Saturday, August 09, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Chocolate Brownies

Do you have a recipe that you know as soon as you try it will always be your go to recipe. The one that everyone loves? And that you are asked for the recipe for all the time? For me, this is one of those recipes, along with the Lemon Syrup Cakes recipe I have posted previously. A couple of months ago I made a batch of these to take to work and my son was very disappointed that he didn't get to have more than a couple so then I had to make more!

Last year, I posted a couple of brownie recipes, one of which was a Triple Choc Brownie. That recipe was a perfectly serviceable recipe, and I made it several times and each time it was well received. One day I thought I would try this recipe instead, and I basically have never even thought about going back to the other recipe. It is just that good.

Part of what I like about this recipe is that it is very moist but it has a really crusty top which is just delicious although to get that effect I need to cook it for much longer than the 40 minutes mentione but I think that is because of my oven more than anything. I should also mention that I have never actually made the chocolate sauce that is recommended to go with these brownies. I also don't use the dark chocolate buttons. The first time I made this I didn't have any of those so I used milk chocolate melts that I had broken up into pieces and because it was so good I have just made it the same way ever since.

Chocolate Brownies

345g (1 1/2 cups) caster (superfine) sugar
85g (2/3 cup) cocoa powder
60g (1/2 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 eggs, beaten
200g (7 oz) unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
200g (7 oz) dark chocolate button

Preheat the oven to 160°C (315F/Gas 2-3). Stir the sugar, cocoa powder, flour and baking powder together in a bowl. Add the eggs, melted butter and vanilla and mix until combined. Mix in the chocolate buttons. Pour into a lined 22cm (9 inch) square tin and bake for 40-45mins

Allow the brownie block to slightly cool then cut into eight pieces. Place on serving plates with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Dust with extra cocoa powder if you like, then serve with the chocolate sauce.  Serves 8

Warm Chocolate Sauce

125g (4 1/2 oz) dark chocolate
185ml (3/4 cup) cream

Place chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl and place the bowl over a saucepan of just simmering water. Whisk occasionally until a thick sauce forms. Cool sightly before serving. 

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Weekend Cooking: The Hundred-Foot Journey

I was lucky enough this week to have tickets to two preview events. The first was to watch the first episode of the Outlander series (squeeeee) but it is the second that I wanted to talk about in my Weekend Cooking post today. 

A couple of years or so ago I remember reading something about the book The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard Morais. As a result, I went out and bought the book and it has sat, unread, on my shelves ever since. When I heard that there was a movie coming out I had every intention of reading the book, but given my current lack of reading it just didn't happen. I therefore broke my own rule and decided to watch the movie before reading the book.

With a lead actress with the standing of Helen Mirren, a gorgeous setting in the south of France, a fun story exploring and contrasting the differences between Indian and French traditions and lots of beautiful food, this movie is a treat for the senses. It is a gentle story, and there is little in it that will offend people. At times it is a little ponderous, maybe a deliberate choice from the production team which includes such big names as Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and Lasse Hallstrom.

The story starts in India where the Kadam family runs a successful restaurant until they lose everything. The family is determined to make a new start and head to Europe where fate lands them in a small French village. Whilst most of the family wants to move on it seems that their life is instead going to now take the form of running an Indian restaurant in a run down building that happens to be opposite a Michelin star restaurant which is run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren).

Madame Mallory's restaurant is her life, and she has devoted herself to the pursuit of an illusive second Michelin star. Everything is perfect and precise, with traditions treasured at all costs. She is appalled that there is to be an Indian restaurant a hundred feet away, especially once she sees the fake temple facade and hears the loud music that emanates. So begins a battle of wills between Madame Mallory and Papa Kadam that doesn't seem to have any hope of a ceasefire until a particular incident thaws the relationship. Click on the link to see an example of the very early banter between the two combatants.

Whilst this aspect of the story is key to framing the story, it is really young chef Hassan's story that is the heart. He learned to cook at his mother's knee and is passionate about food, not only the Indian food that the restaurant specialises in, but also French food of his new home. Despite earlier rejection, Hassan persists in trying to persuade Madame Mallory to let him come and cook in her kitchens, bringing his knowledge of Indian traditions and flavours and combining them with the traditional French cuisine, surprising everyone especially Madame Mallory.

One of the other major scenes in the movie is when Hassan is allowed to cook for Madame Mallory who insists that she can tell if a chef is any good or not by just taking a single bit of an omelette. I have to say I would love to taste something that is so good that you can change someone's life! Here is the recipe for Omelette aux fine herbes.

There are also a number of other recipe cards around the intenet including Chicken Tikka and Sauce Tomate.

Throw in a little romance, some humour, delicious looking food from both Indian and French food traditions, mix well and you end up with a gentle film that will entice most viewers who enjoy foodie films.


Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Chilli Con Carne

I don't know about you but I some times, or maybe I should make that often, have a problem when I decide I am going to make a new recipe. I write out the shopping list, adding all the ingredients that I need, go to the shops and purchase said ingredients and then come home and start cooking.

And that is the point that I realise, oh, I actually forgot to buy one ingredient or another, or that the ingredient that I thought I already had in the cupboard is really not there at all! So the decision then becomes do I stop cooking and go back to the shops or do I make adjustments. I must say that I am not normally someone who varies a recipe very much.

And so it was when I recently decided that I was going to attempt to make Chilli Con Carne from scratch for the first time ever.  A few years ago now, I posted about how there is a particular brand of chilli con carne sauce that I used to use in the UK that is very difficult to get hold of here. Since returning to Australia nearly 15 years ago I have tried a few other recipe bases but still have never managed to find one that I like anywhere near as much.  And so, when I saw this recipe come up on I decided it was time to try doing it without a recipe base from a jar or packet!

The first ingredient that I thought in the cupboard but actually didn't was beef stock so I ended up just adding more wine and the next one was the chilli powder. Instead of powder I threw in some smoked paprika and some chilli flakes. I may actually have been a little heavy handed with the chilli! The boy wasn't so keen but I quite liked it, which is lucky seeing as I was eating this for a week.

The actual recipe was advertised as cooking for a crowd so this recipe actually feeds 8-10 people, especially if you make the associated corn bread and herbed rice that I have linked to at the bottom of the recipe. I didn't make those. I just served made half the recipe and served it with plain rice. Oh, and I used bacon because my supermarket didn't have pancetta.

I do think I will make this again though, after making sure that I have everything I need!!

Chilli for a Crowd

Image from Photography by Ben Dearnley
1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil
2kg beef chuck steak, trimmed, cut into 2cm cubes
2 onions, chopped
150g piece of pancetta, rind removed, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1/3 cup (4 tablespoons) tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons chilli powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 cup (250ml) red wine
700ml tomato passata* (sieved tomatoes)
2 teaspoons brown sugar
3 cups (750ml) beef stock
2 x 420g cans red kidney beans, rinsed, drained
Flat-leaf parsley leaves, to garnish

Herbed rice and cornbread to serve

Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large flameproof casserole over high heat. Cook the beef, in batches, until browned all over, then set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add the onion, pancetta and garlic and cook, stirring, for 4-5 minutes until onion is starting to brown. Add the cumin, tomato paste, chilli powder and dried oregano, and stir for a further minute. Add the wine, passata, sugar and stock, then season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Return the beef to the pan and bring to the boil, then cover and cook in the oven for 3 hours until meat is tender and sauce has thickened.

Just before serving, stir in the red kidney beans and return to the stove to warm through over low heat. Garnish with parsley and serve as part of a buffet with the herbed rice and cornbread.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Ratatouille Lasagne

Leftovers! I love them. Love the fact that you don't have to worry about dinner for another night, or that you have lunch for the next few days. What I don't have is any imagination about doing anything different with those leftovers. Even when you read a foodie magazine and they say that you can make this with the leftovers it never really catches my attention because a lot of the time that still feels a lot like cooking a whole other meal rather than just shoving a plate in the microwave. The other day though I saw a recipe for Ratatouille Lasagne and realised that had I found a recipe to try that means I am making a deliberate decision to make something with a plan to do something with the leftovers.

