Wednesday, August 18, 2010

World's Best....

World’s Best.....

Many years ago I began the world’s largest collection of cookbooks. Thankfully *Goggle (*names has been changed to protect something from whoknowswhat) saved me from going down that path. Goggle is great. I use it to discover most of my dishes and then I print them off and file all the crowd-pleasers into my own folder for future use.

How do you get a great recipe? Well, you can do what I often do and type the following in front of the recipe you are seeking on Goggle: ‘World’s Best.......’

Don’t snicker. If you are going to go to the trouble of cooking; spending all that money on ingredients, using all those utensils, dirtying all those dishes....the result needs to be worth it. Do I hear an Amen? You don’t want to go and break your back and your piggybank for an only so-so dish. I want to be rewarded with a triumph, a crowd pleaser.

So Goggling ‘world’s best’ is often a good starting point. Now of course, there is the occasional issue of a recipe-giver being a little too self-complimentary, and just imagining they have a recipe worthy of the title. Thus it is helpful that most recipe-sharing sites implement a user-rating system and I research THAT as my guide to the authenticity of the World’s Best title.
And through this means I have found World’s Best Brownie
(which I have not cooked yet), World’s Second Best Brownie and World’s Best Choc Chip Cookies, both of which I make all the time and have shared with you. Today I bring you World’s Best Banana Cake!

World's Best Banana Cake


125g salted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 rounded cup very ripe, mashed banana
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs ( Yes, I added one extra egg to the world's best banana cake recipe; trust me on this Sometimes I even add 2! *gasp*)
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon buttermilk ( I used plain milk)
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarb of soda

Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius fan-forced. If you don't have a fan-forced oven, preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease the side and base of a 22cm diameter round cake pan. Line base of the pan with non-stick baking paper.

Place butter, sugar, banana, vanilla and eggs in a food processor.
Process for about 2 minutes.
Scrape down sides of processor.
Add buttermilk and pulse to combine.
Sift flour, and bicarb of soda together into a large bowl.
Add flour mixture to food processor and process until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until a skewer or knife inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Leave cake to cool on a wire rack. Spread cooled cake with cream cheese icing. Store cake in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Cream Cheese Icing

90g cream cheese, softened
45g butter, softened
1 2/3 cups icing sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

Beat cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer until creamy. Add sifted icing sugar and beat until smooth. Add lemon juice and beat to combine. Spread icing over top and sides of cooled cake.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Kettle Grill

Solo Girl decided to have a cookout for her pre- birthday sleepover. We had dusted off the kettle grill last weekend and used it for grilling sausages and making S’mores.

This is something we used to do regularly when we were country folk, but somehow the kettle grill has just sat around gathering dust , leaves and rainwater since we became cityfolk.

Well, after the fun of sitting around the grill last weekend, Solo Girl then and there decided she wanted her friends to enjoy the same bonding experience.

I kept the menu simple. Its winter here and gets dark and horribly cold so early. We did sausages and I made a pile of traffic-light kebabs.

Most kids love kebabs and these were the best I have ever made.

Traffic Light Kebabs
*Chicken thigh fillet (I prefer thigh over breast as it is rich and moist), chopped into cubes
*Red, Green, and Yellow capsicum (sweet pepper) chopped into squares that are the same size as the chicken cubes.

I marinated the chicken in a thrown-together ‘Asian flavours Marinade ( this is a very mild version due to me not knowing how well the young visitors would receive stronger flavours. Feel free substitute fresh herbs in place of the dried for more authentic flavour! Also I would normally add a dash of red wine, but didn’t have any on hand.)
• 1/4 cup soy sauce
• 2 teaspoons sesame oil
• 2 teaspoons oyster sauce
• 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger ( I had none and just used powdered ginger)
• Generous dash of garlic salt ( I am classy like that)
• 2 teaspoons five-spice powder
You know, I always overlooked and passed over the five-spice powder in my pantry….until I saw a part of Poh’s Kitchen at the gym last week. She explained it; made me understand it. Do you know that 5-spice uses the following 5 tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty to bring balance to a dish? The 5 spice ingredients can vary but are typically made from fennel, cloves, Szechuan peppercorns, star anise, and cinnamon. You only need a little bit, but yes! New favourite ingredient!
I marinated the chicken for about an hour (probably a ½ hour longer than the experts recommend)……ahhhh well.
So thread several cubes of chicken onto the skewers before adding a piece of capsicum…..continue pattern, making up the traffic light formation.
Grill till just tender.

