Monday, September 28, 2009

Beatty's Chocolate Cake - Better Late Than Never

I saw a quote this morning that made me laugh: "Only Robinson Crusoe had everything done by Friday". So on that note, it is time for me to make up for my absence for the last week and give you a very very wicked chocolate cake, which I should have posted a few days ago. Ironic indeed, since I spent most of the last week detoxing (who knew I even needed to?) and generally chilling out at a health retreat. You won't be surprised to hear that no one at this retreat served me even a sliver of cake, let alone an enormous wedge of the chocolatiest cake I have had in a long time.* I made it just before I went away, and my father declared this the best cake he has ever eaten, although he is prone to exaggerated enthusiasm at times. I am not sure this would be my pick as the very best, but it was extremely scrumptious with a lovely crumb. The icing is very rich too, so if you lean towards intense indulgence, you will lap it up.

Beatty's Chocolate Cake comes from "The Barefoot Contessa at Home" and was this month's second Barefoot Blogger pick. Thank you and happy birthday to Mary from Passionate Perseverance, who chose the cake for us. Incidentally, I have no idea who Beatty is.

* I suspect that the one item in the ingredient list that you would find in my retreat's spa kitchen are the eggs. Don't let that get in your way.

Beatty's Chocolate Cake
from "Barefoot Contessa At Home" by Ina Garten

Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups plain flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined.

In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.
Chocolate Frosting:
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate (recommended: Callebaut)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder

Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners' sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don't whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Nigella's Roquamole

I have a girlfriend who looks at celebrities and will often turn around to me and say, "I think she / he would be our friend." What this is meant to impart, is that someone looks fun, down to earth, and possibly a little outspoken, unafraid of a long talks over a few glasses of good wine and a leisurely meal. In other words, our kind of people. Obviously the fact that most of them are very famous and not even remotely within our orbit or even our hemisphere, makes it extremely unlikely that Jon Stewart, Kate Winslet or Cameron Diaz will be over for dinner tonight. No matter. It's a fun game to play.

Nigella Lawson is someone else who belongs on the "would be our friend" list. Smart, funny, talented, self-deprecating, Nigella brings enthusiasm and lust to food. She is the only cookbook author I know of who talks about greedily scarfing down things she has made, or is seen licking a finger, or moaning to herself from the pure joy of food. In other words, she is much more like the foodies who use her books, than she is like some other cookbook writers who may have more discipline or finesse but have by-passed the joy in their cooking. A new cookery club, called I Heart Cooking Clubs, has started and is currently focusing on Nigella with party foods as the first choice. I made this dip a while ago, and it seemed like a perfect post.

Avocado and blue cheese never struck me as natural friends, but they meld together beautifully in this dip. The resulting taste is lovely - but it does not taste the way you would imagine blue and avocado to taste. I think if you were serving this to people who did not know what was in it, they would struggle to put their finger on blue cheese as an ingredient. The chillis add a little kick. All in all, a yummy choice, and a great way to use up any spare blue cheese.

from Nigella Express

125g Roquefort or St Agur
60ml sour cream
2 ripe avocados
35g sliced pickled green jalapeƱo chilli peppers from a jar
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 packet blue corn tortilla chipsServing Size : Serves 4–6

1. In a bowl, crumble or mash the blue cheese with the sour cream.
2. Mash in the avocados. If they are ripe, a fork should be all you need.
3. Roughly chop the sliced jalapeƱos and stir them into the mixture along with the finely sliced spring onions.
4. Arrange in the centre of a plate or dish, dust with the paprika and surround with tortilla chips. Dive in.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Parmesan and Polenta Chicken with Corn Salad

Ten reasons why I love this time of year:
1. The sun wakes me up early.
2. My jasmine is about to pop.
3. There are lorikeets in the garden.
4. The air smells good.
5. It is light when I leave home. It is light when I return.
6. All the (non-native) trees are bright green with new growth.
7. New season fruit and vegies are in the shops.
8. I'm not cold (I despise being cold).
9. Third term is nearly over.
10. Stone fruit is on its way, but then again so is Christmas.....

And so winter gives way to spring, and shanks give way to salad. Part of my plan for the warmer seasons ahead, is to get the kids eating main course salads for dinner. For some sensible and also some stupid reasons, I have never really pushed salads on them in the past, but it is definitely time. With this in mind, I was glad to see the challenge this month for Hey Hey It's Donna Day, because it was a kid-friendly main course salad.

