Expert Borrowers

baked macaroni

As much as I like to share brand new, shiny, exciting things here in my little corner of the web, I think its time today to share a family recipe that is quite special to me. It occurred to me that I haven’t done this much at all, save for my Dad’s BBQ potatoes. To be honest, I kind of forget sometimes. They seem so ‘every day’ that I wonder if they are even worthy of a post of their own. But after making one of our favourites last night for dinner, I just couldn’t help but photograph the leftovers.

It’s our take on a traditional Maltese dish Imqarrun fil- Forn or Baked Macaroni, similar to the Italian Timpano, because the Maltese were expert ‘borrowers’ of language and cuisine. Saveur magazine even printed a variation of it, with a flaky pastry lid. My family has been making it seemingly forever; I remember a story that my Grandpa told me from when he was a little boy. Instead of cooking it in their own kitchens they would take it to the local bakery, and for a small fee they could cook it in the wood-fired ovens. The article mentions it as a tradition of ‘communal baking’ going back centuries and I think it sounds just wonderful. Imagine chatting with your friends while someone else cooks your dinner! One unfortunate night while carrying the cooked dish home, my Grandpa’s brother dropped it all over the pavement!

This hearty, filling meal is so simple to put together; just cooked macaroni or rigatoni mixed with bolognaise sauce, a few eggs, some Parmesan, and, if you like, some fresh herbs, salt and pepper. It’s not the quickest weeknight dinner, granted, but it’s one of the easiest I can think of. We usually make a huge stockpot full of bolognaise sauce and freeze it in portions, which makes the assembly of this dish even easier. I haven’t given a recipe for the sauce here, so use your favourite! This is not like your typical baked pasta in that the eggs bind the mixture together to set while baking, rather than remain saucy on the inside. And those crunchy burnt bits on top? My favourite thing about it!

baked macaroni

It works equally well as an entrée or a main meal with a leafy salad and balsamic vinaigrette, and leftovers are good at room temperature for lunch or even a picnic the next day. You can also freeze it in its unbaked state. But please heed my advice about the non-stick baking paper, it makes life (and washing up) so much easier.

Baked Macaroni
Serves 8

• 2 x 500g packets macaroni or rigatoni
• 4 ½ cups pre-prepared bolognaise sauce (use your favourite home-made recipe)
• 5 – 6 large eggs
• ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
• 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
• Salt and Pepper

1. Grease and line large baking dish with non-stick baking paper. Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F)
2. Cook macaroni in a large pot of salted boiling water until just before al dente. Drain and return to the pot. Stir in bolognaise sauce, eggs, Parmesan, parsley, salt and pepper and mix with a large spoon until pasta is fully coated.
3. Transfer to the baking dish, pressing mixture into all the corners. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, turning the dish around at about the 40-minute mark. Don’t worry, those crunchy burnt top bits are good! However you can cover it with foil to prevent the top from over-browning.
4. Have a wire cooling rack ready, and remove the pan from the oven. Place the cooling rack upside down on top of the macaroni and invert, being careful because it’s hot. Remove the pan and the baking paper. Place the macaroni back in the oven upside down for 15 – 20 minutes longer to crisp up the bottom.
5. To serve, cut into square pieces with a serrated knife. Serve with a green leafy salad.

Something New

profiteroles

I love the concept of learning something new everyday, whether it’s a new word to add to the vocabulary, or a snippet of information you didn’t know. I’ll admit I’m one of those people who love useless trivia. Did you know there are two million possible sandwich combinations that can be created from a Subway menu, or that fish are in fact susceptible to seasickness? I don’t ever want to stop learning, there are so many subjects that I find fascinating.

