chocolate tarte

the (mis)adventures of an aussie girl in a kitchen somewhere in europe

27 September 2006

Going hot turkey (well, chicken actually)

After doing my damndest to promote tooth decay, I wanted to cook something savoury and sensible. And then I came upon this. Chicken decadence masquerading as a main course. And an ingredients list which includes pears (sweet!), white wine (alcohol!), pear schnapps (more alcohol!) and double cream (mmmmmm!). And I realised it was for the best that we wean ourselves off kids' birthdays gracefully.

This Chicken Fricasee comes from Michel Roux Jr, head of the London restaurant La Gavroche, which was the first French restaurant in the UK to be awarded 3 Michelin stars. Reason enough to give in to temptation. He writes that this dish is reminiscent of the classic French meals his grandmother would serve. We give his grandma 3 stars too.

Chicken Fricasee with Creamy Green Peppercorn and Pear Sauce (adapted from Michel Roux Jr)
Serves 4
3 Tbsp. olive oil
4 chicken breasts, sliced
2 shallots, diced
2 pears, peeled, cored and diced
1 shot pear shnapps
125ml white wine
285ml double cream
a few sprigs fresh thyme
1 Tbsp green peppercorns in brine, drained
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan, brown the chicken, then remove chicken from the pan and set aside. Over a moderate heat, cook the shallots in the rest of the oil for about 5 minutes until softened and almost golden. Turn up the heat and add the pears along the with the wine and pear brandy and cook for about 3 minutes or until thickened and syrupy. Pour in the cream and return the chicken, add the peppercorns and a few sprigs of thyme, cover and bring to the boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, the chicken should be tender and the sauce reduced. Season with salt and pepper, garnish with any extra thyme. Serve with pasta and bottle of chardonnay.

24 September 2006

not quite (a perfect )10

When I was little, my mum once made me a birthday cake in the form of an upright piano. With succulent milky chocolate icing and piano keys which were made out of black and white chocolate respectively. I don't know how she did it. But I do remember the giddy excitement I felt at seeing her masterpiece. Baked for me.

For Mr. 9's not quite 10th birthday (which explains the 10th really short candle) and propably at the age my mum was at that time, I managed to bake this. It is fun and delicious but it ain't no upright piano. In fact, I was really glad when on opening the oven door, the cake was still round! Confirming, once again that Bill Granger's recipes are indeed idiot-proof.

I'm sure Bill had in mind cooking this together with the kids which is a great idea because it is wonderfully simple. But we wanted to surprise Mr. (now) 10 with a birthday eve delight. He and Mr. Big loved the cake but the m+m's mysteriously disappeared first.

Easy-mix chocolate cake with real chocolate frosting (from Bill Granger)
makes about 12 slices
280g plain flour
2 and a half teaspoons baking powder
50g cocoa powder
220g caster sugar
250g soft butter
4 eggs
170ml milk

300g dark chocolate, chopped
375ml sour cream

decorate with:
m+m's and the appropriate number of candles

Heat the oven to 180C and grease 2x20 cm cake tins. Sift the flour, baking powder, cocoa and sugar into a bowl and mix together. Add in the butter, eggs and milk and beat on a low speed for a minute or until smooth. Spoon into the 2 cake tins and bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Leave for about 5 minutes and then turn out of the tins and onto wire racks to cool.
When the cakes are cool, carefully melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Leave to cool for 15 minutes then stir in the sour cream. Using a spatula, spread a third of the chocolate cream mixture over one cake and then stack with the other. Spread the rest of the frosting over the top and around the sides and decorate with m+m's or other brightly coloured candy.

17 September 2006

Damson in distress

Leafing through the newspaper with my morning coffee (heaven), I came across an article about plums which are in season right now and went off in search of a suitable recipe for jam. I'd like to report that I chose this one because of my interest in the cuisine of the Thüringen region. When in reality the following recipe got the nod due to my congenital maths deficiency. Since I am just cooking for Mr. Big and me, and we have to be economical with fridge and cupboard space, I am often forced to halve and quarter recipes. Shamefully, this damsel is often left in mathematical distress . As you can see the proportions for this jam recipe are so simple that on halving, my overworked calculator was proudly left in the drawer.

The variety of plum I've used is known as a damson, which is slighty elongated with a blue-ish skin and yellowy flesh. But the regular plum can be used just as well.

Plum jam (Thüringer Art)
1kg plums
100g caster sugar
100g brown sugar
1 stick of cinnamon
a few walnuts

Wash the plums, remove the stones and leave overnight marinating in just the caster sugar. Then add the brown sugar, cinnamon stick and the walnuts, put in a saucepan and cook over a moderate heat until thick, about 30 minutes.
Remove the cinnamon stick and fill into 2 glass jars.

