Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Brownies They Serve In Heaven

I don't know what else to say about this month's Barefoot Blogger recipe except that these brownies are so very very good, that someone should write a poem about them. Someone should declare a national holiday. A marching band should announce their arrival. A crowd of groupies should form outside my kitchen, just hoping for a sniff. And said brownies should be packaged up and sent to anyone feeling a bit morose as evidence that life can be infinitely improved with a small slab of gooey brownies. Yes, they are that good.

Having just returned home mid-renovation, and still swamped by dust and chaos, I shopped for this recipe without really contemplating how much brownie I was about to make. Yes, I can be vague but 1 1/4 cups of flour sounds quite reasonable for a normal sized tin, but gosh, nearly a kilo of chocolate, 1/2 a kilo of sugar, and so on did seem a little extreme. It was only when I pulled out the tape measure to see which tin I should use, I realised that the only tin of the required dimension that I had was the bottom half of the griller rack for my oven. So I did the only thing possible - lined it completely with baking paper and created a brownie that had the same sized footprint as my oven. Oh my. Which then created a minor disaster when the tin was way too big to get in the fridge, and I was trying to shuffle the world's biggest brownie into pieces and onto smaller trays....Luckily, it was so good, that I have had no trouble palming brownies off onto everyone I have seen this week, plus I have two tupperwares of them in the freezer. Unless you want a similarly huge pan of brownies, feel free to chop this recipe in half. Only in Ina's world, does this recipe make 20 brownies. And don't skip the coffee - you don't taste it but somehow it makes the chocolate more intense.

Thanks to Eva of I'm Boring for her fantastic choice. And if you feel like making some really amazing food courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten a couple of times a month, join us at the Barefoot Bloggers.

Outrageous Brownies
from "The Barefoot Contessa" By Ina Garten

500g unsalted butter
500g plus 350g semisweet chocolate chips, divided
180g unsweetened chocolate
6 extra-large eggs
2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
1 1/2 tablespoons real vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided (1 cup for batter and 1/4 cup in the chips and nuts)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups diced walnut pieces (I used a mixture of walnuts and pecans because that is what I had)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 13 by 18 by 5cm sheet pan.
Melt together the butter, 500g chocolate chips, and unsweetened chocolate on top of a double boiler. Cool slightly. Stir together the eggs, instant coffee, vanilla and sugar. Stir in the warm chocolate mixture and cool to room temperature.

Stir together 1 cup of the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to cooled chocolate mixture. Toss the walnuts and 12 ounces of chocolate chips with 1/4 cup flour to coat. Then add to the chocolate batter. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until tester just comes out clean. Halfway through the baking, rap the pan against the oven shelf to allow air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough. (I didn't do this as I had completely lined the baking tin with baking paper). Do not over-bake! Cool thoroughly, refrigerate well and cut into squares.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Coq Au Vin Blanc and Incontrovertible Rules of Life

A few weeks ago, James Valentine (self described "peddlar of whimsy") proposed a series of absolutely irrefutable incontrovertible rules of life on his radio show. They are the sort of thing that everyone should know and which would make life easier for all of us if they were observed universally. The sort of thing that people should be punished for not observing, or at least given a death stare. Among them are:

1. Move to the back of the bus. It’s public transport. If you move to the back of the bus, more public can be transported.
2. Let everyone get off the train before you attempt to get on.
3. Same goes for lifts.
4. Don’t litter. Clean up your own rubbish.
5. No more than two abreast on a footpath.
6. And don’t amble in busy city streets.
7. Stay seated until it’s your turn to exit the plane.
8. Don’t crowd the luggage carousel.
9. Keep your shoes on in the cinema (surely no one thinks they should take off their shoes....)
10. If you are there first, you should get served first.
11. Return your shopping trolley.
12. When buying goods, have your payment ready.

