Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Second Chance For Miss Martha

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

NOTE: As many of you have been asking where I got these lovely paper cases for my cupcakes, I thought it would be easier to let you all know on the blog, rather than respond to every email. Many birds with the one stone, I guess.

The paper cases are from the Donna Hay home collection- these particular ones are called "Classic Ticking". I got mine from David Jones.

After salvaging the mess of a recipe that was the Chocolate Espresso and Mascarpone Tart, I had pretty much decided that this was the last straw with Martha. Yes, she's wholesome, she's almost likeable and yes she is so eerily perfect that it's borderline psychotic and creepy, but I was resolute in my stance not to try any of her recipes ever again. And there was no amount of pristinely pressed collared shirts and perfectly piped icing that would make me change my mind. Or would there?

It’s been almost a year since I vowed, with unwavering tenacity that I would never again try a Martha recipe because of all the inconsistencies and holes she left in the details and instructions of her recipes. At first I wasn’t sure if it was just the one recipe I had tried but it proved to be that a number of her recipes from the Internet were laden with mistakes.

Cupcake liner

But, a year later am I really able to make amends with Martha? What is it going to take?

Well the answer gladly is, maybe. Perhaps, I can make up with Martha and although we still aren't the best of friends, we are certainly making a go of it.

As much as I would love to mock her nauseating affinity for perfection and ability to make even the most anal and OCD-ridden person appear normal, I have to say that I am ready to give her a second chance. She’s redeemed herself with a carrot cake recipe that pleases everyone. And given that it is quite a feat to stuff up a carrot cake recipe, I would have been surprised if this one was a disaster, but I had to start somewhere. And I had to start small. After all Martha has jaded me on more than one occasion. It just so happens that only one of those occasions was documented on the blog.

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Not only has she found herself a measure of forgiveness, but I have also found myself a go-to recipe for carrot cake. A few minor adjustments here and there, but for the most part, it’s all from Martha. Congratulations girl, I no longer loathe you.

The cake has an incredibly moist and smooth crumb. You could almost say they are like little auburn feather pillows, light to the touch. And because they are so light you could be fooled into eating one too many. I know I was.

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

The only alterations I made to the original “Martha” recipe was adding a few more spices and using macadamia oil instead of vegetable oil. Macadamia oil’s taste is very subtle and doesn’t make much of a difference to the overall flavour, but certainly adds more depth than vegetable oil would. But if macadamia oil is not available then there is no reason why you can’t just use vegetable oil. If it was good enough for Martha, then, well.

So there you have it, Martha and I may see a friendship in the near future after all. I might have to test another disaster-free recipe from her to make that call, but for now I can say that I don't detest her and her recipes as much. As long as she doesn’t come at me with a wooden spoon or a steam iron, we should get along fine.

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

So here it is, enjoy! Martha'second chance Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Related post: Martha...not what she's cracked up to be

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

adapted from marthastewart.com
makes 12

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup macadamia oil*
2 tablespoons orange juice
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1½ cups shredded carrots

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
¾ cup confectioners' sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
Orange zest

*If macadamia oil is not available you can substitute with a vegetable oil.

Preheat oven to 180°C.
Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper cups.
In a bowl, combine sugar, macadamia oil, orange juice, vanilla extract, and eggs.
Stir in baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt.
Add flour; mix. Stir in carrots.
Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, filling only about ¾ of the way up.
Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean.
Allow cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, and vanilla extract.
Whisk until smooth.
Frost cupcakes, and garnish with orange zest.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sydney Food and Wine Fair 2007

Sydney Food and Wine Fair 2007

Sydneysiders it seems are a charitable bunch, especially when there’s food involved. Pair good food, some wine and a splash of good weather and you will surely pull a crowd. Last Saturday found us at the annual Sydney Food and Wine Fair at Hyde Park. It was a full house that day and it seemed that right at noon, the entire population of Sydney descended upon Hyde Park for a veritable feast.

