Sunday, 23 December 2007

Daring Bakers - Yule Log

This was a totally new experience for me. My family never had Yule logs, & I have actually never tasted one either, so I guess I had nothing to compare this recipe to. Paul on the other hand, has made logs before, so his supervision was greatly appreciated. There were a few hiccups along the way, but I succeeded.
The first of these was the baking tray. I thought the one we had was the right size. That is until I had made the sponge mixture & was about to pour it into the tray. My esteemed partner advised me to measure the tray as he thought it was too small. He was right. It was 10x12 rather than the 10x15 (as stated in the recipe). I made the full amount anyway, then sliced it in half to make 2 slightly thinner sponges.
My second stumbling block was the buttercream. It curdled. Again Paul came to my rescue with the solution which saved the day (& a lot of buttercream). He advised whipping an amount of butter (I only had 50g left) then very slowly adding the curdled mixture a spoon at a time to the whipped butter and incorporating it thoroughly before adding the next spoonful. It worked.
Onto the sponge I spread a brandy syrup mixture, peach jam, vanilla buttercream and a dusting of cocoa powder. It was then rolled. The remaining buttercream was flavoured with coffee and applied to the log.
I decided to go with the meringue mushroom option & stuck the stems onto the caps with some buttercream and, as its summer here in Australia, I then added a few flowers for decoration.
It worked marvelously & even Paul was impressed.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Memories - Kotlety

I was born on a farm in Africa…. Well not really, but it sounds good.
I was actually born in Melbourne Australia to parents of Russian decent, whose parents left Russia during the revolution. My father came to Australia at the age of 17, by himself and barely able to speak English. His mother followed later. My mother’s family migrated out to Australia when she was 5. So while my family’s cuisine is mainly Russian/Eastern European, there is also a strong English/Australian influence.
I also had the privilege of having a great-grandma for the first 20 years of my life, who did cook the traditional foods of Russia and Eastern Europe. While I remember fondly the foods that she cooked, I now have to teach myself to read Russian to pass on those recipes…
At family gatherings we still have vodka, herring, and other delicacies, but we now have a strong Australian twist on things. My sister, who much to my mother’s dismay has based herself in northern Australia, has introduced some unique foods to our family. Apart from kangaroo, emu & water buffalo, one of the more memorable is crocodile!
One of my fondest memories of childhood was the food that my family prepared. My favourite was Kotlety. Again as with all “traditional” recipes there as many variations as there are cooks. Paul has also previously prepared
kotlety. I always buy my mince from a particular butcher on Carlisle St Balaclava, just near where we live. This suburb is very diverse and has a very high concentration of people of Russian background, and because of this there are some great delis, butchers & bakers on the street. Buying the meat from our favourite shop, I ended up in a conversation (with me speaking my broken Russian) with the shop assistant about different Kotlety recipes. She used potato in her recipe whereas my mother had always used egg in our recipe.
I thought I’d try her version, it is still traditional after all, and the kotlety turned out well.

3 slices bread, crusts removed
1 small potato, peeled
½ small onion, very finely chopped
250g minced veal
250g minced pork
Sea salt
Fresh black pepper
Dried Greek oregano
Dried bread crumbs
Butter or oil
Sour cream, to serve

Soak the bread in enough milk to moisten. Squeeze the excess milk from the soaked bread.
Grate the potato as finely as you can manage.
Combine the veal, pork, raw potato, onion and oregano. Season with salt and pepper
Using your hands combine all the ingredients thoroughly.
Form into slightly flattened balls, about 50g in weight.
Roll each ball thoroughly with bread crumbs.
Shallow fry the kotlety over a medium heat, about 5-7 minutes each side until nicely browned. My family used a combination of oil & butter, but other recipes say all butter, or all oil.
At this stage you can either serve the kotlety with sour cream and potatoes, boiled or mashed. Or prepare a sauce detailed below.

Optional Sauce
100ml beef stock
3-4tbls crème fraiche.

