Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bessie Jackson

Wednesday afternoon and the clock has just struck 3 - it's Soul Time. For those who don't already, this is the time to switch on your radio, tune into 106.7 PBS FM and bliss out to Vince Peach's excellent show. And seeing as this particular Wednesday afternoon happens to be New Years Eve, I thought about 3 o'clock might be a good time for a cocktail, too.

I can't think of a more perfect drink for this particular scenario than the Bessie Jackson cocktail in my friend Jane's gorgeous new book Cocktails & Rock Tales that I haven't had a chance to tell you about until now. When I picked up my copy and opened it randomly, this was the first recipe l saw. And, I soon realised, that it was housed in the Soul section. And, it uses Stone's Green Ginger Wine - so it really couldn't be more perfect, for a Wednesday afternoon at 3. If it so happens that you're listening to something else, like...The Pixies for instance, or Dolly Parton, Jane's book can help you out too with delicious drinks for a whole heap of genres. But of course for me, it's Soul and so I'm sitting here with my little cat Quincy, my other third away camping with the boys, sipping my Bessie Jackson on New Years Eve. Don't worry - it's quite blissful. And there are plenty of folk arriving later in the evening to attend to the seafood extravaganza that has eaten up all my fridge space. Of course.

Happy New Years. I hope yours is as sweet.x

Bessie Jackson
From Jane Rocca's Cocktails & Rock Tales

8 mint leaves
5 dashes of bitters
45ml Tennessee whiskey
15ml green ginger wine
30ml clear apple juice
mint spring to garnish

Muddle mint leaves and bitters in a shaker. Add remaining ingredients (except for garnish) and shake up with ice. Strain into an old-fashioned glass over ice (not an old champagne glass as in my picture) and garnish with mint spring. So. Good.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pomegranate and Apple Jelly

I love the way that moulded jelly looks like it has fallen from a children’s storybook onto your table, shining and wobbly. It, like chocolate mousse, was something we loved when we were kids and the best ever was when, for birthday parties, Mum would make layered jelly in different colours in small plastic wine glasses.

I’d been wanting for a while to make this jelly from Tessa Kiros’ beautiful book, Apples for Jam. We (now grown-ups) ate this two tone fruit juice treat the day before Christmas as an after-lunch dessert when we felt like something sweet that wouldn’t bowl us over right before the big day. It was light and refreshing, perfect for summer, or anytime you feel like some childhood comfort food minus the artificial colouring. This is so easy, and you could use all kinds of fruit, but the colours in this combination are beautiful I think. You can’t see it in the photograph, but I threw some blueberries into the pomegranate layer too, and they were delicious.

Pomegranate and Apple Jelly
From Tessa Kiros’ Apples for Jam
Note: If you’ve never juiced pomegranates before, all you need to do is cut them in half just like an orange, and twist away on a citrus juicer. Alternatively, you can buy the juice in bottles at some fruit stores, supermarkets and Middle Eastern food stores.

vegetable oil, to grease
170ml pomegranate juice (or juice from two pomegranates)
2 tbsp lemon juice
75g caster sugar
6 tsp powdered gelatine
170 ml cloudy apple juice

Using some paper towel, lightly grease 6 small jelly moulds with vegetable oil. In a small saucepan, combine pomegranate juice, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 50g of the sugar and heat gently, stirring until sugar dissolves. Meanwhile, add 3 tsp of the gelatin to 3 tbsp of water. Leave for a minute or two until it swells and then add to the hot juice. Stir until dissolved and smooth and remove from heat. Pour the mixture into the moulds evenly. Pop these in the refridgerator.

Next, add the apple juice, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and remaining sugar to small saucepan. Heat gently, and meanwhile, prepare remaining gelatin with water as above. When the sugar has dissolved, add gelatin to juice and stir until smooth and dissolved. Remove from heat and leave to cool in saucepan.

When the first layer is set enough for you to touch the surface lightly without rupturing, gently spoon the cooled apple mixture over the top and return to refrigerator until set. To serve, dip the moulds very quickly into hot water and invert.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Roasted Grape Salad

So finally, summer has arrived. And the first thing I want to eat when the temperature reaches over 25˚C is salad, of course. If it reaches over 35˚C, it almost has to be a well-chilled Greek horiatiki salad, or watermelon and feta. But since we’ve not been that fortunate here yet, there are hundreds of salad choices to be made. I sometimes wonder how it is possible that new salads can turn up all the time, with ingredients so scrumptious, so delicious that you cannot believe you’ve never eaten them, in a salad, before. Maybe I missed the boat on this one, but roasted grapes in a salad? I’d never had them, I had to try them, and now I think about them all the time.

