Monday, August 31, 2009

Sofia's halva

Tastes from our childhood become such an integral part of who we are.

Foods that we loved as children, especially if made by someone we love, fill us with a deep memory-based happiness in our adult lives upon eating them again. As much as I can love a dish I have made now, it will never compete against delicacies like my grandmother's lentil soup (Faki), my mother's chicken parmigiana (when I used to eat meat, I could have eaten this every day) or store-bought Pfeffernüsse gingerbread biscuits given to me each time I visited my Nanna and Great Nanna.

If I had to pick just one childhood treat, it would have to be my Yia yia's (Sofia) semolina Halva. She would put them into these little lego-coloured bumpy moulds and I could not stop at just one - ever. The most I had in one sitting was four, and for a 6 year old matchstick thin little girl, that was enough to make my stomach stretch to an unheard of size. My favourite place to eat them was in the homemade swing of a large, tiger striped blanket tied to two large tree boughs - my secret spot with my delicious treasure, absolute bliss.

However, one child's heaven-sent treat may most likely not be as appreciated by others who do not have the childhood memories attached. Whilst I love Halva, Ryan doesn't care for it, just as I don't care for his concoction of pasta with chicken stock and Kraft cheese singles. But there are those times when a person can enjoy someone else's childhood feast (just like I did with Ryan's grandmother's Ftira). So I can only suggest to give it a try, you might like it almost as much as I do.

Sofia's (Yia yia's) Semolina Halva
serves 8 -12

2 cups sugar
4 cups water

1 cup oil
2 cups coarse semolina (I used fine, and it still worked out)
1/2 cup sultanas
1tsp cardamom
cinnamon to sprinkle on top
crushed walnuts to sprinkle on top ( or fold through if you prefer)

Place sugar and water in a saucepan and over medium heat stir until sugar has dissolved. Set aside.

In a larger saucepan heat oil. Drop one piece of lemon peel into oil to test temperature and then discard lemon peel. Pour semolina into oil and stir until semolina is lightly browned (NOTE: I have been told by my aunt that the semolina should be browned further, more towards brown sugar in colour).
Add sugar syrup gradually - BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL as syrup with cause the semolina to sputter. Continue until all the syrup has been mixed into the semolina and turn off the heat. Stir through cardamom and sultanas and pour semolina into a mould/s of your choice. Let them set for at least 5 mins and then turn out onto a plate whilst the semolina is still warm.
Sprinkle with cinnamon and walnuts. Enjoy.

ease: 5/5.
prep time:
1min to get ingredients.
cooking time: 14mins - make semolina whilst making sugar syrup.
total: 15mins.

taste: 5/5 (I am biased on this one). What can I say? Aromatic cinnamon and cardamom give way to a vanilla-esque semolina with plump, tartly sweet sultanas and then crunchy walnuts. Each bite reminds me of childhood joy and my grandmother.

would I make it again: Yes.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sauteed bananas with cardamom praline sauce

Bananas in pyjamas are coming down the stairs
Bananas in pyjamas are coming down in pairs
Bananas in pyjamas are chasing teddy bears
Cos on Tuesdays they all like to catch them unawares

Can you call a banana sexy? Put the phallic symbolism aside, as a fruit, would you call it sexy? Cherries, figs and peaches would probably be the best contenders for this race if it were based on them being unadorned, in only their original skins.

However, draped in luscious praline with velvet vanilla ice cream and intoxicating exotic cardamom, I think these bananas are tres sexy indeed. These bananas are not in their pyjamas, they are in silk negligees, yummy edible negligees.

I must admit that I was intrigued into giving this recipe a second look due to its simplicity rather than the sum of its parts. Yet when I saw what lovely, reliably delicious ingredients accompanied said bananas, I already had my finger ready to bookmark.

What I love most about Epicurious (apart from being able to read recipes from Bon Appetit and Gourmet which would otherwise cost me $16AUD each to buy way down under in Australia) is that all those who cook the recipe, can write their opinions on everything from how it tastes to what their experiences were with the method. I know everyone's tastebuds are unique, and what pleases some may in all likelihood not please all, but on the whole, when a dish comes only with praises, you can decently expect that your efforts will be rewarded with tasty food. Apart from being able to easily keep in touch with loved ones, finding a multitude of recipes that would have otherwise never entered my kitchen is what I love about the Internet.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 1min.
cooking time: 5mins.
total: 6mins.

taste: 4.5/5. YUM. The sauce is divine - smooth, unctuous and lusciously sweet with the slightest perfumed cardamom and a tang of lime. It envelopes the crispy, soft caramelised bananas and velvety ice cream beautifully. I made the following changes:
  • 1tbs butter to fry two bananas
  • 1/2tsp cardamom (I could have even used a touch more)
  • I halved the bananas but kept the sauce the same has I can always want more sauce (as you can see from the drowning bananas in the picture).
would I make it again: Yes - quick and tasty for minimal effort.

recipe: Sauteed bananas with cardamom praline sauce

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Yoghurt, passionfruit & banana Eton mess

I seem to be subconsciously channelling warm weather with my choice of ingredients.

With Winter in its last throes, I am blissfully making light desserts with tropical fruits - naughty I know. It must be the powerful sunshine and warm winds that move me towards the summer tastes. There is pure joy in eating a dessert like this with your skin warmly tingling and the softest breeze playing mischievously with your hair.
Alas, I prefer not to cook with out-of-season produce, so today will be my last Summer fling until Summer finally arrives with my mega dose of Vitamin D and seasonal happiness.
It's not so bad, after all, I have a wonderful three months of Spring's bounty to look forward to eating - most of which can also be enjoyed in the occasional burst of sunlight.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 10mins.
total: 10mins.

taste: 3.5/5. Had it not been a touch runny from the passionfruit syrup, this would have been a 4.5/5. To be honest, the sugar syrup is not needed (it's also warms it up too much) - I would simply add the passionfruit as is in all it's glorious tartness, but if you need it sweeter, drizzle a little honey on top.
It is beautifully smooth with crispy, chewy meringue and crunchy tart passionfruit. Lovely, refreshing and light - it would be beautiful to eat on a sunny day with a light breeze and your legs up on the table (or a parnter). I added an extra 1/2 a crumbled meringue to each glass which I would recommend.

would I make it again: Yes - without the sugar syrup.

recipe: Yoghurt, passionfruit & banana Eton Mess

Friday, August 28, 2009

Roast pork & apple sandwich

Lunches around here hover on the mundane, as daily chores and work keep me busy enough to only spare a few minutes on its preparation.

I might occasionally whip up a nice treat to accompany the weekly main of toasted bread with cheese and a varying sliced meat (or if I have an extra minute, eggs with toast) but rarely do I change the main component.

Today Ryan's friend came over to help him with web-related work, which allowed me some spare time between loads of laundry and trips to the vet to make an extra-special sandwich. Pork and apple seems to be a classic paring that doesn't offend, and when cooking for someone you don't know, I prefer to play it safe and classic. I offered the boys a beer of stout, but bless their hearts they choose apple juice.

Also, a very Happy Daffodil day to everyone. For those who don't know what today celebrates, Daffodil Day and it's merchandise raise money towards cancer research. The bright yellow flowers that bloom in dreary winter are the perfect symbol for a cancer-free future.

ease: 5/5.
prep time:
cooking time: 1 hour.
total: 1 hour & 12mins.

taste: 4/5. For lunch I didn't have time to make the bread so I used a honey & oat loaf. I halved the ingredients to make a sandwich for two (with left overs). I cooked the pork at 200C for 15mins and then at 180C for 35mins. I let it rest for 10mins. Ryan enjoyed the sandwich.

would I make it again: Yes - for a special lunch.

recipe: Roast pork & apple sandwich with stout

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Beef bourguignon

Last night I could not be bothered cooking, I had myself a lazy night.

I sometimes skip making dinner, but as I plan each meal in advance it means that I have one dinner's worth of ingredients that still need to be used up. My solution is to make it the following day for lunch. It worked out perfectly as we have dinner plans tonight, which normally means we are absolutely starving by the time our reservation comes. However, I am hoping that by having a big lunch and perhaps a smoothie in between, we will be in that perfect place of hunger without actually being in pain.

I heavily adapted this recipe as I do not have a casserole dish so I was unable to move it to and from the oven. Here is what I did (Large single serve, or medium serve for 2 if there's a side dish):

Beef bourguignon from Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion

1tbs olive oil
100g streaky bacon cut into 1cm cubes
5 shallots
700g blade steak, 5cm cubes
ground black pepper
2tbs plain flour
1tbs Brandy
1 cup red wine
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
2 stalks parsley
small piece of blood orange peel
1 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup beef stock
5 large flat mushrooms sliced thickly
25g softened butter

In non-stick fry pan heat oil and brown bacon gently. Remove with slotted spoon and brown shallots then set aside with bacon.
Season beef with pepper and brown in pan. Scatter over 1tbs flour on high heat, then add 1tbs Brandy. Keep heat on high and add wine, and reduce a little. Make sure to stir up any brown bits.
Add herbs and orange peel. Add garlic, bacon and onions. Add beef stock, cover with baking paper snugly and cover with lid. Cook for 20mins and add mushrooms, recover and cook for a further 10mins.
Ladle 1/2cup of juices into a small bowl. Cream softened butter with 1tbs flour and add to juices, mixing with a fork until combined. Pour this into beef and stir until combined. Bring casserole to a boil to thicken slightly.

ease: 4/5.
prep time: 25mins.
cooking time: 30mins.
total: 55 hour.

taste: 4/5. I cooked it for 35mins rather than 30 and by that stage the liquid had almost completely evaporated so I would recommend reducing it by 5mins or just check on it.
Ryan liked this, and thought all the flavours went well. He thought the red wine was the strongest flavour. I removed the herbs before serving.

would I make it again: Yes - I will make it the same way but reduce the cooking time by 5-10mins.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Lychee and coconut tapioca pudding

The weather today was like the twilight zone.

