Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Daring Bakers - Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream

Have you felt a strange sense of deja vu as you have been surfing around the food blogs today, finding that everything looks the same but different at the same time? If so, your instinct would be right - today is Daring Bakers reveal day! This month's challenge is hosted by Chris of Mele Cotte, who has selected a wonderful Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream, a recipe by Carole Walter. Chris loved the beauty of this cake, and kindly decided to share it with all of us.

Once again, I was initially overwhelmed by the length and intricacy of the recipe, but it was definitely no more difficult than the Opera Cake from May this year. Once again, I learned quite a bit as I completed the challenge, despite the fact that I would call myself an experienced home baker. I learned (a) that a hazelnut is also called a filbert; (b) if your buttercream looks like watery scrambled eggs, don't give up - just keep beating it! (unlike the advice from an unrelated Internet food forum, where a contributor helpfully told the world at large that if your buttercream separates, it is irretrievable); (c) how to make praline and praline paste; and (e) how to make your own nut flour. This is a great "grab bag" of learnings to take with me to the next challenges and my own baking.

The filbert gateau was not really as complex as it first looked - it was just a matter of patience and time. I spread the cake making over two days, toasting and skinning the nuts and making the cake on day one, then completing all the other steps (making praline and praline paste, Swiss butter cream, whipping cream, sugar syrup, apricot glaze and chocolate ganache) on day two.

I pretty much stuck to the flavour combinations in the original recipe - I used hazelnuts, my buttercream and sugar syrup were flavoured with rum and I used an apricot glaze.

My cake rose nicely, almost to the top of the tin. However, unfortunately, it took much longer than the 35 minutes quoted in the recipe to bake - in all, mine took 55 minutes to bake completely. At 45 minutes, I assumed, wrongly that it would be done, and pulled it out of the oven - at which point the lovely domed middle of the cake sunk!!! It recovered somewhat when I put it back in the oven to continue baking, but it remained slightly sunken in the middle. This made cutting the cake into three even layers quite a challenge.

The praline was a joy to make - it was all I could do not to just eat it. It reminded me of World's Finest Chocolates fund-raising peanut brittle from primary school:

The praline was then processed into a paste in the food processor:

This paste was then used to flavour a Swiss buttercream. The buttercream gave me the greatest headache in this challenge, because it seemed determined to stay watery and curdly. However, after panicking a bit (there's a lot of eggs in this buttercream that I didn't want to waste!), and reading the unhelpful hint on the Net that it was irretrievable, I then turned to the trusty Daring Bakers forum and the posts from the Yule Log challenge in December, where I remembered that a lot of people had trouble with the buttecream separating. There I found comfort - the simple advice was just to keep beating the buttecream! And beat it I did, until magically, it came together:

I took the cake to work for Brad's birthday, hence my photograph of the cut cake is not great, but you get the idea:

I liked the taste of the rum and the praline in the cake (from the syrup). I also loved the ganache on this cake, which had a gorgeous shiny mirror finish. However, I found that my buttercream was too thick to pipe easily (hence my pretty average decorations), and I did not enjoy the overall taste as much as the similar Opera Cake. That said, it was a lovely cake, both visually and to eat, and was appreciated by the troops.

Thanks to Chris for hosting this month's challenge and choosing such a lovely recipe, which you can find on Chris's site . You can check out all the other Daring Bakers creations

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Baking Essentials Class at The Essential Ingredient

On Saturday, I attended a class called "Baking Essentials" at The Essential Ingredient in Prahran Market. This class was part demonstration-based and part hands on, and best of all, it also involved tasting the goods!

The class was led by Loretta Sartori, a distinguished pastry chef who now does fantastic work teaching basic baking skills to disadvantaged young people through the Jesuit Services Gateway Kitchen, the results of which are sold under the brand name Abbotsford Biscuits. Loretta is the lady in the white coat in the first photograph.

The Baking Essentials class aims to teach participants how to make a range of basic pastries, cakes, fillings and decoration materials which can be mixed and matched to make a whole range of different baked goods.

One of the items that we "made" in class was a spinach and ricotta spiral. Due to time constraints, the base streudel dough had already been made, and the class simply rolled and stretched the dough, filled it with a ready made spinach and ricotta filling, and rolled it into the spiral. The dough was interesting to work with, as it felt just like a cool, clean sheet, and was very thin once stretched out. We had pieces of this spiral for lunch with a pear and baby spinach salad and a glass of bubbly, and it was delicious:

In teams of five, with allocation of tasks, we made a flourless chocolate cake, which Loretta then decorated with the ganache and hazelnut praline that she had demonstrated to the class:

This cake tasted as good as it looks!

Loretta demonstrated rolling puff pastry, making puff pastry discs, sponge, creme patisserie and sugar syrup, and how to put it all together as Diplomat Torte:

This was served for afternoon tea, and it was lovely.

We also had a piece of the saute apple tart pictured below for afternoon tea:

Loretta demonstrated making frangipan and her "1, 2, 3" sweet shortcrust dough to make this tart. The "1, 2, 3" stands for 1 part sugar: 2 parts fat: 3 parts flour. I actually enjoyed this more than the diplomat torte, despite its relative simplicity. If you like the look of this tart, Loretta's recipe is posted online
here (scroll down to the bottom to find it).

Loretta also demonstrated a classic almond tart using puff pastry and frangipan:

This is what it looked like inside:

This was not really my thing taste-wise, but it looked quite spectacular.

As far as other "hands on" activities, we were presented with a detrempe and a slab of butter and combined them to each make a 1.25kg slab of puff pastry up to the first book turn stage, and took it home to complete. We also each made Loretta's "1,2,3" sweet shortcrust pastry and streudel dough to take home.

Loretta verbally shared some baking theory with us along the way, including the uses of different strengths of flour and why pastry chefs use certain techniques. I also learned about a cool commercial pastry tool called a "docker", which acts like a many-pronged fork for pricking holes in pastry bases in a commercial kitchen.

For the limited time available (5 hours, including lunch) and the class environment, we managed to get through a lot, and we were given a number of useful recipes (including some not demonstrated in class) to take home and try for ourselves. It was not as "hands on" as my William Angliss cake decorating course, but it was conducted over a much shorter timeframe. I definitely learned more from this class than
my Savour experience, because unlike the Savour class, the format allowed participants to gain a clear idea of the whole of a process, not just a small part of it. Which class format is best for you will depend on what you are hoping to get out of it. (For example, many of my Savour classmates had been given the class attendance as a gift, and were only there to have some fun, so the gorgeous take-home products were a bonus.)

It was interesting that I had previously attempted to make the majority of the components that were covered by Loretta's class for Daring Bakers! It was also interesting to see how Loretta's techniques for the various components varied from those which I had previously seen or tried.

Overall, I enjoyed this class, and found it "hands on" enough that, together with the terrific theory tips given by Loretta, I learned some valuable lessons in baking. Loretta has a number of other classes at The Essential Ingredient, and I am considering doing another one on the strength of this experience.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Remembering Sher - Bunty's Empire Biscuits

Last week, The Daring Bakers received some terrible news - Sher of What Did You Eat?, a Daring Baker, passed away suddenly. Even though I did not know Sher, and had only dropped by her blog a few times through Daring Bakers events, I was extremely saddened by this news. Wonderful tributes to Sher have been posted on her blog by her husband, Bob, and by her close friend, Glenna.

In memory of Sher, the
Bread Baking Babes and Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging group are suspending their activities today and posting recipes from Sher's blog. I am not a participant in either group, but I wanted to honour Sher in the same way by posting about one of Sher's recipes.

I chose to make
Bunty's Empire Biscuits, the recipe for which originates from Sher's mother-in-law, Bunty. According to Sher's post, these are her husband's favourite biscuits, and he receives a batch from his Mom every Christmas.

