Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cappucino Biscuits

On the list of my sins ( far too exhaustive to contemplate listing or even contemplating), both caffeine and chocolate are prominent. For a long time, caffeine kept me moving through the day. Through the infancy of a daughter who wouldn't sleep, through crisis management (an airline collapse, terrorism and anthrax attacks spring to mind), and midnight conference calls, there was always a coffee nearby. Additionally any private management meeting, in my world of open plan offices, also happened "over coffee", which meant downstairs at the coffee shop. Things got so out of control that caffeine stopped it's positive effect on me and started giving me heart palpitations. Yikes. I was forced to severely reduce my intake. Periodically I fall back into bad habits, and find myself having to cut back again. I have never indulged in chocolate as wantonly as I drank coffee - just a little nibble here and there, with a mouthful of bitter dark chocolate usually sufficient to quash any craving. But the chocolate and coffee combination? I adore it. Cappucino? Yes please.

These tiny cookies bring all that is good about chocolate and coffee into one little biscuit. And they are really a little treat. The dough is rolled out into sausages that are about 3cm in diameter before being chilled and sliced and then baked. They wind up the perfect size to sit on the saucer next to your coffee - a tiny unit of energy to nibble while you read the paper or take that conference call or manage that crisis or do whatever. The recipe comes from a wonderful old cookbook of mine by Barbara Tropp: "The China Moon Cookbook". If you ever see this cookbook, even if you don't like Asian food, grab it for the cookie recipes.

Cappuccino coins
from "the China Moon Cookbook" by Barbara Tropp

makes 10 dozen cookies
125g cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 extra-large egg
1 cup plus 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. instant coffee powder or granules
1 ½ tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. fine sea salt
½ cup finely chopped semisweet chocolate

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and both sugars on medium speed until smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg and mix until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the flour, instant coffee, cocoa, cinnamon, salt, and chocolate bits; mix thoroughly for 2 to 3 minutes.

Gather the dough together and turn onto a lightly floured board. Using lightly floured hands, roll the dough into 2 or 3 even 3cm-thick logs. Wrap the logs separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 175C. Move an over rack to the middle position. Line large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Slice the logs into 1/2 cm thick coins, and place them ½ inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. One sheet at a time, bake until the cookies are lightly golden and are firm enough at the edges to slide off the parchment without sticking, 15 to 17 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets set on wire racks.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pumpkin Time Part 2 - Perfect Pumpkin Salad

Having roasted my pumpkin yesterday, I was planning to make this salad last night but we decided to head out for dinner instead. So today I got to enjoy my salad, with all the components made ahead, meaning no work apart from the tossing. This made it such a thoroughly enjoyable Saturday lunch I am going to start trying to have a salad planned and ready to go every week. Our Saturday mornings are usually pretty frantic, racing from one end of the city to the other according to the season and the sport the kids are playing. It was so nice at the end of that racing around, to sit down to something lovely, instead of the usual scramble to find something for lunch.

This Nigella recipe is from a compendium of chefs' recipes, and fits perfectly into the I heart Cooking Clubs theme this week of an autumn meal by Nigella. As it is Spring here, I can vouch for the fact that the salad worked just as well on a warmish Spring Saturday as it would on an autumn day. Nigella says she drew her inspiration for this salad from her very popular summer salad of feta and watermelon, replacing the sweetness of watermelon with te sweetness of pumpkin.
Roast Pumpkin, Radicchio and Feta Salad
from Nigella Lawson in "Off Duty: The World's Greatest Chefs Cook At Home"
900g peeled and deseeded pumpkin
1 tbl vegetable oil
1/2 red onion cut into fine half moons
juice of 1-2 limes (60 ml)
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
250g feta cheese, crumbled or cut into bite-sized pieces
1 radicchio headcut into bite-sized pieces
2 tbl oil
Cut the pumpkin into 6cm pieces and put them in a roasting tin with the vegtable oil. Roast at 200C for about 45 mins, until tender but not mushy. Allow to cool (this step can be done up to one day ahead). Steep the onion in the lime juice for 15 mins or longer (mine wound up steeping overnight and it was fine).
Put he pumpkin in a bowl with the feta and onions, radicchio and half the pine nuts. Gently mix it all (Nigella suggests using your hands for this). Mix the oil in the bowl the onions were steeping in, then dress the salad with this mixture. Sprinkle remaining pine nuts over the top.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Pumpkin Time Part 1 - Caramelized

