Author Archives: clare

About clare

I believe in creating simple dishes from high quality raw ingredients; everyday food from scratch. I am a caterer, whole food eater, hopeless recipe collector, book worm, trainee marathon runner, ocean lover and mamma to Thea.

Home made crumpets in under an hour

I have fond childhood memories of weekend breakfast’s consisting of hot toasted crumpets spread with so much butter and honey that the two would melt and run down through the little holes on the crumpet’s surface and onto the plate below. Let’s be honest. This is the only way to eat toasted crumpets. An occasional treat bought from the supermarket, crumpets are not something that you can easily make at home. Or are they? Seeing a recipe for them in this month’s Gourmet Traveller, I read the list of ingredients. All pantry staples. And the method looked straightforward too. Before I knew it, I’d measured everything out, mixed it all together and crumpet dough was sitting in front of the fire proving. Half an hour later it had doubled in size and I poured mounds of the mixture into a pan and proudly watched as tiny holes formed in the batter. My first batch of home made crumpets.

home made crumpets

Ok. So that’s not the whole story. It took me three attempts to perfect my home made crumpets. After my first fail, I considered writing to Gourmet to tell them that their recipe hadn’t worked. But I had kept the batter in the fridge overnight and tried to make the crumpets the next morning. So I reconsidered. Not one to simply give up, I decided to have a second try and this time make the crumpets without leaving the batter chilling overnight, but cook it straight after it had doubled in size. I didn’t have any egg rings though, so although my second batch of crumpets had the signature divots in their surface, they were quite flat and more like drop scones.

home made crumpets

With two trials under my belt, on the third go, I even impressed myself with the results. Using buttered egg rings to cook the batter in made a huge a difference and my home made crumpets were tall, fluffy and perfectly dimpled.  I flipped a couple over in the pan to brown the tops and immediately spread them with rather a lot of butter and twirlings of sticky honey. Delicious.

home made crumpets

It’s very comforting when someone is able to try something out for you and report back that whatever it was is easy. Straightforward. Uncomplicated. It makes you feel safe and gives you confidence. I am now able to do this and tell you that home made crumpets are easy. That the recipe in the magazine does work. That a non stick pan will make the process a lot easier. That egg rings aren’t vital, but they do make a taller crumpets. That from start to finish, making crumpets will take under and hour. And they freeze beautifully. So go on. Have a go. PS. Thea is under the impression that Vegemite is best on crumpets.

home made crumpets

Home made crumpets

Recipe by Sean McConnell from August 2015 edition of Gourmet Traveller

  • 7g dried yeast
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 30ml warm just above blood temperature water
  • 500g plain flour
  • 3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 50g butter
  • 800ml milk

Combine the yeast, sugar and water in a bowl and leave to stand in a warm place for 15 minutes.

Combine the flour and bicarb in a large bowl.

Melt the butter in a pot with 200ml of the milk. When the butter has melted, add the remaining 600ml of milk and when the time is up, the yeast mixture.

Add the yeast and milk mixture to the flour mixture and stir to combine. Now leave this mixture in a warm place for about 30 minutes or until the batter has doubled in size.

Heat a non stick pan over a medium heat and pour the batter into buttered egg rings inside the pan. Cook for about 10 minutes until holes have appeared and the surface of the crumpet is set.

At this point, the crumpets can be stored for future use, either in the fridge or freezer or toasted right away, smothered in butter and honey and enjoyed.

Easy chicken pasta with feta and veggies

easy chicken pastaWith less than six weeks to go, I’m starting to get nervous. Can I really run the 42 kilometres that is the Sydney marathon. I’ve been diligently training since January for number 27 on my list of 100 things to do in my life. Yep. Running for nearly five consecutive hours, rubbing my skin raw, bruising my toenails and generally exhausting myself has been an ambition of mine for a while. I’m curious to know if I have what it takes to complete the course. I’m definitely not a natural runner. I have stamina. But I’m not a runner. A swimmer maybe. Even a sprinter. Present me with a challenge though and I will grit my teeth, dig in my heels and give it my all. I slightly underestimated how much more I would need to eat though to help me achieve my goal. And although pasta isn’t my go to meal every night of the week, it’s definitely featuring more frequently, to provide the much needed energy. Like this fresh and easy chicken pasta that we had last night.

easy chicken pastaI can’t take the credit for this dish though. In what feels like another lifetime now, while at University in Glasgow, I used to work at Dimaggios, a hugely popular American Italian restaurant in the city’s West End. I was the cashier slash coffee maker slash telephone answerer. It was my first real insight into the fast paced and often frantic world of hospitality. And I loved it. There was the erratic happy one minute shouting at everyone the next head chef, who scared the hell out of me. Then there was moody pizza chef, who equally scared me, yet despite his demeanour, made really good pizzas. And the espresso with three sugars downing manager, who never said very much unless I did something wrong, and then he’d say even less, shake his head and purse his lips to form an expression of much dissapprovement. He definitely scared me. They were all big personalities and I was just a shy student learning about myself and experiencing life freely for the first time.
easy chicken pasta

