Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Coconut Roughs

As a little kid, my one true passion in life was the pursuit of lollies (that's candy to all the folks in America).

When either of my parents paid a visit to the corner shop in the evenings, my sister and I always hoped they would return with a little extra something for us. Quite often they did, but there were also times when they did not. These were very disappointing occasions indeed!

Control over my lollie supply became a reality when my mother began paying my sister and I pocket money. I was paid a grand some of twenty cents a week (I do believe my sister got fifty cents, which after a couple of years of protest, I was awarded as well). With that twenty cent piece in my hand, my first thought was what lollie I could get for my money? My favourite chocolate bar at the time was Chokito - a very expensive proposition, at twenty five cents a bar - and certainly out of my price range.

The more attractive option for me was a Golden Rough - at twelve cents each, I was left with eight cents to purchase a bag of mixed lollies, usually on my way to school, as soon after breakfast as possible! Mixed lollies were in fact great value for money then - many were priced at two for one cent, so with my limited budget, it was possible to get quite a good stash.

When I was ten years old, my neighbour, Vera Mudford, hired me to walk her five year old charge, Michael, to school each day. Michael was in infant's school - he was a bit of a brat, but not intolerably so. It was easy to put up with him for the fortune I was paid at the end of every week - fifty cents!!! With this money in my pocket, Chokitos were within my grasp!

On my first pay day, I told my sister I was off to the corner shop to buy two Chokitos - one for me and one for her. She was delighted. I hot footed it up the street, cut behind the local library, then down the block to Dunny's corner shop (it seemed a mammoth journey back then, but these days, I'd probably be able to walk it in five minutes flat). I purchased the precious Chokitos and headed for home. But the thought of having those Chokitos in my hot little hands was too much for me to bear - all that money had given me a feeling of immense power (at least in my own eyes). Suddenly I was capable of buying a grown up's chocolate bar without anyone controlling my purchasing power. It was almost too much for me to handle. I rapidly scoffed one of those Chokitos on the trip home and found it impossible to part with the other.

That purchasing power certainly grew to be a terrible monkey on my back. Years later as an adult, I never failed to collect one or two chocolate bars on the way to work each morning, and usually had consumed them both by 9.30am! It has taken many years to iron that terribly bad bug out of my eating habits. These days, I mostly choose rice crackers to snack on. But there is still the odd morning when I'm tempted by a Coconut Rough... I try not to feel too guilty about it when I give in to temptation. Old habits, it seems, die hard.

125g dark cooking chocolate
65g copha (vegetable fat solids)
100g shredded coconut

1. Melt chocolate and copha in microwave oven. This should take about four minutes. Check chocolate at two minutes, thirty seconds - it should be melted. Stir copha into chocolate, encouraging it to melt, but return to microwave for further heating to complete the process.

2. Lightly grease a mini muffin tin with olive oil spray.

3. Pour melted chocolate and copha mix over shredded coconut. Mix until coconut is completely coated with chocolate.

4. Spoon teaspoon-fulls of mixture into mini muffin pans. You can make the coconut roughs as thick or thin as you like!

5. Refridgerate for ten minutes to solidify chocolate.

6. Lightly twist each coconut rough to loosen from tin. Store in airtight container in fridge. Makes about 40 coconut roughs.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Chili Garlic Spirali

There have certainly been times in my life where funds were less then adequate and I've really had to put my thinking cap on where food is concerned. Back in the late eighties, being the exuberant and perhaps a little impetuous young woman I was, I up and quit my job without bothering to find another one to go to first. Not the best approach to maintaining a stable life. Never the less, in the weeks it took me to get myself gainfully re-employed, I concocted a number of meals that could be made out of the supplies I already had in my kitchen cupboard.

The first was pancakes - easily done, thanks to a good supply of flour, eggs and milk. I had these for breakfast virtually every day (feeding a number of friends, also out of work at that time), served with maple syrup (until that ran out) or honey (until that ran out too). In those days I still drank orange juice, so I'd splurge the two dollars to buy a litre of Daily Juice - everyone started the day happy with a full belly.

Another great povo meal was steamed vegetables. Sweet Chili sauce was yet to hit the big time back then, so I used to eat my steamed potatoes, carrots and zuchinnis with a big dollop of sour cream - if I shopped right and didn't invite anyone to dinner, steamed veggies and sour cream could last an entire week.

But on one occasion I did make the mistake of inviting friends to dinner. I put my thinking cap on then scoured my cupboard, trying to work out exactly what I could feed my guests. I had nothing that would really do except a big bag of spirali pasta. I couldn't afford the mince to make a bolognese sauce. Instead I grabbed my (almost empty) purse and headed off to the fruit a veg market. I spotted garlic - twenty cents for one whole bulb. I grabbed that, then spied the fresh chilies section. They were pricey - if you were going to buy a whole kilo, which I was not. Turned out five little fresh chilies cost in the vicinity of eighteen cents. Whoo-hoo! On the way out the door, I snagged a bunch of fresh coriander for fifty cents, and set off home.

Of course pasta is never good without the cheese, so I stopped at the supermarket, grabbed a bag of shredded parmesan, and then I was set.

Back at home, I threw everything together as quick as a flash. Before I knew it my guests were knocking on the door - to my delight, one had a French bread stick under one arm, the other was carrying a bottle of chardonnay. The house was filled with the aroma of garlic, fresh chilies and coriander. I served up a massive bowl of pasta and let everyone help themselves - it was one of the best dinners parties I've ever hosted. And of course it immortalised Garlic Chili Spirali for me as a gourmet delight - not the povo food I'd originally considered it to be.

1 cup spirali pasta
30g butter
2 whole cloves of garlic, peeled and minced 2 fresh chilies, sliced (remove the seeds if you don't like them too hot)
1 whole bunch fresh coriander, chopped
2 tblsp shredded parmesan cheese

1. Boil the spirali in a heavy bottomed saucepan for about 10 minutes or until cooked to al dente.

2. Drain the spirali and set aside. Reheat the saucepan and melt the butter.

3. Add the minced garlic and reduce the heat - do not let the garlic burn.

4. Add the chopped chilies and stir to combine.

5. Then add the coriander and stir for about half a minute to release the beautiful aroma of the herbs.

6. Add the spirali back into the saucepan and stir until the garlic, chili and coriander has coated the pasta.

7. Finally add the parmesan and stir. Serve in a pasta bowl with crusty French bread and a glass of wine on the side. Garnish with a little extra cheese if desired.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Old Fashioned Hot Cakes

It is a sorry fact that the age old tradition of afternoon tea has fallen by the wayside. Thanks to the proliferation of cafes, restaurants, brasseries and even pubs, not too many people entertain for afternoon tea anymore.

Yet is was something that used to happen in our house all the time when I was a kid. An aunty and a bunch of cousins would call to say they were coming over for afternoon tea, and my mum would quickly get to the kitchen, whipping up any one of her classic afternoon tea favourite - sponge cake and cream, a batch of scones or even some humble old pikelets. Whatever it was, it came together quickly, and was on the table in time for the arrival of the guests, served up with a big fresh pot of tea.

That's POT - not mug. We actually used to make tea from leaves, a fine art, I must say, which I spent my childhood developing, that seems to also have fallen by the wayside. There is nothing like a cup of tea poured from the pot - the water is boiled fresh (as opposed to reusing whatever was left in the kettle from the last time you boiled it), the teapot has been warmed before hand, the tea leaves falling to the bottom in anticipation of their imminent rehydration. Once the water is add, still on a rolling boil, the teapot lid goes on and the brew is left to draw for at least five minutes to extract all the flavour out of the tea leaves. A cuppa brewed from a soggy old teabag just can't compare. The tea tastes fresher, the flavour is far superior, and somehow, sipping from a cup instead of slurping from a mug seems so much more civilised.

I held an afternoon tea for friends last year, and everyone commented on how it was a shame nobody took time for afternoon tea anymore - at least, not in the comfort of their own home. Sitting around the table, snacking on something sweet (or savoury!), sipping tea, chatting with friends. Honestly, there's nothing quite like it.

2/3 cups breadcrumbs
3 tblsp self raising flour
1 tblsp sugar
1 cup warm milk
2 eggs, separated

1. Combine the breadcrumbs, flour and sugar in a large bowl.

2. Warm the milk in the microwave for 90 seconds - do not allow to boil.

3. Whip the egg whites with an electric mixer until firm peaks form.

4. Stir the warm milk into the breadcrumb mix.

5. Beat the egg yolks, then fold through the breadcrumb mix.

6. Now fold the egg whites through the breadcrumb mix and set aside for 10 minutes.

7. Heat a fry pan or a skillet - I found my old Sunbeam electric skillet worked best - and coat with olive oil spray.

8. Pour one third of a cup of mixture into the hot pan. When bubbles appear on the surface of the uncooked side (there won't be many), gently lift with an egg lifter and flip to cook other side. Hot cake is cooked when springy to the touch.

9. Repeat until all mixture is used - yields approximately 10 hot cakes (more if you make them smaller). Serve with butter and honey, golden syrup or jam. OR if serving for breakfast, serve with a tablespoon of sweetened ricotta cheese and fresh strawberries.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Triple Chocolate Cookies

On the first day of High School, my father took me to the school hall, and much to my horror, he left me there by myself! Never the less, I was thrilled to be at high school - my last year of primary school had sucked big time, thanks to a last minute switch of horses (so to speak). High school was my chance to start over - a whole new bunch of kids, some from my old school, but many from other schools besides. I was thrilled when no one from my sixth grade class landed in my Year Seven class leaving the way clear for me to make a whole new group of friends.

Standing alone amongst the crowd was one girl, Kathy Dent. She seemed odd, which was attractive to me because I felt odd. We latched on to each other like castaways adrift in the sea, and pretty much stayed friends for the rest of high school.

Kathy was actually a super-brainy kid. I considered myself to be 'smart', but Kathy was intelligent. My quintessential failing was maths and science, whereas Kathy excelled in those subjects. We did, however, have a meeting of mind on English, art and last but not least, music. Not the kind they taught at school - I'm talking about the kind that came on flat black vinyl discs approximately seven inches wide. By the end of Year Seven, my dad had bought a pretty good stereo, but Kathy's dad - well his stereo was far superior. I liked to take my seven inch singles over to Kathy's and crank up the volume while enjoying the sounds of Prince, David Bowie, and of course Duran Duran (did Kathy really like them? She indulged my obsession, at least!).

Kathy arrived at my place one weekend; I can't remember whether it was for a study session, for music enjoyment or just to hang out. In her hand was a brown paper bag, and in the bag were four of the most magnificent cookies I've ever tasted in my life. Her mother had baked them and thought I might enjoy them! Big, fat, round chocolate cookies, jammed chock-a-block with choc chips, sandwiched together with luscious chocolate frosting. Those cookies were the bomb!

I often think about Kathy - I know she's married and has three kids (maybe more now!). I haven't seen her since high school, her third baby arriving a week or two before the reunion I held in 2002. I certainly have never forgotten those cookies - I sat down in my kitchen some years back and attempted to recreate them. These ones are not quite the same as Kathy's mum's cookies, but they come pretty damned close.

125g butter
1 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2 tsp ground mixed spice
1 cup plain flour
2 cups self raising flour
1/2 cup desicated coconut
2/3 cup milk
250g chocolate chips
1/2 cup cocoa

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Prepare baking trays by covering with a sheet of thick baking paper.

2. Cream butter and brown sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Add vanilla and egg, continuing to mix until thick and creamy.

3. Add mixed spice and plain flour. Mix until well combined. Add half the milk and continue to mix on a low speed. You may wish to switch from regular beaters to dough hooks at this stage as the mixture is about to get quite heavy.

4. Add coconut and cocoa and mix again until all ingredients are well combined. Add half of the remaining milk and continue to mix on low speed.

5. Add one cup of self raising flour and mix. Add chocolate chips and mix again. Now add the remaining milk and flour and continue to mix until all ingredients are well combined. The cookie dough should be quite stiff at this point. It will also be a little shiny and wet looking. Allow to stand for 15 minutes.

6. Roll teaspoons of mixture into balls, and position on cookie tray - make sure you leave a good amount of space between each. Flatten each cookie with the palm of your hand (you might like to flour your hand a little so that the cookie dough doesn't stick). Raw cookies should be about the size of a fifty cent piece (an Aussie one that is!). Bake in moderate oven for 12-15 minutes or until cookies are slightly crisp on the surface. Allow to cool on trays for five minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool and harden.

65g butter
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup icing sugar mixture
2 tblsp cocoa
1/2 tsp instant coffee powder

1. Beat butter and vanilla in the small bowl of an electric mixer until butter becomes light and creamy.

2. Gradually add cocoa and icing sugar until all ingredients are combined. Frosting should be quite thick. Add coffee powder and continue to mix until combined. Icing sugar should be a stiff spreadable consistency - you may need to add a little extra icing sugar if your frosting isn't thick enough.

3. When cookies are completely cold spread one teaspoon of frosting on the bottom of one cookie and sandwich it together with another cookie. Pair up cookies of similar size and shape to create the best effect. Allow about half an hour for frosting to set then serve. Makes about 28 complete cookie sandwiches.

Note: you will notice I never include sifting of flour or icing sugar in any of my recipes. I did away with sifting years ago as I got sick of washing the sifter then having to leave it out for days afterwards to dry! Sifting is actually an excellent way to lighten the texture of cakes and cookies. If you want to be a prize winning baker, then absolutely, sift your flour! Sifting should definitely be adhered to when making delicate items like sponge cakes (some recipes call for the flour in a sponge to be sifted three times before being added to the eggs). However, where everything else is concerned, the decision is entirely up to you.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

I've only had two dogs in my life - Derek, my current canine and love of my life, and Tina, aka Scrunch, the dog of my childhood, whom we treated like people.

When Scrunch arrived on the scene, I would have been three years old. She was a little black and tan bundle, supposedly my mother's dog, but absolutely devoted to my dad. Scrunch had a pretty good life as a dog - she first took up residence with us in Newcastle and then in Penrith, both houses having fairly decent back yards for a dog to roam around in. She didn't necessarily do much of that - her thing was sun baking. Scrunch wore a small round patch in the grass near the clothesline where she curled up to catch some rays every day while we were off at work, school or whatever.

Our yard in Newcastle had a vegetable garden in it, in which Mum liked to grow all manner of things. I mostly remember the fresh mint, parsley and chives because I was often sent out to pick a bunch of one or the other (or all three) to add to something Mum was cooking at the time. But Mum also took a shot at growing beans and strawberries, which turned out to be most interesting to Scrunch. Mum arrived home from work one day and headed down the back yard to check on her produce. She was horrified to find all the tiny strawberries gone, and the remains of the beans hanging in shreds off their stalks - Scrunch had eaten them all!

The dog was a gourmet! I don't ever remember her being fed dog food (although I could be wrong). She was people - and she ate people food. Roast beef, spaghetti bolognese, barbecued chicken - it was all an everyday part of her palate. And she didn't just eat anything either - she'd pick onions out of meals she was served, leaving them strewn on the newspaper placemat under her dish. She could also sniff out a box of chocolates from fifty paces. I remember receiving many a box of chocolates for my tenth birthday, all identified by Scrunch well before they'd even been unwrapped. And the thing Scrunch liked the most - a chocolate paddle pop. We always saved the last bit for her, which she diligently licked off the stick in a most people-like manner. (I was utterly shocked when I offered Derek his first paddle pop - he chewed it! I attempted to teach him how to lick the thing off the stick, but thus far he's never gotten the hang of it, and at eight years old... well, you know what they say about teaching old dogs new tricks!).

incidentally, when we put the house in Newcastle up for sale, the real estate agent was mortified by our vegetable garden, which fallow at the time. "Get rid of it!" he told my mother in no uncertain terms. "It looks like a grave!". Little did he know it had been Scrunch's daily source of gastronomic delights!

125g dark cooking chocolate
30g copha (vegetable solid)
1 punnet of strawberries

1. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a microwave proof bowl with the copha. Heat on high in microwave for approximately three minutes. Chocolate retains its form in the microwave even once it's melted, so check periodically by stirring with a spoon. Copha takes a fair bit of heat to melt, so don't microwave the chocolate until the copha melts! Instead, stir the solid copha into the melted chocolate until both are well combined.

2. Pour choc-copha mix into a small container big enough for deep dipping.

3. Wash strawberries, leaving on their green caps. Pat dry with absorbent kitchen paper.

4. Carefully hold single strawberry by green stalk and dip into chocolate, leaving a few millimetres of red skin exposed at the top. Allow excess chocolate to run back into the container, then lie strawberry on one side on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Repeat until all strawberries are coated with chocolate.

5. Place baking tray with strawberries on it in refrigerator and leave for 10 minutes. Chocolate will harden and develop a beautiful semi-matte sheen. Carefully peel each strawberry off baking paper and present on plain white plate to guests who will be stunned by your culinary skills!