Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pancetta, sage, ricotta & olive pasta

Two sleeps before I awake to a new year with limitless possibilities and no expectations.
I am looking forward to this new year more than others before; this one almost past, whilst filled with joy and wonderful experiences, was also filled with much heartache and loss for me - but I guess that makes it one I won't forget in a lifetime of years...

For the new year I am breaking old habits, one of them being the tradition of a new year's resolution, instead, I will endeavourer to live in the present, and make the most of whatever comes my way - no self-promises to be broken :). Que sera, sera...

In regards to what I shall be cooking in 2011, I am setting myself a challenge to cook at least three recipes per week from my collection of dusty, and almost forgotten cookbooks. It is time I finally discover which books contain golden recipes and which merely lumps of lead, as let's face it, not all printed recipes are great ones...

Perhaps I will end up with a little extra shelf space for some new and wonderful books as well.

Speaking of which, what are some of your most tried and true cook books?
And are you making any New Year's Resolutions?

Pancetta, sage & ricotta pasta
adapted from No Time To Cook by Donna Hay
serves 2

200g pasta (rigatoni)
15g butter (I used 30g)
1tsp olive oil
8 sage leaves
8 slices pancetta, sliced thickly (I used three for R's bowl)
1/2cup green olives, halved
pinch chilli flakes
1 tbs lemon zest (I omitted as R doesn't like lemon)
2 tbs lemon juice (I omitted also)
150g fresh ricotta
finely grated Parmesan to serve

Cook pasta in a large saucepan of salted boiling water for 10-12 mins. Drain.
Meanwhile, in a large, deep frypan, add butter,oil, sage & pancetta and cook for 3mins or until pancetta is crisp (I cooked pancetta separately as it takes a while to crisp up). Add olives, chilli, lemon zest and juice and then drained pasta to the pan, toss to coat. Place pasta in bowls and top with chunks of ricotta and sprinkled Parmesan cheese.

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time: 5mins.
cooking time: 15mins.
total: 20mins.

taste: 3/5. Sucker-punch pasta.

This dish certainly isn't mild by any means. I actually quite liked the briny olives with the strong sage and bite-y Parmesan upon the soft pasta and cool ricotta with a hint of heat. Hubby found it too salty, despite there being no additional salt, and as much as I liked the flavour combo, I have to agree that it was quite salty, the lemon I omitted most likely would have helped to cut through that with its acidity and would add some 'freshness'.

would I make it again: No - hubby thought it was OK, but would prefer to see what else is out there.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Soft ginger & molasses cookie with white chocolate

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there
from Clement C Moore, A Visit from St Nicholas

Merry Christmas!

Between the hanging wreaths upon the door, the ribbons strewn along the floor and coloured ornaments galore, I have forgotten to stop, take a breath and enjoy the Christmas spirit. All whom I have spoken to lately seem to have gotten caught up in the panic and rush for presents and preparation, forgetting to relax and enjoy this festive time of year with loved ones. So today, with the presents wrapped, tree adorned and food prepped, I am lounging with my feet up, thoroughly enjoying a cookie from the batch I made 'for Santa'.

Are you relaxed and enjoying the break, or still running around like a madman?

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 15mins.
cooking time: 30mins for three lots.
total: 45mins.

taste: 4/5. Full of ginger and spice and all things naughty...
I adore ginger cookies made with molasses and these are no exception. Incredibly soft with a slight 'chew' these cookies are packed with heady spices that would warm the cockles of even the coldest heart, sprinkled with caramel hinted sugar and creamy pearls of white chocolate, Santa would certainly be happy to find these waiting for him on Christmas Eve. 
Whilst I found these rather addictive, they were a bit sweet for me with the addition of white chocolate and sugar dusting. I guess I am a ginger/molasses cookie purist, only spices for me please.

would I make them again: No - only because I like my ginger cookies less sweet.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Potato chips with roasted garlic, truffle salt & gruyere

I apologise for my absence, and today's rather shortly hemmed post, but it is for a good reason; my husband and I recently became the proud parents of a Green Cheek Conure we have named Sweet Dee. She hatched on the 10/10/10 and eight long weeks later we finally got to take her home. Although she has been with us only a few days we have already fallen in love. I never knew a little bird could be capable of so much affection, all she wants to do is nuzzle into my neck and give me beaky kisses. As you can imagine I have hardly spent any time in the kitchen, mostly to slice a peach or pod some peas for Sweet Dee. And when I have had to eat meals they have been quick in both terms of cooking and eating. I did however manage to take a hasty photo of a recent snack whilst Sweet Dee was playing in my husband's hoodie.

They may not look pretty or be posh, but these fries make a great snack. Although they are naked in the pictures I later smothered them with cheese which turns into an oozy gooey extremely delicious cloak.

Potato chips with roasted garlic truffle salt & gruyere
Serves 2

3 large potatoes (I used sebago), peeled or scrubbed, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide planks, each plank cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide strips
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 bulbs (heads) garlic, intact
Truffle salt
150g Gruyère cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 200°C. Place potato batons in a rimmed baking sheet. Remove papery, outermost skin from garlic, but keep the bulb intact. Slice off top 1/2 inch of bulb, exposing each clove; discard trimmings. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil and toss to coat thoroughly.

Roast potatoes and garlic in oven. After 20 minutes, turn potatoes with spatula. Roast until potatoes are tender and golden around the edges and garlic cloves are soft when pressed, about 20 minutes more. Sprinkle fries and garlic with truffle salt and grated gruyere.

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time: 10mins.
cooking time: 40mins.
total: 50mins.

taste: 4.5/5. Forget Side Dish, this has what it takes to be a Main.

You can't beat hot chips with their crunchy skins and their soft, fluffy interiors. When sprinkled with truffle salt, smeared with roasted garlic packed with robust sweetness with a final scattering of cheese that melts and coats everything with its unctuousness, these chips simply become the most delicious savoury snack. We loved this so much I made it twice in the same week.

would I make it again: Yes.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Black forest cake

The sky hasn't been very accommodating lately. Some days the sun shines like an intensified beam through a magnifying glass, casting harsh shadow and blinding whites in every photo I tried to take. And then on other days the clouds smothered the sky, so tightly woven that not even the smallest slither of sunlight could seep through rendering the house in darkness even with every curtain parted painfully open. Although I baked and sautéed, I could not take a decent photo of anything produced in my kitchen until one short moment when I hastily pulled a half eaten Black Forest cake from the fridge and managed to take two snaps before whatever remnants of greyed light turned to dust.

The first time I had black forest cake I was in the 7th Grade and I made it with my two best friends for our German class. We had my father video tape us whilst we baked away in the kitchen, using a packet of Betty Crocker Chocolate Cake mix as we aimed for ease over quality back then. I can't exactly recall what it tasted like, but I remember not being overly impressed by it.

Fast forward 13 years (man that sounds like a long time) and here I am, making it for the second time, from scratch, with a completely changed palette. Black Forest Cake Take #2.

1969 Black Forest Cake
recipe from Gourmet Traveller

Serves 8-10

300g dark chocolate (63 percent cocoa solids), coarsely chopped
1½ tablespoons kirsch
155g unsalted butter, softened
250g caster sugar
6 eggs
55g dried breadcrumbs
250g almond meal
155g unsalted butter, softened
250g caster sugar
6 eggs
55g dried breadcrumbs
250g almond meal
300ml thickened cream
2 tablespoons icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
300gm canned pitted sour (mrello) cherries, drained
chocolate curls, to serve


Combine 130g chocolate, kirsch and 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl and place over a saucepan of simmering water for 5 minutes or until chocolate is melted, then stir until smooth. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar together in an elec
ctric mixer for 5 minutes or until pale and creamy, add eggs one at a time, allowing each to be incorporated before adding the next, and beat until combined. Add chocolate mixture, mix to combine, then fold through breadcrumbs and almond meal. Spoon into a baking paper-lined 20cm round cake pan and bake at 180C for 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre withdraws clean. Cool on a wire rack, then halve cake horizontally.

Combine thickened cream, icing sugar and vanilla extract in a bowl and whisk until soft peaks form. Place base of cake on a serving plate and spread with half the cream, top with cherries, then cover cherries with remaining cream and place top layer of cake over cream.

Melt remaining chocolate over simmering water and spoon over cake, scatter with chocolate curls and serve immediately.

ease: 4/5.
prep time: 22mins.
cooking time: 40mins
total: 1 hour & 2mins.

taste: 4/5. A rather tasty forest indeed.

I must admit that initially, I was quite unsure of the addition of breadcrumbs to a chocolate cake, but any uncertainties were cast aside once my teeth sunk into the soft yet toothsome cocoa layers. This cake is basically composed of three flavours, a softened and sweet chocolate, voluptuous cream and cerise cherries plump with a tart sweetness.

I don't know if I mentioned this before but for some unknown reason I just don't like eating cream with cakes, it somehow makes them too heavy for my taste buds and overpowers whatever flavours the cake is portraying. Therefore it seems, even 13 years on I am still not a great fan of the Black Forest Cake, my husband on the other hand rather enjoyed this, hence the 4/5.

would I make it again: No - I personally prefer the chocolate mousse incarnation of the black forest flavours.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lemon & lavender cake

As I sit in the lounge room, eyes contentedly closed, I listen to Nature's Orchestra playing the Ode to Storms outside my window. I hear the thunderous bass drumming steadily as its vibration reverberates through each cell in my body, whilst the lightning clangs and the rain shakes like a maraca against the trees, against the huddled birds, against the window's face. The secondary droplets falling like a piccolo flute forming streams of a harp's strings, flowing to lower ground. Eventually the rain and lightning subsides, leaving only a rolling rumbling and downpour-soaked birds calling out to their friends with a melodic 'are you ok?'

And then silence as the birds and I hold our breath whilst listening to the absence of wind...

Until the thunder once more fierce and powerful in its pounding begins the number once again. But this time I have brought something to steady me against the tempest raging outside, a cup of tea, slightly steaming and a slice of cake to nibble during the encore.

Lemon & lavender cake
adapted from this recipe

200 g butter
4 large eggs
200 g sugar
90 g plain flour + more for the pan
90 g ground almonds
3/4 tsp baking powder
zest and juice from one large lemon
2 tbsp sugar for syrup
1/2 tbs dried lavender for syrup
2 tbsp demerera sugar to sprinkle on top

Preheat oven to 160 C.

Prepare a large loaf pan by cutting baking paper to fit the length, letting the excess fall over the sides. Grease and flour the ends of the tin.

Mix the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, and lemon zest in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, beat the butter and 200 g sugar till light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ones. Scrape the batter (it will be thick) into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake 45 minutes, until risen and golden brown on top.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan.

While the cake is cooling, make the syrup: mix the juice of your large lemon with 2 Tablespoons of sugar and 1tbs dried lavender. When the cake is cool, pierce it all over with a bamboo skewer and spoon the syrup over it. Let it soak in. Sprinkle some demerera sugar on top.

ease: 4/5.
prep time: 15mins.
cooking time: 40mins.
total: 55mins.
taste: 4/5. Afternoon tea just got tastier.

The cake was more moist than than Derek Zoolander's Merman; it was soft, slightly sticky and easy to eat.
Flavour-wise the cake was politely sweet in a very charming way. The bright lemon added a slight tartness to the lavender's girlish floral bouquet, whilst the demerera sugar on top added a wonderful caramel-hinted crunch. The three flavours worked wonderfully together, although I would have liked more of a citrus kick and would most likely add another 2tbs of lemon juice to the syrup.

would I make it again: Yes.