Archive for the ‘recipes’ Category

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Sweet success: A&U annual bakeoff

July 25, 2009

cakesallThis week the Empress and I found ourselves bestowed with the extraordinary honour of judging the Allen & Unwin staff club’s Annual Bakeoff.

We arrived at Cake HQ to find a staggering twenty-seven entries awaiting consumption – from cakes and tarts to flans, shortcakes, cheesecakes, friands, cupcakes, meringues, quiches, biscuits, strudels… in three categories –  Savoury, Chocolate and General.

The task was almost overwhelming, but like the truly professional gutses we are – and despite the growing threat of sliding into diabetic coma – the Empress and I made our way through the blind tasting, separately keeping our scores out of 10 each for presentation and texture, and out of 20 for flavour.

stephjudgingWorking diligently through the morning with valiant A&U staffers slicing off slenderer and slenderer slivers – and fending off contestants desperate for their morning tea outside the door – the Empress and I were gratified to discover, when comparing scores, that for each category we had picked the same winner, and our scores were within one point of each other’s.

The standard, it must be said, was exceptional. It’s our first year of judging, but the bakeoff has been an A&U fixture for some time apparently, and competition is fierce. The winning entries were within one point of each other on the scale, and then from the three we had to choose one overall 2009 Bakeoff Champion.

And the winners were …

cakewinnersBy a whisker, the three winners were:

Savoury – Lou Blue’s Quiche Lorraine with  Pancetta

Chocolate – Anthony Bryant’s Triple Chocolate Praline Tart

General – Catherine Milne’s Clementine & Almond Syrup Cake with Chocolate Ganache

The overall champion, by the slenderest sliver of a hair’s breadth, was Catherine’s clementine cake. (And it turns out this was something of an upset win – apparently for the past several years Anthony, who also entered an incredible chocolate and cherry cake and a divine rhubarb and amaretti tart,  has been the unstoppable reigning champ. Next year’s bakeoff should be very interesting as he attempts to wrest the crown back!)

clementinecakeOnce the presentations were made and the hordes descended on the entries for morning tea, the Empress and I prised a few recipes out of the contestants, some of which happily are available online.

Turns out that Catherine’s unbelievably moist and complex clementine cake is an Ottolenghi recipe, and can be found here; and Anthony’s incredible praline tart (the silkiest, most satiny smooth filling ever) is from Gourmet Traveller a couple of months ago and is available here.

choctart

All in all, it was an astonishing display of skill, nerve and flair. The Empress and I have begged to return and offer our greedy evaluative skills for the A&U staff club’s Great Curry Contest – can’t wait!

Oh, and in case you think all this gustatory grandeur might be a little decadent, it also has a higher purpose: everyone who joined the morning tea festivities gave a donation to Sydney PEN, and every one of the many A&U staff club activities for 2009 raises some moola which will go to Sydney PEN at the end of the year.

Hey, I sense the opportunity for a Sydney PEN fundraising challenge! Any other Sydney publishers willing to take on the A&U master chefs in a publishing industry bakeoff? Let me know – Steph & I are more than willing to go the extra mile and extend our judging skills across the land!

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Lady Marmalade

July 19, 2009

marmaladeMy husband recently returned from a visit to his mum, Annie, bearing Gift: this jar of cumquat marmalade, made on a whim from the cumquats in her own garden and last week’s Good Living recipe (I think this recipe here is the one, right Annie? Let me know if not!).

Anyway, it wasn’t till yesterday that I had some of it slathered on toast (sourdough from the excellent Bourke St Bakery which happily for us has opened a new shop just a couple of blocks from our house). And my, that stuff was good.

This marmalade is magic – I’m not much of a jam person, having a reasonably low sugar tolerance, and so absolutely love this stuff which is sweet but tart and just with that teeny subtle bitterness that  makes marmalade so much more interesting than jam.

So this is, as you see, a cheat’s blog, given that today’s recipe is not only someone else’s but I didn’t even make it  – but it’s so good, and looks so beautiful, that I thought the Lady Marmalade wouldn’t mind me sharing her triumph with you.

The Lady reports in her comment on the polenta posting that this recipe is easy and results in feelings of industrious virtue.  And I am sure that if there are any tricks or tweaks required, she will let us know.

I have never made jam or anything like it in my life, but I heartily recommend you all rush off and make jars of this stuff (and then pop one  in the post to me…)


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A corny issue: how I cured my polenta paranoia

July 16, 2009

polentaCulinary confession  #93475 – I have always been terrified of polenta – that lovely-looking bright yellow corn meal that other people cook beautifully.

Before last weekend, the only time I’d attempted it was long ago, trying to make those little grilled-polenta fingers you see about the place. The result when I did, in a word: unspeakable.

Sooo, I have since then steered clear. However, my friend Jane is the queen of supercreamy, smooth-as-silk polenta and serves it with the kinds of slow-cooked shanky, meaty things we’re enjoying at the moment. So I emailed her asking for her secret.

She sent me a very brief reply, headed Piece O’ Polenta (hmm, I guess this means she’s hitherto known as the Potentate of Polenta? I’m running out of p-words…)

I tested it out on some unsuspecting chums last weekend, and it was great! And so simple – a fair bit of stirring involved, but the result, my friends, is worth it. We ate with a delish osso bucco (Karen Martini’s recipe, natch).

Here’s the recipe, short and oh so sweet. My thanks to the P of P for sharing. I doubled this quantity for eight people, and it was plenty, with a smidge left over. I also threw in some grated parmesan at the last minute but it’s completely unnecessary if you’d rather not.

Soft polenta

4 cups milk
1/2 onion
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
75g polenta

1. Combine milk, onion, thyme and bay leaf in a heavy-based saucepan and slowly bring to the boil.

2. Remove from heat and stand for 15 minutes. Strain, return milk to a clean saucepan, bring to the boil, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and slowly whisk in polenta.

3. Cook polenta over lowest heat, stirring regularly with a whisk for about 30 minutes or until soft. Season to taste. Should be soft and flowing – if too stiff, add some boiling water.

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My dark secrets

July 6, 2009

Organic ChocolateSenor & I are backing off on the booze this month, albeit without going the whole Dry July hog as we did last year (now that was a looong month – can’t believe I even attended the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival and stayed off the vino. I see they’re being more humane this year, and putting it back to August where it belongs…).

We’re thinking of this month as Quite Damp July instead, cutting out the booze except for weekends (and yes, I do include Friday and Sunday!).

While I still find this midweek abstinence exceedingly dull, especially if socialising with friends over dinner, it’s a hell of a lot easier now I have figured out that my traditional bodily six-o’clock wine time alarm bell may actually be, apart from the signal for the welcome end-of-working-day reward, a craving for sugar as much as for the booze itself.

I discovered this because, in compensation for lack of wine, I have begun dosing self with a couple of pieces of dark chocolate and a cup of peppermint tea at 5.30pm. Presto. No ‘GodDAMN I want a drink!’ cravings, which I used to think were entirely psychological. So unless I have created a successful self-medicating placebo effect (can you placebo-fool yourself?), I think the ol’  bod actually craves sugar at the end of the day, and because I’ve never been a dessert person or had a particularly sweet tooth (or so I thought), the only real sugar hit I get is the vino. Interesting.

So – on to the topic and my new drug of choice: chocolate. Dark chocolate, to be specific. Not too sweet, but sweet enough to get a girl through the evening. At the moment I’m swinging between Green & Black’s Organic Dark 70% Chocolate, which is nice and bitter, and not too sweet at all;  and Lindt’s Excellence dark chocolate with chilli – a little sweeter than the G&B’s, and with that nice added mouth-warmth from the chilli.

I know there are serious chocolate connoisseurs out there, but suspect I’ll never become one of them – too much of a salt fiend to get seriously into the choccies. However, I did come across this nice piece  in the New Yorker, in which a chocolatier called Rick Mast, “New York City’s only bean-to-bar chocolate maker”, pairs different literary masterpieces with the appropriate chocolate, from Leaves of Grass to Pride and Prejudice to Walden. And here I found mention of something I might seriously like: a chocolate called 81% with fleur de selcan such a perfect combo really exist?! I’m not sure if this is a joke or no, but here’s Mr Mast on Shakespeare and my fantasy chocolate:

Othello, “Othello,” by William Shakespeare
81% with Fleur de Sel
This proud, lovesick Moor should be paired with eighty-one per cent dark chocolate, seasoned with chocolate’s version of the Venetian Sea, fleur de sel. The sea salt gives context to the sugar, intensifying not only the floral and cinnamon notes but also the sweetness. The complexity of the delicately salted chocolate may even surpass Othello’s jealousy, but at least your mouth will have a happy ending. Avoid your own jealous rampage by not sharing.

Hmm. Investigation needed, methinks.

Oh and if you are looking for a chocolate cake recipe, as it’s the only kind of cake I seem to make (apart from my new love, the whole l’orange variety…), I can vouch for the following two chocolate triumphs. These  both involve little more than melting some of the good stuff and bunging in ovens, but as usual I end up cooking these for much longer than the recipes say.

