Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pavlova (Not as tricky as it looks)

Practically speaking, I am not good at a lot of things.  If I listed all the things I wasn't good at you'd probably wonder how I get through my day.  Yet I muddle through, and I know I'm not alone. There are muddlers all around you and don't think it ain't so.  I know I'm not the only one who's impressed by the casual use of power tools - "A DRILL- OMG, stand back kids ."

So, now you know that I am not the friend you need if your plumbing goes awry or you've put a hole in the wall in a fit of pique. I could only assist by passing the Yellow Pages and advising you to avoid all those who pique you in the first place.  So, what am I good for you may well ask and I would reply well actually I can make a pavlova, and in some circles believe it or not, that's just as impressive as possession of a soldering iron and a piece of 4x2.  (Don't think it beats a ute though).

There's lots of argy-bargy about whether the Aussies or the Kiwis invented The Pav but I'm not buying into that because really who cares?  Let each side pontificate while we get on with the cooking and eating of.

It's not tricky to make a pavlova you just have to make sure your oven is the correct temperature and that you beat in the sugar at the right stage.  Conquer these two things and you'll knock people's socks off with your pav making prowess.

There are a lot of recipes for pavs but they differ only in quantities of eggwhites and sugar.  Some of them add vanilla essence, some don't.  I use the recipe from the Country Women's Association just because those women really know what they're talking about.  Having said that, they also think that everyone knows as much as they know about cooking and consequently their instructions are a little scant so I've elaborated a bit.

4 egg whites
1 cup caster sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
1 teaspoon white vinegar

First of all preheat your oven to 150C.  It's important to give it plenty of time to get to the right temperature so give it at least twenty minutes and check with a thermometer unless you know your oven is spot on.

Cold eggwhites do not expand as much as eggwhites at room temperature so you don't want to use eggs straight from the fridge.  Because it's a little trickier to separate room temperature eggs I separate the whites and yolks when they're cold and then leave the whites in a bowl on the bench for a half hour or so (depending on the warmth of your kitchen).   

The presence of grease will also stop eggwhites expanding so I wipe out the mixing bowl with some vinegar or lemon juice, wash it in hot water and then dry.  These seem like fussy little steps but they do make a difference and they don't take long to do.

Start beating your egg whites using a low speed and then increase to medium.  They will be soft with lots of bubbles (below).
Keep beating until it becomes firmer and starts to hold it's shape.  This is where you can start to add the sugar.


I add the a couple of spoonfuls of sugar at a time and beat it in for a minute or so.  Put the beater speed just below medium as you don't want the whites to get too stiff before you beat in all of the sugar.   You can test to see if the sugar has beaten in by rubbing a little of the mixture between your fingers.  If you can feel the sugar grains then it hasn't been beaten enough.  As you go on you will work out how long it takes for the sugar to dissolve.  This is a really important stage because if you don't beat the sugar in properly the undissolved crystals "sweat" in the oven and you end up with a really sticky, crunchy pav instead of a nicely crisp one. 
It takes a few minutes to beat the sugar in properly and by this time your eggwhites should be really shiny and very thick.  You can if you wish tip the bowl upside down over your head to test if they are thick enough if you'd like to add an edge of excitement to proceedings,  but I prefer to lift the beater like so and if the shape holds then they're done.  Sprinkle the cornflour and vinegar over the top of the meringue and fold in gently with a metal spoon.

Next get an oven tray and line it with baking paper.  You can also use aluminium foil if you don't have any but you will have to lightly grease that.   Trace a circle around a cake tin (about 22cm) onto the paper and then pile up the mixture inside the circle.  Build up the sides a little and make an indentation in the centre so the filling sits better.

Place in the preheated oven on the second lowest shelf and bake for one hour.  Check it after about 45 minutes to make sure it's not browning, it should change to a nice deep cream colour but never brown.  If your oven is accurate it should be ok.  When the hours up, turn off the oven and leave it in there until it cools.

It will crack as it cools down.  I think this is normal as it's happened every time I've made one and I've also never seen a non cracked pavlova so lets just take it as the done thing.  I like to think it gives a nice glimpse of the marshmallowey interior. 

When cool it's time to add your filling.  For a pavlova of this size whip about 3/4 cup of cream, smooth over the top and add whatever takes your fancy.  I love passionfruit and banana.  I'm not a big fan of chocolate on top as I think it's too much on top of the sweetness of the pav.  Macerated strawberries are delicious and kiwi fruit is a favourite.  Lemon curd stirred through the cream is great with practically any topping. 

 For the one pictured below I stirred some crushed, frozen raspberries and passion fruit through the cream and then topped it with thawed whole raspberries.  Always fill the pav at least an hour before you want to eat it because you need time for the cream to soften the meringue a little. 

And that's it. Try it. It's delicious, impressive and more coveted than a tool-belt - I guarantee.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dumb Things (How to make Brussel Sprouts complicated).

I do dumb things some time.  I made a list of some of those dumb things but it got quite lengthy so I ditched it, remembering thankfully, that this is a cooking and not a confessional blog.  Besides, everyone knows that poteen can kill you don't they?  One thing I will confess too and which I do on a regular dumb basis, is cook far more complicated things than I need to, when I really don't have the time to, and oh how I wish  somebody would sometimes try and stop me!  Slap me and frog march me out of the kitchen if that's what it takes.
Wednesday is my dumbest day but is not in isolation, I can be dumb on Saturdays as well.  One Wednesday I made a sweet potato roulade.  Do you know how long it takes to make a roulade?  Well now I do.  Wish someone had told me - explaining to your workmates that roulade is the reason you're wearing the same clothes two days running just makes you sound weird.    The next Wednesday I made two frittatas with four different side dishes.  One Saturday I gets the urge to eat Indian and because four vegetarian dishes, saffron rice and raita aren't enough I get even dumber and make my own chapatis.

Why?  Because I am an idiot.  Wednesday rolls around and the urge strikes again.  It's dinnertime and I have some butterflied lamb, potatoes and some brussel sprouts,  a fairly basic meal that could more or less take care of itself whilst I tend to a ransacked house and my shaggy eyebrows.  Brussel sprouts could take a few minutes in the frypan with some butter and olive oil  - easy peasy.  But no.  Instead I'm thinking about my new stash of garlic and Yotam Ottolenghi (more of him later),  and a recipe of his that I filed away several weeks ago.  Even the title makes you tired.  It pretty much makes the cooking of a fairly humble vegetable about as complicated as you can get but the end result is delicious and guaranteed to convert confirmed sprout haters -  "Sprouts, I 'ate sprouts."
Yotam Ottolenghi's Brussels sprouts with caramelised garlic and lemon peel

4 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
About 150ml olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
50g caster sugar
90ml water
Salt and black pepper
1 medium lemon
600g brussels sprouts
1 red chilli, finely chopped
50g parmesan shavings
20g basil leaves, shredded

Put the garlic in a pan, cover with water and blanch for three minutes. Drain, dry the pan, and pour in two tablespoons of oil. Return the garlic to the pan and fry on high heat for two minutes, stirring, until golden all over. Add the vinegar, a tablespoon of sugar, the water and some salt. Bring to a boil and simmer on medium heat for five minutes, until barely any liquid is left, just the caramelised cloves in a syrup. Set aside.

Use a vegetable peeler to shave off wide strips of lemon skin; avoid the white pith. Cut the strips into 1mm-2mm thick slices, or julienne, and put in a small pan. Squeeze the lemon into a measuring jug and add water to bring the juice up to 100ml. Pour over the strips of peel, add the remaining sugar and bring to a simmer. Cook for 12-15 minutes, until the syrup is reduced to about a third. Set aside to cool down.

Trim the bases off the sprouts and cut them top to bottom into halves. Heat four tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy-based pan, add half the sprouts, season and cook on high heat for five minutes, stirring them once or twice, but not too often, so that they char well without breaking up; add extra oil if needed. They will soften but retain some firmness. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the remaining oil and sprouts.
Stir the chilli, the garlic and its syrup into the sprouts, and set aside until warmish. Stir in the parmesan, basil and peel (without the syrup), season and add oil if necessary. Serve as it is or at room temperature.
'll leave the last word to Paul Kelly, famous for song writing rather than cooking.  Cooking complicated is sometimes impressive but anyone who manages to include the words "nonchalant phenomenon," into a song about Don Bradman, beats that hands down. 
I've also had a crush on him for a long time.  There you go - there's a confession for you.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Chicken with 40+ cloves of garlic. (Too Much Garlic Can Only Be Good For You)


I dont believe that garlic can cure everything, but I am of the belief that you should at least give it a go. So on a recent Wednesday evening, when the energy of the house was a little off kilter and some family members weren't feeling entirely chipper, I put this theory to the test and made Chicken with Lots of Garlic. If you Google the recipe you'll find it at Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic but I lost count at forty and then threw them in until the bottom of the pot was covered.

A lot of garlic is not a scary thing. When it's cooked like this it's a sweet, mellow, warm, make you feel much better, smack your lips together taste. People won't baulk at being in your proximity and some of them will even want to kiss you - probably so they can distract you and steal your chicken so be wary of those. You won't scare vampires off with this amount of garlic either so if that's your thing maybe eat it with a big wooden stake by your side - I don't know, I haven't seen any of the Twilight movie so vampires are not my speciality.
This year I bought some beautiful garlic from . I missed out last year and now I'm cross with myself for not ordering more as she has now sold out. A few days after ordering online a beautiful purple box arrived at my door holding about 30 heads of garlic. At $20 plus postage, it's great value.

The garlic is grown biodynamically and no chemicals are used during production. The heads smell sweet with a beautiful colour, dry papery skin, and firm cloves with no trace of bitterness - it's delicious.

 Australian garlic can still be found in some fruit shops and supermarkets as the season draws to a close. Avoid Chinese garlic at all costs and if you're in any doubt about that, have a read of this and see if that doesnt make up your mind.

  I used the recipe from but there are hundreds to choose from.  They are basically just variations on the same theme, Nigella uses chicken thighs but most recipes use the whole chook.  Some use wine, some use water, others different herbs.  Just find one that you like and go with that.  Besides tasting fantastic this recipe is also a one pot dish so it just keeps getting better and better. 

Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 lemon
1 large (about 1.6kg) free-range chicken
2 bay leaves
40ml (2 tbs) extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs finely chopped rosemary
40 garlic cloves, skin on
300ml chicken stock
300ml white wine

Preheat oven to 190°C. Cut the lemon in half lengthways and place in the cavity of the chicken with the bay leaves. Tie the legs together with kitchen string to secure, (I forgot the string), then rub with the olive oil and sprinkle with the rosemary. Place the chicken in an ovenproof casserole dish, add the garlic cloves, stock and wine and bring to the boil on the stovetop over medium heat.

Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Remove lid and roast for a further 20 minutes or until the chicken is golden brown.

Remove the chicken from dish and set aside to rest. Use a slotted spoon to remove about 16 of the garlic cloves and set aside. Place the baking dish on the stovetop over high heat and simmer for 5-6 minutes to reduce to a sauce, pressing the garlic to release the flavour. Strain.
Serve the roast chicken with the reserved garlic cloves and drizzle with a little sauce.
I made it with roast potatoes but I think mashed spuds would be great so it could soak up the sauce.  As for the healing properties of garlic, I will happily vouch for them - there were smiles all round after dinner.  The Chocolate Ripple Cake for dessert may have helped the cause but I'm giving the garlic sole credit.