Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Divided Loyalties

Well here they are as promised - my hard won pictures of the Koko Black chocolate box! (I will not go into detail about my fight with the photo shop woman, but just let's say there's a certain camera store that won't be getting any more of my custom. But I digress).

So yes indeed, this is the lovely box brought to me by the lovely L. who was in town last week and kindly brought me (okay, us) a gift of Koko Black chocolates - an amazing selection. Now I tell you, I didn't quite know what to do. You see - I love chocolate. That's a not a surprise to anyone who reads this blog. But I also have a weakness for handbags, 'specially Spencer & Rutherford ones.

Chocolatiers have sprung up all round the CBD in the last couple of years, but since I traded the suit for an apron, I don't spend much time in the city. Recently I was in Southbank with visiting relatives who wanted to check out the city centre. We wandered up through the Block Arcade and after spending some time in Haighs, I mentioned "Oh, there's Koko Black up in the Royal Arcade and I haven't been there yet". So we decided to go have a look but the other girls were bedazzled by the taffy pull at Suga. I was familiar with it and was champing at the bit to get to the chocolate, so I said "I'll head on up to Koko Black and if I'm not in there, you can find me in the handbag shop".

I walked up the arcade, pausing to look at some necklaces, and then I stood there at the top - staring at Koko Black. Staring at where my favourite handbag shop used to be. I was dumbfounded. How could this be? I stumbled in, dazed and confused. Yes, there was chocolate, great big chunks of Valrhona and Callebaut, truffles, chocolates, bars, but where oh where were the handbags???

The girls found me in this perilous condition and escorted me from the building but I hadn't resolved the issue in my mind. Could I support a store which had annexed my favouritest handbag store in the world? Did it make a difference that I hadn't been there in a couple of years? And would it help it the chocolates were really really good?

Well, as it turned out, I didn't have to solve this quandry. L. presented me with this box and I've sampled most of these myself as the Figman has been on an avowed health kick (avoiding butter and chocolate but not copious amounts of cheese - go figure). I managed to stretch it out over almost a week, so it's hard to remember all the details, but I have to say that my favourites were definitely the mint - the dark triangular one in the middle - it has a triangle of soft minty centre, yum! And the two in the middle on the far left - one with a crisp walnut half on top and the dark one next to it - gorgeous gorgeous raspberry! And very odd that these three include the two that Niki and Cin mentioned, but hey, maybe bloggers just have good taste. Ahem.

It was an interesting experience working through a chocolate box blind. I mean, normally with something like Cadbury's Roses, you can identify the chocolate from 100 metres just by the colour of the wrapper. But this was very sensory - sniff ... taste ... is it? ... ah ha! ... yes it is! Some centres were obvious, but others I really had to ponder. But they were exquisite. Reminded me of what can really be done with chocolate when imagination and talent are applied. And I think I'm going to have to just get over my divided loyalties. I mean, you can't eat a handbag, right?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Return of the Chef

You Would Not Believe What I Do. Honestly.

As you can see, the commentary on my last post ran from sushi rolls to Koko Black's truffle selection and as mentioned, I wound up taking pictures on my old SLR in order to share this chocolate box with the world. As I was looking for the camera, I also came across an old roll of film from goodnessknowswhen. Then there was the roll in the camera already. And the new roll that I snapped through in 24 hours. Well, the garden was looking lovely and I had a few chocolate shots and there's always a demand for the Plumbaby to model. So, this morning, I sent Figman up to the shops and asked him to drop the films in to be processed to discs. He asked if we could get prints as well and I said Sure. Anyway, when he got back, he glanced at the receipt as he handed it to me and the man almost fainted. "SEVENTY-FIVE DOLLARS???" he thundered? "It costs seventy-five dollars to get three rolls of film processed?".

"Um, that's probably cos you wanted prints as well" I said, Trying To Make it Look Like His Fault. He rang the shop and changed it to discs only, but I have been ordered to stop using film immediately. Oh well, any excuse to buy a digital camera. But the pics are not going to be ready until Monday (you think for that price they would hand deliver them by velvet sleigh tonight) so I'll leave you with a little chocolate action in the meantime.

French Leave was a Channel 4 tv show and series about an English chef and his family moving to France for a year, to rediscover family life and a passion for cooking. I am a sucker for anything like this and I immensely enjoyed it. And a little while later, I picked up a battered copy of the accompanying book at a truck sale. The book was an eye-opener, as, while I admired JBR's skills, he didn't seem like someone I'd like to have dinner with. But he connects much better through his writing than the television and it's a decent read with some solid French recipes. One thing I'd always had a hankering to make was his Simple Chocolate Truffles and last week I finally got my act into gear and used some of the Callebaut I bought for this express purpose about a month ago.

The ganache centre could not have been more easy. As I am still without kitchen scales, I took a 300ml container of double cream from the fridge and tipped chocolate callets into a bowl until they were almost as heavy. I then took 2/3 of the cream and (slackly) heated it in the microwave. This was supposed to be brought to boiling on the stove and it probably would have been a better idea, because when I looked in th microwave and saw the yellow liquid separating, I freaked out and immediately tipped it over the chocolate. I then had to chop up some butter and chuck that in as well. But the cream obviously wasn't quite hot enough because I ended up having to put the entire mixture back into the microwave to get the chocolate to melt. Anyway.

Do you remember this honey? I added a couple of teaspoons to the mixture and left it to set. It tasted incredibly yummy at this point and I could barely restrain myself from tipping the bowl around every time I opened the fridge to see if it had cooled. Once firm, I scooped out the ganache with a nifty little icecream baller from the Essential Ingredient, dipped in melted chocolate and returned them to the freezer. JBR also recommends piping the ganache and I can see why. Even after being cooled it was very soft and difficult to scoop neatly. And despite how cute this little ice cream scoop is, I'm going to need a lot more practice to turn out uniform and not hideously misshapen balls.

The recipes says to double dip and while I followed these instructions for about half of the truffles, I wouldn't bother again. Maybe it was due to the viscosity of my chocolate, but the initial coat was enough. And apart from the way they looked, I was quite chuffed with this first attempt. They certainly tasted good - first the chocolate taste, then the honey hit, and the final impression was of cream - good rich thick cream. They are so decadent, I couldn't eat more than two without wanting to lie down and murmur in a dark room. And we won't talk about how I managed to burn a batch of the coating chocolate in the microwave while I was distracted.

I would have taken a photo for you, but as you now know, I have been banned. Whatever will the man do next? Take away my wooden spoon??

PS I was just looking at this post and trying to figure out Why On Earth I titled it Return of the Chef. Of course, JBR is back on the ABC this week with the second series set in Devon. Called Return of the Chef (you didn't imagine for a second that I was referring to me, did you???)

Monday, November 21, 2005

A Proud Mama

I keep a record of the Plumbaby's first moments in a calendar - first steps, first words, first dance in front of the tv.

But today was a different first and I thought it belonged here. My child ate sushi for the first time today. True, it was teriyaki chicken and not raw fish, the piece he ate was dipped in soy and not wasabi, but he ate sushi. He crinkled up his nose at the smell but ate it eagerly. I couldn't be more pleased! Unless of course, the Plumbaby manages to make sushi for me.

You see, I understand the theory behind making sushi rolls, but somehow mine always look as though they were constructed by a two year old. I stuff them into my mouth on the grounds that it all tastes the same when jumbled up together, but really, I am a disgrace. So, as soon as the kid can handle a knife, I expect he'll be turning out a better effort than mine.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Chocolate/ Honey/ Clare

Now as I'm sure many of you know, Clare at eat stuff had a nasty little accident recently, resulting in hospitalisation and ivs and lots and lots of disgusting food.

I sent her my get-well-wishes and I noticed that around the place other bloggers were dedicating posts or baking cakes, hoping Clare would feel better and mend faster. I was particularly taken with Cin's yoghurt cake, but I haven't baked a cake in whoknowshowlong? And when I first found eat stuff, I remember Clare getting down and dirty with the new Tim Tam icecream (ah Tim Tams, the double chocolate coat can do no wrong!). So when on Saturday night, I had to bring a low key dessert to dinner, I stood in front of the ice cream cabinet at my local supermarket. To be honest, I was there to get some vanilla icecream. I had just bought some almost-overripe mangoes at the market and was after that vanilla hit.

I haven't eaten Connoiseur icecream in ages, but during my stay in Perth, Figman's mother served up some of their Strawberry Stravaganza and it was good. So I casually wandered over to the Connoisseur display and there it was - Chocolate. Honey. Nougat. Apparently a "harmonious blend of chocolate and honey ice cream with a generous amount of the finest chocolate coated almond nougat". There was no other choice. This was it.

After an incredible Thai feast courtesy of my friend J. (who, unlike me, managed to crack open her copy of Thai Food and actually cook something from it!), we got stuck into the icecream. Well, except the Figman who ate so much prawn curry and chilli beef that he had to lie down on the floor (I'm not joking). The theory was to try the icecream first and then move on to the mango, but it didn't happen. Aaah, rich chocolate, mellow honey and gorgeous crunchy bits of nougat. T. was spooning out seconds and said "make sure you get some chunks" and he was right - the texture and crunch of the nougat was the perfect accompaniment for the smooth ice cream. And I thought of Clare and how much she might like this.

The mangoes were left spurned and uneaten - although my share wound up in a salsa the next day. And I tried to re-create the taste in a sandwich - brown bread, a drizzling of honey and chocolate chips, but it just wasn't the same. As soon as I get space in my freezer, a litre tub is going to come to visit methinks!

I was reminded of all of this when I read eat stuff today and saw that I wasn't the only one getting all excited. And Clare, I rang the Figman on his mobile yesterday morning while he was in a Very Important Meeting and said "How could you not tell me that Australia made it into the World Cup finals??!!!". He didn't think I'd think it was important. Would you believe it?? Thank goodness the man can wash up.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Some Things Go Together

You see these cakes? I hope Figman's parents enjoyed them, because this was the last I saw of them. The photo was taken shortly before we departed for the airport and Melbourne. We were in Perth recently to attend the wedding of our dear friends L and C. I have known L. for almost all my adult life and it was wonderful to see her and C. married. Their ceremony was held inside a chapel in Leederville, high above a lake. I have walked past this many times but never guessed how beautiful it is inside. Beauty that takes you by surprise can be the best.

The reception was something out of this world. I had never been to the venue before and to suddenly step out onto a giant round stone terrace, sun setting where the river meets the ocean, a string quartet playing beautifully, dolphins leaping through the waves - it was one of the most romantic moments of my life. Lovely to catch up with people I haven't seen in ages, to drink champagne and watch the ships and pleasure boats moving along the river. And the food - I haven't even gotten started on the food.

Before we left, my mother, was quizzing me about the wedding in the way that mothers do, and she asked about the reception. "Um, it says substantial finger food", I answered, fishing around in my bag for the wedding booklet which accompanied the invitation. She looked puzzled for a second and then said "Well, it is C. and L. There's no way you'll go hungry with them. They are serious about food".

And they are. I had no doubts that I wouldn't be hungry, but even I was surprised at how much we were invited to taste and just how good it all was! We started with miniature vegetable frittatas and moved on to seared scallops in chinese spoons. There were oysters and king prawns, arancine and tiny tartlets with caramelized onions.

My favourite of the night was undoubtedly the salmon skewers. Cooked to perfection, these substantial skewers of salmon were presented with a ginger and lime sauce and were just delicious. Later in the night there were larger dishes - coq au vin in little bowls and saffron fish in noodle boxes. I am reliably informed that it was fish in the boxes, because I took one, and was so engaged in conversation that I put it down on the table behind me, and when I turned around to claim it it was gone!

L. and C. eschewed the traditional wedding cake and had a selection of small cakes and desserts - dark chocolate cakes with prunes, orange coconut cakes with white chocolate decorations and a fresh berry dessert that was so light and refreshing I couldn't say no to two!

As we were leaving, I had an orange cake in my hand and someone (I think it was the groom) insisted that I take a chocolate cupcake as well. I have to confess that the white chocolate garnish didn't last long on the ride home, but the rest of the cakes made it safely into the fridge for a post-wedding breakfast. At least that was the theory ...

Let's not talk about the next morning when I had to get up and catch a four hour flight. Let's not, okay?? Figman's parents still think I'm a respectable woman (why, I do not know, but they do) and I'd like to keep it that way! I managed to snap a quick photo of these before we left the house - any idea of breakfast long, long gone. But the cakes still looked good - chocolate and prune, orange and coconut - flavours that belong together. Just like L. and C.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Cape Lavender Strawberry Jam

Actually, that is a tiny picture of Lavender Honey but you know what? I can't be bothered to go back and download a bigger one. So there you go, the true me ... lazy and slipshod. But I digress.

I too, have been gallivanting across in Western Australia. I had this wild idea that I would blog over here, to which I now say HAH! I barely had time to eat twice a day, let alone sit down somewhere for more than a few seconds. But I had a brief break when I went to the Domestic Airport to collect Figman (that makes it sound like he was packaged up nicely like a kitten in a travel cage!) and the plane was half an hour late. So I did what any reasonable person would do.

No, I did not try to sneak into the Qantas lounge so that I could admire the spotlessness of their toilets (honestly, they are the best airport toilets I have ever seen. And they could teach my toilet a thing or two). I went shopping. These days, thanks to the good people at Newslink, there is actually somewhere decent to shop in Australian airports. I had already picked up my 3 for $50 novels on the way out of Melbourne but this was a good opportunity to browse the local selection. And when I'd had a good read of Jeffery Steingarten's column in US Vogue, I wandered across to the Discover West store. These shops stock local wines, cheeses, chocolates, preserves - you name it! The one at Melbourne is not of particular interest to me because I already know about this stuff. But here, there were a stack of unknown treasures to be rummaged through.

To be fair, I was restricted by a small suitcase already crammed full to bursting and so, I restrained my purchasing. But I did look longingly at the cupcake soaps and packets of chocolates. And I was able to eliminate several condiments and sauces because I've seen them in Melbourne. Otherwise I would have bought about seven! So I felt very proud that I only bought two - Cape Lavender Strawberry Jam and Lavender Honey.

The lavender strawberry jam is gorgeous - it has an only-almost-set quality that I love and is very spreadable. The lavender taste varies considerably - at first I was wondering where the lavender was and the next minute, it tasted like soap! But apart from the odd moments when it's just too much lavender, it has a lovely taste and is the best strawberry jam I've had in years. I wish I'd brought more.

I haven't tasted the lavender honey and was saving it for something special, like this honey icecream of Heidi's. But this evening, I walked past the jar and stopped in my tracks. Someone had broken the seal! And this does not bode well. Figman and I have a very different approach, shall we say, to jams and preserves and breakfast condiments. I am of the separate-clean-spoon-keep-your-buttery-knife-out-of-my-damn-jamjar school and he is of the wild rollicking anything goes method. You know, it wouldn't surprise me to find him spooning out wasabi mayonnaise with a crowbar. Anyway, I digress ...

This difference of views led at one point to separate jam jars, but we've both softened our views and let that slide. And yet now, I think it might be time to reinstitute this preservatory apartheid. You see, the only honey in the house at the time of the Great Jam Wars was honey in a squeeze bottle. And so, it was left alone, since you can't get crumbs and butter into one of those unless you're really really determined. But since I discovered all these amazing new honeys, I've been buying jars of the stuff. And the big difference between preserves and honey is that the surface crumbs and butter start to slowly drift through the honey, until the vestiges of last week's toast are suspended midway down the jar. I watched this happen with the Tasmanian Orange Blossom Honey, kind of like a science experiment at the breakfast table. But it's not happening with my Lavender Honey, damnit!! I'll just have to send the Figman back for another jar. And he can pick up that cupcake for me while he's there!

PS I was very relieved to find that I am not the only person who does this. My friend T. has his own honey jar, which is off-limits to the rest of his family. Whenever we meet we fall into each other's arms and mutter darkly about our households and their buttery, buttery knives. Hehehehehe

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Halloween is not a particularly Australian institution. To me, it belongs in the final scenes of ET and the occasional US sitcom. But this day is the birthday of a family member and so, all day long I mutter to myself "don't forget to call, don't forget to call", not "lay in a store of Mars Bars".

So when there was a knock at the door in the early evening, I opened it in some surprise to find a small warlock, his feline sister, a half-pumpkin half-child and a miscellaneous costumed one standing there expectantly. Their faces were so sweet that I couldn't bear to dash their hopes immediately. "Um, just hang on a second" I said and I ran into the kitchen. There were no sweets to be found, no random packets of Milo bars or Cherry Ripes. I could have given them an organic date each, but I suspect they'd have been pushed back into my letterbox later in disgust!

Looking around frantically, I spotted a box full of chocolate callets. I grabbed some mini ziplock bags and scooped a couple of handfuls of chocolate into each one. The kids seemed pleased and I'm glad I didn't have to break the news to them that they were being given an orange or a stick of celery. And the best part is, I now feel perfectly justified in buying this chocolate. Just for this type of emergency, you know!