Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lovely Little Linzers ......

There is a lovely little German café near my house that makes THE BEST linzer biscuits, and in recent months I’ve become addicted to them. They are light, thin shortbreads that are stuck together with sweet strawberry jam and topped with delicious slightly tangy glaze icing. They are the perfect accompaniment for strong espresso coffee or the perfect end of an evening meal if you are looking for a change from After Eights.

Last Sunday I went into a baking frenzy and ended up experimenting with a few cookie/biscuit recipes in an effort to try and create my own Linzer Biscuits and the recipe below is what my efforts resulted in. I have to admit that they aren’t as good as the café, but they are pretty close and hopefully after a bit more practice I’ll get them even closer….

125g butter
¾ cup sugar
Vanilla extract – I always put in a good splash!
1 cup plan flour
1 cup ground Almonds
1 tsp baking powder

Strawberry Jam and Glaze Icing

Using an electric handheld whisk, cream butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy then beat in egg. Mix sifted flour and baking powder into the butter mixture followed by the ground almonds.

Work the mixture into a firm ball and then roll out on a lightly floured surface. Using a cookie cutter, cut into shapes (I used hearts!). Place on baking tray that has been lined with greaseproof paper, and bake at 190C for about 15 minutes or until slightly golden.

When the biscuits are cooked, make sure you let them cool completely before sandwiching 2 together with jam and glazing with icing! Warning …… these biscuits are wonderfully delicious and very hard to resist! Be prepared to feel compelled to nibble on them until they are all gone!!!!!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Leon’s Ice Cream

Continuing my infatuation with the Leon cookbook, I decided to make their Plum Ice Cream (pg 264) for a casual dinner we had one Sunday night. Ice cream is one of my favourite things and even though I love the thought of making ice cream, I’ve always shied away from it as I don’t have an ice cream maker …. And I don’t need another appliance!! As soon as I discovered that for this recipe you don’t need an ice cream maker, I was hooked!

The other main appeal of this recipe is that you don’t need excessive amounts of sugar and/or fat (and I think the sugar content can even be reduced dramatically and still keep its appeal).

The Ice Cream is made in three stages:

First Step – Plum Puree
Chop up about 450 grams of plums (with skins but without stones) and cook with 175gs of sugar and some lemon juice until the sugar dissolves and the plum flesh becomes nice and mushy. Whiz in a food processor until the mixture is the consistency of a rough puree, and then cool completely (I made mine the night before).

Second Step – Egg whites
Whisk 2 egg whites until they form soft peaks. In a seperate saucepan dissolve 200 grams of Demerara sugar in 6 tablespoons of water. Once dissolved turn the heat up so that the sugar mixture starts to boil rapidly and after three minutes, immediately pour the sugar mixture into the egg whites in a thin stream. All the while you are whisking the eggs until the mixture looks like uncooked meringue.

Third Step – Cream
Whisk 300mls of cream until it is thick but not stiff – then you fold in the egg whites, followed by the plum puree. Once thoroughly combined, freeze for at least 5 hours.

A nice little visual tip is to save some of the puree, and once the mixture is ready to put in the freezer, drizzle over the top of the ice cream and then use a bamboo skewer to swirl into a pretty pattern (see below).

Another little quirk about this recipe is that it calls for plums that are not too ripe. This works well for two reasons – 1) In London it’s virtually impossible to get really ripe plums and 2) The bitterness of the plums create a subtle sharpness that balances the sugary sweetness resulting in a refreshing indulgence rather than an overbearing ice confection!

This dessert was one that did not require an accompaniment. Served in a martini glass on its own, it was a perfectly classic way to end a comfortably casual evening!!

(Photography credits have to go to Kerry for providing the camera and Joff for taking the perfect shots!!)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A quick dinner for a quick post!!

One of the newest additions to my ever growing collection of cookbooks is the Leon Cookbook. Leon is a restaurant here in London that specialises in good quality food that is also good for you (what a crazy idea!!).

They do superfood salads, soups, curries and a delicious range of desserts that are great for a healthy mid-day meal. They also have a really cool, retro website and the book is equally as quirky:

I was prompted to buy the cookbook after lunching on an amazing Chicken Laksa a few weeks ago. Unfortunately the Chicken Laksa recipe wasn’t in the book. However, I was not too disappointed as the rest of the recipes are really great, and on Wednesday night I decided to try out the Moroccan Meatballs recipe, for a nice easy but healthy mid week meal.

I cannot rave about this recipe enough – It was easy, tasty and nutritionally balanced (and my chief recipe taster nearly purred when I put the plate in front of him!!)

Basically, you make the sauce with oil, garlic, tinned chopped tomatoes and harissa (however I used some chilli sauce instead) and let this simmer for about 20 minutes. While that is bubbling away you make the meatballs out of Mince (lamb was recommended however I used turkey as that’s what I had in the fridge), wholemeal pita bread that’s been ripped up and soaked in milk, fresh parsley and mint, dried oregano and seasoning to taste. Once all of this has been combined you then roll into meat balls, cook in a very hot pan until nice and browned (but not necessarily cooked) and then throw into the sauce for another 20 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through and sauce has reduced into a thick, rich consistency. Top off with some more fresh parsley and basil and then serve with cous cous!!

(Even though I didn’t take this photo, my meatballs turned out exactly the same.    very impressive!!)

I’ve never cooked meatballs before – but now I think these ones are going to become a weeknight staple!!

Until next week .....

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Julias Eggs..... 

Recently I have become a Julia Child enthusiast. It started with the movie Julie and Julia and progressed with reading My life in France – her autobiography, written in collaboration with her Grand Nephew. My Life in France chronicles her Journey through Life, her discovery of food and her life long affair with France. It’s an endearing story that was written in Julia’s declining years, and was completed after her death in 2004. Indeed, it is written a such a way that makes it feel like an old Julia Child is actually telling you the story herself, as it often, and quite randomly, inserts quaint but irrelevant pieces of information, changes direction and at times alludes to ‘a point’ but never actually makes one!! However, the combination of her sense of humour, her intellect and her experience gained from living and travelling all over the world result in an extremely entertaining read.

When I finished the book I felt like I was saying good-bye to a dear friend.

Off the back of My Life in France, I decided to buy a paperback version of Mastering the art of French Cooking, the book that her TV career was launched from and responsible for her subsequent fame.

Normally I would shy away from a cookbook that contained no pictures and that looked so complicated. However after learning of the painstaking efforts she goes to, to create perfect recipes, I felt it was a purchase that was worthwhile. (It was not unusual for Julia Child to cook the same recipe upward of 20 times in order to get the correct quantities, cooking times, and end product).

I thought it fitting to try out something easy first before I graduate to the more complicated la cuisine bourgeoise, and as it was Sunday morning, Scrambled eggs seemed the perfect place to start.

Firstly, you need to smear the bottom and sides of a pan with butter. Then comes the first major difference. The eggs should be cooked over a low to medium heat – so low that for the first 2 to 3 minutes nothing should appear to happen. Gradually the eggs should thicken into a custard like consistency. Now for the next major difference. Once the eggs are at the consistency you desire you then add either butter or cream – the key being that you don’t add any liquid or liquid-producing ingredients until the eggs are basically ready, as doing so is likely to cause the eggs to become watery. Also, adding the butter or cream at the end stops the cooking process.

Well – I got it completely wrong! The pan was too hot and the eggs cooked almost immediately. As a result I didn’t have time to measure out the correct quantities so ended up throwing a dollop of butter into the eggs at the last minute and hoping for the best!

The eggs tasted good – but let’s face it, any cooked breakfast tastes good on a cold Sunday morning!

The next time I try out a Julia recipe I’m going to be far more prepared – which means reading through the recipe completely before I start cooking so that I don’t get it wrong!!

Until next week…………

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Autumn rain and Apples for Jam
I think it was about 6am Sunday morning when the sound of pouring rain first registered. By 10am my Sunday morning slumber had ended, but the rain had not.

It was a somewhat typical autumn day, grey and rainy but unusually warm. Yellow-orange leaves were clumped here and there on the ground outside, which made walking particularly difficult as leaves get awfully slippery when they are wet! It was a day that was beautiful in its own way but the grey tinge in the sky meant our evening meal had to be something particularly warming and comforting …..

Enter Apples for Jam – By Tessa Kiros

I am a huge fan of Tessa. I have four of her 5 cookbooks and I think she is brilliant. She is a devoted foodie, who has gathered together a repertoire of recipes that all seem to stem from family influences. Apples for Jam is a book devoted entirely to meals that would appeal to kids (not to be confused with a children’s cookbook). Tessa has very fond food memories from her own childhood and in Apples for Jam you get the feeling she is trying to create the same kind of memories for her own children… and by extension all of her readers and their kids as well!!