This recipe gem was mined from my latest food-porn obsession, bon appétit: an American magazine that is available at Borders for an obscene amount, or on yearly subscription for pretty cheap. And yes, it is out of season and upside down for us here in the land of OZ (oh, I wish. I’d trade macadamia for lunch-pail trees and thongs/flip flops for ruby slippers any day…) but seeing as I keep my magazines forever (really) I don’t see this as too much of a problem.

But back to the salad, which technically, is an autumn salad, I suppose. But seeing as there were pears and grapes and Iranian dried sour cherries (!) at the market recently, I made it anyway. It is the most perfect combination of bitter greens, crunchy toasted pine nuts, tart and luxurious dried sour cherries, salty parmesan and proscuitto, fresh fragrant pear and – its pièce de résistance – red grapes that have been tossed with olive oil and roasted in the oven until wrinkly, juicy and sweet. You drizzle the whole lot with extra virgin oil and aged balsamic vinegar and all together, it is so, so good. Really, yours will look even better than the picture because that was our first version without pine nuts and cherries and we keep forgetting to photograph subsequent versions before we've already tucked in. We’ll be making it as part of our Christmas evening buffet to serve alongside barbecued quail, but it makes an elegant entrée or, with good bread, it is a wonderful lunch or light dinner. Does it sound like the bomb or what?

Roasted Grape Salad
Adapted from bon appétit 2008
Serves 4

¼ cup olive oil + a couple of tbsp extra
2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
4 long, thin slices of prosciutto
1 cup seedless red grapes, washed and stem removed
1/3 cup dried sour cherries
6 or 7 cups salad greens (such as roquette, radicchio, frisée)
2 small/medium pears, cored
Aged balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
handful of shavings of Italian parmesan

The following preparatory steps can be done 2 hours in advance of serving.

Preheat oven to 200˚C. For dressing, whisk ¼ cup of olive oil and lemon juice in a small bowl. Heat a little of the oil in a frying pan and when hot, add prosciutto and fry until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towel and break into shards. Toss grapes with a little olive oil until shiny on a rimmed baking tray. Roast for around 15 minutes in preheated oven, or until they shrivel and look a bit sticky. Remove and cool. Soak cherries in a small amount of near boiling water for around 15 minutes until softened, then drain.

When ready to serve, cut 1 pear into matchstick-sized pieces and thinly slice the remaining pear. Toss matchstick pear pieces with salad greens, dressing, most of prosciutto, grapes and cherries in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Divide among plates or arrange on platter. Garnish with pear slices, remaining prosciutto, pine nuts and drizzle with aged balsamic. Add shaved parmesan to taste.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Olive Oil, Mandarin and Dessert Wine Syrup Cake

This is a cake for Luella.

A few months ago now she wrote and asked for the recipe for this delicious cake we'd both made years ago - but I didn't know where I'd found it in the first place and I'd looked for the last couple of years through (literally) hundreds of old magazines and through my piles of torn-out pages - like a crazy woman looking for a cat who died years ago. And then, not so long ago, I found it. I'm so glad, because this cake is light and moist with a hint of the beautiful olive oil shining through - and, being a syrup cake, it keeps remarkably well for days.

Luella's email sat at the top of what had become a small pile of requests for recipes: ideas from my growing collection of books and clippings, recipes for things we'd all made once a week for a while years ago but since forgotten, and for things my family made that weren't written down anywhere. This was the last request I received before I decided to start this blog. So thanks Lulu for the inspiration: have some cake.x

Olive Oil, Mandarin and Dessert Wine Syrup Cake
From Gourmet Traveller 2004

½ cup olive oil
1 cup caster sugar
pinch of salt
finely grated rind of 2 mandarins
3 eggs
200g self-raising flour
100g ground almonds
½ tsp bicarbonate soda
250g thick Greek yoghurt
about 6 Greek dried figs, halved widthway and stem removed

For syrup:
200ml dessert wine (like Brown Brothers Orange Muscat & Flora)
150g caster sugar

Preheat oven to 180ºC/350ºF. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin with baking paper.

In a large bowl, beat sugar, olive oil and salt with an electric mixer until well combined. Add mandarin rind. Add eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated and a little lighter.

Sift flour, almond meal and soda into a bowl. Add this to the oil, along with the yoghurt and fold to combine.

