Sunday, 27 January 2008

Lovin' Bill

I have a confession to make. I'm having a secret affair with a man named Bill. Well, at least with his books. Is that weird?!!!? Of course not!

We had our next recipe from Bill Granger "Holiday" the other night. YUM again!!! I really expected to like this one because I like all the ingredients, but I was a bit surprised because GKGK really like it too, and even Boof scoffed it all down!

We had veal with balsamic vinegar, pine nut and currant sauce, and parmesan baked potato chips. I fully expected the potatoes would be good. Who wouldn't love crispy fried squares of potato covered in cheese? So that wasn't a big deal really. I may find myself making them every day from now, but still, it's not like its heart-stoppingly new and surprising.

The veal however, was quite a surprise. It was very easy to do, and the pine nuts and currants made it quite different, and very tasty. This recipe I didn't change at all, so I won't publish it here, but I will say this: GET THE BOOK!!! It's definitely worth the money.

Onion Gravy

What kind of idiot manages to cut their finger like that? How did I achieve that shape? I have no idea. I was testing out my new knife, and apparently I have not quite worked out the feel and balance of it yet. I was very lucky that my super-fast sporty reflexes allowed me to stop in time to avoid slicing right through my finger. Freaky. Or freak, more like it.

And now onto further dodginess on my part, I did not make my self imposed cookbook purchase ban! I caved, and got Bill Granger's "Holiday" on the 30th of December. I held out and didn't look at it until the 31st, but I guess you either make it or you don't. And I didn't!! But I was on holidays, and it was worth it, so I don't feel even the remotest bit bad about it!

I tried my first two recipes from it tonight. We had roast chicken with torn bread stuffing and onion gravy, and tomato and zucchini gratin. I am really not a big fan of stuffing. In the past, I have found it to be either dry and dull, or moist and eerily reminiscent of under-cooked chicken. So I just avoid it now. However, all my Christmas magazine reading is perhaps starting to pick away at my stuffing prejudice. There are so many recipes for exceptionally tasty-sounding stuffings, with all sorts of combinations of ingredients, so I'm thinking maybe I need to open my mind and give stuffing another chance! Bill to the rescue!

The stuffing in this one has onions, mushrooms and sage (such an underrated herb - I love it). It was OK - not fabulous though. It certainly hasn't made me a stuffing convert, but it hasn't turned me off either. The gratin was pretty good. It's not really GKGK's thing (it has vegetables in it) so it's hard to get a reasonable opinion from him, but I quite liked it. He said he thought it was great when it was smothered in the onion gravy! We all agreed that the onion gravy was excellent. Boof kept asking for more and more. GKGK said that the whole meal was the best new recipe I have made in ages, which is actually quite an achievement! Of course, I changed the gravy recipe slightly! I really like Bill, but there's always room for improvement!

Onion Gravy
Good with roast chicken.

1 tbs butter
1 large onion, finely diced
1/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 tbs plain flour
500ml hot chicken stock
2 tbs cream

Heat a frying pan over medium low heat. Add butter and onion and cook for 10 minutes until golden brown and caramelized. Add flour. Stir until any liquid is absorbed. Add wine. Turn heat up and simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add stock. Bring to the boil. Simmer until sauce thickens. Stir in the cream. Add any pan juices from the chicken, or extra stock or water if the gravy is too thick.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Italian Pistachio Cookies

Well, I tried. I went all out and ground the pistachios myself, but the cookies did not even come close to the ones from Dolci Dolci. They did not even come close to my inital batch of almond ones. Oh well. It's just $4000 worth of pistachios.

Not really! But still, it was disappointing. I think there were a couple of problems. Firstly, I used my little mini blender thingy to grind the pistachios and I don't think it ground them fine enough. IF (and that's a very tentative if) I was to try the cookies again, I would have to lug out the big food processor or the blender to get a much finer pistachio meal. You could really see, taste and feel little bits of nut, which wasn't the case in the almond ones, and it's definitely not the texture I was aiming for.

Also, I was going to use half almond meal and half pistachio meal, but I forgot about that plan until I had made the mixture! As it turned out, I had to add some almond meal anyway, because the mixture was a lot moister than the almond one, but that was only about 25% of the pistachio meal.

Considering the signficance of these problems (these are nut-based biscuits, and I stuffed up the nuts!), I probaby should have known these wouldn't work out how I had hoped, so maybe I should try them again and actually apply enough effort and thought! There's also a similar recipe in the same book, so maybe I'll try that instead. If I get my act together, I'll let you know!

The very exciting thing about these cookies though is that they were the model for testing my new image software. Hope you like the picture! It looked nothing like that when I took it! Oh the joys of technology!

Friday, 18 January 2008

Macadamia and Raspberry Blondies

I often feel a bit disillusioned with the whole cooking-new-things thing. I like to try a lot of new recipes, but very few of them overwhelm me with the urge to make them again. Sometimes I think that there must be no new recipes out there that are any good at all, and I should just stick with my tried and true favourites. As much as GKGK likes my baking expeditions, this probably wouldn’t bother him much, being the change-phobe that he is. I recently made one of our old favourites – raspberry and macadamia blondies. He was so excited I was surprised he didn’t inhale the whole batch in one big gulp! These blondies are the perfect poster-child for staying with the old-but-good. They are dense and moist, and the sweetness is almost too much, except for the perfect balance of the tart raspberries. You could probably serve these for dessert with a nice big scoop of vanilla ice-cream (home made of course!), but don’t make them too far in advance, because there won’t be any left!

Macadamia and Raspberry Blondies

125g butter, chopped
200g white chocolate, chopped
165g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten lightly
110g plain flour
75g self raising flour
100g white chocolate, chopped, extra
75g macadamias, toasted (optional), coarsely chopped
150g fresh or frozen raspberries

Pre-heat the oven to 180Pre-heat the oven to 180 C. Grease and line a 20cm square cake tin.
In a large bowl in the microwave, melt together the butter and the 200g white chocolate.
Add the caster sugar, eggs, and flours and mix well.
Add the extra chocolate and macadamias and mix.
Add the raspberries and mix very gently until just combined.
Spread into prepared tin. Bake for 50 minutes or until firm.
Leave in the tin to cool. Cut into squares or triangles.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Italian Almond Cookies (Amaretti)

It's the height of rudeness, I tell you. Taylor's Patisserie (they of the 500m drive down the road to the nienish tart) have shut down over Christmas. Fair enough. Have a break. You have served me well so far. But 3 weeks? 3 weeks? Did someone forget to tell you that you are running a business??

Taylors have forced my hand. Because they have been shut for so long, I was forced to get some sweet temptations from Dolci Dolci. I have a soft spot for all Italian food, and Dolci Dolci just make the fabulous sweet stuff. And oh my! It is very very good! The other day I was doing some quiet child-free shopping, and I decided a milkshake would be a nice little addition to my shopping experience. I happened to be near Dolci Dolci so I thought I would just get one from there. Of course, whilst I was standing at the counter waiting for my milkshake, all their irresistable cannoli, cakes and cookies were softly calling me, begging me to eat them. Their cannoli are to die for. I would love to be able to replicate them at home, but my one and only attempt resulted in some very unappetising deep-fried cardboard. On this particular day though, I felt drawn to something a little different. I am on a bit of a pistachio thing at the moment, so I went with the pistachio and almond cookie. I was well and truly happy with my selection!

It had a golden crunchy crust, coated in flaked almonds. The inside, which was green (!) was moist and chewy and pistachio-y. There was just the right amount of almond flavour (sometimes I think chefs get a bit over excited with the almond extract), and the whole thing came together just perfectly.

So of course, when I got home, I thought, I can do that! But I might need a new Italian cookbook!!! So I jumped on amazon to see what I could find, but I seemed to be struggling. Every cookbook has ricotta cheesecake, most have cannoli, but finding the right recipe for these little cookies was proving a challenge. Then I remembered that I actually already have some Italian cookbooks, so maybe I should start with those rather than more compulsive shopping! "The Silver Spoon" was a disappointment, it focuses more on savoury stuff, but "The Italian Baker" came to the rescue! In hindsight, I should probably have just gone straight to this book with a title like that, but I like to take any opportunity to consider more cookbooks!

I found that the Italian name for these cookies is Amaretti. The traditional recipe is from the Lombard region of Italy and is for a crisp macaroon-ish type cookie. The chewy ones (which are the ones I was looking for) are from Piedmont. I thought I would start with a plain almond one first, just to make sure it gave me the right texture. Once I had that right, then I would move on to using pistachios. Pistachios are significantly more expensive than almonds, and unlike almonds, you can't easily get ground pistachios, so I would actually have to grind them myself. And that is just way too much effort and way too much washing up! Naturally, I changed the recipe slightly (once again, they were way over excited with the almond essence), and I was extremely happy with the outcome!!! Crisp and lightly golden on the outside; chewy, dense and moist on the inside, and just enough almond flavour without that overpowering alcoholic-type flavour you sometimes get with these type of things. GKGK thought they were excellent, although he did suggest maybe they should have chocolate in them!!! Foolish boy! I'll let you know how I go with the pistachio ones!

Italian Almond Cookies
Adapted from "The Italian Baker" by Carol Field

200g almond meal
200g caster sugar
2 egg whites
1/4 tsp almond essence
Icing sugar

Mix the almonds with the sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the egg whites and essence and mix thoroughly. Roll into balls approximately 3cm in diameter. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper leaving some room for spreading. Flatten slightly and sprinkle with icing sugar. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 150ºC/300ºF. Bake until very light golden brown, approximately 20 minutes. Cool on racks. Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Christmas Party

AAaaah! Our Christmas party is finally over. As much as I love putting on the whole thing, by the time all has been said and done, I need a good rest. I don’t have to do much for our family events on Christmas Day itself – we are only responsible for taking juice to GKGK’s family breakfast, and I made ice-cream in advance for my family’s dinner. Both events are at the Grandparents’ houses, so there is very little work for me. So our Christmas party we have with our friends every year is the big effort for me. I start planning it months in advance, and I work like a madman in the preceding days, fitting in lots of cooking and other preparations with cleaning and looking after two little tackers!

It was strange on Christmas Eve. We had our party the night before. I ducked down the road to the shops, and I wondered why on earth there were all these people running around, stressing out and buying all this food. After all, my Christmas responsibilities were over! Aah, but the rest of the people were going hard, their efforts only just beginning!

Normally, we try to offload all the kiddies, and have a proper sit-down dinner, with roast turkey and ham and all the bits and pieces. I decided this year that it was too hard for everyone to get babysitting at this time of the year, so we went with a late afternoon/early evening dinner with 11 adults and 12 kids!

We started off with all the usual suspects, chips, dips, lollies, and lots of carrot sticks for our freaky children. We then moved on to some parmesan chicken schnitzel bites, (recipe below) and some famous sausage rolls.

For the main course we had leg ham off the bone, chicken legs marinated in BBQ sauce, prawns, bread, potatoes, my favourite Jamie Oliver pumpkin prosciutto and rocket salad, and my new favourite vegetables – served with an apple cider vinegar dressing, topped with goats cheese and chopped up pistachios. Exceptionally tasty and a good way to get GKGK to eat a few more vegetables. It’s from one of my newest cookbooks – Lighten Up by Jill Dupleix. (Don’t worry, I was given it for my birthday - before my self-imposed cookbook ban). It’s the only thing I have made from it so far, but on looking through, I can see so many good recipes, it will be a good candidate for Cookbook of the Year for 2008!

Dessert was a very tasty frozen mars bar mousse. It came from delicious magazine. I made it when my family came over for dinner a few weeks ago, and because it was so easy and could be made in advance, it was the perfect choice for the Christmas party. (We went to the Wiggles concert that morning, so time was somewhat limited!) (The recipe is not on the delicious website yet, I will post the link once it's there)

All in all, it was a great party. Everything went smoothly, the kids all had a great time, and of course, my darling children woke us up about 40 times that night because they were way too overexcited and over tired. Oh well. We will still probably do it all again next year!