Saturday, January 29, 2011

kρητική σαλάτα με γλιστρίδα / cretan salad with purslane

Around this time of the year in Melbourne (and elsewhere, I'm sure), if you have any garden space at all (propagated, slighted forgotten, pit of dirt etc), chances are that this is popping up through the soil to say hello:

The vine-leafy thing belongs to one of my watermelon vines, but that other succulent-looking and rather cute little weed is actually purslane - and it is very good to eat. There are a good number of common "weeds" that Greeks collect and cook and eat, but purslane is one of the most commonly found - yet it's one of the most nutritious vegetables you could put on your plate, or into your salad, as the case may be.

This little plant, that so many people pull out of their gardens and throw into the green waste bin, actually has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than any other vegetable plant! And them's those good fatty acids, like in fish - so it's a great source for vegetarians. It also has really high levels of antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals. It's like a wonder food - and it could be growing in your yard right now! Go out and have a look. And if you're into a bit of biological research (I really am), click here to have a look a report from a detailed study of the nutritional properties of purslane and other wild weeds that Greeks eat.

I've got a couple of purslane recipes up my sleeve, but I thought I'd introduce the little wonder herb with a gorgeous Cretan salad, because the weather is warm and the tomatoes are ripe. Cretan salad is like a regular Greek salad with a twist or two: in this case I've added fresh sprigs of purslane and cretan dakos, or rusks. These are wonderful little country-style dried bread slices (I've used miniature here, but you could get the larger ones and break them up) that you moisten with a little water and throw into the salad to soak up all the lovely dressing and juices from the tomatoes. They're often made with barley, making them very good for you, but you can get a few different sorts. Rusks are eaten all over Greece, but a good rule of thumb when buying them here is to look for word 'Cretan' or 'Κρητικά'; they're definitely the best ones imported. Try Greek delis and supermarkets in suburbs like Brunswick, Preston, Northcote or Oakleigh if you're having trouble finding them. They're well worth a bit of a trek.

I've hardly ever seen a Greek salad being dressed with pre-mixed dressing. The salt, vinegar and oil are added separately at the end, to suit individual tastes. This might take a bit of practice, but you'll soon be dressing salads perfectly with a few flicks of the wrist. Remember, you can always add more oil, salt etc after a taste! The ideal Greek salad encompasses a range of textures and flavours; it should be sweet and sharp, creamy and crunchy, salty and juicy. And all the deliciousness should concentrate in a pool at the bottom of your bowl, ready to be soaked up with fresh bread, or pieces of rusk. Accompany with an ouzo on ice on a hot day. After eating, recline and think about how healthy your lunch was - and consider pouring another glass.

kρητική σαλάτα με γλιστρίδα / cretan salad with purslane

Serves 1 as a yummy big lunch, or two as a side

4 small cretan rusks, or 1 or 2 larger rusks
1 large red ripe tomato, cored and sliced into wedges
1/2 medium or 1 small lebanese cucumber, peeled in parts, seeded and sliced
1/2 a small onion, very thinly sliced
a smallish piece of feta (as much as you like to eat in a salad)
5 or 6 stalks of purslane, rinsed and picked over (you don't want the thickest part of the stem)
a couple of sprigs of Greek basil (or regular basil), leaves picked
a big spoonful (or to taste) of Kalamata olives
a couple of cherry tomatoes, halved
some nice salt (Maldon, sea salt etc)
white wine vinegar (nothing too strong - sherry vinegar is nice!)
good olive oil
rigani, or dried Greek oregano

1. Run your cold tap and pass the rusks under until wet all over. Leave for a few minutes to drain and moisten through.

2. Combine tomato, cucumber, onion, feta, purslane, greek or regular basil leaves and the moistened rusks and toss to combine.

3. Add your olives and halved cherry tomatoes to make it look a little more pretty. Sprinkle with a good pinch of salt, or to taste. Add a few drops of vinegar (holding your thumb over the end of the bottle if it doesn't have a pouring thingy) over the salad. Top this with a few glugs of olive oil. The salt should have travelled through the salad on the little streams of oil and vinegar and the dressing. Genius, huh? Sprinkle with dried oregano and tuck in.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

homemade bronx-worthy bagels

The first thing I wanted to eat once I'd finished the food lover's cleanse was bread. Specifically, bagels. I don't know why. But I'm glad, because it meant that I could try make some.

