Mrs. Delicious

Fast Food: Almond Butter

Peanut butter; the most ubiquitous of nut butters, is a slippery beast. Both literally and symbolically. Not being raised on the stuff like most Americans have, we’ve lately been searching for the ultimate peanut butter. There is a laundry list of requirements: all natural, not too thin, not too thick, silky smooth, peanutty but not bland, a little sweetness but not too much. Most of all I wanted to avoid the hydrogenated fats and corn syrup that seems to be present in many brands of commercial peanut butters. Seems that’s a difficult task as we have bought 4 jars of the stuff recently and it’s all been woefully inadequate. I see a lot of satay sauce in my future.

But… this post is about almond butter, not peanut butter. As an anaesthetic to our peanut butter woes I am proud to present a batch of almond butter. It’s the simplest thing ever. It’s great on bananas, also on cereal and on toast. It also feels honest and homey like a jar of Jif never can, particularly if you store it in a mason jar with a hand written label

Makes between 3/4 and 1 cup.

  • 1.5 cups raw unpasteurised almonds.
  • Optional: Pinch of salt, pinch of sugar, tablespoon inert vegetable oil

Put the almonds into your food processor and whiz them until they pass grainy and enter into pastey territory.

If they are a bit old they might need a dash of oil to get them going. This will take some time – maybe 10 minutes. Once they are a paste (I like mine chunky) taste and add salt and sugar to your palates requirements. I find I only need a small amount of both. Store in the fridge. It doesn’t last for long so don’t  make a giant batch unless you’re going to eat it within the next couple of weeks.

Scones

I’ve been threatening to make scones for a long time. A proper English scone is a thing of beauty. I guarantee that any scone available in the USA is not a proper English scone. Some come close, but I’ve never had a decent one Particularly due to the odd triangular shape that they come in.

Scones are not supposed to be sweet or flavoured. They are a light, cakey, bready thing whose sole purpose is a cream and jam delivery vehicle. The key with scones is in the lightness and the texture, not the taste. If people wanted to eat scones for the flavour, you would see people chomping into plain scones. Haven’t seen that ever have you?

Makes 12 scones

  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 2.5 cups flour (you can substitute self raising flour for the flour and baking powder)
  • 60g butter, cold
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup cold water (substitute soda water if you have it)
  • 1 Tablespoon fine white sugar (I only had raw sugar and you can tell by the flecks in the final scone)

Pre heat your oven to 425 degrees F or 225 degrees C. The oven must be searing hot to make scones – the hotter it is, the puffier they will be.

Sift the flour and baking powder together into a large basin, stir in the sugar.

Grate the cold butter into the flour.

Rub the butter in with your fingertips until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs. Keep your movements light and rub the butter in from up high so that you incorporate as much air into the mix as possible.

Add the milk and cut it in with a knife. Don’t use a spoon if you can avoid it. Add half the water and mix with your hands until you have a shaggy mess that is slowly starting to form a uniform mass, add more water if it’s not holding together. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until it is just smooth, no more than a minute.

Flatten into a disc that is 2cm or 3/4 inch thick and cut rounds with a sharp cookie cutter. This step is important as the sharp edge slices the dough and keeps the layers in place – a blunt cutter (like a cup) will seal the edges down and make the scones rise unevenly.

Arrange the scones in rows, with the edges touching, on a oiled baking tray. Brush the tops with milk and bake for 15 minutes, or until puffed and golden on the top.

Serve with cream that has been whipped gently and some home made jam. Don’t forget a nice strong cup of tea! Remember to stick your pinky out when you sip, it’s only proper.

Congee

The boys that I babysit love congee. Their mother brought some home from the local Chinese restaurant the other day and I had some for the first time in ages.  I forgot how comforting and delicious a simple dish of rice porridge could be.

I love it when food pops back into my field of consciousness. It’s that moment of pure bliss when the flavours hit your tongue and every good feeling you ever had while eating that dish just comes rushing back. I think this is why almost half the world uses congee as therapy in a bowl. It’ll cure what ails ya. If you’re among those in the world to whom congee is strange and scary, I challenge you to make a batch. It will become your oozy, savoury, starchy comfort food too.

Don’t buy congee, it’s so cheap and easy to make. If you have a slow cooker, set it the night before and enjoy for brekky.

Serves 6

  • 2 chicken wings/turkey wings/leftover roast pork (completely optional)
  • 3 eggs – if you can get preserved eggs, do.
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup rice wine or cooking sherry
  • 4 cup + maybe more water
  • 1 cup long grain white rice
  • 1 thumb sized piece of ginger
  • Kimchi
  • Green onion
  • 1-2 tablespoons light soy

In a heavy based deep pan, combine the stock, water, rice, rice wine, soy and ginger with a generous pinch of salt.  If you are using chicken or turkey wings add them too. Bring to a boil, boil for 5 minutes. Turn down to simmer, cover the pot and cook for at least an hour, probably 2. Check periodically and top up the water. The rice should have broken down into a soupy, creamy porridge consistency. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed. If you are using pork, cut into chunks and pop into the pot halfway through cooking. You can’t overcook congee so don’t fret, congee is all about being slow and easy.

At this point, remove the meat and set aside to cool. Once cool, discard the skin and bones, shred the meat, and return it to the pot. Remove the chunk of ginger. If you don’t have preserved egg, while the meat is cooling, boil some eggs until medium soft (about 5-6 minutes from room temp)

Slice some green onion on the bias. To serve, peel the egg and gently break in two and lay it over the top. If you have preserved egg, chop it up into small pieces and stir in. Sprinkle generously with the green onion. Add some kimchi if that’s your bag.

4 Cheese Macaroni with Truffle Mushroom Topping

Please excuse my lack of posting. Lots of elements have combined lately that have decimated my desire to cook (and style & photograph & write witty notes about) anything worth posting here. I won’t bore you with the details, but I assure you there will be more recipes in the coming months. Please also excuse the mediocre photography. The lack of natural light at the moment is pretty depressing. However, what could cheer anyone up more than a whole lotta cheese and pasta?

You hear lots of people call their dishes “grown up xyz”. Well, I’m going to be one of them. This truly is a grown up version of Mac & Cheese. If you can’t get your hands on truffle oil, don’t fret. It will still be tasty, but it won’t have the extra level of deliciousness that the foggy aroma of truffle provides.

I made this after Thanksgiving when I had a random assortment of expensive cheese leftovers. They weren’t in good enough shape to serve on their own, but they certainly were delicious melted into this sauce. So technically this is a leftovers dish! There is likely many more to come as I use up the remainder of our holiday food in new and creative ways.

Serves 4, or 2 generously with some for lunch the next day.

I had already cooked the pasta at this point so it's not in the shot. I'm pretty sure you know what macaroni looks like.

4 Cheese Macaroni

  • 1/2 package elbow macaroni
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 50g butter
  • 1.5 tablespoons plain all purpose fluor
  • Random assortment of quality cheese. Make sure you have a soft goats cheese or tallegio, as this melts down into a lovely white creaminess. All up I think I had 2 grated or crumbled cups of cheese. You can add more or less depending on how cheesy you want it. Let your tastebuds be your guide.

Mushroom Topping

  • 25 medium sized brown mushrooms – sliced
  • Handful of parsley – roughly chopped
  • Inert cooking oil
  • Scant tablespoon of truffle oil

Boil the pasta in plenty of salted water.

While it is boiling, in a deepish pan, melt the butter.  Stir in the flour and cook for a minute until you have a blonde paste, also known as a roux. Please note that mine began to colour, don’t do this. Add the milk bit by bit and whisk constantly while bringing it up to just-under-boiling. Please remember, don’t ever boil anything in this dish. If you see bubbles, first worry, then take it off the heat and whisk whisk whisk till it cools a touch. At this point your sauce should be very thick. This is commonly known as a basic bechamel sauce. Remember it, it’s a kitchen workhorse. Take off the heat and set aside, with the lid on. Drain the pasta when it’s done and set it aside too while you make the mushrooms.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a saute pan (this part is important, treat mushrooms like you would steak!) Add the mushrooms and cook on high until they start to wilt. Add a pinch of salt and cook until they are soft. Grind in some pepper and take them off the heat.

Stir in the parsley and truffle oil and set aside somewhere warm.

Bring the  sauce back up to just-under-boiling.

Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese until it’s just melted and incorporated into a smooth sauce. Season to taste – it shouldn’t need much, the cheese is quite salty. Stir in the pasta.

Serve in a warmed bowl topped generously with mushroom mixture. Enjoy the comfort of the familiarity Mac & Cheese offers, with some added aromas and finesse.


Shepherd’s Pie

Growing up, shepherds pie was a concoction of flabby mashed potato and seasoned beef mince under. Sorry Mum, I loved all your other food but I could never get behind shepherds pie.

I had a half a joint of roast lamb sitting about left over from dinner last night. After some sandwiches I wondered what I could do with it. I remembered that Shepherds Pie was originally concocted as a use for leftover roast lamb and mashed potato (hence the name). I suggested it to my husband and he recollected the same memories as mine of the dish – no matter how much HP sauce you douse it in. However, as I dig a good use of leftovers I proceeded to make it. My plan was to make a delicious shepherds pie. I was hoping I wouldn’t fail.

What I ended up with was a rich meaty gravy with bit tender hunks of roast lamb, peppered with homey aromatic vegies, topped with a fragrant potato-parsnip mash. It was perfectly rustic and delicious. Now when you make this, don’t go out and buy all the ingredients. The whole point of this dish is that you need to use what you have. I’ll let you know the stuff you can’t skip, the rest is up to what your fridge will yield. Make the mash fresh if you don’t have it, I’ll allow that, as that’s what I did!

Americans, if you don’t eat lamb (you should), I would imagine this would work really well with leftover pulled pork or shredded roast beef.  Add a splosh of red wine during cooking if you’re using beef. But don’t call it shepherds pie – maybe ranchers pie is better.

Serves 4-6

  • 1 onion – finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • approximately 1 pound (1/2 kilo) of leftover roast lamb, leg or shoulder is perfectly adequate. Finely chopped, as much as you can be bothered.
  • 1 cup of strong vegetable or beef stock
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1-2 cups of fluffy mashed potatoes (or mashed whatever root vegetable – I like a bit of parsnip in mine)

(optional or negotiable items)

  • Some kind of non-delicate pungent fresh herb (rosemary, sage, thyme)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1-2 cups of any kind of vegetable you have left in the crisper. Things that work well: Cabbage, Peas, Spinach, Eggplant, Broccoli. Dice it as finely as you diced the lamb.

If you don’t have mashed potato left over, peel and dice the your root vegetables (even mix of potato and parsnip for me) and peel 3 garlic cloves. Cover with cold water, add some salt and bring to the boil. Boil until they are really soft. Mash with 1 tablespoon of butter and enough milk to make a loose mash. Loose is better as it won’t dry out as it’s baking.


In a large skillet, heat the cooking oil and sweat the onion and carrot and whatever fresh herbs you have over low heat for about 2 minutes. Add the lamb and turn the heat up so that it browns slightly. Season with salt and pepper. Add the flour and stir until it starts to form a bit of a crust on the bottom of the pan.


Pour in the stock and deglaze, stirring and scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan to create a rich sauce. Tip in the vegetables.  Add a bit of water if it seems dry. Taste for salt & pepper and simmer until the lamb starts to break down a bit. This will only take a couple of minutes. You want the sauce to be thick and not hugely runny, so if it is, simmer a little while longer until it reduces to the proper consistency. Tumble the mixture into a casserole and top with the mashed potato.

Dot the top with a little bit of butter and bake in a 350F/180C oven until brown on top and bubbling. Serve with ketchup if you must but I don’t think it needs it.