I have posted before about ratatouille and cous cous being one of my favourite meals.  I don't find it possible to make just a small amount of ratatouille. There is always a ton of leftovers and so I usually end up eating it for lunch and/or dinner for several days afterwards and then, after having eaten it for days on end, I don't actually need to eat it again for a couple of months.

Rather than posting both the ratatouille recipe and the lasagne recipe here I will just link to the ratatouille recipe on the Taste website. In terms of the ratatouille recipe itself, I thought it was good served up with lamb steaks and cous cous but my "chuck whatever you have in a pot" version is probably a little tastier. However, when I cooked it up into the lasagne, I did think that this version worked well. It is relatively easy to do and quite tasty. I expect I will make this recipe again next time I make my own version, especially seeing as it was also a winner with the teenage boy in the house.

Ratatouille Lasagne 

60g butter
50g (1/3 cup) plain flour
1L (4 cups) milk
70g (1 cup) finely grated parmesan
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 x 250g pkt dried lasagne sheets
1/2 quantity of Ratatouille (recipe link above)
250g mozzarella, sliced
Mixed salad leaves, to serve

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until foaming. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes or until the mixture bubbles and begins to come away from the side of the pan. Remove from heat.

2. Gradually add half the milk, whisking constantly with a balloon whisk until smooth. Gradually add the remaining milk, whisking until smooth and combined.

3. Place over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Remove from heat. Stir in parmesan. Season with salt, nutmeg and cayenne pepper.

4. Preheat oven to 180°C. Spread one-third of the sauce over the base of a 3L (12-cup) capacity rectangular baking dish. Top with half the lasagne sheets. Top with half the ratatouille. Continue layering with remaining sauce, lasagne sheets and ratatouille. Top with the mozzarella.

5. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden. Set aside for 10 minutes to stand. Serve with mixed salad leaves.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sunday Salon: April (non) Reading and (non) Blogging Reflections

Ah, April. What happened?

Welcome to my worst reading month in probably more than 10 years and worst blogging month since I started blogging nearly 9 years ago. And you know what? Whilst I do wish I had read more because now I feel like I am behind, I also don't really regret not reading much at the time. I know that sounds contradictory but while I wasn't reading I was having a good month doing other stuff. And as far as blogging goes, well, we will see what happens with that. In the last two days I have managed to write more blog posts than I did for all of last month! No idea if I can maintain this or not!

I spent April reconnecting with old friends, and I went back to Adelaide on holidays. Whilst I was away I basically didn't check emails, write any posts, read or anything. Now, the reading part is not unusual. When I talk to people about going on holidays they always assume that I will read more than usual but that is very rarely the case. I generally don't read anything when I am on holidays and that is true whether I am away or just hanging around home.

Going back to Adelaide used to be something of a stressful time for me but these days it is a much more pleasant experience. This time my mum was away and my son went to stay with his dad and so basically I was able to do whatever I liked for the duration. This means that I was able to spend time with friends, some of whom I hadn't seen since before I moved overseas 20 years ago, some of whom I see most times I go to Adelaide. I went out to breakfast, for dinner, for coffee, to the beach, drove the new road  (which excited my friends no end) and more.

Now when you look at the list of books I read it does look as though there are a number of books here, but that is kind of misleading because four of those are audiobooks and one is a cookbook. Yes, that does mean that I only actually read one book for the whole month. One!!

Here's my monthly summary

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith 4.5/5 (audiobook)
A Feast of Ice and Fire by Chelsea Monroe-Cassels and Sariann Lehrer 4/5
Blood Safari by Deon Meyer 4/5 (audiobook)
Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer 4/5 (audiobook)
Sylvester by Georgette Heyer 4/5 (audiobook/reread)
Bellagrand by Paullina Simons 3.5

In terms of challenges, there obviously was not a lot of progress although A Feast of Ice and Fire counted for the Once Upon a Time Challenge and Bellagrand counted for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Currently Reading

A Star for Mrs Blake by April Smith and listening to Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Up Next

I am Livia by Phyllis Smith

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Chef

A few days ago I went to see Jon Favreau's new movie Chef. If there is just one thing you need to know before seeing this film, it is this.....

Don't watch this movie if you are hungry!! Eat before you go to see it because the food in it looks delicious. Even the toasted cheese sandwiches look A-MAZ-ING!

Now that we have that out of the way, what is the movie about?

Chef Carl Casper (played by Jon Favreau) is about to have one of the most important nights in his career as a chef. His restaurant is about to be reviewed by the most influential food critic/blogger in the city. Carl has big plans to serve up the food that he is passionate about until the restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) insists that he needs to cook the tried, tested and somewhat tired menu that has been the restaurant staple for many years.

After a very bad review, Casper asks his son to teach him about Twitter and he somewhat naively and inexpertly reacts to the review, eventually trending on Twitter (you can view a short clip of Casper learning some of the intricacies of Twitter here).  This leads to him goading the food critic to come to the restaurant to eat the food that he wanted to cook in the first place. Once again the restaurant owner steps in and suddenly Casper finds himself without a job.

In order to spend some quality time with his son, Casper flies to Miami with his gorgeous ex-wife (Sofia Vergara). Miami is the place where his food journey began and for Casper it is a chance to start afresh, in this case with a food truck.  It is really once we get to this part of the movie that it picked up for me as the initial set up of the story took quite some time.

In some ways it seemed to me that this movie tried to do too many things. Whilst it is undoubtedly a foodie movie - an ode to Cuban food and to a certain extent music - it was also a father-son road trip movie giving us glimpses of places like Miami and New Orleans along the way, a commentary on the power of social media to make or break something or someone (the book lovers amongst us might recognise some of the chef/critic relationship in some of the author/critic/blogger dramas that breakout fairly regularly) and for good measure throw in a small tasting of misplaced romance.  Comedy wise there were times when this was kind of charming but other times when it played a little too obviously for laughs.

I have mentioned a few of the people who have roles in the movie but there are also a couple of other big names. Scarlet Johansson plays a maitre-d/love interest and Robert Downey Jr also plays a small role.

Whilst I quite enjoyed the movie despite the slow start and the fact that the father-son dynamic took too long to resolve, the reviews were mixed. My friend's review of the movie was "shite, shite, shite". We do have mixed success in going to the movies. This year we have been three times. The first time we saw The Book Thief which we both quite liked, then we went to see Monument Men with her husband. She hated it, I didn't mind it and her husband loved it. We did joke that maybe I should just go to the movies with her hubby from now on but that might be a bit odd!

I gave it 3.5 frying pans!


Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland

Forgive me, fellow bloggers, for I have fallen off the blogging platform. It has been a month since my last post and more than a month since the last time I wrote a review of a novel. Now, I am sitting here on a Friday night when I am already tired, trying to start a review and it seems that my brain is a bit rusty! Let's see if we can get this thing going again.

When Claudette des Oeillets first meets the young girl Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, who will in future be known as Athenais de Montespan, it is a chance encounter. After all Claudette is from a poor travelling theatre family, trying their best to get by in 17th century France and Athenais is the girl who in due course will become 'The Shadow Queen', mistress to Louis XIV of France.

Claudette is forced to grow up quickly, taking responsibility for her mother who barely seems to be able to hold it together unless she is on stage performing where she is exceptional, and also for her brother Gaston who is disabled. Whilst her mother is onstage performing plays by the most notable playwrights of the day, Claudette does anything and everything that she can to bring in a few extra sous to help make ends meet from cleaning and sewing to the occasional small onstage part. Claudette's story provides the viewer with ringside seats in the volatile world of French theatre, a world peopled by playwrights like Racine, Corneille and Moliere, the actors and actresses as well as all the fans from all walks of life.

