Thursday, 19 August 2010

Blog weirdness

Hi everyone!

Please bear with me as I try to fix the formatting of my previous posts - Blogger has changed their templates and HTML formatting and some how it never translated to my past posts and made things a bit weird.

So therefore I'm in the process of fixing it and trying to work out the kinks so things might look a bit funky for a little while.

Thanks for standing by!

Poached Eggs

I was always intimidated by the technique of poaching eggs but I am happy to say after a couple attempts I think I've cracked it (yes, pun intended!)


Poached eggs:

Bring a pot of salted water to a gentle simmer (I used a pot with about 1 litre capacity). Some people opt to add a tablespoon of vinegar to the water but I tried both ways and it didn't really make much of a difference taste or texture wise to me.

Break a fresh egg into a glass and set it aside.

With a wooden spoon swirl the simmering water until a whirlpool forms. Pour the egg from the glass quickly into the very centre of the whirlpool and leave it alone. 

"Leave it alone?!?" I hear you saying, "but everyone always said to put the whites over the yolk and to agitate it!" 

Well, I say: "leave it alone and it'll take care of itself". That's right, the momentum of the swirling water takes care of it and it swirls into itself and creates a perfectly poached egg. 

After about 2 minutes or so (depending on so many factors - just practice until you get it right and note down how long it took to cook to perfection), take it out of the water with a slotted spoon. 

You can use the same water to poach as many eggs as you want, however I recommend my technique to handle only one at a time. I've not tried it with multiple eggs at once but I'm sure they would morph together into some giant multi-yolked abomination. Tasty, but not very elegant.


It's ready to eat however you want to; on top of a salad "Lyonnais" style or with hollandaise sauce as seen in the picture, which is traditional.

Poached eggs are traditionally eaten when the yolk is runny and the whites have just set. It's a good tradition! I like mine with lightly buttered sourdough toast and a good spoonful of hollandaise.

For easy Hollandaise:

Enough for two servings

50g butter (salted or unsalted - just taste before you add extra salt if using salted butter)
2 egg yolks (organic or free range preferred)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon hot water
salt, to taste

Try to have all the ingredients at room temperature. It makes things thicken easier and avoids the whole thing separating.

Bring a small amount of water to the boil in a small saucepan.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in the microwave (about 20-30 seconds or so). 

In a separate bowl whisk 2 egg yolks with a bit of salt (if using unsalted butter) and about a tablespoon of hot water and a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar. Put this on top of the saucepan of boiling water (bain-marie style). While whisking, pour the melted butter in slowly and whisk away until it's thick and creamy.

Don't leave it alone and keep an eye on the heat; you don't want to scramble it. When it's thick and creamy and hollandaise-sauce-looking, take it off the heat immediately and serve straight away. This sauce is also good over asparagus and is called "Eggs Benedict" when served with poached eggs.

Bon Appétit!

Monday, 24 May 2010

May update

I think I'm going to have to re-name this blog: "Tales of the Serial Mover".

Seriously, here we go again - moving to my 7th city in 5 years.

Count them - SEVEN! Perth, Guelph, Canberra, Auckland, London, Paris, and drumroll please - Nice, France!

This time I can totally justify it (well, actually, I can probably always find something to justify myself)!

Paris is expensive. Without being able to speak French, my job prospects here are severely limited and without the desire to teach English, I am unemployed. Living on one income is no fun and the Frenchman had an opportunity to get transferred to Nice, and here we are again. If we stayed in Paris, we could only afford a shoebox sized apartment for a lot of money. If we move to Nice, we can afford a larger shoebox for less money. Also, having grown up near the beach, I have to admit I miss the salty air and fresh breezes. I wasn't really a beachy person before, but i think things closer to nature is better for the both of us.

So once again, I find myself surrounded by packing boxes. It seems to be a reoccurring fixture in our household!

So, during my last two months here in Paris, I shall try to post something once in a while. The weather here has finally brightened and the Parisiens are flocking to the coast and are being replaced by tourists flocking to the city. The temperature today is 29 degrees celsius and the sun is beating down on the city. It doesn't sound very hot but remember this is a city without air conditioning or breezes and many enclosed areas with lots and lots of people. Not my idea of fun. I think I belong someone in the snow where I can leave and go holiday in the sun for 2 weeks and then go back to the cold. I like the cold.

From my window I can see others basking in the sun from their balconies as today is yet again a public holiday in France. Just don't ask me which one as this is the 4th public holiday this month alone and I've lost the botheredness to keep track... lets just assume it's another religious holiday.

(*update: it is Pentecost today - so I was right - just always assume it is a religious holiday and you'll be fine!)