But one of the things I like most of all is the feeling that you could learn something every time you step into the kitchen. There are hundreds of different cuisines to explore and a countless amount of ingredients, each with its own flavours and properties. It excites me to go into the kitchen knowing that I’m going to make something new, because you’re never quite sure how it will turn out – in triumph or in tears. I remember the first time I made choux pastry, about two years ago. My profiteroles were sad, flat little mounds rather than gloriously risen puffs. I didn’t know what went wrong, and it took me three attempts (and probably some rather choice language) before I finally got it right. Here is a short list of the things I’ve since learned about making perfect choux…

• This recipe has a considerable amount of water. It’s the water turning to steam in the oven that makes them puff.
• When adding the flour, make sure the butter mixture is boiling rapidly. This ensures that the starch cells in the flour will accept more water and create more steam, and consequently more puff.
• I like to sift the flour before adding it to the mixture. You will need to stir vigorously to prevent lumps forming and incorporate the flour evenly.
• Make sure the oven is at the correct temperature before the puffs go in, and don’t be tempted to open the oven door while they are cooking!
• When they are cooked, prick the puffs with a skewer or cut them open to release the steam, and then return them to the oven for 5 minutes, which prevents them from going soggy.
• Cooked but unfilled choux will keep in an airtight container for 3 days or can be frozen for up to 3 weeks.

Choux pastry is a wonderful base for an incredible variety of sweet and savoury dishes; the choice of what to fill your éclairs or profiteroles with is up to you! Crème pâtissèrie, or pastry cream is one of my favourite things to make so I decided to put my leftover ginger to good use with one of its very best friends, dark chocolate. It gave the cream a nice subtle flavour that I loved. I dipped my profiteroles into melted chocolate, but you could also drizzle it on top. This is also my entry for Hay Hay Its Donna Day #20, brainchild of Barbara from Winos and Foodies, now being looked after by Bron Marshall, and hosted this month by Suzana of Home Gourmets.

Chocolate and Ginger Profiteroles
Adapted from Baking From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan and Gourmet Traveller
Makes about 40 small profiteroles

Chocolate and Ginger Pastry Cream
• 2 cups whole milk
• About 6 strips of fresh ginger, cut with a vegetable peeler
• 4 large egg yolks
• 6 tablespoons sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornflour, sifted
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 7 (200g) ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
• 2 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature

Choux Pastry
• 100g unsalted butter
• 1 cup cold water
• 150g plain flour, sifted
• 4 eggs

• Melted dark chocolate, for dipping

1. To make the dark chocolate cream, bring the milk to a boil, add strips of ginger and infuse for at least 30 minutes. Strain and discard the pieces of ginger.
2. Re-heat the milk. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, cornflour and salt until thick and well blended. Without stopping whisking, drizzle in about ¼ cup of the hot milk, then add the remainder of the milk in a steady stream. Put the pan over medium heat, and whisking vigorously, bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking for 1-2 minutes.
3. Remove the pan from the heat. Whisk in the melted chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes. In the meantime, fill the sink about a quarter full with water and ice cubes. Whisk in the pieces of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the cream is smooth and silky.
4. Put the bowl into the ice filled sink, and stir occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled. Refrigerate with plastic pressed against the surface of the cream to avoid a skin forming.
5. To make the choux pastry, preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F) and line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Combine butter and water in a large saucepan and bring to the boil over high heat. Add flour and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture leaves the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat and cool for 10 minutes.
6. Add eggs to the mixture, beating vigorously to combine after each addition before adding the next. To make profiteroles, use either a piping bag or a spoon to make 3cm mounds on the baking tray.
7. Bake for 15 minutes. Prick pastries with a skewer or the tip of a small knife and bake for an additional 5 minutes until golden and dry. Cool profiteroles on a wire rack before filling with chocolate and ginger pastry cream. Dip into melted dark chocolate before serving.

Fine Specimens

upside down

I have a new favourite fruit, and they won’t leave me alone. I can’t walk past the fresh fruit at the market without at least gazing at them, if not slipping a few into my basket. I always admire their curvaceous shapes when I slice them in half. I’m talking about pears; they’re bountifully in season and absolutely gorgeous in every way. I don’t know if it’s lucky or unlucky, because without even trying, I’m finding pear recipes everywhere I turn, and I’m nothing short of helpless when there are already fine specimens residing in my fruit bowl.

