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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Translucent apple tart

The smell when this is baking is utterly DIVINE. It's just a very simple apple tart with nothing special in its ingredients, but golly gosh and darn it if it isn't mouth-wateringly fabulous.
It's another Nigella special which, like most of her recipes, is adapted from another source: this time one of the doyennes of English cookery, Jane Grigson (her daugher, Sophie, who I find rather umm...scary, has her own TV cooking shows now).
The reason for the 'translucent' in the title is because the custard filling is made using melted butter instead of cream or milk, and is similar to what those in southern USA call a transparent pie. Rather than a chunky apple pie, this is light and delicate.
The other unusual thing about it, is that the apple is grated to make the filling, which was a bit of fun. The recipe calls for 1 apple, but I found that amount to be a bit meagre, plus I had a whole bowl of apples to use. In fact, I would consider doubling the filling next time, because it actually made a very shallow tart. Good for girls watching their calorie intake, but not for filling a hungry-hole!
You'll notice my pastry is a bit overcooked; I don't know if it's because I used Nigella's sweet pastry, which is totally delicious and I challenge you to not eat it all before you cook it (it's just like raw shortbread dough...mmmmm!). It's very high in butter, and I think my oven was a bit hot; hence the burning. If you have a fan-forced oven, maybe lower the temperature a bit for this delicate tart.
Read on for the recipe:

Translucent Apple Tart
from 'How To Eat,' Nigella Lawson, adapted from Jane Grigson's 'Fruit Book'.

1 quantity of sweet pastry, enough to line a shallow 23cm flan tin.
60g salted butter
60g caster sugar
few drops vanilla extract (or use vanilla sugar)
1 egg
1-2 apples, peeled and grated - preferably sour i.e. Granny Smith.

-Preheat oven to 210C
-Melt butter and sugar together over a very low heat, so they are barely warm. Remove from stove and beat in the egg.
-Add the grated apple and stir thoroughly into the butter mixture. You may prefer to wait until last minute to peel and grate the apple, to prevent any browning.
-Pour and spread over the pastry-lined tin and bake for about 15 minutes, until golden brown. Lower the heat for 180C and cook a fruther 15-20 minutes until golden on top.
-It is best to wait until the tart has settled a little before eating it. Warm is better than hot, but cold is also good.
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Thursday, August 24, 2006

(Vegetarian) Eggplant Moussaka

NB: Description of and other uses for pomegranate molasses here: berry cakes, pistachio cakes, Tarte Tatin and salmon kebabs.

I made this a few weeks ago when I was trying out a few healthy/low-fat dishes from Nigella's How To Eat. I was looking for a lamb stew to cook for a meeting being held at my house, so I was flicking through the Cooking in Advance chapter and fell upon this. It's not moussaka as I've always had it: eggplant with minced lamb and creamy bechamel, but a vegetarian Lebanese version, like a ratatouille with pomegranate molasses. I love eggplant and I love the tart sweetness of pomegranate molasses (makes a wicked summer drink mixed with soda water), plus the whole recipe was vegetarian, which appealed to me: I could eat this on its own or as a side dish when I was craving meat (which is often! Sometimes I wonder if I'm more closely linked with the cavemen than other girls!).

It's dead easy to make, especially if you use tinned tomatoes, which I can always justify, especially when it's the middle of winter. The only thing is, the main aspect that piqued my interest in the recipe, the pomegranate molasses, was the bit I didn't like! The whole dish came out too sweet. I thought it was just me, because I'm not one for sweet-tasting savoury food or sweet & sour anything (chutney - bleah!) but a few others had the same thought: too sweet, almost like vegetable dessert. I had doubled the recipe, so used 3 tablespoons of the molasses. I'd recommend adding it in small quantities and tasting as you go. You can always add more, but taking it away was a challenge. I found that adding plain yoghurt or sour cream helped with flavour, and also with the slight acidity from the tomatoes. Maybe longer cooking was needed for that, but watch that your eggplant doesn't completely turn into mush.

If you have it, definitely add fresh coriander at the end. Great flavour.
So, taste and go carefully the first time you do it and I think you'll like it. It's certainly something useful to have in the fridge.
Read on for the recipe:

Eggplant Moussaka
Adaped from Nada Saleh's "Fragrance of the Earth" via Nigella Lawson.

500g eggplants
5 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 onions (about 250g), peeled and sliced thinly
10-12 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole, or cut thickly
150g chick peas, soaked, rinsed, drained and precooked (tinned is fine for me!)
1 1/2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
500g tomatoes, rinsed, peeled, seeded and quarted (or tinned!)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoons allspice
1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper
200ml water
parsley, coriander or mint.

