Tuesday, November 23, 2010
The last few weeks have been a bit of a struggle on the inspiration front. No matter how many recipes I looked at or cookbooks I flicked through, there was nothing that sent me running to the kitchen. Add in a few days of the flu and I was in no shape to bake. But I feel the need to say “Hi, I’m baaa-aack” and what better to get me back into the groove than deep-fried sweet dough.
Oh yes, the doughnut-making urge is still as strong as ever. Churros are a kind of Spanish doughnut, usually eaten for breakfast, dunked in hot chocolate. But I think they’re delicious at any time of day. The dough is sort of similar in technique to a choux pastry (except this recipe contains no eggs) and comes together quickly in a stand mixer.
Piping the churros does require a little bit of elbow grease, and it’s important to keep a close eye on the oil temperature. I used a smaller pipping nozzle than the recipe suggested because I found the larger ones were not cooking all the way through before they browned. Covered in cinnamon sugar, eaten hot, they were absolutely delicious.
My Nanna gave us a bag full of oranges from her garden and I wanted to use them in this recipe. The chocolate was thick and rich, delicately flavoured with cinnamon, vanilla and orange peel, and an extra hit of Cointreau, but Pedro Ximénez, sherry or brandy would also be lovely too. For me, it really hit the spot, and was the perfect thing to help kick start my baking inspiration once again.
So tell me, readers, what is your favourite kind of doughnut?
Churros with Orange Spiked Hot Chocolate
Adapted from Gourmet Traveller
• 325g plain flour
• 30g caster sugar
• 60ml olive oil
• Vegetable oil, for deep frying
• Cinnamon sugar, for dusting
Orange Spiked Hot Chocolate
• 400ml pouring cream
• ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 cinnamon stick
• 150g dark chocolate
• 60ml Cointreau
• Rind of one orange, removed with a vegetable peeler
Combine flour, sugar and ½ teaspoon fine salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine olive oil and 450ml water in a saucepan and bring to the boil over medium-high heat. With mixer on low-medium speed, carefully add flour to mixture and mix to combine. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until very smooth (2-3 minutes).
Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a 2cm star nozzle, squeeze bag to expel any air bubbles and rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat vegetable oil in a deep-fryer or deep-sided saucepan to 180°C (350°F). Carefully pipe 15-20cm swirls into oil and cook, turning occasionally, until golden and cooked through. Drain with a slotted spoon and toss in cinnamon sugar.
Meanwhile, to make the hot chocolate, combine cream, vanilla and cinnamon just to the boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add chocolate, Cointreau and orange rind and stir over low heat until smooth (2-4 minutes). Serve warm with chocolate.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Have you ever had an absolutely flawless restaurant experience?
I had wanted to visit Christine Manfield’s restaurant Universal in Darlinghurst for quite some time, and when trying to decide on somewhere to take Denea for a nice birthday lunch, it came to mind. The first thing that struck me was the amazing colourful décor. The vibrant pinks and oranges were cleverly offset with deep black and stark white. We were seated outside in the courtyard, with the shade cloth diffusing the bright sun to give me the perfect lighting for photos!
We started with champagne, of course, a beautiful Gosset Grand Rosé, one of Denea’s favourites that I loved as well. The menu reads like a journey through a far off land, and it’s clear that the influences come from far and wide. It’s designed to be a series of small dishes arranged from the lightest to heaviest for a kind of DIY degustation. We decide to share four dishes and a dessert, with matched wines.
Our first dish was the Sichuan Pepper Spiced Duck with asparagus, lychee and watercress salad. What an incredible dish! The duck was perfectly cooked, not overly spicy like I had expected it to be, with a beautiful fresh salad to accompany it. It was matched with two wines – an 07 Lost Valley Cortese and an 09 Tapanappa ‘Foggy Hill’ Pinot Noir, which both worked really well with the dish in completely different ways, the Pinot with the duck meat and the Cortese with the salad. It was a perfectly balanced dish.
Next was a beautiful Garam Masala stuffed eggplant with green mango, red beet and curry leaf, a gorgeously colourful dish that was absolutely packed with flavour. The textural contrast between the perfectly cooked eggplant and the salad was beautiful and the dish was perfectly matched with a beautiful, sweet 09 Foster e Rocco Sangiovese Rosé.
Another knockout dish was the Seared Venison with spiced beetroot, pearl barley and parsley walnut salsa, matched with an 09 L’Angalore Tavel Rosé. I would never have thought to put venison with beetroot and pomegranate but this combination worked amazingly well. I don’t want to overuse the word balanced but that’s exactly what it was. It’s clear in all the dishes that every element had been carefully thought out, with each bringing something special to create a beautiful dish.
Every dish was getting better and better but this one was undoubtedly the highlight of the meal. Denea went as far as to say it was one of the best restaurant dishes she’s eaten in a long time, and was tempted to order another serving. It was a Slow braised wagyu beef shin and bone marrow vol au vent with chestnut mushroom tempura and spinach puree. In a word, Wow.
It was rich and decadent, with the perfect textural contrast between crisp, buttery pastry and the perfectly cooked beef. The tempura mushrooms artfully arranged on top were a beautiful accompaniment and the spinach puree was a welcome source of greenery that helped to cut through the rich flavours. Only a gutsy, almost savoury red could stand up to those flavours and the 09 Domaine Singla ‘La Crinyane’ Carignan was perfect.
From the very beginning of the meal, I was very excited about Christine Manfield’s desserts. With four on the menu, it was a tough decision but we chose the deliciously naughty Ménage à Trois, a dark chocolate mousse cake with passionfruit curd and fromage blanc sherbet. Denea likened the decadent dessert to having an affair! I loved the combination of chocolate and passionfruit (possibly my all-time favourite macaron flavour) and the fromage blanc sherbet gave the dessert an almost savoury tang that worked in ways I can’t explain. A must-try dish.
We finish with a pot of Mariage Frères Margaret’s Hope Darjeeling, which is one of the prettiest teas I’ve ever tasted, and petit fours - some of the most gorgeous, perfect vanilla bean and caramel macarons I’ve ever seen! We sit back and sigh, happily because it was a truly amazing experience, but with a tinge of sadness that it had come to an end.
I don’t say this often, but I can’t praise Universal highly enough. Not only was the food absolutely incredible, the staff were attentive, friendly and very knowledgeable, and even though the lunch spanned over three hours, we never felt rushed. Every course was better than the last, which is rare but truly impressive. I only wish I got to try the Bananarama dessert that was so highly praised in Eat Show and Tell’s review!
Christine Manfield knows how to combine vibrant flavours and contrasting textures into incredible dishes and I can’t wait to get my hands on her cookbooks. I think dining here in the evening would have a completely different ambience, but during the day it was spectacular. While the meal was definitely on the expensive side, it was absolutely worth it. I loved that even with food that good, the atmosphere was completely unpretentious. Getting attitude by staff at popular restaurants is becoming tiresome. Universal is now firmly among my favourite Sydney restaurants, and was the best restaurant experience I’ve had in a very long time.
Universal Restaurant – Republic 2 Courtyard, Palmer St Darlinghurst (between Burton & Liverpool St)
Thursday, November 18, 2010
As much as we love to complain about the heat, summer is kind of magical. Although this summer people seem to be complaining more about the fact that we’re still wearing long sleeves in November! I love the long days and sultry nights, the way that work days almost feel like holidays, cooling down with an iceblock (or a cold beer) on a hot afternoon. Long time readers would know that I have a penchant for list making, and after enjoying most of the things on my winter list, here’s a few things I’d like to experience over the summer months:
Perfecting an up-do, Riesling and Rosé, wearing dresses, eating cherries, New Years Eve with the boy, afternoon siestas, guacamole, camping at a music festival, grilled corn, homemade ice cream, eating outside, walking on the beach, iced tea, lunch at Greenhouse, pulled pork tacos, bare shoulders, road trips, afternoon thunderstorms, BBQ’s with friends, running through sprinklers, Pimms jugs.
Pimms is a quintessential part of a British summer. The gin-based tonic was originally produced in 1823 by James Pimm, who owned an oyster bar in London. It became so popular that soon he began making it commercially to supply to other bars. Pimms jugs make me think of garden parties with finger sandwiches and boys in bowties. It’s the perfect thing to sip while sitting somewhere like Madame Brussels or Gazebo with a bunch of good friends.
I’ve been trying to perfect my own Pimms cocktail recipe (hard work, I know), and I’m happy to share it with you now! I like a mixture of cucumber, lemon, strawberries and mint in mine but feel free to mix it up with other berries or citrus to your liking. I can’t decide whether I like it better with lemonade or ginger ale, so I usually just use whatever I happen to have on hand, this time it was lemonade. Give this a try on the weekend, or on a warm night. Cheers to summer!
