Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween Chocolate Biscuits

Halloween has just started to take off in Australia. As a child, I can remember jealously watching shows like The Brady Bunch and wishing we had Halloween here. Now it has arrived and is spreading like wildfire - after all what's not to love about dressing up and buckets of lollies? When you are in a household with a nine year old and an eleven year old, it is pretty obvious that Halloween is something you will be involved in.

Because of the time of year, I was inspired to make Halloween themed biscuits this week. I used an online recipe from Martha Stewart, which is pretty simple to make. Unfortunately, (and I know it is because the dough needs to maintain its shape), these biscuits were a bit on the dry side. You also need to watch them carefully in the oven because they can burn pretty easily. I don't think an adult would be in raptures over these cookies, but a kid faced with a chocolate pumpkin biscuit? What's not to love?

Ghostly Pumpkin (or Bat and Cat) Cookies

adapted from Martha Stewart Online

Makes 40 to 50
1 1/2 cups plain flour, plus more for rolling and cutting out dough
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
180g unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy; beat in egg. On low speed, mix in flour mixture. Divide dough in half, and form into 2 disks, each about 3/4 inch thick. Wrap disks in plastic; chill until firm, at least 45 minutes and up to 2 days.

On a lightly floured sheet of baking paper, roll dough to 3mm thick. (If dough becomes too soft to work with, refrigerate for a few minutes.) Cut out shapes, dipping cutters in flour as necessary to prevent sticking; place on a baking sheet, spacing them 3cm apart. Bake until surface is dry to the touch, 10 to 15 minutes (if decorating, press candies into dough halfway through baking). Cool 1 to 2 minutes on baking sheet; transfer to a rack to cool completely. Serve, or store in an airtight container up to 3 days.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cherry Tomato Crumble - Why Didn't I Think Of That?

In light of my public commitment to reduce the amount of food waste in this house, I am having to keep an extra close eye on the vegetable drawer. This is definitely the place in my house where things can get pretty ugly. (Don't judge; I know I am not the only one!). So after I made the Kylie Kwong lively tomato salad, I wound up with some leftover cherry tomatoes and I was determined to use them before they went off. Cherry tomatoes don't lend themselves to quite as many uses as regular tomatoes, although the kids will sometimes take them to school as a snack. But, in the funny way that planets will align sometimes, I spotted a recipe for a cherry tomato crumble when I was writing up the beetroot salad. The perfect solution!

Cherry tomato crumble (or cherry tomato crisp as Martha calls it) struck me as such a blindingly obviously wonderful idea that I wanted to make it quick smart. And it was great. Big thumbs up from all the family, even the family members who generally don't like cooked tomatoes. And even better - the leftovers from this leftover meal were perfect tossed through some pasta the next day.

Cherry Tomato Crisp

2 slices white bread
1/4 cup grated parmesan
2 tbls shredded fresh parsley
1 tbl olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
5 cups cherry tomatoes (or whatever you pull out of the bottom of the crisper)

Preheat oven to 200C. Combine bread, parmesan, parsley, olive oil and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until bread is coarsely chopped - cubes about the size of dice is what you want.

Arrange the cherry tomatoes in a single layer in a baking dish. Sprinkle with the crumbs. Bake until the crust is browned and the tomatoes are tender, about 20 mins.

Monday, October 27, 2008

My Favourite Brownie Recipe

Brownies are one of those things (like chocolate chip cookies) that have probably been cooked by everybody at one time or another. Everyone knows what they like and most regular cooks (or at least regular cooks with children) have their own "go to" recipe that they look to whenever they are asked for a plate of brownies. And when it comes to brownies, everyone's taste is different - some people like brownies at the cakey end of he spectrum, some at the fudgey end of the spectrum, some in-between. I am definitely in favour of the fudgey brownie, and this is my "go to" recipe.
I first discovered this recipe because I wanted to whip up some brownies but had no chocolate in the house. I was going through recipe after recipe to see if I could find one that required only cocoa powder when I found this one in "Marie Claire: Flavours" by Donna Hay. It is dense and rich and soft and so gooey you need to keep the brownies in the fridge. Preferably a fridge with a padlock to stop the constant raids these brownies inspire. In my view, these brownies can't be beaten (although I do have one member of the household who prefers the Betty Crocker packet brownies which are thin and cakey, so there is no accounting for taste!) If you are cooking for grown-ups not kids, you can make these into fancier mint-chocolate brownies. (After putting half the mixture in the tin, cover it with a single layer of after dinner mints and then the remaining brownie mixture. Cool and slice as usual). Thanks to the darling daughter for the photo.

Chocolate Brownies

250g butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
1 1/3 cups plain flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 170C. Place the butter, both sugars and the vanilla in a stand mixer and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat each one until well-incorporated. Sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder over the butter mixture and fold through. Scrape the mixture into a 20cm square tin lined with non-stick baking paper. Bake for 40-50 mins until set in the middle, but still quite soft (remember we are going for fudgey not cakey). Cool in the tin, and then cover and put in the fridge until completely set. Cut into squares. Fall into raptures.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fun in Blogland

I am really loving doing this blog for a thousand different reasons: pushing myself to cook more, and to cook more adventurously; learning about taking photos; writing and driving myself to be more creative. Even better is the way that I am suddenly connecting with people in different parts of the world, or even in my own city through a shared love of cooking. In that spirit, I saw that another blogger, Stephanie (aka The Happy Sorceress) at a blog appropriately called "Dispensing Happiness", runs an event called Blogging By Mail. This is basically a global care package swap, where everyone who signs up is assigned someone in the world to send a package to, and also receives a package from someone else. The theme this time was 10 items or less - and it was up to each sender to peruse the blog of the receiver and try and create a parcel that would thrill them. My parcel left for the state of Georgia, USA, a couple of weeks ago, while the parcel destined for me arrived late last week.

