Monday, January 24, 2011

Baby shower high tea

I had a great weekend. Really special.
Firstly, I went to my friend Katie's 30th birthday at the Harbour View Hotel in the Rocks. It was held in one of the function rooms, and is nestled under the Sydney harbour bridge. So, amazing view of the park under the harbour bridge, and you can see right up onto the bridge and where the trains cross every few minutes. I love that it is so iconic for Sydney but also such an active piece of architecture for Sydneysiders - we really couldn't do without it. The pub itself is quite hidden, even the tourists wandering through the Rocks don't really find it without specifically looking for it. The bridge climbers might though, as the first stage of the climb is along a precarious iron pathway under the bridge that goes right over the balconies of the hotel.
Katie totally rocked it in a designer dress, quite the birthday girl. Loved catching up with a few good friends too.

On Sunday, we held Sarah's birthday shower at my place - she's got a month to go, but is still looking radiant and gorgeous, despite Sydney's super humid summer.
Between Lorraine and I we managed to make the place look really girlie and vintage, and put on a spread to match. Lorraine has been hunting and gathering old fashioned English china for months at Rozelle markets, and other op shops in the Inner West and now has a gorgeous collection. I also pulled out a few of my grandmother's cups and saucers, as well as a lot of decorative silver forks and spoons.  It was just the sort of party she would have loved, so it felt very special to be able to use them too.

The spread:
Dips & fruit platter
Lorraine's rocky road
Cupcakes from My little cupcake in Neutral Bay. It was way too hot to spend the whole of the day before baking. This shop is totally worth a visit for gorgeous cupcakes, but also girlie decorations, tea sets, aprons, baby toys and cupcake displays.
Lemon Polenta Cake
Jasmine's chicken sandwiches

I thought I would just leave you with the recipe for the Lemon Polenta Cake (modified from Nigella Kitchen)
It's a flourless recipe - so also great for gluten intolerant people, and is richer and heavier than flour based cakes.

For the cake:
200g unsalted butter (room temperature)
200g caster sugar
200g almond meal
100g fine polenta ( you can also use cornmeal)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (use gluten-free if needed)
3 eggs
zest of 2 lemons

For the syrup:
Juice from 2 lemons (save from above)
125g icing sugar


Line a springform tin with baking paper and grease the sides. Preheat the oven to 180.

Beat the sugar and butter until it is pale, and whipped in texture.

Mix together the dry ingredients (almond meal, polenta, baking powder) and beat some of this into the sugar/butter mixture, alternating with the 3 eggs until everything is combined.

Finally, add in the lemon zest, then beat until the batter is even.

Then pour into the springform tin and bake for 40 minutes.

When ready, it will be golden on the top, and the cake will have started to come away from the sides of the tin. A cake tester will also come out clean.

To make the syrup, pour the lemon juice and the icing sugar into a small pan. Heat over a low flame until the icing sugar is incorporated.

Prick the cake with a cake tester, or a piece of spaghetti, and then poor the lemon syrup over the cake (whilst still in its tin). Leave to cool in the tin, sitting on a wire rack.

Dust with icing sugar to serve.

Thanks to all the girls for making the afternoon really special, and to Lorraine for organising everything.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

sexy summer salad

I've been asked by a few friends exactly what is in the salad that appears in the banner for my blog - and as today was such a stunning Sydney summer today, I decided to make it again for a light but exciting lunch.

It's a really simple salad, although it looks and tastes amazing.

100g proscuitto or serrano
1 nectarine
50g soft ricotta (eating not cooking)
100g baby spinach or rocket leaves
balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil to serve

It would also make a great share plate for an entree at a summer party.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Yummy pumpkin and chia seed muffins

I love these muffins. And they're really not the evil ones that you find in cafes. You know the ones that contain the same amount of calories as a meal, laden with fat and sugar. These really are ones you can feel good about - all the ingredients are good for you, but the sweetness of honey and the basil make these really special.

This is based on a recipe by the lovely Sarah Wilson. She has opened my eyes to the healthy possibilities for food. How chia seeds work, how to avoid gluten (if necessary), the delights of kale to name a few. She writes a food based blog every Tuesday having studied at INN, which is something that really interests me too. 

I decided to bake them again today for my little girl. She loves trying everything at the moment, a complete turn around from the food fights and tantrums of a few months ago. We struggled to get her to eat anything other than yogurt and some fruit purees. Now she eats nearly anything that I give her - what a relief!

Makes 6-8 largish muffins

2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup honey
2 tbs grapeseed oil (or another non-flavoured oil like camelia)
1 cup grated pumpkin
1 cup almond meal
2 cups gluten-free flour (buckwheat or besan) or plain flour for gluten tolerant people
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 handful chopped basil leaves
1 fistful chia seeds

Pre-heat the oven to 180.

Prepare the muffin tins with squares of baking paper, approximately 10cm x 10cm.

Mix the egg yolks with half a cup of honey and the grapeseed oil. A stab mixer works well here.

Next add the pumpkin and almond meal, along with the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, basil and chia seeds.

Stir in half a cup of water and the whisked egg whites.

Finally, spoon the mixture into a muffin tray and place into the oven for 15 minutes.

To serve, roughly tear some more basil leaves.  A yummy, healthy morning or afternoon tea. These also make a wonderful bread replacement for a light lunch.

PS - Always love the opportunity to roast some pumpkin to add to salads. Even if you buy a small piece of butternut pumpkin, there will always be some left over.
I drizzled honey and olive oil over mine.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Epitome of summer in Sydney - Australian Pavlova

Everyone loves pavlova. The reception they get when produced at any lunch or dinner party make them so worthwhile. Since I bought my kitchenaid, I have been loving making meringue and pavlova. It makes it the easiest thing in the world - definitely don't think I'll be buying meringue cases from Coles ever again.
That crunchy outside combined with the marshmallow textured inside just can't be matched by the store bought long life variety.  Whipping the cream is even more fun - takes about half the time of a hand held whisk. But just take it from me, you can't walk away whilst it's whipping - it will surprise you and all of a sudden the cream will be halfway to cheddar cheese...
This recipe is really simple too. There is no need to make meringue the italian way - I really can't say that the results are any better for all that extra effort

4 egg whites
pinch of salt
250g caster sugar (superfine)
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 300ml carton whipping/single cream
Fruit to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F/Gas mark 4).
Line a baking tray with baking paper
Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until the white are firm. This can be done in a stand mixer or with a handheld one.
Once firm, slowly add the caster sugar until all incorporated. When ready the texture should no longer be grainy (from the sugar).
Remove the bowl from the stand mixer, and fold in the cornflour and the white wine vinegar.

Place the mixture onto the baking tray and gently smooth into a pavlova shell shape. No need to make it look too perfect - home cooked meringues look beautiful with their one-off shapes.
Bake for 5 minutes at 180C then reduce the oven temperature to 150C and bake for an hour.
Leave the meringue to cool in the oven, and if possible, overnight.

Serve with the whipped cream, and covered in whatever seasonal fruit looks best. I've been inspired recently by Margaret Fulton's cherry pavlova. But you can't beat passionfruits from my garden- we're getting a few every day at the moment and pavlova is without a doubt my favourite way to use them. They really are the perfect antidote for that sugary meringue.
source: Woolworths website

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Christmas cookbooks

In 2010 I didn't really do much apart from learn to look after a baby and cook. That's actually quite a lot to focus on, but I think at times from the outside it might have looked like I was a lot more focused on cooking. 
I've been excited about planning meals, going to new shops in search of unusual ingredients (especially Asian supermarkets!), trying out new cooking gadgets and tasting things. When I wasn't doing that I was watching endless episodes of Nigella Express, Sophie Dahl, Jamie Oliver, Rachel Allen Bake!, Masterchef UK, Masterchef Australia, Barefoot Contessa, Giada at home- Lifestyle food, you are heaven.  To non-cooking people, all these shows look exactly the same: people chopping and preparing ingredients, and telling you how EASY it all is. I think that's the beauty of it too, you can miss a bit without feeling like you have to rewind because you've missed the key segment in crime drama. I'm always getting interrupted these days, there is always something else that I could be doing...

Anyway, I've looked back at my Christmas loot, and I think the message about cooking has really got through to friends and family. I must look quite obsessed from the outside.
I received the following:
5 cookbooks!
2 oven gloves
an apron and an icing spatula

I know I'm going to be busy these next few months trying out new things. The only problem right now is it's too hot in Sydney to bake - it's been about 30 degrees for days, and only goes down to 20 degrees overnight. Sorry, shouldn't really be complaining with the great cold happening in England at the moment.  Our oven is not ducted, so any cooking only adds to the heat build up. We also don't have a barbeque until our new outside space is completed sometime in 2011 (exciting!)

I thought I would let you know which ones I have received, and also how I'm enjoying reading them and trying out some new recipes. Please let me know how you have found these too, or any other cook books you have been using recently.

Nigella Kitchen - first impressions are that it is a gorgeous book and so much more appetising than Nigella Express. There is also a lengthy pre-amble about how she organises her kitchen, and what her essentials are. Quite funny, and you can imagine Nigella saying all those things. Not sure how this has happened, but I have ended up with the American version which means it has American measurements and words - arugula anyone?

My table by Pete Evans - another stunning and very Australian book. Some of the food does not have the 'wow' factor, but I would and could prepare and eat it any night of the week. A friend and I went to Hugo's in Manly last week and he's brought his food & style to life there perfectly, we loved every minute of it.

Secrets of Macarons by Jose Marechal - this book is part art, part science.  It goes into how macarons work in great depth - you really learn the chemistry of how to get the ingredients to work. I suppose once you learn this it gives you the flexibility to do Adriano Zumbo-like flavour combinations, like passionfruit and raspberry, or pear and fennel. Anything is possible with macarons. Marechal also has a lot of information on the kit you need - another great excuse to go to specialist cooking shops, yippee!

Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros - another book with stunning photography, I haven't read enough yet to give any thoughts on this

More Cakes for Kids by The Australian Women's Weekly. I know this book will become my birthday cake bible for years to come. The AWW cooks are such legends, and they are so helpful with these incredibly difficult shapes (quilted handbag cake, anyone?). Having visited the AWW test kitchen a few years ago I have so much respect for the labour that goes into every magazine and book that comes out of there - they are tested to the limit by a massive number of home economists there.