Monday, May 28, 2012

Lime and Gingernut Cheesecake for Shavuot

Today is the last day of Shavuot, the Jewish holiday which celebrates God giving the Torah to the Jews.  I am not Jewish, but I learned about this holiday from my Jewish physiotherapist, who is taking tomorrow off work to celebrate Shavuot.

Naturally, the first question I asked her is whether there was food involved with Shavuot - and as it happens, there is.  It is traditional for Jewish people to eat dairy foods on Shavuot, as when they first received the Torah, they could not cook meat in their non-kosher cooking pots, so they turned to dairy instead.  This is good news, as it means cheese blintzes and cheesecake are made for the occasion.

I adore cheesecake, so in honour of Shavuot, I made a lime and gingernut cheesecake:   

I used this recipe, but baked it in a 22cm pan even though the quantities given were for a half recipe.  I added grated lime zest and lime juice instead of vanilla, and I added a base of crushed gingernut biscuits and butter (as I like my cheesecake to have a base).  Some of the gingernut crumbs broke free from the base and floated to the top of the cheesecake - these are the speckles you can see in the cheesecake.  However, this was not a bad thing - I didn't mind the cheesecake being flecked with biscuit crumbs.

This cheesecake is of the light and fluffy variety, so if this sounds like your kind of cheesecake, do try this recipe.  Me, I like cheesecake in all shapes and sizes, and I certainly enjoyed this one. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Daring Bakers - Challah

May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads.

I decided to make three strand braids for my challah.  A word is attributed to each of the three strands: zachor (remember), shamor (observe or guard), and b’dibur echad (with one word).  Our host states that the braiding of the three words is a physical reminder of the importance of remembering and observing the Sabbath as one commandment.

The recipe that I chose was the Easy Challah recipe from Temple David.  My rationale for this choice is that it used the least ingredients.  I mixed chopped dried apricots through half of the dough, and white chocolate chips in the other half:

Here's a peek inside the finished white chocolate chip product:

and the apricot:

I liked both versions, but enjoyed the apricot version the best.

Thanks to our host, Ruth, for challenging us to make challah this month - she will have the recipes on her website.  To check out the challahs made by the other Daring Bakers, visit the slideshow on the Daring Kitchen website.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Coconut Raspberry Slice and 5 Year Blogiversary

Well, it's hard to believe, but this little blog turns 5 today.  That's right - I have now been cooking and photographing food then writing about it for five years.  I am  lucky I wasn't in this game as an alternative career or for fame, because I have got neither, but this blog has made me very happy as a journal of my experiences in the kitchen, and to meet such a variety of other people and see what the get up to in the kitchen.  It is fun to go back to see what I have made, what I have learned, and how my photography has improved (believe it or not, it has).

I have not made anything special for today; however, I will post about the coconut raspberry slice that I made for my friend Camilla's baby shower in Sydney last weekend.  Coconut raspberry slice, with its light cakey base, raspberry jam filling and crunchy coconut topping, is a perennial Aussie favourite, and is easy to make.  You can find the recipe here.

My only negative comment is that the slice is very thin made in a lamington/swiss roll tin. I recommend an ordinary slice/bar tray, like my mum uses, to get thicker slices. 

It is cold and windy and threatening rain here in Melbourne today - it is only very marginally better than yesterday, and only because it hasn't rained yet.  Hope the weather is better where you are.  I am off to California for a holiday soon, and I am elated to be getting a second summer - if only temporarily.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, May 25, 2012

FFwD - Lyonnaise garlic and herb cheese

This week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe is Lyonnaise garlic and herb cheese, a dip made with ricotta cheese, garlic, herbs, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper.

I made only a quarter of the recipe using garlic, fresh chives and dried tarragon.  I didn't have time to drain the ricotta, so I used it as is.  I also didn't chill it before serving, and it tasted fine - the ricotta was still cold from the fridge.

I served this dip with blue poppy and rye crackers.  It was pleasant enough, but didn't make me excited enough to make it again.

To see what the other FFwD participants thought, visit the LYL section of the FFwD website.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Goats on Toast and Other Sydney Adventures

Last weekend, I went to Sydney to attend my friend Camilla's baby shower.  This was no mean feat, because unbeknownst to me at the time that I booked the trip, I was burdened with a heavy chest cough that I have had for two weeks, paired with a torn calf muscle that I have been nursing for around the same period of time.