I feel very lucky to have been allocated to Christy from Sew Much Fabric, Sew Little Time who lives in Florida. Christy creates the most amazing aprons, and the centrepiece of my parcel was an apron covered in perfect 1950s housewives whipping things up in the kitchen. It is retro and fun and I will love using it. You can see it on her blog here, just scroll down to the yellow trimmed apron that appears 3/4 the way through this post. The other aprons you will see are also incredible. Christy also included in the parcel:
- 2 gorgeous handmade tea towels
- 4 mini loaf tins (I have never seen anything that small here and can't wait to make some tiny banana bread loaves)
- flavoured skewers to make my next BBQ extra tasty
- four different spice mixes (Garlic and Herb, Italian, Cinnamon and Basil and Tomato - all flavours I love)
- oven bags for a turkey (Christmas is coming!)
- a mesh bag that you put inside the turkey cavity so you can simply pull it out full of stuffing once the bird is cooked (fantastic idea that I have never seen here)

WOW. Christy thank you and I can only hope that you are as spoiled by someone else as I have been by you.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Beetroot and Carrot Salad For A Bit of Colour in Your Life

It might be an Australian thing, but I really love beetroot. We grow up with it as a standard inclusion on take-away hamburgers (unbelievable to many non-Australians, but 100% true), so I can't even remember trying it for the first time. In recent years, it has become an increasingly common salad addition or garnish, largely because of the dramatic splash of crimson it offers. On top of that are the significant health benefits, and a sweet, easy flavour.

This salad has a Middle Eastern flavour to it with the cumin, coriander and cinnamon combination - and it packs a punch; an ideal combination to serve with a lamb or chicken tagine. It is also easy to make, and brings a definite splash of colour to the dinner table. Even better, it can be prepared in advance and refrigerated as both the beetroot and the carrot will hold their texture. The recipe comes from "Great Food Fast" published by Martha Stewart, which has lots of nifty ideas for quick meals. If you prefer less strong flavours, I would reduce the cumin and coriander by about 1/4 tsp each. I liked their advice and used the food processor for grating. Just make sure you either use gloves when you are peeling the beetroot, or hold it with a fork to avoid staining your hands pink.

Shredded Beetroot and Carrot Salad
from "Great Food Fast" by Martha Stewart

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 tbl extra-virgin olive oil

1 tbl honey

3/4 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

500g raw beetroot, peeled

3 carrots, peeled

1/3 cup torn continental parsley leaves

Whisk together lemon juice, oil, honey, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cayenne plus 3/4 tsp salt. In a food processor, shred the beetroot and then the carrots. Add to the bowl along with the parsley and toss all the ingredients together.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Vegetable Pot Pie - For A Quiet Night At Home

Pot pie is one of those home-y recipes, that speaks to me of nurturing and goodness. It is warm and forgiving and flexible. A yummy mixture of whatever vegetables you want to use, bound together in a lovely sauce and capped with a pastry crust. What could be better? And an unexpected cold snap this week, meant it was even more perfect. This recipe from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, is lovely, and a great way to spend an hour or so, pottering around the kitchen. I halved the butter and skipped the pernod (had none) and baby onions (no frozen baby onions here), and halved the quantities, to get two very lovely pies, which I shared with the darling daughters. In fact the vegetable mixture was so delicious, I couldn't help but nibble at it while waiting for the pastry. If you were in a rush, or felt a little intimidated by making pastry, simply use pre-rolled shortcrust and continue with the baking.

I made the vegetable pot pie for this week's Barefoot Blogger challenge, chosen by Debinhawaii from Kahakai Kitchen. For me it really was a challenge. I have rarely ever made pastry from scratch and I have certainly never made it with shortening. In fact, the only thing I make here with shortening is chocolate crackles. So I have some questions for my friends in the blogosphere unanswered by the recipe:
1. Do I melt the shortening before using? If so, do I then need it cool it to room temperature?
2. Do I simply chop shortening? This is what I did, but I wound up with two funny melty patches on my pastry, where I did not chop the pieces small enough. Or should I grate the shortening to get even smaller pieces?
Any advice from the Barefoot Blogging troupe would be most welcome!!

Regardless of a couple of odd patches in my pastry, this was a great recipe. Thanks Deb for the choice. You can see the beautiful pastry created by the others here.

adapted from "The Barefoot Contessa Parties"

12 tbls unsalted butter
2 cups sliced yellow onions (2 onions)
1 fennel bulb, top and core removed, thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 cup plain flour
2 1/2 cups good chicken stock
1 tablespoon Pernod
Pinch saffron threads
1 1/2 tsps salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 1/2 cups large-diced potatoes
1 1/2 cups asparagus tips
1 1/2 cups peeled, 3/4-inch-diced carrots (4 carrots)
1 1/2 cups peeled, 3/4-inch-diced butternut squash
1 1/2 cups frozen small whole onions (1/2 pound)
1/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley

For the pastry:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Flaked sea salt and cracked black pepper

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and fennel and saute until translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the flour, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Slowly add the stock, Pernod, saffron, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the heavy cream and season to taste. The sauce should be highly seasoned.