My thoughts go out to Sher's family and friends at this time.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Red, White or Swiss - Victoria sponge with strawberries and cream

Zorra of Kochtopf is hosting Red, White or Swiss in honour of Swiss National Day on 1 August. Zorra is a homesick Swiss expat living in Spain, so this is a perfect event to help her celebrate her home country's national day. To participate is simple - make a dish which is red, white or Swiss and post about it.

I don't know much about Swiss cookery, so I have decided to make something red and white instead - in this case, a strawberry and cream-filled Victoria sponge from Nigella Lawson's
How to Be a Domestic Goddess.

This cake ends up being very large - you almost need a jaw on a hinge to get your laughing gear around a slice of the finished product. It is also a rather dense, rich cake, not like the CWA ladies' sponges, so a small slice is very satisfying. However, it is delicious, and easy peasy to make, with the cake being mixed in the food processor (hooray!), so I recommend giving it a go.

The recipe for the cake is as follows:

225g butter, softened
225g sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
200g self raising flour
25g cornflour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3-4 tablespoons milk

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius, and grease and line 2 x 20cm round cake tins with baking paper. Put all of the ingredients except the milk in the bowl of your food processor, then whizz it until smooth. Add the milk to the batter gradually through the top of the processor while pulsing it until you have a thick, soft cake batter.

Divide the batter between the 2 prepared tins, and bake for about 25 minutes. Remove the cakes from the oven and allow them to cool in their tins for about 10 minutes before unmoulding them onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To fill the cakes:

Whip 125g of heavy cream with one tablespoon of icing sugar until it thickens to a stable consistency, but not stiff. Chop 125g (half a punnet) of strawberries in half. Spread the bottom cake with about 4 tablespoons of a red jam of your choice (I used a lovely organic blackberry jam, which is a very dark red), then spread the whipped cream over the jam, and place the halved strawberries on top of the cream. Top the entire thing with the second cake, and sprinkle the top with sugar, if desired. Slice (not too generously!) and serve.

Thanks to Zorra for inviting us to celebrate Swiss National Day with her. You can find the roundup here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Blog Party #36 - Bloggers Choice - Orange Hazelnut and Sultana Buns with Pimms & Lemonade

Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness has chosen "Bloggers Choice" for the the theme of this month's Blog Party, which celebrates its third birthday this month. The rules are simple - bring finger food and a drink of your choice to the party by the closing date.

I have brought along Orange, Hazelnut and Sultana Buns, based on a recipe from Candice of Mmm Tasty for
Orange Date Walnut Buns. The only changes that I made were substituting the walnuts for hazelnuts and the dates for sultanas. Here are the buns prior to being drizzled with orange glaze:

These buns were quite tasty, and struck my fancy because they are made with cottage cheese. They rely on baking powder for the rising agent, and I found them heavier than your typical yeast-rising buns. If I made them again, I might try yeast as the rising agent, and I would definitely glaze the buns with egg wash before baking to make them more aesthetically appealing.

To go with my buns, I have brought along my favourite alcoholic drink - Pimms and Lemonade, complete with chopped strawberries:

For intellectual property fans, the recipe for Pimms is a trade secret, like Coca Cola. It is a mixer that is usually combined with lemonade, and the British, who make Pimms, often serve it in huge jugs in the summer with plenty of ice and fruit - and sometimes cucumber! Pimms is drunk by the discerning crowd goers at the Wimbledon British Open to go with their strawberries and icecream.

Happy birthday Blog Party and thanks and congratulations to Stephanie, who created and hosts this event.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tried, Tested and True ... Take Two - Beef & Vegetable Stir Fry; Music MeMe

Giz and Pyschgrad of Equal Opportunity Kitchen are once again hosting Tried, Tested and True . This time, they ask us to post a dish which is not only a sure fire hit in our households, but one which is health-promoting as well, to raise awareness of organ donation.

