Friday, 29 February 2008

February Daring Bakers Challenge - French Bread

I somehow landed a whole Saturday to myself. Sitting in front of the Saturday morning music clips with coffee and hot cross bun I wondered what I could do. After a few sleepy minutes I realised the next Daring Bakers Challenge – Julia Child’s French Bread!

The challenge had been set about 2 or 3 weeks ago at this stage by Mary from Breadchick and Sara from I Like to Cook.

As I looked through the Daring Bakers discussion site I noticed many people were bowing out because this month’s challenge was too hard… Hmm how hard could it be I thought.

I then read the recipe (which took a long time!) and understood why people had had such a thought! Maybe I should consider bowing out gracefully myself…

I walked into the kitchen at 11am and cleaned everything to have a fresh canvas, and with that the games began. Some people said it took them 9.5 hours. I assume because I was in hot and humid Sydney, Australia I lucky as it only took me about 4 – 5 hours start to finish. The dough rose much quicker than the recipe indicated, both times.

And so, with all that time kneading, waiting for the yeast to do its job, and brushing the rolls with iced water every 3 minutes during their time in the oven they came out great! They were crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. I was very pleased. I was surprised they were so salty, but I’m not complaining! What a treat that all this effort and time produced gorgeous little French dinner rolls. Thanks Mary and Sara.

We don’t have a printer at home, so I went up to a local internet cafĂ© and printed the recipe. It was 11 pages! Therefore I am not posting it here. If you would like to check out the recipe, please find it here.

And, of course, if you would like to check out my fellow Daring Bakers, please do so here.


Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Chocolate Peanut Brittle

Please allow me to introduce you to Mister Peanut Brittle.

We became friends this weekend and it was love at first sight (or taste).

This recipe came from the American Gourmet magazine (December 2007) which featured a candy section. I thought it would be way too hard for little ol’ me, and put it aside. 3 months on, I came across it as I was cleaning out my drawer and thought ‘oh ye, I could do that, just need a candy thermometer’. I found a candy thermometer at House for $8 bought some peanuts and began.

What a wonderful process! I felt like I was in some sort of candy chemistry laboratory, watching the temperature rise as the butter and sugar boiled and bubbled away for 20 minutes and turned into thick glossy goodness. Once that was done, there wasn’t too much to it, stir in the nuts, spread it out, sprinkle with chocolate, sprinkle with more nuts, chill and then came the joyous sound of cracking it into pieces, taking some pics, packaging it to give away and sitting down with a cup of coffee and munching away on the hard candy around the salty crunchy nuts with the gooey chocolate on top. It is pure perfection. I love it, and so did everyone who gobbled it up as soon as they received it! I am definitely look forward to more time with my candy thermometer.

450g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 cups sugar
4 cups whole salted & roasted peanuts
1 cup chopped peanuts
225g dark chocolate, finely chopped

Butter baking pan, line with baking paper and put on a heat proof surface.

Bring butter, sugar and salt to a boil in a large heavy pot over medium heat, whisking until smooth, then boil, stirring occasionally until the mixture is deep golden and registers 300F on a candy thermometer (15 – 20 minutes)

Immediately stir in whole peanuts and then carefully pour hot toffee into centre of baking pan. Spread with spatula, smoothing the top. Let stand for 1 minute.

Then immediately sprinkle the chocolate on top and allow to stand for the chocolate to melt (2 – 4 minutes) then spread over toffee with cleaned spatula.

Sprinkle over the chopped peanuts, then freeze until chocolate is firm (about 30 minutes).

Break into pieces and watch it disappear!


Monday, 25 February 2008

Easy Weeknight Dinner - Comforting Pasta Bake

Once upon a time, a girlfriend cooked us dinner while we were chatting and drinking wine. I didn't pay a lot of attention, but it was a nice and simple comforting meal. Pasta would have to be my all time favourite (aside from chocolate that is). You can do it in so many different ways and add anything like you like really. It always leaves you with a full belly and smile on your face (and yes, of course, the need for a good work out at the gym the next day).

This pasta bake is so simple, that part of me thinks I shouldn't even post it on here, but I'm going to anyway cos each of our kitchens does its own thing, from complicated to easy. If you want to see loads of pasta recipes go and check out Once Upon a Feast Presto Pasta blogging event.

