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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Friday, November 26, 2004

Mango Lassi/Smoothie

It was hot today. Too darn hot - 36 degrees... This is typical for Melbourne... only 2 days ago I was wearing polar fleece and a woolly scarf and today I was traipsing around the city longing to be back home by the swimming pool with a long, cool drink.
Coming home, I was too hot to feel hungry and nearly ignored the fresh mango sitting on the bench, but pretty quickly came to my senses. I have a huge carton of fresh yoghurt also sitting pretty in the fridge and a bunch of fresh mint, so I knew then what I had to make.

I don't know if this can really be called a lassi, as those I've ordered in Indian restaurants are much creamier and sweeter, so perhaps this is just a mango smoothie. Whatever it is, it's yummy, and it's hitting the spot right now.

My Mango Smlassi (!)

1/2 ripe mango
handful fresh mint
crushed ice cubes
~1/2 cup yoghurt
squirt of honey

Cobine all ingredients in a blender. Enjoy watching it all mix together.
Find the perfect size glass (I was lucky!).

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Thursday, November 25, 2004

Onion & Cheese Tart

I had a very large number of small onions in the pantry, due to being inspired by the price tag of $1.99 for a kilo, and last night I needed to make something for dinner. So, whenever faced with a particular ingredient that needs to be used, I turned, as many an Australian does, to Stephanie Alexander's Cooks Companion and found exactly what I needed; an onion and cheese tart.
And off I went.
The finished product is absolutely delicious - creamy and oniony and packed full of flavour. A. complained that it was "too oniony" and not the best type of thing to take to work for lunch, but I really love it!

Onion & Cheese Tart
The Cook's Companion : the complete book of ingredients and recipes for the Australian kitchen.

1 quantity shortcrust pastry (I used 2 sheets of frozen puff, as that's what I had in the freezer)
1 kilogram onions, chopped or finely sliced
80 grams butter
1 tablespoon plain flour
3 eggs
150 mls cream (I used plain yoghurt as that's what yada yada yada...)
100 grams cheese (crumbled blue or strong cheddar)
black pepper
fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon crushed caraway seeds or freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

Preheat oven to 200 C. Line a 22cm loose bottomed flan tin with pastry, then bake blind for 20 minutes. Allow to cool.
Cook onion & thyme slowly in butter in a heavy-based, non aluminium frying pan, covered, until golden and tender (about 25 minutes). Drain. Stir in flour off heat. Whisk eggs, with cream and add onion mixture and cheese. Taste for seasoning and add caraway seeds, if using.
Pour mixture into pastry case and bake at 180C for 20 minutes, or until filling is set.
Serve warm.
Serves 6.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Coq Au Vin

Coq au vin

There is quite some history behind this dish. In Grade 6 my French class put on a "traditional" French lunch. We (that is, our mothers) were given recipes and a date to bring in our French food to celebrate the end of the year (I think) and our completion of primary school (maybe I'm making up that bit?).
Each girl had a recipe for dishes ranging from Boeuf Bourguignon, French onion soup, Lemon tart, creme caramel etc. My friend Kita and I were given Coq au Vin, as was another girl we didn't like very much.
That weekend my mother was put to task creating this dish, and my friend and I giggled and played computer games in the study, whilst trying to sneak into the kitchen and steal choice bits of chicken out of the bubbling pot. We turned this into a bit of an adventure game; run from the study, straight to the blue couch, hide behind the blue couch, check if the coast is clear, head for the kitchen door, assess the situation, reach the pot and help ourselves to the goldmine inside (if half cooked chicken and red wine can ever be considered a gold mine...)
Well...our main memory of that event to this day is the handful of flabby, greasy chicken skin I managed to snatch during one of these raids. I proudly presented it, on the palm of my hand to my friend, who looked pretty horrified and politely declined my "look what the cat brought in" type offer. We still laugh hysterically at this story.
So....definitely not the most appetising story, but ever since then we've wanted to recreate that meal.
Last week I traipsed off to the house of the same friend in the story, who is now happily shacked up (!) and engaged to a very lovely man, and we cooked him dinner. I even managed to find the same French cookbook my mother used all those years ago, so we could truly recreate the same dish.
The one thing we didn't recreate were the commando-style raids on the kitchen, or the picking from the pot (...much). The dish was just as delicious as we remembered it, and really very easy to make. The excellent red wine I was offered certainly completed the picture. A throroughly enjoyable event; I'm glad we finally decided to recreate history!