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 10 minutes. Lift out with a sieve. Add the asparagus, carrots, and squash to the pot and cook in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain well. Add the potatoes, mixed vegetables, onions, and parsley to the sauce and mix well.

For the pastry, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the shortening and butter and mix quickly with your fingers until each piece is coated with flour. Pulse 10 times, or until the fat is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water; process only enough to moisten the dough and have it just come together. Dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Divide the filling equally among 4 ovenproof bowls. Divide the dough into quarters and roll each piece into an 8-inch circle. Brush the outside edges of each bowl with the egg wash, then place the dough on top. Trim the circle to 1/2-inch larger than the top of the bowl. Crimp the dough to fold over the sides, pressing it to make it stick. Brush the dough with egg wash and make 3 slits in the top. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.

Chicken Stuffed With Orange, Sage and Squash Couscous

The blog world, as I am now discovering, is full of all sorts of food challenges and groups. Among them are the Barefoot Bloggers; Tuesdays with Dorie; The Daring Bakers; Whisk Wednesdays; Sugar High Fridays and Weekend Herb Blogging. In fact, there is a group that will be cooking pretty much anything that takes your fancy. Some of these groups are cooking at a level that would be considered at least close to a professional chef; others are tackling simpler fare. And for those who want to get their own creative energies flowing, there is the impressively named Royal Foodie Joust. The premise of the Joust is to create a dish that incorporates three random ingredients selected by the previous winner. I am enjoying doing these challenges because what seems to be impossible flavour combinations at first glance somehow marry up in my head as I contemplate them. A very satisfying process.

This month those ingredients are: acorn squash, oranges and sage. Unfortunately I don't think acorn squash is available in Australia (I can't recall ever having seen it anyway), so dispensation has been given to use another of the winter squashes. I chose what we would call butternut pumpkin. After contemplating a range of options, I decided that couscous might be a good way to bring everything together, either in a salad, or in a stuffing. And while I wound up using it as a stuffing, the combination was delicious enough to stand alone as a couscous salad. Even the kids kept wandering into the kitchen and nibbling at it as they waited for dinnertime. And serving it with the chicken worked extremely well - I will definitely make this again. Scrumptious.

Chicken Stuffed With Orange, Sage and Squash Couscous
1 medium roasting chicken
150g couscous
Juice and zest of two oranges
2 tbl olive oil
1 cup diced butternut squash
80g pistachio nuts
2 tbl shredded sage

Preheat oven to 190C. Boil the diced squash for 5 mins. Drain. Mix the couscous in a bowl with the juice and zest, olive oil, squash, pistachio nuts and sage. Add 1/2 cup of warm water. Stir again. Season to taste. Stuff chicken with the couscous mixture, reserving any extra mixture in an oven proof dish. Sprinkle the chicken with sea salt, and drizzle with a little olive oil.

Roast chicken at 190C for 1/2 hour, then drop the temperature to 170C and roast for a further hour. Pop the leftover couscous into the oven for the last half hour to warm. Allow the chicken to rest for ten minutes, then place on a serving platter and carve, allowing the chicken juices to soak into the couscous.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

New Basics Meatloaf - For A Financially Black Week

As global financial markets splutter around the world, a glance back at history tells you that this is historically the worst week of the year. The crash of 1987 began on October 19th, (aka Black Monday), while the crash of 1929 began on October 24, with the worst day of trading on October 29th, (aka Black Tuesday). And the question for us all this week is whether the world economies can pass through this historically "black" week without any further catastrophes. Today everything looks OK, but the picture is changing so quickly at present. Fingers crossed there are no more disasters waiting for us. In any event, this is not a week for caviar and champagne, but a week for reigning in the family budget and rediscovering meatloaf.

As profoundly unfashionable as this will sound, I like meatloaf, both hot and cold, even in a sandwich with chutney. It is the sort of meal, where the leftovers are every bit as good as the original dish. This meatloaf recipe comes from "The New Basics" cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins and they attribute it to a restaurant in Venice California called 72 Market Street. It was apparently named the "ultimate meatloaf" by Vogue magazine (although I find it hard to imagine the models tucking in). Like all good meatloaf should be, it is hearty and wholesome, with lots of vegetables and spices adding flavour. It is also easy to make, although you will give your knife and chopping board a bit of a workout.

Market Street Meatloaf
adapted from "The New Basics" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

3 tbls unsalted butter
1 large brown onion, chopped
1 bunch green onions, white and 8cm of green, chopped
1 carrot chopped
1 rib of celery, chopped
1/2 red capsicum, chopped
2 tsps minced garlic
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
3 eggs, well beaten
1/2 cup tomato sauce (ketchup)
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup pouring cream
1 kg beef mince
400g sausage meat (you can squeeze it out of sausages if it is unavailable!)
3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 375C. Melt the butter in a large frying pan and add the onions, green onions, carrots, celery, capsicum and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until the moisture from the vegetables has evaporated, 10 minutes. Set aside to cool; then refrigerate, covered, until chilled, at least 1 hour.

Combine cayenne, cumin, nutmeg and eggs in a mixing bowl, plus salt and pepper to taste, and beat well. Add the tomato sauce, milk and cream. Blend well. Add the mince, sausage and bread crumbs to the eggs. Then add the vegetables, and mix thoroughly with your hands, kneading for about 5 minutes.

