31 May 2012
Quinoa is my new favourite thing. I’m a girl who can’t cook rice without a rice cooker, but quinoa is a breeze.
This funny-looking little grain is having a bit of a moment. Lots of new books out on how to cook with it, always a magazine article trumpeting how good it is for us (high protein, fibre and iron — we should all be eating this by the bucketload) and how it’s been the staple for some ancient civilization for thousands of years (if you’re truly interested, Wikipedia gives a great snapshot).
If you can boil rice, you can make quinoa. In fact, even if you are rice-challenged like me, quinoa is a doddle (it’s even tempting me to overcome my fear of the absorption method). Simply put one part quinoa in a pan, add three parts water (I use boiled water from the kettle to hurry things a long a bit), put the lid on, and when it starts to get going, turn it down to low. Like rice, it gets those curious funnels as it really cooks. It seems to take around 15 minutes; at the end, take the lid off and stir the pot to ensure all the moisture is gone (wet quinoa is not a good thing).
I’ve found you can cook a small batch to last a couple of nights, then use it as a time-saver base for meals, especially on yoga nights when I’m prone to coming home, hungry but lazy, and reaching for crackers and butter. Now I can pull out my little tub of cooked quinoa, fold through some tinned chickpeas, and some vegie chunks (steamed or roasted from the night before) and/or raw salad ingredients like cucumber, mushrooms and red capsicum. Dress with a little olive oil, sweet balsamic vinegar and lemon juice, and I can feel smugly healthy in less than 15 minutes (the truly virtuous-goddess vibes are at their strongest and most delusional after my weekly yoga class).
Anyway, it’s another spin on my what I call my warm salad thing, and becoming a regular player in my weeknight meals.
I have read many times that quinoa can make a kind breakfast porridge, but I can’t make that leap yet. Besides, I rather love my rolled oats.
I’m looking forward to finishing my bag of anonymous supermarket quinoa, as the Aproneers stocks the stuff grown in Kindred, Tas! Where is Kindred??
What’s your favourite way to eat quinoa? Can you expand my repertoire?
30 May 2012
Italian cooking ... is a cuisine of few surprises but of deep satisfaction, of few innovations but of innumerable variations. It is basically home cooking of great simplicity, where the only important elements are good ingredients and love.
I'm sure this is why Italian is my favourite way to cook and eat.
I am currently reading Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries (for the third time), and I just picked up from the library Tender (also by Nigel Slater) and Stephanie Alexander's weighty Kitchen Garden Companion. I'm sure I'll be inspired - to plant, cook, eat, write.
What are you reading right now?
And Italian is my favourite - what's yours?
I steamed the bright green, tight florets of broccoli and gave them ample time to dry. I roasted small chunks of pumpkin - a beautifully dark coloured and deeply flavoured one from dad - and slowly, slowly cooked finely sliced onion, crushed garlic and chopped mushrooms, in plenty of grassy green olive oil, until it was golden and silky. I had to restrain myself from halting the tart plans there and just eating this marmalady concoction.
I made my pastry from scratch. Pastry is not hard to make; if you have a food processor it is a doddle. For so little effort, the rewards are magnificent (on the plus side, you know exactly what is in it). Pastry is also a beautiful thing to make, and again, on the weekend you have time to enjoy rolling out the silky, pliable dough. Since buying a marble rolling pin (which I keep in the fridge so it's always cold and ready for action), rolling out pastry is even more 'one of life's little pleasures' (if I can admit that without sounding kinky). Its substantial weight makes easy work of any dough.
I used my favoutite pastry recipe - actually, the piece of paper it is written on says 'BEST PASTRY' - but because this was a savoury tart (I usually use it for fruit tarts), I added a pinch more salt and lots of cracked black pepper.
I went through the tedium of blind baking the tart case - I get so impatient at this stage (even with ample time). But it does allow me to use another of pastry making's accoutrements, my ceramic pastry weights. They don't get out often enough!
Then I spread the onion and mushroom mix onto the base (this time, I did sneak a spoonful) and then arranged the broccoli and pumpkin on top. Then I poured over a mix of eggs, sour cream, ricotta and parmesan, and a little plain flour, then added some crumbly shards of my new favourite addiction - Mersey Valley's basil and garlic pesto cheese (I have deliberated over whether I should name products on my blog, but this is so wonderful I have to share it with you - you might want to try it, and then wonder how you lived without it! Mersey Valley might send me truckloads of the stuff (I'll share, mum)! But honestly, now that basil growing season is finished here in Hobart, this is a bright, sharp reminder of summer, and it added a punch to this tart). I popped the lot in the oven and baked it for about 30 minutes - til the batter was set.
All of these stages - I would never have the time or energy to do this after work. But on the weekend, I could slowly stir the onions, wait for the pumpkin to caramelise perfectly, and enjoy the pasty yielding beneath my heavy rolling pin. I could enjoy the wait for the oven bell to go off, instead of impatiently peering thru the glass door while my stomach growled.
I used double this quantity but had excess once fitted into the tart tin. I just tore it off, rolled it even thinner, and baked it into little crisps. I don't know where I got this recipe from.
- Add to a food processor 1 cup plain flour, 1/2 tspn sugar, 1/8 tspn salt, 80-85 grams salted butter.
- Whiz up then with the bowl still running, slowly add enough cold water until the dough starts to ball up. Remove and roll out and use.
- Proper pastry people would chill the dough in the fridge for half an hour before using, but ... I'm not a proper pastry person.
26 May 2012
Nigella's dense chocolate loaf cake
Adapted from the Domestic Goddess. But please read the recipe in her book - it's as enjoyable as the actual cake is.
Preheat your oven to 190 and line a tin (I've used loaf, round and this time, a brownie tin) and have some muffins tins prepped too, just in case. This makes a lot and and never fits into any of my tins without needing to go to the cupcake option.
Melt 100 grams of dark cooking chocolate and allow to cool while you get on with creaming
225 grams butter and 375 grams of the darkest brown sugar you can find. Then add two eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Then beat in the chocolate. Lots of finger and spoon licking required at this stage.
Next add 200 grams of plain flour, 1 teaspoon of bicarb soda, and one cup of boiling water (or water and boozy stuff) - alternate dry ingredients and liquid. This will be a fairly liquid batter; you can easily pour it into your prepared tins.
Bake for 30 mins at 190 then reduce to 170 and bake another 10-15 minutes (remember to watch your cupcakes if you have those). As Nigella advises, this is a sticky cake, so your skewer might not be completely clean when you test.
Leave to cool on a wire rack, then transfer to an airtight container, shut the door on the kitchen, and patiently await the next day. If I can, you can.
21 May 2012
I realise I have started writing online about ‘home-grown’ when there’s not actually much growing in my vegie garden. The last couple of weekends, I had nothing to do in the patch; I desperately scratched around for some weeds to pull (the pea stray I lay as mulch about a month ago has started sprouting in the recent rains) and watered (because those recent rains are few and far between. Whoever tells you Hobart is a rainy city is lying to you).
What's growing in your garden at the moment?
19 May 2012
But it also means I am (currently) faced with this prospect every time I walk into my kitchen:
There is more here than I can munch through, and truth is I much prefer cooking with them. I plan on stewing some up with a little mixed spice, to have on my breakfast oats, and I shall be consulting my collection of apple recipes for cakes. I love apple cakes - they are one of my favourite kinds to bake because they are usually sweet, moist, a bit old-fashioned, which is my style of baking.
Apple cakes can be 'just apples', but usually the fruit is paired to perfection with a spice (cinnamon or mixed spice). I love apples with other fruit, too: think a classic apple pie studded with sultanas, or a crumble of mixed apple and rhubarb (and plenty of cream, of course).
This week I made apple and raspberrry muffins, based very loosely on a recipe found in a recent Good Food magazine that someone had put in the tearoom at work (thank you whoever you are; please bring in more!). They look ugly, but trust me: they're lovely!
These are not obviously apple muffins; the fruit is part of a well-balanced ensemble cast that includes oats, and raspberries (I'm lucky to have a stash in the freezer of dad's berries I can pull out thru out the year). There's just enough cinnamon to round out the flavours, rather than dominate and be blatantly 'spicy'. These also include natural yoghurt, which I haven't used in baking for a while (my go-to dairy is sour cream, regardless of what the recipe specifies). The yoghurt added a lovely lightness and freshness to the finished cakes.
These little cakes are also very quick and simple to make - grating the apple was the fiddliest bit, and really, that's not hard, is it?
Apple and raspberry muffins
- So, preheat your oven to 180 and prepare a muffin tray (butter, or use paper cups). In a large bowl combine 1 1/2 cups SR flour, 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1 tspn ground cinnamon. Grate two apples into this, skin and all. Watch your fingers, says the voice of experience.
- In another bowl, combine two eggs, 1/2 cup of light olive oil, and 3/4 cup natural yoghurt. This will look like a curdled mess, but don't worry. Mix this into the dry ingredients, and when combined add 1 cup of frozen raspberries and stir til just mixed through.
- Pop into your prepared muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean and the kitchen smells really warm and wonderful. And enjoy!
16 May 2012
I have a real soft spot for silverbeet. I know that’s an odd confession, but I love this reliable, old-fashioned and under-rated leafy green.
It’s not as trendy as spinach (which to me is a ring-in from somewhere else – Britain? America? Though don’t ask me to substantiate that!). It’s not as lauded as broccoli, say, for its super-food antioxidant life-giving nutritional properties.
No, silverbeet is that quiet achiever, growing in the garden just about all year round; just half a dozen plants reliably supply me with all I need. Mine looks pretty smart, too, with its brightly coloured stems: some ruby-pink, some lettuce-y green – I don’t actually have any at the moment that is the plain white variety. The dark and gently puckered leaves wave about like flags, and in their neat row they are like disciplined sentinels imposing order and standing guard at the edge of my vegie patch.
And silverbeet’s robust flavour reminds me of my childhood. We must have eaten it regularly, and maybe that’s why I have such affection for growing and eating it myself.
My favourite way to eat silverbeet now is to chop it finely, stalks and all (mine are fairly tender) and then steam it. Then I drain it well, perhaps chop it up some more, and stir it into a hot pan of golden onion, garlic and olive oil, making sure there is just enough oil to ensure the silverbeet is glistening nicely, but not too gluggy.
I might heap this onto a chewy, thick slice of ciabatta bread or toast, or serve it with a soft-boiled egg on top, or fold it though some rollini pasta (fusilli would work nicely too). Sometimes I steam green beans with the silverbeet, too, or broccoli. Or some tinned chickpeas, which lend a nutty, sturdy contrast to the silky darkness of the silverbeet. Or i might stir thru some good quality tinned tuna if I’m feeling really fancy. But mostly I love the silverbeet by itself.
How do you like your silverbeet?
14 May 2012
Have you ever tried to photograph chickens?!
Mine: I’d own chickens.
I’d have a chicken house – nothing fancy, just solid and safe from the weather and predators – and plenty of room for the chickens to scratch and forage and have dust baths to their hearts’ content.
I would love chickens but I have a suburban backyard that I don’t think has the space chickens deserve. My vegie garden takes up probably 40-50% of the land; I cannot conceive of a good area for them. Also, there are neighbourhood cats; I’d have to build a huge protective enclosure for them, and where’s the romance (or freedom) in that? It would be like Alcatraz; depressing.
Finally, I get rats every autumn – I don’t want to further entice these nasty vermin in with a year-round supply of chicken feed.
I went to a chicken show with mum and dad recently and my fantasy chicken life flared up again as I wistfully admired the pretty hens and fierce roosters. I picked up brochures on how to keep chickens in suburbia.
But I realised later that night it was just not practicable.
So I content myself with chicken shows, and visiting mum and dad’s chickens (as I did this weekend), saying hi to the girls and collecting their adorned eggs. And thinking, one day.
My mum's chickens. And mum.
9 May 2012
5 May 2012
Next, zest a lemon over the apples, then add the lemon’s juice, plus half a cup of brown sugar and a quarter of a teaspoon each of cinnamon and (my favourite) mixed spice. Tumble it all into a well-buttered baking dish; top with the batter; and sprinkle over flaked almonds. Once cooked (180 for about 35 minutes), the almonds’ toasty crunch contrasts nicely against the pillowy pudding layer and the beautifully cooked apple, all at once sweet and spicy and tangy – and comforting, the way a pudding should be.