Sunday, September 24, 2006

Banana and Date Bread

Last week the latest edition of Donna Hay Magazine was delivered to my door & flicking through I knew I just had to make of this luscious sounding bread which even sounded remotely healthy, I mean it did have fruit in it so it must be good for you right? After popping it in the oven to cook for a tantalizing 1 hour & 10 minutes of the most lovely aroma wafting through the house, I did a bit of spoon licking, let me tell you the raw mix was pretty damn good, lucky I tried it after starting the cooking or none might have made it into the pan! Also I have to mention that one and a half cups of bananas is a lot at today’s prices so I was very lucky to score a bag of lady fingers at Coles going for $4.00 a kilo, they weren’t even that brown but were just perfect for mashing up for the cake mixture. The end result was divine, dates and bananas are another perfect combination I’ve decided, the cake was nice & moist on the inside & had a crispy outer shell, Michael and I both scoffed heaps while it was still warm out of the oven.

Banana and Date Bread

125g unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ cups plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ cups mashed banana
¼ cup maple syrup
1 cup chopped dates

Preheat oven to 160c. Place the butter & sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until pale & creamy. Gradually add the eggs & beat well. Fold through the flour, baking powder, bicarb soda, nutmeg & cinnamon and stir well to combine. Stir in the banana, maple syrup & dates. Spoon the mixture into a 7 x 32cm lightly greased loaf tin lined with non-stick baking paper. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Allow to cool in the tin & slice to serve.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Poached, East Brunswick

This morning Michael & I went out for a leisurely walk down Lygon Street in East Brunswick in search of somewhere new to try out for Brekky. We settled on a new place called Poached. It’s right near sugardough. At 10am we easily got a table, unlike down the road at Small block where you usually have to wait 15 minutes or so. I’m sure once more people try this place out it will soon become packed too. The interior was quite spacious with maybe 10 or so tables spread out with plenty of room to move. The main tables being set against the wall where the wall is a couch, very comfy, I am a big fan of the couch chair, lots of room to dump bag & whatever else you may be carrying around too. There are also tables out on the sidewalk & we spotted some out the back too which I’m sure will be put to use when the sun is out & more people about. It has quite a modern feel with black couches, tables & seats & the floor was some sort of colored stone work that had a sort of Flinstone effect on me, I liked it. To eat I settled on Eggs Florentine with a side of bacon, this was served on sautéed baby spinach, mushrooms, English muffin & topped with hollandaise. It was cooked to perfection, really good, the bacon was also a very tasty cut & cooked just to my liking, not too crispy but not like some places where it appears they’ve only flicked it in the pan for a second or so. I also had a café latte which was a really good coffee & a chocolate milkshake, hey don’t laugh I need all of the calcium I can get & I am eating for 2 so have to use whatever excuses available to me at the moment & make the most of the situation! My eggs came in at 10.00 which is pretty cheap around these parts so was happy with that too. The menu also had lots of other interesting choices for another day, omelette’s, pancakes, French toast & the like & all with some interesting ingredients thrown in, sorry cant remember what I didn’t try! Another great place in this strip which is slowly building up, lots for me to try & blog about yet.

They are open for brekky & lunch & closed on Sundays.

169 Lygon St
Brunswick East VIC 3057
(03) 9387 2396

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Quince and Red Wine Duck

The other night I had planned on cooking dinner but after a hectic day/week in the new office, got a bit caught up so once again Michael was a darling & did the prep. I have made this dish several times before, its so easy & really, really yummy, great for a simple dinner alone or even impressive for guests – or so I have been told. It has a lovely sweet flavour that goes perfectly with the richness of the duck meat. I always serve with mash potato & greens on the side even though the recipe suggests couscous. The recipe comes from Marie Claire ‘Zest. Sorry the photo is not the prettiest, don’t let that put you off. I also find that a bit further cooking time is required so they aren’t completely raw & that the skin does crisp up nicely.

Quince and Red Wine Duck

12 thyme sprigs
250ml (1 cup) red wine
2 garlic cloves, sliced in half
4 duck breast fillets, skin on
3 tablespoons quince paste
1 teaspoon cumin

Preheat oven to 200c. Arrange the thyme sprigs over the base of a baking dish to form a bed for the duck. Add the wine & garlic to the dish. Rinse the duck fillets under cold water then pat dry with paper towels. With a sharp knife make several incisions through the fatty skin on each of the fillets. Rub the quince paste into the skin, sprinkle with cumin & season with salt & pepper. Sit the duck fillets on top of the thyme, skin side up. Bake for 5 minutes, then remove form oven & spread the paste over the fillets with a knife. Return to the oven for a further 10 minutes. For crispy skin put the cooked duck under a hot grill for 2 minutes. Allow to sit for a few minutes then slice. Serve with cooking liquid drizzled over.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Baked Chocolate tart

Today Rach was coming over for a bit of a catch up, she is a bit of a sucker for chocolate (just like me in my present state!) so I whipped up this tart of Jamie Oliver’s from ‘The Naked Chef. I had some left over pastry in the freezer from when I made the lemon lime tart so this cut down considerably on my prep time which was excellent, means I got to spend the whole morning in the garden! I’ve included the pastry recipe as per previous post. I served the tart with fresh strawberries & blueberries & let me say this, it was sensational, absolutely delicious. The fact that it was dark chocolate made it very intense without being too sweet, it tasted a little like a chocolate pudding but solid of course & of the sweetness of the berries was perfect along side. Also I have to say home made short crust pastry definitely kicks ass over the frozen kind. Make this tart & trust me you will not regret it.

Baked Chocolate Tart

1 x 25cm flan or tart shell, baked blind
140g butter, unsalted
150g good quality chocolate, (70% cocoa solids)
8 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
small pinch salt
4 eggs
200g caster sugar
3 tablespoons golden syrup
3 medium heaped tablespoons sour cream or crème fraiche

Place the butter, chocolate, cocoa powder and slat in a bowl over a pan of simmering water & allow to melt slowly, stirring occasionally until well mixed in. In a separate bowl beat the eggs & sugar together until light & well creamed, and then add the golden syrup & sour cream. Stir your choc mixture into this mixture, scraping all of the chocolate out with a spatula. Once you’ve mixed it well pour it into the pastry shell. Place into a preheated oven for 40-45 minutes at 150c. During cooking a beautiful crust will form.

Carefully remove the tart from the oven & allow to cool on a rack for at least 45 minutes, during which time the skin will crack & the filling will shrink slightly. Serve with fresh berries

Short Crust Sweet Pastry

To make 2 x 30cm/12 inch tart moulds
250g butter
200g icing sugar
a medium pinch of salt
500g flour
4 egg yolks
4 tablespoons cold milk/water

You can make this by hand or in a food processor. Cream together the butter, sugar & salt & then rub or pulse in the flour & egg yolks. When the mix has come together, looking like coarse breadcrumbs, add the cold water or milk. Pat & gently work together to form a ball of dough. Use minimum movement as the more you work it the more elastic it will get, causing the pastry to shrink & be chewy. Roll into a large, short & fat sausage shape, wrap in glad wrap & place in the fridge for at lest 1 hour.Carefully slice off thin slivers of pastry lengthways, around 5mm thick. Place the slivers in & around the bottom & sides of your tart mould, then push the pieces together & level out. Now it needs to rest again for at least 1 hour in the freezer this time.Bake the tart for about 15 minutes at 180c, completely cool & fill with any uncooked fillings.For baked fillings, bake blind first at 180c for only about 12 minutes. You can fill the shell with rice, baking beads, etc but if your pastry is straight out of the freezer you shouldn’t have problems with shrinkage, etc.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Lebanese Lemon Chicken

After a week away & eating our for every single meal I was looking forward to getting back into my kitchen & cooking up something hopefully delicious. I decided to try this dish from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Kitchen. I used some chicken marylands instead of a whole chicken cut up as frankly I couldn’t be bothered with the chopping. Wow, this dish was amazing, unlike anything I have ever cooked before, very different. The aroma of aniseed while cooking was intense thanks to the fennel bulb & seeds. The bulghur wheat was fantastic, I haven’t really tasted or cooked with this much at all in the past & I loved it, it went all crisp & brown around the edges & the rest was just melt in the mouth full flavour. The flavours in the crispy chicken skin were gorgeous too & it all went so well together especially with that final dollop of sour cream to bring it all together.

Lebanese Lemon Chicken

1 large chicken cut into pieces
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
3 heaped tablespoons plain flour
extra virgin olive oil
1 large bulb fennel, roughly chopped, herby tops chopped & reserved
1 red onion, peeled & roughly chopped
2-3 small preserved lemons, chopped
1 small bunch fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
150g farika or bulghur wheat
1 wineglass of tequila, vodka or white wine
565ml chicken stock or water
1 small tub sour cream

Preheat oven to 180c. Bash all of the spices up in a mortar & pestle with the salt until you have a fine powder. Add the flour & mix well. Rub this all over your chicken, any flour left over, reserve for later.

Heat an appropriately sized casserole type pan on the stove and add 5 tablespoons olive oil. Brown your chicken pieces on all sides, do this in one layer. Once they are coloured, remove to a plate, turn down the heat, add the onion, fennel, lemons and rosemary to the pan. Fry for around 5 minutes or until nicely softened. Then add excess flour & farika or bulghur wheat, give it all a good stir.

Add the tequila, vodka or wine & allow to cook down. Cover with chicken stock until it reaches the same level as the grains & veg. Now make a cartouche (A piece of greaseproof paper cut to fit the size of your pan). Run it under the tap to make it flexible then rub with olive oil. Place over the grains & veg in the pan & put the chicken on top. Place in oven & cook for 45 minutes until the chicken skin is really crisp. Serve with a dollop of sour cream & the fennel tops.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Cook Islands Trip

We have just returned from our week of Paradise in The Cook Islands, as you can see from the photo, it is gorgeous over there & the pic doesn’t even do the place justice. We even got to spend a day & night in Tahiti as on the way there some very strong winds – apparently 120kms/hour, prevented us from landing so we had to divert, thanks to Air New Zealand for providing all we needed it was actually really enjoyed rather than being the disaster it could have been. They put us up in The Intercontinental which was beautiful, we spent the day swimming in their gorgeous & mammoth pool, walking around & chilling out. As for the food, well I know resorts aren’t usually the best but I have to say the buffet lunch was pretty awful so the eating extravaganza I had planned was not off to a good start.

All in all our food experience did not end up being that great apart from a couple of good feeds, for the most part I thought it was pretty awful, so as you can imagine I was very disappointed. Most of the food is imported from New Zealand which brings the prices up for a start, they are more or loss on a par with Australian restaurant prices which I wouldn’t mind paying if the quality was the same. The fact that it wasn’t & there really weren’t any cheap & easy options available for dinner didn’t make me any happier paying these prices. Lunch was a bit better with more available & at more reasonable prices. We had a tropical breakfast included daily which was fine, not much can go wrong with cereal, fruit, toast & pastries after all! I hate to write about bad experiences but really wasn’t left with much option. So anyway that being said now I will tell you about the good bits.

When we finally made it The Cooks, our first port of call was the stunning Island of Aitutaki, the photo is actually One Foot Island which is one of the surrounding motu’s (Islands). We did an Island cruise taking in a few surrounding Islands & some snorkelling – fantastic, and we had a local lunch on Honeymoon Island put together by the cruise people. This was great as they laid out a platter of traditional fruits & vegetables including Sea Grapes, these were very weird looking, a small branch with lots of very small ‘green grapes’ attached, squeezed with lime juice very tasty & apparently very good for you too, paw-paw, guava, lady bird bananas (as you can imagine I made the most of readily available bananas & stuffed myself with them for the whole week), some baked tapioca pudding – yum, steamed tapioca, purple kumara, fresh coconut & some fresh tuna sandwiches. Most of it was delicious though I was a bit iffy on the kumara & steamed tapioca. It was all served in a tiny little open hut on woven plates lined with freshly picked leaves of some sort, really enjoyed this experience.

That night was Sunday & not much is open on Sunday nights in Aitutaki so we opted for Te Vaka Bar & Grill, we caught a taxi there & the lovely driver gave us a piece of sponge cake for the ride that she had freshly baked that afternoon, it was delicious & moist & as you can probably tell the people here are very friendly, a very nice experience & cheap too! The restaurant was in a lovely open air building with the usual wicker furniture & Island feel, the food here was quite nice too, not fantastic but pretty good. Michael tried the Cook Islands speciality ‘Ika Mata’ which is fresh tuna marinated in lemon juice then tossed in coconut cream with onions, garlic, tomato & cucumber, he gave it the thumbs up, being pregnant I had to take his word for it as raw fish off the menu for me for now. I had Garlic chilli prawns, these were good too, with the marinade all making a lovely thick jammy sauce for the prawns. Michael then had some coconut topped Mahi Mahi (very nice fish if done the right way – we had a lot of it over the week) with calamari & I had an Island chicken curry, absolutely huge servings, don’t think I even ate half of mine. I then had some ice cream with freshly grated coconut & chocolate fudge sauce, their desserts were not overly creative! All in all it was a pleasant experience.

As you can probably tell by now they are very big on coconut on EVERYTHING in The Cook Islands, I was ok with it at first but by the end of the week hated it as most of the time thought it was way overdone & think it will be a while before I eat anything with coconut again which is a shame as I really like the stuff.

Anyway back on the mainland, Rarotonga a couple of places worth mentioning. FBI fish and chips , near the main bus stop in town. As we were getting off the bus we could smell it and you know what that smell does to you, we had no choice but to then find the place & order up. The fish was Parrott fish & the batter was light & crispy & all seemed to be cooked in nice fresh oil & at NZD11.50 for the 2 of us very good value for a change.

We went to Trader Jacks for dinner one night which is apparently the place to go, unfortunately I thought the food was crap here, our char grilled octopus was very tough & chewy & the coconut braised lentils it was served on well, yuk! For the mains Michael had some Wahoo fish, pan fried with garlic, lemon, fresh herbs & fries, this was nice & simple & really good, I ended up eating half of it as my Mai Mai wrapped in banana leaf & served on a bed of ginger, coriander, chilli & COCONUT cream was disgusting, I had one bite & didn’t go any further. So I was pretty hungry after this & ordered dessert, Chocolate & apricot cake with chocolate fudge & ice cream – bad mistake again, cake was dry & I don’t know what the fascination is with bloody vanilla ice cream & hot chocolate fudge on anything either! The place had a good feel & was fun but I would definitely order plain if going again, the bar pizzas looked & smelt terrific too – maybe that’s the way to go?

For our last night we went to Tamarind House, recommended as the best spot on the Island I had high hopes & it didn’t disappoint, the setting is a majestic restored colonial era building & the piano player perched in the corner all night also added to the ambience. Michael started with the seafood chowder, another Island specialty which he enjoyed & I chose the chicken & mushroom won tons which were delicious, I finally learnt not to order Cook Islands food which I have developed an intense dislike for! For mains I had some smoked salmon spaghetti & Michael some Island style swordfish, we both left very happy customers for once.

All in all it’s a gorgeous & relaxed place for a holiday, Aitutaki was the highlight & highly recommended but if you go don’t have too high expectations for the food, hope I am not being too critical here, who knows maybe its just my pregnant taste buds after all.