Makes 1 litre
• 60ml Pimms
• 60ml Gin
• ½ cucumber, peeled lengthways with a vegetable peeler
• 1 small lemon, cut into eighths
• 6-10 strawberries, hulled and halved
• 5 mint leaves
• Ice cubes
• Lemonade or ginger ale
Combine Pimms and gin in a 1 litre jug. Add cucumber, lemon, strawberries and mint. Top with ice cubes and lemonade or ginger ale and stir with a spoon or chopstick to combine.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
One of my favourite things in the world is baking birthday cakes for the special people in my life. A homemade cake is special on many levels, it’s a chance to make something truly unique and hopefully bring a big smile to their face, that’s the best part. It was my dear friend Denea’s birthday earlier this week, and I wanted to make her a cake that combined some of her favourite things – chocolate, banana, caramel and of course, peanut butter.
I’ve known Denea a little less than a year, but she has grown to become my partner in crime and one of my closest friends. Together we launched a magazine, which is a huge achievement in itself. It’s a special thing to have such an amazingly smart, talented, driven, individual, beautiful and downright hilarious woman as a part of my life. She’s the kind of girl who keeps no less than four kinds of salt on hand but can’t find a lighter for her own birthday candles. She’s a keeper.
The bottom layer of the cake is a chocolate and peanut butter brownie, topped with caramel bananas spiked with vanilla bean. The top layer is a milk chocolate mousse, which isn’t too rich or too sweet. While there are a few components to this dish, it’s not difficult to prepare, especially if you split it over two days. I loved the way the cake turned out, the different flavours and textures complement each other beautifully, although I would use a little more peanut butter next time!
I’m happy to say that Denea loved her cake, especially the fact that she didn’t have to share it with anyone! Happy Birthday lovely, I hope the year ahead is filled with happiness and fun, and many more adventures!
Chocolate and Peanut Butter Mousse Cake
Adapted from Gourmet Traveller
Makes 2 x 20cm cakes or 1 x larger cake
• 200g butter
• 100g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
• 3 eggs
• 210g caster sugar
• 100g plain flour
• 3 tablespoons peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 100g brown sugar
• 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
• 5 bananas, halved lengthways
Milk chocolate mousse
• 2 eggs
• 55g caster sugar
• 1 ½ leaves of gelatine (titanium strength), softened in cold water*
• 5g eggwhite powder*
• 600ml pouring cream
• 400g milk chocolate, melted and cooled slightly
Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Melt butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering, stirring occasionally until smooth. Whisk eggs and caster sugar in an electric mixer until thick and pale, fold through chocolate mixture then fold in flour and peanut butter. Spoon into a buttered, baking paper lined springform pan (I used 2 x 20cm pans), smooth top and bake until just firm to touch (20-25 minutes) Cool completely in pan.
Heat brown sugar in a large frying pan over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes, until melted. Add vanilla seeds, stir to combine, then add bananas in a single layer and cook, turning occasionally until caramelised until tender (4-5 minutes). Arrange on top of the brownie, squash down to make a uniform layer then cool completely.
Meanwhile, for milk chocolate mousse, whisk eggs and sugar in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water until thick and can hold a ribbon (10-12 minutes), then remove front the heat. Squeeze excess liquid from gelatine and whisk it, along with the eggwhite powder into the egg mixture.
In a separate bowl, whisk cream until soft peaks form, add chocolate and fold to combine, then fold in egg mixture. Spoon mousse over caramelised banana, smooth top and refrigerate until set (2-3 hours).
*Egg white powder and gelatine leaves can be found in specialty food shops like David Jones Food Hall or Essential Ingredient.
Friday, November 5, 2010
I love Mexican food, but Australia is notoriously bad to try and find the good stuff. Most places serve Tex Mex or Baja style, and while I do like this when it’s done well, it’s a world away from the fresh, bright flavours of real Mexican food. A bright spot on the food scene in Melbourne is Mamasita, which claims to have “no hard shell tacos, nachos or cheesy burritos, this is Mexican, real Mexican”.
