Chorizo, potato and rosemary pizza – When an Italian and a baby gorilla cook together

What do you offer an Italian in the morning? The logical response would be – a coffee. Well, that is exactly what Mr G though he was doing when a very dear (Italian) friend Miss S came to stay. Mr G, being the dutiful host that he is, quickly jumped to attention as soon as he heard Miss S emerge from her slumber. He scooped a heaped teaspoon of instant coffee into a mug, turned his back to fill the kettle only to be asked by Miss S if she could have a clean mug.

“A clean mug?” – Mr G was perplexed as he was certain that the mug he had prepared was clean. Indeed, it was clean but Miss S had mistaken the instant coffee at the bottom of her mug as a smear of brown-who-knows-what! I think Mr G learned his lesson that morning, never ever offer an Italian a mug of instant coffee disguised as coffee, as instant coffee + Italian = dirty mug.

Ascribing to another Italian stereotype, during her stay Miss S also treated us to her version of homemade potato, chorizo and rosemary pizza. Delicious and easy to make, it has become a firm favourite in our house!

Place approximately 1 Kg of flour on a clean surface. Make a well and crumble in 42 g of fresh yeast (I love fresh yeast, don’t you?). Add a little warm water with a good helping of salt and start to break up the yeast with your fingers.

Place 1 kg of plain flour onto a clean countertop, make a well and crumble fresh yeast into the well.

Place 1 kg of plain flour onto a clean countertop, make a well and crumble fresh yeast into the well.

Warm some water and dissolve a good tablespoon of salt.

Warm some water and dissolve a good tablespoon of salt.

Once the yeast has dissolved, add more water and work the flour into a wet and sticky dough with a stringy, elastic consistency.

Add the warm, salted water to the well a little at a time, start working with your hands.

Add the warm, salted water to the well a little at a time, start working with your hands.

Definitely a job for someone who likes to get their hands dirty.

Definitely a job for someone who likes to get their hands dirty.

Place in into a large container to let it proof.

Dough rising!

Dough rising!

Miss S was insistent on the next step, wrap it up like a baby in a blanket and let it proof for a few hours (I think that this dough was left for about 5 hours). It just so happened that Stevie G, our baby gorilla (not a real one!) was also sitting on the couch at the time and so was given the job of supervising the proofing process. As is clearly evident from the proportions of the risen dough, Stevie G did good!

Stevie G diligently supervising the rising of the dough.

Stevie G diligently supervising the rising of the dough.

The house was filled with the delicious smell of yeast. Stevie G clearly did a good job!

The house was filled with the delicious smell of yeast. Stevie G clearly did a good job!

Once the dough has risen, place it into an oven tray that has been well-greased with olive oil. Using your hands, work the dough into the tray so that you get a more-or-less even layer of dough.

The dough should be wet, sticky and elastic.

The dough should be wet, sticky and elastic.

Press the dough out into a well-oiled oven pan.

Press the dough out into a well-oiled oven pan.

Top with spicy chorizo sausage and thinly sliced potatoes. Sprinkle some coarse salt and rosemary on top of the potato layer. Drizzle with olive oil and cook in a preheated oven at 200 °C until crispy on the outside and underside.

Cover with coarsely chopped chorizo, followed by thinly sliced potato.

Cover with coarsely chopped chorizo, followed by thinly sliced potato. Season with salt and add rosemary.

Bon appetito!

Bon appetito!

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Bonne rentrée tout le monde! Happy first day of school everyone! Celebrating with a Periodic Table of cupcakes

Elemental cupcakes!

Elemental cupcakes!

So it has been a while … a long sabbatical, that does not need a lengthy explanation, only that at around about this time last year, I was presented with an opportunity to change career paths. An unexpected phone call, followed by a few days of weighing up the pros and cons, a leap of faith and Voila! A science high school teacher was born! Err, well kind of – having absolutely no teacher training or high school experience, one couldn’t really stretch that far. This is the reason that the past year has been spent scrambling and learning how to teach high school students. Never has a case of on-the-job-training been so true.

So this blog entry is the result of an end-of year class, where exams were finished, summer was blooming outside and motivation levels of students (and teacher) were waning. We had studied the chemistry of the Periodic Table throughout the year, and what better way to celebrate the Periodic Table than by embodying it in the form of cup-cakes!

