Friday, September 30, 2005

IMMB #19 Heidi's Chocolate Mousse With Persian Fairy Floss and Turkish Delight

I Can't Believe That I'm actually going to participate in an Is My Blog Burning? event. Properly. Punctually. This blows my mind. I am not given to organisation when it comes to this sort of thing, despite my best intentions, but when I saw the topic and realised I had JUST THIS SECOND MADE SOMETHING THAT FITTED THE TOPIC I couldn't resist. The credit of course goes to the wonderful Heidi Swanson of 101 cookbooks. I think hers was the first food blog I ever read, and to this day I can recall that I came to it courtesy of the astounding talented Loobylu.

Okay, it's not entirely properly, as I don't consider it complete without photos, but I simply am not going to be able to post any. Out of due consideration for the Internet, I have held a small bowl of leftovers in the fridge for almost two weeks now, but it's time to realise that it's just not going to happen and get on with the post.

Heidi recently posted a recipe for Amaretto-Spiked Chocolate Mousse and the minute I read it I wanted to try it. Not because I was consciously looking for something vegan, but because any time I read the words "chocolate" and "rich, velvety and decadent", I'm gone. We were having friends over for dinner and I decided this would be the perfect dessert. Not because it was particularly Moroccan, but because Heidi promised it would be quick and easy. And it would have been, if I had remembered that I don't have scales at the moment. I realised this at the precise moment I was required to measure 300g of chocolate chips. A moment about 40 minutes before said guests were arriving. I was only briefly daunted and then I remembered what I did as a child when required to weigh something. Most of my mum's cookbooks were the Women's Weekly type, which called for cups and teaspoons of ingredients. When I had to weigh something, I simply sorted through the cupboards until I found an item of roughly equivalent weight and then stood with an item in each hand until they felt about the same weight.

I frantically searched through my unopened packets and containers until it suddently dawned on me. The tofu weighs 300g! Of course. So once again I stood with a container of tofu in one hand and added and emptied the bowl of chocolate chips until it seemed about right. I heated the chocolate soy milk in a small pan, I melted the chocolate in the microwave and then I mixed them all up in the blender with the tofu. Now I must 'fess up, I didn't use the Amaretto. I just don't like Amaretto. I consulted with J, the most learned cook amongst our guests and when I asked if I should add Amaretto she looked decidedly pained. Plus I didn't have any in the house. But I did have Cointreau. We agreed it didn't need it, given the addition of the Turkish Delight and Persian Fairy Floss, which were going to be my little contributions to keep the meal's theme on an even keel. I mean, I don't recall seeing any pictures of traditional Moroccans glugging down Vitasoy. I added some vanilla extract and tipped the mixture into a bowl and tossed it in the fridge.

It chilled while we ate our tagine and couscous and later, when the evening had hit the mellow phase, I ladled out dessert. The mousse was very firm at this point, probably because it was missing 1/4 cup of liquer. I was able to scoop complete round balls of mousse, which I surrounded with small pieces of diced Turkish delight, and a small mound of Persian Fairy Floss/Pashmak. The mousse was very very rich. When I read the recipe, I noted that Heidi said "makes 6 decadent servings", but I thought "Hah! You obviously understimate my chocolate-eating-abilities!". Well let me tell you, despite the lack of cream and egg yolks, this is one of the richest, richest chocolate mousses I have ever eaten . None of us got more then half way into our serve.

The tofu taste was not noticeable when the dessrt was first made, but after the chilling, it was distinct. I suspect that the Cointreau would have masked this and intend to try making it again, but probably with regular milk, not soy. And I'm not sure whether the pashmak and delight were vegan, but you know what? I don't really care. Now that I think about it, I didn't use vegan chocolate chips, partly because I don't think they're available here and partly because I still have a giant bag of Belgian chocolate chips sitting on top of my fridge. Well they used to be. Anyway, I don't want to talk about it!

To sum up: This distinctly surprised guest T, whose wife J colluded with me over the whole thing. I think he was appalled enough at the fact that he'd eaten tofu, let alone breaking the news to him that he'd eaten vegan as well. The boy will NEVER come over here again if I go too far at once. But he took it well (a true gentleman that one!). And I don't think I ever got around to telling the Figster that it had tofu or that it was vegan. Some people will eat anything ....

Tagged with: +

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Judging a Book By Its Cover

Oh Internet, how do I tell you that I have been guilty of this appalling sin, not once, but twice today?

I was walking by Readings bookshop today, and noticed a cookbook in their display of new releases in the window. The Cook's Book. It is published by DK, and frankly, it had a look of that kind of compendium, put out by publishers of crappy cookbooks, which involves just a rehash of many of their crappy books, lumped together in one volume. But there were several copies in the window, which is a highly coveted space, and there was a poster as well. Now this really struck me. How bad could it be if it was deserving of a poster?

I popped inside and had a look. And oh, I blushed to the bottom of my boots. The Cook's Book is edited by Jill Norman. You know, "long-time editor of Elizabeth David's cookbooks and now literary trustee of the David estate". That Jill Norman. Each chapter of this massive tome is written by a chef. Such luminaries as Ferran Adria and Charlie Trotter. Gordon Ramsay's second in command. And the Australian crew - Christine Manfield, David Thompson and Greg Malouf all contribute their pages, covering Asian, Thai and Middle Eastern food respectively.

It is a huge, huge book. so heavy that I could not comfortably hold in in my arms and wander through it. This is the kind of book that requires reading at the table, with a glass of wine in one hand and probably a notebook in the other. There are step by step photos and from recollection, each recipe was granted two pages.

I suspect this is going to be a big seller with the Christmas crowd. In Australia, it's retailing for $79.95, although there's usually a bit of discounting in December. And in the UK, the recommended price is 30 pounds. I have to go back and have another look. After all, do I really need another cookbook? But there were many breakdowns of techniques which interest me and so on and .....

Anyway, back to my second sin. I have been an admirer of Pierre Herme for a while now and have longing lingered at his Desserts and Chocolate Desserts books. Now I first heard of Pierre Herme on Chocoate & Zucchini, and don't ask me how, but I got the idea that he was this kind of etheral genius, I guess. I pictured a gaunt man with greyish hair, tall, lanky and driven, constantly obsessed with the best in flavour and texture.

There is a picture of Pierre Herme in The Cook's Book. Each of the contributors has a photo at the front and I believe he wrote two of the chapters. I looked at the picture and then again, as if my eyes were surely deceiving me. I flicked to his chapters and there was his photo again and no, this was definitely him. There was nothing of the frail, manic pastry chef I had carried in my head for so long. This man, this Pierre, looked as if he was more likely to be drinking beer in the front row of an illegal boxing match in the Bronx. And yet, chefs don't often look like we'd imagine, I think.

Anthony Bourdain said of Marco Pierre White in White Heat, that for the first time, here was a photo of a chef looking like the chefs he knew. Then again, he was also talking about men who were "gaunt, driven, unkempt"! Now the book and the chef genius both most definitely need a second look. And this time, I promise not to be so judgemental at first sight!

Monday, September 26, 2005

My Moroccan Meal

Yes, it's been almost a week, probably the longest I've gone between posts. But you will understand when I tell you that the transeasonal cold has hit our household, laying waste a plenty. And you will most definitely understand when I tell you that I was so sick that I wasn't even reading my favourite blogs, let alone writing in my own!

So to catch up on a meal from last weekend, here is the menu:

Tagine of Lamb with Prunes
Crunchy Country Salad
Couscous with Dried Fruits and Nuts
Heidi's Tofu Chocolate Mousse With Persian Fairy Floss and Turkish Delight

The first three recipes all came from Ghillie Basan's Modern Moroccan. The dessert, was from 101 cookbooks last month, which I have been so eager to try. I don't have a photo of the dessert, unfortunately - the camera battery ran out and guests tend to look at you kind of funny when you're photographing their plate instead of giving it to them - but I have some leftovers and will put a photo together later hopefully. (Although, how long is proessed tofu good? It's been sitting in the fridge for a week now, with little spoonfuls taken out every now and then).

The tagine was incredibly easy to make - I simply threw 1 1/2 kilos of diced shoulder lamb in a large heavy bottomed pot, with a handful of garlic and ginger, a couple of onions, a pinch of saffron and cinnamon, some oil and water to cover. I let this simmer gently for a couple of hours and then added a packet of pitted prunes, which had been soaking in warm water for a while. I had flirted with the idea of using dates, as I much prefer them, but looked at the relative sugar content and dates have twice the sugar of prunes! So I decided to stick to the original recipe, the first time anyway. Added a few spoonfuls of honey and cooked for a while longer.

Now the sweetness of the tagine is supposed to be offset by the heat in the salad - which was composed of red onion, capsicum, garlic, green chilli, oil, lemon, mint and celery? Now I know the title is "Crunchy Country Salad" but to me the celery struck a really odd note in this dish.

I made the couscous, a celebration dish, well, not exactly according to the instructions, which were detailed and a little lengthy, given how quickly I had to throw it together. And throw ended up being the operative word. Essentially, I finely sliced a handful each of apricots and dates and threw these, with slivered almonds and pistachios, into hot oil to brown. After a minute or two, I tipped in about half a bag of couscous, mixed and added water. (WARNING, THIS CAN CAUSE AN ALMIGHTY BUBBLING AND SPITTING AND CARRY ON, WHICH WILL LEAVE YOU FEELING SLIGHTLY GLAD AND SLIGHTLY GUILTY THAT IT WAS A GUEST WHO WAS HOLDING THE SAUCEPAN AT THIS POINT). You can add saffron, cinnamon and sugar if you have the presence of mind. I didn't.

I served tagine, salad and couscous with small pita breads. In hindsight, I would make the tagine one day in advance, the leftovers were much tastier. That could also be because I upped the salt and pepper and added fresh lemon juice and a lot of mint. To me, the recipe is not a standby yet, it shows promise but still needs work. The couscous i think could be nice, with a few additions and maybe some more oil.

And the dessert? Now that's another story all in itself. And I have a lot of catching up on other people's blogs to do!!

Note: I did take photos of the tagine, salad and couscous, but blogger is not letting me upload them for some ridiculous reason. I'll try again tomorrow. But I wanted to say I'm baaaaaaaack! I'm heeeeere ... heehhehehe

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Inspired by Children's TV Rice Paper Rolls

Inspiration comes from strange places sometimes. You would possibly be surprised to know that tonight's dinner came courtesy of a segment on Play School, the ABC's premier entertainment for 2 year olds (approximately).

Justine Clarke was presenting this particular bit. Justine is a well established Australian actress, but to many here and certainly to anyone in the UK, she is best known for her role as Roo on the surfie soapie Home and Away! She is also a mother of several young ones, one of whom at least appeared on the show in utero. It is surprising how many well known people present on Play School and perhaps more interesting, how many famous thespians get turned down. Apparently, while they can sing songs and tell stories, they aren't so good at making hand puppets out of socks and castles out of cardboard toilet rolls. Anyway, back to the food ...

Justine/Roo was making lunch for her and her co-host and this consisted of a rice paper roll and a bread roll filled with tomato and cheese, I think. I watched it in envy and thought "I haven't had rice paper rolls in absolutely ages". I suppose because I think of rice paper rolls as quintessentially summer food - they are all about the herbs and if the herbs are as damp and soggy as they often are at this time of spring, they just aren't worth making. But when I really really want something ... At a little Asian grocery I found some great mint and Vietnamese mint for $1.00 a bundle and they were fresher and cheaper than anything I'd seen locallly. The mint leaves had little holes in them, which made me happy. I'd rather think that the odd snail or bug got a bite than that the plant was so doused in chemicals that nothing came near.

I poached some chicken in water, with chunks of ginger thrown in. A dipping sauce thrown together with fresh satay sauce, soy and fish sauce mixed together. (It could have done with some lemon, but when I went out to tbe tree it was dark and something sounding very much like a bat started making fluttery noises about a foot over me. I do not care for such experiences.) Mint and vietnamese mint chopped. Rice paper wrappers dampened and soft. A quick roll and there you go.

I like these best in summer, with fresh herbs and succulent duck, lettuce and noodles. But for an early weeknight dinner, it's not bad. I wonder what's on Play School for lunch tomorrow?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Can You Guess What I'm Making For Dinner?

Caroline at bibliocook was talking about Moroccan meals recently and I felt that I was a disgrace for owning two Moroccan/Middle Eastern cookbooks (including one which I had coveted for a year before I bought it) and using each once. If that. And the recipes she mentioned sounded so yummy, especially Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding with Turkish Delight! This recipe comes from Moorish, the second of the books published by Greg and Lucy Malouf, local chef and local writer. I bought their first book, Arabesque, a while ago and though I have flipped through it, I haven't cooked much out from it. And I was kicking myself, because I had seen copies of Moorish at my favourite remainder book shop and hadn't purchased it!

I ran down to the markets for supplies on Thursday and what do you think I found at the nearby shop? A bruised and battered copy of Moorish and not only that, but Modern Moroccan by Ghillie Basan! This is the other Moroccan book I own, a beautiful book. So beautiful that a family member has been eyeing it on my shelf when she visits. And dropping not so obscure hints about future birthday presents ... I was not about to relinquish my copy but now I have another to give her! Isn't that just bizarre!

Anyway, for the first time in months I have guests coming tonight (have been a very lax hostess recently) and was wondering what to cook. I really felt like making something with lamb and in Modern Moroccan I found a recipe for Tagine of Lamb With Prunes. I suspect dates and prunes are pretty much interchangeable, so that's what I'm going to do. And the supplies above? Well, I also found a recipe for a couscous with dried fruits, almonds and pistachios, hence all the little packets. When I wrote my shopping list it didn't look like much, just 100g of this and 100g of that, but when you add it all up, it comes to a basket full! I didn't count on getting quite this much, but I guess at least I'll have the ingredients to make it a few more times!

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Chocolate and Orange

Could there be a better combination?! I love love orange and chocolate and will eat it any which way I can. I adore Lindt's Intense Orange - the sweetness of the candied orange peel against the bitter chocolate. I cannot confess to how many of the Chocolate Orange Magnums I ate during their recent retro 70s reign. And even a handful of chocolate callets and a mouthful of orange peel left lying on the table will do me fine - I'm not that discriminating when it comes to this wonderful combo!

I wandered into Il Migliore the other day and found delight. I had seen this "Gourmet Biscuit Factory" many times before but hadn't gone in. Something put me off. Well, thank goodness for my waistline is all I can say! It is a very simple, charming set up, with the front part of the room containing boxes of stacked packages of biscuits and sweet treats. There is a counter top and boxes of raw produce to be used - oranges and apples just waiting to be turned into syrupy delights. And right behind the counter (well behind the nice chap serving there) is the kitchen! You can see exactly where all their biscuits are made!

I had already been bad (read bought too much food stuff) that week and I wasn't planning on purchasing anything. But they had an open bowl of chocolate oranges to sample and I took one. And then another. Now I don't know about you, but I feel that there is a strict rule of sampling etiquette. One is polite. Two is a little piggy, but maybe you just have to check that it really did taste as delicious/disgusting as you thought it did. And three samples means you have to buy a bag.

So is it any wonder that I strolled out with these? They look as though they would be very simple to make - dry orange slices in a very low oven and then double dip in dark chocolate. I have had a flick through my chocolate books but can't find a recipe, but honestly, I don't think it could be any harder than this. I will keep up the search, but if anyone has a recipe, please let me know. And if you want more more chocolate and orange, check out here and here.

Il Migliore
271 Auburn Road, Hawthorn, Victoria
(03) 9813 2424

Monday, September 12, 2005

Getting Worked Up

I have a secret. Okay, it's not that big a deal, but I sometimes get my groceries delivered. Usually the big stuff - kitchen towel, washing powder, that sort of thing. And now there are a few local organic fruit and vegetable companies which deliver weekly as well. I have tried most of them with varying levels of impressedness and settled on one which I find reliable.

I suppose the reason I'm so uncomfortable with this is that I like choosing my own fruit and veg. I like glaring at apples suspiciously and thinking "see that bruise? that apple will be wrecked in FIVE MINUTES? and that cabbage is TINY - it's definitely not worth what they're asking". But the Green Line Online isn't too bad, and they record my preferences, so they know not to bother packing plums if they're too soft and so on. And a lot of what I order doesn't need personal attention - it's pasta sauce and penne and breakfast cereal.

Anyway, now comes the true confession part: I was scanning my list of fresh vegetables and the last item in that section was zucchini. I have wanted zucchini for a few weeks now but it isn't in season and I have been trying to eat seasonally (particularly with the expense of out-of-season-organic often being well, outrageous). I hummed and hawed and eventually thought "Go on! Treat yourself to a little zucchini!".

And then I stopped in my tracks. Treat myself to zucchini??? My idea of a TREAT is zucchinni?? How has it come to this?

I obviously need a bar of chocolate and a lie down.

Friday, September 09, 2005

My Right Foot

Dig if you will the picture .... of me walking along outside my local markets. It is a Sunday morning and I was not able to get the markets on Saturday due to other pressing commitments, so I stroll along to visit the (admittedly limited) stalls open on a Sunday.

The street is empty and a parking spot is easy to come by. I hop out of the car and casually walk towards the entrance. SPLAT!!! Out of nowhere my shoe is suddenly filled with water. Manky, smelly water. I'm not kidding. It's as if an elf suddenly appeared and tipped a mug of water into my shoe. But no one is around. And it's only my right shoe. One shoe. Nothing else is wet.

Now I'm starting to wonder if I'm going crazy, but hey, there are a couple of splashes on the pavement. Not a puddle or anything, but the spillover from the water that wound up in my shoe. The stinky water which smells like it was left in a flower vase for about a thousand years. There is a guy watering plants outside the flower stall, but he's at least 10 metres away.

I peer at the ground. I step gingerly over the splashes. The ground moves, slightly. Ah ha! There are six loose paving stones and the plant water has run into there and splashed up when I hit an edge of the loose stone with my foot. My very smelly foot.

What could I do? I wandered up to the Essential Ingredient and looked at the cookbooks. Expensive French hardbacks tend to soothe me. And then I bought a cheap cutting board to feel better. And some dried Tasmanian cherries. And this.

And I still haven't worn the stupid shoe again.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Fanny over at Foodbeam has a recent post about eggs, and specifically the colours you might find in different egg yolks, be they French, English or Italian. Frankly, I used to think Nigella was being a little pretentious when she went on about getting her eggs from Italy, but if they have lovely red yolks, maybe I would too!

And I wanted to show Fanny what colour Australian yolks are, very specifically, Clancy's BioDynamic Free Range Eggs. I got a half carton, so I didn't get to read the full label and discover if these are the chickens which are protected not by fences but by special guard dogs (I kid you not). But the eggs are lovely and the yolks are gorgeously yellow, as you can see here.

One thing that has me a little puzzled is that the store where I purchased them from keeps them unrefridgerated. Eggs deterioate very quickly at room temp and these are people who have a drinks fridge and a cheese fridge (and that's just in the front of the shop - not the kitchen!).

I have been amusing myself with Elizabeth David's ruminations on eggs recently, from Is There A Nutmeg In The House? and I just had to share this passage with you.
Separating the eggs is such a basic kitchen operation that it is surprising to find that people are actually frightened of it. Indeed special gadgets have been invented to help the nervous and the inexperienced. In this respect, the best gadget I know is a good fresh egg.

Well said! The above photo came from a recent lunch, 4 minute soft boiled eggs just the way I like them - yolk runny but firmish and white set. And my, the devotion that goes into being a food blogger! I took my eggs off the stove where they'd been simmering and then thought "Oh, I want a photo of this, they look pretty". So I scurried around to find the camera, pot still in hand, eggs continuing to cook. Then as I tried to take the picture, the lens became covered in fog from the steam rising from the hot water. This is not the first time this has happened. I am not a quick learner. It suddenly dawned on me that if I put cold water in the pan, both the eggs would stop cooking and the water would stop steaming. It took about 10 minutes before I got to sit down and eat my lunch, but hey, I got the shots. And that's what counts to a food blogger, right?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Lamb Shanks at Long Last

I adore lamb shanks. I love the melting sinew, the tender flesh, the deep taste of the marrow. And like duck, it has gone from being a restaurant-order treat to being an everyday home cooked meal for me. When I first began to experiment with shanks, most of the recipes were tomato based in one way or another. It got to the point that Figman said that if he came home and smelt tomatoes and shanks cooking *he’d look very pathetic*.

So I hunted around and picked up my copy of the River Cafe Cook Book, which I bought ages ago and has sat, mostly unopened, on my shelf since then. I found a recipe for Shinco di Agnello. I floured and seasoned the shanks and browned them on each side in a heavy bottomed stockpot. I would not bother flouring again – it was unnecessary, messy and the flour remnants burnt in the pan – I had to clean it out before doing the second batch of browning.

I took the shanks and dumped them on a plate. Caramelized an onion or so, with the peel of an orange, sliced into thick enough pieces so the Figman, who hates fruit in his food, could recognise them and take them out (this didn’t actually happen but it was a tender thought on my part). 200ml Simon Johnson organic balsamic vinegar, juice of the orange and water to cover.

The recipe called for an oven and some red wine, but I put it to simmer on the stove top due to the unsuitability of the oven and the wine. I asked Figster to bring home a Shiraz Cabernet as this struck me as the appropriate wine for this sauce – something with flavour but not as strong as a Cab Sav. And while I love Pinot Noir and lamb, I felt the delicacy of pinot would be lost in this sauce.

The shanks simmered away for a couple of hours. Eventually when it arrived, I added half a bottle of red wine and left it to cook a bit more.

Absolutely delicious. And not a tomato in sight!

(There is no photo of this dish because it was so scrumptious, we gobbled it all up before I could take one. And I wrote a post about this days ago but the Internet ate it up!)