Friday, February 26, 2010

Raspberry Trifle: Anything But Trifling

According to the Macquarie dictionary, a trifle is "an article or thing of small value; a matter of slight importance; a trivial or insignificant affair or circumstance." As in, "don't worry, it's just a trifle" or "it was no effort, only a trifle". Well, after making this dessert, I am here to tell you that no dish was ever so poorly named as the "trifle"? It should be called "the stupendous", "the abundance" or possibly even "the time-consuming raving beauty". It is certainly the most awe-inspiring dessert I have ever made. The one thing it wasn't was a "trifle".

Melinda at Melbourne Larder started me thinking about this trifle after she gave it her seal of approval last month in our "We Made It" challenge. Then the planets collided. I had promised to make some dessert for a family get together for Chinese New Year, and the idea of this trifle kept playing on my mind. Sadly I had missed the dark berry season, however raspberries were available and they were (comparatively) inexpensive. They were also the perfect red for Chinese New Year. Decision made. I then substituted Chambord (raspberry liqueur) for the Creme de Mure called for in the recipe.

The biggest issue with this recipe is the time it takes. To make it, you need to resign yourself to the best part of a day spent near the kitchen, the day before you plan to serve it. Not that the recipe is that difficult or time consuming, but there is a lot of setting and resting time in its construction. But it is definitely worth the investment in both berries and time. The only thing I was unhappy with was the sponge which I thought was a bit hard. I suspect that was my own fault. Instead of baking in one large tin, I split the mixture into two round cake tins that were the right size for my bowl. I should have reduced the baking time and I didn't, so my sponge was certainly on the firm side. Oh well, nothing that a bit of cream and liqeuer didn't solve....

As you can see from the picture, the end result is definitely designed for a party. It's a dessert that Melinda describes as a showstopper, and it certainly is. The recipe was the cover of the Gourmet Traveller in Dec/Jan - they obviously felt it was the perfect festive dessert as well.

Just don't call it a trifle.

Dark Berry Trifle adapted from Gourmet Traveller
Serves 20

1.5 kg blackberries or mulberries, plus extra to serve (I used raspberries)
300 gm caster sugar
2 vanilla beans, split and seeds scraped
10 gelatine leaves (titanium strength), softened in cold water for 5 minutes
300 ml pink moscato
1 lemon, juice only
330 ml crème de mûre (I used Chambord)
1.25 kg crème fraîche
150 ml milk, or enough to thin
2 lemons, finely grated rind only
40 gm (¼ cup) pure icing sugar, sifted
8 eggs, at room temperature
250 gm raw caster sugar
250 gm plain flour, sieved
50 gm butter, melted and cooled

For sponge, preheat oven to 175C. Whisk eggs and sugar in an electric mixer until tripled in volume (7 minutes). Fold through flour in batches, fold in butter, pour into a 28cm-square cake tin lined with baking paper. Bake until golden and centre springs back when pressed (20-25 minutes). Cool in tin, turn out, halve sponge horizontally, trim each half to fit a 6 litre-capacity glass bowl, then remove from bowl and set aside, reserving trimmings.

Meanwhile, combine 1kg berries, sugar, 1 vanilla bean and seeds and 1.1 litres water in a large saucepan, simmer over low heat until infused (50 minutes). Strain through a fine sieve (discard solids), transfer 1 litre hot liquid to a bowl (reserve remainder). Squeeze excess water from gelatine, add to bowl, stir to dissolve. Add moscato, lemon juice and 80ml crème de mûre. Strain half into trifle bowl, scatter over 250gm berries and refrigerate until set (2-2½ hours). Chill remaining berry jelly, removing from refrigerator if it starts to set.

Reduce remaining liquid over high heat until syrupy (10-15 minutes), refrigerate until required.

