Wednesday, September 22, 2010

White chocolate, honey & goat's milk tarts

I awoke to a lilac glow gracefully stretching her ballerina legs through the part in the curtain. Only the corner of the room shimmered in the pre-dawn light, the rest remained untouched in their sullen grey. I rubbed the dream-sleep from my eyes and deftly snatched my phone, I have always been able to transition from sleep to a functional waking state within seconds of my awakening, unlike my husband who remains in a hazy trance until lunch time...

The clock flashed 6:03am, nine minutes until dawn was expected to arrive. I turned to my beloved, his mouth slightly open, his face frozen in a dream somewhere, some-place. It's wonderful to watch people in this restful state, between worlds, the seriousness and weight of being an adult hidden away. I always stare in wonder at how innocent and child-like my husband seems when he slumbers. I almost prefer him this way...

I touched his face tenderly with the back of my index finger, tracing the contour of his cheek bone. His eyelashes fluttered briefly from my caress but it did not interrupt his repose. I slid out of the bed and slipped on my robe to stop the morning chill from piercing my warmth with its cold tendrils. After feeding the birds, who seemed to have risen even earlier than I, most likely in their quest to catch the worm, I searched for something to make my husband. I wanted it to be akin to dreaming, to make his transition to alertness gentler. If I had to choose a food that symbolised the Land of Nod it would have to be milk and honey; as comforting as sleep's embrace.

The image of this dish alone spoke softly of children's dreams and feather-light kisses. And so this is what my dearest awoke to...

ease: 4/5.
prep time: 1 hour & 30mins.
cooking time: 35mins.
total: 2 hours & 5mins.

taste: 3/5. For the sweet tooths.

There was no tart nor tang nor deep chocolate depth to break up the silky sweetness of the honey, milk and white chocolate trio. Although they offered different shades of sweetness, it was all too 'one note' for me; I need some discord to add interest.

Flavour aside the texture was wonderful and the crust added the perfect 'toughness' for the delicateness of the dish.

would I make it again: No - too 'goodie goodie' for me I am afraid.

recipe: White chocolate, honey & goat's milk tarts

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Shepherd's pie

The next time it rains, when the last drop has fallen to its soil, go outside. Close your eyes... I n h a l e.  
Can you smell it? Amazing isn't it? It's as if the rain has stripped away Nature's cloak with its crystal soak and revealed her innermost secrets. The world suddenly smells alive. Just breathe it in and feel it rush through your veins, pulsating Mother Earth's very life essence through your soul and Really Wake Up.

If I could bottle the scent of newly washed air and dew-laden gardens I would dab it onto my wrist and sniff whenever the world began to look less colourful or my connection to it wavered. So, CHANEL or Dior or anyone, get right on that please :).

Freshly fallen rain not only makes the day smell better, it also makes me hungry. Perhaps it is from the revitalising cool air on my face after hours spent jailed indoors by the water's slanted bars that sparks my appetite, I'm not really sure. But it's not just me either. Once the pitter pattering stops, my male-half suddenly awakes from his laptop trance and asks, "what's for lunch?"

Today, nothing tastes better post-elemental shower than a warm, nourishing pie from the oven. During my short-lived meat-eating-era my favourite savoury pie was a Shepherd's - the combination of pillowy mashed potatoes covering the saucy flavoursome meat just did it for me. What is your ideal rainy day lunch?

Shepherd's Pie
from Gourmet Traveller
serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 fresh bay leaf
800 gm minced lamb (I used 200g less as I wanted it to be more saucy.)
2 tbsp tomato paste
250 ml (1 cup) brown chicken stock (see note)
125 ml red wine
60 ml (¼ cup) Worcestershire sauce
120 gm (1 cup) frozen peas, defrosted
1 cup (loosely packed) flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
Creamy mash
800 gm desiree potatoes, coarsely chopped
250 ml (1 cup) pouring cream
100 gm butter, softened

Preheat oven to 200C. Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, garlic and bay leaf and cook until vegetables are soft and start to colour (7-10 minutes). Season to taste, add mince and stir, breaking up mince with back of spoon until brown (5-7 minutes). Add tomato paste and stir to combine. Add stock, wine and Worcestershire sauce, bring to the boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until sauce is thick (20-25 minutes). Stir through peas and parsley and season to taste.

Meanwhile, for creamy mash, place potatoes in a pan and cover with cold salted water. Bring to the boil over medium heat and cook until tender (10-15 minutes). Drain potatoes and return to pan. Add cream and butter and mash until smooth. Season to taste.

Divide mince mixture between four 2 cup-capacity ovenproof dishes. Top with potato and bake until golden (10-15 minutes). Serve with extra Worcestershire sauce to the side.

ease: 4/5.
prep: 40mins.
cooking time: 10mins to brown potatoes.
total: 50mins.

taste: 4.5/5. Those shepherd's sure know their pies.

R loved this and was asking for more the next day. Apart from tasting the mash (which was lovely with its buttery downiness) I didn't taste the meat mixture, but I smelt it cooking and it made me swoon with salivation. The smell almost ended my sixteen years of vegetarianism...almost.

would I make it again: Yes.

recipe: Shepherd's Pie

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Jamie's bloomin' brilliant brownies

It's hard to surprise me.

I am quick to spot a falter in someone's speech or an inconsistency in their behaviour, I blame this sleuth-like quality on my star sign, the mystery loving Scorpio. It is due to my inquisitive, suspicious nature that almost all of my husband's efforts to surprise me are foiled by yours truly, most often unintentionally. I can't seem to help going on the chase if I smell a rat, whether the deceit is well-intended or not.

After guessing last year's intended birthday surprise R finally gave up and has not tried anything since. That is probably how he managed to sneak out of the house for a supposed business shop visit (the fact that it was pouring outside and quiet at the office should have piqued my intrigue, but I was too absorbed in my Spring cleaning to bother probing) to return with a bunch of vivid roses and tulips. I was not merely shocked by the surprise gift, but also that he bought me flowers, which has only ever happened on the occasional birthday or Valentine's Day (my girlfriend's are the usual flower givers).

Not only did I not mind that he had successfully tricked me, but I was girlishly thrilled to receive a completely unexpected bunch of flowers. I must have said thank you a dozen times as I happily stared at the flowers throughout the day, they truly do put a smile on a woman's face. I couldn't help but marvel at the tulips in particular with their watercolour streaks of Byzantium purple and cornflower blue, simply a masterpiece of floral beauty.

To show my thanks I baked a tray of 'chocolate only' brownies I spotted on this blog as per hubby's request. We were both equally happy with our gifts :)

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 15mins.
cooking time: 23mins.
total: 38mins.

taste:  4/5 - fairly brilliant.

For me the taste was very earthy with an almost coffee-like depth; the cocoa gave them a rich chocolate intensity. Flour's minimal attendance allowed the brownies a lovely soft, toothsome fudginess but it had a slight graininess towards the end.

Hubby gave these a 4.5 but for me they were a 4; they were a touch too dark and heavy for me, but nonetheless they were quite addictive.

I have a query, I use different percentage callebaut chocolate, in this instance I used a 70% dark callebaut, I read recently that callebaut chocolate may change the consistency and outcome of recipes that call for bitter-sweet or 70% dark chocolate - is this true?

would I make them again: No, there can only be one brownie recipe, and I have yet to find it.

recipe: Jamie's bloomin' brilliant brownies

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lemon & garlic-salt crusted chicken

Caw. Caw. Caw.
I heard the raven at my door.
Peeking in between the blinds to see if I was there.
Caw. Caw. Caw.
He made his presence known once more.
Wanting to receive a treat to take back to his lair.

I'd like you to meet my newest Avian friend, Gomez the Raven (his partner I have nicknamed Morticia, and although we have met, she still remains cautious to approach and keeps me at four arms distance). Gomez appeared one evening whilst I was on my deck, perched on a plum tree vine spotted with newly budded blossoms. After a few twitches of his head, as if to ascertain the level of my threat, he clumsily hopped a few branches closer until he eventually landed on the cobalt blue railing. He looked at me, and I at him. I understood he wanted a snack, and he understood that I understood he wanted a snack. I hastily scrounged up a slice of apple and a few almonds. He gulped the almonds down first but took his time with the apple. Clutching it between his toothpick, obsidian claws he nibbled a few chunks before placing it firmly in his mouth to fly back to his nest at the far end of the neighbours yard beyond. And from that moment, every morning around 7am, I go outside, whistle three times, call his name, and within a minute or two he appears on the same plum tree branch to see what I have brought him. Sometimes in the evening, if I can hear him cawing, I put out another treat along with a whistle and a yell, and sometimes his wife comes too for their supper time morsel.

On a similar note, meet Squeaky. He isn't like the other Lorikeets. He prefers to eat the paint on the bowl, rather than the sunflower seeds in it. His chirp isn't very chirpy either, in fact, it's his namesake; the raspy squeal of a broken squeaker toy. But if it wasn't for his daftness or eccentricities, even his slightly larger, hunchbacked appearance, I wouldn't be able to pick him from the rest of his ilk. It is because he stands out that he (or she, I'm not really sure which) is endearing to me. My special little Lorikeet, Squeaky.

Introductions to my feathered-friends aside, I shall leave you with one of my husband's more recent lunches. As I prefer him not to dine at almost all take-away or fast-food outlets I sometimes hear him reminiscence loudly about certain, unhealthy snacks he once held dear. One of these snacks was fried chicken. Crumbed fried chicken that leaves your fingers greasy and face messy. I hoped this recipe would be a suitable satisfaction of his cravings, and luckily, it was. In fact, he likes it even more than the original despite it only having  a few herbs and spices rather than eleven...

Also, I would like to wish my baby brother a Happy 23rd Birthday! My, they grow up so fast don't they...

Lemon & garlic-salt crusted chicken 
(serves 4)

3 teaspoons salt flakes (I used 2tsp for 3 drumsticks)
2 teaspoons garlic salt (I used 2tsp for 3 drumsticks)
1/2 teaspoon paprika (I used 1tsp for 3 drumsticks)
1 large lemon, rind finely grated
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 large chicken drumsticks, skin on (I used 3 without skin)
2/3 cup self-raising flour
olive oil cooking spray (I used regular olive oil and just splashed it on top)

Preheat oven to 220°C. Lightly grease a large roasting pan.

Combine salt flakes, garlic salt, paprika and lemon rind in a bowl. Add oil and stir to combine. Place drumsticks in a large bowl. Spoon over oil mixture, rubbing in to coat chicken with your fingertips.

Place flour in a large snap-lock bag. Add drumsticks, 1 at a time, and shake to coat. Place drumsticks in roasting pan. Spray both sides lightly with oil.

Roast drumsticks for 20 minutes. Turn. Spray again with oil. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Serve.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 5mins.
cooking time: 35mins.
total: 40mins.

taste: 4.5/5. Finger lickin' good.

I modified it slightly as you can see above in the recipe. They came out of the oven with their coating still in tact and very much golden and tasty. Hubby wolfed them down happily :).

would I make it again: Yes.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rhubarb, rose & pistachio dessert

 And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, "The Sensitive Plant"

The beginning of Spring is like the first chord struck during a theatre performance; No matter what conversation you are in or what you are doing, when that first note is heard everyone is thrust into a hushed awe. And that is how the Spring flowers bloom. One morning you awake and they are simply there, stunning you into silence with their unexpected beauty. My favourite of all the flowers that awaken one September morning are the blossoms. Be it cherry, plum or pear they all cheer me equally with their paper thin fragility in hues of pink, snow white or apricot blushes.

Each morning I tiptoe into the crisp air, still tinged with Winter's icy kiss, and soak up every petal in every shade, knowing that soon they will give in to the honey words of the wind and fly away to dance their last until next September, their scene replaced by October's act.

The changing of a season reminds me to savour those fruits still lingering from last, like the glossed stalks of Rhubarb, each a different shade of crimson or magenta with their leafy emerald tops, soon to fade from farmers stalls. You should come to expect at the ending of one season and beginning of another to be showered with posts featuring one or two fruits, or even vegetables. Rhubarb will no doubt feature more than once this coming week as I hurry to savour its taste. That's the glory of seasonality, nothing gets old.

Now you must excuse me, it seems this morning's two hour glucose blood test marathon has finally caught up to me, and I'm feeling rather faint much like most of the female characters in Victorian classics tend to do on an hourly basis. This sweet treat will surely speed my recovery :).

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time: 3mins.
cooking time: 12mins cook and rest.
total: 15mins.

taste: 3.5/5 - texture troubles.

As you all know, I recently joined to the rhubarb club and was quite enjoying my membership. I love the way it tangs and tarts in such a sweet manner, and I also adore the way it collapses beneath my spoon after its stewing.
In this dish I liked the following:
the combination of rose, rhubarb and pistachio, truly a terrific trio in the making. The yoghurt added a clean palate to the dish without offering competing flavours.

What I didn't like:
The texture. I'm not sure why but the rhubarb mixture left an incredibly chalky after-texture that I did not care for at all.
Whilst the flavour was good, the texture was too off-putting for me and I wouldn't even have a clue as to why it was chalky.

recipe: Rosewater rhubarb dessert

would I make it again: No - the texture ruined it.