Saturday, December 31, 2011

White Chocolate Rocky Road

Christmas has been and gone, but I think that White Chocolate Rocky Road is good all year round.  I made the white chocolate rocky road pictured at the top of this post for my Christmas gift boxes.  The great thing about rocky road is that you can put whatever you like in it, in whatever quantities suit you - as long as you have enough chocolate to bind it together, the sky is the limit.

I based my white chocolate rocky road on this recipe, containing toasted pistachios, marshmallows  and cranberries.  However, instead of white marshmallows, I used pink and white baby mallows, and I added a quarter of a cup of red glace cherries.

The verdict?  Delicious and super easy, a treat for any time of year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

FFwD - Cauliflower-Bacon Gratin

This week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe is Cauiflower-Bacon Gratin.  This is a lovely dish of baked cauliflower florets, bacon, cheese, eggs, cream and milk - what's not to love?

I ate this dish initially on its own for my lunch, then as a side with main meals.

To see what everyone else thought of this dish, visit the LYL section of the FFwD website.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Double Chocolate Pecan Cookies - Gluten Free, Dairy Free

As you will know from previous posts, my friend Craig is gluten and dairy intolerant.  Accordingly, my regular Christmas box goodies full of dairy and gluten would not be approriate for him.

After a flick through Martha Stewart's Holiday Cookies (2010), I came across the perfect Christmas cookie recipe for Craig - Double Chocolate Pecan Cookies.  You can find the recipe online here.

 These cookies are made with icing sugar, egg whites, cocoa, pecans (I substituted walnuts) and chopped chocolate.  The cookies are quite large, and are chewy, soft and very chocolatey.  They are great, not just for those with dietary intolerances, but for anyone who loves chocolate. Best of all, they are very simple to make!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Last Ever TWD - Kids' Thumbprints

Well guys, after more than three years and more recipes than I care to count, this is it.  Today is our last Tuesday with Dorie - ever.   It's taken me through three towns, four kitchens and three jobs (counting the odd recipe or two that I baked at my mother's house) - now that is pretty amazing.  When I think of where I started, and where I have ended up, I am amazed.  I baked a lot, I learnt a lot, I got to make lots of beautiful baked goods and meet up in cyberspace with lots of lovely fellow bakers.  It is therefore with a touch of sadness that I write this last TWD post.

The last recipe has been chosen by Dorie Greenspan herself, and is Kid's Thumbprints.  These delicious biscuits are jam drops on steroids - packed with peanut butter and brown sugar, rolled in crushed roasted peanuts, and filled with fruity jam (in my case, plum jam).

I had a minor crisis in baking these because I was baking at my mother's house (where I am based for Christmas holidays), and I lined my baking trays with greaseproof paper instead of baking paper because someone had switched the rolls of paper - and my thumbprints stuck to the greaseproof paper!  However, I managed to salvage all but two of them, and the rest is history.

These thumbprints are very addictive - they are almost fudgy in taste, and the crushed nuts give a satisfying crunch.

For the very last time, you can check out what the other TWD bakers thought of these biscuits at the LYL section of the Tuesdays with Dorie website. 

Thanks to all of my gorgeous TWD baker friends, with whom I have shared so much over the last three years, including our adventures from Baking - From My Home to Yours.  And thanks to Laurie for founding this amazing group, and to Dorie, without whom we would never have formed this group in the first place. 

Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before we can meet again and meeting again, after moments or a lifetime, is certain for those who are friends.

Daring Bakers - Letting Nature Do the Work - Sour Dough Challenge

Our Daring Bakers Host for December 2011 was Jessica of My Recipe Project and she showed us how fun it is to create Sour Dough bread in our own kitchens! She provided us with Sour Dough recipes from Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley as well as delicious recipes to use our Sour Dough bread in from Tonia George’s Things on Toast and Canteen’s Great British Food!

I made the French Country loaf - I did it free form as the recipe suggested, but it made a really flat loaf this way.  I think the loaf would have benefited from being placed in a bread tin or such like so that it held its shape.  I also used 100% all purpose flour - I didn't have wholewheat flour and I wanted to use the starter again for white loaves.

Otherwise, I was pretty excited that my starter worked - it bubbled, it frothed and it made bread, despite my cynicism about the lack of yeast:

I didn't make anything with my bread - I just ate it spread with jam.  I really did not have the time or capacity to make anything else.