After a busy shift I would often order this easy chicken pasta for dinner. It was named fusili el Greco, signaling to the little cubes of feta cheese scattered through it no doubt. There was also roast chicken, cherry tomatoes, carrot batons and snow peas, lots of olive oil and garlic. Considering the number of other dishes that were on offer, with lashings of cream and rich tomato sauces, I wonder now what it was about fusili el Greco that I liked so much. I think its simplicity. The colourful crunchy vegetables, salty squares of cheese, and garlicky olive oil coated spirals of pasta. Undeniably fresh, yet still very satisfying. Delicious hot or cold.

easy chicken pasta

I find it funny reminiscing about a job that I used to do while studying for an English degree. My dad always told me, just get a degree. It will stand you in good stead for the future, whatever you end up doing. I so wholeheartedly believed him, that it never once crossed my mind that hospitality might be an industry that I should explore more fully. My role at the restaurant was simply for extra cash, right. Just because I felt so at home working there, loved the thrill of a fully booked restaurant on a Friday night and was always sneaking glances into the kitchen to catch a glimpse of the action, I was going to work in marketing, advertising or publishing. Right. Well as it turns out now. No. And answering that question brings me full circle. Because I’m not a runner. Right. Well, in five and a bit weeks, I might prove myself wrong. Again.

easy chicken pasta

Easy chicken pasta

Enough for 4, or 2 dinners and then 2 lunches the next day.

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1 red onion, thickly sliced
  • 200g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 carrots, cut into batons
  • a handful of snow peas, tops trimmed and cut in half on the diagonal
  • 1 long red chilli, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 100ml beautiful extra virgin olive oil
  • 200g feta, cut into cubes
  • 300g fusili pasta

Roast the chicken breast at 180C for 25-30 minutes and leave to cool. When its cool enough to handle, shred the chicken into large strips. Doing this with your hands rather than a knife adds a lovely texture to the dish.

Bring a big pot of water to the boil and cook the carrots and snow peas for about 3 minutes so that they retain some crunch. Scoop them out of the pot with a slotted spoon and plunge them into cold water (iced cold water if you can). This will stop the vegetables from cooking and help keep their colours bright. Once cool, drain and set aside.

You can now add the pasta to the same water that you have just cooked the veggies in. Cook for 10 minutes. Drain but do not rinse and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, over a low heat, cook the onion in the olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chilli and cook until the garlic becomes fragrant, another 5 minutes or so.

Now add the carrots, snow peas, halved cherry tomatoes and chicken to the pot and stir so that all the flavours combine and everything is heated through. Add the pasta and the feta, stir again, drizzle in some more olive oil if you like, a little sea salt and some black pepper.

Enjoy this? Then you might like spaghetti carbonara

Gingerbread men

Gingerbread men

I got a bit carried away. My daughter’s second birthday, a planned quiet family affair, somehow turned into a full blown high tea complete with grandma’s best china. It started with a cake topper. The famed green sheep from the gorgeous children’s book of the same name that I read to Thea every night before bed. I thought it might be nice to make her a cake that she would recognise and diligently sought out my nearest art shop so that I could purchase some fimo to make the little model from (I sentimentally thought that she could keep the lovingly made clay sheep). Simple. The next step was to find a cake recipe. And this is where my imagination got the better of me and I started book marking dozens of pages from an equal number of books. Cheese and olive biscuits, lemon meringue tartlets, double chocolate brownies. And gingerbread men.

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I’ve always wanted to make gingerbread men, but haven’t for fear that the process would be too hard. Baking is not a process that I naturally turn to in the kitchen. I prefer to roast and simmer. Having a small person in my life though who has a penchant for all things crunchy and crisp, I’ve been doing more baking lately, preferring her to have homemade treats rather than ones in crinkly bright coloured packets from the supermarket. So with this in mind, I decided it best I set about learning how to make the gingery dough people.

Gingerbread men

Historically, I’ve never been one to let a recipe’s complexity put me off. As a chalet girl in France preparing dinner for 12 guests every night, my first real cooking job, trying out new recipes was second nature. Individual roasted shallot tart tatins, which I didn’t realise had to be inverted before serving. A cherry clafoutis made with cherries that I never thought to pit. Beignets, which are deep fried choux pastry. Apparently choux pasty is quite hard to master, but I dived in to the recipe head first, overcrowded the deep fryer and got oil all over the kitchen floor. The beignets worked out quite well though. A dodgy lamb curry from an English newspaper than one of my guests left behind, the spice paste made from scratch and the lamb and spices bought with more guesswork than exact translation. Looking back these mistakes makes me cringe. I was so eager to experiment and learn that I broke the golden rule of entertaining. Never try a new recipe out on your guests.

Gingerbread men

Making these gingerbread men for Thea’s party, I suppose I was breaking that rule again. But my family are used to being experimented upon. Besides, someone has to try my dishes after their first rendition. The spicy molasses coloured men with their happy faces and white outfits turned out really well. There was just the right amount of spice and they had a perfect snap. In fact I was so pleased, that I’ve made a mental note to make a gingerbread advent house for Christmas. So for all my cringing over previous failed efforts, though I would still advise not to try new recipes at dinner parties or on people that you aren’t that familiar with, do have a go at making new things. You never know where the process may lead you.

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Gingerbread men

Adapted from a recipe from Bake by Alison Thompson

Makes about 30

  • 100ml water
  • 200g soft brown sugar
  • 180g golden syrup
  • 3 tbsps ground ginger
  • 3 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 250g butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 550g plain flour

Lemon icing

  • 1 egg white
  • 250g icing sugar
  • juice 1/2 lemon

Place the water, sugar, golden syrup, ginger, cinnamon and cloves in a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat.

Now add the butter one cube at a time and stir until it’s all melted, then add the bicarbonate of soda and make sure everything is well combined.

Pour the mixture into a bowl and allow to cool a little before sifting in the flour and stirring to until dough forms

Wrap the dough in cling wrap and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

When the allocated amount of time is up, preheat the oven to 160C and line three baking trays with baking paper.

Take the dough from the fridge and cut it in half. Roll one half out evenly to a thickness of about  5mm and then being as space efficient as possible, cut gingerbread men from the dough with a gingerbread men cookie cutter. Place the cut out men onto the baking trays.

Bake the men for 20 minutes and then cool on the baking trays.

When the men are cool, ice them with lemon icing and then decide where you’re first bite will be. Head, arms or legs. Thea goes for the head!

To make the icing, whisk the egg white until soft peaks form and then still whisking add the icing sugar one spoonful at a time and then the lemon juice. Pour into a piping bag with a tiny little hole and decorate.

Enjoy this? You might like chocolate fork biscuits.

Macadamia chocolate bark

Sometimes after dinner, I want a nibble of something. Not a dessert, nor something to be eaten with a spoon. Just a treat, perhaps containing a little bit of sugar, to punctuate an evening meal. Often this mouthful is in the form of a square of dark chocolate, a duchy ginger biscuit with a slice of cheese or a handful of homemade granola. Having only Callabaut chocolate callets and an array of nuts and seeds in the house, I decided to make macadamia chocolate bark.macadamia chocolate bark

Ok. I confess. This idea wasn’t as spur of the moment as I have just presented it. Back in January, I took Mark to Rockpool Bar and Grill for his birthday. After being faultlessly served a seriously great dinner, we finished the evening with a glass of peaty single malt each and some sweet and salty dark chocolate bark with cashews and sesames. I have been wanting to replicate it ever since.

macadamia chocolate bark

That’s the thing with enjoying something so much at a restaurant that you are inspired to recreate it at home. Sometimes a recipe for exactly what you want to cook isn’t available. I remember having a little bowl sweetcorn soup as part of the build up to the main event in the Barossa Valley a long time ago. It was like velvet in my mouth and the perfect balance of sweet and salt. I attempted to repeat the dish at home, but my version failed miserably in comparison.

macadamia chocolate bark macadamia chocolate bark

I remember that we went to the Barossa because I wanted to go to Maggie Beer’s farm. A bit of a pilgrimage really. Sitting by the lake with our picnic of terrines, pates, fresh bread and fruit pastes purchased from the farm shop, the experience was delightful. I was eating at Maggie’s place. Everything tasted so good. But now if I buy her pates or pastes, the experience isn’t quite the same because I’m not in the moment. I’m not there in Nuriootpa, sitting on the grass by the lake. Sometimes food tastes so good because of the circumstances we eat it in. That said, it’s still fun to try and recreate recipes at home. It brings back fond memories of past tastes and occasions. And sometimes brings about new ones.

macadamia chocolate bark

Macadamia chocolate bark

 

  • 90g macadamias
  • 45g pumpkin seeds
  • 200g dark chocolate
  • pinch sea salt

Toast the nuts and seeds on separate trays in the oven for about 7 minutes at 180C. Leave to cool. Roughly chop the macadamias and then mix the two together.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Do not let the temperature go above 70C.

Mix half the seeds and nuts with the melted chocolate and then pour it on to a piece of greaseproof paper. Sprinkle the remaining seeds and nuts on top and cool in the fridge for about half an hour.

