Saturday, December 29, 2012

A fantastic challenge upset

A thousand years ago I was given a very special orange book. Way back when I didn't know my way around a kitchen and was terrified by recipe books devoid of pictures. Back when I regularly botched simple dinners and the thought of feeding anybody other than my nearest and dearest scared me witless. 

I have come a long way since then. These days I prefer my recipes complicated and can spend hours planning a dinner party menu or an 8 course degustation for someone dear. 18 months ago I decided to share my love of cooking with the world, in the form of this blog, tracking my new hobby of cooking every recipe in the special orange book, the iconic Australian kitchen bible, The Cook's Companion.

Expecting only a shiitake log for Christmas this year (I had dropped some heavy hints for that one!) I ripped open my surprise second present only to see a very familiar rainbow cover! I had ogled the updated version of TCC in bookshops, all the while feeling a sense of betrayal to my tatty but loved orange friend. My first thought when I opened my gift was WOW! which was immediately followed by the realisation that my challenge had just been extended by several years. Yikes.

Anybody who has the original version of this book needs to SERIOUSLY consider upgrading. There are so many fabulous new recipes and as the wonderful Stephanie herself pointed out, the marginal recipes are now indexed! I briefly entertained the thought of adding the marginal recipes to the challenge...but I am not completely insane and would like to finish this in the next decade. I have other recipe books that are suffering terrible neglect for which I feel a constant guilt.

So of course I have spent my quiet moments over the last few days updating my challenge spreadsheet (read: geek heaven). I was simultaneously amused and afraid to discover;
  • I am no longer a third of the way through the challenge. In fact my progress has now slipped back to  my being less than a quarter of the way through 
  • instead of 114 chapters of recipes, there are now 123
  • I have gone from having 3 chapters completed, to a big fat zero. There are additional recipes everywhere you look! 
  • there are now dedicated chapters for abalone, venison and pomegranates. There are more new chapters but these are the ones I was most excited about
  • And the best one of all....instead of 656 recipes I now have 984 amazing recipes to complete.
Bring it on!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

221/656 - Cold chinese white-cooked chicken with seared spring onion sauce

I paid a flying visit to Fairfield Farmers' Market a couple of weeks ago and happened across Yapunyah Meadow Grazed Chickenswho were set up conveniently alongside my milkman. I happily relieved them of a whopping 2kg chicken, wondering how on earth my little family of four would get through such a wonderfully large bird. Skimming through the book I was very excited to find this recipe in the chicken chapter that required a 2kg free range chicken. How perfect!

We tend to roast our chickens when they come to us all in one piece, and so I was very keen to see how a boiled chook would taste. The behemoth was boiled in water flavoured with ginger and spring onion (which smelled incredible!), but interestingly only for a very short time. It was then left to sit in the hot water for 45 minutes and finally, was dunked in a tub of ice cold water where it hung out for another hour. I will admit I was worried that it would not be cooked, and was pleasantly surprised at the amazing colour of the skin and meat when it was done.

If the chicken wasn't gorgeous enough, the spring onion sauce took it to a whole new level! I was so pleased I cooked rice to go with this dish as the sauce was way too fabulous to be left on the plate without anything to soak it up. 

We cut up the chicken as Stephanie suggested, in the Chinese manner with a very large, very sharp cleaver. I actually had Trev perform the dissection because I enjoy having two hands and my aim is not at all good. We were very amused at the level of spatter that ensued, and I would highly recommend the use of an apron, and possibly a face mask when performing this activity on such a juicy beast.  

Needless to say it was amazing and as suspected we were left with a small pile of yummy leftovers. Stephanie advised that the cooked chook will last for up to four days. I am a couple of weeks from hosting my second degustation 'event' so of course this has been added to the menu! 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

220/656 - Green beans with fermented black beans

Fermented black beans are hard to find! 