PS - the other girl who was asked to make Coq au vin? The girl we didn't like? Her dish looked just horrible - bony and a GREY colour! Nobody wanted to eat it, and we as childish 11 year old found that highly entertaining. What nasty little girls we were....... :-)

(if you are wondering why the chicken doesn't have any bones in this picture, we chose to cook the chicken first and then remove the bones, as none of us felt much in the mood for using our fingers to such meat from bones during the meal....Hmm, we certainly HAVE grown up!)
Coq au vin
Australian Women's Weekly: French Cooking Made Easy
Serves 4

1.5kg chicken pieces
60g butter
4 bacon rashers, chopped
375g (about 16) baby onions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 cup water
1 chicken stock cube
2 tablespoons brandy
1 tablespoon tomato paste
250g baby mushrooms
1 tablespoon plain flour
2 tablespoons water

-Cut chicken into serving-sized pieces; remove excess fat
-Melt butter in large frying pan, add chicken in single layer; fry until golden brown all over; remove from pan. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of fat from pan.
-Add bacon, onions and garlic to frying pan, fry until onions are browned. Stir in red wine, water and crumbled stock cube, brandy and tomato paste. Return chicken to pan, bring to the boil, cover, reduce heat, simmer 30 minutes.
-Add mushrooms, simmer uncovered further 10 minutes or until chicken is tender. Remove chicken to serving plate. Stir blended flour and water into pan, stir constantly over heat until mixture boils and thickens, stir over heat for 1 minute. Pour sauce over chicken.
-Serve with rice or potato. Green vegetables on the side.
Coq au vin

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Monday, November 22, 2004

Chocolate Banana Bread

We had a glut of bananas, bought cheaply at the Victoria Market two weeks ago that were really having a fine old time getting black and mushy. They had passed the point that anyone would willingly choose to eat them whole; in fact just touching them caused them to ooze. It was time to make some banana bread, and quickly!

I decided to use Nigella Lawson's banana bread recipe from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, but with the chocolate variation she lists at the bottom of the page. I still have a lot of my good Dutch cocoa powder, and a bag of small chocolate chips. The resulting loaf still has a strong banana taste, and the moist texture that goes with it, but cut through with a wonderful bitter chocolate flavour. It's definitely a banana bread for adult tastes.

(I didn't have sultanas on hand, as per her original recipe so I only included a few tablespoons of dark rum to the batter)

Chocolate Banana Bread (variation)
How to be a Domestic Goddess - Nigella Lawson

75ml dark rum
150g plain flour
25g good cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb
1/2 teaspoon salt
125g butter, melted
150g sugar
2 large eggs
4 small, very ripe bananas, (about 300g weighed without skin), mashed
60g chopped nuts (walnutes, almonds, cashews...I've used them all)
70g chocolate chips

-Preheat oven to 170C.
-Put flour, cocoa, baking powder, bicarb and salt in medium size bowl and combine well.
I-n a large bowl, mix melted butter, rum and sugar and beat until blended.
-Beat in eggs then mashed bananas. Stir in nuts, and chocolate chips.
-Add the flour mixture, a third at a time, stirring well after each addition.
-Scrape into a loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 - 1.25 hours. When it's ready, an inserted toothpick should come out cleanish. Leave in the tin on a rack to cool.
Makes 8-10 slices.


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Rich, Dark and Boozy Chocolate Mousse

Rich chocolate mousse

This was very, very tasty! It was certainly rich...and very boozy! I was at my friend's house making a French dish we both remember well from our childhood and decided, while flicking through the desserts section, that this chocolate mousse recipe looked really easy and delicious. And that it was! I "accidentally" (lazily really, as I couldn't be bothered measuring) added significantly more alcohol than the recipe stated, but it only made it even better. It made the perfect, rich end to a very tasty French dinner.
I know Kita will be very happy that I'm putting this recipe up. I hope she & J both like the photo!

Rich (and boozy) Chocolate Mousse
Serves 8.

300g dark chocolate, chopped
300ml thickened cream
4 tablespoons rum (we used cognac...and thought kahlua would also be great)
4 egg whiltes
1/3 cup castor sugar
1/2 cup thickened cream, extra

Process chocolate (in food processor) until finely grated. Heat cream to just below boiling point, gradually add cream to chocolate while motor is operating; add rum, process until smooth. Transfer chocolate mixture to a large bowl.
Beat egg whiles in small bowl with electric mixer until soft peaks form, gradually add sugar a tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition.
Fold egg white mixture through chocolate mixture in two lots.
Whip extra cream until soft peaks form, fold cream through chocolate mixture. Pour mousse into serving glasses. Refrigerate mousse several hours or overnight.

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IMBB #10: Caramel Cornflake Christmas Cookies

aka - Alliteration Biscuits!

