.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Monday, January 31, 2005

Double chocolate syrup cake

This is a variation of the Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake in Nigella Lawson's latest book, Feast. I had a raging NEED and DESIRE for chocolate cake, partly because it's *that* time of the month, but mainly because of the amazing looking, gooey chocolate cake Zarah Maria has on her site at the moment. Doesn't it look incredible? I just wanted to scarf it all down right then. (Zarah - please post the recipe!) So it was late in the evening and I had a raging gooey chocolate cake craving, but no chocolate in the house, only cocoa. Most gooey chocolate cake recipes need lots of chocolate, whereas chocolate cakes made with cocoa are often drier - which was not what I wanted. I needed GOOEY, and I needed it NOW godammnit!

I found something fitting the bill pretty easily in Nigella's book, in her 'Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame'. The Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake is a dense, moist cake made with cocoa, studded with chocolate chips, drenched in chocolate syrup and adorned with chocolate shavings. I decided to reduce it by half (literally). I made a half quantity of the recipe and left out half the chocoaltes; the chocolate chips and chocolate shavings (remember I didn't have any chocolate in the house...that I knew about). Instead of using all caster sugar, I used half caster, half brown sugar to increase the gooeyness. I also made it in a small, round cake pan rather than a big loaf tin, so mine was definitely a cake rather than a loaf.

An interesting thing about this recipe is that Nigella says to line the cake tin with plastic wrap or clingfilm. Huh???? But surely that would melt into a sticky, plastic mess instantly, I thought. They must use a different, super heavy-duty clingfilm in the UK; one resistant to heat?? But, I decided to throw caution to the wind and try it, and you know what? It actually works! I don't understand why, but it doesn't melt! It's surrounded by 170C degrees of heat but it just sits there!

This cake fit the bill prefectly; it was ludicrously easy to make, it was chocolately and moist and the syrup was thick and smoky. If I made it again I think I'd add some flavouring to the syrup to create a variation in taste; I think kahlua or Cointreau would be wonderful. Or some Frangelico or hazelnut essence (I love hazelnut & chocolate).
So, Double Chocolate Syrup Cake (inspired by Nigella):

(Recipe is for a full quantity; I halved this amount to put in a round tin)
For the cake:
200 grams plain flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
50g cocoa (preferably good Dutch cocoa)
175 g caster sugar
100 g brown sugar
150 grams softened butter
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
80 ml sour cream (or milk if that's all you have)
125 ml boiling water
(optional: 175 chocolate chips, if you want to make it a triple chocolate cake)
For the syrup:
2 teaspoons cocoa
125 ml water
100 g caster sugar

Preheat oven to 170C, putting a baking sheet as you do so and line a 900g loaf tin with plastic clingfilm.
Put the flour, bicarb, cocoa, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and sour cream in a food processor and blitz until a smooth brown batter. Scrape down and process again while adding the boiling water down the funnel. Remove blades and stir through chocolate chips, if using. (you can also make this in a bowl with a hand mixer, as I did)
Scrape and pour batter into the lined loaf tin and cook for about an hour. When ready, the load will be risen and split down the middle and a cake tester will come out fairly clean. But remember that it is a damp cake, and it should still be a bit sticky inside.
While the cake is in the oven, make the syrup. Put the cocoa, water and sugar into a small saucepan and boil for about 5-10 minutes, depending on how reduced and caramelly you want the syrup. You want a reduced liquid. I reduced mine to a sticky, smoky, intense thickness.
Take the cake out of the oven and leave it in its tin. Pierce it all over with a skewer or something. Pour the syrup, as evenly as possible, over the top of the cake.
Let the cake become completely cold and slip it out of the tin, removing the clingfilm. Or just cut slices out of the pan while it's still warm and scarf it down, as I did. You can dust the top with a mixture of equal parts cocoa powder and icing sugar, if you like. You should find it fits your chocolate cake craving desire very well!

Continue reading

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Lamb Souvlaki for a Friday night

A good Friday night meal to be eaten in front of the TV watching one of our favourite old movies (Diva - from France. 1981). Souvlaki in one hand, beer in the other....noice! Souvlaki (or shwarma as I noticed they were called in Europe) is a really popular take-away meal here, especially after a few drinks at the pub when you could eat a horse...and as fast foods go, it's the healthiest you can choose. Fresh bread, grilled lamb and fresh salads will always beat a McDonald's burger or take-away pizza hands down - and is tastier anyway. We have a favourite place in Melbourne that makes the best souvlakis (in our opinion), and sprinkles them with ground sumac, which gives it a great tangy and spicy flavour. We don't have sumac at home so I had to compromise by using lemon juice and chili powder.
Just marinate some lamb (or chicken) overnight in lots of garlic, lemon juice, chili powder and good, dried oregano (we used our stuff from Greece. Again!). Cook it up the next day, so it gets crispy and crunchy on the outside and wrap it in some pita bread with lettuce, raw onion and tomatoes (I liked our baby tomato variation). The take-away shops always use a great garlic sauce, but we make it easier by buying a tub of tzaziki from the supermarket: yogurt, cucumber & garlic dip. It gives the moistness needed when wrapping something in pita bread. Wrap into a roll and eat, trying not to let it explode out the other end onto your lap.
A great lazy meal after another great lazy summer day!

Continue reading

Friday, January 28, 2005

Homemade coconut & lime jelly

I had lots of gelatine sachets left over after my Sugar High Friday contribution of orange & cardamom jelly, and it's still damn hot here, so about half an hour before I headed out to A's house for dinner I decided to make a cooling jelly for dessert. This was also prompted by finding a jar of intriguing coconut jam I had bought a few months ago at an Asian grocery. It's like a jar of caramel, but intensely coconut flavoured, and I've been a bit stumped with what I can do with it. It's just too sweet and cloying on it's own, but balanced with some really sour lime juice...hey, that just might work! I reckon it did, quite well. OK - it's really unphotogenic, and really not something you'd serve at a dinner party (poo brown jelly, anyone?) but the taste is really light and refreshing. It isn't helped by the sun having already set by the time we took the photo - it was prettier in the sunlight! It's interesting that it separated into two distinct layers - the top turning opaque and creamy tasting, the bottom transparent and more sour with lime. I'm guessing the coconut jam split into two...perhaps stirring or skimming would prevent that?
Making your own jelly really is SO easy and the taste is miles better than the boxes of stuff you buy at the supermarket. It's hardly a recipe, but if you want it, click on!

