"I hate people who are not serious about their meals."

Oscar Wilde,
The Importance of Being Earnest

Monday, June 21, 2010

Strawberry Layer Cake (or How I Spent My Saturday Afternoon)

The strawberries in this part of the world have been especially delicious lately.  Big, red, shiny and amazingly fragrant.  Knowing that we had a family gathering coming up on Sunday, I made it my
mission toward the end of the week to find a dessert recipe that would allow me to incorporate some
of the many punnets of strawberries currently residing in our refridgerator.  I knew I didn't want to
cook them, and any kind of a fruit salad seemed like a cop out.  I was considering fresh strawberry jelly when I came across this cake recipe and knew I had hit the jackpot.  Layers of almond sponge, citrus
cream and thinly sliced fresh strawberries - the flavour combinations sounded mouthwatering, and it
wasn't going to be too heavy an end to a meal, on what was probably going to be a pretty warm evening. 
I had the house to myself on Saturday afternoon, so I got all my ingredients ready and got to work
with the electric beaters. There is quite a lot of preparation time involved in this recipe; though none
of it is particularly difficult, just time consuming - but oh so very worth it!  Considering I had to do a fair
bit of converting of measurements to be able to recreate this recipe without the aid of a kitchen scale
(note to self: must invest in kitchen scale!), it was an astounding success. 
So without further ado, i present to you...

Strawberry Layer Cake
adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller

3 punnets strawberries (or 1.5 large punnets)

Almond Sponge
120g/4.2oz blanched almonds
3 eggs
100g/3.5oz icing sugar, sifted
3 eggwhites
1 pinch cream of tartar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon caster (superfine) sugar
30g/1oz plain flour, sifted
25g/1 quarter stick of butter, melted

Citrus Creme
100g/3.5oz thickened (heavy) cream, at room temperature
250g/8.8oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon each of finely grated lemon and lime rind
120g/4.2oz caster sugar
3 tablespoons each of lemon and lime juice
2 teaspoons powdered gelatine soaked in 2 Tablespoons cold water
(or 2 leaves gelatine soaked in cold water)

For the sponge: Preheat oven to 250C/480F.  Line a 26 x 38cm (10 x 15 in) oven tray with baking paper. Place almonds into the bowl of a food processor and pulse til finely ground.  Using an electric mixer or beaters, whisk together whole eggs and icing sugar until pale and thick.  Add ground almonds and stir to combine.  Sift flour into this mixture and fold through, then add melted butter and fold through carefully.  In a separate bowl, whisk the eggwhites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form, then add caster sugar and continue to beat until smooth and glossy.  Add half of the eggwhite mixture to the whole-egg mixture and fold through, then fold through the remaining half, be careful not to overwork as this will take all the air out of your mix.  Evenly spread the better into your prepared tray and bake for 5-7 minutes or until golden.  Do not freak out if your sponge looks a bit wrinkled when it comes out of the oven, it will relax and flatten as it cools.  Cool on tray on a wire rack, then invert on to baking paper and peel the backing paper from the base.  Divide into 4 equal sized rectangles (make the cuts along the long side of the sponge, your pieces should be roughly 23 x 9cm/ 9 x 3.5in) and set aside.

Wash and hull the strawberries, and then slice lengthways into 2mm thick slices.

For the citrus cream: Whisk cream to soft peaks and set aside.  Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, citrus rinds, and 50g/1.7oz of caster sugar until smooth and well combined.  Meanwhile, combine the remaning sugar along with the lemon and lime juices in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat.  Squeeze any excess water from your gelatine and add to syrup.  Remove pan from heat and stir until gelatine dissolves.  Let cool slightly and then pour into cream cheese mixture with your beaters or mixer running.  Beat until smooth, about 1 minute, then gently fold in whipped cream until just combined.

To assemble the cake: line a 10 x 23cm (4 x 9 in) loaf pan with plastic wrap.  Place one piece of the sponge into the base of the pan and spread with one third of the citrus cream, followed by one third of the strawberries.  Repeat the process two more times, and finish with your final layer of sponge.  Cover with plastic wrap and place some canned food on the top to weight it down a little. Refrigerate until set - at least 3 hours or overnight.  To serve, dip the cake pan into warm water, invert on to a plate or platter and remove the plastic wrap.  Dust with icing sugar or snow sugar to serve.  Enjoy!
NB: If you're going to present this cake as a whole to a table full of guests, you might want to trim the sides once you take it out of the tin, just to neaten it up a little.  Some of the cream can squeeze down the sides.  Look at the photo above and you'll see what I'm talking about.  Doesn't taste any different, but some of us are sticklers for presentation.  I mean, really, when you've spent this much time on a cake, you want it to look it's best!

Saturday, June 19, 2010


These fish cakes make for a nice light meal - lunch or dinner.  The subtle fish flavour blends perfectly with the coriander, lime and sweet chili sauce.  Mine got a little dark on the outside, due to the oil overheating a little, but inside they were perfect.  Though personally, I think I will kick up the chili content a little next time!

Thai-style Fish Cakes
adapted from Good Taste
Makes 8-10

500g/1.1 pounds cod fillets, coarsley chopped
1/2 cup fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
1/4 cup cornflour
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce
1 egg, lightly whisked
3 shallots (scallions), finely chopped
1 large handful of green beans, finely chopped
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Lime wedges, and extra sweet chili sauce, to serve

Place the fish into a food processor and process until smooth.  Add the cornflour, coriander, egg, fish and sweet chilis sauces, and process until well combined.  Transfer to a large bowl, add the shallot and beans and stir to combine.  Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Divide the fish mixture into 8 portions.  If you have egg rings, place 4 of them into the pan and press 1 portion into each ring.  Alternatively, I formed my patties using a large, deep jar lid covered in plastic wrap.  Push the mixture into the lid to form the patty, and use the edges of the plastic wrap to lift it out.  This is a little messy, as the mixture is a bit sticky, but it works just fine.  Cook the fish cakes for 4 minutes per side, or until golden brown.  Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel and repeat process with the remaining fish mixture. 

I served the patties with atop egg noodles and sliced bok choy cooked in soy and oyster sauce, topped off with some peanuts.  You could also serve it with a salad of asian greens, as in the original recipe.  If you made bite-sized patties, these would make a great appetizer, serve with sweet chilli dipping sauce.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Tonight's meal was supposed to be a stir-fry, but when we discovered that our egg noodles were past their use by date, and our bean sprouts had turned to liquid in their bag, we had to go back to the drawing board.  A quick survey of the refridgerator turned up a few prawns, some chicken breasts, and a little chorizo.  Sounded like the beginnings of a paella to me, and so this is what I came up with.  I also had a yellow bell pepper that I was going to use in the stir fry, so rather than let that go the way of the bean sprouts I threw it in too.  If I'd thought about it more beforehand I think I would have roasted the pepper first to further enhance the flavour (and let's face it, red would definitely have been better on the colour front).  I am hesitant to call this dish 'Paella' as it isn't one in the traditional sense, and I don't want to offend any Spaniards out there.  I don't have a Paella pan, so it didn't quite develop that crusty, toasty layer of rice on the bottom that is so integral to the tastiness of Paella.  The flavours and cooking process are definitely inspired by the eponymous dish, but I think this is really somewhere between a risotto and a pilaf.  Not quite as creamy as the former, nor as fluffy as the latter.  Well, whatever you'd like to call it, it was certainly tasty!

Nearly Paella
adapted from Jamie Oliver
serves 4-6

4 chicken breasts, quartered
salt and pepper
plain flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
150g/5oz chorizo, sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 litres/68 fl.oz of chicken stock, heated and kept warm
1 teaspoon saffron
1.5 teaspoons smoked paprika
500g/17.6oz rice (calasparra or bomba is traditional, I only had arborio and it turned out fine)
1.5 cups frozen peas
1 small bell pepper, cut into thin strips (roast beforehand if you prefer)
10 prawns

Preheat oven to 375F/190C.  Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and then dust with flour.  Heat the olive oil in a large, deep frying pan (or paella pan) and fry the chicken until golden brown.  Place the chicken pieces on a baking tray and pop into the oven for 20 minutes.

Divide your stock in half, and place the saffron threads in one quantity to infuse.  Return the pan to the heat, add the sliced chorizo and fry until browned and crisp.  Next, add the onion and garlic and cook until soft.  Add the paprika, rice and infused stock and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes of until most of the liquid is absorbed.  (Don't over stir, you don't want to massage the starch out of the rice like you do with risotto. Paella isn't supposed to be creamy.) Add the peas, prawns and pepper to the pan, followed by the remaining half of the stock.  Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes.  Add the cooked chicken pieces and stir to combine.  Serve with lemon wedges.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Chicken Katsu Curry

I love Japanese food.  There are some dishes that I would much prefer to leave to the experts - like sushi, sashimi and anything involving the cooking of eel -  but other dishes are quite easily made in your own kitchen, like Tempura and Yakitori.  Japanese curry is a favourite of both my husband and myself, so we decided that we should try cooking it ourselves.  After much scouring of online recipe sites and blogs, we ended up on YouTube.  Not the most conventional of sources, but the step by step was helpful, and the dog was adorable. (Watch the video linked below and you'll see what I'm talking about!)  Now, this dish does involve a little bit of preparation time, but once you're organised it will all come together pretty quickly.  There's work enough for two with all the chopping and grating, so if you have a willing and able significant other/roommate/child, the two of you can make a pretty quick job of it.  If not, I would advise having as much as you can ready before you start cooking the sauce.  Katsu curry is typically served with pork rather than chicken. We regularly make both varieties, so feel free to substitute the chicken in this recipe for thin-cut pork loin.  My favourite part about this dish is the way the eggplant soaks up all the yummy curry flavours.  The best version of this we've made was using white eggplant, but I've never seen them at the market since.  If you're lucky enough to see them, grab them! 

Oh, and the leftovers?  Amazing.  I think it's actually better the next day!

Katsu Curry
adapted from Cooking With Dog
Serves 4

For the curry
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 large carrot, grated
1 bell pepper, cut into roughly 1-inch pieces 
(I would recommend red/orange rather than green, it is a little bitter)
2 small (italian) eggplants, cut into small chunks
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 inch/3cm piece ginger, grated
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 can diced tomatoes
1 1/4 cups water
1 dried bay leaf
1 Medium spicy curry block (I use this variety)
1/2 small red apple, peeled and soak in salt water

For the chicken
4 pieces of thin-cut chicken breast
Plain flour
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon of water
Panko bread crumbs
Frying oil
Salt and pepper

Add the olive oil and onion to a medium sized saucepan and cook for 5 minutes at high heat. Reduce heat and cook, stirring continuously, for 10 minutes or until golden brown.  Add the grated carrot and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, followed by the garlic and ginger. Stir until aromatic. Now reduce the heat to low, add the curry powder and fry for another 2-3 minutes.  Add the eggplant and stir until it is coated in the curry mixture. Add the canned tomato, water and bay leaf; cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  Take the pan off the heat.  Slice the curry block (nb: they usually come in a large block with 4 or 5 segments, for this recipe you need one segment only) and add to the pan, stirring to dissolve. Grate the apple into the saucepan and then add the pepper.  Turn the stove back on to low, and simmer for a few more minutes or until the pepper is soft.

Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Coat both sides with flour, dip into beaten egg mixture and then into the Panko.  Fry in hot oil for 2-3 minutes each side, rotating to brown uniformly.  Remove from pan and place on paper towel to soak up any excess oil. Cut into 1-inch slices.  Serve the chicken with steamed rice and curry sauce.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Broccoli, Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Garlic

Here's one of our favourite go-to midweek meals.  Now, I know what you're thinking - "Frozen vegetables!? Doesn't exactly sound gourmet".  But they're good to have around in case you run our of fresh produce, and trust me, if you tasted it you'd never know the difference.  Cooking the vegetables while they're still frozen means they crisp up perfectly as they absorb the garlic/chili/oil mixture.  
This is a speedy, (relatively) healthy and great tasting meal, and you probably have all of the ingredients in your fridge and pantry right now.  The original recipe was made using brocolli only, but we prefer to use a broccoli and cauliflower mix to add further texture, flavour and colour.  It says it serves four - well, that really depends on how hungry you are! My husband and I have polished off the whole lot on one occasion, but there's usually some left over for lunch the next day.  If you're not one for chili, you could easily omit it and lift the flavours with a good squeeze of lemon juice at the end.

Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Broccoli, Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Garlic 
adapted from Gourmet
serves 4

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried hot red chili flakes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 packages (approx 12oz/300g each) frozen chopped mixed broccoli and cauliflower
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 pound whole-wheat spaghetti
finely grated parmesan or pecorino romano

Heat the oil in a large pan over moderate heat. Add the garlic and chili flakes and cook, stirring, for a few minutes or until golden. Add the broccoli, cauliflower and salt, making sure to break up any frozen clumps. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are thawed and tender-crisp, around 6 minutes.  Stir in the chickpeas and cook until heated through. 

Cook pasta according to packet directions, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, and then drain the pasta.  Add the pasta and reserved water to the pan with the broccoli and chickpea mixture. Tossing, cook over moderate heat until well combined.  Serve topped with grated parmesan, and drizzle with a little additional oil or a squeeze of lemon juice, if desired.

Friday, June 04, 2010

A Pizza Of The Non-Traditional Variety

"Pumpkin? On a pizza?" were my now husbands' words when I proposed we order this particular pizza from my local delivery place in Sydney. I told him it was my favourite, and asked him to just trust me. Luckily he did. The lightest swirl of sauce on the base, topped with shavings of pumpkin, pecorino and ham and finished with a sprinkle of dried chili flakes was love at first bite for me. I suppose he must have thought that it was pretty good too, because he suggested that we should try and make it together some time. Upon returning to the USA he even purchased a mandolin for the express purpose of slicing pumpkin thinly enough to put it on said pizza. (I love this man!) So naturally once I arrived Stateside we began planning how we would go about recreating what we had eaten. After a few runs that weren't quite right: too much sauce, base too thick, sauce too thick; on the first bite of our fourth try, we knew we'd got the balance right. The trick seemed to be to water the sauce down so as to give just enough to coat the base without the tomato flavour overpowering the rest of the ingredients. The original used pecorino cheese, but our supermarket was out. We used romano and it worked just as well. One of the other keys to this mixture is to resist the temptation to add too much cheese. Remember, this isn't a traditional pizza. The cheese is there for flavour, not as a cover-all. Having a mandolin or some kind of slicing machine is pretty essential to this, unless you have a very sharp knives, and steady hands to match. Though in a pinch you could use a vegetable peeler.

Mantova Pizza
adapted from Arthur's Pizza 
I'm not going to give exact quantities here, so you can make whatever size pizza you like. 
Any extra ham and pumpkin slices are great for use on toasted sandwiches the next day.

Pizza dough - we were lazy and bought dough, but there's a great, easy recipe at Smitten Kitchen
Butternut pumpkin (Butternut squash), cut into wedges and then into 2-3mm slices
Ham - I would reccomend Honey Smoked, or Black Forest if you like it a little smokier
Pecorino or Romano cheese, shaved
Napolitana sauce - you want to use about 1 tablespoon of water to every 4 tablespoons sauce
Dried Chili Flakes

Preheat oven to 450F/230C
Grease your pizza pan and roll the dough out until it is about 6mm thick. Heat your sauce a little, this helps both to mix in the water and also enables it to spread more easily. Using the back of a spoon, thinly spread the sauce over the base. Don't overload it - you don't want your base to be soggy! Top with the ham first, followed by the pumpkin and cheese. Don't cover the top with cheese, just use enough to enhance the flavour. Finally, sprinkle with chili flakes to taste. Bake in preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is slightly blistered and the edges are crispy. Delicious.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Baked Frittata

We all have those evenings. 
You know, when you really can't be bothered to cook anything that involves more than 10 minutes of your time? In fact, you're not even really that hungry, but you would like something easy and tasty that doesn't involve a pizza delivery or baked beans on toast. Well, here is one dish that will solve all your problems - 5 minutes of prep time, and then you can pop it in the oven and forget about it for the next 45. The great aroma as it bakes will help develop your appetite, too. The only other thing you may want to do is toast some crusty bread for the perfect comfort-food accompaniment. It also makes for a great brunch.

The other great thing about this dish is that you can practically use whatever you have in the fridge. 
Bacon could easily be substituted for the ham, or you could leave the meat out altogether. You could use asparagus or grated zucchini or even leeks in place of the spinach. Fresh herbs or semi-dried tomatoes would add a great flavour, too. Then there's the cheese... the possibilities are endless!

Baked Frittata
Serves 4

7 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
8 oz frozen spinach (about 225g), defrosted
1 garlic clove, minced
4 shallots/scallions, finely sliced (I've also used half an onion, finely diced)
1/2 cup of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
7 oz (200g) thick sliced ham
a large handful of grated cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.  Grease your baking pan - I use a 9" square pan, but I'm sure a rectangular pan of similar size would work just as well.

Squeeze excess liquid out of the spinach and spread in the bottom of the pan. Top with the shallots.  Dice the ham into small cubes and scatter on top of the spinach along with your tomato halves. You could also add some chopped fresh herbs at this point, if you so desired - dill, parsley, etc.

Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk with the milk, salt and pepper.  Pour over the vegetables.
Sprinkle your cheese on top. You could really use whatever cheese you like here, cheddar, mozzarella, gruyere, etc. The best results I've had was putting in some crumbled blue cheese first and then a light sprinkling of mozzarella over the top.  The mozzarella forms a nice top in the oven while blue cheese sinks into the mixture a little, so you get that lovely zingy blue cheese taste when you bite into the frittata.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the top is golden and the middle is completely set.