Thursday, November 26, 2009

Chocolate & vanilla puddings

My love for all animals (except most insects butterflies and lady bugs get a free pass) is one that is deeply tethered to my heart. Whenever I see an animal hurt or in pain, it pulls on that tether, and each time I can feel my heart tear and bleed. The depth of my compassion for them is even a mystery to me.

What's with all the 'animal love' talk you may wonder. Well, it has to do with my bedroom windowsill, or more specifically, what's on my windowsill.
I creature I have a fondness for is birds; I have three feeding trays on my porch that I fill with wild bird seed or sometimes bread and fruit. Watching birds twittering away (the non-tech kind) and zipping about here and there brings me joy. What brings me even more joy is baby birds (even baby alligators are kinda cute).

As a child, whenever I found an abandoned bird egg I tried my best to take care of it and hopefully hatch a baby bird I could one day set free (I could never keep a caged bird) not knowing that the egg had probably been abandoned a long time ago, and the little birdie inside would not hatch, no matter how hard I tried. Another sight I'd love to spy would be a birds nest, whether occupied or vacant.

The day we moved into our current home I spied no less than three empty birds nest, one nestled into thick pine needless, the other wedged between a crawling rose and our garage bricks, and the third was camouflaged between large leaves of ivy above the external laundry door.

Now imagine my delight, when one Spring morning, I clearly heard the tiny tinkling of baby bird's chirping. Tiptoeing closer to the sound I found myself standing before the closed cobalt drapes of my bedroom at 8am. They had been permanently closed for the last three weeks to guard against the sun's intense heat. I tentatively reached out and tucked the edge of the heavy drapes between my fingers, and as carefully as I could, as if there were made of gold leaf, I began to pull them aside, held against my face, as I peered through my window. It only took a few inches of them being parted for me to see a well woven nest snuggled in between the window sill and the luscious green ivy running up beside it. In the nest I spied four, perhaps five tiny birds, their skin the colour of a pink nose in winter, naked and bumpy, with their little belly's moving to the flutter of their chirps. I looked up and noticed a petite black bird with an apricot beak, wriggling worm in its grasp, darting straight towards the nest, so I hastily shut the curtain lest I frighten it with my enormous eyes and smiling teeth.

It has been three weeks since I first discovered the babies, and oh my how fast they grow. Already they have almost woven themselves jackets of feathers and have begun to lift their heads to peak over to what lays beyond their home. A few of my family members have caught glimpses and each time their eyes find the tiny feathered creatures, they light up and sparkle with the glee of a gold digger finding gold.

To celebrate the impending departure of my windowsill youngsters I invited those of us who have watched their progress with happiness over for the best kind of parting gift, a chocolate pudding with a molten center, something to sweeten the sadness of 'empty nest syndrome'.

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time:
cooking time: 12mins.
total: 37mins.

taste: 4/5. The softest chocolate taste, like a feather to the cheek.
When I checked on these at the 12minute mark, the top hadn't cracked so I left them in for another 4 minutes - as a result I did not have a molten center as much as a sticky, gooey center. Although there was no lava like oozing, they were still delectable. The outer layer of cake is spongy with a thin chocolate and sugared crust that breaks away to reveal its tender middle.
Inside the cake goes beyond moist to an airy fudginess. The chocolate does not march onto your tongue, it gently sashays with a nice sweetness and a hint of vanilla.
There is that unidentifiable strong note playing in the background, which I would guess is the Brandy.

Lovely, moist puddings that would appeal to most with their un-confrontational disposition.

would I make it again: Yes - when I am in the mood for a milder form of chocolate and a quick dessert, although I would probably decrease the sugar a touch next time.

recipe: Chocolate and vanilla puddings

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lamb sausage roll

These were not on my list to be blogged, as it was a dinner, and dinner's tend to be late in the evening, when the light is poor and my energy spent.

However, halfway through his first roll, my husband insisted that I at least take some sort of rudimentary snap shot so that I could post it and other's could enjoy this recipe as much as he was. I, of course, obliged. So here they are, captured modestly, but eaten with fanfare.

ease: 5/5.
prep time:
10mins (I used store bought puff pastry and harissa paste).
cooking time: 35mins.
total: 45mins.

taste: 4.5/5. Needless to say, hubby adored these, packed with flavour and easily edible without cutlery. Best of all, he didn't even feel the need to reach for the tomato sauce.
I halved the recipe to make three large sausage rolls.

would I make it again: Of course.

Great Australian Sausage Roll

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pistachio & cardamom barfi

We have been dropping like the flies on our windowsills.

Normally I persevere and continue to cook during hot weather, this time around I simply threw in the tea towel.
Breakfasts and lunches have been fruit, sandwiches, yoghurt, crudites - anything that doesn't require cooking. Dinner has been much the same with baked bean jaffles, caprese pressed sandwiches and super quick fritattatas. What we have missed out on has been desserts. Oh my have I missed my sweet treats. Hubby and I settled with chocolate coated licorice, but after four days, it's become a little unsatisfactory. There was a one night reprieve, where my darling husband took me out for my birthday to a restaurant I have been dying to go. Once I sunk my spoon into luscious lemon bisteeya and a date and chocolate tart, I knew I had gone too long without making a dessert, my favourite thing to prepare in the kitchen.

When I first tasted pistachio barfi, I was 10 years old, and one of my best friend's brought it as her heritage dish (we all brought dishes from our cultural backgrounds). It was my favourite dish out of the thrity or so I tasted. For years and years I asked my friend if she could get her mother to make it again for me, alas, 16 years on and I haven't had the pleasure of tasting it twice. Today, with the temperature only reaching 26C, I seized the opportunity with the utmost vigour to find a recipe for barfi, even though it's not the same as the one I had so long ago, it was still something different for my tastebuds to try.

ease: 5/5.
prep time:
cooking time: 15mins.
total: 35mins plus 6 hours chilling time.

taste: 4/5. The soft, fudgelike cube surrenders willingly to your teeth, as it's silky, cardamom touched sweetness fills your mouth. The pistachio crumbs add a hint of flavour, but mostly provide a texture once the barfi has dissolved.
This reminds me of what a fudge would be like, if it dreamed of being as smooth as marble and as soft as butter. I was a little disappointed in the subtlety of the cardamom, and the practical absence of the cloves, two spices I can always handle more of, and this definitely needs more of them. The only downside was that it smelt softly of cheese, which put some of my family off, although it didn't taste like cheese.

would I make it again: No, as nice as it was, the faint aroma of cheese was just a little off putting for me.

recipe: Pistachio & cardamom barfi - from Good Taste - May 2008, Page 77

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Karithopita - Walnut Cake

This is the 3rd installment of Sofia's Kitchen.

This spongy, nut studded cake, lovingly doused in a vanilla sugar syrup and then cut into a diamond shape, is perfect which a cup of Greek coffee. (Recipe transcribed by Helen)















Monday, November 9, 2009

Halfway cookies

The wind softly moved through the house like the soft hushing shake of a maraca. The rhythmic noise began to lull me into a calm trance as I sat in my sarong, beneath the cool licks of the air conditioner.

There is a new play in town, a one man show, with the Sun as it's star. It will be playing all week, from 6am til the moon closes it down at 9pm each night. Even while the Sun rests up for tomorrow's show, everyone will be talking about it all night long as they kick off the sheets in their sweat coated sleep.

During the day as I pick individual cherries from a box of cerise jewels I am asked my opinion on this show, 'Man, that sun is strong ain't it?' or 'How about that heat?'. It seems the Sun, who has played its role harsh and fierce, doesn't have many fans. Most are looking forward to the plays end on Sunday night, when we have been told to expect another crowd dividing show, The Thunderstorm Time, this is a cast ensemble with lightening as the lead and thunder as the supporting role - the ominous clouds provide the scenery with some fleeing birds singing the chorus. I don't mind the play, as long as I can watch mostly from my air conditioned home, with front row viewing only occasionally.

With the Sun playing loudly every day, I decided to watch from the shade of my kitchen, as I baked something sweet to nibble on during intermission. I should note that I waited two days to photograph these as I was too busy eating them. The photos don't do them justice as the ones shot were cold from the fridge, turning their fudgy, moistness dry and firm. But believe me, these are anything but dry and firm.

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time:
18mins to oven stage.
cooking time: 20mins (I cooked them for 25 which was a touch too long).
total: 38mins.

taste: 4.5/5. Straight from the oven your nostrils are showered with the milk drinking sweetness that only a cookie can bring. The base is chewy but soft, with a lovely doughy centre, a hybrid between cookie and cake. The next layer is indulgent and all semi-melted chocolate, soft and tongue coating. Lastly, there's the sweet, caramel meringue topping that covers the slice like a low flying cloud, occasionally allowing a brief glimpse of coffee coloured chocolate peaks or even cakie (cookie/cake) valleys.
It is sweet without being overwhelmingly so. Even after two days they are still good. Although take them out of the fridge a good 30mins before you want to eat them as the cold turns them hard and dry (like you see in the pictures). Note: you may need to add extra liquid to the cookie base, and perhaps a lighter hand with the chocolate.

would I make them again: Yes.

recipe: Halfway cookies

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Blood orange olive oil cakes

I have been neglecting myself.

It's true, and it is something I regrettably do often. I spend so much time nurturing and caring for my husband and dog that I forget to do it for myself. The first signs are usually that I smile less, I tend to be sombre and cloudy as I make meals, do chores, work and give affection to my loved ones. Then I begin to lose that stockpile of happiness within and I find myself becoming easily irritated by those I dote on. And then lastly I have nightmares, most often about something dear to me being taken away, like a child. I interpret these as the separation of myself from my neglected spirit. If I don't feed my spirit I can feel it begin to fade away like a photograph left in the sun.

Therefore drastic measures took place today, me and my needs would come first, before my loved ones. I decided to spend the day doing whatever I know sustains my spirit so that I could shake up the grey cloud that hangs around me from overlooking myself.

First up, I decided to get something done that I have been meaning to for the last five months - getting my car washed. And let me tell you, when I saw that gleaming beauty, freed from weeks of dirt left by angry rain and detritus from wet shoes, I felt as if I had given myself a good rinse.

Next, I spent an hour or so reading through blogs that make me smile. It was an hour well spent.

Thirdly, I visited the library and brought back a treasure of books yearning to be read, pages reaching out to be touched and turned by new fingers. Reading is something that truly invigorates and nourishes my spirit. From the age of four when I had learned to read and write I spent every moment immersed in different worlds and other lives. My parents often forgot they even had a daughter as I was always in my room, reading, as silent as the air.

Fourth - after a quick roll around with my dog I turned on the oven, put on the apron and prepared to do some good old baking. I have been dying to make something with the remaining few blood oranges left, having waited til that last moment to turn them into something delectable. These little cakes sounded delicious and are perfect for sharing with others.

As I sliced the oranges, and felt their crimson juices trickle through my fingers I felt myself beginning to warm, as if sunlight had begun to pierce my overcast skies. With each twirl of the whisk and ladling of the batter, I became glad.

Only half the day has passed and I have already smiled my first smile in too long.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 20mins to get into the oven.
cooking time: 20mins for 12 - this made 15. (20mins is all it took for mine to cook, which is 35mins less than the recipe states as it calls for the use of a loaf pan, rather than muffin tray, so keep an eye out.)
total: 1 hour for two batches.

taste: 4/5. The exterior of these golden muffins is gorgeously chewy with only a soft sweetness and perfume from the olive oil. Sunken in its depth are tiny gems of softened blood orange, now a soft amber in hue. They provide gentle bursts of lively citrus that mellows the lubricious cake. I did find my selfish hoping for more pockets of acidity though as they provide the best flavour.
  • I cooked these in muffin tins for only 20mins - it made 15 muffins.

would I make it again: No - I want to try other blood orange recipes out there.

recipe: Blood orange olive oil cakes

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Spinach, feta & tomato slice

Public holidays, wonderful things really.

Whilst hubby and I love our Sundays, having only one day each week to indulge our own interests without even a thought of work sometimes isn't enough. And that is what makes public holidays all the more sweeter.

This particular one happens to be a Melbourne only holiday - the grand Melbourne Cup. Whilst many don their best frocks to see the horses up close and personal, or head down to the local TAB to place bets, or even visit a friend or family for the Aussie tradition of a good old BBQ complete with pulling a horse's name out of a hat for a fun $2 house bet, hubby and I decided we would do what we needed most - absolutely nuthin'.

No visiting, no driving, no changing out of our pyjamas. Home bound we will be. I will most likely use this time to teeter around the kitchen, making something or other, followed by a thick novel, first words yet unread. Hubby will no doubt be on the Xbox, catching up with his 'old friends' with perhaps an afternoon stroll with the dog to stretch his game legs.

Yes, public holidays really are wonderful.

ease: 5/5.
prep time:
35mins til ready to go into oven as a whole.
cooking time: 35mins.
total: 1 hour & 10mins.

taste: 4/5. Simple but strewn with flavour. The flaky pastry gives way to iron-rich wilted spinach woven between strings of melted cheese and morsels of sweet tomatoes that must be eaten with caution lest their piping hot pulp burn your taste buds.
I sometimes worry tarts like these will be overwhelmingly eggy or rubbery - this is neither. The egg merely provides the base upon which the vegetables and cheese leap off to sensitively tantalise your taste buds.
I used slightly less spinach and a couple more tomatoes. I also blind baked my tart with pie weights.

would I make it again: Yes.

recipe: Spinach, feta & tomato slice - Good Taste - November 2009, Page 63

Monday, November 2, 2009

Semolina apple cream

The weekend has passed, and with it Summer's preview.

We had glorious sun as well as magnificently terrifying lightning storms; the very epitome of Summer. What I love most about the freshly washed grass, warm sun and post-electrical storm air is the smell, my goodness, it's indescribable. The air is charged with the smell of old rain, or pending rain for that matter, and it just fills me up with life. I feel energised whilst shivers run down my spine, as awesome as lightning is, it still scares me senseless unless I am in the safety of my home - I need my house of bricks.

Today was a kaleidoscope of sunshine, wind and rain. The hot temperature when mixed with grey clouds, bellies filled with water waiting to be expelled leads to an overall mugginess, I'm not sure whether to put my gumboots on or slap on a singlet. I do not care for humid weather, I like to be dry, whether the weather hot or cold, no stickiness for me please, my hair just won't cooperate.

I neither wanted to be in or out, so I opened my kitchen doors as wide as they could stretch and decided to do some baking whilst the cool breeze blew soothingly onto the nape of my neck, damp with perspiration.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 15mins to get semolina done and apples in the pan.
cooking time: 15mins.
total: 30mins plus 1 hour cooling time.

taste: 3.5/5. The texture and lack of flavours makes this seem a little like baby food. I added some vanilla bean seeds to the semolina mixture but I think the apples could have used a good spicing to bring some depth of flavour. At best it is like a plain milk pudding with stewed apples on top. If you want to try it add some cinnamon, nutmeg, mixed spice - something. It is mildly sweet with a slight tartness from the apples.

would I make it again: No.

recipe: Semolina apple cream