Friday, March 30, 2007

One a penny, two a penny...

I love hot cross buns. I love them warm and fresh out of the oven, smothered in melting butter. I love them cold. I love them as a snack or an afternoon treat. I love their yeasty, bready texture, sweetened with spices and dried fruit. Easter doesn't feel complete to me unless I've made at least one batch of freshly cooked buns.

Hot cross buns start appearing on supermarket shelves with indecent haste after Christmas but I manage to ignore them until at least March. I can't abide the recent trend for sickly-sweet choc-chip hot cross buns. I love chocolate and I love hot cross buns but never the twain shall meet! The original buns are so delicious that they don't need the addition of chocolate. I don't know where the trend has come from (although wikipedia suggests it's because people don't like mixed peel and want to replace it with something else) but it shows no signs of abating. Maybe we've become such sweet tooths that we just can't help overloading ourselves with sugar. Or maybe it's just the marketing gurus trying to create new consumer cravings.

I strongly encourage you to have a go at making your own buns - it's surprisingly easy. It does involve yeast and that puts some people off, but yeast is not as daunting as people fear. Your technique improves the more you cook with yeast, as you learn what to look for, whether the yeast is active and whether the bread mixture is rising as it should.

I've adapted my hot cross bun recipe over the years, taking bits from Donna Hay and Gourmet Traveller recipes, and changing the spices (I prefer a spicy mix in my buns), soaking the sultanas in port and omitting the mixed peel (which Adam detests). The aroma of these buns baking in the oven is heavenly and I like to make several batches in the lead-up to Easter. I always think I'll make these buns throughout the rest of the year because I love them so much, but somehow it feels like cheating!

Whip up a batch of these for morning tea in the lead-up to Easter, and definitely have some fresh from the oven for breakfast on Good Friday.


1 12g sachet of dried yeast (it should be equivalent to one tablespoon)
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
4 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon mixed spice
50g butter, melted
1 egg
2 cups sultanas
1/2 cup port
1/2 cup plain flour
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 cup water

Soak the sultanas in port for 30-60 minutes. Drain and discard remaining port.

Place yeast, two teaspoons of the caster sugar and all of the milk in a bowl. Set aside for 5-10 minutes, until the mixture foams.

Add the flour, spices, butter, egg, sultanas and remaining caster sugar to the yeast mixture and mix using a knife until a sticky dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes or until it feels elastic (you may need to add some extra flour if the mixture is too sticky). Place in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel, and stand in a warm place for one hour, or until doubled in size.

Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll into balls. Grease and line a 23cm square cake tin or baking dish with non-stick baking paper and place the dough balls into the tin. Cover with a tea towel and set aside for 30 minutes, or until the buns have risen.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Combine the flour and water for the paste and place in a piping bag (or a plastic bag with the corner snipped off) and pipe crosses on the buns. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until well browned and springy to touch. Remove from oven and brush on the warm glaze while the buns are still hot.

To make the glaze, combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, bring to the boil and then simmer for two minutes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival - sweet & sticky

Most people with a passing interest in gourmet matters know the basics of matching food and wine. While many of the old rules (white wine with fish, red wine with red meat) are no longer set in stone, and many of us have developed our own personal favourite matches, it's very easy to learn the basic rules, as there's so much information available.

Matching food with fortified wine is a less explored topic and something that the Sweet & Sticky event at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival aims to change. It's a thoroughly indulgent event - fine chocolates matched with some of Australia's best fortifieds - and all for the bargain price of $22.

This event was first held several years ago, when Buller Wines were matched with Cacao chocolates and I've eagerly scanned the festival program each year since, waiting for it to make a return appearance. Thankfully this year it did and the Buller Wines were this time matched with Fardoulis chocolates from Sydney.

Buller Wines were founded in 1921 and have cellar doors at Rutherglen and Beverford. The Rutherglen region is world-famous for its wonderful fortified wines, particularly its muscats and tokays, and Buller Wines rank very highly.

"For a long time now, table wine has taken the spotlight and fortified wines have been overlooked [in terms of matching with food]," winemaker Richard Buller told the guests at Sweet & Sticky.

"There is a taste sensation with fortified wines and chocolate. It lends itself to an interesting combination of flavours and characters and, if you think outside the square, then you get some wonderful pairings."

We tasted seven wines, each matched with a chocolate: fine old malmsey (honey macadamia), fine old liqueur tawny (cherry cream), fine old tawny (fig), fine old tokay (orange macadamia), fine old muscat (ginger), calliope rare tokay (strawberry macadamia), and calliope rare muscat (lemoncello).

Some of the pairings were more successful than others (although, as the night went on, the palate became tired and overloaded and this could have something to do with it!) The fine old malmsey was my least favourite wine at the last tasting but, this time around, I really enjoyed it and it matched superbly with the honey macadamia chocolate. The chocolate picked up the honey flavours in the malmsey and the macadamia also shone through strongly.