Over 100 of Sydney’s finest food and wine makers come together each year to raise funds and awareness for the AIDS Trust of Australia. And like many others we turned out to lend our support and our bellies. Last year we were at Tetsuya's, but this year I was determined not to miss out.

Sydney Food and Wine Fair 2007

Most of the usual restaurants and cafes were present offering pretty much the same fare as they did the previous years. Although this didn’t bother us, as you never get to sample all of the goods on offer on that day. You only get two hours to peruse all of the stalls, navigate through the sea of people, decide what you want to eat, get on the queue and finally get around to eating it.

I had spotted a few things I fancied for lunch although I was quickly put off by the inexorable wait. G spotted the grilled prawns with black pepper and curry leaf dressing by Flying Fish and decided that his stomach couldn't resist and plucked up the fortitude to wait patiently on the line. I on the other hand traipsed up and down the longest stall-lined avenue in Hyde Park and couldn't make a decision. I got the annoyed "why are you so indecisive?" look from G when he saw that I was still empty-handed after having surveyed the options.

Sydney Food and Wine Fair 2007

After making a rash, yet sound decision I ended up with The Tea Room lunch pack that had a combination of sweet and savoury bites. It consisted of an egg sandwich, a spinach and ricotta pastry, tomato filo tart with avocado and for the sweets a chocolate cake, a strawberry and mascarpone tart, orange and almond tart and passionfruit sable.

Tomato and Avocado Filo Tart from The Tea Room

After downing a couple of beers from several stalls including the Belgian Bier Cafe and Industrie: South of France, we decided that dessert couldn't wait any longer.

And for dessert, well, we couldn't pass up Serge Dansereau's of Bathers Pavilion almond tart with fresh berries and cream. He has been making this desert for the past few years I have attended and yet I cannot say no to another helping. I was about to try Marque's toasted marshmallow and strawberry although I knew that we would still be hankering for a taste of Serge's tart. So off we went and joined the line at the Bather's stall.

Almond Tart with Cream and Berries

By the time we polished off the the tart, soaked up the sun and watched some of the festival entertainment our bellies were full and the two hours of philanthropic banqueting were almost over. We had two spare coupons and were looking for somewhere we could spend it quickly. Most stalls had either run out of food or were only selling things worth 3 coupons or more, so it was decided that the last 2 tickets be spent on another cup of beer. What's a balmy day in Sydney without a refreshing beer to cool oneself down.

As we lazily made our way out of Hyde Park we came across a some chess enthusiasts who seemed to be completely oblivious to the feasting that was going on close by.
We thought the man in the bright blue shirt and white beard (bottom right) bore an uncanny resemblance to Steven Spielberg. What do you think? Incognito holiday down under?

next move

The Sydney Food and Wine Fair is held annually during the month of October as part of Sydney's Good Food Month.

To see all that went down during our month of good food, then go to Morsels and Musings for the weekly round up of all events covered by Sydney food bloggers.

Other Good Food Month posts:
A Spring Pick-i-nik
Sugar Hit: Four Seasons Hotel
A Lunch With Berry Simple
Serendipity Ice Cream Class: Part I
Serendipity Ice Cream Class: Part II
A Lunch Affair: SMH Dymocks Literary Lunch with Matt Moran

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

No Fry, No Fuss

Apple Cider Doughnuts

I’ve expressed my aversion towards frying several times on this blog before. Shallow frying I can do occasionally; but like going to the dentist, I like to leave it until you really have to. But if you know me by now, don’t even mention the word deep-fry, it’s almost as painful and as uncomfortable as the word root canal or lobotomy. I think I’ve already explained in lengthy detail as to why I hate deep-frying, so I won’t go into it again but here is the crux of my whole distaste for dipping things into pools boiling of oil:

1. the harrowing prospect of sustaining third-degree burns
2. the oily smog that descends upon the entire house
3. it leaves that greasy film that could almost act as a fly trap

Apple Cider Doughnuts

If that isn’t reason enough then I don’t know what is. But what if you really enjoy the fried stuff, but hate all the oily consequences that seem to come with it? The obvious alternative is to bake things but we all know the result will never compare.

One such food is the doughnut/donut (whichever way you like to spell it). Doughnut purists will probably scoff at the idea of a non-fried doughnut and will probably think that such a travesty should never be deemed worthy of the title. But just as people have expanded their views to include baked potato chips, baked fish sticks and meatballs, I think that it’s high time we consider baked doughnuts to be just as valid as their fried counterparts.

Apple Cider Doughnuts

Baked doughnuts obviously do not taste like fried doughnuts, but who says they are supposed to. In my opinion, baked doughnuts, because they aren’t laden with excess fat store very well and do not go stale so easily. And if you thought that recipe I posted before on about Heidi’s baked doughnuts was great then here’s one to top that. It’s not that the Heidi’s recipe is no good, but this one requires a lot less effort- the recipe contains no yeast, hence no proofing and no kneading. The leavening comes from baking powder and soda, which makes for a fluffy doughnut that is almost like the real thing.

To date, the best doughnuts I have tasted have come from Krispy Kreme, unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any smaller business alternative to replace it. And although I don’t have KKs very often, I have to say that I have yet to try better. Until now that is.


I have actually found something that I can honestly say rivals the Krispy Kreme Orginal Glazed™. For one, they are baked and don’t contain all that excess fat that makes you unforgivably guilty for even biting into one, secondly they are just as fluffy and air-filled as the KKs and thirdly they are homemade, which always makes them extra great.

I think the secret to these baked doughnuts is not only the leavening that creates that puff of air that lifts the lifeless batter into something inherently scrumptious but the pans that they are made in. These doughnuts were baked in a metal doughnut pan that basically has round ring-like cavities that shape the cakes into, well, doughnuts. The pans are coated with oil and dusted with sugar and when cooled the doughnuts form a somewhat crispy “edge” just like the edges of a cake which you could say, creates the slight illusion of being fried.

Apple Cider Doughnuts

The illusion of being fried stacks up a lot better than actually being fried, especially when you are watching your waistline. I know the icing doesn't make is any more healthier, but it is up to you to put the icing on. Overall, these doughnuts are healthier and you won’t have all the nasty consequences of deep-frying. So put away that deep fryer and give this recipe a whirl. If you aren’t completely converted then that’s perfectly all right. If you do enjoy deep-frying and aren’t as repulsed by the idea of large amounts of oil bubbling away a mere two feet from your face then by all means, but I know that I have found the doughnut recipe for me.

And I really don’t mean to sound like I’m passing judgment on those that deep-fry, and I’m sorry if I have upset you. I just really dislike deep-frying but really love to eat doughnuts. And now that I have found a solution to this quandary I’ve been in, well I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut. Take it or leave it, but here is the recipe for Apple Cider Doughnuts.

Apple Cider Doughnuts

adapted from Diana’s Desserts
serves 24

Apple Cider Doughnuts

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: You will need a mini bundt baking pan with 6 or 12 cavities or a 6 or 12 cavity doughnut baking pan.

approximately 3 tbsp sugar for baking pans
hazelnut oil* for baking pans
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp grated nutmeg
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup apple puree
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup apple cider
1/3 cup plain yogurt
3 tbsp hazelnut oil*

ICING (optional)
1 cup icing (confectioner’s) sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp milk

*Hazelnut oil is basically oil that is pressed from hazelnuts that possesses a delicate nutty and buttery flavour. If hazelnut oil is not available, you can substitute with macadamia oil or vegetable oil.

Preheat oven to 190ºC.
Brush cavities of a mini bundt pan or doughnut pan with hazelnut oil.
Sprinkle with sugar, shaking out excess.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside.
In another bowl, whisk together egg, brown sugar, apple puree, maple syrup, cider, yoghurt and hazelnut oil.
Add dry ingredients and stir just until moistened.
Divide the batter among the prepared mini bundt pan or doughnut pans, filling only about halfway up the pans.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the tops spring back when touched lightly.
Loosen edges and turn the doughnuts out onto a rack to cool.
If required, clean the pans then re-coat it with oil and sugar.
Repeat with remaining batter.

