Sweet ricotta fritters

Ricotta is one of my favourite dairy products – not just because it is delicious but because it is so versatile. You’ll find lots of my recipes here contain it, both sweet and savoury.  These gorgeous little fritters are courtesy of Tobie Puttock.  However he uses sultanas, which I have skipped, and I added a little brandy instead.  I used a mini ice cream scoop to make them consistent and easy to dispense, otherwise use a tablespoon measure.  Resist the urge to make them bigger as they won’t cook in the middle.   If you don’t overcrowd the pan, they actually flip themselves over when they puff up, pretty nifty.  Serve these delightful little treats warm.

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Ingredients
400g fresh ricotta
3 eggs
5 tablespoons of caster sugar
Grated zest of one lemon
Pinch of bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon Brandy
200g plain flour
2 cups of oil for frying
Icing sugar for dustin

Making them
Drain the ricotta and place it in a bowl with the eggs. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and brandy and beat until combined. Then add the lemon zest, bicarbonate of soda, and flour and stir well until all combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 45 minutes to an hour.

Heat the oil in a saucepan and the scoop dollops of the dough and carefully drop them into the oil. Cook until they are a nice golden brown, turning as needed, and drain on paper towels. Dust with icing sugar and serve.

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Lune Croissanterie, Fitzroy

A friend at work had been reading up on Lune, where croissants are created in a perfectly temperature controlled glass cube by a former aerospace engineer. The New York Times recently boldly claimed they may be among the world’s best – I had visions of a Jean Claude or a Jacques in Paris somewhere reading this article and proclaiming “Quel horreur! Mais non!”.

I was in Melbourne for work and was meeting someone nearby, so wandered over to check out the queue situation, which I’d read was generally monstrous. Walking in, there is the immediate smell of buttery goodness.  See the light pattern on the ceiling? Its a throwback to the Millennium Falcon.   Star Wars fans have gotta be good people.  The pattern is replicated on their cool takeaway boxes, which by the way, are $4 if you don’t buy six or more items.

Through dumb luck, there were only a dozen or so people in front of me, and three people serving, but within ten minutes, it looked like this….I wonder what it is like on a weekend. (That bloke in the blue looks like he may hurt someone if what he wants sells out before his turn. Relax, bro).

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I’m not actually a big croissant eater, I may have two or three a year, and if anything they are of the almond variety, but the Marito is rather partial to them, so here I was. The menu is short and sweet (no pun intended, and there are a couple of savoury items), focussing on what they are good at rather than making a multitude of things, and they are on display at the counter allowing for easy choice.

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Within a few minutes I had four in hand – a traditional, an almond, a coconut pandan and a pain au chocolat. I whisked them back to Sydney for tasting.

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The verdict? Flaky, buttery, light and the right hint of sweetness.  The Marito, who was more appropriately qualified to opine, rated it.  One of the boys, who is rather an expert in pain au chocolats (he consumed at least one daily in various bakeries around Paris, deprived child), said his PAC was “really really good” (he’ll be a food critic yet, Durack had better watch out).

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But then I tried the almond croissant.  Oh, hello.  How many different words are there for awesome?  World’s best  – just maybe.

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Lune Croissanterie, 119 Rose St, Fitzroy
https://www.lunecroissanterie.com/

Lune Croissanterie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Today’s cake – Japanese cheesecake

Well known Japanese cheesecake chain, Uncle Tetsu, recently opened in Sydney.  The Blogeratti were out in force – they came, they saw, they ‘grammed….and it seemed overall they did not like it much…..too subtle, too eggy, not sweet enough a lot of them said.  Frankly I quite like the idea of a dessert that is subtle and not too sweet and I would probably enjoy it, but I still wasn’t going to traipse down George Street and line up for a couple of hours for it, especially in Winter.  So I thought I’d make my own.

Do a bit of searching and the recipe that comes up time and time again on different blogs and websites is a link back to Diana’s desserts, or slightly altered versions credited to that recipe.  But I noted the “too eggy” comments and instead tried Rachel Khoo’s version, which has four eggs instead of six for about the same quantity of sugar.

Like a New York cheesecake, it is cooked in a water bath, but it is a much lighter, softer cake, and I liked it.  But I did get cracks in the top.  I think my error was not letting the cream cheese get to room temperature, I just took it out of the fridge and used it; next time I may also try it without the oven fan. It would be lovely served with some berries.

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Ingredients
280g cream cheese at room temperature, cubed
100ml full cream milk
35g cornflour
35g plain flour
4 eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar
Zest of 1 lemon
120g caster sugar
Icing sugar, for dusting

Making it
Preheat the oven to 150°C/fan forced. Line the base of a 20cm springform cake tin with baking paper and grease the sides.  Wrap a large piece of foil under the base and up the sides of the tin. Repeat this 3 times

Place the cream cheese in a bowl. Heat the milk to boiling point and pour over the cream cheese. Beat with electric whisk (or by hand) until smooth. Add the cornflour and flour, followed by the egg yolks and zest.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then add the cream of tartar and then the caster sugar, bit by bit. Fold the whites into the cream cheese mixture. Pour into the cake tin, give it a good tap,  and place in a deep baking tray. Pour cold water into the tray until it reaches half way up the sides of the tin and bake for 60-70 minutes, until golden and puffy on top.

Cool in tin then remove and dust with icing sugar to serve

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In My Kitchen, August 2016

Roll on, Spring! I am willing it to come along faster by daringly planting some herbs last weekend.  Meanwhile, indoors in the kitchen…..

I picked up some kitchen goodies on our recent trip to Hawaii, where we escaped the cold for a couple of weeks.  We had the black salt a couple of times with fish at restaurants, so I thought I’d bring some home, along with the ubiquitous Hawaiian chocolate covered macadamias.  The mango wine isn’t actually Hawaiian, but I was curious; I’m going to save it for Summer.

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In my kitchen are these KitchenAid utensils.  When the Marito bought a stand mixer for me a few Christmases ago, it came with a bonus pack of utensils.  Countless use and runs through the dishwasher, they have proved to be very durable.  I saw these for $4 each (they are $15-$20 each here, though who would pay that for a spatula is beyond me) and happily bought them home.

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I also got this drawer knife holder, which I prefer to a knife block.

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And this julienne peeler, its ideal for a few of the pasta dishes with zucchini that are regularly made in the Napoli household.

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In my kitchen are some baked eggs, a Sunday breakfast for the Marito and I, with a mini loaf of bread fresh from the oven.  The boys prefer baguettes so I usually make those for them, and have missed making loaves.  I thought my starter, La Figlia, wouldn’t like the two weeks of neglect while we were overseas, and dried some as a back up, but it was actually fine and the bread tastes better than it did before.

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The pantry was a bit bare when we got back so it was off to the Italian deli to stock up on staples and a few other things.  I spy some savoiardi and mascarpone – there is a tiramisu in the works.  I bought a dozen or so packets of pasta; the boys appetites are just enormous at the moment and they won’t last long.  I used to be able to do a 500g packet for the four of us, but that doesn’t cut it anymore.  The boys are thinner than beanpoles, it’s a mystery to all where their staggering quantity of food consumption goes.

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In my kitchen are these new “Anylock” clips, which as the name implies, clip onto any packet for sealing.  They come in a few different sizes, and are ideal for the boys cereal.

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But the big news of the Napoli household is that we got our first egg from our chooks! Lily, Jimmie and Bockan (don’t ask, the boys named them, and I don’t even know how to spell the last one) became part of the household six or so weeks ago, and were finally “old enough” to start laying.  We were all pretty excited….simple things in life as the saying goes. There’s now an egg every day, but once the warm weather starts its likely we will get three a day, one from each chook, which will be awesome.

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The boys saw a website that sells chicken leashes, and want to get some so we can take them for a walk around our suburb – wouldn’t that be entertaining for the neighbourhood!  We bought the girls at Enfield Produce, which is a really great store, the boys did not want to leave.

What’s happening in your kitchen? Take a peak at kitchens around the world in other August IMK posts!

Honolulu, Hawai’i

Honolulu remains a hugely popular travel destination for Australians – in fact I heard so many Aussie accents everywhere I thought we’d taken over the place.  An easy plane ride (well compared to Europe or New York), clean beaches, plenty of shopping and warm weather all year round, what’s not to love?

If you don’t feel like sightseeing, it is a great place to just relax by the pool or beach, cocktail in hand, for a week or two.  Despite the crowds, the beaches are sparklingly clean – you won’t find any washed up Woolies plastic bags or coffee cups, it rather puts us to shame.

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If you do want to get off your beach chair, there is plenty to do. It’s worth hiring a car, driving through the pineapple fields, and checking out the serious surf on the other side of the island.  For those with small people, the Honolulu Zoo and the Sea Life Park are popular; luau’s, though a little commercial, are entertaining.

Having been here before, we didn’t do much sightseeing this time around.  But with the boys a bit older now we thought a trip to Pearl Harbour would be worthwhile where you can wander through the museums and watch a couple of films.  The calculated attack was quite extraordinary in its planning and execution considering the lack of technology and resources at that time. You can then take the short boat ride to the USS Arizona Memorial; its all sad and quite touching and nicely done.  I’m not sure why but there were flowers from the Australian Embassy that day.

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We also did the hike to the Diamond Head Monument.  If you’re someone that exercises, you won’t find this too difficult –  I even saw people doing it carrying babies and toddlers on their front or back.  But me, not being one of those people, nearly keeled over.  But there are great views at the top. If you’re there on a Saturday morning, across the road you’ll find the KCC Farmers Markets, where you can grab a shaved ice to cool down.

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It is pretty easy to get around using TheBus (flat $2.50 for adults and $1.25 for kids over 5, whether you travel for five minutes or fifty) or the Waikiki Trolley (flat $2 for everyone); otherwise Uber it.

And where to eat? You won’t struggle for choices, particularly on the main strip.  The Cheesecake Factory is a bit of a Waikiki institution.  The lines are long, the place is loud, the serves are huge – you get the general gist of the adjectives. When we saw that for our group of eight people we had a few cocktails, beers, a mixture of high priced (rib eye steak and salmon) and low priced (fish burger) dishes, that including the tip it was US35 per person, its understandable that there are queues every night. The food is pretty decent and with over 200 items on the menu you are bound to find something.  A particular highlight was  my ahi poke stack – loved it.

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With lots of the flights from Australia landing early morning, you’ll be in search of breakfast.  In my pilates class of all places I heard that Bill Granger had opened up a Bills, so we headed there.  The menu has been Hawaiianised a little, but a lot of Sydney favourites are there, and we enjoy our breakfast sitting on the small terrace.  The fit out looks to me like Miami art deco style and its an airy space.

We also try it for dinner one night.  Our server brings out all the entrees and mains at once, which is a bit odd, but the food is tasty and well priced.

My sticky pork is absolutely delicious, and the schnitzel also gets the thumbs up.

The kids want to try an American Diner for dessert, so afterwards we head down the road to Denny’s, the regular haunt of Jack Reacher.  Looking at the menu, if you’re on a budget and need a big feed and aren’t worried about cholesterol (plus cover your eyes so you don’t see the notes showing the staggering number of calories in the meals), then you’ll like this long standing American chain. The desserts were $4 each or so and just huge.

But the best treats in town are the malasadas from Leonard’s Bakery.  Leonard’s has been making these Portuguese treats since the 1950’s.  You can buy them plain or with a filling – I bought vanilla, chocolate and coconut – go vanilla all the way.  Absolutely gorgeous and all of $1.50.  I did try a few other malasadas during our trip and none were as good as these.

Another treat I loved was this honeydew melon ice block we got at the pool – can we get these in Australia?