Mushroom Duxelle

Duxelle is the first thing you learn at cookery school – it’s just mushrooms minced and cooked to a rich paste. It involves a lot of chopping, and chopping is the first thing you learn too. But the upshot is that it’s ridiculously delicious. It’s a very old fashioned French way of serving mushroom, when chopping things to a fine mince was all the rage. Nowadays we roughly slice, or tear into rustic chunks, but nothing is ever diced into a fine meal. This dish is a segue into some culinary preachery I am about to do.

It’s called: Get Some Skill With Your Knife. Knife skills are important so I made a list why:

  1. Being fast with a knife cuts your preparation time in half.
  2. Being skilled with a knife saves you money on pre-filleted and jointed meats and fish.
  3. Being consistent with a knife gives you more control over how your food looks and how it cooks.
  4. You’ll cut yourself waaay less.
  5. You can get rid of half of the ridiculous single use contraptions sitting in your gadget drawer. Including the horrible and dangerous mandoline. I hate those things – so many chefs seem to have a hard on for them, but they cause so many injuries.
  6. Knife skills have the best ease to impressiveness ratio of any skill I’ve ever acquired. People will watch you brunoise-ing onions with their jaws on the floor.

I am a firm believer in creating original content so I am not going to add to the plethora of knife skills tutorial videos on the web. Go forth to a YouTube, learn the techniques, making sure you include sharpening and honing your knives. Then practice with this delicious mushroom duxelle, a pile of carrots and a bag of onions. Soon you will be julienning and brunoiseing and finely chopping your little heart out, while your friends and family watch you, all agog. As an aside, don’t rush out and buy fancy knives. Just sharpen the ones you’ve got. If you don’t have any – you need a paring knife and a chefs knife (I like the santoku shape) and a honer. Don’t buy a set, they just take up space and the block is a nice place for cockroaches and bugs to set up house.

Duxelle Pasta – Serves 3-4 for lunch

  • 15-20 Brown mushrooms (use button if that’s all you have – brown has better flavour)
  • 2 medium eschallots
  • Handful of parsley
  • 60g butter

To serve: Cooked pasta, some cream or sour cream.

If you’re serving with pasta, put the water on now. Remember to add enough salt so the pasta water is salty like the sea.

Take your mushrooms and slice them as finely as you can. Then with a rocking motion, chop them until they are as small as you can make them (I was in a hurry with this particular duxelle so my chunks are a little big). Brunoise the shallots (this means 2mm pieces) I also give mine a bit more chopping after dicing so it’s really fine. Repeat with the parsley. This will take time, be patient – the smaller your chopped bits, the better the duxelle will be.

Put your pasta on to cook if you haven’t already.

Melt half the butter in  a generous sized pan and wait until it’s foaming. Sweat the shallots for a couple of minutes then add the mushroom. Add some salt for it’s moisture sucking properties. Sweat until the bubbling noise turns to a sizzling noise – this means all the moisture is gone. Taste and season vigorously, you’ll need lots of salt and pepper.

Take the pan off the heat and toss the pasta, parsley, extra butter and cream through. I like to serve mine with sour cream dobbed on top rather than mixed through.

Duxelle can also be used as a stuffing, a topping for roasts, it’s used in beef wellington between the pastry and beef, as a dip, as a base for soup. Or my favourite – simply dumped on a piece of buttered toast and enjoyed out of hand. Savour the simple deep mushroominess!

Toffee Apples

Toffee apples, or caramel apples, as they are known in the USA, are a staple kid food. They bring up memories of me begging my mum for one in the fruit and vegetable section of the supermarket. But they always had a limp granny smith apple inside so I just ate the toffee from the outside. So when I saw these teeny tiny sweet apples at Whole Paycheck I knew I had to make toffee apples with them – they’d be more toffee than apple! How grand! You can use any crisp, slightly tart apple you like though.

They are really ridiculously easy to make, once you master the dreaded caramel. I swear this stuff is my kitchen nemesis. I used to burn it – Every. Single. Time. Once I mastered the not-burning part, I would always end up ruining a pan or a spoon with sugar. The last time I made it, I was careful only to use one spoon and one pan, and I figured I had tamed the wild caramel beast. That is, until I dropped some molten sugar onto the top of my bare foot. I couldn’t wear shoes for weeks and I still have a scar. So the moral of the story is, be careful with this shit, it’s nasty. However due to it’s unfair tastiness, I have never given up on caramel. The sacrifices are worth the rewards.

Makes enough to coat 6 large apples

My hand is there to demonstrate the teeny tininess of the apples! Squee!


  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 6 thick skewers
  • Oil Spray

This is not suitable to undertake in proximity of children – molten sugar burns more than anything else I’ve ever put on myself in the ktichen. Consider yourself warned.

Wash, dry and stab your apples with the skewers. Make sure they are really securely impaled. Brush or spray a non-stick tray with inert oil.

Bring all ingredients to a boil over medium heat in a saucepan. Don’t use a frypan or anything with shallow sides – you really need the sides for safety here.

This is what the caramel should look like when ready to take off the heat.

Watch it like a hawk. Once you see the first sign of colour, turn it down and continue to watch it boil. I know this is boring, but the moment you turn away, this stuff will burn. Once it reaches an amber colour, immediately take it off the heat.

Carefully dip the toffee apples in the molten sugar, slowly twirling until the sugar starts to set. Do not turn them upright or the sugar will drip onto you. Once the sugar is thickened, upturn it onto the oiled tray and repeat until they are all done. If the caramel starts to harden, very quickly return to the heat to make it liquid again.

If you have leftover sugar , you can tip whatever chopped nuts you have into the sugar. Pour onto an oiled tray for  nut brittle!

Fast Food: Raw Beet, Goat Cheese & Mint Salad

Eating beets raw is the best thing. They are sweet, crisp and earthy. I love amazingly saturated colours so the cool beet red really makes me smile. Grouped with bright green mint and clear white goats cheese, it always looks amazing on the table. You’ll never want to cook a beetroot again. Grated raw beet is also amazing in chocolate cake (trust me), on burgers and sandwiches (just ask any Australian) and in dips. It’s sweetness makes it very versatile. I nix the oil in the dressing for this as I like the sharp clean taste the vinegar alone gives the beetroot.

  • 3 Fresh beets
  • one large handful of picked mint leaves
  • A crumble of soft goats cheese
  • 1 tablespoon (plus a bit more) of red wine vinegar
  • Salt

Peel and coarsely grate the beets. Just before serving, combine the grated beet with the mint, vinegar and salt. Toss and crumble some goats cheese on top. Taste and add more acid or salt to your taste.

Serve as a side to anything Mediterranean. It also goes equally well with anything subcontinentally spicy. If you’re eating it as a meal, add some walnuts for protein and you’re set.

Lamingtons


Lamingtons are an authentic Australian bakery treat. They are squares or rectangles of stale sponge cake, drenched in chocolate ganache and rolled in desiccated coconut. Legend goes that they were named for Lord Lamington, a state official in the northern state of Queensland, as it was his personal chef at Government House who came up with the dish. Apparently the Lord hated them and called them “those bloody poofy woolly biscuits”. That made me giggle cause that’s exactly how my dad talks. I don’t know if my Dad likes lamingtons or not.

Lamingtons immediately became popular with the frugal housewives who populated the rural landscape almost 100 years ago. You make lamingtons when you have leftover sponge cake that has gone stale and crumby. Waste not, want not and all that.

So I make a fluffly genoise sponge, we immediately enjoy it fresh and moist and then a day or two after I make lamingtons from it. The dry cake sucks up all the chocolate it can handle, which is much more than any moist fresh cake would.

Genoise Sponge – Makes one 10 inch round sponge cake

  • 6 large eggs – at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup of fine white (caster) sugar
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and
  • zest of 1/2 lemon (very finely grated)
  • 40g of butter, melted and cooled

Lamington Coating – enough for 10 or so 4cm (1.5 inch) lamingtons

  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 50g (2.5 oz) bittersweet good quality chocolate
  • 1/2 cup caster (fine white) sugar
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup whole milk or half and half
  • 1 cup desiccated or flaked coconut. Try to get unsweetened if you can, I couldn’t.

