Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cooking it forward

GOODNESS ME! It has been a while. I have really wanted to add to my blog but life has taken a few turns and frankly, there has not been the time.

I started a new job back in August, or more accurately, had somewhat of a career change. So partly I have been busier, but more importantly, I have been learning a lot of new stuff and I have found it hard to concentrate on my creative pursuits.

But I am now beginning to come back here. I can not promise it will be with as much regularity as before, but there are definitely blog post which have been nagging my brain and really need to find a home here!

So on with the latest post.......

"Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation. "        Aristotle

I have had thoughts of engaging in some kind of altruistic pursuit for some time now. I do have the core belief that if your life and standard of living is good, then, as well as being grateful for your good fortune, one should give back to the community in some way.  This has certainly been even more in my mind ever since I left the front line of the health care industry some months ago.
Back in October I held a charity lunch to raise money for the Oxfam organisation to assist them in their efforts during the famine in East Africa. The idea was that I would invite as many people as I could fit around my tables and cook them a 3 course meal. There was a suggested donation and all of the money raised would be sent directly to Oxfam. It was a fantastic day & we ended up serving lunch to 20 people. Everyone had a great time. There were extra donations made, both monetarily and with extra home made food provided by one of our guests in the form of some gorgeous home-grown and cured olives, home made salami and home made red wine!

THE MENU......



eggplant, broad bean & garden pea timbale

with marinated feta heart


wood fired oven slow roasted pork

green apple, red onion & sage roasted chutney

roasted potatoes

green bean and rocket salad


raspberry Crème brûlée with orange tuiles

Here are some pictures of the day by our good friend and talented photographer Adam Hacking....

Floral designs by Niddrie Flowers

The entree and main courses

Dessert of Crème brûlée

Some of those devine home prepared olives

The recipe I would like to share with you in this post is Crème Brûlée.

I have noticed that whenever I mention Crème Brûlée people seem to respond as though they think that this is a tricky and complex dessert for a home cook and feel that most would not have the expertise to pull it off.

Well I would like to blow that myth apart right now!

The truth is Crème Brûlée is so easy that my young children could make it (for the most part) and there is no more expertise involved than making your average cake. In fact, arguably, there is less.

All Crème brûlée is, is a custard which cooks in a bain marie in the oven, covered in a thin layer of toffee. It's that toffee, and how to achieve it, that freaks everyone out!

Yes. You need to use a blow torch. Kitchen stores sell the re-fillable kind... but my discovery is that they tend to be expensive and a pain to keep re-filling. So I investigated my local hardware store for an alternative. BINGO! They have far sturdier hand held blow torch nozzles for around $30 which attach to very cheap disposable gas canisters! (about $5 - $10) This means no refilling which is far safer and less of a hassle for the user. Go check it out, you will not be disappointed!

A few tips on Crème Brûlée before we move on to the recipe.

If you are going to make these for a dinner party, save yourself much stress and pressure by making them the day before. They will benefit greatly from spending a whole day in the fridge. When it comes time to serve, all you need to do is the toffee coating.

When choosing a ramekin, take note of the volume. Measure the amount of millilitres it holds with some water before you start and calculate how many ramekins you will need. This recipe is based on 4 x 250 ml but you could adjust to smaller or larger.

You can use any fruit in this recipe. I have used frozen raspberries because they are easy and always great. You can use fresh fruit but keep in mind that if its a firm fruit like apple or pear, you may need to cook it before including it.

When preparing a bain-marie, avoid disaster by following these rules: 
  • Pre heat your oven.
  • Boil a full kettle of water.
  • Place the ramekins into an empty , deep baking dish and place onto your oven shelf. DON'T CLOSE THE OVEN DOOR YET. You are not finished.
  •  Take your freshly boiled kettle of water, and gently pour into the baking dish in the oven, around the ramekins, until the water reaches about 1/2 - 2/3 of the way up the sides of the ramekins.
Gently slide the shelf in to the oven and close the door.

This avoids accidentally sloshing water, burning your hands and ruining your lovingly prepared Brûlée.

With regard to oven temperature, always err on the side of caution and underestimate your temperature. I prefer an oven that is a little bit cooler than the recipe states to avoid over heating the eggs and curdling. All it means is that the dessert spends a few more minutes in the oven setting, but that is time well spent, if it means avoiding curdling. 

Crème Brûlée & Orange Tuiles


75g caster sugar

5 egg yolks

100g raspberries (frozen if fresh unavailable)

50 mls milk

450 mls thickened cream

1 vanilla pod or 1 teaspoon vanilla paste

caster sugar for topping



55g butter
60g caster sugar
2 egg whites, unbeaten
65g flour
finely grated zest of 2 oranges


Pre heat the oven to 140°C. In a medium bowl whisk the sugar and eggs together.
Divide raspberries evenly between 4 x 1 cup ramekin dishes. Heat the milk and cream along with the scraped vanilla bean. Transfer to the egg mixture and mix until combined. Transfer to a large jug and pour into the ramekins.
Place in a bainmarie of hot water and bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Allow to cool and set, then chill in the fridge.
Sprinkle the tops with a thin layer of caster sugar. Using blow torch in constant movements, melt sugar until golden.

TUILESPreheat oven to 160°C. Whip butter and sugar by hand until pale. Fold in egg whites slowly and follow with zest and flour.
Rest for 20 minutes and then spread onto a baking tray covered with baking paper to desired shape, using a palette knife. 

Bake for 10- 12 minutes or until just golden.
Serve with Crème Brûlée.

This whole day was a very worthwhile exercise and I will definitely be doing it again. Everyone was in a great mood and a bunch of people, many of whom had not met before, got together for a meal and a great cause. Combining my hobby with sharing a great day with friends and being able to use that to give back to people in need was very satisfying. In the end, we raised close to $700.

I had been tweeting about my lunch and hash tagging Oxfam to help create some buzz around the event generally. As a reward for my effort, the awesome people at Oxfam noticed and sent me a gorgeous hamper filled with fair trade Oxfam goods!

To find out more about Oxfam and all the projects, events and products they support and provide, take a look here.

I love getting feedback on how my recipes have worked out for you or what you think of what I'm saying or cooking. All responses graciously received!

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Gift giving dilemma? The answer is BAKING!

I recently joined a good friend in celebrating his birthday. It was not a 'significant' birthday, and just a lovely casual Sunday brunch at a cafe. In the days leading up to the birthday get-together, I pondered the question of what to give? I didn't want to turn up empty handed, of course. The intention is to show the person that you are happy for them, that you think they are special and the friendship you share is important to you, right? How can you communicate that in a gift?

Usually we try to buy something that the person will enjoy or find useful, but very often we end up getting whatever is easiest and honestly, not that much thought is involved.

I personally find men particularly difficult to buy gifts for. But in this instance, it occured to me in a moment of pure inspiration; this guy always loves my cakes. So why not just make him a cake?

And that is exactly what I did. Cooking something can really be the perfect gift. It not only conveys to the person how you feel about them, it shows that you think enough of them to do more than walk into a store and use your credit card. It is something that can be enjoyed and shared.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Cool Yule

Readers from the northern hemisphere of this planet might be slightly confused about the subject of this blog post. Let me explain...

Christmas here in Australia is a summer affair. It comes right in the middle of out summer holidays and the temperature can be between 30 - 40 degrees C depending on which part of the country you're in. So we modify the traditional Christmas fare to be more suitable to the climate. Luscious seafood, and sumptuous salads rule the day. The traditional meats of turkey, pork and ham make appearances but are usually served as cold cuts and barbecuing might be considered a suitable method of cooking, to keep the cooking heat outside the house.

I spent several years living in England and really enjoyed the winter Christmas times. Eating all that winter weather food made specially for a big celebration has an appeal all of it's own, and it's a bright spot to look forward to in the middle of the bleak grey winter. It's also something that we miss out on here in the southern hemisphere.

Celebrating a second Christmas in July is something that has become quite popular in foodie circles. I usually hold mine on the last weekend in July but I spend a good proportion of the prededing year thinking about and testing the recipes intended for my very special menu. It's an opportunity to stretch my culinary muscles, and push my creativity. It's also a chance to just focus on the food rather than all the other stressful things that go with December Christmases like relatives and gift shopping!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The gift of vanilla

I was talking to a foodie friend recently who had been to Paris and taken a cooking class while he was there.
He was generous enough to share with me, a tip he had learned during his class. I was so excited when I heard it, I nearly jumped out of my skin and couldn't wait to try it!
Home made vanilla extract!

The first step is to obtain some vanilla beans. Now, anyone who has ever purchased vanilla by the pod knows how expensive they are. But they tend to be less expensive when purchased in bulk. There are traders on websites like eBay who sell them for round $1 each in quantities of 50 or 100. Seems like a lot of beans, but not when you consider that this method preserves them indefinitely. You can also prepare small quantities in small jars to give as beautiful unique gifts for your foodie friends.
And this is what I did... except I made a huge jar!

Friday, June 17, 2011

THE Dessert

My oven is broken. Yes I know, get it fixed... But I've already had it fixed twice in the past 18 months. So it's time to say goodbye to our faithful oven that has helped us through many dinner parties, family gatherings, experimental recipes and weeknight dinners. After 14 years I'm quite sad to see it go. Many don't really get why the loss of the oven, and the acquisition of the replacement is such a big deal. But for us, the oven is a focal point of our kitchen. Our Kitchen is the heart of our home and therefore, and essential part of life as we know it.

Lacking an oven has forced me to think of other ways to cook when I usually rely on old faithful to bake to perfection for me.

We had a family lunch this weekend and dessert is usually the requested dish for us to bring. After a little bit of popping our heads together, we thought of making Tiramisu. No baking, in fact, no cooking of any kind required, unless you count the brewing of the coffee of course.
I remembered a recipe I'd seen on the SBS programme, 'Italian Food Safari' a while ago and so I sort out the recipe. You can find that recipe that SBS published here.  Although this one has a little cooking, (some hot sugar syrup), it is really an easy enough thing considering the impressiveness of the result.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Queen Of Tarts

Tart tatin is a french classic and once you've tasted it, it's easy to see why. Once you've tried making it you realize that it ticks all the boxes of complexity of flavour and texture while being astonishingly simple and fast to prepare. Tart tatin is also a feast for the eyes when served, looking like a work of patisserie art on the plate.

My husband David likes to perform his party trick of whipping one up from scratch in front of dinner guests in only a few moments, and I have to admit that is is a sight to behold, when presented to the table, to murmurings of delight.
As always, I am compelled to create my own variation on the classic. Right now I am experimenting with making individual tatins of various sizes and with various flavorings. This is my current favorite and the one I want to share with you .

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Sandwich That Wins The Race

My Racing Chicken Sandwiches

This dish began, several years ago while we had a team of people working for us at the spring racing carnival. Since I always like to keep the team well fed, I was looking for a snack that was substantial to be part of a proper luncheon, yet small enough to be held in one hand to eat, assuming the other hand carries a glass of champagne. I couldn't go past the finger sandwich for it's ease and neatness, and chicken is the classic filling.
So after a little bit of experimentation The Racing Chicken Sandwich was born.(or is that hatched?)
This mixture can be whipped up in just a few minutes, and I discovered, can be frozen to be used another day. So I have taken to making batches in advance so that on the day they're required I just spread it on the bread and slice them into fingers. And they are really popular! So much so, I decided it was time to publish the recipe for those who've been seeking it.