Thinking…I do try

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I know I’ve not been the most regular in terms of posts, so I was really surprised to have been nominated by Freya and Paul at Writing at the Kitchen Table for a Thinking Bloggers Award along with four other bloggers. When it comes to putting fingers to keypad, I’ll be honest and say I’m not the best of writers so it’s an honour to have been included in the list for the award. The photos I take for my blog are there to act as a distraction for my amateurish writing efforts.

 So now, it’s my turn to nominate five other blogs that have made me think!

  1. Lydia at The Perfect Pantry for her interesting odes to ingredients found in her fridge, freezer and cupboards;
  2. Ilva at Lucullian Delights who creates food that uses uncommon combinations of ingredients and takes wonderful photos;
  3. Veronica at Veronica’s Test Kitchen for the informative and fun stories about the ‘experiments’ in her kitchen;
  4. Matt at Abstract Gourmet for his ‘biting’ (love it, Matt!) and fresh commentary on his posts.
  5. Patricia at The Technicolor Kitchen for her personal perspective on cooking in Sao Paulo. Don’t ask me why, when I read her posts, I always picture the South American sun-kissed weather. *as I look out at a rainy day outside the window*

For those that I’ve tagged, please write a post with five blogs that make you think. If you’ve already been tagged, congratulations and think of this as another show of appreciation for your work!

 

A passion for fruit

Passionfruit vanilla slice

Don’t you sometimes wonder after making something for the first time, after years of buying the item in a shop, how you put up with its industrial, mass produced appearance and flavour (or lack of). I had this feeling when I made a passionfruit vanilla slice. The proverbial vanilla slice, normally sans passionfruit, can be found in most bakeries and cafes around Australia. Some of the ones I’ve seen or bought have had varying levels of yellow food colouring and custard consistency, a few to the point of scariness. For obvious reasons, I avoid slices that have layers of custard that look like lurid yellow UHU gluestick sandwiched in between pastry.

I found a recipe in a magazine for a passionfruit vanilla slice that looked reasonably easy, but it was the picture that won me over (as is usually the case) – a luscious slab of slice heaven, topped with an icing dripping over the edges. The addition of passionfruit was another plus, jazzing up the plain vanilla slice that I was accustomed to.

Passionfruit vanilla slice
adapted from Gourmet Traveller, March 2007
serves 6-8

2 sheets puff pastry

Passionfruit vanilla custard
150 gm (1/4 cup) caster sugar
100 gm (2/3 cup) cornflour
810 ml (3 1/4 cups) milk
125 ml (1/2 cup) passionfruit juice (see note below)
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
2 egg yolks
40 gm butter, softened

Passionfruit icing
150 gm pure icing sugar, sieved
pulp of 2 passionfruit

Note: To make passionfruit juice, blend passionfruit pulp in a food processor to crack seeds. Strain through a fine sieve. To get 1 cup of juice, you will need about 12 passionfruit.

Preheat oven to 200° C. Trim each to 18cm square, prick all over with a fork and bake for 15 minutes until puffed and golden. Cool on a wire rack, then halve each sheet horizontally with a serrated knife to give four squares.

For the custard, combine the sugar and cornflour in a saucepan. Over medium heat, add milk a little at a time, whisking until smooth. Add juice and vanilla seeds. Bring just to the boil, stir continuously with a wooden spoon until smooth and thick. Makes sure you get into those corners. Remove from heat and whisk in yolks and butter. Set aside.

Line an 18cm square cake pan with baking paper. Place a piece of pastry at the bottom and pour over a third of the custard. Level and top with another piece of pastry. Repeat with remaining custard and pastry. Chill until set.

For icing, combine ingredients in a bowl and mix. Spread over slice and serve.

Eating notes: The only problem I found – difficulty in biting through the pastry and the custard oozing out through the sides. The only thing I could think of is to make sure next time that the puff pastry was cooked longer and dried out more. It was obviously the layers inside each piece which was still a bit chewy and hence, hard to bite (and cut) through. But flavour wise, no problems, AT ALL. This was delicious.

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5 things you don’t know about me

5 things about me

I was tagged quite some time ago by Veronica of Veronica’s Test Kitchen and must apologise for this rather late post. But, finally, here are five things most people don’t know about me:

  1. I was born in a small village in the southern state of Johor, Malaysia, of Chinese extraction. I have lived in Australia for the past 18 years, except for a year away back in Malaysia and a year in Italy.
  2. I now live in Perth, Western Australia, a city regarded as the most isolated capital city in the world. It is closer to travel to South-East Asia from here than to the eastern states of Australia.
  3. My career has been quite varied. I studied Agricultural Science but never worked in that field. Then, I studied Horticultural Science before pursuing a Master of Landscape Architecture and working in the industry for around 8 years. Now, I’m studying to be a chef!
  4. I love going against the grain and trying new things with food. I think the experimental streak in me comes from my mum, who is a great cook. My passion for cooking came from spending time in the kitchen with her. I love using warm and cold together, or sweet and savoury, or unusual combinations.
  5. I eat almost anything, including offal. There is very little I don’t eat or am not willing to try. I love vegetables, meat, seafood, game, DESSERTS, you name it.

I’ve been following the posts of the bloggers below and would like to hear more about them, so I’ll tag:

Nicole of Pinch My Salt

Patricia of Technicolor Kitchen

Paul of Eat Me!

Freya and Paul of Writing At The Kitchen Table

Elizabeth of Mommy Cooks

 

Smoking chocolate

I’m always on the lookout for interesting ingredients or things that can be added to a fairly run of the mill dessert or dish to lift it and add a new dimension. So while reading the latest issue of Gourmet Traveller, my interest was caught by an article about The Press Club (a new modern Greek restaurant in Melbourne) that featured a recipe with a chocolate “cigar” as one of its elements. Don’t you just love the names they give to these things? Chocolate “tube” or “pipe” just doesn’t have the same glamorous ring about it, does it?.

I also liked the sound of another recipe in a different section of the magazine for poached plums with plum sorbet and creme brulee. I wasn’t in the mood for creme brulee but thought the chocolate cigar might work nicely. There was a stack of plums in the fridge downstairs, courtesy of some friends that own a plum tree, so as is often the case with me, I borrowed bits from the two recipes and made this.

Red wine-poached plums, plum sorbet and chocolate cigars
serves 4
adapted from Gourmet Traveller, March 2007

Poached plums
1 litre red wine
2 cinnamon quills
3 star anise
3 cloves
300gm caster sugar
juice of 2 lemons
10 large (about 1.5kg) blood plums

Plum sorbet
275gm glucose
50gm caster sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Chocolate cigar
100gm dark chocolate (53% cocoa solids), melted
70gm walnuts, coarsely chopped
70gm hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
2 sheets filo pastry
60gm butter, melted and cooled

Heat all ingredients except plums in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to the boil and add plums. Reduce heat and cook gently until plums are tender. Remove plums from liquid and cool. Reserve liquid. Remove stones from 6 plums and puree in a food processor. Pass through a fine sieve. Discard solids. You’ll need 2 cups (500ml) of plum puree. Simmer 1 cup (250ml) of plum poaching liquid until reduced to 1/2 cup.

For sorbet, heat 1 cup of plum puree and glucose in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until glucose has dissolved. Add sugar and remaining puree, stir to combine. Pass through a fine sieve. Churn in an ice-cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions.

For chocolate cigars, combine chocolate, walnuts and hazelnuts in a bowl and stand for 45 minutes or until mixture is firm. Divide into 4 pieces and roll into a cylinder. Brush a sheet of filo pastry with butter and top with another sheet. Cut lengthways into 4 pieces. Lay a chocolate cylinder along the length of a pastry sheet, roll, tucking ends in and brush with butter to seal. Repeat with remaining filo and chocolate cylinders. Preheat oven to 180° C. Place cigars on baking paper lined tray and bake for 5-6 minutes until pale golden. Cut cigars in half diagonally.

To serve, place a scoop of sorbet and a plum in each serving dish and serve with two halved cigars on the side.

Poached plums, plum sorbet and chocolate cigar

As you’ll see in the photo, I used small plums instead of the large blood plums. They worked fine but required more work stoning them. I also had to judge how many plums to take out for the puree.

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Distracted

Before anything else, let me just say that this post is more for its photogenic qualities (ie. food porn) than a usual blog with accompanying recipe. As you know, I love figs. But it got to a point where enough was enough and I basically ODed on them. So what to do with a ship- ment of figs recently given to us? Turn them into jam!

Somehow in the jam making process, I got a wee bit sidetracked (as I often am with a hundred things going on in my head) and decided to play around with the ingredients and create a still life. I pictured in my head an image that exuded an old-world feel with low-level light coming from an angle and creating some nice shadows. Well, here is what I ended up with:

 Still life for fig jam

For those of you that are interested in making fig jam, try here and here. There are quite a few variations in terms of the spices used so go with what you like.

 

Caramelised onion, fig, blue cheese and thyme tart.

You know the story. You come home after a long/stressful/<insert other words here> day and the last thing on your mind is a complicated, long-winded dish to make. Luckily, there are some dishes which take very little preparation time, taste great and look fantastic. This tart is one of those dishes. It has all the ingredients I love and is almost embarrassingly simple to make. The most difficult part of the tart is cooking the onions. Seriously! There are many examples of this out there so I won’t bother posting a recipe (call me lazy). Here’s one you can use. This particular recipe uses phyllo pastry but I substituted that with puff pastry. Shortcrust would work just as well, me thinks. You can replace the blue cheese for other types that you like. I would go for goat’s cheese or parmesan but brie or camembert would be fine too. The tart would make a nice entree (or appetiser, depending on which side your bread’s buttered on, ie. country you’re from) or it could easily be a main course with a salad on the side.
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Caramelised onion and fig tart

 

Minestrone of summer fruits and basil sorbet

Minestrone of summer fruit

It’s been a while in between posts and I feel like summer is slipping away. Having come from Melbourne, where the weather is fickle to say the least, I’ve been enjoying the consistently warm weather here in Perth. It’s normally this time where Melburnians start saying goodbye to summer and hello autumn. But my friends here have told me not to worry. There is still more warm weather to come! That’s fine by me.

I don’t know about you, but in summer, I generally prefer my meals to be light and fresh. So salads have been consumed in abundance. Dishes like stews have been banished for the time being. I’ll start thinking about them when the first signs of cool weather eventuate. The light approach applies to desserts too (except maybe for chocolate). I love making desserts that are fruit driven at this time of year.

Minestrone of summer fruits and basil sorbet
serves 6-8 

Basil sorbet
1 cup basil leaves, lightly packed
200g caster/white sugar
300ml water

Wash basil leaves if required to remove any soil/grit. Bring water to the boil. Add basil leaves and blanche for 10 seconds, remove and refresh immediately in iced water. Add sugar to retained water in saucepan and stir until dissolved. Set aside syrup to cool. Combine syrup and basil leaves in a food processor/blender and process. I wanted to see pieces of basil in the sorbet so I didn’t process the mixture for too long.

Some people might feel a bit dubious about this sorbet but you’ll be surprised how good it is.

Berry juice
500g very red strawberries
100g raspberries
50g caster sugar

Place all ingredients in a metal bowl. Mix well and leave for a few hours. Strain through a fine sieve and chill.

Well, that’s the hard work out of the way. Now the easy part…

Gather together some summer fruit. The idea is to have a colourful array in the dish. I went for peaches, mangoes, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries. Cut large fruit like peaches and mangoes into fairly small pieces.

To serve, place fruit in serving dish so that they are fairly evenly distributed. Carefully pour berry juice into dish. Place a scoop of sorbet on top. Garnish with julienne of basil. Enjoy.

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Minestrone of summer fruit

 



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