Monday, January 31, 2011

It's been Splendid

So, it’s been a long time since my last post. The thing is... I didn’t miss blogging. It may be because no one reads my blog so I didn’t get the shrill and motivation to continue posting, but I don’t think it’s just that.
Blogging just isn’t for me. I don’t feel the motivation to write about my food. I like sharing food, no doubt and talking about it... and cooking it... and eating it, but I’m just not someone who wants to blog.
I’m not giving up my dreams. I will still cook (and I’m sure my cookbook collection will continue to grow no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise). But now I have just decided to cook for myself, my family and my friends. I will store these memories in a photo album. This album will be passed through my family. Secrets and dreams will be revealed. It will be like a resume that shows off all my cooking achievements. It’s something I will be proud of and not embarrassed to share with my family.
Maybe one day I’ll return to blogging. I will keep this blog running though... who knows, someone might want to create vanilla and roobis ice cream and will need a recipe. Or they might create it and sadly find out they did not think of the idea. (If that is you... I’m sorry I got to it first!) I’m sure someone will want Anzac muesli somewhere along the lines too....
This was a nice experiment; it’s just not for me... I’ll face the world some other way!
Signing off for now,

Friday, January 21, 2011

Banana and Choc Chip Cookies

One of the things I remember most about my childhood is baking with my parents, which is a shame now because my parents never bake anymore, well at least not as much. The one thing I remember most is my mum’s banana and chocolate muffins.  She would make a batch almost every month and then freeze them. During the weeks we would take them to school and by the time recess came around, the muffins were defrosted and tasted as if they were just baked.
But, that’s not what I remember about her muffins. What I remember was eating them from the freezer! It’s a weird habit I still have not grown out of. I like my cakes, whether muffins, brownies or cookies eaten from the freezer, ice cold, frozen and solid. I don’t know what attracts me to frozen cake and I still haven’t met anyone else with the same unusual eating habit. My sister thinks it’s different.
When I saw the recipe for these cookies (in The Golden Book of Chocolate), I knew I had to bake them. The end result was a soft cookie, almost reminiscent of a muffin top. Crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. They are a light and delicate cookie (well that really does depend on how you big you make them) and taste delicious from the freezer. (They make a good cookie for ice cream sandwiches!)  
I notched up the recipe about however and added double the amount of banana and chocolate chips. I love the added texture and crunch the banana chips give, almost like eating toffee! I have now decided that in all banana and chocolate muffins I make I will be using banana chips, they make it even more so Moorish! I even chose to go all old fashioned and beat the butter without my electric mixer, and it was so much more fulfilling!
I also decided to replace a 1/3 of the flour with Milo. I’m not sure if this altered the ‘airiness’ of the cookies but feel free to try it out. I’m sure any malted milk powder or even a banana flavoured pudding mix would work. For a nuttier version, add some peanuts! We all know peanuts, banana and chocolate are a winning combination!
A little side note, if you do make these cookies and intend to give them to a friend, don’t carry them in 36 degrees heat... they will just crumble in your brown paper bag!

Banana and Choc Chip Cookies

2 1/3 cups plain flour (or 2 cups flour, 1/3 cup Milo / malted milk powder)
1 teaspoon baking soda
A pinch of salt
250 g butter, softened
¾ cups packed brown sugar
½ cup raw sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 large (overripe) banana, peeled and mashed
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped banana chips

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and lay baking paper over two trays
Mix the flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl
Beat the butter an both sugars into a bowl with an electric mixer at high speed (or by hand) until creamy, add in an egg one at a time until just blended and stir in the vanilla
Using a spoon beat in the mashed banana, followed by the flour (in 4 sections) and then stir in the chocolate and banana chips
Drop teaspoons of dough on to the baking sheets and bake one tray at a time for 15 minutes (or until the cookies are a golden colour). Remove from the tray and let it cool on a wire rack. ( I used the same baking tray three times to save washing up if you find you have run out of space)
Makes about 30 plus, enjoy! I know I did!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

10 kg of Apricots ... and so little freezer space!

Its apricot season... and cherry and nectarine and plum... And oddly enough, I’m rather thankful that strawberry season came just before my beloved stone fruits.  My family is lucky enough to have a family friend who grows the most beautiful apricots. Just right, not too mushy (though the mushiest and juiciest of stone fruits usually is the best in my opinion) and full of apricot flavour! However, like most fruits, they all choose to ripen at the same time, leaving bucket loads of fruit for only one person. Thank the world for sharing!
Our family friend came by on Monday with one full bucket of freshly picked apricots for us. My mum then decided to go shopping and returns home with a 5kg box of Apricots, which she purchased for only $5. She made jam with half of the apricots and then pitted the rest, sprinkled them with sugar and freezed them for use throughout the year.
The next day, on Tuesday our family friend came back, but this time with twice the amount of apricots. So we took out the dehydrator we borrowed from another family friend and dehydrated some of the apricots, along with cherries, strawberries and cucumbers. Note: don’t ever dehydrate cucumber, even for your curiosity, the taste is just awful! May as well eat a fresh cucumber and save yourself 6 hours!


Has dried fruit ever looked fancier? 

With the leftover apricots, we’re back to freezing them. Fortunately I grabbed a few before they were frozen and turned them into another frozen treat, also known as Frozen Yoghurt. I love frozen yoghurt! When we went to Sydney late November last year, I was on a hunt for a fro yo store. The first place I went to was called Martoni Frozen Yoghurt, and for my three days in Sydney... It was the only place I went to for a healthy and selfish serve of fro yo.
The frozen yoghurt I made tastes nothing like my fro yo from Sydney, but it still tastes great. Over the weeks I intend to create a recipe that resembles Martoni’s, but until I finish this apricotty batch, I won’t be able to.... anywhoo, If you’re in an apricot pickle like me, go ahead and make this frozen treat! Even if you’re not in an apricot pickle, make it anyway!
Apricot Fro Yo (created with fro yo making tips from The perfect Scop, by David Lebovitz)
700g apricots, (weighed after halved and pitted)
½ cup water
½  cup raw sugar
2 tablespoons honey (use any flavour you like, I used a creamed vanilla honey which I get at my farmers markets)
500g full fat yoghurt (I used sheep’s)
½ a freshly squeezed lemon
Put the apricots into a saucepan with the water and cook on a medium heat, stirring occasionaly for 15 to 20 minutes until cooked through and slightly mushy, remove from the heat and stir in the sugar then chill in the refrigerator
When the apricots have cooled, put them in a food processor with the yoguhrt and lemon juice until desired consistency (smooth or slightly chunky)
Freeze the mixture according to the manufactures instructions on your ice cream maker. When it has finished churning store in the freezer, I recommend taking the frozen yoghurt out 20 minutes before serving to allow it to soften.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Eggplant and Salted Mackerel Hot pot

I am addicted to salt. By addicted I mean I would rather slowly suck on those plastic fish filled with soy sauce that you get with sushi than chew gum. That’s probably not the best example, but it’s the best I could think of so far!
I’ve only had salted fish and eggplant hot pot once before, while at yum cha. Though I don’t think I can call it ‘yum cha’ because I didn’t understand the concept of it. Instead I ordered one thing for myself, as did all my friends. My dish was delicious, though it was too much for just one person to finish by themselves!
When we left, I said to my Chinese friend, maybe it would have been better if we shared all of our dishes! She glared at me and told me that she had been trying to tell me that we were supposed to do that any way! ... I have trouble paying attention to people. I think it’s genetic?
The recipe I followed comes from Poh’s kitchen and can be found here.
When I cooked mine, I would have added at least another 20g of the salted mackerel but as my dad has become extremely sensitive to salt and cares about what it does to your health (or at least attempts to pretend to care) I did not add the extra mackerel. However, when I was plating my own dish... I may have added a dash or two of fish sauce!