Break the chocolate into an assortment of sizes and serve as an after dinner nibble.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to make scrambled eggs

It happened at 7.10pm on Friday 26th July 2013. Two years ago today. Under bright lights, in a bustling room, with morphine coursing through my veins and Mark’s cheek pressed hard against mine. I became a mum. Even writing that sentence brings a lump to my throat. It’s a big deal becoming a parent. Your life is no longer your own, as the wellbeing of a tiny human becomes the centre of your universe. And Thea was tiny. 576g. That’s a little over two blocks of butter. As a cook, I always I think of it that way.how to make scrambled eggs

Tears were rolling down my face and my heart was sinking in my chest as Thea entered the world. Momentarily she was revealed to us, delicately cupped in latex covered hands, before being taken to the resuss team. 29 weeks was too early to be born, and at just over a pound she was incredibly small, even for her gestation. Yet, she cried out with reassuring kitten like screams. Mum, dad, I’m ok. I’m itty-bitty, but I’m ok.how to make scrambled eggs

Having a premature baby is an odd experience. Instead of holding my new bundle of joy on my chest, feeling delirious and exhausted, gazing at her with utter love and amazement as I had always imagined I would, I was able to have a fleeting glimpse of her propped on a little nest of carefully arranged turquoise sheets, inside a warm perspex box. Mark had cut her umbilical cord and told me how she had tightly gripped his little finger with all of hers. He had said that she was perfect. Absolutely beautiful. All I could see was a tiny, fragile looking creature whom I didn’t know how to care for. All of my motherly instincts were useless.

how to make scrambled eggs

After a few hours sleep, breakfast arrived on a tray, as it had done for the duration of my stay in hospital, an occurrence I remember now with fondness. Who doesn’t love breakfast in bed. Under a brown plastic cloche were scrambled eggs. A bland, solidified, pale yellow mound, swimming in a little pool of liquid on a white plate. I ate them, but without much gusto. I still wasn’t quite sure how to feel about having become a mother, but I stoically kept my smile in place. Everything would work out for the best. Two days later, I left hospital after my three and a bit week stay, relieved to be going home where I felt safe and away from all the constant monitoring. I was leaving my brand new daughter behind though and all of the careful preparations that I had made for her arrival; washed and folded newborn onesies, cot sheets with little blue clouds, a giraffe painted on the wall overlooking her cot, were redundant. A reminder of her absence. (Yes, I had made all these preparations, even so early on. I was so excited be having a baby and organising was a joy).

how to make scrambled eggs

For 12 weeks until Thea came home, I diligently returned to the hospital every day. To say it was easy would be a lie. I cried, I laughed, I hurt, I got angry, I was impatient and confused. The traffic to and fro drove me crazy. But I wouldn’t change the experience. Not for anything. In fact I’m thankful for it. I had the privilege of meeting Thea early. I was able to watch as her eyelashes and finger and toe nails grew (she was born without any). She reached a kilo in weight and I baked all the nurses a Chez Panisse chocolate cake to celebrate the milestone. She started to fit into tiny clothes that friends and family bought for her. We persevered together to master breastfeeding. Her wires and tubes became less. She became more and more beautiful every day. And she was alive. She wasn’t sick or injured. She was just small and growing, ready to come home. She gave me perspective and strength and a view on life that I would not otherwise have. I am grateful, humble and oh so proud to be her mum.

How to make scrambled eggs

For 2

  • 200ml cream
  • 4 eggs
  • 20g butter
  • pinch sea salt
  • non stick pan
  • silicon spatula

Crack the eggs into a bowl, add the cream and whisk gently to combine.

Melt the butter in a non stick pan over a medium heat. As soon as it’s liquid, add the egg mix and leave it to sit for about 10 seconds.

Using the spatula, go around the outside of the pan moving the egg that has set to the centre and then take the spatula through the centre of the egg mix, making sure to run it against the base of the pan. Do this a few times and then leave the eggs to sit for another 10 seconds, before repeating the process.

Remove the eggs from the heat before they are fully set as they will continue cooking as you portion them on to pieces of hot buttered toast. Season with a pinch of sea salt and enjoy.

If you liked how to make scrambled eggs, you might like this carbonara recipe.

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A baba ganoush recipe

baba ganoush

‘Your eggplants are burning’ observed Mark. I’m sure the eggplants sitting directly over the gas flame on the stove could indeed look like they were scorching. I was making baba ganoush and charring the dark, purple skin of the eggplants to impart an aroma of smoke to the final dish. Baba ganoush is very straightforward to make, with a handful of ingredients and a few key steps to getting it just right. In its finished state it’s rather alluring and seductive. Sharp and zesty it pricks your palate, and with wonderful smoky undertones, it leaves you wanting more.

