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Sunday, 9 October 2011

The End is Just the Beginning

I emptied a jar last week.
It was while cooking my second massaman curry in about 6 weeks (as the first one was a bit too spicy, so the Search for a home-made equivalent to our awesome local Thai take-away continued)
And it wasn’t just any run of the mill jar of pasta sauce or jam; it was a jar of kaffir lime leaves.
And this gave me a happy sense of pride.
 For this meant that I had been cooking enough different (and Asian leaning) recipes over the last year or so, to use a WHOLE JAR  of such an exotic ingredient that I didn’t even know it existed before I saw it in a recipe (and had to go to a new Asian grocery store to find).
  I guess that the Empty Jar validates that weird ingredients can and do get used in a myriad of receipes; as long as you are adventurous enough to Keep Trying New Things.  And Empty Jar has also quietened that little voice in my head that whispers as I by yet another jar of curry paste (at last count I had 4 different types in my fridge), “You know you’ll only use it once and then it will sit at the back of the fridge and grow mould”; the culinary equivalent of seeing a cute top on sale and never having the right occasion to be worn. Which did make me feel better as I sourced tamarind puree and black vinegar for yet another New Recipe to try (seriously – how many types of vinegar are out there?? There’s balsamic, white, apple cider, red wine AND white wine… it goes on and on).
 But Empty Jar also signifies a shift that has occured in the Basics that one has in ones fridge/pantry. Persian fetta has its own space on my fridge shelf (for spreading over wraps or adding to scrambled eggs),   I have added Palm sugar to the caster/brown/white section;  rice wine and fish sauce sit happily next to tomato and barbeque sauce; and if I want oil, I can choose from sesame, sunflower, peanut and good ol’ EVOO. Some might call this plethora of ingredients a bit excessive and indulgent, but I like to look at it as Expanding My (culinary) Horizons and Doing the Job Properly.  Its like the thrill I had when I saw Szechuan pepper corns listed in a recipe and knew that I already had them in my cupboard; slightly different from the “oooh I’ve never cooked with THAT before” thrill, as it seems to stamp you as a Serious Foodie, rather than one who dabbles.
 So to you, Empty Jar I say Thank You. I have had a lovely time experimenting with you through marinades, curries and laksas and look forward to many more delicious collaborations

Monday, 22 August 2011

August and everything after

It’s always reassuring when you use a gadget more than once; it does feel like its purchase has been justified!
 The pasta maker has (reassuringly) been getting a bit of a workout over the last month.
 First up was the aforementioned Prawn Ravioli, which was quite decadent and yummy (if a bit fiddly to make). It was also a great pasta-making-learning-experience for me, mainly that pasta expands when it is cooked! So even if the size looks OK and that sheets are not too thick when you are assembling said Ravioli, it will get bigger and thicker after cooking! Oh well, not a grand drama; it mean they were more mega-entrĂ©e sized rather than classy dinner party main meal size pasta parcels!
 But taking that all on board, I next made some fresh tagliatelle again to go with a Tobie Puttock Leek and Prosciutto pasta recipe.
 And it worked a treat.
I can now recognise when the pasta has been compressed enough for the machine to go the next thickness (or thinness, as the case may be) level, and have settled on ‘2’ as the proper size for my pasta (might use ‘1’ but only for angel hair spaghetti). I was also very liberal with The Dusting of Flour.
 And I have found making pasta to be very calming and therapeutic.
 Something about turning eggs and flour into gorgeous strands of pasta coupled with the rhythmic turning of the handle… . I wonder if there is there is room in the New Age World for foodie meditation??
Another Pasta Making First was hand-made gnocchi. I didn’t have the specified potatoes (recipe asked for Sebago) so was a bit worried they would be a bit heavy and gluggy (as some gnocchi can be). I also didn’t have a ‘potato ricer’ and even had to jump on Google to find out what one was.
 Basically it’s a glorified big garlic press, that a foodie friend assured me “it gives you the perfect texture for much less work”. I used my trusty old masher and some elbow grease and it seemed to turn out fine. I can see the advantage of one though – especially as there are ones that peel and mash all in one (!!!) but I think I’ll survive without that gadget for a bit longer.
 But my gnocchi was light and fluffy, and even tastier as the recipe called for it to be pan-fried before adding the pancetta-based carbonara sauce (so definitely not a Heart Tick recipe). Pity Son 1 and 2 weren’t enthused … or maybe it’s not (more for us!!)
 Next up? Lasagne with fresh lasagne sheets (the last one I made was still using up the dried (Shudder!!) sheets in the cupboard)
 In other cooking adventures, I made Gumbo at the weekend.
 Hubby has been watching the TV series Treme, which is set in post-Katrina New Orleans and has a big focus on the culture of the region; food, music etc. Which naturally led me to flick through the ‘Louisiana’ section of my Jamie’s America cookbook.
 He describes Gumbo as a stew-cum-soup (or a stoup!). There is no set recipe for traditional gumbo, as the idea is to thrown in whatever you have around (meat and veges). The most important thing is that it has a roux made with fat (usually from the meat) and flour,  and the ‘holy trinity” of onion, celery and peppers. He lists a Surf & Turf gumbo (with prawns, crabmeat and sausage), but I lent towards the Spicy Meat Gumbo. The first step was to cook the meat and I knew that we were onto something good then.

