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December 20, 2011 / amyjmcintosh

Gluten-free Christmas cake

Gluten-free Christmas cake

Christmas is my favourite time of year. What’s not to love? You get time off work; Santa Claus pays you a visit; you get to eat your own body weight in turkey, mince pies and plum pudding; and if you live in the Southern Hemisphere like me, you get to spend time at the beach. Apart from family feuds, unwanted weight gain and the stress of wanting to punch people in the head as you do your Christmas shopping, it truly is a magical time of year.

Another thing that I love just as much as Christmas is cake. So, combine Christmas and cake and BAM, you have two of my favourite things combined – Christmas cake. I can’t believe it’s been a year since I baked my first ever Christmas cake. Being a sentimentalist at heart, I thought it best to make an annual tradition of this cake-making ritual.

This year’s piece de resistance is somewhat of a departure from last year’s recipe. It’s sans gluten, i.e. gluten-free. Don’t worry, it’s still swimming in all the good stuff, like a few gallons of brandy and a truckload of fruit mince, so it’s not like the gluten will even be missed.

Gluten-free Christmas cake

Gluten-free Christmas cake

But here’s the thing. I haven’t yet tasted the cake. Normally, dear readers, I taste everything before I publish it on my blog, but as I’m under strict instructions to wait until Christmas Day before cutting the cake (yawn), I can’t really tell you if it’s any good. But what I can tell you is it smells bloody good and I found the recipe on one of my favourite websites, Taste, so I’m hedging my bets that we’re onto a winner.

So what can I tell you about this wondrous cake that I haven’t yet eaten? The secret ingredient (apart from White Wings gluten-free flour mixture which is really good, by the way) is 1kg of fruit mixture which I soaked in the good part of a bottle of brandy for a whole week. But the best part (apart from licking the bowl) was pouring a quarter of a cup of brandy over the hot cake and inhaling the gorgeous scent.

Gluten-free Christmas cake

This cake has well and truly been pickled with brandy.

Gluten-free Christmas cake

Once the cake had cooled, I glazed it with apricot jam and studded it with pretty jewels in the way of glace cherries.

Gluten-free Christmas cake

Fruit cake freezes beautifully, so no need to fret if you don't get through the whole thing.

So, there you have it. My first ever gluten-free Christmas cake. Stay tuned post-Christmas for my review of said cake. Meanwhile, thanks for reading Amy’s Cookbook this year. See you next year with a new-look and renamed Amy’s Cookbook! Merry Christmas!

December 19, 2011 / amyjmcintosh

Two Christmas salads

Salad of carrot, orange and chervil

Christmas in Australia can be quite disconcerting for people who grew up in the Northern Hemisphere. Despite the complete lack of snow, sleet and sub-zero temperatures, the typical Aussie Christmas menu would be right at home in the depths of a freezing English winter. As the temps hit the high 20s, many Aussies will be tucking into a hot roast lunch or dinner comprising of ham, turkey or pork and all the trimmings.

Given this style of cooking is completely at odds with our hot climate, the smart ones among us are turning their backs on traditional fare in favour of food that’s more in keeping with the stinking heat. I’m talking alfresco eating – barbies, seafood and salads and the like. Smart move, I say. Sadly, my family hasn’t quite got with the program as yet, so instead of forgoing a hot lunch that would make the Queen Mother proud, we end up having both a hot and cold lunch. Ridiculous? Yes. Common practice Down Under? Absolutely.

But alas, to help get into the spirit of cooking for our climate, today I am sharing two amazing salad recipes that will pump some colour and style into your Christmas menu. They are vibrant, fresh and a refreshing change from salads containing lettuce, tomato and cucumber. Both are from the wonderful English chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. If you don’t have at least one of his cookbooks on your bookcase, you should ask Santa to pop one into your Christmas stocking!

Salad of baby peas, ricotta and spring onions

Carrot, orange and chervil salad

Stay tuned later this week for my gluten-free Christmas cake recipe!

Merry Christmas!

December 2, 2011 / amyjmcintosh

Gluten-free banana choc muffins

Banana choc muffin

Remember Goldilocks? The chick who broke into the home of three unsuspecting bears and ate their porridge, sat in their chair and slept in their bed? What exactly a young girl was doing walking into a stranger’s home unannounced and ransacking their stuff is another blog post altogether. But the point is, Goldilocks was quite a fussy lass. She liked things to be “just right”. While I can’t relate to gatecrashing a bear’s house, I can relate to her fussy tendencies. Take bananas, for instance. I won’t go near them unless they’re just right. And when I say “just right”, I mean not too ripe and not too green, but somewhere in between.

That’s not to say there isn’t a place in my kitchen for over-ripened bananas. The riper the bananas, the better the baked goods and the sweeter the smoothies. I whipped up some gorgeous gluten-free banana choc muffins last week with a sad old banana that looked ready for the scrap heap. Needless to say, just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, don’t judge a banana by its skin. Here’s the recipe.

Banana choc muffins

Makes 12

Gluten-free banana muffins

Dry ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 2 cups gluten-free plain flour
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp gluten-free baking powder

Wet ingredients:

  • 11/4 cups soy milk (gluten-free)
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked
  • 3 tbs canola oil

Flavourings:

  • 1 large ripe banana, mashed
  • 1 tbs crushed walnuts
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate, chopped (I used Lindt)

Toppings:

  • 1 tbs crushed walnuts

Method

  1. Sift the dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine.
  2. Mix the wet ingredients in a small bowl, and add to the dry ingredients.
  3. Add the chocolate, banana and walnuts and stir until just combined. Be careful not to overmix.
  4. Fill a 12-hole muffin tray with cases (or lightly grease with oil) and fill with the mixture.
  5. Sprinkle with walnuts and bake at 180 degrees celsius for approximately 25 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven and allow to sit in tray for five minutes before placing on a cooling rack.
November 25, 2011 / amyjmcintosh

Guacamole

Some things are best made from scratch. Like dips, for example. Apart from the frozen meals in aisle eight at the supermarket, packaged dips are the worst $4.95 you’ll ever spend. Like that extra vodka, lime and soda at the end of a big night, throwing a couple of tubs of dip in your trolley always seems like a good idea at the time. I challenge you to step away from the dip section during your next trip to the shops and whip up your own instead. It will save your wallet and your taste buds.

As far as dips go, guacamole gets my vote. It’s a cinch to make, it’s healthy and it happens to be my favourite colour (green). It’s versatile too – you can serve it with crudites, add it to nachos or team it with smoked salmon, tomatoes and cracked pepper for a light lunch. Like watermelon and mangoes, guacamole congers up feelings of summer and good times spent with friends. It’s one of those foolproof dips that you could probably make with my eyes shut if you had to, but try making it with your eyes open if you can.

Guacamole

Guacamole with crudites

Guacamole

Makes a couple of cups worth.

Ingredients:

2 large ripe avocados, halved, stones removed and peeled
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 small red onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed (you can omit this if you don’t like the taste of raw garlic)
1 vine-ripened tomato, diced
1 red chilli, finely chopped (the smaller the chilli, the fiercer the heat)
1 tbs olive oil
1 handful chopped coriander leaves
paprika sprinkled on top and a drizzle of olive oil

Method:

Place avocado and lemon juice in a large bowl and mash with a fork. You can mash it until it’s completely smooth, but I like to leave some texture in it.

Add the red onion, garlic, tomato, chilli and olive oil and stir with a spoon until combined.

Season with sea salt and cracked pepper, a sprinkle of paprika and a drizzle of olive oil.

Serving suggestion:

Spoon into serving bowl and sprinkle with paprika. Serve with crudites, such as radishes, carrots and cucumbers.

Notes:

  • The guacamole is best eaten fresh, but will keep for up to a day in the fridge.
  • Lightly press the top of the avocados to test if they’re ripe.
  • Avocados turn brown unless you sprinkle them with lemon or lime juice.

If you’re in the mood for snacking, here’s some more yummy dip recipes.

November 18, 2011 / amyjmcintosh

Six rockstar meals

Do you suffer from food envy when eating out? It’s a common affliction that affects the best of us – particularly indecisive Librans like me. What’s even worse than food envy is encountering a dish that’s simply too good to eat. Art on a plate, if you like. Today’s post is a celebration of six restaurant dishes that blew me away.

1. Prawn cocktail at Doyle’s, Watson’s Bay

You may recognise this picture as the background image on Amy’s Cookbook. My sister ordered it at a family lunch at Doyles earlier this year. Truth be told, I had a serious case of food envy when I saw the dish emerge from the kitchen. Simple, fresh and oh-so-Aussie. There may be too much fried food on the menu, but the Sydney institution of Doyles does a mean prawn cocktail. Oh so fitting for a civilised lunch on a sparkly summer’s day. And did I mention the view? It’s to-die-for.

Prawn cocktail at Doyles

Prawn cocktail at Doyles

2. Duck liver pate at The Commons, Darlinghurst

The Commons is one of those places I could just keep going back to. Its cosy interior has just the right mix of coolness and comfort factor that I look for in a watering hole. What’s more, it has a fabulous restaurant that dishes up some of the best seasonal produce around. On my last visit there, we demolished some duck liver pate (they gave me sliced apple instead of bread) and a whole baked rainbow trout stuffed with tomatoes and mozzarella.  Needless to say, I fell into a foodie coma.

Duck liver pate w/ cornichons

Duck liver pate with cornichons

3.  Snapper and chocolate sphere at Gastro Park, Potts Point

The name might get the thumbs down, but Gastro Park takes Sydney restaurant food to a whole new level with its arty interpretations of scaled snapper with smoked potato puree, calamari crackling and ink sauce. Their chocolate, honeycomb, mandarin sphere, cookies and cream is an orgasm on a plate.

Snapper at Gastro Park

Snapper at Gastro Park, Potts Point

Chocolate sphere

Chocolate sphere at Gastro Park

4. Oysters and honey vodka at Food Society, Darlinghurst

Sydney needs more places like Food Society – a little piece of Eastern Europe in the heart of Darlinghurst. I went there with four friends a couple of weeks ago and tucked into their share menu. The best value food I’ve had in ages at $46 each. The stand outs were the Pacific oysters with lemon ice and trout roe washed down with a smooth glass of honey vodka. You simply must try it. Oh, and all dishes served with bread or crackers can be gluten-free on request.

Oysters at Food Society, Darlinghurst

Pacific oysters with lemon ice and trout roe

Honey vodka

Honey vodka at Food Society

5. Dessert plate at Toko, Surry Hills

Toko is one of my favourite restaurants and bars. It might be hard to get a table, but their gyoza are to-die-for and the mood lighting does wonders for my wrinkles. And I love their dessert plate. It’s not gluten-free, but the presentation is spot on. Love.

Toko dessert plate

Dessert platter at Toko, Surry Hills

6. Chocolate fondue and martinis at The Victoria Room, Darlinghurst

Stepping inside Sydney’s plush Victoria Room transports me to a rich gentleman’s club in Bombay. It’s like having dinner at a very rich person’s house. I can imagine someone like Winston Churchill kicking back here with a cigar and Scotch in hand.

Their chocolate fondue and martinis for two is the best $70 you’ll ever spend. Just don’t make the mistake of eating dinner beforehand like we did. The servings are as generous as Santa Claus’s stomach. A warm bowl of molten dark chocolate is surrounded by pieces of Turkish Delight, candied orange, fresh fruit, banana fritters and banana bread. This is hedonism at its best and makes for a great date night.

Chocolate Fondue & Martinis

Chocolate fondue and martinis

October 28, 2011 / amyjmcintosh

Blueberry, maple and mascarpone tart

Blueberry, maple and mascarpone tart

Fridays are for celebrating, and what better way to celebrate than with dessert. Today’s recipe hails from my new favourite cookbook, Indulge by Rowie Dillon. It’s a ‘Blueberry, maple and mascarpone tart’; a fitting end to a busy week or a decadent dinner party.  Indulge will come as a welcome relief to anyone feeling jaded by the lack of glamour in gluten-free cookbooks. Its colourful pages of big and stylish dishes turn ‘gluten-free’ on its head and inject it with a bit of an edge. I’m dying to don my apron and whip up more of its 100 savoury and sweet recipes. For your chance to win a copy of Indulge, check out my review on Taste.

Blueberry, maple and mascarpone tart

Adapted from Indulge by Rowie Dillon

Serves 6

Ingredients:

170g (11⁄3 cups) buckwheat flour
100g unsalted butter, chopped and chilled
30g (1⁄3 cup) desiccated coconut
1 tablespoon pure icing sugar, plus extra, sifted, for dusting
3 tablespoons chilled water

Filling:

500g mascarpone
40g (1⁄3 cup) pure icing sugar
250g blueberries
100ml maple syrup

Grease a 10 x 34cm rectangular loose-based flan tin.

To make the pastry, pulse the flour, butter, coconut and sugar in a food processor to combine.

Add the chilled water and pulse until the dough just comes together to form a ball.

Roll out the pastry to 2mm thick on a lightly floured surface.

Line the prepared tin with the pastry and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Line the pastry shell with baking paper and pastry weights or uncooked rice. Blind bake for 10 minutes until the pastry just starts to go golden on the edges.

Carefully remove the baking paper and pastry weights.

Return the pastry case to the oven for a further 10 minutes, or until golden and crisp.

Set aside to cool on a wire rack.

To make the filling, process the mascarpone and icing sugar in a food processor until smooth. Spoon the filling into the pastry case and smooth the top.

Cover with the blueberries and drizzle with the maple syrup. Serve.

RRP $39.99

Indulge by Rowie Dillon

Indulge by Rowie Dillon

October 21, 2011 / amyjmcintosh

Small Bar Tour

Tutti Frutti cocktail

The rivalry that exists between Sydney and Melbourne is no secret. Both have tickets on themselves as being the superior city, but truth be told, both have their merits. Where one excels in beaches (Sydney), the other triumphs in exceptional cafe culture (Melbourne). Indeed, you’d have the perfect city if you combined the best bits of the two; as you would have the perfect man if you were to combine George Clooney’s face with Brad Pitt’s body and Ewan McGregor’s sexy Scottish accent. But I digress.

Cafe culture isn’t the only thing Melbourne has down pat. Great shopping, a happening arts scene and a plethora of “too-cool-for-school” wine bars are also among its talents. In fact, Sydney has long been the poor cousin of its southern neighbour when it comes to bars imbued with charm, cosiness and a certain “je ne sais quo”. Until now.

Thanks to the relaxation of liquor licensing laws (that have made it next to impossible for most mere mortals to set up a small bar), the average Joe can now set up shop for $500. This is a bit cheaper than the $100k it used to cost. Since August 2008, around 30 new small bars have sprouted up in the centre of the city. The result? Sydneysiders are happy as pigs in mud.

By their very nature, small bars are small and hidden away in the most unlikely places. Some are “holes-in-the-wall” while others are so inconspicuous they don’t even have signs out the front. To help open the lid of this new and hidden culture I took matters into my own hands and signed up for a Small Bar Tour.

First stop on the tour is Stitch. Truth be told, I am running late, so I only see the outside of this blink-and-you-miss it bar. Located at 61 York Street, Sydney, it describes itself as small enough to fit between the stitches of your pocket. Cute. They only have two areas that can be reserved for larger groups. ‘The Cell’ can fit six to eight people at the table and the ‘Side Room’ can fit 10 – 12. Both rooms can be booked from Monday to Saturday, excluding Friday. Could be good for a soiree. Bigger or smaller bookings can be accommodated on Saturdays.

Next stop on our wee bar crawl is Since I Left You.

Since I Left You

Since I Left You

Named after The Avalanches’ song of the same name, Since I Left You is tucked away on Sydney’s Kent Street. It’s the realisation of a lifelong dream for co-owners, Nick and Elvis. Together, they spent five months refurbing what used to be a cloakroom for an upstairs office.

“It’s a strange phenomenon, but apart from a few main streets, the city is pretty much ghost town after hours,” says Nick. “I see small bars as an essential part of breathing life back into the the Sydney CBD, after all small bars are the cafes of the night.

“There’s so much history in the city, and sadly most of it is completely overlooked by a lot of people. Small bars are perfect for occupying and celebrating all those forgotten, out-of-the-way spaces just like what we’ve done.” I couldn’t agree more.

Nick tells me their Tutti Frutti cocktail is one of their more popular drinks and I can see why – it’s a peach, mango, and strawberry daiquiri topped with crushed Fruit Tingles.  Did someone say yum?!

Tutti Frutti cocktail

Next stop on the small bar tour is Grasshopper. There’s lots to love about this place; a thriving bar-cum-restaurant in an alleyway at the back of George Street. One of the things I love the most is the warm welcome that greets me at the front door. A rarity in a city that has lost the plot when it comes to good service. Milk crates adorn the alleyway at the front of the that used to be a dumping ground for surrounding offices.

Drinks are served in beakers.  The menu is deliberately short and sharp – there’s 10 cocktails to choose from. I highly recommend number 33 – a winning combo of honey and ginger rice wine with lemon, mint and lemonade. Aye carumba!

We jump in a cab to get to the fourth and best stop of our whirlwind bar crawl. Crown Street’s Shady Pines Saloon is so cool it doesn’t have a sign. You’d be forgiven for walking straight past if it weren’t for the queue of thirsty bar goers lining up out front.

Shady Pines Saloon

Shady Pines Saloon

Don’t judge a book by its cover because behind its non-descript exterior is a funky bar that would be right at home in Tribeca, NYC. The thing that wins me over (besides their Whisky Apple) is the obvious lack of door lists and attitudes – everyone is welcome at Shady Pines. Just be prepared to queue.

Shady Pines Saloon

Shady Pines Saloon

We now move a hop, skip and a jump away to Sydney’s new mecca of small bars and eating houses – Burton Street. We visit three bars along this strip, including the likes of 13b Cafe & Cocktail Bar and Pocket. But special mention must go to The Commons Local Eating House.

The Commons

The entrance to The Commons Local Eating House

This place oozes charm and warmth thanks to the combination of soft lighting, hand-chipped sandstone walls and friendly staff. I feel like I am in someone’s house as I walk down the ancient staircase to the cosy basement below. In fact, I love it so much I’m going back for dinner tonight! They have a farmhouse taste-of-the-season menu that sounds right up my alley as well as duck liver pate with cornichons that looks too good to miss.

Duck liver pate and cornichons

Duck liver pate and cornichons at The Commons.

The Commons Local Eating House

I simply must eat this next time I go there. It would be rude not to. Compliments to The Commons' website for the pic.

Run by the City of Sydney, the Small Bar Tour takes in eight bars, in and around the CBD and Surry Hills. It goes for about two hours and costs $75. Included in the cost are two cocktails and a cab ride. As it’s a small bar tour, the groups are also small limited to 12 people tops. For more info on the wee bar crawl, contact Small Bar Tours.

Amy’s Cookbook was a guest of Destination NSW as part of Crave Sydney celebrations.