Gougeres-bite size balls of cheesy choux pastry

Always a sucker for a new food store, and a French one at that, I popped in to Le Petit Marche in Newport when I had a spare five minutes last week. Beautiful wooden shelves were filled with jars and canisters of imported French deliciousness. Of course the visit resulted in a purchase. I was able to talk myself out of any food, although the salted caramel spread that I was given a taste of did make me slightly weak at the knees and the ‘with the fairies’ strawberry and vanilla tea (who wouldn’t fall in love with a tea with that name) nearly had me reaching for my purse. But no. What I bought was a book. The Paris pastry club. I just can’t help myself when it comes to books, and if a cookbook can give you just one good recipe that you use again and agin, then it’s a winner in my eyes. This book’s a winner and the gougeres that I made from it on Sunday have firmly been wedged in to my repertoire.

But what are gougeres? They are moorish and delicious and far too easy to consume with very little effort. More technically, they are bite size balls of cheesy choux pastry, light and airy with a bit of crunch and a salty cheese hit. Even though the thought of making choux pastry intimidated me slightly, Fanny Zanotti’s  description of these savoury snacks won me over and I made a commitment to try the recipe out. With a side of red, as she suggested. The perfect opportunity arose when Ma and Pa came over on Sunday afternoon. Thea loooves Ma. I think it’s because she is such a calming presence and gives Thea her complete undivided attention. Ma doesn’t try to multi task like me, she’s simply in tune with Thea, and Thea knows it and relishes in it. Plus Ma always knows how to make her cackle. The biggest, heart melting, overwhelmed with love, tear in the eye type cackles you have ever heard. So when Ma and Pa took Thea out for a walk to the park, I set about making gougeres.

Having been concerned by the thought of choux pastry, my worries were unfounded. I mean, I know I have room for improvement in the technique department, but within half an hour of following some simple step I had several dozen bites of cheesy pastry in the oven. Plus taste wise, I was happy. Very happy. My main concern was that I wouldn’t be able to restrain myself from eating all the gougeres until Ma and Pa and Thea returned. For this attempt I made the gougeres with Parmesan through the choux mix and Cheddar grated over the top. Next time I think I’ll try with a gorgeous artisan French cheese from Le Petit Marche with a few poppy seeds sprinkled on top. And perhaps I’ll double the recipe. And choose my favourite wine glass. And a beautiful bottle of red. And my favourite movie… Now Im just dreaming. But sometimes that’s what one little recipe can do.


Adapted from a recipe by Fanny Zanotti

  • 125g whole milk
  • 50g butter
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp sea salt flakes
  • 75g plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 60g grated hard cheese, like Cheddar, Parmesan of Gruyere
  • 1 egg, beaten for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 250c.

Add the milk, butter and spices to a pot and set over a low heat until the butter melts, then increase the heat until the milk comes to a rolling boil.

Add the flour in one go and stir until completely combined. Keep stirring the mixture over heat until a crust forms on the bottom of the pan, which indicates that the mix is now dry enough for the next step.

Remove pot from the heat and transfer contents to a bowl. Add the eggs, beating well after each addition so that they are well incorporated. While the mix is still warm, fold in half of the grated cheese (30g) and then transfer the mix to a piping bag.

Pipe 3cm wide mounds of cheesy choux pastry onto a paper lined baking tray and then brush each mound with egg wash and sprinkle the remaining cheese.

Pop the tray in the oven and turn it OFF. Bake for 15 minutes and then turn the oven back on and bake for a further 10-15 minutes until the gougeres are golden.

Remove from the oven and enjoy.

NOTE. These get better and better as they cool down, so the more restraint you show will work in your favour. Promise.

Enjoy this recipe? You may also like chicken and cheese empanadas

Apricot jam.

Sometimes before the sun has risen and Thea wakes, I get out of bed early, take my laptop and a cup of tea out on to the deck and read my favourite blogs. It’s still dark and usually a few cars pass by, headlights on. The birds aren’t singing their chorus yet, as the promise of a new day looms. I cross my legs in my chair, take a sip of tea and start reading. One humid morning this week I had got out of a very comfortable bed to do just this. Aware of the breeze stirring the leaves, I read a lovely post about apricot jam. Completely smitten with the simplicity and romanticism of the recipe, later that day I went and bought some apricots to make some for myself.

