Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Jamie Oliver inspired Asparagus Pasta

At the moment Australian grown spring asparagus are $1.00 per bunch! Yep, that's correct...$1.00. And yes, they are beautiful. I do hope the farmer is benefits from the high sales of asparagus. Imagine how much work goes into growing, picking and packing asparagus!

I picked up 4 bunches the other day and put them to great use in a pasta. This is a very simple pasta dish based on this one by Jamie Oliver. I love the way Jamie Oliver uses ingredients and the flavours he puts together. Rarely do I completely follow the recipe but take inspiration from the idea of the dish. The recipe asks for 1 bunch of asparagus but where is that going to go? Maybe in England the bunches are larger. Definitely use more even four!

Jamie Oliver inspired Asparagus Pasta

So take four bunches of asparagus. Snap the woody ends and throw away. Wash under running water. Chop off the tender tops (about 3 or 4 cm) and reserve for later. Slice up the rest.

Heat up a good glug of extra virgin olive oil and gently fry the slice up asparagus with about 200g chopped pancetta or bacon.

When the asparagus is tender, crush with a fork. Taste and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Jamie suggests egg tagliatelle which I didn't have. These fusilli say "per i propri amici" - "for true friends". What better true friends can a girl have than her family so fusilli for "true friends" it is.
Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water.

Two minutes before the pasta is done throw in the asparagus tips.

Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water. Add the pasta (with the asparagus tips) to the pan of mashed asparagus goodness and toss to combine. Stir in as much parmesan cheese as you like and check the seasoning.
Serve and enjoy!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Chinese Almond Cookies - A Baker's Odyssey Challenge #51

It's been a while that I have notice some different products lining the supermarket shelves. I mean, all the coconut things....sugar, oil and flour. And then in the health food section... chai, cacao nibs and cacao powder. And then off to the tetra pack milks...well, that's another post! Baking has defiantly taken on a whole new spectrum.

 I saw a post recently on facebook from a friend of mine who photographed her grandchildren "enjoying Acai bowls for morning tea". Really? Apparently the kids love them. Who knew? What happened to a biscuit and milk for morning tea? I really must be living under a rock.

I wonder if  in 50 years time they'll be talking about the strange trends back in the early part of the century or if baking will completely change and traditional baking will be for the historians.

These cookies are a traditional Chinese cookie though the Chinese restaurants in my area never served anything like this. The wonderful thing about traditional baking is that it simply took basic ingredients of flour, eggs, butter and sugar and mixed them with local ingredients and a unique recipe was created. And while these cookies look awfully (or should I say, "suspiciously")like the Syrupy  Almond Cookies in a recent post they are quite a different thing all together.

Now it's time for the trendy bakers to look away...the original recipe called for 100% lard. Eeek! Ok, so I substituted butter for most of the lard. But do put the lard in (or if you are brave, use all lard)...the texture is amazing!

Dare I say... Long Live Traditional Baking!

Chinese Almond Cookies - adapted from A Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent
Makes 36

2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
180g butter, slightly softened
70g lard, cold
1 cup castor (fine) sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons almond extract
36 whole almonds
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

Preheat oven to 180C/350F and line a couple of baking trays with baking paper.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt
Beat the butter and lard together until smooth and well combined. Add the sugar and beat well until creamy. Beat in the egg and almond extract. Gradually mix in the flour mixture until well combined. The dough should be soft but not sticky.
Turn the dough out and divide into 3 equal portions. Roll into logs 30cm/12inches long. Cut each log into 12 pieces, 2.5cm /1inch long. You should have 36 equal portions. Failing all of that just pinch off pieces of dough to make 36 cookies. Roll dough into balls and position on baking trays. Flatten each slightly and press an almond into the centre of each cookie.

Brush with egg wash and bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until golden in colour.

Remove from trays and cool on wire racks.

Store in an airtight container.  Apparently the cookies will last for 1 or 2 weeks but they didn't make it that long in our house!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

In My Kitchen October 2016

I am linking this in to the monthly In My Kitchen event hosted by Lizzy of Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things.

Here in North Queensland we are in the second month of Spring. The humidity is rising and summer is approaching quickly. A north Queensland kitchen at this time of the year is quite different compared to the kitchens in the Northern hemisphere or indeed in southern Australia. We are preparing for the heat of summer and already eating "cooler". 

So lets take a look at my kitchen this month. 

Pictured above is the waffles I made served with homemade strawberry jam and thick Greek yoghurt. This is a new recipe from my fav book A Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent. These are Norwegian waffles spiced with cardamom.  Recipe coming soon.

