Friday, 31 July 2009

Bizarre gnocchi and strange crumble

We have just finished watching our Tripods DVD boxset. It was a strange BBC adaption of a science fiction novel about aliens who have stopped the human race from their dangerous technology by using caps to make them docile. The outfits look like the sort of fancy dress that my friends and I might have come up with when we were kids (eg a blanket tied with a dressing gown cord) but the scenery is superb. The tripods are wonky models but their city has a sense of wonder. Unfortunately the third series was cancelled due to the series being too expensive and too slow. The ratings showed that it was not to everyone’s taste.

Not everyone appreciates something a little different. Some people are happy to have meat and potatoes every day, or so I am told. I am not one of them. I love having lots of variety in my diet and experimenting with different ingredients and flavours. No could accuse me of being boring on the weekend when we had a bizarre gnocchi and a strange sort of crumble.

Would you be excited if told I was making gnocchi with mouldy cheese and bitter lettuce? I don’t know that E was overly enthusiastic after I gave him a piece of radicchio to taste. It was horribly bitter when raw. I've never used it before so I didn’t feel brave enough to chop it into 6 wedges and instead I sliced it into ribbons. Cooked, it actually was quite mellow and flavoursome. As for blue cheese, it never loses its taste. I was a little worried how the gnocchi would taste so I added some roasted cauliflower I had on hand and chopped up a pear.

Once I looked at my gnocchi I realised that the little pillows of semolina had disappeared under all my toppings. Oops. I don’t think that was meant to happen. The picture of Karen Martini’s recipe in the Age’s Sunday Life magazine showed lots of crispy gnocchi. Mine was a pile of crispy and interesting vegetable toppings with soft gnocchi underneath. I also found out I had run out of parmesan cheese and decided I should use some of the nutritional yeast in the gnocchi mixture. It gave a nice flavour but I would probably prefer the parmesan.

We served the dish with Brussels sprouts and a warm beetroot dip. The recipe’s suggestion of serving this with meat seemed odd. It needed vegetables! I don’t think we ate the gnocchi as intended but it was surprisingly pleasing.

I served a gluten free dessert so if you wanted a gluten free meal, you could substitute cheesy polenta slices for the semolina. Of course, you also would not serve it with bread like we did. And in case you are curious, the photo at the top includes an apple and date cake that I recommend you try because it was so good.

Dessert was a berry and coconut crumble I had found in the Women’s Weekly. It appealed because I have been interested in gluten free crumble toppings and trying out different ideas lately. Berries, coconut and lime is a tropical summery combination which seemed a little odd in a warming winter dessert. Nevertheless I enjoyed it.

I couldn’t resist substituting some banana for the berries but didn’t chop it up enough. I had naively thought that it would break down more over an hour in the oven but it didn’t so next time it will be in smaller pieces. The recipe was next to another one for rhubarb and white chocolate crumble, but the chocolate idea seemed more appropriate for the berries so I threw in a handful of white choc chips.

I love berries and could have just eaten the lime flavoured berry mixture. It was deep red and full of delicious juice. The crumble was particularly light rather than the dense oaty crumbles I usually make. And I loved the creamy white chocolate oozing between the fruit and crumble in small pockets of sweetness. E found the crumble a bit intense – I think there was a bit too much fruit for him. He found it more palatable the second night when he had bought some cream to serve with it. But I think it was delicious without cream. The leftovers were very tempting but I was glad we left it for the next night because there is only so much one can eat of such berry goodness.

Baked gnocchi with radicchio, gorgonzola and walnuts
(from Karen Martini in Sunday Life, The Age, July 2009)
Serves 4 as a main

650ml milk
175g semolina
2 eggs
100g parmesan cheese, grated (I used ½ cup nutritional yeast and couple of handfuls of grated cheese)
1 radicchio, sliced
1 pear, cored and diced (optional)
¼ cauliflower (1 cup), chopped in small florets and roasted with lemon juice and kecap manis (optional)
50g butter, diced
100g blue gorgonzola, crumbled
2 tbsp walnuts

Blanch radicchio by placing in a bowl and pouring boiling water over it. Leave two minutes and then drain.

Bring milk to boil in a medium saucepan and slowly add semolina over medium heat, whisking as it is added. Cook stirring frequently for about 15 minutes or until mixture comes away from the side. Remove from heat and whisk in eggs and half parmesan cheese (or nutritional yeast). Spread into a lined lamington tin (28 x 18cm or 11 x 7 inch). Use the back of a spoon to smooth as much as possible (this wasn’t easy for me). Place in the fridge to cool. (Just an hour or two should be fine).

Cut gnocchi into squares. Arrange on a baking dish – I used the same lined lamington tin (Karen Martini says to use a ceramic dish). Sprinkle toppings over gnocchi, radicchio, pear, cauliflower, butter, gorgonzola, walnuts and remaining grated cheese on top. Bake in 220 C oven for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.

Berry and coconut crumble
(adapted from Women's Weekly magazine May 2009)
serves 4-6

500g mixed berries, frozen
3 bananas, peeled and chopped into small pieces
⅓ cup sugar
juice of 1 lime
¾ cup white choc chips
100g unsalted butter, diced
1½ cups shredded coconut
½ cup soy flour (or wheat flour)
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp cinnamon
zest of 1 lime

Mix berries, banana, half of sugar and lime juice in the bottom of a baking dish (mine is about 22cm round). Sprinkle with white chocolate chips. Place coconut, flour, spices and lime zest in a medium mixing bowl. Rub butter into this mixture until it is coarse and lumpy. Sprinkle crumble over the choc chips. Bake at 160 C for about a hour til crumble is golden brown and fruit is bubbling. If topping is browning too much, cover towards the end of cooking. Serve with cream if desired.

