Wednesday, 30 November 2011

My favourite fast food.

There are some days where I want to potter about the kitchen for hours, just relaxing and getting into everything, cooking and baking and all that delicious nonsense.

.. Aaaaand then there's day I cook because people are over, and we need to be fed. This usually happens after our grocery shopping, which takes places in the afternoon.
When we get home around 5, 6 o'clock, I know that I want food, as soon as possible, as easily as possible. And this is when I love having good convenience products at my disposal.

I know I've spoken about Henry Langdon's products before, mainly their delicious cocoa, but their salt rubs make dinner as simple as:
  1. Get meat, chicken or fish
  2. Apply spice or salt rub
  3. Shallow fry until cooked, serve with salad or steamed veggies.

Seriously. This is my current rushdown cooking, and my favourite combination so far has been the coriander, kaffir lime and chilli salt rub on fresh flake fillets, fried, with a tangy green salad with mixed beans and balsamic dressing.
The coriander doesn't overwhelm anything, like it does in the fresh form, and the lime and chilli are perfect in the warming weather, a real slap to the palate.



This post isn't sponsered by Henry Langdon, but I wouldn't say no if it was. Their products are fantastic and full of exotic flavours.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Moving along.. Super-easy chocolate truffles.

The last week or two have been a time of relaxation and rebuilding, for me. I've been thinking a lot (which hurts), trying to exercise even more, and sorting out things with people and myself.

Soooo, of course, along the way, I need sustenance. And at this point and time, it is chocolate I want. And not in any sort of practical amount, I want full-on chocolate. I want chocolate with chocolate, with more chocolate.

.. Yes, I know,  kind of counter-acts the whole 'exercise and health' thing. BUT. I have been good. I haven't started wallowing in cocoa and deliciousness. I have been (somewhat) restaining myself.

That being said, I made some chocolate truffles a while ago, and while I have made them before, these ones came out the best. Getting the ratio of chocolate and cream has been my issue in the past, and due to different recipes (and my sieve-memory), things haven't always gone.. Quite right. Chocolate seizing is not pretty, or tasty.

For an easy chocolate fix, for munchies or for a gift for someone, make chocolate truffles yourself. All you need is 4 ingredients, and some time for them to set.

Dark chocolate truffles   -   makes roughly 20

Ingredients:
375g packet dark chocolate chips (70% cacao is tastiest)
180ml thickened cream
1 tbsp port, or other liquor like it
Cocoa for dusting (if you have to use hot chocolate in place of cocoa, make sure is it good quality)

Method:
  1.  Place the cream and chocolate in a large stainless steel bowl. Have another bowl or glass dish ready
  2. Bring a small pot of water to the boil. Fill it only about a third of the way
  3. Take the pot off the heat. When the water has stopped boiling, then place the stainless steel bowl on top of the pot. Do not let the water touch the bowl directly
  4. Stir the chocolate and cream together occasionally with a spatula, unti melted together. Add the port and stir in until completely combined
  5. Pour the chocolate mixture into the glass dish. Allow to cool to room temperature, then plac ein the fridge to set, for about an hour or two
  6. When the mixture is firm enough to touch and not stick, pour a good amount of cocoa powder onto a plate or chopping board
  7. Roll teaspoonfuls of the chocolate mixture into balls in your hands, then roll them in the cocoa powder. If your hands start to heat up too much, wet them with a small amount of water in between
  8. Store them in the fridge. Give as gifts, or eat with any excuse
This recipe works with milk chocolate as well, as well as variations of cocoa. My favourite combo was dark chocolate, with port, rolled in chilli cocoa powder. 
The important part is the ratio: any amount of chocolate, half the amount of cream.

 And pardon the typos, so tired. Bluh.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

October madness.

.. So. October was a crazy month. Not just for me, it seems, but for everyone I know. Full of ups and downs, it is a month I half want to forget, and half want to celebrate.

The downsides are typical, but were painful for me. Same as before, looking for work stressed me out to the point of a breakdown (followed by lovely heartburn, ugh), and I had to reconsider my future and life, and my choices.
My girlfriend has been stressed to her eyeballs, finishing her advanced diploma of fashion. I've tried to be supportive, as well as realistic, and frankly, I can't decide who is going to be more relieved when the course is over.

I tend to worry about my friends a lot, some of whom are going through the same fun of looking for work, which I can really sympathise with. Then there's health problems, not just mine, but some members of my family as well.

But that's the downsides. Getting those off my chest and talking about these things with people has been one of the better aspects of this ugly October.

Now, the best parts of the month:
  • Two friends and I went to see Blind Guardian in concert. It was, in a word, amazing. They played one of each of our favourite songs, and the gig left us all with sore necks from headbanging, as well as sore throats for the next few days.
  • I had some catering work to do! The lovely Katie from 'Sew, Cook, Laugh' gave me the pleasure (and the excuse) to bake up a storm, once for some gluten-free sweets for her brother's wedding, the second time to do the desserts for her hubby's birthday.
  • I've had some lovely products to work with. Katie has been supplying me with duck eggs (and chicken, but the duck eggs are the best), which make the most amazing baked goods I've been practicing (tee hee) my steak-cooking skillz with gorgeous meat from LaManna Direct in Essendon, and I've been raving about Henry Langdon's awesome spices and cocoa so much I think I'm going to explode.
  • Even though it was techincally September, I got to bake for my sister's birthday, and made a silly-but-delicious gluten free, dairy free chocolate cake, which was one of the tastiest gluten-free things I've made. Dense and moist, with rich creamy chocolate frosting, I was really proud of it.
  • I've been indulging my nerdy side and playing more videogames, and loving it. Replaying BioShock (1 and 2) has been providing me with plenty of fun suspense and brick-shitting moments.
    RockBand has been great for getting out energy and getting a bit of exercise, and I've been hanging out with a good mate and learning to play fighting games again. I might even be enterting a small local tourny next time it is on! Fun stuff~
Also, I have applied to study patisserie next year! I can't wait to start. 

Things are looking up now. I'm taking time out from looking for work, and focusing on my health and my own pleasure. I needed a wake up call, and I got it, so now I'm looking forward to what I want to do in future.

Now, pictures from the aforementioned fun. Onward, toward 2012~

Some of the catering I did. The desserts for the birthday, including choc cheesecake, profiteroles, trifles, and the best lemon cake (thanks Mum <3).
Also,gluten free jam tarts from the wedding. I was so proud of these! Om nom.

 

A beautiful but GIANT duck egg.

  

A porterhouse steak from LaManna, cooking in my favourite pan. Mmm, griddle marks.

 
One of Katie's chicken eggs. I like making them stand up. Hee.


My sister's gluten free, dairy free birthday cake! This was fun to make, and delicious to boot.
Tee hee.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Under the weather.

Bluh.

It is that time of year again. Hayfever, colds, stomach bugs.. All coming out to play. I love Spring, don't get me wrong, but it always seems to attract the bugs that skipped Winter. Not to mention pollen is everywhere, the windy days pick up dust, and the sun starts getting a real bite to it.

I try to avoid taking medication for colds and stomach problems and the like, since I take regular medication already. So I generally like to pick up natural remedies, within reason, and give them a go.

The ones that I really believe in are, much to my pleasure, tea related.

For heartburn or reflux, I take some fresh spearmint leaves steeped in boiling water. I prefer spearmint of pepper or normal mint, as it has a natural sweeter flavour, and isn't too strong.
You can leave the leaves in if you wish, but either way, the resulting tea has that menthol cooling effect, and it takes the edge off the acidic burn.



 For relief from cold, flu, hayfever or sore throat symptoms, I drink one of my favourite mixtures. 
English breakfast tea, strong, with heaps of lemon and a teaspoon of honey. 
The only 'must-dos' with this, is the lemon juice has to be fresh, not plastic stuff, and you must drink it hot, or as hot as you can stand it. It soothes the throat, helps any mucus build up move along, and if you have any fresh ginger, grate some i to add extra flavour, and to help fight off the bug.
This amber liquid is also one of my favourite drinks in general.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Perfect brownies, also gluten free!

Whew!

Okay, so today was busy with baking, and all of it gluten free for a lovely friend's brother's wedding. Specifcally, chocolate mousse shots, jam tarts, chocolate chip cookies and brownies, for afternoon tea.

It was all good fun, despite me working myself into stressing, but overall, I'm happy with how things turned out.. Unfortunately, I didn't take any photos, as I just wanted to get it all done, but I must share this recipe for chocolate brownies.

I have never made brownies before, but I have eaten a lot of them (more than I care to admit). Some have been dense and sickly sweet, some have been cake-ish and crumbly.
This recipe, is in a word, perfect. It is fudgy, without being heavy, rich without being sickening, sweet without hurting the teeth, with a tiny bit of crunch on the top and intense chocolate pleasure all the way through.

The recipe is from my current second favouite cook book, 'High Tea: Recipes with a sense of occasion', tweaky slightly to adapt to my taste, and to the dietary requirements.

Chocolate brownies   -   makes 16

Ingredients:
125g dark chocolate, chopped (Whittaker's 50% cocoa was perfect)
90g salted butter, softened (the salt in the butter balanced the flavour, I find)
230g caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
85 gluten free plain flour
30g unsweetend cocoa powder, sifted (I use Henry Langdon's pure cocoa, and you should too, it is that good)
1/2 tsp baking powder (make sure it is not derived from wheat)
Pure icing sugar, for dusting
Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Grease a 17cm square baking tin, and line the base with baking paper, extending the paper to go over the sides for easy removal later
  2. Put the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Fill a medium sized pot with water from a boiled kettle (or boil some water, but take it off the heat), place the heatproof bowl on the pot and allow the steam to melt the chocolate. Stir occassionally.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar until lightly and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. 
  4. Stir in the melted, slightly cooled chocolate (it will be safe to add when it is safe to touch, is my rule)
  5. Fold in the sifted cocoa in two batches, then sift in the flour and baking powder. If using flour that contains gluten, do not overwork the mixture, as it will make it tough
  6. Pour into the prepared tin and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes, until a skewer comes out with crumbs clinging to it, but not liquid
  7. Cool in the tin, then remove from the tin carefully.
    If you're having trouble lifting it out, place a wire rack on top of the tin, place on hand on each side and flip over. Remove tin and baking paper, flip the brownie onto the underside of the tin, then slide back onto a chopping board right-side up
  8. Cut into 4 rows, then 4 pieces per row. Dusting with icing sugar
  9. Devour

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Homemade marshmallows~

Marshmallows are something I've been wanting to make for a long while now, but have been putting off. Even though I know the process and the technique, there's something a bit daunting about attempting to make such a well-loved, commercial foodstuff.

But when a craft day with a couple of awesome ladies came up on my calendar, I finally decided to do tackle these fluffy delights. With the help of the ever-faithful KitchenAid, called Nigella (shut up),and a good-quality sugar thermometer, these were a joy to make, and a joy to eat.

I used a recipe from the River Cottage Family Cookbook, which a friend had recommended, and even though I made a few adjustments, they came out great. Sweet enough without being sickly, with a nice hint of vanilla, and the texture is the sort of plush squishiness that makes me giggle while eating them!


Homemade vanilla marshmallows   -   makes 42

Ingredients:
1 tbsp icing sugar
1 tbsp rice flour
Vegetable oil for oiling tin and knife
25g gelatine powder
125ml hot water
1 tsp vanilla bean paste OR 2 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 drops (optional) red food colouring
2 egg whites
500g caster sugar
250ml water
Must-have equipment:
Free-standing mixer
Sugar thermometer
Butter knife
20cm square cake tin
Sieve
Method:

1. Sift the icing sugar and rice flour together in a bowl. Grease tin all over lightly with a few drops of oil and dust liberally with flour and sugar mixture on all sides. Set aside

2. Mix the 125ml of hot water with gelatine, red food colouring and vanilla with a wooden spoon until the gelatine has all dissolved. Set aside

3. Stand the food mixer on the bench near the stove (if possible). Put the egg whites into the bowl of the mixer

4. Put caster sugar and 250ml water into a medium sized pot. Stir with a wooden spoon over a low heat until sugar has completely dissolved, then stop! 

5. Rinse the sugar thermometer in hot water, then stand it in the pan. Increase heat to high and allow to boil. Meanwhile, switch on the mixer and whisk the egg whites until they're completly stiff, then switch to low. Don't worry about them too much, the air will collapse, but can be beaten up again!

6. The sugar need to boil until it reaches 122C (called 'hard ball' stage), so watch it carefully. Once it reaches this temperature, remove from the heat immediately. Take out the sugar thermometer

7. Pour the dissolved gelatine into the pan of syrup and stir with a wooden spoon until all combined

8. Switch the food mixer back onto high, get the egg whites firm again, then switch to low. Pour the syrup into the eggwhites, avoiding the beaters themselves. The mixture will turn creamy. Once all the syrup is poured, increase the speed and keep beating the mixture until it reaches 'ribbon stage', about the texture of semi-whipped cream

9. Pour the marshmallow into the prepared tin. Cover with a plate or another dish, and allow to set in a cool place (not the fridge). Give it about 2 hours, until slightly tacky to the touch, but firm.

10. Dust a chopping board with the rest of the flour/sugar mixture. Coat butter knife in a little oil, and run it along the edges. Carefully ease the mashmallow out of the tin onto the board using your hands, and the butter knife. It should peel out in one wobbly piece.
Using a sharp knife, rubbed with a little oil, slice the marshmallow into 7 strips, then each strip into 6 3cm x 3cm pieces. Dust the marshmallows all over with icing sugar, then eat!




Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Rainy days.. Wholemeal date and bran muffins.

After a hot, blustery day yesterday, today was a pleasant change to wake up to. With a gorgeous rain scent on the air and nothing particularly planned to do today, I set about relaxing, drinking tea and sending out job applications.

And.. maybe watching some 'Kitchen Nightmares'. It's a guilty pleasure.

I felt like something sweet, but healthy, so I turned to my favourite muffin recipe and baked these for the family to enjoy. The weather is still switching from rainy and windy, to sunny and full of Spring, but these have hit the spot as usual.

This is my favourite muffin recipe. Wholemeal or white flour, brown sugar or caster, frozen berries or dried fruit, this recipe is reliable every time I use it. It is simply wet ingredients into dry, and the batter can be whipped up in under 10 minutes~

Wholemeal date and bran muffins  -  makes 10 medium sized muffins

Ingredients:
220g wholemeal self raising flour
120g brown sugar (I didn't have any castor sugar, either will work)
100ml vegetable oil
150ml milk
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
150 added flavourings (in this case, 100g chopped dried dates and 50g bran cereal)

Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Line a muffin tin with 10 patty pans
  2. Put flour, sugar and dates into a bowl and mix together
  3. In another bowl, mix oil, egg, milk and vanilla together until well combined
  4. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mixed together gently. A lumpy batter makes a light muffin, so use a folding motion and don't beat too roughly
  5. Lastly add the bran and fold through gently
  6. Fill the patty pans 3/4 full, or with a heaped tablespoon
  7. Into the oven for 15 - 20 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean from the centre. 
  8. Enjoy warm with a cup of tea, best on a rainy day~