Try? Pfft. These were wonderful. I take no credit, though. I've been meaning to try these ever since Deb posted the recipe on Smitten Kitchen with photographs that almost bowled me over. Golden. Plump. Chewy. Fresh. I bookmarked them right away.

Growing up in Melbourne's north, a poor little Greek girl might not know what a bagel even is. Sad, isn't it? I (poor little Greek girl) knew some wonderful bread, and I knew what kolouria were (but do you? patience is a virtue...), but, really, what's so good about a bagel? I knew that there were things called bagels that people ate in Hollywood films and on American television shows all the time. But no bagel I'd ever eaten here had struck me as the kind of thing you'd want to eat every day - until I crossed the river, that is. The year I did my honours degree, I worked in a fancy delicatessen owned by a Jewish family in Prahran. Every morning I had to get up at 6 am and travel across to the wrong side of town and bust my ass for 12 hours or so serving people with one billion times more money than me. But I learned a lot about food. And, for the first time, I ate a wonderful bagels. The bagels we got in at Steve's place were from Aviv bakery - and sometimes we got bagels from Glicks. When they arrived in the morning they were golden, tender and still warm, and you'd always have a hard time putting them out without putting one aside for lunch to have with chevre and top quality smoked salmon - even if you'd already brought lunch from home. I've missed those fresher than fresh morning bagels - they'd been one of my favourite breakfast treats. Until now. I'm telling you, these are better than any bagels I've ever had - and I made them. Myself. I was home alone when they first came out of the oven and had a feeling that they might be TOTALLY excellent, but I needed confirmation. I passed a bagful to a helpful friend who fed them to a business partner from NYC, who gave these bagels the thumbs up on appearance, texture and flavour. I felt validated. And then I ate another one.

Can you imagine serving these to people fresh out of the oven after a big night out for a restorative brunch? Or better: how about sneaking out of bed in the morning to slide a few of these into the oven to awaken your (new?) lover with the best-ever scent of bread baking? Putty in your hands, my friends. You need to start these a little bit in advance, but they're not difficult by any means. You need to budget enough time to make a sponge, then the dough. Then you need to retard the dough (yep!) overnight in the fridge. You'll boil them briefly in the morning then throw them in your very hot oven for around 5 minutes. Then the world will be your oyster. I'm going to link to this precious recipe, because a) it's not mine and b) it's too bloody long to type out. But there are a few changes I made that are listed below. Enjoy.

Peter Reinhart's Bagels at Smitten Kitchen: totally bronx-worthy

Changes I made and some tips:

1. I substituted half the whole amount of bread flour used for all-purpose flour, simply because I ran out of bread flour. I don't necessarily recommend this, but thought I should note that the bagels still turned out wonderful and could thus probably be made very successfully with all-purpose flour, if that's all you have on hand.

2. Malt syrup? I could have gone to the health food store to investigate, but I subbed in honey and it worked a treat.

3. I didn't bake these all at once: I kept some unboiled, unbaked bagels in the fridge and used them over 3 days. The final day morning was pushing it a bit - they turned out a little flat. But you can have them ready to go in the evening and just finish them off at breakfast time. So handy!

4. Size matters: Deb made mini bagels. The original recipe makes larger bagels. I made something in between. I can put my hand in the air and admit that I, too, am a geek: I weighed each bit of dough to make sure the bagels came out evenly sized. I made my dough balls/rolls around 3 1/4 ounces each and got 17 bagels from this batch.

5. My first batch looked more like donuts than bagels. This was because the time between boiling and baking was too long - and I mean about 5 minutes. Try to boil as many as you can in one go and get those babies in oven ASAP. The sooner the better. They'll retain their bagely shape more and look so good you'll want to beat them up.

6. I topped mine with sesame seeds because I LOVE sesame bagels. But I can't wait to try other flavours. I've had requests already for blueberry. God help me - and my waistline.


So I promised my pal Whitney that I'd post about the bagels next, but I spent this morning tending to the garden and didn't realise until I'd finished that hey! It's pretty hot out there! And hey! It's 3 o'clock! Time for a Mexicola!

This is a drink my friend Meg described minutes ago as 'confusing' - and I think I know what she means, for it's sweet and cold and spicy all at the same time. But she hasn't tasted it yet! I'm drinking one right this minute, dear readers, and I can tell you that it is good. First you take your glass and rub the rim with a wedge of lime. Now, salt that baby. Take some tequila blanco and splash it in. Squeeze in some lime juice and add a little sugar syrup and a dash or two of tabasco. Throw in a few ice cubes and top with coca-cola. And that's it! Crazy, yes? I tell you what, it's been a long time since I've had coca-cola, but this cocktail is so refreshing. And tangy. And spicy. It's a total party-starter.

From Gourmet Traveller November 2010, recipe by Anton Forte of Shady Pines, Sydney

Makes 1

1/4 lime for rubbing, plus 30ml lime juice
45 ml tequila blanco
10 ml sugar syrup
2 dashes Tabasco
Coca-Cola to fill

1. Rub the rim of your glass with the lime wedge, reserve lime. Dip the glass rim in slat and shake off excess. Add tequila, lime juice, sugar syrup and Tabasco, then ice. Fill with Coca-Cola and, if you're feeling fancy, garnish with the reserved lime wedge and serve.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

food lover's cleanse: week two round-up

Life just happens, I guess. The past week has been both chaotic and sad; I became really unwell (not food related, bien sûr) and was stuck at home in bed feeling hopeless as I watched chaos unfold outside on my little television screen. Thousands upon thousands of homes in Queensland disappeared under water, bushfires tore through parts of Western Australia. As humidity here in Melbourne hit record highs, the carpet began to feel sticky to walk on and food in the kitchen began to rot. So I couldn't make borscht, or baked chutney-stuffed fish. Instead I ate muesli with rice milk, leftover lentil soup and crackers. I drank lots of water and a couple of gin and tonics. I really feel like an adult now that I can honestly know and understand that there's no point beating yourself up when plans go awry - for it's taken many years of feeling guilty and disappointed in myself to get to this point. So cheers to that.

So in lieu of my two-day summaries, I thought I'd post today about some of the highlights from the cleanse recipes I did manage to put together. Despite the strangeness of the week, I discovered another handful of recipes that I'd gladly make again. Take that roasted salmon with avocado and pink grapefruit salad pictured above, for instance. This is not the kind of thing I'd usually make for myself at home; single-portion pieces of salmon always seem sort of sad to me, like if I ate one on a Friday evening watching television, I'd be joining hundreds of health-conscious late-20s, early to mid 30s single girls all around the country in this moment of culinary simultaneity that ends with a pregnant and melancholic sigh. Yes, you've done something good for yourself, but YOU. ARE. ALONE. Or maybe that only happens when you serve it on steamed bok choy? Because this was nothing like that; it was bright and punchy and juicy and zingy. It was the kind of thing you might eat before you go out for a night on the town, or while you're crazily typing away, wrapped in the excitement of a new project. The fillets of juicy grapefruit punched through the richness of the roasted fish, while the avocado provided little slivers of luxurious creaminess to balance it all out. I used the citrus shallot vinaigrette to tie the whole lot together and it was excellent. I'm now wishing I had a grapefruit - and a single-portion of salmon - for dinner this evening.

This sweet potato hash with poached egg was gooooood. Another one I didn't expect to enjoy so much, though for less existential reasons: look, sweet potato is just not my favourite thing in the world. I quite like it melted into a curry or smooshed up into a pie filling, but I can't get the knack for roasting or frizzling them into something delicious and I was sure that these home fries were going to be a little bland, annoyingly sweet and lacking... something. But actually, once you carefully place a poached egg on the top of these babies the dish is complete - and completely delicious. I used a golden sweet potato (to trick myself into liking it more) and boiled the cut and peeled chunks until just tender. They were then thrown into the pan with olive oil and red onion, a little brown sugar and some pumpkin pie spice mix. Dear lord! What is this magical stuff? I looked up a recipe online and made my own - and now I can't wait to try it out in other recipes. Anyway, the potatoes went all golden and crispy but a bit sticky and formed the perfect starchy base for the runny egg. It was ace.

Third, here's the soup I mentioned the other day: Molly's (of Orangette) Curried Lentil Soup. I didn't make it for the specified day, but had made a big pot only a couple of weeks ago and so understood the power of its awesomeness already. When things started to go haywire health-wise, I (in a rare moment of clarity and foresight) made another big pot and froze the soup in batches. I've been eating it whenever the weather has allowed since. It's a spicy and creamy-thick soup, but doesn't contain dairy, unless you add the little bit of butter at the end. Instead, it's richness comes from the addition of a can of pureed chickpeas that are stirred through the lentils towards the end, fortifying the soup and lending a comforting density and creaminess to the texture. I LOVE this soup. I hope you'll try it. When I took the picture above, I was eating while reading the latest edition of Gourmet Traveller, planning what to cook in the brighter days ahead.

There are a couple more recipes I wanted to tell you about, but perhaps tomorrow. Right now the sky is blue, pretending that the last week never happened. It's a strange trick that almost works.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

food lover's cleanse: days 5, 6 & 7 + ceviche

I've been foiled by the seasons! The distinct lack of summer weather here in Melbourne had made me think I could get through this cleanse with minimal changes to the menu, but the last few days have been really pretty hot; too hot for soup and turning on the oven. So I've made some substitutions in the last couple of days that fit within the broader guidelines for the cleanse but are more suitable for the summer months. One of these - salmon ceviche with ginger and apple - I've been meaning to blog about for a good while anyway, as it's really the bomb. But first, the daily round up!

Day 5 began with a surprisingly delicious breakfast of crisp rye crackers with yoghurt, chives, red onion topped with smoked salmon. Surprising, because low-fat yoghurt on a cracker spells D-I-E-T to me, but the fresh herbs and onion and the salty smoked salmon got me over the line and I'd happily eat this again. I skipped the grapefruit and orange salad with mint, as I just wasn't hungry enough. But I might squeeze it in one evening when I feel like something sweet. Lunch was leftover pan roasted fruit and vegetables from yesterday with a green salad on the side. I needed to get creative with dinner, as it felt too warm for soup, so I used the small porterhouse steak I'd bought to serve alongside the 5-spice beetroot soup to throw into a fresh and fragrant thai-style salad with cucumber, home-grown tomatoes, thai basil, coriander, red onion and lime & fish sauce dressing. I used this recipe for inspiration and took this to work the next day for lunch, too!

Day 6 began with a piece of wholegrain toast with marmalade and juicy summer nectarine, instead of oatmeal with almond milk, banana slices and walnuts. I'd been looking forward to that! But it was just too hot. Lunch was Thai beef salad again, with an afternoon snack of two medjool dates and a handful of hazelnuts. I got home (very!) late from work, but decided I absolutely must cook at least one dish from the plan; I might have been tired, but I wasn't disappointed! Pictured below is what I cooked up at around 11.30 pm last night: Itamar's Bulgar Pilaf, topped with a warm poached egg. This was another recipe from Yoram Ottolenghi - and another reason to buy one of his books, asap! The pilaf was sweet with onion, strips of red bell pepper and currants - and this sweetness was interrupted every few bites with the pop of pink peppercorns and whole coriander seeds. The poached egg on top rounded this out to make a perfect supper and a meal I'm looking forward to making again.

I began Day 7 with yogurt topped with fresh sliced strawberries, a tablespoon of maple syrup, some ground flaxseed (linseed) and a few toasted hazelnuts. Super yum! While I often eat yoghurt and fruit for breakfast, I never think to top it with nuts, seeds or a little something sweet to take it to the next level. The cleanse is really beginning to make me think about how all those little details can really elevate lift a simple dish to the level of luxury. Like in a day spa! Lunch was leftover pilaf from last night with a green salad. And for dinner this evening I made salmon ceviche instead of the salmon cakes, and skipped Molly's super-warming curried lentil soup that I was eating just last week when the temperature allowed.

Ceviche is of course diced raw fish or seafood that is not cooked with heat, but with the acidity of citrus juice! Magical, hey? In this case, diced fresh salmon is thrown together with cucumber, tomato, red onion, green apple, grated ginger, minced jalapeno, coriander and lemon and lime juices. Lots of ingredients, but so easy to prepare and super-refreshing! To scoop it up, I used some oven-baked tostadas made from organic corn tortillas and all together it was perfect. I've served this ceviche on tostadas as a starter for parties and as a light meal when you can't bear to turn the stove on. This recipe is adapted only a little from Deborah Schneider's great little book Amor Y Tacos, whose recipes really remind me of the more inventive food I encountered in Mexico and couldn't get enough of. It also has some wonderful cocktail recipes for parties and those hot summer nights when you aren't doing a food lover's cleanse.

Salmon Ceviche with Ginger, Apple and Cucumber
Adapted from Amor Y Tacos
Serves 1

100 gm fresh Atlantic salmon
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tbsp lime juice
pinch of salt
half a jalapeno pepper (or to taste), minced
a little knob of fresh ginger (around 5 gm, for reference), grated
1/2 a Lebanese cucumber, peeled and seeded, diced
1/2 medium tomato, cored and diced
1/4 of a green tart apple (such as Granny Smith), peeled, core removed and diced
a handful of coriander (cilantro), chopped

Corn tostadas, to serve

1. Mix diced salmon with lemon juice, lime juice, salt, jalapeno and ginger. Cover and refrigerate for 15 - 30 minutes. The fish will "cook" in the fruit juice and turn slightly opaque.

2. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve with tostadas for scooping.

Friday, January 7, 2011

food-lover's cleanse days 3 & 4 + bodies in space...

So days 3 & 4 have been filled with more delicious food, but I've been so busy that I ran out of time to take more pictures and update sooner. I also bent the menu significantly on Tuesday and fell off the wagon a little this evening when I finished some writing that had been driving me nuts for the past few weeks and couldn't resist a celebratory beer on a balmy summer evening. So sue me.

Still, there are been highlights I should tell you about! Day 3 was Japanese theme day with a vegan Japanese dinner of Koya-Dofu and Vegetables that looked the epitome of elegant. And I had such good intentions: I went to two Asian grocery stores looking for kombu and burdock root, but had no luck. With the clock ticking on my work deadline I decided that a trip to Fujimart on the other side of town to buy a bit of dried seaweed was going overboard, so I decided to cut my losses and team the leftover (totally delicious) edamame hummus from earlier in the day with fresh slices of cucumber and carrot, a bowl of steamed brown rice with some furikake I had in the cupboard and a miso soup. It was certainly not as pretty, but was clean and light and made me happy enough. Also, edamame "hummus"! Annoying name, awesome stuff. After starting the day with the most delicious leftovers ever - warm and nutty cinnamon quinoa for breakfast and those-beans-I-can't-stop-talking-about-because-they're-so-freaking-ace - I think I had a pretty good day of eats!

Day 4 began with a gorgeous almond-banana smoothie. Banana smoothies always irk me for some reason, but almond milk seems to make everything taste lovely. I skipped the tablespoon of brown sugar as my super-ripe banana was plenty sweet enough and I swapped the pear for a perfectly ripe summer peach. Lunch was meant to be leftover Koya-Dofu, but I ate the last of the magic beans with a green salad and citrus-shallot vinaigrette. The evening meal had a certain formal quality that made my dinner guest and I giggle, but we enjoyed it all the same. On the menu was pan-roasted chicken with persillade, endive, apples and grapes and roasted sweet potatoes. Look, is it just me, or are free-range chicken breasts with skin attached hard to come by here in OZ? Again, no luck. As chicken breast is not my favourite thing anyway, I swapped it out for a couple of super-fancy Otway free range pork cutlets, done quickly in the pan, doused with a grainy mustard, honey and fresh thyme concoction and finished in the oven. The endive became witlof and was caramelised in my "Le Creuset" (ie not a real Le Creuset) with chunks of apple, small clusters of green grapes and a few springs of rosemary. This was pork chops and apple sauce taken to the next level! All this was served alongside a pile of roasted sweet potato slices and more green salad. Whoa! We were full.

And I've got more awesomeness on the way... But let's take this two days at a time.

Also: on New Year's Day I went to the cinema and saw Sofia Coppola's latest film Somewhere (2010). That there's a shot of Elle Fanning at the bottom of a swimming pool having a tea party with her Dad. Leaving the cinema, my friend Yardena and I shrugged and talked about Marc Jacobs, the size of the rooms at Chateau Marmont and the fact that Stephen Dorff still looks pretty, pretty good. But something about that film has got under my skin. It keeps coming to me the moment I stop concentrating on what I'm doing, and this evening on the train I found myself listening to the last Phoenix album - that one I didn't think much of. It's contrived and impossibly hip, but there is something about the way bodies exist in space in that film - so graceful, clean and sad - that has done something to me. Also, there's a nice scene with spaghetti.

Monday, January 3, 2011

food-lover's cleanse days 1 & 2

So I'm doing this thing for my HEALTH, right? But I'm eating the most yum food ever. Really. It must sound like I'm being endorsed by Bon Appetit or something (ha! I wish). I'm two days in and already I've found three great recipes that I'm definitely going to make time and time again.

Day 1 had me chowing down on a yummy mushroom, thyme and caramelised onion omelet with toast, an avocado tartine, a vanilla-date smoothie that tasted like heaven, and the dish you see above - the ultimate winter couscous. This vegetable dish is incredible. It is full of perfectly cooked vegetables and layers of flavour that reveal themselves one after the other: sweet butternut pumpkin, the tang of dried apricot, warm cinnamon and cardamon, the heat of harissa and an exotic piquancy courtesy of some finely minced preserved lemon that is thrown in at the end. I switched the star anise (was all out) for a couple of cardamon pods and replaced unavailable parsnip with an extra carrot. Next time I make it, I'll do as the recipe says, but I can't imagine it tasting much better than it did last night. Also included in Day 1 were winter vegetable crudités and an orange salad for dessert, but surprisingly, I couldn't fit either of those in.

Day 2 began with a breakfast I'd been looking forward to: the warm and nutty cinnamon quinoa from 101 cookbooks. I didn't have blueberries or red quinoa, so used raspberries and black quinoa. I forgot to put nuts on top, but I had bought hazelnuts for this purpose. No matter though, as it was a double-batch and I get to eat the leftovers again tomorrow morning - with hazelnuts! Not only is it completely delicious, but it seemed to have like, this super-energising effect and I swam 2 kilometers in the pool today and didn't even feel tired. Another recipe to add to the regular rotation. I skipped the fancy salad at lunch today (celery root and apple salad) in favour of a basic green salad with citrus-shallot vinaigrette, in anticipation of a big dinner. I'm glad I left room to appreciate the glory that was Anjum Anand's black-eyed pea curry. It's what you can see in the little bowl below, beside the (yummy but rich) salmon in Bengali mustard sauce, and I know it doesn't look much there, but please trust and MAKE THIS DISH. Despite my passion for making things from scratch and the fact that I really like Indian food, I've not tried making my own curries much at all. This has got to change! The black-eyed bean dish that sits on my kitchen bench is glorious proof that sauteing whole spices, fresh garlic, ginger and tomato until it melts into a rich, fragrant paste is the BOMB.

So far after only two days I feel a bit lighter than I did after a few weeks of indulgence and loads of (albeit excellent) bread. Do you know how much bread Greeks eat? A menu with less reliance on the staff of life is a good thing for me - at least for a bit. I decided that it was IMPOSSIBLE to live without caffeine as I've loads of work on at the moment and just cannot live with massive headaches, but I've compromised and switched to green and white teas. Still caffeinated, but with lots of antioxidants that my morning coffee doesn't provide. I've also come across a couple of other bloggers, like Meg at Harmonious Belly, who are dedicating posts to the cleanse. It's super-ace to hear what others think of the dishes and to see photos of their versions. Food-geekdom, to the max.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

welcoming 2011 with homemade English muffins & the food-lover's cleanse

On New Years Eve at midnight we sat in Amy and Martin's backyard and watched fireworks, with a 41 degree day behind us and a cool change winding its way between us. Champagne in hands, we agreed that 2010 had been an asshole of a year. So we decided to celebrate its passing with homemade English muffins, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs the next morning. The muffins were so delicious that I couldn't be bothered persisting with the camera, so I took the picture below later in the afternoon when it was time for a snack; I took it at that time on New Years Day when the feelings of newness and promise begin to settle in, and your mind turns to getting down to it, or back onto it. Or whatever.

I'd been hoping to make these about 11 times a day recently, but kept running out of time. What a shame! I should have pushed harder, because on New Years Day we learned that homemade English muffins knock the pants off store-bought muffins. And using the first cookie-cutter I stumbled upon in my post-sangria haze resulted in smaller muffins than what you see in the shops: not mini, but petite, and perfectly sized so that you can eat two, instead of just one.

They're really easy to make, my friends! Yardena and Nicole can attest to this, as they sat at my kitchen bench watching me while we drank sorely-needed coffee. The muffin dough needs little kneading, and is enriched with milk, a little butter and an egg. After its first rise (of around 50 minutes) it is knocked back down, dusted in polenta and cut into the sweetest little puffy muffin shapes that were so cute we wanted to beat them up. Another 10 minutes later, they're ready to go and you toast them in a dry frying pan until browned. They're then finished in the oven for another 10 minutes or so and come out piping hot and begging to be split and spread with slightly salted butter. You should really make these.

It was a lovely day of eating and going to the cinema and feeling sleepy after the chaos of the last few weeks, but thankfully the last of its kind for a little while; the catch-up drinks, many meals out, celebratory drinks, sweet Christmas treats, BBQs, days of feasting and boxes of average chocolates all add up and suddenly you feel a bit blah. Or in my case, TOTALLY blah. You know what I mean right? This year I've decided to attack this by doing Bon Appetit magazine's Food-Lover's Cleanse. I came across it a couple of weeks ago and it looked perfect for me in a number of ways:

1. It uses the principles of detoxing and cleansing in a way that is relaxed but consistent; the foods are nutritious, there's limited dairy and some fish and a tiny bit of meat, limited wheat and no coffee or alcohol. It has been developed by a food-writer and registered dietician, so the focus is on flavour and healthfulness - not low and empty calorie foods.

2. It is (really!) fully of delicious-looking food made with lots of ingredients I already have. This is a big issue for many people who want to embark on a program with a planned menu: buying all the spices you don't normally use, more fish or particular (more expensive) cuts of meat and eating something different for every meal, every day, things really begin to add up. The other thing that is unusual and great about the Food-Lover's Cleanse is that it uses leftovers! Roasted vegetables form last night's dinner get reinvented as a salad for lunch the next day. One bigger batch of citrus salad dressing is used multiple times over a week. I like this! Of course any sort of new program will have you spending a little, but when a significant portion of your time, effort and money is spent on food anyway (as with me), this doesn't seem like a big deal.

3. On a related note, the recipes are highly cutomizable once you understand the types of food and guidelines for the cleanse. This means that the program can be adjusted for seasonal and budgetary constraints. Being in Australia means that we're in summer now, while the plan has been developed for people who can get their hands on winter fruit and vegetables. I'm going to change up what I need to and blog about those substitutions and tweaks here, with little notes on what worked particularly well and what I wouldn't try again.

4. It means I get to make a whole range of recipes I've never tried before - including some from Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbook Plenty, that I've been wanting to get for ages (hopefully it will convince me to finally buy the book). Doing things like this usually means that I end up a couple of new recipes that can be thrown into the everyday rotation, which is always great.

I'll post on my progress and any deliciousness the plan puts me in contact with over the next two weeks. Join me if you like, or use me like a guinea pig and wait until I've tested the waters and come out on top (fingers crossed). So far, so good though. I'm writing this after eating a superb mushroom, onion and thyme omelet, drinking a cup of camomile tea. The sun is out and the caffeine withdrawal headaches haven't kicked in yet. I'm thinking about how lovely those muffins were yesterday, and about how great this year might be.

Homemade English muffins
From Gourmet Traveller 2010

1 tbsp dried yeast
pinch of caster sugar
60 ml lukewarm water
600 gm (or 4 cups) plain flour
1 1/4 cups milk, warmed
1 egg
40 gm butter, melted
1 tsp kosher salt
Polenta or corn meal, for dusting

1. Combine yeast, sugar and lukewarm water in a bowl and whisk with a fork until combined. Stand until foamy (5 - 10 minutes).

2. Add flour, milk, eggs, butter and salt. Mix well to combine. Turn this onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth (between 3 and 5 minutes). Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and stand until doubled in size (40 - 50 minutes).

3. Preheat oven to 180C. Dust your work surface with polenta. Knock back the risen dough and press out or roll to around 1 cm thick. Cut out muffins using a 9 cm cutter (or a little smaller, if you want to make petite muffins like me), re-rolling scraps to make more. I got around 20 out of my batch. Set these aside to prove for 10 minutes or so.

4. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and toast muffins in batches until golden both sides (5 - 10 minutes). Transfer these to an oven tray and and bake, turning once, until cooked through and puffed (8 - 10 minutes).

Muffins are best eaten on day of making, but they can be toasted the following day, or frozen while fresh.
Related Posts with Thumbnails