Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wednesdays with Donna Hay - Easy Apple Tart

Don't be fooled by the title of this post - this was supposed to be an Easy Apple Tart, but it didn't turn out that way for me.

The trouble for me is that the puff pastry did not puff at all.  Was it because the kitchen was hot and the pastry oozed into itself?  Was it making the scores in the edges of the pastry that bound the layers together so they didn't puff?  Or was it the egg wash that may have run over the edges and stuck the layers shut?

Whatever it was, I was glad that there was barely anything in these tarts, because I ate the apple off them and threw out the pastry, which remained resolutely as flat as a tack and tasted like cardboard.

Go visit Kayte, Chaya and Margaret to see if they had better luck.

Next week:  Bacon and Roasted Tomato Omelette - join us if you like.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Daring Bakers - Applesauce Bread for Quick! Gimme a Flavour!

February has been a busy month for me, and it has taken me quite by surprise that we are already almost at the end of the month.  And the end of the month means Daring Bakers! 

The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lisa stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.

We didn't have to use the recipes that Lis supplied - we could create a quick bread using any recipe that we wanted.  The only rules were:

  • No yeast

  • Can’t take more than 1.5 hours to prepare and bake through.

  • Only loaves or muffins/popovers

  • With those broad criteria, I chose to make this recipe for Applesauce Bread that I had bookmarked on the New York Times website.  I included raisins instead of walnuts, and made this delicious concoction:

    I highly recommend this quickbread recipe and would definitely make it again.

    To see what the other Daring Bakers made this month, visit the slide show at the Daring Kitchen website on 27 February US time (not sure if they operate on the East Coast or West Coast).   

    Saturday, February 25, 2012

    Fig Jam

    Every year, the fruit man at work shares his home-grown figs with the lucky person who collects the fruit from him each week.  As Karen has sadly moved on, Sandra, our receptionist, is now the lucky recipient of the figs.

    I am lucky in that Sandra passed the figs on to me.  I decided that a great way to use the figs would be to make fig jam to preserve them for weeks to come.

    The recipe that I used for fig jam comes from p227 of The Country Show Cookbook, and comes from Margaret Bradley from the Trundle Show.  The recipe is as follows:

    1kg figs
    750g white sugar

    (I used 700g figs and 500g sugar)

    Cut the thick, milky part of the fig stems off.  Place the whole figs (skin and all) in a large saucepan and cover them with water.  Simmer the figs until they are tender.

    Drain the cooked figs, then mash them with a potato masher.  Pour the sugar on top of the figs, then boil the mixture until it reaches setting point.  (To tell this - put a saucer in the freezer; when you think the jam is ready, drop a small amount of teaspoon onto the frozen plate, put in the fridge for a couple of minutes, then run your finger through the jam on the plate.  If it doesn't run back in to fill in the track you made with your finger, it has reached setting point.)

    Pour the jam into sterilised jars and seal.

    Spread your jam on bread or cakes:

    or just eat it out of the jar!

    Friday, February 24, 2012

    Cheese-topped onion soup

    This week's French Fridays with Dorie called on me to make something that I would never have made on my own - onion soup.  Yes, it's called cheese-topped onion soup, but the cheese is actually on a slice of bread that sits on top of the onion soup.

    First you caramelise some onions:

    then you had some chicken stock and spices and boil it all up to make soup:

    then you grate some Gruyere, slap it on a slice of toast, grill it to melt the cheese, then float it on top of your soup.

    Surprisingly tasty!  I lied it.  If you hate onions, this recipe is a bust, but I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

    Check out some more onion soup at the LYL link on the FFwD website.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012

    Wednesdays with Donna Hay - Blue Cheese and Caramelised Onion Brioche

    This week's rather unusual Wednesdays with Donna Hay recipe was Blue Cheese and Caramelised Onion Brioche, chosen by Kayte of Grandma's Kitchen Table.  Kayte and I were joined by Margaret and Chaya in making this snack/side dish.

