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

 

Summer pudding and brown bread ice-cream

Summer pudding and brown bread ice-cream

Don’t you sometimes wonder how a traditional dish or dessert came about? I certainly did when I made this dessert that combines two English classics – summer pudding and brown bread ice-cream. I had come across the recipe for the brown bread ice-cream a few months ago while trawling the internet and made a mental note to make it at some point. It’s basically a variation on cookies and cream with the distinguishing ingredient being crunchy caramelized bread crumbs. I wanted to know more about the origins of this ice-cream, but surprisingly, all I could find on the internet is that it dates back to Victorian times. I couldn’t find any more historical information so if someone knows more, please tell me!

As for the origins of summer pudding, one article I read describes it being called ‘hydropathic’ pudding because it was served at health resorts in the 19th century as an alternative to heavy puddings made with pastry. Interesting story but it seems that summer pudding was an early 20th century invention, first appearing in a recipe in 1902. Whatever its history, summer pudding makes delicious use of berries, packing them into a bread casing.

Yes, I know, this dessert has bread and bread but I already had the brown bread ice-cream sitting in the freezer and wasn’t about to make another type. In any case, bread is the common ingredient that links the two main things together <trying hard to convince readers>.

Summer pudding
adapted from “The Cook’s Companion”, Stephanie Alexander
serves 6

Use mainly red currants or raspberries. This is to give the pudding a nice crimson colour. Too many blackberries, blackcurrants or loganberries will produce purple juice. To be honest, I wasn’t too worried, hence the puddings are more purple in colour.

1 loaf thinly sliced white bread, crusts removed
1/2 cup water
100g sugar
500g mixed berries
some chopped unsalted pistachios

Put water and sugar into a non-reactive saucepan. Simmer until sugar has dissolved. Add fruit and give a good stir. Cover and bring to the boil, then remove from heat. Cool fruit completely.

Using a cutter, cut 6 slices of bread into rounds to fit the base of moulds, discarding excess. I used 9cm/3.5inch diameter ramekins as moulds but you can improvise and use what you have at hand. The final look will obviously be different. Line base of moulds with the round slices of bread. Slice more bread to line the sides of each mould, ensuring a good fit. Cut another 6 rounds to form lids and reserve. Spoon in fruit right to the top. Cover with reserved rounds of bread. Place moulds onto a tray and cover with cling film. Place another tray or baking dish over the top. If necessary, weigh down more with tins. Refrigerate puddings overnight or up to 2 days.

To serve, remove weights and invert puddings carefully onto serving plates. You may need to be a bit brutal and run a knife along the sides of the moulds to loosen. Scatter pistachios around plates followed by a scoop (or two) of brown bread ice-cream. You can use whatever ice-cream or sorbet you like instead of this one. Within reason, of course. Chocolate or plain vanilla would be nice but I wouldn’t go using a bacon and egg ice-cream. Leave that for another occasion!

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Summer pudding devoured

 

Very(!) rustic fig and ricotta crostata

 Fig tree

You may remember me complaining about the high prices of figs in a previous post. Well, I’m not grumbling anymore. It is now peak season for figs and because I’ve been lucky enough to know some people with fig trees, they have kindly given me some of their excess fruit. So of late, I’ve been gorging myself with figs, just by itself or with cereal at breakfast.

About a week ago, I was invited along with some others to a dinner to farewell a friend who had come back for a holiday. The dinner was held at his parents’ place in the hills just out of Perth. We went on an “excursion” of the property, picking and eating our way through each fig tree. Some were of the green variety, others purple. The green ones did it for me. They had a deep purple interior that oozed a thick sweet syrup. We were getting full even before dinner started! After the fantastic meal, we were given a couple of boxes of figs to take home. You can imagine my excitement…go on…try. I was pretty thrilled at the prospect of eating and using these in the days that were to come and not having to pay $3 for each fig!

Figs are great eaten fresh but I got a bit tired after a while and wanted to make a dessert. So the idea for this crostata came about. You could even use store-bought dough if you wanted to but this really isn’t difficult to make.

Rustic fig crostata

Fig and ricotta crostata

250g ricotta
10-15 medium sized fresh figs
250g plain flour (not strong bread flour)
120g cold unsalted butter, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon iced water
1 egg
5 tablespoons honey

Drain ricotta in a fine sieve for 30 minutes. Slice figs and set aside. Place butter and flour in a food processor and process until the mixture resembles the texture of breadcrumbs. Do not overprocess. Add iced water and process on low setting until dough just starts to come together. If necessary, add more iced water one tablespoonful at a time. From dough into a ball and wrap in plastic cling film. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200° C/400° F.

Beat drained ricotta and egg until combined. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a rough round about 3mm thick. Spoon ricotta mixture onto dough and spread evenly, leaving a border of about 5cm. Arrange slices of fig on top (overlapping slightly). Fold and pinch the edges of the dough up over the filling. Drizzle with honey.

Bake until crust is golden.

Rustic fig crostata

Enjoy this with a cup of tea/coffee or make it for an after-dinner dessert and have it with a nice glass of dessert wine or sweet liquer.

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A header of chocolate tarts

My “book of the moment” is Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy, a much appreciated present from Christmas last. I hesitate to call it a cook book because it’s more than just that. In the book are fascinating stories about ingredients, how-to’s on making things such as your own ice-creams and pasta and also details about Giorgio’s youth to his present day experiences in running Locanda Locatelli in London. I’m not one for reading a book like this from cover to cover so today, I read an article dedicated to chocolate. The story was an interesting one, especially the sections about the trading of chocolate (which sounded a lot like the coffee trade) and specialist chocolate makers who are making products which express the different chocolate varieties grown in particular geographical conditions, much like the single “crus” or single estate vineyards in the wine world.

Which brought me to the realisation that I really should write a post on the chocolate tarts that feature on the header you see on my blog. The recipe was taken from Gourmet Traveller, my favourite food and travel magazine. I made these little tarts quite some time ago as petit fours for a Christmas party and I remember they went down very well.

Chocolate tarts

Chocolate and clementine tarts
makes about 30
adapted from Gourmet Traveller

175 gm cold unsalted butter, coarsely chopped
75 gm almond meal
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
100 gm pure icing sugar
250 gm plain flour
3 glacé clementines or kumquats, cut into julienne

Chocolate filling
100 gm dark chocolate (45% cocoa solids), coarsely chopped
80 ml (1/3 cup) Grand Marnier
250 ml (1 cup) thickened cream, lightly whipped

Process butter, almond meal, egg and vanilla in a food processor until just combined. Working quickly, add icing sugar, alternate with flour and a pinch of salt and process until pastry just comes together. Form into a disc and wrap with cling film. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Roll pastry out on a lightly floured surface until 3/4 cm thick and line fifteen 5cm tart tins, trimming excess pastry. Bake at 180° C for 10-12 minutes or until golden. Remove from tins and cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container until required.

For chocolate filling, melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl over gently simmering water. Stir occasionally until smooth. Add Grand Marnier and, when almost cold, fold through cream until well-combined.

To serve, spoon a teaspoon of chocolate filling into each tart and top with glacé clementines.

Instead of the glacé clementines, I made my own with julienned kumquat peel.

Glacé kumquat peel
3 kumquats, peeled and julienned
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Place peel and water in saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes. Add sugar and boil for another 10 minutes. Turn off heat and leave overnight. Next day, bring to boil and remove peel from syrup. Spread out on baking sheet.

The tarts work really well on a number of levels, the crunch of the pastry, followed by the soft filling, then a hit of citrus!

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