So on this rainy autumn day we decided to try Tessa’s Lamb and Green Bean Casserole (pg 190).

We found a Lamb shoulder roast that was on sale – It was a little bit fatty but looked as though it would suit a slow cooked stew. I trimmed a large portion of the fat off the roast before carving in into largish chunks and browning in a healthy amount of olive oil (you need to have a saucepan that can go on the stove top and then into the oven).

Once the meat was brown we added a generous dollop of butter (!!), chopped tomatoes, cinnamon, onions and 500mls of water. After seasoning with salt we popped the dish in the oven and an hour later we added the green beans. It was then back in the oven for a further hour. With very little preparation and minimal intervention during the cooking process, this dish nearly made itself!

So after two hours of cooking my chief recipe taster, a visiting friend with an inclination to musical theatre, and me sat down to enjoy Lamb and Green Bean Casserole served with delicious roast potatoes and a Julie Andrews classic... Thoroughly Modern Millie.

The meal was lovely. The lamb was melt in your mouth soft, the beans still surprisingly firm and the sauce/liquid flavoursome. The combination of warming lamb casserole, a silly but entertaining musical and lots of frivolous banter ended this rainy London evening on a satisfying high note!

Until next week ……..

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Magic Soup, By Tracey McGarvey-Gilbard 

Despite this challenge being in its infancy, I am already going to break the rules… but only slightly! Instead of chosing a recipe from one of my books I've chosen one that I made up and here's why .......

Sunday was my designated ‘challenge’ day for the week, but my chief recipe taster and I both had varying degrees of colds and therefore spent all day in bed convalescing. By Monday I was up and back to work but I still felt …. Blah….. My chief recipe taster was also still suffering so I thought we were both in need of the restorative qualities of a dish I call magic soup!

I came up with magic soup in the first year we moved to the UK. That year we caught everything that was going around and the symptoms seemed to be much worse than we were used to. (I’ve heard that this is due to Australia being so isolated, so when you arrive in the UK you are exposed to new bugs that you have not yet built up immunity to). After our third bout of illness, in desperation I threw all the following ingredients into a pot and hoped for the best… and it worked!! The ginger and chilli seem to work together to sweat whatever bug you have out of your body and the veggies and chicken seems to infuse ‘goodness’ throughout your system! We named it magic soup as is seemed to cure the ailment as if by magic!!

2-3 of the hottest chillies you can find/handle
3-4 chopped shallots (French) or 1 brown onion
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 knob of ginger about 5-7 cms in length, roughly chopped
2-3 cups of any green vegetables you like chopped into bite sized pieces. (My favourites are Asian greens like Pak/Bok choy)
Chicken – breast or thigh fillets (about 1 fillet per person), trimmed of excess fat and cut into bite size pieces.
Chicken or vegetable stock – about 1ltr for 2 people

Chop the chillies, shallots/onion, garlic and ginger and cook in some olive oil for a couple of minutes until fragrant then add chicken. Cook for a further 2-3 or so minutes until the chicken starts to cook (you want the chicken to remain white so you may need to turn the heat down if it starts to brown).
At this point you want to add the stock. Bring the soup to the boil and then turn heat down and simmer for about 15 minutes. When the chicken appears to be cooked through quickly throw in the greens and cook for a few minutes more. You want the greens to keep their colour and remain slightly crunchy. If the stock needs more flavour I usually add a few drops of soy sauce to taste.

Once served its quite nice to add some more grated ginger and a few sprigs of coriander, or even tofu if so inclined.  

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Marie Claire, Cooking.

For this weeks installment I made a choice from an old school favourite–Marie Claire Cooking, by Donna Hay. I’ve had this book for over 10 years (I reluctantly admit) however there is still much within that I am yet to discover!!The Marie Claire cookbooks, in my opinion, were my generations’ alternative to the Woman’s Weekly cookbooks. They are a staple in any cookbook collection, and when first released they featured updated recipes that included all the ‘in fashion’ ingredients, like sun dried tomatoes and coriander by the bucket load - reminiscent of Jamie Oliver’s ‘Loadsaherbs’ phase!! These were the books that saw Penne being replaced for handmade gnocchi, muffins for Friands and Vanilla essence for Vanilla pods! Despite their early 90s influence the recipes are still relevant and for this weeks challenge I’ve selected:Grilled chicken and Fig salad.

I chose this recipe as I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for figs. I like the look of them and love the way they can be used in either sweet or savoury dishes. They team well with cheese – especially goats, and also with cured meats like prosciutto and parma ham. However I’ve never actually cooked with them.

The recipe called for Char grilling or Barbequing chicken breast and aubergine. Since I don’t have a griddle pan I had to go for the BBQ option – and in a demonstration of my commitment to this blog I donned my ski jacket, wellies and head lamp and fired up the Barbie! (It may seem dramatic…. But it was COLD on Saturday night).

The recipe called for assembling a plate of Radicchio, topping with the figs, chicken and aubergine and then finishing with a dressing of lemon, honey and marjoram. Unfortunately, I came up against a little roadblock in that I could not find Radicchio and Marjoram anywhere, so had to settle for little gems and oregano. Unfortunately I think the harmony of flavours needed the bitterness of the radicchio to work and the little gems left the dish a bit ……. bland.

Interestingly, the dressing combination was also a little disappointing as when you mix lemon and honey its hard to get past that feeling that you are assembling a drink for someone who has a cold!

The meal looked great, and was a nice enough dish, however, was probably a poor choice for a cold autumn evening. Plus, I just couldn’t get past the dressing as an unfortunate combination of flavours. However my chief recipe taster and I both agreed that it would make an excellent headliner for a summer mezze ensemble, which included dips, pita breads and other exotic salads.

All in all we decided that the meal deserved 7 out of 10 – Not a bad meal… but a far cry from the amazing culinary experience I had hoped for….. oh well, I guess theres always next week….

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

And so it begins…………

For the first challenge in this series I let my ‘chief recipe tester’ select the kick off recipe. A carnivore at heart, he chose a Lamb recipe from Feast Bazaar, by Barry Vera. Having only purchased this book on Friday lunchtime I thought its selection was well timed!

The chosen recipe was simply called ‘Marinated Roast Leg of Lamb’ and clearly featured the trigger words that would spark my chief recipe taster‘s interest (i.e. Marinated and Lamb).

This was an exotic choice, coupling natural yoghurt and a mixture of fresh and dried spices, and included Saffron threads (which I love), garam marsala and freshly grated ginger. Preparation was minimal – score the lamb, mix the spices into the yoghurt and marinate for 3 hours.

The original recipe called for a leg of lamb that weighed between 1.8 and 2kgs. As there were only two of us we chose a small (600g) lamb shoulder roast that had been rolled and tied. We untied the roast and flattened the meat in an effort to maximise the effect of the marinade thus resulting (hopefully!) in a more flavoursome end product.

We placed the meat and yoghurt mixture in a snap lock bag and popped it in the fridge for just over 2 hours. A late start to preparation meant that we had to shorten the marinating time and as the meat had no bone and was dramatically smaller than the once called for in the recipe the cooking time was shortened to just over an hour.

A note from the author assured us that when served with a simple accompaniment ‘the flavour of the lamb would be enjoyed to the fullest’. Therefore we prepared broccoli and cauliflower that had been flash fried, first with a small amount of boiling water and finished off with a splash of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt in a hot pan.

The result was highly rewarding without being overly complicated. The meat was perfectly done, the marinade was subtle, enhancing the lamb rather than overshadowing it. The vegetables were fresh and complimented the dish well.

So The inaugural recipe was a great success and a lot of fun to execute. With generous amounts of motivation compelling me I cant wait until next weeks challenge!!!

Until then ……

Friday, October 09, 2009

Cook Book Challenge

Some girls buy shoes, others buy handbags…

Me – I buy cookbooks.

I’m obsessed.

I have a shelf full of them and not a week goes buy without me wandering into a bookshop or browsing Amazon for the next addition to my family of books. 

It’s important to point out though that this isn’t an indiscriminate obsession. I’m very selective. I believe in good chemistry and occasionally love at first sight. The book has to make in immediate impression, but also has to have at least a whisper of practicality.

Like any good antipodean I have a fairly healthy collection of Woman’s Weekly cookbooks, and like most people my age I also have a smattering of Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Bill Granger and Marie Claire. There are books with Pictures and a few without (although I’m very visual… so pictures of what my efforts are supposed to look like at the end are very helpful.. and quite often necessary). Some were gifts and some I made traveling family members lug here from Australia in dribs and drabs (thanks mum and sis!).

I also boast an impressive collection of food related magazines and articles that I have kept over the years. To add to this just recently I have cultivated an enthusiastic interest in a few great food-blogs (see links).   

However, there is one serious drawback with this obsession. Just like the woman who is obsessed with shoes but doesn’t have enough events at which to show them off, I have a comprehensive collection of recipes that I am yet to use. I mean seriously – what’s the point of having all these books if I haven’t yet experienced their delights!!

So with that I have decided to start my own Cookbook Challenge. For the next six months (October 2009 to March 2010) I am going to select a recipe from one book, magazine or food related internet site each week to cook and I will record my efforts here for all to read! This challenge is primarily about putting to good use my wonderful collection of recipes, while sustaining a hobby that will keep me occupied during the deepest darkest months of the English Autumn/Winter!

Hope you enjoy ……… see you next week!!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Day in Paris.....

The first time I went to Paris it exceeded all my expectations. It was ornate and stylish and it overwhelmed me with its sophistication and charm. I’ve been there a few times now and it never fails to please. On Saturday we went for the day. The reason for the trip was threefold. There was a wedding anniversary to celebrate, a sister to farewell and a friend to Bon Voyage.

The day started with brioche, brie, strawberries and prosecco on the Eurostar (my chief recipe taster admitted a slip up when he selected the Italian variety of sparkling wine instead of Champagne!). Popping the cork barely a minute after we left St Pancras station the day was off to a good start.

We walked everywhere, in part due to the fact that no euro coins and long lines at the Gard Du Nord Metro station made it virtually impossible to get Metro Tickets. However, the late summer sun shone so brilliantly it lit up the delights of this exquisite city making it a complete pleasure to meander around.
The day featured a couple of favourites for me. The Musee d’Orsay is a favourite gallery, not only because it houses such a vast range of impressionist paintings but also because of the beauty of the building itself and its impressive views of the city. We ate 2 of my favourite desserts – Chocolate Éclairs and Pear and Almond tarts, and then we made our way to Rue Cler – one of my favourite Parisian streets.

I stumbled across Rue Cler by accident a couple of visits ago. I was the tour guide to three of my friends who had never been to Paris before. In an effort to find somewhere to eat after visiting the Effile Tower I inadvertently steered us towards Rue Cler, and thus started a love affair between me and this wonderful stretch of Parisian life. It boasts fresh fruit and vegetable markets, flower stalls, wine merchants and a range of charcuterie, fromagerie and boulangerie that make you want to spend all your euros on groceries. My favourite thing to do on Rue Cler is sit at one of the many cafes and drink wine while discussing inspirations and motivations in life…. Actually, if I’m honest, this is one of my favourite things to do anywhere. However in Paris on Rue Cler it seems so much more ........ gratifying.

The day progressed quickly and before we knew it we were once again on the Eurostar sipping Verve Clicquot while basking in the glow of a very successful day out. As the train sped along I was lulled into a champagne induced slumber, and I couldnt help but daydream about my next visit to this fair city!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Well it’s about time International Foodie got moving again, but before I go any further I need to explain my main motivations for starting this blog once again.

1 – Musing from afar

I promised a dear friend, when he left the UK for Guyana, that I would start writing again …. he’s been gone for 6 months …… and I haven’t written a word…..

2 - South African encouragement

Another friend (of south African extraction) told me recently that she liked the way I wrote and that I should get focused and start again…. Never one to mince words her encouragement sparked something that felt faintly like motivation ….

3 – Julie and Julia

I read about this Blog a few years ago and really liked the idea behind it. Just recently it was made into a film and I fell in love with it immediately (see Links). Normally I would hate to admit that a movie prompted some sort of action in my life. But this one was different. Firstly it was about food … and its no secret that I love both cooking and eating food!!. Secondly, it featured Julia Child, whom I have always loved as my mum and I used to watch Julia Child when I was a kid. It was the thing we did on Saturday afternoons while my Dad was playing rugby. Thirdly, Julie Powell (the Blogger) was a notorious non-finisher and set herself a project so she would be forced to finish something.

I am a notorious non-finisher …….

Something has to change!!

So with that I am starting IF once again – Enjoy!!