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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Wholemeal pancakes for Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday aka Pancake Tuesday aka Mardi Gras today. Can you believe one of my workmates had never, ever in his life heard of pancake day? Where's he been living? One would think not in Australia, because it's pretty popular here. My family weren't particularly religious, but we always celebrated pancake Tuesday with hot pancakes for breakfast before going to school. It's a popular commercial event now, but I'd hazard a guess that not many kids nowdays know how it came about or of its significance in the church calendar?

Ever since I'd seen this recipe for wholemeal pancakes on Nic's blog I'd been thinking I'd give them a go on Shrove Tuesday. Usually we make thin style English pancakes that you sprinkle with lemon and sugar and then roll into a cigar. But I've always wanted to try my hand at those thick, fluffy, hefty American style pancakes that you get in restaurants when you're on holiday. The fact that Nic's recipe used wholemeal flour and low-fat buttermilk helped make my decision. Wholemeal flour is lower GI and has good-for-you fibre in it. Hmmm, yeah, ok, trying to convince people of the value of fibre in a pancake? Not easy. I have to admit everyone I told was pretty underwhelmed or horrified at the idea of healthy wholemeal pancakes. "Why bother?!" "Can't you just use a normal recipe?!" Well, if I'm going to make pancakes, at least I can make them healthily, and I can enjoy them. That's why! :-P

But these don't taste good-for-you healthy. These just taste really good. The wholemeal flour gives them a really interesting nutty flavour. And whoa, do they have heft. They're not heavy but they're really filling. Hearty, hefty American pancakes with flavour AND fibre. I actually found the first few a bit too thick for my Aussie girl liking, so thinned out the mixture with milk until I started getting the thinner, floppier pancakes I'm used to. I didn't have any maple syrup for the mixture or to drizzle over them, but I do have good old Aussie traditional golden syrup, which has always been my favourite for pancakes. Mmmmm.....look at that melting butter and dripping golden syrup flowing over the crispy pancake edges...
I've always wanted to do one of those stack-o-pancake photos, so I indulged myself. I'm quite happy with them. They look very moreish and evidently my family thought so; I've come home to only 2 left! Nic, thank you for a great recipe idea, and a way I can enjoy pancakes with a little less guilt.
Read on for the recipe:

Wholemeal buttermilk pancakes
Adapted (with thanks) from
Baking Sheet

2 cups wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp allspice
1 cup buttermilk
1 or 2 cups milk (depending on the thickness you prefer)
2 eggs
2 tbsp melted butter
4 tbsp golden syrup (or maple)

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and allspice in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, milk, egg, butter and maple syrup. You can prepare up to this stage in advance and keep both bowls in the fridge overnight to have pancakes without fuss for breakfast the next morning.

Pour into dry ingredients and stir until just barely combined (still lumpy).

Heat a lightly greased frying pan over medium-high heat. Drop batter in in rounds. (Nic suggests 3 inches, but I think mine were a bit bigger and misshapen!) Cook about 1 1/2 minutes per side, until browned. Second side will take slightly less time than the first side. Serve drowing in syrup, or with savoury toppings.

Makes approx: 12.

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Raspberry and coconut slice

I had a function for which I had to "bring a plate" (have you also ever wanted to turn up with an empty plate..?), and I've been in an old-fashioned slice making mood. Slices are the best things to bring along to events like this, because you can cut them into easily manageable bite-sized portions. The small squares are also an excuse to make something as gooey and rich as you dare. At least, that's my excuse. ;-)
I had frozen raspberries, and I found this recipe in "
Sweet Food", the book with the oh-so-pretty photos, but absolutely shameful index and totally random order of recipes. Whoever edited this book should be embarrassed. As a librarian I appreciate a good index. They're getting rarer nowdays. (Incidentally, in very dorky librarian style, I've created my own index for this book. Let me know if you want a copy....)

The flavours in this recipe work really well; the tart raspberries are a great flavour bomb. However, this slice was waaaaay sweet. I had already cut down the amount of sugar in the recipe from 2 cups to 1.5, but it could have easily gone down to 1 cup. It was far too sweet for me, but there were others who loved it. So.....who knows? I also cut down the amount of butter, because an entire block for biscuit base? I don't think so! I think I used about half, and it was just fine. I do like this baking book, but I have noticed they tend towards excessive amounts of flour, butter and sugar in their recipes and I think you have to approach them with a critical eye. If you know a little about baking you know what reductions and substitutions you can get away with. I think I'm finally reaching that stage.
Unfortunately, after I'd chilled it and started slicing it, I noticed that it wasn't fully cooked in the middle. I had some very sloppy pieces that I couldn't use, and many of the pieces I did use could have used a little extra time in the oven. Keep that in mind if you try making it.
So, all up, it was a popular slice, and it was all eaten at the afternoon tea, but for me, it could be improved. The sharp raspberry flavour could really be brought out, rather than hiding under all that sugar.
Read on for the recipe:

Raspberry and coconut slice

280g (2 1/4 cups) plain flour
3 tablespoons ground almonds
500g (2 cups) caster sugar*
250g butter, chilled**
1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoons baking powder
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 tablespoon lemon juice
300g (2 1/2 cups) fresh or frozen raspberries
90g (1 cup) dessicated coconut
icing sugar to dust

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Grease a 20x30cm shallow tin and line with baking paper.

Sift 220g (1 3/4 cups) flour into a bowl. Add the ground almonds and 125g (1/2 cup) of the caster sugar and stir to combine. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Press the mixture into the tin and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden. Reduce the oven to 150 C (300F).

Sift the nutmeg, baking powder and the remaining flour into a bowl. Beat the eggs, vanilla and remaining sugar with electric beaters for 4 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Fold in the flour with a large spoon. Stir in the lemon juice, raspberries and coconut and pour over the base.

Bake for ~1 hour, or until golden and firm. Chill in the tin, then cut into pieces. Dust with icing sugar.
Makes 30 pieces.

* I would recommend reducing this to a total of 250g/1 cup.
**This amount can be reduced by about half.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

The best muffins you'll ever have (ie lemon ricotta ones)

Ok, I admit I totally stole that heading from the blog where I found this recipe. With a title like that, you'd be interested too? I can't remember how I found it, but I think I was looking for ways to use up some fresh ricotta in the fridge and I found this recipe for lemon & ricotta muffins, that would be apparently the best things I'll ever have.
The recipe comes from the Italian-American TV chef, Giada de Laurentiis, who looks totally like a catwalk model. I was pretty dubious of her when I first caught her show, "Everyday Italian". How could somebody who looked like a stick figure fashion plate know anything about good food? My Italo-American tv chef tastes run more toward the grandmotherly Lidia Bastianich. However, after just one episode of Giada's show I had to eat my words. This girl knows what she's doing, and I picked up a swag of tips and new info in a single episode. So, when I saw this recipe was from one of her shows, I knew it'd be a good one.

The combination of ricotta and lemon juice & zest makes these muffins really light. I substitued 1/2 cup of the flour for ground almonds, because I had them, and I thought they'd make them even more light and moist. That worked really well, but I don't think it's essential. The almond essence gives it that aromatic whiff of something very European. Kind of like the smell you get when you walk past a Continental cakeshop. I reckon these would be the perfect thing to take to a women's-only morning tea or brunch. We all know that women want something sweet, but don't want to be seen tucking into something over the top (hmm, at least that's what I've noticed). Well, these look and taste really light and healthy, which I think would be a big attraction for the girls.
I made these to have on hand at breakfasts for my Danish visitors this week. I didn't have time in the days just before their arrival, so I whipped them up a week earlier and stuck them in the freezer. They freeze beautifully, so they're great for making in advance. The Danes enjoyed them very much. :-)
Read on for the recipe:

Nonna's Lemon Ricotta Biscuits (muffins)
from Giada de Laurentiis

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 12 muffins

1.5 cups plain flour

1/2 cup ground almonds (or extra 1/2 cup flour)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar or more as needed for sprinkling
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup thinly sliced almonds (optional)

Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/ 175 degrees C.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup sugar, butter, and lemon zest in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the ricotta. Beat in the egg, lemon juice, and almond extract. Add the dry ingredients and stir just until blended (the batter will be thick and fluffy).

Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle the almonds and then the remaining 1 teaspoon of sugar over the muffins. Bake until the muffins just become pale golden on top, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Danish gifts

Well, the Danes have now gone and I'm feeling bereft and miserable. In the 5 days with us we became very close and shared many aspects of our lives. I felt we made 30 new best friends and then they just went away and left us! We miss them.
Besides being one of the best, most exciting choral groups I've ever heard, they were also unformly gorgeous. Evidently there's not the same social stigma about classical music and choirs over there. The women looked like magazine models, and had brought the most incredible fashions with them. I would never have packed purple high heels to go on a choir tour, but hey, go the glam. The boys, oooooh, the boys. They looked like members of the Danish winter olympics team and, whenever the sun came out, whipped off their shirts to walk around topless. Heeeeelllllo! I'm moving to Denmark!
It was also great hearing the Danish language, which truly sounds like Martian-speak to us. They opened and ended their concert with a beautiful traditional Danish folksong, I Danmark er jeg fodt, so as a surprise for them one of us transcribed all the words by listening to their CD and wrote them down phonetically. At their farewell dinner we sang it back to them; yeah, there were many tears in the house. :-)

I also received many gifts from them as thanks for helping organise and host the choir members. Above you can see the present from one of the girls who stayed with me. It's a 4 year old organic balsamic apple vinegar, and it tastes incredible. It's from a line of products endorsed by the Danish celebrity chef, Claus Meyer (the Danish version of Gary Rhodes, I was told). I've already started splashing it over everything in sight, and this may seem really off, but it is outstanding on good vanilla icecream. It's interesting; the apple flavour is really enhanced, but the creaminess of the icecream tempers the acidity, so it tastes like incredibly good tangy apple flavoured icecream. Very highly recommended.
Next to it you can see a handmade glass bowl, made by Pernille Bülow which my other guest bought at a store, Illums Bolighus, I visited on the Strøget in Copenhagen when we were there in 2004. A store where it was too expensive to even breathe. Danish design is wonderful, and available everywhere over there, but cheap it aint. So, to be given something from that store was very special.
I also received some more Danish design in the form of designer pot stands for my kitchen. (Check out the amazing water jugs!!) The boys even got items from Georg Jensen; yikes! Pretty excellent gifts, with a really local flavour; and especially appropriate for me and my love of anything to do with the kitchen. It somewhat eased the pain of their departure, but not entirely. However, we're so keen to maintain our ties that it now looks like we'll be going back to Copenhagen in a few months. We weren't planning to tour that far north, but it's too good an opportunity to pass up. We found a learn to speak Danish website today. I'd better start brushing up; the plan is to be fluent by September! Lol!

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Danes are coming!!!

The Danes are coming!! Yes, it sounds just like that Aussie phrase used by farmers in drought areas. That's why it's funny! Ahem. Well, I thought so. :-)
No, this has nothing to do with cartoons or disturbing violent protests but that fact that the Danish choir who hosted my group when we toured Europe in 2004 are coming to Australia, and we're hosting them here in Melbourne. I fully admit it was watching the royal wedding that prompted us to approach the Danish people (hey, we're going to be in the area. Want to organise some concerts for us? And can we stay in your homes? No, you don't know who we are... But we're Aussies and you love us at the moment!) and they showed us wonderful hospitality in the beautiful cities of Copenhagen and Odense. Yep, with an Aussie crown princess, we get along with the Danes very well!

In turn, they've asked us to reciprocate, and one of the boys I stayed with is coming to stay with me, which is true reciprocation! So I may be a bit busy showing them the sights of Melbourne, Castlemaine, Woodend, the Great Ocean Road and introducing them to good Aussie BBQs, fish'n'chips by the sea, sponge cakes and pavlovas etc.etc. for the next 5 days; hence there may not be too much blogging going on.
If you're interested, their concert details in Australia can be found via their home page. Sorry, you've already missed their gigs in Sydney, but there's still Melbourne, country Victoria and Canberra to go, if you want to come along and hear a great group. Those Danes can get pretty good looking too, you know..... ;-)

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Old-fashioned Aussie cream sponge

Well, this is about the most romantic I got today. Isn't it such fun to realise how alone you are on Valentines Day and that you'll die alone in a damp room; a crazy old woman surrounded by cats and old newspapers? I was at home sick today as well so that was doubly jolly. Ok, /end maudlin navel-gazing!!
Basically, we have some very ancient heart-shaped cake tins that used to be owned by my grandmother, and they never get used. I'm not so into pink and hearts and fluffy sparkly things, so making a heart-shaped cake? Hah! Naah. But, it's Valentines day, and I had a long rehearsal tonight, so decided that if I was going to get wet, I may as well go swimming. A cake in the shape of loveheart to make you smile. For most of us it was the most romantic thing that happened all day!

I decided a few months ago that I wanted to make and post about a proper Australian sponge cake. I've been feeling a bit perplexed at strange cake-like items appearing in cookbooks and websites calling themselves sponge cakes when they are patently not. Take the Victoria Sponge. Now, I'm not familiar with the nomenclature of sponge cakes, but in my book a sponge cake does not include butter. In fact, it should not contain any fat. Therefore a Victoria Sponge, such as the one that appears in Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess, is not a sponge cake. Additionally, in my experience, a true sponge cake does not even include any wheat flour; instead it uses very fine cornflour and some custard powder to give it its light, airy texture. I don't know if this odd use of cornflour and custard powder is a very Aussie thing, but it's what gives you the type of sponge cake you get when you do a concert in the country and the little old ladies of the Country Womens' Association have made a big spread for your supper afterwards. I tell you, the little old lady who made the sponge cake I tasted after a gig in a little no-traffic-light town in Western Victoria 4 years ago is a baking angel!

Sponge cakes are still big in the baking competition section (check out some of those cake categories!) of the Royal Melbourne Show. Apparently it's the most competitive section and the same competitors have been entering for decades, so it's not worth even contemplating submitting your own. (I've heard that the 'orange cake: top iced' category is in threat, so if you're considering an entry, show your support and try to keep that one alive!) A simple sponge cake filled with jam and whipped cream and passionfruit is about as Australian as it gets. Bar the lamingtons , pavs and Iced VoVos. I have some foreign guests arriving this week, so have another heart shaped sponge tucked away in the freezer. I figure that with a BBQ of lamb chops followed by sponge cake they're getting a pretty good intro into traditional Australian food!

I couldn't immediately locate my great-grandmother's sponge cake recipe in her handwritten book, so I turned to this excellent article that appeared in The Age Epicure in 2004. The article, questioning why we don't make sponges any more, prompted the staff of the workplace I was in to establish their own in-house sponge cake competition. Please keep your applause to a minimum as I inform you that I won that competition, even though I was only the work-experience girl! ;-) I didn't use the recipe in the article, but this time I did and I think it's even better than my original. Read it for some very good baking tips. I also feel a bit smug by saying that the pastry chef who wrote the article also made my 21st birthday cake, but I don't think she was nearly as well-known then...

Sponges are delicate, and many people think they're too hard to attempt because they'll collapse. I haven't found that, and let me point out that despite my successful sponges last night, I also managed to bake a completely flat walnut cake and some floppy, uncooked Anzac biscuits. Sponges are therefore foolproof! In fact, I had imagined sandwiching my two tins together, but both rose so high that I was able to cut each in half and have enough for two.

Now: fillings. You don't want to get too experimental with fillings. Jam, some whipped cream and dusted with icing sugar is about as good as it gets. Tangy passionfuit icing on top is also pretty damn good. I spread my base with some cranberry sauce I had left from Christmas, and crushed some strawberries with sugar and a spoonful of rosewater which I folded into some whipped cream. Even though I only used a little rosewater, the flavour clearly came through. Be careful with it if you don't want to be reminded of a grandmother's dressing table. Dusted with icing sugar, this was as light, airy and girlishly romantic as you can get. It went down very well indeed.
Read on for the recipe:

Old-fashioned Aussie Sponge Cake
Based on Cecilia Sartori's Passionfruit Sponge

5 eggs (large)
¾ cup castor sugar
½ cup custard powder
½ cup cornflour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder

• Preheat oven to 175C, lower if convection oven.
• Separate the whites and yolks, set yolks aside.
• Whisk the whites until soft peaks form, gradually adding the sugar. Add the yolks to the whisked whites, mixing until combined.
• Remove from the mixer and fold through the sieved dry ingredients.
• Transfer to the buttered and floured tin/s.
• Bake for 20-25 minutes for the small cakes or 35 minutes for the large.
•Yield: 2 x 20cm round tins or 1 x 28cm round tin

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Balloons ahoy

Click to enlarge
The scene from my bedroom window at 7.30am a few Sundays back. The Yarra river's hidden amongst those trees there. You wouldn't believe how much noise those balloons actually make when landing; luckily their beauty makes up for it!
We often see them floating around our suburb, but only once before has the wind been right to land so close to us.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Fetta Watermelon salad

A relatively old photo, this. This was my (now traditional) Christmas night salad, which we serve alongside lots of fresh oysters, prawns and smoked salmon, and cold ham, turkey and other leftovers. Christmas day this time was a pleasant, not-too-hot sunny day and we went out for a big lunch, so in keeping with tradition, our dinner that night was served late and was light and salady.
I first heard of this salad when I was working at a school a few years back. The majority of the teachers were big foodies and the school library had an enviable collection of the latest cookbooks - mainly for the teachers' benefit! This particular recipe comes from Nigella's Forever Summer, but variations are found all over the place. One teacher commented that she made this particular salad for friends and that it was amazingly good. The rest of us went "huh, really???", and thought it a bit too weird for us.

But I tried it a few months later, and it really is good. In fact, I'd go so far to say that I love the combination; the salty fetta works really well with the sweet, icy watermelon and then the piles of fresh coriander and mint provde flavour and bulk. The lime juice dressing just tops it off perfectly. In fact, I'm mostly responsible for polishing off that entire platter on my own. By that time of Christmas day it's about all I can cope with, and it's perfect when you have a few twinges of hunger but really can't cope with anything heavier. There's a very good reason why it's such a popular combination in the middle-east. I believe the watermelon & fetta combo manifests itself in many salady dishes in that area. Perfect for summer. Do try it.
Read on for the recipe:

Watermelon, Feta and Black Olive Salad
from Forever Summer.
"As improbable as it might sound, this combination is utterly fantastic, both savoury and refreshing at the same time."

1 small red onion
2-4 limes, depending on juiciness
1.5 kg (3.5 pounds) sweet, ripe watermelon
250g (9 oz) feta cheese
bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
bunch fresh mint, chopped
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
100g (4 oz. 1/2 cup) pitted black olives
black pepper

Peel and halve the red onion and cut into very fine half-moons and put in a small bowl to steep with the lime juice, to bring out the transparent pinkness in the onions and diminish their rasp. Two limes' worth should do it, but you can find the fruits disappointingly dried up and barren when you cut them in half, in which case add more.

Remove the rind and pips from the watermelon, and cut into approximately 4cm triangular chunks, if that makes sense (maths is not my strong point). Cut the feta into similar sized pieces and put them both into a large, wide shallow bowl. Tear off sprigs of parsley so that it is used like a salad leaf, rather than a garnish, and add to the bowl along with the chopped mint.

Tip the now glowingly puce onions, along with their pink juices over the salad in the bowl, add the oil and olives, then using your hands toss the salad very gently so that the feta and melon don't lose their shape. Add a good grinding of black pepper and taste to see whether the dressing needs more lime. Hava Negila! The taste of Tel Aviv Sunshine!

Serves 8

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Scallops & pea puree

Last week I was in the tea room at work, lunch in one hand, looking over the various gossip magazine that we so enjoy...Womans Day, New Idea, Take Five..... I've become quite a fan of these quality publications and look forward to sitting down to read of Brangelina's latest follies or which two-bit soapie starlet might be pregnant. You wouldn't think it of us serious, bun-wearing, glasses-toting librarians, would you?
Anyway, it was with quite some shock that I realised I had actually read every single magazine in the room already!! Plus the ones I'd supplied from my grandmother's spare bedroom. Like, oh god, how like, totally embarrassing.

So, it was with some relief that I found another magazine nearby. A newbie. One I hadn't seen yesterday, and probably wouldn't see the next day cos somebody would souvenir it for themselves (ahem, just like I did). It was an Australian foodie magazine called Delicious, apparently voted "the world's best food magazine". I am not very familiar with Delicious, having grown up a Gourmet Traveller girl, and now subscribe to Donna Hay, but once that subscription ends, I'm giving it the flick and switching to Delicious. This magazine really does it for me; lots of columns from celebrity chefs and TV cooks, both Aussie and international, great recipes, tips, info about new gadgets and excellent photography.
Anyway, I was flicking through enjoying myself at the winter recipes (oh no, it wasn't a current ed. We are talking tea room mags here!) and I found a section from Nigella - maybe this is why I like it so much? - about cooking for two. Geez, even when I'm not looking at Nigella, I get a Nigella recipe. For me that's testimony to how good she and her recipes are. These were quick after-work dinners to be made with the pressure off and to enjoy the cooking for what it is - just preparing good food to eat. She makes the very pertinent statement about the way that we treat cooking nowdays, that:
"People feel that cooking is something they do only when they have people over. How do you really learn to cook, or begin to enjoy it, if you have no practice in the everyday, and then have to pull together a drop-dead dinner for 10?"
Very true. I have to admit I'm far more comfortable cooking elaborate meals for myself and my family rather than ever creating something for company. I tend to freeze up in those situations, and try to avoid them.

One of the recipes she included was for pan-seared scallops with a garlic & rosemary infused pea puree. The photo looked lovely, I had all the ingredients at home, and I knew I'd be just cooking for myself that night - so I quietly dropped the magazine into my bag and crept from the room....
I used frozen scallops for this, as I had bought a bag from a great wholesale fishmonger nearby a few months ago. They have really cheap oysters too - about $7 for a dozen! I find the frozen scallops perfectly adequate, although maybe a tad salty. I'd certainly buy them again as they're a good thing to keep in the freezer for quick meals, or to whip up some little gorgeous thing.
I have to admit I didn't find this as quick as she portrayed it. It was just a tad tedious, especially making the infused oil, but all up the whole dish didn't take more than about 30-40 minutes. You don't have to do the oil this way - you could just add some garlic and butter to the peas, but this little touch made the meal taste like restaurant food. It brought something from the everyday up a notch to something really special. I recommend doing it. I also topped it with a splodge of home-made pesto I'd also whipped up that night. A great touch! Because I made it just for me, I had enough leftovers for the next day. You can't imagine how much I was looking forward to lunch all through the next morning.
This is simple and so effective. The restaurant-tasting garlicky, herby pea puree, and the clean, salty scallops is a winner combo. It could be an elegant first course as part of a larger, more formal meal (I think it'd be perfect for a romantic dinner) or just a weeknight meal in itself. It's not a 15 minute, chuck everything in the wok, dinner on the table in 5, typical weeknight meal. It does require a bit more effort, but that small effort really pays off.

Read on for the recipe:

Scallops with pea puree
By Nigella Lawson, by way of Delicious magazine

1 garlic clove, peeled
15cm sprig of fresh rosemary
1/3 cup (80ml) olive oil
4 cups (500g) frozen peas
6-8 scallops (I used about 15, but they were small)
1 tbl cornflour
Lemon wedges, to serve

Put the garlic, sprig of rosemary and olive oil into a small saucepan and heat gently over low heat for about 1-2 minutes until the oil starts to fizz and bubble. Turn off the heat and leave it to infuse.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, and cook the peas for a little longer than usual – about 5-6 minutes – then drain.
Tip the cooked peas into a good processor and add ¼ cup (60ml) of the infused oil. Process until peas are a pureed mush, season to taste, then return peas to the pan they were cooked in and cover with a lid to keep warm.
Slice the scallops in half through the middle, so you have 2 slim discs from each. Remove the rosemary sprig from the oil and pick off its leaves. Return the leaves to the oil. Heat the remaining tablespoon of the garlic & rosemary oil in a heavy frying pan over high heat.
Season the cornflour with salt and pepper, then dust the scallop halves briefly (this makes them crispy on the outside) before frying them in the oily pan. Cook the scallops for about 1 minute on each side until light golden.
Divide the pea puree between 2 plates or shallow bows, then add the hot scallops from the pan. Serve with lemon wedges

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Kit Kat Canteloupe

See others in the funny Japanese Kit Kat flavour series here: Strawberry, Caffe Latte, Noir, Blackcurrant (actually grape, I have been informed. Still v.revolting), Maple Syrup, Wine.