Line a loaf tin with cling wrap. Fill the tin with the mixture, pressing down firmly so your meatloaf becomes loaf shaped, then invert the tin into a baking dish, discarding the cling wrap. Put the baking dish into a larger pan, and fill the large pan with boiling water, until the water reaches halfway up the sides of the baking dish. Place the pan in the oven, being very careful not to spill hot water on yourself. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove the baking dish from the water bath, and let the meatloaf rest for 20 minutes before slicing and serving.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Orange Berry Muffins and Mental Gymnastics

Baking for me is always a balancing act, and I'm not talking about getting the recipe or the oven temperature right. The balancing act is all in my mind. On the one hand, I hear the constant refrain of: should I really make this? / do I want the calories? / who is going to eat it? On the other: it looks so good! / I so love baking! / It has to be healthier than bought baked goods! (oh yes, dear readers, I used to be in spin). And a new justification has now appeared since I am doing this blog: the pictures will look so pretty on my page!

These muffins didn't really need that much mental gymnastics to get me to make them. Store-bought muffins around here tend to be the size of a small planet and taste like Play-doh. I am never tempted to buy one. It is a sad fact that if you want a decent muffin, you really need to make it yourself. I spotted this recipe in my Dorie Greenspan cookbook ("Cooking From My Home to Yours" by Dorie Greenspan), and was immediately entranced by the addition of orange flavours to the blueberry muffin batter. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Dorie, in the blog world, she is the queen of baking. A group called "Tuesdays With Dorie" is working their way through her cookbook; I love keeping an eye on what they have been up to. Meanwhile she has her own blog about her life in Paris and the US (here) that is completely charming. And in case you were wondering about the muffins: light and fluffy and beautifully flavoured, the orange definitely adds something special.

Orange Berry Muffins
from "Baking From My Home To Yours" by Dorie Greenspan

Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
About 3/4 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons honey
8 tbls unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups flour
2 1/2 tsps baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat the oven to 200C. Fit a 12 hole muffin tin with paper muffin cups. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

Pour the orange juice into a large glass measuring cup and pour in enough buttermilk to make 1 cup. Whisk in the eggs, honey and melted butter. In a large bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and the fragrance of orange strong (the more you rub the more orange oil is released from the zest). Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don’t worry about being thorough - the batter will be lumpy and bubbly, and that’s just the way it should be. Stir in the blueberries.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes. When fully baked, the tops of the muffins will be golden and springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins will come out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Indulgent Breakfast Danishes with Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese

I have a sneaking suspicion that somewhere in the world, danishes are much more delicious than the ones we get here (Denmark perhaps?). When I think of danishes, I think of early morning meetings, powerpoint presentations and large trays of soggy pastries, featuring apple and/or apricot danishes baked with a bit of custard. Not good at all. So when I saw that this week's Barefoot Blogger Challenge was to make cheese danishes, I felt that the challenge was laid down to come up with something better. Something that wouldn't remind me of a breakfast meeting.

The original recipe from The Barefoot Contessa features a cream cheese mixture baked in puff pastry. Since my personal tastes tend more to the savoury than the sweet, I decided to steal the traditional combination of smoked salmon and cream cheese, but dispense with the bagel and bake it in puff pastry. The original recipe was easily modified. I left out the sugar and vanilla, and added lemon juice as well as the zest. This was delicious and indulgent and would be terrific for a weekend brunch. If you want to cut your early morning cooking time, make the cream cheese mixture the night before, but make sure you assemble and bake them fresh. Definitely worth getting up for.

I halved the recipe below to make four generous danishes. Thanks to Val from More Than Burnt Toast for this choice - she has also posted the original recipe, so if you prefer sweet danishes, go check out her blog. You can see what the other Barefoot Bloggers came up with here.

Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Danish
adapted from "Barefoot Contessa at Home" by Ina Garten

250g cream cheese at room temperature
2 extra large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 tbls ricotta cheese
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tbl lemon juice
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, defrosted
8 large (16 small) slices smoked salmon
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Poppy seeds to decorate

Preheat oven to 200C. Line a sheet pan with baking paper.
Place the cream cheese in bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment and cream on low speed until smooth. With the mixer still on low, add the egg yolks, ricotta, salt, lemon juice and lemon zest and mix until just combined. Don’t whip!

Place one sheet of pastry onto a lightly floured board. Cut the sheet into quarters. Lay a slice of smoked salmon (2 if they are small) on each square. Place a heaping tablespoon of cream cheese filling into the middle of each of the squares. Brush the border of each pastry with egg wash and fold two opposite corners to the center, brushing and overlapping the corners of each pastry so they firmly stick together. Brush the top of the pastries with egg wash, and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Place the pastries on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat with the second sheet of puff pastry and refrigerate the filled Danish for 15 minutes to firm them up a bit.

Bake the puff pastries for about 20 minutes, until puffed and brown. Serve warm.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Kylie Kwong's Lively Tomato Salad

One day when my eldest was about six, she was unwell and convinced me that she was too ill to go to school. I can't remember what was wrong exactly, but I didn't feel she was so sick she had to stay home. You see, I had a ticket for a Kylie Kwong cooking class that I wanted to go to. I also reasoned that exposing my daughters to smart, successful women, especially those working in non-traditional fields, was a good thing. My daughter sat very quietly and absorbed the whole thing, tasting along with me, kingfish sushi served with pickled vegetables, soft-boiled duck eggs (with prawns?), and a fantastic fried rice. Apart from the delicious tidbits, there was hopefully a bit of life education for her there as well. If nothing else, a fond memory for me.