"There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin ― Linus Van Pelt in "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown"
This quote landed in my in-box the same day I saw that roasted pumpkin* was one of the bonus recipes for this week, and it has been going round and round in my head for a week now. It has also brought back lots of Snoopy and Charlie Brown memories - surely we are well-overdue on a Snoopy revival? I used to love all the Peanuts characters but especially Snoopy (I had a stuffed Snoopy) and Lucy, who tried so hard to make Linus love her. I was prompted to do a bit of googling down memory lane. Here are a couple of gems I found on the net this morning:

Lucy: You think being average is enough, don't you? Well it isn't! What shape would the world be in today if everyone settled for being average?
Linus: What shape is the world in today?


Lucy: This is our last game of the season. Let's win it!
Charlie Brown: Okay. Get out there and play your best.
Lucy: You always have to say something sarcastic, don't you?

So onto pumpkin. I don't get enough pumpkin, because I have sadly found myself to be living in a pumpkin unfriendly family. Largely thanks to my otherwise reasonable husband, the rest of the family treats its appearance at dinner as if it was the ebola virus, capable of contaminating everything else on the table. So I was thrilled to make it this week, and cunningly chose a night that darling husband would be MIA to serve it. Clever. I can now report that if you are trying to introduce unwilling / uninterested daughters to pumpkin, this recipe is a cracker. It gives the pumpkin a meltingly soft texture, and brings out its sweetness, which is surely a kid eatability criteria. Both conceded that it was pretty good. Husband's response? "Good luck to you all." Clearly I still have some work to do on that front.
PS: If you come back tomorrow, I'll show you how the leftovers work in a Nigella Autumn salad.

(NB to US readers, what you can butternut squash, we call butternut pumpkin)

Caramelized Butternut Squash
from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten

2 medium butternut squash (abt 2 kgs total)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C. Cut off and discard the ends of each butternut pumpkin. Peel the pumpkin, cut them in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Cut into 4cm to 5cm cubes and place them on a baking sheet. Add the melted butter, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. With clean hands, toss all the ingredients together and spread in a single layer on the baking sheet. Roast for 45 to 55 minutes, until the pumpkin is tender and the glaze begins to caramelize. While roasting, turn the pumpkin a few times with a spatula, to be sure it browns evenly. Taste for seasonings and serve hot.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Barefoot Chicken Chili

In which the author displays her astounding lack of knowledge of a very popular food that every child raised on Brady Bunch and Partridge family re-runs really should know.

"Chicken Chili" made its way onto the Barefoot Bonus list this week, much to my delight. I have been wanting to taste chili for a very very long time, but somehow never did. For those of us born and living outside the US, chili is one of those dishes that you hear about and see in movies or on TV but never really stumble across. I know that Superbowl Sunday would not be complete without it (or is that the World Series?). I know that you can have it on a hot dog. I bet Harry made some for Sally. I'm sure all the Desperate Housewives have their own recipes. And surely Alice made a pot for the Bradys on their 3-ep Grand Canyon camping trip. But I have never tried it. I can't even remember seeing it on a restaurant menu in various trips to the US, although maybe I wasn't paying attention....

So yesterday, I began chopping onions and capsicums and garlic and tomatoes, for a slowish stove-top simmer before throwing in some oven-roasted chicken. The resulting stew was spicy, and packed with flavour. I really liked it, and would not hesitate to serve some up to friends for a casual meal. With some corn chips and sour cream on the side, it's perfect. Come to think of it, it is great "day after the night before" type food. However the kids were a little more luke-warm about it. Maybe it was too spicy for them, or maybe Hannah Montana doesn't eat chili, so they don't have the right TV references. As for my husband, who has slightly more chili experience than me, since he has eaten exactly one or two chili dogs, he wanted to know "Where's the meat? Where's the beans?". Blank looks from me, which prompted me into a quick bit of Wiki-research:

