Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Gypsy pork rolls with sofrito

It's surprising what sneaks back in your luggage following a holiday.
Some people bring back trinkets of famous monuments, artisan goods or cheap knockoffs depending on the location. Others, myself included, amass hundreds of snapshots or film clips to put into slide-shows or albums to share with friends and family. And then there are some that find the glimpse of another life in a different country too good to pass up and simply bring their suitcases home only to fill them with their old life's belongings to head back to start afresh.

My bags from France came back with a little of all three. I pulled out blocks of silken chocolate wrapped in beautiful delicate papers that would make any girlish heart squeal with glee. The scents of petite soap bars mingled in the air exhaling notes of rose, lavender, lime and lotus as we passed them around, each recipient choosing one that pleased their nose most. Following the gifts we watched the photos on our flat screen, offering commentary when prompted; the shots from Paris elicited the most oohs and ahhs. Believing my luggage to be empty we bid everyone adieu and settled back into our old habits.

But I was mistaken. Something had stowed away and followed us home. It was neither souvenirs nor film but a piece of life from France. A ritual we had been quick to adopt when living in our apartment on the Avenue de la Bourdonnais; the afternoon siesta. Lunch in France is not a sandwich scoffed down at a desk nor a coffee in a paper cup. It is a sacred time of respite, rest and the enjoyment of a good meal. It is meant to be savoured and lingered over not rushed or worked through. We realised soon that we would have to schedule our grocery shopping around the two-sometimes-three hour afternoon break when stores would be closed and bistros filled with people relaxing, laughing and ceasing their work to go back to living. Lunch became our favourite part of the day. We would eat a three course meal whilst watching the world go by or head home to whip up a feast of fresh produce, fluffy baguettes filled with oozing cheeses finished with the most juicy strawberries imaginable, eaten with our fingers whilst our feet rested on the balcony balustrade, the breeze tickling our toes as we let ourselves slip into the afternoons embrace. It was as replenishing to the soul as a cool drink of water following days of thirst. And yet it was the first thing to be forgotten on our return home...

Until it crawled out of my luggage and unto my lap. If we can do it in France, then why not here? We choose our own hours, so why not choose something that made us happy? I became determined to give it a try. Instead of sending my husband off to work with a standard sandwich he left empty handed, but with a promise that I would return at 1pm with something worth taking a break for.

And that is what happened. At 1pm I arrived at his work with two large lunches and some cutlery. Although he was busy he stepped out and we ate in peace at a leisurely pace, enjoying our food and conversation at the back of the store on a tiny table for two most commonly used for storage. Not only did we enjoy our lunch, but I have a feeling that little table was also happy to finally be used as it was intended.

We have been home for a few weeks now, and more often than not we are still managing to shut off if only for one hour to enjoy a lazy lunch and recharge our spirits.

ease: 4/5.
prep time: 5mins
cooking time: 35mins
total: 40mins

taste: 4.5/5. The first impressive lunch.

Although it didn't look as pretty packed into a tupperware container, hubby was still happily surprised by his lunch when I came to drop it off - it was his 'tastiest' lunch ever. He said it was full of flavour and wolfed it down in minutes.

I tasted the sofrito which definitely packed a flavour punch. The tomatoes were sweetly acidic from the sherry with the caramelised sweetness from the onion and garlic also. I used smoked paprika (not pimento) which I doubled because I simply loved the depth it gave to the dish, it really brought it all together. The mint leaves also helped to cut through the smoky, tangy sweetness with a burst of freshness every now and again.

I forgot to get the butcher to butterfly and pound the pork, so I just sliced it in half, and although it was a little thick and the rolls a little clumsy, it still tasted fine, but it was a bit pink in the centre which hubby didn't mind.

would I make it again: Yes.

recipe: Little Gypsy Pork Rolls

Monday, August 23, 2010

Spiced zucchini loaf

The rising sun
Blesses my mind
With joy.
The setting sun
Blesses my heart
With peace.
Sri Chinmoy

I never underestimate the power of the sun on our mood and our sense of well-being. It really is amazing to see the effect sunshine, following days of grey and slate, has on people. It's as if they have become uncovered for the first time after years spent under a dust sheet in an unused room. All of the glum and apathy fall to the floor as they breathe, smile and lift their heads to the sky.
I witnessed such an event yesterday at a friend's son's baptism. The clouds had rolled back and the sun came marching out with baton in hand and a super snappy step to match. Everyone greeted each other with, 'how perfect is the weather today, so beautiful', with a smile beaming from their sun-dazzled cheeks. It made the day just that much more special and joyous. The little man himself enjoyed the sun's kiss on his head and soon forgot the tears from his oil-bath. Like an eraser to a chalk board, all negativity is washed away by golden light.

It seems Winter has allowed Spring to set up one week early - flowers have already begun to bloom, birds have begun their mating dances, and leaden clouds no longer carpet the entire sky. I find that I am making excuses to be outside and feel the warmth tickle the surface of my skin. Even the air feels fresher when drenched in bright-lemon rays. 

As the afternoon approached I decided to bake a treat to accompany a cup of tea and a midday nature-break, which may have lingered past the hour...

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 10mins.
cooking time: 50mins.
total: 1 hour.

taste: 4.5/5. This became my catnip.

I will never forget how this loaf made my home smell. The mixture of spicy cinnamon and heady nutmeg combined with that sweetness of bread made my home as inviting as a roaring fire on a frostbitten day - I felt like I was getting a huge aroma-cuddle. Sigh.

The taste was nourishing and deeply satisfying - the spices, the sweetness, the moistness, just everything.

The texture was as perfect as the Winged Victory of Samothrace. The crust became that perfect chewy, slightly crunchy texture which gave way to a super moist but with only a slight large crumb centre.

I liked this so much I made it twice in one week. I made it first with white spelt flour and the second time with wholemeal spelt flour - both were lovely, but the first had a slightly softer centre.

I also increased the cinnamon to 1tsp and the nutmeg to 3/4tsp.

would I make it again: Already have.

recipe: Zucchini bread

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Black forest mousse

Of course, I photographed my own glass, which was the dodgiest one. I assure you, the others were beautifully layered and much more appealing.

My energy has waxed and waned like the sea's edge lapping at the shore.

Some moments will find me fluttering to all corners of a room like a fairy high on Pixie Dust; enthusiastically humming to upbeat tunes whilst scrubbing counter tops with all the enthusiasm of the kids on Glee combined. And then comes the low of lows trough, in these moments, I will be hidden beneath layers of bed sheets, consciously ignoring the suns persistent knocking on my window as it peers between the blinds whilst calling me out for pretending not to be home.

As much as I'd love to raise my eyebrows comically, hands by my ears and with a shrug say 'I have no idea what's causing my energy-fluctuations,' I cannot. One look at my food-intake of late and you'll be shaking your head and waging your finger at me. My stomach has entertained all kinds of cakes, tarts, chocolates, pastas, chips, dips and everything bad for my hips. I think it's time I got off the sugar train and made a reservation for Veggieville. But before then, I'll be hosting a final party in my belly for some chocolate peeps and maybe a few cookie bros. To kick it off, let me introduce you to Mrs Mousse - such a sleek and silky lady :).

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 6mins.
total: 6mins.

taste: 4/5. Simple - but impressive and delicious.

I recently chose this to finish a dinner party, I wanted something really quick and easy, so I could hastily get back to the guests, but I also wanted it to look special and taste lovely. The flavours are classic black forest - chocolate, cream, cherries and a touch of alcohol. Obviously if you are going to use a store bought chocolate mousse, make sure it's good quality, same goes for the cream. Needless to say, everyone enjoyed it.

would I make it again: Yes. Super easy and quick.

recipe: Black forest mousse

Friday, August 13, 2010

La bete noire

Old friendships are like the nook of a lovers arm; natural, comforting and familiar.
New friendships are like a new pair of heels; it takes a while to figure out which outfits they match and how to walk in them and in time, whether they will become worn-in or a pair you hardly wear.

After I met my husband, we made new friends, I befriended his, and he befriended mine, but we also made some together. After attending a previous school mates 21st with whom he had been just a friendly acquaintance, they suddenly found common ground that hadn't been there in their youths and established a friendship. Not long after, this friend met a woman, and eventually they got married one month after us. It was fortunate that not only do I get along with him, but that I also formed a friendship with his wife. When we all catch up we spend hours talking over good food, all together at first, and then his wife and I will find a cosy corner to really dish the dirt whilst nibbling cookies and they will wander off to play pool, pinball or some other boys toy whist munching on chips and being completely oblivious to our animated conversations, mostly about them.

After we both returned from our respective holidays abroad, we got the call that their new house (only a 5 minute drive away) was finally ready for guests, and could we please come over for a casual dinner and catch up. Naturally, we were asked to bring nothing, but how can I possibly come empty handed? My mother would have had a conniption if I brought nothing to a dinner/house-warming, she raised me better than that.

My first thought instinctively ran to a dessert. But as this friendship is still in its early bloom, I didn't know what flavours or sweets they liked most. So, as I often do when I want to please all tastes, I chose chocolate, as it's the safest bet sweet-wise. Because really, how could you possibly not like chocolate?

 No inside shots I'm afraid as this cake was a housewarming gift.

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time: 10mins.
cooking time: 1hour plus 3 hours chilling.
total: 1hour & 10 mins plus 3 hours chill.

taste: 4.5/5. This truly is a 'black beast' of a cake.

If you want one truly great flourless chocolate cake recipe, then look no further, this is it. All chocolate, eggs and sugar this cake is rich, satsifying and death-by-chocolate inducing. But I asure you, after a short eating break, you will be going back for more.

The cake's texture is fudgy and divine, and once it hits your tongue it begins to melt. Coupled with a silky ganache...well...I'm currently wishing I had a piece left over. I've made this with both 56% chocolate and 70% chocolate - hubby loved the first whilst I loved the second. Next time, I shall use the 56% for the cake and the 70% for the ganache.

It would be easy to play around with different spices (perhaps cinnamon), alcohols (Grand Marnier?) and even perhaps a sprinkling of Fleur de Sel on top.  I'd recommend tarter fruits if you wish to adorn the cake with them, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries etc.

would I make it again: Yes - this is the second time already.

recipe: La bete noire

Monday, August 9, 2010

Chocolate-lavender fondants

This post has lingered like those who stay to watch the credits of a movie. All I had to do was write a few words and click publish post. But I have been stuck.
Do I write about the way the sea in Nice sparkled more brilliantly than Edward Cullen on a Summer's day? Or do I write about the magical way the sunlight is streaming through my window now in Melbourne, so densly that I feel as though I could write my name in it with just my fingertip? Or perhaps I should just leave it at that, and wait until my writing mojo has returned in time for me to write the next post. Yes, that is what I shall do.

ease: 3.5/5.
prep time: 10 mins plus 3 hours chill
cooking time: 14mins.
total: 3hours & 24mins.

taste: 3/5. This volcano is dormant.

The magic of fondants is all about the ooze. This was more of a thick sludge than ooze. Yes, the fudgy centre was nice but it's not what I wanted out of this chocolate pudding.
The cake was was also rather crunchy and firm - perhaps using a dariole mould rather than a ramekin is what made this less soft and less lava-like.
I substituted violets for lavender and thought the floral element is pretty much what saved this dish from just being a dark, and slightly bitter fudgy cake. Despite this we all polished off our plates.

would I make it again: No. I've made other fondants before that were more 'fondant-like'.

recipe: Chocolate-violet fondant with creme fraiche ice-cream

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

France 2010

A fortnight of travel showcased in a few photographs.

The journey began in Paris, France...

We travelled the rooms of the Louvre and sat on the steps of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica...

We touched the golden petals of sunflowers, feasted on Berthillon ice-cream and Nutella crepes and became hypnotised by carousels...

We walked the hall of mirrors at Versailles and from sunrise to sunset we gazed upon the Eiffel Tower from our balcony...

We explored the canals of Bruges and tasted the chocolates of Belgium...

We watched street performers in Avignon square and relaxed by the bridge on the riverbed...

We travelled through Lavender fields, chased butterflies and felt the Mistral wind blow in Provence...

And lastly, we came to the Côte d'Azur to lie on polished pebble beaches and dip our toes in the Mediterranean Sea.

Even with only two weeks of sights beheld, I have filled my head with enough to last me through one hundred dreams of beauty. It certainly was a trip to remember.