baba ganoush

I was preparing the Middle Eastern side dish to accompany roast lamb. Spiked with lemon and mint, it makes such a great partner for the sweet, earthy meat, cutting through its richness. Baba ganoush also serves well as an appetizer, whizzed in a food processor with a big spoonful of natural yoghurt, so that it’s nice and smooth for scooping up with a triangle of toasted pita bread. Placed atop individual, crisp, rounds of golden, puff pastry with some mild goats cheese, a few wedges of cherry tomato and some rocket, it creates a stunning little entrée. And of course, it plays a wonderful role as part of a meze platter, perhaps sprinkled with a few pomegranate seeds for a bit of glamour.

baba ganoush

Smoky and zesty could quite possibly be one of my favourite flavour combinations. Think thinly sliced pieces of smoked salmon and a single Iceberg lettuce leaf, (I think Iceberg for the undenied crispness of it), placed on a slice of hot buttered toast, then doused in lemon juice and black pepper. Rounds of chorizo fried in a pan and eaten smothered in lemony, garlic mayonnaise. Paella, full of chicken, pork and seafood, with a wonderful, almost burnt, base layer, and a wedge of lemon to marry all the flavours together. Steak cooked over a char grill, until the exterior is blackened and caramelised, served with pomme frites and lemon dressed salad leaves. You get the picture I’m sure.

There’s something very reassuring and authentic about cooking over a flame, harking back to culinary institutions of times gone by, before induction stoves and Thermomixes. (Sorry. As good as I’m sure they are, I’m not in the Thermomix camp.) And I like to keep in touch with tradition. So even though you can jazz this recipe up with herbs and seeds and pastry and pita, at its core, it’s insanely simple. Traditional. Time honoured. And with good reason.

Baba ganoush

The one thing that makes this dish really sing is cooking the eggplants over an open flame. Be brave. Embrace your inner pyromaniac and try this method. Simply put a cake cooling rack (an old one as it will discolour) over a gas flame on your stove (or you could use a camping stove) and place one or two eggplants on top of it. Yes the eggplant will burn sitting directly above the burner, but only the outer skin, and as you keep turning the fruit until every side is black, the flesh inside will become soft and take on a smoky aroma.

When the eggplants are nicely charred all over, place them in a bowl to cool. When they have dropped in temperature sufficiently enough to be handled, peel away the skin, place the flesh in a colander sitting in a bowl and let the juices run out. Drain for at least one hour.

To the drained flesh, add finely chopped garlic, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper and olive oil. At this point the baba ganoush will benefit from being left to sit for an hour or two, even overnight, to allow the flavours to mingle.

To garnish, just before serving, stir through some finely shredded mint and parsley and sprinkle a few pomegranate seeds on top.

To recap, for 2 eggplants you will need the following.

  • 2 cloves garlic, either grated with a microplane or very finely chopped
  • the zest of 1 lemon plus 2 tbsp lemon juice, or more to your particular taste
  • 6-8 tbsp olive oil
  • generous pinch sea salt and grinding of black pepper
  • optional small handful of each parsley and mint leaves, finely sliced and a few pomegranate seeds

Did I mention that baba ganoush is great with Roast Lamb?

 

Brown sugar meringue roulade

The prunes kept staring at me from the shelf in the pantry. I had bought a packet of the sticky, black fruit to make devils on horseback, and decanted the remainder neatly into a glass jar. But every time I went to the shelf for some ingredient or other, the prunes looked on woefully, and the little voice in my head said to me, you have to use them up you know. For what though. The last encounter I had had with the dried fruit was in little, yellow, single serve packets, for breakfast every morning while in hospital waiting to have Thea. Which is rather apt as it was around this time two years ago. So I decided to create a recipe to honour the prunes. I came up with a brown sugar meringue roulade filled with cinnamon stewed prunes and cream.meringue roulade

I’m like the proverbial bull in a shop full of delicate objects when I get an idea in my head. I have to make it come to life. NOW. It’s probably a very annoying attribute for those around me, but at least I can be described as a doer. Without a moment’s hesitation, even though it was 10pm, and half the house had gone to bed, I found the recipe I needed for the fruit and began the stewing process. My mother in law questioned me in disbelief, was I cooking again this late at night. No, just soaking some oats for porridge, I sheepishly lied.

meringue roulade

I learned how to a make meringue roulade from a no-nonsense, very practical, very experienced lady named Rosie, whilst attending her information laden cookery course in 2003. A course that, enlightened after working as a chalet girl in France where I realised that cooking was for me, I managed to squeeze into after another attendee dropped out. Fate? I like to think so. During my time with Rosie, I learnt the technique for making an amazing and versatile little salad dressing, since tweaked to become my own. I learnt how to make my first ice cream. Elderflower and gooseberry, the ingredients picked straight from the garden. I learnt how to make puff pasty and croissants. To lay a table. And pop a champagne cork, or not as the case may be.

