Dinner with friends

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Saturday night was toward the end of my long summer holiday and I was looking forward to catching up with my friend Sandra.

Being the end of the holidays I was so much in un-wind mode that dinner at the local Thai with an offer of dessert and coffee was all I could manage.

I always love making a good baked ricotta cheesecake though. You can be creative with bases and toppings and know exactly what to expect from the baked ricotta section.

I resourcefully used left over Christmas shortbreads, a little cocoa and ginger and tasmanian butter for the base – just mix together in food processor.

The middle section is 500g fresh ricotta, small tub of light cream cheese, 2 eggs & 1/3 cup icing sugar. you can vary the amount of icing sugar depending on your need for sugar. These also get mixed together in food processor until smooth and creamy, which happens fairly quickly. The cake is baked at 160 for about 55 mins or until firm and golden.

The topping is a mixture of raspberries, a spoonful of marsala and a dash of icing sugar – put together in a saucepan and heated for a minute so the raspberries don’t lose their lovely form. The topping is poured over prior to serving.

The best thing about doing this dessert is that it tastes better the next day , so you get to enjoy the left overs as a true ‘cooks treat’.

PS – Other good toppings include:  * fresh date, pecan ,cinnamon & honey warmed together in a small saucepan * caramelised banana and pear  * chocolate ganache, white & dark chocolate shards with sour cherries

Sausages and Curry

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Is it really worth blogging about food you have cooked when it comes from a packet? Maybe so, because this dinner was enjoyable.

The curry is a tikka marsala mix from curry makers that my stepson likes and we often put into little curry pies together. Tonight I just cooked it with chicken, carrot and potato – always par-boil the potatoes first so you don’t get that horrible vegetable scum forming on the top of the curry.

Andrew had a craving for spicy salsa sausages, so the two worked well with whit rice and a side serve of diced cucumber & coriander.

I love sausages as soon as they come off the heat, the joy of biting through the tight skin and into the fat before the skin wrinkles and the fat starts to solidify. But the enjoyment is only complete with balance, as all good things in life tend to be, so keep chewing that cucumber to dissipate the sausage fat

Sugar Hit

Pistachio nuts are one of the coolest ingredients ever – they are so beautifully green, with colour like that you just can’t go wrong.

When you cut through them it’s like adding little jewels into your food creations. Probably my favourite visual treat is cutting through chocolate panforte at Christmas time – ah the pleasure of seeing that distinctive pistachio green against the deep cocoa brown of the cake

On this occasion I had a handful of nuts left over and made a pistachio praline. For this I made a basic white sugar toffee in a saucepan, spread thinly over a paper lined baking sheet. Once fully set fold baking paper back over toffee and smash away with a mallet.

I also had some left over egg whites and it was a calm Saturday night crying out for some excitement in the form of a massive sugar hit. So i made some mini-meringues with the help of Stephanie Alexander’s ‘Cooks Companion’ and cooked them for a bit longer and slower than i usually do so the outsides went a great caramely brown and the inside was still stretchy. Yum!

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Then back to the pistachio praline, with a wooden spoon and a strong arm I mixed that through some fave vanilla ice-cream, set into mini-moulds and back into freezer for another hour or so to re-set.

For the plating up (oh that sounds so much more pro than the word ‘serving’. Thank you Masterchef) – Meringues decorated with some fresh cream and fruit and the praline ice-creams set on the top.

You know when a dessert is very good by the quietness of your male audience. Boys & men go very very quiet when they first taste a sweet they love. In this case the silence from my loving husband and my step-son said it all.

What do you cook in 40 degree heat!!

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Fires blazing all over Australia, but we are safe in our hot Cherrybrook kitchen.

We could get take away but I have decided to take the character challenge and cook against the odds.

The other problem is limited ingredients, but have again decided to take the challenge and make something from nothing

The dumplings are filled with chicken breast and carrot. The really need some ginger or lemongrass to add a flavour layer, but the texture of the raw carrot pieces works well – they could almost be pieces of water chestnut. They do work, because anything doused with a bit of Kikkoman soy sauce is always a good thing.

The bruschetta has been brushed with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, garlic and real butter for flavour and the topping is ready sliced button mushrooms that did not make it to a cooked breakfast with a dab of butter, a little olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and fresh thyme from the herb pot. Lemon and thyme are a perfect match in foodie couplings.

Picnic style on the lounge room floor in front of the only working air conditioner, the fruits of my character producing labour are enjoyed.

 

 

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Eggplant – what do you do with it?

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The joys of eggplant. . . much misunderstood by Australians.

Italians, Indians and Middle Easterners on the other hand know just what to do with this magnificently coloured vegetable.

I always enjoy the visual treat of the deep brown purple skin when it is against fresh oranges in my produce bowl, the fruit pitted in texture and vibrant in the truest of orange colour.

This side dish of eggplant is made by cutting eggplant into flat chip-like wedges and browning with a little olive oil in a cast iron pan. After a few minutes you add a capful of cooking grade sherry and put the glass lid on the pan so the eggplant ‘cooks down’ by convection. After another five minutes or as soon as you see the breaking down of the sponge like flesh into a slippery bark like consistency you can add other flavours. Here I have added a heaped teaspoon of miso-paste, some black sesame seeds that become toasted when added into the pan and some finely diced coriander stalks, the leaves of which had been completely de-nuded after lunch upon lunch of Vietnamese rice paper rolls – our January literal flavour of the month.

The eggplant served as an accompaniment to some chicken breasts cooked in sherry and seasoned with Himalayan rock salt and fresh finely grated ginger – how to for another time as it’s a great fall back of mine

Never skip breakfast

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In the early days of our friendship my friend Karen once told me she looks forward to eating breakfast cereal every morning. I thought at the time she must be lacking in some basic kitchen abilities – later proved to be untrue, if eating cereal was the food highlight of the day.

Then at 40 I started making my own cereal in an attempt to keep up with my healthy mother who does the same, and like my friend came to anticipate cereal eating as a daily highlight.

I combine raw oats with some unprocessed bran or other grain that I want to try and then add combinations of fruit such as organic sultanas, raisins, dates, cranberries – not all at once though, less is more and flavour balance are always important. I also add a handful of nuts – cashews, almonds or walnuts and a sprinkle of shredded coconut.

This morning I had fresh blueberries and strawberry yoghurt in temporary possession – I live with a food loving husband and 3-4 teenage children so nothing lasts long.

(In case you were wondering – the 3-4 children is reference to my 2 daughters, my stepson and my eldest daughters boyfriend who we love having as part of this family)