All pretty obvious one would think. But they did make me ponder what I would include on a similar list of food related suggestions that make life easier:
1. Supermarkets should not be allowed to redesign the placing of food in their aisles more than once a decade (Bread has moved three times in the last year in my local supermarket. Grrr.)
2. If you are given a choice, buy fruit and vegies unpackaged (they are generally cheaper and better environmentally and you can pick out the best produce.)
3. If you are not going to eat them the next day, freeze and label your leftovers. No doubt a frantic weeknight will come around when you are very grateful for your little stash of meals. Even if everyone in the house gets something different for dinner.
4. Empty your fridge weekly of all science projects collecting in the vegetable crisper (the night before garbage collection is a good time).
5. Long slow oven braises are perfect anti-stress meals. Do all the work up front and then chill out for an hour or two, preferably in the bath, while the oven does the work.

Which brings me to this lovely Coq au Vin Blanc, courtesy of Cuisine Magazine's May 2009 issue. Lightened up with white wine instead of red, shallots instead of onions, and chicken stock replacing the beef stock, it was really delicious. And make sure you have some really good bread on hand, as these sauces deserve to be sopped. By the way, if you have any rules of life to add, please send them to me as a comment.
I am also sending this over to Deb at Souper Sundays. Have a look at her
offerings - perfect choices now the weather is getting colder.
Coq Au Riesling
from Lauraine Jacobs in Cuisine Magazine, May 09

1 large chicken
3-4 tbls flour
2 tbls olive oil
30g butter
3-4 medium shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic crushed to a paste
375 ml Riesling
375 ml chicken stock
small bunch French tarragon, coarsely chopped (I stupidly forgot this)
150g sliced button mushrooms
4 tbl cream
parsley to garnish

Preheat oven to 190C. Cut the chicken into 8 or 9 pieces and lightly dust with flour. Heat the oil and 1 tbl butter over medium high heat in a heavy casserole pot. Add the chicken in batches and fry on all sides until the skin is crisp and golden (don't worry about cooking through). Remove chicken and add the shallots and garlic, and fry them over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Return the chicken to the pot with the wine, stock, tarragon, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook in the oven for 1 1/2 hours.

While the chicken is cooking, brown mushrooms in a little oil, then add to the chicken with the cream for the final ten minutes in the oven. Remove the pot from the oven, and lift out the chicken and the mushrooms to a serving platter. Boil down the sauce to thicken a little, then spoon it over the chicken and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Savoury Avocado Jellies

Time for a guilty confession.... I love Masterchef. No surprises really - I got hooked on reality TV when the first Survivor hit our screens. And while my interest in the subsequent endless variations on the reality theme has been somewhat eroded, a good concept well executed can still hook me in. Which brings me back to the joy of Masterchef. The casting in this series is fantastic, with a wide range of ages and stages, and a mostly sympathetic group of people all cooking against each other to become Australia's first Masterchef. Some are looking for a career, some are looking for a new life, some are just looking for a bit of positive reinforcement, yet they all have enough talent to make them deserving of a spot on the box. The food is generally well cooked and well presented and interesting. The challenges and tasks are cleverly designed, and the celebrity chefs have all brought a bit of additional tension in. Tonight, Alex Herbert of Bird Cow Fish proved herself a very generous mentor and a complete delight when her recipe for Gnocchi with Prawns and Sage Butter was the episode's focus. The generous splash of verjuice in her sauce reminded me of this recipe that got put to one side during the renovation hiatus. And it definitely does not deserve to be ignored....
These verjuice jellies are a very elegant and easy starter for entertaining. The recipe comes from "Maggie's Kitchen" by Maggie Beer, and Maggie describes this as one of her core recipes because she varies it regularly to incorporate every imaginable seafood or vegetable ingredient. I was completely charmed by the jellies because they look so pretty, in a slightly old world way, and they get prepared well in advance. Next time, I will throw in some prawns as well - I think the pink and green would look even prettier.

Avocado Jellies
from "Maggie's Kitchen" by Maggie Beer
1 1/2 cups verjuice
1 tbl caster sugar
1/2 bunch chervil
2 1/2 x 2g gelatine leaves (NB because of the differing strengths of gelatine, make sure you refer to your gelatine's packaging to find out how much you will need to set 1 1/2 cups of liquid)
1 1/2 avocados chopped to a 2cm dice (about 300g avocado)
verjuice or lemon juice for drizzling
extra virgin olive oil to serve
mache or rocket
Bring verjuice and sugar to a boil then immediately remove from heat. Transfer to a bowl, add chervil and set aside to infuse. Soak gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 mins or until softened, then squeze out moisture. Strain the warm verjuice, then add gelatine leaves and stir until it melts. Allow verjuice gelatine mixture to cool completely.
Chop avocado and drizzle with verjuice to stop it browning. Place a few chervil leaves in the bottom of 6 100ml ramekins. Top with chopped avocado then pour the verjuice over each. Cover with cling wrap, pressing it down onto the surface of each jelly, then refrigerate at least 2 hours.
To serve, stand ramekins in a bowl of boiling water for 25 seconds to loosen, then invert onto serving plates. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve with mache or rocket.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Tuna Salad - Sashimi Style

I have spent the last few weeks away from my kitchen and my computer, so minor renovations at home could be completed, and my cooking has been limited. But I couldn't let May slip away without making and posting this fantastic tuna salad which was one of this month's picks for my Barefoot Blogger cooking group. Coincidentally, I recently had lunch at Sushi-E (try it if you are ever in Sydney and would like some fantastic sushi), and ate a salad with almost exactly the same components as Ina's one below, so I have tried here to reproduce the flavours that I loved so much. In particular, I hunted down some wasabi flavoured furikake to season the salad. Delicious!

I served the tuna raw, which is my personal preference, and halved the quantities as it was just for darling husband and myself. I still wound up with very generous serves and leftovers. If you haver never tried raw tuna, it tastes soft and silky and not at all fishy - just make sure you purchase sashimi grade tuna. I couldn't find wasabi powder here - it comes as a paste - so I used about 1 1/2 tsps of the paste in my half serve of dressing, instead. I also plated the salad as an appetizer rather than as a main meal, as I think delicate portions work better with this sort of food - it also makes the expense of the tuna go a lot further (and good tuna can be pricey). This is a salad that I will make again and again - it would be wonderful for entertaining, and is incredibly easy. It would lend itself to being chopped very small and served in tart shells as well. And if you can access sashimi quality fish - have it raw. Some things are just too lovely to cook!

Thanks to Kate from the elegantly named Warm Olives and Cool Cocktails for such a wonderful choice. I am thrilled to have been lured back into the kitchen for this one.

Tuna Salad
adapted from the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten

1kg very fresh tuna steak, cut 1-inch thick
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black, plus extra for sprinkling
2 limes, zest grated
1 teaspoon wasabi powder
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (3 limes)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
10 dashes hot sauce (recommended: Tabasco)
1 to 2 ripe Hass avocados, medium diced
1/4 cup minced scallions, white and green parts (2 scallions)
1/4 cup red onion, small diced

Brush the tuna steaks with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the tuna steaks in a very hot saute pan and cook for only 1 minute on each side. Set aside on a platter.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the olive oil, salt, pepper, lime zest, wasabi, lime juice, soy sauce and hot sauce. Add the avocados to the vinaigrette.

Cut the tuna in chunks and place it in a large bowl. Add the scallions and red onion and mix well. Pour the vinaigrette mixture over the tuna and carefully mix.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hold That Thought

Apologies for the absence of posts so far this month... I am currently computerless and kitchenless and therefore postless. Although I do seem to have lots more time for reading...
Looking forward to cooking up a storm soon
PS I will try to make it to Barefoot Thursday with a great sounding fresh tuna and avocado salad. See you then!