Thursday, December 31, 2009
Until then, Happy New Year to all. Thanks for reading. I hope 2010 brings only good things to your life and to those in your life. Enjoy the start of the new decade.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
But now, thanks to Gourmet Traveller, I have another tradition to add to my permanent Xmas list: cranberry-rosemary florentine bars. These appeared in an article featuring the recipes of patissier of the moment, Adriano Zumbo. Zumbo has been building a profile for the last few years, starting with the odd mention in the food pages of the paper, before building to a star turn on both Masterchef and Celebrity Masterchef. Every time the Masterchef contestants were challenged with a Zumbo recipe, the judges would suck some air back through their teeth, shake their heads and discuss how many "processes" were involved. It was this image that kept popping into my head as I was making these bars: Gary and George shaking their heads and saying, "but how many processes does she still need to complete?" And I must admit, at the end of the cooking, I thought to myself "well, that was interesting. Rather serious effort for a Christmas sweet. Maybe next year I should set my sights a little lower. Who needs to do so much work at this time of year? Who really wants some fancy-pants chocolates?"
But then I tasted them, and the answer is ME ME ME. I will slave in the kitchen every year just so I can have another hit of those chocolates. Zumbo says in his GT introduction “These were inspired partly by stuffing mix from Christmas, with the rosemary, but made into a chocolate." I never would have contemplated rosemary and chocolate together, but these were phenomenal - a really perfect balance between sweet and savoury, and filled with so much flavour, that, even though I cut them smaller than Zumbo, one is plenty. And almost everyone who tried them was bewitched by the flavour. I must also admit, that while there are plenty of processes, none are very hard. It's just that there are a lot. But for the end result? I promise you will never hear another word of complaint from me. Gosh, I would even cop another process or two, just to eat them again. Really.
You start by making the flaked almond layer of the florentine; once that is in the fridge, you move onto the rosemary sable biscuit dough. These biscuits are cut into 1cm squares and baked until they are golden. Then all except 16 are crushed. (In case you were wondering, I have never made biscuits before for the sole purpose of smashing them up.) The recipe then asks you to process rosemary and cream in a small food processor. I only have a large food processor, so I decided to do this bit in the blender, and very quickly created something that more closely approximated rosemary butter than cream flecked with rosemary. I wasn't about to throw in the towel at this point, so I added a couple of extra tablespoons of pouring cream, and continued. The cream and rosemary are then brought to the boil, then left to infuse before being poured over the white chocolate and crushed pistachios to make a ganache and folded with the crushed biscuits. Zumbo then instructs that this mixture is poured over the almonds. My mixture was so thick that pouring was impossible, so I wound up taking a sheet of glad wrap and using it to push the mix flat on top of the almonds. That mix is then left to set in the fridge ofr 6 hours to overnight, before it is cut into bars, dipped in chocolate and decorated. And the final piece of advice comes from Zumbo: "The secret here is to not overcook them or the sugars become too reduced and they become too hard. And, no suprises, you’ll need to begin this recipe a day ahead.
Rosemary Cranberry Florentine Bars
Australian Gourmet Traveller Dec 09
Cooking Time Prep time 40 mins, cook 40 mins (plus infusing, cooling, setting)
125 gm flaked almonds
150 gm Tasmanian leatherwood honey (I just used the normal honey I had)
100 ml pouring cream
35 gm liquid glucose (I used corn syrup as a subsitute)
15 gm glacé cherries, finely chopped (I used some dates)
35 gm dried cranberries, finely chopped, plus extra whole, to serve
350 gm dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
rosemary leaves and coarsely chopped pistachios
25 gm caster sugar
1½ tbsp rosemary leaves
50 gm (1/3 cup) plain flour
35 gm cold unsalted butter, diced
2 tsp lightly beaten egg
Pistachio and rosemary ganache
60 ml (¼ cup) pouring cream
½ cup (loosely packed) rosemary leaves
115 gm good-quality white chocolate, finely chopped
20 gm pistachio kernels, pounded in a mortar and pestle until finely crushed
1 tsp liquid glucose
25 gm softened butter
Preheat oven to 180C. Spread almonds on an oven tray and roast, stirring occasionally, until golden (5-7 minutes), set aside. Stir honey, cream and glucose in a saucepan over medium-high heat until combined, then cook until mixture reaches 123C on a sugar thermometer (10-12 minutes). Stir in almonds, cranberries and cherries, then spoon into a 22cm-square cake pan lined with baking paper, smooth top and refrigerate until set (1-2 hours).
Meanwhile, for rosemary sablé, reduce oven to 160C. Process sugar and rosemary in a small food processor or spice grinder until finely chopped, then transfer to a mixing bowl. Add flour and butter and rub in with your fingertips until fine crumbs form. Add egg, mix until a dough just forms (don’t overwork it) then flatten into a square, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate to rest (1-2 hours). Roll out on a lightly floured surface to 7mm thick, cut into 1cm squares and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake until golden (10-15 minutes), cool completely and coarsely crush.
For pistachio and rosemary ganache, process cream and rosemary in a small food processor to break down leaves, transfer to a saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, stand for 20 minutes to infuse, then bring back to the boil. Combine chocolate, pistachio and glucose in a heatproof bowl, strain over cream mixture and stir to combine. Stir in butter, fold in rosemary sablé (reserve 16 pieces to garnish). Pour over almond mixture, smooth top, cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate until firm (6 hours-overnight), turn out and cut into 3cm x 9cm bars.
Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Dip bars into chocolate, shaking off excess, and place on trays lined with baking paper. Decorate each bar with a rosemary leaf, a cranberry, a pistachio and a little remaining rosemary sablé, then refrigerate until set (10-15 minutes). Cranberry-rosemary Florentine bars will keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
This recipe is from the December 2009 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
120g unsalted butter, melted
250g cream cheese
200g creme fraiche
1/2 cup (75g) pure icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
100ml thickened cream, whipped
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries (Craisins)
2 tbs brandy
410g jar fruit mince
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with plastic wrap (or use silicon baking cups). Process the biscuits in a food processor to fine crumbs. Add butter and process until just combined. Press biscuit mixture into base and sides of prepared muffin holes, using a spoon to press down firmly. Place muffin pan in freezer while you make the filling.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Looking at the week ahead, I know Christmas Eve will be a long day. I will be hosting lunch for close to a dozen of us. I have one standard-sized oven with both a ham to glaze and a turkey to cook before lunch (the current plan is to glaze the ham and then cook the turkey and then whack the ham back into the oven for a few minutes so it tastes freshly glazed.) My turkey recipe is also like a high maintenance friend, and needs fairly constant attention until it appears golden and rested: worth it ultimately, but a bit demanding at times. So, in my spirit of calm, I am trying to take the pressure off myself everywhere else. I am doing only cold side dishes (fitting since it is likely to be very hot): a spinach and rice salad in perfect Christmas colours, a King Cole coleslaw (from Gourmet Traveller Dec 09) also in seasonal colours and a Christmas caponata. Both the caponata and the rice salad will be made the day before they are needed, as they improve when the flavours are given a bit of time. The coleslaw requires only a bit of chopping, which can be easily managed between bastes of the turkey. I have also decided to serve a fruit salad of mangos, nectarines and raspberries as the dessert, and then do more seasonal, indulgent petit fours with coffee, which will all be made ahead of time. All of this makes me feel happy and capable of managing the cooking without any of it being too difficult on the day. But there is one final item I need to share with you. My final blinding piece of inspiration (or self-preservation) was choosing to do cured ocean trout for the entree, which needs to be prepared now to be ready for Christmas.
If you have never cured trout or salmon, today is the day to think about doing it. It is so easy, I am nearly embarassed by it, and the resulting fish is wonderful. If you have never eaten cured fish, the texture is somewhere between sashimi and cooked fish, but does not taste at all raw. Depending on what you use for the cure, different flavours can be introduced into the dish. I am trying the recipe from Gourmet Traveller Dec 09 for Greek Cured Ocean Trout for the first time, however I have cured fish before (salmon gravlax). The fish needs to cure for five days before being eaten, so what you see above is the side of ocean trout in its ziploc curing bath. Once cured, the fish will last another couple of weeks. As soon as it is ready, I will taste it and update this post, and the picture. In the meantime, here is the recipe. Hopefully it will be perfect for Christmas!
UPDATE: The ocean trout was really good. Because it cures for longer than other recipes, the fish shrinks quite a bit, so each slice from the fillet is quite small. The taste however is wonderful - and don't be afraid even if you don't like ouzo - it definitely does not have a strong ouzo flavour, just an almost unidentifiable background hint. This recipe was a definite hit with everyone, and was eaten too fast for me to get another photo.
Greek Cured Ocean Trout
Gourmet Traveller Dec 09
100g caster sugar
100g fine sea salt
1 small side ocean trout
Baby coriander sprigs to garnish
Condiments as desired
Combine sugar, salt and ouzo in a bowl. Place trout in a ziploc bag, and pour in the curing mixture. Press mixture down to evenly coat fis. Seal, removing as much air as possible, and refrigerate, turning occasionally until lightly cured (5 days.)
Wipe curing liquid from trout, then brush any remains away with a wet pastry brush (don't wet the fish too much). Thinly slice fish, arrange on a platter, scatter with garnish and serve. (I am planning to serve it wih thin sourdough toasts, capers, pickled onions and a garlic aioli).
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
I have always been completely taken by gingerbread houses, from Hansel and Gretel onwards. When I was little my mother made a beautiful gingerbread house once at Christmas time. I think she used a recipe in "The Cooking of Germany", part of a Time Life series, which featured an amazing gingerbread house on its cover. I remember Mum's gingerbread house sitting proudly on the dining room table, tiled with lollies, so picture-perfect that I was completely dazzled by it. It was in the dining room to keep it away from little hands, but I kept sneaking in to look at it. Sadly the Sydney humidity ensured that within a day or so of completion, it had collapsed in on itself, and we wound up picking the lollies out of the gingerbread rubble. Poor Mum. (Note to self, if I ever attempt a gingerbread house, make sure to use a local recipe, not one that presumes European winter conditions.)
So, on to the speculaas and my attempt to make my kitchen smell like a gingerbread house.... This recipe certainly creates a lovely crisp biscuit, with rich spicy gingerbread flavours, and your kitchen really will smell superb while you are making them. The downside is the work involved. Like many Christmas treats, these speculaas are much more a labour of love than a simple batch of biscuits. Firstly there is a spice mix to make. Then a dough which needs resting overnight. Then the dough needs to be rolled out, and returned to the fridge for more resting, and then it is cut with cookie cutters and returned to the fridge for more resting. And only then does it hit the oven and turn your kitchen into a gingerbread house. Incidentally, the final resting is to ensure that your cookies hold the intricate patterns of some speculaas cutters, but I got a bit bored and impatient and reduced it dramatically with no apparent ill-effect. As long as your biscuits aren't too intricately patterned, you cold probably get away with it too. Incidentally, in case you are wondering, my cutters are supposed to look like Christmas ornaments, but I think they wound up looking a little like some sort of medical instrument. You've got to laugh - at least they tasted good.
If you are cooking something from Gourmet Traveller this month and would like to join Melinda and I, on our new We Made It challenge, drop us a line either here or at Melbourne Larder.
Australian Gourmet Traveller December 09
Makes about 30-40 biscuits
500 gm (3 1/3 cups) plain flour, sieved
2 tsp baking powder
220 gm butter, softened
250 gm dark brown sugar
2 tbsp milk
8 green cardamom pods
5 star anise
1 tsp white peppercorns
1 piece of mace
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp finely grated nutmeg
For speculaas spice, finely grind cardamom, cloves, star anise, peppercorns and mace in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Transfer to a large bowl, add cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, stir, add to flour and baking powder, and set aside.