The fine old liqueur tawny had a luscious cherry syrup flavour, with some caramel and blackcurrant flavours, and the subtle flavour of the cherry cream chocolate complemented the wine perfectly.

The rich, spicy fruit flavours of the fine old tawny married wonderfully with the fig chocolate - its flavour practically exploded in my mouth and softened the alcoholic taste of the wine.

Less successful was the pairing of fine old tokay with orange macadamia. The fine old tokay is a deliciously smooth wine, with toffee, malt and caramel sweetness, plus a hint of butterscotch. These flavours were completely overpowered by the dominant sweet orange flavour, which also masked the macadamia.

My favourite of these wines is the fine old muscat, which has strong raisin flavours, and it combined well with the ginger chocolate.

The two calliope fortifieds are magnificent wines. Influential wine critic Robert Parker has apparently rated both these wines 100/100, which is a great coup for Buller Wines but has unfortunate consequences (for consumers anyway) for the price. (We're kicking ourselves for not buying bottles at the last tasting, which were then about $60 - now they are more than $200). These wines are so good that they stand on their own and almost don't need the distraction of matching food. Robert Parker describes the Calliope Rare Tokay as boasting "colossal aromatics and flavours of melted caramels, coffee, toffee, candied fruits marinated in Cognac, magnificent richness and a huge finish that last over 70 seconds". He is equally glowing in describing the Calliope Rare Muscat: " intoxicating fragrance that includes scents of prunes, figs, maple syrup, molasses, and gobs of fruit. The glycerine is extraordinary, the acid level provides freshness and definition, and the finish lasts over a minute."

Only exceptional vintages are used in these wines and limited quantities are bottled each year. The muscat uses old material that dates back more than 35 years. It is an experience and a joy to taste both these wines but unfortunately the chocolate matches did not do them justice. The strawberry macadamia is cloyingly sweet, with the strawberry overpowering both the wine and the macadamia flavour. The lemoncello is more successful. It has a zesty lemon flavour that keeps on coming. At first taste, it appears too much but, after several more nibbles, it ended up being a reasonable match with the wine.

Sweet & Sticky was a wonderful night and I highly recommend attending if this event is held during a future festival. Although I think the wines were more successfully matched with the Cacao chocolates at the last tasting, it was still an enjoyable mix and we learnt a lot about how to taste both fortified wine and chocolate and about the skills involved in successful matching.

Buller Wines
Three Chain Road, Rutherglen
Ph: (02) 6032 9660

Fardoulis Chocolates
105-107 Prines Hwy, Kogarah, NSW
Ph: (02) 9553 9552
Melbourne distributor: (03) 9887 0329

Friday, March 23, 2007


Cooking is part of the rhythm of life. So many of our celebrations and social occasions are tied up or celebrated with food: birthdays, weddings, dinner parties, Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day and Father's Day. There are special food rituals and traditions associated with these events, some indulgent (such as birthday cake, Christmas pudding, wedding feasts) and others not (the giving up of something during Lent).

Many of our memories are tied in with food. A smell or a taste may evoke a memory of your grandmother, a special ritual from childhood or a meal eaten on an overseas holiday. Marcel Proust wrote most famously about this association of food with involuntary memory, which the narrator experiences upon tasting a madeleine with a cup of tea in Remembrance of Things Past.

Kitchen Wench has invited fellow food bloggers to write about the sense of nostalgia certain recipes inspire in you. It's easy to think of food memories but difficult to narrow it down to a defining memory. From my childhood are memories of delicious roasts every Sunday lunch, the smell of basting meat permeating the house all morning; steamed ginger pudding smothered in thick custard for lunch at my great-aunt's house; hot scones fresh from the oven at the CWA stand at the Royal Melbourne Show; and spaghetti bolognaise with an untraditional but delicious cheesy crust that we always had when mum and dad went out for dinner and left us with a babysitter. Once my mum's American friend Debbie came to stay and brought a box of beignet mix from New Orleans. We mixed it up, deep-fried the beignets and served them with coffee and chicory mix and felt quite the sophisticates!

Or memories from my overseas travels - the delicious midnight supper of oysters, baguettes, pate, cheese and white wine that Adam and I shared on our first night in Paris; the creamy seafood chowder that we ate in a little windswept seaside restaurant in northern Ireland; impossibly rich and thick hot chocolate and cakes at a cafe in Krakow.

When I think of all these special memories, I can picture the scene and practically taste the food again. But the recipe I've chosen as my entry in Kitchen Wench's nostalgia event is one of the simplest: chocolate rough slice. I don't know where the recipe came from but mum has made this slice all my life. It was there as an afternoon snack after school or a morning tea treat on weekends. When ladies were requested to "bring a plate please" for the supper after our school concert, mum always took this slice. She made it in big batches and put it in the freezer before shearing season, when the team of shearers would woof down the slice, coconut biscuits and cups of tea at morning tea and still front up for a two-course lunch a few hours later. This slice has been part of our family for so long that it was only recently that I realised that I didn't actually have a copy of mum's recipe, as we always rely on her to make it. I have finally persuaded mum to commit the recipe to paper and now I share it with you.

This slice is also my entry for this week's Friday Morning Tea.


I always make a double batch of this slice, to use up the tin of condensed milk. It keeps well and also freezes well.

125 g butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup
3/4 cup coconut
1 cup SR flour

Grease and line a slice tin with non-stick baking paper. Cream butter and sugar, add golden syrup and coconut, then flour. Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees) for 10 to 15 minutes (don't let it brown). Cool slightly and add topping.


1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon cocoa
½ can condensed milk
1 cup icing sugar
1 cup coconut
½ teaspoon vanilla

Melt butter and warm condensed milk over gentle heat. Add vanilla and sifted cocoa and stir well. Add icing sugar and coconut. Spread over cooled slice.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival - chocolate decadence

March is festival month in Melbourne. Fashion, family fun and motor sport are all covered by the Melbourne Fashion Festival, Moomba and the Australian Grand Prix. And food and wine lovers are treated to the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, a two-week extravaganza of food, food and more food (and wine)! According to the festival guide, Melbourne's is the biggest food and wine festival in the world.

Events on offer include the Original MasterClass, a weekend with some of the world's master chefs and winemakers, the cellardoor at Southgate, the world's longest lunch, events in the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula, progressive dinners, cheese forums, wine dinners, champagne experiences, chocolate events, and SlowFood events.

I'm pleased that the express lunch is now running for the duration of the festival, rather than just five days as in past years. For $30 you get two courses and a glass of wine at a number of Melbourne's finest restaurants.Given that a sandwich and drink from most CBD cafes won't give you change from $10, it's great value for money and offers you the chance to eat at some places that might normally be out of your budget.

My only quibble with this year's program is that many of the events are quite expensive, particularly the dinners. Many are more than $100 a person, so you need to choose carefully (unless you have an unlimited budget). And, while the Chateau Petrus 10x10 dinner at Vue du Monde would be divine, with 10 vintages of Chateau Petrus (heralded as the world's greatest wine) matched to 10 courses especially designed by Shannon Bennett, it is $10,000 per person. How do you quantify such a meal? It would be a wonderful experience but how would you know whether you actually had got your money's worth?

I'm also disappointed that my favourite event, the Hawkers' Market at the Queen Victoria Market, is no longer on offer. You got four tickets to exchange for snacks from some of Melbourne's best Asian and Indian restaurants. It was great fun wandering up and down 'L' shed trying to decide what you wanted and to balance your choices so you got to taste what you wanted. You could buy a glass of wine from several different stands and there was entertainment, culminating in the Chinese dragon coming through the whole shed. This event was always hugely popular and I don't know why it no longer runs, but it's a sad loss.

But enough of the quibbles and on with the festival!


Chocolate and decadence are two words that are made to go together. When I saw "Cacao Chocolate Decadence", billed as "the chocolate lover's ultimate chocolate afternoon" in this year's Melbourne Food and Wine Festival guide, I knew this was one event I couldn't miss!

Established in Fitzroy St, St Kilda in 2003, Cacao Fine Chocolates and Patisserie is a small piece of Paris in Melbourne. While known for its wide and delicious range of chocolates, it also boasts a breakfast menu, featuring such French classics as croque monsieur, toasted baguettes, and warm croissants, and a lunch menu of filled pies, pastries and baguettes.

We've no interest in the rest of the food this visit, though, as our Chocolate Decadence experience offers us a hot chocolate, a chocolate petit gateaux, three individual chocolates from the Cacao range and a bar of chocolate to take home.

There are about a dozen choices of petit gateaux in the glass cabinet. It's so hard to choose and eventually I ask the waiter if he has any favourites to recommend. Without hesitation, he points me towards trebon, which the little card says consists of "biscuit hazelnut dacquoise, crème brulee, vanilla infusion and chocolate mousse". He tells me it's to die for and that's all the convincing I need. Adam chooses sacher framboise, a combination of chocolate mousse and raspberry jam.

The full-length glass windows running down one side of the seating area fills the shop with light. This light and airy feel is complemented by the cream-coloured leather couches and pale chairs. Easter promotions are in full swing, with a blackboard offering personalised Easter eggs and Easter offerings wrapped in cellophane lining the walls. To celebrate the Year of the Pig, you can also buy praline-filled chocolate pigs.

Our hot chocolates arrive with the petit gateaux. The hot chocolate is smooth and rich but not cloying; the sweetness of the chocolate is cut by the milk. Adam's sacher framboise is a round dome of smooth dark chocolate glaze, elegantly topped by a blackberry, raspberry and a small square of white chocolate. It looks too good to eat but boys don't let beauty stop them from digging in! He breaks the glaze, exposing the chocolate mousse inside, and offers me a mouthful. The creamy texture of the mousse is tinged with raspberry jam and finished with the crispy crunch of the chocolate biscuit base. It's an exquisite cake.

I turn my attention to the trebon. It's covered in chocolate ganache, topped with a milk chocolate curl and a little twist of white chocolate, and the base is artfully studded with squares of milk chocolate around the edge. The creamy texture of the chocolate mousse melts on my tongue, sweetened by the crème brulee. In the centre of the cake is a surprise: a delicious vanilla-infused custard. It is so rich and delicious that I eat it slowly, savouring every mouthful. The waiter looks surprised to see my spoon next to the half-eaten cake when he walks past and asks, in some consternation, "Don't you like it?" He's reassured when I tell him that I'm enjoying every slow mouthful.

By the time we finish our cakes and hot chocolate, we feel thoroughly sated. There's no chance we could possibly eat any more chocolate, but we spend an enjoyable five minutes drooling over the individual chocolates on offer. I eventually settle on Aztec, a chocolate and chill mixture, a caramel and a blackcurrant chocolate. Adam chooses pistachio, cafe latte and Ceyland, a green tea-flavoured chocolate. The waitress tells us that we're not the only ones participating in the Chocolate Decadence who are taking their chocolates home with them. To finish off, we each select a bar of dark chocolate, which is wrapped in foil and packaged in a neat little cardboard box.

While the Chocolate Decadence event is only running during the festival, you can have your own chocolate experience at Cacao any day of the week. It's open every day from 7am-7pm and is highly recommended. I dare you to leave without taking a little something home for later!

Cacao Fine Chocolates & Patisserie
52 Fitzroy St, St Kilda
Ph: 8598 9555

Friday, March 16, 2007

The lost art of morning tea

The mention of afternoon tea conjures up images of genteel drawing rooms, floral-patterned china and tiered stands holding little chicken or cucumber finger sandwiches and dainty cakes.

But what do you think of when I say "morning tea"? A coffee on the run or a hastily scoffed biscuit? Perhaps a piece of fruit or a muesli bar? I think morning tea serves just as useful a purpose as afternoon tea and it's time that we reclaimed some precious minutes from our busy schedules so that we can take a break mid-morning for some sustenance.

Most of us are up early, hurriedly eating toast or cereal before we rush out the door, grabbing a take-away coffee to drink at our desks as we log on to start wading through the emails that clogged up the in-box overnight. Some people even skip breakfast or eat at their desks. So by 10am, many tummies are rumbling and complaining that they will not make it through to lunchtime.

I've decided to make my own contribution to resurrect morning tea. On Fridays, I'll feature a morning tea recipe (although many will also be suitable for afternoon tea as well). I'd love to receive any contributions you have.

To get started, I'm featuring the unusual Armenian nutmeg cake, a recipe that my mum passed onto me. The unusual step of using some of the mix as a base results in a different texture from most other cakes I've had, but this is an absolutely delicious cake and always disappears quickly when I make it!


2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 cups self-raising flour, sifted
125g butter
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Combine sugar and flour. Rub in butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Press half of this mixture into the base of a well-greased (or baking paper-lined) 20cm square cake tin.

Dissolve the bicarb soda in the milk, add the egg and nutmeg and pour over the remaining sugar and flour mix. Mix well, then spoon into the tin on top of the pressed-in mix. Sprinkle walnuts over the top. Bake in a 180 degrees Celsius oven for one hour. Allow to stand for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Giving a fig

My family owned a separate property about 25 minutes drive from our house. Although my aunt and her children had once lived at the house on the property, by the time I was growing up, the house was abandoned and falling down. Out the side of the house was an old windmill, a rusty trough filled with water and two lovely big old fig trees. Year after year they would produce big crops of figs, which would be quickly devoured by birds.

The farm was at a tiny locality called Bearii near the Murray River. It now has a small township but in those days it was little more than a telephone exchange and a dusty road leading to the river, so there were no neighbours to come and help themelves. Occasionally we would go and pick big buckets to turn into fig jam.

One of the share houses that I lived in as a student had a big fig tree in the backyard but we never did anything with the fruit except curse it for the stains it left on our washing when an overripe fig would fall from the tree.

Now that my palate is more refined, I've learned to love the fig and not waste the succulent fruit. It partners equally well with sweet or savoury and goes particularly well with prosciutto, fresh white cheese, goat's cheese, blue cheese, chocolate and spices such as cinnamon and ginger.

According to Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion, the fig tree is one of the oldest plants in civilisation. It's mentioned in stories about the ancient world and its mythology - the fig tree was the Tree of Life to the ancient Egyptians and the Greeks regarded it as a fertility symbol. Stephanie also says that fig trees "seem to be amazingly tolerant of neglect. The domesticated fig tree (Ficus carica) is hardy and will flourish in a range of climates." Our tree definitely bears this out, as no-one ever watered it or cared for it, yet it managed to produce crops year after year.

