Thursday, May 27, 2010

Apricot Cinnamon Cake or Washing? No contest!

Raindrops against the window, music playing on the stereo, kettle is on for a nice cup of tea.
How about a warm piece of cake to go with it?
Won't say no to a bit of tea cake, thanks!

This is the conversation going in my brain on the weekend.  Forget that there's two weeks' worth of laundry piled up, waiting for a break in the weather.

This is a quick and homely Apricot and Cinnamon cake from Bill Granger's Every Day cookbook.  He suggests using fresh apricots in the cake, but since they are not in season at the moment, I used tinned apricots instead - they held their shape well, and the vibrant colour and slight tartness of the fruit makes a nice stand against the lovely, sweet crumbly topping.

Apricot and Cinnamon Cake
serves 8

140g (5 oz) self-raising flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
50g (1 3/4 oz) caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 tblsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
85g (3 oz) unsalted butter, melted
350g (12 oz) apricot halves

40g (1 1/2 oz) plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
35g (1 1/4 oz) caster sugar
35g (1 1/4 oz) unsalted butter, chilled and diced

1.  Preheat oven to 180 deg C (350 deg F).
2.  Grease and line the base of a 20cm (8 inch) round sprinform tin.
3.  Sift flour and cinnamon into a large bowl and stir in the sugar. 
4.  Make a well in the centre and pour in the egg, milk, vanilla and melted butter.  Mix with a wooden spoon until the batter is smooth, then spoon into the tin.
5.  Arrange the apricots, cut-side up, evenly over the batter and then press gently down.
6.  For the topping, put the flour, cinnamon and sugar in a bowl.  Rub the butter with your fingertips until 'crumbs' form.  Scatter the topping evenly over the apricots.
7.  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is light golden and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before removing from the tin.

Recipe adapted from Every Day by Bill Granger

Ingredients, including (tinned) apricot halves, flour (I used plain flour with 2 tsp baking powder added),  caster sugar, cinnamon, unsalted butter, milk, and an egg

The stages of preparation: the batter is mixed first, and it's quite a stiff mixture; the topping is like a crumble; the apricots are arranged decoratively on top (and pushed into the batter); sprinkle the topping over the apricots. Note: Be sure to use a 20cm/8 inch pan, as there is not much batter in this recipe.

After baking, you have a small, luscious cake

Perfect for afternoon tea (with whipped cream).
A slice of cake can also be pinged in the microwave for 20 seconds to warm it up the next day.

PS: While we're on the subject of rainy afternoon teacakes, I can heartily recommend this apple teacake as well.

Monday, May 24, 2010

New Contender for favourite restaurant - Sepia

What makes a good restaurant? The overall 'experience'? The food? The price? The service?
Well, Sepia ticks all the right boxes.

I have been wanting to visit Sepia Restaurant for months, but bookings for Saturday night are a couple of weeks in advance.  Having secured a booking for last Saturday, we braved the cold, rainy weather to experience the warmth that is Good Food Guide-'hatted' Sepia dining.

You are made welcome from the time you walk in the door.  The dining room is all dark brown wooden surfaces (no tablecloths!) and cushiony banquettes along the walls.  The jazz music in the background is quite loud, so the diners make up for it by talking louder - it can get quite, er, loud, at times.

There is a set 9-course degustation menu on Saturday nights in May and June ($130 per person, with $70 extra with matching wines).  I'd give my kingdom (or credit card) for a good degustation any time.

I'll just give you my impressions of the food and service - it's was all perfect, in case you just want a summary.
Click on the picture above for a closeup of the menu;
warm bread roll was served with whipped truffle butter;
in addition to the menu, we ordered the 'special' for the evening: Sydney Rock oysters ($4 each) from Tathra Lake and Merimbula, served with sweet rice wine vinegar and lime dipping sauce;
the amuse bouche was a tomato liquor with chia seeds

First course: Pickled cuttlefish, bacon noodles and smoked quail egg;
Second coursetea-cured Hiramasa kingfish, popcorn dashi and corn silk (didn't eat the corn silk, as it looked like a garnish)

Third course: Queensland spanner crab and buckwheat risotto with shellfish essence (foam) - very intense shellfish flavour that almost brought out my allergy;
Fourth course: Butter-poached Murray cod with wakame, braised bone marrow, apple jelly, kohlrabi, baby radish and puffed skin - this was my (equal) favourite dish of the night, due to the beautiful presentation, perfectly-cooked fish, and the fish skin that tasted like crackling.

Fifth course: Aylesbury duck breast with braised almonds, almond milk and fennel candy (on a stick - lovely flavour). Also, notice the pretty elderflowers on the almond milk;
Sixth course: Poached Angus beef fillet on braised short rib, with buffalo milk 'tofu' and quinoa

Pre-dessert: Ginger foam with finger lime 'caviar' - tingly-hot! (and how I covet the Rosenthal cups and saucers);
1st dessert: mini 'Weiss' bar of mango on macadamia biscuit base, topped with pineapple and foam with nasturtium petals, and a streak of lemon sherbet

Second dessertSour cherry sorbet on 'forest floor' of biscuit millefeuille shavingsgreen tea 'moss' and crystallised fennel fronds. Under the floor was a chocolate disk with chocolate cream and lavender cream.  Look at this plate and tell me it's not the most lovely thing ever! This was also my favourite dish, as the lavender cream was matched flawlessly with the chocolate and sour cherry.  And the presentation was spot on
Petit fours: mini Magnum ice creams, lychee Turkish delight and green tea marshmallows.
Tea and coffee: Macchiato and English breakfast tea.

I was most impressed by the waitstaff, who, when asked, knew what each component of the dishes were, even the fiddly things like elderflowers, orange powder and fennel fronds.  And given the price and quality of the meal, I'd say that Sepia is as good as the meal we had at Quay.  Sure, the setting is not as fancy, being located at the base of an office block, but who can compete with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, anyway?  Lots of taxis pass by the building, too.  And I liked how they open the door to thank you and see you out when you're leaving.

So, all up, it was a wonderful night - with 3 1/2 hours of fabulous food, I'm not complaining. In fact, I'm planning my next visit. Just remember to book ahead.

Sepia Restaurant ( is at
201 Sussex Street, Sydney, NSW,  2000.
Ph: + 61 2 9283 1990

Sepia on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cakes! Black Star-Cupcake Factory-Zumbo

While waiting for the new Zumbo cake range to hit the shelves, I did something traitorous different and visited some alternative cakeshops...

Firstly, Black Star Pastry in Newtown:

Black Star Pastry (277 Australia St, Newtown, NSW. Open Tue-Sun 7am-5pm) is a tiny patisserie/cafe with some seating outside on the footpath and a nice selection of cakes, pastries and pies inside the shop. 

The ginger ninja is the famed gingerbread guy that comes with or without a chocolate ninja suit - the countergirl said that the chocolate ninja was better, which is why I got two - neither lasted the trip home, with some damage to the ninja's nether regions being done while waiting at Newtown Station...
The gingerbread ninjas (about $4 each) were sublime, with a soft, almost creamy texture, and a 'just right' hit of ginger.

Also purchased and consumed were two canelles and a little Persian fig cake with quince and pistachios (approx $4).  The canelles (approx $3 each) were only alright, as they were a bit too cooked for my liking.  The Persian cake, on the other hand, tasted as sweetly inviting as it looked. 

Not much later, I ventured into the Cupcake Factory:

This Cupcake Factory outlet is just inside Balmain Mall (298 Darling St, Balmain, NSW), and right next door to the Adriano Zumbo Cafe Chocolat.  I'd imagine it is ideally located to get some of the overflow from the Zumbo cafe though on the times I've walked past, it's been mainly empty.

But how are the cupcakes?  Are we over cupcakes yet?? Not if they're as good as these!

The store is filled with mini cupcakes ($1 each) and normal cupcakes ($3.50 each), on cupcake holders and in a cabinet.  I like the thoughtful tissue-lined carrybox, too.

I bought the strawberry cupcake because its head of strawberry chocolate curls reminded me of Mrs Thurston Howell III's bathing cap.  The caramel cupcake was topped with lovely caramel-flavoured buttercream and a jersey caramel. Both cakes, incidentally, are moist and vanilla-flavoured, which counteracts the sweetness of the icing.

There are lots of other flavours to try, and it's an ideal place to grab a well-priced snack if you couldn't be bothered with the queues at Zumbo's.

Speaking of which, I haven't been backward in sampling the latest Adriano Zumbo (Winter 2010) rangeAnd here is something to whet your appetite:

This is Mandarin and Rose

Others that I've had (and enjoyed very much) are:
What a great pear of... (aka Pear Perfection from Junior MasterChef finale)

I will be updating my tumblr site with more Zumbo cakes as I try them. 
Please try and keep up!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Summer basil has gorn...but not forgotten

Interestingly, it seems to be Pesto Week on television.  On Italian Food Safari, Lucio Galletto showed how us to make pesto (with untoasted pinenuts, as they release their own oil), while on MasterChef Australia, the elimination challenge featured Genovese Pesto.

This is a basil pesto that I whipped up last weekend, after a trip to the markets. Unfortunately, summer is all but over and the basil leaves are large and bordering on bitterness.  Luckily, we can just add more parmesan cheese to cover it up...

The pesto is served with some chicken breast and roast vegetables.  Fortunately in this case, autumnal veges are currently in season and begging to be roasted, baked and finally anointed with a cheesey pesto.

Basil Pesto with Chicken and Roast Vegetables

makes 1 ½ cups
• 1 bunch fresh basil leaves, picked
• 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
• 2 garlic cloves, crushed
• ½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
• 1 tblsp lemon zest, finely grated
• ¼ cup olive oil

Baked Vegetables
• Vegetables such as kent or jap pumpkin (sliced), baby potatoes, red onion (quartered)

• For each person, 1 x 200g chicken breast

1. Place basil, pine nuts, garlic, lemon zest and parmesan in a food processor. Process until finely chopped and combined.
2. With motor running, add olive oil in a thin, steady stream. Process until combined. Transfer to a bowl. Pesto can be stored covered in refrigerator for up to 3 days. Cover with a layer of olive oil to stop the basil from darkening.
3. For the vegetables, preheat oven to 200 deg C/ 400 deg F. In a baking tray, toss the vegetables in oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven until done, about 20-30 minutes.
4. For the chicken, preheat a barbecue plate or chargrill on medium. Brush chicken with oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 4-5 minutes each side or until cooked through.
5. To serve, slice the chicken and top of some roast vegetables. Serve basil pesto on the side.


Gorgeously autumnal colours...

Topped with basil.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hello Filbert! Pear and Hazelnut Torta

Hazelnuts are the forgotten nut, for me at least.  While almonds, cashews and macadamias feature frequently in my kitchen, the humble hazelnut usually misses out.  I'm not sure why this is - hazelnuts are a good source of Vitamin E, and some species are also known by the adorable name of filbert nut. 'Filbert' might even be the star in Ferrero Rochers, correct me if I'm wrong.

This recipe for Pear and Hazelnut Torta was found in the May 2009 issue of delicious magazine (the Italian issue) and it's by Belinda Jeffery.  Printed in large type on the page were the words 'quick', 'easy' and 'dessert in a hurry'.  That's for me, thanks!

The torta brought back memories of my pear frangipane tart - it even looks similar. But the hazelnuts in the tart have a completely different flavour, and I think this tart/torta is much better, tastewise.  So, hello Filbert, welcome to my kitchen.

Pear and Hazelnut Torta
serves 8

• 100g toasted hazelnuts (skins removed)
• 1/2 cup (125g) caster sugar
• 1/3 cup (50g) plain flour
• 1/2 tsp baking powder
• Pinch of salt
• 2 free-range eggs
• 1/4 cup (60ml) milk
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 80g unsalted butter, melted, cooled
• 20g unsalted butter, chilled, chopped
• 2 ripe beurre bosc pears
• Icing sugar, to dust

1. Preheat oven to 170C.
2. Lightly grease a 26cm round tart pan or a ceramic flan dish.
3. Place hazelnuts, caster sugar and 1 tblsp flour into a food processor and mix until hazelnuts are finely ground but not too much that they form a paste. Pour mixture into a large bowl.
4. To the nut mixture, sift remaining flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt and whisk until well combined.
5. Beat eggs in a separate bowl until just frothy and then whisk in milk, vanilla and cooled melted butter. Pour the egg mixture into the nut mixture and mix until combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
6. Peel and core the pears and cut into quarters. For each quarter, slit the pear into 5mm-thick slices but do not cut all the way through. Press down gently on the quarters with the palm of your hand, so the pear fans out. Using a knife, slide it under a quarters and carefully transfer it onto the batter. Do likewise for the remaining quarters. Dot with small chunks of the chilled butter.
7. Bake the torta for 25-30 minutes until it becomes a little puffy on top. If it is browning too quickly, cover it loosely with foil.
8. Remove from the oven and sift the icing sugar thickly over the top. Let it cool and sift more icing sugar on the torta before serving.

Recipe adapted from delicious (May 2009)

l-r from top left:
hazelnuts, sugar, flour in the processor; after mixing, Filbert becomes a fine meal; putting baking powder into the flour; whisking the eggs, vanilla and milk; tart is dotted with butter, ready to bake
Note: I used my regular flan tin, which has a perforated loose bottom. This is good for rolled pastry tarts, but not very good for batters like this one (small leakage problem).

Dust over icing sugar after taking the torta out of the oven.
Note the dark spots on my tart - the oven is playing up and burning things it has no right to burn.  Oven repairman may need to make a return visit.

Verdict: This is a delicious tart (from delicious magazine!). Well worth making.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Red Onion Jam with sausages and pseudo-mash

I has a hankerin' fer sausages.

That's how I felt last night. A sudden chilly wind was blowing through the city streets and the phrase going through my head was 'sausages and mash, sausages and mash. And onions'.

A quick pickup of lamb and rosemary sausages from the butcher, together with some red onions from the greengrocer, and dinner was almost there.  Well, almost. The onion jam I decided to make does take some time on the stove, so instead of mash, I stuck some gratin potatoes in the oven to pass the time. The gratin was so good, dripping with cream and cheese.

Here is the recipe for the tangy yet sweet red onion jam.

Onion Jam
makes 1 1/2 cups

80g butter
4 large red onions, halved then sliced thinly
pinch of salt
185ml (3/4 cup) red wine vinegar
100g (1/2 cup) brown sugar, firmly packed

1.  Place the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Heat until the butter starts to foam.
2.  Add red onions and salt and cook, stirring, for 15 minutes or until onions are soft.
3.  Add red wine vinegar and brown sugar.  Stir until sugar dissolves, then bring to the boil. 
4.  Simmer over low heat for 25-30 minutes, until the mixture thickens.
5.  Remove from the heat and serve immediately.  The onion jam will keep in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days - cool to room temperature before storing.

Ingredients - just 4
So many adjectives to describe this delicious, jammy accompaniment
Served with lamb sausages and potato gratin

Monday, May 3, 2010

ATFT photography workshop at Mumu Grill

I'm a bit late with this post on the food photography workshop presented by Billy of A Table for Two (I attended the session held on 24th April). But Billy has just announced another 2 workshops in June, so it's timely after all.

The workshop was held in the private dining room next door to Mumu Grill in Crows Nest.  The room also backs onto the restaurant's kitchen, as we found out when quite a bit of smoke started seeping into the room just before lunch.  Never mind, the topics in the workshop are interesting enough to make you ignore the fact that you are suffocating...

The attendees for this workshop included foodbloggers and non-foodbloggers, and most wielded DSLR cameras.  Only myself and another blogger had compact cameras, though of a higher spec than the usual.  It helps if you understand your camera's usage and controls before coming to the course.  A knowledge of photo-editing software is also useful.

Most of us use Photoshop, and Billy also showed us Lightroom, which is looks like a great product.  He also covered subjects like photo composition, restaurant etiquette (to ask or not to ask), publishing on blogs and keyword searches.

Although I already knew about some of the things we discussed, I picked up a couple of useful tips, including how to use spot metering, which is something I'd never bothered with before.

Getting up close and personal with our food

Speaking of lunch... a benefit of the workshop is that you get to eat the food that you photograph, and such fabulous food it is too.  My previous meal at Mumu Grill was for Duckfest 2010, and the food this time was even better.

Lunch included a selection of appetisers, including figs wrapped in prosciutto and goat's cheese. The main of t-bone tagliata was amazingly tender and tasty, accompanied by duck fat potatoes and cherry tomato saladDessert plate included rhubarb cake and pavlova.

Just to prove I was paying attention, here is a photo that has had things done to it, as I learned on the course.  Spot the difference.
Some of the adjustments include: white balance, cropping, levels, and soft light filter.

If you want to learn more about how to improve your photos, and get a good feed at the same time, I can highly recommend ATFT's photography workshop - A satisfied customer