1 500g jar of pasta sauce (I love Paul Newmans range)
500g frozen spinach and ricotta ravioli
Handful of grated cheese
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Spray an ovenproof dish with oil and spread a little of the pasta sauce on the bottom (about 1/2 a cup). Add the frozen ravioli on top and pour over the remaining pasta sauce. Tear over a few basil leaves and roughly stir through trying to make each piece of ravioli have some sauce on it.

Top with grated cheese and place in the hot oven for 20 -30 minutes till bubbly and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes and serve with green salad and bread.


Friday, 22 February 2008

Neil Perry's Grilled Squid Salad & Thai `Son-In-Law' Eggs

Here is the final installment of the ladies lunch I have mentioned previously with the Thai Sweet Pork Salad and Thai Egg Nests.

The last 2 dishes were a grilled squid salad and ‘son-in-law’ eggs. They were not my favourites, but I think to be fair if these were the only dishes served I would have raved about them, they are still wonderful The eggs have a gorgeous texture with a sweet and sour dressing and the squid works really well with the peanuts, ground rice and fried garlic and shallots to make it crispy and smoky along side the sweet and crunchy cos lettuce and the juicy squid.

Neil Perry's Grilled Squid Salad

2 cloves garlic
2 green chillies, deseeded
2 coriander roots
1 tsp sea salt
6 tbs palm sugar
3 tbs lime juice
5 tbs fish sauce
250 grams squid, cut into rectangles and scored inside
vegetable oil
3 shallots, thinly sliced
½ cup thinly sliced red onion
¼ cup fine julienne of ginger
1 cup mint leaves
1 cup coriander leaves
1 cup Thai basil leaves
2 red chillies, deseeded and cut into julienne
1 baby cos lettuce
fried shallots

fried garlic
¼ cup chopped roasted peanuts
1 tbs rice, roasted and ground to a powder

Pound together the garlic, chillies, coriander roots and salt and then add the palm sugar and mix in the lime juice and fish sauce.

Brush the squid with oil, and sear it quickly on a char grill.

Mix the shallots, red onion, ginger, mint, coriander, basil and chillies with the dressing and toss with the grilled squid.

Arrange the cos lettuce on a platter, place the squid on top, and sprinkle with the fried shallots, fried garlic, peanuts and rice.

Thai `Son-In-Law' Eggs

6 eggs
¼ cup peanut oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 chillies, seeded and sliced
2 tbs palm sugar
3 tbs water
2 tsp tamarind pulp
1 tbs fish sauce
coriander leaves

Place the eggs in boiling water and simmer for 8 minutes.

Run under cold water and peel. Dry the eggs on paper towels and pierce several times with a toothpick.

Fry the eggs in the oil until golden and crisp and drain on paper towels.

Pour off most of the oil and stir-fry the onions and chillies until the onions are golden and slightly crisp and remove from the pan.

In a separate pan, mix the palm sugar, water, tamarind and fish sauce. Stir over low heat for a few minutes until slightly thick.

Serve the eggs with the onions spooned over, followed by the sauce and garnish with the coriander leaves.


Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Crumiri (Italian Polenta Cookies)

There’s a few food websites I check regularly, one of which is Chocolate & Zucchini. I like it for Clotilde’s writing style and the recipes I don’t really see anywhere else. I haven’t made anything from this site until recently.

Crumiri are Italian cookies, and they’re made with cornmeal according the recipe, which I assume it Polenta. I hope I’m correct! Well, they worked with polenta anyway! They’re very easy to bring together and take a short time in the oven and produce gorgeous tasty corn type shortbread. Well worth the effort, thanks Clotide.

180 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
140 g sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract, or 1/8 teaspoon seeds scraped from a real vanilla bean
240 g all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
110 g polenta

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and line a baking sheet with baking paper.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Add the vanilla and mix again.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, and polenta. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until just combined. The dough will be thick.

Transfer the dough to a piping bag fitted with a 2-cm (3/4-inch) star-shaped nozzle, and pipe onto the prepared baking sheet to create the shape of your choice (such as a horseshoe, a stick, or a small "V", "S", or "O"). Make sure you keep the cookies small and give them a little room to expand.

If you don't own a piping bag or worse, if you own a shoddy one, plop rounded teaspoons of the dough onto the baking sheet.

Slip into the oven and bake for 12 to 16 minutes (depending on the size and shape of the cookies), until pale golden around the edges. Let stand on the baking sheet for 2 minutes then transfer to a rack to cool completely. The cookies will keep for about a week in an airtight container.


