Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010: A year of many cookbooks

Thnking back on the year that was, ie. 2010, the thing that stands out for me is the amount of photos I took of food.  Coming a close second in terms of *blink* amount of things is how many cookbooks I accumulated.  Sure, I bought heaps (too many) of other non-fiction and novels, as well, but the cookbooks sit there, reminding me, in a pile on the sideboard because they are too big to fit into my 'cupboard full of books and stuff that will get dusty if it's not put away'.

So.  Here's a summary of some of the books I bought, and what they are up to as the year draws to a close.

Most Surprising
Yotam Ottolenghi's first book, Ottolenghi the Cookbook, was bought on a whim, because someone somewhere on the internet had mentioned it.  I am extremely glad to have this book in my collection because every recipe I've tried is a winner - the flavours are fantastic, the ingredients are interesting but not too hard to find, and most of the dishes are easy to make. There aren't pictures of every dish in the book, and it's kind of difficult to make a barley salad look interesting, but Ottolenghi manages to convey a sense of fun, making each dish exude an uncomplicated naturalness that's mouthwatering in its simplicity. 
My favourite recipe of the year is this buttered prawn, tomato and olive dish that tastes amazing and is so quick to prepare.

Most Promising
Usually before I buy, I flick through a book to see if any of the recipes 'speak to me'.  Tobie Puttock's Cook Like an Italian cried out (in an Italian accent) 'ah, signorina, compri questo libro, รจ buono per voi!*' accompanied with a clicking of fingers.  I love the clear recipes and descriptions of ingredients and how they are used in Italian cooking. I also like how the book has footnotes on adjusting the recipes for gluten, dairy and lactose intolerance.  There are also little paragraphs on the various Italian towns (Parma, Venezia, Lucca, Firenze!) and it's like going on a mini tour of the regions. I've only made one recipe so far (this lovely gnudi with pancetta and broad beans) and I can't wait to try more. Molto bene!
*bad translation: 'hey lady, buy me, I could be so good for you!'

Lives up to the Hype Award
You'll notice that most of my cookbook purchases are by so-called 'celebrity chefs', ie. chefs who have restaurants and have suddenly discovered the benefits of Fame (chef fame, not Fame dance school fame).  I wasn't expecting much from Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris's Your Place or Mine?, but the book lives up to the Masterchef hype.  It contains lots of do-able recipes (with a brief chatty piece by each of the guys on why they chose it) and they (the guys) do come across as very likeable, in case you didn't already know it. The best part of the book for me are the photographs - full page portraits of each dish that will have you licking the drool off the page before running to the kitchen to grab a saucepan to start cooking. I made Gary's tasty Miso with Eggplant and tried to replicate the colourful picture in the book - both the eggplant and the pic do the original dish justice, I hope.

Best Picture
Well, now we come to the award of the night.  It goes without saying that it is unlikely I will be making anything from this book because a) I can predict my own failure, b) the pictures are so stunning that I prefer looking at the pictures rather than getting hands on, and c) come on, really, as if!
And the award goes to ... Bentley by Brent Savage.  From the thick, black embossed cover to the 'OMG! look at that!' recipes, this is one good-looking book.  Brent Savage does say in the book it was a challenge to think about the recipes in the context of homecooking, and there are an abundance of recipes requiring a Pacojet, liquid nitrogen and trimoline - if you need to look these things up in the Glossary, then see c) above.
But the photographs and dishes are really inspirational, and who knows, one day, when I'm feeling ambitious or insomniac, I may give them a go.

The Rest
I do have other cookbooks in addition to the ones in the photo above.  Of the ones here, delicious More Please deserves a mention because I love delicious magazine and this book is a collection of similar recipes (easy to prepare, nicely styled and photographed).
You may notice that I have The Pioneer Woman Cooks and Bakerella's Cake Pops. Both bought due to the writers' blogs and both never used - the books are alright, I just prefer the blogs.

There you have it.
A year of cookbooks and of cooking.
Here's to more cooking and cookbook buying in 2011.

Tabitha cat checks out the nominees


Where's my goodie bag for being a presenter??

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Season's Greetings from Bel and Tab



Wishing everyone a happy Christmas and new Year!

Here's to more tasty food and craft adventures in 2011


and here's a virtual Christmas cake for you to enjoy...

cake from Sweet Infinity (Strand Arcade, Sydney)

love,
Bel and Tab

Monday, December 20, 2010

Like an Italian: gnudi con pancetta e fave


Do you have a favourite cuisine? What type of food do you love to prepare - and eat? Discuss.

Enough questions, already! Well, I am interested in why some types of food are so popular, though you can probably guess why. I mean, desserts are eternally admired because they are sweet and attractive.  French food is ร  la mode because it is refined, attractive and dripping with buttery goodness.  And molecular gastronomy is fashionable because... it's attractive?  Please excuse the generalisations, I'm in a bit of a stupor with the pre-Christmas preparations.

Which leads me onto my favourite style of food - Italian.  Why do I like it? I think it's because it's usually easy to prepare, and to me, growing up in Australia, strangely exotic.  And that's why a new book by Tobie Puttock, called 'Cook like an Italian', is so fascinating.  It documents Tobie's travels through various regions of Italy and it's filled with postcard-images of the villages, countryside and people.  It also has heaps of lovely, rustic recipes that are nonetheless strangely exotic

This is the first dish I made from the book.  The gnudi (aka gnocchi made with ricotta instead of potato) are wonderfully light, and best of all, easy to make.  The original recipe uses guanciale, but I've substituted pancetta and it is lovely, too.  If you see the book, it's worth having a flick through it - I picked up my copy during the pre-Christmas sales, so that's my Christmas pressie sorted!

Gnudi con pancetta e fave
Gnudi with pancetta and broad beans
serves 4


Ingredients
350g fresh ricotta
1 egg, lightly beaten
40g freshly grated pecorino
1/3 cup plain (all-purpose) flour
sea salt
1 cup broad (fava) beans (fresh or frozen), removed from pods
6 slices pancetta or guanciale (cured pig cheek), cut into matchsticks
olive oil
50g butter
8 mint leaves
small handful of flat-leaved parsley, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
extra pecorino, to serve

Method
1.  Put the ricotta in a sieve lined with paper towel sitting over a large bowl.  Refrigerate for 1 hour to remove excess moisture.
2.  Place the ricotta in a large bowl and fold in the egg, pecorino and half the flour.  Use a spoon to combine all the ingredients, then season with salt to taste.  Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
3.  Meanwhile, being a saucepan of water to the boil and cook the broad beans for 1-2 minutes. Drain then refresh under cold water. Remove outer skins and set beans aside.
4.  Remove ricotta mixture from fridge. Dust a clean bench with a little of the remaining flour.  Take a handful of the ricotta mixture and roll into a sausage shape about 3cm (1 1/4 in) in diameter.  Cut the roll into 2cm pieces to form little pillows (the gnudi).  Repeat with the remaining mixture.
5.  In a large, non-stick pan, cook the pancetta over medium heat until the fat melts.  When the pancetta becomes crispy, remove from the pan and drain.  Wipe out the pan with paper towe.
6.  Bring a large pan of water to the boil with a good pinch of salt.  Dip the gnudi into the rmaining flour and shake well to remove excess flour.  Gently drop the gnudi into the boiling water and cook untit they rise to the surface.  Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a sieve to dry a little. Sprinkle over a small amount of olive oil to stop them sticking together.
7.  Melt the butter in the non-stick pan over medium heat.  Add the gnudi and gently cook until they become golden on all sides. You may need to reduce the heat so the butter does not burn.  Then add the broad beans, crispy pancetta, mint, parsley and some pepper.
8.  Serve immediately with the grate pecorino.

Recipe adapted from Cook Like an Italian by Tobie Puttock (Lantern)

Ingredients, including fresh ricotta cheese, pecorino, egg, mint, broad beans and pancetta

Roll the dough into a thin log, then cut into pieces before frying in butter, lots of butter...

Sprinkle the gnudi with more grated pecorino before serving

I like cooking like an Italian ! 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Felix Bistro Bar, Sydney

Felix Bistro and Bar is like a traditional Parisian bistrot transported to the shores of Sydney.

The head chef at Felix is Lauren Murdoch, who used to run the kitchen at Ash Street Cellar which is located in the laneway opposite Felix.  And it's been a long time coming, judging by the months that have passed since the hoardings in the laneway were put up.  Now, all is revealed.

Felix is all bentwood chairs, crisp white tablecloths, waiters in waistcoats and long aprons, an oyster bar and rotisserie - and wonderful French-inspired food.  I had lunch at Felix to celebrate a girlfriend's birthday, and in its second or so week of being open, the place was packed with city office workers (mainly men) and tables of lunching ladies (er, mainly women).  The word is certainly out that this is the place to eat. And the noise levels are correspondingly high.

The waitstaff are friendly, chatty and professional.  On being presented with three different types of breads, the waiter explained that there are no individual bread plates 'because they don't have them in France'.

There is an impressive wall of wine behind the glass-fronted seafood bar at the back of the room.  On beds of ice and seaweed are the scallops, crabs, prawns and oysters that will make their way onto the seafood platter (market price).   My friend and I couldn't resist sharing some oysters.
The various oysters ($3.50 each) came from Forster, Port Stephens and Hastings River. I thought the Forster oysters were the best - clear and plump with a distinct briny flavour.  The Hastings River oysters were slightly bitter in comparison.  The oysters came with an eschallot vinaigrette and a muslin-wrapped lemon. I didn't think the oysters needed anything on them, they were beautifully fresh au naturale.

Here are the mains:
I had a meat-melting-off-the-bone duck confit with pickled pears and grilled radicchio ($34). The confit duck leg was extremely flavoursome and moist, though I found the radicchio so unpleasantly bitter that I couldn't eat it.  My friend had flank steak with herb butter and fries ($34). Again, the meat was nicely cooked with great flavour.  We shared some green beans with parsley butter ($10) that were on the crisp side (good).

The menu also has rabbit, lamb pie, pork cutlet and well-known French classics like Gruyere souffle, crumbed lamb's brains, steak Tartare and tripes a la Lyonnaise.  If you look around (and cover your ears to the Aussie-accented conversation nearby), you might imagine that you're in Paris..

My friend declared herself too full for dessert, but I forced her to order something for us to share (because it was her birthday!).  Among the dessert items of coconut meringue, tarte tatin, banana souffle and chocolate mousse, she chose the lemon delicious pudding.
Lemon delicious pudding with cream and candied lemon ($16) is not what I would have chosen, but I'm so glad we had it.  The pudding was amazingly light with the tang of citron, and the accompanying cream was topped with strips of candied lemon zest that was easy enough to eat on its own. I loved this dessert!  We also had English breakfast tea ($4 each) and were given petit fours of almond friand.

Felix is a welcome addition to Sydney's CBD. Like Ash Street Cellar, it gives a taste of Europe in this little wannabe laneway.  Both places draw the crowds, and with such polished food and service, it's not hard to see why Felix is so popular so soon. 
 I thought the serving sizes were modestly sized, but for lunch, you probably wouldn't want too much food.  They probably expect you to hit the extensive wine list, too. The bar is on the other side of the restaurant and it also looks like a pleasant, casual place to have a bite (with a glass of vin rouge).

Felix is at 2 Ash St, Sydney (behind the Ivy complex in George St).
Ph: 02 9240 3000.
Lunch: Mon-Fri, 12-3pm.  Dinner: Mon-Sat, 5.30-10.30pm
Felix - Bistro and Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Finally getting ready for Christmas...


If you have a spare minute, why not pop over to my Craft blog to see my Christmas cards for this year.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Espresso jellies


I read somewhere that Jellies are going to be the next big thing. Or rather, the next big thing for this month, at least.  They are talking about fantastical jellies in fancy moulds, in the shape of castles and mermaids and in wonderful flavours like Cosmopolitan cocktail(!).

Well, if you've come here for that, there's nothing to see here.  I do, however, have some classy espresso coffee jellies inspired by Donna Hay.  This is an easy recipe that produces a dessert that can be jazzed up any way you like and it certainly looks impressive topped with raspberries like I've done here. If raspberries aren't in season, then other berries, or vanilla-scented whipped cream, are just as splendid.

Chocolate Espresso Jellies
Serves 4

Ingredients
3 tsp gelatine powder
2 tbsp warm water
2 cups (500ml) strong ground coffee
1/2 cup (110g) caster sugar
180g dark chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup (60ml) Marsala or coffee liqueur
½ cup (125ml) pouring cream
whipped cream or fresh berries, to serve

Method
1.  Place the gelatine and water in a bowl and stir to combine. Set aside for 5 minutes or until the gelatine is absorbed.
2.  Place the coffee and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat, add the gelatine mixture and stir until dissolved. Set aside to cool for 20 mins. Pour the mixture into 4 x 1 cup capacity glasses and refrigerate for 2-3 hours (or overnight) until set.
3.  Place the chocolate, Marsala and 1/2 cup of the cream in a saucepan over low heat and stir for 2-3 minutes or until chocolate is melted and smooth. Set aside to cool.
4.  Spoon the cooled chocolate mixture over the set jellies and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
5.  Top the chocolate-layered jellies with the cream or berries before serving.

Recipe adapted from Donna Hay magazine
Ingredients, including cream, caster sugar (I used raw caster sugar), gelatine, dark chocolate and beloved Kahlua liqueur. I also used a strong blend of hazelnut-flavoured coffee and it added a richness to the flavour of the jelly. 
I also added some Kahlua to the jelly mixture...

Make up the jellies first, then add the chocolate layer after the jellies have set. I used less chocolate than the original recipe and would probably have a thinner layer of chocolate again next time (it's quite rich and sweet).
top photo: Tabitha cat spies a noisy bird on a neighbouring rooftop. Shoo!!

Raspberries are in season, though still sooo expensive. They are worth it, though, for the tart sweetness they add to this dessert. And they look beautiful, don't they?
Like I said, beautiful...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Rosewater Melon Balls

How easy and pretty is this? That's a rhetorical question, by the way.
If you need an answer, then it's 'Very. And very'.

I was inspired by a suitably glamorous picture in the December issue of Gourmet Traveller that showed a perfectly hollowed-out watermelon with perfectly spherical balls of watermelon, rockmelon and honeydew. And a perfectly-placed sprig of greenery on top, just so.

Well, I thought, two can play at that game, but one of them isn't me.  I mean, I try really hard and all, but I'm quite timid when it comes to hacking into a large, hefty fruit with a sharp knife.  So my watermelon is a bit lopsided (let's just say it's charmingly asymmertical).  The melon balls, though, are so adorably, mouthwateringly, refreshingly CUTE!

Melon Balls with Rosewater Syrup
serves 6

Ingredients
1/2 medium watermelon
1/2 rockmelon
2 nectarines

Rosewater syrup
1 cup water
1 cup white caster sugar
1 tblsp rosewater (or more to taste)

Method
1.  To make the rosewater syrup: place the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add the rosewater and taste and add more rosewater if desired.  Set the syrup aside to cool.
2.  Remove the seeds from the rockmelon, then use a melon baller to carve balls from the watermelon and rockmelon and place into a large bowl.  Smooth out the insides of the watermelon with a spoon.
3.  Cut the nectarines into thin slices and add to the bowl.  Chill the fruit in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
4.  Pour the cooled rosewater syrup over the fruit and mix together gently.  Transfer the fruit to the hollowed watermelon to serve.
Ingredients, including lopsided watermelon, rockmelon and nectarines. You could also use honeydew melon.
I love 'my' melon baller (appropriated from my mother when she wasn't looking).


Also added some pomegranate seeds for crunch


And some colourful mint leaves


This dessert really is sweet and pretty. And don't forget, easy!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Chorizo haloumi skewers

I have a problem. It's this - what do I make for dinner when I just want something salady (read: healthy and not too calorific) and 'someone else' wants something meaty (read: fat-laden and filling)?

Well, I'm not going to prepare two meals, if that's what you're suggesting. I have enough trouble deciding what to have for breakfast, morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea, let alone the evening meal.  The solution is simple - have two smallish 'courses' to satisfy us both.

This meal marries the versatile sausage, chorizo, with the multi-talented cheese, haloumi.  Bring them together on some skewers, and combine with a chickpea and zucchini salad, and is everybody happy? You bet your life we are!

Chorizo and haloumi skewers with chickpea salad
serves 2

Ingredients
1 x 400g can chickpeas (garbanzos), rinsed and drained
1 zucchini (courgette), thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 small red chilli, chopped
¼ cup mint leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil

250g haloumi, chopped
1 chorizo, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil, extra

 Method
1.  Place the chickpeas in a bowl and lightly crush with a fork. Add the zucchini, garlic, chilli, mint, lemon juice and olive oil and toss to combine.
2.  Place the haloumi, chorizo and extra oil in a bowl and toss to combine. Thread onto skewers.
3.  Heat a large non-stick frying pan over high heat and cook the skewers for 2 minutes on each side or until golden.
4.  Serve the skewers with the chickpea salad.

Recipe from donnahay.com.au


Some of the ingredients for this simple meal: zucchini, chilli, chickpeas, chorizo and haloumi

The chorizo and haloumi skewers at the fore...

...and the chickpea and zucchini salad also has a starring role.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Frozen tiramisu - what a knockover


This is just a quick post because I wanted to fancify my already delicious stash of Peters Overload ice cream.  I found a suitably decorative (but simple) idea in an old issue of Donna Hay mag, and a couple of hours later was able to unmould this posh-looking dessert to a small but appreciative audience, ie. me and him

There aren't many step-by-step photos of the process here because I had a .. um... 'accident' with my bottle of Kahlua during the preparation - I knocked it over and a third.of the bottle quickly trickled/poured down the countertop and cupboards.  It's times like these you need a stiff drink. And a kitchen elf to do the cleaning up.

By the way, don't forget to enter the chunktastic Peters Overload ice cream kit giveaway.  You could win your own stash of ice cream and impress your guests with even less effort than this. Enter here!

Frozen Tiramisu
serves 4

Ingredients
1 litre (1 3/4 pints) ice cream
1/2 cup coffee-flavoured liqueur, eg. Kahlua
10 sponge finger biscuits (Savoiardi)
1 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen

Method
1.  Line a small loaf tin with baking paper leaving enough paper to hang over the edges of the tin.  Dip the sponge fingers in the coffee liqueur and place half the biscuits in the base of the tin.
2. Layer with half the ice cream and the remaining biscuits.
3. Then add a layer of raspberries and the remaining ice cream.
4.  Place in the freezer for 3-4 hours or until firm.  Use the baking paper to lift the tiramisu out of the tin.  Cut into slices to serve.

Recipe adapted from Donna Hay magazine (Nov/Dec 2005)


I got as far as photographing the savoiardi in the tin before I knocked over the liqueur and had to scramble for the paper towels and cleaning spray (not used in this recipe).
I used Peters Overload ice cream in Rolo flavour for the tiramisu - it has amazing chunks of Rolo chocolate and caramel swizzled through the ice cream.
Just unmould the tiramisu after freezing for a couple of hours ...
Then slice and serve. The ice cream, berries and marinated sponge fingers are a knockout combination.
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