Recent baking

I was moved to another area at work occupied by rather more people than the previous area I was in (I do refer to it as Cubicle Death Farm, but only in my head and mostly in an affectionate tone), which has given me a chance to try some new cake recipes and leave cakes in the kitchen for general consumption. Occasionally with apologetic post-it notes about burned bits, raw bits, and lumps. Sifting is so dull.

1. Gingerbread snacking cake from Smitten Kitchen (pictured above) is delightful – a really easy recipe that you can put together in one saucepan and bakes in half an hour. Lovely combination of spices, and you can easily halve the sugar. I used treacle instead of molasses, and it still has a nice depth.

2. Chocolate banana bread from Smitten Kitchen – this isn’t overly sweet, just nice and darkly chocolatey. I like banana bread, but I think it is only improved with the addition of chocolate. As are so many things!

3. Ginger & parsnip cake from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet – rather like a carrot cake, in that it uses grated raw parsnip, and a wonderfully spicy gingeriness. I’d like to try the alternate versions with turnips and swedes.

Compound eyes

1. I have actually taken some shots with my macro lens recently that I’m quite happy with. Like the photo of the fly above – I like its crazy compound eyes and its little yellow fuzzy chest. I still find working with the limited depth of field pretty challenging, but I’m getting more shots that seem decent. Breaking news: taking photos regularly seems to improve your ability to take photos. Amazing. I’m as stunned as you are.

2. I recently sped my way through Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, and Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, a pair of wonderfully surreal mystery novels by Sara Gran. I want more Claire DeWitt, and am settling for reading one of Sara Gran’s earlier books instead.

3. I am baking things out of a new cookbook at the moment, Short & Sweet – so far I’ve made a basic white bread, sesame & date biscuits, and some way too sweet chocolate biscuits. (If I think that something is far too sweet, trust me, it is far too sweet.) Next up is a parsnip & ginger cake, because parsnips were ridiculously cheap at the fruit and veggie store, and I bought a large bag of them while vaguely thinking of that recipe. I discovered when I got home that it only calls for about 150 grams of parsnips so I will be browsing around for something else to do with the rest of them. A stew or something, I expect.

4. In between making new recipes from Short & Sweet, I want to try these Prune and Caraway Scones over at The Wednesday Chef. In that post, she writes a little about explaining to people why you like to cook, and I related to the description: “Whenever people ask me why I like to cook, when so many people find it stressful and complicated, I wonder how to put into words that feeling. You know what I mean, right? The sense of providing your loved ones with edible comfort and happiness?…” Prunes. Scones. Edible comfort and happiness. They sound lovely. I’m not sure they would appeal to either Edward or the husband though, which is a slight drawback. I need more people to ply with baked goods.

100 new recipes: part six

45/100: Sweet Potato & Chickpea Salad – from this recipe. Roasted sweet potatoes are obviously delicious, and this is a great substantial salad that also works as a main meal.

46/100: Muesli Muffins – from this recipe. I made a batch of these and froze them, and they were very handy to take to work for morning tea. They aren’t exactly delicious little cakes – they taste like the healthy little muesli and apple concoctions that they are, but they’re very tasty, particularly when warmed up.

47/100: Paleo Pumpkin Bread – from this recipe. Using raw grated pumpkin in this dish gives it a very different flavour to something made with cooked pumpkin. It’s more vegetabley than the sweetness you’d expect from cooked pumpkin. This is very much a savoury loaf, and was nice with a bit of avocado spread on it.

48/100: Granola – from this recipe. Any sort of homemade granola would be delicious, I think, and this recipe was really nice – sweet and crunchy, the perfect topping for yoghurt. Homemade yoghurt, of course! (Well, if you’ve been well organised and haven’t broken your slow cooker. No, I haven’t done anything like that. Stop giving me that look.)

49/100: Raw Beet Salad – from this recipe. I hereby pronounce Yotam Ottolenghi the King of Salads. All of his salad recipes are wonderful. This one is crunchy and refreshing and generally divine.

50/100: Roasted Cauliflower & Grape Salad – from this recipe, and another Ottolenghi salad. The combination of roasted cauliflower, grapes and cheese sounded weird to me, and yet it is just the perfect combination of nutty roasted cauliflower, salty cheese and sweet grapes.

