Thursday 29 January 2015

Who can say no to glorious Frozen Caramel Mousse? Book review and recipe.

Belinda Jeffery Utterly Delicious Simple Food

Caramel - oh yeah!  This recipe has it in spades.  And if you like, you can add a scattering of salt over the top, to give your taste buds a little surprise.  I have mentioned before I really admire Belinda Jeffery.  I love her cookbooks, and she devises wonderfully flavoursome and simple recipes. Never too difficult for the home cook, full of lovely ingredients, and results that speak for themselves.  I received her latest book - Utterly delicious simple food - for Xmas (with a bit of prompting Mr Pickings way!)  Yes, I love it!  Who could possibly resist chocolate crackle and caramel ice cream loaf? Or zucchini lasagne, or blueberry fool or just a delicious potato salad?   There are heaps of recipes I am dying to try here, but I have chosen dulce de leche mousse with caramel sauce for this post.  I will confess at the outset, I have not made it all Belinda's way; yes folks, I have cheated and used canned caramel.  Yes I could spend 3 hours watching over boiling water as I cook up 2 tins of condensed milk to turn into caramel or I could simply buy a couple of cans of caramel.  Guess which I did?  I am still trying not to stand too much as my knee has still not come good, so I am taking the easy way out.  Ok, that's my excuse anyway:)
Belinda calls her recipe - frozen dulce de leche mousse with caramel sauce; I just call mine frozen caramel mousse.



2 x 380g. cans of Top N Fill caramel (use any brand)
80ml lemon juice, strained
80ml milk
2-3 tsp vanilla extract
600ml thickened cream
50g, crushed praline (optional)

caramel sauce:

250 ml pure cream
220g brown sugar
75g. caster sugar
60ml maple syrup
90g golden syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract


Spoon the cans of caramel into a large mixing bowl
Stir it with a large spoon to make it a bit smoother
Pour the strained lemon juice into the bowl and stir well
Add the milk and vanilla extract and mix in till smooth
Whip the cream till you have soft peaks
Spoon a small amount of the cream into the caramel and stir it in
Place the remaining cream into the bowl and fold it gently in
You will now have a luscious creamy mousse
You can either spoon it into cups or ramekins, or into lined moulds that you can later turn out
Place in the freezer overnight

Make the sauce by putting all the ingredients into a medium saucepan
Stir over a high heat till the sugar is dissolved
Stop stirring and let it come to the boil
Belinda says to grab a sugar thermometer and bring the sauce to 108C, then take it off the heat and let it cool down for at least 20 minutes - I don't have a sugar thermometer!  I just brought it to the boil and let it boil for a few minutes, taking it off the heat before it overflowed.  It has made a thin sauce, but extremely delicious.

You can go ahead and make the caramel sauce on the same day as the mousse, or make it the next day before serving. I made it the same day, and refrigerated it overnight.  It has now become much thicker and more fudgy.  I recommend making it the day before serving if you don't have a sugar thermometer, as it will give it time to firm up a bit.  I have been tasting it since I made it, and it is very difficult to stop at just a tiny spoonful!  Serve the frozen mousse with the sauce, and the praline if using.  I prefer a softer texture, so suggest taking them out of the freezer about half an hour before serving.

adding lemon juice and vanilla to the caramel 

stirring in the milk

whipped cream about to go in

looking luscious already  

so smooth and creamy!

it made 8 ramekins' worth:)

sauce ingredients

all the good stuff

boiling the sauce 

frozen mousse with fudgy sauce 

The book has beautiful photos that make you want to rush into the kitchen and start cooking then and there.  Recipes are well-written; easy to follow with ingredients listed separately for ease of use. Belinda tends to use ingredients that you are likely to have in your pantry and fridge most of the time. You won't have to rush off to the nearest esoteric deli, or search for items that can only be found once a year at the rise of the blue moon.  Rest assured that Belinda has your back, and you will end up with delicious dishes, full of flavour and interest.

