Sunday, 23 December 2007

Festive baking

I think I might have over done it on the seasonal baking side of things.

To wit: 24 gingerbread muffins; 22 mince tarts; 2 quasi-Stollen.

And yes, my photography skills are absent.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Ostensible disaster

One of the few good things about where my work is located is that it is within walking distance of South Melbourne Market. On Wednesday, I noticed that one of the stalls had apricots for $2.99 a kilo. Not great apricots, but they don't have to be.

On Friday, I duly bought some. (And some surprisingly good strawberries for $1.29, and a massive slab of Greek honey and walnut cake for $2.50. I love the market!)

Today, I attempted to turn them into jam. I followed the recipe in Delia Smith's Summer Collection by and large, though I substantially reduced the sugar. I let it get to boiling point this afternoon, wandered off, came back, noticed it was close to setting point, wandered off, came back...

Hmm. Slight burning smell.

Yes, it had caught on the bottom of the pan, and the previously beautiful, golden mixture was now the colour of Frank Cooper's Vintage Oxford Marmalade. Grumbling, I decanted it into jars, feeling pretty grumpy with myself.

Then I, and my mother, tasted it. And you know what? It was pretty good. It had caramelised, essentially, and had all sorts of interesting treacley, toffee-ish undertones. Absolutely nothing like the apricot jam that gets me drooling (Bonne Maman - the best, by far), but in its own right interesting.

I was reminded, too, of Maggie Beer's Burnt Fig Jam - or at least the idea of it.

Also accomplished today: off the cuff (i.e., no recipe, just whim) cinnamon biscuits which turned out a million times better than previous (with-recipe) attempts, and Nigel Slater's Beetroot Seed Cake.

The batter was the most extraordinary colour, not surprisingly. Again, I fiddled a bit with it because of the pantry limitations: so instead of muscovado I used raw sugar; instead of sunflower oil I used half-rice bran, half-walnut (and less than the stipulated amount); instead of beetroot I used one beetroot and 2/3rds of a carrot; instead of a mixture of seeds I used just linseeds; instead of half a tsp of cinnamon I used a tablespoon (recipes ALWAYS underestimate the cinnamon quantum)...

The lemon/orange flower water & poppyseed icing was surprisingly effective.

It turned out pretty well. I've been informed that I can make it again, which is always a good sign.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Eating for England

I heart Nigel Slater.

I also heart the strawberries bought yesterday that have perfumed the whole fridge with intense deliciousness and which will be turned into a tart this afternoon.

Pleasantly surprising, too, was the Sundowner apple I ate last night. I am a Granny Smith fan, addicted to mouth-puckering tart crisp crunchiness. The Sundowner is milder, less lip-chapping, but pleasingly crisp.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Citrus Season - II - Blood orange, lemon, Cointreau tart

I've just been to see Ratatouille - very cute, but for the really badly brought-up (dragged-up?) children who were unfortunately in the cinema. Since when was animation for kids anyway?

The second part of my citrusy series of blog posts is dessert. Having grabbed some blood oranges at South Melbourne market, and aware that I didn't want to use all of them in marmalade (of which more later), I decided to convert some into a tart.

The tart shell was made in a biscuity sort of way - creaming 100g butter with 50g caster sugar, then adding an egg and 220g "00" flour. It doesn't make for a particularly easy-to-handle dough, but the method is far easier on weary fingers than the normal pate brisee or pate sucree.

The case was blind baked in 9" springform tin, creating a deepish shell. I used the springform because, mystifyingly, I do not have a metal flan case (the horror, the horror). Ceramic moulds are hopeless.

The deepness of the case turned out to be a good thing.

Next came the filling - a lazy person's bastardised custard, comprising 330mL milk, three eggs, 40g caster sugar, the zest of two blood oranges, the zest of a lemon. In fact, I can't exactly remember what came next - but I think two or three blood oranges got squeezed, along with the lemon, and somewhere along the route this was added to the custard.

Unsurprisingly, this made for a very runny custard. Panicking, two tablespoons of cornflour went in. Eventually it thickened - and once it had cooled, a good splash of Cointreau went in.

The case was filled, the tart baked at 180˙C for about 45-50 minutes. It wobbled slightly, but wasn't runny.

Alas, by the time I took the picture, it had cracked. On the other hand, it tasted superb. Smooth, sweet, tangy, and - perhaps thanks to the Cointreau - more complex as the week progressed.
And as you can see, my photography skills leave a lot to be desired.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Citrus Season - I - Seville Orange Marmalade

Last year I promised myself that I wouldn't miss out on Seville Orange season in 2007. Cutting it perilously close, I traipsed down to the Vic Market on Saturday (in between brain-bending seminars on Lakatos) and bought four huge Seville Oranges from Stall 83.

On Sunday, I set about marmalade production, having also bought a teeth-aching 3kg bag of sugar, and some lemons. Nominally, I used the recipe in Nigella Lawson's How to Eat, but a pretty-much identical version can be found on the BBC Good Food website, here. The advantage of this method is that it absolves the maker from trying to locate muslin and reduces the faffing around.

So far, so good. Except, of course, the damn thing wouldn't reach setting point to my liking. This is probably because I didn't boil up the pips for long enough. I was, however, pleased to see Nigel Slater dismissing the importance of very-set jam, in that day's Observer. And he's quite right - for jam, at least.

As it is, if the marmalade is too set it you end up squashing your toast as you attempt to spread, and that's awful.

Now, the marmalade. As far as I'm concerned, the only marmalade worth having is Frank Cooper's Vintage Oxford. It is fiendishly dark, chunky, and bitter. My marmalade is not as dark - despite a good two tablespoons of treacle drizzled in, and this is probably from insufficient boiling - but it is certainly chunky and tart/sour/bitter. It leaves you salivating like after chewing on a lemon. Yum.

Just as well that it is delicious, because there are eight jars of the stuff.

Still to come: blood orange marmalade (my task for today), and a post about the blood orange and lemon tart I made on Sunday.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Review: Commercial Bakery

I have a feeling that all my reviews are going to consist of "Oh god, I have been [insert dish/cafe/restaurant]'d to death".

This is owing to the fatal combination of:

1. My appallingly minuscule appetite; and
2. Portion size being out of control.

Unfelicitously, I wasn't even feeling very well, but after reading mutemonkey's review of the Commercial Bakery I was determined to try the beetroot and goats' curd sandwich.

So I did.

And then when it arrived, I realised that mutemonkey's lovely photograph was deceptive. Because what looks like a normal sandwich, turns out to involve 9" square slices of bread, stuffed with lettuce, beetroot, onion jam and goats' curd. The combination was divine. The quantity worthy of the seven deadly sins.

Excellent stuff, just make sure you have the capacity for it.

Aside from that, my long macchiato was superb, and most of the staff were lovely except for the very surly young woman who took my money. Which was a shame, as that was my last impression before I waddled off. It's also pretty noisy, but I suppose most cafes are.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Review: Don Too

I have been Sashi-Don'd to death.

Yes, I finally made it to Don Too today, after extreme indecisiveness over where to have lunch. I told myself, "If it's closed, then you resort to buying a sourdough roll, queso manchego and quince paste at David Jones' Food Hall and DIY lunch". Alas, it was still open, not too busy - indeed, I had it all to myself until the very last few minutes - and I embarked on the monster that is the Sashi Don.

Which was fantastic, and beautiful, and ridiculously quickly served, and incredibly good value...but too much for my puny appetite.

(I won't even begin to explain how indecisive I was by listing all the places I considered. And actually, since I wasn't really hungry enough beforehand, I sort of wish I had done DIY lunch. Owww.)

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Review: Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander

Last month I finally persuaded myself to venture out of my hermitage, lured by the prospect of the Yarra Valley Farmers' Market at Yering Station, and Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander in Healesville.

My first step was, rather sensibly I thought, to forego breakfast. This is because one cannot help grazing one's way around the market - samples of jams, chutneys, fudge, panforte, bread, fruit cake, grape paste etc etc were, as ever, irresistible.

We left with grape jus, two Cunliffe + Waters chutneys, a christmas pudding. In hindsight, the restraint was admirable.

Undaunted by sugar-induced nausea, we made our way to Healesville. I was in major indecision mode, flummoxed by the possibilities of the GS/IB breakfast menu versus their standard fare. Tempted as I was by the thought of poached eggs, sourdough with Jam Lady jam, bircher museli, or poached seasonal fruit with sheep's yogurt... in the end this was all academic because by 11.45am they seem to have decreed that breakfast was over.

A brief perusal of the menu ensued, and I went for smoked salmon on sourdough.

(Two asides. One, though I call myself vegetarian this is not strictly true as I eat fish. However, as one cannot guarantee when eating outside of the home that a fish dish isn't contaminated by mammalian or avian bits, it's safer to say 'vegetarian'. Two, I am very dull and will usually go for a smoked salmon option if available, because I adore the stuff. Oliver Sacks was asked as a child what his favourite things were - he replied "Smoked salmon and Bach", and these are still apparently his favourites.)

Although it was pretty busy - lots of groups of lunchers already - service was incredibly prompt. We were brought water (without asking - hurrah!), glasses, fresh sourdough, Murray River salt flakes, a peppermill and a bowl of olive oil. The bread, which we've bought before, was fantastic - excellent flavour, good holey crumb, and an amazing silky texture. I mentally noted that they use Laucke organic unbleached flour. The bread and accompaniments are gratis when you order any meal - thumbs up!

We didn't have to wait long for the order to arrive. The sourdough (again, divine) was a 3cm slab, slathered with sour cream, topped with capers, a generous portion of salmon (satiny; melted in the mouth), shaved red onion and artfully arranged fresh herbs (chives, dill, and something else).

Magnificent, and simple. And incredibly reasonable at $9.

We left with a loaf of sourdough and a packet of Beurre d'Isigny butter. Because there is nothing better than French butter with proper bread.

It gets busy and noisy. There are a few properly vegetarian options, but not an abundance. I'd wager anything is good, though, and I did appreciate the jazz.

I didn't try their coffee this time, but I will next. Rather impressively, it's roasted on the premises. Similarly, I'd be interested to try their pizzas, or the smoked trout salad, if I don't make it for breakfast next time. Then there's the story of their cheese room...

I have high standards (hate it when they're not met), especially when it comes to staples like bread and smoked salmon - I was, unusually, not in the least bit disappointed. Hooray!

Monday, 6 August 2007

Frozen pears

Yesterday I poached a lot of pears. Eleven beurre boscs, in fact. I reserved four, which are stashed in the fridge for filling crepes later in the week.

The remaining seven went into the freezer, topped up with reduced poaching liquid.

Two things I've discovered this morning:
1. Frozen poached pear is delicious. I can really taste the cinnamon and vanilla; and
2. The frozen poaching syrup has become a rather divine sorbet. Which is not really surprising, if you think about what a sorbet actually is.

In warmer weather, frozen pears and a bit of pseudo-sorbet would be a lovely dessert.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Blogging Quickie

I've been so lazy about blogging, but as I have another imminent MA deadline I'm sure there'll be a flurry of activity in the next three weeks.

In the meantime, here's a dreadful photo of a freak mushroom I had in England - it has two stems! It is the Chernobyl Mushroom!
As for cooking, I have had some successes and disasters.

Disaster: no-knead bread. Flat and disappointing crumb, owing to not using a sufficiently gluten-rich flour mixture and too-large a Le Creuset. I think my yeast is moribund, too.

Success: Chocolate, coffee and walnut tart that was in the most recent issue of The Age's Melbourne magazine, a la L'Oustal. I'm not that fussed about chocolate but the walnut and coffee filling is delicious.

Success: Apple custard tart. I'll dig out the recipe, shortly, because it's worth sharing. This tart was superb!

Success: Boiled potatoes dressed with walnut oil and wholegrain mustard. Yes, just mix and serve. Fabulous.

Success (I think): Mega-pear-poaching session, owing to Coles having beurre bosc pears for 50¢ a kilo. Poached as per Shannon Bennett's My Vue method.

Review: I tried Spiga at Melbourne Central on Friday. Shared a prawn pizza (not enough prawns and a bit greasy for my ascetic tastes, but otherwise a great crust) and pear & raspberry crumble. The crumble was too sweet for me (no surprise there), but otherwise pretty good. My short macchiato was excellent. Seems like a pretty reasonable place to go to, IMO.

Saturday, 14 July 2007


After reading a few weeks ago about baker Greg Brown's new venture, I finally trekked down to Glen Eira (which is, in any case, my old stomping ground). Agi's Bakery is on Glen Eira Rd, near the corner with Orrong Road. When we got there it was after three, and there was pretty much nothing left, but for a basset hound sitting outside.

The man himself, however, indicated that he had some of yesterday's cranberry and sultana rye loaves, not really fresh but "suitable for toasting". He even let us have one, to see what we thought, since we'd come a long way, and suggested coming along at 4am if we wanted really fresh bread

The bread is extremely good, barely indistinguishable from "fresh" bread - certainly less stale than a lot of stuff I've tried from supposedly reputable bakers. We will be back, albeit earlier in the day. Aside from anything else, I want to try his sourdough!

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Hatred, ridicule or contempt

That is, the now-notorious case John Fairfax Publications Pty Ltd v Gacic. And hasn't there been a lot of ink spilled over this in the last couple of days? I particularly like the hyperbole of The Guardian's précis "Australian court opens the way for restaurants to claim damages over unfavourable reviews".


At best it would "open the way" for Australian plaintiffs. Given that English defamation law gives defendants much more latitude, it's not likely to have much impact there. And given that England is pretty much the only lively defamation jurisdiction in the world, here and there is about the extent of any legal shockwaves.

Furthermore, the analyses of the case so far (I do use that term lightly - there's not much good legal reporting about) haven't been very incisive. The case concerned the Defamation Act 1974 (NSW) - which is now defunct, since the uniform defamation laws came into effect. I haven't gone through the High Court's decision with care to consider if and how the case would stand under the new Act, but it might be different. NSW had a somewhat idiosyncratic system.

Secondly, although lazy journalists have picked up on the odd judicial remark about business reputation being susceptible to the various tests that an imputation is defamatory, the High Court's decision seems to hinge on more technical aspects such as whether an appellate court could substitute a jury's verdict. If anything, the case is more about the powers of the NSW Supreme Court. I.e., really, really dull. The High Court was just deciding on the basis of the legal framework, not on defamation law generally.

The High Court's decision is NOT about whether you're verboten from writing critical things in a restaurant review. If the lazy journalists had read the headnote of the decision, they'd realise that. But not much of a headline, I suppose.

I won't say anything with great certainty, because I've only skim-read the judgments, but I don't think this case is worth people getting their knickers in a twist. It's crummy for Matthew Evans (okay, Fairfax, since they're footing the bill) but I doubt it'll "open the way" for anything.

(ETA: I feel I should apologise on behalf of my law degree for my own lack of critical insight into the case. I even studied defamation law, so I should be able to say something a bit cleverer. Oh well!)

Saturday, 9 June 2007


I have a Literature Review for my MA to revise/edit/make less rubbish, so of course I'm blogging. I shall deceive myself into thinking that I just need to give myself a bit of time for the essay-writing-crack-cocaine (i.e. Diet Coke - I know, dreadful) to kick in...

It's not even a new thing that I'm updating about. It's an apple and quince tart I made in April. The apples were Granny Smiths. Underneath are sliced quinces, which you can just see. The quinces were poached with a split vanilla pod (mmm, profligate) and a broken cinnamon quill. The rest of the poached quince was eaten with rice pudding the following week.

It was good, except for two things. One, I really need a metal flan tin. The ceramic Portmerion is all very pretty but it's not as good a conductor of heat so the pastry isn't as crisp. Two, I really could've done with a blowtorch to caramelise the apples (and a glaze), because the oven was remarkably useless and just sort of burnt them a bit.

You can see a little apple pie in the picture, made with excess pastry and apples - very handy and portable for taking to work, incidentally. You can also see how half-arsed my pastry lattice-work is.

Even older, is a pear bourdaloue tart I made last year. As you see, I bothered to glaze the pears with apricot jam, which is why it's a bit more attractive.

I don't actually spend all of my time making pastry, though. If I did, I'd be a lot better at it!

Monday, 28 May 2007

Strawberry tartlets

I've been in awe of the hyper-organised types who always have things stashed in the freezer to be whipped out in emergencies for some time. I had my own little moment of culinary wizardry recently, which should reinforce any such desires.

A few weeks ago, I made some shortcrust pastry. (I've also reached the point where I ignore recipes for pastry, and do my own. Finally, I have pastry which responds to my orders!) Deciding to use only half for some little apple pies, I froze the other half. Last weekend, when I was at a loss to make some pudding-cakey thing for my mother, I realised I could just whip out the leftover pastry.

Having defrosted it in the fridge overnight, I rolled it out, cut it and lined a cupcake tin. Although I did bake the cases blind, you can see that the pastry wasn't really weighted down enough to keep it smooth.
Whilst this cooled, I threw together some confectioner's custard, pulled out some redcurrant jelly and hoped that the frozen strawberries would defrost in a timely fashion (and not get eaten by me as I waited).

Mise en place:

Once the custard was spooned into the cases, the strawberries were (not very artfully) arranged, and warmed redcurrant jelly was brushed on top. As you can see, I ate too many strawberries so they were slightly sparse upon the custard, and the glaze was too runny. Sigh.

I'm told they tasted all right, though.

So there you go. I'd file this under 'slightly dodgy', if pushed.

A further point - keeping these in the fridge for the rest of the week was great to prevent them going off, but did render the pastry a bit soggy. Bulk baking isn't always your friend.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Roast chicken

For Mother's Day, I did a roast chicken. As a vegetarian, I can only say that this is one way of demonstrating true love for my mother.

Oh god - why did I not realise how much like an autopsy this would be?

We're so used to meat coming pre-packaged, cut up, filleted, wrapped in clingfilm. I cope all right with mince, the odd steak - even the leg of lamb last month, since it was boned anyway (I know, you lose flavour removing the bone, but it does make carving a doddle).

It's much easier to forget you're dealing with chopped up bits of animal this way.

I'd have more respect for meat eaters if they didn't get hypocritcally squeamish about this fact. Gold stars to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fergus Henderson for their guts and all approach to meat eating. I have more time for them. If you're not prepared to raise the animal kindly, have it killed humanely, and realise you are eating an animal, I'm not sure you should be allowed to eat meat.

Ahem. I shall step down from my soapbox.

If anyone's interested, I mostly followed Campion and Curtis' method from a 2006 Epicure article with a bit of Nigella Lawson's Feast thrown in. I would say it's pretty foolproof.

I removed the (yes, free-range - come on, it's not that much more to pay and it's so much more humane) chicken from its plastic an hour before I cooked it (meanwhile I made a lime poppyseed loaf cake), to let it dry out and breathe. Just as well, because it was full of...juices.

I left the poor bird propped up in a roasting dish, reclining as if she was on a sun lounger. There was something vaguely obscene about it.

Anyway. After patting her down with kitchen towel, I seasoned her inside and out, popping some lemon wedges inside and rubbing olive oil into her skin. It felt oddly human. Like I was a masseur.

In she went, upside down at first, before being righted and surrounded by garlic and sweet potatoes (ensuring crispy skin). She emerged looking like this:

I must say, the crispy skin and the smell nearly got me going.

Carving her up was a bit icky, though. Much ickier than slicing a fillet of lamb or beef. Bones, people. I had to cut through joints.

The carcass, leftover juices, lemons etc went into the pressure cooker with some cold water, peppercorns, celery, carrots, onion and bay leaves and simmered away for three hours. The resulting stock smelt absolutely magnificent. A third was frozen, a third made avgolemeno (via Claudia Roden's Jewish Book of Food) on Monday (timed well, as my mother was getting ill and this seemed to stem the viral advance), and the rest will make risotto tonight.

I am shocked, though, at recipes which say a chicken that size would feed four. Four! Four what? Giants? I pulled a lot of meat off that bird - it will feed my mother for a week. How much meat do people need?

Ah well. Roast chicken. One more thing I can cook.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Roast potatoes

Not exactly the most exciting subject for a first post, but these were probably the best roast potatoes I've managed so far.

Nor is the method of any great surprise: cut up potatoes. Parboil them for about twenty minutes. Drain, allow to dry as much as possible. Put roasting tin in oven as it heats up. Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in the tin and allow to heat for a further ten minutes. Chuck in potatoes, stir around to get coated, pop in oven for about thirty minutes.

Add crushed garlic, robust herbs at your whim. Superb!

At a close second are the rosemary and garlic roast potatoes from Delia Smith's Summer Collection, which turn out golden and crispy. They are much improved by the use of fresh rosemary. I have used dried, and it is just not the same.