Tuesday 29 July 2008

Paella with thanks

A new cookbook arrived in my mail box recently. Actually it was second hand but new to me and came courtesy of Rachel of the Crispy Cook. She has kindly decided to ask bloggers to put their names down each month to go into a draw for a nominated second hand cookbook from her Old Saratoga Books store. Oh how wonderful to have a shop of old books! If I ever had the pleasure, I hope I would be as generous as Rachel. And if you want to find gluten free bloggers she has an impressive list of GF blogs.

The book that I ‘won’ was Vegetarian Dishes from Around the World by Rose Elliot. This was published in 1981 before anyone discovered that we had our own recipes in Australia. Or maybe Rose just thought Antipodeans such rabid carnivores that she didn’t expect to find any vegetarian recipes in our midst. Sorry, had to have a whinge about that. Otherwise this is a great cookbook that I have been pouring over in anticipation of making many of the recipes.

I am probably getting a bit old in that 1981 doesn’t seem that far away but this book has a little of the earnest, fusty olde worlde vegetarian about it. I have quite a few Rose Elliot's books, as you can see on my cookbook list (which needs updating). This is an American edition so, unlike most of my other copies of her books, this is written with cup measures. But it does not make it seem any less British.

There are not too many other cookbook authors that I feel quite as passionate about. When I first became vegetarian I was advised to get a copy of her Vegetarian Cookery if possible. So it is interesting to note some of the personal tit-bits – such as that she was brought up vegetarian – and some of her preferences – for lots of colour in a meal.

The round the world theme is interesting. It seems more about finding comfort elsewhere than challenges. But then I suspect this is from a time when exotica such as Thai curry paste and miso were not everyday items in supermarkets. Indeed, her coverage of Asia seems limited to China and India. And as someone who has never understood the allure of French cooking, I find her praise of wonderful French vegetable dishes perplexing. She stresses the need for protein in a meal but this often seems to be cheese and eggs. Unlike some of Rose Elliot’s more recent books, this seems to hail from a time when life (and the pantry) was much simpler.

The first dish I chose to make is paella. Here is the moment to say that this book has no photos. So there were none of those lovely images of bright yellow rice with dark plump olives and the colourful jumble of peas, carrot and capsicum. Quite fortunate as the remains of the saffron in my pantry were a little dusty and did not produce much in the way of colour. Perhaps that is why I needed stock and not just salt for a little flavour. E chose to have his with tabasco sauce and cheese but I enjoyed mine as it came from the pot.

Like the book, the paella did not seem terribly exotic but tasted of wholesome goodness with brown rice and lots of vegies. I made a few changes to the recipe. I had chickpeas where she had roasted almonds and I added a few olives at the end but didn’t have as many as I had thought. Not a dish to transport you to the sunny shores of Spain, but one to make you feel you are doing something good for your body. And one to make me grateful to Rachel for her generosity in sending this book my way!

(adapted from Rose Eliot)
Serves 6

2 red onions, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
375ml (1½ cups) brown rice, rinsed
1 litre (about 3 ¾ cups) water
1 packet saffron (I used what I had left)
3 tsp vegie stock powder
Black pepper
2 large carrots, chopped
1 tin (400g) chickpeas, drained
1 large red pepper, sliced in rings
4 tomatoes, chopped (peeling is optional)
1 cup (250ml) frozen green peas
Handful black olives (chopping is optional)
Juice of ½ small lemon

Heat oil in large heavy based stockpot and fry onions on low heat for about 10 minutes till soft but not browned. Stir in garlic, rice, water, saffron, stock powder, carrots, chickpeas and some black pepper. Bring to the boil and reduce heat. Cover and simmer. After30 minutes scatter with peppers, peas and tomatoes. Cover and return to simmer for a further 10 minutes. If, unlike me, you have time and read the recipe properly, Rose advises to remove from the heat and leave covered an additional 15 minutes before fluffing rice with a fork. I just stirred and served without the recommended wait.

On the stereo:
The Ghost Sonata: Tuxedo Moon

Saturday 26 July 2008

Tabouli from the Tree

This title is not quite accurate. It is actually the lemon juice in the tabouli that came from our tree but I figured it is close enough.

We bought the two citrus trees in December. The lemon tree has thrived and the lime tree is hanging in there. One person told me if the trees are allowed to grow fruit in their first few years, they wont do well, and another told me that growing fruit in their first year would help. I don’t know the first thing about gardening and decided to grow a couple of lemons when the tree was blossoming. It has been most enjoyable watching the maturing of two large yellow lemons that were harvested last weekend.

I use lemon in my cooking but I am not a huge fan of lemons, especially in dessert. In fact, lemon meringue pie, lemon tart and lemon pudding would rank among the easiest desserts for me to refuse. So it is unfortunate to have our own lemons come at a time when have been given lemon from a few others’ lemon trees. We are slowly making our way through them. I have been adding them to casseroles and to steamed vegetables. But how to feature our first harvest?

E came up with an idea for our lemons last weekend. I had been out and about on Saturday and was driving home along Sydney Road thinking about what to have for dinner when I was struck by a yen for falafel after seeing this post of Lucy’s. She is a woman who appreciates the simplicity of a falafel meal.

Ever since my mum and I did a bakery tour of Sydney Road earlier this year, I have felt I should make the most of some of the excellent food available locally. Yet, my timing is usually off. I either have too much bread in the house, or have plans for dinner or it is too much effort to head out to the treasures of Sydney Road when it is warm and cosy in the house. But driving past these places as I headed home for dinner, I felt I had to seize the opportunity.

The first place I stopped at was a Middle Eastern grocery we had visited on the tour. But as I found a park, the closed sign went up. So I drove on and found the Saray (188 Sydney Road, Coburg) where I have eaten before. I bought falafel, hummus, tabouli and Turkish bread. It made a delicious easy dinner. Made me wonder why we don’t do this more.

We even had leftovers but not quite enough. E, who loves parsley, polished off the lemony tabouli. ‘Why don’t you make some?’ he asked. Now I have posted tabouli (also spelt tabbouleh or tabouleh) recipes before - beetroot and pomegranate and green bean and broccoli – but I have never posted the basic tabouli you could buy anywhere on Sydney Road. So to please E, to feature our homegrown lemons and to make sure we had enough for a second meal, I made some parsley and tomato tabouli.

I found the recipe on Taste.com, an Australian website that gives recipes from many of the local foodie magazines. But even a basic foodie recipe needed some minar adjustments, based on what is in the fridge. I didn’t use mint, not having any on hand, but if you have a backyard full of mint, I would recommend it. This tabouli didn’t have quite as much herbs as the Saray version but I was pleased with the taste. It was lovely with the soft Turkish bread, smooth hummus and substantial falafels.

