January 31, 2010

Kerrygold Rocks!

If you have been a reader of this blog for a while or even had a look round on the side bar you would know I have been a fan of Kerrygold butter and cheeses ever since I was introduced to them as a chef in Chicago 6 years ago.
 When I was pastry chef at Campagnola restaurant I managed to talk the owner (Steve) and head chef (Vince) into buying it (not really a hard sell at all!), for the goodness of us all.
 I am so excited to share with you all a very special honour I have been given by Kerrygold and that is to have one of my most sort after dessert dishes displayed on their website. I have the pleasure of adding a version of my family's sticky date pudding recipe to their 'foodie friends' pages and I couldn't be more pleased.
This dessert was always sold out at the restaurant and even after I decided to retire it from the menu due to seasonal changes I think it was most requested year round. So for all you die hard SDP fans click on to Kerrygold's website and go make yourself a fantastic pudding. For those of you who live in Australia and countries Kerrygold doesn't supply,  I think we need to get a petition started for its arrival to our shores.

And on a side note, for those of you who have seen Kerrygold in the stores and never tried it....shame on you, go do yourself a favour and buy a block of the salted butter, you'll never look back!

January 30, 2010


The other day at work I had a request for Florentine biscuits from one of my clients. When I saw the email I thought for a minute on what to do. Do I go and buy them or make them? The only reason I thought this was because EVERY time I have made Florentines they end up dry and terrible. It's baked goods like these that have kept me out of the pastry section of kitchens for years!

 I ran down to our local patisserie shop and saw their florentines and pretty well made up my mind to make them as soon as I saw them. For 80 cents you got a florentine about as big as a 20 cent piece which looked like no love was put into them at all- I just couldn't do it.
Scanning the internet for a recipe was an interesting venture, a lot of recipes with cornflakes and condensed milk (which just didn't seem right to me), looking further I found a few recipes that just sounded like all the other florentine recipes I had used to no avail. Finally I came across one on www.cooks.com

The recipe looked like it was going to be sticky (due to the fact it had honey, cream and butter in it) so I thought what the hey and got down to business. I have to tell you when I look through recipes I usually only look at the ingredients and if they seem OK I'll then buy the bits and bobs then read the method just before I begin. Quite silly really, I think is has something to do with me never really following a recipe to a T (sadly I do the same with my own recipes!). A bad habit that was just about to teach me a lesson.

You see I weighed everything out and was ready to go- put the sugar, cream etc into saucepan and on the heat before reading any further. "...boil until the candy thermometer registers 240 degrees...."
Dammit! I have always meant to buy a candy thermometer but never really got there.
What to do? They were due out within the hour and I didn't have time to buy a thermometer so I bit the bullet, through caution to the wind and trusted my instinct to not stuff up.
 The recipe did state ".....or until a firm ball is formed". I waited for the 'firm ball' HA what a joke. I had a lot of bubbles but nothing looked like a firm ball to me so again I trusted my gut and  took it off the heat when I thought it was best.
I am not sure if I was 100% right BUT they looked a beautiful golden brown when the almonds were thrown in and the honey, butter combo was intoxicating- I felt I did OK.

Following the rest of the recipe I was feeling pretty good until I took the trays out of the oven and found my little teaspoon sized balls had all run into each other and all that was left was a thin toffee, almond layer.

Nothing a cookie cutter couldn't fix so after getting toffee burns on 80% of my finger tips I finally had these little babies kinda looking like Florentines and the best part was they set!
Of course Sydney being Sydney the day was humid and heavy so once I brushed on some chocolate it was straight into the fridge with them.
I managed to deliver them to the client on time and held my breath that the chocolate didn't melt entirely. Of course there were left overs so the family and I have been enjoying Florentines with our cup of tea in the mid afternoon- so very civilised!
 If your in the mood for a challenge then go ahead and make a batch but probably a good idea to nip out and grab a candy thermometer or blow the dust off the one you have in your bottom draw.
Good Luck!

Florentine cookies
1/2 cup castor sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup honey
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
120g (4oz) dried fruit finely chopped (I used dates and cranberries)
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
160g (6 oz) blanched sliced almonds
3 tablespoons plain flour
1/2 cup dark chocolate buds, melted with 1 tablespoon butter

Combine sugar, cream, honey and butter in a small saucepan and bring to the boil
Once boiling place in candy thermometer and wait for it to register 240 degrees, or until lots of big bubbles form and it turns a light golden brown colour.
Remove from heat and stir in dried fruit, lemon rind, almonds and flour.
Stir until well combined.
Drop small teaspoons of batter on greased proof paper leaving room between each spoonful.
Flatten each cookie with a fork dipped in milk (very helpful)
Bake for 8 minutes or until they look golden and bubbly.
Remove and immediately shape with a round greased cookie cutter.
When cookie rounds are firm, remove from sheet and cool completly.
Coat back of each cookie with the melted chocolate and butter. Leave to set (fridge works really well!)
Makes about 14-16
Note: I have changed a few ingredients, original recipe uses 4oz ground candied orange peel instead of lemon zest and dried fruit.

January 29, 2010

Shitake mushrooms

I thought I'd squeeze in a little flavour before I head out the door for work.
When I made the soba noodle salad for Australia Day I simmered fresh shitake mushrooms in a beautiful broth I was taught by one of my Head chefs (what seems like ions ago!). Chef Thomas was German, a big burley looking bloke with a very furrowed brow, he use to walk through the Sheraton kitchens with his sous chef (an Austrian) looking very scary- that was until you got to know him and he really was a gentle giant. Anyway chef T was an executive chef over in Asian for quite a number of years before he landed the Sheraton in Hobart, Tasmania and he had many tricks up his sleeve, he wasn't all about the sauerkraut and sausage as I first thought.
This recipe has stuck with me all these years because it is so tasty, versatile and once your mushrooms are soft you can store them in the fridge for about a week. The broth works well on both fresh and dried shitakes so when your stir fry needs a bit of a lift or you want to add them to a salad you will be really please with the result.
Of course the kids think they are alien poops but they think that about any vegetable that is brown! I figure when they can eat a roast mushroom without dry reaching perhaps then I will offer them a tender, flavour sodden shitake but until then they are all mine......and Nic's

Shitake broth

1 cup chicken broth (or veg if vego)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1-2 red chillies split in half
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 inch piece ginger sliced
5 stems of coriander (cilantro)
1 pkt or 1/2 cup shitake mushrooms fresh or dried

Add all the ingredients together adn bring to the boil.
Once boiling turn down to a simmer.
Simmer until mushrooms are soft in the centre
Cool and store in your broth.
Remove shitake from liquid and slice thinly when required

Note: Dry mushrooms will take longer than fresh, about 10 minutes

January 27, 2010

Australia Day picinic

Yesterday was the perfect day for some summer frolicking. I can't really remember the last time I celebrated Australia Day as an adult. When I was a kid, mum and dad use to throw legendary Australia day parties in the back yard. Friends would come in the mid morning and not leave until the wee hours of the evening. Children were all tucked up in bed exhausted with pool hopping, games of cricket and general mucking about while the adults kicked on in the back yard. My sister and I would wake up the next morning to left over pavlova and the classic chocolate mints......the good old days!
The night before Australia day Nic was due home around 11ish so I had to stay awake to let him in- I thought what better time to whip up a pav shell?  Making a pavlova really isn't that hard you just need zero humidity and control of your oven- two things I didn't have.
Sydney is constantly wrapped up in a blanket of humidity and while my gas oven is very good, I am still not to sure of the real temperature as someone has come along and painted on dots to tell me the approximate temperature before 200 degrees. The pavlova turned out fine. Ok so it was browner than I would of liked but the shell was crisp and the middle soft so I went to bed happily knowing I'd at least accomplished one task.
Waking up the next morning I had to begin my prep for the rest of the picnic. Chicken wings with a soba noodle salad. I used a favourite marinade of mine- coriander (cilantro) roots and stems pounded with whole white peppercorns, a fresh chilli, garlic, fish sauce and palm sugar. This is a wonderful Thai style marinade that works beautifully every time. Although I do have good little eaters, Max and Alex are not interested in this, so I marinated their wings in Chinese black vinegar, honey, garlic and soy sauce, this marinade is a family favourite and works every time, the wings get all brown and sticky and you can't help but lick your fingers even after the wings are all gone.
The soba noodle salad is a wonderful, easy, healthy and delicious salad to whip up. I first got shown this salad by a fabulous chef I use to work for- Anthony Green who is now part owner of Fabulous fine foods  in Melbourne. We use to whip up batches of this salad and finish it with sweet soy and black sesame seeds- crowds would devour it in seconds. My version was slightly different but the concept is still the same- quick and flavoursome.
Once you have cooked the noodles (following packet instructions), strain and toss through sesame oil. I use about 1 tablespoon per two bunches of noodles. Pop in the fridge to cool while you prepare the salad of cherry tomatoes, ripped mint and coriander (cilantro) leaves, spring onions, chopped shittake mushrooms- (I soak these but I'll let you in on that tomorrow) and shredded snow peas.
When all your ingredients are ready combine with noodles, pour on some sweet soy sauce (kecap manis), toss and serve.

Within two hours I had a delicious picnic ready to go. A friend from Melbourne was up so we headed down to the beach for a wonderful day of sun and surf. The picnic was devoured in seconds while the sun burn still lingers on but hey, we got out there showed the kids a true Aussie tradition of making the most out of your public holiday and now it is back to business, school uniforms to buy, work to be done and leftover pav to be consumed for breakfast!

January 24, 2010

What am I like?

The holiday is over girlfriend, so why is it you haven't been blogging? where are you Mamma?

Last night I thought I'd write a blog and pretend I hadn't really missed weeks of prime blogging time. As I sat down and started to type it really wasn't happening. Have I lost my mojo? ........no that can't be right, I love blogging, photographing food and generally driving my family crazy with 'hang on, you can eat after a few more photos' or 'hold that shot for just a second'.

 I think what it boils down to is too much going on and not enough good meals being cooked and consumed. This is a fault of mine, I have never been good at cooking for one. What about the kids I hear you say? well your right but when my number one eater goes off for a weeks worth of sleepovers and all that is left is me and my number two who only ever wants to eat pasta with green beans and cheese, and if I serve up anything different I have to deal with an hour of tears and tantrums I really do have to ask myself- is it really worth it?
I can't remember that last time I was tested this much? (well actually I can but I have put it behind me).
We all must learn from our mistakes and I do believe this will be the last time I start up a new business while adding on another business (that needs a whole new kitchen built none the less), have my husband disappear overseas for three weeks and trying to be a sole parent over the last few weeks of school holidays. Dare I say it but it is HARD WORK! I am having a whinge and a rant because I think I might loose the plot if I pretend all is A OK.

With hubby back from Italy Tuesday, school starting back Friday and (please if there is a God out there I need a little divine interference) our construction permit passed Monday then I think I could quite possibly pull myself around the corner, lift myself back up off the floor and make it all work.
 There will be a blog about food, family and fun coming up really, really soon however I thought I should just let you all know I haven't gone mad, had my hands chopped off or flown the coupe, I just got a little sidetracked with life and lost my wheels a little.
I figure Australia Day is coming up on Tuesday so a perfect day to make a fabulous traditional Aussie lunch with pavlova, cold roast chicken and a few other bibs and bobs to bring Family of Foodies back to life- promise.

January 8, 2010

Arwen's family chocolate cake

One of the best things about going on holiday is the fact that you rest, eat and relax. So far we have done all of the above- a little more eating than we really need but I figure we'll get back on track once we are back in Sydney and back to normal.
My sister-in-law wont let me cook "A chef doesn't need to cook on a holiday Camilla", she told me on my very first day so I have been sitting back and enjoying her wonderful cooking and watching my waistline double in size. It also didn't help when she whipped up a wonderful chocolate cake for dessert last night. The smell was intoxicating and when she served it with lashings of cream the centre was still warm, I was in complete heaven!
After taking a few bites the flavours of dates, hazelnuts, almonds and walnuts shone through and you couldn't help but take another bite. Alex managed to force down all his broccoli because the smell of the baking cake was driving him wild and once on the table it got eaten in seconds.

Like me Arwen adds to recipes and plays around with them to give the dish a more personalised touch, so if you don't like walnuts, dates or almonds swap them out for the foods you love. The other thing I like about this chocolate cake is the fact that is isn't full of fats and sugar. Half a cup of sugar for a good family chocolate cake and no butter almost makes this good for you!
So while your still thinking you must drop a few pounds, spoil yourself and enjoy this decadent yet healthy chocolate cake (you know dark chocolate is good for you- right?)

Arwen's Family Chocolate Cake

250g mixed unsalted nuts roughly chopped (almonds, hazelnuts,walnuts)
250g pitted dates/dried figs, chopped
1 cup dark chocolate buds
1/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted
6 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup caster sugar

Grease a spring form pan with cooking spray and line with non-stick baking paper, preheat oven to 180 (350) degree then set aside.
Combine nuts, fruit and chocolate bits in a large bowl then stir in cocoa powder.
In a separate bowl whip egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Slowly add sugar and whisk after each addition until whites are shiny and thick.
Use a metal spoon to fold your egg white mixture into your fruit and nut mixture then fold until just combined.
Place mixture into your spring form pan and bake for 45 minutes.
Turn off the oven and open then door to cool the cake in the oven (the egg whites need the dry heat for best results)
Cut into wedges and serve cool or slightly warm with thickened cream

Note: Arwen has a fan forced oven so she lowers the heat a little to 170 and turns off the oven about 5 minutes earlier so just keep an eye on your oven

January 7, 2010

The Mum's Mojito

It's holiday time!
The boys and I decided to take a short break from the shores of Sydney and visit their cousins in sunny Melbourne. We arrived yesterday, it was a beautiful summer's day as we started wandering the streets of Melbourne, taking in the sights of what my once upon-a-time hometown has to offer. I always loved living in Melbourne, there was (and still is) a wonderful magic to the city, not only is the food fantastic with abundance to choose from but I have always found I could park myself at any random cafe with a delicious latte and have one of the best stares one could hope for. All walks of life parade themselves on Melbourne's streets so why not stop and take a peek.
 I wish I could say I sat at a cafe, sipped coffee and watched what all the fabulous people were doing, but I was too busy being a grumpy mother of two little boys who decided to put me through the ringer once out of the house pounding the pavements! I think it wasn't until after the train, plain and bus ride that I finally told the two young Baker boys I was going to offer them up to anyone who wanted them if they continued fighting like a couple of alley cats.  All I asked was for them to hold hands and walk in front of me while I navigate the bags (one of which lost its wheel so it was more of a drag than pull!).
At first I thought someone might swipe one of the kids and hold them for ransom....then again who am I kidding, no one would be that game!
Anyhow to put all the bad thoughts behind, we got to the cousins' house, the boys disappeared out the back and were never to be seen again- yippee! (seriously I was at my wit's end)

Day two rocks around and the boys are off for a full day of play. I am well rested and have managed to put the day of hell behind me. Melbourne put on a pearler of a day, the sun shining with the slightest of breezes, it was one of those summer days that remind you of when you were foot loose and fancy free, not a care in the world. I had this thought as I was walking back home with my sister-in-law (Arwen) after spending a great afternoon at the park.
David (Arwen's husband) had been laying concrete and digging up the garden all day, however he had promised to make a mojito for us upon our return- something I wasn't really expecting him to do after hours of digging, lifting and and what ever else you do when laying concrete.
After a shower and a ten minute rest he was true to his word. Mint was picked from the flourishing plant by the back door, limes were cut and we (David) was in business. I know it isn't exactly a meal nor is it something to share with the kids however it was fantastic, refreshing and a wonderful treat for the hard working parents.
Thanks David for one of the best Mojito's to date, I'll be coming back for more......

David's Mojito
1 tsp sugar
7 mint leaves
juice of half a lime
crushed ice
2 measures of light rum
soda water
Place sugar, 6 mint leaves and lime juice in a highball glass and crush mint.
Add crushed ice and rum then fill with soda water.
Give a little stir, take a sip then adjust to your liking.

January 3, 2010

Divine New York Strip

After yesterdays debacle in the kitchen I wasn't at all keen on making dinner let me tell you. However Max and I took a walk earlier in the day to the local organic butcher shop so I needed to find some motivation. Nic really wanted steak and chips for dinner so I thought I'd better pull out the big guns and deliver a good piece of steak (you know I am trying to make up for the 100g's of lamb!).
All the meat looked bright, fresh and well cut. I decided on a few pieces of NY strip steak until Max started begging for the t-bone (I don't know what it is with him and bones?). Strip steak for us, t-bones for the boys, no worries.....
Diving through the veggie bin in the fridge I came across some baby endive we had left over from another meal which I thought I'd cook up for some greens; there is something wonderful about bitter greens quickly sauteed in olive oil and slivers of garlic, and what a great combo with steak.

So far the evening meal was going smashingly- potatoes were in the oven cooking, I'd found blue cheese, endive and a few pieces of Serrano ham that needed to be used up so why not turn it into a fabulous dinner (not to mention minimal work load!)
The end result was really fantastic even if I do say so myself. The steak was divine, seriously sweet, succulent meat cooked to perfection and served with bitter greens which were balance out with a slice of creamy blue cheese then highlighted with the rich flavour of Serrano ham making each mouthful a party in your mouth.
For some reason when I let my fingers do the walking and stop thinking about the end result I always seem to come up with a yummy family meal. Of course the boys didn't want the baby endive (I didn't even bother waisting it on them, just gave them extra helpings of lemon flavoured broccoli) and Max was not having any cheese on his meat which is totally fine.
 We enjoyed a beautiful family meal, with no complaints and minimal fuss- however I did get totally carried away with the steak and completely forgot to get the potato chips out of the oven until the rest of the family pointed it out to me almost as soon as I sat down.
I'll be visiting and revisiting my new organic butcher this year and looking forward to seeing what else he has to offer.

January 2, 2010

Birthday wishes for Nic (plus a croquenbouche)

The second of January is Nic's birthday. He has finally passed the line of being closer to 40 than 30- that is how I see it and because I already have a year of experience, that is what I am telling him!
Nic flies off to Italy tomorrow for three weeks so I wanted to make an extra special cake to make sure he WANTS to come back (seriously I know how he feels about pastries and cream!). I thought I'd revisit one of my most accomplished desserts when I was an apprentice. Choux pastry was by far the best for me. It was the only pastry I didn't stuff up and had to make and remake until I got it right all those years ago. With that memory off I ventured.....

What a fool I am to think I could just 'whip' up a batch of profiteroles. I am hear to tell you third time is a charm!! That's right, my first attempt was a let down in more ways than one (see above photo), second time was a touch better but still the 'flat' theme was shining through- not happy!
It was at this stage I phoned a friend....actually my business partner and asked him what I was doing wrong. He couldn't put his finger on it so I decided to read yet another recipe for choux pastry and see if there were any differences. More info in recipe number 3, however, I wasn't at all confident with the measurements so I decided to stick with my original recipe (it was from my Tafe book after all) but use a different method.
After, beating, whipping and leaving out an egg I popped the mixture in the oven, turned off the oven light  (I did not want to see my last attempt fall flat before my eyes) and set my timer with an extra 5 minutes on the clock.
From the photo above you can work out that I was finally happy with the end result. I had 'puff' and beautifully browned profiteroles, I cannot tell you how happy I was to have a result. The boys all took off to the park due to my efforts taking up half the day, so to make it up to the family I made a yummy brandy custard to fill the puffs and then did the good old toffee tops. I was thinking chocolate (would of been better for me as I always burn myself on toffee and today was no exception), however the humidity was thick and heavy so we would of been waiting a long time for the chocolate to set.

The cake was a total success, I even spun some OK sugar to pop on top. Nic managed to polish off quite a few puffs as did Max, but Alex was feeling far too sad that daddy is leaving tomorrow :0(
Now I have to clean  up all the sugar/toffee I have thrown around the kitchen (another reason why people don't make these things at home!). Below is the recipe that worked for me, if you have one that is a no brainer then please let me know, otherwise this one is a hit!

Note: After reading the recipe to write down I have just now realised where I stuffed up!
I added 1/4 CUP of water instead 1/4 litre (or 1/2pt)
Ok, I really must not drink bubbly throughout the day one thinks.....

Choux pastry (with a 1/4 cup of water)
1/4 cup water
100g (4oz) butter
pinch of salt and sugar
125g (5oz) flour, sieved
3 large eggs, lightly beaten

Bring water, butter, salt and sugar to boil on medium heat (melt butter before boiling point)
Remove from heat and quickly add flour then return to a medium heat and beating out the lumps with a wooden spoon.
Once it pulls away from sides of pan and forms a ball remove from heat, cool for 1-2 minutes then gradually add adds, beating rapidly for a great puff.
The consistency should be at a thick dropping consistency.
Pipe onto tray, cook in a preheated oven (200) for 20 minutes.
Remove from oven, poke a hole in bottom with a skewer to release hot air, cool then fill with cream or custard.