About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Hashed Potato Pancakes
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A Matter of Opinion
Ruby Blood Navel Oranges
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Fennel, Guanciale & Fontina Quiche
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1001 Dinners 1001 Nights
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Cooked And Bottled In Brunswick
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Monday, December 27, 2010
Hazelnut Gateau

This very pretty cake has a special place in my repertoire, being the very first thing I ever baked for my wife. At the time, there was no knowing that one of her favourite nuts was the hazelnut, so proving a fortuitous choice, no?

The funny thing is though, that first one is not the same as the one I bake today, through a simple error of not following the recipe instructions exactly; however, the resulting cake turned out much better than the original.

It transpired I'd forgotten to halve the fat enriched dry mixture, used to line the baking tin as a base for the cake batter, made with the other half and all the wet ingredients.

This mistake of a cake had a much nicer crumb, quite dense but also very moist and heady with the rich spice like character of brown sugar

The other deviation, made on purpose this time, was instead of coarsely chopping the nuts, each one was painstakingly cut in half, dramatically lifting the presentation.

Hazelnut Gateau
(adapted from La Tante Claire by Pierre Koffmann)

300g brown sugar
240g plain flour
130g cold unsalted butter, cut into rough chunks
240ml sour cream - I use continental style, about 20% fat
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
200g hazelnuts, lightly roasted, skinned, each one cut in half or just coarsely chopped

Line a 24cm springform cake tin with baking paper and generously butter.

In a bowl, mix together the brown sugar and flour and rub in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse sand. Spread half the mixture in the cake tin if you want to follow the original recipe, or simply whisk the sour cream, baking powder and egg and add to the bowl containing the pastry mixture, mixing well. Pour this into the cake tin and spread evenly. Evenly sprinkle over the chopped hazelnuts and bake in a 180c oven for about forty minutes.

Leave to cool in the tin, then invert onto a plate, so that the hazelnut topping is uppermost, sprinkle with some icing sugar.
  posted at 2:34 pm

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

There are some dishes I make on a regular basis yet give no thought to presenting on the blog, simply because, to me, they seem, well, everyday. It's not that these recipes aren't tasty, they wouldn't get made if they weren't, but my feeling is, does the world really need another guacamole recipe for instance?

We were at a get together with friends where we had all brought a plate or two to share. I'd made some simple grilled chicken, marinaded while still warm with fresh coriander, cumin, chile and garlic, dressed with some olive oil and lime juice, partnered with a simple salad of Spanish leanings.

It was a last minute decision to make guacamole, perhaps driven by the leftover coriander, which never seems to keep very well, turning yellow in the blink of an eye.

When my friends tried this "Indian butter" as Huntley Dent describes it in his idiosyncratic book, The Feast of Santa Fe, they were rather startled.

'How did you make it?' they demanded to know.

My friends maintained they'd eaten guacamole plenty of times beforehand, but never like this, which left me somewhat bemused as it was just a standard preparation in our kitchen. It was its liveliness that drew their attention and made me realize, as a whole large bowl just evaporated, that for a lot of folk, guacamole can be, well, it has to be said, a tad boring.

Though Dent's book leans more towards TexMex, he gently reveals a deep affection for the foods of Mexico and strongly suggests that a bowl of simply mashed avocados and a touch of garlic salt is no guacamole at all. Yet a few think that something of this calibre qualifies as the real deal, but that is to sell this rich green sauce short.

Further, dashing any perceived pedantry, he goes on to say, 'Before giving several recipes for guacamole and its variants, I have listed nine approaches that turned up in my casual research. By mentioning these, you can instantly settle any passionate arguments over what is true guacamole - all of them are.'

One thing I'd like to add to that is you can't make a halfway decent guacamole without lime juice, if you don't have any limes make frijoles refritos or some pico de gallo instead; the creaminess of a properly ripe avocado insists on the aromatic tartness of a lime. With a bit of salt you could leave it there, the only other decision that needs to be made is answering the peanut butter question - do you like it rough with some texture or completely smooth and creamy?

The version I like to make is a bit chunky and also contains fresh coriander and tomato, but feel free to omit one or the other or even add a little finely chopped onion or green chile, perhaps a whisper of garlic. An important thing to note is you can't make this with hard unripe avocados, the creamy texture just won't materialize, just hard little tasteless chunks. The avocado should have just a slight give when pressed.

It's a sauce you'd be wise to only make when Haas avocados are in season. It could be made with other varieties but they seem to lack the full bodied flavour and rich butteriness of the Haas.

(serves 6)

2 or 3 ripe Haas avocados
1 lime, juiced
several stalks coriander with leaves, finely chopped
1 ripe tomato, finely diced

Cut the avocados in half, remove the seed and scoop out the flesh onto a chopping board. Roughly chop and place in a bowl with the lime juice, finely chopped coriander and finely diced tomato, season with salt. With a fork, mash the avocado until you reach the desired texture. Serve
  posted at 7:49 pm

Monday, December 20, 2010
The Salad Leaf
It was a pub, a pub with fine dining pretensions along with a very positive review by a well respected local blogger.

The interior was definitely upmarket and the food eclectic with many interesting notes.

We ordered and the meals came - in line with everything we'd expected.

Except for one thing, the stowaway hidden in the glistening tangle of my salad.

Fortunately, thank goodness, it wasn't animal, or happily for my dental health, not mineral, it was entirely of the vegetable persuasion.

Okay, it was a salad, but the dry elongated gum leaf had no right being there and I could eat no more of it. Mistakes do get made; it was what happened next that interested me.

After alerting our waiter, she said she'd let the kitchen know.

Not another word was spoken about the recalcitrant leaf from that point on, no apology, no comping the meal, no offer of an extra to make up for the uneaten salad.

What would you have expected the pub to do under the circumstances?
  posted at 8:49 pm

Saturday, December 18, 2010
Iced Mexican Mochachino

It kind of happened the stinking hot day I wanted an iced coffee but probably had too much time on my hands while waiting for the freshly brewed pot of espresso to cool - a series of 'what if?' moments.

Like, what if there was some Mexican chocolate...what if there was some Kahlúa?

Well, there was.

Mexican chocolate is quite a different animal to European chocolate, earthy and funky, spiced with cinnamon and contains coarse undissolved sugar crystals. It's really made for drinking and cooking and needs to be properly melted to dissolve the sugar, but makes for a superior drink.

Kahlúa, also hailing from Mexico, needs no introduction, other than as a coffee liqueur and indispensable ingredient of a Brown Cow.

Put them together and the result is a pretty impressive long cool rich drink with a frothy top, just like its namesake, mochachino. The shot of Kahlúa turns it into an adult drink, but there wouldn't be a problem with leaving it out and serving to grateful thirsty teenagers.

You do need to plan ahead though, as the coffee and Mexican chocolate need time to chill.

Iced Mexican Mochachino
(serves 4)

1 cup brewed strong coffee
1 tablet Mexican chocolate or 100g of whichever chocolate you prefer.
sugar to taste, if not using Mexican chocolate
3 cups cold milk
4 small scoops icecream
100ml Kahlúa - optional

Make Ahead

1 cup brewed coffee and melt the chocolate in 1 cup of hot milk until completely dissolved. Cool, then chill in the fridge.

In a blender, place the chilled coffee and dissolved chocolate, the rest of the milk, icecream and Kahlúa if using. Blend for a minute or so until nice and frothy. Serve in tall glasses.
  posted at 11:18 pm

Sunday, December 12, 2010
Swedish Meatballs

Sometimes, I wonder if the allen key was invented solely for the use of Ikea, so ubiquitous a tool it has become in assembling their range of furniture. Ikea, king and master of the flatpack, as you all probably know is based in Sweden and have continued on the ancient Viking tradition of conquering the world, with container ships serving as modern day longboats, sailing to every corner of the globe.

We are regulars at the Richmond store, not so much these days for the furniture or homewares but for our fix of meatballs in cream sauce with mashed potato and lingonberry sauce which seems to have garnered something of a cult following if the queues of people are anything to go by, or from the mentions of other bloggers.

You can also buy the meatballs and all the fixings to prepare in the comfort of your own home from the Ikea pantry, which is well worth a visit in its own right for the range of classic foodstuffs from Sweden, things like dilled crayfish and elderflower syrup for instance. Not forgetting the crispbreads either.

It was on one of our foraging trips that we came across the Ikea's Real Swedish Food Book, which, as luck would have it, contained the recipe for meatballs in cream sauce. Now, as good as the restaurant version is, anything home cooked has got to be better, if not a little more trouble.

Here's what Robert Jakubek, Ikea's Chef de Cuisine and product range manager has to say about them.

"Meatballs have to be just the right size - not too big and not too small - and served with a real cream sauce. Not much pepper in the sauce, but plenty in the meatballs themselves. I never tire of them.

One good thing about meatballs is their many uses. Warm, cold, in baguettes, in ordinary sandwiches, perhaps with salted gherkins. Perfect with apple chutney, with a little chilli and moussaka. Or with an ordinary potatoes au gratin.

But the real classic, of course, is meatballs with boiled potatoes, cream sauce and lingonberry jam. An unbeatable combination!"

One thing we noticed right away is how those crafty Swedes stretched out the meat with the addition of boiled potato which also lightens up the texture, making them very moorish. Real Swedish comfort food.

Meatballs with Cream Sauce - adapted from Ikea's Real Swedish Food Book
(serves 4)

1 small onion, diced
75g butter
2 white potatoes, boiled and left to go cold
250g minced beef
250g minced pork
1 egg
100ml each cream & water combined
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
salt, fresh ground pepper & ground allspice

Fry the onion in 25g butter until just golden. Mash the potatoes and mix in the onion, minced beef  & pork, the egg, cream & water, breadcrumbs and season to taste with salt, fresh ground pepper and a pinch of ground allspice. Mix well with your hands, it should be fairly moist.

Shape the mixture into meatballs either with floured hands or a couple of spoons dipped into water, placing them on a floured board as you go. Melt the remaining butter in a frying pan with a little oil and gently brown the meatballs until all are cooked. Serve with cream sauce, mashed potato and lingonberry jam or cranberry sauce.

Cream Sauce

200ml beef stock or water
100ml double cream
soy sauce
salt and fresh ground pepper
optional - a teaspoon cornflour slaked in a little water

Pour the beef stock or water into the frying pan in which you cooked the meatballs and deglaze. Strain the juices into a small pot, add the cream, a dash of soy sauce and season with salt & fresh ground pepper and bring to a simmer. If it seems a little thin, add the cornflour slaked in water and bring back to the simmer until thickened.
  posted at 8:08 am


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