September 27, 2009

The garden of earthly delights...

My apologies to those experiencing the sensation of neglectful unenthusiasm. It has indeed been a while since our last post, but I can assure you our kitchen absence will not last much longer. While I could put it down to journeying through an introspective search for meaning following our utter decimation at the hands of the "league of geniuses", quite frankly we're not that sensitive, we just had other things to do. And by other things to do, I mean this...

A friend suggested we start a garden together. They had the space...

It just needed a little work.

So we made a start

Set up a few temporary beds

Did a little more

Constructed a green mountain (which, by the way, is now over three times the size)

Finished clearing the main bed

Composted and mulched in preparation for our vegetable patch

Cleared the side garden for our berries

And set up our seed trays with a delightful array of potential produce

Not a bad 4-5 days manual labour for us two little ladies.

There is still much to be done, and although we are most weary, we are immensely satisfied with our progress. The borage and dill are already well on their way, and this rather unpleasant cold snap - as is the want of a fickle Melbourne spring - has seen the brassicas shy through. Anticipation surrounds the broccoli, romanesco and purple cauliflower, and we will soon be sowing many a variety of pea and bean. Finally getting our vegie patch up and running is most exciting indeed, but the prospect of soon being able to cook with our own produce is positively thrilling.

Let's just hope we're sufficiently skilled to be able to share some of it with you.

In the meantime, next weekend should see us return to the kitchen and once again have some tasty treats heading your way...

September 14, 2009

It's show time...

It seemed like a good idea at the time. We like what we do, and we think we do it rather well, so it was a perfectly reasonable proposition that we test the virtues of our baking expertise against the masters of our craft by submitting a few entries in this year's Royal Melbourne Show. I say "seemed" because things didn't exactly go to plan, and in the end we were rather underwhelmed with the items we submitted. Perhaps it was a case of too much too soon, or maybe Miss Rose allowed competitive passions and the heights of self expectation to get the better of her. But whatever the affliction, and despite losing all confidence of raising the laminated certificate of victory in our virgin attempt, we did manage to have a good laugh at the end of it all.
We chose to enter two categories each, and my first was submitted to 'class 235: carrot cake'. Working from Ottolenghi's beautiful carrot and walnut cake recipe, I instigated a few tweaks and created a gorgeously moist cake that was dense but lusciously light with a hint of spice and a beautifully crisp top. However, while it tasted divine, I was sceptical that the somewhat rustic aesthetic would manage to win over the judges. Sadly they do not care for icing, so there was no disguising a less-than-perfect loaf.

Miss Emily's carrot and walnut cake
My submission for 'class 233: butter cake' did a better job of looking the part, and thanks to Mother Yow, I was able to work from a recipe masterpiece. It looked hot, smelled divine, matured nicely and was frankly pretty delicious. Whether or not they'd go for the browned butter, well for that we'd have to wait and see…

Miss Emily's browned butter butter cake
Miss Rose had a similar day of one success, and one round coming in well below par. Those who have delighted in Miss Rose's chocolate cake know that it's a winner, but on this occasion it had other ideas. Gorgeously dark and heavenly scented, at first glance everything was going perfectly to plan, but then things sunk, rather dramatically, and Miss Rose was all ready to pull the plug. But we figured what the hell, and put it in upside-down whilst trying to see the humour in what would likely occur at the judging table.

Miss Rose's chocolate cake
On a happier note, her second submission was spectacular, and required the presentation of not one variety of sweet biscuit, but three. It's difficult to know what the judges will look for, and whether they will be swayed by the lure of filled biscuit fanciness, but I for one believed Miss Rose's classic assortment had every chance of being right up there.

Biscuit #1: Orange, pistachio and cranberry cookies

Biscuit #2: Chocolate wafers

Biscuit #3: Grasmere gingerbread
So after a long day of baking, we rested our weary limbs and arrived bright and early to drop off our submissions for fervourent critique. Every expectation I had of what a royal show cookery competition crowd would look like was not only met but far surpassed by every stereotype imaginable. The desk ladies in their tweed two pieces were efficient to the extreme and had no time or compassion for first timers (apparently when it comes to inserting the toothpick, one must not hesitate).
Were we properly attired in embroidered tracksuits or two-pieces and stockings with our freshly permed blue rinse curled tightly into submission?
Did we come with husbands who carried our eskies and Tupperware mountains to then wait patiently in the car park with a thermos at the ready for a post-submission nerve shake-down?
Could we have been the granddaughters of every other entrant present?
Most certainly.
I guess we can put it down to a learning experience. Maybe next year our creations will be less sensitive to the pressure of expectation and we will have our very own thermos-bearing manly support crew. Maybe we will concern ourselves less with the possibilities of what we may be up against and focus more on our own capabilities.
Maybe I'll wear tweed…
Oh, and just for the record, our minuscule hopes have been utterly dashed, and we have now been confirmed as the absolute losers we suspected ourselves to be. The repetition of results makes me slightly suspicious that the secular nature of such competitive gatherings was also against us, but that is still no excuse for our failings. We have let everyone down, and are the epitome of disappointment. I'm so sorry, Mother Yow. Now if you'll excuse me, I must away to sulk...

September 7, 2009

Oh, I say, these entrails are offally good...

I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later – one of those days where The Team wasn't quite hitting their mark, when things were going a little awry…
Perhaps it had something to do with our latest project. You see, thanks to a charming and friendly gentleman and his extraordinarily generous family, we've acquired a little space and the opportunity to start growing our own produce. We'd therefore spent a significant part of our day before Sunday baking in the throes of manual labour, which when combined with a sudden bout of minor insomnia, made for a sore and sleepy Miss Emily and a similarly spent Miss Rose.

Preparing the garden of earthly delights
We had some tasty treats and a new dessert creation in store, so were becoming increasingly frustrated by various items that refused to conform to the usual ease and simplicity of operation in kitchen TPB. Things didn't seem off to a good start and for once, we were not feeling the love.
Enter Miss Rose and her innate ability to rescue any downwardly spiralling situation with her unique sense of hilarity and insanity. Naturally, when your feeling a little low, the most obvious solution is to stick the stomach tissue of a ruminant on your head, that's just plain common sense…

The versatility of tripe – pretty, delicious, and keeps the water out!
And so this brings me to the first item on our menu for the day – tripe. Not to say we regressed to being touted worthless, rubbish and offensive (hush now!), but rather that Miss Rose had somewhat of a peculiar craving, and so stomach was prepared, Italian style.

Slow cooked with celery and carrot in a verjuice-laden tomato sauce finished with muscatels (200g individually and meticulous de-stemmed, might I add) and toasted pine nuts, and served with parmigiano-reggiano and fresh parsley. With such loving preparation, even I'm prepared to acknowledge that stomach lining can be pretty delicious.

Slow cooked ox tripe with wine
Offal always seems to give the impression of dirty, so we figured a suitable 'other bits' companion would be found in the form of sticky balsamic ribs. Marinated, slow roasted and then smothered in a glistening glaze of balsamic and brown sugar, these were gloriously messy, and devoured with the grace and finesse of individuals not bound by the conventions of social etiquette.

Sticky balsamic ribs
For dessert we selected two items, which between them, utilised just about every dairy product available. First up was a lime cheesecake with ginger nut crust, and despite a few early hiccups involving vessel selection, we eventually settled on the conventional and presented this most excellent combination of deliciousness.

Lime cheesecake with ginger nut crust
Our final number was a unique Team Pretty Bake creation combining Miss Rose's talents for ingredient selection with Miss Emily's skills in construction and execution. I give you – lemon yoghurt panna cotta with leatherwood honey praline and crystallised violets.

Leatherwood honey praline and crystallised violets

Lemon panna cotta with leatherwood honey praline and sugared violets
Certainly a more elegant and refined end to the day than what was seen at the beginning, this was an absolutely glorious amalgamation of flavours that were both luscious and refreshing, and which had a gorgeous crunch and heavenly aesthetic (although my apologies for the formulaic praline shard, it won't happen again).
All in all we were quite happy with tripe weekend, and are childishly excited about plans afoot for our little planting patch. There is still much work to be done, but we hope to be sharing the fruits of our labours with you soon (pun fully intended). In the meantime, stay tuned for a little competitive baking which will be taking place very soon…