Meanwhile, combine crème fraîche, milk, rind, icing sugar and remaining vanilla seeds in a bowl, adding extra milk if necessary until spreadable. Spread one-third over set jelly, top with a sponge round, fill any gaps with trimmings, drizzle with 125ml crème de mûre. Scatter over remaining berries, pour over remaining jelly (mixture should be starting to set). Refrigerate until set (2-2½ hours). Top with half the remaining crème fraîche mixture, then remaining sponge. Drizzle with remaining crème de mûre, top with remaining crème fraîche mixture. Cover, refrigerate overnight. Serve scattered with extra berries and drizzled with blackberry syrup.

Note You'll need to begin this recipe a day ahead. Crème de mûre is a blackberry liqueur available from good bottle shops. If unavailable, substitute crème de cassis. You can use frozen blackberries for the jelly and the syrup.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reminder: Dandi Giveaway

Just a reminder that my Dandi giveaway finishes at the end of this week. Dandi is offering four of my readers a pack containing the Masterchef Masterclass DVD (yes, a compilation of George's and Gary's best recipes and tips) and a set of beautiful Dandi tea towels. There is no question that cleaning up after a Masterchef-inspired masterpiece will be so much nicer with pretty tea towels.

All you have to do to enter is take a look at the Dandi website and let me know which colour you would prefer in a tea towel: chocolate, duckegg blue or marshmallow pink, or something completely different, and why? You can either leave a comment here with your colour preference or you can email me at . Competition is open to Australian residents only. Winners will be picked for originality. Good luck!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fabulous Crab Cakes In An Ordinary Life

Mostly I am very happy living my (relatively) ordinary life - although even saying that makes me frightened that some horrible fate might befall me tomorrow. Health, education, people to love and people who love me, passions, dreams, hopes, fears, idiocies and indulgences, I'm lucky with all. But today I am feeling extremely inadequate in my ordinary life. And not for the usual reasons like out of control hair or clumsiness. The source of my worries? I never slept with Elvis Presley, Clint Eastwood or Burt Reynolds.

Mum gave me "Insatiable: Tales From A Life of Delicious Excess", the memoirs of Gael Greene, the restaurant critic on New York magazine. I expected a gee whiz romp through some of the world's best restaurants with a few recipes and tips on technique thrown in. I have read quite a few books in this genre and they all follow much the same pattern. Except that Greene, who I must admit I had heard of only fleetingly, was also a racy novelist who partook in all the excesses of the 70s and has decided to share them in detail. Just imagine being able to say: "Years later, I would glance at Time magazine and my breath would catch in my throat. There were two men on Time's January 9, 1978, cover and I had been to bed with both of them." Straightfaced. Both of them. Clint and Burt. And this, after her tryst with Elvis is detailed on page 9. I'm not really keen on Elvis or Clint or Burt, but I can only imagine being able to claim having been up close and personal with that trifecta. No wonder she published her memoirs.

Meanwhile, big excitement for me was crab cakes. It just doesn't have quite the same ring does it? I can't even claim it was a cover recipe, let alone the cover of Time. Nor do I envisage publishers will be squabbling over the rights to my memoirs ("She did make those great crab cakes, we must have her book!") So I will go back to reading about the lives of glamourous New Yorkers while I hide from the heat in Sydney and eat another crab cake.

This recipe came from "Bon Appetit" April 2009. It is pretty easy, and makes a very elegant nibble, which can be made a couple of hours in advance. Make these to eat with drinks and you won't need to serve a first course. When I next make them, my only change will be to line the muffin tins with foil so the crab cakes are easier to get out. I'm sure Elvis, Clint and Burt would approve, if you happen to be entertaining them.

Mini Crab Cakes
from Bon Appetit, April 2009

250g cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 large egg
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon finely grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
4 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
Large pinch of cayenne pepper
180g fresh lump crabmeat, picked over, patted dry, coarsely shredded (I used good quality tinned crab, well drained)
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/4 cup unsalted butter (approx 60g), melted, plus more for pans
Fresh chives, cut into pieces

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese in medium bowl until smooth. Add 1/4 cup Parmesan and egg; beat to blend. Beat in sour cream, citrus peels, 4 teaspoons chopped chives, salt, and cayenne pepper. Fold in crabmeat. Cover and chill.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter 2 mini muffin pans (or line each hole with foil). Toss panko, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and 2 tablespoons chopped chives in small bowl. Drizzle 1/4 cup melted butter over, tossing with fork until evenly moistened. Press 1 rounded tablespoon panko mixture into bottom of each muffin cup, forming crust. Spoon 1 generous tablespoon crab mixture into each cup. Sprinkle rounded teaspoon of panko mixture over each (some may be left over).

Bake crab cakes until golden on top and set, about 30 minutes. Cool in pans 5 minutes. Run knife around each cake and gently lift out of pan. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Arrange on baking sheet; let stand at room temperature. Rewarm in 350°F oven 6 to 8 minutes.)
Arrange crab cakes on serving platter; sprinkle with chives.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Black and White Cheesecake Squares and Gratitude Journals

Last year, a friend suggested that I begin keeping a gratitude journal, as a tool to nurture creativity and happiness. The concept is extremely simple, but according to many, it is transformative. Select a blank notebook, and each night, write down five things you are grateful for that day. Because you are writing for your eyes only, you can be as personal as you like. Try not to repeat yourself. This means that the big blessings like partners, children, friends and family are dealt with early on, and forces you to take note and take pleasure in the finer details of your life. So popular has the gratitude journal process become, that there is even a gratitude journal iPhone application, as well as various websites for those who would rather log their joys electronically, than with pen and paper.

I have only just started this process, so it is way too early to report on whether my creativity or happiness has been successfully nurtured however it has made me take note of the tiny moments of happiness that can get overlooked in the dizzy spin of a day around here. Sprinklings of bliss this week have come from:
- the divinely heavy smell of murraya flowers at dusk (orange jessamine to US readers)
- a good book in a long bath
- an excellent parking spot (the joy I get from this should never be underestimated)
- a lamb and onion sandwich created from leftovers
- a walk with a friend
- a helpful soul at the post office (also not to be underestimated)

These chocolate cheesecake squares gave me another moment of bliss a couple of weeks ago, as I watched a friend's daughter orbit around and around the plate until her mother said she could have one. For me, one of the great joys in cooking is watching the pleasure it gives others, especially when it is as pure and obvious as it was on this little girl's face. Definitely a moment of happiness that made me feel grateful .

Black and White Cheesecake Squares
from Martha
Makes 24

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
300g unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
21/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
250g cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup icing sugar

Preheat oven to 160C. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with baking paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on both long sides. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Cream butter and sugar with a mixer until smooth. Add 2 eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla, and beat until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl. Reduce speed to low; add flour mixture. Increase speed to medium; beat until just incorporated. Reserve 1 cup of dough; cover, and refrigerate. Press remaining dough into bottom of prepared dish. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Bake until base is set and edges are puffed, about 25 minutes. Let cool in dish on a wire rack. Mix cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, and remaining egg and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla in a medium bowl. Spread over cooled base; crumble reserved dough on top. Bake until filling is set, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool in dish on wire rack, then lift out using overhang. Cut into 24 squares. Squares will keep in the fridge for three days.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fish Tacos and How To Achieve Work Life Balance in 7 minutes or less

I have been muttering to myself all morning about a promo for the Martha Stewart show this week. Get ready for it: if you are lucky enough to see the show on Tuesday, you are in for a treat: "Chefs Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert make coq au vin. Plus, how to get work-life balance and adorable Westminster dogs." I'm sure the coq au vin will be great and the dogs will be cute, but really, does anyone believe we can crochet up some work-life balance in the seven minutes between two commercial breaks?

Having done some time in a TV production office, I can tell you that this story came from some bright spark announcing in a production meeting that everyone seems to be talking about work-life balance. From there it would have been a very quick process of sourcing some interview talent (probably someone who has written a book on the subject), and writing up a brief. Today, the interviewee will be wheeled on, deliver their pithy pearls of wisdom and disappear again before a single mother has had time to make a school lunch while dialling in to a conference call. Pretending that this is a topic that can be conquered in seven minutes is not helping anyone, especially not those on the front lines fighting for work-life balance.

To me and my female friends, work-life balance is one of those intractable, thorny subjects. It means different things to different women and even different things to the same woman at different points in her life. It means compromises in the office and at home. It means choices that are hard, whichever way you go. It means second shifts and mother guilt, bruised egos and careers abandoned because balance proved impossible. In fact, I was laughing with a friend this morning about finding work that lets you be at home after school, and any time a kid is sick; that lets you have all school holidays off; that is pretty flexible so you can get to sports carnivals and Christmas concerts; that values your contribution on output not hours in the office. Oh, and we still want creative, fulfilling roles that makes us feel valued. Where are these work-life jobs? Not with Martha Stewart, I would bet. And the secret to finding them or maintaining a work-life balance is not going to be solved with a quick TV how-to. Even with Martha. OK, now that I have that out of my system, onto the tacos........

Whether or not you are struggling with work-life issues, whether you are time-rich or time-poor, these tacos are a fast, easy dinner. When I first saw the title in the current issue of Donna Hay, I imagined some sort of simmer of heavily-spiced fish, in the same way you simmer mince for beef tacos. I was wrong - the fillets of fish are dry-fried briefly in a pan, and then served in a tortilla with a punchy salsa, some coleslaw, pickled onions and avocado. I skipped the chilli marinade on the fish for the kids, and they also avoided the salsa, and the onions. The result was a good dinner for all of us: adults with the spices dialled up; kids opting for a plainer variety. A welcome change that was perfect for a hot night.

This was one of my choices for this month's We Made It challenge focusing at Donna Hay Feb / Mar 2010. If you are tired of under-utilising your cookbooks, feel free to join Melinda at Melbourne Larder and me - just drop us a line.

Fish and Coleslaw Tacos
adapted from Donna Hay Feb / Mar 2010, serves 4

2 tbl olive oil
1 tsp chilli flakes
sea salt
4 snapper fillets (approx 140 g each)
8 tortillas (Donna has a recipe for them in the mag, but that fell into my too-hard basket)
3 tbl mayonnaise
1 tbl white wine vinegar
1 cup finely shredded white cabbage
1 avocado, diced
coriander to garnish

Place mayonnaise and vinegar in a bowl and stir until well-combined. If it is too thick to tip from a spoon, thin it with a little water. Season with salt and pepper. Add cabbage, toss to coat, and place in the fridge.

Combine oil and chilli and salt and brush over fish fillets. (If this is for children, omit the chilli). Heat a non-stick frying pan over high heat. Cook fish fillets for 3 minutes on each side or until cooked through (you can tell it is done when it starts to flake easily). Serve in tortillas with coleslaw, pickled onion (see below), salsa cruda (see below) and avocado.

Salsa cruda:
Combine 250g chopped cherry tomatoes, 1 green onion, 2 tbls lime juice (I used lemon because I forgot to buy limes and it was fine), 2 tbls olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, 1 green chilli and sea salt to taste.

Pickled onion:
Place 2 red onions, 2 tbls white wine vinegar and 1 tbl olive oil and sea salt to taste in a non-metallic bowl. Allow to stand for 10 mins or until onion starts to wilt. Keeps well in the fridge.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Year of the Tiger Cupcakes

As well as Valentine's Day, tomorrow is Chinese New Year and the start of the Year of the Tiger. Don't you think that calls for some tiger cupcakes for the kids? I know I get carried away, but I am so excited by them - don't you love the picture!

The tiger faces are fondant, apart from the M&M eyes, with a chocolate cupcake and chocolate buttercream icing underneath. I can't wait for the reaction tomorrow. To all my readers, hope the Year of The Tiger gives you Luck, Prosperity and Longevity.

Classic Chocolate Buttercream Cupcakes
from 500 Cupcakes by Fergal Connelly
225g unslated butter, softened
225g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 tbls cocoa powder
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
100g chopped plain chocolate
2 tbsp double cream
50g unsalted butter, softened
100g icing sugar, sieved

Heat oven to 175C. Place 12 large cupcake papers into a muffin tin. Combine all ingredients in an electric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment for 2-3 minutes. Spoon the batter into cases. Bake for 20 mins. Cool in the tins for 5 mins then remove to a rack to cool completely.

For the icing, combine chocolate cream and butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir gently until combined. Remove from heat and add icing sugar, stirring until the icing is smooth. Spread onto cupcakes.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Salmon, Potato and Bean Salad With Horseradish Pesto

I'm hot. Very hot. Smoking hot. But before you get the wrong idea about me completely, let me reassure you that it's not just me. The kids are hot. The dog is hot. The house is hot. Even the cold water is hot. I'm not joking. Weather wise, February is my least favourite month in Sydney. because it is so stinking hot and humid that to walk anywhere feels like a swim. Picture a city that is completely sweat-soaked, and breathing hard, and you have a good idea of what I see around me.

Poet Les Murray describes this much better than I ever could in "A Retrospect of Humidity":
"the Lycra-bulging surf drips from non-swimmers
miles from shore, and somehow includes soil.
Skins, touching, soak each other. Skin touching
any surface wets that and itself
in a kind of mutual digestion.
Throbbing heads grow lianas of nonsense."
So that's what my head has been full of: lianas of nonsense. Unrelenting rain last week only made matters worse, as the evaporating puddles on the ground have added to the dampness in the air. I know in a couple of weeks, temperatures will subside, the humidity will lift and we will all feel better, but for now, we are all flattened by a steamer.

No surprises then that I am currently drawn to salads. Salads for dinner have been a welcome development in the last few months, made possible because my children have finally moved beyond the "er yuk it's green" stage. (If you listen carefully, you can hear wild cheering from me). I used to find myself picking the finely chopped parsley off pasta in a restaurant because the kids thought green was so contaminating that nothing could be eaten with even a green fleck in it. I slowly eased them into iceberg lettuce ("hey kids, it's just crunchy water"), and from there gradually started expanding the variety of leaves. They don't love it, but they will eat it. The stronger bitter leaves are still a bridge too far, but one they will eat is baby spinach. In case you were wondering, when I first gave them spinach, I didn't tell them it was spinach. I was worried that the word "spinach" would sound kid alarm bells, in a way that the taste would not. I just said it was a "new leaf" for them to try. Worked for me, anyway.

This salad caught my eye in the latest Donna Hay Feb / Mar 2010. It is quick and easy, and with the potatoes, it really is sufficiently filling for dinner. Smoked salmon fillets are available in the supermarket, so your only cooking is the potatoes and beans. The rest can be thrown together. Even the pesto - just use store bought and stir in some horseradish, if making your own seems like torture in this heat. Incidentally, Donna's horseradish pesto was tasty, although I upped the amount of horseradish to give it a bit of extra zing. You won't be surprised to hear that the kids wanted to have theirs without the pesto. No complaints from me: you've gotta walk before you can run.

If you are cooking anything from Donna Hay Feb / Mar 2010 this month, email me or Melinda from Melbourne Larder. We'd love to have you join us on our We Made It challenge.

Salmon and Potato Salad with Horseradish Pesto
adapted from Donna Hay Magazine Feb/Mar 10
serves 4

750g baby potatoes
300g green beans, trimmed
2 x 200g hot smoked salmon fillets
60g baby spinach leaves
Horseradish pesto, recipe below

Boil potatoes until tender (12-15 mins). Remove from water and cool slightly. Boil beans for two mins until tender (you can use the potato water). Drain and cool slightly. Slice potatoes and place in a serving bowl with salmon, beans and spinach leaves. Drizzle with pesto, and some extra olive oil, if you would like to use it. Serve.

Horseradish pesto: (you can use store bought and stir in some horseradish)
2 1/2 cups basil leaves
2 -3 tbls bottled horseradish, depending on taste (not horseradish cream)
2 tbl pine nuts
2 tbl finely grated parmesan
1/4 cup olive oil

To make the pesto, put all ingredients, plus salt and pepper in he bowl of a small food processor and process until smooth.