Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My chocolate cake quest continues

I cannot resist a chocolate cake recipe. Just when I think it is not possible to add yet another one to my burgeoning files - there must be at least 100 chocolate cake recipes already there - along comes a new one.

My latest cake recipe comes from New Zealand food writer and author Annabel Langbein. My friend John, a secret foodie at heart, has discovered Annabel through her series screening on ABC 1, and he kindly sent me a link to her website, thinking I would enjoy it. And I have. Annabel has travelled extensively and written 10 cookbooks, one of which, Assemble - Sensational Food Made Simple, won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for "Best in the World for Easy Recipes".

Annabel also features recipes on her website, one of which is for "Magic Chocolate Cake and Chocolate Ganache". This is a brilliant cake, which can be made either as one large cake, two medium cakes, or 10 small ones. It has a reasonably long list of ingredients but you throw them into a food processor, whiz for 30 seconds, pour into a cake tin and then bake, making it possibly one of the easiest cakes ever to make. As Annabel notes in her recipe introduction, "If you have never made a cake before, let this be your first. It is so simple and the results are satisfyingly impressive."

The secret ingredient in this mix is 100g grated carrot (or pumpkin), which adds a lovely moistness to the cooked texture. It also has mixed spice, cinnamon, golden syrup and espresso coffee, which sounds like a lot of flavours to pack into one cake but it really works, adding a lovely spicy undertone to the chocolate notes. I encourage you to head over to Annabel's website to check out this cake recipe, as well as the other recipes and features.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Slice of heaven

My family's first stop at the Royal Melbourne Show is always at the Country Women's Association stand for Devonshire tea. Textbook perfect scones, baked fresh that morning by one of the CWA's army of talented bakers, accompanied by a small pot of thick cream and some strawberry jam, is one of life's wonderful little indulgences.

This year, I explored the sale stall at the back of the room, with knitted tea cosies, printed tea towels and recipe books all jumbled together. When I picked up The A to Z of Cooked and Uncooked Slices, I knew this was one purchase I had to make. It was impossible to resist seventy pages of good old-fashioned slices, most made with plain ingredients found in any self-respecting country larder, and designed to feed hungry mouths in search of a sweet treat, whether hard-working farmers or children after school.

Chocolate, caramel, apricots, cherries, ginger, walnuts, coconut, coffee, dates, hazelnuts, lemon and passionfruit are just some of the stars of this book. The beauty of slices, particularly old-fashioned ones, is that they turn simple ingredients into something special with a minimum of fuss and effort.

It was difficult to choose which slice to bake first but I narrowed down my list to those with ingredients I already had in my larder: cherry nut slice and coffee streusel slice. I love the short no-nonsense tone of the recipes, which assumes a large degree of knowledge by the cook (but one that was perfectly in tune with the times - any self-respecting home cook would have known this information). These slices are suitable for a morning tea at home or they can be dressed up and taken out for company - in my case, these slices went perfectly with coffee during half-time at a friend's AFL Grand Final party.

Cherry nut slice
Recipe from Isobel Green, Member of Honour, CWA Victoria branch

1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup icing sugar
125g butter

Rub butter into flour and sugar and knead well. Press into 18cm x 28cm greased tin.

Combine 2 eggs and 1/2 cup sugar into a bowl and beat well. Add 1 cup coconut, 30g chopped walnuts or pecan nuts and 30g chopped glace cherries. Add 1/2 cup sifted self-raising flour and mix well. Pour over prepared base and bake in a moderate oven (160 to 180 degrees, not fan-forced) for 25-30 minutes. Ice with pale pink icing (made with 2 cups icing sugar mixed with enough boiling water to be spreadable) and sprinkle with chopped walnuts,

Monday, September 20, 2010

Spring bounty

The weather has been wintry but our gardens know that spring is here, with buds and blossom shooting out from trees and spring vegetables appearing in the markets.

On a visit to the Victoria Market, I was rugged up in a winter coat and scarf to keep the icy wind at bay, but my trolley was full of spring freshness: sweet corn, asparagus, leeks, baby potatoes, peas, pineapple, strawberries and melons. Normally I rush around the market, my mind racing with ideas, and buy far too much produce that I won't have the time to prepare, or the crowds to devour.

But this time I was restrained and concentrated just on dinner, which had all the freshness of spring, even if the gale outside my kitchen window was suggesting a thick soup or stew would be more appropriate. From the meat hall, I found a perfect little spring lamb roast, with a macadamia and sun-dried tomato stuffing, for $12. It roasted in the oven while I steamed baby potatoes and tossed them with some Warrnambool butter and home-grown parsley. The final touch was some lightly steamed asparagus and dinner was served - minimum effort and maximum flavour.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Morning sun blazes at night at Nosh's third wine dinner

A boutique Mornington Peninsula vineyard, Morning Sun, was the star of Nosh @ Newport's third wine dinner. The award-winning cool climate wines are produced from two vineyards, located 1km apart, at Main Ridge. The vines are planted on elevated slopes facing the morning sun, which creates a long and even ripening period each day with no direct exposure to harsh afternoon sunlight. The main varieties produced are pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot grigio.

At the age of 70, Mario Toniolo fulfilled a childhood fantasy when he began the winery in 1995 and he can still be found pottering around the vineyard most days.