Preserving seems like such a time honoured kitchen task. It makes me think of large country kitchens of a bygone era, with herb gardens, orchards, cast iron ranges and copper pots all lined up on the wall in a row. One of the pots is a preserving pan dedicated to the task of transforming fresh fruit at its peak from one month into jam for another. Indeed, there is nothing better on a cold winter’s morning, than hot buttered toast smothered with berry or stone fruit jam, to evoke the warmth of summer. And so with this notion in my head I set about making apricot jam.

I surprised myself with the results of my spur of the moment preserving efforts. Three glass jars filled with rusty orange, beautifully sweet but slightly sharp, apricot jam sat on my bench. I felt like an accomplished jam maker and had a kid in a sweet shop excited feeling for weekend when I could open a jar and scoop out a spoonful to spread on toast. Saturdays and Sundays are about leisurely breakfasts, coffee, the paper and sourdough bread from the local bakery. Thea loves going there as she has realised it’s the place where almond croissants come from, and leaving the shop without a brown paper bag containing one makes for a very unhappy little girl. Hopefully a breakfast with my sticky, sweet, apricot jam will pacify her.

Apricot jam.

Modified from a post by Sweet Amandine

Makes about 3 jars.

  • 1300g pitted apricots
  • 550g sugar
  • 35 ml lemon juice
  • 6 peach stones

The day before you cook your jam, mix the pitted apricots with the sugar and lemon juice and mix well. Cover the fruit with a piece of baking paper. Smooth the paper over the top of the fruit so that it is in contact with the apricots to help prevent discolouration. Leave to macerate in the fridge overnight.

And I bet you are wondering about the peach stones. What you do with them is take a tea towel and something like a meat mallet or rolling in, cover the stone and tap it until it splits. Inside the stone you will find an almond like kernel. Repeat this step with all six stones, then chop all the kernels up. Put them inside a little tea strainer and place the tea strainer in with the apricots. This will give your jam an almondy aroma.

The next morning, and this is a great tip, put five teaspoons in the freezer. This step is really useful for when you are testing your jam’s doneness.

Now transfer the apricots (remember the tea strainer) to a suitable pot to cook them in and place on the stove. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil for about 4 minutes, string frequently. I mean this. Don’t walk away and hang out the washing. Loiter in the kitchen and stir the boiling mixture frequently. The best tool to do this with is a silicone spatula so that you can really scrape the bottom. After 4 minutes, turn the heat down and skim any foam that has appeared from the top of the fruit. Continue to cook the apricot mix over a low heat for a further 30 to 40 minutes until the jam has thickened.

Now it’s testing time. Get one of the teaspoons from the freezer, dribble a blob of the jam onto it and put the spoon back in the freezer for 3 minutes. When you take it out again, the underside should be neither hot or cold to the touch (indicator one) and when you tip the spoon, the jam should be thick and stick to the spoon, running off slowly (indicator two). If it runs off quickly and is thin, it is not yet done. Repeat the process in a few more minutes.

Pour the hot jam into sterilised jars, screw the lids on and invert the jars while they cool. This helps to form a seal. Enjoy x

NB. Sweet amandine gives a great account of how she sterilises her jars in preparation for jam making and once they are filled with jam. Here as I only made three jars,  I will simply keep them in the fridge and use them within about one month.

An easy barbecued corn salad recipe.

Catering this sumer involved a lot of salads. Kilos of pumpkin and sweet potato, endless bunches of herbs, bags of almonds, pecans and pistachios and lots of corn. For one family in particular, I did a great deal of work. They love seafood and lamb and light, subtly flavoured salads, without too much oil or dairy. There are occasions where I struggle to think of new dishes that meet these requirements, being someone who adores cheese among peppery leaves and lashings of home made whole grain mayonnaise to dress a chive spiked potato salad. This easy barbecued corn salad that I made for them was a firm favourite though. Sweet, fresh and visually appealing, I’m happy to be able to share the recipe with you here.

