Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Every Bite

fig & macadamia cookies

These cookies were inspired by some very pretty specimens, waiting in jars at the counter of the Fine Food Store in the Rocks. I go there for lunch quite often, because it’s a nice stroll from my office and I’m in love with their roasted vegetable sandwich. I am often tempted by the incredible variety of gourmet products, and of course the delicious cupcakes and other sweet treats in the glass cabinet. Fig, ginger and macadamia sounded like a delicious combination – so perfect for this cooler autumn weather we’ve been having – that I vowed to try making them myself.

I love the concept of ‘slice and bake’ cookies. They are not only incredibly easy to prepare but can be customised in almost any way you can dream up. They can even be frozen in logs for baking later! I used a recipe I’ve had success with before and simply added chopped dried figs, macadamias and candied ginger. The result is just delicious, with a variety of flavours and textures in every bite – crumbly, crunchy and chewy – and just perfect with a cup of green tea on a cool, rainy afternoon.

Fig, Ginger and Macadamia Cookies
Adapted from Cookies
Makes 48

• 250g unsalted butter, softened
• 1 ¼ cup icing sugar, sifted
• 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2 cups plain flour
• ½ cup rice flour
• 1/3 cup cornflour
• 2 tablespoons milk
• ½ cup dried figs, roughly chopped
• 1/3 cup macadamias, roughly chopped
• 2 tablespoons candied ginger, roughly chopped

1. Beat butter, icing sugar and vanilla extract in a bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in the sifted flours in two batches, and then add the milk. Beat until just combined.
2. With a wooden spoon stir in figs, macadamias and ginger until evenly distributed.
3. Divide mixture in half. Knead each half on a floured surface until smooth, then roll each half into 25cm long logs. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 1 hour.
4. Preheat oven to 160ºC (320ºF). Line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper.
5. Cut the logs into 1cm slices and place about 3cm apart on oven trays. Bake for 20 minutes or until slightly golden. Cool on wire racks.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: March

lasagne

March was a very big month in Daring Bakers land. The highly anticipated new website finally went live, and it’s a beauty. Even if you’re not a Daring Baker, there is still lots that will take your fancy, so go and check it out. There is also a brand new set of icons, you can see the sassy ‘Miss Measure’ over in my sidebar. Another addition to the Daring Kitchen community was announced – The Daring Cooks, and I am looking forward to hearing more about that and participating soon. And last but not least, this month’s challenge once again found me trying something I’d never done before – making fresh pasta.

The March challenge consisted of:
- Making fresh spinach egg pasta (pasta verde)
- Making béchamel (white sauce)
- Making a ragu
- Assembling the lasagne

I have to say, I really liked this challenge. I found kneading the pasta to be almost like a cardio workout, but rolling it (with the help of a pasta machine) was quite relaxing, and with all the separate elements prepared in advance, assembling the lasagne was a breeze. Even though I followed the pasta recipe to the letter, I found that I needed to add another egg but this helped immensely and I was very happy with the result. I definitely want to try making ravioli in the future as well, and experiment with other pasta flavours, though the spinach used here was delicious.

I used an alternate recipe for the ragu, using veal and pork that we had minced ourselves using the mincer attachment for our stand mixer. It was delicious and meaty, and after simmering for a few hours, it had a great depth of flavour. The béchamel recipe given was also very easy to prepare, though we had the option to use our own. On the five-hour plane trip to Perth earlier this month, I was watching the cooking channel and heard a tip about infusing the milk with some garlic and onion before adding it to the butter and flour mixture, which could give it a very interesting flavour, and may be something I’ll try in the future.

To make things a bit easier, I split the process up – making the sauce one day, and then making the pasta, béchamel and assembling it the next. The whole process was quite time consuming but I would have to say it was completely worth it. The sauce can even be made in advance and frozen which cuts down the preparation time significantly.