The Period Table: http://www.ptable.com/

The Period Table: http://www.ptable.com/

So I baked an army-load of cupcakes, told my students to bring their scientific creativity to the forefront, and equipped with multi-coloured icing, lollies and cake decorating tools we set about to create a rather-messy, but yummy interpretation of the Periodic Table.

Cupcake decorating tools ready!

Cupcake decorating tools ready!

Tasty elemental cupcakes - Iron (Fe); Carbon (C); Cobalt (Co) and Flourine (F).

Tasty elemental cupcakes – Iron (Fe); Carbon (C); Cobalt (Co) and Flourine (F).

Elemental cupcake: Germanium (Ge) in the making

Elemental cupcake: Germanium (Ge) in the making

Group 1: Alkali metals taking form: Hydrogen (H); Lithium (Li) and Sodium (Na)

Group 1: Alkali metals taking form: Hydrogen (H); Lithium (Li) and Sodium (Na)

The Periodic Table taking shape

The Periodic Table taking shape

Students interpretation of the elements.

Students interpretation of the elements.

The semi-finished table. We ran out of cup cakes due in part to my under-estimation of the students appetite during the construction of the cup cake table .... Oh well, we will have to wait until next year to complete it!

The semi-finished table. We ran out of cup cakes due in part to my under-estimation of the students appetite during the construction of the cup cake table …. Oh well, we will have to wait until next year to complete it!

For all those teachers and students going back to school today –  Bonne rentrée/happy first day back at school!

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Risotto of Baby Zucchini and Munster cheese

The zucchini flowers before they started to wilt ...

It is always with the best intentions that the worst work is done. — Oscar Wilde

I have to say that I totally disagree with Mr Wilde as my best intentions of transforming a beautiful bunch of baby zucchini into a dish of stuffed zucchini flowers resulted in a dish, that I believe surpassed my initial intentions. Well, that is not entirely true as far as initial intentions go – I did envision making stuffed zucchini flowers for us on Thursday night after I had bought a punnet of gorgeous baby zucchini with their flowers attached at the market. The real reason for not fulfilling these intentions was firstly, by the time Thursday came along, the flowers had wilted and were rather unusable for stuffing purposes and also, Thursday night can be a rather un-inspiring night for cooking.

“Wouldn’t you rather like some bread and cheese? Oh – and we have a can of chick peas?” – I asked Mr G. With one raised eyebrow, I knew that this was clearly not going to satisfy his hunger in the slightest. So a quick brain-storming session and a rummage in the kitchen resulted in a risotto prepared with baby zucchini and flowers together with Munster cheese. Munster cheese is an Alsatian red mold cheese, that has a powerful smelly cheese odor and a strong taste that is full of character. It is firm yet very creamy and I thought that a small portion of it in the risotto would go very well.

Munster cheese - I wish I could convey the stong aroma across the internet ...

Risotto of Baby Zucchini and Munster cheese

* Serves two very hungry people

  • 20 g butter
  • 1T olive oil
  • 5.5 cups of vegetable stock
  • 2 cups rice
  • lemon
  • 5 to 6 baby zucchini with flowers
  • a few slices of some good “smelly cheese”, a Camembert or even a mild blue cheese will go very well.

Baby zucchini - photographed directly after I bought them from the market in the morning.

To prepare the zucchini:

Detach the flowers from the zucchini stalks. Wash, dry and cut the baby zucchini into thin slices. Wash and pat dry the zucchini flowers. Open them up and remove the stamen. Roughly chop the flowers once the stamens have been removed.

Chop the baby zucchini into thin slices

Open the flowers and remove the stamen

Chop the zucchini flowers roughly and set aside

To prepare the risotto:

Place the stock in a saucepan and cover and bring to the boil. Meanwhile, in a separate large saucepan, heat butter and oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 6 – 8 min or until soft and golden.

Cook the onion in the oil/butter mixture until soft and slightly caramelized

Add the rice to the onion mixture, stirring over medium heat for 2 min or until the rice is translucent. Add the hot stock 1 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until each cup of stock is absorbed and the rice is al-dente (25 to 30 min).

Set yourself up so that you have the pot of hot stock close to the risotto saucepan. Add one cup of stock to the rice at a time, stirring continuously until it has all been absorbed.

Cook the risotto until it has become just al-dente, depending on the type of rice, this can take 25 to 30 minutes.

All through out the cooking, taste the rice and when you feel that it is just about to become al-dente, add the chopped zucchini, continue stirring and adding stock until the rice is cooked.

Once you have taste tested the rice, and determined that it is "almost-there", add the chopped zucchini slices and contune to cook.

