Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The most revolting dish ever devised

I recently read an article about Elizabeth David and the fact that she would scrawl notes in recipe books that reflected her thoughts on the recipe and/or its creator. Let me tell you, she did not hold back.

I've never really gotten into her work and don't own anything by her, although I've read bits and pieces about her as a woman who was passionately interested in food. It seems that she was adventurous, loved Mediterranean cooking, abhorred a lot of the old English cooking traditions, and was quite forthright with her opinions. I think she also came along at the right time, before the masses knew what prosciutto and arborio rice and verjuice were. But that is how history is made.

In any case, I don't disagree with her view of the most revolting dish ever devised. I can safely say that I will never, ever try this one. Not even just to see for myself. I can also safely say that having spent most of my life around Italian cooking, I have never, ever come across anything like this. But you be the judge...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Angelina's lemonade scones

Scones are a unique part of any Aussie childhood. They're one of those things that every kid remembers someone in particular being pretty good at. Often it's grandmothers who do the scone thing well. I had ethnic grandmothers and neither were into scones. Well, one wasn't into cooking much at all, but the other one was and I guarantee she never cooked a scone in her life. Mum, on the other hand, has always made a killer scone. She says her secret is sour cream. Let me confess that I've tried the sour cream trick and it's not that simple.

The problem is that the humble scone is so deceptively simple looking. Made from a few basic ingredients, it doesn't seem like anyone could ever possibly get it wrong. Well I've had the unfortunate experience of trying many a hard, or dry, or bicarb laced scone in my time. These versions of the humble scone are rarely pleasant and often barely edible.

It seems to take a special touch to have a scone come out with a light texture that lets it break open from the middle, properly risen without half a box of bicarb, and just sweet enough without being sickly. A good scone involves getting some air into the flour and not over-working the dough. In my experience, very few people manage this.

One young lady who can is Angelina, the daughter of a friend of mine. Angelina's mum kindly shared her recipe for lemonade scones with me, assuring me that they work every time. Now I can't eat them, but last weekend I had a houseful of Canadians keen for the Aussie experience. I gave them a go and true enough, they worked beautifully with minimal effort. But then maybe that's the thing with scones - keep it minimal? Whatever the case, I recommend this brilliant little recipe. Thanks Angelina!

4 cups self raising flour
300 ml cream
1 can lemonade
1/2 tsp salt

It's simple - mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Once properly combined, turn the mixture out onto a floured bench and gently knead until everything is sticking together well. This should not take long. Don't over-work the mixture or your scones will come out tough.

You can roll the dough out, although I just eased mine gently into a flat shape. Using a cookie cutter, cut rounds out and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Cook at 200ÂșC for about 15-20 minutes until brown. Serve hot with butter and jam, or cold with jam and cream.

Note: I glazed mine with a little milk & egg but it's not strictly necessary.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Winners are grinners!

Thanks everyone who voted for me in Take 5 magazine over the last week. The good news is that it was not in vain. I got a call this afternoon telling me that I won the Reader's Choice prize.

Tim and I are both thrilled and pretty excited about it, not only for the neat prizes, but because it's our first foray into the world of competitive cooking.

We won some Kitchen Aid appliances (my all time favourite kind) and a Breville grill. Not bad! Together with the Royal Doulton cooking and serving gear we nabbed, our kitchen is going to be better fitted out than I ever expected it would be. It's just brilliant and we really appreciated everyone who took the time to make the call.

There will be some sort of follow up story in next week's edition for those who are interested.

Thanks again!!!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Inspired by the Tour

Tim loves cycling and every year when the Tour de France rolls around, I wind up staying up late on lots of nights to watch with him. Of course, I'm not as hard core a fan as Tim, but I do ok.

One thing I really love about the race is the incredible shots of the scenery, especially the overhead stuff. The green fields, the sunflowers, the blue skies and the amazing chateaus and other centuries-old buildings just make me want to throw caution to the wind, apply for all my leave at once and spend an idyllic summer in the French countryside.

Imagine learning to cook in some little town, and then wiling away the afternoons lying in the sun, magazine in one hand and a glass of red in the other. Or proper champagne. Sigh...

Since I can't have that, I've been cooking a lot of French, or French inspired things over the last few weeks. My favourite is probably beef bourguignon. I cooked this on Friday night for some friends from Canada. Shortly before they arrived, Tim informed me that one was a proper French Canadian and I had a slight stroke. He wasn't and the meal was good anyway so it would have been a moot point.

My second favourite is something of my own - French green lentils with smoked pork & chorizo. (I know, chorizo is Spanish, but it works!)

What I love about this dish (besides being incredibly easy to make) is the wholesome, comforting feeling it brings. First, it bubbles slowly on the stove until the meat just about falls of the hock and all of the flavours are infused. Then, you get to eat it really warm with some crusty home made spelt bread and creamy butter. Heavenly on a cold winter night! Tim went back to the pot four times so I consider it a success.

2 cups French green lentils
1 smoked pork hock
2 raw Spanish chorizo
175g French shallots, peeled (just over a cup)
1 lt stock (beef or vegetable)
olive oil
3 bay leaves
about 10 sage leaves
2 tsp sweet paprika

In a decent splash of olive oil, just brown the chorizo and onions together. Add the stock and then the rest of the ingredients.

Cook slowly until the meat is tender and you can gently tease it off the hock. This shouldn't actually take too long - perhaps an hour or so. The beauty of the French green lentils is that they really maintain their shape and texture with cooking and don't go all mushy like I've seen the brown sort do.

When the meat is tender, take the hock out of the pot and remove the meat. This should come off really easily but you'll need to slice it into manageable pieces. Put the whole lot back into the pot. Stir, taste and add salt and black pepper. Don't be too hasty with the salt though. You don't want to mask all the other lovely flavours, and there is a lot of salt in the meats already. If you wind up putting in too much salt, try adding a little lemon juice.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Australia's Best Home Chef?

You be the judge!

I have made it to the dizzy heights of top 5 finalists in the Take 5 Magazine competition to find Australia's best home chef.

Now it may not be Masterchef, but then there's no public meltdowns, war of the words or sucking up to the judges involved. Just straight cooking. And, I'd really like to win!

There are two categories of winner - judges choice and reader's choice. To vote for me, you can ring 1902 554 994 or SMS 199 54994. Voting code is 55.

Voting ends on Tuesday at midnight (or does that make it Wednesday?)

Fingers crossed...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Classic Aussie Trifle

The new kitchen, and especially the beautiful stove, has inspired me to start cooking again in earnest. Looking through my mother's trusty black covered 'Good Housekeeping' that was the only cook book I remember growing up with, I thought I'd branch out into the wonderful world of of Swiss rolls. How hard could it be, I asked myself?

I managed to come up with an edible version of a basic jam-filled Swiss roll from spelt flour (I didn't want to be left out), but I wasn't thrilled. They're such dry cakes and unless you pull them out of the oven at exactly the right moment and then move quickly, they crack and don't roll properly and generally suck. No problem. That's what trifles were invented for - to make dry cake appear appealing.

Is trifle an Aussie invention? I always assumed it was. What other country could bring together jelly, custard, cream, fruit and alcohol in such a horrific fashion??? Brought out every hot summer holiday, it was the bane of my existence as a kid. I hated it. I hated the smell of it, the cheap, mock-cream filled Swiss rolls soaked in far too much sweet sherry, covered in tinned fruit, jelly and sweet, sweet cream. YUCK!!! Thank God (and I sincerely mean that) my mother never made trifle. It was just that every single other mum, aunt and neighbour did, clearly labouring under the false impression that trifle was the height of sophisticated desserts and should be served as often as possible to kids who must politely accept man-sized portions slopped into plastic dishes, or risk being considered spoiled and badly mannered. Sigh...

Taking inspiration from some old recipes, I put a decent trifle together, although I opted for individual glasses, instead of throwing the whole lot together in a large bowl. Although, you could do that if you like it the old-school, hope it stays together while you're serving, look. Tim, my mum and I have enjoyed trifle this time around. I'm pleasantly surprised.

1 packet Aeroplane jelly crystals, raspberry flavour
1 large jam filled Swiss roll
600ml thickened cream
1/4 cup sherry (actually I was out of sherry and used Dubonet)
1/4 cup custard powder
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
1 large can peach slices, drained (825g)
1 punnet strawberries
flaked, toasted almonds to garnish

Make up the jelly as instructed and pop it in the fridge until it starts to set but can still be poured. Make up the custard by placing the custard powder with a little milk and the sugar in a small pan and stir into a paste. Then add the rest of the milk and bring to the boil, slowly, without burning. Take off the heat and cool a bit. When cool, stir in 1/2 cup of the cream. Whip the remaining cream until stiff.

Cut 6 slices of Swiss roll, about 2 cm thick each. Place one slice each in 6 large glasses or individual sweet bowls. (Alternatively, you can make this up in one large bowl). Gently spoon some alcohol onto each slice of cake. Pour the jelly over each slice of cake and place back in the fridge until properly set.

When the jelly is set, arrange the peach slices on top . Pour over the custard, followed by a generous helping of whipped cream. Place sliced strawberries and toasted almonds on top.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Truffle Festival

Just a quick spot of news as I settle into the new kitchen (read: madly clean up because the outlaws are coming to dinner tomorrow night). The Australian Capital Country Truffle Festival is on. I'd love to do a cooking class, but we'll see how we go. I'd love to hear from anyone who has taken part in events or classes.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Out with the old...

It's finally happening - the new kitchen is here!  Well that is, it's sitting on a tarp in the dining room, waiting to be installed. I don't care! It brings me one step closer to having a functioning space to work in. It's all shiny and new and covered in protective plastic and looking like it will make me very happy, once it's in. I can't wait. Step by step, it's taking shape.

The picutre above is of the old (clean) kitchen, ready to be demolished, with the new one sitting in the background. Note the sexy 1970's overhanging shelves. Some thoughtful design there. (!)

Bizarrely enough, I found myself cleaning the bench tops shortly before the demolition guy arrived. I know! Ridiculous but I blame my mother's influence on me for that one. I mean, one wouldn't want the demolition guy thinking one was a grot! (I won't describe the demolition guy, but suffice it to say that I don't think he would have noticed an un-wiped bench).

The rip-out happened yesterday morning. I can't help but think that it must be many a young bloke's dream job. Crow bars, large hammers and other heavy instruments were involved, and there was a lot of loud noise and chucking of stuff about carelessly because it's not like it matters if it gets broken.

At this juncture, I think it's only fair to share pictures of some of the contact shelf lining that will most definitely not be missed. c 1973?

Next, the plumber arrived to do plumbing related stuff. All good, although when he got the blow torch out and fired it up, without so much as a set of protective glasses or gloves in sight, I just had to walk away, close the door behind me and hope for the best.

The sparky was great. He pointed out that it was going to cost $64 to move a perfectly placed and functioning power point from one spot to another. He kindly offered me the choice of not agreeing to this and saving said $64. What a good bloke!

Finally, at around 5.30pm, the plasterer arrived. Not that impressed with the rip-out guy's work, he decided enough was enough and he'd be back on Sunday morning to take care of things. OK...

So I anticipate my weekend will be spent pottering about the place, trying not to get in anyone's way and occasionally making a cuppa for the men who are charged with making me more happy than I've ever been in that kitchen! It's worth it. 

Here's what we're currently left with: