Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Aussie Damper Bread on a Stick

I've been making this since I was a kid. Winter weekends spent on my friend Pete's farm in the Australian south west often involved burning off the felled trunks and roots of massive eucalypts in open paddocks and sleeping outside warm and dry by their radiating heat. These logs would burn for days. What could be more perfect for a 10 year old than whiling away the hours gazing at the southern night sky and cooking bread on the end of long sticks against a wall of glowing embers. I'm fairly certain that these experiences are responsible for the pyromania that I enjoy today.

Traditionally damper bread was baked as a loaf in a cast iron camp oven by drovers moving large herds of cattle across the outback. It is a very basic yeast free bread, made with self-raising flour, milk and bit of salt and scone like in taste. This version is more hands on and creates individual bread sticks that are delicious hot with lots of butter. This batch was made by our little beaver scouts at a weekend sleepover in Oxfordshire. A few teary eyes from woodsmoke, lots of burnt damper, but no burnt fingers!

Prepare a simple cooking fire using evenly sized smallish pieces of wood about 2-3 cm thick. Then prepare the dough while you wait for the wood to burn down to embers before cooking.

The dough (enough for 10 dampers):

4 cups self raising flour
1 1/2 cups milk (or water)
1/2 teaspoon of salt


8-10 sticks about as long as your arm and as thick as your thumb.


Mix the ingredients into a soft, light dough by adding the liquid to the flour slowly, constantly mixing with a knife, then knead for 5 minutes. Divide the dough into balls slightly larger than a golf ball. Work each portion of the dough onto the end of a stick in the shape of a sausage, making sure to cover the end of each stick. Cook each damper over the embers, turning constantly so as not to burn . After about 15-20 minutes, the damper should be golden on the outside and have doubled in size. Remove the damper from the stick, break it open and butter it generously. Seriously addictive.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Lemongrass and Chilli Creme Caramel

I was given a Wagamama Cookbook by our fabulous friends Emma and Marcus for my 40th birthday (not as recently as I hoped I realised). How appropriate it seemed to prepare a Japanese meal for them when they came to stay with us this weekend.

The two most memorable and talked about items on the menu were the agedashi tofu (from Harumi's Japanese Cooking), served as a starter, and the unexpectedly spicy creme caramel. This incredibly aromatic dessert, once experienced, is something that stays with you for good.

I bungled something in the method. The caramel was more like rock hard toffee and stuck to the ramekins when I turned them out. This was fine as Marcus just hacked away at the ramekins afterwards. Luckily they still looked good on the plate and tasted delightful. Emma's advice (a mega queen in the kitchen herself) was to make the caramel separately and spoon over when serving. Next time definitely.

Hot sake with the meal followed by red wine by the brazier afterwards. A great evening.

For 4 serves:

- 400ml milk
- 4 lemongrass stalks, slightly bashed
- 2 dried red chillies
- 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) sake
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 star anise
- 100g white sugar
- 2 eggs and 4 yolks
- 4 x 150ml ramekin dishes

For the caramel:

- 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) water
- 100g white sugar


Infuse the lemongrass, chilli, sake, star anise, and cinnamon in the milk by heating until just before boiling, stand aside, cover and leave to infuse.

Preheat the oven to 150 deg C. Whisk the sugar, eggs and yolks in a mixing bowl, then strain the infused milk, mix well and pour into the ramekins. Place the ramekins in a deep baking dish filled with boiling water to half their depth. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until set. Allow them to cool completely.

For the caramel, put the water and sugar in a small pan over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Turn up the heat and boil until golden.

To serve, turn out the ramekins onto plates, and spoon over the caramel.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Grilled Asparagus with Mustard and Chilli Vinaigrette

This tasty starter was served last night to our friends Annette and Les as a simple and quick prelude to a fairly intense main course of beef and guiness pie. The only fire involved with this one was the ceremonial lighting of the brazier in the garden after dinner.

Ingredients (for four):

- Large bunch of fresh asparagus spears (at least 6 spears per person)
- 4 slices of prosciutto crudo or parma ham

For the vinaigrette:

- 1/2 tea spoon of English mustard
- 1/2 tea spoon of finely chopped fresh chilli
- 1 tea spoon of mayonaise
- 3 table spoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tea spoons of white wine vinegar
- salt and pepper

Break off the woody ends of the asparagus spears by bending them to find the natural snapping point, then trim with a knife to neaten them up. Parboil the asparagus in salted boiling water for no more than 2 minutes and then rinse them in cold water to prevent them from over cooking. The spears should still be firm, and only just starting to wilt.

Dry the asparagus with kitchen paper or a tea towel before wrapping them up in bundles with the prosciutto.
For the vinaigrette, whisk all of the ingredients in a bowl and keep at room temperature.

Place the asparagus bundles under a hot grill for 3-5 minutes, checking to see that the prosciutto is sizzling nicely before serving. The prosciutto shrinks as it cooks which helps to hold the bunches together.

Serve onto warmed plates and drizzle the vinaigrette dressing over with a spoon.

Light in quantity and intense in flavour, this starter whips up your appetite for any hearty main course.
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