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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

50 dollars worth of snack food!

        I have decided that I am just too tired to do a real blog tonight. I don't want to do it half heartedly, like how I feel my souffle blog went. Didn't get home until almost 8:30pm because I popped by to see Ryan on his dinner break after I finished at the gym. So we sat in my car, me watching (and smelling) him eat the pasta which I had cooked on Monday night. (I recreated the dish we cooked on Saturday night adding a few extra things, I admit Ryan seemed to have done a better job than me).
        Anyway, what is the title all about? At about 2pm I received an email from one of my managers (I support several managers in different departments). "Can you go and do some shopping please?" was the title of this email - I was intrigued! The email contained a shopping list consisting of:
  • Tim tams
  • Vegemite
  • Caramello Koalas
  • Freddo Frogs
        Why such a shopping list you ask? We had one of the regional heads visiting our office this week, from the UK to be exact and my manager wanted to give him a bit of a gift pack with some Aussie things (snacks) for him to take away/home, none of the made in china koalas and kangaroos and that kind of tacky stuff (which we gave out to some Japanese visitors who came). So off I went down to Macquarie Centre with my corporate credit card in hand. By the time I had filled my shopping basket and checked out the bill came to about $50. I did also have to grab some chocolates for one of the monthly team meetings happening after easter. Still, that's a lot of junk food to carry back to the office. I caused quite a comotion coming back into the office as I was like a pack horse carrying all these plastic shopping bags.

        This is what I came back with. I had to google Australian brands because quite frankly I was a little confused as to what the true blue Aussie brands/products were. We import/export so much stuff these days. For the gift box I had a packet of Parker's Pretzel's (not genuine Aussie product but an Aussie brand), a packet of treat sized Caramello Koalas, a packet of treat sized Freddo Frogs (the one with the mixed flavours), a box of Paton's chocolate coated Macadamia nuts (my fave!), a packet each of regular and white chocolate Tim Tams, a packet of Nobby's mixed nuts, a jar of Vegemite and also a jar of Cheesybite. I am sure thee could have been alot more I could have shoved in that box but I didn't want to waste too much time/thought into it. I also bought 2 boxes of Ferrero Rochers and 2 packets of the mixed Freddo Frogs for the meeting. I couldn't help but stop by Darrel Lea in centre court to grab a bag (1kg!) of solid eggs. I have been craving easter eggs (I swear they taste different to regular chocolate! Even one of the managers agrees with me!) I think they might be injected with easter egg essence or something =D.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

White Chocolate Souffle & Strawberry Souffle (August and December 2009)

        A dessert that is close to my heart is the souffle. This dessert relies on beaten egg whites for it's light anf fluffy texture. I fell in love with this dessert after being shown a video of Gordon Ramsay making one. I'd always been a bit weary about making this dessert, the fact that it could just turn out to be one sweet sunken mess that would refuse to rise at all. Even after reading recipes and watching videos and eating my very own souffle I was still not convinced that I would be able to achieve it.

        One day (in August 2009) I thought I would face my fears and attempt the ever fearful task of baking my first souffle. If I remember correctly I used this recipe from cuisine.com.au, even though the recipe was specifically for a chocolate souffle I decided to use white chocolate instead. That was quite a game move for someone who has never ever attempted to bake a souffle before. Mum also happened to have a box full of mandarins lying around and Ryan had left a small bottle of Grand Marnier at my place so we made a bit of a mandarin syrup to go with it.

        Ryan and I sat in front of the oven watching... just watching. It rose a little but we didn't quite get that "poof" that usually happens with a souffle. It actually started sinking quite a bit straight after we pulled it out of the oven. For a first go I was quite proud of myself and it was deliciously yummy. The citrus went well with the white chocolate adding a little bit of tang to the dish but nothing too overpowering.

        In November we were in the Gold Coast on a mini break and dined at Vanita's Restaurant at the Palazzo Versace Hotel. (By the way, awesome place to eat if you want fine dining). When we spotted a souffle on the dessert menu we just had to have it! From what I remember I think it was a mango souffle with a raspberry sauce. It looked absolutely perfect, the way it sat so high above the ramekin. It actually inspired me to attempt to make my own again.

        One day in December 2009 I happened to get my hands on some cheap strawberries on my lunch break, I just love it when they are in season. I googled some strawberry souffle recipes (can't seem to remember where from and can't find it again) and Ryan and I made them for dessert that night. It could have possible been a Gordon Ramsay recipe. It involved making the crème pâtissière, beating the egg whites until they were stiff, and blending all the strawberries and pushing the pulp through a sieve only taking the juice or essense of the strawberries for the souffle. It was all pure strawberry.

        As usual we sit there watching the oven like hawks. Can you imagine how absolutely excited I was at the sight of what was in the oven? I was just completely over the moon, and just couldn't wait to eat it too.

        Our almost 100% perfect souffle! Maybe about 99% there, one of the sides got a little stuck so the souffle didn't rise evenly. The ramekins were a little big too (especially when the souffle almost doubles in size). Ryan wouldn't have it any other way but to have one all to himself, let me say I said "sucked in" when he struggled to finish it, I struggled to finish mine! He wouldn't listen to me when I said we should share and let the rest of his family try the other one (we cooked two). We only managed to make two little ones with the rest of the batter that was left and felt a bit guilty for eating the two big ones all to ourselves.

        We felt that it was such a waste to throw out all the strawberry pulp so mixed some with some cream and served it on the side. The souffles were quite sweet and were good on their own anyway.

Souffle goodness!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Zumbo Goodies, The Essential Ingredient (again), Rosewater Cupcakes & Tetsuya inspired Dinner by Candle Light for Earth Hour

        So it's Saturday morning and I open my eyes and look at the clock to realise it's only 8am - way too early! I like to sleep in on the weekends (as long as I don't get woken up by the members of my household). I couldn't quite get myself back to sleep so ended up laying in bed for a little longer. I had to head back to The Essential Ingredient again to return something so thought I would get an early start on the day and decided to get out of bed and left the house around 9am. (Who would be crazy enough to be out and about at this hour I think to myself). Boy was I slightly suprised to find that a fair bit of the population were already up and about. Because Balmain was not that much further from Rozelle and we missed paying a visit to Adriano Zumbo's Patisserie the day before I thought I might as well drive that little bit further while I was already in the area. As Essential Ingredient's website said they wern't open until 9:30am I thought I would head to Zumbo's first and try to "beat the crowd". The line was already 3 people out the door by the time I got there!

        The first time I tried Zumbo's was September 2009. Ryan and I visited the Cafe Chocolat and shared the "La Vie En Rose" dessert (rose creme brulee, raspberry sorbet, lychees, rose macarons and a coconut strawberry tapioca shake). Didn't take a photo of it at the time but you can have a peak of it at Not Quite Nigella. I also couldn't leave the cafe without buying some chocolates. From my facebook the flavours shown here were hazulnut rocher, mandarin & rose, and H20. They were gorgeous!

        After the cafe we headed back to the patisserie to have a look and grab a few things to take away. And of course I had to have some macarons. Can't quite remember what flavours were here but I do know that they were pretty safe flavours, nothing too extraordinary. They had also travelled around a fair bit in my handbag so were slightly melted by the time we got to eat them. We also bought an apple turnover for my mum and a custard tart for Ryan's mum. We didn't get a taste of neither of them.

        This time I wanted to try Adriano's cakes. I did a little bit of "research" on the website as Adriano releases new ranges every season. It all went out the door when I had a look through the glass display not seeing any of the cakes which were displayed on the website. My first choice was the "Dr Apple", this is from an old summer 2008 collection, read about this collection also at Not Quite Nigella. It's meant to sit alot firmer and taller than pictured. My crazy driving and an already warm morning (plus a stopover at Sydney Essential and then getting sidetracked baking when I got home) meant that this is what I ended up with by the time I pulled it out of the box to take a photo. It actually collapsed a little when I pulled it out of the box and collapsed even more when I attempted to put it back in the box. By the time I got to Ryan's later that evening it had become a flat puddle. We had to stick in in the fridge for it to set a little. I think this is my fave so far, I loved all the flavours and textures even if it was almost a pancake by the time I got to eat it.

        The other cake that caught my eye was this. As I was eyeing the cakes trying to decide what to get (after the Dr Apple) this one caught my eye - because it was nameless and because it looked intriguing. I asked the guy behind the counter what was in it and all I can remember is something along the lines of white chocolate mousse, raspberry and capsicum. It sold me there, I was definately intrigued to try what this combination would taste like! It was definately interesting. The sweet mousse/custard like filling together with capsicum, it was such a strange sensation on the taste buds. I tried to google and blog hop to find out the name/what was in it thinking that it too was part of an old collection. I was quite excited to have randomly come across this blog and the fact that it was a new release for Winter 2010 and that it had only just been invented (perhaps why it didn't have a name early on Saturday morning perhaps the day it was released?). As it was a bit more solid than the Dr Apple it didn't suffer as badly during transportation throughout the day but it was in a pretty poor state compared to the photo when we ate it.

        Of course who can resist the calling of the macarons! Trying some different flavours here which I havn't had before. L-R: Popcorn, Blueberry, Caramel & Coffe, Pear & Vanilla, Mandarin, and Raspberry. I think Ryan has a secret love for macarons too, as soon as I arrived he grabbed the packet and was already asking me which ones I wanted. I insisted that we had to go halves so that we could try ALL the flavours.

        After Zumbo's I stopped over at Essential Ingredient again. Ryan asked for some more organic cola and I grabbed some more of the Belgium chocolate, the Konacha Green Tea Milk Chocolate this time. It was certainly different, and definately enjoyable. I also grabbed a bottle of rosewater to bake some cupcakes to help with some fundraising at church the next day.

        So the girls at church were having a little bake off to raise some funds. I thought that cupcakes were pretty ordinary so had a flip through some cookbooks to get some inspiration as to how mine would be different. Although they do look quite ordinary the cakes are subtly flavoured with rosewater and are quite delish. I got the recipe from one of my books "Cupcake Heaven by Susannah Blake".

My purchases from The Essential Ingredient being put to good use.

        The recipe called for a simple icing using lemon juice (and pink colouring) which complemented my little cupcakes perfectly. The recipe called for sugared rose petals but I thought I would use my lovely little rose buds. 
        I knew that Ryan would love the fact that I had gotten Tetsuya's cookbook. While at my place on Friday night he found a recipe which he wanted to try. It was "Angel hair pasta with asparagus and truffle oil". So Saturday night was the time to cook. A very simple recipe but was absolutely enjoyable to eat. We did alter it a little adding chicken (Ryan insisted we needed a meat) and altering the portions of all the ingredients a little as we had more pasta and ended up chopping up more of each herb that went in.

        Of course our portion sizes and presentation were no where near that of which would be served in Tetsuya's restaurant. Ryan even went back for seconds and said it tasted absolutely amazing eaten cold the next day.

        As it was Earth Hour we decided to eat by candle light and enjoyed each other's company and conversation without any electrical distractions. That is until Earth Hour was over and we had friends show up for a night of playing the board game "Life".

Adriano Zumbo Café Chocolat on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 28, 2010

La Grande Bouffe, The Essential Ingredient, Birkenhead Point make for a nice day off work

        I've just realised I have a whole week's backlog worth of photos/things to blog about since last weekend. Where do I start??? If I could I would combine in all into one super duper long blog entry but really... I can't do that... it'll be overload. The ideal would be to start from last Sunday and work my way through chronologically, but I don't really want to do that. So I will start with what I did on my day off work on Friday.

        Our first stop for the day was The Essential Ingredient at Rozelle. Since this place had moved to Rozelle from Chatswood I kept driving past but never been in. As we were a little early for brunch/lunch I thought we could kill two birds with one stone and pop by for a visit seeing as it's only across the road from our lunch destination. Upon stepping through the entrance I could tell this was a foodie's haven. All the latest gadgets and appliances, cooking utensils, gourmet foods, cake decorating supplies, cook books, even Ryan was pretty happy to be there. I swear I would be happy if this place was my home. I was just in awe and inspired by everything there. If I could afford it I'd buy everything in the whole shop! But then I would have the problem of where to store everything so living there sounds justifiable =D. They even had their own cafe and while I was browsing Ryan spotted some organic cola they were selling and just had to try some. It was good. To try and describe it the taste would be similar to LA Ice. I prefer this taste over Coke.

        At about 11:40 we headed across the road to La Grande Bouffe where we wanted to have brunch. We'd been here twice before for dinner and it's become a little favourite of ours for when we want to eat something special. Having had read their breakfast and lunch menus I was curious and wanted to visit again during the day. According to their website breakfast was served until 10:30 and Lunch was served from 12. As we had arrived in between they were still only taking orders from the breakfast menu and upon looking at both bthe menus we decided to wait the 15 minutes until we could order from the lunch menu.

        I asked our waitress what fresh juices were on offer and as soon as watermelon was mentioned Ryan jumped to order one, I said "make that 2 please". Love love love fresh watermelon juice, it's so refreshing and yummy when they use quality watermelon. That's an appliance that I am missing at home, a juicer.

The view of the Darling Street behind me.

        While waiting for 12 we ordered some toasted brioche with butter and jam. It was a fairly buttery bread, tasted like a cross between white bread and buttery pastry. The jam was top quality stuff and was absolutely delicious spread over the butter on the toast.

        Ryan decided to have the "Cassoulet of Corn fed Chicken Maryland". The meat was very tender, the skin was absolutely crispy, just the way I like it! Reminded me of the Vietnamese crispy skinned chicken I always tend to order when we eat out. It was served on a bed of beans and some chunks of pancetta. Ryan commented that it would have been better served on a cooler/colder day. He wasn't expecting this to come out when ordering it. And it did turn out to be a very very warm day. He enjoyed it none the less and was even nice enough to give me a few nibbles of it here and there.

        I have been craving a good baguette for a while now and was pulled towards the baguettes on offer on the menu. All the salads sounded quite interesting too. I ended up chosing the "Duck Confit Baguette with Cornichon". The duck was tender and moreish and the little pickles added a nice contrast. I really enjoyed my baguette.

        After our lunch we made our way back to The Essential Ingredient so that I could pick up a few things seeing as our conversation during lunch on what we wanted to do for the rest of the day was sounding like we wouldn't really be coming back past this way. I picked up small bar of Belgium chocolate which we had to eat straight away because my car was scorching hot by the time we hopped back into it. It was a quite smooth chocolate, not too sweet, and contained small pieces of cocoa beans (from Ghana) mixed through which I found quite enjoyable.

        I also picked up some other goodies consisting of a packet of Roses de Reims biscuits, a small tub of rose buds and a box of Rocher Noisette, hazelnut biscuits. The Roses de Reims remind me of the sponge lady finger biscuits. The rose buds end up on the top of some rosewater cupcakes I make the next day.

        Our original plan was to go shopping at Birkenhead Point as Ryan was finding that his waredrobe was a little bare. While having lunch we agreed it was a bit of a waste of a day to be spending it in a shopping centre so we drove to the city with the intention of visiting the Crypt of St Mary's Cathedral (yeah a bit ironic seeing as we didn't want to be indoors). After driving around the block a few times we finally found a parking spot and paid for two hours worth of parking time and headed towards St Mary's Cathedral. When we got there we found a note to say the Crypt was closed and the lady at the gift shop confirmed it. Ryan was really disappointed that he couldn't take me into the Crypt. We thought that seeing as we had originally planned to go to Birkenhead Point and having our Plan B go to dust we hopped in the car and headed back in that direction.

 
        I love going shopping on a weekday. There's no crowds and queues so you can shop to your hearts content without having to push your way through other people. I think we ended up spending about two hours or a so and managed to grab a few bargains between us. There's currently a big sale on with some stores offering 40-50% off marked prices. If you have a day off during the week definately head down there for some bargains. Two things I love, good food and good bargains. We pretty much shopped and dropped and were pretty exhausted by the time we left. Not before stopping by one of the cafes for a quick snack before our long drive back to Strathfield. I can't remember the name of the cafe but it's on the ground floor where the big open area is of the complex. Opposite Nine West shoes. Ryan grabbed a proscuitto and pesto ciabatta roll and I had a ricotta canolli and a lemon ice tea. We weren't expecting much but they were good. After a big day out the rest of the day was spent at home chilling out in front of the TV and eating leftovers.

La Grande Bouffe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lamingtons! (July 2008)

        First time I attempted to make Lamingtons was in July 2008. And I wanted to do the whole thing from scratch, which meant making my own sponge cake aswell! It's ideal to leave your cake to dry out a little before you start dipping it in the icing. I carefully wrapped up my cake while leaving it overnight so the surface was still quite moist, the dryer the cake the better as you'll end up with extra moist cakes when they absorb all the icing.

        I also had strawberry jam in the middle of my lamingtons, as the cake was quite moist already it didn't really need the jam.

        I set myself up a little mini production line to make my lamingtons. It was quite hard work! Probably why I didn't attempt to do it again for a while. But that was only because I usually go all out and do double batches whenever I bake anything.

        I just searched for lamingtons on the Taste website and kind of took a little bit of each recipe and did it my way. I decided to have 3 flavours of lamingtons, classic chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. This was simply done with flavouring essence (strawberry and vanilla) and cocoa powder mixed in with icing mixture and water for the chocolate lamingtons. It really isn't that hard, you can just buy a plain sponge cake from the supermarket, cut it up into squares and then dip them in some icing mixture and roll them in dessicated coconut.

        I recently made these green and red lamingtons to go with the red and green (Christmas) themed Trivia night last December at church. I flavoured the icing with a few drops of vanilla extract.

        I also made them again from scratch so had heaps of cake leftover so decided to make classic chocolate ones too.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Creme Brulee! (June 2008)

        For a long time creme brulee was the ultimate dessert for Ryan and I. Not alot of places serve it (the one's we've been to anyway) and when we did find a restaurant that did serve it, it wasn't always the greatest. This is the earliest photo I could find of a creme brulee which was home made. I had been trying to make creme brulees before this but for some reason mine would never turn out right. They always ended up being on the runny side, sometimes not even setting at all. Even after studying and trying different recipes I am still yet to perfect the creme brulee. Ryan on the other hand has the gift. The gift to be able to make a mean creme brulee! I can't even remember where he got his recipe(s) from as he's made it a few times with great success. I do remember there was one time he used the recipe out of one of my cookbooks, Tobie Puttock's - Daily Italian, and it was perfect.

        What's so appealing about a creme brulee? The smooth velvety custard underneath covered by a thin crispy shell of sweet toffee. Two complete contrasting textures meshed together in your mouth. Every mouthful is just absolute bliss! Creme Brulee means Burnt Custard, we don't really burn the custard of course but when you "burn" the sugar which is sprinkled on top it makes the whole thing appear as if it's a little burnt. I can't remember the last time we've had creme brulee, it's been a while. The fact that our palettes have become alot more sophisticated we now appreciate a wider range of desserts and are always eager to try different things. You can't go wrong with a classic dessert though.

        November 2009 - My latest attempt, the fact that I havn't even attempted this again since then just clearly shows that I have been defeated by the creme brulee. My blow torch had died (after I lent it to Ryan and then he went and bought himself a new one so I now have no blow torch) so it burnt a little when I tried doing the sugar under the grill. The heat from the grill also managed to slightly "melt" my custard =(. Ryan is quite proud that he's better than me at something (cooking related). It's quite cute so I think I might give up on the creme brulee and nag Ryan to make it again sometime. =D

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Raiding the fridge/pantry: Pumpkin, Rosemary, Cabanossi, Penne, Tomato, Spanish Onion and Viena Bread (June 2008)

        This was one of the best meals which Ryan and I threw together way back in June 2008. I didn't want to go out and was trying to save us some money so we raided his fridge and pantry to see what was lying around that we could cook with. We ended up with some cabanossi, a packet of penne, a few sprigs of rosemary, some pumpkin, a few tomatoes, a spanish onion and a loaf of viena bread and some cream. With a bit of creativity we managed to put together a 2 course meal, with just what was lying around in the fridge and pantry. Simplicity at it's best.

        Penne with Cabanossi and a Creamy Rosemary Pumpkin Sauce. Ryan made the sauce for this. He roasted the pumpkin with the rosemary and then blitzed it in a blender with a touch of cream and seasoned it with salt and pepper. It was gorgeous! Sweet from the roasted pumpkin, the rosemary added another dimension to the sauce and the cabanossi added the savoury and meat component. He's tried to replicate the sauce a couple of times since then because it was so good.

        We absolutely adore bruschetta so decided to make some with the tomatoes and spanish onion and viena bread. I still remember the pasta till this very day. It's pretty awesome when we cook dishes with just what seems like a bunch of random ingredients. You do need to understand food and how different flavours and textures work together, the basics of cooking pretty much but once that is down packed you can cook anything your heart desires. And consulting different cookbooks and watching cooking shows helps too, my mind is so full of ideas sometimes what I think is an original idea in the first place ends up being something already tried and tested - I just wasn't aware of it or didn't realise that I probably got the idea from somewhere which I had forgotten about.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Real First Book Depository Package (Ryan's Suprise) & My 3rd Package!

        Last week when I came home to find a large rectangular package sitting outside my bedroom door I was pretty excited when I realised what had been delivered. It was the first of many packages to come and it was a suprise for Ryan. And I wanted to tell him about it so badly! Technically he already received this cookbook - Gordon Ramsay's Recipes from a 3 Star Chef. There's actually 3 different editions of this book, the one I had bought him for Christmas was the extra large hardback which came in a hard cardboard slipcase. The one that I bought from Book Depository is a limited (and numbered) edition which comes in a metal slipcase and perspex box and signed by Gordon Ramsay himself. It was this one that I wanted to buy for him originally but couldn't justify the price that Borders was selling it for. Upon discovering how cheap (and on special) it was on the website I just had to buy it, and boy was it worth the expression on his face when he opened up the package.

        This is the one that I bought Ryan for Christmas, he can now not feel as guilty if he got it dirty in the process of cooking (he got orange syrup all over another book when cooking Crepes Suzette).

        There's 50 drool worthy extra large photos of Gordon's entree's, mains and desserts which he serves in his Hospital Road restaurant.

Entree photos.

Dessert photos.

        Every photo comes with a comprehensive recipe in the back, each step broken down so that you can recreate the exact same dish at home. I am still waiting for Ryan to serve up my own 3 star meal =D.

        Came home today to another package! I couldn't figure out which one it was but was happy to find out when I opened up the padded envelope. I love their vanilla cupcake recipe that much I might as well buy a whole collection of recipes from them =). There are 9 chapters in this book: 1. Muffins, breakfast buns, and quick breads 2. Coffee cakes and bundt cakes 3. Cookies 4. Brownies and bar cookies 5. Cupcakes and layer cakes 6. Icings, fillings, frostings and sauces 7. Cheesecakes and cheese pies 8. Pies, tarts and a cobbler 9. Ice creams and ice box desserts.

        More recipes than photos but still an awesome book. I keep getting asked more and more each day when I'm going to open up my own cafe/bakery. Patience my pets! ;)