Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Impressively Speedy

panna cotta

I very quickly became fed up with the custard and ice cream after the operation to remove all four of my wisdom teeth last Thursday. Even though my recovery seemed to be quite successful and impressively speedy, I was lamenting the sad fact that I couldn’t chew anything. I made do, however with some roast pumpkin and maple soup that I had made in advance, and something akin to Heidi’s vanilla sweet potato puree. In four days I lost three kilograms, which is just over 6.5 pounds, but I was already planning my next meal.

As soon as I felt up to cooking again, I surveyed the fridge. On close inspection, I remembered a recipe found in an issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine several months ago that I had been meaning to try. Yoghurt panna cotta fit all the requirements, and would be a nice and certainly welcome change to my current diet of mush.

But it also got me thinking, this would make an interesting brunch when teamed with granola, a classy dessert paired with poached fruit or a simple yet delicious snack when unadorned. Make sure to choose a quality yoghurt, but any flavour at all would be delicious.

Yoghurt Panna Cotta
Recipe adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller
Serves 6-8

• 3 teaspoons powdered gelatine
• ½ cup milk
• ½ cup maple syrup (or honey)
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 ½ cups thick natural yoghurt

Strawberry Sauce
• About 10 medium strawberries
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice
• ¼ cup caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon maple syrup (or honey)

1. In a small saucepan, sprinkle the gelatine powder over the milk and stir over low heat until all the gelatine is melted.
2. Add the maple syrup and vanilla and stir until mixture is smooth and honey is melted
3. Place yoghurt in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add gelatine mixture and whisk until combined.
4. Use a ladle to evenly distribute mixture between 6-8 ramekins. Tap the base of each to expel air bubbles.
5. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours or overnight.
6. To make the strawberry sauce, puree the chopped strawberries with the lemon juice and strain the mixture to remove the seeds. Place in a pot with the sugar and honey or maple syrup and stir over low heat until combined. Allow to cool before serving.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Heels or Herbs

father's day lunch

I love versatility. In clothing, in furniture and especially in food. I love the feeling of endless possibilities and unpredictability, rather than having to settle only for only one outcome. If I compared a pair of jeans to a roast chicken, would you look at me funny? The principle is exactly the same, I promise. Both have that casual comfortable ‘every day’ appeal, but can easily be dressed up or down to suit the occasion, whether its with heels or herbs. They never go out of style, but come in a multitude of different cuts and colours to suit all tastes. Let me explain…

On one side there are chicken nuggets, home made of course. Lightly crumbed, they are the perfect finger food for nibbling while watching the footy, at a picnic, or a kids’ birthday party. It is effortlessly and undeniably casual, but still appropriate and successful, like your favourite pair of boot cut jeans and a cute t-shirt.

On the other end of the poultry spectrum, you have a succulent roast chicken, seasoned with fresh herbs, sea salt and cracked black pepper. Simple yet impressive, with the right accessories it is understated classy, definitely not pretentious, and doesn’t look like you tried too hard. Just like a pair of slimline jeans, heels and pretty blouse.

I recently discovered that cooking chicken maryland pieces is much quicker and easier than a whole chicken, and means there are less arguments over who gets which piece. I also think they look quite classy on the plate and allow a more uniform look. Or, scrap the dinner table altogether and pack a picnic lunch with fresh bread rolls and a roast potato salad. Lemon, garlic and thyme is a really great flavour combination here, but of course there is an endless list of others that would be equally delicious – use your imagination!

Lemon, Garlic and Thyme Roast Chicken
Inspired by Australian Gourmet Traveller
Serves 6

• 6 large chicken Maryland pieces
• ½ cup olive oil
• ¼ cup lemon juice
• 4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
• 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
• 2 lemons, cut into thin slices
• sea salt and cracked black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to very hot, between 200-220°C (390-420°F)
2. With a sharp pair of scissors or a knife, trim off all the yucky gangly bits of the Maryland pieces – i.e: excess fat and skin
3. In a small bowl, mix the olive oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic and thyme.
4. Cut a piece of baking paper the size of your baking dish and place on the bottom. Scatter the sliced lemon around the dish.
5. With your hands or a small basting brush, cover the chicken with the oil mixture all over and place the pieces over the sliced lemon.
6. Season with salt and pepper and place in the oven for 25-30 minutes.
7. Turn the oven temperature down to about 180°C (350°F) for a further 10-15 minutes. The chicken is cooked when the leg joint moves freely and the skin is golden brown.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Buttery Brioche


I’m not typically a morning person, but sometimes when I wake up, I am full of motivation. When I woke up on my day off college last week, I was filled with the urge to bake. Still on a high from my No Knead Bread success, I decided to try another yeast-based recipe.

