fun-sized desserts

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Happy Halloween! Hope everybody is having a spooky day – or at least one with some treats involved. To get into the spirit of things (in addition to donning a Big Bird costume Saturday night) I made some miniature brownies with a special twist. One version had mini peanut butter cups baked in them and the other had Tim Tams both baked in the middle and blended throughout their cream cheese frosting. Both are a little shout out to my favorite manufactured chocolatey treats from the USofA and Oz. Because what’s Halloween if you don’t have at least a little excess sugar?
They received some good feedback. “This may be the best thing you have ever baked.” – Mr. F, my loyal taste tester, on the Tim Tam brownie.
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pulled pork, momofuku style with vermicelli noodle salad

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Oh my, I cannot express how excited I was to come across David Chang’s recipe for pulled pork (thanks to The Lucky Peach via Yummy Supper). Pulled pork is one of my favorite carnivorous indulgences – sweet, salty and moist, if done properly – it has a lot going for it, in my book.

Since Chang’s new Sydney restaurant Momofuku Seiobo opened this week to tons upon tons of buzz, it will likely be difficult to get a table for quite some time, so this recipe is the perfect choice to tide us over.

I was further encouraged to make this when I discovered how insanely easy it is. It almost feels like cheating – a delicious and impressive final product with minimal effort? Sign me up.

The catch: you need to prep the pork a day ahead and then cook for 6 hours on a low heat. If you can handle that, all the rewards will be yours.

You’ll need:
– A cut of pork shoulder (I used a 1.2 kilogram/2.65 lb. piece. There are 2 of us and we wanted leftovers – this suited perfectly)
– 2.5 tablespoons of salt per kilogram
– 2.5 tablespoons of sugar per kilogram
– Black pepper

What you have to do:
– Rub salt, sugar and pepper on your pork shoulder
– Let stand in the fridge overnight
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– Preheat oven to 120 degrees Celsius/250 degrees Fahrenheit
– Place in a roasting pan
– Cook for 6 hours. I did a tiny bit of basting, nothing serious. I’m pretty sure that’s not necessary – I just did it because I felt like I should be doing something.
– Let it rest for about a half an hour, then pull apart with a fork. Serve in any way you can dream up.

 

I made a vermicelli noodle salad to go with round 1 of our pulled pork (really looking forward to more options with our leftovers too!) I thought a Vietnamese-inspired salad would really compliment the whole sweet/salty combination and also add a freshness with cool veggies like cucumbers, carrots and coriander. It was great!

Vietnamese Noodle Salad
you can really put anything you’d like in the salad, I used:
– Vermicelli rice noodles, cooked in boiling water for 1 minute, drained
– Carrots, grated
– Cucumber, seeded and cut into thin strips
– Red capsicum, cut into thin strips
– Spring onions, chopped into small pieces
– Fresh coriander
– Fresh mint (Vietnamese, preferably)
– Roasted peanuts, chopped for a garnish

The Dressing:
– 3 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 tablespoon fish sauce
– 1 tablespoon vinegar
– 2 tablespoons honey
– Juice of a lime
– 3 garlic cloves chopped
– 2 red chili peppers, thinly sliced
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springtime strawberry fool

Following the success of the 3 ingredient chocolate mousse I decided to try another minimalistic dessert from my new old favorite, Elizabeth David. With her trusty guidance I found something that fit the bill in An Omelette and a Glass of Wine: a berry fool.
David raves about the gooseberry variety but strawberries are in season, cheap and a natural friend of cream, so my decision was easily made. Blueberries, raspberries and apricots would all be welcome substitutions. So versatile!

Some recipes call for simmering or steaming your berries with sugar but I just mashed the fresh strawberries before folding into my fresh whipped cream. And besides a adding a dash of sugar here and there, that’s all you need to do.

Strawberry Fool (serves 2)
Note: my ingredients were very approximate for this one, it’s a very go-with-your-gut kind of dessert.
– 1 pint fresh strawberries, more to serve
– 3/4 cup heavy/thickened cream
– 1 teaspoon vanilla
– 3 teaspoons caster sugar (1 for the strawberries, 2 for the cream)

1. Mash fresh strawberries with the back of a fork and sprinkle with sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes.
2. Whip cream until soft peaks form. Add the vanilla and sugar and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.
3. Fold in mashed strawberries, being careful not to over-mix. Refrigerate for an hour or until desired.
4. Serve with grated dark chocolate and fresh strawberries, if you want to get fancy.

 

Woot! 4 ingredients, 4 steps and another special and simple treat to fill my favorite little ramekins with.

fresh corn cornbread

I had a couple of ears of fresh corn in my fridge leftover from last week’s veg box and they were just asking to be made into something special. It’s silly, but it really bugged me that the vast majority of cornbread recipes I looked at didn’t actually call for real, fresh corn. I took it upon myself to make a cornbread that incorporated a sweet golden corn puree , in addition to cornmeal. It turned out moist, slightly sweet and wholesome – with that signature soft crumb to it.

Fresh Corn Cornbread

  • 1 cup finely ground polenta/cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon good honey
  • 2 ears of corn, kernels removed

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 220°C
  2. Put corn kernels through the food processor to make a paste
  3. Combine first 5 ingredients in a bow, Combine milk, oil, and egg; stir well. Add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Fold in fresh corn paste and honey
  4. Pour batter into a loaf pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until done. Cool 5 minutes in pan

almost summer ratatouille

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In true springtime fashion, the weather here in Sydney has been very unpredictable. But when you catch a good day, it’s a great one.

Yesterday felt dangerously close to summer, including a very packed Bondi Beach. I had to seize this day of summer while I had it (knowing it was scheduled to turn rainy and cold within 24 hours).  I spent the afternoon reading on the beach and made the quintessentially French summertime dish, ratatouille for dinner.

Due largely to this article on Food52, I decided to make the Alice Waters version of ratatouille. I briefly considered some other recipes, including the one featured in the Pixar movie about that enthusiastic kitchen rat (which is actually Thomas Keller’s recipe). But who can say no to cooking summer veggies a la the Mother of American Food? Not this patriot.

The dish turned out perfect, in my opinion. Ratatouille is one of those dishes that is divisive among its fans. One woman’s perfect ratatouille is not the same as another’s. But that’s life I guess, and this ratatouille suited me especially well on a summer-y evening accompanied by a slice of Sonoma kalamata olive sourdough and a spoonful (or two) of ricotta.

Alice Waters’ Ratatouille (adapted from The Art of Simple Food)
– Olive Oil (Approximately 4 tablespoons, use more as needed)
– 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch dice
– 1 large onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
– 5 garlic cloves, chopped
– 1/2 bunch of basil, tied in a bouquet with kitchen twine and a handful of basil leaves, chopped
– Pinch dried chile flakes
– 3 sprigs of thyme, picked
– 1 red capsicum, cut into 1/2-inch dice
– 1 carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
– 2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice
– 3 medium ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
– Salt&Pepper to taste

  1. Toss the eggplant cubes with a teaspoon or so of salt. Set the cubes in a colander to drain for about 20 minutes.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Pat the eggplant dry, add to the pan, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden. Add a bit more oil if the eggplant absorbs all the oil and sticks to the bottom of the pan. Remove the eggplant when done and set aside.
  3. In the same pot, pour in 2 more tablespoons olive oil. Add onions and cook for about 7 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, basil bouquet, dried chile flakes, thyme and a bit more salt.
  4. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, then stir in peppers. Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in the carrot. Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in zucchini. Cook few more minutes, then stir in tomatoes.
  5. Cook for 10 minutes longer, then stir in eggplant and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more, until all the vegetables are soft. Remove the bouquet of basil, pressing on it to extract all its flavors, and add for salt, if needed.
  6. Stir in the chopped basil leaves. Serve warm or cold.

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The best thing I ate this weekend

…was a grilled garlic prawn sandwich from the Mojo Picón Spanish food stand at EQ Markets in Moore Park. Cooked to order on a hot grill with a cumin-laced spice blend and topped with fresh parsley, these generous-sized sangers are heaven betwixt a fresh bread roll. The intoxicating scent of chorizo spices wafting across the market is enough to lure you to their stand. Once you’ve peered over the counter at the grill, you’re done for. Order a combo sandwich with both the chorizo and the prawns. Because life’s too short to choose.
Mojo Picón brand condiments are readily available right next to the much-needed napkins. The salsa verde, a green parsley and coriander sauce, refreshingly compliments the spiced meat and seafood and there is more of the cumin and paprika sauce too, if needed. My garlic prawn sandwich was huge, delicious and I ate the entire thing. All that was missing was a cold Spanish beer.
Mojo Picón can be found at the Sydney EQ Markets on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. And at the Chatswood Mall on Thursday and Friday. They also sell a range of cooking products including their special sauces. If you can’t get there, they have some recipes and sauces available on their website.

Prediction: I will be back again and again.
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mexican night, fresh and healthy-style

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I love Mexican food and I love cooking it at home for a fun, easy-to-share meal. I think in some circles Mexican food has a bad  reputation and I can see why, as it can easily stray into greasy, gooey, cheese-filled territory. I won’t linger on my disdain for the bleak Old El Paso section of the “international foods” aisle, I want to talk about easy, fresh and healthy Mexican at home.
One of my favorite aspects of cooking your own Mexican is that you can improvise and make it your own. Tacos can have anything in them from beef, to fish, to vegetables to eggs. Don’t be afraid to mix it up.

Some tips for keeping your Mexican fresh:

  • Use fresh cilantro/coriander. It really cuts the heat in any spicy Mexican dish and adds a cool, crisp aspect.
  • Make your own salsa and incorporate good quality ingredients. A simple salsa doesn’t need much else besides fresh tomato, chopped onion, cilantro and salt and pepper. You can also add ingredients like roasted corn or for a perfect partner to fish add some mango, papaya or pineapple to your salsa.
  • Use ripe avocados to make your own guacamole.
  • Cook your favorite vegetables with Mexican seasoning (recipe below). You can roast or pan grill them with a little olive oil and a generous sprinkling of this seasoning mixture.
  • Use cheese as a garnish to your tacos, fajitas and burritos. A good mature cheddar will stand out and add flavour without creating a cheese-centric main course

Mexican Seasoning
I decided to create my own Mexican spice blend which serves as a vegetable seasoning as well as the spices for a beef marinade.
Adjust the volume as needed, maintaining a similar ratio. I made extra to have on hand for our next Mex night.

1 tbsp Cumin
1 tbsp Paprika (I used smokey but sweet would be nice too)
1 tbsp Chili powder (non-spicy)
1 tsp Cayanne pepper (if you don’t like it on the spicy side, leave it out)
1 tbsp Oregano
1 tbsp Garlic Powder (crushed up dried garlic flakes work too)
Salt&Pepper

To make a marinade, combine 3 tablespoons of the above spice mixture with 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/3 cup lime juice and two minced garlic cloves. Pour over meat and refrigerate for 1-8 hours.

Our Mexican menu this week:
Carne asada (grilled marinated lean rump steak) and vegetable tacos with broccoli and carrot slaw and spicy guacamole.

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