-Trim the eggplants and peel "to look like Edwardian circus tents" - i.e. leaving lengthways stripes about 1 1/4 cm wide.
-In a large, wide pan heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium heat and saute the eggplant for a few minutes until lightly browned. Remove to a side dish lined with kitchen paper.
-To the empty pan add the remaining oil, onions and garlic and saute, stirring constantly, until pale and soft - about 5 minutes. You may need to add more oil.
-Add the chickpeas and stir occasionally for 5 minutes, then add the pomegranate molasses.
-Return the reserved eggplants to the pan and add the tomatoes, salt, cinnamon, allspice and black pepper then add the water. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to moderately low. Cover and simmer for about an hour. If using a large, shallow pan they may be ready after 45 minutes.
-Serve warm or cold, sprinkled with chopped parsley, coriander or mint and a dollop of plain yoghurt.
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Friday, August 18, 2006

Kit Kat Milkshake!

Remember that series I did earlier in the year about the funny Kit Kat flavours I found in Japan? What fun we had! Well, amongst the many comments I received from you, telling me in detail about what Kit Kat flavours you could get in your country (bastards!) somebody emailed me and offered to send me some from the USA!!! How cool is that? What a legend! I was more than keen to try some more Krazy Kit Kats, and since then we've started up a bit of a cross-cultural confectionary exchange. Very cool. Just for the record - I'm very open to offers from other readers.... ;-)
I feel guilty, because it's been months since I received these, but you all know I'm lazy. This fabulous reader sent me example of a Milkshake Kit Kat and Kit Kat Triple Chocolate in miniature and a King Size Crispy model because, as she wrote,
"Americans just aren't fat enough!"
She also sent (and this was the highlight for me) something like 10 pounds of different flavoured Hershey's Kisses. I love this woman. I love Hershey's Kisses, and yes I know the chocolate quality sucks and yes, I know, it makes me cough, but I still love it. In my package I received plain, dark chocolate, cherry cordial (ooh!), peanut butter and caramel. The cherry cordial ones were funky - in a bad way. They tasted just like that cherry flavoured cough syrup all Aussie kids had to take when they were young. Ewwww. The peanut butter flavour tasted just like Reese's pieces (mmmm), but my favourite was the plain. There must have been something like 1000 kisses (slight exaggeration) and I'd say they were all I lived on for about a week. Fabulous.

But what did I think of the Kit Kats? Well, I have to say I wasn't terribly excited by the Triple Chocolate. Just chocolate wafer and chocolate cream covered in chocolate. Not so different from a standard Kit Kat. The chunky version was an over-the-top late night snack I really should have portioned and allocated one piece a day, but instead I gobbled up the whole thing. Pretty sweet. I think the use of corn syrup in American confectionary really reveals itself in sweetness levels. I tend to find American candy a bit too sweet for my taste, but I don't have much of a sweet tooth, anyway.
More exciting was the Milkshake flavour. Interesting. It had a noticeable taste of malted milk powder, which was pretty enjoyable. Not on par with the flavour intensity of the Japanese bars (but nothing can surpass the world leaders in this arena!) but certainly tasty. It had a weird effect on me though....it made my mouth go numb!! Seriously, I couldn't feel my tongue or cheeks. Hmmm -you know what? I'm really not sure that's the sort of effect you're supposed to have from a bit of candy! Very weird. In a brief flash of panic, I even wondered if my reader was some mad stalker who had tampered with the chocolate so to add to her list of people she'd killed through candy (sorry V.!!!). Very weird.

So, ratings:
Triple Chocolate: 6 out of 10 (innocuous)
Milkshake: 7 out of 10 (but way less if you consider the whole mouth anaesthetic weirdness!)
Assorted Hershey's Kisses: 1000!!!

Thank you V. for such a kind gesture. You know how much I appreciated it. :-)

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Chocolate techniques

Well, look at what I made! My contribution to the world of John Paul Gaultier. Or maybe a template for a Spring Racing Carnival hat.
There must be ohh.....at least a kilo of chocolate on that cake, and I put it all there myself. The baking shop where I did my hands on bread baking class also offers a class on chocolate decorating techniques, and that's where I found myself this morning, covered head to toe in melted chocolate, and rapidly getting over the whole idea of stuffing as much as I could into my gaping maw. I can tell you, after the first vat of melted chocolate gets poured over the table, and everyone's eyes turn to saucers while they calculate how much of it they can get in to their mouth instead of on their cake, that enthusiasm dims. I reckon it took about half an hour before we were ignoring our chocolate offcuts. Hard to believe, isn't it? Helped by the fact the chocolate wasn't top quality. In fact, at this very moment I'm so over chocolate that I have no interest in even tasting the overload I created! Nothing like gorging to excess to get you over something.