On the stereo:
Ultravox: the Island Years

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Balancing Soup and Scones

It has always been a bit of a mystery to me why sometimes we put bicarbonate of soda (a.k.a. baking soda) into some baked goods and baking powder into others. Of course I know that self-raising flour is made with 2 tsp baking powder to a cup of plain flour. I also know the bicarb soda is more fun because it froths up so easily. Only recently have I discovered that this reaction is why we use both these powders in baking.

There was a time when I didn’t use any commercial cleaning products. Just a sprinkle of bicarb and a squirt of vinegar created a wonderful fizzing reaction and was finished off by a little elbow grease. That was mostly when I was a student and lived in environmentally conscious share houses where we made our own laundry detergent, our own tofu and even cleaned our hair with the whey leftover from the tofu. I remember in one house some enterprising soul had heated a skewer over a gas stove flame and used it to pierce holes in the top of a (Jalna) yoghurt container to make a container for sprinkling bicarb. They had then used the hot skewer to make a hole in a plastic bottle top and put vinegar into the bottle so it would squirt vinegar.

Then I went to an Enjo demonstration and was won over by the idea of microclothes eliminating the need for many chemicals, as well as reducing the amount of water and time needed to clean. (Thanks Kathleen) So now I have given the bicarb the heave-ho but confess I do use some commercial chemicals now.

My other use of bicarb is of course in baking. It made baking more exciting when I was little. I loved helping my mum make ANZAC biscuits or boiled fruit cake and watching the bicarb being added to the mixture. It delight me as it frothed up like fizzy drink.

I know that bicarb has a funny soapy taste and am careful when adding it to ensure that there are no lumps. (Although I don’t like sifting flour I often just sprinkle bicarb with my fingers to check there are no lumps.) A housemate once made a cake with the bicarb in lumps only to have others make faces at the taste. That experience told me to beware the bicarb.

I am not sure where I heard about the difference between bicarb and baking powder – perhaps the radio – but it suddenly made sense. It was like my baking version of the road to Damascus. I found a few explanations on the web. The best one is from the Joy of Baking.

Bicarbonate soda is an alkaline leavening ingredient and needs to mix with an acidic ingredient to create the chemical reaction to make the food rise. Acidic ingredients include buttermilk, yoghurt, sour cream, vinegar, lemon juice, fruit, honey, molasses, maple syrup, cocoa (not Dutch processed) or chocolate. (Ah-ha – is that why some recipes suggest that we don’t use Dutch processed cocoa!)

Baking powder is a mixture of bicarb (alkaline) and an acid (such as cream of tartar). There is all sorts of interesting information about double acting baking powder (which is what most of us use now) so it reacts to liquid and heat at different stages, and cornstarch to keep the baking powder dry. Fascinating stuff. And useful information for when you aren’t quite following a recipe.

Not only has this information solved the mystery of bicarb vs baking powder but also the previously unexplained milk vs buttermilk/yoghurt decision. So baking powder and milk are neutral friends whereas bicarb and buttermilk or yoghurt react with each other to get a rise. Which is why soda bread has buttermilk in it. It makes sense of some of the baking I have been doing lately. It is all about balance.

I recently made spinach and feta scones which had both baking powder and buttermilk – just to show that they can still be friends. But now I have a little more understanding of these. However even without this additional knowledge I appreciated the lovely green appearance, the intense salty flavour of the feta, and the short buttery lightness of the scones. These are not the scones I grew up with - mine never had any egg or so much butter – but they are fantastic and worth trying.

I had wanted to try these scones for ages but I finally made them to eat with a Broccoli, Zucchini and Blue Cheese Soup. It was a lovely marriage of textures and flavours. The soup used up some blue cheese I had as well as some leftovers of a cauliflower gratin with blue cheese that my mum had made for me. (It was made with cauliflower and beetroot but I ate all the beetroot as I loved the taste of that with the blue cheese but found the cauliflower a bit more challengingly intense.) I made a few changes, leaving out cream and adding some walnuts and yoghurt.

The only problem with the soup and scones was the lack of red, orange and yellow coloured foods. I love green foods but also love balance. Given that I have a large blog backlog, I thought I would also include a recipe for a beetroot, goats cheese and onion bread below that I served with Potato, Bean and Kale Soup recently. It was made because I suddenly couldn’t bear to have the tin of beetroot in my pantry any longer. But if I were to try this again I would prefer to use freshly grated beetroot. Nevertheless, it produced a pleasingly pink dough that become a golden bread with ruby studs of beetroot. Enough deep red to provide another option that would satisfy my need for some colour contrast with the soup.

Broccoli, zucchini and blue cheese soup
(Adapted from Notebook Magazine, July 2009)
Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 leek, sliced
1 large creamy dutch potato, peeled, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 head broccoli, coarsely chopped
1 zucchini, trimmed, chopped
2 cups vegetable stock
½ cup white wine
25g castello blue cheese, crumbled*
1 cup cauliflower gratin with blue cheese (optional)
chopped walnuts to serve
yoghurt to serve

*The recipe called for 75g mild blue cheese. I am not familiar with blue cheese but the one I used seemed very strong so we used less. But if you don’t happen to have leftover cauliflower cheese about or if your cheese is mild, you might want more blue cheese.

Heat oil in large saucepan. Cook leeks for about 5 minutes. Add potatoes and cook about 3 minutes. Add broccoli, garlic, zucchini, stock and wine. Bring to the boil and simmer for 12 minutes or till broccoli is just cooked. Add blue cheese and cauliflower cheese, if using. Simmer about 2 minutes just to warm through. Blend. Serve with walnuts and yoghurt.

Spinach and Feta Scone
(adapted from Bella Eats via Two Spoons)
makes 8 scones.

¾ cup buttermilk (or milk)
1 egg
1 cup white flour
2 cups wholemeal flour
4 tsp baking powder
100g unsalted cold butter, cubed
100g crumbled feta
2 good handful (about 2 cups) fresh finely chopped spinach (or silverbeet)

Preheat oven to 220 C. Lightly grease a baking tray. In a medium bowl whisk together buttermilk and egg. Prepare feta and spinach.

