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Gazta Tarta – Cheesecake

I have wanted to cook something from my Movida Rustica cookbook and have been eyeing this cheesecake out for a long time. It is a Spanish baked cheesecake, not an Italian baked ricotta cheesecake that everyone knows well, and unlike those “Cheesecake Shop” styles, it is light and fluffy, how I like my cheesecakes. Best of all this recipe is gluten free!

Cheesecake has been one of my favourite cakes since I was a little girl. I always used to request a baked cheesecake from a particular bakery in Bardwell Park for my birthday which was as light as a marshmallow, it just dissolved in your mouth and was dangerous if you were left alone with it and a knife. Within half an hour you would just notice the cake gradually getting thinner and thinner as I took thin slithers stealthily, knowing I had overindulged but enjoyed every bite so much. I must admit though, I loved the base of that particular cake, but now since discovering my gluten intolerance, such past times are not so enjoyable and that is why this recipe is so promising, Light and fluffy but that caramelized crust on top just giving it that little extra that you do not even need a base.

This ridiculously easy recipe originates from San Sebastian in the north of Spain and once cooked in a hot oven sugar is sprinkled over the top and finished off with a blowtorch to caramelize the sugar. It when served whole it could even look like a crema catalan due to this similar finishing technique, but once you take a spoon you will discover the soft luscious texture which dissolves on the tongue. Look away and it will be gone before you know it!

Today however was one of those days when you don’t quite have enough of anything and due to the gloomy cold weather you can possibly fathom venturing outside to the shops so make do and improvise, which I do actually love. Every recipe can be pulled and tugged here and there to produce a nearly the same if not better outcome. So I had a little less fresh cream, I used thickened cream. I did not have goat’s curd so in went more philli. No lemon rind, but a touch more lemon juice was added. Finally my large circular springform tin was lent out, as something always is, so out came the tart dish, a mini springform tin and 2 ramekins.

5 minutes after it started cooking I walked past the oven and almost jumped out of my socks as they had risen a lot and I was worried they would overflow, but as I discovered when I pulled them out to sprinkle the icing sugar on top for the last stint, they just sunk. It was kind of depressing as this beautiful, velvety cake, which almost looked like a souffle does what is the fear of all cooks and ‘lets off some steam’. I knew it probably was supposed to and I was to cook it for 10 more minutes but no cook likes to see something sink down in front of their eyes.

I had also lent out my blowtorch to a friend when I delivered a creme brulee last month and have forgotten to collect it, so I had to use an alternative method for the caramelization of my crust. A HOT HOT grill will do the trick, as it will to make Naan bread, I discovered once. They are very handy and can be used to do many great things. Of course the result is not as pretty as the one in the book, but I am sure Frank Camorra would be impressed for a quick effort.

Gazta Tarta

8 serves

butter, for greasing

plain flour, for dusting (for gluten free dust with almond meal)

500mL (2 cups) cream

155g (2/3 cup) superfine caster sugar

300g (1 1/4 cups) soft cream cheese – Philadelphia is the fine

5 eggs

180g goat’s curd

125g (1/2 cup) thick plain yogurt

grated zest of 2 lemons

juice of 1 lemon

40mL brandy

2 tbsp icing sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

2. Lightly grease a 25cm springform tin with butter, the dust with flour, shaking out the excess.

3. Place all the ingredients except the icing sugar in a food processor and blend until smooth. (about 1 minute then it will be thick and all combined). Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 30 minutes or until just set.

4. Carefully remove the cheesecake from the oven, sprinkle the icing sugar over the top and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and using a kitchen blowtorch, brown the top until it is very dark. Alternatively, brown the cheesecake under a very hot grill (broiler). Allow to cool before serving.


“Green eggs and ham” (gluten free)

I have never read Dr Seuss, but I don’t need to have grown up with it to know the term “green eggs and ham”. In Sydney today it is currently 18 degrees C and a time to grab the jumpers, pull out the heaters and eat comfort food. I have been working away at home all day looking outside at a gloomy scene. No sun glistens off the river, no birds are chirping and I could not be further from wanting to be out there. I would much prefer to stay inside, in my pajamas and have breakfast for lunch as you would on the weekend.

I have been craving baked eggs for a while now but it wasn’t until last weekend when I purchased my first packet of gluten free puff pastry from Harris Farm Market that I decided, this week is the week I will do it. I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed a plate of pastry without worrying that my stomach will hurt afterwards. Of course I have the occasional nibble but to sit down and know this will not make me sick is something I am looking forward to tremendously!

So this is a chance I decided to pay my dues to Dr Suess and make my own “green eggs and ham”. My green was the salsa verde I made last week as a topping on some steak and my ham will be some Calabrian nduja which is hard to come by in Australia. I got this one from Pino’s* in Kogarah. Pino is the king of curing in Sydney and his nduja will not let those die hard fans down. It is spicy, smoked in house and available in a sausage or in a paste.

The one thing I hate when I used to bake eggs in pastry is that the pastry on the bottom was always soggy, not matter if I baked it for a little first or in a water bath it never crisped up so I was not going to be disappointed by this GF pastry even before I started. The base of my ramekin would be juicy, sweet vibrant red capsicum topped with my salsa verde then some nduja. The pastry will go around the inside of the ramekin and then the eggs will sit inside. Finally it will be topped with some marinated feta and more salsa verde.

The result? Only a little sogginess on the base of the pastry but the rest was absolutely delicious. The capsicum had softened but still had some crunch to it and the feta had softened all over the top. What about the pastry you ask? Look I will not sugar coat it for you, gluten free tastes nowhere near the real thing, EVER. I don’t care who says they can make a product that you would not know as you will. The flavour of rice flour is so strong in every combination you can think of and the texture was thick and more like a shortcrust than a puff, but did I enjoy it? I enjoyed it enough to satisfy my curiosity and add some diverse textures to my green eggs and ham.

Green eggs and ham

(1 serving)

1/2 sheet gluten free puff pastry, thawed

2 eggs

1/4 cup salsa verde

3 slices nduja, broken up

1 capsicum cheek

2 tbsp marinated feta

1.Preheat oven at 180 degrees C.

2. Spray the ramekin with EVOO.

3. Break the pastry into thirds and fit around the inside of the ramekin. Slice the capsicum in the shape of a circle to fit on the base of the ramekin inside the pastry.

4. Top the capsicum with some salsa verde and the nduja. Crack the eggs inside then top with the feta.

5. Bake for 17 minutes or until the egg just sets.

6. Remove from oven and put a few dollops of salsa verde on top. Serve.

7. Use the pastry to scoop up the filling!

* Pino’s Fine Foods

45 President Ave

Kogarah  NSW  2217

(02) 9587 4818


My Yiayia’s Taramousalata


This dip is a favorite in my family. Whenever there is a tub at home you can be assured it will not be there 2 days later, it is highly addictive and can be put on anything (some might say). That is how much we love it.

My Yiayia (grandmother) is a legend. Everything she cooks tastes amazing and no one can cook her dishes better.

I have been determined to learn how to make taramasalata for a long time and document these recipes she has stored in her head as I want to pass them down to my children one day and keep the passion of particular dishes alive. Also because I know she would be so proud of me.

My Yiayia came out to Australia in the 1960’s with two young boys. Of course assimilation was hard and the strength or the Greek network in the inner west was at it’s peak. Unfortunately in the early 1980’s she lost her husband and both sons had left home and gotten married, so learning English was not something she really got a lot of help with. Luckily has many friends who she catches up with everyday but until recently I did not know how much of a social butterfly she is. Coffee with friends 3 days a week, shopping 2 other days a week and then seeing her sons twice a week. You really need to plan to see her as dropping past is not always a successful plan.

As a grandchild who does not speak Greek it does make it hard to converse, but the more time I spend with her the easier it is for us to understand each other and learning her recipes brings us both so much joy. I want to share this recipe with you all as it is very unique and not many make Tarama in this way, but that is why it is so good, the best. I know you will agree with me.

Taramousalata

3 large potatoes, Boiled and mashed
1 onion
200g tarama paste*
1 3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup lemon juice

1. With a hand blender mix the tarama paste and onion together.


2. Slowly add the potato until it gets thick and then add 3/4 cup oil. Blend. Then add 1/2 cup oil and 1/4 cup lemon juice. Blend well.


3. As it starts to smooth out add the remaining 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup lemon juice until light and smooth and the texture looks like it does below.



Strawberry yogurt muffins

I always get excited when I find something my Mum really enjoys and asks me to make again, believe me there have not been many! So when I got to use yogurt (tick) in some muffins (tick) and some coconut (tick) I was very positive as each of these things she enjoys. I must admit though my Mum is obsessed with yogurt, and in these muffins it gives them quite a sour flavour which is beautiful with the fruit and coconut, but can I just set a scene? My Mum puts yogurt on nearly everything she eats, any rice dish, salads, even once she put it with Osso Bucco despite my pleads to tell her not to ruin my rich 4 hour slow cooked meal. She continued with happiness. I have accepted it now, but if it floats your boat then why not enjoy it with as much as you can. No that does not mean pouring nutella over everything to make it taste better, but it probably would!

It is an easy one bowl recipe which is quite foolproof, once you cream the butter you just throw it all in and mix. It is not restricted to strawberries either, I have used blueberries which are also a great mix with the coconut but any seasonal fruit would work well. Apart from the complete easiness of this recipe is the texture. They turn out so soft and fluffy, I was surprised to see how well they keep after couple of days, they are still extremely moist.


Strawberry Yogurt Muffins

85g butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup natural Greek yogurt
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup milk
2 cups SR flour
1 punnet strawberries chopped (or 1 1/2 cup blueberries)

1) Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

2) Cream sugar and butter. Remove from mix master and stir in the yogurt, milk and eggs until well combined.

3) Add coconut and fruit and mix well then add the flour and mix until just combined. It should be quite a wet mixture so if it is too dry add some more yogurt.

4) Bake for 25 minutes or until cooked through.


Creme Brulee

I have never been the hugest fan of Creme Brulee. I like it but there are things I would order over it…….this was until 3 weeks ago when a friend had prepared some at his house for a dinner party. I remember I was completely absorbed by the creamy, thick, smooth texture which was so enjoyable. For that minute I completely forgot I was lactose intolerant and what lovely stomach cramps I had to look forward to. It did not matter, life it too short to not enjoy simple things like this lovely dessert.

So the opportunity came for me to devise two desserts for a dinner party I was attending yesterday. Firstly chocolate fondant popped into my head but then I decided to give this one a go too. I did however need a blowtorch for the event which I mentioned to my Mum and she said I should ask my Dad, who of course in his large workshop downstairs had a more than appropriate piece of equipment for me. (I appologize for the ugly photo, but it is not something I wished to style, but just take note of the size of Moccona in the background – not mine by the way)

When it was ready to torch I got a little excited and turned it up quite high and slightly burnt my brulee. The second ramekin was much more successful, but this did not deter us from completely devouring them. And again for that moment I was completely oblivious to what was going on around me, only concentrating of flavours, textures which left me with a very large smile.

(Yes this camera shake is the result of a kiwifruit cocktail, beautiful gamay and Napa Valley Cab)

Creme Brulee

2 cups cream
5 eggs yolks
100g caster sugar + extra for toffee
2 tsp vanilla extract

1) Preheat oven to 120°C.

2) Put the cream and vanilla into a pot and bring to the boil. Take off heat immediately.

3) Cream yolks and 100g sugar until thick and very pale. Pour cream into the yolk mixture and mix until well combined. Pour into 3 large ramekins.

4) Boil water in the kettle and prepare a waterbath to cook the creme brulee. Place the ramekins in the waterbath and cook for 45 minutes or until the top is set (do not let the brulee start to bubble)

5) Cool for at least 4 hours then when ready to serve sprinkle a generous amount of sugar on top of the brulee and using a blow torch evenly caramelize the sugar so that toffee is produced. Serve and enjoy!


Dark Chocolate Fondant

This dessert has travelled all over the word, passed by so many of my friends and brightened up dinner parties. It all started back in 2008 when I had a dinner party with uni friends and prepared the gooey chocolatey dish. I was surprised it was so easy to make and realised it is perfect for such instances as you can prepare them ahead of time.

I then went to France and made this for my friends Laura and Elwyn, in both dark and white chocolate, and after that requests from friends for the recipe poured in. Last weekend I decided it was revisit this decadent pot of goodness for a dinner party with my partner’s bestfriend and his girlfriend. It was actually quite fitting as Laura is the biggest chocoholic I know and since her birthday was only two days ago it dessert for the dinner had to be spot on.

I had forgotten how easy this is to make, the only part that is slightly hard is the whisking eggs and sugar over a double boiler for 8 minutes. I don’t like to use electric mixers so my arm got a huge workout, let me tell you, but once they are done they can last chilling in the fridge for weeks, and since they only take 12 minutes to cook, what really could be easier for a dinner party?

Nothing else needs to be said. Laura enjoyed it. So did I.

Dark Chocolate Fondant

70g dark chocolate

60g unsalted butter

20ml espresso coffee

2 eggs

100g caster sugar

50g fine almond meal

1) Over a double boiler melt the butter and chocolate until mixed together. Take off heat and then stir in espresso.

2) In a seperate bowl over the double boiler combine the eggs and sugar then whisk for 8 minutes or until thick and pale. Remove from heat.

3) Fold chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and once combined sift the almond meal in and stir lightly until just combined. Pour into 2 large ramekins. Refrigerate for minimum 2 hours.

4) When ready to cook, preheat oven to 180 degrees and cook for 12 minutes or until the top has just set. (The longer you cook it, the more like a pudding it will become) Serve immediately with come ice cream on the side.


Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart

Basically this is ‘my’ tart. The one that I have made more times than any other. The one that I am most confident in, and the one that I have spend more time developing the recipe than any other. This is the signature of Trish.

My journey with this tart started way back in 2002 when I used to make Chocolate Caramel Slice, a cheat of this tart really, which was easy and something I could cook with my eyes closed in 1 hour flat without fail. It used condensed milk instead of a pure caramel and a biscuit base rather than pastry. It is very much loved by my family, and some even prefer it to this tart, but once you learn to make pure caramel, nothing tastes as good.

My first attempt of this tart was for my Cheese Room Xmas party in 2008. It took all day long and I was so proud by the end that it had worked. The only problem was that while making this caramel, for the first time, a bit of hot toffee squirted up and onto my thumb burning it extremely badly. It ended up being a second degree burns and it took a very very long time to heal, but now is a war scar I say, which I quite like as it has a story to it, but it just shows you the dangers of hot toffee.

Now I am much more aware and can see how the toffee is progressing so I am ready for the addition of butter, cream and salt. I do have to say that if you want salted caramel DO NOT BE SCARED to put a lot of salt it, you need to otherwise you will not get the desired result.

The second most important thing, after the caramel, is the pastry. I sourced this recipe from a great source who you could not fault, none other than Adriano Zumbo himself. Long story, if you want to now ask me, but he gave me the recipe and it is faultless every single time. MY tip? Once you make the pastry put it in glad wrap and flatten it out in a similar shape to your pan. It will make it easier to roll out after. For help on rolling it out thin, look at my link to ‘perfect pastry’. Now I use this recipe for most of my tarts as it is so easy and tastes great!

