Saturday, October 20, 2012

Fruity Inspiration

You guys are all aware by now that baking isn't really my bag. I will happily spend 3 days making a master stock, or painstakingly put together a 9 course degustation menu, but setting aside half an hour to make a cake just doesn't do it for me. Well, the Goddess of baking and sweet things must have aligned all the planets of something, because this week I had an idea for a cake recipe buzzing around in my head that just wouldn't go away. I took this as a sign from the universe that I should head to the kitchen and give this cake experiement a bit of a whirl.

I don't eat cake really - but when I do, my sweet thing of choice is lemon syrup polenta cake. I love the texture that the polenta has, and the tang of the lemon. Yum. My recipe idea is a bit of a variation on that type of cake, using fresh lime and lashings of passionfruit. I decided to add some almond meal to the equation, as well as using olive oil instead of butter. The result is a beautifully textured but very moist crumb and a sticky, tangy, fresh tasting syrup.

These cakes are lovely by themselves with a hot cuppa, but I think they would work really well as a do-ahead dessert. I'd serve them slightly warm with some clotted cream, creme anglaise or maybe some marscapone with some fresh lime rind folded into the mixture. You could also use those very small muffin tins and serve them as tiny sweet petit fours after dinner.

Sticky Passionfruit and Lime Polenta Cakes

As this was an experiment, it was all a bit free form. I used the quantities that I hoped would work, based roughly on the proportions I use when making normal muffins - and on the amount of almond meal and polenta I had in the pantry. Once I had that in mind as a starting point, I added some other ingredients and let my instincts take over. I was really happy with the result - the proportions worked a treat and I ended up with the texture I was hoping for. Dealing with the egg whites seperately really helped with this I think. I wasn't going to bother with the egg white thing, but it only took an extra two minutes and was worth it.

These cakes were fast to make and only take about 20 minutes to cook, so they aren't too much of a stretch for someone like me who doesn't usually have the patience or inclination for cake baking. Hell, I whipped up these on a Saturday morning while I stacked the dishwasher and sipped my morning coffee! Very do-able indeed.

You will need:
For the cake - 4 free range eggs, 1/2 cup caster sugar, 1/2 cup almond meal, 1/2 cup fine polenta, 1/2 cup plain flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 2 tablespoons olive oil, Juice and rind of 1 fresh lime, Pulp from about 3 passionfruit.

For the syrup - 1 cup caster sugar, Juice and rind of 1 fresh lime, Pulp of 2 passionfruit, 2 tablespoons water.

Method:  First, make the cake. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease your muffin tins if you are not using silicone tins like I did.

Separate the eggs and put the yolks in one mixing bowl and the whites in another. With an electric beater, whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Set aside. (Hint - it is always better to beat egg whites in a metal bowl, or a ceramic one as a second choice. Plastic bowls tend to retain grease and oil, which is the enemy of fluffy egg whites!)

Combine the half cup of caster sugar with the yolks and beat until the mixture is lighter in colour and increases slightly in volume.

To the egg yolk mixture, add the almond meal, polenta, plain flour, baking powder, olive oil, lime juice and rind. With a spatula, combine all of the ingredients.

Now gently fold a third of the egg white into the cake mixture. Put in the rest and fold in until combined. Don't be too heavy handed with the mixture.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin tins, remembering that these cakes do not rise a whole lot, so you can fill them almost to the top.

Bake at 1080C for 15-20 minutes. The cakes are cooked when they are slightly brown and the mixture springs bak a little when you touch the top of them.

While the cakes are cooking, put together the syrup - just combine all of the syrup ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer gently for a few minutes until the sugar is dissolved completely and the syrup thickens slightly.

When you remove the cakes from the oven, spoon over about half of the syrup while they are still warm. When you are finished, run a knife around the edges so that they don't stick to the pan. Spoon over the remaining syrup and allow the cakes to soak up the mixture.

Serve warm or cold with cream, marscapone or icecream. Or scoff them without the extras.

Makes 10-12 small cakes


Friday, October 5, 2012

Scoping something new - Kaya

Last week I scored an invite to try out Kaya - a new Izakaya Japanese restaurant/bar thanks to my talented graphic designer husband who created the artwork and logo for this new Oxford Street restaurant. The owners invited us as a thank you for the work that Andrew had done for them, and also to road test some of their dishes. Izakaya refers to a Japanese drinking establishment that also serves food. In Japan these types of eateries are most often frequented by people after work , serving drinks and food that is designed to be shared. Sort of a Japanese take on  the Spanish tapas concept.

Kaya has a large open kitchen, which lets you get close to the cooking action - something I always love. The small room had a nice intimate vibe, with lots of wood, textured walls and a warm, soft  yellow lighting arrangement that feels a million miles away from the tired, trash fest that is Oxford Street these days.

The Dining Room @ Kaya

We kicked off things with a Rhubarba - a delicious sake and vodka based rhubarb cocktail which was one of the nicest cocktails I've had.  The really fabulous flavour comes from a house made roasted rhubarb puree which makes you wish they served the stuff in a jug instead of a glass!

Being a sharing menu, we got to sample about 10 different dishes over the course of the evening and I will be sharing some of the highlights with you. We started with a serve of the ultimate Japanese comfort food, Okonomiyaki. Until now, I have only ever eaten the octopus version of this - which I adore, but this one was made with pork which worked really beautifully. I love the very savoury nature of Okonomiyaki, and this one was full of flavour. The traditional topping of sticky sauce and shaved bonito is an addictive combination.

Pork Okonomiyaki

For something with a lighter, fresher taste you can't go past the Sake steamed clams. The clams were plump and moist and cooked just right, and the delicious sauce had us wanting to lick the plate. The only down side to this dish was that there was nothing to mop up the rest of the sauce with so a lot of it was wasted.

Steamed Clams with Sake

A fried cuttlefish dish, with a punchy kick of chilli and salt was the perfect thing to accompany a second cocktail. A moreish, Kaya take on salt and pepper squid.

Fried Cuttlefish with Chilli and Salt

A super fresh, simple plate of sashimi followed, served with shredded daikon radish, wasabi and seaweed. The fish was succulent and clean tasting and beautifully prepared.

Kaya Sashimi

Kaya's version of Chicken Karaage - Japanese style fried chicken - was one of the dishes of the night, and the one that I think is destined to be one of their most popular. Super crispy, perfectly seasoned and moist and delicious in the centre, this chicken is seriously good. Served simply with Japanese mayo, it is a winner. One of the great things about it was the complete lack of oiliness in the chicken, even though it had been fried. Just so pleasant to eat. I think next time we visit we will be ordering a plate each!

Chicken Karaage

Pork belly is always a favourite, and Yakitori with pork belly, radish and spring onion was full of flavour and so, so moist it just fell off the skewer. I felt that the pork belly was just a tad too fatty, although it gets full marks for flavour. The pork had that great charcoal grill taste that you want in Yakitori.

Pork Yakitori

My favourite seafood is scallops, so I couldn't go past these dressed and roasted scallops on the shell. The scallops were plump and moist and cooked beautifully. So many places overcook them, and these were treated right. I would have liked a little more sauce, but apart from that - yum!

Roasted Scallops on the Shell

A hearty dish of grain fed beef on the rib, served with spinach satisfies the biggest carnivore. The dish is listed on the menu as being for two - it is huge, so we happily divided it between four. The meat is slow cooked, meltingly tender and the flavour was amazing.

Grain Fed Beef Rib
with Spinach

I really enjoyed my first excursion to Kaya. The thing that really stood out for me was that every dish possessed flavour in abundance. When you are tasting a number of dishes and only eating a few bites of each, it is important that you get the whole flavour and texture experience. It is not like eating a full plate of the same thing and tasting the dish "developing" as you work your way through it. First impressions count here. That is a rule I always apply when making canapes or any kind of smaller, shared dish - amp up everything flavour wise because your guests are potentially only getting one bite to experience it. Make it a good bite.

I got a chance to chat with some of the staff and found the service very good. Dishes also arrive quite fast. I was told that that the menu would have new items on an almost daily basis, depending on what produce was available and at it's best that day. A great  philospohy to have, and a way to keep things interesting for regular diners.

I think Kaya is a great addition to the Oxford Street strip, and we agreed that we would definitely head back there to try the other items on the menu - need to get some more of that Chicken Karaage and those divine Rhubarba cocktails!

Kaya Sydney
96 Oxford Street Darlinghurst
Ph:8354 0057