Combine the icing sugar, vanilla and 1 tbsp of milk in a small bowl.
Mix until the icing is of a drizzling consistency. If not, add more milk.
Turn over the doughnuts into the bowl of icing and dip for about 5 seconds until the tops are completely covered.
Return to wire rack to allow icing to set.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Strawberry Shortcakes

Strawberry and Ricotta Shortcakes

As much as strawberry shortcakes are a childhood favourite for many people, it was something I never grew up with. The only strawberry shortcake I was familiar with was the cartoon character. Some of you might remember her and some of you might not want to admit you remember her.

While perusing the pages of Good Living online, I came across a Steve Manfredi recipe for Strawberry and Ricotta Shortcakes. I knew I had to satiate my curiosity for these shortcakes, and especially when strawberries are so cheap right now.

Strawberry and Ricotta Cream

I told you about how I almost ran off the side of the road when I saw that they were selling asparagus for 69 cents a bunch, well strawberries aren’t that cheap but they are in season so what that means is that they are at their most bountiful and most fragrant.

I’m not one that fully ascribes to eating everything organic; frankly I think there needs to also be an emphasis on eating and buying local as organic isn’t necessarily always the best choice. But I have to admit that when it comes to strawberries, I think that organic is far superior.

Strawberry and Ricotta Shortcakes

The great thing about these strawberries is that they are organic and locally produced, jackpot! They might not be as super-sized as the non-organic versions however I have found that they are softer, juicier and more aromatic. I can’t remember who gave me this advice, but when shopping for strawberries if you can’t smell them then they probably aren’t worth buying. This is mantra I have shopped for strawberries with.

Strawberry and Ricotta Shortcakes

serves 9
from SMH Good Living

Strawberry and Ricotta Shortcakes

230g plain flour
60g caster sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
Pinch salt
80g unsalted butter, cold, cut into 2cm cubes
160ml thickened cream

250ml thick cream
2 tbsp caster sugar
125g ricotta
1 tsp vanilla essence

300g medium-sized strawberries, hulled and halved lengthways
Icing sugar for dusting

First, make the shortcakes. With an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
Add the butter and beat until the mixture looks like coarse meal.
Add the cream and beat until the mixture comes together.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and form into a 15cm square about 3cm thick. Refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Using a 5cm biscuit ring, cut out 9 cakes.
Place on a baking tray and bake for 20-25 minutes until brown.
Cool on a cake rack.

Make the ricotta cream by whipping the thickened cream with the sugar.
Fold in the ricotta and vanilla.
Slice each shortcake in half and fill with the strawberries and ricotta cream.
Dust with icing sugar.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pure and Balanced

Three Cheese and Asparagus Umbricelli

You've heard it said before, possibly even on this blog, that nothing spells spring quite like asparagus. So what would this blog in spring be without a post containing asparagus? It's almost sacrilege not to indulge yourself in gorging on what the season has to offer. And just as spring rolls in you will see carts full of asparagus flood the markets green.

They used to be about $4 a bunch but I saw them being sold for 69 cents a bundle at a roadside market one afternoon. I was driving by and almost crashed into a median strip. I did manage to steer myself away from a near miss, but I was in too much shock to stop to buy any.
Yes, cheap produce has quite an effect on me.

Anchovies in Olive Oil

Even though that asparagus wasn't worth losing my life for, I did manage to get a few bundles at the Pyrmont Grower's Markets. Pristine, and just newly-picked from the farm, those gleaming emerald batons were calling out to be bought. And what can I say, I'm a sucker for anything fresh. And what to do with them, there are so many choices- stir fried, in a tart, perfectly seared on a char-grill or baked and wrapped in prosciutto? Talk about possibilities- endless, right?