Despite this, I duly attended the baby shower on Saturday afternoon (more on that in another post), and stayed for Sunday to enjoy my own adventures.  I am going to share them with you because the things that I did were by and large off the beaten track and a little different to the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, but to me, just as special in their own way.

I stayed at Travelodge in Wentworth Avenue, Surry Hills.  This hotel has special significance for me, because it is where I interviewed for my first in-house job (because I was staying there and the interview was on a Saturday), and it is just up the road from where I went to work for that job on Wentworth Avenue.

Last year, I went to a cafe just up the road from the Travelodge called Two Good Eggs, that I have posted about before.  I liked it so much that I wanted to go back there for breakfast on Sunday.  And I wasn't disappointed - the food and the service were both top notch. 

I was the first guest of the day, and was able to choose a seat overlooking the park across the road, but which also enabled me to admire the interior of the cafe:

I started off with a skinny flat white (which came with a chocolate wafer that I scoffed before taking this photo):

There were two ladies from Hawaii who came in after me, and one of them asked the waitress what a flat white was - she ended up ordering black coffee with milk on the side, but it was interesting to know that a flat white is not a common type of coffee, at least in Hawaii.

For breakfast, there were so many wonderful dishes that the choice was hard, but I decided to go with Goats on Toast, pictured at the top of this post.  Goats on Toast is comprised of warm Trinity Cellars French goats cheese with drizzled honey, sliced apple and smashed walnuts on sour cherry fruit toast.  It is a similar concept to a Donna Hay dish that I made earlier this year, but sweet rather than savoury.   While Goats on Toast is very rich, and I could honestly have survived nicely on just one piece, it is devine.  The sweetness of the honey and the tartness of the sliced Granny Smith apple cut through the creamy richness of the warmed goats cheese, and the walnuts add texture and crunch.  I loved this dish (especially its cool name!), and would order it again.  The service was friendly and efficient (it transpired from her conversations with other customers that my waitress was Swedish, although she sounded English), and I could enjoy the view of people walking their dogs in the park, where I sometimes used to eat my lunch.

Going backwards in time, I went for dinner on Saturday night at Spice I Am, also in Wentworth Avenue in Surry Hills.  Interestingly, this place used to be our "local" when I worked in Surry Hills, and we went there often, sitting on plastic tables and chairs.  Back in those days, I consistently ordered the pad thai, probably the only Thai dish I was then familiar with.  Now Spice I Am is famous, and has upgraded to wooden tables and chairs, and despite being very small, you have to get there early to get a table.  The competition is fierce, and people who were Johnny come latelys pushed in to rush to a table at 5.45pm, when Spice I Am opened.  In my condition, I couldn't argue with them, but another lady who arrived shortly after me stuck up for us both.  Also, the wait staff knew that we had arrived first, and made sure that we got tables.  They didn't mind that I dined alone at a four person table (the smallest size).  I ordered the mussaman curry, containing beef, potatoes, peanuts and onions: 

Although it is on the menu as a mild curry, it has quite a kick, so this is important to bear in mind when ordering (unless you want a surprise).  The beef chunks looked impossibly big, but they simply melted when prised apart with no more than a spoon and a fork - an all round lovely dish.  I also ordered steamed rice to soak up the sauce:

The next afternoon, I went to afternoon tea with my friend Camilla and her sister Rowena at The Old Vienna Coffee House on Level 2 of the QV Building in the Sydney CBD.  It is a truly beautiful venue, with the splendour of the QV Building outside, and reproduction Klimts adorning the walls inside.  I ordered lemon sugar crepes, which were light and refreshing, and perfect with another flat white:

At this point in the post, I am going to diverge from food and talk about some of my favourite places that are in or easily accessible from Surry Hills.  Most of these places are not tourist destinations, but I think they are fascinating to look at, particularly if you are a fan of architecture.  The first of these places is the Griffiths Teas building on the corner of Wentworth Avenue and Goulburn St:

It resembles the New York Flat Iron building in shape, and has the most wonderful tiled signage at the top and on the sides of the building.  Unfortunately, the building was in a terrible state of disrepair when I worked near it 8 years ago, and remains so today.  It is a shame to see such a marvellous building, built in 1915 but empty for over 25 years, go to rack and ruin.  A reason for its state is proposed in this article. We could see it from the rooftop balcony at work where we held monthly sausage sizzles, and the Griffiths Teas signage featured as a backdrop to many photos from those sausage sizzles.