S’mores ( Named thus because you always need ‘some more’) I nearly didn't put up these pics , 'cause they are so grainy due to ISO 1600, DUE to taken at 7:00pm outside (that is poor quality camera-speak; never mind me.) But they show so well, the facial expressions of bliss that a S'more eater wears, so they simply MUST be included.)

There is just something special about making S’mores together. A great memory-making experience! Toasting the marshmallows; (ie: charring the first couple to a crisp, dropping the next two into the fire, then finally getting the hang of it!) squishing them between two choc-covered wheat biscuits ; and then being unable to speak due to gooey, melted deliciousness clogging up every space in your mouth. Looking around at each other and doing the S’more moan ‘mmmmm, dursss irrrsss sshhhhooooo yrrrummmmyyyyy !’
S’mores ......
you will need:
Large marshmallows
Choc- wheaten biscuits
BBQ marshmallows on a skewer till nicely toasted yet not charred, then sandwich between two choc wheaten biscuits till the chocolate melts. Mmm mmmm!

And finally: Tip from the top: Choc Chip Cookie Twist

I have always yearned to have access to the variety of choc chip flavours that you can buy in the States. Caramel chips, butterscotch chips, peanut butter chips…... Oh man!
So I felt a little bit of a dimwit when it only just clicked that I can sort of do peanut butter chips. The solution: * drumroll*..............Reece’s Pieces!
We get them in a couple of stores locally. I tried it out yesterday, chucked a cupful into a double batch of my favorite choc chip cookie recipe, along with a cup of milk choc chips. Try it. No need to thank me!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Terry's Pizza- a gift from me to you

I want to do justice to this next eating experience (which occurred a couple weeks ago). But illness and otherlies have got in the way. I don’t know if even now I can come close to properly hyping the taste experience that is….. *drum rolls of some significance*….. Terry’s Pizza!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Terry’s is an institution in my li’l hometown of Gunnedah, a pretty town 45 minutes west of the country music capital Tamworth.
When we lived in Gunnedah for two years, we got Terry’s every Sunday night after church, when the kids were asleep, (so all the more for us). It was my comfort food of choice!
Terry’s story, as I remember him telling me, goes something like this. Terry if I got any of it wrong; sorry!
Terry and his family left Blacktown in Sydney to travel around part of Australia. When they arrived in Gunnedah, they realized it was the epicentre of the universe; just sort of halted their trip and never left! I kid you not.

Terry hadn’t made pizza before, but on a whim he decided he wanted to open a pizzeria….So, as you do, he went to his local bookstore (Angus and Robertson, I think) and purchased a pizza cookbook. And the rest as they say…….; well, let's just say, all we Gunnedah-ians are eternally grateful for Terry’s whim.

I asked Terry what his secret to the world’s best pizza was, many years ago,. It is true, no other pizza tastes anything like it.
His answer was simple: quality ingredients and simplicity.
I think there is more to it than that. Terry’s pizzas don’t have a tonne of cheese, and there is none on the top. The cheese is underneath, so it doesn’t overwhelm and dull all the other toppings. This also prevents the crust from going soggy. Each ingredient stands out equally as the ‘hero of the dish’ (chortle), and the pizza crust is thick and crunchy without grease. Oh man, I am workin’ up an appetite just writing this!!!!
The service is fantastic. Most of the times I have gone in, Terry himself has served me, with a quick grin and genuine modesty at my raving. He is always up for a yarn (Aussie-speak for conversation), even though the orders are coming at him thick and fast and the phone is ringing away like a boiling kettle.
So………If a large body of water of oceanic proportions happens to be in the way of you and a Terry’s pizza, you are excused for not making the effort.
As for the Aussies among us, no excuses. Hitch up the nearest roo, give it a swift (yet-RSPCA-approved) kick up the flank, and hop along to Terry’s.
One of our friends was such a Terry’s fan, he invited all his university friends from Newcastle to his parents property and had a massive Terry’s pizza for his 21 birthday CAKE!!!! Now that is a fan! That is dedication. That, is what a Terry’s pizza will do to you.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The dish that gained me 4kg in as many weeks.