So I like Kylie Kwong for more than just her great recipes. This tomato salad comes from her book "Heart and Soul" - which also features the world's most fabulous fig and raspberry cake. The tomato salad is easy and incredibly tasty - just the thing for a summer side salad. I love that it is called a "lively salad". Kylie (can't imagine calling her Ms Kwong) serves it with fried fish. I serve it with just about anything through the summer months. It is the sort of salad that is perfect to make after a trip to the farmer's market or when you have been seduced by a gorgeous selection of tomatoes at the greengrocers. And it tastes even better the next day - an amazing juicy mixture of tomato and citrus flavours, so definitely hang onto the leftovers. And one apology - sadly, I couldn't get a green tomato today or the colours would be even prettier.

Lively Tomato Salad
adapted from "Heart and Soul" by Kylie Kwong
NB - The tomatoes listed here are suggestions only - play around with whatever you can get locally.

1 vine-ripened tomato chopped roughly
1 ox-heart tomato chopped roughly
2 tbls extra virgin olive oil
2 tbls lemon juice
2 tsps lime juice
10 yellow pear tomatoes halved
10 cherry tomatoes halved
1 green tomato roughly sliced

Mash the vine-ripened and ox-heart tomatoes gently until you see juices starting to appear. Season generously with salt and white pepper. Pour in olive oil, lemon and lime juices and mix well. Stir in remaining tomatoes. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Spaghetti Meatballs For A Cosy Night In

Perhaps more than any other meal, I associate spaghetti meatballs with the movies, specifically The Godfather Part 1. The youngest son of Don Corleone, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is slowly become more and more enmeshed in the mob, and caporegime Peter Clemenza, in a scene dripping with symbolism, invites Michael to learn how to make meatball sauce. In a nifty shorthand recipe, Clemenza says to him "Heh, come over here, kid, learn something. You never know, you might have to cook for 20 guys someday. You see, you start out with a little bit of oil. Then you fry some garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste, you fry it; ya make sure it doesn't stick. You get it to a boil; you shove in all your sausage and your meatballs; heh…? And a little bit o' wine. An' a little bit o' sugar, and that's my trick." And it is that easy.

Meatball spaghetti is great comfort food. Tasty, soft, and popular even with the children, I have been making this recipe for close to 20 years. From time to time, I have experimented with other recipes, including one that tricked up the meatballs with pine nuts. But in the end, I think that for this dish at least, simple is way better than fussy. My meatballs aren't any more complicated than Clemenza's, in fact the basic recipe is the same, although I skip the sugar and the tomato paste. And the guns.

Spaghetti Con Polpettine
For four
2 cloves garlic
400g minced beef
2 small slices white bread, crusts removed
1 tbl parsley
1/2 cup grated fresh parmesan plus more to serve
2 eggs
2 tbl olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 wineglass white wine
400g tinned tomatoes, pureed
1/4 cup stock

Put the garlic and mince in a food processor and whiz until well-combined and the garlic is chopped, then add the bread, parsley and cheese. Whiz again until well-combined. Season to taste. Roll the mince into small balls about the size of a walnut, then roll the balls in a little flour, shaking off excess.
Heat the oil, add the onion until it is soft and translucent. Add the meatballs and cook over a low heat until they are browned on all sides. Shaking the pan regularly will help. Add the wine, bring it to the boil and reduce by half, then add the tomatoes and stock. Cover and cook over a medium low heat for an hour, stirring from time to time. Meanwhile, cook spaghetti according to your packet directions. Serve sauce over cooked spaghetti with extra parmesan to taste.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Eggplant, Tomato and Goats Cheese Sandwich with Roasted Capsicum

I am currently on a mission to expand the vegetable dishes in our regular family repertoire, both sides and mains. This is partly because I am always on the lookout for new and interesting things to feature here and also partly because our regular fallback options of steamed greens and carrots, boiled corn and mashed potato are boring me witless. I am also pushing the darling daughters to expand their horizons by trying new things, which means putting things on their plate that they think they won't like, and getting them to try it. (Note to all mothers reading - I am not pretending that this is a simple process - "wearing them down" is my best advice, and it is a s-l-o-w process.) My green friend Patty would also approve.

Eggplant has a bad reputation in some circles. I know people who have never tried it because they find the colour and / or texture is off-putting. My advice to them is to close your eyes and give it a try. Once cooked, eggplant is delicious, and according to, "it is also a very good source of fibre, potassium, folate and magnesium, plus a cup of cooked eggplant has a mere 27 calories." It is also a good source of antioxidants. Paired here with tomatoes, roasted capsicum and eggplant, it is fantastic. This dish was just delicious, and I would happily eat it any time as a side or as an entree. And by the way, both girls ate some capsicum. We have a bit further to go on the eggplant.

Eggplant, Tomato and Goats Cheese Sandwich
adapted from "Plates" by Lyndey Milan

1 red capsicum
1 eggplant
olive oil for brushing
1 large tomato
50g goats cheese

Cut the capsicums into quarters, remove seeds and membranes, then grill (broil) skin side up until the skin is blackened. Remove from the griller and put in a plastic bag, to sweat while they cool down. Once they are cool, removing the skins should now be very easy.

Slice the eggplants thickly, into 8 slices. Sprinkle with salt and leave in a colander to drain for an hour or so. Rinse the salt off, and pat dry with paper towels. Heat a frying pan to medium high. Brush both sides of each eggplant slice with oil and fry until brown on both sides. (Do not add oil to the pan - the eggplant will mop it up and you don't need it. The brush of oil is enough).

