Friday, May 26, 2006

Amaretto cocktails

As I've mentioned before my trip last year to the US was a cocktail revelation to me. L.A. Introduced me to the tangy wonders of an apple martini and a very boozy night at a friend of friends brand new bar in Seattle introduced me to amaretto - or more specifically to a cocktail called a bocce ball.
In all honesty my memories of the evening are somewhat hazy - we were given free range at the bar and they had a very impressive cocktail list. I managed to work my way down it to the bocce ball (no it wasn't alphabetical) and was pleasantly surprised. A bocce ball was mix of orange juice and amaretto. I'm pretty sure there was another ingredient but I can't remember what it was - I remember though it was short drink.

I have always assumed that I wouldn't like amaretto because I don't like almond essence or commercial, artificially flavoured marzipan. There is something about the overpowering, cologne scent that has never appealed to me. However after a few drinks that scent wasn't as obvious and I was able to actually taste and enjoy the amaretto. I enjoyed it so much I caught the Greyhound bus the next day with a wicked hangover.

I haven't come across too many cocktails in Australia with amaretto - a good friend of mine gave me a book of cocktail recipes for my birthday which listed an amaretto sour recipe. It's as close to the bocce ball I had in the US as I've been able to find. I've ordered amaretto sours in bars and been given something very different so I'm not sure how authentic it is as a 'sour' but it's delicious

Amaretto Sour

1 part amaretto
1 part lemon juice
1 part orange juice

Half fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour juice and amaretto into shaker and shale till cold. Pour into a cocktail glass and serve.

Adapted from 'Shaken - 250 very sexy cocktails' by Murdoch books

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sugar High Friday - Ginger

This month's theme for Sugar High Friday - ginger, came at just the right time as we in Australia slipped firmly into winter. Warming ginger is the perfect antidote to cold rainy days - as is a slice of warm Pear and Ginger Upside-down Cake.

The base of the cake is highly spiced and dense like traditional gingerbread - my oven may have been a little too high, the edges weren't burnt but they were a little chewy - but I thought that actually improved the cake by adding another texture. The pear was moist and sweet, I love the slightly grainy texture of cooked pear. This cake is great the next day but it really is at it's best straight out of the oven served with cream.

Pear and Ginger Upside-down Cake

1 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bi-carb soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp mixed spice

1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup golden syrup

3 firm but ripe Bosc pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

Whipped cream to serve

Preheat the oven to 180 C (350F) and spray a deep 20cm cake tin with oil.
Sift the flour, baking powder, bi-carb soda and spices.
Combine the milk and vanilla extract.
Cream the butter and sugar, add the egg and beat well. Beat in the golden syrup.
Mix in the flour and milk alternately beginning and ending with dry ingredients.

Arrange the pears in the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread the batter over the pears.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Transfer pan to rack and cool 10 minutes. Using small knife, cut around sides of pan to loosen cake. Turn cake out into rack and cool slightly.

Serve warm with whipped cream.

(adapted from an recipe)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Who's your (Beard) Papa?

I have had a very very good day. I was shopping at Chatswood Westfield and walked past a sign near the food court proclaiming "Beard Papa now open on level 3. I literally stopped in my tracks, spun around and headed straight for the down escalator - where ever I was heading totally forgotten.

Beard Papa is a Japanese chain of stores that makes cream puffs. Nothing else but lovely eggy hand sized cream puffs filled with fresh vanilla creme patisserie, light, creamy and flecked with dark specks of real vanilla. They bake every 2 hours and fill the shells when you order so the choux pastry is still fresh and slightly crunchy when you bite into it. Heaven.

I first came across Beard Papa in Kyoto - there was one just outside my local supermarket which tested my will power on a regular basis. They make the best last minute dinner party dessert, I smother them in a rich, warm chocolate sauce and serve.

If you can get to Chatswood and are prepared to take on the labyrinth that is Chatswood Westfield I urge you to seek out Beard Papa and try one of their superb cream puffs. You'll end up taking home a box for sure!

Beard Papa Sweets
K353A (Near General Pants)
Westfield Shopping Centre
1 Anderson St
Ph: 02 9412 2214

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Japanese Convenience Food

I spent a number of years living in Japan after I graduated university - my boyfriend (now husband) and I decided to travel a bit through South-East Asia and then do a 12 month stint teaching in Japan and then travel back through India home. In the blink of an eye 12 months turned in 4 fascinating years as we worked and traveled throughout Asia. We spent nearly 3 years in Japan all up including 2 very special years in Kyoto and an amazing 10 months skiing in Nagano

Japan was a revelation for me - being Australian with so little human history behind us it was mind boggling to walk down a busy city street and then come upon a tiny 600 year old temple still being used everyday. Unlike Australia seasons were distinct and celebrated - as Summer moved into Autumn the hills around Kyoto would start to change colour and the food available in supermarkets and restaurants would change to reflect what was in season. As Autumn became Winter the colourful Autumn leaf designs on the beer cans gave way to snow flakes - everything that could be themed was.