Thanks to our host Jessica, who will have the recipe.  To check out what sour dough loaf the other Daring Bakers made, and what they did with it, visit the slide show at the Daring Kitchen once it is up.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Los Gatos Bar and Grill, Los Gatos CA

Brian modelling a tater tot.

How was your Christmas Day?  Did you have fun?  Spend it with family and friends?  Or a quiet one alone?  Get lots of presents?  Whatever you did and however you spent Christmas Day, I hope you had a great time, or that it least was relaxing and not stressful for you.  I spent my Christmas Day with family in my home town.

Let me take you back to California for the next instalment of my extra-curricular activities on my recent work trip.  On the Wednesday evening, after I was fully rested and feeling way more chipper than the night before, our host company took us to dinner.  We were hoping to go to a Greek restaurant called Opa! in Los Gatos, but it was full and we did not have a reservation.  However, two doors or so down the street, we found  Los Gatos Bar & Grill, who accommodated our party of 6 quite easily.  Los Gatos Bar & Grill is exactly what it says on the tin - a bar with hearty meals available.  It is bright and colourful and full of action.  The atmosphere is very relaxed, and we sat on couches either side of a low table.  The service was prompt and cheerful, and added to the carefree air of the establishment.

We started off with a shared starter of tater tots (because I wanted to know what they were!):

In Australia, tater tots are known by the much less fun name of potato gems.  Brian, a member of our party and featured at the top of this post with a tater tot, likes to take photos of food too, although he is not a blogger.  

For mains, Jeff ordered the Mexicali Burger - guacamole, pico de gallo, pepper jack cheese, deep fried jalepenos:

The sweet potato tater tots were gorgeous - they were sweet and caramelly in flavour.

Brian ordered the seared Ahi Tuna Sandwich, comprising seared ahi tuna, sweet chili coleslaw, and wasabi aoli on a soft potato roll:

As for me, I braved the 11oz Grilled Flat Iron Steak with garlic mashed potatoes, fresh mixed vegetables and a port wine demiglaze:

The demiglaze on the steak was magnificently rich and fruity, and the steak (which I ordered medium rare) was soft and melt-in-your-mouth.  I washed it all down with a very fine glass or two of Esperto Pino Grigio.

This dinner capped off a fun night.  Would I go again?  Yeah, absolutely!

Los Gatos Bar & Grill
 15-1/2 N Santa Cruz Avenue
Los Gatos, CA 95030
Ph: +1 408 402.5870

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Langham Christmas Pudding

Christmas is nearly upon us, so if you have not made your Christmas pudding yet, you may be well advised to buy one, as a  new born pudding will not have time to mature and become all boozy and rich in time for this year.  I was organised enough to make my pudding over the Melbourne Cup weekend back in November, so it had over 2 months for the flavours to meld.

Every year, I choose a different pudding recipe.  After a disastrous brush with a recipe out of a newspaper that was plain wrong (but luckily had very little precious fruit in it, so little was wasted),   I decided to try my hand at The Langham Hotel Christmas pudding, made by a few bloggers at an event last year.  You can find the recipe online here.  

Unfortunately my pudding stuck to the top of the steamer a little, hence its rough-hewn top.  However, this does not affect flavour, and no-one will ever know the difference when it is cut up into bits.

Whilst this pudding tastes good (I have cut it up into pieces for my Christmas boxes), I found it to be a little crumbly, and should be stored in the fridge to make it easier to cut (if not re-heating the whole pudding at once).  It is definitely not my favourite Christmas pudding recipe - that title is still held by Nigella Lawson's Non-Conformist Christmas Pudding, the recipe for which can be found online here

How are your Christmas preparations coming along?

Friday, December 23, 2011

FFwD - Creme brulee

This week's French Friday with Dorie sees us making a French classic - creme brulee.  Although I am an avid eater of creme brulee, I have never made it myself before, primarily because I don't have the equipment to make the sugar crust.

On this occasion, I simply put my brulee under the broiler.  The sugar crust was not as crunchy or evenly melted as if I'd used a torch, but it was good.  My ramekins are obviously larger than Dorie's, so my poor brulee looked a bit lost in its enormous ramekin:

but it tasted good!

To see what the other Doristas thought, visit the LYL section of the French Fridays with Dorie website.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Glass Brasserie, Sydney

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Sydney for our work's legal training conference.  The conference always includes a lovely dinner, and on this occasion, the selected venue was Luke Mangan's Glass Brasserie at the Hilton Hotel in Sydney.

While we were waiting for dinner, we went for drinks at the gorgeous Marble Bar in the basement of the Hilton.  I was glad that we went when the bar first opened, as it is extremely popular and fills up very quickly (after which new comers are locked out). Jess, Lee and I had a couple of cocktails in the beautiful surrounds of marble, bronze and cedar, with vintage prints.  The bar was built in the 1800s, and was dismantled and re-assembled in the Hilton in 1973.  It is definitely worth a look for its beauty alone.

From Marble Bar, we caught the lift up to Level 2 to Glass Brasserie.  We were allowed to choose an entree, main and dessert from the set menu provided for our group.

For entree (starter), I chose the quail with dukkah, Serrano, pear and agresto:

Salted quail is a favourite of mine at Chinese restaurants, so it was fun to try it here.

Lee chose the tart of fig, Roquefort, onion marmalade and verjuice dressing:

She enjoyed it, but said it was very rich.

Adrian, another of our colleagues in the wider legal group, I believe was the recipient of this dish of tempura prawns, Thai salad, peanuts and tamarind dressing:

There were no complaints from Adrian, so I assume it tasted good.

For main, I chose the truffle poached jewfish, warm cucumber, garlic flower, onion, peas, white asparagus and shimeji (whatever that is!):

Doesn't it look delicious - so fresh and green with all those lovely vegetables.

Finally, for dessert, I chose the strawberry cheesecake:

All of this food was good, but we were a little spoilt having been to Aria the night before - so unfortunately, this food did not blow us away like our meal at Aria.

Our colleague Adrian then decided to drink whisky with Jess:

Adrian would have been very disappointed if I did not publish this photo of his stoic efforts.  Unfortunately, Adrian did not realise that Jess is a legendary whiskey drinker, and therefore what a tough challenge he had set himself in attempting to match it with her.  This is despite the fact that Adrian is a Scot and ought to know a little about drinking whisky.  I did not even try to compete (I hate the burning sensation of whisky), and stuck with the wine.

Afterwards, we went to Zeta Bar (after a failed attempt to re-enter the Marble Bar), also in the Hilton, to continue socialising.  We stayed there until 2am the next morning - I for one am way too old to deal well with such shenanigans, and was shattered the next day (and it was not the alcohol - it was the lack of sleep). We looked like an odd lot in the bar in our ordinary work clothes, mixing it with the clubbing crowd and those in formal wear who had escaped from Christmas parties.  At least there was safety in numbers, and a good night was had by all.

Glass Brasserie
Level 2, 488 George Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
Ph: (02) 9265 6040

Zeta Bar
Level 4,
488 George Street

Sydney, NSW 2000
Ph: (02) 9265 6070

Marble Bar
Level B1, 488 George Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
Ph: (02) 9265 2000

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Stained Glass Window Cookies

It is nearly Christmas, and 'tis the season for making edible gifts.  As part of my annual Christmas boxes, I fulfilled a long held ambition this year - to make stained glass window cookies.  These are spice cookies with a hole cut in the centre which is filled with crushed hard fruit drops, then baked til the crushed lollies melt to form a "window" in the biscuits.  If you want, you can cut a hole in the top of the biscuits so that they can be hung as Christmas decorations.

The recipe for these cookies is by The Australian Women's Weekly, and is as follows:

150 g butter
1/2 cup (110g) firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
2 cups (300g) self raising flour
1 egg beaten lightly
24 wrapped hard fruit drops (remember them from tuckshop?)

Process the butter, sugar, spices and a pinch of salt in food processor until combined.

Add the flour and pulse until the dough resembles crumbs, then add the egg and process until the dough just comes together.

Divide the dough into half, and shape each half into a disc. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius, and line 3 baking trays with baking paper.

Crush the wrapped lollies with a rolling pin - or in my case, blitz them in a food processor (they are tough to break!).

Roll the chilled dough between two sheets of baking paper until 5mm thick, then cut out biscuits using cutters of your choice, and cut a shape in the centre of each biscuit in the desired shape of your "window".  Place the biscuits on the baking trays, and fill the window in each biscuit with crushed lollies.

Bake the biscuits for about 10 minutes or until the edges start to brown. Allow biscuits to cool on the trays for about 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

TWD - Rewind - Grandma's All Occasion Sugar Cookies

Wow!  The second last week of Tuesdays with Dorie - ever.  It makes me rather wistful that after more than three years, my weekly fix of Baking - From My Home to Yours is no more.  I have met some great fellow bakers through this group, and will miss checking up on what they are doing every week. 

This week is a rewind - a choose your own adventure of sorts.  I decided to make Grandma's All Occasion Sugar Cookies, recognising how useful they would be as part of my homemade Christmas gift boxes.

Taking my cue from some of the other bakers when we made these back in December 2008, I made these cookies as the slice and bake kind - so much easier to deal with when using this soft dough - and rolled the sides in festive green and red sanding sugar.

To check out what the other TWD bakers made for their rewind, visit the LYL section of the website.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Steamers Grillhouse, Los Gatos, CA

It has been a very exciting week for me.  For the first time ever, I was given an overseas assignment for work.  It involved a flying trip (in every way) to San Jose, California in the United States.  And I had the most amazing time - probably the best week of my working life, ever!

My colleagues and I stayed at The Toll House in Los Gatos, and for dinner the first night, we chose a restaurant close by from a list provided by the hotel.  That restaurant was Steamers Grillhouse,  primarily a seafood and steak establishment, in the Old Town.  My colleagues and I were joined for dinner by one of our hosts for the next day.

Here is our menu on the night:

For a starter, I naturally chose oysters "au naturel", served with salsa, horseradish and lemon the side: 

These oysters were attractively served, but they seemed to have been overwashed, as there was a lot of water in the shells, and much of the salty taste of the sea had been lost.  This meant that the salsa came in handy to add some flavour back.

Jeff chose the tuna tartare served on sesame crackers:

It was a very impressive looking dish, especially with the black and plain sesame seeds.

James selected the crispy calamari with garlic and chive aioli:

I wasn't game to ask my colleagues how their meals were (they were very tolerant of my food photo taking), so there was no way I was going to turn the conversation to their impressions of their meals.  Both looked good though.

For mains, I ordered grilled salmon with seasonal vegetables and roast potatoes, with tartare sauce:

This meal was quite delicious, and the salmon was cooked to perfection.

Jeff chose the scallops with mushroom risotto:

I adore scallops, so I am sure that this meal would have tasted as good as it looked.  I was impressed by the size of the scallops, as we generally only get tiny ones here.

Moving on to desserts, Jeff ordered the tiramisu:

Isn't this the best-presented tiramisu you have ever seen?  I adore the chocolate basket in which the tiramisu is encased.

Simon, from our host company, ordered the apple charlotte: 

I could not resist the pumpkin bread pudding with caramel-pecan topping and vanilla bean icecream:

I had to try this dessert as the pumpkin-pecan-caramel combination is very American, and where better to try this than in America?  It was tasty, especially the icecream and topping, but the pumpkin custard-soaked brioche was very heavy, and I could not finish it after the other two courses (not to mention the flight lounge and in-flight catering before that).

There is of course a full selection of alcoholic beverages at Steamers.  We shared a bottle of white from Decoy Wines in the Napa Valley, but I can't remember for the life of me exactly what it was (perhaps the Sauvignon Blanc?) - I am surprised I remember anything at all, as at 9pm California time, after a 14 hour flight to LA then another hour to San Jose, I hit the wall and began to fall asleep - oops.  Sorry guys, it was not the company, it had just been a long day (in fact, two days - this was our second Tuesday after crossing the date line).

I liked the atmosphere at Steamers - it was friendly and relaxed.  Our wait staff were attentive and lovely, even when James asked the trainee waitress why fish in Afghanistan are more expensive on Thursday - the poor girl looked puzzled, as I am still!

Steamer's Grillhouse
31 University Ave - Old Town
Los Gatos, CA 95030
Ph +1 408.395.CRAB (2722)

Friday, December 16, 2011

FFwD - Potato Chip Tortilla

French Fridays with Dorie this week involved making a Potato Chip Tortilla.  That's right - instead of chunks of potato, we used crushed potato chips (in my case, barbecue flavour).

I have big chunks of onion in my tortilla because I cut my hand while making this and couldn't use the knife properly.  I used chives as my herbs, because I have managed to keep a pot of chives alive for around three months - a record for me.

