ; does anyone have any details about this?
If you want to see my previous entries for the photo competition here they are:
February: Caramel Cupcakes (3rd place)
March: Orange Jelly with Lemon and Cardamom (3rd place)
April: Passionfruit Banana Cupcakes (my fave, but no place)

Congratulations to Clement for taking out the overall title this month. And you must go over to see The Confabulist's very original photo!!!

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Julian's Cheese Manicotti

Who on earth is Julian? And if you're Australian, what on earth is manicotti?? Well, Julian is a character from some culinary mystery novels I've been reading recently that were recommended by Anne. The main character is a caterer in a fairly swish area of Colorado and just 'happens' to find herself invovled in lots of exciting mysteries and murders (Isn't it always the way? There's a police show here in Australia called 'Blue Heelers' set in a tiny little town around the mountains. Yet, for this tiny little town they sure have a heck of a lot of murders and terrorist attacks!). The author of these novels, Diane Mott Davidson, is evidently a keen cook and there are many recipes interspersed through the pages. Anne has already blogged about the chocoholic cookies, which I'm keen to make.
After reading three of the novels I had a couple of recipes I wanted to try, including the cookies. There weren't as many as you'd think though, as I found a few of the recipes a little too 'American' in style - involving taste combinations that didn't appeal or ingredient lists skewed towards lots of butter, cream cheese etc. But I have bookmarked a couple to try, and this manicotti recipe was the first - I loved the sound of a cheese filling mixed with fresh basil leaves and a light tomato sauce.
Now, manicotti. It's not something we have in Australia. Cooked hands?? Is that what it means? The cooking instructions made it sound like it was a type of cannelloni pasta tube. Well, evidentally it was a type of pasta that could be filled, so I used up a box of large shells (coniglie) I had. I thought it worked well, and produced something a little more interesting.

Actually, the recipe turned out much heavier than I expected, and was pleasantly filling; enough so that we had leftovers throughout the rest of the week! My brother and his friend, who had been planting trees and laying paving all day, and who were starving in that way young men get after a day's labour, sat down with great enthusiasm, but could only manage one plate. Unheard of - especially for my brother who is the biggest pasta and cheese fan I know! That's not to say he didn't enjoy it - I know he enjoyed eating the leftovers for every meal over the next few days! I think some of the problem in that regard may have been that I didn't bother looking for (and paying lots of money for) fontina cheese, when I knew we had lots of cheese in the fridge. The cheese I used was more strongly flavoured than fontina, so next time I might increase the amount of the bland cheese required and reduce the quantity of the more strongly flavoured cheese (as I can't ever see myself paying lots of money for fontina cheese unless I were trying to impress somebody.... )

Various elements involved in the creation of this dish....the tomato sauce reducing in the pan, the cheese filling, cooked pasta shells, and my own personal lubrication for the lengthy stuffing-of-shells procedure. :-)

I've already mentioned two of the substitutions I made (pasta shells, and non-fontina cheese), but I did make a few more. I used cottage cheese rather than ricotta because a: it's healthier and lighter b: it was 'price reduced for quick sale!' (second reason overshadowed the first, to be honest!). I had mozzarella in the fridge, and those two cheeses combined with the various bits of cheddar and Tasty in the fridge made a strongly flavoured cheese mixture that somewhat overpowered the fresh basil (I'd even doubled the quantity of the herbs). I couldn't see the point of using 6 large eggs, in the mixture, so I reduced it to 4 without any problems. I also couldn't see any reason for adding 6 TABLESPOONS of butter to the mixture. WTF?? I mean, is that a typing error? I somehow doubt it - I tend to believe it's one of those 'typical' American recipes I see that make me shudder. I mean, after however many pounds of cheese and eggs, they want me to add 6 tablespoons of butter? I don't think so! I think the filling was fine without the added cholesterol, to be honest.
So, I can still recommend this recipe as it was really tasty, but I'd suggest lightening the filling a little if you were to make it for your family. Of course, if you were planning a group death a la 'La Grande Bouffe' style, it'd be a great addition in its original format - just don't forget to finish off with a dessert blacmange in the shape and colour of wobbling breasts, ok? ;-)

Read on for the recipe:

Julian's Cheese Manicotti

from 'The Cereal Murders' by Dianne Mott Davidson
Makes 7 servings

1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, pressed or chopped
2 Tbls olive oil
2 6-ounce cans tomato paste, plus water (or 1 can chopped tomatoes plus some paste and water)
2 Tbls finely chopped fresh oregano
1 small bay leaf
salt, pepper

1 teaspoon olive oil
14 manicotti noodles

1 1/2 cups ricotta or cottage cheese
6 large eggs
3/4 pound Fontina cheese, grated
1/4 pound mozzarella cheese, grated
1/3 cup freshly grated best-quality Parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons soft butter (not margarine)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2-3 tbls finely chopped fresh basil leaves
freshly grated Parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top.

Preheat the oven to 180C (350c). To make the sauce, gently saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil in a saucempan over medium heat until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir. Slowly add 4 tomato paste cans of water and stir. Add the seasonings and allow the sauce to simmer while you prepare the manicotti filling.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the olive oil, and drop in the manicotti. Cook just until al dente, about 10-15 minutes. Drain and run cold water over the manicotti in a colander. Set aside.
To make the filling, beat the ricotta with the eggs until combined. Add the grated cheeses and softened butter; beat until combined. Add the salt, pepper and basil. Beat on low just until everything is combined.
Gently fill the cooked manicotti with the cheese mixture and arrange in 2 9x13 inch pans. Cover the pasta in each pan with half the sauce; sprinkle on additional parmesan. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is thoroughly melted and the sauce is bubbling.

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Saturday, May 07, 2005

Doubletree Hotel Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is one of my favourite biscuit recipes, and one to which I try to convert everyone. A few weeks ago I noticed Adam made them, possibly based on a comment I had made to his or Angela's site about chocolate chip cookie recipes. You see, about 10 years ago my father and I were travelling through Kentucky and Tennessee for his business (I was just a handbag) and we stayed at the Doubletree Hotel in Nashville. When we checked in we received the most incredible, most wonderful, most gorgeous chocolate chip cookie we've ever tasted. They were still warm from the oven, crispy on the outside and gooey in the middle. I had never tasted anything like it; they were so good we ordered them for room service the next night!
For years I'd wanted to make those cookies but assumed I'd never know the recipe. Somehow, along the way I discovered the website Top Secret Recipes, and it was listed there! Apparently the genuine recipe from the Doubletree hotel chain! Wowee! The recipe is no longer freely available there, but can be found by judicious Googling. I found mine here.
I tend to increase the amount of cinnamon in these biscuits by about 4; I really love the cinnamon taste. This time I added quite a lot of chopped nuts I had hanging around (pistachios, hazelnuts, almonds) , as I didn't have quite enough chocolate.
However, I have a baking problem with chocolate chip cookies. I take them out when they've turned golden and look ready etc. but they're always soggy and not cooked enough! I am careful not to leave them in too long, because I prefer a chewy rather than a crunchy cookie, but this is beyond chewy into some other realm of awfulness. With this batch I returned them to the oven for about 10 minutes, but that turned them into really crunchy biscuits. Some people may like them that way (and many people did) but I don't! Is it just a matter of leaving my biscuits in the oven a little longer than stated in the recipe? I don't think that feels very accurate - as it is I'm concerned that they'll be overcooked if I leave them in the full cooking time. Hmmm. Any ideas?

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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Chocolate Chilli Tim Tams

With BONUS illustrated instructions on how to perform a "Tim Tam Slam"!

A new Tim Tam flavour? Meh. I always think the original Tim Tams are the best. If it aint broke, don't fix it. Well, apart from the dark chocolate ones. You always get fewer biscuits in the special flavour packets anyway - 9 instead of 11. The chewy caramel ones aren't worth it, and the Tia Maria flavoured ones (yes, we have alcoholic flavoured biscuits) are a bit overhyped and overrated. So, hmmmmmm, what's this new way they're trying to reinvent the wheel?
*WAIT* Ohmygawd! Chilli?!?!?!?! Chilli DARK chocolate??!!! Chilli dark chocolate TIM TAMS??!!! Evidentally jumping on the whole chocolate chilli bandwagon here, but hey - that's a combination I like!


And yes, I was in 7/11 at the time, so I paid through the nose for this packet.
Tim Tams are the MOST famous Australian biscuit. More so than Anzacs. More so than Iced Vovos, more so than....erm....Tee Vee Shapes or Milk Arrowroots (bleah). These are the chocolate biscuits Aussie expats around the world will go into raptures about, if you give them half a chance. And yes, they are as good as the Aussies say they are. Two crispy wafers, sandwiched with a creamy chocolate filling and coated in thick chocolate.

Before you start emailing me in excitement, the odd looking circle on the top of the biscuit is where it was pressed against the plastic, not some eerie crop circle or Virgin Mary appearance, ok?!