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, or a crazy obsessive lady. I know there was the pear and vanilla brown butter crumble, which still makes me dribble a little every time I think about it. And I’m aware that I posted these pear and maple cupcakes barely two weeks ago. A few nights ago for my Dad’s birthday, I made a surprisingly delicious dish of roast lamb cooked with rosé and pears, but unfortunately didn’t get a photo of it. I suppose I can only hope you share my fondness of them, because here I present to you a most delightful pear and ginger cake courtesy of Orangette, the Macrina Bakery and Seattlest.

On the eve of winter, I can’t imagine a more appropriate dessert. The warm cake is intensely comforting as the temperatures at night get cooler. It was a good opportunity to use the treacle that’s been sitting in our pantry for ages; one of dad’s impulse buys that I’ve been scratching my head over what to do with. I’d also never used fresh ginger before (shame!) and I’m now looking forward to using what’s left in other dishes – perhaps something savoury to balance out all the desserts I post here.

fork

To be completely honest, I don’t think I would have looked twice at this recipe if there weren’t pears involved, but I really did love the result. The cake itself was the real winner here, but the glossy cinnamon-slicked pears played a nice supporting role. The cake was beautifully moist with an incredible depth of flavour, not too sweet and not too rich. I kind of like the idea that I can conjure up a famous but far away bakery in my own kitchen… until I plan a trip to Seattle and can taste for myself!

I keep forgetting that Pam tagged me for a six word memoir a few months ago. If those six words had to form a sentence of sorts, I think “small mocha, double shot, two sugars” would aptly describe me, but otherwise, here are some words put together by me and people who know me well… Caring, Spirited, Cute, Idealistic, Imaginative and Affectionate.

Pear and Ginger Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Seattlest and the Macrina Bakery
Serves 10-12

Topping
• 75g butter, at room temperature
• ½ cup brown sugar
• 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 4 medium pears, peeled, cored and quartered lengthwise

Cake
• 250g butter, at room temperature
• ¾ cup brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
• 3 eggs
• 2/3 cup treacle (molasses)
• 3 cups plain flour
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 ½ cups buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (325°F). Grease a 22cm (9-inch) removable-bottom cake tin and line with baking paper.
2. To make the topping, combine butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a saucepan over medium heat until melted. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Place quartered pears on top of the mixture tightly in a decorative circle so that none of the bottom shows through.
3. To make the batter, place butter and brown sugar in a large bowl. Cream with an electric mixer until pale in colour. Add the ginger, and beat for another minute. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. Slowly pour in the treacle and beat to fully mix. Don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled.
5. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder and baking soda and salt together, and whisk to combine.
6. Alternately add small amounts of flour and buttermilk to the batter, being careful to only mix until the dry ingredients are incorporated.
7. Transfer the batter into the pear-lined pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.
8. Bake for about 1 hour and 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes.
9. Cover the pan with an upside down serving plate and carefully invert. Release the sides of the pan and lift it away. Peel off the baking paper, and cool for about half an hour. Serve warm, with whipped cream or ice cream.

Autumn Appropriate

autumn cupcake

Gosh, I didn’t mean to let three weeks go by without a post. I’ve been sick for almost all of that time, so I hope you’ll forgive me. I also had a string of lacklustre recipes emerge from my kitchen that I thought didn’t seem worthy of sharing, or at least not until I’ve altered them to my liking. But mostly, I’ve been revisiting old favourites, many of which I’ve posted here before. There’s been pesto and pie, biscotti, and a new take on these simple slice and bake cookies, adding lemon zest and chopped dried cranberries. They were delicious!

I recently pondered the fact that I had not baked, let alone eaten a cupcake in quite a long time. In fact, they hadn’t really crossed my mind in a while. Surely my infatuation with them was not waning? I firmly believe that you can never outgrow a cupcake, they seem to be much loved by young and old. I decided to make a batch of autumn-appropriate cupcakes with some delicious pears. They are in abundance right now and I can’t get enough. I drank the pear juice reserved from Step 2 of the recipe by itself but couldn’t help but think how delicious it would be with some vanilla-infused vodka in a fruity cocktail.