Have you ever smelt chicken frying with bacon and chorizo?? Mouth-wateringly enticing.

And really with that combo, whatever else you add will be icing on the cake.
I probably didn’t cook the roux for long enough (some people cook it for up to an hour to get the colour dark enough, but who has time to do that?) and it would probably have thickened up if I had’ve let it cook longer, but there was a hungry crew to feed. And surprisingly, Son 2 loved it! As did we - a mixture of yum made it much more interesting than any of the stews I had as a child (sorry Mum!)
So with that success, I may give the Surf n’ Turf one a Go (if I can find some okra and crab claws), but the next Cajun delight I’m planning on tackling is Jumbalaya (they have such cool names of things!! 'Jambalaya' is French for 'jumbled' or mixed up' - it's a rice and meat and veges dished based on the whatever-you-have-around philosophy).
 Other new and successful Recent Recipes of Note – Hot and Sour soup (thai style noodle soup with prams and chicken), Conchiglioni - which are giant pasta shells filled with a meat sauce (Hubby called them Pasta Pirate Ships to get Sons 1&2 to eat them... successfully!)  and a massaman curry, which seemed to get milder after sitting it the fridge for a few days! Go figure!
And as a variation on a popular theme, I will say Keep Calm and Keep Cooking

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Fresh is best

I do love my cooking gadgets.

One of my newest favorite stores in The General Trader, which has the most amazing array of bits and pieces and Cool Things to Cook and Make Things With; things you never even realised that you needed! Like four different grades of microplane zesters, or cool shaped cookie cutters, or a flavour injector! Or things you may have done without in the past, but now that you've bought them you realise how awesome they are and Gosh Darn It! Why didn't you buy them before?!?!? (my ceramic pie weight are the most recent addition to this category)
 So when I received a General Trader voucher recently, my Gadget Fairy did a very strange and eclectic Excited Dance in my head.

 I have resisted the temptation in the past to get a bread maker (more due to space restrictions than anything, but also 'cause yeast products and I have developed An Understanding), but I will admit to a popcorn maker and a milkshake maker sitting in my cupboard and getting an occasional spin.
 However, I have been eying off a pasta maker, ever since I had fresh pasta at a friend's house for dinner. She assured me that it was "So Easy!!" to make, and as I had previous pasta making experience (albeit with an industrial strength machine), I went and purchased (in the words of one of my favorite poems), "a shiny new machine".

 I decided to make fettuccine first, as that would let me try out both attachments (and I I had a spare packet of dried in the cupboard in case it was a disaster). I set aside an afternoon to play and fiddle and Perfect My Technique, but I was pretty confident. After all (in the words of Jeremy Clarkson- how hard could it be???
 (For those who don't watch Top Gear, this phrase is usually followed by vision of some monumental cock-up with cars in various pieces or on fire)
 But I am pleased to report that it was "so easy", in fact - almost Child's Play. A pretty simple reciepe of 1 egg and 100g flour for each person chucked in a food processor, kneaded together  and rolled out, then fed through the pasta machine a few times and voila! I got Son 2 in on the act and he did a great job of Turn Turn Turn! with the handle (except when he wanted to see what happened when he turned it the other way. Answer - backwards pasta and a cranky mum). In fact the only misstep was not putting enough flour on the pasta sheets before putting them through the cutter. 

