Friday, February 26, 2010

Raspberry Trifle: Anything But Trifling

According to the Macquarie dictionary, a trifle is "an article or thing of small value; a matter of slight importance; a trivial or insignificant affair or circumstance." As in, "don't worry, it's just a trifle" or "it was no effort, only a trifle". Well, after making this dessert, I am here to tell you that no dish was ever so poorly named as the "trifle"? It should be called "the stupendous", "the abundance" or possibly even "the time-consuming raving beauty". It is certainly the most awe-inspiring dessert I have ever made. The one thing it wasn't was a "trifle".

Melinda at Melbourne Larder started me thinking about this trifle after she gave it her seal of approval last month in our "We Made It" challenge. Then the planets collided. I had promised to make some dessert for a family get together for Chinese New Year, and the idea of this trifle kept playing on my mind. Sadly I had missed the dark berry season, however raspberries were available and they were (comparatively) inexpensive. They were also the perfect red for Chinese New Year. Decision made. I then substituted Chambord (raspberry liqueur) for the Creme de Mure called for in the recipe.

The biggest issue with this recipe is the time it takes. To make it, you need to resign yourself to the best part of a day spent near the kitchen, the day before you plan to serve it. Not that the recipe is that difficult or time consuming, but there is a lot of setting and resting time in its construction. But it is definitely worth the investment in both berries and time. The only thing I was unhappy with was the sponge which I thought was a bit hard. I suspect that was my own fault. Instead of baking in one large tin, I split the mixture into two round cake tins that were the right size for my bowl. I should have reduced the baking time and I didn't, so my sponge was certainly on the firm side. Oh well, nothing that a bit of cream and liqeuer didn't solve....

As you can see from the picture, the end result is definitely designed for a party. It's a dessert that Melinda describes as a showstopper, and it certainly is. The recipe was the cover of the Gourmet Traveller in Dec/Jan - they obviously felt it was the perfect festive dessert as well.

Just don't call it a trifle.

Dark Berry Trifle adapted from Gourmet Traveller
Serves 20

1.5 kg blackberries or mulberries, plus extra to serve (I used raspberries)
300 gm caster sugar
2 vanilla beans, split and seeds scraped
10 gelatine leaves (titanium strength), softened in cold water for 5 minutes
300 ml pink moscato
1 lemon, juice only
330 ml crème de mûre (I used Chambord)
1.25 kg crème fraîche
150 ml milk, or enough to thin
2 lemons, finely grated rind only
40 gm (¼ cup) pure icing sugar, sifted
8 eggs, at room temperature
250 gm raw caster sugar
250 gm plain flour, sieved
50 gm butter, melted and cooled

For sponge, preheat oven to 175C. Whisk eggs and sugar in an electric mixer until tripled in volume (7 minutes). Fold through flour in batches, fold in butter, pour into a 28cm-square cake tin lined with baking paper. Bake until golden and centre springs back when pressed (20-25 minutes). Cool in tin, turn out, halve sponge horizontally, trim each half to fit a 6 litre-capacity glass bowl, then remove from bowl and set aside, reserving trimmings.

Meanwhile, combine 1kg berries, sugar, 1 vanilla bean and seeds and 1.1 litres water in a large saucepan, simmer over low heat until infused (50 minutes). Strain through a fine sieve (discard solids), transfer 1 litre hot liquid to a bowl (reserve remainder). Squeeze excess water from gelatine, add to bowl, stir to dissolve. Add moscato, lemon juice and 80ml crème de mûre. Strain half into trifle bowl, scatter over 250gm berries and refrigerate until set (2-2½ hours). Chill remaining berry jelly, removing from refrigerator if it starts to set.

Reduce remaining liquid over high heat until syrupy (10-15 minutes), refrigerate until required.

Meanwhile, combine crème fraîche, milk, rind, icing sugar and remaining vanilla seeds in a bowl, adding extra milk if necessary until spreadable. Spread one-third over set jelly, top with a sponge round, fill any gaps with trimmings, drizzle with 125ml crème de mûre. Scatter over remaining berries, pour over remaining jelly (mixture should be starting to set). Refrigerate until set (2-2½ hours). Top with half the remaining crème fraîche mixture, then remaining sponge. Drizzle with remaining crème de mûre, top with remaining crème fraîche mixture. Cover, refrigerate overnight. Serve scattered with extra berries and drizzled with blackberry syrup.

Note You'll need to begin this recipe a day ahead. Crème de mûre is a blackberry liqueur available from good bottle shops. If unavailable, substitute crème de cassis. You can use frozen blackberries for the jelly and the syrup.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reminder: Dandi Giveaway

Just a reminder that my Dandi giveaway finishes at the end of this week. Dandi is offering four of my readers a pack containing the Masterchef Masterclass DVD (yes, a compilation of George's and Gary's best recipes and tips) and a set of beautiful Dandi tea towels. There is no question that cleaning up after a Masterchef-inspired masterpiece will be so much nicer with pretty tea towels.

All you have to do to enter is take a look at the Dandi website and let me know which colour you would prefer in a tea towel: chocolate, duckegg blue or marshmallow pink, or something completely different, and why? You can either leave a comment here with your colour preference or you can email me at . Competition is open to Australian residents only. Winners will be picked for originality. Good luck!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fabulous Crab Cakes In An Ordinary Life

Mostly I am very happy living my (relatively) ordinary life - although even saying that makes me frightened that some horrible fate might befall me tomorrow. Health, education, people to love and people who love me, passions, dreams, hopes, fears, idiocies and indulgences, I'm lucky with all. But today I am feeling extremely inadequate in my ordinary life. And not for the usual reasons like out of control hair or clumsiness. The source of my worries? I never slept with Elvis Presley, Clint Eastwood or Burt Reynolds.

Mum gave me "Insatiable: Tales From A Life of Delicious Excess", the memoirs of Gael Greene, the restaurant critic on New York magazine. I expected a gee whiz romp through some of the world's best restaurants with a few recipes and tips on technique thrown in. I have read quite a few books in this genre and they all follow much the same pattern. Except that Greene, who I must admit I had heard of only fleetingly, was also a racy novelist who partook in all the excesses of the 70s and has decided to share them in detail. Just imagine being able to say: "Years later, I would glance at Time magazine and my breath would catch in my throat. There were two men on Time's January 9, 1978, cover and I had been to bed with both of them." Straightfaced. Both of them. Clint and Burt. And this, after her tryst with Elvis is detailed on page 9. I'm not really keen on Elvis or Clint or Burt, but I can only imagine being able to claim having been up close and personal with that trifecta. No wonder she published her memoirs.

Meanwhile, big excitement for me was crab cakes. It just doesn't have quite the same ring does it? I can't even claim it was a cover recipe, let alone the cover of Time. Nor do I envisage publishers will be squabbling over the rights to my memoirs ("She did make those great crab cakes, we must have her book!") So I will go back to reading about the lives of glamourous New Yorkers while I hide from the heat in Sydney and eat another crab cake.

This recipe came from "Bon Appetit" April 2009. It is pretty easy, and makes a very elegant nibble, which can be made a couple of hours in advance. Make these to eat with drinks and you won't need to serve a first course. When I next make them, my only change will be to line the muffin tins with foil so the crab cakes are easier to get out. I'm sure Elvis, Clint and Burt would approve, if you happen to be entertaining them.

Mini Crab Cakes
from Bon Appetit, April 2009

250g cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 large egg
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon finely grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
4 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
Large pinch of cayenne pepper
180g fresh lump crabmeat, picked over, patted dry, coarsely shredded (I used good quality tinned crab, well drained)
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/4 cup unsalted butter (approx 60g), melted, plus more for pans
Fresh chives, cut into pieces

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese in medium bowl until smooth. Add 1/4 cup Parmesan and egg; beat to blend. Beat in sour cream, citrus peels, 4 teaspoons chopped chives, salt, and cayenne pepper. Fold in crabmeat. Cover and chill.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter 2 mini muffin pans (or line each hole with foil). Toss panko, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and 2 tablespoons chopped chives in small bowl. Drizzle 1/4 cup melted butter over, tossing with fork until evenly moistened. Press 1 rounded tablespoon panko mixture into bottom of each muffin cup, forming crust. Spoon 1 generous tablespoon crab mixture into each cup. Sprinkle rounded teaspoon of panko mixture over each (some may be left over).

