Saturday 31 May 2008

Pumpkin Cornmeal Quiche

Making proper pastry makes me wonder why go through all the bother of waiting about for pastry to chill, rolling it out and baking blind. I grumble and groan until I taste it and remember exactly why it is worth the effort.

But what do I call the egg, milk and vegetable filling in a pastry crust. I grew up calling them quiches so I had a look at the internet to check. Food Reference tells me that the French word ‘quiche’ comes from the German word ‘kuchen’ which translates as ‘cake’ in English. Apparently quiches come from the medieval kingdom of Lothringen in Germany. Which sounds terribly romantic. Less romantic is the 'flan' which according to Wikipedia was used in Britain instead of quiche until the 1980s but now is ‘almost completely obsolete’. And the Food Timeline says quiches evolved from Ancient Roman patinea (cheesecake) and Mediterranean European tarts.

The names are confusing. And the taste can be too rich and eggy for my liking or good health. I am not against traditional pastry quiches altogether but sometimes I need some gentle persuasion. The prod I needed came from Judith at Shortcut to Mushrooms who is holding an event called a Vegetarian Feast in a Quiche. She has asked us to make something flat and savoury with a crust. There are many crusts which allow me to avoid the pain of pastry – the rubbing, rolling and blind-baking. But I had a yen to make the real thing.

I have a recipe for a quiche with a cheesy cornmeal crust that I have made a few times and remember fondly. The cornmeal gives it a pleasing grittiness and the parmesan adds heaps of flavour. I decided to use what was in my kitchen rather than buy exactly the right ingredients. So I ended up substituting cream, lemon juice and wine for sour cream. Instead of fried pepper, mushrooms and pinenuts, I used roasted pumpkin and zucchini. I even used some excellent gruyere cheese for extra flavour. Giving it my personal stamp made me feel a bit better about not remembering where I found the recipe many years ago.

It worked a treat. I did find that my large rolling pin was missing, my ‘pastry board’ is smaller than it should be and my flan dish is larger than it should be. So my pastry was an odd shape and didn’t fit so well. Although less uniform around the edges, I prefer a very thin layer of quiche rather than a big eggy wedge. Still not health food. But tastes excellent whatever you want to call it.

Pumpkin Cornmeal Quiche
Serves 4

¾ cup plain flour
½ cup cornmeal (or polenta)
¼ cup parmesan cheese
60g butter, chilled and chopped
1 egg yolk
Approximately ¼ cup chilled water

500g pumpkin, trimmed and diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 tbsp oil or butter
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup thickened cream
¼ cup white wine
½ tsp lemon juice
1 cup grated cheese (I used gruyere)
2 tbsp pinenuts (I didn’t use)
¼ tsp paprika (I used smoked)

First prepare the vegetables by roasting pumpkin and zucchini (with a spray of olive oil) in 220 C oven for about 40 minutes or until soft when you poke a fork through a piece.

While vegetables are roasting, make the pastry. Place flour, cornmeal and parmesan into a large bowl and rub the butter through until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add egg yolk and enough water for the dough to cling together (I used about one eighth of a cup). Knead gently to make a smooth ball and wrap in plastic clingwrap. Refridgerate for 30 minutes.

Once pastry has chilled, roll out on a floured board. Place in a greased flan dish. The recipe says 23cm diameter but I used my 27 cm flan dish. Place a piece of baking paper over the pastry and fill with rice or beans (bake blind). Bake in oven for 15 minutes at 190 C. Remove beans or rice, using the paper to take them out. Return pastry to the oven for 8 minutes at 180 C.

While pastry is baking, prepare the filling. Fry onions and garlic in butter or oil for 10-15 minutes over low heat or until soft and starting to caramelise. Use a fork to whisk together the eggs, cream, wine, lemon juice and mustard in a small bowl.

When pastry case is ready, scatter with pumpkin and zucchini, fried onions, and grated cheese. The pour the egg mixture over the vegetables and cheese. Dust with paprika. Bake at 180 C for about 30 minutes.

On the stereo:
Train Leaves at Eight: The Walkabouts

Thursday 29 May 2008

Mughlai Biryani and Cauliflower Curry

Many times I have been at an Indian restaurant with E. He decides to have the chicken curry so I know there will be no sharing. I search for a curry that is going to give me a satisfying mixture of vegetables. So many curries have only a couple of vegetables and I want more. So sometimes, reluctantly, I turn to the biryani – a rice and vegetable dish. Occasionally there are biryanis I have repeatedly returned for – I was particularly fond of the one at Café Baloo in Russell Street before it closed its doors for good. But many are disappointingly dull.

Then this weekend I happened upon a gorgeous photo of a biryani at Backyard Pizzeria (thanks to a nice comment from Pam on my blog). Pam had got the recipe from Simran at Bombay Foodie. Simran in Bombay describes her usual curries as ‘homely girls-next-door’, the type who offer comfort rather than glamour. I know the ones. But she had been challenged by Meeta’s recent Bollywood Mingle to make this stunning biryani. You might be forgiven for calling it the Taj Mahal of biryanis.

I always thought biryani was just a matter of mixing together rice and vegetables. But this is a Mughlai Biryani which is a king’s feast comprised of layers of rice and vegetables. Both Pam and Simran baked their layers in a mould and turned it out onto a plate. However, many of the other recipes (some with meat) I have found for Mughlai (or Moghlai) Biryani have suggested you dig through the layers with a large spoon. As I had initially been attracted to the spectacular presentation, I decided I would have a go at the mould but it was just for the two of us. So I decided to make small ones in ramekin dishes – a large platter seemed bound to just fall to bits as soon as a knife looked its way and then my leftovers would merely be the rubble of a ruined masterpiece.

I was interested in Mughlai or Moghlai cuisine but couldn’t find much on the web about it. One site said it came from the kitchens of the ancient Indian aristocracy, came predominantly from the North of India and had a strong Muslim influence. Wikipedia told me that the cuisine comes from the Mughal Empire. As someone with very little knowledge about Indian history, I was quite fascinated by the stories.

The Mughul empire was established in the early 1500s by prince Babur, a descendant of Ghenghis Khan. In the 1600s, the Mughul ruler, Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal as a tomb for his wife Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to her 14th child. In the 1700s the empire covered most of India and parts of present-day Afghanistan but by 1725 it fell into rapid decline. The state religion had been Islam but it was a rule of religious tolerance. The alternative spelling is Mogul which has come into common English usage to describe a powerful business magnate.

Of course it comes as no surprise to find that one of the most attractive Indian dishes I have ever seen comes from a time of majestic architectural achievements. Unfortunately, presentation is not one of my strengths and mine looked more like just-got-out-of-bed-hair than Pam’s sleekly glamourous platter. But it still gave me great delight to have fun with layers and colours and textures.

I served it with a cauliflower in spicy peanut gravy that I made a few days previously. It is a curry I found on Nandita’s Saffron Trail. I was pleased to have all the spices, although I substituted spinach for fenugreek leaves (never having laid eyes on such exotic leaves). The spinach made such little impact that next time I might be tempted to use peas or beans instead.

Unlike the biryani, I found this curry quite visually unappealing but it was actually the more tasty of the two. Quite unlike the curries I usually make, it was sharp and spicy like mustard, which may have been the influence of the curry leaves. I don’t usually cook with them but have had them in my freezer for some time now and still have a few more sprigs left for more challenges.

I have reproduced the recipes below as I made them but I would encourage you to visit the sites they come from for the real thing. My methods are different to Simran and Nandita and my chilli intake is drastically reduced. I didn’t make a proper masala paste for the biryani as I didn’t have the time, nor did I soak black chanae (small brown chickpeas) overnight and cook the next day. But I did make an effort to roast the spices for the curry and grind them in a pestle and mortar which may have been why it had more flavour.

I really want to try more Indian dishes but I find I have to adapt them to feel comfortable with them because I just have such a different range of ingredients and equipment to many of the Indian bloggers. However, it is very satisfying to be finding different spice combinations and ideas, and I look forward to further experimentation, and maybe finding out a little more about Indian culture along the way.

Mughlai Biryani
(adapted from Bombay Foodie)
Serves 3

1 potato, diced
⅔ cup basmati rice, divided
¼ tsp turmeric
1 small onion
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sesame seeds
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
2 ground cloves
2 tsp oil
1 tomato
⅓ cup water
⅓ cup cooked chickpeas

First put potato in a small saucepan on to cook for about 10-15 minutes or until soft. Then divide rice between two saucepans of salted water. Put turmeric into one of the saucepans. Cook til soft. When potatoes and rice are ready, drain and put aside, keeping in separate bowls.

While they cook, prepare remaining ingredients. Finely chop the onion and place all spices and seeds in a small bowl (Alternatively roast spice seeds and grind then blend all spices and onions in blender to make masala paste as Simran does.)

Heat oil in a frypan and fry onions for a few minutes til starting to soften. Add spices and fry another 1-2 minutes. Add tomato, salt to taste and water. Cook for 3-5 minutes and then add potatoes and chickpeas. Continue to cook for about 5 minutes or until the mixture forms a thick paste. Check seasoning and add salt if necessary

Grease three ramekins. Place a layer of yellow rice, a layer of the potato mixture and a layer of the white rice. Press down firmly. Place in 180 C oven for about 10 minutes.

When hot, turn out onto a dinner place. I found this quite difficult to do – it seemed that running a knife around the edges didn’t help it keep its shape but using a knife to stop the top layer of rice sticking was helpful. Alternatively, you could just spoon out the biryani or serve it in the ramekin. Simran suggested a garnish of fried onions and serving it with some yoghurt. I served mine with the below cauliflower curry, and a salad of watercress, baby spinach, cherry tomatoes and lime juice.

Cauliflower in spicy peanut gravy
(adapted from Saffron Trail)
Serves 4

1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp sesame seeds
1 small (1 inch) stick of cinnamon
4 cloves
4 cardamom pods
12 black peppercorns
2 sprigs of curry leaves
1 onion, peeled and chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
¼ cup roasted peanuts
1 tsp salt
½ tsp chilli powder (optional, I think I forgot this)
1 tbsp oil
¼ tsp cumin seeds
1 head of cauliflower, broken up into florets
Few handfuls of baby spinach, roughly choppe

Dry roast the spices and curry leaves in a small frypan over low heat until fragrant – this only took me a few minutes. Grind spices til fine (I did this with a pestle and mortar as I don’t have a spice grinder.) Place in food processor with onion, garlic, peanuts, salt, and chilli powder. Add about ½ cup of water to make a masala paste. (NB just noticed that Nandita fried her onions and garlic with salt before blending.)

In a medium-large saucepan, heat the oil and add cumin seeds til they begin to splutter. Then add the masala paste and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the cauliflower and about 1 (or 2) cups of water. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for about 5-10 minutes until the cauliflower just tender. (Nandita suggested simmering 3-5 minutes, boiling until the first whistle, turning off the heat and leaving for 10-15 minutes with the lid on but these instructions confused me a little as I don’t have whistling saucepans so I just simmered the cauliflower til soft.) Check seasoning and add salt if desired.

I served it the first night with rice, baby spinach, cherry tomatoes, and corn on the cob. The second night we had it with the biryani as above.

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

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Rethinking Bread and Butter Pudding

Bread and butter pudding is a dessert my mum used to make for us regularly when I was a kid. She layered bread that was spread with butter and jam into a casserole dish, scattered through with sultanas, poured a milky eggy mixture over it all, sprinkled it with coconut and baked it until the top layer of bread was crispy. It seemed quite effortless. She would then serve it with cold milk and a sprinkle of sugar. I loved the contrast of crunchy and soft, hot and cold.

I have fond memories but so many recipes I see have lots of eggs in them which isn’t my sort of thing. However the past year or so of blogging has given me hope. I have come across many versions of this dessert that have piqued my interest. I have been particularly attracted to ones filled with fruit and chocolate. I like the use of different sorts of breads. And they have very little, if any, eggs. Here is a list of some of the puddings have inspired me to rethink bread and butter pudding.

- Sweet bread puddings with condensed milk, peanut butter and plums by Evelin at Bounteous Bites
- Mixed Berry and White Chocolate Bread Pudding by Mansi at Food and Fun
-Banana Choc Bread Pudding from Isa and Terry in Veganomicon (sourced at
- Panettone Bread Pudding by Dhivya at Culinary Bazaar
- Raisin Bread Pudding by Gigi from Gigi Cakes
- French Toast Souffle with Summer Berries by Ricki at Dessert, Diet and Dogs

There is quite a variety here. From Gigi’s fairly traditional version to Ricki’s vegan breakfast offering that was not even intended as a pudding. But what they all have in common is baked soggy bread. Doesn’t sound very appetizing when you put it like that, does it?

In fact, thinking about bread and butter pudding, I got to thinking about soggy bread and wondering why people started eating it in the first place. Was the bread so dry our ancestors almost broke their teeth? Did they overcook it (too much wood on the fire) or had it just been sitting around for weeks? I can only think they must have been desperate.

I don’t like soggy bread, myself. My mother loves making summer pudding these days – not something she ever made when I was a child. It is a cold pudding of bread and berries packed into a pudding basin to make one berry soggy mess. Ugh! But this Christmas I finally found a summer pudding I liked. It was made with panettone. You know the Italian bread that is light and fluffy with citrus peel through it? My mother always had at least one around the house during Christmas. Well, I have discovered that it tastes so good, it even is quite palatable when soggy.

This year in April mum gave me some of the remnants of a panettone still leftover from Christmas. I decided I would try a bread and butter pudding. I looked over all these wonderful recipes I had collected. Like a magpie, I collected the bits that interested me. I envisaged my panettone being drowned in a warm gooey berry and chocolate sauce rather than a custard. In what I assume is part of the pudding's traditions, I used up berries from the freezer, egg yolks from the fridge and surplus condensed milk.

The pudding was good but didn’t quite match the image in my mind. It was drowned but not quite as gooey as I had hoped. I had mixed feelings about it. It was just a little soggy for my liking when I served it the first night. The second night it was firmer and most delicious. Then it sagged a little again on the third night. Some mouthfuls felt like I was eating hot soggy summer pudding but others were a heavenly combination of tart berries, citrus-infused bread and a touch of white chocolate.

E loved it so I am sure I will try it again. But I am not big on desserts so it might be a while. Maybe next Christmas when panettone is begging to be used once more. Or I might get the recipe from my mum some time. Meanwhile, here is my version. Not the definitive bread and butter pudding but a worthy addition to my jumble of ideas.

Choc-Berry Bread Pudding
Serves 6-8

300g panettone, sliced thickly
250g mixed berries (fresh or frozen)
¼ cup choc chips (I used white)
1-2 cups milk
½ cup condensed milk
2 eggs yolks
½ tsp cinnamon

Grease a 23cm square casserole dish. Place one third the slices of panettone along the bottom. Scatter with half the berries and choc chips. Repeat and top with remaining third of panettone. Mix one cup of milk, the condensed milk, the egg yolks and cinnamon. Pour over the panettone layers and press down to ensure all are soaked in. Add a little more milk if necessary (up to one cup). Baked in 180 C oven for 45-60 minutes. Serve hot with cream.

On the stereo:
Scorpion Wind: Death in June and Boyd Rice

Monday 26 May 2008

GO café – art student chic

Saturday was a busy day spent visiting family in Geelong (an hour’s drive from Melbourne). We managed to visit Andy (where we had great pancakes), Paul (to watch the new kitten play up in the tree), Susie (where we had sticky bun and a play with her girls) and my mum (who is recovering after illness).

We decided to take time out and have lunch at the quirky GO café. Beforehand we sat with Susie and my dad puzzling over the slim information on the internet about where it was. But with a little bit of advice from dad we managed to find it.

I have only been there once before with Paul and my niece Quin. We had a lovely time in the courtyard with a friendly cat and a stuffed toy which was used to identify our table to staff rather than a table number. This time there was neither cat nor stuffed toy. We arrived half an hour before they shut but the staff were most helpful. Although we were told the kitchen had closed, we were offered a range of focaccia and when I asked if there was any soup, they were only too happy to oblige.

Inside, the cafe is full of character with walls cluttered with artwork, a blue fireplace, an organ, and huge candlesticks on a large communal table. But we sat outside in regal pink chairs in the courtyard. It is covered-in with skylights and feels light and airy with plants and lights of all sorts: candelabra, fairy lights and paper lanterns. An odd assortment of chairs are gathered around wooden and laminex tables. It seems as though someone has a talent for spotting lonely junk and giving it new life in this funky café. E and I surmised that this is the place where the university students of Geelong hang out. The sort who have just discovered Kate Bush's music because they were too young to appreciate it the first time around.

I ordered a minestrone soup and E ordered an egg, bacon and cheese focaccia. Both were very good. My minestrone was a lovely tomato slush filled with orzo pasta, pumpkin, celery, potato, spinach, zucchini and capsicum. The fresh and tasty soup filled me up. My only complaint would be that I would prefer a good dense slice of bread rather than fluffy white bread but I know that is a personal preference. I also liked the old silver soup spoon that I was given to eat it with.

After racing around all morning, it was lovely to relax with some good food and the newspaper. Although the place had a feel of art school chic, it was welcoming rather than intimidating. The staff were friendly and relaxed – maybe just pleased it was almost time to close for the day. When we left one of them was singing and dancing as he cleaned. We walked out the door with a smile on our faces.

GO café
37 Bellerine Street
Cnr Little Malop Street
Geelong VIC 3220

Tel: 03 52294752
Fax: 03 5229 0169

Open: Mon-Fri 0700-1600, Sat 0830-1500

Sunday 25 May 2008

Baked Bean Soup

From a young age, I have loved baked beans out of a tin. They are great with toast for breakfast lunch and dinner. Recently, many cafes have started doing their own ‘homemade’ baked beans which has presented all sort of interesting variations.

But some of the most amusing deviations from tradition that I have come across were in the UK where they certainly love their beans and their prepackaged food. When I lived there, E and I were often tempted by some strange food offering in the supermarkets. Baked bean pizza was one. But even more bizarre was chocolate baked beans (I kept the label because I was so amused by it). It was good for a gimmick but was one of the weirdest taste sensations and one tin was more than enough.

However, a few weeks back Ashley at Eat Me Delicious shared a new take on baked beans – baked bean soup! I made it last week for a quick weeknight meal and it was brilliant. Comparing it with a baked bean recipe that I am fond of, it seemed it had the typical flavours of baked beans – mustard, molasses, tomato, vinegar – but it was a lot quicker because it didn’t have to develop a rich thick sauce. Everything is just cooked through. While it is nice to let flavours stew and deepen, it is helpful to have an alternative for dinner in a hurry.

Ashley suggests adjusting the ingredients to taste. I increased the molasses, mustard and garlic, but downplayed the chilli, which is all reflected in my adaption of the recipe below. This intensely flavoured soup is great with homemade bread and is excellent for lunch the next day.

Baked Bean Soup
(Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special via Eat Me Delicious)
Serves 4 to 6

1 tsp olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 stalk of celery diced
2 large carrots, diced
½ tsp chili paste
2 cups water
1 x 400g tin (14oz) diced tomatoes
1 x 425g tin (15oz) white beans
2 tbsp molasses
4 tsp seeded french mustard
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp cider vinegar
salt & pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, saute the onions in oil for about 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic, celery, carrots, and chili paste. Continue to cook for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the water, tomatoes, beans, mustard, tomato paste, vinegar, molasses, and soy sauce. Cover and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and gently simmer for about 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

On the stereo:
Colin Meloy sings live: Colin Meloy

Friday 23 May 2008

Promoting Promite

Recently I wrote that vegemite was one of the spreads of choice for toast for breakfasts in my youth. Bizarrely, even though I ate a lot of vegemite as a child, my clearest memory of it doesn’t involve any real vegemite. But I thought I would share it anyway. When I was young, we had a season ticket to the local swimming pool in summer and there was a well trodden path between our house and the pool around the corner. On the road en route was a smooth patch of tar that melted on very hot days. I was fascinated by it because it reminded me of vegemite.

Like the tar, vegemite begs for you to dip a finger in its soft black depths. Or maybe it is just me! I grew up on vegemite but as an adult, I discovered promite which is similar. I have always understood that vegemite is yeast extract whereas promite is yeast and vegetable extract. Hence the extra flavour and sweetness in promite. But I was quite surprised recently when Kathryn wrote about the health benefits (or lack of) of vegemite and, comparing notes, I found that promite had more salt. But, as Kathryn said, it is eaten in such small quantities that it is not a big issue.

Vegemite became well-known overseas when Men at Work had the 1982 hit song, ‘Down Under’ with the memorable line ‘I said, do you speaka my language / he just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich.’ Australians who know and love vegemite laugh at foreigners who spread their toast thickly with vegemite and splutter at the saltiness. Because we know that it must be used sparingly. A thin scrape will suffice on a piece of toast.