Christmas cookie (or, more accurately, biscuit) swaps are non-existent here in Australia, but they sound fantastic. The making, swapping and eating of biscuits accompanied by warm drinks and Christmas carols sounds wonderful. I am a Christmas fan, but as a busy musician during the Christmas period, I often have to rush my shopping and cooking time. On the upside, I do get to sing a whole lotta Christmas music covering hundreds of years of composition.....starting from about this weekend!
As everyone knows, Christmas occurs in high Summer here and is more a time of sweating over the traditional English-style roast dinner in the heat of the day, or accepting our climate and serving a cold seafood buffet. We do both, one in the afternoon and one at night. Last year I embarked upon a large project of baking Lebkuchen, from a recipe which completely cleared out my spice cupboard. They were excellent biscuits, but my main memory is of having to set up two fans either side of me, to keep the dough and my hands cool enough to actually work!

Although I really wanted to make something much more involved and...well...elegant...for this IMBB entry, lke Nigella's pistachio macaroons,I maganimously asked two men to whom I'd be serving these biscuits, and they both requested (independently, and with great enthusiasm!) cornflake cookies. A memory of their childhood? I wasn't too upset really, as I hadn't made cornflake cookies for years and am always happy to bake when I know people will enjoy the end product.

So, to find a cornflake cookie recipe. I thought, in keeping with the retro theme that I'd turn straight to the Big Mummy of Australian cookbooks of the 1970s: The Australian Women's Weekly New Cookbook. Every household seems to have one of these still floating around. The pictures are of the execrable "look! We now have colour photos!" variety - all khaki greens, and lurid orange, with the food presented very messily on fussy coloured plates. Certainly not appetising. However while the savoury dishes are now quite dated, the baked goods and traditional cakes chapters are still as useful as ever, and I found not one but THREE cornflake cookie recipes.

The one I choose made a chewy cookie, somewhat like a baked Honey Joy. They didn't include any flour and were much more delicious than I expected. Needless to say, once I overcame my reluctance to give them away and eat them all myself, they were received with great enthusiasm and have all disappeared! They are incredibly easy to make, and will be very well received by grown men and others alike.

Christmas Caramel Cornflake Cookies

Caramel Cornflake Cookies (for Christmas)
from Australian Women's Weekly New Cookbook 1978

125 g (4 oz.) butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup castor sugar
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
3 cups cornflakes, lightly crushed
1 egg
1/2 cup finely-chopped mixed nuts

Melt butter over low heat; add sugars; stir until well combined. Add coconut, lightly crushed cornflakes, lightly-beaten egg and nuts; mix well.
Place teaspoons of mixture on lightly-greased oven trays; press mixture together with fingers. Bake in moderate oven (~180 C) 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Leave on tray a few minutes; remove with spatula; cool on wire rack.
Makes approx. 35.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Happiness Soup


This is another Nigella recipe. When I came back from Europe all I wanted after my 28 hour travelling "experience" was some soup. All we had was tinned tomato. So, I knew when A came back 2 weeks later that I would make some light, refreshing soup to soothe his tired, frazzled body.
I had heard a few bloggers mention Nigella's happiness soup, and decided it sounded perfect. A chicken broth studded with yellow courgettes and rice, and loaded with lemon juice.
Unfortunately, I cannot find yellow courgettes anywhere in Melbourne, so I had to use standard zucchini, and without any basmati rice on hand I used long grain. I'm also not sure about the quantity of lemon required. My soup was so intensely lemony I've had to constantly augment it with extra chicken stock every time I take it back out of the fridge. It seems whenever I put it back, it intensifies even more!
It's certainly an unusual soup. Maybe not my favourite, but with a few tweakings, I think it could be a winner for Summer.

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Friday, November 12, 2004

Little Honey Cheesecakes

Honey cheesecake

These are another offering for my friend's 40th birthday party. My grandmother gave me a bag of butternut snap biscuits and I decided I wanted to make individual cheesecakes with a crumb crust, made in muffin tins.
For some very odd reason my grandmother buys large packets of Arnott's Family Assorted biscuits, but doesn't like the best ones; butternut snaps and the chocolate ripple biscuits! She only likes the boring beige Milk Coffee, Arrowroot etc. Must be a legacy of those cautiously flavoured foods of yore. So she gives great bags of the best biscuits to her grandchildren. I don't complain!

I looked at a few cheesecake recipes, but they all used far too much cream cheese for my liking. Besides its fat content, it's really quite expensive. So, I turned to Stephanie Alexander. Ms Alexander is the Elder Stateswoman of Australian cooking. Her encyclopaedic Cook's Companion is known to thousands of Australians as "The Orange Bible". Have bananas but don't know what to do with them? Go to her chapter on bananas and she'll tell you about the different varieties, how to store them, what flavours they complement and a list of excellent recipes. A wonderful resource!