The salad looked delightfully sunny and yellow. The polenta and parmesan crumbed chicken was tasty, although a bit "sandy" in texture according to one 10 yr old expert. I accidentally overcooked the corn, so instead of coming off the cob in nice elegant slivers, it came off kernel by kernel (hence the lack of an elegant photo above). No matter; the small fry don't really care about plating or aesthetics. Baby spinach is a great salad leaf for children too - not too strong in flavour or bitter, it is the second salad leaf I got them to eat (sort of) after iceberg lettuce. The dressing is a little strong for the kids, so serve this on the side for the adults rather than dressing everyone's salad. All in all a lovely meal enjoyed by the whole tribe. And the leftover chicken made great sandwiches for the kids for a couple of days.

Thanks to Stephanie from Dispensing Happiness for the choice. If you feel like making use of your enormous pile of Donna hay cookbooks / magazines once a month, join in Hey Hey It's Donna Day, facilitated by Denise from Chez Us.

Parmesan and Polenta Chicken
from Donna Hay Magazine, Issue 31
2 cobs corn, husks and silks removed
olive oil for brushing
2 x 200g (7oz) chicken breasts
flour for dusting
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1/2 cup(100g/3 1/2 oz) polenta
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
100g (3 1/2 oz) baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup basil leaves
grated parmesan cheese, extra to serve

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
sea salt and cracked black pepper

To make the dressing, place the mustard, lemon juice, garlic, oil, honey, salt & pepper in a bowl & whisk to combine. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 220 C. Brush the corn with oil, place in a baking dish & roast for 25 minutes or until golden. Slice the kernels from the corn & set aside.

Slice the chicken in half horizontally, dust with the flour, dip into the egg & press into the combined parmesan & polenta to coat. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat & cook the chicken for 2-3 minutes each side or until golden & cooked through. Arrange the chicken, corn, spinach & basil on plates & spoon over the dressing & grated parmesan to serve. Serves 4

Monday, September 14, 2009

Daring Dosas - Delicious Indian Stuffed Pancakes

This month's challenge for the Daring Kitchen was vegan Indian dosas. For those of you who have never tried dosas before, they are basically stuffed pancakes. At Indian restaurants, the pancakes are often incredibly fine and crisp and they usually come stuffed with potato, or possibly lamb. This month's host Debyi from wanted us to make a vegan version, and her suggested filling was a tasty chickpea mix with a lovely coconut curry sauce over the top.
None of this was hard to make. The chickpea mixture and the sauce both took a little bit of simmering time, but if you are tight for time, they can be done in advance. Because chickpeas can be a bit dry, I saved some of the chickpea cooking liquid and mixed it back in to moisten everything up. The sauce was lovely and would be great over rice, possibly with a bit of leftover chicken tossed through it. But for me, the star of the show was the pancakes themselves, although not as thin and crisp as those in restaurants. The batter was quick and fast and tasty, and I will definitely use it again, possibly to make little blini sized pancakes that could be topped with a spicy dip.

