Monday, November 22, 2010

focaccia di patate

Have you guys seen this? I hadn't until yesterday, and now my life will never be the same.

I don't know what (besides procrastination) brought me to this recipe, because until now, I've never really been a fan of focaccia. I like the idea of it, but there are just so many bad ones around that taste like they've been around for a little too long... You know what I mean, right? Like their oiliness, which should be rich and pleasant, is always just, well, oily. I'm guessing poor quality oil is the problem with many of these commercially made focaccia. And what's with taking one of these, filling it with sun-dried tomatoes, avocado and cheese (a combination that really needs to be sent back in time to 1993, FOREVER) and squashing them into oblivion with a 3 tonne sandwich press? It's never as good as you want it to be, and stuffed with 'gourmet' ingredients it always costs more than you expect. RANT. But hey guess what? Focaccia is the absolute bomb, when you make it at home with a potato.

This is Luisa from The Wednesday Chef's recipe, first published at the beginning of 2008, and the bread is so good, that I'm jealous of all those people who've been making it since then. Is has a dense, chewy crumb and is moist and so delicious that you can eat it on its own; this is the marker of a wonderful bread. The magic element here is a mashed boiled potato (really!), which you add to the regular flour, water, yeast mix, enabling you to achieve a superb texture and perfect density. The dough comes together like a dream and needs minimal kneading, so it's great for new and/or hesitant bread makers. I've followed Luisa's example and topped mine with tomato and oregano, adding a brush of garlic oil to up the ante, but olives and rosemary or sliced potatoes and parmesan - or whatever you dream up - would be great too.

One more thing: you need to use good oil here - I don't mean top shelf at Enoteca Sileno, but something with enough flavour to make the bread really shine (visually and flavour-wise). Think about the fact that the flavour of the oil really comes through here. After all, if you wouldn't dip a bit of bread into a little bowl of balsamic and Criso blended vegetable oil, you probably shouldn't put that stuff into your bread, either.

Potato Focaccia
Makes one 8-inch focaccia
Adapted only slightly from The Wednesday Chef

1 medium floury potato
2 cups bread or plain flour, plus more as needed
1/2 tsp dried yeast or 1 tsp fresh yeast
A pinch of sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup warm water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced crossways
1 to 2 teaspoons dried oregano
Coarse or flaked sea salt

1. Put the potato in a small saucepan with enough water to cover. Place over high heat, covered, and bring to a boil. Add a handful of salt. Simmer until the potato is tender when pierced with a knife, around 20 - 25 minutes. Drain and let the potato/s it cool. When cool, peel and mash finely with a fork. Set aside.

2. Pour the yeast into a large mixing bowl and add the pinch of sugar. Slowly add the warm water in a thin stream, using a fork to help dissolve the yeast entirely. Let the mixture stand for a few minutes.

3. Add the flour to the yeast water and stir with your fork to incorporate, adding the mashed potato and the salt. The dough will be thick and shaggy as in the picture above - don't worry about this! When it is looking fairly even, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and knead the dough by hand, pressing against the side of the bowl, for around a minute, or until it is pretty smooth. It should come together pretty quickly. Add more flour if the dough is too sticky to handle. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest, covered with a kitchen towel, in the bowl for an hour.

4. Cut a piece of baking paper to fit the bottom of an 8-inch cake tin. Gently lift the soft dough from the bowl and place it in the cake in, patting it out so that it fits snugly. Cover the top of the focaccia with the tomato slices and sprinkle the oregano and a large pinch of coarse salt over, then drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Let the dough rest for another hour - it should puff up again nicely.

5. Halfway though the resting time, turn the oven on to preheat at 220 degrees. When resting is complete and oven ready, bake focaccia for 40 minutes, turning the pan halfway through. Let cool on a rack for 20 minutes before removing the focaccia from the pan - otherwise it may break.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

lemon and olive oil cake

I know I'm not the only one who loves a plain-ish, not-too-sweet everyday cake. Fancy six layer super-cakes are great and all, but sometimes there's nothing more lovely than a Sunday afternoon cup of tea and an ever so slightly austere yet pretty, slice of home-baked cake. I'd been wanting to try this lemon and olive oil cake for a little while since spotting it on a couple of months ago, so today after a morning of gardening (hard work!), I thought a tea-time treat was in order.

I know it doesn't look like much, but hopefully those of you that understand the charm of the everyday cake will understand just how lovely this one is. It's a little sweeter than some of the other everyday cakes I usually make, but the tanginess of the lemon and the fruitiness of the extra virgin olive oil offset this sweetness nicely, resulting in a wonderfully soft and balanced cake that is perfectly delicious on it's own or warm with cream and/or fruit as a dessert. It contains flour, but no raising agent, relying instead on the fluffy lightness of whipped egg whites which are folded into the batter at the last moment.

The great thing about cakes made with olive oil (besides the delicious taste) is that they seem to stay fresh for a few days longer than those made with butter - and this is a big plus in a household of two where one "person" has four legs and doesn't eat cake. Slices of this cake will make it into the office and to the table for Monday night catch-up with friends over tea. There'll be a slice or two in my lunchbox this week and maybe a piece, rewarmed and served with lemon butter and/or ice-cream if I have a bad day (or a really good one!). If you're not into the idea of olive oil in desserts, try dialing back the olive flavour by using a light olive oil in place of the extra virgin. You'll get all the benefits of the oil with a less pronounced olive flavour.

lemon and olive oil cake

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or light for a more mellow flavour), plus additional for greasing pan
1 large lemon
1 cup cake or "00" flour
5 large eggs, separated, reserving 1 white for another use (5 yolks, 4 whites)
3/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350° F). Grease a springform pan with some olive oil and line the bottom with a round piece of baking paper. Oil paper also.