Slice the tomatoes thickly into four slices. Place four eggplant slices on a baking try. Top with a tomato slice, then spread each tomato slice generously with goats cheese. Top the sandwich with another slice of eggplant. Bake at 200C for 10 minutes. Serve with the sliced capsicum and a dollop of pesto.
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Saturday, October 11, 2008

My First Blog Award!!! Thanks Brenda

I got home from a few days away yesterday to an award from Brenda at Webbie's World. I am so excited and so touched by this. Brenda was the very first person to comment on my blog, and as anyone new to blogging will tell you, it is very thrilling to get the comments and feedback. Particularly for me, who is still endlessly excited thinking about how amazing it is to be in a virtual conversation with people from all over the world. I love checking in on Brenda's world, and I am thrilled to get an award from her.

And now my job is to pass the award on to blogs that I love as well.

Jules at Stonesoup - another Sydney blogger whose fantastic recipes and photography push me to keep trying harder.

NQN at Not Quite Nigella - for a wonderful stream of recipes and Sydney restaurant suggestions, and ever more exotic cupcakes and desserts.

Erin of Prudence Pennywise - whose blog is beyond charming and keeps me dreaming about life in a small town.

Deb of Kahakai Kitchen - who is always exploring all sorts of interesting food, and pushing us all to read more as well.

Patty at Little Green Stilettos - who is helping us all reduce our environmental sins one by one.

I know you have all won many awards, but you can add mine to the pile!

Frozen Raspberry Whip - My Welcome to Summer

While the weather here is still a bit on again / off again, the profusion of flowers everywhere convinces me that summer is really around the corner. Jasmine and murraya are heavy in the air in my garden, swimming costumes and hats have appeared in the shops. And one of the biggest signs of all - finally berries are becoming affordable again. Through the winter, fresh raspberries were selling for $12 a punnet at Woolworths (for 125g), and as much as I love them, the cost of buying berries flown from the Northern hemisphere was more than I could bear. And don't even mention the food miles carried in that tiny box! But now the prices have come back to earth, as the local berries start to appear - roll on summer....

This dessert was a great welcome to the hot months ahead. It is fast and easy to make, and light and tasty to eat. You can also make it way ahead - making it perfect for dinner parties as a very slow stress end to a meal. I was a bit disorganised when I was serving it, and forgot to macerate the strawberries in a little icing sugar (there is always next time...). Thanks to elder darling daughter for the photo. And another BIG thank you to Brenda for the award she sent my way yesterday.

Frozen Raspberry Whip With Strawberries
adapted from "Marie Claire: Zest" by Michelle Cranston

1 punnet raspberries (125g-150g)
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 egg white
2 punnets strawberries
1 tbl icing sugar

Whip the raspberries, lemon juice, sugar and egg white with electric beaters or in a stand mixer using the whisk attachment for 10 mins or until the mixture is tripled in size and is very light and fluffy. Spoon into a container and freeze for serveral hours or overnight. Just before serving, trim the strawberries and then halve them. Toss the strawberries with icing sugar and let them sit and macerate for 5 mins before serving with a scoop of raspberry whip.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Saffron and Pumpkin Risotto For Barefoot Bloggers

Rice is probably the preferred staple in this house, and we eat it every which way: boiled, fried, salads, risotto, you name it. And if I had to pick between all of them, risotto is my favourite because it lends itself to whatever is in season or in the fridge, with great leftovers for the children's lunches. Even better, despite its somewhat difficult reputation, risotto is not a difficult dish to master. You don't even need to spend the stirring time at the stove if you don't want to - just bring the rice and stock to the boil on the stove and then oven bake like this.

But when you have the time, making it the old-fashioned way is a lovely way to cook. This week's challenge to the Barefoot Bloggers was a Saffron Risotto with Butternut Pumpkin (Squash). I spent yesterday afternoon pottering around the kitchen watching and stirring as the risotto slowly plumped. I loved this dish - it was very tasty, and the slightly bitter flavour of the saffron cut the richness of the parmesan and pancetta, and the colour was, of course, glorious. My only modifications were halving the recipe, using a mixture of chicken and vegetable stock (because that is what I had), and topping the risotto with some fried shredded leek for the contrasting crunch and some extra onion-y flavour. We ate it as a side dish with glazed roast lamb rack, and steamed snow peas. Delicious.

This week's wonderful recipe for the Barefoot Bloggers was chosen by Rachel of Rachel Likes To Cook. Have a look and see how all the other Barefoot Bloggers enjoyed the recipe here.

Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash (Pumpkin)

1 butternut pumpkin (squash)
2 tbls olive oil
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
6 tbls unsalted butter
60g pancetta, diced
1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 200C. Peel the pumpkin, remove the seeds, and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes. You should have about 6 cups. Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss it with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.
In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the pancetta and shallots on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the shallots are translucent but not browned. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 full ladles of stock to the rice plus the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Continue to add the stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry, then add more stock. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total. Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes and parmesan. Stir well and serve.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

School Holiday Treat - Chocolate Biscuit No-Bake Cake

The Magnolia Bakery was forever immortalised by Sex and the City, for a scene where Carrie and Miranda discuss Carrie's new crush on Aiden while munching on a cupcake. The result was a global cupcake boom, and in its wake, a wave of "nostalgic desserts". Allysa Torey, owner/ chef at Magnolia was subsequently interviewed by O The Oprah Magazine about her favourite nostalgic dessert and said: "The one dessert I have great memories of us [my mom and I] making together is the chocolate wafer icebox cake—the same one that we serve at the bakery today. Apparently, while the rest of the country was slaving away shaping Nabisco chocolate wafers into the log that was pictured on the side of the box, we were using chocolate snap cookies to make a really simple yet really delicious round icebox cake."
I was amazed by the look of this cake (check out the link here to the Oprah Magazine to see how pretty it is), and even more amazed by the fact that it requires no baking at all. The moisture from the cream seeps into the biscuits overnight, so they develop a cake like texture that can be sliced and served. I made it with Arnott's Ripple biscuits, a much chunkier (and dowdier) choice than the US version with lovely thin Nabisco Chocolate Wafers, and it was completely delicious (although I may hunt out some other biscuit choices). I know we will make this again and again. A perfect summer treat.
Chocolate Wafer Icebox Cake
adapted from " The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook" by Jennifer Appel and Allysa Torey
3 cups cream
3 tbls sugar
1 tbl vanilla extract
2 packets chocolate biscuits eg Ripples
Unsweetened cocoa powder

