Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Daring Baker's Challenge: Decorated Sugar Cookies

This month's challenge gave a bit of scope for creativity. The brief was simple - bake sugar cookies, decorate with royal icing and make sure they scream "September" to you.

I've made Peggy Porschen's sugar cookie recipe before with great results. It's a very easy recipe to work with and unlike other recipes I've used (hello Donna Hay!) it never seems to result in disaster. I originally planned to make cookies shaped like sausage dogs because I managed to procure a sausage dog shaped cookie cutter on holidays, and that seemed like the least tenuous link to the "September" theme that I could come up with. This was a total disaster because as I cut the dogs out of the raw cookie dough the tails were completely chopped off. I blame this on the poor design of the cookie cutter!! My second strategy was to make round cookies and decorate them in pinks and yellows because to me September is all about sunshine and the beginning of spring.

The trick to decorating sugar cookies is to make royal icing in a range of consistencies so that you can pipe the border of any solid shape you wish to ice.

Once the border has dried a little you use a runny royal icing to fill the shape. You should end up with a rather neat and tidy looking cookie. Once the base icing is dry the world's your oyster and you can pipe anything you wish onto the cookie.

If you haven't made sugar cookies before it's the time of year to get started. They would make gorgeous treats for under the Christmas tree and are one of the few sweets that could survive a hot and humid Sydney summer.

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Southern Banana Pudding

Southern Banana Pudding first caught my eye on Bakerella's site and due to my love of all things America I was itching to make it. Until I read the ingredients and discovered that it was primarily composed of Nilla Wafers, Jello Instant Pudding and Pie Filling, Cool Whip Whipped Topping and bananas. Given that bananas were the only ingredient I had (a) heard of and (b) had any hope of obtaining, project make banana pudding has been on hold.

In California I made it a priority to obtain the mysterious Nilla Wafers and the Instant Pudding and Pie Filling. The Cool Whip was problematic because I discovered that it lives in the freezer until you defrost and whip it. On a bus to Yosemite I tortured the six captive Americans which questions about Cool Whip and ascertained that it is some kind of completely unnatural chemical compound that resembles the mutant love child of whipped cream and marshmallow. I concluded that I would be quite happy to go to the grave without trying it.

I had two recipes to choose from to make the pudding and I ended up going with the Jell-O version because it was the most artificial and to my mind probably the most authentic. All I had to do was mix one packet of Instant Pudding and Pie Filling with two and a half cups of milk and let it sit for five minutes. Then I layered Nilla Wafers, Pie Filling and bananas in a dish and topped it with whipped cream. It reminded me a little of the classic Aussie Choc Ripple Cake. After and hour in the fridge it was ready to go.

The Pudding was tested by six brave souls. Two of them deemed it inedible. The other four of us concluded that it was good in a McDonalds/plane food kind of way. Using a ladle to serve it was appropriate.

You can't really go wrong with bananas and whipped cream. The Nilla Wafers tasted exactly like those Grimace shaped McDonalds Cookies I used to have as a kid.

The big question mark hangs over the Instant Pudding and Pie Filling which was a fluorescent yellow, sickly sweet and texturally odd custard that was just a bit creepy.

Would I eat Instant Pudding and Pie Filling again? Nope.
Am I relieved that I maintained my anti-Cool Whip stand? Yes.

I still love America.

Friday, September 24, 2010

September in California

Just so you know it wasn't all Red's Java House.
Back to regular posting this weekend I promise, most probably with some kind of fabulous American style dessert.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Red's Java House

So I'm back and I'm not going to recommence blogging with mouthwatering descriptions of meals at Michelin starred restaurants. Instead I'll tell you a bit about Red's Java House which is by all accounts a bit of a San Francisco institution. As you can see Red's is stuck in a time warp but in a very good way.

During our visit to the States we ate at a few and saw many more than a few retro inspired diners which all lacked the certain charm that Red's has. The menu is straightforward - burger, cheeseburger, double cheeseburger, fries, sodas, beers - and the food is cooked while you stand waiting at the counter. No table service in sight.

Rahul was in charge of ordering which is how we ended up with two double cheeseburgers. These were no meek little (yet trans-fat laden) McDonalds burger patties either, they were biiiiiiig and wedged into a chunk of sourdough with orange cheese and a gaggle of gherkins. The chalkboard menu proudly proclaimed 'no lettuce, no tomato' which means that these burgers are a slice of heaven for carnivores. And as much as I am set in my hippy vegetable loving ways I would be back at Red's in a heartbeat. There is no such thing as too much plastic cheese on your meat, but this maxim only applies in America!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Stars and Stripes

Michelin starred restaurants beckon so I am going to be very quiet for the next few weeks. We fly into San Francisco on Friday to start a bit of a foodie journey around northern California. I've read time and time again that California is a food lover's paradise so I'm extremely excited to finally be making the trip to the Bay Area.

First cab of the rank is dinner at Coi in San Francisco, a two starred restaurant that is home to the famous inverted cherry tomato tart. We will also spend some time at the Ferry Building Marketplace where I fully intend to buy one of everything on the shelf in Miette. Believe me, that is only a very slight exaggeration. I have been ogling their Princess Cake online for months.

Brunch at Tartine Bakery is very much on the agenda. I've been eyeing off their book at the Essential Ingredient every time I'm there but I am determined to buy the book from the bakery itself (which is actually very very stupid because then I will have to lug it around on our travels. What's even more stupid is that I don't mind!)

This is a bit embarassing to admit but I figured there was a limit to how much find dining was rational and healthy in a two week period so I made a shortlist of restaurants I was interested in going to, and then culled. I was also mindful of leaving enough time for a bit of organic discovery of new exciting places rather than planning each and every day in Excel (don't tempt me!) And I knew I would really want to go to a diner or two.

Anyway, this process led to much anxiety as I discovered that most of the restaurants had complex booking policies, for example taking bookings 1 calendar month before the preferred date of booking, or 4 weeks before. And then I read that bookings for my preferred restaurants were as rare as gold dust and then 'sold out' as quickly as they opened.

Chez Panisse in Berkeley topped my list. I was absolutely elated when I (by I, I mean Rahul, I was way too chicken to ask for the rules to be bent!) managed to wrangle a booking a day earlier than the booking policy officially allowed. Apparently they like charming Australians.

A trip to California would not be complete without paying homage to Thomas Keller's empire. The big question was whether to shell out all our pennies and visit The French Laundry, arguably the best restaurant in the world and beneficiary of three Michelin stars. I have a history of high expectations. Like the time we went to Tetsuyas which I liked but wasn't blown away by. Yet I can be totally satisfied by a $10 bowl of pho in Cabramatta. It's all to do with expectation. In the end I concluded the risk of having the same kind of disappointment at The French Laundry, as well as being out of pocket somewhere in the range of $800 - $1000) was too great. So we're going to Thomas' less fancy French Bistro Bouchon.

Also on my list was Ubuntu, which I read about first on Lovely Morning. Vegetarian fine dining in Australia is limited, if it exists at all? So I'm exited to be going to a Michelin starred vegetable restaurant, as well as completely charmed by the idea that all the produce comes straight out of the restaurant garden.

So. Am I excited or what?