Monday, 18 February 2008

Roast Tomato Soup

Tomatoes were something like $18/kg here in Sydney a few months ago and recently a fruit and vegetable grocer was giving them away for free! He said it was cheaper than dumping them! Well as the saying goes, if life give you lemons...

I had intentions of making ketchup, but time slipped away from me so I roasted all the juicy, sweet tomatoes and made soup. It was delicious, simple and hit the spot on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

1.5 kg tomatoes
500ml vegetable stock
handful basil leaves
1 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
several big glugs of olive oil
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

Begin by preheating the oven to 160C.

Quarter and de-core all the tomatoes and put on a roasting tray. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes.

In a large pan fry the onion and garlic gently in some olive oil till clear. Add the roasted tomatoes and all their juices to the pan with the stock.

Allow to simmer for at least 20 minutes or up to an hour.

Blend approximately half to two thirds of the soup and return to the pan. Add the freshly torn basil, the balsamic and taste to check the seasoning. Add more salt and pepper if needed and serve with fresh bread or toast.


Thursday, 14 February 2008

Nigella's Love Buns

Happy Valentines Day everybody. I whipped these gorgeous pink Love Buns for today. The recipe is from Nigella’s book, “Feast”.

The recipe was easy to follow, didn’t take too long and produced gorgeous fluffy light vanilla cupcakes and the rich topping which is very similar to the frosting we made at Christmas with the Daring Bakers – the Yule Log. Everyone went nuts for that icing then, so I’m hoping all the recipients today will too!

My only addition was pink food colouring to make them even more cutesy. Here is Nigella’s recipe:

For the Buns:
125g soft butter
125g caster sugar
2 eggs
125g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tbs milk

For the Topping:

2 egg whites
4 tbs golden syrup
100g caster sugar
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp cream of tartar
½ tsp pink food colouring

Take everything you need out of the fridge in time to bring it to room temperature - this makes a huge difference to the lightness of the love buns later - and preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200C.

Put all of the ingredients for the buns, except the milk, into a food processor and blitz until smooth. Pulse while adding the milk down the funnel, to make a smooth dropping consistency.

Divide the mixture into a 12-bun muffin tin lined with muffin papers or heart-patterned cases, and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. They should have risen and be golden on top; you want a little peak if possible.
Let them cool a little in their tin on a rack, and then take them carefully out of the tin to cool in their papers, still on the wire rack.
Now for the topping.

This is a topping that has a kind of meringue base, by which you whisk egg whites over heat until they're stiff and gleaming. Think Mr. Whippy. So make a double-boiler with a bowl that will fit snugly over a saucepan of barely simmering water, and put all of the ingredients for the icing, except for the vanilla and the sprinkles, into the bowl. Whisk everything with an electric beater until the icing becomes thick and holds peaks like a meringue. This will take about 5 minutes, so be patient.

Take the bowl off the saucepan and on to a cool surface and keep whisking while you add the vanilla (and pink food colouring). Then keep whisking until the mixture cools a little. You want a proper peaked and whipped covering here, so spoon some icing over each bun, and then dollop another spoonful over in a swirly fashion. Immediately shake over your choice of sprinkles, as the icing will set very quickly. Indeed, these look rather like stage prop buns or the fake ones that some bakeries use to keep in their windows, so plasticky and gleaming are they.


Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Nigella's Carbonara

Nigella’s latest TV shows are on here in Sydney at the moment. She is gorgeous. I love her. Best of all, her recipes have always pleased me. I cannot recall one that has ever failed me.

That means a lot, as I could tell you several others whose recipes often fail! I’m not sure why this is. I think it’s because she’s my type of woman! She writes her recipes like you’re standing there with her in the kitchn. I’ve always thought the 2 of us would have a great time over a bottle of wine with something nice to nibble on.

Several things she is creating in this latest series have me interested but carbonara is the first one I’ve made. Mainly because I had everything at home, and it was exactly what I felt like. I consider myself quite a carbonara expert as an old friend used often requested it. It’d been a few years though, but it all came flooding back. I don't I used wine or vermouth in the one I used to make, but this works really well and is a welcome addition.

Nigella’s recipe works nicely and there’s no chance of scrambling the eggs if you follow her instructions. Nigella didn’t use mushrooms BTW, that was my call. I know there's lovers and haters so do as you please, it'd be tasty with out them too.

500 grams fettuccini
2 cups diced bacon
1 cup sliced mushrooms (optional)
2 tsp olive oil
¼ cup dry white wine or vermouth
4 eggs
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
¼ cup cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly ground nutmeg

Put a large pan of water on to boil for the pasta and cook the according to the packets instructions.

In another large pan that will fit the pasta later, cook the bacon and mushrooms in the oil until crispy but not crunchy. Pour over the white wine or vermouth and let it bubble away so that, after a few minutes, you have a small amount of salty wine-y syrup left. Remove the pan from the heat.

In a bowl, beat together the eggs, Parmesan, cream, and pepper.

When the pasta is done, remove approximately ½ cup of the pasta water before you drain it.
Put the pan with the bacon cubes back on the heat and add the drained pasta, tossing well to coat with the syrupy bacon and mushrooms.

Remove the pan from the heat again and add the eggs and cheese mixture, swiftly tossing everything to mix. Thin with pasta water, if you feel like it needs it. Grind over some more pepper and grate over the nutmeg to serve.


Monday, 11 February 2008

Thai sweet pork salad

And with this miserable Monday I have the second instalment of our ladies Thai lunch I mentioned the other day with the gorgeous Egg Nests.

This was my second favourite dish of the day. The caramel process is a little hard, but I must say these Daring Bakers challenges have taught me to persist with caramel. I did have to add a splash of water to the pan and resist stirring it continuously and it worked a treat.

The cute story that goes along with this dish is it is the hostess’ favourite. Sophia, her daughter-in-law helped her make it a few months ago and loved. Sophia’s not too kitchen savvy but decided to try and remake this for her parents without the recipe! (Something I would never dare with dish like this). When she was plating it she was confused that it lacked the gorgeous look and texture from the caramel and so covered it with barbeque sauce! And yes, our hostess was horrified when Sophia admitted this!

500 grams pork neck (Scotch fillet)
125 grams sugar
2 tbs water
fish sauce
1 tbs light soy sauce
1 tbs soy sauce
2 star anise
5 cloves garlic
3 tbs chopped coriander root and stem
1 green chilli, deseeded 1 tsp sea salt
1 tbs palm sugar
½ cup lime juice
10 shallots, finely sliced
1 cup coriander leaves
1 cup mint leaves
2 tbs roasted peanuts, crushed
2 tbs fried shallots bean sprouts, picked

Slice the pork into 1-inch strips, place in a saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, and then strain and set aside

Heat the sugar and water until the sugar dissolves, and then boil rapidly until the sugar turns golden brown.

Add 2 tablespoons fish sauce, the light and dark soy sauces, and the star anise.
Add the pork and simmer until tender and coated with the caramel syrup, about 15 minutes, and then cool.

Pound the garlic, coriander, salt and chilli to a paste.

Dissolve the palm sugar in 3 tablespoons fish sauce, and then stir in the lime juice, shallots and paste.

Combine the coriander leaves, mint leaves, bean sprouts and pork and toss through the dressing.
Serve sprinkled with the peanuts and shallots.


Friday, 8 February 2008

Chunky Chocolate Mudcake

Now, here is a nice and easy deliciously rich, dense and moist chocolate cake. I used this as a dessert for a dinner party served with blueberries and strawberries, dessert wine and espressos. Perfect!

The recipe needs 300g of dark chocolate, but I only had 200 grams. The recipe says to melt 200g for the batter and sprinkle the further 100g at the end, so I just used white chocolate for the last 100grams. At the time of making it I was disappointed with myself I hadn’t taken care to have the right ingredients but in the end it worked out great as it looked and tasted special.

200g butter, chopped
300g dark chocolate
¼ cup hot water
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup caster sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
¾ cup self-raising flour
icing sugar, to serve

Preheat oven to 160°C. Grease a deep cake pan and line with baking paper.

Start by melting the butter, 200g of the chopped chocolate and hot water together gently until smooth. To this add the cocoa and stir. Stir in vanilla, caster sugar and eggs.

Add the sifted flour to the chocolate mixture and stir gently.

Pour half the batter into cake pan and sprinkle half the remaining chopped chocolate over batter.
Top with rest of the batter and finish with the last of the chopped chocolate.

Bake cake for 55 - 60 minutes (until a skewer inserted into the centre has moist crumbs clinging).

Allow cake to cool completely in pan. Serve dusted with icing sugar and mixed berries.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Thai Egg Nets

I was recently invited to a gorgeous ladies lunch overlooking the Sydney harbor. There was great company, a paddle in the swimming pool, gorgeous wines, beautiful view, delicious food and a few hours of fun preparing in the kitchen.

