The Questionable Quest Continues

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote a blog post. I’ve had a few younger friends recently share how they want to contribute something to the world through writing a blog. I don’t think they’re alone in wanting to feel like they’ve somehow made the world a better place, they did something, they achieved something. I posted this poem just recently and I think it says a lot for how I feel a lot of the time.

 

A poem by Emily Dickinson
A poem by Emily Dickinson

So here I sit at age 43 pondering what it all means. A good friend hit a very low point this week and I found myself, head in hands crying unconsolably at the thought of losing them. I question are there places in this world where there is no such thing as depression? Where the only hard days are when life ultimately runs it’s course (at some point we all have to leave this world)? I imagine those places where life is still somewhat primitive, they don’t have mobile phones and TV, cars and big fancy houses. They’re in a community where people all support each other and the lost are loved unconditionally until they find their way again. They always seem so much happier but with what seems as so much less. Perhaps it’s a utopian ideal that doesn’t exist, that there is some place somewhere where everyone is content, happy, truly living. Even as I look around I can see people that seemingly have their shit together and I do wonder if that’s really the case, or are they just better at hiding the crap? In the grand scheme of things I have a pretty good life, but I do winder when will that moment of clarity hit when I sit there and FINALLY ‘get it’? Hmmmm.

So it’s been almost 3 years since my last post, and that was about food anyway. I’ve learned a lot on the last few years, probably more than I had in any time before that. I remember in my early 20s watching women in their 30s on Oprah, struggling to be who they were immersed in a life of giving to others, having unrealistic expectations and ultimately not looking after themselves. I remember thinking that I was learning so much from that and ‘wouldn’t make the same mistakes’ – who was I kidding? I often find myself saying “Life shouldn’t have to be this hard” as I or others deal with everyday ‘stuff’ that keeps us from being the best we can be. I am starting to think though that it really isn’t until you reach your 40s that you do really start to ‘get it’ and well, if you pick that up any earlier you are truly blessed.

So the Questionable Quest, what is it? What is the meaning of life? I’ve worked out it wasn’t really ’42’ …and what was the question really anyway? I’ve sat down many a time with the life-defining question “What is your purpose?” and really had to think about that. What would I do if money was no object? What does really matter? What do you love most? What ultimately would make you truly happy?

Can you tell I’m an ‘INFJ’? Yeah that was a bit of an epiphonal moment where I at least understood ‘So that’s why other people don’t understand me, and why it is that most people don’t think like me’. *SIGH*

So I’ve worked on that. Turns out just as I’d found my purpose, and was spurred on with a new found energy and passion for it, my means of living it was taken away. I had to question why in a moment of time of pure clarity suddenly the Universe kicked me in the guts – did I get it wrong? What did that mean? What am I missing? A lotto win – that would probably clarify a few things for me, or at least give me the opportunities to work them out. At least I’m awake, at least I’m questioning everything, and at least I’m grateful for the things I have and the opportunities to have choices in my life.

LOVE
LOVE

In recent years I’ve chosen a theme word to try and guide my goals and choices throughout the year. ‘Rise’, ‘Shine’, ‘Dare’ ….sadly last year I resorted to ‘Survive’. Well I’ve done a bit of all those things and it did encourage me to try new things and focus on who I really want to be.  This year I chose a theme word of ‘Love’, but I soon realised I was going to need to be a bit more specific as to what ‘mini goals’ I needed to have to achieve that ….which I kind of forgot about and got off track a bit. I’m pretty sure I’ve mastered it in some places, it’s the harder moments where my sensitivity and tendency to be reactive where I’m not so great and far from loving. Goal for the day – let’s work on thinking about that some more.