Coconut & Lime Jelly

A few large spoonfuls of coconut jam (from the Philippines)
As much lime juice as creates a balance between sickly sweet and too sour

500 mls boiling water
1 sachet of gelatine crystals

Combine the coconut jam & lime juice in a shallow bowl. Add crystals, then pour on the hot water and stir until everything is dissolved. Place in the fridge for a few hours until set.

Continue reading

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Peking Duck

We've just disovered that the local take-away roast chicken n chips shop, run by an Asian family, also sells Peking ducks. Fabulous! I love duck, and it's very rare that I get to have it at a restaurant, as it always requires 24 hours notice and I'm not usually that organised. Nor do I usually eat at Chinese restaurants, now that Thai and Vietnamese restaurants are so popular in Melbourne. Chinese food was big in the 70s, but has lost a bit of its excitement since the wave of immigrants from South-East Asia to Australia during the past few decades. The more subtle flavours and seemingly less healthy food of Cantonese cuisine (which makes up most Chinese restaurants here) just can't compete with the strong, fresh flavours and healthier cooking styles of the Vietnamese and Thais. But, you still can't beat classic Peking Duck - the glorious lacquered, crispy skin and the tender meat, served on thin pancakes and drizzled with sweeet & salty Hoisin sauce. Yummm. And even better that I can have it in the comfort of my own home.
This shop sold us not only a perfectly prepared duck, already cut into pancake-sized portions, a big pile of soft, thin Chinese pancakes, a container of spring onions, pickled ginger and vegetables & a tub of Hoisin sauce, but also handed over the bones and carcass to make stock! This cost about $28 and fed 3 of us for 2 nights.
We already had some Peking duck sauce at home, bought at an Asian grocery, which I preferred; the combination of salty and sweet just can't be beat (oooh poetry), so I slathered some over a pancake, added my duck and vegetables and closed my eyes in happiness. This was sooo good. I'm definitely making this a regular event when it's a non-cooking night. Certainly beats take-away pizza!

Continue reading

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

WBW: Wacky Wine Names

Ten Minutes By Tractor Wine Company
What a great theme for a wine blogging event. Here in Australia, we are rife with wacky wine names. Sometimes it seems that the wineries deliberately find something crazy to name their wine in a belief that it'll attract the consumer. I guess it works to the extent that the names certainly are noticed! As it is Australia Day today, I decided to try an Australian wine, in a style that isn't too widely grown: pinot noir. Pinot Noir is notoriously difficult to grow, and only done so in a few areas here in the cooler-climates of Victoria and further south in Tasmania, therefore what pinot noir is made here, is usually expensive. If it's not $$$, it's not good. With some wines, that doesn't hold true (you can buy great, everyday shiraz in Australia for less than $10), but this is not the case with pinot noir.
This wine is made by a winery owned by the parents of a friend of mine who sings in my vocal ensemble and the great Pablo boyband. His parents decided to have a sea change and buy a vineyard down on the Mornington Peninsula. It's taken a while, but is now a great success. As my friend has just moved to Cambridge to do a PhD in Latin (as you do), I thought it was a perfect time to open the bottle and think of him.

So, the name....?

Well, I think it certainly fits the wacky criteria. Ten Minutes By Tractor?? Here's the story:
The company belongs to the Judd, McCutcheon and Wallis families, each of which established a six-hectare vineyard a decade ago, but decided to merge the operations in 1999, realising that each of the three properties are only ten minutes by tractor distant from each other. While most of the grapes were and are sold to other winemakers, in 2000 they began making limited quantities of wines under the 10X label (drawing on all three properties) and individual vineyard selection wines from each of the three properties. A number of Melbourne restaurants list the wines, and exports to Hong Kong, San Francisco, New York and London are being developed.
Product Range: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Botrytised Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir Chardonnay, Pinot Noir;

Basically, they realised pretty early on that it was damn hard work, and there wasn't much they could do on their individual vineyards but sell wine to bigger companies, so they formed their own company. I'm not too sure if they spend much time travelling by tractor to each other's property! They produce wines made from combinations of grapes from the three vineyards, and a selection of single-estate wines. The other interesting thing about this company is that I used to sing in a few groups with their winemaker's daughter!! Small world. Both that winemaker and my friend's father used to be surgeons, which seems to indicate the type of precision to detail required for this work!
I had a single-estate pinot noir from my friend's vineyard, which costs about $40-odd dollars in the shops. It has been reviewed well:
James Halliday Mar 20 2002 Rating: 91 out of 100
Light to medium purple-red, bright and clear; the bouquet is clean, the most concentrated of the three individual vineyard pinot noirs, not particularly aromatic. The palate is firm and long, sustained by good tannins; the least immediately attractive of the three wines, but may well develop better than the others. Gold medal Concours du Vin Victoria 2000.

That's a pretty damn high score for an Australian pinot noir, incidentally. We drank it with a duck risotto I made with leftover Peking duck and fresh green beans. The pairing of duck with pinot noir is legendary (at least it is over here. There are even "duck and pinot" walks during the food festival), as the flavours complement each other well. I chilled the wine slightly, as pinot is one the few reds that can benefit from this, especially on a hot summer's evening. I didn't entirely enjoy my first mouthful of it; I found it a bit insubstantial and light and had to remind myself that it was not a big Australian shiraz, which I'm used to drinking. We decided it was probably better with food, which, happily, we can report is certainly the case. The duck risotto complemented and brought out the flavours wonderfully, and they were a perfect pairing; the strong flavours of the duck and the lightness of the wine. Great for summer. Ten Minutes By Tractor, good on you!