Over the next few weeks I'll drip feed you the various recipes, but this one was my favourite for the pure enjoyment of making the fancy egg part. My first few were dodgy but I got into the swing of it and the pan got nice and hot and I was on a roll. They were quite the novelty on the table and they tasted yummy too.
4 coriander (cilantro) roots
2 cloves of garlic
10 peppercorns
vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
115 grams minced pork
75 grams shalled raw prawns, chopped
50 grams roasted peanuts, ground
1 tsp palm sugar
fish sauce
3 eggs
coriander leaves
spring onions
2 red chillies, finaly sliced

Pound together the coriander roots, garlic, peppercorns with a pinch of salt to a paste.

Stirfry the paste in a little oil till fragrant. Add the onion and cook further till softened.

Add the pork and prawns and continue to stirfry until the meat is cooked. Add the peanuts, palm sugar, and the salt and fish sauce to taste and sontinue to cook until it becomes sticky.

Beat the eggs and pour into a squeeze bottle (makes it all much easier).

Heat a small frying pan, add a little oil, and make a lattice with the eggs into the pan using the squeeze bottle. When the net is set, remove and repeat until all the eggs have been used.
Lay a net on a board, lay a few coriander leaves on the holes of the net, spoon in some filling - form into a neat square (like folding a spring roll or cold roll) and repeat with the remaining nets.

Garnish with more coriander leaves, the spring onion and sliced chillies.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Cheese Please!

You. Must. Try. This.

I'm sure I've probably said this before, and I suspect I shall say it again, but, this little dish I tried out on the weekend is sensational.

Matt over at Matt Bites, raved and ranted about it recently on his site and I had an inkling it would be right up my alley.

Its not expensive (I'm broke and used the cheapest Feta cheese I could find at the supermarket $2.50 or something) it takes 10 minutes and the flavour? Oh, heaven! Its soft and sweet and salty and I could go on and on.

Just try it, ok?

Here's Matts recipe, the way I did it:

1 x 250g slab Greek feta, blotted dry
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
Freshly ground black pepper
Pita bread, toasted and cut into wedges
Tomatoes, nuts or pickled vegetables (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Select a small oven-to-table earthenware dish or a small ovenproof sauté pan lined with aluminum foil to help transfer the cheese to a plate after roasting. Place the feta in the dish and cover with the olive oil. Bake until the cheese is soft and springy to the touch but not melted, about 8 minutes.

Preheat the grill and drizzle with honey. Grill until the top of the cheese browns and just starts to bubble. Season to taste with black pepper. Serve immediately with pita wedges and, if desired, sliced tomatoes, nuts or pickled vegetables.

Serves 4 to 6. Adapted from Sara Dickerman.


Saturday, 2 February 2008

Sweet Chilli Sausage Rolls

We celebrated Australia Day here last weekend, which is always a lot of fun. I was embarrassed when an American informed me (and 2 trusted Aussies agreed) its to celebrate Captain Cook first arriving in Australia. Google tells me this is not the case however, and its to commemorate the establishment of the first European settlement in Australia. Ha!

Something I find rather Australian is sausage rolls. They're Tony's favourites and when I saw this recipe in the newspaper I noticed just how easy they are to make. We were off to visit some dear friends and their gorgeous new baby girl, so I had the perfect reason to make them and bring them along. I cant imagine its easy to try and get food together with a newborn in tow! Of course, I couldn't go the traditional route, thought I'd try something different with the addition of sweet chill sauce. You couldn't taste the sweet chilli, I guess it add moisture though. They didn't last long, which means they worked well!

2 tsp vege oil
1 onion, grated
1 carrot, grated
500g pork mince
3/4 cup sweet chilli sauce
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg, separated
salt & pepper
4 sheets of puff pastry, cut in half
Sesame seeds
Your sauce of preference to serve (sweet chilli/tomato)

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add to grated onion and carrot and gently fry for 5 minutes till soft and golden. Allow to cool.

Mix the mince, sweet chilli, breadcrumbs, egg white, fried onion and carrot and salt & pepper.
Put approx 1/2 cup of this mix on each piece of puff pastry and roll up to enclose the filling, sealing the edges with a brush of the egg yolk.

Put the rolls on a tray lined with baking paper and brush the tops with the egg yolks and a sprinkling of sesame seeds if desired.

Bake for 30 minute till nice and gold. Cut into pieces (3 or 4) and serve with sauce.