Saturday, December 27, 2014

403/1038 - Mango with sticky rice

Participating in a mango fundraiser has been a lot of fun and it certainly has required me to think hard about all of the mango recipes I can make.

This time it was a dessert...and what a dessert! 

I adore sticky rice, and now I know how much I adore it with coconut milk, mango and toasted sesame seeds. Oh and sugar syrup for crazy sweetness. The sesame seeds were actually my favourite element of this dish, imparting a wonderful toasted nuttiness into what would have otherwise been quite a sweet mouthful.

This recipe is in all three editions of The Cook's Companion and so there really is no excuse for everybody not to try this! 

Hooray for yet another fabulous mango experience. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

402/1038 - Lemon cordial

I was very industrious and made almost all of our Christmas presents this year.

Most of the effort went into making edible snow globes with gingerbread trees and little fondant characters (see below), but I also did a little bit of cooking to supplement the presents. The list of edible gifts included peanut butter, toasted almond muesli and some lemon cordial. I chose them because they are such easy things to make, and also because they are products that were likely to be well received by all.  

Wanting to give gifts that were fresh, I made all of these the day before Christmas. The peanut butter was a quick blitz in the thermomix of some peanuts and coconut oil. The muesli was a quick melting of honey and coconut oil and then baking it with oats, bran and nuts in a slow oven for an hour. 

The lemon cordial was also very simple - simply making sugar syrup on the stove top, adding some powdered acid and then stirring through the juice and zest. 

In a world full of people who have way too much "stuff", I loved giving presents that could be consumed, and of course I had a lot of fun creating them. 

I think I have a new Christmas tradition on my hands!

401/1038 - Christmas turkey

I love Christmas! The only thing that used to disappoint me about this wonderful time of year was all of the travelling we had to do on Christmas day, leaving no time to really relax and enjoy the time as a little family. We have now rectified this situation, calling Christmas eve our own little Christmas day, complete with presents, Christmas carols, eggnog and all day pyjamas. 

Trev makes the eggnog and it truly is spectacular. Of course there are usually two batches made, one sans brandy for the kids. We had to giggle at the first lot he put together, which was suspiciously devoid of egg. We dubbed this failure "nog". Once the egg was added we were once again in eggnog heaven. 

This year I decided to up the Christmas ante and bought my very first turkey to cook for our dinner. While I realise we did not need an enormous bird for the four of us, I was keen to have a go at cooking up a monster and so purchased a seven and a half kilogram whopper. 

I have had many people over the years refer to cooking turkey when justifying a larger oven choice. We installed a 600mm oven a number of years ago and I have not once regretted my purchase. I was wondering if the cooking of this massive bird might have me rethinking this decision...until I popped it in and realised that not only did I have plenty of room for it, but space for my vegetables too! Fabulous. I am fairly sure this is because my oven is free standing, as the sides are much thinner than those of a built-in model. It is also electric, but I am not sure if this alters the capacity. All I know is that I still adore my oven and boy, has it served me well!

This Christmas recipe is from the original, orange edition of The Cook's Companion, back when the chapter was entitled, "Chicken and the Christmas turkey". Interestingly, this recipe does not appear in the third, or even the second version. I am so pleased I decided to finish the recipes from all three books as this one would have been disappointing to miss!  

The stuffing was filled with pork, bacon and herbs and was simply amazing. 

There it is folks, another wonderful festive season done and dusted. I am now looking forward to the post-Christmas glow, complete with presents, possibly more champagne and (lots of) leftover turkey.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

400/1038 - Salad of softboiled egg with chorizo (in lieu of bratwurst)

Today we hosted a barbecue lunch for a lovely family and I thought this salad would be a nice understated way to take my challenge to its next milestone. This was a simple little number, but with some lovely surprises inside.

I was hopelessly devoid of bratwurst today and used chorizo as a substitute. Once this was pan fried, the wonderful fat left in the pan was used to coat the croutons, along with some additional olive oil drained from my freshly made caramelised onions.

With egg yolk as dressing, this was a nice salad but not my favourite. I did like the addition of the chorizo, but perhaps it was just a bit too much sausage given that barbecued sausages were also on the lunch menu. I didn't think that through very well which is very unlike me, and I am prepared to blame this oversight on the time of year and my mind being on many other things - namely the Christmas presents I have not yet finished making! 

So three years, five months and six days since this challenge began, I have made it through four hundred recipes.

Not too shabby.

Caramelised onions...always a favourite

Saturday, December 20, 2014

399/1038 - Simple lemon slice

If there were to be only one fruit left in the world (a possibility with bees on the decline!), I would wish it to be lemons. 

