Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Kitchen Reader - Julie & Julia

This month, The Kitchen Reader group is reviewing Julie & Julia - 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment (Penguin) by Julie Powell.

I had read this book earlier this year, but needed to re-read it to remind myself of the finer details. This book has become the flavour of the month because of the movie based on it, but I am yet to see the movie. For the purposes of this review, that is a good thing, because my comments are not influenced by the movie.

This book evolved from Julie Powell's blog, The Julie/Julia Project. Julie's blog chronicled her progress in making every recipe in the American classic cookbook, Mastering The Art of French Cooking ("MtAoFC") by Julia Child, in a 12 month period. The Julie/Julia Project commenced when Julie's husband Eric suggested that she attend culinary school as a way to escape the rut that she felt trapped in with her life as a secretary living in the outer boroughs of New York. Julie countered Eric with the fateful statement that, if she wanted to learn to cook, she'd just cook her way through MtAoFC (which she had snaffled from her Mom's house in the spring on the hunch that she'd found something important). Rather than being dissuaded, Eric suggested that Julie should do just that and write a blog about it - and so the Julie/Julia Project was born.

Julie & Julia chronicles, not only Julie's progress through MtAoFC, but also her interactions with family, friends and total strangers during the project and the ups and downs of her life. We are offered a "fly on the wall" perspective as Julie conquers her fear and loathing of eggs, then moves on to challenges such as tracking down and extracting bone marrow, making various types of aspic, cooking live lobsters and boning a duck. There are both triumphs and failures, not to mention Julie's incidental battles with a couch, the plumbing in the couple's apartment and an unintended science experiment under the dish rack.

Interspersed with Julie's story are reconstructed snippets from Julia Child's life with her husband Paul. Julia's story gives me hope because it wasn't until she was around my age that she began to cook, and discovered a whole new life for herself.

The contemporary timeframe in which Julie & Julia is set is readily apparent through, among other things, its pop culture references (Julie quotes Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs, and is an avid Buffy fan), and the discussion of 9/11 (Julie worked for a government department that dealt with the families of victims of the tragedy as part of their work in planning the redevelopment of the World Trade Centre site).

Through the Julie/Julia Project, Julie feels transformed, and indeed, her life does change from that of an anonymous suburban secretary to an author with a presence in cyberspace, on television and in print. Julie concludes that, rather than using MtAoFC to learn to cook French food, she was really "learning to sniff out the secret doors of possibility". If both Julie and Julia discovered themselves and their passions through these recipes, then MtAoFC has much to recommend it.

Overall, I enjoyed Julie & Julia, although Julie's anecdotes were sometimes amusing, sometimes annoying (perhaps like all of us). I was fascinated by the incredibly gross things that Julie sometimes had to do for the various recipes and the lengths required to track down certain ingredients (who would have thought that sugar cubes would be difficult to find?). As a food blogger, I was also interested in Julie's interactions with her blog readers and what motivated her to blog. You can check out the views of the other Kitchen Readers on Julie & Julia by visiting the Kitchen Reader blogroll.

The final word goes to Julia Child:

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TWD - Chocolate-Crunched Caramel Tart

This week's Tuesday with Dorie is hosted by Carla of Chocolate Moosey, who has chosen Dorie's Chocolate-Crunched Caramel Tart. Effectively, this is a pate sable tart shell topped with a thin layer of caramel studded with honey-roasted peanuts, then topped with a thick layer of chocolate ganache.

This was a bit of a failed project for me, as the chocolate ganache didn't set up too well - it thickened, and at day 3, was almost firm, but prior to that, it tended to ooze like chocolate lava over the edge of any cuts that I made. This made it rather messy to eat (although delicious in a very rich sort of way).
This explains the photo at the top of this post - you can't see the caramel because it is blanketed by ganache.

I loved the caramel layer studded with the nuts, and would try this again; however, I would use a different ganache recipe (as this is the first time I have had such a problem with ganache) or a different topping altogether.

