Chocolate & Spice

chocolate, spice and the other pleasures in life

Saturday, November 25, 2006

What keeps me busy most days

I'm commonly asked (as is A) what I do with my time here now that I'm not working. Initially, keeping myself occupied and filling the hours was a tough task, me waking up promptly at 7:30 am and fidgeting around the house and checking my email every couple of hours. Now, it's a breeze finding activities to do to fill the hours every day!

A lot of my friends are now calling me a "domestic goddess", hopefully with the image of the luscious Nigella Lawson in mind! I guess it's because a lot of my time now revolves around cooking and food and shopping for food. I spend many happy hours walking past the swanky boutiques on Chapel Street until I reach its extreme end in the district of Windsor to wallow in the op shops with their extensive collection of vintage cooking books (how quaint are recipes for good old 70s and 80s classics like prawn cocktail, avocado and trout pate with Melba toast and Steak Diane?!) and browsing the shelves at a favourite shop, Flavours Herbs and Spices, for spices, herbs and other cooking equipment. Walking back along Chapel Street, I look at the lovely cakes at Patterson's Cakes, and the many other old-fashioned cake shops (with garishly decorated cupcakes) along the way. Sometimes, I pop to the Prahran Market to check out the produce at the organic supermarket there although by now I do most of my shopping at the cheaper Chinese produce market (the Fresh Supermarket on Chapel Street, Prahran). Other times, I swing by special providores such as Oliveria - a Melbourne institution (particularly amongst chefs) specialising in olive-based products and is best known for its range of olive oils.


I am usually unable to resist buying something new to try and a week back, having run out of olive oil (the normal kind from the supermarkets), I finally decide to try the olive oil sourced by Oliveria from various parts of the world - ranging from Spain, Australia, Italy and even France. These oils are decanted from huge stainless steel buckets into individual packets and because they are packaged under Oliveria's own label, the cost of trying these oils are significantly lowered.

First, one has to decide on the type of olive oil one wants - spicy, fruity, mild.... the various attributes of olive oil is unending. Buying olive oil can be akin to buying wine - you definitely have to try some before deciding. After sampling a variety, I decide on the Chef's Choice olive oil, which I'm told is a popular choice amongst many Melbourne chefs. Later that night, drizzled over a rocket salad and served separately with some of my Tomato Powder (from New York) as a dip for bread, I can see why this olive oil is in demand!

I don't just spend all my time drooling over the produce in specialist shops or a lazy afternoon reading the latest cookbooks at Borders (just a short 10 minute walk away!) or cooking up dinner. For the past couple of months, I've been faithfully tying on the apron and whacking on the oven to try my hand at a variety of bakes - cakes, slices, muffins and biscuits. I'm way past the first time I made pastry after many years, although there are some near misses (like the time I tweaked my Chocolate Peanut Cookie recipe with orange marmalade instead and turned out a dense chewy cookie, which thankfully A still loved).


The latest recipe I try is a Double Chocolate Muffin from the Everyday Cooking book I'm so attached to. Originally a Triple Chocolate Muffin (how's that for chocolate overload?!), I leave out the white chocolate chips and chocolate fudge icing the recipe calls for and instead add in freshly chopped dark chocolate with the dark chocolate chips I'm using. I don't have any more chocolate in the fridge to make the icing so I use my beloved Nutino instead. Instant yums!

My Double Chocolate Muffin
(makes 8 - 9)

Ingredients:

150g (1 cup) self-raising flour
50g (1/2 cup) cocoa
90g (1/2 cup) soft brown sugar
165ml (2/3 cup) milk
60g (4 tbsp) butter, melted and cooled
1 egg
90g (1/4 cup) dark chocolate chips and dark chocolate chopped up, mixed
Chocolate fudge icing or Nutino for icing

Method:

Preheat oven to 180'C and line 8 x 125ml (1/2 cup) muffin pans with paper cases.
Sift the flour and cocoa together, then add brown sugar and stir through. Whisk the milk, melted butter and egg together.
Add the wet mix to the dry mix and whisk together until it forms a smooth batter. Fold through the chocolate chips and bits.
Spoon the mix into the prepared muffin tins and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until risen and golden brown.
Allow to cool, then top with Nutino frosting or the traditional chocolate fudge icing if desired.


The prepared mix all ready to be bunged into the oven

The muffins before the Nutino icing is spread

These muffins are probably not something you'd want to eat every day, but these are no doubt fantastic once in while!

Check out Oliveria at:

Pran Central Shopping Centre, Shop G36
Corner of Commercial Rd. & Cato St, Prahran
Tel: (03) 9510 0690

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