Bake crab cakes until golden on top and set, about 30 minutes. Cool in pans 5 minutes. Run knife around each cake and gently lift out of pan. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Arrange on baking sheet; let stand at room temperature. Rewarm in 350°F oven 6 to 8 minutes.)
Arrange crab cakes on serving platter; sprinkle with chives.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Black and White Cheesecake Squares and Gratitude Journals

Last year, a friend suggested that I begin keeping a gratitude journal, as a tool to nurture creativity and happiness. The concept is extremely simple, but according to many, it is transformative. Select a blank notebook, and each night, write down five things you are grateful for that day. Because you are writing for your eyes only, you can be as personal as you like. Try not to repeat yourself. This means that the big blessings like partners, children, friends and family are dealt with early on, and forces you to take note and take pleasure in the finer details of your life. So popular has the gratitude journal process become, that there is even a gratitude journal iPhone application, as well as various websites for those who would rather log their joys electronically, than with pen and paper.

I have only just started this process, so it is way too early to report on whether my creativity or happiness has been successfully nurtured however it has made me take note of the tiny moments of happiness that can get overlooked in the dizzy spin of a day around here. Sprinklings of bliss this week have come from:
- the divinely heavy smell of murraya flowers at dusk (orange jessamine to US readers)
- a good book in a long bath
- an excellent parking spot (the joy I get from this should never be underestimated)
- a lamb and onion sandwich created from leftovers
- a walk with a friend
- a helpful soul at the post office (also not to be underestimated)

These chocolate cheesecake squares gave me another moment of bliss a couple of weeks ago, as I watched a friend's daughter orbit around and around the plate until her mother said she could have one. For me, one of the great joys in cooking is watching the pleasure it gives others, especially when it is as pure and obvious as it was on this little girl's face. Definitely a moment of happiness that made me feel grateful .

Black and White Cheesecake Squares
from Martha
Makes 24

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
300g unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
21/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
250g cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup icing sugar

Preheat oven to 160C. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with baking paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on both long sides. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Cream butter and sugar with a mixer until smooth. Add 2 eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla, and beat until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl. Reduce speed to low; add flour mixture. Increase speed to medium; beat until just incorporated. Reserve 1 cup of dough; cover, and refrigerate. Press remaining dough into bottom of prepared dish. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Bake until base is set and edges are puffed, about 25 minutes. Let cool in dish on a wire rack. Mix cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, and remaining egg and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla in a medium bowl. Spread over cooled base; crumble reserved dough on top. Bake until filling is set, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool in dish on wire rack, then lift out using overhang. Cut into 24 squares. Squares will keep in the fridge for three days.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fish Tacos and How To Achieve Work Life Balance in 7 minutes or less

I have been muttering to myself all morning about a promo for the Martha Stewart show this week. Get ready for it: if you are lucky enough to see the show on Tuesday, you are in for a treat: "Chefs Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert make coq au vin. Plus, how to get work-life balance and adorable Westminster dogs." I'm sure the coq au vin will be great and the dogs will be cute, but really, does anyone believe we can crochet up some work-life balance in the seven minutes between two commercial breaks?

Having done some time in a TV production office, I can tell you that this story came from some bright spark announcing in a production meeting that everyone seems to be talking about work-life balance. From there it would have been a very quick process of sourcing some interview talent (probably someone who has written a book on the subject), and writing up a brief. Today, the interviewee will be wheeled on, deliver their pithy pearls of wisdom and disappear again before a single mother has had time to make a school lunch while dialling in to a conference call. Pretending that this is a topic that can be conquered in seven minutes is not helping anyone, especially not those on the front lines fighting for work-life balance.

To me and my female friends, work-life balance is one of those intractable, thorny subjects. It means different things to different women and even different things to the same woman at different points in her life. It means compromises in the office and at home. It means choices that are hard, whichever way you go. It means second shifts and mother guilt, bruised egos and careers abandoned because balance proved impossible. In fact, I was laughing with a friend this morning about finding work that lets you be at home after school, and any time a kid is sick; that lets you have all school holidays off; that is pretty flexible so you can get to sports carnivals and Christmas concerts; that values your contribution on output not hours in the office. Oh, and we still want creative, fulfilling roles that makes us feel valued. Where are these work-life jobs? Not with Martha Stewart, I would bet. And the secret to finding them or maintaining a work-life balance is not going to be solved with a quick TV how-to. Even with Martha. OK, now that I have that out of my system, onto the tacos........

Whether or not you are struggling with work-life issues, whether you are time-rich or time-poor, these tacos are a fast, easy dinner. When I first saw the title in the current issue of Donna Hay, I imagined some sort of simmer of heavily-spiced fish, in the same way you simmer mince for beef tacos. I was wrong - the fillets of fish are dry-fried briefly in a pan, and then served in a tortilla with a punchy salsa, some coleslaw, pickled onions and avocado. I skipped the chilli marinade on the fish for the kids, and they also avoided the salsa, and the onions. The result was a good dinner for all of us: adults with the spices dialled up; kids opting for a plainer variety. A welcome change that was perfect for a hot night.

This was one of my choices for this month's We Made It challenge focusing at Donna Hay Feb / Mar 2010. If you are tired of under-utilising your cookbooks, feel free to join Melinda at Melbourne Larder and me - just drop us a line.

Fish and Coleslaw Tacos
adapted from Donna Hay Feb / Mar 2010, serves 4

2 tbl olive oil
1 tsp chilli flakes
sea salt
4 snapper fillets (approx 140 g each)
8 tortillas (Donna has a recipe for them in the mag, but that fell into my too-hard basket)
3 tbl mayonnaise
1 tbl white wine vinegar
1 cup finely shredded white cabbage
1 avocado, diced
coriander to garnish

Place mayonnaise and vinegar in a bowl and stir until well-combined. If it is too thick to tip from a spoon, thin it with a little water. Season with salt and pepper. Add cabbage, toss to coat, and place in the fridge.

Combine oil and chilli and salt and brush over fish fillets. (If this is for children, omit the chilli). Heat a non-stick frying pan over high heat. Cook fish fillets for 3 minutes on each side or until cooked through (you can tell it is done when it starts to flake easily). Serve in tortillas with coleslaw, pickled onion (see below), salsa cruda (see below) and avocado.

Salsa cruda:
Combine 250g chopped cherry tomatoes, 1 green onion, 2 tbls lime juice (I used lemon because I forgot to buy limes and it was fine), 2 tbls olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, 1 green chilli and sea salt to taste.

Pickled onion:
Place 2 red onions, 2 tbls white wine vinegar and 1 tbl olive oil and sea salt to taste in a non-metallic bowl. Allow to stand for 10 mins or until onion starts to wilt. Keeps well in the fridge.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Year of the Tiger Cupcakes

As well as Valentine's Day, tomorrow is Chinese New Year and the start of the Year of the Tiger. Don't you think that calls for some tiger cupcakes for the kids? I know I get carried away, but I am so excited by them - don't you love the picture!

The tiger faces are fondant, apart from the M&M eyes, with a chocolate cupcake and chocolate buttercream icing underneath. I can't wait for the reaction tomorrow. To all my readers, hope the Year of The Tiger gives you Luck, Prosperity and Longevity.