Indian Dosas
This recipe comes in 3 parts, the dosas, the filling and the sauce. It does take awhile to make, but the filling and sauce can be made ahead and frozen if need be. You can serve them as a main course with rice and veggies, or as an appetizer. This does take a little planning ahead, so make sure you read the recipe through before starting.
Serves 4
Dosa Pancakes
1 cup spelt flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp curry powder
½ cup (125ml/4oz) almond milk (or soy, or rice, etc.)
¾ cup (175ml/6oz) water
cooking spray, if needed
Dosa Filling
1 batch Curried Garbanzo Filling (see below), heated
Dosa Toppings
1 batch Coconut Curry Sauce (see below), heated
¼ cup (125gm) grated coconut
¼ cucumber, sliced
Dosa Pancakes
1.Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, slowly adding the almond milk and water, whisking until smooth.
2.Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spray your pan with a thin layer of cooking spray, if needed.
3.Ladle 2 tablespoons of batter into the center of your pan in a circular motion until it is a thin, round pancake. When bubbles appear on the surface and it no longer looks wet, flip it over and cook for a few seconds. Remove from heat and repeat with remaining batter. Makes 8 pancakes.
Curried Garbanzo Filling
This filling works great as a rice bowl topping or as a wrap too, so don't be afraid to make a full batch.
5 cloves garlic
1 onion, peeled and finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 green pepper, finely diced (red, yellow or orange are fine too)
2 medium hot banana chilies, minced
2 TBSP (16gm) cumin, ground
1 TBSP (8gm) oregano
1 TBSP (8gm) sea salt (coarse)
1 TBSP (8gm) turmeric
4 cups (850gm/30oz) cooked or canned chick peas (about 2 cans)
½ cup (125gm/4oz) tomato paste
1.Heat a large saucepan over medium to low heat. Add the garlic, veggies, and spices, cooking until soft, stirring occasionally.
2.Mash the chickpeas by hand, or in a food processor. Add the chickpeas and tomato paste to the saucepan, stirring until heated through.
Coconut Curry Sauce
This makes a great sauce to just pour over rice as well. This does freeze well, but the texture will be a little different. The flavor is still the same though.
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic
½ tsp cumin, ground
¾ tsp sea salt (coarse)
3 TBSP curry powder
3 TBSP spelt flour (or all-purpose GF flour)
3 cups (750ml/24oz) vegetable broth
2 cups (500ml/24oz) coconut milk
3 large tomatoes, diced
1.Heat a saucepan over medium heat, add the onion and garlic, cooking for 5 minutes, or until soft.
2.Add the spices, cooking for 1 minutes more. Add the flour and cook for 1 additional minute.
3.Gradually stir in the vegetable broth to prevent lumps. Once the flour has been incorporated, add the coconut milk and tomatoes, stirring occasionally.
4.Let it simmer for half an hour.Happy eating!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Superfast Layer Cake

When I saw that both choices for the Barefoot Bloggers this month were cakes, I was worried. Not as much about the baking, as about the sugar and the butter and the calories and how on earth I was going to get rid of so much cake. Especially when today's choice wasn't just a normal sized cake, but a huge sheet cake - the kind of cake you make when you need to feed the neighbourhood, or a small island nation. But sometimes a good idea comes along (in this case via someone else's blog), and you wind up with something wonderful.

I had seen Christy's 30 layer cake (!!!) at 5 Types of Sugar and Other Treats, and was fascinated by it. I have neither the skills or the inclination to spend two days on such an extreme cake, but I did like the idea of baking thin layers of batter between sheets of baking paper to stop them drying out or sticking, and then piling them up into a layer cake. I decided to try an experiment with this week's Barefoot cake, by halving the recipe, but baking it in the enormous tin size specified (12 inches by 18 inches) to create thinner layers. Because I wanted all my resident cake-eaters to enjoy this, I opted to make a vanilla cake, so I left out the lemon and upped the amount of vanilla. The only tin I have big enough is the bottom half of my griller tray, so I lined it with baking paper, spread the batter out as evenly as I could, topped it with another sheet of baking paper, and slid it into the oven. The cake was cooked in about 12 minutes. I left it to cool in the tray, while I whipped up some cream with a tablespoon of sugar to sandwich the layers together. Once the cake was cool, it was just a matter of chopping it up into evenly sized pieces and sandwiching it all together. If you are wanting to be really quick, you could spead some more cream on top and decorate with strawberries. I wasn't in that much of a rush, so I topped it all with Ina's chocolate frosting which was easy and delicious, although it took longer to make than the cake. The result was two 4 layer cakes, each about the size of a loaf tin. It was really good - all the cake-eaters went back for seconds. Something tells me that I don't need to worry about how I am going to get rid of all this cake.

I will definitely make this recipe again, although next time I may try baking two layers with the same amount of batter, so I get an 8 layer cake instead. You never know, if I keep going like this, one day I may get to a 30 layer cake.... Incidentally, the quantities below are what I used for my half portion - click on the recipe title for the original recipe and quantities. And thank you to Susy of Everyday Gourmet for the choice. My cake-eaters thank you also.

adapted from "Barefoot Contessa at Home" by Ina Garten

For the cake
135g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/6 cup corn flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon bicarb of soda
For the frosting:
360g semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup pouring cream
1 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tbl unsalted butter, at room temperature
Whipped cream to fill (if desired)
Preheat the oven to 175C. Butter and flour a 12 by 18 by 1 1/2-inch sheet pan. Line with baking paper. To make the cake, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. On medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, then the sour cream, and vanilla, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix well. Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir just until smooth. Pour evenly into the pan, smooth the top with a spatula, and cover with anoher sheet of baking paper. Bake in the center of the oven for 12 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan to room temperature.