51/100: Split Pea & Bacon Soup – adapted from this recipe. (Don’t click on that photograph, it looks like someone threw up in a bowl. Well, refrain from clicking and also put that unpleasant image out of your mind.) I added zucchini and sweet potato, which according to a horrified friend made this an “abomination!” and not a proper split pea soup at all. Despite my cooking crimes, it was delicious.

52/100: Spiced Beef with Hummus – from this recipe. That blog does a great job of making this dish look vastly more appealing. It’s a deliciously simple little midweek recipe, and the spices and hummus go beautifully together.

53/100: Chickpea & Choc Chip Cookies – from this recipe. These are made from whizzed up chickpeas, and the only thing that really stops them from tasting like little lumps of peanut butter and chickpeas is the liberal use of chocolate chips. They’re reasonably tasty gooey little morsels, but unfortunately nothing made with chickpeas is ever going to compare to an actual cookie made from flour, despite people’s emphatic attempts to convince you that “no-one will know the difference!”. Yes, they will.

54/100: Tourti√®re – from this recipe and using this recipe for the pastry. Both recipes were excellent – the pastry is rich and buttery (just don’t think too hard about the amount of butter/fat in it), and this is a fantastic pie – not as intensely pork-y as it smells while the filling is cooking (which I was pleased about, not being a really enthusiastic fan of pork except in the form of bacon. I mean, obviously. I’m not insane.)

55/100: Grown Up Birthday Cake – from this recipe. The cup of olive oil and a cup of white wine included in this cake batter sounded odd to me, and I don’t know that I would have made it if it hadn’t been recommended to me. I should always disregard my instincts because this is lovely, with a very delicate flavour, and as per the title, a great birthday cake for adults.

56/100: Butter Tarts – from this recipe. These are like… gooey little caramel syrup bombs. Delicious.

57/100: Naan Bread – from this recipe. Soft, delicious naan bread – a quick accompaniment to curry for dinner.

58/100: Seed Loaf – from this recipe. Is this a “loaf of bread” that will “change your life”? No, it is not. Well, perhaps the discovery of seed loaf might change your life, I don’t know. I don’t judge. (I do, actually, but I do so in the full knowledge that I’m a terrible person, so that’s all right.) But it is a nice seed loaf with a good combination of nuts and seeds.

59/100: Quinoa & Vegetable Slice – roughly adapted from this recipe. How to get your reluctant partner to eat quinoa? And zucchini? Surround them with eggs and bacon. A good way of incorporating leftover cooked quinoa into a weeknight dinner.

60/100: Beetroot & Red Cabbage Slaw – from this recipe. It’s another Ottolenghi salad. I don’t need to tell you that it’s delicious. Of course it is.

61/100: Cashew & Cauliflower Mash – from this recipe. Put aside the fact that it’s inspired by a recipe from a Tim Ferriss book (I know, try and suppress your nausea), and that it’s described as satisfying carb cravings “without the guilt”, simply focus on the fact that this is cauliflower cooked with coconut milk and cashews. It’s beautiful. It’s amazing. You can eat it with everything. I am having a bit of a love affair with cauliflower at the moment though, so I might be slightly biased.

100 new recipes: part four

26/100: French Toast – from this recipe. This was such an easy breakfast – crispy delicious toast with maple syrup.

27/100: Quick Flatbreads – from this recipe. This is a very quick, fluffy flatbread – easy to get on in the late afternoon for fresh bread with dinner.

28/100: Meatloaf – from this recipe. I really liked this meatloaf and thought the method of cooking it up on a rack gave it a nice crust – however the husband prefers the meatloaf recipe in the Nourishing Traditions cookbook.

29/100: Malaysian Lamb Curry – from this recipe. This was delicious – another go-to curry recipe for me now (and another great way to use a cheap cut of lamb).

30/100: Moroccan Carrot & Chickpea Salad – from this recipe. This is quite a sweet salad, and is a lovely addition to a barbecue – given the sweetness, it would be nice to serve it along another salad with a bit of bite.

31/100: Caramelised Onion Tart – pulled together from a number of recipes online and something my brother made once. Slice three or four onions into half rings, caramelise them with fresh thyme and balsamic vinegar, spoon over squares of puff pastry with a little parmesan sprinkled on top, and bake for 20 minutes or so until the pastry is nice and crisp.

32/100: Fresh Egg Pasta – adapted from this recipe. I don’t know that fresh pasta is ever really successful without a pasta roller, or a great deal of patience, which I don’t have. This was nice, but I didn’t roll it thin enough and consequently it was a little too tough.

33/100: Braised Vegemite Lamb – loosely adapted from this recipe and a desire to make a really “Aussie” dish. I rubbed a lamb shoulder with the vegemite and molasses mixture from that recipe, seared it in a casserole dish, added onions and a bottle of Cooper’s Pale Ale, and baked it for 2 hours at 160C. I added a few chopped carrots and a can of chickpeas, then cooked for another half hour before serving with rice and salad. The vegemite marinade is beautiful – subtly salty and malted, goes wonderfully with the beer.

34 & 35/100: Chili and Cornbread – from these recipes. Wonderfully spicy and warm chili, and then the slightly overcooked (I really would like to try it without forgetting about it for 15 minutes) but otherwise deliciously crisp and cheesy cornbread on top, soaking up the chili.

100 new recipes: part three

18/100: Braised Eggplant & Prunes – from this recipe. I’d never slow cooked eggplant before, and it’s beautiful – silky and soft, in a lovely broth.

19/100: Homemade Yoghurt – adapted from this recipe. This is so easy to make and tastes great, plus it feels tremendously satisfying eating homemade yoghurt with your breakfast.

20/100: Red Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs – from this recipe. I actually used something described as beef spare ribs that I found in Woolies, and decided during some mid-shopping-trip googling were similar enough. The husband found them a bit fatty, but I loved them – they cook down in the red wine until they fall off the bone, and taste incredible.

21/100: Beetroot & Caramelised Onion Tart – adapted from this recipe. First up – this pastry recipe is incredible. So simply to make, and so crunchy and tasty. The recipe needs a bit of tweaking to work – I couldn’t roll out the pastry, but it presses perfectly well into a baking tin. I think you could take it down to two beets, rather than three, and they need to have some of the moisture taken out of them – drained on a paper towel, or given a squeeze – I had to cook the tart for ages before it finally set.

22/100: Date & Spinach Salad – from this recipe. This salad is incredible. Seriously. Such an amazing blend of flavours, the crunchy bits of pita and almond next to the marinated dates – I want to make it again already.

23/100: Hot Yoghurt & Barley Soup – from this recipe. I was a bit sceptical about this at first – hot yoghurt? Basically raw egg? But it’s really nice – refreshing, despite being a hot soup, sour and minty, and the barley makes it nice and filling.

24/100: Quiche Lorraine with Carrot & Oat Pastry – I used the pastry from this recipe. I pre-baked the pastry at 180C for about 15 minutes, then fried bacon and onion together, added it to the shell, and poured over a whisked mixture of 5 eggs, 2 cups of milk, salt and pepper. I think it probably cooked for between 30 – 40 minutes before it was set.

25/100: Baked Eggplant with Orzo – from From this recipe. A lovely comforting pasta dish, cheesy but not too cheesy, with silky little chunks of eggplant. Delicious.

Making yoghurt in a slow cooker

I have a cheap slow cooker that I bought at one point and have rarely used – it sits gathering dust in the pantry. Well, it used to – no longer! It is now a ridiculously large and unwieldy yoghurt maker. I’ve made yoghurt twice, based on this method of making it in a slow cooker. It is terribly satisfying, mostly because I had previously thought of making yoghurt without a special yoghurt maker a very tricky process not to be attempted by someone as slapdash in the kitchen as me.

ingredients:
a dusty, unused slow cooker
2 litres of milk (full cream milk, because why bother to have milk at all if you’re having low fat)
1/2 cup plain yoghurt or a powdered yoghurt culture

At around 4pm, pour the milk into your slow cooker, and turn it on high. Wander off. Do not forget about the milk and leave it boiling overnight, otherwise it turns into a weird caramelised brown mass which is really hard to remove. Yes, I do know this from experience.

Around 2 hours later, check on the milk – you’re aiming to have it at around 83C, or just steaming away just below boiling if you’re not using a thermometer. Turn off the slow cooker, and remove the lid to let the milk cool down for between 1 to 2 hours. You want it at around 43 degrees, or quite warm to the touch.

Stir in the yoghurt or culture. Replace the lid, and wrap the whole slow cooker in a towel to insulate it. Cram it back into the pantry, and go to bed.

In the morning, check the yoghurt – it should be reasonably thick. You can transfer it into a container and into the fridge from there if you want a fairly thin natural yoghurt. If you want more of a greek yoghurt texture, put a colander over a bowl in your sink, and cover the colander with a bit of muslin – say, by stealing one of your baby’s clean muslin wraps. Pour the yoghurt into the colander, and let it sit there straining for about two hours. Spoon it from there into your container – having let it strain, you should have just over 1 litre of thick yoghurt.

Save the whey – there’s all sorts of uses for it in the kitchen, or you can put it on your compost or pot plants.

100 new recipes: part two

Remember how I declared I had a marvellous project to make 50 new recipes this year? Well, I was making such good progress that I changed my mind and made it 100. So! You’ll find recipes 1 – 9 here, and below are 10 through 17:

10/100: Coffee Braised Beef – adapted from this recipe. I think the chunk of rump I used was not the best cut for this recipe – it wasn’t as melt-in-the-mouth as I would have liked – but I loved the flavour of the coffee with the beef. I increased the coffee to just over a cup and it gave a dark intense flavour to the meat. (I should note the husband wasn’t particularly keen on it.)

11/100: Maple-Brined Pork Chops – from this recipe. I got a bit distracted and left these in the brine for… I don’t know, perhaps 18 hours rather than the 6 in the recipe. They were a bit too salty as a result, however they were wonderfully moist and flavoursome, and this was a very low effort thing to do with meat prior to grilling it. I definitely want to try the brining technique again, perhaps with chicken.

12/100: Braised Cabbage & Ham – from this recipe. The husband declared this very bland, but then admitted that he didn’t like cabbage. I really enjoyed it, so I think it will depend on your fondness for cabbage.

13/100: Cinnamon Buns – from this recipe. These buns were amazing, so soft and buttery and cinnamony and delicious. The recipe is enormous and I would recommend halving it. It also rises nicely overnight in the fridge, ready to be rolled out and baked in the morning.

14/100: Beef & Quinoa Meatballs – from this recipe. This is a nice way of disguising quinoa for anyone who isn’t overly fond of it. They don’t really cling together in order to be rolled into balls – it’s more a method of squodging the mixture together. Very delicious, and a little healthier than your average meatball recipe.

15/100: Sausage & Lentil Soup – adapted from this recipe (and only adapted because we didn’t quite have the right ingredients – I want to try it again and follow it properly). It can be made vegetarian by leaving out the sausage, and I think would still be a lovely soup. As is though, it’s delicious – spicy and filling, although perhaps a bit more suitable for cooler months.

16/100: Wine Braised Leg of Lamb – from this recipe. It’s a really terrible photo I’ve put on Flickr – in fact, probably best not to click that link. It’ll put you off making it. It’s hard to make hunks of meat look attractive in photos taken on an iphone at night. This was good, lovely and garlicky, but definitely not my favourite braising recipe for lamb.

17/100: Beef with Garlic & Pepper – adapted from this recipe. When you’re spending half an hour grinding pepper into a bowl (slight exaggeration), it feels like it’s going to be far too much, and yet it just adds a nice warm depth of flavour. This is a lovely easy meal to make in a wok.

Things to make with too many apples

We have been experiencing a glut of apples recently, as each week we don’t get through the large number in our fruit & vegie box. Making apple cakes and apple pies just doesn’t use up enough of them for my liking, so I made apple sauce instead.

Apple sauce – or, to be more precise, cooked pureed apple – doesn’t really require a recipe, although if you want you can add cinnamon and lemon juice and all manner of things (like this). I rinsed and cut up apples into large chunks, removing the cores and any spotty bits, until I had filled my large saucepan (around 6 or 7 large apples). Add a cup of water, put the saucepan on the stove to simmer, and ignore it for between 30 to 45 minutes, until the apples are falling apart. Once it’s cooled down a little, I pureed it with a stick blender.

Some recipes require you to peel the apples, particularly if you’re making baby food – I prefer having the skins on the apples, and it’s less work, so I made sure the apples cooked until the skins were very soft, and was careful to ensure that there were no chunks of skin in the puree.

Four things to do with apple sauce:

Apple sauce for babies
Ted has just started eating solids, so I’ve planned ahead and frozen a few things for future busy days. I spooned the cooled and pureed apples into a large ice cube container. Once the cubes of apple were frozen, I sat the container out for a minute to loosen them, then put the cubes into a zip lock bag, so that we can defrost as many as we need for future meals.

Granola: crunch, delicious, and rather irresistible for breakfast.

Apple Sauce Pie: incredibly easy and delicately spiced.

Spiced Apple Sauce Cake: a lovely moist cake, but to be honest what I really enjoyed about it was how the cream cheese icing went with it.

Granola

I’ve read quite a few recipes for granola, and never really understood the point of it – is it a breakfast food? A snack? Now that I’ve made it, I realise it’s a bit of both, and an excellent way of using up some of your homemade apple sauce (if you’re like me, and have made mountains of it). It’s like a very crunchy toasted muesli which sticks together in small clumps – excellent for snacking on, sprinkling over yoghurt and eating for breakfast with yoghurt and stewed fruit.

(Recipe adapted from here, which in turn is adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe)

ingredients:
5 cups rolled oats
3 cups almonds, coarsely chopped
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup homemade apple sauce (or other unsweetened apple sauce)
1/3 cup golden syrup or treacle (or honey if you don’t have either)
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons rice bran oil or other vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 150C. In a large bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients. Heat up the apple sauce, treacle, honey and oil in a small saucepan until warm, then pour into the dry ingredients. Quickly stir together until everything is evenly coated with the apple sauce mixture.

Roughly line two large baking trays with baking paper (by which I mean, put lengths of baking paper over the trays and don’t bother to stick them on with butter), and spoon half the mixture onto each tray, spreading it out evenly and pressing it down firmly with the back of your spoon. Put the trays into the oven for 45 minutes, opening up and stirring around the granola twice during the baking process.

Let the granola cool, and store it in air tight containers, easily accessible for snacking purposes – it will be deep brown, with some clumps, and deliciously crunchy.

Brains

While my brother and I live in (roughly) the same city – well, he lives within it, and I live 50ks away – we don’t spend a lot of time together, so it was nice to spend some time hanging out with him on the weekend. I asked for a coffee, which he didn’t have, so he offered me some kava which was steeping away in a coffee plunger looking brown and sludgy. “Is it nice?” I asked doubtfully, and he said it tasted how it looked, which was entirely accurate – gritty and sourly unpleasant. Then he taught me how to play The Decemberists’ Down by the Water, which I hadn’t heard before. We recorded a fairly crappy version of the song through the sophisticated method of lying a mic on a table and sitting around it. Given that it’s a directional vocal mic, I thought the balance and sound were surprisingly good – my slightly out of tune ukulele and the uncertain harmonies I was singing, not so much. I really like how our voices blend together, although I suppose that has a bit to do with genetics, rather than our magnificent vocal skills.

Later I had dinner with a friend at Piaf at South Bank, where we shared snails and lamb’s brains for our entrees. I hadn’t eaten either before and didn’t particularly take to them. Not so much because of flavour, as I thought they both simply took on the flavour of what they were cooked with, but the texture of both was fairly unappealing. Particularly the brains, which were softly slippery, and as I swallowed I kept thinking about my own brain, and people eating my brain out of my skull with spoons. I am not an adventurous eater when it comes to offal. And clearly I am also a drama queen. I don’t feel the need to consider my limbs when eating a leg of lamb.

The rest of our meal was fantastic though, and then we wandered along the river for a while and watched a laser light show, while I checked my phone occasionally and updated my disinterested dining companion on the rugby score as Ireland unexpectedly beat Australia. We then went and found a cafe to order dessert, and a couple of enormous long blacks which were served in bowls, with a cute mini milk bottle on the side. I was rather taken with the novelty of coffee-in-a-bowl, but it was an idiotic choice of beverage, given that it was my first coffee of the day and consequently I was cheerful and brightly alert until after midnight when I forced myself to try and sleep. No more novelty sized bowls of coffee for me. Not at night, anyway.