The wine dinner began with a wild mushroom soup shot with sherry and goat's cheese croute, paired with a 2009 semillon. The intensely flavoured soup, full of wild forest fungal notes, was nicely balanced by the crisp floral and citrus bouquet of the wine.

It was followed by another dish packed full of flavours: crab with celeriac and asparagus remoulade on potato spring onion pancake with hazelnut oil. The 2008 chardonnay matched to this dish was robust enough to stand up to these strong flavours and not be overwhelmed by them.

The next dish was a blend of sweet and savoury: a confit duck leg with red quinoa salad, cranberry, brazil nuts and onion jam. The salad was light and fresh but packed full of flavour, aided by fresh parsley and coriander, with the nuts adding a delightful crunch. The matched wine was, naturally, a pinot noir; a classic pairing.

Palates were given a break with a sharp and cleansing green tea, vodka and lime granita, before moving onto another main course: beef cheek bourguignon with cauliflower puree and celery watercress salad. The beef cheeks were so tender they flaked at the touch of a fork. A rich, robust shiraz, made with grapes sourced from Heathcote, was a match made in heaven.

A farmhouse clothbound cheddar from West Country England was paired with the same shiraz, which worked equally well.

The final dish was an unusual, and not entirely successful, dessert of caramel pumpkin pannacotta with ginger and chilli. It paired well with a botrytis from Plunkett but the strong ginger and chilli notes meant this dish would work better as a finale to an Asian-inspired meal.

Morning Sun is one of the lesser-known Mornington Peninsula vineyards but it is well worth seeking out to try some of its impressive wines.

For more information about Nosh's wine dinners, contact Nosh on 9391 6404.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

New York coffee break: Ground Support

Shopping and sight-seeing around SoHo can be a serious and time-consuming business, so a decent coffee stop is very welcome. And Ground Support in West Broadway is just the ticket.

Light, airy and open, Ground Support was once an art galley and funky artwork still adorns its walls. It attracts a mixed crowd of locals and tourists, who cram inside at rough wooden tables, or spill outside into the adjoining courtyard.

A smooth cafe latte is strong and nutty, or there's single-origin Chemex drip coffee or cold-brew iced coffee. Sandwiches are artfully wrapped in brown paper tied with string and are big enough to share between two.

Ground Support
399 West Broadway (Spring St)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New York coffee break: 88 Orchard

While waiting for our tour of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, we stumbled across 88 Orchard, a little cafe on the corner of Orchard and Broome Streets in the Lower East Side. Once one of the most miserable areas in New York, its tenements crowded with recently arrived migrants, this little pocket is now gentrified, with cafes and expensive clothing stores occupying the ground floors of renovated tenement buildings with beautifully artistic and decorative wrought-iron balconies and fire stairs. It's difficult to reconcile this pretty area, its streets crowded with expensively dressed locals and tourists, with the misery experienced by some of the migrants who moved here in the 1800s. (If you are visiting New York, I highly recommend a visit to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum - one of the highlights of our trip).

88 Orchard is a two-storey cafe, with the serving area and counter on the ground floor and more tables available downstairs, which was fully occupied by people tapping away on laptops on our visit.

The coffee is served in coloured mugs that are more like tea-cups than coffee cups. Our cafe lattes had a chocolatey aroma and the milk was creamy. The sandwiches and salads looked enticing but we didn't have time to eat before our tour. This is a good little cafe to pass the time while waiting to visit the museum.

88 Orchard Cafe
88 Orchard St (at Broome St)
Lower East Side

Thursday, May 27, 2010

New York coffee break: Iris Cafe

Iris Cafe is a perfect little neighbourhood cafe. Situated in a pretty corner of Brooklyn Heights, with tree-lined streets of beautiful old brownstones, Iris's little shopfront windows almost blend into the surroundings.
Although the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is just behind this residential pocket, it is a quiet area and the traffic noise is just a low buzz in the background.

Inside, the French-accented decor is perfectly suited to the pressed metal ceiling and exposed mellow brick walls. Gilt frames hold blackboards featuring the menu, while the subtle yet pretty burgundy-brown striped laminate on the tables proves that practicality doesn't have to be ugly. Artworks includes artisan black-and-white photos of busy hands, kneading bread and holding grapes or quiche.

The simple menu focuses on breakfast and lunch dishes. Maple granola is crunchy and sweet, while the egg salad baguette is stylishly wrapped in brown paper tied with string. The salad is fresh, with plenty of egg mixed with tangy mayonnaise and lettuce. A highlight is the sticky cinnamon bun: soft bread loaded with plenty of cinnamon flavour but it is not tooth-achingly sweet.

Cafe lattes are served in huge cups almost the size of soup bowls. Thankfully, the lattes are made with double shots, so there is a good taste of strong espresso, which is not overwhelmed by the milk.

Iris Cafe is a perfect little neighbourhood cafe. Another homely touch is added by the "Please place your dishes here" sign in the corner (where patrons dutifully deposit their dirty crockery). If I could replicate one New York cafe in its entirety back home in Melbourne, it is this one. If you're planning on walking the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan, allow an extra hour and come here first for breakfast or lunch. You won't be sorry.

Iris Cafe
20 Columbia Place (Joralemon St)
Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn