Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The 2nd Annual Sydney Chicken Christmas Dinner

Every year for the past 12 years, a friend of ours has thrown a Christmas party. It is a major event on our calendar, about 30 of us get together and spend the afternoon/night eating, drinking and being merry.

When we moved to Sydney last year, we were the 3rd couple from our group living here. Work commitments meant that none of us would make it to Melbourne for the annual, and seeing it was the first Christmas in Sydney for both Sis and MJ, and BF and I, the 6 of us decided to start our own Sydney tradition.
You would think that between Sis and I, we would work at whipping up a big fancy feast, but no. The other couple, SteveKat, were moving back to Melbourne just before Christmas, and MJ had been raving about this amazing chicken takeaway that he and Sis had found just near their house. Boys being boys, Steve decided that he MUST try said chicken before leaving Sydney. Thus, The Sydney Chicken Christmas Dinner was born.

This year, there were just the four of us, and Sampson (Sis' cat!). After the craziness of December, it is nice to just relax with some good takeaway, a beer or two, a bottle of wine, and good company.
I know, you want to know about the food - barbeque chicken, hot chips, tabouli, toum and chilli sauce. MJ always makes sure to get extra toum and chilli sauce because we eat so much of it! Toum is a deliciously creamy garlic sauce made mostly from garlic and oil, is very pungent and addictive. A rather modest spread for Christmas, but a new tradition. It also means that by the time we all make it to Melbourne (I fly tonight!) that we have not overdone the Christmas foods early.
Sampson getting into the spirit
I'm off to finish packing now - wishing you all a very Merry Christmas full of laughter, fun and food!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Twice (!) Baked, Not Quite Souffle, Lemon Mousse


The highlight of our dinner with Sis and MJ was supposed to be dessert. I know what you are thinking - after homemade pasta with rabbit sauce, it was the dessert that is the hightlight? But I was in the mood to impress.

Dessert did impress. But not for the right reasons! It was supposed to be lemon souffle. Not the easiest dessert to make (and definitely the hardest to photograph - apologies for the dodgy shots! They sank sooo quickly!) I got the recipe from a Commercial Cookery text book, and forgot that the cooking times would have been for an industrial fan-forced combi-oven. Basically, I should have doubled the cooking time for my home oven!
After we put them back in the oven - note spoonful missing!

I did make the mixture correctly, and had I cooked them for the appropriate time (24 minutes) I think they would have been great. Unfortunately I didn't realise my mistake until we had eaten them! I first took them out after 13 minutes, served them, and after 1 spoonful realised they were undercooked. Sis and I put ours back in the oven, but BF and MJ were enjoying their lemon "mousse" so much that they declined the extra cooking time! After 4 more minutes, Sis and I took ours back out - the edges where much more souffle-like, but the centres were still completely mousse-like. Ah well, we ate them anyway! And for warm lemon mousse, they were rather nice!
After the second bake!
I'll put the recipe here in case you are game enough to try them - you will need to cook for about 24 minutes, but I totally suggest a trial run if you don't want the same thing happening to you! All ovens are slightly different and souffles are fussy, so it may take a few tries to get the exact times for your oven.

Pastry Cream
3 egg yolks
60g castor sugar
20g plain flour
200mls milk
vanilla essence to taste

Whisk egg yolks and sugar until almost white, then mix in the flour. Bring milk to scald point (just before it boils), whisk it onto the egg mixture, return to a clean pan, and stir over medium heat until it thickens (it will start to look like custard). Add a few drops of vanilla and taste to check that the raw flour flavour is gone - if not, keep stirring over heat until it is. Pour into a bowl and cover with cling film, ensuring the cling film is pressed against the pastry cream to prevent a skin forming. If you are making this for a dinner party, you can prepare up to this point ahead of time.

zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 egg yolk
1 tsp castor sugar
4 egg whites
butter for greasing

Preheat oven to 200C.

Add the egg yolk, zest and lemon juice to your pastry cream. Grease 4 ramekins with butter, place in fridge for 5 minutes, then remove and grease again with butter. Ensure that you do not miss any spots of the mould (this will cause the souffle to rise unevenly). Sprinkle sugar into each mould and move the mould around to ensure every inch is covered with sugar (for the same reasons as above).

Whisk the egg whites to firm peaks (add a little sugar partway through). Fold the whites into your pastry cream in 2 stages, first 1/4 of the whites, then the rest, as this helps to ensure maximum air retention.

Place into greased moulds, smooth the tops and place in oven for approx 24 minutes. Cross fingers, toes, arms etc and if successful, impress the pants off your guests!

Ooh, don't worry if the top of your souffle gets quite brown whilst cooking - it is more important the the centre is cooked. If the top is too dark for your liking, dust with generous amounts of icing sugar and ta da!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Fresh Parpadelle with Rabbit, Olives and Marjoram

Below was the starter, so now on to main! I had been wanting to cook this dish for a while, but as a whole rabbit costs around $25, I wanted to cook it for more than just the two of us. So this dish was the plat du jour for our dinner with Sis and MJ.

As it is now summer, a lot of butchers do not have rabbits readily on hand. However, if you call a day in advance, the lovely boys at Hudson Meats will get one in for you and prepare it as you request. For this dish, I had the rabbit jointed (8 pieces).

Now for my grumbles. Part way through cooking, I noticed that it looked absolutely nothing like the picture in the book. Normally this isn't such a worry, but my concern was that my dish was completely the wrong colour. The photo in the book shows the sauce as having a red-ish tinge, and also there are flecks of what looks like chilli. As you can see in my picture, there is no red in sight. I read, re-read and then read it again. There are absolutely no red ingredients in either the ingredients list or mentioned in the method. Unconvinced, I then made Sis double check. She agreed with me, I grumbled some more, then finished cooking. Our thought is possibly that the recipe should have called for red wine instead of white?

As for the fresh parpadelle, upon tasting this, MJ proclaimed it the best pasta ever. He went as far to say that it craps all over the pasta that he makes at home, and that it was even better than the pasta we ate at A Tavola in July. And they make some very awesome pasta. Yay to me! All my practice making fresh pasta is paying off - this was definitely the best batch I have made. I made this dough a little wetter than usual (by adding extra egg yolks one at a time until I was happy with the dough), kneaded it a bit more than usual, and then stored the whole sheets in the fridge separated by baking paper until I was ready to cook it.

This recipe is best started the day before, to allow the meat to marinate longer, but you could marinate it for as little as 4 hours if in a pinch.
Sis learning to use the manual focus lens
small bunch of thyme, leaves picked
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled and squashed
zest of 1 lemon
olive oil
1 rabbit, jointed

Mix the above ingredients together and rub them onto your rabbit pieces. Leave to marinate in the fridge overnight.
To cook the rabbit
olive oil
knob of butter
few sprigs thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 bottle white wine

On the serving day - preheat the oven to 180C. In a large, oven proof saucepan, heat a splash of olive oil with the knob of butter. Season the rabbit, add it to the pan and brown the pieces until golden. Add the thyme, rosemary and garlic, stir, then pour in the wine - it should just cover the meat (use more or less as necessary). Put the lid on, place in the oven, and cook for around 2 hours, or until the meat pulls easily away from the bone. When cooked, remove from the oven and allow meat to cool.

Whilst the rabbit is cooking, make your pasta.

small handful good quality green olives, stoned and roughly chopped
bunch fresh marjoram, leaves picked
freshly grated parmesan cheese
zest of half a lemon
knob of butter

When the meat has cooled, use your hands to shred it away from the bones. Discard the bones. Remove the garlic, rosemary and thyme from the pan, then put the pan on the heat to reduce the cooking liquid until slightly thickened. Turn down to low, and stir in the rabbit meat, olives and marjoram.

Cook your pasta in plenty of boiling salted water. Drain, reserving a little of the cooking water. Turn up the heat under the sauce, add the pasta and check for seasoning. Turn the heat off, add the butter and a handful of parmesan, and stir through. Quickly add the lemon zest, and add some of the reserved cooking water if the sauce needs loosening. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver's Cook with Jamie.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Spiced Smashed Chickpeas

I have made this a few times now and it always goes down well. This time I made it as a light starter when I made dinner for Sis and MJ. I was making fresh pasta for main (again - I love it!), so I didn't want to serve an entree. Instead I made this and also some almonds which I panfried in a little olive oil and then tossed with some sea salt and dried chilli. They were awesome - so good that we ate them all before I realised that I hadn't gotten a photo!

This recipe is disgustingly easy. If you have a large morter and pestle, you can fit the whole lot in there, just add the chickpeas a little at a time to avoid them flying across the room! If you only have a small one, then you will need to smash them in batches. Alternatively, you lucky people with food processors could make it in there!
1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp cumin powder
2 dried chillies
1 clove garlic
juice of 1 lemon
olive oil

Crush the garlic and chillies in a morter and pestle with a little salt. Add the chickpeas a bit at a time, crushing them before you add the next lot. Add in your cumin, lemon juice and season with salt and pepper, mash around a bit, then add olive oil to loosen a bit.

Recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver's The Return of the Naked Chef.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Fresh Pasta with a Ragu of Tiny Meatballs

This is a really easy dish to make - it doesn't take too long and it is very tasty. I made it one lazy Saturday afternoon at BF's request. And I'm very glad I did.

The original recipe calls for beef mince, but I noticed the butcher had a pork and veal mix, and thought that would be much tastier. This was the only change that I made, and I'm glad I did, as it made the dish that little bit more than just plain old spaghetti and meatballs.

First things first, make your fresh pasta (recipe here). Either hang it and allow to dry, or place uncut sheets onto baking paper and store in the fridge until ready to cook.

450g pork and veal mince
1 or 2 dried red chillies, crushed
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 egg
handful freshly grated parmesan
zest of 1 lemon
Mix all ingredients together with your hands. Shape into marble sized balls (I made mine a bit larger than this - lazy!) Place on a tray and put in the fridge.
Tomato Sauce
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bunch fresh basil, leaves picked and stalks chopped
1 fresh red chilli, whole and pierced with the tip of a knife
2 x 400g tins tomatoes
small swig red wine vinegar

Heat up a little olive oil in a pan, and fry the garlic, basil stalks and the whole chilli. Add the tomatoes and vinegar, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for about half an hour.

knob of butter
handful of freshly grated parmesan

Meanwhile, heat up a frying pan with a little olive oil, then add the meatballs. Cook until they are well coloured, then add them to the tomato sauce. Remove the chilli, and continue to simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through.

When the meatballs are almost done, cook your pasta in a big pot of salted water for 2 or 3 minutes. Drain, add the pasta to the sauce along with the butter and parmesan. Tear over half the basil leaves and toss it all around. Serve topped with extra parmesan and the remaining basil leaves. Serves 4

Recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver's Cook With Jamie.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Blueberry Pancakes

A couple of weeks ago I woke up on a Sunday morning starving, and with no idea what it was that I wanted to eat. BF was very quick to suggest pancakes, and pointed out that there was a punnet of blueberries in the fridge. Problem solved. I'm not one to say no to pancakes, and definitely think they are better with fruit involved, either cooked in or served on top. My exception to this is when I am hungover - then they MUST be served with bacon, fried eggs and maple syrup!!
This recipe is just a modified version of a classic pancake recipe and will serve 4. Basically, you can just use whatever pancake recipe you usually use, and mix in a handful or so of blueberries before you rest the batter. This recipe is especially good for people that are not big fans of blueberries, like BF. He doesn't really eat fresh blueberries, but just try and keep him away from these!

2 cups plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 and 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
60g butter, melted and cooled
1 punnet fresh blueberries
extra butter, for cooking
Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl and stir in the sugar. Whisk together the milk, eggs and butter, and stir into the flour mixture. Stir in the blueberries, cover and allow batter to stand for at least 15 minutes.
Heat a pan over medium heat and pop in a small knob of butter. Pour batter into pan (to desired pancake size) and cook over medium-low heat until small bubbles appear on surface. Flip and cook other side until the pancake is cooked through. Remove to a plate, cover with foil and keep warm in oven at about 150C until all batter is cooked. Serve with lemon and sugar (me), or maple syrup(BF).
Recipe modified from (recipe no longer available on that site - good thing I had a print-out!)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Gingerbread with Royal Icing - A Work (mess!) in Progress

A couple of weeks ago I found some cute Christmas cookie cutters and snapped them up, with a plan to make gingerbread. I've seen so many beautiful iced biscuits and thought that I could make some and put them in with presents. However, I forgot that I am not very artistic and also not very good at piping!The result? A HUGE mess in my tiny kitchen! I learnt some very good lessons though, so hopefully next time round will be more successful!
Strange arms!
The gingerbread themselves taste great, however, I couldn't get the dough to chill stiff enough for the shapes to hold when I moved them to the baking trays. I even tried putting it in the freezer for 40 minutes but to no avail. You will notice that some of my angels have very uneven arms! This was also the reason why I ended up with so many crazy face gingerbreads - I moulded the circles by hand once I had given up on the cutters.

More strange arms!
I'm not sure if I will use this recipe again because of this, but if you don't want to use cutters, it should be fine. The only changes I made were to the quantities of the spices, as I didn't have any ground cloves on hand. My big cookies took about 15 minutes (for very chewy cookies) and the small ones about 8 minutes (again for very soft chewy cookies).
Crazy faces!
125g butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup golden syrup
1 egg yolk
2 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
Cream the butter and sugar until pale. Stir in the golden syrup and the egg yolk. Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Stir into the butter mixture, cover and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 175C. Roll the dough out between 2 sheets of baking paper until about 5mm thick. Cut with cookie cutters and carefully transfer to baking tray. Place cookies about 5cm apart.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes (maybe longer for larger cookies or if you prefer your cookies crunchy). Cool on a wire rack. Ice when completely cool.
Recipe adapted from

Royal Icing
1 egg white
1 and 1/2 cups icing sugar
couple drops vanilla essence
food colouring
Whisk white till soft peaks. Sift in the sugar in 3 stages, whisking after each addition. Stir through vanilla.

Separate the icing into bowls - 1 for each colour. Use food colouring to colour each bowl of icing. Fill the sink with hot water. Place cling film over each bowl, pressing the cling film down so that it is touching the icing. This helps prevent the icing from setting. Place each bowl into the sink of hot water so the icing doesn't set.
More mess!
Use a small piping bag made of baking paper or use a zip lock bag with one corner cut off to pipe onto each cookie. Decorate with sprinkles, cachous etc.
Even more mess!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

My Very First Award!

I woke up this morning, knowing that I had been neglecting the blogging world. I hadn't posted in almost 2 weeks (bad blogger!) and I hadn't really been keeping up with all my favourite reads. I'd completely forgotten how busy this part of the year is. Work is getting busier, which means much longer days, less days off, and there are more events/parties to attend. Add that to the horror that is Christmas shopping and I'm out of time!

So it is a great boost of confidence (read - kick up the arse!) to receive my very first award!! Andrea over at Cooking Books has sent me the Kreativ Blogger Award, which comes with the Seven Things Meme. Thanks Andrea!
It's a long meme guys, so strap yourselves in!

Seven things I say most often

1) Will you be home for dinner?
2) What do you want for dinner?
3) I need a coffee.
4) F*** I hate Sydney! (Melbourne-girl at heart!)
5) This place is such a mess.
6) I need a bigger kitchen!
7) I'm hungry.

Seven things I did before
1) Managed a fast-food restaurant
2) Backpacked in Europe for 2 years
3) Studied paramedics at university
4) Partied until morning and drove home after sunrise
5) Danced (ballroom and jazz) for almost 10 years
6) Got a brown belt in karate
7) Lived off frozen chicken nuggets for a long time (my love of cooking came as a shock to many!)

Seven things I do now
1) Eat too much
2) Neglect cleaning/washing... well, all household duties
3) Constantly spill water on the carpet, couch etc
4) Attempt to go to the gym as much as possible (note: attempt!)
5) Make BF come to the supermarket even though he hates it so he can push the trolley
6) Walk everywhere and hardly ever drive or use public transport
7) Cook!

Seven things I want to do
1) Travel again
2) Work in a hatted restaurant
3) Meet BF's newest nephew who is currently in Seattle (bring on the February visit!)
4) Design my own kitchen
5) Learn to cope with the Sydney humidity
6) Take a holiday to somewhere other than Melbourne!
7) See my brother get married (one day soon!)

Seven things that attract me about the opposite sex
1) Ability to make me laugh
2) Body hair (Men should not wax!)
3) Broad shoulders, as they make for good hugs!
4) Family-oriented
5) Kind-hearted
6) Fun-loving
7) Understands the rule "Since I cooked, you have to wash!"

Seven favourite foods (only seven?!)
1) Chocolate (not the horrible white stuff)
2) Meat pies
3) Cheese (all cheese, but goat and sheep's much more than cow)
4) Hot chips (fries but fatter and better)
5) Home made pasta
6) Chicken parmigiana
7) Anything made by my Aunty J (awesome authentic Lebanese cooking)

Seven people I am tagging
1) Jamie at My Baking Addiction
2) Jaime at Good Eats 'n Sweet Treats
3) Ja at Beansprout's Cafe
4) FFIchiban at Here Comes The Food
5) Simon at Simon Food Favourites
6) Lorraine at Not Quite Nigella
7) Renee at ...and all things nice

As with all memes, it is not compulsory to participate but it is fun!