Monday, January 31, 2011

A Sinfully Wicked Dessert for Valentine's Day

Underneath a light, fluffy cloud of cream lies a dark, handsome, smooth and totally irresistible chocolate ganache, laced with a hint of cointreau, surrounded by...more chocolate. So good it's almost bad. It is not innocent, it is not kind (to your waistline) but it's so worth it. You would probably say yes to more except it is so rich, so creamy and wickedly intoxicating that it would be a crime to go back for seconds. Maybe the next day. But not any time soon.

The culprit:

Chocolate Cointreau Ganache Mousse with Cream


Don't say I didn't warn you. 
It will call you from the refrigerator at the most inconvenient times, tempting you to have that second taste of its wicked goodness. Yes, it was love at first sight.


CHOCOLATE COINTREAU GANACHE MOUSSE WITH CREAM
Mousse recipe adapted from Taste


300g good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 eggs, separated
125ml (1/2 cup) light olive oil
60ml (1/4 cup) Cointreau liqueur
50g cream
150g extra chocolate
cocoa powder to dust

Melt 300g chocolate in the microwave, checking every 20 seconds to ensure it does not burn. Stir until the chocolate is smooth. Set aside to cool.
 Meanwhile, melt extra chocolate in a separate bowl. Spread generously into four cup molds, ensuring the sides are thick, as well as the bottom. Refrigerate until set.
Beat the egg whites in a clean dry bowl until firm peaks form. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition until combined.
Add the melted chocolate and beat until combined. Gradually add the oil and Cointreau, beating until well after each addition.
Gently remove the set chocolate cups from their molds.
Spoon the chocolate mixture into each chocolate cup. Cover and place in the fridge for 4 hours or until firm. Serve with cream and a sprinkling of cocoa or chocolate curls on the top.

NOTES: this recipe can be made one day ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.



Another naughty version of this amazing cointreau mousse:

CHOCOLATE COINTREAU MOUSSE TARTS




Shortbread Tart Cases:

125g butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup pure icing sugar
1 tsp. vanilla essence
1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup cornflour

Using an electric beater, beat butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add flours, and stir until well combined. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Roll with a rolling pin and press our 20 circles. Place each in the bases of a greased muffin tray. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden. Cool.
Using the above mousse recipe, pipe chocolate mousse into each shortbread case when cooled. You may find this easier after refrigerating the mousse for several hours prior to piping.
MAKES 20

Friday, January 28, 2011

Valentine's Day Delights

My husband and I have had a bad run with Valentine's Day celebrations. A  few of my friends seem to think I have "it all like a fairy tale"...if they only knew our run with the one day in the whole year that is celebrated by lovers worldwide!
To begin, he and I were in a long distant relationship. The first Valentine's Day that crossed us was in 2007, when I flew interstate to surprise him on the day. He happened to be working late...and both being so tired, we didn't even get to spend much time together that day, we didn't even have dinner together. It was probably one of the most romantic ideas I had ever come up with.
The next year, after moving to that state he lives in, we had a family dinner with his parents, after most of the day apart (due to Luke's cricket game). The dinner and company I might add, where amazing...but...being the pampered, selfish little brat I am, I wanted him all to myself, for the whole day...and hence, have come to loath cricket in every form.
Valentines Day 2009 was very special--we were newly engaged and spent a fabulous evening in a jazz bar with a scrumptious dinner listening to a live band, with cocktails and bubbly, and chocolate fondue to finish the night. So I cant complain about that, it was superb!
2010 we had a booking for a very romantic dinner out, finally as a married couple and still honeymooning with our lovechild on the way. But...my dear, dear brother-in-law and his fiance happened to set that very day for their engagement party. I love you Dave and Marce, but I hated the decision! I still do.
Finally, finally, wonderful 2011 arrives. We booked a great restaurant early, no one would steal this day from us. We even paid in advance, with a wonderful deal they had advertised for two. We were to receive a complimentary bottle of wine on arrival, have live jazz playing throughout our three course meal, with a table looking out over the city-lit Brisbane River.