Across the street from the Griffiths Teas building is the Mark Foys building, built in Federation warehouse style:

Formerly a warehouse for the Mark Foys department store, built in around 1920, it is luckier than the Griffiths Teas building as it has been converted into apartments and is in good shape.  Both the Griffiths Teas Building and the Mark Foys building were visible in all their glory from my hotel room window - bonus!

Also around the same area is the art deco style Hotel Hollywood:

This pub holds special significance for me, as it is located out the back of my old workplace.  On many Friday evenings, my boss, Nadia, would invite us there for a "beer".  Ironically, Nadia drank sparkling wine or "bubbles" as she put it, not beer. It was the dying days of smoking in pubs back then, and Nadia would always ask us if we minded if she lit up - the answer was always no, but she always politely asked.  Nadia often regaled us with entertaining stories about her life that were never mentioned at work, and it even slipped out that she had her own blog, back in the days when blogging was a novelty.  It was Nadia who inspired me to believe that I could write this blog, although our subject matter and styles are worlds apart.  I have Nadia to thank for giving me my in-house break, even though for what seem now like silly reasons, I left of my own accord after a year.

The Hollywood has old movie posters inside, perhaps from films in which its owner, Doris Goddard, once starred, but outside, it is adorned by beautiful alcohol advertising posters, presumably reproductions from the 1930s (judging from the clothes):

The next building on my Surry Hills adventure is the Art Nouveau style The Downing Centre, once the Mark Foys department store when constructed in 1908, and with signage bearing the legacy of that time, but now a court house (don't expect to buy laces or gloves there):

If you continue walking up Liverpool St from the Downing Centre, you will reach Museum Station, on the edge of Hyde Park.  This is the railway station from whence I walked into work each day.  Below ground on the platforms, the station features wonderful reproduction advertising signs spruiking the virtues of Aussie brands of old:

I love how this one looks like a Minties wrapper (the product advertised on the sign, with the old "it's moments like these" slogan):

On Sunday, following breakfast at Two Good Eggs, I went to the NSW Art Gallery in The Domain to see The Archibald Prize exhibition:

My favourite paintings were in fact in the Wynne prize (landscape artists) exhibition, hung side by side and  painted by a pair of Tims:  Tim Johnston's Observatory Hill, with aboriginal inspired dot work mixed with modern Sydney landmarks, and Tim Storrier's (The Archibald prize winner, but not the Wynne prize winner) whimsical floating flowers in the sky called  The Dalliance.

To get to the Art Gallery, I went through the Sydney Hospital grounds on Macquarie Street:

This was apparently Australia's first hospital, and is 200 years old this year - and I have never noticed it before!  It has a smashing fountain in the courtyard featuring swans, and there is also a cafe open to the public.

Afterwards, to rest my leg, I did the very touristy thing of taking a Harbour cruise, but you can see better photos of the Harbour than mine anywhere.

I hope you have enjoyed this off the tourist track tour of the Sydney CBD, especially those parts of Surry Hills that I remember with fondness as "my Sydney".  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lavendar and Orange Baby Shower Cookies for Caroline

Today we are taking Caroline to lunch as a kind of work baby shower.  Her baby is not due until July, and she will be with us for a few more weeks (if all goes to plan), but we decided to hold her shower now because of the uncertainty of when babies choose to arrive, and because I am imminently going on leave.

To celebrate, I also made some baby shower biscuits.  I have previously made the biscuit  recipe here.  Although these biscuits taste nice, I had the same debacle as I did last time with the dough being very soft, making it hard to work with.  In the future, I will stick to the tried and true Daring Bakers sugar cookies for cut-out cookies. I am pretty sure I could put the same orange and lavendar flavours through the sugar cookies, but have a dough that is not so challenging to work with.

The only changes that made to the biscuit recipe were that I rubbed the orange zest into the sugar to up the orange flavour, and I used the whole egg instead of just the egg yolk. I don't recommend the latter change,  as I had to up the flour significantly to get a dough I could work with at all. (Although even when I made these the way the recipe stated last time, I still had trouble with the softness of the dough, so adding the whole egg was not the sole problem.) 

Instead of the lemon icing from last time, I just used all royal icing, as I found the lemon icing to be very soft.  I was not thrilled with the consistency of this recipe for royal icing - I know that I can make flood icing cookies well, but this icing was too thick to flood well, but too thin to outline well.  Accordingly, the finished product is a little rough, but as it was after 10pm at night when I was icing them, I just kept going.

