Sunday, 30 November 2008

Chocolate Eclairs - A Labour Of Love!

I must say that today has been one of those days that you have to just love being in the kitchen. I have had the most amazing day. Sunday at home with the kids and Chopper just kicking back, doing our own things, coming together at meal times and basically just relaxing at home. I have been promising everyone that I would make chocolate eclairs for ages. I have been putting it off and putting it off, because of fear. Yes fear, it's like the puff pastry, I just can't bring myself to do it. But today I put that fear aside and pulled out Stephanie Alexander's The Cooks Companion and I did it. I made the Choux Pastry, I made the Pastry Cream with a real vanilla bean, and I made the Ganache for the top. What a process but well worth it. So I can not take any credit for the wonderful recipe but I can take credit for how I turned those magical words into such gorgeous chocolate eclairs. Oh they are so good. The pastry cream so sweet, thick and creamy. The gorgeous smell of that vanilla bean. I kept saying to Chopper, doesn't that just smell so sexy. There is nothing like a home made chocolate eclair. Stephanie Alexander's book is really a pleasure to have. It is so help full and the recipes just translate very well in the home kitchen. So if you get time. Try these, they are fantastic.
Choux Pastry (double batch)
  • 120 g unsalted butter
  • 2 pinches of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • 250 g plain flour, sifted
  • 6 eggs

Combine butter, salt and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Add flour all at once, stirring to combine, and return pan to heat. Stir over a medium heat until mixture dries out and starts to leave sides of pan, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a food processor. Add eggs one at a time, incorporating each well before adding the next.

Spoon heaped tablespoons onto paper-lined trays, or pipe lengths of dough. Bake at 180c for about 40 minutes until golden on the outside and dry in the centre. Cool on a wire rack.

Pastry Cream

  • 2 cups of milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup castor sugar
  • 50 g cornflour

Scald milk with a vanilla bean in a saucepan. In a bowl, beat egg yolks with sugar and cornflour until thick. Pour in the milk and whisk until smooth. Return mixture to rinsed-out saucepan and stir continuously over a moderate heat until pastry cream has thickened, is smooth and has come to the boil. Beat vigorously for 1 minute. Pour through a course strainer resting over a bowl ( I didn't strain it, it didn't have any lumps and I pulled the vanilla bean out before I poured the milk into the egg mixture). Wash and dry vanilla bean and reserve for another use. Press plastic film onto pastry cream to prevent a skin forming. Place in the fridge. Use pastry cream when it is cold.

Chocolate Ganache

  • 375 g bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 cup cream

Put the chocolate and cream into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring until the chocolate has melted and mixture is quite smooth.

Assembly is easy

Using a serrated knife cut the eclairs in half, fill with custard and dip the top in the ganache. Once assembled, place in the refrigerator for 10 - 15 minutes so the ganache sets. Your done.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Broccolini & Sun Dried Tomato Pasta

Favourite Dishes You Don't Serve Guests
Following along on a story inspired by my friend Duncan at Syrup & Tang
I am going to share with you one of my favourite dishes that I don't serve my guests. It is a dish I serve my family when I feel like not eating meat and just in need of a pure fresh veggie fix. Chopper is a pure carnivore and he loves this dish, surprisingly. Don't get me wrong he loves his veg to, but a meal without something like meat, chicken or fish is not normally his thing. But lately we have been doing a little more of the only veggie thing and loving the freshness of it.
The funny thing is I hate broccoli, but I love broccolini, weird huh? This dish is one of those throw together meals at the end of a hard day at work and your feeling kind of bluh. This takes 20 Min's and is really easy. It's also one of those dishes that you just throw in a little of this and that to your own taste. So here is how I make it.
  • 2 Bunches of Broccolini (ends chopped off)
  • 3 Cloves of Garlic (chopped)
  • Hand full of Sun Dried Tomatoes (chopped)
  • Store bought Jar of Tomato Tapenade
  • Bunch of fresh Basil (chopped)
  • 1 Bag of really good store bought pasta
  • A knob of butter
  • A really good first pressed olive oil (this is essential as it adds to the flavour)
  • Parmesan (optional)
  • Salt & Pepper

Boil your pasta until it is aldente, drain your pasta and drizzle with your good quality olive oil, mix through and keep to the side. In a large heavy based pan add a splash of the same olive oil and the knob of butter. Throw in your garlic with a pinch of salt and fry until white and bubbly, throw in your sun dried tomatoes and give them a sizzle for a minute with the garlic. Then put in your broccolini, stir through with the garlic and tomatoes, pop the lid on your pan and allow to steam for a minute or so. Take the lid off and give it another good stir. Then put your pasta in the pot, give it a good stir through, add as much or as little of the tapenade you would like. I use about two to three good sized tablespoons. Stir through until hot. Add salt and pepper to taste, throw in your chopped basil. Remember you want your ingredients to shine. You want your broccolini to be bright green and still have a little crunch. The same with the basil you want that freshness, just stirring it through at the end will give you that. Serve on a plate with a drizzle of your good olive oil and a shaving or grating of the Parmesan . Your done. I like to use a freshly ground course black pepper with this. It is delicious and fresh. You could use other veg if you would like.
So this is something I don't serve to my guests even though I think they would love it. When guests come for dinner I have that out to impress hat on and I like to give them something magical. This is one of our everyday family foods that is quick, easy and tasty. Enjoy!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

In Search Of Perfection

I often wonder to myself how I came from such a terrible childhood with this will to make my life better and to always be searching for perfection and happiness. I look at my life now and I compare it to what it was like back then and I don't think I would ever change that childhood regardless of the horrible things my brothers and I had to endure and I am glad that my children will not have to endure that kind of pain. You see some people grow up from things like that and take the easy route always wanting others to pick up the pieces and never taking responsibility of their own lives and destiny.

We were three siblings on completely different paths in life, I am the oldest, then there is my brother J who is the middle child and then there was T the youngest. My youngest brother T wanted to escape from himself and was always looking for the approval of his older brother to validate himself. J, I think just could never find a path and never had the stamina or drive to stay on one. Me on the other hand was always going to make something better out of my life. J has been addicted to heroin for as long as I can remember and T following on the same path of destruction paid the ultimate price with his life when he overdosed on heroin at 18 years of age. It came as a shock to me as he had hidden it so well that I never worried about him, he was on his way to becoming a chef and I was extremely proud. I never thought that this could happen to someone I loved so much. Someone I had protected and mothered when we were little. I had gotten out of that nightmare housing commission house at 15 and it was the best thing I could have done. I was in charge of my life and I had a choice to make it better, which I did. MY brother J all I can hope is that he finds the drive someday soon and gets off the heroin highway. I love him but I can't watch him continue to destroy himself. It hurts to much. I have lost one brother and I fear I may lose the other prematurely one day.

I have never really associated with anyone who has experienced the trauma of an horrific childhood like me. I also have never really associated with anyone who was dealing with having drug addicts in their family. Maybe I have but they have never told me about it. I dealt with it in my own ways and I still deal with it in my own ways. I have made a life that doesn't involve those things.

So when I read Mr Ramsay's Humble Pie it shocked me. It was in a way as if I was reading about myself and my own life. I know its sounds stupid but it was quite an emotional book for me. I feel like I know him. It is bizarre I know. To bond with a complete stranger who I have never met and will probably never meet. To see your own emotions, passion, drive, the never ending feeling of searching for perfection, wanting to please everyone and a commitment to make myself better in any way I can, in words that are so up front, so strait down the line and so truthful, well it's inspiring. It makes me feel like I am not alone and I am not an alien.

This man that everyone sees on television is truly incredible, not because of his TV shows, not because of his amazing talent as a chef, because he is a survivor, not a victim. He has a heart as big as Pharlap, a soul that has fire with drive and determination. He expects perfection, he searches for it everyday and why the hell not, he deserves nothing less. Why should we not excel and achieve more for ourselves. His passion, devotion and his never ending search for perfection is admirable and I have a new Hero. His book Humble Pie is something that I will treasure forever. It has renewed my spirit, recharged my soul. It has reminded me how I wouldn't be the same person without my awful childhood because those experiences have made me passionate, driven and an extremely loving person. So I urge you, if you have not read this book, do it or I will hunt you down and smack your bottom.

Mr Ramsay you are my Hero and thank you for your amazing book.
(P.S. just don't tell my husband LOL)


My Brother T

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Blueberry Blondies

Let me tell you the last few months have been full on for Chopper and myself. Work has been really busy for both of us, a good busy, very productive. We have not had alot of time for play. All of a sudden Christmas is nearly upon us and we just had Choppers birthday and he was extremely spoilt.
As we all know I have done quite a few recipes featuring blueberries. There Choppers favourite, what can I say, I love my Husband. So for his birthday this weekend I played and made him some Blueberry Blondies. Basically a white chocolate version of Brownies. These are super moist and are not for the faint hearted, like alot of my recipes. My little Peanut started helping me with them but he was more interested in the white chocolate chunks in the bowl. Being nearly 3 he is fascinated with everything at the moment and full of questions, one particular question that he uses probably 50 times a day is 'What's that mummy?' He is so beautiful, I am so lucky. Actually, I had a conversation with another mother a couple of weeks ago. I was going on about how much I adore all my children, my Husband and how the house wouldn't be the same without their constant chatter and mischievous behaviour and she looked mortified. You know that look someone gets when it's like (you've gotta be joking). It took me back a bit for a moment. Most of the people I know adore their families as much as I do. It makes me realise how lucky I am to have them. Maddy and I were making bruschetta and her daughter followed me around all over the place. The little girl preceded to tell my Maddy while they were playing that she was very lucky because her Mum never talks to her. Now that saddens me, I don't know how to help her, but it also makes me feel like I am on the right track with my children by talking to them. Someone said to me once when Ben & Maddy were very little 'if you talk to them and listen to them throughout their adolescent years they will continue to talk to you during the hardest years of puberty and teenage/highschool life'. To true, that has always stuck in my mind. Even though I work full time, I still talk to my children. Trust me, I am not perfect but these little things keep me on track as a parent and as a person. It also reminds me that I have broken the cycle and I have come out of my hard childhood and not become my mother. My friends in Brisbane are beautiful mothers, like me they work full time and I admire them for all that they do and how much commitment they have to their families. You know who you are, in particular K and C!
Sorry, I have digressed, back to the Blondies. These turned out to be a triumph, just beautiful and really easy. I tweaked a lovely Woman's Weekly recipe. So here it is and I hope you enjoy them.

Blueberry Blondies
  • 125g butter, chopped
  • 200g white eating chocolate
  • 3/4 cup (165g) castor sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup (75g) self raising flour
  • 100g white eating chocolate, chopped extra
  • 250g of fresh blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon of icing sugar
Preheat you oven to 180c. Grease and line a slice pan with grease proof paper. Melt the butter and 200g of white chocolate over a low heat until all melted together and allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl add the flours sifted, sugar, egg, extra chopped chocolate and blueberries. Then add the melted chocolate and butter mix and combine all together. Spread mixture into slice pan. Bake for 40 Min's until firm and golden in colour. Allow to cool and cut into squares, dust with icing sugar. Done!
P.S. I am also just about finished reading Gordon Ramsay's Autobiography, Humble Pie. Wow, what an amazing read. He is so inspiring and so passionate. You have to read it! He is an incredible man. This is going to sound silly but he reminds me of myself. Coming through a hard and poor childhood has made him more determined, more passionate and more disciplined. Except............ I am not rich and famous LOL, what a bummer. Kudos to you Mr Ramsay!