Friday, March 26, 2010

Fresh Crumpets

A little birdy told me something the other day, it told me ever so sweetly that people are actually cooking from this blog!

I'm so happy, thrilled and excited about this. More than anything, I want you; gorgeous, wonderful readers, to take inspiration away from what I write here. It makes me so happy to know that some of you are cooking, baking, adapting and changing the recipes. I didn't want to create a blog that was like everything else out there. I want to create things that you wouldn't normally think to make, like these crumpets for instance. I've heard people exclaim that they didn't even know you could make crumpets from scratch, well i'm here to tell you that yes you certainly can, even if it does take you all day!

This post is dedicated to all the people who read this thing. Thanks for being so supportive and thank you for motivating me to keep creating new things that you want to eat and read about. If you ever have a suggestion of something you would like to see me attempt, then please let me know. I love feedback.

Back to the crumpets.

I'm not going to fib and tell you that these were so easy and you could whip them up in a spare half an hour. Because that would be a big fat pork-pie-lie! They did take me a while, half a day in fact. Which I certainly wasn't planning on. I could have easily popped down to the supermarket and grabbed myself a bag, but it I could easily do that with anything couldn't I! Plus I wanted to challenge the yeast packet to a duel.

You all know about my fear of yeast. I had been putting it off for so long that it was finally time to give it a crack. It wasn't that bad after all, although it was rather unpredictable. And it did try to climb up my electric mixer. Just as I thought it would, (it didn't try to suffocate me in my sleep though, that was a plus). It wasn't helpful that I only had one appropriately sized egg ring too therefore I had to fry them one by one, which doubled the time.

At the end of all the tomfoolery emerged golden, soft, beautiful crumpets that i'm seriously proud of. They taste a million times better than store-bought ones and are well worth the extra effort. Toast them as you would normal crumpets and smear with butter and honey. Perfection.

Fresh Crumpets:
Adapted From Bill Granger's 'Sydney' Cookbook

1.5 cups milk
1.5 teaspoons sugar
7g sachet dried yeast
375g plain flour
a pinch of salt
0.5 teaspoon bicarb soda (baking soda)

Pour the milk into a saucepan and heat until just warm. Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl and stir in the sugar and yeast. (Do not have the milk too hot or it will kill the yeast.) Allow to stand for 10 minutes or until the milk starts to bubble.

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Gradually add the milk to the flour and beat with electric beaters until completely smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and stand in a warm place for 1-1.5 hours, or until doubled in volume and full of air bubbles.

Mix the bicarb soda with 200ml luke warm water, and use electric beaters to combine with batter. Let stand for half an hour until bubbles form on the surface.

Heat a heavy based frying pan over medium heat and brush with melted butter. LIghtly grease four 4 metal rings, 8cm in diameter and 3cm deep, and put into the pan. Spoon approximately 3 tablespoons of the batter into each ring. Cook over very low heat for 5 minutes or until the surface is full of large bubbles and a skin has formed. Loosen the rings (I slid a knife around the inside edge of mine) and turn over to cook the other side until lightly golden. Remove the crumpets from the pan and stand on a wire rack covered with a tea towel while cooking the remaining batter. Serve the crumpets fresh or toasted, dripping with butter and honey.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Orange Blossom Mini Meringues

If you're anything like me, you will find it nearly impossible to eat a meal without following it with something sweet. Even if it's something tiny, its really damn hard to think about anything else but a quick sugar fix. No matter how perfect, how wonderfully scrumptious your meal may be, it's never complete without some sweetness. Well these tiny, chewy meringues will nip that craving right in the bottom!

I was traipsing through the supermarket for rather a long time last week searching for rose water (This is Bridget Jones for Sit Up Britain, searching for rosewater), and found none! A rosewater famine, people! Although I did find some rose pink food colouring that creates a lovely blush colour, an unlikely compromise.

I impulsively wandered into the "Wild Food" market and saw a small bottle of orange blossom water, an ingredient usually found and used in Middle Eastern desserts. It has a taste that you can't quite put your finger on... it lingers at the back of your mind and you know you have tasted it before but you can't remember where. More complex and sweeter than rosewater, I like it a whole bunch more. A jar of these little rosy tinged babies will transform your afternoon cup of tea, into afternoon delight!

