Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Comfort Food

Winter. This season was just made for cooking don't you think? The oven warms the house, the food is rich and filling, red wine, casseroles, pot pies, hot puddings...

Two of my favourite guinea pigs were over for dinner on Saturday night, the guest of honour being Miss J's godmummy whose birthday it had been a couple of days before. I decided I wanted to do comfort food - a casserole and a pudding. I confessed to Kaz that it had been a long time since I had last made a casserole (erm, around 12 years at a guess) as the last time hadn't been all I hoped for. My memories are hazy, but I recall that although it wasn't a complete disaster, it was not not the melt-in-your mouth, full-o-flavour experience you expect nay, CRAVE from a hearty casserole.

In anticipation of this momentous occasion, I had an emergency trip to Kmart the Thursday night prior. I had been tipped off they had a range of good quality cast iron/enamelled cookware at reasonable prices. I have a great collection of Corningware, as all brides should, but you can't use that on the stove top and I wanted this to be a one pot dish. So, I dashed in en route home and when I found the appropriate aisle was confronted with a selection of RED. Bah!!!!! Again with the red! But something compelled me to turn around and lo! there was a lovely oval dish on a gorgeous shade of cobalt blue for only $56. Bargain. Even more of a bargain when I got to the checkout and it scanned at $39. You gotta love Kmart.

So I was all set for Saturday night comfort food. I had sought out some suitable casserole contenders, but eventually settled on this. The main reason was I also hadn't ever cooked with leeks before. I know, I know - at my age that is a travesty but one shortly to be recitfied. I did tweak it a bit, as is my wont. As is all cooks wonts really.

Chicken Leek and Mushroom Casserole

8 chicken thigh pieces
1 tbs olive oil
250g rindless bacon rashers, coarsely chopped
2 leeks, pale section only, washed, ends trimmed, cut into thick slices
400g button mushrooms, halved
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbs plain flour
250ml (1 cup) salt-reduced chicken stock
250ml (1 cup) white wine
6 sprigs fresh thyme
125ml (1/2 cup) thickened cream
Zest of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 180°C. Heat a 3L (12-cup) capacity flameproof, ovenproof casserole dish over medium-high heat.

Add half the chicken and cook for 3-4 minutes each side or until golden. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining chicken, reheating the dish between batches. Use paper towels to wipe the dish to remove excess fat.

Add the bacon, leek, mushroom and garlic and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute or until well combined. Add the stock, wine, lemon zest and thyme, and bring to the boil.

Return the chicken to the dish. Cover and bake in oven for 1 hour or until the juices run clear when the chicken is pierced with a skewer.

Use tongs to transfer the chicken to a plate/s. Put dish with leek mixture back on the stove. Add the cream and bring to the boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens slightly.

Pour leek mixture over chicken to serve. I served with evil mashed potatoes and green beans.

I had always though casseroles to be very complex and time consuming. Not sure where I got that idea from - I was so wrong!

And so to dessert. I have been wanting to make a self-saucing pudding for aaaaaages. Given Kaz's husband Chocolate Crackle (long story) is not a chocolate fan (ironic, huh) I thought I'd avoid the obvious and go for a caramel flavour. The following recipe is kind of a melange of a few, so I can't really credit anyone but me!!

Caramel Self-Saucing Pudding

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups self-raising flour
100g butter, melted
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
5 tbs golden syrup
1 tbs cornflour
1 1/2 cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 1.5 litre ovenproof dish.

Combine 1/4 cup of the brown sugar and all of the flour in a bowl. Add the melted butter, egg, milk and 3 tbs of the golden syrup and stir until combined. Spoon into greased dish.

Combine the remaining 1/2 cup of brown sugar and cornflour. Sprinkle over the pudding mixture. (Note: if you are having a dinner party you could do up to this stage beforehand and finish off with the next step while you eat your mains)

Combine boiling water with the remaining 2 tbs of golden syrup. Pour over the top of the pudding mixture and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. I served with double cream but runny cream would be yummo also.

As this is really so easy to make I have no choice but to expand my self-saucing repertoire forthwith. And I might add while I am fixated on self-saucing, my Mother is currently obsessed with steamed puddings. In particular, a rhubarb steamed pudding Fast Eddie made on Better Homes and Gardens a few weeks back. Her first attempt I wasn't privvy to, but apparently resulted in quite tasty, but very hard 'steamed rock cakes'. Part of me indulged in a little schadenfreude at this, given her usual lack of modesty when it comes to her cooking accomplishments, but I love rhubarb and I love puddings so I am hoping she succeeds next time.

Up next: I know, I lied and this wasn't the Lemon Meringue Cake recipe so I am doing that next. Promise. It's worth the wait though....

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Things I covet:

Anything with cupcakes on it - exhibit a, exhibit b and exhibit c.

Cobalt blue kitchen stuff - like all of this.

Babushka dolls - like this, oh and this and what about these?

Oh and feijoas. The Aussies haven't cottoned onto them yet so you never see them and when you do they are at extortionate prices. But Mum and I have a plan......


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sparkle Cupcakery, Surry Hills

I work in Surry Hills, which seems to be a bit of an eating hotspot these days, and was excited to learn that a cupcake bakery had opened up not far from my office. I say not far, but anyone who has ever had to make the hike from Elizabeth Street up Foveaux Street to Crown knows that The Hill of Death lies between you and your desired destination. However, I wasn't letting that get between me and (hopefully) a good cupcake.

Before departure, I had a peruse of their website - pretty snazzy, with a run down of flavours and what day of the week they were available. I mentally made my selection and off I went.

After oxygen therapy upon conquering THoD, I spotted my prey and in I went to be greeted very chirpily by the young man behind the counter. The shop is exactly as you see on the website, I say this as I thought there’d be more to it in the flesh but no, not a huge amount of space. Given this is the 'trendy' part of Surry Hills, I wasn't surprised that there were lots of 'ladies who lunch' types in here, especially as you can sip a champers with your cupcakes.

So I perused the window display and made my selection - a lavender and honey and a coconut ice. They were placed into a stylish paper bag and whilst he was doing this I spotted a printout email on the counter from a corporate customer expressing their unhappiness. I noted this for two reasons. 1) I was about to fork over $9 for two cupcakes, so I was hoping this person had unfounded complaints and 2) I organise all our work functions, so always like to know who is worth their salt especially local suppliers. So regardless of whether or not you know who your customer is, its not a good idea to leave such notes out in plain view.

So, to the point of my visit. The cupcakes look nice, a big mound of frosting with a dot on top, it seems they (the dots) are colour coded according to flavour.

Lavender and honey – listed as a ‘soft-scented lavender cake with creamy honey frosting.’ As soon as I opened the bag I could smell the lavender. Maybe even a little too powerfully. The cupcake itself was a little on the dry side. The frosting is nice, but I am not detecting much honey. So, I take a mouthful of icing on its own. Hmmm, very fragrant but not really honey, more a lavender taste. So I take a mouthful of just cake – no real lavender flavour at all., In fact, while I do not have the resources to break down components, I strongly suspect it’s a vanilla cupcake with lavender icing, not a lavender cupcake with honey icing as the website states. A tad disappointing.

So, onto the coconut. Coconut ice – ‘tropical shredded coconut cake topped with coconut ice.’ So, this is meant to be a coconut cupcake with coconut icing. Check on the icing, but the cake is not coconut and this is obvious - there are no shreds evident in the cake at all and it simply doesn't taste of coconut. And unlike almost every coconut cake I've had in the past, this cupcake is very dry and crumbly, and is very difficult to eat.

For me, $4.50 for a cupcake is getting up there and possibly amongst the pricier cupcake offerings in Sydney. The cake itself seems more miss than hit. They are generous with the frosting and have some really interesting flavours on offer – it would be great though, if the finished product tasted of what was actaully described on the menu.

Sparkle Cupcakery
132 Foveaux Street
Surry HIlls
02 9361 0690

PS pics are coming as soon as I can get them off my phone.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Chai Latte Butter Cake

I have been doing lots of reading and what I find fascinating is the more reading you do about baking the more you realise it is absolutely all about science. And once you get your head around the basic principles you can cut loose and experiment more.

I had a girly get-together on the horizon and I decided I wanted to make a cake for grown-ups, a spice cake. I searched, but couldn't find a recipe that I liked and so decided to make a variant of the yummy butter cake I'd made for Miss J's birthday. One of my beloved 'guinea pigs', LouLou, had given me some lovely teas for my birthday, so I thought I'd use the choc chip chai one to spice things up. Some recipes I've seen use a powdered version of a chai mix, but I decided to err on the side of caution and instead infuse the tea in the milk used in the recipe - I thought that was kind of smart!

Knowing how much batter this makes, I made a half quantity and used a 20cm square tin. I layered this cake with some of the butter cream. Oh, and you can adjust the amount of chai you use to your own taste - mine was about medium spice level I think.

So, just in case you missed it... here goes with variant included:

Chai Butter Cake

1 cup of butter (room temperature)
2 cups of sugar
4 eggs (room temperature)
3 cups of sifted self-raising flour
1 cup of whole milk infused with around 1 tablespoon chai
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Grease and flour 3 x 20cm/8 inch cake tins, or whatever you choose to use.

Using a mixer, cream butter until fluffy. Add sugar and continue to cream for about 7 minutes. Add eggs one at a time. Beat well after each egg is added.

Alternate adding flour and milk beginning and ending with flour. Add vanilla to mix until just mixed.

Pour batter in to tin/s. and then carefully drop the tin/s onto counter several times to ensure release of any air bubbles. This will help you have a more level cake (nice tip!).Bake for 25 - 30 minutes (depending on your oven) until done. Cool in pans for 5 - 10 minutes. Remove and immediately wrap each layer in plastic wrap to seal in moisture. Cool completely on wire racks. Once cooled, you are ready to ice /assemble your cake.

I debated about what flavour icing to use.. I think if I'd had cinnamon at the time that might have won, but in the end I decided on a coffee butter cream which is where the latte part comes in. Ultimately the coffee actually did work well with the chai spices and I would use this with it again.

Next up... (be still my heart) Lemon Meringue Cake