Mix flours and baking powder in a large bowl. Rub butter into flours until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Mix in buttermilk, egg, spinach and feta gently til just combined and still a little shaggy. Turn out and lightly knead on a floured board just til dough is smooth(ish). It is quite a soft dough. Don’t knead more than you need or the lumps of feta disappear.

Gently flatten into a circle with dough about ¾ inch (3cm) thick. Transfer to a baking tray. Use a large sharp knife to score lines to make 8 wedges. Bake for 20 minutes until lightly golden. Then take out of the oven and cut into the 8 wedges along the scored lines. Return to the oven and bake for a further 20 minutes or until golden brown. (I think I returned mine for another 10 minutes to make sure it was cooked enough). Best eaten warm. Can be frozen and heated in the microwave.

Beetroot, Goat Cheese and Onion Bread
(adapted from this bread)

1 cups self-raising flour
½ cup wholemeal flour
1 tsp salt
½ tsp caraway seeds
½ x 400g tin of pickled beetroot, drained and finely chopped (or 200g fresh beetroot peeled and grated)
120g goats cheese torn into small pieces
1 onion, finely sliced
1 tbsp walnut oil
2 tsp walnut oil
1 egg
3½ tbsp yoghurt
1 tsp seeded mustard
poppy seeds, for sprinkling

Heat oven to 190 C. Cook onion in 1 tbsp walnut oil for 10 minutes til golden brown.

Place flour, salt and caraway seeds into medium mixing bowl. Mix in ⅔ of the cheese and onions. Lightly beat the egg, beetroot, 2 tsp oil, yoghurt and mustard. Add to the flour mixture and and mix everything together thoroughly until you have a sticky shaggy dough.

Transfer the dough onto a greased baking tray – use floured hands or just scrape it out with a spoon. Form into a rough round. Dot the remaining cubes of cheese over the surface, and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake for 45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

On the Stereo:
Assembly: John Foxx

Monday, 27 July 2009

Pudding, Parties and Plate Smashers

I may have mentioned once or twice that E’s favourite dessert is treacle pudding with custard. We had a similar version when I was young that I loved but my mum put jam in the bottom of the pudding dish rather than syrup. She recently told me that the ingredients are the same as for apricot sponge but with jam instead of apricots. We always called it steamed pudding but I have also seen it called college pudding.

I loved steamed puddings but it does take a considerable amount of time and some foutering about. Last year I tried making treacle pudding in the microwave but, as I mentioned in my previous post, I make things once and then when I go to revisit them months or years later, I can’t find the recipe. I did however find my photo (below). And a similar microwave pudding recipe can be found here. Mine was a bit dry so I felt it needed work and I am determined to try it again – I just feel it is an unnecessary luxury to make puddings over and over.

Meanwhile, I was interested to find a baked treacle pudding recipe while browsing magazines in the library. It seemed easier than steaming so I thought I would give it a whirl. These puddings were good but there were too problems – the neighbours and the duplicity of the food photography in glossy magazines.

It is probably a couple of months since I made this and yet the night is still crystal clear in my memory. A Saturday that found us having a quite night at home in front of the television (as usual). Unfortunately our neighbours had decided it was party night.

On one side of us we had the hoons holding a 21st party, booming out retro classics that I remember being hits in their first journey round the charts (Abba, Gloria Gaynor, Village Men). That made me feel old. On the other side were the Greek neighbours who started quietly and got louder and louder. We could hear them dancing, yelling ‘opa’ and smashing plates. If we looked out the window we could even see heads bobbing up and down.

It reminded me of a party I attended as a student when the next door neighbour came over to join in and kept saying, ‘the neighbours are complaining, turn the music up.’ (I think I am telling you this to show that I once was the one partying instead of next door with my hands over my ears.) Only we wanted the music turned down from ear-bleedingly loud to a mere roar. Unexpectedly, it was the younger crowd who turned their music off first.

Add a crying baby into the mix, a cat trying to climb into the pram, and this was not the best night to indulge in pudding covered in custard. The stress was not even eased by watching our favourite British police show, the Bill. In fact the Bill has some of E’s favourite cockney phrases that would have been quite useful that night - ‘leave it out, guv’, ‘shut it, you slag’ and ‘he’s dun a runner’! Fortunately, we had leftovers for the following night which was enjoyed in a much more relaxed fashion.

So while I am having a whinge about the evening, I will share my gripe about pudding pictures. The photo in Delicious Magazine showed gooey berry syrup cascading down the side of the pudding. That is my image of treacle pudding. However, whenever I have made treacle pudding, the syrup soaks into the pudding. It happened when I made the microwave pudding, the steamed strawberry pudding and this treacle ginger and berry pudding. So the picture left me a wee bit disappointed.

Outrageously loud parties and misleading pictures aside, the pudding was delicious. It was soft, sweet and warmly spiced. The custard was made while trying to calm Sylvia and consequently was a little lumpier than usual but we still covered the pudding with it. I am not sure that the berries made much impact – although I used raspberries rather than blackberries, which might have made a difference. I also didn’t have stem ginger so used ground spices. I loved baking the pudding in the ramekins. It was simpler than steaming, looked pretty and was easy to store leftovers. In fact, I imagine they would freezer in ramekins. I loved these puddings and hope to try them again in peace and quiet.

Baked Treacle, Ginger and Berry Pudding
(from Delicious Magazine Dec 07/Jan 08)
serves 4

100g unsalted butter
½ cup castor sugar
2 eggs
⅔ cup self raising flour
grated zest of 1 orange
4 pieces of stem ginger (I used a mix of ground ginger, cinnamon and mixed spice)
4 tbsp golden syrup
12 plump blackberries (I used raspberries)
Custard or cream to serve

Preheat oven to 180 C. Grease 4 ramekins. Cut out circles of baking paper to line the bottom of each ramekin. Place a tablespoon of golden syrup and sprinkle berries on top of the syrup.

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Stir in flour, zest and spices.

Divide batter among the ramekins. Cover each ramekin loosely with a piece of greased foil. Bake for 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out cleanly. Turn ramekins out into dessert bowls and serve with cream or custard.

On the stereo:
Down Colourful Hill: Red House Painters

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Frugal Freezer Stock and a WIP Stew

I hate throwing out anything. It all began when I was traumatised by my mum and my baby sister throwing out my favourite doll, April. She is the one in the dolly bouncinet in the photo (apologies for poor quality) and the taller doll is my Brandy doll. Actually, I think it might have gone back even further.

Last weekend I dug out a box of childhood stuff from my parents' garage. It included some school exercise books. In one I had written the chores that everyone in the family did. It amused us to see that next to my brother Andy, I had written ‘no work’. He is 8 years younger than me so probably would have been quite young when I wrote this but we still teased him about it.

Spending my life resistant to throwing out anything did not help in my first job after I finished studying. I worked for an archival organisation that was processing the records of the State Electricity Commission (SEC) in the city prior to privatisation. The work wasn’t very exciting but I found it fascinating to be in a building in the midst of closing down. One day we'd see a bustling office and then next day that floor would be deserted.

During this job I learnt a valuable lesson. I wanted to keep some annual reports that had really interesting information. My supervisor told me that they had also been kept elsewhere and storage space was so expensive that we couldn’t afford to keep multiple copies. It is a hard lesson to learn that you can’t keep it all, but when your parents have a double garage and floor to ceiling wardrobes, it is hard to believe. You see I studied history not archives so I had been taught how useful relics of the past were for historians rather than how to process and store them.

Moving into our small unit, the lesson that you can’t afford to keep everything should have been valuable. One glance at our place shows that keeping stuff is prized far higher than order in our household. I don’t know how I missed the neatness gene that my sisters all have. They have spotless minimalist rooms whereas our house is full of homely clutter that makes them throw up their hands in despair.

As a student of history, I believe in the value of keeping a connection with our past but hoarding is about more than that. Anyone who has kept clothes for long enough knows that fashions that go will often come again. The greenie mantra ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ seems anti-hoarding but it is not quite. Doing my thrift badge as a girl guide, I learnt that old socks can be used for polishing shoes or dusting shelves. It made me inclined to become the type with cupboards full of stuff that just might come in handy one day.

I am no different in the kitchen. When it comes to food, I hate to throw anything out. Even the scraps. This year I finally got a compost bin. But I was delighted to find there are even better ways to recycle trimmings from vegetables. They make wonderful home made stock. What you need is a freezer, a plastic bag and a stockpot.

I came across a post on 30 Bucks a Week (via Bitten) about keeping a bag in the freezer to put vegetable scraps in for making stock. Making stock at home has always seemed a worthy but demanding endeavour. I don’t have lots of vegetables hanging around that need using in stock (I put them into other recipes) and I hate the idea of buying vegetables to cook and throw away. I have read that you can use vegetable scraps but I never seem to have enough to use. Hence my delight at the suggestion of using the freezer.

The method is simple and thrifty. As I chop up vegetables I sometimes put some of the ends and peel in the freezer in a bag. This way, I have it there for when I am ready to make stock, rather than feeling pressured to make stock before the scraps succumb to mould. When I make the stock, I throw all the vegetable scraps in a pot with some water, salt, garlic and some herbs from the garden. Then it goes into containers in the freezer to be there when I need them for cooking.

So I have been able to use my own stock in many dishes lately. As an aside to this rambling post, one of the things that annoyed me about Masterchef most was the advertisement for a commercial stock in the breaks. A very annoying woman, Tessie, did her best to convince us that her stock was real because she was real and so was her kids and her mess and her vegetables. I am not against buying commercially made stock, and do it quite regularly, but to try and convince us it is real or fresh or authentic or genuine is to treat the viewers like fools.

When I look at the stock that I can make from a bag of scraps in the freezer, it seems incredible that commercial manufacturers can charge us for it. Of course, like many others I am often too busy or disorganised or lazy to make my own stock. But now I am quite pleased to be using my freezer and my scraps more effectively. I would encourage others to try this. Not everyone can have a compost bin but most of us have a freezer in which they can keep scraps for stock. Mark Bitten even encourages this with his advice that a full freezer works better than an empty one. Below I have given you an example of what I use but it changes every time.

The first meal that I made with stock was a stew based on Gordon Ramsay’s Pork with Cider and Honey. I have decided in the interest of not throwing out anything – not even a blog post – I need to post the occasional work in progress (WIP) recipe. I know there are bloggers who make dishes over and over til they are just right but that is not my way. I make it, then am distracted by other recipes and when I come to try it again I have forgotten last time. So in the interests of recording what I am doing, I am posting this recipe even though it is not perfect.

I loved the idea of the cider and honey but wanted more vegetables. The main problems with the stew were that the beans were a little tough-skinned and the vegetables cooked into a mush. I don’t often soak and cook beans but am a little confused because I have been told that you shouldn’t salt them while cooking but then some recipes call for to cook them in stock, which is salty. I wondered if cooking the beans in stock was why the beans had tough skins. As for the vegetables, I have amended the recipe with a suggestion that the vegetables are roasted and added later when I make it next time.

The stock is going to Michelle for the Budget Friendly Foods theme for this month’s Heart of the Matter. She has chosen the theme for these days of the Global Financial Crisis but I am sure it are also useful to anyone trying to live a greener life. It seemed a nice coincidence that I made this on World Environment Day. So in this spirit, I would like to share an interesting post with you by No Impact Man reflecting on What I’d Say If I Was Wrong About Climate Change. It is worth reading, just as this freezer stock is worth a try if you are trying to tighten your belt and look after the environment.

