Thursday, August 26, 2010

Do not try this at home...

See a pic of my macarons? No? Now you know why.

Do not try this at home...

Straight up – the chocolate macarons I made in honour of one of my work mate’s leaving do were an unqualified disaster. (So was Ling leaving work. Please come back!) In fact, they were so bad, they provided the inspiration behind this blog. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just have to laugh at how crap things turn out – then share it with the rest of the world. There aren’t even any photos of my attempt. And this is a good thing. Adriano Zumbo himself would probably fly the five hours to Perth just to permanently ban me, in person, from trying to make them ever again if he’d seen what I did.

Chocolate macarons. But not mine.
I’ve heard that to make perfect macarons, consistently, is the equivalent of reaching the summit of Everest for patissiers – so, they’re hard to make. Much harder than I thought. The chocolate macarons to the right are what they should look like. But no, clearly they’re not mine. This shot of these actually come courtesy of San Churro in Leederville. These macarons were light, crisp on the outside, soft and gooey in the middle; just decadent little pillows of… yumness. Yes, I know that’s not a word.

Here are some adjectives to describe mine: burnt; hard as bullets; bitter; uneven; just plain crap. I did get some positive feedback from the poor work mates I inflicted them on. A few said they actually tasted okay. They kind of did too. Initially I said they were macarons, but after awhile I was just so embarrassed that I started introducing them to people as ‘chocolate biscuits with chocolate ganache’. Even that’s a generous description of them. In reality, I should never have plated them up. (I hear you groaning!) Matt Preston would have smashed the plate on the floor and said ‘that’s disgusting’. And he would’ve left it at that.

But I think I know what went wrong. Firstly, I started to make these at 9pm the night before, after a long day of work. That’s just inviting disaster. Secondly, I’d never made these before. Normally, not a problem; the dulce de leche cheesecake was the first time I’d made that too and that was a success. But these are macarons we’re talking about. Thirdly, the recipe was fairly simple. Sounds silly, but I’ve seen these made on Masterchef. They shouldn’t be that simple to make. I need to try a new recipe for the next attempt (and don’t worry, I’ve got loads). Other things: my oven is crap (too hot, which is why they burnt); I don’t think I got the right consistency with the macaron batter; and lastly, by the time I’d made the ganache (again, which I’d never made before), it was really late, I wasn’t thinking clearly and took it off the heat too soon. It was uber runny.

And this is the point of this blog – its raison d’ĂȘtre. It’s to show that when things go right, I love to share that with everyone and celebrate an achievement. When it goes horribly wrong, it shows that I (usually) know what went wrong and how I can fix it next time. And hopefully you can learn from my mistakes. Watch this space for the next attempt.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A trek to South America for dulce de leche

A dinner party-devoured dessert speaks for itself.

A trek to south America for dulce de leche

At least, at the time, that’s what it felt like to make dulce de leche cheesecake, the cover recipe for April’s delicious. But, I’m glad to say, this does have a happy ending – I count this as one of my greatest triumphs. It all started when our friends invited us over for a dinner party. I was in charge of dessert. Because dessert’s kind of my thing; it’s what I do for dinner parties. Hunting around my tried and true recipes, nothing satisfied me and I felt the need to be brave – to experiment, as Emperor D puts it.

Dulce de leche out of the can
I remembered the fantastic looking cheesecake that was on the cover of the April issue of delicious. I’m not normally a fan of cheesecakes, but this looked, well, delicious. Looking through the recipe, I was thinking that Perth has gone leaps and bounds in the food world; I’m sure dulce de leche will be easy to find. Nope. As a workmate of mine can attest, I spent frantic lunchtimes, for two days in a row, phoning every supplier and gourmet supermarket I could think of in metro Perth to find it. In the end, at 3pm on Friday – the day before the dinner party – I admitted defeat and decided to make dulce de leche instead. It’s actually quite simple; simmer a couple of unopened cans of sweetened condensed milk for three hours - making sure you don’t end up with a caramel explosion all over your walls - and presto, your very own South American dairy confection is ready.

Not quite as pretty as delicious' version,
but still, um, delicious!
By the time I’d put the cheesecake in the fridge to set, having made the dulce de leche, then actually put the cheesecake together – all three layers - and baked it, it was, *I think*, around midnight.  Emperor D thought I was nuts. So did I, in my sleep-deprived fog.

But oh, it was so worth it. At the dinner party the next day, it was clear that it was a winner. Putting the finishing touches on – dulce de leche sauce and toffee shards – brought it all together, and literally crowned a culinary achievement. Of course, mine didn’t look as pretty as the one in delicious – I mean, they have food stylists – but it’s all in the taste. Looking round the table of friends with satisfied looks on their faces made what seemed like a trek to South America for dulce de leche worth it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

But first, a word from our sponsor...

Hi. I'm Jo. Better known in the www as Empress Jo. That's me, to the right. There is a story behind the regal-sounding pseudonym, but maybe I'll post about that later. So, a bit about me. I've just turned 30. I live in Perth. I recently married, and, for the purposes of anonymity, I'll call my husband Emperor D. I work in communucations for an Australian government agency. Basically, I'm in PR/marketing. I love to write, so I like the industry I work in - I just don't get much of a chance to do it where I currently work.

I've always been fascinated by food. But it's only really been since the advent of Masterchef that I've taken a real interest in it. When Emperor D and I first moved in together about ten years ago, I had one display book of recipes; hand-me-down classics and childhood favourites from my mum that I’d cut out and stuck on blank paper. That gradually grew to two, but in the last two years, it's exploded. I now have five 'volumes' of display books full of recipes that I've tried and loved, tried and hated, haven't tried yet, and probably will never try. These come from all sorts of places - newspapers, things I've randomly written down - but most are from delicious, which I consider to be the king of foodie magazines. Along with my own recipe books, my collection of cookbooks has grown too; first it was a couple of the Family Circle ones, then I expanded into Donna Hay – Modern Classics  Books 1 and 2 are great investments, btw - but lately, I've gone hard core, acquiring Larousse Gastronomique  (a bargain at 50% off!), and it's Italian cousin, The Silver Spoon.

It's the same for kitchen gadgets. I started with the stock-standard appliances and utensils, but along the way I've managed to accumulate a ravioli cutter, a slow cooker, a cafe press (in addition to a toasted sandwich maker), a George Foreman grill, a mortar and pestle, some scales, a new block of Scanpan knives, brand new set of Scanpan pots and pans, a food processor, a random collection of bakeware, and... thanks to Emperor D and family for my 30th birthday - my pride and joy, my Kitchenaid stand mixer, right. I've only used her a few times so far, but she's brilliant. I need to name her. Her bright red colour suggests she should have a name like one of those names they gave planes in WWII. Like Memphis Belle. Or Enola Gay.

Anyway, the whole cooking thing came about because I like to 'experiment', as Emperor D puts it. But that's not to imply that I come up with a recipe by myself. Not at all - potential Masterchef contestants don't have anything to fear from me. I'm strictly a recipe follower. But some of the recipes I like to have a crack at do seem like experiments. I occasionally find myself driving around town for hard to find and often expensive ingredients, like pashmak and dulce de leche (look out for the story behind that one in my next post). Sometimes I'll have an original idea of my own, but not often.

This blog came about because, last Thursday, I had a crack at making chocolate macarons (not macaroons!). I'll post more about them later, but they were an unqualified disaster. I got some positive comments from the workmates I inflicted them on, but they didn't look pretty. Then I started to think about all the other things I've made and the ones that turned out really well and the ones that... well, just didn't. As I've said, I like to write, so here we are - the solution these days is to write a blog. I could keep a diary and keep the disasters to myself, but that wouldn't be much fun now, would it?

I have no idea how much or how often I'll post; but I've got some great ideas for posts that I hope to get up soon. Sometimes I might go totally off topic and post something completely random. Bear with me when that happens - I'll be back to normal programming soon enough.

I really hope you enjoy the blog. If I manage to bring a smile to your face as you read, then I'll consider my job done.