Saturday, 29 December 2007

In a pigs ear...

(or what I ate for dinner tonight)

I am in Valencia, enjoying an all-too-brief holiday in the warmth of the Spanish sun. It isn't exactly steaming hot but 15 degrees (that's umm... about 60 degrees F) is a definite improvement on Geneva's -2! Valencia is truly beautiful with ancient buildings and long green parks. Having been to Madrid and Barcelona, I think Valencia beats them both hands down.

One of the many joys of being here is the food. Visiting the markets today was wonderful. It is a feast for all the senses: the scent of fresh fruit, vegies and fish in the air, the sounds of the bargaining the feel of a smooth skinned capsicum and the rough texture of a cabbage followed by the tastes of a breakfast of fresh pastry and a thick luscious hot chocolate... what a sublime experience! The market in Valencia is one of the largest covered markets in Europe, with 959 stalls below its vaulted stained-glass-edged ceiling. As you can see, it is a very pretty building:

Lunch was a veritable market feast of manchego cheese, paper thin serrano ham and tasty bites of cheese-stuffed fruits and vegetables... pimento, apricot, fig, plum as well as some teeny fresh cheeses. I forgot to take a pic till we were half way through, so I can only share a view of some of the meal:

In the afternoon I wandered around the fine arts museum while my friend (who is suffering from a strep throat) slept. When I got back to the hotel, we went for a wander to find ourselves dinner, and ended up in a local bar/restaurant. There we indulged in a large jug of sangria and tapas (as ya do):
  • Patatas Bravas - oh so fluffy on the inside, these potato wedges are generously sprinkled with cayenne pepper and served with a big dollop of garlicky aoli. Last time I ate them they actually had a pepper sauce, but these were equally good, in a different way.
  • Calamares a la Romana - fantastically tender in a thin crunchy shell of batter.
  • Verduras Rehogadas - we had no idea what this dish was when we ordered it, but guessed by the "Verduras" bit that there might be something green. It turned out to be a tasty mixture of broad beans, asparagus, mushrooms and artichokes.
  • Oreja de Cerdo. Again we ordered having no idea whatsoever we were going to get. Once it arrived we identified that it was pork. The texture was confusing... a crispy edge, a layer of wickedly melt-in-the-mouth fat and a hard cartilegenous middle. We debated about what bit of pork it was... artery perhaps? It couldn't be... Then it struck me. Pigs ears! Once back at the hotel a spanish translation program confirmed it. Folks, I can tell you that if you are in Valencia, be brave and try Oreja de Cerdo - it's divine. There is no way a photo can do justice to this dish.
Tomorrow we MUST eat Paella.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Christmas gifts for friends and family

One of the goodie bags ready to be tied up. So what is inside?

As you can see I still have some recipes to share with you....

Christmas dinner...

Fighting over the christmas cracker! (photo by Ed)

Christmas dinner was a feast I prepared for various friends, some brand new. The menu was:
  • Foie gras and red cabbage tartlets topped with fennel chutney
  • Tom Kha Gai (Thai chicken coconut soup, made by Drakey who is visiting at the moment)
  • Pan seared duck breast with fig and Ginja sauce (Ginja being a sort of port type drink from Portugal)
  • Roasted hasselback potatoes
  • Mashed potatoes with summer truffles
  • Roasted pumpkin, sweet potato, onions and garlic
  • Red cabbage cooked in red wine
  • B52's
  • Christmas Pudding Truffles
And each guest got a pretty bag of goodies to take home:

A bag of biscuits and other goodies
More details to come...

Friday, 21 December 2007

Grown-up chocolate crackles

This is a new twist on a classic recipe, an idea that has been bubbling away in my mind for a while. Being away from my home country inspires me to cook classic Australian dishes, to introduce others to the little things that make up the Aussie psyche. One of those foods for me is chocolate crackles. The idea that has been fermenting in my brain is how to adjust chocolate crackles to make a version for 'grown ups'. Tonight the idea came to fruitition with the invention of Baileys chocolate crackles!

Give these luscious sweets a try - you don't have to limit yourself to Baileys Irish Cream - creme de menthe for example would be a spectacular addition to this recipe, producing a sort of after-dinner-mint-crackle.

