Archive for January, 2009

It’s not all sweetness and light

One might conclude, on reading my blog so far, that we ordinarily eat dessert every night. We don’t. But we have. A lot. Lately. Purely for research purposes, of course.

This deliciously decadent wave of high fat and sugar does have its drawbacks. My jeans just don’t fit like they used to.

31 January 2009 at 9:15am 1 comment

Burmese curry and experimental cheesecake

This morning my partner gave me a fabulous surprise by doing our weekly fruit & veg shop at the local markets – and I was super-excited when he walked through the door with a green papaya.

One thought consumed me: green papaya salad.

We’re not having it for dinner tonight [our hankering for gourmet hotdogs was too great] but I will make it this weekend. Details to appear in a future post.

Wednesday night. My brother was a very welcome and last-minute dinner guest. I was already making amah-nah, a Burmese meat curry modified from the recipe I learned through my old housemate. If he’s reading this, I hope he’s not too horrified to learn of my additions.

I have attached a link to some background info on Burmese food here.

Recipe #6: Amah-nah. Meat curry. Serves 4.

You will need:
• 2 garlic cloves [big ones = more garlification!], finely chopped
• a thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely chopped
• 1 tsp (heaped) fenugreek seeds, roughly crushed
• 600g diced steak
• 1 tsp turmeric powder
• 1 tsp (heaped) paprika powder
• 1 tsp chilli powder
• 5 teaspoons fish sauce
• 1 onion
• cooking oil
• ½ teaspoon shrimp paste [ngapi or belachan]
• 2 tomatoes, chopped
• 2 large potatoes, diced
• 1½ teaspoons garam masala

A cup of chicken stock may also be needed if the potatoes break up too much – their starch will thicken the sauce.

Massage the meat with the garlic, ginger, fenugreek, chilli, turmeric, paprika and fish sauce and leave in a covered bowl for at least half an hour. Puree the onion in a blender with a little oil then mix it with the meat. Cook the meat in a saucepan [I also put a little sesame oil in the bottom of the saucepan] over a low heat until it is just tender, then add the tomatoes and potatoes. When the tomatoes have reduced, stir in the shrimp paste. If needed, stir in the chicken stock, then the garam masala. Cook for a few more minutes, making sure the potatoes are soft, then turn off the heat. Let the curry sit for 15 minutes before serving.

You can leave the fenugreek seeds out for a more authentic result. I am putting fenugreek in just about everything savoury at the moment, as it is a known galactalogue (aids breastmilk production).

This curry is best topped with balachaung (a mix of fried garlic & shallots, chilli, shrimp paste & dried shrimps – you can buy it in oriental supermarkets). Serve with sides of saffron rice, salted cucumber, pappadums and natural yoghurt.

Now to dessert.

Ok, so my cheesecake wasn’t incredibly experimental. I had a decent benchmark to use in Hannah Miles’ Blueberry & Lemon Cheesecake. My version turned out so fabulously that I was considering serving it to my dinner party guests on Saturday night…but now we are so cheesecaked out that I think a mousse is in order.

Recipe #7: Berrilicious cheesecake. Serves 6.

First thing’s first. Here’s what the finished product looked like:

For the filling, I whipped together: 250g mascarpone; 125g creme fraiche; 250g cream cheese; juice of 2 limes; 3 heaped dessert spoonfuls of pure icing sugar; 1 heaped dessert spoonful of caster sugar [if you hadn’t guessed, I don’t own a tablespoon measure]. Next time, I will zest one of the limes and add that to the mix.

In terms of a base, I had already saved up a heap of cooked biscuit dough ends for cheesecake purposes. I bashed these in a sealed plastic bag with a rolling pin, then mixed them with 50g melted butter. It would be equally easy to use ~half a packet of premade biscuits – and I would suggest either oatmeal or shortbread cookies for this recipe.

To make the topping, I macerated about 300g of raspberries by mixing them with about 100g pure icing sugar and leaving them to liquefy while we ate dinner. Fresh or frozen raspberries work just as well – just thaw the frozen ones slightly before using. You could actually use any berries you want. I was going to use strawberries, but mine were mouldy by the time I got to them…

To assemble the finished product, divide the base evenly amongst 6 standard-sized (not too big!) old-fashioned glasses and press it in roughly. Spoon in the filling, trying to keep soft peaks. By leaving the filling a little unfinished, you provide little crevices for the raspberry mix to cascade into. Place the glasses in the fridge until you are ready to serve, spooning the liquefied raspberries over the cheesecakes at the last minute. Yum.


Addendum of 10 February 2010:
I’ve made a few amah-nahs since posting Recipe #7 and my favourite flavour combination now includes three cardamom pods that have been bashed with a mortar & pestle (add these near the start), no fenugreek and no potatoes.