meringue roulade

I also learnt from Rosie about the characteristics that make a really good recipe. It’s thoroughly tested with clear instructions and reliable. And I was told that if you get just one recipe from a cookbook that you use time and time again, then the book was worth the money that you paid for it. This could explain why my cookery book collection is so large. And still growing. Hopefully though, this meringue roulade recipe, personalised with the use of brown sugar to complement the prunes, is one that you will be able to make over and over. Fill it with the fruit of your choice, stewed rhubarb perhaps or fresh raspberries. Replace the whipped cream with Greek yoghurt or even mascarpone. But do try it.

meringue roulade meringue roulade

Brown sugar meringue roulade

  • 100g brown sugar
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 150ml egg whites (4-6 whites, it’s always best to measure the whites exactly as eggs can vary in size so much)
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar
  • 2 tsp cornflour
  • few drops white vinegar
  • 400ml cream, whipped
  • cinnamon stewed prunes as per Molly Wizenburg’s recipe

A stand mixer will make life much easier when making meringues, but a hand-held mixer will work as well. You will just be left standing in the one spot for a while.

Begin by whisking the egg whites until soft peaks form. Now add the cater sugar, one spoonful at a time, over about 5-7 minutes. Do not rush. This step ensures that the sugar is well combined with the egg whites.

Now add the brown sugar, a little quicker than the white, one spoonful after the other. Just make sure that each spoonful is visibly incorporated before you add the next.

When all the sugar has been added, turn the whisk off. Add the icing sugar, cornflour and vinegar and then turn the whisk on again for about 10 turns, or until everything is just combined.

Transfer the meringue roulade mix onto a baking paper lined tray (mine was 42cm x 30cm) and spread it out evenly. The mixture does not need to be even, peaks and waves will make the finished roll a little more spectacular.

Bake in an oven preheated to 150 C for 30 minutes, or until the top of the roulade is firm, but the base still slightly soft. Cool in the oven with the door held ajar with a folded tea towel.

When the roulade is cool, which will probably take a few hours, lay a clean tea towel on a work surface. On top of this lay a piece of cling wrap. Now invert the roulade on to the cling wrap. Spread it with cream and decorate with prunes.

To roll up the meringue roulade, use the tea towel to help you fold the edge of the roulade over and then to push it along as you continue rolling. This way you don’t have to handle the delicate, and somewhat sticky meringue, and you can use the tea towel to provide momentum.

Slice as neatly as you are able and maybe garnish with some toasted flaked almonds before devouring.

Love making meringue? You may also like my top Pavlova making tips

 

Devils on horseback with mulled wine

What you might think of as a canapé restricted to the seventies and something your mum used to make for cocktail parties, is in fact a match made in heaven for mulled wine. Sticky, sweet and salty, bacon wrapped prunes, nibbled in between sips of warm, syrupy, spiced red wine, is actually darn good. And as Christmas in July is fast approaching, devils on horseback might just be the perfect little morsels for your gathering, to accompany aforementioned hot wine or tipple of your choosing. So delicious in fact, you’ll wonder why you’ve never made them before.devils on horseback

The great thing that I have discovered about devils on horseback is that, aside from the traditional recipe, there are great many ways to personalise this hors d’oeuvre. Instead of prunes, the classic fruit of choice, dates or apricots can be used. The selected fruit can be steeped in a bath of tea, black, Earl Grey or otherwise or alcohol, like sherry, brandy or whisky, even alcohol spiked tea, before being stuffed with a variety fillings. Whole almonds for a little bit of crunch, mango chutney to give a gooey centre, or cheese for a salty punch. Prosciutto or pancetta will work just as well as bacon to wrap up the final fruity parcel.

devils on horseback

Cold Christmases have been the norm for the better half of my life to date and I still can’t quite get used to celebrating Christmas in the sunshine here in Australia. I site this as the reason I get so excited about Christmas in July. A dinner party, mid way through the year, when the weather is cold and overeating in the company of friends is a very acceptable pastime. Roast root vegetables, caramelised and crisp, big joints of meat, theatrically carved at the table, ripe, oozy  white rind cheese, golden pastry, dried fruit, toasted nuts and warming mulled wine. Preceded by multiple nibbles.

devils on horseback

This year I have an inkling that I’m going to prepare a smorgasbord of glistening devils on horseback to serve with drinks before the pseudo Christmas dinner. Like a box of chocolates without a little card to tell you what you’ve chosen, it will keep people guessing what selection they’ve made. Or I might just make some tonight to go with a glass of red. A late night, après supper treat, sweet and savoury, to snack on in front of the fire.

devils on horseback

Devils on horseback

A somewhat classic recipe with the addition of one of my favourite blue vein cheese, Cambozola.