Lemons are wonderful with both sweet and savoury. They spice up my water and make wonderful cordial. Even the peel is amazing, the zest livening up custards, salads and cakes alike. 

I am so pleased that this challenge includes twenty two lemon and lime recipes (yes, I adore limes too!) and that I have only made ten of them to date, leaving plenty of lemony goodness in my future.

This particular lemon slice is so ridiculously quick and simple to make, it may well join the bank of recipes I have permanently stuck to my fridge. I cooked this in a loose bottomed tin and was proud of myself for remembering to sit it on a baking tray when placing it in the oven. I was caught once using this tin sans tray, and popping the tart out of the tin on its way out of the oven. Never again! 

We had a little guest here tonight and he very much approved of this dessert, sneaking downstairs with my son seeking a second serve. Only a small slice was plenty for the rest of us and so I am looking forward to enjoying this for at least the next couple of days.  

A big, fat stamp of approval for this recipe! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

398/1038 - Mango salsa

With a wonderful mango delivery in my hands, our lives are very orange at the moment! 

One of the simplest meals I make on a regular basis is fried halloumi with vegetables. The entire family adores this wonderful squeaky cheese, and I try to encourage non-meat dinners at least once or twice a week. 

Mango salsa was a lovely addition to this meal, adding a little zing to the plate. The only ingredient I didn't have was red onion. Instead I used leek, pan-frying it in a small amount of coconut oil before adding it to the mango mix. 

Now to figure out what to do with the rest of the box! I think mango sorbet is calling me...

Sunday, December 14, 2014

397/1038 - Mrs Atkins' marvellous fruit slice

One of my lovely friends organised a Christmas get together at the park, complete with Santa and presents for all the kids. All we had to do was to turn up with some drinks and a plate of food and gorgeous Emma organised everything else, including these lovely little Christmas cupcakes which were just as tasty as they were beautiful. 

I thought I would make little Molly cakes, except I realised I did not have any orange juice. I settled instead for this fabulous slice, which was so very easy to make and tasted absolutely wonderful. My fruit choices included sultanas, currants, raisins and some citrus peel for a little bit of added zing. 

I think I may have cooked the butter and sugar for longer than was necessary on the stove top and so found that I was able to reduce the baking time by around ten minutes. 

When providing food for other people and their children to eat, I am always conscious of unknown allergies and sensitivities. Following the lead provided by the school my children attend, I have taken to providing a list of ingredients when I bake for events such as these, so that people can feel comfortable eating my food, not having to ask first what is inside.

Quite Christmassy with the dried fruit and mixed peel inside, this is a great recipe when you are looking for a very quick, and not super sweet, belly filler.  

I absolutely adore December. It's such a busy month, but who doesn't love all of the food, champagne, catch ups and good cheer? 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

396/1038 - Crisp-skinned duck with Sichuan pepper-salt

My goodness, how amazing is crispy duck?

We are a duck loving family and every now and then we feast on this wonderful bird. This is the first time I have fried duck and even though there was some guilt involved, the incredible eating experience made it all worth while.

I had to butcher my own duck and, probably due to my less than sharp knife, it was not as easy as I thought it would be. As I hacked I kept apologising to the bird, feeling bad for not treating it's little carcass with more respect. Maybe it's time to drop those Christmas present hints for an extra special (read: expensive) kitchen knife...

The marinade smelled amazing and with loads of ginger, soy and rice wine vinegar, the flavour had well and truly seeped though after only a couple of hours. After frying, the duck was oven baked and I found that less than half the recommended time was plenty.

The duck was finished off with freshly made Sichuan pepper-salt and a good squeeze of lime, which lifted the flavour to a whole new level. Served on a bed of kale and cauliflower, this was an incredible dinner...and I have a carcass left over to make some yummy stock!


Duck stock on the go...

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

395/1038 - Ice-cream

We LOVE ice-cream in this house! I make it often and love to play with flavours, although if truth be told I usually make the vanilla variety.

Not this night!

I decided that coffee would be the flavour of the day and so dragged out some decaffeinated beans to make a lovely little espresso. The kids were going to be eating this in the evening and there was no way I was risking two wide-eyed children post dessert.

Adding a little bit of crunch to the mixture were some chopped up Fantales and a small handful of bittersweet chocolate flakes. 

Happy family. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas snow globe

I have found a new thing to do with jars and gingerbread! 

I decided that I would be making my Christmas presents this year, and the first cab off the rank is this gorgeous little Christmas snow globe. I am not a great planner when it comes to making things like this, preferring instead to figure things out as I go along. 

