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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Monday, July 31, 2006

Beef Braised in Beer (low fat!)

It may not be obvious from this blog, but I'm actually on a bit of a healthy-eating plan at the moment. Yes, a blog full of baking recipes may have deluded you somewhat, but it's true. I'm trying to get fit and healthy, especially in preparation for a rapidly-approaching trip to Europe. I mean, I can't look like a sad, fat-wobbly tourist walking around fashionista Italy, can I?! Banish the thought!
Of course, making a decision to go healthier in the middle of what seems to be an never-ending Melbourne winter is pretty bloody poor timing. Everything is crying out for thick fat-heavy stews and chunky soups and all things buttery and good. Although, I have to admit in a delusion of self-congratulation at the healthy fish dinner I ate at Claypots last night, I succumbed to an incredible Polish plum jam donut from Europa Cake Shop in Acland Street last night. Good work, Niki. I think I've seen a short doco about the making of those donuts; they take 10 hours to make. But even cold and at midnight they tasted magnificent. (NB just found a short doco about these donuts. They are, indeed, 'famous'.)

But, anyway, back to the healthy food. I was looking through the low-fat section of Nigella Lawson's How to Eat and was surprised to see a recipe for 'Beef Braised in Beer'. Surely that's not low-fat! How could it be? But it sounded like perfect winter food, so not believing my luck, I gave it a go. Nigella says it is pretty much an English version of a carbonnade - a northern French stew of meat cooked with dark beer and prunes. Now, I'm definitely not a fan of sweet flavours in my savoury foods, or fruit mixed with meat, but I was game, especially as the idea behind this was that the richness and depth of the prunes would replace any extra fat in the dish. Soaked prunes have a similar texture to fat, and are often substituted for their equal weight of butter in low-fat baking recipes. Also, because the dish is cooked very slowly, you can use lean meat, and it will still be quite tender.
It would have been obvious to choose Guinness for my stout, but instead I got Cooper's Extra Stout. Support your local businesses!
It was easy to make and definitely very full flavoured. I acutally liked the taste of the prunes - they gave a tang that was good with the dark flavours of the sauce. However, I could only take it in small doses. The sweetness got to me after a while.

It definitely didn't taste low-fat, and was perfect for a cold winter's night. My mum came home to the smell of warm stew and told me it reminded her exactly of the old-fashioned beef braises her mother used to make in the 50s & 60s. So, I guess that's a commendation! I think she liked it more than I did.
Keeping with the whole healthy-eating-plan thing, I served this on top of wholemeal pasta. I'm slowly coming around to the taste of the wholemeal stuff, but it's never going to be a good as 'real' pasta!!
I think, as so many of you already have How To Eat that I'm not going to include the recipe this time. If you don't have it, go out and pick up a copy! It really is a very useful book.

Braise after coming out of oven

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Spiced Apple Cake

Inherently I'm a very lazy person. So when I see a recipe for an apple cake in which I don't have to peel the apples, I'm sold. When that cake turns out to be completely delicious, I'm vidicated.
Peeling - pah!
Being left-handed has alwyas made peeling vegetables a real trial for me, but finding this 'chuck 'em all in' recipe in a Jill Dupleix book shouldn't surprise anyone. Jill is the queen of easy, hands-off cookery. Her best-known
books are called Simple Food, Very Simple Food and her new one...ummm Really Very Simple Food, or something like that. Very Jill. I've written about her on many occasions before; an expat Aussie, she is now Cookery Writer at the Times in London. I recently saw her on an episode of Good Food Live doing her very blunt and laconic Aussie thing -in this case roundly telling off host Jennie Barnett for asking "a very ignorant question" when she was asked if we celebrated Easter at the same time as the rest of the world in Australia. I mean, really! I don't often bristle at shades of cultural imperialism from the UK, but I fully supported Jill's bemusement at that one!

