Archive for December, 2009

The best thing about celebration meals…

…is eating the leftovers for at least a week afterwards. Of course, I can’t keep this up – after only three days of it, I am on the verge of needing an upsized wardrobe!

recrackled pork crackling

Yesterday: extra crispy recrackled pork crackling was the entree to my fresh pasta, combined with pork and its stuffing, pumpkin, roasted red capsicum, baby spinach, raspberry syrup, and a little oregano from a friend’s garden.

leftovers pasta

Boxing Day: roast beef heaven.

mmm...leftovers

Roast beef, gorgonzola, roasted red capsicum, butter lettuce & rocket pressed between thick slices of olive ciabatta.

All kinds of awesome.

29 December 2009 at 6:00am Leave a comment

A Very Friendly Christmas

I hope your Christmas was merry and special; mine certainly was!

beautiful friends and a fabulous lunch

I cooked for a few good friends who either did not have family in Perth or did not have lunch plans with family. I have done this once before, in Broome for Christmas 2003. This year, we had an outdoor Christmas tree, helium balloons, golden ‘hay’, the conga line of forgetfulness, ample alcohol, Trivial Pursuit and far too much fabulous food.

In case you are interested, I have shared the menu below [note that the icecream dessert was lovingly prepared by my friend David]. The dukkha, pork loin, roast vegetable salad and icecream plum pudding recipes will follow in future posts.


christmas menu

to start

olive ciabatta with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and hazelnut dukkha
fig bread with chicken liver and green peppercorn pate
wasabi peas
salted and caramelised spiced nuts
really dodgy Christmas lolly mix

the main event

pork loin stuffed with cranberries, macadamias, garlic and sea salt
smashed rosemary-infused potatoes
cold meats: turkey with cranberry sauce; roast beef with dijon mustard
salad of pear, walnut, gorgonzola, butter lettuce, rocket
roast vegetable salad with pine nuts and haloumi, raspberry dressing

to finish

icecream plum pudding
fresh summer berries and seedless grapes
pink peppercorn icecream
chocolate ganache & roast coffee bean tartlets

to take home

russian teacakes
christmas truffles

I made 78 chocolate truffles

What we were drinking: Edgcombe Brothers sparkling chardonnay, Tahbilk Marsanne, an amazing red I can’t remember the name of, port, gicointronics.

What we were listening to: everything from Beady Belle to Dimitri from Paris – after the requisite Christmas carol CDs, of course.

Thank you to my wonderful friends who lunched, dinnered and dropped by to inject extra twinkle & sparkle into my Christmas. You are all awesome.

H :)

27 December 2009 at 6:00am 6 comments

Merry Christmas!

http://buttersafe.com/comics/2009-12-10-TheFloodgates.jpg

Have a fabulous day and remember not to overindulge…much.

H :)

25 December 2009 at 12:01am 5 comments

To Russia With Love

finito!

It’s funny how childhood recollections can drag long minutes into hours. My keenest memories from my primary school years involve what seemed like an age whipping eggwhites for pavlovas, stirring [and burning, as mum keeps reminding me...] the lentils, and crushing pecans by fork for Russian teacakes. Every time mum baked, she would at least double the quantity the recipe called for, thereby redoubling my fork/whisk efforts.

Now I make my own Russian teacakes at Christmas time. I use a slightly different recipe, and I substitute walnuts for pecans because I prefer their stronger flavour. This year my teacakes are going into take-home packs for my Christmas lunch guests.

Russian teacakes are a celebration cookie for cultures spanning different continents, including Russia, the UK and Mexico. The Russian teacake is a type of pastry known as a jumble. With this in mind, I have already decided that my next batch of this mixture will be baked into pastry cases.

Recipe #60: Russian teacakes. Makes 36-48.