Monday 26 January 2015

Spinach and 3 Cheese Pie

Years ago when Mr Pickings and I first met we were both vegetarian as were many of our friends.  After about 10 years, we succumbed to the lure of meat, though he will often choose the vego option when we are out, and we often cook meatless meals at home.  I am teetering on the edge of becoming vego again as I feel so damn guilty about all those animals dying just for me to eat them.  I can never forget that ad about the little pig where they tell you the pig has the intellect of a three-year-old child, and is in the cold, dark piggery without its mum.  Oohh that gives me the shivers.
As you may have guessed this is a vegetarian recipe today!  One of my favourite cookbooks is by Tess Mallos - The Complete Middle Eastern Cookbook. I have had it for years and it is very scruffy and well used.  This recipe is inspired by one of hers but is not exact.  You have to go with what is in your cupboard and fridge!  And what I had was some spinach and ricotta and leftover fetta.  The weather has been very strange in Brisbane lately and we have been inundated with rain over the last few days. There has been flash flooding all over the place and the local creek decided to go mad and burst its banks, swamping the footpath next to it. So it has been grey and even a bit cool so I thought pie why not pie?  I have that song from the film Michael with John Travolta running in my head!   You know the scene where Andie McDowell sings - "pie pie pie! I love pie!"  Yep that's the one and it's really hard to get out of your head once you've heard it:). So here we have it - spinach and cheese pie for a grey and rainy day in (usually) sunny ol' Brisbane.


1-2 tbs olive oil
1 large onion finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
350g. baby spinach leaves
salt and pepper to taste
250g. of ricotta
100g. of fetta cheese
80g. grated tasty cheese
3 eggs - lightly beaten
nutmeg to taste (optional)
salt and pepper
50g. pine nuts (I only had walnuts to hand but I think pine nuts go better in this)
1 sheet ready-made shortcrust pastry
1 sheet ready-made puff pastry
2 tbs cornflake crumbs
milk to glaze the pastry
sesame seeds to sprinkle over the pie (optional)


Heat the oil in a large frypan
Toss in the onion and fry gently for about 5 minutes still going opaque and soft
Add the garlic and keep stirring till all golden and fragrant
Throw in the spinach leaves
Stir now and then till the spinach wilts down
Add the salt and pepper and nutmeg - I gave my nutmeg mill a few twirls!
Allow to cool
Once cooled down, place the mixture into a large bowl
Beat the eggs into the ricotta till you have a smooth-ish mix
Add the 2 cheeses, and the ricotta/egg mix into the large bowl with the spinach mix
Season with salt and pepper to taste
Stir in the pine nuts
Take your lightly greased pie dish and place the shortcrust pastry in it
Scatter the cornflake crumbs over the base
Place the dish into a pre-heated 190C oven and bake for 10 minutes
Take it out and allow to cool for 5-10 mins.
Then spoon the spinach and cheeses mixture into the pie dish
Cover the top with the puff pastry sheet
Neaten the edges of the pie and brush milk over the top
Slash it a few times to get an air-vent
Throw on those sesame seeds if using
Bake for about 30-35 mins. till golden
Cool for a few minutes and eat!

yes there was another egg lurking there

Mr Pickings doing some expert chopping 

see how clever he is:) 

wilting down the spinach- they just disappear! 

stir the eggs and ricotta together 

place everything into a large mixing bowl

eek!  it looks a wee bit disgusting, and this night-time shot isn't doing me any favours:) 

lay the pastry into the pie dish and sprinkle on the cornflake crumbs.  you guessed it! more falconware.

pouring in the mixture; yep you are right - it does look like vomit  

pie all baked!

nice with salad or steamed vegies 

As my bung knee is still "bung", Mr Pickings did the chopping so I didn't have to stand up too much. Being a designer, he has an eye for detail as you can see with his beautifully chopped onion!  Photos were taken while I was hopping around so please just ignore the shadows and general dodginess!   You can see my nutmeg mill snuck into the photos. I found some hmm hmm perhaps quite old whole nutmegs in the pantry, so used them rather than dodgy old ground nutmeg.  I suggest you be careful with the nutmeg as it can be overpowering; give it a twist or 2, and go on from there.

File:Fresh nutmeg in Zanzibar (Tanzania).JPG
(stock image of whole nutmeg  Author Baptiste Vauchelle)  

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Baked/Coddled Eggs

I am a bit hampered movement-wise this week as my left knee seems to have gone on strike.  My leg turns but the knee cap seems to go its own merry way.  And the clicking is a nasty sound.  I think I need a new titanium knee sometime soon.  So it means I am having to be a bit careful, including not spending hours on my feet creating gourmet feasts - ha hah!  I had just read a blog post (sorry blogger, I can't remember which one) a few days ago and they mentioned making coddled eggs.  I have sometimes made what I guess you would call baked eggs as I don't put them into a water bath in the oven, I just bake them on a tray,  So this was my one and only thought for dinner last night; quick and easy and only a few minutes on my feet.  Mr Pickings himself was ill and having a nap so wasn't really up to much either.  I had just seen an ad for the McDonalds app whereby you can order fast food online.  For a nano second there I even considered it!  But commonsense prevailed along with my taste buds and I threw this together in minutes.
I had some leftover baked salmon in the fridge along with some dried coriander leaves, and my home-made roast capsicums.  These were the flavour base for my eggs.  You can use anything you like in these; throw in leftover shredded chicken, any herbs you like, the spices you like and so on. Then you just break a couple of eggs into the ramekin/coddler, top with a couple of tablespoons of cream, season and throw in a 190C oven for about 20 minutes. You could put the ramekins into a water bath - i.e. - put on a baking tray and fill it so the water comes halfway up the little bowls and then bake for about 10-12 minutes.  You would then have legitimate coddled eggs:)   But honestly who can be bothered with all that if you don't have to?   I think the only difference is that the eggs may be a little more tender if coddled rather than baked, but frankly life is too short for this little blogger with the buggered knee.

recipe for 2 people:

ingredients:  (based on what was lying around in the depths of my fridge)

120g salmon (or chicken)
2 spring onions snipped into small pieces with scissors
1/2 doz.small chunks of roast capsicum cut into small pieces
2 eggs per person
2-3 tbs of cream per person
handful of fresh herbs - chives or parsley would be great here
salt and pepper to taste


Place the salmon, spring onions and roast capsicum into the bottom of the lightly greased ramekins
Break over 2 eggs into each one
Pour the cream over the eggs
Add the herbs and seasoning
Bake at 190C for about 20 minutes till eggs are firm (or however you like them)

Nice with a salad or even - dare I say it? - some oven baked chips.

yes the capsicums look weird; the olive oil has congealed in the fridge 

ready for the oven  

This is also a great breakfast dish, or light lunch.  If you have hungry husbands or children to feed, eat with salad AND chips!

File:Bondi, 8 - Hen, laying lunch - Bondi, 2011.jpg
(stock image author Newtown Grafitti) 

Friday 16 January 2015

Aloo Chops or should that be Chop?

I can't quite make out if it should be chop or chops.  Either way it is potatoes mashed and filled and fried - a bit like Spanish croquettas.  And just as irresistible!  I was reading the other day that there are over 3,000 different varieties of potato in Peru, and over 5000 worldwide.  That is gobsmacking - and to think we see about 6 kinds in the shops here.  I wonder if Sir Walter Raleigh only brought a couple of types back with him, and how did he stop them sprouting and going green on the long sea voyage home?  It's not like he had a fridge on the ship!  Seedlings you fool, I can hear you saying.   Ah yes, you are right, savvy reader.
I have fond memories of my dad grating bucketloads of spuds with a nifty little red hand grater thingy.  Mum used to make potato fritters for our dinner now and then, which she used to grate with a normal box grater.  Or she would persuade our dad to grate them due to his manly strength.:)  Then mum discovered a grater that had a handle you could turn, which meant grating potatoes for 6 only took half an hour instead of an hour or more.  I suppose it was a version of rosti really.  She would then send one of the 4 children down to the local fish shop to buy some flake (gummy shark), for which she would make her own batter and fry up to eat with aforesaid potato fritters.
I found this recipe in a really ancient Margaret Fulton cookbook - Book of Indian Cooking, probaby as authentic when published in the mid 1980's as your local Indian takeaway.

File:Carlas Grater.jpg
nope mum's grater wasn't this cute! (author Ken in Dallas) 

This is a fairly easy recipe, with just a bit of fiddling about.  You first have to boil and mash the spuds, then cool them down before filling with the pre-cooked and cooled meat mixture.  Then you get ready to fry baby, fry!  Ok, I confess -  I do not like deep frying, and usually bake everything in the oven instead.  And when it can't be helped, Mr Pickings takes over and he does the frying in an electric pan out on the back deck.  Cos otherwise we end up with spatter all over the kitchen walls and floor.  How is it possible?  I don't know how it can spread out 3 metres from the stove top but it does gentle reader, it does.  So there are 3 parts to this recipe, all really easy. First make the mashed potato, then make the meat filling.  Form the meaty, potatoey patties and fry up.


1 kg potatoes  (pick the ones that are starchy rather than waxy)
1/2 tsp of salt
3 tbs milk
3 tbs vegetable oil
1 large onion finely chopped
3 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
250 g beef mince
2-3 tbs sultanas (or raisins)
2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp dried mustard powder
1/2 tsp salt
pepper to taste
2 tbs chopped fresh coriander leaves


Peel and chop the potatoes into large chunks
Boil in salted water till soft
Drain and mash with the milk
Allow to cool
Heat the oil in a frypan
Fry the onion and ginger till golden and soft
Add the mince, sultanas, and all the aromates except the fresh coriander into the pan
Stir the mince around till it has browned and separated into small pieces
Fry gently for about 15 minutes till it is cooked and fragrant
Stir in the fresh coriander
Allow to cool
Scoop up a handful of the cooled potato and make a large dent in the middle
Spoon 3 tsp of the meat mixture into the dent and fold over
Gently roll it together till you have a fat and happy patty
Keep going till you have 8 round patties
Coat them in plain flour
Shallow fry a few at a time till golden
Keep frying till all 8 are looking beautifully golden and smell delicious

Ok I have to admit it - Mr Pickings had to watch over me while I did this as he is so much better than me at frying. They turned out pretty well!  But I did have to scrub down the plastic table that I cooked them on in the courtyard.  (Ok ok I have a weird phobia about spattering my kitchen).  Then Mr Pickings literally had to drag the table into the backyard to hose it down cos I had used so much cleaning spray.  Yep I am undeniably weird.

yes that is my red slipper down there  

adding the coriander (I used lightly dried as fresh was unavailable)

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Historic Heston - book review and Earl Grey Tea Salt

I love Heston as does my niece who maintains that he is her future husband.  Never mind that he has a girlfriend already!  This does not faze her; she is prepared to wait till he comes to his senses.  He is a philandering husband though so maybe she just shouldn't trust him to have any senses at all.  Well, we will try to forgive him his naughty ways and just enjoy his wonderful food and TV shows.  We tried to get a seat at his temporary restaurant in Melbourne this year but were not successful in the ballot.  I hear there was a lot of skullduggery around that ballot, and scalpers selling tickets for many thousands of dollars.  Darn, if only I knew a scalper!:)
I am in the thick of reading his amazing book Historic Heston which is as heavy in weight as it is beautiful and fascinating in content.  The photography is absolutely splendid, rich in colour and with stunning dishes displayed.  You could just sit and drool over the photos and nothing else if you wanted.  I really love history, and I am a keen reader of food history.  Heston (or his minions) have done extended research, and it shows in his prose and the truly amazing dishes he and his crew have come up with.  I can hear his voice as I read the book, and it does sound like the language he uses in his shows.  I have made one wee thing from the book - Earl Grey Tea salt which I think I will use sprinkled over baked salmon fillets, or chicken.  He uses it in a sweet dish in the book, where he sprinkles it over a strawberry tart (which has 9 elements to the dish).  He makes a gel, and this salt, and yoghurt cream, and chamomile sugar, and crystallised mint, and biscuits, and tuiles, and poached fruit and a strawberry sorbet.  Eek!  I am exhausted just writing it down.
Basically this book is great if you like Heston, if you like food history, and if you like fabulous photos of amazing food.  I don't think it is in the least bit practical or useful as a cookbook but who cares?  That is obviously not the aim of the book.  It is a splendid read (though a bit heavy for bed-time reading unless you have a servant lad with hefty muscles to hold it up for you).   It also has lovely sketches and drawings along with the text and the photos, so it is a real feast for the eyes. Heston throws in some of his scientific knowledge which I found really interesting.  The more I cook, the more I realise you need to know a bit of the scientific basis for cooking.  It helps you to understand how ingredients react to each other, and how to obtain the results you want from a dish.

2 simple ingredients

Take 20 grams of sea salt flakes and 5 grams of Earl Grey tea leaves (not tea bags) and pound them together in your mortar.  Store in a glass jar with an air-tight lid.

pound them up in your mortar and pestle

gently pounded 

The last dish in the book is Mock Turtle Soup from Alice in Wonderland.  It has (if I have counted correctly) 12 elements!  It has 2 different stocks and a consomme, and numerous other elements with varying degrees of difficulty.  Clearly I am not going to be making this any time soon and nor I think will you!  But oh it is lovely to look at and dream about.  I just have to get myself to The Fat Duck in Bray and eat it there!

File:Alice in Wonderland by Arthur Rackham - 13 - That's very curious.jpg
the Mock Turtle (public domain image)

Monday 12 January 2015

Nutella Liqueur With A Kick!

You may remember folks, I mentioned ordering a small jar of Nutella before Xmas but they replaced it with a very large jar (for the same price).  So it has been sitting in my pantry for a few weeks almost full and calling to me with its deadly siren song.  I made Irish cream liqueur as Xmas gifts and thought I would extend the idea to the lurking Nutella.  I checked out the Net and found heaps of recipes online, so have based my recipe on this one.  I love the way the recipe says to taste and add more vodka if desired.  It is already so strong you can feel your hair curl as you drink it so I can only imagine who is crazy enough to desire more vodka in it!  But different strokes for different folks as they say.  I was saying to Mr Pickings the other day that the person who invented Nutella must have been absolutely out of their mind with happiness (and money) when they realised how many people loved it and were willing to buy it.  Apparently the inventor was Mr Ferrero (yes of that famous chocolate company) who invented it in the 1940's;  he used hazelnuts as a filler because chocolate was hard to come by during the War.  Talk about serendipity!  He would have won that TV show for sure -  you know the one where you invent a new food product for a supermarket?  I have to get my brain working on that; surely I can invent something fabulous? :)   But in the meantime I will drink this to get my brain sparking.


210g. of Nutella
100g. of vanilla caster sugar
300 mls thickened cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange extract - optional
500 mls of Vodka


Place the Nutella and sugar into a medium saucepan
Whisk together till combined
Slowly pour in the cream while stirring
Keep whisking while you heat it over a low to medium heat till it starts to simmer gently
Stir in the extract(s)
Take off the heat and allow to cool right down
Add the vodka and whisk it well till you have a smooth chocolatey liquid
Pour it into small bottles

It will keep in the fridge for a few weeks.

whisk Nutella and sugar together 

stir in that luscious cream

keep stirring 

stirred!   Now add the extract(s)

vodka mixed in and ready to bottle

cute little bottles ready for the fridge 

File:Ripe for picking - - 241815.jpg
beautiful hazelnut tree (author Eirian Evans)