Home made Hummus. It’s one step up from buying a tub of dip and a box of crackers, and yet somehow, platingt up seems so much more decadent, like a special occasion. People don’t generally expect home-made snacks, as shop-bought snacks are neither rare nor expensive nor difficult to come by.

This recipe came from a supermarket magazine, either a Coles or Woolworths one (I’m sorry, I can’t recall, I only have the clipping). It never fails. It’s great with pita shards or carrot sticks if you’re feeling particularly virtuous. I’ve served it here with some awesome Multigrain Struan that I made in a Brasserie Bread Class the other day.

You could soak dried chick peas (it makes the hummus creamier). You could add coriander (it adds complexity). You could use lemon instead of limes (it’s a tad more exotic). But sometimes, isn’t it nice to serve up something plain, simple, spur-of-the-moment and yet somehow impressive? Classics are often classics for a reason.

Quick tip: use middle eastern tahini/tahina rather than the rock solid stuff my mum used to buy in health food stores. It’s often more expensive than ‘anglo’ tahini (is there such a thing?) but it’s much creamier. Just give it a stir, it’s infinitely more stirrable as well.

Piss-Easy Hummus

1 tin of chick peas, undrained
The juice of one lemon
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1 garlic clove, quartered
1-2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

A food processor or immersion blender

Process the chickpeas with half their liquid and all other ingredients. Serve drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with paprika.

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I don’t know about you, but travel for me is mostly about food. When I eat the thing from the place in the actual place of the thing, well, that’s not a very articulate way of putting it, but in the words of Maeve O’Meara, it’s a revelation. And there’s no better way to attempt to relive your travel than to eat the thing that you ate in the place of the thing, but this time, eat it at YOUR place.

I found myself at a bit of a loose end this week, so I decided to make Pão de Queijo (Cheese Puffs), a typical Brazilian snack/breakfast food which I don’t even particularly like, but I wish I was in Brasil right now and what better way to celebrate that than to bake. The main ingredients are manioc/tapioca starch, cheese, eggs, liquid and fat.

When baked, they look a lot like profiteroles but, although the method is similar, it is a hell of a lot more difficult as the starch makes the dough sticky and you have to knead rather than just stir it. I found this virtually impossible so I would recommend using a food processor. Pão de Queijo has a wonderfully squishy texture and these puffs are yummy straight from the oven or reheated in the microwave.

A quick tip: all the recipes I’ve read say not to let the dough sit (it doesn’t need to rise or anything); either bake it immediately or form it into balls and freeze because if you let it sit, it will magically re-liquidise!

Pão de Queijo (a combination of online recipes, this one and this one were particularly helpful)

2 cups full cream milk
½ cup melted butter
450g tapioca/manioc starch (often called tapioca flour, make sure you get one that has the texture of cornflour rather than the one with the texture of polenta),
Excess tapioca/manioc starch for shaping the dough into balls (you can also use oil or water)
3 eggs
2 cups grated cheese (traditionally queijo de minas, but I used a combination of Colby and Romano, mostly Romano)

Preheat the oven to 200°c.

In a medium pan, bring the milk and butter to the boil. Remove from the heat immediately.

Either take your chances and gradually pour the manioc flour into the pan, stirring constantly or put the manioc flour in the food processor and on a slow speed gradually pour in the hot liquid.

Allow to cool; the dough should be cool enough to knead.

Next, knead the dough or turn the food processor on to a medium speed. Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each egg completely before the next egg is added. The dough should be smooth and elastic but still very soft and sticky. Add the cheese and knead well until completely incorporated.

You now have 3 choices – flour your hands with tapioca flour, oil them or dampen them. Then roll the dough into even, 2-3cm balls and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper or a silicone mat.

Bake for about 20 minutes, checking after ten minutes to make sure they are not over browning. They are done when they sound hollow when tapped, as they cool they will soften. Freeze or store in an airtight container, best served warm or reheated for 10 seconds in the microwave.

Makes about 30.

What foods from your travels do you love to cook?

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There are some recipes that are solid crowd pleasers, and these are the ones I tend towards when it’s time to celebrate something. This orange cake, which I first saw on Food Safari is a classic Jewish Middle Eastern cake made of Oranges, almond meal, sugar and eggs. It takes about 10 minutes to throw together and although it’s been blogged to death, I can’t resist posting it here. Believe the hype, I’ve made this cake more times than I can count and I’m not about to stop now.

The flavour is intensely orange, the texture is creamy and dense. One tip though; make sure you don’t use oranges with very tough, thick skins, as this will give a bitter flavour. I once made this cake with very thick-skinned oranges (I didn’t realise it at the time) and although it was still tasty, it left a bitter aftertaste that I wouldn’t want you to repeat…

Kosher Whole Orange Cake – Batia Slater via SBS Food Safari
2 oranges
6 eggs
250g caster sugar
250g almond meal
1 tsp baking powder
Baking paper
Canola spray (for greasing the pan)

Wash the oranges and place unpeeled, in a pot of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 2 hours. Drain the water and allow the oranges to cool for at least 10 minutes. You can boil them ahead of time if you prefer.
Preheat oven to 190°C. Grease a 20 cm round baking tin with canola oil spray, cut a circle of baking paper and place it in the bottom of the tin (use the tin as a template).
Break 6 eggs into a mixing bowl. Add caster sugar and blend together with an immersion blender.

Place the two oranges into the egg mix. Break up the oranges and then blend together to a smooth consistency. Add the almond meal and baking powder and blend.
Pour batter into the pan and bake for 45 minutes to an hour and a half or until the top is golden brown. If it starts to brown too early or too much, cover it with foil. Makes 16 slices.

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It has always amazed me how eager the Sydney food scene is to absorb reinterpret the so-called ‘traditional’ and ‘peasant’ foods of other nations into overpriced, ‘exotic’ wank. Besides the prohibitive prices of foods like tapas, Brazilian bbq and Cuban food, these reincarnations of cuisines which claim to be ‘inspired’ or ‘influenced’ by various countries almost always miss the point of the cuisine they claim to ‘draw inspiration’ from.

In Spain, where dinner is generally served at around 10pm, bars will offer tapas; small, simple, tasty, cheap morsels of food that you eat standing up to stave off hunger and stop you getting too drunk. This fulfils the dual purpose of soaking up alcohol and stimulating thirst. The point of tapas is not to fill you up. It is not even really to have a ‘meal’. People don’t sit down at a table, order a variety of drinks and food and then have them all brought over, eat, drink and pay at the end. In Australia, this style of serving is rare, and tapas becomes just an item on a menu, not a cultural practice.

What baffles me about this mistranslations is that restaurateurs and I presumably have a similar experience when we go to a foreign country. We’ll be walking the streets of whatever town in Spain as the bars will start to fill up with people socialising, drinking and snacking. The overall impression is of vibrancy. Life. Hospitality. Community. I look around me and think ‘wouldn’t it be great if I could bottle this and take it back home?’

Obviously we all view holidays through rose-tinted glasses. But it seems to me that many restaurateurs are viewing theirs with dollar-sign eyeballs. They want to bottle this experience and take it back to Australia, but they also want to pour half of it out, dilute it with water, mark up the price and sell it. They are translating a cuisine completely literally and without any of the nuance that comes from the culture it’s a part of. They take the food of Spain and plonk it down on an Australian restaurant table.

Now, it’s a fair point that Australian diners may not want tapas-style dining, just tapas-style food. Clearly a restaurant cannot force people to order this way or they won’t have any customers. I have noticed though that more and more pubs are serving tapas, and this seems more in line with tapas’ whole ethos.

The most basic tapas recipe is tortilla de patatas, sometimes known as tortilla española. In Spain you can buy it in supermarkets and chop it into wedges. It can be eaten hot or cold and consists of eggs, potatos and sometimes onions. I add garlic to mine but that’s completely optional. Serve with tomato sauce or aioli. Or plain.

Tortilla de Patatas
(serves 2)
2 medium potatos, peeled
½ a medium onion
2 cloves of garlic, optional
2-3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive oil
3 eggs
Salt, to taste

Microwave or boil the potatoes, whole until cooked but not mushy. Leave to cool slightly. Whisk the eggs with a pinch of salt.

Finely slice the onion and finely chop the garlic, if using. Once the potatoes are cool enough to touch, cut them into thick slices.

In a very small non-stick pan, heat the oil on a medium high heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, then the garlic. Once the onion is golden, take the pan off the heat and turn the heat down low.

Add the potatoes to the pan. Mix them gently with the onion and garlic to combine but try not to break them. Pour over the egg mixture, making sure it gets into all the gaps, and place the pan on the heat.

The tortilla should cook very slowly and begin to firm up. Some people like it quite runny in the middle, some like it well cooked. I like mine firm so I leave it until almost completely set, 5-10 minutes.

When your tortilla is solid enough to flip, use a large flat spatula to do so. It won’t need much time on the other side as it is just to cook the top.

So, dear reader, what tapas dish do you crave?

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Do you have a dish that’s such a staple in your repertoire that you assume you’ve already cooked it for everyone you know? One that’s renowned all over town, prepared for every special occasion? Or used to be, back in the day.  ‘You’ve tried mum’s eggplant dip, haven’t you?’ my boyfriend has been asking me for the past 5 years. No. I. HAVEN’T. Ever! Until now.

I was very curious about this magical dip that made my boyfriend sigh at every other eggplant dip I’d ever seen him try. We could be eating the smokiest, most luscious baba ganouj in the world and no matter how amazing I thought it was, he’d say ‘Yeah, but it’s not as good as mum’s eggplant dip.’ Sigh. But then I’m sure we all have our family recipes that make all other versions pale in comparison in our eyes…

The worst part, especially when I was a vego, was never having tried this legendary concoction. So when I started writing Corridor Kitchen I was determined to get my boyfriend’s mum to prepare her Israeli Salat Hatzilim, made of mashed grilled eggplants, homemade mayo and garlic so that I would finally get a taste. And I’ve gotta say that it lived up to the hype.

When it was originally described to me, I don’t think I realised just what an important role the mayo would play in the overall flavour and texture or the dip. It makes it creamy and lush and the eggplant itself, grilled over open flame is smokier and more pungent than I could ever have thought possible. This dip will wow your guests and is totally worth the effort.

Salat Hatzilim
1 eggplant
1 egg yolk
Pinch salt
1/3 – ½ cup canola oil
A splash of water
1-2 Tbsp lemon juice
3-4 cloves garlic, grated

Over a fire that is starting to die down (a combination of flames and embers), cook the eggplant, turning until blackened and blistered on the outside and cooked all the way through. Alternatively, you can cook it over a gas burner like this.

Leave eggplant to cool slightly and then peel off all the skin.

Using a food processor or immersion blender (or a whisk if you want to torture yourself), puree egg yolk until creamy. Add salt and once dissolved, pour the oil, drop by drop, constantly stirring, the way you would to make aioli.

Add the garlic, lemon juice and eggplant and blend together. Serve with pita or crudités, or as part of a meal.

What’s your favourite recipe from your childhood?

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It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I have a very sweet tooth. So imagine my delight at every hostel I stayed at in Argentina and Uruguay when each breakfast came complete with dulce de leche, the classic spreadable caramel that is liberally dolloped on desserts, cakes and even toast. No matter how dodgy the coffee, how tepid the ‘orange fruit drink’ or how stale the bread, there was always dulce de leche to smother it and more than compensate. My favourite way to eat it was as ‘Flan con dulce’, basically a crème caramel slathered in the stuff. Heaven.

It’s quite the trendy condiment these days and I’ve gotta say I’m glad of it. If you’re craving alfajores de maicena, those delicious cornflour-based biscuits sandwiched together with thick dulce de leche and rolled sparingly in caramel, you could make them yourself, and no doubt I will at some point. But if you can’t be bothered, don’t worry as Argentinian cake shops are popping up all over Sydney, from La Paula in Kingsford to Baker Street in Ultimo to Sugarloaf Patisserie in Kogarah.