Transfer gently to tin, level top and bake 45 – 50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. If the top looks like it may be getting too dark, cover with a circle of baking paper halfway through cooking.

For syrup, add wine and sugar to a small saucepan and stir over medium heat, until sugar dissolves. Bring to boil and simmer rapidly for 5 minutes.

Remove cake from oven and prick all over with a skewer or small knife. Pour half of hot syrup onto hot cake and allow to cool in tin. Put halved figs into remaining syrup and leave to cool.

Turn cake out and spoon remaining syrup over cake, arranging figs on top. Serve with thick cream.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Grown-up Chocolate Mousse

As kids, my brother and I would have killed for chocolate mousse. It was the most rich and awesome thing we could ever imagine and we would request it all the time (even if it rarely appeared). We were so addicted to the idea of fluffy, light chocolate that we’d sneak those tubs of the supermarket version into the trolley when Mum looked away. If she didn’t see them earlier, when you got to the checkout I reckon you had a fifty percent chance of taking one home, depending on whether she thought it was cute or annoying that you’d slipped one in. If you’d been lucky, you’d eat it on the couch at home real slowly with a teaspoon while watching Ren & Stimpy and there was nothing better.

I thought of this the other day when I was in the mood for chocolate. And I realised that it had been a long, long time since I’d eaten any kind of chocolate mousse – especially the real, rich and deadly French stuff. So, of course, I made some. And it was divine! This intense and full-flavoured dessert is not something I could eat too often, but if it’s been a while, that first spoonful leaves you wondering if there’s anything better.

As you might imagine, its success relies heavily on the quality of the chocolate you use. For this, I like something about 60% cocoa (bittersweet), but if you are more of a 70% and up kinda kid, I say go for it. Just remember that the addition of alcohol makes the flavour a bit more intense. Needless to say, Anthony Bourdain wasn’t rushing to stick a maraschino cherry on top of his version, but, as you might imagine, I was. Oh well, chacun sa route.

Grown-up Chocolate Mousse
Adapted from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook
Makes 6 small, but rich servings

170g good-quality dark chocolate
60 ml brandy (or Grand Marnier, if you have it=yum)
60g butter
4 eggs, separated
2 tbsp sugar
½ cup heavy cream
Maraschino cherry to garnish

Place chopped or broken chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water to melt. Stir as you go so that chocolate doesn’t burn. When completely melted, whisk in brandy and butter, bit by bit, until it has melted and the whole lot looks glossy and good enough to stick your finger in. Don’t though – it’s very hot. Whisk in the egg yolks, one by one.

In a clean bowl, whip the eggwhites until they form soft peaks, adding the sugar a sprinkle at a time. Whisk about a quarter of this mixture into the chocolate, then gently, gently fold in the remaining.

In a separate bowl, whip the cream until it holds soft peaks, then add to chocolate mixture and fold in. Gently transfer the mousse to a large serving bowl, or pipe into glasses for individual serves, as above. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Serve with extra cream, a mint garnish, a maraschino cherry – or all of the above.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sopa Azteca (Mexican Tortilla Soup)

Not a week goes by where we don’t talk about Mexico. Places we went to, people we met, food that we ate. Memories of that amazing country have been branded onto our hearts, and we long always to get back there.

The most beautiful dishes we ate there have been hard to recreate back in Melbourne for reasons involving both ingredients and equipment. One thing we are quite happy with though, is our version of Sopa de Tortilla, also known as the infinitely more exotic 'Sopa Azteca'. This soup is often served as the small first course of the comida corrida (the set lunch menu offered at restaurants all over Mexico) and there are about as many versions as there are restaurants. At its most basic, it is a rich and earthy chicken broth poured over fried strips of tortilla and anything from chunked avocado, to cubed cheese is added to garnish. We loved it so much that we eat it now in a bigger version as a main meal, like a kind of Mexican incarnation of those big Vietnamese noodle soups with the best of every version we encountered. It's the ultimate use of leftovers if you’ve had roast chicken for dinner the night before or if you’ve got a couple dry tortillas hanging about. But it is so good, it is totally worth making from scratch – and we often do.

Sopa Azteca
This will make 4 entrée-sized soups or 2 large bowls.

