Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Blue Mountains

It feels like it's been a long time since I've been travelling anywhere. I don't like the static feeling of being stuck in one place for so long. Living in Sydney, while generally enjoyable, is beginning to make me feel a bit trapped.

The opportunity to get out of the city was very welcome, even if it was a short trip somewhere close.

My good friend Rachel was being given a surprise birthday party and we were all invited up to the Blue Mountains.
I had amazingly never been the Blue Mountains.

Well, that wasn't exactly true.

I "had" been to the Blue Mountains when I was younger. However, this was back in high school days, when we were driven into the middle of the bush and left to fend for ourselves. Struggling through the bush with backpacks, freeze dried food and tarps for shelter was not the most relaxing way to experience the place.
I now found myself enjoying this place at a far more than my previous experience.

Being able to walk at my own pace rather than being forced on a death march seems to have that effect.I was also able to see the famous "Three Sisters".

It was OK I guess.

I didn't understand what all the commotion was about though.
The scenery was admittedly very nice. But I wasn't blown away and I didn't feel the shiver in my spine that I get when I see something truly spectacular.
I wonder whether it's because I am comparing it to other places? Am I being unfair and comparing it to places that are simply too much more impressive? Or maybe it is that I now look through eyes filled with too much cynicism.

Regardless, what I should do, is ignore these thoughts in the back of my mind, and just enjoy the moments immediately before me.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Cooking a cloud

In the last two years, Australia has been taken over by the craze of "Masterchef".

This show was originally from the UK, but it has been reformatted for Australian audiences.

The results have been pretty spectacular. The show has taken over popular culture. It's on 6 times a week and regularly tops the ratings. Who would have thought that a cooking show would have become this popular?

Something that people have become fond of doing is attempting the numerous recipes that are used in the show for themselves.

I was keen to try this myself!

And the recipe I wanted to try was a rhubarb and blackberry soufflé with a crumble topping.

Sounds good doesn't it?

Andy was keen to try the recipe as well. Sadly for Josh, he found himself called away at the last moment. As he grabbed his keys and walked out the door, Andy and I could see him staring hungrily at our preparations.

That wasn't going to stop Andy and I with our attempt at the soufflé though.

I was a touch nervous. I had never made a souffle before (of any kind) and I knew of how temperamental they could be. The last thing I wanted was another macaron debacle that would leave me tired, cranky and with little to show for it.

First thing to do was to prepare the stewed fruit. Lots of chopping and a disturbing amount of sugar later and the stewing of the rhubarb and blackberries was under way.

As Andy continued to stir the stewed fruit, I began to prepare the crumble to top it off with by chopping the hazelnuts.
I chopped the hazelnuts finely and combined them with the sugar, butter, flower and oats. I then spread the mixture out evenly on some baking paper to be placed in the oven.
Things seemed to be going well enough as I put the crumble mixture into the
oven to brown. Nothing disastrous had happened and all our work appeared to be going smoothly.With the crumble nicely browned, and the fruit having been stewed to a point that it now held its shape, we now needed to prepare the ramekins.

A souffle is a delicate thing. Even the most minor of interferences can stop it from rising properly. To prevent this from happening, the ramekins need to be well buttered and sugared. This creates a lubricant that allows the soufflé mixture to rise as it expands.
One layer of butter is brushed on, then another, then sugar is laid over the top of this.
With the ramekins ready and sitting in the fridge. We turned out attention back to the soufflé mixture.

The fruit stew needed to be combined with the egg whites after we had beaten them to soft peaks. These beaten egg whites have a huge amount of sugar added to them.
Once beaten, we take turns slowly folding the mixture together. Carefully, we move the spatula through the mixture, ensuring we don't knock the air out of the soufflé. After all of this work, the last thing we want if for a mixture that fails to rise.
Then, we gently spoon the mixtures in the ramekins we prepared earlier, taking particular care to not disturb the butter and sugar coating on the side. We cleaned off the tops with a palette knife and using the tips of our thumbs, we carved sharp edges into the mixture to create a lip on each soufflé.
The soufflé were now ready to be placed into the oven.
I sat in front of the over, waiting patiently. Hoping that they would rise.
Thankfully, all my worries were unfounded.

After they had risen about a centimetre, we took the soufflés out of the oven and added the crumble on top.
A few more minutes and they were done!
It was hard not to feel pleased.

After the difficulties I had faced in making the macarons, I was taking this as a win.

Our soufflés had risen more than I could have imagined, with the crumble perched precariously on top.
It was now time to determine whether our best efforts had been successful and whether the flavour matched the appearance.
Thankfully, the recipe and our best efforts had been a success.
The soufflé's flavour was sweet and fresh, matching well to the lightness of the texture.

I wonder what I should try to make next.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

How the professionals do it

My best efforts to make French macarons came up painfully short (on the whole).

The success I had with a few couldn't disguise the failure I had with most of the others.

This reality presented itself again when my housemate Josh brought home a box of macarons made by a professional.
I may have a bit more to do before I reach that level.