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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Week Seven of Blogging with Friends

Are you free for brunch on Saturday? Weekend brunch is the perfect meal to catch up – it doesn’t take all day, but it can if you want! And, if you’re so inclined, you can have an afternoon nap to recover later. It’s also great if you’ve over-indulged the night before. Skip breakfast, and choose brunch, anytime from 10 am to 1-1.30 pm. We regularly go at 1 pm or just after, giving us time to build up an appetite if we’ve slept in! But if we’re meeting friends, it is often earlier, to give us time to linger and enjoy.

Let’s meet at Taste, our favourite brunch place, in a lovely old house on the corner of the Khandallah shopping village. When we were both earning, we used to go regularly – fortnightly and sometimes weekly – but these days we have to ration our visits. It means that they are appreciated so much more when we do get there.

When we arrive, Gary or David or both will greet us, throwing a bit of shade, making a few quips, making sure they welcome every person in the party, and then show us into the light-filled dining room. We’ll sit in the tables at the end, and half of us will snuggle into the banquet seating, settling in for the long haul. Or perhaps if we’re there on a hot sunny day, we could sit outside on the porch, and not worry about disturbing the other patrons. Unfortunately, there haven’t been any opportunities to do that this windy summer.

This is not a brunch café, with a box of toys for the kids, ordering at the counter, and lots of noise. It is not a child-friendly restaurant, and you see the occasional baby in a carrier, or older children who know how to behave. They’re not unfriendly though. Many children who come see it as the height of sophistication, and choose it for their birthday dinners! Decorated in calm neutrals and white, this is a restaurant inviting you to relax, to enjoy good food and good wine and good company, in a little break from the chaos of the world.

Given the occasion, I think we should start with a pre-meal champagne – or prosecco, given our budget these days – toast. Though they have a few cocktails on the menu, and would love to have the chance to make them. And they’d no doubt be delighted to figure out the recipe of anything that you wanted. Here’s to friendship, companionship at the table, and long-lasting relationships.

Their brunch menu ranges from their delicious pate, a vegetarian soup, or a blue cheese toast on the light side, through to some of the usual breakfast suspects – French toast, eggs any which way, with a salad or roast potatoes, bacon or mushrooms, and a delicious tomato relish – and their own twists. One of my favourites is their seasonal asparagus with poached eggs on Turkish bread, with a cheesy sauce. In winter it turns into a toasted ham and tomato sandwich, with poached eggs on top, with the same cheesy sauce. Some days, when we turn up at 1 pm and I’m starving, that’s all I want! The do a couple of more substantial meals, a chicken and bacon sandwich with a yummy salad and Indian curry-flavoured mayonnaise that is to die for, and a fish dish that always looks good when other diners order it, but which I always overlook for one of the other options always mentioned. And in winter, I adore the creamy sherried mushrooms on Turkish bread, though it doesn’t always appear on the menu. Hint, hint! (Just in case Gary or David see this.) The Husband loves their chunky chips (you might know them as fries), and I’ve been known to eat a few from his bowl too, when he’s looking elsewhere.

When we’re there in a group, the service is unobtrusive, unless we all get chatting to our hosts, or they have a recent anecdote to share. Our hosts are funny, kind, and meticulous, and it always feels rude to ignore them, because they are as much a part of the experience of Taste as the food. When I go here, it’s usually just with my husband, though occasionally we’ll meet up with a group of old friends, or I’ll take guests who are staying with us (when I can’t be bothered cooking breakfast at home). But how wonderful to have you all here with us today!

This is a great opportunity to get to know each other better, meeting in person for perhaps the first time. Any nervousness at this will have been dispelled with that first glass of prosecco, and one of Gary’s jokes, and by the time we turn to the Elephant Hill Chardonnay, Peregrine Pinot Gris, or Bird in the Hand Shiraz (these are our favourites), we’ll be relaxed and old friends. After all, thanks to technology, we’re already old friends.  We’ve witnessed life-altering events, shared happiness and loss, watched kids grow up, and showed each other our inner selves. We’ve just not met yet.

As it’s a special occasion, we might indulge in dessert – profiteroles filled with ice-cream and chocolate sauce, a trifle or white chocolate mousse might take your fancy. We usually share their sweet treats – a tiny triangle of a lemon slice – that goes perfectly with their excellent, strong coffee. But I’m sure they’ll try and tempt us with a dessert wine or port or something stronger! By now, the restaurant is emptying out. They close at 2 pm, but are happy for us to stay longer. It’s a peaceful, happy environment. And we can always regroup down the road at our house, after a post-prandial hike back up the hill to work off the calories. Wine on the deck, anyone?

 

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I recently read – or rather listened to – a book (L’Appart) written by an American food writer in Paris, about his apartment renovations. The renovations focus was often amusing but equally frequently frustrating, especially as he was so blindingly naïve and ignored the advice of his French friends, never once asking them “why” they would make certain suggestions, for example, that he should keep his distance from the contractor. Equally, there were several comments he made on the French way of doing things, which I can’t specifically recall now, when I wanted to let him know that it was his American habits that made him the outlier in global terms, not the French. I guess I get irritated when people write for reader from their country only. So this added to the book’s frustrations. But these were never enough to stop me reading. (And if you’re American, you’ll maybe relate to his comments/complaints, and wonder what my problem is!)

The snippets he interwove about life in France and their attitudes towards life were interesting though. I particularly liked his comments about the French attitude to food, and cooking. His friends in Paris were shocked that he wanted a large, functional kitchen, with some restaurant-like fittings, when these are not the norm in Parisienne – if not French – homes. It was understandable that he might want a big kitchen, though, as he is a food writer with a blog and quite a few recipe books to his name.

In recent years, especially with the advent of Masterchef-like cooking competitions (I’m a big fan of both the UK and Australian versions of Masterchef), it seems quite normal for a lot of foodies to want to make beautiful and exotic dishes at home. Not to the French though. He noted that they have no wish to compete with the best restaurants, and wonder why you would want to even try. Apparently, they consider that there are restaurant dishes, and to-be-made-at-home dishes, and never the twain shall meet.

He also noted that the French, if they are hosting you to dinner at home, are quite happy to provide more rustic-looking dishes, including those with an unintentional bit of charring, or uneven or inconsistent shapes. They don’t want their home cooking or baking to look perfect. After all, if it looks perfect, then it probably doesn’t look like home-made. Guests might think that maybe it’s time to go searching for the bakery boxes hidden in the pantry if the cake or pie looks too good to be true! A little bit of imperfection proves it was made at home by the host (who probably was also cleaning the house, organising the music, buying the wine, and fluffing the cushions), just for you.

I really love that attitude. Essentially, it’s “the thought that counts.” It’s one I am going to embrace more readily this year. Imperfection doesn’t matter. Effort does. I’m going to adopt this attitude for all my cooking and baking this year. Perfection isn’t important. What is important is trying something out and doing it for the ones I love, or simply because it brings me joy.

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Sharing some recipes

Following requests, I promised some of the recipes I mentioned in my previous posts, and figured I may as well make them public. Along with my comments to help the baking process.

Pavlova

Pavlova is a New Zealand classic, even though those Aussies across the Tasman try to claim it. Everyone has their own trick to making it, and they will swear black and blue that their recipe is the best. But you know what? Most recipes are good (so feel free to try recipes online).

Anyway, it’s not so much the ingredients (essentially egg whites and sugar, vanilla and vinegar) but the cooking temperature and time which are important. The key is figuring out what works for your oven, and your tastes.For example, my mother-in-law always made successful (to her and her family) pavlovas. They were very marshmallowy, with a very shallow crust, because her recipe required turning off the oven as soon as the uncooked pavlova went in. In comparison, my mother’s oven was very temperamental, and hers were often more meringue-like and crunchy on the outside, though still with marshmallow inside. I grew up with the more crunchy pavlovas, and I love them. So I like to keep the oven on, even if it is at a low heat, to get that.