Continue reading

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Lemony beans with dill and onion

Another BBQ tonight, after a 36 degree day. This time with a few friends who came over for a swim before heading out to a rehearsal with their vocal group, Pablo, which has recently been chosen as a competitor on the new TV talent show The X Factor (like Australian/American Idol, but for groups as well as soloists), which begins screening soon. These boys are fabulous (and cute!) and I sing classically with all of them. It's great to see them on stage performing such different repertoire, and I already know that the TV cameras have been following them, during the auditions, with great interest (there's a great storyline there I can't go into yet).
So, another barbie - more lamb, more snags, more beer, more green cordial... But this time we had some beans as well. Beans fresh from the back garden, tossed through with lemony butter, dill and onion. Yum. Read on if you want the "recipe":

Lemony beans with dill & onion

Fresh green beans cut into fork-manageble lengths
1 small onion, finely sliced*
Juice of 1 small, juicy lemon
couple of tablespoons fresh, chopped dill
a knob of butter
a slurp of olive oil

Bring water to the boil in a wide, shallow pan. Cook beans until not-raw (about 6 minutes). Drain and return to empty pan with the butter and olive oil. Stir to coat, then add the lemon juice, fresh dill & onion. Season and toss to combine.
*I added my unchopped onion to the water for a few minutes as it was heating to take away it's harsh rasp. It wasn't cooked, but wasn't entirely raw. Works well!

Continue reading

Barbie for (almost) Australia Day

"Australia Day is Australia's official national day, January 26. It commemorates the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove on that day in 1788." Wikipedia. Click to find out more information.

There's a jokey TV ad on at the moment from the Australian Lamb Council or something, showing a man behind a desk, in stern State of The Nation address style, urging all proper good Australians to celebrate Australia day with a lamb chop grabbed from the bbq, a stubby of beer and a slice of pavlova. So, to prove my worthiness as a good Australian I took heed and fired up the barbie tonight to assist our lamb economy. Did you know that in New Zealand there are 3 sheep for every human? There's a bit of trivia for you! It's not so high here in Australia, but lamb is traditionally the great Aussie meat.
There's nothing more enjoyable or quintessentially Australian than standing in the golden evening over a smoking bbq with the sting of the sun still on your shoulders from an afternoon by the pool, with a beer in one hand, after another sunny 30+ degree day. Each evening the streets are filled with the scent of bbq-ing meat, most usually taken over by good Aussie blokes, but tonight I was wielding the tongs.
We had a huge zucchini from a friend of my nonna's that I sliced up and dressed with olive oil, salt, pepper, dried oregano and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Oh dear...that sounds a bit Un-Australian - Mr Lamb Council would be very underwhelmed! Actually, our zucchini might actually be extremely young, tender pumpkin, but we're not sure. It's butter soft and perfect for grilling, so great for the barbie! We had it with pork and leek sausages and great, honking pieces of lamb, so maybe we're redeemed. No pavlova tonight, but a great beer (Nastro Azzurro from Italy...ooops, again not very Australian) and some fresh, cold watermelon.
For those who want to writhe in envy (or shrug in sympathy) here's the weather forecast for the next few days (in celsius, naturally!): Tue 35, Wed 37, Thu 29, Fri 32...gotta feel sorry for those kids starting a new school year thsi week; traditionally the weather here always turns perfectly hot just as the kids go back to school.

Continue reading

Sunday, January 23, 2005

IMBB 11: Summer Clams 'n' Beans

This month's Is My Blog Burning theme is beans, hosted by the very thorough Cathy from My Little Kitchen (currently baking her way through an entire American book of cookies, purely for research purposes!). As it's high summer here in Australia I decided to find a light, summery recipe involving beans. It would have been so easy to present a stir fried green bean dish, or string beans with lemon and garlic, but I think the point of IMBB is to get out there and try a new recipe you may not have had the inclination or inspiration to do before. I very rarely cook with legumes (I know I should) so I was very interested in finding something interesting.
So, other than green beans, what summery dish could I find? Not a lot revealed itself initially, but then I found myself leafing through one of my favourite cookbooks: Jill Dupleix's Take Three - Cooking With Three Main Ingredients.
Jill Dupleix is an expat-Australian (a Melbournian, to be exact) now resident in London as cookery editor of The Times newspaper. No doubt she's waking up tastebuds throughout the UK (I've noticed a few British bloggers are fans) I fondly remember her weekly columns in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald and, to be honest, we'd really quite appreciate her back thankyouverymuch! I love her cookbooks and her simple recipes - many of which are not so much recipes, as inspired ideas that strike you with their simplicity and freshness. In fact, her motto is "food is a language best kept simple". The crash hot potatoes I made on this blog are a Jill recipe, and perfectly summarise her simple, ingredient-driven ideas...

All of her books are wonderful, but I have special fondness for Take Three, written when she was less well known and still working in Melbourne. I appreciate its premise; take three ingredients and make yourself a meal. Each recipe in the book is built on three major players, with a small supporting cast to be found in any well-stocked pantry i.e. lamb-hoisin sauce-greens (with soy, sherry and spices) or pork-sage-apple (with wine, pepper, mustard) or basil-mozarella-lemon leaf (with pine nuts-parmesan & olive oil). See? Simple food with balance and beauty. It's also a perfect book for quick weekday dinners, when you're home from work and bereft of ideas. She covers all meals from breakfast to dessert, supper and snacks (and all "s's" in-between...). The photography is spectacular, it has a chapter on cooking tips and a couple of excellent indexes (as a librarian I notice and appreciate these things!) I think it'd be the perfect birthday or Christmas gift for somebody, especially a guy who is interested in cooking but intimidated by wordier, heavier books (I bought it for a male friend, and he loves it). Jeez, can you half tell I'm a big fan of this woman and this particular book? If interested, it's available here (UK) and here (US) on Amazon (the second, alternate title is how it was published in the US) .
So, anyway I found a recipe in this book for Clams-Beans-Mint (with olive oil, white wine and black pepper) with the description: "a warm Italian salad of fresh baby clams, spiked with mint and served with cannellini beans; the perfect summer lunch" and knew that's what I wanted to make. Perfect for the time of year and perfect for the IMBB theme. I popped down to our local seafood wholesaler, where the stock is always really fresh and cheap and picked up 2 kilos of clams, which is more than the recipe specified, but at $6 for 2 kilos - what a great deal! I foolishly decided not to buy fresh mint, as we had just been given a lemon mint plant. Not such a great decision, as lemon mint taste *quite* different to regular mint, and the resulting dish had a slighly offputting scent of fly spray. I've learnt my lesson; lemon mint is good for tea, not clams! Nevertheless, my mother and I enjoyed it with chunks of good, crusty bread to soak up the juices as we enjoyed another golden Melbourne summer sunset.