 They did end up sticking together a bit (as you can see in the photo), but I was able to resurrect it with the annoyinging slow technique of separating each piece and dusting with flour (which I wont be doing again!).

Resurrected Pasta
 I cooked Jamie Oliver's "Fresh Tagliatelle with sprouting broccoli and oozy cheese sauce" (from "Jamie at Home"), which is a wickedly delicious sauce made out of melted gruyere and creme fraiche (and not much else).

Boiling pasta and melted oozy cheese sauce
  And it was a super delicious dish - I threw in fried bacon and some pine nuts as well for good measure. So not a very Points Friendly recipe but it was sooooooo yum!

So a successful and encouraging first Go. Next up, I'm looking to make lasagne with fresh pasta sheets, as well as home-made ravioli; The Vineyard Cookbook has some rather exciting ones, likeTim's Ravioli (from DeBortoli Vineyard) with fetta and potato, and a prawn ravioli. Mmmmmm....

 And my Gadget Fairy now has her sights on a proper tagine so I can churn out some "authentic" Moroccan cooking. Now where did I put my fez....?

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Random Receipes

I couldn't really think of a theme or overarching idea or thing-to-link-these-together for this posting. So let's just call it "Cool Receipes I've Tried and Why They Were". (sounds like a topic for Son 1's Show and tell!). There seem to be quite a lot of curries and spicy foods; coincidence or me rebelling aganst my meat-and-three-veg upbringing??
  • Chicken Laksa: this one I tried as part of my quest  to have our regular Thai-and-movie night home made. It was great fun as I had an excuse to go and explore my freindly neighborhood asian grocery store and find things like fried Asian shallots (which made it look very authentic), kaffir lime leaves (in a jar not fresh, but better than nothing) and Thai basil. Very easy but very delcious.

  • Lamb Red Duck Curry: which taught me that curry is kind-of color coded, with green not so hot but red quite hot! But it did let me use plam sugar again (which I love using as it makes me feel very chef-like grating it up), and my mortar and pestle to pound peanuts, which makes me feel very apothecarian (if that's even a word???)

  • Sri Lankan Chicken Curry: (from 'Amanda's on the Edge' at Windsor Edge winery): this was exciting as I got to make a curry past from scratch! It's funny, as a few years ago, I had dismissed this act as crazy when a foodie mate said that he had done it himself; surely just buy it in a jar?!?!?But it was lots of fun mixing it all together, even if the end result didn't look restaurant quality (still tasted delicious!)

  • Risotto with Red Wine (from Jamie Oliver): I have always been a fan of risotto, ever since I was shown how to make it properyl (thanks Sheree!), but I always used white wine, and most memorably with chicken and pesto (mmmmm). Now I love red wine as much as the next person (especially on a Friday night on the couch with chocolate) but I was a bit wary about how it would go in a risotto. But my fears were unfounded as it was awesome; a lovely winter take on an already wintery dish. I also got to use dried porcini mushrooms for the first time, which was made even cooler by the fact that I had bought them at Salamanca market in Tasmania! Delicious!
 Other recent cooking adventures included a Yule dinner with roast turkey and a encore of the triple-cooked roast potatoes, with sticky date pudding and maple walnut ice cream for dessert (which survived an only partially frozen ice-cream maker bowl), and a tomato soup with molten bocconcini (you cooke dit int he over for a few minutes) served with garlic and parmesan bread (the garlic was roasted first so not as strong a flovour, which is great for hte kids - very yum).

And on that note, I think I will have to go and trawl my thesaurus for new words apart from Yum and Delicious. Either that or stop cooking such yummy food .....

Baked Goods....

 One of the things I love about a new recipe book or foodie magazine is creating the List of New Things To Cook; so much potential!! So much yumminess awaiting! But it is a bit tricky when the recipe are variations on ones I already have in my files. What to do??? Do you stay loyal and not even try the new version? Or give it a try, realising that you may have to part ways with a recipe that has served you faithfully for many years for the younger cooler version?? What a delicious conundrum!

 This happened to me recently after Delicious magazine ran an article about the lady behind The Maven Bakery (which is apparently a very famous in Sydney institution). There was a great selection if yummy things to bake, but there were a few "double ups".