So, I found this recipe in New Food, which I picked up 2nd hand at the uni market. I wrote about this book when I posted about fresh apple muesli. In the few months I've had it, I've made this cake about 4 times. Occasionally I've looked at the other cake recipes, but none grab me as much as this. I love the taste combination of apples with warm, wintery spices and this chunky, fruity, spicy cake is perfect for the cooler months. I tend to jack up the spices in any recipe, so feel free to add more than what is indicated! I've found it even handles the substition of wholemeal for plain flour very well, as do many heavier, rustic cakes - so with that and the apple peel, at least you know you're getting your fibre!

Each time I've made this cake it's turned out a little differently - both in taste and texture. I can't really explain it. Well, apart from one instance where (and this is absolute testimony to my laziness) I didn't have any eggs and couldn't be bothered going out to get any, so decided to just press on. Instead of eggs I decided to chop up a handful of dates and use them instead. "Yeah, that'll stick it all together. It'll be fine!" I somehow convinced myself. Evidentally I totally forgot that umm...dates are really sweet! I had soaked them in brandy before hand so yes, they acted in sticking the cake together, but only if you were looking for nougat!! The thing solidified like a brick. A cake it was not. But really tasty it was! It was kind of like a sweetmeat. Chunks of sugary, spicy preserved fruit stuff that was very easy to snack on. Sort of a cross between nougat and panforte. It was sweet enough to send my head into a spin, but wow- I loved it. Nearly ate the entire thing on my own. I like to think my laziness was vindicated again.Ahem.
And I have to tell you, the smell when baking this is divine.
Read on for the recipe:

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Spiced Apple Cake
New Food - Jill Dupleix

Jill writes: "This is a big, chunky, fruity, spicy cake for a special morning or afternoon tea. I advise you to skip lunch."

1 cup raisins
1/2 cup rum or brandy
1 cup self-raising flour (wholemeal self-raising works well)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch of salt
140 grams (5 ounces) butter
1 1/2 cups of sugar
3 eggs
2 cups chopped, unpeeled apples
1 cup chopped walnuts

-Preheat oven to 180C (350F)
-Soak raisings in rum or brandy
-Sift flours, baking powder, spices and salt.
-Beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy
-Add eggs one at a a time, beating after each addition
-Gradually fold in flour mixture
-Add apples, nuts and drained raisins. If mixture is very thick, add some of the rum or brandy.
-Pour into a 25cm (10 inch) pan and bake for 1.5 hours until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
-Cool and serve.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Fennel and orange soup

This is one of Clotilde's recipes from about 2.5 years ago. I remember reading it and being really inspired to make it, but fennel is a winter vegetable, and it was mid-summer in Australia. It took a few months before I could do it, and I loved the result. I'm not a big fan of licorice, but I do like aniseedy vegetables like fennel and chicory. With the tang and sweetness of candied orange peel and marmalade added to it in the soup (yes, weird!), the taste combination is really unusual and bold. I think it's a great combination.

The soup is on the sweet side - another con in my experience - but again, it works. Many people can't abide the though of candied orange, but it's not so overpowering in this; all the flavours meld together. Yes, it is orangey, so if it's the strong orange flavour of the candied peel (and marmalade) that doesn't appeal, then you may not like this soup.

This is probably one of the most 'cheffy' tasting soups I've made - there's no hearty, rustic flavours and chunky textures like the usual things that come off my stove, but it's quick to make and tastes really interesting. From start to finish you can be eating this soup in 30 minutes...as I am right now. I think it would be a great starter for a dinner party; you could follow it with something quite heavy, but even fish would complement it well.

It's also good to eat if you stupidly burnt the roof of your mouth when tasting something you were cooking a few days ago and now cannot bear the pain to chew anything more solid than pureed soup. Not that I've been so stupid to do such a thing. Oh no....not me!
Read on for the recipe:

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Soupe de Fenouil aux Ecorces d'Orange
Fennel and orange soup
From Chocolate & Zucchini

- three bulbs of fennel*
- two onions
- about 15 strips of candied orange peel (or chopped mixed peel)
- 2 tbsp orange marmalade
- 3 cups vegetable stock
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp brown sugar or molasses (optional)
- olive oil
- salt, pepper

(Serves 4.)

