A revelatory experiment

There was just one question on my mind as I wandered the supermarket aisles, clutching little jars of star anise and cinnamon in one hand and a pot of creme fraiche in the other: where the bloody hell do they keep the polenta?

I thought it would be in the same section as the flour – nope. What about the cereal section? Nope. Bread? No. Pasta? No. I even tried Google for help, except my phone’s 4G wasn’t working. Thank you, Vodafone.

It was only when I got home and hopped on the wonderful world of the Internet did I realise my mistake. I had been looking solely for ‘polenta’ when I could have also been searching for ‘cornmeal’.

Experienced foodies out there are most likely scoffing at my amateur discovery but you better believe it was a big revelation for me. That thing on TV that always looks like silky potato mash and has developed a bit of a ‘hipster’ status, that thing that always sounded so fancy and almost mysterious, is actually just humble ol’ cornmeal.

According to The New York Times, ‘polenta’ is the Italian term for cornmeal and comes from an ancient Roman dish of the poorer classes called pulmentum.

More precisely, polenta isn’t such until it’s cooked. Until then, it’s just cornmeal.

When I looked up the recipe of an orange syrup cake that I saw on the latest season of My Kitchen Rules, I was confused as to why it used polenta. That confusion has now dissipated after learning what polenta actually is and trying out the cake for myself.

The orange syrup cake was served with caramelised pineapples, toasted nuts and creme fraiche on the show and there was only one word the judges had for it: “Yum”. Naturally, I had to give it a go.

I halved the recipe used and didn’t bother with the caramelised pineapple and the nuts as my primary focus was trying out the cake.

For the syrup:

  • 247.5g caster sugar
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cloves
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, seeded
  • 1/2 orange, thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon, juiced

How to:

  1. Heat all the ingredients up in a saucepan over low heat until all the sugar has dissolved.
  2. Simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes until reduced by half
  3. Let cool and pour through a fine sieve into a jug to discard the solids

For the cake:

  • 1 orange, zested and juiced
  • 92.5g unsalted butter, softened
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 75g plain flour
  • 27.5g fine polenta
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder

How to:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C and grease cake/muffin tins (I used large ramekins)
  2. Using an electric beater, mix together the butter and sugar until light and creamy
  3. Beat in the egg and then the reduced orange juice
  4. Stir in the zest
  5. Sift in the flour, polenta, baking powder and cinnamon and stir to combine
  6. Divide mixture among prepared tins
  7. Bake for around 20-30 mins, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
  8. While cakes are hot, prick holes all over it with a skewer and pour half the syrup onto the cakes. Repeat once all the syrup has been absorbed.

I served the cakes with some creme fraiche mixed with 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and 1/2 vanilla bean seeds.

It was moist, crumbly, so light it melted in the mouth and the sourness of the creme fraiche helped prevent the cake from being sickly sweet. It was just so delicious and it’s definitely something I would be excited, happy and proud to make for others.

To be honest, I don’t know what the cornmeal adds to the overall result but it can’t be bad with a result this good!

As you can see, my presentation skills are severely lacking and don’t, in any way, reflect how amazing this cake is – excuse the photo and try it out for yourself 🙂

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

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Another MKR “inspirated” experiment

Call me slow but yesterday I realised aioli, that creamy white-ish dipping sauce you always see accompanying chips at a bar, is essentially just mayonnaise plus garlic. I have never been a huge fan of aioli, despite everybody around me seeming to love it, and after making it yesterday I’m no more or less of a fan, although I now have a greater appreciation of what it is.

Along with my cordon bleu and spaghetti frutti di mare from last night, I made a prawn and squid salad, which was noticeably devoid of any greens apart from avocado. The inspiration for this came from our ever-copious amounts of frozen prawns and this recipe from the last season of My Kitchen Rules (eagerly awaiting for the next season here, by the way). The team that made this received rave reviews from the two judges and it looked pretty darn tasty too.

Luke and Scott's zesty prawn salad from season 4 of MKR. Photo: Yahoo!7

Luke and Scott’s zesty prawn salad from season 4 of MKR. Photo: Yahoo!7

I did a couple of things differently: I didn’t have any chillis or peanuts, I omitted the salad greens and grapefuit, I used lemons instead of lime and I added squid. I also didn’t put as much love and attention into presentation as these guys did, hence the lack of my own photo and cheating use of one taken from the website.

For the aioli, I actually used 2 egg yolks instead of 3 (not enough eggs in the house!) and it did end up a bit runny. To remedy that, I added in mustard powder, which worked to a certain point but this was enough to get it to a consistency that I was happy with. In turn though, it did make the aioli taste something more like honey mustard but it still tasted pretty good.

Overall, it was well-received and there were quite a few mussels left over from the spaghetti so we dipped those in the aioli. Tasted great!

Note: For those who don’t know, the “inspirated” reference refers to one of the contestants on MKR, Jenna, who said a number of “inspirating” things, including: “I’m feeling really inspirated” and “I find that inspirating”. Here’s a blog post for your entertainment.

My Inspiration: Carly & Emily from My Kitchen Rules

If anyone had any contact with me whatsoever in the latter half of this year they would know that I was completely obsessed with this season of My Kitchen Rules. I don’t really know what it was but I would miss going to the gym and grumble about having to go to dance practice, which I am normally super excited about, just so I could indulge in the tension, elation and drama that ensued on the show.

Of all the teams, my favourites to win were Carly & Emily, the sisters from Victoria with mixed Chinese and Australian ethnicity, which was reflected so well in their cooking. The biggest reason I supported them was because I related very well to many of the ingredients that they used and the subsequent dishes they created. Everything they made seemed to be the right level of fusion between Asian and Western-styles and their ability to perform under pressure was inspirational to watch.

Sadly, they were eliminated before the final but they really deserved to get there. Their talent with food, tenacity and drive for perfection have made them an incredible inspiration for me.