Friday, April 13, 2012

Lazy Easter Monday Lunch

Easter is generally a pretty busy time for my friends and sometimes it is for my family too, so this year I invited a few friends and my cousins over for a lazy Easter Monday lunch. As it was school holidays, I didn't have to worry about going to work the next day so having guests arriving from 1.30 to eat at 2.00 / 2.30 or so wasn't really a big concern as I had the next day off.

Miniature roses coming out.

To help with timing, I set the table the night before as this gave me more time to ensure the glass and cutlery was polished, the appropriate service ware was out of the cupboard and sparkling and that the napery was ironed.

I decided that because 'new life' is what we celebrate at Easter, I would decorate the table with flowers, light, eggs and bright colours. I also wanted to use some of the napery I had stored away including a lovely vintage table runner from my Nan and a crystal vase from my Nanna. I found some lovely miniature roses at Taste for the Love of Cooking on James St at New Farm to fill the vases. They smelled divine and the off white colour matched my vintage runner. The egg shells used inside the votives for the tea light candles were the ones left from careful cracking during my Easter baking session - it was nice to give them another life. I rinsed them out and dried them on the window sill before the day so that they wouldn't attract ants and flies. The rest of my rather pink napery was from Wheel and Barrow and the collection of napkins that I made for my birthday about five / six years ago when I had a pink, white and turquoise theme. The butterflies on the wall above the table were also from this party. They live on my wall permanently but recently they had a little migration into the dining room set and the living room set (really it is just one big room).

With the candles lit.
For the main course, I prepared an orange and spice rubbed boned leg of lamb stuffed with figs, prunes, dates, onion and celery leaves. The side dishes were crispy roasted rosemary potatoes and pumpkin, minted peas and honey glazed carrots. The lamb recipe was from the April issue of Good Food magazine and had a lovely blend of smoked paprika, cinnamon and nutmeg. This was toasted in a frying pan with garlic and lots of orange zest.  Some of the spice mix was then added to the filling mixture which was cooked in a saucepan with some brandy added at the end. The majority of the spice mixture was blended when cool with the orange juice ot make a paste to rub over the outside of the lamb and the inside before the stuffing was added. The lamb was basted with more orange juice as it cooked in the oven on a bed of rosemary.

My brother did some roast potatoes at Christmas time that were just perfectly crispy and crunchy on the outside but soft and creamy on the inside. He told me his trick was to bring them to the boil on the stove top, drain them and rough them up with a fork before tossing them in olive oil with garlic and herbs. He then roasts them in the oven at 180C for 1 hour. My oven is a bit special so I put mine in and started roasting them as the lamb was finishing cooking so that I could finish cooking the potatoes as the lamb rested. I blitzed my potatoes and pumpkin at 240C in my slowish gas oven for 25 mins while my lamb rested. The potatoes were lovely and crisp on the outside when they were done and the pumpkin caramelized to just the right point. I was so happy as I have never managed such perfect roasted vegetables for the number of visitors I had on Easter Monday before! I now refer to these as Nathan's potatoes.

The honey glazed carrots were Dutch carrots, peeled and simmered in one part honey to two parts butter to four parts water.

The meal worked really nicely together according to my guests and my youngest guest enjoyed the carrots, the lamb (without stuffing) and the roasted potatoes the most. Unfortunately I forgot to photograph the main course which I served in vegetable dishes and on large platters for people to pass around the table.

Being Easter, I decided that a rich chocolate dessert was called for. The latest issue of delicious magazine featured two recipes that caught my eye, one was a no-bake chocolate cheesecake recipe and the other was a peanut butter chocolate tart. I thougth the chocolate peanut butter tart on its own would be a bit much but a small taste would ge good. As such I halved the recipe and then made it up as little tartlets which I could cut in half and use as a decoration when plating the dessert. I also gave my guests the option of whether or not they wanted the peanut butter tartlet decoration as I know that some of my friends and family aren't fussed on peanut paste (unlike me who loves it).