Ganache! OH how I love thee. The only thing I can say is INVEST in good quality chocolate as you can taste the difference. For this instance I was using 57% single origin chocolate from Trinidad and Tobago and it was so fruity and bright in flavour. mmmmm If you think I sound crazy please go and do a chocolate tasting course and then come back to me.

The final product. There is nothing left to say but eat quickly as it will ooze everywhere. (if you did not want it to ooze so much though, once you have made the caramel continue to cook it over a very low heat for another 20 minutes and it will thicken up)


Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart

Perfect tart pastry

Caramel

1 1/4 cup caster sugar

1/3 cup water

135g unsalted butter

110ml pure cream

2tbsp sea salt

Ganache

265g Valrhona Dark chocolate (between 55-75% cocao)

100mL pure cream

65g unsalted butter

1. Prepare the pastry and blind bake. Cool.

2. For the caramel, over low heat mix the water and sugar in a pot and then let it simmer away until it goes through all the sugar stages and finally starts to turn brown. At this stage do not take your eye off it as it is so easy to burn.

3. Once it starts to turn a rich golden brown take it off the heat and mix in the cream, butter and salt. Be careful as it will splatter, but mix thoroughly until it is all combined. Put it back on the heat for 2 more minutes. At this stage if you want the caramel to be gooey, take it off, otherwise for a firmer caramel leave it on for another 20 minutes.

4. Pour the caramel into the cooled tart shell. Refrigerate for 5 hours at least.

5. For the ganache, heat the cream over a double boiler until just warm then add the chocolate in and mix until combined. Add the butter and watch the shine really come up now. Cool it slightly and then pour it over your ‘firm’ caramel’ (N.B. If the caramel is not set the chocolate will push through and end up underneath the caramel)

6. Leave the ganache to set for at least 2 hours and then serve and devour in one sitting. I would not expect it to last for 2 anyways.


Seco de Cordero


This dish is one of those dishes that Peru is known for. “Seco” means dry and “Cordero” is lamb, so this dish is translated something like a dry lamb stew. Its main ingredient is coriander which makes a colourful and flavuorsome sauce. It is one of those stews where you can use those tough cuts of meat and slow cook them all day and although shoulder is the most common cut used, I have chosen to use lamb shanks as I find this cut incredibly tender.

If you are one of those people who do not like red meat, not to worry, this recipe is also able to be used with poultry and fish. You would just have to adjust the cooking time and maybe start cooking the sauce for an hour before adding your meat.

The test came when my partner sat down to eat. He started by telling me how his Mother usually makes it, with a salsa on the side of onions in lemon juice with chilli on it. Then alerted me to the fact that there was not enough liquid and usually a lot more coriander (I have added extra to the recipe below)…….but other than that pretty good. Meat was soft and juicy (tick), flavour was correct (tick tick) and just for the record he has never seen his mum use beer as many traditional recipes state (well I didn’t so that is another tick).

I have altered this recipe so that it is gluten free and easy on sensitive stomachs, but I have noted the changes.

Seco De Cordero

Serves 6

6 large lamb shanks, frenched

3 cloves of garlic

3 stalks celery halved and chopped

1 tsp cumin

2 tbsp aji amarillo

5 large coriander bunches

2 cup dry white wine**

3 cup chicken stock

10 small potatoes

2 cups rice

1. Brown the lamb shanks and set aside.

2. In a mortor and pestle grind up the coriander with some olive oil, in batches and set aside.

3. In a large pot sweat the garlic and onion until translucent, add the cumin, 1 tbsp of aji paste, the coriander paste lamb shanks and liquids. Stir and simmer for 2 hours, sitting occasionally so that it does not stick.

4. Once the stew is almost done boil the potatoes in water with the remaining aji paste until tender. Chop in cubes to serve.  Cook the rice in plain water until cooked.

5. To serve plate up the meat, some rice and potatoes in a bowl then spoon the liquid over.

* I used celery instead of onion which may irritate some peoples stomachs.

** Traditionally beer is also used in the recipe so that there is 1 cup beer and 1 cup white wine, but I have removed this so it is a gluten free dish.


Dobos Torte

Yesterday was my best friend Kelly’s birthday. Happy 24th! We started celebrating the night before with dinner at Intermezzo Restaurant at GPO which was fabulous……and last night we continued with a bowling party. Although I am a terrible terrible bowler, it is surprising how much fun you can have when everyone has not done it for such a long time, I was not as bad as I thought….although compared to my competitive bowling family, scores of 82 and 75 would be shunned upon, they only get scores over 200. I might be bad at bowling but I knew that I would redeem myself with the birthday cake I baked for Kelly.

The cake is called Dobos Torte is a traditional Hungarian cake which consists of layers of sponge and chocolate butttercream with discs of toffee coated sponge on top. I appreciated that it is great in the traditional way, but I wanted to change it up a bit. I based the cake around the recipe from Canelle et Vanille, however I altered my creams a little. I decided to ditch the toffee pieces on top as I thought the cake was rich enough. The buttercreams were a bit different too, the inside being brown butter salted caramel buttercream, and the outside is that buttercream with dark chocolate and cocoa.

I must admit I was quite worried when I presented it that it would be too rich, too buttercreamy and noone would like it. This was her only birthday cake so I could have possibly ruined her birthday. Luckily EVERYONE loved it and were so impressed by it, especially Kelly. Phew! Just over 4 hours to make and it was gobbled down in 5 minutes. Definitely worth making, you just need lots of bowls and to be patient when making each component, it is worth it in the end.

This is my recipe, or the best I can devise as I did so many things impromptu, so I apologize if you end up with bowls of buttercream or toffee leftover.

Sponge

6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups icing sugar, divided
1 tsp vanilla extract
195g plain flour + 17g cornflour, sifted together
pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C.

2. Line 2 flat baking trays with baking paper.

3. Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup of icing sugar, and the vanilla with a mixer until pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon in the mixture (approx 3 mins).

4. In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining icing sugar and beat to form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the rest.

5. Combine the flour and salt then sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.

6. Spread the batter amongst the sheet pans as flat as you can and bake until lightly golden on top (approx 7 mins) Let the sponge cool.

NOTE: To make the sponges a consistent flatness put a piece of baking paper over the top, just as they have come out of the oven, and using another flat tray gently press it down so that it becomes flat and even.

Burnt butter Salted Caramel buttercream

Caramel Syrup

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for “stopping” the caramelization process)

1. In a small saucepan mix water and sugar and then leave over high heat to start caramelizing. (KEEP AN EYE ON IT) Cook until it is a deep golden brown colour then remove from the heat immediately.

2.  Very carefully pour in one cup of water, being mindful that it will splatter so pour slowly and step back.

3. Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. (approx 10 mins)

Caramelized Butter Frosting

2 x 170g butter, softened
4 cups icing sugar
200mls cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 tbsp caramel syrup, heaped
sea salt, to your taste (I used about 2tbsp)

1. Cook butter until brown. Pour through a sieve then cool.

2. Put cooled butter into a mixer bowl and slwoly whisk in the first 2 cups of icing sugar. The mixture will start to get thick so add some of the caramel and cream, then continue to add sugar. Repeat until it looks like below and then add salt to your taste.

NOTE: You will have left over, use it for the chocolate buttercream after you have laid out the layers of your cake.

Chocolate buttercream

leftover caramel buttercream

200g dark chocolate, melted

1 cup cocoa

To assemble

1. Cut the sponge layers into thirds and place on your serving plate which is lined with some baking paper. Place the first layer of sponge and using a knife, spread an even layer of the caramel buttercream over the top.

2. Repeat with other layers until you have placed the last layer of sponge on top.

3. With the remaining caramel buttercream make the chocolate buttercream then using a knife spread the chocolate buttercream around the edges of the cake, covering it well.