For the frosting, place the chocolate chips and cream in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chips are completely melted. Off the heat, add the corn syrup and vanilla and allow the chocolate mixture to cool to room temperature. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the chocolate mixture and softened butter on medium speed for a few minutes, until it's thickened.
Cut the cake into evenly sized pieces. Lift carefully off the baking paper with a spatula. Spread the frosting or cream evenly on each slice, and pile up until you have your layer cake. Coat the outside with frosting.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Asparagus Hollandaise for A Taste of Yellow

When I first discovered the world of food blogs, one of the first that I started reading was Barbara at Barbara always has food that inspires, but it is her photos that I really love, particularly the photo essays she posts from time to time. Barbara was first diagnosed with cancer in 2004 and has had several rounds of treatment since then. To support the Lance Armstrong Foundation, Barbara holds an annual "Taste of Yellow" cooking event, challenging fellow bloggers to cook and post a yellow themed dish. (Yellow is of course the colour of Lance Armstrong's LIVESTRONG campaign).

Obviously cancer is a disease that impacts all of us directly or indirectly, sooner or later. I wanted to participate in this event firstly to thank Barbara for inspiring me to start blogging, and secondly to remember the people around me who have battled cancer. Some are now officially cancer-free, others have passed away. And for the rest of us, I see hope ahead. There is a constant trickle of scientific developments that promise to slowly crack the code of cancer. Vaccines against some forms of the disease are now available, and treatments are improving. I would love to think that in my daughters' lifetimes a cure is discovered. Donate if you can.

For my Taste of Yellow dish, I chose Asparagus Hollandaise. The new season asparagus seems to me a very hopeful vegetable. I was able to buy tiny spears that were incredibly tender to serve with a gorgeous hollandaise from my encyclopedic Stephanie Alexander. The recipe was easy and the emulsion seemed to hold without problem (unlike many other recipes). Perfect nibbles with drinks, or as a light entree.

Hollandaise Sauce

200g unsalted butter
3 tbsp white wine vinegar or verjuice
pinch of coarsely ground white pepper
2 tbsp water
3 egg yolks
juice of 1/2 lemon

Melt butter gently and allow to cool a little. Place vinegar, pepper and water in a small saucepan and reduce to 1 tablespoon liquid. Transfer liquid to a small bowl that fits comfortably over a stable small saucepan half-filled with hot water. Add egg yolks and whisk well over moderate heat until thick and foamy. Make sure that they do not get so hot as to become scrambled eggs! Whisk in butter a little at a time, still over heat. When all butter is incorporated you should have a bowl of thick creamy sauce. Add lemon juice to taste. Herbs can be added too , if you like.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Chicken and Date Coucous for a Family Dinner

My children have recently taken to couscous in a big way (cue rapturous applause). From my selfish point of view, this is a fantastic development because it gives us one more option for dinner on those nights when you get in late and need to get dinner happening quickly. If you have never made it yourself, couscous can go from the packet to being served in 5 minutes, give or take, which makes it a saviour on our crazier nights.

Getting the kids to eat couscous wasn't hard. I originally sold it to them as something that tasted just like "lots and lots of tiny balls of pasta". Both love pasta, so that was a good start. At first I only used chicken stock, and a dash of olive oil, salt and pepper to flavour the couscous, but now that they like it, I am able to push the envelope a little further. Couscous, like pasta, is infinitely variable depending on what you mix into it. I like to add nuts for the texture contrast (pine nuts, almonds, or whatever is hanging around the pantry), and dried fruit as well for a little bit of sweetness to offset the savoury flavours. And you can use it for all sorts of things, even as a stuffing for poultry (yum).

I spotted this recipe in a recent issue of the wonderful Cuisine magazine. I changed it around a little, dropping the green olives in favour of the almonds, and swapped dates for figs, because that is what we had. Instead of the usual couscous cooking method (add hot liquid and let stand), this recipe creates a tasty base then adds the couscous and stock and bakes. The result was something soft and comforting, in the same way that risotto warms you, although it takes closer to 30 mins. My only slight complaint was that I felt it was a little too wet, so I have reduced slightly the amount of stock in the recipe below. This is one of those recipes that is endlessly modifiable according to your tastes and your pantry.

