Monday, August 31, 2009

The Kitchen Reader - The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

(Picture courtesy of

I am proud to be a member of a new online book group, The Kitchen Reader. Each month, we vote for a foodie book to be read by the group, and write up our reviews on the last day of the month.

Our first book is The Sweet Life in Paris - Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious and Perplexing City by David Lebovitz. In this book, David describes various aspects of his daily life in Paris through his American eyes.

The book opens with a chapter on David's pre-Parisian existence and the reason why he moved to Paris, followed by a chapter on his trials and tribulations of settling in, with the remaining chapters each dealing with a distinct aspect of Parisian life. Some of the diverse topics covered include dress, manners, fish, coffee, strikes, queue jumping and cheese. The book concludes with David stating that, even though not every day in Paris is sweet, he now counts himself among the quirky people that make Paris a special place.

The standout factor of this book for me is David's humour - on a number of occasions, I found myself chuckling or, in the case of the chapter on David's earlier attempts at the French language, laughing out loud! I was laughing with him, not at him, as I am one of the large numbers of people in English-speaking countries who, sadly, only speak English. One of my favourite anecdotes was David's recounting of how he tried to impress his fellow guests at a dinner party by describing his visit to a statue of the Virgin Mary, when he instead rendered them speechless by confusing the French word for "virgin" with the French word for the male appendage!

If I ever visit Paris again, I am sure that David's etiquette tips will be invaluable. Knowing to dress smartly in public, not to cut the nose off the cheese wedge, to always greet shopkeepers on entering and leaving shops and to not touch anything I don't want to buy are tips that are sure to stand me in good stead. There are also other useful tips, such as where to buy a terrific hot chocolate, how to survive the street where the said hot chocolate shop is located, and to heed mother's tip to "go" before going out because of the dearth of working public conveniences in Paris.

For the cook or baker, this book is liberally peppered with sweet and savoury French or French-style recipes, which is an added bonus. I have not yet had the chance to make any of these recipes, but rest assured I will be when I get the time (to be added to my ever growing list!). Accompanying each recipe is a short anecdote from David about its significance, together with tips for making, storing and/or serving the dish concerned. There is a handy recipe index at the back of the book so that you need not frantically flip through the pages to find that too-die-for expresso caramel icecream recipe or the bacon and blue cheese cake that you have been day-dreaming about. As for me, I have bookmarked the chocolate macarons and the dulce de leche brownies - mmm, mmm. There are also some fabulous sounding main courses that I would like to try my hand at, including the braised turkey in beaujolais noveau with prunes and the chicken tagine with apricots and almonds.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, as it had a little bit of everything - some good travel stories, a sprinkle of humour, a dash of interesting local recipes and some downright interesting and useful information about life in Paris.

Thank you to the founder of The Kitchen Reader, Jennifer of Cooking for Comfort, for establishing this group. I've had fun reading this month's book, and look forward to next month's selection, which is Julie & Julia: 365 days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Kitchen Apartment. And don't forget to see what the other Kitchen Readers though of David's book by visiting the links in the Kitchen Reader blogroll.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daring Bakers - Dobos Torte

Dobos Torte, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways ...

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caff├ęs of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

Let me say that I LOVED this month's Daring Baker's challenge. This cake is the type of challenge that I joined the Daring Bakers for, because it is something I would be too scared to attempt without a prod, and which teaches me new things, while looking and tasting just gorgeous. Sure, it was time consuming; sure, there a few points (especially when I was up to scraping my sixth round of sponge into shape and ferrying it to the oven) when I thought, "Why??" But the end result is absolutely devine, and gives me a sense of personal satisfaction and achievement.

The ever so fine layers of sponge interleaved with soft, chocolatey, light-as-a-feather buttecream, and topped precariously by toffee coated cake wedges then finished with hazelnuts, is just a heavenly combination. My "spokes" did not want to stand up at an angle because of the softness of the buttecream (oh, and I had 8 slightly larger and heavier wedges rather than 12 smaller ones), but I don't care - I think they look grand arranged in a segmented circle on top of the cake.

My photos were taken before the cake was chilled, and it held together well, even on slicing.

I think you have the idea that I loved this cake, so without further ado, here are some photos of my experiences.

Here is the sponge batter with the egg whites being folded in:

This is a sponge disc pre-baking after being carefully scraped into shape:

and after baking:

These are the toffee covered cake wedges - I had already cut the cake layer into quarters before I realised that I was never going to get 12 equal bits from there, so I stuck with 8:

Here is the "pancake stack" during construction of the cake:

And this is a slice of the finished product - just look at all of those beautiful layers:

Thanks to Angela and Lorraine for choosing this delightful challenge - I had a blast both making it and eating it.