2. Finely grate 1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon zest and whisk into your flour. Now halve your lemon and squeeze out 1 1/2 tablespoons juice; put aside.

3. With an electric mixer, beat together yolks (5) and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl until thick and pale (about 3 minutes). Reduce speed to medium and add olive oil (3/4 cup) and reserved lemon juice, beating until just combined (original recipe states that mixture may appear separated at this point; mine was fine). Using a wooden spoon, gently stir in flour mixture until just combined.

4. Clean your beaters to beat egg whites (4) with 1/2 teaspoon salt in another large bowl at medium-high speed until foamy, then add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, and continue to beat until egg whites just hold soft peaks (about 3 minutes).
Very gently, fold one third of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Your batter will have changed texture now into a foamy, soft mass.

5. Transfer batter to greased pan. Sprinkle top of batter with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until puffed and golden and a skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean (about 45 minutes; mine took 40). Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around edge of pan and remove side of pan. Cool cake to room temperature, about 1 1/4 hours. Remove bottom of pan, peel off paper and transfer cake to serving plate.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

frijoles negros, or everyday black beans

I think if you're going to eat something everyday - or quite often, it should be made from the kind of recipe that serves you well every time. I have a bunch of these recipes scrawled out on the back of envelopes and receipts poking out of books and stuck to the fridge; there's my version of Molly's banana bread, the flour/yeast/water ratios for Jim Lahey's no-knead bread and a splotched crinkly print-out of the recipe for classic zucchini slice. One of the other things I make every couple of weeks is a big pot of frijoles negros, or basic black beans soaked and simmered with a dried chipotle chile until inky and creamy and totally delicious. At a Mexican-themed BBQ I had last weekend where I served them alongside charcoal-grilled achiote chicken, pico de gallo, mango salsa, salmon, apple and ginger ceviche, corn tortillas and mint caramel flan, the recipe for black beans was the one people asked for.

But this is a recipe that doesn't exist on any of those bits of paper, actually. It's just a preparation I made up, liked and stuck to - a "recipe" that before now, I've never thought much about. I fell in love with the creamy, rich texture of black beans in Mexico and they've been on high rotation in my repertoire since I got my hands on a source for the dried beans back here in Melbourne. I just soak a couple of cupfuls of beans, then rinse and throw them into my cast iron pot, covered with plenty of cold water. I throw in a peeled garlic clove or two, a peeled whole onion and a dried chipotle chile, bring to the boil and then let the whole lot simmer away until it becomes a thick and dark magic brew that smells wholesome and smoky.

The beans can then be used for a million different things. You can serve them on nachos, or alongside sausages. You can use them, with salsa and queso fresco, to fill vegetarian tacos or empanadas. You can moosh them up, add some stock and serve with crema for a satisfying black bean soup. You could puree them into refried beans and serve as a dip with tostadas, alongside eggs for a traditional Mexican breakfast, or use a thick layer as an additional filling for Sunday morning hangover quesadillas. Or even better - and Aussies might have to trust me on this - you can serve them hot, spooned over the top of a plate of freshly cooked rice, garnished with coriander, chipotle crema, chunks of avocado, hot sauce and lime. It's my most favourite cheap, warming, filling comfort meal, but not something you hear much about down here in OZ.

While there's not exactly a recipe here for these babies, there are some things you should you know about cooking black beans that might help if you've never prepared them before:

1. Dried beans are better than canned. TRUE. I don't care what Jamie Oliver says - I can't afford imported canned black beans (at $5 a pop) and they're nowhere near as good as those you soak and simmer yourself. It may take some forethought, but it certainly doesn't take much time to soak beans while you sleep and to throw them in a pot to simmer for a few hours on a Saturday morning. Save dollars, food miles and packaging - and get compliments from everyone.

2.Good-quality, freshest dried beans are MUY IMPORTANTE, amigo. Black beans are a little hard to come by in Melbourne anyway, but those sold at Casa Iberica in Fitzroy are really worth the trip. Woolworths now sells black turtle beans under their 'Macro' label in the health food aisle; these are ok, but you just won't achieve the creaminess and flavour you're really after.

3. Don't throw salt into that water! At least not for the first hour or so. Word on the street is that this makes them tough as little stones (though I've heard contradictory theories too). I've always seasoned later and never had a problem with tough beans, so I'm sticking to this rule. Salt some after an hour or so of cooking and adjust as necessary when they're done.

4. Flavour as you like. I throw in a dried chipotle chile (also available at Casa Iberica or online here) to infuse the whole pot with a smoky, subtle heat that doesn't interfere too much with the different dishes I add my beans to. But throw in whatever you like; fresh bay leaves, ground coriander or a chunk of smoky bacon.

5. Skim that scum. Shortly after your beans come to the boil, a frothy scum often rises to the surface. You want to skim this off with a big spoon so that the texture and flavour of your beans and their liquid really sing. Once you turn down to simmer, check for more scum every so often and remove as necessary.

6. Add more water as needed and don't let the beans dry out. By the time the beans are tender and creamy, the water will have transformed into a thick black-purple sauce - you want to make sure there's enough of this. If you intend to puree or mash the beans, you may want a even little more liquid.

7. Taste! Cooking time depends on how long you soak and how fresh your beans are. These ones took just under two hours after an overnight soak, but there's only one way to find out if yours are done...

Friday, September 17, 2010

the chilli project, part I: productive nostalgia

One of the most memorable meals of my life was eaten at a pit stop during an overnight bus trip through the Sierra Madre in Mexico. In the early hours of some anonymous morning, we tumbled down the steep stairs of the coach and into the desert. I remember looking around with weary eyes and seeing nothing. But at the very same time it was everything; everything that cinema had conjured for me over the years – and suddenly I was standing right in the centre of it. In this moment, I was inside cinema.

Fellow travellers bought coca-cola in small glass bottles, rubbed their eyes and smoked cigarettes. Some of us ate. Beside the register a woman stood behind a metal drum that’d been fixed up into a kind of grill and beside it on the table were plates of pulled meat and chorizo, little containers of pico de gallo and salsa verde. There was a bowl of rice – grainy and tinged pink with roasted tomato – covered with an upturned sieve to keep bugs out. There was a plate of whole fried chillies of a kind I’d never seen and a pile of tortillas wrapped loosely in a dishcloth. We stood there and realised that sleep deprivation had devoured our paltry Spanish and the woman looked at us and knew, so she made us something to eat.

On the top of the drum she flipped tortillas in slow motion, while warming a couple of the chillies and when they were ready, she put spoonfuls of rice onto the centre of the tortillas and topped them with a chilli, pulling out the stem before wrapping the whole thing up and handing it over on a little Styrofoam plate. Too tired to care what it was (or so we thought) we sat down and bit into one of the most awesome things we’d ever encountered: a burrito filled with Mexican rice and chiles rellenos.

What I couldn’t have known standing there, hungry and almost too tired to eat, was that these were ancho poblano chillies that had been grilled whole over an open flame until the skin blistered and blackened. Once peeled, a little slit had been made in each so that the chilli could be stuffed with queso fresco – a fresh white cheese something between ricotta and haloumi. Once resealed, it had been dusted in flour and dipped into a batter lightened with beaten egg whites before being fried. The batter became this super-crispy shell encasing the meaty pepper that was sweet, but with a little kick and the whole thing became the house for the molten and slightly squeaky, salty cheese centre. I could go on, because Lord. It. Was. Good.

So of course I set about making these as soon as I got home, but I realised quickly that the ancho chilli is not something you can get here (unless you want it dried, in which case click here). I experimented with different kinds of peppers, some hot, some sweet, but it just wasn’t the same. So this year, I’m growing my own. Maybe you should too?

Friday, September 10, 2010

sides as mains II: golden fried artichokes

I wish I wasn't so lazy. If I wasn't, I'd cook artichokes more often. I'd especially cook them like this. Artichokes dusted with a little flour, fried until golden and served sprinkled with salt and a squeeze of lemon - these are found often on the Greek dinner table when in season. I had a craving for them this week so bought three big artichokes from the market and proceeded to procrastinate cleaning and cooking them for the whole week. But the food-wasting guilt built up, so I sat down earlier this evening with knife in hand, over a lurid blue bowl of acidulated water and carved those babies up. Like most things you I procrastinate doing, it took less than half the time I thought it would. And it was so worth it.

If you've never cleaned artichokes before, they can be a bit intimidating. After all, they're spiky, armored things and one of the oldest continually cultivated vegetables known to man. So before you decide to do this, you should know that when parboiled, dusted and fried, artichokes become something close to the ultimate vegetable; the outside leaves separate a little and transform into the crispiest chip-like petals that encase the vegetable's tender centre that is sweet, clean and slightly nutty. I hope you're convinced.

Not yet? Maybe if you think about how the sprinkle of sea salt on these hot, crispy chippies amplifies the deliciousness by another 100%, and then how the squeeze of lemon adds zing and freshness, balancing out the richness of the fried crispy coating. Did I mention that I've upped the nuttiness here and given these a super-fine extra-crispy coating by replacing the regular flour with besan, otherwise known as chickpea flour? So this is totally worth it.

There's great instructions with pictures here for preparing artichokes. Before beginning, fill a bowl with water and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. You can throw the lemon in as well. Save the other half - you'll need it to rub the cut sections of the artichokes to stop them from going brown. Make sure you're using a sharp knife, otherwise this can be a dangerous operation! You might be shocked at how much of the vegetable you end up throwing away, but rest assured that the rest is inedible and the middle is worth it! What you're left with you can bake, braise or boil. After this you can grill them or make them into an ace gratin. They're really good with eggs, cheese, thyme, peas, bacon, homemade mayonnaise or aioli. Or you could dust them with besan and fry until crispy and golden, as below.

Golden fried artichokes

3 artichokes, cleaned and halved
1 lemon, halved
1/2 cup of besan (chickpea) or plain all-purpose flour
light olive oil, to shallow fry
sea salt

1. Squeeze one lemon half into a saucepan of water and bring to a rapid boil. Drop in artichoke halves and cook for around 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender but soft (poke with the end of a knife to test this). Drain into a colander and let cool. This step can be done ahead of time, if necessary.
2. Heat olive oil in a deep frying pan until hot (not smoking). Meanwhile, toss artichokes halves in flour on a plate. Tap to remove excess.
3. Fry artichokes until golden on both sides. Transfer when done to a paper-lines plate to drain.
4. Sprinkle with sea salt to taste and serve with lemon wedges.

Friday, July 23, 2010

rocket and pistachio pesto

Just becase you love food, doesn't mean you always find time to cook. I'm sitting here thinking about how one of my typical days in recent weeks might be represented in a pie chart, but I'll spare you that. That would just be another way to procrastinate - and it has already made me want to bake pie. At the moment, most of my day is spent reading and writing, a little bit is spent sewing and a very, very small amount is spent cooking and eating. Being in the middle (or closer towards the end, but it still feels like the freaking middle) of a PhD sometimes makes me forget about food; this is when I can't be bothered cooking for myself and I find myself considering the possibility of eating while I sleep via intravenous. But other times, I want to cook a whole Blumenthal buffet with multiple courses and towering translucent wobbly jellies from children's storybooks and Silky's pop biscuits. But there's no time for all that. There is time for pesto, however.