The first thing I decided was that I would make gingerbread, and that somehow it would be stacked to look like a tree. I have seen this done before with gingerbread stars, but I really wanted it to look as tree-like as possible, so thought I might hand cut the biscuits instead. 

I used round cutters first, and then cut the edges into points. To make sure they didn't break off, I squashed the points a bit, rounding them off just a little. 

The next step was to fill the bottom of my jar with castor sugar, building up slightly the corner where my tree was going to be "planted". Before I placed each biscuit on the snow, I put a dab of royal icing in the middle, and also iced the bottom of my next biscuit as I placed it in. After holding them together for only a couple of seconds they clung together quite nicely. 

In the end there were ten biscuits in the stack. To be honest I had actually made eleven, but no matter how hard I tried, the largest biscuit was just not going to fit through the opening. No matter, I was hungry anyway and wanted to be sure the gingerbread was fabulous. (Yes it was!)

After finishing my little fondant star for the tree, I actually made the presents next, not yet knowing what else would help to fill out the jar. 

My three little presents were made from Fantales covered in various bits of fondant. I find colouring fondant tiresome, much preferring to handpaint my creations once they are assembled. 

As well as being a my preferred process (no coloured hands!) I think the colours are much richer when applied this way. 
My little snowman was the final creation. He is for show only, made entirely of fondant and toothpicks. When I first put him together, I skewered him from top to bottom to hold him in place. Once he had been worked on for a while I removed the skewer and he held together quite well on his own. 

The trick to making things like his carrot nose stay in place is to punch a hole in the fondant with a skewer and then to wedge the carrot inside. I also used this technique when adding eyes and buttons. 

Lastly I skewered him through the middle with a toothpick, adding a little fondant glove to each end. 

...and there you have it! My little gingerbread Christmas snow globe. The fun part is going to be making each one look just a little bit different. 

On to number two...

Sunday, December 7, 2014

394/1038 - Flathead poached with milk and tarragon

When I was in the Coventry bookstore purchasing the latest edition of this cookbook, it took a little bit of time to find and so I got into a conversation with the gentleman serving me. When he found out about this challenge he asked me about this recipe, wondering if cooking fish in milk would be nice or just a bit odd. I confessed to not yet having cooked this recipe, although I shared my previous experiences of steaming fish with milk, which I absolutely loved. 

I really don't think you can go wrong with flathead tails, we absolutely adore them and have eaten them so many different ways, which have all been wonderful. 

I love all herbs; the smell, the taste and the textures. Tarragon is a herb I don't use very often, but when I do I am reminded of how much I enjoy it's aniseed flavour and can usually be found munching on the leaves as I work. 

I did enjoy playing fish tetris as I laid the fillets into the bowl. There was exactly the right amount of space in the dish I had selected, which pleased my little perfectionist heart greatly. 

This was a fairly quick meal, with only fifteen minutes in the oven and then less than ten to make the sauce. The  table went very, very quiet as everybody began to eat, and I was amused to see each family member in turn sneak over to the stovetop for an extra spoonful of sauce.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

393/1038 - Scallops provençale

This little recipe has been a part of my challenge since the beginning; appearing in all three editions of The Cook's Companion.

I messed around with the recipe a little bit, largely because I had not got around to making a batch of home-made tomato sauce. Instead I substituted about half a cup of tinned tomatoes I had left over in the fridge and two fresh ones, chopped. I am sure this dish would be lovely either way, but I thought the fresh tomatoes gave the flavour a lift.

It may seem an odd combination, but I decided to serve my scallops with some steamed trout. It was gifted to us this morning by a friend who has the most incredible backyard, which includes an aquaponic set up complete with live trout. You can have a little peek at their amazing garden here. The trout was unbelievable and was a good booster for our modest little meal.

I removed the roe from the scallops and plan to do something fabulous with it tomorrow night. Just what, I have not yet decided. I will not be posting the result here, but if it is worthy, may post a pic and an overview on my Facebook page, where most of the fun happens. 

This was a quick and fabulous meal, with a wonderful combination of gently cooked vegetables. A great one for a snappy entrée. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

392/1038 - Snapper in a salty meringue crust

With a newly updated version of The Cook's Companion on my bench, this was the first recipe I have tried that did not exist in this challenge just two weeks ago. 

We love fish in our house, and snapper is one of our favourites. I loved the idea of cooking it in a crust and sealing in all of those wonderful snapper juices. The fish was supposed to be 1.5kg and instead I used two that were around 1.5kg combined. Mine were not butterflied, but instead stuffed and cooked with the bones still inside. 

The stuffing was a lovely mix of tomato, olives, preserved lemons and herbs. 

The fish were covered with an egg white and salt mix.

Once the fish was cooked, the salt crust was cracked open. The fish inside was perfectly cooked after thirty minutes and oh so moist! We peeled off the crust and the skin and of course the boys couldn't help but try out the meringue crust. I wasn't game - it must have tasted like a block of salt!

This is definitely one of those recipes that sounds much more complicated than it actually is. Well worth doing...even if I am left without any table salt left in the cupboard.  

Sunday, November 23, 2014

391/1038 - Hare pasta sauce

With a rabbit in my hot little hand, procured from a trip to the Queen Vic market, I decided to cheat and use it in this recipe for hare pasta sauce. 

On the day I made this we were heading across town to celebrate the first birthday of a little friend. Knowing we would not return home until late in the afternoon, I decided to begin this recipe in the morning, ready to be finished off for a quick and easy dinner when we returned home. 

Given that my rabbit was a wild one and a bit on the small side, I used the entire bunny in this recipe rather than just the hind legs. The baking took around ninety minutes and then the contents of the casserole dish were transferred to the fridge until we returned home. 

After the party I set to stripping the meat from the bones. The sauce was still a touch too thin, and so rather than boiling it down I heated it very gently and added enough cornflour to make a rich, thick sauce. 

The boys ate this with pasta but I was just not in the mood for it. Instead my bowl was filled with steamed vegetables and topped with the meat and this delicious sauce.

One little bunny, two handfuls of pasta and a bucket of steamed vegetables was plenty to satisfy this little family of four. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Supersize me...

I never thought I would buy the same book three times...and yet here we are.

With a wedding to attend on the weekend, I decided on The Cook's Companion as our gift to the happy couple. Mid-purchase, I realised I couldn't bear to buy the latest version of this book for somebody else and not for myself! Given the length of time between the second and third version, I am (reasonably) confident that this will be the last book I will need to buy in order to complete this challenge. Of course only time will tell.

Along with the prospect of a lengthier challenge came a couple of new chapters, amended chapter titles (mushrooms became mushrooms and truffles, rock lobsters became rock lobsters and scampi), tweaks and additions to recipes and a change to the colour of the ribbon markers. The colour change may seem insignificant to anybody else, but to someone who looks at this book on an almost daily basis, this is a welcome amendment! I very much approve of the green and purple.

Just to be tricky, there are quite a few recipes that have moved around. Some have moved chapters (cannoli has  moved from cheese to chocolate), some have slipped into the margin (e.g. slow roasted tomatoes) and some have been tweaked and given new names. Given that this is my challenge and I get to make up all of the rules, I decided to keep both versions of any recipes that have had significant change. Expect to see a slightly improved version of a Greek salad very soon...

So from an initial challenge with 656 984 with the purchase of the second book, the magic number is now 1,038. 

What's an additional 54 recipes? Only about a year of cooking. No biggie. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

390/984 - Spicy ginger clams

Seafood has been prominent in our house of late!

I was very excited to try this recipe which I have been eyeing off for some time. I am a bit of a ginger fiend, loving the gentle spicy flavour in savoury and sweet dishes alike. In fact I will take a dash of ginger syrup over a spoonful of sugar any time. 

With loads of onion and some lovely spices, this was a very nice meal. If I am honest, I would have liked for the ginger to be more prominent, but the family enjoyed it as it was. There was a major downside unfortunately, which was entirely my fault. As I threw the clams into the pan, a shell smashed and I must confess to finding several hard little bits of shell in my food. 


Shell notwithstanding, the clams were easily devoured. Luckily for me there was a small pile of sauce left over, which I ate for lunch the following day, along with leftover egg whites (a common occurrence in this ice-cream loving household!), chilli, bacon and Brussels sprouts. It was truly fabulous, and every bit as good as the original meal.

Leftover concoction

389/984 - Lemon roulade

With a lovely batch of fresh lemon curd in the fridge of course I had to make a lemon roulade!

This dessert was to be served to some lovely friends who came to dinner recently. I always get just a little bit nervous feeding people for the first time, but this dinner party went well; the only hiccup being that the roulade split as it was rolled. 

Of course things could have been much worse. Instead of a beautiful circular slice I ended up with a more linear effect. Pair that with some lovely home-made vanilla bean ice-cream and who is going to notice the shape of the roulade?

The base tasted absolutely wonderful and, apart from the rolling incident, was a resounding success. The texture was lovely and light and one of our guests, who professed to being very picky with desserts, requested a second serve. A lovely compliment indeed.