Did you know:
- Chili is the official dish of Texas (we don't have an official dish here, although someone is trying to sell Coat of Arms potato chips at the moment - flavoured with kangaroo and emu, would you believe?)
- Unnamed chili purists say "if you know beans about chili, you know chili ain't got beans" (guess who will be sharing that witticism tonight?)
- Secret chili ingredients can include peanut butter, bananas, pineapple, and cola. Not in this house.
adapted from "Barefoot Contessa Parties" by Ina Garten
4 cups chopped yellow onions (3 onions)
1/8 cup good olive oil, plus extra for chicken
2 cloves minced garlic
2 red capsicums, cored, seeded, and large-diced
2 yellow capsicums, cored, seeded, and large-diced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried chili flakes, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 800g cans whole peeled plum tomatoes in puree, undrained
1/4 cup minced fresh basil leaves
4 split chicken breasts, bone in, skin on (I used 4 marylands instead)
Chopped onions, corn chips, grated cheddar, sour cream

Cook the onions in the oil over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the capsicum, chili powder, cumin, chili flakes, cayenne, and salt. Cook for 1 minute. Crush the tomatoes by hand or in batches in a food processor fitted with a steel blade (pulse 6 to 8 times). Add to the pot with the basil. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Rub the chicken breasts with olive oil and place them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast the chicken for 35 to 40 minutes, until just cooked. Let cool slightly. Separate the meat from the bones and skin and cut it into 3/4-inch chunks. Add to the chili and simmer, uncovered, for another 20 minutes. Serve with the toppings, or refrigerate and reheat gently before serving.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Potato and Leek Soup, plus Really Good French Beans

This week is a super-dooper bonus week for the Barefoot Bloggers with a five recipe challenge, all to be posted before the weekend. All except one recipe were things I wanted to try, so I will be making up for the comparative abscence of recent posts with an excess this week. Famine to feast, to say the least.

We are kicking off with the Roasted Potato and Leek Soup. I whipped this up last week when the weather turned a little cold, and a soup seemed to be comforting and restorative. I love potato and leek as a combination and I really love vichyssoise, so I was ready to be blown away by this soup, but unfortunately I wasn't. In truth, it was probably my own fault: the recipe called for 3/4 cup of cream plus 250g of creme fraiche, which is a lot of calories, especially for a mid-week dinner. So I subbed in 250g of plain yoghurt in place of the creme fraiche, and left out the cream altogether. The resulting soup was OK but was certainly not the creamy indulgent fabulousness that some of the other bloggers enjoyed. Next time I will stick with my vichyssoise.

But then came a recipe that I did really love: French String Beans. I always try to include at least one green vegetable with dinner every night, mostly just steamed. This is undeniably fabulously healthy, but it is also a little (OK a lot) dull, and most nights I find myself harrassing the kids to finish their greens. So, a new tastier way with beans is very welcome. This recipe calls for chopping up capsicum and spanish onion into big chunks, then roasting them on high for 15 mins. Meanwhile you top, tail and blanch your beans. Toss both lots of vegetables together and voila, a really good bean dish, which happens to be three vegies now instead of one. Usually, my family isn't mad about capsicum, but they are happy to eat it roasted, because the flavour is mellower and sweeter, just like the onion. This can be served hot or at room temperature, so it also works for the warmer weather ahead. Perfect!
You can find both recipes below. Click here if you want to see what the other Barefoot Bloggers thought or if you are interested in launching yourself into fortnightly indulgences thanks to Ina Garten.

Roasted Potato and Leek Soup
from "Back to Basics" by Ina Garten

1kg bintje potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
4 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts, cleaned of all sand (4 leeks)
1/4 cup good olive oil
3 cups baby rocket, lightly packed
1/2 cup dry white wine, plus extra for serving
6 to 7 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
3/4 cup pouring cream
250g creme fraiche
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for garnish

Preheat the oven to 200C. Combine the potatoes and leeks on a sheet pan in a single layer. Add the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss to coat the vegetables evenly. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes, turning them with a spatula a few times during cooking, until very tender. Add the rocket and toss to combine. Roast for 4 to 5 more minutes, until the rocket is wilted.

Remove the pan from the oven and place over 2 burners. Stir in the wine and 1 cup of the chicken stock and cook over low heat, scraping up any crispy roasted bits sticking to the pan. In batches, transfer the roasted vegetables to a food processor fitted with the steel blade, adding the pan liquid and about 5 cups of the chicken stock to make a puree. Pour the puree into a large pot or Dutch oven. Continue to puree the vegetables in batches until they're all done and combined in the large pot. Add enough of the remaining 1 to 2 cups of stock to make a thick soup. Add the cream, creme fraiche, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and check the seasonings. When ready to serve, reheat the soup gently and whisk in 2 tablespoons white wine and 1/4 cup of Parmesan. Serve hot with an extra grating of Parmesan.
French String Beans
from Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten

500g French string beans, both ends removed
1 red onion, large- diced
1/2 red capsicum, large diced
1/2 yellow capsicum, large diced
Good olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 210C. Blanch the string beans in a large pot of boiling salted water for just 4 minutes. Drain immediately and immerse in a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. When they are cool, drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl toss the onion and capsicumtogether with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for about 15 minutes, tossing with a spatula from time to time to be sure the vegetables roast evenly.