When you feel that the rice has reached the perfect texture, add and stir through the chopped flowers and slices of munster cheese. Season to taste and serve immediately. I topped the risotto with a few crispy chards of fried zucchini shavings, just to add some crunch. Buon appetito and go good intentions!

Risotto prepared with baby zucchini and munster cheese

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Saying Farewell to Summer with Strawberry Ice Cream and Balsamic Jelly

Since moving to Strasbourg, I have become obsessed over checking the weather forecast  to make sure that Mother Nature is behaving herself. For a few weeks, it appeared that Mother Nature was very generous and gave us some gloriously hot days (perfect for me but judging from the number of complaints from the general population, it may have been a tad too hot).

The Hot Hot weather would be perfect for an ice cream making session, I thought…

Well, think again, said Mother Nature as the temperature plummeted…

Fresh strawberry juice - perfect base for the farewell-to-summer-ice-cream!

I guess our hot days are over but the sun is still shining and making ice cream is a good fun way to bid farewell to summer, especially if you incorporate beautiful market fresh strawberries and fancy-it up with some balsamic vinegar jelly.

The ice cream recipe that I love to use is from a Spice magazine (summer 2009 issue) and I was actually quite sad to read that they will no longer be publishing. I frequently purchased Spice magazine as I loved the way that they showcased Western Australian local produce and the growing foodie scene. A great publication that will definitely be missed.

Strawberry Ice Cream

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 125 mL caster sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 500 mL cream
  • 400 g of strawberries

Cut the vanilla pod length-wise and scrape out the seeds. Place the vanilla seeds and pod with milk in a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and cool.

Infuse the vanilla into the milk

In a bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together until light in colour and creamy. Add the warm vanilla-infused milk to the egg mixture, making sure to stir all the time. Return the whole mixture to the saucepan and heat very gently until the mixture becomes thickened i.e. coat the back of a wooden spoon.Remove from the heat and place in a separate bowl. Cover with cling-film and re-refrigerate. Clean, chop and puree the strawberries. You may want to strain the strawberry juice to remove the seeds but I think that  the seeds add a good texture and make the ice cream look authentically homemade.

Mix the strawberry puree into the vanilla custard together with cream.

Once well-chilled, add the cream and churn according to ice cream maker instructions. I have a little ice cream maker that I managed to sneak past Mr G when we moved  – I am sure that he would have never let me bring an ice cream maker all the way from Perth to Strasbourg! Well, the joke was actually on me as we only have a teeny-tiny fridge with an even tinier freezer, which means that whenever I have an ice cream making craving I have to ask a nearby friend for the use of their freezer overnight. Luckily, my friends are very obliging!

My favourite part - churning the ice cream!

Strawberry ice cream!

 Balsamic Jelly

The combination of strawberries and balsamic vinegar is a classic one and one that my family frequently enjoys. So I thought that I could add a bit of a molecular gastronomy touch to the old favourite by making balsamic jelly, both in the form of thin sheets and “shoelaces”.

Ingredients

  • 150 mL good balsamic vinegar
  • 2 g agar agar
  • bowl of ice cold water

Tools

  • A large syringe
  • 30 cm length of silicon tubing

    Ingredients and tools required for making balsamic vinegar shoelaces. Looking at this photo makes me think that the "tools" has a slight medical feel.

Place the balsamic vinegar in a saucepan. Add the agar agar and stir well. Heat the mixture until boiling. Remove from the heat and suck up some of the hot liquid using the syringe.

Suck up the hot balsamic vinegar into the syringe.

Attach the nozzle of the syringe to the end of the silicon tube and carefully push the liquid through the tube until it just reaches the end. Place the filled silicon tube into a bowl of ice water. The gel should set in approximately 3 min.

Gently push the liquid through the silicon tube, until it just reaches the end.

Place the filled silicon tube into a bowl of ice cold water, until the agar agar sets the balsamic vinegar (approx 3 min).

Before I go on, I would like to preface this by stating that I studied the DVD that was provided with my Cuisine R-evolution kit and saw that the preparation of the shoelaces was relatively easy. However, as Mr G and I soon discovered, making the balsamic shoelaces was not that simple as trying to push the shoelaces out of the silicon tubes required some muscle and when force was applied for the shoelace extrusion, the noises that resulted made one think of a flatulent guinea pig! None the less, we succeeded in obtaining some good shoelaces and the whole exercise proved that it does not matter how old one is, silly-farting noises will always be amusing.

