Saturday, January 30, 2010

Prosciutto Wrapped, Gorgonzola Stuffed Figs

It's fig season! I'm so excited because figs are only readily available in Australia for about one month per year. I couldn't believe my eyes when traveling around Italy and there were literally figs rotting on the ground because they hadn't been picked! The scent of a fig tree heavy with voluptuous, ripe fruit is so deliciously sweet you can smell it from around the corner. I remember walking along an Italian road (many times) and begging Ed to lift me up so I could reach the lush fruit dripping off the wilting branches. He took to dreading the smell of fig trees after the third boost up. My mother still has a postcard that I sent home on which I go on and on about how "you can literally pick figs right off the trees!" I will never forget fig and Brie baguettes eaten while lying on a striped sarong next to a fountain in Valencia, Spain, in the height of summer.

My family has rented a house up on the Central coast of New South Wales for the last few weeks of summer and the house has a huge balcony with an incredible view of the beach. On the balcony there is a BBQ and tonight on that very BBQ we sizzled some figs. Big, plump, juicy figs stuffed to breaking point with a creamy Gorgonzola and swaddled in a crispy thin slice of salty Italian cured prosciutto. The combination of the three textures, delicate fig skin bursting with seeds under a blanket of melted cheese, the prosciutto tying everything together into a crisp shell... pretty damn hard to resist. My dad isn't a big fan which is EXCELLENT because now there are more for me!

Gorgonzola Stuffed, Prosciutto Wrapped Figs
4 ripe figs (figs should be slightly heavier than they look and a little bit soft)
4 slices of Gorgonzola cheese 1.5cm thick, approx 4cm long (enough to fit inside a fig)
4 slices of thinly sliced prosciutto
4 toothpicks

Cut each fig from the tip downwards in two opposite directions stopping just before the base. Insert the pieces of cheese into the center of the each fig and wrap the prosciutto firmly around the perimeter. Secure everything in place with a toothpick. Place on a hot, lightly oiled BBQ for 10 minutes, turning over occasionally so that each side of the fruit is crispy. Serve immediately.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Chili Parmesan Cheese Twists and Mixed Pesto Pinwheels

I'm addicted to cheese. It's not even funny anymore, it's a serious and disturbing condition that undoubtedly affects my life and those around me. There have been many times I have gone cold turkey on this thing but it always comes back to haunt me, usually around 6pm with a nice gin and tonic. There are many things I would choose for a my last meal on earth but somewhere very high on that list would be a soft, runny and just ripe fromage d'affinois and a creamy young Gorgonzola dolce to bedaub lovingly on a few crunchy crackers. God, I could literally drone on for hours about cheese! I'll stop before this gets awkward...

My Mum shares this love with me. If there is one staple to be found on our table at a drinks party it would be cheese sables. Although when there is a packet in the pantry we all eye them off longingly knowing they are only for guests and are not to be munched on by yours truly at her gastronomic leisure! When the pack is finally released from it's ivory tower they are always pounced on by family and guests alike and the joy is over in minutes. Therefore I decided to make my own cheesy nibble things, the twists melt in your mouth in a muddle of Gruyere and Parmesan while the chili flakes and cracked pepper give them an edge. We always seem to have hundreds of half empty jars of different types of pesto hanging around in our fridge and so these pinwheels are a different way to use them up. Both these recipes are ridiculously easy to make, if i had a pet monkey he would be up here assisting because I almost feel guilty at how simple they are.

Chili Parmesan Twists: This recipe was adapted from the Women's Weekly "How to Cook Absolutely Everything" cookbook.
2 sheets of store bought good quality puff pastry
grated Gruyere cheese (or cheddar if you like but Gruyere has a bit more flavour)
grated Parmesan cheese
freshly cracked black pepper
chili flakes
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Separate the two sheets of pastry and leave them on the kitchen bench covered by a tea towel to thaw. When the pastry is soft, brush one of the sheets with egg and sprinkle a layer of gruyere on top. Sprinkle the chili flakes and black pepper on top of the cheese (according to taste, I would put more than you think is necessary as the flavours become somewhat muted during the baking process.) Lay the other pastry sheet directly on top of the other and brush with egg. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top. Cut the pastry sandwich into approx. 2cm wide strips and then cut them in half. Carefully twist the pastry strips and place on a parchment lined baking tray. Bake in the oven for approx 15 minutes or until the cheese is browned.

Mixed Pesto Pinwheels:
1 sheet of store bought good quality puff pastry
pesto of your choice (I made 3 different kinds of pinwheels, basil pesto with chopped cashew nuts, tomato and olive and sundried tomato)
parmesan cheese
freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Cut the thawed sheet of pastry in half. Spread a different kind of pesto on each half of the pastry (there is no need to brush with egg as the pastry has enough oil in it that it will stick.) Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top of the pesto and grind some black pepper over the top. With the long end of the pastry facing you, roll up the sheet making sure the seam of the pastry is on the bottom of the roll. Slice the roll into about 2cm thick slices and sprinkle the upturned face of each wheel with parmesan cheese. Place on a parchment lined baking tray and bake for 15 minutes or until the cheese on top is browned and the pastry is puffed and flakey.

Store both in an airtight container for 3 days and indulge... whenever you want!

Igloo Zoo

The weather in Sydney is becoming super irrational. Rainy one minute boiling the next, and I overheard someone say they are predicting hail. Luckily there is a suitably delicious antidote to the weather's PMS... NATURAL FROZEN YOGHURT! Igloo zoo is it's name, "super-chilled yoghurt" is it's game. A suitable antidote to any (even non-weather related) ailment you might be afflicted with in fact.

Natural, green tea or pomegranate flavored all-natural yoghurt and an abundance of toppings from organic white chocolate to crumble to coconut, I could go back there everyday for a month and still have a new combination. Red fruit compote with crumble is my pick, or meringue and mini m'n'm, or mango and milk chocolate, passionfruit and cookie, endless opportunities of summer delight!

London was packed with these kind of ice-cream alternative places, Snog being one of the best ones. It's fantastic to see a city like Sydney finally cottoning on to the trend of healthy DIY desert, I don't think Bondi could handle another ice-cream parlour with nothing more exciting than cookie dough.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Vegetarian Sausage Rolls

Australia Day! One of my favorite days, mainly because it involves lots of beer drinking, pool bathing, triple J listening and spa water splashing. But also because it involves pretty good food. Australians have a pretty big obsession with lamb; lamb chops, lamb sausages, lamb anything. To tell you the truth, i'm pretty sick of lamb! And I know its hardly Australian to make vegetarian sausage rolls on Australia day but they are just SO good. They are so hearty they kind of taste meaty anyway. The boys even liked them which was great since i know too many boys that nearly throw up at the mention of anything vegetarian. Bourke st Bakery in Sydney's Surry Hills makes the most delicious sausage rolls, vegetarian and not, and I looked absolutely everywhere for the recipe but couldn't find it! So these are an improvised version.

The herbs are one of the stars in these crispy rolls. It's really important to use fresh ones and not the dried kind from a bottle. Fresh makes all the difference in pretty much any situation anyway. The mint really lifts the flavor into the summery stratosphere. Perfect washed down with something cold and beer-like and followed by a little sweet, sugary puff of a cupcake courtesy of my friend Nivo.

Vegetarian Sausage Rolls:
2 slices fresh wholemeal bread
400g tin chickpeas-rinsed and drained
1 zucchini (about 500g weight)
1 medium sized carrot
2 chopped cloves of garlic
0.5 cup cashew nuts
1 cup quick oats
0.75 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used sweet basil, flat leaf parsley and mint)
4 spring onions-finely sliced
150g grated haloumi cheese - or any cheese of your taste, goats might be nice
1 egg lightly beaten
salt and pepper
4 sheets (approx) frozen puff pastry
1 egg (extra for brushing) lightly beaten

