Tastes Sweet

souffle

Reaching a culinary milestone is pretty exciting, although the road to get there is sometimes fraught with nerves. So was the case with making my very first soufflé. In fact, I think my kitchen stress levels rise whenever I cook with yeast or egg whites. I read the recipe until I had it almost memorized.

Every step of the way I wondered if I was doing things right. Were my egg whites beaten enough? Or maybe too much? Was I gentle enough when incorporating them? By the time they were finished baking, I had almost no fingernails left, but the true test of success comes when you take them out of the oven.

And behold! My soufflés did not collapse. They behaved perfectly for the camera. I thought I was finished taking photos when I dipped in my spoon and filled the crater with more custard, but it was so beautiful I was compelled to pick up my camera again. The soufflé was tinged with pink and light as air. The rhubarb was perfectly balanced by the custard. Success tastes sweet.

souffle

Rhubarb and Custard Soufflé
Adapted from Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver
Serves 6

• 400g rhubarb, cut into 2.5cm chunks
• 100g + 2 tablespoons caster sugar
• 25g softened butter
• 6 gingersnap biscuits
• 150g ready-made custard, plus extra for serving
• 1 large egg yolk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon plain flour
• 4 egg whites
• Pinch of salt

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and put a baking tray in to heat up.
2. Put the rhubarb into a saucepan with 100g caster sugar. Cover the pan and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft. Set aside to cool completely.
3. Rub the insides of six ramekins with butter. Put the gingersnap biscuits into a sandwich bag, tie a knot in the top and smash the biscuits with a rolling pin to make fine crumbs. Alternately, process until fine with a food processor. Dust the insides of the buttered ramekins with the smashed biscuits, then shake out any crumbs and keep them for later.
4. Place a tablespoon of cooled stewed rhubarb into each ramekin. Mix the rest of the rhubarb with the custard, egg yolk, vanilla extract and flour.
5. In a large, clean bowl using an electric whisk, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and beat on high speed for about 3 minutes, or until the whites and very stiff.
6. Gently fold 2 spoonfuls of the egg whites into the rhubarb mixture. Tip this into the bowl containing the egg whites and fold together very carefully. Divide the mixture between the ramekins and level the tops. Wipe the rims of the dishes clean.
7. Remove the hot baking pan from the oven and place the ramekins on it. Put back into the preheated oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the soufflés are golden and have risen nicely. Serve immediately, sprinkled with your leftover gingersnap crumbs and a dusting of icing sugar.

Much More

flowers

I can definitely say that I ate a lot of pizza while in I was in Melbourne. I worked it out to find that I’d eaten pizza on seven days out of the previous nine, and miraculously I wasn’t sick of it yet. When we were invited to stay a night with our friends Lucy and Ian in the beautiful Dandenongs, I offered to make lunch the next day. And it was, you guessed it, pizza. Steve had the idea to make a tiny sweet pizza out of some extra dough topped with Nutella and lollies. Not everyone was convinced it would work, but it turned out interestingly. The lollies take on a completely different texture when baked – gooey and sticky with the sweetness even more pronounced.

lolly pizza.

After lunch, we went up the hill to Sassafras, or “Sassy” for short – a gorgeous little town boasting Miss Marples Tea Room, a fascinating little toyshop, and a wonderful teapot shop. The queue for the tea room was out the door and down the street as they don’t take bookings, so we stocked up on sweets from the lolly shop – hard to find almond M&M’s and peanut butter M&M’s. After a short bush walk, we caught a train back to the city because we had a 5am wakeup the next morning for the MotoGP, although with daylight savings kicking in, it felt like 4am!

me

It was an interesting experience; the atmosphere was friendly and fun, reaching fever-pitched excitement for the main race. Loyalties were spread between Australian Casey Stoner who won, and Valentino Rossi who started in 12th position and impressively finished 2nd. It was quite cold in the morning as the track is right on the ocean, but it turned out to be an absolutely beautiful day. We met some lovely people, but the highlight of the day was seeing Alvaro Bautista hitting a seagull on his motorbike! It happened right in front of where we were standing, and I saw it sitting on the track and urged it to move but as the bikes came flying around the corner, it was too late. Poor little guy!

The following day we explored Carlton, with the famous Lygon St boasting countless restaurants. Our first stop however was Brunetti’s where we shared vanilla and pistachio profiteroles, a fruit tart and some crostoli. Everything was great, including the coffee. In fact the quality of coffee in Melbourne generally seems considerably higher than in Sydney – out of the several that I had, only one was average. We saw a movie (Wall-E, which we just loved) and had dinner at an Italian restaurant, before stopping in to Koko Black quickly for a chocolate truffle fix.

cycling

Yes, we did manage some shopping, which may just be what Melbourne is most famous for. I bought a great little black dress, as I realised I didn’t actually own one, and as everyone knows it is a must-have in any woman’s wardrobe. We caught the tram to St Kilda, had lunch in a nice little park and wandered down Fitzroy St to Fritz Gelato. It was a cold, windy day and at 3pm the girl told us we were her first customers of the day. I loved the gelato, mine was chocolate hazelnut with plum pudding. We also stopped in quickly to Baker D.Chirico for a coffee, though sadly we couldn’t fit in anything else.

laneway

Pushka is a tiny café in a laneway off a laneway. The walls outside it are covered with framed pictures, and the place just screams Melbourne. It’s quirky and fun, arty but not pretentious. Little touches like fancy antique spoons to go with your coffee make it something special. Everything about the place appealed to me, and almost made me want to open a tiny café of my own.

laurent patisserie

Our last stop before heading to the airport was Laurent Patisserie, which was located literally footsteps from our hotel, though we didn’t realise until our last day. If we had, we might have spent a whole lot more time there! I loved my pear tartlet, but no visit would be complete without some macarons – vanilla and lemon flavoured. Steve enjoyed his undeniably pretty chocolate and macadamia crème brulee.

I really enjoyed seeing much more of Melbourne this trip than in all my other trips there combined. It is such an interesting, diverse city with so much more to see, do and eat. We never made it to the Chokolait Hub, and an unfortunate last minute scheduling clash meant that I never got to catch up with Linda from Butter, Sugar, Flour as we’d planned. It’s certain that I’ll be back just as soon as I can. Though there’s a lot to be said about coming home, too. Flying back into Sydney at night is magical. The city sparkles and sprawls on seemingly forever. I don’t particularly like goodbyes, but Melbourne, we’ll see you later.

Blogger Brunch

yum cha

I’m fashionably late with my write up of the Sydney Blogger Brunch, and this time I can’t even blame Sydney trains! Christie from Fig & Cherry was the mastermind behind the event, and yum cha at East Ocean in Haymarket was the setting. It was my first time meeting food bloggers, and what surprised me most out of the whole day was not how much I enjoyed my first taste of chicken feet but how easily the conversations flowed around the large round table.

The turnout was great – Christie from Fig & Cherry, Lorraine from Not Quite Nigella, Suze from Chocolate Suze, Helen from Grab Your Fork, Jen from Jenius, Kathryn from Limes and Lycopene, Belle and William from Ooh, Look, Reem from I Am Obsessed with Food, and Qingling and Howard from Eat Show and Tell were all in attendance and it was absolutely wonderful to meet them all. I even discovered some new blogs that I’d never read before.

The conversation was peppered with talk of all things food – the many and varied events of Good Food Month in Sydney, Nigella Lawson, Adriano Zumbo (whose café doesn’t open until next weekend, unfortunately) and the meals that some of us ate as poor university students. Laughs were shared, as were all manner of dumplings. But not before cameras were whipped out of handbags and backpacks to snap photos of the food. We were hungry, but not surprised and waited patiently to pick up our chopsticks.

A huge thanks goes to Christie for organising it all and picking such a great restaurant. I look forward to the next gathering with a rumbly tummy!

A Heartbeat

pizza

At the tail end of my Perth trip in June, only hours before I was due to fly home, we talked about going to Melbourne. I checked when my next holidays were and we found that they coincided with the Phillip Island MotoGP. And just like that, it was set. If Melbourne’s weather was as good as Sydney’s, I think I’d move there in a heartbeat. I fell a little bit in love with the bustling city barely a 90-minute flight south that loves food just as much as it loves art and shopping. There’s so much exploring to do, and even more eating. Here are the highlights, with some photos taken on Steve’s iPhone since my camera wigged out on Day One.

I’ve talked before about Little Creatures, the brewery in Fremantle but now they have opened up a Dining Hall in Fitzroy with a slightly adapted menu from their west coast operation. I had the potato and rosemary pizza, which was even more delicious than I expected, and I look forward to trying to recreate it in my own kitchen. We wandered down to Books For Cooks, the little shop on Gertrude St that sells cookbooks exclusively. I remarked that I could spend all day there; luckily there was a comfy sofa on which to sit while poring through the books.

swing

We had a little time to kill while waiting for a friend to join us for dinner, so we wandered up the road and stumbled across Radio Bar & Café where I had a really great coffee. We played on the swings and the see-saw before going all the way back to Gertrude St Enoteca. I’d heard about this place on Bea’s blog when she visited Melbourne and I loved the sound of it. The atmosphere was great, the clientele were about as diverse as you can imagine, and we got to eat cheese for dinner, which I think is a pretty great thing.

lemon tart

The next day we went to Queen Victoria Market to buy ingredients for the dinner I had planned for that evening. I loved the fact that so much fresh food was available right in the middle of the city, and we spent an inordinate amount of time in the Deli Hall drooling over cheeses. When the shopping was done and put away in M’s kitchen, she took us to Poyntons Nursery for what she described as “the best lemon tart in Melbourne”. The setting was absolutely beautiful, and so was the tart, but I think Dorie still wins. As a little thank you to our friend who was hosting us for the first few days of our trip, I made my favourite eggplant pasta that night, which luckily even her Italian man approved of. Dessert was a warm strawberry and rhubarb compote served over vanilla ice cream, and a couple of cannoli.

cannoli

I was also lucky enough to catch up with my cousin who moved to Melbourne two years ago. She is also obsessed with cooking, and her cookbook collection almost puts mine to shame. Together we made banana bread for an afternoon snack, and an amazing pizza for dinner, with bocconcini and marscarpone, proscuitto, olives, basil and rocket. Her daughter is growing up so fast, she will be four years old before we know it. We watched The Wiggles, she hid in a Coles enviro-bag, and apparently she was sad when I left, and asked when I was coming back. I think it will have to be soon. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Melbourne adventures, coming up soon!

Daring Bakers: September

crackers

Before I became a Daring Baker, I always got a little bit excited towards the end of the month to see what the challenge had been and what wonderful things the bakers had come up with. This month I’m excited not only to have survived my second challenge, but also because I got to join this lovely group and make Daring Bakers history, with the first Alternative Bakers challenge.

The September challenge consisted of two elements
– A crunchy cracker, gluten free if desired
– A vegan and gluten free dip

Because my sister is (trying to) follow a gluten free diet plan at the moment, I wanted to make the gluten free version of the crackers for her. But this month was so busy that I wasn’t even sure if I would have time to complete the challenge at all, let alone try my very first experiment with gluten free baking. This time around, I used regular bread flour but I have promised that I will try a gluten free version in the near future that she can enjoy.

crackers and dip

This was also my first time intentionally making a vegan dish, and its something I’m thankful for. The white bean dip recipe came from the December/January issue of Donna Hay magazine, one I’d wanted to make since I saw it back in summer. The combination of roasted garlic and white beans with lemon and basil was delicious, though not the most attractive dip ever. The salsa was inspired by our bruschetta toppings, with the addition of red capsicum to the tomatoes, parsley and fragrant basil. This summery dip goes very well with a crunchy cracker.

I really liked this challenge, because it was a chance to do something a little different in the kitchen, and pushed me to cook something I’d never even thought of making myself before. I was happy with the taste of the crackers, though while baking, the ones at the edge cooked through long before those in the center and I ended up with a mixture of crunchy crackers and softer, more bread-like crackers. I am looking forward to revisiting this, and trying a gluten free version of these crackers for my sister.

