Friday, 26 December 2008

And a mouldy Christmas to you, too

A few weeks ago, we stopped by a new gourmet food shop at Chadstone*, and were taken by the caramelised fig and quince jam that was out for sampling. Thinking it would be sufficiently flavoursome and interesting for Christmas breakfasting, we bought a jar. A rather pricey jar** but we thought "What the hell; it's Christmas".

Come Christmas morn, I open the jar of jam and am greeted by the sight of a healthy flush of mould on the surface and on the inside of the lid.

Yum yum. Needless to say, we returned it.***

Mouldy jam is the sort of thing you could almost forgive an amateur preservist for. Almost. But given that I have made fig jam with seventy-five per cent less sugar than most jams and still not had it go mouldy after a year in the pantry, I'm not very forgiving of a sugary jam supposedly made by professionals, with professional preserving equipment.

On a less revolting note, and for the curious, the Christmas Day menu was:

Breakfast: Schwobs dark rye, a sourdough roll, Beurre d'Isigny Sainte-Mère (or in my case, cottage cheese), an excellent Syrian apricot jam procured on a Sydney Rd jaunt, Vallee d'Ourthe wild blueberry jam, Illy espresso (with frothed milk and Lindt chocolate shavings on top; and not, for mine).

Lunch: Cheese platter, with King Island ashed brie, Yarra Valley Dairy gemello, taleggio and a Spanish blue cheese we got from YVD (have forgotten variety - it's enough to say, nom nom nom), Maggie Beet plum paste, a thinly-sliced Sundowner apple, pecans, brazils, freshly cracked walnuts.

Dinner: Organic buckwheat blini, with salmon roe and fresh dill. Huon smoked salmon and freshly-baked organic sourdough rye, accompanied by a beetroot and dill salad, a garden salad, a fruit salad (with organic figs and raspberries from the garden) and sheep's milk yogurt. Prosecco.

Finished off with Dan Lepard's extra-moist stollen**** modified by me to contain dried sour cherries in lieu of raisins, cherry brandy in lieu of rum, and mahlepi in lieu of cardamom etc. Served up with Maggie Beer burnt fig and bitter almond ice-cream.


*For the curious, not one with the initials SJ, although I did have a lovely cup of Earl Grey tea there.

**And this is pricey not by our standards, since we don't settle for less than Bonne Maman. The name "Cottee's", for instance, would never darken our shelves.

***To add insult to injury, when we went to the Doncaster branch this morning to return it, the staff said "Oh no, you bought it at the Chadstone store, so it'll have to be returned there". No effing way! Merry Christmas to you, too, tossers!

***See also the most excellent blog by theinversecook.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Your holeyness...

I've tried making sourdough before, and in my anxiety about the starter's activity, semi-sabotaged my efforts by adding some dried yeast; thereby producing an okay loaf of bread, but not a bona fide pain au levain.

In the meantime, my starter languished at the back of the fridge and went a bit furry. I disposed of it, although I later found out that some people have revived furry starters and made bread which didn't actually cause death or disability. Curses!

Having taken a week off to recuperate from getting my wisdom teeth removed (an altogether unpleasant experience, since one side of my face swelled up like a football), I decided that all this free time at home would be an excellent opportunity for me to get a starter going again. Using Dan Lepard's method, Laucke flour, some lovely biodynamic yogurt and organic raisins, I had a pretty active little jar of gloop after a few days.

Despite two minor disasters (the dough stuck to the proving cloth, and mucking the surface up; I burnt my arm on the oven shelf in my dismay), the result was quite successful. I am particularly pleased with the holeyness of the crumb. The loaf was about 80% Laucke wallaby flour and 20% rolled oats for interest.

My second attempt was a sourdough rye.

Because rye flour has less gluten than wheat flour, you don't get that proteinous scaffolding to support big holes in the crumb - hence, a much denser bread is produced. I don't think the bread proved long enough, which is why it's a bit flat, and my shaping abilities are terrible, but it's not a bad loaf at all. And I didn't burn myself this time!

Now if I can just sort out the problem of my oven drying the crust out too much (i.e. work out how to turn the fan off)...

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Cake bakery round-up

I'm trying to keep track of what I've made, but I haven't been very assiduous about it. I also need to remember to take more photos.

Apple & Quince Yeast Cake

Made 13 July 2008.

I can’t remotely remember what recipe I used to make this. It may have been a bit of this, with some raisins in the yeast dough. I also will have omitted the cream, because we never have it in the house. I put in around two poached, sliced quinces and one (or two?) sliced Pink Lady apples (which was what was in the house at the time). These were strewn across the brioche dough, and two tablespoons of raw sugar sprinkled on the top before baking.

And then I dusted it with icing sugar, for prettiness...

Pumpkin Cake

From Stephanie Alexander’s Cooking and Travelling in South-West France. It is supposed to have caramelised orange slices to go with it, but I could not be bothered to make them, so I used some homemade Seville orange marmalade.

Made 27 July 2008.


1.2kg peeled, seeded and thinly sliced pumpkin (SA reckons on needing a 1.5kg pumpkin for this amount of flesh – I had a 2kg Kent pumpkin, the remainder of which I chopped and froze for later uses, e.g. pumpkin scones.)
50g butter
100g raw sugar
1 large whole egg
3 large egg yolks
grated zest of 1 lemon
as much cinnamon as you like
75g plain flour


Put around ¼ cup raw sugar in a saucepan with about a tablespoon of water, at medium heat, until dissolved. Increase heat and boil until it becomes caramelly in colour. Pour into a 9”/23cm cake tin, tilting to cover the base and sides. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 150˚C.

Steam the pumpkin until tender, drain in a colander for 10 minutes. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THIS! Else, you will end up with waterlogged pumpkin like I had.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan, put in the pumpkin and cook, stirring, to coat in the butter and evaporate remaining water (see caps lock bit above). Remove from the heat, and allow to cool. Puree it in a food processor (n.b. this mixture will taste absurdly delicious, and could theoretically be used as a soup base).

Using a mixer (i.e., my KitchenAid), beat the sugar, egg, egg yolks together until thick and pale. Add zest, flour, cinnamon and add pumpkin and beat well. There will be a lot! Pour it into the tin and cook until it is done. SA says 45 minutes, but mine needed over an hour, presumably because my pumpkin was too wet.

SA also says you should allow to cool completely before unmoulding. She’s right. I didn’t do this, and it was all a little bit gooey.

I finished off by spooning over my rather loosely-set marmalade of 2007.

Nonetheless, the cake was fearsomely good – very moist, interesting texture, and relatively healthy.

Pear Chocolate Muffins

Adapted from this recipe. I didn’t have any spelt flour, as for some reason it is prohibitively expensive here (I found it easily, and fairly cheaply, in organic form at Tesco in England, under the Doves Farm brand. When will Australian supermarkets move into the 21st century?). So I used plain unbleached flour, which worked fine (albeit not as healthy).

My version is as follows:

2¼ cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
3 free-range eggs
¼ cup raw sugar
1¼ cup milk
1 tbsp hazelnut oil
As much orange zest as I could get off an orange
A good slosh of vanilla essence


3 ripe beurre bosc pears, diced
100g chopped chocolate (I used Droste 70% cocoa solid + orange chocolate, as it was ludicrously cheap at the supermarket)


Whisk together all the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together all the wet ingredients. Stir the wet into the dry. Spoon in the pears and the chocolate.

Stir gently and spoon into oiled muffin tin – the mixture went into nine large muffin moulds. Put into a preheated oven set at 170˚C for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Pear Sultana Loaf

Made 10 August 2008.

This was adapted from a recipe. My version is as follows:

80g butter, chopped
1/2 cup raw sugar
2 cups self-raising flour, sifted
2 eggs, beaten
1 lemon, rind finely grated
1 cup sultanas
¼ cup apple juice concentrate, then enough water to make up to 1 cup
1 large, unripe beurre bosc pear, grated

1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
Enough lemon juice to mix above into a paste


1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a non-stick 900g/2lb loaf tin (n.b. I used spray light olive oil, because I am tremendously lazy).
2. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Add sugar, flour, eggs, lemon rind, sultanas, apple concentrate mixture and pear. Mix until well combined, and turn into the tin.
3. Bake until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean (the recipe says 50-60 minutes, I checked after 50 with my fan-assisted oven, and it was ready). Cool in pan for 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely.
4. Make icing by combining icing sugar and cardamom in a heatproof, microwave-safe bowl. Add lemon juice and stir until a thick paste forms. Heat in the microwave for a bit until runny. The power and length of time obviously depends on your oven.
5. Pour icing over cake and spread to cover. Allow icing to set before serving.

Healthy Apple Donuts

Made 17 August 2008. Adapted from a recipe in the current issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.

620g plain flour (Around 120 g made up with organic, wholemeal flour. Note that the recipe says “750g/5 cups”, which looks wrong to me!)
100 g raw sugar
2.5 tsp dry yeast
250 mL lukewarm milk, plus extra for brushing
80mL milk curdled with a good squeeze of lemon juice (as a substitute for 80mL buttermilk)
2 eggs, at room temperature
30g melted butter

Apple filling
1.5 massive Granny Smith apples, coarsely chopped
45 mL apple juice concentrate
2 tsp cinnamon
juice of one lemon and one orange

1. Combine flour, sugar and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and mix to combine. In another bowl, whisk together milk, ersatz buttermilk, eggs and the melted butter. With motor running, add milk mixture and mix on medium speed until dough is smooth and elastic (4-5 minutes). Form into a ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl (I used walnut, just in case it will add some interesting nuance), cover with plastic wrap and stand in a warm place until double in size. I won’t give any time indication, as in a Melbourne winter it all very much depends on how warm your house is.
2 . For the apple filling, put apples, juices and concentrate in a saucepan, stir over medium heat, bring to the boil and cook until the apple is tender. Cool.
3. Preheat oven to 190˚C. Knock down dough, turn onto a lightly floured work surface and roll to 5mm thick. Using a 7cm-diameter cutter, cut 12 rounds from dough. Using an 8cm-diameter cutter, cut 12 rounds from remaining dough (re-roll scraps if necessary). Place smaller rounds on a baking paper-lined oven tray 5cm apart and place a heaped teaspoon of apple filling in centre of each. Brush edges with milk, cover with larger rounds and press to seal edges well. Trim edges by cutting with a 7cm-diameter cutter. Cover with a tea towel and stand in a warm place until risen (1-1½ hours). Bake until bottoms are just golden (8-10 minutes).

Brush with a little melted butter mixed with a bit of millk, and toss in cinnamon sugar. (I am highly averse to using 120g melted butter, as per the recipe. This looks like overkill!)

Also made at some point in the last few months…

Haalo’s Garibaldi, albeit with ordinary raisins. These were great, and one day I will have to try making them with dried sour cherries.

Twice, I have made Dan Lepard’s cinnamon fruit cake, with some alterations (namely, more cinnamon, and usually some sort of brandy/rum substance instead of the tea). It is very good.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

The Lake House

Last year, my mother turned fifty (and now she’s going to turn homicidal that I’ve mentioned this). Because of life stresses and a little dismay at that milestone, she didn’t want much of a celebration. Her birthday was marked at home, with a roast lamb dinner, as that was – I felt – the least I could do.

This year she decided that fifty-one was a much more interesting date to celebrate, and though the life stresses hadn’t abated, she let me take her somewhere nice for lunch.

As soon as I suggested it, she was utterly sold on going to The Lake House. She had wanted to go somewhere out of Melbourne, and wasn’t particularly interested in Yarra Valley-ing, since we traipse around there quite often.

For a long time, she had wanted to go to Daylesford, and the pretty setting seemed to fulfil her need for some aesthetic nourishment.

I prepared by borrowing a copy of Alla Wolf-Tasker’s book, and quietly appreciated her writing and style.

The Sunday after her birthday, we drove to Daylesford. We arrived nice and early, and the picturesque town was a welcome change from the astonishingly depressing drive out of Melbourne.

I was very much taken by the water feature near the restaurant entrance, and the fragrant quinces set to one side.

Alas, out of embarrassment, I could not bring myself to photograph the food. How do fellow food bloggers manage it? We were however, hugely entertained by the antics of the kookaburras, which some of the more soft-hearted staff were feeding bits of – presumably – pancetta.

As we perused the menu, we were brought house-made bread rolls and butter. Though rather salty, the rolls were very good.

Mama went for the lunch special, which is extremely good value. For her starter, she had the Caesar salad, which featured a rather extraordinary panko-crumbed poached egg. A lover of poached eggs anyway, she raved for weeks afterwards that it was the best poached egg she’d ever had.

For her main course, she had (if I remember rightly) game sausages.

I chose Murray Cod from the a la carte menu, and given that this particular fish is quite scarce, I feel privileged that I’ve had the opportunity to try it. That said, I am not a huge fan of white fish, and this – though beautifully cooked – was no exception. It was, however, accompanied by a cauliflower puree that was so delicious that it has overwritten my memories of ghastly cauliflower cheese such that I am now able to enjoy this vegetable once more.

For dessert, she had the option of a chocolate or a flourless quince cake. Though I do not eat cake, I quite like to at least taste a little of what is on offer. I quietly hoped that she would not go for the chocolate, which would bore me – and so I was gratified that she did indeed choose the quince.

As I say, I do not particularly like sweet food, but the quince cake was extraordinary. Very moist, very delicious, and – rarest of all rare things – accompanied by cream so divine that even I could enjoy it. (I generally hate cream and have to scrape it off.)

After cake, and coffees, we took a walk around the lake, which is indeed very pretty.

Whilst I was not personally blown away by the food – as a pescetarian, I am resigned to having limited choices at restaraunts – service, presentation and execution were all excellent. I also appreciate that the food is selected on the basis of seasonality – a factor that we should all consider paramount. I will reiterate that what I enjoyed the most – the cake – was what I least expected to appreciate. And, importantly, Mama thought it was all wonderful.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Giant Steps/Healesville Harvest

Over yonder, Ed asks "What is good service in a restaurant?"

Whatever the answer is, it isn't what I experienced at Giant Steps this afternoon.

I've been to GS twice before, and found the service efficient - if a little impersonal - and the food palatable. Today I found GS populated by "cannot-be-bothered-I-am-wonderful-what-on-earth-are-you-mere-mortals-doing-here?" types.

We waited for ages after being officiously bustled to a terrible table; requests for somewhere better were refused and then we were ignored. Plus the menu didn't excite me at all - so we left.

We ended up going to Healesville Harvest. My mother had their soup - chicken and spinach, with proper rustic toasted bread with what appeared to be parmesan - and I had a toasted eggplant, ricotta and spinach sandwich, which though a bit oily was pretty good. My macchiato was superb, my mother's cappucino looked excellent, and the flourless quince cake was amazing (the real distinction was that the nuts were quite roughly chopped).

So, Giant Steps - 0, Healesville Harvest - maybe one. (It was good, though not fabulous/)

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Walnut tart, off-the-cuff pizza, in praise of Aldi.

Lately I have been almost wilfully ignoring recipes, and instead playing around as my mood suits me. I feel comfortable enough with the basics now to ignore them.

This is a sort of walnut custard tart, which caused some anxiety as I had absolutely no idea whether the filling quantity would be right for the pastry case.

The pastry itself was bog standard shortcrust, comprising butter, flour, cold water and a hefty whack of cinnamon and nutmeg. The filling involved some coffee (yes, filthy instant stuff), sugar, eggs, more cinnamon and nutmeg, milk and 100g walnuts, mixed together to form a slightly sloppy consistency. The whole lot went into a 190˙C oven for about fifty minutes. The result, I am told, was entirely edible.

Yesterday was hot and bothersome. I suspected that Maman was tiring of pasta and feta-enriched salad on her meatless days, so I suggested making pizza. The advantage of the warm weather meant that I didn't have to wait five hours for the dough to rise, and the Kitchen Aid mixer made light work of the dough.

For reference, the dough was 200g bread flour, 50g organic rye flour, a teaspoon of salt, a sachet of yeast, and a tablespoon of organic honey* dissolved in 125mL of warm water. I had to add extra water as I mixed because the rye flour tends to make the mixture drier. The dough hook made neat work in about 5 minutes, and I finished off the kneading by hand to make sure it was ready. As it proved, I made a tomato sauce with a tin of tomatoes, a clove of crushed garlic, dried herbs, a good splash of red wine and some salt and pepper. I also let our rarely-used (and I need to rectify this) pizza stone warm up in a 230˙C oven.

Once the stone was dusted with semolina, and the dough had been through a brief knead and flattening, it went onto the stone, was covered with sauce, dried mint, slivers of garlic, field mushrooms, green peppers, dried and fresh mint, and chunks of feta. 15 minutes later, and something a damn sight better than anything from the supermarket came out.

I will never understand "convenience" foods.

*From Aldi, which incidentally is worth a rummage around. One, they have more and more organic foods which are very reasonably priced. Two, you can find interesting continental stuff including damn respectable German jams at $2.99 for 450g. Three, their caraway rye is like what Schwob's bread should be - loaded with caraway seeds, and cheap at $2.99. The organic honey was a similar price to the Leabrook stuff we usually have, but is organic, and sourced from Kangaroo Island's Ligurian bees. Fancy!

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Slanderous sandwiches

The New York Times asks a highly important legal question: Can a sandwich be slandered?

To précis the article, Quiznos asked people to create advertisements for the chain, with a key theme of attacking their rival, Subway.

Subway decided this was defamatory and has sued.

The knotty legal question in this is whether Quiznos is liable for the actions of third parties.

Other interesting questions centre on competition, and whether you can make any direct claims in reference to your rivals in ads. That’s pretty interesting given that you hardly ever see companies engaging in that sort of outright warfare – think of the Duracell battery or laundry powder ads which like to euphemistically refer to “other leading brands”.

A further point would be whether the terms and conditions of entry involved an assignment of intellectual property rights from competitors to Quiznos – if so, one could argue that they had more control over the content and thus its (allegedly) defamatory distribution.

In any case, let’s get to the nuts and bolts here. In my (non-legal but tastebuds-intact) opinion, both companies are probably responsible for bringing the noble sandwich into disrepute. That distinctive sickly sweet miasma which wafts out of thousands of Subways across the world bespeaks of sugary bread and additives. It’s hard to compare Quiznos, because I think they only have one branch (or had) in Melbourne, but I can’t imagine it would be much better.

[Disclaimer: I have not personally eaten at either establishment, as – with Subway at least – I am generally overcome with nausea when I walk past.]

Compare a fast food offering with the following:
  • Bagel. Cream cheese/ricotta. Gherkins/shaved red onion, capers, pepper, smoked salmon, lemon juice and dill or chives;
  • Baker D. Chirico pagnotta. Perfectly ripe brie or chevre. Fresh grapes or dried muscatels on the side;
  • Dark rye batard, e.g. from Laurent. Thinly sliced, topped with cream cheese or ricotta, followed by the sourest, cherry-est sour cherry jam you can find.

Now those are sandwiches. And anything else is an abomination unto Lucullus or an insult to the goodly variations permitted by a loaf of real bread and a few, carefully selected toppings.

Tis Subway which brings the noble sandwich into disrepute!

That said, I sort of see what Nigel Slater and Nigella Lawson mean when they note the odd, rather naff pleasure of Laughing Cow cheese (aka “Moo Cheese”) and sliced bread…

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Cry for help - pepper mill advice

We get through what seems like a ludicrous amount of freshly milled black pepper, and so you can imagine how disastrous it was when our previously-functioning mill bit the peppery dust.

I've tried taking it to bits but I can't work out why it doesn't function properly. I know I could use a mortar and pestle, but that's a bit faffy.

Anyway. I'm in the market for a good mill. One which will do good, cracked pepper and not nasty grey dust. Any recommendations?

No proper food blogging update - not because I haven't been baking (I have), but because I'm too lazy to write it up.

But just to liven things up, here's a strawberry custard tart I made in September (and I must say, I am thrilled that South Melbourne Market has provided me with so many seriously cheap punnets of strawberries lately - and they even have flavour! Mmm, markets.)If you want to know a recipe, you're out of luck. I winged it. But basically, make shortcrust pastry, make vanilla beany custard (I do it with milk, eggs and cornflour for stability, because I loathe cream, and some almond meal for fun), top with strawberries. I can't actually remember whether the custard was baked in the case or if I did the latter blind, but that's the fun of no-recipe baking.