21 Aug 2016

chocolate hazelnut brownie

It’s good to have working, reliable scales in my kitchen again! Because, as soon as you don’t, every recipe you’re tempted by measures ingredients out by grams, not cups. Is this volume or mass or something else? I don’t know, but until recently, I couldn’t do it!

A few months ago I knocked my kitchen scales off the kitchen counter, and that was that; the spring mechanism was absolutely bung. Like a wonky clock, the little arm that dialled around was immovably set. Gah!

I actually prefer to scoop out my sugar, flour and cocoa (or spoon it into the cups to avoid incorrect compaction). I have a sweet pastel set, shaped like miniature mixing bowls. They even have a little pouring lip — so small it’s ineffective — but their soft pretty colours make me very happy.

But, scales are called for. I tried to get by — once I phoned mum and asked her to weigh out some dry ingredient then transfer it to cups, so I would know what to use. Not ideal.

Have you tried to buy new scales recently? They are all digital.

Which presents a real problem to me, because I’m allergic to digital scales. Or they’re allergic to me. They do not work for me. I must have some magnetic force field that disrupts their digital-ness. They give crazy, improbably readings, or simply blink off (I could never wear a digital watch as a kid either, now that I think of it). I’ve gone through countless batteries, and two, maybe three actual scales; either returning them to the shop or giving them to mum.

Finally, after much ringing and googling around, I found a non-digital replacement for my scales, online. I wanted the finer ones that went up in 5 grams increments — and they really were hard to track down. So I bought two, one for spare, and the one I’m using is being stored and used very carefully.

Chocolate hazelnut brownie
Adapted from a delicious recipe for a ‘sheet cookie’. But made smaller, in a brownie tin, so moister and … a brownie.

  • Preheat your oven to 180 and line a 20 cm brownie tin or small slice tin (as seen in here. Okay, I've made it twice in two different tins! But I'm still calling it a brownie)
  • Melt 50 gms 70% dark cooking chocolate.
  • Cream 100 gms butter with ½ cup brown sugar. Beat in 1 egg, then the melted chocolate.
  • Sift in ½ cup hazelnut meal, ½ cup spelt flour, 1 tbspn cocoa, and ¼ tspn bicarb soda.
  • Fold in 75 gms of milk cooking chocolate that you’ve chopped roughly (you want some chunks to remain for texture).
  • Put in the tin – as I said, I’ve made this twice, and once it was super hard to spread, and the second time not a problem. I’m blaming the change in weather on that.
  • Now scatter over 1/3 cup hazelnuts that you’ve roughly chopped up and press in lightly.
  • Bake for 20 minutes before checking; like a brownie, this should stay moist.
  • Remove from oven and try very hard not to eat it all at once.

7 Aug 2016

mum’s orange and sultana cupcakes

I’m thinking of turning Dig In over to my mum (actually she suggested it first). Or, baking cakes only after mum has successfully, deliciously, tried the recipe first.

Mum’s orange and sultana cupcakes
Adapted from ‘Better Baking’. Originally a small loaf cake, I made the recipe as cupcakes to use up some baking papers. Either way, it goes nicely with an afternoon cup of tea.
  • Preheat your oven to 160 and prep your muffin tins.
  • Cream 90 gms soft butter with ¾ cup sugar and the zest of 1 orange.
  • Beat in 2 eggs.
  • Sift in 1½ cups SR flour.
  • Fold in ½ cup sour cream and ½ cup sultanas.
  • Add mixture to tin and bake until done; cupcakes will only take about 25 minutes.

31 Jul 2016

half and half risotto

I get pretty excited when I find a new lunch or dinner recipe that’s easy to make, delicious, and healthy. I don’t ask for much, do I? If it can be flexible enough to suit whatever’s in season — or in my fridge — it ticks even more boxes, and might just be a recipe that I’ll add to my list of regulars.

I’ll admit I’ve only made this half and half risotto once, but I know I’ll make it again. Easy? Yes, because risotto is just add one thing after the other and give it a stir (at least it is with me). Delicious? The dark outer leaves of the new-season savoy cabbage had a pleasing bitterness, the leeks were sweet, and the lemon added a nice tang. And healthy? With peas and mushrooms and cabbage, there’s a good serve of veg in every bowlful.

The half and half mix of traditional arborio rice and trendy quinoa makes for a nutritious blend I’m sure, and a lovely light and creamy texture. I’ve made risotto with all rice of course, and risotto with all-quinoa, but never thought to combine the two (even though I do all the time in my rice cooker). It works! I’d have to say it’s the best of both worlds.  

A good risotto recipe must be infinitely adaptable for all kind of ingredients and flavours — a good base to work from. And I can see this one will be — maybe I’ll try pumpkin next time, or silverbeet and peas, or zucchini in the summertime, or asparagus…

So hurrah to having a new favourite!