My friend Janet recently gave away her excess figs. She lined them up in cane baskets and invited us to take as many as we wished. I selected eight plump, juicy figs and took them home. Ripe figs perish very quickly but will last about two days in the fridge. I didn't have enough to make jam so I decided to try a new and unusual recipe that caught my eye in The Cook's Companion: fig and caramelised onion pizza.

Don't be daunted by the different steps involved in the preparation, as the entire dish is easy (but you'll just need to allow the time). The finished product is a delectable combination of flavours: the sweetish figs and onions are nicely offset by the salty tang of the blue cheese.


extra virgin olive oil
1/2 quantity of pizza dough (recipe follows - or buy pita or Lebanese bread)
1/2 cup caramelised onions
100g fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
4 ripe figs, unpeeled and thickly sliced
1 teaspoon freshly chopped rosemary
salt and pepper
150g blue cheese (such as gorgonzola or Gippsland blue) or washed-rind cheese (such as taleggio, munster or Milawa gold)
rocket leaves

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Roll out the pizza dough and put onto a pizza stone or a baking tray lined with baking paper. Smear over the caramelised onions and cover with mozzarella and figs. Sprinkle with rosemary and sea salt, grind over pepper and dot with the cheese. Drizzle with one tablespoon of olive oil if you like and bake for 15 minutes until the edges are crisp and the cheese is bubbling. Serve on a bed of rocket leaves.


Quarter or slice 20 peeled small or pickling onions. Put in a heavy-based frying pan with 1/2 cup olive oil (note - decrease quantity if you find this too oily), 1 bay leaf and 1 sprig of rosemary. Place on a medium heat, cover and cook for 15 minutes until the onion has begun to soften, stirring frequently. Remove the cover and continue to cook, stirring, until the onion has separated and started to turn a rich caramel brown. It's important to stir frequently to prevent sticking. The onion and oil will keep in a covered container in the fridge for several days.

Recipes from The Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander


Don't be daunted by yeast. The best tip I can give is that you need to cook often with yeast, as your confidence and technique improve the more you use it.

450g strong white flour (eg type 00)
1 teaspoon salt
7g yeast sachet
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
250ml warm water
1 extra teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

Sprinkle the dried yeast over the warm water and leave 10-15 minutes until bubbles appear on the surface. Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl (or on a clean workbench) and make a well in the centre. Add the yeast mixture, then the extra virgin olive oil and start drawing in the flour with a fork, until the dough forms in a mass. Tip onto a floured surface and knead firmly for 10 minutes until smooth, pushing dough away with the heel of your hand as you pull the rest closer to you, and turning the dough a quarter-turn each time.

Cut into quarters. Shape into balls and coat lightly with a little olive oil. Place in a clean bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place for 1-1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.

If making the caramelised fig and onion pizza, follow the instructions above. If not, preheat the oven to 230 degrees Celsius. Roll out the dough to 1cm thick in a round or abstract shape and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Add your chosen topping and bake for 10 minutes, or until risen at the edges and lightly golden.

Recipe adapted from Jill Dupleix

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A trip to the Mornington Peninsula

Last Saturday was one of Melbourne's glorious early autumn days. The season seems to have turned overnight and there is now a chill in the mornings. A cardigan is a necessary accessory before 10am but once the early morning chill has been burned off by the sun's rays, the days are gorgeous.

Saturday was a perfect day for touring and the Mornington Peninsula was looking its best, with the sun warming the green paddocks (the drought doesn't seem to have bleached the landscape of colour here) and the sea shimmering deep blue in the distance. As we drove down Borneo Rd near Rye, we passed a small sign that said "La Campagna cellar door and olive farm". This was enough to arouse our curiosity, so we turned off onto the dirt track, expecting the cellar door to be just off the road. Instead, we followed a corrugated dirt road further away from the main road, through a lovely rural setting and alongside the Mornington Peninsula National Park. About 3km in, we came to the front gate and followed a track lined either side by beautiful olive trees, with grapevines growing in nearby paddocks. There was a real European feel, despite the Australian bush surroundings. The track led up to the osteria and cellar door, a two-storey sandstone-coloured concrete block building that sits on a slight rise looking out towards Bass Strait.

Owners Ted and Helen Ori make semillon, chardonnay, vin bianco, shiraz and a blended Tuscan red. Their olives are turned into a lovely, fruity olive oil, or bottled as oven-roasted or marinated olives. Ted has built a wood-fired oven in the osteria, out of which he produces Tuscan baked bread, made to his own, painstakingly perfected recipe. It has a crunchy crust, like a pasta dura, but the bread inside is soft and chewy and is a perfect texture to be dunked in olive oil. The oven also provides the osteria's lunch menu, which is offered on weekends. The menu is ever-changing but might include roast lamb or pork loin, trays of roasted vegetables, polenta, stews, soups, pizza, bruschetta and the osteria's famed lasagne. It is very popular and can book out weeks in advance. We leave with a bottle of Tuscan red, a bottle of olive oil and a loaf of bread and vow to return to sample the osteria's menu.