I make a sweet-savoury rice to accompany the curry, which involves saffron, bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon and cranberries – recipe to follow in a later post.

H :)

30 January 2009 at 12:25pm Leave a comment

A plethora of flavours

My latest Gourmet Traveller magazine arrived in the mail yesterday. Whenever an issue arrives, my heart skips a beat. I put it in the bottom of the pram [I check the mail when we’re on our way back from the park], plastic wrapping untouched, and I give it pride of place on my coffee table until after Xander’s last feed, when I finally allow myself the pleasure of slipping off the plastic wrapping and lifting open the glossy cover for the first time.

It’s indulgent; a luxury I would not be able to justify except for the fact that I renewed my subscription before taking maternity leave, so I feel no guilt when each issue arrives. It’s like a free magazine!

What I love about this magazine is the inspiration and the courage it gives me to try new techniques and foods. I have had no professional training, so everything I know comes from magazines, cookbooks, dining experiences and cooking shows – and the hours of whisking meringue that I vaguely recall from childhood.

I love experimenting with flavours and food ideas. I am definitely not in the same league as Aki and Alex, but I like to think I am a creative spirit.

Take the meal we had on Monday night. My friend Hayley and her partner joined us for a barbecue dinner. I wanted to make it a little different, so I cut six steaks in half and marinated them three ways:

  1. honey + dark soy sauce + sesame oil;
  2. lime juice + kaffir lime leaves (about 4, finely chopped) + sambal oelek + olive oil; and
  3. crushed green peppercorns + balsamic vinegar + ground white, pink & black peppercorns + salt + olive oil.

Our three-ways-steaks went perfectly with the salad sides. For dessert, I gave our guests the choice of leftover sticky date pudding and mudcake – and icecream ginger kisses.

To make the icecream ginger kisses, I used softish gingerbread rounds and small scoops of softened vanilla icecream: I placed the icecream on one cookie, smooshed it a little as I pressed on another round, then I cleaned the excess from around the sides with a spatula. Put them on a tray in the freezer for a few hours, and voilá!

These worked out really well, and I would consider serving them in the future, perhaps wrapped with a strip of baking paper.

They were super-simple to make because I actually made the gingerbread before Christmas and froze half the dough. About two weeks ago, I thawed the dough and used it to make round and star-shaped cookies.

Recipe #5: Gingerbread. Makes around 80 cookies that keep for around 3 months in an airtight container. I can’t claim this recipe – it’s from Sarah Brigden.

You will need: 750g plain flour; 40g ginger; 1tsp bicarb soda; 1tsp baking powder; 450g brown sugar; 300g golden syrup; 150g butter. Note that you can substitute other spices for ginger (eg. allspice). Add some water & don’t roll it very thinly if you want softer cookies.

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl together and make a well in the centre. Melt the golden syrup and butter together until runny. Pour this into the dry ingredients. Mix into a firm dough. Rest it for around 30 mins before using. Cut into cookies and bake in a 170°C oven for 10-15 mins (until just turning golden). Delicious.

Don’t throw out your excess dough. Bake it, in whatever shape it’s left, let it cool and save it in an airtight container or ziplock bag. Smashed up biscuit and pastry remnants are perfect for cheesecakes bases!

I love it when experiments work out. Another one I tried in the last few months was choc-coated candied lemons. I made the candied lemon slices to accompany a lemon tart and had at least half leftover. I reduced them over a low heat then semi-coated the slices with dark chocolate, leaving me with a truly scrumptious after-dinner treat:

There was one issue that I will rectify for next time: I should have added more sugar to really harden the peel. I was enamoured with the slightly gooey result, however I would serve a more finished product to guests.

Until next time,

H :)

28 January 2009 at 2:15pm 2 comments

Baked gnocchi, sticky date pudding, roast chicken and awesome mudcake

My audition adrenalin didn’t wear off until Tuesday (20 January), when I cooked baked gnocchi for lunch and dinner [yes, I loved it that much!]. I regret not taking photos of the progression or finished product – it was pretty darn special, like eating little clouds in a rich tomato sauce.

Recipe #1: Baked gnocchi. Serves 2.

For the gnocchi, you will need: 4 large-ish potatoes; 1/2 tsp salt; ~1 cup flour (plus extra for rolling/dusting).

Boil the potatoes whole (don’t peel them) for about 20mins – until soft enough for a knife to cut through the middle with ease. Drain then peel the potatoes when cool enough but still warm. Mash potatoes with salt. When thoroughly mashed, pour about 1/2 cup of the flour on top; lightly combine with a wooden spoon. Add more flour gradually, until big lumps form – then knead on the bench. Do not over-knead – combine just enough to make a ball of dough. It may be slightly sticky to touch, and that’s ok. Rest the dough for about 15 mins.

Flour the mixture and roll into a cylinder no more than an inch in diameter. Cut into 1.5cm pieces. Turn each piece onto its side, then press with a floured fork. Put the finished product in a single layer on a floured plate.

To cook, drop each piece individually into a pot of boiling water. Once gnocchi float to the top, wait a few seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon; place cooked gnocchi in a large oven dish, in a layer no more than 2 pieces high. Pour over the tomato sauce, then top with shaved pecorino and fresh herbs. Bake in a 180-degree oven for around 15 mins.

My tomato sauce comprised: 1 large tin of diced roma tomatoes; 1 jar of tomato puree; 2 cloves garlic; dash of good balsamic vinegar; flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped (or you could add other fresh herbs, eg. oregano/basil); salt & pepper to taste. You’ll probably only use half of this sauce – it freezes well for later use.

I peeled and roughly chopped the garlic and placed it in a saucepan with a dribble of olive oil and some salt & pepper. I heated the saucepan and, once the garlic was soft, I added the tinned tomatoes. After reducing them for a few mins, I added the puree, vinegar and some more salt & pepper. I reduced the mixture until it was thick, then turned off the heat and stirred in ~2 tbsp chopped parsley.

Next time I make this, I will use fresh rather than canned tomatoes. I am sure this will yield a superior result.

A variation you may want to try: add an egg. It will improve the texture, but beware – your mixture will need more flour [= a more solid end result].

This recipe works ridiculously well with old potatoes: they are more floury than new potatoes. Also, if you have a potato ricer, it will save you a heap of time & effort.

It was my brother’s birthday on Wednesday – he turned 23. I rang to wish him many happy returns and invited him around for lunch on Sunday, then I cooked a sticky date pudding. I couldn’t find my tried-and-true recipe, so I used one I found on online.

Recipe #2: Sticky date pudding. See www.chow.com.

Here’s how it turned out:

I made mine in a cake tin rather than in ramekins/water bath [someone, who shall remain unnamed, has been systematically breaking my ramekins…], and baked it for less time than recommended. It still turned out to be very moist. The flavour was somewhat disappointing – not as rich as I remembered – and the cheaty toffee sauce was also slightly remiss.

I added macadamias to my toffee sauce. It was a fun twist that improved the end result.

The pudding was yummy, however I will keep trying to locate that lost [and, dare I say it, more authentic] recipe…

Sunday came around quickly and I wanted to make it special for my brother, who insisted on no present, so I decided to cook a roast, with mudcake for dessert. I am thinking that this will become a regular thing for me and my family, as there is nothing like a Sunday roast to bring family together.

Recipe #3: Delicious roast chicken. This is such a simple recipe I am almost embarrassed.

You will need: a roast chicken (mine was 2kg), giblets removed; 1 lime; 1 heaped tsp Vegemite; olive oil; 1 large red onion; 3-4 cloves of garlic.

Yes, I use Vegemite on my chicken. This may seem sacreligious to some, however the final product is not at all reminiscent of the raw ingredients.

First, quarter the lime, then stuff it into the cavity of the chicken. Smear the Vegemite all over the chicken. Smash the garlic cloves and cut the onion into about 6 wedges. Arrange all of this in a layer in the bottom of a roasting pan. Balance the chicken on top, drizzle olive oil over the chicken, then put the pan in a 180-degree oven.

You will need to allow about 45 mins of roasting time per kilo of chicken [test it’s cooked by inserting a skewer into the thickest parts of the meat – the juices should run clear], then approx. 15-20 mins resting time.

In terms of vegies, I roasted: (1) pumpkin and potato wedges with sage/salt/olive oil; and (2) baby beetroot with rosemary/salt/olive oil/lime juice. I guess I could have made some greens, but I thought there was enough there as it was. I also made a gravy in the pan from the chicken juices, leftover onion/garlic, some chicken stock, water & plain flour. Delicious.

Recipe #4: Awesome mudcake.

I’ll start with a picture of the remnants:

chocolate mudcake

This recipe is from an old recipe book of mine. It’s really very simple.

First, melt 155g (or more :p) dark chocolate with 250g of butter, 1 3/4 cups strong coffee and 60mL of your fave spirit [I used Kahlua]. Stir in 2 cups caster sugar and let it sit for a few mins. Into this mix, whisk 2 cups plain flour, 1 level tsp bicarb soda, a pinch of salt, 2 eggs and 1 tsp vanilla (essence or halved & scraped pod). Pour the mix into a greased & floured 20cm cake tin and bake in a 180-degree oven for 75-90 mins. The top will get slightly crusty, and that’s fine. Turn the cake onto a plate to cool.