Orange Blossom Mini Meringues:

Makes about 30 meringues

3 egg whites
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 drops "rose pink" liquid food colouring
1.5 teaspoons orange blossom water

Preheat oven to 120 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment. Whip egg whites with the salt in a clean, dry bowl until soft peaks form. Add the orange water and the food colouring. Gradually add the sugar and continue whipping until the mixture is glossy, very thick and all the sugar has dissolved - check this by rubbing a little bit in between your fingers, if it is smooth then the sugar has dissolved. Spoon the mixture using a large metal spoon into a piping bag with a zig-zag nozzle. Carefully pipe little meringues onto the baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes, turn off the oven and let them cool completely in the oven with the door slightly ajar for about 45 minutes. Keep in an airtight container.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mussels Provençal

I don't have big muscles. The Girl With The Bird Arms, that's me.

There are a few activities that have been put in place to change this situation; pilates, and mussel eating. Pilates is all well and good but i've heard that if you eat mussels you gain muscles, and that's the aim of my game. I want to arm wrestle! And win!

People may disagree and say that pump class is the way to go but for now i'm going to stick to these little molluscs, they are much more tasty than a sweaty gym mat.

The hardest thing about cooking mussels is de-bearding them. That is, pulling off the little hair-like growth sprouting on the side of the shell. After you have done that and rinsed them you are good to go. Chop some garlic, onions and chilli, splash some wine and diced tomatoes in the mix and presto dinner is ready. And a healthy dinner at that.

Mussels Provençal:
Serves 4

2kg fresh black mussels
1/2 brown onion, diced
1 garlic clove, diced
1 chilli, de-seeded
1.5 cups dry white wine
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 tablespoons olive oil
chopped fresh basil, to serve

Saute onions, garlic and chilli in a large pot for 2-3 mintes until soft. Add cherry tomatoes and cook for a further 2 minutes until blistered. Add mussels, white wine and can of tomatoes and stir until coated. Place the lid on the pot and leave for 4-5 minutes or until all the mussel shells are opened. Discard any shells that are not opened (as they are not fit to eat), sprinkle some chopped fresh basil and serve immediately.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Flourless Chocolate and Hazelnut Cake

I've just realised something. At our house, we do not only have one Bill Granger cookbook, not even two. We have FIVE! Goodness me. I was searching for the recipe for this cake that I baked a while ago and it took me forever because I had to flip through all of them. Of course the recipe was in the last one I looked at. Typical. Granger must be onto something good if he has persuaded various members of our family to spend all that cash on pretty much every book he has ever written.

Flourless cakes are fantastic because they are packed with flavour. No morsel of taste is lost on plain flour, instead the hazelnut meal creates a dense, moist and rich cake that is a serious winner. I'm not sure if I have told you this before, but there is nothing I dislike more in the food world than Sponge Cake. Gross. It is always so dry and sticks to the roof of your mouth and in your teeth and ew ew ew. Not a fan. It reminds me of those stale cakes that you see on the tables at the end of a Grandparent's afternoon tea or picnic, around five o'clock when the air has dried it out so much that the ants don't even want a bar of it. I always had sorbet birthday cakes as a kid because I would never eat the sponge. You wouldn't eat a sea sponge would you? So why on earth would you eat something that looks, tastes and is named after one? I have no idea.

Anyway, enough ranting. This cake is the antithesis of the sponge. It lasts forever without drying out and is so rich it will satisfy your chocolate cravings for days to come. Dust a bit of icing sugar, pile up some fresh raspberries and you are good to go! Give your Granny a slice of this and she will forget all about sponge.

Flourless Chocolate and Hazelnut Cake:
Inspired by Bill Granger's 'Holiday' Cookbook

Serves 8.

200g dark chocolate, chopped
125g unsalted butter
225g brown sugar
100g hazelnut meal (ground hazelnuts)
5 eggs separated
1 tablespoon sifted icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line the base and sides of a 20cm spring-form pan (make sure you use baking parchment because mine stuck to the pan, thus we can to cut it out in quarters)

Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (making sure the base of the bowl is not touching the water or the chocolate might burn). Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter have melted. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Add the sugar and hazelnut meal to the melted chocolate and stir until there are no lumps. Add the egg yolks one at a time, stirring well after each addition. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until firm peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.