4. Decorate with sprinkles or smarties etc. Refrigerate until 30 minutes before you want to serve it.

5. Slice thinly to serve. Enjoy.


Intermezzo

Last night I was lucky enough to eat at Intermezzo, a restaurant in the historic GPO building. The setting is perfect for so many occasions, lunch times are packed with suits and in summer tables spill out onto the plaza, but at night it becomes dim and spot lit highlighting the historic features of the space like the sandstone walls, enormous mirrors and glass roof.

To start you can sip on a glass of beautiful and crisp Soave, like me, or maybe some Veuve Cliquot like the girls and nibble on some antipasto of cured meats (proscuitto, salami and coppa), sardines, mixed marinated olives, fresh mozzarella, grissini and char grilled bread rubbed with oil. (I forgot to take a photo).

The atmosphere when full buzzes, but when you have good company or something to celebrate time just goes and before you know it an hour has passed and you have forgotten to order your mains. Lucky Chef sent out a little something to wet the palate……succulent scallop wrapped in proscuitto on a gorgonzola sauce. So tender and the sauce was soo incredibly creamy but not piccante, quite mild with just the smallest hint of blue. As Samantha said, and rightly so “this sauce is so good I could eat a whole bowl of it”, and then I directed her downstairs to the cheese room where they serve cheese fondue!

Our drinks disappeared too quickly  and a suitable bottle had to be chosen. Without previously discussing it I suggested a region that I love and that I was craving, to my surprise it was the one Italian red both girls knew and also enjoyed. So that bottle of 08 Cianti Classico Castello di Fonterutoli came streaming into our big wine glasses. Swirl, sniff, taste. Perfecto!

It was now time to cleanse out palate before mains. Out came 2 sorbets which brought back childhood memories for all of us sitting on a summers day sucking on frosty fruits. The flavours were so intense pineapple and mixed berry but the baby basil leaves add that very much needed savoury note. Great combinations and we all slurped this dish up very quickly.

Mains look delectable as they are served. Kelly was first with her Crispy Skin Snapper on creamed peas with sauteed shrooms. She insisted it was amazing and the mushrooms are to die for, clearly they aren’t just your standard button mushroom but a mixture of all shapes and sizes, the way it should be.

My Barramundi, mussels, tomato and spinach cooked in a bag with white wine was very delicate and light. A great choice for those long dinners when you know you will be having many courses. The fish was perfectly cooked but you can’t get over the intense flavour of the mussels which perked up the mild taste of the barra.

Finally, the most beautiful dish……Samantha’s Scampi Linguine. The looks did not deceive and she finished every last bit, hailing the chef and announcing it was the best scampi she has ever ever had. She insisted us all taste this scampi and it was outstanding. Sweet with a soft tender texture.

All starting to get full, but of course know what is coming our way. The room starts to empty and luckily so as the wine is kicking in and our conversation starts to get a little rowdier with uncontrollable laughter happining a lot more frequently now. Come on, 3 girls, a lot of wine and a birthday to celebrate, how do you expect us to act?

Only one thing shuts us up……..the presentation of dessert!

So stunning. Caramelized apple tart with candied figs and apple mint ice cream.


But my favourite is the sweet ricotta canolli. At the sight of this I tell my stomach it is going to have to cope with a chunk of gluten as this opportunity cannot be passed up…..and does it disappoint? Not at all! Just as good as Papa’s in Haberfield, and a lot less packed!!!

We stroll out of there at 10:30pm and decide the night is not over but a post dinner cocktail is in order so Prime happily accommodated our presence and soon we were sipping on espresso martinis and caprioska’s.

Kelly was completely over the moon and delighted to have spent the last few hours of her 23rd year with her sister, Samantha and I. The staff were fantastic and the food was outstanding. What a perfect atmosphere and location full of history for us two architects. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Intermezzo

No. 1 Martin Place

(street level)

Lunch: Monday to Friday – 12pm to 3pm

Dinner: Monday to Saturday – 6pm to 10pm

9229 7788


Eating & Drinking Sydney – New food guide GIVEAWAY

Hi guys

This year I was asked to be one of the contributors to Eating & Drinking Sydney, a new comprehensive food guide for Sydney and surroundings. I wrote for the restaurants sections which meant I got to try a whole lot of new restaurants, hpi and funky places that have been there for a while and also some that are just plain institutions (which I liked the most!).

The other sections throughout the book are Cheap and Cheerful, which was edited by the popular “Grab Your Fork” blog creator, Helen Yee, and then the lucky Anna Fedeles edited all the bars around town, but I think the hat has to go to Elizabeth Meryment who read through and edited, not to mention, dined at many of the 300+ restaurants featured (is anyone wishing you had Liz’ job?…..I do!)

The book will be released September 1, 2011 and will retail for $29.95 BUT I have 2 copies to give away.

How do you enter? Just tell me, in the comments below, your favourite dining experience. This does not mean just the food, the view or the service, it is the whole shebang. Tell me Sydney! The best two comments will get a copy of the book sent to them.

For more information on the book, check out the facebook page here.

Start posting…..


Brioche

I am very much a ‘when in Rome’ type of person, and so is a very close friend of mine, Kelly. Kelly lived in Paris for a year and adopted the lifestyle very easily…..including the traditions of a sweet breakfast from the Boulangerie, where she bought brioche every couple of days so she could make toast in her apartment which she then topped with Nutella. Coming home to Sydney, Kelly was starting to have withdrawal symptoms as she claims she could not find anywhere that made good Brioche to satisfy her breakfast needs, so I did two things for her:
1) Gave her a list of good bakeries which do make exceptional brioche including Iggy’s in Bronte and Bourke St Bakery in Surry Hills, both of which are not too far away from her home in Coogee;
2) BUT I also accepted the challenge to recreate this bread and see if it meets her expectations or if it at all lives up to the standards she enjoyed in Paris.

But how does one find the perfect recipe? Where does one look? I figured first thing is first, if I was going to find a recipe, it would have to come from a born and bread French(wo)man. I knew that many of the top blogs are French based, and so I read read read, finally narrowing my search down to two types of recipes. The first which some might argue is the ‘proper’ was to make brioche required starting the day ahead and making your own started and letting it ferment overnight. Although I do like making things completely from scratch, I have tried this once before and my house is always so cold, it never works, so I decided the second style would have to do, even though I would use dried packet yeast. The recipe is from a blog called “Tartlette“.

That was the first thing I did, made my yeast mixture with milk (which the original recipe has) however, I started it three different times and none of them fermented. I first warmed the milk in the microwave, WHICH YOU SHOULD NOT DO, as the microwave kills some of the amino acids which are required for the fermentation. So I then tried to warm the milk in a pot and then add the yeast. FAIL. It still did not work. I was so upset, and by this stage I had already mixed all the other ingredients and was just waiting for the final bit, the yeast. I then ditched the milk and used lukewarm water and a little sugar, and presto, within 5 minutes I could already see the frothing start. To compensate no milk, I added more butter to my recipe than originally stated, and once the yeast was ready I added it in a thin stream, mixed, and let the dough rise and rise and rise.

first rise

second rise

egg wash

When making any bread, you must be patient at this point and I find even allow more time than stated to let the dough rise. After it was chilled, kneaded and then left to rise again it was into the oven for 25 minutes and out it came with a gorgeous golden brown crust, but was so soft and fluffy on the inside it was the type of thing which you could eat and eat and eat without realizing how much you are consuming as it is just so light.

The test now was to recreate this for Kelly for the final tick of approval, but at least I am confident now that mine has a chance to please her high standards.

Yes! She loved it….although I did not make my own nutella, she did thoroughly enjoy it! As for me, I decided smearing a few slices in melted dark chocolate would do fine!

Brioche

1⁄3 cup lukewarm milk (not too hot so that it kills the yeast!)
1⁄4 cup sugar + 1 tbsp
2 1/2 tbsp dry yeast
splash of orange blossom water
5 eggs, at room temperature
4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
225g unsalted butter

1. To get the starter going mix the milk, 1 tbsp sugar and the yeast in a bowl. Leave it in a warm place for 15 minutes so it rises and bubbles.

2. Whisk in the rest of the sugar, 4 eggs and the orange blossom water until well combined.

3. Transfer to a kitchen aid and using the paddle handle on a low speed add the flour and salt and butter. Mix until just combined then increase the speed until well combined and a clean dough that comes off the handle forms.

4. Transfer to a buttered bowl and place in a warm area. Let the rise for one hour or until it doubles in size.

5. Knock the dough back, cover and let rise for 1 1/2 hours.

6. Now form your loaves (this recipe will yield 2) and place on baking trays. Again let them rise for 1 hour. (They will need to be on seperate trays as they will rise a lot and combine)

7.Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Beat the last egg to make an egg wash and brush over the loaves. Bake until golden brown, approx 25 mins.


Steak Diane with chips

This is the one thing my Dad requested for his birthday “I just want a really good steak diane, but not with mash, with crispy chips”. Ok Dad. Done!

I went to Pino’s Meats on President Ave to get the meat as they are a meat specialist and know their stuff. Everything is fresh and they cut to order. I ordered Scotch fillet as it has a good marbling of fat through it and will give this dish a good flavour.

Now, the second part of this dish are good chips. Recently I saw Heston Blumenthal on masterchef and I remember he talked about how to create the best chip. He said you need to boil the chips first and cool them so they are perfectly cooked once you deep fry them and so that you do not need to keep them in the oil a long time and burn them.

The only thing I would suggest doing which I did not is to get the right type of potato that he suggests, which are the charlotte or belle de fontenay varieties. Although my chips were well cooked, they did not stay crispy for long. I think maybe my oil was not hot enough either?

As you can see below, I like my steak quite rare, the opposite of my Dad who likes his well done. So I did it how he liked it, but for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the juices from this beautiful piece of meat (no sauce, my lactose intolerant stomach would have hated me!)

This is the real deal. I must admit it did look good. Dad was very very pleased and  enjoyed the meal thoroughly with a bottle of Katnook Estate 2006 Founders Block Shiraz.

Steak Diane

4 thick pieces of scotch fillet ~ 250g each

abuot 20 mushrooms

50g butter

2 tbsp dijon mustard

1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

300mL cream

1/2 cup brandy, plus some to deglaze

bunch chives

Cold half cooked potato chips

1.Before you cook the beef I would suggest start to cook the chips in hot oil as they take a while to cook. Drain on paper towel and season.

2. Cook beef to your liking. (If they are thick, brown well and then bake in the oven until cooked enough)

3. Deglaze the pan you cooked the beef in by pouring in a good splash of brandy. Then melt the butter and sautee down the mushrooms.

4. Add the dijon and worcestershire sauce and mix in well.  Then add the  brandy and cream and 1/2 the chives. Simmer.

5. Once the beef is done, let the steaks sit for a couple of minutes them slice. Arrange on the plate with the pink flesh facing up. Spoon over some sauce, and sprinkle with extra chives then stack some chips on the side.


Mini Pavlovas

Today is my Dad’s birthday and one of his favourite ‘cakes’ is Pavlova. Of course for his birthday I wanted to prepare a menu for him that he would really enjoy. I knew he would be opening a good bottle of wine for the evening, but dessert really has to cap it off.

Last time I tried to make meringue it did not work as the bowl I used was too shallow and the meringue went ALL OVER my kitchen, and I am not kidding. This time I used my newish kitchen aid which has amazing power and a deep bowl. Easy! I got glossy thick meringue in no time.

You have to lick the bowl….raw meringue is soooooo yummy. Even better when you sprinkle a little bit of cocoa on top!

I was a bit scared to dollop the meringue into blobs, and I would normally use a piping bag, but I lost my nozzled (of course, what timing!) So 2 spoons together worked ok. Then the cooking process is very slow. I even think I sped it up a little, but it will take more than an hour to cook at a very low heat ~90 degrees.

So now that the meringue is done, I have to work out what will go on top and if you know me, you know I don’t like to make things that are the norm, so today we will be playing with the meringue. I have made the bases plain, so that they are gooey in the center, but for the topping we cannot use just a plain whipped cream No no no. It must be more interesting.  I have decided to go with fruits for this ‘end of winter’ night and also so that we don’t finish on a really heavy dessert after steak and chips.

I found beautifully ripe mangoes at the fruit market so I decided to make a mango cream drizzles with passionfruit and grated chocolate. However these mangoes were very deceptive. They had a very strong aroma from them but when I blitzed them their flavour was almost absent. I folded the pulp through the whipped cream but still it was a flat flavour. I resurected it though, PHEW! I cannot have bad cream, as Dad absolutely loves whipped cream, so if I was going to flavour it it had to taste good. Unfortunately I did not have any limes which would have lifted the flavour with the acidity but I did have some left over lemon curd (as you do) in my fridge from last week, so a substantial amount of that in and now it tasted great. With the addition of some gelatin (just to make it a bit firmer after all the liquids I added ) I think it is done.

Now time to assemble. The scary part! I feel like one of the finalists in masterchef when they wer assembling Rene Redzepi’s snowman….so if they can do it surely I can too! I searched high and low for my piping bag as I can carefully pipe my mango lemon ‘mousse’ now on top in a neat pile then top with passionfruit and shavings of chocolate.

 

Meringue with mango lemon mousse

(makes 7 blobs)

6 egg whites

pinch salt

375g sugar

1 mango

300mls fresh cream

1/2 cup lemon curd

3 gold gelatine leaves

passionfruit

70% dark chocolate

1.Preheat oven to 90 degrees Celsius.

2. Put egg whites and salt in your kitchen aid and whip until stiff peaks. Then slowly add the sugar until thick and very glossy.

3. Using a piping bag, or spoons, put blobs on a flat tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 1 hour until outside and base is just set. Let cool.

4. Now prepare the cream. Pulp mango flesh and put through a sieve. Fold into cream.

5. Fold in lemon curd.

6. Melt gelatine leaves in a little bit of hot water until completely dissolved. (You may need to put the water and leaves in a pot and boil until dissolved). Pour into a seperate and let cool slightly so it does not curdle the cream. Then add to cream and mix in well. Refrigerate.

7. Take all of the passionfruit out of the shell. Set aside.

8. Grate dark chocolate and set aside.

9. To assemble, pipe some cream gently on top of the meringue, leaving a pit in the center. Spoon some passionfruit in the center of the cream and then sprinkle with some chocolate.


Lemon Curd Tart

I decided to make this tart after a challenge was given to me where someone said to me how HARD lemon curd tarts are to make. I thought pfft, they are not, I am confident I can make them well as I have done so in the past and they were very successful.

Unfortunately I did loose my recipe when my website was deleted so I had to do some research and play with the recipe before posting. I ended up using Skye Gyngell of Petersham Nursery’s recipe as a base and change it around a little. I like the curd to be quite tangy and sour as it balances the extreme richness of the butter and many yolks….also it allows you to pair it with creme fraiche or ice creme and still be balanced instead of just rich.

Basically you just need to make sure that when making the curd you do it slowly so it does not curdle, then you are set. I always use the same pastry recipe for most tarts and once the pastry is cooked you let it cool and fill it with your cooled curd.

This is my adapted recipe.

Use my perfect pastry recipe

9 egg yolks
4 lemons zested
3/4 cup lemon juice (but add it slowly and taste in between so it is to your liking)
250g sugar
300g butter

1. Using the perfect pastry recipe cook the tarts and let them cool.
2. In the meantime, over a low heat melt all the curd ingredients slowly, so it does not curdle (approx 10 minutes).
3. Pour mixture into another bowl and allow it to cool.
4. Pour the mixture into the cooled pastry cases, but do not overfill.
5. Bake in oven at 240C for 5-6 mins.
6. Cool to room temperature then place in fridge for 2 hours.
7. Serve with ice cream or creme fraiche.


Alfajores

So last time I made alfores they were OKAAAY, but nowhere near great. The biscuits were inconsistent and irregular shapes, but worst of all, the dulce de leche was not cooked long enough so the cookies melted and went all over the tray I used to transport them to my Spanish class.

This time I used a little more guidance from a proper source. My boyfriend bought me a Peruvian cookbook when he was there last year and I have slowly been getting through the recipes, but this is one have not touched. I did alter a few things, but in the end, they were 100 times better than my first attempt YES! I suppose tonight when I take them to Capoeira, all the South American’s can be my judges and tell me if I got it right or completely missed the mark……

The key, in my opinion, to a good Alfajores is a thick round cookie, well cooked dulce de leche that wont run all down your fingers as you bite into it and it must be a god thick layer at that, no vegemite like spreading here we want thick quantity of smooth sweet dulce de leche. The biscuit it not so sweet so they work very well together and are yummo.

What I did differently this time is made sure my douch was very smooth and not too crumby, don’t be scared to add extra butter to help it combine, remember you want a smooth cookie to work with…..it will look prettier! Next thing to do is to roll out logs of the dough and wrap it in glad wrap so they stay in this shape, then refrigerate for at least an hour so they are nice and firm. The reason to do this is so your cookies are a consistent size and shape, which is very important when making ’sandwich cookies’.

Finally I hard core cooked the condensed milk to make sure the dulce de leche was a thick, and dark brown consistency. I cooked it on high for 4 hrs (mind you I have an electric stove top, so gas will need less time).

The only thing I did wrong this time was overestimate how much condensed milk I actually needed to cook. I was scared 2 cans would not be enough, and also I would hate it if one did not work, so it is better to have to much….but I ended up with about 1.5 cans left over…..so be confident that you will cook it correctly otherwise you will be working out ways to include it in all of your cooking for a week, then not be able to eat it for a long long time.

My suggestion is to try to give some away, then use it in hot milk on a cold night or over ice cream mmmmmmmmmmm


the leftovers

All in all though, they were soooo good this time, and did not take that long to make, it depends on how long it takes you to make the dulce de leche. Believe me though, if you know any South American’s, they will be offering you money for what you have made, so I suggest to make them in bulk!

Alfajores

Makes 10-12

250g Self raising flour

250g cornflour (cornstarch)

3 tbsp icing sugar

100g butter, softened

1 egg yolk

1 tbsp milk

400g dulce de leche (1 can condensed milk cooked*)

 

1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees.

2. Sift flour, cornflour and icing sugar into a bowl.

3. Rub through the butter with your hands to form dry crumbs and then add the egg yolk and milk, then knead until it forms a soft dough.

4. Roll out a log the size of the cookies and wrap in cling wrap. Refrigerate.

5. Once hard take cookies out of the fridge and cut them out to be 4mm thick. Prick each with a fork twice, then bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Cool the cookies.

6. Spread dulce de leche over one cookie and sandwich it with another. Sift with icing sugar to serve.

* To make dulce de leche, cook the condensed milk can in a pot of boiling water, which is continually topped up, for 4.5 hrs. This dulce de leche needs to be quite firm so it is not bad to cook it a little longer than normal for more runny dulce de leche, which would be 3.5 hrs.

 


Empanadas

A small pastry which can be claimed by many countries all over South America, from Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Peru. But none of these cross over to Greece, although we do have something similar which we call Bourekia, but this is not good enough for some Chileans I know who say “You are a nice girl, really, but you CANNOT make Empanadas. You are NOT Chilean”.

Well I was on a mission to prove them wrong. I was perfectly able to make such a simple little pastry….simple? Well apparently not. There are so many rules with empanadas. Factors to do with the pastry, amount of filling, how much olive and egg, size and their shape. Ok that is fine, I can research, I can youtube it to watch and learn particular techniques such as the repulgue (the plating on the rim).

The name comes from the word EMPANAR which means to wrap or coat in bread. They can be baked or fried, and this determines the type of pastry (tapas) that is required. Traditional tapas are made with flour, water and lard, so not really for the vegetarian, who would have to prepare their own tapas.

There are many types of Empanadas including the traditional Carne, made of beef which is then chopped very finely, like mince but with much more flavour; queso and jamon (ham an cheese); chicken; spinach and cheese…..the list goes on now and really anything and everything can be put inside. They can be made as a sweet with fruits inside. In Uruguay actually they are famous for their sweet Empanada which is filled with quince, dulce de leche and chocolate and is then covered in sugar or the pastry is brushed with apple jam.

But today I needed to start from the beginning. Carne con huevo y aceituna (meat with egg and olive). I had to perfect the most common style before moving onto interesting filling. There are many things that need to focus on. 1) Getting the pastry right. It needs to be thick, not soggy and similar to a shortcrust;
2) The filling needs to be balances, and this means the correct amount of spices, then portion of egg and olive for the amount of meat filling; and
3) The repulgue needs to be neat, tight and make the empanadas look pretty.

Once the pastry was made, which is arguably the most important part of the process, I think, then the filling is prepared and then each item is laid out as if in a production line for the filing to be completed. The pastry should be rolled out to about 2mm, this will give it enough thickness to cover the filling and keep it in without breaking, but also is not so thick that you end up with bites of only pastry.

A spoonful of meat, but not too much, there needs to be ample pastry for the repulgue. Only one small slice of egg, and half a GREEN olive. Many countries also add currants, but I prefer to not mix sweetness with my meat.

The repulgue is the twisting on the edge of the pastry. It is not easy, let me tell you. I watched many youtube videos to learn how to do it and then even after that it still took a bit of practice. Overall though, I think I did well. (My Latino-ness is increasing by the minute!)

Before baking they are glazed over with eggwash and then baked for 20-25 minutes, depending on your oven. They should be golden brown when they come out.

Eating them is the fun part FINALLY. It is not a quick afternoon task, it does require a good couple of hours to prepare, fold and cook them all. I made around 50 or so, many of which I gave away, cause there are only so many you can eat, however everyone who received them was very thankful and said they tasted good.

BUT the test is what a Latino thinks…..unfortunately, my friend who said ‘I could never make them’ was not around to try them, so ‘the Peruvian boyfriend’ was quizzed on how good they are. Some might argue this is a bit subjective, as he would say they are good either way. WRONG. The first time I attempted them, I followed a silly recipe I was given which required me to boil the meat and ended in disaster. He sweetly told me how much I had failed. This time though, he gave them the thumbs up and even took left overs home.

Mission accomplished.

RECIPE TO COME


Panetonne

I am constantly looking for new challenges and since I am extremely interested in baking I thought something that is not usually attempted is Panettone. This Italian bread is eaten at Christmas and enjoyed all over the world, but because it is so time consuming to make, people just buy it. There are some fantastic packaged ones, although they can get quite expensive, but I think they will always have more chemicals and so on to keep them fresh.

My partner eats Panettone every Christmas eve once the clock strikes 12, so I thought I would make a fresh one which I know exactly what has gone into it. surely all those preservatives aren’t good for you. Finding a recipe was one of the hardest parts. I looked on the internet, in books and asked around, but all I found was a heap of webpages which were not written in English. I could have translated them but I worried that some expressions might not convert over quite the same. Then the second time I looked it up on the new I found that Gourmet Traveller had done a version of Panettone which was all laid out, easy to read, and so this is what I based my recipe on. (Find GT version here)

I know it would take a long time so I started early….7am. It was quite a warm day so the rising actually did not take as long as expected. The whole process was relatively easy, it was just long and time consuming as you leave it to rise 3 times for 1-2 hours each time. It was not too bad though as I went down to tan by the pool in the meantime, so time went quickly.


first rise


second rise


third rise

By the time the last rise was finished my dough was going out of control and had started to overflow out of the baking tin…even though the estimated amount of rising time had not finished, I knew it was ready to go in.

Ok so this is where I had a problem. I followed the instructions and browned it at 190 degrees for 10 minutes then cooked it on 170 degrees. However, I skewered the bread after half an hour and it seemed fine so I took it out and cooled it.It looked great I thought, a part from the overflowing side, but not too bad for my first attempt.

It wasn’t until it cooled completely that I tried to cut it in half when I discovered the centre was not cooked. The skewer test had failed me. So back into the oven it went but with foil over the top.

So I suppose my message is that it does need to be in the oven for a total of 1 hour, and do not be scared of using alfoil, it will save you from my horror. My first attempt did turn out fine in the end, a little bit ugly and mangled, but it tasted good and as I am not in a 3 star restaurant, that is good enough for me…..this time, next time I bake it for Christmas it has to be perfect, but that is why I did a test bake as I knew there were things I would get wrong out of such a long process.

Next week I know how to alter my method and just tweak things here and there and it should work out great…..until then I will enjoy my mangled panettone tonight.


French Onion Soup

I LOVE French Onion Soup. It was one of those dishes that I searched high and low for while in Paris. I even asked attendants at a store in the Louvre where I could find it, and you know what she said…..

“People don’t eat it so much anymore, but it is more for parties thrown when someone gets divorced”

I thought that was utterly stupid and was certain that was not the case. I finally did find it and it was fabulous, but I think I have seen more restaurants in Sydney offer it on their menu.

Since I was hosting the GPO Cheese Room Xmas Party at my house I though it was only fit that I use some of the cheeses we have, and what better opportunity than to use one of the favourites, Gruyere. A semi hard cooked cheese, it has a lovely smooth texture and nice fruity and nutty flavours. I used to dislike this cheese but it wasn’t until I started to learn more about ‘gruyere’ style cheeses that I began to develop a love of it and others like Comte, Swiss Appenzell or Fromage d’Alpage. I love them all!

Well enough about the cheese, that is the finishing touch, there is still a lot to do in the meantime like chopping the onions. I think I ended up dicing 3+kg of white onions and I tell you I did need quite a few tissues to wipe up those tears. You really do need to chop the onions quite fine otherwise your soup will be chunky and not as enjoyable.

Finally into the pan it was and then wait for the caramelization to start. Finally I was able to add the beef stock, boil then simmer, and simmer and simmer and simmer. The simmering itself takes over 2 hours, but by the end, the soup is delectable.

I served the soup in mini ramekins as they were meant to be an appetizer only, although I am sure we could have all eaten a whole bowl. The final touch is to toast baguette with gruyere melted on top and place in the soup so the bread soaks up all the lovely juices.

They went in a flash. Good. Job done. Take that Frenchies, I don’t need to be divorced to serve good soup!

French Onion Soup (taken from Gourmet Traveller)
serves 4

100 gm butter
2kg onions, very very thinly sliced
1L beef stock
4 thyme sprigs
3 parsley stalks
1 fresh bay leaf
8 x 1cm-thick slices of baguette cut on diagonal, lightly toasted
250 gm coarsely grated Gruyère

1. Sautee down the onions in the butter, with a lid on for 20 mins, then continue to cook until soft and caramelized (lid off) for 1 hour, at least.
2. Add 2 cups of stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and wait until it has been absorbed before adding the next lot.
3. Tie herbs in twine and add to onions. Add remaining 2 cups of stock, season.
4. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 40 mins (remember to scrape away the bottom and sides so it does not stick.
5. Ladle into ramekins. Sprinkle half the cheese on the soup, top with 1 or 2 baguettes and top with the remaining cheese. Bake in oven for 5 minutes so cheese melts.
6. Serve immediately.


Prune & Cognac Tart

A dish made famous by many people and is a match made in heaven, just like ricotta and honey, sage and burnt butter, mushrooms and thyme, it just works…..well the match actually is Prune and Armagnac, but when you only need a couple of tablespoons, you make use of what you have instead of buying a whole new bottle…..and what I had was Hennesy VSOP cognac, so I do not think it is that bad a substitution.

This tart was actually a birthday present for a friend of mine, a chef of my local restaurant, which is absolutely fantastic…..sorry about the plug, BUT you must must try it. I strongly suggest the “Trust the Chef” which is a tasting menu for $60, and when you can BYO some amazing wine, it turns out to be a fantastic night of good food that won’t leave you broke.

Peacock Trattoria
25 Kyle Parade, Kyle Bay
9546 6900

So it was Drew’s birthday and he was stuck at the restaurant for the lunch service, and I felt bad for him, not being able to celebrate on such a lovely sunny day, so I really wanted to take him something. The idea of the Prune and Armagnac actually came from their menu where they have a Bitter Chocolate tart wit Prune and Armagnac ice cream (which is absolutely delectable!) and this sparked my interest to make the actual tart. I researched and finally found a recipe I was happy with, which is by Skye Gyngell.

I bought the prunes, which I now have fallen in love with and did not realise that I actually got ones still with their seeds inside, so it took me a good 30 minutes to pip them, but the tart was reasonably easy to make. It is a simple shortcrust tart shell, then the filing is predominantly cream, egg and sugar. I was actually expecting to put the cognac in the filling, but if you think about it, it will be cooked off.

The filling was cooked to perfection then the time had come to pour the cognac over the hot tart fresh out of the oven so it is absorbed right through. One tip……don’t be conservative, pour it over so it gets in every section of the tart, I was convinced the little piece I had did not have any cognac in it.

Once done I took it over to the restaurant and Drew had a huge smile on his face…..my job was nearly done but the ultimate result was from the taste test. He cut it up into slices and tasted……….and LOVED it!

I was so happy that I can even please a chef who is able to make the most amazing dishes.

Prune & Cognac Tart

Tart pastry
filing
300g pitted prunes
30g unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs
120g caster sugar
vanilla extract
1 tbsp orange blossom water
5 tbsp double cream
3 tbsp almond meal
5 tbsp cognac (or armagnac)…..so I added a little extra!

1. Prepare the tart shell as directed in the link above and only blind bake, do not completely brown. Cool.
2. Soak prunes in hot water for 10 minutes then drain and pat dry. Arrange prunes over the base of the cooled tart shell.
3. In a bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, orange blossom, cream and almond meal. Then stir in melted butter.
4. Pour over the prunes in the tart shell – carefully so you do not ruin their arrangement.
5. Bake in the 180 degree oven for 25-30 mins or until the top is a nice golden brown.
6. While still hot, pour the cognac over the tart evenly, then once fully absorbed, sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with creme fraiche.


Perfect Tart Pastry (for desserts)

265g plain flour
160g butter, slightly softened
70mL cold water
7mL white vinegar
40g caster sugar

1. Pulse flour, butter, salt and sugar until it creates a dry crumb.
2. Add chilled water and vinegar and mix until it forms a ball.
3. Flatten the pastry onto some cling wrap and wrap around well. Refrigerate until firm.
4. Roll out pastry. (I find it easier to roll out the pastry in between two large pieces of cling wrap. This means that if the pastry is sticky it will smooth out easily and not stick to your roller. It also allows you to achieve an even and thin sheet of pastry).