I kid you not. This is a seriously fattening dish, though at the time.....during the month I was gorging on it, I never really thought about that.

And for me to gain 4 kg in 4 weeks is quite a feat I have to say. I run 8 km a day! That is a lot of burnt calories right there.
So how did I undertake this dubious achievement?
Well, my diet is a little limited, well, as far as I am concerned it is. I have to avoid sugar pretty much entirely, and have no carbs at dinner for the same reason. But I am a girl who likes to eat. I like a big plate of food. And seeing as I also cook a separate meal for my own family, I pretty much find a simple dish that I love, and then make it every day till I lose interest.

I made stir fry for half a year, then moved on to veggies in a satay sauce. Soooooo over both those dishes now!
And then I fell in love with cheese sauce. Veggies in cheese sauce.

I ended up doing fozen green beens as the veggies most of the time. Why?

1. I am lazy.
2. They are cheap.
3. They are filling.

Anyways the veggies are not what this post is about. What gained me the weight was the sauce.
Here is that recipe, which I made off the top of my head using the foundation of a basic white sauce.

5 tbsp butter
5 tbsp flour
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 milk
1/2 cream (heck, get creative, sometimes I made this baby on straight cream!)
3 cups grated cheese of choice ( I use 2 3/4 cups tasty cheese and make up the rest in parmesan.)

*Heat oven to 200 (celcius)
*Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and stir over lowish heat for at least four minutes to lose the floury taste. The flour should resemble breadcrumbs.
*Pour in the milk and cream, the salt and pepper. Stir regularly over heat till the sauce thickens. *Add more milk or cream to preference of thickness. I like thick.
*Throw all but 1/2 cup of cheese into the sauce and remove from heat. Stir through until melted and combined.
*Add cooked drained vegies to the pan and stir through. Pour out into greased pie dish. (do not soak saucepan.

While you are waiting for your dinner to cook, take your pointer finger and scrape that saucepan clean.
*Sprinkle over the remainder of the cheese and put in the oven. Keep in about 15 or till brown on top.
*Eat while squeeing with delight and thanking me from the bottom of your hearts.

Serves 1. Yup, I ate the entire thing all by myself. (To gain the desired weight, eat daily. :) I have to say, I now only eat this dish but once a month. :)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Italian Kitchen

What a night! Two friends and I dined at The Italian Kitchen in Kaleen last night. It all started out so quietly, but in the end there was so much going on, I actually left the restaurant without paying for my meal! Add to the mix that we were served by the BEST WAITER in Kaleen and that we feasted on succulent dishes plated up Masterchef style.
How awesome to find a fantastic Italian restaurant that is close by, not halfway across the city. Yes, I am aware that everything in Canberra is apparently only a 20 minute drive away, but if we can shorten that drive by 15 minutes, we are happy AND our carbon footprint is minimal-er.
I will have to go and check the place out in daylight, ‘cause the owners wanted to know if I had seen the chickens outside. The chicken sculptures under the tree outside looked great, but sadly they didn’t come out in photos, given that it was night time.
The Italian Kitchen feels modern but is still cozy. The décor leaves you in no doubt what type of cuisine you will be eating.

Make sure you check out the artwork done by one of the owners. Pretty talented!
We made CANBERRA’S BEST WAITER wait for ages to take our order, as we had hoped a fourth friendwould be joining us.

But finally we gave in made our choices.We ordered the selection of breads. I especially liked the sundried tomato bread.

We all chose to have an entrée as a main. I had the Eggplant, King Prawn and Scallop Stack in a Lemon and Sage butter sauce. It was wonderful. Thick slices of eggplant, not overcooked or greasy, just meaty and tender. The seafood was cooked to perfection and I could not get enough of that sauce! I licked my fingers several times and may have done the same to the plate except that I was dining with ladies! (In keeping with tradition, my favourite dish was the one I photographed least well, all a little blurry, but you get the idea. I guess I need to get over the social awkwardness of photogrpahing food, and just take my time. I am learning)