  The first was The Maven Fudge Brownies. I have a fabulous brownie recipe that was sent in to Epicure by a reader and it has seen me through many compliment laden lunches, dinner party desserts, baby showers and "Because It's Friday!"s at work. But they were more at the 'cake' end than the "fudge' end of the brownie scale so I thought it was worth a shot. Similar ingredients and method with melting chocolate and adding ingredients to it; the new one asked that the eggs be beaten for 10 minutes, which with a hand held electric mixer was a bit of a pain (my fairy godmother hasn't procured a KitchenAid yet!). Also walnuts were the added nut whereas my favorite is macadamia. They also did the favoured step of adding coffee to a chocolate dish, which, as a coffee non-fan I am always wary of.


 They were kind of awesome.

 Very fudgy, but still cakey; dense, but not in the make-you-sick way. They received rave reviews up and down my work department (AKA The Guinea Pigs).
But where does that leave my first love? I sense a Brownie-Off in the future where we can compare them side-by-side.

  The next try-out was Double Chocolate Cookies, which wasn't strictly a double up. My first cookies recipe was for Tollhouse cookies and was from the side of the choc-bits packet. Your basic cookie recipe and quite delicious for such an inauspicious beginning. The next version was for Neiman Marcus cookies (from the famous? American chain store). A bit more fiddly, with the addition of oatmeal and grated chocolate, they were crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside; the closest home made to a Mrs Fields cookie I had tasted.
So this was a chocolate dough (cocoa was added in with the flour) and white chocolate chunks through. A different technique in that you rolled up the dough into a log, chilled it and then sliced it up (rather than just spooning them onto a tray) to make very profesh looking cookies

 And they were yummy!

 So I think these two can sit side by side and co-exist quite nicely in my repertoire. I can have an Ebony and Ivory (living in perfect harmony), or a piano keys cookie combination!

  The final of the trio was Mandy's Chocolate Cake (Mandy being the Maven Bakery lady). It came with the endorsement of "This is my bulletproof cake. It's easy to make, dense and not too sweet!""

 High praise indeed.

 So my expectations were raised, especially as my Mississippi Mud Cake, is MY "bulletproof cake". So yummy and easy that is had become my standards kids birthday-cake cake, as it will stand up to a tonne of colored frosting quite well.

 Firstly, Mandy's cake was in 2 cake tins, so automatically more washing up. The two cakes didn't rise that much, so I was unable to cut them in half as requested (to make a triple layer cake) which wasn't a big drama, but a deviation none-the-less.

 Then I made the 'filling' - melt chocolate, mix in cream cheese etc etc etc

 THEN I had to make the glaze, which had an egg in it, meaning it was supposed to thicken.

 But it didn't.

 So it was very runny all over the cake and plate and bench and such. Hmmm ....

 So for me the cake itself was easy, but then you still had to make the filling. And the Glaze. And then put it all together. So that part - not so easy (well, doing nothing except putting it on a serving platter is easier!)

 It was dense - quite nice

And it was 'not too sweet', but that may have been the over 1 TABLEspoon of coffee essence! Quite coffee flavoured for a chocolate cake (not not really my thing). So although it was quite nice - the ol' faithful wins out (hooray!)

But stay tuned for the results of the "Brownie Off" ...

Monday, 9 May 2011

(Not so) Perfect 10

Special Occasions.

What I love about them is that they can be impromptu and everyday – “Hey! A new TV show is starting!” “I’m getting a bonus at work!” “Two random friends have dropped in just around dinner time! Break out the wine!”

 Or they can be the traditional calendar events – birthdays, family events, wedding anniversaries…

 All an occasion needs to be “special” is special people and a sense of occasion. You can have 2 or 20 guests; it could be a 5 course extravaganza taking days to prepare or a heap of take-away from your favourite local.

 But as much as I love an impromptu gathering (which is why I always have a sparkling wine and some sort of bikkies and dip on hand), the long standing events do give you a chance to plan and prepare and research and organize (… these are a few of my favourite things).