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

making pasta

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna
Serves 8-10

Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)
• 2 jumbo eggs (I found that I needed 3)
• 300g fresh spinach, rinsed, dried and finely chopped
• 3 ½ cups unbleached plain flour

Béchamel Sauce
• 60g unsalted butter
• 60g unbleached plain flour
• 2 2/3 cup (570ml) milk
• Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
• Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

Ragu
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• 800g mixed beef and veal mince
• 3 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
• 2 x jars tomato paste
• ¾ cup red wine
• Finely chopped rosemary, to taste
• Fresh red chilli, finely sliced, to taste (optional)
• ¼ cup olive oil
• Salt and pepper, to taste

• 1 cup (or more) freshly grated Parmigano Reggiano

1. To make the ragu, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large fry pan until hot. Add the onion and garlic and fry, stirring, until slightly browned. Add about 1/3 of the mince and continue to cook until mince is well browned. Transfer to a large saucepan. Cook the next 1/3 of the mince, transfer to a bowl and repeat for the last third.
2. Set the saucepan with mince over the heat, add tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine, olive oil, rosemary, chilli (if using), salt and pepper. Stir until it reaches the boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 2-3 hours.
3. To make the pasta, mound the flour in the center of your work area and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach, and use a wooden spoon to beat them together. Gradually start incorporating flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last of the flour into the dough. It should look like a rough, messy lump.
4. Start kneading the dough, using the scraper to scoop up any unruly pieces. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, knead for about 3 minutes. It should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading for about 10 minutes, or until the dough becomes smooth, satiny and very elastic. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it relax at room temperature for 30 minutes – 3 hours.
5. Cut off about a quarter of the dough, and re-wrap the rest to prevent it from drying out. Roll into a roughly long and thin rectangular shape. Set your pasta machine to its thickest setting and roll the dough through the machine. Continue rolling through each setting, cutting the dough into sections if it becomes too difficult to handle, until it becomes as thin as possible without tearing. You should be able to see your hand through the dough.
6. Repeat with remaining dough, and either use immediately or dry at room temperature and store in a sealed container or plastic bag for 1 day.
7. To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Sift in the flour and whisk until smooth, stirring without stopping for at least one minute. Whisk in the milk a little at a time. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir for 3-4 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper and a hint of nutmeg.
8. To assemble the lasagne, have all ingredients on hand. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Layer the ingredients repeating in this order – pasta sheets, béchamel, ragu, Parmigano Reggiano, and finishing with a layer of pasta, béchamel, cheese, salt and pepper. Cover the baking dish with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake for 40 minutes or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes. When cooked, turn the oven off and let the lasagne rest inside for a further 10 minutes, then serve. This is not a solid lasagne but one that slips a bit when cut and served.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Perfect Morning

buttermilk scones

I find that the urge to bake sometimes strikes me at the strangest times. But some weekends, as soon as I wake up, I know I must get my hands into some flour and bake up something delicious. That was the case on Saturday morning, although a quick walk to the supermarket was needed before I could go any further. It was gorgeously sunny at the time, although within a few minutes of stepping in the front door again, the sky clouded over and it began to rain hard. I love rainy day baking.

The recipe I picked for March in the Tartine Cookbook Project I’m doing with Mark was the Buttermilk Scones, which make an absolutely perfect morning or afternoon snack with a steaming hot cup of tea. These are not the kind of scones I am used to making – usually they are made with whipped cream and a little milk instead of butter and buttermilk, but I loved these all the same.

They seemed more rustic and hearty than the light and dainty cream scones. Originally I was going to substitute dried cranberries for the black currants, but this time I decided to stay true to the recipe. There is no reason that you couldn’t substitute other dried fruit such as apricots, cherries or chopped dates and figs.

I used to be nervous about making scones, but I have learned that the less you work the dough, the more tender and delicious they will be. In this recipe, being able to see some of the butter pieces is important because they will make the scones nice and flaky. The scones are at their absolute best when still warm from the oven. Also, make sure you go and check out Mark’s post about the delicious looking Banana and Date Teacake!

Buttermilk Scones
Adapted From Tartine by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson
Makes 12 scones

• ½ cup black currants
• 4 ¾ cups plain flour
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• ¾ teaspoon baking soda
• ½ cup sugar
• 1 ¼ teaspoon salt
• 250g unsalted butter, very cold
• 1 ½ cups buttermilk
• 1 teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated

Topping
• About 3 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
• Raw sugar, or granulated sugar for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC (400ºF). Line two baking sheets with non-stick baking paper.
2. To make the dough, first combine currants with warm water in a small bowl and set aside for about 10 minutes until the currants are plumped. Drain well.
3. In the meantime, sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the sugar and salt and stir with a wooden spoon until combined.
4. Cut the butter into 1cm cubes and scatter over the dry ingredients. Turn on the mixer, and pulse until you have a coarse mixture with pea-sized lumps of butter visible.
5. Add the buttermilk, lemon zest and currants and mix on low speed or with a wooden spoon until the dough just holds together. If the mixture seems dry, add a little more buttermilk. You still want to see some of the butter pieces at this point, which will add to the flakiness of the scones once they are baked.
6. Dust a flat work surface with flour and turn the dough out onto it. Using your hands, press the dough into a rectangle about 45cm (18 inches) long by 12cm (5 inches) wide and 4cm (1 ½ inches) high. Brush the top with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.
7. Using a chef’s knife, cut the dough into 12 triangles and transfer to the baking sheets.
8. Bake the scones for 25-35 minutes or until the tops are lightly browned. Remove from the oven and serve warm.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Some of Sydney

crowns

The Taste of Sydney Festival was held for the first time this year, between the 12th and 15th of March in Centennial Park. I had been excited about the festival since the launch party provided a sneak peek of some of the amazing dishes on offer from some of Sydney’s top restaurants. Sydney is diverse and eclectic, and span so many different cuisines because it is such a multicultural city. I thought this was reflected well in the variety of food available.

wagyu burger

With newly purchased crowns in hand, we headed straight to Bécasse for one of Justin North’s famous wagyu burgers (12 crowns) that I had been dreaming about since the launch party. I wanted to get in quick because I knew they would be popular – in fact I think the official number was about 5,500 burgers in four days of the festival. It was just as delicious as I remembered – the meat absolutely melts in your mouth, but it seems very small indeed when you are sharing it!

truffle arancini

Nearby was Berowra Waters Inn and I had mentioned to my sister how wonderful the arancini (10 crowns) was at the launch party – I can’t even remember how many I ate. It was wonderfully crispy on the outside, giving way to a beautifully cooked truffle risotto and buffalo mozzarella center. The striking green sauce that accompanied it was made from tasty spinach and fennel. The flavours complemented each other so well, and I think this is a really great, balanced dish.

oxtail pie

Next up was the pie from Bird Cow Fish (12 crowns). Originally advertised as braised beef cheek, roasted onion, Jerusalem artichoke and red wine jus, we are told that today they have used oxtail instead. I thought that the pie tasted just a little too strongly of wine, which overpowered some of the other more subtle flavours like the artichoke. However the meat was beautifully tender and the pastry was deliciously flaky.

wagyu bourguignonne

Unfortunately I didn’t get a very good photograph of the Wagyu Beef Bourguignonne with truffled cauliflower and onion rings from Restaurant Balzac (10 crowns). The flavours were incredible and all worked so well together. The pastry was so crispy, giving way to a melt-in-your-mouth meaty filling, and Beth and I agreed that it was our favourite dish of the day.

love cake (74)

Another favourite was the beautifully presented Love Cake with cinnamon cream (8 crowns) from Flying Fish. I didn’t know that love cake was a Sri Lankan dessert, and a good friend of mine has offered to give me her family’s recipe so I can try it myself. It had a texture similar to pudding and I loved the warm cinnamon flavour.

lindt waffle

And last but not least, we managed to score a table right near the Lindt stand, which was a temptation we couldn’t resist. For only 6 crowns, I got a cute heart shaped waffle with a big scoop of Lindt white chocolate and vanilla bean ice cream, and a generous drizzling of Lindt chocolate sauce. Anyone who has been to the Lindt cafés in Sydney knows how amazing their ice cream is, and this was so delicious I wanted to lick the plate clean.

So with full tummies, a Gourmet Traveller magazine showbag, and slightly sunburnt arms we left to find a shady spot under some trees. I really enjoyed the day, though most of the servings were on the small side. Centennial Park provided a beautiful backdrop to the festival, which was well organised and easy to navigate. Even the weather co-operated for us, having been a little unpredictable in the days before, it was beautifully sunny on the day that we were there. And a huge, big thank you to Prue from The Mint Partners for the tickets!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Beer and Chocolate

cupcake

So here we are, a little under two years since the start of my blog and I have finally hit my 100th post! That means I have sat down here in front of a blank page one hundred times, and shared almost one hundred recipes. I have said it before, but it has been a wonderful journey so far and it is only getting better. My hunger to learn more never seems to be quite sated, and I love sharing these little adventures. I would like to extend my most heartfelt thanks to my readers who stop in and say hello, your comments and feedback make my day!

It was somewhat unintentional, but it seems fitting that my 100th post is about cupcakes because they seem to be synonymous with celebrations around here. The Chocolate and Guinness Cake recipe from Nigella Lawson’s book ‘Feast’ intrigued me – the combination of beer and chocolate sounded particularly interesting. I wanted to try the recipe in cupcake form, and what better opportunity to try it than St Pat’s Day!

