Tuesday, August 31, 2004
I've been told this from a very early age, and for some strange reason I have felt that this should have ordained me as a prize winning scone maker too. Unfortunately, every time I go to make scones I always have to ring my mother and be reminded of the darned recipe. "What's in scones again?" I ask her. Well you know what? I've decided I don't care what was in Nana's scones or Mum's scones for that matter. Despite my impeccable scone pedigree I've got to stand on my own two feet where scones are concerned.
Therefore, hereby recorded for posterity, is my version of scones!
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
1/2 cup corn flour
1/2 cup bicarbonate of soda
2 dsps sugar
1/2 cup sultanas
1 1/2 cups of milk
1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Combine self raising flour, corn flour, sugar and bicarb soda in a large mixing bowl. Stir to combine all dry ingredients. Then stir through sultanas.
2. Melt butter in the microwave. Don't over do it! Pour over flour mixture and stir through with a fork. Use the fork to fluff the flour as you combine the butter to resemble fine bread crumbs (that's right - no rubbing the butter in here! This recipe is arthritis friendly!).
3. Add the milk to the mixture and stir to combine all ingredients until a nice wet dough forms.
4. Sprinkle a handful of extra flour onto your bench top and turn the dough out onto it. Flour both your hands and pat the dough out until its about 2cm thick. Do not knead the dough or be overly rough with it! This will cause your scones to be tough.
5. Cut 5cm rounds out of the dough with a cookie cutter. Arrange on baking tray covered with a piece of baking paper. Position scones up against each other so that their sides touch. You should get at least 12 scones out of your dough mix.
6. Brush the tops of the scones with a little milk to help them brown.
7. Bake in a moderate oven for 15 minutes or until tops have browned to a light golden colour. You'll be able to smell when the scones are cooked!
8. Serve immediately with jam and whipped cream and a nice cup of tea. Try not to scoff the entire batch in one sitting.
Note: you can exchange the sultanas for finely chopped dates. Or if you don't like fruit in your scones, leave them out altogether!
The first weekend of painting with Kristina, I assumed my normal role, pumping out savoury scones and pots of coffee while Kristina transformed the lounge into a white wonderland.
"When are you going to start your room?" she asked me on the Sunday afternoon.
"Um," I said, stunned that my game was up.
"Look, here's what you do," she said. "You put some paint in a tray, you dip the roller in it and you slap it on the walls. That's all there is to it!"
The following weekend I donned my oldest t-shirt and shorts, dragged the step ladder into my room and set about slapping the paint onto the walls exactly how Kristina said. I've been a happy domestic painter ever since!
Painting aside, Kristina also taught me how to cook for friends without a whole lot of fuss. Her favourite Thursday night meal was a good cut of meat, chicken or fish, served with what she called Crazy Salad. Basically you threw whatever you had in the crisper into a bowl, dressed it with whole egg mayonnaise, seasoned it with cracked pepper and rock salt and voila - dinner for ten!
250g organic chicken breast fillets
handful of baby spinach leaves
big handful of mixed salad leaves (leave out radicchio - it's far too bitter)
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
10 slices of telegraph cucumber, cut into thin strips
1 carrot, grated (or shredded if you've got a nifty grater that does that)
4 pitted kalamata olives, quartered
4 sun dried tomatoes, chopped
8 snow peas, trimmed and halved
1 ear of fresh corn (see below for cooking directions)
fresh dill (broken into small segments)
2 heaped tblsps whole egg mayonnaise
Salt & pepper to season
1. Trim the icky bits off the chicken breast fillets and feed them to your dog (I've said this before and I stand by this as a bonafide cooking procedure!). Heat a fry pan on the stove top and coat it with a little olive oil spray. Add the chicken breast fillets to the pan and seal them on both sides. Then remove them and using a carving fork and knife, slice the fillets into 1cm wide pieces, cutting at a diagonal through the meat. Return the pieces to the fry pan and continue to cook until tender.
2. Wash spinach and lettuce leaves and place in a large salad bowl. Add cherry tomatoes, cucumber, carrot, olives, sun dried tomatoes, snow peas and fresh dill, then toss lightly.
3. Cut the ear of corn into rounds so that the kernels and cob look like wagon wheels. Steam for three minutes in a steamer - corn will be semi-translucent when cooked. Emerse in cold water to bring back to room temperature. When cold, add to salad.
4. Drop the tablespoons of mayonnaise on top of the salad in big dollops. Don't attempt to mix it in!
5. Serve four or five pieces of grilled chicken per plate (you should have enough for two or three people). Place the salad bowl on the table and let people serve themselves. The great thing about this salad is it's really like a lucky dip - you just don't know what veggies will end up on your plate. And if people want a little or a lot of mayo, they'll scoop it off the top themselves. Yum!
It was the eighties, and God bless her, she couldn't help but be attracted to the recipe for quiche Lorraine. Quiche was incredibly popular in then - it was available on the menu of every cafe worth it's weight in salt, and was even adopted by the Queen of the supermarket freezer section, Sara Lee. But Quiche Lorraine, the genuine article in Mum's French cookbook, was unlike any quiche I've ever tasted. It was loaded with full fat cheese - and not just one cheese, it had four different kinds of cheese! Add to that was full fat cream and delicious chunks of bacon, all of which were included with every last skeric of their fat left on! And this paradise for the palate sat in a pastry that was to die for. If you've ever been to France you'll know they don't like to skimp on butter there. Quiche pastry is no exception to the rule - a delicate shortcrust, made with buckets of butter, why Quiche Lorraine was a minor revelation. And a one way ticket to a cardial infarction!
Years later, I've had to say goodbye to genuine French quiches. Instead I make egg pies. And believe it or not, egg pies can be quite good for you, depending on what you put in them. Here's a recipe for one I particularly enjoy. You can switch the ingredients round to suit your own tastes, but my one piece of advice is this: never leave the onion out!
1/2 half red onion, finely diced
1/4 red capsicum, finely diced
1 zuchini, grated
4 rashers bacon, fat removed, finely diced
125g low fat cottage cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
2 sheets puff pastry
1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius.
2. Combine red onion, capsicum, zuchini, bacon and cottage cheese in a large mixing bowl. Crack eggs over vegetables and stir with a wooden spoon until all ingredients are very well combined. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Line a greased loaf tin with puff pastry. You'll find one sheet will cover the bottom and the two long sides of the tin nicely. Cut the second sheet in half, then cut one piece in half again and cover ends of loaf tin, pressing overlapping pieces of pastry together to seal.
4. Pour egg and vegetable filling into pastry case. Place on middle shelf of oven and cook for one hour. Slide a skewer into the middle of the pie to check if it's cook (filling should be firm to the touch). If it comes out clean it's time to take the pie out of the oven. If not, another ten minutes should do the trick.
5. Carefully turn the pie out onto a wire rack. Turn it right side up, being careful not to break the pastry. Serve with mixed salad. Makes at least five good sized servings.
Some other filling combos
- 2 cups cooked baby spinach and 125g chopped fetta
- 125g chopped sundried tomatoes and 100g fat reduced hot salami
- 125g strips of smoked salmon and 65g capers
Remember - never leave the onions out!
Friday, August 20, 2004
I'd never heard such a thing! So I set about digging up a recipe for this mythical beast on the internet (oh, great library of cyberspace!). I came across several different instructionals but struck one that seemed quite reasonable. I discovered that red velvet cake was a chocolaty-butter cake which was coloured a deep red by no less than seven fluid ounces of red food dye.
Red food colouring, in my opinion (and the opinion of many scientists) can set off an episode of hyperactivity in normally sedate kids. That's why people with ADD kids should keep them away from raspberry cordial, red lollies or red iceblocks at all costs! The food dye sends them off their tree. I downloaded the recipe and put it in my file, afraid of what the consequences of creating such a scientifically incorrect cake would be. With so much red food dye in it, I'd have to ask everyone to sign a waiver before putting a single crumb to their lips, basically indemnifying me against untypical fits of mania or lapses into extreme states of hyperactivity which could ensue as a result.
Never the less, I went in search of the red food dye. In my heart, I knew Pillar Box Red was the one I was after. But in the city where I live, no supermarket was so insane as to stock such an item. They sold rose pink and cochineal, but no Pillar Box Red could be found. It wasn't until I paid a visit to my family in the Western Suburbs of Sydney that I struck gold. Red gold, that is. There on the shelves of Coles was an unending supply of red food colouring. Were they stupid, I asked myself? Then a thought occurred to me: city kids have a low incidence of ADD. Yet there is a high concentration of kids that suffer from the disorder and its more manic sibling, ADHD in the outer lying suburbs of the greater Sydney area. Why then was a food product like red food dye so easy to get in the very place where it could be deemed as having the most detrimental effect?
I bought the red food dye, I took it back to my home in the Eastern Suburbs, and put it in the cupboard. I let the Red Velvet Cake recipe languish.
But when a friend asked for a special Christmas cake, the image of a blood red cake covered in crispy snow white icing, decorated with green sugar leaves immediately sprang to mind. I asked my friend was anyone in her family allergic to red food colouring? She said no. And with that, I embarked on my first Red Velvet Cake.
Like all recipes, I found it flawed - for no reason other than it took four bowls to create the darned cake, which when you don't have a dishwasher, is annoying to say the least. I've modified that recipe substantially. And I now make the cake in miniatures, which does a lot to ease my conscience.
By the way - that guy from Miami never came to Australia. Turned out his profile was out of date by more than a year. He'd already BEEN here when we met - sheesh!
1 cup castor sugar
2 eggs - as fresh as possible
2 cups self raising flour
1 cup milk
1/4 cup cocoa
1 bottle red food colouring (7 fluid ounces)
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Prepare 15 individual sized heart shaped cake tins (available from any good department store) by greasing and arranging on two cookie trays.
2. Place butter, sugar, eggs, flour and milk in the small bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on low speed until all ingredients are roughly combined. Then increase speed to seven (three quarters of the way to high if you don't have a Sunbeam Mixmaster) and beat for five to seven minutes. Mixture should become creamy, glossy and thick.
3. Pour red food colouring into a 1 cup Pyrex jug. Add cocoa and mix together until cocoa and liquid form a thick red paste. Be patient - you need to do this slowly, mainly because it takes a while to wet the cocoa, but also because if you flick the food dye onto anything it honestly WILL look like someone was murdered in your kitchen. And be careful - it stains!
4. Scoop red cocoa paste out of jug and add to cake mix. Beat on slow to combine, then increase speed to ensure colour is evenly distributed throughout. Use a scraper to ensure no white mixture is left on the sides or bottom of the bowl. Then add bicarbonate soda and mix thoroughly for another minute.
5. Drop one tablespoon of mixture into each of the heart shaped cake tins. Tin should be no more than half full, otherwise you'll end up with an over risen and possibly misshapen cake.
6. Bake in moderate oven for 30 minutes. When done, run a knife around the edge of each tin, then loosen each cake by hand and turn out of tin onto wire rack. Allow to cool completely.
7. To make filling, combine 65gs butter with 1 and 1/2 cups of icing sugar mixture and 1-2 tblsp of milk in a small bowl. Beat with an electric mixture until ingredients are completely combined and mixture is pale and creamy. Filling should be thick and have the spreading consistency of butter.
8. Cut each cake in half crossways. Spread top half of cake with 1-2 tsp of filling. Sandwich onto bottom half of cake. Continue until all are filled. Dust tops with extra icing sugar to create a snowy white effect. Makes 15 cakes which keep for five days.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Nana was a salad nut in those days (she still might be, but I'm not sure what's on the daily menu at the place where she lives). And the essential ingredient to any salad, as far as Nana was concerned, was beetroot. Now, any sensible Australian know beetroot definitely belongs on a good hamburger. But in salad? Sliced or whole, the beetroot invariably wees it's red juice on everything it touches.
I never bent to Nana's love of beetroot in salad. Never the less, I'm aware that beetroot is somewhat of a superfood. Toss a fresh beetroot into your juicer with a carrot and an apple and you've got a veritable feast, albeit in a glass. But it seems to me that the best thing to do with a beetroot is roast it. Looks impressive on the plate, tastes delicious on the palate!
fresh beetroots (one per person)
1. Put on a pair of latex gloves. I promise you, you'll thank me for this later!
2. Cut the stems and leaves off the top of the beetroot and discard. Trim off the pointy end of the root at the other end of your beet. Then hold the beet in the palm of your gloved hand and peel it. Repeat with each one until all are peeled.
3. Preheat oven to 200 degrees celcius.
4. Arrange peeled beets in a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil then season with salt and pepper.
5. Roasted in oven for 90 minutes. Serve with Chicken Pot Roast or Roast Beef.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
The first time round, Dad discovered Maggi Cook-in-the-Pot. This was basically a packet mix which you added to your pot roast - albeit it beef, chicken, lamb or whatever (thank God it was never tripe!). At the time I loathed pot roast because all too often it turned out like stew and I simply couldn't abide by the indiscriminate way ingredients blended in stew. I like the foods on my plate to be clearly defined. I wouldn't go so far as to demand that nothing touches on the plate - but I do want to know what's what.
Dad and his darned Maggi Cook-in-the Pot was a major confront to my sense of culinary order. On one occasion I thought I would ambush his efforts by arriving in the kitchen ahead of the normal dinner-making schedule and undertake to prepare the meal myself.
"Na, na, na, na" Dad said, bolting to the kitchen from the back verandah (an important place of contemplation). "I'm cooking tonight," he asserted.
"But I'd like to cook tonight!" I said, miffed at being thwarted. Dad didn't answer. I knew there was no chance of changing his mind. And for dinner that night we had... Maggi Cook-in-the-Pot. AGAIN!
So when I was looking for a different way of cooking chicken for a warm winter gathering of friends, I was a little reticent about the recipe I found for Chicken Pot Roast. I read the ingredients, and thought maybe there was a chance to reunite myself with Pot Roast. After all, we'd had a 20 year hiatus. But I liked the idea of something cooked in the oven with little or no involvement from me. It would leave me time to tend to my guests. Here's what I came up with...
4 x 125g chicken breast fillets
1 large leak
Pinch of salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
200ml chicken stock
2 tblsp olive oil
3 tblsp water
1 dstsp cornflour (corn starch)
1. Cut all the icky bits off the chicken breast fillets and feed them to your dog. For me, that's quite a bit of the chicken, so I buy ones that are a little bigger than prescribed. Arrange the chicken in a casserole dish, preferably one with a lid. If you haven't got a casserole dish, you can use a regular baking dish (ceramic or glass is best).
2. Slice leak into 6mm rounds, ensuring you use all the tender white section and most of the lighter green section. Don't use the tough dark green section. Arrange the slices of leak over the chicken breast fillets. Season with the salt and pepper.
3. Cover with cling film and refridgerate for 24 hours. The chicken will take on the gorgeous flavour of the leaks and the seasoning during this time. You can just go straight to the next step if time is limited, but I highly recommend this "dry" marinating period for extra flavour.
4. Combine chicken stock and olive oil in a glass jug. Stir vigorously to combine then pour over marinated chicken.
5. Place casserole dish (with lid) in middle shelf of oven, pre-heated to 180 degrees Celsius. If you're using a baking dish, cover completely with aluminium foil. Roast for 1.5 hours. Because there's so much liquid in the pot, the chicken will effectively poach itself. Don't worry, despite being white, it's definitely cooked - and deliciously tender.
6. Heat a medium sized frypan on the stove top. Coat with a light spray of olive oil. Add pot-roasted chicken pieces. Brown on both sides to give the chicken some colour - do not over do! This is for appearance only, since the chicken is already cooked.
7. Add the leaks and chicken stock from the casserole dish to the frypan. Combine water with cornflour and mix until smooth. Add to chicken stock and leaks, stirring constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Continue to stir until sauce thickens and comes to the boil.
8. Place chicken pieces back in sauce and allow to reheat. Serve on a bed of wilted baby spinach with side serving of roasted root vegetables, spooning the sauce carefully over the chicken pieces, ensuring everyone gets several pieces of leak.
Friday, August 13, 2004
Time after time, burgers came out with oversized, under toasted buns, tough and tastless buns. Sandwiched between the two bits of miserable bun was a rissole - not a burger - made of poor quality (dare I say porky-tasting) beef which sat two inches high, yet failed to reach the edges of the bread. If I asked for cheese on the burger, more often than not I got a greasy piece of tasty cheese caked onto either the top or the bottom of the bun, smeared with tomato sauce, or plastered to a piece of limp lettuce.
Shameful! And I said so every time I was confronted by such a monstrosity. It is not hard to make a great burger. And now I'm going to tell you exactly how.
1 hamburger bun
125g lean beef mince
1/2 brown onion, thinly sliced
BBQ sauce - as much as you want
1 slice Kraft cheddar cheese (or Bega Superslims for a low fat option)
three slices ripe red tomato
three slices of beetroot
one large lettuce leaf, broken into bun-sized pieces
1. Slice hamburger bun in half and set aside.
2. Take beef mince in palm of hand and stand over your kitchen sink. Squeeze the beef together, shaping it into a sphere. Continue squeezing it together (some juice may run out which is why you're standing over your kitchen sink), then pat it down with the palm on your hand, reshaping it into a rough round where cracks form at the edge. Flatten it to roughly the same size as your bun. Place in a preheated fry pan, sprayed with olive oil spray.
3. Flatten burger further with an egg lifter. Allow to cook for two minutes then flip. Flatten with egg lifter again, then DO NOT TOUCH AGAIN. Cook for a further two minutes or until well browned on both sides. Remove from pan and set aside.
4. Add onions to frypan. Sprinkle with a little water to accelerate cooking process. This will also help lift the beef juices from the bottom of the pan, adding vital flavour to your onions. Cook until brown and tender.
5. While onions are cooking, toast both sides of both pieces of your bun. Do not over toast!
6. Squirt BBQ sauce onto bottom piece of bun. Place beef burger on bun. Pile onions on top of beef burger then add more sauce (if you like!). Cover with slice of processed cheese. You can slide back under the grill at this stage if you want your cheese very melted. Otherwise just let the heat from the burger to the work.
7. Transfer semi-assembled burger to serving plate. Layer tomato pieces over cheese, then balance beetroot pieces on top of tomato. Finally, add lettuce leaf pieces, cover with bun top.
8. Now eat!
Notes: I know many people think processed cheese is sacrilege, and in many ways I agree. But it honestly is the best cheese for burgers because of the way it melts. Also note there's nothing added to the beef mince to bind it together. No egg, no bread crumbs and definitely no grated carrot (revolting!). If you do the squishing process properly, you don't need any binding agents. Besides, if you've bought good beef, why spoil its beautiful flavour? I promise you this will be the best beef burger you've tasted in your life! What's more, it's seriously low in fat, so I say boycott the mass burger chain, and start making your own - as often as you like!
But my favourite of all was apple crumble. There is something altogether comforting about the fragrance of fresh Granny Smith apples, their green skin peeled off in one continuous snake-like coil, sliced, cored then tossed into a pot to stew with three or four whole cloves.
Indeed apple crumble holds a special place in other people's hearts too, as I discovered one time at a dinner party I held a couple of years ago. It was my grandest effort ever - dinner for nine, with chocolate almond cake as dessert. Only my best friend, Jeannette doesn't eat chocolate. So I made a single-size apple crumble especially for her, and brought it out with the first two servings of chocolate almond cake. My guests became positively overcome with excitement when they spotted the lone apple crumble.
"I know how this works!" one of them squealed. "It goes, cake, crumble, cake, then I'm getting the next crumble!"
I was mortified! The chocolate almond cake was my piece de resitance! Seated in a white plate, decorated with strawberry coulis and finished with a dob of clotted cream, I couldn't understand why anybody would want apple crumble instead of my wonderful creation! When I said there was only one apple crumble, everyone thought I was joking. How could I make just one, they demanded? Easy, I told them. As a single woman, I knew how to make a world of food in individual serves.
I served them all the bloody chocolate cake, which they ate, and begrudgingly enjoyed. But I know deep down inside they were wishing it was apple crumble.
4 Granny Smith green apples, peeled, cored, sliced into 16ths
two whole cloves
1/2 cup coconut
1/4 cup brown sugar
1.5 cup self raising flour
1. Place the apple slices and cloves in a pot and cover with water. Bring to boil on stovetop, then simmer until apples are soft (about three minutes). Do not over stew or apple pieces will turn to mush!
2. Drain excess water from apples and transfer to a baking dish. Preheat the oven to 18 degrees Celsius.
3. In a mixing bowl, combine coconut, brown sugar and self raising flour.
4. Melt butter in microwave oven (should take no more than 45 seconds on high). Add butter to coconut, sugar and flour then stir with a fork until all ingredients are moistened and mixture appears crumbly. Spoon onto top of stewed apples.
5. Bake uncovered in oven for approximately 20 minutes or until crumble is lightly browned on the top. When a delicious smell of caramel wafts through your kitchen, that's usually when the crumble is perfectly cooked.
6. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Serve in dishes with icecream or whipped cream (or both!).
Note: there are many variations of crumble that are equally as good as this one. I tend to make a 1.5 size batch of crumble because the more crumble the better. You can exchange rollled oats in place of the coconut (or keep the coconut too and add a little extra butter). You can also add a teaspoon of ground cloves to the crumble mix, which my mother tells me is absolutely heavenly.
Monday, August 09, 2004
Back in the 80s, creamy sauces reigned supreme! I had a friend named Mark who dared to open his own cafe, The Workshop, in Darlinghurst, which featured numerous dishes swimming in creamy sauces. It was in this cafe that I first tasted fettucine bosciaola. What a taste sensation! Having been raised on spaghetti bolognese, I never knew pasta could taste so good.
The Workshop Cafe became a regular hangout for me and my dance party-loving cronies. We congregated there several nights a week, whether it was to dine or simply to grab a coffee and listen to the latest house music release. We were still buying records then - and by that I mean twelve inch wide pieces of shiny black vinyl with little grooves going round and round in concentric circles. We'd snap up the latest dance floor hit down at Central Station Records, dub it onto cassette at home, then arrive at The Workshop, commandeer the tape deck and pump up the volume regardless of whether there were regular customers in the place or not.
Mark struggled to keep The Workshop Cafe afloat. Apparently it's not easy running a restaurant. The pressure of the day to day desperation to break even, combined with the back breaking hard work took its toll on Mark. When he found out he was HIV positive, it all became too much and he decided to bow out of life all together. Our little community was stunned. Mark's departure shattered what we might have called our innocence. Life sure wasn't the same after that.
But Mark's legacy to my culinary development is plain: creamy bosciaola sauce. It's making a comeback, thanks to Carnation Light and Creamy milk. Here's Mark's recipe, albeit fat reduced. I'm sure he'd be delighted that I've chosen to share it. In a way, his bosciaola has guaranteed his immortality. Can't ask for more than that!
4 rashers shortcut bacon (ie rind removed, fat trimmed)
2 cloves garlic
olive oil spray
1 dessert spoon cornflour
125ml Carnation Light & Creamy Milk
100ml fresh cream
12 button mushrooms
Pinch of black pepper
Pinch of salt
3/4 Packet Fettucine
1/4 cup white wine
Parmesan cheese to garnish
1. Place fetuccine in boiling water. Cooking on high simmer for about 10 minutes.
2. To prepare the sauce, slice the bacon into strips about 4mm wide. Spray frying pan with olive oil spray then add bacon, cooking on a medium high heat. Do not allow bacon to become crispy!
3. Add crushed garlic and stir until garlic is browned. Add cornflour and stir to coat bacon.
4. Add Carnation Milk and stir until cornflour has dissolved.
5. Thinly slice mushrooms and add to pan, stirring to combine. Add fresh cream and white wine, stirring again. Reduce heat to low simmer and leave to cook for about five minutes. Mushrooms will become tender and will reduce in bulk. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Tip cooked pasta into a colander and shake to drain excess water. (Do not rinse! The glutinous starch on the pasta helps the sauce to stick to it.) Place back in saucepan.
7. Pour sauce over pasta and stir until pasta is completely coated.
8. Serve in warmed plates. Garnish with extra freshly ground pepper, grated Parmesan and a sprig of parsley. Serves 3 people.