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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Friday, January 19, 2007

Best doughnut in Melbourne?

Is this the best doughnut in Melbourne? It could well be; it's definitely the best one I've tasted in a long while. Except for the amazing Polish plum jam donuts from Europa bakery in Acland Street.
It's a bomboloni, or bombolini, or bomboleo or something bomby from Dench's at 109 Scotchmer Street, North Fitzroy, almost opposite the excellent Piedimonte's supermarket on St George's Rd, where I can find all kinds of weird and exciting imported European foods, as well as any type of exotic dairy I want (sheep's yoghurt, quark..). That pocket of North Fitzroy is a foodie haven; if you haven't had brunch at The Greengrocer, and finished it off by picking up a block of Green & Black's chocolate, then I say, go treat yourself!
The donut is a typical deep fried, yeasted donut filled with custard, but superior in every way. It seems I'm not the only blogging fan, either (and his photo is much better 'cos you can see all the custard). The custard is light and eggy, with a hint of lemon - real Italian custard. And the donut is not heavy or leaden, even though it does pack a punch calorie-wise; your paper bag turns transparent from the oil pretty quickly. Eat up! They're tossed in sugar, so each bite is a mouthful of crunchy sugar, light donut and creamy, lemony custard. Ok, so not an everyday treat, but as occasional indulgences go, one of my favourites.
Dench is known for its sourdough breads, which are mainly supplied to restaurants around Melbourne, but they do have a shopfront selling products, and a few tables for breakfasts & lunches packed in pretty tightly. But for me it's all about the bombolonis.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Lamb Fest

Going through the freezers before Christmas, trying to clear some space, we found a previously unknown hidden cache of lamb. Specifically legs of lamb in varying sizes, and no memory of having bought them. So, in trying to use them up in a more interesting way than just making standard roast lamb, I recalled a photo I'd seen in one of my cookbooks of a piece of lamb coated in yoghurt roasting on an oven tray. It took me a while to find the photo, in my sole Jamie Oliver book - Jamie's Dinners, and it looked pretty good, but I didn't have all the ingredients (fresh mint, tinned chickpeas - my supermarket is always out!), so I combined it with another yoghurty, minty marinade I found in Nigella's How To Eat. It was a bit of an experiment, but one that paid off.

I pulled out my mortar and pestle for about the first time in a year and ground up a 2 teaspoons of coriander seeds with 2 tablespoons black peppercorns. Then added 2 tablespoons dried mint, 2 garlic cloves, salt and some oil to make a paste. Then measured 250g yoghurt and juice of 1/2 lemon and mixed it all up.
Jamie's recipe was for a lamb leg, but one that had been boned and butterflied. My leg was a half size, and looked pretty manageable, so I decided to have a go boning it myself. It was....ok. Didn't help that I had to defrost it first and the inside was still hard: frozen meat, sharp knife and greasy hands don't make for a good combination! Eventually I got the bone out, randomly cut it down the middle and kinda managed to butterfly it into something almost even. Not the most sophisticated butchery skills, but full points for perservering!
The marinade goes into a freezer bag with the meat, and I left it for the afternoon at room temperature. We don't have many veggies in the house at the moment, so I found some old pumpkin, a few potatoes and red onions and sprinkled them with ground cumin, sumac (which I love) and olive oil.
Butterflied meat cooks much quicker than meat on the bone, so it only took 45 minutes at 200C to cook the lamb. It was more well-done than I'd choose, but it suited this recipe. The smells coming out of the oven were amazing; my brother, who was going out for dinner, was practically delirious and hung about the oven sniffing and watching the meat cook. It was a nicely novel way to cook it as you placed it directly on the oven tray, so it browned all over, and dripped its yoghurty, meaty juices into the vegetables below. Consequently the veggies were astoundingly good! It kind of reminded us of Indian tandoori cooking, but without Indian spices.
Because there were some pretty strong flavours happening in the marinade and spicing up the veggies, I made a pot of plain boiled peas to go along with it; their simple sweetness was a good foil to all that partying in our mouth.
And the leftover lamb makes a wicked sandwich!

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Fresh mint

I had a lot of fresh mint hanging about in the week after Christmas. I made my usual fetta & watermelon salad, which uses it, but as the days around Christmas were so cold, it wasn't really the weather for the sort of things that usually call for it.
When the weather heated up the week after, it had gone a bit limp and blah, but I reconsidered throwing it out. Instead I made two fresh mint recipes from Nigella's Forever Summer. The lime & mint Coolaid, and the mint & pea soup.
I didn't have any limes, but lots of bald lemons from my onion, lemon & thyme relish-making fits, so used that instead. I think lime would have given a more desirable sourness, as this drink was waaaaaay sweet. A warning to any non-sweet-tooths out there: you will need to dilute this with water. It almost tasted like cordial syrup to me! Very tasty & refreshing though.

The pea & mint soup is complete simplicity to make. Steep some fresh mint stems & dried mint in vegetable stock (which I made up with hot water and Vegeta powder) and add to a spring onion and frozen peas.you've softened in oil. Then boil it up until the peas are soft, whiz it up with a blender and add some creme fraiche (I used no-fat yoghurt). The taste was incredibly good; it tasted like something that had many more ingredients and should have taken so much longer to prepare. Recommended!

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Handmade foodie presents

Being time-rich and money-poor this Christmas, I decided to make foodie gifts for friends and fam, hoping that old maxim about homemade gifts meaning so much more blah blah etc. held true. The decision was helped out by reading the latest issue of Donna Hay while lazing about by the pool; there was a feature on caramelised onion relishes, which was pretty appealing. But the clincher for me me was the time saving tip about sterilising: it says there's no need to worry about sterilising jars before adding preserves, because the hot preserves will do all the work. Once you've cleaned the jars with hot, soapy water and rinsed and dried them, you just fill them, screw the lid on tight and turn the jars upside down and allow them to cool. The hot relish sterlises the insides of the jars and lids. BONUS!!! Whenever I've made jams and assorted conserves (yes, Little Britain reference) I've spent ages zapping hot water in the microwave until boiling point, making a hell of a mess and nearly killing myself with the safety combo of glass, steam and boiling water.
So, thus convinced, and really hoping I wasn't going to give my loved ones botulism, I was most tempted by the red onion, thyme and lemon relish. If you haven't made jams or relishes before, this is a good start. It's not hard at all to chuck stuff into a big pot and let it cook. You don't have to worry about setting times and pectin levels and all that faffing about that goes with jam making.

I'm actually not a relish or chutney girl at all; I like my savoury food savoury. Chutneys etc. are usually far too sweet for me, but I'm actually kind of won over by this one. Yes, it has that characteristic sweet & sour taste of relishs, from the vinegar and brown sugar, but it also has something I quite like. I intended it to be an accompaniment to the Christmas ham, and it does that job well, but it really shines when paired with a really bitey cheddar cheese. The type that burns the roof of your mouth...mmmm. Before Christmas my favourite lunch was toasted bread with butter (real butter, not that nasty fake stuff!), bitey cheese, onion relish and a carpet of flat leaf parsley. Weird combination, created out of stuff we had in the fridge, but it worked so damn well. (Now I'm just trying to eat up the leftover leg of ham- now 2 weeks old...)
I've only had one report from my present recipients, and she said she loves it, which I'm happy to know!
I won't lie and say I eat it every day, but just maybe this girl is starting to turn toward the world of chutney...?

Read on for the recipe:

Red Onion, Lemon and Thyme Relish
Dec/Jan 07 Donna Hay magazine

1/2 cup (21/2 oz.) olive oil
2kg (4 1/2 lb) red onions, peeled and cut into wedges
3/4 cup thyme leaves (stripped from the branch)
1/2 cup lemon zest
1 cup (200g/7oz) brown sugar
1 cup (8 fl oz) white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste*

Heat a large deep saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and onions. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 40 minutes or until the onion is holden and caramelised. Add the thyme, lemon zest, sugar, vinegar, salt and peppr and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Cook for a further 10-20 minutes or until thick and syrupy. Makes 5 cups (2 pints)

*I found I needed quite a lot of salt to create a good balance between sweet and savoury: almost a 1/4 cup.
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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

More chocolate

Sorry, I've been very lazy and had an almost computer-free post-Christmas week, laying on the couch eating leftovers and watching Little Britain DVDs. I hope you had an enjoyable Christmas and 2007 shapes up to be a good year. Christmas day here had very bizarre weather; in the afternoon it was only 9 degrees, hailing and snowing in the nearby hills. Today it's 34 degrees. Climate change in action! I loved the cold Christmas day; for the first time it felt right having a roast dinner and plum pudding. I even made red cabbage and apple, and mulled wine for the occasion. If I can't be in Europe for it, I can dream...

Today I received a large box in the mail from the woman who was the only other person on my Intrepid tour around the Czech Republic in October. We had an amazing week, with a fabulous tour guide and I have some very happy memories of my time there. As the only 2 in the group, and having to share a room, it was fortunate that we immediately clicked!
She had already told me that she'd send some chocolates from Kansas City to me, but I didn't think too much about it and, to be honest, I wasn't expecting anything extraordinary. The box was enormous and filled with packing foam. An insulated bag in the centre contained four icepacks, that were, incredibly, still cool to touch, and inside was luxuriously packaged box of chocolate by Chistopher Elbow that took my breath away.

I had great fun getting to the chocolates and was gobsmacked when I found them; the packaging is so luxurious! And then finding the chocolates themselves - I truly never imagined I'd actually eat such gorgeous creations myself! I've seen such intricately decorated chocolates in magazines and websites, but I'm pretty sure there is nobody in Melbourne doing such amazingly presented confectionary. Or is there? I'd love to know.

And the flavours! A representative example: Strawberry balsamic, Russian tea, Rosemary Caramel, pear cinnamon, Tahitian vanilla bean, Pinot Noir caramel, Spanish saffron, Caramel with fleur de Sel, Vietnamese Cinnamon, Espresso with lemon...
Two layers - so 2 of each. There's a note saying that because they contain no preservatives, they must be eaten within 12-14 days from purchase.

But I think I'm too in awe of them to try them! I admit I have only looked at them so far. I don't want to disturb the perfection. But I'm looking forward to getting into them very soon; they smell amazing. I'm so touched that she went to such effort and expense to send these to me; I was quite overwhelmed when I opened them. There are some really lovely people around.

Now what on earth could I send in exchange??? Maybe not a Violet Crumble and Caramello Koala....

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