Drift (aka Oxleys) on the Brisbane River
Well, due to recent events here in Queensland, something very devastating happened to that very restaurant. I watched on TV as before my eyes the camera caught footage of the floating beer garden being pulled from the side of the restaurant, and moments later, the whole restaurant itself simply sank into the river!

January floods..."Drift" sinks into the Brisbane River

Drift beer garden detaches and drifts off...
 Alright, I give up. It wasn't meant to be. And now, sitting here, I realise why. All along, I've been wanting to share a romantic dinner with my beloved and have been relying so much on external, material things making our Valentine's Day special. But really, its all about spending that quality time together...anywhere. Valentines smalentines! Every day should be Valentine's Day.
So, this year, my husband and I will sit out on our candle-lit veranda, when our beautiful son is asleep, and we will have a delicious home cooked meal that we have created together. Yes, Norah Jones will be playing, but no one else and nothing else will interrupt or add to our night. THAT my friends, is romance.

CHOCOLATE DIPPED STRAWBERRIES


Give me a box of these and I'll love you forever.


4.5 tablespoons of thickened cream
9 ounces of bittersweet chopped chocolate
15 strawberries
1.5 tablespoons of butter

Line a plate or tray with baking paper. Over a bowl of boiling water, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring until melted and well combined.
Add cream to the chocolate mixture and stir until smooth. Allow to cool.
When strawberries are room temperature, pick up each by its stem and dip it into the mixture. Allow any excess chocolate to drop back into the bowl. Carefully place the chocolate coated strawberry onto the greaseproof paper and repeat until all 15 strawberries are coated.

NOTES: you can box these chocolate covered berries in a fancy box and tie with ribbon as a gift. They should be consumed within 1-2 days. Be sure not to store them in the refrigerator. After the chocolate has hardened, you may inject each strawberry with a liqueur of your choice, if preferred. These also look fabulous with a drizzle of white chocolate across them!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chefs Toolbox Party

Tonight I had a real doozy of a party.
It wasn't one of my dinner parties, this was very different--and resulted in an exploding micowave, flames, and not one, but two burnt pizza crusts.
A little while ago, a wonderful woman I have known for a long time planted a seed in my head. She had become a consultant for a company called Chef's Toolbox, holding cooking parties and selling wonderful cookware. She held a fundraiser for our Church, which is under construction, and raised $1500.00.
Impressed, I asked her more, hoping that I too, could do something similar for our little, blossoming Traditional Catholic school.
A few weeks later I'm burning pizza bases and watching flames shoot out of microwaves in a kitchen that is not my own. I laugh now, remembering a dream I had a few months ago, just after I started this blog.
Someone had seen my blog and started a hate blog in response to my posts, declaring I thought I was some sort of Domestic Goddess...when it came to the kitchen. They said I knew nothing of cooking, was a total fraud and was full of my own importance.
I awoke in horror, read all my posts and felt sober. Now I cackle away, half mad because I cannot sleep for the thought of that party I held. Where ever you are, dear imaginary Hate Blogger, I am confessing, I know nothing when it comes to kitchens, food and baking. I know nothing.

On that note, here's another delicious morsel that didn't burn. Bon Appetit!


PASSIONFRUIT CUSTARD SHORTBREADS

Shortbread:

125g butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup pure icing sugar
1 tsp. vanilla essence
1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup cornflour

Using an electric beater, beat butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add flours, and stir until well combined. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Roll with a rolling pin and press our 20 circles. Place on a lined tray. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden. Cool.

Custard:

2 cups milk
4 large egg yolks
6 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. cornflour
40g butter, at room temperature

Place milk in a small saucepan and bring to the boil.
Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, combine yolks, sugar and cornflour and whisk over a low heat. When the milk has boiled, add a few tablespoons into the yolk mixture and whisk. Gradually add the remaining milk and whisk vigorously on a medium heat. Custard will thicken. Continue to whisk until boils, and remove from heat. Scrape into a small bowl and sit in a tray of ice, to cease the cooking process. When cooler, add the butter in 3-4 installments, stirring until combined. Add essence, mix and refrigerate. Stores for 2-3 days.