On my recent trip to Melbourne I visited Mamasita for the second time. After a fabulous first visit in June, I knew I had to come back with Steve. I can tell that this will be a regular Melbourne haunt whenever I’m in town. It only opened in February this year and is already hugely popular, I’ve seen the line go down the stairs and onto the street. On a Monday at lunchtime, the restaurant was still surprisingly busy but we are seated quickly near the window.
I started with a cocktail, Margarita de Sandia that was an interesting blend of Herradura Blanco tequila, Cointreau and watermelon, served on the rocks. I think I can safely say I’m not a huge tequila fan, I found the taste overpowering. But if you are a tequila lover, you’re in the right place, with the list of tequilas on offer longer than all the other drinks combined! Steve tried a tamarind drink, which I wished I’d ordered one myself! It was quite unique but delicious and very refreshing.
I couldn’t go past Mamasita’s signature dish. The corn is grilled and covered with smoky chipotle mayonnaise and cheese, sprinkled with paprika and served with a wedge of lime. Yes, it is definitely as good as it sounds. And I have to thank my gorgeous friend Betty for recommending both the restaurant and this dish because I think I would have overlooked it with all the other delicious things on the menu. It really is a must try. The recipe has recently been in both Masterchef and Delicious magazines so I’m looking forward to making it at home.
The menu has changed a little since my last visit but I’m happy to see that my favourite grilled pork taco with pineapple and coriander is still there. I really loved the sweetness of the pineapple with the delicious pulled pork. We order one of these each, with Steve also going for the grilled fish taco with lime, achiote paste and red onion salsa, and me for the braised beef and chorizo. I didn’t try the fish but Steve said it was delicious, and I loved the tender beef.
Of course we had to try dessert, I ordered the coconut flan with prune syrup and sesame brittle. I loved the flan itself, it was smooth and creamy with just a hint of coconut, but I felt that the taste of the prune was quite overpowering. The sesame brittle was an interesting textural contrast. Steve chose the chocolate and chilli pudding with chocolate and cinnamon sorbet, which was excellent. I love chocolate and chilli together and this was no exception. The pudding was rich and slightly gooey in the middle, and the ice cream was the perfect accompaniment.
Next time I’d really like to try the Chicken Mole and the chipotle-braised goat! The wait staff were very friendly but when the restaurant is busy, they are a little hard to track down and it’s hard not to feel rushed to eat and leave when there’s a line of people waiting at the door. And as a word of warning, Mamasita doesn’t take bookings for less than 8 people, so it’s a good idea to get there early and avoid the queues.
Mamasita – Level 1, 11 Collins St, Melbourne
Monday, November 1, 2010
Spring seems to have been playing hide and seek this year. This past Saturday was a perfect day, which I spent at the Winery Markets, manning our stall and selling homemade preserves and granola. But looking at the weather forecast for the week ahead seems a downright depressing! The summer produce seems to be a bit slow too, this time last year we had cherries in abundance but I’ve yet to see any this spring. What we do have though is lots of great blueberries, so here’s another little something delicious to do with them while they’re in season.
These friands (or financiers as they’re also known) are individual brown butter cakes, a little more dense and sticky than a muffin or cupcake and totally delicious. They’re a staple in cafes and bakeries, often baked in oval shapes, however I only had a regular cupcake pan. Baking friands is also a fantastic way to use up all the egg whites you have lying around, if you’re anything like me with quite a stash accumulated in the freezer.
But what I like most is that you can get really creative with flavour combinations – fruit, chocolate, nuts, anything goes! This time I used buckwheat flour and blueberries, which worked perfectly. I loved the nuttiness of the almond meal and the buckwheat flour together, and the jammy pockets of blueberries that sunk into the cake as they baked. They would be the perfect sweet treat to take on a picnic, if the weather ever gets better!
Blueberry and Buckwheat Friands
Adapted from What Katie Ate
• 300g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
• 10 egg whites
• 175g almond meal
• 350g icing sugar
• 100g buckwheat flour, sifted
• 1 punnet blueberries
Preheat the oven to 180°C and lightly grease a silicone friend or cupcake tray.
Place the cubed butter into a frypan or saucepan. Swirl gently until butter is browned and smells nutty. Cool for 5 minutes. Place the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk for a few seconds, just to lightly combine. Add almond meal, icing sugar, buckwheat flour and brown butter. Beat lightly to combine and pour into the pre-greased tray.
Fill each until just over half full. Place 3 or 4 blueberries on top and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Serve warm dusted with icing sugar.