December 31, 2009

Last day of 2009

Happy New Year!!
Can you believe another year is coming to a grinding halt? A lot has happened for us this year and I am just trying to keep track of it all. The boys seemed to turn a corner and grew more inches than I'd like, thus my food bill also took a mighty hit. I also learnt I am now officially a tight a....! Yep, after my little shopping expedition last night and Nic questioning my thought pattern I am now in the running for a NYE resolution, maybe.....
I popped down the street last night to pick up some meat for dinner. The kids were eating leftovers from the night before so it was just Nic and I. We had a splash of wine in the fridge along with some yummy feta cheese, so I thought some lamb would be great.
As I was looking in the butcher's window I almost had a heart attack- lamb back strap $46.95 a kilo! "Wow" I said to the fresh faced young butcher looking for a sale "when did lamb become so expensive?" "Well, that IS the premium cut, miss"- for that price it would want to be!
It's about this stage a switch went on in my head without me knowing and I began vying for the best cut......or should I call it how it was and just say it....the cheapest cut, meaning the smallest.
'This is a lovely piece' said my fresh faced butcher 'It's only $16!'

In the end I bought a piece of lamb back strap for $10. Thinking I'd got a good price I marched on home to tell Nic the outrageous meat prices hoping to get a "good for you!"  All I was greeted with was a look on his face as if to say "what are you talking about?"
"$16 bucks isn't that much, I mean it is only $8 per person so that is pretty good"
Damn him and his common sense, he is right of course: I ended up buying us a piece of meat each for $5, however, we only ended up with about 100 grams each. He didn't laugh when I told him it was my weight watchers meal plan!
I screwed up, which is plain to see. I am still in the mind set that we have to watch every penny, we can't buy meat unless it is a bargain price but the reality is we have moved up in the finance world. We aren't living on a student stipend with two kids anymore, we actually have two full time jobs. I don't walk around the store with a calculator anymore, nor do I have to come up with 101 ways to cook with cauliflower and potatoes, so why do I feel the need to hunt for a deal?
I'm guessing it is pure habit and in my own defence a very good one.
For the New Year I have decided to embrace the life of a dual working family instead of looking at all the negative aspects and I have also decided to loosen the strings on the past. I will never stop hunting for a bargain but I will stop and think about the true value of things.
I am sorry Nic for building your hopes up on the beautiful lamb dinner and reverting to my old habit of putting a few slices of meat on the plate with lashings of potatoes. Next year I promise that if I am going to cook lamb I'll buy it for what it is, not what a great deal I got- this way you won't just remember the salad!

December 28, 2009

Roasted quail salad

All holiday guests have hopped on planes back home, the rain has settled in on Sydney and I think it is a perfect time to reminisce about our Christmas lunch. Of course it would of been better to blog on the evening of the 25th but that was not possible- one too many glasses of plonk, a tummy full of fabulous food, not to mention all the star wars lego that needed to be fixed and re built.
If I am cooking Christmas day Nic always likes to fix a course for us to start with. He usually makes a delicious salad of some sort and this year was no exception. He came across a recipe in Stephanie Alexander's 'Cooks Companion' for a pigeon and fig salad.
 "Why don't you see if you can pick up a pigeon while your down the street shopping".
 Sure I thought and perhaps if I can't manage to pick one up at the local butcher I'd shoot one from the sky, pluck it and have it ready for you to cook! This is when I suggested quail as a good substitute.
As Nic is accustom to my sarcasm he shot back with "what ever is easier for you".

I took Tarsh (my sister) along with me on the day before Christmas food shopping expedition as I thought it might get a bit ugly- people pulling and grabbing for the last punnet of strawberries, people standing on other peoples toes at the fish market vying for the best oysters, prawns and crayfish... I was happily surprised at how relaxed and normal everyone was. We were able to buy 90% of ingredients needed, managed to pick up a packet of fresh quail (a little disappointed I didn't get to knock off one of the rats from the sky myself) and make it home in time for a cuppa and a slice of December cake.

The beauty with Nic's version of Stephanie's salad was minimal prep allowing you to get it all ready while the quails are roasting in the oven. So we weren't without food for half a minute I whipped up some oysters Kilpatrick for Tarsh (she can't stand a-la-natural) and we began our Christmas feast with fresh prawns drizzled in lime, Sydney rock oysters and some pistachios while we waited for the quail to roast.

If you are wondering, my kids like many other kids and think oysters are disgusting! I have managed to get Max into eating prawns however Alex is still unsure and just likes to rip the heads off and make loud YUCK! noises as he is doing so. I am in no hurry for them to enjoy the delicate flavour of an oyster, it is bad enough I have to share the blue cheese with Alex, I don't think I could stand handing over an oyster seeing as I still only have them on special occasions.

Ok back to the salad, once quails have roasted on 210 degree for about 15 minutes they need to be 'rested' in foil. This is when you wash the baby endive, cut the fresh figs into halves or quarters and whip up your dressing. (Nic used a good red wine vinegar, e.v.olive oil with a good pinch of sea salt and cracked pepper).
Now the quails are rested and cooled a little you need to pick all the meat from their little bodies. When you have all the warm meat, toss it in with the baby endive and sprinkle with a little sea salt and cracked pepper followed with a good feta cheese. Drizzle on a bit of your dressing, toss and then place figs on each serving plate. Place quail mix in the middle and drizzle on a little extra dressing.

Such a simple and clean salad. The figs are a perfect match with the rich quail meat and creamy, salty  feta. Endive is quite bitter which is an acquired taste (one the kids decided rather quickly they didn't like) however when combined with everything else you just didn't want it to end. A perfect salad for summer and goes beautifully with a cold glass of semillon.
Nic set the bar high as per usual so I had a bit of sweat on the collar when it was my turn to head toward the kitchen and begin the next course, however I'll leave that for another day.

December 26, 2009

Boxing Day leftover brioche

Today, or should I say this evening (due to internet overload this has been the first time I've been able to get on!) is Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. I can't wait to share in the delights of our Christmas lunch with you all but I feel I have to tell you all about our traditional Christmas day berry brioche which really needs a whole page to itself.
From the time Nic and I got together 10+ years ago and I learn't how to make a really yummy brioche dough (thanks to my dear friend Ant) we have celebrated every Christmas morning with a batch of brioche and a bottle of bubbly. One of the best parts about making this recipe is the fact that we get to have 'leftovers' on Boxing day so this morning after a gruelling hill run (that would be me dragging my sister up and down the hills of North Sydney), we got to sit down for the second time and eat our wonderful, buttery delights.

I make the dough the night before then after the boys have ripped into their santa stockings I roll in the berries and prove the dough while I make a quick dash for the shower. By the time the brioche have puffed and are ready to be baked we have opened presents, showered and are ready to pop the cork on the bubbly and tuck into the brioche.
Another plus for boxing day is the fact that they are all ready to go, all you need to do is to turn on the  oven and warm through. Tarsh thinks they taste even better on the second day however I am a purist and love the fist bite just after baking. I think the brioche is about the only thing my 4 year old eats on Christmas day. The excitement (not to mention all the chocolate they get to eat Christmas morning) is all to much for him (and I remember Max doing the same thing between the ages of 3-5) so he devours a brioche and  then basically nibbles at the rest of the daily feast. If he is anything like his brother, by the time he is 7 he'll be eating me out of prawns and turkey.......

Berry brioche
5 tablespoons warm water
pinch sugar
2 tablespoons dry yeast
60g sugar (approx. 3 tablespoons)
600g plain flour
2 teaspoons salt
6 eggs
350g unsalted cold butter, diced

1/3 cup extra sugar
2 cups frozen mixed berries

In a medium bowl add yeast and sugar to warm water, stir with wooden spoon then leave for 5 minutes to ferment.
In a mixing bowl add remaining sugar, flour and salt.
With dough hook slowly turning add fermented yeast then one egg at a time.
When all eggs are added, add cold butter cubes and mix until well combined.
Butter will still be in lumps but that is all OK.
Once well combined (after 3-4 minutes) remove dough hook, cover with glad wrap and pop in the fridge until needed. Minimum 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 180 (350), turn out dough, sprinkle flour on board and roll into a log. Cut into 12 equal parts, with a rolling pin, roll into discs, sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of extra sugar then add mixed berries (approx. 2 tablespoons per disc).
Spray a muffin tin then add each folded brioche to tin.
Prove dough in a warm place for 20-30 minutes then bake for 20 minutes or until golden.
Serve warm.

December 23, 2009

Rocky road overload

I think I have gone to far......I didn't think it was possible to NEVER want to eat another piece of rocky road ever again but I am heading close to that level of chocolate and sweet overload!!
See, I can't even write a proper sentence. I made some last week for clients to wish them 'Merry Christmas' and thought I should make some for my own family.
 Last week I was to busy to eat a couple mallows as I was making the mixture.....last week I was to pre occupied to dip marshmallows in the warm chocolate and then shovel them into my mouth two, three at a time and last week I didn't think twice about eating the end bits of firm rocky road while trying to cut them into squares.
THIS WEEK I did all of the above and loved every minute of it UNTIL the choccy come down hit me and now I feel like a big nap and some Tums!
If you feel an urge to whip up a batch then I totally encourage you to try this rocky road with dried cranberries, mixed nuts and figs BUT I urge you to not fill up on the mellows and warm chocolate while in the process of making, otherwise by the time you feel like trying a piece of your own it will be to late because family and friends would of polished it off days ago and all you'll be left with is an empty container!

Rocky Road
1 pkt marshmallows
1/2 cup dried cranberries
6-8 dried figs roughly chopped
1 cup mixed nuts (unsalted or salted it is up to you)
350g chocolate, melted
3/4 cup shredded coconut

Line a 30 x 25 cm tray with wax paper and lightly spray with cooking spray then set aside.
In a large bowl add the first 4 ingredients and mix to combine.
Once chocolate has melted, pour all over ingredients in bowl and stir well.
Pour into pan, until all chocolate has covered ingredients.
Sprinkle with coconut and place in the fridge until hard (aprox. 2 hours)
Remove from tray, peel off wax paper and cut into squares. Store in an air tight container.

December 22, 2009

4 ingredients

Last night was my turn to make dinner. It was the end of a long day, I was tired and had no thoughts on what to cook. As Nic and I sat down for our evening beer to relax and unwind I asked what he fancied thinking it would be something Asian. "Pasta, I could eat some pasta" was his reply.
With that I finished my beer and headed for the kitchen, I knew we had bacon in the fridge so I was thinking maybe a spot of carbonara, then I spotted a chilli- nice a little heat to give it a kick, then I thought maybe I'll give this '4 ingredient' idea a go. (For all of you who haven't heard of the 4 ingredients- basically two ladies got together and wrote a cookbook using a maximum of 4 ingredients per recipe. They sold millions and millions of copies and haven't looked back).
So to start with I had my pasta, chilli and bacon that left me with the addition of only one more ingredient. I had to choose between onion and parmesan. I was stuck!
After a few moments of deliberation I decided to go with the parmesan, however as I open the fridge I spot a bunch of basil. Come on I mean you can't go wrong with bacon, chilli and basil but where were my veggies? I'm always telling the kids they MUST have salad or veggies with the evening meal so how was I going to fit it all in?
I think it took me all of 5 seconds to dump the idea of 4 ingredients and go with 4 x 4 plus a few more instead. The following recipe was mighty fine, took maybe 5 minutes longer than if I'd only used the original 3 ingredients and in my families opinion tasted AWESOME!
I take my hat off to the ladies who invented the concept but I'm going to have to take a pass on the concept until maybe Friday when my cupboards will be bare and I'll be rattling through the kitchen trying to find 4 ingredients!

 4 ingredient pasta- NOT
1 pkt spaghetti
1 tablespoon butter
3 rashers of bacon, finely shredded
1 medium onion, small dice
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 red birds eye chilli, finely sliced
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 4 cm pieces (about 1 inch)
3/4 cup frozen baby peas
1/2 cup shredded basil leaves
1/2 cup shaved parmesan

Pop on a pot of water to boil with a pinch of salt.
Cut all ingredients and have them set out on a plate ready to go.
Melt butter in a large frying pan, once bubbles appear add bacon and stir.
Put pasta on to cook and add onion and garlic to bacon, saute on MEDIUM heat to soften onion.
Add chilli, asparagus and peas with a pinch of salt and a good grind of pepper.
Saute for a few minutes then add about 1/3 cup of pasta water to make a sauce.
Drain pasta, turn off heat for sauce.
Add pasta, basil and parmesan- stir to combine then serve.

Note: the chilli really didn't have that much heat in it so the kids were fine, however if you don't want to add it, it will still taste fabulous!

December 21, 2009

Swedish candy & honey comb

OK so now it is time to admit I made a mistake in the kitchen- wow who would of thought right? (who am I kidding, it happens all the time and I just call it 'creating', that's my story and I am sticking to it!). However, this time round I couldn't blag my way out of it. You see the weather was not on my side and I don't know why for the life of me I decided to make honey comb and then coat it in chocolate on what was one of the hottest days in Sydney last week.
I started off in high confidence, I hadn't made honeycomb for about a year or so and I wanted to make sure I made it correctly. Sugar and glucose boiling away- all good, I even got the colouring almost perfect without a candy thermometer so I was feeling pretty happy despite the constant trickle of sweat running down my back.
The disaster happened when I started to cover the honey comb with chocolate. I kind of forgot I needed a 'controlled' temperate room! Despite my actions of popping the chocolate covered honey comb in front of a fan and then last resorts putting it in the fridge (big no,no but I was desperate) it was NOT firming up. Right at this critical point of me loosing it the boys just happen to walk into the kitchen asking for food and trying to stick their fingers in the melted chocolate which sent me on a 5 minute rant about god knows what. All I do know is they didn't wait around to see if mum had time to whip them up a light snack (I think psycho mummy popped out).
Anyway taking Nic's advice and moving right along, I decided to make the  delicious looking Swedish toffee I had been reading about in the latest Saveur magazine- which is a seriously good issue this month. The candy I am referring to is on page 59 and I am sure you can find it at . It is called Polkagriskola (peppermint caramels).

After reading the recipe and then re reading it I decided I should be able to make it without freaking out and thinking I am totally useless. I am happy to report the recipe was a snap, I didn't have a thermometer but it didn't seem to matter, the results were wonderful. A delicious caramel toffee that was full of flavour and irresistible!
In the end I wrapped the caramels in cellophane and turned them into lollies for gifts. My honeycomb didn't make it I'm afraid, by the time the heat dropped and the chocolate had finally firmed up, my honey comb was tacky and sticky so I ditched the lot and decided to only make it in winter!

December 20, 2009

December cooking

I can't tell you how happy I am to be back on line again! In the past month since my online life was wiped out from under neath my fingertips I have kept up the kitchen frenzy in hopes of getting back to blogging before Chrissy was done and dusted.
I have learnt how to take photos on my iphone and have now downloaded them to our newly bolted down computer, so it is with great pleasure I bring you a photo update of my cooking festivities. Please note that the pictures are not that great but bare with me and they will get better -- I promise!
Ok so where do I start???? Oh, it must be with the good old Christmas cake, a favourite of Nic's. I will admit it was never something I looked forward to as the Holiday season approached, however, since being married to Nic I have come to love it.
 My favourite version comes from my wonderful friend Wendy who was making her Christmas cake one cool day in Lexington, VA this time a year (or was it two?) back. The smell was intoxicating and I just had to jump the fence to see what she was up to. When she told me I think I said something along the lines of 'Oh that's nice.....I can't stand glacĂ© cherries', with that she answered 'me too!' I quickly asked for the recipe, bought the 5 tonnes of dried fruit needed for it and proceeded my yearly tradition of a Christmas cake -- something Nic is very happy with.
This year I decided to give in to my husband's request and popped on some multi coloured glacé cherries (the boys seem to have the same love for the awful, sweet yet sour little balls of yuck!), I thought if I only pop them on the top layer then I am sure to see them before I take a far I have only bitten into two of them, two too many so guess who isn't putting them in next years cake!
Anyway to cut a long story short, cakes were made and then the boys helped me decorate them with royal icing, they managed to get green and red food colouring all over my wooden chopping board (I almost have it out) and then Alex suggested we call it a December cake because we are eating it before Christmas so it is silly to call it a Christmas cake.
Trust Alex to put that much thought into it, so as of December 09 the Bakers will now refer to it as December cake. Not that he eats it, Alex licks off the icing, sucks on the cherries and leaves the brandy soaked fruit on his plate which does nothing for mum and dad's waist line!
Well that is the story of our Christmas/December cake, I was going to fill you in on the honeycomb, Swedish lollies and rocky-road but I think I should save something for tomorrow.

It is fabulous to be back online and I wish you all HAPPY HOLIDAYS!