Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Christmas 'foodie' gifts

This Christmas G and I were given a variety of 'foodie' presents:

To go with the Weber Q 200 (BBQ) we received a vegie plate and a cover - for info about the Weber Q barbeques.

To go with the KitchenAid stand mixer we received a spare bowl (3 litre capacity), a cover for the machine and lids for the bowls.

On the cookbook front: Fairy Cakes, published by Hamlyn; Masterchef Australia cookbook vol 1; Australian Women's Weekly Simply Seafood; Australian Women's Weekly Biscuits, Brownies and Biscotti; Australian Gourmet Traveller Annual Cookbook and a copy of the UK Women's Weekly cookery special. We also were given a subscription to Delicious magazine (Delicious is the magazine where Valli Little, Faking It, is the food editor - click here to have a look at the subscription)

On the 'miscellaneous' front we received tongs, choc coated coffee beans (a pack each to avoid arguments) and some chocolate chai tea which we will taste test tonight!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Received - M Cups

You may recall that I have previously said I loved the m-cups - Matryoshka measuring cups.

Lucky me - I was given them for Christmas by my friend X and his gf. 

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Chicken meatball tomato soup

The name for the recipe makes it sound far more complicated than it really is.  You make the 'meatballs' by squeezing sausage meat into meatballs. 

The receipe then calls for a multitude of saucepans - to cook the soup, to cook the meatballs and to cook the pasta.  I don't like to use that many pots and pans unless the recipe is crazily complicated so I didn't.  (It's not even that I do the washing; when I cook, G washes).

So I did the tomato soup - using a combination of passata and fresh tomatoes as we didn't have any canned tomatoes.  I cooked the pasta in the soup, and fried the meatballs in a pan, before serving them on top of the soup. 

Lesson - add more liquid to the soup than is called for in the recipe if you are going to cook the pasta in it - the pasta really soaks up the liquid!

Monday, 21 December 2009

My Cupacake

Do you have the problem of taking a cupcake to work (or school) and opening up your bag to find the cupcake squished?  The solution is Cupacake

I originally bought one for my friend K who is a queen cupcake baker - an appropriate birthday present.  Then I was jealous, so I bought one each for G and I.

Surprisingly, although they are an American product, the cupacake does not fit a giant cupcake and is useful for the size (regular) that I tend to make!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Stuffed field mushrooms with pesto

I accidentally bought green olive tapenade, rather than basil pesto.  Other than that, the only modification was that I used panko breadcrumbs (japanese) rather than the sourdough ones (a function of what was available in the pantry).  I did add the chopped up mushroom stems into the filling; my philosophy is the more mushrooms the better!

It was super easy to make - the filling is entirely done in the food processor, so if you don't have one then doing it by hand would be time consuming.  Then you just pile it in to the mushrooms and bake the mushrooms in a pan with some cherry tomatoes.  I ended up baking the mushrooms for a little longer than the recipe calls for (8 - 10 minutes, I gave them 12 minutes). 

Also, mine did not look anywhere near as pretty as the spread in Faking It, but tasted pretty good.

One lesson I learned from this one - you can't put a regular serve on a plate and make it look good - I added another mushroom (the recipe calls for 2 per person as a main) once I had taken the photo so I could get a somewhat decent photo for the blog!

Friday, 18 December 2009

The new beef stroganoff

I have never really enjoyed beef stroganoff, but I love mushrooms so I thought the recipe in Faking It would be worth a try.  It was fantastic, the peppery beef was great, and the mushroom sauce was amazing. 

My modifications: I used a collection of mushrooms (oysters, shitake and buttons, not just swiss brown) and use more than the recipe called for (did I mention that I love mushrooms???). I also used porcini fettucine, not plain egg noodles.  Finally, I used some of the liquid from rehydrating the shitake mushrooms in place of some of the beef stock. 

The recipe was pretty simple to follow, and I did follow it almost exactly. I would definitely make this again - am keen to make the mushroom sauce part for some pasta tonight.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Currently craving: Silpat

Everytime I watch Martha (Stewart) bake biscuits she always has her trays lined with a silpat. Click here to see the silpat

It's basically a baking sheet liner, made out of silicone and fibreglass.  It's super easy to use (just lay it on your baking sheet), fine for high temperatures (up to 250 degrees C), easy to clean (wipe with a damp sponge, NEVER use a brush or scraper) and is good for up to 3000 uses.

I really want one... and I have found an Australian stockist! Australian stockist of Silpat - now I just have to go home and measure my baking sheets.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Smoked trout burgers

Yum, I loved smoked trout (or smoked salmon) and I love asparagus.  These burgers are super easy to make in my food processor, basically, throw ingredients in the food processor in the designated order and pulse until combined.   Then shape the mixture into burger patties, cover and chill for 30 minutes.  While that was chilling mixing together the asparagus tzatziki is simple - blanch the asparagus, shred it (except for the tips) and mix that shredded asparagus into some natural yoghurt, along with some salt, pepper and mint. Delicious.

Because I prefer vegetables to bread I just used half a burger bun (for the bottom) and then topped the burger with some mushrooms and potatoes.

The burger was delicious, a great smoky, fishy flavour  The asparagus tzatziki was good too - I like mine quite lemony, so I added some lemon juice in, which definitely worked with the fish.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Cajun fish with corn and avacado salsa

Confession - I used a pre-made spice rub.  I did not mix the marinade as directed, though it douns delicious.  Why did I cheat? Firstly, I have had the (unopened) spice rub in the pantry for the last couple of months and really wanted to try it.  Secondly,  I don't love cumin and probably wouldn't have used the rest of the jar.

In Faking It the cajun fish is accompanied by a small spoonful of the salsa.  However I am a big believer in vegetables and I think that you should eat more vegetables than protein, so I added some ingredients to the salsa to make it a salad/salsa.  I added olives, snow pea sprouts and tomato.  I used mint, instead of coriander, which was a great substitute. On the salad/salsa I splashed a little EVO and lemon juice and cracked some black pepper over the top (there is enough salt in the olives that extra salt is not needed).  
I didn't do the sour cream 'dressing' on the fish (sour cream diluted with a little hot water) because I wanted the fish to be spicy!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Cupcake Courier

I recently purchased a Cupcake Courier, in lemongrass yellow. Visit

The cupcake courier is basically a LARGE container that can carry up to 36 cupcakes (standard size), in 3 trays of 12.

The trays cannot be used for baking - but are just for transport.  Then a lid goes over the top and clips on around the side.  If you take out the cupcake trays then you could put a regular cake on the base.

Now, it is BIG.  It lives in its box, on top of a bookcase in my lounge.  The space between each tray is important though, if you have cupcakes that are tall (perhaps because of the delicious ganache on top - my favourite) you will be grateful for the extra height.

It is available in 5 colours: lemongrass (yellow), yellow, pink, blue and clear - though the clear option is not currently available on the website.

When I ordered it, the price was $39.95 + $15 courier fee, now it is $49.95 + delivery.

There are other options if you are looking for a cupcake container, but this is absolutely awesome and I highly recommend it. 

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Currently craving: Matryoshka Measuring Cups (M-cups)

I love these Matryoshka measuring cups:

The description:
This set of 6 dry-measure cups nests neatly just like traditional Russian matryoshkas. They accurately measure 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 3/4 and 1 full cup, and they're built from heavy-duty, food-safe, long-life engineering plastics.

My excuse to buy them would be for the 1/3 and 2/3 cups - my current set does not contain that size!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Chocolate Torte

Wow, what a weird recipe.  This torte is basically a cooked base (1/3 of the mixture + a tablespoon of breadcrumbs) topped with mousse (the other 2/3 of the mixture).

Modifications? Not really, because I do believe that baking is a science and should be followed as written, however I did use Japanese panko (breadcrumbs) rather than standard ones - a function of what was in the pantry!

I used a springform pan that was a slightly different size (by 1cm) - the springform pans I own are 19cm and 23cm; the recipe calls for a 22cm pan.  1/3 of the mixture was not quite enough to make the base, so I added a couple of tablespoons of the reserved mixture so there was enough.

The base took 25 minutes to bake (the upper end of the time frame given in the recipe) so with an older oven it would probably take longer.  As it was so thin it didn't take long to cool all the way through, even though that has to be done in the pan.

Then I brought the reserved mixture back up to room temperature and piped it on.  In the book the torte is then dusted with cocoa, but I did icing sugar which I think also looks good.

My gripe? That the mousse topping did not look nearly as rich and chocolatey as it does in the book.  This is the second chocolate dessert that I have made from this book (the other was many months ago) and again, it doesn't look like the picture.  Usually I wouldn't be too fussed, but the savoury dishes have generally looked much like the book, so I am surprised that the desserts don't.

Would I make this again? Probably not.  It was very sweet and really looks like it comes from the 1980's - not that I was eating dessert then!  Actually, it is acknowledged that there was a version of this dessert in Vogue Entertaining & Travel in the 1980's!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

My Robert Gordon food cover

I bought a Robert Gordon food cover on a whim, and I love it.

I love the way it looks in the kitchen, particularly when there is a cake underneath it!  I would love to have a selection of afternoon tea laid out on a picnic table outside where all the plates were covered by something different - netting, glass, whatever. 

I think salad would look even more appetising (than usual, in my opinion) under this food cover.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

My tried and tested vanilla cupcakes

I have been using the same recipe for vanilla cupcakes for years - it was originally from the Australian Women's Weekly, but I lost the original magazine page a long time ago.  I can make these cupcakes without even really looking at the recipe, though it is dependent on the oven that I am using.  Right now, our oven can cook 12 in 18 minutes, whereas at my old house it was closer to 25 minutes.

The ingredients:
125g unsalted butter (softened)
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups SR flour
1/2 cup milk

Cream the butter and sugar together - I am an advocate of beating the butter by itself for a couple of minutes, and then slowly adding in the sugar, about a tablespoon at a time.

I recently learnt that baking soda and baking powder can't create bubbles, rather, they raise the cake by expanding the bubbles that already exist, so it's really important to create lots of bubbles when you cream the butter and the sugar, because once you add the eggs you can't create more bubbles.

Beat the essence in, and then beat the eggs in, one at a time.  Then stir in half the (sifted) flour, half the milk, half the flour, half the milk - stir, don't beat. 

Put into a muffin tray, lined with cupcake papers and bake at 190 degrees (celcius) for as long as your oven takes.

When you take them out of the oven leave them in the tray for a few minutes, but flip them onto their sides (means the bottoms stay crispy) - it's a Martha trick that I have seen done. 

Some modifications:

  • change the essence: I love almond essence in these cakes.  I also have eaten cupcakes made with rose water, and am keen to try orange blossom water. 
  • use orange juice instead of milk (or a combination of citrus juices), add a little zest to intensify the citrus flavour
  • try using buttermilk, rather than regular milk - you will end up with thicker batter, so you will need to watch your cooking time
  • bake the cupcakes in flat bottomed ice cream cones

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Jazz Apple Cafe

Jazz Apple Cafe - "cupcakes have come to Canberra City"

Of course, I was very excited when I saw this cafe, although the first time I saw the cafe it was late at night and closed.  I still actually haven't been there, but G has been, twice, so we have sampled 4 of the cupcake flavours: coconut ice, chocolate honeycomb, choc mixed berry and green apple (which is also the order, from best to 'least best' in my opinon).

The cupcakes have all been very dense (and heavy) and super moist.  This probably means that there is a great deal of oil in the cakes, but too bad! These are super delicious, just not to be eaten every day I guess.  The cupcakes come in cute little plastic containers to protect the icing from getting squashed while the cake is in transit. 

Coconut ice: a pink cupcake, with a sweet coconut flavour topped with coconut flavoured icing!

Choc honeycomb: choc cupake with super chocolatey butter cream.  The honeycomb taste didn't really come through aside from the honeycomb piece on top.

Choc berry ripple: choc cupcake with a small amount of berries inside (would have liked more) topped with that delicious chocolate buttercream and a lolly raspberry partially dipped in chocolate

Custard apple: Too sweet! There was a little bit of fruit in between the too sweet cupcake and the icing, and the apple flavour tasted as though it came from essence, not the fruit itself.  Also, somewhat trickily, there was a green apple as the advertisement!

Lesson - I really want to try one of their plain chocolate cupcakes (maybe the triple chocolate mud) and some of the other less common flavours: honey bear, cookies & cream and key lime and coconut.

There are 9 flavours available in the shop each week - though almost 40 listed on the website.  Helpfully the website also lists the flavours that will be available in the shop for the week (though the website was a little out of date - it referred to this week as 'next week').

Monday, 30 November 2009

Oregano Chicken on (bean and) olive salad

The version from Faking It to your right.  My problem with it? The beans - and that was the only problem. 

The marinade on the chicken is fantastic - the chicken was so flavourful, a really great balance on sharp lemon juice with a short kick of chilli (maybe a little more chilli next time for G's palate). 

I made the bean and olive salad with the recipe-required olives and potatoes, and I added tomatoes and mushrooms.  I made the dressing for the salad with the exact same ingredients I used for the chicken marinade, which really carried the flavours through. 

In true Maggie style I had to add something green - some fresh basil from the hydropantry we are minding for our neighbours (the same neighbours own the tomato plant). 

Also, I think all food looks best on plain white (where possible) so pretty much all my crockery is white (on the inside/presentation side at least!)

I did cheat a bit - I used tinned potatoes.  I also changed the olives from black to green, a function of what was available in the pantry.  Oh, and the 'chilli' was really a spice mix that was chilli, oregano and saffron - and totally worked.  Moral of the story - use what you have rather than buy more things that take up space in the fridge/pantry

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Sushi rice bowl

This is a dish I knew of as 'chiraishi zushi' in Japan.  In Japan it's basically the rice then layered with ingredients you would normally find in the middle of a sushi roll.  In Faking It it is a rice base, topped with 'japanese' ingredients, like tofu, black sesame seeds and nori (with cucumber and snow pea sprouts), with a dressing of citrus, rice vinegar and soy sauce.  In Japan I typically ate chiraishi zushi that had sashimi tuna or salmon, shredded omelette, spring onion and salmon caviar.

My version? A rice base, the dressing from Faking It, carrot, corn, snow pea sprouts, avacado, pickled ginger and a fillet of salmon on top.  Delicious. Though it did make me miss Japan..

Cupcakes on Pitt St

I was lucky enough to be given a peanut butter cupcake from Cupcakes on Pitt St, given by a friend visiting from Sydney.

It was a delicious chocolate cake, topped with a squiggle of rich dark chocolate ganache, some peanut butter icing, and some honeyed peanuts.  The chocolate cake was fluffy and rich, the peanut butter icing tasted like slightly sweetened and softened smooth peanut butter and the ganache was decadent!

On their website there are 34 different flavours listed - and next time G goes up to Sydney I am going to order an Apricot one - one of my favourite fruits.

A complaint? They are on the small side (5cm in diameter) and that is simply not big enough for how delicious the cakes are!  Though the cupcakes are only $2 each, so you could easily buy more than one

Friday, 27 November 2009

Sesame Salmon Roulades (without the mango/papaya salad)

I just made a sesame salmon roulade for my dinner - with some greens (asparagus/broc) and some salad.  Those who know me, know that I love salad.  I think salad should be served with every meal.  I had to be talked out of serving salad, with curry, to G's 2 male cousins (aged 17 and 20 at the time).  I like big salads with lots of different ingredients that become the meal, not a side.  I use whatever is fresh in our fridge and supplement with tinned things as required (corn kernels, tuna chunks).  I like to take salad to work for lunch, and I serve at practically every dinner.  So although I didn't want to make the mango/papaya salad that is supposed to accompany this salmon I knew it had to have salad of some sort!

The hardest part was taking the skin off the fish - because none of my knives are really pointy enough, but I got through it.  Then I cut the fillet so it was long - key here is to buy a skinny, but tall, fillet.  Season, and roll up and just hold together with a skewer or two.

Then you cover each side of the roll with sesame seeds (just by laying the fillet on the seeds in a saucer) and drizzle with some EVO.  1 minute each side in a fry pan on med-high, no extra oil needed.  Then throw the pan into an oven, pre-heated to 170 degrees.  Just make sure your pan is oven proof.  If you don't have an oven proof pan you will have to transfer the salmon into some kind of baking dish, probably metal so it heats up as quickly as the pan would, and put that in the oven.

5 minutes in the oven, a couple of minutes resting and then you're done.

Simple but with super effective presentation.  The rolling/skewer combination with the golden crust of sesame seeds makes this dish look pretty impressive - and looks like it took far more time than it really did.  Although this works best cooked and served immediately I think that this would be excellent for a dinner party, just because it looks so good!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Porcini-dusted lamb with cheat's mushroom "risotto"

The first recipe I cooked from 'Faking It' was the porcini-dusted lamb with cheat's mushroom "risotto".  Firstly, the substitutions: I cooked kangaroo steaks, not lamb, as that's what we had, I used a variety of mushrooms, not just swiss brown, I used all stock, no white wine and I used parsley and chives (to serve) rather than rocket.

This is the layout in the book - and definitely supports my earlier comments about the fantastic photos of the final dishes in this book.

The lamb/roo is simple - brush with oil, dust with porcini powder and cook as you like it.  With lamb I would cook it medium to medium-well, but with roo it is better to stay on the medium side, so that's what I did (which meant the thicker steak ended up medium-rare, which G prefers).

The 'cheat' in the title is that the risotto is actually risoni cooked in the absorption method that is usually reserved for rice.  Start by cooking the mushrooms, some garlic and some herbs in the olive oil.  After a few mins add the risoni and liquid (stock in my case) and cook by the absorption method.

After resting the meat for a few minutes I sliced it, and served it on top of the risoni.

I should have sliced the meat more thickly - and then it would have looked more like the picture in the book!

The tomato on the side is home-grown. We are currently minding a neighbour's tomato and herb plants and were told to help ourselves.  Luckily for us a tomato ripened and was absolutely delicious.  I never realised how good home-grown tomatoes could taste, even compared to the decent tomatoes we normally buy at the green grocer.  I just dripped on a little EVO and scattered some chopped chives and parsley.

Verdict on the dish: the risoni was really tasty, though could have done with some more pepper.  The porcini powder on the roo really tied in a deep mushroom flavour and held the 2 parts together.  Definitely would make this again - and the leftover risoni (deliberately cooked too much) was delicious at lunch the next day!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

An ode to KitchenAid

I recently became engaged, and had 2 engagement parties - one in my home town, one where I live now. My fiance and I were lucky enough to be given 2 amazing KitchenAid appliances as engagement gifts - a food processor and a stand mixer.

The food processor weighs 9kg and comes with so many attachments that you may never need to pick up a knife again. Firstly, there are 3 work bowls of differing sizes. Unless I want to do something really small I think I will stick with the main bowl (the biggest). There is a ultra wide food chute on the lid, and of course something to push the food in with. Then there are blades and plates that will chop into many different shapes and sizes. There is also a dough blade, and an attachment that can be used to whisk eggs. Most of the plates and blades fit into the 2 bigger bowls, and there is a separate blade to use with the small bowl. All the attachments come in a case, so they won't rattle around in your drawers. There are some other attachments you can buy - to cut into different sizes, but the selection that comes with the food processor seems sufficient for a home cook. The warranty is good (10 years) and there are plenty of good reviews of it on the internet.
I have made a chicken salad (for sandwiches), dressing and crushed nuts in it - all so quick, and so easy.

The stand mixer weighs 12kg. I am giving the weights as an indication of just how good the motors on these appliances are. Most of the weight is in the motor in each, and is a significant reason why the appliances are so good.

The stand mixer comes with 1 bowl (4.8 litre capacity) and 3 attachments: a whisk, a dough hook and a paddle. There is no attachment case, but no real need for one as the idea is to keep one attachment on the mixer (I chose the whisk as it takes up the most room) and have put the other 2 with the food processor attachments. There are a lot of other attachments you can buy - an ice cream churner, a sausage maker, a meat grinder, a pasta roller. All of which are unnecessary for now. I think I would buy the ice cream churn if I had a big enough freezer to keep it in. The warranty is, again, generous and many positive reviews abound.

The first item I made using the stand mixer was a batch of cupcakes. I used my tried and true Australian Women's Weekly vanilla cupcake recipe and they were so moist and light. I made a cream cheese icing which was the smoothest I have ever made. I am very much looking forward to making meringues (so much easier than beating the egg whites by hand)

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Book of the moment: Faking It by Valli Little

The book I've chosen to cook from for the time being is Faking It by Valli Little. Valli is the food director of the ABC magazine Delicious and has been since 2001.

The subtitle of this book is how to cook delicious food without really trying and right from the welcome page she pushes this point. She is a cook that believes in taking quality shortcuts - buy a decent curry paste or chargrilled eggplants rather than make that yourself.

There are 249 pages + a glossary and an index at the back, as well as the welcome and contents at the front. The book is helpfully, and unhelpfully, broken up into sections. The sections like 'breakfast', 'soups', 'chicken' and 'beef' make total sense. But I don't really understand why 'eggs' is separate from 'breakfast' or why there are 3 fishy sections: 'salmon', 'fish' and 'seafood'. It's a little confusing!

My favourite thing about this book? The pictures of the final presentation of all the dishes (I think all the dishes are photographed). I don't love all the pictures, but I love that they are there. For example, I would never serve a hardboiled egg with only half the shell peeled off as is done in the 'quail eggs with walnut hummus and dukkah'.

I like photographs of how the end product is meant to look because then I have something to aim for. The next best thing is when there are photographs of some of the more complicated steps along the way.

The photographs make me want to cook/make most of these dishes. I say 'make' because this book is both a cook book and a 'how to put store bought ingredients together' book. Many of the recipes, particularly the appetiser ones, suggest you buy an ingredient another cookbook might explain how to make. In the recipe for roasted cherry tomate tarte tatins the ingredients include jars of roasted cherry tomatoes and sheets of frozen puff pastry.

There are a few 'cheffy' things in the book, like the chicken skewered onto sprigs of rosemary or serving a burger deconstructed to capture an image of the delicious looking mayonnaise.

Overall, it's a beautifully presented book. The images are big, and the food looks luscious and plentiful and I can't wait to cook from it.

Monday, 23 November 2009

What's the plan?

I own a billion cookbooks - well not a billion, but enough. Actually, I own 42. That includes some specialty ones about cake decorating, and a couple dedicated dedicated to chocolate. Aside from these specialty ones I have a wide variety - from Stephanie's tome, to most of the Bill Granger's, a couple of Jamie's and a few of those $3.95 family circle A5 books. I also love watching cooking shows, but as I work full time I watch the ones I can download on iTunes - my favourite is Mark Bittman (NY Times).

I've tried different techniques 'over the years' (I'm in my mid-20s) to keep track of what recipes I have - at the moment I am using an A4 visual art diary where I write in the tried & true things that you don't necessarily need a recipe for, but appreciate the reminders, for example - my vanilla cupcake recipe (which originally comes from Australian Womens Weekly), or my favourite herb combinations to roast with chickpeas. If I rip a recipe out of a magazine, make it and like it - then it goes in the book!

So, the plan: cook regularly from a cookbook/cooking show/magazine tear out. Regularly means at least twice a week. It means try new recipes. It also means cull the cookbooks I own (I should be able to figure out if there enough recipes in a book to keep me interested) and could be a good excuse to buy some more.

I'm going to start out doing some recipes from one book per week - I don't want to buy a million new ingredients every week so I will look for recipes that enable me to use up all of what I buy without it languishing in the back of the pantry for months.

I will determine how many weeks I 'do' of one book depending on the number of recipes from that book that I find interesting.

Of course, that doesn't mean I can't cook some of my 'regular' dishes that actually come from other books that I own (I can't imagine having to wait for my week focussing on Harumi's Japanese Cooking to eat somen salad). And I can still cook dishes that don't even have a recipe - a lot of pasta dishes, or basic stirfries!