The first is the chocolate fudge cake in Yotam Ottolenghi’s fabulous eponymous cookbook (he of the excellent New Vegetarian column in the Guardian) – I highly recommend this book, as it’s full of surprising, flavoursome dishes that are incredibly simple to make but have beautiful complexity of flavour, and heaps of it is vego. Not to mention that the book is a beautiful shiny luscious thing in itself.

The second is Maggie Beer’s absolutely divine chocolate cake with whisky-soaked raisins and orange zest. Oh, my. I think this recipe title speaks for itself, don’t you? It’s from her book Maggie’s Kitchen, about which I have raved before.

OK. I’m feeling quite faint with all this cacao-bean chaos on the loose, so I must go and have another cup of tea and a good lie down. But while I’m resting, do tell me  all your dark chocolatey secrets? Favourites to buy or make? July is a long month, after all …


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Winged victory – chicken brodo

June 18, 2009

brodoI have never been a big fan of chicken wings – too fiddly, greasy, just annoying, and for what?

But Ms Karen Martini (I only just thought recently what a killer name this is. How I would love to be called Charlotte Martini) has changed my mind, and found an excellent use for the delights of these tender moist little bits of flesh without the finger-licking tedium. Or at least, the tedious bit is only the cook’s job, not the diners’.

Here is Ms M’s chicken & vegetable brodo faithfully reproduced by some other braver recipe-sharing blogger  (the original is from KM’s second book Cooking at Home – buy it, it’s brilliant apart from way too many arty personal kitchen and/or new baby photos – why do people do that??), and below is my slightly altered version, replacing a few ingredients with whatever we had in the fridge. But the big debt is to KM.

Getting the flesh off the chook bones is the fiddliest bit, but from start to finish it took a bit over an hour, and was sooo delicious – was feeling a little off-colour with burgeoning headcold (swine flu?) yesterday arvo, but after a bowl of this stuff was bounding with good health.

I urge you to make this at least once in the next week – I promise it’ll cure what ails you!

Chicken & vegetable brodo, with thanks to KM

  • 1kg chicken wings (mine were organic from woolies, and cost six bucks. Bargain.)
  • 2 litres chicken stock
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, ditto
  • 1 small red chilli, split
  • 3 fronds silverbeet or cavolo nero – stems diced, leaf roughly chopped
  • 1 celery stick, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • ½ chorizo sausage, finely sliced (optional, can leave out)
  • ½ cup arborio rice
  • Small handful spaghetti, broken into 5cm sticks ( I acidentally used tube spag, but it was still fine)
  • 2 zucchini, sliced
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • Chopped parsley
  • Grated parmesan, to serve Read the rest of this entry ?
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Beef Bourguignon, Bennelong style

June 15, 2009

guillaumeMy cyber-savvy mother-in-law cooked dinner for eight on Saturday night, including us, and her main was a spectacular beef Bourguignon she found on the SBS Food Safari website.

The step-by-step recipe is all in an online video with the Opera House Bennelong restaurant’s Guillaume Brahimi showing the way. The result was too good to describe – and one of the fab secrets is using pureed carrot instead of flour to thicken the stew.

Of course, being a fancypants chef, he used Wagyu beef (hello??) – but he also says he’d have no trouble using ‘any piece of beef’ so I guess I’d go for chuck. Annie if you’re out there, what did you use? It was soo tender.

Anyway, here’s the video – I might give it a whirl this week, will report back with results. And thanks to Annie for the amazing taste test.

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Sitting duck – cheat’s cassoulet

June 14, 2009
Assembled, not yet baked...

Assembled, not yet baked...

Today, with gloomy rainy cold weather and a heavily pregnant friend here for lunch en famille, we decided to go all-out on the winter stodge and revisit a deliciously easy duck cassoulet I made a few times years ago.

The cassoulet recipe is a great Brigitte Hafner dish, from Good Living in May 2004 – a very stained and blobbed-on bit of newsprint that lives in our big folder of cut-out recipes. The original has a whole fresh duck chopped up and roasted in pieces, instead of the traditional confit duck, which makes it not so pricy and still pretty easy, but today I went the total Convenience Cassoulet route with bought confit duck and canned beans, thereby bastardising this into an even simpler recipe which still packs an excellent punch.

Bless the internet, because I’ve just found the original Brigitte Hafner version here, and below is my even quicker version. Read the rest of this entry ?