Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Honey vanilla panna cotta - ASAP!

I was shocked to notice that the last time I made panna cotta was over a year ago (in this lovely lychee-flavoured one, here). So, for someone who always orders panna cotta when it's on a menu, this situation had to be rectified asap. By the way, does any one actually say 'ay-sap'? Or do you spell out each letter, 'A-S-A-P'? Or take your time to say, 'as soon as possible'? OMG! WTF! LOL!

A quick interweb search unearthed this gem from New Zealand celebrity cook, Annabel Langbein. I think I remember seeing her make this honey and vanilla panna cotta on her 'Free Range Cook' TV show last year. I actually find her a bit irritating to watch - she was always driving a massive four-wheel-drive around the countryside to produce markets, or picking asparagus and plums from her orchard. Then all these people (invited guests, presumably) would descend on her farmhouse and eat the food. I think I'm just jealous because I wasn't there.

The recipes, though, are awesome - simple to make, from everyday ingredients - and they look like they taste wonderful. This panna cotta was certainly easy to make, with a hint of sourness from the buttermilk and the rich flavour of the honey and vanilla really shines through.

Honey and Vanilla Panna cotta
serves 8

2 cups cream, divided in half
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise, or 2 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup honey
½ cup sugar
4 tblsp cold water
4 tsp unflavoured gelatine
2 cups buttermilk

1. Place 1 cup of the cream in a saucepan with the vanilla pod, honey and sugar and heat, stirring, until the sugar has fully dissolved. Simmer for 1 minute.
2. Remove the pot from the heat and lift out the vanilla pod. Split the vanilla pod open and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds back into the cream mixture and whisk to combine. The leftover pod can be rinsed and dried and stored in a container of sugar to add vanilla flavour to it).
3. Place the cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatine over the top, stirring until it is fully absorbed. Add the soaked gelatine to the hot cream, stirring until it is fully dissolved and there are no lumps.
4. Cool the mixture for 15-20 minutes, stirring often (it needs to be cool before the buttermilk is added or it will split). Lightly whip the remaining cup of cream and stir it into the cooled mixture, then whisk in the buttermilk until the mixture is smooth.
5. Divide the mixture between 6-8 serving glasses. Cover and refrigerate until set. This should take about 3-4 hours or up to 24 hours. Serve chilled.

recipe from
Simple ingredients.
By the way, if you're worried about the taste of powdered gelatine in this recipe, don't be; the vanilla and honey effectively mask it.
To test the wobble factor of this panna cotta, I put some of them into teacups and then unmoulded them.
They had a nice wobbliness and were relatively easy to remove from the moulds.
I picked up these pretty serving glasses from the local flea market at 50 cents each - bargain!
They perfectly show off the creaminess of the panna cotta.
These were served with cubes of pear, blueberries and passionfruit.
And some crisp chocolate 'cigars'.
Five stars for this dessert - I still can't get over how beautifully they turned out.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Déjà vu mushroom risotto

Do you ever get that feeling of je ne sais quoi, where you start humming a long-lost song in your head and it comes on the radio? Or when you are doing something and get the feeling that it’s happened before (that’s déjà vu, isn’t it?).

Well, I had decided to make a porcini mushroom risotto for dinner the other day, and half an hour before I started it, I was watching Jamie Oliver on television, and he was showing how to make mushroom risotto! Spooky.

What was particularly interesting was the ‘real Italian’ method he used to cook the risotto, including putting the lid on the pan after cooking, to let the rice ‘rest’. As it turned out, the recipe I used (by Tobie Puttock), also recommends resting the rice in the same manner. Perhaps it’s a common method, but it was new to me, and therefore a bit uncanny. And maybe the lashings of butter and parmesan cheese is also traditional – I certainly hope so, because it was delicious.

By the way, I didn’t mean to post another mushroom risotto recipe so soon after the last one, but it’s just what we had for dinner recently (that was worth posting about!).

Risotto ai porcini, salvia e pancetta
Risotto of porcini mushrooms, sage and bacon

1 litre hot chicken or vegetable stock
30g dried porcini mushrooms
50g butter
1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 celery stick, finely sliced
8 slices flat pancetta or bacon, finely sliced
250g risotto rice
100ml dry white wine
50g grate parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

1. Pour the stock into a saucepan and add the porcini. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. After 5 minutes, remove the porcini and coarsely chop and set aside. Leave the stock on low heat.
2. In a heavy-based pan, melt 20g butter and all the olive oil over low-medium heat. Add the onion, celery, pancetta and sage, and sweat for 5-10 minutes, stirring, until the vegetables are soft. Add the rice and cook over a low heat until it becomes translucent.
3. Add the wine to the rice mixture and stir. When the rice has almost completely evaporated, add a ladle of hot stock and stir until almost absorbed. Add the porcini mushrooms. Continue to add the stock a ladle at a time until the rice is al dente (20-25 minutes).
4. Remove the pan from the heat and add the parmesan and remaining butter. Stir well, then cover the pan and allow to rest for a minute or two. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.
5. Serve immediately with more parmesan.

Recipe adapted from Cook like an Italian by Tobie Puttock

Ingredients, including bacon/pancetta, celery, onion, stock, dried porcini mushrooms and carnaroli rice.
Forgot to show the sage.

The usual way of making risotto: Stir in the white wine until the rice becomes translucent, then add the hot stock, a ladle at a time

The sage adds a lovely flavour to the risotto. The dried porcini, sage and bacon also contribute.

This risotto turned out bellissimo!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bite this: Chocolate Caramel Bites

I was quite interested to see another use for ANZAC biscuits in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago, and even more interested to see it being attributed to Masterchef Australia judge Matt Preston. Cravat Matt writes for several food mags and has even been featured in 'what I cook at home'-type stories (he happily barbeques slabs of meat by the looks of it). I've never cooked from anything of his, so I thought I'd give these Chocolate Caramel Bites a try.

Note: Choc Caramel Bites are my name for these. The original recipe calls them 'ANZAC cups with caramel' which I thought was a misnomer. Why? Because you're supposed to use ANZAC biscuits to produce something like this:
The thing is, the recipe just says to use a 'muffin tray' to make the cups, but doesn't specify what size tray to use. AND you'll notice in the newspaper clipping that there is only one cup pictured. It's always suspicious when you see just one or two things because it makes you/me think that these are the only ones that worked, and in the background is a sobbing chef surrounded by broken biscuits and over-wrought minions. And a food stylist trying to wrangle a photograph with a single ANZAC cup and some slices of mango.

Onto the recipe -- I ended up using a mini muffin pan (12 cups per tray) because my ANZAC biscuits were smallish. You have to squeeze the warm ANZAC biscuits into each muffin hole. They will break. You have to squash them together until they fuse up and reform. You may eat the many leftover crumbs and failures.

So these are 'bites' rather than 'cups'. They turned out surprisingly well, moreish little bits of almost-burnt caramel that was offset by the sweet chocolate and yummy ANZAC base. Maybe the Cravat can be trusted after all.

Chocolate Caramel Bites
makes 24

24 ANZAC biscuits, just baked (previous ANZAC biscuit recipe is here)

Caramel filling:
1 cup sugar
50g butter
1/4 cup cream
1/2 cup cream
150g dark or milk chocolate, chopped
40g butter, chopped

1. For the base: Bake your ANZAC biscuits, but do not let them cool completely. While the biscuits are still warm, push each biscuit into the holes of a mini muffin tin and shape it around the hole to get a cup shape. If they break, just push them back together. Do this with 24 ANZAC biscuits.  When cooled, gently tip the formed biscuits out of the muffin tin and set aside.
2. For the caramel filling: In a heavy-based large saucepan, heat the sugar until the sugar crystals dissolve, the mixture boils and starts to become a golden colour. Do not stir once the sugar has started to boil. When this stage has been reached, whisk in the butter with the pan on the heat - be careful, as it may bubble over. When the butter has melted, remove from the heat and pour in the cream. Again, it may froth.Gently stir with a metal whisk to combine. Let the caramel cool slightly, and while it is still quite liquid, pour into each of the biscuit cases almost to the top. Place in the fridge to set.
3. For the ganache:  Melt the chocolate in the microwave (Low setting, in 30 second bursts, until almost fully melted). Warm the cream in a saucepan but do not boil.  Add the melted chocolate to the cream and stir to combine.  Mix in the butter bit by bit until it's all incorporated and the ganache is sleek and glossy.  Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes, then spoon the ganache on top of the caramel cases. Leave to set before serving.

Store the caramel cups in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

- If you have any leftover ganache, then it can be stored in the fridge for up to a week. Melt it in the microwave or on the stove and pour over ice cream. Yum.
- You could also make these bites with other chewy, homemade biscuits, such as gingernuts or brandy snaps.

recipe adapted from Taste in the Daily Telegraph

So the warm, just-baked ANZAC biscuits are forced into the the muffin tin. See the mess? I made that! I used a wodge of paper towel to protect my finger from the heat of the biscuits when I pressed them into the tin.
When cool, remove the cases from the tin. If you try this recipe, you may want to ensure that the sides are a bit more level than mine.

Making the caramel: I was a bit slow in noticing that the caramel had turned and it was just on the point of being burnt when I removed it from the heat. That's why it's such a dark brown colour.
Fill the cases with the cooled caramel. Again, if the sides were level, then it wouldn't have leaked so much.

Top the caramel with chocolate ganache, then refrigerate to set.

These bites were a success. How can you tell? Well, try and stop at just one...
PS: A sprinking of salt flakes on top increases the enjoyment.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A yoshoku Japanese mushroom risotto

I said I'd make another recipe from the yoshoku cookbook, and here it is. It's a bit of a doozy, since I reduced the amount of ingredients to serve two and still ended up with so much risotto that I felt like I was turning into a pudgy bowl of rice after eating it all (of course, I had to eat it all since it does not keep very well).

This recipe is also quite time-consuming, with all the prep work of making stock, pre-cooking the mushies and stirring, stirring, all the time stirring. It is worth it, though, because the rice turned out very creamy and luscious. The recipe specifies using Japanese short grain rice which is more glutinous and needs more liquid to cook, but I used ordinary Arborio risotto rice and it worked out fine. If you can set aside an hour or so to make this fusion risotto, then I'm sure you will find it worthwhile, too.

Japanese Mushroom Risotto
Serves 3-4

Ingredients3 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 tblsp kombu (kelp)
2 tblsp soy sauce
80ml (1/3 cup) mirin
20g butter
250g mixed fresh Japanese mushrooms, like shiitake, shimeji, oyster and enoki, trimmed and sliced
1 tblsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
1 cup short grain rice
2 tblsp parsley, finely chopped
½ bunch chives, chopped
Parmesan cheese, to serve

1. To make the stock: Put the dried shiitake mushrooms and kombu in a saucepan with 4 cups of water and bring to the boil over high heat. Turn off the heat and sit for 15 minutes. Discard the kombu and remove the mushrooms. Cut off the mushroom stems and discard, and thinly slice the caps and set aside. Bring the stock back to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and add soy sauce and mirin.
2. Prepare the fresh mushrooms (excluding enoki): Melt half the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat, then add the fresh mushrooms and a pinch of salt and cook for 5-7 minutes until the mushrooms are wilted and any liquid has evaporated. Set aside.
3. For the onion and celery: Melt the remaining butter with the vegetable oil and sesame oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and celery and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is lightly golden. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds.
4. Start cooking the rice: Add the rice and stir to coat in the butter and onion mixture. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until the rice is slightly translucent. Gradually stir in 1/2 cup of the simmering stock, stirring until it has almost been absorbed before adding remaining stock, a 1/2 cup at a time. This should take about 25 minutes. With the last ¼ cup of liquid, add the cooked mushrooms, sliced shiitake and enoki, if using, and stir to heat through.
5. Remove pan from the heat, scatter over the parsley and chives and season to taste. Serve immediately with parmesan cheese.