You will need:
► 250g butter, softened
► the seeds of 1 vanilla pod [either scrape out a vanilla pod or substitute 1 tsp vanilla essence]
► ½ cup pure icing sugar, sifted
► ¾ cup crushed walnuts [or pecans]
► ¼ tsp salt
► 2¼ cups plain flour, sifted
► extra icing sugar, for rolling

Begin by crushing the nuts. I use a mortar & pestle these days; you can also use a fork or a blender on pulse. Set the nuts to one side. Add the butter, vanilla and the ½ cup icing sugar to a mixing bowl and whisk until well combined.

starting out

Stir through the flour, salt and crushed nuts until you form a dry dough. Chill the dough for at least 20 minutes.

a dough is formed

Using a teaspoon, spoon the mixture onto a lined baking tray. Bake in a 200°C oven for 10-15 minutes, or until their edges are tinged with colour.

baking

Plunge the teacakes into a bowl of icing sugar while they are still warm and lightly press the sugar onto them.

sugar coating

Allow to cool on a rack or wooden chopping board before wrapping, storing or eating.

Russian teacakes, wrapped in plastic

This is an easy recipe with a melt-in-your-mouth result. I hope you try it out for yourself.

H :)

23 December 2009 at 11:56am Leave a comment

Chapter One

C1 from the inside

I was honoured to share a recent Friday afternoon at Chapter One Brasserie in Subiaco with Mark & Sybil, two fabulous friends who were visiting from Melbourne. The recommendation for our location came from an astute work colleague; I had not heard of the restaurant until mere days before our lunchdate.

Sybil & Mark

A delayed flight and driver who didn’t know which end of Hay Street was which led to our late arrival; the staff were very understanding when I called to say we would be late. An unexpected benefit from the lateness of the hour: we had almost the entire restaurant to ourselves.

we almost had the restaurant to ourselves

Our entrees were well worth the late start. Sybil ordered the baby calamari, which arrived with a generous serve of creamy home-made aioli, while Mark & I shared little bites of flavour via the tasting plate that comprised (L-R): chorizo with pesto; mini quiches; gazpacho shots; arancini; polenta batons with tomato chutney; pine nut stuffed mushrooms.

beautiful baby calamari

the delectable delights on the tasting plate

Our mains: Sybil ordered the very large entree-sized blue manna crab angel hair pasta; Mark ate the ocean trout atop a nicoise salad; I enjoyed carpaccio with parmesan and horseradish mayonnaise, because I compulsively order carpaccio whenever I see it on a menu.

blue manna crab angel hair

the ocean trout

I just can't resist ordering carpaccio when it's on the menu

We were all very pleased with our mains selections, as the empty plates will attest.

the licked-clean plates tell the tale

In the end, we were too full to fathom dessert; this was in spite of the tempting sticky date pudding that sauntered past at eye level as we awaited our entrees.

Our meal, including one beverage apiece, came to $55 each. Not super-cheap but certainly not overpriced for the food or the experience. I will definitely return.

Saying goodbye to a lovely brasserie

This post wasn’t exactly heavy on the text, but I think in this case my dodgy iPhone photos actually told the thousand words they should. Thank you for reading,

H :)

20 December 2009 at 11:14pm 2 comments

Adventures in icecream

“Icecream is exquisite. What a pity it is not illegal.” – Voltaire

I reached the premise for my latest adventure via a lovely friend. When Annie gifted me with some bay leaves and pink peppercorns she had grown herself, the pretty pink pearls were so pristine and perfect that I knew I would have to do something special with them. Oddly enough, icecream was the first thing that came to mind.

pretty pink baubles just in time for Christmas

Of course, when I decided on icecream, I had never before attempted it in my life. I don’t own an icecream maker; I used a Thermomix to make these recipes. You can replicate my results with a blender and a saucepan and, although I haven’t tested the non-Thermomix options detailed below, the alternatives are not a giant leap of the imagination.

Rather than attempt to create a recipe from scratch, I thought I would start by googling “pink peppercorn icecream” to find out if someone else had been similarly inspired. The 56,600 sites results that Google returned tell me that, while my idea is not original [darn it!], it is popular. To arrive at my creation, I modified a recipe from Chow.com (via Chika Tillman), which was road-tested about a year ago by Ali LaRaia on her blog, A Date with Flavor.