 Like our wedding anniversary

 This year it was 10 years – a nice round-number milestone, so a good excuse to celebrate. We had organized a weekend away, but still had dinner on the actual day to plan. It seemed a bit rich to get a baby sitter to go out to dinner when we were probably going out for breakfast, lunch AND dinner the next few days. So it seemed like a great opportunity to cook something glamourous at home. Of course in this busy modern life that we (especially me) live in, it wasn’t a matter of picking a few cute recipes and off I went. It had to be something that I could organise in between a ‘normal’ day – that is, school pick up/drop off, swimming lessons, feeding and bathing of children etc etc
 Working the two days prior also meant that it needed to not involve a lot of preparation, or require running around and sourcing exotic ingredients. Flicking through my recipe books with the Royal wedding on in the background, I settled on “Pot Roasted Free range Chicken with lemon and sage roasted kipfler potatoes” from the Tarra Warra Estate Winery in Yarra Glen (Vineyard Cookbook). It had basic ingredients and a few preparation steps but nothing too dramatic.

 Dessert with my hubby is always a bit tricky as he is not a ‘dessert” person (yes, they are not an urban myth). He would rather take the French route and have an after dinner course of several cheeses. Also with only 2, a lot of the usual pies/cakes/tarts were out as there would be too much left over that I would then have to eat (on a dit at present!). I decided on Gelato Baci from the “Lygon St – Stories and Recipes from Melbournes’ Melting Pot” recipe book, as he does love ice cream.  For such an exotic name, it ended up being a nutella ice cream. I personally had never tried nutella before. My only experience of it was the small single-serve packets that were sold at my primary school canteen, complete with the weird blade-esque spoon that would cut your tongue if you licked it the wrong way. But I diligently bought it, and now having tasted it, I have no idea how they can call it in any way “healthy”! At least peanut butter doesn’t try to hide its true form.

 Anniversary Day and Son 2 helped me buy all of the ingredients. The chicken recipe called for “chicken kievs”, which made me think of those uber-garlic crumbed dishes from the 80’s. But it turns out a Kiev is a cut of chicken (like a Maryland), with the breast with a wing bone attached (I had to order them un-garlic-ed from my chicken shop!). That all sorted, I marinated the chicken, churned the ice cream and par boiled the potatoes during nap time. Come dinner time, I had the boys in bed and was ready to start cooking, ably assisted by a glass of chilled Veuve.

All systems are go - chicken browning, stock boiling, potatoes frying, spinach waiting
 I was a bit worried about the chicken being boring flavour wise, as there was only lemon and oregano to marinate it. But whether simple is best or  it was the frying /poaching cooking method, it was delicious, with lots of licking of fingers from Hubby. I can also report that thrice cooked potatoes (par-boiled, fried then roasted), especially those cooked in duck fat are three times as good.
 Or maybe it’s just that all my previous attempts at roast potatoes have been so woeful, these were amazing by comparison!

 Dessert was not such a triumph.

 Having made quite a few batches of ice cream over the past few months, I was confident that this would be a simple but superb dessert. The first hint that it might not be so, was when the egg custard didn’t thicken up, even after 40 mins on the stove. The second was that it didn’t really thicken up and freeze after 30 mins of churning. This had both happened previously on different batches but the ice cream had always turned out brilliant. But when, after 7 hours in the freezer, it was still liquid, I knew I had a Fail. It still tasted delicious (as evidenced by me going back for seconds), it just lost points on the presentation! So whether there weren’t enough eggs in the custard (I halved the recipe and so put in 2 instead of 5) or something else, who knows, but I don’t think that recipe will get a second outing! I may use the nutella/chocolate/roast hazelnut combination again, just with a base that I know will freeze.

Luckily the amazing-ness of my main course made up for it, and by the time we got to eating it (which was after the rest of the bottle of Veuve), it all seemed pretty funny.

 And it made for another important component of any special occasion – special memories.

Monday, 25 April 2011


 Breakfast - “The Most Important Meal of the Day”.

 Well, it is for me. I’m not one of those. “Oh! It’s 11:00am and I haven’t eaten anything yet” kind of people. If I don’t get something substantial to eat fairly early on in the morning, I do not function (well, even less than usual). 

 Growing up, I was always a cereal and toast kind-of girl (with crumpets on the weekend!). 
It took a trip to the States to open my eyes to the many options that breakfast can offer. In a suburban house in Baltimore, I was served French toast with ‘breakfast bacon’ (which as far as I could tell, was just normal bacon which had been cooked ‘til it was so crispy it just about shattered when you tried to cut it), and maple syrup on the side. Totally bizarre to have sweet and savoury on the one plate but totally amazing. I loved it at first bite , and it became my go-to ‘seedy morning after’ breakfast for many years.

  One thing I love about breakfast, is that you can have a lovely and special meal together  with someone and still have the rest of the day to go and be productive (or not, as your day may decree). 
 Or head off to work, and with a hubby in retail this can happen often. It can be quite frustrating going to work when everyone else is relaxing, and often the majority of people at shopping centres on public holidays are those that can’t think of anything better to do (“drongos” was the term I think he used). Thus, the prospect of working over Easter was one I knew he would not be relishing. So in an attempt to send him off in a better mood, I thought I would use the days to try out a few new breakfast recipes.

 We got a copy of “Jamie’s America” by Jamie Oliver a few years ago and it has become one of my favorite recipe books. In fact, I have only had one ‘failed’ recipe in over 30 dip-ins  (the aforementioned cookies-that-congealed-into-one-large slice-like mess). It is divided up into areas, such as New York, Louisiana, Wild West and has recipes for things you’ve heard of in American films and TV shows (but were never quite sure what they were) like grits, collard greens and peach cobbler. I had been going pretty well working through my Things To Cook List, but had about 6 breakfasts to try, so culled it down to three and off we went.

Good Friday started with “Scrumptious Navajo Brekkie” (I do love the way Jamie names and writes his recipes). This was a whole heap of bacon and thinly sliced potato cooked up, a few eggs  thrown in to scramble the whole thing together, and then served on a flatbread/tortilla. Very hearty and substantial (we both felt we needed a nap after eating it) and would be perfect cooked over a fire around a campsite.
 If you’re into that kind of thing.

 My vegetarian sister-in-law stayed over on Saturday night which meant Easter Sunday morning was “Beautiful Breakfast Tortillas” – scrambled eggs with spring onion, which you then put in a tortilla with guacamole, tomato, cheese and a bit of fresh coriander (we didn’t add the hot sauce as I am a bit of a hot/spicy wuss, but the coriander still gave it a nice kick). Son 2 loved it as well, happily stealing bites in between mouthfuls of chocolate Easter egg. Not a sweet n’ savoury combo I’d recommend but at least he was trying new things!

 Anzac Day had us going Jewish (which maybe should have been done on Good Friday?) with Potato Latke Breakfast (a surprisingly textbook title from Mr Oliver). Latkes are a kind-of Jewish hash brown/potato pancake, and they were served with a poached egg on top. Son 2 again loved it and stole half, and I learned the right way to make a poached egg (my hubby’s) and the wrong way (mine).  I knew that poaching an egg in boiling water (and not those weird egg cup thingies) was a bit of a fiddle and so was prepared for the worst. I think I lucked out with the first egg, getting it all out in one dollop, and got a bit cocky/distracted with number two, which was kind of poured in from a height and in the end resembled a science experiment gone wrong. I put it down to years of pouring eggs  carefully to separate the whites and yolks, but at least I learned the ‘wrong’ technique early on!
 It all still tasted good – just lost points on presentation.

 So three from three with Jamie’s Easter Breakfast fest, and I’m looking forward to when I can attempt Mexican Breakfast (which seems like a thick tomato-salsa-esqe sauce with eggs cooked into it)  and Cowboy Scrapple, which I think is a bit like breakfast bubble n’ squeak to use the leftovers from last nights’ dinner.

 And it uses ‘grits’.


Monday, 18 April 2011

(not so) Hot n' Cross

(not so)Hot n Cross

 Easter: the one time of the year when it is OK (and almost mandatory) to gorge yourself on chocolate. In other words, my kind of holiday. And as a kid, Easter meant a trip up to the farm for a week or so, and my mum would pack half a dozen packs of  Tip Top hot cross buns, in the old cardboard boxes with the silver reflective layer on the inside (anyone else remember them?). If you heated them in the oven, they were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside (spreading the butter would make it all smushy), or toasted under the griller made for crispy all round. Super yum, especially on those cold Corryong mornings

Over the years, HC Buns have been assailed and mutated. We can now have choc chip, mocha and fruit free. Now call me a traditionalist, but if doesn’t have fruit in it (and peel – when did Those in Charge decide everyone disliked it??), you can’t call it a hot crossie; it’s a yeast bun at best. And I feel there is already enough chocolate around this time of the year without them being stuck in HC Buns to make them more palatable. So it’s time they fought back.

 I came across several recipes for make-your-own hot cross buns a few years ago, and loving them almost as much as chocolate, I thought I’d try it out. Although HC Buns appear in the shops earlier and earlier (I spied them on Boxing Day last year at my local Coles), I find a craving always appears September-October-ish, when the last few you saved in the freezer are a distant memory   . Trying each recipe, I took the Goldilocks approach (“this one is too cakey” “ this one isn’t spicy enough”) as well as quizzing my baker brother about yeast, and cobbled together this recipe. People are always amazed when they realise they are made from scratch (not even a breadmaker!), but it’s really not that tricky. The main thing you need is time for the yeast to rise (twice), but even so, I had this batch for my work colleagues out in about 2 hours. The golden syrup glaze is a nice cheat’s shortcut. The other thing that will improve your HC Bun experience is the butter. I used to buy home brand, not realising the range of brands or quality out in the market place. However, going for a high end or organic butter will make them taste that much better. Scout out a deli or a posh supermarket like Thomas Dux or David Jones food hall as experiment

 So if you’re at home on Friday (as blessedly, even the shops will be shut) and feeling adventurous, give them a try

K xx

Hot Cross Buns
1 TBSP yeast
½ cup caster sugar
1 ½ cups warm milk
4 ½ cups plain flour
2 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
50g butter, melted
1 egg
1 ½ cups mixed fruit and peel *
Crosses: 2-3 TBSP plain flour, water
Glaze: golden syrup

  1. place yeast, 2 tsp sugar and all of milk in a bowl Set aside for ~5 mins (the mixture will bubble to show the yeast is activated)
  2. in a bowl, mix flour, spices, egg, butter, fruit and sugar
  3. add yeast mixture and mix using a butter knife or spatula until a sticky dough forms
  4. knead dough on a lightly floured surface for ~ 5 mins.
  5. place in an oiled bowl
6. cover and stand in a warm place for 1 hr or until it doubles in size.

Bakers hint: put some boiling water in a sink (with the plug in) and place your cling-wrap covered bowl in this with a tea towel over the top (be careful not to let your towel dip into the water or you will end up with a wet towel!). This will help rising on those cool Melbourne days.

    Mixture doubled in size after 1 hr
    7. grease a baking tray and line with baking paper
    8. divide mixture in 12 (for large) or 20 (for medium) and roll into balls. place balls in tin
    with a few cm space between.
    9. Cover and set aside in a warm place for 30 mins to rise
    10. preheat oven to 200°C
    11. combine flour and water to make a thick paste
    12. using a piping set (or a plastic bag with the corner cut off), pipe crosses onto buns

    13. bake for ~20 mins or until well browned and spring back to the touch
    14. brush tops with golden syrup while still warm

    Best served straight from the oven with the best quality butter you can find!

    * Don’t be fooled by a “fruit medley” which can often have apricots and apple. Use that by all means if you like it, but I usually add a combination of sultanas, currants and raisins.

    Saturday, 16 April 2011

    Duckin' brilliant!

    A few weeks ago, a copy of ‘The Vineyard Cookbook‘ fell off a store shelf, rendering it unsellable and thus very happily received by me. It is a gorgeous looking book that goes around the vineyard regions of Australia (Mornington Peninsula, Hunter Valley, Margaret River etc) and features recipes from Cellar Doors and Restaurants at those vineyards. It has lovely simple recipes ranging from a lemon tart and stuffed mushrooms, up to super complicated stuff like “Flavours of the Peninsula Vacherin with preserved cherry and turron semi freddo, mixed berry ice cream, burnt honey sauce and a crown of spun toffee. I find that if there is more than one word I don’t know in the title of a recipe then it’s probably a bit too complicated for the likes of me.
     However, it did produce a lovely List of Things to Cook, and a Saturday night catch up with friends provided the perfect excuse to try a few. I started with the usual cheese and nibbles, and watermelon margaritas. Now I know the weather at present does not lend itself to frozen drinks, but I do love my ice cream maker very much and never need much of an excuse to use it. Thankfully the sun had shone that day and they were quite delicious.
     For main course, I decided on “Spice Roasted Duck Breast with Cinnamon Mash and Orange Sauce” from the Ten Minutes by Tractor Restaurant in Main Ridge, Vic. I have never cooked duck before, but the recipe seemed simple enough and (in those famous last words ), how hard could it be ?!?! It started out quite well – for the first time I had to order spices online (  as my local Coles don’t stock ground star anise or mace, so that made me feel like a true blue foodie. Sourcing duck was a bit of a challenge, but luckily the poultry shop at Chadstone helped me out. Was feeling quietly confident until my guest confided how much he loved duck. Slight panic by me and a “gosh I hope I don’t stuff it up!” Luckily it turned out really well, and was actually quite easy to make.
    I also learned that the secret to a creamy mashed potato is (not surprisingly) - lots of cream! And butter - mmmmm.
     So I look forward to tackling the other duck related recipes in the cookbook (and making roast potatoes with the melted duck fat, which a foodie friend at work assures me is divine).
    For dessert, I couldn’t go past “Soft Centered Chocolate Puddings” (D’arry’s Verandah restaurant in McLaren Vale SA). When I was growing up, one of my favorite desserts was chocolate self saucing pudding from the PMWU cookbook – yummy spongy cakey pudding with a custardy chocolate sauce – delicious!! So I thought this might be a nice variation.  It was suggested to be served with chocolate ice cream, but I had been warned that these puddings could be quite rich, so I opted for a raspberry white chocolate ribbon ice cream (from The Ice Cream Bible); my thinking being that the white chocolate would be a nice counterpoint, and chocolate things are often served with some sort of raspberry accompaniment. It turned out to be a very pink looking ice cream, so I decided to add a small dollop of homemade vanilla when I served up, just in case the combination was too overpoweringly sweet. Again – very delicious and very easy to make.
    (...and luckily too much for some people so I have some left overs for dinner tonight!)

     So two big “thumbs up” for The Vineyard Cookbook; a delicious meal that looked quite fancy but very easy to make. And to duck as well– when we save up a bit of money, I’ll look forward to cooking with it again!

    K xx

    Thursday, 14 April 2011


    Welcome to my foodie blog! Or “Flog” as someone called it (not I, sounds too medieval)

     The first and most obvious is question is, “Why?”. It’s not as if the world needs another food blog; there are many more out there that are surely more interesting and written by people with much better qualifications than I.

     And my answer is “Why Not?”. In this modern day and age, people blog about all sorts of things strange and/or mundane, so here follows my blog of my kitchen and culinary (mis)adventures.

     Over the last few years, due to my hubby’s employment in various book-type stores, I have amassed quite a collection of wonderful cookbooks, out of which always comes a list of Recipes I’d Like to Try. Thankfully I have had a willing rotation of friends and family willing to be guinea pigs to whatever has taken my fancy. They have witnessed my triumphs as well as the odd misstep (such as the rather bland Moroccan casserole, the cookies that congealed into one large slice-like mess and the gravy-less beef bourguignon)
     But I think I have almost reached saturation point with sharing my excitement about new ingredients and cooking styles – hence, I am creating another outlet where I can ramble on about these and other food (and probably non-food) related topics. I don’t expect that there will be an avid fan base, but I find that writing about something makes you think about it a bit more, which I think is always a good thing. And maybe someone will find a hint or a recipe that might interest them and thus the Circle of Foodie Intrigue keep turning.

    Why “Domestic Goddess”? On my good days, I am one. On my bad days, I still aspire to one! My definition is someone who enjoys cooking and creating and hosting, and generally pulls it off. A little bit 50’s Housewife (with the matching tablecloth and the table set with the proper cutlery) and a bit Modern Woman who knows that we don’t always have the time of a 50’s Housewife and so need the shortcuts as well. Hence you will find entries about organising dinner parties as well as feeding children who may not eat all of the things they should, as well as yummy things to enjoy, because a Domestic Goddess works hard and deserves a treat every so often! But more cooking related than general domesticity – I do use earth-friendly cleaners when I can, but if you want to clean your toilet with bi-carb soda, then you need another blog!

     So I hope you enjoy it, find it helpful or find it inspiring – I will be as I write it.

    K xx

    PS - and it will hopefully look a bit prettier once I work my way around!