Wednesday, June 30, 2010

First time Biscotti

I love biscotti.  Especially when they are so hard you have to gnaw on them with your back teeth to break them apart.  They're like teething rusks for grown ups!  Today was a great afternoon for baking and I wanted to shake up my cake/muffin/cupcake routine by making something different.  

Today was my first time at baking biscotti.  I think the whole 'twice bake' part of the procedure and my own impatience with baking in the past has been the stumbling block.   

Now the process was not without drama. Initially, I was thinking, how hard can it be?  I had all the ingredients and a basic recipe, but what I discovered along the way was that I lacked 'technique'.  I had a little trouble when it came to slicing the logs into biscuits, I found that they crumbled as I cut them.  I am not sure if it was because the logs didn't cool long enough before cutting, or if I had too many nuts in my mixture. 

Here is the recipe (with Kitty flavour) and my biscotti journey.  Despite my hang-ups, they taste great, even if they don't all look perfect!

Pistachio and Almond Biscotti - Inspired by Tyler Florence

3/4 cup pistachio nuts
3/4 cup almonds (or 1 1/2 cups of whatever nuts you fancy)
115g unsalted butter
3 eggs
1 cup castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (Remember what Ina Garten says...)
3 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 180c.  Lay nuts out evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes to toast them slightly.  Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add vanilla and beat well. 

Sift in flour, salt and baking powder.  Using a wooden spoon, attempt to mix.  Mix until you develop a sore mixing arm.  Work through the pain and keep mixing until the mixture eventually comes together to form a dough. 

Add nuts and again, I challenge you to incorporate them into the mixture without feeling like your arm is going to fall off.  (Or do what I did, which was give up and poke the nuts back into the mixture and shape the dough into a shaggy lump).

Lightly flour your work surface and divide your dough into 3.  (3 seemed most manageable for me, 4 might work better next time).  Shape dough into logs about 1 inch high, and transfer to your baking sheet, lined with parchment paper.

Bake for approx 35 minutes, making sure the bottoms don't get too brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes.  (When I removed my logs from the oven, they cracked which made me a little concerned but I soldiered on...)

When cooled, place on a cutting board and cut logs on the diagonal, about an inch thick.  (Don't be surprised if the nuts cause your biscotti to disintegrate a little - or a lot as I found!  Next time I think I will roughly chop my nuts or add less).

Place your biscotti back onto the baking sheet and return to the oven for 5 minutes, turn over and bake for a further 5 minutes.

Dust with icing sugar to serve and store in an airtight container.

Enjoy with Vin Santo, tea or coffee. 

Cin Cin!

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Vieni con me!

Come with me out into my little patio garden.  It is amazing what you can grow in a small space if you want to.  I rent so I don't have the luxury of being able to dig up the lawn to make a vegetable patch, though I do yearn for a big kitchen garden.  If I could grow a crop of anything in my backyard, it would be Heirloom tomatoes.  Then I would have a big 'Tomato Day' and make passata.  But I digress.  I improvise by growing a few citrus in large, terracotta pots.  Nestled around the trunks of each tree I have built up my own humble little herb garden.

 I can only dream about growing tomatoes as luscious as these.

 I grow rosemary, thyme, flat leaf (Italian) parsley, sage, sweet and perennial basil, bay and mint.  These are the herbs I use all the time, I don't waste time growing the ones I don't use.  I must confess though, that I really do love the smell of lemon thyme, but I find I never use it.

A few pots is all you need to grow herbs with minimal fuss.

Rosemary has a nice homely aroma which reminds me instantly of roast lamb.  Recently I have discovered that rosemary takes dishes like mushroom barley soup and my 'quattro fagiolo minestra' (four bean soup) to another level. 

Thyme is my favourite herb of all.  My favourite use for it would be scattering sprigs around par boiled wedges of potato tossed in olive oil, garlic cloves and salt. I bake in a hot oven until crisp.  I could eat these potatoes as a meal on their own.  They just  develop a lovely sweetness that makes me want to keep eating them.

Parsley would have to be the most indispensable herb in my garden.  Basil comes a close second.  The two are brilliant together and are fantastic when I feel like pasta but don't feel like making a long, laborious sauce.  Instead, I make my own pesto.  Once you have made your own pesto, it is hard to ever go back to the stuff in jars. 