I made the large cheesecake as the major component of my dessert for the day. It was very, very simple to make and I think the light texture of the end product was achieved as it was made on ricotta and mascarpone with some coffee flavoured liqueur and 70% cocoa dark chocolate finely chopped. Next time I would like to see if adding a small amount of gelatin would aid the setting process as it was a little soft when I sent to serve it, despite being refrigerated overnight.

To plate up the dish I painted each plate with a small amount of melted chocolate, I topped this with a wedge of cheesecake and then put the half peanut butter tartlet on for decoration. I put a small amount of roasted almond praline from my Easter treats (which I had crushed to dust in the food processor) in the base of an egg cup and topped it with vanilla bean ice cream. I also put some of the dust on the plates. Finally I put some chocolate curls on top of each.

The tidy version - the cheesecake is under the chocolate curls.
The messy version with more of the cheesecake showing.

My guests seemed very happy with their dessert too! DiDee May xo

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Easter Treats

Now I am aware that it has taken me a few days to write this post, however I have been out and about these holidays and taking some time out to rest, so here goes - I hope you appreciate it even if it is late.

Each year I try (let's say attempt) to prepare Easter treats for my family, friends, and if the timing works, my colleagues too. However, I don't think I got any done last year so I hope that I made up for it this year.

For Easter 2012, the selection of goodies that my friends and family received were chocolate freckle Easter egg biscuits, milk chocolate and vanilla bean fudge, spiced and salted caramel slice and roasted almond praline. The praline was not on the original list, but this was a special request by someone and I thought I would be obliging (and knew I could use it for my Lazy Easter Monday Lunch when it came time to plate up dessert).

I generally choose to make Easter treats because I know that many people have a good selection of eggs given to them, so having some home-made or home-baked goodies is something different that is still well received.

This year I found some very cute canary yellow paper bags with cute cartoon chick heads as closures and a clear cellophane window to use as packaging in addition to some cellophane bags decorated with Easter egg prints at Spotlight. It is always nice to find some cute and reasonably priced packaging and I decided to go with simple kitchen string to tie up the bags rather than ribbon. It was easier to manage and allowed the colours and features of the bags to be what stood out instead of the ribbon.

I filled the little yellow chick bags with chocolate freckle Easter egg biscuits - a homemade chocolate biscuit, coated with chocolate (this year I used mostly white and some 70% cocoa dark chocolate) and dipped in hundreds and thousands. As I ran short on my favourite hundreds and thousands, I ended up using rainbow sprinkles as well. I must admit I am a traditionalist in this regard, I much prefer hundreds and thousands and think they make a much more freckly statement then sprinkles. I'll let you decide what you think though.


Chocolate Easter Egg Freckle Biscuits
Makes 60 (can be halved)
250g unsalted butter, softened, cubed
330g brown sugar
2 eggs
450g plain flour, sifted (plus some extra)
70g self-raising flour, sifted
70g Dutch cocoa powder, sifted
250g white or dark eating chocolate, broken into pieces
160 – 200g hundreds and thousands
Cream the bugger, sugar and egg in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. If you are using a sturdy bench top mixer (eg. Kitchen Aid), add dry ingredients in two batches, using a slow setting on the mixer to beat until just combined. If you only have access to hand beaters, stir in the dry ingredients gradually with a wooden spoon, stirring until just combined.
Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth.
Divide dough into four balls. Roll one ball out with a rolling pin between two sheets of baking paper until it is about 4-5mm thick. With baking paper as a base, layer onto a baking sheet or cutting board. Repeat this step with remaining three balls of dough. Refrigerate for 30mins.
Preheat oven to 180C. Remove a sheet of dough from the fridge and use an egg shaped cookie cutter to cut egg shaped rounds of dough from the sheets.  Place 5cm apart on baking paper lined baking sheets. Bake in the oven for 12 – 15 mins or until evenly cooked. Allow to cool on baking sheet for two minutes and then move to a wire cooling rack. Continue with remaining sheets of biscuit dough. At the end, if you wish to, knead your dough scraps together, roll out and cut more biscuits.
When all of the biscuits are completely cool, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Fill a small, flat based plastic container with hundreds and thousands. Using a small spatula, coat each biscuit with a thin layer of chocolate.
 Immediately dip / gently press each biscuit into the hundreds and thousands.

Place on a cooling rack and allow chocolate to set.

Store in an airtight container with baking paper between each layer before packaging to give as a gift (or perhaps you might have some cherubs at your place who will find your biscuit barrel).

The next thing that went into the goodie bags was milk chocolate and vanilla fudge. I used the recipe featured in the April issue of Better Homes and Gardens. I had never made fudge in the microwave before, preferring the stove top method using a sugar thermometer. While the product has a different texture to the fudge I make on the stove top (which doesn't use condensed milk), it is still delicious in my opinion and has a lovely creamy texture, rather then the slightly grainy texture of stove top recipes. I am wondering if I could use white chocolate and achieve the same quality product. That is an experiment for another day. 

I also made a spiced and salted chocolate caramel slice to go into the goodie bags. Once again, this is in the April issue of Better Homes and Gardens and my friends who watch the program told me it was also demonstrated on TV. They were thrilled to receive the slice in their package and I have heard some lovely comments about it :) I thought the recipe was interesting as it uses Earl Grey tea, cinnamon quills, cardamom and nutmeg in the caramel mixture. I like recipes that use tea (especially Earl Grey) so I was keen to give it a go. I also love chocolate caramel slice. I was disappointed with the base recipe - it was oily for some reason unbeknown to me and very sticky but apart from that the rest was spot on. Next time I think I will use my normal chocolate caramel slice base recipe and use the caramel recipe from BHG and go with their topping and the salt too.

The sea salt flakes cut through the sweetness and surprisingly
complement the spices. I will definitely be making this again.

Last of all I did some roasted almond praline. This was not my best batch, however it was edible. Next time, I won't be so lazy and I will get the sugar thermometer out to bring it to the right temperature, not go on what I think will be okay. It did end up making a nice textural variation for my Lazy Easter Monday Lunch dessert though.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about my Easter treat bags!

A belated Happy Easter!
DiDee May xoxo

Monday, April 9, 2012

Coffee and Baguette?

This is just a very brief post this morning to show off a 'finished object' that I completed and gave to a delightful friend who was leaving Brisbane to go to a new post outside of Brisbane last week. We used to get together with the young adults from church most Sunday mornings for a coffee (and a cake) after church. For a long time we did this at the French Patisserie that was located close by so when I found this fabric at Spotlight I couldn't resist creating something from it.

The fat quarter bag tutorial over at Sew Mama Sew is what inspired me to create this bag.

I have a couple more of these bags to make up (they require only two fat quarters of fabric, the equivalent of fusible wadding, a magnetic snap closure and a set of handles) so I will write a more detailed post when I have completed the others. For now I hope you enjoy the pictures.

Coffee and Baguette bag front - unfortunately you can't see the quilting detail in this picture.

Bag interior - I added a double patch pocket from left over scrap fabric, so there was a place to put small items.
With that, now I'm off for a coffee!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Hot Cross Curry

A few years back now, one of my friends showed a group of us 'young adults' from church how to make Hot Cross Buns during Lent. We had a great night mixing and kneading, proving and rolling, piping crosses, baking and finally glazing before we ate the most delicious warm Hot Cross Buns. I had never had freshly baked, home made Hot Cross Buns before and this was a revelation for me. Ever since, I have baked my own Hot Cross Buns every year on Good Friday. I try to time them to be ready between 3 and 4pm.

These days, I make my friends recipe with my students at school every second year as it adapts well to both the fruit and chocolate variety, but at home I make the recipe included in Anekka Manning's The Good Taste Collection: Baking which was printed in 1999.

