Chocolate heaven

My chocoholic daughter is home for a few nights so it was a logical decision to make a chocolate dessert for Sunday Dinner, on the off chance food really is the way to the heart. It is the second last time Mim will be home before she leaves to study in New York City for a year.

So we had a full complement of 6 for Sunday Dinner this week, although dinner was on Monday night rather than Sunday night due to it being a long weekend. For main course we had slow cooked Greek lamb  which I totally forgot to photgraph so I won’t include the recipe. We all felt for Elyse who was off to work after dinner…night shift is the pits.

For dessert I made Chocolate and Hazelnut Cake with Espresso Ganache from the November 2011 edition of Australian Gourmet Traveller. I had no hazelnuts on hand when I started making this cake so used ground almonds which worked very well. I’d like to try it with hazerlnuts though as they are not as bitter as almonds.  If I make this recipe again I will use 90 grams of 55% and 90 grams of 70% dark chcolate for the ganache as the ganache was pretty intense. I didn’t have any chocloate liqueur and chose not to substitute it with anything else. The raspberries were worth the expense – they were the perfect accompaniment. 

Don’t be daunted – this cake was not the challenge it looks, despite having 3 layers. It is well worth the effort.

Chocolate and Hazelnut Cake with Espresso Ganache

From Gourmet Traveller November 2011

Serves 10-12

Cooking Time Prep time 30 mins, cook 55 mins (plus cooling, chilling)

6 eggs, separated
330 gm raw caster sugar
180 gm hazelnut meal
20 gm Dutch-process cocoa, sieved, plus extra to serve
160 gm softened butter
250 gm dark chocolate (55% cocoa solids), melted
30 ml espresso-strength coffee
Espresso ganache
160 ml pouring cream
20 ml espresso-strength coffee
180 gm dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
20 ml chocolate liqueur

  Preheat oven to 180C. Whisk eggwhite and a pinch of salt in an electric mixer until soft peaks form (3-4 minutes). Gradually add 165gm sugar, whisking until stiff and glossy (3-4 minutes), then fold in hazelnut meal and cocoa. Meanwhile, line base and sides of a buttered 25cm-diameter springform cake tin with baking paper, spoon hazelnut meringue mixture into prepared tin, smooth top and bake until a skewer inserted withdraws clean (15-20 minutes), then set aside.
  Beat butter and remaining sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until pale and creamy (4-5 minutes), then add yolks one at a time, beating well to combine. Stir in melted chocolate and coffee, then pour onto meringue and bake until centre is firm (25-30 minutes). Refrigerate until firm (2-3 hours).
  For espresso ganache, bring cream and coffee to the boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, remove from heat, add chocolate and liqueur, stir until smooth. Pour over cake, smooth top. Refrigerate until set (1-2 hours).
  To serve, remove cake from tin, remove paper and serve topped with raspberries.

Brown sugar vanilla syrup cake

This is one of the most delicious cakes you will ever taste, no doubt about it.

When I was volunteered to make a cake for a good friend’s surprise 60th birthday dinner, I decided this was the cake for the job. I knew I’d be very short on time and wouldn’t be able to make a cake that required icing. As it turned out, I made the cake after work on Friday then drove the cake mixture, in the cake tin, to Irene’s home in the next suburb where we were having dinner, and cooked it in her oven. I had the syrup ingredients in a container, poured it into one of Irene’s saucepans and cooked it while the cake was cooking. Voila!

This is a slightly varied version of the recipe in flavours, published in 2000 when Donna Hay was food editor for marie claire. My version makes a larger cake and uses whole eggs instead of eggs and egg yolks. The quantities in the recipe below can be decreased by one quarter for a 20cm (8 inch) square cake.

Brown sugar vanilla syrup cake

adapted from marie claire’s flavours by Donna Hay

Serves 12-16

240 g unsalted butter

2 cups brown sugar

6 eggs(or 4 eggs and 4 egg yolks)

3 cups self-raising flour

1 cup milk

vanilla syrup

1 1/3 cups sugar

1 1/3 cups water

1 1/3 vanilla beans, split and scraped

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until light and creamy. Add the eggs (or eggs and yolks) one at a time and beat well. Sift the flour over the butter mixture and fold through the milk.

Pour the mixture into a large greased kugelhopf tin and bake for 45 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer.