For this event, I have decided to share my beef and vegetable stir fry recipe. It is basic stuff, but I can definitely say that it is healthy and it is a hit - I lived on it almost continuously for the 13 months that I lived in Sydney. The sauce, which makes the dish, originally evolved from a Jamie Oliver bake-in-the-bag recipe for chicken, of all things. So how did it get to become the basis for stir fry beef? Well, a little imagination and a particular liking for the sauce led to it escaping from the oven into the fry pan with a totally different meat. It is also incredibly versatile - you can change meat, vegetables and sauce components to suit yourself. However, the recipe (if you can call it that!) that I will give you is the basic one that I started with before I fiddled with it.

For 5 small girly serves (~100g meat per person - you can serve larger amounts, depending on the people and how hungry you are), you will need:

500g frying beef (eg steak), sliced into strips
220g packet of fresh udon or hokkien noodles, separated
1 brown onion, diced
1 carrot, sliced thinly
1 zucchini, sliced thinly
1 mild red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
4 large mushrooms, sliced thinly
3 bunches bok choy, chopped roughly
8 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
squeeze of lime juice
salt and pepper, to taste

Spray a frying pan with cooking oil and heat until hot. While the pan is heating, ensure that all of your ingredients are ready to go so that you can work quickly. First, cook the beef in the sizzling pan, and once brown, remove from the pan and set aside. Next, add the onion to the pan and cook until transparent, then add the chilli and carrot, and cook until the carrot has softened. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring continuously, until soft.

Return the beef to the pan with the vegetables, then add the soy sauce, honey and juice. Stor the sauce through until all ingredients are coated. Finally, add the bok choy, mushrooms and noodles, and while tossing all the ingredients to coat with sauce and combine, continue to cook until the bok choy has wilted and the mushrooms have softened and shrunk slightly. Remove from the heat and serve immediately. Dig in!!

Thanks to Giz and Psychgrad for once again hosting Tried, Tested and True. You can check out the amazing roundup and Giz's organ transplant story here.

Seguing into totally different topic, my friend Ivy of Kopiaste has tagged me for a music meme. The rules of this meme, which I think is kind of fun, are this:

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring (or whatever season). Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.

My difficulty is in narrowing it down to just seven songs!! I am a music lover, and have some rather divergent taste, which swings depending on my mood, what's going on in my life, what I recently heard on the radio or TV etc. I have a radio and CD player in my kitchen, and there, I listen to music while I am cooking, baking, ironing, mopping the floor, washing up or while I am on the computer (which is just in the next room). Music is a big part of my life. However, I am listing seven songs that I have recently listened to, and which always get me singing along when I hear them. These songs are as follows:

1. Weather With You by Crowded House. Crowded House is my favourite all time band, in that I like nearly all of their songs. They have been claimed as an Aussie band and a Kiwi band, but now they are very international, with two US members in the recently reformed group. Lead singer and song writer, Neil Finn, is an absolute legend, who has collaborated on many other projects with other musical identities and for films. It's hard to choose a favourite song from a repertoire like that of Crowded House, but Weather With You always reminds me of home, regardless of where I am in the world.

2. Never Tear Us Apart by INXS. INXS were a legendary Aussie band when fronted by the late, great Michael Hutchence, who had a magnetic swagger and an irresistable pout. This song is a powerful ballad, with a classic film clip filmed against a cold, wintery European backdrop.

3. The Flame by Cheap Trick. This is a golden oldie power ballad from the 1980s that I had forgotten about until it was chosen as "Song of the Day" at work recently. The team that I am in selects one song towards the end of every day to be the song of that day, with lyrics or a band name that relates (sometimes very loosely!!) to events that have occurred during the day. The Flame was chosen for the name of the band which sang it, Cheap Trick. Don't ask me why!!

4. Flowers In The Window by Scottish band, Travis. I just love the lyrics and melody to this song. It is very gentle and understated, and the sentiments of the song are beautiful.

5. Let's Fall In Love, written by Cole Porter and performed by many, including Alanis Morrisette for the movie De-Lovely. I am a huge fan of music from the Art Deco era, and Cole Porter was a master of this genre. This song is light and bubbly, and the words are kinda silly, but it is a delightful, mood-lifting song.