I had just let my little furry munchkin out to pee when hail stones began to pelt down from a blue sky. I have never seen my dog run so fast in his life, I don't think he has ever been outside when it is hailing before, so he got a bit of a fright, and heavily drenched.

I sauntered into the bedroom to wake my sleeping husband to witness the sight. From the bed all he could see was sunshine and azure skies, but he heard the racket of the little drops of ice against the windows and roof and got up to see what was going on.

Lately our weather has been quite erratic and irregular, we have had gale winds for the past week which has caused extensive damage and the loss of life. I have heard that Adelaide has been experiencing 100kmh winds, crazy stuff, especially for the beginning of Spring.

The government has suggested people stay in their homes if possible, and away from their windows. Luckily I'm as happy as a Larry to stay indoors, I can cook and eat to my hearts content.

I'm expecting my dad to drop by and as he has taken a liking to tapioca, I fixed up another pudding, this time with a tropical twist using lychees, a flavour he loves in his juice drinks.

ease: 5/5.
prep time:
Overnight to soak tapioca.
cooking time: 10mins plus cooling time in the fridge (at least 1 hour).
total: 1 hour & 10mins plus overnight (but just 10mins actual work).

taste: 4/5. This would be heaven on a hot day. The first flavour you get is the sweet brown sugar, followed by the refreshingly sweet lychee, then the tart crunchy passionfruit before the creamy coconut tapioca and then the lychee coming in again at the end. The flavours go well; the passionfruit is essential as its sharp acidity helps to cut through the other different types of sweetness. The only downside was at the end, when it was just the coconut tapioca, it left a powdery residue in my mouth, which was weird. Otherwise a nice, light, cooling treat perfect for a hot night's dessert.

would I make it again: Yes - in hot weather, and hopefully with fresh lychees rather than canned.

recipe: Lychee and coconut tapioca pudding

Saturday, August 22, 2009


I have a non-alcoholic induced hangover - I think I shall call it the loud-music-and-screaming-to-talk hangover.

This morning, the sunshine streaming through my window was like a laser pointer to my eyes, a split second later came the numb pain, mostly localised the the front of my brain and eye sockets. My nose also had a tingle, hopefully of the allergy variety rather than the cold-and-flu. Although I did not drink any dubious substances, I did overdose just a little on chocolate. I had eaten two more of my chocolate puddings during the day (I made six, and there are only two of us so I must eat my share) and in the evening I binged on chocolates, tim tams and Laurent cakes filled with all types of, you guessed it, chocolate. I must add that last night was the celebration of my gorgeous sister-in-law's 26th birthday. After the junk fest we spent the night at a bar, where the loud music and screaming took place.

It has probably been at least 3 years since my husband and I last went to a club/bar, so my noise tolerance had reverted back to my pre-club years. As we had wonderful company, the night was wonderful and worth today's repercussions.

Because I don't drink alcohol I've never had the craving for 'greasy' food after a big night out, hubby on the other hand had a drink or too (with absolutely no repercussions) so I thought I'd make him a burger (they're not that greasy when home made but comforting none the less). The fact that I'd be spending less than 10 minutes in the kitchen was also wunderbar.
ease: 5/5.

prep time:
2mins (to get patties on, do all other prep while they cook).
cooking time: 8 mins.
total: 10mins.

taste: 3/5. Hubby liked it, however as I have made him quite a few hamburgers before, he didn't like these more than this deluxe cheeseburger for instance.
It is perfect for when you want minmum mess and dinner ready in pretty much 10mins.

would I make it again: No, I have time to cook so I can spare it on something he likes more.

recipe: Cheeseburger

Potato & parmesan soup with parsley pesto

Winter would not be right without potato soup.

I love soup. As a child I especially loved my mother's potato and leek soup which came a close second to my grandmother's Faki (lentil soup). The upside of potato soup is that it is luxuriously smooth and a blessing when your teeth are painfully tender from yet another tightening of metallic braces. I've made quite a lot of different potato soups, some lovely, some a little boring.
What caught my eye with this recipe was the addition of Parmesan as well as a parsley pesto.

Even my soup-hating husband will try a bowl of potato soup so here's another one.

ease: 4.5/5.
I hate peeling and grating.
prep time: 18mins (to get soup on the stove and to make the pesto).
cooking time: 25mins.
total: 42mins.

taste: 3/5. Hubby rated it a 3.5 but it was much too thin for me. I would reduce the milk by at least 250-500ml as it makes the soup powdery and water thin. Thankfully the parsley pesto thickened it up a bit and added much needed flavour. The Parmesan was lost in the soup but came through the pesto really sharp and salty. DO NOT eat it without the pesto, it would be boring. This easily serves 6.

would I make it again: No - I've made nicer potato soups.

recipe: Potato & parmesan soup with parsley pesto from donna hay magazine, entertaining, issue 46

Friday, August 21, 2009

Chocolate-chestnut self-saucing puddings

Winter is back with its chilly temperature, violent winds and torrents of rain, which makes it the perfect day for warm, gooey chocolate pudding.

I will probably be making quite a few chocolate/decadent desserts whilst the last eleven days of Winter fly by, after all, it will not be back for another nine months and I doubt I shall want such heavy and self-indulgent desserts in warm weather.