Summer Clams 'n' Beans

Take Three: cooking with 3 main ingredients - Jill Dupleix. p. 41

Main Players:
900 grams (2 lb) baby clams (vongole)
450 grams (1 lb) canned white beans (cannellini beans)
1 small bunch mint

4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
115 (4 fl oz) white wine
freshly ground black pepper

Clams can be salty, so soak them in cold water for 30 minutes, then drain, replace water and soak for another 30 minutes. Drain the canned beans and rinse well. Pick the leaves from the mint stalks.

Heat half the olive oil, the white wine and half the mint leaves in a heavy frying pan with a lid. When bubbling, add the drained clams and cover tightly. Cook over a high heat for 2 minutes, then remove the lid. Using tongs, remove all the clams that have opened, then give the pan a big shake, and just keep removing the clams as they open. Place the cooked clams in a bowl and cover to keep warm. Throw away any that don't open, as they're not fresh.

When you have picked out all the clams, drain the pan juices through a fine sieve into a small bowl. Gently warm the remaining olive oil in a frying pan, and add the drained beans, remaining mint and pepper. Add a spoonful or two (or the whole lot!) of the pan juices.

When the beans are heated through, add the clams, toss through once or twice, and divide among bowls or serve on a large serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature. Drizzle with oil before serving.
Serves 2 adults for dinner, or 4 as part of a light lunch.

Continue reading

Friday, January 21, 2005

Simple Spaghetti

Simple Spaghetti

This is a simple spaghetti dish I made for lunch recently, which was really tasty. We had some leftover spaghetti in simple tomato, fresh chili and garlic sauce, which we had eaten the night before. The next day is great for leftover pasta, but I find it tends to dry out a little. So, for lunch I added a slug of tomato passata (some brand from Italy) and cooked up a large purple eggplant sprinkled with sprigs of dried oregano imported from Greece to toss through the warmed pasta. This bag of oregano is destined to last us for about 5 years just like the last one did! The flavour hit is huge and I can imagine little old Greek ladies hand picking oregano sprigs from rocky, sunbaked Greek mountainsides.
Speaking of sunshine, would you look at the intensity of that Australian sun in the photo?! The spaghetti practically *glows*! No wonder we have the highest incidences of skin cancer down here, and the paint on our cars needs to be specially reinforced.

Continue reading

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Winter plum cake...in summer

This is another of the things I took to Ballarat with me last weekend. A friend of mine has been making Nigella's Winter Plum Cake from Domestic Goddess, for the last few months and bringing in pieces for us to have in between classes at uni. It's an excellent cake - moist and not too rich, with a fantastic icing made of unrefined icing sugar. This type of icing sugar really makes the cake; it gives a completely different flavour, quite fudgy and nutty. A hint of bitterness and a tang of...hmmm...caramel? We use the Billington's brand of sugar, imported from the UK, and all it takes to make the beautiful coffee-coloured icing is a few teaspoons of water. I never knew plain sugar and water could taste so spectacular!
In my usual tradition of not being able to follow a recipe to the letter, I changed this recipe a bit. As it's summer and I had a lot of fresh plums (as evidenced by my jam making extravaganza) I used fresh, rather than tinned plums. However, I think I'd recommend the tinned. I blanched my fresh plums to remove the skin, and they ended up disintegrating amongst the cake. I prefer the chunks of purple tinned plum studded through the cake, as I've had it when it's been made properly. Additionally, I didn't have any ground almonds on hand, and was too lazy to go to the shops. I did have a lot of pistachios, however, so I ground up equal weight of them in my food processor. It worked extremely well, although I do acknowledge it was not the cheapest option!! I also had a bottle of extremely good hazelnut essence, instead of almond essence, and used that. I love hazelnut, so for me, that worked well. So, yeah....Nigella's or my winter plum cake? Who knows? I say it's hers. A laughs at me and says it's anything but hers.

As a special bonus, you can witness my APPALLING cake decorating skills below. I mean, seriously, how old am I? How artistic do I think I am? From looking at that piece of atrociousness below, anyone would think I was 4 years old! Ok - I was lazy and impatient and didn't bother putting a nozzle on my tube of cake decorating icing, so it's all my fault. But geez, it's harder than you think to pipe something goey onto a cake with any neatness! In the event, on the trip up to Ballarat the icing melted and my "beautifully" rendered letters turned into something even more childlike.
But the photo below does show my wonderful, funky, red Italian kitchen scales A. bought as a surprise for me on a sick day last year. A sick day he spent drinking coffee and buying books in Lygon St...yes, the great Australian tradition of "chucking a sickie". (In our defence, we have far fewer public holidays here than other countries!) He had heard me complaining about my cheap, nasty and innacurate 5 kg kitchen scales (the lines were so close together I couldn't judge anything) and came over that evening with these for me. They only measure up to 1 kilogram, so each gradation on the dial is clear and makes it much easier to measure things with greater accuracy. I smile each time I lift them down, not only with anticipation that I'm going to make something tasty, but also with fondness that A. gave me such a thoughtful and useful present.

Winter Plum cake
for the cake:
567 gram tin red plums
125 grams self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
75 grams ground almonds
125 grams butter, softened
125 grams light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 scant teaspoon almond essence

20 cm Springform cake tin.

