Saturday, January 26, 2008

Australians All Let Us Rejoice

Sausage Lunch for Australia Day

It's AUSTRALIA DAY today so I won't consider it too garish to get a little patriotic say a big G'day to all of you! And if you were thinking that we are all putting that trite little shrimp on the barbie then think again, first of all we call them prawns down here and were most likely going to be putting snags or chops on the barbie. Yes, snags or chops. Sausages or steaks.

You have to love the Aussie lexicon. It's baffling and nonsensical to the outsider; we love to attach silly terms to words that are in perfect working order and love to shorten everything, but if you are Australian it makes perfect sense. Like a cup of tea being a cuppa, chewing gum becomes chewie, breakfast being breakkie, and anyone called Darren, Karen and Lauren will indubitably be given the nickname Dazza, Kazza, and Lozza. I love being Australian.

Sausage Lunch

Another thing quintessentially Australian and proudly so, is the barbie- the barbeque. Now I'm pretty sure it wasn't the early settlers who thought up this way of grilling meat over hot coals, I'm sure it was around for a lot longer than that. But what we do pride ourselves in are our barbies. Most people will get together today and put a few snags on their barbie, have a beer and good laugh. We're not into formality and being all ceremonious about things, and the barbie epitomises all that is casual about the Australian lifestyle.

There's something about meat that is cooked over an open flame that just makes it taste better. All that smoke and fire permeating the meat, charring the outside and leaving the inside tender. It's a joy to behold and even more so to eat.

Sausage Lunch

Right now I'm on a bit of a sausage bent. I have it with my pasta, I have in my sandwiches and I have it on my pizza. Right now I'm obsessed with finding good sausages all over Sydney and for this moment my taste buds go ga-ga for any sausage by the Eumundi Smokehouse people. They are a small business operating out of Dulwich Hill and if you're in Sydney and you like your meat, then this is your Mecca. They also have stalls at several markets like the monthly Pyrmont ones and the Farmer's Market in the Entertainment Quarter and most of their stuff can be found at organic wholefood stores like Macro and Aboutlife.

Their chorizos are probably one of the best I have tasted in Sydney, and at $32/kilo for the Russian Farmer's sausage, it's gold for the discriminating carnivore. As much as the shop is filled with exotic fare, there are also simpler stuff that I find are a delight- like the beef and Guinness, lamb and rosemary, chicken and leek, Tolouse and Italian sausages. My personal favourite is the lamb and rosemary. When you cook them up, the kitchen fills up with that distinct aroma of lamb, and soon enough it's perfume has summoned everyone to the kitchen.

Sausage Lunch

I went to the farmer's market at the old Fox Studios lot this week to get my ration of sausages for the weekend and it seems that most of Sydney had the same idea. By the time I had arrived at the Eumundi stall most of their sausages had already sold out including the lamb and rosemary, so I was left with what was still there. Not that the stuff left behind was second-rate. It's actually top-notch stuff that I thoroughly enjoy today.

So have a barbie and get a few sausage sangas (sausage sandwiches) and beers into your belly, be up standing for the national anthem and enjoy this beautiful land we call Australia.

Eumundi Smokehouse Sydney

402 New Canterbury Rd,
Dulwich Hill, NSW
Phone: (02) 9569 0205
Opening Hours: Thursday-Friday 11am-6pm, Saturday 7am-2pm

Friday, January 25, 2008

In The Closet, And A Really Good Pizza Dough Recipe

Pizza on the menu

I'm still a little embarrassed about the little spiel I did earlier about my recent nomination. I sort of stayed away from the blog for little while for fear that my readers had turned on me and thought I had become some sort of sell-out. I don't know why I feel like that but I'm still a little awkward about getting recognition for the blog, it's nice when other bloggers say nice things about me, but when all the appreciation suddenly becomes official, I somehow get all gawky and reluctant.

