Friday, 29 December 2017

My Paris Market Cookbook: A Cookbook Review

"Markets bring us together. They introduce us to the people who grow our food, the people who feed us. They are a source of new ideas, inspiration and recipes. They are the way we participate in the most basic and fundamental ritual shared by all humans- shopping for the ingredients that we will take home, make into a meal, and share with the people we love."
Emily Dilling.
My Paris Market Cookbook.

It's no secret that the French can be intimidating. Their disdain for the English rubs off onto those with a similar accent and a lack of French language skills is barely tolerated. At times I have found this has left me struggling to find a connection with a culture I want to know better. I have found this disconnect more apparent in Paris than rural France and although I have been to Paris twice and have admired the architecture and galleries I have never been able to immerse myself in the culture. I am in large part to blame for this, my trips to Paris have been so brief that there was barely time to wave to the Mona Lisa let alone learn anything beyond "parlez-vous Anglais?".

This lack of connection with Paris is one of the reasons I enjoyed Emily Dillings book "My Paris Market Cookbook" so much. Emily, as an expat who has had time to crack the tough cookie that is Paris takes us behind the scenes. It's like having a personal tour guide who speaks the language and understands the customs. It's like an unveiling of sorts or possibly even a disrobing, the intimate nature in which Emily understands the city will leave you with a new appreciation for the aspects of Paris that are more elusive to the day tripper.

The book is laid out in seasons, starting in Autumn and ending in Summer, which is perfect for seasonal nature of market shopping and cooking. Emily explains that the recipes are intentionally simple, designed to be cooked with ingredients solely found at local markets. You could use this book a number of ways. If heading to Paris this book could be used as a guide to the markets themselves, when they are on and where. I only wish I had a trip planned so I could hunt down these markets myself and make the recipes with the local produce to experience the real "terroir" France provides these dishes. In lieu of that I used the book as an inspiration to cook some French cuisine using food from my own local markets.

Sitting down and choosing which recipes to cook I realised in order to do the book justice I needed to stick with Emily's philosophy of local, high quality, seasonal produce. Being late Spring/ Early Summer at the time in Australia I made a selection of recipes from these two sections of the book, grabbed my hessian shopping bag and headed to the local markets. I actually live in a semi-rural location where a farmers market came to be a few years ago and I have to admit, I rarely attend. This book gave me the perfect excuse to see what the local producers were doing and try some of the produce on offer.

Being a small town the markets in turn are quite small. Just a handful of local producers selling a small variety of produce but I was able to pick up everything I needed. I had intentionally chosen recipes with ingredients I was pretty certain I would be able to pick up.



You can see my market haul pictured here. I particularly fell in love with the beautiful purple flowers on the chives, you would never see that in the supermarket. The bunch of leeks that looked like swollen scallions was a great find and added a wonderful subtle oniony flavour to dishes. Once used I kept the stems in the freezer to use in a future stock. The local garlic was quite different to the two varieties you get in the supermarket, it was more subtle that the Australian purple variety sold in the supermarket that I often find too pungent and overpowering and a more gentle flavour than the imported Chinese variety. The store holder indicated that this subtlety is a feature of late spring garlic.




The excursion to the markets was also a lesson in the fact that just because it is local doesn't guarantee quality. I hate to say it but the eggs were of very poor quality (not the ones pictured here), as I cracked them open the whites were as liquid as water and ran out all over the bench before I had time to get them over a bowl. They also tasted like nothing, even the yolks were watery tasting. This forced me into the supermarket, something I didn't want to do for fear of being caught by Emily walking through the artificially lit aisles when I should have been pursuing the trestle tables in the sun. I think even Emily could agree that quality eggs are a must for French cooking and shopping local cannot be a substitute for quality. Luck have it be I was able to source a different brand of local eggs in the supermarket, this brand much better in quality and although not purchased directly from the producer it was still nice to be supporting local business.

With family coming over I decided to whip out a number of the dishes for a French themed lunch. We had the baked eggs with French chives, steamed asparagus with home made hollandaise and cultured butter with wonderful crusty local woodfired bread. I had also grabbed a smoked trout which we served alongside Emily's dishes as well as some locally grown potatoes that I par-boiled and roasted in golden, crunchy gems.

It was all very civilised and my husbands 95 year old grandmother thought it a wonderful change from the nursing home food.




The next day I decided I wanted to see how good French toast could be using such quality ingredients and Emily's summertime recipe. I had grown up with the type of French toast that is very satisfactory to anyone under the age of 12. You know the kind with wonder white bread and margarine cooked up as a special treat on a Sunday morning and a welcome change from the usual Wheetbix. But now it was time for something next level and I can tell you it really was next level. I used the woodfired bread with it's chewy, smoky crust. Cultured butter, made in Australia in the French style, local full cream milk and a lovely fresh bag of cinnamon still containing it's full bouquet of flavours. It didn't compare to any French Toast I have had in the past, far beyond the Sunday morning treat this was decadence at it's finest.



After the weekend of exploring my local markets and cooking Emily's recipes I really felt a new connection with Paris. One that due to limitations of time and language I was unable to obtain myself whilst with Paris. That is the gift books can give us, they can take us away to places known and unknown and expand our views and experiences.

My copy was supplied by Skyhorse publishing and I highly recommend getting your own copy of My Paris Market Cookbook by Emily Dilling.


Originally posted on Friday, 29 December 2017 by

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Driving in Vanuatu

I find the decision to self drive whilst on holiday is dependent on many factors. Starting with your own confidence as a driver, which side of the road is being driven on, the standard of the roads, the adherence to road rules, the types of hire cars on offer, the reliability of the hire cars in the destination, navigation options, the list could go on an on.

When we were considering if we would drive in Vanuatu I wasn't able to access much of this information. There were only one or two websites that touched on it and it was difficult to make an informed decision. In the end we decided to give it a go and I was so glad we did.

Now that I have been there and done that I can write the definitive guide on the topic so you too can decide if it is right for you.

A word on the roads

The roads in Vanuatu are in variable condition depending on where you are driving. In Port Vila, the main town centre on Efate they are tarmac and very pot-holed from overuse and lack of repair work. As we were there just after the rainy season sections of the roads were flooded from recent rain which meant there were diversions in place and on many occasions you had to drive through the flood waters (nothing too deep or dangerous).

On the more used sections on the outskirts of Port Vila the roads were even more deteriorated, some sections were washed away completely by flooding and the pot holes were so numerous that you generally ended up in another pot hole trying to avoid the pot holes.

Off the main road there are smaller dirt roads leading out to areas, such as the jetty to go to Hideaway, that are just a series of very large pot holes, often water filled so you could not see the depth. It was a little like riding the Indian Jones ride at Disneyland with the car being thrown up and down and side to side. Quite fun as long as you had an appropriate vehicle.

On the far side of the island to Port Vila there is an impressive road that was built by the US owned mining company that was based over there. This road gets little use, it is 135kms all the way around Efate and apart from round island tour mini vans few tourists seem to venture out this far and few locals own their own cars.

Overall it is a mixed bag of roads ranging from barely driveable to flooded to excellent roads with no cars on them.

So what does this all mean? Well despite the fact that many of the car hire companies rent out standard sedans to tourists I would not recommend getting anything other than a 4WD. It doesn't need to be big, we got a Suzuki Jimny and it was perfect. You just want that extra ground clearance over a sedan to keep you out of trouble of the really rough sections.

We did get a flat within the first few days, there was a screw in the tyre and the tyre iron didn't fit the wheel nuts but Europcar were there within 15 minutes to change the tyre for us and the repair cost on the original tyre was $8.

These pictures are the worst of the roads we encountered. They are close to town where they get the most use.


On the flip side Vanuatu also had roads like this, long , straight, in very good condition and no cars for kilometers on end. This is on the less frequented side of the island.


Road rules and local interpretations of them

Adherence to road rules was minimal. Locals indicate with their arms out the window instead of with their indicators, sometimes pull out without warning and they rarely give way at intersections. We found there was a need to be proactive at times in pushing into intersections and roundabouts as the locals would rarely give way to let you in. That mixed with people walking on the roads and working in close proximity to the road meant you did have to be quite alert at all times. We never felt unsafe you just had to be aware that anyone at anytime could do something unpredictable.

They do also drive on the right-hand side of the road (the other side of the road to us here in Australia) but it didn't take too much getting use to. We only found ourselves on the wrong side once or twice when there were no other cars on the road. For most of the world's drivers this is the correct side of the road so most people won't have an issue with it.


Car hire options and prices

There are quite a few car hire companies to choose from. Our first choice World Car Rentals was sold out of the Jimny we were after so we ended up with Europcar . The availability of 4WD's was limited and we booked very late. It is worth noting that the car hire across the board with all companies was not cheap. We ended up paying around $80 per day for the Jimny (that type of thing in the Cook Islands will set you back only $40-$50 a day). The larger 4WD's which were more readily available were between $100-$120 a day.

Something else that was common practice with the car hire companies that I have not come across elsewhere is that they take a hefty bond against the vehicle that was charged to your credit card and only refunded once the car was returned. This was around $1400. It wasn't an issue as I always travel with a credit card with a decent limit for emergencies but I am sure it would catch a lot of people by surprise who may not have the spare funds available.

Always ensure you have travel insurance to cover the excesses and if you do not be sure to reduce the excesses with the car hire company. This is the sort of place you could easily damage a car and you do not want to be lumped with a few thousand dollars excess.

Delivery to your resort

A lovely feature of car hire in Vanuatu is that they will deliver the car right to your resort, fill in the paperwork with you in the lobby and at the end of your hire you can leave the keys with reception at your resort and the car hire company will collect it even after you have flown out. At no point were we trying to get public transport to and from the depot. Overall the service provided by Europcar was excellent. As mentioned above they even came to our resort for free to change the tyre when we realised the tyre iron we had did not fit the wheel nuts. Could not have asked for more.

Round island driving trips, what to see and do

The open road, that's what we all love about driving holidays and Vanuatu offers just that. Once you get away from Port Vila the roads improve and you are free to cruise around at your own leisure. Efate has built up quite a bit for the tourist and with the car you car easily access all of the major sights.

Although 135 kms around the island doesn't sound that far, on these types of roads it is a good half days journey. We had a week on Efate and organised our stay into visits to the major tourist spots as stand alone trips plus one full day round island journey stopping at any sights we wanted to see  again.

Take a look at the tourist map to get your bearings.

Mele Cascades

If the water is flowing the cascades will be the highlight of your trip. Head out of Port Vila (leaving plenty of time to get through town as the traffic can crawl through here). Heading in this direction at the time of year we were there there were a number of spots the roads were covered in water but if you take it slow there is no problems. You will drive through Mele Village, the locals here are more used to tourists but still always have a friendly smile and wave for you. On the far side of Mele village just before you head up a steep hillside you will see on your left the carpark for the cascades. You can park in here for free. Be sure to take your reef shoes, towels and swimmers and head to the entry booth. The entrance fee was around $25 Australian dollars per person in 2017 but I am sure that figure will change. Although it sounds a lot the access a natural site, something that in many countries would be free you do need to appreciate that many natural features in Vanuatu are on private, generational land and being a very poor country the locals need to make a dollar from the tourists to survive. The money is well worth it too.

The walk up to the top is a winding path that can be muddy and a little steep at times but not too strenuous if you take it slow. You are taken alongside the flow of the water with various cascades and swimming holes along the way.

At the top you find the main waterfall which comes over the top of a cliff and down over rocks that form a number of separate pools. There are ropes to hold on to to get to the higher pools and with the water flow as strong as it was when we were there it was needed (although the locals bounded up there as if it was nothing). The water was refreshing but not freezing and you could get right under over-hanging rocks and have the water rush over you.

On a practical note they have security positioned at the main swimming holes to watch your belongings as you swim, petty theft is always an issue in developing countries like this and it was nice to know your belongings were secure.

Security knocks off at 4pm and they open the facilities to the locals. We got to the top around 3:30. Had the place to ourselves for half and hour which was nice and the local children came up the hillside from 4. It was a good time to go as you could see the children enjoying the falls.


The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon swimming hole doesn't need too much explanation, it is a beautiful blue water swimming hole and it is reached if you head out of Port Vila the other direction to the Mele Cascades. It is worth doing on a separate day to the Cascades and with all main tourist sites on Efate it is worth finding out which days there are cruise ships in port and avoiding these places on those days. On ship days the Blue Lagoon is flooded with day trippers coming off the cruise ships and many might feel it ruins the experience. We found these sites quieter in the morning or late afternoon and if you have a car you have the freedom to pick and choose when you go and are not locked in to when the round island tours visit.


Port Havannah

As you drive around the island you will see a huge variation in swimming options. Some of the beaches are very rugged and would not be suited to many swimmers. You also have Erakor Lagoon which is very flat, inlet type waters and around near Havannah port you will find some great snorkeling spots if you go looking. These waters are protected by nearby islands and there are marine reserves with fantastic snorkeling. On a sunny day, sitting out here in a local beach shack after a big snorkel with a beer in hand is pure magic. I would also recommend stopping in at a resort called The Havannah for a meal. They have a gorgeous open air restaurant under a massive thatched roof, the food is good and the views and vibe are magnificent.


Eratap

I had a very specific journey in mind for day three of our Vanuatu Holiday. It was the Seafood Platter at a resort called "Eratap". This is a resort I have been sending travellers to for years and have only heard good things. Eratap is located down a rough road a little beyond the Blue Lagoon. It was around a 40 minute trip each way from our resort "Breakas". All up I would say with the drive and the lunch we were out for around 3 hours so a good part of the day. You can read about the platter here . Visiting other resorts and their restaurants was another big advantage of having the car. Most other people staying at Breakas felt limited to the hotel restaurant and the cafe at Nasama just down the road and whilst we tended to eat at these two places at night as the roads were difficult to navigate (with all the potholes) in the dark, during the day we ate all over the island. I would also recommend stopping in at the Holiday Inn for a meal, the lagoon views from the restaurant are wonderful and some of the locally owned Beach shacks like Gideon's Landing and Le Life Resort are a unique experience that will take you out of the "western resort" scene.


Village Life

Getting a taste for village life in Vanuatu is a must. You can pull up any of the villages that are dotted around the island and have a wander through. Remember though people live here so don't be intrusive and ask permission for photos. You can also head out on a walk with a local. Breakas where we were staying do a free weekly walking tour of the nearby village of Pango. They will tell you about their village hierarchy and their local chiefs and you will see their crops and animals. To get even more in depth we spent a day on an Urban Adventure harvesting food and cooking with a local family. You can read all about that here.


The Vanuatu smile and waive

You will hear people say that the local population, the Ni-Vanuatuans, are the friendliest people on the planet. I have been a lot of places and I must say this is true. As you drive around the island, roll down the windows, hang your arm out, prop it up in a permanent wave position because every local you will drive by (and it will be hundreds a day) will see you coming, have a big grin on their face and wave profusely. There is nothing fake or mocking about it, they are genuinely excited to see you. The further away from Port Vila we got the more enthusiastic the response was and in the furthest points they seemed genuinely surprised to see us.

Overall having the car basically meant freedom. Freedom to roam, see whatever we wanted to see in whatever time frame we wanted to see it. We could seek out tourist sites in quieter periods, escape the more commercial resorts and interact with the locals on a different level than if you are with a large group of tourists. I would highly recommend it to anyone.


Originally posted on Saturday, 16 December 2017 by

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Recipe: Lamb Stew With Apricots And Almonds

Being late November in the southern part of Australia this is about the last respectable time to be cooking and eating a stew. From here on in you pretty much need your head read if you are going to add any extra heat into the house by cooking for hours (generally doesn't stop me though). If you are in northern Australia...well I really have no idea how you ever eat stew and if you are in the Northern Hemisphere this recipe is absolutely perfect for you right now.


Photo by Tina Axelsson, supplied by Skyhorse publishing

LAMB STEW WITH APRICOTS AND ALMONDS

4 servings

1½ lbs (700 g) lamb meat, boneless

olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 onion

3 garlic cloves

2 celery stalks

1½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp crushed coriander seeds

1 packet (½ g) saffron threads

2 tsp paprika

1 cinnamon stick

1½ tbsp freshly grated ginger

1½ tbsp veal stock (buy at a specialty food store, or substitute with a beef bouillon cube)

2 cups (500 ml) water

5 oz (150 g) dried apricots

½ cup (100 ml) blanched almonds

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

approx 1 tsp harissa, store bought or homemade (p. 27), see book

4 tbsp chopped cilantro


Dried fruit, almonds, and flavorful spices are typical for the Moroccan meat stews. If you can’t go to Morocco, at least you can enjoy a deliciously warming lamb stew.

Cut the meat into one-inch cubes. Brown, a little at a time, in a pan with olive oil. Add salt and pepper and set aside.

Chop onion and garlic and slice the celery. Add olive oil to a stew pot and sauté, without browning them. Add the spices towards the end.

Add the meat, veal stock, and water to the pot. Cover with a lid and cook over low heat for about an hour. Stir every once in a while.

Soak the apricots in hot water for ten minutes. Drain. Roast the almonds in a dry pan.

Add the apricots to the stew and continue cooking for about twenty minutes, until the meat is tender and the apricots are soft. Season to taste with lemon juice, harissa, and salt. Add the cilantro and top with almonds.

This recipe was reproduced with permission from Skyhorse publishing


Originally posted on Wednesday, 29 November 2017 by

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Kitchen Gold



I have discovered kitchen gold and it isn't what you think. It's not saffron, the stamen worth more per gram than gold. It's not truffles, the tuber coveted the world over. It's not Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, the true Balsamic Vinegar poorly copied to excess. It's not glamorous and it's not expensive. Actually it is a by-product that if you are unawares of it's potency could easily be tipped down the drain.
Actually now that I come to think of it, I don't even know what to call it. Basically it's what is left when you slowly braise meat in a broth or water so in essence I guess it is a stock but in most cases more ingredients pass through it than a regular stock and is generally much more rich and condensed.
I don't think I have conveyed this well so I will give you an example, one that will show you how you can use and reuse this by-product to give your future cooking an extra pow by benefiting from your past cooking.
So on the weekend I made a slow cooked pork knuckle. It is a Rick Stein recipe from his book From Venice To Istanbul. The pork knuckle was braised for four and a half hours in a liquid of red wine, honey, water, bay leaf, peppercorns, olive oil, garlic, cinnamon and coriander seeds. At the end of the process in addition to the actual meal I was left with around 250ml of cooking liquid which I strained the solids out of and stored in the fridge. Overnight this liquid set into a jelly, a sign that it is full of those good meaty things like collagen which then converts into gelatin. The mixture was a highly concentrated stock essentially.
The next night I decided to slow braised some beef shin and turn it into a Ken Hom Szechuan dish from his book Exploring China, A Culinary Adventure. Into the clay pot I put all of the recipe ingredients (need to add list of ingredients here) plus I added the concentrated gelatin jelly from the night before.
This dish then simmered away for 3 hours, the meat started to break down, the marrow melted from the shin bones and at the end of the cooking process again I was left with a concentrated stock. Some of this was incorporated into the sauce that was then poured over the final dish and the rest I strained and put back in the fridge which set again into another gelatin form but this time with the very strong flavours of the Sczechuan dish, lots of ginger and soy.
For it's final incarnation the next night I used it as the base sauce for a stir fry. So I fried off some baby corn, leftover beef shin, shiitake mushrooms and choi sum with a little home made chilli oil. I then added the stock concentrate and some cornflour and I had a rich chinese sauce to go with my stir-fry. By this time it was extremely rich and I did accidentally put too much of it into the stir-fry, it is worth noting the concentration of your concoction to apply accordingly.
I have used this method a number of times. I once made the most unctuous Balinese style braised lamb by using the leftover cooking liquid from a pork stew and a packet of Balinese spices. On it's own the packet mix of spices is pretty much a kitchen sin but mixed with the slow cooked magic that is a rich boney stock it was divine.
You never quite know what you are going to get with this method. It's something I started doing a year or so ago. I also now make my own stocks from scratch and when recipes call for water I swap it out for a home made stock. It is one of those small changes that can transform your cooking. I am convinced many recipes use water as an easy step for the home cook when a stock would be much better suited. It makes sense, imagine if every recipe had a sub-step of making a 4 hour long stock using multiple chicken carcasses. It would send most people running for the hills. But if you have the stocks ready made and in the freezer then it is just there waiting for you.
In a similar vain a few years ago I started up a master stock, this is still in my freezer. Each time I cook with it I top it up a little water water to keep the quantity, I strain the lumps and I re-freeze it, it's like instant meat-braising magic all ready to go in the freezer. Toss a piece of pork belly in, cook for a few hours, chop up and lightly fry in a little flour you have the most tender, flavorsome pork.
All hail the meat water!

Originally posted on Sunday, 19 November 2017 by

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Morocco On A Plate: A Cookbook Review



The famous Paula Wolfert, the madame of Moroccan cuisine, stated in her book "The Food of Morocco" that the seductions of Moroccan cuisine "did not creep up on me slowly, but hit me square in the face almost at once. The sharp scent of cumin in the air. Passing by a community oven and catching the scent of anise and freshly baked bread. The street smells of grilling skewered meats. Whiffs of pungently spiced fried fresh sardines. The unique aroma of chickpea flour being slowly baked with olive oil and eggs to make a glistening flan in a wood fired oven." It is almost a religious experience for Paula and Caroline Hofberg, the author of "Morocco on a Plate" seems to have had a similar experience during her time in Morocco "you can practically taste the mysticism of Arabian culture through the food of Morocco" states Caroline as she describes being swept away by the piquant smells of an exotic world. She goes on to contrast the spices of Morocco which are arranged "beautifully like art" with those in her home country of Sweden  where the spices are "packed tightly into sterile, fragrance blocking glass or plastic containers". Something all western cooks can relate to and lament.

I have explored a little of Moroccan cooking through books such as those from Paula Wolfert, among others, and I wasn't sure what else "Morocco on a Plate" could bring to the table, pardon the pun. Once I started cooking from the book it dawned on me there was quite a but I had been missing from the Moroccan dishes I had chosen to cook in the past. Caroline has a real focus on the nuts and dried fruits used in Moroccan cooking. The combination of sweet fruit with savoury dishes seems odd at first but that is only until eaten. Turns out the combination works harmoniously, with the nuts offsetting the sweetness of the fruit and in turn lifting the meats to another dimension.

I paired Caroline's Chicken Stew with fruits and almonds with couscous with roasted vegetables. Both dishes heavy with fruits and nuts I was worried it would be a cacophony of flavours. It turned out to be two fabulous dishes that when presented on large platters and in deep bowls with a side of the minted yoghurt dip suggested for the couscous was the perfect dinner party meal. Hearty, homely and colourful it was a meal that truly represented Morocco on a plate.

I think the stews are the strong point of the book. These one-pot dishes are easily re-created at home and if done so in a tagine or claypot evokes the rustic nature of Moroccan cooking. The skewered meats whilst can be cooked in the oven or on a gas barbeque will pay you back ten fold if you cook them over some charcoal as would be done in Morocco. The smokiness transforms meats adding a depth of flavour that cannot be achieved any other way. This isn't a technique suggest by Caroline in the book and rarely ever is in cookbooks for fear of putting off the home cook who wants easy and familiar cooking methods but trust me, if you have not cooked over coals it is time to start. I have a little hibatchi that is relatively unintimidating and perfect for a small batch of skewered meats.

As a cookbook collector this book is an appreciated perspective on a broad cuisine. It isn't the only Moroccan cookbook you will ever need but it is an enjoyable read and more importantly, an easy cook and a good eat.

A review copy of this book was supplied by Skyhorse publishing. It is now a treasured part of my cookbook collection and I would highly recommend it for yours as well. Grab your copy here.


Originally posted on Tuesday, 31 October 2017 by

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Luxe Oreo's Recipe

"In 1912, the National Biscuit Company in New York released the Oreo, aka everyone's secret pleasure and the best-selling packaged cookie of all time. Production no longer takes place at the original facility (the building is now Chelsea Market, one of New York's best food halls), but the Oreo's connection to the city lives on in many sweet odes found across town."
Yasmin Newman, Desserts of New York.






I always like bang for my buck when cooking, particularly baking. I don't want to slave away for hours and in the end get average results. These Luxe Oreo cookies from the Desserts of New York hit that particular sweet spot of effort vs pay out. They are relatively easy without being too basic and the results are both aesthetically pleasing which is so important with baked goods and they are moreish beyond belief. Bling them up in any way you choose, I textured the surface of mine with a patterned cake decorating rolling pin. Consider taking a batch to work, it might get you that promotion without having to sleep with the boss.


INGREDIENTS

MAKES 20
260 g (9 oz / 1 3/4 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
150 g (5 1/2 oz/ 1 1/2 Cups) unsweetened (Dutch) Cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of Soda (baking Soda)
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
250 g (9 oz) unsalted butter, chopped, softened
220 g (8 oz/1 Cup) caster (superfine) Sugar

MASCARPONE VANILLA CREAM
250 g (9 oz) mascarpone
125 ml (4 fl oz. 1/2 Cup) thickened (whipping) Cream
150 g (5 1/2 oz/ 1 Cup) pure icing (confectioners) sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla bean Paste

Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F) and line two baking trays with baking paper.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a bowl and set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl for 3 minutes or until light and creamy. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until the dough just comes together. Shape into two discs, then wrap one in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Roll out the remaining dough between two sheets of baking paper until 3 mm. (1/8 in) thick. Using a 7 cm (2 3/4in) round cookie cutter, cut out rounds, rerolling the trimmings, and place on the prepared trays, 3 cm (1 1/4in) apart. Using a 6 cm (2 1/2 in) fluted cookie cutter, make an indent in the centre of the cookies to decorate, if desired.

Bake, swapping the trays halfway through, for 15 minutes or until the cookies are just cooked (it's difficult to tell from the dark colour, but there may be small cracks on top). Remove from the oven and cool completely on the trays. Repeat with the remaining dough to make 40 cookies all up.

Meanwhile, to make the mascarpone vanilla cream, place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.

Take 20 of the cookies and spread 1 1/2 tablespoons of the mascarpone cream over the flat side of each cookie, then Sandwich with the remaining cookies. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours or until the mascarpone cream is firm, Serve chilled or at room temperature. The cookies will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

This post is not sponsored, the book was purchased at full price and in my opinion, worth every cent. This recipe is brought to you with permission from Hardie Grant Books and Yasmin Newman. If you want all the recipes grab your own copy here. Trust me, you won't regret it.





Originally posted on Saturday, 14 October 2017 by

Saturday, 30 September 2017

The Desserts Of New York And How To Eat Them All: A Cookbook Review

"Food has always been a gateway to somewhere new. True I will take any opportunity to eat, particularly dessert, but I appreciate the unsung neighbourhoods, nondescript streets and random alleys a food tip has lead me to with equal measure."
Yasmin Newman, The Desserts Of New York.

Seeing this cookbook in the shelves was a "shut up and take my money" moment. One of my favourite cookbook authors, in one of the world's most iconic cities eating nothing but dessert. Total no brainer, full price, don't care, gimme gimme gimme.

If cookbooks had a movie caption this one would be "One woman, 91 days, 169 venues, 373 desserts...". In order to bring us the best of New York's dessert recipes, author Yasmin Newman has taken extreme eating to a whole new level here by apparently eating all of New York's best desserts, for an entire three months no less and she has somehow pulled off this stunt and still looks like a supermodel.

The experiment sure did pay off though. This book is genius. Its as if Humans of New York met Lonely Planet in a dimly lit dessert bar and 3 months later gave birth to this compendium of all that makes New York great. You have the people photographed going about their daily lives, the places you must eat dessert and how to find them and then the recipes. The recipes are where you come into the picture.

It would be cruel just to eat your way through New York and not allow the experience to be shared and Yasmin is the perfect woman to bring the desserts into your kitchen. Her first cookbook 7000 islands is a food portrait of the Philippines, the place of Yasmins heritage. It is so well written , the recipes are so workable at home and the flavours are some of the most outstanding you will ever conjure in your own kitchen and with her follow up book Yasmin has not disappointed us. The Desserts of New York brings us everything you could want from a dessert book and puts each recipe into the context of how it fits into New York's cultural identity.

For beginners I recommend the cookie recipes. The burnt butter choc chip cookies are so American they will virtually sing you the Star Spangled Banner as you bake these babies and they are so simple to make even a total kitchen novice couldn't stuff this one up. For the intermediate home cook I would recommend heading to the cake recipes, a New York cheesecake or the Brooklyn blackout cake are an iconic place to start to get your kitchen in a New York state of mind. And for those who are as confident as Mr Big but in a kitchen sense I recommend the pies, croissants and breads, maybe take a crack at the Boozy blueberry, blackberry and rye pie because nothing says USA louder than a sweet pie. Americans are all about the sweet pie.

Beyond the recipes this book is so grounded in one specific time and place it will quickly become a snapshot frozen in that moment but that's what makes it special. There will never be another 2017, the shops and bakeries will come and go. Trends like rainbows and cronuts will eventually fade with time. Life moves on, sometime against our will but Yasmin has captured one moment, one we can hold onto and cherish and in that moment she brings us food memories that will stay with us hopefully longer than the extra kilos will.

In speaking with Yasmin about this review I was given permission to bring you a recipe from the book but that brought with it a whole other problem. Which to share? There really are so many fantastic recipes in this book for all skill levels that I urge you to go and buy a copy for your own kitchen, in the meantime and to whet your appetite next week I will be bringing you the recipe for Luxe Oreos. Just to make sure you come back to get the recipe here is what my version of them look like....


Originally posted on Saturday, 30 September 2017 by

Friday, 15 September 2017

Top 6 Cookbooks For Spanish Home Cooking

"The Italians and Spanish, the Chinese and Vietnamese see food as part of a larger, more essential and pleasurable part of daily life. Not as an experience to be collected or bragged about - or as a ritual like filling up a car - but as something else that gives pleasure, like sex or music, or a good nap in the afternoon."Anthony Bourdain. 

Over the last few years I have amassed a respectable collection of Spanish cookbooks. I was drawn to the books as they made me yearn for a place I had not been. Many of them are in the style I love most, part cookbook, part travel seduction. But then one day I realised, I hadn't actually cooked anything from any of them and in my mind that just isn't acceptable. Cookbooks are not a display piece they are to be used, to have little smears of food on your most loved recipes and to have my signature notes on each cooked recipe, what I thought of it, the date I cooked it and what tweaks and deviations I made from the instructions.

I knew this must be remedied so I sat down with the books, trawled through my options and marked out a weeks worth of Spanish cooking, you can't of course know a cuisine or even a single cookbook in a week but it is a good place to start. Going into it I knew virtually nothing of the cuisine. I haven't managed to make it to Spain yet and due to the lack of Spanish restaurants in my city I haven't really eaten at a Spanish restaurant. There is something wonderful about coming at a cuisine totally blind. So often you have preconceived notions of what a nations food should or shouldn't be and you have a tendency to stick with recipes that are familiar but delving into Spanish cooking it was all new and wonderful in that way only brand new experiences can be. 

Over the course of the week I cooked from a range of cookbooks to get a array of perspectives and I was taken with the rustic nature of the food. It took me to that place of long hearty lunches, tapas after work and late dinners in the lingering light of a European summer. Much of what I was presented with in my books was peasant style food which is what I love the most. Unpretentious food you could see on the family dinner table being enjoyed by generations eating together. Even the names of the dishes encompassed the unpretentious nature of the food, we ate poor man's potatoes and a recipe who's title literally translates to "Tatters and Rags".

The cookbooks I used to take me to Spain, metaphorically of course, were an invaluable window into the culture and I wanted to feature those here so you to can be whisked away to another land via your kitchen just as I did.



If you were only going to own only one Spanish cookbook then Claudia Roden's The Food Of Spain is the one I would recommend. It's not that the recipes themselves are necessarily superior to any of the other books it's the authors knowledge and her voice that makes this book stand out. It is one of those books that feel like a life's work. It's a classic even before it has had time to become a classic. This book takes you into the history of Spain and it's food and puts the puzzle of the various regions into context. Each recipe has a comprehensive introduction which explains it's place in the culture of the country and many of the primary ingredients used have their own introductory explanations. You will finish reading this book feeling like you have a strong knowledge of Spain without actually having been there.



The Food Of Spain is one of a series of books by Murdoch books from 2008. It's funny, compared to most modern day cookbooks the presentation of the books is a little daggy but I have now cooked a lot from this one and the other that I own, The Food Of Morocco, and they are fantastic books. Strangely these books don't credit the author on the cover which is normally a sign of a fairly average cookbook but in this case they have actually tracked down experts in their fields. This book was authored by Vicky Harris who has written two other books on Spanish cooking. The recipes here are traditional and primarily peasant style. Lots of lovely stews, hearty seafood dishes. Recipes that feel like home and you would be happy to serve to the family. As far as skill level goes most beginners I think would be fairly comfortable with the Spanish recipes on offer in this book.



Written by an Australian expat living in Barcelona, Sophie Ruggles, My Barcelona Kitchen covers a wide range of Spanish dishes. I particularly like her take on tapas and the pictures make me want to host a little soiree to show off these tasty morsels and her story of packing up and moving the family to Barcelona is what all travellers dream of.


Frank Camorra would be considered the Australian authority on Spanish cuisine. His restaurants are well known around the country and are bustling all throughout the week. Movida Solera is specifically a collection on Andalusian recipes. This is a more regional take than his other books and the beautiful photography of the countryside, it's people and it's food such an intimate take on this region in the south of Spain. I particularly like the regional guides that recommend the best restaurants to try in each region of Andalusia and just wish I was heading to Spain sometime soon so I could try out his recommendations. For now though I will be happy cooking his recipes as they are so evocative it is almost the same...isn't it?


1000 Spanish Recipes is a case of "don't judge a book by it's cover"...or it's title. I have no idea why the quantity of recipes here is relevant and I think it is a marketing fail. The book is by Penelope Casas, someone I hadn't actually heard of till I picked up this book but turns out she was a bit of a Julia Child of her time. In the 1980's Penelope was a major proponent in bringing Spanish cooking to the American people. Her passion for Spain shines through in this book and as the title suggests it is about as comprehensive as a book on Spanish food gets. The book feels very personal and the pictures of Penelope doing her thing as far back as the 1970's helps you understand the long standing relationship Penelope has with the food of Spain.


The traveller in me really appreciates the Lonely Planet take on cookbooks. They are a mini food journey to the best restaurants around the country where each chef brings you their take on a dish of the country. As the recipes are written primarily by chefs it does have a different feel to my other cookbooks, a little more cheffy and a little less homey but it is an impressive compilation including classic recipes and reboots made modern.

And now to the food, here is a small selection of the dishes we cooked and ate.

Poor Mans's Potato's and Migas from Lonely Planet and Food of Spain

Fish in Tomato Braise from Movida Solera

Chicken in Saffron Stew with Braised Asparagus from The Food of Spain (the Murdoch book not the Claudia Roden)

Paella Valenciana, a recipe we created inspired by all the the Paella Valenciana recipes in these books. Recipe here 



Originally posted on Friday, 15 September 2017 by

Thursday, 7 September 2017

The Jewish Princesses Matzo Ball Soup Recipe



I decided to follow up my book review of  The Modern Jewish Table by Georgie Tarn and Tracey Fine with a recipe for my readers. With permission from the publisher I wanted to bring you a dish created by the Jewish Princesses so you can all try out some new flavours but the big question was...which one. 

There are so many good recipes for the home cook in this book but in the end I settled on the Sephardi Saffron Chicken Soup With Fragrant Matzo Balls. There are a few ideas that drew me to this recipe. I know for many Jewish people Matzo Ball Soup is a taste of home. Something they grew up with, something every Jewish mother has their own version of. For me it was something totally foreign and you know me, foreign is what I love. I have also of late had a penchant for broths and this soup has a stunning saffron tinted chicken broth that is about as desirable as food gets.

So here it is...

Sephardi Saffron Chicken Soup With Fragrant Matzo Balls 

Ingredients

Sephardi Soup

8 large chicken wings
8 pints cold water
2 large carrots
2 large celery sticks
1 parsnip
1 turnip
1 large white onion
1 rutabaga, peeled
2 bay leaves
1 small bunch cilantro
3 chicken bouillon cubes
salt
pepper
1 pinch saffron melted in 1 fl oz boiled water

Method

Sephardi Soup

Place the wings in a large saucepan. Pour in the water and bring to the boil. With a large spoon, skim off the scum from the top.

Add the rest of the ingredients except the saffron. Bring the soup to back to the boil and simmer for 2 hours with the lid on.

Remove from heat and discard all the vegetables, but keep the chicken wings to one side. Place back in the soup once the vegetables have been removed. Add the saffron to the chicken broth.

Leave to cool and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to use, remove the fat from the top of the soup (you can do this with a spoon or by laying a wad of kitchen paper over the top and removing it.


Ingredients

Fragrant Matzo Balls (makes approximately 24)

3/4 cup medium matzo meal
3/4 cup ground almonds
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 lemon rind, zested
1 small bunch cilantro (reserve 1 tablespoon to serve)


Method

Fragrant Matzo Balls

Mix all the ingredients to form the mixture but reserve 1 tablespoon of the cilantro. Place the mixture in the fridge for approximately 20 minutes.

Remove from the fridge. Wet your hands, take 1 teaspoon of mixture and roll into a ball. Carry on doing this with the rest of the mixture.

Fill a medium sized saucepan with boiling salted water. Transfer the matzo balls into the boiling water and continue cooking on a strong simmer for 20 minutes, turning occasionally.

Remove balls with a slotted spoon and leave to cool.

When ready to serve, heat the soup slowly with the matzo balls until piping hot. Serve 4 matzo balls per person and a sprinkle of chopped cilantro. 

If you would like to see more recipes from this book I recommend grabbing a copy here.


Originally posted on Thursday, 7 September 2017 by

Friday, 1 September 2017

Stacked Cakes: Novelty Cakes Gallery

Finally, here is my next installment of cake photos.As I have mentioned many times before on the blog I spent five years as a cake decorator. Mostly part time around my career as a travel agent but I did take a year off to do it full time. You can read more about that here. So now that I have shut down the website I need a new home for my favourite cakes. These cakes were the subject of countless hours of my labor and like most edible items they were devoured and are gone. All that exists are the photos. So here they are. My favourite cakes I made in my former guise, Stacked Cakes.

And if you want more cakes you can see my wedding cake gallery here.

50 hours of work went into this Dalek cake and at the time it went pretty viral online


Canon camera cake

Porsche cake

African savannah cake

Shoe cakes, I made so many shoe cakes!

Snoopy cake

Harry potter sorting hat cake

Teal'c from Stargate cake

Suitcases cake for some avid travellers

Tour de France cake for a wanna be participant

Vegas cake

I think this is the design I did the most, babies babies babies

I did a lot of cube as well with all different themes

Madhatters, a popular wedding cake design at the time, a bit of a tricky one to pull off

Book vs kindle cake for a reader

So many christening cakes

Buffy cake

Merry go round cake

Christmas box

Another madhatter. So tricky to carve and ice these ones

Baby cookie monster cake

Disney castle cake

Fire engine cake. This took an immense amount of time to get all the details on

Horror themed cake

End of teaching degree cake

Guitar cake. Life sized.

I can't count the number of car cake I made and how many my husband carved to perfection for me

Donuts and Homer cake

Indiana Jones themed cake

Lego cake

Shoes and bags, shoes and bags

Mickey themed cake

Mini Cooper cake

So many cars

Cube, this is the budget version of the Stacked cubes...one cube lol

Muno head cake. I had never heard of Muno till this cake order

Bringing back memories now.  Old school Nintendo cake

Geeked out Normandy cake. The owners of this cake told me they couldn't bring themselves to eat it

Graduating nurse cake

OPI nail polish cake with the real thing next to it for a perspective of scale

I have no memory of this cake or why there was a monkey on it but it's cute

Zebra print cake

My famous "freestanding" and talking  R2D2 cake. The first of it's kind online and thanks to my free plans it is everywhere. Yay! Follow this link to get the plans yourself and read about the story behind the cake and how we made it talk

Record player cake

Me presenting a segment on Prime Possum morning TV show

Shoes and bags, shoes and bags

Princess cake

My own birthday cake. A girls has to treat herself every now and then

3D Snagglepuss cake. Totally freaked out about hand carving this cake but I think I nailed it

Hope you enjoyed my cakes!!


Originally posted on Friday, 1 September 2017 by