Defrost pastry in packet. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (fan forced). Process bread, chickpeas, zucchini, carrot, garlic and cashew nuts in food processor until very finely chopped. Place in a large bowl. Add oats, mixed herbs, spring onions, cheese, egg, salt and pepper and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined. Let mixture sit for 30-40 minutes in the fridge. Cut each sheet of pastry in half (as you need it or pastry will dry out). With the long edge in front of you, place one eighth of the mixture along the long edge of this half sheet in a log shape. Brush the Farthest side of the pastry with the beaten egg. Carefully roll up the pastry enclosing the mixture. Gently cut each long roll into 4 equal parts. Make sure the pastry seam is pressed together and place on a parchment lined baking tray leaving 2 cm between each roll. With a knife make three scores on the top of each roll and brush with beaten egg. Decorate with pumpkin seeds or sesame seeds (or whatever you like!). Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 150 degrees C and bake until the rolls are golden brown. Makes 32 vegetarian rolls.

Chocolate Ginger Chews

I've been on a bit of a baking frenzy since i've come home. Being the 'yet to be employed' girl that I currently am, most mornings start off with a bowl of soggy cereal in front of re-runs of Friends on Foxtel. I look over at my sister Alice when she asks 'so what are we doing today?', smile, slam the bowl of wheat-bix on the table and say 'BAKE!' I never would have thought that one of the things I would miss most while traveling is our oven, its not even a particularly spectacular oven, just the regular kind that never gets cleaned quite enough (my fault i know, mum). So even in the 35 degree heat, that oven has been beating out a minimum of 180 most days. Makes for a shiny brow indeed.

I came across this recipe in the OCT/NOV 2009 issue of Donna Hay magazine, hiding under the growing pile of old television guides on our coffee table. It's a damn delicious issue with no less than 10 cookie recipes. I have a major crush on gingerbread and missed out on the gingerbread house at christmas this year so in order to keep the cravings at bay, we made these chocolate ginger chews. They were not so much chewy as they were soft, which isn't such a bad thing (probably could have left them in the oven a bit longer). The dark chocolate thankfully doesn't drown out the ginger which tastes just that little bit spicy, while the sugar on top gives it the tiny bit of crunch it needs. I ate two, went out, came back and they were gone!

Chocolate Ginger Chews:
150g butter, softened
0.5 cup (90g) brown sugar
0.5 cup (175g) golden syrup
1.25 teaspoons ground ginger, sifted
1.50 cups (225g) plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
0.25 cup (25g) cocoa, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda, sifted
200g dark chocolate, chopped
0.5 cup (110g) white sugar, for rolling

Place the butter, brown sugar and golden syrup in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for 8-10 minutes or until pale and creamy. Add the ginger, flour, cocoa and baking soda and beat until a smooth dough forms. Add the chocolate and mix until well combined. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes or until firm.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. (fan forced). Roll two tablespoons of the dough into balls at a time and roll in the white sugar. Place on baking trays lined with non-stick baking paper, leaving room to spread. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the surfaces crack. Allow to cool on wire racks. makes approx. 24.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pecan Surgery

My sister Maddie loves pecan pie SO much that with the utmost constraint and enviable force of willpower, allows herself only one serving a year. She is absolutely sure that if she breaks the rules and indulges perhaps twice then she will come to detest pecan pie, which would be a dire tragedy. As for me; the sister with no such willpower to speak of, I tuck into the gooey, caramel coated nut gift from the gods, a much higher (confidential) number of occasions a year. Since it's January and the new year has come and gone I persuaded Maddie to let me bake her favorite desert (even if it does mean she has to wait a whole year to get another mouthful).

Now, being the complete over enthusiasts that my two sisters and I most definitely are, we rushed into the whole pastry thing without really reading the finite details. Too busy stuffing ourselves with roasted pecans. Pastry, when done right, is the cornerstone of any pie or tart. A crispy pastry edge should be the morsel that you save on your plate to be your last mouthful, the one that will influence your memory of the whole dinner. If pastry is done wrong, then no matter how delicious the filling is, it will be worthless. Blind baking the pie shell should be the easiest part right? Well.... maybe for some.