The one I made for Christmas dinner worked well. It was a combination of my mother-in-law’s recipe and another recipe.

Ingredients and method:
4 egg whites
1 cup or 250 mls (or slightly more) of sugar or caster sugar (I’ve used both with success)
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp white wine/cider vinegar
Whipped cream
Topping

Preheat the oven to 170C fan bake.

Whisk the egg whites till stiff, then keep whisking whilst gradually adding the sugar, until all sugar is added, and the egg whites are stiff and glossy. (An electric beater/cake mixer is almost essential, unless you have amazing arm/wrist strength).

Add the vanilla and vinegar, and mix till blended.

Line a baking sheet with baking paper, pile the egg white mixture on top into a neat circle, approx 4 cms high ( about a 20 cm/8″ diameter). Smooth the top.

Bake in oven on 180oC for 10-15 minutes or so, then turn down to 150oC and bake for a total of 50 minutes to an hour. I opened the oven, let most of the heat out, then left my pavlova in until it cooled. The combination of time and temperatures really depends on your taste and your oven. If you think it is crunchy enough on the outside, you can cool it outside the oven.

Traditionally, the cooled pavlova is topped with whipped cream (approximately 300 mls whipping cream) sweetened with 1-2 teaspoons icing/powdered sugar and a tsp vanilla essence, and decorated with fresh fruit, just before serving. I like to top my pavlovas with berries, though kiwifruit is also a classic and delicious combination. Passionfruit goes fabulously well with pavlova too. In winter, drained canned fruit is sometimes used, though I wouldn’t! Or you could grate or shave chocolate over the top. Sometimes I’ll spread lemon curd over the pavlova before adding the cream, for added flavour. Anything goes, really! 

 

Gay’s Fail-safe Christmas Cake

This is my sister’s recipe, and it really is very easy, quick, and fail-safe. I’m not sure where it came from originally, and neither is she! It is a classic boiled fruit cake recipe.

Either buy a packaged mixture of dried fruit or put your own together as I did. In fact, mine had more mixed peel, and a lower proportion of raisins simply because I’d run out. You could add dried apricots/ cranberries/ cherries, or anything else you wanted.

I didn’t have any almond essence, so added some amaretto liqueur along with the brandy, and that worked well. I might have used more than 2 TBSPs of alcohol!

The recipe says use a 20cm by 20cm tin. I found there was too much mixture for my tin this size (perhaps it was too shallow?), so scooped some out, put them into big muffin tins, and got three individual Christmas cakes in addition, which were good to give as gifts.

Cooking time depends on your oven. Mine took considerably less time.

It is lovely with or without icing. Some people ice their Christmas cakes with a marzipan layer, then white icing on top, and decorate them highly. My sister doesn’t like this icing, so uses a vanilla butter cream. It is delicious, but decadent. Although it is more festive to ice, I couldn’t be bothered icing my cake, due to laziness/exhaustion/lower back pain! We finished it last night, and agreed it didn’t really need icing.

Ingredients and Method:
225g butter
900 g mixed dried fruit (approx with 30% sultanas, raisins and currants, 10% mixed peel)
1 cup (250 ml)  cold water
good pinch of salt
2 TBSP vinegar
vanilla, almond and lemon essences
2 cups flour
2 tsp custard powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tin condensed milk
1 tsp baking soda
2 TBSP sherry/brandy
Pinch salt

Heat fruit, butter, water, vinegar and essences until butter is melted. Stir well. Cool.
Add baking soda, condensed milk, and alcohol. Mix well.
Mix dry ingredients into fruit mixture.
Bake at 150oC for 1 ½ hours, then 100oC for 1 hour.

20cm x 20cm (8″ by 8″) pan, lined with baking paper.

Happy baking!

 

 

 

 

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