Chocolate & Spice

chocolate, spice and the other pleasures in life

Friday, December 15, 2006


Now that we're just a week away from leaving Melbourne for good, I find myself in a nostalgic mood reading my past posts and the places we've visited, the experiences we've had, the people we've met here and the friends we've made. I guess at the beginning, 6 months here sounded just about right. From where I am right now at the wrong end of those 6 months, it's simply not enough time...

The past few weeks saw me mooching about feeling all sad and sorry that our time here is nearly at an end. And this is when Melbourne is at its best - a couple of weeks ago, the tail-end of spring heralded warmer days and the promise of a hot Indian summer - now that summer has started, I'm enjoying the long light-filled days to the fullest. I'd still like to be here when summer goes into full swing - I think about the fun events like movies in the park yet to happen in the Botanic Gardens, the food produce that summer brings and which I'll see appearing over the next few weeks in the local market, and the Christmas and New Year celebrations here which A and I will miss. We're somewhat consoled that we'll be spending Christmas with A's family (our first together in our years as a couple) and ushering in the New Year in Sydney.

Part of this sad moping about the house was brought on by a culmination of missing family and friends in the run-up to Christmas and the thrill (and slight guilt of not being home at this time) of experiencing Christmas somewhere else other than in Singapore. And being the sentimental sniffy person I am, I've been moping about leaving a place which has been the source of much personal happiness for A and I this year.

I suppose the bright side of our short stint here is that this is just the beginning of many more trips back here in future, A's office being reassuringly forthcoming with dates for trips down next year. For now, it's time to pack up the apartment, enjoy the rest of our days here and have fun at all our farewell parties and look forward to coming home in January 2007.

I've always believed that a lot of the fun in life derives from treasuring the past, enjoying the present to the fullest and anticipating what the future brings. I'm looking forward to coming home and seeing what 2007 brings both of us - our 6 months here has served its purpose in letting me recharge myself fully and face work and given me ample time to indulge my interests. To all our friends and family who have been checking in on us periodically through this blog, thanks for keeping us updated on everyday life in Singapore (such that we feel we haven't really been away!) and for keeping up the contact. We've missed you hugely and we're coming back soon!!

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Clearing out the fridge isn't easy!!

I read once here about a certain food blogger's difficulty in finishing up his lasagne sheets. With just a week to go before we leave Melbourne for good after our 6 months here, I am faced with the same problem with the dates still lurking in my fridge after 2 rounds of Sticky Toffee Puddings and my attempt at Date Scones the other day. And what I have left isn't quite enough for another pudding for the Christmas gathering at Allan's folks next week in Sydney and I don't fancy making anymore goodies to stuff our face with this week!! *SCREAM*

With all the boxes and bags we have to load the car with next Saturday when we leave for Sydney, I'm sure we'll find room for yet another small bag but it vexes me no end that I can't seem to finish these dates. It's no solution telling me to eat them plain (as I hate the taste of plain dates if not masked with other flavours) - that'll be A's job.

Back to Date Scones. It's a simple recipe, perfect for Saturday morning brekkies when it's pulled out fresh and steaming hot from the oven. Alright, who are we kidding here? No one I know who reads this blog gets up early on Saturday, much less to bake! But honestly, if you do happen to have any leftover dates in the fridge, set the alarm clock and give this recipe a go. Although these scones keep relatively well, they are definitely best fresh and hot, with the aroma of sweet dates mingling with the freshly ground nutmeg. I had one smothered with butter as soon as it came out of the oven and it was oh so yummy....

This recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander's lovely cook book, The Cook's Companion.

Date Scones
(makes about 10 - 11)


150g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (this is essential, do not skip!)
pinch of salt
20g unsalted butter
2 tbsp sugar
150g dates, stoned and chopped
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup water


1. Preheat oven to 210'C and grease a baking tray.
2. Sift flour, nutmeg and salt together, then rub in butter. Add sugar and dates.
3. Combine milk and water and mix into flour to form a soft but firm dough. Knead together quickly, then press out on a floured surface and cut into squares or use a cutter to cut out rounds.
4. Bake for 7 minutes then reduce heat to 180'C and cook for a further 8 minutes until golden.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pie for a Guy

Perhaps this is too much of a generalisation but I've rarely met a guy who doesn't like pies/tarts or anything with pastry in it. There's probably something about the combination of crusty pastry and oozing filling that makes for a sublime 'party in your mouth' (I got this off one of the celebrity chefs, Jason Roberts, on ReadySteadyCook...yes one of those cooking programmes I catch over here).

A, being a true Aussie at heart, loves pies much to my horror ("Sweetie, there's a ton of FAT in that meat pie you're chowing down..."). I'm not a big fan of pastry, both making it or eating it. Making it - it always seems that the weather in Singapore is never condusive to making it although my efforts here have met more success. Eating it - I find that most commercial pies have way too much pastry, making for a tough chewing experience and thenafter, sitting like a lump of lard in your tummy.

I've always wished I had a light hand with pastry; so do most cooks I know. I recall back in school days, my classmates in the cooking class would shudder with horror when we learnt that the lesson for that day was "Sausage Rolls" or "Strawberry Pie" or anything related to pastry. These days, I've taken a more relaxed approach to making pastry instead of stressing over getting the dough to bind and find that this seems to be the best way to making a successful pie! Probably because one doesn't handle the dough as much!

Looking back on my posts, I've done a whole gamut of cakes, biscuits and the likes but very little pastry of late. So I thought it was time to change that and set aside an afternoon to make a Roast Tomato, Bacon and Spinach Tart, one of my preferred choices at cafes I frequent. Made well, this tart will be a nice light lunch for hot afternoons when you don't feel like cooking! This is a slight modification from the recipe in one of my reliable cookbooks, Everyday Cooking.

Roast Tomato, Bacon and Spinach Tart (serves 8)


1 x 25cm Shortcrust pastry shell (using your own recipe or ready-made)
4 Roma tomatoes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp chilli powder (optional)
1 onion, diced
6 bacon slices, diced
4 eggs
125ml (1/2 cup) cream
3 tbsp grated parmigiano
chopped parsley
80g spinach, blanched and chopped
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, sprinkled over the cooked spinach

1. Preheat oven to 180'C.
2. Cut the tomatoes into wedges and place on a baking tray. Brush with oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and chilli (if using). Roast in a preheated oven for 20 - 30 minutes until the tomatoes are soft and golden brown.
3. Heat a small saucepan over a medium heat. Add a generous splash of oil, the onion and bacon. Cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring often to prevent the bacon from catching.
4. Whisk the eggs together with the cream, grated parmigiano, parsley, spinach and salt and pepper.
5. Arrange the tomato wedges in the base of the cooked pastry shell, add the onion and pancetta mix and pour in the egg custard.
6. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the egg custard is set.

Some comments:
  • The shortcrust pastry should be blind-baked before the fillings are added. To prevent the egg custard from seeping into the pastry and toughening it, brush the shortcrust pastry with egg yolk before blind baking to seal. This may be repeated once during the baking process.
  • You'll probably have pastry left over, as with the fillings. Don't waste them - make mini tartlets by using a muffin pan as your base instead!

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It's begining to look a lot like Christmas!

I must say that a pudding for dessert isn't the best idea after an indulgent weekend away in Daylesford and eating at the Lake House or when the weather is in the high 30's as its been this week. Still, we're looking at the run-up to Christmas and what better way then to get into the mood with a pre-Christmas pudding! I missed out on getting some beautifully produced puddings from A Pud for All Seasons, both at the Slow Food Market (at the Abbotsford Convent a couple of weekends ago) as well as when we went up country for the weekend and passed by their factory at Elphinstone. So I decided to make my own seeing that I had a bag of dates in the pantry and a recipe flagged for some time to try!

A and I both have a fond weakness for sweet sticky desserts and sticky date pudding happens to be one of our favourites. I've always thought that there was something Christmassy about having a date pudding – with all that lovely caramelized and slightly spicy overtones it connotes!

I thought dates and it's lovely sweet nuances would definitely put us in the mood for all the gift-wrapping after dinner and happily set to making it seeing I had just 16 more days till we leave Melbourne and a whole bag-ful to finish up. Yummy goodness and perfect comfort food, it's perhaps a tad heavy for a summer evening seeing that all the berries and stone fruits have come into season. But making a sticky date pudding is also an exercise in simplicity and will keep nicely in the fridge for those tricky moments between meals when one's tummy craves for a little sustenance.

A is of course thrilled that I have finally decided to make a sticky date pudding and that must have been the reason why he returned earlier than expected with a "Pudding...where's the pudding?" instead of the expected kiss on the cheek!

This recipe comes from a fabulous cookbook, The Cook's Companion, by Melbourne's doyen of cooking, Stephanie Alexander.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
(serves 8)

170g dates, stoned and chopped
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
300ml boiling water
60g unsalted butter
¾ cup castor or brown sugar
2 eggs
170g self-raising flour
½ tsp pure vanilla
** 100g dark chocolate chips/ chopped bittersweet chocolate (optional)

400g brown sugar
1 cup thick cream
250g unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, split

1. Preheat oven to 180'C and butter an 18cm square cake tin.
2. Mix dates and bicarbonate of sofa. Pour over water and leave to stand.
3. Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Fold flour in gently, then stir in date mixture and vanilla and pour into prepared tin.
4. Bake in centre of oven for 30 – 40 minutes until cooked when tested with a sker.
5. To make the sauce, bring all the ingredients to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove vanilla bean.
6. Pour a little sauce over warm pudding and return it to oven for 2-3 minutes so sauce soaks in.
7. Cut pudding into squares and pass extra sauce.

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