Hope Caroline likes them, despite their flaws.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

FfwD - Double Chocolate and Banana Tart

This week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe is Double Chocolate and Banana Tart.  It is as decadent and rich as you would imagine from the name, with a chocolate flavoured crust, a ganache and a caramelised banana filling, and more bananas on top.

Here is a slice for your appreciation (though it doesn't show the caramelised bananas at all):

I enjoyed this, as did my colleague Lee, but other colleagues wasted some of it - at the end of the day, some of it was still in the kitchen so had to be thrown out.   

To see what the other FFwD members thought, visit the LYL section of the website.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

BWJ - Pecan Sticky Buns

It's Baking with Julia time again, and this week's recipe is designed to keep dairy farmers and doctors in business, as it is dripping with butter.   The recipe is Pecan Sticky Buns, and is brought to you by our hosts, Lynn of Eat Drink Man Woman Dogs Cat and Nicole of Cookies on Friday.

If you want to make these sticky buns (recipe here), don't imagine you'll get up early and have sticky buns for breakfast - you need to start this recipe a day ahead, and even then, it takes half the day to complete.  Also make sure you have plenty of butter.  In the end, I halved the sugar and butter in the topping just to try and cut down on the calories - these are seriously dripping with butter.  There's butter in the brioche dough, butter laminated into the rolled out dough, and butter in the topping.  The result is a flaky, sweet bun, but you can smell the butter a mile off.

Although these buns took forever (or so it felt) to pull together, they were not hard to make.  Accordingly, if you fancy a sticky bun and have plenty of time on your hands, make this recipe.  If you don't have as much time, Dorie Greenspan's own pecan sticky bun recipe (online here) is pretty good and gives a similar result. 

To see what the other BWJ bakers thought of this recipe, visit the LYL section on the website. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

FFwD - Provencal Olive Fougasse

This week's French Fridays with Dorie brought another surprise hit for me - Provencal Olive Fougasse, a French bread from the Provence region flavoured with olives and rosemary, and shaped by slashing the dough. 

I am not a bread girl to start with, so the thought of making a savoury bread appealed to me even less.  However, this bread is special - it is light and airy, more like a flaky pastry than a bread to me.  The olives and rosemary are a beautiful flavour combination, and the salt sprinkled on top of the bread before baking adds a special touch.

I pulled off a piece of this while it was still warm, and liked it so much that I had another piece straight away.  It is a delightful bread, perfect for a dinner party or a picnic.  The only drawback is the length of time that it takes - 7 hours all up rising and resting time.  However, once that it over with, it is very simple to make.

To see what the  other FFwD members thought of this bread, visit the LYL section of the FFwD website.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Gluten-free upside down plum and chocolate cake

Last night, I had friends over for dinner for the first time in what seems forever.  It will have been at least a couple of years since I have made dinner for friends, and this was nearly the dinner party that wasn't - I had forgotten about it until at 2.30pm on the day, one of my friends emailed me to ask if 7pm was OK.  Yikes!  It was back to the grocery store, and I had no time to fuss about the menu as I might have if I had had the time.  My first thought was roast (always great for a dinner party because it's easy and a crowd pleaser), but I didn't have time to cook a full roast in the oven if I wanted to make dessert as well.  In the end, I bought chicken pieces, sprayed them with vegetable oil, and sprinkled them with cayenne pepper and rosemary.  I paired the chicken with roasted pumpkin, baby potatoes and cherry tomatoes, and beans a la Sunday on the side.

For dessert, I decided to make a cake that I had been eyeing up for a while in Issue 22 of Masterchef magazine.  It was a gluten free upside down plum and chocolate cake, by Melbourne blogger Jasmine of The Gluten Free Scallywag.  Neither me nor my friends have a requirement for gluten-free food, but I made the recipe as stated because I had the gluten free flour anyway.  This was a devine cake, perfect to be served for pudding warm with icecream.  I used pluots instead of blood plums, so my cake has yellow rounds peeking out inside of red, but it tasted terrific.  The plums were tart against the chocolate, giving a perfect yin and yang effect.

To make this cake, you will need:

180g butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
6 plums, halved and stoned (I used 3 large ones)
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 2/3 cups White Wings gluten free plain flour
1/4 cup cocoa
3/4 cup almond meal

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius and spray a 22cm springform pan with spray oil and line it (base and sides) with baking paper.