(I also vow to buy several loaves of bread next time I visit. Out of the loaf we bought, we produced a snack of chunks of bread to dip into the olive oil and dukkah, whizzed some pieces into breadcrumbs to mix with herbs to pile on top of fish fillets, and the rest was used as a base for bruschetta with the last of the basil and tomatoes from our garden. The bread was one of the best loaves I've ever eaten and certainly justifies Ted's many years of experimentation.)

Our tummies were now well and truly rumbling, so we headed to Mornington. Parking near the beach, we secured a table at The Boyz 4 Breakie. It's in a great location, across the road from the beach and the start of Mornington's busy Main St shopping strip. The cafe has a noisy, bustling, beachy feel to it and the sunniness of the day is heightened by the suede-effect bright yellow walls. The coffee machine is located in a centre bar and the kitchen at the back is kept busy churning out plate after plate of eggs and pancakes, which are swept out to customers by a large number of efficient staff.

The service is friendly and swift: we're escorted to a table, a highchair is quickly produced for our son, the stroller is whisked away for safekeeping, menus are produced and glasses filled with water while we settle ourselves. We're slow in deciding what to eat and are asked three times if we're ready to order. The breakfast menu is not extensive but it does offer the usual favourites of eggs several different ways, two different "big breakies" (the "boyz" with bacon and tomatoes, the "girlz" with smoked salmon), pancakes, French toast and muesli.

Once ordered, our choices, pancakes with fresh blueberries and strawberries, and French toast with strawberries and maple syrup, arrive quickly. The presentation is great but I'm a little disappointed with the wateriness of the strawberries and the pancakes are a bit flat. Adam finds the eggy wash on his two pieces of French toast is too much, so we swap plates and one piece of toast and one pancake each turns out to be a great combination.

This is a place that looks to be popular with the locals. There's a great buzz and the food, while not the best breakfast I've ever had, is definitely enough to fuel a good start to the day. A stroll up Main St to check out the various shops is a good way to work off breakfast.

La Campagna
Rogers Rd
Mornington Peninsula

The Boyz for Breakie
1a Main St

A vegetable meme

Cindy from Where's the Beef has tagged me for this vegetable meme.

(1) Is there a vegetable you hated as a child, but came to love as you got older?

I hated beetroot and refused to have it anywhere near my plate lest the beetroot juice stain and contaminate everything else there! I never had a "run-in" with beetroot to put me off it but my dislike might have had something to do with the fact that all beetroot seemed to have its flavour completely obliterated in the can.

But now I've discovered the joys of fresh-cooked beetroot, which is particularly delicious in a salad with feta cheese. I've even made a chocolate beetroot cake, which is a slightly weird burgundy colour but has a lovely moist texture.

(2) What is the most underrated vegetable?

A difficult choice. I think beetroot is underrated because most people know it as coming out of a tin, rather than as a fresh vegetable. I also think spinach and silverbeet don't receive the respect and attention they deserve.

(3) Name one favourite summer vegetable dish.

I love a good salad filled with crunchy, fresh vegetables. Does that count as a dish?

(4) Name one favourite winter dish.

It would have to be a fabulous, hearty vegetable and lentil soup or a minestrone. Food for the belly, nourishment for the soul.

(5) What vegetables are in your fridge and freezer right now?

Celery, spring onions, capsicum, carrots, snow peas, broccoli, pumpkin, mushrooms, plus frozen peas, beans and corn.

(6) Is there a vegetable you really like but don't use much yourself?

I love just about all vegetables (it's fruit I'm not so good with!) I really like eggplant but don't use it as much as I should.

I'm not going to tag anyone for this meme but feel free to contribute your ideas!

Friday, March 9, 2007

What to do with leftovers?

Cooking inevitably involves leftovers. Sometimes inspiration will strike and you will come up with a new and innovative dish but other times some planning ahead is required in order to use up the leftover ingredients in another dish that week. (The freezer always comes in handy if necessary!)

I have some dishes that I make frequently that always have leftovers; for example, ice-cream leaves me eggwhites, and buttermilk pancakes always leave at least one cup of buttermilk over. I've also collected a good sour cream cake recipe and an excellent lemon yoghurt cake that are ways to get a sweet fix after cleaning out the fridge.

Adam thinks that one of the best things about my new passion for ice-cream making is that he always gets a bonus dish. Meringues, friands and angel food cake are my current favourites.

As promised in the raspberry ice-cream entry, here are some recipes for using up eggwhites. If you're having trouble deciding what to do with the leftovers, eggwhites freeze well in a closed container. (It's a good idea to mark the number of whites on the lid. If you forget, Stephanie Alexander advises that one eggwhite is equivalent to 30ml).

The bonus in making raspberry ice-cream is that I had both leftover eggwhites and raspberries, so I made raspberry friands. These are a delicious morsel, with a slightly heavier texture than a muffin. I have a friand pan but you can make these in muffin tins. The recipe is suitable for raspberries or blueberries (you could probably use blackberries but they may be a little large).