For the icing:
160 grams unrefined icing sugar
1-2 tablespoons hot water

Preheat oven to 170 c.
Drain plums, then chop and leave in a sieve to drain once more. Mix the flour, baking powder and ground almonds. Cream the butter and sugar, then beeat in the eggs, adding a tavlespoon of the flour mixture afte reach one. Beat in the almond essence, then fold in the rest of the flour mixture and the drained, chopped plums. Turn into the prepared tin and bake for about 1 - 1 1/4 hours. Remove from ove, cool in its tin for about 10 minutes, then turn onto the rack.
When cool, ice with brown-sugar icing, which you make by mixing the sieved icing sugar with water till you have a caramel-coloured shiny paste. Pour over the top of the cake to cover thinly, and leave to drip down the sides.
Serves 6-8

Continue reading

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Fabulous Pate

This was one of my contributions to our weekend away, and it was truly wonderful. It's a very simple recipe for chicken liver pate I found in a French cookery book when I was working in a library. Personally, I think it's more of a chicken liver mousse, but who's to argue with a French cookery book?
I decided a few years back (probably with a mouthful of good pate from a shop) that I wanted to try making my own. I knew it was popular to do in the 80s - my mother remembers doing it quite a bit for dinner parties - but it really seems to have fallen out of fashion at the moment. What a shame. Yes, it's far from healthy, but it's packed full of iron, which makes it great for women. Bring Back The Pate, I say!
A few chats with people who had experience in this marginal interest group gave me a few tips and warned me not to expect a professional texture; mine probably wouldn't be completely smooth. Doesn't matter, I thought. I found them to be wrong anyway! My first effort was about 3 years ago, and it was an instant, wildly-heralded, roaring success. My friend managed to eat her way through an entire pot and then asked for more!
I believe I've become known for my pate, and I have no complaints with that!
This recipe makes a soft, smooth pate with a wonderful flavour - the sort that needs to be served in a pot, rather than the firm, sliceable type. It makes enough to fill a large terrine or about 5-6 small ramekins, and I find it freezes amazingly well, which is great if you want to make up a batch of pate in small pots, to bring out at a later stage. Really, the flavour is incredible and, apart from the every-so-slight ickiness of preparing and trimming the livers (which only takes a few minutes...it helps to hum loudly, I find!) it is incredibly quick and easy to make. I really encourage you to try it.
(Chicken livers are easily available at supermarkets here in Melbourne, but I can't speak for anywhere else.)
Chicken Liver Pate
(from some French cookery book, the name of which I never wrote down...)
Makes 1 medium sized terrine, or 5-6 small ramekins.

500 grams chicken livers
80 ml brandy
90 g butter
1 onion, very finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon chopped tfresh hyme (alternatively, I use a small handful of chopped fresh sage, which we have in the garden. I actually prefer its flavour in this pate)
60 ml cream

Trim the chicken livers, cutting away any discoloured bits or veins (yes, I know....ewwwww...but the worst part is over now!). Rinse them, pat dry with paper towels and cut in half. Place in a small bowl with the brandy, cover and leave for a couple of hours. Drain the livers, reserving the brandy.
Melt half of the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and garlic and cook over low heat until the onion is very soft and transparent. Season well with salt and lots of freshly ground pepper. Add the livers and herbs and stir over moderate heat until the livers change colour. Add the reserved brandy and simmer for 2 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes.
Place the livers and liquid in a food processor and whiz til smooth. Add the remaining butter, chopped, and process again until smooth. (Alternatively, roughly mash the livers with a fork, then push them through a sieve and mix with the melted butter.) Pour in the cream and process until just incorporated.
Check for seasoning and pour into small pots or a large earthenware terrine, smoothing the surface. Cover and rerigerate until firm.
This recipe freezes well. Bring individual ramekins of pate to room temperature slowly (don't use a microwave).

Continue reading

Saturday, January 15, 2005

I'm outta here

Off for a few days to Ballarat, a town about 1.5 hours west of Melbourne to sing Haydn and Mozart in a festival there. Singing at Baroque pitch (i.e. everything a semitone down from what is notated in the music) is always fun, as is working with early music instrumentalists. A. is the bass soloist, we know we're being reviewed in the Melbourne newspapers, and this particular festival is always enjoyable, so I'm looking forward to it
We're combining it with a friend's birthday, so about 11 of us singers are going up early to have a big party, with many litres of red wine and many games of drunken charades. The picture above is of the gorgeous house we've rented for the weekend. Most of us are taking Monday off and turning it into a long weekend; so there will be much eating, drinking, walking, chatting and reading going on (hmmm, and that pretty big concert too...) I've cooked a collection of things to take up (posts to follow). It's a pity that, in keeping with the freezing cold weather Ballarat always enjoys, this weekend is forecast to be grey and cold. Ah well. Such is summer in this part of Australia.

Continue reading

Friday, January 14, 2005

Jam crazy!

I have gone seriously crazy in the last week making jam! Real jam. Proper jam. Greengage plums. Figs. Nectarines. Standing over a huge pot of bubbling volcanic lava jam and burning my arms. And you know what? I really don't even eat jam! Sure, I like it enough but I never have it on toast for breakfast. I don't like a sugar injection in the morning, and much prefer salty, savoury flavours, which makes it really difficult to find something quick to eat. Have you noticed that every type of breakfast food is sugary and sweet? Nigella says that she has a boiled egg (imported from Italy...lah di dah!) and toast every morning, which sounds like a great idea in theory, but I know what I'm like in the morning, and I'm lucky to get out of the house with both shoes done up! As making a cooked breakfast every morning is out of the question, I tend towards toast with Vegemite for my morning salt hit. If anyone has any suggestions for savoury, quick breakfast foods, that aren't necessarily toast-based then I'd be so grateful.
But anyway...I had a huge number of plums from my grandmother's backyard trees and it was suggested that, as I have time on my hands this summer, that I make jam. I pointed out that I had never done such a thing and was a little afraid of jam-making, as my childhood experience of my mother making jam involves a memory of boiling hot jam boiling out of the pot and sticking all over the cooktop, stubbornly resistant to be cleaned, and my mother claiming in exasperation that she would never make jam again. So, you can understand my hesitance!
I was also a bit scared of the whole "setting-point" instructions (methylated spirits?!?!) and the need for cleaned, sterilised jars. Yaaaawn...."just make a cake", I would think. So, after making this jam making decision I armed myself with an array of cookery books. When I hit full throttle I had three cookbooks on the go, vying for attention with the boiling, sputtering liquid. Two telling me how to make the jam and check setting point and one (Nigella) telling me how to sterilise jars in the microwave (cos there was no chance I was spending hours sterilising jars in an oven...I mean, I like to think I have a life!).
I used a combination of Stephanie Alexander's fantastic "Cook's Companion" instructions for Apricot Jam, and the Australian Women's Weekly 1970s cookbook (from where I found my cornflake cookie recipe) for general technique. A great tip from Stephanie was to crack open the pip of the plum or apricot and remove the small kernal. What an incredible smell they had! It was just like a combination of Kirsch or Amaretto! Amazing! So, they were chopped up and added to the mixture to add their flavour.
All up, I now have over 20
jars of jam for which I will have to find owners! I have Greengage plum, fig & plum and nectarine & plum jams...all of which taste wonderful, and sweet. Well, actually I'm not so fond of the fig & plum, but I'm sure there are people out there who love a strong fig taste and to have big chunks of fig in their jam...some people do... But the plum and nectarine is a triumph of jam-making. I'd be proud to have that represent me at any church market stall!
Luckily I have a boyfriend who loves jam, but even he will be hard pressed to get through 20 jars. I think I'll be playing a belated Santa Claus to family and friends for a little while!

Continue reading

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Pea & Ham Soup (without the peas)

A post-Christmas tradition in our home

This is a soup my mum makes every year after Christmas, when we are getting down to the bones of the Christmas ham. It really is kind of inappropriate for the warm Summer weather we have down here at Christmas, and it would be perfect for winter, but Australians still enjoy recreating a British/European feast for Christmas, and whilst you can eat ham cold and in ham salad and sandwiches, there's not much else you can do when it gets to the final scraps than make soup.
Each year mum makes this soup with a lot of dried, split peas added, and each year my brother and I whinge and moan because we don't like split peas. They're so mushy and grainy, and if you happen to get a bowl with not only a layer of mushy peas, but a knuckle of gristly bone, then your entire evening is ruined. RUINED!! So this year, in deference to popular opinion...no peas! At least, I haven't been able to see any, but as the weather has been so warm I have to admit I haven't been in much of a thick soup mood and have only had one small bowl (taken from the top of the pot...those nasty peas lurk at the bottom, in the dregs, where they belong!). For all I know they could be down there, biding their time, waiting in glee, and mum could be giggling away as she reads this, knowing it won't be long until I find their nasty, slimy presence in my bowl.
Although I emailed mum to ask what she puts in the soup, I haven't yet had a reply so I'm assuming it includes the big ham bone, carrots, onions, potatoes, celery, water...ermm.....all boiled up for a while.
I knew the soup would be pretty unphotogenic so decided the rest of the photo had to be! I'm pretty darn impressed with this result and, in great pride, sent it in an email to A. at work who came back quickly with:
"Do you have a bowl after the red thing jumped in the soup?"


UPDATE: After hearing from my mother I can confirm the awful truth...there *were* dried split peas in that soup! But only 1/4 of a packet as she couldn't be bothered going out to buy more. I'm not complaining!! She also told me the base of the soup was chicken stock and the ham bone, and that potato was not a usual ingredient in the soup; she used it to replace the dried peas. A much nicer alternative.

Continue reading

Almost famous

Have a read of this article in the Boston Times about our community of foodbloggers. I feel I know everyone mentioned in the article in person, having spent so long (years for a few blogs) reading, posting/replying to comments and emailing them. Several even helped me with finger food ideas when I had a function to cater a few month before I set up this blog. It's a great little community.
"Food Bloggers Chronicle Their Delicious Obsessions"

Continue reading

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

American Christmas Cake recipe wanted

This is a Christmas cake, in the American tradition, that was sent to us by the mother of a friend. It's so different to the traditional British/Australian Christmas cakes, which are full of currants and sultanas. This is chock full of glace cherries, chunks of pineapple and whole brazil and pecan nuts. It's fabulous and I love it! What I didn't love so much, however, was the the batter around all the nutty fruity stuff was pretty dry and cardboardy (I've heard this can be a problem with these sorts of cakes).
I'd really, really love to make a few for Christmas next year, but would appreciate a recipe that has been tried and tested to be moist and good for keeping; there's never enough time or stomach room to eat so much cake at Christmas itself! Therefore, I ask you out there who may be reading this post and have a great recipe that you've been eating or making since a little kid in pigtails, or something you've found recently to be really great, to please satisfy my curiosity. If you would like to pass it on, please do! I'd love to be able to make a well-loved Christmas recipe from the US (to add to the British and European specialities that are usual in Australia).

Continue reading

Monday, January 10, 2005

A red letter day!


A red letter day! My sitemeter tells me that I've just reached 1,000 visitors to this site since it began in October. I'm amazed, and rather impressed. Thank you to all of you who come and read about my efforts in an Australian kitchen. I will write another post shortly on the fairly amusing search terms people use to find this site - I find that really fascinating and check each day to see what else has been used. "My lebkuchen taste horrible" has been the best search phrase so far, and I really don't think I was able to assist them with their problem. My lebkuchen taste great!
I can think of no better excuse to enjoy an ice-cold gin & tonic by the pool - which I had been planning all along anyway, as it's 32 degrees and sunny down here today!

Continue reading

Turkey & ham Christmas leftovers pie

This is something I made to use up the many leftovers we had in the fridge in the days after Christmas. We had both a turkey breast and a fantastic cooked ham, both of which we had no chance of finishing in our small family, so I decided to look for some way to use up the leftovers.
I found it in Nigella's new book Feast, in her section for Christmas dinner leftovers (funnily enough). I cheated and decided not to make my pastry from scratch as we had a lot of frozen puff pastry sheets in the freezer. I made a stock with the bones left after stripping the meat, so I feel I made excellent use of my leftovers this year!
It's an excellent pie with a strong, savoury flavour. I can think of many things you could add to it if you wanted to alter the taste; fresh herbs definitely, cooked potatoes, other vegetables etc. etc.
I have fond memories of making this recipe; as I was beginning my preparations a summer storm came through and knocked out the electricity, so I was left stripping the meat from the turkey carcass by candlelight...nothing like a sharp knife, slippery meat, fiddly bones and DARKNESS!