Here's a tip. When you blind bake pastry, as this recipe calls for, remember to put a circle of baking parchment down on the base of the shell before you pour in the rice or baking beans. Failing this step, we spent the good part of an hour scraping and literally tweezing (with clean tweezers mind you, eyebrow hairs safely removed) out grains of rice that had fused themselves into our delicious golden pastry shell. Not the most exciting way to spend your afternoon! My youngest sister, Alice, who has just gotten into Medical School (yay!) will at least now get top marks in class for pulling glass or cactus prickles out of patients bottoms or something, glad i could help, Alice! Personally I think it's a breakthrough, pecan pie-rice pudding anyone? no? Maybe some day.

Other than that minor hiccup, this pie is delicious. Soft in the center just as you would expect of the sticky, molten caramel mixture. Pre-roasting the nuts for the filling helps give it a bit more oomph and if you find a grain of rice in your pastry it's good luck!

The recipe for this pie was adapted slightly from both the 'Leiths Cookery Bible' for the filling, and the 'Australian Women's Weekly' cookbook: 'How to Cook Absolutely Everything' for the pastry. The Leiths recipe called for lard for the shell but I think we can all do with a little less lard after the holiday season, yes?

1.5 cups (225g) plain flour
0.5 cup (110g) caster sugar
140g cold unsalted butter, chopped
1 egg, beaten lightly

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. In a food processor, process lightly flour, sugar and butter until crumbly; add egg and process until ingredients just come together, still in crumble form. With your hands, form the mixture into a ball, wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Grease a 24cm round (I like the one with the scalloped edge) loose-based flat tin. Roll out the pastry between two sheets of baking parchment until about 1cm thick and wide enough to fit into the pastry tin. If the pastry is a little moist and looks like its about to tear when you are pulling the parchment off, rub a little flour onto its surface. Lift the Dough into the tin and press into the sides. Trim the sides so there is no overhanging pastry and prick the base with a fork. Place the tin on an oven tray; cover pastry with baking parchment (don't forget!)and fill with uncooked rice or beans. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove parchment and beans and bake for a further 5 minutes until shell is browned slightly. Cool.

450g pecan nuts
4 eggs
225g soft light brown sugar
170g golden syrup
0.5 teaspoon salt
55g unsalted butter, melted
teaspoon vanilla essence
2 tablespoons plain flour, sifted

Turn the oven temp up to 200 degrees Celsius. Chop half the pecan nuts, saving the other half (the better looking half) for the topping, and bake the chopped nuts in an oven for 8 minutes or until fragrant and lightly browned. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Stir in the sugar, golden syrup, salt, melted butter and vanilla essence. Stir in the flour, making sure there are no lumps of flour in the mixture. Stir in the chopped nuts and pour into the pastry case. Arrange the remaining halved pecan nuts on top. Bake on a hot baking sheet in the oven for 10 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 170 degrees Celsius and bake for a further 30-40 minutes, or until the center is just set. Serve warm or cold.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Borough Markets - London

So, when I drag my boyfriend to markets such as the incredible Borough Markets in central London, and squeal with delight about the "shiny fresh vegetables!!, look at the eggplants, Ed!" he doesn't exactly run over to the piled high tomatoes and start sniffing them with joy. I guess he acts like any normal person would. But after spending countless hours meandering through the French, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian, Turkish and many other nation's food markets, I can't do supermarket produce anymore. Call me a carrot snob but after seeing all this wonderful organically grown, fresh-as-a-daisy-never-come-close-to-a-deep-freeze produce its hard to walk into Woolworths and find anything remotely appealing about grey tinged capsicums. These places supply me with everything I love about food shopping, testers - SO many testers! Most shoppers don't have that strained, rushed look that seems to be ever present on shoppers in supermarkets and the smell and general atmosphere is as palpably positive as a..... clam? are clams happy? who knows.

As you walk through the stalls of the Borough Markets the scent of melted Raclette cheese sandwiches, Paella, warm croissants and mulled wine saturates your brain, causes your jaw to drop and your mouth to water. The heaped Portuguese tarts practically scream "bite the hell out of me" and don't get me started about the artisan cheese stand. Haloumi patties grilled with grated carrot, coriander and sesame seeds on a 9-grain bun with homemade tomato chutney and basil pesto is enough to send you into a gastronomic pleasure coma. If your in London by any chance, get your straw shopping basket out and spend a few hours filling it, and your tummy, with some of the best produce to be found. Go! now!