When I was growing up my mum often made us vegemite and cheese sandwiches to take to school wrapped in waxed paper in my lunchbox. How I envied those with sandwiches in gladwrap (plastic clingwrap). A bit more of a treat was vegemite and walnut sandwiches. These days, Bakers Delight – a local franchised bakery – sells a popular cheeseymite scroll which brings back the memories. Vegemite also used to come in jars that when finished and cleaned made lovely little drinking glasses and were just the right size for cutting out scones. We always had quite a few vegemite glasses in my mum's kitchen.

When I searched for promite I found there were only about 20 entries and over half were from me. What does that tell you about it? But I was pleased to see it has a Wikipedia entry, and perplexed that someone was selling a jar of it on eBay. I even found a discussion thread discussing if promite has meat products in it which includes a letter from the manufacturer claiming that it doesn’t. Phew! For a moment I feared I was going to have to face a horrible ethical choice!

I love promite on fresh bread or toast with tomato slices, cheese, mashed potato or leftover dahl. I also regularly use it in cooking in the same way you might use any vegetable extract such as vecon (and mixed with hot water it does a similar job to vegetable stock or soy sauce). It is always in my kitchen so it is a convenient seasoning. And delicious. I love it so much I will lick the remainder off the spoon.

But I know that it is not so popular as vegemite, so when looking for history and recipes, I have also searched for vegemite, which I will eat if there is no promite on offer. I know there are strong opinions about yeast extract spreads. When Pixie recently posted about marmite, the responses were a mix of love, distaste and bemusement.

Vegemite was launched in 1923 by chemist C P Callister for the Fred Walker Company to use the leftover brewers yeast from Carlton and United Breweries (CUB) in Melbourne. From 1928 - 1935 it was known as Parwill in response to the British equivalent of Marmite (if Ma might then Pa will). During World War II it was part of the Aussie soldier's ration kit. There were popular advertisements with the jingle about ‘happy little vegemites as bright as bright can be (we all enjoy our vegemite for breakfast, lunch and tea).’ But despite many claims of B vitamins, added intelligence and 'a rose in every cheek', there doesn't seem to be a lot of health benefits in the stuff. However, finding out that Promite wasn't invented until the 1950s, suggests that it is not a fair competition because vegemite had a headstart on capturing the hearts of Australians. Neither of these national spreads are owned by Australian businesses any more. (See the Old Foodie for more information about vegemite.)

A search for recipes featuring vegemite brings up some interesting ideas (be very afraid):
- Scrambled eggs with vegemite by Grab Your Fork
- Mini meat pies by Cakelaw
- Hotch potch beef stew by Cakelaw
- Lentil and marmite roast by old aussie recipes
- Vegemite risotto by Esurientes
- Vegemite gelato reported in the Sydney Morning Herald
- and I love using promite in nut roasts, dahl, gravy and stews.

But today I thought I would share one of my favourite childhood side dishes featuring vegemite. My mum used to mix mashed potato, mashed pumpkin and peas with some vegemite. I have to mix it with promite these days as it is all I have on hand but it brings back memories of meat and three veg. Mum usually served it with chops or sausages. These were the vegetables that we had regularly with many meals but they alway seemed better when mashed up together and looking slightly darker with the vegemite. The creaminess of the mashed potato blended well with the wateriness of the pumpkin. As an adult, I now understand that it also added flavour.

I made this mash tonight and served it with vegie sausages with plenty of tomato sauce. It was almost like when I was a child. This meal was loved as much by E as by me so it may become a regular easy meal in our house. I have written it out as a recipe but quantities can be easily altered to suit tastes.

I am sending it to Sarah of Homemade: experiences in the kitchen who is hosting Tastes to Remember which asks us to make dishes that remind us of childhood.

Mashed Vegetables with Promite
Serves 2

2-3 fist sized potatoes, peeled
200g pumpkin, trimmed and peeled
1 cup frozen peas
1 knob of butter
1 generous splash of milk
2 tsp promite (or vegemite), or more to taste

- Cut potato into chunks and cook for about 15-20 minutes or until soft and falling apart when prodded with a fork or knife.
- While potato cooks, cut pumpkin into chunks and microwave for about 3 minutes on high in a plastic bag or in a plastic container with the lid not quite on. NB Pumpkin is quite watery so you may need to drain some water off once it is cooked. I cooked it separately because it cooks quicker than potatoes and I wanted the mash to have a little variation in colour.
- Microwave the peas for 2-3 minutes in a plastic container or plastic bag. You may have to drain some water off the cooked peas.
- When potato is cooked mash it with butter and milk. Stir with a spoon to get some air into it.
- Mash pumpkin and stir with a spoon.
- Mix potato, pumpkin, peas and promite with a spoon til just combined. Serve hot.

On the Stereo:
y’all get scared now ya hear: The Reindeer Selection

Thursday 22 May 2008

Condensed Milk: Heirloom Comfort Food

Condensed milk is such a comfort food in my family that I was curious recently when I came across a mention of it in my current reading matter (One Continuous Picnic by Michael Symons). He writes about the railways’ impact on the Australian diet in the 19th Century by keeping the population dependent upon the factory and alienated from fresh farm produce. Transport “provided the raw materials for utterly typical ‘Aussie’ white bread, camp pie, condensed milk, tinned apricots, tomato sauce and lollies.”

I grew up loving sweet and gooey condensed milk. Sometimes we were allowed to lick the spoon but we never went as far as a friend once claimed. She said her mother lined up the kids and squirted condensed milk in their mouths from a tube. Sounds good to me. I still take delight in how the sticky cream oozes out of the tin once you make the first cut with the can opener. Many of my treasured childhood recipes have condensed milk in them: grubs, caramel slice, coconut ice, caramel tart, cheesecake. In adulthood I have discovered many new favourite recipes: walnut fudge cake, fudge sauce and mock turtle slice are but a few.

But I have often wondered why it was named ‘condensed milk’. Now I have found that when sweetened it was called condensed milk and when unsweetened it was called evaporated milk. The history of the stuff is fascinating because it reflects on how hard it was to find fresh food in the 19th Century. Where modern children might think milk comes from a carton in the refrigerator, our ancestors might well have thought milk came from a can in the pantry. It also explains why our foremothers have given us many ‘heirloom comfort recipes’ sticky with condensed milk.

Condensed milk was invented by Mr Gail Borden in the USA in the mid-19th Century to preserve surplus milk. Milk condensers were first installed in Melbourne in 1882. In 1914 Nestle promoted it as ‘the best substitute for the mother’s milk’. How times have changed! Although I did notice the claim on my modern Nestle tin that it is made from ‘fresh milk’ which made me laugh because, by the time you get it out of the tin, it is most definitely not fresh. says that condensed milk was used more than fresh milk at the turn of last century because it was long lasting and posed less of a health risk in the days before refridgeration. The idea came to Mr Borden during a transatlantic crossing where the cows became too seasick to be milked. He was either concerned about calves or babies lacking their milk supply depending on if you read or The Old Foodie. He received a patent for it in 1852 and added sugar to inhibit the growth of bacteria. Unsweetened canned milk (known as ‘evaporated’) was not patented until 1885.

Mr Borden’s company became Eagle Brand. The Eagle Brand website credits condensed milk with feeding the army and lowering the child mortality rate in America. Winning wars and saving babies sounds like marketing hype but may have a grain of truth. More credible is the notes on a competition for condensed milk recipes in 1931 that produced over 80,000 recipes. If you go to Lidian’s Kitchen Retro you will find a post on a 1952 Eagle Brand book of 70 magic recipes with a recipe reproduced for ‘cookies that almost make themselves’.

The Old Foodie has a few old condensed milk recipes – a 1896 recipe from the Manual for Army Cooks has a Christmas Pudding made with milk or condensed milk, a recipe for ice- cream from 1942, and a recipe called All That from 1970s which sounds a bit like a baked versions of my grubs. Most fascinating were a couple of recipes from Alice Bradley’s For Luncheon and Supper Guests from 1923. One recipe was for salad dressing and the other for Cocoanut Cakes. The two recipes used a tin of condensed milk between them to avoid the cook taking furtive spoonfuls of the leftovers.

I don’t fancy condensed milk in salad dressing but I was fascinated by the ‘cocoanut cakes’. Mainly consisting of coconut, condensed milk and egg whites, they were similar to condensed milk macaroons that I made on the weekend. Like Alice Bradley, I was using up leftover condensed milk. I had made a favourite Mock Turtle slice. One of my former housemates, Yarrow used to make it because his mum had made it for him when he was young. The name always sounded very Lewis Carroll but I have since discovered that there is such a thing as a turtle bars but I am still not exactly sure what they are.

Nevertheless, Mock Turtle is most excellent. It has a chewy buttery oaty base that reminds me of Anzac Biscuits. The topping is a gooey concoction of condensed milk, cocoa and coconut. Not the healthiest of treats but guaranteed to delight small children and big children alike. I took them into work for morning tea this week and was berated by E when he discovered I had only left a few at home.

With the leftover condensed milk I made macaroons which were both gluten free and egg free. We have a few gluten free people at work and I thought they might appreciate some condensed milk treats, given that mock turtle is out of bounds. (I tried some apricot balls which were not a success but you can also see them pictured above.) I was pleased to substitute condensed milk for eggs – a fine exchange in my books! These macaroons were warm and soft when straight out of the oven. When they cooled, I initially worried they were too hard. The next day they were delightfully chewy, but not popular with E.

Both macaroons and mock turtle disappeared quickly at work. I can’t imagine anyone not loving anything with condensed milk in it. It tastes of old-fashioned childhood comforts, it pairs perfectly with chocolate and it makes anything taste absolutely delicious. No wonder it has stood the test of time.

Mock Turtle
(from Yarrow’s mum)

1 egg
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup sugar
1 cup self raising flour
1 cup (100g) desiccated coconut
1 tbsp golden syrup
125g (4oz) butter

½ cup condensed milk
60g (2oz) butter
1 cup icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 tbsp cocoa

To make the base: Mix all dry ingredients in a medium to large bowl. Melt golden syrup and butter in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in lightly beaten egg. Pour butter mixture into dry ingredients and mix well. Spread into a greased lamington tin (9x 13 inch). Bake at 150 C for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. (I used a skewer to check it was cooked when just turning golden.)

Make the topping about 10 minutes after the base has gone into the oven. Combine butter and condensed milk in a small saucepan over low heat til the butter has melted and the ingredients are combined. Remove from the heat and mix in icing sugar, coconut and cocoa.

Spread topping over the base using the back of a spoon or a knife. This is easiest when both base and topping are warm. It always seems like it will never be enough topping but it should cover all the base if you dont get carried away eating it out of the saucepan. (I never have but it tastes so good it is very tempting.) Allow to cool to room temperature and cut into bars or squares.

Condensed Milk Macaroons
(From Best Gluten Free Recipes)
Makes about 30 bite size macaroons

1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup desiccated coconut
½ tin (200g) condensed milk
125 choc chips (I used white) OR chopped dried apricots

Mix all ingredients together. Drop in teaspoonfuls on a greased or lined baking tray. Baked at 150 C for about 15-20 minutes or til just turning golden brown. (Don’t let them get too well cooked – I once threw out a batch that I gave a few more minutes in the oven.) I found the mixture seemed to fall apart a bit and made an effort to shape it into balls but when baked it held together easily.

On the Stereo:
Worker’s Playtime: Billy Bragg

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Entertaining with Fritters and Smoothies

A holiday in the country, a new-found love of pomegranate juice, and leftover salad were my sources of inspiration when my sister Francesca and her husband Steve came for brunch on the weekend.

Blogging has made me relish the challenge of making interesting brunches on weekends. So I was delighted when Fran suggested brunch rather than dinner. I decided I would do a modern take on a fry-up. My fry-ups are really just distant cousins to the fatty plate of bacon, sausages and eggs to be found in greasy spoon cafes across the UK. Mine are healthier as I love my vegies but wouldn’t eat meat or fried eggs. Sunday’s ‘fry-up’ had what you might call traditional elements such as toasted bread, fried eggy fritters, beans and vegetables.

The zucchini fritters have been on my radar ever since we went to Beechworth last year and I found the recipe in a Donna Hay Magazine. I fancied trying a gluten-free version of fritters and these piqued my interest. The only drawback (apart from not having any rice flour) was the egg whites. I had using half an egg and then trying to think what to do with the other half. I managed to use one to glaze the bread but I have three yolks threatening to become smelly monsters in the back of my fridge unless I get some brilliant ideas. Despite the egg whites (or maybe because of), the fritters were wonderful. They were light and fluffy and very tasty with the parmesan.

Ashley’s recent smoothie had put me in a mind to use pomegranate juice in a smoothie. It is only recently that I have found the right jug to make smoothies with my hand held blender and one of my favourites is berry and banana. I have made it before with strawberries and apple juice but found mixed berries and pomegranate juice made it much darker, but still creamy with the banana.

I have been buying pomegranate juice occasionally from our local shops. Last weekend when I sought out some rye flour for my Russian bread, I wished I lived south of the river where the Eastern Europeans settled. But when it comes to buying pomegranate juice, I feel fortunate to live in the north in the midst of many Middle Eastern migrants. I bought 1 litre of pomegranate juice a few weeks back and it cost about $5. I started in horror at the price before remembering that it costs about that for a 250ml bottle of the stuff. Then this weekend I saw a litre being sold for $28. Not in my neighbourhood! I know it was organic but I was still staggered and felt my local deli’s pomegranate juice is a bargain.

The smoothie was a great gap filler. Fran and Steve walked in the door just as I was blending it. I felt like the hostess with the mostess being able to hand out smoothies, rather than having everyone starving while I got the fry up ready. Fran and I enjoyed the smoothie while the guys found a glassful was a bit much. It is a great way to get more fruit in your diet, especially if, like me, you don’t think to eat bananas and berries much by themselves.

We were all full after breakfast and relaxed on the sofa for a bit before Fran and Steve had to go on to lunch with some friends. They expected it would be a light one after that brunch. I was only too glad to stay at home to relax with some blogging, some baking and a bit of sudoku. I wished I still had some smoothie to slurp on but at least if I was hungry there was always plenty of the Oatmeal and Treacle Bread to enjoy.

Berry and Banana Smoothie
Serves 4

1½ cups pomegranate juice or apple juice
2 bananas, peeled and in chunks
250g berries (fresh or frozen)

Zucchini and cheese fritters
From Donna Hay Magazine
Serves 4

4 eggs whites
1 cup zucchini grated
1 cup parmesan, grated
2 tbsp soy flour (or rice flour)
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying

Whisk the egg whites til frothy. Fold in zucchini, parmesan and soy flour. Season (I don’t think it needed much salt as the parmesan is quite salty). It is quite a thick mixture. Heat a little oil in a large non stick frypan. Drop and spread a couple of spoonfuls in frypan to create a 10cm diameter fritter and repeat to make another 2 or three. Fry for a couple of minutes each side or until golden brown. Serve hot.

On the stereo:
Legend and Lore: Dark Folklore and European Myths – Various Artists

Monday 19 May 2008

BBD 10: Oatmeal and Treacle Bread

The weekend started with not a crust of bread to be found in our house and ended with an abundance. It was a rainy weekend that was perfect for baking bread. A weekend to stay in doors by the heater with bread dough rising. The sort of weekend when it is too wet to hang the washing outside, when the cars turn on their headlights in the middle of the day, and when it was inevitable that I couldn’t find the car keys as I stood in the supermarket carpark in the rain.

Yes, I headed out in the car in search of bread for lunch (and groceries) before starting baking. I finally spotted O’Hea’s Bakery in Coburg that Yaz recommended to me many months ago but there were too many roadworks and too few parking spots to make my way there in that rain. Next I headed to Smith Street in Fitzroy and found that one of my favourite bakeries (the one next to Gluttony) had a two for the price of one offer on their bread. When I got home with two loaves and flour for two more, I found that E had gone out. Knowing he would be thinking about lunch, I phoned his mobile and fortunately intercepted him en route to a local bakery.

Back at home I baked a Treacle and Oatmeal Bread from Entertaining with Cranks. This book is from the 1980s but feels older than that – it has pen and ink drawings and a sort of fusty wholesome goodness about it. As did the bread. It had quite a firm crumbly texture which reminded me a bit of the wholemeal loaves my mother makes. The treacle and milk mixture was quite sweet but once mixed with the flour the dough is quite savoury. It was a little moist when fresh (see above photo) but fine when cooled. As with last week’s Russian Vegetable Bread, I have made notes below on how I baked it which varied slightly from the recipe.

It took a bit longer to rise than Cranks thought it might. It literally came out of the oven just as we were leaving for dinner at Will’s. He was delighted with the bread. It paired well with the thick creamy zucchini, potato and ricotta soup. Both bread and soup offered the hearty comfort we needed when coming in from the cold wet night. Will and E kept eating it with his amazing panir steaks which you can see served with my salad.

For sweets we had golden syrup dumplings with a surprise filling of melted chocolate in them – a most excellent addition to the dumplings. One of the most amusing moments of the evening was when Will’s boss rang him for the ingredients of a recipe and it happened she was making the same dessert as him. We did ponder if this was a condition of employment, but he explained that he had borrowed her cookbook and made a dessert that she had impressed him with before.

Will hosts a fine dinner party. I was happy to sit and talk with him about what he was cooking (eagerly eyeing his technique with the panir steaks) while E browsed the CD collection. When Will and I were housemates he could clear the kitchen with his collection of Prog Rock music. Now my dear partner has made me more appreciative of it but I still don’t share the enthusiasm of these two for discussing bands such as Tangerine Dream for hours on end. Unfortunately for them, I had to get home at a reasonable hour so we were up the next morning to enjoy the bread again with brunch.

After baking the bread, I saw that Melissa at A Sweet Life is hosting this month’s Bread Baking Day which is all about breakfast breads (deadline is 1 June). She is interested to hear about what our breakfast bread traditions are. When I was young I would have had vegemite, peanut butter, jam or honey on toasted bread quite like this one, so I am sending it her way.

I have taken a picture of the sorts of spreads we have in our house today (with promite now replacing vegemite in my affections). I did notice later that there is no butter in the picture and reflected that these days I am less likely to butter my bread first but it would have been mandatory when I was young. As you will see when I post about my brunch from this weekend, although I often still have toast (because I like a savoury breakfast), the toppings can be all manner of dips, cheeses, beans and vegetables. But the spreads pictured here still often feature on my toast in a quick weekday breakfast. This bread makes great toast so is very pleasing for breakfast with a scrape of promite or jam.

Oatmeal and Treacle Bread
(from Entertaining with Cranks)
Makes 2 large loaves

- 900ml (1½ pints) milk
- 50g butter or margarine
- 4 tbsp treacle
- 25g (1oz) fresh yeast (I used 11g dried yeast)
- 1 tsp raw sugar
- ¼ cup (60ml) lukewarm water
- 1.4 kg (3lb) wholemeal flour (I used 1kg wholemeal and 400g white flour)
- 175g (6oz) oatmeal
- 1 tbsp salt
- Lightly beaten egg, milk or water to glaze
- Extra oatmeal or poppyseed to sprinkle

Combine the milk, treacle and butter in a medium saucepan over low heat until the butter has melted. Set aside to cool to lukewarm. (Mine took quite a while to cool down.)

Mix the yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Add the lukewarm water and mix. Leave it in a warm place until it becomes frothy. It suggests 10-20 minutes but I left mine 30 minutes because I was waiting for the milk mixture to cool. (The yeast mixture just kept growing which amazed me.)

Place flour, oats and salt in a large bowl. Add the lukewarm milk mixture and the yeast mixture. Stir to combine. (My milk mixture took so long that after about 20 minutes I stirred it through the flour mixture and it cooled down quickly so I could add the yeast without it being threatened by too much heat. The liquid on top of the dry ingredients filled my largest mixing bowl to the top so use a large bowl. I used a knife to stir it through because I think I have seen my mum do this – it doesn’t create so many waves that might spill over the edge.) The recipe suggests that if the dough is a little dry you should add more milk, but I didn’t.

After stirring with a knife, use your hands to mix to a coherent dough and knead on a lightly floured board for a few minutes til it is smooth. Return to an oiled bowl and cover with clingwrap. Rest in a warm place for 10 minutes. (I mean the dough but by all means take this opportunity to read the weekend paper, fit in some blogging or collapse on the couch.)

Knead on a lightly floured board for about 10 minutes or til smooth and elastic. Divide the dough into two halves with a sharp knife. Divide in half again and knead each ball til just smooth. Place two balls each in a greased loaf tin. (The recipe says a 900g tin - I thought my tin was smaller but the dough didn’t reach the top of the tin so am confused about sizes. I placed one of my loaves on a baking tray because I don’t have two largish tins.) Lightly brush tops with oil and cover with clingwrap.

Leave in a warm place to rise til doubled. (The recipe says til dough touches the tops of the tin which is not helpful if your dough is on a tray or you are not sure of the size of the tins. It says it should need about 40 minutes. I let mine rise for 60 minutes because it didn’t seem to have risen enough after 40 minutes.)

Brush the tops with egg, milk or water and sprinkle with oats or poppyseeds. Bake in the oven at 200 C for approximately 40 minutes or til it sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack. (Or if you are heading out the door, wrap in a couple of teatowels and don’t be surprised if it is so soft it breaks in half.)

On the stereo:
Epsilon in Malaysian Pale: Edgar Froese

Sunday 18 May 2008

PPN: Story of a pasta sauce

Today I thought I would tell you the story of some vegetables that have journeyed through the weekend with me. These vegetables have been through recreation, resurrection and recycling. When my plans have gone awry they have rescued, revived and redirected me. I just wish I knew what to call them. Is it a salad, it is a brunch fry-up, is it a pasta sauce? I’ll let you to be the judge.

Saturday morning found me in the supermarket raiding the fruit and vegetable section, full of hope. My fridge is still full of vegetables that I have not yet cooked but plan to during the week. I baked bread and decided I would roast some pumpkin while I preheated the oven and baked the bread. While the pumpkin and bread did their thing I prepared other vegetables for what I planned to be a salad. I was inspired by a recipe in my notebook but took ideas for a raspberry vinegar and orange juice vinaigrette from one made recently by Helen.

In my mind I intended to divide the pumpkin into halves. One part for a salad I was taking to a friend’s and one part to add to a brunch dish of tomato, cannellini beans and spinach. In my hurry I put all of the pumpkin into the salad. My friend Will was delighted as he loves pumpkin. He had made some amazing panir cheese steaks which he served with mashed sweet potato and the salad. Great combination but so much salad that I took home oodles of it.

On Sunday morning my sister, Francesca and partner Steve were coming for brunch. I had planned a simple dish of warmed tomatoes, cannellini beans and spinach to go with zucchini fritters. But I had thought it would be nice to add some of my roasted pumpkin. When I ended up with lots of salad over, it seemed as good warmed as cold so I decided to recycle it instead of making another dish.

‘So I’m having fried salad and a smoothie for brunch,’ groaned the Grim Eater, as he vacuumed the rug. He just didn’t appreciate that the salad’s highlight (garlic) and disappointment (not enough vinegar) made it perfect for resurrection as a heated dish and earned gratitude for time-saving. I added some cannellini beans, more tomatoes, more spinach, more garlic and some lemon juice. Warmed up it was delicious.

But at the end of brunch, we still had too much of it to wish away. I looked at E as we cleared the dishes and said, 'pasta sauce for dinner!' Initially I was disappointed not to make the cassoulet I had planned but after baking for morning tea at work tomorrow, I was relieved to have the convenience of my friendly vegetables. I added some more spinach and heated it (again) by which time it was wilting in a very pleasing way that was much more sauce than salad. Stirred through hot pasta with a bit of parmesan cheese, Bob’s your uncle!

I loved it so much I wanted to write it up but it made me think just how artificial recipes are. As you will see by my story, it has been added to and reheated too many times for any simple equation. So here is a recipe below which gives an approximation of what I did all bundled into one dish. It is really just collapses a few moments in time into one rather than being an accurate reflection of any of the reincarnations.

I am sending this dish to Ruth at Ruth of Once Upon a Feast for her weekly Pasta Presto Nights. I am sure she will appreciate the flexibility of a pasta recipe. Meanwhile, stay tuned for more post on my weekend.

Pumpkin, Tomato and Spinach Pasta/Salad
Serves 6

700g pumpkin, trimmed, peeled and diced
500g grape tomatoes, halved
200g green beans, trimmed and chopped
100g baby spinach, torn
400g tin of cannellini beans, drained
1 tbsp raspberry vinegar
1 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp lemon juice
Zest of half a lemon
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for roasting
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese to serve (optional)
Cooked pasta to serve (about 2 small dessert bowls uncooked)

Place pumpkin in a large roasting dish. Drizzle with olive oil and Roast pumpkin in cool oven (150 C) for 1 hour and then at 180 C for 20-30 minutes or until soft.

While pumpkin cooks lightly blanch the green beans. Make vinaigrette by whisking together raspberry vinegar, juices, zest, garlic and olive oil in a small bowl. Season.

When pumpkin is cooked toss in a bowl with tomatoes, green beans, spinach and cannellini beans and dressing. Season. If using as a salad, it is ready to serve with or without the pasta. If using as a pasta sauce, warm in a saucepan until vegetables are warmed and slightly wilting. Toss through cooked pasta and serve with parmesan cheese if desired.

On the stereo:
The Rule of Thirds: Death in June

Saturday 17 May 2008

A crumble that needs company

When my parents moved into their house over 20 years ago, the garden was just some scrubby grass. My parents are gardeners and have spent years nurturing a flourishing rose garden which adds great colour and character to the 1927 white weatherboard Californian Bungalow. (I just searched for a photo but I can’t find any except a nice green one of the back garden which is also a blooming miracle in the drought.) In fact when it was recently listed as a heritage building, the listing mentioned the garden.

I never appreciated gardening much when I was younger. I just wanted to look at the building. But as I have got older I have come to appreciate gardens much more. After all, those fine historic houses of Europe wouldn’t look quite so grand without their amazing gardens. So too, I never used to appreciate a side dish with dinner but these days I realise how important it is.

I was reflecting on side dishes last weekend when I made Lucy’s leek and tomato crumble. I have often treated leeks as always the bridesmaid never the bride. But I was attracted to this leek-centric dish by its promise of creamy comfort to be enriched by tahini.

Instead of simmering a tomato sauce to top the leek mixture, I roasted the tomatoes. Partly because I was avoiding watching another pot, partly inspired by Lucy’s recent stunning photos of roasting tomatoes, and partly because I was so excited by the variety of tomatoes in the supermarket. When you have the vivid glories of yellow roma, cocktail piccolini and grape tomatoes, you don’t want to cook them into an unidentifiable mush. It was a delight to taste the intense juicy flavour brought on by roasting. I would also be interested in Lucy’s other suggested version of the recipe with extra tahini and no milk.

This dish was indeed comforting as if it was dredging up some memories of food of the past. The crisp buttery oaty crumble on top made a pleasing contrast with the creamy leeks and the occasional juicy tomato. Delicious but also rather rich. Excellent in small quantities and desperately in need of company.

The success of the crumble depended on the way it was served. The first night it was lovely but heavy with a great collision of leftovers: some roasted root vegetables left after my rosy bread adventures, tossed with rocket leftover from my lasagne and dressed with raspberry vinegar. The second night the crumble didn’t fare too well when I piled it with roasted tomatoes and Brussels sprouts hoping to maybe lighten it with more tomatoes. Instead it just made the crumble soggy. Finally a small tub of it heated up for lunch the following day was very pleasing.

It is possible to get lots of variety in a one pot wonder as Meeta recently demonstrate in one of her mingles. But I have come to learn that the way to have such rich dishes with so few vegies is to serve them with a good salad or other side dish of bright fresh vegies. Kathryn is posting a informative series at the moment about eating variety of foods. I am sure she would agree that side dishes are an excellent way to increase the diversity in your diet. Like a house with a garden, a main dish with a side dish is usually much more interesting and pleasing to the eye.

Leek and tomato crumble
(adapted from Leith’s Vegetarian Bible via Nourish Me)
Serves 8

600g tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon of olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
3 leeks, trimmed, washed and thinly sliced
2 tbsp butter or margarine
2 tbsp flour
1 cup rice, almond or cows milk
1 tbsp tahini
1 scant cup flour (wholemeal [whole-wheat] works well)
½ cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons of fresh herbs, finely chopped
85g cold butter, cubed
1 tbsp sesame seeds
sea salt and pepper

Place tomatoes and garlic in a roasting tray. Drizzle with olive oil, season and toss to combine. Roast for 20 minutes at 200 C. When softened, remove from oven. (Or fry onion in a little oil, add tomatoes, season and simmer 20 minutes til thickened and pulpy.)

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a stockpot and fry onions for 5 minutes. Add leeks and cover. Heat on low for 5-8 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally. I needed a little extra liquid and tipped in some liquid from the tomatoes.

Add butter and stir while it melts. Then mix flour into buttery leek mixture and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly so the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the saucepan. Add the milk and stir til combined. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 2 minutes. Stir in the tahini, season and remove from heat. Set aside.

Mix the flour, oats and herbs together in a large bowl. Rub in the cubed butter with your fingertips until mixed in and forming clusters resembling chunky crumbs.

Spread the leeks in a greased large baking dish (9 x 13 inches). Pour the tomatoes on top. Scatter evenly with crumble. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the crumble. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden.

On the Stereo:
Discography: Pet Shop Boys

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Rosy Russian Bread (and Grumpy Baker)

I grew up with my mum baking bread and since I moved out of home I have baked it occasionally. I like to think I know a thing or two about bread making. After kneading and proving enough yeasty loaves to feel comfortable with bread dough, I didn't expect that I would find myself struggling to make sense of what should have been a simple bread recipe.

On the weekend I decided to make Russian Vegetable Bread from New Recipes from the Moosewood Restaurant. I was attracted by the promise of a rosy hue and the opportunity to use up some fresh dill. One of the most helpful guides to bread making is in Mollie Katzen’s Enchanted Broccoli Forest and I would suggest the Moosewood writers take some writing tips from Mollie.

I know, I know, I should read the instructions more carefully. But it seemed odd that there was no sweetener in the ingredients list and yet when I checked the instructions in the appendix which apparently is for ‘wary novices’, I found it is needed. The instructions for adding the flour are vague and I don’t know why I was instructed to beat the dough 300 times.

The suggestion that beginners should go to the back of the book is alienating and patronizing. An ill-advised tactic if you are trying to persuade readers to ‘aspire to that memorable, evocative, appreciative romance with food, which seems to begin with real bread, made by hand’, as is stated at the introduction to the section. Despite my familiarity with bread making, I struggled with this recipe, even with checking the advice in the appendix. I am glad that I don’t consider myself a novice or this experience might convince me that I should never attempt another loaf of bread.

I found that the dough was too soft due to my laxness with adding flour. I kneaded it for 25 minutes and it still didn’t get to the right elasticity. I baked it longer than advised. And, yes, I was a little narky when it finally came out of the oven after 6 hours of kneading, proving, and baking, because it seemed that it wasn’t cooked properly.

As it happens, E has loved this bread. I had expected it to be too strong, too dense, too weirdly coloured for the Grim Eater. But he was full of praise. After commenting that it looked like some alien life form, he happily sampled and told me he couldn’t get enough of the bread. The rosy-hued crust seemed intriguingly unnatural and it was odder still to slice the loaf open and find the inside a warm caramel colour with flecks of crimson beetroot. It was surprisingly and pleasingly soft with subtle flavours of molasses, rye and caraway.

It seems that something went right. In fact, it was good enough and interesting enough that I would recommend trying this bread, despite my anxieties. I hope that I have amended the below recipe enough to make it a little friendlier to novices and experts alike.

Russian Vegetable Bread
(from New Recipes from the Moosewood Restaurant)
Makes 2 loaves

1 tbsp dry yeast (1½ x 7g packages)
½ cup luke warm water
½ -1 tsp sweetener (sugar, honey or agave)
1½ cups hot water
3 tbsp molasses
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp salt
3 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
2 tsp caraway seeds
2 cups peeled and grated raw beets, carrot and/or parsnip
2 cups wholemeal flour
3-4 cups unbleached white flour
2 cups rye flour

Mix the hot water, molasses, oil, salt, dill, caraway seeds, and grated vegetables in a large bowl. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

Mix the yeast, warm water and sweetener in a small bowl. Sit for about 5 minutes until the yeast begins to foam. When the vegetable mixture is lukewarm, add the yeast mixture. Mix in the wholemeal flour and 1 cup of the white flour. Beat for 300 strokes (What this instruction is all about is not explained and I would prefer a little more kneading so next time I don’t think I will bother with the beating but if you enjoy a little beating, go ahead).

Add rye flour and 1-3 cups of the white flour. (In the book it says enough flour to make a stiff dough. I don’t think I added enough and had heartache trying to knead it in so next time I would add 2 cups white flour.) Mix to a stiff dough.

Turn onto a floured board and knead for 10 – 15 minutes until the dough develops an elasticity akin to your ear lobe. I found it a soft sticky dough that constantly needed to be fed flour to stop it sticking to the board, but it may have been because I didn’t put in enough flour initially. It was amazingly pink and after kneading my hands smelt of molasses, but the flavour was more subtle in the end product.

Place dough in an oiled bowl, turn to make sure all sides are oiled and cover with a damp teatowel or plastic clingwrap. Let it rise 1½ hours in a warm place. Punch down the dough and knead briefly. Set aside again, cover and let rise another hour. This is a dough that rose quickly and ballooned over the top of my large mixing bowl.

Preheat the oven to 375 F or 190 C. When dough has risen a second time, punch down the dough and briefly knead. Oil two 12 x 23cm loaf tins. Divide up the dough into 4 or 6 pieces and knead into smooth balls. Divide these balls among the tins to form loaves. (I put one loaf in a tin and one on a baking tray so they look quite different - just use a baking tray if you don't have the right tins.) Cover and leave to rise about 45 minutes.

Bake for 35-60 minutes. (Mine took 60 minutes but the recipe said 35-40 – tap the bread to see if it sounds hollow. If the crust is still too soft it will not sound hollow.) Keeps well for a few days.

On the stereo:
Live at Royal Albert Hall on 2 November 2007: The Cinematic Orchestra