I will definitely make this again, perhaps in the same form, or perhaps as a light, unfilled cake served with fresh fruit and cream. 

Beautiful flowers from my guests

Sunday, November 16, 2014

388/984 - Kevin's pepper crab

My little one and I got up very early yesterday morning and took a trip together to the Queen Victoria market. Being particularly proud of both of my children this week, I allowed each of them to select a gourmet food of their choice for purchase. 

It was crayfish for my eldest, and of course thirty dollars didn't go far, buying us one little cray that was gobbled up by the family for a (very) light lunch. 

The blue swimmer crabs, however, were a different story! For a little over twenty dollars, we purchased four crabs that were destined to be the highlight of our day. I am kicking myself for not taking a picture prior to taking them apart, their wonderful blue shells so pretty to look at. 

Given that my youngest is only now developing his "chilli-mouth" as we call it in our house, I decided to include only three red chillies instead of four. I did, however, include the maximum amount of black peppercorns and I am so pleased that I did!

As per usual, I swapped the vegetable oil for coconut oil, and the smell of the crabs frying was nothing short of magical. 

As we ate this dish, the groans of pleasure around our dining table were truly amusing. Comments (in between mouthfuls) included;

“Mind-blowingly good!”
“Best thing you have ever cooked – by a mile”

After clearing our plates of crab, we all had a small serving of rice, doused in the amazing juices from the pan. With a small container left over (there was no way I was throwing it out!) I can see a wonderful stir-fry coming up for dinner tonight. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

387/984 - Lemon curd

Another dinner party (what a surprise!) and I decided to do some inventing.

As I began designing my amuse-bouche, I wrote down a list of ingredients I would like to put together. The list became:

  • Lemon curd
  • Coriander (fresh)
  • Cucumber
  • Chicken
  • Chilli
  • Coriander seeds
  • Coconut
Lemon curd is so ridiculously easy to make, and if it wasn't so moreish and simultaneously bad for the hips I would certainly make it more often. Only a 5-10 minute gig, the trickiest thing about this recipe is not eating it all straight from the container.

On the day of the dinner party I cut myself a couple of slices of cucumber, fried up some thinly sliced chicken and began to play around with the flavours. I fried the coconut to finish my concoction and included everything in the first tester except the coriander seeds. I liked the overall taste, but decided that the lemon curd and coconut definitely needed more of a savoury offset.

Into the pan went the coriander seeds, and then a quick bash in the mortar and pestle and I was ready to go.

I ended up serving this as an entrée, as I felt that all of this work was wasted on a mouthful that would be over in a moment. Each guest received three little serves and consensus was that the combination worked, lemon curd and all. 

...and of course they looked lovely too! x

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

386/984 - Potatoes in paper parcels

Almost four hundred recipes into this challenge, it is probably no surprise that I am starting to have a lot of trouble remembering which recipes I have actually cooked. I could have sworn I had already made this one, but looking through my records I realise it was the recipe for "mushroom en papillote" that I was remembering. 

I absolutely slathered my potatoes with butter and then added a few good pinches of river salt, cracked pepper and of course a few well placed cloves of garlic to the mix. Not trusting my folding abilities, I decided to tie up the bag with cooking twine. Possibly due to the double layer of paper, I found these needed an additional twenty minutes of cooking before they were sufficiently soft.

We ate these covered in a mound of parsley and what I loved best was the garlic flavour that had made its sneaky way into the potatoes. I wasn't game enough to chow down on a clove of garlic, but I live with a couple of brave people who did. I am told they were also fabulous.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

385/984 - Tabbouleh

Melbourne Cup Day means catching up with friends, a roaring barbecue and of course fabulous salads. 

We are lucky enough to have friends with a beautiful property that honestly makes me feel relaxed the minute I set foot in the back yard. Gazing around at the expanse of trees is incredibly calming...and of course also a wonderful backdrop for wine drinking, soccer playing and mud fights. 

Beautiful view, complete with chooks and horses
My contribution to our Cup Day table was a lovely fresh tabbouleh, one of my very favourite ways to use parsley. It takes only a few minutes to put together and is a colourful way to get the kids excited about their greens. It was one of several salads on offer, and so we ended up with plenty of leftovers to bring home and munch on over the next day or so. 

We did stop the festivities momentarily to watch the big race...but I am not sure our hearts were really in it. Mostly we were happy to be enjoying a day off together, making memories and enjoying the weather. 

Oh and just for the record, I participated in the wine drinking but left the mud flinging to the kids. Even I have my limits. 

Little mud monster