  • prunes, stones removed
  • streaky bacon
  • Cambozola cheese
  • toothpicks

Arrange the bacon side by side in a line. Take a small amount of Cambozola and stuff it into the cavity of a prune. Now lay the cheese filled prune at one end of a strip of bacon. Roll the bacon neatly around the sticky black fruit and secure with a toothpick. (I used half a rasher of bacon for each prune.) Repeat as many times as needed and there you have it. Devils on horseback.

Cook under a hot grill for 5 minutes each side and serve with mulled wine.

Mulled wine

The following is for 1 bottle of wine. Simply double or triple the quantites depending of how much you are making.

  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • strips of zest from a lemon and mandarin-use a peeler
  • 6 cloves
  • 1/2 a nutmeg, grated
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 inch piece ginger, sliced
  • 1 small piece star anise
  • 4 cardamon pods

Very simply, put all the ingredients in a pot and heat very gently for at least 20 minutes. Do not boil the wine. Now, turn off the heat and leave the wine to infuse for an hour or so. Once again, gently reheat and serve in glasses. With devils on horseback.

Enjoy cheese and red wine? then you might like gougers, cheesy bite size balls of choux pastry

devils on horseback

Strawberry homemade sprinkles

homemade sprinklesThea is almost two. Two. The days and weeks went by slowly when she was first born, as we got to know each other and I became accustomed to my new routine as a mama. Then something happened without me noticing. Time sped up and I find myself here today, one month away from her second birthday. I don’t feel like a mum. Somedays I am amazed that the world let me become a mother as I struggle through the everyday, utterly confused as to what my daughter, happy one minute, loudly uncheerful the next, wants. One night she sleeps peacefully for 12 hours straight. The next she wakes at two o’clock, ready to start the day. On Tuesday she loves homemade chicken nuggets. By Thursday, she won’t touch them and wants porridge. For breakfast, lunch and dinner. One thing I hope she really likes though, is the birthday cake that I’m going to make for her. With homemade sprinkles.DSC_1572

I’m not much of a baker. I suppose that’s because I’m not much of a cake eater either. I prefer pate and cheese and dark chocolate. But when I do bake, I usually go all out. Chocolate dipped honeycomb, presented in little handmade boxes and given to people as gifts. A dozen little Christmas puddings, made in September, and lovingly tied in cheesecloth and hung in a wardrobe ready for December (when I lived in England and it’s chilly during those months). A gigantic seven layer black forrest cake constructed for ma’s birthday, that lent slightly to one side. And now I’m attempting to make strawberry flavoured homemade sprinkles for a second birthday cake, staunchly ignoring comments that I could simply buy them from a supermarket for a couple of dollars.homemade sprinkles

Cooking being about showing love and all that, I want to make Thea a cake from scratch. A creative cake that takes time and effort. A cake that I have to think about and plan in advance. A cake that I can be proud of and say, I made that. I realise that she won’t be aware of my efforts. But I will. And that’s what counts. Because despite on occasion being confused as to how to do the right thing by my daughter, I love her. Unconditionally. Even when she refuses my chicken nuggets, will only eat porridge or wants to get up at two in the morning. Her little face is the best thing in this world.

homemade sprinkles

I don’t know about you, but I love sprinkles. As a kid, my favourite ice lolly was a Fab. A strawberry ice block with a white, milk flavoured cap that was covered in multicoloured sprinkles. To tell you the truth, once I’d nibbles all the sprinkles off, I didn’t much care for the strawberry flavoured ice underneath. Another thing I loved growing up was banana splits. A banana cut in half lengthways and positioned in a glass dish with scoops of ice cream between the two lengths, anointed with whipped cream, wafers and you guessed it. Sprinkles. I will also admit to garnishing. No. Garnish is too polite. Drenching whipped cream sitting a top a hot chocolate with sprinkles, ahem, when I was pregnant. So two years ago. With these stories in mind, it seems only fair that my daughter will enjoy sprinkles too. Pretty, pale pink, strawberry, homemade sprinkles.

homemade sprinkles

Strawberry homemade sprinkles

From a recipe by Stefani Pollack

Begin by grinding the freeze dried strawberries to a fine powder. I did this in a small spice/coffee grinder.

Next simply mix all the ingredients together. This could be done by hand or with the help of a free standing mixer. I chose the later option.

Now transfer the icing sugar mixture into a piping bag. I used a disposable piping bag, which I cut a very small hole in the end of. If using a piping bag with a nozzle, the nozzle should be about 4mm.

Pipe lines of the mixture onto baking paper. They do not have to be perfect lines, but the closer together that you can get them the better. It will make the chopping process easier and mean that you have to use less pieces of baking paper.

Now wait. 24 hours. This will allow the iced lines to completely dry. After the time period has elapsed, take a long knife and cut the lines into little sprinkle size strands.

And that’s it. Homemade sprinkles, that really do taste like strawberries.

Enjoy this. Then why not try your hand at some homemade vanilla ice cream to go with them?