Remove the kotlety from the pan and set aside.
Drain the excess oil leaving any brown sediment clinging to the pan
Deglaze the pan with stock. Lower the heat before adding the crème fraiche, stirring to combine.
Return the kotlety to the pan & gently simmer for 5-10 minutes, adding a more stock or water if the sauce becomes too thick.
Serves 2 –3

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

What to do with all these strawberries that we bought from Prahran Markets? Paul suggested making Strawberry Ice-cream, which sounded like a brilliant idea. But how to mix the strawberries into the ice-cream was the question. Do we pulp the berries & add them? Do we coarsely chop them and run the risk of frozen berry lumps attacking the teeth? Or do we make a strawberry jam & use the jam as flavouring in the ice-cream?
The picture in the previous post should have been a give away – we went with the last idea. Half a kilo of fresh strawberries made into some divine jam. I purposely left it a bit syrupy so that it would combine better with the ice-cream. The higher sugar content of the cooked berries would also help prevent them from freezing into solid lumps.

500g strawberries, cleaned & cut in to quarters
500g castor sugar
6 free range egg yolks
600ml cream (35% milk fat)
40g vanilla sugar


To make the jam: place the berries in a saucepan, add the sugar and cook over a medium heat, until the berries have lost most of their moisture content. The syrup should be nice and thick. A small teaspoon will set when tested on a cold plate.
Be careful not to over cook the berries, as they will end up with a burnt, caramel taste. Pour the jam into sterilized jars & let cool.

To make the ice-cream base: This is a classic Crème Anglaise, place the cream in to a saucepan and heat till it just starts to bubble. Meantime beat the egg yolks and vanilla sugar till light & fluffy. Add the heated cream slowly to the egg mixture whisking crazily to thoroughly combine the two mixtures.
Pour back into the saucepan & return to a low heat stirring constantly till it thickens.
Strain through a fine sieve to a cold bowl & keep stirring to help remove the heat from the mixture. I have also read that you can place the bowl in chilled water to help cool it.
Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
Once cooled, add a few spoonfuls of your fresh strawberry jam, how much depends on your taste buds & your sweet tooth. I used about 100ml of the jam.
Mix thoroughly, cover & leave over night in the fridge.
Next day pour the mixture into an ice-cream churn & churn till it thickens & starts setting. Pour this into a clean container & place into the freezer to set totally.
Serves 4. Needless to say, eat as quickly as possible while its fresh.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Making Pasta

Yes, my partner Paul, has managed to teach me the mysterious Italian art of pasta making.
Having attempted this Italian art in times gone by, and failing miserably, I was wary when Paul decided to break me in. Having learnt from his grandmother, Paul decided to pass on the secret to me. And I responded to the challenge!
I was eased into this mysterious art by learning the basic formula:
Italian Tipo 00 flour
Free range eggs at room temperature
100g flour = 1 egg
Sounds simple? Yes. The trick is making it all work together.
Italian Tipo 00 flour is a finely ground flour that is ideal for making pastas. I have tried the Australian Tipo 00 but while it was easier to work the texture, once cooked, wasn’t as good as the Italian flour. (actually, it was horrible- Paul)
I usually use 200g of flour in which I then gently combine 2 eggs. This is done on the bench. As the eggs and flour combine; you start working it eventually kneading the formed dough. This is a very tactile exercise where the feel of the dough is very important. I’ve found the dough should be ever so slightly tacky, just so you can barely feel it sticking to you fingers. Add some flour a little at a time if you feel that the dough is too tacky. You don’t want the dough to be too dry either, as it will become difficult to knead. Keep kneading the dough till it looks and feels completely smooth, “as smooth as babies skin” I’m told….
Once you have reached this point, wrap the dough tightly in cling film and let it rest for 15-20 minutes.
Now the fun starts.
Set up your pasta machine. If you don’t have one I guess you could use the rolling pin (or use the rolling pin on your partner & get them to buy a pasta machine).
Divide the dough into 3 roughly equal portions. Keep 2 of the portions wrapped in cling wrap so they don’t dry out. Press out the portion on a floured bench top. Make sure both sides of the flattened dough are dusted with flour. While the dough was kneaded, the tackiness was important. Tackiness here is the enemy of the pasta machine (trust me or you will be cleaning the insides of the machine). Pass the dough through the largest setting on the machine. Then fold the dough in half. Dust the outsides if it’s feeling tacky, and pass through the machine again. Repeat this 10 (yes 10) times- this is important as it helps work the dough to an ultra smooth consistency.
Now we start winding up the settings, dusting the dough if needed between each pass through the machine. If at some stage you feel the length of the dough is getting unwieldy, cut it in half.
I’ve found from experience that any higher than the 3rd last setting, makes the pasta too thin, leading to it disintegrating rather than being coated in sauce.
Once you have reached this stage, place the rolled out dough on a floured surface & dust with additional flour.
Repeat this with the remaining portions.