Of course I took myself down to Victoria Street in Richmond on a fermented bean search but had to scour at least four Chinese grocers before I struck gold. They are very smelly (the beans not the grocers) and so I have been storing them wrapped in a plastic bag and away from the other food in my pantry. And that's before the packet was even opened!  

I loved this recipe, very quick and full of tasty flavour. I will make these beans again soon, if only to prove to myself that I can cook them without nearly burning them to a crisp! We ate these lovely spicy beans in a very unconventional manner - inside Vietnamese rice paper rolls. They were a fabulous addition to the rolls, tucked inside with some seasoned vermicelli, cucumber, spring onion and wok fried marinated chicken. Rice paper rolls are one of my favourite things to make for dinner, mainly because we all roll our own and it's so EASY!  

I would have liked to take a picture of a gorgeous rice paper roll with lovely spicy beans poking out the top, but alas they disappeared so quickly there was just not the time.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

219/656 - Tom Yam Goong/Sour prawn soup

I am officially one third of the way through the book, hurrah!! Apart from Stephanie, I wonder if I might now own the most well used copy of The Cook's Companion. An amazing thought!

I made this soup on what was quite a hot day. An interesting choice given that it was a hot meal in more ways than one, with 10 fresh chillies and two teaspoons of chilli paste in there! The only change I made to the recipe was deciding not to leave the heads on the prawns. This was a decision that promised less mess at the dinner table and so while the soup was not as pretty to look at, I think the decision was a good one 

Jules is not usually fabulous with hot food, but on this night he jumped in boots and all. There was a testosterone fuelled discussion between the boys over dinner regarding whose mouth was burning more and of course who was best at handling the heat. When Jules saw the picture of the soup on my screen he said, "That's the soup that made me like chilli!"   

Music to the ears of a mother who loves a bit of heat in her food. Bring on the vindaloo. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

218/656 - Date and walnut biscuits

 
Social media is great for connecting with new people and I regularly chat with strangers online, usually about all things food! But until a couple of months ago I never imagined I would be busily mailing sweet treats to three people I had never met. Enter The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.

The rules of the swap were simple; make three dozen cookies and send 12 to each of your selected matches. I made 37 of these beautiful biscuits (an extra one for tasting of course!) and sent them off to Amanda from Chewtown, Faaiza from Modest Munchies and Erin from Cut the cookie. It's a nerve-wracking thing sending your cooking to foodies you have never met! 


In return I was lucky enough to receive three wonderful packages myself. Two varieties of  beautiful shortbread from Sara of Belly Rumbles, three varieties of traditional Chinese cookies from V Vien of We Dare Food and cranberry and white chocolate cookies from Daisy of Never too Sweet. A whole lot of yum going on in this house at the moment!  


I used some old Leunig wrapping paper to wrap my cookie gifts. I have been hanging on to it for years waiting for the right time to use it and this felt like a special enough occasion.  

I normally don't post recipes, but of course I have made an exception this time so that the deliciousness of these biscuits can be experienced by all. 

Date and Walnut biscuits 
250g dates, stoned
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
75g butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 tbsp sour cream
175g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preheat oven to 180° C (350° F) and grease baking trays, or line them with baking paper. Cut dates into pieces using scissors (I used a knife) and mix with walnuts. Cream butter and sugar (in a thermomix if you have one!) and beat in eggs until light, then beat in sour cream. Mix a third of the flour into the dates and nuts to coat them well. (I spent some time making sure all of the date pieces had been separated and coated at this point.) Combine remaining ingredients and stir into egg mixture with dates and nuts. Drop spoonfuls of batter onto baking trays. Bake for about 10 minutes until browned. Cool on a wire rack.

What a fabulous experience. Many thanks to Love and Olive Oil for making this fun Christmas activity possible. Bring on Cookie Swap 2013!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

217/656 - Walnut spread

It's hot, hot, hot here in Melbourne at the moment and last night required a cold drink and a lovely little cold snack to go with it.