Being an Ottolenghi recipe, it does involve chopping three bunches of herbs, but its’ a simple task that requires no weighing or mixing and could be considered therapeutic. If you think I’m crazy to suggest such a thing, I won’t tell anyone if you place all the leaves into the bowl of a food processor and let it do all the chopping for you. Just pulse them gently until they are coarsely chopped. Using the food processor could also be a good call, if like me you have a Miss one and a bit who very much likes cuddles and expects you to do all of your kitchen tasks with one arm.

Another salad that the same clients enjoyed again and again is a kale, almond and pecorino salad that I’ve written about before. They shared with me that they enjoy any not eaten for lunch, heated and mixed with rice. A revelation. I tried it this week as I had some left over from an event, not with rice, but some bolognese sauce that was in the freezer. Totally delicious! That’s the wonderful thing about food, its anecdotal quality and how recipes can be tweaked and changed through the casual sharing of information. I would never have thought of heating the kale salad, but the same may be true for you with this easy barbecued corn salad. You may be inspired to change it in some way and make it all your own.


Easy barbecued corn salad

Adapted from a recipe by Yottam Ottolenghi

  • 9 corn cobs, de husked
  • 4 green chillis
  • Bunch of spring onions
  • Bunches of mint and parsley, leaves picked
  • Bunch of coriander, roots chopped off

For the dressing

  • A jam jar with lid
  • 1 cup EV olive oil
  • Juice of 4 limes
  • Dash of maple syrup
  • Salt – a generous pinch

Grill the corn on the barbecue turning frequently until slightly charred and cooked through. Set aside to cool.

Pick the leaves from the mint and parsley and wash. Chop the roots for the coriander and also wash (you can use the stems in the salad). Coarsely chop all the herbs and put into to a large bowl. Chop the spring onions in to small rings and the green chilli in to fine dice. Add both to the bowl.

To make the dressing, shake all the ingredients together in a jam jar. This is a great method. Quick, clean and simple.

The corn will probably be cool enough to handle now. To cut the kernels from the cob, stand the cob upright on one end on a chopping board and simply slice the kernels off from top to bottom. Add to the herbs along with the dressing. Combine well and enjoy x

Enjoy this recipe? It would go really well with this Cajun salmon

Lavender shortbread biscuits.

I made the rookie error of making some lavender shortbread biscuits for Thea. It’s not the biscuits that were the mistake. They were a great success. Thin, crisp, perfectly golden and delicately flavoured. The error was in the fact that she likes them a bit too much and being a first time mama, I failed to foresee the consequenses.

You see, we were out for a run as I’m training for the Sydney marathon again this year, and passing a neighbours garden I spotted some lavender. Knowing how much Thea loves biscuits and most crunchy things for that matter, I decided to pick a few leaves and with them make her some lavender shortbread biscuits. The problem is though, that she likes them so much, she hasn’t eaten anything else for the past two days. She keeps pointing at the top shelf in the pantry, where she knows that crunchy things are kept, and in her own one and a bit language, tell us in no uncertain terms that she wants one.

Little impromptu successes, like baking a well received biscuit, the idea born spontaneously from the sighting of the simplest thing, are one of life’s joys. In fact, when I’m out running, which at the moment is three times a week, there is alway plenty to fuel the imagination and stir the senses. Perfume from jasmine flowers filling the air, purple jacaranda confetti colouring the roads, sprinklers hissing as they water plants, dogs inquisitively barking as I go by, Thea giggling when I push her over bumps and smoke wafting over fences from sausages cooking on barbecues. I also have time to think, undistracted by other tasks except to make the round trip back home at a steady pace. About the things in my fridge and what they will make for dinner and ideas for short stories that I will one day tell to Thea. I even rehearsed my wedding speech whilst out running, imagining all my friends and family that I was going to speak in front of, not wanting to stutter or shy away from their collective gaze.

