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A Few of My Favourite Things!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Marron Chaud!

One of my most enduring memories of Europe is the mouth-watering aroma of roasting chestnuts. Wandering through the Christmas markets of Prague and Strasbourg, we would often find ourselves gravitating towards the stands where chestnuts were being roasted over red-hot coals, drawn by their wonderful, warm and inviting fragrance. Then when you finally have a cornette of hot chestnuts in your gloved hands - ah, what bliss! Of course, my wonderful husband would then have to de-glove in order to peel the chestnuts while they were still hot.

As we find ourselves settling in for the cooler Melbourne months, our thoughts turn once again to 'kastany', as they are known in Prague, or 'marrons chauds' in french. Although our winters are not nearly as cold, I've noticed chestnut stands popping up around the city over the last few years. I'm not sre how well they do in terms of traed, but I'm quite happy to roast chestnuts myself at home and A. is still quite happy to peel them for me so I don't burn my fingers :-)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Slow-cooked Beef Short Ribs

Okay, remember my great-looking ribs which did not taste as good as they looked? Well, the leftovers turned out WONDERFULLY!

The day after our dinner with W&W, I placed the left-over ribs in a Le Creuset pot, sprinkled lightly with some 5-spice powder and filled the pot up half-way with water. The ribs were slow-cooked in the oven for several hours until the meat was meltingly tender. I pulled the meat off the bone with a fork and served it with noodles. Just fantastic!

Well, I guess I know how to cook them next time :->

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Vanilla Babies

We attended a Brit Milah, which according to Wikipedia is "a religious ceremony within Judaism that welcomes infant Jewish boys into a covenant between God and the Children of Israel through ritual circumcision performed by a mohel ("circumcisor") in the presence of family and friends, followed by a celebratory meal (seudat mitzvah)", this morning.

Yep, we went to an (ahem) circumcision ceremony. It's really lovely to be invited to celebrate such a significant and happy occasion, and I'm saying happy because C. suffered some complications which resulted in her being hospitalised and E. being born some two or more months prematurely. C & J were only able to bring him home from hospital the Saturday past.
That's all wonderful and all, but let's not overlook the fact that we were at a circumcision ceremony (raised eyebrows). It may be perfectly normal and acceptable and even expected for some communities to celebrate events like these but can I say that this was definitely a first for me?
Anyway, in celebration of E's exit from hospital I baked some Vanilla Babies! Here they are holding hands:

Vanilla Babies

donna hay 'Modern Classics Book 2'

185g softened butter, 1 cup caster sugar, 1.5 tsp vanilla extract, 2.5 cups plain flour, 1 egg, 1 egg yolk

  1. Beat butter, sugar & vanilla until smooth, then add flour, egg & yolk to form smooth dough
  2. Knead dough lightly, wrap in clingwrap and refridgerate for 30 min until firm.
  3. Roll out between 2 sheets of baking paper to a thickness of 5mm
  4. Cut shapes with cookie cutter and bake for 10-12 min until golden.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Barbequed Chilli Ribs

I appear to have been on a chilli-kick lately. Could this all have resulted from that one time when, due to a friend's intolerance for the addictive hot stuff, I was prevented from adding any chilli to our pasta sauce?
This time, I was keen to turn some beef short ribs into sticky, chilli-coated barbequed ribs...but things don't always turn out the way that I hope. After surfing through a couple of recipes, I couldn't decide whether it would be better to cook them in the oven or just under the grill. I was going to opt for the grill but these pieces of beef short ribs were quite meaty and thick and I was worried that they would not cook through properly just under the grill. So, what did I do? After marinating the ribs in a mixture of hoisin, soy sauce, chilli bean sauce and some other ingredients that I forget now, I baked them in the oven for ~15 min then under the grill so that the outside would be brown and sitcky-looking. The ribs looked fantastic - you can see for yourself in the photo - but they were hard to cut through and slightly dehydrated. Anyway, not much I could do on the night. We had them with steamed edamame and chilli-fish from Infinity Cafe.
For dessert, Chocolate Ripple cake drizzled with the same Caramel au Beurre Sale as featured here. I first learnt how to make this dessert in primary school from a neighbour and never would have thought before that that there could be a dessert that was so effortless and yet so addictive. I wonder if this would work just as well with gingernut biscuits?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Garlic-Chilli Prawns & Stir-Fried Vegetables

I was happy to get back into the kitchen after the lead-up to Easter, when we were busy with music practices and so on. I get a lot of enjoyment daydreaming about what I feel like having for dinner and then gathering all the ingredients for the meal when I get home from work (unless I'm bone-tired, of course, in which case I'll wish dinner was already waiting).

We had some big juicy prawns in the fridge, wanting and waiting to be transformed into delicious meal. Something simple like crisp garlic-chilli prawns served with stir-fried vegetables with lap cheong, topped with black sesame seeds. Mmmmm....

Friday, April 21, 2006

Kitchen Gadgets!

I found these bag clip thingies at the Korean Grocery store opposite Victoria Market. Aren't they fantastic? :-D

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Pasta Marinara

The meals that I cook tend to be on the spicy side because both my husband and I love chilli. However, I had to really restrain myself for this meal because C. does not do spicy. Boy, was this difficult! I managed to sneak in a piece of salami that A. managed to snag in his dollop of sauce and I say 'sneak' because it was chilli salami! Fortunately, it wasn't spicy enough to really be detected (or at least, C. didn't SAY anything about it!) but, I was just trying to increase his tolerance slowly :-P

I made pasta again on the weekend and after holding back the last time, boy did I go heavy on the chilli flakes and the pimentos we picked up from the organic stall at Victoria Market! In fact, so much so that I had to tone it down later on - OOPS!!!

This time, I went with a marinara sauce. In other parts of world, the term 'marinara sauce' - which originated from the Italian 'all marinara' or 'sailor style' - refers to a spicy tomato-based sauce that includes onions, garlic and herbs but not meat. However if you order a Pasta Marinara in Australia, be ready for a tomato-based seafood dish.

Yet again, there is no recipe for this sauce but it's pretty similar to the last one, except for the addition of the above mentioned ingredients for their chilli kick. Oh, I forgot to mention last time that I also tend to add one or two anchovies in my sauce. After all the ingredients go in, my favourite part is allowing the sauce to simmer on a really low heat for the afternoon so that it fills the house with a mouthwatering aroma. Just before serving it with the past, I threw in some prawns, mussels, shrimp, octopus and fish.An the pasta itself? Fresh parsley, oregano and basil fettucine from the Donini's on Lygon Street. What a great meal, served with a slice of toasted sesame seed and sea salt ciabatta!

I think the flavour of the pasta would come out more with a simpler sauce so I may try that next time - any suggestions?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

WCB 45: Shopping Bags

I love shops in which the assistants fold your clothes neatly in tissue paper and slide them gently into heavy paper bags. Makes the shopping experience even more worthwhile. Of course, once we get it home we normally leave the bags lying around for the cats to hide in, ambush each other from and generally to use as they wish. Look at how much they enjoyed this Bally bag!
If you'd like to participate in WCB as well, head over here and leave a comment.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Hot Cross Buns!

This was my second attempt at hot cross buns this week. The first recipe that I followed was from Nigella's Feast and it did not turn out well. Maybe it was something I did or didn't do but I would love to hear if anyone has had succes with that recipe.

This time, I modified a Delia Smith recipe - the first of her recipes that I've tried - and it was a winner! I left the dough to prove overnight instead of 1.5 hours, but that's just because it suited our day, then moved from the fridge to our bench yesterday morning before we went to the Good Friday service. Mum, dad, W & W came over after the service to share in a bowl of mum's duck porridge - yummo! In the meatime, I punched the dough down, divided it into 12 round portions and left it to prove again before piping the cross on and baking.

The result - fresh, spicy, fruity and full of flavour, quite unlike the first lot I made which did not rise very much and was therefore quite dense as well as flavourless. I did not have any mixed spice in the pantry and so substituted with ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. I don't remember the exact amounts of each spice that I sprinkled on, but it was definitely more generous than the 1 heaped tablespoon of mixed spice that Delia recommends.

In fact, we did a little taste-testing of this against hot cross buns, both fruit and choc chip, from Browns and choc chip from Bakers Delight and I'm happy to report that both A. & I felt that mine trumped the commercially made ones :-) The homemade ones had a better flavour and were slightly denser, giving them nicer mouth feel.

Hot Cross Buns

50g caster sugar + 1 tsp, 1 tbs dried yeast, 450g strong flour, 1 tsp salt, a few tsp of ground cinnamon/nutmeg/ginger/clove, 125g mixed dried fruit, 40ml warm milk, 1 egg, 50g melted butter. For cross: 2 tbs flour + boiling water to create paste for piping. For glaze: 2 tbs sugar, 2 tbs boiling water.

  1. Stir 1 tsp caster sugar into 150ml tepid water and sprinkle in dried yeast. Leave until frothy.
  2. Sift flour, salt, spices together and add tge remaining 50g sugar and dried fruits. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture, 40ml tepid milk, beaten egg and melted butter. Mix into a dough, transfer to a clean surface and knead until smooth & elastic (around 6 min).
  3. Place back into bowl nd cover with cling film. Leave in a warm place until it rises to double its original volume (place in fridge if leaving overnight). Turn it out & knead it back down to its original size.
  4. Divide dough into 12 portions and arrange on baking sheet. Slash a cross across each one with a sharp knife. Cover with cling film and leave to rise for about 25 min.
  5. Mix the flour and water into a paste suitable for piping and pipe a cross on each portion of dough. Bake at 220C for 15 min, watching carefully that they don't burn.
  6. Brush buns with the glaze as soon as they come out of the oven.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Run for the Kids 2006

A few weekends ago, I watched the Commonwealth Games marathon runners wind their was through the streets of Melbourne. I was there at Carlton Gardens to take pictures of the participants near the beginning of their race and I was there at the end when they sped along the Yarra River towards the MCG. I wondered how it must feel to have to maintain a strong state of mind for such a long race and what the cheers of the spectators would mean to the runners, especially when it's starting to feel like it's been a long day.

Well, last Sunday, I got the chance to have a little feel of what it's like at the inaugural Herald Sun/Citylink Run for the Kids! Fortunately, I had had the foresight (uh huh) to register early on for the 14.7km, which traversed the Bolte Bridge and the Domain Tunnel, as they closed registrations off at 20,000 participants after an unexpectedly overwhelming response. The event ended up raising more than $400,000 for The Royal Children's Hospital Good Friday Appeal! A huge thanks to the organisers, marshalls, volunteers and cheering spectators.

Placed 4748 in the 14.7km.in the 2006 Herald Sun/CityLink Run for the Kids
in a time of 1:19:07

These photos are borrowed from here.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

WCB 44: Baby Kittens!

I can't believe that Tasha & Bella were ever so little! They were around 6 weeks old at this stage and we didn't get to take them home until they were 3 months old. It would have been really nice to had them home at this age, but I guess we ended up with better behaved cats this way.
More kitties at Eat Stuff!

A Simple Meal with Friends

We had our friends, P&C, over for dinner last week. It was just a simple Friday night meal, nothing fancy or troublesome but just an easy-going, lovely time for catching up. I picked up a few things from Lygon Street - chicken & veal ravioli from Domini's, anti-pasto from King & Godfree - and Victoria Market - foccacia, so the only thing I really had to prepare were the tomato sauce and dessert.

I began the tomato sauce by slow-cooking some onions and garlic with a small piece of salami (for a subtle smoky flavour). A tin of passata and some fresh tomatoes were tipped in and these were closely followed by some oregano. The sauce was left to simmer for some time before fresh basil was torn and stirred in. The fresh ravioli was added to the tomato sauce and served with foccacia studded with rosemary and sprinkled with seasalt and a fig-fresh goat's curd-rocket salad. The tomato sauce complemented the ravioli perfectly - YUM! And was happy to have accidentally received the single piece of salami:

A: "I REALLY liked how you added salami to the sauce!"

Me:"What salami? Oh, THAT salami! I forgot to fish it out!"

For dessert, a Mocha Coffee Cake drizzles over with melted dark chocolate and Joel Durand Caramel au Beurre Sale and topped with a single coffee bean. Recipe to follow shortly.