If you are not lucky enough to have a wealth of Middle Eastern Shops close by you might like to visit recipes I have posted for hummus and falafels. If you would like more ideas for herbs in salads and soups, then I suggest you head over to Holler’s No Crouton’s Required event round-up at Tinned Tomatoes.

(Adapted from Emma Braz’s recipe in Super Food Ideas - November 2006, p 60)
Serves 2-4

¼ cup burghul (cracked wheat)
¼ cup plus 1 tbsp vegetable stock
2 generous handfuls parsley, chopped
¼ cup mint leaves, chopped (optional)
1 tomato, diced
1 spring onion, finely sliced
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ lemon, juiced

Place burghul in a small bowl. Pour hot stockover burghul and cover for 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and mix. Season with salt and pepper.

On the stereo:
Rip it up and start again: post punk 1978-1974: compiled by Simon Reynolds

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Chickpea cutlets and gluten strings

When I saw Cindy making these chickpea cutlets on Where’s the Beef?, I was curious. Apparently these are everywhere in the world of vegan blogging, but it seems they originated with Isa and Terry in Veganomicon and were posted by them on Chow.com.

But what interested me most was the gluten flour that Cindy had bought at Allergy Block in Carlton. I keep seeing vital wheat gluten in recipes and not really understood what it was. But when I saw I could buy it at a local health food store, I had to find out. These chickpea cutlets and a loaf of bread were a good way to explore this new substance. As I began to make the cutlets I read I was meant to knead the mixture till gluten strings formed. Huh? But once I did the kneading, even though it was a weird texture to knead, it made sense. Lo and behold, the gluten strings appeared. I took a photo of them because it was so weird.

This has opened up a whole world of new possibilities. Now I can try making my own vegetarian sausages, which means not always having to buy them from the supermarket. I dislike seitan (satan?) which is made from this wheat gluten so I am a little wary of it but am fascinated by the way it held the burger together with a hint of stretch in the texture. Isa and Terry say it is ‘vegan food you can eat with a steak knife’. True. But these burgers taste so much better than steak (a personal viewpoint I know).

The vital wheat gluten is not the only challenge in the ingredients list. I was a little unsure of putting so much soy sauce in but the end result is tasty rather than salty. I also don’t know what is meant by paprika – does it mean mild, hot or smoked. I suspect you could use any of these and get quite different tasting burgers. I decided to go with the gentle flavour of mild paprika. I also didn't get my burgers as nicely golden brown as Cindy but they still tasted great. They were lovely with leftover pasta the first night, and with salad, corn and toast the second night.

Oh and if you want to check out what fellow Melbourne vegetarian bloggers, Cindy and Michael from Where’s the Beef?, are eating at the moment, you will find that they are not posting many recipes right now. They are too busy experiencing the delights of the UK, including Edinburgh. I am enjoying a bit of armchair (deskchair?) travel and recommend you head over too if you like travel photos with a bit of food in the mix.

Chickpea cutlets
(adapted from Chow.com via Where’s the Beef?)
Serves 4

400g tin of chickpeas, drained (about 1 cup cooked)
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup wheat gluten or gluten flour
½ cup breadcrumbs
¼ cup vegie stock or water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon dried mixed herbs
zest of ½ medium lemon (about ½ teaspoon)
½ teaspoon mild paprika
shake of cayenne pepper
extra oil for frying or greasing

Mash the chickpeas and oil together in a bowl until all chickpeas are smashed into a smoothish mixture. Add the remaining ingredients and mix till a smooth dough forms. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes, until gluten strings form. Divide the dough into four pieces and flatten them into patties, 1.5 cm thick (or thinner).

Bake or fry them. For both golden crunch and health, the best option is to fry in a little oil for 2-3 minutes or til golden on both sides and then bake a further 15 minutes at 180 C to cook through.

On the stereo:
Among My Swan: Mazzie Star

Sunday 20 July 2008

Vegetarian Cassoulet

I have a favourite cassoulet recipe I have been wanting to share on my blog all winter but when I made it a few months back, E complained about the powderiness of the topping. Then I happened across a piece on cassoulet by Waverley Root in Mark Kurlansky’s Choice Cuts: a miscellany of food writing. Waverley Root explained that there is a tradition that the crust should be broken seven times during cooking. The top photo shows how my epiphany about breaking the crust changed the texture and appearance from my below 'powdery topping'.

Of course, being vegetarian, I am well aware that I am often reinventing meat-centric traditions. Cassoulet comes from France, the land of rich meaty meals. Even so I was quite horrified at the traditional recipes which included pork sausages, pork, goose, duck, and sometimes mutton. Enough to turn anyone vegetarian!

I am happy to do away with the meat but I love the traditions. Cassoulet is said to have originated in the 14th Century in Castelnaudary in the south of France during the Hundred Years War. During a siege, the Provost Marshall apparently made this by putting all foods into a communal dish that was so hearty it gave the army courage face the surrounding British army. I can’t help thinking there wouldn’t have been many animals left in the village. But of course it is not a tradition without its doubters.

So much debate arose over the origins of cassoulet that Prosper Montagné of Larousse Gastronomique decreed in 1929 that "God the father is the cassoulet of Castelnaudary, God the Son that of Carcassonne, and the Holy Spirit that of Toulouse." It is also claimed that the true spirit of the dish is not in the town that created it, but in the magic of the sharing. Indeed it does seem like a dish that could feed a village.

A quick search of the web showed that this is a dish to be taken seriously and slowly. In France there is an Academy of the Cassoulet. I suspect they would be none too forgiving of a vegetarian version. More open to a vegetarian version is a chap called John Whiting who spends a week preparing cassoulet for his birthday dinner each year. Makes Julia Child’s 3 day version seem quick and easy. Whiting includes a vegan version in his notes full of wonderful flavours such as roasted vegies, sun dried tomatoes, wine.

Now I appreciate his version because I have done some searching for vegetarian version and many just seem to be beans, carrots and celery. Isn’t this just taking out the meat? I protest that a proper vegetarian version must include textures and flavours which impart some of the richness that meat gives to a dish. It doesn't take much imagination.

Traditional versions seem to include bean layers and meat layers. But there are debates about what meat and whether to include breadcrumbs on top. In fact there are so many versions that Whiting says that “if you go into an isolated Languedoc village and ask fifty housewives how to make a cassoulet, you will get at least fifty-one recipes.” You can easily find many recipes that include the traditional, the casual, without breadcrumbs, and without meat on the web.

According to Waverley Root, traditionally cassoulet would continually simmer in the pot – he quoted Anatole France who claimed the cassoulet he used to eat in his favourite establishment in Paris has been cooking for 20 years. When I told E about this, he thought it sounded like his sort of dish because there would be no washing up.