While the cake is cooking, place the sugar, water and vanilla bean in a saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and allow the syrup to simmer for 6 minutes.Leave the cake in the pan for 5 minutes before unmoulding and placing on a serving plate. Slowly spoon three-quarters of the hot syrup over the hot cake. Serve with the remaining syrup and think cream.

Pear and almond tart

This is a terrific recipe from Donna Hay - very versatile, as well as being quick and easy. I made it with pears this week as they are in season and are good value at the moment. In summer I make it with nectarines, peaches or apricots. I served the tart with custard as we have a few custard fiends.

Alexander was absent from Sunday Dinner again this week – last exam for university this week so he was swatting. I packed him a take away meal and Jaime delivered it to him… he is a lucky boy!

Pear and almond tart

from Donna Hay Seasons

Serves 6

90 g softened butter

1/2 cup (90 g) brown sugar

2 eggs

1 cup (120 g) ground almonds

1/4 cup (35 g) plain flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon rind

2 pears, peeled, cored and quartered

1/2 cup brown sugar, extra

raw sugar, for sprinkling

double (thick) cream, to serve

Preheat the oven to 160C (320F).

Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process until just combined. Add the eggs, ground almonds, flour, baking powder and lemon rind and process until just combined.

Spoon the mixture into a lightly greased 9.5 cm x 33 cm loose-bottomed, fluted tart tin. Place the pear and extra brown sugar in a bowl and toss to coat. Press the pear into the tart mixture and bake for 35 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Sprinkle with raw sugar and allow to cool in the tin.

Serve with cream.

Indian chicken with coconut rice

I was in Sydney this weekend catching up with friends and was fishing for ideas for Sunday Dinner at breakfast this morning at a great cafe in North Bondi. I was after a recipe that wasn’t too labour intensive, as I wouldn’t have much time. Gerri suggested this chicken dish from a recent Cuisine NZ magazine - it was delicious when she had cooked it a few weeks earlier.

Because I was pushed for time, I changed the recipe a bit – mainly by simplifying the method. I used chicken lovely legs instead of chicken thigh fillets (minimises the trimming of the chicken required with chicken thigh fillets); drumsticks would be just as good. I squeezed some lime juice over the dish – I like the sourness it adds. Plain yoghurt is a perfect accompaniment.

Indian chicken with coconut rice

Adapted from Fiona Smith’s recipe in Cuisine Issue #151

Serves: 4-5

2 tablespoon sunflower oil

10 chicken lovely legs (or drumsticks)

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

1 onion, finely chopped

3 tablespoons curry paste (I used Chicken Tikka Masala paste)

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3 cm piece ginger, peeled, finely chopped

650ml chicken stock

200ml coconut cream

1 1⁄2 cups basmati rice, rinsed

1⁄4 cup curry leaves

1⁄4 cup coriander leaves, chopped

1 lime

250 g plain yoghurt to serve

Steamed green beans to serve

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Heat a little of the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat then brown the chicken until golden. Transfer to a baking dish or large casserole.

Add the remaining oil to the pan. Fry the mustard seeds for a few seconds then add the onion and cook for 3 minutes until starting to colour. Stir in the curry paste and cook for a few minutes then stir in the turmeric, ground coriander, cumin and ginger and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook until grains are translucent.

Add the stock, followed by the coconut cream. Bring to a simmer then add the chicken. Cover with foil (and lid if using a casserole dish) and place in the oven. After 30 minutes, remove the chicken, add the curry leaves and stir the rice mixture then return the chicken to the dish and place back in the oven for a further 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 5-10 minutes. Before serving scatter with the coriander and squeeze over lime juice.

Serve with plain yoghurt as an accompaniment.

Saffron crème caramel

I love crème caramel; it is a childhood favourite. My paternal grandmother has never been particularly interested in cooking but she cooked a great Christmas pudding every year and she used to make fantastic crème caramel. Because Nanna knew how much I loved it, she regularly made it when we visited or brought it with her when she visited us. I can clearly remember the time my grandparents visited me at boarding school with a homemade crème caramel for me. I ate it outside so that I wouldn’t have to share it with anyone.

As I am fortunate enough to have a good store of saffron at the moment, I chose to make Saffron Crème Caramel with Roasted Pumpkin Seeds this Sunday, from Cook with Us by Gary Mehigan and George Colombaris. Unfortunately, I overcooked them a bit. The recipe said to cook them for 40 minutes at 170C; I cooked them for 40 minutes at 165C but I was distracted and should have checked them at the 35 minute mark. When I opened the oven door they were sizzled and I was quite sure they would be curdled and horrible. Needless to say, I quickly whipped the custards out of the baine-marie rather than leaving them to ‘cool’ and set.

