Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shattering Honeycomb

We all know how Nigella Lawson likes to sexify cooking. Using words like "glistening", "oozing", "luxurious" and "glorious".

Well she described this honeycomb recipe of hers as resulting in "glinting shards of shattering honeycomb". I hate to admit it but that's exactly what I ended up with. There really is no other way to describe it, or talk about it. All I can give you is the guarantee that if you give this to your friends, they will be friends for life. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Shattering Honeycomb:
Thanks to the delicious Nigella Lawson and her "How to Be a Domestic Goddess"

200g caster sugar
4 tablespoons golden syrup
1 tablespoon bicarb soda

Grease a 21cm square tin generously with butter. Off the heat, mix the sugar and golden syrup in a heavy bottomed saucepan, then put over a medium to low flame and simmer for 3-4 minutes. The mixture is ready to come off the heat when it's a thick bubbling mass, the colour of rusty caramel - no darker.

Take off the heat and quickly whisk in the bicarb and watch the caramel foam up in a sudsy and opaque golden cloud. Pour into the tin and leave to set. This takes a few hours. Then you can try and cut it but the best way of treating this is to bash it into pieces.

You can dip it in chocolate if you like, or sprinkle onto ice cream.

Slow Roasted Tomato, Lentil and Fennel Soup

When will the real Autumn come! Everyday I try on a different jacket then end up taking it off ten minutes later, red in the face with the heat. I have a theory that if you start wearing summer clothes in Spring the weather will warm up. So maybe if I start making Autumn style foods now then perhaps it will cool down just a smidge and I won't feel so silly about eating soup while its 26 degrees.

I went through a stage about a year ago. Just like one of those phases children go through where they don't take off their batman costume for a month, or they cut all their hair off or refuse to eat anything that doesn't start with the letter B (i've also known adults to take this up). Anyway my particular brand of phase was lentil obsession. Lentils, lentils, lentils all the time, lentil salads, soups, bakes, pastas, any recipe I could get my hand on. They are just so terrific for you and keep you full between lunch and dinner. I think I overdid it just a touch and couldn't stand the sight of them for a good six months. Well now I'm back on the lentil brick road and you should join me.

Slow roasting tomatoes allows the flavours to caramelise and intensify much more than boiling them or using canned ones. I also prefer to use the whole tomato, seeds and all, to capture every ounce of flavour. Roasting whole garlic has the same effect and squeezing out the warm, golden, sweet roast garlic is a wonderful simple pleasure. Fennel and tomato go together like Sonny and Cher, keep this in your freezer for a cold(er) day. Until then, i'll keep trying on jackets.

Slow Roasted Tomato, Lentil and Fennel Soup:
Adapted From My Own Brain

5 ripe tomatoes, halved
1/4 brown onion, finely diced
3 whole un-peeled garlic cloves
1 can lentils, rinsed and drained
1 cup chicken stock
3/4 teaspoon ground fennel seeds (grind them in a pestle and mortar if you have one on hand)
salt and pepper to taste
basil sprig to garnish

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C. Place the garlic and tomatoes skin side down on a parchment lined baking tray and sprinkle them with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Bake for one hour and ten minutes until the tomatoes are very soft.

Saute the onion in a large pot with some olive oil until browned. Peel the garlic cloves to reveal the soft garlic inside and place in a food processor with the tomatoes and the stock. Pulse to a puree (but not too smooth) and add to the pot with the onions. Stir over medium heat and add lentils, crushed fennel seeds and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 10 minutes and serve with a sprig of fresh basil and crusty bread. Keep in a sealed container in the fridge or freezer.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Salted Caramel Popcorn

Salted caramel is unlike anything else. It adds depth to sweetness and imparts an intense flavour that reminds me of nearly burnt sugar, the caramelised, ultra-chewy type that you find on the edge of homemade caramel slice.

Everyone has popped popcorn out of those microwave bags. I'm not saying they're not great because they are! There is not a lot better than shovelling piping hot, buttery, salty popcorn into your mouth while glued to a trashy - albeit excellent - reality TV show such as My Kitchen Rules. I remember eating popcorn bars at school drizzled with caramel and chocolate (that smelled slightly of white-out which I thought was quite cool rather than extremely gross). Although popcorn popped from plain kernels is pretty bland if there's no extra ingredient to give it a lift. Incoming salty condensed milk. A huge amount of caramel corn is a bit sickening after a while, but somehow the salt stops all that and increases the desire to keep going until you burst!

Here's a tip. When you pop your kernels in your pan, don't stand there watching and waiting for them to pop without fitting the lid on tightly. Yours truly did something like that and BOOM the teeny weeny little kernels burst like grenades, causing me to jump five feet into the air, scattering corn everywhere and screeching like a little girl, mum laughing at me from the kitchen table. I would definitely recommend the use of that lid, I guarantee that the corn will pop without supervision.

Salted Caramel Popcorn:
Adapted from Bill Granger's "Holiday"

makes about 10 cupfuls

75g popping corn
200ml sweetened condensed milk
110g brown sugar
110g caster sugar
80g salted butter
sea salt for sprinkling

Pop the corn in a pan or in the microwave, following instructions on the packet. This should make about 10 cupfuls of popcorn. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C. Put the popcorn in a large heatproof bowl and line two large baking trays with paper.

Put the condensed milk, brown sugar, caster sugar and butter in a saucepan over low heat and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minute to make caramel. Pour over the popcorn until the popcorn is just coated. If there is caramel left over don't just pour it over the popcorn because it will become soggy, only use as much as you need. Grind some sea salt over the popcorn to taste, and stir with a wooden spoon.

Spread the popcorn onto the baking trays. Put the trays into the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the popcorn is golden brown, stirring it occasionally to break up the clumps. Allow to cool completely on the trays before serving.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pictorial Ode to the Easter Egg

There are nothing quite like Easter Eggs,
to soften your heart,
and fatten your legs.

There are nothing quite like Easter Eggs,
stuffed in the mail box,
and under beer kegs.

There are nothing quite like Easter Eggs,
melted by the sun,
or chilled in a fridge by SMEG

(p.s I want a fridge from Smeg. Yum)


What on earth are these? I found them in the Plumer Road Grocer and had never seen the before in my life! They are none other than KiwiBerries. A cross between a kiwi, a fig and a grape. Smooth skinned so you can pop them in your mouth without having to spoon out the fruit from the inside. They taste nearly exactly like regular kiwifruit, except for a slight bitterness thanks to the edible skin.

Albeit being slightly expensive, it was worth it for the feeling people probably got in the past when ships would come into port laden with exotic pineapples and lychees that the population had never seen before. It's pretty rare that we get to see something entirely new these days!

With five times the vitamin C of an orange, twice the vitamin E of an avocado with half the fat, and a whole lot of fibre since you eat the skin, do you need any more excuses to try something new? Go out an buy a punnet, and pray for spikeless pineapples for me.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Rhubarb and Ginger Jam with Cinnamon

We usually have stewed rhubarb in our fridge. For dolloping onto bowls of crunchy muesli, for eating by the spoonful straight out of the hot pot, baked into a crumble or mixed in with a big bowl of thick Greek yoghurt. The stalks of rhubarb had been sitting in our fridge for a while now and were starting to get a bit soft around the edges. Something had to be done about this, and that something was jam.

My Grandpa is a great Grandpa, he's the kind that plays golf, calls you 'Sweetie' and makes his own blackberry jam. The most delicious blackberry jam in the world by the way. I showed him this blog once and i'm not sure if he has read it or not but one day I opened a letter addressed to me and lo and behold - Grandpa's jam recipe! Having never attempted jam before I was pretty excited, and a little alarmed about the sugar content - but we aren't reading a food blog fretting about sugar levels now are we people? Good. There will be no Sweet 'n' Low around these parts I can promise you that much! I am yet to attempt Grandpa's blackberry version (too much pressure) but i'm going to send him a jar of this and see how it measures up.

The combination of rhubarb, ginger and cinnamon is really tangy-licious, It reminds you of stewed rhubarb but with a deeper, spicier fragrance and flavour that will surprise you, it's great on some crusty sourdough or a freshly baked crumpet. I have halved the recipe so it only makes two jars full (just over half a litre) but I thought that was easier than having 4 jars lying around the place.

Rhubarb and Ginger Jam with Cinnamon:
Adapted from Taste.com.au and Grandpa's recipe

500g trimmed rhubarb, washed, cut into 2cm pieces
500g sugar
90ml (3/4 cup) strained fresh orange juice
2 tbs fresh lemon juice
5cm piece fresh ginger, peeled, halved
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Thoroughly wash the preserving jars and lids in hot soapy water and then rinse well. Drain, upside down on a rack, until ready to use.

Combine the rhubarb, sugar, orange and lemon juices, and ginger in a large, wide heavy-based saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves.

Add the cinnamon, stir and increase heat to high and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium and boil gently, stirring occasionally, for 35 minutes or until jam reaches setting point (To test if the jam is at setting point, place a teaspoonful of the mixture on a cold plate and place in the freezer for 1-2 minutes, or until cooled to room temperature. Run your finger through the centre of the mixture - if the surface wrinkles and the mixture remains in 2 separate portions, it is ready.)

Remove the jam from the heat immediately and discard the pieces of ginger. Ladle the jam into the preserving jars, seal and turn upside down for 2 minutes. Turn upright and set aside until cooled completely. Label, date and store in a cool, dark place.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pasta Masterclass

You can buy perfectly delicious pasta these days. You can buy fresh, frozen, dried, gluten free, wholemeal and who knows what else. We are definitely spoilt for choice these days. In Australia it is embarrassingly rare that restaurants craft their own pasta by hand. In Italy it is rare to find a trattoria that doesn't. Even the pasta in the smallest hole in the wall will usually be freshly hand made. In the face of this pasta drought, a great friend of my mother, the Lovely Julia Reed, invited me over to her place for a lesson in Italian cooking (plus an excuse to drag out the pasta maker). It was the best day, lightly dusted with flour from head to toe, I emerged from Julia's home with pillowy gnocchi and lightly straw coloured, delicate linguine. It really wasn't that hard, and the results were improved a thousand fold from store bought San Remo.

Im not usually a huge fan of gnocchi. I find it heavy and a touch too doughy for my liking, it is rare that I am able to get through a whole bowl without feeling like i've been stuffed with marshmallows. This gnocchi was something completely different. I didn't even have to chew it, it melted in my mouth within seconds, leaving a slight hint of nutmeg in it's wake.

The linguine was so wafer thin that when dried, it snapped with the slightest touch (resulting in half of mine snapping onto the floor, tear.) We laid it as a bed for Osso Bucco and it worked very well indeed to sop up the juices.

First for the linguine.

Julia, a huge wholemeal flour fan - and rightfully so, since its a winner in anything else - thought plain flour works best when making pasta, as wholemeal can sometimes be too heavy. 100g of flour and 1 egg for every serving. Place the eggs in the food processor and gradually add the flour until a yellow, heavy dough forms. You can also use a clean benchtop, pile up the flour and gradually mix in the eggs by hand but it is much easier, and cleaner, to use a processor. The dough will come together - don't worry if it feels really lumpy or dry, once you kneed it it will become smooth. Kneed the dough on a lightly floured bench top until it come together into a cohesive ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes to allow the glutens to relax, if you don't rest the dough the pasta will be tough.

You can roll out the dough by hand but it is much easier to use a pasta machine with a handle. They will usually come with different attachments so you can cut it into different pasta sizes and shapes. Divide the dough into three balls, so it is easier to manage, flatten the dough so it fits through the rollers of your pasta machine. on setting 1, begin to feed it through with one hand while turning the handle with the other. Fold the dough in half on itself and feed it through again a few times until it is smooth and a consistent thickness. Now change the setting one notch smaller and repeat until you have worked your way down to the second last setting (8 on our machine).

Cut the length of pasta in half, it will be too hard to handle when it is too long, and too hard to eat! Attach the linguine attachment and gently feed the pasta ribbon through so it emerges from the other end in thin ribbons. If you are not cooking the pasta immediately, drape it over a broom handle to dry and make sure the dog doesn't get to it. To cook, dunk the pasta in a big pot of salted, boiling water for 2-3 minutes or until al dente.

Next, to the gnocchi.

Gnocchi is rather difficult as it is hard to find the balance between rubbery and solvent. We used Jamie Oliver's recipe and it was spectacular.

6 medium potatoes
Olive oil
Nutmeg, grated
1/2 - 1 teaspoon salt
Good grind of pepper
1 egg yolk
1-2 handfuls of plain flour

Pre-heat the oven to 220 deg C.
Rub the cleaned potatoes with olive oil, prick them all over with a fork and lay them on a roasting tray. Place in the oven for 1 hour until they are crispy on the outside and fluffy and soft on the inside. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then cut them in half, scoop out the fluffy insides and place it in a sieve or a ricer.
Press the potato through the sieve into a large bowl so that it looks like 'grated' potato.
Add the nutmeg, salt, pepper and egg yolk to the sieved potato. Add enough flour to bind the mixture, however the more flour you add the tougher the gnocchi will be. Mix together and knead with your hands until you have a dry, doughy consistency. Add more flour if too wet, and water if too dry.
Divide the dough into three pieces and roll each piece out on a floured surface into long tubes the thickness of a sausage.
Cut each of the tubes into 2.5 cm pieces, then press the tines of a fork into both sides of the gnocchi to give the characteristic ribbed marking.

Place them on a a plate or tray sprinkled liberally with flour, and allow to sit in the fridge for about 20 minutes to set. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Drop the gnocchi into the water in batches. As soon as the gnocchi float to the surface of the water they are ready to serve. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and toss with gorgonzola sauce.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Caramel Pear Pie

It is a victory to be able to bake a perfectly delicious pie after two glasses of wine. But after eight it's bound to be a disaster. Don't jump to conclusions and assume that i'm a wine sponge, it's very unusual that I drink eight glasses of wine on a normal wednesday night, but this occasion was waaaayy out of the ordinary. My boss invited my Dad and I to an eight course food and wine matching dinner at Neil Perry's Sydney Rockpool restaurant, hosted by Peter Bourne The Wine Man (working at a wine magazine has excellent benefits.)

We each sat down to a place setting that looked like this...

I was a little shocked to see so many wine glasses surrounding our plate. Were we really going to be drinking this much wine? On a school night? My boss seems to do this at least twice a week so I was seriously excited to see what we were going to be indulging in. The food was matched with the wine on this occasion, rather than the wine to the food. It was so interesting tasting each dish, sipping each glass and really tasting the harmony between the two that had each been individually hand picked by Peter Bourne and matched by the Rockpool head chef. The zucchini and parmesan tart was nothing like what I was expecting. The pastry case was paper thin and impossibly crisp, filled with a thick, airy zucchini soup and topped with a parmesan (foam?) It was extraordinary. I was also served my first taste of wagyu beef tartare, which didn't taste like a bloody, raw mess at all! It was meltingly tender with a tang of sourness courtesy of the marinade. The wine slipped down seamlessly throughout each dish. There was no harsh bite from a wrong partnership of liquid and food. Everything was matched perfectly.

Anyway Dad and I stumbled home clutching our three complementary bottles of South Australian Riesling and Shiraz, and when we got home I decided to make a pie, forcing Ed to cut out star shaped cookies with the left over vanilla pastry. My sister had given me Donna Hay's recipe compendium; "Seasons" for my birthday and I had bookmarked so many pages that I couldn't resist giving something in those pages a whirl. The easter long weekend away with some friends was the perfect excuse.

After finally placing the pie in the oven at 10.30pm and heading up to bed for a "quick nap" (not quick and definitely not a nap, more of a deep wine-induced coma) before dragging myself from under the covers to take it out, I was thankful that it had all worked out. The pie is sweet, chewy and gooey. The pears make their Autumn debut oozing within a caramel bed. It's dead easy and the pastry is super quick thanks to no blind baking. Plus it looks pretty doesn't it! Warm, inviting and cosy.

Caramel Pear Pie:
Adapted, barely, from Donna Hay's "Seasons" cookbook

Serves 6-8

Basic vanilla pastry:
1 2/3 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
180g cold unsalted butter, chopped
1/3 cup iced water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the flour, sugar and baking powder in a food processor and process to combine. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. With the motor running, gradually add the water and vanilla and process until the mixture comes together to form a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes before using.

Pie filling:
3 firm pears, peeled, halved and cored
2 tablespoons water (depending on how hard your pears are, the harder they are the more water you will need)
1 eggwhite, lightly beaten, for brushing
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup golden syrup
40g butter, melted
3 eggs
1/4 cup single pouring cream

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C. Place the pears and water in a large deep frying pan over medium heat. Cover and cook for 5-8 minutes or until pears are just tender. Set aside to cool. Roll out the pastry to 3mm thick. Line the base of a lightly greased 28cm shallow metal scalloped pie tin and trim the excess pastry. Gently press the edges with the back of a teaspoon and brush with eggwhite. Place on a baking tray.

Place sugar, golden syrup, butter, eggs and cream in a bowl and whisk to combine. Arrange pears in the base of the pastry shell and pour over the caramel mixture. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until just set. Allow to cool in tin. Best served immediately but is also nice cold.