Passion Fruit Icing:

1-2 passion fruits
1/2 cup icing sugar

Combine enough passion fruit with icing sugar to make a runny icing. Add water if further thinning is required.
Spread icing over the tops of each shortbread biscuit, Allow to dry, before wedging two biscuits together with custard.

Makes 10

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Chocolate Hazelnut Croissants

Did I mention one of my 2011 cooking challenges is to make croissants? I'm talking about those soft, buttery layers of pastry the French should probably be bragging about.
I recently discovered that "croissant" actually means crescent...why did I never realise that before? Seems so obvious now that I know. So, with making real croissants still in mind for the near (or distant) future, I decided to experiment with puff pastry, hazelnuts, chocolate and crescent formations. After all, how could this combo go wrong? One word: HEAVENLY!
These are best served just out of the oven, coupled with a mug of coffee and a bunch to share with...because its so hard to stop at just one!



CHOC HAZELNUT CROISSANTS

2 sheets puff pastry, partially thawed
1 egg, beaten
8 tbsp. chocolate hazelnut spread (Nutella)
50g hazelnuts, crushed

 Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Cut each sheet of pastry into 4 squares. Spread 1 tablespoon chocolate-hazelnut spread over each square, leaving a 1.5cm border around all edges. Sprinkle crushed nuts over chocolate.Brush pastry edges lightly with egg. Roll up each square from corner to corner, pressing gently to seal. Shape pastry rolls into croissants. Place on prepared tray. Brush with egg. Bake for 20 minutes or until pastry is golden and puffed.
Serve warm.
Makes 8



Friday, January 21, 2011

Quick Fixes For Unexpected Or Forgotten Parties

Ever forgotten that you invited a whole swag of people to come over for dinner weeks ago, and find yourself with a few hours to organise something impressive? Everyone's had one of those days where they just could not get everything done that they wanted to, and then to go and spend hours trying to create a fancy dessert for guests is just out of the question. So I've created a super quick and extra delicious recipe for these moments in time. Not only do they taste superb, they also look fantastic in all their simple but deadly glory.



BLACK FOREST RIPPLE DESSERTS

300g thickened cream
150g chocolate
 300g chocolate ripple biscuits
100g extra chocolate
50g extra cream
12 cherries with stems

Whip cream and fold through melted chocolate.
Place 12 biscuits face up on a serving platter. Spoon a dollop of chocolate cream onto the centre of each. Place another biscuit on top of the cream. Top with another dollop. Place one more biscuit on top of each stack.


Melt extra chocolate. To make ganache, stir into this chocolate the extra cream and immediately pour onto each individual dessert. Top with a fresh cherry and refrigerate until served.

Makes 12



Do Not Open the Oven...Repeat...Do Not...

There are certain things one must do before thy die. One for me, is making croissants, which will be one of my 2011 challenges. I only just scraped in with my 2010 cooking challenge, with Christmas as an excuse. Everything I make is an experiment of some sort, and this was no exception. I don't like stressful, fussy cooking, and although I managed to create the Christmas Crocumbouche from scratch, I had kittens in the process. Delicious though it was, and spectacular though it looked, and though I received many compliments, it only just made up for the grey hairs I received. I contemplated cheating at one stage, almost sneaking down to the store to buy fat profiteroles to stack, and thread to sew my lips up with so no one would know.
Why the stress? Choux pastry has long been a nightmare to me, after failing to produce fat puffs of deliciousness after trying a Gordon Ramsay recipe for profiteroles. He would have sworn his head off at me, so I'm glad no one was there to witness a humiliating failure.
I dont know how many batches of choux I made this time. Most of the profiteroles turned out beautifully, but it wasnt all roses as some remained flat and damp, as I made the mistake of opening the oven to look at them. I couldn't help myself, I just had to have a break in my pacing to see if they had risen!
I discovered, at the end, that piping the uncooked choux pastry gets much better results than spooning the mixture, and the firmer the mixture the better.
The patisserie was amazing though and I enjoyed pumping those babies full of deliciousness, drenching them with chocolate and decorating with gold beads and ribbon. Ah! 'Tis done!

CHOUX PASTRY

80ml (1/3 cup) water
40g butter, at room temperature, cubed
50g (1/3 cup) plain flour, sifted
2 eggs, at room temperature
Vegetable oil, to grease

Place water and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes or until butter melts and mixture just comes to the boil. Add all the flour to the butter mixture at once and use a wooden spoon to beat until well combined. Place over low heat and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes or until the mixture forms a ball and begins to come away from the side of the saucepan. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Whisk 1 egg in a small bowl and set aside. Whisk the remaining egg in a small bowl, then add it to the flour mixture, beating well with a wooden spoon. Gradually add a little of the reserved egg and beat until the mixture just falls from the spoon but still holds its shape. Preheat oven to 200°C. Brush a baking tray with oil to lightly grease. Spoon 10-15 spoonsful of the mixture onto tray, about 3cm apart. Alternatively, use a pastry bag fitted with a 1.5cm-diameter plain piping nozzle to pipe the profiteroles onto the baking tray.


Brush the tops with a little of the remaining egg. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes or until the profiteroles are puffed and golden. Remove from oven and turn the oven off. Using a skewer or a small knife, pierce the base (or top) of each profiterole to release the steam. Return the profiteroles to the oven and leave them for 15 minutes to dry out. Remove the profiteroles from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.


CHOUX BEFORE COOKING.





CREME  PATISSERIE

2 cups milk
4 large egg yolks
6 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. cornstarch
40g butter, room temperature

Boil milk. In a separate saucepan, combine yolks, sugar and cornstarch and whisk on low. Once the milk has boiled, add a few spoons to the yolk mixture. Continue whisking and gradually add the rest of the milk. If scrambled particles form, strain. Place saucepan over medium heat and whisk vigorously until the mixture begins to boil and thicken. Continue for 1-2 minutes, stirring.
Scrape into a small bowl and set over ice. Stir occasionally.
Once slightly cool, add butter in 3-4 installments. Use immediately or cover and refrigerated for 2-3 days.

CREME PATISSERIE

PROFITEROLES

Finished Product. PHEW!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A New Year's Feast

So, I've never celebrated New Years in a low key style, but there's a first for everything, and quite frankly, I think New Years celebrations to be a little over rated. We opted for a dinner party this year, with some of the young couples and it was fabulous!
Being a Friday, we went for seafood. Not everyone is a seafood fan, but you cant go wrong with a beautiful, buttery Salmon steak smeared in mushroom sauce on a bed of warm potato mash, baby spinach and roast capsicum. The meal is a favourite of mine to make and gets compliments every time, so if you're wanting to impress...you have the recipe! The best thing, besides the taste, is that this meal is super easy to make and looks gourmet. Cant go past it!

Hors D'oeuvres:



Photo courtesy of Marcela Saborido


Cucumber Wheels with Curried Tuna, Capsicum and Prawns


2 large cucumbers
2x 95g cans Thai Red Curry tuna
1/4 red capsicum
prawns (optional)

Scrape the fork vertically down the skin of the cucumbers until completely scored. Cut off the ends and cut the cucumber into 1cm discs. Scrape out a little of the centre of each with a teaspoon, making sure that there is still a base. Discard the removed seeds. Spoon curried tuna into the small wells and top with slithered capsicum and prawns if desired.



Main Course:

ATLANTIC SALMON STEAK WITH MUSHROOM SAUCE, MASH, BABY SPINACH AND ROASTED CAPSICUM



Atlantic salmon steak
Red capsicum, halved, deseeded
Mashed potato
Handful of mushrooms, chopped
Evaporated milk
Corn flour
Salt and pepper


Heat oil in pan on stove on high. Sear the salmon on each side for a few minutes until golden. Turn stove to low to cook the steak through, turning and checking occasionally.
Meanwhile, halve the capsicum, deseed and set under the grill on high. Remove when browned, and repeat for the other side.
Cut desired amount of mushrooms into small pieces and begin to brown in a small saucepan. While browning, place 1/5 cup evaporated milk in a small bowl and mix a little corn flour into it. When well combined, add to the mushrooms, with more evaporated milk until the sauce reaches desired consistency. Bring to the boil and remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Arrange baby spinach in the middle of plate. Lay the roast capsicum on top of the spinach and scoop prepared potato mash inside. Lay salmon steak on top of the mash and pour hot mushroom sauce over the steak.


