Friday, March 30, 2007

Presto Pasta Nights #5

It's pasta time again with thanks to Ruth from Once Upon a Feast who does a splendid job hosting this event each week.

As we are still in lent I'll be making another non-meat pasta using those flavoursome "fun guys" of the food world - mushrooms.

There were some great mushrooms at the market today so I'll be using several different types including these chaps called King Oyster

king oyster mushroom©  by haalo

and these rather ethereal looking Enoki

enoki©  by haalo

along with Portobello and Oyster mushrooms.

In the spirit of being quick and easy this pasta couldn't be simpler. Sauté a little leek then add the mushrooms, a good measure of fresh thyme and crumble in some soft Chèvre to help form a sauce. Then simply toss the pasta through and viola it's ready!

Fettucine with Mixed Mushrooms and Chèvre© by haalo

Fettucine with Mixed Mushrooms and Chèvre
[Serves 2]

fresh/dried Fettucine
1 medium leek, cut into quarters and diced
2/3 sprigs of fresh thyme
freshly ground salt and pepper
assorted Mushrooms - I won't give an actual weight as it's really up to your personal preference and the type of mushrooms you use.

Place a little olive oil and a knob of butter into a pan over a medium heat. When butter has melted add the leek and sauté until softened but not coloured.

With the mushroom combination I used I added the Portobello first, followed by the King Oyster and then the Oyster, leaving the Enoki to the very end when I tossed in the pasta. You want the mushrooms to get a little colour but not break down or release too much moisture as this would make it stew rather than sauté - you need to keep an eye on the maintaining
an adequate amount of heat. Add the thyme leaves along with salt and a good grinding of black pepper and keep tossing the mixture to get an even colouring.

Add the cooked but not totally drained pasta to the pan along with a couple of slices of crumbled Chèvre - the heat of the pan and the pasta should cause the Chèvre to melt and form a "sauce".

Serve this in your bowls along with a little extra Chèvre, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprig of thyme.

Full of flavour and with a variety of textures, it's a perfect choice for any time of year not just lent!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pandolce with Apricots Almonds and White Chocolate

Johanna from The Passionate Cook is hosting this edition of Waiter There's something in my...and that something is the most timely, Easter Basket.

Growing up, Easter was always a time for getting together with the extended family and has my birthday at times coincided with Easter celebrations including being born on Holy Thursday means I've always had a connection to the season.

Along with the dark chocolate Italian Easter Eggs that you'd have to portion out due to their intensity, there were also the cakes like Colomba di Pasqua (Easter Dove Cake) to look forward to and their simpler cousins the Pandolce. The Australian influences would be found in the presence of Hot Cross Buns.

In the spirit of equality, as I have already made Hot Cross Buns I thought I'd make a Pandolce - this is based on one found in Ursula Ferrigno's La Dolce Vita.

I've made some minor changes to the recipe but you'll see that it's not quite one of those fluffy pandolce - it's more compact like a panforte but the combinations of flavours is a winner.

Pandolce with Apricots, Almonds and White Chocolate© by haalo

Pandolce with Apricots, Almonds and White Chocolate

120 grams dried Apricots
1 orange, zested
50 grams butter
10 grams fresh yeast
200 grams strong Plain flour
75 grams caster sugar
50 grams slivered almonds
50 grams white chocolate, roughly chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Place the yeast into a small bowl with 2 tablespoons of tepid water and a pinch of sugar - stir to dissolve and let it sit for 10 minutes until it bubbles and is active.

Place the apricots and orange zest in a food processor and process until roughly chopped but not mushy.

Put this mixture into a pan along with the butter and gently heat, stirring constantly until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat.

Sift the flour into a bowl, then add the sugar - stir to combine before adding the yeast mixture, slivered almonds and white chocolate. Continue stirring then add the eggs and buttered apricot mix. Ensure it's well combined before placing it in a 20cm/8 inch round cake tin.

Smooth the surface before placing it in a preheated 180°C/350°F oven to cook for about 1½ hours.

Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack before serving.

Pandolce with Apricots, Almonds and White Chocolate© by haalo

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cheese: Indigo Cheese Company

This is quite the bittersweet post. The cheese made by Paula Jenkin at the Indigo Cheese Company have been considered to be the best examples of goat cheese in the country so it's with much sadness that the news came this week of it's closure. Unprofitability the reason behind the decision.

This resonates with something my favourite deli owner told me as I searched for a new cheese to taste - Australians don't buy Australian cheese. It's a no-brainer then that if we don't buy it, they don't get stocked but if they aren't stocked, how can we buy them?

In compiling this series there has been a difficulty in finding a broad variety of cheese - there are many dairies I'd love to show but I'm unable to find their cheese. I can only be thankful to the various farmers' markets that have allowed me access to a greater number of cheese than can be found via traditional retail outlets.

This brings me back to Indigo Cheese Company - this has been one of those that I've found elusive - until today.


Cheese Maker: Indigo Cheese Company
Cheese Name: Aged Gracefully

There it was sitting unassumingly in the cheese cabinet of Leo's in Kew, almost lost amongst it's much larger companions. Aged Gracefully is a demure cheese, small in size but not in impact.


Freed from it's wrapper you see that it indeed has "aged gracefully". This is a matured goat cheese, made in the French style (Crottin).

It starts it's life as another cheese made at Indigo called Grace (which is like a French Chabicou). Grace is sold as a youngster (about 2 to 8 weeks) but some are left to develop for 3-4 months. In this time the rind becomes covered with both white and blue moulds and it looses quite a bit of it's moisture. Where Grace weighed about 125 grams, Aged Gracefully weighs less than 80 grams.


Sliced you can see that the rind is quite thin and the cheese doesn't show any traces of moisture. It's a little crumbly when sliced and you might think that it could be a little dry or chalky.

aged gracefully

It's most pleasant to find that it isn't - in fact it had a wonderful creaminess balanced with a tinge of acid in the form of subtle lemon overtones. It's a cheese that's satisfying and well worth savouring and spending some time with. Unfortunately once this is finished there will be no more.

Vale Indigo Cheese - We hardly knew you.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Meringue Kisses with Roasted Cocoa Nibs

Emily from Chocolate in Context is hosting this month's Sugar High Friday and asked us to make something using unrefined cocoa products, in other words Raw Chocolate.

The choice of product was easy - I still had leftover roasted cocoa nibs from Tava...

cocoa nibs© by haalo

Deciding what to do with them was the hard part.

Many wild and wonderful ideas swirled through my head but a conjunction of events lead to me needing to find a simpler solution. And it came to me in the form of a kiss - Meringue Kisses speckled with roasted cocoa nibs.

meringue kisses© by haalo

Meringue Kisses with Roasted Cocoa Nibs
[Makes about 80]

75 grams egg whites (2 extra large eggs)
150 grams caster sugar
2 tablespoons Roasted Cocoa Nibs

A quick note - the rule of thumb is to use twice as much sugar as egg whites. I weighed the whites and they came to 75 grams.

Whisk up the egg whites and when fluffy begin adding the sugar a spoonful at a time. Ensure the sugar is absorbed before adding the next spoonful. This is a slow process but essential for a good result.

Once you've used all the sugar, sprinkle in the roasted cocoa nibs and beat briefly to incorporate.

Use a piping bag with a wide plain nozzle to pipe out the kisses on lined oven trays - I made these quite small and managed to get about 80 from the mixture.

Cook in preheated 150°C/300°F oven until set - the time needed will depend on the size you make. These took around 15 minutes. Let them cool on the oven trays before removing.

meringue kisses© by haalo

The initial crunch of the meringue matches well with the crunchy nib and as you chew, it releases that chocolate flavour which melds into the marshmallowy core of each kiss.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Weekend Herb Blogging #75

Kate from Thyme for Cooking is hosting this edition of Weekend Herb Blogging.

Perhaps using Thyme would have been more appropriate but being a bit of a dill I went for Dill.

dill ©

Dill is an annual herb known for it's delicate, feathery leaves and it's sweet yet mild aniseed flavour.

In Saxon times, dill water was used to soothe babies and it's still used today to help babies suffering with colic. For the Romans and Greeks it was considered a sign of wealth and also proved popular due to it's perceived healing properties.

Today, these healing properties can be traced to two components - Monoterpenes and Flavonoids which help to remove damaging free radicals and carcinogens from our system. The volatile oils in Dill also have anti-bacterial properties.