I sampled my friend’s Chargrilled Vegetable Stack with Feta cheese and Bocconcini served with homemade pesto and a yoghurt sauce. It was fresh and rich, and the feta remained firm.
My other friend ordered the Fried Goat’s Cheese served with Yoghurt and Char grilled Vegetables. The fried goat’s cheese was just how I love it. Big on crunch and then yielding that creamy explosion of pungent goat’s cheese. Bliss.
AUSTRALIA’S BEST WAITER had been attentive all evening. After my dish and generous samples of the others, I felt full. I hadn’t seen dessert on the menu, and actually forgot about it. But to his credit, the BEST WAITER EVER felt it was in our best interest to look at the dessert menu. He pointed out which desserts that would be the most photogenic. I am grateful to him for his desert suggestions as they were awesome!
I cannot find the dessert menu online:
But here is the Chocolate Mousse. Isn’t it pretty? Rich and smooth.
And here is the Lime Tart. It was yummy and not overly sweet.
INTERNATIONAL WAITER OF THE YEAR also highly recommended another dessert: something like ‘banana wrapped in crushed nuts’. But my fellow diners were full, as they are ladies. I nearly suggested we get a trio of desserts and that I would pay for two of the deserts, but as I have to date not paid a cent for the dinner at all, I am glad I didn’t.
How come I did not pay for my meal? Well, my friend paid for the entire meal with her credit card and at that precise moment, I was so caught up in taking photos and being shown artwork that I totally missed the part where I handed the cash for my meal to her! The shame!
Get to The Italian Kitchen (Gwydir Square in Kaleen)….all the staff are fabulously friendly and helpful! Next time I go I will be doing the risotto, pasta, pizza thing.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Chicken Palava

Chicken Palava isn’t actually from the part of Africa I lived in.....but I still rate it as extreme comfort food, as it conjures up fond memories for me. The African Cookbook by Dorinda Hafner (which I was given soon after we came back to Oz, and over which I pored during my languishing homesick lows) features a stunning palava, or as I like to call it- a ground nut stew. Ground-nut stew sounds so much more exotic than peanutbutter stew, wouldn’t you say?
Palava is one of the dishes I loved at a restaurant (the Happy Feeling Cafe) that we discovered in Newtown when my parents lived in Sydney. The Happy Feeling Cafe served a wide range of West African dishes, some of which bear resemblance to coastal Kenyan dishes. Its decor and the live music (well, ok, just the owner singing) took me to my happy place.
So I saw this chicken palava recipe and, after momentarily giving in to all the warm fuzzies, I thought ’Oh yes! This is one to make.’
Isn’t palava a great word? As an Aussie I guess it should have me harking back to the idea of pavlova, but no, I immediately thought ‘pilau’. I served this palava over rice. But over a lovely mound of ugali it would have been perfection. Watch this space for some Kenyan cuisine.
It was well-received even though I forgot to put in the key vegetable that makes it African, that being spinach (kale, if you can get it!). I was so tempted to add lime to this dish, with the thai influence kicking in.....but I stayed true, and after eating it, I am glad I did. It would not have been the chicken palava, if the lime had been in there. Maybe one day the world will be ready for West African/Thai infusion but not yet, my sweets, not yet.
If there were any leftovers, I would photograph it again, having seen a much-less- lazy palava maker’s efforts on the web and being inspired. I probably should let you see the link, but hey, I want you to read my stuff, not their stuff....haha!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sleepover Staples

Know what the first thing I always ask my kids is after they have been to a friend’s place for a sleepover?
“What did you eat there?’
Is that strange? Or am I not alone in being a nosey parker? Don’t you wonder what people serve up for dinner in their homes, even if it is only for their kids’ friends? It fascinates me. Truly it does.
I think my over-interest all stems from several years ago, when Boy 1’s best friend used to come over a lot..... and he never touched anything I served. I kid you not! He would just say , “Oh, I am really too full. Sorry.” OR he would take whatever I served him, and then later I would find his fully untouched meal congealed on the plate in a corner somewhere. Then, the little wretch would sneak down to the corner store and buy coke and chips to sustain him till he got back to his own home and the food to which he was accustomed. Poor Boy 1 never ‘fessed up to this, because he thought I would be devastated. I certainly wanted to know what it was I was getting wrong! So when Boy 1would go to this child’s house, I would always ask what he ate there. What were they eating that was so different?
Pancakes and bacon? Really? OK, let’s try that; again! I would carefully make delicate fluffy pancakes and crispy bacon for breakfast for our visitor, but still he wouldn’t eat it. Turns out I discovered later, he was used to the shake-it bottle pancakes, which are quite a bit sweeter than homemade.....but still it left me feeling like a sleepover failure!
Back to the here and now: I still make my poor kids spell out every meal they had, blow by blow before even enquiring if they had a great time away. Some of the regular fare they tell me about is hot chips, McDonalds, chicken nuggets, stir fry, takeaway pizza, sausages and veggies....... and now that we live in posh Canberra, sometimes they have been taken out for dinner!!!!!
Over time, I have worked out the easiest and cheapest food to impress honed sleepover cuisine into a fine art, weeded out the duds, and kept whatever has been raved over.
What do we serve our sleepover victims?
Well, traditionally I chuck a ‘Make your own pizza’ night. While the bread maker makes the dough (I use this pizza dough recipe), I chop up the general range of kid friendly ingredients (shredded bacon, mozzarella, LOTS of pineapple, chorizo sausage (Primo brand), Italian sausage, cabanossi ( again Primo), mushrooms (I usually eat these as no one in our family will go near them), sliced red onion, and green capsicum) Then I set them out buffet style. There is no-one on God’s green earth who doesn’t enjoy creating their own pizza.