Spiced Chicken Tagine
adapted from "Cuisine" July 2009

25g butter
1 red onion finely diced
thumb sized piece of fresh ginger grated
8 boneless chicken thighs cut into chunks
pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 tsp turmeric
pinch of cinnamon
1 tsp whole coriander seeds, toasted
250g couscous
1 3/4 cups chicken stock, warmed
handful of dates, chopped
handful of blanched almonds, toasted*

Preheat oven to 180C. In a heavy saucepan, melt butter and fry onion and ginger until soft and fragrant (about 5 mins). Add chicken and fry untl it is sealed and just coloured. Add the spices and season. Add the couscous, warmed stock, dates and cover tightly with foil or a lid. Bake for 20 mins. Uncover the tagine and fluff the couscous with a fork - it should be light and fluffy and all the stock should be absorbed. Serve with a side salad.

* to toast spices or nuts, toss in a dry pan over medium low heat until they turn fragrant (spices) and/or golden (nuts).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Chocolate and Strawberry Macarons

A couple of weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of selecting something to make for a shower tea. We have a new bride entering the family and we all wanted her to feel special and welcome. Because she is also a foodie, I wanted to make something completely delicious and a little out of the ordinary, and so settled on macarons.

Macarons are certainly the indulgence of the moment. Ever since Sophia Coppola featured them in all their pastel glory in Marie Antoinette, a macaron craze has been sweeping the world. Websites debate where the best macarons in Paris can be found, while magazine features show lovingly shot piles in exotic colours and flavours, or parfums as the French say. But for me, especially as a first time macaron chef, I was not considering liquorice or lychee or anything exotic. I decided to stay with strawberry and chocolate as good safe bets, especially since there would be kids at the shower.

Having watched the Masterchef macarons, and after reading various blog posts about the trials and tribulations of making macarons, I was prepared for the worst. And yes, I completely stuffed up the first batch by whipping the egg whites firm (correct), but then adding the remaining ingredients into the mixer instead of stirring in by hand (definitely not correct - the egg whites lost their stiffness and I was left with a mixture that was way too runny to pipe). So I started again.....with a little more success. I used egg whites from the supermarket (non-refrigerated as I had forgotten to leave any out overnight). I also did not leave the piped macarons to stand for 4-5 hours; instead I left them for a couple of hours. Make sure you only bake one tray at a time - when I went to swap my trays half way through the cooking all the bottom macarons were cracked, so I left the trays as they were and the top ones remained uncracked. (You can see a cracked macaron hiding in the top left of my picture). I also kept the cooked but unfilled macarons in the freezer for a couple of days with no problems.

When it came to making the chocolate macarons, I decided to try another recipe, this time from Martha Stewart. The flavour was really good - my youngest told me they tasted just like the ones from the Lindt Cafe and you don't get higher praise than that. The downside was that they were a bit thicker and not as crisp as the strawberry ones. I will keep experimenting with recipes, but in the meantime I would make both of these again. They were really really good - the Gourmet Traveller recipe lighter and crisper, Martha's chewier and denser. I guess it depends where your preferences lie : one or the other or both!

Macarons with white chocolate and strawberry ganache adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller

130 gm pure icing sugar
110 gm almond meal
105 gm eggwhite (about 2), at room temperature, left out overnight
65 gm caster sugar
4-5 drops rose food colouring

White chocolate and raspberry ganache
50 ml pouring cream
100 gm white chocolate
45 gm raspberries, coarsely chopped

Process icing sugar and almond meal in a food processor until finely ground, triple-sift into a large bowl and set aside. Whisk 90gm eggwhite in an electric mixer until soft peaks form (1-2 minutes). Add caster sugar, a tablespoon at a time, whisking continuously until incorporated and mixture is thick and glossy (2-3 minutes), then add food colouring. Stir in almond mixture in batches until incorporated and mixture slowly slides down sides of bowl when bowl is tilted. Add remaining eggwhite to loosen mixture, spoon into a piping bag with a 1cm plain nozzle, pipe 3cm-diameter rounds of mixture onto heavy baking-paper-lined oven trays, stand until a crust begins to form (4-5 hours).