The cupcakes are so wonderfully moist at room temperature, thanks to the addition of sour cream, but if you put them in the fridge they take on a fudgy texture, almost like a brownie. The Guinness taste is just right, not too strong but definitely giving the cake an interesting depth. Teamed with cream cheese icing (my favourite) this is a great recipe. I would recommend only filling the cupcake cases half full instead of the usual three-quarters, because I found that they rose quite a bit and some overflowed. Or, you could of course bake a full size cake!

cupcake (76)

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes
Adapted from Nigella Lawson Feast
Makes 18 cupcakes

• 1 cup Guinness Stout
• 110g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
• ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 2 cups caster sugar
• ¾ cup sour cream
• 2 eggs
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
• 2 cups plain flour
• 2 ½ teaspoons baking soda

Cream Cheese Icing
• 250g cream cheese
• 1 cup icing sugar
• 2 tablespoons heavy cream
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Line a cupcake tray with paper liners.
2. Pour Guinness into a large saucepan, add butter and heat until melted. Whisk in cocoa powder and sugar.
3. In a small bowl, beat sour cream, with eggs and vanilla and pour into the Guinness mixture. Sift in the flour and baking soda and whisk to combine.
4. Divide cake batter between cupcake liners, making sure to fill each only half full. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
5. To make the icing, place cream cheese and icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add cream and vanilla and beat until you have a spreadable consistency. Frost the top of the cupcakes.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Little City

little creatures (66)

I’ve just returned home from a quick trip to Perth, my other favourite city on the west coast of Australia. These kinds of trips always seem to go too quickly, before I’ve had enough of a fix of this vibrant little city I’m starting to love more and more. I have been wanting to tell you about Little Creatures for a long time now, since we stopped in there on a whim on the trip before last. It is a brewery and restaurant located in a converted warehouse in Fremantle, on a beautiful little spot right near the water. The atmosphere at lunchtime is relaxed and easygoing but I can imagine it would be a fun place to spend a Friday or Saturday night.

pale ale

The restaurant is popular with locals and tourists alike. Since I visited the first time, their Pale Ale has become my favourite Australian beer and my favourite topping for home made pizza (potato and rosemary) was inspired by my trip to the Fitzroy Dining Hall last October. The menu consists of shareable goodies such as pizzas and a variety of dishes showcasing Western Australia’s finest produce. If beer isn’t your thing, they also have an impressive list of local wines from Margaret River. The staff are casual, friendly and with full tableside service, leaving you free to soak up the sunshine and watch the group a few tables over, dressed up as pirates for a birthday gathering.

frites

The frites were fried to crisp perfection and served with skin on, which is just the way I like them. They were served with a tasty aioli that was a nice change from tomato or sweet chilli sauce. The portion size is perfectly suited to sharing. The chorizo, sweet corn and fetta pizza was an interesting melding of flavours you might not expect to see together but which somehow work in harmony to create a delicious combination – spicy, creamy and sweet with the occasional juicy pop of a corn kernel in your mouth. It is also a treat to walk past the kitchen and watch the pizzas being made, fresh.

cblt

Little Creatures Brewery on Urbanspoon

Another notable meal from the trip was at TigerTiger in the city, a quirky little place – half café, half bar that I’d heard about from Reemski. Their website said they served an all-day breakfast but when we arrived we were given new menus with a variety of delectable lunch and brunch options including savoury tarts and a steak and merlot pie. But when our waiter returned, he told us that their oven was on the fritz so the pastries weren’t available. I settled for a CBLT – chicken, bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich – and a long black and the boy had poached eggs on sourdough toast.

tigertiger

The coffee was excellent, and served with irregular shaped raw sugar cubes. I was a bad blogger and forgot to take a photo before I started eating. You see, it was nearly 12.30pm and I hadn’t eaten anything all day! But the CBLT was delicious, and huge, and even now I am surprised I managed to finish it all. Word has it, the eggs were good, but a little runnier would have been better for the toast soak up. I loved the mismatched furniture that looked like it had been collected from second hand shops, but I especially liked all of the posters on the wall, their abstract and colourful style appealed to the graphic design geek in me. I would like to visit again one day, if not only to try the pie but to see how this little place grows over time. Perth seems to change so much every time I visit, and I can’t wait for the next trip.

tigertiger (68)

Tiger, Tiger Coffee Bar on Urbanspoon

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