With the heat coming on the garden has bolted and everything has gone to seed. I picked a big bunch of basil before I completely lost it all and plonked it all into a big bucket ready to be turned into pesto.

In my kitchen I made pesto to freeze for later. My sister, who is a cooking wiz, tells me it's better frozen without the cheese. 

In my kitchen I have lots of local chocolate. This month we toured Charley's Chocolate Factory at Mission Beach, North Queensland. This boutique chocolate factory grows their own cocoa beans and produces award winning, single origin chocolate. 

Fresh baked last night, Kleecha, again a recipe from A Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent. When I say "Syrian", your first thought I doubt would be traditional cooking but indeed these delicious spiced bread rolls are a Syrian recipe. I will post soon. 

In my kitchen I have this interesting little tool - a watermelon slicer from a local store Green Jelly Homewares.

And I have a watermelon from the neighbors road side stall. Less than a kilometre down the road I can pick up a watermelon for $5.00 and pumpkins for $2.00. So in my kitchen I tested my new device. Hmmm, not as easy as pictured on the packaging.

Not bad, nevertheless.

In my kitchen, a tin of freshly baked Chinese Almond Cookies.....yes.... same cookbook!
And yes, with the kind author's permission I will post the recipe.

Ripening on the kitchen bench are the latest pickings from the garden. We have to pick the pawpaws before the birds discover this sweet treat.

And lastly in my kitchen, my latest find at the op shop, a little ring pan for a mere $2.00. Such a cute little cake pan, I had to have it. It's useful, right?

Well, that's my kitchen for this month. Pop over to Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things to peek into some other kitchens.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Syrupy Almond Cookies - A Baker's Odyssey Challenge #50

Is your bake ware shiny and new? Or do you have old pieces that have been with you or your family for years? Can you imagine if bake ware could talk and tell it's story and what it has seen. It's sad to see beautiful baking tins, old spoons or crockery abandoned at the local op shop. These were once treasured pieces that were used over and over, now no longer of use to the new owners who may not bake or cook or maybe simple can't fit anymore inherited pieces into their cupboards. So different to days gone by when the woman of the house "made do" with only a couple of pieces to bake, roast and cook.
I am guilty as charged of having waaaay to much "stuff" but can't resist a new  preloved piece of bake ware. "It's useful" I convince myself. Time to declutter. But then I drag out an old baking tray and I love the way it looks full of syrupy cookies.
This recipe comes from my friend, Greg Patent and his great cook book A Baker's Odyssey. I know you will enjoy it.

Syrupy Almond Cookies ( A Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent)

2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 3/4 cup plain flour plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
113g/4oz butter, unsalted
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons yoghurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
16 whole almonds

Make the syrup by combining sugar, water, and lemon juice in a saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Allow to cool and then refrigerate until very cold.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Line two baking trays with baking paper.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a bowl beat butter until smooth and creamy. I used a stand mixer but beating with a wooden spoon is fine. Beat in the sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg and egg yolk followed by the yoghurt and vanilla. If the mixture looks curdled that's not a problem. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients.
Divide the dough into 16 equal portions.

Roll into balls and arrange on baking trays. Flatten slightly and press an almond into the centre. Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown.

As soon as they come out of the oven transfer the cookies baking dish with high sides to catch the syrup. Immediately pour the cold syrup onto the hot cookies.  After 5 minutes turn the cookies over and then again a few more times. I never got all the syrup to absorb into the cookies but maybe the cookies were a little overbaked.

Store the cookies in a sealed container in the refrigerator and they will continue to absorb the syrup and develop flavour. Enjoy with a strong espresso!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Dalmation Dol Cake - Daring Kitchen Challenge September 2016

I first started real baking after my dear mum passed away when I was just 9 years old. Mum was a great Italian cook. She was amazing with delicious traditional Italian meals, even her tripe was to die for! However she was also a great baker of classic Australian favourites such as sponge cake,
 and pineapple tart. Of course, we missed this all so much when we lost her even though Dad was a very accomplished cook and taught me so much.
So I started baking apple pies, cakes and even tried my hand at bread at about 12 years old. Over the years, I have found that it is baking that really makes me happy. Take some butter, flour, sugar and eggs and couple of little variations in technique and baking and you have a myriad of different baked goodies. Swap the ingredients around a little and add a couple of different flavours and all of a sudden you are visiting another country.
This month Jason from Daily Candor took the Daring Kitchen to Dol on the Dalmatian island of Bra. Nope, I didn't know where that was either! Bra or Brač is an island in the Adriatic Sea within Croatia. Jason tells us that "The cake is named for the rugged stones from the nearby caves, and is known locally to be a bit of an aphrodisiac (!). The cake has won considerable acclaim within Croatia, and every year the town of Dol hosts the annual Night of Hrapouša competition which draws over a thousand attendees, some ten times as many people as the resident population of the village.

The cake is very different from other cakes in terms of both texture and flavor. The bottom layer is a fragrant almond-based sponge with orange-vanilla notes, while the top is a lemon-scented fragile brittle made of walnuts. It is extremely rich, and even those of us with a major sweet tooth can handle only a thin slice or two. Fortunately, it keeps at room temperature for a good week, and for several months if frozen immediately after making."

Now, don't do what I did and overcook the topping. You're going to find it impossible to slice through the hard nut topping. So do as Jason instructs in the recipe ...."Stop when the liquid takes on a beige/caramel color."

Dalmation Dol Cake ( I reduced the cake to a 4 egg version, the measurements in red)

Servings: Makes 12-16 slices
For 8” / 20cm springform pan (if using 12” / 30cm pan, double the ingredients) (18cm)

250g / 9oz / 1 3/4 cups whole almonds (roasted or raw, depending on preference) (167g)
400g / 14oz / 3 1/2 cups walnuts (halves and pieces) (267g)
600g / 1 1/3lb / 3 cups granulated sugar (400g)
1/2 orange (1/3 orange)
1/2 lemon (1/3 lemon)
1 ½ Tbsp kirsch, maraschino or other cherry-flavored liquor (15ml)
6 large eggs (4 eggs) (145g egg whites)
1 tsp vanilla extract (left as is)


1. Preheat the oven to 480°F / 249°C / Gas Mark 9 1/2.

2. Pulse the almonds in a food processor to yield a meal.

3. Add to your standing mixer bowl (or another large bowl if you’re using a handheld mixer) the following: the zest and juice from ½ (1/3)  orange, ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract, 1 ½  tbsp (15ml) of cherry-flavored liquor and 200g / 1 cup (134 g) of the sugar. Mix gently until homogeneous.

4. Separate the 6 (4) eggs, adding the yolks directly into the mixer bowl. Retain the whites separately: 4 ( 88g) whites in one bowl, the remaining 2 (44g) in another. Mix the ingredients from step 3 with the yolks until it yields a uniform batter. Pour into another bowl if using a standing mixer.

5. Clean out your standing mixer bowl (or get a new, clean bowl if using a handheld mixer) and place the 2 (44g) egg whites from step 4 in the bowl. Beat until you have somewhat stiff peaks.

6. Add half of the beaten egg whites and half of the almond meal to the batter. Fold in to incorporate and stir gently to homogeneity. Then add the remaining almond meal and egg whites, folding in and stirring gently as before.

7. Place a circle of parchment paper at the bottom of the springform pan. Pour the resulting cake batter into the springform pan on top of the parchment paper.

8. Bake according to this schedule (move to step 9 after placing in the oven):

5 minutes at 392°F /200°C / Gas Mark 6 (drop the oven to this temperature immediately after placing cake inside)
15 minutes at 350°F / 176°C / Gas Mark 4
15 minutes at 320°F / 160°C / Gas Mark 3

Begin checking the cake approx 5 minutes after lowering the temperature to 320°F / 160°C / Gas Mark 3 (or approx 25 minutes after beginning to bake). When a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, remove the cake from the oven. If the center has swollen due to baking, press gently with the back of the wooden spoon to flatten the surface.

Note that a larger cake (in a 12" / 30cm pan) will likely take longer to bake sufficiently.

9. While the bottom cake is baking, place the remaining 4 (88g) egg whites, 400g / 2 cups (266g)  sugar and the walnuts in a large pot. Turn up the burner to medium-high heat and stir aggressively for approx 15 minutes, making sure the bottom of the pot doesn’t scorch. Stop when the liquid takes on a beige/caramel color.

 10. Add the zest and juice of ½ (1/3) lemon and the remaining ½ tsp of vanilla extract to the walnut-caramel mixture. Stir to spread uniformly throughout the mixture.

11. Pour the resulting walnut mixture over the bottom layer of the cake. Make the top even with the back of the wooden spoon.

12. Place the cake back in the oven (should still be at 320°F / 160°C / Gas Mark 3) and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until the top takes on a golden color.

13. Allow to cool for 90 minutes. Then gently remove from springform pan, peel off the parchment paper,...

...  and present!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Scandinavian Rye Bread - A Baker's Odyssey Challenge #49

A few years ago I wandered into a large book store in Brisbane while on holidays. While my children were browsing, I made my way to the second floor which held a substantial selection of cookbooks. There I sat a little stool and surrounded myself with beautiful books. I knew our luggage would be heavy so I limited myself to choosing one book.

