January 30, 2008

dinner at attica

Last night Jeff and I spent a wonderful evening partaking of the Chef's Table tasting menu at Attica - my Menu for Hope prize. We ate here last year after reading Tomato's glowing recommendation in August and loved it, so we were thrilled to have won.

Look (and weep) at last night's feast :

A zingy starter of pickled melons with jamon ...

Next, (my favourite) - almond and pea cream, sorrel and roast jellied chicken with crispy skin...

followed by cauliflower and goat's cheese ...

Next - poached free-range pork with housemade morcilla (black pudding made in the Spanish style), apple glazed shallots and broccolini...

and lastly, chocolate cake with cumquat jelly, coffee and preserved lemon ice cream and passionfruit pearls ...

It was a fantastic meal, and our charming host Cam made us feel very special. Many thanks Attica and Tomato!

January 24, 2008

nigella's burnt-butter brown-sugar cupcakes

I made these cupcakes ages ago when I first bought How to be a domestic goddess. I couldn't find any golden icing sugar at the time so I made up my own topping. I can't remember the result being anything to rave about so I had good intentions of continuing to look for the vital icing sugar. I'd forgotten about it until recently when I saw a picture Burnt Butter Cupcakes on the Cupcakes take the cake blog. They looked pretty good with the thin glaze, but I still wanted to make the recipe exactly as it is in the book. So I've been having another look around for the golden icing sugar and yesterday I found it in, of all places, the local deli.

Burnt-Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes

12-bun muffin tray lined with muffin papers

for the cupcakes:

150g unsalted butter
125g self-raising flour
60g golden caster sugar
65g light muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
1 tspn vanilla extract
1 tspn baking powder
2-3 tablespoons milk

for the icing:
150g unsalted butter
250-300g golden icing sugar, sieved
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 200c and then get on with burning your butter. Put it in a small saucepan on medium heat, stirring all the time until it turns a dark golden colour. Take the pan off the heat and strain the butter into a bowl or cup, as it will have made a sediment. In other words, this is like clarified butter, but with a smoky note. Let the butter solidify again, but it must remain soft. (I put it in the fridge for a while). When the butter is solid but still soft, put all the cake ingredients except the milk in a food processor and blitz to a smooth batter. As normal, add the milk down the funnel, pulsing sparingly to form a soft, dropping mixture. Divide between the paper cases, and cook for 15-20 minutes. While the cupcakes are baking, get on with the icing. It's the same procedure for the butter - burn, sieve, solidify - then beat it with half the sugar or enough to make it stiff. Add tablespoons of the milk and the remaining sugar alternately to reach a good consistency, and finally the vanilla.While the icing's still soft, smear messily over the cooled and waiting cupcakes.

And the verdict? Nice and light but killingly sweet! Maybe I'll try them with that thin glaze next time. The recipe says it makes12 but I only made 10, 9 after I'd tried one. Not enough to go round at my work. So I'll give them to Georgie to take to hers and hopefully the girls will think they're ok.

January 18, 2008

billy's chocolate cupcakes

As my Billy's Vanilla Vanilla cupcakes were such a success I was looking forward to trying out the chocolate version. I found both recipes here. I converted the ingredients to the Australian equivalents and again used the all-important cake flour. The raw mixture was smooth and silky and tasted delicious, and all was going well...

until they were baked. Every single one collapsed as soon as I took them out of the oven. There was enough mixture for about 30 so I cooked the 2nd batch longer but the same thing happened.

No way was I going to throw them all away and waste all that butter and chocolate. So I resurrected them by turning them upside down and trimming away the "crusts", then frosting them with ganache. Think I'll be sticking to chocolate cupcakes made with cocoa in future rather than melted chocolate.

January 17, 2008


Last night Jeff and I had dinner at Rockpool Bar & Grill which was Georgie's very generous Xmas present.

The restaurant fit-out is great. The decor is modern and luxurious and much bigger then we expected. We were presented with a large menu which is updated daily. Beef is the star of the show, but they boast of having the best seafood in the world as well.

For entree Jeff had a lobster omelette with prawn sauce, which he said was delicious...

but when he tasted mine he wanted to swap. My entree of king prawns with bio-dynamic goat's cheese, tortellini, burnt butter, raisins and pine-nuts was simply fantastic.

With steak being the raison d'etre of the restaurant we both wanted to try it, but with 4 types of beef on the day's menu, and a further choice of 13 various cuts, it wasn't easy to choose. In the end Jeff had the dry-aged 42 days grass-fed 350g rib-eye on the bone...

while I had the Wagyu 240g rump. His was surprisingly the more tender, but the richness of flavour in both was excellent.

The mains came just with lemon wedges, a choice of bernaise and horseradish cream, and a choice of a number of condiments such as harissa and mustard, so we ordered a couple of sides...

Jeff's choice of dessert - cherry trifle - was disappointing, but my Strawberry juice with mango sorbet and fruit was great. The flavour of the strawberry juice (not jus!) was so intense it was as if I'd ordered a yummy cocktail.

Overall, we had a fantastic dining experience. I've read a few bad reviews of the service, but we found it excellent

January 12, 2008

Menu for Hope winners

The Menu for Hope raffle results are out today...check here if you made a bid... and I won a prize - how exciting! I am the lucky winner of a Chef’s table dinner for two people at Attica, donated by Tomato.

A massive $91,188 was raised, a 50% increase on last year. What an amazing result. If you didn't have a chance to take part, make sure you check it out this year.

January 10, 2008

billy's bakery vanilla vanilla cupcakes

It's weird that there are no dedicated cupcake shops in Melbourne. I think Sydney has half a dozen. If you Google cupcakes/Melbourne there are quite a few entries for shops that sell them, but they don't specialise. They are several mentions of Crabapple Bakery cupcakes, but on the two occasions I've bought theirs - once from Prahran Market and once from the Bayswater factory shop - though they looked great they were stale and dry.

Yesterday I made cupcakes using a recipe from Billy's Bakery in New York. I found the recipe here a while back, and my friend Robyn's birthday was a great excuse to try it out.

I made the effort to source and purchase American cake flour from here, and the cakes did seem very light and airy as a result. I'm not sure if substituting the same amount of plain flour would be ok. I've seen Australian cake flour in the supermarket recently - I'll definitely be buying some and trying it out next time. Because U.S. cup and spoon measurements are slightly different to ours, here are the amounts I used after conversion :

Billy's Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes (Makes 24)

All ingredients should be at room temperature:

200g cake flour

150g plain flour

300g caster sugar

15g baking powder

1/2 tspn salt

250g softened unsalted butter, cut into 1-cm cubes

4 large eggs

237 ml milk

1 tspn pure vanilla extract

The method used, i.e. the dry ingredients are combined with the butter and a minimum amount of liquid, rather than the traditional creaming method, is one I've used before, as recommended by Rose Levy Beranbaum in her book The cake bible. She says "the method is faster, easier, and virtually eliminates any possibility of toughening the cake by overbeating."

I got to use my fancy new icecream scoop rather than my old plastic one which had lost its emptying thingy. Sheer bliss!

I halved the amount of Billy's vanilla buttercream, and it was just the right amount for the 24 cupcakes :
125g unsalted butter
3-4 cups icing sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tspn pure vanilla extract.

Happy birthday Robyn!

January 9, 2008

delicious fish

Georgie is staying with us temporarily and I am happy to step aside when she insists on cooking dinner. Last night she made a yummy fish recipe from an old delicious mag. Unlike me who has been stockpiling every issue ever published, she clips the recipes she likes the look of every month and then throws the cut-up mag away. I should do the same...wonder how long it would take to go through five (?) years of them. I'd have to have another lot of LSL. And I'd end up with a big messy pile of loose recipes. Any suggestions welcome.

Fried Fish with Tahini Sauce (serves 4)

3 bunches English spinach, stalks trimmed
1 Tab extra virgin olive oil
1 Tab lemon juice
2 Tabs plain flour
1 tspn dried mint
8 small skinless whiting fillets
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tabs vegetable oil
1 tspn butter
mild paprika to dust
lemon wedges to serve

tahini sauce
1 Tab tahini
1/3 cup low-fat yoghurt
1/2 tspn ground cumin

For the tahini sauce, mix the tahini with 2 Tbs water, then whisk in yoghurt and cumin until smooth.
Wash spinach and cook in a large pan over med heat for 1 -2 mins. until wilted. Drain well. Toss in olive oil and lemon juice and keep warm while cooking the fish. Season flour with mint, salt and pepper. Coat the fish with flour mixture, then in egg. Heat the vegetable oil and butter in a frypan and fry the fish in batches over medium heat for 1-2 mins. each side until golden and cooked through. Arrange spinach on plates, top with fish, drizzle with tahini sauce and dust with paprika. Serve with lemon wedges.

January 8, 2008

magazine madness

My resolution for 2008 is to cut down on buying cookery mags. I've got every issue of delicious published since it began, a couple of years of V E & T and Gourmet Traveller, and quite a few Donnas. Once read, the thought of looking through them in search of a good recipe never appeals, plus they're taking over the pantry. I cook from delicious all the time, but not that much from any of the others. Occasionally, though, I see something I just have to make...like the passionfruit marshmallows which were on the Chef's Recipes page of December Gourmet Traveller.

A reader asked for the recipe after tasting them at Rockpool. They looked so pretty in the picture and sounded easy, so today was the day. After all the excessive eating over Xmas/New Year I was going to make half a batch, so I started off with 5 passionfruit rather than the 10 that the recipe called for. But when I added the gelatine, I forgot to halve the amount, so had to go out and buy 5 more passionfruit.

I used a sugar thermometer for the sugar and water mixture, and the instructions said it had to be immersed at least 5 cms. As the liquid in the pan was only about 2 cms deep, I didn't know if the temperature it was registering was accurate so had to hope it was cooked enough. It seemed to be doing all the right things when I beat it with the egg whites. I patiently left it to set for the 3 hours...

I don't think the toffee was cooked quite enough - the finished product could definitely have been firmer and therefore not so messy to cut. It tasted good though - the passionfruit flavour was quite intense. It made a huge panful and I was feeling a little sick by the time I'd cut it up into squares and sampled the odd bit. I'll probably be calling in to work tomorrow to get rid of it all.

January 1, 2008

New Year's Eve

New Years Eve always means dinner for 8 at our place. Everyone brings a course so I just have to cook the main. I decided to do lamb in the outdoor electric kettle barbecue, using Karen Martini's recipe for roasted boned leg of lamb with basil, lemon, almond, oregano and garlic from her Where the heart is. I hadn't made it before but everything from the book has turned out really well so I was confident it would be ok.

I marinated the lamb legs overnight in zip-lock bags and let them come to room temperature before roasting. They took about 1 1/2 hours to cook, and the result was delicious and meltingly tender.

I've been wanting to try roast potatoes in duck fat a la Nigella for ages, but couldn't find duck fat anywhere. I finally found some at the local poultry shop and made little roast potato cubes. Maybe not so healthy but they were crispier than done in oil and had a lovely flavour. (Note: I later remembered Nigella uses goose fat. It's Nigel Slater who uses duck fat. I'll keep a lookout for goose fat to try.)

I've just reread Julian Barnes' The pedant in the kitchen. This hilarious book is perfect for anyone who loves to cook, and particularly for those who, like me, collect and read cookbooks with a passion. One of the funniest chapters "No, I won't do that" is about the River Cafe Cook Book's (extravagant - 10 eggs!) Chocolate Nemesis, and the disasters that ensued when it was made by amateur cooks. This, says Julian Barnes, lead to the "paranoid explanation ...that some key element of the recipe had deliberately been omitted, thereby driving customers back to the (River Cafe) restaurant for the authentic item."

I made a version of Chocolate Nemesis for a NYE dinner a few years ago from a recipe in a delicious magazine. From what I can remember it was pretty straight forward and turned out fine, so perhaps it was not exactly the same as the original recipe. In the book Julian Barnes goes on to say that when River Cafe Easy was published, the Chocolate Nemesis recipe was halved and the cooking time altered considerably. I wanted to try out this "easy" version, but as our dessert was being brought by someone else, Georgie and I thought we'd make it for her own NYE dinner party. Here's the recipe .

I didn't get to try it but Georgie's guests apparently loved it. No-one took a photo of it once it was cut...hopefully it looked something like this picture of the delicious version!

New Year's Eve was a double celebration as it was the Beautiful Bridesmaid's 60th birthday on Christmas day. So of course, a good excuse for cupcakes! Happy birthday Jen.

And a very, very Happy New Year to all!