5. Now put the pastry into your tin and put into the edges and along the sides.
6. Now using your rolling pin, roll along the top of the edges to break away the pastry cleanly.
7. Now refrigerate until firm.
8. Using a form, prick the base and then blind bake. (This requires you to put baking paper inside the dough and pour either dry beans or rice inside. This prevents the pastry from puffing up. Once the pastry is set you remove the beans/rice and let the pastry brown. Keep the beans/rice in a container and continue to reuse them as your blind baking weights)

9. Bake in a 180 degree oven for 15 mins, take out beans/rice and continue to bake until golden brown (approx 10 mins).


Melting Moments

I recently fell in love with these cookies on a recent holiday to Queensland. I remember the crisp cookie sandwiched a smooth and lemony butter cream, which when bitten into completely melted into your mouth, the name does not lie! For that moment I did not care about anything, not the people walking by, the noise of other customers around me or the strong summer sun on my face, I was completely consumed by this cookie and had developed a special love for them. I repeated this experience every morning tea until I left. There was only one thing which was disappointing about this cookie – the not so fresh butter cream which had turned hard and clearly had preservatives in it to keep fine out of the fridge for days on end.

How enjoyable would it be to bite into a thick, crisp biscuit with this creamy light butter cream hitting your tongue? I couldn’t think of anything better for morning tea with a good cup of coffee, you get everything – cookie and cream all in one, isn’t that why they made cookies and cream ice cream, cause it is just so good!

From making alfajores recently, I discovered the key to consistent shaped biscuits, you need to roll the dough into a cylinder in cling wrap then refrigerate it for an hour at least, so it is quite firm, then when you cut your pieces the will not soften and deform into other shapes. A lot of other melting moment recipes tell you to make little balls and press a fork into them, but I like the consistency of this method. It also makes the sandwiches easy to stack as they are all flat, which will make for great presents of for platters at a party, which is what this was for.

When whipping the cream, remember that butter can over churn, so watch it like a hawk. You want it to still be light and fluffy and not thick and stiff. If you make the cream ahead of time, you can put it in the fridge, but remember it will firm up so before you start to assemble your cookies you must take it out of the fridge to come back to room temperature, which will take at least an hour depending on the weather.

The making them is actually quite fun, but it ends up in such a way that it is, a little cream for it, a little for me, a little for it, a little for me. It is just SOOOOO yummy, and you do not want to remember that you are basically eating butter with sugar. It tastes better if you don’t think about this and just enjoy, think about it tomorrow when you tell yourself that you need to hit the gym, but at that moment, it will bring you so much enjoyment, believe me, I must have eaten about 1/4 of the bowl!

Melting Moments

250g butter, softened
50g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g plain flour
50g cornflour

lemon buttercream
75g butter
1 cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsps lemon juice

1. For cookie cream butter and icing sugar. Add the vanilla extract and then sift the flours until the mixture comes together.
2. Roll into logs the size of the cookie and wrap with cling wrap. Refrigerate until firm.
3. Preheat oven to 175 degrees.
4. Cut cookies about 1cm thick and bake for 12 minutes or until just browning.
(do not brown like a normal cookie as you want them to melt)
5. Cool cookies on racks.
6. Prepare the buttercream by beating butter and icing sugar until fluffy.
7. Add vanilla extract and lemon juice and combine well.
8. Spoon a dollop of cream onto one cookie and sandwich with another! Presto!


Churros

I absolutely love churros, but I find that it is very easy to be disappointed by them. When I go out for them, they are often undercooked and very doughy in the centre, which is not so pleasant to eat. More times than not they are just ‘ok’.

Greeks have been doing their version of churros for ever, but in the form of a round donut called loukoumades, and although I have made them numerous times, I am no professional, but having said that, with this experience, surely churros cannot be too hard, and if I make them at home they will not be undercooked, let me assure you.

I sourced my recipe from Canelle et Vanille as the pastry that is made is a choux and I was told that this is much more suitable for churros, which after making them, I completely agree. Choux pastry, made by melting butter into water, then adding flour and then egg results in a pastry that is light and airy. This is due to the large water content in the pastry and during the cooking process it evapourates and instantly lightens the finished pastry.

It is a very simple process actually, but you do require a piping bag…..I am thinking now how much easier this would make cooking lokoumades, as I have traditionally done it with my hands and a single spoon to achieve the ‘not so perfect’ balls of dough.

There are many alterations when it comes to serving. You can simply sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top – simple, yet affective; dip into some lovely dulce de leche – something I did not have 4 hous to make today; and finally a lovely rich chocolate sauce which can be spicy (with cinnamon, cloves, vanilla bean etc) or with orange zest – but considering I did not have any zest, or vanilla bean, I just stuck with the former and went for the most basic type.

The result…….the lightest churros I have every eaten. They seemed so light I think I ended up eating 6 over the course of 2 hours. They are not oily and greasy like other styles I have tried, and the simple sugar sprinkle over the top didn’t weigh them down with additional richness…..which, apparently, made me tell myself they aren’t so bad for me.

I’ll let you be the judge though…

Churros

125 ml water
125ml whole milk
110 grams butter
pinch salt
large pinch sugar
150 grams flour
3 eggs
cinnamon sugar

1. Put the water, milk, butter, salt and sugar into a pot and bring to the boil. Then add the flour and STIR until it forms a ball.
2. Put the ball into your electric mixer with the paddle attachment and let it go until all the steam comes out.
(or if you wanted to leave the dough in the fridge you can do that at this point. The main thing is that it is cold before you add the eggs)
3. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until it comes all together.
4. Using a piping bag with a large star nozzle, pipe into a pot of boiling oil and cook until well browned.
5. Leave them to drain on paper towel then sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.


Oozey Gooey Brownies

Everyone who love brownies would have to agree with me that they are better soft, rich and gooey in the centre. Really, who likes brownies that look like overcooked, dry cake? Definitely not me. I must admit though, I was never good at making brownies and always managed to stuff them up one way or another. My Mum was actually the Queen of them in my house, until one day……. I was at home during the day for the first time since starting Uni this year and could not fight the itch to whip up something.

However, disaster! We had NO ingredients in the house. No chocolate. No condensed milk. Minimal nuts and not a lot of butter. So instantly my repertoire of decadent desserts I could have made was demolished. One thing I did have though was cocoa. I did a quick search on the net and found this “Cocoa Brownies“. They looked pretty damn good and ticked all the boxes brownies should tick. Rich (tick) gooey (trick) no chocolate though! Hold it! No chocolate? The only other good brownie recipe I knew was Jamie Oliver’s ‘Bloomin brilliant’ brownies which used at least a whole block of chocolate, so I was quite skeptical on how they would turn out……..but to my surprise, they were AMAZING and an instant hit in my house. My Mum loved them so much she took them all to work the next day to show her colleagues how good they were.

I ended up making them three weeks in a row so I could try to perfect them. The key is to not overcook them, and if anything, under cook them. It just takes a lot longer to set and if you are not patient it will collapse everywhere if you try to cut them. Another thing I have discovered is that even if you freeze them, they will never freeze completely and will be like fudge. THEN if you want them hot you can reheat them and they they are hot and oozey, great with some vanilla ice cream mmmmmm

Brownies
250g butter
1 cup cocoa
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1/3 cup almond meal (or plain flour)
walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees.
2. Mix cocoa and sugar in a large bowl.
3. In a pot melt butter then pour over the cocoa mixture and mix well. Let cool.
4. Mix in eggs rigorously until a silky consistency.
5. Add walnuts and almond meal and combine well.
6. Bake for 25 minutes then allow to cool for hours until you cut it (as it will be undercooked) or freeze and then cut it once cooled.
7. Serve cold, like fudge, or warm it up and serve with ice cream.