Thursday, December 31, 2009

A simple little salad

After the feast that was Christmas, simple meals are on the menu for us now. Given the hot weather we've been having, salads are just the ticket. While there's always a place on my table for a basic little green salad, I also like salads with some more interesting ingredients, or those that could double as a light meal with some bread or grilled fish or chicken on the side.

Fortunately, the December 2009 issue of Gourmet Traveller, which is the magazine that Suzie from Munch+Nibble and I are focusing on in our We Made It challenge this month (where we select a current food magazine and try to cook as much as we can from that one issue) has come to my rescue, with a whole feature, "Dressed for Success", on salads.

From the delicious spread available, I chose to make the carrot and barley salad with dates and raisins. The beauty of this salad is that most of the ingredients are readily to hand (or easily obtainable, although it's always nice to be able to throw something together without having to make a special trip to the shops). As well as being an interesting mix of sweet and savoury, this salad is a cinch to put together and can be served as either a light meal or a side dish. It would also be a good addition to a salad buffet.

Although the recipe specifies that the coriander and cumin seeds should be dry-roasted and then pounded in a mortar and pestle, I took the lazy option and just used ground spices for this salad. Although the flavour is not as intense, it did cut down on cooking tasks and time.

Carrot and barley salad with dates and raisins
Recipe from Gourmet Traveller, December 2009

300gm pearl barley
1 tsp each coriander and cumin seeds, dry-roasted and coarsely pounded in a mortar and pestle
3 carrots, coarsely grated
40gm pine nuts, toasted
40gm golden raisins, soaked in warm water for 5 minutes, drained
3 dates, pitted, cut into slivers
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 bunch coriander, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup (firmly packed) flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1 tsp red wine vinegar
2 Tb extra-virgin olive oil

Cook barley in boiling salted water until tender (20-30 minutes). Drain, transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, combine spices with remaining ingredients in a bowl, toss to combine. Add barley, season to taste, toss to combine, serve.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Day lunch

There's nothing more satisfying - or necessary - than sitting down with a soothing cup of peppermint tea and putting up your feet after hosting a successful Christmas Day lunch. The food has been devoured, the dishes washed and put away, the wrapping paper tidied up and presents sorted. In my case, I have a lovely stack of glossy new cookbooks to add to my pile. I can't wait to start cooking from them.

We hosted 16 people at our Christmas Day lunch but it was nowhere near as daunting as that sounds. Everyone was delegated to bring something: drinks, nibblies, a salad or two, dessert etc. As hostess, I was providing the ham and the turkey and lots of salad bowls and white platters for presentation.

My family likes a traditional Christmas lunch (by that, I mean the Anglo traditional lunch, with ham, turkey and plum pudding) but we are happy to add our own twists and interpretations. None of us are huge fans of a whole cooked turkey and I didn't want to spend Christmas morning trapped in the kitchen with a hot stove. So I ordered a turkey breast roll from my excellent local butcher (much faster to cook, with lots less angsty) and found a recipe for roast herbed turkey roll in the December 2009 issue of Gourmet Traveller (a magazine that Suzie from Munch+Nibble and I are focusing on this month in the We Made This challenge, where we aim to cook as much as we can from a selected magazine each month).

This is a lovely recipe - very stress-free for Christmas Day, with an excellent end result that belies the minimal effort involved. Combined with ham, roast chicken, a vast array of salads (including seafood, sweet potato, green salad, roast potatoes and a beetroot, walnut and feta salad) and several bottles of Seppelts Sparkling Shiraz, this dish was part of our stunning Christmas feast that satisfied all and meant groaning stomachs could barely accommodate dessert, let alone tea that night.

Roast herbed turkey roll with Meyer lemon mayonnaise

Recipe from the December 2009 issue of Gourmet Traveller

1 turkey breast (about 1.4kg), skin on (note - my turkey breast was 2kg and I did not adjust the recipe but this portion was adequate)
1 cup (loosely packed) each basil, flat-leaf parsley and mint, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Finely grated rind of 1 Meyer lemon (Meyer lemons are slightly sweeter than regular lemons, but it is fine to substitute if you can't find Meyers)
60ml extra-virgin olive oil

Meyer lemon mayonnaise
1 egg yolk
25ml Meyer lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
150ml light olive oil
Finely grated rind of 2 Meyer lemons

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Place turkey breast skin-side down on a work surface and make an incision lengthways along the thickest part of the breast to butterfly. Open flat and season to taste.