This was nice, but definitely not healthy - perhaps why it was nice.  I served it as a side with a healthy stir fry.

To see what the other FFwD participants thought, visit the LYL section of the FFwD website on Friday US time.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

TWD - Puffed Double Plum Tart and Unbelievably Good Chocolate Blueberry Icecream

This week's last Tuesdays with Dorie double-header is Puffed Double Plum Tart and Unbelieveably Good Chocolate Blueberry Icecream.

The Puffed Double Plum Tart was chosen by Julie of Someone's in the Kitchen.  As the name suggests, it contains two types of plums - dried plums (prunes) and fresh plums (or, in my case, canned plums).  The prunes are stepped in a spiced wine mixture, while the fresh plums are painted with the same mixture thickened into a syrup while atop the tart.

The fruit is arranged on a buttery, sugary bed of puff pastry, and the edge of that pastry is brushed with cream or milk and sugar.

The cooled tart is served with the thickened spiced wine:

This is a truly delicious tart, and would be perfect to warm a wintry kitchen.

Our next recipe was chosen by our founder, Laurie, of Slush - she picked Unbelievably Good Chocolate Blueberry Icecream:

Believe the hype - this stuff is crack candy.  I am not a huge fan of icecream, and certainly not chocolate icecream, but I could eat this until I turned into a blueberry like Violet Beauregarde.  This icecream is deeply, richly chocolate in flavour, and is subtly flavoured with blueberry jam.

Thanks to Laurie and Julie for this week's picks.  They will have the recipes on their sites, or buy the book.  To see what the other TWD people thought of these recipes, visit the LYL section of the TWD website for this week.

Next week is a rewind (own pick) week, and our very last TWD recipe ever is Dorie's pick - kid's thumbprints.  The end is tantalisingly near ...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Aria, Sydney

Last week, as an add-on to our trip to Sydney for work, the three girls in my team at work (including me!) went for dinner at Aria in Sydney. Aria is a fine dining establishment on the Sydney Harbour foreshore owned by celebrity chef, Matt Moran, and his business partner, and has a sister restaurant in Brisbane (which I went to with my friend Rowan in July).

We started our evening at The Opera Bar at Circular Quay, with a nice champagne cocktail:

As darkness came, we were treated to fireworks and lighting on the Opera House and Harbour Bridge for World Aids Day:

Suitably refreshed and entertained, we headed on to Aria in Macquarie Street, where we were treated to an amuse bouche of sweet potato soup with coconut foam:

We also received complimentary bread - this was the devine sourdough roll:

Moving on to entree, we all ordered something different.  Jess ordered this gorgeous chicken and foie gras parfait with a salad of smoked duck,rhubarb and black pepper:

It looks deceptively like a dessert, but is eaten slathered on bread. 

I ordered six freshly shucked Sydney rock oysters with Thai basil, cracked long pepper and Banyuls dressing:

I love oysters, and this was a nice, light entree to leave plenty of room for the remaining courses.

Lee ordered the Kurobuta pork belly with pork croquette and caramelised apple:

I had this in Brisbane, so I know it was devine.

Moving on to mains, I had the duck with cherry sauce (different to the duck dish listed on the online menu, so I am a little hazy on the details):

while Lee and Jess both ordered the roast lamb with mustard sauce (again, different to the online menu, so I can only give high level details and let the photos do the talking):

To accompany our mains, we ordered steamed broccolini with hazelnuts and lemon oil:

and truffled potato mash (buttery, buttery, buttery but good):

Out came some petit fours to have with our coffee.  We were given lavender truffles, coconut macaroons and raspberry pate de fruit:

then out came our dessert to share - a mango and lime bombe with black sesame tuille and passionfruit sauce:

To complement the glorious food and harbour view, the service at Aria was impeccable - all of the staff were friendly, attentive and thoughtful.

As I mentioned, Aria is a fine dining restaurant, so unless you are in the Business Weekly top 50 richest, you won't be coming here every night.  However, the food has an absolute "wow" factor that you won't get at any other type of establishment, and paired with the impeccable service, this restaurant was worth our bill of $160 per head (including wine and coffee).

1 Macquarie Street
East Circular Quay
Sydney NSW 2000
 Ph: +61 2 9252 2555