The most famous way Aussies will use these biscuits is as a straw for hot liquids - aka The Tim Tam Slam. This is a very famous and very Australian way of having a Chocolate Orgasm - any passing Australian you happen to flag down off the street would easily and enthuasiastically demostrate this skill to you. We're very eager to convert.
What you do is you take your Tim Tam (any type, but not the chewy caramel ones - they don't work) and take a small bite from each opposing corner. See below:

Here's one I prepared earlier....

And you take your Tim Tam to your cup of hot liquid (say, a nice, hot cup of tea....*), dunk one bitten corner in, and take your lips to the top corner (where you've bitten off the edge):

Tim Tam poised for slamming above a nice, hot cup of tea.

Now, with your lips locked around one bitten corner, and the other bitten corner suspended in your hot liquid (and it MUST be hot, otherwise this doesn't work properly - sorry to all you cold Milo afficionados. It's just wrong, ok?!) you slowly start sucking. Be careful! Don't do it while your liquid is still at boiling point or you'll boil your lips off and drop your Tim Tam in your liquid, and that would be a shame. Suck slowly - about 3 sucks should do it. You'll notice the biscuit start to soften; this is your cue. IMMEDIATELY gather it up into your mouth before it starts to disintegrate. The hot liquid has been sucked up through the crispy biscuit and soft filling into your mouth, softening and melting the biscuit and chocolate on the way. It will explode in a chocolately, biscuity mess in your mouth.
You will then experience a chocolate orgasm in your mouth! This is fact.
It's really something you must try, or at least watch an Aussie friend do and laugh at their hunched posture with ecstatic smiles on their faces. This is why expat Aussies in the UK and American spend a week's salary on hunting down and buying imported packets of Tim Tams. It's that orgasm taste of home, you know! :-)

Anyway, so how do these dark chocolate chilli Tim Tams taste? Well, I opened the packet and lifted on to my nose. They smelled like dark chocolate - they smelled just like Tee Vee shapes actually. I bit into one. Meh - what's all the excitement about? It tastes just like a dark chocolate Tim Ta........oh! I can taste something.....it tastes all warm in my mouth...............hmmmmm actually, it's getting a bit too warm in my mouth.....................arrrghhhhh, that's HOT!!!!
Ok - it's not like biting down on a whole chilli in a curry or anything, but these do pack some warmth. I feared that the chili would be so muted to appeal to the wider population that it'd be hidden, but it's definitely there. I LOVED it! These are my Tim Tams of choice now - until they're taken out of circulation for whatever new gimmick comes along - white chocolate and avocado, perhaps?

(* yes, it's from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)

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Monday, May 02, 2005

Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo

Today I was going through a disk of photos from my old computer and found the shots of my holiday to Japan in 2002. Taking advantage of my new-found knowledge of how to post multiple photos to one blog entry (thank God! That whole cutting and pasting rubbish was so tedious!) I thought I'd include a few photos of the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo - the largest seafood market in the world. It is mind boggling in scale. We arrived about lunchtime, which I knew to be late. I imagined everything would have closed by then, but things were still going strong. People everywhere, and great food for my eyes!

Those are two large, solidly frozen fish that were currently being slid across the wet concrete floor. In fact I was nearly mown down by one, steered by a fisherman with a very big stick. Don't get in the way of anyone when going to this market! The lanes are narrow and crowded, and there are long, sharp tools being flung around everywhere. And these huge frozen fish could kill a person! There is a serious chance of being injured if you don't have your wits about you. After seeing theese fish progress along the floor I kind of hoped they weren't going to be sold for human consumption... Notice the elderly man regarding them with great interest.

This guy was the friendliest fisherman I couldn't understand that I've ever met. He didn't speak a word of English and we didn't speak any Japanese, but through a creative use of sign language he taught us that the name of the fish he was dragging down the corridoor was a Magaro tuna. He then went on to correct our pronunciation, with much assistance, goodwill and laughter from the surrounding workers. Notice the big stick the fisherman has - there's a nasty sharp hook on the end of that he was swinging around with great abandon. Watch out!

There is a lot of blood and gore around this market so luckily I'm not too squeamish! Those crates are filled with fish guts and bits of gooey, bloody things. Notice the fisherman with a big nasty knife hacking into that chunk of fish. This photo makes the place look a bit grimy, but I assure you the turnover is so high here that the place is thoroughly cleaned every day.

