Friday, December 31, 2010

Holiday tables 2010

Christmas Eve Dinner at Ainslie

Christmas Day Lunch at Hawker

Christmas Day pudding at Hawker

Boxing Day lunch at Queanbeyan

New Years Eve Dinner at Tuross

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Stollen - Daring Baker Challenge December 2010

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

Unlike a lot of other Daring Baker bloggers, I love fruitcakes. Be it Lions Christmas cake, plum pudding, panettone, raisin toast, mince pies - I love them all. And I love Germans too. So I was very happy to find this month's challenge was Stollen.

Fortunately we had some unseasonably cool weather in Sydney in December, so the baking was not too unpleasant. I followed the host's recipe closely, but I added dried mango, pawpaw and pineapple, used macadamias instead of flaked almonds and added marzipan.

I was quite happy with how it turned out. It had a nice dry-but-not-too-dry texture and a good spicy fruity warmth. It was very good lightly toasted with a cup of coffee.

I encountered a small problem with the homemade marzipan. It decided to be overly sticky, so I had to add it in small pieces, which you can see in the first picture in the collage above. I also found that the melted butter I used to coat the stollen was very yellow and caused the icing sugar to be discolored, no matter how much sugar I added.

Although the wreath was huge, we somehow managed to eat most of it before Christmas. But I did save some to make an extra special Aussie stollen ice cream for our Christmas Eve dinner. I used this recipe and replaced the brown bread with stollen. It was really yummy and made a great southern hemisphere Christmas dessert.

Thank you Penny for this terrific challenge. As I said, I love fruitcake anyway, but I especially enjoyed making stollen and I will make it again and again.

Stollen Ice cream
Adapted from a Gourmet Traveller magazine recipe

12 egg yolks
75g brown sugar
75 g white sugar
500 ml milk
500 ml pouring cream
Zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
3 cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
100 grams stollen, in very small cubes
1 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp icing sugar
35 gr toasted hazelnuts, chopped coarsely
75 gr sultanas
80 gr currants
1 tbsp brandy

1. Whisk egg yolks and both sugars together until sugars dissolve.
2. Combine milk, cream, cloves and zests in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.
3. Pour milk mixture over egg mixture, stir to combine, then return to saucepan.
4. Cook over a low heat, stirring continuously for 8-10 minutes or until it coats the back of the spoon. Be careful here not to turn the heat up and split the custard. Cool the mixture and fish out the cloves.
5. Heat oven to 180 and toast the stollen cubes for 5 minutes or until light golden.
6. Drizzle the melted butter over the stollen cubes, then sprinkle with the icing sugar and return them to oven for a further 5 minutes. Be careful they don't burn.
7. Add the brandy, hazelnuts, raisins, currants and stollen cubes to the custard mixture and place in the fridge until very cold.
8. Churn in your ice cream maker, according to instructions, approx 30 minutes.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cracking the poached egg - Daring Cook Challenge November 2010

Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.

I love poached eggs and have always wanted to be able to make them at home. But I have tried and failed so many times and had written them off as something I could never master. So it was a mixture of excitement and sinking dread for me when this month's challenge was revealed.

I decided to approach the challenge as scientifically as possible to see if I could finally crack a decent poached egg.

By far the most common tip for successful poached eggs is use fresh eggs. I found this part tricky. Sadly I don't have any friends with chickens who can provide me with lovely fresh laid eggs, so I have to rely on store-bought eggs. In Australia eggs are labeled with a "best before" date, so the question is, how does one work out from that when they were laid?

I did some research and discovered from The Australian Egg Labeling Guide, a guide to the applicable laws and regulations, that Australia eggs must be labeled with a "best-before" date and that means:

"the date which signifies the end of the period during which the intact package of food, if stored in accordance with any stated storage conditions, will remain fully marketable and will retain any specific qualities for which express or implied claims have been made".

Hmm, not very helpful. I gleaned slightly more information from the The Australia Egg Corporation Code of Practice for Shell Egg Production, Grading, Packing and Distribution, which provides that the best before date is calculated by reference to:

"a period of 6 weeks or less from the date of pack"
"eggs shall be delivered to a packing station within 96 hours of lay".

This still didn't give me a reliable way to work out how exactly how fresh the eggs I buy are, so I decided to simply work with what I had.

The other important factor seems to be the temperature of the water, so I used a candy thermometer to keep the water at around 70 c. I was surprised to find that at this temperature the water was not what I would call simmering. In the past I have definitely had the water too hot. I added vinegar to the water as directed, cracked the egg into a cup first, cooked them one at a time and used a timer to poach them for exactly 4 minutes. I was not up for the full Benedict so I served them with slow-roasted tomato and avocado for me, and with lashings of bacon for the bacon-lover in the family.

The results were pretty good and certainly far better than I have ever managed before. The whites had a lovely soft texture, not rubbery at all and the yolks were beautifully runny. However, the problems were that there were lots of fly-away white bits and worse, they were flat. The egg invariably sunk to the bottom of the pan. This meant the shape was akin to a fried egg, with the yolk in the shape of a hump and the white in a flat circle around it. To my mind, the shape should be closer to the shape of a boiled egg - with a rounded yolk and the white evenly clumped around it.

Later in the month I had a bit of an epiphany over my lunch at a cool Japanese place in the city called Mappen.

I was fascinated to see that they produced an egg that looked and tasted like a poached egg, but was cracked directly out of the shell into my bowl of udon. I guessed that the eggs must be pre-softboiled and thought this might be a way to achieve a more rounded poached egg with less white fly-aways. The method would be to parboil in the shell for say 2 minutes, then crack the egg into the pan of poaching water for a further 2 minutes.

I have experimented with this at home but am still yet to see the results I would like.

I should mention too that I made my own English muffins (did anyone not?) and cooked them on the barbeque. They were very simple and quite tasty, but next time I would like to try the Alton Brown method mentioned on the forum as that looks really good.

I thought this was a terrific challenge. It was interesting and scary and I learned a lot. Thank you so much to the hosts and to my fellow Daring Cooks who continually inspire and amaze me with their creative cooking.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I have been a big fan of panettone for a long time. I can't remember how or why I first started to eat it toasted with fruit salad and yoghurt, but for me that is just the yummiest combination. Now we always have it for our Christmas morning breakfast and plenty of other days in summer too. This year I decided to try making my own and I was very happy with the results.

I used the recipe from page 220 of Carol Field's The Italian Baker. It starts with a sponge, which then becomes a dough and there is a first rise. Then a second dough is incorporated and there is a second rise. Then the fruit filling is added, the loaves are formed and there is a final rise in the molds before they are baked. It took all day to make but didn't require much attention. The kneading was fairly strenuous as it is a big sturdy dough.

I am not going to reproduce the recipe here because it is 3 pages long, but I do want to quote the best part:

"Cool on racks for 30 minutes, then carefully remove from the molds and place the loaves on their sides on pillows to cool."

Apparently if you cool panettone on a rack it will collapse. My beautiful loaves looked very cute nestling on a pillow while they cooled.

I don't have a panettone mold so I improvised by using a biscuit tin for one loaf and the basin part of my crockpot for the other. Both worked well but the crockpot was better as it allowed for a slightly higher rise.

We ate the biscuit tin one already and it was really good. It is just slightly less sweet and less soft than commercially made ones, but we decided we prefer it that way. The second loaf is tucked away to be shared with our family on Christmas morning - I can't wait.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Brava Crostata! Daring Baker Challenge

I was pretty excited about my first Daring Cook challenge, but even more excited about my first Daring Baker foray. I love to bake. But when the challenge was revealed I felt a bit deflated, just because I recently made a French dessert tart and the crostata looked similar. Then I started leafing through my Italian cookbooks and came across a line drawing of a Crostata di Quattro Stagioni. I saw the four little quadrants and my heart went all a flutter - I had found my challenge! The recipe comes from The Italian Baker by Carol Field and translates as Four Seasons Tart from Lake Como.

I made a practice crostata to start. I had some good left over pastry creme in the freezer, so I made a small Crostata con la Crema, and used the version 1 pasta frolla. I had a little trouble with my first pasta frolla. It didn't seem keen to come together and I think I overworked it. I also rolled it too thin. The crostata was good but the pastry was not particularly light or flaky.

After reading assurances on the forum that the pasta frolla was supposed to seem like it wasn't coming together and to just leave it like that, I set about a second batch. At this stage I also had a to choose the four fillings. In the head note to the recipe Carol Field says:

Raspberries for summer, wild amarena for fall, apricot preserve for winter and pastry creme for the spring ... but don't feel confined by the ingredients listed above; you should use whatever appeals to you and arrange it with your own fantasia.

I chose poached rhubarb because I love it and know a great way to cook it so it maintains its shape, fresh strawberries because they are cheap and tasty in Sydney at the moment, jarred cherries for simplicity and a blueberry preserve because I loved the color.

I was so proud when this came out the oven. I couldn't get over how gorgeous it was. The pasta frolla was lovely and sweet and light, and the different fillings were all delicious. (The rhubarb was my favourite.) Thankyou Simona for this wonderful challenge, I can honestly say that you gave me my proudest moment so far in the kitchen.

Crostata di Quattro Stagioni
(adapted from The Italian Baker by Carol Field)

1 partially baked crostata shell
100 g extra pasta frolla

1 cup poached rhubarb
1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced
I cup jarred pitted cherries, well drained
2/3 cup blueberry preserve
1 egg beaten
1/3 cup apricot glaze

Divide the extra pasta frolla into four and roll each into strands longer than the diameter of your tart shell. Gently twist two strands together to make 2 ropes. Lay the ropes in the tart shell at right angles so your tart is divided into 4 equal quadrants.

Arrange the 4 fillings into each quadrant as carefully and artfully as your patience will allow. Brush all the exposed dough with the beaten egg.

Heat your oven to 175c and bake the tart for around 25 minutes, until the pastry is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and gently brush the fruit with warm apricot glaze. Allow to cool before serving, with homemade custard if you are lucky.

For the poached rhubarb
Make a sugar syrup of equal parts sugar and water. Add half a split vanilla bean and 2 or 3 pieces of lemon rind. Slice the rhubarb into the desired shape and size and add to the syrup. Make a cartouche. (That means cut a piece of baking or greaseproof paper into a circle just larger than the size of your saucepan. Its easiest if you use the saucepan lid to trace around to do this.) Place the cartouche over the fruit and syrup so it is sort of sealed. Cook over lowest possible heat for 10 minutes. Test after 10 minutes, it should be tender. If not, continue for another 5 minutes.

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Banana Brownie Icecream

I am in love with my new icecream maker. It started when I visited my sister and brother-in-law in the US this year. It was a hot LA summer and sis took the opportunity to get me hooked on her home-made icecream. Then when I got home she insisted, insisted on buying me my own icecream maker as a birthday present.

I took a little while to decide which one I wanted, but after a visit to Peter's of Kensington I came home with a blue Cuisinart ICE20. Sis has the ICE30 and she loves it but the ICE20 seemed like better value. And the nice lady in Peter's said that the Cuisinart rep thinks the 20 has "a better churn" than the 30, so that sold me.

The first thing I made was a very simple lemon sorbet from the Cuisinart booklet. I took sis' advice to halve the amount of sugar and it came out perfect.

Next I took things up a notch with a banana icecream with brownie bits. I used a David Lebovitz recipe, reduced the sugar and added some some left over brownies. Actually, there is no such thing as left over brownies. They were brownies saved especially for this purpose.

Banana Ice-cream

(adapted from a David Lebovitz recipe seen here)

3 ripe bananas chopped into chunks
75g brown sugar
1.5 cups (375ml) milk
1.5 teaspoons lemon juice
half teaspoon vanilla essence
Pinch of salt2 left over brownies, chopped into small chunks

Preheat the oven to 200C. In a small baking dish toss the bananas in the brown sugar. Bake for around 40 minutes or until the bananas are caramelised and golden. Turn them once during cooking.

Put the bananas and all the other ingredients (except brownie chunks) in a blender and whizz until smooth.

Chill the mixture in the fridge or freezer until really cold.
Churn in your new icecream maker for around 30 minutes. Don't forget to add the brownie chunks in the last 10 minutes.

It was really really really good.

Thanks sis, I really love my icecream maker...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wholemeal Turkish Bread

A few years ago when I worked in the city near the David Jones foodhall I used to be able to buy a lovely wholemeal turkish bread. I have not seen it anywhere else since and wanted to try and recreate it home. I couldn't find a recipe specifically for wholemeal so I decided to 'half and half' a standard white version which I found here.

It was easy to make and delicious. But it was not much like the original, which was much softer.

250g plain flour, sifted
250g wholemeal flour, sifted
1 tsp (7g/1 sachet) dried yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups warm water

2 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp nigella seeds
1 egg yolk
1 tbs olive oil

1. Combine flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the centre, then add water. Use a spoon to stir until combined, then use hands to bring the dough together in the bowl.

2. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 15 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Brush a bowl with oil to grease. Place dough in the bowl and lightly coat with oil. Cover with a damp tea towel. Set aside place for 1-1 1/2 hours or until the dough has roughly doubled in size.

3. Place a pizza stone on the middle shelf of the oven. Preheat oven to 230°C. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and cut in half. Flatten slightly with hands. Place each half on separate pieces of floured, non-stick baking paper. Cover with a damp tea towel and set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 15 minutes.

4. With floured hands, stretch each piece of dough into desired shapes. Leave on non-stick baking paper. Cover with a damp tea towel and set aside again for 10 minutes.

5. Combine egg yolk and oil in a bowl. Brush the top of each pide with egg mixture. Use floured fingers to make indentations on top and sprinkle with sesame and nigella seeds. Open oven door and slide 1 pide on baking paper onto tray. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until golden. Cool on a wire rack. Repeat with second pide.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

High hopes - Daring Cook souffles

Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose Soufflés as our November 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge! Dave and Linda provided two of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflé recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe found at the BBC Good Food website.

This is my very first month as a Daring Cook and (I hope you'll excuse the pun) I had high hopes. As soon as I saw that the challenge was souffle, I knew I would be making the twice-cooked goat cheese souffle from Stephanie Alexander's The Cooks Companion. Bizarrely, I can recite the headnote to the recipe - with its reference to the fact that the recipe cannot be removed from the menu of Alexander's restaurant in Melbourne - almost word for word, but I had never made it. In fact I am pretty sure I have never made any souffle before, although I have fond memories of souffle as something my Dad used to cook us when I was a kid.

I decided to halve the recipe as there are only two of us and I didn't think souffle would make good leftovers. I also reduced the amount of cream. The resultant souffles were delicious but did not rise spectacularly and were not as marshmallow soft as I suspect they should be. The white sauce was too thick and I should have had more egg white than egg yolk, but I couldn't bear to waste a yolk.

Despite these minor shortcomings, they were seriously yummy and made for a lovely dinner served with a French style carrot salad from a recent op-shop find, The Silver Palate Cookbook.

I also tried the classic cheese souffle from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Again I halved the recipe and again the rise was anticlimactic. But it was still very yummy. That one was enjoyed with mmmm asparagus and a raw kale salad, inspired by this recipe at 101 Cookbooks. And it made very nice leftovers thank you very much.

Big thanks to Dave and Linda for this very enjoyable challenge. I will be making souffle regularly now and am looking forward to cracking a big rise in the future.

Twice-Baked Goats Cheese Souffles
(adapted from The Cooks Companion, Stephanie Alexander)

Makes 4 small souffles

40 g butter
30 g plain flour
175 ml warm milk
40 g fresh goats cheese
1 T grated parmesan cheese
1 T chopped herbs - I used chives and parsley
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites
1/2 cup cream

Heat oven to 180. Melt 10g butter and grease 4 small ramekins or teacups.
Melt remaining butter in small pan over medium heat, stir in flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Gradually add milk and continue stirring for 5 minutes.
Remove pan from heat and add the goats cheese, herbs and parmesan and mix well. Add egg yolks and mix well.
Beat egg whites until firm peaks form. Stir on 1/4 of egg white to sauce, then quickly and gently add the remaining egg whites.
Divide mixture between the ramekins, then place ramekins in a water bath, so water comes about 2/3s up the sides.
Bake for about 20 minutes until firm and well puffed. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly, then gently remove souffles from the ramekins. Leave aside until you are almost ready to eat.
Heat oven again to 180. Place souffles, not touching, in a buttered ovenproof dish. Pour approx 1 tablespoon cream over each souffle and bake in oven for about 15 minutes.
Serve immediately, with the cream from the dish

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Halloween food

This year I carved my very first Halloween pumpkin. It was so fun and much easier than I anticipated. I can't wait till next year to try out something more ambitious.

I used the pumpkin guts to make pumpkin and goats cheese empanadas and roasted pumpkin seeds. I am not inclined to post either of the recipes because they were both pretty forgettable. But I want this blog to be a record of both successes and failures in the kitchen so I am recording them here.

For the empanadas I used the dough recipe adapted from the Bourke Street Bakery book found here at stonesoup. I don't know what I did wrong, but the dough didn't really work out. It was too hard and chewy. They tasted nice enough but were definitely not great.

For the seeds I got frustrated with the plethora of recipes and techniques available on the internet and so just randomly chucked oil, salt, sugar and spices into the pan and the roasted at about 150 for 1 hour. Again they were okay but not great.

But one thing that was great was my pumpkin. Let see him again.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


This is another recently discovered, yummy and very simple dish. Claudia Roden tells me that it is a medieval dish, also known as megadarra.

A quick google reveals that there are endless variations (and spellings) of the rice/lentils/caramalised onion theme. This version with burghul instead of rice appealed to me because it was so ridiculously simple. No spices, no herbs, no yoghurt sauce. I used red lentils because they were all we had and they completely broke down, as they are wont to do.

The next way I want to try this with brown lentils and brown rice, cooked seperately.


3 cups lentils
1 cup burghul
6 cups boiling water
1 tsp salt

Place lentils and burghul in a saucepan, add the boiling water and salt, cook covered without stirring on low heat for 25 minutes.

1 kilo brown onions sliced
1/2 cup olive oil

Place onions and olive oil in large saucepan or frypan with a lid over medium heat. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring often. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring often, until onion is as dark and caramalised as you like.

Serve the lentil mix topped with the onions. Mmmmm.

Dulce de leche two ways

1 tin of sweetened condensed milk, endless possibilities for tooth-rotting goodness. After my last attempt at macarons failed ...

... I was keen to have another go and loved the sound of dulce de leche macarons. I used the same recipe I have always used, from Tartelette but I paid closer attention to the whipping of the eggwhites and to keeping the temperature even in our crappy oven. To my relief the shells came out much better. The combination of the caramel and the chocolate was, well, sweet. Too sweet. I think macarons probably need some sort of contrast between the shell and the filling and that was lacking here. It might be better with some salt added to the caramel. But they sure look pretty.

The other half of the tin of caramel was destined for alfajores. I surfed around for a simple recipe, which I now can't find again, but I recall involved only flour, cornflour, salt, sugar, butter and water. The texture was good but they were too salty. I have to remember not to blindly follow the recipe when it comes to salt, as it is often too much. Overall though they were delicious and got the thumbs-up from a South American colleague.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ful Medammes

I have recently discovered ful medammes. Apparently the national dish of Egypt and traditionally eaten for breakfast, it is a simple but very satisfying bean dish. I have had several different canned versions, one of which is available at the grocery store up the road from us for $1.00 a can. They are good for a quick lunch, but I wanted to make my own from scratch.

I was happy to find cheap dried broad beans in the local supermarket. It was only after I had a kilo of them soaking that I discovered this from Clifford A Wright:

There are different kinds of fava beans and different cooking times, depending on their size, so you must make sure you use the right kind. The only fava bean used for making the prepared dish known as fūl is the smaller, rounder one called fūl hammām (bath fava) by the Egyptians.

Oops. But I decided to proceed anyway. The recipe was very simple but shelling the soaked beans took a long long time. I shelled through an episode of The Wire, then an episode of Librarians, then spent another 30 minutes shelling. In the end I just couldn't shell any more and I had a full crockpot so I gave up. I started with this recipe but I wanted to use the crockpot so I changed the proportions.

This recipe made a lot. Probably too much. Ask me in a week.

I admit that I had to work hard to make this dish look appetising, but it is really yummy.

Ful medames
(adapted from a recipe by Clifford A. Wright)

6 cups dried broad beans (I used regular large broad beans but seek out the smaller rounded kind if you can)
1 onion chopped
1 or 2 tomatoes chopped
1/2 cup dried red lentils
salt to taste

Soak the beans in plenty of cold water overnight

Drain the beans. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the beans, and boil them until they are soft enough to have their peels removed, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain, then remove the peel of each bean (preferably while watching something good on TV).

Place the peeled beans in a crockpot together with the onion, tomatoes, and lentils and cover with water. Cover and cook on low for 12 hours.

Season with salt to taste.

Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, sliced hard-boiled egg, finely chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Spelt Bread

I get a lot of recipes from the internet and sometimes have trouble remembering where I found a particular recipe or how I got there. Last week I asked google for spelt bread and somehow ended up on the Joyous Birth forum. Crikey. But this was strangely appropriate because my little nephew arrived last week and it was indeed joyous. And so was the bread. It was very easy to make and came out quite soft and lighter than any spelt bread I have bought. I enjoyed it most for toasted for breakfast - one piece with avocado and slow-roasted tomatoes, the another with labnah and apricot jam.

Spelt Bread
(adapted from a recipe by Metismorphia at the Joyous Birth forum)

3 cups spelt flour
1 cup warm water
2 tsp instant yeast
1 tbs honey
1 tsp salt
2 tbs oil

Oil or butter a large loaf tin.

Pour warm water into a large bowl, sprinkle yeast on top, then add honey, stir gently and leave aside for 10 minutes.

Mix in 1 cup flour, then the salt,, then another cup of flour, then the oil, then the last cup of flour. Leave to rise until warm place until doubled - around 2 hours.

Knead on a lightly floured surface, adding more flour if the dough is very sticky. Shape loaf and place into tin, lave to rise to just over top of tin - 30 mins to 1 hour. Perheat oven to 21oc.
Bake for 15 mins at 210C then reduce temp to 180 and bake for another 30 mins.
Remove from oven, allow to cool a little in the tin, then turn out onto rack and try to resist slicing until it is completely cool.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What do choc-peanut tartlets and broccoli soup have in common?

5 ingredients!

I recently discovered a really wonderful food blog - The Stone Soup. I found it when I was doing some research about living below the line and have been hungrily browsing the archive ever since.

I adore the peanut butter and chocolate combo. So much that my first ever macarons were choc-pnb flavoured - and almost got me DQ'd from the macaron bake-off at work because I forgot to label them as peanut-hazardous. But that is another story. My point is that when I saw these peanut butter tartlets they went straight to the top of my must-bake list. And boy, they did not disappoint. Sweet, salty, crunchy, nutty - I could eat ten. Actually I think I did eat ten.

The home-made peanut butter was easy to make and so tasty, even though I confess I didn't bother with peanuts in the shell. I used Butternut Snaps, which were easy to work with as promised, but just a little too sweet and buttery for my taste. Next time I would try a plainer digestive, or even a pastry case. I only had thickened cream so I used that and I think it messed with the texture - the ganache didn't quite set properly. But not enough to worry about. I had milk chocolate so I used that, but next time I would go dark.

I was also inspired by Stone Soup - and a giant $2 bunch of broccoli that I could not resist at Sentas Bros - to make a 5 ingredient broccoli soup. Olive oil, onion, broccoli, parmesan rind and buttermilk. It was so good that I polished all the leftovers off for lunch and forgot to take a picture. Use your imagination. And then use it some more to add a dollop of this sauce, which is amazing.

For the record, the rest of the broccoli and buttermilk is going to go into this. Yum.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Engagement cookies

If a wedding equals cake then I think an engagement party equals cookies. I wanted to make heart shaped cookies for an engagement party, but I wasn't excited about any recipe I could find for cut-out cookies.

But then when I signed up to become a Daring Baker I saw the last challenge and all the amazing, beautiful and clever cookies. Suddenly I was very excited about making sugar cookies with royal icing. I won't officially be a Daring Baker until next month, but I used the recipe and came out with some pretty cute looking cookies. If I had been signed up last month I would have made cookies in the shape of a magpie and a bike - because to me September and spring means getting swooped.

I am still getting the hang of this food photographer thing but having lots of fun learning. I'll leave you a picture of with my favorite cookies of all.

When I have a pig-shaped cookie cutter and knew I would be making pink icing, how could I resist?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mrs Beeton's Cookery in Colour

I confess that I have an unhealthy obsession with op-shopping. I can literally spend hours in an op-shop, hunting for my bargain fix. I get very excited when my work takes me to a new country town because it means a fresh hunting ground.

Anyone else who loves second hand cookbooks will know that for every great one you find, you have to sort through one hundred microwave cookbooks. If microwave cooking ever comes back into fashion the op-shops will be sitting on a gold mine. For me its part of the fun, crouched down (they always seem to be the bottom shelf) and flip, flip, flip, flip - ah-ha - a non-microwave book!

Lets be honest, I really don't need any more cookbooks. But when they only cost a dollar it is so hard to resist. And to even further justify my bad habit I thought I would start to share some of my treasures and the recipes they hold here.

So today it is Mrs Beeton's Cookery in Colour, purchsed for $1 from the Lifeline store in Tamworth.

Before I found this book I knew of Mrs Beeton from my dearest Scottish grandmother, who has an extremely dog-eared copy of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, and still uses it to make things like bread sauce (yum).

Isabella Beeton died in 1865 and my book was published in 1971 so its probably safe to say she didn't have much of hand in it. But I was drawn by the groovy color photos and the wide range of recipes.

I recently made this Banana Bread with Choc Chips and Crystallised Ginger from Orangette. It was really good and since then I have been craving another baked good with crystallised ginger. So the first thing I wanted to make in this book was the Rich Dark Gingerbread. It was very easy to make and came out well. The texture was maybe drier than your average cake - but all the better for slathering with some butter.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Central Baking Depot Almond Crossaint

My first experience with an almond croissant was back some time in high school. I was on my way from Canberra to the South Coast for a holiday with my best friend and her parents and we stopped in at the Braidwood Bakery. I still clearly remember it - it was a very large traditionally-shaped croissant, sliced open and filed with a thin layer of chocolate and a thin layer of pastry cream. On top was lots of toasted flaked almonds and lots of icing sugar. It was love at first bite.

The Braidwood Bakery has long since changed hands and no longer does an almond croissant. But I still love them dearly and buy them often. So I thought I should start an occasional series of almond croissant reviews.

The Central Baking Depot in Erskine St is an outpost of the famous Bourke St Bakery. They have lots of yummy pastry items in the window, including no less than 4 kinds of croissant –plain, chocolate, almond and almond chocolate.

The almond croissant is a traditional crescent shape filled with a small amount of pastry creme. It is topped with almond paste and flaked almonds, then sprinkled with icing sugar. It looks gorgeous, but for me the pastry of the croissant is a little too dense and oily tasting, and the pastry creme is too sweet. I never met an AC that I didn’t like, but I have been known to walk past this bakery and not buy one, so its clearly not up there with my favourites. In the interests of research I think I will have to try the almond chocolate version in the future, but that really does seem like gilding the lily whatever that means.

Central Baking Depot - 37-39 Erskine St Sydney no website!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Tropical Toasted Museli

I love the crunch of toasted museli and like to make it at home using apple juice and honey. It is yummiest with really cold milk, topped with chopped fresh fruit and a dollop of fruit yoghurt. But its also good sprinkled on top of a bowl of bircher oats or porridge or just plain yogurt. The only problem is that Tom loves it too and he can eat faster than me.

I make it with a tropical twist partly because I love the macadamias and partly because I compulsively buy little packets of dried pineapple, papaya and mango from Aldi. I cannot go in there without coming out with another packet.

This is a very flexible recipe. You could use vegetable oil or no oil instead of the coconut oil. You could use more or less or different fruits and nuts and seeds. If you want it sweeter just add sugar to the juice mixture to taste. You could also add some salt.

Tropical toasted museli

400 grams rolled oats
100 grams sunflower seeds
100 grams shredded coconut
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp powdered ginger
1/4 cup apple jucie
1/4 honey
1 Tbs coconut oil
150 grams macadamia nuts chopped
1 cup finely sliced mixed dried fruit (mango, pineapple, papaya and banana)
100 grams shredded coconut extra

Mix oats, seeds, coconut and spices in a large bowl
Combine juice, honey and oil and heat in microwave for about 1 minute until all melted and combined
Pour juice mixture over oat mixture and mix well.
Spread oats in an even layer in two baking tins
Bake for 20 minutes, stir well, then bake for another 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool.
When cool combine oats in a large bowl with nuts, fruit and extra coconut
Store in an airtight container and if necessary hidden from other householders.