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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lemon Chicken...Italian style

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

Chicken baked in limoncello

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

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

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007


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

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

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Too Damn Hot chicken salad

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

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

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Bern & Luzern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Choccie cookie bonanza

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

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

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

Peanut Butter Truffle Cookies
Makes ~20

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

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

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

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Going bananas!

It's been a recurring theme on many Aussie foodblogs over the past year: we miss our bananas. I think most of you have heard by now that in mid-March 2006, Cyclone Larry announced itself in far north Queensland and destroyed 95% of Australia's banana crop. At the time I remember a few people giggling, heh, bananas! Cyclone comes through and we lose bananas! But when the reality of our banana-less existence sunk in, and the prices of the few left in Australia shot up to about $16 a kilo, the situation was miserable. Australia wouldn't import bananas in the interim, so we could help our own farmers; mentioning this to some friends in the UK recently sparked a fairly heated argument about protectionism and our moral duty to help poorer countries who need to export the few goods they have. Like most things, I can see both points of view, and we decided to abandon the argument and go and have a pint instead.
Lady Lunchalot is today celebrating Banana Sunday, in which we celebrate the return of bananas to reasonable prices; currently about $3 a kilo, although I've been told that something disastrous has happened again up there, and prices will rise again. She gives a good potted history of the banana situation the past year, and made me realise how much I did miss those things: especially those mornings when I'm running late, and it's the perfect thing to grab and eat in the car...i.e. pretty much every morning.

There's a bit of a coincidence with the banana cake I made. I tore the recipe out of a New Idea magazine in the lunchroom at work, on Friday 17 March, planning to make it after I bought a few bananas to go soft. Cyclone Larry hit on the Monday morning, and my banana cake plans were put on the shelf. For a long time!
So, here is is finally. It's a bog-standard very easy banana cake recipe, sent in by a reader, but the thing that caught my eye was the inclusion of coconut cream. I can't say I can taste it in the finished cake, but it does make the cake very moist. I think it would keep a long time. The recipe recommends drizzling with passionfruit pulp before serving, but I forgot to buy any. My eye fell on my bottle of pomegrenate molasses, and I decided that would have a similar sort of tang. Well, what a revelation! From now on, I'm always adding it to my bananas; the sweet-sour tang perfectly offsets the almost sickly sweetness of the bananas. Plus, aren't pomegrenates the fruit of love? Seems appropriate, considering the event coming up this week. So, one cake is decorated in Valentines day hearts, and the other is heart shaped, and drizzled in the fruit of love. All's well with the world. :-)
Read on for the recipe:

Easy Banana Cake
From New Idea, March 2006

1 cup caster sugar*
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour**
1 cup mashed overripe bananas
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
1/2 cup coconut cream
2 eggs, lightly beaten
125g butter (1/2 pack) melted
Passionfruit pulp to serve (or pomegrenate molasses)
Cream cheese frosting:
25g butter, room temperature
75g cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups icing sugar mixture
1 tsp grated lemon rind

1: Grease a deep, 20cm round cake pan and line with baking paper. Preheat oven to 190C (moderately hot)
2: Combine sugar, flour, bananas, vanilla, coconut, coconut cream and eggs in a large bowl. Stir in melted butter until well combined. Pour mixture into prepared pan.
3: Cook for about 1 hour, or until cooked when tested. Stand cake in pan for 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool
4: To make cream cheese frosting, beat all of the ingredients together in a small bowl with an electric mixer until well combined
5: Spread frosting over top of cold cake. Just before serving drizzle with passionfruit pulp.

* I used 1/2 cup caster sugar & 1/2 cup raw sugar
** I used 1 cup SR flour & 1/2 cup wholemeal SR flour. I think you could use all wholemeal SR without any problems.

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