Her recipe used cottage cheese and I already had the other ingredients on hand. She recommends a pastry crust, but I still chose to use my newly acquired biscuits, which I had fun bashing with a rolling pin.

Honey Cheesecake


4 eggs
100 grams caster sugar
4 Tbls honey (distinctively flavoured, for preference. ie Leatherwood)
200 grams cottage cheese
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 200C. Bake shortcrust pastry (or crushed biscuits) for 10 minutes to set.
Reduce heat to 180C.

Combine all filling ingredients in a food processor, and blend until smooth.
Sprinkle thickly with cinnamon and caster sugar.
Pour into case.
Bake for 30 minutes (or 15 if using muffin tin) or until set.

Sweet & yummy.

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Thursday, November 11, 2004

Sugar High Fridays 2: Apples

From Feast - Nigella Lawson

This post is quite a landmark for me. Not only is it the first time I've made a dessert using pumpkin as a main ingredient (being Australian, pumpkin is usually confined to the accompanying vegetables of a roast meat), but it is also the first recipe I made from Nigella's new cookbook, Feast and..........my first particpation in an internet community themed blogging experience!
This is not to say I'm new to them; I've been an eager participant in the viewing process ever since February, when Alberto introduced the first IMBB, but without an internet site, a reluctance to burden the organisers with an emailed entry and an extremely heavy workload at university, I restricted myself to only viewing the entries.
But now I've finished my postgraduate course, and dammit, I want to participate!...so I signed up with Blogger and I'm now going to be an *active* participant.

I know when I read the rationale behind the theme for this SHF I initially bristled...hey, it's not Autumn here in the Southern Hemisphere hmmph! What about all the bloggers from the southern part of the world? (further research revealed precious few, actually!)...but upon further thought I justified that an organiser for such an event cannot and should not be all things to all people, and anyway, here in Australia apples are available all year 'round, even if they are not at their prime in November! If they're being cooked judiciously well, they don't necessarily have to be at their crispest and juiciest. The point as I see it is to try something I've never tried before, and I'm certainly keen to do that.
So, to find an interesting recipe where top quality apples weren't necessarily needed, and perhaps one where they weren't the overall starring ingredient....

In came Nigella, with her latest book. It was purchased in London only a few weeks ago, at a price drastically lower than what it would cost me here. And I found it on page 67: "Pumpkin & Apple Crumble". Perfect. And even though it's really a heavy Winter dish, the type of unseasonal, rainy, cool Spring we're having here makes it perfectly appropriate.

I hestitate to include the complete recipe, especially from such a newly released book from somebody with a retenue of more vigilant lawyers than I. I cannot find it anywhere on the 'net, which adds weight to my feeling that I shouldn't be the first to break copyright! However, I will include what Nigella writes in the introduction to the recipe:

"Sweet, grainy cubes of pumpkin turned, with wincingly sour apples, in spiced butter and topped with a brown sugar rubble of sandy crumble: this is the most cosy, warming pudding you could imagine."

...and it really is. It is headily fragrant with the scents of cinnamon, ground cloves and ginger, tart from the Granny Smith apples I used, and rich from the meltingly soft pumpkin. Served with some natural yoghurt on the side, I was a happy girl.

Perhaps you'll just have to go out and buy the book. ;-)

Apple & Pumpkin crumble

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Caramel cupcakes

These recipe for these yummy little cupcakes was requested from Chika of She Who Eats. They looked and sounded so wonderful in her entries, and the method of making the caramel sounded so much fun that today, the day after I finished all my coursework for my postgraduate course, I decided to have a baking afternoon.
As per her suggestion, I added some fleur de sel to some of the cupcakes, as I really did like the sound of bitter caramel with a hint of salt. It worked very well. The other cakes had shredded coconut, from an Asian grocery store added to them. They'll be going to a friend's 40th birthday party on Saturday night.
Apparently they improve in flavour and texture after a few days, so by then they'll be even better, although that's hard to imagine!

Caramel cupcake

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Zucchini slice

Zucchini slice
Originally uploaded by esurientes.

This is a tried and true recipe in my family. Traditionally it was the only way my mother could get zucchini into my brother during his non-vegetable eating teenage years. It is an immensely adaptable recipe; taking whatever vegetables you have in the fridge. This time 'round I added an eggplant and a bowl of cooked pasta that was malingering in the fridge. I think that is the reason it took an incredibly long time to cook - over an hour!
The recipe can be found here.

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