Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Spooky halloween finger cookies

Now, I know Halloween isn't a tradition that is widely celebrated here in Australia, but it's popularity has progressed somewhat over the years. During a visit to my local supermarket the other day, I noted that the Halloween 'jack-o-lanterns' carving pumpkins were on sale - something you never would have seen when I was a child. The few who did choose to carve pumpkins had to make do with the traditional Jap or Queensland Blue varieties.

That said, I do remember when I was a young child, Girlfriday and I did partake in several years of 'Trick-or-Treating' around our local block, usually with one of our parents in tow. We would usually bypass the red brick house half way down our street as it was home to the mean chihuahau dog that used to chase us whenever it got the chance. I know they are small, but boy were we scared of this one!

Most of the houses in our street were generous when it came to filling up our lolly bags, it was a lot of fun and our costumes involved some variation of the traditional ghost - white sheet with holes cut out of it. I'm sure kids costumes these days are far more elaborate.  

One year, we knocked on the door of this one house in our street where an elderly man lived alone, we were a little scared as he was somewhat of a recluse and through the eyes of a child, he looked a little mean. This night, he opened the door and we echoed the words 'trick-or-treat' . He mumbled something and told us to wait. He was gone a while, only to come back with two bananas. "Here you go" he said,giving us one each before shutting the door. 


Being kids we wanted lollies!

Fast forward to 2011 - little had we known that the old banana would become the luxury item it has today. (For those of you reading this outside Australia - 75% of our banana industry here in Australia was affected by a tropical storm earlier this year which pretty much wiped out our supply and sent prices skyrocketing).

I personally love Halloween and all it's associated activities. Particularly those surrounding spooky looking foods. Last year, I made some spooky cupcakes and featured them in my Top 10 Cupcakes post earlier this year.

For this Halloween however, I was inspired by Louise from Cake Journal who made some Halloween dead finger cookies. They look amazing and so I have made some this year too. I took them into work and shared them with my colleagues. What I love about this recipe is that they are super fun to make, look amazingly real and fit the 'spooky' Halloween brief really well.

Spooky Halloween Finger Cookies
adapted from Louise @ Cake Journal ( Halloween Dead Finger Cookies)

You will need:Basic cookie dough (recipe below)
A pastry brush
Plastic wrap
20-30 blanched almonds ( skin removed), cut into halves.
1 teaspoon dark cocoa powder + a little brush
Flat baking trays
A knife
Basic Cookie Dough Recipe:
This recipe makes between 25-30 finger cookies 
2 large eggs (1 whole egg + 1 yolk. Use the leftover egg white for brushing the cookies)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla, almond extract ( I used 1 whole vanilla bean)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) (115 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (65 grams) icing sugar
5 tablespoons (60 grams) granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1 2/3 cups (235 grams) plain flour
1. In a bowl add the two types of sugar, vanilla extract, a pinch of salt and the egg + yolk. Stir well with a wooden spoon.
2. Next stir in the softened butter
3. Add the flour and stir until it’s all combined
4. Take the dough and knead it lightly. Wrap it in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

To make the spooky finger cookies:

1.Take a small piece of cookie dough (walnut size) and roll it back and forth. You should make the finger long and thinly (think, witch long and creepy) for best results. Pinch to form knuckles. Use your knife to score 'wrinkles' into the finger and transfer the fingers to the prepared baking tray. Brush the cookies with the leftover egg white and place a almond “nail” on the cookie fingers. Chill for 15 minutes in the refrigerator.

2.Next, place the baking sheet in the middle of the oven and bake the finger cookies for about 12-15 minutes. They should be just lightly browned. ( If are using a fan forced oven the cookies will only need about 10 minutes. Just be sure to keep an eye on them).

3. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.

4. Dust the fingers with a little cocoa powder and your spooky finger cookies are ready to be served.

Tell me, do you celebrate Halloween? What spooky recipes or events will you be enjoying this year?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mil Lel Parmesan Cheese

It was early one Sunday morning and I had just met up with a close friend and her cheese obsessed husband and two kids for breakfast at Sideways Cafe in Dulwich Hill.  As we were catching up, they asked me about the blog and what I was up to at the moment. I told them I was reviewing a new parmesan cheese I hadn't tried before and before I could finish Mr. exclaimed " have you tried the new Mil Lel Parmesan cheese yet!?!? it's SO good!" Mrs agreed, also commenting on how good it was. I laughed, "funny you mention it because Mil Lel is the one I am reviewing"

Isn't it funny how random coincidences like this seem to crop up in our lives? 

I believe that parmesan is one of those cheeses you just have to have in the fridge. We are rarely without it. It is just so versatile - we use it in pasta dishes, baked recipes, sprinkled over bresaola with olive oil and lemon, on a burger or on rye crackers with slices of vine ripened tomatoes, cracked pepper and basil. I'll often munch on a small wedge on it's own too.

Shaved Mil Lel Parmesan & greens from our garden
Homemade gourmet burgers w/ Mil Lel parmesan
Perfect Snack = Rye cracker, tomato, basil & Mil Lel parmesan
Our favourite tuna pasta sprinkled with parmesan

Enter Mil Lel Parmesan - After endless taste tests, I believe it to be a great parmesan. It has a nice texture and excellent flavour. What's even better is that it is made in Australia.

Mil Lel ambassador Italian chef Guy Grossi is one guy who definitely knows his parmesan cheese. Check out his tips on how to pick a good quality Australian parmesan.

  • A good parmesan has a golden rind ( as seen in Mil Lil's block parmesan).
  • The interior should have a yellowish white straw colour. (This can also be seen in Mil Lel's parmesan which gets it's colouring due to the use of South West Victorian local milk).
  • Parmesan cheese should be piquant and slightly salty in taste.
  • Due to it's authentic Italian-style process, Mil Lel parmesan is crumbly in texture when broken apart.

“Parmesan is recognised by its yellow rind and Mil Lel has all the qualities I look for in good parmesan.  These are characteristics I’ve seen in the best from around the world,” Guy Grossi.

There are 2 types of Mil Lel parmesan - Mil Lel parmesan which is aged for 12 months and is available in all supermarkets nationally and Mil Lel Superior Parmesan which is aged for over 18 months, available cut straight from the wheel in selected deli's.

I hope you enjoy this parmesan and to get you started I have included two of my favourite recipes Italian chef Guy Grossi has put together specifically for Mil Lel Parmesan. The first one is for Melanzane Parmigiana using eggplant - my absolute favourite vegetable/fruit. Some of you may remember a previous post when I declared myself the official eggplant queen - I love it that much!

The second recipe is for some delicious crunchy Mil Lel parmesan biscuits.

Enjoy :)

Have you tried Mil Lel's Parmesan yet? What did you think?

The Food Mentalist received samples of Mil Lel Parmesan & recipes courtesy of Two Birds Talking

Monday, October 17, 2011

Best Ever Pancakes w/ easy raspberry sauce

I have fond memories of when I would stay at Nan & Pop's place as a child. A weekend or school holiday visit guaranteed me time with Nan in the kitchen. Some of my all time favourite cooking experiences included cooking batches of scones, golden syrup dumplings, date and walnut slice and pancakes with Nan.

Pancakes were made the morning after a sleep over at Nan's and I remember Pop sitting up reading the paper as Nan and I whipped up a batch in the kitchen. Nan has always had gas cooking and I always looked forward to lighting the gas jet and waiting for the knob of butter to sizzle and bubble up before we poured in our first 'test' pancake. The first one was always the test one and of course I got to sample it everytime - for quality assurance of course!

The reason I call this recipe the 'Best Ever' pancake recipe is because it comes from the Women's Weekly Best Ever Recipes Cookbook - the one with the roast chicken and piped mashed potato on the cover.  It's also the best recipe because it's the one Nan and I followed.

As far as pancakes go, this recipe produces a much thinner pancake - it's almost crepe like. I love it because it is rather light and you can have a few without feeling bloated and full of that 'traditional' pancake 'fluff', so to speak.

When we were cooking these pancakes Nan and I would eagerly wait to flip over the pancake hoping (a) it was nicely golden underneath and (b) that we flipped it perfectly. Following this we would do a little dance move, picture the twist - side to side. Whilst our dance was only brief, it was really fun. It made cooking fun and enjoyable.

Once cooked, we would place each one on a plate in the oven on a low heat and separate each one with a piece of greaseproof paper. It didn't take long before we had finished the batter and we would be ready to serve.

I loved mine with lashings of butter and honey. Sometimes I would have them with butter and one of Nan's jams. Nan & Pop would have theirs with lemon and sugar. I grew up thinking that was the 'adult' way to have pancakes. I realised later that this old fashioned flavour combination was indeed - Perfect.

On a recent trip to the Southern Highlands, Pete and I visited Mrs Oldbucks Pantry in Berrima where I purchased some delicious raspberry jam. I decided it would go perfect with this recipe as a sauce. Also I wanted to use the fresh farm eggs we picked up 2 km inland from Berrima following signs from the main road. They were available to purchase through a honour system where you leave your money in a jar and take your dozen eggs from an esky underneath. They were bantam eggs - all white and a lot smaller than the usual larger brown eggs we are all used to.

Did you know that white eggs only come from white feathered hens?

From the Woman's Weekly Best Ever Recipes Cookbook
Makes 6 to 8 pancakes.

The pancakes were so yellow due to the fresh eggs, yum!

1/2 cup plain flour
pinch salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk

Sift dry ingredients into bowl, add eggs, stir until mixture is mooth and free of lumps. Gradually add milk, mixing to a smooth batter. Allow to stand for 30 minutes.

Heat pan, grease well. From a small jug pour 2 to 3 tablespoons of mixture into pan, sqwirling batter evenly around pan.

Cook over medium heat until light golden brown. Toss or turn pancake and cook on other side.

Repeat with remaining batter.

Easy Raspberry Sauce

1 jar of the best raspberry jam you can afford
1 small handful of fresh or frozen raspberries.
1/4 cup boiled water

Place the berries and 3-4 tablespoons of jam in a small saucepan and gently heat through. Once the jam has melted down add the boiled water and bring to a gentle simmer. Voila!

Spoon approximately 2 tablespoons of the hot raspberry sauce in each pancake making sure to include some of the fruit. Next, gently roll each pancake to form loose cigars. Spoon over some more sauce and enjoy!

Tell me, what are some of your favourite childhood cooking memories?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Best Chocolate Cake

Dank Street Depot & Jared Ingersoll. These names are synonymous with great food, passion and quality. So one weekend after Pete and I had finished our morning coffees and eggs at Dank Street Depot, I decided it was about time I purchased Jared's newest cookbook 'Sharing Plates' - A table for all seasons.

It's a delightful cookbook and currently my favourite. Inspired by 'Bar food Night' at Dank Street every second Thursday it is jam packed full of delicious food and drink recipes which are intended to be shared amongst a group of people. The cookbook is divided into the four seasons which makes it really easy to plan your dinner party or get together. Some of my favourites include:

Rhubarb Mojitos
Mulled Wine
Beef ribs smoked in watermelon
Polenta cake with mushrooms, peas and rocket 
The Best Chocolate Cake I know
Pumpkin Pie

I could go on and on but you get the picture...

This cookbook is a must buy for all lovers of good food. The recipes are not over complicated and use some fabulous ingredients, the flavour combinations are superb. Each recipe is really well set out and easy to follow, I also love how Jared has included a guide for how many the recipe caters for. His recipe for chickpea puree is 'for eight as a nibble'. There are also some handy recipes like how to cook quinces as well as 'A nice way to roast a leg of lamb' and 'How to cook the perfect fries'. 


I've really enjoyed cooking from this cookbook and look forward to the dinner parties and family get togethers' we will have over the next few months when I can test many more of the recipes in this cookbook.

So that brings us to the recipe for The Best Chocolate Cake  - after seeing it required 10 eggs and half a kilo of chocolate I knew it was going to be good! And GOOD it was!

There is an interesting story behind this chocolate cake but your going to have to get your hands on your own copy to find out what it is. After reading the preamble about it, I knew it was going to be the best chocolate cake recipe I had ever made...

The Best Chocolate Cake 
Adapted from Jared Ingersoll's Cookbook 'Sharing Plates - A table for all seasons'

butter for greasing
plain ( all-purpose) flour, for dusting
500g (1lb 2oz) Callebaut 811 chocolate callets (buttons) or a good quality dark chocolate with about 53% cocoa solids chopped
250g (9 oz) unsalted butter
10 eggs
a pinch of salt
50g ( 1 3/4 oz 1/4 cup) caster sugar
35g ( 1 1/4oz 1/4 cup) plain ( all purpose) flour

Preheat oven to 205'C ( 400'F/Gas 6).
Prepare a 22cm (8 1/2 inch) spring form pan by rubbing with a little butter and dust with flour.
Have ready a lightly greased ( but not floured) flat ovenproof dinner plate that will be large enough to sit over the edges of the cake tin.
Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl, then place over a pot of simmering water not letting the base of the bowl touch the water.
Gently melt the chocolate. While this is happening, separate the eggs placing the whites in a large bowl and the yolks into a smaller bowl.

When the chocolate and butter is melted, add a pinch of salt, stir well and remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. While this is happening, start to whisk your egg whites. When they have formed soft peaks sprinkle sugar over them and continue to whisk for another minute or so until the sugar has dissolved and the whites take on a nice shine. Now add the flour to the egg yolks and mix thoroughly.