In the 4 hour class we learnt a variety of techniques - all of which ended up on our cake. Naturally, if you were doing a cake yourself you'd tone down on your creations, but we were trying to experience as much as possible. We learnt how to roll marbled chocolate fondant (looked amazing - like zebra skin, but now hidden underneath all the other chocolate stuff!!), create a patterned chocolate collar, how to make chocolate curls, chocolate panels to surround a cake, tall spikes, baskets, ganache covering and chocolate truffles. I'm acknowledging my inner Las Vegas when I admit that every one of those elements has been piled onto the cake. Wheee!
My favourites were the patterned cake collar (I think it looks like a pressed metal ceiling) and the spikes - which very easy to make with a piece of acetate and a knife.

The basket we made from dipping a blown up water bomb into a vat of melted chocolate was pretty fab too (see below). I'm a pretty impatient, clumsy person, but each element we learnt was designed to look good even if you make a few mistakes or are pretty hopeless in the elegance stakes. There's nothing too fiddly or difficult on that cake, which might be hard to believe. We were assured that something looking like that in a pastry shop would easily sell for about $100.
Any takers? No special events coming up for me, so if anyone wants to buy a special occasion cake.... ;-)

It's a class I highly recommend. Fun, easy and you get to come home with an incredibly decorated cake, a chocolate basket and a few extras like the patterned collar you used and a few sheets of acetate for future spike making extravaganzas. Not bad for $80 - which also includes the cake mix you need to make up to bring along for decoration, and as much chocolate as you'd care to eat (aieee, I'm never touching the stuff again!!!!). Much fun.
Marg & Maree's Baking and Breadmaking
54 Bell Street
Heidelberg Heights VIC 3081
9455 1611

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006


As Belinda has already noted on her blog, in about 6 weeks we're going to be in Europe. We sing in the same small group and we're going on our second European concert tour - this time to Italy, Switzerland and the UK. Very exciting stuff! Naturally, as devoted foodies, we're keen to get any recommendations from readers of places we should go to eat or delicacies we should try. On our last tour in '04 I made it a point to try a local dish in every country - the plate of raw herring and pickles I had in Odense, Denmark was not as bad as it sounds, but the fatty blood sausage in Cologne was a bit much...
So, here's a list of the places we're visiting. If you have any suggestions for places we MUST got to eat, please let us know!
*Yes, the photo is from our last tour - just before our concert in Linz, Austria.
Chieti (Abruzzo)
Florence, Siena & Barberino val d'Elsa (Chianti region, Tuscany)
Crema & Lodi (near Milan)
Levanto (the Cinque Terre)

Payerne (near Fribourg)
Lucerne & Engelberg

United Kingdom

Post-tour, Belinda is off to Paris and I'm spending 2 weeks travelling around the Czech Republic (7 nights in Prague) and Dresden. Then I'm coming back for 10 days driving through the Cotswolds and Wales with my mum - a total of nearly 2 months away! I don't know if I'll be able to blog much during that time, so there might be a bit of a hiatus on this site! I don't know much about the Cotswolds, so any information would be eagerly appreciated.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Vegetable Rice Curry

So, still on the healthy theme instead of the cakes. This is not normal! I hope you can cope.
In any case, this is a pretty useful recipe to have up your sleeve for a healthy, filling, tasty, very easy-to-make meal. The baking shop where I did my bread baking class also has cooking several cooking demonstrations each month. They're not hands-on, but they introduce you to new recipes (often baked goods) and you get to taste each one - which I find far more useful than just reading a list of ingredients in a cooking book or looking at a photo. If I saw this recipe in a book I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been interested, but having had the opportunity to taste it I realised it was pretty good, especially with our new watching-our-health outlook.
Although this is called a curry, I think of it as more of a curry flavoured risotto. It's basically a rice dish with flavourings. In fact, this recipe is one our instructor rediscovered from her militant vegetarian health-nut phase in the early 80s, but it holds up well today especially if you use a 'proper' Asian curry paste instead of those dusty tins of curry powder like she used to do.
The fact it uses brown rice may put many off, but I've come around to the 'odd' taste and texture. I definitely had my prejudices about it; I remember a miserable period in my childhood when the whole family were subjected to the Pritikin diet and we ate nothing but brown rice and unsalted, watery vegetables every meal. For an 11 year-old longing for anything fatty, it was a disheartening experience going to the dinner table each night. Brown rice equalled all that was bad in the world!
Sure, it has a chewier texture, and it will never be my rice of choice to go with Asian food or even curries, but it does have its place in the world. I like the nutty flavour and the knowledge that I'm giving myself a healthy dose of fibre! The nuttiness is really brought out by the peanuts and sunflower seeds too: a really interesting flavour! It's also packed full of vegetables so you know you're doing yourself good while you get to eat a tasty meal.
I found it was very easy to make. If you start making it once you get in the door, you can spend the 40 minutes it takes for the rice to cook by doing other exciting things...like reading other food blogs!
Read on for the recipe:

Vegetable Rice Curry
Courtesy of Marg and Maree's Baking and Breadmaking

Serve as a vegetarian main meal, as a vegetable side dish, or if you wish add some cooked chicken or beef strips at step no. 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 onions chopped
1-2 tablespoons curry paste
2 cups raw brown rice
3 tablespoons soy grits*
5 cups water
1-2 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup peanuts, chopped and roasted
1 tablespoon olive oil, extra
1-2 zucchini, sliced
2 sticks celery, sliced finely
10 button mushrooms, sliced
4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or 1 can tinned)
Lemon juice, to serve
Packaged crispy fried onions, to serve (optional)

1: Heat the oil in a large saucepan (needs a lid), add the onions, curry paste and rice, saute until the onions are soft. Add the soy grits and cook for a further 2 minutes

2: Add the water to the saucepan, stir in salt, sunflower seeds and peanuts. Bring water ot the boil, cover with lid and cook over a moderate heat until the liquid has been fully absorbed and the rice is tender (approx. 40 minutes).

3: Heat the extra oil in a frypan, add the zucchini, mushrooms and celery, saute until tender, stir in the tomatoes, continue stirring until tomatoes are heated (alternatively, you can add the tinned tomatoes to the rice pot while it's cooking, so they will not be quite so acidic).

4: Add vegetables to rice mixture, stir to thoroughly combine, serve hot with a squeeze of lemon juice and some crispy fried onions over the top.
Makes quite a large amount. Definitely enough for a few meals!

*Note: the soy grits in the recipe are optional and are mainly used by vegetarians to introduce enough protein in their meals. I chose not to include them.
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Thursday, August 03, 2006

New Orleans Gingerbread (low-fat)

So, keeping with the healthy eating theme from the last post, here's a little sweet something I whipped up for a low-fat sweet treat. Naturally, I took it from the excellent Chocolate and the art of low-fat desserts, by Alice Medrich. I've not had a failure from this book, but the recipes have had varying levels of deliciousness. This one, a spicy gingerbread, was at the lower end. I'm not sure what I was expecting but this wasn't quite it. And I wonder if the simple addition of a little more butter and egg yolks might have transformed it into something marvellous. I wonder if this is a recipe that doesn't quite work as low-fat?
I'm being picky, of course, this is still a very tasty cake and I was interested to see that the texture improved after a few days. Straight out of the oven I found it a bit dry, but after giving away half because I wasn't so impressed, I noticed a few days later that it had become more moist.

The recipe included fresh ginger, mustard powder, treacle and coffee powder, so I was expecting a pretty big flavour hit, a bit like Nigella's excellent chocolate gingerbread, but it didn't happen. It was as if the lack of fat in the recipe muted those gutsy flavours. Just speculation - I may be very wrong, and in any case, adding more fat to bring out the flavours really defeats the purpose of making this cake!
Medrich says this cake "is so lean that you might consider a dollop of low-fat sour cream or Enlightened Creme Fraiche [or low-fat vanilla yoghurt] and maybe some sliced bananas to accompany it." I agree with her; it needed some accompaniment. But instead of adding fat later, if it's so lean why not add a bit more to start with and it might not need any accompaniment? Maybe a case of taking the project a step too far? I'd be interested to know if anyone else has made this and what they thought. Maybe my expectations were too high, after the other success stories I've had with this book.
Read on for the recipe:

Spicy New Orleans Gingerbread
from Chocolate & the art of Low-Fat Desserts, Alice Medrich
1 cup plain flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee powder
1/2 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons treacle
1 egg
1 egg white
2 1/2 tablespoons melted butter
2 1/2 tablspoons grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons baby-food prunes or applesauce
1/4 cup boiling water
1: Preheat oven to 325F (165 C)
2: Whisk together the flour, cloves, cinnamon, mustard and salt. Set aside. In a small cup mix together baking soda and coffee powder. Set aside.
3: Add sugar to a third bowl. Add the treacle, whole egg, egg white, butter, ginger and prunes. Whisk together until combined. Stir in the flour mixture. Dissolve bicarb and coffee powder in boiling water. Stir into batter until just combined.
4: Pour batter into a round or bundt pan. Bake about 25-30 minutes for a round pan, 30-35 minutes for a ring mould - until centre is dry. Cool cake for 10 minutes before turning out.
Cake may be stored at room temperature for 3-4 days, well wrapped, or frozen up to 2 months.

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