A general photo of the type of scenario at the market. Undercover, lots of individual stalls, and hundreds of crates lining the floors, making navigation a hazardous endeavour! There were distinct laneways, but they were often blocked by a stray crate ready to be carted away somewhere.

Ok - I had to take a closeup of these. What the h*ll are they??? They look just like mussels, but these are mussels of a size I've never seen in my life. These look like mussels on steroids!! Aren't they incredible!!

These are a slightly smaller mussel-looking shellfish that had been opened. Again, what exactly are they? They look like mussels that have been fed extremely well. Or mutated like alien life forms.... Can you imagine a seafood spaghetti made with a few of these??? I'm fascinated by them!

A visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market is definitely worth it if you're in Tokyo and want to do something a bit different. It was a real highlight of my trip there. It's a very busy place, open most days and a real treat for the eyes. Another advantage is the many little food stalls around the market selling noodles, freshly cooked fish and ramen. We went afterwards, and I had the best bowl of ramen ever.
Don't go to this market if you're a little bit squeamish though; this is definitely a real working market, with blood, gore and sharp knives flying around you and I get the feeling they don't take too kindly to tourists getting too much in the way of their business. Visitors are certainly welcome though - just keep your wits about you, and soak up the atmosphere.

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EoMEoTE! Luxury Eggs

Heh! Who ever said eggs and toast had to be humble, eh? Yeah! Bring on the caviar!
Perhaps inspired by the write up of my luxury lunch I decided to go all luxurious on you this time, for your supposedly humble egg on toast extravangaza. Hah - I know the real agenda! And it's caviar all the way...
Once again, I forgot about making something for my contribution until I read Grab Your Fork's entry. My thoughts went something like 'Oops - ok. Well, it's midnight Sunday/Monday here, and I haven't had a real dinner. I was just about to get up an rummage for something, so this is a damn good excuse to make something eggy! I know we have lots of eggs - my Nonna's friend has too many chickens....I know, I'll use that caviar that's in the fridge leftover from that gourmet French dinner I did. Hmmm...what goes with caviar. Lobster? No....what goes with caviar AND is in my fridge right now?"

Well, I decided to make an oeuf en cocotte. Have you noticed these have suddenly become the trendy foodblogging thing to do at the moment? That whole comfort/nursery food idea :-). I got me a ramekin and then pulled out a few odds and ends from the fridge. I smeared a little miso paste on the bottom of the ramekin and added a few dabs of light sour cream (yeah, weird, I know), cracked in the egg and cooked it in a bain marie until it was set. Which was a h*ll of a long time - my water evidently wasn't hot enough. About 20 minutes later it looked done, and I topped it with a few decadent spoonfuls of caviar (ok, ok. Lumpfish roe. Sorreee for not going all out on you! Sevruga OK for you next time?!?) and wholemeal toast soliders dripping in butter. Mmmm....toast soliders and runny egg yolk. Yummmmm. Even better was toast soliders, runny egg yolk, rich miso paste and salty caviar bobbles that popped lightly in my mouth.
It made for a lovely little midnight snack. Thank you EoMEoTE for bringing me late-night satisfaction... Now I'm cold and going to bed!

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Sunday, May 01, 2005

Ezard at Adelphi - Lunch of Luxury

I've been trying to get around to writing up my luxury birthday lunch for a long time now, but keep putting it off thinking it'll be too much work and that nobody will be interested in a restaruant review without pictures. You see, Ezard is one of Melbourne's top restaurants, regularly receiving 3 'hats' in The Age Good Food Guide, and definitely a destination restaurant for foodies visiting Melbourne. Because it was quite posh, and I'm not terribly comfortable with taking photos of my dishes in restaurants (particularly quiet, expensive ones) I can only give you the menu descriptions and my own words to describe what we ate.
Mum offered to take me there for my birthday lunch to try the 8 course tasting menu I've heard so much about. It's not cheap - at $115 per person ($195 if you want matching wines with each course - but who on earth could cope with 8 glasses of wine over one lunch???), but it's definitely been the highlight of my foodie existence so far.
Find out why - read on!

The restaurant is located underground - under a very nice boutique hotel in one of Melbourne's city laneways called The Adelphi, which is popular with travellers with money, but also with a sense of style. It has a narrow swimming pool on the roof which overhangs the laneway, with a glass bottom. You can look up to see people's feet as they do a tumble turn! Sitting slightly underground, with the windows at the level of passing people's ankles gives a very New York feel to the place.
Mum and I walked in and immediately were discomforted to notice we were the only women in the whole place that day! It's quite a small restaurant - about 50 seats, I'd say. Our waitress made us very comfortable and expressed her relief that we had arrived to break up the male-ness of the day. The men there all seemed to be doing the business-entertaining thing, so I think Teague Ezard was pretty pleased to have 2 women for whom he could prepare a tasting menu. Yes, Teague was there and prepared his meals ourselves, which I loved! So often you hear about these expensive restaurants with well-known chefs who are never actually there - but on their latest book tour or shooting a TV series. But, Teague was there and he said a polite hello to me as I went to the toilet later on. Unfortunately I may have given the impression that I was totally drunk and incoherent, as I was wearing stupid new girly shoes with stupid little pointy heels that I couldn't balance in. I was wobbling all over the place. He probably thought I was one step away from vomiting in his pot plants. Hmmm.
But anyway, the menu! Mum and I started off with a glass of celebratory Veuve Clicquot, at a breezy little price of $24 a glass (I know!!! What??!). That glass lastest for our first three courses (I made it last that long!). We were brought out fantastic bread with the most wonderful tasting olive oil - I think it was infused with parmesan and truffles. I was hungry and nearly made the mistake of filling myself up on this fantastic stuff. There was also a dish of 3 flavoured salts on the table. We actually didn't need to use any of them through the meal, but that didn't stop us tasting them all; a Szechaun pepper salt; a herbed salt; and a sweet chili salt!

Now, in looking at the menu you may notice a distinct Asian flavour to the meal. You are correct. Ezard has adopted a significantly Japanese/Asian approach to his dishes and mixed it with the style of food in Australia. It creates a very fusion style of cuisine, that is really popular in Australia at the moment. My mother thought that a few of the dishes we were served in the tasting menu started to taste the same - built on the same master stock and using the same types of Japanese flavourings, but I think that may have been his intention. I heard that the courses in a tasting menu are often linked by a theme, and in this course the theme was a certain Japanese taste. Although I have to admit that I found a few courses a tad heavy on the use of sugar. I thought the balance wasn't quite right between savoury and sweet, but that is a very minor detail in what was a really spectacular meal.

The first course came out:
1st course: Oyster shooter with ginger, mirin and soy dressing and wasabi flying fish roe.
This is a signature dish for the restaurant and was an incredible way to start. An oyster in a shot glass with a Japanese inspired dressing surrounding it and topped with salty fish roe. The oyster was very cold and tasted just like the sea. It slipped down and the taste was followed by the savoury notes of the dressing and heat of the ginger. It was just incredible. Thinking about it, I'd kill for another one of these.

The second course followed quickly:
2nd course: Hiramasa kingfish tataki with ginger and black bean dressing, cucumber oil and baby asian cresses.
This is what you would call a ceviche in another style of cuisine, I think. It was a mound of raw marinated kingfish served on an Asian soup spoon with a salty, gingery topping, Asian greens and a small mound of thin, deep fried noodles. The combination of flavours, temperatures and textures in this made it perfection-on-a-spoon. The fish had been 'cooked' in lemon or lime, and then topped with this incredible dressing. It would have been spectacular without the crispy noodles on top, but with those added it created a textural contrast that was incredible against the soft fish. It was designed to eat as one mouthful, which I achieved by accommodating widely ;-) but my mum had a bit of trouble and had to do it in a few bites. I think this was my favourite dish of the whole meal.

3rd course: Demi tasse of tom yum broth with steamed salmon dumpling and crispy asian herb salad.
This was a tiny little soup in an espresso cup that I think was mainly to serve as a palate cleanser. The broth tasted authentically Thai flavoured, with lots of lime and a significant amount of chili (I was taken by surprise and started to cough). The salmon dumpling was found a the bottom of the cup, and obviously made from home-made dough which was so tender. This worked well to clear the palate.

It was at this point I started to worry that there wouldn't be enough food. I mean, I'd just had 3 of the 8 courses, and yet I was still starving! Surely we wouldn't be paying $115 each to come out at the end and search out the nearest McDonalds to fill us up, would we? Where was the bread?? Could I have more bread please?!
Mum and I ordered another glass of wine each from the extensive wine list. She had a 2002 Stonier Reserve chardonnay from the Mornington Peninsula here in Victoria, and I went for a red: a 2002 Robert Chevillon Bourgogne pinot noir from Burgundy in France, as I knew we would be having duck later on in the meal - duck and pinot noir are a perfect match.

Then the next course came out.
4th course: Mushroom and herb tortelli, seared spinach, crispy taro, parmesan and truffle oil.
Interestingly, this was the only non-Asian dish on the tasting menu. We appreciated the the change of flavours and obvious Italianess of this dish. We received one large filled tortelli, sitting in a light sauce with truffle oil, and topped with the seared spinach, crispy taro (a starchy vegetable used a lot by Pacific Islanders) and shavings of excellent parmesan. Mum and I both really enjoyed this course and ate it up quickly.

Now we were getting into the real meat and potatoes of the deal:
5th course: Bangalow crispy pork belly with a salad of apple, spring onion, baby watercress, spiced blood plum caramel.
Yum, yum, yum. Mmmmm! I LOVE crispy pork belly. Bangalow is a type of pork being produced in Austrlia for export and top restaurants, in the traditional old-style of pork raising. You know - the type of pork that is celebrated for its fat, rather than bred lean and dry like they do commercially today. These black pigs roam the paddocks, eat good food and produce excellent, tasty, juicy meat (I happened to catch a Landline segment about these pigs not long after my meal, which is why I know all this. I would have had no idea about it before that!). The pork in this dish wasn't nearly as fatty as other belly pork I've had in Asian restaruants, but it had a better flavour without being obviously soaked in many marinades. Yes, this dish was as good as it sounds - the plum caramel was great. Quite a decent serving too of 3 pieces of pork on an artistically big plate. (Incidentally, the dish for which Ezard's is most famous and has always been on the menu is a cripsy pork trotter with chili caramel and Thai basil. I really want to come back to try that)

6th course: Suzuki seabass with stir fried asian mushrooms, soy mirin broth and ezard XO sauce.
I really should eat more fish. Especially if it tastes as good as this course. We had a good chunk of seabass, with asian flavours and a thick chili sauce on top. I actually found this dish to be a little on the sweet side for me, but I heard an Asian businessman at a nearby table, eating the same dish, note that he thought the chili sauce was too salty. Oh well - horses for courses. The quality of the fish in this course was excellent, and it was perfectly cooked so it was still juicy and almost translucent. Excelllent.

Our final savoury course, was no. 7: Chinese style roast duck with shaosang wine dressing, pickled shitake mushrooms and steamed rice noodle roll.
I love duck and order it often when I'm out, partly because I've had bad experiences trying to cook it myself. Restaurants just do it better than I do, so I'll enjoy it cooked by them. This was the largest dish on our menu, crispy pieces of duck on steamed rice, and quite filling. I had gone from starving hungry after the 3rd course to feeling quite replete by the end of the 6th. The 7th course filled me completely; it was wonderful, but we were pleased to know there weren't any more coming. I think the number and flavour of courses was very well judged. Any more and we would have felt overwhelmed by flavours and quantity.

After this we had a little rest, and I performed my drunken idiot routine going to the toilet. I really should have stopped to watch a little of what Teague Ezard was doing, as the kitchen is open (with a view to the toilet doors - not so exciting for them). Strangely the kitchen was very quiet considering it was a busy day (they had lots of walk-ins from a conference at the hotel, and were unprepared with staff and ingredients. But everything was handled very calmly). But, we were pretty much the only people left in the restaurant by this stage - it had taken nearly 2 hours to get to course 8, and I was a little shy to approach him. I don't know why. I'm not usually!

After all our previous courses, they had made a wise decision with the dessert. It was very light, almost another palate cleanser to leave us feeling refreshed.
Grape and pomegranate sorbet with pomegranate molasses and pistachio tuille
This was the first time I've tasted pomegranate molasses, and I have to say I was very impressed. Yummy stuff - perfectly paired with the sorbet.
We followed dessert with some espresso coffees and excellent bitter chocolate truffles. I even stole an extra truffle from an uncleared table next door. I mean, I'm sure they hadn't spat on it or anything. Few of the men hadn't tried their chocolate truffles, but they should have; they were bitter enough to appeal to male palates. I was almost ready to get up and start collecting them from the empty tables!

So there - after 2.5 hours, and a hefty wad of cash later I had experienced the most memorable and exciting (and expensive) meal of my life so far. I'm so glad I finally made it to Ezard; it was some place I had always wanted to go with my father, and he would have thoroughly enjoyed the experience with us, but we remembered him in our thoughts (particularly when I was eating the pork belly; he would have loved that!). I have to thank my mum for indulging me in this wonderful meal, especially just after having given my my present of my new Global knives! Thank you, mum. xo.

Ezard at Adelphi
187 Flinders Lane
Melbourne, 3000
Ph. +613 9639 6811

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