Sunday, 29 June 2008

Airport Novels and Comfort Food

I spent last week in Darwin and was glad to get home. I didn’t eat as badly as I sometimes do when away from home but it is nothing like eating home-cooking. I had Thai stirfry on the Wharf one night, vegies and tinned soup in my room another and the hotel’s pizza on the last night. But the culinary highlight had to be the warm choc chip scones with jam and cream which we had for morning tea both days of our meeting.

Flying to Darwin, I did what I think is a first for me. I bought a novel at Melbourne airport and finished reading it just before the plane landed in Darwin. Not bad for about four and a half hours of flying plus sitting around in airports. (These days it is difficult to get a direct flight from Melbourne to Darwin unless you want to fly overnight.) I enjoyed escaping from the people with no idea of personal space, the chirpy air stewards, the bad food and the anticipation of a few nights staying at the airport hotel for a planning meeting. It made me realise why people buy novels at airports.

The book was one I found on the new releases shelf and had never heard of before. It is called Before I Wake and is the first novel by Canadian writer, RJ Wiersema. The novel is about a little girl in a coma whose parents make the difficult decision to turn off the life support but she continues to live while not waking from the coma. It is an engrossing story about how this affects the lives of those around her. I don’t think it is spoiling the story to reveal that it has some great scenes in a library (I was going to link to Amazon but I think their review does give away too much). The role of the media in the plot is interesting and I liked the touches of both magical realism and myth.

I particularly liked the description of the couple cooking together so I copied it before I passed the book to my mum to read. It makes such an everyday act seem full of beauty and meaning:

Simon was chopping vegetables on a maple block on the kitchen table when I got there, carrots falling under a large chef’s knife, a tea towel draped over one shoulder. The kitchen was bright and clean, large and well organized. Karen was at the stove with a wok. …

As Simon finished chopping the carrots and swung toward the stove, Karen stepped away, leaving a space between her body and the wok, allowing him to slide the cutting board through and to empty the carrots in, never breaking Karen’s stirring. It was a dance between two people who had been partners for years.
(pp 131-2)

I also noticed that macaroni cheese is one of the comfort foods mentioned in the book. Lately E and I have discussed how his mum would make it for him as a child. It was not part of my childhood but I understand the attraction and it was on my mind when I got back to my own kitchen.

I have made some fancy versions of macaroni cheese but it is not something I make often. Many months ago I bookmarked a vegan macaroni cheese from Get Sconed. I have been curious to make a vegan version and was then further tempted by a vegan and gluten free sauce for macaroni cheese in the June 2008 edition of the Vegetarian Times. Then I got honest with myself and admitted I wanted the comfort of being at home. I needed something cheesy with a crispy breadcrumb topping after my body was dragged from Darwin’s tropical warmth (32 C) to Melbourne’s winter (17 C).

I didn’t follow a recipe but just made a rich cheesy sauce, tossed with cooked pasta and topped it with more cheese and breadcrumbs. I baked it till it was crisp on top and oozing rich sauce inside. We agreed it was one of my best, despite not being what E's mum used to make. I have written what I did, though I know others all have their own versions of this classic and if I made it again I might make it differently. My use of dessertspoons and dessert bowls is included in the instructions to remind us that it is not a meal where exact measurements matter. (To see my photo of a dessertspoon, go here.)

But while I love the indulgent comfort of macaroni cheese, I also craved some nice vegetables after my trip away. The first night I served it I tried a salad of grated carrot and mushy apple that was a disaster so the second night I found a recipe for a cauliflower and pecan salad that caught my eye last year. But after the wonderful description of chopping carrot in the novel, I had to have carrots. I also wanted to showcase my black sesame seeds and use up vegetables in the fridge.

By the time I finished my vision of the salad the only thing it had in common with the inspiring recipe was the cauliflower. I realised it was my own recipe, probably drawing on other recipes I have read and made. Tahini is a favourite flavouring of mine and always pairs well with cauliflower. I used limes from Yaz's tree that I think are quite tart so others might not need as much sweetner as me. It was exactly the pile of healthy vegetables with an interesting dressing that I needed.

I wanted to send something to Heart of the Matter. This event is being hosted by Ilva of Lucillian Delights this month and she is asking for healthy salads, so my salad seemed perfect. And because it has been a while since I have participated, I am sending the Macaroni Cheese to Ruth at Once Upon a Feast for Presto Pasta Nights.

Macaroni Cheese
Serves 4

1 dessert bowl of dried pasta
2 dessertspoons of butter
2 dessertspoons of wholemeal flour
2 cups milk
1 tsp seeded mustard
¼ tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp turmeric or saffron (for added colour)
50g gruyere cheese, grated
165g tasty cheese, grated
1-2 tbsp breadcrumbs
1-2 tbsp parmesan cheese, grated

Cook pasta according to instructions.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Mix in flour and stir over low heat for 1-2 minutes. Add milk gradually, mixing as you add it. Bring to the boil so that the roux thickens slightly. It does not need to be really thick because the cheese will help it thicken. Add mustard, paprika, turmeric, gruyere and tasty cheeses. Stir in cooked pasta.

Tip mixture into a 20cm diameter round ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with parmesan and breadcrumbs. Bake at 200 C for about 20 minutes and then turn up the heat to 230 C for about 10 minutes or til the top is crisp and starting to brown.

Cauliflower and Sesame Salad
Serves 2 hungry people or 4 normal people as a side

½ cauliflower
1 carrot, chopped into matchsticks
1 spring onion, finely sliced
1 small tomato, diced
1-2 handfuls spinach, shredded
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1 mild green chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp dried garlic flakes
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 tsp white sesame seeds
1 tsp black sesame seeds (or more white seeds)
Extra black sesame seeds for garnish

Dressing:
1½ tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp tahini
1-2 tsp agave nectar (or other sweeter)
1 tsp seeded mustard
Pinch salt

To make dressing: use a small whisk to blend all ingredients or use blender.

To make salad: chop cauliflower into florets and steam til just tender. I did mine in the microwave for about 3 minutes on high. Cool if desired or use warm. Add remaining ingredients and toss through with dressing. Garnish with black sesame seeds if desired.

On the Stereo:
New Gold Dream: Simple Minds

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Winter Solstice Galettes

Last weekend we had a winter solstice dinner party. Celebrating the shortest day of the year requires rich dark festive food. My regular readers will not be surprised to hear that nut roast immediately springs to mind for me and that is what we had last year. But this year required new challenges.

Yarrow came over to cook with me and we decided on a dish out of the inspired Wild Garlic, Gooseberries … and Me for the centre of the meal. Denis Cotter calls it Galette of Braised Turnip, Portobello Mushroom and Pecans with a Red Wine Sauce. I used Scottish turnips (known as swedes or rutabaga elsewhere) but mostly stuck with the recipe. Cooking together means I am a bit vague on some of the steps but have tried to write notes on how we made them.

It is always nice to cook with an old friend. When it came to sieving the sauce, Yaz looked at me and said, do you remember pushing chickpeas through a sieve for falafels? That night, in a student house where we both lived, was one when we ate very late because those little blighters just didn’t want to go through that sieve. No wonder we both shuddered at the thought of sieving anything. We don’t always agree on everything in the kitchen but we were both happy to just blend the sauce. It was only when we were spending too long searching for the cloves to discard, that we agreed we couldn’t avoid the sieving.

The sweating over the sieve was worthwhile. This is a dish I would recommend you keep for a special occasion as it requires some time and patience to prepare. It is perfect for a dinner party because it can be prepared earlier and then popped in the oven to warm through just before serving. But it is worth every bit of effort and looks spectacular (although foolishly I chose the one imitating the leaning tower of pisa for my photographs). It was absolutely delicious and intense but less filling than a nut roast. It had the rich meatiness of nuts and mushrooms and a dark brooding sauce.

Here is our menu:

Main Course:
- Turnip, mushroom and pecan galettes
- Red wine sauce
- Brussels sprouts with Cointreau
- Sprouted green lentil and bulgar bread

Dessert:
- Winter fruit platter with chocolate fruitcake

To Drink:
- Warmed meade

We set table with my good linen. Yarrow did some fancy napkin folding and brought over a candle with coloured flame that he had bought at MoMA in New York. Before eating, we raised our glasses of meade and made a toast to the solstice. A fine way to celebrate the darkness of winter and look forward to longer days.

Turnip, mushroom and pecan galettes
(from Denis Cotter)
Serves 4

2 large turnips (or swedes), peeled
60g butter, melted
100ml white wine
100ml vegetable stock or water
Salt and pepper
4 large portobello mushrooms
Extra melted butter or olive oil
100g pecans
100g cream cheese
Sprigs of fresh thyme for garnish

Preheat oven to 170 C or 325 F. Cut the turnips into thin slices. Denis says to make them square but this seemed too wasteful to us and our turnips were not that big to start with. Place in a large roasting dish. Mix together melted butter, wine and stock (or water) in a small bowl. Season. Pour over the turnips.

Place roasting dish in the oven and bake til tender. This took us about 90 minutes. You can cover with foil as Denis suggests but we didn’t. I wonder if they would have cooked quicker if we had covered them because Denis suggests about 30 minutes. He also says that the liquid should all be gone but ours wasn’t. I used it up when cooking the brussels sprouts with Cointreau.

Place mushrooms in a baking tray and spray with olive oil (as we did) or brush with butter or oil. Turn up the oven to 190 C or 375 F and cook the mushrooms for 10-12 minutes or til tender - you will know they are done by the heavenly smell. If like us, your turnips are not yet done, then place mushrooms on top shelf and turnips on a lower shelf.

Chop the pecan nuts roughly in a food processor. Add the mushrooms and process briefly til just coarsely chopped. You want some texture rather than to make a puree. Alternately you could roughly chop the pecans and mushrooms with an old fashioned knife and chopping board. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in cream cheese.

Now assemble your galettes. First divide the turnip slices into four piles (about 4 per stack) on a baking tray. If they are of different sizes as ours were, stack them largest on the bottom and smallest on top. Starting with one pile, evenly spread a layer of mushroom and nut filling on the largest slice, and repeat til you place the last slice on top. If your slices have gone slightly concave during braising, it is easiest to spread the filling on the concave side. Press down gently on the galette. Repeat with three other stacks. Brush tops with melted butter.

Place the baking tray with the galettes in the oven for about 7-10 minutes to heat through before serving. Serve with red wine sauce and brussels sprouts or cabbage cooked with a bit of orange zest and juice. Garnish galettes with sprigs of fresh thyme.

Red wine sauce
(from Denis Cotter)
Serves 4

400ml red wine
200ml tomato passata or pureed tinned tomatoes
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
½ stick of celery, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 whole cloves
4 tbsp cold unsalted butter (optional)

Place all ingredients except butter in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Blend (we used a hand held blender) and push through a sieve. Return to the pan to simmer and reduce by half. Just before serving, reheat and whisk in the butter (but I can’t remember adding butter so am not sure if we did).

On the stereo:
Best of: Blur

Philip Island Pleasures

Philip Island is a magnet for lovers of wildlife and surf, and is easily reached in just a couple of hours drive from the hustle and bustle Melbourne. Apparently it gets overrun by tourists in the summer. If, like E and myself, you want some peace and quiet, I would highly recommend that you visit in winter, make sure you visit Churchill Island, take binoculars, and avoid the crowds viewing the famous fairy penguins.

We visited a couple of weekends ago and had a wonderfully relaxing time. Our B&B (Genesta in Steele Street, Cowes) was a nice old building but there were staffing issues due to the regular person not being available (matching pillow cases and how to work the stereo were challenges facing our host). I had a good breakfast of baked beans on toast with fried tomatoes and mushrooms each morning.

My favourite place was Churchill Island, a small island reached by a bridge off Philip Island, which has a heritage homestead and nature walks - see above photo. (My dad visited in the late 1960s when the last resident had lived there.) The homestead owner in the 1870s was Scottish and had Highland Cattle so we were able to see some mournful hairy coos that have been returned to the island. We had great fun walking about the homestead, feeding the chickens and the horses, patting Mary the lamb, talking to George the cockatoo, laughing at the galahs and walking around the island by the spooky Moonah trees.

It will not be surprising to hear that one of my favourite meals of the trip was a pleasing plate of gnocchi at the Churchill Island Café (which is the only place to eat on the island). The café is filled with pale pine tables and chairs around a woodburning fire that gave out a very welcome warmth. In summer the seats outside would be preferable as the views down the paddocks to the sea were lovely. My pumpkin and potato gnocchi was served with a generous dollop of rich tomato sauce.

Other places we loved were the Koala Conservation Centre where we saw lots of koalas high in trees and the one in the photo which was only a couple of paces from us and looked so snuggly; Rhyll Inlet where we walked through the mangrove swamps on duckboards and then watched the bird in the bush; and the gorgeous sandy surf beach at Woollamai.

The holiday really was about getting away from the rat race but I was surprised not to find more gourmet food. Quite possibly there are other places we missed (for example the intriguing Pink Castle on Steele Street near our B&B which had a good write-up in our Lonely Planet but was never open.) But a cafe inside a real estate agent's is not where I would expect to find the finest food - we didn't go there but did marvel at the concept. It felt like I was living on chips, pasta and pizza. So when it was done well, I was grateful.

We went to Gullivers (Thompson Avenue, Cowes) a couple of times which had both a casual fish and chip shop and a proper restaurant. It was too cold to sit outside and the interior was pleasant with unadorned brick work, a fireplace, standard lamps and a large window for people-watching. Plus they did play enough Nouvelle Vague on the stereo for E to curse them for tempting him to run out and buy the CD.

On our first day we had pikelets with jam and cream. ‘Oh just little pancakes,’ exclaimed E who is not familiar with pikelets! A couple of days later, I was pleased to be able to order a decent vegie burger, chips and a potato cake in a traditional fish and chip shop style. Again E doesn’t understand this type of place but it is where Catholic families like mine would head to on a Friday for some fish and chips wrapped in paper to take home to their families. His UK equivalent would be the chippie. I had enough of this sort of food as a child for it to be comforting, if not healthy, and to get excited where there is anything more than deep fried potatoes on offer for vegetarians.

A place that did pasta well was a place named Hotel (cnr Thompson Avenue and the Esplanade, Cowes). E thought it was decked out to attract the yoof crowd but the only other people there the night we visited was a family group. If only they would paint the black walls a warm or cheery colour it would be a welcoming space with its Ikea-style pine light shades and tables and chairs. They served quality pub grub. Basic food that was cooked and presented well. My vegetarian lasagne that was covered in melted cheese but full of vegetables. It was served with chips and salad and hugely superior to a lasagne stuffed with fetta cheese that I had had recently when eating out.

On our final night we went to Isola de Capri (cnr Thompson Avenue and the Esplanade, Cowes). By then I just needed some vegetables so I ordered pumpkin soup and steamed vegetables. It was delicious and so filling that I couldn’t fit in dessert. E had pizza which he said was excellent and seemed much better than pizza we had elsewhere. The staff were friendly, the restaurant bustling and it felt like it was run by an Italian family rather than teenagers on holiday. The grand prix memorabilia reminded us that this is one of the other attractions for visitors. I was glad of my warming meal after sitting in the cold waiting to see the famous penguins.

We felt we should see the fairy penguins but after walking through such peaceful natural settings with only a few other people about, we were most unimpressed to be suddenly thrust into a place crowded with busloads of tourists. Unlike other places, the humans easily outnumbered the wildlife. The little penguins are cute but there were just too many people and too much hype. My mum says she took me there when I was two and that we just sat on the beach. I wish I could remember that visit which wasn't a maze of ticket stalls, gift shops, tiered seating and duckboards.

As well greats places to get close to wildlife, we did find some lovely gift shops, a trash and treasure of hidden gems, and an excellent health food store in Cowes. After finding it near impossible to find unsweetened dried cherries in Melbourne, I was surprised to discover a packet from a local source. A bridge from St Remo on the mainland makes Philip Island easily accessible. In the shadow of the bridge was a small shopping strip with more gift shops of beauty and curiosity.

It was here that we found one of the best meals of the holiday at Nude Food (141 Marine Parade, San Remo, 03 5678 5530). This was the sort of little hippie, arty, student café I thought we might have found on the island. It had purple walls with unframed local artwork and notices about musical evenings. The staff were friendly, the food was imaginative and alternative diets were well catered for. I had a vegetarian gluten free frittata with chickpea crust which was served with a salad garnished with nuts and seeds. I didn’t think that frittatas had crusts but am no expert. It was light and tasty. This meant I could finally have a proper dessert. I had a slice of the magnificent chocolate cheesecake. It looked a bit rustic but the chunky chocolate biscuit crust and a baked filling with hint of citrus were delicious. All washed down with a fruit smoothie called Nectar of the Gods which I think had peach, raspberry and banana.

Then we headed homeward, stopping at Wicked Sensations (shop 6, number 1, High Street) in Cranbourne for a bite sized mini choc chip muffin drizzled in raspberry sauce for me and a small berry chocolate for E. After that we hit the freeway and drove til we arrived at the Cat Motel where Zinc was eagerly waiting to come home with us.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Pumpkin chutney

In hindsight it seems fortunate that I made some pumpkin chutney before we went to Philip Island a couple of weeks ago. At the Cowes Trash and Treasure I bought 500 Recipes from Australia by Marguerite Patten which was written in 1965 (See photo in my solstice cake post). It seems that older cookbooks are the best place for advice on preserves but they can be a little scary too.

Marguerite gives some rules for making chutney. She advises that malt vinegar is best (these were the days before an awareness of gluten-free diets), that the pan should be uncovered because chutney thickens through evaporation, and that the right proportions of sugar and vinegar is important for preserving the chutney. There is also advice about not bottling chutney in jars where the metal is uncovered and using aluminum rather than copper, brass or iron pots.

I was glad not to have read this before I started meddling with ingredients in chutney on a whim. I saw a Gingered Pumpkin Chutney recipe in Denis Cotter’s Wild Garlic, Gooseberries… and Me. It was quite simply spiced with ginger, coriander and fennel. I also have a Nigella recipe for Spiced Pumpkin Chutney which uses mixed spice, cloves and ginger. But I wasn’t quite convinced these were the flavours for me. A quick search of the internet found that cinnamon, cloves, and ginger were quite common. The recipe that grabbed me was flavoured with mustard, cloves, ginger and apricot jam, although I made a few changes.

It was quite simple to make. Both Denis and Nigella really just simmered all the ingredients together. But this recipe didn’t make as much, which I like. I also didn’t add the onion as I worry sometimes that it adds an odd flavour to chutney. I did look in amazement at the instructions to simmer for 45-60 minutes. Pumpkin usually cooks so quickly that this seemed wrong. But it did really need this time on a low heat. Denis says to simmer til thickened. Nigella says to cook til thickened but the pumpkin not soft. I disagree. The pumpkin should melt under a knife. Mine was cooked but not as soft as I would like it.

So while I am confessing to not following a recipe and probably failing in Marguerite’s eyes, I might as well admit to not being a domestic goddess lately. I broke two of my favourite sunflower bowls on the weekend while washing up. And I have made a few meals I thought I might blog but they just didn’t turn out as I’d hoped.

One was smoked tofu and bean burgers which Lysy posted. Since I have seen this post, all smoked tofu has disappeared from Melbourne and so I thought I could try it with firm tofu and some liquid smoke but it didn’t work. The taste wasn’t quite right and the texture was so soft that I baked them as muffins rather than burgers. Once Melbourne is over its smoked tofu drought I might try again.

The other meal which just was not quite right was a vegan lasagna. I tried a vegan cheese sauce from Dr Furhman and I foolishly followed the recipe and added half a cup of lemon juice. It was so tart that, for once, E’s suggestion of tomato sauce on lasagna sounded quite sensible.

But the chutney has rescued both these meals, as well as adding some zing to my Sicilian drowned broccoli. Its sweetness, with a little bit of acid, spice and heat, was exactly the thing to made amends to any failings in flavouring. But it is not just useful for fixing kitchen disasters. It also is delicious on toast with sliced cheese. Unlike many preserves, the vegetables are not sweetened beyond recognition so it feels a little healthy. But I don’t know if Marguerite Patten would approve.

Sweet Spiced Pumpkin Chutney
(Adapted from Three Monkeys)
Makes about 2-3 cups

1 kg of pumpkin flesh, cut in small chunks
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds, ground
5 cloves, ground
½ tsp ground coriander
1 medium red chilli, finely chopped
2 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
300ml white wine or cider vinegar
⅓ cup (lightly packed) brown sugar
⅓ cup apricot jam (or substitute fresh or dried apricots)
½ tsp salt

Place all ingredients into a medium-large saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer on a low heat for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally until pumpkin is quite soft and the sauce had thickened slightly. Add a slurp of hot water if it begins to dry out.

When chutney is ready, spoon into plastic tubs if you will be eating within two weeks - we have gone through at least half of it in a week. If you want to preserve it longer than two weeks, spoon into sterilised glass jars.

NB: I just ran my jars under boiling water because I am no expert at sterilising jars. Nigella suggests sterilising them in a low oven or a hot dishwasher but don’t use plastic lids. I think for preserving, that you should seal the jars while the chutney is hot but am not quite sure.

On the stereo:
Burial: Death in June

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

BBD #11 Sprouted Bread

When Zorra asked us to make sprouted bread to celebrate a year of her wonderful Bread Baking Day event I thought I should bow out gracefully. I love baking bread but I have never made my own sprouts (unless you include growing some wheat grain in a piece of wet cotton wool at primary school).

Sprouted bread is mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible and apparently is less processed and full of nutrition. (These links give interesting information on sprouting wheat and biblical or essene sprouted breads but a quick search of the internet will turn up more.) Encouraged by Zorra, when Yarrow and I were planning a winter solstice meal, I suggested we try some sprouted bread. He is an experienced bread baker but hadn’t encountered such recipes. However Yaz is always up for a challenge and was willing to join me in the adventure.

The first hurdle was getting organized enough to get some sprouts happening before Saturday. Yaz offered to do the sprouting. Phew! One day I will get into sprouting but life is too busy for me to get my head around it right now. On Thursday evening, he rang to check what was needed.

I read out the list of possible grains to sprout – kamut, quinoa, rye, spelt, wheat, triticale. Yarrow had been thinking along the lines of sprouting legumes. As that was all he had on hand, he sprouted some green lentils and added some bulgar wheat. Since then I have checked Zorra’s instructions. She suggests sprouting grains, legumes, nuts, seeds. But at the time, all I had was a recipe I found on the net.

Sprouting done, it took us over 5 hours to bake the bread. But we were happy to chat and surf the net. When I mentioned vintage vegetarian cookbooks to Yaz, he helped me search for some online while the dough was rising. It was hard to tear ourselves away from the fascinating books we were discovering and return to the risen dough. We also had other cooking to do for dinner, dishes to do, and at one stage cycled back to his house for some extra bread tins.

When we arrived back at my place with the tins, we were greeted by dough that was bulging over the edges of the bowl. It looked more like a monster in a sci-fi movie or yet another media report on Australia being the most overweight country in the world. My mixing bowl looks huge until it is dwarfed by such large quantities of dough. Yaz has decided he doesn’t like oiling the bowl for the rising dough and was quite pleased with the difference this made to the feel of the dough.

Once the loaves had risen in their tins they went into the oven. It all seemed perfect. The three tins fitted on the top shelf of my oven while slices of turnips cooked in a buttery liquid below. Yaz said this was good for giving some moisture to the bread.

Unfortunately, I had impressed upon Yaz just a little too much how my slow-poke oven always seems to be lacking in fire power. So he turned up the heat and when we commented to each other just how good the bread smelled early in the baking, neither of us thought to check it. Usually I turn around cakes and bread midway, but I was too distracted by other foods we were preparing. I probably should have also told him that my oven bakes unevenly!