Here is how it goes down for my kids, toppings-wise:
Boy 1 does a massive Meatlover’s with BBQ sauce and all the meat and some cheese, onion and a little capsicum.
Boy 2 makes a calzone- which I can’t really tell you is inside as it is not visible !

Solo Girl does a classic Hawaiian pizza (but uses bacon instead of ham. Um, does that negate what I said about it being the classic version?)
Boy 3 loves, loves, loves to make his own pizza. He smears the tomato sauce on, then some cheese and finally a generous topping of pineapple pieces !
Note: when we do our own pizza nights when we are on our own, everyone still makes their own smaller ones, but I make 2 or 3 to share. Generally a Meatlovers, then a Hodgepodge (a Taylor special using all the meats, some veggies, baby spinach and precooked potato wedges on BBA sauce), and our very favourite Tandoori Chicken Pizza. So yummy!

For the extra nosey parkers (like myself)
My other sleepover staples are:
Breakfast: Pancakes (duh!) or homemade bacon and egg (mc) muffins.
Lunch: chicken schnitzel burger or a regular burger to get some veggies into them.
Movie Snacks: large batch of choc chips cookies, large batch of brownies, homemade caramel popcorn, and of course chocolate. Just to totally negate the veggies!
What do you cook for sleepover food? I’d love to know.

PS. Flatatta- a lesson learned
I loved the picture I saw of the Frittata Bites with Spinach, Sausage, and Feta
and decided I must make the dish...... - note to self- What I MUST do is actually read the recipe thoroughly first! I baked the mix in a pan twice the size the recipe called for, and by the time I realized; it was too late and the damage was done. Not so photogenic my flatatta, but it went like hotcakes, which surprised me! I really underestimated my children in thinking that the spinach would turn them off, but not a bit. And they didn’t even seem to realize that they don’t like feta cheese. Every last crumb went down the hatch. I am certainly going to do it again. In the right pan. Haha.

Frittata Bites with Spinach, Sausage, and Feta
 Nonstick vegetable oil spray
 12-ounces baby spinach
 1 tablespoon olive oil
 1 cup chopped onion
 8 ounces mild Italian sausages, casings removed, sausage broken into 1-inch pieces
 8 large eggs
 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
 1/2 teaspoon salt
 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
 1 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 41/2 ounces)
 Fresh Italian parsley leaves
Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish with nonstick spray. Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add Swiss chard and cook just until wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain. Finely chop chard, then place in kitchen towel and squeeze dry. Set chard aside.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to skillet and sauté until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add sausage and sauté until brown and cooked through, breaking up with fork, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
Whisk eggs, cream, salt, and pepper in large bowl to blend. Add chard and cooled sausage mixture, then feta; stir to blend. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish.
Bake frittata until set in center, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer baking dish to rack and cool frittata 15 to 20 minutes. Place platter atop dish with frittata. Using oven mitts, hold baking dish and platter firmly together and invert frittata onto platter; place another platter atop frittata and invert again so that frittata is right side up. Cut frittata into 20 pieces. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Place frittata pieces on rimmed baking sheet. Cover and chill. Rewarm in 325°F oven until heated through, about 10 minutes.
Transfer frittata pieces to platter. Garnish each piece with parsley; serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 16 small squares.