Thursday, October 29, 2009

Butter - Part 3

Petits Sablés - recipe and description below.

Some time ago, you may recall, I received a generous sample of wonderful Ardenne butter from @Kirkfood. It has been some months, but I have finally used it all (I know, what a chore, haha!), and would like to share the results with you.

The first time I tried it, I slathered it on no-knead bread with fleur de sel, and later I used it to make puff pastry. The puff pastry, in turn, became mille feuille and winter vegetable strudel.

When I had my friends Thanh and An over for lunch, I wanted a butter-friendly meal. I made Nigella's delicious Irish stew, which is supposed to be served with lots of bread and butter. I tried the no-knead bread again, and made a gateau Breton for dessert.

Because I was feeling especially creative and dorky, I shaped the butter into a dinky little heart shape.
Heart-shaped, topped with Murray river salt.

The no-knead bread, made in a smaller pot.

That bread is totally addictive! I explained to An how to make it, and apparently he's been baking bread himself back in Canberra. Yay!

Gateau Breton, or Brittany Cake, is a very rich and buttery affair. Nigella's version (How to be a Domestic Goddess) contains 4 simple ingredients - butter, sugar, flour and egg yolks. I thought it would be a fantastic way to try out more of that butter! Looking at the picture in Nigella's book, I thought these would be crisp and short, and I was surprised that it turned out soft and dense.

I quite liked this, but wasn't blown away, probably I was hoping for something more biscuit-like. It goes well with tea or coffee, and apparently it tastes just like German Christmas cookies! So there you go.
Diamonds of golden Gateau Breton - Thanh and I were trying to figure out ways to arrange them artistically, hehe.

The next thing I made with the butter (a few weeks later) was American-style cookies! I used the dough from this recipe, omitting the chocolate and nuts. I split the dough into two, adding chopped milk chocolate to one half.

I left the other half plain, formed them into balls, and rolled them in a mixture of castor sugar and cinnamon. My inspiration was the dee-licious cinnamon-sugar cookies from Mrs. Fields.

Sweet balls (ooer!). They have to be squished flat before baking.

The chocolate cookies turned out like this...
Does this look familiar? Just look up at my header!

And these are the cinnamon-sugar cookies!

I was very, very pleased with both the chocolate and cinnamon cookies! The flavour of the butter really came through, and the cookies had a tiny touch of salt, which really brought out the flavours. My only issue with the cookies is that they were quite cakey, and not as crispy as I like, especially the next day. I think this is because the water content in the butter makes the finished cookies soft. Apparently, replacing some of the butter in cookies with vegetable shortening can improve its texture, but that is an experiment for another day. (Whatever you do, don't do what one recipe online suggested and replace the butter with butter-flavoured Crisco. Yurgh!!!!)

The final (and perhaps best!) thing I made with the butter were petits sablés, aka little French shortbreads. I adapted a recipe I got from Duncan, who himself paraphrased the original recipe - taken from La Bonne Cuisine by Madame E. Saint-Ange and translated by Paul Aratow. What a complicated provenance for such a simple recipe!

Petits Sablés

Into a food processor, tip 125g flour, 100g butter at room temperature, 60g caster sugar, 1 egg yolk and the seeds of 1 vanilla pod.
Whizz to combine. Gradually add 1 tbs of cool water and process briefly until the mixture comes together. Tip onto a floured surface (I used glad wrap)...

... and form into a disc.

Wrap the dough up in glad wrap and chill for 30 mins.

Roll the dough into a log...

...and slice into pieces about 5mm thick. (This is easier than rolling and cutting out shapes, and excess dough can't be reworked to the same quality).

Place the biscuits onto a lined baking tray, sprinkle with extra castor sugar, and bake at 180C for 10-15 minutes. The dough should not colour more than a "nice golden tint".

Slide the biscuits onto a rack to cool. Be careful as the dough is very fragile when warm.

Ta-dah! Look how cute these little light golden coins are!

I served these to some friends for afternoon tea (with the cardamom and cinnamon buns, actually), and they went down a treat. I brought leftovers to a bloggers' dinner that night, and people seemed to like them! I was told they taste like those Danish butter cookies you get in the blue tins. I *love* those cookies, and I loved these too. I'll be making them again at Christmas! Thank-you to Duncan for the awesome recipe.

And that is what I did with the butter. Big thank-you to Kirkfood for the great butter!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Post-Detox Treat

Thanks to everyone who commented on my detox post! Managed to get through a Monday without coffee, so that sets me up well for the rest of the week. Just a quick post today - I wanted to share with you my Saturday-night post-detox reward dinner, made up of food I'd been craving all week.

1. Pepper Steak
2. Baked Potato
3. Creamed Spinach

I splashed out on an organic piece of porterhouse, and cooked it using the recipe from Nigella's How to Eat, (previously made here). The sauce was made by deglazing the pan with some marsala and a tiny knob of butter. I topped the baked potato with a small amount of butter, some grated cheddar cheese, light sour cream (as if it made a difference - hah!) and chives. For the creamed spinach I just cooked some chopped onion, added defrosted frozen spinach, some flour and a dash of cream.

No wine because I rarely crave it, and it usually doesn't bother me whether I drink or not. But that meal, just by itself, was the perfect weekend indulgence.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Hello everybody!! Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I have been on detox this week, from Monday-Friday. (Ceremoniously ended at midnight last night by the digging of spoons into tubs of Ben & Jerry's ice-cream, hehe.)

I had been feeling a bit sluggish, and wanted to kick-start some proper healthy eating - to get out of the habit of eating salami/cheese toasties for lunch at work, guzzling down coffee, or inhaling oven chips for dinner after a tiring week.

We decided on the following diet based on our existing knowledge of diet/nutrition and other bits and pieces we heard from friends and researched ourselves.

It should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway:

I am NOT a nutritionist. This is a detox I designed for personal use and does not take into account your own nutritional needs and circumstances. This post is deigned to provide information and ideas on healthy eating, not to be a prescriptive diet. If you plan to do a diet or go on detox, do your own research and consult your relevant healthcare professional.

Haha, how much do I sound like a bank employee!

For my detox, I had no caffeine, alcohol, excess fat, meat, dairy, eggs, white rice, potatoes or flour. I also decided to go low-wheat, and still eat fish (it's good for you and I hardly eat it at all these days). When I told my friends I was doing this, the most common response was, "Well what CAN you eat?"

I present you the answer, in blog-form.

For BREAKFASTS I had smoothies made of soymilk and fruit (e.g. mango, banana, frozen berries, kiwi fruit), or black rye sourdough toast with tahini. (The black rye toast has some wheat flour in it, but this didn't bother me as I was going "low-wheat", not "no-wheat".)

As an ALTERNATIVE TO COFFEE/TEA, I drank chamomile / rooibos tea. I also drank heaps of water.

For SNACKS I ate fruit, tinned tuna (Sirena rocks!) or small soy smoothies.

Preparing LUNCHES and DINNERS is where I got to exercise some culinary creativity. I didn't cut out salt or sugar completely (you will see honey popping up here and there). I thought, perhaps optimistically, that if I wasn't going out to restaurants or getting take-away during the week that I'd be cutting down my salt intake a lot anyway. I also made larger quantities of the evening meals, so I could take leftovers to work the next day for lunch.

The first thing I made was Nigella's caramelised onion and lentil pilaf, substituting brown rice for the basmati she suggests.

The spices...

The rice and lentils...

The pilaf...


The recipe made enough for me to take a bowl to work for Monday's lunch, and to share it with my family as an accompaniment for dinner later that night.

For dinner that night we had the pilaf, with Bill Granger's watercress and green bean salad (Every Day), and roast pumpkin and red onion with honey dressing.

The salad was stunning - so simple! It's just cooked beans with watercress, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. I'd love to eat this any night of the week, detox or no.

I wasn't too sure if honey was bad for detox, so I only used a scant amount of the dressing. I've made this before for dinner parties, and it always goes down a treat.

The next night I made a fabulous baingan bharta (eggplant curry) that I saw on Cindy & Michael's blog last year, and have been itching to make ever since.

As much as I adore eggplant, it can often be very greasy and definitely not detox-friendly. No such danger here, as the eggplant is cooked until mooshy in the oven. No huge amounts of oil required!

The recipe is linked to on Cindy & Michael's blog, so I'll just give a brief rundown. You cook up onion, garlic and ginger, (I only used a tiny amount of oil), then add spices, a chopped chilli and tomato. The recipe uses yoghurt, but I omitted it as I was going dairy free.

Then you add your eggplant mush and cook for a bit longer.

I thought this curry was amazing! I absolutely loved it, and it just seemed to get better over the next few days. I ate it with plain brown rice, but during more relaxed times, I think basmati rice or naan would be perfect.

Other dinners we ate but didn't photograph include Bill Granger's puy lentil soup, and a mixed veggie & tofu stir-fry (again with brown rice).

Now, WORK LUNCHES. Apart from leftovers, I made some lunches specially. They had to be tasty and filling so that I wouldn't get tempted by the vending machine!

Below we have a cold soba-noodle salad with tinned tuna. The soba recipe comes from Nigella's Forever Summer, and consists of cooked and cooled soba, with spring onions, coriander and toasted sesame seeds. The dressing contains soy sauce, sesame oil, a drop of honey and some rice wine vinegar.
It was, of course, delicious, but I was surprised by how filling this was. I'll definitely be repeating this recipe for future lunches.

This salad contains watercress, cherry tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, lemon juice, olive oil and finely chopped chives and red onion. Chives are brilliant for adding low-fat flavour!!! I ate this one with a small tin of Sirena tuna.
So many nutrients.

Next up is a sandwich (I slapped the other slice of bread on after taking the photo). More of that dark rye bread, some avocado, the remainder of the watercress and some sliced tomato.

So, how did it go??

It actually went really, really well! I did find myself craving sweets (cookies especially!), but giving up everything else wasn't too bad. I think it helps that I actually like soy milk and brown rice. I was scared I'd get caffeine-withdrawal headaches and be exhausted, because I do love my coffee! (Those who have been following my blog for a long time might remember I tried a stricter detox some years back and gave up shortly after). But I was actually fine! I had slight headaches on the first evening, and was exhausted on Monday night, but I felt much better for the rest of the week. I got tired on my early morning starts at work, but managed to push on through, and I found that I had heaps more energy overall! Couldn't believe it. I'm not sure if it was the caffeine or the fact that I was eating lighter food in general, but I felt great.

Because it made me feel so much better, I've decided to keep up eating healthy food, especially during the working week, and use the weekends to enjoy myself a bit. I also plan to dramatically reduce the amount of coffee I drink. (The coffee in my building SUCKS anyway!) This way I can really enjoy great coffees when I go out to cafes, rather than just guzzling it down to stay awake.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Happy Blog Birthday!

Yes my dear readers, today is my little blog's 5th birthday! In all these years of blogging, I've never once done a birthday blog post, so I'm sure you'll forgive me while I gush.

I started little ol' Sarah Cooks some 5 years back, when I realised my food obsession just wasn't going away. At the time, I had a personal blog, The Blog of Sarah, which my friends read. It was one of those typical teenage girl pieces of fluff - pictures of friends at nights out, complaining about uni etc. (It has since been taken down because I stopped updating it). Anyway, after a while my posts started becoming more and more food-related, and I decided I should just stop bugging my friends with my food-obession, and start a proper food related blog. And thus, Sarah Cooks was born.

My very first post was (quelle surprise!) Nigella related - Gooey Chocolate Stack. And since then I've been blogging pretty regularly, a few times a week. I started blogging about food I cooked at home, and most of my readers at the time were my buddies from the old forum.

In June 2006, I started Sarah Discovers How to Eat, my quest to cook all 395 recipes from Nigella's How to Eat in one year. It was a hugely fun project, and I still love that book and return to it regularly.

These days my Sarah Cooks posts are a mixture of food I've cooked at home, baking experiments and restaurant and cafe reviews. I've also made some good friends through blogging and can't see myself stopping any time soon!

Out of interest, here are my top 10 labels and the number of posts I've done about them:

1. Nigella (164 - and no, this doesn't include the 400+ posts from Sarah Discovers How to Eat!)
2. Chocolate (100)
3. Travel (86)
4. Restaurants (83)
5. Cake (69)
6. Melbourne (69)
7. Salad (50)
8. Breakfast (48)
9. German (45)
10. Seafood (43)

I wish I could say that it's an exaggeration that I cook/eat twice as much chocolate as salad (100 vs 50 posts), but there's no point in lying now, haha.

Now, about that cake! I actually made and ate that a couple of weekends ago (definitely not detox-friendly!!) in preparation for today's post. It is a Victoria sponge, filled with hazelnut-infused buttercream, topped with ganache and sugared hazelnuts. I'll blog it in more detail in the coming week, but I need to let you all know that nut-infused German buttercream is my new best friend.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Finnish Cardamom and Cinnamon Buns

I was feeling very domesticated on the weekend and decided to whip up a batch of Tessa Kiros' Finnish Cardamom and Cinnamon Buns, from Falling Cloudberries. I like Tessa Kiros a lot, but rarely cook from her books, which in my experience, tend to be more pretty than practical. (See my review of Venezia at The Gastronomer's Bookshelf). Falling Cloudberries is the exception - I love the wide variety of recipes from Kiros' international upbringing; more like a personal recipe journal than a cookbook. I've made a few recipes from Falling Cloudberries, and so far they've all been winners.

But back to the buns. I've wanted to make these for ages, and nearly got distracted by Saint Cinnamon style mega-buns or Nigella's gooey, sticky Schnecken. I even considered making the saffron cinnamon buns from Snowflakes and Schnapps, but the boring flat spiral shape just didn't do it for me. I loved the idea of these curled Finnish buns; their curves oozing out in a spirally fashion like a headily perfumed concertina.

I started these buns at about midday on Saturday (having to walk to the shop when I realised that we'd run out of yeast!), and by 4 in the arvo we were tucking into hot buns (haha... I said "buns") .

So, you start by mixing yeast, sugar and milk and waiting until it "activates", (i.e. the mixture froths up and gets bubbly).

Then you mix all the other ingredients in and let it prove for 2 hours (the recipe suggests kneading by hand - I graciously let the dough hook on the KitchenAid do all the work for me).

Whilst this was proving, I actually whipped up a batch of petits sablés shortbread biscuits. Because that's the kind of person I am. They will come up in a later post!

The dough actually only needed 1.5 hours to prove. I kept it in a very warm part of the kitchen to help it along.

Then you roll the dough out into a large rectangle, spread it with softened butter and sprinkle a mixture of cinnamon and sugar on top. The next step is to roll it up.

You then cut the dough sausage on a diagonal (see below)...

...before flipping each piece over onto its larger base and squishing down. This is what gives the finished Finnish buns (ooh!) their distinctive shape. After being brushed with beaten egg and sprinkled with sugar, the assembled buns need another 30 minutes proving.

Bake them for a mere 20 minutes, and they are done!

I was so pleased with how the recipe turned out - the buns rose impressively in the oven and smelled beautiful. The cardamom flavour was present but not overpowering (thank goodness!), and had just the right level of sweetness for my taste. They were crusty on the outside, and soft and fluffy on the inside.

We had a couple of friends over for afternoon tea, and these buns (and the petits sablés) were wolfed down with a strong cup of tea. There were some leftovers - I ate a couple for breakfast the next day (still good!), and have stashed the rest in the freezer for future cravings.

Hopefully these buns will keep for over a week - because as of today I am officially on detox! This means no caffeine/alcohol/white flour/white bread/white rice/meat/dairy or eggs for a whole week. (EEEEEK!) I managed to get through a Monday at work with no coffee, so I think I'm off to a good start.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Random Cheap Eats

As seems to happen every few months, the My Pictures folder on my computer starts to get a little too full... here are some different interesting things we've been eating out in Melbourne. Enjoy!

Nyala African Restaurant
131 Brunswick St
Fitzroy VIC 3065
(03) 9419-9128

Nyala is that African restaurant on the quiet side of Brunswick street that has been there forever. I visited once with my folks in 2001 (the pre-blog days), having read about it in the Cheap Eats. Back then, the Cheap Eats was my main guide to restaurants in Melbourne - how times have changed!

We went a few months back at the behest of my bro's girlfriend Su who had received some discount vouchers. We got a banquet, which was great value. We were STUFFED and you can take away whatever you can't finish.

African beers - Hansa on the left, Harar on the right.

For desserts Su ordered a pudding (I forget the name, sorry), which had bananas, cream cheese and a hint of cocoa in it. But great choice, it was delicious!
For myself, I was tempted by the South African milk tart. Not just because the accent rocks; I saw a recipe for it in Tessa Kiros' Falling Cloudberries some time ago and have always wanted to try it. As you can see, it was a bit broken, but still tasted good. The pastry was not too sweet (shortcrust, I think), and the filling was creamy and light, with a hint of cinnamon. I'm not too sure how necessary the whipped cream, choc ice-cream and store-bought choc sauce was though!
Nyala African on Urbanspoon

Thai Taste
92-94 Johnston St
Collingwood VIC 3066
(03) 9495-6694

We drove past here on our way home from the city, and remembering Thanh's enthusiastic recommendations, decided to stop in for dinner. The food was very impressive (although the coconut-cream based curries were too rich, even for my taste). What I did want to share with you though, was the desserts!

We ordered "deep fried fruit salad" from the specials board, mainly out of curiosity. Here is what it turned out to be!
Fruit Salad (i.e. Goldburn Valley tinned fruit salad), wrapped in spring-roll pastry and deep fried. It tasted nicer than it looked. But again, what is up with the unneccesary chocolate sauce and frozen boysenberries?

The killer dessert here, however, was the amazing durian with coconut.

Inside the hollowed-out coconut was sticky rice cooked in coconut milk and sweet durian flesh. This meant that there was slippery coconut flesh to be scraped off the sides - yum! It was absolutely wonderful! I always think I don't like durian until I actually eat some. The durian was really fresh, soft and creamy - my dad said it must have been Malaysian durian, not Thai durian, hehe. (No but seriously, Malaysian durian is the best - musang king sedap, man!)
Authentic Thai Taste on Urbanspoon

Dumplings Plus

269 Swanston Street
Melbourne 3000 VIC
(03) 9663 8181

Whilst in the CBD one night, a craving for dumplings took hold. Not willing to give the deplorable HuTong another go (average dumplings, terrible service), I decided to walk into Dumplings Plus. I used to come here with my parents back when it was Ye Shanghai.

We ordered fried pork dumplings, fried chicken with rice and spring onion pancakes. I figured they'd be pretty good as we could see the ladies in the back making each dumpling by hand.

Here are the dumplings.
As you can (probably) see, they were pretty crap. They had thick doughy skin, were unevenly fried, and they were all stuck together. I swear, the dough in between the dumplings was still uncooked! You'll see that the ones at the back didn't even get brown at all.

The fried chicken looked a bit more promising...
...but was still disappointing. The chicken was quite dry, and was really, really bland, even after adding the dipping sauce.

The spring onion pancakes were ok, but really doughy. I've had better.

Dumplings Plus. Fail!!! I'll stick to the burbs for my dumpling-fix from now on!
Dumplings Plus on Urbanspoon

Es Teler 77

319 Swanston St
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9663 4243

We wanted cheap food after seeing Inglorious Basterds, and I suggested Es Teler. I haven't been here since my uni, non-pork eating days (all the food is halal). They have a good range of homely dishes and are really cheap. And I got to practise my abysmal Malay! (Which is pretty much the same as Indonesian when it comes to simple things).

Nasi Ayam, satu!
Chicken rice. I loved the super-hot chilli sauce (and the fact that there were 2 different types!), and the chicken was both crispy and moist. The only thing I wasn't too keen on was the soup - it was quite thick, and had a flavour that I'm not used to. Perhaps it's a typically Indonesian soup? I'm not too familiar with Indonesian food in general.
Es Teler 77 on Urbanspoon

Ambrosia Mediterranean Cuisine
221 Camberwell Rd
Hawthorn East VIC 3122
(03) 9882-3422

Ambrosia definitely doesn't count as a cheap eat (at over $20 for a main meal and mostly seafood offerings), but I wanted to share with y'all these awesome desserts we had there last time, courtesy of Jal the owner. The custard thing is a typical galaktoboureko (custard-filled phyllo), and the little puffs are yeasty donuts, soaked in honey syrup. Wow. A decadent dessert, best shared and eaten with a strong coffee! (We had a group of 7).
Ambrosia on Urbanspoon