I even made plans for a replacement dessert (on hold now until next week). However, I decided to test one after if had been in the fridge for a few hours and although it wasn’t perfect – there were definite indicators of over-cooking – they were delicious, and by no means a disaster. Because I was sure they were ruined, I didn’t buy the pumpkin seeds but they would be a nice addition.

I really liked this recipe, despite the over-cooking. The hint of orange was delicious.  I would happily make this recipe again.

Saffron Crème Caramel

Serves 8

50 grams pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

a large pinch saffron threads (about 30 threads)

500 ml milk

300 ml pouring cream

rind of 1 orange, in strips, white pith removed

6 eggs

1 cup (220 g) caster sugar


1 cup (220 g) caster sugar

1 cup (250 ml) water

  1. For the caramel, place the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer until golden, about 10 minutes. Working quickly so the caramel doesn’t set, divide the caramel evenly among eight 175 ml-capacity ramekins.Roll the ramekins around to coat the base and sides with caramel. Place the ramekins in a roasting tin and set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 170C fan-forced (190C conventional). Roast the pumpkin seeds on a baking tray until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  3. Meanwhile, soak the saffron in 1 tablespoon of the milk for 10 minutes.
  4. Heat the remaining milk, cream, orange rind and the saffron mixture in a saucepan over medium heat. Just before it comes to the boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes.
  5. Lightly whisk the eggs and sugar together, taking care not to create too many bubbles. Gradually pour the warm milk mixture into the egg mixture and stir to combine.
  6. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a large jug; this will catch any solids and egg white that is not mixed in well and remove any air bubbles. Divide the mixture evenly between among the prepared ramekins. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to comes two-thrids of the way up the side of the ramekins.
  7. Bake the custards for 40 minutes or until they just bobble; don’t worry as they will still be slightly wet in the centre and will set while they are cooling. Leave the crème caramels to cool and set in the water in the raosting pan.
  8. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan, then cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.
  9. To serve, run a knife around the edge of each ramekin and invert the crème caramels onto serving plates, then scatter with the roasted pumpkin seeds.

Spinach & ricotta cannelloni

Alexander the carnivore was too busy to grace us with his presence for Sunday Dinner as he had an exam on Monday. This provided an opportunity to make a vegetarian dinner. Bring on Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni, an obvious choice considering my current passion for making ricotta.

I used fresh cannelloni sheets that didn’t require pre-cooking – not a fan of the dried variety and pre-cooking is tedious, unless you make the pasta yourself. I’m not sure where the original recipe came from – it has been in my head for quite a while. I’m not keen on using frozen spinach, mainly because it is imported, but you can substitute about 500 grams of frozen spinach for the fresh spinach if desired. The batch of ricotta I made only weighed 440 grams but the recipe still worked beautifully.

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Serves 4-5

12 fresh cannelloni sheets

2 bunches English spinach

500 g ricotta

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

salt, pepper, pinch nutmeg

Bechemel sauce

Tomato sauce

Wash spinach and discard stalks. Place leaves in a frying pan with the lid on over low heat and cook until wilted, then drain and cool. Squeeze out the excess moisture and chop roughly.

Place spinach in a bowl with the Parmesan, ricotta and garlic. Season with salt, pepper and grated nutmeg. Mix well.

Roll each cannelloni sheet separately with the spinach filling inside. Spread some of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a baking dish and arrange cannelloni in a single layer. Spoon over Tomato Sauce, then add the Bechamel.

Sprinkle with extra grated cheese and bake in a 190C oven for about 30 minutes. Serve with a fresh green salad.

Bechemel Sauce

50g butter

3 tablespoons plain flour

2 cups milk

Melt butter in a saucepan, stir in flour to form a roux, cook gently for a few minutes then remove from heat and stir in milk. Return to the heat and stir/whisk until the sauce boils and thickens. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk until smooth and shiny.

Tomato Sauce

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons olive oil

700 gram bottle passata di pomodoro (tomato purée)

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped

Saute onion and garlic gently in oil until soft. Add the passata and about 1/2 cup of water, sugar and freshly ground pepper to taste. Simmer for about 10 minutes.