I do apologise for the photo, the minced pork doesn't look in 'place' (or even that appealing) but if you just ignore my photo and stare at Poh's ... I'm sure you'll be convinced to cook the recipe! That picture is just so pretty! And the recipe is just so darn tasty!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Banana and Date Chutney

In the world of food there are things which sound unappealing such as chicken feet, sauerkraut and wheat grass. Then there are those foods that look unappealing and well ugly like chicken feet, oatmeal and the end result of the latest recipe I will be sharing, date and banana chutney.

This may sound silly but I don’t like eating my curries with chutneys and the reason why I made this chutney was because I wanted it for my peanut butter sandwiches! A long time ago my mum came home with a date and banana chutney and all I ate it with was peanut butter. I would mix the two together and use it as a dip for vegetables or a spread on toast. I also once tried it with cheese, it wasn’t that bad. But that was almost a year ago and I haven’t found that chutney since.
Then recently I was looking through a very old cook book which was divided into different cultures. There were recipes for American, Spanish, Italian, French, Chinese and Indian meals. I had to laugh when I was flipping through the Chinese recipes because in some recipes MSG was listed as an optional seasoning.
Anyway, in the accompaniments section for the Indian recipes was Banana and Date Chutney! With luck my mum and I went to the grocery store today and there was a 4kg bag of bananas going out for only $2!
This recipe is a winner! I was sceptical when I was making it because the smell of bananas cooking in vinegar isn’t that appealing. Then when I added molasses and it turned into a big brown gloop, well it was highly off putting. But then I stuck my spoon in, had my peanut butter by my side and I was ecstatic! Not only because I had created my favourite chutney but also because I had made my first chutney, actually, my first preserved anything.
Feel free to mix around with the flavours and ratio of spices in the chutney. I’m sure cinnamon would work incredibly well as would a little bit of heat or fresh ginger. In my version however I did change one thing by using use date molasses. Date molasses can be found at any good Greek or Lebanese food store, maybe even health stores? If you have seen carob, grape or pomegranate molasses than there should be a stock of date molasses somewhere near you!
And if you are wondering about what date molasses is like, well it’s nothing like normal molasses. It is runnier and does not have any liquorice and aniseed smell or flavour. It’s much sweeter and unfortunately I don’t think it provides the nutrients which normal molasses does provide. Still, that shouldn’t stop you from trying it if you can find it. We still use butter after all!
Date and Banana Chutney (Taken from Super cook’s Classic Dishes of the World, 1997)
Makes about 1 ½ kg (6 medium jars worth)
6 large Bananas, sliced
4 red onions, cut into eighths
250g pitted dates
1 ¼ cup white vinegar
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground turmeric
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground ginger
125g crystallised (candied) ginger
½ tsp salt
250ml (1 cup) molasses (I used half molasses, half date molasses)

First, put the onions in a food processor and finely chop, but not to a pulp. If you don’t have a food processor than chop by hand (using a food processor however saves time). Remove the onions and place in a heavy based saucepan.
Place the dates in the food processor (or chop by hand) and finely chop. Put into the saucepan with the onions, banana and vinegar.
Cook the mixture for 15 minutes at a medium high heat, stirring occasionally, or until the onion is cooked.
While you are waiting chop the crystallised ginger in the food processor or by hand into fine pieces. (It will be sticky)
Stir in the spices, crystallised ginger, salt and molasses and cook at a moderate heat for 20 – 30 minutes, depending on how thick you like it.
Remove from the heat and spoon the chutney into clean, warmed preserving jars. Cover with vinegar resistant paper (optional, I didn’t do it... maybe I should have?), label and store in a cool dark place.