NOTE: this recipe serves one. Increase ingredients to suit.



Dessert:


MERINGUE RAVE SWAN

2 Egg whites
1/2 cup caster sugar
3oz flaked almonds, lightly toasted
100ml cream
1/4 cup strawberries

Preheat oven to 150C.
Beat the egg whites on the highest setting until they form stiff peaks. Gradually add the sugar, beating well in between, until sugar dissolves,  and the mixture is thick, smooth and glossy.
Draw 12 tear shapes onto two sheets of baking paper to use as guides for the swan's bodies. Pipe meringue mixture onto these sheets to fill in the shapes, making the meringue thicker at the widest part of the tear. Insert the tips of almonds at a slight angle over the tops of these tear shapes to resemble feathers. Bake for one hour, alternating the trays at the end of the first half hour. Cool with the oven door slightly ajar.




With the remaining meringue, pipe S shapes onto another lined baking tray. Pipe a few extra in case of breakage. Bake in the oven until golden, and cool with the door ajar.


Beat the cream until thick. Crush the strawberries and add, stirring through the cream.
Just before serving, wedge two teardrops together with cream to assemble the body and insert the S shape to form the swan's head.

NOTES: do not assemble swan and then store in the refrigerator, as the meringue will soften and the swan will not stand.








 After dinner Nibbles:

CUSTARD SHORTBREAD TARTS

Shortbread:

125g butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup pure icing sugar
1 tsp. vanilla essence
1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup cornflour

Using an electric beater, beat butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add flours, and stir until well combined. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Roll with a rolling pin and press our 20 circles. Place each in the bases of a  muffin tin, taking care to centre the dough so that each forms a pastry case. Bake for 25-30 minutes  until golden. Cool.

Custard:

2 cups milk
4 large egg yolks
6 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. cornflour
40g butter, at room temperature

Place milk in a small saucepan and bring to the boil.
Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, combine yolks, sugar and cornflour and whisk over a low heat. When the milk has boiled, add a few tablespoons into the yolk mixture and whisk. Gradually add the remaining milk and whisk vigorously on a medium heat. Custard will thicken. Continue to whisk until boils, and remove from heat. Scrape into a small bowl and sit in a tray of ice, to cease the cooking process. When cooler, add the butter in 3-4 installments, stirring until combined. Add essence, mix and refrigerate. Stores for 2-3 days.

Pipe custard into shortbread cases and drizzle with melted chocolate. De-lish!





If He Doesnt Cook, Train Him

Too often have I heard women talking about how much they hate cooking. I have often wondered why. And then it hit me. Imagine having to cook everyday without fail for 30 years of your life? When you HAVE to do something, often part of the joy is taken out of it. It becomes a task.
Well...now I have only one thing to say to these women. Find yourself a man who can cook too! What man isn't interested in food? I cant name one. They make some of the finest cooks.
I think I get so much pleasure out of being in the kitchen because I don't have to be, I want to be. My husband has an interest in food and is happy to make the dinner if I am too tired or just don't feel like it. He recently created an amazing curry which I will put up soon. In the meantime, here's another creation of his to get you all through this warm summer. Happy New Year!

CITRUS MULE




350ml Gingerbeer mixer 
2L lemonade
1/5 cup lemon juice
250lm coconut liqueur
150lm white rum

Combine all ingredients together in a large jug. Serve chilled with lemon wedges.


NOTES: Gingerbeer Mixer can be found in your local Coles or Woolworth stores. It is a cordial/syrup made by Buderim Ginger. Alternately, use Gingerbeer and less lemonade.