In a large bowl, beat cream, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. On a flat serving plate, arrange 7 biscuits, with six in a circle and one in the centre. Spread with a generous layer of whipped cream. Repeat with remaining biscuits and cream, ending with a layer of cream (there will be a few biscuits left over). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. To serve, dust top lightly with cocoa powder.

Monday, October 6, 2008

An Amazing Combination - Apple Mousse with Blood Orange Jelly

For whatever reason, Spanish food, and eating Spanish-style, is all the rage in Australia at the moment. Tapas bars are sprouting left, right and centre, although in typical Australian fashion, the Spanish food is a jumping off point rather than a destination. (Somehow Chinese dumplings and Japanese staples like sashimi have worked their way onto some tapas menus!!) There are also some very special new Spanish or Spanish-inspired restaurants that have quickly made a mark. Perhaps the most famous of these is Melbourne's MoVida, run by Frank Camorra,who has just been awarded Chef of the Year in Victoria. And on the evidence of two recipes cooked from his book, it is an extremely well-deserved award.

A Spanish dinner seemed like a good way to remember a trip to Spain last year, as well as celebrate the return of warm weather. And inspired by the lovely photos, I cooked a main and dessert from the MoVida book. More about the chicken main another time (in the excitement of how fantastic this dish was, I forgot to take a picture so I will have to make it again). Meanwhile, dessert was Fresh Granny Smith Mousse With Blood Orange Jelly. This was one of the most wonderful desserts I have ever made - the tastes so clear and startling and undiluted. Designed to echo the Spanish habit of simply eating fruit for dessert, this stunning concoction contained little else other than fruit, but was exceptionally beautiful. I would jump on a plane to MoVida in an eyeblink, if only I could get a reservation.

Fresh Granny Smith Mousse With Blood Orange Jelly
adapted from "MoVida" by Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish
For six people:
200ml strained blood orange juice (about 6 blood oranges)
7 1/2 gelatine leaves (23cm x 7cm each) - (**NOTE I used only 3 leaves as the instructions on my gelatine leaves for proportion of liquid to gelatine required a lot less gelatine than the recipe suggested - check your gelatine first!)
8 Granny Smith apples
80 ml sweet green apple liqueur (I couldn't find this so I didn't use)
125 g caster sugar
2 egg whites

Heat the blood orange juice over high heat, removing just before it boils. Meanwhile, soften enough gelatine to set 200ml of liquid in cold water for about 1 minute. Add to the hot juice and stir until the gelatine has dissolved. Allow to cool, then pour into 6 pre-chilled serving glasses and refrigerate.

If you have a juicer, juice the apples. If not, puree the apple in a food processor, then strain and discard the solids. Pour juice into a saucepan, add liqueur and caster sugar, and boil over high heat until you have about 500ml of juice. Soften the remaining gelatine (enough to set 500 ml) in cold water for 1 minute. Add to the juice, and stir until the gelatine has dissolved. Tip this mixture into a bowl sitting in an ice bath. After 10 minutes, using an electric hand mixer, start beating the mousse. As it starts to set, add one egg white and continue beating for 10 minutes or until it is noticeably thicker. Add the other egg white and beat until the volume has tripled. Once the mousse is forming soft peaks, pour it into the serving glasses and refrigerate 2 hours before serving.

(NOTE - I don't have an electric hand beater, so I used my stand mixer and kept stopping to put the bowl into an ice bath and chill it before I continued beating. I wound up with an enormous amount of mousse - (possibly because of the whisking power of the stand mixer ???) so poured the excessive mousse into a bowl and used that for dessert another night. No complaints - it was fantastic).

Friday, October 3, 2008

BBQ Duck Salad For A Hot Weekend

The October long weekend always feels to me like an aperitif for summer. Most often it is the beginning of lovely warm weather before summer gets really hot. The days feel languid, the jasmine is out, and the kids have already started racing around barefoot. A chance to kick back for a few days and take it easy before we dive headlong into the frantic dash towards Christmas.

This salad is a delicious option for a hot lazy day. Spare yourself the oven time and get a cooked duck from your local Chinese BBQ shop (or order one from a local Chinese restaurant). Tinned lychees (drained) are a nice addition to this salad as well. If you are up early and feel like it, make the chilli and capsicum jam dressing, or you can make it ahead and keep in the fridge. If not, get some plum sauce from the Chinese barbecue duck shop and put it into a basic vinaigrette (white wine vinegar and oil) for a little bit of spice and sweetness for the duck. Make sure you get the shop to chop your duck for you as well - days like these are not to be wasted with poultry shears and a cleaver!
BBQ Duck Salad with Chilli and Capsicum Jam Dressing
adapted from Notebook Magazine Feb 2007
2 lebanese cucumbers shaved into long strips with a vegetable peeler, seeds discarded
4 cups torn lettuce (I used cos but whatever you have is OK)
1 generous handful mint leaves
1 generous handful coriander leaves
2 finely shredded kaffir lime leaves
1 Chinese BBQ duck, chopped
Garnish - garlic chives
Chilli and Capsicum Jam
2 red capsicums quartered and seeded
4 shallots finely chopped
1 ripe tomoato finely chopped
1 tbs finely chopped ginger
2 cloves garlic crushed
2 tbs rice wine vinegar (available at Asian grocery stores)
1/2 cup grated palm sugar
4 long fresh red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tbs fish sauce
For the chilli and capsicum jam, preheat grill on high. Cook capsicums skin side up until they are blackened and blistered. Transfer to a heatproof bowl, caover with foil, and set aside for 5 minutes. Once cooled a little, remove the skin (this should come off easily) and chop finely.
Combine capsicum, shallot, tomato, ginger, garlic, vinegar, palm sugar and chilli, and cook over medium low heat for 20 mins or until thick and syrupy, with mushy vegetables. Remove from the heat and add lime juice and fish sauce. The jam should have the classic Thai balance of sweet, sour, hot and salty flavours. If you feel it is too chunky, give it a quick whiz with an immersion / stab blender.
Combine cucumber, lettuce and herbs in a large bowl. Add 2 tbsp of the jam and toss gently. Place on a serving platter, topped with the duck. Drizzle this dish with a little more chilli jam. Garnish with kaffir lime leaves or garlic chives and serve.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Time To Think Green & Stop Food Waste

I know that I am not the only one who discovers alien life at the back of her fridge from time to time. Surely you have seen it too - something in a container that has started to look and smell as if it emerged from the primordial swamp. Something so bad that you can feel compelled to throw out the container as well as whatever was in it. I know I am not the only one because Planet Ark and Notebook Magazine have come up with the alarming statistic that each and every Australian throws out 145 kg of unused food every year. This amounts to one out of every five bags of groceries you lug home. And it is not only the landfill needed to dispose of the rubbish, but also the impact of creating the food in the first place, that is wasteful. Truly horrifying.

Notebook Magazine has launched a Stop Food Waste Campaign to prompt us all to think more carefully about how much food we buy and how we treat it once we have it. They suggest starting with an inventory of what you have in your pantry (13 cans of tuna at last count!), so you stop buying duplicates and use what you have. They also believe in menu planning, and I am with them on this as well. Once you get into the habit of menu planning, it takes the pressure off shopping and cooking, as well as cutting down on waste. I tend to sit down on Sunday nights and map out the family dinners for the week so that I can shop on Monday, and as far as possible, avoid the supermarket for the rest of the week. This little bit of planning has stopped me randomly grabbing packets of this and that with the vague (but sadly unlikely) intention of whipping something up fabulous and then throwing the food in the bin when it doesn't happen. Happily my tuna will last another few years!

My gorgeous, clever friend Patty has also started a blog called Little Green Stilettos that is mapping out how to be greener at a household level. It is pretty clear that science does not hold a silver bullet to stop or reverse climate change and environmental impacts. The onus lies on each of us at an indvidual level to do as much as we can. Patty has created a "girly girl's guide to going green" and will be nudging us all, with humour and information, to keep making changes at a household level. More power to you, Patty!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Cold Avocado Soup - The Easiest Soup You Will Ever Make

Tetsuya's in Sydney is one of the world's great restaurants, with a famously intricate degustation menu served to rapturous response Tuesday to Saturday. It is the sort of place where people get engaged, where anniversaries are celebrated, where close friends are spoiled, and where you need to book weeks (if not months) in advance to secure a table. For the last four years, Tetsuya's has rated in the Top Ten Restaurants in the World. According to Charlie Trotter, who would know a thing or two about this, "Tetsuya is part of an elite group of international chefs that has influenced other chefs through their personal styles and unique approaches to food. His amazing technique, Asian heritage, sincere humility, worldwide travels and insatiable curiosity combine to create incredible, soulful dishes that exude passion in every bite."

Some years ago, I was given the Tetsuya cookbook, and I have to confess, it sat on my shelf for quite a long time because I was too intimidated to cook from it. Lucky enough to have eaten at Tetsuya's, I could not believe that I had the skills necessary to do justice to anything in the book. So, imagine my surprise when I finally opened the book to discover the most incredibly beautiful, but easy cold avocado soup. There are people in the world, who do not like cold soups (probably not living in hot countries) and people who do not like avocado. As long as you do not belong to either of these groups, this soup will make you very happy. It is easy, can be made in advance as long as you press clingwrap on the surface of the soup so it doesn't brown, and requires no special ingredients or technique at all. Perfect, elegant dinner party food. Just as the master intended.

Cold Avocado Soup

adapted from "Tetsuya" by Tetsuya Wakuda

2 avocados
400-500 ml milk
a pinch of castor sugar
salt and pepper
garnish (I used pomegranate seeds, Tetsuya suggests salmon roe or caviar; pick something that is both crunchy and either salty or sour - what you need is a texture contrast, against the smooth creaminess of the soup.)

Place avocados in a blender. Add half the milk and blend, starting on a low speed. Slowly add more milk until you reach the texture / thickness that you like. This should not take longer than about a minute or so. Add sugar, and then season generously with salt and pepper (white pepper if you have it). If you store it in the fridge before serving, press cling wrap onto the surface of the soup, and if it thickens, you may want to thin it a little with a touch more milk before serving. Serve in small bowls - this soup is too rich for a big bowl.