Leave the pasta sheets to dry for about 15-20minute. You can trim these sheets & use them for lasagna, or you can pass them through the cutters on the machine making tagliatelle or tagliarini. After each sheet of pasta is cut, wrap the pasta around your hand & then slide it off to form a little nest. Dust the cut pasta with flour & set aside till you are ready to use.

To cook your pasta, have a large pot of salted water boiling (use the biggest pot you have). Test the cooking time with a few strands of pasta. It should only take seconds, a minute at most, to cook, depending on how long you have let it dry. With fresh pasta it’s pretty much, in then straight out. It should be strong enough to be able to be picked up with a fork without breaking. It will be delicate and silky in texture, poles apart from commercial pasta. They are different products and should not be compared.
Drain the cooked pasta & toss with some butter (or oil if need be) before combining with the sauce.
You will find that homemade pasta has a different texture to commercial dry pasta. Once you have tried & mastered the process, you’ll be amazed & addicted. A 2 egg pasta makes enough for 3 decent serves.

Sunday, 10 June 2007


This is my first food post! And what did I decide to do? Gnocchi. Something easy. Simple. Yet intriguing. After looking through various cooking books and seeking words of wisdom from my partner, I settled on a recipe based from “Made in Italy” by Giorgio Locatelli.
And they worked! Not perfectly shaped cookie cutter, mirror images of one gnocchi after another but a huge number of individuals. Like us. My better half tells me that gnocchi in Italian means “little lumps” and mine certainly were! But what lovely soft delicate lumps they were.

500g Desiree potato
1 egg
160g flour tipo 00
Pinch of salt.
Pinch of ground nutmeg

Pack the unpeeled potatoes into a steamer and steam for about 30 minutes. They are done when a skewer slides easily into the potato. They should be tender. Do not over cook the potato, otherwise they will become water logged and you may as well start again.
Remove the potatoes from the heat and peel them using your fingers. Please be careful as they are hot. The Gourmand may have cast iron hands, I do not.
Pass the potatoes through the finest disk of a mouli.
Add the egg and about ¾ of the flour. Combine the mixture quickly so that it comes together. Work the mixture swiftly but lightly so that you don’t overwork the gluten. The dough should feel slightly tacky like the sticky surface of a Post-it note. Add more flour if needed. You have to be careful with the amount of flour: too much and the gnocchi will end up as dry lumps, not enough and they will disintegrate.
Using your hands, roll small amounts of the dough on a floured surface into the form of a rope. The thickness should be about 1cm (1/3 inch for the non-metric population). With a knife cut the rolls of dough into 2.5cm sections (1 inch). Lightly flour the newly formed gnocchi and place on a floured surface till you are ready to cook them.
Bring a large pot of water to a gentle simmer and add plenty of salt.
Poach the gnocchi in batches. They are ready when they float to the surface. This will take seconds. Do not allow the water to boil rapidly as this will destroy the delicate gnocchi and you will be left with a rather insipid potato soup. Remove them with a slotted spoon to a buttered serving dish. Combined with a sauce that The Gourmand made, this will serve about 4 or 5.