It was close to the end of baking that I thought to check and found the loaves were quite burnt on top because they were so close to the top of the oven. Much huffing and swearing followed. We turned the bread upside down in the bread tins for the rest of the baking time to make sure the tops had minimal additional colouring and that the bottoms crisped up. It worked but we couldn't fix the damage already done. However, we got away lightly considering Yaz was working with an unfamiliar oven and we were juggling lots of dishes.

Despite some burnt tops, the bread was a great success. It was light, airy and fluffy with the occasional nubbly sprout in it. The crust was mostly crisp and chewy, apart from the odd bit of charcoal. My timing was unfortunate because yesterday I had to fly to Darwin for a business meeting. Here I am stuck with ordinary bread while my lovely homemade bread is many miles away. I have put some in the freezer which gives me even more reason to look forward to getting home in a couple of days.

Now that I have a taste of sprouted bread, I think I should learn to do some sprouting. Thanks to Zorra for another great theme for Bread Baking Day! If you are after more interesting bread recipes I would recommend you head over to Wild Yeast where Susan has started a YeastSpotting round up of recent posts by bloggers on baking bread.

Sprouted Green Lentil and Bulgar Bread
(Adapted from Sprout People)
Makes 2 - 3 loaves

2½ cups warm water
2 scant tbsp (2 x 7g pkts) dried yeast
½ cup oil
¼ cup honey (or alternative sweetener)
1 tbsp salt
2½ cups sprouted green lentils and bulgar wheat*
9 cups flour**

Combine yeast and warm water in your largest mixing bowl for about 5 minutes to proof (or bubble a little). Stir in 2 cups of flour and leave to proof for about 30 minutes. Add oil, honey, salt, sprouts and 2 cups of flour. Mix well. Place in unoiled bowl and cover with a damp teatowel. Set aside in a warm place to rise for about 45-60 minutes.

Add about 4-5 cups flour to make a dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead for about 10 minutes or til it feels a little elastic (ie the gluten will begin to develop). Our dough was a little sticky and needed a little flour as I kneaded it. Return to the bowl, cover and set in a warm place to rise for 60-90 minutes until doubled.

Punch down the dough and cut into three pieces (or two if you are making two loaves). Place each piece into an unoiled loaf tin or onto a baking sheet. We flattened each piece into a long oblong and folded in half and then in half again and sealed the edges which Yaz says gives it more air but this method is optional. Cover and set aside to rise for 60 minutes until doubled.

While loaves are rising, preheat the oven til 190 C or 375 F. When loaves have risen, spray bread with some water to make it more crusty. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Some moisture in the oven (such as simmering vegetables) is helpful but not necessary. The bread is ready when the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Cool on wire racks.

NOTES:
* Sprouted from ⅔ cup green lentils and 1⅓ bulgar wheat soaked overnight on Thursday and then sprouting a day. Other sprouted grains or legumes could be used but these were chosen because they don’t take long to sprout. We used a bit more sprouts than the recipe called for which meant we also used a bit more flour. Yarrow also noted that the bulgar wheat just held the water rather than soaking it up so it probably needed more flour.

** We used mostly white bread flour with a little rye flour but other wheat and rye flour combinations could be used. The recipe suggests if you use whole wheat or rye flour you could add 1/8 wheat gluten per cup of flour to give a better result.


On the stereo:
Viva Hate: Morrissey

Sunday, 22 June 2008

The solstice fruitcake offensive

E suggested the title of this post because it has felt like making my solstice cake has been like planning a military operation. We ate it yesterday after it had sat in the cupboard for 2 long weeks. It feels like this cake has required much more preparation than my usual cakes. It has been helped unexpectedly by my purchase of both new and secondhand books.

When AOF asked bloggers to bake a solstice cake, I knew this was a great chance to try my hand at a proper fruit cake. My mum has made fruit cakes since I can remember but I thought they were a bit boring compared to other cakes (ie chocolate!). Fruit cakes were merely about decoration. But times have changed and I have grown to love the complexity in a rich soft fruit cake packed with dried fruit. I recommend that you read AOF’s delightful post about putting on her apron and immersing herself in the ritual. It really is about process as much as taste. And feeling like a domestic goddess.

The only time I have made a proper fruit cake was when I was 14 years old. We baked a fruit cake in our home economics class at high school and then decorated it. I mainly remember the decoration and that our cake had to have flat surfaces and square corners so that the icing would hold. I learnt tricks about patching the holes and wrinkles with a little icing. A layer of marzipan and then of royal icing – from the shops – must result in a smooth white expanse like a blank artist's canvas, waiting to be decorated. To do this well takes a little skill and a lot of patience. We were taught some basic piping, moulding and flooding techniques.

I loved it so much that for years I would ice my mother’s Christmas cakes. While she baked goodies for the holiday season, I would happily busy myself at the kitchen table with my piping equipment, my colours and new ideas. As my life got busier I struggled to find time to quickly slap some layers of icing onto the cake and place a few plastic decorations on top. But my mum always baked the fruit cake (and continues to do so each year).

So the idea of baking my own fruit cake was a little intimidating. I have vague memories of problems I needed to watch for. I remember that lining the tin in important. Proper fruit cake bakes a lot longer than my usual cakes and I was aware that it is all too easy for them to be too dry on the outside and too soft inside. I discussed lining the tin with my mum and my grandmother. We consulted Cookery the Australian Way (which was my home economics text book but my mother’s beloved copy is more modern).

After these consultations, I decided a couple of layers of newspaper outside, and a couple of layers of brown paper (which I got by cutting up a brown paper bag from favourite local bookstore, Readings) and couple of baking paper in the tin. If you are a cake decorator, the lining the tin is also important to make sure there are no creases in the paper. It was quite tricky lining a round tin and I partly chose a square tin because it is so much easier. As I was not planning to ice it, my main problem was tying the newspaper around the outside of the tin. Luckily E was on hand to help as it was a two person job, holding the paper on and tying it.

Finding a recipe was easy. I have a chocolate fruit cake recipe I wrote out a few years ago which looked delicious. It uses real chocolate not cocoa (unlike Nigella). Next challenge was the fruit. Firstly buying it and then remembering to soak it. One thing about fruit cake that doesn’t interest me is that combination of sultanas, raisins and glace cherries.

I found a recipe by David Lebowitz for Chocolate Cherry Fruit Cake which is not really fruit cake but did make me decide to use dried cherries rather than glace. This prompted a search which I have already written about but since making the cake I have found local unsweetened dried cherries being sold in the health food shop at Cowes in Philip Island.

I did use some raisins and sultanas but also raided my kitchen cupboards to use up some dried fruit hanging around like blueberries, figs, prunes and apricots. But any dried fruit would be fine. I also took the opportunity to use up the last of my glace orange and some cocoa nibs and still used a little less fruit than the recipe required. Similarly any fortified alcohol can be used. I used up some very expensive whisky, some cheap port and duty free Cointreau from our liqueur collection, rather than heading out to buy brandy or rum.

Baking the cake was a delight. Once the fruit is soaked, it is easy to do if you are used to baking cake - cream butter and sugar, breaking eggs, melting chocolate and folding in flour are fairly common techniques. The only difference between this and other cake recipes is the huge amount of fruit. Then you just bake it for hours which means the kitchen smells heavenly. It took great self-discipline to wrap it up and store it for two weeks before eating. But I managed it.

My plan was to serve it at a solstice dinner party. Yarrow came over to help cook and so I enlisted his help with decoration. I didn’t want to do marzipan and royal icing because while they are fun to play with, I don’t like the taste much (but I would love marzipan in a fruit cake like Lucy’s). I saw Hippolyra’s chocolate covered candied orange peel and thought it would look wonderful piled on my cake. But it is very time consuming to make.

Yaz found a couple of candied kumquats while shopping so we used them and we took our inspiration from a Marguerite Patten book that I bought for $1 at the Trash and Treasure in Cowes on our break in Philip Island. We halved the kumquats and cut each half into into five wedges which we used to make a flower with a glace cherry (making me thankful I didn’t put them in the cake) into the middle of each flower. We also cut a star and some glints of shining light. A more traditional type would do this on the snowy whiteness of royal icing but I like the darkness of our design with just a little icing sugar sifted around the edges.

Finally after the long wait, we tasted it after dinner last night. Traditionally a fruit cake is served in small slices with a cuppa for afternoon tea or for supper. But as part of a meal, it seemed to need something else. Yarrow and E agreed with each other that it would be great served with custard but I thought this would make it a pudding. I had decided it should be served with a wintery fruit platter. I had mandarin, pear, persimmon and half a pomegranate. Yarrow did the design work. After turning up their noses at the idea of fruit, E and Yaz found it pleasing.

And the verdict? Did the cake taste as good as it smelled? Was it worth the effort? Oh yes! It was rich, dark, moist and melt-in-the-mouth as good fruit cakes are. I almost wondered if it should have been longer in the oven but it does not taste uncooked. It had the tartness of dried apricots, the seediness of figs and the occasional crunch of cocoa nibs. We couldn’t taste the chocolate so Yaz accused me of squandering it. But I disagreed. I believe it contributed to the richness and depth of flavours. I did wonder if it was a good use of costly dried cherries and blueberries as they didn’t jump out at me but again I think they added to the complexity of textures and flavours.

This is a cake for sharing. It is too large and rich to be eaten all alone so I am glad to have those who are eager to partake. E has declared he will happily eat a piece after dinner. Yaz took away a slab. Next weekend when I go to Geelong I will take some to my mum and dad. Apparently, it will last for months if wrapped properly, but who wants to wait that long.

I am grateful to AOF for the inspiration to make such a wonderful cake. I probably wouldn’t make it often because it is more expensive and time consuming than usual. But it is great for a special occasion. Head over to Confessions of a Food Nazi after 25 June to drool over the round up of 2008 Solstice Cakes.

Chocolate Fruit Cake
(adapted from a Sunbeam advertisement)

375g raisins*
295g sultanas*
250g prunes, chopped*
170g dried figs, chopped*
145g dried apricots, chopped*
80g dried cherries*
80g currants*
75g dried blueberries*
35g cocoa nibs*
20g glaced orange, chopped*
125ml Cointreau*
100ml cup port*
25ml whisky*
250g butter
1½ cups dark brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
4 x 60g eggs
200g dark chocolate
½ cup apricot nectar
½ cup apricot jam
2 cup plain white flour
½ cup self raising wholemeal flour
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp mixed spice

* Use any combination of dried fruit and alcohol depending on personal taste and what is in your pantry.

Mix dried fruit and alcohol in a large mixing bowl and cover (with a dinner plate). Leave to soak at least 1 hour but preferably overnight.

Once fruit is soaked, line a square 23cm cake tin (or two smaller tins) with a double layer of brown paper (I find brown paper bags useful as I don’t have a roll of brown paper in my house) and a double layer of baking paper. Use string to tie two layers of newspaper around the outside of the tin. Preheat oven to 160 C.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat butter, sugar and vanilla til creamy. Add eggs one at a time and beat after each addition. Pour eggy mixture into the large bowl of boozy dried fruit and mix well.

Melt chocolate. Stir in jam and nectar. Pour into fruit mixture and stir well. Fold in flours and spices til combined.

Tip cake mixture into the prepared tin. Smooth top and tap tin to remove air bubbles. Bake for 2½ to 3½ hours (2 – 3 for smaller tins) til a skewer comes out clean. I turned off the oven and cooled in the oven in the tin overnight.

To store wrap in clingfilm or foil and place in an airtight container in the fridge or cupboard for months. (Mine has been in tissue paper and a teatowel in the cupboard for two weeks – but my mum says tissue paper can soak up the moisture.) Marguerite Patten also advises that a fruit cake will remain moist if you keep a piece of apple in the tin with it.

The recipe says to serve with a dusting of icing sugar. This cake would be fine to cover in marzipan and royal icing. We used candied fruit to decorate, brushed the cake with the sticky syrup from the fruit and dusted the corners with icing sugar.

On the stereo:
Black Angel – Live! Death in June

Pumpkin in a Smoothie!

Recently stumbled across the idea of pumpkin in a smoothie. Crazy idea but it just might work.

Apricot nectar leftover from making my solstice cake. Must be used.

Picked up frozen raspberries at the supermarket. Wish they were in season.

Yaz visits for lunch bringing some of his haul of cheap bananas. Might as well throw one in.

Served in one of the new neofolk glasses I received from Will a few weeks back. Love them!

Deliciously sweet and thick. Highly recommended.

Raspberry, Apricot and Pumpkin Smoothie
Serves 3

Blend:

125g pumpkin, peeled, microwaved til soft and cooled
1 cup apricot nectar
1 cup frozen raspberries
1 banana, peeled and broken up

I am sending this to Jeanne at Cooksister for Waiter There's Something in My ... Berries.

On the Stereo:
Son of Evil Reindeer: The Reindeer Selection

Friday, 20 June 2008

Novel Food 4: Drowned Broccoli

Food is so integral to our lives that it is easy to not even notice it. A self-confessed bibliophile, I find it difficult to rise to the challenge of cooking something relating to the literary world because I often don’t remember the food.

But when I saw that Simona of Briciole and Lisa of Champaign Taste are holding the Novel Food event again this month, I kept thinking about a moment in a novel I read some months ago, a moment that illustrated just what it is about literary food that makes it so easy to overlook.

The book is the Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards. It is a beautifully written novel that tells the story of twins being born in 1964. The father, David, a doctor who delivers the twins, sees that his daughter has Down’s Syndrome and asks his nurse to take her to a home. Instead the nurse takes her to another town to raise as her own. David tells his wife, Nora, that their daughter has died.

Early in the novel, the sorrow of the mother’s loss has an impact on the relationship with her husband and her surviving son. The joy of new life and the depths of her grief are tangled up in confusion that means that nothing can be straightforward any more:

She kept on driving on the same narrow rainy streets, back to their old house, where she had decorated the nursery with such innocent hope, where she’d sat nursing Paul in the dark. She and David had agreed about the wisdom of moving away, but the truth was she could not bear the idea of selling this place. She still went there almost every day. Whatever life her daughter had known, whatever Nora had experienced of her daughter, had happened in that house. (p 83)

On their wedding anniversary, Nora cooks David his favourite meal but he gets caught up at work and is late home. She has organized for her sister to babysit and finds herself alone in the house, waiting to serve dinner that is growing cold and drying out:

It was after eight o’clock. The world had softened at the edges. She went back to the kitchen and stood at the stove, picking at the dried pork. She ate one of the potatoes straight from the pan, smashing it into the drippings with her fork. The broccoli cheese dish had curdled and was beginning to dry. (p 80)

The abandoned dinner has more meaning that just an empty stomach. It is not enough to just eat it. Nora is waiting to share it with her husband because the meal was made in search of romance and connection. To fail to arrive home for dinner shows a disregard for the woman’s cooking, her homemaking and her love. The food symbolises a hunger for attention and love. But it is the minute details of what she is eating that makes Nora seems real to the reader because it helps to create such a vivid picture of a moment in time.

As a vegetarian, I wouldn’t cook a traditional roast pork dinner but I was struck by the broccoli cheese and decided I would cook this for the event. However I have already posted about cauliflower cheese which is a standard side dish from my childhood. I wanted something a bit different to a cheese sauce poured over broccoli. After browsing some cookbooks, the options were broccoli with breadcrumbs and brie, broccoli cooked with a sauce made from a campbells’ soup and a Sicilian drowned broccoli. The last one piqued my interest.

I found it on a website called FX Cuisine.Com that had some interesting dishes. This one is from Catania in Sicily where it is called broccoli affogati, which translates as drowned broccoli. The broccoli is drowned in red wine. I was particularly delighted with the onions in the dish that turn a pleasing purple.

My version was a little lacking in seasoning. Fortunately I served it with some pumpkin chutney that perked it up but I have added a little sugar in the recipe to compensate. When I re-read the comments I noticed some discussion on how different type of wine affected the taste and thought maybe the cheap cab sav lacked a certain Silician style.

I would recommend this as an interesting way to eat broccoli. I suspect that Nora would have found it an exotic dish. But as in many of the older recipes I have encountered in looking at historic cookbooks recently, this is a traditional recipe with measurements that should be altered to suit each person. I suspect Nora would have understood this. After all, one of the messages of the Memory Keeper’s Daughter is that each individual is different. We all react to sorrow and hardship differently and similarly we find strength in different ways to help us cope.

Sicilian Drowned Broccoli
(from FX Cuisine)
Serves 2

1 tbsp olive oil
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
½ cup water
½ cup red wine (preferably Sicilian but I used a cab sav)
¼ tsp sugar or sweetener (optional)
100g shaved or grated pecorino or parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a medium saucepan and fry onions until soft but not brown. Add broccoli and stir one minute. Add water and bring to boil (I think this is what ‘ebullition’ means). Add wine and bring to boil. Cover and simmer about 15 minutes or til broccoli is just tender. Remove from the heat. Add cheese and toss with broccoli til cheese is just melting. Taste and add some sugar or more salty cheese as required. Serve as light meal with good toast, or as side dish or over pasta or crepes.

On the Stereo:
Scavenger: Walkabouts

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Great Stew of Darkness!

As we approach the winter solstice, I delight in the nights getting darker earlier. It is as irrational as my sister’s love of nighttime traffic jams, but I love the gleam of the streetlight emerging from the gloom of a wet road. Leaving work, I rush home to burn the lights brightly and feel the warm blast of the heater. Peering out the window, all is formless and black. Ugliness fades. Beauty surrenders. The shadows are full of mysteries. Darkness hides a myriad of faults and promises many wonders.

So too does dark food fascinate us. Only in the depths of winter do we really crave food that is unbelievably rich and complex in flavour. A slice of pumpernickel bread, a lick of promite, a glass of port and a slab of rich chocolate cake fill a need. Reluctant to venture outdoors, we embrace such comforts.

For me, such winter food brings to mind the dark rich meaty stews simmering gently in my mum’s oven when we came in from school. The house would fill with the intense aromas. As a vegetarian, it is harder to find such dark pleasures in winter stews. But after years of eschewing meat that I have started to discover pleasingly rich stews of vegetables and legumes.

The key agents of darkness seem to be molasses, cocoa and mushrooms. All were present in the stew I made last night upon returning from holidays in grave need of vegetables and protein. It was simple, nutritious, intensely flavoured and black as the night. Most pleasing was taking it out of the oven and finding a dark stew which was starting to crust around the edges. It is full of vegetables but many dissolve into the murky undercurrents. I have been told by E that not only is it delicious but it is also very neofolk!

I am sending this stew to Carrie at Ginger Lemon Girl who is hosting this month's "Go Ahead Honey It's Gluten Free" blogging event, started by Naomi at Straight into Bed Cakefree and Dried. The theme is one pot meals. In the spirit of the event, I have tried to note the ingredients to watch are gluten free if cooking for a GF diet.

Dark Lentil and Vegetable Stew
(adapted from Vegan by Tony Weston and Yvonne Bishop via Zlamushka’s Spicy Kitchen)
serves 4

- 2 medium potatoes, cut into chunks
- 20 g dried mushroom (I used shitake but would like to try porcini) broken in pieces
- 190 g lentils (I used green lentils)
- 900 ml vegetable stock*
- 125 g mushroom (I used button mushrooms), sliced
- 1 red onion, sliced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 parsnip, diced
- 170 g cabbage (I used red cabbage), diced
- 1 zucchini, diced
- 140 g frozen peas
- bouquet garni (I tied together bay leave, sprig of thyme and sprig of parsley but this is optional)
- 2 heaped tsp cornflour*
- 2 tsp cocoa
- 2 tsp vegetable stock powder*
- 1 tbsp blackstrap molasses
- 1 tsp yeast extract* or flakes (I used promite)
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 125 ml dry sherry (or dry red wine)
- Lots of black pepper
- Small handful fresh parsley, chopped, to serve
- Nutritional yeast flakes or grated parmesan cheese, to serve
* For gluten free diets, check these items are gluten free

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (350F).

Place all vegies, lentils, bouquet garni and vegetable stock into a large stockpot (preferably ovenproof). Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.

While vegetables are simmering, mix the cornflour, stock powder, yeast extract, cocoa in a small bowl. Gradually mix in the molasses, tomato sauce and then the wine.

Mix molasses mixture into the vegetables and bring to the boil. The stew should thicken slightly. If not then simmer for a few minutes til it does thicken. Remove from the heat. If you are not using an ovenproof dish, pour into a baking dish. Check seasoning (I found it a little on the sweet side and needed lots of pepper and some added salt).

Bake for 30 minutes. Remove bouquet garni if using. Garnish with parsley and yeast flakes or cheese. Serve as is or with mashed vegetables, rice or toast.

On the stereo:
The Great Rock and Roll Swindle: The Sex Pistols

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The pitfalls of pumpkin bread

We are returned from a relaxing break on Philip Island (which I will write about soon). It was not a foodie paradise and I am yearning for some nice bread. When I went over the street for groceries when we returned I refused to buy bread from the supermarket because I feel like I have been deprived and need something special. I am hoping I might find something suitably pleasing at lunchtime tomorrow.

But meanwhile I have happy memories of a pumpkin bread I made a couple of weekends ago. Like many of my bread-making adventures lately, making it caused much angst and wonder at the recipe, but proved to be most enjoyable to eat.

I feel a bit vague in posting it because I think I jotted down the recipe from Cranks Bible but it is a few years ago now so I am not quite sure. And I thought I made some notes about making it but they have disappeared so I am straining my memory.

My main memory is of the problems. Firstly boiling the milk was a challenge. Sounds so simple. Perhaps because it is connected to my childhood when things were so much less complicated than today. In winter my mum would heat milk to serve on our weetbix (cereal). I particularly loved brown sugar on mine so that when the milk was poured over it, the sugar went brown and gooey and reminded me of chocolate. Some things never change. But I hated milk skin. I am sure you know the skin that forms over boiled milk which reminded me of ripping skin off a sunburnt back. (I might still love chocolate but I get sunburnt much less these days, I am happy to report.)

So boiling the milk brought back some good childhood memories and also a few phobias. But I decided I would need to just cope with the milk skin. In fact, once the milk boiled down, the skin seemed to have become part of it. But I will be avoiding such reducing of milk by simmering in future, if possible. I did it just after I had cleaned the stovetop and the milk kept boiling over onto my clean stove. Grrrr! I actually cleaned around the gas burners a few times while reducing the milk in an effort to keep the stove clean. Makes me wonder why they call these little saucepans 'milk saucepans'. Seems cruelly misleading to unwitting bakers like myself with nice clean stoves.

I found the dough firstly too dry and had to add more liquid than suggested in the recipe. Then it was too soft once I started kneading it due to the chunks of cooked pumpkin in the dough. My hands were a mess by the time I finished the kneading.

All was forgiven once we had the lovely fresh, slightly orange coloured bread. Not huge loaves but delicious. I have tried to write a few of my personal notes in the recipe as a reminder to me and a warning to others.

I have also included photos of the loaf freshly cut and when it was cut when cold to show that it is my impatience rather than my ineptitude that makes it look soggy in the middle. And while I am telling you about my photos, you might notice the difference in colour which is because one is taken in a warm cosy night night and then other the next morning in cool wintery daylight. Plus, I can tell you that taking a photo of the milk boiling was risking it running over onto my clean stovetop yet again but the lacy bubbles were delightful to watch.

Lastly, I admit this recipe has hung around too long because I find bread recipes are quite complicated to write up. So I kept going onto the next recipe that was speedy to write. But I am really loving baking more bread than usual this winter and hope to continue to do so. I dream of finding a perfect bread recipe I can do again and again but my reality is that I am always finding something new to interest me so I anticipate writing a few more lengthy recipes before spring arrives. And that isn’t such a bad thing!

Pumpkin bread
(from Cranks Bible)
Makes 2 medium loaves

600g pumpkin, peeled ad cut into 2cm pieces
Olive oil
400ml milk
20g fresh yeast or 3 tsp dried yeast
50-175ml warm water
200g strong wholemeal flour
600g strong white flour
1 tsp sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
Pumpkin seeds for topping

Preheat oven to 200 C. Place pumpkin in a roasting dish and drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Roast for about 30-60 minutes till tender and just starting to brown. Set aside to cool a little. If desired mash roughly before adding to flour (I will be tempted to do this next time I think).

While pumpkin is roasting, bring milk to boil in a small saucepan. The saucepan shouldn’t be too small as the milk boils over very easily. Reduce heat and softly simmer until milk has reduced by half. This took me quite a while and I had to tip it into my measuring jug to check how much it had reduced and then back to saucepan to simmer a bit more. Cool to lukewarm.

Dissolve yeast in water and mix into milk. Place flours, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl and add milk mixture and roasted pumpkin. Add enough water (recipe said 50ml but I needed about 175ml) to make a soft dough and knead for 5 minutes. The recipe says to knead but leave some chunks of pumpkin. (This just didn’t work well for me but I did like the idea of chunks of pumpkin in a bread and may try again.) Add more flour if needed as you knead, especially if you have chunks of pumpkin squishing into your hands as you knead.

Place in oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to double in size for about 1 hour. When risen, punch down and divide in two. Make into long sausages and place in two greased loaf tins.

Cover, place in a warm place to rise for about 40-60 minutes until doubled in size. Preheat oven to 180 C. Brush loaves with water or milk and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds. Bake 20 minutes or until golden and hollow when tapped. (Mine took about 30 minutes). Cool on a wire rack.

On the stereo
Pulp Intro: Pulp

Friday, 13 June 2008

Choc Honey Muffins

I had these muffins at Yarrow’s place a few weeks back when we were baking bagels. We whipped them up while we were waiting for the dough to rise. They were so easy that I didn’t wonder he didn’t bother to collect other muffin recipes! These tasted so good – soft moist cake without being fudgy. I asked for the recipe and made them this week with equally pleasing results.

What surprised me was how flavorsome and intense the honey was. As a child it was a treat to have honey on fresh white bread and butter. I still indulge in it from time and time and get so amazed that honey is so delicious that I find myself licking it off my finger. But it is more than that. Honey also brings back my childhood.

Thinking about it, it is not only that it we ate it on bread or toast, but that it is such an integral part of our culture. The song that keeps coming to mind is ‘Honey Honey’ by Abba. The lines ‘I don't wanna hurt you, baby, I don't wanna see you cry / So stay on the ground, girl, you better not get too high’ always made me think of a father talking to a little girl climbing a tree. (Now that I am older and more cynical, it sounds a bit like a sleazy old man.)

‘Honey’ is a common endearment because sweet is not just about taste but about temperament. This is why musos love the word. The Archies also sang ‘sugar, ah honey honey, you are my candygirl..’ One of Billie Piper’s hits in the UK was ‘Honey from the Bee’. Jesus and Mary Chain sang ‘Just Like Honey’. The Beatles had a song called Honey Pie’. And Van Morrison sang the weirdly named ‘Tupelo Honey’. E is very helpful in thinking about honey in song lyrics and even tells me that Tupelo is a place but I digress.

As a child, references to honey were common. We all knew that the Queen was in the parlour / eating bread and honey. Trixie Belden’s best friend was called Honey. And Lucy recently reminded me of everyone’s favourite honey lover, Pooh Bear.

So I believe that these muffins appealed to me not just for their wonderful taste, but also because they touched on a seam of nostalgia that runs through my dietary landscape. The only warning I will give about them is to beware the temptation to have more than one. Yaz tells me I am not the only one to fall into this trap. They are so very very good. I will be making these again and E is already looking forward to it.

[NB - the top photo is of one of Yaz's muffins which were so good. In my excitment about the freshly baked muffins most of the photos I took were blurry. I also wanted to say I will probably be a bit quiet for a few days because we are having holidays for a few days. I had intended to post something else tomorrow morning but am feeling too disorganised to think I will find the time.]

PS - while on holiday I kept thinking of The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton and the Pop Biscuits which go pop and fill your mouth with honey. Yet another childhood comfort connected to honey!

Choc Honey Muffins
Makes 48 mini muffins

½ cup (125g) butter
½ cup honey
2 eggs
1 cup plain yoghurt
Not quite two cups self-raising flour
¼ cup of cocoa
200g (1 generous cup) dark choc chips

Melt butter and honey together. I did this in the microwave in a large microwave proof bowl. You can also do this on the stovetop in a medium saucepan. Add yoghurt and beaten eggs. Gently fold in flour and cocoa, and then stir in choc chips towards the end of mixing. Bake in lined muffin trays at 200 degrees for twenty minutes, or fifteen if using mini muffins trays.

On the stereo:Twilight Rituals: T.A.C.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

The Best Rice Pudding Ever!

Recently I found an enticing recipe for a rich Nigel Slater recipe in the Observer Food Monthly, a baked creamy pudding that took my fancy. It is just his sort of British comfort food. In Toast he write of his love for his mother’s version which had to be sipped like a broth rather than a creamy risotto texture: ‘Warm sweet milk was what a mother should smell of,’ he writes.

When I was little, my mum frequently made sweet milky, soft rice pudding with plump raisins. She served it with cold milk and granular sugar. I thought it was what everyone ate. Then I discovered Chocolate Rice Pudding.

This is not rice pudding the way your mother made it. It is not cozy cottages, hot water bottles and slippers warming by the fire. You wouldn’t find it in an Enid Blyton story or an Ealing comedy. No one would be mumbling ‘mustn’t grumble’ because they’d be too busy telling each other it was ‘fabulous dahling, mwah mwah!’

Everything tastes better with chocolate and when you make this the proof is indeed in the pudding. This is dark, rich, creamy and better than I ever could have imagined rice pudding could be.

This is a fine choice for when your vegan and gluten free friends dine with you. My advice is: don’t serve this with a mole-style chilli non carne, don’t buy cream to serve it with but forget to buy milk, and don’t feel the need to be generous with this rich dessert. Be creative with garnishes. It is a great way to use cocoa nibs if you have some about. I would love to serve it with baked fruit. But however you serve it, you won’t regret encountering this delicious, indulgent and surprisingly easy dessert.

Chocolate rice pudding
(adapted from The New Vegan Cookbook by Lorna Sass)
Serves 4

1¾ cup water
pinch salt
½ cup arborio rice (or white short grain rice)
1¼ cup soy milk (I used ¾ cup low fat milk, ¼ cup water, ¼ cup cream)
¼ cup plus 1 tbsp cocoa (I used dutch cocoa)
¼ cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp almond or cashew nut butter
1 tsp ground wattleseed (or instant coffee) – optional
pinch cinnamon
optional garnishes – blueberries, cocoa nibs, choc bits

Bring water and to the boil in a small-medium saucepan. Add rice and simmer on low heat with the lid on for about 20-30 minutes (it took me 20) or til rice is soft and water is absorbed.

While rice is cooking blend milk, cocoa, sugar, nut butter, wattleseed and cinnamon til smooth. Taste and add more sugar or more cocoa as desired. (The recipe heeds that the sweetness is slightly diminished when the mixture is added to the rice.)

Stir the chocolate mixture into the cooked rice. Bring to boil, being careful that it doesn’t boil over, and simmer on low heat for about 5 – 10 minutes (it took me 5), stirring frequently. The recipe says to cook til pudding thickens and some rice is visible on the surface but warns it will be soupy and thicken more as it cools. I didn’t think it needed much simmering but was happy for it to be quite liquidly.

Serve immediately, or cool slightly while you eat dinner and then reheat briefly, or store in the fridge up to 4 days and reheat when ready to use. Serve garnished with blueberries, cocoa nibs and choc chips if you feel like being fancy.

On the stereo:
Under the Covers 1: 60s Pop Primer - Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Split Pea Soup goes Asian

Recently I made a split pea soup to imitate the pea and ham soups that my mum used to make for me. On the weekend I made a split pea soup with an Asian makeover which was equally tasty but worlds away from my childhood.

In fact it made me think about Michael Pollan’s directions not to eat anything your great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food. She wouldn’t recognise this soup, although I know that he is referring to what is edible rather than what is recognizable. But it did make me think. What if I showed her a star anise or a piece of seaweed? Would any of my ancestors think you could eat them? Even within my own modern household, E is wary enough.

I have seen Michael Pollan’s books (The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defence of Food) in the stores and been tempted but it was only when other bloggers mentioned him being in town, that I read this New York Times article online. I like his stuff. He talks about the complexity of food and nutrition and he suggests we have not yet unlocked all the mysteries of the carrot’s soul. He reminds us that we are just part of a larger picture that depends upon the whole food web being healthy for our own survival. His wisdom is quite obvious – such as the reminder that the more a food is promoted as healthy, the less likely it is to be compared to fresh food – but a welcome reminder to think about what we are told by corporations. His refrain is: eat food, mostly plants, not too much.

His ideas reinforced mine. I agree with him that I should use gut instinct rather than in-depth nutritional knowledge to work out what to eat. Admittedly my inclination is partly laziness but I like his suggestion that we treat food as a relationship rather than a medicine. This resonates with my interest in food history. Best of all I am pleased to see him suggesting we eat less meat. I know that the world is not going to turn vegetarian (or at least not overnight) but it disappoints me that there is so little discussion of reducing meat consumption when people talk about green issues. So maybe I will buy one of his books.

But back to my soup. I really do find the star anise an odd object. Most like something you might find on a beach than a food of any sort. Pretty to look at but more ornamental than flavoursome. It is the first time I have used it. So E and I stood in the kitchen marveling at its beauty and smelling its scent. E wasn’t too keen on a liquorice soup.

But the soup was not reeking of liquorice at all. It was tasty, thick and warming with hints of shitake, soy sauce and ginger. The delicate greenery of watercress and spring onions plus the chewy slivers of shitake mushrooms give it a more complex texture than the hearty heaviness of the more traditional split pea soup. Maybe it tasted even better because we waited until my pumpkin bread came out of the oven. An intense and interesting soup with freshly baked bread gives such simple and satisfying pleasure.

I made this soup for Holler and Lisa’s No Croutons Required event. This month Lisa is host and has asked us to make a soup or salad with legumes. For this event I wanted my soup to look as amazing as it tasted and so I used my star anise to garnish it. If you wish to do so, remember it is pretty to look at but not edible so remove before digging your spoon in. Maybe you might say that my great great grandmother would have been right about that. Aren’t they always!

Shitake and Star Anise Split Pea Soup
(from The New Vegan Cookbook by Lorna Sass)
Serves 4

- 1 oz dried shitake mushrooms
- 2 whole small star anise ‘flowers’
- 2 cups boiling water plus 4 cups additional water
- 1 tbsp peanut oil (I used canola oil)
- 5 spring onions chopped, white and green parts kept separate
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 2 tsp crushed garlic
- ¼ cup dry sherry
- 1½ cups split peas, picked over and rinsed
- ½ tsp salt
- Chunk of fresh ginger (2-3 inch was enough for me)
- 2 to 3 cups loosely packed watercress leaves (from 1 average bunch) or spinach
- 1 tbsp Japanese soy sauce
- 1½ tsp toasted sesame oil – optional
- 1 tbsp black sesame seeds for garnish – optional

Place the shitake and star anise in a small bowl or measuring jug and pour 2 cups of boiling water over them and leave for about 10 minutes or until the shitake to soften. If your shitake mushrooms are whole, remove from water and slice thinly. Return to water and set aside.

Heat the oil in a medium-to-large saucepan. Fry the onion, white part of the spring onion and garlic over medium high heat for about 2 minutes or til they start to soften. Add the sherry and cook over high heat for about 30 seconds or til most of the liquid has evaporated.

Add 4 cups water, sherry, split peas, salt and shitake/star anise water that was set aside. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 50-60 minutes or til split peas are soft and mushy. Stir occasionally and taste from time to time to check if enough flavour released from star anise. Remove star anise early if required but I just removed them when the peas were cooked.

While the soup is cooking prepare the ginger juice by finely grating the fresh ginger and squeezing it between your fingers til you have made up 1 tbsp. Discard the wad of ginger pulp. The juice made by my ginger was cloudy and amazingly yellow. Set aside.

When the peas are cooked remove star anise and stir the soup to encourage the peas to dissolve and thicken it. About 5 minutes before serving add the watercress (keep a few sprigs aside for garnish if desired), spring onion greens, soy sauce, ginger juice and sesame oil. Cook until greens have wilted. Serve garnished with toasted black sesame seeds and a few sprigs of watercress (and star anise if you are aiming to impress).

On the stereo:
Greatest Irish Bands: Various Artists

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Who gives a fig about dried cherries?

Blogging makes the world seem like one global community until it comes to sourcing ingredients that are common elsewhere than my own little corner of the world. Most foods I can substitute but as a lover of cherries, I wish we could readily buy the dried version.

I have grown up with glace cherries as part of most dried fruit mixes that are used in fruit cakes and puddings. Vividly red and senselessly sweet they don’t seem to have much in common with the dark complex flavours of fresh cherries. It is like comparing the sweetness and light of Pride and Prejudice with the gloom and intensity of Persuasion (no prizes for guessing what was on the telly tonight). While Lizzie Bennett is a fine heroine, I can’t help but feel that she is merely wishful thinking. Anne Elliot, on the other hand, is so much more authentic if we are trying to find Jane Austen preserved in her literature.

Similarly, glace cherries have a particular charm but a recent opportunity to taste dried cherries made me wonder why we would do this to fresh cherries. Why must they be processed beyond recognition? Why couldn’t they retain some of their intense flavour? What a waste of lovely cherries! According to Wikipedia, the practice of making glace, candied or crystallized fruit goes back to the 14th Century and involves boiling fresh fruit in a sugary syrup to preserve it. Sure drying it will do this just as well these days.

And why am I so concerned? Because I decided I would use dried cherries for two different recipes this week. I wanted to use them instead of glace cherries in a solstice cake for AOF’s event (which will take some time as all good fruit cakes do) and in Ricki’s Fig and Cherry Bars. But when I finally got to the one place in Melbourne that I know sells them (David Jones) there was one 80g packet left on the shelf! Plus, they are imported from the USA and ridiculously expensive.

I wanted to make Fig and Cherry Bars but instead I bought some dried mixed berries which was the next best thing. I would love to make these bars with cherries and envy Ricki a little for being easily able to buy them. However I was able to add dried apricots which are readily available and cost about a tenth of the price. I am sure now that you will understand me renaming these bars. Although I used berries and apricots for this batch, it would be easier to use just apricots next time with no sacrifice in taste.

I hope there will be a next time. These bars are easy to make. I made them after dinner and was able to nibble on one by the time I sat down to watch Spicks and Specks (a favourite music quiz show) on the telly. I have found them an excellent alternative to the choc chip cookies I like to make. These bars are delicious, nutritious and satisfying. I am much less likely to feel the need for just one more as I sometimes do with the cookies. Yet another great recipe from Ricki!

Fig and Almond Bars
(Adapted from Diet, Dessert and Dogs)

1¼ cups (200g) roughly chopped dried figs, stems removed
2 cups (200g) ground almonds
¼ cup (30g) finely ground flax seeds
zest of 1 orange
2 Tbsp (30ml) agave syrup (or orange juice?)
2 Tbsp (30ml) tahini
1 cup (130g) dried cherries, berries or dried apricots (I used a mixture)

Place figs in the food processor to finely chop. Add remaining dried fruit. If your food processor is like mine it will end up a ball of fruit. Add remaining ingredients and process further. It will look a bit like sticky crumbly dough and should hold together when pressed between your fingers.

Use the back of a spoon or your hands to press into a lightly greased a 28 x 18 cm (or 20cm x 20 cm) slice tin. (If you use your hands they will smell heavenly and I find it much easier than the back of a spoon.) Place in fridge til firm (about an hour) and then cut into bars. Ricki suggested 12 bars but I cut it smaller. Keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

On the Stereo:
Ostpolitik: Spartak