So at some point I might revisit my ’40 Things Before 40′ and put together a list of ’50 Things Before 50′ compiled of the things that just didn’t get done and a few more new things. It can make life fun, it can make us move outside out little box, it can make us dream and fulfil us when we accomplish those things. For this year though, my primary goal is to get involved in some sort of service to my community along with my almost-teen daughter, not only to help her to understand she truly does have a fortunate life but ultimately to help those who have less.

we-can-do-no-great-things-only-small-things-with-great-love-5

As someone who majored in Home Economics and definitely has that at the core of the things I love to do, Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs has always been one foundation for how I look at life. We meet our basic needs in the quest to reach the ultimate of self-actualisation, that time when you maximize your potential and are doing the best that you are capable of doing, truly living. Follow your bliss, make it happen and maybe you’ll find that moment of clarity when you can sit back and say “Yeah, now I get it”.

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Restaurant Rapide

My 15th Wedding Anniversary was coming up and we usually don’t make a big fuss but we thought this year was worthy of doing something a little special. We had heard through family that Restaurant Rapide at Camp Hill Brisbane was under new ownership and worth checking out.

In a quiet area of the city it wasn’t difficult to find a nearby parking space and get to. The ambiance of the restaurant itself was lovely and the staff attentive and friendly.

As we perused the menu I was impressed not only that the gluten-free dishes were clearly identified on the menu but that there were a considerable number of choices of gluten-free meals. Whilst not a diagnosed coeliac, I am sensitive to gluten as so have a growing number of people and consequently I am constantly surprised by the number of establishments that fail to indicate this on their menus. Not here! Part of this is because their sauces are made on site without relying on commercially prepared sauces usually containing thickeners and other wheat-derived ingredients.

We started with some Oysters Kilpatrick which were super delicious.

Oysters Kilpatrick
Oysters Kilpatrick

Making a decision for the main was tough going.  In addition to the regular menu items there was a chef’s special on offer as well. After much to-ing and fro-ing I decided on their signature dish, an Asian duck dish with sauteed vegetables. Hubby decided on their steak dish.

Duck with Asian Vegetables
Duck with Asian Vegetables
Steak with Scalloped Potatoes and Relish
Steak with Scalloped Potatoes and Relish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It came to dessert and I wasn’t going to miss out. Again, decisions were tough and we decided to have a dessert each whilst waiting for another chef’s specialty, the snail filo. My chocolate tart was divine and the panacotta creamy and smooth.

Panacotta
Panacotta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate Torte
Chocolate Torte

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I sampled the filo (not ideal for anyone avoiding gluten) and it was light and a great choice for anyone who doesn’t like overly sweet desserts …and no, it doesn’t contain snails 😉

Snail Filo
Snail Filo

Overall, I was extremely impressed with the meal that I had – and I’m not easily impressed. The prices were more than reasonable and the quality was excellent.  Service was delightful.  I was fortunate enough to have a chat with the Chef at the end of my meal and it was so lovely to talk to someone not only passionate about creating quality food but also mindful of sustainability and making efforts to source local and ethical produce wherever possible. I would definitely recommend Restaurant Rapide to anyone in the Brisbane area, well worth it.

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The Syrupy Savarin

Ahhh, whilst I love learning something new and hence look forward to my monthly ‘challenge’ from The Daring Bakers, there is something to be said for being able to say “I KNOW I can do that“. Many years ago I made some so it was lovely to have the opportunity to have another go at this month’s challenge, savarin.

Let’s face it, many basic recipes can be daunting for some. Throw in something with a lot of steps and scary ingredients like ‘yeast’, mixing, rising and temperature control and it can definitely be a challenge for even an experienced cook. Having said that, they often aren’t as scary as they first seem, and many recipes are still a bit forgiving and the end result can be great. I’ve found savarin to fall into the latter category, don’t be scared off by it’s more complex method.

I decided to make a ‘lemon savarin’, the tartness of the lemon balanced with some lovely berries and a coulis. It’s not the best time of year to be buying berries but with their brilliant colour and flavour it was worth it. The syrup was a simple combination of sugar, water and of course, lemon juice.