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time:
cooking time: 25mins.
total: 55mins.

taste:4/5. Hubby liked these even though he found them a bit rich. I am a chocoholic but I actually find desserts made with cocoa rather than chocolate too rich for me. I didn't have shallow 2cup bowls so I used 6 1 & 1/2cup ramekins so they took a little longer to cook.
The cake itself has a deep cocoa taste and is also a little dry, which is fine as there was plenty of the thick, also heavy, sauce at the bottom of the dish. I couldn't really taste the chestnut in the chocolate cakes, but it came through the cream (I didn't add the Marsala as I thought it might overpower the chestnut).
The sauce had a stronger Marsala taste, with the raisins, unless you actually bite into a raisin you can't taste them. These were lovely enough, but I couldn't eat more than 3 spoonfuls. I can't seem to find a Dutch-process cocoa which might give a different taste to the regular baking cocoa I use, and not make it as rich and overpowering.
Side note: I actually found these to be less rich the next day after being heated up in the microwave.

would I make it again: No. I'd prefer a chocolate molten/lava cake to a pudding with sauce down the bottom.

recipe: chocolate-chestnut self-saucing puddings

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Quickly scaled Mont Blanc

Dessert in under 10mins - no problem.

ease: 5/5.
prep time:
total: 6mins.

taste: 2.5/5. Everybody found these too rich to eat more than 3 spoonfulls. I only used 300ml cream to make 3 dishes, and it was still too much. Once the cream dissoves you get a hint of the puree and then the sharp, solid dark chocolate. Nothing really melds together at all and it's just too sugary without any substance.

would I make it again: No.

recipe: Quickly scaled Mont Blanc

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Baked apple in semolina souffle with lime butterscotch sauce

Today is a happy day.

I was downstairs in the laundry when I heard the most unusual bird call, really bell-like and melodious. Intrigued I cautiously ascended the stairs, and from my peripheral I spotted a flash of crimson through the emerald green foliage of our Camellia tree. I swiftly, with as little sharp movements as possible, grabbed the bird seed and poured a cup into one of the bird feeders before I backtracked into the house and hid behind the curtain like a ninja.

Slowly but surely I saw the large Rosella carefully descend closer to the bird food before it timidly began eating. In my excitement I waved my husband over to witness the event. After trying for 1 year to get any bird other than a pigeon, brawler or magpie we finally got a Rosella.

Unfortunately I forgot that my little four legged baby was downstairs doing his business, and sure enough, as he trampled up the stairs to the back door, the beautiful Rosella flew away in a rosy flame. I know the likelihood of it returning is slim, but Ryan and I remain hopeful that he or she will be back, and perhaps a few friends will tag along too.

To commemorate the appearance of a new bird I thought I'd bake something unlike anything I've bake before. What better than a souffle, and a semolina twist on the souffle at that.

I tried googling where this recipe comes from, I thought perhaps but it hasn't gotten a match so I shall type it out.

Baked apple in semolina souffle with lime butterscotch sauce
serves 4

Melted butter, for greasing ramekins
caster sugar, for dusting ramekins
250ml milk
1 vanilla beans, split length ways
75g (1/3cup) caster sugar
25g fine semolina
35g (1/4cup) sultanas
2 eggs, separated
Lime segments to serve

Baked apples
4 small golden delicious apples
25g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
55g (1/4cup) caster sugar
Lime Butterscotch sauce
50g caster sugar
100ml thickened cream
25g unsalted butter, chopped
2tsp lime juice

For baked apples, place apples in a small roasting pan, brush all over with melted butter, then coat with sugar and bake at 150C for 1 hour or until soft. Remove from oven and cool.
For lime butterscotch sauce, place sugar and 2 1/2 tbs water in a saucepan and stir over low heat until sugar dissolves, then bring to the boil and cook until syrup caramelises. Add half the cream, being careful as mixture will bubble up, and stir until well combined. Remove from heat and stir in remaining cream, then add butter and lime juice and stir until smooth. Just before serving, heat over low heat until warm.
Brush 4 1cup capacity ramekins with extra melted butter, line sides with baking paper, extending paper 4cm beyond rims, then sprinkles bases with extra sugar.
Place milk, scraped seeds and bean in a saucepan and bring to just below the boil. Add 30g sugar, semolina and sultanas, then, whisking continuously, cook for 2-3mins until thick and smooth. Remove from heat and cool, then remove vanilla bean. Add egg yolks to cooled semolina mixture one at a time, whisking after each addition.
sing an electric mixer, whisk egg whites until soft peaks form, then gradually add remaining sugar and whisk until thick and glossy. Fold one third of the whites into the semolina mixture until just combined, then gently fold in the rest.
Spoon semolina in mixture among prepared moulds to half fill, then gently push a coled baked apple into the centre. Place in oven and bake at 170C for 30mins or until souffles have risen. Carefully remove from moulds, place on warm plates, pour a little lime sauce around and scatter with lime segments. Serve immediately.

