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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Prune (shhhh!) & Whisky cake

I'd been meaning to make this cake for months. I'd had it bookmarket, printed out, sitting on the recipe book shelf...everything, since June last year. It comes from Esther of Full as a Goog; which was the first other Melbourne food blog I found. Finding her early last year, I suddenly didn't feel so alone. Since then there's been an explosion in the number of Melbourne-based foodblogs.
I had already made Esther's Guinness Stout Chocolate cake, and she wrote so enthusiastically about this prune & whisky cake that I had to try it and when I discovered an ailing bag of discarded prunes on the fridge door I decided not to throw them out. Like her, I reckon people have weirdo issues about prunes and running to the toilet, and most people don't know prunes are simply dried plums. I love prunes; they're great for snacking! So, taking her tip I announced to people that it was a plum and whisky cake, and they were none the wiser. And they had a bonus dietary fibre boost. ;-)

Everything Esther writes about this cake is true; it's moist and springy, and has a sticky lemon glaze to glam it up. It's full flavoured and spicy; not unlike gingerbread. In fact one friend simply couldn't be convinced there wasn't any ginger in the ingredients! Plus it looks so impressive baked in its Bundt or Kugelhopf tin. Somehow a cake baked in one of those tins looks like you've put in way more time and effort than you really have. Perfect dinner party tip!
I hadn't heard much about the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts before, but most people who asked about the recipe knew it well. Some kind of foodie I am!!

Read on for the recipe:

Prune and Whisky Cake
(adapted from the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts via Full as a Goog)

For the cake:
2 cups pitted prunes
0.25 cup scotch whisky
2 cups water
0.75 cup vegetable oil
1.5 cups packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2.75 cups white flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
0.5 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
0.5 tsp ground cardamon
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup buttermilk

For the glaze you need:
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
0.25 cup more scotch
0.25 cup liquid from the prune cooking

In a small saucepan, combine the prunes, whisky and water. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the prunes are very tender. Drain, keeping the liquid. Coarsely chop the prunes and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F/175C. Butter and flour a 10 inch bundt pan. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the oil and brown sugar with an electric mixer. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and other dry ingredients. Add the flour mixture the batter, beating until well blended. Pour in the buttermilk and beat until just smooth. Fold in the chopped prunes.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for at least an hour. If you stick a knife in it should come out clean. Now cool the cake in a pan for 10 minutes. Then invert onto a serving platter and cool for 15 minutes more - still in the tin. Then remove the pan.

To make the glaze - combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Cook on medium-high heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat. Pierce the top of the cake with a skewer or toothpick in 10 places. Slowly pour the glaze over the cake, allowing it to soak in.

Serve to ooohs and aaahs. (with or without mentioning what's in it.)

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Chocolate, date & almond torte

This is the cake I made for my birthday back in March...remember, when I didn't have a computer? I was looking for something a little different, and because a friend was going through a period of wheat-free, dairy-free eating, as prescribed by his so-called 'witch doctor', another friend suggested he should make this long-time family recipe for his birthday, which was wheat and almost dairy-free. He didn't get around to it (ultimately buying a very excellent berry & soy custard flan from Silly Yak's), but because the recipe looked so good I gave it a go for my own birthday a few days later.
The whole cake only has 5 ingredients: dates, whole almonds, chocolate, sugar and egg whites and you simply chuck things into a food processor until "chunky" and fold them through a meringue. Incidentally, Kelly from The Occasional Epicure alerted me to the existence of frozen eggwhites, in the supermarket. Excellent idea.
It sounds simple, but this cake blew everyone away. Its texture and taste were so different that it's been one of the most popular things we've had at rehearsal this year (I seem to take most of my baked goods to rehearsals. As does Belinda. Those singers do get very spoilt!)
It's quite dense and chunky, but held together by the meringue and the sticky dates. In a fit of organic awareness, I bought my ingredients at a local organic supermarket, but after I paid $20 for a handful of dates and $10 for a small bag of almonds, I wasn't quite prepared to pay $34 a kilo for dark chocolate. I'm afraid I turned to Nestle Club for that because it was on special at the local shop! Fearing a lack of intense cocoa flavour from my not-quite-70% cocoa solids cheap-as chocolate, I jacked up the flavour with a few spoonfuls of Dutch cocoa powder.

Funny story: after I went out and bought all the ingredients, I came home to find that I'd left the recipe at work. I stood there in the kitchen in a dither. There was no way I wasn't going to make this thing now, after spending a week's salary on ingredients. I considered phoning my friend, until I realised she was off traipsing through mud in the countryside, so that option was out. I turned to my cookbooks to find any sort of tips on cooking similar style tortes with meringue bases, and what do you know...the first one I turn to in Stephanie Alexander's Cook's Companion is basically the same recipe as my friend's long-time family treasure, without the almonds! Saved! I was saved from ignominy!
Because I'm not on a dairy-free diet, I covered mine in whipped cream, and gave my friend his own mini version. Admittedly, his looked a bit like a wombat turd, so keep that in mind when considering presentation ideas....

This piece had been in the fridge for quite a few days. It keeps excellently...apart from the cream!
Read on for the recipe:

Chocolate, date & almond torte

6 egg whites
200g caster sugar
200g dates, stoned
200g dark chocolate
200g whole almonds, with skin on

-Preheat oven to 180c, and grease a 24cm springform tin well
-Place dates in a food processor and chop. Be quick and careful, because dates can turn into mush in the blink of an eye. Remove chopped dates.
-Add the almonds and chocolate and chop until "chunky".
-Beat egg whites until stiff, then slowly beat in sugar to form a soft meringue.
-Fold in dates, almonds and chocolate. Tip mixture into tin and bake for 1 hour.
-Turn off oven but leave cake in until oven is cold. Leave cold cake in tin overnight to soften before serving covered in whipped cream or mascarpone and berries, nuts etc.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Deviated Fishcakes

I made these ages ago. Like Christmas-time. And the photo's just been sitting there languishing away. It's not the prettiest shot, so there's a good reason why.
I'd never got around to posting about these fishcakes, because, although I went by Nigella's recipe in "Feast" I changed it so much along the way that I could hardly remember what I'd done, and whether they even vaguely resembled the fishcakes she described. Anyway, I found her recipe on the internet, and have included it below.

The ones you see above were made with (hmm....thinking way back here)...tinned tuna. Not even plain tinned tuna, but one of those tins of flavoured lemon and herb tuna. Yes, I know they would have been better with tinned salmon, but we had tuna and I was looking for something to use up the mashed potato we had. I think there was parsley in the potatoes, because I can see green bits. Really, fish cakes are pretty much about using up leftovers, so I suggest treating all recipes as mere guidlelines for going it alone.
No matzo meal in our house either, so I did the egg wash and breadcrumb thing; using a combination of those lung-clogging fluro orange sawdusty things, and some crunchy Japanese panko crumbs. I also couldn't be bothered standing over a pan frying them, so threw them in a hot oven for a bit. I dunno...20 minutes? It does mean they don't turn crunchy and oily and golden, but it also means they are healthier. And less work, really.
One thing that held true for my deviated Nigella fishcakes; yes, the raw mixture smells revolting. It really does. Kind of puts you off wanting to cook them, but truly, once they're done, they are very tasty.
As you can see I served these with mayonnaise and tomato sauce. The only time I have willingly consumed tomato sauce in the past...oooh....10 years? I hate the sickly sweet stuff...turning my nice savoury food into a dessert. But with these, it just seemed appropriate. And it worked (in very, very small quantities!)
Read on for the recipe:

Salmon Fishcakes
Nigella Lawson "Feast"
For the fishcakes:
1 1/2-2 1/4 cold mashed potatoes
14-15 ounces of canned salmon
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter, melted (if the mashed potato hasn't got any butter in it)
Fat pinch of cayenne pepper
Grated zest of half a lemon
Salt and pepper
1 egg
For coating and frying:
2 eggs
1/2 cups of matzo meal, preferably medium
1/4 cups of unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

In a large bowl, mix together all the fishcake ingredients (preferably with your hands).

Cover a baking sheet with plastic wrap, plunge your hands back into the mixture and form fat, palm-sized patties. Place these on the baking sheet and put in the refrigerator to firm up for about 20 minutes to an hour--or considerably longer, if that helps.

Beat the eggs in a shallow soup bowl and sprinkle the matzo meal onto a dinner plate. One by one, dip the fishcakes into the beaten egg and then into the matzo meal, sprinkling and dredging over, as you help coat them. When you're done, put the butter and oil in a large frying pan, heat till it begins to fizzle and then fry the fishcakes on each side, until the crusts are golden and speckled brown in parts, and the soothing centers are warmed through.

Makes seven to nine three-inch diameter fishcakes

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Storm o' muffins...

The conservatorium where we rehearse every Saturday morning was having a garage sale; lots of old sheet music, opera scores, junk from the classrooms, old computers... We thought we'd cash in on the fact we'd be there rehearsing and set up a muffin stall, as we're trying hard to raise money for our 2nd European tour in September. It's pretty easy to whip up a batch of muffins, and the plan was to sell them for $2 each. Even some of the non-cooking blokes got involved; my favourite was my friend who hasn't baked for 20 years, in fact had never turned on his oven (I used to think it'd be the safest place in the world to hide valuables), but who turned up with a batch of rather yummy strawberry cheesecake muffins. All thanks to his housemate assistant!
I went a bit overboard - as usual - and covered for a few of us who weren't able to produce something - and did 3 batches. I guessed a lot of people would do the blueberry, choc chip variations, so I decided on a savoury cheese & bacon muffin. I also whipped up a maple syrup and pecan batch - more cup-cake than muffin - from the copy of Donna Hay's Modern Classics 2 I bought at the uni market this week. And because I had some wheat-free, dairy-free, egg-free, everything-free bread mix at home, I did a batch of cranberry & white chocolate muffins for allergy people.

Yeah, so we had razzer a lot of muffins...!

The unfortunate thing was that, during the hours we were around, very few people turned up to the sale! And we were also competing against the student cake stall (not much competition, to be honest) and a very successful bacon & egg sandwich stall....yum!
Although, we did manage to made $220, which is not bad. About 1 night's accommodation for one person in Rome, but hey, it all helps!
I have to commend my friend's peanut butter & Snickers muffins, courtesy of Nigella, but we noticed that they tended towards dryness. If you make them, watch out for that. In fact, muffins sitting out in the cold and wind for a few hours does them no favours. If we had a microwave by our side they would have really jumped back into life. My maple syrup and pecan cakes had great flavour (although a little too sweet for me), but a much better texture after being zapped for 15 seconds.

The best of my bunch I made were the cheese & bacon lot. I used the basic muffin recipe in the new edition of Stephanie Alexander's Cook's Companion. A great idea, to have a basic muffin to which you can add any sort of sweet or savoury flavouring. I used good bacon, and a bit of tomato relish, and they had great flavour. My brother reckoned they needed a bit more cheese, but he reckons a bit more cheese is the answer to everything. He might have been right, although maybe the trick is to use a stronger cheese rather than more cheese. I'm thinking Mersey Valley would work really well. Again, these have a better texture warm, rather than cold.
I've included the recipes for the cheese & bacon and maple syrup & pecan muffins, but not for the allergy ones. Mainly because they weren't that great (awful texture, although I was assured that was normal for those sorts of mixes) and not many of you will have unusual wheat/dairy/egg free bread mix in your cupboards.
Read on for the recipes:

Cheese & bacon muffins
Adaped from Stephanie Alexander, 'The Cook's Companion'.

120g wholemeal self-raising flour
100g white self-raising flour (or use all white)
150g grated cheese (I used cheddar & parmesan)
3/4 cup milk (or buttermilk)
1 egg
1/2 cup vegetable oil
~3 slices of bacon, fried until crispy, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons tomato relish

-Preheat oven to 180C and grease a 12-cup muffin tin
-Mix flours, cheese in a large bowl.
-Combine milk, egg, oil and relish in a jug and whisk lightly.
-Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid.
-Add the crumbled bacon, and mix lightly. Do not overmix. It will toughen the batter.
-Garnish each with a few spikes of rosemary, if you feel artistic
-Spoon batter in muffin cases until two-thirds full, then bake for 20-25 minutes or until browned on top.
-Remove tin from oven and turn muffins out onto a wire rack to cool. Best served warm.
Makes 12.

Maple Syrup & Pecan cakes
Adapted from Donna Hay, 'Modern Classics 2.'

90g softened butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 2/3 cups sifted plain flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
~100 grams pecans, lightly toasted and chopped

-Preheat the oven to 180C (350F)
-Beat the butter and both sugars until light and creamy.
-Add the eggs gradually and beat well.
-Add the milk, maple syrup, flour and baking powder and beat until just smooth.
-Fold in the pecans
-Spoon into muffin cases and decorate with half a pecan.
-Bake for 20 minutes, or until cooked, when tested with a skewer.
-Cool in the tins for 5 minutes. Transfer to a rack.
Makes 12.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Man food!

Ohmygaaaawd, did you hear that Orangette is marrying some boy who wrote fan mail to her about her blog??!! I'm a bit out of the loop 'cos I only just heard of this, but heck...love on the blogs! I don't know if this is wonderfully uplifting or a bit sad. I get some fan mail (and very lovely it is too), but only from girls. That's no use! :-) Hmmm...I'm guessing it's the cakiness of the blog. I'm not going to turn suddenly all meat-heavy on you, although it's actually more that way I eat. I really have more of a salt tooth than a sweet one, but baking is much more fun to photograph and blog about than some random chunk of steak I grilled with some broccoli. Yawn. There's no poetry in writing about a bit of chicken. There's poetry in baking things that people dream about.
My friends said they'd sabotage the site if I made any attempt to start trawling for a husband ("hello?!! Axe-murderers?! Crazy internet people!?! WEIRDOS?!"), so I'm not, although I'm yet to be convinced that there's a marauding team of crazy, internet murderers slavering over a foodblog about cakes! I have higher opinions of you than that! Maybe there's some fetish niche out there I don't know about; I do get some pretty suggestive Google references to my site.... But, still, it's good to know I'm so well protected. :-)
But, there you go. Somebody has proven you can find love on a foodblog, and that's a wonderful thing.

So, in a self-conscious meander away from baking, here's a BIG BLOKE savoury meat dish. No, I didn't whip it up especially for this post; it's something I made ages ago. I had this thing in my head (a "hot nut" in Anthony Bourdain-speak) about a chicken and chorizo stew. I didn't have a recipe for it, so I hunted around a bit on the internet and kind of played around with it from there. It should have used chicken thighs, but we only had breasts. Do try to use thighs, because they don't turn into balsa wood like breasts do (that sentence seems disturbingly suggestive) after long cooking. Thighs remain moist and juicy (there I go again...).
I'm not a big fan of chickpeas, but am coming around. This used a tin of them, and actually I loved it. I added a carrot and a few handfuls of spinach, just cos we had them. In fact, the whole dish was really great. It has really big, gutsy flavours. I didn't have Spanish smoked paprika, so I went heavy on the sweet Hungarian stuff and loved it. The chorizo was salty and punchy and I could have drunk the sauce like soup. My brother, who is pretty suspicious of the things I cook - "the stuff you cook is weird!" -was a big fan; reckoning that it tasted like Mexican food (???). Interesting. But, hey, if my very blokey brother liked it, I've done well in the appealing- to-men-thing. ;-) Definitely something I'd make again, especially as we seemed to have bypassed autumn and skidded into winter.
Read on for the recipe:

Chicken and Chorizo Stew
Adapted from a recipe on the website of the UK supermarket

Serves: 6
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely diced
1 carrot, sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika (or Hungarian)
1 teaspoon chilli powder
200g chorizo sausage, peeled and thickly sliced
1 organic chicken, cut into 6 pieces (chicken thighs are easier)
400g can chopped tomatoes
400g chickpeas, soaked for 24 hours, then boiled until half-cooked (I used a can)
1 bay leaf
Handful fresh spinach
salt and ground black pepper

Sauté the onion, carrot and garlic in the oil until soft. Stir in the cumin and paprika and fry for a few seconds before adding the chorizo. Fry until lightly coloured, then add the chicken, turning the pieces to ensure they are evenly coloured. Stir in the tomatoes, chickpeas, bay leaf and, if necessary, a little water. Season to taste and simmer gently for 40 minutes. Add the spinach at the last minute.