I had done a lot of reading about brioche, various tips and tricks that people have shared, so I felt quite confident as I weighed and measured different ingredients.


I settled on a very simple Donna Hay recipe, from her Modern Classics 2, undoubtedly one of my favourite cookbooks. I’ve eaten a few brioches in my time but nothing compares to fresh out of the oven, still warm, buttery brioche. What a perfect way to start the morning. I only ran into difficulty at one point. The mixture was a little too soft and sticky to knead, I’m not sure if I beat it for too long or for not long enough. In the end I just used an ice cream scoop and smoothed out the tops as best as I could.

Unfortunately there won't be much cooking around these parts for a little while, because I had my wisdom teeth taken out yesterday and won't be eating much at all. All things considered though, I actually feel okay and there isn't much swelling at all now. I might use this time to catch up on a few recipes I've been meaning to share :)

Recipe from Donna Hay Modern Classics 2
Makes 12 small brioches

• 1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• ½ cup lukewarm milk
• 1 cup plain flour, sifted
• 1 tablespoon sugar, extra
• 1 egg
• 90g buter, softened

1. Place the yeast, sugar and milk in a bowl and set aside for 5 minutes. The mixture will start to foam, indicating that the yeast is active.
2. Process the yeast mixture, flour, extra sugar and egg in a stand mixer until combined. With the motor still running, add the butter a little at a time and mix until a very soft and sticky dough forms.
3. Place in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size.
4. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F), grease a 12-hole cupcake or muffin pan. Divide the dough between the moulds and smooth over the tops. Set aside for 20 minutes to rise again.
5. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden. Remove from the moulds and brush a little melted butter on top. Serve warm or cold.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Almost Maternal


My paternal grandmother was one of my first influences when it came to cooking. When I was young, I used to stay with her while my parents worked, and I loved watching her cook. At four years old I was a little too young to help, but I remember sitting on the kitchen bench, and her piping an icing ‘worm’ onto my finger to lick off while she decorated a cake, or her lifting me up to watch her pasta sauce bubble and “blop blop.” I loved the bread she made, especially when we could have some, still warm for lunch. Incredibly, I’ve never seen my grandmother use a recipe, ever. She seems to remember every one of her signature dishes off the top of her head, or cooks purely by taste and experience.

Most of our family gatherings occur at her house; we have a big family and her dining table is the only one that fits us all. Bringing up six children, she’s well practiced in feeding an army. Those six children all have children of their own now, and I am one of her fourteen grandchildren. It always surprises me how much she manages to cook in her tiny kitchen, a feat of good organization I am sure. In years past, there were always loaves of freshly baked bread to go with the big lunches she cooked, but since my grandfather passed away a few years ago, her special bread’s appearances have been few and far between.

bread, slice

It was nanna I thought of when I (finally) made the no knead bread today, and I think it had a lot to do with the smells. The smell of the yeast, and the smell of the bread cooking brought back memories. It was my first attempt at any sort of bread making, and definitely won’t be the last. This opened the door to a whole new world of baking that seemed kind of intimidating. Baking bread gave me a fulfilling and almost maternal feeling – creating something from scratch and watching it grow and change. The recipe was simple and quite forgiving. I cooked it in two small loaf pans rather than a pot because I didn’t have anything suitable, but this seemed to work nicely. The bread had a nice crunchy crust and a hearty dense texture that I greatly enjoyed, still warm with some butter. Next time I will try it with wholemeal flour because I generally prefer wholemeal bread.

