Monday, May 28, 2007

French Onion Soup

Behold the humble onion. The most widely used and wholly anonymous vegetable known to man. Always there but never acknowledged. Imagine a stock or a soup or a casserole sans onion. Impossible. But are we ever grateful? No. I think the onion deserves better.

So I like to give them the spotlight every now and then. Let them show off to their full advantage centre stage. Given the chance they shine brilliantly in taste and texture. After all, French Onion Soup is not an all time classic dish for nothing.

The best recipe I have found is in the Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander. It really hits the spot on a chilly almost winter night.

It is really easy. The onions are baked in the oven and are fuss free. They come out with a rich caramelled onion flavour. I like to make my own chicken stock to make up the soup. I just can't bring myself to drink bought stock, even with yummy onions mixed in. And I prefer to have my cheesy bread on the side for dipping. I'm always frightened it will just go soggy and horrible if immersed in the soup for more than a few seconds. I have a real thing about soggy bread or soggy anything really. I have a great horror of breakfast cereals for just that reason - but that's another story.

The truly great thing about this recipe is that the onions are versatile. I use them as I would any caramelised onion - in gravies, sauces. Sometimes I just abandon the stock altogether and make fantastic cheesy toastie snacks (see below). In fact, that's what I'm going to do right now. See you next post.

French Onion Soup
(adapted from Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander)

Slice 9 white or brown onions into rings. Grease an ovenproof gratin dish with 40gm of butter and add onions in a thick layer. Dot a further 40gm of butter over the top of the onions. Pour over 1 litre of dry white wine. Grind on black pepper to taste.

Bake uncovered in a 180C oven for 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until very soft. Increase heat to 220C and bake for another hour, until the onions have caramelised. Take care that the onions do not stick and burn. Add small amounts of water if need be to keep the onions moist.

Sprinkle onions with 2 tbspn of brandy (optional). Place spoonfuls of onion in soup bowls and and ladle over chicken or veal stock. Season to taste. Add a slice of sourdough or italian bread covered with grated gruyere cheese. Bake in the oven until the soup is bubbling.

French Onion Toasties

Toast a thick slice of sourdough or italian bread. Cover with onion mixture and grated cheddar or gruyere cheese. Toast under a hot grill until cheese is melted and bubbling.

Monday, May 21, 2007

SHF31# Neutral Territory - Marshmallows

Sugar High Friday is a blogging event created by Jennifer the Domestic Goddess. This month it is being hosted by sevenspoons with a theme of Shades of White. There seemed to be so many possibilities. I pondered crunchy meringue, milky pannacotta, snowy icecream or creamy cheesecake.

In the end, I settled for fluffy marshmallows. My recent foray into honeycomb got me thinking about confectionary. It's fun to make, it's good to eat and it's an always appreciated gift. So I am keen to expand my repertoire and marshmallows seemed like a good next step.

I searched for a recipe and found this one on Epicurious. It has so many glowing reviews I had to give it a go.

It was actually very easy. The only thing that went wrong was that I accidently used flour instead of icing sugar to line the tray and dust the top of the marshmallow. What an idiot I am -LOL. I had two identical dusters sitting on the benchtop, one with flour as I had just finished rolling out pastry, and one with icing sugar. But it was completely fine. The marshmallow came out of the pan beautifully. I ensured that there was a thick layer of flour (icing sugar) over the bottom of the pan. The flour on top formed a very fine dry layer which I just sliced away.

I took a tip from the reviews on Epicurious and used a pizza cutter to slice up the set marshmallow. It worked brilliantly, but there is simply no getting away from the fact that it is a sticky job.

As for taste, they are really good. I added an extra teaspoon of vanilla extract. I think you could add almost any flavour you want - cinnamon, lemon or say almond. The texture is denser than store bought marshmallows but I enjoyed that.

I used the marshmallow to create three different treats. Some I rolled in a mix of icing sugar and cornflour (see photo above). I found using straight icing sugar added too much sweetness. I think the idea would be to mix the two to your own taste.

For the rest I rolled half in toasted coconut. The other half I dipped in melted milk chocolate. After all what doesn't taste even better with a dose of chocolate.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ham in Coca Cola and Corn Pudding

There has been a short haitus of posting on this blog. The reason being a rather nasty kitchen accident. Being clumsy, I accidently dropped a piece of chicken into some hot oil which then splashed up and burnt my wrist rather badly. After copious amounts of first aid, I wandered back into the kitchen and sliced my finger open on the lid of a tin of vegetable stock powder. Cue blood, bandages, tears and self pity. What a night it was.

Anyhow, this rather put me off cooking and kitchens for a while. But all is now well and I'm moving on.

To get back into the swing of things I decided it was time to strike out in a new direction. If you peruse the archives of this blog you will notice lots of sweet, sugary things. That's because these are the things I am generally good at and therefore enjoy cooking. The awful truth is that I am a terrible meat cook. Mince I can do - lasagne, sausages, meat loaf. Give me a chicken , a leg of lamb, a kilo of gravy beef, and I will hand you back something tough, dry and tasteless.

It's time for this to change. So, I cast around for my first project and came up with ham. It's odd for sure, but I am intrigued by the idea of making my own ham. And I have seen endless rave reviews for Nigella's ham in coca cola (see recipe here), which is apparently moist, tender, delectable and dead easy.

The general method is to simmer the pork for a couple of hours, glaze and then bake.

So how did mine turn out. A bit tough and dry to be honest. In other words, business as usual (lol :-)). I may have been the meat that I used. The recipe calls for gammon which does not seem to exist here in Australia. I substituted a brined leg of pork from my local butcher. Or, it could have simmered at too high a temperature.