The version that I have been making for a few years is one I found on the internet and sadly am not able to credit because I have not been able to find it again. It is far superior to many versions I have found because it is packed with an interesting combination of vegetables and legumes. I would advise that the cheese and breadcrumbs are optional because it tastes so good without them but I do enjoy the creaminess when they are stirred in. It will not appeal to those who don’t like chopping veggies but once the veggies are prepared there isn’t much else to do apart from a little stirring. It is worth the effort and much quicker than 3 days or even a week. This recipe lasts E and myself for almost a week and is a complete meal.

I am sending this recipe to Equal Opportunity Kitchen’s Tried Tested and True recipe event. I thought this would be a good dish as they are asking for a health-promoting dish which is a lighter version of the original. Then I saw that they are judging recipes on visual appeal. Cassoulet is meant to be a blackened stew in a burn-out pot so I am sure they will appreciate that the appeal is in the tasting not the viewing!

Update July 2013: I cringed recently at the photos on this post so I have updated them after making the Cassoulet again recently.  It isn't the bonniest of dishes but I have attempted to imbue it with some peasant charm.

Vegetarian Cassoulet
Serves 6-8

1 tbsp oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 medium aubergine (eggplant), chopped
150g mushrooms, chopped
6 tomatoes, chopped
3 tbsp tomato puree
2 tsp mixed dried herbs (eg rosemary, sage, thyme)
1 bay leaf
1 glass white wine
¼ pint (about 150ml) vegetable stock
1 can cannellini beans, drained (or other white beans)
125g red lentils
5 tbsp chopped parsley
175g parmesan cheese, grated
175g breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large stockpot (preferably an ovenproof one like my le creuset stockpot) over low heat and add onions, garlic and fennel. Cook, stirring frequently for 20-30 minutes or til browned. NB The time while the onions brown is ideal to chop up the remaining vegetables.

Add carrots, celery, aubergine, mushrooms, tomatoes, tomato puree, mixed herbs, bay leaf, white wine, stock. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 10-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add beans and lentils and simmer for about 10 minutes.

If your stockpot isn’t ovenproof, transfer to a large casserole dish. Scatter cassoulet with a mixture of parsley, parmesan and breadcrumbs. (You can keep some aside for later if you wish.) Place casserole dish or ovenproof stockpot in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes at a moderate heat (180-200 C).  Do not worry about the seasoning too much at this point because once the parmesan is stirred in it will have a lot more salt in it.

Remove dish from oven and use a wooden spoon to break the crust and stir into cassoulet. If you wish, you could scatter with some reserved parmesan and breadcrumbs mixture after stirring. Return to the oven for about 20 minutes. This time is fairly flexible and could be extended by hours if you wanted to try breaking the crust seven times! John Whiting advises it is best if made a day ahead and the leftovers were definitely excellent!

Update July 2013: when I made it recently I added another tin of beans but it was rather thick so I probably should have been more generous with the liquid.  I only baked it for 10 minutes after the first stirring in of the crust because it was late at night (3 hours after I had started making it at 8.30 with a few small interruptions).  The next day I baked it for a few hours on 160 C and it could have been baked longer.

On the stereo:
Way Out: Alessandra Celletti

Saturday 19 July 2008

Stouty Oatmeal Beer Bread

I think it would be safe to say that I have baked more bread this winter than in any previous winter. I am on a mission to bake more bread. One day I will finally graduate to sourdough baking but for now the yeasted bread is tasting just fine.

So I am interested in finding tasty and easy bread recipes. Susan’s regular Yeast Spotting at Wild Yeast is a good place to start looking. I have also been interested in Celine’s bread baking at Have Cake Will Travel. She has posted some good quirky ones lately like her peanut butter bread. But what has really fascinated me has been her addition of ‘vital wheat gluten’. I finally have discovered what I think is the local equivalent – gluten flour – thanks to Cindy. Of course I had to try it. I think I am right in claiming that it makes ordinary cake flour into strong high-gluten bread flour.

So with my new packet of gluten flour, I set out to try one of Celine’s bread recipes. In my searching I was delighted to find that although she has a bread machine, she has really helpful instructions on how to convert a bread machine recipe for those of us without such technical help.

The recipe I chose was an Oatmeal Beer Bread. I tried to follow Celine’s recipe but she called for oatmeal stout and all I could find was a more ordinary barley and wheat stout. Of course I didn’t need to use the whole bottle so E drank the remainder.

He amused me by reminiscing about stout while he drank half a glass of the stuff. Apparently he first drank stout when he was taken on a school outing to a pub in his last year of school. This made me laugh. No wonder the Scots know how to drink if they teach them at school. He did protest that it was extra-cirricular activitives - but really! Then he the told me that stout is an old lady’s drink and Ena Shaples from beloved British soap, Coronation Street, enjoyed a pint of stout. Well, I always thought it was a manly drink and that ‘girls’ drank fizzy lager. But according to the Corrie Blog, stout is often prescribed to new mothers and the sick because of its additional value. Well, my dad does say he could have a can of guiness for a meal!

Back to the bread. Celine’s method was by bread machine so I had an opportunity to find that her conversions to a hand method worked well. And the bread was soft and had a good texture. But when I asked E how it was he replied, ‘stouty’. I was surprised at how strongly you can smell the stout in the bread. I am still swithering about if I like that or not. One moment I think I will use a lighter beer next time, and the next moment I think I really enjoy the added flavour and will stick with stout. I’m not complaining. I have been enjoying it for breakfast this week. It toasts up a treat!

(PS. I am particularly pleased to get this post up because I had it written a few days ago and for 2 or 3 days running my internet connection has been so bad I couldn't post it. Most displeased!)

Oatmeal Beer Bread
(adapted from Betty Crocker’s Bread Machine Cookbook via Celine)
makes 1 small loaf: a 20cm loaf tin

2 tsp (7g) dried yeast
3 tbsp brown sugar
¼ cup lukewarm water
1 cup lukewarm flat oatmeal stout or other beer
2 tbsp softened butter or margarine
2 cups bread flour
1 cup wholemeal flour
½ cup rolled oats
2 tbsp soy milk powder [optional, I didn’t use]
4 tsp vital wheat gluten or gluten flour [optional, I did use]
1¼ tsp sea salt

Proof the yeast by mixing it with the sugar, stout and warm water in a bowl and setting aside for about 10 minutes. It should start to go just a little foamy. I did this in the large mixing bowl I used to mix the dough but you could do it in a small bowl and spend the 10 minutes placing the remaining ingredients in the large bowl.

Mix remaining ingredients with the yeast mixture to form a shaggy dough. Knead on a lightly floured board for about 7-10 minutes til the texture of an ear lobe. My dough was very sticky and needed quite a lot of flour as I kneaded. Place the dough in the bowl (I didn’t grease the bowl in deference to my friend Yaz’s claim that it impedes growth) and cover with a damp tea towel. Set aside in a warm place about 90 minutes or until doubled in size.