Another success this week, a little more pre planned, is that I started swimming. As in swimming in a squad with a programme to follow and a teacher who constantly told me to keep my head down. I went for the first time this Monday. I left Thea at the creche with copious amounts of popcorn, something that she is enjoying at the moment (in addition to lavender shortbread biscuits that is). Popcorn is so simple and fun to make. I just heat some coconut oil, because of its high smoke point, in a heavy based pot until it’s really hot, add a handful of corn and hold a lid over the top whilst agitating the pan and wait for the kernels to explode. Speaking of popcorn, doesn’t the idea of caramel bacon popcorn sound good! A recipe I have bookmarked to make. So while I knew she was happy, independently holding her little bowl of pop as I call it when talking to her, off I went to do some lengths. Secretly I was very nervous. I haven’t swum seriously up and down in a pool since university, over a decade ago. None the less, I loved it and was proud for having pushed myself to go. To little successes. And rookie errors.

Lavender shortbread biscuits

Makes 20-30

  • 114g COLD butter, cubed
  • 56g caster sugar
  • 170g plain flour
  • 1 tbs chopped fresh lavender

Pulse the butter and sugar in a food processor until the ingredients resemble bread crumbs. Add the flour and chopped lavender and mix until combined.
Tip out onto a sheet of cling wrap and using the wrap, bring the mixture together. Leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

To roll the biscuits, do so between two sheets of greaseproof paper. This way you will be able to get the dough really thin. Use a cutter to cut out the biscuits and transfer them to a try lines with another piece of baking paper. If you can’t do this immediately because the dough has become too hot and sticky, just put the sheet of rolled out dough with the shapes already cut into it in the fridge. When it has cooled, you will be able to life the shapes you have cut from the paper.

You could also use rosemary or thyme.

Bake at 160 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes until the biscuits are golden.

Enjoy x

Savoury granola

Every Tuesday I look forward to the Good Food supplement in the paper. It’s a weekly ritual of mine, to sit down in a comfortable spot and read it cover to cover. There is always something of the moment and interesting to inspire me, a new restaurant, an intriguing recipe, a useful fact and this week was no exception. The caption read “Health food: Savoury granola” and that was it. In an instant I was planning dinner.

Granola is one of my favourite things. Crisp, toasted seeds and nuts with a scattering of dried fruit, served in a deep bowl with a generous dousing of icy cold milk. There are a myriad of fantastic recipes out there and these are some of my favourites; simple, tropicalchocolate and rose petal. In my mind, granola must be eaten straight away, as left to swim in the milk, it goes soggy and looses all of its noisy, crunchy appeal. But savoury granola. Hell yes. Something I love with a different slant. The article paired the savoury granola with eggs and hummus, but this spoke a little too much of breakfast to me and I wanted a dinner idea.

My train of thought to arrive at roast chicken went something like this. Crunch needs to go with something  soft. Meat is soft. What nuts stand out the most. Almonds. What do almonds go with. Almonds go with chicken. Almonds go with beans. Roast chicken goes with crunchy roast potatoes. Replace potatoes with nuts. Serve with beans and broccoli. Hey presto.

The recipe below is extremely simple, yet endlessly versatile. I added sumac and cloves just because I thought that the lemony sumac would go well with the chicken and I picked ground cloves, well, because they were in the pantry and appealed to me on a slightly cool summer night. There are no hard and fast rules. For example, you could add cumin and chilli flakes and serve the resulting savoury granola with roast lamb and yoghurt. Or use cardamom and allspice and sprinkle the nutty mixture over roast pumpkin wedges with a tahini dressing. I love the concept of a savoury, textural topping for meals. Have fun experimenting.

 Savoury Granola

From a recipe in the SMH

  • 1 small egg white
  • 50g rolled oats
  • 100g sunflower seeds
  • 100g pine nuts
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 50g almonds
  • 50g pistachios
  • 1 tbsp sumac
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Lightly beat the egg white in a large bowl until frothy.

2. Add all the other ingredients to the bowl with the white and mix well to coat.

3. Spread the mixture on to a large shallow sided baking tray lined with baking paper and bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Be sure to rotate the mixture with a spatula after the first 10 minutes so that it bakes evenly.

Enjoy. The remaining mixture can be stored in a tightly sealed container for two weeks.

Alternatives to sumac and cloves could be curry powder, turmeric, cumin, fennel seeds, dried chilli flakes, allspice and cardamom. Substitute nuts and seeds in similar quantities and have some fun.