One great thing I love about this dessert is I used a savarin pan with smaller compartments to make individual serves rather than one big one. Before turning out I cut the ‘top’ off and lit the syrup really soak in. That then gave them a nice flat ‘bottom’ to sit on.  To present it I warmed mine up a little then cut a small wedge from the side so the berries and sauce appear to ooze from the centre. Yum!

Lemon Savarin with Berries and Coulis
Lemon Savarin with Berries and Coulis

 

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What Lies Beneath?

Who else has a ‘picky eater’ child? It’s been a constant battle for us for years with Miss ‘almost to be 9’ generally avoiding any ‘real’ food and having a definite liking for pies, nuggets and chips.  Some years ago I invested in the ‘Deceptively Delicious’ and ‘Sneaky Chef’ books in order to incorporate the good stuff in a Ninja Stealth way.  It wasn’t long though before I realised that it was a lot of effort for possibly no results.  Sure, if I was a SAHM with a good stash of mash in the freezer and was able to sneak them in without Missy popping into the kitchen at the imperative time to say “What’s that?” as the mystery green, red or orange puree made it into dinner I probably would have been far more successful. Ultimately too, the kid needs to learn that eating vegetables is just something you need to do.  She wasn’t looking like she was one meal away from the hospital, so we soldiered on with the evening meals of meat and 3 veg there blatantly sitting on the plate.

Having said that, there definitely is value in adding some veg to your baked goodies.  First and foremost, it justifies what is otherwise an indulgence and turns it into a ‘healthy’ option “It DOES contain veges” 🙂 . Adding veges has other benefits too though including adding some great colour, texture and richness of flavour.  I’m sure for most bakers out there, if you’re going to the trouble of making something ‘home-baked’, finding a few extra minutes to prep some veg to grate or cook and puree isn’t too much of a problem. Needless to say, when this month’s ‘Daring Baker’ challenge came up as ‘Hidden Veggies’ I was excited at some free reign of cake baking …as long as it contained a bit of veg.

Scrolling Pinterest I came across a picture of an Easter theme ‘Carrot Patch Cake’. Keen to add a bit of fun to the project I thought I’d give my own version a whirl. 2 criteria – some sort of ‘orange coloured’ and some sort of ‘brown coloured’ cake.  I figured vanilla was probably a good start perhaps with some carrot added and possibly one of the most common ‘hidden veggie’ cakes – chocolate! Of course at this time of the term time is precious, so perhaps my brilliant idea wasn’t so great, but I went ahead anyway.

 

What Lies Beneath?
What Lies Beneath?

My first cake was a Simple Vanilla Cake comprising of:

1 ½ cups Self-Raising flour
½ cup Plain Flour
1 cup Caster Sugar
150g softened butter
100mL milk
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 Tablespoons carrot puree
Orange food colour

The recipe was an all-in-one mix-it-up method, poured into a greased and lined bar tin.  Baked at 150°C for approximately 1 hour.

My second cake was a Beetroot Chocolate Cake Comprising of:

480g Self-Raising flour
4 eggs
60g cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
240g caster sugar
180g dark chocolate, melted
180g melted butter
240g grated raw beetroot

Again a simple recipe of combing the dry ingredients before adding the wet ingredients then mixing well.

Of course, the ‘carrot’ cake needed to be cooked first and allowed to cool slightly before cutting a carrot-shaped wedge from it.  This method has a lot of ‘wastage’ though in this house scraps of cake never go astray. The original uses a different method cutting shapes from a shallow tray.

When you have your wedge, it gets placed in the tin before filling with the chocolate mix, then baked for 50-60 minutes at 180°C.

Finishing the cake is easy with a simple chocolate ganache and chocolate cookie crumbs.  If making carrot leaves from icing is a bit beyond you (or like me you just don’t have the time) simple leaf lollies or green fruit straps will do the job. It helped that this cake resembled dirt and the garden …a more ‘rustic’ finish didn’t really matter.

