Monthly Archives: November 2011

Triple Chocolate Tea Cake

Triple Chocolate Tea Cake

I have been wanting to bake something for a while now. I’ve missed the smell of the flat as the cake cooks, and for something sweet to have with my afternoon cup of tea or coffee.

But what to make ? I have recently taken to making cupcakes and cookies just because it means that you can have small portions and also not make so much that D and I are forced to eat it all *wink*.

D’s immediate response when I asked him what he felt like ? CHOCOLATE.

So I decided on making the most chocolatey thing I could think of – a simple chocolate cake with chocolate buttons and chocolate butter icing.

I went searching for a recipe for a moist, light cake – nothing too heavy – and I found one that ticked the boxes, with the additional benefit of being able to be made in the same pan that you baked it in. I found this on the trusty joyofbaking site and then used a separate recipe for chocolate butter icing.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 1 1/2 cups (195g) plain flour
  • 3/4 cup (150g) granulated white sugar
  • 1/4 cup (25g) unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed), sifted
  • 1/2 cup (50g) dark chocolate drops/buttons
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup (75g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup (250ml) warm water
  • 1 tbs lemon juice or vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the icing:

  • 6 tbs butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • 2-3 tbs milk

Method

  • Preheat oven to 180C (350F) and place rack in centre of the oven
  • In an ungreased 20cm (8 inch) square cake pan, stir together the flour, sugar, sifted cocoa powder, chocolate drops, baking powder, baking soda and salt
  • Add the melted butter, water, lemon juice/vinegar and vanilla extract
  • With a fork, mis all the ingredients together until well blended
  • Bake in preheated oven for about 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick (or raw stick of spaghetti) inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean
  • Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool
  • Once the cake is cool, ice with chocolate icing. You can even cut the cake in half horizontally and add an extra layer of icing in the middle for that extra chocolate hit
  • For the icing, beat the butter and salt together until light and creamy
  • Slowly beat in the icing sugar
  • Add 1 tbs milk at a time and beat well to get a softer consistency



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Salt Grill at Level 55 Ion

Passionfruit and banana soufflé with a marscapone sorbet

I love this place for more than the food. They’ve done such a superb job of making you feel like you’re somewhere special, from the strange entrance through an art gallery to a starfilled private lift area and lift that takes you to only one floor – 55. And from that darkness you enter a spacious room that is flooded with natural light.

The food though, is the real reason to go to Salt Grill. Previous visits gave me enough incentive to try new dishes. This time, a roasted gnocchi with pork and fennel sausage, and his signature dessert, a liquorice parfait with lime.

Roasted gnocchi with pork and fennel sausage

I don’t normally choose gnocchi – I find it a bit too doughy and heavy for my liking, but I loved the sound of it with the sausage and was delighted to find that the dish was lightened with the addition of brocolli tips/flowers and pangritata.

Pangritata is a Southern Italian stroke of genius. Modest ingredients – stale bread, herbs, garlic and anchovies or olives, fried until crisp and golden. It gave the dish a completely different texture normally associated with gnocchi and was delicious with a cold glass of pinot grigio.

Luke’s liquorice parfait with lime

Then to desserts. I couldn’t help but share a photo of my friend’s dessert above – a banana and passionfruit soufflé with a marscapone sorbet just because it looked so damn good. For my dessert, I again ordered something unusual – liquorice parfait served with a sweet tuille and lime syrup. It’s one of the strangest combinations that I could think of for a dessert. And yet somehow, the creamy, slightly anise flavoured parfait worked wonderfully with the sweetness of the lime syrup and the sharp tangy bits of fresh lime. Still not sure I would order it again, but it sure is unique.

I think I really should try this place out for dinner just to experience what would be a completely different ambiance and menu.

Salt Grill by Luke Mangan
Level 55 on ION Orchard. Lift entry is on Level 4
Tel: 6592 5118


Sausage rolls – with added newness !

Sausage rolls with onion, sage and chestnut stuffing

I made two small changes to my standard sausage roll recipe today. First, I added chopped cooked chestnuts, which I can luckily find in my supermarket in vacuum-sealed packs, and used the puff pastry that comes in blocks rather than sheets. It means that there is a touch of sweetness in the sausage mix, and you can control the thickness of the pastry. I think the pastry:sausage ratio with thicker pastry = the best sausage rolls I’ve made. Our maths lesson for today is brought to you by my Mother in law’s awesome sausage rolls she always bakes loads of when we visit.

Ingredients

  1. 6 good quality pork sausages (or about 350g sausage meat from the butcher)
  2. 1 large onion, finely diced
  3. 1 handful sage leaves, chopped
  4. 150g cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
  5. 1 block puff pastry, thawed at room temperature
  6. 1 egg, beaten

Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200C/390F
  2. Combine the sausage meat, onion, sage and chestnuts together in a large bowl
  3. Roll out the pastry to about 1/4 inch thick
  4. Place lines of the sausage meat along the length of the pastry, roll over and seal edges lightly
  5. Cut into 2 inch thick slices and place on to a wire rack over a oven-proof tray and brush with the beaten egg
  6. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown

Ristorante Pietro Valentini

Fried egg and asparagus with fresh black truffles

My last holiday post ! It has been so so so wonderful being able to extend the memory of the trip by reliving each of the amazing places where we were lucky enough to eat. And it’s been such a journey. I am hungry and full and happy and sad at the same time.

Our last stop in Italy was Rome – just for one night as that was where we were flying out from. It was intentional, we had half a day to visit our favourite monuments (the awesome Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain) and to eat at the restaurant that we chanced upon two years ago, Ristorant Pietro Valentini.

Our palate has grown increasingly hungry for truffles since we last visited, and I do recall then ordering only one dish with truffles, instead filling precious tummy space with fritto misto (lightly battered and deep fried seafood) and stuffed zucchini flowers.

Fresh tagliolini with white truffles

This time we ordered with laser focus (although we couldn’t resist some of their fresh homemade walnut bread). Fried eggs and asparagus to start – a slightly strange dish for dinner but who wants to stick to tradition when it comes liberally covered in shaved black truffles ? The asparagus spears were thick and green and cooked to perfection, the egg cooked through but with a runny yolk, and that’s all you get served with. What ? Oh, wait, here comes Simone, the daughter in-law of the owner and cook, with a tray of black truffles, selects one nonchalantly and grates it with a microplane over the dish. The warmth of the egg seems to enhance the smell of truffles even more.

Parmesan risotto with fresh white truffles

For mains we thought we’d stick to simple dishes – parmesan risotto and fresh tagliolini. Again, both served plain at the table, and then the lovely Simona arrives with a wooden box which she opens to reveal four beautiful white truffles. She then proceeds to thinly shave about two of these over our two dishes. And here we thought the black truffles smelled good. The aroma of the white truffles when they hit the warm rice and pasta filled the small restaurant to the point where all conversation in the place stopped, replaced with oohs and aahs of delight. Guess they were also there for the same thing and it was a taste/smell of things to come 🙂

I don’t really need to say much more than that other than we risked walking across the city amongst strikes and protests and riots (including riot police!) to get to Pietros. And boy was it worth it.

Ristorante Pietro Valentini
Via dei Pianellari
Rome, Italy
Tel: 066868565


Nerbone at Mercato Centrale, Florence

I’m excited that this is my first post with a video ! I really think the video captures the entire experience, which is waiting for the slightly Soup Nazi guy behind the counter to slice super tender bollito – boiled beef – or lampredotto – tripe/the fourth stomach of the cow – before piling it on to crusty roll along with a fresh green salsa and fiery red sauce.

The place is mobbed with hungry locals and tourists. No-one tells the tourists that there is no queue system here. You order and pay at a separate counter, then it’s like being in a bar – shuffle your way (using elbows if you must) and try to make eye contact with the man who will give you what you want. You can see how soft the meat is as he slices and chops it, and before he adds the meat to the crusty roll, he dips the roll into the beef’s own juices. It adds just the right amount of juiciness to the roll, which is probably why they have been around since the market opened in 1874.

My topped up panini being assembled

D and I ordered one roll of each. I love tripe, but even for me, an entire roll full of tripe was a bit much, so I went back and ordered a half portion more of the bollito and “topped up” my roll.

Both beef and lampredotto were meltingly tender and so full of flavour. We stuffed our faces while watching him make roll after roll for other hungry customers.

If you are in Florence and love simple food, you absolutely must go to the Mercato Centrale (which is awesome in itself for the produce you can get there) and visit Nerbone.

You can also get roast meat sandwiches, which also looked awesome, but you need to prioritise your precious stomach space because they are only open from 7am – 2pm.

Nerbone
Inside Mercato Centrale, entrance on Via dell’Ariento, stand no. 292 (ground floor)
Near San Lorenzo & the Mercato Centrale


Ribollita

The famous Tuscan soup, ribollita

Tuscan fare is almost absurdly good. I love that many dishes often have peasant roots, utilising inexpensive, bountiful (in season) ingredients that all come together to make delicious rustic meals.

Ribollita is a perfect example of this. A hearty soup made with leftover bread, cannellini beans and stock vegetables.  Ribollita translates to “reboiled” and was originally made by reheating leftover vegetable soup from the previous day.

It’s deceptively filling, probably because of the bread, but is such a delicious way to start a meal that every dinner I had to order it.


Trattoria Mario

The photo does not do the size and deliciousness of the steak any justice

Trattoria Mario was once written up in an American newspaper as one of Florence’s great secrets, which of course led to thousands of visitors wanting to sample the house speciality – Bistecca alla Fiorentina. For a good reason.

Skip breakfast (you’ll need the tummy space) and head there for an early lunch if you don’t fancy waiting outside the tiny trattoria with your nose pressed up against the glass watching people feasting inside. It’s rustic Florentine fare, from the simple seating area with waiters and cooks doing what they do best amongst the loud chattering customers, to the delicious T-Bone steaks they serve there. There is one menu written on the chalkboard next to the kitchen, and beverages are written in ink on the window that separates the kitchen from the seating area.

The menu is limited. They don’t really need much else, people go there for the steak. And with good reason.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina is essentially a large (minimum 700g) T-bone steak of mature beef, aged at least 20 days grilled over hot coals for a quick five minutes each side and then 15 minutes standing on its edge. No seasoning is added until being served, where salt and pepper is liberally sprinkled over with a final drizzle of olive oil and a wedge of lemon on the side.

The steaks are cut to order from an enormous slab of beef. The outside is seared till it’s almost crispy, while the inside of the steak is perfectly rare. The flavour explosion that comes from the first and each subsequent mouthful is insanely good. It needed nothing other than a caraffe of Brunello di Montalcino.

I also love that on their home page it says “we only have indoor seating and we don’t serve pizza”.  No compromise.

Trattoria Mario
Via Rosina 2r
Firenze, Italia
Tel: 055 218550

email: trattoriamario@libero.it

Open for Lunch only.
Seating from 12:00 to 3:30 Monday through Saturday.
Closed Sundays and holidays.

No reservations. We will take your name when you arrive and seat you when space becomes available. Seating is communal.
Cash only. We do not take credit cards or travelers checks.


Procacci – home of the truffle sandwich

Procacci’s famous truffle sandwich

Procacci has been serving panini tartufati in the heart of Florence since 1885. Translated directly as truffle sandwich, soft rolls are filled with delicious truffle salsa. They do serve other small snacks, but really, why would you bother ? A gorgeous place to have a short afternoon break with a glass (or several) of prosecco to accompany the sandwiches.

Coincidentally, Procacci opened their first operations outside of Europe in Singapore ! (Their second was opened in Vienna in 2006)

I’m thinking that may be the destination for dinner very very soon.

Procacci
Via Tornabuoni, 64/r
50123 Florence

Tel: +39 055 211656
Email: firenze@procacci1885.it

Open: 10:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m., from Monday to Saturday; closed on Sundays

 


Zenato Wine Tasting

The main reason we decided to stay in Verona in the first place during our recent trip to Italy, was to visit the vineyard of our favourite wine label, Zenato.