I loved everything about these cupcakes; they were deliciously moist on the inside, not too sweet but with a hint of warmth from the cinnamon. The chopped walnuts made an interesting textural contrast and the creamy vanilla bean icing set it off in all the right ways. I wasn’t the only fan of these cupcakes either! My (nearly) three-year-old cousin Cooper loved them too, and had an interesting way of eating them. He licked all the icing off the top before he actually ate the cake. Awwww…

cooper

Pear and Maple Cupcakes
Adapted from Australian Women’s Weekly Cupcakes
Makes 12

• 2 medium pears, grated coarsely
• 60g butter, softened
• ½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 2 eggs
• ¼ cup maple syrup
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• ¼ cup self-raising flour
• ¾ cup plain flour
• 1/3 cup walnuts (or pecans), finely chopped

Vanilla Bean Buttercream
Adapted from Cupcake Project
• 1 ½ cups pure icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar)
• 200g butter, room temperature
• ½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped
• 1 tablespoon milk

1. Preheat oven to 180°C (355°F) and line a 12 hole cupcake pan with paper liners.
2. Strain the juice from the grated pear, squeezing out as much juice as possible.
3. Beat butter, brown sugar and cinnamon with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, maple syrup and vanilla and mix to combine.
4. Add flour and mix until just combined, being careful not to overmix. Fold in walnuts (or pecans) and grated pear using a large spoon.
5. Divide between paper cases and smooth surface. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool.
6. To make vanilla bean buttercream, beat icing sugar with butter until creamy. Add vanilla seeds and milk and beat for another minute. Smooth onto cooled cakes.

Even Better

alfajores

I had to fend for myself for a few days, while my family were up the coast on holidays. I missed out on going with them because my deadlines week at college happened to coincide with their already-booked week away. I promised myself that I would eat good home-cooked food, because when you’re busy trying to finish projects and only cooking for yourself, it is tempting to take the easy/lazy option and either order a pizza or subsist on only two-minute noodles. Cooking for one is very different to cooking for four, which I usually do. It felt strange to cook so little! I ended up with leftovers of almost everything, but it was nice to have food in the fridge for lunch the next day.

Luckily, I had a good friend come to stay towards the end of the week, so I didn’t go completely mad in my solitude. We had a variety of food-based adventures, since I seem to navigate Sydney purely via coffee shops, and she’d seen The Bridge already. It was so nice to have someone to share things like this with, because sometimes it seems like all my best friends live far away. I think food always tastes better with the people you like.

zumbo

We took a ferry to Balmain and visited Adriano Zumbo’s famous patisserie; above you can see a tangy and delicious passionfruit tartlet, a salted butter caramel mille-feuille and two varieties of macaron, because we couldn’t help ourselves. We had Sunday brunch at the Bourke St Bakery, or more accurately in the little park opposite (and then went back to try the strawberry vanilla brulée and lemon curd tartlets). On Monday we headed across the road to The Book Kitchen, where the walls are lined with cookbooks. I loved the coffee and the very nice day menu, I can’t wait to go back for lunch one day! For breakfast I had the date and fig pikelets, which were gorgeous, fluffy and studded with hidden surprises. The accompanying poached pear and rhubarb was the perfect match, and just wonderful with the creamy vanilla ricotta. I have it on good authority that their scrambled eggs on sourdough were a winner too.

We also sampled South American ice cream from a place that has recently opened up within walking distance of home, called Patagonia. The dulce de leche ice cream was fantastic, and inspired me to try Alfajores: cookies sandwiched with dulce de leche. I read last November in the(sydney)magazine, about a bakery in Fairfield that does the best Alfajores in Sydney, but it’s closed for renovations at the moment, so I decided to try making my own.

I was slightly concerned by the warnings on the can that it might explode, so I did some research and found that many had success with poking a few holes in the top of the can. The dulce de leche was incredible, I couldn’t help but sneak spoonfuls whenever I went past the kitchen. I’m not sure how traditional my Alfajores are, but I loved them. They reminded me, in a way, of the biscuits in the very first photo I uploaded to Flickr, but with a tastier cookie and creamier filling, these were even better.

Addresses

Adriano Zumbo
296 Darling St, Balmain

Bourke St Bakery
Corner of Bourke St and Devonshire St, Surry Hills and 130 Broadway (next to Kinkos)

The Book Kitchen
255 Devonshire St, Surry Hills

Patagonia (South American Ice Cream)
231 Coogee Bay Road, Coogee and 55 Smart St, Fairfield

Alfajores
Adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller
Makes about 25 sandwiched cookies

• 100g unsalted butter, cold, coarsely chopped
• 150g caster sugar
• 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
• 1 cup plain flour
• 150g cornflour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder

Dulce De Leche
• 1 can sweetened condensed milk, label removed

1. To make dulce de leche, make a few small holes in the lid of the can with a can opener. Place in a heavy bottomed pot. Fill with water to just under the top of the can. Simmer for 3 – 4 hours, ensuring that there is always enough water to cover the can. Allow to cool in the water, before opening the can and spooning out the contents. It should be light caramel coloured. Allow to cool completely.
2. Process butter and caster sugar in a food processor until pale and creamy. Add egg and egg yolk and pulse to combine.
3. Sift the flour, cornflour and baking powder together and add to food processor. Pulse until just combined, then form dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F) and line an oven tray or two with baking paper.
5. Roll out chilled dough on a lightly floured surface to 5mm thick. Using a 3cm round cookie-cutter, cut rounds and place 5cm apart on the oven tray. Bake for 12-25 minutes, or until lightly golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
6. To assemble, sandwich two biscuits together with 1 teaspoon of dulce de leche in the middle.

Vanilla Flecked

creme brulée

I’m now down to the business end of this Vanilla Project. The fun conceptualising part is over, now is the actual production part, made trickier by the fact that I’m still learning Dreamweaver and Flash! The website had to have an environmental aspect to it, and in my early research I learned about the Rainforest Vanilla Conservation Association. The concept of my website then became a shop selling pure vanilla products, from food to perfume, containing real vanilla grown in this way.

Both vanilla and cocoa are species native to the tropical rainforest, therefore they thrive best in their native environment. Vanilla is a vine and therefore requires the support of a tutor tree. It is difficult to grow under artificial conditions in plantation style settings, where the land is cleared and concrete posts are installed for the vines to grow on. Vanilla production is most sustainable under natural shade trees using traditional production methods.

Cocoa has always been a subsistence crop of poor farmers in developing countries. In recent times, farmers have been abandoning the crop for more lucrative agricultural activities. Dwindling supplies have forced worldwide prices to rise. However, cocoa makes an excellent tutor tree for vanilla vines and has the added benefit of providing an additional source of income for the vanilla farmer. If vanilla and cocoa prices stabilize at a level that gives a good return to the farmers, both crops will be an important source of economic incentives to conserve the tropical rainforest.

A one acre vanilla-cocoa plantation is estimated to annually absorb the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions from burning 2,550 gallons of gasoline. For every serving of real vanilla or chocolate ice cream you enjoy, you are removing from the atmosphere the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions from burning the same weight of gasoline.

I had never made crème brulée before this weekend. In fact I had only ever eaten one in my life, at my favourite Patisserie in The Rocks while waiting for a ferry. I fell in love with the way the crunchy toffee topping gave way to the silky vanilla flecked custard below. I recently found a little kitchen blowtorch for an unbelievable price and I had to have it, so this was its official christening. I picked Dorie Greenspan’s recipe because it looked the simplest and didn’t require as many egg yolks as others I have come across. I am accumulating egg whites at an unbelievable rate, at last count there were fifteen in my freezer! I made vanilla crème brulées this time, keeping with the theme of my project, but I’m looking forward to experimenting with different flavours in the near future.

Crème Brulée
Adapted from Baking from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Serves 6

• 1 ¼ cups thick (heavy) cream
• ½ cup whole milk
• 1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
• 3 egg yolks
• 1/3 cup sugar
• About 6 tablespoons light brown sugar

1. Combine milk, cream and vanilla seeds and bean in a small saucepan. Bring just to a boil, then remove from the heat and allow the mixture to infuse for at least 30 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 95°C (200°F). Place six ramekins on a baking tray.
3. When ready to make the custard, reheat the cream mixture and remove the vanilla bean.
4. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl until well blended. While still whisking, drizzle in about a quarter of the warm cream mixture. This ensures the eggs won’t curdle. Slowly pour the remainder of the cream and milk and whisk well.
5. Tap the bowl against the bench to remove the bubbles and strain it into the ramekins.
6. Bake the custards for 50-60 minutes or until the centers are set. Allow to cool until they reach room temperature. Cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate, preferably overnight.
7. Sprinkle each custard with a tablespoon of brown sugar, then caramelise the sugar with a blowtorch until it bubbles and colours. Wait until the bubbles subside before serving.

Seduce Me

penne

I really love the way that food blogging has pushed me outside my comfort zone to try new things, to challenge myself in the kitchen, and to give certain foods a second chance. I was a pretty fussy child, as I’ve mentioned before. As well as spinach, I didn’t eat eggs, seafood, mushrooms, and I was never a huge fan of eggplant.

My dad always told me that when I was older I’d try these foods again and like them, and I think he was onto something. I still can’t eat plain eggs (hard boiled or poached, bleh!), but I have discovered the wonder of omelettes studded with fresh tomatoes and herbs. I’m still working on the mushrooms and seafood, but as far as eggplant is concerned, I think I’m converted.

Trust Jamie Oliver to seduce me with an absolutely beautiful looking pasta dish. It feels like I’ve been cooking a lot of Jamie’s recipes lately, with a couple more planned for the near future. The more of his cookbooks I read, the more I want to spend an afternoon with him, sitting in the pub, drinking good beer and chatting food. He just seems like a cool guy. I also love the way his recipes are written, almost like a casual conversation with a friend, sharing useful advice along with the instructions.

The eggplant in this dish plays a supporting role to the richness of the tomatoes and the creamy mozzarella but its presence is noticeable, enough to add interest and variation to an otherwise quite simple tomato sauce. It also comes together pretty quickly from mostly basic pantry ingredients, making it a nice weeknight meal that can be put together without too much forethought. I think the sauce would also be wonderful in a lasagne. It tastes great with or without the mozzarella, but make sure to use the freshest herbs you can find, it really makes a difference.

Penne with Eggplant, Tomatoes and Mozzarella
Adapted from Jamie’s Dinners by Jamie Oliver
Serves 4 hungry people

• Extra virgin olive oil
• 1 medium eggplant, nice and firm and ripe
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
• ½ onion, peeled and finely chopped
• 2 x 400g cans plum tomatoes
• 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
• ½ cup red wine
• Sea salt & pepper
• 50g salted butter
• 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
• ¼ cup thick cream
• 500g uncooked rigatoni or penne
• ½ cup fresh basil leaves, torn or roughly chopped
• 100g cow’s milk mozzarella
• Parmesan, to serve

1. Remove both ends of the eggplant and slice into 1cm slices. Slice these across and finely dice into 1cm cubes.
2. Heat 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the eggplant, stirring them around so they are completely coated with oil. Cook for 7-8 minutes on medium heat
3. Add the garlic and onion. When they have a little colour, add the tomatoes, vinegar and wine. Season with salt and pepper. Add the butter and simmer for about 25 minutes. Add the cream and season again if necessary.
4. Cook the pasta according to the packet’s instruction, and then drain it. Return the drained pasta to the cooking pot and stir through the sauce.
5. Just before serving, stir in the mozzarella and basil. Dish up quickly, by the time you start to eat, the mozzarella will have started to melt. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

Banana Bread with Chocolate and Ginger

banana bread

When I was a kid I used to love drawing fruit. I honestly cannot count how many fruit bowls I drew, filled with apples, bananas and a bunch of green grapes draped over the edge. It was like almost like a recurring dream, this desire I had to draw fruit. In my high school photography class, I shot and developed nearly a whole roll of black and white film of still life fruit pictures. While I haven’t drawn one in a long while, the sight of a full fruit bowl still makes me happy.

For the last few days there were two bananas starting to look a little bit speckled in my fruit bowl. I immediately resolved to make banana bread, but I had to wait for them to ripen a little more first. It seems amazing to me that such sad and sorry looking bananas can be transformed into such wonderful baked goods. I’d had my eye on this recipe from the delightful blog Orangette for a little while. Molly seems like quite the banana bread aficionado so I just knew it was going to be grand. The plan became even more perfect when I picked up some candied ginger from the shop the other day for another purpose that never came to fruition. Chocolate and Candied Ginger Banana Bread it would be.

The recipe was so easy to put together, with fantastically rewarding results. I loved the tangy sweetness and jewel-like appearance the candied ginger gave. It’s truly a world away from the banana bread I was used to, perhaps also due to the cake-like texture. It would be wonderful with cream or ice cream for dessert, lovely taken on a picnic for lunch, or for a head start on your chocolate consumption, serve this delicious banana bread for Easter Sunday brunch. Don’t feel bad about it, Molly herself now approves of chocolate for breakfast 🙂

Banana Bread with Chocolate and Ginger
Adapted from Orangette
Makes 8 thick slices

• 1 cup sugar
• 1 egg
• 115g butter, room temperature
• 2 ripe bananas
• 3 tablespoons milk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 ½ cups plain flour
• ½ cup hazelnut meal
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• ½ teaspoon baking soda
• 1 cup dark chocolate, chopped
• 2 tablespoons candied ginger, finely chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and line a loaf tin with baking paper.
2. With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and mix well to combine.
3. Peel the bananas, and place in a bowl. Mash with a fork, then mix in the milk and vanilla extract.
4. In another bowl, sift flour, hazelnut meal, baking powder and baking soda. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three parts, alternating with the banana mixture. Stir by hand until just combined.
5. Stir in the chocolate and ginger until evenly distributed.
6. Transfer the batter into the prepared loaf tin. Bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
7. Cool in the tin for a few minutes and then allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Utterly Gorgeous

vanilla ice cream

At the moment, I’m working on a really interesting and fun project at college. It is still in progress, and I’ve been filling a sketchbook with ideas and thumbnails for a website about vanilla. One of the things I love most about my course is the ability to explore issues that we’re passionate about and food is a definitely recurring theme throughout my portfolio. The first step of any design project is research, and for weeks I immersed myself in anything I could find related to vanilla, from encyclopedias to cookbooks, and I even purchased some Madagascan vanilla beans to sample for myself. I think I’m addicted now, I can never go back!

Vanilla is a part of the orchid family, the largest family of flowering plants in the world. Many species of orchid are epiphytes, which means they grow on other plants, using their stronger structure for support. Epiphytes are common in tropical rainforests, to which vanilla is native. In fact the plant only thrives in tropical regions close to the equator that receive adequate rainfall such as Mexico, Tahiti and Madagascar, which are now the three largest vanilla producing countries in the world.

It is the most labour intensive of all food crops, as the flowers have to be pollinated by hand. The harvested beans undergo an extensive curing and drying process that can last up to nine months, and have to be rolled away each evening to prevent theft and possible rotting due to condensation in the cooler air. Combined with factors such as the regions’ susceptibility to typhoons and the western world’s commercial reliance on pure vanilla, fluctuations in price are very common.

Today, over 95% of ‘vanilla’ products contain a synthetic flavouring derived from lignin, a by-product of paper manufacturing. Some artificial vanilla essences contain Tonka beans. They have a similar fragrance to vanilla, however are a source of the chemical Coumarin, which can be toxic and is actually banned in the United States.

In the next few weeks I hope to put my vanilla beans to good use and share some recipes, as well as more of my research and designs as the project progresses. Yesterday I made ice cream for the first time. I don’t have an ice cream maker so I used the freeze-and-mix method, which still produced incredibly smooth and utterly gorgeous ice cream. Ironically, now that summer is officially over, the weather feels more summer-like than ever. Perfect ice cream eating weather, I’d say.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
From Modern Classics 2 by Donna Hay
Makes about 1 litre

• 1 cup milk
• 2 cups single cream
• 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
• 6 egg yolks
• 2/3 cup caster sugar

1. Place the milk, cream and vanilla (including the bean) in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the mixture is hot but not boiling. Remove from the heat and set aside to infuse for 15 minutes
2. Place the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk until thick and pale.
3. Remove the vanilla bean from the milk mixture, and slowly pour over the egg yolk mixture. Whisk well to combine.
4. Return the mixture to the pan and stir over low heat until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
5. Set aside to cool. A good way to do this is to fill your sink with a little cold water and a few ice cubes and place the saucepan in there.
6. Either place the custard in an ice-cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions OR place the mixture in a metal bowl or cake tin. Cover and freeze for 1 hour. Beat with an electric hand mixer and return to the freezer. Repeat three times at hourly intervals until the ice cream is thick and smooth.

Delicate Art

coleslaw

Recently, I’ve realised that life is like a big balancing act; between where you are and where you want to be, between what you have to do and what you want to do, between what you need and what you want etc. It’s often challenging to find this balance with conflicting factors at work. It’s quite unfortunate that life doesn’t come with an instruction manual, but then I don’t think it’s supposed to be easy. You’ve got to take the highs with the lows roller-coaster style, and that leads us right back to the beginning – the delicate art of balance.

And of course we all know the importance of balance for our bodies, it’s something I’ve been trying to work on this year. I have a terrible immune system – I get practically every bug that goes around – and I’ve been trying to strengthen it before winter comes around, by eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables that contain Vitamin C and Carotenoids (but I don’t think carrot cake counts!) Whole grains and nuts contain Vitamin E, so I’ve been making sure to eat my cereal! Foods rich in Omega-3 fats are also very good for your immune system, as is the Zinc found in meat, soy and dairy products. My mum is also interested in how different foods can help the body, so I’ve learned a lot recently about how important it is to eat a variety of good foods with different properties.

coleslaw

I didn’t mean for it to be such a serious post about coleslaw, but this is a prime example of the importance of balance! Too much or little of one ingredient can throw the whole salad off. It took me two attempts to get it right but I’ve found the balance I like. Of course it may be different for you, so I encourage you to try it, and taste as you go along. My favourite part was the sweetness that the apples gave, though you could also use pears or a combination. Roughly chopped walnuts or pecans could also be added to give your coleslaw a nice crunch.

After making this at home, I will never again buy the sloppy, floppy coleslaw they sell at the supermarket. Next time I’ll try making the mayonnaise from scratch, and perhaps adding different kinds of cabbage for colour. I served this with some incredible Maple-Marinated Chicken Pieces, which I will share with you hopefully in the near future.

Coleslaw
Adapted from Cook with Jamie by Jamie Oliver
Serves 6 as a side dish

• ¼ cabbage, finely sliced
• 2 carrots, peeled and grated
• ¾ – 1 small red onion, finely chopped
• 2 small pink lady apples, cored, cut into thin matchsticks
• 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons lemon juice
• ½ cup mayonnaise (good quality store-bought or home made)
• Salt and pepper

1. Combine the chopped vegetables, apples and parsley in a large bowl. Stir to combine.
2. Add the lemon juice, mayonnaise, salt and pepper and stir.
3. Serve as a side with the dish of your choice.