I decided to make walnut spread and was happy to follow Stephanie's suggestion of including a whopping hunk of blue cheese into the mix. The resulting spread was a bit garlicky for my taste (there was a whole head of garlic in there!) and so I added extra walnut oil, walnuts and plenty of extra cheese. 

Apart from the fact that my I woke up this morning with icky, spicy garlic mouth, I would definitely make this dip again. Next time with a bit less garlic and probably with the addition of some crisp green pear slices for spreading and dipping. 

Mmmm... 
My beautiful walnut oil

Sunday, November 25, 2012

216/656 - Raw beetroot and yoghurt salad

I love raw food, not only because it's good for you, but also because it is always so beautifully and naturally coloured.

Stephanie has several no-cook recipes in this book which are incredibly quick and easy to create. On the night I made this Trev was making hamburgers and I decided to have mine deconstructed and sans bun. 

While Trev worked on making his delectable signature burger patties, I was chopping capsicum, lettuce, tomato and herbs to lighten the meal. To make the salad I simply threw a raw beetroot, herbs and lemon juice into the thermomix and blitzed. So much easier than grating! The yummy pink pile was then dropped onto a mound of natural yoghurt and oh my, what a combination! 

My hamburger with the lot (including fried egg and onions!) was absolutely amazing and I didn't miss the bun at all. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

215/656 - Chinese soy dipping sauce

My family love prawns, especially freshly steamed ones. We could happily eat them plain, dipped in a sauce, smeared with mayonnaise, sprinkled with herbs; really any variation you can throw at us we would be in to.  

On this day we were all getting peckish in the afternoon. I threw on some prawns to steam and while they were cooking I whipped up this lovely sauce. Soft brown sugar, white rice vinegar, a knob of fresh ginger (blitzed in the thermomix) and light soy. If I make this again I think I would also add some chopped fresh chilli and maybe some fresh coriander, if only to make it more attractive!  

Three of us (not Jules!) loved the sauce and even enjoyed the remainder tipped over our salad at dinner. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

214/656 - Cantaloupe ice-cream

I remember many (many) years ago when my Dad used to buy our vanilla ice-cream in boxes, and each little oblong serve was individually wrapped in paper. As I was putting this ice-cream on the plate it reminded me of those neat little ice-cream blocks, and I wondered when they disappeared from the shops.

I had a spare cantaloupe in the fridge and so bought some cream with this recipe in mind. I was very amused when Trev told me that a second cantaloupe had been delivered to the house, and that he had helpfully cut them both into small pieces, ready to eat. What he did not realise is that this ice-cream needed to be frozen inside the intact rind. Off to the shops I went for a third cantaloupe!

Getting off the topic just slightly, I had so much cantaloupe to use up that I decided to create a new smoothie. Take some vanilla yoghurt, piles of cantaloupe, about 6 strawberries, a handful of mint and a tiny piece of ginger, blend, and then add a handful of slivered almonds for crunch. Yummm....

Back to the ice-cream! It was very easy to make; the major challenges were a) willing the chooks to lay as I was two eggs short (they obliged) and b) purchasing ANOTHER bottle of alcohol. Honestly for a light drinker my liquor cabinet has never looked so good! Kirsch this time, and in the past Stephanie's recipes have required brandy, spiced rum, white rum, cognac... I think I feel a cocktail party coming on. And a black forest cake to use up the Kirsch! 

Served with fresh strawberries, cherries, Holy Goat fromage frais and mint this was the perfect summer dessert. Even better than ice-cream served in little paper packages. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

213/656 - Salade Niçoise

The great weather we have been having has provided us with plenty of beautiful lettuce and so I took the opportunity to try out another Stephanie salad!     

Salade Niçoise contains so many of my favourite things; olives, anchovies, hard boiled eggs and of course loads of fresh vegetables but the kicker for the family was the boiled potatoes. How good is eating a salad and then actually feeling full afterwards?