I guess I'm not sure what the appropriate reaction is, I guess gratitude and excitement would seem apparent, although I'm not sure whether I should be all glaringly blatant about it and in the spirit of blogging- share all things with you the reader or whether I should be all rock and roll about the whole thing, just cool and aloof- no skin off my back whether I win or lose.

Sausage and Bocconcini Pizza

At some points I manage to border on being apathetic about the whole thing but my inner dork just wants to be all giddy like a school girl about it. There's no fighting that geek inside, so I just can't help but be all Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars about the whole thing. I'm sorry.

But the weird thing is I'm still a little reluctant about the blog. Yes, this blog; the blog that I have been writing on for the past year and half; the blog that I have been disclosing what I eat, what I do, what I hate, what I like. Yes that blog. Bizarre I know but surprisingly some of my friends don't even know I have a blog and my own mother only found out accidentally. It's not that I'm ashamed of the blog. Quite the contrary in fact, especially when I didn't even really know what a blog was before I started.

Raw Pizza - Cooked Pizza

Let's just say that I'm a little self-conscious about my thoughts being there for everyone to read. Laughable you might say because contradictorily I am writing about my thoughts on a blog for everyone to read, but I am somehow comfortable in the fact that most of you don't really know me other than through the blog. It's not that this blog is my opportunity to peddle a fake version of myself, but I am uncomfortable about people I know reading my writing. Weird but true.

I've never admitted to it until now but I have a real problem about people I know reading and criticising my writing, I don't mind them seeing the photographs, but it's the words that I have a complex about. It mortifies me for a second when I know that one of my friends have discovered my secret hobby. It's probably equivalent to being caught naked in a public street. I don't know why but I'm still in the closet when it comes to blogging.

Sausage and Bocconcini Pizza

But what I don't have any qualms with shouting from the roof tops about is pizza. I could literally have pizza as my last meal on Earth, provided that it's good pizza and not that doughy, processed meat topped garbage that some establishment to try peddle as "pizza". Yes you know who you are.

There's as many recipes for pizza dough as there are combinations of pizza toppings, so I don't like to say that this recipe is the be all and end all of all pizza dough recipes. Although this recipe is from the cookbook The Silver Spoon, touted as the bible for Italian cuisine. So I wouldn't dare question or even dare critique over 55 years of culinary history. All I know is that this dough is simple and it turns out a treat.

Making a Pizza

I don't usually like to do recipes for pizza except for the dough itself. I think you should be able to put whatever you fancy on it. Hey, you rolled out that dough, you waited around for a couple or so hours for that dough to prove, you kneaded that thing until you developed really toned forearms, you deserve to pick your own pizza toppings.

And with pizza, I think the only rules that apply are- the dough shouldn't be too thick and secondly don't overload your pizza with too many toppings. Don't be tempted to put every left-over you find lurking in the fridge on your pizza, it's not a garbage disposal, so don't over-top. But other than that just go for what floats your boat.

I went with a sausage and bocconcini pizza- it was good.

Eumundi Smokehouse Beef, Spinach and Tomato Sausages
Crushed tomatoes
Basil leaves

This pizza can also be seen in the round up for HHDD #17 hosted by 80 Breakfasts. Have a look at the other bevy of pizza recipes and vote for your favourite one.

Basic Pizza Dough
recipe adapted from The Silver Spoon
Serves 4

Pizza Dough

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: pizza stone or better yet a wood-fire oven

250g plain flour, preferably Italian type 00, plus extra for dusting
¾ tsp salt

15g fresh yeast

120ml lukewarm water

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing

Sift the flour and salt into a mound on a work surface and make a well in the centre.

Mash the yeast in the water with a fork until very smooth, add the olive oil and pour mixture into the well.
Incorporate the flour with your fingers to make a soft dough.
Knead well, pulling and stretching until it becomes smooth and elastic.

Shape into a ball, cut a cross in the top, place in a bowl and cover.

Leave to rise in a warm place for about 3 hours until almost doubled in size.

Flatten the dough with the palm of your hand and roll out on a lightly floured surface to a circle about 5mm thick.