It's the middle of Winter here in OZ and buying a big bunch of basil would be wrong on two counts (flavor, price). And with pistachios sitting in the cupboard after that glorious muesli the other week, the way forward was clear - Tessa Kiros' rocket and pistachio pesto. All you need is a handful of pistachios, some garlic and parmesan, a handful of rocket (arugula) and a nice fruity olive oil. You whiz it up the first bits in your blender or food processor - or if you're smarter than me and have finished your thesis you can do it in a pestle and mortar - and add the oil to make a very bright green and sharp/sweet pesto.

I've made this pesto lots of times now and it is so good - I sometimes even make it in the summer when basil is plentiful, just to mix things up a bit. It is great through pasta, of course. But it's also (especially!) awesome drizzled over golden roasted hasselback potatoes half way through cooking; the potatoes come out with this insane gold-green crust of nutty, cheesy flavour, making them a perfect side with something like roast chicken or a substantial and impressive contribution to a vegetarian spread (Tessa even recommends leaving out the cheese for coating potatoes, making this vegan-friendly). I've mixed this pesto into salad dressings, drizzled it on pizza and dolloped in into soups before serving. I've eaten it with fresh ricotta on toast.

If you're short on time, make this. It's very good stuff.

rocket and pistachio pesto
From Tessa Kiros' Falling Cloudberries

2 garlic cloves
60g (or 1/3 cup) shelled pistachios
60g rocket (or arugula)
40g parmesan cheese, grated
250ml (1 cup) olive oil

1. Crush the garlic to a lumpy paste with a little salt.

2. Pulse the pistachios in your blender to coarse bits. Add the rocket (I chop mine up a bit first) and continue to pulse until you have a relatively consistent, but coarse paste. Scrape this out into a bowl and stir in the garlic, parmesan and olive oil. Mix through well and taste for seasoning. Depending on the pepperiness of your rocket and saltiness of your cheese, you may want to add some salt (mine often needs a little to make it sing). You're done! If you don't use this right away, it keeps in the fridge for about a week, as long as the top is covered with a layer of oil.

Monday, July 12, 2010

bánh mì and bánh gan, or pork meatball sandwich and coconut creme caramel

Friday nights I'm usually home-bound; I'm tired after a full week of working and writing and I just want to sit on the couch with a glass of wine, watch Masterchef and eat something that's half-treat, half-comfort. Lately, my Mum has been joining me for Friday night masterclass action and last Friday night we had a casual Vietnamese dinner of bánh mì and bánh gan - and it was awesome, as you can see.

First of all, how good are meatball sandwiches? When we were younger, my brother and I became obsessed with them watching Point Break (2001); here's the reason. Though to tell you truth, I don't think I'd ever had one - except for those Vietnamese rolls with those delicious (lukewarm) pork meatballs that are probably a bit dangerous, but are so, so good. I was always tempted to ask for only meatballs, but they seemed so special that I didn't think this was a possibility. Turns out that making them at home was the answer.

These meatballs have so much flavour that they're killer snacks just on their own. But encased in those super-light Vietnamese/French baguettes and garnished with sweet vinegary carrot and daikon pickles, hot chilli mayo and fresh sprigs of coriander, these are near on perfect.

But what to eat afterwards? We tried not to be piggies and had smaller rolls for dinner, but only so we could fit this in. In another culinary triumph of Vietnamese/French fusion, I bring you bánh gan, or the coconut creme caramel - so perfect after something spicy. Half the milk or cream of the regular flan is replaced here with coconut milk, resulting in a pudding that is silky and refreshing and not too sweet. I also swapped the brown sugar in the custard recipe here for grated palm sugar and was very glad I did: the sweetness was even more subtle and nuanced than I'd expected. And these two dishes went down so well together that now I find it hard to imagine making one and not the other. Oh oh...

Bánh mì - Vietnamese meatball sandwiches
Adpated from Bon Appétit Jan 2010

For the hot chilli mayonnaise:
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot chilli sauce (I use sriracha)

For the meatballs:
500g pork mince
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Thai basil (or regular basil)
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 spring onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sriracha or other hot chilli sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt

For the sandwiches:
1 cup julienned or coarsely grated carrots
1 cup julienned or coarsely grated peeled daikon (Japanese white radish)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 10-inch-long baguettes (preferably from a Vietnamese bakery)
Thinly sliced jalapeño chiles
About 16 large fresh coriander sprigs

1. To make the hot chilli mayonnaise, stir all ingredients in small bowl. Season with salt. Cover and chill.

2. To make the meatballs: line a baking tray with plastic wrap. Gently mix all meatball ingredients in large bowl. Using moistened hands, roll scant tablespoons of the meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Arrange on baking sheet. Cover and chill.

3. For the rest of the sandwich, toss the first 5 ingredients in medium bowl to make the pickles. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

4. Preheat oven to 180°C. Heat sesame oil in large pan over medium-high heat. Add half of meatballs and sauté until brown and cooked through. This should take around 15 minutes - be careful not to burn! Transfer meatballs to another rimmed baking sheet. Place in oven. Repeat with remaining meatballs.

5. Cut each baguette in half, not quite all the way. Spread hot chili mayo over both cut sides of rolls. Fill each with 1/4 of meatballs and pickled vegetables (drained), jalapeños and coriander to taste. Eat over a plate, as these can get gloriously messy.

Bánh gan - coconut creme caramel
Adapted from Good Taste 2007

225g (1 cup) white sugar
80ml (1/3 cup) water
1 x 400ml can coconut milk
375ml (11/2 cups) milk
6 eggs, lightly whisked
100g (1/2 cup, firmly packed) grated palm sugar sugar
1/2 vanilla bean

1. Preheat oven to 160°C. First make your caramel. Combine the white sugar and water in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and bring to the boil. Boil, without stirring, occasionally brushing down side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in water, for 3-4 minutes or until beautiful golden. Watch out, because this burns easily at this stage! Pour the caramel mixture evenly among eight 160ml (2/3-cup) capacity ovenproof ramekins. Set aside for 5 minutes or until set.

2. Whisk together the coconut milk, milk, egg, grated palm sugar in a large bowl until well combined. Scrape in vanilla bean and whisk again to combine. Strain through a fine sieve into a jug. Carefully pour this over the caramel mixture in the ramekins.

3. Place the ramekins in a large roasting pan. Boil your kettle and pour enough boiling water into the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake in oven for 35-40 minutes or until the custards are just set. Transfer to a baking tray and set aside for 1 hour to cool. Cover the ramekins with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 6 hours or overnight to chill.

4. To serve, run a flat-bladed knife around the inside edge of the ramekins and carefully turn onto serving plates. I didn't have any on hand, but recipe suggest sprinkling with toasted shredded coconut and lime rind to serve.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

cranberry, pistachio and cinnamon toasted muesli

There's Julie London on the stereo and I've just put the lid on a big freshly-toasted jar of this muesli. It's sitting on my kitchen bench - and it looks totally ace. Next to it, I've got a litre of fresh milk slowly turning into yoghurt. Now I'm going to sit down and polish my halo. Making this muesli to get me through the week ahead makes me feel virtuous, but eating it is something else - cause this stuff is like crack. I'm totally addicted.

I love toasted muesli so much, but I'm not about to pretend that chowing down a big bowl of this constitutes a particularly healthy start to the day. However with some restraint (booo!), I think this can be part of weekday breakfasts. It is packed full of nuts and linseeds and sunflower kernels and cranberries, so it is very nutritious. After drizzling the whole thing with maple syrup and baking it though, I dare say this is a not a low-calorie affair. But I love about 1/4 of a cup of with good yoghurt and some berries - and I'll gladly have a little of anything over none at all.

I'm not sure if making muesli at home is actually any cheaper than buying it, but I'd like to imagine that it is. In any case, it is a million times better than buying it from a store, because you can put whatever you want in and leave out all those bits that spoil your otherwise favourite muesli. I adapted a basic recipe I found in delicious. magazine years ago, so I'm sure you can put anything you fancy into this and it will still be the bomb. Don't care for cinnamon (what?!?)? Add some shredded coconut. Replace the maple syrup with more honey, or use pumpkin seeds instead of sunflower. Take out the cranberries, add apricots, or dried apple, or...goji berries (?) or chopped dark chocolate (dear lord!). The world is your oyster - at least at breakfast time.

cranberry, pistachio and cinnamon toasted muesli
Adapted from delicious. magazine 2007

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup flaked almonds
3/4 cup sunflower kernals
1/3 cup linseeds
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tbls grapeseed oil
2 tbls honey
3/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1/2 cup pistachios, roughly chopped

1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Place syrup, honey and oil in a small saucepan over low heat until combined and runny - about 2 minutes.

2. Combine oats, almonds, linseeds, sunflower kernals and cinnamon in a bowl. Toss until the cinnamon is all the way through the mixture. Spread this on your baking tray, then drizzle with warm syrup mixture.

3. Bake for around 12 - 14 minutes or until toasted and golden, stirring once during cooking. A note: I leave mine in longer because I like a more golden, more toasted finish - around 18 minutes all up. Just keep your eye on it! Remove and cool to room temperature.

4. While this is cooling, combine the cranberries and pistachios in a large bowl. Add the cooled oat mix (which should be crispy and looking awesome, and stir until well combined. Store your muesli in an airtight container at room temperature. Recipe says for up to 10 days, but I know I've kept mine longer and it's fine.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

best of june

I'm without camera this week (am armed only with my phone), so thought I'd do a bit of a round up of things that have been great this month. Mostly I wanted to draw your attention to some wonderful bits and pieces on blogs I love; there are recipes I'm using to survive the cold weather, articles and DIY stuff you can use to procrastinate the things you're meant to be doing. Ahem.

15 great things in June

1. Roses still blooming in Winter in my garden.

2. Let-my-eggplant-go-free! spaghetti at The Wednesday Chef. A pasta sauce not red or white, but made of slowly melted eggplant. Make it now - trust me.

3. Sewing with vintage patterns. Gertie at the New Blog for Better Sewing posted a great article with tips on sewing with vintage patterns, which can sometimes be intimidating for new sewers. Resources like this are so helpful in dealing with things you may not have come across before with your contemporary patterns.

4. Writing my thesis. Oh! It's good when it's good.

5. Kedgeree and Jackson Dodds. I ate kedgeree for the first time on Saturday at the fabulous new cafe in Preston (finally!) called Jackson Dodds. It was deliciously comforting; spicy and smoky with pieces of smoked trout and soft-boiled egg through the rice and topped with a homemade Indian-style chutney that was perfect. I can't wait to make this at home, but this really was the best breakfast I've had out in while and all parties agreed that the food and coffee were seriously good.

6. My new sewing machine. BFF.

7. Paximathakia Portokaliou at The Wednesday Chef. I've been thinking how my idea of comfort food relates lots to the cooking of my grandmothers', so there's no surprise that many of the dishes I want to cook and eat when it gets cold are Greek. These I'd never made though. And they're excellent with coffee or for breakfast.

8. Self-Stitched September. This is going to be a great event. A whole bunch of people from all over the world (including moi!) have pledged to wear at least one self-made item of clothing everyday for the whole month of September. If you don't sew, you can sign up for a super-light version and pledge to wear refashioned or thrifted garments for the month. Say no to expensive ill-fitting garments mass-produced in sweatshops! For more information click here or on the little SSS logo at the right.

9. Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon (1957). Seriously creepy and perfect for cold winter nights.

10. A really interesting blog by Susannah at Cargo Cult Craft on making clothes at home.

11. Using credit card awards points to buy a waffle-maker. 'Free' appliances.

12. Broad beans and Brussels sprouts in my garden. Little pocket rockets are soldiering on through the chilly evenings and morning frosts. Go little plants!

13. Ranch style beans at Homesick Texan. A great all-purpose bean recipe that I've been using for the slow cooker. These beans are good on toast, with eggs for breakfast (or breakfast for dinner when you get home late), on top of rice with sour cream, avocado and other garnishes, served in burritos or packed into enchiladas baked in the oven. The possibilities are endless, really.

14. Homemade paneer. I haven't tried this yet, but Cindy at Where's the Beef? has convinced me to give it a go with her simple instructions. Then, homemade saag paneer! Super-yum.

15. Watching Masterchef with red wine and small cats on the couch.

Has June been good to you?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

chocolate and beetroot cake

This month I bought Gourmet Traveller magazine and immediately wanted to make every single thing in it. So far I've managed three dishes: oven-baked Italian pork sausages with polenta, baked beans with pork spareribs and this chocolate and beetroot cake. All three dishes are well worth a mention, but this cake was AMAZING.

Chocolate and beetroot: sounds weird, right? But trust me, you won't look back. This is a flourless chocolate cake that is lifted to an impossible level of lightness when you separate and whisk the eggs. You fold in whipped cream, a little almond meal, melted chocolate and the magic that is a medium-sized fresh beetroot, finely grated. What you end up with is a very light and moist dark, dark, mossy cake that has the chocolate intensity of a brownie with a wonderfully earthy dimension, courtesy of the beetroot. It is elegant, decadent and totally surprising. And you'll (most probably) love it.

Chocolate and beetroot cake
From Gourmet Traveller 2010

I actually made this in a half quantity in a small square cake tin - it worked wonderfully, but I've included the full recipe as printed. This is a good trick if you can't get through an entire cake and want to avoid freezing. My other trick is to make the full recipe in two smaller tins and use one as a gift. Friends for life.

400g dark chocolate (somewhere around 60% cocoa)
6 eggs, separated
150g caster sugar
200g beetroot, very finely grated
100ml pouring cream, whisked to soft peaks
75g almond meal
butter, to grease tin
cocoa (preferably Dutch-process) to dust

1. Heat oven to 180C. Grease and line a 20cm square cake tin with baking paper. Your mixture will be quite runny, so make sure it is watertight!

2. Melt chocolate in a metal (or other heatproof) bowl over a pan of simmering water until smooth. Careful not burn!

3. Whisk egg yolks and 2/3 of sugar with an electric mixer until pale yellow and creamy. Add the melted chocolate and grated beetroot. Stir to combine.

4. Whisk eggwhites to soft peaks, then add remaining sugar and whisk until glossy and smooth. Fold whipped cream then eggwhite then almonds into chocolate mixture carefully.

5. Put cake tin into a larger roasting pan and pour in boiling water to come halfway up the side of the cake tin. Carefully slide the whole shebang into the oven and bake for 45 minutes on 180C, then reduce the heat to 170C and bake for another 30 minutes, or until cake springs back when lightly pressed. Turn off oven and leave the cake there for 20 minutes, then take out and cool in the pan for another 15 minutes before turning out. Take care when turning, as cake is super-moist and quite delicate. Dust with cocoa powder and serve alone, or with cream or ice-cream.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

sides as mains: roasted brussels sprouts with bacon, mushrooms and crispy shallots

If you're one of those people who think they don't like Brussels sprouts, this may cure you.

There's little baby sprouts at the markets at the moment and they were so cute I had to buy some. But to be honest, Brussels sprouts were - up until now - one of those things I wished I liked more. I kept reading about how sweet and nutty they were, but couldn't seem to draw those qualities from the little things the few times I'd tried. The answer was, of course, to roast them in the oven. I should have thought of this earlier - probably around the time I first tried this.

This recipe has you toss the babies in finely minced garlic and some olive oil and roast them until they smell amazing and look all burnished and glossy. While they're cooking, you crisp up some shallots and put them aside to drain. Then in the same pan, sauté some bacon and mushrooms until it looks amazing, add thyme and white wine to make a kind of jus and the toss in the roasted brussels sprouts. Serve topped with the crispy, crispy shallots and this is really too good to be a side dish.

The original recipe has no bacon, as it's designed to serve alongside meat. I had some in the fridge so I threw it in, thinking it would take this dish to the next level. But the roasted sprouts were so good, it would have been just as yummy without. So it makes a wonderful vegetarian side or dinner, if you don't mind sides as mains.

Roasted brussels sprouts with bacon, mushrooms and crispy shallots
Adapted from

Brown bag lunch idea: I popped the leftovers into my lunchbox with a miniature can of chickpeas and some feta. It was ace!

500g Brussels sprouts (the younger the better)
1 clove garlic, minced
olive oil
vegetable oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 rashers of rindless middle bacon, cut into lardons
a knob of unsalted butter
a couple of handfuls of fresh mushrooms (I used swiss brown), quartered if large
a slug of dry white wine
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
salt & pepper
1/4 cup water
an extra knob of butter

1. Toss Brussels sprouts with oil, garlic, salt, and pepper, then spread out in 1 layer in a large shallow baking pan. Roast until tender and browned. This will take around 20 for baby sprouts and up to 35 minutes for larger ones.

2. While the Brussels sprouts roast, fry your shallots. Heat oil in a pan big enough to accommodate the mushrooms later and fry shallots, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Be careful as they burn very easily! Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, spreading in a single layer and they'll magically crisp up as they cool.

3. Next do the bacon and mushrooms. Remove excess oil from the pan, but don't clean it! You want to use all that sweet flavour from the shallots. Fry bacon lardons until crispy brown. Push lardons to a far edge of the pan and heat knob of butter in pan until foamy. Sauté mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and tender, stirring through the lardons. Add the wine, thyme, salt, and pepper and boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to a glaze, about 2 minutes. Add water and extra knob of butter and simmer, swirling skillet, until butter is melted. Transfer to a serving dish and stir in Brussels sprouts. Sprinkle with shallots.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

'you won't accept a guy's tongue in your mouth and you're gonna eat that?': the brown bag lunch

I'm in love with the idea of bringing lunch from home to work or school or whatever; this is because I hardly ever do it. I think about it lots - I fantasise about what would be wonderful to eat outside under old trees shedding orange/red/golden leaves in the warm Autumn afternoon sun on my lunch break. But I'm hardly ever organised enough to make this dream come true and am invariably left complaining about the fact that there is nothing you can buy worth eating. Every. Day.

This has to stop. So I got to think more seriously about bringing lunch from home, or brown bagging-it, as it's also known. Remember that great scene in John Hughes 1985 film The Breakfast Club where it's lunch time and everyone takes out a lunch that totally cements their character stereotypes? I love that scene. Claire, the princess, pulls out a proper sushi lunch set-up which she proceeds to eat with chopsticks (remember, this was the 1980s). The jock whips out giant bags of sandwiches, coke, chips, milk, fruit and chocolate chip cookies. Bad boy John has no lunch, and 'neo maxi zoom dweebie' Brian's 'standard, regular lunch' consists of soup, apple juice and PB&J with the crusts cut off. And Allison, the basket-case pictured above, in a lunch performance, slurps coke and concocts a sandwich to end all sandwiches. To the horror of her Saturday detention buddies, it begins with (literally) throwing away the baloney that sat between two slices of white bread and replacing this with carefully distributed sherbet from straws and a huge handful of what I guess (as an unenlightened Australian) is Cap'n Crunch cereal.

There is no quiz below to help you work out your neatly-defined lunch personality. Just as the characters in The Breakfast Club come to see their stereotypes as permeable, constructed things that they can all claim membership to, I can see bits of myself in all of these lunches. Sometimes I bring no lunch to work and this leaves me feeling really ace and tough - but unsatisfied. For a princessey treat sometimes I actually do pick up sushi on the way in. Once, in pre-coffee morning haste I packed cool ranch doritos and olives. But maybe nothing is quite as good as a properly packed, yummy but healthy lunch like Brian's. It's a shame he gets teased for it, but we'll let Bender off, because he has problems at home and he's a spunk.

The only thing with brown bag lunches, is that I seem to run out of ideas in double-quick time. So I've decided to start a mini-series of brown bag lunch posts here called 'you won't accept a guy's tongue in your mouth and you're gonna eat that?'. And I've John Hughes to thank for such eternally useful one-liners. I kicked off my new resolution to brown bag it more often the other day with this salad. It's healthy, pretty filling, it travels well and you can make it the night before - and with fruit and PB & choc chip cookie treats, it made a super lunch. I've included the recipe below.

But, do you take your lunch to work? What are your favorites? And, what do you pack it in? I'd really like to know. I need ideas, desperately. Even more than that, I'd like to stereotype you (endearingly) by what you pack. Indulge me?

Potato, tuna and egg salad
Adapted from Woman's Weekly wonder diet book (yes, really. Good lunch recipes to be found here.) The photograph shows the salad before I mixed the dressing through - much prettier, but salad is tastier once this has happened
Serves 1

3 smallish new potatoes
50g green beans, topped and halved crossways
95g tinned tuna, drained (one mini-can)
1 spring/green onion, finely sliced
a spring or two of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 heaped tbls Greek yogurt
a little finely grated lemon rind
1 tsp lemon juice
pinch of salt
1 hard-boiled egg, quartered

1. Boil or steam potatoes and beans separately, until potatoes are tender and beans are cooked but still a little crunchy. Drain and cool.

2. While cooling, make dressing. Combine yogurt, lemon juice, rind and salt and mix well.

3. Quarter potatoes, add beans, onion, tuna and parsley. Add dressing and stir to combine, or drizzle atop. Serve topped with egg.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

three kinds of good, all kinds of wrong: chocolate chip peanut butter cookies

This week I've made two unremarkable things with rhubarb. And this has made me really sad. The first - a hazelnut and rhubarb crumb cake - I was sure would be the most awesome thing that has landed on this planet in a while, but the recipe did something strange with egg whites and instead of following my instincts, I followed the recipe. FAIL. My friend Amy and I still ate some on a Monday night with big cups of tea and listed its merits, but it was too dense, too wet and just not quite right.

To remedy this, I threw together an apple and rhubarb crumble for supper with my friend Sian. It came out of the oven all golden and bubbly, the rhubarb's magic juices creeping up through the crumbs around the side. But come dessert time, we tucked in and I realised I hadn't put quite enough sugar in to balance the fruit. FAIL. Like the crumb cake, it had its merits and Sian and I still ate a bit.

I realised the next day that really, I just have polite friends. Rhubarb: why are you doing this to me?

I made these as a remedy. There's at least three good (as in sensible, healthy etc) things about these cookies: they're gluten free, they're dairy free and they contain a good hit of that magic paste known in these here parts as PB. All sounds good right? But listen. These cookies are made from peanut butter, chocolate, sugar and not much more. And they're completely, utterly addictive. There going to have me in fine form for the truffle shuffle in no time. If you're worried about this, a good idea might be to stick all those dollars you save from baking your own homemade cookies into a little tin beside the telephone. Stick a piece of masking tape on the tin, and in a thick black marker, print 'PERSONAL TRAINER FUND'. And accept my apologies. These cookies are all kinds of wrong.

As you might imagine, without flour they're very, very short, but they have a surprising crispness and a perfect resistance when you bite in. After you take a bite, the really fine crumb melts on your tongue and lets the deep brown sugar and roasted nut flavour explode in your mouth, until you hit a chocolate chip and then it's all over. Totally evil. Also, they're the easiest things in the world and they don't have rhubarb. Rhubarb, hear this: I'll get you my pretty. You and your little dog!

Chocolate chip peanut butter cookies

Note: I've included the original recipe with regular peanut butter here, but wanted to note that actually I used a natural, organic and salt free peanut butter because it is what I had on hand. To compensate, I added a good pinch of kosher salt to the mixture. But whoa Nelly - that organic peanut butter and it's supremely golden roasted goodness really took these over the edge in terms of flavour. Just an idea...

1 cup (or 260g) crunchy peanut butter
1 cup (or 200g) brown sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup (or 185g) dark choc bits

1. Pop oven on and set to 200°C. Line two trays with baking paper.

2. Combine peanut butter, sugar, bicarbonate of soda and egg in a bowl, then stir in choc bits. Really tough, huh?

3. Dampen your hands and then roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls, lining them up on the trays. Press the top of each cookie lightly with a fork to flatten slightly. Into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until they're a gorgeous light golden colour. Leave to cool on the trays (don't try and move them hot - they're fragile!). To store, get them into an airtight container as soon as they're cool. They'll stay nice and crisp.

Friday, May 14, 2010

peas, ham and unpopular fish: geeking out over food-talk on a Friday morning

Fridays are the best day of the week for a number of reasons. I work from home, take a morning break and head to the market, get washing done (life is exciting, non?) and sometimes put my hair in pin curls to head out in the evening. Possibly the best thing about Fridays though is that I've made it a habit to listen to the SPILLED MILK podcast in the morning while I eat toast and drink coffee. This makes me very, very happy - so I thought I should share it.

This is a series of podcasts with weekly installments by two foodies that some of you will know: Molly Wizenberg of the wonderful blog Orangette and author of A Homemade Life and her partner in crime Matthew Amster-Burton who's behind blog Roots and Grubs and book Hungry Monkey. The podcasts feature a weekly theme (peas, crispy potatoes, junk food or ham etc) that each show works around as the hosts offer lots of information on foodstuffs and recipes that showcase the weekly special ingredient. Mostly though, it is seriously hilarious; Molly and Matthew are passionate, but they're also witty, nutty and a bit cheeky. Really, you've never thought sitting around listening to people talk about food could be so fun. Set this to download and go make some toast and coffee, really.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

slow cooker chili con carne

I wasn't sure about this, but I found myself becoming increasingly obsessed with the idea of owning a slow cooker. Suddenly they're everywhere; catalogs, shop windows, magazines and on the television. I read that you could slow cook soups and have them waiting - hot! - for when you get home from work on cold evenings. I read that you can make homemade yogurt in them. And desserts. And vegetarian dishes. But really, it was Deb's southwestern pulled brisket over at Smitten Kitchen that took me over the edge.

After pulling it out of the box and setting it on the bench, I still wasn't sure. It's big and heavy-looking and doesn't fit in my kitchen of vintage bits and bobs. Another appliance to take up space on the kitchen bench? But people, this evening I came home from a long (cold!) day at work to a steaming hot pot of 10 hour chili con carne. I'm totally converted.

And it only took me 10 minutes in the morning to throw together. Being my first go using the magic machine, I didn't expect magic food. But this was delicious. It is in no way my definitive chili recipe; there's no pork or black beans or chocolate here. But it is hearty and flavorsome, with a wholesome roundness of flavour that comes from the addition of corn tortillas to thicken and bolster the chili. I threw in what I had on hand: an onion, some Mexican garlic, a sad-looking green capsicum, a jalapeno pepper from my mother's garden, some spices, a couple of dry-looking corn tortillas and a couple of tins of tomatoes along with some beef mince and a cupful of soaked great northern beans. But if you're even less prepared, you could use a can of beans. So although I've included quantities here, you could throw in whatever you like and as long as it's seasoned and there's adequate liquid, I reckon you'll be ok. That's why this machine is magic.

Slow cooker chili con carne
This made enough for about six serves with sides. Freeze leftovers for an even lazier dinner.

2 corn tortillas
750ml beef stock
500g beef mince, not too lean
1 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 green capsicum, deseeded and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced (seeds are hot, remove according to taste)
1 (largish) clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp ground chilli
2 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
200g great northern beans, soaked overnight
800g tinned Italian tomatoes (2 tins)

Avocado, sour cream, coriander, hot sauce to serve

1. Tear corn tortillas into pieces and pour hot beef stock over. Set aside to soak.

2. Fry mince in a pan over medium heat until browned. Add browned mince to slow cooker.

3. Add olive oil to pan. When hot, add onions, capsicum, jalapeno and a pinch of salt. Fry over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until softened and golden. Add garlic and spices and cook for a minute or so longer, stirring. Add mixture to slow cooker.

4. Add tomatoes and beans and stock with tortillas. Season to taste.

5. Set to cook on low setting for 8 - 10 hours.

6. Serve with assorted garnishes and rice or cornbread.
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