As for the taste, well that was very nice. I found the glaze to be sickly sweet, but the ham itself was very tasty.

I cannot help but wonder though, what the coke actually adds to this recipe other than novelty value. Nigella claims that using coke imbibes the ham with the spirit of barbecue. How? It adds no discernable flavour. So what is the point of Nigella's cherry coke recipe then? It may be moisture and tenderness, but is it really that different from ham cooked in water or stock? These are questions to ponder.

Nigella recommends serving this ham with corn pudding. I used this recipe from Epicurious. I left out the poblano chiles because they are not easily accessible here and the capsicum because I don't like them. It was really great. The corn flavour was intense and the pudding texture was lovely. The only issue was that it was overly sweet. The recipe calls for half a cup. I actually chickened out and only added a quarter of a cup. Corn is a sweet vegetable by itself. This was still too much. Next time I might limit it to a tablespoon.

As an added bonus, this recipe uses chihauhua cheese. I have never heard of that before. I would love to try it. I had to settle for plain old cheddar.

Despite their flaws these two dishes made an enjoyable meal. I am still keen to perfect the art of hams. So I will keep on trying and hopefully one day I will have something marvellous to report.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Taste of Yellow - Honeycomb

As soon as I saw the 'A Taste of Yellow' food event being hosted by winosandfoodies I knew I had to take part. This event is in support of Livestrong Day.

LIVESTRONG Day is the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s (LAF) grassroots advocacy initiative to unify people affected by cancer and to raise awareness about cancer survivorship issues on a national level and in local communities across the country. LIVESTRONG Day 2007 will occur on Wednesday, May 16.

My family has suffered the trauma of cancer. We were lucky and it has now gone from our lives. We give thanks for this every day.

The task is to cook something yellow. But what? Rather embarrasingly, the answer came from a morning in front of the television. I just happened to be watching 9am with David and Kim, a rather lightweight lifestyle show that is 'all about you' (apparently). The cooking segment featured an amazingly delicious looking honeycomb pudding with caramel sauce.

Well honeycomb is far and away my favourite confectionary and it's yellow. It couldn't be more perfect. What's more it looked to be exactly the type of honeycomb I favour. Super light, crispy crunchy and melt in the mouth. Time for another embarrassing admission - my favourite chocolate honeycomb is black and white brand from Woolworths. None of this stuff that almost breaks your teeth (cough** violet crumble **cough).

And it didn't disappoint. It is just so good. What's more it is remarkably easy to make. It just takes a bit of bravery on the first attempt. The most important thing is to have a large saucepan that will contain the honeycomb when it fizzes up. The second most important thing is to have the lined tin ready and as close by as possible. It will begin to harden quickly. You only need to very quickly (and gently) stir around two or three times and then tip out immediately. Your aim here is to preserve those bubbles.

Don't worry if a hardened coating is left in the saucepan. Fill it with water and it will dissolve away easily.


Melt 1 cup of sugar and 4 tbspn of corn syrup in a pan for about five minutes, stirring gently. Increase the heat to boiling point and leave without stirring for ten minutes.

As soon as the surface turns a pale straw colour, (be brave and) sprinkle over 2 tspn of bicarbonate of soda mixed into 1 dessertspoon of water. Stir through quickly and gently. As soon as you start stirring it will turn a bright yellow and fizz up very quickly.

Immediately pour into a 20x30cm lamingon/swiss roll/slice tin (a bit smaller will be fine), completely lined with baking paper. Leave to cool and harden.

Chocolate Honeycomb

Tap honeycomb gently to break into shards or cut it into squares. Dip in melted milk chocolate and leave to set on baking paper.

Honeycomb Clusters

Break hardened honeycomb into large crumbs. If the crumbs are too small they will just dissolve. Gentle taps with a clean meat mallet or a rolling pin will do the job. Mix into melted milk chocolate. Place teaspoonfuls of the mixture on baking paper to set.

Honeycomb Pudding with Caramel Sauce

As I noted, on the TV show the honeycomb was used to make a honeycomb pudding with caramel sauce. I haven't tried making it, but it looked divine. If you are interested here is the link to the recipe section on the show's website. Scroll down and you will find it under April 2007.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Passionfruit Ice Cream

Well, autumn is well and truly here. The trees are hunkering down for winter and blanketing Canberra with russet leaves. It is a beautiful time of year.

But I am not quite ready to let go of Summer. I just couldn't resist one last blast of ice cream before succumbing to apple crumble and hot chocolate.

I decided to go for passionfruit to transport a flavour of steam, heat and the tropics. Maybe I just need to book a holiday.

Anyway, this ice cream is about as easy as it gets. Grating some lemon rind is the height of its complexity. It's just stir, churn and freeze. And for that tiny bit of effort you get a lovely light ice cream.

The recipe I used was from Falling Cloudberries. It specifies two lemons, but I found this to be too much. Maybe my passionfruit were unaturally bland but two lemons would have totally overwhelmed their flavour. I found that using around 8 medium sized passionfruit and 1 small lemon was perfect. The flavour of the passionfruit and was lifted and there was an undercurrent of lemon. The sweetness of the passionfruit would also be a factor to consider.

Passionfruit Ice Cream
(adapted from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros)

Stir together 250ml of single cream, 250ml of milk and 230gm of caster sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Whisk in the grated rind of 1 lemon, the juice of 1 lemon (or more to taste) and the pulp of 6-8 passionfruits (or more to taste).

Churn in an ice cream maker and freeze.

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