Turkey and Ham Pie
"Feast", Pp 52-53.

45g butter
3 Tablespoons plain flour
650ml ham, chicken or turkey stock*
1x 284ml pot of cream*
400 grams turkey meat, in chunks
200g ham, in chunks
150 sweetcorn (I used a tin of babycorn)

Sheets of fozen puff pastry (I can't be bothered writing down her recipe for pastry here)

*Nigella says she often uses powdered chicken stock/liquid bouillon added to milk to replace both the stock and cream. I did this, plus a little sour cream. After having made this pie twice, with differing liquid ingredients, it all seems to work, whatever you do.

Preheat the oven to 190C.
Melt the butter in a decent-sized pan and stir in the flour. When your roux is formed and is smooth and nutty, take the pan off the ehat and slowly whisk in the stock, with a little whisk. When all's smoothy amalgamated, put back on the heat and cook, gently, until it starts thickeningg. Add the cream and carry on cooking until you've got a smooth ,velvety sauce. Add the turkey, ham and sweetcorn then pour into your pie dish. (she and I used an oval dish of about 2 litre capacity).
Add a lid of pastry over top and make a few slashes to allow steam to escape.
Put in the oven for 20-30 minutes until pastry is golden.

Continue reading

Friday, January 07, 2005

SHF #4 Going Nuts: Engadiner Nusstorte

The theme for this month's SHF is particularly apt for my entry. I nearly went bonkers trying to make this damn thing! This is a cake I have been wanting to make for quite a while, ever since A. commented that he had a friend who spent some time on exchange in the Engadine province of Switzerland, where they have an abnormally high number of pastry chefs, and came back with this in her repertoire to make for her friends. He said it was so fabulous that I was keen to try it. When this month's theme was announced I knew the time had come. I didn't have any recipe at hand for it so spent some time searching on the internet. Many dozens of recipes were found, and I spent quite a bit of time emailing A. at work with samples. Usually he respond "naaah. That's not it. Hers had a lid on it" or something. It didn't help me that he was calling it an ERDINGER nusstorte...no wonder I was having trouble, and could only find beer recipes! Eventually my research skills won out and I found something that met his approval.

Well, what follows would quite possibly make a good Mr Bean episode.
I had the whole afternoon to make it, and I spent the whole afternoon making it...with a not particularly successful or photogenic result.
Firstly I had trouble with the translated-from-German recipe. What is a "ds of salt"? A dessertspoon sounds too much for a sweet cake, and being a Swiss recipe I thought it must be a precise metrical measurement. I went for a pinch. Then I struck trouble with the pastry ingredients. It called for 1 egg, but in the method it told me to "add egg and egg yolk". Huh? Is that some translation issue? Do German recipes usually separate the ideas of egg into egg white and egg yolk? Do I need another egg? I don't have another egg! Damn!

Anyway, pastry made. Into the fridge. Now to crack nuts. I know I don't need to crack nuts, but we had a big bowl of them left from Christmas and I really couldn't justify going out to buy pre-shelled walnuts, when I had a bowl of unshelled mixed nuts. As I've said before, thrift is my friend! But these nuts were the Superhero of nuts. The term "a tough nut to crack" could easily have been based on my own personal bowl of nuts. I spent over an hour cracking nuts and cracking my fingers. I had nutshells flying around the kitchen like heat seeking missiles, shooting off at angles, hitting the dog, hiding under benches. They nearly took an eye out! When I'd eventually get a nut open I'd most usually have it fly out of my hand, across the room and land behind the television or under the fridge or some such useful place, and I'd be there hot and aggravated at another useless effort. The hazelnuts were huge buggers to crack, and as for Macadamias….well…..you would have been in hysterics at my sweaty, grunting efforts. I decided to put them in a really hot oven for a while and see if that worked. What I got were blackened macadamias, burnt fingers, a total of two nuts cracked, and one bashed, very sore thumb from when I got impatient and attacked it with a meat hammer…. So, thrift now being dismissed as a moral notion only for people with unlimited time and patience, I jumped in the car and bought two packets of chopped! shelled! walnuts.
Incidentally, did you know that adding lots of nuts to hot caramel just succeeds in making the caramel seize and create big lumps of sugary nuts, leaving you to work frantically to unlump the whole mixture? Well. Now you do.

Then I had a complete failure with the pastry. Usually pastry is equal parts flour to butter. Not here it wasn't. I had no chance. Two hours in the fridge, and it was still like hmmm…..….soft, squishy shortbread dough. I was trying to line a cake tin with, extremely tasty, extremely useless-for-rolling soft shortbread dough!
There was certainly no chance I was lifting my circle of soft dough and lining the tin. Ooooh no. I tried. I ended up with soft, smooshy mush. I resorted to grabbing lumps of soft dough and smooshing it around the tin with my fingers. It stuck, so I judged it a success. It'll be fine, I thought!
Then I noticed there was no pre baking involved – just tipping the nuts, swimming in all their creamy, caramelly sauce (which tastes awesome!!) into the soft (are you picking up a theme here) uncooked dough. So, I decided to bung it in the oven for a while to try and crisp up the bottom. You know, baking blind and all that. But of course, a logical action like that wouldn't work for this recipe! Noooo....this recipe was determined to make me a failure. I looked in the oven to see my carefully smooshed, lined sides of the tin happily sliding down the sides to the bottom! Arghhhh!!
I grabbed it out of the oven (remember potholders in your haste!) and picking up a conveniently nearby teaspoon start to stick it back to the sides, holding the tin on its side while turning it tin around, which meant….of course…. while I was smooshing in one side….the other side fell off! Now I had a cake tin full of half cooked, slimy, sugary mushy base!!!
Swear copiously. Curse the world, your life, and the dog who I was sure was watching with a smirk on her face. Attempt fixture of the dough. Decide to hell with the whole damn thing and just pour in the sloppy filling into the sloppy dough. At least it'll taste fine, you think. Attempt a pastry lid to place on top…..naturally with limited success. I managed to roll something out that was circle shaped and managed to get *most* of it on top of the filling intact….
Into the oven and try to forget about it for an hour. When it had finished cooking it didn't look too bad at all. Problems struck again when I tried to take the sides off the springform tin and the sides of the cake decided they had made better friends than I thought and wanted to join it, attempting separation from the sticky base. Aaaarghhh again!

But, the damn thing is, after all that strife and effort, this cake is possibly one of the best things I have ever tasted. Imagine a pecan pie, but even better - stickier, gooier, with crisper, sweeter, crumblier pastry and you have this. If you could possibly put up with such a palaver to make this, then I'd recommend it, but you know, to be honest, I'd recommend you find a different recipe, modify the one below or send nasty emails to Mr Rene Gagnaux, whoever he is (a prankster?) from whose account this recipe sprang! :-)

Engadiner Nusstorte
From: r.gagnaux@chnet.ch (Rene Gagnaux)
Servings: 6
180 g Butter (6.5 oz)
1 x Egg
150 g Granulated sugar (5.5 oz)
1 ds Salt
300 g Sifted flour (10.75 oz)
200 g Granulated sugar (7 oz)
2 1/2 dl Whipping cream (1/2 pint)
225 g Walnuts, coarsley chopped - (8 oz)
2 tb Honey
Butter, flour 1 x Egg yolk

Place the flour in a mixing bowl, cut the butter into small pieces, rub the flour and butter rapidly between the tips of your fingers.
Add egg and egg yolk, salt and sugar, blend quickly into a smooth dough.
Cool in the refrigerator for 1 - 2 hours.

In a small saucepan caramelize the sugar until a light brown. Stir in all the nuts, mix well, add cream and honey, bring to the boil.
Preheat the oven to 180 oC (356 oF).
Roll out 2/3 the dough to a thickness of 3 mm (1/8 in).
Butter a false-bottomed cake pan (21 cm, 8 1/4 in) in diameter, dust with flour and line with the dough leaving a 3.5 cm ( 1 3/8 in) edge.
Prick the dough with a fork and pour the nut-mixture into the pan. Spread out evenly.
Roll out the remaining dough, cut into a circle the size of the baking pan and cover the nut-mixture. Press edges together and baste the top with egg yolk.
Bake for 50-55 minutes. Take the cake out of the pan when it is lukewarm and leave it on a cake rack to cool.

Continue reading

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Passionfruit banana cupcakes

This recipe is nothing more than another version of the banana, cranberry and white chocolate cupcakes in Domestic Goddess which I've already played with before. This time I had two rapidly blackening bananas and a bag of passionfruit bought, but unused, for Christmas. And I had time on my hands, being on a permanent summer holiday at the moment...
This recipe is just so easy that you can decide to make cupcakes and have them in the oven about 15 minutes later. They're a good, little basic staple cake - perfect for church fetes, bake sales or to add to people's lunches for a morning tea treat. I'm thinking of adding some lemon icing to the top and selling them at our monthly market stall at church.
Despite their fairly austere simplicity, I decided to have some fun with the photo and, I have to say, I'm very pleased with the result!

Passionfruit banana cupcakes

125g butter
200g caster sugar
4 tablespoons of cream
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
300g plain flour
2 ripe bananas
4 passionfruit - (flesh only! pips are ok in my book)

-Preheat the oven to 180C
-Melt the butter in a saucepan, then, off the heat, add the sugar and soft bananas, mashing them with a fork in the pan. Stir in the milk, passionfruit and the eggs and - still using your fork, or wooden spoon - beat to mix.
-Add the bicarb and baking powder, and stir in well, then finally stir in the flour.
-When the mixture's just blended pour into muffin tins
-Cook for ~20 minutes, or until you stick in a skewer and decide they're ready.

Continue reading

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

New Year Meringues


These very delectable little things are a special! bonus! dessert I made for Christmas day, that were received with general despair and cries of "but we couldn't POSSIBLY eat another thing!". However, those who were bold enough, or could suppress their stomach churnings really enjoyed the experience!
What I was trying to acheive were the beautiful mini meringues Nigella shows in Domestic Goddess, but I failed completely. I've never before had a problem with egg whites not beating and getting fluffy before, but the day I did these there was nothing happening! They stubbornly refused to gain anything apart from a sickly, anaemic looking froth. It looked really unappetising. It may have had something to do with the fact it was 38 degrees and sticky that day..... But I persevered and although what came out of the oven were almost completely flat, they were nicely dry and crispy, and I thought they'd still be nice with whipped cream and some tart cranberries. In fact, the crispiness of the meringue was perfectly complemented by the soft whipped cream, and their sugariness perfectly offset by the tangy cranberries.
I made the cranberry preserve by using Nigella's hands free jam method I disovered recently , but as I didn't want the preserve to be nearly as runny or as sweet as before I increased the amount of berries, and halved the amount of sugar. It came out perfectly, and after it cooled I added about a handful of uncooked cranberries I had reserved earlier, to make it a thicker, more sour jam - so I could use it for an accompaniment to the roast turkey as well as dessert. Thrift is my friend!
All up, a very easy and yet very impressive looking dessert to create.

Continue reading

Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Australian advantage!


This feast of seafood is a great illustration of what it's like to live in an Australian coastal city. I would add "in summer" to that, but, really, this is what it's like all the time! Seafood is easily available, relatively cheap and of extremely high quality here in Australia; we really are so lucky.
These are 2 large platters of fresh prawns I enjoyed for dinner at my godparent's house a few days ago. One platter was covered in homemade mayonnaise, and the other was served with a Japanese dipping sauce of light soy sauce and wasabi - a combination that was perfect for a Summer meal! My godfather even went to great effort to present his prawns in a perfect, artistic circle; he feels a sense of presentation competition now that I have this blog, and I was only too happy to reward his efforts by posting a photo on this site!
This was the final dish of a multi-course seafood dinner that started with an enormous platter of cold, fresh oysters (very cheap here in Melbourne) with fresh lemon and cracked pepper, followed by an incredible seafood risotto - made with fresh scallops, prawns and fish. The secret ingredient, I was told, was the champagne added to the fish stock when cooking the risotto rice. A great tip! And a good excuse to open another bottle of bubbly at this holiday time!

Continue reading