Archive | December, 2010

O’ Gourmet Goat’s Milk Cheese Ice Cream (with a Fig Mangosteen Ripple!)

9 Dec

I love goat’s milk cheese. It has an incredible, lush richness, and a particular ripe tang that comes from the flavour of the milk. Its made in a huge variety of forms, from soft spreadable cheese to firm cheese that melts beautifully. It is one of the earliest known forms of dairy products, and there is something very intense and primal for me about goat’s cheese. From Greek feta to the multiple varieties of French chevre, goat’s milk cheese is always intriguing and wonderful to cook with. I particularly love a good soft chevre, accompanied by dried of fresh figs, spread on toasted french bread. This woman can definitely live on cheese alone!

Given my adoration of goat’s milk cheese, it shouldnt be surprising that I have been wanting to make a goat’s milk cheese ice cream for ages. Ice cream is a pretty simple recipe – eggs, milk, sugar – and the addition of whatever flavourings you wish. I had an intense conversation with M. Sebastien of O’Gourmet Food Hall, and he suggested a Pave de Jadis – a soft chevre, with a thick, fudgy consistency. A tad sweet, slightly tangy, with a hint of lemon, pave de jadis literally translates as “paving stone” and gets its name from the ash which covers the brick of cheese. Its a French cheese, made in the Loire valley, and it tastes of springtime, of green grass pastures and sunshine. Its gorgeous and bright, and its soft texture is perfect for making ice cream.

As I spoke with M. Sebastien, I decided that I wanted to elevate this ice cream by adding a ripple of contrasting flavour through it. I decided on dried fruit that had been poached in white wine. I first thought of a Sauternes or other sweet wine, but M. Sebastien suggested a very beautiful, light and crisp De Martino Sauvignon Blanc from the Maipo Valley of Chile. This is an organic wine, and it was perfect. It paired perfectly with the cheese as well as the fruit, and brought out the lemony notes in the ice cream. I am going to use it to poach mango with peppercorns as well (but that is for tomorrow…).

Meanwhile, I needed to find my fruit. I decided to use dried fruit because the sugar in dried fruit would add a sweet note, and confirm that this is a dessert ice cream rather than a savoury one. Dried figs from Turkey seemed to be perfect, voluptuous and golden, bursting with jammy honeyed ripeness… but then my interest was caught. O’Gourmet has a large and amazingly exciting selection of dried organic fruits that are very Malaysian – rambutan, lychee… and mangosteen! I tasted everything, and fell in love at first bite with the mangosteen. Dried mangosteen. Have you ever heard of such a gorgeous idea? All the honey mango peach tastes of the mangosteen are highlighted and intensified. Its totally delicious, and I decided then and there to mix the fig and mangosteen into the ripple.

Because I wanted a taste testing that was as broad as possible, I decided to make two batches of the ice cream – one with a fig mangosteen ripple that had been poached in the De Martino wine, and the other a ripple in which the dried fruits had been poached in a Pear and Elderflower Presse by Belvoir Fruit Farms. This sparkling juice had the same crispness and brightness as the wine, though it was a little sweeter. It gave me the chance to make a non-alcholic version of the ice cream for those who choose not to consume alcohol. Lovely!

This recipe is actually incredibly easy to make, its just that the ingredients are exotic and beautiful. Treat them with a lot of care and respect, and plan ahead. The ripple can be made up to a week ahead and stored in the fridge. The ice cream custard needs to be made at least four hours before you decide to churn the ice cream, and the ice cream must be churned at least 12 hours before you serve it to give the flavours time to ripen and bloom in the freezer. It is a dramatic and gorgeous presentation, and will intrigue and challenge your guests. I will be serving it with fresh mango lightly poached in white wine and peppercorns, which is a memory from one of my favourite restaurants from long ago… but more on that next time.

Meanwhile, enjoy this ice cream. I think its a wonderful introduction to the seductive goodness, the natural deliciousness of goat’s milk. It has an almost cheesecake flavour, and is very dense, rich and thick. Its not too sweet, and definitely reflects the quality of the cheese you choose to use – so choose well! Enjoy!

Makes 1 quart

with De Martino Wine

Fig Mangosteen Ripple

Obviously, if you cannot find dried mangosteen, you could just add more figs, or think up your own decadent combination. Dried cranberries and blueberries might be gorgeous here. Sun dried tomatoes would also be pretty wonderfully wild.

  • 1/2 cup (about 100 g) dried figs
  • 1/2 cup (about 100 g) dried mangosteen
  • 1 1/2 cups white wine (I used De Martino Sauvignon Blanc) – for the non alcoholic version, use 1 cup of sparkling juice (I used Pear & Elderflower Presse by Belvoir Fruit Farms)

Chop the dried fruit into small chunks. I used a scissors, and just cut the fruit into small bits right over the saucepan.

Place the fruit and the wine in a small saucepan, and on the lowest heat possible, poach the fruit in the wine. You want the liquid to be just simmering, never boiling. The liquid will plump up the fruit, and the fruit will absorb almost all of the wine. When the mixture becomes a sticky, gooey paste (about 10 – 15 minutes depending on your heat source), let cool and store covered until you are ready to ripple it into the ice cream.