This recipe uses a delightful mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and mixed spice to flavour the buns along with sultanas for the fruit. Compared to the original recipe I started with, the recipe uses a lot of milk (1 1/2 cups) but I think this adds to the flavour and texture of the product. Today I used Farina '00' flour which I have not used to make this recipe before. I think I should have stuck with my regular White Wings plain flour as I was happier with last years product. This years are perfectly edible, but just a little drier then the ones I produced on Good Friday 2011.

I was hoping the recipe would be available online so I could provide you with a hyperlink, but alas it is not. I am also loathe to publish the recipe as I have not adapted the original recipe from the cookbook at all and therefore it really is someone elses intellectual property, so I shall just share a picture of my Hot Cross Buns instead.

Hot Cross Buns - fresh from the oven and brushed with glaze!

It takes a good two hours plus to make these but it is well worth it (especially when I know they are additive free and made from fresh ingredients without preservatives). The recipe makes what I would consider to be twelve very generous buns. I think I recall thinking last year that I should divide the mixture into 15, so I must try and remember this for my next batch. Considering there is only one of me, I will be eating hot cross buns for a few days so it really is very fortunate that I like them so much!

Hot Cross Buns cooling on the dining room table.

Tomorrow I think I will warm them in the microwave again for breakfast. After that I think I will need to toast them or turn them into bread and butter pudding - a trick I learned from my aunt.

Inbetween all of the bun making activity, I worked on some Easter baking but I shall have to post about this later, as there are some lovely people who might stumble upon this post, who are also yet to receive some Easter goodies. I can however show you what I made for dinner for Good Friday.

Being from a bit of a traditional family, I was brought up not to eat meat on Good Friday, and I cannot bring myself to change from this tradition. As such, each year, I either prepare a vegetarian or seafood based meal on Good Friday. I remember as a child that my Mum would go to great lengths to prepare something nice for us. When I spoke to her on the phone this afternoon, she told me that she had purchased both fish and prawns yesterday and was off to prepare this tonight.

For the past few years I have prepared Red Salmon Quiche from one of my Nanna's cookbooks as I remember her preparing this at some point in my high school years and really liking it. I still do, however I felt it was time for a change.

When I was a child, my Mum decided one Good Friday to prepare a prawn curry. Picture the 1980s. White people in Australia did not cook with coconut milk for the most part and certainly not coconut cream. However, my Mum had a very big, contemporary 'Australian' cookbook which featured a prawn curry recipe and she decided to give it a go. Let's just say that after the experience prawn curry was never again prepared in our household and coconut milk was a blasphemous ingredient. Fast forward ten years and I had a wonderful chef friend at university and I learned about the wonders of Thai food, Asian food and ingredients. These days, Thai and Vietnamese food regularly feature on my dinner table and it is not unusual to find some Malaysian and Chinese there too.

So with slight trepidation (those memories are engrained) I decided to prepare an adaptation of the 'Prawn, coconut and tomato curry' featured in the April edition of Good Food magazine. There was nothing unusual on the ingredient list compared to what I might find in most of the Asian curries I like to prepare. I did however decide to add a sliced carrot and increase the quantity of prawns. As I was feeling a little lazy, I also decided to buy prawns that were prepeeled and deveined. Unfortunately this meant the prawns were not as flavoursome as they should have been. When the rice finished cooking I put the trimmed broccolini on top as it rested which steamed it ever so slightly - just the way I like it.

The result - a very nice, mild prawn curry served with Jasmine rice and crisp broccolini. I would happily make this dish again, however next time, I think I will peel my own prawns and fry the heads off before adding some vegetable stock to enhance the flavour a little more. I will also go to the nice fish monger and not the big supermarket - better planning required!

Prawn, Coconut and Tomato Curry served with Jasmine rice,
mango chutney, coriander and extra green chilli.

Overall it has been a productive Good Friday in the kitchen and I feel quite satisfied with what I made. I might just have a nice French Earl Grey or Chai tea with a Hot Cross Bun for a spot of supper this evening.

If I have time I will provide an Easter treats update next week and perhaps a post on my Easter Lazy Lunch which I am preparing on Monday.

For now, have an enjoyable Easter! xo