For the icing, melt 200g dark chocolate with ~65g butter. Let the mixture cool until it is slightly stiff. Cool the cake almost completely before icing.

I’m going to call it a day now. I hope this post inspires you to try these recipes for yourself.

Bon appetit!

25 January 2009 at 12:20pm 6 comments

The long and winding road

Audition Day 1: Friday, 16 January 2009. We were lining up out the front of the Perth Convention Centre from 7:30am. Xander was with my beautiful next-door neighbour for the day.

Some people had been in line since before 6:30am. Keen as mustard. There were eskies, bags and boxes everywhere. I knew I was in for some stiff competition. Thankfully, my brother and good friend, Hayley, were there with me from the start [Hayley was at my place all perky and ready to go at 6:25am! Now there’s a true friend]. We met a few interesting people in line before the cameras started swooping.

I was interviewed then pressed to the front of the line, as a breastfeeding mother (there were two of us). This proved to be a real boon.

As we registered (~9am), we were told that Perth was the first city to be auditioned. We had only just settled ourselves into the holding room, when my name was called. I was part of Group 1! Envious eyes followed me out of the room.

I was the last person to have my dish on the table following plating time [no further details for now – other states still have to audition!], which made me the first person in Australia selected to introduce myself and my dish. We critiqued each others dishes and listened intently for our numbers as the producers announced those who had made it through to the next room.

The next room focused less on food and more on me. I was drilled about Xander and how I would handle moving on in the competition, given the fact I had a six-month old son. They questioned my commitment and passion, asked why I would want this when I love my current job.

Group 1 comprised ten interesting people from diverse backgrounds. Six of us made it through to the second audition – and five of the six made it through to Day 2. They were all gorgeous people and I look forward to catching up with them very soon.

Day 1 was, for me, a five-hour day (7:30am-12:30pm – not including prep/travel time). For some, it went until 8pm. We all had high hopes for a shorter Day 2.

Audition Day 2: Saturday, 17 January 2009. We arrived at 7:08am. I had a few more friends joining me, and Xander & my partner – we left yesterday’s board games at home, having been told that Day 2 would move much faster.
____________________________

And now we reach the point where a Confidentiality Agreement was signed. Sorry, folks. All will be revealed in good time.

21 January 2009 at 1:06pm 1 comment

The unexpected call

1:30pm, Thursday 8 January. The phone rang. A Sydney number; one that wasn’t stored in my phone. I was feeding Xander, couldn’t get to the phone in time. Voicemail kicked in.

I called back, heard the good news, sat back in shock as my stomach did backflips, called my partner. I could not believe I had an audition. As it would turn out, I was one of 700 auditionees (100 in Perth) from a pool of over 7,000 applicants across Australia. It felt good to be in the top 10%.

For the audition, I was told to make one dish (replicated, for two judging processes) for Friday, 16 January. There would be no means of heating at the judging venue and only limited refrigeration, so the dish really had to be cold.

I decided on a tasting plate, Assiette de Hannah, to show a variety of flavours and techniques. So I set up my pasta maker, called some good friends and organised a tasting party for Sunday the 11th. [BTW, it went awesomely and was instrumental in refining my dish.]

For all my love of food and MasterChef UK, which had me glued to the screen during Xander’s afternoon feeds [Hannah so should have won!], I was not even contemplating applying for MasterChef Australia until my partner saw the casting call [“You should apply. You’d be great.” That was all the encouragement I needed!]. So I filled out the million-page application form and started visualising my ascent to MasterChef. Not that I really expected to get the call.

I was almost too excited to sleep that night. I felt confident, yet nervous – and prepared, but only as prepared as one can be with almost zero details. All my googling was for nought [until Monday 12 January, when 2 of the judges were revealed in a Channel Ten press release] and the casting agent’s email would not arrive until 3 days before the audition.

I had no idea of what I was playing for or when it would be televised [as at 21 January, these details have still not been revealed to the contestants]. I just knew that this was something I really wanted: it would give me the chance to find out more about a new industry, to have a professional critique of my cooking, and to add to my skills. I have been sitting on a restaurant idea for a couple of years now, and I could already see this opportunity as a stepping stone to that end.

My passion for food had got me this far and I had to trust in my skills to get me past the audition…

[Check out a very awesome-looking dish from another auditionee at Abstract Gourmet.]

21 January 2009 at 4:58am Leave a comment

Welcome!

Welcome to my blog, and thanks for reading!

Please comment – let me know what’s good, what’s awful, what you would like to hear more about, recipes you want road-tested or are finding it difficult to locate.

I hope you are well and happy, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

H :)

21 January 2009 at 4:49am 2 comments


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