Classic Chocolate Buttercream Cupcakes
from 500 Cupcakes by Fergal Connelly
225g unslated butter, softened
225g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 tbls cocoa powder
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
100g chopped plain chocolate
2 tbsp double cream
50g unsalted butter, softened
100g icing sugar, sieved

Heat oven to 175C. Place 12 large cupcake papers into a muffin tin. Combine all ingredients in an electric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment for 2-3 minutes. Spoon the batter into cases. Bake for 20 mins. Cool in the tins for 5 mins then remove to a rack to cool completely.

For the icing, combine chocolate cream and butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir gently until combined. Remove from heat and add icing sugar, stirring until the icing is smooth. Spread onto cupcakes.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Salmon, Potato and Bean Salad With Horseradish Pesto

I'm hot. Very hot. Smoking hot. But before you get the wrong idea about me completely, let me reassure you that it's not just me. The kids are hot. The dog is hot. The house is hot. Even the cold water is hot. I'm not joking. Weather wise, February is my least favourite month in Sydney. because it is so stinking hot and humid that to walk anywhere feels like a swim. Picture a city that is completely sweat-soaked, and breathing hard, and you have a good idea of what I see around me.

Poet Les Murray describes this much better than I ever could in "A Retrospect of Humidity":
"the Lycra-bulging surf drips from non-swimmers
miles from shore, and somehow includes soil.
Skins, touching, soak each other. Skin touching
any surface wets that and itself
in a kind of mutual digestion.
Throbbing heads grow lianas of nonsense."
So that's what my head has been full of: lianas of nonsense. Unrelenting rain last week only made matters worse, as the evaporating puddles on the ground have added to the dampness in the air. I know in a couple of weeks, temperatures will subside, the humidity will lift and we will all feel better, but for now, we are all flattened by a steamer.

No surprises then that I am currently drawn to salads. Salads for dinner have been a welcome development in the last few months, made possible because my children have finally moved beyond the "er yuk it's green" stage. (If you listen carefully, you can hear wild cheering from me). I used to find myself picking the finely chopped parsley off pasta in a restaurant because the kids thought green was so contaminating that nothing could be eaten with even a green fleck in it. I slowly eased them into iceberg lettuce ("hey kids, it's just crunchy water"), and from there gradually started expanding the variety of leaves. They don't love it, but they will eat it. The stronger bitter leaves are still a bridge too far, but one they will eat is baby spinach. In case you were wondering, when I first gave them spinach, I didn't tell them it was spinach. I was worried that the word "spinach" would sound kid alarm bells, in a way that the taste would not. I just said it was a "new leaf" for them to try. Worked for me, anyway.

This salad caught my eye in the latest Donna Hay Feb / Mar 2010. It is quick and easy, and with the potatoes, it really is sufficiently filling for dinner. Smoked salmon fillets are available in the supermarket, so your only cooking is the potatoes and beans. The rest can be thrown together. Even the pesto - just use store bought and stir in some horseradish, if making your own seems like torture in this heat. Incidentally, Donna's horseradish pesto was tasty, although I upped the amount of horseradish to give it a bit of extra zing. You won't be surprised to hear that the kids wanted to have theirs without the pesto. No complaints from me: you've gotta walk before you can run.

If you are cooking anything from Donna Hay Feb / Mar 2010 this month, email me or Melinda from Melbourne Larder. We'd love to have you join us on our We Made It challenge.

Salmon and Potato Salad with Horseradish Pesto
adapted from Donna Hay Magazine Feb/Mar 10
serves 4

750g baby potatoes
300g green beans, trimmed
2 x 200g hot smoked salmon fillets
60g baby spinach leaves
Horseradish pesto, recipe below

Boil potatoes until tender (12-15 mins). Remove from water and cool slightly. Boil beans for two mins until tender (you can use the potato water). Drain and cool slightly. Slice potatoes and place in a serving bowl with salmon, beans and spinach leaves. Drizzle with pesto, and some extra olive oil, if you would like to use it. Serve.

Horseradish pesto: (you can use store bought and stir in some horseradish)
2 1/2 cups basil leaves
2 -3 tbls bottled horseradish, depending on taste (not horseradish cream)
2 tbl pine nuts
2 tbl finely grated parmesan
1/4 cup olive oil

To make the pesto, put all ingredients, plus salt and pepper in he bowl of a small food processor and process until smooth.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Angel Food Cake and Caramel Cream

Angel food cake has always held a special fascination for me. Who knows where I first heard of it, maybe on Happy Days or the Brady Bunch, but the thought of "angel food cake" has been rolling around my head for a long time. Even the name conjurs up an image for me of a perfect fluffy white cake, and maybe an American mother behind it wearing a gingham apron. An overactive imagination indeed, but for the longest time, the image was all I had. There is no angel food packet mix available here. You can't buy angel food cake at bakeries. It isn't served in cafes or restaurants. So all I could do was wonder about its look and its taste.

Then last year, I decided the time had come to make an angel food cake and try it for myself. So I scoured my American cookbooks for recipes, and was surprised at how few offerings there were for angel food cake recipes. I suspect the ubiquitous packet mix probably means that most people don't make angel food cake from scratch. However, Martha Stewart came to my rescue
(thanks Martha!) with a recipe that turned this cake into a long term project. The recipe requires twelve egg whites, and without any plan for disposing of a dozen yolks, I couldn't bring myself to make it. Hence the long term project. Since, egg whites freeze beautifully, I started saving them every time I made a sauce or a dessert or anything else thickened with a yolk. Lots of little ziploc bags marked "1 white" or "3 whites" filled my freezer, until I reached the magic number 12.

Then all my planets aligned. Some American friends were coming for afternoon tea, so it was time to defrost the whites and make them a classic American cake. Next issue: there is such a thing as an angel food tin, which is a deep ring tin with a loose bottom. I do not have one, and have no plans to buy one either. But I do have a little old ring tin. Because it was much shallower than the tin envisaged by the recipe, I had enough left over batter for a loaf cake as well. So I got two angel food cakes for the effort of one. And did it live up to my imagination? I would have to say yes. It was sweet and very light and fluffy - you can tell it is a first cousin of a meringue. I served it with a strawberry sauce with raspberries, and a caramel cream suggested by Martha. Because the cake does not have a strong flavour of its own, I would definitely recommend some sort of flavoured sauce or cream if you are making it. Incidentally, this caramel cream is so good, it actaully deserves a post of its own rather than being bolted on here. I will definitely whip it up again and again to serve with almost anything. The slightly bitter notes of caramel give the cream so much more than just a spoonful of sugar or vanilla. As my younger daughter says "scrumptiousdiddlyumptious".

If you are making an angel food cake, here are a few tips gleaned from around the net:
- DO NOT grease your tin - it will affect how high your cake rises
- when Martha says sift the flour five times, or add sugar 1 tbl at a time, trust her. This cake is all about getting as much air into the batter as possible.
- gentle folding is essential. The recipe creates a suspension of flour in the egg white - heavy handedness will destroy it.
- amazingly the cake cools upside down in the tin, and through some bizarre trick, the cake does not fall out.
- you need to ease the cake out very gently. Run a knife around the edges and then slowly nudge it out.

And don't forget about my Masterchef and Dandi giveaway. You have until the end of Feb to enter.

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon plain flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
12 egg whites
1 tablespoon warm water
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 160 degress, with rack in lower third of the oven. Sift together flour and 3/4 cup sugar. Repeat sifting four times.
Beat egg whites and the warm water with a mixer on low speed until foamy. Add salt, cream or tartar, and vanilla, and beat on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes. With mixer running, gradually add remaining 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Raise speed to high, and beat until peaks are stiff and glossy (but not dry), about 2 minutes more.
Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Sift flour mixture over egg-white mixture in six parts, gently folding in each addition with a rubber spatula. Gently pour batter into a 10-inch tube pan. Run a knife through the batter to release any air bubbles, and smooth with an offset spatula. Bake until cake is golden brown and springs back when touched, 40 to 45 minutes.

