Thursday, 29 April 2010

Pavlova Magic

Pavlova - although probably originating in New Zealand - is the quintessential Australian family dessert. For every barbecue or event where everyone "brings a plate", someone will bring a pav. They always go faster than the cheesecake.

At its best, a pavlova is crisp on the outside, squidgy and marshmallowy inside. The cream is whipped into billowy softclouds and is unsweetened. The fruit is quite tart, but perfectly ripe, fresh and abundantly applied. At worst, the cream will be sweet and squirted from a can, the meringue will taste of cornflour and the fruit will be syrupy tinned peach segments.

I don't make a good pavlova. For some reason I have a lot of trouble getting the eggwhites to just the right stage before I add my sugar, I add my sugar at the wrong speed and it all ends up going wrong.

For people like me, there is the gloriously tacky and retro plastic egg, the Pavlova Magic. You take the sachet of powdered eggwhite and gelatine out of the egg, fill the base of the egg with water, the top of the egg with caster sugar and away you go. Perfect. And no need to figure out what to do with all the eggyolks.

The down-side to the Pavlova Magic is that it really doesn't taste of anything but sugar. So for this one, I added a good splash of vanilla at the water stage, and folded 60g chopped white chocolate into the meringue just before baking.

On top of the cream I used raspberries and pomegranate seeds, with shavings of white chocolate.

Other brilliant pavlova topping combinations: passionfruit, strawberry and kiwifruit (a real classic); sliced white peaches with raspberries; chunks of mango, pineapple and passionfruit. It's not an excuse to serve the leftover fruitsalad. It deserves careful construction.

If you do need to transport one to someone else's house, it's usually easier to take the elements separately and assemble them on the spot, but otherwise put it in a big cake carrier, don't cover it in cling film, because the meringue will sweat and everything will sink and wilt

Monday, 26 April 2010

Meat-Free Monday - home made pizza

For a few years after I left university, I lived in the Inner West of Sydney. Not a lot of public transport, very high insurance premiums because of the rate of car thefts, and really excellent pizza. The Inner West - Balmain, Leichhardt, Annandale, Haberfield, Five Dock - is the area that traditionally had a high level of Italian immigration, which means you can get amazing gelato, fantastic espresso, pre-soaked baccala and have the trauma of someone calling you Signora instead of Signorina for the first time.

Our favourite pizza places were both in Haberfield. La Disfida and Napoli in Bocca. Both produced wafer thin, flavoursome pizza crusts, with the merest suggestion of a topping, dripping-fresh mozzarella blistered by the heat, anointed with a drizzle of olive oil just before it came to the table. Napoli in Bocca won for me, because it was a lot bigger, so you were more likely to get a table.

Since we left Sydney, I have pined for pizza. We do actually have 3 pizza places that deliver to us, but one of those is Dominos, and it isn't the worst, so I think that is all you need to know on that score.

Then, for Easter, Paul bought me a Weber pizza stone for the barbecue and the ball, as it were, was in my court.

I started with youtube. I came across this tutorial on how to toss pizzas. I figured that if the man had the skills to show ambidextrous pizza tossing, he was the go-to guy for pizza crust recipes. And so he is. I mixed and kneaded by hand, but otherwise followed the recipe. It's a lovely dough to work with! Really silky and elastic. We didn't want big pizzas, so I divided the dough into 4 balls.

I happen to think that the true test of a pizza is a margarita. Plain, simple, tomato, basil and mozzarella. If you get those right you can see the true beauty of a pizza, and maybe progress to a slice of mushroom or a bit of sausage. Or better yet - Quattro Formaggi! On no account should pineapple EVER feature. Same goes for sweetcorn. Blergh. So I made a really simple sauce - a couple of cloves of garlic, finely sliced, sauteed in olive oil until beginning to brown, then a can of chopped tomatoes and a slosh of balsamic vinegar, and I just simmered it slowly, crushing it to a smooth sauce with a fork, until it was thick and rich. Seasoned with salt and pepper and it was done.

Unfortunately, on this first attempt, it was too windy out to light the Weber. And then we discovered that the Weber pizza stone is too big for our oven. So we had to revert to my old aluminium pizza trays. Good thing I never throw anything away.

A smear of sauce, some torn buffalo mozzarella and some basil leaves soaked in oil. The oven preheated to 240C. In 10 minutes, the crust puffed up hugely, the base remained thin and crisp, the cheese ran and the sauce bubbled. It was the best pizza I have had in this country.

Stay tuned for further pizza adventures, as we actually get to use the pizza stone!

Friday, 23 April 2010

Pulled Brisket Sandwiches

I had a brisket in the fridge, but not enough space for a tupperware for curing it. So I decided to have a crack at that classic of Southern American cooking, the pulled brisket. Now the last time I tried to do pulled meat, it wasn't very successful. I guess an English supermarket chain aren't the best people to get recipes from for American dishes. So I turned to an American website, and found this recipe, which very conveniently used the chipotle in adobo that I bought recently. I don't have a slow cooker, so I did it in a Le Creuset in the oven on a low temperature for 4 hours, and that was perfect. And that was the meat sorted out.

But of course, woman cannot live on meat alone - even lovely luscious, sauce-rich shreds of pulled brisket. I've had an ambition to bake good hamburger buns, ever so slightly sweet, not too heavy but substantial enough to hold together under a weight of delicious filling. I found this recipe, on Rosa's Yummy Yums, which certainly seemed to answer. I used some whey instead of water, and they were perfect. Absolute heaven. This will definitely be my go-to recipe, although I think that for our appetites, making 6 buns out of the dough is probably a better idea.

I had a small green cabbage, and a red pepper in the fridge, so coleslaw seemed obvious. I don't like really creamy coleslaw, and this recipe for Emeril's Kicked Up Cole Slaw sounded really good. It was tangy, light and delicious.

All in all, these were fantastic sandwiches! And the next day we had leftover meat, with some leftover coleslaw, and some baked beans, with some bacon and smoky barbecue sauce added, to make them more interesting. I still have a container of the meat in the freezer - I think that will probably be tacos at some stage down the track.

This wonderful sandwich is going for Souper (soup, salad and sammie) Sundays at Deb's Kahakai Kitchen - do check and see what else is in the round up this week!SouperSundays

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

School Holiday Treat - Polpo

One thing that you should know about me is that I am not an early adopter of technological trends. I don't particularly like technology, and I certainly don't leap to embrace it. I only got my first mobile phone about 5 years ago and I resent my dependence on it. I think mobile phones make people impolite and disorganised. I don't do Facebook. I don't do Iphones. I have an ipod but the poor thing languishes in my desk because I refuse to learn how to use it. And I don't do Twitter.

I must admit, there is a certain inconsistency in a blogger not liking technology, but it's not as if I was an early adopter of web-logging.

The drawback to all of this, is the "cutting off my nose to spite my face" element. I don't find out about the underground markets, the pop-up restaurants, the hot new eateries until they are mainstream, and even when I do hear about them I tend to refuse to go until the Tweeting classes are bored and have moved on to something else.

Which is why I have only now been to Polpo, on Beak St. And that's a shame, because it was lovely.

Jude and I decided that little plates of Venetian food would be just the thing for our Easter school holiday treat. Going at lunchtime also avoids the necessity of queuing, because they do take bookings for lunch.

We weren't entirely sure how many plates we should order, so we consulted with the waiter, and I think we got it bang on.

To begin with we had some chicheti and crostini - little, individually priced morsels. The chicken liver crostini was absolutely delicious. The parmesan and potato croccheta was as tender, velvety and cheesy as you could want (I could easily have made a meal just of them). Unfortunately the salt cod on polenta was less successful - the polenta was freezing cold and made an unpleasant base for the even more unpleasant woolly shreds of soaked salt cod.

Then we had a lovely fritto misto, a perfect rabbit terrine, a very delicious dish of pork belly with radicchio and hazelnuts and some absolutely gorgeous white beans cooked with wild garlic.

For dessert, Jude had a glass of vin santo, with very nice-looking biscotti for dunking while I had a honey and walnut semifreddo. I would have preferred the semifreddo in a bowl - I don't really like icecream cones - but it was very good, and as the last inch of the icecream cone was solid dark chocolate, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

With a bottle of wine, and a 12.5% service charge, it came in at £30 each. Very good value, I thought!

Unfortunately, it was so noisy that we didn't feel like sitting longer over coffee. There isn't much point in a long gossipy lunch if you can't hear the gossip! But definitely worth another visit, when the food is more important than the conversation.

By the way - Urchin now has her own blog. If you are interested in more photos of my beautiful cat, they can be found at http://urchinsphotos.blogspot.com/. I'm not sure how often that one will be updated, but at least once a week, I think!

Friday, 16 April 2010

Brown Rice Dolmades

I've got several bundles of vineleaves in the freezer, and just lately, every time I have opened it, they have been taunting me and demanding that I make some dolmades. So I did.

Brown Rice Dolmades

1 cup brown rice
3 cloves garlic
2 tbs pinenuts
2 tbs green olive tapenade
1 tsp dried dill
Zest and juice of a lemon
Olive oil
1 cup tomato passata
preserved vine leaves

Parboil the rice until almost cooked. Combine the rice with the chopped garlic, pinenuts, tapenade, dill and lemon zest. Taste for seasoning. Roll up in vineleaves - this quantity made about 24 tiny wee ones.

Place a good glug of olive oil into a heavy-based pan, and layer the dolmades up with the lemon juice and the tomato passata, then add another good glug of olive oil. Cover and cook gently until the leaves are tender and the juices are almost all absorbed. Serve at room temperature.

We had them with kleftiko (made with a small shoulder of mutton), tzatziki and some red peppers stuffed with cherry tomatoes & garlic. καλή όρεξη !

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Cherry Blossom Dinner

Under cherry trees
soup, the salad, fish and all...
seasoned with petals
Mitsuo Basho (1644-94)


For the last couple of years, Paul has been working on developing a Fuji Cherry (prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai') into a bonsai. It's very early days for shaping it, but it already puts out a profusion of blossoms in spring.

To celebrate the blossom this year, we decided to bring it indoors and have a Japanese meal under it. We didn't compose any haiku ourselves, but we thought Basho had already captured the moment perfectly. Even if he didn't mention the additional scattering of petals brought through the house on Urchin's tail.

Our menu:

  • Rice with umeboshi (pickled plums)
  • Miso soup, given an additional fresh kick with lemongrass and ginger (an idea from Deb's Kahakai Kitchen)
  • Crisp, panko-crumbed & deepfried soft-shell crab
  • Salt-grilled sardines
  • Steamed king-crab legs
  • A dipping sauce of ginger, lemon and soy
  • Aubergine simmered in mirin and soy, garnished with spring onions
I drank chilled umeshu (plum wine). Paul drank warm sake. We toasted the arrival of the blossoms and the summer to come.



Saturday, 10 April 2010

First Barbecue of Spring 2010


It's a couple of weeks later than last year, but I hereby launch the 2010 barbecue season. May the gods bless your coals and guide your tongs.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Happy Easter - Hot Cross Buns

For this year's hot cross buns, I followed the same recipe as last year. Only change was a couple of chopped up dried apricots, because I didn't have quite enough dried cherries.

I wanted my crosses to be a pretty shade of pink, but my colouring paste does RED or nothing, so the icing crosses are a bit on the lurid side.

This year I found the dough to be unworkably sticky and I ended up having to add quite a lot of extra flour, so I think next year I will start with 1/2 cup milk, and add more if it seems dry.

Have a lovely Easter everyone! This 4 day weekend business is wonderful - it feels like a proper break. And Paul is home, so that is nice too!
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