You now need a clean large bowl in which to mix everything.

Start by pouring in the melted chocolate mixture, then, using a whisk, beat in egg yolks and flour mixture really well.

Next, using your hands ( yes your hands), fold your egg white mixture into the chocolate, one-third at a time, being careful to combine everything, but do not overwork.

Working quickly, pour the chocolate batter into prepared tin, then place into the oven for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes gently place the greased plate, greased side down, on top of the cake tin ( by now the cake should have started to rise) and put the tin back into the oven for 12 minutes.

Once the cooking time has finished resist the urge to lift the plate ( but if you do and the cake looks unset and runny, don't panic, this is what it is supposed to look like) and place the cake in its tin, still covered, on a wire rack and leave in a cool place for at least 24 hours.

Serve the next day with fresh tart berries and cream.

Your cake should have the texture of a smooth and exotic pate.

Do not place the cake in the fridge as it will sit at room temperature for about 2 days.

Hint: Make sure you reduce the cooking time by 5-7 minutes if your oven is fan forced. When I made this the first time I found that I didn't get that pate consistency as my oven is fan forced and as you all know this speeds up the cooking process. I found that reducing the cooking time slightly will accommodate for this. That said the first time I made it, it was super moist and delicious. I took it over for our monthly family dinner at Nan's place and everyone commented on how good it was.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Bali in photos - part 1

Earlier this year Pete and I travelled to Bali for the very first time. Even though Pete is from Perth he had never been to Bali before and neither had I. To be honest, Bali had never featured on my holiday radar. A friend and work colleague was getting married and when Miss S. intially told me she would probably be getting married in Bali, I told her that her wedding would be the only thing that would get me there.

And so here we were in Bali for a wedding.

We arrived at (Ngurah Rai) Denpasar airport and travelled to Seminyak where we stayed for 3 nights at the gorgeous Wolas Villas.

The villas were a great place to stay, the staff and service were fantastic, the villa itself was very well appointed, clean and perfect for relaxing. You could easily stay and never leave.

We stayed in a one bedroom private pool villa...

The lounge and kitchen areas were open and the bedroom and bathroom were indoors.

For breakfast each day we had a choice of fresh juices and Indonesian or American style breakfast items, fresh fruit, tea or coffee. Breakfast could be enjoyed in the restaurant or in the privacy of our villa. We decided to 'eat in' each day.

Bali style DND sign out the front of each villa. I loved this little guy, you could turn the wooden tile over to reflect your privacy needs.

The grounds of the villas were just gorgeous and very peaceful...

As opposed to the busy streets of Seminyak.

How about some Absolut Vodka?

We settled for these instead at Buzz Cafe in Seminyak, which claims to have the best coffee in Bali. Since it was too hot for coffee, Pete had the lime and mint frappe and I chose watermelon. We loved the refreshing cool towels we received when we first sat down - a welcome relief from the heat.

 Next we hit the shops!

It wasn't too long before we decided to stop for lunch at the famous Made's Warung. 

I chose the Gado Gado which was absolutely delicious. I loved the rice cake and the peanut sauce. As I type this - I want some!

We also tried some pork satay sticks and they were really tasty. Tender with just the right amount of spice.

Pete opted for the Nasi Goreng combo and it too was really good but something in it was super spicy. It was Pete's first Bintang too and it definitely wasn't his last, hehe.

After lunch we hit the shops again and explored the streets of Seminyak before booking in for a massage, pedicure and manicure...Bliss!

Offerings scattered throughout the streets.

Loved this dog, he was gorgeous. I later found out that the dogs wearing red collars indicated that they are looked after and free of rabies. Not sure if that was true but I liked the story. Fortunately this dog was one of the best looking ones we saw in Bali. Many of them are malnourished and/or injured. Being an animal lover it was very hard to witness.

On to the wedding, the reason we wen't to Bali in the first place. It was held at Villa Pemutih in Pecatu with cliffs overlooking some gorgeous small beaches.

Stunning views out to the ocean.

These personalised love heart shaped lollipops made beautiful features on the tables. They tasted delicious and were strawberry flavoured.

An amazing sunset set the mood for the rest of the evening. Great location, a gorgeous happily married couple, fantastic food and cocktails and a perfect evening all round.

The next day, we departed Seminyak for our journey to Ubud - the arts and culture centre of Bali. 

Stay tuned for Bali in photos part 2 - Ubud.

Tell me, is Bali on your holiday radar?

The Wolas Villas Bali
Jalan Yudistira - Seminyak
Seminyak, Kuta 80361, Indonesia
(0)36 173 4218