Invert pan on a wire rack, and let cake cool about 1 hour. Carefully run a paring knife around side of cake to loosen, then unmold onto the wire rack. Serve with caramel whipped cream, if desired.
Caramel Whipped Cream

Makes about 3 cups
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
Pinch of coarse salt
2 cups whipping cream
Prepare an ice bath; set aside. Cook sugar, water, and salt in saucepan over medium heat, stirring once, until sugar is dissolved. Continue cooking, without stirring, until sugar turns golden amber. Remove pan from heat; slowly pour cream down sides of pan in a slow, steady stream (it will spatter). Return pan to medium heat, and stir with a wooden spoon until combined.

Transfer caramel cream to a mixing bowl set in ice bath; let sit until very cold, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Mixture can be refrigerated overnight. Before serving, whip the caramel cream until stiff peaks form. Use immediately.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fig and Mozzarella Salad

I have written before about why I like Donna Hay recipes. Apart from the delightful photography and styling of her magazines and cookbooks, she earns her place in my kitchen pantheon for the utility of her recipes. If you are time-pressed, but still like to put a "from scratch" dinner on the table every night, Donna's your girl. Her dishes are good-tasting and good-looking, and simple enough that there is usually no possible margin of error. Most of her recipes have only a handful of ingredients, and none of them are ever too difficult to source, even at 6.45pm on a Wednesday night. While other recipe writers might challenge you more, with demanding technique, or wow you with exotic flavour combinations, there are days when a simple Donna salad is unsurpassable.

Like today. I was racing around like a mad thing trying to get 75 things done and it was only 9am. I needed petrol, and as I stood, filling my car, I was listing the day's tasks in my head. After about 20 seconds, I started to panic about how I was going to get everything done. The only option - breathe deeply and just get on with it. So I hopped into the car and headed off to the supermarket. It was only once I was a couple of kilometres away, I realised I hadn't actually paid for my petrol. A new urgent task - return to the petrol station and pay before I was thrown in jail or hunted down by a current affairs program. By the time I got back to the petrol station one of the attendants was busily reviewing the camera tape for my licence plate details. Happy ending. Stolen petrol paid for. No jail. No news crews. Repeat after me "Breathe deeply and do less".
This month's We Made It challenge is focusing on Donna Hay Feb / Mar 10. The We Made It challenge began because Melinda from Melbourne Larder and I both wanted to put our cooking magazines to use, instead of treating them as bedtime reading or coffee table decorations. After mining Gourmet Traveller in December and Delicious in January, we have arrived at Donna in Feb. I must admit that I was expecting a beautiful Valentine's spread in this month's magazine and instead it is all about keeping life easy in summer: 50 Fast Dinners, a feature on an amazing array of tacos and some luscious fruit desserts. But maybe the gods (or Donna) knew what they were sending me: I think this is probably a good time for me to be concentrating on keeping things simple.
This fig salad fits that mantra: figs + buffalo mozzarella + baby rocket. I wound up also adding some crisped pancetta just because it needed using. Donna's dressing was equally simple - just caramelized red wine vinegar. On a crazy busy day, this is a great salad recipe to keep in your back pocket.

Fig and Mozzarella Salad
adapted from Donna Hay Magazine Feb / Mar 2010

6 fresh figs, halved
180g buffalo mozzarella torn into chunks
80g baby rocket leaves
100g pancetta, cooked in a 180C oven until crisp (5 mins)
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup water
1 tbl caster sugar
2 tbl olive oil

To make the dressing, mix vinegar, water and sugar together in a small saucepan over high heat. Stir to dissolve sugar, then boil until it seems syrupy (2-3 mins). Set aside and allow to cool (pouring it into a cold bowl will speed the process). Arrange figs, mozzarella and rocket in a salad bowl (with pancetta if using). Drizzle with glaze and olive oil.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chocolate Cherry Slice

When I was growing up, Violet Crumbles and Crunchies were my favourite chocolate bars. Both featured honeycomb and chocolate, and I remember biting them slowly and letting the shards of honeycomb slowly fizz and dissolve with the chocolate in my mouth. Such was my devotion to these honeycomb masterpieces that no other chocolate bar held much appeal at all, and some I even viewed with outright hostility as a complete abomination. Sounds extreme, I know, but children have strong views about this stuff. And by far, my least favourite chocolate bar was the Cherry Ripe, a sludge of cherries and coconut, dipped in dark chocolate. This was the chocolate I always gave away, or threw away. I didn't like the look of it or the taste at all.

But then I grew up. And I fell in love. Twice. Once with my husband and once with chocolates and cherries. Okay, that last bit is a little bit exaggerated, but I do really love chocolate and cherries together now, even in a Cherry Ripe. When I spotted the recipe for this slice in a Martha Stewart Holiday Cookie magazine, all I could think was "Cherry Ripes but better." And it was. I have since made this recipe a couple of times and I need to pass on a warning. This slice is so good it will make you want to keep sneaking tiny little corners, largely because of the intense chocolatey flavour, with a little kick of salt in it. So much so, that I need to give away most of every batch because otherwise I will eat it up. Dried cherries aren't always easy to find here, but sometimes they are available from health food shops. If you can't find them, or they are too pricey, consider substituting dried cranberries.

Chocolate Cherry Crumb Slice
adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes about 20 small squares
1 1/4 cups dried cherries, coarsely chopped
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, all but 2 tablespoons cut into small pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, lightly toasted
2 cups plus 7 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Vegetable oil cooking spray

Preheat oven to 160C. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan then line with baking paper, allowing a 2-inch overhang. Bring cherries, 2 tablespoons butter, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and the water to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until almost all liquid has been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Let cool, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved.

Whisk together cocoa powder, salt, brown sugar, toasted coconut, and 2 cups flour in a bowl. Blend in remaining butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse crumbs; press 3 lightly packed cups cocoa mixture into prepared pan. Bake until just set, about 20 minutes.

Put egg and remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; mix on medium-high speed until pale, about 4 minutes. Fold in cherry mixture and remaining 7 1/2 teaspoons flour; stir in chocolate. Spread mixture evenly over crust; sprinkle with remaining cocoa mixture. Push down on the topping but only very lightly. You want a crumbly texture after baking. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Run a knife around sides; lift out of pan. Cut into squares. Bars can be stored up to 5 days, either at room temperature or in the fridge. (Keeping it in the fridge gives it a fudgier texture).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Strawberries Poached in Their Own Juice For Valentine's Day

As I look around the web at all the Valentine's Day offerings, a small part of me feels a little sad, and a little jealous, because this year I won't be celebrating. Just like I didn't celebrate last year and I won't be celebrating next year. In fact the last Valentine's Day I celebrated was in 1988. My darling husband and I were in the very early throes of our romance. That February night, under the weight of boyfriend expectations, he booked a table for two at a quaint restaurant with a good reputation. But it was a soggy Valentine's Day that year. By the end of the afternoon, the rain was bucketing down so heavily that Valentine's Day cards had to be written in waterproof ink. More religious minds were probably thinking about arks. No matter. My love came to collect me and off we drove to dinner.

As you all know, the heavier the rain, the less likely a parking spot. And so it was for us. But eventually we arrived at the restaurant, now both hungry and wet. A waiter ushered us to our table, just beside the door, and with a flourish, gave me a half-dead rose. Apparently this was part of the Valentine's Day "gift for the Ladies". But before I could enjoy the moment, I was hit with a new downpour, and so it continued for the rest of the night. We were seated so close to the door and the rain was so heavy that anyone entering or leaving the restaurant gave us a good spray. Add to that a very ordinary meal and a tragic wandering troubador, and you can understand why my then-boyfriend announced on leaving "We will never do that again." To him, Valentine's Day was a con, and that was the end of it for me. But every year, you can find me looking at the cards and the chocolates a little wistfully, wondering if that first night had gone well, what might be different now.....

Chris at Mele Cotte has sent out her annual call for recipes for Cucina D'Amore, her "kitchen of love" for Valentines Day. So here is a recipe that would be wonderful for romantic souls. Strawberries poached in strawberry sauce - just the thing to feed each other at the end of a candlelit supper. The sauce tastes so intensely of strawberry, that I finally understand the flavour that bottled strawberry sauces are trying to achieve. But instead of tasting synthetic like those bottled sauces, this tastes sweet and intense, with the slightly sour note of the berries stopping it from being too cloying. I made these strawberries originally to be served with a chocolate meringue cake, but they are so delicious they stand up on their own. In fact, the sauce was so lovely, that I kept the leftovers after we finished the strawberries and tipped raspberries into it, and finished it up that way. I will definitely be making this again - you just need to make sure that strawberries are in season, or your Valentine budget will be blown.

Strawberries Poached in Their Own Juice

1 kg strawberries
Zested rind and juice of 1/2 orange and 1/2 lemon
75g caster sugar

Chop 750g strawberries into smallish chunks and place in a large heatproof bowl with the lemon and orange zest and juice. Cover tightly with several layers of plastic wrap - I used three. Place over a large saucepan of simmering water, and leave them to cook for about an hour. At this stage the strawberries should look very pulpy, and they should have lost a lot of their juices. Tip into a sieve and strain, without pressing down on the pulp (you don't want the tiny strawberry seeds).

Tip juices into a deep frying pan, add the caster sugar and stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Slice the strawberries lengthwise in half or thirds depending on how big they are. Add to the juices in the pan, and bring up to a simmer. Remove from heat and cool completely. Store in the fridge. Serve with cream, ice cream, cake or love.

Masterchef and Dandi Giveaway

Is there a better way to kick off the year than with an unexpected gift? I was approached by the people at Dandi, asking if I would be interested in hosting a giveaway for my readers. If you haven't come across them before, Dandi are a Sydney based design house specialising in the design of fabric and tableware. They have an online store, and also sell through leading homeware shops around the country.

Dandi is offering four of my readers a pack containing the Masterchef Masterclass DVD (yes, a compilation of George's and Gary's best recipes and tips) and a set of beautiful Dandi tea towels. In other words, the inspiration to make a mess in the kitchen, plus something lovely to help you clean it up. Now if only George and Gary would come over with the tea towels....

All you have to do to enter is take a look at the Dandi website and let me know which colour you would prefer in a tea towel: chocolate, duckegg blue or marshmallow pink, or something completely different, and why? And while you are there, check out the free downloads for napkin folding - looks to me like a great way to keep the kids occupied next time guests are coming over.

The competition will run until the end of February. You can either leave a comment here with your colour preference or you can email me at . Competition is open to Australian residents only. Winners will be picked for originality. Good luck!

(And, in case you were wondering, I am not being paid or sponsored to run this competition: I just thought it was too nice an offer not to pass on!)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Herb-Crusted Flathead With Tomato and Avocado Salsa

I am forever surprised by the number of people who won't eat fish or seafood. For some it is not a choice. My brother developed a crustacean allergy, possibly after spending too many summers using prawns as bait for fishing, and now cannot eat anything with even a mere taint of seafood. Food prepared on a chopping board that was previously used with prawns is enough to send him to the emergency department at hospital. So people with an allergy, I understand.

But what about the rest of you? I have had adults (or at least they appeared to be adults) tell me that they don't eat fish because they had it once when they were a child and didn't like it. Or maybe their mother used to cook it, but only ever heavily coated in a stodgy batter, and so it no longer appeals to them. Others have told me that they don't cook fish at home (which means their kids mostly don't eat fish) because they are worried it will make their house smell. To all of you, I say it is time to have another shot at making fish for dinner. The only thing that will make your house smell is failing to clean up after yourselves.

This recipe is fast and delicious, and a great one to try on the kids. If your kids are still at the stage where even the smallest piece of green means that they won't touch it, by all means skip the herbs, the zest and the salsa. The simple combination of crispy crumbs, and tender white fish is a winner with even small fussy eaters. For the adults at the table, include the herbs and lemon - they really lift the flavour of the fish. If you have never used them, fresh breadcrumbs are larger and fluffier than the boxed crumbs. Make them every time you have a leftover chunk of good bread, by cutting off the crusts and whizzing the remains in a food processor. They can be stored in the freezer for a month or two, so they are handy every time you want to make this recipe, and I promise you will want to make it again.

This is the last of the recipes I have tried from Delicious Dec 09 / Jan 10 for my We Made It challenge with Melinda from Melbourne Larder. In February, we will be looking to the Feb / Mar 10 issue of Donna Hay.

Herb Crusted Flathead With Tomato and Avocado Salsa

adapted from Delicious Dec 09 / Jan 10
Serves 4

8 x 100g flathead fillets
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 tbs chopped thyme
1 tbs chopped parsley
30g unsalted butter melted
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tomatoes. chopped
2 avocados, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed

Put fish on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Combine breadcrumbs, herbs, zest and butter. Add seasoning to taste. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs over each fish fillet. Drizzle with 1 tbl olive oil. Grill under medium heat for 4-5 minutes until fish is cooked and crust is golden. (NB If your griller is very hot, make sure you put the tray on a low shelf and keep an eye on the crumbs to make sure that they don't catch). For salsa, combine remaining tomato, avocado, garlic, lemon juice, remaining oil and salt and pepper to taste in a mixing bowl. Serve fish with salsa.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Stuffed Kitchen plus Chilled Pea Soup With Mint Sorbet

Yesterday, I was reading Casual Kitchen, a cooking blog that does a great job of distilling a lot of other cooking blogs, as well as always providing interesting food for thought. Daniel was talking about what a relief it was to be in a kitchen that was 70-80% packed for a move because he did not have to contemplate which coffee mugs or wine glasses to use as all but the last two had been packed. The basics were to hand, but none of the peripheral stuff, which was inspiring him to cook more not less. Daniel challenged his readers to contemplate what could they get rid of and not miss.

So, would I be better off getting rid of 70% of my kitchen equipment? What do I have that I could get rid of and not miss? Certainly I have a lot of platters - we got married in the Year of the Platter - and I could probably get rid of half of them, and still have plenty, but I won't. Wear and tear is slowly taking its toll, and I suspect this cupboard will get emptied by natural attrition. Appliances? I use all my appliances regularly (toaster, blender, food processor, stick blender, toasted sandwich maker, and the hero, my Kitchenaid stand mixer), so nothing to ditch there. In another cupboard, I have a couple of salad bowls, about 10 mixing bowls of different sizes (some of which also double up as heat proof bowls for melting chocolate), about half a dozen baking dishes, a couple of souffle bowls (that also get used for salads, and serving from time to time) and a salad spinner. They all work hard for me all year.

Onto the less used items: I have two large colanders - and yes, I could probably get by with one - plus three tiny colanders that I use for jobs like rinsing salted capers, but are by no means essential. I have a mortar and pestle, that gets used maybe three or four times a year. More embarrassingly, I have two full drawers of baking equipment: a cupcake tin, a mini muffin tin, a friand tin, a madeleine silicone sheet, two springform tins, six cake tins, a swag of cookie cutters and a cookie press, a couple of square tins for brownies or slices, oven trays, a couple of loaf tins, a bundt tin and a mini-bundt tin. A lot of this was given to me, or came from my grandmothers' kitchen when she was packing up her house, and it all gets used, at least a few times a year. My least favourite drawer is the plasticware, which is in a symbiotic relationship with my freezer - when the freezer is full, the plastics drawer is half empty, when the freezer is empty, the plastics drawer won't shut. And the plastic drink bottles appear to be breeding with the takeaway box lids. I keep throwing them out and more and more turn up.

The entertaining-related items are probably the ones that don't really earn their living in my kitchen: the "good" dinner plates, the cake stand, the ham stand, the butter curler (inherited from my grandmother), a cherry pipper, tea cups, dessert forks. In a world, where there are people who don't know where their next meal will come from, it does seem wrong and indulgent to have so much, and I feel awkward about it now I am looking at it all. But would I ditch any of them? The simple answer is, not as long as I have the cupboards to hold them. I love to entertain and it really makes me happy to use the things that have come to me from other people, other times, other places. I feel a strong sense of continuity when I hold them. I also feel that the way you make a happy house is to fill it up with memories. If a fire took them from me, I probably would not replace any of these things, but while I have them, they are helping me build those memories. Sorry Daniel, but I don't agree. Two coffee cups just wouldn't do it for me.

Now onto some food for the very sticky weather we are having. Cold pea soup is a favourite of mine, and I already have one chilled pea soup on the blog. This recipe popped out at me from the Dec 90 / Jan 10 issue of Delicious (part of my We Made It Challenge with Melinda from Melbourne Larder), and I wanted to try it because of the mint gelato. The soup recipe is very plain - peas, potato, onion, lettuce and stock - so make sure you use really good (preferably homemade) stock, or else your soup won't taste as good as it should. The mint gelato is delicious, and when I make it again, I will make it in a deeper plastic box, as the large and shallow box the recipe called for meant it was impossible to get pretty balls of gelato. The taste was great, regardless of how shambolic my gelato balls looked. And make sure you do make the gelato: the soup without it is pretty bland, but together, they are light and refreshing, and completely perfect for this muggy weather.

Green Pea Soup with Mint Gelato
from Delicious, Dec 09 / Jan 10

Mint Gelato:
1/4 cup castor sugar
1/3 cup water
2 tsp grated lemon zest plus 1 tbsp lemon juice (or a little more)
1 cup plus 2 tbls slivered fresh mint plus extra leaves to garnish (forgot those for the photo!)
½ cup mascarpone cheese
1 egg white

Put sugar, water, lemon zest, juice and mint in a saucepan over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Increase heat to medium, and simmer for 2 mins. Cool syrup and strain, pushing down on solids to extract as much flavour as possible. Stir cooled mint syrup into mascarpone. Freeze in a plastic box (deep enough for you to use a melon baller to scoop the gelato) for at least 2 hours. Place frozen mixture in a food processor with egg white, and extra mint. Puree and refreeze for at least four hours.

2 cups of green peas (frozen is fine),
1 large peeled potato, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup shredded lettuce (iceberg)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
¼ cup thickened cream

Combine potato, onion, lettuce and stock in pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add peas and simmer for 2 more mins. Puree soup in a blender until smooth. Add cream and season to taste. Chill for at least a couple of hours. Ladle soup into bowls and top each with a small scoop of gelato.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Baked Figs and Ricotta for Brunch

Figs are in season at the moment, and since the season seems to last for exactly ten minutes, you need to be quick to take advantage of it. I promise, I'll understand if you need to run to the shops now, just don't miss out. Last week, a couple of girlfriends were coming over for brunch, and I knew that I wanted to do something with figs. In the back of my mind, I remembered reading somewhere about a baked ricotta and fig dish. Google to the rescue, and I found this spectacularly easy recipe on the Guardian website from Yotam Ottolenghi.
While the name is not very familiar in Australia, Ottolenghi has been building a devoted following in the UK for several years. He has several food shops in London, and now a cookbook available in Australia. A friend who lived in London sent me the menu and some pictures from Ottolenghi a couple of years ago. Unlike many food stores, the shop is as beautiful as a painting, with riots of colour and texture coming from the abundant food. I think that is one of the most important things to have in a food shop - or for cooking generally - a sense of generosity and abundance. (A deli I know recently went out of business, which was not surprising given their counter displayed little more than a few slices of ham and a few slices of salmon on saucers under plastic. Incredibly depressing.) Even better when the generosity and abundance is matched with creativity and innovation. Now if only I had a ticket to London....
This dish was incredibly easy to make, and made for a really delicious and stress-free brunch. I served it with some toasted Turkish bread. The saltiness of the cheese plays off the musky fruit - I think figs and cheese belong together - with the olive oil and honey ratcheting it up even further. Incidentally, I skipped the lavender honey and used plain honey as I did not think the lavender flavour would sit well with the salmon that I was also serving.
Baked ricotta with figs and lavender honey
adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi on

500g good quality ricotta
½ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp chopped rosemary, plus extra sprigs for garnish
4 fresh figs, cut into quarters or six
3 tbsp lavender honey, or less if figs are very sweet (I used plain honey)
Preheat the oven to 180C. Put the ricotta in the centre of a clean tea towel, squeeze to get rid of some of the liquid, then transfer the cheese to a bowl, season and mix well. Lightly oil four individual ramekins or one round ovenproof dish about 15cm in diameter. Spread the ricotta inside and level with a palette knife or a spoon - the cheese should come about 2.5cm up the sides.

Drizzle half the olive oil over the cheese, sprinkle with chopped rosemary and lay a small rosemary sprig on top. Bake for about 20 minutes for individual ramekins, 28 minutes for a large dish, then remove from the oven, top with the figs, drizzle over half the honey and bake again for eight minutes longer. At this point the figs should be semi-cooked but retain their shape.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool down slightly. You can serve the cheese slightly warm or at room temperature. Drizzle with remaining honey and oil.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Melon Salad With Ginger Syrup

Today is Australia Day, which almost officially marks the end of the nation's holidays. Like the French, who effectively shut down for August, much of Australia has been on leave for the month between Christmas and Australia Day. Tomorrow, the offices will be full, and some schools will open their doors for the new year, with the rest to follow on Thursday. It feels like the new year starts on January 27th, with a nation turning over new leaves, starting new pages, and so, at least in my mind, now is the time for resolutions.

I love the process of making resolutions and the notion that a new year will bring clean starts and new opportunities, and possibly a shinier, better me. When I was 21 I gave up smoking as a New Year resolution, and stuck to it, so I really value the opportunity that fresh starts offer. The difference now is that I am old enough to know that no good will come from attempting a resolution from January 1, when I still have more than three weeks of holidays, and its favourite sins of sloth and greed, to get through. So from tomorrow, my resolutions for the year ahead include:
- finish the year slimmer and fitter than I started it (a perennial for everyone, isn't it?)
- blog three times a week (maybe a stretch target of four times per week?)
- work on my photography (you must all be glad to hear that)
- start a gratitude journal (more on this later)
- get a full medical check up (in case you're worried, nothing is wrong, I just know that once you are in your 40s you are meant to do these things from time to time)
- throw out less food. I tried to do that this year, but could certainly get a lot better at making use of the leftovers in our fridge.
- cook more vegetarian meals for the family.
- start a herb garden.
- and the big scary one: contemplate the future and what I should be doing in it.
I promise to let you know how I go.....

This week, still being in my slothful holiday mode, I made this cool and refreshing fruit salad. The recipe is one I clipped a long time ago (it is in Vol 1 of my recipe clippings), and I know it came from a Martha Stewart magazine because of the typeface, but unfortunately I did not note the date. I served it for brunch, but it could just as easily be a dessert, or even a lunch, served with some ham. The recipe calls for a canary melon, but they are rarely seen here, so I just skipped that. Martha also suggests tossing through the zest of 2 oranges, but I forgot to do that (I mentioned the sloth already, didn't I?) The end result is light and fresh and tasty, and definitely one of my favourite fruit salads.

Do you have a favourite fruit salad?