Spoon the mixture into the tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until firm. Leave to cool completely in the tin before removing the sides of the tin. Dust the top with icing sugar and serve with raspberries and fresh cream.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Olive and Veal Meatballs

I've tried and failed with meatballs. Too dry, too bland, too big, too small, you name it. I think i'm finally onto a winner recipe! Soaking the bread in the milk rather than putting the two ingredients into the mix separately is the key here. Using bread rather than crackers makes for a stunningly moist meatball.

The best and tastiest meatballs i've ever had are at Bill and Toni's in Sydney's Darlinghurst. Here the menu is simple, no-fuss, giant portions of good quality Italian on the cheap. They even give you free cordial and bread! I love cordial, there is not enough cordial in my life today. The meatballs served up at this local favourite are about as big as a wrestler's fist. They are bursting with flavour it is almost impossible to comprehend.

These meatballs are something like that. The olives give them a salty edge and using veal instead of chicken or beef mince is a nice change from the ordinary. The best antidote for the inevitable sunday-night-weekend-is-over depression is a big chunky bowl of meatballs and pasta.

Olive and Veal Meatball Spaghetti:
Adapted from

I tablespoon olive oil
1 slice fresh white bread, crusts removed
1 tablespoon milk
400g veal mince
1/4 cup chopped black olives
1 egg yolk
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1.5 teaspoons salt and pepper
chopped flat leaf parsley

Soak the bread in the milk and tear into small pieces when the milk is absorbed. In a bowl, combine torn bread, mince, olives, egg, garlic, salt and pepper and mix well. Roll into balls and cook in oil in a hot frying pan for 4-5 minutes. Toss through Spaghetti with a tomato sauce of your choice. Fold through parsley and serve with grated parmesan cheese.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Taste of Sydney Festival 2010

Wow. Food coma.

I had the most incredible day on Friday! The food circus, aka The Taste Of Sydney Festival was in town. The annual event gives festival-goers the chance to taste the signature dishes of some of Sydney's finest restaurants, for a third of the price. All the big players were there; Aria, Berowra Waters, Jonah's at Whale Beach, Becasse, Longrain, and Guillaume at Bennelong amongst others. Walking into the Centennial Park site was like walking into a food paradise, playground and wonderland all rolled into one. The sun was shining and the cocktails were chilled and you should have seen the smile on our faces.

My mum and I spent a long time contemplating the menu before we even left the house, I didn't want to miss out on anything and wanted to taste everything. First we strolled up to Jonah's at Whale Beach to taste George Francisco's Alba White Truffle Popcorn.

It looks just like normal cinema popcorn doesn't it? I can tell you this popcorn has never seen the inside of a Hoyts. WOW. Before we even reached the Jonah's stall we could smell the scent of truffles on the wind. It was like nothing I had ever tasted before. I always find it difficult to explain the taste of truffles to somebody who has never tried them before. (Ed thinks they taste like detergent). Earthy, rich, dark and mysterious these truffle-infused bursts of flavour are something I'm going to try at home.

Next we headed over to Berowra Waters to sample the Chilled Vichyssoise with Salmon Caviar and Hawksbury River Oyster Beignets. My Mum chose this one and it isnt something I would normally select from a menu but I'm very glad we did. The Vichyssoise was light, fluffy and foam-like (one of the many foam creations on offer this year), with tiny bursts of salty caviar. However the Oyster Beignets were the winner of this dish. Nestled on a bed of warm leek puree the oysters were lightly flash fried and all the creamier for it. I never really chew oysters when I eat them but I was savouring the flavour of these and wished there were three more on the plate.

The Australian Gourmet Traveller Taste Kitchen was headed up by Giovanni Pilu, head chef at Pilu at Freshwater. He was so funny! He was demonstrating a mushroom risotto and I picked up so many tips. From now on I will let the stock sit on top of the rice and soak through for 10 minutes, not start stirring straight away or it will stick to the bottom. Also I will heat the wine, never done that before. A collective groan rippled through the crowd when he added a humungous knob of butter as a finishing touch. Delish.

After wondering around tasting free samples of salt and pepper soft shell crab and dulce de leche panna cotta from City Tattersalls Club (you know that place you always hear on the radio but never visit?) and peachy coctails from the Longrain cocktail bar, we decided it was time for a main course. Me? I chose the 12 hour slow cooked lamb with minted crushed peas and feta dressing courtesy of Colin Fassnidge at the Four in Hand. The peas were not really minty enough for me and the fetta dressing could have been more acidic to combat the sweetness of the peas but the lamb was cooked perfectly. Mama had the Paella a la Maestre from El Toro Loco, every time the Paella was ordered the waitstaff would bellow Paeeeeeelllllaaaa at the top of their lungs to the chef Miguel Maestre to serve it up. He's pretty crazy, dancing around and clapping his hands and singing like the crazy bull his restaurant is coined after.

Dessert. The course that took the longest to decide upon. I seriously could NOT decide between the dark chocolate cherry ripe from the Four in Hand, the vanilla panna cotta with lavender honey and pomegranate from Jonah's, the macaroons from Guillaume or the cheesecake foam from Berowra Waters. Such an amazing selection! Luckily Mum doesn't mind sharing or we would have had a serious dilemma on our hands. I decided on the cheesecake foam with late summer fruits and white chocolate. I always imagine "foam" to have the consistency of sea water foam, very loose, light and disappears within a second of passing your lips. Cheesecake is traditionally very heavy so I was curious to see how Dietmar Sawyere from Berowra would handle transforming it into something light. The result was less sea foam, more whipped mouse, which is fine with me! (can't imagine how unsatisfying sea water cheesecake foam would be). It retained it's gorgeous, silky cream cheese flavour layered with white chocolate sponge, plums and nectarine chunks and champagne jelly at the base. Mum said it reminded her of trifle, which is pretty true.

Mum gave in to my whining and ordered the vanilla panna cotta with lavender honey and fresh pomegranate. Apart from slightly resembling a pointy nipple it was incredible. It was smooth, glossy with the consistency of satin. The contrast between the lavender honey and the sour bubbles of pomegranate was perfection. Plus I managed to score the recipe too! Expect to see it up here in the near future.

We just couldn't walk past Guillaume at Bennelong without buying some macaroons, so temptingly displayed in a bright, heavy pile. We put them in a bag for later and i'm sad to say they died a horrible death by squashing. A tragedy. Although don't assume that we didn't eat the squashed remnants from the bag. Because we went there.

Over all it was a spectacular day and I recommend it to anyone. There is nowhere else you will be able to try an entree from Jonah's, a main from the Four in Hand and a desert from Berowra Waters in one afternoon.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Fig and Walnut Biscotti

Something crunchy, something sweet and reminiscent of apple pie. Something with a blush of spice, begging to be dipped in warm, sweet tea. Have the cravings started yet? These will get you out of your bikini and beside a roaring fire. Your house will smell like Christmas! Get out those dried figs that have been sitting on the shelf of your pantry since someone brought them over as a dinner party gift three months ago. If they deserve to be anywhere they deserve to be in these, you wouldn't want to deprive them of their destiny... would you?

There are always biscuits around in our house. Whether they are the Arnotts family pack or the hundreds of varieties concocted on a sunday afternoon with leftover butter, they are always there. No cup of tea goes without cookie in this neck of the woods. Although I can't say I have ever double baked a biscuit before. Slicing up a loaf of baked dough was new to me. One day in Italy I accidentally ate a whole bag of almond biscotti without even realising... but i've never attempted baking it. It wasn't as complicated as I imagined! Phew, now I can eat it whenever, wherever. Minus the $1500 plane ride to Italy.

Fig and Walnut Biscotti:
Adapted from

Makes approximately 24 biscotti

1 cup walnut pieces
1 cup dried figs, quartered
85g unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
6 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon. ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown and fragrant. Allow to cool completely. Place the walnuts and dried figs in a food processor and process until they are finely chopped. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula occasionally. Beat in the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Beat the dry ingredients into the butter mixture to form a somewhat firm dough. Add the walnuts and figs and beat until thoroughly combined. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic and chill 35 to 40 minutes or until completely firm. Line a baking sheet with parchment. When the dough has chilled, use your palms to roll the piece of dough into a log the length of the baking sheet. Place the log on the baking sheet.

In a small bowl, beat the egg white with a fork until frothy. With a pastry brush, glaze the log with some egg white and sprinkle it with granulated sugar. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the log is lightly golden brown, firm to the touch and just beginning to crack slightly. Allow the log to cool on the cookie sheet until cool to the touch, about 40 minutes. With a serrated knife, slice the biscotti, slightly on the bias, into 1/2-inch slices. Lay the slices on the cookie sheet in single layer (I always end up needing a second baking sheet in this step, as they have a lot more surface area); Return the biscotti to the oven and cook for 30 more minutes, or until the biscotti are toasted and crisp.

Store the biscotti in an airtight container. They will keep up to about 2 weeks.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Eggplant and Chickpea Puttanesca

Well The Rower is off to the rowing nationals today so it's Kirsty and me all alone. Jumped at the chance not to have to eat meat! This dish is a take on pasta Puttanesca using chickpeas instead of spaghetti and adding in some sliced eggplant. I seem to be on a slight chickpea rampage these days, I have a gorgeous salad which I will put up sooner or later. They are endlessly versatile, these little straw coloured pearls will get you through hummus, salads, pasta, whatever. They take a damn long time to boil so I mostly use canned ones which save you about an hour in cooking time, and there is no real difference in taste. You will love this one though, when you have run out of, or are achingly sick of pasta, this will help.

Anyway I'm still nannying, it's been a long two weeks of playing mother. Everything has been fine except for the dogs, who when they aren't following me around all day or staring at me menacingly from the corner, are FARTING their tails off. It's making me feel a bit sick. It's been delightful having an excuse to bake yummy things since the kids don't seem to mind sampling everything. Also some good news, I've landed myself a real live job! An editorial assistant at Gourmet Traveller Magazine. I'm so excited. People there talk about food and wine all day and know all the new and great restaurants and bars. Heaven!

Eggplant and Chickpea Puttanesca:

1 can large can chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
1 medium eggplant, sliced and quartered
half a white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium sized red chilli, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
4 pickled anchovies
1 quater cup pitted kalamata olives
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
half a cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon mixed spice
chopped flat leaf parsley
grated parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a medium sized saucepan on medium heat. Saute the garlic, onion and chilli for 3 minutes or until soft. Add the eggplant and anchovies and saute for a further 2 minutes. Add the wine, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, olives, capers, spices and chickpeas. Stir and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the sauce has thickened ladle into bowls and sprinkle with cheese and parsley.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Chai Spiced Rice Pudding

My rice pudding was impregnated. Not the best phrase you want to hear when your contemplating rice pudding now is it. It was all going so well, and the beautiful, lightly Chai spiced desert had to go and get herself knocked up didn't she! Who knows who the father is. I'm very disappointed. I was very, very alarmed when I peeked into the oven, expecting a mouth-watering, golden rice pudding, and saw this...

Eeeeek! It actually wasn't that bad. I popped it. Very satisfying.

I have never had much luck with my rice pudding adventures. I really prefer the baked variety although every time I try to make it the darn thing always takes about three times longer than specified to set. I really don't get it. It could have been something to do with the depth of the dish that I used. A wider and more shallow one would have probably been more effective. But I didn't have one on hand when I was preparing this. Therefore the pudding literally stayed in the oven for about 2 hours, rather than 40 minutes as the recipe calls for. After all that checking and frowning... and checking and frowning again... the custard had finally set, but the rice at the bottom was so thick and dry that it really just wasn't great. The top 5 cm were delicious though. So there's a tip for next time. Shallow dish.

I was inspired to flavour the rice pudding (which turned out to be the best part) with tea bags from a gorgeous baking blog called 17 and Baking, who had created a rice pudding flavoured with jasmine tea. I'm a Chai fanatic and it really, really works with this dish. You can really use any flavour tea you like, you just pop them into the milk and cream on the stove and let them infuse. Just like a Chai Latte in a meal!

Chai Spiced Rice Pudding:
Adapted from both 17 and Baking and

2 cups (500ml) milk
300ml thin cream
1/2 cup (110g) medium grain (calrose) rice, rinsed, drained
1/2 cup (100g) caster sugar
2 Chai tea bags (I like the Lipton blend best)
Pinch of ground nutmeg, plus extra to sprinkle
1 tablespoon honey
2 egg yolks

Preheat oven to 160°C. Combine milk, cream, rice, sugar, tea bags and honey in a medium saucepan. Cook over meduim heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until it reaches a simmer. Remove from heat and set aside for 15 minutes to infuse.
Remove and discard the tea bags. Add egg yolks and stir to combine. Pour rice mixture into a 4 cup (1 litre) capacity ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with extra nutmeg. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes or until rice is tender and custard is set. Remove from oven and set aside for 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm.