As you know I have a weakness for octopus. It is my favourite seafood, on par with prawns and dare I say, I love it more than lobsters! There, I said it.

Ii was lucky enough, last weekend, to land a beautiful large specimen from Mrs Fish, my local fishmonger. Tony ( Mr Fish ) had trimmed and cleaned it all for me so that all I had to do was give it a quick rinse, and put it in the pot. I managed to make 3 different dishes out of it, not wanting to let any of it go to waste, and served them at a family  lunch. The guests liked it and some asked for the recipes. These could not be easier!

 

 

Basic Boiled Octopus

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Ingredients

1 large octopus, approx 2 kg

bay leaves, to taste ( I use a lot )

1 onion, peeled ( optional )

2 tbsp red wine vinegar ( optional )

Water

  1. In a large cast iron or heavy pot, place the cleaned and rinsed octopus in one piece
  2. Add the bay leaves , onion and red wine vinegar, if using
  3. Cover with water and bring to the boil on high heat. The octopus will begin to curl and turn pink.
  4. Lower the heat, cover the pot with a lid and let the octopus simmer for 30 minutes or until tender.
  5. Allow the octopus to cool, then drain. Keep the cooking liquid for another use ( see below )
  6. Your octopus is ready to eat as is, or use for the following recipes.
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Mr Octopus going in the pot in one piece.

 

Galician Octopus

 

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Serves 12, as a snack

Ingredients

1 kg cooked octopus ( see basic recipe above )

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp smoked paprika

2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

  1. Cut the octopus into bite sized pieces using scissors or kitchen shears.
  2. Combine the octopus pieces, olive oil, smoked paprika and parsley in a bowl.
  3. Season well with sea salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  4. Just before serving, drizzle some extra olive oil. Serve with toothpicks.

 

Grilled Octopus

 

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Ingredients

1 kg cooked octopus ( see basic recipe above )

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp garlic, crushed

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

  1. Preheat a grill or bbq plate. Rub the octopus with olive oil and place on an oven tray or hot plate if using the bbq ( no need to cut it into pieces at that stage )
  2. Grill or bbq on high for 10-15 minutes until the octopus is slightly charred on the outside
  3. Remove and let cool for a few minutes. Cut into bite sized pieces, using scissors or kitchen shears.
  4. Combine octopus pieces with crushed garlic in a bowl.
  5. Season with sea salt and pepper and serve with lemon wedges.

 

Rice in octopus stock

This is NOT a paella dish, nor a risotto. It is my version of boiled rice flavoured with octopus juice,  that I didn’t want to waste.

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Ingredients

Reserved cooking stock from Basic Boiled Octopus, including the bay leaves ( you should have at least 4 cups )

2 cups medium grain rice ( or any rice good for paella, not long grain rice)

Cooked chorizo slices, for garnish

  1. Bring the octopus stock to the boil
  2. Add the rice and stir well to combine. Bring back to the boil, then turn the heat right down to a simmer and cover with a lid, as you would for ordinary rice.
  3. Cook the rice for 20 minutes or until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is cooked.
  4. In the meantime, fry chorizo slices in a frypan until just cooked. When ready, transfer the chorizo to the pot along with any juices from the frypan. Cover with the lid for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to mix a little.
  5. Serve warm.

 

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One whole octopus put to good use ! Nothing wasted.

 

What to do in 36 hours in Port Macquarie?

Earlier this month, we were meant to fly our friends, Dave and Denise, down to Merimbula for an overnight stay. However the NSW South Coast bushfire crisis forced us to change plans and head north instead. Ironically, the North Coast had been battling its own bushfires a couple of months prior and was only just recovering from massive destruction around the Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie area. So, in a way, we were doing our bit to support the local economy and though we didn’t bring an empty esky, we indeed had plans to visit as many places as we could.

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We flew into Port Macquarie airport in this hot January morning, witnessing the blackened landscape along the way but mercifully, no active fires near the town ( though we were told by a local “ there is a pit fire near the runway, that is virtually impossible to put out. It just keeps burning underground ! “) The first thing we noticed is how clear the air is compared to Sydney.

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We picked up our hired car and drove across the Hasting River, to check out North Shore beach which is only accessible by ferry.

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The beach is gorgeous, long and empty, perfect to kite surf on this windy day or ride a horse along. Our crew was peckish however, so we returned to Settlement Point where Denise had spotted a cafe restaurant earlier.

Overlooking the Hasting river and a few meters away from the car ferry, The Point is a quaint cafe serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Customers appeared to be locals and holiday makers alike, service was friendly and accomodating as some of us have very specific requests like a burger without certain trimmings ( that’s Denise ) or long black on ice ( that’s me ). We started sipping beers, latte and iced coffee ( otherwise known as long black on ice, not to be confused with the concoction with cream piled on top! ) while waiting. The food took a little while as it is freshly made, but when it arrived serves were quite generous.

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fullsizeoutput_85a1Mr T ordered a Homemade Chunky Steak, Red Wine & Mushroom Pie which came with a side salad. He could only manage half of it, it was that filling.

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David and Denise went for traditional Aussie Hamburgers while I opted for the vegetarian delight, thinking it was a lighter option as it read “ Oven roasted field mushroom, roasted pumpkin, baked capsicum, spanish onion, zucchini, grilled halloumi stacked on baby spinach, sliced avocado & toasted turkish bread with a balsamic reduction & cashews”.

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As delicious as it was, it was anything but light, even when leaving the bread on the side ( and god knows how much I love Turkish bread !)

Our belly full, we headed south for a drive along the Coastal Drive to Camden Haven. It is only 49 klm, but it took us 2 hours as we stopped along the way at Lighthouse Beach, Shelley Beach, Lake Cathie, Bonnie Hills…

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There is no shortage of pristine, long, sandy beaches but sadly, areas like Lake Cathie, an intermittently closed lake, is out of bound as it suffers from poor quality water, largely due to drought conditions in the past few years.

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Finally back in Port, we checked into the El Paso Motor Inn, our home for the night. It is in the centre of town, a perfect spot just across from the coastal walk and the river.
There are tons of dining options within walking distance, but we couldn’t go past the Beach House, one block down from the hotel.

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It was a very busy, noisy place on this Friday night, popular with sunset watchers, so once we managed to nab a table, we didn’t move!

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Menu is typical pub food, nice and generous:

IMG_3992chicken schnitzel for David,Hummus dip with pulled lamb and bread for Denise,

fullsizeoutput_859dIMG_3990caesar salad and slow cooked lamb to share for Mr T and I. And copious beers and wine! Great ambience. 

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I got up early the next morning for a hike along the Coastal Walk. Starting from the Town Green ( across from the hotel ), the walk is 9 klm long all the way to Tacking Point lighthouse. I only walked as far as the end of the breakwater wall and Town Beach however, along with a large number of people doing the same thing, dodging kids on bikes, guys fishing off the rocks and dogs, …

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It is indeed a popular spot with boulders along the path, painted by people keen to leave their mark. Naive drawings immortalising family holidays, passionate declarations of love, sad RIP, cheeky celebration of boys pub crawls…a veritable gallery of human emotions stretches to the end of the break wall and leads to a large skatepark as well as picnic areas. I can’t imagine anywhere more kid and family friendly.
This short 30mn cardio workout done, it was time for breakfast back at the hotel. Continental breakfast is included in accomodation at El Paso, a basic but adequate offering of toasts, cereals and hot drinks. Any hot meals are extra, but we were still full from last night and I was saving myself for lunch.

Setting up for the day’s exploring, I wanted to visit the Port Macquarie koala hospital, a facility dedicated to the care and preservation of the marsupials. Totally self-funded and run by a few paid staff and a lot of volunteers, it is the first of its kind in the world. Their workload of late has dramatically increased with the impact of the bush fires on the koala population, and while interested to visit and see for myself ( visit is free ) the rest of our crew was wary of seeing animals in distress. Instead, we headed inland to visit Bago Maze and Winery.

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Though only 30mn from town, it feels quite remote, nestled in the hills. The setup is lovely, but the weather was really hot ( 37C ) so we didn’t bother about the maze. We left  it to the restless young kids whose only interest seem to want to get lost in a 2 meter tall hedge maze while their parents wished they were back in the coolness of the cellar door.

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Which is where you find David and I, tasting lovely blueberry wines and liqueurs. In the meantime, Mr T found some locally made harissa and honey to take home while Denise sampled the local muffin and latte.

Then it was back on the highway, to Ricardoes’ Tomatoes and Strawberries Farm.

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This is a working farm with two acres of greenhouses controlled by state of the art computerised technology, hydroponically growing tomatoes and strawberries. Visitors can pick their own strawberries in the shady enclosures where the berries grow on tall vertical vines: armed with a bucket, it is just a matter of plucking the berries, which are then weighed and bagged to take away ( no eating allowed while picking !)

IMG_4072IMG_4079Denise and I could not resist having fun picking strawberries while the boys patiently waited in the cafe checking out the menu. I bought a few tomatoes then we were off. We didn’t really spend much longer, as it was really hot in the greenhouses and the cafe area was too busy for our liking.

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Lunch was by the river, at Whalebone Wharf. What a gem! From the moment we walked in, the velvet shell armchairs, bronze fittings and whitewashed walls make you feel special already. Mr T glanced at me with his “ where have you taken us” kind of look but relaxed as soon as we were seated.

IMG_4088Our table was overlooking the river, a nice breeze flowed thru, having us forgetting about the heatwave outside. The menu focuses on seafood and local produce, prepared by award winning chef, Peter Ridland, previously of Jonah’s in Whale Beach ( I mention this, as Jonah’s has been on my restaurant bucket list for decades, so I figured this would be near enough !) I loved the look of the sides and the fact that there are more side choices than entrees or mains. You could enjoy an entire vegetarian meal with these sides. But we’re omnivores and love our seafood. So…

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Denise spotted the flash fried calamari dish at the table next to us, and literally said “ I’ll have what she’s having “.
After being told the fish of the day was not available, the boys chose the beer battered flat head fillets with chips for Mr T and roasted pumpkin for David.

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As for me, the roasted king prawns had me intrigued so I ordered an entree size of these with grilled greens on the side. While the seafood was very good, cooked to perfection, the vegetables were sensational.

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My greens ( broccolinis, broccoli and green beans ) were grilled and crispy with a crunchy topping of almond crumbs and refreshing sour cream and chive dressing. The roasted pumpkin melted in your mouth and tasted divine with whipped cashew cream, toasted seeds and mustard dressing. David couldn’t stop eating it, then he couldn’t stop talking about it! Mr T loved his beer battered chips, especially the garlic and pepper salt but couldn’t eat all of it so he shared with Denise whose dish was much lighter as it “only” came with a rocket and cucumber salad.
I really would have loved to try the desserts but not only the heat was dampening our appetites but Mr T was now in a flight preparation mode, keen to fly back home before the cold front hit later in the evening.

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The trip home was a very hot and smoky affair, as we were re-entering the fire zone. Even though we weren’t flying into any fire affected area, the winds from Victoria and the NSW South Coast were blowing the highly polluted air hundreds of kilometres up the coast. By the time we landed in Bankstown, in the late afternoon, the air was thick and a scorching 48C. We love our hot weather but that was getting extreme and we all made a collective wish for the cooler weather to hurry up!

As a final note: There is a Koalas Sculpture trail you can explore, with 16 koala sculptures scattered all over town.  We managed to spot 2 of them ( actually, we ran into them by chance, as we weren’t really looking! ): Con at the Historic Courthouse ( pictured below ) , and Berry Beautiful at Ricardoes’.

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Milton, Mollymook, Batemans Bay, Mogo, Moruya, Narooma, Tilba, Bermagui, Bega, Merimbula, Eden…these are some of the towns along the NSW South Coast we have visited in the past 3 years, either driving along the Princes Highway for a weekend getaway or flying down to the farthest reach close to the Victorian border for a longer break. Its beautiful coastline, green and lush pastures and unspoilt surfing beaches keep us coming down every year, as do many people during the holidays.

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Off Lake Conjola, NSW

We had planned for a while to fly down to Merimbula for New Year and show the region around to visiting friends. The early onset of bushfires along the coast in August however had us keeping our plans in limbo and monitoring the conditions for months. Daily checks of the NSW Fires Near Me app, showed fires up the north coast and out west in the blue mountains during spring season, then with the arrival of summer mother nature turned its fury towards the south east of Australia, engulfing the whole region into a furnace.

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Needless to say that we didn’t fly to the Sapphire coast as intended, and like most people we watched in horror as the bush fires wrecked so much devastation across the whole region. As I write, the loss of human lives, wildlife and stock is astronomical. So is the number of homes destroyed and businesses lost.

Close to my heart are Roman Leathergoods and Milstons Past and Presents, both shops in Mogo, near Batemans Bay. I remember leaving Mr T at our hotel downtown and driving to Mogo for a bit of “me” time, wandering around the quirky shops the village used to be famous for. There I purchased beautiful handmade leather belts and purses from Roman and chatted with his wife, Lorena, while finding a rare book at Leah Milstons bookstore next door. That was over a year ago. They, along with the entire town, have been reduced to ashes in the NYE blaze.

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Milstons Past and Presents, Mogo, NSW

Unfortunately, they are two of hundreds, if not thousands of families and businesses, affected by the bush fires along the East coast of Australia in the last few weeks.

While the state of emergency/disaster both in NSW and Victoria is now lifted, thanks to easing weather conditions, the full extent of the devastation reveals itself daily on our screens. Not every properties were destroyed, some people were lucky and spared. I am relieved to see that some of the establishments we visited in the past came out unscathed, though the loss of income from the NYE “Tourist Ban” is a crucial blow to these businesses that rely on the summer holiday season to see them thru the rest of the year. With entire communities shaken to their core, the rebuilding becomes everyones’ focus.

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Remnants of previous bush fires on Holmes Lookout, Batemans Bay, NSW 

The urge to help is compelling, either by donating or collecting and most of you would by now be aware of the many options available to help ( from globally known Red Cross, to government agencies such as NSW RFS, or grassroots organisations like Treading Lightly Inc…). Social media campaigns such as Instagram @emptyesky and @spendwiththem are another great way to contribute towards the recovery effort, encouraging city folks like us to take on a road trip to fire affected areas, once safe to do so, and buy from local business. Options range from services, to wine, fresh produce… I can personally relate to this kind of initiative, always keen on a road trip I don’t need much incentive to pack up and go, especially when it is for a good cause !

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Tilba post office, NSW

So as I happily add a South Coast getaway to this year’s travel plans, I thought I’d share with you some of our favourite spots, visited pre-fire season… Beautiful then, and always.

 

Mollymook/Ulladulla

Milton

 

Merimbula

Batemans Bay

Eden

 

Bermagui/Tathra

Christmas 2019

It’s been a while since I wrote a Christmas post, mainly because the past couple of years have been hectic leading up to the holidays. While busy, this year, has been a little quieter, allowing more time for planning and now writing.

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As always Christmas celebrations stretched over 2 days, courtesy of our dual nationalities. I insist on the French tradition of Le Reveillon, Christmas Eve dinner, which for me makes it the biggest cooking day of the year. The family comes over, we exchange gifts and celebrates then they go home before midnight to cook their Aussie Christmas the next day. My Christmas day is then quite relaxed. We have a casual breakfast with the kids and bar a couple of hours dish washing and cleaning the mess from the night before, the rest of the day is spent lazing around ( a.k.a napping ) until it is time to go to Christmas dinner at Shelley’s place.

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This year’s Christmas Eve menu featured the traditional entrees of seafood trio of oysters, prawns and smoked salmon.

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I wake up to the sound of shrieking magpies right outside our bedroom windows. This is not that unusual, we have a whole colony of these living in the tree next door, kept and fed by our neighbour who treats them as pets. They routinely use our roof to dance, court, play and fight in a very vocal fashion which would not bother us if they didn’t leave traces of their passage by way of droppings all over our deck…Should we leave a door or window open, the creatures will venture inside and make themselves at home, until one of us shoo them away. 