Melon With Orange Ginger Syrup

adapted from Martha Stewart

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, strained (or 1 cup unsweetened orange juice), plus zest of two oranges 1 cup sugar (I reduced this to 3/4 of a cup) 1-2cms fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons Cointreau (I only used 1 tbl - depends how much you like Cointreau!)
1 small honeydew melon, cut in half, seeded
1 small canary melon, cut in half, seeded (I couldn't find this so I skipped it)
1 rock melon, cut in half, seeded Mint sprigs, for garnish

Place the orange juice, sugar, and ginger in a small saucepan over medium heat; bring to a boil. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved and syrup has thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat; strain syrup into a clean bowl; add the Cointreau; stir to combine. Put into the fridge, until syrup is cold. Using different sizes of melon ballers, cut balls from the melons. Place balls in a medium bowl; add the cold syrup, and zest if using. Toss to combine.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Buttermilk Fried Chicken - For Kids or Kids At Heart

Confession time: I do not like cooking for other people's children. When you are cooking for adults you get to try out different flavours, a wide variety of ingredients, some heat, some spice - in other words it is interesting cooking. Cooking for other people's kids is (mostly) a disappointing experience. It doesn't matter how good your sauce is, or that your homemade pizza dough is amazing or that your teriyaki salmon has your kids licking their dishes. Other people's kids mostly want to eat food that tastes the same at your house as it does at their home, and I expect my kids are the same at other people's houses. If your food is different from their normal meals, they will usually cross their arms and say "I'm not hungry" even when you know they could eat the leg off the table. Which means that most of the time (there are some key exceptions) when we entertain other people's kids, they get sausages in bread for dinner. Sausages + bread = sausages + bread. Every kid will eat it happily because it tastes the same wherever you are. And this approach works extremely well until you get to summer. In summer, when you are entertaining a lot more frequently, and in family groups, suddenly you need to add a bit of choice into the menu. If for no other reason than to stop your own kids from being bored to tears with the same dinner over and over.

Enter: Fried Chicken. This has become my new menu item for kids. If my first attempt was anything to go by, the small fry loved it, and the adults mopped up the leftovers. The chicken is marinated in buttermilk to tenderize the flesh, then battered and shallow-fried briefly before cooking in the oven. This is good in two ways:
- a nice battered exterior, without the chicken spending an extended period cooking in oil
- you can get it half-cooked ahead of time, and just finish it off in the 15 mins before dinner. Perfect for when you are entertaining another tribe.
This recipe comes from Jill Dupleix in Delicious Dec 09 / Jan 10. I have been working my way through this issue of Delicious as part of the "We Made It" challenge with Melinda from Melbourne Larder. Jill Dupleix is a writer I follow - she has a lovely style, and her cooking is definitely at the less fiddly end of the spectrum. I have a couple of her cookbooks and I love her Delicious and SMH columns. In fact one of my favourite cooking quotes is from her: "I love cooking, but not while I could be eating and drinking." On that note here's to a great Australia Day weekend.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken
adapted from Jill Dupleix in Delicious Dec 2009 / Jan 2010
8 chicken legs (look for kid sized ones; some are big enough to be used in combat)
1 cup buttermilk
1 3/4 cups plain flour
1 tsp paprika
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
Cover the chicken with the buttermilk and refrigerate for at least 1 hr, or ideally overnight. Preheat oven to 200C.
Mix flour with paprika and some salt and a little pepper in a medium bowl. Dredge each leg through the flour until it is well-coated.
Heat 1cm oil over medium high heat . Cook the chicken in batches until it is well-browned on both sides. Do not attempt to cook it through. Put chicken on a baking tray lined with baking paper to sop the batter sticking to the tray. Bake for 15 mins, or until the chicken is cooked through. Allow to cool long enough so that little fingers don't get burnt, then serve. I is even delicious at room temperature.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Surprising Discovery and Chocolate Macadamia Shortbread

Right now I am feeling pretty stupid. For the last two or three months, I have been receiving regular comments on my blog in Chinese. As any blogger will tell you, receiving comments is one of the great things about blogging. It is incredibly gratifying when people find what you write interesting enough to give you some feedback. So I was flattered and would think to myself how nice it is that someone overseas is reading my blog, and be amazed yet again at how the Internet is making the world a smaller and smaller place. Lots of warm feelings....

And then today, I received a lengthy comment in Chinese and started to wonder what on earth my correspondent could be saying. Most comments that I receive run about a sentence or two, while this one appeared to be a lengthy paragraph. I decided to send it on to my clever sister-in-law who can read Chinese characters, who immediately responded "It's a list of adult short films, with a short description of each film. DELETE! DELETE!" So, if you can read Chinese, and thought that I was starting to act as a middleman peddling exotic services, rest assured that I will be sticking to the core business of cooking from here on. Also understand that I have now activated comment moderation, so I will be able to bin the adult services before they get posted on my blog. Apologies to anyone who has been offended in the last month or two. And here I was thinking they must be keen on mango recipes......

Now, onto something sweeter. This shortbread recipe appeared in this month's Delicious in Belinda Jeffrey's column. I really rate Belinda Jeffrey's recipes as scrumptious and achievable. I have two of her cookbooks ("100 Favourite Recipes" and "Tried and True Recipes") and have made so many brilliant things from them, that if I posted all of them I would be reproducing virtually half of each book. I noticed that one of them has recently been reprinted so if you want a recommendation for a cookbook you will keep turning to, I suggest you take a look. Or you can just accumulate her columns from Delicious!

This shortbread was made as a thank you present for a neighbour, who later phoned and asked for the recipe - always a good sign. It came out a little moister than I expected despite my decision to leave it in the oven for an additional ten or fifteen minutes. I think this may have been because it was so hot here when I was making them that my butter was half melted, instead of the firm butter envisioned by Belinda. So the final biscuit, in texture, was closer to a slice than to shortbread. But it was completely scrumptious - just the thing for me to nibble on over a cup of tea as I contemplate how daft I can be at times.

I have been cooking from Delicious all month with Melinda from Melbourne Larder in a challenge to make use of our food magazines. If you would like to join us, drop either one of us a line. Oh, and watch out for any unintelligible comments...

Chocolate Macadamia Shortbread Biscuits
from Delicious Dec 09 / Jan 10

1 1/2 cups plain flour
2/3 cup fine semolina
1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup chopped roasted macadamias
60g chopped dark chocolate
300g unsalted butter at room temperature, chopped
180g caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Grease and line the base and sides of a 18 x 28 cm lamington pan, leaving a 3cm overhang on all sides. Place the flour, semolina, baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt in a bowl and stir well to combine. Stir in macadamias and chocolate.

Combine butter, sugar and vanilla in a food processor and whiz for 1-2 mins till creamy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides with a spatula. Stir butter mixture into flour mixture until well combined. The dough should be quite thick and a bit hard to mix - mine wasn't because of the very soft butter. Press the dough into a pan and prick all over with a fork. Chill for 15 mins. Preheat over to 160C. Bake shortbread for 25-30 mins until firm to the touch. While it is still hot, use a knife to score the biscuits. Cool in the pan for 10 mins, then lift out the shortbread and cut into fingers. Keeps for 5 days.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mango-misu - Tiramisu's Tropical Cousin

We are deep in mango season at the moment. Prices are reasonable, the mangos are sweet, juicy and abundant, and we are all trying to enjoy them as much as possible before they disappear in another month or so. In fact, scarcely any of my shopping trolleys for the last month haven't contained at least one mango. In case you were wondering, that's me you can hear humming "mmmmmmangos". So you won't be surprised to hear that the cover of this month's Delicious sang to me like the worst kind of siren, an evil mango and cream toting siren.

The cover dessert was a tropical fruit take on the classic tiramisu: a mango-misu. And I have some questions: "Oh why evil publishing geniuses are the most deadent desserts saved for the cover? Is it so they can endlessly haunt you, in every supermarket, in every newsagent ??" I'm sure that lots of people found themselves, just like me, reduced to buying enormous volumes of mascarpone and cream and mangos because they just COULD NOT STOP thinking about this dessert. And I can report that it really was delicious, as well as extremely rich and filling. We had it with some old friends, and we all loved it, even if we were largely unable to move after having a slice. In fact, this was a good thing as it made it it easier for me to force leftovers on them before they could escape. (There was no way that I was going to allow them to leave without taking enough of the leftovers to use as a door stop. That much temptation cannot be left in this house. Never.) Incidentally, I can see myself making this for many summers to come - probably not more than once a summer, but as an indulgent treat on a hot night, it is hard to beat. Even better, it was easy peasy to do.

Melinda from Melbourne Larder and I are exploring the Dec/ Jan edition of Delicious, and trying to cook as much as possible from this volume of our underutilised food porn. If, like us, you have food magazines lying around that have migrated to become bed-time reading instead of cooking inspiration, grab Delicious this month and join in. Drop either one of us a line; we'd love to have you join our "We Made It" challenge.

adapted from Delicious magazine, Issue 89, Dec/Jan

500g mascarpone cheese
600ml thickened cream
1/3 cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup Cointreau - I ran out of cointreau, so I topped up with some brandy
Juice of two oranges
300g savoiardi (sponge finger biscuits) - I used almost 500g of biscuits in a 25cm springform
3 mangoes, sliced 1cm thick

Line the base of a 22cm springform cake pan with plastic wrap or baking paper. Place the cheese, cream, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and beat until thick and well combined.

Combine the Cointreau and orange juice in a separate bowl. Dip half the sponge fingers into the juice, and create a layer in the base of the cake pan. Then, spread 1/3 of the cream mixture, top with 1/3 mango slices, and repeat the process. Top with remaining cream mixture and top with mango slices. Cover and chill overnight. To serve, remove the cake from the in and transfer to a platter.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Indonesian Ginger Chicken

All this week my mind has been in the far distant past, thinking about a week when it was hot and humid in Sydney, and I was waiting for the arrival of my first child. I can remember feeling so full of baby I could hardly move, or sleep or walk or even get myself a glass of water. I was probably a bit nervous about the impending birth and parenthood, but I wasn't scared. I was convinced it would all work out, which it did, eventually. And now, today, she turns 13.

Some moments stick with you forever. At the hospital, as I carried her along a corridor, I felt a tiny arm reach out and hold my arm, and I knew everything in my world had changed. A nurse told me that she was a very calm personality, and she was right. Then, I remember taking her to preschool (I thought she was so big), and then school (I thought she was so little), watching as she conquered the challenges around her. She learnt to read and to swim, and quickly became more adept on the computer than I will ever be. Before this year is out, she will be taller than me. And soon I will have memories of her teenage years to contemplate as well.

Any of you with small children are probably thinking that it will take years for you to get to where I am. Let me tell you, once they are sleeping through the night, it takes what feels like no time at all (I admit the not-sleeping-through bit felt like centuries). Partly this is because I don't feel any older or wiser now than I did when I first had kids - it is completely baffling to me that they are now so grown up. Possibly it is also because kids make you so very busy that there is hardly any time to watch the days float by. And I know that next year and the years after, I will be here again, amazed at the way time continues to roll past. Although maybe the teenage years will bring a return to he not-sleeping-through nights for me....... Happy birthday darling, and I wish you what I have always wished you - a life filled with happiness, love and laughter.

And now to some food. This Indonesian Ginger Chicken was this week's pick for Barefoot Bloggers. We eat a lot of different versons of honey-soy chicken in this house, so the flavours are among our favourites. I halved the recipe, and so used one chicken. It was easy to make and came together well, and we all enjoyed it. If I were to make it again, I would slightly decrease the cooking time, as I felt the chicken was slightly over done, just by 5 mins or so. Probably we will stick with this version of honey soy chicken which is even easier and just as tasty. Thanks Todd from A Cooking Dad for the choice - you gave us a lovely summer dinner we all enjoyed.

Indonesian Ginger Chicken
from Ina Garten

1 cup honey
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup minced garlic (8 to 12 cloves)
1/2 cup peeled and grated fresh ginger root
2 chickens, quartered, with backs removed

Cook the honey, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger root in a small saucepan over low heat until the honey is melted. Arrange the chicken in 1 layer in a shallow baking pan, skin side down, and pour on the sauce. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 175C.

Place the baking pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover the pan, turn the chicken skin side up, and raise the temperature to 190C. Continue baking for 30 minutes or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh and the sauce is a rich, dark brown.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Chicken and / or Pork Satay

Today's recipe comes from a Daring Kitchen challenge to make your own Satay. Daring Kitchen is a spin off from the Daring Bakers, and each month a challenge appears for cooks around the world to tackle. Some challenges have really appealed to me, and some have been extremely challenging - all part of taking my cooking further.

As it turns out, this was a pretty easy challenge. I was happy to be making satay on a hot summer's day. It is also quite a good thing to do with your kids - as my younger daughter observes: everything is more fun when you eat it from sticks. We made the satay below with both pork and chicken thigh for a nice summer dinner. While we enjoyed this, I can honestly say that the taste is no better than the commercial marinade I use sometimes - so if you are feeling lazy, go to your local Asian supermarket and pick up a box of Prima Satay. If you don't have an Asian supermarket nearby, the recipe below makes a good satay. Incidentally, we all preferred the chicken as it is more tender than the pork.

Chicken and/or Pork Satay with Peanut Sauce
Satay Marinade
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbl ginger, chopped
2 tbl lemon juice
1 tbl soy sauce
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tbl vegetable oil (or peanut or olive oil)
500g chicken thigh or pork (loin or shoulder cuts)

If you have a food processor or blender, dump in everything except the meat and blend until smooth. Otherwise, chop onions, garlic and ginger really fine then mix it all together in a medium to large bowl. Cut meat into 1 inch strips then mix with marinade, cover and chill in the fridge for 4 hours.

If using wooden or bamboo skewers, soak in cold water for at least 20 minutes before preparing skewers. Gently and slowly slide meat strips onto skewers. Discard leftover marinade.
Grill until cooked through and the edges just start to char.

Peanut Sauce
3/4 cup coconut milk
4 Tbsp peanut butter
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1-2 dried red chilies, chopped

Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl. Add soy sauce and lemon, mix well. Over low heat, combine coconut milk, peanut butter and your soy-lemon-seasoning mix. Mix well, stir often. All you’re doing is melting the peanut butter, so make your peanut sauce after you’ve made everything else in your meal, or make ahead of time and reheat.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Warm Baked Peach and Raspberry Cake: Win Some, Lose Some

I have been going backwards and forwards in my mind about this post, but in the interests of full disclosure, and to let you know that I get my share of disappointments in the kitchen, here goes:

After my rapturous excitement about the slow-cooked lamb shoulder, I thought that I would have a shot at the warm baked peach and raspberry cake, which featured in the same article in the Dec / Jan Delicious. It looked appropriately rustic for me to cook in an unfamiliar oven while we were on holidays. It was big enough to serve a crowd, and you served it up by scooping it out of a baking dish - the perfectly relaxed feeling I was after. Sadly, it was underwhelming, particularly when you consider that it took a dozen eggs, 500g raspberries, 8 peaches, 2 packs of butter and 5 cups of flour. In fact, I found it a bit dry and hard.

When I look for explanations of where I went wrong, I think that I just did not "get" the recipe. You make a softish batter, dot it with fruit, then top it with an egg and sugar mixture and then bake for two hours at 180C. The two hours was bothering me - cooking a cake for two hours seemed wrong and excessive. So because I was using several smaller baking dishes, I checked everything repeatedly from the 1 hour mark onwards, but, at least on the skewer test, it wasn't cooked until close to the 2 hour mark. The cakes were removed from the oven and left to sit because the oven needed to be used for cooking dinner, then the cakes were gently reheated at dinner time. The result was not worth the time and effort required, which makes me cranky.

If you made this cake and it worked, please drop me a note and let me know what I did wrong, or what you did right. If you are considering making this cake, I suggest you stick to the lamb in the same article, because I can promise you that is worth cooking.

Melinda from Melbourne Larder, and I are cooking our way through Delicious Dec/Jan issue at the moment, as part of our We Made It challenge. If you are inspired to join us, drop either one of us a note and join in - we'd love to have you.