Beat butter, sugar and a pinch of salt in an electric mixer until creamy (3-4 minutes). Add milk, beat to combine, then add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Form mixture into a dough with your hands on a work surface (add extra milk if mixture is too dry), shape into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate to rest (8 hours-overnight).
Preheat oven to 170C. Roll pastry on a lightly floured surface to 5mm thick, then refrigerate until firm (30 minutes). Cut into desired shapes (see note) and place on trays lined with baking paper. Re-roll scraps and repeat. Chill until firm (20 minutes), then bake in batches until light brown and crisp (10-12 minutes). Cool for 5 minutes on trays, then transfer to wire racks and cool completely. Speculaas will keep, stored in an airtight container, for 1 week.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Which brings me to today. I found myself at my kitchen bench, contemplating very small birds. Birds that could have been cupped in my hand quite easily, and I have small hands. The reason for the birds was dinner, and more specifically, a fast dinner after a busy day from a Gourmet Traveller recipe. I am trying to cook as much as possible from Gourmet Traveller this month because of a new monthly challenge with Melinda from Melbourne Larder. We have called this project "We Made It" and we are planning to try and cook as much as possible from a different food magazine each month. Ideally, we want our food magazine purchases to be put to better use than just contemplating hypothetical dinner parties. Not that I can see the hypothetical dinner parties being cancelled anytime soon.
On scouring this month's Gourmet Traveller for something fast to cook for dinner, I landed on marinated quail in the Gourmet Fast section. I knew immediately that darling husband and kids would love this. While many people would quail (!) at the thought of eating a quail, my people are not those people. My Asian husband and children are used to eating small birds from pigeon onwards, after years of meals at Chinese restaurants. I consider it something to do with the famine mentality that is visible at times behind even the fanciest Chinese cuisine. Yes, I'm looking at you, 1000 year old eggs.
But as I sat there contemplating the small birds, I was wondering whether there was something inherently cruel about eating something so little. I can only put this down to the "pick on someone your own size" school of thought, as most days of the week, I have no problem eating all manner of animals. Which then led me to wondering whether empirically there was something different in quality between the life of a quail, or a cow or a sheep or even a very unlovable shark. Logically, there isn't. Which then led me to contemplating our position at the top of the food chain and the fact that nature can be cruel at almost every turn. Those at the top of the food chain tend to win, but the only ones who worry about it are humans. And as if the cruelty and health arguments for and against vegetarianism aren't enough to wrestle with, now there is an environmental dimension to be considered as well. Promise to let you know when I reach some conclusion.....
Back to the quail. If you are someone who does not quail at quail (sorry, I loved that line so much I had to use it twice), this recipe is a winner. I measured all of my marinade ingredients into the same measuring cup, so by the time I had finished measuring and chopping the sugar had nearly dissolved. The marinade then needed only a minute or two on the stove to be ready for use. Incidentally, I couldn't find 4 jumbo quail, so I used 6 regular quail and cooked them for slightly less time (about 2 mins). After ten minutes, the oil was hot, the salad was made and the quail was ready for the pan. Cooking took another ten minutes by the time I had worked in batches. The result was really good. Daughter came back for seconds and husband came back for thirds. If you are not keen on deep frying, I also tried cooking one of the quail under the griller, and it was good too.
PS Apologies for the photo - light was failing and we were all too hungry for much styling.
Fried Quail With Cucumber and Lettuce Wedges Australian Gourmet Traveller December 2009Serves 4
4 jumbo quail, butterflied and halved lengthwise (have your butcher do this if the thought of it bothers you)
200 ml light soy sauce
100 ml chicken stock
40g caster sugar
2 pieces of orange rind removed with a peeler
2 cm piece of ginger thinly sliced
1 star anise crushed coarsely
Vegetable oil for deep frying
1/4 iceberg lettuce cut into thin wedges
1/2 cucumber cut into 4cm batons
1 tsp Chinese five spice mixed with chilli flakes (ooops forgot this bit)
Lime wedges and coriander sprigs to serve
Place quail in a single layer in a non-reactive bowl (I used plastic; glass or ceramic are fine too). Combine soy sauce, sugar, stock, orange rind, star anise and ginger, in a small saucepan, and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Cool, pour half over the quail and return the rest to the stove. Cook until it is a nice, syrupy sauce, then strain and set aside.
Meanwhile heat oil to 180C in a high sided frypan or a deep fryer. Combine five spice, chilli and 2 tsp sea salt in a small dish, and set aside. Drain quail, pat dry and deep fry until golden and crisp. Drizzle the sauce over the quail, and serve with lettuce, cucumber, lime wedges, coriander and five spice salt.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
December is upon us. I have neglected my blog even more than my garden for the last couple of weeks, so apologies to any regular readers who thought I had fallen down the proverbial plug hole. Some low level renovations made me briefly computer-less, followed by the usual ups and downs of a household at this time of year, but I am planning to more than make up for lost time this month, so brace yourselves.
A few months ago, I saw a post from Melinda at Melbourne Larder about making good use of food magazines. In one month, she had made more than 10 recipes from a recent Gourmet Traveller. I was impressed because - brace yourselves - my name is Suzie and I am a food porn addict. I don't just enjoy them; I mainline food magazines. As well as filed and orderly collections of magazines I am keeping, there are piles of unsorted magazines hidden in various corners around the house. I have an enormous box of unsorted clippings from magazines that have been sent off to recycling, plus three largish scrapbooks of sorted recipes. Whenever I find myself out and about with some time to kill before collecting the kids, going to an appointment, or meeting a friend, I tend to dive into a newsagency and collect another hit. Which all wouldn't be nearly as wicked if I actually used them a bit more instead of just conjuring up hypothetical meals in my head.
So I dropped a note to Melinda suggesting some sort of monthly challenge, and after an exchange of emails, we have decided to play. Our plan is to pick a different magazine each month, try and cook and review and post as much as possible from it in the month. If anyone else decides to join in, they are more than welcome, just drop a comment in to either Melinda or me. No more rules or pressure than that. This month's choice is Australian Gourmet Traveller, December 2009. And tentatively, this project of ours is called "We Made It". Which, incidentally, is how I feel by the time I get to December.
So first recipe off the rank was a mixed tomato salad with sumac, herbs and flatbread. At this time of year, the available varieties of tomatoes spin out from the usual choices of Italian, vine-ripened or bog standard to a gorgeous palette of shapes and sizes and colours. And the recipe is not prescriptive as to what varieties you pick - take a look at what is available and what will look pretty in a bowl and work from there. Tomato salads are a great addition to any buffet or plate because of the shot of colour they give. They also last longer than your standard leaf salad - I enjoyed the remainders yesterday of a salad prepared the night before - so make sure you don't bin the leftovers. The tomato holds its shape and texture well, and if anything the flavour is enhanced. Incidentally, I prefer to blacken the capsicum skins under the griller than mess around with open flames - no need for yet another cooking scar on my hands!
If you would like to join in the fun of cooking from Gourmet Traveller this month, leave me a comment, and make sure you go and visit Melinda at Melbourne Larder and see what amazing things she is whipping up too.
3 red capsicum
1.2 kg assorted tomatoes, such as vine-ripened, green, ox heart, grape, cherry, kumato
80 ml (1/3 cup) extra-virgin olive oil
3 golden shallots, thinly sliced
1 lemon, juice only
2 tsp sumac
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 bunch each coriander, parsley and mint, leaves torn
grilled flatbread and crumbled feta (optional)
Grill capsicum over a low open flame until blackened, turning occasionally (20-30 minutes). Transfer to a heatproof bowl, cover with plastic wrap and stand until cooled (1 hour), then peel, coarsely chop and set aside.
Cut large tomatoes into wedges, halve smaller ones and combine in a bowl. Add olive oil, shallot, lemon juice, sumac and garlic, season to taste and toss to combine. Stir through capsicum and herbs and serve with grilled flatbread to the side and crumbled feta, if desired.