Combine herbs, garlic, rind and half the olive oil in a small bowl, season to taste and spread evenly over turkey. Roll into a long cylinder, tucking ends under, then tie securely at intervals with kitchen twine./

Place turkey on a wire rack in a roasting tray, drizzle with remaining oil, season to taste and roast, basting occasionally, until golden and juices run clear when pierced with a skewer (1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes - longer if your turkey breast is larger). Remove from oven, cover loosely with foil and rest for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, for Meyer lemon mayonnaise, combine yolk, juice and mustard in a small bowl, whisk to combine, then add oil in a thin, continuous stream, whisking continuously until incorporated. Add rind, season to taste and set aside.

Serve sliced turkey with mayonnaise to the side.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A spicy side of Christmas

Heady spice mixtures and plump dried fruit feature heavily in Christmas baking. Many of the traditional dishes we've inherited from England, such as Christmas cakes, fruit mince tarts and plum puddings, are chock-full of these ingredients. But other nations have similar traditions: the spicy Dutch speculaas biscuits and golden fruit-studded panettone or panforte, a spicy mix of glace fruit and nuts, from Italy, for example.

For many years I've made a chocolate panforte at Christmas. No matter how full we are, everyone always finds a small hole in their stomach when the plate of panforte, dusted with icing sugar, comes out with coffee. In last year's Christmas issue of Gourmet Traveller, I found a recipe for panpepato, which is very similar to panforte. With a newborn in the house last Christmas, there was no time to make the panpepato but it was one of the first things on my list for this year (as this recipe came from the December 2008 issue, it doesn't strictly fit into the We Made This challenge that Suzie from Munch+Nibble and I are doing, but I'm including it anyway, as I haven't had a chance to cook as much from this year's edition as I'd hoped!)

According to Gourmet Traveller, panpepato is a Christmas specialty from the Siena region of Italy. It is similar to panforte but is spiced up with black pepper and cocoa or chocolate. "The hsitory of panforte and panpepato are intertwined and it's difficult to distinguish which came first and what their true provenance is," Emma Knowles wrote in her article on panpepato. "Legend has it that panpepato possessed powerful aphrodisiac qualities and also had the ability to stop husbands and wives from fighting, both of which are great reasons to whip up a batch yourself."

Panpepato is easy to make, although you will need a sugar thermometer and some confidence in cooking a soft caramel. The mixing stage needs to be done very quickly or you end up with a big, gluggy, unusable mess on your hands.

The recipe specifies that the panpepato should be baked in five 10cm-diameter springform pans. I made mine in a 20cm springform pan, as I don't have the smaller pans, and adjusted the cooking time slightly. The end result was fine but I do think the smaller versions would work very well if you wanted to give these away as gifts. Panpepato would make a wonderful gift for your friends: this is a wonderful cake, like a sexy older sister version of panforte. The dark cocoa gives it a luxurious element, while the spicy aftertaste of peppercorns lingers teasingly on the palate. This is a dish that I will definitely be making again.


Recipe from Gourmet Traveller, December 2008 (available on the GT website)

2 sheets of confectioner's rice paper
50gm plain flour
40gm Dutch-process cocoa
1 Tb ground mixed spice
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp coarsely crushed pink peppercorns
200gm candied orange, coarsely chopped
80gm almonds, roasted
80gm each walnuts and hazelnuts, roasted and peeled
150gm caster sugar
150g honey
Pure icing sugar, to dust

Preheat oven to 150 degrees. Lightly grease five 10-cm diameter springform pans, line bases with baking paper and then rice paper, trimming to fit. Sift flour and cocoa into a bowl, add spices, orange and nuts and toss to coat well in the flour mixture.

Heat caster sugar, honey and 2 Tb water in saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Do not stir again, as mixture may crystallise. Bring to the boil and cook until mixture reaches 120 degrees on a sugar thermometer (soft ball stage). Working quickly with a lightly oiled spoon, pour caramel over nut mixture, mixing well. Spoon into prepared pans and smooth tops with an oiled spatula. Bake for 10-15 minutes (time it carefully because this cake will not firm up or colour as it cooks). Cool completely in pans, turn out, then dust liberally with icing sugar. Serve cut into wedges (note that this cake is rich and a little will go a long way).

Panpepato will keep, wrapped in baking paper, and then plastic wrap in an airtight container in a cool place, for up to one month. To present as a gift, wrap panpepato in baking paper before wrapping as desire.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Waste not, want not: The Thrifty Kitchen

Many people who would baulk at the idea of shredding a $50 note at the end of each week don’t think twice about throwing out the equivalent amount in unused, soggy vegetables each week.