This also makes an amazing topping for ice cream on its own. Very seasonally apt too!

Churned

Goat’s Cheese Ice Cream

  • 2 1/2 cups milk/cream mixture. I used 1 cup of goat’s milk to 1 1/2 cups of cream. But you be the judge on how rich you want it! I also keep an additional 1/2 cup milk/cream for thinning out the mixture just before it goes into the ice cream maker – sometimes, the custard can be just a tad too cheesy
  • 1/3 + 1/3 cup of caster sugar
  • 6 egg yolks (reserve the whites for other uses – making macaroons may be?)
  • 7 oz (about 200 g) soft fresh goat’s milk cheese (I used Pave de Jadis) – make sure it is a soft, fudgy, fresh cheese
  • Pinch of sea salt

Place the milk/cream and 1/3 cup of caster sugar in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Whisk together to combine, and heat the mixture, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 175F on a thermometer, or until it just begins to steam, and bubbles begin to form on the edges of the pan.

Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar. I always use an electric stand mixer for this because I really want to incorporate the eggs and the sugar into a creamy whole. Use whatever youve got though, but make sure to beat for at least 3 – 5 minutes, until the eggs are light and lemony coloured, and thick in consistency.

Take the milk mixture off the heat, and add about 1/3 to the egg mixture, stirring well all the while. Once you have tempered the eggs, add the rest of the milk, slowly, stirring constantly.

Crumble the goat’s milk cheese into a large bowl and set aside.

Place the egg/milk mixture back into the pan, and cook for a further few minutes, until the mixture becomes a custard. It will thicken and coat the back of a spoon. When you draw a line through the custard on the spoon, the line will hold. The temperature will be about 175F.

Have two bowls ready, one with the crumbled goat’s milk cheese at the bottom, and a good sieve.

Take the custard off the heat, and pour through the sieve onto the crumbled goat’s milk cheese. Once all the custard has been sieved, allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes, while the heat of the custard softens and melts the cheese. Mix well, using the edge of your spatula to break up the chunks of cheese.

Sieve a second time into a second bowl, ensuring that the cheese has incorporated into the custard. Taste and adjust the level of milk/cream. Sometimes I add a further 1/2 cup of cream at this stage if the cheese is too tangy and overwhelming.

Sieve a third and final time to ensure total smoothness of the mixture. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

When you are ready to make ice cream, taste the cold custard. I usually will stir in a pinch of fleur de sel (or Maldon) to just highlight all the different flavours – the sweet, tangy, creamy all benefit from just a pinch of salt. Pour the custard into the ice cream maker, and follow manufacturers instructions.

With Fig Mangosteen Ripple

Goat’s Milk Cheese Ice Cream with a Fig Mangosteen Ripple

  • 1 quart goat’s milk cheese ice cream
  • Fig mangosteen ripple

Once the ice cream has been churned, you need to work very quickly. Have clean containers ready, a good spatula, a spoon, and the dried fruit ripple.

Scoop out about half of the churned ice cream into the container. Spoon over the dried fruit ripple, going right to the edge, and then scoop over the remaining ice cream. Smooth over the top with the spatula and freeze for about 1 – 2 hours until semi-firm.

Using a knife, ripple the ice cream so that the dried fruit is swirled throughout. You choose if you want it really mixed in or you want large chunks of fruit ripple sitting in the immaculate pale white ice cream.

Freeze overnight to allow the flavours and depth of contrast to blossom.

Enjoy this elegant, unique creation with those you adore πŸ™‚

Oatmeal White Chocolate Bars

8 Dec

Totally Decadent, Slightly Healthy ;)I didnt post yesterday because… well, because I was remembering my father. 14 years ago, yesterday, he passed away. And every day, I miss him. I just had nothing I wanted to cook, so I didnt. Instead, I smoked a cigar in his honour, and remembered him over dinner with a person who loved him too.

So today, I wanted to make something that was comforting, easy, and yet very flexible – kind of like my dad! I decided on oatmeal bars because they fascinate me – and AngelKitten suggested that I add marshmallows – kind of like in a rice crispie bar. Intriguing idea. You dont have to add marshmallows if you dont want to – though they certainly give the bars a chewy, burnt, caramelly angle. Basically, you need to add equal amounts of oats and “ingredients” – in this recipe I added marshmallows, pistachios and peanut butter chips. I know. Sounds like a weird mixture, but funnily enough, it works!

And, with the addition of almond meal, this is a gluten free recipe, though if you are very stringent, make sure you get oats that are labeled as gluten free. While oats themselves are gluten free, they are manufactured in factories, and often stored in facilities with other flours – cross contamination can occur, so be aware.

If you want healthy bars, please feel free to substitute dried fruit (cranberries and blueberries suggest themselves), seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame) and all kinds of nuts. But do add the chocolate – it elevates these bars from crunchy granola to oh my goodness gracious, yes please, I will have another one! πŸ˜‰

Makes a large baking pan full – about 20 bars

  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups almond meal
  • 4 cups “taste ingredients” – I used 2 cups marshmallows, 1 1/2 cups peanut butter chips and 1/2 cup pistachios. Feel free to go wild – add whatever your heart desires, but if youre daring, do try this combo. Its delicious!
  • 2 tsp cinnamon or all spice
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 heaping tbsp mascarpone (or cream cheese)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips or chunks
  • 2 – 3 tbsp milk or cream

Preheat your oven to 175C (350F). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl combine the oats, almond meal, taste ingredients, cinnamon, salt, and light brown sugar. Use your hands and toss well to combine completely.

Grate over the butter and toss again to combine.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, mascarpone, honey and vanilla. You should have about a cup of liquid. If more, thats fine. If less, make it up with a touch of milk.

Pour the liquids over the oat mixture and use your hands to combine. You wont think that the mixture will come together at first, but trust me, it will. It will be quite wet.

Turn out into the prepared baking sheet, and bake in the preheated oven for 15 – 20 minutes or until slightly puffed and toasty brown. (If you have used marshmallows, keep a close eye out – they can burn easily).

Let cool for about 20 minutes. While the oat bars are cooling, melt the white chocolate with the milk in a small saucepan over very low heat until liquid.

When the oat bars are cooled, drizzle over the white chocolate. Allow it to firm up, and then cut into bars.

These will keep up to a week in the fridge.

Enjoy these delicious, slightly healthy, rather decadent treats!

O’Gourmet Truffled Macaroni and Cheese

6 Dec

I love macaroni and cheese, the beautiful pasta, coated with a creamy blanket of cheesy indulgence. The crispy top, making way for a melting interior. Whats not to love? Well, some varieties of mac and cheese are plainly unappetising, made from over processed, pasturised ingredients that have all the life and soul taken out of them (once youve seen that orange glow, you will never forget it!). I wanted to make a different kind of macaroni and cheese – a sensuous, indulgent meal, ripe with scent, taste, texture and balance. This macaroni and cheese is slightly wicked, a tad naughty, and very memorable. It can be served at a celebration – birthday, New Years, holidays of every kind – or just because you want to say I love you. Honestly, they will get the message!

A dish like this needs to be in part based on thought and consideration, and in part on pure inspiration. So I wandered the O’Gourmet Food Hall to see what might present itself. First under consideration was the pasta. I decided on La Collina Toscana pasta, made in Italy, and rather than macaroni, a conchiglie shape – like a small conch or sea shell. Gorgeous, naturally dried, hand crafted pasta, with a shape that has the same benefits of macaroni (the curved tubular shape catches and holds sauce well), and yet has a more elegant look to it. But of course, I dont want to be proscriptive, so use whichever pasta strikes your fancy!

I feel that macaroni and cheese can sometimes be a tad overwhelmingly rich, and I noted some gorgeously fresh organic baby spinach, so I decided to include a surprise nestled in the depths of the pasta – bright clean spinach, sauteed with white onion, and candied, caramelised garlic. I wanted to make the garlic a little differently from the original Ottolenghi recipe I used, and so decided that instead of water, I would use wine! But then, I saw Fre wines – alcohol-removed wine. Yes, honestly!

I read the taste tests, and while there is definitely something missing (the alcohol!), there is a unanimous agreement that the taste is still there… somewhat! I thought that it might be very interesting to try cooking with this non-alcoholic wine. Would you get the same taste, roundness of flavour, haunting notes of fruit and honey and sunshine, as with regular wine? I decided I would use the Fre premium white wine in the sauce, and the Fre premium red wine in creating the caramelised garlic (in place of water in the original recipe). I found that there was certainly a hint of winey flavour to the sauce and garlic, but that depth of flavour, the resonance of the wine, the layers of scent and taste, were not as fully realised. I think the next time I make this pasta, I will use regular wine, but when I am cooking for those who have issues with alcohol in their food, I would most certainly go back to the Fre. And again, if you prefer cooking with wine, please, go ahead and give in to the urge πŸ˜‰

And finally, truffles. I felt that truffles added to the cheese sauce would elevate this dish into a celebratory, special meal. I looked around, and decided to layer the different truffle tastes – starting with the amazingly hedonistic truffle oil from Vom Fass, which I used to permeate everything from the spinach to the garlic to the cheese sauce. I seasoned everything with truffle sea salt, and finally, I found Himalayan truffles (tuber indicum), an inexpensive (relatively) jar of black truffles from the Himalayas. I loved these truffles. They were easy to work with, and imbued the pasta with their own truffled scent – not quite as all inclusive as European truffles, which seem to have the reach and depth of durian, but with their own nutty, dark, rich flavour.

And when I spoke to M. Sebastien in the cheese room, he suggested that I use a Brillat-Savarin (a triple cream, soft, brie-like cheese) which had been layered, and thus completely permeated, with truffles. I used organic white cheddar and a beautiful aged crumbly parmesan as well, but I promise you, when I sliced open that Brillat-Savarin, and saw the thick soft melting consistency, and smelled that unique combination of cheese and truffle… well, I wanted to rub it all over me! Incredibly luxurious and such a beautiful addition to the pasta.

This dish looks like a lot of work, and it certainly will take a couple of hours of cooking. But a lot can be done ahead of time – the garlic can be candied and caramelised in about half an hour or so, and can be stored in the fridge for about 2 weeks. The spinach can be sauteed and kept, covered, in the fridge for 3 days. Even the cheese sauce can be made the day before (though I would whisk in the egg at the last minute), and combined with the pasta just before baking. I served the dish with a simple salad of bitter arugula (rocket) and ribboned organic carrots, with a dressing of balsamic, truffle oil and soy sauce. It was a bright counterpoint to the luxury of the main course.

This truffled macaroni and cheese is worth the work and the care, the loving sourcing of beautiful ingredients. The result is a gift to the people you love, and to yourself.

Serves 6 – 8 people

Candied Caramelised Garlic (adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty)

  • 2 cups Fre premium red wine (or a good red wine)
  • 1 1/2 cups garlic cloves (about 2 heads – 30 cloves or so)
  • 2 tbsp + 1 tsp truffle oil
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar or light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp best quality balsamic vinegar (I used a 25 year old balsamic from Vom Fass – it was astonishing!)
  • 1 tsp herbes de Provence or mixed Italian/French herbs
  • 1/2 tsp truffle salt (if you have it – otherwise a good sea salt is fine)

Combine the red wine and garlic cloves in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium low heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Drain the red wine from the garlic cloves, reserving the red wine for later. Clean the saucepan well and dry it, and place the garlic cloves and the truffle oil into the saucepan together.

Saute the garlic in the oil for about 5 minutes or so, on medium high heat, or until the garlic has softened, released its intrinsic garlic scent, and become lightly browned.

Measure out about 1 1/2 cups of the red wine, and combine with the sugar, balsamic, herbs and salt. Pour over the garlic in the saucepan. Be careful, because it will splatter a bit.

Simmer on medium high heat for about 15 – 20 minutes, or until the liquid has almost completely reduced, and the garlic is dark red, sticky, candied and caramelised. Take off the heat, and pour over the remaining 1 tsp of truffle oil.

This candied garlic will keep in the fridge, covered for at least 2 weeks, but you will probably eat it before then! It can be an astonishing addition to salads, soups, risottos, pastas, sandwiches – just about anything you can imagine!

Sauteed Spinach

  • 2 tbsp + 1 tsp truffle oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped white onion (1 small onion or 1/2 large)
  • Truffle salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 – 4 cups organic baby spinach, washed and roughly chopped

In a medium sized pan, over medium heat, combine the 2 tbsp of truffle oil and the white onion. Saute for 5 – 10 minutes, or until the onion goes glossy, soft and shiny. You dont want it to burn, but you do want it to reach that moment just before it caramelises!

Season with truffle salt and pepper, and add the baby spinach. Raise the heat a little, and saute quickly. The spinach will turn bright green, and will release some of its liquid. This is perfect. Remove from heat, taste and adjust seasonings, and pour over the final teaspoon of truffle oil.

You can reserve this spinach for up to 3 days, covered in the fridge. It also makes a sublime side dish!

Truffled Three Cheese Sauce

  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Truffles – as much as you want or can afford! I used a 100 g jar of Himalayan truffles plus 2 tbsp of truffle oil plus 1/2 tsp of truffle salt
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp truffle oil
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 + 1 cup Fre premium white wine (or regular white wine – or even sparkling wine!)
  • 1/2 tsp (or less – to your taste) English mustard powder or Dijon mustard
  • 8 oz (about 2 cups) grated white organic cheddar
  • 200 g (about 7 oz) truffled Brillat Savarin
  • 1/2 cup grated best quality parmesan
  • Truffle salt and pepper to taste

In a medium large saucepan, combine the cream and milk. Grate over the truffles (I used a Microplane zester to shave the truffles very small and fine), and add the truffle oil and truffle salt, if using. Over low heat, warm the cream/milk/truffle mixture until it is just steaming – about 75C or 165F. Stir often. Once the mixture reaches the steaming stage, remove from heat, and let steep for at least an hour. This infusion step is important! It makes sure that the taste of the truffles is all over that sauce.

In a medium large saucepan, melt the butter and truffle oil over medium low heat. Once the butter has melted completely, add the flour, and stir well. This roux will form the basis of your sauce, so make sure that you take your time and cook it well. You want it the colour of light teak – keep your nerve. Dont burn it, but dont let it stay too pale either. I would cook for at least 5 minutes, up to 10, depending on the heat source.

Once the roux has cooked to your liking, lower the heat a bit, and add 1 cup of the white wine, whisking constantly. The mixture will immediately seize up and become very thick. Whisk in all of the steeped milk/cream/truffle mixture, and continue to whisk well. Taste. Add the remaining 1 cup of white wine, tasting every 1/4th cup or so. You dont need to add it all if the mixture becomes too heavily winey.

Sprinkle over the mustard powder or the Dijon mustard, and whisk well to combine.

Bring the heat up to medium low, and sprinkle over the cheddar. Continue whisking the sauce as you incorporate the cheddar into the mix. Taste and adjust seasonings again.

Slice the bottom rind off the Brillat Savarin, and using a teaspoon, scoop it out of its rind. Add to the sauce, and whisk well to combine.

Sprinkle over the parmesan, and whisk well, until the cheese is melted and well mixed.

Remove the sauce from the heat and allow to cool to tepid bathwater heat. Whisk in the egg yolks to enrich the sauce, and adjust for seasoning.