Recipe #58: Pink peppercorn icecream.

You will need:
► 1 tbsp pink peppercorns
► 2 cups of double cream
► 2 cups of milk
► ¾ cup of caster sugar
► 8 egg yolks
► 1 pinch salt

First step: crack the peppercorns so that you have some larger pieces in amongst the finer dust. I ground the peppercorns in my mortar & pestle; I could have used the Thermomix but I didn’t. I also separated the outer coverings from the berries as I crushed, with a view to using these fragile shells as a tasty garnish.

What are pink peppercorns? Pink peppercorns are not true peppercorns.

GourmetSleuth.com tells me that:

Pink peppercorns (Schinus Terebinthifolius) are from Brazil but are…actually the dried fruit of the Baies Rose. The berries have a sweet peppery flavor and are quite popular in French cuisine. Use in a vinaigrette or crush and use as a coating for a filet mignon or pork tenderloin.

I use them as a standard addition to black, white and green peppercorns in my pepper grinder.

 
I combined all the ingredients together in my Thermomix and cooked the mixture at 80°C for 5 minutes on speed 4.

To achieve the same result without a Thermomix, combine all the ingredients (except for the peppercorns) and blend until smooth, then pour into a saucepan with the crushed peppercorns; bring the ingredients to the boil then simmer for around 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Leave the mixture to sit for ~10 more minutes, then strain into a container to remove the larger peppercorn pieces. Leave the mixture to cool, then transfer to the freezer for 3-4 hours (or longer, as I needed) – until the mixture is firm but not fully frozen. At this point, cut the mixture into several even pieces and blend half of it on high speed for 30 seconds, followed by 10 seconds at a medium speed [Thermomix translation = 30 seconds at speed 9 + 10 seconds at speed 4]. Repeat for the other half of the mixture.

Transfer to the container again and return to the freezer until frozen.

The delightfully creamy end result exhibits delicate tones of ginger, citrus and pepper. A rich and elegant dessert.

pink peppercorn icecream

It was my beetroot post that inspired me to make an icecream with salted caramelised nuts [Recipe #56].

Recipe #59: Maple icecream with salted caramelised nuts.

You will need:
► 250g cream [Note that, as a Thermomix recipe, liquid measures are in grams, not millilitres - check out GourmetSleuth.com if you need a conversion to cups/mL]
► 300g milk
► 150g caster sugar
► 2 egg yolks
► ½ tsp vanilla
► ~2 tbsp (a good swirl of) maple syrup [I use Camp]
► 1 pinch salt
► 2 small handfuls of spiced, caramelised nuts [I used a mix of walnuts, cashews, brazil nuts, almonds & macadamias for this batch and found that I needed a little extra honey]
► extra maple syrup

I used the ‘Creamy Traditional Ice Cream’ recipe from the Thermomix Everyday cooking…for every family book as my base.

If you read the top method, this one will induce deja vu: combine all ingredients except for the nuts and extra maple syrup together in the Thermomix and cook at 80°C for 5 minutes on speed 4.

To achieve the same result without a Thermomix, combine all the ingredients (except for the peppercorns) and blend until smooth, then pour into a saucepan with the crushed peppercorns; bring the ingredients to the boil then simmer for around 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Pour the mixture into a container and leave to cool, then transfer to the freezer for 3-4 hours (or longer, as I needed) – until the mixture is firm but not fully frozen. At this point, cut the mixture into several even pieces and blend on high speed for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds at a medium speed [Thermomix translation = 20 seconds at speed 9 + 10 seconds at speed 4].

This is where the nuts and extra maple syrup come in. Roughly crush the nuts (you could pulse a blender or use a mortar & pestle) and add just enough maple syrup to wet them. Pour half the icecream mixture into the container, then add half the maple nuts and give a rough stir; add the other half of the icecream mix and do the same with the other half of the nuts.

an even blend

This ensures that you have an even ribbon of nuts and maple syrup throughout the icecream. Return the container to the freezer until the icecream is frozen.

When you serve it, you will get something like this:

maple icecream with salted caramelised nuts

As my friend L so aptly stated, this is the kind of moreish indulgence that you would eat straight from the tub in front of your favourite DVD, while the pink peppercorn icecream is a more sophisticated dessert.

Lessons learnt. Staying true to my day job, I feel compelled to document my learnings. Here are my top three:

  1. Make the icecream at the beginning of the day – I let both icecreams harden a little too much before whipping because I made them late at night then blended first thing in the morning. I am sure they would have been even creamier had I remained diligent;
  2. Sometimes, a little highschool science goes a long way. Echoes of physics revisited me when I had to wait longer than 5 hours for my maple icecream to freeze completely. There were two reasons for this: (1) my freezer wasn’t set to be cold enough; and (2) I added too much salt (adding maple syrup released the salt from the salted & caramelised nuts), which lowered the freezing point. I remedied this by setting my freezer to a lower temperature; and
  3. Be bold – icecream is just one vehicle for presenting your favourite everyday flavours. With varieties like garlic and anchovy being bandied about in restaurants and cyberspace, I think it’s high time for you to take an adventure all of your very own.

So now I am intrigued: What is your favourite icecream flavour? If you were to create a new flavour sensation, what would it be?

*

Finally, if you are a true icecream fiend, I believe you will appreciate the seriously passionate and avant-garde approach that The Icecreamists take with respect to their craft. We need this in Perth.

17 December 2009 at 10:21pm 4 comments

Breakfast tastes so much better when someone else cooks it for you

I thought I would continue the egg theme from my previous post and tell you about a most enjoyable breakfast experience. Once again, please try to see the beauty past the iPhone photography.

beautiful Eggs Benedict

Sunday represented my first visit to The Imp in Victoria Park and I can not believe it has taken me so long to get there. There are so many good things I can say about this place. For starters, the menu is inspiring, intriguing (you can even order Coco Pops and Fruit Loops!) and well-priced (our food selections were $13 and $11, respectively).

M ordered the awesome-looking Eggs Benedict and I decided on the hangover roll, which said absolutely nothing about my state of health at the time. Seriously. Maybe.

hangover roll

This culinary work of art was an omelette (crammed full of bacon and jalopeno chunks), which was then stuffed into a bread roll with spinach and tomato chutney, served with a side of extra chutney. It had just the right level of spicy sauciness, kind of like a Bloody Mary in bread. With spinach. And lots of egg. Ok, so it was completely different – but very incredibly good. My recommendation: order and eat the hangover roll sans cutlery and it will taste as awesome as mine did.

Other reasons to love The Imp:

  • the ambience – it’s a quaint little nook with cheery, helpful people all around ['quaint' appears courtesy of M];
  • the coffee – it’s very good. The Imp sources its coffee from Fiori Coffee, a Western Australian coffee roaster;
  • the individually wrapped caramelised sugarcube that you get with your coffee. It was so cute that I wanted to take it home with me and name it; and
  • it’s the perfect place to laze away a Sunday morning while doing the TV guide and cryptic crosswords from Sunday’s paper.

For me, The Imp was well worth the drive and effort. Please let me know if you try it out!

H :)

14 December 2009 at 8:17pm 4 comments

Cling-wrap poached eggs

they look they belong in a lab, like some kind of biological experiment

Recipe #57: Cling wrap poached eggs. From the time I breakfasted on them at Yellow Food Store & Bistro, I filed cling-wrapped and poached eggs in my mind under “future foodly challenges”. This challenge was realised about two weeks ago, when I decided to give them a go – mind you, in spite of my affable dining partner’s claim to being a champion egg-poacher [translation: I was under some pressure to perform].

I vaguely recalled seeing something about eggs being poached this way on a MasterChef episode but I wasn’t really paying attention, as I was cooking dinner at the time. So I set to work with a small teacup and a long roll of plastic wrap.

The method. I started by tearing off a square of cling wrap (~30cm x 30cm) and placing it over the cup so that it had only a shallow bow over the cup and the plastic was sealed to the cup edges. I then broke an egg into this meniscus and quickly gathered up the sides of the cling wrap, trapping as little air as possible; as I did this, I started to twist the cling wrap where the egg stopped. Once I had twisted the cling wrap until I could twist no more, I tied it.

the process unfolds...or folds...whatever

[I tried to trap as little air as possible because I had a theory: my theory was that, even considering the fact that cling wrap is not air-tight and hot water would soften the wrap (thus enabling it to expand), trapped air could expand in the boiling water and potentially cause the cling wrap to pop, thereby releasing the egg prematurely and causing culinary catastrophe. After the event, I did what I should have done and I read up about what I should do - and I found sites that told me to trap a little air, while others warned against it. I am of the opinion that it's totally up to you; I am just letting you know what worked for me and why I did it that way. In a very long-winded way. Sorry about that.]

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… I placed the wrapped eggs in near-boiling water.

the eggs in action

Yes, I could have poached all four eggs at once, but I was nervous. Rightly so, as it turned out. I realised as soon as I began to cut the first plastic package open that the eggs would have to be in for longer than the usual 3 minutes. I found that leaving the eggs in for around 4 minutes in sub-boiling water provided for ideal settage [and, yes, that is a real word; English is a living language].

It seems like a lot of work. Why would you do this? Following The Reveal, I noticed why you would choose to cook eggs this way as opposed to traditionally poaching: no mess. You don’t have to trim wispy bits of eggwhite or mop up water before serving; there is no added salt, vinegar. It is a very pure way to enjoy an egg.

To serve. I sawed a mostly defrosted Turkish bread roll into soldiers and buttered each side (with Lurpak spreadable), then I fried them.

At the same time, I took the leaves from a bunch of beetroot, washed and roughly cut them; once the bread was golden on both sides, I laid the cut leaves in the hot pan, sprinkled over some sea salt, and turned them quickly. I positioned the wilted leaves over the toasted bread.

I felt that the ensemble was in need of tomato-ey goodness and, as I had leftover bolognese sauce from the night before, I blended the bolognese with about 200mL tomato sugo (puree). This resulted in a beautifully rich but non-vegan tomato sauce, which I painted across the plate with a dessert spoon.

After poising the eggs atop the wilted leaves, I drizzled over a little olive oil, cracked some pepper and added a square of Persian feta to the side.

Phew-fully, breakfast was delicious, balanced and aesthetically pleasing. How could I have ever doubted myself?

mmm...yolky delicious

And a good breakfast was had by all.

showing the ending before the story begins

H :)


Addendum of 24 July 2012: Although these eggs look impressive, I have filed this recipe under ‘do not try this at home’ since unearthing some of the perils of heating/storing food in plastics. Because this post is still popular after more than 2½ years, I felt compelled to share a safety warning.

Cling wrap can be made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC; catering/commercial rolls) or low density polyethylene (LDPE; most supermarket brands). PVC is known to leach endocrine-disrupting phthalates and BPA when heated, deteriorating or in contact with particular types of food; while LDPE is currently considered to be safer, it is suspected to leach dangerous chemicals into food with heat and degradation. This tells me that cling film is not safe to use for eggs, wrapping hot food or microwaving – in spite of the ‘food safe’ and ‘microwave safe’ claims these products make.

So how do you make many perfect poached eggs at one time without resorting to cling film? Buy large, very fresh, organic, free range eggs from a supplier you trust, crack them into a saucepan of just-boiling water, scoop them out of the water after precisely 3 minutes, and you will have perfect eggs every time – without having to resort to vinegar, swirling water or cling wrap. These are happy eggs indeed.

11 December 2009 at 11:59pm 8 comments

Odds & sods

spices being ground

Firstly, my apologies for the larger-than-usual break between posts. I have spent this time with friends & family, working, eating in & out, cooking, enjoying jazz, learning how to relax, and planning Christmas…

Now to the purpose of this post. It is basically a catch-all for anyone who:

  • is unsure of some of the basics – I am by no means an expert but I can tell you what I do;
  • hates wasting food;
  • has run out of something, or doesn’t have standard measuring implements, and wants to know what can be substituted; and
  • is curious about what I use/do in the kitchen.