Nutritionally Dill contains Calcium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorus, Selenium and Zinc as well as Vitamins A, BI, B2, B3, B6 and C.

This week I'm opting for another George Calombaris recipe from the March issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller - you might remember a few weeks ago for WHB#73 that I made his Saganaki Martini. Like the martini, this is also a dish we've eaten at his restaurant where it partnered the most amazing deep fried Quail we had ever tasted.

The dish I'm making is Beetroot Tzatziki - roasted beetroots combine with thick Greek yoghurt that has been flavoured with orange and lemon rinds, shallots, garlic and dill. The combination is fragrant with the sweetness of the beetroots heightened by the citrus rinds. The colour, inspiring, the taste divine - this is tzatziki as you've not had it before.

beetroot tzatziki©

Beetroot Tzatziki
[Serves 4]

400 grams beetroots/beets
2 tablespoons olive oil
freshly ground salt
200 grams Greek Yoghurt, strained
1 orange, rind finely grated
1 lemon, rind finely grated
2 shallots, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
5 sprigs dill, finely sliced

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

Place the beets/beetroot into a baking dish and drizzle over with olive oil and season with freshly ground salt. Give them a bit of a stir to ensure they are well coated before placing in the oven to cook for about 1 hour or until tender. Naturally enough the time needed will depend on the size of the beetroot used - try to choose beetroot of the same size.

Let them cool slightly before peeling and dicing them into small cubes.

Put the drained yoghurt into a bowl along with the orange and lemon rinds, shallots, garlic and dill - stir well before adding the beetroot cubes.

Season with freshly ground salt and black pepper to taste.

beetroot tzatziki©

A perfect companion to a variety of meats or enjoy it as a chunky dip served on roughly torn shards of warmed pita bread.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Ajo Blanco - White Gazpacho

Stale bread is something that we, more often than not, throw away rather than use. Rather a waste considering most cultures see the ingredient feature in some of their most classic dishes such as Bread and Butter Pudding, Pain Perdu and Panzanella to name but a few. Then there's the Spanish dish of Ajo Blanco or White Gazpacho that I'll be making today.

stale bread

The bread I'll be using is this lovely piece of stale Ciabatta - yes, it's an Italian bread in a Spanish dish but I don't think that should matter. What you want is a good quality bread, something with character. Ajo Blanco couldn't be simpler to make - it's a mix of blanched almonds, garlic and bread to which olive oil and sherry vinegar is added before being thinned with water. Chill for a few hours then serve with slices of grapes. It's the ideal no-fuss starter or as I've opted to do, an eye-catching shot.

ajo blanco shots

Ajo Blanco/White Gazpacho

100 grams stale white bread, crusts removed
60 grams blanched almonds
2 garlic cloves, sliced finely
5 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Sherry Vinegar
1 - 1½ cups cold water
sliced grapes, to serve

  • Place the almonds in a food processor and process until finely ground.

  • Soak the bread in cold water and when softened, squeeze to remove excess water and add to processor along with the garlic. Process until combined and then add 1/2 cup water to obtain a smooth mixture.

  • With the motor running, trickle in the olive oil, one tablespoon at a time - similar process to making mayonnaise. When all the oil has been added, trickle in the sherry vinegar.

  • Pour this out into a bowl and whisk in enough water to give it the consistency of cream. Taste and if necessary add a little more vinegar.

  • Chill for a few hours before serving.

ajo blanco or white gazpacho

The traditional garnish are slices of grapes - I quite like the red skinned variety, they provide a lovely contrast to the creamy white soup.

ajo blanco or white gazpacho

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Banana, Sunflower and Pistachio Bread

This isn't a bread in the traditional sense - there's no yeast or kneading at all. It's just a variation on the typical Banana Bread and was found in Marie Claire's "Sweet" book by Jody Vassallo. It's one I've had my eye on for a while - I find it impossible to resist anything with pistachios.


Banana, Sunflower and Pistachio Bread
[Makes 1x20cm square]

100 grams butter, softened
175 grams brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
500 grams ripe bananas, mashed
100 grams shelled pistachio nuts
75 grams sunflower seeds
300 grams self-raising flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon mixed spice

Grease and line a 20cm/8 inch square cake tin or a 23cm/9 inch loaf tin and preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

Place the butter and sugar into the bowl of a mixer and beat until light and creamy. Add the egg slowly, beating well after each addition.

Stir in the mashed bananas, pistachios and sunflower seeds.

Sift the flour with the bicarbonate of soda and mixed spice and then add it to the banana mixture. Stir until mixed through.

Spoon out into the tin, smoothing the surface with the back of a spoon. Bake for about 1 hour or until golden and cooked through.

Let it cool in the tin for 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

banana bread

Eat it warm from the oven or even toasted the next day with a little butter and honey.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Cheese: Tarago River Cheese

Tarago River Cheese was started in 1982 by the Jensen and Johnston families with 250 acres and 300 cows. Today they have grown to more than 850 acres and 800 cows. The dairy is located on the main road that links Neerim South to Mt Baw Baw. In fact during winter, most weekends we'd stop over here on our way to Mt Baw Baw for some of their fabulous cheese. Unfortunately, the cellar door isn't open any longer - the space was needed as demand for their cheese increased.

The cheese I'm looking at today is one of Paalo's favourites - just it's name is enough to send him misty eyed.

shadows piece

Cheese Maker: Tarago River Cheese
Cheese Name: Shadows of Blue
Location: 2236 Main Neerim Road, Neerim South, Victoria

Shadows of Blue as the name tells you, is a blue cheese, made in the style of a Blue Castello. Penicillium Roqueforti cultures are used to produce this creamy but mildly flavoured cheese. The photo below clearly shows the injection marks.

shadows of blue

Even though it looks like it would be heavily veined, it isn't.


This really is the type of blue that even an avowed blue hater should be able to eat. The mould acts to break down the cheese structure and leave it wonderfully creamy and almost spreadable.


This cheese usually disappears fairly quickly on a cheese board - it's the type that should be served on crusty bread and in generous portions. Other uses - savoury tarts, pasta sauces, pizza toppings or a wonderful companion to Prosciutto and figs.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Weekend Herb Blogging #74

Becky from Key Lime and Coconut is hosting the edition of Weekend Herb Blogging.

This week the object of my desire are those tempting fruits - Figs.


These are Black Genoa figs - in season from January to April here in Australia. A wonderfully sweet and succulent variety and one in which the skin can be eaten. You do have to check as some varieties the skin should be removed as it aggravates the lips and causes a rash.

Figs are part of the Ficus genus, a family that includes trees, shrubs and vines and numbers close to 800 species. The edible fruiting fig comes from one species called the Common Fig.

Nutritionally, Figs contain Lignin and Ficin, the former is an indigestible fibre and the latter, a mild laxative. These two ingredients help to make it a bowel friendly food. You'll also find Vitamins A, B6, C, E and K along with Calcium Copper, Folate, Iron, Manganese, Magnesium, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Phosphorus, Potassium, Riboflavin, Selenium, Sodium and Thiamine. If that wasn't enough there's a slew of Amino acids and Beta-carotene.

The dish I have on offer is a homage to one I had on Sunday at Pearl Restaurant. All kudos go to Chef Geoff Lindsay for creating such a magnificent combination of flavours and a dish that visually, is equally stunning.

Along with figs the dish uses fresh Pomegranate and Buffalo Mozzarella along with fresh Pistachio, which was the subject of a previous WHB post .

pomegranate buffalo mozzarella

I've used a local Buffalo Mozzarella made by Shaw River though if you have access to the wonderful Italian originals I highly recommend using it. I'll delve into more detail on the Shaw River Buffalo Mozzarella in a later cheese post.

pomegranate seeds

The pomegranate in the dish is presented in two ways - one in the form of Pomegranate Molasses and the other the fresh seeds.

The one ingredient that is missing from the original dish is wild fennel seed - try as I might it couldn't be found. I had thought of changing to another type of sprouted seed but none would give that extremely subtle liquorice flavour so I made an executive decision to omit it and present a simpler version.


Black Genoa Figs with Buffalo Mozzarella "a la Pearl"
[Serves 2]

2 Mission or Black Genoa Figs
Buffalo Mozzarella Ball
Pomegranate Molasses [I used Al-Ribah brand]
Fresh Pistachios, peeled and slivered [if not in season, use dried pistachios]
Pomegranate seeds

Cut each fig into quarters and space them out on your serving dish.

Rip the Mozzarella ball into roughly equal sized pieces and place them in between each fig quarter.

Drizzle over with a generous amount of Pomegranate Molasses, then follow with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds and the slivered fresh (or dried) pistachios.

Serve at once.


The only trouble with photos is that they give no indication to taste - the buffalo mozzarella is wonderfully succulent and almost juicy, in a way you could say it has the same structure as the fig. The molasses binds the two with an unctuous sweetness, with the seeds and nuts offering a crunch to counter the soft elements. A dazzling way to start a meal especially in those warmer months.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Presto Pasta Nights #3

It's that time of the week again - a time to indulge in Pasta. Thanks go to Ruth from Once Upon a Feast who hosts and created this event.

As we're still in lent, pasta tends to be "vego" or "fisho" and this time I've gone for the second option. This dish is based on the fairly traditional "Aglio Olio" but I've added a few extra flavourings in the form of finely sliced fresh birds-eye chilli and sage leaves and it's in this wonderfully flavoured garlic-chilli-sage oil infusion that the pieces of prawns are quickly sautéed.


Spaghetti Aglio Olio con Peperoncino, Salvia e Gamberi /Spaghetti in Garlic Oil with Chillies, Sage and Prawns
[Serves 2]

Fresh/dried Spaghetti, cooked until just tender
Olive oil
4 small cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 birds-eye chilli, finely sliced (use more or less to taste)
4 sage leaves
250 grams peeled raw prawns (if the prawns are big, cut into large chunks
freshly ground black pepper
freshly ground sea salt
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, to garnish (I used a Lemon-infused Olive Oil)

To make the sauce:

Place a generous amount of a good Olive Oil into a pan - don't bother with Extra Virgin as it loses all it's taste and fragrance when heated - use the Extra Virgin to drizzle over the top when the dish is done.

Over a medium heat, add the garlic, chilli and sage - you want these to slowly release their flavours into the oil. Be careful not to have the heat too high or you will end up with burnt garlic. Swirl the oil and keep them moving and when they have coloured take them off the heat.

Scoop out the garlic, chilli and sage pieces and return the pan to the stove. Turn up the heat and add the prawn pieces - you want to cook them quickly. When they change colours, return the garlic, chilli and sage to the pan - season with salt and pepper and toss really well.

Add the cooked and lightly drained spaghetti to the pan and continue stirring and tossing it through, making sure the infused oil coats all the pasta.

Place on your serving dish and season with a little more freshly ground black pepper and a good drizzle of your favourite Extra Virgin Olive oil.


And there you have it - wonderfully succulent prawns dotting the pasta along with slivers of chilli - garlic slivers and sage leaves hidden in the tangle and it's all held together with that lovely infused oil.


One word of warning - eat it quickly!

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Begins!

Today is the start of the 15th Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and it runs until March 30th. Around Melbourne and the state over 140 activities are planned.

As usual the festival starts with the Longest Lunch - and this year it's bigger than ever.

In the heart of the city, we'll be hosting the World's Longest Lunch at Telstra Dome and regional centres will be celebrating simultaneously at all these events:

Albury Wodonga Longest Lunch
Ballarat Longest Lunch
Bellarine Longest Lunch
Castlemane Longest Lunch
Daylesford Longest Lunch
Echuca Longest Lunch
Geelong Longest Lunch
Gippsland Longest Lunch
Macedon Ranges Longest Lunch
Marysville Longest Lunch
Milawa King Valley Longest Lunch
Mildura Longest Lunch
Moonambel-Pyrenees Longest Lunch
Red Hill Longest Lunch
Sale Longest Lunch
Sunbury Longest Lunch
Swan Hill Longest Lunch
Werribee Longest Lunch
Yarra Valley-Coldstream Longest Lunch
Yarra Valley-Yarra Glen Longest Lunch

If you'd like to keep up with what's on during the festival, you'll find all the events listed in this handy google calendar

Cheese: Alcheringa Cheese

It's a Victorian Cheese this time - from up north in the Murray Valley and it's an example of making the most of what you have.

In this case it's diversifying into cheese making, with the help of Locheilan Farmhouse Cheese they produce about 200 rounds of Camembert and Brie a fortnight.


Cheese: Alcheringa Nathalia Camembert
(Bio-dynamic Milk and Non-Animal Rennet used)

As a nod to their district, the label takes it's colour from those of the local football and netball teams.


Unwrapped you will find quite a firm white mould - not moist but more soft like velvet.


Now, this cheese was cut after being left out at room temperature for a couple of hours. As you can see it's not a soft, runny style. It cuts easily to reveals it's golden centre. It has those typical characteristics - a good earthiness combined with a creamy texture makes it quite appealing. It's quite chewy - the skin a little more intense but all in all, will make a nice change on your cheese platter.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday #31

Roger at Box Wines is hosting this month's Wine Blogging Wednesday and it sees us delving into the dark side with, naturally enough, Box Wines and other non-traditionally packaged wines.

As an Australian we should feel proud ashamed embarrassed something... let's try proud that we invented the wine cask. Yes, Tom Angove of Angove's Wines in South Australia has the patent from 1965 that states he indeed was the inventor.

When it came to choosing a cask I decided to skip the wines and head to the fortifieds - in this case, Sherry. Regardless of how good the Sherry is, you certainly don't want to be seen leaving a bottle shop with a 2 litre box of sherry in your hand.


Details: Seppelt Cream Sherry

Australian Sherry is remarkably good - though soon we won't be able to use the words Sherry, Fino, Oloroso and Amontillado due to an EU trade agreement.


In the glass it has a wonderful golden hue and an appealing aroma. Not overly sweet, it's rich but not cloying - well-balanced with just the right amount of acid to make it refreshing. Serve chilled it's perfect for pre- and post- dinner sipping.

When you think of it, the cask makes sense. It's not like you drink whole bottles of Sherry at one sitting - this way it stays at it's best, from the first glass to the last.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mint Ice Cream

Mint Ice Cream - I wonder if the commercial varieties actually contain any of this

fresh mint

The only way to ensure it's presence is to make it yourself!

I made Mint Ice cream recently to partner the Cantaloupe Soup but it's so wonderfully refreshing you can really just enjoy it on it's own. Having had great success with Basil Ice Cream I based this creation on that recipe - just look at that vibrant green, it screams eat me!

mint ice cream

Mint Ice Cream

140 grams water
150 grams caster sugar
40 grams glucose
360 grams plain yoghurt
50 grams fresh mint leaves
5 grams citric acid (or the juice of 1 lemon)

Place the water, caster sugar and glucose in a saucepan over a medium heat - stir well to dissolve the sugar and then let the mixture come to the boil.
Remove from heat and let it cool.

When cold, place the syrup along with the mint, yoghurt and citric acid into a blender and blend until smooth and the mix is a bright green.

Pass this through a muslin lined strainer and then put it through the ice-cream maker following manufacturer's directions.

I found this took a little longer to churn - around 40 minutes but that could be due to the temperature of the mixture.

When done, pour into a sealed container and place in the freezer for a few hours before serving.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Saganaki Martini

First off it's a big congratulations to Anna from Morsels and Musings who was married last weekend and is graciously hosting this edition of Weekend Herb Blogging. I do hope some nice person got her that ice cream maker!

This week I'll be handling what really should be called a fruit - Cucumbers!

cucumber© by haalo

By definition Cucumbers are fruit because their seeds are on the inside and when you start thinking about it, there's quite a lot of vegetables that are really fruit.

The main nutrient a cucumber offers is water - it's that refreshing characteristic that makes it very popular in summer. It also has Vitamin A, B6, C and K along with Copper, dietary Fibre, Folate, Magnesium, Manganese, Pantothenic Acid, Phosphorus, Potassium and Thiamine.

I'll be using cucumbers to make a recipe from one of my favourite local chefs, George Calombaris. A dish that you can enjoy at his restaurant The Press Club and now thanks to a great feature in the recent Gourmet Traveller I can make it at home!

George has a reputation of putting a unique spin on classic dishes and this Saganaki Martini is a perfect example of that.

In this martini, Gin in used as an accent to a herb flavoured tomato broth - Olives present themselves in the form of Candied Olives. Now you might be wondering about candied olives but all I can say is you should have an open mind and give them a go. The saganaki is presented as a skewer of grilled haloumi - served with the martini, it contains all the classical Greek elements but in a stunningly unique experience.

saganaki martini© by haalo

Saganaki Martini
[Serves 4]

10 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove
5 leaves basil
5 leaves mint
Gin, to taste

Candied Olives:
100 grams Kalamata olives, pits removed, finely chopped
50 grams caster sugar

2 Roma tomatoes, peeled and seeded, diced very finely
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded, diced very finely
1/2 bunch chives, finely chopped
200 grams haloumi, cut into 1cm cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil

Make the Martini:
Place the tomatoes, garlic, basil and mint in a blender and process until smooth. Strain using a fine sieve - don't press on the mixture, let it happen naturally. It will take a few hours to give you the required 500mls/2 cups of liquid.

Throw away the remaining solids and then add Gin to taste. Place this in the fridge to chill until ready to serve.

Make the Candied Olives:
Preheat the oven to 60°C.
Place the finely chopped olives on a baking paper lined tray and sprinkle with the caster sugar. Cook for about 15 minutes or until the olives are dried.

Prepare the Haloumi:
Slice the cheese into 1cm cubes and dust with a little flour. Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the cheese over a medium heat - browning all sides. When cooked thread onto skewers.

Assemble the dish:
Divide the diced Roma tomatoes, cucumber, candied olives and chives amongst four martini glasses, then pour over with the chilled martini mixture. Add the haloumi skewers and serve immediately.

saganaki martini© by haalo

I hope you'll agree, it's a wonderful way to begin a meal.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Cheese: Westhaven Dairy

Westhaven Dairy is situated near Launceston, Tasmania and started about 30 years ago. Today they predominately make Chèvre, along with a range of both cow and goat milk yoghurt and fetta. Their goats' milk is sourced from dairies in nearby Tamar Valley.


Cheese: Westhaven Chèvre
Location: 89 Talbot Road Launceston - Open to the public


This Chèvre is a made in the French style from pure goats' milk and uses kosher certified rennet. It has a moist skin and I'd class it as semi-soft. It will crumble a little when cut.


It has a mild flavour with a creamy mouth-feel and good acid levels. I'd probably assign this to be cooking cheese rather than a something I'd place on a cheese board. In fact this cheese was used to recently make the goat cheese crostini and proved a perfect element for the dish.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Polenta and Ricotta Cake

It does seem to be a mantra of mine - find new ways to use Polenta and this recipe found in the Penguin Cake Bible seems to be a most excellent way to satisfy this quest.

It's a cake but it doesn't use any eggs...or milk. What it does use is ricotta. The cake isn't the most handsome thing that will come out of your oven, the top with be cracked and no amount of subtle lighting will change that. However, it will be one of the tastiest.

The polenta forms a wonderful crust and gives the cake such a unique texture and then the ricotta brings in a lightness that comes as a total surprise. It's wonderfully moist and simple to make. I had my reservations but the proof, as they might say, is in the cake!


Polenta and Ricotta Cake
[Makes 1x20cm/8 inch square]

150 grams sultanas [or raisins]
50 grams fresh pistachios [optional - I added them because I had them]
200 grams polenta [I used fine polenta though you can use coarse]
250 grams self-raising flour
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
250 grams caster sugar
250 grams ricotta
100 grams melted butter
175ml warm water

Preheat the oven to 170°C/335°F. Use a baking tin with a removable base to make it easier to un-mould the cake.

Place the sultanas into a bowl and pour over with boiling water. Allow to steep. Drain when cold and set aside.

Sift the self-raising flour with the baking powder and place into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the polenta and stir to mix through. Next add the ricotta, melted butter and water. Beat until well combined. Add the drained sultanas and pistachios and beat until just stirred through.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin, smoothing out the top. Bake for 60-90 minutes or until cooked through.

Let it sit in the tin for 20 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.


Just perfect with a cup of coffee or tea or a thick slice slipped in the lunch box.

The original recipe calls for steeping the fruit in brandy - just heat up 3 tablespoons of brandy in a saucepan with the sultanas/raisins for 3-4 minutes until they plump up. Then set aside to cool.

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