Half and half risotto
Adapted from ‘Superlegumes’ by Chrissy Freer.
  • First some prep. Thaw out a cup of frozen peas, slice up the white of a leek (and a little bit of the lighter green part), roughly chop 200 gms mushrooms and a few garlic cloves (to your taste). Shred a few leaves of dark savoy cabbage (sorry I’m not very precise here — but you’ll know how much cabbage you like).
  • Weigh out 150 gms arborio and 100 gms white quinoa, and rinse it well.
  • Set 1 litre of liquid to simmer — I used a combination of water, homemade and bought vegie stock. Boil the kettle too, as you’ll probably need to add more liquid as you cook (risotto can be so imprecise, and thirsty).
  • Okay, let’s get cooking! In a deep casserole pot, sauté the leeks in oil until soft. Add the garlic and the leaves from a few sprigs of lemon thyme.
  • Add the rice and quinoa and stir till well coated with the oil.
  • Add 80mls white wine and simmer for a few minutes.
  • Now add the simmering stock. Be lazy like me and add it all in one hit. Stir well and after about 20 minutes, test the grains (you want them soft) and watch the liquid levels. You may need to add more from that boiled kettle to ensure the risotto doesn’t stick, has enough liquid to cook the grains, and is your preferred ‘wetness’. I like my risotto a little sloppy.
  • When the rice is about 5 minutes away from being done, add in the mushrooms, cabbage and peas to cook.
  • When those veg are just done, add the fine zest of one lemon — and why not, add the juice of half of it as well. Enjoy!

24 Jul 2016

individual bread + butter puddings

Since we’re all about putting your own spin on things chez Dig In, here’s a neat twist to an old favourite: individual B&B puddings. I would say guaranteed portion control, but as I ate two hot out of the oven and two later than night, fridge-cold and creamy, that’s not really valid.

I got the idea from a library book; one of those London bakery–café books that are very popular (or at least plentiful on my library’s shelves). I remember thinking ‘individual puddings — how cute!’. I probably also thought ‘portion control!’ but that, as I said, has been massively disproven.

I didn’t copy out the recipe because I have my own that’s my ‘go-to’. This time I used torn-up panettone sploshed liberally with sherry, then I poked in some chunks of rich medjool dates, and to the custard I added the zest of an orange. It was a fine combination of flavours, hot or cold.
And cute — very. As I tucked into my first one, I thought that these were definitely brunch-style café offerings. I imagined them served on a shiny white plate with an artful dollop of greek yoghurt and maybe a swirl of blueberry compote around the plate — and a hefty trendy-café price tag. I’m getting carried away, because these are not pretentious at all! They were just a very good spin on a traditional pudding.

So I’m not going to give you a recipe — as I said, I used my go-to and I’m sure you also have a family favourite. The point therefore of this post is perhaps to inspire you to play around with your favourite too.
Individual bread + butter puddings

Instead of cooking these in a bain marie, which is standard B&B pudd practice, I simply lowered the temperature to 160. I made 8, and they took about 30 minutes to cook.

A note to self: use papers to line the tins next time. Perhaps those café style muffin papers that are like a plain piece of parchment pushed in to the tin, all folded and pointy. That would make them easier to remove and make the tin easier to clean!

17 Jul 2016

vanilla + thyme roasted pears

Cooking day. Lentilaise again, this time with my own roasted tomatoes, frozen at the peak of their summer richness. A handful of dried lentils.

And blitzing all the base veg (including some broccoli stalks — extra greens!) in the food processor first. An even better version.

Trays of roast veg: dad’s pumpkin, spiked with lemon zest and Moroccan spices. Kipfler potatoes, just salt and rosemary — so good. I kept gobbling them, hot from the baking tray, even though they were meant for weeknight dinners.

Then roasted pears. The week before I’d roasted the pears with harissa and lemon zest, alongside parsnips and pumpkin. But this time I followed a tip off from Lizzy and enjoyed a gorgeous after-dinner treat — and a perfect send-off for the last of dad’s beurre bosc pears. Honeyed, herby and meltingly tender fruit soaking in a rich speckled syrup. I may have to buy some pears to make this again.

Vanilla + thyme roasted pears
Adapted from Liliana’s Kitchen.
  • Preheat oven to 180.
  • Halve and core 4 beurre bosc pears and add them to a baking dish so they are one snug layer, cut side up.
  • In a heatproof jug, combine ¼ cup honey, ½ cup boiled water, the juice of ½ a lemon, and ½ tspn speckly vanilla paste.
  • Pour this over the pears (scraping out those speckles) and sprinkle over some fresh lemon thyme leaves from a few sprigs. Place a small dot of butter in each pear’s hollow.
  • Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Then remove the foil, baste the pears in the juices (you can even turn the pears over if you wish) before returning to oven, uncovered, and cooking for another 20 minutes or so, until fruit is tender.

18 Jun 2016

mid-winter hiatus

Life is topsy-turvy at the moment. My brain is fizzed; I have no creative energy nor time to travel around to everyone else's wonderful blogs. So Dig In is having a small hibernation; hopefully only 3 or 4 weeks. Please don't forget me, please check back soon; and please keep warm and dry over winter - or enjoy a lovely northern summer.

12 Jun 2016

garden ramble: frost and rain

As I write this, it is raining gently, it is damp and muggy, and everything is a bit soggy. The weather has been wild everywhere, and while my patch of the world is getting off lightly … can it stop now?

This week has been warm (for Hobart, for this time of year) with days of rain and cloudy skies and low light (and no light). Rain tanks and gauges are full. The last autumn leaves lay abandoned in puddles, and my candy-floss-pink camellia is now a sad, sodden mess.

But all this came after a week of dry, severe frosts and desperately low temperatures. Each day, I would email mum and dad a report: ‘frost bigger than yesterday!’. I love the stark silence of a big frost, just as I love snow-on-the-mountain — as long as I’m not out in it.

So measures were needed for those of us who were outside. Every morning I broke through the ice on my bird baths: sometimes a thin crystalline layer; once, thick and nearly solid. And every day after work, sometimes in bone-chilling dark, I draped my still-tender passionfruit vines in old paint sheets; each morning, I unpegged the sheets that once or twice were stiff and crunchy. Ah, the things we do for our fruit and veg.

But in other parts of the garden, there are promises of warmer, brighter days: the spring bulbs are sending up their green shoots. I even have one small tantalising clump of jonquil buds:

Mum already has snowdrops (or snowflakes?) on show, and a neighbour of hers has fully bloomed jonquils! Poor confused bulbs — but what a joyous sight they must be on these bleak, damp days.

I hope you and your plants are safe, no matter what that crazy, contrary woman Mother Nature is throwing at you.
A delicate winter blossom

5 Jun 2016

On tweaking

No recipes this week; how could I when everything I make lately seems to depart, by accident or design, from the original printed word?

I am, as mum herself has said, my mother’s daughter — I’ve inherited the ability to look at a recipe and assess if something doesn’t quite read right, or could do with a little improvement, before I’ve even picked up a knife or turned on the oven. Or — as I’m sure most of us do — juggle and wiggle with quantities or ingredients or cooking times as we go along, to suit what we have on hand or what we’d like to taste or what just feels right.

So I told you last time that I added extra veg to Annabel’s lentilaise; and did some quick thinking during the cooking to get the texture just right. I enjoyed the final tasty dish so much I’ll make it again this winter, probably with further refinements and additions each time.

Above is a tuna pasta bake that, while tasty and filling, was utterly ordinary and not really worth repeating or indeed mentioning here, except for the fact that I used the recipe merely as a very rough guide for flavours and process — but abandoned the quantities entirely. Otherwise I would have been knee-deep in tuna pasta, for weeks to come; the volumes seemed so generous, so vast — for only four servings! (Who are these people with monstrous appetites?). Strangely though, I needed to ramp up the chilli and lemon zest, even in my much reduced pot.

Finally, the mother of all recent tweaks, this oaty cakey thing that was so loosely adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe that even she would not recognise it.

Mum and I agree that Martha recipes are never straightforward. We’ve both made her recipes essentially unaltered, and instead of the 72 biscuits Martha predicts, we end up with … 12. Or the cake is supposed to fill a large tray, yet in our kitchens, barely stretches to a modest slice tin.

But mostly with Martha recipes, it’s the sweetness. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and tend to under-measure sugar in most of my recipes, but I would defy even the most ardent sugar-sweetie lover to put 2 ½ teaspoons of vanilla into a normal-sized cake. Yes — 2 ½! Are your teeth on edge just thinking about that? That’s on top of the 2 cups of brown sugar! Naturally, I downsized this to the more standard 1 teaspoon.

Maybe even Martha had second thoughts, because the recipe then called for 1 ½ teaspoons of salt. What?! Does that not fizz your brain too? And I wonder (as I do every time, just before I vow never to make another Martha recipe): are these Martha-isms? Does she like extreme flavours? Or is it a cultural thing (I tend to find American recipes on the sweet side)? Or is a me thing?

After these and other adjustments, the resulting cake was surprisingly good (I was prepared for a dud on my hands, despite my confidence in my juggling skills). I was most surprised when my work colleagues whom I fed this too raved about it — one even said it was better than the nutella cake!

But all this tweaking on my feet has left me exhausted. I’m yearning for a cake I don’t have to second guess, a casserole I don’t have to rescue, biscuits that will work. So I’ve returned to some winter faves: my orange ricotta cupcakes, and soon, my syrupy orange upside cake.

Happy tweaking to you all!