Just before serving, reheat the string beans in a large saute pan drizzled with a little olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and arrange on a platter. Spoon the roasted vegetables over the string beans and serve hot or at room temperature.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Haunted House Cake for Halloween

I have been trying to declutter at least some of the excess magazines lying around the house. If anyone has a good idea on how to do this, I need your help. My current plan is grabbing a pile of mags, merrily ripping out all the recipes I am interested in and then popping them all in a great big box, which even I can see will need to be decluttered sooner rather than later. It is also clear to anyone walking into this house that I have more recipes than I will ever cook in my lifetime (even accounting for the fact that I am planning to live past 100) . So why do it?

The simple answer is that you come across treasures like this. A few weeks ago, I was attacking the Halloween issue of Martha Stewart from last year, and saw the most incredible Haunted House Cake. The younger darling daughter agreed with my ill-researched suggestion that I should make this cake for Halloween. When we were invited to join friends for a Halloween BBQ, I immediately volunteered making the afore-mentioned cake as my contribution to the festivities. All was well until Wednesday when I read the recipe for the first time. This was a serious cake. A three batches of Devil's Food Cake type of cake. And each batch big enough to fill my enormous stand mixer. And don't get me started on the icing - the recipe called for 12 cups of icing, made with 10 egg whites, 3/4 kg of chocolate and 4 blocks of butter. Oh my. And then a giant biscuit in the shape of a haunted house with toffee windows, and a pumpkin seed roof, to set it all off. Oh my again.

There was only one thing to do. Pin back my hair and go for it. I spread the cake-making out over a couple of days to make the process a little more fun. Day One was making the cakes and the icing. Each batch supposedly made one 9 inch and one 11 inch layer for the cake. I found that I had enough leftover batter from each batch to also make some chocolate cupcakes. Martha's concept was three 9 inch layers piled on three 11 inch layers. Which would be fine if you were feeding Andre the giant, but this was already an enormous cake with only two layers, so I cut myself a break and left out the third layer. The Icing was amazing, made by cooking the egg whites with the sugar before beating them hard - the first icing I have ever made that tastes like it could come from the cake shop up the road, and I mean that in a good way. Martha helpfully advises that leftover icing can be frozen, so I now have a box of it sitting in my freezer waiting for some other chcocolate cake to emerge from my oven.

Day Two I made the giant cookies for the Halloween house, as well as the tree and the spooky man and the pumpkins. Martha's original concept was for cookie grave stones to be scattered around the cake, but I knew that my superstitious husband would have a fit if he found me making a graveyard cake, so pumpkins it was. Once the cookies were cooked, it was time to make toffee for the doors and windows. At this stage I felt like I was doing the pressure test for a masterchef challenge. How many processes can one cake require? And once that was done, it was time to melt some chocolate and roof the house, before applying liquorice details to the windows and roof.

Finally on Halloween, all that was required was assembling it all, with nougat stairs, shaved chocolate to look like the ground and the assemblage of cookies. Unfortunately I overbaked the tree, so by the time it was put on top of the cake, it looked like one of those African baobab trees with nearly no branches. Problem number two was Sydney's humidity, which was not superhigh on Saturday, but was high enough to make the biscuits go soggy and eventually my house collapsed in the middle! Happily, not before its beauty was captured on film and all the kids had had a chance to enjoy the sight of it before it was demolished. You can find all of the recipes at the links above - they are a little long to reproduce here. The stand-out for me was the icing, which I will definitely make again (although not in such excessive quantities!). I really loved making this cake, and will probably make it again the year after next (next year might be too soon). I liked using a giant cookie as decoration because of the flexibility it gives you: giant Xmas trees or love hearts or animals or anything at all. Just not in the summer humidity.

And guess what I did with the leftover cupcakes? Upended them under some white fondant icing to make little ghosts. I think I had more fun at Halloween than the kids.