Preheat oven to 140C. Bake macarons until firm but not coloured, one tray at a time (10-12 minutes), set aside, cool completely on trays.

Meanwhile, for white chocolate and strawberry ganache, bring cream just to the boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat, add chocolate, stand until melted (5 minutes), stir until smooth and glossy. Refrigerate until firm yet still pliable (45 minutes-1 hour) then stir until smooth. Add raspberries, stir to form a ripple effect, then spoon a teaspoon of ganache onto half the macarons. Sandwich with remaining macarons and refrigerate until set. Macarons will keep for 1-2 days refrigerated in an airtight container.

Chocolate Macarons

adapted from Martha Stewart

1 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup almond flour

3 Tbl unsweetended cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup castor sugar

Pulse icing sugar and almond flour in a food processor until combined. Sift mixture twice.
Preheat oven to 185 degrees. Whisk whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then add castor sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes. Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold until mixture is smooth and shiny.

Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1cm plain round tip, and pipe 3cm rounds 3cm apart on parchment-lined baking sheets, dragging pastry tip to the side of rounds rather than forming peaks. Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macaroons are crisp and firm, about 10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees.

Let macaroons cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. (If macaroons stick, spray water underneath parchment on hot sheet. The steam will help release macaroons.)
Sandwich 2 same-size macaroons with ganache (recipe below). Serve immediately, or stack between layers of parchment, wrap in plastic, and freeze for up to 3 months.

Chocolate Ganache

Makes 3/4 cup ganache
1/2 cup pouring cream
100g dark chocolate, finely chopped (preferably 70 percent cacao)
15g unsalted butter, softened

Pour cream over chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Let stand for 2 minutes. Add butter, then whisk mixture until smooth. Let cool, stirring often. Use immediately.

Fagotino di Zucchini or Glamourous Stuffed Zucchini

Let's all admit upfront that zucchini is not the most glamourous of vegetables. If you want something fancy, you look to asparagus, or maybe miniature leeks, baby dutch carrots or even the zucchini flower, but never the plain old garden variety zucchini. In fact, it is only in the last few months that I have started a clandestine affair with the zucchini, kicked off by a gorgeous Donna Hay salad. And now this concoction of sauteed zucchini stuffed with a teaspoon of ham and mozzarella and then baked with a little parmesan on top has me swooning.

I found this recipe in "The Saucier's Apprentice" by Bob Spitz, one of the many "mid-life crisis averted by some combination of love and cooking" books that I seem to have been reading lately. Bob is an unhappy New Yorker and seems to be searching for a solution when he decides to take a cooking school tour of Europe. I can only imagine having the leisure (and the finances!) to set off for three months of cooking. Some of the schools have a lot to learn, others have a lot to teach. Bob emerges with a fistful of recipes and some new techniques (although perhaps not as many as he was expecting) and he includes a smattering of these throughout the text. I enjoyed the book, although Bob's Euro-centric approach to the high arts of cooking seems a little strange from this corner of the world, where Asian influences on both ingredients and technique are commonplace.

One recipe that jumped out at me was the fagotino di zucchini, which Bob claims to make regularly for friends who all refuse to leave without the recipe. I love these sort of endorsements so I made it for myself for lunch recently. I was feeling in need of a little extra TLC (to the extent of plating this for myself as if I was a guest). It was really lovely and made a great lunch, although I suspect the next time I make it will be as an entree for a dinner party.

Fagotino di Zucchini
from "The Saucier's Apprentice" by Bob Spitz

For each serving:
1 zucchini sliced lengthwise into four pieces
olive oil for sauteeing
1 tsp mozzarella
1 tsp diced ham
a small cube of butter and grated parmesan to top

Preheat oven to 175C. Sautee the zucchini slices in olive oil over high heat until they look golden but not crispy. Drain on paper towels. On a chopping board, arrange the four slices over each other in a star (lay 2 in a cross and the other two on each diagonal, so it looks like an asterisk made out of zucchini, if that makes any sense). In the middle of the star, put some mozzarella and some ham, and push down a little.

Fold up the flaps of zucchini and pin everything together with a toothpick. Dot with butter, sprinkle with parmesan, then bake for 10 mins. Serve hot from the oven.