Sunday, 23 December 2007

A last minute X'mas menu

As I write this post, our 4.6 kilogram turkey is submerged in an ice-cold briney bath in the kitchen sink. It is quite a sight because this bird is as big as a baby!

OK, so it wasn't really my idea to get the turkey (but I am getting quite excited about cooking it come x'mas day!), I was thinking more along the lines of a big generous rib roast (which we ended up getting because we don't like to compromise) or a whopping snapper or ocean trout but (did I already mention) I am getting quite excited about cooking this big bird come X'mas day(??)

Here is the menu I threw together this morning before I joined the mad last minute X'mas shopping crowd at our local shopping centre.

to graze on

baked camembert with grissini

smoked salmon, sour cream, chives and buckwheat blinis

to follow with

traditional roast turkey

standing rib roast of beef with herb and seeded mustard crust

to be accompanied by

wild rice, pumpkin "stuffing"

tri-coloured potatoes sauteed in duck fat with garlic and thyme

contemporary waldorf salad (which depends on how lucky i am finding celeriac)

sweet and sour braised red cabbage (or)

mizuna and orange salad

to finish with

ouefs a la niege, mango-champagne soup and berries

Now let's see if things go smoothly between the planning and executing...


Thursday, 6 December 2007

Rose cupcakes with white chocolate frosting

I am beaming with pride as I write this post because I am quite pleased with my efforts today. Although I didn't get around to my list of things to do before Christmas arrives, I manufactured what I consider perfect little cupcakes.

The inspiration for my almond-rose cupcakes with white chocolate frosting came a couple of weeks ago when I sampled a very good rose syrup by Mymouné which unlike most commercially available has a natural flavour and light cloudy pink hue. Although I love the heady perfume of roses and find the idea of using it in cooking very romantic, I have often considered it a very difficult flavouring to incorporate in recipes because it isn't a very versatile or culture-neutral ingredient. Also determining the right amount to use can be rather tricky.

For my cupcakes I used dried rosebuds which are not unlike those you find in little pouches of potpourri for your drawer but these are organic and not treated with nasty chemicals (I purchased mine from Simon Johnson in Subiaco) and may too be used in a tisane, spice blend (such as ras-el-hanout) or a syrup infusion if you so choose. I find dried rosebuds and petals are a better alternative to rose syrup because you get the essence of the flowers without the added sweetness so you can simply add them finely crumbled or ground to your favourite cake recipe without having to adjust the quantity of sugar accordingly.

The essence of rose, sweet and floral like vanilla, has an affinity for ingredients with a high percentage of fat like cream, butter, milk and nuts like almonds and pistachios so it is not uncommon to find it combined with one or more such ingredients in desserts. Here, I have paired it with ground almonds in a cake with a toothsome and moist crumb. The recipe is as follows.

Rose cupcakes
250g soft unsalted butter
185g ground almonds
300g sugar
4 eggs, separated
80g flour
20g dried rose buds
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
(makes 16 cupcakes)
preheat oven to 180C and line a cupcake tin with paper liners
pulse rose buds and ground almond in a food processor until a fine.
whip egg whites and gradually add 50g sugar until a shiny and stiff meringue is achieved. Set aside
beat butter, sugar and vanilla paste until pale and creamy
add an egg yolk at a time, beating well between yolks (about 20 seconds between each)
mix in almond and rose powder (mixture will be very stiff at this point but don't worry!)
fold a third of the meringue through the mixture above to "loosen" it a tad then continue to fold in the rest of the meringue.
scoop into paper liner 2/3 full (Note: I used an spring release ice-cream scoop to make the job of portion control easier)
bake for 25 minutes or until no crumbs are attached to a toothpick when inserted into the middle of a cupcake.
cool completely before frosting

White chocolate frosting
200g white chocolate (I used Callebaut drops)
100ml whipping cream
250g Philly cheese
heat cream in a small pan (do not boil!)
beat cream cheese until smooth and fluffy
add hot cream to white chocolate and allow to sit for a couple of minutes before stirring to achieve a smooth and homogenous consistency
mix chocolate and cream cheese and continue to beat. If mixture is too soft at this stage, refrigerate for an hour and beat to achieve a fluffy consistency.
top completely each cooled cupcake with an elegant swirl of white chocolate frosting and a little rosebud (sprinkle with roughly chopped toasted pistachios if you so desire).

Birthday Cup(less)cakes

I feel relaxed today - almost happy but definately content, unlike last Sunday, my birthday which was really Crapday because I spent 12 hours at work, found out the lock on my car door is screwed because some punk tried to pick it, had dinner cancelled on me and most tragic of all, had not a crumb of cake to eat.

There must be something about getting older. I get overwhelmed by a lot of things, mainly by kindness and concern which seem to surround me quite a lot lately so much so, I don't know what to do except thank and apologise profusely in a high-pitched voice to the point of it becoming quite annoying. Also, I get weepy easily; it is embarassing. Like the other day, I got teary while perusing the dairy section at my local supermarket playing "Hear me out" by Frou Frou in my head which I no longer wish to identify with but did for a while. I guess my brain should have put on a cheerier track but it has been through a lot lately so I let it slide.

Today, I woke up on the right side of bed and realised I should really love where I am at at the moment because I am healthy and alive, albeit a little poor. I love my family and friends and I love the twenty-eight years I have lived through (despite numerous regrets - like what was I thinking when I got the "bed head" crop and thought I looked so wicked cool?). I laid in bed drifting off into my favourite daydream - the one where I am with my perfect man and we own a little terrace house with a nice enough kitchen, Benson the beagle is sleeping on his rug in the corner gently snoring, the Tosca string quartet is playing softly in the background and I am making pretty cupcakes. Sexy. Perfect.

So here is the thing about daydreams, you are the director, you have 100% control, unlike your waking life which is often the complete opposite where the dainty cupcakes you dream about turn out a little short of perfect. Like my dark chocolate cupcakes with orange-wattleseed cream and cocoa nibs.

The flavour and texture of these cupcakes were sensational (you couldn't possibly go wrong with good quality couverture, pure orange oil and fresh cream), but they lacked the aesthetics of a perfect cupcake. It didn't stop me from scarfing down a couple at the belated birthday celebratory dinner I had with my close friend J-M, who was elegantly sufficient after main course but somehow found room to enjoy a cupcake anyway.

NB I didn't have a cry over how my cupcakes turned out so maybe there is still hope for me after all.