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. 


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. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Stats and progress to date

Sometimes it's nice to stop in the middle of a project, stand back a little with your thumb in the air and check how things are travelling

I am a lover of stats and I like to share this love with others. Ad nauseam. So instead of another cooking adventure, today I share with you my progress...stats style! 

To date I have..
  • ...not yet broken the back of the basics chapter, with only 6 of 22 recipes completed
  • ...completely cooked my way through 2 chapters out of 114 (rabbit and bread, in that order!)
  • ...cooked at least one recipe from 78 of these 114 chapters 
  • ...cooked of the 15 recipes that have the word "simple" or simplest" in the title
  • ...13 chapters that are almost complete, with only 1 recipe left to make
  • ...made 11 of the 23 beautiful sweet cakes. Loving that there are still 12 to bake!
  • ...not yet repeated 3 of the 9 recipes that I had already cooked pre-challenge. I can't believe I had only cooked 9 recipes, what a wasted book it was back then.
  • ...cooked, enjoyed and blogged about 193 out of 656 recipes (I still have one sneaky recipe from last weekend that has not yet been written about!)
So there it is, boring but true. I have no idea if these stats are interesting to anybody other than myself but on the upside, writing this kept me amused and out of trouble for at least 30 minutes.

Monday, September 3, 2012

192/656 - Honey cheesecake

Oh deary me, I could get very, very fat just from the mere fact that I am now aware of the existence of this recipe. 

Honey cheesecake sounds innocent enough. But put together a light and fluffy body, a sweet sugar cinnamon topping and a lovely home-made shortcrust pastry and you have a dessert that can (and did) disappear in record time. 

There was a moment in time, believe it or not, that I did not think I would have a cheesecake to put on the table! This recipe was supposed to contain full cream cottage cheese and I went on a last minute dash for ingredients just prior to cooking. This of course meant that my choice of cheese was confined to the selection available at my local. I could not believe my eyes when I realised that the 8 different brands of cottage cheese on the shelf were ALL low fat! Worried that I was dooming my cheesecake before the pastry had even been blind baked, I nervously picked up the creamiest looking one and hoped for the best

Things did not get better when I combined the ingredients for the filling. The result looked more like churned milk than the smooth cream Stephanie described. A little bit of cursing may have followed this step. Muttered under my breath and out of the earshot of children, but there were definitely bad, worried words. 

I gingerly sprinkled my cinnamon sugar mix over the top of the wobbling liquid and put it in the oven hoping for the best. I had a fair idea the filling would get there in the end when I felt the edges beginning to firm up, but was aware that this was likely to take much longer than the allotted 30 minutes. Some foil over the top prevented my lovely pastry from burning to a crisp while I patiently waited for my soup to turn into a cheesecake.  

Success! The cheesecake firmed up, although it did swell rather alarmingly on one side. Thankfully it flattened out before I took it to the table, and the result was so lovely and light I am wondering if the low fat cottage cheese may have been a blessing in disguise!  

Sunday, September 2, 2012

191/656 - Panzanella

Bread in salad. I will admit I needed convincing.  

It is always an interesting experiment, testing out an unfamiliar recipe when catering for guests. It is even more interesting when you do not necessarily have faith it will work!

The first step to this salad was to break the bread apart and sprinkle it with some water. I confess I did not actually do this. As I was chopping the tomatoes I realised they had such an incredible amount of juice I decided to use this to soften my bread instead. 

Not only was the bread absolutely fabulous in this salad, but it also created a really interesting texture; soft sponges filled with lovely juices, working beautifully alongside the crunchy bits. I briefly considered halving the amount of olive oil in the dressing but as I tentatively poured, I realised that as usual Stephanie is a lady who knows what she is talking about. It really was quite a big salad and of course there was all that lovely bread in there waiting to be doused! 

Everybody loved the salad and amusingly the bread was my favourite element! That and the basil. Loved the basil.