Archive for August, 2010

Peanut Butter Brownies

I have a confession to make. Well two actually. The first is that I love peanut butter. The second is that on days where the weather is grim outside, I manage to justify to myself to have ridiculously rich treats with a cup of coffee instead of having normal food for lunch. From going outside, the weather appears to be sufficiently horrid for me to make my peanut butter brownies. Actually, that is a bit of a lie, it’s not that bad I just have a hankering for brownies. I hope melbourne gets into warm weather  by the time I start at the Press Club in October, or I think I may return to Adelaide in three months several pant sizes larger than I left.

It’s hard to say how long to cook the brownies for as it depends so much on your oven and the size of the tin you use. The best way to check is pull it out after 25 minutes or so and wobble the tin. You should see the outside is set and the inside is still liquid and wobbles. You want to cook it until the wobble is almost gone in the middle, as the brownies will continue to cook after you take them out of the oven.

I once got confused between the container of self-raising and plain flour at my house and made brownies with self-raising. Please don’t make the same mistake I did. They were horrible, cakey brownies that I wouldn’t have fed to a hungry dog.

Peanut Butter Brownies:

Ingredients:

180g butter, chopped

250g dark chocolate, chopped

120g smooth peanut butter

400g brown sugar

4 eggs, beaten together lightly

300g plain flour

250g salted peanuts, chopped

Method:

Preheat oven to 170C fan-forced. Line a square tin with baking paper. Sift flour, combine with peanuts.

In a large bowl over a bain-marie, melt together butter, chocolate and peanut butter. Add brown sugar and stir until dissolved.

 Remove bowl from bain-marie, add eggs and stir to combine. Fold in flour and peanuts. Pour into the lined baking tin and bake for around 40 minutes (depending on the size of your tin) then allow to cool for 30 minutes. Turn out and cut into squares

While brownies are baking, check no one is looking and eat whatever mix remains in the bowl (I’m licking a spatula while I’m writing this) NOTE: this is not an optional part of the recipe. If you don’t do this, I will know.

Make yourself a delicious hot beverage (coffee for me) and eat with the brownies after letting them cool for a while

I would love to hear if any of you have a recipe or guilty food pleasure like I do?

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Gourmet weekend

I spent the weekend with the terrible job (with only a hint of sarcasm) of going to as many wineries in the Barossa Valley as I could, tasting the various wines and food on offer. This would be a rather long post if I were to go into everything I ate and drank, so I might just mention my favourites.

My favourite meal of the weekend had to be lamb on a spit which I had at a friend’s birthday after party. It had been cooking for seven hours, and I must admit I was dubious as to whether the meat would still be moist and tender, as quite a lot of fat seemed to drip of the meat as it turned. However, the meat was succulent, with a subtle rosemary and smokey flavour (rosemary was layed across the coals) and the skin gave pork crackling a run for its money. It certainly has given me some ideas for my twenty-first birthday coming up.

The William Randell Shiraz had to be my favourite over the weekend. Now, I’m not going to pretend I could smell dark chocolate and Christmas cake, or taste blackberries or mocha-oak, but it was delicious. I had it at a botique winery called Thorn Clarke, which I only went to because it is a stone’s throw from my girlfriends house. Needless to say it won’t be the last time I visit, and I’m sure I can justify a few more bottles while I’m there.

In general, Gourmet weekend had a fantastic atmosphere, with some very talented live bands, and a high standard of food and wine. My only complaint would be that a few of the wineries seemed to severly under-cater for the food, and were sold out of most of the menu items within a few hours, which I found difficult to explain to my hungry stomach. However, it is well worth a visit to this annual event, and I can’t wait until next year to do it all again.

You say potato I say potata!

I couldn’t help but notice the amazing array of potatoes as I wandered around the Adelaide Central Markets today. I thought I’d share a couple of my favourite potato recipes.

Gnocchi:

The best gnocchi is produced with dry, mashed potatoes, so I roast the potatoes on salt. This draws out all the  moisture as they cook, and I find the result gives a much more pillowy (is that a word?) gnocchi. When combining the flour and egg yolk, it is important not to overwork the dough or your gnocchi might be better served as a bouncy ball. I bring the dough almost together with a pastry scraper and then use my hands. The less you work the starch in the potatoes, the softer your gnocchi will be. I used Royal Blue potatoes, but Desiree could be used if you can’t find them.

Ingredients:

600g Royal Blue potatoes

70g plain flour

1 egg yolk

rock salt, for roasting

pink salt, for seasoning  

 olive oil 

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 200C. pour some rock salt onto a tray and add the potatoes on top. Roast until potatoes are very tender
  2. Halve and then scoop out the inside of the potatoes. Pass through a drum sieve with a pastry scraper or use a potato ricer. Combine the potato with the egg yolk, flour and salt and work into dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 2cm diameter sausage. Cut the dough with a pastry scraper or knife into 2cm wide discs.
  3. Boil a large saucepan of salted water. Add the gnocchi. Cook for a couple minutes or until the gnocchi rises to the surface. Remove the gnocchi and refresh briefly in iced water, before draining in a colander. Toss with a little oil to stop the gnocchi sticking together. The gnocchi is now ready to be tossed through a sauce (tomato based sauces are good, as is pesto) or it can be served with dishes such as ragu.

Chips:

Everyone has their favourite way of cooking chips, and the recent nod from experts has been given to the thrice cooked chip, firstly boiled, then deep fried at two different temperatures. I like this method, however it can be more time consuming than other methods for a somehwhat similar result. My preferred method is to deep fry twice, at 140 degrees and then 190 degrees. I find this gives a delicious crisp outside and a fluffy inside. I had quite a bit of practice making chips during the Masterchef experience; the meat and livestock association visited the house and left us with a quarter of a cow. Adam and I promplty used all the bones to firstly make beef stock, and then demi-glaze. We then spent the next seven nights in a row eating various steaks with chips and our demi-glaze. I’m not proud of it.

I used Sebago, but some other potatoes that lend themselves well to chips include Russet, Burbank and Bintje. Putting the chips in the fridge helps to dry out the outside of the potato, and contributes to having a crispy skin.

Ingredients:

Sebago potatoes

vegetable oil, for deep frying

good quality salt

Method:

  1. Preheat a deep fryer or large saucepan or wok with a thermometer to 140C
  2. Peel potatoes  and cut into 1cm diameter chips
  3. Working in small batches if you are doing lots of chips, deep fry for 5-8 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through and a starting to get a tinge of golden brown to them. Remove from the oil onto a tray lined with paper towel. The chips should be in a single layer, not piled on one another. Drain of as much oil as possible with more paper towel and transfer into the fridge on the tray.
  4. When ready to eat, heat the oil to 190 degrees. Cook the chips for a couple minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oil to a large bowl, season generously with salt and toss them around. It is important to season straight away or the salt doesn’t seem to stick to the chip. Serve

The macaroon- revisted

I posted recently about a day I spent with Poh Ling Yeow, which was a lot of fun, and special to me because I was an avid Masterchef fan prior to being on the show myself. After posting a photo of some delicious macaroons (or is it macaron? I think in France it is macaron and Australia macaroon) I have had lots of macaroon related questions. So I’m hoping to more or less try and solve the problems of any macaroon makers out there who might be having a few issues.

In terms of recipe, I have found the one I used in London to be quite a good one, so you can access that at http://www.masterchef.com.au/violet-macaroons-with-raspberries-and-butter-cream.htm . My housemate tried to make some recently, and while he followed the recipe carefully, he didn’t knock enough air out of the mixture, leaving his macaroons merengue-like and hollow. Another common mistake is not leaving the piped macaroons long enough before baking- they need to form a skin on top in order to pop in the oven and get the ‘foot’

This is your chance to fire questions at me and I will try and answer as many as I can!

Once you have mastered the basic recipe, you can try making all sorts of flavours. To flavour the biscuit itself, simply add a flavouring to the eggwhites in the recipe once they are at stiff peaks. Flavour essences are good as you can add lots of flavour with only a few drops. Some macaroon makers only flavour the filling and change the colour of the macaroon itself, as they say the flavour is muted by the cooking process. I made some strawberry macaroons which turned out quite well, I don’t think I have ever used so much food colouring in my life!

In terms of varying the filling, there’s many variations:

  • butter icing (approx 2- 3 parts icing sugar to 1 part softened butter beaten together until fluffy)
  • ganache (175g  chopped white chocolate, heat 100ml cream then pour over chocolate, then stir in 60g butter. Or use dark chocolate for chocolate macaroons)
  • fruit mousse (the recipe i used for raspberry mousse above can be adapted for other fruit puree’s)
  • butter cream- my personal favourite as it’s not quite so sweet and works well with the sweetness of the macaroon. This is Adriano Zumbo’s recipe for a basic buttercream

200g caster sugar
75g water
150g eggs
90g egg yolks
400g butter, softened

add the sugar and water to a saucepan and bring to the boil, cooking until it reaches 118°C. Using an electric mixer, mix the eggs and egg yolks in a large bowl until combined. With the mixer running on medium speed, pour over the sugar syrup and continue to beat until 50°C. Carefully and slowly add the butter

Pick one of the base recipes above and flavour it how you wish!

I would love to hear your suggestions for some crazy flavours, obviously you can have the classics (chocolate, pistachio etc) but I ate a truffle macaroon recently and it was amazing!

What’s your favourite restaurant right now?

I thought it would be kind of cool if everyone who comments on this blog said what they’re favourite restaurant is right now (and maybe a reason as to why), so that others reading this blog who live nearby these places can possibly expand their horizons and try something new.

I’ll go first- my favourite restaurant right now (with a wee bit of masterchef bias) is Andre’s Cucina and Polenta Bar in Adelaide CBD. Andre has opened an Italian restaurant like I have never experienced; there’s no pizza or pasta to be seen anywhere on the menu. What it does have though, is a perfect menu for sharing with friends. Food arrives at the table on little wooden boards, perfect for a less than formal meal, and there is a seperate polenta menu, my favourite so far is the truffle and mushroom polenta.

It is possible to follow a more traditional restaurant meal and have a main course, such as the sous-vide rib eye finished on the grill and served with salsa verde, which has seen many the customer question how it is so tender. The desserts are creative, the cookies and cream regular on the menu is a pannacotta in a jar, served with an array of biscotti. I have eaten there three times now, and I’m still excited by the concept. Bring good company, enjoy some good wine and the fun, slightly adventurous atmosphere and I think you’ll see why I’m raving on about this place to anyone who will listen.

If you are interested you can get some more information at andrescucina.com.au

Recent movements

Adam, Alvin and I were lucky enough today to meet Jennifer Hawkins and have a photo with some of the fans of the show. We had a lot of fun in the competition and it’s great to see that lots of people enjoyed watching us do what we love. Thanks!

Thrice cooked pork

I really like pork belly. Scratch that. I love pork belly. Braised, confit, roasted-I’m not fussy, so long as the meat is tender and the skin is crisp. In fact, in the house we would place bets with each other to keep us amused, and our betting currency was ‘delectable treats’. I once lost a particularly large bet to Adam and bought him a nice piece of pork belly as his delectable treat. But the advantage of this system was that I was as much a winner as we ate the pork together. On that occasion Adam roasted the pork belly but I thought I’d give you a recipe that uses some of the Asian techniques that I picked up from cooking with Adam, Alvin and Marion all those months in the house.

This recipe is essentially cooked three times, and is first braised in master stock, then deep fried for colour and texture, and lastly stir-fried to coat it in a sticky, rich sauce. It seems fitting to include a master stock recipe, to follow on from making a French chicken stock in my first post. I loved this comment by Alex:  It’s always fascinating to read someone else’s recipe and method for chicken stock, like a private glimpse into their mind & heart. Nobody’s is quite identical to anyone else’s, and everyone thinks theirs is the uncontested best.

Also, people seemed to make master stock at the drop of a hat during the competition.

The theory behind a master stock is that you can reuse it many times, and the reward is that every time you braise/poach in it the stock becomes more flavoursome. In fact, there are stories of master stock’s in China that are over 100 years old, but this might be difficult to prove, perhaps one could cut them open and count the rings? Obviously, to avoid visiting the hospital on a regular basis, some rules must be adhered to in order to continue using the stock:

  • After using the stock, strain it, bring it to the boil, skim it, let cool then freeze it (home cooks are unlikely to use it often enough to keep it in the fridge)
  • Only use your master stock for one type of protein ie. If you use pork in your master stock, you should only use pork in that stock in the future.

Master stock braised porkbelly

Masterstock:

2.5L water

2 cinnamon quill

3 star anise

5 cloves garlic

2 spring onions

Thumb-sized knob of ginger, sliced

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp peppercorns

100g yellow rock sugar

¾ cup light soy sauce

1 ½ cups shao xing (chinese rice wine)

Method:

Combine ingredients in your biggest pot. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Easy right?

For the pork belly:

A piece of pork belly a bit smaller than your biggest pot, so it can fit in there nicely (also ask your butcher to take the bones out for you it makes life easier later)

Your simmering masterstock

Oil, for deep frying (vegetable oil or other neutral oils are good)

2-3 Tablespoons castor sugar

Extra soy sauce, to taste

Black vinegar, to taste

Method:

Put the pork belly into your big pot with the master stock. Simmer very gently for 3 hours. I covered the pot with a cartouche, in an attempt to keep the pork covered with liquid. This isn’t entirely necessary, but I’m a bit of a sucker for a cartouche. If the liquid gets below the level of the pork top it up with some more water.

Take the pork out of the stock and drain it well. Keep the stock. Transfer pork to a tray a put a weight on top. Refrigerate overnight to make the pork easier to cut and also dry it out. This is quite important, if the pork is too moist when you deep fry it oil spits everywhere and isn’t very safe.

Cut the pork into cubes.  Heat a couple centimetres of oil in a wok. When the oil is around 180C, add half the pork, fry for a couple minutes, stirring until golden brown and crisp. Remove pork to a paper-towel lined bowl and fry remaining pork in the same way. Clean out the wok

Add the sugar to the clean, hot wok. As soon as it starts caramelizing, add about a cup of masterstock. Reduce until thickened. Balance flavour with a little soy or vinegar if it needs it. Add pork pieces, stir to coat in the sauce.

I served the pork with a simple stir fry of Gai larn, chilli, ginger and spring onions, deglazed with a little masterstock and finished with some soy sauce.

You can top up the masterstock with water if it needs it and add extra aromatics over time. Happy stocking!