Okay, enough of that – once set, take the syringe and empty it of any liquid, fill it with air and attache it to the end of the silicon tube and with some force, push the shoelace out of the tube.

Remove the set balsamic shoelace by pushing with an air-filled syringe.

Alternatively, if you feel that the shoelaces are not going to be successful (as I did … with trying to force them out of the tube and being doubled-over if fits of giggles, I thought the shoelaces were never going to happen!). One could pour some of the hot balsamic liquid onto a plate and spread thinly. Once cooled, cut squares of sheets out of the thin layer to garnish the strawberry ice cream.

The back-up plan - balsamic vinegar sheets, cut into squares.

Fortunately for me, both the balsamic vinegar shoelaces and square jelly sheets worked out and thus I managed to plate up in two different ways. Firstly, by making a checkered pattern on the plate, followed by scoops of ice cream and garnished with cubes of fresh strawberries.

Preparing the checkered pattern of balsmaic jelly squares on th plate.

Strawberry ice cream, with balsmic jelly sheets and fresh strawberries.

The second plate consisted of arranging the balsamic shoelaces in a circle, followed by mini-scoops of ice cream being placed in the middle and finely garnished with fresh strawberries.

Strawberry ice cream, with balsamic shoelaces and fresh strawberries.

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Swiss Chocolate and a quick trip to Interlaken

Interlaken, Switzerland

“I just got it! Interlaken means between two lakes!”- shouts Mr G excitedly, as we were walking around the lake in Interlaken, Switzerland. The curious thing is, he is supposed to be the smart one in the relationship! We had taken a quick trip to Interlaken to visit our intrepid friend R, before he made his way back to Australia. A quick 3 hour train ride from Strasbourg found us surrounded by mountains, lakes and fresh air, which all together make for truly stunning scenery. Every time I go to Switzerland, I can’t help thinking that the Swiss always look so healthy and fresh and stress-free and I am absolutely certain it must be due to the alpine climate and not to mention the Swiss chocolate! We purchased some hand-crafted Swiss chocolate from Läderach – chocolatier suissein Interlaken town and then decided to take a long leisurely walk along the lake, stopping to admire the view and of course to devour the chocolate.

Mountain air, lakes and chocolate - the recipe for a stress-free afternoon!

Mr G in the process of opening the chocolate bag ... he was a bit slow in doing that too!

An assortment of chocolate slabs; almond praline, dark chocolate and nuts; white chocolate and dried fruit ... all very luscious.

Interlaken - the place between two lakes!

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Ouefs en Meurette – The day I lost the ability to poach eggs.

I am of the school of thought that there is no point in eating eggs unless they are runny and gooey. I am a bit of a freak when it comes to eggs … I love cooking and eating them and frequently do. Thus, when I experienced my first Oeufs en Meurette on a recent trip to Burgundy, I knew that this was a dish I wanted to be able to prepare  and enjoy all the time. A rich red wine reduction, flavoured with herbs and smoky pork belly, together with a creamy, gooey poached egg all mopped up with bread – my idea of heaven on a plate. So, imagine my dismay and frustration when I did try and prepare it at home and failed miserably several times. At first, I seriously missed the mark with the red wine sauce – far too acidic with the appearance of shoe polish. Then, for some reason I lost my only super-power – the ability to poach eggs – something I pride myself in doing! I was very successful in turning them into golf balls, and subsequent attempts resulted in watery-scrambled eggs. What was happening to me? I hit the books and the blogs, but I still have not been able to figure out why on that particular day, I managed to have 6 spoilt poached eggs. So, I took a deep breath, poured myself a good glass of Burgundy and started again, this time using the fail-proof cling film method from Masterchef Season 1 Cookbook – I managed to achieve the dish I had envisioned. Thankfully, I have since recovered my special power (whew!)

Having a glass of red, trying to pluck up the courage to continue poaching eggs.

Red wine sauce sauce

  • 1 shallot
  • 1 carrot
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 30 g smoked pork belly
  • parsley
  • thyme
  • bay leaf
  • 50 g butter
  • pinch of flour
  • 500 mL red wine
  • salt and pepper

Peel and chop the carrot and shallots into small cubes. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Chop the smoked pork belly into small cubes.

The main players in the red wine sauce, shallots, carrots, garlic, pork belly and herbs.

Melt the butter in a pan and add the shallots, garlic and carrots until they soften and the butter turns a light colour. Add the pork belly and herbs followed by a sprinkling of flour.

Preparing the base of the sauce - pan frying the carrots, garlic and shallots.

Add the red wine and reduce the heat so that the sauce simmers gently. Simmer the red wine for about 1 and half hours, making sure to stir occasionally.

Add the red wine, reduce the heat so that the sauce is at a gentle simmer. Then pour yourself a glass and wait for the magic to happen.

Once the sauce has reduced down, taste and season accordingly. The red wine sauce should have a slight acidic taste but should not be overly so and the sweetness of the shallot/carrots should balance everything out. Once seasoned, filter the sauce using a sieve, making sure to press down well to collect all the red wine reduction. Just before serving, heat the sauce gently in a pan, add a knob of butter and stir well to emulsify and give the sauce a good glossy finish.

Sieve out the veggies and herbs, ensuring to press out all the beautiful red wine reduction.

Compote of shallots and smoked pork belly

  • 100 g butter
  • 200 g shallots
  • 100 g smoked pork belly
  • pepper

Chop the shallots finely. Chop the pork belly into small cubes. Melt the butter in a pan until it starts to brown, add the shallots and cook until they become translucent. Add the chopped pork belly and cook until they become crispy. Add pepper to season.

Preparing the compote of shallots and pork belly.

Poached eggs

Since I started the blog post with how I had lost my egg-poaching ability, I fear that I am not qualified in explaining how to poach the perfect egg. However, I will try my best to explain the Cheats method. However, if anyone is dubious and would like an authentic explanation read Conor@Hold the Beef – an really awesome explanation on poaching eggs.

Fill a saucepan with water and set to boil. Cut a piece of clingfilm and brush some oil over the clingfilm. Place the oiled clingfilm into a small dish/bowl with the oiled side up. Gently break the egg into the cling film. Gather up the edges, twist and tie into a knot, ensuring that there are no air remaining in the parcel. Place the egg parcel into the simmering water and cook for 3 to 4 min. Remove from the pan and carefully cut the knot to remove the egg.

The full proof method poaching an egg, enclosing it in an oiled cling film parcel, prior to simmering it.

Egg parcels, ready for poaching.

Assembly

Pour some of the warmed red wine reduction into a dish, spoon the shallot and pork belly into the sauce and then gently lay the poached egg on top. Serve with some crunchy bread and enjoy with, yet another good glass of Burgundy!

Ouefs en Meurette - Over coming my poached egg challenge!

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Spice and Lime Cashews and the Beer Fairies

Look what I found!

An awesome delivery from the Beer Fairies!

During my kitchen cleaning duties, I happened on this joyous little six-pack. Needless to say, Mr G and I were scratching our heads as to how this six-pack of Coopers Sparkling Ale managed to find its way into our kitchen in Strasbourg. The penny finally dropped – it must have been the Beer Fairies! By Beer Fairies, the finger is pointed at two friends who recently came and visited – previously featured Princess Positive and Dr P. What confused me at first, is that I thought that Dr P must have carried this precious cargo all the way from the UK, as there is a very slim chance that one would find Coopers in Strasbourg – or so I thought! I think that with Princess P’s keen sense of adventure and Dr P’s special beer-radar abilities, they must have found it in a random beer shop, yet undiscovered by Mr G and I. None the less – it was an awesome surprise and the discovery of the six-pack inspired the cooking of some spice and lime cashew beer snacks to accompany a super cold Coopers – Cheers guys!

Mr G getting stuck into the first stubby!

Spice and Lime Cashew Nuts

* Absence of quantities on the recipe is probably due to me enjoying an ice cold Coopers while preparing the cashew nuts.

  • salted cashew nuts
  • cumin
  • cayenne pepper
  • paprika
  • olive oil
  • sesame oil
  • lime

Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a pan. Add the cumin, cayenne pepper and paprika and cook through for a couple of minutes until you can smell the spices.

Cook the dry spices in hot oil. When you smelll the spicy aroma, you know you are ready to add the cashew nuts.

 Add the cashew nuts, and coat with the spice mixture. Once well coated and heated through, add a few drops of sesame oil and toss the nuts to ensure that they are well mixed.

Coat the cashews with the spice mixture.

Pour the nuts into a bowl and just before serving, squeeze the lime over the cashews to give them a bit of freshness. Enjoy with a cold – and in our case – Coopers Sparkling Ale!

The perfect beer snacks with the perfect beer - Cheers guys!

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