ease: 3/5. Time intensive and multiple steps.
prep time: 1 hour & 20mins (includes making the souffle and sauce whilst apple cooks and also cooling time).
cooking time: 30mins.
total: 1 hour & 50mins.

taste: 4/5. Hubby loves baked apples (reminds him of his mama), hence the high score. These were ok, but nothing special for me. I also had issues with the directions. Instead of buttering and sugaring the sides of a ramekin, you put baking paper in so that you can supposedly slide them out. My souffles didn't slide, the stuck stubbornly to the paper and simply tore themselves into tiny pieces, leaving the apples basically naked minus a small souffle collar. I would skip the paper and just eat them out of the ramekin like you would most souffles.
The butterscotch sauce (even though it's caster sugar and water?) is quite bitter with a lime tang, I'd prefer a sweeter caramel. The consistency is lovely though.
The souffles got barely one word in edgewise amongst the bitter caramel and tartly sweet, moist apple. The apples are still quite firm (perhaps because I couldn't find small ones) but are soft enough for a fork, a spoon might be noisy or crack the ramekin. I preferred to eat the apple and the souffle separately so that I could properly taste them, together the apple and caramel wash away the poor souffle. It was ok, but probably not worth the effort and washing up.

would I make it again: No - I'll find another baked apple dish for my sweetie.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Beef, beer & dumplings

Warm enough to wear only a light jacket, a sunlit kitchen at 5:30pm and papery cherry blossoms...Oh my, Spring has almost sprung!

I feel sympathy for Winter, it gets such a bad rap and has so few fans compared to its more popular and vibrant siblings. I myself, am an Autumn supporter, but not so much that I can't appreciate what the other seasons can offer. The signs of Spring's hastening arrival has lit a fire under my bottom in regard to making as many Wintry meals as I can before the weather is too warm for molten chocolate and hearty stews.

ease: 4/5. Takes a while.
prep time: 25mins to get it into the oven (the dumplings take no more than 5mins.)
cooking time: 2 hours (includes making the sauce, I only reheated it all at the end for 2mins as it was still hot).
total: 2 hours & 25mins.

taste: 3.5/5. It turns out that Ryan isn't a fan of beef stew, and this dish was similar to beef stew for him. On the plus side he loved the dumplings and the meat was tender, otherwise it had too much of a gravy taste for him. I halved the recipe which is definitely enough for two.

would I make it again: No.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Meringue stack with chestnut puree

I had high hopes for this white snowy treat with chestnut filling.

Sometimes high expectations aren't met and you are left feeling disappointed and somewhat foolish. Although the chestnut puree was only a minor leaguer in term of ratio, I expected that it would shine through, but sadly, the alcohol and lemon dominated with their alliance to the eggy meringue; the trio were not sweet or complimenting. My darling little chestnut puree will have to try its luck elsewhere with less overbearing ingredients.

ease: 5/5.
prep time:
cooking time: 1hour & 5mins.
total: 1 hour & 17mins.

taste: 3/5. The filling didn't thicken despite whipping, perhaps whipping the cream and then folding in the other ingredients before whipping again would improve the texture.
The taste of the filling though wasn't very pleasant. The bitter alcohol from the Bailey's was the most overwhelming followed by the acidic lemon - couldn't taste the chestnut at all. As the filling wasn't thick it was almost completely lost in the very eggy meringue. The texture was very spongy and mine had actually browned 10minutes short of the cooking time. I think if it was white it wouldn't have been firm enough to slice and move.
Overall the flavours didn't appeal to me and it was a little bit of a failure for me.

would I make it again: No - didn't deliver on taste.

recipe: Meringue stack with chestnut puree from delicious. - December 2008, Page 136

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Mixed berry fool with almond biscotti & honey

Sirens blaring, crinkling cellophane pie packets, cat calls and screaming fans - the sounds of an Australian footy game.

Without sounding unpatriotic, I never really got into footy as much as my mum and brother. Whilst I did watch Carlton play during the finals, I could never muster enough enthusiasm to watch their other games on TV. But there's something about being at the large stadiums, surrounded by thousands of excited people that really brings the game alive. Even someone like me can get caught up in the moment and let out a holler or two; and the Mexican waves are always fun.

My husband barracks for Essendon so I support him as best I can through the ups and downs of watching the team you love. We were lucky enough to receive free tickets to sit in Australia Post's booth (courtesy of our account manager) and watch a game without the likelihood of doing so drenched in rain. Who could say no to that?

We didn't have much time in the morning, so I wanted something quick, preferably with a healthy edge (as junk tends to be the plat du jour at the footy) and somewhat filling.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 6mins (not including thawing time). I also skipped the sieve part.
total: 5mins.

taste: 3.5/5. It's pretty much mixed berry yoghurt with honey and a biscuit - nothing exciting. Overall it is tart and tangy with hints of sweetness from the honey and crumbly almond biscuit. Lovely for breakfast but not for company.

would I make it again: No - prefer plain yoghurt with the berries sprinkled on top.

recipe: Mixed berry fool with almond biscotti & honey from Good Taste - March 2007, Page 56

Friday, August 14, 2009

Savoury tomato bread pudding with basil cream

Logophile: LAW-guh-fahyl; noun:
A lover of words.