2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes
3 – 4 corn tortillas, cut into strips
1/3 cup light olive oil or vegetable oil
1 medium-sized brown onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 litre chicken stock, flavoured with clove, thyme and allspice
Salt and pepper
Chiles chipotles en adobo (1 chile for each serve)*
1 avocado
½ - 1 cup of shredded cooked chicken
½ cup roughly chopped coriander leaves
Fresh lime

Place tomatoes in a cast iron frying pan or grill pan on medium heat for 12 – 15 minutes until skin blackens and begins to split. The tomatoes should also have softened a little. Remove and when cool enough to handle, remove skins and puree in blender.

Heat oil in a frying pan until very hot. Add tortilla strips and fry, turning, until all strips are crispy and lightly golden. Remove from pan and drain on paper towel.

Tip remaining oil into a large saucepan (or stockpot) and add onion. Sauté over medium heat until onion is translucent. Add the garlic and then the tomato puree and fry for around 10 minutes to thicken and concentrate.

Add the chicken stock, bring to boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Cook covered for 30 minutes, then season to taste.

Divide tortilla strips, chicken, avocado, chicken and coriander into serving bowls. Add one chile per bowl. Ladle hot broth over the mixture and add lime juice to taste.

*Chiles chipotles en adobo are smoked Mexican jalapeños in special chile sauce. They are available canned from Casa Iberica in Fitzroy or online from U.S.A. Foods.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Peach and Cherry Cake

Last week at the market I became so excited by the arrival of summer fruit that I bought too much to carry. Does that ever happen to you? I couldn't help it. There were peaches, apricots, nectarines, watermelon (with flavour) and most excellently, cherries. Because Christmas happens in the summertime for us down here, the plump red fruit have taken on a festive significance. They’re piled high in Christmas fruit displays, they feature heavily in recipes and the glossiest specimens are poured straight from the farms into our lounge rooms through holiday season supermarket advertisements on the television. It’s almost impossible not to buy bag after bag. But for me they mean so much more than this.

Cherries remind me of sitting on the whitewashed steps of my grandmother’s house, shaded from the hot summer sun by the lemon tree. We’d come back from a swim and she’d be in her bedroom for siesta, but there’d always be a big plate of freshly cut fruit chilling in the fridge for us – giant slices of red pink watermelon with shiny black pips and icy cold peaches with heavy perfume and always, scattered about on top, were a couple of large handfuls of cherries. When my grandmother did it, the cherries always fell perfectly onto the plate, into the crevices made by the other fruit as if she’d placed them there one by one. And so we’d sit on the back steps, with crickets buzzing and the syrupy smell of sunburnt fig trees thick in the air, drinking tall glasses of water, eating cherries. I buy lots of them now, because every so often, a really good one will take me back there.

But I bought so many this week that I decided to make this cake. And I’m glad I did, because it really does showcase how delicious cherries are – and peaches. This cake is wonderful because you can change the fruit for whatever you have on hand and it is always beautiful, as long as you stick roughly to amounts. My mother and I make this often – sometimes she’ll spoon the pulp of a passionfruit over the top before baking and sometimes I’ll throw in some apple and mix cinnamon into the sugar topping. This summer version with peaches and cherries is moist and light, studded with big pieces of sweet baked fruit. It is perfect with a cup of tea in the morning, or even as a dessert if served slightly warm with a dollop of thick, thick cream. The recipe below is for one big cake, but sometimes I'll make it as two half-sized cakes, as in the pictures here. One for us and one for a friend (you give them the less wonky one). Happy Birthday Nicole.x

Peach and Cherry Cake
Adapted from Tessa Kiros’ Twelve

900g – 1kg of fruit (here about 700gm peaches and 250gm cherries)
150g sugar plus 2 tbsp to top
3 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla essence
250g “00” or all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
150g butter, melted plus a little extra for greasing
125ml (½ cup) milk

Preheat oven to 180˚C (350˚F). Butter and line a 24cm (9½ inch) loose bottom cake tin with baking paper.

Pit cherries and halve. For peaches, halve and remove stone. Cut into quarters if the fruit are large. Big pieces here are nice.

With an electric beater, beat eggs, 150g sugar and vanilla until pale and fluffy. Add sifted flour and baking powder, mixing well to form a smooth, thick batter. Whisk in melted butter and milk.

Throw a few pieces of peach into the bottom of the lined tin, then scrape out the batter on top. Tip the rest of the fruit onto the batter. Don’t worry about pushing it under the batter – the oven will do the rest. Sprinkle the 2 tbsp of sugar over the top and pop into the oven. Bake for about an hour or until a skewer comes out clean and the top is golden and delicious. This is a delicate cake when hot, so let cool before removing from tin. Sprinkle with icing sugar to serve, if desired.
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