Wasted food is just one side-effect of a society that is becoming increasingly disconnected from the idea of seasonal food and thrifty kitchen practices, such as using up leftovers rather than throwing them out.

Lack of time and lack of cooking knowledge are often blamed for the increased reliance on packaged or takeaway food. But a new cookbook, The Thrifty Kitchen, by Suzanne Gibbs and Kate Gibbs, aims to inspire people to eat more healthily and cheaply at home.

Kate says the global financial crisis has helped focus people’s minds on their expenditure and be more careful with their money, and this was part of the inspiration for the cookbook.

“This is a book that needed to be done,” she says. “An enormous amount of money is being wasted by people not being strategic and planning their meals. People need to think about their food as if it’s similar to a business and not buy food if they’re not going to use it.”

The Thrifty Kitchen contains plenty of useful tips on how to shop thriftily, including how to get the best value at the supermarket, how to get your money’s worth when buying meat, and essential items to keep in the pantry.

As well as chapters on work lunches and weeknight meals that are cheaper, healthier and more delicious than takeaway, sections of the book are devoted to meals that can be made from leftovers and weekend meals to cook and keep, allowing even the busiest people to plan ahead.

“A lot of us know how to do this but we can all improve in the way we do it,” says Kate. “Be forward thinking in terms of the meals you and your family want to eat. Make a double quantity of spaghetti bolognaise and freeze some so you don’t need to get takeaway. If you cook a roast chicken for two people, you can put the leftovers in sandwiches or make a lovely pasta dish with some cream.”

While cooking your own food gives you ultimate control over what you put in your body, it is also much cheaper to cook for yourself, and using up leftovers helps reduce waste and lessens the impact on the environment. But Kate says it is important that cooking is realistically integrated into people’s day-to-day lives and the book shows people ways that they can best use their time to fit cooking into their life.

“We’ve given lots of useful advice along with the recipes, including some clever ways to be thrifty in the kitchen. We believe cooking is connecting with food. It’s about knowing what you eat and knowing how to develop and incorporate variety into your diet.”

Kate comes from a fine food pedigree: her grandmother is the doyenne of Australian cooking, Margaret Fulton OAM, and her mother, Suzanne Gibbs, is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef who published her first cookbook at 24.

Food was integral to Kate’s childhood. She and her sister would often awake to delicious cooking smells wafting from the kitchen. Over breakfast , they would plan meals for the weekend and Kate says she always wanted to be involved in the cooking.

“We’d have family days where we would go to the fish market, buy mussels and come home and make Provencal soup. It was a lovely family event. You don’t need to spend a lot of money going out somewhere – you can just all get together and cook.”

Talking to Kate, recipes flow freely throughout the conversation. While pondering the answer to a question about her favourite recipe in the book, she digresses into a quick list of ingredients to make ricotta pancakes for breakfast.

“Food plays a massive part in my life. I choose my friends around how much they like cooking!” she laughs. “I’m lucky with my food background but, even if someone doesn’t grow up like that, you can still becoming engaged with food.

“When you love food, you’re not prepared to settle for second best.”

The Thrifty Kitchen is published by Lantern, Penguin Books, $49.95

Thursday, December 3, 2009

We made it: Speculaas

Suzie from Munch+Nibble and I are taking part in the "We made it" project, where we choose a food magazine each month and cook as much as we can from it. It's an attempt to actually use the magazines we subscribe to, rather than just bookmarking them.

This month's magazine is Gourmet Traveller and the first dish I made was from the "Classic Dish" section: speculaas. This is a thin and crispy spiced biscuit from Europe. According to GT writer Emma Knowles, the Dutch and German versions of speculaas are heavily spiced, with cardamom and ground white pepper added to the mix. Emma also added star anise and mace to her interpretation.

I have a simplified speculaas recipe from Miranda Sharp that appeared in Epicure a few years ago and it makes a very moreish biscuit. But the spice mix in this GT version sounded more robust and interesting, with cardamom, cloves, star anise, white peppercorns, mace, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg all featuring. Rather than using ground spices, you grind up the cardamom, cloves, star anise, peppercorns and mace yourself. I made it the old-fashioned way, using a mortar and pestle, and it does produce an intense spice mix with an almost medicinal smell. However, letting the dough rest overnight softens the harsh edges of the strong spices and mellows them into an aromatic biscuit. The aroma while baking is heavenly. As Emma notes, it's a good thing that the recipe makes a lot of biscuits, as it is almost impossible to stop at just one.