I included the optional wine vinegar in the dressing and may have slung on a couple of extra anchovies. I boiled the beans, but only for about 10 seconds so they were fresh and snappy.  

Lovely.

Monday, November 5, 2012

212/656 - Spanakopita

Hooray, another chapter finished!

My mum had a crazy amount of spinach growing and so I took a load off her hands and turned it into spanakopita. It was very easy to make, but anybody who has made this before will see that I did not follow the instructions re tucking the pastry neatly down the sides. I think it looks prettier this way, but to be honest it looks like this because I was being a little bit lazy...  

With three chapters down I have decided I should be sharing at least one learning from each, and so I am going to backtrack a bit here;
  1. Rabbit chapter (completed April 2012). My learning: A rabbit that is fresh will have a glistening liver. I dare anybody to ask for a liver inspection when they are purchasing! I suspect that would not go down well with the butcher.
  2. Bread chapter (completed September 2012). My learning: Spraying the loaf with water while it is baking will make your crusts crustier! 
  3. Spinach. My learning: Spinach was first cultivated by the Persians. A fact to share with fussy children to make this tricky vegetable sound more exotic and tempting. 
So much more than just a cookbook.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

211/656 - Jenny's caesar salad

Who doesn't love a caesar salad? 

This is a lovely version of what is a favourite salad for many people. I have only made this a few times, but each time I am thrilled with the taste, in particular the glorious dressing and the many interesting bits and pieces that are thrown in to ensure this is not a dieters meal! 

The dressing calls for a half cup of olive oil, however I have found a quarter of a cup to be plenty. Amusingly I ended up tipping the other quarter cup into the pan as I was frying my croutons as I seemed to run out of lovely fats as I was attempting to make them lovely and crisp. It was worth it, they were fabulous! 

Fried bacon bits, crispy croutons, gooey eggs, freshly grated parmesan (actually pulverised in the Thermomix!) and the list goes on! If you like a caesar salad I guarantee you will love this version.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

210/656 - Pork sausages with sage and tomato

Henry and I went on a bit of a food hunt yesterday and ended up at Cannings Free Range butchers in Hawthorn. I loved the store, very neat and well laid out, and of course they had an amazing array of meat. But my favourite element was the flat caps worn by the butchers which made me feel as if I had stepped back in time. This experience was beautifully topped off when I was handed my (rather heavy) paper bag of purchases. How fabulous, environmentally friendly and stylish to boot!   

Stephanie suggests pricking and parboiling sausages before they are fried and I thought I would give this a go, liking the idea that the insides might have a better chance of being cooked correctly if I followed this method. Trev was mildly mortified that I was going to prick them and it brought back memories of an article I once read in which the author was similarly devastated to discover that Stephanie was a pricker. Personally I don't see what all of the fuss is about, having no strong feelings on either side of the sausage preparation debate.  

After downing a particularly gorgeous salad for entrée (post to come later) I convinced Trev that we needed only one pork sausage each for our main course. I did cook four as the recipe suggested but of course everybody knows an odd number looks better in a photograph!  

Once parboiled, the sausages were cooked with sage leaves and tomatoes that had been seeded, peeled and chopped. The result was absolutely sensational and as well as loving the tomato sauce I suspect this had quite a bit to do with the wonderful quality of the meat.   

I am very pleased I had the foresight to buy additional sausages to freeze, and am very much looking forward to a second round of this dish in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I am interested to hear from anybody with particularly strong views on the art of sausage preparation!

Friday, October 26, 2012

209/656 - Mushroom tartlets

I do love an excuse to make some home made pastry. 

Last Sunday was baking day and I had picked up some lovely Swiss Browns at the Fairfield Farmers' Market the day before that I knew must be put to good use! To be honest I did plan the purchase in advance as I am on a mission to complete at least one recipe from each chapter (challenge within a challenge?) and surprisingly had not yet cooked a mushroom recipe. 83 chapters sampled, only 31 until I can say I have sampled them all! Hello tripe and kidneys...