Recipe adapted from yoshoku by Jane Lawson

Ingredients, including mirin, soy sauce and sesame oil, onion, celery, dried shiitake, kombu and mixed fresh mushrooms. I picked up a tray of fresh Japanese mushrooms that had a combination of shiitake, enoki and a single, fat-stemmed king trumpet mushroom.
For the mushrooms, the stems should be discarded from the shiitake, the enoki should be separated (and the bit at the base of the stem that holds them together should be removed). The stem of the king trumpet can be sliced up and used.

The dried shiitakes contribute to the flavour of the stock that is used to cook the rice.
Before adding the liquid, swirl the rice in the onion and butter so it becomes a bit translucent.

An hour later, a lovely dish of risotto with Japanese flavours

It was worth the effort although next time I'll invite others around to share it.

And don't forget a sprinkling of parmesan cheese to add creaminess and 'umami'

Sunday, May 8, 2011

New Sucre, Balmain

I don't want to speak ill of the departed, but there once was a shop in Darling Street in Balmain that sold 'old wares', mainly clothing and knick-knacks. I don't like so-called vintage shopping at the best of times (give me nice, new, clean stuff anytime) and the smell emanating from this shop was abhorrent. Some people like it, but I don't. 
So it was a happy day when they announced that they were CLOSING DOWN! There are lots of 'For Lease' signs in Darling Street, so I didn't hold out much hope for anything decent to open in its place anytime soon. My dream is for a Gloria Jean's coffee shop to open (don't hate me).
Then, signs went up saying that 'Sucre, a new dessert heaven' was opening.
Sucre is a chocolate and dessert shop, sort of like Koko Black and Haigh's, and they serve desserts and coffee, etc . Oh, how we've been suffering withdrawals since the Zumbo cafe closed.
The best thing is that they are open past 6pm (Thu to Sat), which gives us locals time to drop in and pick up dessert. That's what I did, and here's what I got.

They have some fancy cakes in a cabinet, like citron tarts, and this looked to be the best of them. Blueberry Temptation ($6) is blueberry mousse and jelly on a chocolate cake base. The texture was good although the flavour is not very strong. Very pretty, though.

This gorgeous slice is cut from a massive cake. Chocolate Chambord cake ($5) is moist chocolate cake with rich Chambord raspberry liqueur running through it. It has chocolate ganache icing and chocolate shavings on top. I love this cake! It's not too sweet (except the icing) and the raspberry flavour is fantastic. This cake was so good that I went back the day after and got another slice.

They have a wall of packaged sweets such as chilli chocolate, chocolate with chunks of strawberry, white almond roca, jars of Brighton rock, humbugs and other goodies. The prices are high-ish (around $10 for a block of chocolate). I got a 200g bag of honeycomb covered with Belgian chocolate ($10). Sweet but moreish.

So that was my first visit to Sucre. On my second visit, I got talking with the one of the owners, Ian, who runs the store with Judy. They are Balmain locals with a passion for chocolate. He let me try some of their hot chocolate (sugar-free!) which was velvety and smooth, just made for dunking in some beignets. I'll be trying them on my next visit.

Sucre is at 325 Darling St, Balmain, NSW
Sucre on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Coconut Macaroonies

This is just a quick post (quick as in not too much text, but same number of pictures as usual). I had some coconut left over from when I made these Anzac biscuits and wanted to use it up.
Coconut is easily forgotten at my house because it's stuck in the back of the cupboard in a container with some walnut crumbs, choc bits and slivered almonds with expiry dates from 2003 to 2007. I keep the said walnuts, choc bits and almonds 'just in case'. The same can be said for some skinny size XXS jeans in my wardrobe from 1996, but that's another story...

Anyway, this is a great recipe for using up desiccated coconut. I've been making this recipe since about 1996, which is probably why I am no longer a size XXS.

Coconut macaroons
makes about 30

2 1/2 cups desiccated coconut
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 tblsp self-raising flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla essence

1. Preheat oven to 190°C/375°F.
2. Put desiccated coconut, caster sugar and sifted flour into a bowl.
3. Stir in egg, milk and vanilla and mix well.
4. Use your hands to roll spoonfuls of the mixture into walnut-sized balls, and place on a baking tray lined with aluminium foil.
5. Bake for about 15 minutes or until slightly golden.

These macaroons are best eaten on the day they are made, or store in an air-tight container for up to 1 day.

Ingredients - milk, sugar, desiccated coconut, an egg, vanilla essence. Flour not shown.
Just mix the ingredients together and roll it into balls and bake. Easy.
These macaroons are lovely when served warm, just out of the oven.
Hmm, they look a bit like potato balls, don't they? The teacup in the background gives it away, though.
Delicious coconut macaroonies, perfect for a Mother's Day afternoon tea.
I call them 'macaroonies' because that's what they look like.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Leek fritters by the amazing Ottolenghi

I've been searching for lighter meals lately, probably to counteract the stodgy winter food I'm partial to. The first step in reducing stodge for me is to cut out the amount of meat. This is harder than it sounds, due to having to cook for someone who loves their meat and complains that something "doesn't taste right" when it's meatless, then makes himself a massive ham and blue cheese sandwich for dessert. 

A way to get around this habit is to i) complain loud and long, that "it's a bit rude when I've spent ages cooking this" *loud sigh*, and ii) make something that is so tasty and satisfying that any thought of cholesterol-laden sandwich desserts flies out the window.

These amazing leek fritters fit the bill on both counts. The recipe is from the equally amazing Yotam Ottolenghi, and they are fluffy like pancakes but with a spicy hit from the chilli and rich flavour from the cumin, turmeric and cinnamon. The best thing was the question "Mmm, are there any more?" after the first bite.

Leek Fritters
serves 2-3

2 medium leeks, trimmed and washed
4 green onions, finely chopped
100ml olive oil
1 long red chilli, deseeded and sliced
1/4 cup parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, separated
1 whole egg
100g plain flour
1 tblsp baking powder
100ml milk
30g unsalted butter, melted

1.  Cut leeks into 2cm (1in) thick slices.  Saute the green onions and leeks in a pan with half the oil on medium heat for 10 minutes, or until soft. Transfer to a large bowl and add the chilli, parsley, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, sugar and salt.  Allow to cool.

2.  Whisk the egg white to soft peaks and fold it into the vegetables. 

3.  In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, remaining egg yolk, whole egg, milk and butter to for a batter. Gently mix it into the egg white and vegetable mixture.

4.  Put 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil into a large frying pan and place over a medium heat.  Spoon about half of the vegetable mixture into the pan to make 4 large fritters. Fry them for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden and crisp.  Remove to a plate lined with paper towel and keep warm. Add more oil to the pan, if needed, and repeat with the remaining batter. This amount should make about 8 fritters.

5.  Serve warm with a squeeze of lemon or a sauce made by mixing Greek yoghurt, parsley and garlic.

recipe adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Ingredients, including leeks, green onions, spices (cinnamon, turmeric and cumin), eggs, red chilli and flour + baking powder

The leeks are cooked till soft, then mixed with whipped egg whites before being incorporated with the flour and milk to form a batter. The fritters may look sloppy, but they firm up beautifully as they cook (keep an eye on the underside to ensure they don't brown too much)

Serve the fritters with a dollop of yoghurt and parsley sauce.

These fritters are light as air, and very easy to eat!