Grown up Chocolate Crackles (original recipe by Kiriel, with a nod to my childhood)

4 cups of rice bubbles
2/3 cup icing sugar
2/3 cup desiccated coconut
3 tblspns cocoa
125g copha / coconut oil
125g dark chocolate
3 tblspns Baileys Irish Cream

Melt chocolate and copha in a saucepan on a low heat, stirring occasionally to blend. While it is melting, mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Once the chocolate and copha have gone liquid, remove from the heat and stir in the Baileys Irish Cream. Once well mixed and slightly cooled, pour over the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Spoon into small patty cases and refrigerate to set.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Honey Snaps

I still have that lovely big jar of leatherwood honey, so I thought while I was in the baking mood I should make something using it, as gifts for local friends to share that very distinctive Australian taste. The friends of mine who tried my spiced pavlovas said that leatherwood honey was "Winnie the Pooh honey" and like the ultimate essence of honey in flavour. I can't agree more, and what better way to show it off than to make Honey snaps? Unfortunately my good Aussie cookbooks are back at home in Australia, but thanks to the joy of the internet I found a recipe which worked perfectly for me.

Honey Snaps (recipe found on the blog of Augustus Gloop)

50 g butter
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons leatherwood honey

1/2 cup plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground ginger

Preheat an oven to 180 degrees. In a small saucepan melt the butter, sugar and honey together stirring regularly until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, and add the dry ingredients.

Place teaspoon fulls of the soft dough on to a lined baking tray, allowing quite a lot of room for spread.

As you can see, the dough looks pretty ordinary when uncooked!
Bake for 10 minutes until they turn deliciously golden (they will spread and puff up - the puff will fall when they come out of the oven). Allow to cool on the tray until solid enough to lift, then transfer to a wire rack. Keep an eye out as they tend to turn quite quickly, and will continue to cook a little bit on the tray.

The final biscuits looking totally delicious, hot from the oven.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Duck with fig and port sauce

Duck with fig and port sauce (original recipe by Kiriel)

1 large duck breast
Olive oil
1/4 tsp thyme
Freshly ground pepper

1/2 tblspn good olive oil
1 cup home made stock
1 tblspn butter
1/2 cup Port
6 dried figs quartered
1 tablespoon fig syrup

Rub the duck breast with thyme and pepper.

Heat butter and oil in large fry pan over a medium heat. Season duck breasts with salt; add to pan skin side down and cook 4 minutes.

Turn and cook about 3 minutes longer - this will be medium-rare. Move the meat on to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

Pour off the excess fat from the pan, leaving just a little behind. Add the stock, Port, figs and fig syrup. Increase heat and boil until liquid is reduced to a thick luscious sauce, scraping up any brown bits off the pan as you go.

Thinly slice the duck breast. Arrange and then spoon the sauce over before serving. Serves 2.

This photo of my cooking wsa taken by the lovely and talented Rosa.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Finnish Spice Biscuits

More biscuits for the Christmas season! This time a recipe that is supposedly from Finland - I am not convinced because the ingredients include golden syrup, which I suspect is not a particularly Finnish thing.
Finnish Spice Biscuits

1 cup caster sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons golden syrup
2 teaspoons ground cardamon
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
250 melted butter
3 and a half cups of plain flour

Beat sugar, egg, golden syrup, bicarb and spices. Slowly add the butter, beating until just combined. Sift the flour over it, and stir until the dough comes together. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Wrap in greaseproof paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes until firm.

Heat an oven to 180 degrees. Roll out dough between sheets of baking paper until 5mm thick. Cut out shapes. Bake 10-12 minutes. Allow the biscuits to cool on the tray before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Chocolate music

On Monday night my choir is singing in a concert, and as usual as well as delighting people with our music we also offer what is known as an 'apero', being a bit of a party, to which each of the choir members bring a dish. What could be better than musical treats.

Chocolate notes

250g butter
300g sugar
2 eggs
4 cups flour
3 tablepoons cocoa powder

Beat the butter sugar and egg in a bowl until light and fluffy. Stir in the flour and cocoa. Knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth.

Roll out to 3mm. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Bake in a moderate oven for about 12 minutes until lightly browned. Cool on wire racks and store in an airtight container.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

The gastronomic joys of the Christmas markets

Yesterday I met with some friends and we caught the train up to Montreux to check out the christmas markets. We had a wonderful time of it, despite the weather which was distinctly inclement.

We didn't end up spending much money on baubles and gifts. However, we DID spend money on food...

Gigantic pans of choucroute and other delicious dishes

Chestnuts being baked in clay pots by the edge of the lake

Salmon sides cooking over a slow fire, Finnish style

Huge pots of soup

Check this joint out for a dinner with a difference!