    I live in a suburb with a large Jewish population and apparently not that much of a French influence, because I couldn't get brioche even at the French bakeshop, but I could buy challah at the supermarket:

    The onion jam that I used was given to me for Christmas by my Pilates instructor, Emilia:

    It is homemade, and no, you can't buy it.  But if you ask nicely I might be able to get the recipe from Emilia :)

    You spread your brioche slices (umm, challah) with onion jam:

    then top it with Granny Smith apple slices: 

    and sprinkle some crumbled blue cheese (I used gorgonzola) on top.  You then take the brave move of tipping it upside down into a pan to toast, then flip it over and toast the other side.

    What can I say - yum!  A really nice combination.  Thanks for choosing Kayte.  You can visit Kayte, Margaret and Chaya in a few hours to see what they thought.

    Next week: Easy apple tart 

    Tuesday, February 21, 2012

    BWJ - Chocolate Truffle Tartlets

    For chocolate decadence, you can't go past this week's Baking with Julia recipe - Chocolate Truffle Tartlets, hosted by Steph, Spike, Jaime and Jessica.  These tarts contain not one but three types of chocolate, and are studded with biscuit pieces.  Even the tart shells are chocolate.

    Step one - make and bake your chocolate tart shells:

    The dough is very soft, so it wasn't easy to work with in a hot kitchen, but luckily it responded well to the patch technique.

    Next, fill your tartshells with a mixture of dark chocolate and butter, studded with white and milk chocolate cubes and biscuit pieces:

    I wasn't buying amaretti or biscotti just for this, so I used shortbread.

    Allow to cool for 20 minutes, then eat:

    Go on, I know you want some ;)  But beware - they pack a chocolate punch - I could only cope with a quarter of one of these tarts at a sitting, and gave most of them away.

    You can drool over some more chocolate tarts at the LYL section of the Baking with Julia website.

    Sunday, February 19, 2012

    Sunday Snippets

    Hello, you fool, I love you,
    C'mon join the joyride

    Roxette, Joyride

    My friend Kayte has a regular Sunday Snippets post to tell her family and friends what she's been up to.  Kayte knew that I was going to a Roxette concert this weekend, so I thought that my very own (once off) Sunday Snippets post might be a good way to update Kayte and everyone else about how the concert and my weekend in general went.

    The Roxette concert was held  on Saturday night at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, which many of you would recognise as the centre court of the Australian Open.  The show was sold out, so you can imagine how many people were there.  The warmup band was 1927, an Australian band who had a number of huge hits in the 80's.  My favourites are That's When I Think of You and If I Could.  It was great to see them live, and brought back plenty of memories.

    After 1927 came Roxette.  Both Marie and Per are still very dynamic with great voices, and belted out hit after hit in an enthusiastic and energetic performance.  My favourite Roxette song from way back is It Must Have Been Love, courtesy of its appearance in the Pretty Woman soundtrack.  However, I came across lots of fun songs that I hadn't known they sang (eg How Do You Do; The Look), and stumbled across a brand new favourite - Joyride - from which the quote at the top of this post comes. Marie is such a tiny woman in reality, but is so dynamic - her performance was amazing. Per and the guitarist, Kristian (?), were jumping around the stage like jumping beans - and Kristian won over the audience with his rendition of Waltzing Matilda.  Again, Roxette brought back so many memories of high school and University for me.  They had not been to Melbourne since January 1995 - before I started work!  It's incredible to think that they came all the way from Sweden to Australia to perform for us on a very hot summer's night - and I thank them for that.

    On Sunday morning, I went to brunch with my friends V and C.  We went to The Green Grocer in Fitzroy North, a new area for me. The Green Grocer is an organic cafe and providore, with particularly delicious food.  I had already had breakfast, so I went straight for the good stuff for brunch - the buttermilk pancake with lavender, lemon curd, ricotta and berry coulis:

    The pancakes were light and fluffy, just as they should be, and the lemon curd and ricotta topping was delightful - I made sure that I had a smear of each in every mouthful.

    Afterwards, we headed to the DFO at South Wharf to grab some bargains before moving on to Albert Park for a beer (or in my case, a cider) at The Beach, overlooking the waterfront, then on to the Scout About Festival in Coventry Street, South Melbourne.

    On the telly, I time-shifted the new Sherlock Holmes from Wednesday night, and watched episode one of the second series entitled A Scandal in Belgravia.  The dialogue was absolutely delicious, as Holmes and Miss Adler coo and purr through whipsmart repartee in their smooth British accents.  There were so many twists and turns, it was essential to pay attention, right to the end.  Loved it!  If there were more television like this, I would watch more of it.

    Tonight, it is a quiet night catching up on some cooking for the week, including making some fig jam from the lovely figs that the fruit man at work gave Sandra - more to come on that later.

    Hope you have had a great weekend.

    Saturday, February 18, 2012

    Dried cranberry quinoa salad

    This is a short and sweet post to welcome in the weekend.

    While idly browsing some food blogs, I came across this recipe for Dried Cherry Quinoa Salad on Where's The Beef? by Cindy and Michael.  I have had some quinoa from FFwD around the house for a while, and thought this would be a perfect way to use some more of it.

    My substitutions - I used red quinoa instead of white, I used lentils instead of chickpeas (because I thought my can of lentils was a can of chickpeas!), and use dried cranberries instead of dried cherries.

    Verdict  super tasty - and don't skip the dried fruit, as this is what made it for me.  Just when I thought I couldn't stand any more quinoa, along came a dried cranberry to sweeten things up - perfect.

    Have a great weekend.

    Friday, February 17, 2012

    FFwD - Moules marinières

    Yes, I know what you are thinking - this week's FFwD recipe was mussels and chorizo with or without pasta.  Uh huh, but I made the wrong recipe - so instead I present you with moules marinières (mussels in white wine).

    This was quick and easy and tasty - I am not that fond of mussels, so I won't make it again soon, but the broth was especially good.  I combined my microwaved steamed veges with the leftover broth, which was an excellent way to lend flavour to the vegetables.  I hope you all enjoyed the mussels and chorizo with or without pasta.

    Visit the LYL section of the FFwD website for takes on this week's FFwD recipe - the right one.

    Calling all Megan Follows fans:  Are you a fan of Megan Follows (of Hockey Night and Anne of Green Gables, among many other credits)?  It is Megan's 44th birthday on 14 March, and Shedding, a Megan Follows fan site, is compiling a photo and video montage of birthday wishes from fans, and is looking for more participants.  You can find all the details here.  Submissions close 29 February.

    Wednesday, February 15, 2012

    Wednesdays with Donna Hay - Beef and Cashew Stir Fry

    Hi to all.  It's "hump day", or as the Germans so elegantly and correctly put it, Mittwoch (mid-week).  That means that we have survived almost half a working week, and it is not too premature to be looking forward to the weekend (when I am seeing Roxette in concert - ya!).

    It is also known as Wednesday with Donna Hay, when Kayte, Margaret, Chaya and I (yep, there's four of us now) all make the same Donna Hay recipe, direct from her website.

    This week, I chose dinner, in the form of a beef and cashew stir fry.  You can find the recipe here. This dish was attarctive to me because stir fry is quick, easy and relatively healthy, and hence I make a lot of them (when I am not making something for French Fridays with Dorie).  I especially loved this stir fry because it contains cashew nuts and snow peas - they lift a stir fry from good to gorgeous.

    I added hokkien noodles to my stir fry to make it an all in one dish.  I loved it - just my kind of dinner.

    To see what Kayte, Margaret and Chaya thought, go visit them when their posts are up (I am half a day ahead of them).

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012

    Whoooooo Loves Ya Baby? Martha Stewart Lovebird Cookies

    Happy Valentines Day! I have ignored Valentines Day in my baking for the past couple of yers, but this year I am back in because the opportunity to make something cute and pink was just to hard to resist.

    A couple of weeks ago on Martha Stewart's show, I saw Dani Fiori make the most adorable owl cookies ever, with heart-shaped eyes.  You can find the recipe here (for "Lovebird Cookies").  I was in hook, line and sinker, even though I knew they'd be a lot of work. 

    In the work department, they didn't disappoint, but they were a lot of fun to make (at least for the first few!).  I didn't use the cookie or icing recipe given on Martha's site, because someone else had said they didn't like it much taste-wise.  Accordingly, I went back to the reliable Peggy Porschen recipe that we used when we did decorated sugar cookies with the Daring Bakers, which tastes good and holds its shape.

    Making the cookies is all about patience and assembly more than anything.  First, you bake your cookies: 

    Once the cookies are cool, make royal icing in the colours that you want (I used candy pink, red and orange, just like Dani Fiori), and load it into piping bags or squeeze bottles.  I just home-made paper piping bags because I find them easy to make and use, but you  can use what is easiest for you. 

    For your base icing colour, once you have the free-flowing icing consistency to the icing needed for flooding, take out some of it and  make it stiffer with more icing sugar so that you can use it to outline the cookies:

    Next, take your base colour in free-flowing form and flood the cookie outlines, using a skewer to spread the icing into the nooks and crannies:

    While the icing is still wet, pipe lines on your owls in the contrasting colours:

    then drag a skewer or toothpick through the lines in an up then down, up then down pattern to give the owls feathers. 

    Pipe on the owl's feet (I used red icing), or use candies if you have any small enough, and add beaks (cut from red sweets - I used red lips and raspberries), and heart-shaped fondant cutouts for the eyes.  I piped a dab of icing onto the hearts to attach the centre of the eyes (in the form of sugar dots):

    Ta da!  Lovebird Cookies.

    For the rounds, I just flooded them in the base colour, then piped on alternating red and orange dots round the edges: 

    then dragged a skewer through the dots to make hearts around the edges:

    Pretty, aren't they:

    and fun to make:

    Hope you have a fabulous Valentines Day!

    Saturday, February 11, 2012

    White Chocolate Mud Cakes for Caroline's wedding

    I have reached the age where not too many people of my acquaintance are getting married anymore - they are either already married, or are divorced and staying far away from formal wedlock.  It was therefore a rare occasion worth celebrating when I learned that my colleague, Caroline, was getting married this weekend.

    Weddings are another perfect occasion for cake, so as a wedding present of sorts, I made Caroline a dozen cupcakes decorated all in white, wedding stylee.  I used the recipe for Lady Tarryn’s Wedding Cakes from The Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook by Jennifer Graham - really just white chocolate mud cakes.  Instead of white chocolate ganache, I frosted the cakes with vanilla flavoured Medallion canned frosting (given to me by my friend E) - it has a nice flavour and sets up quite firm, so it was perfect for these cakes.  I also used my new-found skill for making simple fondant roses for the top of the cakes, dressed up with some Edable silver disco glitter.

    The biggest trick with the cake batter is that blending the flour with the chocolate mixture is a challenge.  I found that even after a good blending, I still had lumps of flour that I just squashed out with a spoon as I found them (or for really big ones, fished out and tossed).  In the end, it didn't affect the flavour or texture of the cakes - they turned out light and fluffy and sweet.  Also be aware that the batter is very runny, not thick like normal cake batter - don't panic, it works out.  I halved the recipe (which makes 24 cakes), but even after halving it, I still got 22 cupcakes, which I slightly overfilled in the tins even then because they all rose over the top of the muffin tin holes - this gave me ragged edges on the top of my cakes because the overflowing bits stuck to the tins, and hence were torn off when I unmoulded the cakes.

    I loved the flavour (albeit very sweet) and texture of these cakes - I just need to work on the right level of filling to ensure that the batter doesn't overflow out of the muffin holes in the tin.

    To make these cupcakes (24 in a full recipe, or maybe more on my experience), you will need:

    4 cups plain flour

    1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    500g chopped butter
    2 cups milk
    4 cups sugar
    300g chopped white chocolate (I used white chocolate melts instead)
    4 eggs, lightly beaten
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    Preheat your oven to 155 degrees Celsius. Line 2 x 12 hole muffin tins with cupcake papers.

    Sift flour and baking powder together into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre. Set aside.

    Put butter, milk, sugar and white chocolate into a metal bowl and place over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir continuously using a wooden spoon until chocolate has melted and sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

    Use a rubber spatula to fold the eggs and vanilla extract into the cooled chocolate mixture. Pour this mixture into the well in the flour and fold together until well combined.

    Divide the mixture evenly between the muffin tins. Bake for 30 minutes or until a fine skewer inserted comes out clean. Place moulds on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes before turning out. Allow to cool for a further 30 minutes before frosting.

    Decorate as desired:

    Ta da!  Congratulations to Caroline and her partner - I hope that they have a grand wedding day. 

    Friday, February 10, 2012

    FFwD - Nutella Tartine

    This week's French Friday with Dorie recipe is an unlikely combination that I would never have chosen on my own, but which I quite enjoyed as a guilty pleasure.  It is Nutella Tartine.  Initially I conjured up an image of a tart shell filled with nutella, but no - Nutella Tartine is brioche that has been lightly toasted under the broiler, then brushed with melted butter, topped with a spread of marmalade, drizzled with Nutella, then topped with chopped roasted hazelnuts. 

    I made quite a few substitutions to this recipe to suit what I had around the house.  The brioche became challah (as that is what my supermarket sells), the orange marmalade became grapefruit marmalade, and the chopped roasted hazelnuts became raw sliced almonds.

    I didn't think much of this recipe when I read it, but when I had it for brekky - kapow!  It won't win any awards for nutritional value, but as an occasional breakfast treat, it is surprisingly delicious, and I will definitely make this again (but using plain old white bread, a much less expensive option).

    Visit the LYL section of the FFwD website to see what the other Doristas thought of this recipe.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012

    Wednesdays with Donna Hay - Potato and parmesan soup, sans parsley pesto

    This week's Wednesday with Donna Hay recipe was selected by Kayte of Grandma's Kitchen Table.  She chose Donna's potato and parmesan soup with parsley pesto.

    I am not really into pesto, so I skipped that and just made the soup.  The soup is pretty easy to make - the hardest part is peeling and chopping the vegetables.

    The end result was a very thick soup that is quite tasty, but reminded me of cheesy mashed potatoes. 

    Go see Kayte to see what she thought, and Margaret and Chaya.

    Next week:  Beef and Cashew Stir Fry

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012

    BWJ - White Loaves

    Welcome to the first Baking with Julia post.  BWJ is the new Tuesdays with Dorie, and there are currently over 300 members.  We will only be baking fortnightly, not weekly.

    This week's recipe, chosen by Laurie and Jules, is White Loaves.  In my case, I only made one loaf.

    You make some basic bread dough using a stand mixer and dough, then let it rise for an hour or so:

    then you pat it out and shape it before putting onto a loaf tin:

    and allow the dough to rise again:

    You then bake the dough and hey presto - you get bread:

    For my first slice of this bread, I borrowed this week's FFwD recipe for Nutella Tartine, and made it on white instead of brioche:

    Delicious, even if I say so myself.

    Our hosts Laurie and Jules will have the recipe for the white loaves.  And to see lots of other white loaves, visit the LYL section of the Baking with Julia website.

    Monday, February 6, 2012

    Sonido! South American Cafe, Fitzroy

    On Sunday, my friend E and I went to Sonido! South American Cafe in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy.  Sonido serves South American cuisine, with mains of arepas (corn cakes) or empanadas in various flavours.  I was excited to go there as I am a huge Offpring fan (an Australian Network 10 TV show), and Sonido is the place where in around episode 4 of Series 2, Jimmy takes his holiday girlfriend Tammy to remind her of their travels together.
    E is vegetarian, so she ordered arepas de queso ($8.50) - corn cakes filled with Freso cheese.  The salad is an extra $2.50.

    I am a carnivore, so I could not resist the ropa vieja (old clothes) beef arepas ($11.50).  The corn cakes are buried beneath a pile of flavoursome shredded beef (which does indeed look like a pile of old clothes), which makes for a very filling meal.  The salsa on the side was just gorgeous - it was only mildly spicy, but added just the right amount of zing.

    Sonido is only tiny, but it is amazing the number of people who can fit in there comfortably.  The wait staff were all prompt and friendly (and drop dead gorgeous!).  Sonido also make a very good coffee - I had a skinny flat white - no pretensions about milk here; while E had a cold can of a Brazilian energy drink.  

    The walls of Sonido are filled with South American memorabilia - E has a Peruvian mother, and was pleased to see a childhood book that she remembered on the shelf.

    Sonido is a fun place to go for a relaxed meal - but bring cash, as they don't take cards.

    Sonido! South American Cafe
    69 Gertrude Street
    Fitzroy VIC Australia
    No phone. No bookings. No Cards – Cash Only

    Saturday, February 4, 2012

    Lemon, Lavender and Blackberry Cake for Karen

    Today I had quite a busy day.  I started off with a half day food photography course.  While I learned how to use my camera in manual (these photos were taken on automatic and as you can see, are a bit dark), and a bit about lighting, I didn't learn how to style food with more balance than I have been (hence is why I generally avoid props - I make them look ludicrous and out of proportion to the food). 

    As I was in town, I then went to see The Artist at the cinema, which is tipped to do well at the Oscars.  It is such a beautiful movie - it is a modern film made as a silent movie in black and white, set in the late 20's to early 30's, and has a simple and gentle storyline.  The characters are all very elegantly dressed in the style of the time, and I was amazed at how well a story can be told with only a few words flashed up on cards every now and again.   The film was worth seeing just for the gorgeous dog (with the unlikely real life moniker of Uggie - who calls their dog an Ugg boot?)  Someone fell asleep up the back of the cinema about 20 minutes in and started snoring very loudly, but either a disgruntled patron or an embarrassed friend must have woken them up, because after about two minutes, the snoring ceased (thank goodness!). 

    Yesterday, Karen left after 15 years at our work.  She is moving to a related company with her current boss.  Again, I thought it was a fabulous occasion for a cake.  For Karen, I chose a couple of different components from Fiona Cairns' The Birthday Cake Book and an unrelated frosting recipe to serve up a Lemon, Lavender and Blackberry Cake, piped with "Good Luck Karen".

    The base cake recipe is Fiona's All In One Lemon Cake recipe, which is very similar to her Very Lemony Crunch Cake (which you can find online here).  To get the All In One Lemon Cake, just up the butter, flour and sugar to 250g, use  4 eggs instead of two, the zest of two lemons (but the juice of just one) and add one teaspoon of baking powder.  The cake batter makes two 9" layer cakes.  The syrup recipe is exactly the same as for the Very Lemony Crunch Cake.  Here is the cake base after adding the syrup:

    I then spread the base with a Blackberry and Lavender jam made from 200g blackberries, 200g sugar, juice of one lemon and a tablespoon of dried lavender wrapped in a muslin cloth (so you don't end up with gritty bits in your jam - you can just discard the cloth and lavender), boiled gently until the jam reaches setting point:

    The jam was inspired by Fiona Cairns' blackberry and lavender compote from her White Chocolate, Lavender and Rose Cake, also in The Birthday Cake Book

    I then put the second cake layer on top of the jam:

    I frosted the cake with this easy butter icing, dyed pale yellow, with a bit reserved for white and green piping.

    I received good feedback on this cake,  so unless everyone was just being very kind, I understand the cake was a hit.

    Good luck to Karen and her boss at their new posting - I am sure they will both do well.