Little did I know that by choosing that book, on that day, would lead to Greg coming into my life and I now count Greg and his lovely wife Dorothy as dear friends.

On my return from holidays, I poured over that book. I wanted to make so many recipes. Rarely, if ever do that many recipes from one book interest me that much! So I decided to bake my way through the book. By chance, Greg happened upon my  blog and made contact. One thing led to another and this year Greg told me that he and Dorothy were making their first trip to Australia and  could we meet? So a couple of weeks ago my hubby and I spent a lovely weekend with Greg and Dorothy in the North Queensland city of Cairns.
How lucky am I?
Greg is a wealth of food knowledge and Dorothy is so incredibly accomplished in her field but they are two of the most humble and gentle people I have ever met. For me this was a small sliding door moment - buying a cookbook led to welcoming the author and his wife into my life. 

I don't often post personal photos but this is an exception - Greg and myself in the beautiful tropical sunshine.

We talked and talked! We ate great food and wandered around together. We discussed Greg's books. At one stage I turned to Greg and said, "Oooh, I have just made your Swedish Rye Bread! It's delicious!" Greg gave me a funny look. Aaaah, sorry Greg, it was Limpa I was talking about! In my head I had renamed it Swedish Rye Bread. Do you ever do that?

This Limpa which is a Scandinavian Rye bread is adapted from the recipe in A Baker's Odyssey. I have been baking bread for a long time and I would say without a doubt this is one of the most flavourful loaves I have made. Served warm out of the oven with lashings of butter it is irresistible but the next day it slices well and toasts beautifully. This bread will not disappoint!

Limpa ( adapted from A Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent)
makes one small round loaf

200ml water
20mls molasses
20g butter
230g bread flour
75g dark rye flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
finely grated zest of 1/2 orange
1 teaspoon anise seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds

Heat the water, molasses and butter in a small pan over medium heat until the butter melts and the mixture registers around 50C. Remove from heat while you measure and prepare the remaining ingredients.
To make the dough I like to use a stand mixer but it can all be done by hand.
Combine the flours and yeast then stir in the salt, orange zest, anise seeds and caraway seeds. By this time your liquids should have cooled down a little. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix together with a wooden spoon until a stiff dough is formed. Allow to rest about ten minutes. Then if using a stand mixer attach the dough hook and knead for 5-8 minutes. Alternatively knead by hand for 8 minutes. In either case you should end up with a smooth and elastic dough. It will be a little sticky but don't add any more flour.
Form into a ball then place the dough into an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise 45 minutes or until doubled in size.
Lightly flour the work surface, turn out the dough and pat gently to remove the large air bubbles. Form the dough into a ball by cupping your hands around the dough and rotating it. Pinch the underside together to seal and form a ball.
Place on a baking tray which has been lined with nonstick paper and cover loosely with plastic wrap that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Allow to rise for a further 30-45 minutes or until doubled in size.
In the meantime heat the oven to 230C. When the dough is ready and the oven is hot, take a spray bottle filled with water and spray the inside of the oven, close the door. Uncover the dough and place into the hot oven which you spray again with water. Shut the door immediately and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the bread is well browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Cool on a wire rack. Serve with lashings of butter!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Pavlova - Daring Kitchen challenge for August 2016

This month I hosted a Daring Kitchen challenge and challenged the members of the Daring Kitchen to make a pavlova. I know, not that daring really, is it? But that was the whole point. I wanted this to be more of a creative challenge...take the main ingredient of a pavlova and let your culinary  imagination go wild. Daring Kitchen members came up with some wonderful creations. Have a look here. Or have a look at these wonderful blogs here, here, here or here.

I have been making Pavlova for many years and it is standard dessert fare at many Australian gatherings. The classic Pavlova is a dessert consisting of a crisp, light meringue base topped with fruit and cream. Most often the centre of the meringue is of a marshmallowy consistency. However Pavlova can be stacked layers, mini Pavlovas, or lightly baked and rolled with a filling. The meringue can be flavoured with nuts, spices, chocolate, cocoa or coffee powder and filled with custards, mousses, bavarians, mascarpone, fruit curds or yoghurt.
The recipe I provided is one I have used for many years, so long that I don’t know where it came from but it is very similar to most recipes for the Classic Pavlova. I prefer my Pavlova baked to quite crunchy with little marshmallow in the centre. I usually top with fresh whipped Chantilly cream and fresh fruit such as strawberries, kiwi fruit and passionfruit. On this occasion I made a passionfruit curd to drizzle over the cream and topped with green and gold kiwi fruit and toasted shredded coconut.

This recipe can be halved or increased quite easily just keep in mind that the cooking time will vary. I often make this into a 6 egg white pavlova.
Make sure your whisking bowl is clean and greasefree. If in doubt rub with paper towel dipped in white vinegar or lemon juice before use.
Have everything ready on the bench because once you start mixing, your pavlova you can’t be interrupted.
Use eggs at room temperature to ensure the best whip. The egg whites must not contain even a trace of yolk. To be sure separate each egg individually.
I like to use cream of tartar to stablise the whites. I have read that a ½ teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice or even a pinch of salt can be substituted but I
can’t verify this.
If you can’t get superfine sugar, whiz regular sugar in the food processor.
Do not open the door during the cooking then when baled. allow to cool slowly in the oven with the door ajar.

Recipe 1: Pavlova

Servings: 8 to 10 serves or less if your guests are hungry
4 egg whites (approx. 120g or 8 Tbsp using 57g / 2oz eggs), at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup / 225g / 8oz caster/ superfine sugar
3 tsp / 8g cornstarch (Australia ­ cornflour)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp white vinegar
Preheat the oven 135°C / 275°F / Gas Mark 1 and prepare a large flat tray by lining with nonstick baking paper.
Beat egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Continue beating while gradually adding the sugar one tablespoon at a
time. Continue beating until the meringue is thick and glossy and the sugar has dissolved.

Rub a little meringue between fingers. If still "gritty" with sugar, continue to whisk until sugar dissolves.

Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and gently fold in the sifted cornstarch, followed by the vanilla and the vinegar.
Pile the mixture onto the baking paper lined flat tray. It should be about a 20 ­ 25cm / 8 ­ 10" circle. Hollow out the centre a little.

Bake for 1 ¼ hours. If your oven runs hot and the pavlova is colouring simply lower the temperature by 5 or 10 degrees.
Cool in the oven with the door ajar.

Once cool store in an airtight container unless using straight away.

To Assemble the Pavlova just before serving

1 baked and cooled pavlova, as per recipe
2 green kiwi fruit and 2 gold kiwi fruit, sliced, or you choice of fruit
1/3 cup shredded coconut, toasted
Passionfruit curd, recipe below
Chantilly cream, recipe below
Remove the baking paper from the pavlova and place on a serving tray. (I recently saw Nigella Lawson prepare a pavlova and she simply turned it upside down
on a serving tray, removed the baking paper and decorated the pavlova. Once decorated no one could tell it was upside down.)
Spread the Chantilly cream over the pavlova, drizzle with as much of the curd as you like, decorate with slice kiwi fruit and sprinkle with toasted coconut.

Recipe 2: Passionfruit Curd

Makes: 2 ½ cups / 600ml / 20 fl oz
150ml / approx. 1/2 cup + 2tsp strained passionfruit pulp
2 Tablespoons of passionfruit seeds
20ml / 1 metric Tbsp / 1 US Tbsp + 1 tsp lemon juice
170g / 1 1/2 sticks / 3/4 cup unsalted butter, chopped
200g / 9/10 cup caster sugar
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
In a medium saucepan place passionfruit pulp, lemon juice, butter and sugar. Cook over a medium heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.
In a bowl place eggs and additional egg yolks and whisk eggs until combined.

Whisk the eggs and slowly pour in the passionfruit mixture. It is important to keep whisking while you do this. Strain the passionfruit curd mixture through a
sieve back into the saucepan to remove any “eggy bits”.

Add the passionfruit seeds and continue to cook over a low/medium heat until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. At low heat this can
take as long as 10 minutes. At medium heat it can take as little as 5 minutes.
Be careful not to overheat and overcook the mixture – you will then have passionfruit flavoured scrambled eggs. I like to not risk further cooking of the curd
by pouring the cooked mixture into a glass jug until cooled.

Once mixture has cooled place in a sterilised jar and store in the fridge. Passionfruit curd will last for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

Recipe 3: Chantilly Cream

300ml / 1 1/4 cups / 10 fl oz full fat cream (about 35%)
16g / 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
5ml / 1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients.
Using a hand whisk or electric whisk, beat the cream in a stainless steel or glass or china bowl (not plastic­ doesn't seem to whip as well).
It is whipped properly when it is still soft and billowy but holds its shape when the whisk is withdrawn.
Once the cream is whipped, cover and store in the fridge.