Preheat your oven to 350F/180C

Butter and flour a 10 inch non-stick springform pan. Springform makes the sponge easier to remove and means you don’t have to fuss with lining.

Start by sifting the flours twice so that they are fine and aerated. Best way to do this is to sift onto a bendable tray or a folded piece of parchment. Set aside.

Combine the eggs, sugar, zest in a very large bowl. Whip them with a whisk until they are ridiculously thick and the mixture holds it’s shape like whipped cream. This will take a long, long time – maybe 20 minutes. You can’t over whip this, so just keep going. I use the whisk attachment on my stab mixer, the tines are exactly like a hand held whisk so you end up aerating this mixture instead of beating it.

I sometimes try to do some of the whipping by hand but getting a properly thickened sabayon is past my muscles. I feel a touch of guilt pulling out the electric helpers but it’s assuaged by thoughts of the perfect sponge.

Sift the flour over the top of the sabayon (fancy chef term for whipped, thickened eggs and sugar). Using your (clean!) hand, scoop with fingers splayed, into the mixture and bring it up, gently shaking it, to combine the flour into the sabayon.

Continue this gentle movement until the flour is combined. The reasoning for the hand method is simple. You don’t want to develop any gluten in this cake at all. Stirring and even folding create springy gluten strands which will cause your cake to shrink back after cooking. The hand thing doesn’t seem to do this. It has an added benefit,as the mixture has a texture unlike anything else I’ve touched. Remember that scene in Amelie where she plunges her hand in the dried beans? It’s like that only better. It’s the temperature of air, but the density is like running your hand through a cloud.

Gently pour the butter and vanilla around the edges of the dish and combine in the same fashion as the flour. Gingerly pour the batter into your waiting baking tray and gently place in the oven. Those bubbles you’ve whipped up are the only thing aerating your sponge so they are precious, don’t go slapping it around.

Bake until the top is goldy brown and springs back when you touch it. Approximately 20 minutes – 1/2 hour.

Pull the cake out of the oven and let cool in the pan – it will shrink down a little so don’t be alarmed.

I love to eat this cake warm with no adornment. I’m a purist, the texture of the moist airy cake is enough for me, but if you want, sandwich some cream and jam in between two cut halves, and sift some icing sugar on top. Australians like to serve this with passionfruit icing but I think that’s just a bridge too far.

Making Lamingtons

After you have eaten a fresh slice of cake the day before, you are ready to use the sponge for lamingtons!

Make the ganache by combining all the ingredients except the milk in a small saucepan over very low heat until the chocolate melts. Stir in the milk bit by bit, adding until the ganache reaches a smooth coating consistency.

Gently slice your stale sponge into cubes or rectangles. Shake the coconut onto a shallow dish that’s big enough to manouvre the cakes around in.

Using a fork, stab the sponge and coat in the chocolate (I usually just leave it in the pan for this) This process is somewhat messy. Gently coat in the coconut, pressing down a little so it adheres. Continue until the sponge cubes are all coated.

Enjoy with a cup of tea and some good conversation. Don’t serve to grouchy turn-of-the-century Australian politicians, they might grumble.

Fast Food: Guacamole

This is authentic guacamole. If you already know how to make this, tune out now. If you don’t, then make it and be converted forever. It’s more of a chunky salad than a dip, with surprises in texture and flavour through the chunks of avocado and pieces of juicy sweet tomato. Enjoy with some home made tortilla chips! Great lunch and so very good for you.

Serves 2 for lunch with crudites & chips

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 2 limes
  • 1 medium ripe tomato
  • 1 eschallot
  • Small handful of coriander (cilantro)
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

Dice the tomato and eschallot very finely. Chop the coriander roughly. Set aside. Halve, de-stone and peel the avocados. Roughly mash with a fork. Stir in the chopped ingredients, the cumin and squeeze in the juice of one lime. Season with a pinch of salt. Taste the guacamole and adjust the acidity and saltiness to your preference. Everything should sing in harmony, rather than one flavour dominating. I have seen some people add a chopped red jalapeno chilli, but I don’t think it’s necessary.