Melt 20g of the butter, and paint it onto the base of the lined pan with a pastry brush. Scatter the brown sugar evenly over the base of the pan, and place the plum halves, cut side down, on top of the sugar, leaving a 1cm border from the sides of the pan (to avoid sticking).

In a stand mixer, beat together the sugar, vanilla and 160g butter until light in colour and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each one.

Combine the dry ingredients together in a bowl.  Beat into the cake batter in two batches until just combined.  Spoon the cake batter evenly over the plums in the pan, and smooth out the surface with a metal spatula.  Tap the pan on the bench to remove any air pockets.

Place the springform pan on a cookie tray, then bake the cake on the tray in the oven for 65 minutes or until cooked through.  Remove the  cake form the oven and allow it to cool in the oven for 15 minutes before inverting it onto a serving plate.    Serve it warm with vanilla icecream - delish!

Friday, May 4, 2012

FFwD - Almond Dory Meuniere

This week's French Fridays with Dorie is a fishy dish - almond flounder meuniere.  However, I don't think I have ever seen too much flounder around here, so I purchased John Dory fillets - just because they looked nice and were small, as Dorie described her flounder fillets.  This dish comprises fish coated with almond meal and flour on one side, then fried in browned butter.

I didn't make the browned butter - after doing both Baking with Julia recipes for this month on the same day, I could not bear the smell of any more butter, so I skipped it.  I also skipped the toasted almonds and parsley for garnish - I don't have anyone to impress, so I could not think of a good reason why to expend $3 on a bunch of parsley that I would not use.

I served my fish with microwaved sweet potato sprinkled with all purpose seasoning, and baby bok choy stir fried and flavoured with soy sauce, fish sauce and honey.  Delish and reasonably healthy, I thought.

To see what the other FFwD members thought of this dish, visit the LYL section of the FFwD website (which no longer works for me for reasons unbeknown to me - it just doesn't work and there is no Webmaster help available).

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Rose's Chocolate Tomato Cake for Sandra

Today is Sandra's birthday.  Sandra is our receptionist and a work friend of mine who is very thoughtful about planning for other people's birthdays, so it is only fitting that she should have a lovely cake for her birthday.

Flicking through Rose Levy Beranbaum's Heavenly Cakes, my attention was caught by a very striking Chocolate Tomato Cake, decorated by wafer candles.  You can find the recipe online here.

Perhaps even more striking than the decoration of this cake was the fact that it contains a tin of tomato soup. Yep, you read correctly - tomato soup.  Rose recommends Campbells brand, as she originally made the cake for Campbells, but I used Heinz Big Red instead.  As Rose had foreshadowed, the soup made the cake a lovely dark chocolate colour:

Once the double layer cake had been ganached to the nines, it was surrounded by "candles" made of chocolate filled wafers (I used Arnotts Fun Sticks) and piped red icing flames:

I have even tried the cake, as I levelled off the bottom cake before filling it - and it is beautifully moist, compliments of the tomato soup.  It is also very chocolatey, despite only containing cocoa powder.

Here's hoping Sandra enjoys it - happy birthday Sandra! 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

BWJ - Hungarian Shortbread

Well, May has crept up on us quickly, and the weather has asserted that it is in fact autumn.  It is cool, often grey during the day, and the leaves have turned delightful shades of red and gold before they tumble to the ground and turn brown.  Thankfully, the really cold weather has not yet set in, so I can reconcile myself to getting up in the semi-darkness as it is really not too bad outside.

It is also the first Baking with Julia for this month, hosted by Lynette of 1 Small Kitchen and Cher of  The Not So Exciting Adventures of a Dabbler, and our recipe is Hungarian Shortbread.  This ain't diet food, with lots and lots of butter involved, but it is practically lean compared with our next recipe, Pecan Sticky Buns.  Hungarian Shortbread is a buttery shortbread encasing a layer of jam (in my case, apricot).  The shortbread is dredged with icing sugar immediately after baking, which forms a crackly, custard-like top on the shortbread.

I read someone else who made this thought that grating the frozen pastry was an unnecessary faff so they did it all in the food processor.  I tended to agree with them and did the same, skipping the resting time in the fridge.  My shortbread seemed just fine, despite the short shrift it got from me in the resting department.

The verdict on this recipe - tastes delicious (as well it might with all that butter and sugar), but is terribly unkind in the calories department.  However, I guess this group is not about conserving calories, so no more peeps out of me on that count - until the next recipe (yikes).

To check out how the other BWJ bakers went, visit the BWJ LYL section for this recipe.