It has just recently started to get colder here in Sydney with beautifully clear sunny Autumn days but decidedly chilly nights. This change in seasons made me a little homesick for Japan so I made pilgrimage to Tokyo Mart in Northbridge to get some essentials for Japanese Winter cooking.

Japanese food is renowned for being complex and quite difficult to cook - and in some cases this is true. However what struck me when I finally decoded the Japanese supermarket was the amount of really high quality package mixes and pre-made products that were available and how widely they were used. My lack of Japanese made these packs essential when we first moved there - the directions were always accompanied by pictures so we could work out how to cook it!

Nabe is a very common winter dish - there are many different varieties from the Chanko Nabe made famous by sumo wrestler to more gourmet seafood style. Nabe is basically a hot pot with noodles, meat balls and vegetables. Nabe is also the name of the pot that you cook it in. In Japan this dish is traditionally cooked at the table on a little gas stove.

I called this post convenience food because the easiest way to make nabe is to buy one of the delicious soup concentrate from a Japanese supermarket. This particular mix is a miso chanko mix - it makes a hearty soup not unlike ramen soup. I also used a tofu mix to make nice soft Japanese style tofu and a pack of fresh udon.

Dillute the soup concentrate 2:1 and pour it into the nabe (or large pot) and bring to the boil. The traditional ingredients are chunks of daikon (white radish), udon noodles,tofu, several types of mushrooms - I used enoki and shimeji, chicken meat balls, shallots and cabbage. You can add anything you like really. To cook just boil all the ingredients in the soup starting with the ones that take the longest to cook like the daikon and chicken till you finally getting to the cabbage.

The tofu is also very easy to make - add the soy powder to water and boil for a couple of minutes. Add the setting agent and pour it into a bowl to set. This is a very soft and subtley flavoured tofu - not like the firmer chinese style tofu you buy in the supermarket.

Take the whole pot to the table and let people serve themselves - it's a very filling meal sure to stick to your ribs - just ask the sumo wrestlers who eat it every day!

Ittedakimas everyone!

Tokyo Mart
Shop 27, Northbridge Plaza
Ph:(02) 9958 6860

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Viva Fiesta!

Yesterday was the 5th of May, or Cinco de Mayo. Mexicans celebrate whooping some French butt on this day in 1862. I have quite a bit of time on my hands at the moment and decided to throw my own Tex-Mex Cinco de Mayo fiesta.

As well as more traditional Mexican dishes like enchiladas and plenty of margaritas I wanted to try out some more Tex dishes like ribs marinated with Mexican flavours.

I came across annatto paste while watching 'Once upon a time in Mexico' DVD. Johnny Depps's character has an obsession for a deep red slow cooked pork dish - Puerco Pibil. The DVD has a 10 minute cooking lesson on how to make the perfect Puerco Pibil from scratch -including grinding your own achiote paste. Anaotto seeds are deep red, triangular and very very hard. I had a great deal of difficultly grinding the seeds into a smooth paste and we ended up eating a pretty grainy but otherwise tasty Puerco Pibil.
This time I decided to take the less traditional but much easier route of buying achiote paste from The Essential Ingredient to make my recado (marinade) for my ribs. For two huge racks of pork ribs I disolved 2 cubes of paste in 1 cup of orange juice. I added the juice of one lime and 2 cloves of garlic. I seasoned the ribs with plenty of salt and pepper and then put them in a plastic bag and poured the achiote recado in and left them to marinate overnight in the fridge

While at the Essential Ingredient I came across a can of chipotle chillis in adobo sauce. When I opened the can and the smokey almost dirty, earthy smell wafted out I decided to make a second marinade with them. I blended 3 of the chillis and a little of the adobo sauce with a can of tomatoes. I added some brown suger, salt, garlic and lime juice and marinated the ribs overnight in the fridge.

After barbequing the achiote ribs were tender, deep red and had a tangy flavour - the spicy chipotle ribs were sticky and still had the smokey adobo flavour from the chillis. Unfortunatly the ribs were devoured before I could get a photo -I swear it had nothing to do the margaritas I drank before they were served!

¡Viva México!