Pesto alla Genovese

1 clove of garlic (or more or less to taste)
50g pine nuts, toasted
2-3 handfuls of fresh, sweet basil leaves
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan (Yes I buy the good stuff now...)
Olive oil (enough to combine your mixture )
Pinch of salt

Add garlic, pine nuts and a pinch of salt to a mortar and pestle and pound.  Add basil and pound again until the leaves resemble a rough paste.  Add a little of the Parmesan.  Gradually add the olive oil until and pound gently until the mixture is combined.  Check seasoning and add more salt and Parmesan to taste if necessary. 

(Alternatively you can use a food processor, but I like making pesto in my mortar and pestle, it just feels more rustic and 'home made'.  Also, I like to add a handful of Italian Parsley to my pesto.  It isn't in the tradition of Genovese Pesto, but I just like the extra green and it helps me out if my basil plants are not yielding enough leaves for the recipe!)

In this Pesto I used Macadamia nuts as I had run out of Pine nuts.  It is OK to improvise!

I like to cover my pesto with Olive Oil and use within 3 days, covered and kept in the fridge.

Sage is one of those lovely musky and woody herbs that I adore.  I love crisping leaves up in butter and pine nuts to make a brown butter sauce to top fresh pumpkin ravioli.  It is also sublime on chicken breasts wrapped with pancetta or prosciutto.

My Sage looks a little sad and worse for wear, but it will come back in Spring.

Mint is a wonderful addition to Greek yoghurt and finely chopped cucumber to make a cooling relish to slather over tandoori chicken pieces or dolloped liberally over slices of seared lamb fillet for souvlaki.

I am growing my latest mint plant from some store-bought mint in a vase of water in my kitchen.

Along with my herbs, I have a Kaffir Lime tree.  The leaves are essential for Thai curries and Laksa, which I like to make often.  It is also nice that it is a lovely ingredient that I can share with friends and neighbours.  The leaves are also really good to rub on your hands after shelling prawns or handling fish to get rid of the smell.

The leaves of the Kaffir Lime Tree rather than the fruit are the best to use in recipes.

Fresh home grown herbs may not be available to everyone, but if you have space for a few small pots and a sunny position in your garden (or balcony or window) they are easy to grow with not too much fuss.  They just need a little love.  The results are really satisfying.

Who needs a Scarecrow when Miss Gidget is on duty?

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Wisdom Tooth Fairy

This week I was lucky enough to have the week off work.  Monday thanks to the Queen's Birthday (God bless you Liz, even though your Birthday falls on April 21).  From Tuesday onward, I was recovering after having all 4 Wisdom Teeth removed under a general anaesthetic.  I will speak only of 2 things regarding this procedure.

1.  If you have the opportunity and can afford it, GET THEM OUT BY GOING UNDER.
2.  Be prepared to have a liquid/soft food diet for about 10-14 days.

It is now Saturday, day 4 of my recovery and I am feeling much better thank you for asking.  Last night however was the last straw for me eating variations of mashed potato and jelly with custard. (No, not together, and never the twain shall meet!)

I had spent most of the last 3 days on my couch in my pajamas, so was able to watch lots of TV and DVDs.  Last night I was was feeling rather sadistic so I watched some cooking shows.  I watched a few episodes of Nigella Express.  I was so glad when she offered me some salvation to my flavour-starved palate.

Now I had to tweak her recipes a little but here is what I had for my dinner.

Pea and Avocado Hummus

Into a blender or mini food processor put the following:
1/2 clove of garlic, grated
1 cup of frozen baby peas, blanched (or 1 can of drained peas)
1 whole avocado, peeled and stoned (This is obvious but I had to say it just in case - I mean making this dip I kind of felt peeled and stoned myself)
Juice of 1/2 a lime
Pinch of salt
Few cracks of fresh black pepper or a few red chili flakes

Blitz until you reach your desired consistency, drizzle in a little olive oil and blitz again to amalgamate.  If mixture is too thick, you can thin with a little drizzle of water.  Check seasoning and adjust to taste. 

Serve on crackers, pumpernickel rounds, toasted cibatta or corn chips.

So that was dinner.  Because my mouth is in recovery mode, rather than crackers, I cut the crusts of a few slices of white bread and then cut them into bite size squares.

If you decide to make this recipe for part of a mezze plate for a party, you need not tell anyone that my recovery from tooth extractions was the inspiration.  Or if you think it will make a great party-starter story, be my guest.

As my tummy has shrunk from eating like a sparrow all week (can you believe it!) this was certainly enough to fill me.  When I say 'fill me' you should know this does not include my 'dessert belly'.  So Nigella suggested 'Eton Mess'.