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A place that has stood the test of time is Arancino di Mare.  We came here eight years ago and liked it, and found it still to be the same homestyle, casual Italian we remembered.

For a bit of family fun head to Tanaka of Tokyo.  The teppanyaki chefs have some good moves, and in our case some dry wit as well.  Unfortunately the vegetables and fried rice were ordinary, but all the seafood and meats were very tasty and well cooked. There is no food throwing done here like the teppanyaki we find in Australia – it is not considered safe.  We thought it was pretty funny that a country that allows you to freely carry arms thinks its too dangerous to throw an egg.

I was also pleasantly surprised by Il Lupino, which turns out some pretty flavoursome Italian. My wild boar ragu was rich and fragrant.

One night we hop on TheBus to Pier 38 to try Nico’s seafood restaurant. It almost feels like sitting at the Sydney fish markets.  By day you order at the counter and take a number, but at night its table service.  Lots of fresh seafood at good prices.  I saw a ahi poke sampler on the menu and ordered it, for a “sampler” it was huge and I would have been shelling out a fortune for that much tuna in Sydney.

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The clams and tuna steak are nicely done but the battered fish is a winner with a very thin and crispy batter and beautifully cooked fish.

One night we Uber it to Waialae Avenue, ten or so minutes from the main strip. A lot of dining choices here, among them we spot a craft beer place, Vietnamese, a French Bistro, a Chinese restaurant that is heaving with Chinese patrons, and a place called Mud Hen Water which has a great looking menu and is also very busy.  But we’re here to try Town, whose philosophy is “local first, organic wherever possible, with Aloha always”. (Aside and a bit of trivia for you that we learned from Cousin Jay our Pearl Harbour tour guide – Aloha doesn’t just mean hello, it can also mean love.  Trivia two – did you know the Hawaiian alphabet only has 12 letters?).

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The house bread is fantastic.  And we both adore the ahi tartare on top of  a small risotto cake – one of the most delicious things we had on the trip.

It is all tasty, fresh and nicely presented by enthusiastic and friendly staff.  One of the boys has pappardelle and they are silky smooth.

After dinner we walk up the road to Via Gelato. The gelato is handmade and the flavours change pretty much daily. Depending on the day, you might find flavours like ginger lemonade, apple pie or lavender.

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Accommodation

For the first few days we stayed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, or the Pink Palace as its commonly known.  The beachfront location is great and the foyer is pure Grand Old Hawaii, but the rooms are a little dated and the bathrooms very small.  Views are cracking – we arrived on the 4th of July and it was very busy with a huge regatta about to start.

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If you are staying in the Mailani Tower section, it has a small pool, but otherwise its a shared pool with the Sheraton next door and it gets very crowded and hard to find a seat.  But the kids loved the pool slide which they went on a thousand or so times.  I wanted to rent a beachfront chair ($40 per day, even if you only turn up for an hour), but found out that people rent them like, 25 years in advance (would be nice if the hotel tells people this when they make a reservation) so get in early.

Then off we went to The Big Island and when we came back we stayed at the Halekulani.  Good location, lovely rooms (though a tiny shower and bath), huge balconies, and probably the best swimming pool on the strip. Great breakfast buffet too.  The place is branded to death, in case you forget where you are (I was surprised they didn’t have Halekulani stamped on the toilet paper, it was on everything else) and every night there was a different treat at turndown – one night there was a little book light, which was cool.  But having come the incredible warmth of the staff at the Four Seasons in Kona, I found this place a little snobby.  The gestures were all there, but not the same soul as our Kona stay.

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The Cheesecake Factory Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Big Island, Hawai’i

Arriving at Kona Airport, we realise how different this island is to Oahu.  There’s miles of arid landscape, next to miles of green rainforest, both interrupted by somewhat violent yet occasionally beautiful hardened rivers of lava.  Mother Nature has been busy here.  It is very literally The Big Island, and you’ll need a car to explore.  Though a guide tells us that it was once upon a time the small island, growing over time from the eruption of volcanoes.

There is a lot to do here, and in our six days we only manage some of what we’d planned, underestimating time and distances, and wanting too to spend time relaxing at our gorgeous resort and enjoying the spectacular sunsets on the “Kona side”.  Funny that the west side is one of the driest spots in the USA, while the island’s largest town of Hilo (pronounced Hee-lo) on the east, some two and a half hour drive away, is one of the wettest.

The boys want to know if Panulu’u Black Sand Beach really is black, and one morning we set off on the two hour drive.  Its a lovely scenic route of coast, mountain, coffee and macadamia plantations.  In some areas they are trying to promote re-growth of plants, but its a hard ask through the lava.

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There are also a few small strips of shops with interesting antique and vintage stores, as well as this…..

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And yes, Black Sand Beach is indeed black.  Shoes are recommended, as understandably the sand is scorching.  So turtles love it, and there are a few wandering around.  One has laid an egg, and someone has built a little protective barrier around it.

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On the way back we stop in at a bakery for a treat. They do a roaring trade in Lilikoi (passionfruit) Malasadas, their best seller.   But I don’t think they are quite as good as the ones at Leonard’s in Oahu.

We next head to Papakolea Green Sand Beach, the southernmost point of the USA.  You’ll need a four wheel drive and some serious experience in off road rough driving to get here.  Otherwise there’s a group of drivers with suitable trucks and experience in navigating the bumpy terrain.  If you’re game, you can walk the rocky three miles from the car park – it is about an hour walk and a tough one in scorching heat.  Calling it green sand is a bit of a stretch, but the setting is pretty spectacular.  Nearby there is a cove where the sand is in fact green, but without such a dramatic backdrop.

On another morning we check out Hapuna Beach which is popular with the locals.  Easy to access and sparklingly clean, it is lovely for a swim.

In Kailua-Kona you’ll find Hulihee Palace, once the modest Summer palace of the Royal Family.  There is no longer a monarchy in Hawai’i, as the members of the family died out.  One of the larger towns in the island, it is still a fairly low key place.  There is a pier which could easily be turned into another Santa Monica type place, but I suspect it is a very conscious decision for the island not to go down that path.

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After walking around, we make a pit stop at Kope Lani Ice Cream which has some interesting flavours.  You’ll find Kona Coffee to be a popular flavour on the ice cream front in Hawaii.  Like Champagne or Parmeggiano, the rules around what can be called Kona Coffee are very strict.  The beans must come from a very specific area, and they are all hand picked.  The coffee plantations are all small family owned businesses; we met a few of the families during our stay, and it really is a labour of love. I would have loved to buy some of the coffee beans to bring home and support them, but at over US$80 per kilo of coffee, it was a bit of a stretch.

Driving up a mountain one day we stop at Holukaloa Garden Café.  Its almost classifies as in-the-middle-of-nowhere, but we are clearly onto something as very shortly the place is full.  They are all about slow food made from scratch. The glorious tomatoes are from the owners farm and under my fish is a bed of unfamiliar but really delicious greens. The Marito’s generous vegetarian lasagne is topped with a tasty macadamia pesto.

The most awesome thing we do is a helicopter tour of the island.  We debate this one a bit as it is quite an extravagance. But I come across a local magazine with an offer for a good size discount, and the deal is sealed.  The friendly ground staff give us a safety briefing (“please turn your devices to helicopter mode” they deadpan) and our pilot Koji gives us a briefing of our route.  The flights generally go for 1.5-2 hours, and Koji advises we’ll be on the longer end today as there is sniper training going on at the military base that day and we’ll have to go around it – I wasn’t  entirely sure if he was joking or not!

It is a pretty amazing way to look at the island.  Kealakekuka Bay is stunning, and apparently the site of Captain Cook’s death – there is a monument there in his honour.

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Along the way the landscape alternates between thriving green and volcanic black emptiness.

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We pass a 10 mile crack in the ground – the result of a 1975 earthquake.

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We then head towards one of the volcanoes.  This one is currently active, but not dangerously so.  Even though we are a long way up, when the pilot opens a small window and tells me to stick my hand out, it is scorchingly hot.

Continuing around the island, we head up to Waipi’o Valley – just stunning. There are some seriously long waterfalls.

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And then we circle back to Kona Airport.  What a ride!

Accommodation

We stayed at the Four Seasons Hualalai – wow. It was fabulous.   And it wasn’t just the stunning surrounds (I have never seen such amazing frangipane trees)…

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…or the turtles wandering on the shore

…but the warmth and sincerity of the staff, and the fact that they think of everything (“ma’am, would you like me to clean your sunglasses for you?”). At the pool station where you can grab towels, there is not only sunscreen, but goggles, toddler swimming nappies, leave-in hair conditioner, and goodness knows what else.  There are very cute toddler sized sunbeds at the small pool (there are several pools, so it is never crowded). At turndown a locally made ceramic jug and cup are placed on each bedside table with cool water. On the balcony, there is a small hanging rack for your swimmers (why don’t all beach resorts do this?).  And throughout the rambling resort, there are several fully equipped laundry rooms for guests so that you don’t have to return home with a suitcase of dirty washing. The rooms and bathrooms are a little dated, but very spacious.

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Sitting on our balcony, I enjoy this local pineapple soda.

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Our booking comes with quite a large voucher for the restaurants which we make good use of, as they are expensive and alternatives are a ten to thirty minute drive away. Ulu Ocean Grill is Japanese/Asian and it holds its own against Sydney’s Sokyo or Tokonoma. And while the prices are similar to Sydney, the servings are much bigger.

The Ahi Poke (pronounced pok-ee, it is almost a national dish) is prepared at the table and served with taro chips. Sublime.

I adore the kochujang sauce that comes with the crispy calamari, I want to pour it over everything.

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The miso Kombacha is perfectly cooked and the side of corn has a sauce with a kick.

Beach Tree, which serves largely Italian, while expensive, is excellent.

If only it didn’t have to end! Ziplines are popular on the island, but the boys did not weigh enough (you need to be at least 70 pounds) so we’ll need to put that on the list for next time.

Four Seasons Kona, http://www.fourseasons.com/hualalai/
Paradise Helicopters, https://paradisecopters.com/

Ulu Ocean Grille Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Vegetable terrine

Got a vegetarian coming over? They will love this. You could also use some semi dried tomatoes chopped through it. Slices of baked salted ricotta instead of bocconcini would work well, or no cheeses at all if you prefer dairy free. Prepare the day before serving.

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Ingredients
2 large eggplants
3 zucchini
3 red capsicum
Olive oil
Caramalised balsamic
Bunch of basil
5 large bocconcini thinly sliced
Salt

Making it
1. Slice the eggplants lengthways in 7mm slices, brush liberally with olive oil and chargrill (a mandolin and George Foreman makes short work of this!). Season the slices as you take them off the grill.

2. Similarly slice the zucchini, brush with olive oil, and chargrill. Season.

3. Meanwhile, char the capsicum under the grill, turning gradually so all blackened. Remove from grill and once cool enough, peel off the skin, remove seeds and tear into strips. Season.

4. Spray a loaf pan with olive oil and line with glad wrap. Line with eggplant such that there is some eggplant hanging over the sides. (Set aside one slice of eggplant for the end, any remaining slices can be used throughout). Gradually layer the zucchini, capsicum, basil, bocconcini, and any remaining eggplant, with dots of caramelised balsamic as you go. Once all the layers are done, fold the eggplant over and place the last slice of eggplant on top. Seal with the glad wrap, place a plastic lid or tray that fits snugly inside the pan, and weigh down with some canned tomatoes or fruit and place in the refrigerator overnight. You may need to strain excess juices a couple of times.

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5. Once ready to serve, turn out onto a platter and garnish with basil and slice.

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