And then there was the growing stack of cheeses in my fridge. Did they just reproduce themselves or was that just me going a little fromage crazy? After a trip to the Hunter Valley and a stint at the markets, my fridge was brimming with mouldy dairy. This is what was sitting in my fridge, a wedge of brie, a Pokolbin soft rind, a wedge of Hunter Valley blue, a tub of mascarpone, a few morsels of Danish Blue and some Midnight Moon. Call me a cheese hoarder- I definitely am guilty of that.

Hunter Valley Blue Cheese

To overcome this self-induced cheese infestation I had to combine as many cheeses into a dish without going overboard. That's where this three cheese pasta was born, from a necessity to make use of this surfeit of cheese. The 3 cheeses I decided to use was the Hunter Valley Blue, the Midnight Moon, which is an aged chevre and mascarpone. The blue, for its saltiness and pungency, the aged chevre for it's slight sweetness and the mascarpone for its creaminess. It was a triple threat. The pasta had just the right balance of flavours.

I can just hear the collective sound of tsk tsk tsk and the heads of a thousand dieticians shaking in dismay- the words three cheese and pasta just don't call out diet to me. But the fortunate thing is that I'm not on a diet and if you were on a diet, after this pasta you won't be. Goodbye diet and hello gym.

Three Cheese and Asparagus Umbricelli

But just because this pasta may be a little rich, doesn't mean you have to throw the towel in. It might a be little on the creamy side but the asparagus and the mushrooms rein it all in. Just as Simon Marchmont of Posh Nosh says, "Pure and balanced; like a nun on a tightrope".

Check out the round up of other great pasta dishes at Ruth's place, for Presto Pasta Night.

Three Cheese and Asparagus Umbricelli

Three Cheese and Asparagus Umbricelli

serves 2

Three Cheese and Asparagus Umbricelli

1 bundle asparagus
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic. chopped
3 anchovies
1 punnet mushrooms, sliced
50g blue cheese, diced
50g aged chevre, diced
100g mascarpone
250g umbricelli pasta (or any spiral shaped pasta)
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
freshly cracked black pepper

Take asparagus and snap the bottom parts and discard.
Chop the asparagus in half.
Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and blanch asparagus for 1 minute. Drain.
Bring another 1-litre pot of salted water to the boil.
Cook the pasta for the specified duration. Drain.

While pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add the garlic and anchovies and cook until the anchovies are dissolved.
Add the mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes.
Then add the blue cheese and aged chevre and stir until the cheese has melted.
Turn heat down to low and add the mascarpone and asparagus.
Add the pasta and mix until the sauce has coated the pasta.
Sprinkle parsley and freshly cracked black pepper on top.
If desired, top with shavings of aged chevre.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Signed, Sealed, Delivered. Finally, It's here.

Vanilla-Scented Mascarpone Cheesecake with Spiced Red Currants and Pashmak

I feel like one of those bad parents, like a deadbeat dad who says he's going to take you to the circus but never gets around to it and next thing you know, the circus has packed up and left town. Why, because I made a promise that I still haven't delivered on. Perhaps that makes me the perfect politician, I don't know, but I feel guilt-ridden for making everyone wait so long for the
surprise I was teasing you all with months ago.

I don't know what the retribution is for undelivered promises, but hopefully this little offering will prove a worthy penance. And no, the offering isn't that injured Bichon Frise I was talking about earlier, but it's actually this little saccharine opus, a vanilla-scented mascarpone cheesecake with spiced redcurrants and pashmak.

Now that's a mouthful in more ways than one.

Vanilla-Scented Mascarpone Cheesecake with Spiced Red Currants and Pashmak

And, I guess it's safe to make the big reveal and divulge what the secret ingredient I was so excited about is. They are, *virtual drum roll*... red currants! Some of you might be taking a collective gasp of air, thinking, cool. While some of you are thinking, so what?

Well, redcurrants aren't something I usually come across in the shopping aisles in my neck of the woods. I have never seen them sold fresh here in Australia; not in any grocery or farmer's market, so you have to understand the thrill of such an exotic find. They didn't come fresh, rather snap frozen, although this was good enough for me as they still bore the plump juicy redness that made them look as is they were just picked right off the bush. I couldn't resist and bought two punnets worth, which isn't a complete splurge if you ask me, but in saying that, you will definitely be
seeing more of these babies in the future.

Red Currants

Redcurrants, a member of the gooseberry family are typically more sour than the gooseberry and blackcurrant varieties, however they are excellent cooked down in sauces, syrups, jellies and preserves. High in potassium, vitamin C and fibre, this fruit may be little but it packs a big punch.

Now it took quite some time to muster up the inspiration to do something that would prove a worth compeer to the unintended hype that it was given. How could any fruit live up to such grandiose expectations. When people were emailing me and leaving comments about how they were waiting with bated breath as to what this surprise was, I found myself pressured to live up to all the ballyhoo it generated.

Vanilla-Scented Mascarpone Cheesecake with Spiced Red Currants and Pashmak

The only choice I had was to do something spectacular and the only thing I could think of was a mascarpone cheesecake. Now the only thing I needed was a recipe. That's when a visit to West Ryde library became a serendipitous event.

I was waiting for my car to be serviced and needed somewhere to park myself for the next couple of hours, I was already spending a fortune on this car, so a trip to the shopping mall wouldn't have been the wisest move. I needed somewhere where I wouldn't have to spend any money and I could wile away the hours undisturbed. Where else but a library.

Star Anise and Cinnamon Scrolls

So off I went into the magazine section and perused the different options, trashy, fashion, home and garden, architecture, business, but wait there was a food section. So off I go digging through the back issues of Australian Gourmet Traveller and I stumble across the 2006 March issue. And I guess the rest of the story explains itself.

I also found recipes for grapefruit soufflé and Amaretti parfait which you might see later on, but this was the one I was most excited about. The original recipe had spiced blueberries but I figured redcurrants would do just as well.

Vanilla-Scented Mascarpone Cheesecake with Spiced Red Currants and Pashmak

So just imagine a luscious cheesecake with spiced red currants topped with a little cloud of Persian fairy floss, it's seductive. It's almost sickening to call the dish seductive. Just in the same way you don't want to but can't help calling a fig or a fresh summer salad one of those "sexy" foods, this one was truly up there in its inherent sensuality.

Just look at it, with it's come-hither mien. From it's pretty primrose complexion to it's velvety centre, the splash of blood red syrup oozing down the sides and the billowing tuft of spun sugar, its gastronomic allure at its most persuasive. And forgive me for turning this dish into something that sounds more like a trashy Mills & Boon novel but I just can't help it. I promise I'll stop with the sychophantic prose but I cannot help but be a an adoring fan.

Making the spice red wine syrup

If you are wondering what that white puff is on top of the cheesecakes, it is Pashmak- Persian fairy floss. I guess the thing that sets pashmak apart from the typical fairy floss you find at the carnival is that the recipe uses sesame oil and flour. The texture feels a little like wool and it doesn't dissolve as easily on your tongue as normal fairy floss. The packaging doesn't really tell much about how pashmak is made, although this is the little blurb on the back of the pack:

" pashmak is a persian recipe for candy floss or cotton candy. much effort has gone into making this product by hand. traditionally it is served plain with tea or coffee and makes for an exotic accompaniment to a variety of modern desserts. may be used as a garnish or served on petit fours plates."

Vanilla Pashmak

So there it is, the secret has been revealed and I can now sleep at night knowing that I didn't let you down. Next time I make a promise I hope it doesn't take this long for me to fulfil it. I guess this is where you can insert the adage better late than never.

Vanilla Scented Mascarpone Cheesecakes with Spiced Redcurrants and Pashmak

Adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller March 2006
Serves 8

Vanilla-Scented Mascarpone Cheesecake with Spiced Red Currants and Pashmak Vanilla-Scented Mascarpone Cheesecake with Spiced Red Currants and Pashmak

75g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
100g mascarpone
150g cream cheese
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
2 tsp plain flour
1 tbsp pouring cream
Persian fairy floss

90g unsalted butter, chilled
50g icing sugar
125g plain all-purpose flour
1 egg yolk
25ml ice water

125ml fruity red wine
100g granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
5 strips of lemon/orange rind
150g red currants

Combine the butter, icing sugar and flour in the bowl of a food processor and pulse for 1 minute or until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Add the egg yolk and pulse for 30 seconds, then add the ice water and pulse until the mixture comes together to form a dough.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.

Combine the caster sugar, lemon zest, vanilla beans, mascarpone, cream cheese, egg and egg yolk in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth.
Pour the mixture into a medium bowl and whisk in the flour and cream.
Whisk until just combined.

Preheat oven to 180ºC.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 3mm thickness and live tart tins.
Trim the edges. Line tart cases with parchment paper and fill with pie weights.
Bake for 10 minutes then remove pie weights and bake for a further 5-10 minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool. When cooled, remove from tins.
Fill tart cases all the way with mascarpone mixture.
Place tarts on a baking tray and bake at 220ºC for 8 minutes then reduce heat to 100ºC and bake for 15-20 minutes.

While the tarts are baking, make the syrup.
In a small sauce pan over medium heat, combine the wine, sugar, vanilla beans, stick of cinnamon, star anise and orange rind and stir until all the sugar has been dissolved.
Bring to the boil and reduce heat to a simmer.
Remove cinnamon stick, star anise and orange from syrup and discard.
Add the redcurrants and simmer for another 5 minutes.

To serve, place tart on a plate and spoon over some redcurrants and top with a tuft of pashmak (Persian fairy floss).

Friday, October 05, 2007

Culinary Cluedo

Guess What?

Guess what this is...
If you guessed that this a badly injured Bichon Frise bleeding on a yellow rug, then no. Look closer, you might recognise something?

Find out very soon... stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Weekend Wedding, Hunter Valley Part II


Everyone loves a wedding, don’t they? I guess the answer would be yes, unless you are really sombre and sullen, then any reason to party would always
be reason enough. And if you are like most, then a place where food, wine and music converge is definitely a place worth being at. No matter how many weddings I’ve been to any no matter how many times I whinge and whine about being invited to another wedding, I always come away from each one happy that I attended. If a free meal, some booze and a reason to get dolled up is enough, then I don’t know what is.

At least this time, the wedding was nowhere near Sydney, so it gave most of us a nice reprieve from the stock city weddings that we had all gotten so accustomed to. And besides, breathing in a little bit of fresh country air couldn't hurt. could it? I know I was lapping it all up because a weekend away always goes quicker than you expect.


So I can admittedly say that, a wedding is always fun,
it's a time where memories are made; whether it turns out better than you imagined, or it's dotted with little mishaps or tainted with calamity- you will remember it for better or for worse. And what better place to meet up with friends and make new ones. This wedding certainly was nothing different.

It was G’s (step)sister J’s wedding and we couldn’t have been more than happier to be there. Being the cheeky ushers that we were, we just couldn’t help taking random photographs of the chapel and ourselves in between handing out programs, bubbles and petals. The petals and bubbles were for throwing at the bride and groom after the ceremony, I was in charge of the petals and G the bubbles- he quickly gained the moniker bubble boy by the end of the ceremony.


After the vows were exchanged and pictures were taken, drinks and canapes of prawn cocktails and Vietnamese spring rolls were being served at the garden in front of the Barrel Room where the reception was going to be held.

The Barrel Room looks and sounds rather warehouse-like and crude when unadorned in the daytime, but come dusk when all of the fairy lights and candelabras are lit, the place turns into an ethereal den that's fit for the romantic occasion. To top it off, there's even a fireplace to makes things a lot cosier.



The Hunter was the perfect setting for such an occasion, there's just something about wine country that leaves an indelible impression on anyone who visits. More so than the wines and the produce, there's something about the people and the place that in seeps into your being.