Thanks to Natalie from Gluten A Go Go and Shel of Musings From the Fishbowl for such an inspiring and different theme this month!

crackers and salsa

Lavash Crackers and Dip
Adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

Crackers
• 1 ½ cups unbleached bread flour
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon instant yeast
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
• 1/3 to ½ cup + 2 tablespoons water, at room temperature
• Poppy seeds and sesame seeds

Roasted Garlic and White Bean Dip
Adapted from Donna Hay Magazine
• 1 head of garlic, cloves separated
• 1 red onion, chopped
• 1 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 x 400g can white beans (cannellini), rinsed and drained
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 2 tablespoons basil leaves, chopped
• sea salt and cracked black pepper

Tomato and Red Capsicum Salsa
• 4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
• ½ red capsicum, chopped
• 2 tablespoons basil leaves, chopped
• 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
• 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
• 2 teaspoons olive oil

1. To make the crackers, stir together the flour, salt, yeast, sugar, oil and just enough water to bring everything together in a mixing bowl. You may not need the full ½ cup + 2 tablespoons of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.
2. Transfer the dough to a flour sprinkled benchtop. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test, and be medium-firm, satiny to the touch, not tacky and supple enough to stretch when pulled.
3. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size.
4. In the meantime, begin making the dip. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the garlic, onion and oil on a baking tray covered with non-stick baking paper and toss to coat. Roast for 25 minutes or until the garlic is soft. Peel the garlic and place in a food processor with the onion, beans, lemon juice, basil, salt and pepper and process until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
5. To make the salsa, place all chopped ingredients with oil and vinegar into a small bowl and stir to combine
6. Mist the benchtop lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the bench. Divide the dough in half, press into a square with your hands and dust the top lightly with flour. Roll with a rolling pin into a paper-thin sheet. You may have to stop from time to time, to relax the glutens, so lift the dough from the benchtop and wave it a little. Cover with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes.
7. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with non-stick baking paper. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the tray. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.
8. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle sesame seeds on the dough. Use a sharp knife or a pizza cutter to cut rectangles or diamonds in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking.
9. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top. The baking time will depend on how thinly you rolled the dough.
10. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool for about 10 minutes. Break them apart and serve.

Spring Afternoon

shortcakes

The last few weeks have been particularly eventful, but also kind of exciting. At college, production has started on all my projects for the term – photography for a food magazine, a cross-cultural branding project, a Flash website and a two-minute movie about Kyle Cooper, who designed the opening credits for David Fincher’s incredible film Se7en – one of my all time favourites. I’ve been scratching old negatives with a scalpel and watching bug documentaries to composite a dark and scratchy short film.

I also started a new job with the design team of a company that owns several bars and pubs in Sydney. They’re located in the Rocks, which might just be my favourite part of the city. It’s much easier to sit waiting for a train when you have a wonderful view of the Harbour to look at – I’ll never get sick of seeing The Bridge. The work has been quite varied and interesting, and I’ve seen some of my posters in print. A couple of ads I designed have been in MX over the last two weeks, and found a flyer I designed sitting on our table at a bar. It is kind of surreal to see your work around the place, to say the least. As it turns out, the company owns the Australian Heritage Hotel, where I had that great kangaroo pizza, and we sat at the same table outside a few weeks later when I had my interview!

I have been to a few of the venues now, for research purposes… kinda! On Thursday we went to Fringe Bar in Paddington for Pizza night – $10 All You Can Eat Pizza and $8 cocktails. The pizzas were impressively delicious – I make a good pizza, but these were even better. The ingredients were fresh and flavoursome, even though the toppings were simple. I also highly recommend the Lynchberg Lemonade, with a tasty kick of Bourbon and Cointreau. On Friday night, after work drinks got fancy when we went to The Loft on King St Wharf. About the cocktail list, I can only say wow. The offerings were amazingly original and I was absolutely spoiled for choice. The tapas are also delicious – we shared the Middle Eastern platter and everything disappeared quickly. Cargo Bar is a short walk down the Wharf from TheLoft. As part of the September New York Taxi Club promotion, we caught some of Little Italy night, which was a lot of fun. And believe it or not, there are still more than a handful of venues still to check out, and two more opening up later this year!

In the last couple of weeks I’ve also seen one of my favourite Aussie bands, Gyroscope play live, and met a great group of new people. I’ve been planning things to do and places to eat in Melbourne, because the trip is only a few weeks away. My friends and I also had a lovely lunchtime picnic at college the other day. I think we should definitely do that more often. We had a delicious King Island Dairy Camembert with poppy seed crackers, and I made these buckwheat shortcakes from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert. I served them with some tiny, sweet strawberries and lightly whipped cream. The buckwheat was subtle, but flavourful enough to add an element of interest and difference. They come together quickly and easily – no need to bring out the mixer – and would make a perfect impromptu spring afternoon tea.