Punch down and shape to form a loaf. Place in a lightly greased small loaf tin (mine is about 20 x 13cm). Cover and set aside in warm place for about 60 minutes or til doubled in size. Bake 30-40 minutes (I think mine baked 30 minutes and then I returned it to the oven out of the tin for another 10 minutes so the crust could toughen up a little.)

Remove from tin once the bread is baked and cool on a rack before slicing.

On the stereo:
A Rush of Blood to the Head: Coldplay

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Pumpkin, PC Stories and a Roast

If you have read my recent pumpkin post, you will know that I have been giving this vegetable a considerable amount of thought lately. Tonight I continue my musings but in a different vein.

On the weekend I was listening to Helen Razer on ABC 774. She was talking about a newspaper report that the South Australian state government has instructed teachers to warn children not to imitate the risky behaviour of characters in fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and Hansel and Gretel. Seems like political correctness gone mad!

But it got me wondering about what warnings would be on pumpkins if we really did believe fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Warning: May turn into a coach if fairy godmothers in the vicinity. It worked for Cinderella, but imagine starting to cook your pumpkin for dinner and some pesky fairy godmother waves her wand and your pumpkin is off to the ball. Most inconvenient. Although maybe there would be some young girls who would buy a pumpkin in the belief that it was necessary to meet her Prince Charming.

Or should young women be warned against marrying men called Peter who liked pumpkins? This got me thinking about Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater. I have always thought the lines ‘so he put her in a pumpkin shell and there he kept her very well’ meant he imprisoned her in a pumpkin. But then I was thinking maybe it was not such a bad life because it does say he kept her ‘very well’.

Maybe it means that due to the real estate crisis, he just couldn’t afford a home and finally found a large old pumpkin shell where they lived happily ever after, hacking off a piece of pumpkin for dinner every now and again. E told me it was a silly idea but I said if James could live inside a giant peach why not a pumpkin. You only need to read about the pumpkin growing competitions to see it is quite believable.

Oh and one more little esoteric piece of information. As a lover of pumpkin, I almost was a Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater because I would have been called Peter if I had been born a boy. So I have good reason to defend him.

But onto my recipe which is a humble jumble of roast vegies and sausages. I found the idea on Hippolyra’s Fuss Free Flavours. It was a nice variation on a Jill Dupleix recipe of roast onions, tomatoes and sausages which I have enjoyed a few times. Of course I use vegetarian sausages and liked the idea of adding the moistness of pumpkin because the vego sausages are drier than the meaty kind. It worked a treat and was as delicious as it was easy.

This is a great recipe for a night when you want to just sit back and relax while dinner cooks. Hippolyra made it while on holidays and says it is also very handy when cooking in a strange kitchen because it just requires one tray. First night we had it with roast potatoes but the leftovers were thrown into a pasta sauce. And of course, like Hippolyra, you could substitute meat sausages for the veggie ones, if that’s your thing!

Pumpkin and Sausage Roast
(adapted from Fuss Free Flavours)
Serves 4

660 pumpkin, peeled and diced
6 veggie sausages (I used tomato and onion), roughly chopped
1 red onion, peeled and cut in wedges
250g cherry tomatoes
1 red pepper, roughly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Sprig of rosemary (optional – I didn’t use)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Place pumpkin, sausages and onion (and rosemary if using) in roasting dish and toss with a little olive oil and salt. Bake for about 20 minutes at 200 C. Add remaining ingredients and toss to mix. Bake an additional 40-60 minutes until the pumpkin starts to feel soft and mushy when you stir it. The sausages should crisp up a little. (I was moving trays between shelves in the oven so my timing is not terribly scientific.)

On the stereo:
LMT Label Sampler CDR Spring 2008 – Various Artists

Sunday 13 July 2008

Tagged: Top Ten Photos

Food blogging seems an odd activity sometimes when we spend so much time sharing recipes and meals and yet never tasting each other's food. Photos and words have to work hard to compensate.

So I thought it would be interesting (or some might say indulgent) to give you some insight into my photos when I was tagged by both Pixie of You Say Tomahto, I Say Tomayto and Helen of Food Stories for my top ten food photos. I am no expert and my camera is just a point-and-click Canon Powershot A85. Nevertheless, it was not an easy task to pick just 10 photos from 278 posts, even accounting for some spectacularly dodgy photos. These are not necessarily my favourite recipes but are some of my most successful and meaningful photos.

1. Giraffe Birthday Cake
Strangely enough, one of my favourite photos on my blog does not come anywhere near my favourite things to eat. The cake tasted ordinary. The photo was spectacular. My green giraffe birthday cake was the picture I had always wanted for my avatar. I had looked for the right picture but sometimes it isn’t out there and you just have to make it yourself. And did I mention how much I love green!

2. Birthday afternoon tea
My birthday afternoon tea this year allowed me to indulge in baking some favourite treats – chocolate walnut fudge cake, grubs and cheesey almond muffins, plus grapes and Wendy’s lovely green apple tea. Of course I like the colours and textures of the spread as well. This photo is taken during the day at our kitchen table which has plenty of light in summer during the day. Wish I could say the same of the evenings.

3. Reconciliation Dinner
I love a good theme meal and created a dinner to celebrate last year’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ Reconciliation Week. I used my childhood barbeques for inspiration and had my first foray into experimenting with Australian indigenous herbs and spices. I presented dinner so it looked like the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag.

4. Winter Solstice Dinner
Last year’s winter solstice dinner was based on the sort of roast dinner my mum used to make, with my nut roast where her roast beef would have been. It is always a pleasure to have the table spread with interesting food, and to have an opportunity to use some of the good serving dishes. E and I often light a small candle while we eat dinner but it is less often that we light up a candelabra. This candelabra is one I bought cheaply as a student and lit at many a share house dinner party. I took the photo at our kitchen table where we eat. Unfortunately it is in a dark corner of our house and not very conducive to food photography in the evening.

5. Peanut Stew with Colourful Vegies
Stews and casseroles taste delicious but they really like look like a pile of mud. My Peanut Stew with Bananas tasted really interesting but you wouldn’t have known it to look at it. I used the time honored trick of adding a garnish. Then I was lucky to find some purple cauliflower which looked so cheerful with some broccoli on the border. I was particularly pleased to pep up the photo because it was for my very first blog event. I also like photographing my dishes with the side vegetables because it gives additional colour and context. This photo is taken in the kitchen directly under the fluorescent light – one of my favourite places for photos when I don’t have any natural light.

6. Mole with Tacos
This photo of my borlotti bean mole with roast pumpkin and silverbeet had the same problem as the above stew. Fantastic flavours but looks like dark mush. So I liked this ‘action’ photo of me holding it in a filled taco. You don’t see much of the mole but that doesn’t matter. You see how it is eaten and in the background is the spread of dishes of accompaniments. This photo is taken in the backyard in summer when we ate outside a lot and had long hours of daylight for photography.

7. Still Life with Fruit
Much as I love chocolate, this picture was really all about the fruit. Fresh fruit is one of the most beautiful images in the kitchen. But I still thought some linen and a gorgeous bowl would add pleasing colour and contrast. The bowl was purchased in Istanbul about 10 years ago and is the one I usually keep my fruit in. The condensed milk fudge sauce was also delicious but it was cold in this photo so I could shoot in daylight, rather than warm and gooey for dipping chunks of fruit in.

8. Vampire Birthday Cake
Another of my favourite novelty cakes is the vampire cake because E requested it for his birthday last year and I created it without any template to follow. I had been thinking of starting a blog and this was the tipping point. I wanted to share it partly because I was proud of it and partly to share it with others. I hope that it will give some guidance to others like me who are asked to make a vampire birthday cake. This was my first blog entry and unlike the giraffe cake, the actual cake recipe was one of my favourite gluten free cakes I have made.

9. Posh Butter Biscuits
Biscuits and cookies come into a category of seen-one-seen-them-all (see here if you don't know what I mean by biscuits). They are not that attractive alone and need context or props. I always enjoy seeing how bloggers present them. I like this picture of Butter biscuits with cocoa nibs and candied orange because I think it gives a feeling of airy lightness which is echoed in the taste of the biscuits. It also gives me some satisfaction because when I baked these biscuits they all spread and stuck together in odd shapes but I managed to stack them in such a way that they looked like lovely round biscuits. Was anyone fooled?

10. Pancakes for Brunch
One of the joys of posting about brunch foods is that there is lots of daylight for photographs. You can see this in my photo of oaty pancakes with berries. I also like it because the close-up shows the texture of the pancakes and the light captures the lovely deep reds of the berries.

I am not going to tag anyone but would welcome hearing from anyone who is interested in doing a top ten of their photos.

Friday 11 July 2008

Pumpkin soup and history

When my sister Francesca lived in London in the mid-1990s, we asked for requests for foods from home (Melbourne) when a friend was visiting her. Among other things, she asked for a tin of pumpkin soup because it was so hard to find. I was astounded. Surely pumpkin soup was an everyday food!

Later, when I lived in the UK I learnt that while pumpkin is like mother’s milk to an Australian, it is pig feed in the UK. Pumpkin soup in Australian cafes is often jazzed up with exotic spices but in the UK the very idea of pumpkin soup seems exotic.

Indeed in Europe pumpkins were a curiosity when brought back from the Americas in the 1500s. Perhaps this is why they features in fairy tales (Cinderella) and nursery rhymes (Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater). The name comes from ‘pepon’, a greek word for large melon. Pumpkins are a fruit which are part of the squash family. Not just a fruit but a berry, albeit the only one with such a hard outer shell.

So it should be no surprise to find that it seems to be used like a fruit for cakes and pies in the USA. Pumpkins originated in the Americas. Seeds have been found in Mexico from 7000-5500 BC. The English colonists ate so much of this fruit that the port of Boston was once known as Pumpkinshire. Pumpkin pie, jack o’ lanterns and pumpkin festivals have become part of the way of American life. Apparently 99% of pumpkins are sold for decoration but I think this must be only in America.

In Australia there is so much more to pumpkins than fairytales and festive food. I grew up eating pumpkin mashed or roasted beside my vegies, or in soups, casseroles and curries. We use them when baking scones, bread and biscuits. And I highly recommend them in quiche, burgers, mole, dips, risotto, pasta, cornbread, salads, chutney, pancakes and smoothies. Pumpkins are moist and sweet with a willingness to adapt to any dish. We even have pumpkin kitchen tips such as using pumpkin to thicken a stew or dusting leftover raw pumpkin with pepper to keep it fresh.

Pumpkins are available year round in all shapes. I buy it in large wedges and never see it sold as a puree in tins (as seems to be common in America). You need a good heavy chef’s knife to cut through it and a small knife to scrape out the seeds. Wiki says that most pumpkins have orange or yellow skins but most pumpkins I buy have dark grey or green skin.

When I was young we mostly ate was the large grey/blue-skinned Queensland Blue (photo above) and if we were feeling fancy we might have had a Butternut Pumpkin (which is known as Butternut Squash in other countries). Now Kent and Jap pumpkins (right hand photo) with their bright orange flesh and dark green skin are popular with shoppers, including myself. I took the top photo at a farmers market of heirloom pumpkins, which made me wonder if anyone had considered naming pumpkins after a giraffe.

So this has left me asking the question: where has the Australian love of pumpkins for dinner come from? When so many of our food habits come from America and Britain, why do we treat pumpkins as a regular vegetable rather than as pie fodder or pig feed? Have I discovered something that is uniquely Australian? Not an easy question to answer. It got me searching historic cookbooks, reading One Continuous Picnic and engaged in conversation with booksellers.

Michael Symons’ history of food in Australia, One Continuous Picnic, was the source of greatest insight into Australia’s love affair with pumpkins. The first mention of them in the book is on pp 34-35. In 1830 Alexander Harris describes the bounty of small Hawkesbury farmers. He says that the pumpkins were ‘as big as a large bucket’ and the chief vegetable in most households. It is mentioned again on p 107 in a childhood reminiscence of pumpkins appearing day after day in the 1850s. Then on p 164 there is a mention of pumpkin as one of the vegetables being recommended to be boiled on the side by a 1930s cookbook. It’s not much.

I decided the best way to find out the history of how Australians when pumpkins became popular was to search historic cookbooks. A 1970s history Two Hundred Years of Australian Cooking by Babette Hayes gives a disturbingly fascinating recipe and photo of possum cooked in pumpkin which seems to be from colonial Australia. Philip E Muskett, who wrote The Art of Living in Australia in 1893, gives a recipe for pumpkin soup (but so do British vegetarian cookbooks from the same era so it does not prove it is uniquely Australian). There is no mention of it at all in my Green and Gold Cookbook (c 1940s).

I find that pumpkin often gets paired with marrow. Marrow? Squash? Pumpkin? What is the difference? This is not my area of expertise but I have noticed that often American and Brits say squash where I would say pumpkin (eg butternut) so I think some confusion arises here. Colin Spencer says that pumpkins and marrows are part of the squash family. I always thought marrows and squash was softer than pumpkins.

In the 1950s/1960s Australian Cookery of Today Illustrated which gives recipes for steaming and stuffing marrows or pumpkins as well as jam, scones and tarts made from pumpkin. A Sanitarium recipe book from early 1950s gives recipes for pumpkin scones and pumpkin fritters which are sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. Strangely enough this recipe is repeated in the Vegetarian section of a 1955 Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union (PMWU) of Victoria cookbook.

Very little mention of pumpkin soup and then on 4 October in 1961 there is an article in the Australian Women’s Weekly with a list of old time favourites that have been passed down the generations. At the top of the list is cream of pumpkin soup. Pumpkin soup also gets a place in The Women’s Weekly Best Ever Recipes (c1980s).

So I don’t really have any answers, but I do have more questions. I’ve had fun searching but I felt I finally had to stop and write. I have a few hunches. Colin Spencer’s comment that marrows (read ‘pumpkins’) are native to temperate and tropical climates suggests the Australian climate was just right for them. I once went to a student house that I had been told had a vegetable garden and it was merely an out of control pumpkin vine. But Denis Cotter describes pumpkin as ‘so damn useful’ and boldly claims that they grow so well in Ireland that they might have become part of the Irish culinary tradition if they had been discovered earlier.

I love Colin Spencer’s description of the colour as the pumpkin’s ‘greatest quality – that’s fiery russet or Van Gogh orange sets the table aflame’. He also says that large pumpkins were a common sight in London’s markets in the Nineteenth Century and that it was used to bulk out bread. Is this possibly where our love of pumpkin scones originated? I also found some fun facts about pumpkins including that they were once believed to cure snake bite and remove freckles, which also could have been quite useful in Australia.

Before I tell you about my recipe, I will lastly just mention the more modern appearances of pumpkins in our culture. The band Smashing Pumpkins, Jack the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town in The Nightmare before Christmas, and The Great Pumpkin who haunts Linus van Pelt in It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Surprisingly Shakespeare mentioned the vegetable with the old spelling in the Merry Wives of Windsor (c1600): ‘Go to, then: we'll use this unwholesome humidity, this gross watery pumpion; we'll teach him to know turtles from jays’. I don’t know what it means but he doesn’t sound like a fan of the stuff.

It seemed obvious that the recipe to post here was pumpkin soup. As I said above, it is something I grew up with. I originally decided I would post a recipe for pumpkin and lentil soup but it was too watery. I decided to go back to a basic recipe. I tried just pureeing pumpkin and onion in stock and it tasted just like pureed pumpkin. Too basic! So I looked for a recipe like we used to eat – no fancy vegies or spices added. The key seemed to be to add some potato. I also added some cream because I had some needing to be used but I found it made it quite rich. The result was delicious and velvety.

In the course of my searching pumpkin soup recipes I came across lots of ideas for flavourings so I thought I would list these to show just how versatile this recipe could be if you fancy something different. But I do recommend this recipe which is just what I suspect my ancestors might have cooked or eaten in a city café.

Pumpkin Soup
(Adapted from Best Recipes and Go for 2&5)
serves 4-6

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
750g Jap pumpkin, peeled and diced
250g potatoes, diced
3½ cups stock (or water)
60 ml thickened cream (or yoghurt or coconut milk)
Salt and Pepper
Nutmeg to serve

- Fry onion in oil (or if you want a low fat version cook in a small amount of water)
- Place remaining ingredients, except cream, in a large saucepan.
- Simmer until vegetables are tender. (Approximately 15-20 minutes)
- Remove from heat.
- Blend with a stick blender until smooth.
- Add cream and stir through (do not boil after adding cream).
- Season to taste.
- Serve with a garnish of freshly grated nutmeg

- Method variations: make a roux to thicken the soup, roast the pumpkin for deeper flavour, mash or leave pumpkin in chunks for more texture
- Liquids: coconut milk, white wine, cream, yoghurt, buttermilk, sour cream, milk
- Flavourings: nutmeg, chives, rosemary, tarragon, cumin, coriander, bacon/facon, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, tahini, tomato paste, chicken noodle soup, lemon grass, chilli, curry powder, nut butters, parsley, sage
- Vegetables/fruits: corn, cauliflower, tomato, apple, sweet potato, potato, leeks
- Textures: lentils, beans, rice, pasta, wild rice, quinoa, walnuts, peanut butter
- Garnishes: chives, parsley, nutmegs, pears coated in maple syrup

And because I feel that our worldview of pumpkin is not know as well outside Australia, I am sending this to Simona from Briciole who is hosting Weekend Herb Blogging this week, the event founded by Kalyn from Kalyn's Kitchen.

See Louise's post for Pumpkin Day on 26 October 2011 for more global information about pumpkins.

On the stereo:
Country Songs for the Aussie Bloke – 30 Tracks and that’s No Crap: Various Artists

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Miss Marple’s Tea Room – cosy charm

It all began when I was looking at old vegetarian cookbooks online and discovered a Vintage Cookbooks store at Kallista in the Dandenong Ranges. This is the edge of the other side of Melbourne for us but a pretty tourist destination with cosy tea rooms and impressive bush scenery. So E and I decided to make a day of it. When I told my sister Fran, she said there is a shop with hundreds of types of tea we should visit.

A quick search on the internet turned up Miss Marple’s Tea Room. Not Fran’s tea shop but right up E’s alley. Let me explain. Both his parents are ex-librarians and have read every crime novel and watched every crime television show that has ever existed. Honestly! Agatha Christie’s detective, Miss Marple, is almost like a family friend. So although E’s folks live too far away to take them along, we had to visit.

We arrived in the small town of Sassafras at 12.45 and decided we would lunch at Miss Marple’s first. We were told there was a 45 minute wait. There are lots of little shops selling soaps, candles, teatowels, toys and gifts so we were happy to browse. We were less pleased to get back to Miss Marple’s and wait another half hour before being seated. But the service and the food were so good that we didn’t mind. This is just as well because I got the impression they are used to people waiting. Besides, the wait gave us time to take in the tea room’s charms.

Miss Marple’s is a quaint little timber-framed cottage that looks like it would be more at home in ye olde English village than in the middle of the Australia bush. Inside it feels exactly like a small village tea room. Small windows are hung with frilly curtains, the timber frames can be seen inside, a fire burns in the large fireplace and flowery tablecloths cover the tables. The sort of place you would take your great-aunt. Actually a few of the diners looked like extras off an Agatha Christie movie.

The waitresses are friendly and attentive. They fit right into the period drama with their long black dresses and white bib aprons. While we waited we marvelled at the food they carried to the tables, especially the magnificent sundaes. On the walls are black and white photos from the 1960s Miss Marple films with Margaret Rutherford. Of course, there are some Agatha Christie paperbacks on display but most of the shelves are dedicated to an amazing collection of teapots.

While we had strolled around Sassafras we had spotted a few Christmas displays. The friendly man in Bluestone Candles had explained that Sassafras celebrated Christmas in July all month long. Miss Marple’s really got into the spirit. Carols played and the ceiling beams were hung with large wreaths of holly and pinecones. Stockings even hung from the fireplace just in case St Nick made an appearance.

Even the menu had yuletide specials. The food is not fancy nor terribly expensive. It is mainly soup, cheese on toast, pies, cakes and Devonshire teas. But it is good quality and is served with style. I found there were enough vegetarian options to keep me happy: pasties, ploughman’s lunch, welsh rarebit, cauliflower soup. E chose the festive fingers for his lunch – toast fingers with turkey, cranberry and melted cheese. With an eye to the dessert menu, I had the ploughman’s lunch.

My ploughman’s lunch came piled on a huge plate. There were two chunks of mature cheese – one yellow and one orange – which crumbled at the touch of a knife but melted in the mouth. Beside these were two fresh white bread rolls. In the middles was a small bowl of pickles and olives and a smaller dish of Branston-style pickle. Surrounding it was a forest of salad – tomatoes, cucumber, shavings of carrot, alfalfa sprouts and masses of lettuce. My complaints are really a matter of personal taste – I am not a huge fan of white bread or lettuce. But I did enjoy my lunch and E was pleased to have a bit of my salad with his festive fingers which had him swooning.

Most importantly, I had room for dessert. I had already decided on Christmas Pudding with brandy custard. E swithered between Mr Stringer’s Sticky Toffee Pudding and the Vicar’s Folly but he went with the pudding. The Christmas pudding was pleasingly dark and rich. I liked the festive plate it was served on which revealed a picture of St Nick himself as I mopped up the pool of custard. I didn’t quite finish mine and nor did E but we were both very satisfied.

On the way back to the car we visited the next door shop called Tea Leaves which had over 300 varieties of tea, as well as many coffees, mugs, tea pots and other tea paraphernalia. No doubt, this is the place Fran had originally mentioned. We were tempted but didn’t buy. Unlike Vintage Books in Kallista which had a fine range of older cookbooks and a friendly manager who keeps a good stock of vegetarian books. Next time we are passing, we will be sure to drop in.

Miss Marple's Tea Room
382 Mt. Dandenong-Tourist Road
Sassafras Victoria 3787
(Melways Reference: 66F9)
Telephone: (03) 9755-1610
Facsimile: (03) 9755-3601
Open 11am – 4.30pm every day
Website: http://www.missmarples.com.au/

Monday 7 July 2008

Corn bread, borscht and common sense

The last few days I have been eating a cornbread that Tanna recently made on My Kitchen in Half Cups. I had to try it because she claimed it to be ‘the most magnificent corn bread’ and because it was quite unlike any corn bread I had seen before. There was one problem. This corn bread was different because it was baked with sausage as a topping. However as a lover of all things sausage so long as there is no meat (in a manner of speaking), I decided I was up for a challenge.

I was tossing up between trying this with vegetarian sausages or nut roast. I had a leftover piece of nut roast in the freezer that needed to feel useful so that decision was made. One difference that I have noticed between faux meat and meat is that the animal kind leaves great rivers of fat running in its wake while nut roast and vegie sausages tend to be a lot drier. Which gave me an excuse to add some cheese to the topping. It doesn’t take much to convince me to add some cheese to a corn bread.

The batter was very runny and it made 2 soft moist loaves so I had had plenty for lunches and dinners. The first night I served it with some cauliflower and brussels sprouts which I roasted with a little dukkah, plus some red cabbage and onion which I fried up with some garlic and orange juice and zest. It was nice but a little dry. Needed more juice. So I decided to make soup the second night.

Lysy had made some borscht recently which looked wonderfully crimson and sounded delicious. The recipe was the one her grandparents used to make her and it came from the Entertaining with Cranks cookbook. I was impressed because, much as I loved my grandmothers’ cooking as a child, I just couldn’t imagine them cooking from vegetarian cookbooks. Then again, nor could I imagine them cooking borscht. I was inspired by Lysy’s suggestion that some soups can be eaten hot or cold and that this is one of them. She served hers chilled but it is not the season for such summery treats in Melbourne.

Just like with the corn bread I made some adjustments to suit me. It amused me to see the Lysy used a food processor in preference to grating the beetroot. I also read once that Nigella wears gloves to cut up beetroot. I don’t mind getting my hands stained purple but I will happily grate beetroot rather than having the palaver of using a food processor. I also wanted to use up some of the leftovers from the previous night so I added the leftover cooked vegies and substituted buttermilk for the sour cream/yoghurt. Both worked a treat. I even shortened my cooking times because I started cooking at 7.30 and was horrified to see it should cook for an hour. Luckily I didn’t have to wait for it to chill as well.

The soup was fantastic with the corn bread and made me think yet again, how interesting blogging is because we see the different ways people cook. Lately I have come across three useful pieces of advice that relate to this which made great sense to me. These words seem obvious but there is so much advice floating around the internet that it is cheering to see such wisdom. I fear that common sense is not so common anymore.

Firstly, Susan of Wild Yeast wrote about doing what works for you and not doing what doesn’t work for you. Sounds obvious? But it is where instinct kicks in. Such advice makes sense of the times instructions or suggestions sound helpful but I know they wont work in my kitchen.

Susan directed readers to another great post by David Lebovitz which reflects on what is a handful. He says that when you are instructed to add a handful in a recipe it means the exact quantity doesn’t matter. He also shares some interesting thoughts on writing recipes and how easy it is for them to be misunderstood. He makes the point that a lot of recipes are for people who have a sense of cooking. I think that the less someone is familiar with cooking the more they have to following recipes to the letter which is where they can be confusing, because they don’t have instinct to fall back on. But more experienced cooks know that methods and amounts often depends on many variables such as the your oven, the weather, and source of ingredients.

Which leads me to the last piece of wise advice I saw recently. It was passed on at Limes and Lycopene, where Kathryn directed readers to a quote by Craig Hassel whose advice on whether coconut oil is healthy or not summed up what she would like to answer to the general question, is this healthy or not. In a nutshell the answer is, it depends. But this quote expands on this a bit by saying it depends on your genes, your diet, your lifestyle, how often you use it etc etc etc. It reminded me a little of Michael Pollan’s common sense advice which I wrote about a few weeks back.

Life just isn’t that simple, just as it is not a matter of following a recipe to the letter. We should listen to our gut instinct occasionally because so often the instructions we are following don’t take into account our ovens, our climates, what sort of day we have had and what else is going on in our lives. So here are my versions of these recipes, but if you are interested in trying them, I expect you will make your own amendments!

Corn Bread with Nut Roast
(adapted from Tanna’s version of that in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart)

1 cup coarse cornmeal (polenta)
2 cups buttermilk
170g nut roast
2 tablespoons butter
1-2 tablespoon honey
3 eggs
3 ears corn, kernels cut off cob
1 tsp chipotle peppers in adobe sauce (or a chilli pepper)
1¾ cup plain white flour
1½ tablespoons (20g) baking powder
¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon salt
Couple of handfuls of cheese

The night before: mix cornmeal and buttermilk in a large bowl, cover and leave at room temperature overnight. The next morning little buttermilk mountains were appearing so there was obviously something going on in that mixture. But I was feeling too suspicious of leaving dairy products out of the fridge too long and put it in the fridge until I was ready to bake that evening. Tanna left hers in the fridge for 3 days before using it.

Preheat the oven to 350°F or 180°C. Grease and line 2 loaf tins (approx 13 x 22cm).

In a small microwave proof bowl, melt the butter in the microwave (or use a small saucepan on a stovetop). Stir in honey. Use a fork to lightly whisk in the eggs. Add to the cornmeal and buttermilk mixture. Add corn kernels and chipotle or chilli.

Add dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt) to the wet mix and stir to combine. The batter will be quite runny.

Pour batter into the prepared loaf tins and sprinkle the cheese and nut roast on top. (I sprinkled cheese on top of nut roast but next time I would mix the cheese and nut roast first.) Press into the mixture a little. Bake for 40-50 minutes or til they feel cooked when you press gently on the loaves and a skewer comes out cleanly. Keeps for quite a few days (mine is now 3 days old and still quite soft).

(adapted from Lysy and Entertaining with Cranks)
Serves 4 as a main course

2 tsp oil
1 medium sized onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
450g (about 3 medium) raw beetroot
1 carrot
1 diced small potato
1 litre vegetable stock
2 tbsp red wine vinegar or lemon juice
1 tbsp tomato puree
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 bayleaf
generous pinch ground cloves (I ground two cloves)
2 cups leftover vegies (optional)*
300ml sour cream, yoghurt or buttermilk
salt and pepper, to taste
chopped chives to garnish (optional)

* I used leftover cooked cabbage, cauliflower and brussels sprouts

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and saute the onion over a low heat. Meanwhile peel and grate beetroot. Add to saucepan and stir 1-2 minutes, then add stock and bring to the boil. While stock is coming to the boil, peel and grate carrots and potato and add to the saucepan. Add spices. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30minutes. Add cooked vegies and simmer an additional 10 minutes. Remove bayleaf and blend using a hand held blender. Add seasoning and a quarter of a cup of buttermilk and stir. If you wish to serve chilled, set aside to cool. If you like it hot, serve straight away. Ladle into bowls. Drizzle with buttermilk and garnish with chives.

On the stereo:
auteur labels: les disques de crepuscule 1980-1985 – Various Artists

Friday 4 July 2008

Curious Chipotles and Bonza Burritos

I don’t get excited by chillis but I do love to wander through a foreign food store in search of something different from our usual supermarket offerings. On a visit to Casa Iberica in Fitzroy recently I was intrigued by a tin of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, which I had never seen before. I also bought tinned black beans and dried garlic flakes because I rarely encounter them elsewhere.

To celebrate my first purchase of chipotle peppers I thought I should find out just what they are and turned to the trusty Wikipedia. To my surprise I found they were actually red jalapeno peppers that had been dried in a smoking chamber. It was less surprising to then discover that the word comes from Nahuatl for dried chilli. For those of you wondering about Nahuatl, it is a group of dialects and related languages of the Aztecs. Curious about the history, I turned to the Tabasco Historian who writes that they have been eaten in ancient Mexican civilizations since before the Aztecs.

It seemed only right and proper that I sample my new chipotle peppers in a Mexican dish and I had been eyeing off Wendy’s version of the Moosewood’s Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burritos that she posted recently. How would they be with chipotle? I couldn’t resist finding out.

Rather good, actually. Smoky and fiery hot. Even E (who is known as Mr Tabasco Fiasco in this house for his tendency to add Tabasco to almost every meal I serve) exclaimed at the heat. Fortunately I warned him to taste before he doused. It may have been made hotter by me adding more of the adobo sauce than I had intended because the jar I put the remains in was a little bit too small. Wikipedia gives them 3 out of 5 on the heat scale but they are much hotter than I am used to. However, I am sure there will be a lot more of them on my blog as I have a jarful to get through.

While I was feeling like the Curious Orange, I also did a little experiment with the cheese. When Wendy had posted her burritos, I wondered why she had grilled the cheese after cooking them rather than just cooking them with cheese on them. So I tried just baking the burritos with cheese. It didn’t crisp up as I had hoped. But if I had grilled it I am sure my ends of burritos would have charred (unlike Wendy’s very appetizing looking ones). I have decided that tortillas are just too delicate to be able to produce a nice crispy golden cheese topping and maybe next time I should try adding the cheese to the mixture.

Wendy served hers with tomato salsa but I wasn’t organized enough. Only as I was cooking them did I remember they needed some sort of sauce. I cooked up a quick makeshift tomato sauce out of tomato passata, pumpkin chutney, a pinch of salt, spring onions and garlic. It was very good. We also had broccoli and corn on the cob with them. The following night I lightly fried some vegies and added more of my passata which was lovely. There are lots of ways to eat these burritos and I highly recommend you try some. But if you do use chipotle peppers and feel about chillis as I do, go easy!

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burrito
(adapted from Wendy’s version of The Moosewood Low Fat Cookbook)
Serves 4

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (about 600g)
Vegetable oil
3 spring onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 chipotle pepper, finely chopped
1 tbsp adobo sauce
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground cumin
400g (15oz) tin of black beans, drained and rinsed
Handful of parsley
Juice of half a lemon
½ tsp salt
4 tortillas
Grated cheddar cheese (optional)

Add the sweet potato to a pan of salted water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until the sweet potato is tender. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a little oil in a medium sized saucepan. Fry spring onions and garlic over low heat for 2-3 minutes. Add cumin and coriander and cook for 1 minute.

Remove saucepan from the heat and add sweet potato, chilli, black beans, parsley, lemon juice and salt. Use a potato masher to roughly mash together. (Or use a blender to roughly chop.)

Pre-heat oven to 170 C and lightly grease a 23cm square baking dish (I used a cake tin because it was the best size in the kitchen).

Divide the sweet potato mixture between 4 tortillas. Spread mixture along the middle of each tortilla, roll up and place in baking dish with seam down so they fit snugly.

I sprinkled cheese and some sesame seeds on mine and baked uncovered for 30 minutes but Wendy covered hers with foil, baked for 30 minutes, then she sprinkled with cheese and placed under the grill til the cheese was bubbling and starting to brown.

On the Stereo:
13 + 1 of the best: Tuxedo Moon