I found much of the theatre aspect of the book very interesting, mainly because I don't remember reading a lot about the complex political and religious implications of theatre at this point of time. I was surprised by how badly any one associated with the theatre were treated by the church of the time - not allowed to enter the church or have communion and therefore if they died without renouncing the theatre unable to be buried in holy ground. And yes, despite these efforts to ostracise the performers and their families, there were still many actors and actresses who attracted many fanatics (from where we get some of our modern concepts of fandom), even from among the aristocracy. It is an interesting dichotomy.

Claudette's life changes immeasurably when she moves from the theatre world to the court of Louis XIV after she is appointed as the personal attendant and confidante to Athenais de Montespan, wife to a nobleman, mother of his children who live with him in another country but more importantly mistress to the king, and mother of his children. Athenais is desperate to protect her place as the king's main squeeze, resorting to charms and potions to keep his attention from wandering too far away and Claudette is a key player in helping her with this objective. This  ends up with Claudette being caught up in the Affair of the Poisons which rocked the royal court of the day.

I think that the publishers and marketers missed the mark with this book in a way. Firstly, in relation to the title, I must confess I am not 100% sure of the logic behind giving a book a title that actually doesn't relate to the main character. Sure, Athenais is the shadow queen but the reality is that the book is not about Athenais. It is about Claudette. Yes, for a large portion of the book Athenais is pretty much Claudette's main focus but as a title it didn't work that well for me.

The same could be said of the synopsis. Yes, all the things that are mentioned in the synopsis did happen but I was a little disappointed by how little depth there was when it came to some of those events. For example, in the synopsis it talks about the "increasingly uneasy relationship between two strong-willed women whose actions could shape the future of France". Whilst there was a confrontation I don't think I got the increasingly uneasy vibe let alone anything more. And if you google Claudette's name you will find that she was (in)famous for one thing and yet that was mainly inferred rather than explored and how that all came about felt a bit odd to be honest!

It is a bit disappointing to feel this way about this book, especially seeing as I did find many things in it interesting. I was a big fan of the Josephine B trilogy, and I liked Mistress of the Sun (just not quite as much) and as such I got excited when I learned that the author had a new book out. I think that will probably be still true for her next book but I do wonder how high I should set my expectations. Of course, maybe my reaction is tempered by the fact that in addition to not doing any blogging I haven't been reading much at all. Maybe this is just as much about me as it was about the book.

Rating 3.5/5

About the Tour

Tour Schedule:
Sandra Gulland's website.
Sandra Gulland on Facebook
Sandra Gulland on Twitter.
Sandra Gulland on Goodreads

About the Book

From the author of the beloved Josephine B. Trilogy, comes a spellbinding novel inspired by the true story of a young woman who rises from poverty to become confidante to the most powerful, provocative and dangerous woman in the 17th century French court: the mistress of the charismatic Sun King.

1660, Paris

Claudette’s life is like an ever-revolving stage set. From an impoverished childhood wandering the French countryside with her family’s acting troupe, Claudette finally witnesses her mother's astonishing rise to stardom in Parisian theaters. Working with playwrights Corneille, Molière and Racine, Claudette’s life is culturally rich, but like all in the theatrical world at the time, she's socially scorned.

A series of chance encounters gradually pull Claudette into the alluring orbit of Athénaïs de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV and reigning "Shadow Queen." Needing someone to safeguard her secrets, Athénaïs offers to hire Claudette as her personal attendant.

Enticed by the promise of riches and respectability, Claudette leaves the world of the theater only to find that court is very much like a stage, with outward shows of loyalty masking more devious intentions. This parallel is not lost on Athénaïs, who fears political enemies are plotting her ruin as young courtesans angle to take the coveted spot in the king's bed.

Indeed, Claudette's "reputable" new position is marked by spying, illicit trysts and titanic power struggles. As Athénaïs, becomes ever more desperate to hold onto the King's favor, innocent love charms move into the realm of deadly Black Magic, and Claudette is forced to consider a move that will put her own life—and the family she loves so dearly—at risk.

Set against the gilded opulence of a newly-constructed Versailles and the War of Theaters, THE SHADOW QUEEN is a seductive, gripping novel about the lure of wealth, the illusion of power, and the increasingly uneasy relationship between two strong-willed women whose actions could shape the future of France.


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