I can't wait to crack into that wine we bought someday and reminisce about the time we had in the Hunter Valley.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Weekend Escape, Hunter Valley Part I


Rolling meadows and undulating slopes, long dusty trails and an endless horizon of vineyards; the October labour day long weekend found us right in the middle of NSW wine country- the Hunter Valley. To call it picturesque would be stating the obvious, its charming rural chic and tranquil ambience lingers with you long after you leave the place.

We were in the Hunter Valley for G’s sister’s wedding at the Peppers Creek Vineyards in Pokolbin. And we couldn’t find a better excuse to make a quick getaway to the countryside but for a wedding. We arrived a day earlier just so we could visit some wineries and sample the best this region had to offer, and sample we did.



We left early Thursday morning in order to avoid the peak hour traffic and decided to take the scenic route, which fortuitously enough was empty. We passed though quaint little rural towns like Laguna and Yallambie and there were signs almost every 500 metres for locally grown produce, like strawberries and oranges and fresh eggs being sold at family farms. I was tempted to plead with G to stop at the strawberry farm, but because we had left so early, I doubt they would have been open.

We did make a short pit stop at the a large tourist map near Wollombi, just so we could check that we hadn’t completely driven off track and would end up taking the extremely scenic route. We figured out we were not far from Cessnock and just as we did, to my delight we were greeted by two very cute horses, who were very friendly this early in the morning. They started towards us and came right up to the edge of the fence, I was quite surprised at how forthcoming they were to strangers. And because the current horse flu epidemic only affects those of the equine variety, we were in no danger of catching anything and weren’t hesitant in giving them a right old pat.



There’s something festive and convivial about walking into a cellar door, perhaps it’s all of that alcohol being consumed at the premises and the hospitable way they readily pour you a glass of whatever you please no sooner than when you have made yourself comfortable at the bar. I love it. And have you noticed how everyone is so chatty at the cellar door bar? Everyone is loose, happy and boozed up and that's what makes it a great place to be at. I've never seen anyone leave a winery with a frown on their face, never.

But on the other hand, if you are more than eager to try to your hearts content a winery’s range of vintages, then you have to be just as willing to buy some of that which you have tried. It’s not obligatory, and no one’s there to twist your arm after the tastings, but I can’t help but feel that it’s somewhat expected.


Our first stop was the De Bortoli winery as it’s the first one before you make a left at Broke Rd, where most of the other vineyards are. After perusing the cellar door’s wine list we went home with some white and some red.

So these are some of the goodies that we came home with:
De Bortoli 2006 Syrah Roussanne
De Bortoli 2007 Semillon
Tempus Two Botrytis Semillon
Tempus Two 2007 Moscato
Roche 2007 Talawanta Rosé
Lindeman’s Pophrys
Seppelt Tokay DP37
Audey Wilkinson Liqueur Verdelho
Tulloch 2006 Verdelho
Tyrrell’s 2007 Traminer Reisling
Tyrrell’s 2007 Cabernet Merlot
Tyrrell’s Special Aged Tawny

We also bought up at the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company and the various cheese shops around Pokolbin, although we either scoffed it all up or it melted beyond recognition in the car before I could take a photograph of them.


Of all the wineries we visited, I think Tyrrell's Vineyards (pictured above) were probably the most magnificent looking. Endless rows of grapevines as far as the eye can see, a myriad of green stems covering blocks and blocks of land. It's hemmed in by a small creek at the bottom and if you look further, you you will find that the property is set against a backdrop of these grandiose looking mountains. You couldn't ask for a better view. Unfortunately the day we visited Tyrrell's was so hot and windy, we took just a few snaps an hurried ourselves into the cellar door.

And, the best cellar door I have to say was the imposing sprawl of the Tempus Two winery. The cellar building looks almost like a shrine to wine, as you walk up the cathedral-like steps into the ultra-chic cellar bar that houses, all of the Tempus Two and Roche Wines and two restaurants. Wall to wall wines meet you as you enter the uber-stylish and spacious bar and if it weren't for the helpful staff, we wouldn't have known where to start.

Coming up next... Part II: The Wedding and Reception