Buckwheat Strawberry Shortcakes
Adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich
Serves 9

• 1 cup + 2 tablespoons plain flour
• ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons buckwheat flour
• ¼ cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
• 1 ¾ teaspoons baking powder, sifted
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup heavy cream, plus extra for brushing

Filling
• 1 ¼ cups heavy cream
• Strawberries, rinsed and patted dry, hulled

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 220°C (425°F). Line a baking tray with two sheets of non-stick baking paper.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center and pour the cream into it.
3. Using a rubber spatula, push the dry ingredients from the sides of the bowl into the well, cutting and turning the mixture until the dry ingredients are moistened and the dough looks rough and shaggy.
4. Gather the dough into a ball and knead it gently against the sides of the bowl, pressing loose pieces into the dough until it just holds together, but is not smooth.
5. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and pat it down into a 15cm square, about 2cm thick. Trim the edges using a sharp knife. Cut the dough into 9 squares. Place them at least 3cm apart on the baking sheet. Brush the tops with some cream and sprinkle lightly with sugar.
6. Bake shortcakes until the tops are golden brown, about 12-15 minutes. Cool on a rack.
7. Meanwhile, whip the cream, sweetening it lightly to taste as it begins to thicken. Continue beating until it holds a soft shape. The cream can be covered and refrigerated for a few hours.
8. Slice the berries and sweeten them lightly to taste with 1-2 tablespoons of sugar if desired. The berries can be covered and refrigerated for 1 hour.
9. To assemble the shortcakes, slice each cake horizontally in half. Place the bottom halves onto serving plates. Top each with a scoop of strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream. Cover with the tops of the cakes

Cinnamon Pancakes

pancakes

For me, making pancakes is an act with a history that is still being written. For years it has been the traditional breakfast of Mother’s and Father’s Day, and this year was no exception. But in more recent times, pancakes are a Sunday morning ritual whenever Steve and I are together. Usually he whisks the mixture and I cook them while sipping hot coffee, still in my pyjamas. And since breakfast is usually treated as a rushed (or forgotten) affair, it is wonderful to occasionally sit down and eat with the people I love.

I can’t even count how many pancake recipes I’ve tried over the years, but the one I have kept going back to since the first time I made it is Donna Hay’s recipe from Modern Classics 2. I’ve tweaked it in many ways: adding lemon zest or coconut or vanilla, serving it with strawberries or bananas, or ice cream and maple syrup. But one of my favourite combinations so far was the one I made this morning for Father’s Day breakfast – cinnamon pancakes with pears.

The recipe couldn’t be easier, which I think is especially important in the morning before you’re fully caffeinated. The pancakes are beautifully fluffy, the perfect breakfast in my book. This is also my entry for Hay Hay It’s Donna Day this month, lovingly looked after by Bron Marshall, and hosted by the lovely Suzana of Home Gourmets. I can’t wait to see the round up!

Cinnamon Pancakes
Recipe adapted from Modern Classics 2 by Donna Hay
Makes 10

• 2 cups plain flour
• 3 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ½ cup caster sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• ¾ cup buttermilk
• 1 1/3 cups milk
• Butter, for cooking

1. Sift flour, baking powder, cinnamon and sugar together in a medium size bowl.
2. In another smaller bowl, whisk together the egg with the buttermilk, milk and vanilla extract, then whisk the milk mixture into the dry ingredients until smooth.
3. Melt a small amount of butter in a small frypan over medium-low heat. Add about ½ – ¾ cup of the pancake mixture. When small bubbles begin to form over the pancake, carefully flip it over and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.
4. Repeat with the rest of the pancake mixture. Serve with maple syrup and pears if desired.

Annual Tradition

sticky date pudding

I know, I know. I got swoony over sticky date pudding last year, but its one of my very favourite winter desserts and I couldn’t let the chance to try another recipe pass me by. I’ve been thinking about it since the weather turned chilly. Perhaps I’ll make it an annual tradition here on Spicy Ice Cream – saving the world one pudding at a time! This version is spiked with chocolate and coffee, and it’s delicious served warm with butterscotch sauce and slightly melted vanilla ice cream.

I started this recipe after dinner with the best of intentions. The instructions looked simple enough, what could go wrong? Well, it was slightly disastrous at first! I almost thought about not posting it at all but I managed to salvage it and I’m happy to say it was worth the mess and the extra washing up. The recipe given below is my amended version. When I put the dates and hot water in the food processor, I ended up with a puddle on the benchtop and dribbling down the cupboards onto the floor. I would suggest soaking the dates first to make them easier to puree, and then using an electric mixer to make the cake.

Also, I was the extremely proud recipient of the Brilliante Weblog award from Vanilla Sugar. Thank you so much Dawn! I think I’m supposed to tell six facts about myself, so here we go…

• I love to read. I have always been a bookworm, since I was little. I read on the train and I can’t sleep if I don’t read at least a few pages before I go to bed. For the last few years I’ve been trying to read 50 books a year. So far I’m up to 24 for 2008.
• I have a strange irrational phobia of slugs and snails. They really scare me, and I don’t know why! It’s not like they can outrun me. It’s just another reason I don’t like rainy weather.
• For years we used to have chickens as pets. They did cute crazy things that made us laugh, and I’ve never seen egg yolks as yellow as those from our own chooks. Unfortunately they met a sad demise when our neighbours bought a dog. It got through a loose paling in the fence one day and… well it wasn’t pretty.
• I hardly ever turn my mobile phone off silent, so I miss phone calls all the time, much to my friends’ annoyance.
• I’ve never had a dog, but one day I’d really like a black Labrador puppy. His name will be Cornelius, C for short.
• If I wasn’t doing graphic design, I have no idea what I would do with my life. I thought about journalism and architecture but neither of them felt right. I don’t think I’d cut it as a chef and I think an office job would drive me mad so I guess it’s lucky I’m good at what I do!

And I will pass this award onto
LemonPi – Y is a fellow Sydney girl whose blog makes me both giggle and dribble, sometimes simultaneously!
Munchable Munchies – my cousin Jessica has recently started her very own blog. I like to think it was my influence at work! She wants to be a chef, and has some gorgeous photos of pavlovas. I have a zillion eggwhites in my freezer so this seems like the perfect use for them soon!
ButterSugarFlour – Linda lives in Melbourne and seems to almost read my mind sometimes. Her blog is gorgeous and her photos are stunning.
No Special Effects – Dr Mark amazes me constantly with his brilliant photographs and honest, humorous writing. The man also cooks, draws, plays the piano, is there anything he can’t do?

Chocolate Sticky Date Cakes
Adapted from Women’s Weekly Chocolate
Makes 4-6

• 1 ¾ cups dried pitted dates
• 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
• 1 cup boiling water
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 60g butter, chopped
• ¾ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup self-raising flour
• 100g dark chocolate, melted

Chocolate Butterscotch Sauce
• ½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
• 2/3 cup cream
• 50g butter
• 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, sifted

1. Combine the dates and espresso powder in a small bowl, and pour over the boiling water. Stand for 20 minutes. Place in the bowl of a food processor with the baking soda and pulse until smooth.
2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Grease and line with baking paper a 6-hole texas muffin pan, or four ramekins.
3. Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating in between each addition. Add half the flour and mix on low speed.
4. Add the date puree, mixing until combined, and then add the remaining dry ingredients. Fold in the melted chocolate.
5. Divide mixture among cases and bake for 15-30 minutes (depending on size) or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Stand cakes for 2 minutes and then turn onto wire rack to cool slightly. Remove paper.
6. To make the chocolate butterscotch sauce, stir ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat, without boiling until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, and then remove from the heat.
7. Serve warm cakes drizzled with sauce and whipped cream or ice cream.

Comfort Food

osso bucco

While our winter days have been quite beautiful during the last few weeks, the nights have been downright chilly! The weather forecast for the week ahead promises us nothing warmer than 2°C at night, so please excuse me while I fetch my slippers and preheat the oven. I’ll happily take refuge in the kitchen. This kind of weather makes me crave warm filling stews, homemade apple pies and cup after cup of hot tea.

Comfort food is a lovely concept, like an edible security blanket. It’s the kind of food that wraps you up, warming your body and soul. While everyone’s idea of comfort food differs, most of us have a dish or two that tickles the senses to bring back memories and make us feel happy and safe. I didn’t grow up eating Osso Bucco, in fact this is the very first time I’ve prepared it. But the feeling I got from eating it was the very same as I get from my other childhood favourites like Nanna’s pork and spinach pie or Dad’s spaghetti bolognaise. It was intensely satisfying on many levels.

In Italian, Osso Bucco translates to bone with a hole, referring to the bone marrow in the slices of veal shin. From what I read, I don’t think this version is entirely traditional, but it is definitely delicious! Braising the meat with wine, stock and tomatoes for two hours ensures tenderness – it falls right off the bone. It can also be served with a saffron spiked Risotto alla Milanese, which I would love to try next time I make it. As with most stews, the flavour improves with time, so try and save some leftovers for lunch the next day. It can also be frozen as Donna Hay suggests, and added to tomato soup or as a pie filling.

Osso Bucco
Recipe adapted from Donna Hay Magazine (Issue 40)
Serves 6

• ¼ cup olive oil
• 2 brown onions, sliced thickly
• 4 cloves garlic (or 3 large)
• 6 x 200g osso bucco (veal shin)
• ¾ cup dry red wine
• 1 cup beef stock
• 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
• 1 cup water
• 4 bay leaves
• 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
• Sea salt and black pepper
• 1 x 400g can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large metal baking dish over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 8-10 minutes or until golden. Remove from the pan.
2. Add the remaining oil and increase the heat. Cook veal for 3-4 minutes each side until well browned. Watch out because it may stick.
3. Add the onion and garlic back to the pan and gradually add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan. Cook 1-2 minutes or until reduced by half.
4. Add stock, tomatoes, water, bay leaves, rosemary, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Cover with foil and cook in the oven for 1 ½ hours.
5. Carefully remove from the oven, add the beans and stir. Place back in the oven for 15-30 minutes, or until veal is tender. Serve with mashed potatoes, polenta or risotto if desired.

Silky Rich

panna cotta

I’m not even going to apologise this time, since thankfully you all seemed to understand and support my infatuation with pears when I rhapsodized about them earlier. I really did mean what I said about pear recipes following me around! I couldn’t decide whether to sigh with gleeful contentment or with exasperation when I flicked through my copy of Donna Hay’s winter issue and saw the lovely section all about pears. I’m just surprised that it has been so long since I cooked a curvaceous pear into anything – I must have been distracted by leggy rhubarb; another of my many culinary crushes.

Among the multitudes of pear recipes I have accumulated, this one in particular caught my eye because I love coffee. In fact, I’m addicted to coffee, no question about it. About two years ago, a friend dared me to go a week without caffeine. I thought it would be easy, but by the end of day three I broke down in tearful defeat. Now I also drink a lot of tea during the day, but without my morning coffee, lets just say I might not have many friends left! Though this dessert might be a powerful secret weapon to lure them back.

I love the strong sweet espresso syrup and the silky rich (and jiggly!) cream, and was surprised as to how nicely they worked with the pear. Though next time I would remove the peel. It was pleasantly sophisticated, definitely a grown up dessert. Because my mum doesn’t like coffee, I doubled the panna cotta recipe and made two without the pears and syrup. It’s a really nice base, and so easy to prepare in advance. I can imagine pairing other fruit with it or perhaps a simple strawberry, raspberry or even chocolate sauce drizzled over the top.

Pear and Espresso Panna Cotta
Adapted from Donna Hay Magazine
Makes 2

• 1/3 cup espresso coffee
• 1/3 cup caster sugar
• 1 small pear, cut into 2 x 2cm slices, peel and seeds removed
• 2 tablespoons milk
• 2 teaspoons powdered gelatine
• 1 cup pouring cream
• 1 cup milk, extra
• 1/3 cup brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Place the coffee and caster sugar in a small saucepan over low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the pear slices and cook for 10-15 minutes or until tender and the syrup has thickened slightly
2. Place the pears on the base of 2 x 1 ¼ cup lightly greased ramekins. Pour the syrup evenly over them and allow to cool.
3. Place the gelatine and milk in a small bowl. Stir to combine and allow to stand for 2-3 minutes until the gelatine has dissolved.
4. Place the cream, extra milk, brown sugar and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, add the gelatine and whisk to combine. Set aside to cool.
5. Pour the cream mixture over the pears and syrup. Refrigerate for 4-6 hours over overnight. Invert into shallow bowls to serve.