Spirit House Green Chicken Curry

Because of Mothers Day, Alexander and I were on our own for Sunday Dinner this Sunday. As we were going to an early movie, we had a quick bowl of curry before heading off.

I love making meals from scratch. Making the curry paste for a curry makes such a difference – it tastes so much fresher. This curry paste is from Spirit House – Thai Cooking by Helen Brierty and Annette Fear which I was given to me by my dad and step-mother for Christmas 2004. Once made, I freeze it in 3-4 tablespoon lots until needed. Before Mim headed back to uni in Melbourne, she took a few “packets” of green curry paste with her so she could create some instant meals. When both kids were living at home and I was working full time, recipes like this came in handy. I could walk through the door and have a great meal on the table within 40 minutes.

This Sunday I made the curry using 8 organic chicken drumsticks instead of chicken breast or thigh. I find the sauce makes enough for at least 650 grams of breast or thigh. I also added some pumpkin, just because I love the taste of it in curries. As I accidentally left Thai basil off the shopping list, I scattered some coriander over the curry instead. Thai basil does add something though, if you remember to buy it.

This curry paste is not particularly hot – in fact I use 16 chillies in the paste and 4 tablespoons of paste in the curry. It is very fragrant though, and delicious! My mortar is not very big so I pound the peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and salt then transfer the mixture to the food processor. Not perfect but it does the job.

Spirit House Green Curry Paste

Makes approximately 2 cups

20 white peppercorns

2 tablespoons coriander seeds, roasted

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, roasted

2 teaspoons salt

15 green chillies, seeded and chopped

2 small red onions, finely chopped

12 cloves garlic, chopped

4 tablespoons lemongrass, finely chopped

2 teaspoons chopped galangal

4 teaspoons chopped coriender root

2 teaspoons chopped kaffir line leaf

4 teaspoons shrimp paste, roasted*

Roast the coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a frying pan over gentle heat until fragrant. In a mortar and pestle, pound the peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and salt together. Add remaining ingredients one at a time and pound to a smooth paste. Store in a tightly sealed glass jar in the refrigerator. Keeps for 2-3 weeks.

*wrap the shrimp paste in foil and roast in the oven (or in a hooded barbeque) at about 180C until pungent.

Spirit House Green Chicken Curry

2 cups coconut cream

3-4 tablespoons green curry paste

1 tablespoon palm sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce

500 g chicken thigh fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces

2 tablespoons tamarind water**

1 cup Thai basil leaves

In a wok, heat 1/2 cup of coconut cream, add curry paste and cook until fragrant (about 5 mins). Add sugar and fish sauce and cook a further few minutes, adding a little more coconut cream if necessary. Stir in the chicken, tamarind water and remaining coconut cream. Bring to boil then reduce to simmer. Cook until the chicken is tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the basil leaves. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.

Serves 4-6

** to make tamarind water, place 1 tablespoon of tamarind pulp in a bowl, pour over 1/2 cup of boiling water and leave to cool. Mash pulp with a fork and stain the liquid through a sieve, retaining the liquid. Discard the tamarind seeds and skins.

Lots of limes

A manic week at work last week means that I haven’t had time to reflect on Sunday Dinner until now. The inspiration for this dessert came from my sister-in-law, Kylie. She and my brother were in town for the weekend and when we caught up for breakfast Kylie gave me a bag of limes that she’d bought the day before - she’d gone to buy a couple of limes but found that 2 bags of limes (10 limes in each bag) were the same price as 5 individual limes. When I was discussing what I would make for dessert, my brother suggested Impossible Pie, a childhood favourite that Mum used to cook regularly. The seed was thus sown for Citrus Impossible Pie.

I came across this recipe about 15 years ago. I cannot for the life of me find the original recipe – I have a feeling I found it in a Vogue Entertaining. I love citrus desserts so this recipe is definitely a favourite, especially because it is so easy to make and absolutely fail-proof. My usual guests enjoyed it and Toby walked out the door with the leftovers.

Because I had plenty of limes, the version I made for Sunday Dinner was about two thirds lime and one third orange instead of the lemon and orange combination in the recipe below. I had no slivered almonds in the pantry but lots of blanched almonds so I used those.

Thanks for the limes Kylie!

Citrus Impossible Pie

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

½ cup melted butter

100g slivered almonds

1 cup desiccated coconut

Grated rind of 1 lemon

Grated rind of 1 orange

½ cup lemon juice

½ cup orange juice

1 cup milk

½ cup plain flour, sifted

Preheat oven to 180C.

Process all ingredients in a food processor for 2 minutes.

Pour the mixture into a well greased 28cm pie dish for about an hour or until golden brown on top.

Remove from oven and allow to cool and set. Refrigerate if necessary.

Serve with thick cream and fresh berries.

Serves 8-10

Sublime crème brûlée

Mim offered to make dessert for Sunday Dinner. Two years ago, Mim made crème brûlée for Sunday Dinner but although it tasted good it wasn’t a big success due to the fact we didn’t have a blowtorch so the custard melted and the top wasn’t crisp.She decided to try again, this time with a blowtorch. It was an absolute hit and quite definitely up there with the best crème brûlée I’ve ever had.

We found Guillaume Brahimi’s crème brûlée recipe on the internet. I would definitely use this recipe again. Mim used organic milk and really fresh eggs from friends’ chickens which were sure to have made a difference. The brûlées took a bit longer than 60 minutes to cook – more like 75-80 minutes.

All four of the usuals turned up for dinner, plus Mim as the special guest. Mim can be a bit accident prone so we were a bit concerned she may set the house on fire with the blowtorch. Under Elyse’s supervision, she did a great job.

This dessert was sublime. Not something you’d eat every day but an excellent treat. Thanks Mim!


Vanilla crème brûlée

By Guillaume Brahimi

Serves 4

300ml pure cream

200ml milk

2 vanilla beans, split, seeds scraped

100g egg yolks (from 5 eggs)

70g caster sugar

30g demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 130°C.

Place the cream, milk and vanilla seeds in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to the boil and remove from heat.

Quickly whisk together the yolks and caster sugar in a large bowl until just combined. Pour the hot cream mixture over the top and whisk again until combined. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve then pour into 4 x 180ml ramekins.

Cover with foil and bake the brûlées in a bain marie for 60 minutes or until set but with a slight wobble. Remove and rest for 20 minutes at room temperature before refrigerating for 4 hours or until cold.

To serve, sprinkle each brûlée with demerara sugar and caramelise using a blowtorch.

Sticky lamb shanks

My children are opposites in almost every way. When it comes to food, he likes salads, she likes vegetables; she likes slow cooked meals and he prefers barbeques; she loves chocolate, he doesn’t etc etc.

Mim was home for the weekend and requested lamb shanks for Sunday Dinner. Alexander’s constant request is “anything as long as its not slow cooked”. This Sunday, Mim ruled.

I have a few favourite lamb shank recipes – osso bucco style, Jamie’s lamb shanks cooked in beer and Bill Granger’s morroccan lamb shanks topping the list. But this weekend I decided to stick with the mushroom-lovers’ theme and made Adrian Richardson’s “Lamb Shanks with Mushrooms and Sticky Port Glaze” from his book The Good Life. They were delicious.

The lamb shanks I bought were organic, not cheap, but the best I’ve had in a long time. Unfortunately, when I went to start cooking I was a shank short – the butcher had sold me 5 instead of the 6 I had requested - so we made a mad dash to the markets and bought the last lamb shank left… Phew!

I used a combination of button, flat and shimeji mushrooms. I had no luck finding swiss brown mushrooms which would have added to the flavour of the mushroom mix. I used a lot less butter than the recipe specifies - more like 30 grams rather than 100 grams.

Mim was happy.

Lamb Shanks with Mushrooms and Sticky Port Glaze

Serves 4

4 lamb shanks (shanks from the hind legs are meatier)


freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

100 g butter

2 onions, finely sliced

6 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tablespoons roughly chopped thyme

1 bay leaf

500g mushrooms (mixed varieties if possible), sliced 1 cm thick

375 ml chicken stock

375 ml port

Preheat the oven to 160C. Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in an ovenproof pot and brown the shanks all over. Transfer to a plate.

Lower the heat under the pot and add the butter, onion, garlic, thyme and bay leaf and fry for 3–4 minutes, until the onion is soft but not coloured. Add the mushrooms and stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft. Add the port and return to the boil.

Return the lamb shanks to the pot, making sure they are completely submerged in the sauce. Season with more salt and pepper, cover with the lid and bake for 2 hours, by which time the meat should be very tender and falling from the bone.

Increase the oven temperature to 200C, remove the lid and cook for a further 30-40 minutes, until the sauce reduces and thickens. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Serve with lots of mashed potatoes.