I've also decided to study again - postgraduate Masters. I've also decided to attempt two Masters at once since I'm not working (and I couldn't decide between the two very different topics). I'm a sucker for self punishment and I think I can handle it if I'm organised and pull my thumb out of my you-know-where. I've been accepted to one already and am waiting to hear about the other soon, so wish me luck!

So, dear people, I'm off to spray water on myself as a feeble attempt at cooling down and to stop the dry air of Paris from sucking all moisture from my skin making me look like Imhotep from The Mummy before he sucks the life out of those unfortunate people who dared to open his chest of goodies.


Saturday, 6 March 2010

Europain & Intersuc 2010 - International Bakery, Pastry, Ice-cream, Chocolate & Confectionary Exhibition

This year, I had the opportunity to attend Europain 2010 - an internationally renowned exhibition encompassing the sweet food industries (bakery, pastry, ice-cream, chocolate and confectionary).

Held in a large exhibition centre just one stop from the airport on the RER B, this expo is the place for experiencing the sweet industry in France. Anybody who's anybody in the industry attends, and you have the opportunity to mix and mingle with suppliers and professionals alike.

I have to admit that I did giggle a few times at all the cool equipment. My favourite was the chocolate tempering equipment - the idea of having a constant stream of perfectly tempered melted chocolate on tap makes me giggle like a little girl. You could watch the experts using the equipment and turning out perfect candies in no time at all. Anything you need to operate a bakery/chocolaterie/gelateria/etc is all here under one (very large) roof. Very cool stuff.

Held every two years, Europain is a food-geek's dream. Rows and rows of professional equipment and supplies for everything from packaging to baking ovens and shopfitting. Industry prodigies complete for the crown during the 4 days of the exhibition and you can see them in action while you're there.

The majority of products and suppliers were geared towards the baking industries (which makes sense considering there is a boulangerie/patisserie practically on every street corner here). The air was hot from all the demonstration ovens around the halls. The smell of freshly baked bread was wafting through the air and luckily enough, there were baskets of samples to satisfy grumbling stomachs.

There are plenty of eatable masterpieces on display, as well as being constructed before your eyes. You can talk to the chefs as they demonstrate their skills if you have any questions. They seem pretty eager to talk to you about their craft.

When it comes to the exhibitors, be prepared to answer 20 questions and to lay down your business card if you want something as simple as a brochure - they take the business of food VERY seriously here and any vague interest is met with an interrogation.

On a bitter note: unless you come from a well-known company - forget about being taken seriously - to the exhibitors, this is serious business and they don't have time for people from the minor leagues. The high note is that if you're from a large recognised company in the industry, you'll be showered with champagne and samples - but you can forget about that if you're not.

Unfortunately women are also given second-class status here, which is quite discouraging - men are still considered as kings in the industry here. I observed this all first hand (happened not only to me but others around) and it's not a practice I agree with, however it seems to be the way things are done in this part of the world and seems unlikely to change anytime soon.

Your ID badge is of major interest to the everyone here - you'll be checked out and have it scanned when you enter restricted areas or from particularly organised exhibitors who like to keep track of who they talk to.

Unless you're on a diet (and extremely disciplined) you'll find that you might not be able to resist the tempting treats on offer. The Metro booths in particular offered plates of pizza, pasta, and other gourmet delights to show off the variety of food products they supply. Instead of paying €5 for a hot dog at the food vendors, just go here and you'll have a pretty good lunch for free.

Europain & Intresuc 2010 - International Bakery, Pastry, Ice-cream, Chocolate & Confectionary Exhibition
Paris-Nord Villepinte Exposition Centre
6-10 March 2010

Friday, 26 February 2010

German Chocolate cake - named after the person, not the country

Shown recently on the blog that is considered pretty much gospel on all things 'sweet' and 'Paris' - David Lebovitz baked up a batch of German Chocolate Cupcakes, which looked very very good to me. It was either this or baking a Red Velvet cake. But French supermarkets being what they are (empty shelves and lazy shop assistants), I wasn't able to find any red food colouring without having to go into the centre of town to a speciality food supplies store. And since it was cold and raining outside, I decided to make things easier for myself.

I generally avoid "internet" recipes because out of the dozen or so that I've tried, I find that they never work out the way I want or expect them to.*

However, a friend recently made something from the extensive recipe collection of David Lebovitz, and since he seems to be "the man" around these parts, I decided to give his recipe a go...

*and before you go telling me that I'm just a bad cook and that's why they don't work, in my own defence, I have made stuff out of books for years and haven't had any major problems!

German Chocolate Cupcakes (adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz)

I adapted this a little, to suit what ingredients I had and used the optional suggestions he had (such as substituting coffee for just plain hot water in the cake recipe, etc)

For the cupcakes (or regular-sized cake):
60g Dark chocolate (70% Lindt is my preferred)
60mls Coffee
115g Butter, softened
150g Caster sugar
3 smallish eggs, seperated into yolks and whites (the recipe calls for 2 large eggs but mine were so small that I added an extra one to make up for it)
1/2 tspn Vanilla extract
150g Plain flour
1 tbsp Cocoa powder
1/2 tspn baking soda
A pinch of salt
125mls Milk
1 tbsp Vinegar

Preheat the oven to 180ºC and prepare your baking tin (any will do, in this case I used a muffin tin lined with waxpaper cases that my Mamma sent me from home).

Brew fresh coffee (or the same amount of hot water and a tablespoon of instant coffee granules). Break the chocolate into small pieces and whisk into the hot coffee, melting it together. Leave to cool. 
Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks (saving the whites for later) and mix well. Add the vanilla and the melted chocolate/coffee mixture slowly.

To the milk, add the tablespoon of vinegar and mix together. Add this slowly to the batter.

Combine the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl and mix together with a whisk. Add this slowly, a tablespoon at a time to the wet batter, making sure not to beat the crap out of it. The last of the flour can be mixed in by hand, which is a better way of controlling the speed.

Now for the egg whites that you have set aside, whisk (or use a hand-held mixer if you've got it) them until light but stiff. They should look like a cloud that can hold its own shape. When finished, add about a quarter of this to the main cake batter and fold it in gently with a rubber spatular. Once this is done, do the same remaining egg white until just combined.

Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and back from about 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean. Take out of the oven and cool on a rack completely before frosting them (if they are still warm when you decorate them, the frosting will melt and become all sloppy - this is not a nice sight and will create lots and lots of mess...)

For the German chocolate frosting:

180mls Unsweetened evaporated milk
80g Brown sugar
3 smallish egg yolks (again, he used 2 large egg yolks but as mine were teeny-weenie, I added an extra one to make up for it)
A pinch of salt
30g Butter
60g Dark chocolate, broken into bits
110g Descicated Coconut, toasted in a little butter on the stove **(see below for method)
1 tspn Vanilla extract

On a gentle heat, whisk together the evaporated milk, brown sugar, egg yolks, and salt. Stir in the butter, over medium heat, until it thickens like a custard and coats the spatula. Don't let it come to a boil or you'll scramble the eggs and make it go all funny - which is not very funny at all.

Once it has thickened, take off the heat right away and stir in the chocolate until it's melted. Stir in the vanilla essence and the toasted coconut, making sure it is mixed together well. It should look thick, lumpy, and gloopy. 

When the frosting has cooled and the cupcakes have cooled, you can go nuts icing them. As suggested by Mr. Lebovitz, I sprinkled a little coconut on top to let people know what they're eating and 'cos it looks a lot prettier than just a brown lumpy goo on the top. 

** The easiest way I find to toast coconut is to do it in a frying pan on the stove. Melt a lump of butter in a small frying pan over a medium heat and add in as much coconut as you wish. Stir it gently so that it's not lumpy. Keep stirring the coconut, making sure you get right underneath to turn it over so that no part is getting browner than the other. Just keep stirring it and moving it around until it is evenly browned all over. Don't turn your attention away because once it gets going, the whole process happens very fast and the coconut can burn. The smell during this process is amazing and I find that toasting coconut releases the flavour and makes it nicely crunchy - non-toasted coconut can be a bit soggy. 

I usually make a bit extra and keep it in a jar to sprinkle over crêpes spread with nutella.

The finished product wasn't quite my thing. Although they worked out and were nice enough, I thought there was something missing in the background, flavour-wise. Perhaps a dash of almond or coconut essence in the cake mixture would have rounded off the flavour a bit better. Or a shot of coconut rum or kirsch. Overall, to my taste, the cake crumb was a bit too soft and the frosting a bit too wet. They are messy-looking as well as messy to eat. Next time (if there is a next time), I'll tweak it by adding a bit of flavour to the cake batter and let you know how it turns out.

The challenge is now out there - is there an internet recipe out there that will work for me? We shall see!

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Apple and Cinnamon Muffins


These are made using a simple butter cake recipe which I've tweaked to include cinnamon and freshly cut apples. You can also swap the apples for plums when they're in season, which will make my most favourite cake ever.

They are very simple and are technically made with a cupcake texture (which is a bit heavier and denser than standard muffins) but have no frosting, only freshly fruit and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar before baking.

Apple and Cinnamon muffins

125g Butter, soft
185g Sugar
1 tbsp Vanilla essence (the best and thickest you can find)
2 eggs
250g Self Raising Flour (or the same amount of plain flour with 2-3 teaspoons of baking soda mixed in)
1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
125mls Milk
A couple of fresh apples (the amount depends on the size of the apple - any left over slices can be munched on while the 'cupfins' bake)
A few tablespoons Cinnamon sugar (equal quantities fine sugar and ground cinnamon, well combined)

Beat soft butter and sugar together until light and fluffy (raw sugar is not as fine as caster sugar so it might not be as fluffy as you're used to - no problems there, just continue as normal). Add the vanilla and eggs and mix well until thick and combined.

Turn the mixer to the lowest speed, add the milk and spoonfuls at a time of the flour and cinnamon. As soon as it is combined, turn off the mixer and finish it off by hand (if there is a bit of flour on the sides and bottom) with a spatula.

You know how I feel about over mixing by now, so DON'T OVER MIX otherwise it will be rubbery... I say it every time but I mean it - nothing is more disappointing than all that hard work and a rubbery cake at the end of it all....

Cut the apples into slices.

You can pour the mix into a cake tin (any shape or size will do) or individual muffin cases. Lightly push the apple slices into the top of the mixture (you dont have to push it all the way in, it's perfectly fine to have half of the slice poking out, it will brown and be very yummy - and people will know what they are eating if they can see some of the apple on top).

Sprinkle liberally with the cinnamon sugar and bake for about 20-40 minutes (depending on your oven, the tin you used, etc etc). They should be done when they are nicely golden brown on top, but always test with a skewer to make sure they're done.

These are nicest to eat when they're fresh and warm (and if doing a cake version, they are especially nice with whipped cream on the side). They should keep for a few days if kept in a airtight container. You can substitute any fresh fruit (as long as it's not too wet or juicy). As I said, fresh plums are my favourite and cinnamon goes with practically any fruit.

If you freeze them in an airtight container on the day you baked them (just make sure they are cool first), when it comes time to defrost them, they will taste just as fresh as if you had just baked them - and warming them in the oven before serving doesn't hurt either.

Friday, 8 January 2010

A salad fit for a meal

So, I thought I would share with you one of my favourite meals right now (tweaked to my tastes, of course!) - a Salade Composé à la Kangaroo.
This salad has become one of my favourite meals. I ate my first one in a small restaurant in the Opéra area and instead of going back and paying 11€ each time, I thought it would be easy enough to make my own. Now it's become at least a bi-weekly meal in our house.

Ingredients: serves two as a main course

-- Two large handfuls of fresh, well washed lettuce leaves (I usually wash my lettuce three times - you'd be suprised how much grit will come out of it)
-- Small can of corn kernels
-- Canned green beans (or fresh blanched beans if you have the botheredness or time)
-- Beetroot, slices into chunks (fresh or canned)
-- Ripe tomatoes (I use Coeur de Boeuf or Beef heart tomatoes, but any ripe tomato will do)
-- Good quality sliced ham or chicken (or Turkey for that matter), sliced into strips
-- Bacon lardons, fried until crisp in a small amount of olive oil

-- Good olive oil (don't go using just any old oil - it must be good quality!)
-- White or balsamic vinegar (I use a white vinegar called 'Vinaigre de Xérès d'Andalouise' from Maille)
-- A nice spoonful of good Dijon mustard, to taste
-- Salt and pepper, to taste

To compose the salad:

In a large deep bowl or plate, layer the salad leaves, tomato slices, spoonfuls of corn, beans, and sliced beetroot chunks (try to be artistic about it, you eat with your eyes, after all!) On top of it all, place a small pile of the sliced ham and sprinkle the crispy lardons over the top.

Try not to serve this straight out of the fridge - there's nothing worse than a forkful of ice-cold salad - it should be room temperature. And besides, chilled stuff tastes blander than if served at room temperature - so there! ; )

For the dressing:
Generally speaking, vinaigrettes should be 1 part acid (vinegars or lemon juice) to 3 parts oil. This one is no different...

In a small bowl, whisk a spoonful of mustard and about a tablespoon full of the vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. While whisking, drizzle in your olive oil (approximately 3 tablespoons) until the dressing is thick and creamy.

Now is the time to taste and adjust - more mustard? more vinegar? Too sour? (add more olive oil to counter the acidity). Once you are happy with the taste, drizzle this over the finished salad just before serving. Any left over dressing can be kept refrigerated in an airtight container up to 1-2 days.

This salad is great as a meal in itself. It certainly is filling enough, especially when served with small toasts topped with grilled goats cheese (not shown in the photos). Here in Paris, I use Pain de Mie (a slightly sweetened white bread) cut into diagonals and topped with a disk of chèvre (goats cheese).

Happy salad-ing!