Frugal Freezer Stock
(Inspired by 30 Bucks a Week)
Makes about 3 litres

Bag of scraps:
7 onions skins and ends
7 carrots peelings and ends
1 old celery stick
peelings of 1 beetroot
ends of kale
peelings of 1 parsnip
peelings of 1-2 potatoes
a bit of pumpkin skin

3-4 cloves of garlic
3 bay leaves
2-3 sprigs of rosemary
2-3 sprigs of thyme
4-5 sprigs of parsley
4 litres water
4 tsp salt (or to taste)

Bring to the boil in a large stockpot. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Cool slightly - I think I waited about 30 minutes). Sieve into a large bowl or jug. Discard vegetable scraps. Use within a few days or freeze in small tubs.

Bean Stew with Cider and Honey (WIP)
Adapted from Gordon Ramsay (BBC Australian Good Food Guide June 2009)
Serves 6-8

500g dried cannellini beans
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped plus one piece of onion set aside
8 cloves
2 cups (500ml) medium cider
600ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
⅓ cup (120g) honey
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 bouquet garni (bay leaf, sprigs of thyme and parsley tied together with string)
2 carrots, chopped
1 parsnip, chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped
2 medium leeks, chopped
½ tsp smoked paprika
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 large aubergine, chopped
2 medium zucchini, chopped
800g pumpkin, chopped
5 vegie sausages, grilled and chopped
1 tbsp cornflour

Soak beans overnight in water. Heat oil in a large stockpot and add onions. Fry for about 5 minutes or till onions soft and golden. Stick cloves into the large piece of onion.

Add clove studded onion, cider, stock, tomato paste, honey, Worcestershire sauce, bouquet garni, carrots, parsnip, celery, leeks, smoked paprika and garlic. Bring to the boil and simmer about 1 hour.

I added aubergine, zucchini and pumpkin and simmer an additional 20 minutes, then added the sausages. I think I would next time simmer the mixture an additional 15 minutes without these veggies and sausages. I would roast the aubergine, pumpkin and zucchini and add these with the sausages and just cook an additional 5 minutes to warm them through.

Then mix the cornflour with a little of the liquid from the pot and add to the pot. Bring to the boil so the mixture thickens.

It is best served with brown rice and green vegetables such as Brussels sprouts.

On stereo:
Best of Bach

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Andre's: our friendly local café

I first came across Andre when he had a fruit and nut shop where he now has his café. I especially loved the sesame seed, honey and nut treats he sold. But recently all the bins of beans and nuts were cleared out and replaced by a modern café full of pretty cakes and baskets of dense bread. I’ve been buying bread there for some time but today was the first time we have eaten in.

The café is quite small with just a few tables and chairs but people come and go a lot so it is easy to get a seat. It is just opposite Elli’s Deli at the entrance to Coburg Market and so it a great place to people watch. Andre is a laidback friendly guy who enjoys chatting with his customers. His cheery manner makes everyone feel welcome.

E and I walked in with Sylvia in the pram and caught Andre cursing his coffee grinder. No matter, E assured me that the coffee was lovely. Andre suggested that we try a pumpkin and spinach filo savoury. I ordered one. E chose to have toast with his mother's spice mix (I didn’t catch the name but will find out) which had zumac, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sesame seeds, among other things. He didn’t have any cold drinks for me and suggested I run across to the next door Deli for a bottle. He plans to have a cold drinks cabinet in soon.

My pastry was filled with lots of soft pumpkin and a handful of spinach but it was surprisingly tasty. E loved his toast with the spices although it could have had it a bit less toasted. I overheard Andre saying he also served his mum’s silverbeet, sultana and sumac pastry but when I expressed interest he said they had sold out and, due to a bereavement, his mum wasn’t able to make any more for today.

The pastry was quite light so I still had lots of room for a sweet treat. I chose a cherry ripe slice, party because of the colourful coconut on top. It was nice. The chocolate topping was a bit hard after being in the fridge but I did enjoy the occasional pieces of tart cherry through the sweet coconutty filling. E had a pecan tart and took home half of it. Tasting it at home, I found it very pleasing with a soft sweet filling. I have also tried the rich gluten free chocolate cakes and can highly recommend them.

But if you don’t want any cakes or fancy pastries, then I could highly recommend the toast. This is why I am familiar with Andre’s. If you want a look at it, I have featured his spelt bread in my last post, plus you can see his caraway rye bread and another sourdough (maybe the honey and oat) in other posts. They really are worth trying if you are in the neighbourhood. At the moment he is selling them on Thursdays and Saturdays but will sell any unsold bread for less in the next day or two.

We left with a loaf of the honey and oat bread. It is superb. Soft, substantial, malty, with a chewy oaty crust. Then we went off to get our freebie CD that was given away with The Age newspaper today, to talk about curious bric-a-brac with the women in the op shop, and pace the aisles of the supermarket.

The oddest thing about the high street today was seeing people wearing santa hats. When I first saw a santa hat on an old woman spruiking outside a clothes store, I thought she might be away with the fairies (or the elves as the case may be). Then we passed buskers playing brass instruments and wearing santa hats. Then we saw Santa Claus himself over the road. It must have been Christmas in July. Sylvia smiled and so did we. Perhaps we were imbued with the community spirit from Andre’s. Or perhaps we were just looking forward to getting home for a slice of his wonderful bread.

Update (Sept 2009) - he now has a drinks cabinet and serves foccaccia with cheese/tomato/ham combinations. I have tried his mum's silverbeet, sultana and sumac pastries and they are superb.

Andre’s Coffee House
421 Sydney Rd
(by the entrance to Coburg Market)
Coburg VIC 3058

Pear and Walnut Chutney

I’d like to believe that if I wasn’t at home with a baby that I would be going out and seeing everything I am missing right now but I know the reality is that many events would still slip by in the whirlwind of everyday life.

The difference at the moment is that I have a lot of time to listen to the talkback radio and find out about events I would love to see. Michael Nyman is in town and I would love to see him play. It is the Melbourne International Film Festival and I have heard quite a bit of discussion about the premiere of an Australian film called Bailibo , about the murder of journalists in East Timor in the 1970s. I also would be interested to see another Aussie film, Beautiful Kate, which is at the cinema soon and stars some of my favourite actors.

But the most fascinating event I have heard about lately is the Bobcat Ballet performed to Bohemian Rapsody. I mentioned it to E and he made me laugh with his guesses. So I thought I would do a ‘One out of Three Aint Bad’ question for my favourite quiz show, Spicks and Specks. Below is a list of the real performers and the ones that E guessed. Can you guess which one is correct?

a) Wild cats
b) Bob Dylan fans
c) Construction vehicles

Yes, it is C. What a bizarre idea! It is happening in Mackey in Queensland but may come to Melbourne. If it does I would love to be there but probably wont make it.

Although I am missing some events, there are others that I can go with a baby, of which I had previously been ignorant. One of these is Rhyme Time at my local library. It is a morning session where babies get to sing and dance to nursery rhymes. It is noisy and fun but the most fascinating aspect of it is to see the librarians directing mothers where to park their prams in the foyer and beside the bookshelves.

Afterwards I often go to Andre’s for his lovely sourdough bread. A few weeks back I had a yen to make pear and walnut chutney from a recipe I had jotted down years ago. Pears are in season right now and often reside in my fruit bowl. I had the pears and walnuts but no sultanas. The recipe called for firm pears so I didn’t think I could put off making it too long before I had soft juicy pears. If I made it before Rhyme Time, I could enjoy it on fresh bread at lunchtime. I remembered my tomato chutney that had cranberries in it. This seemed an appropriate substitution for the sultanas.

I set about preparing the ingredients in the morning and it took longer than I anticipated. As usual, I found myself rushing and barely had time to simmer it as long as the recipe said. I had to turn off the heat as we were running out the door. I left it to cool while we were out. I returned with some dense spelt bread at Andre’s. Lunch was a simple repast of good bread, good cheese and excellent homemade chutney.

It looked a little like fruit mince, but it was spicier. I added a few more spices than in the recipe but nevertheless it was a sweet chutney and more chunky than other chutneys I have made lately. The addition of walnuts was surprisingly pleasing. It was great with bread and cheese, lovely stirred into a curry, but not so good with vegie sausages.

I was curious about the combination of pear and walnuts. It is such a lovely winter pairing. It seems I am not alone in my appreciation. There were many great ideas on FoodBlogSearch, so I have listed just a few below.

Savoury Recipes:

Sweet Recipes:

Chunky Pear and Walnut Chutney
Makes 2 medium jars

70g dried cranberries
Zest and juice of 1 orange
600g (4 or 5) firm pears, peeled and chopped
1 granny smith apple, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup (250ml) cider vinegar
200g sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp ginger
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
60g roasted walnuts, chopped

Pour orange juice and zest over the cranberries. Set aside.

Bring cider, onions, apples and pears in large saucepan. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add cranberry mixture, sugar, salt and spices. Stir an additional 20-30 minutes until the mixture has thickened. Add the walnuts and leave to cool slightly. Store in sterilised jars. (I just poured boiling water over my jars because I knew it wouldn't last too long.)

On the stereo: All of this and nothing: Psychedelic Furs

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Morning Rush Muffins

Today I had a friend from work coming over. I was all prepared for her to visit in the afternoon. I had planned to bake for her but I needed to buy ingredients I was short on. Then I checked my emails and found I had not read her last email properly about her coming in the morning instead of the afternoon. She was to be here in about an hour. I shot into the shower and then I baked some muffins based on what was in the house.

I never even looked at a recipe but just threw in what was about. I was quite pleased with the results given that I had no cookbook propped up anywhere or note from the net to help me. The end of the box of raspberries from the freezer, an apple and some shredded coconut were the main players. The muffins weren’t too sweet but full of chunky texture and fruity flavour.

When Penny arrived I was dressing Sylvia and so she went into the kitchen, turned on the kettle and sniffed at the muffins with pleasure. We had a cuppa, and a plate of muffins while we caught up and Sylvia played on the rug. You just have to look at my photo of the plate when she left to see that my muffins were appreciated. They were very small so we had to have a few!

Raspberry, Apple and Coconut Muffins
Makes 28 mini muffins

½ cup raspberries, frozen or fresh
1 apple, peeled and grated
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp raw sugar
¼ cup buttermilk
1 egg

½ cup white self raising flour
½ cup wholemeal self raising flour
½ cup shredded coconut
1 tsp cinnamon

Mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately and then mix together till just combined. (If you want the raspberries to stay whole then stir these in last - I didn't as I was hurrying and not thinking.) Spoon into prepared muffin pans and bake at 180 C for about 25 minutes til a skewer comes out cleanly. Cool on a wire rack.

On the Stereo:
(Mojo presents) Island Folk: Various Artists

GF Pumpkin choc chip muffins

I have been enjoying experimenting with gluten-free flours lately. I remember when I went vegetarian and reading about how many vegetables there were compared to meats in our diet. So when people asked what did I eat, I felt like I had more to enjoy rather than less. In a similar way, gluten-free cooking has opened up a whole new world of flours for cooking.

Recently I have had great success with different flours in brownies, an apricot and cranberry cake and banana and coconut cupcakes. I particularly like the soy and buckwheat combination in the cupcakes and wanted to try this with ground walnuts. The strong nutty flavours of buckwheat and walnuts seemed destined to be paired together. I had planned to try this in the banana and coconut cupcakes with walnuts instead of quinoa. But I am easily distracted.

I was tempted by a favourite vegetable, pumpkin, and couldn’t resist experimenting. I added some spice, chocolate chips and molasses. It ended up tasting a little like gingerbread. The pumpkin didn't add a lot of obvious flavour but it did contribute moisture and sweetness. If I was to make it again I think I might reduce the tablespoon of molasses, which gave quite a strong taste. But overall, the muffins were a success. In fact, E was asking where they were once they were all eaten.

I feel lucky to be able to eat wheat flour, but also lucky to be introduced to so many alternative flavours and textures thanks to gluten-free family and friends. The only problem is finding enough space in my pantry.

I am sending these muffins to Shirley of Gluten Free Easily who is hosting this month’s Go Ahead Honey It’s Gluten-Free, an event founded by Naomi of Straight into Bed Cakefree and Dried. This month the theme is Make Me a Happy Camper. I don't go camping but I do love a picnic and muffins are always great to take along so I am sure these will be welcome. Update: The round up is now posted and I encourage you to read one of the most entertaining and creative round ups I have seen.

Pumpkin Choc Chip Muffins
Makes about 30 mini muffins

I cup soy flour
½ cup buckwheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
¼ tsp allspice
½ cup dark choc chips
½ cup ground walnuts

1 cup mashed pumpkin (approx 300g raw)
1 egg
⅔ cup raw sugar
½ cup buttermilk
1-3 tsp of molasses, to taste
1 tsp vanilla essence

Mix dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Light whisk wet ingredients in a large jug. Pour the wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix to combine. Spoon into greased or lined mini muffin tins. Bake at 180 C for about 20-30 minutes or until a skewer comes out cleanly. Cool on a wire tray.

On the stereo:
The best of Rolf Harris

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

SHF Apricot sponge – by any other name

When I was little, my mum made apple sponge all the time. Less frequent was apricot sponge but when she made this for sweets I got very excited. I have written before of my love of apricots so I wont go into it again, suffice to say that apricot desserts delight me as much as chocolate desserts.

Recently I was talking to my mum about desserts. She said she had made a steamed pudding with jam recently. I said she must give me the recipe because I have fond memories of these. She wrote down a list of ingredients for me. I then asked if she could give me a recipe for apricot sponge while she was at it. She told me that I just had to use the same recipe for the cakey sponge and put some apricots in the bottom of the dish. (Actually it has quite similar ingredients to my Chocolate Pudding and Butterscotch Pudding but with fruit instead of sauce.)

I couldn’t wait to try it. A few more conversations with my mum followed. Such as, how long do you cook it? She said if I heated the apricots while I made the batter it would take 30 minutes and if not then it would take 45 minutes. It took me 75 minutes, which maybe because I have a doddery old oven and my mum has a new burn-baby-burn model.

I found that a tin of pie apricots is 100% apricots, unlike the tinned apricots in syrup I had to drain to use for my apricot crumble. I used two tins, which gave a lot of fruit, perhaps too much for E but I love it. Afterwards I checked about what apricots she used. She said pie apricots were fine but if they weren’t sweet enough then just add some sugar. Such common sense goes out the window sometimes when I am trying to follow a recipe. I hope to one day stew my own apricots for these desserts. Of course, this sponge recipe can be used with other stewed fruit such as apples.

I did enjoy the apricot sponge but it wasn’t quite the nirvana I had been expected. The extra cooking time was frustrating because I was worried Sylvia would wake up. I also think the apricots were a little tart. But I still really enjoyed that soft meeting point between the cake and fruit. The contrast between the fluffy sponge and refreshing juicy apricots is also something I love. I served it with honey and cinnamon yoghurt but when I was little I ate it with no accompaniments.

I have called the below recipe, Apricot Sponge Pudding, but in our house it was always just Apricot Sponge. Just as ‘A Sponge’ was a sponge cake. But when I met E, it all got very confusing. In the UK his sponge is more like a butter cake or pound cake whereas my mum’s sponge is light and fluffy with lots of eggs, no butter and so little flour that she leaves it out to make it gluten free for my niece these days.

We called dessert, ‘sweets’ but, to E, sweets were what we call lollies and Americans call candies. Lollies to E were what we called icy poles and Americans call popsicles (so I don’t know what he made of our ‘boiled lollies’, which are those hard sweets you can suck all day like gobstoppers). And if I said I had a bag of chips he thought I meant hot chips rather than what he called crisps.

I was thinking of this gap in translation when I was recently reading Susan’s post on the differences between crumbles, crisps and cobblers and I realised that my sponge pudding is probably what Americans call a cobbler. Their idea of a pudding seems to be cold and creamy whereas my pudding is a warm cake (although we also have chilled ‘summer pudding’ so I don’t know where that fits). But the Brits use pudding to refer to all desserts, which we call sweets, which, as I mentioned above, E calls lollies. It is all so confusing but all tastes so good.

I am sending this apricot sponge to Sweet Tooth who is hosting Sugar High Friday, the event founded by Jennifer of Domestic Goddess. Sweet Tooth has asked for our favourite dessert. I confess I don’t have just one favourite. But I thought she would like one of the many wonderful desserts that I love .

Apricot Sponge Pudding
From my mum
Serves 4

65g softened butter
½ cup sugar
1 egg
¾ cup self-raising flour
¼ cup milk
2 x 400g tins of pie apricots (or 1 will be enough)
Extra sugar, if required

Mix the butter, sugar, egg, flour and milk to make a thick batter. Check apricots for sweetness – if they are not sweet enough, stir in some sugar to taste. Spread apricots at the bottom of a greased medium sized baking dish. Spoon the batter over the apricots and smooth. Bake for 45-75 minutes at 180 C till the batter is cooked (I checked with a skewer but the ultimate test was digging the serving spoon in and finding it was uncooked).

On the Stereo:
The Velvet Underground and Nico

Sunday, 19 July 2009

PPN Winter Ravioli Salad

E has been watching far too much MasterChef and his conversations about food all seem to begin ‘Tell me a story about this…” (insert cheese, bread, potatoes, apples or whatever food you have in front of you). Of course that is what my blog is about and today I will tell you the story about the finest salad I have had all winter.

It started last week when I was shopping at Queens Parade in Clifton Hill and happened upon some Yarra Valley Caramelised Onion, Goats Cheese, and Almond Ravioli. I get fed up with the same old ravioli fillings. It is usually either spinach and ricotta or roasted vegetables. So this filling seemed new and fancy. It was ridiculously expensive, but that was why I passed up cute but pricey babies wear for Sylvia. Far better to spend it on food! Beside, the Yarra Valley was affected by the bushfires in February so it seemed a good way to support the survivors.

I took the ravioli home, put it in the freezer and sought some inspiration for how to use it. Often I serve ravioli with a plain tomato sauce but I wanted to showcase this one. I had seen an inspiring ravioli salad but couldn’t remember where. A search of the internet threw up Heidi’s Hazelnut, Chard and Ravioli Salad. I think this was the one. The photo was certainly enticing enough.

But I had some other ideas for a salad. I had found a bunch of Tuscan kale (cavolo nero) in one of the fruit and veg shops in Clifton Hill on that same expedition. I had also found a good feta at O’Hea Street Bakery and Victorian walnuts in their shells in a local shop. Most walnuts I find are American so it was exciting to find some local ones even if they needed shelling. Finally I had some pumpkin and beetroot from the supermarket. I also had some walnut oil at home that was in need of a salad to dress. The pieces of the jigsaw puzzle were falling into place.

Heidi’s salad proved to be a helpful springboard to propel me into many flights of fancy about the salad I might make. While I too had ravioli, roasted pumpkin, nuts, cheese and citrus, the similarities ended there. Most useful was the way her recipe helped me think about salad.

I get a little concerned that we are overusing the word ‘salad’. I questioned what makes a dish a salad instead of just pasta. I never intended this to be cold or room temperature. It isn’t summer. And there is not a tomato nor lettuce leaf in sight. What I decided made it a salad was that the main ingredients were separate components that were brought together to be tossed in a dressing and gently warmed. If I had cooked them all together I am not sure they would have been a salad. I liked the idea of the kale taking the place of the bed of lettuce leaves that is often seen in salads. The oil, vinegar and citrus juice combination is characteristic of vinaigrettes. After some thought, I felt I could claim it to be a salad.

I made my salad last night. Of course there was drama. Having a small baby around always helps. When I had bought the walnuts in their shells I had been concerned that I didn’t have a nutcracker. But I have fond memories of cracking fresh walnuts with the heel of our shoes when we were little. I asked the guys behind the counter and they told me I could crack them with my bare hands. I am not so hardy (or skilled). Instead I used the end of my large chef’s knife to bang them till they cracked. Poor Sylvia was having her bath nearby and jumping at the sound. I also had to send E over to the oven to stir the kale (Is it reducing? I asked and got a confused answer) and check the roasting vegetables (and being brought the roasting tray to inspect) while I fed Sylvia.

It was lovely to finally sit down to eat. The salad was heavenly. Far more robust than your typical salad, it was full of sturdy flavours and textures that reflected our wintery weather. The ravioli was unlike any other I have tasted. Never before have I had such a soft fluffy melting filling. I was pleased that the accompanying salad gave it such body and boldness. Sweet, tart, salty, nutty, oily, spicy and full of the soft yielding roasted vegetables. We both had to have second helpings. Me, because it was so good. E, because he didn’t get enough ravioli in his first helping. But he was impressed with it.

Before making the salad I had made a big batch of Vegetarian Sausage Rolls to take to my parents’ place for my brother Andy’s birthday. Mum was making a roast dinner and I had a yen to make these after seeing the picture of Shauna’s on The Amazing Adventures of DietGirl. While sausage rolls are not a traditional part of a roast dinner, I thought of them as nutroast en croute. Everyone loved them. My brother, Dave, who loves his meat, said he wouldn’t have known they were vegetarian except that I made them. High praise indeed! The roast dinner was great, followed by Erica’s gluten free chocolate cake.

We got home just in time for the MasterChef final but I was prepared not to do any cooking for dinner. We had some sausage rolls with leftover salad. It was an excellent end to the day.

I am sending this pasta dish to Pam of Sidewalk Shoes who is hosting this week's Presto Pasta Night (#123), an event founded by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast.

Winter Ravioli Salad
(Inspired by 101 Cookbooks)
Serves 2-4

3 medium beetroot, peeled and diced
600g pumpkin, peeled and diced
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 bulb of garlic
½ tsp salt
4 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely sliced
300g kale (about ⅔ bunch), chopped
400g ravioli (and extra salt and oil to cook)
100g feta cheese, crumbled
⅔ cup walnuts

Dressing:
Juice of 1 orange
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp walnut oil
¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Heat oven to 220 C. Place beetroot, ¼ tsp, salt, 1 rosemary sprig, 1½ tbsp olive oil and bay leaf in a roasting dish. Roast for 1 hour and 20 minutes til soft inside and crispy outside. Place pumpkin, ¼ tsp salt, 1 rosemary sprig, and 1 tbsp olive oil in another roasting dish and roast for 40-50 minutes until soft inside and crisp outside.

Meanwhile lop the pointy top of the garlic clove. Make a little bag out of foil, place garlic in it and drizzle with about ½ tbsp of olive oil. Place in on one of the roasting trays and roast for 30 minutes. Cool a little and squeeze the soft garlic bulbs out of the skin. Set aside.

While the vegetables are roasting, heat 2 tbsp olive oil in your largest frypan over low heat. Toss the onion slices in and fry for about 30-40 minutes. When they are ready, set aside in a bowl and add the kale to the same frypan. Fry for about 20 minutes.

Cook the ravioli in salted water with a slurp of oil, according to the instructions (mine were simmered 5 minutes from frozen).

Mix all the dressing ingredients together.

To assemble, arrange kale, onions, pumpkin, beetroot, garlic, most of the walnuts (set some aside to scatter) and ravioli in the large frypan. Drizzle with dressing and toss to coat. Warm gently over low heat (about 2-5 minutes). Scatter with feta and remaining walnuts. Serve warm.

On the stereo:
Seasons in the Sun: Spell