The cheese sauce can be made up to a day of time, before adding the egg yolks. Keep tightly covered in the fridge, and bring to room temperature before whisking in the egg yolks and assembling the main dish.

This sauce would be wonderful served as is, not baked, with angel hair pasta or linguine!

Truffled Macaroni and Cheese – Assembly

You can serve this in individual small ceramic baking pots, bake it in loaf tins (it will fill three tins), or a large enameled baking dish. Your choice – I think it depends on how and who you are going to serve! Individual pots are a very elegant presentation, but loaf tins or a large baking dish bring a casual luxury to the meal.

  • 500 g macaroni, elbow, conchiglie, or other tubular pasta
  • Truffled Three Cheese Sauce
  • Caramelised Garlic
  • Sauteed Spinach
  • Handful of Italian parsley, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I used Panko)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan
  • A few teaspoons of truffle oil to finish

Preheat the oven to 160C (325F), and have your baking pans ready.

Prepare macaroni or other tubular pasta according to the packet directions, in a large saucepan or pot, over high heat, in heavily salted boiling water, but taste a few minutes shy of the time indicated on the packaging. I cooked conchiglie pasta, and the packet said 15 minutes. I cooked it for 11 minutes, to just before al dente.

Drain the pasta, and place in a large mixing bowl. Pour over about three quarters of the cheese sauce and stir well to combine. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust.

Place about half of the pasta in your baking pots/tin/dish. Press down to ensure that the pasta is snug. Ladle about half of the remaining sauce over the pasta. Using your hands, squeeze out the liquid from the reserved spinach, and place it in an even layer over the pasta, leaving about 1/2 inch rim free around the edge of the dish. Stud the spinach with the caramelised garlic – as much or as little as you wish, though i went easy on it. I wanted a spark of intense flavour, but I did not want to overwhelm the delicacy of the pasta. Add the rest of the pasta to the dish, and ladle over the remaining sauce.

In a small bowl, mix together the Italian parsley, breadcrumbs and parmesan, and sprinkle evenly over the pasta.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the pasta is bubbling and hot, and a crisp, golden crust has formed.

Just before serving, sprinkle lightly with the truffle oil to really bring out the scent.

Enjoy the love.

Comfort Food

5 Dec

Angel Kitten has taken a 1 month vow of vegetarianism. I am so proud of her, I just cant even begin to tell you. She was so moved by information she found on the PETA website, that she took a pledge to be a vegetarian for a month. I think thats amazing, and I truly believe she will feel wonderful after that month is over – so much so, that may be it will inspire her to eat vegetarian once a week or so. We have had several discussions about the choice to live a vegetarian life. I dont really try and “convert” people, but I do strongly believe that living a life of love and gentleness often includes making a choice not to eat animals.

However, I also believe strongly that if one chooses a carnivorous life, then thats OK too — especially if the choices about what meats one eats are made with care and forethought. For example, choosing to eat at the Golden Arches or the like, where the meat and chicken have lived largely painful lives, and been processed in a way that is wholesale, rather than respectful, is very different from choosing to occasionally eat meat that is free range and fed organic, non steriod, non hormone food. I would posit that the latter is much more delicious, even if much more expensive. I think if one wants to or has to eat a carnivorous diet, the logical, kind and respectful choice is to eat meat that has been treated with kindness and respect. May be not as often as highly processed meats and chickens, unless one is rich beyond the need to consider such things, but with much more satisfaction and enjoyment.

Anyway, thats me off my hobbyhorse πŸ˜‰ As part of my support of AngelKitten’s choice, I really wanted to make her food that will encourage her to see how satisfying eating a vegetarian diet is. This meal is one of her all time favourites, and we often order it in restaurants together, as a conglomeration of side dishes which we share. It could be completely vegan if you mashed the potatoes with olive oil instead of butter and cream… but I leave that choice to you πŸ˜‰ For us, we used organic cream and butter and were very happy with that choice.

For dinner last night, we had sauteed spinach and french beans with garlic, roasted broccoli with soy and balsamic (which Ezril said tasted meaty and immensely satisfying), and mashed potatoes with roasted garlic. It was sublime. So simple, so easy, so delicious. It was ultimate comfort food for us, and got me to thinking about what comfort food really is. Its not fancy, overly thought through, complex food. Rather, its simple, well cooked, well sourced ingredients that are cooked so their essential deliciousness shines through. We used organic spinach, french beans and broccoli – and organic milk and cream in the potatoes. If you wanted more protein in this meal, you could add some toasted almonds to the vegetables, but I dont think its necessary. I think that if you eat a balance of food through a week or so, high in protein sometimes, high in greens others, youre fine. Balance is as much about listening to what your body wants and needs at a given time as following strictures and formulas.

And by the way, these are not so much recipes, as memories of what we ate that night, in celebration of AngelKitten’s pledge. We love the juxtaposition of the clean bright freshness of the spinach and beans, the roasted dark stickiness of the broccoli, and the pure decadence of the potatoes. Its all about balance isnt it? πŸ™‚Β So here are the three recipes we put together for our comfort dinner. I am glad to say that AngelKitten took the leftovers home, and hopefully, they will nurture her and feed her for a few days more to come πŸ™‚

Serves 4 – 6 people (with leftovers of the potatoes, most definitely)

with Garlic!