The gorgeous mushrooms were sautéed with cream and spices, and then put inside lovely shortcrust pastry lined patty tins. Whilst I thought the flavour of these really lovely, I did find the pastry to mushroom ratio a bit off, with the pastry dominating just a little. I even had some pastry left over so if I made this again I think I would definitely double the mushroom mixture so I could stuff more of the little suckers in 

Overall a very nice recipe. But if you don't alter the quantities, just make sure your pastry is fabulous.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

208/656 - Trotters with velouté sauce

How timely to be talking about gorgeous free range pork as the Animals Australia "Make It Possible" campaign is in full swing. If you haven't already watched their campaign video on factory farming, do yourself a favour. On a much more positive note, I made a couple of purchases from Bundarra Berkshires on the weekend. I cannot rave enough about how wonderful and sweet their pork tastes and I am so pleased that my first go at cooking trotters was done with the feet of one of their very happy pigs.

The trotters needed to be cooked for four hours and so this recipe was a two day effort. So on Sunday night I was expecting a simple meal, having only to make the velouté sauce. What I didn't expect was the one man tug o'war that ensued as I attempted to pull the cooked trotters from the jellied stock. It was as I imagine a cowboy would feel, having to pull his horse from quicksand. 

I have no idea if the skin was supposed to be part of the plan, but one look and I decided I wasn't brave enough to eat it. Quite frankly I think I was brave cooking trotters in the first place! I gave the skin to our very happy dog and proceeded to pull every bit of meat I could from the bones. The chopped meat and velouté sauce were then popped into the oven to reheat for serving

Stephanie advised that this concoction would be fabulous on toast and I just happened to have a lovely fresh loaf available, not long out of the oven. I could not believe how much the kids enjoyed this! Plates were cleaned in record time and I even caught them scraping away at the gratin dish making sure there was not a skerrick left

With four trotters recipes left to make it's a lucky thing it was so popular.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

206&207/656 - Roast squab with Janni's barley stuffing & simple squab sauce

I am a huge advocate of meat eaters keeping in touch with the reality of where their food comes from, always acutely aware that a little living soul has died for my gastronomic pleasure. So I was quite surprised at how confronted I was when I realised my little raw pigeon still had it's head attached! I got through the beheading unscathed but for a brief moment I did re-evaluate my dietary choices.    

I decided to cook only one little pigeon for this meal as it was just the kids and I for dinner and we are usually happy with smallish meat portions alongside a truckload of vegetables. I didn't reduce the amount of stuffing  I made however, as I had an inkling it would be fabulous and I gave myself a little pat on the back as I added it to the next morning's omelette. It was a fabulous stuffing, rich with lemon and  butter and the smell emanating from my kitchen as it was slow cooking in the oven was out of this world.

The squab sauce was also incredible, rich and decadent and I poured the leftovers over the following nights roast chicken, with the family's eagle eyes making sure I doled it out evenly! It was definitely a lick the plate kind of sauce (no, I didn't) and one I am sure I will make again when I have some bird offcuts on hand.    

If you missed it before, I am still singing the song made famous by Bert on Sesame Street...

Doin' the (coo coo) p-i-geon
Dancing a little smidgeon 
Of the kind of ballet
Sweeps me away...

The little piles of extra stuffing were well received!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

205/656 - Fennel with simple cheese sauce

Isn't it wonderful when you put a dish on the table and everybody falls in love with it? I served a healthy helping of this decadent fennel bake to each of the boys and one by one they uttered a surprised little grunt and reached to the bowl for a second helping! 

It's ironic that cheese sauce is one of the first things my mother taught me to cook, and yet I almost managed to mess up this very simple version! I made a roux with the butter and flour and then added my warm milk. I felt that the result was a bit thin and so tried to add some more flour to the mix but inevitably ended up with a lumpy sauce! A quick sieve later and I had perfect (and slightly thicker) sauce once again. Once the beautiful Gruyère was added, the sauce was poured over blanched fennel and popped into the oven.  

This was not a difficult dish by any means, but sometimes it's the simple things that make my little family happy. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

204/656 - Pineapple and lime juice salsa

Pineapple salsa is yummy! 

We ate this warm little salsa with barbecued prawns, freshly baked bread and an enormous salad. Amongst all of that wonderful food it was still the absolute stand out dish on the table. It had a gentle bite to it, thanks to the sambal oelek, and the lime juice gave it lovely zing.  

It was so nice I ate the leftovers straight out of the container as a snack the next day. I had to laugh when I caught Henry rummaging through the fridge looking for it, and had to break the news that I got to it first 

Guilt has got the better of me and I will be making another batch this weekend.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

203/656 - Jerusalem artichoke soup

I love the fact that Jerusalem artichokes do not come from Jerusalem. Even more amusing is that they are not even artichokes. As the Food Companion International magazine did for kangaroo meat, I think there should be a competition calling for a new name for this long misrepresented tuber. 

Name aside, I have a soft spot for anything with a nutty flavour (including nuts) and so was looking forward to trying out this soup. It was simple enough but I confess I fell down a little when I reached the straining stage. I used a strainer that was clearly not adequate for the job so while the soup that passed through was creamy and amazing, some of the mash remained on the wrong side of the strainer, lumpy and defiant.  

It was evening and a work night so I must confess I gave in to the stubborn little pile of mash and decided to keep the unstrained portion aside, to be served the next evening alongside a lamb roast.  

There was option to use either stock or milk as the soup base and I opted for milk, which according to my youngest made the soup "creamy and delicious". Sprinkled with freshly grated nutmeg and thyme (no chives on hand I am afraid) it was absolutely wonderful 

And the mash was great too. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

202/656 - Vietnamese chicken and mint salad

Seriously how many more fabulous recipes can there be in this book?!  

I am lucky enough to be married to a man who can put absolutely anything on the barbecue and make it taste delicious. The recipe required two cooked chicken breasts and so I sent Trev outside to work his magic while I put the rest of the salad and the dressing together.

I decided to forego the fried shallots, which were optional anyway, and also left off the coriander that was supposed to be sprinkled on top. The omission of the coriander was not intentional and can be blamed on the chutney of one post past, which used all of the coriander I had. 

Even sans coriander and shallots, I loved, loved, loved this salad! I highly recommend lovely charred chicken straight from the barbecue for extra flavour, but I suspect this salad would be sensational no matter how the chicken was cooked. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

201/656 - Mint and yoghurt chutney

A lovely big bunch of mint arrived with my weekly vegetable delivery and so of course I buried my nose in the mint chapter to see what I could find!      

This was the first of the two mint based recipes I decided would work beautifully with our weekend plans. Although technically a chutney, I actually made this with the idea of using it as a dip. It was absolutely fabulous and the coriander was a beautiful earthy offset to the significant pile of refreshing, freshly chopped mint. 

What a healthy and delightfully yummy little snack of raw vegetables, fresh herbs and lovely creamy Greek yoghurt. The boys put away their body weight in capsicum, celery and carrot thanks to this dip so I am calling it a definite winner.

Friday, September 28, 2012

200/656 - Pecan pie

Recipe number 200, how fabulous is that!  

I am thrilled to have achieved this milestone with a dessert that we all absolutely adored. Of course the kids could not work out why Trev and I were so amused by the name of this pie until I showed them the clip from the movie. Of course if you were born before 1985 you did not need to click that link to know which movie I was talking about!

I made a special trip to the South Melbourne market for the pecans but other than that I had all of the ingredients in the pantry. When I put the filling together it was very wobbly which I am starting to get quite a complex about! What on earth is it with me and wobbly fillings?!

As per the soupy cheesecake I had to cover this in foil and extend the cooking time until I felt the filling had firmed up to a reasonable point. 

We ate this with vanilla ice cream and it was so good that when I suggested I might take a few pieces in to work Henry looked at me in absolute horror. So my colleagues missed out this time, but my family were very proud to "partake of my pecan pie". Funny voices and all.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

199/656 - Stir-fried cellophane noodles with prawns

It was Jules's turn to choose a recipe and true to form he went straight for the pasta and noodles. Once he had scanned the chapter and accepted there was not a second lasagne recipe in there, he chose this very noodle-y dish. Sometimes I wonder if I should be putting some energy into writing a recipe book dedicated to lasagne. There must be a million versions and I am sure Jules would be keen to road test every one!  

Jules helped with the preparation of this recipe, cutting the dry noodles into lengths and peeling shallots. When he had finished, he thanked me for cooking with him and ran outside to play, calling over his shoulder, "Thanks Mum you can finish it. Now blog about me please." It made me wonder if I could begin using my blog as an incentive for good behaviour, promising more airplay to the better behaved child. No doubt a terrible parenting tactic but food for thought nonetheless. 

We like prawns and we love noodles, and I am pleased to report that this dish was even tastier than expected. In addition to the tablespoon that went into the wok, I added a few drops of extra fish sauce to each of our bowls to further enhance the flavour

Another one down, one more until I reach my double century. For a person who tends to get sidetracked mid project/hobby/task (look something shiny!) I am quite amazed I have made it this far and still with a full head of steam. 

Onward and upward!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

198/656 - Chocolate hedgehog

This was possibly the biscuit-iest chocolate hedgehog in history! 

I work in an office with fellow lovers of food and so I whipped up this little treat to take in and share for morning tea.  When I say whipped up, what I really mean is that at 8 o'clock at night I got started on this recipe, and in between breaking my biscuits into almost identically sized pieces (a bit OCD I know) and getting distracted with other things, it was near 10pm by the time I had finished. 

I did become a doubting Thomas mid-recipe and prepared a second cake tin, not convinced my mixture would squash into only one. As it happens the mixture did fit, and I squashed the life out of it with a flat bottomed container to ensure it would not dissolve into a crumbly mess when it was cut. 

The squashing worked; the hedgehog was lovely and not too chocolatey and did not fall apart at all. The icing was the best bit, spiked with rum and the perfect soft finish to a very solid and crisp base.  

The only negative to this hedgehog was the realisation that there are now only two chocolate recipes left to make. 

Devastating. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

197/656 - Chinese-style glazed livers

This week, as a special treat, I handed my Stephanie* over to Henry and asked if he would like to select a liver recipe for me to make. I am aware of how unconventional this sounds and I do get pleasure from the fact that my son can be engaged in this very unusual way. Henry was very excited and took his task quite seriously. Like his mother he is a very decisive decision maker and it took only a matter of minutes before he selected these Chinese-style glazed livers

It is fairly safe to say I would not have thought of cooking this recipe IN A MILLION YEARS had I not taken this challenge. Honestly, chicken livers served on toothpicks? Sounds hideous. 

For this recipe I had to make a special dash to Victoria Street to pick up some black rice vinegar and dark soy. While I was at my favourite little grocer I was absolutely thrilled to discover some other gems in stock including quail eggs, shimeji mushrooms and mooncakes. Yes it is mooncake time! I was so excited I bought four of them. If anybody is looking for a recommendation, the lotus paste variety with salted egg yolks are the best. But I digress. 

I made these glazed livers today and they were so absolutely fabulous that Henry, Jules and I polished off the entire half kilo in less than 10 minutes. I could not believe my ears when Jules asked if we could leave the last two so he could have a special pasta dinner with liver on top! 

I can not believe I am saying this, but I will definitely be making these again. Amazing. 

*My Stephanie being of course the orange bible that is The Cook's Companion. When you cook with it as often as I do it becomes simply "My Stephanie", as in "Where on earth have I put my Stephanie?" or "I am a bit worried that my Stephanie will fall apart before I complete this challenge"... 

Jules' very special pasta dinner

Saturday, September 15, 2012

196/656 - Pork rillettes

I had a health check at work the other day and my cholesterol was up. Not a lot, but I was shocked because I have always passed these mini health checks with flying colours. The nurse explained that I could be experiencing a temporary spike, and asked if I had been eating any particularly fatty foods of late. At this point my worry began to fade. In my mind I was replaying a wonderful country terrine, our newly discovered cheesy toast with egg yolk and truffle oil snack and of course these wonderful pork rillettes.

Rillettes are made by salting pork belly and then cooking it slowly in the oven until it is swimming in fat. The cooked pork is shredded and the lovely liquid fat is poured back over the top of the meat. I actually couldn't bring myself to tip all of the fat back in and gave the remainder to our very lucky (and very skinny) dog.  

The finished product can be stored for quite some time...unless it is made in our house! We loved it so much we ate it for dinner two nights running, alongside piles of vegetables and left over caramelised onions. I am not sure rillettes are supposed to be eaten in this way but I certainly had a very happy family at the dinner table. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

194&195/656 - Stephanie's famous steak sandwich with caramelised onions

It was Fathers Day last Sunday and Trev was treated to...well absolutely nothing actually because I was sick and didn't have the energy to cook. To make up for my lack of effort on his big day, I decided to move Fathers Day back a week and out came Stephanie's famous steak sandwich for dinner last night.

I can not imagine another version of a steak sandwich that would a) take this long to make, or b) be this amazingly good! There were actually three recipes in one here, but as I have already made the fast red-wine sauce I could only claim two recipes in this post. 

The caramelised onions were cooked in oil with a bay leaf and rosemary, and ended up brown, sweet and frightfully good. There are still some in the fridge and I have already conjured up a number of different ways I would like to eat them in the coming days. I can already vouch for caramelised onions on toast!

The red wine sauce was lovely again this time, and was even more amazing with the addition of some just cooked buttery mushrooms. I made it with Mornington Peninsula Shiraz, possibly a little ritzy for a sauce but it tasted great so was worth the decadence.  

The final assembly included;
  • home-made bread, grilled on one side and then oiled and grilled on the other side. Crunchy, lovely and worth the extra effort
  • cooked chopped spinach, squeezed to within an inch of its life
  • two pieces of scotch fillet steak, oiled, seasoned and cooked medium rare 
  • a large handful of caramelised onion. This stuff is addictive!
  • red wine sauce and buttery mushrooms 

Guilt for being sick on Fathers Day? Gone. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

193/656 - Spinach and ricotta gnocchi

I had plans to entertain a vegetarian friend for lunch last weekend and so spent the evening prior scanning the Cook's Companion to see what I could find that was both meat free and suitable for lunch.

Spinach and ricotta gnocchi sounded like a good, safe choice but I did wonder if it would be special enough to serve to my guests. I did not pre-read the recipe (surprise, surprise!) and so left it waaaay too late to drain the ricotta and of course did not have time to leave my mixture in the fridge overnight. I did manage to put it into the fridge for an hour or so which seemed to firm it up a little but of course it was still too wet to roll. 

I took a huge risk and added enough flour to the mix so that I could roll it into little gnocchi shapes. Because I doubled the recipe I swear it felt like the never-ending gnocchi. Embarrassingly my guests arrived and I was still covered in flour and ricotta, so Trev amused everybody with drinks and a tour of the house (and garden, and chook shed...) while I got myself sorted.

The gnocchi was nice of course, but what was truly spectacular was the burnt butter and sage sauce. Oh. My. Goodness. Crispy little sage leaves in a puddle of nutty burnt butter. If that's not enough to make you go weak I don't know what is.   

If you could not be bothered making this gnocchi (although I would recommend giving it a go), do yourself a favour and at least make the sauce. And serve it on anything you like. It's bound to make it taste amazing.