So what lay beneath? ‘Hidden Veggies’ of course!!!!

Hidden Veggie cake with Hidden Veggies : )
Hidden Veggie cake with Hidden Veggies : )

 

 

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GEVULDE SPECULAAS

Gelvulde Speculaas, a traditional dutch pastry of spices and almond flavours. I put off baking this one as it seemed quite an effort (I guess it isn’t a challenge if it’s too easy) and the Queensland climate at this time of year isn’t exactly supportive of spending an afternoon in the kitchen with the oven on. Of course, in addition to heat waves our tropical weather patterns also bring about the current conditions of monsoonal, cyclonic-type conditions of rain and wind. Whilst it means staying indoors, and for some enduring weather damage or power losses, for me this weekend it has meant tanks that are finally full and cooler weather that’s just right for a bit of baking.

I looked into the recipe earlier in the week and realised it probably wasn’t as technical as I thought.  I often cook ‘paleo’ dishes so I already had my own home-made almond butter.  The spices, well we don’t have ‘mace’ here but nutmeg was substituted, and the rest was pretty easy.

My initial dough was a bit dry so I added a little milk as described in the recipe and it came together. I found the most complicated step rolling out the dough (without reaching for extra flour) but it pressed into the tin well.  The end result looked just like the example given in the challenge post.

photo1
GEVULDE SPECULAAS

I haven’t eaten this before, so I don’t know what it should taste like.  The speculaas spice flavours were fine but I found the texture to be a bit dry. Perhaps my almond butter needed something else, or I may have cooked it a little too long (note to self: press ‘start’ on the timer for it to work) but ultimately not too bad. My layers were easily distinguished so I must have done something right.

Speculaas Dough, Almond Butter, Speculaas Dough, Almonds  ...Check!
Speculaas Dough, Almond Butter, Speculaas Dough, Almonds …Check!

Probably if we dished it up on the cool and windy summer evening warmed and served with some nice custard it would go down a treat 🙂

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Merry Merry Macaron

Wow, when I read this month’s ‘Daring Baker’ challenge ‘A celebration cookie, square or bar’ all sorts of things came to mind. Looking at the ’12 days of Christmas’ inspiration I was certainly keen to get my baking on and churn out a plethora of fabulous Christmas goodies. It wasn’t too long before the reality of a full-time job, end of school year work commitments and running around with Miss 8 was leaving me time poor and exhausted and my Christmas baking dream soon faded (at least for this month). I was still keen to do something special and as it turned out it was quite an epic effort in the end.

Miss 8 is a fan of macarons and to cut a long story short I had a good supply of almond meal mixed with icing sugar ready to go.  I’m not sure if they can be classified as a ‘biscuit’ as such, but if they aren’t I’m not sure what ‘food group’ they belong to! The great things about macarons is the endless variety of flavours possible.  Having recently picked up Adriano Zumbo’s “Zumbarons” cookbook I was keen to give a few a go. I knew I had to make something Miss 8 would like, so that narrowed down my options. Then I went with those flavours I thought could best handle a ‘Red, White and Green’ theme …these ARE Christmas Macarons after all.

Our final choice was:

  • ‘Sticky Date’ …RED
  • ‘Toasted Marshmallow’ …GREEN, and
  • ‘Buttered Popcorn’ …WHITE.
“Simply Egg Whites”

Making my mix was a breeze.  Based on Italian meringue, I whipped up some egg whites and drizzled in my hot syrup before beating until thick and glossy. A couple of tips here, we can now get fresh egg whites in a 500g carton at the supermarket here in Aus ….fabulous for this sort of thing without the need for using a lot of eggs (with leftover yolks) or defrosting (which incidentally aren’t recommended for whisking). Look for ‘Simply Egg White’ in the dairy section 🙂 . My second tip is to get yourself a candy or cooking thermometer.  I got myself a digital one from a ‘Chef’s Toolbox’ party, I haven’t regretted it since using it for roasts, toffees and all sorts of things, great for accuracy.  Anyway, moving on….

With my egg whites mixed through my almond meal mixture it was a matter of colouring my macaron mixes (though they recommend colouring the syrup I needed to make multiple colours) and piping away. This is where consistency makes all the difference.  My basic uncoloured mix for the popcorn ones was great. The green, not too bad, using a few gel colours it did make it wetter and not as good. The red, hmmm, well getting a vibrant red colour with a few gels and liquid dye was tricky, and the end result not so great. They were flat and sticky. I’ve made macarons with my students and for sure, they can be a very ‘hit and miss’ thing. They asked me once ‘why?’ Let’s face it, get your meringue wrong, have a humid day, use the wrong food colour (or too much) and the consistency just doesn’t work out for the best. The pros certainly have it down to a fine art.

Macarons can be time consuming, certainly you need quite a few trays to leave them sitting out for a while for the surface to dry, and I’ve noticed the pros use a piping guide to make the best use of space and get a consistent size. Tip number 3, definitely use plastic disposable piping bags and try to find a silicone mat or 2 with some circle guides on it ….maybe Santa will get me one?

All trayed up

Then came the fillings. These can vary from something easy like a simple ganache to complex ensembles of creme patissiere, purees and exotic ingredients.  Some will need some setting time in order to achieve piping consistency, leave them in the fridge too long though and they’re set. Did I say something about this being a breeze?

I was in the kitchen a few long hours, but I did get some great results. My red macarons were left undecorated with their sticky date filling which incidentally was VERY sweet. I decorated my green ones with some edible gold dust and of course, my buttery popcorn ones were topped with popcorn and were super delish.

My Merry Merry Macarons

If I’d had a bit more energy (time had just run out), with a few toothpicks and a polystyrene cone a macaron tower wasn’t out of the question ….but certainly be inspired to make a ‘tree’ when making your own. Merry Merry Macaronny Christmas everyone 🙂

A Merry Merry Macaron ‘Tree’

PS …No recipes listed here, there were 4 in total for the basic macaron and the 3 fillings. I picked up my Zumbarons book for only $16 (at Big W for my Aussie locals). If you’re not from these parts and want a copy and you can’t get hold of one let me know, I’d be happy to help 🙂

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Strike 1

List item #35 …Invent a new Ice Cream flavour.

Clearly I didn’t really think this through, whilst countless yummy flavours of ice cream went through my head I struggled to come up with something that a quick Google search didn’t disqualify as already in existence. **SIGH** Clearly I was going to have to think way outside the box for this one!

I recently went on an overseas trip and was fortunate enough to dine at ‘The Fat Duck’. It was here that I was able to sample ‘Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream‘, it was served with a red cabbage gazpacho.  On further research, it appears that ice-creams with a more savoury twist are certainly hitting menus around the place, usually of the mustard variety and served alongside meat dishes.  Whilst a savoury sauce isn’t unusual, freezing it is definitely something new. Perhaps this was the direction I should head in? Something that you wouldn’t normally associate with ice cream. So that’s what I did. What did I come up with? One of my most favourite snacks out there …..Wicked Cheddar Zig-Zag Twisities!

I’m pretty much addicted to these things, certainly it’s dangerous to have them in the house, I’d eat a whole large bag in one sitting if my conscience didn’t stop me.  Something very moreish about them – yumm. Whilst to the ordinary person making these into a new ice cream flavour might seem ridiculous, to me, clearly of the same calibre of Heston Blumenthal, it was a definitely possibility. Miss 8 was soooo excited, it sounded like a good plan to her!

<insert game-show error buzzer here>

 Making ice cream is actually quite an art, there is a fine balance of liquid, fat and sugar to make sure that the end result actually freezes with a good texture and then of course there’s the flavour.  It’s not possible to work out the end result before freezing as once frozen, your taste buds react differently. When creating your own recipe it definitely is a game of trial and error …or in this case just error.

In order to flavour our ice cream we infused the cream by soaking a bag of Zig Zag Twisties in 2 *600mL milk for 3 days. I had seen this technique used for flavouring creams for ganache in macarons.  We strained the Twisties and blended in some milk to 500mL of the infused cream. This was brought to the boil before stirring over 4 egg yolks, then returned to the heat to ensure it had heated to 67’C [pasteurising the egg yolk?]. We then let it cool a little before adding our ‘custard’ to the ice cream machine.  45 minutes later …soft serve ice cream.

 

‘Wicked Cheddar’ Zig Zag Twistie Ice Cream

We couldn’t wait to taste it ….the result? Well, it did taste like the Twisties, but the flavour hadn’t really infused enough. Hmmmm. We weren’t quite sure how to fix this, so step 1 was to puree the strained Twisties, and push the mush through a sieve.  We added the ‘mush’ to the mix along with some salt.  There was a marginal improvement in flavour but it didn’t really work.  I had focused on keeping it savoury so thought perhaps some sweetness might enhance the flavour and added some sugar syrup.  Well, that didn’t work either and by now the mix was just, well, bad – ha ha. In hindsight, the initial mix wasn’t too bad, and perhaps an extra couple of egg yolks in our custard and even a hint of vanilla may have reduced the taste of cream a little so the Twisties could really stand out.  With that in mind, although something quite different, it wasn’t too bad.

Overall I would consider this one an epic fail, although as said famously by Thomas A Edison “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. I wont be making another 9, 999 attempts but I may try another one or two. Technically I’ve completed item #35 ‘Invent a new ice cream flavour’ ….I never said it had to taste good 😉

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Zuum Zuum Zuum!

What do you think of when I say ‘V8’? Most people no doubt would think of a car ….zoom zoom zoom. Me? I think of the famous ‘V8 Cake’ of Masterchef fame, created by pastry chef Adriano Zumbo, zuum zuum zuum 🙂

One of my 40 new things is to recreate many of his desserts (or those similar). The V8 cake is a labourous one with 8 layers of ‘Vanilla’ before the final masterpiece. Starting from the base, here’s what you can expect:

  • Vanilla Dacquise – a meringue-like almond cake layer.
  • Vanilla Almond Praline Crunch – made of many components of brown sugar crumble, chocolate, praline, and of course vanilla.
  • Vanilla Ganache
  • Vanilla Chiffon Cake with Vanilla Syrup
  • Vanilla Brulee – creamy and caramelley
  • Vanilla Macaron
  • Vanilla Chantilly Creme
8 Layers …and some!

Finish that all off with a Vanilla Glaze and White Chocolate Decorations.

Adriano Zumbo’s ‘V8 Cake’

I completed this task along with my Year 10 class at school and I have to say they did an awesome job. Mine was a little wonky on account of my ‘cardboard’ cake tin, turns out photocopy paper box lids aren’t that great for the job.  Approximately 7 hours of work, this cake takes time. It’s worth the effort though – yummm! One down, seven more to go.  Adriano sells this baby for $125 …orders anyone????

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Who Needs to Work Out When You Can BAKE?

I was so excited when I saw this months “Daring Baker’s” challenge. After arriving in France earlier in September I fell in love with REAL French pastries and whilst at ‘Paul’ Patisserie I was so taken by the big glossy strawberries of the ‘Tartlette au Fraise’ I overlooked a little gem not too far from it.  When dining at ‘Gill’ a few days later however, I was to discover the wonder of ‘Mille Fueille’, ‘A Thousand Leaves’ in it’s true form. I was mesmerised by the thick, golden, buttery and flaky tower that stood before me. What needs to be understood is I’ve made ‘Mille Fueille’ before, MANY times in fact, annually with one of my senior classes …..so I thought. Oh how our flat and pale layers of pastry interlaced with custard and jam have fallen short, FAR short of it’s sisters in France. Back to Gill, I sat there staring at my dessert and wondering “How on earth do they make this???”

Mille Fueille – A Thousand Leaves.

A few days later I found myself at one of my French cooking classes, no, I didn’t head for traditional cuisines, I was there for something far more complicated – pastry! Indeed it is one of the more complex areas of cookery that has scared away many a good cook. It is time consuming and labourous, then requiring an eye for detail and special talent for fine work. I’ve decorated many a kids birthday cake before and I can make a brownie like you wouldn’t believe, but this stuff …best left to the professionals, so I thought! My first class included this same little gem – Mille Fueille – AWESOME!!! I was going to learn the great secret.

I watched a Jamie Oliver show once, he was making pies I believe, and out came the puff pastry. “Just use store bought” he said, explaining that these days the time and effort required to make your own just wasn’t worth it when there was such great stuff in the supermarket. “If it’s good enough for Jamie, it’s good enough for me” I thought. Sorry Jamie, unless your UK puff is something considerably better than ours here down under then I have to disagree on this one.  Whilst I doubt I will go to this effort for a regular meat pie, for a dessert such as this there is NO other option – ‘Home Made’ is a MUST.

Back to this months challenge, I knew after leaving my cooking classes in France I couldn’t wait to get home and give this another go.  Oddly enough, despite being a ‘labour of love’, the process wasn’t that complicated after all. It takes time, mostly waiting time, but is definitely worthwhile. My first couple of weeks after my return I was out of action, but October rolled around and so did our next challenge, “What will it be this month? Oh my, MILLE FUEILLE!!!” I was so excited. There would be no putting it off for a rainy day, I now had my perfect reason to go to all this effort …a challenge to be met.

My return to work had a few hurdles, there’s been a lot going on at home too, but this weekend I finally got around to it. A fortunate break in the Spring ‘heat wave’, my Saturday evening was at least a bit cooler than many we have had lately.  Certainly, Queensland weather doesn’t lend itself well to pastry making most of the year unless you are fortunate enough to have an air-conditioned kitchen. Still, I knew what I was up against and what needed to be done.

The initial stage was so easy, a few ingredients in the Kenwood and it’s done – back in the fridge to get this dough cool. In the meantime my block of butter was to be bashed and flattened to a similar size – bugger that. Cut into thick slices carefully wedged back together in another form was more my style …by the time this is rolled and rolled later I knew it would be fine, I needed to save my energy!

Puff is then a simple process of rolling and folding. Ok, by ‘simple’ I mean it doesn’t take much special talent or skill – just a bit of muscle.  The major tip I learned in France was for rolling, firm and slow [no rolling back-and-forth please] as friction creates heat. Don’t take too much time either – the longer out of the fridge the more heat. Noticing something here? Pastry doesn’t like heat! My first set of rolling and folding went well – but refrigerating for 2 hours? I was a little time poor, so I popped it in the freezer, supposedly a blast-chiller cuts cooling time by two-thirds, surely a freezer quarters it? Well, only just. I got away with it …but probably not the best practice to continue. I popped it in the fridge overnight with plans to do my third roll and fold the next day. I rose early in the morning, gave it another go and back in the fridge …and back to bed!

Puff Pastry Dough – Perfect Layers of Butter and Dough

That was the hard part over – so I thought. Other than one final roll before baking, I needed to decide how I was going to make my final masterpiece. Whilst a traditional Mille Fueille has a basic ‘Creme Patissiere’ filling and a simple icing on top, there are definitely more creative options out there. Strawberry and White Chocolate, Blueberry and Lemon, Raspberry and Almond, Praline? Hmmm. Of course, there are many ways to make a creme patissiere too, varying from some custard powder and a bit of cream to the more complex egg-custard. This is a challenge though, it’s ridgy-didge custard that’s going to happen here, fortunately I had LOTS of practice in France. One final dilemma, neither of my recipes supplied by the cooking class actually completed the process, my pastry recipe had NOTHING about cooking it, and the custard recipe didn’t mention it either, let alone assembly of the final dish.  I guess I’m going to have to try and remember (this was over 6 weeks ago now) and match with some similar recipes for cooking temperatures.

I decided my Mille Fueille would have those glossy red strawberries – I just love them. With my pastry in the oven I worked on my custard, both would have to cool before my final assembly. By now my arms had grown weary – this pastry making stuff really IS a workout for someone with spaghetti arms like mine, but it IS doable. As my pastry baked something didn’t seem right, it was puffing fantastically, but just didn’t seem as dense as the one I made only weeks ago. Just past the 11th hour, as I pulled my trays from the oven, it popped into my head …..pierce the dough! I had forgotten one very simple, yet somewhat important step which was to poke holes all over the dough before baking. I was devastated, all that work for what would have otherwise been a perfect pastry, was now falling a little short. Note to self: Buy one of those spiky rollers for next time (although a fork would suffice).

My Mille Fueille

Never mind, I was still able to pull together a number of slices of Mille Fueille. Well worth the effort, there were many pleased faces around me wanting to sample my final masterpiece. Home made DEFINITELY tastes much better than store bought puff. Now that I’ve had a go for myself I can definitely see myself making it again, AND giving it a go with a bunch of teenagers every year also.

Challenge met, done, conquered!!!!

…I’ll post the recipes later 😉

Posted in The Daring Baker | 6 Comments

Gratitude

Thanks to many years of watching Oprah and checking out ‘The Secret’ I’ve learned to show much gratitude for all that I have in my life.  Sure, I’m only human, and maintaining this attitude 24/7 can be a challenge particularly in those moments of distress when ‘First World Problems’ occur, but for many years I’ve had a general appreciation for being ‘better off’ than most.

I’ve occasionally taken advantage of this in the past with minor ‘financial favours’ such as paying for the toll in the car behind or sending a bank transfer to a known flood victim, I’ve never really given anything really beyond the usual charities.  Despite currently being in ‘budget mode’ (on account of a recent trip overseas), I am still mindful that I can afford much much more than so many. Hence, I created ‘Thing # 27 ~ Pay for someone elses groceries’.

The logistics of this can be tricky, I can’t imagine standing in line at the Supermarket and waiting for the next person just so I can hand over my credit card and pay for their groceries. Apart from refusal, I imagine it could be quite awkward. Sure, I could leave a voucher somewhere, but that would be difficult. Execution (particularly anonymously) of this act certainly posed a problem, however there had to be a way.

Fortunately, I’m on really good terms with our local Fruit n Veg shop lady (‘M’), a lovely cheerful woman, I knew she would be able to help. On my next trip in to get my own supply for the week, I handed over an envelope with a simple message “A random act of kindness, have a great day 🙂 “ with $20 enclosed. Most of my visits cost about that much ….I figure with a small amount I can go back a few times and benefit more than one family. With a simple instruction to either give it to the next person with $20 or more of veg, or to choose a family she thinks perhaps could use a little bit of a bonus, I left the envelope with ‘M’ and headed home with a great feeling in my heart that I had done a good thing.

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of the thought of what a simple generosity might give to the recipient and overlook just how big a small act of kindness can be.  Reading a facebook message a short while later, ‘M’ was overwhelmed with happiness (and given she is usually so happy taking it to another level is something special). With that thought in mind I’m sure ‘The Ripple Effect’ will continue in ways I had never even considered and touch the loves of who knows how many? I doubt I’ll miss that $20 in weeks, months or years to come, but the memory is something I will carry with me for life. If nothing else, I’ll be buzzing for some time yet 🙂

Posted in Questionable Quest | 2 Comments