If you wish to make a peanut butter sandwich with your chutney, I use cucumber, carrot, lettuce, fresh garlic rubbed on the bread and corriander when I make mine. But please don’t just do what I do, the chutney has many other good uses!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Finger Lime and Ricotta Ice Cream Cake

“You can’t put ricotta in ice-cream! That’s disgusting!” was what my dad said this morning when I told him I was going to make him ricotta ice cream for dessert. My dad is one of those people who quinces at the idea of different food combinations. He is also the man who thinks using chorizos in a stew would be a good idea and that I should make it sometime. He has however forgotten that I had made chorizo stew on numerous occasions during the cold winter nights.
I like the idea of sweet ricotta more than savoury ricotta. I much prefer traditional ricotta filled canolli to the average, custard and chocolate filled version more commonly found. I love ricotta toasties with honey and fresh berries and I would rather put a good dollop of ricotta and not yoghurt on my oatmeal. I don’t like the idea of warm, runny yoghurt.  One time I had a phase when all I wanted to eat every day of the week was fresh ricotta on fresh honey oat bread. YUM!
Recently, as mentioned on my trip to Melbourne, I had my first sample of Ricotta ice cream. It was sublime! It was creamy, sweet and because the weather was extremely hot, eaten within a few satisfying minutes. I knew I just had to create ricotta ice cream for myself.
On a later trip, last year in November, while in Sydney, I purchased a jar of Australian Finger Lime Curd. I’m one of those people who will save the best til last. I was saving the curd for a special occasion, to make mini cheese cakes and then last week I looked at the expiry date and it expires in two days! I had to use it up, and decided that I would make a cheesecake inspired ice cream using ricotta and swirls of finger lime curd. But why should I stop there? I decided to make an ice cream cake, because seriously, who can resist ice cream cake?
The end result was a tangy, creamy ice cream with a crunchy crust made of shortbread, wafers and coconut (the crust was adapted from the coconut cheesecake in Rose Levy Beranbaums Heavenly Cakes). I was a little too eager to cut into the cake so it was a little extra runny when I served it.  On that note, I recommend making the cake a day before you want to eat it and let it sit in the freezer over night.
And also, I understand that its probably difficult for most people to purchase finger lime curd, (but feel free to purchase it online here )  so if that’s not available, simply use a good quality lemon or passionfruit curd, preferably one that uses free range eggs.

Finger Lime and Ricotta Ice Cream Cake

Base Ingredients:
1/2 cup flaked coconut, toasted
60g wafers (or ince cream cones)
60g shortbread biscuits
3 tbsp butter, melted

Gelato Ingredients (adapted from sassandveracity)
2 cups fresh wholemilk ricotta
2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean
1 strip each lemon and lime peel
1 cinnamon quill
5 large egg yolks
1 cup raw sugar
1 cup heavy cream

1 220g jar of finger lime or lemon curd

first, make the base. Grease and line with baking paper a 20cm round springform pan. process all dry ingredients in a food proccessor until fine crumbs and than pour in the melted butter and pulse a few times. Pour the crumb mixture into the cake pan and press onto the bottom. Using your fingers press the crumbs towards the side of the pan, about 1 inch high, to form an even layer. cover with cling wrap and set in the fridge.

Then, make the ice cream according to the recipe on this recipe here. But when you are heating the milk for the first time, infuse it with the lemon and lime peel and cinnamon stick and remove along with the vanilla bean, according to the recipe.

When the ice cream has finished churning, take the base out of the fridge. Pour half of the ice cream into the tin and then top with the whole jar of finger lime or lemon curd. Top the rest of the cake off with the ice cream and then place in the freezer for more than 4 hours or overnight to firm.

To remove the cake from the tin, place the cake on a plate, ready for serving. Then immerse a tea towel in boiling water and  hold the tea towel around the tin for about 1 minute. Carefully pull the tin away from the cake and place back in the freezer for 10 minutes. cut into slices and serve with fresh berries or prefered fruit.

note: you may find that you have leftover ice cream that won't fit in the cake tin, so i suggest doing what most people would do in the situation of leftovers, EAT IT!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Asian Roasted Duck Soup

Okay, it’s the middle of summer here in Australia and instead of craving ice blocks or fruit salad I would much rather sit down with a nice big bowl of soup. That is what I would consider as unusual. But we all have those comfort foods that we just cannot resist, even if it is the most inappropriate weather or situation when we want it.

Lately, I have gained a slight obsession with Asian style clear broths and soups. In the past, I assumed that unless a soup had coconut milk in it than it would be as tasteless as water. I was so wrong! After trying many different styles of clear broths, Vietnamese crab, tofu and tomato, or Chinese style stewed mutton broth, I am now convinced that Asian broths are by far the best and tastiest! (I see a pattern of me claiming that everything ‘is the best’...)
Another thing which I have gained an obsession with (under influence of my sister) is coconut juice. I am not referring to ‘coconut water’, the stuff that is sold in health food shops for $5 a bottle but to the juice you will find in a plastic sealed cup in the refrigerator or freezer section of most Asian Grocers selling for only $1.50. Real coconut juice is by far so much superior, more refreshing and is the most delicious when it has been sweetened with cane sugar.
If you ever do see coconut juice, please do try it! It is so delicious and once you have tried it, it is impossible to never crave it again! But warning, do not buy the stuff sold on the cans, for some reason the juice tastes metallic and off. I learnt that the hard way and ended up wasting $2....

Anywhoo... I know you’re wondering, what does coconut juice have to do with the soup? I didn’t get side tracked; I simply believe that if you do make this soup (especially in the summer), having coconut juice on the side may just help to cool you off before you begin perspiring into your soup! (Not that I did).
The recipe for this soup comes from a book. I’m not sure which book however, but I have tweaked the soup to my likings. The original recipe called for 5 litres of water, I used only about 3 and still made a lot of soup! This recipe can also be made in advance, the stock can be made in the morning, or day before and everything else finished off at the end of the day, or when serving.
Asian Roasted Duck Soup

For the stock
1 whole chinese roast duck*
11 cups of water
2 cloves of garlic, sliced in half
A knob (2 inch piece) of ginger, sliced
2 spring onions
2 tablespoons each hoi sin and tamari (or soy sauce)

For the soup
20g each dried shitake mushrooms and wood ear fungus
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon grated ginger
115g fresh baby corn, sliced in half on the diagonal
200g snow peas, trimmed and sliced in half
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
400g choy sum (can use bok choy, Kan Kung, or all I just prefer choy sum) cut into 2cm lengths and well cleaned
100ml oyster sauce
1 tablespoon tamari (or soy sauce)
2 small chillies, chopped
500g preferred noodles (egg, udon, soba, rice)
Chopped coriander, chopped Thai basil, ground white pepper and bean sprouts (to serve)

Remove the meat and skin from the duck, thinly slice and set aside.

Put the bones and skin of the duck in a large sauce pan and cover with the water. Place all other stock ingredients in with the duck bones.  Bring to the boil, and then simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, soak the mushrooms in boiling water for 30 minutes. Remove, squeeze dry and finely chop. Discard the stems as you go. (With the Wood ear fungus, I sliced it into ribbons)

Drain the stock and discard the bones and used herbs. (Look for any pieces of meat that may still be on the bones and use it for your soup)

Heat a large saucepan on high heat and add the olive and sesame oils. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for 30 seconds, add the duck meat and fry for another minute, stirring as you go.

Add the corn, snow peas, spring onion, choy sum and mushrooms and fry for 2 minutes. Then add the oyster sauce tamari, chillies and stock and simmer until heated through.

In another sauce pan filled with boiling water cook the noodles until tender and drain.

To serve, put the noodles at the bottom of each bowl, top with the bean sprouts and then ladle in the soup. Garnish with the fresh herbs and lots of white pepper. Eat while it’s still hot!

*For this recipe, I advise, that when buying the roasted duck (which can be purchased from any good Chinese butcher or BBQ store) ask them to cut it up for you, but make sure you ask to keep the bones and head as you will need this for the stock, a mistake I unfortunately made.