I've also included a fabulous chocolate macaroon recipe that Stephanie Alexander published in The Age's Epicure section in September 2006. I was a little dubious when I made these, especially as to the claim that they are more delicious after a day or two in the container, but they were the most delicious, satisfying sweet treat - definitely worth making in their own right and not relegating to the "I'll only make this when I have leftovers" category!


1 cup almond meal
1 2/3 cup icing sugar, sifted
3/4 cup plain flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
5 egg whites
125g butter
100g raspberries (or blueberries)

Mix the almond meal, icing sugar, plain flour and baking powder together. Mix in the eggwhites. Melt the butter and mix in. Stir through the berries and spoon into friand or muffin tins (You can also spoon the mixture into the tins and then dot the berries on top, rather than mixing through). Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 15-20 minutes, or until cooked but springy on top.

Adapted from Donna Hay's Modern Classics 2


Don't be tempted to double this recipe, as speed is essential in spooning the mixture onto trays. The filled macaroons are more squidgy and delicious after one or two days in an airtight container.

1/2 cup ground almonds, sifted
1 cup pure icing sugar, sifted
4 tablespoons Dutch-style cocoa, sifted
2 eggwhites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Line two baking sheets with baking paper. Mix the sifted ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. Beat the eggwhites with cream of tartar to snowy peaks. Fold a spoonful of the eggwhites into the sifted mixture to blend and then fold in the rest of the eggwhites quickly but with a light hand.

Spoon teaspoonfuls of the mixture onto the paper-lined trays, leaving 3cm between blobs. Do this as quickly as possible and place trays immediately into the preheated oven. Cook for eight minutes or until the macaroons feel firm on the outside.

Wet a teatowel with cold water, wring out and place on the bench. Remove trays from oven and place on the damp cloth for a few minutes. Use a spatula to slide the macaroons onto a wire rack to cool. Allow to cool completely before filling. If not needed immediately, store unfilled macaroons in an airtight container.

Makes 16 pairs.


Break 75g dark couverture chocolate into small pieces and pulverise in a food processor to a powder. Bring four tablespoons cream and one teaspoon butter to the boil in a saucepan. With the food processor motor running, pour the boiling cream mixture onto the chocolate in a steady stream. Process until smooth. Refrigerate until just cold and then beat in an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Use straight away.

Excess ganache will become too stiff to spread. Allow it to return to room temperature and then rebeat for a few minutes to regain spreadable consistency.

Recipe by Stephanie Alexander

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Scrumptious scoops

I don't think of myself as a kitchen gadget person. So many gadgets - popcorn maker, milkshake maker, breadmaker, sandwich press, deep fryer, juicer, waffle iron - do one specific thing only that can easily be done by a basic piece of kitchen equipment (for example, you can pop corn in a saucepan). The gadgets take up a lot of space but may be used infrequently.

I make two exceptions: my rice cooker and my ice-cream maker. (I don't count my Kitchen Aid mixmaster, my Magimix food processor or Saeco coffee machine, as they are Essential Kitchen Appliances). My rice cooker is fabulous! It frees up a hotplate when cooking and I've said goodbye to the days of cooked rice sticking to the bottom of my saucepan (I don't care how many "How to cook perfect rice" instructions I read - it always boils dry). But my rice cooker gives me perfect rice every time with no fuss.

Adam gave me my ice-cream maker last Christmas. Strictly speaking, it does fall into the gadget list, as it does do only one thing (although the instructions promise that it can double as a wine cooler) and ice-cream can also be made without a machine (you need to put the ice-cream in a metal container and place in the freezer, removing it several times over several hours to beat with a hand mixer before re-freezing). But ice-cream made this way is never as creamy as with a machine and it also involves the extra re-beating steps.

It's been a long, hot summer with little rain and the ice-cream machine has certainly had a good workout. Although I have at least a dozen recipes, I've never bothered to make much ice-cream before. Call me lazy but the machine has made it so much easier! We've been feasting on vanilla, coffee, milk chocolate, blackberry and honey, allspice, pistacho and (my personal favourite) raspberry ice-cream, and we've also had champagne, lemon and apricot sorbet.

A sweet egg custard is the basis of ice-cream, while sorbets use a mixture of fruit juice and a sugar syrup. It really is very easy to make and you have the added benefit of knowing exactly what's going into your ice-cream (no preservatives!) Add your chosen ingredients to the custard, cool and then churn in the ice-cream machine. It's important that the custard is cold before you churn it in the machine or the ice-cream won't firm up properly.

I use Donna Hay's basic vanilla ice-cream recipe but you could use your favourite egg custard recipe if you have one - it's just egg yolks, milk, cream and sugar and only the proportions change. You make the custard and then add your chosen ingredients.

Now the only question is what to do with the leftover egg whites? Stay tuned because there will be some recipes to use up egg whites coming later this week.


250ml milk
500ml cream
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar

Mix milk, cream and vanilla together and heat until hot (but not boiling). Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale and thick. Add the hot milk mixture bit by bit, whisking all the time. Pour back into the saucepan and put back on heat. Cook, stirring, until the custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon (4 to 6 minutes). Take off heat and either put saucepan into a basin of iced water or pour into another container (you want to stop the custard cooking). Cool, then churn in ice-cream machine, following the manufacturer's instructions.

(From Donna Hay magazine, issue 7)


RASPBERRY: puree 300g raspberries and 50g caster sugar in a food processor. Strain through a sieve and add to vanilla custard base before churning.

BLACKBERRY AND HONEY: add 50g honey to custard when you take it off heat and then strain into a bowl and cool. Stir through 300g blackberries and churn (you could also puree the blackberries as per the raspberry recipe).

ALLSPICE: Add one tablespoon of allspice berries to the milk and cream (omit the vanilla). Heat and then sit for 20 minutes to infuse. Strain through sieve, reheat gently and whisk into egg yolk and sugar mixture. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes until the custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Cool and churn in machine.

COFFEE: Put 1/2 cup strong espresso into a saucepan and simmer over medium heat until it is reduced to 1/4 cup. Cool. Replace the vanilla bean with 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Add espresso to milk and cream before heating, then follow basic vanilla ice-cream recipe. (From Donna Hay magazine, issue 7)

CHOCOLATE: Add 150g chopped dark or milk chocolate to the milk and cream before heating. Replace the vanilla bean with extract and follow the basic vanilla ice-cream recipe. (From Donna Hay magazine, issue 7)

PISTACHIO: Lightly roast 200g chopped pistachios. Make basic vanilla ice-cream and churn, adding the pistachios when the ice-cream is just firm. Churn to evenly disperse.

LEMON SORBET: Place 1 cup caster sugar and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan over low heat and stir till the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat and boil for one minute. Set aside to cool. Combine 1 cup lemon juice, 1 cup extra water and the cooled syrup in a bowl and stir. Pour into ice-cream and churn until just firm. I've also made this without a machine - pour the mix into a metal tin, freeze and re-beat a couple of times.
(From Donna Hay magazine, issue 7)

Unexpected treasure

Sometimes you find a foodie treasure when you least expect it. There is a Middle Eastern grocery and fruit and vegetable store in my local shopping strip. It keeps late hours and is open seven days but I've never been a frequent shopper, instead using it mostly to pick up emergency supplies of milk or extra vegetables for dinner.

But lately I've started poking around in the shelves more and I've discovered a treasure trove of specialist ingredients that I thought I'd need to make a special trip across town to Sydney Rd to buy.

In the freezer section, I find bags of kataifi pastry, which looks like shredded fillo pastry and is used in Turkish and Greek cooking. I've recently collected a few recipes that require kataifi, so now I will be able to try them. On the shelf below the pastry are massive tubs of natural yoghurt, and smaller jars of haloumi cheese, as well as the usual staples of milk, cream and soft drinks.

In one row of grocery shelves, I find big jars of vine leaves and grape leaves next to tins of dolmades. Further along are bottles of rosewater, orange blossom water and sirop de roses (rose syrup). There's also bottles of varying sizes of another ingredient I have started noticing with increasing frequency in recipes: pomegranate molasses.

The shelves in the far corner are home to spices and pulses. The spices come in 500g bags and include cumin, zaatar, chilli, white pepper and turmeric. Next to the spices are one and two kilogram bags of beans and nuts such as mung beans, split fava beans, Canadian beans, kidney beans, dried black peas, fine and coarse burghul, pine nuts and almonds.

On the opposite shelf is some dried apricot paste, which I'm not sure what to do with, and some bags of an unidentifiable substance from Argentina. Around the corner are boxes of Turkish delight and chocolate. There is a shelf on the counter filled with baklava and there's also a section of hot nuts for sale.

My fingers are itching to fill up my shopping bag with all sorts of goodies but I limit myself to a bag of zaatar and a bag of coarse burghul. My favourite international food blog, Chocolate & Zucchini, recently featured the deliciously simple Zaatar Pita Chips, which I'm looking forward to trying. The burghul goes into a salad from Bill Granger's new book, Everyday Cooking.


200g coarse burghul
400g tin chickpeas, rinsed
2 green chillies, finely chopped
8 spring onions, thinly sliced
large handful of parsley, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (or use 1 teaspoon of brown sugar)

Cover burghul with hot water and leave to stand for 15 minutes. Drain, pressing out as much water as you can. Mix the burghul, chickpeas, chilli, onions and parsley. Stir and refrigerate. Mix together the garlic, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses or brown sugar with a little olive oil and some salt and pepper. Drizzle over the salad and serve.

Next time I make this salad, I'll add some cherry tomatoes, which I think will add extra texture and flavour.

Bill serves this salad with marinated lamb backstraps but I've also had it with steak and parmesan-crusted chicken, both of which partner very well. It is also delicious on its own for a quick lunch.

Salad recipe adapted from "Everyday Cooking" by Bill Granger