6. All I Want Is You by U2. The first time I heard this song was in the movie Reality Bites, and I have loved it ever since. It is powerful and beautiful.

7. Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles. I love the Beatles, even though they broke up before I was born, and again, they have so many great songs that it is hard to pick a favourite. However, I have chosen this song, written by George Harrison, because it is a great tune to hum for a lift in the midst of a cold, grey winter, like I am experiencing now. It makes you hope that the sun and warmth are just around the corner (although George Harrison actually wrote this song about escaping from the recording studio, as he had come to loathe being there towards the end of The Beatles).

There is so much other music that I love, but the list would way exceed seven, so I am sticking with these songs that have recently been on the airwaves or on my mind.

Rather than tagging seven specific people, I throw it open to anyone who is reading this and who would like to do this meme to share their favourite seven songs with us. It's fun, so I encourage you to go for it.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

SHF - Berries - Blueberry Muffins with Crumb Topping

This month, Susan from Food Blogga is hosting Sugar High Friday, created by Jennifer, The Domestic Goddess. Susan's theme centres around one of my favourite ingredients - berries! Most fresh berries are not in season in Australia, it being the middle of a bitter, cold winter in the southern states; however, I froze quite a few punnets of berries while they were plentiful and cheap during the summer.

About 12 months ago, my "sending" Blogging by Mail buddy was Katie B of
Other People's Food. In my BBM package, Katie enclosed her favourite blueberry muffin recipe, extracted from Food & Wine Magazine in February 2007. She says that her husband loves these muffins, even though he hates fruit muffins. I figured if you can convince a fruit muffin hating fella to eat these muffins, they must be good, and I have always meant to try them. Sadly, until now, I just never got around to it. However, with my last punnet of blueberries in the freezer, I decided to make Katie's blueberry muffins for SHF. Here are the results:

These muffins have a lovely golden crumb topping encasing the fluffy blueberry part underneath - however, I had some kamikaze blueberries try and escape through the top of the muffins during the cooking process :) They do taste very good, especially served warm - mmm, mmm. Thanks for the recipe Katie!

If you would like to try out Katie's blueberry muffins, you will need:

Crumb topping

1 cup plain flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons melted butter


1 3/4 cups plain flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups blueberries

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius and line a 12 hole muffin tin with cupcake liners.

To make the crumb topping, combine all of the topping ingredients in a bowl and pinch to form pea-size clumps.

To make the muffins, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the sugar, eggs and canola oil, then beat in the milk and vanilla. Finally, beat in the flour mixture on low speed until just combined. Stir the blueberries through the batter with a wooden spoon, then divide the batter among the muffin tin holes (fill no more than 3/4 full). Sprinkle the crumb topping over each muffin, and bake the muffins for 30 minutes or until cooked. Allow the muffins to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning out to cool completely.

Serve on their own, or with cream or icecream - delicious!

Thanks to Susan for being this month's emergency SHF host, and I look forward to the roundup.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Vanilla cupcakes with pink vanilla buttercream

I was shocked to learn recently that the Crabapple Bakery, which I have mentioned previously on this blog, is no longer with us, at least for now. The Crabapple Bakery is very well known in Melbourne, and the cookbook, written by founder Jennifer Graham, can be purchased on Amazon. If a well known institution like the Crabapple Bakery can disapear virtually overnight, it highlights just how difficult it can be to keep your own business afloat.

Some colleagues and I were recently discussing what happened to the Crabapple Bakery, and how much we enjoyed their vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream. Coincidentally, I had promised the same group of colleagues many moons ago at a Christmas party that I would make them cupcakes with pink icing - 'cause pink icing tastes the best ;). These colleagues do not work for the same company or in the same place as me, hence the long delay in actioning this promise. However, now that I work in the same building two days a week, and spurred on by our discussions about the Crabapple Bakery, I finally made them cupcakes - the Crabapple Bakery cookbook vanilla daisy cupcakes, which I have posted the recipe for here.