Peel and chop the onions. Heat up some olive oil in a large saucepan and cook the onions on medium heat for a few minutes. Wash the fennel bulbs, cut off the stalks (reserve the little sprigs), remove the hearts and chop. Dice the orange peel.

When the onions are softened and slightly translucent, add the fennel, orange peel, coriander seeds, salt and pepper, and the stock. Cover, bring to a simmer and let cook for twenty to twenty-five minutes, until the fennel is thoroughly cooked.

Transfer all or part of the solids into a food processor, puree and return to the saucepan. Stir over low heat, adding the orange marmelade and brown sugar (if needed). Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve in bowls, topped with a candied orange strip and a little sprig fennel if you feel all fancy and garnish-ish.

You can also soft-boil an egg, peel it and break it open in the bowl of soup, for a lovely blend of tastes and a complete meal
*I've made it using 1 bulb, and it's still good

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Bastille Day patisserie!

I actually made this ages ago; Easter, in fact. Hence the yellow painted egg down the bottom. But due to forgetfullness and other posts taking priority, this has languished in my photo pile for too long, especially considering how proud I was of it! But what better than Bastille Day to pull out something so obviously French-derived, eh??

I think it was because I had 1/2 a jar of leftover cherries in the fridge (remember those chocolate cherry brownies?), and I was looking for something to make to take to a family lunch. I flicked around a few books and, as often, turned back to my trusty Stepanie Alexander Cook's Companion. It had all the right moves: preserved cherries, ground almonds and few other ingredients. I particularly liked the idea of making up an eggy, buttery, sugary almond paste (a frangipane) to spread over the base of the tart; both for flavour and to prevent the base from getting soggy from the fruit. Another layer gets spread over the top so the fruit is sandwiched between - yum! I've always been a fan of almond croissants, so anything made with frangipane is a big winner in my eyes.

This cherry tart is a simplified version of one from Jane Grigson's Fruit Book - and I simplified it even more by using frozen shortcrust pastry. I didn't have quite enough cherries, so I made up the difference with the only vaguely appropriate thing we had in the pantry (because I'm too lazy to run off to the supermarket after already starting to make something. Improvisation is my saviour!...and my downfall!) which was a tin of prunes. Now don't screw up your nose! Tinned prunes are very nice; and they have a sprightly tartness to their flavour which the dried ones don't. I thought they paired pretty well with the cherries.
I also jacked up the almond flavour with a tiny splash of almond essence. But don't use too much because that stuff is way powerful and can overshadow any other flavour. It makes things taste so damn European, though. As my mum would say, it needs to be added from the top of a tall building!

Yes, this tart tasted really, really good. Quite professional, like something bought in a French bakery, but didn't use too many infredients or require any fussy technique. However, my real pride and joy is that lattice-work. People, check out my lattice-work! Is that good or what?? It looks like something in a book! I was so chuffed I kept shoving the tart in the faces of friends and passing strangers. Next time I'll take the time to make my own pastry (although the frozen stuff was adequte) and I might even get jiggy with the lattice-work. My nan suggested twisting the strips.....oooooh, kinky!

Read on for the recipe:

Cherry, Prune and Almond Tart
Adapted from Jane Grigson, by way of Stephanie Alexander.

2 sheets frozen shortcrust pastry
90g butter

90g caster sugar
1 egg
1 extra egg yolk
3 tablespoons plain flour
125g ground almonds
1/4 (or 1/2) teaspoon almond essence
1/2 cup jarred Morello cherries, drained but syrup reserved
1/2 cup tinned prunes, chopped
100g icing sugar

-Preheat oven to 200C.
-Line a 20cm loose-bottomed flan tin with the 1 sheet of the pastry and bake blind for 20 minute. Reserve the other sheet for making the lattice top.
-Reduce oven temperature to 180C.
-Cream butter and caster sugar until pale. Add egg, extra egg yolk, flour and ground almonds to make a paste.
-Spread a thin later of paste over the base of the pastry case. Scatter cherries and prunes over evenly.
-Dab on remaining paste and smooth as well as you can with a knife.
-Cut the other pastry sheet into long strips and cover the tart with a lattice.. Get jiggy and creative if you feel so inspired.
-Bake for 25 minutes until tart feels springy and firm.
-Cool a few minutes, then brush all over with icing sugar mixed with a little of the reserved syrup. Return to oven for another 5 minutes.
-Serve warm or cold.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Filipino suggestions?

My uncle was recently on holiday in the Philippines, and knowing my fondness for unusual foods, brought this back for me: a can of "Fish n' Nuts" . Seeing it on the shelf makes me giggle.
Any ideas? Anyone?

And these also. I think I have a fair idea of what to do with the shrimp fry, but the cooked dry peas...??

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Friday, July 07, 2006

More low fat chocolatey delights

This is another recipe inspired by Alic Medrich. The chocolate walnut torte in Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts has been the next recipe on my list for a while, and when I had a function to attend I thought I'd try this cake, but in a slice tin and cut into individual portion-controlled bite size squares. Always good when you know people are watching their fat/sugar/carb/food intake, but still appreciate something sweet.

I had a feeling the recipe would be quite similar to the fallen chocolate souffle torte I made a few months ago, and in this I was correct. It has the same decadent, rich, flourless consistency that belies the fact that it is low in fat; things this good must be bad for you! They even look like something you should avoid.... In fact, the last few times I've made low-fat chocolate goodies from this book, I've had to make a sign to tape to the platter proclaiming they are low fat, so people won't avoid trying them.

However, I have to acknowledge that this isn't the best recipe in which to play around with pans sizes and individual portions. It's very difficult to cut and there was quite a lot of wastage (ahem...). The centre is gooey and the tops have that crackly crust that just shatters everywhere. To get them into small, bite-size portions was hard work. I probably wouldn't do it again using this recipe. It's definitely better suited to being served in larger portions, on a plate, with cutlery. It'd be the perfect light dessert after a good dinner.

Unbelievably, the supermarket didn't have any plain dark chocolate when I was shopping for ingredients. I didn't really want to go the cheap cooking chocolate route, so I bought a small bar of rum & raisin dark chocolate. The recipe only needs 75 grams and called for a tablespoon of rum, so I thought it would work well. And it did, if you like that flavour of commercial rum & raisin chocolate. I forgot that I didn't, and was surprised at how strongly the flavour carried through the cake. I'm sure some people love that taste, but next time I'm not settling for second-best...
Read on for the recipe:

Chocolate walnut torte pieces with rum & raisin flavour.
Based on Alice Medrich 'Chocolate Walnut Torte'

1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons plain flour
2 1/2 ounces (75g) rum & raisin chocolate, chopped fine (or plain dark chocolate)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup boiling water
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 egg whites
Icing sugar, to dust.

1: Preheat oven to 350 (175C) and prepare a slice tin (or an 8 inch round cake tin) with baking paper and vegetable oil spray.

2: Grind walnuts with the flour in a food processor or blender until very fine. Set aside.

3: Combine chopped chocolate, cocoa & 3/4 cup sugar in a large bowl. Pour in boiling water and whisk until mixture is smooth and fully combined. Stir in egg yolk, rum and vanilla. Set aside.

4: Beat egg whites in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining sugar and continue to beag at high speed until stiff. Fold 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate batter to lighten, then fold in the remaining egg whites.

5: Scrape batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake until a skewer or toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it. My slice tin took about 20-25 minutes. Cool in the tin.

6: Allow to cool completely (letting it sit in the fridge helps) before removing and cutting into squares. Dust with icing sugar.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

Rude Food

Hehehe. Rude Food. Lots of undergraduate fun.
Fart bar! Big Nuts! Jussi Pussi! Happy Crak! Homo Milk! Fanny tuna!....

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