Nose deep in paperback books, with a hot chocolate or some other nondescript saccharine snack in one hand, was how I spent most of my childhood. I only ever used barbie dolls to act out scenes I'd read or written myself. My passion for reading helped me greatly in school, and now it is my favourite solitary indulgence, although I imagine I will love it even more as an activity shared with my children at bed time, or any time for that matter.

I must credit my mother for sparking my interest in literature. I looked forward to bedtime with the utmost ferventness. It would signal being tucked into bed with my mother picking a book from the shelf. My mother is a wonderful storyteller; her ability to portray each characters voice and inject absolute magic into each word delighted my imagination and was my favourite childhood experience. It wasn't long before I learned to read and set off on journeys myself, whether it was eating Moonface's delectable Honey Snap biscuits up in the Magic Faraway Tree or visiting the word marketplace in Dictionopolis from one of my absolute favourites, The Phantom Tollbooth.

I would also search out new words in the dictionary, adding them to my textual treasure chest. Instead of digging through endless pages, I get one new word emailed to me each day, just to get my fix.

My passion for food has also led me to discover new names for new ingredients never tasted. I remember 'Balsamic' was something I had not heard of until my teenage years when I tried it at an Italian cafe, needless to say I was hooked on the first bite. And whilst my husband had tried Balsamic Vinegar when we met, he had never tried it reduced, which we both prefer. There is just something about that sweetness with a large acidic kick that takes some meals above ordinary into wonderful. Especially when paired with its best friends tomato, bread and basil. An absolutely awesome foursome ;).

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time:
cooking time: 1hour (includes 45mins resting period, which is when I made the basil cream).
total: 1hour & 15mins.

taste: 3.5/5. I had high hopes for these little orange-red pudding which is maybe why they let me down a little in taste. The puddings needed another 10mins as I used normal muffin tins.

They were extremely soft and spongy. The first flavour you get is the sweet, vinegary balsamic (I highly recommend using a reduction/glaze as it is the only sweetness in this dish) followed by the incredibly strong thyme and basil cream and finally the tart, bitter tomato pudding. I would have loved some crunch as it is all incredibly mushy and soft, perhaps staler bread would have been better. It was lovely, but with that classic flavour combination I expected more, the bread could definitely use a little more tomato flavour. Perhaps a tomato tart tatin with the basil and balsamic accompaniments would have been better - with some goats cheese thrown in for good measure.
would I make it again: No - nothing special.

recipe: Savoury tomato & bread pudding with basil cream

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Banana & blueberry tarts

Freshly washed bed sheets are magical.

Slipping in between soft, crisp cool sheets fills me with joy, overwhelming satisfaction and comfort. As you can tell I find happiness in small things; I don't need rainbows and fireworks (although they are a turbo boost of happiness) to be chipper, I can be blissfully happy burrowing into my bed or waking up to a stream of sunshine misting my room with golden rays.

Whilst I may overall, be in a state of contentedness, my life is more frequently peppered with moments of happiness rather than pockets of negativity. On the whole, I think my state of mind tips the scale towards optimism. It's hard to stay angry or glum when being nuzzled by your dog or seeing a happy bird singing through the kitchen window.

On those days I wake up with a smile and a Disney-esque effervescence that would put most cartoon princesses to shame, I try to wring as much out of it as I can as you never know how long it will last. Today, after some light cleaning, I decided to pass on some of my cheer to my boys by making them an unexpected sunny treat as a tribute to a gloriously sunlit day.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 8mins.
cooking time: 10mins.
total: 18mins.

taste: 3.5/5. The puff pastry gave the tart a lack of substantiality. The sweet bananas went beautifully with the tart, juicy blueberries but when eaten with the ice cream it turned into a soggy nothing- it wasn't filling in the slightest. Afterwards I tried one on its own once it cooled down and it was much better as the pastry had firmed up, hubby actually wanted more.

Watch as they cook - the recipe states 15mins but after 10 they were burning.

would I make it again: No, these were a little too light for me.

recipe: Banana & Blueberry Tarts

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Creamy tapioca pudding with strawberry fennel puree

Ah, the calm before the storm, or rather the storm before the calm.

Tomorrow I am expecting my three darling girlfriends over for our second book club meet up (perhaps with an episode of Pushing Daisies to follow for good measure). As you can imagine I am working my way through the house like a madwoman vacuuming, wiping, washing and pushing my husband out of every room I am in. Knowing I would be busy during most of the morning I planned the night before to make a treat first thing that I could reward myself with once I was done. I believe cleaning is always sweeter if there is a sweet ending.

Yoshi loved the leftovers.

ease: 4.5/5.
You need to be at the stove.
prep time: 5mins to get tapioca on the stove and strawberries pulverised.
cooking time: 25mins.
total: 30mins plus chilling time if you prefer it cold and more set.

taste: 3.5/5. The first taste you get is a big punch of tart, grainy strawberry puree followed by a hint of licorice fennel and lastly the creamy subtle, gelatinous tapioca pudding. Whilst I loved the texture of the pudding I didn't really enjoy the grainy strawberries (which using a sieve probably would have corrected, but I couldn't be bothered), I think I would have loved this even more with some stewed apples or even rhubarb so the tapioca could shine through a little more.

Some people commented that the tapioca was too runny and didn't set so I reduced the water by 1/4cup and it set perfectly. This made 3 decent servings.

would I make it again: Yes - with a different fruit topping and perhaps half a vanilla bean for the tapioca pudding.

recipe: Fruit-on-the-bottom Tapioca Pudding

Friday, August 7, 2009

Chocolate chip cookies

"Me not take cookies, me eat cookies."
Cookie Monster

Out of all the colourful, fuzzy creatures who live on Sesame St, the big electric blue fur ball covered in chocolate chip cookie crumbs was always my favourite. Although he is practically a garbage disposal unit, devouring everything from sweets to picture frames, chocolate chip cookies were his favourite.

I must admit that cookies are not high on my list of sweet treats, I would always opt for fudgy chocolate brownies or donuts, but cookies always got their turn if I was having a tall glass of cold soy milk or a warm milky tea, perfect for dunking. Whilst Oreos and squiggly tops (before I realised they contain gelatin) are my favourites, chocolate chip cookies sit nicely in the 3rd position. My favourite kind are the over sized, Soft King/Mrs Field's-esque chewy ones with large chocolate chunks.

I was hoping these would end up being a close imitation.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 15mins to get two batches into the oven.
cooking time: 11mins - I did three double trays with 8 cookies.
total: 48mins to make 40 cookies.

taste: 3/5. The heavily sweet molasses sugar was too overpowering, I could barely taste the chocolate in them. The cookies were also cakey rather than chewy and very crispy on the edges. They are OK, but not the best. The also spread like wildfire, so make 2tsp size balls and spread them far apart.

would I make it again: No.

recipe: Chocolate chip cookies

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Walnut-orange cake

The wind has not been playing nice with Melbourne as of late.

It has been caught running at 120mph, tearing off roofs and snapping boughs with little regard to us humans. During the day I can withstand its tempestuous mood, but at night, I must admit, it can frighten me out of my soothing sleep and leave me with cowering beneath my blankets reaching for my husbands hand underneath the sheets. Even my little fur ball of love, Yoshi comes whimpering in for a reassuring pat on the head.

Nothing settles my nerves more than a cup of herbal, steaming, fragrant tea. And whilst it is comforting on its own, coupled with a slice of cake, it's downright relaxing.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 15mins.
cooking time: 1 hour.
total: 1 hour & 15mins.

taste: 4/5. This is a simple cake best eaten with a cup of tea whilst chatting to friends. It is moist but airy with a gorgeous crunchy crust and a tiny hint of bitter orange.

would I make it again: No. It was nice but there are many other cakes out there waiting to be baked.

recipe: Walnut-Orange cake

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Baby BLT breakfast sandwich amuse-bouche

Surprises - unexpected ones I do not like, planned surprises however I revel in.

I am one of those annoying people who like to plan everything and always know what is going on or what we are going to do - right down to each meal we eat. I don't know why I am so averse to the unanticipated and spur of the moment, but I just am.

Yet, I love planning surprises for others, whether as small as bringing home an unanticipated sweet treat or something larger like skydiving as a 21st birthday gift. As my husband, brother, father and myself all work from home, I make them lunch everyday, most often consisting of a fried or pressed cheese and meat sandwich. Nothing special but it fills the spot and it takes me only 5mins. As you can imagine though, it does get a little boring after a few days so every now and then I surprise them with something different. Although this recipe is in the 'bread' field it packs a whole lot more flavour, nutrition and excitement into a work lunch.

ease: 5/5.
prep time:
cooking time: 10mins.
total: 15mins.

taste: 4/5. Everyone would have preferred this on a Turkish pide or some other much-easier-to-eat-bread - the french stick was just too awkward. Flavour wise this delivered. For me I first tasted the deep savoury sweetness of the balsamic followed by the garlicky bread and soft egg which was then washed away by the tartly sweet tomato before finishing with the garlicky spinach and then the sweet basil to round it all off. The boys also had salty bacon in that mix.

I used a store bought balsamic reduction glaze.

would I make it again: Yes
- with a different bread and perhaps a shaving of Parmesan.

recipe: Baby BLT breakfast sandwich amuse-bouche

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Honeycomb butterscotch & tapioca pudding

Sleepless nights or frequent wakings have been a nightly occurrence for me since the age of 14.

Last night was a little more interrupted than usual. It started off with my husband coming to bed at 2am, with the subtly of an elephant. Then around 3am came the first siren, one of 4, which included a very loud and hurried fire engine. Then as usual at 7am the construction of the house behind us began and from there I don't think I fell asleep once, my husband on the other hand slept straight through to 10:30am. Lucky bastard.

To stave off the inevitable irritability caused by sleep deprivation, I decided I wanted to make something gooey, sweet and warm for lunch that I could eat in my corner of our couch.

As a child I would mix up and muddle a lot of things, butterscotch being one of them. My palate was unrefined to say the least, and I often mistook butterscotch for caramel. As I got older I realised the difference and more often chose to make butterscotch as it has a much higher success rate for me than caramel does (white sugar has a vendetta against me, that I am sure of).

I've had a bag of tapioca seeds in my pantry forever, so I thought this recipe would be a good starting point to using it up. Expect some more tapioca entries to come.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 15mins to fridge stage.
cooking time: 10mins to cool and whip cream.
total: 25mins.

taste: 4.5/5. I made a mistake in that I did not soak my non-instant tapioca overnight so they remained tiny and crunchy, the boys however did not mind and wolfed them down the same.
The pudding is a smooth, sweet caramel-y butterscotch which is softened by the cloud-like sweetened cream and the crunchy chocolate honeycomb bar scattered across the top. I used a Crunchie as the crushed candy bar. It would have been even better with the chewy, gelatinous engorged tapioca pearls. Hubby found it a little sweet towards the end once the cream and chocolate had run out.

would I make it again: Yes - fairly quick, simple treat for dessert.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Kefta with garlic yoghurt sauce

Many meals and snacks are served up in my kitchen daily, only a tiny few manage to make it to my blog.

Whilst I enjoy cooking, most of the time I can't be bothered dragging out my tripod and setting up a picture. Lately most of the photographs were taken last minute without fuss and without any prettying up. Just like today's post, which exceeded expectations and therefore warranted a mention on my blog.

This was a quick, easy meal for a Monday night. My husband loved it so much that I thought I'd share it with you.

I slightly modified this recipe from Gourmet Traveller.

ease: 5/5.

prep time:
20mins. Make sauce whilst kefta are in the fridge - the lamb balls took around 8mins to make and roll so I left them in the fridge for about 12mins.
cooking time: 8mins
total: 28mins - less if you refrigerate them for under 12mins.

taste: 4.5/5. Hubby really loved these and wolfed them down in less than 5mins. He loved the sultanas the most but felt everything went well and was tasty.

The original recipe called for 1/2 a grated onion which I did not have, but I would add that next time.

Lamb Kefta with garlic sauce
serves 2 (makes 15 sans grated onion)

500g lamb mince
1tso minced garlic
1 tbs ras el hanout
1/4cup parsley leaves
1 egg
1/2 tsp dried chilli
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
2 tbs sultanas
25gm pine nuts, toasted
salt and pepper
oil to cook

1/2 cup Greek yoghurt
1 tbs Tahini
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tbs lemon juice
salt and pepper

Combine 500g lamb with garlic, ras el hanout, parsley, dried chilli, egg, breadcrumbs, sultana, pine nuts, salt and pepper. Using your hands, wet hands and roll mixture into 3cm balls and refrigerate before cooking.
Heat oil in a large fry pan and cook meatballs, turning once, for 8mins or until cooked.

For sauce mix yoghurt with tahini, garlic, lemon juice and then season with salt and pepper.

Serve kefta with yoghurt to the side.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Apple, pear & vanilla crumble with ginger cinnamon topping

". . . nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose . . ."

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

As a child, the creature created from quilted dead flesh by Dr Frankenstein never truly scared me. If anything, I felt sympathy for the creature who did not ask to be given life and who was abandoned by a society that deemed him monstrous as they did not understand him. The novel and film did however, spark an interest in the science fiction genre.

History aside, I have begun my post with a brief explanation of the origin of the fictional character many refer to as Frankenstein, as it is a term I use when I have 'pieced something together' (not when I have created something that will ultimately self destruct and kill me'.)

There are times when a recipe as a whole is disappointing, but when dissected into parts, I find bits and pieces that I love. I recently made this Deep-dish apple, pear and vanilla pies with crisp sage which as a whole, I did not care for. As it turns out, I was left with an abundance of the pie filling and thought perhaps I might rework it into a crumble and possibly yield a tastier result.

With a single purpose in mind, I serenely threw a bunch of ingredients together for the crumble and have written it out below.

Crumble topping
  • 2/3 cup plain flour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • dash of ground cloves
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (45g) rolled oats
  • 125g unsalted butter, chilled
  • 1 tbs of whole hazelnuts
Mix dry ingredients together. Chop butter and toss into bowl, mix butter and dry ingredients together with fingertips until clumps have formed.

I preheated the oven to 190C and placed the left over apples and pears (perhaps 2 pears, 4 apples worth) from the Gourmet Traveller recipe into a glass dish and sprinkled the topping over it. I baked it for 20mins.

ease: 4.5/5. Lots of chopping for filling.
prep time: 30mins (I'm a slow peeler and dicer)
cooking time: 20mins.
total: 50mins.

taste: 4/5. The filling came to life when paired with the heady, warming spices. Hubby would have preferred a little less brown sugar as he doesn't like anything close to caramel in flavour. I would add another 1/4cup of oats as I love their chewiness. I poured in the syrupy juices that accumulated in the bowl from the fruit overnight, probably would leave that out next time as it made it a little too syrupy.

would I make it again: Yes - more oats and no fruit syrup next time.