The verdict: An intense, addictive biscuit that would find favour at any time of year but is particularly welcome at this time of year; aromatic spices feature heavily in Christmas baking. While this is an easy biscuit to make, it does involve some labour and you need to allow time for the dough to rest (at least eight hours, but preferably overnight), as well as chilling the cut biscuits before making them. So while I thoroughly enjoyed this biscuit, it is not something you can whip up in a hurry. My simplified speculaas recipe is better if you're in a hurry; but the intense spices in this version make it a winner.

Recipe by Emma Knowles, p 38, Gourmet Traveller, December 2009

500g plain flour, sieved
2 tsp baking powder
220g butter, softened
250g dark brown sugar
2 Tb milk
Speculaas spice
8 green cardamom pods
8 cloves
5 star anise
1 tsp white peppercorns
1 piece of mace
2 Tb ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp finely grated nutmeg

1. For speculaas spice, finely grind cardamom, cloves, star anise, peppercorns and mace in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Transfer to a large bowl, add cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, stir, add to flour and baking powder and set aside.

2. Beat butter, sugar and a pinch of salt in an electric mixer until creamy (3-4 minutes). Add milk, beat to combine, then add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Form mixture into a dough with your hands on a word surface (add extra milk if the mixture is too dry), shape into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate to rest (eight hours to overnight).

3. Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Roll pastry on a lightly floured surface to 5mm thick, then refrigerate until firm (30 minutes). Cut into desired shapes and place on trays lined with baking paper. Chill until firm (20 minutes), then bake in batches until light brown and crisp (10-12 minutes). Cool for 5 minutes on trays, then transfer to wire racks and cool completely. Speculaas will keep, stored in an airtight container, for 1 week.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

We made it: Gourmet Traveller

Addict: devote, apply habitually or compulsively (to a practice); person addicted to a habit.

My name is Melinda and I'm addicted to food porn. My books are pushed aside to make way for more glossy cookbooks, out-of-season food magazines are stored in boxes in the cupboard until their seasonal time arrives, and I have storage boxes stuffed full of recipes clipped from magazines and newspapers. I want to organise them and file them but every time I pull out the box to do so, I get side-tracked by hypothetically conjuring up the dishes until I've run out of time. The clippings are piled back into the box and put away until the next time.

Thankfully, I'm not alone in my addiction. My friend and fellow blogger Suzie from Munch+Nibble is a fellow food porn addict - and possibly even more addicted than me! Whenever Suzie has spare time on her hands, she dives into a newsagent for another hit.

Several months ago, I surprised myself by cooking at least 10 dishes out of that month's issue of Gourmet Traveller. Suzie was suitably impressed, as we both tend to drool over each issue, bookmark dozens of recipes, and then file away the magazine without actually making anything. We have now set ourselves the challenge of picking a different magazine each month and try to cook, review and post as much as possible from that magazine in that month. Hopefully our pristine copies will soon be covered with the splotches and splatters of use in the kitchen.

If anyone else would like to join in with our "We made it" project, you are more than welcome - just drop a comment to either Suzie or me.

So, for our inaugural "We made it", we have chosen the December 2009 issue of Gourmet Traveller. This magazine is a favourite of mine: it is beautifully written, photographed and edited. I believe that Australian food magazines are among the best in the world, especially in the way the food is photographed and presented.

Gourmet Traveller has several regular columns that I really enjoy: Fare Exchange, where readers can write in and seek recipes of favourite dishes from chefs around Australia; Classic Dish, where a classic dish is featured, including its history and a recipe to try; Perfect Match, a wine and food match dish, and In Season.

A stunning trifle, glossy dark berries perched on top of a custard and sponge base, is the enticing cover photo of this month's issue. Inside is lots of inspiration for Christmas, with some old favourites given a modern twist, and Sydney star pastry chef Adrian Zumbo providing some zany Christmas dishes to make.

If you would like to join in the fun of cooking from Gourmet Traveller this month, leave me a comment, and make sure you go and visit Suzie at Munch+Nibble to see what amazing dishes she is whipping up. Check back regularly this month, as we plan to post throughout December about the different dishes we're trying.

If you are unable to buy Gourmet Traveller, you will find many of the recipes from each month's issue featured on its excellent website: