Strawberry and Mascarpone Cake

I love it when my family gets together for an occasion because it always means one important thing… Great bloody food. It’s a widely known fact the women in my family can cook, can cook very well and can cook well for a crowd (even if there ain’t no crowd). When I received the invitation to my cousin’s son’s christening, my automatic response was ‘I’ll bring dessert!’. Five minutes later I was nervous. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to test out another of Neil Perry’s desserts but I didn’t feel confident. After all, I had never meringued before (due to my egg-cookery phobia) and I would be baking for the best. I figured that all I could do was give it my best shot and if those tricky little suckers don’t get all stiff peaky, then I would bin it and resort to my “sure-thing” – banoffee pie.

In retrospect, I should’ve made two ’cause this little gem was a smash hit! Apparently it had something to do with the light and fluffy coconut meringue and the super fresh strawberries combination. The flavour combo in this dessert is so spot on that people were exclaiming that it was the best cake they had ever eaten! Don’t worry Neil, I gave you little bit of the credit.

As per Neil’s instructions, I actually made the cake the night before so it could set in the fridge overnight. So Saturday night after pizza and a dvd with Willy and Phil, I set myself to the task at hand. I was pretty exhausted at this point as I had gotten up early that day to make the Lime Syrup Cake and then proceeded to drive all around Wollongong and Sydney like a mad woman running errands. It was the first time I had stopped all day. I’m not going to tell you how many times I nearly passed out into my egg whites. Death by meringue. What a way to go.

As mentioned earlier, it was the first time I had ever made meringue. I had been so busy that day that I didn’t really have a spare moment to dwell on the fact that I would, in fact, be attempting to beat egg whites into stiff peaks later that night. Probably a good thing too as my fear of egg cookery may have prevented me from delivering the finished product. So here I am, happily separating eggs (not really happily, I find separating eggs quite stressful and I’m not very good at it… always turns into an egg shell fishing expedition) still not having really cottoned onto the fact that momentarily I would be required to beat them. Into stiff peaks. But not over beat them. Or they will flop. The enormity of this task had not quite hit me.

Ladies and gents, without further ado, please welcome…

SILKY EGG WHITES

Once the whites were sufficiently beaten with some sugar, I folded in the almond meal, desiccated coconut and some icing sugar nice and gentle. Then a softly made meringue circles 1cm thick (as per Neil’s instructions) on a couple of baking trays – these were to become the top and bottom of my cake. They went into the oven for a bit.

They look alright, right??!

The other large component of this dessert, which I have failed to mention until now due to my obsessive egg white ramblings, is mascarpone. This would be the first time I have ever bought or used mascarpone. Neil suggests in his book to source good quality mascarpone. Due to my mascarpone-deficient baking resume, I’m not sure how to determine good from bad so I head to the local deli and pick up the ‘spensive stuff. That oughta do it.

I popped the pricey mascarpone into a bowl with a couple o’yolks and some sugar and beat it till it was nice and thick.

I then made a little bit more meringue mix (the whites from the above pictured yolks) and folded that into my mascarpone mix to soften it up.

Lastly, I sliced up my glorious strawberries in preparation for the cake.

Once my meringue circles were ready, I cooled them and then set one of them (the worse looking one) at the bottom of a springform cake tin. On top of that I layered half of the mascarpone mix followed by the sliced strawberries, the rest of the mascarpone and finished it off by setting the best meringue circle on top. It was then put into the fridge overnight to set.

It was quite a nerve-racking experience taking this cake to the christening after party because I took it in its cake tin so I hadn’t actually seen since the night before. Scary. However, when my cousin removed the cake ring, I was pleasantly surprised.

As you can see, it is slightly smooshed from the tight dress it was wearing but otherwise, gorgeous (and you can see it’s mate, Lime Syrup Cake in the background).

This cake was a HUGE hit. Seriously, it went so fast, I was lucky to get a small slice. The meringue was lovely. It was light and fluffy with that wonderful, but not overpowering, taste of coconut. The mascarpone was also, surprisingly, light and creamy and just melted in your mouth. And the strawberries? Glorious. A perfect example of why you should always use fruits and veg that are in season.

Verdict?

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Lime Syrup Cake

I have been hanging out to try this recipe as I love citrusy desserts that, along with a tonne of sugar, have a real bite to them. It sends my taste buds into a fabulous twist! So, with sweet yet sour limes on my mind, I woke bright and fresh on Saturday morning to whip up my first dessert of the weekend. Unfortunately for me, the recipe called for one of the things I hate doing most in the kitchen.

Exhibit A – Zesting. Seriously, one of the most deceivingly difficult annoying tasks required in most citrusy desserts. Some limes (or lemons, oranges or whatever your citrus culprit is) just won’t zest. You must ensure that you spend quality time at the fruit and vego to find the lime with the perfect zestable skin. It’s got to be sufficiently rough or otherwise.. yup, you ain’t got no chance of zesting that sucker. Then, you have to actually perform the aforementioned task. It is annoying and tiring and I always managed to grate my finger. Luckily for me, I have a willing member of the household always happy to help (if not, a little blackmail never hurt… no zest, no cake kind of thing…) and in no time, Willy has efficiently zested my limes. Thanks Willy, always saving the day!

Limes form a large part of this cake (hence the name) with the zest being added to the cake mix and the syrup mix. This was going to be one limey sucker. To even out the mouth puckering liminess, Neil has cleverly added a heap load of sugar.

First things first, I got the oven fired up and greased and lined my cake tin. I then proceeded to get the rest of the required ingredients ready which included self-raising flour, LOTS of sugar, desiccated coconut, butter, milk, pair of eggs and, of course, limes.

Got my flour, sugar, coconut and lime zest into a bowl and mix, mix, mixed.

Then in goes the milk and eggs.

Then I proceeded to mix the absolute life out of the mixture to make it nice and smooth. Once said smoothness had been achieved, it was lovingly spooned into the cake tin and thrown into the oven for an hour. This allowed to me to then start on the lime syrup.

Into the lime syrup mixture went a HEAP of sugar, water, lime zest and lime juice.

The syrup mixture was simmered on the stove for about 10 minutes and was ready. Easy. Love it.

Once the cake was ready, I pulled it out of the oven, poked some holes in and poured the hot syrup over it while the cake was still, also, hot just as Neil advised in his book. Following which, was a very annoying waiting period whereby everyone in the house stared at the cake (as if this would make the 30 minutes go faster) until it was ready for its close up and, subsequently, ready for our mouthes.

And then, after what seemed like forever, it was ready…

This cake fed everyone I came into contact with on Saturday and the verdict? Unanimous. Glorious. Neil Perry’s Lime Syrup Cake is wonderfully moist thanks to the perfect consistency of the cake and just the right amount of syrup created by this recipe. The flavour has a perfect balance of sugar and zest which means it is not too sweet or sour and it gorgeous either eaten on its own or with a dollop of fresh cream. Willy, Harry the Handyman, Nan, Bobby, Phil and I have all given this cake the big thumbs up. So much so, that I decided to make it again today, Sunday, for the christening along with Neil Perry’s Strawberry and Mascarpone Cake

TGIF!

Good mornin’ fellow readers!

It’s a glorious, albeit wintery, Friday morning in sunny Sydney and mind is already on the weekend and all of the goodies I am going to create (with Neil’s help of course).

Unfortunately for Willy, he has to forgo his precious scallops for another weekend due to the fact that my baby brother is coming to stay and is not a seafood lover. We are also attending the christening of my cousin’s son on Sunday so I figured it is the perfect weekend for sweets!

The Dessert section of The Food I Love is not, by any means, extensive but, by golly, the lucky few that did make it through are true mouth watering creations of sugary genius. From Panna Cotta to Lime Syrup Cake… this road to an inevitable sugar induced coma should be lined with rainbows and lollipops and…

So, this weekend I will apply myself to two of Neil’s delectable desserts and blog my experiences post haste.

Stay tuned dessert lovers!

Lamb Cutlets with Lemon Grass & Ginger, Barbecued Asparagus, Roast Potatoes and Curry Butter

Lamb Cutlets. Lamb Cutlets. The mere utterance of which causes the hearts of men around the world to be filled with joy. Husbands cast their mind’s back over the last week, recounting their good deeds while patting themselves on the back and thinking ‘good job… whatever it was…’, boyfriends think to themselves ‘this girl may be the one…‘ and fathers thank their lucky stars that their daughter learned all she knows from her mother. Lamb Cutlets.

I was excited to try this recipe from The Food I Love because it is a cut of meat that I am familiar with. What I am not familiar with, nor am I very good at truth be told, is creating exotic marinades and sauces. Neil suggests pairing these divine little cutlets with his Curry Butter. OK Neil – Done. Just the name – Curry Butter – sounds delicious. My hands-down-without-a-doubt-all-time favourite flavour, Curry. I love it so much that if it weren’t for Willy’s sensitive tum, I would cook up different styles of curry every second night at least. But alas, I did not marry a Punjabi. This butter was like music to my ears (and to my taste buds I would soon learn).

I wanted the main focus of the dish to be on the divine lamb cutlets and the butter so I decided to keep the accompaniments quite simple (yet stick with Neil’s expert advice) – Barbecued Asparagus and Roast Potatoes.

Firstly, I started bashing herbs needed to concoct the marinade for my lovely lamb cutlets in my M&P which included ginger, lemon grass, coriander, garlic among others. I did this while the baby potatoes sat in the pot of water on the stove waiting to heat up.

Once my herbs were bashed, oiled and seasoned, I covered my lovely cutlets with the mixture, glad wrapped and left for around an hour.

Now, onto the Curry Butter! First things first, I had to fry up some curry powder and onion until it was up my nose and tickling my nostrils.

Then I got onto the other bits that go in the butter. As you can see the image below, there is a HEAP of stuff in this butter. To name a few; capers, anchovies, parsley, thyme, egg, butter… I got all of these in my old muncher (food processor) and munched them up good.

And added in the curry powder…

TA DA!!!! Glorious CURRY BUTTER. (ps. I think I was also putting the tots in the oven at this stage)

By this stage, my lovely lamb cutlets have been marinating for like an hour at least and were very ready for the bbq (kind of like when you get a spa treatment that you think is ridiculously luxurious and you get covered in like seaweed juice and have to sit in it for an hour but by the end of it it stinks, you’re sticky, you are like so over it and want it off you now… just be thankful you didn’t get cooked and eaten!)

Oiled and seasoned Asparagus? Check. And on the same life path as the lamb cutlets so to the bbq they go!

Tantalising Tots!!

Voilà – Lamb Cutlets with Lemon Grass and Ginger, Roast Potatoes, Barbecued Asparagus and Curry Butter. Ridiculously Tasty. Willy has pretty much forgotten completely his first love by now (scallops). Fickle, fickle man.

Willy and I thoroughly enjoyed this dinner. It was like meat and two veg but a little bit fancy. Neil’s method for roasting potatoes was perfection. The cutlets were glorious ( I could’ve eaten them by themselves) but the hero was definitely the Curry Butter. Even Willy’s gut didn’t object! Winner.

The Original Dr Bircher Muesli with Poached Pears

First cab off the rank!

What a week! Why is it always that the short weeks are always the craziest?? I guess because we all try to shove 5 days into 4. That was me this week. A glorious public holiday fell on Monday and so did game 6 of the NBA playoffs. We also had just finished building our long anticipated deck and the timing seemed to be serendipitous. And so, we deck-warmed with 25 of our closest friends. A long day of cooking, eat and drinking. A fabulous affair that not even the damned weather could dampen. Following which was 4 long/short days of dull desk job at which I was dreaming up my next event. Said dreaming produced the brilliant idea of cooking through The Food I Love – imagine all of the dinner parties! The mind boggles at all of delicious possibilities before me… all I need to do is cook.

Yesterday we attended a 4th birthday party (seems impossible to be so young, no?) and gorged ourselves on bbq and birthday cake. We enjoyed the surreal madness of little girls dressed as fairies running between our legs and casting their enchanting spells on us all. We fell in love with the pink-faced milky cheeks of lads waddling about exploring and discovering all we take for granted. Bliss.

We got home pooped and stuffed. No room for dinner. And so, in preparation for now-Sunday’s cook off – I started my first Neil Perry recipe, The Original Dr Bircher Muesli with Poached Pears.

I was relieved to see that all I needed to do last night was juice the lemons, apply said juice and some water to the oats, cover and pop in the fridge.

Preparation complete!

After a wee little sleep in today, finally got myself out of bed to finish off my muesli and pears. The first thing I did was get the pears on. Common sense told me that I could finish the muesli while the pears were poaching. I was correct. Generally, when I hear the word poaching, I can feel my gut fill with dread and a massive lump form in my throat but I figured in this case, as it is pears, a solid fruit (as opposed to the globby consistency of an egg), it may not be so bad. Correct again. So I grabbed the sweet white wine, a bit of water and sugar and into a pot they went! As the sugar dissolved, I plopped in my four gorgeous pears (I used Corella), brought to the boil and then simmered a while.

While my gorgeous pears were poaching away, it time to finish the muesli. Firstly, I needed to roast my nuts (hehe… nuts). Hazelnuts to be precise. So I cranked up the oven and once hot, popped them on a tray and in they went. Whilst the hazelnuts are tanning, apples are to be grated! And so, they were.

By now, my pears are poached and my hazelnuts look like they’ve just spent a week in the Bahamas – perfect!

Into the muesli goes the grated apples, natural yogurt and some golden honey and then we mix, mix, mix. We buy our honey straight from a honey-making man down the South Coast and the flavour is wonderful. My hazelnuts are skinned and beaten (sounds horrific but really, does them the world of good) and sprinkled over the top of the muesli with a gorgeous poached pear. Welcome to breakfast heaven.

By this point, I was pretty hungry and couldn’t wait to get some of this good stuff in my mouth!

Let me say, I was pleasantly surprised. In the bowl, it looks quite heavy (and it is very filling) but it’s got such a lovely fresh flavour. You can really taste the freshness of the lemon which balances the bite of the natural yogurt perfectly. The nuts were a nice textural addition and I think I could go without them if I was making this regularly. Finally, my gorgeous poached pear. Well, the wine laden poaching concoction did it’s job and brought out the natural sweetness of the fruit. And, if I do say so myself, I poached it to perfection – firm on the outside, soft on the inside – so I could break it apart with my spoon.

I love this breakfast dish and it will definitely be a repeater. Thanks Neil!

Tonight I will be cooking Lamb Cutlets with Lemon Grass and Ginger, Barbecued Asparagus, Roast Potatoes and Curry Butter (sorry Willy, maybe scallops next weekend…)

Who?What?When?Where?Why?

What I really love about this book is that it is not at all stuck up, it covers all of the possible (well for little ole me anyways) meal genres and includes a plethora of culinary teachings from poaching eggs (which have scared the bejeebuzz outta me since forever) to making pastry (again- scary. Like, Lindsay-Lohan-in-daylight scary). Neil also explains what tools are absolutely necessary to ensure the smooth operation of a kitchen and proper preparation of said dishes, such as; an oven thermometer. And to think all these years I’ve trusted the temperature knob on the front of the oven! He is also explains in detail how to sharpen a knife (an act I have never performed, forgive me Lord) caveman style – with a rock?! His prowess is immeasurable. For serving said dishes, Neil recommends plain white, large dinner plates – my floral Corelle simply will not do. Well Neil, my credit card and I will take all of this advice under serious consideration.

How will my project work? Originally I thought I would just start at the start of the book and finish at the finish. Since this brash initial decision, I actually opened the book and discovered, due to the structure, this will not do. I will pick and choose as I go depending on season, occasion and state of mind but pledge to finish all 200 and something recipes but by when? Always in the spirit of the Julie/Julia Project – one year, so by the 15th of June 2012, I vow to have completed all 200 and something recipes from Neil Perry’s cookbook The Food I Love. (I know that Julie completed like over 500 recipes in a year but, I mean, come on??! I’m not totally crazy).

So, why??? I hear you ask. Boredom? Hunger? The Masterchef phenomenon? Nah! I just want to cook better.

I’m feeling like the clichéd kid on their first day of school! I feel apprehension yet excitement. I feel scared yet exhilarated. I need a recipe that is going to whet my (and yours) appetite (so to speak) but not scare me away. I think for my first Neil Perry recipe attempt, I will keep it relatively simple (stay over there poached egg!) and try a smoothie along with bircher muesli and maybe a seafood recipe for dinner? My hubby, Willy, is pushing for scallops… so let’s see if he gets his way.

The Food I Love

Julie & Julia is a heart warming tummy grumbling movie about a young woman living in Queens who decides to cook her way through a Julia Child cookbook in an attempt to distract herself from her shitty apartment and even shittier job. If you haven’t seen it, watch it – it will make you want to jump into your kitchen (no matter how small and/or shitty) and cook up a storm! In the spirit of this motivating movie, I have decided to cook my way through a cookbook. Namely, The Food I Love, by Neil Perry, an assorted cookbook assembled by one of my absolute favourite chefs.

Neil Perry is one of Australia’s leading and most influential chefs. He has managed several quality restaurants in Sydney and today concentrates on his numerous restaurants in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, and Rockpool Consulting.

(Excerpt from Neil Perry’s bio here)

I chose this particular cookbook because;

a) it was given to me for Christmas 2010 and I haven’t yet used it but more importantly,

b) Neil expertly dissects and explains the culinary techniques that are required to create fine cuisine at which I, let’s be honest, am hopeless.

I mean, sure I can bake carrot cake muffins like nobodys business but when it comes to say, filleting a fish, for example, I am decidedly inept.

Please join me on this journey of amazing food and self growth. I hope you learn something because I certainly intend to.

First recipe to be tried, tested and blogged this coming Saturday…