This recipe was first published on Waitrose.com in October 1999.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Low-fat!! Chocolate torte!!

This has to be the best low-fat chocolate cake I've ever tasted. It's no surprise that the recipe comes from Alice Medrich's "Chocolate & the art of low-fat desserts". I can't understand why this incredible book is out of print. I bought mine second-hand on eBay or Amazon, and it was a Very Good Decision. If you don't know much about Medrich or this book, do a bit of Google research - you'll probably end up placing an order yourself. I wrote a bit about her in my post about her low-fat chocolate birthday cake, and I've also tried her chocolate souffles and lemon blueberry cake (fabulous!).
A friend was having a girls night and asked if I could make something that was Weight Watchers compatible. I knew just the book to go to, and the recipe that I'd been wanting to try. Unlike the other Medrich low-fat recipes I've made, this one isn't too pedantic and tedious or involves 12 mixing bowls. I had it made and in the oven in about 10 minutes.

I think this recipe is just amazing. Basically it's a low-fat version of the flourless Chocolate Cloud Cake I made last year. But that one is WAY high in butter and eggs and calories. This one is butter-free and only contains 2 egg yolks. It's almost wheat-free too. And the taste and texture are just incredible. There is no way this tastes low-fat.
Medrich's recipe suggests serving this with her "enlightened whipped cream". Intrigued, I looked this up. Did you know that you can "extend" whipped cream by adding merinuge to it? What a great idea! Just beat up one egg white and 2 tablespoons of sugar and add it to your whipped cream. The amount you see on the cake is only 2/3 of a cup in total. The cream has a slightly different texture - lighter and more airy - but that was seen as a good thing by a few people who find plain whipped cream a bit too rich. Medrich has a concern about raw egg whites and includes a pretty tedious recipe for cooking them and making a cooked meringue, that frankly looked way too much work. We have a lower concern about salmonella and eggs here in Australia, so I ignored that and did a standard raw egg meringue. Nobody seemed to get sick...

Look at that texture! Melt in the mouth chocolate decadence, without the decadence. Ok, so we're not talking the fat count of a plate of steamed asparagus here, but as gooey chocolate cakes go, this is pretty damn good. There are 179 calories in each serve of cake (not sure how big that is) and 6.4g of fat. The enlightened whipped cream has 15.6 calories per tablespoon, and 1.38g of fat. I hate to think how many are in the full-fat version....
Read on for the recipe:

Fallen Chocolate Souffle Torte
Adapted from 'Chocolate & the art of Low-Fat Desserts'

1/4 cup ground almonds
3 tablespoons plain flour
3 ounces (90 grams) dark chocolate, chopped fine
1/2 cup Dutch cocoa
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoons brandy
4 egg whites
~1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Serves 10
1: Preheat oven to 375 F/ 190 C. Grease and line an 8 inch/20cm sprinform cake tin.
2: Combine chopped chocolate, cocoa and 3/4 cup of the sugar in a large mixing bowl. Pour in the boiling water. Whisk until mixture is smooth and chocolate is completely melted. Make sure any cocoa lumps are dissolved. Whisk in the egg yolks and brandy. Set aside.
3: Combine the egg whites and cream of tartar in a smaller mixing bowl. Beat until soft peaks form. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining sugar and beat on high speed until stiff. Whisk the flour and almonds into the chocolate. Fold about 1/4 of the egg white mixture into the chocolate mixture to lighten it then fold in the remaining egg whites. Pour into the cake pan.
4: Bake for 30-35 minutes until a skewer comes out with a few moist crumbs on it. Cool in the pan. The torte will sink - it's supposed to.

Medrich likes the look of the torte with just a dusting of icing sugar on top and enlightened whipped cream on the side. I chose to cover it in cream. Whatever your choice, here's the recipe:
Enlightened Whipped Cream
Adapted from "Chocolate & the art of Low Fat Desserts"

Pinch cream of tartar
1 egg white
2 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup cream
1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat the egg white and cream of tartar until soft peaks form then add the sugar. Beat until fairly stiff.
In another bowl beat the cream with the vanilla until fairly stiff. Add the meringue to the cream or vice versa. Easy!

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