Sauteed Spinach and French Beans

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter (or additional olive oil for vegan)
  • 3 + 3 minced garlic cloves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 – 2 cups washed, topped and tailed and chopped French beans
  • 2 – 3 cups washed and roughly chopped spinach

In a large saucepan or frying pan, over medium low heat, combine the olive oil and butter, and gently heat until the butter melts. Add 3 minced garlic cloves, and cook, stirring gently, until the garlic releases its unique scent, and goes glossy and soft. Add a bit of salt and pepper to the garlic, and toss in your prepared French beans.

Stir the beans until completely coated with garlic and oil, and continue cooking until the beans change colour – they will go bright green. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Throw in the spinach. Its OK if a little water still clings to the leaves, but you dont want the spinach to be soaking wet. I usually squeeze it to dry it, then chop it and add it to the pan.

Stir until the spinach wilts and turns bright green, which should finish cooking the beans perfectly. Add the remaining 3 cloves of minced garlic, stir and taste for salt and pepper.

Place in a large serving bowl, and set aside. Can be served hot or at room temperature. Its even delicious, in large spoonfuls, straight from the fridge.

Mmmmmmm

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs or herbes de Provence
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cloves from 3 heads of garlic (about 30 – 35 cloves)
  • 8 – 10 large potatoes (I usually use a mix)
  • 1 stick of butter (or 4 – 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1/2 cup cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 200C (400F). Line a baking sheet or pan with parchment paper.

Place olive oil, balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar, herbs, salt and pepper to taste and garlic cloves in a bowl. Toss to combine.

Place the garlic on the baking sheet in a single layer, and pour over any remaining liquid.

Roast the garlic in the oven until it is soft, burnt, glossy and slightly caramelised, about 20 minutes or so. Remove from the oven, and set aside.

Peel and chop the potatoes roughly. Place in a large saucepan or pot, and just cover with water. Over medium high heat, bring the water to a boil, and simmer until the potatoes are soft. Depending on your potatoes, and how small the chop is, this will take between 20 – 40 minutes.

Drain the potatoes, and place back in the pot. Slice butter over the potatoes, and pour over cream. Using a hand masher, ricer, or immersion blender (as I do), mash the potatoes. Taste for salt and pepper, and adjust.

Add all the garlic, and mash into the potatoes. Use a spoon or spatula to combine thoroughly, and taste and adjust for seasonings.

This can be prepared a few hours ahead, and reheated over a very low flame. It can keep warm, covered for an hour or two.

Sticky Green Goodness

Roasted Broccoli

  • 3 – 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 – 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 – 2 tbsp roasted sesame oil (or olive oil if you dont have it)
  • Pepper (and salt if you wish to taste, but the soy should make it salty enough)
  • 1 head of broccoli, broken down into small florets, with the larger stalk peeled and chopped into batons – about 3 – 4 cups total

Preheat oven to 200C (400F). Line a baking sheet or pan with parchment paper.

Combine the soy, balsamic, oil, and pepper in a large bowl. Toss in the prepared broccoli, and using your hands, toss well to combine. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings if you wish.

Place the broccoli in an even layer on the baking sheet and reserve any additional liquid for later. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes. Remove, and flip each piece of broccoli over, dipping the broccoli in the remaining liquid. Pour over any additional liquid and continue roasting in the oven for another 5 – 10 minutes or until the broccoli is sticky, browny-green and delicious.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake

4 Dec

Deep Dark DelectableSome days, you just need chocolate. For happy, for sad, for good and for bad, chocolate has a remarkable complexity and depth to it which just eases you on your way. I have a real deep affinity for chocolate, and I always try and have some in the house at all times. There is something so essentially sexy about chocolate. Its the stuff of lovely naughty imaginings, and it is unabashedly decadent and delightful.

And I am a serious chocolate snob. Cheapo chocolate made with vegetable fats (like those overly sweet sugary candy bars) is not something I crave regularly. Admittedly, sometimes it just hits the spot, but its obvious junk food. Deep, dark bittersweet chocolate though, preferably Valhrona or Callebut … now there, my dears, is something to get excited about.

Bittersweet chocolate is real chocolate in my book (though you will never see me turning down milk or white Valhrona or Callebut) … it has such deep notes, so much going on in each bite. It resonates with the sunshine and the earth where it was grown, it has notes of coffee, caramel, plum, tobacco, dusk. A small mouthful of bittersweet chocolate brings me straight into the now. I cannot think of anything but that melting bass pounding taste. Its amazing.

And I am a chocolate snob in other ways as well. Chocolate and fruits, meh. Well, chocolate and bananas and chocolate and some berries are okay, but Im not a huge fan of astringent orange or lemon and chocolate. It just doesnt do it for me. Though I do love a good mint and chocolate combo. And chocolate and nuts is a combination which I have generally stayed away from… Again, some nuts, for me, are okay with chocolate (almonds, hazelnuts and peanut butter), but the dairy nut tins were never my first choice.

However, I have been gradually re-evaluating this stance. Gesine Bullock-Prado’s Starry Starry Night cookies introduced me to the wonders of baked almonds and chocolate, and I have recently been fiddling with a combination of hazelnuts and chocolate. The most famous hazelnut and chocolate combo is that sweet treat from all our childhoods – Nutella spread. But there is a lovely grace to the pairing, the round, rich, caramel notes of the nuts gentling the intensity of bittersweet chocolate.

After several tries, and several versions, I have decided this is the chocolate hazelnut cake that I love. Its not so much a cake as a fallen souffle, a thick gooey almost brownie like pudding, with a crackling crust. It must be served with a generous blowsy dollop of whipped cream, and can be made completely gluten free by removing all the flour and using only ground hazelnuts instead. Though if you can, keep the flour in – it gives it some structure, and helps to pull everything together in a beautiful whole.

Bake this cake in a springform tin, and do make it the day before you will serve it. It really benefits from sitting, well wrapped, in the fridge overnight. Something about that pause between baking and eating allows all its flavours to blossom. And, if you can source it, use hazelnut oil. I find that it really adds to this cake, both in texture and flavour. Its unctuous smokey caramel tone embraces the chocolate beautifully.

Serves 8 – 10 (even 12 if you serve really thin slices). Best baked the day before, though you could refrigerate for up to 3 days, easily.

  • 1/2 cup ground hazelnuts
  • 1/4 cup flour (you can substitute additional hazelnuts here if you need a gluten free version)
  • 3 heaping tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 oz bittersweet chocolate
  • 10 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp hazelnut oil
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 + 1/4 cup light brown sugar + additional for whipped cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tsp agar agar
  • Vanilla paste or essence (I used a remarkable vanilla, cacao nib and chili paste) – to taste

Preheat your oven to 325F (165 F). Line a spring form cake pan with parchment paper and set aside.

Combine the ground hazelnuts, flour, cocoa powder and salt in a large bowl, tossing well to make sure the mixture is smooth and integrated. Set aside.

Place the chocolate and butter in a small bowl that fits over the rim of a small to medium sized pot or saucepan. Boil a kettle of water, and pour into the pot. Place the bowl containing the chocolate and butter over the pot, and allow to sit, stirring occaisionally until the butter and chocolate have melted completely. Once the chocolate and butter are liquid, add the hazelnut oil and stir well. Set aside.

While the chocolate is melting, combine the egg yolks and 1/2 cup of sugar, and beat well with an electric stand mixer or hand held beaters. You want the egg yolk mixture to be fluffy, thick and golden in colour. When you lift the beaters from the yolk, a thick ribbon will fall back into the bowl. This should take you 3 – 5 minutes or so. Beat in the vanilla once you have the consistency you like.

Pur the melted chocolate/butter/hazelnut oil into the ground hazelnut mixture, and stir exceedingly well. Make sure any lumps or clumps are smoothed out.

Pour in the beaten egg yolks and sugar, and using a spatula, stir well to combine. Set aside.

Clean the beaters and bowl (or use new ones!), and beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until the whites hold soft peaks. Continue beating, adding the remaining 1/4 cup sugar gradually, until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks. The egg whites should look like foamy marshmallow.

Fold about 1/4 of the egg whites into the batter, stirring quickly and strongly to lighten the batter. Add the rest of the egg whites in two batches, stirring firmly, yet gently. Stir in a folding motion, making sure to completely integrate the egg whites with the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared spring form pan, and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top has risen and cracked, and a tester inserted into the cake comes out with crumbs attached.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan.

Prepare the whipped cream. Measure out the cream, and take 2 tbsp and pour into a small bowl or container. Sprinkle the agar agar into this set aside cream, and allow to melt into the cream. You could assist by whisking gently with a fork. You want the agar agar to be completely absorbed by the cream, and to melt away into the cream.

Whisk the remaining cream until it holds soft peaks. Add the reserved cream and agar agar, along with the sugar and vanilla paste. Whisk until the cream holds stiff peaks. Reserve, covered until you are ready to serve, up to three days.

When serving, remove the cold cake from the fridge, and ice the top with the whipped cream. Serve in gentle slices, and enjoy!

O’Gourmet Food Hall

2 Dec

As a passionate cook and a foodie, I am always on the lookout for places where I can source the best of the best. I truly believe that ingredients matter:Β the olive oil you use impacts hugely on the final taste of your dish; the nuts, spices and flavourings, if fresh and carefully sourced, can deepen and embolden a meal so much more than wan supermarket choices; and fruits and vegetables of sublime quality are not only a joy to work with, but their colours, textures and flavours make everything just taste better.

I will drive an extra mile to find food of extraordinary quality, to be able to speak with knowledgeable purveyors about their wares, and to sample different and new items. I am lucky though, because I live within a few minutes of what I consider one of the most wonderful collections of food and ingredients in Kuala Lumpur – the O’Gourmet Food Hall at Bangsar Shopping Centre. O’Gourmet has it all – a decadent and seductive cheese room; a bright and stunningly beautiful fruit and vegetable stand; fresh nuts, spices and herbs; the astonishing variety of Vom Fass vinegars and oils; pastas, flours, and grains of just about every description; a thoughtfully curated wine selection; chocolates, cookies, candies and cakes; and prepared foods that are made with care and quality.

O’Gourmet reminds me of a Malaysianised combination of Dean and Delucca, Chelsea Market and Zabars in New York with Harrods and Harvey Nichols in London. Its a Food Hall of quality, with resources from around the world. I have been deeply impressed by the way the way the people at O’Gourmet know their food. For example, Sebastien Le Francois, the resident sommelier and cheese guru, is not only deeply knowledgeable, but happy to make time to talk through selections, options, ideas, pairings. He tells you what he thinks, he explains the relative merits of different cheeses and wines, he talks recipes, combinations, flavours. Wonderful!

Its like a gourmet wonderland of food and ingredients, and I have always regarded a visit to O’Gourmet Food Hall as a thrill, a moment of inspiration and joy – a truly happy day. I can wander the aisles of O’Gourmet for hours. In fact, AngelKitten and I did so just yesterday, marveling at everything we saw. I love the food conversations she and I have together – we inspire each other, fantasise how different ingredients can be put together, find hidden gems and share our excitement. Our day at O’Gourmet Foodhall was pure happy – we marveled at the careful way in which each item is chosen, tasted the oils, sampled the cheeses and imagined different pairings of ingredients… from a gingerbread house with candied and sugared fruits to a hazelnut torte to a truffled macaroni and cheese. O’Gourmet has the resources to provide for all these imaginings and more.

First we stopped at the fruit and vegetable stand. Amazing! Such colour and texture. Such a wide variety to choose from, and so fresh, so luscious, completely delectable. Those fruits, oh my goodness. Tiny perfect apples (we want to candy them for our gingerbread house), comice pears at their peak of ripeness, a beautiful array of berries, tomatoes on the vine, voluptuous dragon fruit, and lettuce leaves so fresh their roots are still attached.

O'Gourmet Foodhall

Such a great selection – and so intrinsically sexy. Onions, cabbage, fennel and mushrooms so perfect that I couldnt wait to get my hands on them, to touch and tease them into recipes and meals. I felt like the little old lady in the movie Tampopo, who gets chased away from the produce section for touching and stroking and feeling the vegetables a little too much!

Luckily there were other things to mark our attention. We wandered through the herbs and spices, dried pastas and grains…Everything is lovingly laid out, like art, and easily accessible. You can sample, sniff, and consider to your hearts content.

O'Gourmet Foodhall

I love the fact that you can look and choose exactly what – and how much – you want – bay leaves, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, mustard seed, mace, cinnamon, fennel, chili, nutmeg, dried pulses, and so much more – all arrayed temptingly, their colours a symphony of choice, and each pretty bottle a really exciting possibility of flavour and illumination. A spark of possibility every where you turn.

O'Gourmet Foodhall

From there, we wandered over to the oils and vinegars. Alongside carefully chosen bottled oils and vinegars, O’Gourmet has brought in Vom Fass – a German company that supplies artisanal vinegars and oils of the absolute highest quality. You can sample everything at the Vom Fass section because of how the oils and vinegars are presented in earthenware casks – and we did! From a stunning wild raspberry vinegar to the sharp brightness of calimansi vinegar to the syrupy dusky wonder of a 25 year old balsamico. From extra virgin olive oils that tasted like sunshine and light to hazelnut oil that was rounded and rich and wild to a truffle oil that was totally imbued with the haunting notes of truffle. Each oil and vinegar can be sampled, and they can be bottled in 100ml and up glass bottles of your choice. We were like kids in a candy shop!

O'Gourmet Foodhall

We wanted to bring all that we sampled home with us, but we tried to be restrained (!) and so we chose three – the hazelnut and truffle oils and the 25 year old balsamic vinegar. I have to admit, when we got home, we unwrapped the oils, and tasted them again. Tonight, I will make a hazelnut torte using some of that hazelnut oil. So beautiful!

O'Gourmet Foodhall

And finally, we went to the cheese room. We stood and sniffed that pungent enticing wild aroma of cheese, we tasted, we looked, and we chatted with the accommodating M. Sebastien. I am so pleased that Kuala Lumpur has a cheese shop of such high quality, beautifully curated and totally tempting.

O'Gourmet Foodhall

And we chose – a triple cream Brilliat Savarin, imbued with truffles. I looked at it and I could feel myself purrrrrr.

O'Gourmet Foodhall

I have been a customer of O’Gourmet for a while now. Each time I am at Bangsar Shopping Centre, I make time to wander and look and touch, to consider some special cheese or a prime flavour ingredient that will brighten the food I am cooking that day. I love that there is always something different, something unique, something deeply tempting.

Because I am so enamoured of the quality ingredients available at O’Gourmet Foodhall, and so inspired to creativity every time I visit, I have decided that I am going to do a weekly O’Gourmet recipe for the next few months. I hope these recipes will excite you with the possibilities inherent in ingredients of perfect quality, and will spark a passion for prime ingredients, treated with love and respect.

O’Gourmet Food Hall is at the East Wing, Ground Floor of Bangsar Shopping Centre, Jalan Maarof, Kuala Lumpur. Tel: +60.3.2094.9966

Visit their website and their Facebook page to be inspired!