Brush a baking sheet with oil or line it with baking parchment.
Put the dough on it and press out until it covers the area.

Make sure the rim is thicker than the centre.

Shameless Self-Promotion


Since when did self promotion become so shameless? I don't know, but if reading this is making you cringe, don't worry, I feel the same way and that feeling grows at an exponential rate while I'm writing this. Although for some reason I still cannot get my fingers to stop typing. Perhaps that is why self promotion is so shameless, it's a guilty pleasure; its blatant and immodest, yet it's so easy to yield to it's beguiling temptation.

So what am I promoting? Well, this blog. I woke up this morning to realise that I was one of the finalists for the 2008 Bloggies in the Best Australian or New Zealand Weblog category. Unbeknownst to me someone out there nominated this blog and to my surprise it is now one of the finalists. Who would have thought? I had never even heard of the Bloggies before and to realise it had been going on since 2001, I feel so ill-informed about my own medium.

So I just wanted to say THANK YOU to whoever it was who nominated me for the Bloggies, you can choose to remain anonymous if you want as there is no reward for you in coming forward other than getting a showering of gratitude from me for thinking of this little blog. But while we're dwelling on thankfulness and appreciation, I might as well point out that you too can vote for me by going to their website.


So that it's not all about me, there are also a number of other great blogs, some of them Ausralian, up for a Bloggy, so why don't you go and vote for them too. Voting closes at 10:00pm EST, Thursday, January 31 and the results will be posted on their website Monday, March 10.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Cake Without the Bake

Nostalgia In a Glass

NOTE: I have received several comments about the Spanish origin of polvoron or namely polvorones. I do realise that this Filipino sweet was most definitely inherited from the Spaniards during their colonisation of the Philippines during the late 1500's, and I do apologise for not pointing this out earlier. However, this version of polvoron, I believe, is the Filipino permutation of the dessert after thousands of years of acquiring the recipe. Traditionally, Spanish polvorones is made with almonds and cinnamon, and does not contain any powdered milk like the Filipino version does. So although polvoron did originate from Spain, the Filipino version does differ markedly from it's Spanish original.


Everyone loves a shortcut, taking the longer course or going through arduous and difficult procedures is usually left to sadists. Why do you think those "lose-10-pounds-in-two-weeks" exercise machines are so popular, and not to mention liposuction. Hey, when all this food-blogging weight finally catches up with me, I wouldn't say that lipo was out of the question. Inherently we all like the shorter path, easier to tread and faster to get through. Who wants to row a boat across a river when there is a perfectly reliable bridge?

Sometimes a shortcut takes you to a place you never wanted to be at in the first place, sometimes it gets you in an argument you never wanted to have as you are tossing the street directory out the window, but enough about my life. Sometimes a shortcut can take you to a delicious destination in half the time, like a cake without the bake. Say what?

All wrapped up

Yes, a cake without the bake. It's polvoron- a Filipino sweet that is somewhat like a toasted wheat cake that consists of flour, powdered milk, sugar and melted butter, and is compressed into a cake using a polvoron press. I used to eat these by the dozen as a child and I never imagined that I could make it myself. It always stood in my memories of childhood on some imaginary pedestal of foods that I could never possibly recreate. It seemed almost irreverent to reach into that corner of my childhood remembrance and rehash something that I have such a wistful affection for.

Since I had never made this childhood dessert before, and always ever purchased it from the Filipino store, I doubted whether my creation could attain the same pleasure and gratification I got whenever I popped one of the store-bought ones in my mouth. Sweet and milky, the powdery cake slowly melts into a thick pool of sweet creamy goodness in your mouth. But I never realised how simple it was to make. And did I mention there is no baking involved?

Polvoron- Chocolate and Plain

Traditionally polvoron is milk flavoured but sometimes nuts like cashews or peanuts are added. Also a popular addition is pinipig, which is immature glutinous rice that is pounded and added to the flour mixture and sometimes pandan (screwpine) or ube (purple yam) is also used to flavour polvoron. But as a child with such a juvenile palate, I could only savour the plain version of polvoron, I was much too fussy to eat anything green, or even more so purple.

But this time I decided to make the original milk flavoured polvoron and a chocolate version as well. I know as a child I would have relished a chocolate flavoured polvoron, as most children probably would. I assume that this flavour would have caught on by now as I know that some places in the Philippines do sell a very post-modern cookies and cream version of polvoron. And if your imagination stretches far enough you could pretty much cnceive any flavour of polvoron- say green tea, lavender, coffee, hazelnut, which ever way you are inclined the polvoron can go that way.

Chocolate Polvoron

But today we are talking about sentimental food, so there can't be any meanderings into the bizarre and fanciful. It's all about the simple things that hark back to your youth. There's always something distinctly romantic about the food we've have in our youth and years later they somehow manage to mount the massive plinth for things we idealise and hold dear with starry-eyed affection. And this sweet, along with fairy bread and nutella sandwiches is definitely high on the list.

As for the cake without the bake, well it might seem off-putting and unsavoury to be eating flour unbaked, but what is done first is that the flour is toasted in a skillet until it is slightly browned. Turn your eyes away for a moment and you might have yourself suffering from smoke inhalation, burnt flour does not smell good, so make sure you keep your eyes on the colour of the flour at all times. Just like caramelising sugar, it can go brown in the blink of an eye.
It all comes together with a little melted butter and the powdery mixture is compressed in a polvoron mould that contains a small press that pushes out the shaped polvoron. And to finish it off the polvoron is individually wrapped in paper like little powdered lollies.

Polvoron- Chocolate and Plain

The verdict, well I couldn't help but be hard on myself. Could my own rendition of this hallowed childhood sweet be as good as it is in my memory? I don't know. To be honest when I tasted it I was pleasantly surprised at how similar it tasted to the store-bought variety, although for me it just wasn't the same. It was probably because my palate had been clouded by years and years of eating this stuff as a child, and frankly I don't think any version of mine could ever taste as good as it does in my imagination. But do try it for yourself and come to your own conclusion.

But if you would like to see what other meals and recipes people are reminiscing about, head on over to the Skinny Gourmet. She is holding a food event focussing on food nostalgia. The round-up will be posted at the end of January.

makes about 24 polvoron

Polvoron Mould

1 cup plain all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ cup powdered milk
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

2 tbsp hot chocolate milk powder

In a large skillet over low to medium heat, toast the flour until light brown.
Remove from heat and add the sugar and powdered milk, (add the hot chocolate milk powder if making chocolate polvoron)
Add the melted butter and mix thoroughly in skillet.
Transfer flour mixture to a plate and compact mixture in a polvoron press.
Place moulded polvoron onto a flat baking tray/cookie sheet and refrigerate for 1 hour.
To wrap, cut tissue or soft wax paper into 12cm x 12cm squares.
Place polvoron piece onto the middle of the paper and fold over top and bottom sides, tuck in edges into the middle and twist

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Sweet Escape

Little yoghurt and orange blossom cakes

The weather; it's always been a talking point no matter where you go. Meet a stranger at a bus stop and strike up a conversation about the weather and you find yourself a mate for life. And I do mean "mate" as in the Aussie idiom and not in that biological sense that results in procreation. But nonetheless, I think that the weather has the efficacy of bringing people together in the same way that food does.

I know in Sydney it has become a bit of a past time to talk about it's wild and wacky ways, especially with its ferociously destructive bent of recent times. The weather has become a little bit of a farce, seeing that we have seen it all in the past couple of months. It's probably been one of the hottest, coldest and wettest summers in history. And, like mine, many Sydneysiders tongues have been sent wagging w
ith all this unprecedented, history-making weather.

Little yoghurt and orange blossom cakes

I stood in a queue at the Post Office and struck up a conversation with one woman about the recent hailstorm and how long it took the SES to come and patch her roof. Then another lady behind us piped in and recounted about how she had to quickly get all her greyhounds inside as their corrugated iron shed was no match for the golf ball sized hail stones. At that point I could feel those warm and fuzzy feelings, that only
usually turn up come Christmas time, well up in my gut. Now this is what community feels like.

And I guess this is where my fondness for food stems from- it's inclination for community. Meals bring people together, food is such a rallying force- and when you get a collection of people gathered together in united mastication, it's a beautiful thing. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's more fun when you get to share the calories around, and what's a few kilojoules between friends?

Little yoghurt and orange blossom cakes

Now here is one dessert that is definitely meant for sharing; the cakes are made individually so there is enough for everyone. And you don't have to feel like you are taking on the Spanish Armada as the cakes are incredibly light and airy. When you think of oranges, you think winter, but when you're in the midst of a cold spell like we are today it's the perfect thing to warm your belly.

Yesterday may have been ice cream and short-shorts weather but just like your luck in Vegas, Sydney-weather can turn just like that. And just like that, it's now back to long-sleeve, scarves and sweet indulgent cakes weather. I guess you can't complain, when you get to sit in front of the television, feet curled up under you with a plate of this. I know right now, I'm not saying a thing.

And if you are hankering for more, then head over to the The Garden of Eating soon and check out the round up of other comforting treats in the 2008 Comfort Food Cook-Off that is sure to weather any cold snap you might be amidst of.

Little yoghurt and orange blossom cakes

Recipe from the Australian Gourmet Traveller

Serves 12

Little yoghurt and orange blossom cakes

300g (2 cups) plain all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

300g vanilla yoghurt

60ml (¼ cup) buttermilk

160g unsalted butter, softened

220g (1 cup) caster sugar

½ tsp finely grated orange rind

4 eggs

100g vanilla Persian fairy floss, to serve (optional)


60g unsalted butter, softened

600g icing confectioner’s sugar, sifted

3 tsp orange blossom water (see note)

1½ tbsp vanilla yoghurt

Preheat oven to 160ºC.

Grease and line twelve round dariole cake pans (see note).

Sift flour with baking powder and a pinch of salt and set aside.

Whisk yoghurt and buttermilk together in a bowl and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar and orange rind until pale and creamy.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating briefly between each addition to combine.
With mixer on low speed, add one-third of the flour and mix to combine, then add one-third of the yoghurt mixture and mix to combine.

Repeat with remaining mixtures, alternating, until incorporated.

Mix just until batter is smooth, then divide evenly among prepared cake pans.

Tap base to level and bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted withdraws clean.

Cool completely in pans on a wire rack.

Remove cakes from pans.

Beat all ingredients and 1½ tbsp water in an electric mixer for 1 minute or until smooth.
Working with one cake at a time and using a hot, wet spatula, ice cakes starting with sides, then top. (If icing becomes difficult to spread, continue to dip spatula in hot water until icing is completely even.)

Set aside and stand for 1 hour or until icing is firm to touch, then serve each cake topped with a little fairy floss (optional).

NOTE: Orange blossom water is available from The Essential Ingredient ( and other specialty food stores.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Blowing Hot and Cold

Honey Lavender Ice Cream

Hot, cold, Sunny, cloudy. You never know what it's going to be. The weather in Sydney has been as indecisive as a temperamental bride-to-be umm-ing and ahh-ing her way through everything. I don't think I have seen the weather this ambivalent until of late; moody, yes; merciless, yes, but this ambiguous, no. You never know what's coming your way, and I've given up trusting the weather people, they seem to get it wrong most of time.

With the weather being so volatile, I thought I would beat mother nature to the punch and just put away something sweet and icy for when a hot summer's day would come. If we were going to get one, that is. I found that making a batch of ice cream on a cloudy day, is the perfect nest egg for future hot days.

And well what do you know, summer does eventually decide to show up and in true Sydney fashion, it showed up in such a way that you will want to jump out of your skin, or at least straight into a cold pool of water. Woe to all those who don't have air-conditioning, or aren't in near proximity to a body of water.

Honey Lavender Ice Cream

Being the environmentally-conscious greenies that we are, were a little stingy with the air-conditioning and try not use it unnecessarily and like to leave it up to mother nature to provide the cool breeze. Although when Sydney summer is at its peak, you can forget the breeze; you can also forget the words balmy and tropical, it's more like stifling and blistering and not to mention the muggy nights. There's just no relief. By this time there is absolutely no hesitation in grabbing the remote and turning on the cool air. I'm trying to remember why I love summer again.

Ahh yes, there is this one thing, besides the beach of course- it's Ice Cream! I hate to say it but let's just do a united shout out and hi-five for ice cream. Whoever decided to put some cream and eggs
together and said let's churn this baby till it gets thick and freeze it is a godsend. In my opinion, nothing makes children and adults alike as happy as ice cream does.

This ice cream not only took the edge off during the hot days but it also comes as an extremely tardy recipe for the guys at Harden Honey. I had promised them some recipes on the supply that they had generously given me months ago but never got around to making something decent and worthy of their honey. So here it is, finally, a gorgeously smooth Honey Lavender Ice Cream.

Using honey instead of sugar is great of you are thinking about minimising refined sugars in your diet, honey is not only a natural sweetener and is full of antioxidants. It also adds a nice floral accents to the ice cream, more so than ordinary sugar would. I would recommend using a mild honey for this ice cream as a stronger, richer honey would drown out the subtlety of the lavender.

And to add to the fanfare, I made these cute ice cream cups made of wonton wrappers. It's a great alternative to waffle cones, especially when you don't have one of those nifty waffle cone presses.

Honey Lavender Ice Cream

Recipe from
Makes about 1-litre

Lavender bunch

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup full cream milk
2/3 cup mild honey
2 tbsp dried edible lavender flowers
2 large eggs
1/8 tsp salt

Bring cream, milk, honey, and lavender just to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, then remove pan from heat.
Let steep, covered, 30 minutes.
Pour cream mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and discard lavender.
Return mixture to cleaned saucepan and heat over moderate heat until hot.

Whisk together eggs and salt in a large bowl, then add 1 cup hot cream mixture in a slow stream, whisking.
Pour into remaining hot cream mixture in saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thick enough to coat back of spoon and registers 75 to 80°C on a thermometer, about 5 minutes (do not let boil).

Pour custard through sieve into cleaned bowl and cool completely, stirring occasionally. Chill, covered, until cold, at least 3 hours.
Churn custard in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.

Crispy Ice-Cream Cups
recipe from Donna Hay Magazine Issue 36

1-pack wonton wrappers*
40g unsalted butter, melted
icing (confectioner's) sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 200
Brush wonton wrappers with melted butter.
Press wrappers into a 12-hole muffin tray. (Depending on the size of the wonton wrappers you have bought you may have to use more than one wrapper. If you are using more than one, brush between each layer.)
Bake for 5-6 minutes or until golden and crispy.
Turn out into a wire rack and cool.
Dust with icing sugar.
Scoop ice cream into the cups and serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Biscuits With Bite

Cheddar and Nigella Seed Biscuits with Spiced Green Apple

When I look back on the earlier months of this blog I was surprised at how prodigious I was at turning out post after post. There was one month where I posted a whopping 25 entries, which to me now seems unfathomable and seeing as how the number of posts per month have now dwindled to less than half of that record number, I am quite surprised how much free time I had to cook and blog. I guess I am a little more discerning on what I post about and noticed that I do not quite readily post about any old recipe I find on the back of a soup can.

Where did all that time for baking and blogging go?

Cheddar and Nigella Seed Biscuits with Spiced Green Apple

I was judging the December DMBLGIT just last week and thought about when the last time I had this much time to just pore over more than 100 photographs. I was sitting there at about photo 31 and thought that this is really fun, just sitting here, all this time on my hands and no pressure to do anything with it.

And as I bit into my fourth, no wait fifth cheddar biscuit, I thought this is something I could really get used to- endless summer holidays, seemingly wasting hours on leisurely things. Even though our summer has been a little wayward, and somewhat recalcitrant, the summer holiday vibe has certainly set in. The days, although some are cloudy and bleak are definitely longer and the summer heat, although not as potent, makes it shorts and thongs (flip flops, for you Americans) weather all the way. If only there was a way of hanging on to summer and all this free time.

Cheddar and Nigella Seed Biscuits

Cheddar and Nigella Seed Biscuits with Spiced Green Apple

Well in the free time that I managed to garner during my break, I decided to make use of the nigella seeds that had been sitting in my spice rack for some time now, unopened and untouched. I have never used Nigella seeds in anything before, and prior to that all I knew of Nigella was of the celebrity chef. The first thing that stood out at me were the seeds' deep coal-black colour and it seems that it's name was derived from the Latin word nigellus, meaning black.

Cheddar and Nigella Seed Biscuits with Spiced Green Apple

The seeds jet-black exterior can seem a little menacing at first, but when you actually put your nose to it, you will find a very delicate peppery fragrance that comes out of them. It is when the seeds are actually rubbed or ground that a more robust bouquet is released somewhat reminiscent of onion seeds.

The seeds are mainly used in the Middle East and India in certain spice blends and to flavour their doughs. And I actually do remember buying some naan bread at an Indian take-away with black seeds scattered on top of the bread. Although at the time I thought this was merely sesame seeds that were burned while baking in the hot tandoori oven. How I was wrong.

A trail of nigella seeds

These biscuits were a nice change from the baking that I have been doing of late. Christmas tends to bring out the sweet and rich recipes but after Christmas your body is crying out for something lighter and less sugar-laden. These biscuits are perfect for tea time. Just the right amount of crumble when you bite into them and you can wash it down with your favourite tea, be it Green, Orange Pekoe or Russian caravan.

The apple chutney that accompanies the biscuits is entirely optional, although it is quite a cinch to make. Just place all the ingredients in a saucepan and off it goes. The spiced green apple is somewhat like a chutney, it is flavoured with chilli and spices and a a great way to preserve a surplus of apples.

Spiced Green Apple

Just place a dollop of the spiced apples on the biscuits and you will find an explosion of flavour, sweet and savoury all at once. And what about the Nigella seeds in the biscuits? Well their flavour is quite mild but certainly adds a pepperiness to the biscuits that would be lacking with just the cheddar. The saltiness of the cheddar and the peppery taste of the Nigella seeds is a perfect balance of two flavours that usually go hand in hand.

Cheddar and nigella seed biscuits with spiced green apple

Adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller
Makes up to 70

Cheddar and Nigella Seed Biscuits with Spiced Green Apple

225g plain all-purpose flour
150g unsalted butter, coarsely chopped
100g vintage cheddar, finely grated
½ tsp nigella seeds
1 egg yolk

2 Granny Smith apples, cut into eight wedges and thinly sliced widthways
180ml cider vinegar
110g granulated sugar
3 star anise
¼ cup water
1 tsp sea salt
1 small red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped

Place the apples and ¼ cup vinegar in a small bowl.
Heat remaining vinegar, sugar, star anise, water and sea salt in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
Add apple mixture and chilli.
Return to a simmer, reduce heat to low and cook gently, without stirring, for 1 hour or until liquid is almost reduced.
Cool and store in an airtight jar in the refrigerator until required.
Makes about 1 cup.

NOTE: Spiced green apple will keep for up to 1 month and can be substituted with a good-quality fruit chutney.

Place flour, butter, cheddar and nigella seeds in a bowl and using fingers rub butter through flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Alternatively you can use a food processor.
Add egg yolk and mix until combined.
Turn dough onto a clean surface and knead gently until smooth.
Form into a disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 180ºC.
Roll out dough onto a lightly floured surface until 3mm-thick and using an 4cm-diameter fluted cutter cut out shapes and place on oven trays prepared with baking paper.
Form remaining dough into a ball, roll and repeat.
Bake for 10 minutes or until golden.
Cool on tray for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Serve biscuits with spiced green apple.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Eat, Drink and be Berry

Berry Semifreddo

January is here again, and the season of expanding waistlines is slowly winding up; it looks like gym memberships and low-fat yoghurt are back on the list of things hip and happening and pork and anything that ends with the word pudding are back the list of all things dreaded and uncool. Only during the festive season is it okay to reach for your third or possibly even fourth helping of Christmas ham (with extra glaze), and everyone knows when you have multiple festivities to attend the food tally always reverts back to zero at the start of every function.

Is it just me or does the capacity of one's belly tend to expand with each Christmas? I know now that I have had 26 years practice in eating to surfeit, and my belly can hold surprisingly more than I can fathom to eat. You should have seen the meagre amount of gingerbread men I could eat in the past, now I can practically down a whole tribe of them and their m&m covered house without even batting an eyelid. Luckily, the genetic lottery has supplied me with a quick metabolism that hopefully won't go south with age.

Berry Semifreddo

But just before you go back into that regime of pristine of fitness and health and while were still hanging on to our seemingly rapid metabolic rate, here is one more fat-laden dessert for the road- a Berry Semifreddo that is a nice balance between the good and the bad. Good = berries. Bad = Cream.

If you are teetering on the fine edge between saying no to desserts and all things sweet as your resolution this year, then perhaps consider this semifreddo as the last thing to tide you over until the next sugar binge. The dessert isn't overly cloying and the great thing is that all the ingredients are natural. If you are at all worried about all that cream then this dessert is probably not for you. Just think, all that cream aside, there are eggs and berries, both I imagine would have that giant red tick from the Heart Foundation. So what's to worry about?

Besides, with all the whisking involved in this dessert, half of what your eating is probably just air. And if you are still really worried abut all that cream, then the best thing to do is to invite ten of your closest friends and get them to help you eat all that extra dessert. What are your friends there for but to share the calories with?

Berry Semifreddo

What's great about most iced confections that contain cream, like ice cream, is that you really don't need to eat that much to feel full. Two modest scoops and you have had your fill. Not that this dessert isn't good enough for seconds but when you are curbing the expansion of that waistline, two scoops are perfect for drawing the line.

As you can see, I am still enjoying the bumper crop of berries available in the markets. Some berries have a markedly short season here so I like to get them as soon as they appear in stores before they disappear again. For this recipe I used blueberries and raspberries, although you could probably substitute any other type of berry that is is in season- strawberries which can be easily found are a good alternative, as would be mulberries and blackberries and redcurrants if you can get them.

Berry Semifreddo

The great thing about this dessert is that it not only tastes delicious but it looks a treat once you start to scoop into it. The berries tend to sink to the bottom as you freeze them, so when they emerge from the freezer it really doesn't look like much much, but when you dig in you will be pleasantly surprised by a deluge or colour.

Right now the weather has been surprisingly genial, considering the weather people had tipped an overcast and wet summer. So what better way to take advantage of the sunny days than with a dessert to beat the heat.

Berry Semifreddo
Adapted From Donna Hay Magazine, Issue 36
Serves 10

Berry Semifreddo

2 x 120g punnets blueberries
1 x 120g punnet raspberries
3 eggs
2 egg yolks, extra
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1 cup caster sugar
1¾ pure single (pouring) cream

Place blueberries in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth.
Pour into a small bowl and set aside.
Clean out food processor bowl and process the raspberries and place in another bowl and set aside.
Place eggs, egg yolks, vanilla seeds and sugar in a large heatproof bowl.
Place over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk the mixture with a hand-held beater for 4-5 minutes or until thick and pale.
Remove from heat and continue to whisk until the mixture is room temperature.
In a separate bowl, whisk cream until soft peaks form and gently fold into the egg mixture.
Fold in the berries until evenly incorporated throughout the mixture.
Pour the mixture into a 12-cup capacity dish and cover with aluminium foil.
Place in the freezer for 4-6 hours until set.
Serve with strawberries on top.