Well, I have been a bit lax in finishing my roundup of the funny flavoured Kit Kats I found in Japan. And this was my favourite I was saving up.
I have to admit I didn't actually find this one myself. By sheer coincidence, my brother also left for a holiday in Japan the very same morning as I did. He found a special deal for a holiday at a ski resort near Sapporo, in the north of Japan, and was variously attached to his snowboard, and the local bars for a week. It was a strange feeling knowing my brother was in the same country as me on New Years Eve, on the other side of the world, and yet not being able to contact him.

On his last day he went wild in the local supermarket practically clearing out their chocolate shelves of all the things he found as funny as I did - especially anything with the name "Crunky" on it. *Snort*. He found this Rockmelon/Canteloupe flavoured Kit Kat up there. I didn't see anything like it down in the south of Japan, so maybe it was a northern thing. Maybe it was old stock (it was the top of a mountain...). Who knows. I'm just happy he brought it home for me, knowing that I was on a Krayzee Kit Kat Kaper.

Despite the totally scary lurid orange colour, which is a sure-fire way to put you off immediately, this was actually a real favourite. The flavour of this was really just like canteloupe! It was strongly flavoured, yet subtle, and didn't have that fake chemical taste of the other fruit flavours we tried (ahem....strawberry). Pity about the colour, because man, I hate to think what that does to the inside of my stomach. I think the Japanese really value the taste of melons, because I saw a lot over there packaged up practically in cotton wool and silk sheets, and which cost a fortune, so that may be reflected in the quality of the melon-flavoured Kit Kat?

Like everything in Japan, their Kit Kats are individually packaged. You can't even buy a packet of biscuits without opening it to discover each biscuit in its own little pastic sachet. It caused us no end of entertainment watching the trail of plastic we'd leave behind to get to something totally random, like a rice snack. The Kit Kat bars you buy actually contain two separate, individually wrapped bars of 2 fingers each. I still have one of the bars left, and I'm going to see how long I can hold out before wolfing it down.
No, it's not a "real" chocolate bar, but it's really, really good, and very different. Unusual. Very Noice.

My score: 8.5 out of 10
Friend's score: 8 out of 10

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Tomato & Fetta thingo

Wow, my eloquence astounds me. But I'm not really sure what to call this without descending into menu-ese. This is something my godfather showed me years ago, one hot summer, explaining that it was a dish eaten in Greece when the weather is really hot. Although my godfather is from Rome, he was born in Egypt and has family living in Greece, so I trust his provenance on this! I imagine this sort of combintion of ingredients is pretty popular all around the Mediterranean and Middle-East.

This dish really only works when tomatoes are at their ripest and juiciest, and is just the sort of thing to eat under an umbrella on a balcony on a hot, sunny day. Get yourself some fetta cheese - we recommend Bulgarian fetta over any other type (including Greek) as it has a less aggressive flavour and creamier texture. It's not expensive. Don't even try the Aussie stuff sold in supermarkets that tastes of salt and has the texture of polystyrene. Before I store mine in the fridge, I drizzle it with olive oil to stop it going rancid too quickly.

So, mash up your fetta (as much as you want) with a fork in a bowl. Dice a ripe, red tomato into small bits and add to the fetta, along with a glug of olive oil and lots of freshly cracked black pepper and just mix it up. I always add some kind of herb too. I think I was first shown this using fresh basil, which is wonderful, but this time I used some home-dried oregano (dried by my godmother's Calabrian mum), which is more in keeping with the Greek idea of the thing. Anyway, I didn't have any basil.
I'm not so sure the Greeks serve this on top of toasted sourdough, but I guess they probably eat it with bread. It's best when the ingredients have come straight from the fridge in my opinion, as the chill is what you want on a hot day. I'm not so keen on it at warm, sloppy room temperature. Yes, perhaps it doesn't look so appetising, but the taste is just great. To my amazement even my brother, who just does not eat fresh tomato (yes, crazy!) really enjoyed it as well.

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