Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cheap Eats Melbourne '09 - arrives!

It has finally arrived! The Age- Cheap Eats Guide to Melbourne 2009.
Not a minute too soon (thanks to the global economic crisis) and with most of us glad for a surprise $10 dish that could make a 3 hat anywhere quiver in its boots.
I was lucky enough to be a reviewer for the '09 edition, so I'm as excited as anyone to see the book hit the stands... with my name in tiny little letters inside the front cover- I'll rub shoulders with AA Gill yet.

Cheers, happy eating- and let's be grateful that, in Melbourne at least, we can still eat well without hocking the family heirlooms...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dancing the Oliebollen

Continuing on my quest to make all the Dutch treats that I remember from my childhood, I thought it might not yet be too late in the year to make another NY Netherlands specialty- oliebollen. 
It's a bit like a doughnut- only without the hole and filled with dried fruit- I can still remember the excitement that raced through my little veins when dad started dropping the doughy nuggets into the sizzling pan of oil and the yeasty bready smell that filled the kitchen as they drained and cooled on paper towel. I can even remember repeatedly burning my little pink tongue as I impatiently bit into hot oliebollen that had not quite rested long enough... and still I would go back for more. Even before we coated them in a dusting of sugar I would try and sneak them away, determined that I should pilfer the one that looked best from the stack!
I have been through several different recipes, but after finding something inherently wrong with all of them, I called my mum for the recipe we used when I was a child. I asked why I could not see mixed peel on any of the ingredients lists, and my mum laughed and happily advised me that the mixed peel was in fact our own family addition to this recipe. Our special little touch- mum even occasionally added red and green cherries which would stain the surrounding dough with their glace glory!
So this afternoon, my other half and I embarked on the the oliebollen dance, reflecting as best we could memories of my mum rolling the balls of dough and dad next to her at the stove, dunking and turning the frying balls of happiness with a waiting plate in hand.  

Oliebollen: Dutch doughnuts
* I sachet dried yeast 
(about 7 grams or 1 teaspoon- granulated yeast is best as you do not need to activate it and just mix it in with the dry ingredients as per below)
* 1 cup of room temperature milk
* 2 1/4 cups of plain flour
* 2 teaspoons salt
* 1 egg (lightly beaten)
* 1 1/2 cups of mixed currents & raisins 
(this is where we add the mixed peel)
* 1 cooking apple (peeled, cored and finely chopped)
* oil for deep frying 
* caster sugar to coat

In a large bowl combine the flour, salt and yeast and mix thoroughly. 
Add the egg and milk and mix through. Then add the remaining ingredients of dried fruits and apple and thoroughly combine.
Leave in a warm place for around an hour or until doubled in size.  
Heat enough oil in a saucepan to deep-fry small balls of the dough. Break off portions of dough about the size of a golf ball. Then drop the portions of dough into the pan of boiling oil and fry until golden brown- remove using a slotted spoon and leave to drain on paper towel. 
Once they are dry and crispy, pile them all into a dish and rain sugar down onto them. Cover them liberally with sugar and serve. 
Just a warning- Dutch or not, I am up to my fifth one tonight! Happy New Year- even in February.

(Note: if you are not using instant granulated yeast you will need to activate it. To do this, simply sprinkle the yeast over 1/4 cup of the lukewarm milk and leave to activate, then just add it in when you would add the milk as above)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Storm in a coffee cup- the most dangerous cake recipe ever!

I am about to do you a great disservice. Really. If you love chocolate cake, but you have worked hard to give it a respectable place in your life, then stop reading here.
DON'T say I didn't warn you...
This e-mail recipe has been doing the rounds for a while now. But when it popped up in my in-box yesterday I thought- this time I'm gonna test the theory. 

The idea is simple- you are never more than 5 minutes and a large coffee cup away from fresh, hot, velvety chocolate cake. Honestly. Don't believe me? Just try it!

* 4 tablespoons plain flour
* 4 tablespoons sugar
* 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
* 1 egg
* 3 tablespoons of milk
* 3 tablespoons of oil
* a splash of vanilla essence

1 large coffee mug

Mix all dry ingredients together in the mug really well. 
Then one by one add the wet ingredients and mix them thoroughly after each addition.

Put the mug in the microwave and cook on highe (1,000watts) for 3 minutes.

The cake may rise over the top, but don't let this alarm you.
Remove from microwave, tip onto plate and EAT IT!

It actually works and surprisingly for this sceptic- it tasted pretty good. So good in fact that I tried a different flavour.

Note: for a great lemon coconut cake, just replace the cocoa powder with desiccated coconut and a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice. YUM!

Happy eating and I accept no responsibility for what may happen now that you have access to chocolate cake whenever you want it! 

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Vegetables are a many splendoured thing- Biodiversity, the freak in our food

This is my current article online at the wonderful website: I eat, I drink, I work.
If you are interested in the gene diversity of the planet and all the flavours that could slowly be slipping away from us, take a look.
By: Jane de Graaff

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Forgetting flavours

Oh woe is me- I sigh as I slump over the end of the couch. Thankfully the worst of it has passed, but I can tell you there is nothing quite as horrific as food poisoning- think the worst gastro you've ever had, and then multiply it by the armies of hell. Sadly the doctor tells me I will probably never know what the offending item was that made me sick- but henceforth I will harbour a secret resentment towards my once beloved leeks... wash them thrice and then scrub them down... but never, never trust them.
So after 3 days of dry biscuits and Hydralite to keep my salts and minerals up, last night I finally felt well enough to eat.

You can have anything you want Jane... anything (as long as its not meat, dairy or oily)! How about your favourite... custard tart? But what was this? I could think of nothing to tempt me? Nothing? How could this be? And then I realised that in the last few days I had actually forgotten what anything other than pain tasted like. 
So what's a girl to eat when her stomach is still in knots, but she yearns to be reminded of comforting flavours? 
The simplest answer was pasta with home made tomato sauce; over-ripe tomatoes stewed with olive oil and onion until they make a warm, soft paste. Has anything ever tasted sweeter? Certainly to my numbed palette it seemed like I was tasting for the first time.  
It suddenly struck me that for those people who practice fasting as a regular part of life, this amazing sense of flavour saturation and enjoyment 'like eating for the first time' must be an oft repeated joy. Perhaps this is a side benefit of fasting that I had never really taken seriously before? A renewed sense of joy in flavour and a reborn sense of wonder with simple food? 
Certainly, just this once (and long after the fact) I was able to recognise the silver lining of this cloud- forgetting flavours, only to rediscover them.