You’ve probably heard of this cheat’s version of dulce de leche, and I have to admit it’s not quite as good as the real thing, either homemade or mass produced. The traditional way of making it involves boiling and stirring a litre of milk with sugar until you reach the point of thick caramel deliciousness. However, the cheat’s version yields an acceptable result, and when you consider how little effort goes into it.

Cheat’s Dulce de Leche

As many tins of sweetened condensed milk as you want dulce de leche
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract per tin (if desired)

Put the tins of sweetened condensed milk into a large pot. Boil enough water to more than cover the tins. Place the pot on the stove and pour the boiling water over the cans. Bring to the boil.

Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer. Simmer for 2-3 hours, making sure the tins are completely covered with water at all times as there is a chance they could explode.

Leave the tins to cool in the pot for an hour or more. Empty each tin into an airtight container and stir through the vanilla if using. Serve on everything!

So, do you have a food that you’re craving from overseas?

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Aren’t other peoples’ families zany? It always seems that way to me. When I was a kid, other peoples’ houses were just different; they looked different, smelled different, ran differently. To a six-year-old child, the familiar, their home, has no smell, no particular look, no discernible system of organisation. It just is. Our own environments are the very definitions of normality. To us…

It isn’t until we find ourselves in someone else’s environment that we are forced to realise that our way of doing things is just one way, not the way. It’s easy to criticise the unfamiliar, from the way someone washes the dishes to the way they run their household. And when you move in with people you weren’t brought up with, their ways will almost certainly be at odds with yours, something which you may not have even considered before.

How is all this relevant? Mousse Chocolate (moos cho-ko-let, not moos chok-let), which is what my boyfriend and his family will call this recipe for all eternity, is technically a mistranslation. The name in Portuguese is literally ‘Mousse of Chocolate’. The name has always sounded slightly wrong to me.

But ‘Chocolate  Mousse’ would sound wrong to my boyfriend’s ears. In addition, ‘Chocolate Mousse’ to his family is something altogether different from what they prepare, something unbelievably creamy which, to a family that abhors cream, makes it unfitting for their beloved concoction of chocolate, eggs and sugar.

This was my second try at this recipe. The first time I made it I just couldn’t get the chocolate and egg whites to come together while still maintaining the mousse’s light and fluffy texture. I had a theory that without the pure fat of cream I’ve used in every chocolate mousse I’ve ever made, they just weren’t coming together, and that as such microwaved chocolate was more unforgiving. Then I noticed that many recipes call for a small amount of butter. So I bit the bullet and did the double boiler thing, butter and all.

So how was it? Rich? Yes. Creamy? No way. Delicious? Definitely. Mousse Chocolate.

Mousse Chocolate for two
2 eggs, separated
60-80g dark chocolate broken into pieces (I used nestle club but next time I think I’ll use something with a bit more depth of flavour).
1 Tablespoon of butter
2 teaspoons of sugar (optional- I left it out but in hindsight I think it needed it)

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks in a completely clean and dry bowl. Set aside.

Put chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Make sure the water is not touching the bowl, the bowl should just be ‘steamed’.

When the chocolate begins to melt, add the butter and sugar if desired. Once melted together, turn off the heat. Stir in egg yolks one at a time, very quickly.

Remove the bowl from the pan and fold in a third of the beaten egg whites. Fold in another third gently and then the remaining third even more gently.

Put mix in container/s, cover with cling film and set for at least four hours.

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If you’ve paid attention thus far, you’ll know I eschew any food prep that’s complex or time consuming, unless I know it inside out. I’m also a massive declutterer so I’m not into purchasing appliances unless they’re absolutely necessary (all part and parcel of having a tiny kitchen). In fact, the only thing that made me happier than my aunt giving me her old blender a few years back was a few months back when it broke. ‘Huzzah!’ I thought, ‘Now I can get rid of something!’

The problem with this philosophy is that sometimes you miss out on opportunities. From listening to my friend Gina talk, making ice cream is a complex process. It involves making a custard and having an ice cream maker taking up space in your freezer. Just thinking about doing either of these things makes me sleepy. As a result, I’ve never had a go at homemade ice cream, sorbet or gelato other than a few times with my Grandfather when I was a teen. Or a tween. Some marketing-type-word.

So when I went round to Gina’s to watch her make ice cream I was surprised that it could be so easy. I figured since she was doing all the work, I should supply the ingredients, so we chose a blackberry banana sorbet as I had a kilo of what I thought were blackberries in my freezer at home as well as a banana I’d never gotten round to using. As soon as Ms. G saw them she said ‘They’re not blackberries.’ So we made boysenberry banana sorbet instead.

Since the majority of the ingredients were frozen it only took about 20 minutes in the ice cream machine and then maybe an hour of freezing. Gina picked her ice cream maker up on ebay for twenty bucks but she says that with this recipe, you don’t even need one. Having blended everything together in a food processor, you would simply transfer it into another container and leave it in the freezer, stirring with a whisk every half hour until set. You could hypothetically do this with any recipe but it works best if the ingredients are already frozen. In fact, once the mix was blended we wanted to eat it with a spoon then and there!

Banana Boysenberry Sorbet (from ‘The Perfect Scoop’ by David Lebovitz)
1 medium ripe banana (mine was chopped and then frozen, but it doesn’t matter).
2 cups of frozen boysenberries (you could really use any berries).
½ Cup caster sugar
1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice

Place all ingredients in the food processor and blend until most of the skins are liquidised. You can’t really strain them out because you won’t be left with much.

Chill in the ice cream maker as per its instructions or if you don’t have one, place immediately in the freezer, whisking every half hour until set. Consume ASAP.

What’s your favourite ice cream flavour?

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I have a friend, let’s call her Ms. G, who is in the habit of whipping up amazing and intricate dishes on a regular basis. I’m always excited to be invited round for dinner and luckily, she doesn’t live far and invitations are frequent. Ms. G is adept at homemade ice cream, paella, bread made from scratch, risottos…the list goes on. I’m amazed at her patience at skill and it’s serendipitous that she’s an expert in all those dishes I would never dare attempt.

In my own kitchen, my absolute favourite recipes are those that involve minimal effort but yield maximum results. This probably has as much to do with my lack of patience as it does pragmatism, but nothing gives me more pleasure than recipes that are zero fuss and yet somehow, absolutely stunning. It never continues to amaze me how many recipes pack a massive flavour punch with very few ingredients, very little effort and very little time.

Amaretti was one such happy surprise for me. I had always marvelled at their crisp outer shell and chewy centre, perfect with a ristretto or dunked in a cappuccino. Surely, I thought, they must be fiddly and time consuming to taste this good, something like macarons. And yet these little Italian biscuits were as forgettable as they were delicious; in fact it wasn’t until about a year ago that I looked online for a recipe. I ended up selling some to a cafe for a while but due to their understated appearance, that didn’t last long.

This is one of the easiest and fastest biscuit recipes you will ever make in your life- all you do is whisk a few ingredients together with a fork, roll the mix into balls and bake. Enjoy!

Stellar Amaretti
200g almond meal
¾ cup caster sugar
2 egg whites
¼ teaspoon almond essence
Icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 175◦c. Line two biscuit trays with baking paper.

Beat sugar, almond  essence and egg whites together with a fork until smooth. Stir in almond meal with fork.

With dampish hands, roll small amounts of the mixture into balls of 2-3 cm in diameter and place on trays. I usually fit about 11 per tray. Flatten them with your fingers and dust liberally with icing sugar.

Bake for around 12 minutes. They should not be brown, just starting to get a touch of colour on them. Cool for one hour before serving and/or storing in an airtight container.

Makes 25 amaretti, which will keep for up to 2 months. Makes a great Christmas gift!

So, readers, do you have a favourite no-fuss treat?

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