This time, I used the buttercream frosting recipe in the Crabapple Bakery cookbook to frost the cakes, and tried my hand at their signature swirl decoration, for authenticity. Sadly, as one of my colleagues remarked, each swirl was unique - making them the "Cabbage Patch Kids" of cupcakes :(. Oh well, they tasted delicious, and I topped each one with a Brimfields chocolate coated cranberry, which I received a box of from the fab
White on Rice Couple, Diane and Todd.

I haven't been lucky enough to try Magnolia Bakery or Billys cupcakes, as it is nearly ten years since I visited NYC. Accordingly, I cannot even pretend to be able to rate the taste of their cupcakes against the Crabapple Bakery recipe - although I have noticed that they also have cookbooks out with their recipes. However, you could do much worse than giving this recipe a go - IMHO, it produces really good cupcakes, and you can easily make the large batch of 24 in the recipe to feed a crowd, or halve it like I did to feed a few.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dawn's birthday - Pistachio petit four cake

It is Dawn's birthday on Saturday; however, as I now work 3 days a week at one place and 2 days a week at another place while I am on secondment, I made her cake for Wednesday at work. I like cakes that give a bit of bang for my buck, so when I saw the Pistachio Petit Four Cake here on Smitten Kitten's site (who in turn found it on Leite's Culinaria), I knew I had to try it. This gorgeous stunner of a cake is from Sky High: Irresistable Triple Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman, Peter Wynn and Tina Rupp. I now have the book on order from Amazon, and can't wait to receive it.

Even though this cake looks complicated, it is very simple to make. It consists of 3 layers of pistachio flavoured cake:

with each layer covered with apricot jam, marzipan rounds and ganache:

stacked "sky high" on top of each other:

and covered with more ganache, and decorated with marzipan roses and pistachios:

I used my
William Angliss flower making skills to make the marzipan roses. I hated the yellow I tinted the marzipan - I added too much tint, as I was hoping for lemon, not gold. I also liked the more subtle effect of the edible chalks on white better than this solid block of colour. However, I was pleased with the shape of the roses.

I used a slightly different ganache recipe to the original which uses less chocolate, but otherwise, I followed the recipe to a "T".

Verdict: This cake is a visual stunner. It also tastes pleasant enough, although it was not my favourite thing. However, my colleagues, and most importantly Dawn, seemed to like it a lot, and even the crumbs were scooped up.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Let Them Eat Chicken - Spanish Roast Free Range Chicken

Kate of A Merrier World is helping to draw attention to the plight of battery chickens through her blogging event, Let Them Eat Chicken. This is a fantastic cause which will hopefully help to prevent animal cruelty by making people more aware of the suffering of broiler hens. For more information about "broiler" rearing systems, please follow the link to Kate's event announcement.

For this event, Kate has asked us to post about our favourite recipe using free range chicken. My chicken came from Prahran Market in Melbourne. It was a lovely, plump, large bird, as you can see form the photograph below.

I was making dinner for company (my friend Veronica), so I have selected a scrumptious recipe for Spanish Roast Chicken by Jamie Oliver from his book, Jamie's Dinners. The resulting roast chicken is superb - the smoky, chorizo and lemon flavoured roast chicken sits on a bed of crunchy, lemon and chorizo flavoured roast potatoes, and the whole lot is superb! It is also relatively fuss-free to make. I served it with green beans dressed simply with salt, pepper and butter, and roast pumpkin, onion and carrot.

To make this dish, you will require:

1 free range chicken, ~2kg
2 lemons
1 kg potatoes, peeled and diced
200g cured chorizo, sliced 1/2 cm thick
cooking oil
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Boil the potatoes and 2 lemons in a saucepan of water for approximately 5 minutes. Drain the lot in a colander, and pierce the lemons all over with a sharp bladed knife. Put the lemons inside the cavity of the chicken, and season both the chicken and the potatoes with salt and pepper.

Line a baking tray with wetted baking paper. Put the potatoes on the baking tray in a single layer, and place the chicken on top. Sprinkle over the chorizo slices, spray or drizzle the chicken with cooking oil, and place in the preheated oven to bake for about 1 hour 20 minutes.

Once cooked, remove the chicken from the oven and set aside, then put the potatoes back in the oven for about 5 minutes to crisp before serving with the chicken and whatever side dishes you please.

This is a really delicious way to cook chicken. There is also no comparison between the luscious flavour and texture of a free range bird and a poor old artificially plumped up battery hen.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Weekend dinner - tuna pasta bake and soda pudding

This Sunday evening, I wanted an easy dinner, so I made a reliable old faithful from my share-flat days. It is a tuna pasta bake that is dead simple and very cheap to make, so I thought I'd share the recipe here.

You will need:

300g dried pasta, cooked
425g tuna in springwater, drained
200g jar tomato paste
one diced onion

1 zucchini, sliced thinly into rounds
5 large mushrooms, sliced
small packet of grated cheese

Place the pasta, tuna, onion and tomato paste in the base of a large shallow casserole dish (~10") and combine well.

Top the tuna mixture with a layer of sliced zucchini, then a layer of sliced mushrooms, and finally with a layer of grated cheese.

Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees Celsius) for 40 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the food is cooked through. Serves 4-6.

Thanks to Angela for introducing me to this dish.

For dessert, I made my Mum's steamed soda pudding - it is rich and delicious, as it contains plum jam in the batter as well as on top:

Unfortunately, this one is a family secret, so I can't pass on the recipe, but I couldn't resist sharing the photographs. It is perfect to warm up your insides on a chilly winter evening.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Lemon Chicken - Greek style

After a fruitful visit to the Queen Vic market, one of the goodies that I brought back was a lovely free range chicken. I had no idea how I going to cook this chicken - I just decided that it would be a good buy.

I am a veteran of roasting chickens in the oven with lemon and thyme, so I wanted to do something different with this bird. Accordingly, I turned to Sunday Roast by Clarissa Dickson Wright (one half of the Two Fat Ladies) and Johnny Scott. This book had been living unused on my shelf for quite some time. Inside, I found a recipe for lemon chicken - not that battered and fried stuff in luminous yellow sauce that you find at your local Chinese shop, but a lovely stove-top version cooked for an hour with lemon, veges and juices, which the authors claim is Greek style.

This chicken dish is really tasty - don't throw out the veges on which you cook the chicken, as these absorb lots of wonderful flavours from the pan juices which the chicken, perched atop them, doesn't benefit from as much. The whole lot is lemony and spicy and just perfect for a cold winter's day. I recommend serving it with some starch (eg potatoes or, as the authors suggest, hylopittes) and some nice green beans to balance it out.

To make this version of lemon chicken, you will need:

1.3kg whole chicken
4 tablespoons cooking oil
1 diced onion
3 sliced carrots
1 sliced celery stick
6 sprigs basil
2 lemons
300ml hot water
salt and pepper to season

Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Heat the oil in a large flameproof dish or casserole on the stove top, then brown the chicken in the hot oil on all sides. Remove the chicken from the pan, and brown the onion in the pan juices. Add the rest of the vegetables and the basil and cook the vegetables until soft.

Zest and juice the lemons. Put the chicken back in the pan on top of the vegetables and pour over the juice of the 2 lemons. Sprinkle the lemon zest over the chicken and vegetables, pour the hot water into the pan and season with salt and pepper. Bring the water to the boil, then cover the dish, turn down the heat and cook the chicken for an hour, and serve.

This was really a delicious chicken dish - it's posh enough to serve to guests, yet homely enough that you can make it for any occasion.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Prune & Pumpkin Cake

I am always looking for new things to make for my morning tea. Recently, I spotted a recipe for a prune and pumpkin cake here on Vicious Ange's site.

When I printed off the recipe, two of my colleagues saw it on the printer and asked me NOT to make it. However, I made it for myself, and boy is it good! It is lovely and sweet and dense because of the mashed pumpkin, and the prunes give it that extra "oomph". I love it.

My only tip is to ensure that you allow the cake to cool fully before eating it. I cut off a slice while the cake was still warm (primarily for photography purposes), and at that stage, the cake tasted like mashed pumpkin and nothing else. However, allow it to cool, and it takes on a life all of its own - the flavours somehow meld and the cake is just gorgeous.

Thanks for the recipe Ange!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Apricot Sour Cream Cake - Happy Birthday Claire!

It was Claire's birthday at work this week, so I got to make another cake that I have never made before. After toying with a few of Dorie's, I came across a fab photo of what was called "Campton Place Coffee Cake" in Sherry Yard's Desserts by the Yard. The striking thing about this cake was all of its wonderful layers, so I have posted my photographs in reverse order so that you too can admire all the layered charms of this cake. The slice in the photograph was the very last piece - because boy, is this cake good! It smells heavenly - I had to restrain myself from sampling it before it got to work. It has a vanilla and sugar and cinnamon smell, even after cooling, that just carries you away. The original contains fresh sliced peaches - as peaches are not in season here, and I had tinned pie apricots left over from my Danish braids, I used those instead.

To make this cake, you will need:


3 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
175g butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 cups sour cream (I used the light version with no problems)


1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/4 cup flaked almonds
1 tin pie apricots or peaches (or roughly 4 small peaches, sliced)

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius and spray a bundt pan with cooking oil.

Sift the dry ingredients for the cake together in a bowl and reserve.

Cream the butter and sugar for the cake, then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the sour cream and dry sifted cake ingredients in 3 alternating batches with your mixer on low speed or by hand. Set aside.

Mix all of the filling ingredients except the fruit together in another bowl.

Put one third of the batter into the base of the prepared bundt tin, spread out evenly, and cover with 1/4 cup of the dry filling mixture and one third of the fruit.

Cover with another layer of cake batter (roughly half of what is left), then after spreading it out evenly, sprinkle over another 1/4 cup of the dry filling and another third of the fruit. Repeat the batter and filling layers once more, reserving a little of the cake batter to finally cover the last layer of fruit with. (I didn't have quite enough to do this properly, although it ultimately didn't matter much.)

Bake the cake in your preheated oven for 35 minutes, then rotate the tin 180 degrees and bake for another 20-25 minutes. Allow the cake to cool in the tin on a wire rack for about 30 minutes before inverting onto the wire rack to cool completely.

I glazed my cake with lemon glaze to make it look a little more festive and birthday-like, but this is completely unnecessary.

From my rave above, you will have gathered that I loved this cake - I love how it looked, I love how it smelled (and I have smelled a lot of cakes baking in my time!!) and I love how it tasted - rich and fruity and moist - in fact, devine!!

Happy birthday Claire!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

WTSIM - Berried Treasure - Berry Meringue Pie

This month's Waiter, There's Something in My ... is hosted by Jeanne of Cook Sister! She has chosen yet another clever theme - this time, Berried Treasure. No, this does not involve not the kind of treasure that Long John Silver had, but rather, any recipe which has berries as the centre stage.

It is the middle of winter here, so fresh berries are extraordinarily expensive. However, I had the foresight to freeze a few punnets of berries from the summer. For this challenge, I pulled out a punnet each of blueberries and blackberries. Here they are, all frosted over:

But don't they look good! I decided to make a "Heinz variety" recipe for this event - namely, a berry meringue pie with components from here, there and everywhere. I used the pastry recipe from
here, heated the berries (~300g) with half a cup of sugar and a quarter of a cup of cornflour on the stovetop until they became thick and bubbly, and put the resulting filling into the blind baked pie shell.

I then topped it off with the meringue topping from the January Daring Bakers challenge, which can be found
here. (I love this topping!!)

In retrospect, I should not have blind baked my pie shell, and should have baked the berries in the oven with the pie shell. Oh well, you live and you learn. It all turned out OK, but in case you are thinking of making this, be warned - the berry filling soaks into the pie shell, so that it becomes very sticky and a little difficult to cut neatly if left sitting - but delicious, all the same.

Thanks to Jeanne for hosting WTSIM again this month, and I look forward to the roundup.