15 September 2006

white chocolate reconciliation

Having almost lost any love for white chocolate in sensational fashion -a mid-week baking debacle aka The Exorcist Cake- I then received a recipe for this Ricotta and White Choc Mousse from a very secret source. This was fate knocking on my in-box. It was obviously time to jump back on the white chocolate horse.

In light of said disaster, you might imagine I would follow the recipe to the very last letter. But typically, my pantry had other ideas. I heard voices begging me to tempt fate. Hazelnuts were urging me to strike before the use-by date did. When has expensive liqueur ever survived a week in our apartment (hello Sherry)?

Obviously this dessert is just brilliant because not only did my minor pantry tweeking go unnoticed but my last white chocolate effort was completely forgotten, we were in choccy heaven. Here is the recipe.

Mousse di Ricotta e Cioccolata Bianca
(adapted from Sydney caterer Johanna Minogue)
serves 4
250g fresh ricotta, placed in a sieve over a bowl and left in the fridge for 2 hours to drain
25g caster sugar
1/4 cup pouring cream
50g Belgian white chocolate, finely chopped
50g blanched whole almonds, roasted and finely chopped

for the syrup:
rind of 1 orange, julienned
juice of 1 orange (ca. 1/4 cup)
55g caster sugar
1tsp orange liqueur (Grand Marnier)

Place orange rind in a small saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes, then drain. Combine 55g sugar and 1/4 cup of water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the orange rind and liqueur and simmer over a low heat for 5 minutes. Remove rind with a slotted spoon and reserve. Pour the orange juice into the pan and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until syrupy. Remove from heat and cool (will thicken on cooling).
Meanwhile, combine the drained ricotta and 25g sugar in a bowl, then stir in the cream, almonds and chocolate and combine well. Place a 3cm deep, 6.5 cm round metal ring in the centre of a plate, fill with mousse, remove ring and repeat with remaining plates. Spoon orange syrup around each mousse and garnish with a little reserved rind. Serve immediately

11 September 2006

bring a plate

So we all know the three words that will make a man's blood run cold. But for a woman (or aspiring but still hopeless cook) those three words are undoubtedly "bring a plate".

Party at Miss K's last Saturday night. Luckily for this incompetent, I had strict instructions in the form of assembling a Greek Salad, saving me hours of tearing out my hair wondering what to bring on the plate. Not much to go wrong.

Still, it wouldn't be me to just take this in my stride when I could have a minor breakdown... should I include olives when these fruit of the gods are indeed not universally loved? Should I take along a dressing and risk sogging out my veggies? Should I salt the cucumbers when feta cheese is already quite salty?

Luckily, we have an excellent market here on a Saturday morning and stall owners who are helpful and calming when faced with a young lady in a "bring a plate" lather. In the name of research, I sampled a whole range of olives and chose tasty but mild Kalamatas, tried all sorts of creamy feta cheese, gorged myself on sweet baby cocktail tomatoes and small romas. And went home full of confidence with fabulous produce. Very well-fed.

This Greek Salad was quick and easy to prepare and disappeared instantly. Olives included. No reason at all for a crisis.

Bring a Plate Greek Salad
500g best quality feta cheese, cubed
4 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and finely chopped
parsley, chopped
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
freshly ground pepper
1 handful stoned black olives
500g best quality tomatoes, sliced
1 cucumber, sliced

Marinate the feta cheese with the olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, parsley, garlic and pepper. Then at the last possible minute add the cucumber, tomatoes and olives.

10 September 2006

The forearm of a future Michelin chef?

With apologies to those with a vegetarian sensibility, here is Mr. 9 slaving over a twist on the Italian classic, Chicken Bolognese. When we spoke about cooking this, Mr. 9 looked at me hopefully and gushed "we could open up the raw chicken, pour in the bolognese sauce, sew back together, put in the oven, and wait til it explodes everywhere....".

Since our kitchen already resembles a war-zone, I think we might wait til Mr. 9 gets his Michelin hat and appropriate facilities for this version. In the meantime, we've gone with a Bill Granger adaptation from his Simply Bill book, which is great for cooking with kids. Mr.9's initial scepticism about including a celery stalk (what? something green?) quickly vanished when he was in control of the pan, wooden spoon firmly in hand. And he is a natural talent with a really keen sense of taste.

Kids love fun pasta shapes and the significant change we've made to Bill's excellent recipe (making me feel like we're contributing something here) is using trulli rather than rigatoni. These look like mini UFO's out of an early dodgy Star Trek set. But we trulli loved them!

Trulli and a Chicken Bolognese Sauce (adapted from Bill Granger)
serves 4 very hungry people

2 Tbs olive oil
1 chopped onion
1 finely chopped celery stalk
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper
2 slices prosciutto, chopped
500g minced chicken
375 ml tomato passata
500g trulli (or other fun pasta shapes)
3 Tbs chives (or other fresh herb on hand)
handful grated parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion, celery, garlic and the salt and pepper. Cook for about 7 minutes over a moderate heat until golden. Add in the chicken and prosciutto, breaking up any lumps in the mince with a wooden spoon . When the chicken is cooked, add the passata and turn the stove down to a simmer.
Bring a large pot to the boil and add the pasta of your choice, cooking until al dente. Drain and add to the chicken bolognese. Toss through the chives and serve with lots of parmesan.

08 September 2006

You know what we did this summer

Summer 2006, a horror movie. First it's too damn hot. Then it's too damn cold. And worst of all, there is no opportunity to make use of Mr. B's brand new grillin' machine. But as luck would have it, Wednesday was a ripper, 27 fantastic degrees, not a cloud in the sky. It's time to smoke meat.

As residents of a garden-less, terrace-less and balcony-less apartment, Mr. Big and I are keen BBQ fans. And Mr. and Mrs. B's garden is the perfect barbie setting - shady trees, sunny spots, beautiful flowers- really dreamy. Complete with veggie patch. Every side dish accompanying our meat this summery eve was home-grown, home-cooked and elegantly served by Mrs. B. All straight from the garden. Potatoes and chives, tomatoes, beans ... This must be the equivalent of writing, producing and directing your own movie! You are Woody Allen. You invented the word "multi-tasking". Not only is this super impressive, it just tastes so damn good.

Mrs B's Potatoes
500g late-harvest potatoes
canola oil
salt and pepper
onion, finely diced

Leave skins on the potatoes and slice into bite-sized pieces (or leave them whole if they are small enough and you are a patient cook). Fry in a pan over a moderately high heat with the oil for about 15 minutes or until they are cooked through. Throw into a serving bowl. Season with salt and pepper, and toss through the chives and the onion.

04 September 2006

Like a pear in a bowl

"So, what's for dessert?"
"Well, it's like a pear in a bowl"

After bearing bad news of 2 counts (no, we will not be seeing Bandidas with Salma Hayek and no, there is no meat in tonight's dinner) you would imagine, I could sell this to a chocolate lover. But no, I have to mention the fruit. Mr. Big (typical male) just rolled his eyes. It is clear my future contains no employment as a used car salesman.
This is a dessert courtesy of Ms. Jill Dupleix, although the word dessert does no justice. This is an experience, a sinful journey from mouth-watering chocolate to the destination- a baked pear. It is nothing short of divine. Jill's recipe calls for 1 big baking tin but I like using individual ramekin dishes as this appeals better to my sense of greed.
I had no intention of writing about Chocolate Pear Pudding (just every intention of indulging) but when I served her up and Mr. Big saw his "like a pear in a bowl" he became touchingly concerned that it should go un-blogged straight into our tummies. And when he tasted it...a look of sheer ecstasy spread on his face. Salma Hayek is yesterday's news.

Chocolate Pear Pudding (courtesy of Jill Dupleix)
serves 4

125g melted butter
200g sugar
3 large eggs
180g plain flour
75g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
70ml milk
4 ripe pears

Heat the oven to 170 degrees C. Beat the sugar and melted butter together until smooth, then add the eggs, one after the other and beat well. Mix in the sifted flour, cocoa and baking powder and combine with a wooden spoon, then add the milk and stir until smooth. Scrape the mix into a greased 30x20 baking tin (or individual ramekin dishes).
Peel the pears and cut 1 cm from their base so that they can stand up. Then push into the mixture. Bake for a bit less than a half an hour, the centre should still be a bit moist and the pudding risen up around the pears.

02 September 2006

1 jam, 0 marmalade

The first pic explains why there was no time to get to the shops and so have nothing new to show and tell. The second is a shameful misuse of the internet to cry home. My glass of orange marmelade (brought to life by my dad) is neither half full, nor half empty. It is completely barren.

Here is the recipe for Dad's Citrus Marmalade, so I can remind him how it is done (or at least inspire myself to have a go when the shops open again on Monday)
1 .5 kg citrus fruit
2.5 kg sugar
3 L water
scrub fruit well, dry thoroughly, cut into quarters, remove pips, then thinly slice or shred flesh. Place in a large pan with the water and cook gently, uncovered, until fruit is very soft (2-2,5 hours). Warm the sugar in a saucepan, add to the fruit mixture and continue heating until sugar has dissolved, stirring constantly. Then boil vigorously for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Skim any scum from the surface with a metal slotted spoon. Allow to stand 5-10 minutes then pour into clean, dry jars and seal immediately.