Tuscan kale and bean soup

After a glorious food focused weekend in Melbourne (just Mark and me, no Thea, eeek), back in the regularity of my home kitchen, I wanted to make something simple and warming. Something both visually appealing and delicious, but more akin to the everyday than the food that I had relished over the past few days. Tuscan kale and bean soup, perhaps inspired by time spent on Lygon Street, Melbourne’s ‘Little Italy’, seemed like a good idea. Colourful and textural, with its nourishing chicken stock, sultry kale and comforting beans. Plus the snowy cap of parmesan that I could finely grate over the top for a salty kick, made it a perfect fit.

Tuscan kale and bean soup

Melbourne was fun and we ate very well. Black Angus intercostals, slow cooked for 36 hours, then charred to perfection and served with watercress and green chilli at the Town Mouse. Chorizo and mozzarella arancini (something to try and recreate at home) and crisp, salty crackling with remoulade at City Wine Shop. Beautifully fresh buffalo mozzarella simply dressed with peppery olive oil at DOP. And quite possibly the most stunning duck that I will ever eat in my life, 55 floors up, surrounded by a sea of twinkling lights illuminating the city below at Vue de Monde.

Tuscan kale and bean soup

Dining at Vue de Monde is not an everyday event. It’s a theatrical, multi course, gourmet adventure, the date reserved well in advance. An occasion anticipated with great fervor. Something to get really excited about. At least for me anyway. I have been longing to dine at this highly acclaimed restaurant for nearly a decade, so finally stepping in to the private elevator, to take us up the Rialto tower to our table was a dream come true.

Tuscan kale and bean soup

Every element of the dinner was flawless, from the filigree adorned cutlery, always perfectly positioned in readiness for the next course, to the absolute lightness of the finishing dish, a chocolate soufflé. The standout course though was roast duck. A duck that, before being carved, was brought to our table in all its roasted glory. Dry aged for 15 days and anointed with Tasmanian leatherwood honey and plentiful Murray River sea salt, roasted in a hot oven, the skin was an even dark caramel colour. The whole exterior reminded me of the top of a perfectly blowtorched creme brûlée, in that you know when you crack your spoon onto the glasslike melted sugar top, it will break with a wonderful crispy snap. Presented later to us on individual plates, the meat under the skin was blushing and the flavour, superb. With each mouthful, the duck was savoured and a food memory was firmly made.

I never get sick of eating. Or thinking about food and the things that I’m going to cook. Juxtaposing the elite creations sampled at Vue de Monde as well as the other wonderful food eaten in Melbourne though, with a simple but satisfying Tuscan kale and bean soup, allows me to take stock. To stand back and mentally digest the wonderfully indulgent, somewhat hedonistic, almost relaxing, (would have loved one more lie in) weekend just enjoyed.

Tuscan kale and bean soup

The quantities below make a large batch of Tuscan kale and bean soup, enough for a few suppers for two as well as several lunches.

For the chicken stock

  • 1 kg chicken bones
  • 2 sticks celery, roughy chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 onions, quartered, you can leave the skin on
  • few bay leaves
  • tsp black peppercorns
  • juice of a lemon

Simply place the bones, 5 litres of water and lemon juice in a pot and leave to sit for 20 minutes.  This simple step helps to extract all the minerals from the bones.

Add all the remaining ingredients and bring the stock to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer the stock for anywhere between 4-24 hours. The longer you cook the stock, the more nutrition will be extracted from the bones.

Cook for a minimum of four hours though to get a good flavour.  For the first two hours, periodically skim the top of the stock, just with a large spoon, to remove any foam.

After the desired cooking time, strain the stock though a sieve and discard the cooked ingredients.

For the Tuscan kale and bean soup

  • 250g cannellini beans, soaked in water overnight OR 2 400g tins cannellini beans
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 sticks celery, sliced
  • 4 rashers bacon, diced
  • 1/2 butternut squash, cut into small cubes
  • 1 bunch cavolo nero (or other kale), finely shredded
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste

Begin by cooking the soaked and strained beans in the chicken stock. This will take about 30 minutes.

At the same time, in another pot, sweat the onion, celery and carrot in a little oil. By sweat I mean cook the vegetables over a low heat with the lid on until they are very soft, but not browned.

Add the bacon to the sweated vegetables and cook for a few minutes before adding the chicken stock containing the cooked beans, cavolo nero and squash, salt and pepper. Simmer gently until the pumpkin and kale are cooked about 20 minutes. Check fro seasoning at this point and adjust as necessary.

Now here’s the thing. This Tuscan kale and bean soup is the perfect make ahead meal because it’s best cooked the day before it’s eaten. So, if you can resist, cool it, put it in the fridge and then reheat and enjoy the next day. With lots of finely grated parmesan, extra pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Enjoy this recipe? You might also like chestnut soup.