For more Dobos Torte variations, please check out the
Daring Bakers blogroll.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

TWD - Creamiest lime cream meringue pie

This week's TWD recipe, chosen by Linda of Tender Crumb, had me licking my lips with glee. She chose Dorie's creamiest lime cream meringue pie, a dish which combines two of my favourite things - citrus and meringue, with a dash of ginger. Kah-zing!

I was fortunate in that a lady from work grows limes and gave me a big bag of juicy specimens, so I had plenty of limes on hand to make this. Thanks Lindy!

This pie did not disappoint - it was absolutely scrumptious. I shut my eyes to all the butter in it, figuring it is not every day that you get to eat something like this:

Tempted? Linda will have the recipe. And to give yourself pie envy, check out the
TWD blogroll this week.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Chocolate ginger cupcakes and Melbourne treats

I have just spent a glorious weekend in Melbourne visiting people and doing some jobs (like going to the dentist :(). I made chocolate ginger cupcakes using the Crabapple Bakery Dinosaur Rock Chocolate Cake recipe, with a teaspoon of ginger added and a Buderim ginger bear on top. I then wrapped them all individually in sweet bags from Spotlight, just perfect for sharing:

Unfortunately, I forgot to take them to my friends at dinner! I was so excited that we were ready on time that I forgot to take the cakes. However, I was able to share them with some other friends.

I also bought a piece of my favourite bread pudding from Eugenie French Cake Shop in Commercial Road, Prahran:

It is earthy and substantial - a big slab of brioche pieces interwoven with custard and raisins - it is so substantial that it takes me at least two sittings to finish it. For my $5.50, that is value.

I then popped on over to the Crabapple Bakery at Prahran Market and bought these cute as a button dahlia sugar flowers:

When I finally crawled into the airport, my foodie journey was not over - I found these tequila sunrise chocolates at
The Chocolate Box for my friend Elisa, who loves a vodka sunrise:

I won't even mention the yum cha lunch at Oriental Tea House and drinks at Kazbar on Chapel Street, or the veritable Greek feast at Salona.

All in all, it was a great weekend!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Braised Chicken in Red Wine with Olives

Regular readers will know that my site leans heavily to the sweet side; so much so that the other day, a blogging friend, A&N from Delectably Yours, asked if I eat dessert for lunch - which it looks like I do!!

So, for a change of pace, I am going to give you a savoury recipe today. It is Toby Puttock's Braised Chicken in Red Wine with Olives from the August 2009 edition of Delicious magazine. (For the uninitiated, Toby Puttock runs Fifteen in Melbourne.)

This dish is delightful - rich, filling and flavoursome. I recommend that you skim the fat off any leftovers though, because quite a lot of fat seems to cook out of the chicken, which is cooked with the skins on.

Without further ado, here is the recipe:

1/4 cup olive oil
8 chicken pieces (~1.8kg)
1/2 cup plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper
2 thinly sliced cloves of garlic
1 chopped onion
2 chopped celery stalks
2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped sage (I used dried sage)
400ml red wine (Toby recommends Barolo; I used cab sav)

400g tin chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup pitted green olives

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large frypan. Meanwhile, dust the chicken pieces with the seasoned flour, shaking off the excess. Cook the chicken in two batches in the heated oil until browned. Remove the chicken from the pan and reserve.

Heat the rest of the oil in the same frypan, and cook the onion, garlic, celery, rosemary and sage for 5 minutes until just softened. Add the chicken back to the pan, and stir well to coat with the pan juices. Add the red wine, and increase the heat to high and simmer for 3 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes, chicken stock and olives, season the mixture with salt and pepper, then bring to the boil. Cover the frypan and simmer gently over low heat for 50-55 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve with flat leaf parsley and polenta, if desired. (I skipped both and served with twice fried green beans in tomato sauce and roast potato, pumpkin and carrot.)

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cherry crumb cake - er, Trifle

I love cherries - they would have to be one of my favourite fruits. Being a cherry lover, I had eyed up a lovely Rainier cherry crumb cake on Peabody's site for a while, and I finally obtained a large quantity of cherries at an affordable price so that I could make it.

However, life does not always go to plan, and this is what became of my beloved cherry crumb cake:

Yep, I dropped it when I tried to turn it out of the tin to cool. It happened because the edge of the tin hit my arm, and in my eagerness not to be burned by the tin, the cake became the casualty. Accordingly, my crumb cake became cake crumbs.

However, they say if life gives you lemons, make lemonade - so I did. I was going to a friend's house to enjoy the Brisbane Ekka holiday, so I turned the cake crumbs into trifle, wetting it with orange juice (so it was child friendly in a way that booze is not), then layering it with jelly, custard and whipped cream:

I ended up with the very handsome trifle at the top of the post. One of my friend's children adored it and came back for seconds; the other wouldn't touch it with a 40 foot pole. Oh well, the adults enjoyed it.

If you are on the smart money, make Peabody's delicious cake; however, if you have an accident, or just have some cake that you want to use up, the trifle is a lovely alternative.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Applesauce spice bars

I have been sadly neglecting this blog over the last week or so, because life has run away without me. My boss was on holidays last week, and I found myself engulfed by work duties to the extent that when I wasn't working, I needed to be miles from a computer.

Accordingly, here I am, at another Tuesday with Dorie, and I haven't done any more blogging since last week, and I apologise sincerely for not having done much visiting either. Hopefully, now my boss is back, life will go back on track and settle down into its usual rhythm, which includes plenty of baking and blogging. (Ha, yes, I missed him at work - but don't tell him that!)

Our host this week is Karen from Something Sweet, and she has selected Applesauce Spice Bars. These were up my alley - fruity and spicey and ever so nice. The only part that I didn't care for was the glaze, maybe because I overdid it a little and it set hard, like toffee, making it difficult to cut. However, the next time I make these (and I really did like them, so would be happy to make them again), I will leave off the glaze.

Having fought bitterly with my computer to launch a browser, any browser, this evening, it is now way past my bedtime and I have nothing else to add. However, do go check out all the lovely spicy, saucy applesauce spice bars made by other TWD bloggers, and smell the cinnamon coming off the page. If you are tempted to make them, Karen will have the recipe on her site.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

TWD - Brownie Buttons

Our TWD challenge this week was to make Dorie's Brownie Buttons, chosen by our host, Jayma, of Two Scientists Experimenting in the Kitchen.

Now these buttons look small but elegant in the book, and I was looking forward to making them. I used the orange zest suggested in the recipe, and then also used Whittaker's orange chocolate to up the orange factor.

Unfortunately, the finished product just didn't do it for me. There were not many buttons (16), and in the tiny morsels, I really didn't taste the orange that much. I also didn't like the straight white chocolate glaze on top - it looked pretty, but it I am not a white chocolate fan, so I found its fatty flavour a little jarring. Sorry Dorie, after the fantabulous banana cake last week, this recipe did not light my fire.

That said, taste is a subjective thing - after I initially wrote this post, I brought the brownie buttons into work, and my colleagues loved them, so much so that they did not go outside the legal team. They identified the jaffa (choc-orange) flavour without any prompting from me, and raved about them. So hey, what do I know??

You will find the recipe for the buttons on Jayma's site, and can check out how the other TWD members fared at the
TWD blogroll.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Nick Malgieri's Sausage Rolls

Last week, our team at work had an international day. We were required to bring along a dish to share from our country of origin. I am Australian, so an obvious choice for me was to make sausage rolls.

Now, I didn't make just any old sausage rolls - I made Nick Malgieri's sausage rolls, based on his experiences at Babka in Melbourne, Australia. This alone hooked me - but the added benefit for me is that I had already made the quick puff pastry recipe forming part of the sausage rolls for a Tuesday with Dorie challenge, so I had a head start.

These sausage rolls were delicious - the meat was flavourful but not overly spicy, and encased in a golden brown puff pastry. The sausage rolls all disappeared, which I think is a good sign :).

When I went back to Nick's site to obtain the link to the sausage roll recipe, it had disappeared, nowhere to be found, but I luckily had a copy of it, which (with my minor tweaks here and there) is as follows:

1 batch quick puff pastry (recipe here)

225g fresh white bread crumbs
2/3 cup milk, scalded
350g pork mince
350g veal mince
2 white onions
1/3 cup mustard
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper

1 beaten egg for egg wash

Roll the puff pastry out to an 18 inch square on as lightly floured surface, and trim the edges if necessary. Slide the rolled pastry onto the back of a Swiss roll pan, cover with cling film and refrigerate while preparing the filling.

Soak the white bread crumbs in the milk until all of the milk is absorbed, then squeeze out the excess milk. Combine all of the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine well. Stir in the soaked bread crumbs, and season to taste.

Remove the rolled puff pastry from the fridge and onto a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough into 3 strips, each 6 inches wide. Brush a half inch strip of egg wash down the length of each strip of pastry on the far right hand side only. Place one third of the sausage mixture in a inch thick roll down the entirety of the left hand side of each pastry strip.

Roll each filled pastry strip like a Swiss roll, starting with the left side, encasing the sausage mixture in the pastry. Roll each sausage cylinder onto a baking tray or Swiss roll pan, seam side down, and cover with cling film before refrigerating for 30 minutes.

When it is time to bake your sausage rolls, preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Remove the sausage rolls from the refrigerator and cut each of the three long rolls into 3 x 6 inch lengths (or 6 x 3 inch lengths for party sausage rolls, like me). Pace the pieces onto a greased baking tray, seam side down, and brush the top of each roll with egg wash. Using a sharp knife, cut 3 half inch slashes diagonally across the top of each sausage roll.

Bake the sausage rolls on the reheated oven for around 3 minutes or until deep golden brown.

Serve immediately with tomato sauce on the side.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

TWD - Classic banana bundt cake

This week's
Tuesday with Dorie challenge was a top choice by our host, Mary of The Food Librarian, in the form of Dorie's Classic Banana Bundt Cake.

Now, I never used to be a fan of banana cakes - as a child, mention the words "banana cake" and my heart would sink. Perhaps it was the healthy association, or perhaps I couldn't imagine why anyone would choose banana cake over chocolate cake. Whatever the reason, I am now a fan of banana cake, and this recipe is an exceptional banana cake. It is sturdy, large, moist and absolutely scrumptious, and it serves an army.

When making the cake, I substituted the sour cream for yoghurt, which Dorie suggested in the recipe, primarily because I already had yoghurt in the fridge. Otherwise, I stuck with the recipe 100%. I didn't glaze my cake with the lemon glaze suggested becase, well, I didn't even see it untl I read the TWD forum. I don't think you need it unless you are a real sweet tooth - this cake is simply delicious unglazed.

I was a little scared that my cake was going to bake out of its pan, because even though I used the right size, the pan was nearly full of batter. However, my fears never came to fruition, and I ended up with the burnished bronze beauty of a cake that you see at the top of this post.

This cake was a hit with my colleagues, and one lady even asked for the recipe.

To see what the other Daring Bakers thought of this cake, check out the Tuesdays with Dorie blogroll.

Monday, August 3, 2009

William Angliss Cupcake Masterclass

I just had a lovely weekend in my spiritual home, Melbourne. I flew down especially to do a one-day Cupcakes Masterclass at William Angliss Institute of TAFE, which was a follow-on course from the Cupcake Decorating course that I did last year.

This time, the focus was on cake flavours and textures rather than just decorating, and built on the skills that we had previously learned. It was much more hands-on immediately, with less demonstrations and more action from us. It was a full-on day, but I enjoyed it immensely.

Our teacher was once again Greg Williams, and there were 10 of us in the class. We were divided into groups of two, and each group made a different cake recipe. Greg also made a couple of other types of cupcakes for us to try.

Once all the cakes were baked, we spent the afternoon decorating them.

I really enjoyed this class, because the recipes and decorating techniques were of the type that I would use regularly, rather than being something so fancy that it would be too expensive and impractical to do at home.

Our cake flavours were:
  • Lemon Delicious
  • Black Forest Sponge
  • Chocolate Spiced Pear
  • Red Velvet
  • Carrot
  • Chocolate Hazelnut Orange
  • Chocolate Mud
  • White Chocolate Raspberry

My bench partner, Sharon, and I made the Red Velvet Cupcakes and a cream cheese frosting for the class. Sharon had been in my class last year, so it was nice to ctach up with her.

We once again piped chocolate shapes using hand-made paper piping bags, portioned out the cupcakes and frosted some of the cakes with pastry bags, and learned to make chocolate curls. As well as the cream cheese frosting, we made or watched demonstrations on making lemon curd, candied lemon, toffee shards (which unfortunately didn't work on the day), sweetened whipped cream, ganache, buttercream, caramelised pears and sweetened cherry pie-style filling.

As you can see, there were way too many cakes for me to even try one of each flavour. I did try the carrot, the chocolate spiced pear, the lemon delicious, the white chocolate raspberry and the Black Forest cupcakes, and I tasted tiny portions of the red velvet and chocolate hazelnut orange cakes donated by my friends.

While in Melbourne, I saw a preview screening of Beautiful Kate, Rachel Ward's latest film with a dark underlying story and some wonderful Australian actors (including Rachel Griffiths and Ben Mendelsohn), and went to the John Brack exhibition at the NGV - Ian Potter Centre. The Brack exhibition was magnificent - I had no idea that he painted such a wide variety of genres, and I was so impressed that I bought the exhibition catalogue so that I can see the images again at my leisure. If you are in Melbourne, I highly recommend the Brack exhibition, but hurry - Sunday the 9th of August is the last day.