Trebbiano grapes with the Italian Alps in the background

Zenato have two vineyards. One in the Valpolicella region, to the east of Lake Garda, where they grow Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes to make their wonderful red wines, like amarone, and one in the Peschiera Del Garda, at the south east tip of Lake Garda. Here they grow Trebbiano grapes to make white wines like their Lugana.

Zenato also grow their own olives to make their olive oil

Our friendly guide, Anna, walked us through the wine making process, where we found out what a truly complex art it can be. The flavour of each wine is so reliant on seemingly endless factors from nature, from the soil composition and weather to the types of plants that grow near the grapes – all encapsulated in the terroir that gives each crop their unique qualities.

Grapes drying to make amarone

While all of this was fascinating to me, we also had the benefit of being able to take in the spectacular scenery of the Italian Alps in the background, as well as seeing the grapes to make amarone being air-dried in crates before being pressed. The end result is an sweet, intensely flavoured wine that we just love.

No swans were harmed in the making of this photograph ! The awesome Lake Garda

Getting dropped off at Lake Garda on a stupendously gloriously sunny day after going through tasting eight of their wines made a slightly tipsy D and I a little emotional at just how good life can be.  La dolce vita !

Zenato Azienda Vitivinicola
Via San Benedetto, 8
37019 Peschiera Del Garda (Verona) Italy
Email: info@zenato.it


24 Apostles

Amarone risotto

Well, the second time we went to the 12 Apostles, actually. We had had such a fun and delicious experience there a few nights earlier, and there was so many dishes that went unordered, we felt we simply had to go again.

D and I were intent on trying dishes that we would not normally order. This time around, again on recommendation, an amarone risotto, a gorgeous dish of saffron shrimp au gratin and my first taste of monkfish.

The amarone risotto tasted exactly as you would expect a risotto that was made with a heady, heavy, sweet red wine instead of stock. With no other ingredients or accompaniments, the flavour was a little strong for my liking – not sure if it’s habit or preference, but the flavour of risotto for me is usually quite delicate. Still, I’m glad I tried a speciality of the region – presumably because they have a large supply of amarone (so jealous). And the risotto was cooked perfectly – with a good amount of bite and lots of gorgeous starch from the grains.

Saffron shrimp au gratin

The shrimp came on a bed of wilted spinach, smothered in cheese and then oven-baked so that the cheese melted over the shrimp. Oh. My. Goodness. Heaven on a plate. I never think of combining shrimp with cheese but that sweet and savoury mix worked beautifully together.

Pan-roasted monkfish with frutti di mare

Monkfish was my main course.  It isn’t commonly found in Asia or Australia, and we’d seen it in the Venice Fish Markets – not really sure why it seems to be filleted so that it looks like it’s exploded like some alien, but assume because the only edible part of the fish is the tail (and it’s liver) – and looking at pictures of the whole fish, it’s a pretty ugly looking thing. Which is ironic because it tastes absolutely delicious. The texture of it is dense and sweet, similar to lobster-meat but not quite as heavy and is beautifully flaky. This came simply pan fried with a simple stock reduction and seafood with vegetables. I have to say, that in the whole of our trip, the Italians seem to really overseason and overcook their vegetables. Still, the fish was wonderful and I’m glad to have finally tasted this fish I hear so much about from watching travel/cooking programs.

Vanilla ice-cream with amaretti pastry and crushed hazelnuts

Of course we couldn’t skip dessert. Only this time we were more restrained and just ordered one – essentially a round ice-cream sandwich, with vanilla ice-cream in the centre, flaky amaretti pastry on top and bottom, and with the ice-cream dusted in crushed sugar and hazelnuts. The dish was warmed in a hot oven for literally 30 seconds before serving, melting the sugar and hazelnut mixture and providing you with incentive to eat it before all the ice-cream melted. I think it wasn’t on our table for much longer than it was in the oven.

I would recommend Verona to anyone who asks, and also this restaurant. Your dinner is sure to give you a true taste of Veronese food and wine, as well as its culture and history.

12 Apostoli
Corticela S. Marco 3,
37121, Verona, Italy
Tel: +39 045 596999
Email: dodiciapostoli@tiscali.it

Closed Sunday and Monday evenings