I feel really lazy not sharing a recipe two posts in a row, but this one is so common now it hardly feels necessary! I found Jaden’s post extremely helpful, and I love those photos!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Gorgeous Green

matcha cookies

Do you make ‘to do’ lists? I do - sometimes several in one day. But don’t think I’m organised, because that is far from the truth. I’m a mad listmaker, from things to do today to things to do before I die, somehow a list makes everything seem more achievable.

The truth is, a lot of the time, I write things down because otherwise they will be forgotten. How else am I going to remember the name of every restaurant I want to visit in Paris or New York, every book I am interested in reading, or every recipe I want to try? It is also a way to set goals and measure their progress, break things down into chewable chunks. It’s a great rush of accomplishment when things are crossed off.

Late last year I started list of things to do in 2007, to give me some focus because I don’t do resolutions. The goals I set were many and varied, but there were quite a few culinary resolutions. One of the first things I got stuck into when the year began was goal #80, to try ten different types of tea. This has been one of my favourite things this year; discovering that chai is warming and comforting, lemon tea is soothing during the autumn/winter flu season, and green tea is refreshing and delicious.

matcha cookies

I fell in love when I saw Keiko’s and Fanny’s posts about these gorgeous green tea cookies. Thanks Fanny for pointing the way to the recipe at Lovescool. I could finally make these lovely shortbread cookies at home. Although finding matcha tea in Sydney was a bit of a challenge!

These cookies are a wonderful shade of green, like spring. They seemed quite appropriate this morning as I looked out the window and saw raindrops on green leaves. The tea flavour is subtle but gives the cookies a fresh, happy taste. No wonder Amai won the Best Bakery Recipe! I won’t publish the recipe here, but point the way over to Kelli’s post at Lovescool. This is a really great blog, and I wish Kelli all the best with Amai.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Cupcake Queen

mocha cupcake

It makes me a little sad when people say they can’t cook. I want to get all motivational and tell them they can do anything if they try! I wonder if they can’t cook or are just unwilling and maybe inexperienced. To be honest, three years ago I couldn’t cook much more than muffins and chicken schnitzel. I enjoyed cooking but hardly had the time or inclination. I am not exactly sure when everything changed for me, but boy am I glad! I have learnt so many new skills, constantly challenge myself, experiment with new ingredients and am forming quite an impressive repertoire. Most of all, I enjoy it. It’s a great way to let out creativity and it is nice to be able to share something with other people.

My friends have noticed the change in me. I wonder if it’s because I feed them at every chance I get? I am known as the Cupcake Queen, a title that I hold with reverence for my favourite little cakes, proud to turn such simple ingredients into something that fills me and others with so much joy. I have put a lot of thought into this. What is the cupcake attraction? Is it the size, or the nostalgia? For me, I like the variety and possibilities that cupcakes offer. The excitement of virtually endless flavour combinations, and so many ways to decorate them. Maybe it’s the reaction that they always generate, which seems quite amusing, if only my friends knew how easy they actually were to make.

These cupcakes are delicious and dense, your coffee and chocolate fix all in one. The ganache is smooth, dark and seductive. My friend was professing ‘tastegasms’ which I think is the highest compliment of all, and has since called me a tease whenever I mention anything baking related. These cupcakes were enjoyed while sitting near the water over at Milsons Point on the other side of Sydney Harbour, watching the lunar eclipse.

Mocha Mud Cake
Recipe Adapted from Australian Women's Weekly book Cupcakes
Makes 12 large cupcakes

• 165g butter, chopped
• 100g dark chocolate, chopped coarsely
• 1 1/3 cup caster sugar
• ½ cup water
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• ¼ cup coffee liqueur
• 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
• 1 cup plain flour
• 2 tablespoons self-raising flour
• 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
• 1 egg

Dark Chocolate Ganache
• 100g dark chocolate, chopped coarsely
• ¼ cup thickened cream

1. Preheat oven to 160°C (320°F). Line a standard 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases
2. Combine the butter, chocolate, sugar, water, liqueur and coffee in a small saucepan over low heat until smooth.
3. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Whisk in sifted flours and cocoa, then egg. Divide mixture among the cases.
4. Bake for 40-50 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean. Turn onto wire rack to cool.
5. To make ganache, bring cream to a boil in a small saucepan; pour over the chocolate in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Stand at room temperature until ganache is thick. Pour over cupcakes and smooth with a flat spatula.


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