To see how all the other TWD bakers went, check out the
TWD blogroll. Carla will have the recipe, if this tart takes your fancy.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Daring Bakers - Vols-au-vent

A fellow TWD baker, Steph of A Whisk and A Spoon, is our Daring Bakers host for September. Without further ado:

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

This involved us making puff pastry. This is the third different puff pastry recipe that I have tried (who knew? a year or so ago I thought puff pastry came from Mr Pampas), which is rolled out and cut into rings for the vols-au-vent. (I am glad to have been corrected, because Aussies tend to call the plural "vol au vents").

Here is my lovely layered puff pastry:

and here are the finished vols-au-vent of assorted sizes, complete with little "hats" (which I didn't end up using):

This is my Weight Watchers chicken curry that I used to fill the large savoury vol-au-vent:

and again in the vol-au-vent:

At the top of the post, you will see my lovely little sweet vols-au-vent, filled with stewed apple (the left-overs from the TWD apple turnovers that I cooked up!) and lemon curd (Stephanie Alexander's recipe). One of the apple vols-au-vent is dressed up with a scoop of vanilla icecream and a puff pastry hat, while the lemon curd vols-au-vent are complemented by a blueberry on top.

Thanks to our host, Steph, who will have the vols-au-vent recipe on her site. For a rainbow-coloured spectrum of ways to use your vols-au-vent, check out the
Daring Kitchen blogroll.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Melting Moments

One of the biggest fans of my baking is my friend Ruth, who was very disappointed when I didn't bring anything in on Monday. When I asked her what she would like me to make, Ruth without hesitation suggested biscuits.

Hmmm - well, biscuits covers a huge spectrum, so I flicked through my books looking for a recipe that took my fancy. As Ruth is from New Zealand, I chose a recipe from one of my New Zealand books, Gran's Kitchen - Recipes from the Notebooks of Dulcie May Booker. I decided on Dulcie's Melting Moments, which was evidently an inspired choice, as I learned that Ruth loves shortbread.

I am not sure whether my biscuits turned out as they should have - I used teaspoonfuls of mixture for the biscuits and expected them to spread, when in fact they barely spread at all. Consequently, I flattened the tops a little with a spoon halfway through baking and ended up with dainty button-like biscuits. Maybe I should have used tablespoonsful of mixture, as Dulcie's biscuits looked much bigger. (Unfortunately, the recipe did not specify.)

Regardless, these biscuits tasted delicious! As mentioned above, they are a light, buttery shortbread, and I sandwiched the biscuits together with lemon curd flavoured icing. They were a hit with Ruth and Israel, which is all that counts.

To make your own melting moments, you will need:

1 tablespoon icing sugar
110g plain flour
115g softened butter

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Sift the icing sugar and flour together, then add the butter and stir to combine. (I found using my hands was the most effective.)

Spoon "small quantities" (teaspoonsful make button size cookies) onto a baking tray lined with baking paper or a silicone mat (and flatten slightly with the back of a spoon), and bake the biscuits for around 15 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool on the trays.

To assemble, sandwich pairs of the biscuits together with your choice of icing. (I used water icing flavoured with a tablespoon of lemon curd.) Buttercream will not really work for these as it does not set hard; however, royal icing would probably work just as well as water icing.

The recipe does not make a big batch of biscuits; even with only teaspoonsful of mixture, I only made 22 biscuits (11 once assembled.) Accordingly, if you are feeding a crowd, you will need to multiply the mixture to suit.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Strawberry mousse cake

It's taken me a little while, but as promised, I have finally gotten around to posting the recipe for the strawberry mousse cake that I made for my birthday last week.

This cake is from Cakes, Tortes and Gateaux of the World by Aaron Maree, a book which I found through Crusader's site. It is full of tantalising cakes, many of which take a significant degree of effort but look impressive. However, there are other simpler cakes which, although they don't have the same visual "wow" factor, look equally tempting.

The strawberry mousse cake is reasonably involved, but can be done in a single evening, as I did. It consists of an orange flavoured sponge, sandwiched with orange mousse with alcohol-soaked strawberries through it, and is topped by glazed strawberries. It tastes delicious - light and airy and fruity, while visually quite a feast.

To make this cake, you will need:


75g plain flour
45g cornflour
5 egg yolks
155g sugar
75g grated orange rind
100ml orange juice
30ml Grand Marnier (I used Cointreau)
100g marzipan
5 egg whites
50g sugar, extra


350g hulled and coarsely chopped strawberries
60ml Grand Marnier (or Cointreau)
6 egg yolks
120g sugar
250ml milk
180ml orange juice
10 teaspoons gelatine
60ml water
500ml whipping cream, lightly whipped


250g strawberries, halved
1 quantity strawberry glaze (see instructions below)
100g flaked almonds

Strawberry glaze

250g strawberry jam
60ml water
2 teaspoons lemon juice


Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius, and grease and line a 23cm springform pan.

Sift the flours twice and set aside.

Beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a stand mixer until they form a ribbon when the beater is lifted. In the meantime, put the orange juice, rind, Grand Marnier and marzipan into a saucepan and bring to the boil over low to medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then gradually beat in the extra sugar, a tablespoon at a time.

Fold the egg yolk mixture into the marzipan mixture, then fold in the sifted flours. Finally, gently fold in the beaten egg whites.

Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until cooked through. Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack:


Soak the strawberries in the Grand Marnier for one hour. Put the egg yolks, sugar and milk in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and heat until it is just warm to the touch.

Mix the gelatine and water together in a small bowl and set aside.

Put the orange juice into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the soaked gelatine and stir until dissolved. Allow the juice to cool slightly, then stir in the egg yolk mixture. Chill and allow to thicken slightly (I left it for around 20 minutes). Fold through the strawberries and the whipped cream.


Cut the cake into 4 layers. Line the base of the springform pan with baking paper, and place one layer in the base of the pan. Spread one third of the mousse over the top of that layer, then top with a second layer. Repeat with the rest of the mousse and the remaining layers of cake. (It is fine for mousse to spill out between the layers and down the sides of the cake, because as I understand it, this outer mousse spillage is what the flaked almond decoration sticks to.) Chill the cake in the fridge for 2 hours.

Make the strawberry glaze (see below). Remove the chilled cake from the fridge, and brush the top of the cake generously with the glaze. Arrange the halved strawberries as you like on top of the cake, then brush the strawberries with the rest of the glaze. Refrigerate for a further hour.

Strawberry glaze

Put all of the ingredients into a saucepan and stir over low heat until smooth. Bring the mixture to the boil, then boil for 10-15 minutes. Sieve the mixture and use while still warm.

Remove the cake from the fridge, remove the outer collar of the springform pan, and press the flaked almonds into the sides of the cake where the mousse has spilled over.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

TWD - Cream cheese pufflets

This week's unusual Tuesday with Dorie challenge is hosted by Jacque of Daisy Lane Cakes, who has chosen Dorie's cottage cheese pufflets.

What are cottage cheese pufflets? They are little triangles of cottage cheese based puff pastry filled with a smidge of jam. "Sweet samosas" is an apt description of these.

The dough used to make these pufflets is very sticky and soft - you don't have long to work with it before it turns into something akin to wallpaper coated with glue. I also found that the pufflets made from re-rolled dough did not hold as nice a shape as the ones made "first go".

I found the pufflets to be rather unusual in flavour - definitely on the cheesy side. They tasted OK, but not a favourite in my household.

To see how everyone else fared with these, check out the TWD blogroll, and visit Jacque's site for the recipe.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Blogger Gift Exchange

Marthe of Culinary Delights recently organised a blogger gift exchange to celebrate her first blogoversary, and my parcel arrived today! My "secret Santa" is Natalia of Gatti Fili E Farina from Italy.

Natalia sent me the lovely hand-made notebook with the applique tulip flower at the top of this post, and the sweetest, tiniest fold-out book of pictures of famous Roman landmarks, pictured beneath.

Thanks so much Natalia - what a lovely surprise! Also, thanks to Marthe for organising this exchange.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Birthday Cake

Here's a sneak peek of the birthday cake I made for myself to share at work.

The recipe will follow next week - have a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TWD - Flaky apple turnovers

We're not flaky, it's just Tuesday with Dorie time again! Our host this week is Julie from Someone's in the Kitchen, and she has selected Flaky Apple Turnovers as our Dorie challenge for this week.

The flaky pastry is a sour cream dough, and I found it really hard work. First, I add to add a significant amount of water to the dough (which is not in the recipe) to get it to a workable state. Initially, I thought that refrigeration alone would fix it, but it in fact made it worse - I ended up with crumbs that would not adhere to each other, so out came the water.

It was also a very substantial dough, making it hard work to roll out to 1/8 inch thick - in places, my turnovers were definitely thicker than that. I should have amazing biceps now! The dough was also very heat sensitive (a definite minus in humid, warm Brisvegas), becoming sticky and fragile quite quickly, so I had to work quickly and place the dough back in the fridge for a chill between re-rolls. It reminded me of the rugelach dough, although not as bad as that.

However, in the end, I conquered the dough, and lo, we have flaky apple turnovers:

And they were delicious! Here's a peek inside:

Thanks to Julie for choosing this recipe - she will have it posted on her site, or check out Dorie's book for this recipe and more like it. And do check out the
TWD blogroll to see how the other TWD bakers fared with this recipe.

Postscript: Vale Mike Leyland, who has passed away from Parkinsons disease. I grew up watching Ask the Leyland Brothers, and it is a show that always gives me warm fuzzies because it takes me back to my childhood. My thoughts are with his family and friends.

And other sad news just to hand - Patrick Swayze has lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. What teenage girl wouldn't have given their right arm to dance with Johnny in Dirty Dancing?

Monday, September 14, 2009

My birthday cake by Ruth

It's not my birthday just yet, but my friend Ruth had me over for dinner for my birthday tonight. It was lovely - her fiance Israel cooked us dinner of chicken kiev and roast veges (pumpkin, potato, onion and garlic) with garlic bread.

However, the highlight was the cake that Ruth baked for me:

It was a chocolate cake filled with boysenberry jam and covered with chocolate icing and hundreds and thousands, and it was deliciously fudgy and moist. I am also very proud of Ruth because this is the first cake that she has baked in years. I feel honoured to be the recipient of this cake.

Israel put the hundreds and thousands on, and if you look carefully at the photo at the top of the post, you will see the letter "R" (for Ruth!) in the hundreds and thousands.

Here are Israel and Ruth enjoying some cake and conversation:

What a beautiful birthday treat - thanks Ruth and Israel!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Jamie's chilli con carne and jammy doughnut muffins

Today is a lovely lazy Sunday - the sun is shining, the birds are singing (or at least the crows are cawing) and I would love nothing better than to lay back and soak up the sunshine with my eyes closed, in a world of my own.

However, before I do that, I will quickly share with a couple of dishes that I have made recently which you too may wish to try.

The first is Jamie Oliver's Chilli Con Carne (featured in the photo at the top of this post) in its pre-Ministry of Food, pre-chickpea days from p31 of
Happy Days with the Naked Chef. This was Jamie in his cheeky chappy, "lovely jubbly" days, while he still lived in London and prior to the arrival of his three baby girls. I loved this era, and watching the fun that he had in and around London in his shows was one of the factors which gave me the courage to up sticks half way around the world and live there myself for a short time.

This version of chilli con carne is hearty and delicious, and includes real chillies (not just chilli powder) and sun-dried tomatoes. It is absolutely delicious served on its own, or in a jaffle or taco. It is also dead simple to whip up, and can keep a very hungry crew satisfied.

If you would like the recipe, turn to Jamie's book, or alternatively, the recipe has been posted online here.

My next dish for today is the
Jammy Doughnut Muffins made by the Sweet and Simple Bakes group last month. They look very pretty, but unfortunately, I found them a little dry and bland. This may well be because I halved the sugar (I made a double batch for work and ran out of sugar!). That said, they disappeared at work. Ruth had two, despite finding them a little dry, and Fay thanked me for the lovely cakes, so it's all down to personal taste. Don't let me dissuade you from making them - you are likely to be wise enough to have the correct amount of sugar for a start.

Hope you are all having a lovely weekend - ciao!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

All in One Holiday Bundt Cake

When money and time permit, I love to go to the theatre. Plays, musicals, opera - you name it, I'll watch it.

Since landing back in Brizvegas, I have been to a couple of plays at La Boite Theatre in Kelvin Grove. An unexpected joy of attending these plays for the Saturday matinee session is that I discovered the fresh food markets at Kelvin Grove. These markets are not on a large scale, and are by no means fancy - the varieties of fruit and veg on offer are often not stated, and sometimes there are no labels at all for the produce. However, there is a wide variety, and the prices are so much cheaper than the supermarket, so I happily took a bag along to the next play I attended to load up on fresh fruit and veg.

Since my excursion to the Kelvin Grove markets, I have had a piece of pumpkin living in my fridge which was starting to go past its prime. Not wanting to waste it, I thought it was the perfect excuse to make a cake that has been on my mind for a long time - Dorie's All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake from Baking - From My Home to Yours. This is a pretty amazing cake, as not only does it contain pumpkin, but also apple, cranberries and pecans - it's a health food bar in a cake! The pumpkin and apple make the cake deliciously moist, while the cranberries and pecans add texture and taste. In Australia, canned pumpkin does not, to my knowledge, exist, so I simply used mashed pumpkin.

I thought that the cake was perfect without the maple syrup icing, so I just sprinkled it with icing sugar, but if you made the icing, this would be perfect for the traditional Thanksgiving Celebration in the US.

I loved this cake, and would happily make it again - look at the fabulous golden colour:

If you would like the recipe, you can buy Dorie's book (it's wonderful and you will not regret it) , or you can find the recipe online at a number of blogs, including here. If you like spicy pumpkin cakes, then this is the cake for you.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tangy Lemon Squares for LiveSTRONG with a Taste of Yellow

Barbara of Winos and Foodies is once again hosting LiveSTRONG with a Taste of Yellow, in support of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which raises awareness of cancer issues.

For my LiveSTRONG entry, I have made Tangy Lemon Squares from p356 of The Australian Womens Weekly's Bake. These squares are just like lemon curd on a soft biscuit base. They are easy to make and delicious.

To make them, you will need:

125g butter
1/4 cup icing sugar
1 1/4 cups plain flour
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/2 cup lemon juice

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease and line a 23cm square cake tin.

Cream the butter and the sugar with a stand mixer, then using a wooden spoon, stir in 1 cup of the flour. Press the dough into the base of the prepared cake tin, and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, whisk the eggs, sugar, 1/4 cup flour, zest and juice in a bowl. Remove the cooked base from the oven and pour the egg mixture over the top of the hot base, then return the tin to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes until the filling is firm and set.

Allow the squares to cool in the tin, then cut into ~25 squares. (I only got 16.)

Please visit Barbara's site on 2 October, being LiveSTRONG Day, for the roundup of LiveSTRONG with a Taste of Yellow recipes. If you would like to show your support for LiveSTRONG with a Taste of Yellow, simply make a yellow dish and post about it by 13 September, and notify Barbara.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

TWD - Chocolate Souffle

One of the things that I love the most about Tuesdays with Dorie is the fact that it sometimes takes me beyond the scope of my experience into making something that I have never attempted before, and if I must confess, am a little scared of. So it was this week when our host, Susan of She's Becoming DoughMessTic, chose Dorie's Chocolate Souffle as our challenge.

I have never previously made a souffle, either sweet or savoury; in fact, I can't remember eating one either! Having heard of the notoriously temperamental nature of the souffle, I was rather nervous about this challenge. Would my souffle rise? Or would it sink horribly in the middle, like a hat that has been squashed beneath a backside on a school bus seat?

Behold my joy when my souffle rose proudly above the top of the souffle dish, if only for a brief moment in time. (I collared my souffle dish, even though the recipe did not require it.)

This souffle is very chocolatey and rich; a small amount goes a long way. As to how it compares with other souffles, I cannot say, as this is the first souffle that I have made or tasted. It was good, but perhaps not so good that I would make it again, especially given the quantity of chocolate involved in making it.

Thanks to Susan for taking me above and beyond this week, and do check out how the other TWD bakers fared with the souffle at the TWD blogroll.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Farewell Elisa - Red Bull Cake

It seems that my life is full of departures; this time, the lovely Elisa departs sunny Brizvegas for - wait for it - Melbourne (where I have just come from!). Elisa was always only on loan to us, but we will all miss her enormously.

Elisa somehow manages to survive on Red Bull and potato chips (crisps to non-Aussies), yet still stays tiny - maybe it's all of that time on the treadmill and grooving to Madonna.

In honour of Elisa's love of Red Bull, I made her a Red Bull cake, using the recipe from Pandas and Cupcakes. Yes, folks, this cake is an AHDD nightmare - Red Bull, with red food colouring inside and blue and black colouring in the icing. However, I am sure that Elisa will love it, despite its strange resemblance to Marge Simpson's hairdo.

I finished off the decorating with a fudge icing pen for the writing (I can never get these things to write straight, despite having no trouble with piping bags), and red skittles. (Elisa loves American candy, and has been known to travel back from US trips with 42kg worth of it - hope skittles are on the list.)

Here is the cake before frosting, which I made in the cupcake shaped pan given to me by my gorgeous friends at Optus:

I also cross-stitched a card for Elisa:

In honour of her love of Wagamamas (affectionately known as "Waggas" by Elisa), we bought her the Wagamamas cookbook - hope she likes it. It will certainly make a change from her South American/Italian heritage - and the chips!

Good luck in Melbourne chick - we will miss you!!!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

TWD - Expresso Cheesecake Brownies

Wicked!!! No, I am not referring to the fabulous musical of the same name which I saw in Melbourne about the story behind the witches of Oz, but to this week's Tuesday with Dorie challenge, expresso cheesecake brownies. Our host this week is Melissa of Life in a Peanut Shell, who will forever after be known as a wizard in my house for choosing this delightful recipe.

These brownies are, as the name suggests, a cross between a brownie and a baked cheesecake. Aren't they pretty:

There is a sour cream topping which hides the gorgeous swirls in the finished product, and which I will probably skip in the future, because there will be a future for these brownies in my house. Oh yes - these are "wicked" because they taste so awfully good, but contain terribly evil ingredients like chocolate and sour cream. These brownies are so good that they have deposed my previous Dorie favourite, the Katharine Hepburn Tribute Brownies, from number one brownie spot. They are fudgy and smooth and rich - and did I mention pretty??

To check out how all the other TWD guys and gals went with these brownies, check out the TWD blogroll. And the recipe is of course in
Dorie's book, or at Melissa's site.

I would also like to take the opportunity to congratulate the very talented Emily of Visions of Sugar Plum, who has just won the US national Regal Springs Tilapia Chef Contest - Fishing for Frugal Recipes with her Tilapia Tostados. Congratulations Em!!!!