Now the origin of this recipe is a jaunty little story about how boys at Eton College,  Britain in the 30's would mash up strawberries, cream and meringue into a messy pudding, thus becoming Eton Mess as we know it today.  Oh so civilised!

Here is my 'Gum Friendly' version

Eton Mess - My Way

1 packet of mini meringues
300ml thickened cream
A few drops of vanilla extract (Make sure it is good vanilla or Ina Garten will come and get you!)
1 tsp castor sugar

Raspberry Coulis:
1/2 cup of fresh or frozen raspberries
1 tbs castor sugar

First, Make the coulis:
Put berries and sugar into a bowl and heat in microwave on high for about a minute (Keep your eye that it doesn't burn or boil over).  Check that sugar has dissolved.  If not, microwave for a further 30 seconds.  Pass through a strainer, reserving the syrup and discarding seeds.  Put in the fridge to cool.

Pour cream into a metal mixing bowl, add vanilla and sugar to taste.  Beat until soft peaks, be sure not to over beat, you want the cream to be soft and 'billowy'.  Take a handful of mini meringues and crumble into the mixture, folding gently to combine.

Mini Meringues - What a fabulous supermarket find!

Take your chosen serving bowl (I used cute little old fashioned champagne glasses I got from an op shop for 40c each) and put a little crushed meringue in the bottom.  Generously spoon over your cream and drizzle coulis over the top.

Serves 4 (or 2 if you are wee little piggies)

I am happy I chose to torture myself with food television because had I not, I would have not found the inspiration for my dinner last night.  It definitely made me feel better to be back in the kitchen again.  Thank you Nigella.  I'm still yearning for a big juicy steak though. 

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Whole Box and Choc Chips

I am going to trust you with a secret.  Well it isn't really going to be a secret if I post it on the Internet is it?  The good thing is that whoever is lucky enough to stumble upon my humble little site here gets in on the secret too.  It's really only me sharing, but it still nice to think of it as a yummy food secret.

So let me get to the good stuff.  I recently discovered, through some Internet trawling, a fantastic cake packet mix at Aldi supermarkets.  Now I don't go into Aldi all that often, I mean you go in for a carton of eggs and you can end up walking out with a paper shredder, an exercise bike, an emergency beacon and a circular saw. 

I made the Aldi Cake Mix discovery via a search that lead me to a Vogue Living BBS.  A subscriber indicated that the 'Hillcrest Vanilla Cake Mix' from Aldi that retails for 75c a box is an excellent cake mix.

I always have poo pooed anything that comes in a box.  It isn't because I am a snob, (well I kind of am when it comes to anything that I can make from scratch) it was because I was looking for a recipe to make my own plain cake mix.  Then I found that this mix was apparently very good.  Anyway I decided to take the trip to my local Aldi and see if this mix is as good as the person on the Vogue BBS claimed it to be.

I went into the store very 'Covert Operation' like.  I felt like I should have been wearing a trench coat, hat and sunglasses.  The only reason I don't like pre-made or pre-mixed stuff is because I am sensitive to preservatives - they give me headaches. Plus, being such a devotee of 'Home Baked' and 'Made from scratch' I was worried someone I know would see me buying boxed cake mix.  I found the mix and bought a box.  To keep in the spirit of shopping at Aldi, I also bought myself a massager that was on clearout for $10. (See I told you that you can't just buy what you go in for!)

The box tells you all you need is 3 tbs of margarine, 2 eggs and 2/3 cup of milk.  You just bung it all into a mixing bowl and beat for 3 minutes.  I decided to give my 75c cake a little more love, taking the time to sift the mixture, use softened unsalted butter and I used eggs that were at room temperature.  I did use my electric beaters (I kind of felt dirty not using a wooden spoon) and the mixture once incorporated was delightfully light, fluffy and very vanilla.

Instead of a vanilla cake, I chose to bastardise the recipe (as is my style) and make vanilla cupcakes, which I iced liberally with chocolate butter cream.  I took them to work the next day for morning tea.  I have never had such compliments over my baking.  Everyone wanted to know my secret.  I didn't want to tell them because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to have all the Aldi cake mix to myself... (My precious!)

It just goes to show,you really can't judge a book by its cover.  There really is nothing wrong with trying something different or just believing in it enough to give it a go.  I just won't look at the ingredients list on the box so I won't be horrified at all the additives... Anything is okay in moderation I guess.

I have tried other supermarket 'No Name' brand cake mixes and have given them the same love and attention that I gave the Aldi mix, but this mix is the winner.

If you can find it, try it because the results are really worth the 75c you pay for it and more!

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Double Chocolate Chip Vanilla Cake Mix Muffins

1 pk Vanilla Cake Mix
4 Tbs Cocoa Powder
3 Tbs Butter (or Marg)
2 Eggs
2/3 Cup of Milk
3/4 Cup of Chocolate Chips (Plus extra to sprinkle on top)
Paper Muffin Wrappers

Preheat oven to 180C.  Sift cake mix and cocoa into mixing bowl.  Add rest of ingredients except for choc chips and beat for 3 minutes with an electric beater, making sure all ingredients are well combined. 

Add choc chips and using a wooden spoon, fold until well combined.  Spoon into muffin wrappers to about 3/4 full.  Sprinkle on top with extra choc chips.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until a bamboo skewer comes cleanly out of cake when inserted.

To make your own Muffin Wrappers

Take some greaseproof paper or brown paper squares and make a stack of about 6 sheets.  Draw a circle onto your top sheet of paper (use something like a small cereal bowl as a size guide) and cut your sheets out carefully.  Sit the stack of paper circles over the middle of one of the holes of your muffin pan and use a smaller cup or the end of a rolling pin to push the stack of paper circles into the muffin pan hole.  The paper will form pleats and take the shape of the muffin pan hole.  Use as you would normal store bought muffin wrappers.

Oh Burr Jean!

Are you Aubergine?  Or Eggplant?  Here are some of the things I love about you.

I love your smoky aroma.  I love your soft, pillowy flesh.  I love chopping you and tossing you in cumin and salt and olive oil and roasting you in the oven, and slathering hummus on you and eating you in a sandwich with fat juicy roasted Italian tomatoes, caramelised onions, sweet potato and a lovely thick slice of soft cheese.

I love you Parmigiana style.  I love you slow roasted whole and turned into Baba Ghanoush.  I love you lightly crumbed and deep fried on its own just sprinkled with salt.

The same thing happens every time I go to the market...  You eye me from the produce section.  I am enamoured by your beautiful colour...  A vision in a delicious shade of purple.  I can never resist you and your plump, exquisite rotundness. 

I can't walk away from you... Have you I must!  And take you home and turn you into something delicious and exotic.

In case you haven't noticed.  I kinda like eggplant. 

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Oh-So-Simple Eggplant Dip (Baba Ghanoush) Recipe slightly tweaked from Marie Claire 'Kitchen'

Preheat the oven to 200c.  Put 2 tablespoons of oil in a small roasting tin.  Cut 1 bulb of garlic across the middle so that the cloves are cut in half.  Put each half of the bulb of garlic cut side down in the oiled dish and add 1 large whole eggplant.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until the garlic halves are golden brown and the eggplant is soft.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool.  With the tip of a small, sharp knife, separate the garlic cloves from the bulb and put them in a blender or food processor.  Cut the eggplant in half, scoop out the soft flesh and add it to the garlic.  Blend to a puree. 

Transfer to a bowl and fold through 4 tablespoons of tahini and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.  Season to taste with sea salt. 

Just before serving, fold through 2 tablespoons of finely chopped flat leaf (Italian) parsley and garnish with a sprinkle of cayenne pepper.  Finish with a light flourish of Olive Oil.

Serve with bread.

(If the thought of using a whole bulb of garlic seems a little excessive, you can just throw a few whole cloves with their skins on into the roasting pan).

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Best Thing I Ever Ate...

A while back I found what I believed to be the Holy Grail of Yum.  Only it turned out to be a mirage.  Of all the things in the world that I have ever eaten, I never thought the thing that would stick with me forever would be a chocolate donut.

However, this dear friends, was no ordinary donut, no, no, no!  This was the King of donuts, it was an epiphany.  This donut outshone all others I have ever tasted.  This donut was special. 

Let me tell you the story about Kitty and the Chocolate Donut.

About a year ago I saw this fellow at the Farmers Market.  He had an unassuming little cart, much like a tiny trailer, all painted yellow and fitted out with all of his necessary donut making equipment.  There he was, with his cart, at the entrance of the Market. 

I had seen him once before, and I had tasted donuts at the Markets before but not his.  I scoffed at the price, not wanting to part with $4.50 for a 'crummy donut'.  Though for some reason the next time I saw him, I felt an inexplicable urge to go see what was so special about his donut.   

It is basically a small round donut, deep fried and rolled in cinnamon and sugar.  This is where the donut stops from ordinary to extraordinary.  The secret weapon which is what makes it so incredibly delicious is that it is filled with melted Belgian chocolate. 


The next thing you notice is the amazing chewy texture of the donut itself.  Coupled with that oozey chocolately goodness, it is just a blissful experience.

The smell alone is enough to make you want to just float away to Willy Wonka Land. "Come with me, and you'll be in a World of pure imagination"... Do dee doo... Do dee doo...  Ok, back to Earth!

The photo is of me (in my car away from prying eyes) just before I so delicately and politely scoff this sweet treat into my cake hole.  I would post more pictures, but they really just me looking like I am going to attack anyone who tries to come near me.  By the end of my territorial feasting I kind of have an 'Augustus Gloop-ness' about me.

As much as I don't want it to, this story has a sad ending.  I have never seen Mr Little Yellow Belgian Chocolate Donut Cart Man again.  It kind of makes me feel like he never really existed.  I have been looking for him several times, only to see an empty space at the Market where he and his little cart were that one, glorious day.  At least I have pictures to prove that it wasn't a dream.

The moral of the story is that you should never judge a book by its cover and when you find the Holy Grail of Donuts, or anything else that is just too delicious for words, be sure to go back and get the guys number so you can stalk him.

(I mean visit!  At the Market I mean!  Bwhahahaha).

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Challah Back Girl!

I love it when I eat something and I think to myself, 'I can make that' - It is fun to set yourself the challenge to replicate a dish or food you have tasted.  I Especially love the thrill of the chase of hunting down a recipe or the ingredients to make it.

I have done this with Challah - Jewish Egg Bread.  I only decided that I must make this bread myself after trying it a couple of times while in America.  I also discovered that it makes the most sublime French toast and bread pudding.  My mouth is literally watering just thinking about how good it is!

I am not very good at kneading (not a good idea to ask me for a massage) and I am not all that patient when it comes to the bread making method of prove, knead, rise, knead, etc, so I made it my quest to find a recipe for Challah that I could make with the aid of a bread maker.  And yes, after some searching and a few tweaks of my own, I succeeded! Hallelujah!  (Or should I say 'Mazel Tov'!?!)

I must stress that I only use the bread maker to make the dough.  I let it do all the hard work of kneading etc.  I can let the machine go on its merry way for an hour and a half while I do my own thing elsewhere.  I then divide it into 3 pieces, roll out, plait and let rise for another 30 minutes before egg washing and putting into the oven.

This bread is so freakishly easy to make and the results are better than perfect.  I like to bake my loaf and then cut it into nice thick toasty sized slabs (nothing as petite and polite as a 'slice' here) which I can freeze in Ziploc bags for when I need a french toast fix.

The taste... I would have to say is almost like a thick, warm, buttery slice of croissant.  It is airy and flaky and just so very delicious.  I can't find enough adjectives to describe how yummy home made Challah is. 

If you get the opportunity, do try it.  The results are worth it.  All I ask is if you are Jewish, don't sick your Grandmother onto me if this recipe is at all sacrilegious! (She would probably be proud of me (and you) for trying!)

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Bread Maker Challah - Schiksa Style

3/4 cup milk (If you are Jewish you know what kind to use if you keep Kosher)
2 eggs (+ 1 extra egg, beaten to egg wash) 
3 tablespoons margarine (Margarine is Kosher, but I like to use butter - I prefer the flavour)
3 cups bread flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
Sesame or Poppy Seeds to sprinkle on top (Optional)

1. Add ingredients to the pan of the bread machine in the order suggested by the manufacturer.

2. Run machine through 'dough' setting only.

3. Preheat your oven to 180C.  Turn dough out onto a floured surface, divide into three and roll into long thick sausages.  Pinch the three ends together and plait until you reach the end of your sausage, securing the ends by pinching together.  (You can make it look neater by tucking the ends under if you wish).  Transfer to your baking tray, lined with baking parchment.  (I like to use a pizza stone).  If you are hopeless at plaiting you might choose to just have a big hulking loaf - entirely up to you, I personally like how it looks when you plait it.

4.  Brush your loaf with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds if desired.

5.  Let sit in a warm place for 30 mins to allow the dough to rise before baking.

6.  Bake for about 40 mins until bread is risen and is a lovely golden colour.

7.  Try not to eat it all!