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So imagine my reaction, when I walked down to the kitchen and discover what I thought is one of these buggers inside a bowl of corn chips left on the bench the night before!

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It is the morning after our Halloween family gathering, and the house looks very much haunted and decrepit, left to the black birds and the rodents… Just the effect I was after and worked on yesterday, but not so appealing now as I face the prospect of cleaning up before tradesmen arrive for a painting job we arranged days ago ( what a timing! )

This is the third year hosting what seems to have become a ritual Halloween dinner. It also coincides with Mr T’s son, Craig’s, birthday, so the poor guy has no chance of flying under the radar with a quiet celebration. This year’s theme was loaded with nostalgia, with a few of us ( not me ) hooked on shows like Stranger Things or going back to retro style of cooking. So with guests asked to “come as their teen-selves and bring their favourite childhood dishes”, this multi-cultural-generational family gathering of ours was always going to be interesting.

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Setting up the house took a few days, mostly clearing up all the junk accumulated during the year and negotiating my way around Mr T’s renovation projects. In the process, I dug out old toys and games which at any other times would have ended up given away but made perfect props for that particular occasion: vintage Barbie dolls found a new life with Hannah and the Monopoly game had the boys enthralled for a while. Old Mexican glassware gifted by Mr T’s sister a few years ago made a great excuse to set up a pina colada station manned by Marc.

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When it came to dressing up, Mr T didn’t really try. He was planning to wear board shorts and flip flops, as he would have coming back from a day surfing. The weather was too chilly for him however, so he swapped the beach attire for tracksuit pants and a dark t-shirt instead. I called him a daggy old teen.
Marc and Anne being teenagers, had their work cut out appearing as themselves.
Danielle and I brought the 80s back, her with bright lipstick and neon loop earrings, me wearing a half up half down hairdo and a vintage red jumpsuit that used to fit me much better at 16 than it does at 53! Unbeknownst to me, this looked like the costume worn by the characters in the horror movie US, which caused the younger kids to do a double take, never imagining I could be so on point.
The 90’s were well represented with lots of black grungy clothing and resurrected old band T-shirts.

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The best costumes would have to be the younger ones though. Not old enough to know about nostalgia, they embraced the full dress up concept: Cooper and Jesse nailed the Hopper look in Stranger Things with their Hawaiian shirts, while Harry could have been Dustin ( I am not really sure ) and Hannah was the spookiest Annabelle.

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As always, the party spread from the kitchen to the verandah. The adults caught up all the gossip ( and boy, did we have a lot of news to share!! ) while the kids slipped out of their costume to jump in the swimming pool for the first swim of the season. Until the sun disappeared and everyone retired inside, squeezing around the dinner table and piling up plates.

Foodwise, the menu covered a few decades with dishes bringing back memories of dinner parties in the 80’s or afterschool snacks in the 90’s.

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Our starters ranged from food on sticks, to Twisties,

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and spinach dip in a cob…

Asked about his favourite childhood food memory, Mr T mentioned a chips sandwich, also known as chip butty.

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It is basically a whole lot of french fries stuffed into a buttered bread roll, smothered with tomato sauce and much enjoyed after a long surfing session. It wasn’t just popular in the 60s, the Gen Y amongst us remembered devouring a few of them too! I guess, everyone likes a carb-on-carb treat.

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My french version of food in a bread roll, is a Quatre-Heures, a sweet afterschool treat made of a bar of chocolate slipped into a buttered bread roll. The bread roll has to be a french baguette style for it to work, it then kind of tastes like a chocolate croissant and loads you with enough sugar to keep going for hours…
Mains were a mix of old classic ( spaghetti and meatballs ), crowd favourites ( marinated chicken wings and caesar salad),

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vegetables must haves ( baked cauliflower )

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and a funny take on a fish burger with soft shell crabs instead.

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Death by sauce made a surprise guest appearance, leading to some hilarious food tasting.

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Dessert nearly didn’t happen: I had 3 guests charged with bringing a sweet each, and unfortunately 2 of them cancelled the night before. This left Carolyn who already said she would bring a cheesecake. She was our last hope, though I didn’t tell her because I was afraid she’d be spooked under pressure. Instead, I embarked on an exercise of making fruity snacks and chocolate truffles, so we would have sweets to nibble on. I needn’t have worried so much, Carolyn’s vanilla cheesecake turned out perfect, dressed with berries and a few candles, it made the daintiest birthday cake!!

Below are recipes for the sweet snacks should you look for inspiration. Happy Halloween!!!

Mandarin Pumpkins

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I can’t claim credit for this one, it is all Lorraine’s from Not Quite Nigella. I was after a way to present fruits with a Halloween twist, and saw this recipe on her blog. So here is to simple and easy party food that is healthy too!

Serve 12

Ingredients

12 mandarins
12 small sticks of celery

  1. Peel the mandarins and stick a piece of celery in the middle to make it resemble a pumpkin.

Strawberry stars

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Once again, the inspiration comes from Lorraine, as above, who posted a recipe for Demogorgon Monster strawberries. I set out to make these, then realised I had white chocolate instead of dark, and not enough of it to make the whole recipe. With no time to run to the shops and buy more, I used what I had on hand and improvised. This is the result. Make sure to keep it in the fridge until ready to serve, as the chocolate layer is fairly thin and softens quickly at room temperature.

Serve 18

Ingredients

45 strawberries (3 punnets will do)
360g white chocolate
18 blueberries

  1. Wash and dry the strawberries thoroughly. Hull and halve them horizontally.
  2. Melt the white chocolate. I used the microwave, 20s at a time, stirring every time.
  3. Line 3 trays with parchment paper. Spread out 6 circles of melted chocolate on each tray.
  4. Working quickly, place 5 strawberry halves on each circle to form a star. Plop a blueberry in the centre.
  5. Refrigerate to set and keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

Chocolate coated skulls

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I first wanted to make traditional chocolate truffles, as they were my favourite sweets as a child. Then came up with this Halloween twist, except that the usual soft chocolate ganache would not work in the hull silicone mold. The problem was easily overcome by encasing the ganache in a hard chocolate shell. While it is very easy to do, it takes more time than the ordinary truffle, not the least because my silicone mold only makes 7 pieces at a time which is a hassle when you have to prepare a big batch. Now that I know how delicious they are and how easy it is to make them, I am on the lookout for a bigger mold. Or start a few days ahead, since these keep in the fridge for a while.

Makes 21 skulls/truffles

Ingredients

225g dark chocolate ( 70% or higher) for the casing
200g dark chocolate (70% or higher) for the filling
100ml double/thickened cream

  1. Melt the chocolate for the casing: Place 90% of the chocolate in a microwave and heat on full power for 30s. It will be sightly melted. Stir with a spoon and return to the microwave for another 20s. Stir again, zap for another 20s. Repeat the process, 20s at a time until melted, add the remaining 10% of the chocolate and stir until all melted.
  2. Make the chocolate shells: pour about 1 teaspoon of the melted chocolate into each skull. Rotate the mold on various angles until all the indentations are fully coated. You can also use a tiny paintbrush to cover all angles. Use a syringe to “suck”any excess chocolate and put back into the bowl for later. Put the mold in the fridge for 15-20mn until set
  3. Make the ganache filling: In a small saucepan, heat the thickened cream until it is about to boil. Remove from the heat and add chocolate. Stir constantly until the mixture is smooth. Cool down in the fridge for a few minutes.
  4. Fill up the skulls: when the chocolate casings are fully set, fill each one with the ganache almost to the top using a teaspoon or a piping bag. Pour the leftover melted chocolate used for the casing over the truffle and scrape with a flat knife or a pastry scraper to achieve a smooth finish. Keep in the fridge to set completely.
  5. Once set, ease the skulls out of the mold and place in individual cases ( patty pans or muffin cases are ideal ). Keep covered in the fridge until ready to serve.

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