In time, I will create this post as a page of its own (like the About page), so please return! Also let me know how I can better meet your needs.

Cooking to formulas. I thought I would start with a plug about a book I haven’t read yet: Ratio. This is a book about cooking by formulas instead of recipes, something that I have always wanted to be able to do, and I am hoping that someone very kind and lovely buys it for me for Christmas [hint, hint] or I will simply have to purchase it myself.

How to convert cup measures to grams to ounces to…anything really. Check out GourmetSleuth.com. I go straight to the ‘Conversions’ tab whenever I need help and its comprehensive listing has never let me down.

How to make self-raising flour from plain flour. Mix 2 tsp baking powder into each cup of plain flour. That’s it! I realise that baking powder is not in every supermarket, so what is baking powder? It’s simply two parts of Cream of Tartar to one of bicarbonate of soda. And why would you ever want to make your own? Sometimes you may not have baking powder in the kitchen – plus, commercial baking powder often contains aluminium. Avoid this additive by making your own.

I hate wasting food, so here are my top 5 tips for preventing food wastage:

  1. If you notice a vegetable is near its use-by date, steam it and freeze it. To use again, just heat up with some boiling water in a saucepan;
  2. For herbs that need using up, you can:
    • oven-dry them – this works especially well for herbs such as sage, thyme, oregano and marjoram,
    • freeze them – with or without pulping first, just note that the herbs will be limp on thawing, or
    • air-dry them – just about any herb can be air-dried by tying it into a posy with a piece of string, then hanging to dry;
  3. cook older fruits in tarts or stew and freeze them for later use – some fruit, like mangoes, bananas and berries, freeze really well without stewing;
  4. freeze and reuse leftovers as they are – this works well for most cooked foods, such as rice, pasta and roast vegetables. I always cook too much and this means I always have a few shortcuts in the freezer at any one time. Cream and cheeses also freeze well; and
  5. use leftovers in stews, soups or sauces – leftover bolognese, for example, can be pumped up with some tinned tomatoes and blended into a soup or a rich tomato sauce.

Things I do that are different to many people:

  • I use a fork to juice citrus. I don’t actually own a citrus juicer.
  • I cook as much from scratch as possible. In this way, I avoid nasty additives and feel a certain sense of pride in what I produce.
  • I consume cookbooks like novels.

Brands I frequently use for fridge/pantry basics and why:
[Disclaimer: I am nowhere near popular enough to receive offers of anything from these companies. I just really, really like their products]

  • Salt – Maldon sea salt. I am addicted. The little flakes are perfect little flavour parcels just waiting to burst in your mouth. When I am baking with Maldon, I grind it in my mortar & pestle before adding it to anything; otherwise, I just use the flakes as they come.
  • Butter – Lurpak. I use unsalted butter to cook with; among other things, it means you are never at risk of salty icing. Lurpak has been my favourite brand for a while now. It’s not the cheapest, and it tastes awesome.
  • Olive oil – the best I can afford/get my hands on at the time [at the moment, I am loving Minerva] and always first cold pressed, otherwise it’s extracted via chemical means. There is no substitute for good olive oil. Seriously. The way the grassy freshness envelops your tongue, the bitter catch on the back of your throat… Excuse me for a moment while I cut some ciabatta to dip into my evoo.
  • Stock – Massel stock cubes. I don’t always use fresh stock and the Massel cubes have a great flavour. They are also vegan, so I can add these to a vegetarian dish and know that I haven’t corrupted the ingredients for my vegetarian friends.
  • Pepper – Global Spices or Spencer’s. I use mixed green, pink, black and white peppercorns because they look pretty when ground over your meal, and I like the flavour.

Ok. That should do for now. There is much that I have missed – let me know what is relevant to you. I am keen to make this into as useful a reference as possible.

Until next time,

H :)

7 December 2009 at 11:21pm 2 comments


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