Monday, 31 March 2008

Scali Bread

Very excited. Very very excited. Check out my bread I made!!!

There is something deeply satisfying about making your own bread from scratch. I think it's because bread is just such a basic food, such a fundamental staple. If you can cook bread, then you're set. The whole world could fall over, but I could still eat my own fresh bread! I think there is also quite a big slosh of vanity in there too. Bread is often considered too difficult for people to make at home, and a lot of people who are quite good home cooks would never even bother trying to make it. So I like to think I can justify my little ego boost and say "yes, I made this!"

I may have mentioned this before, but I started on the bread path about 12 months ago. I even named last year the Year of the Loaf. That turned out to be a lot more wishful thinking than than reality! I made a few different breads last year - though nothing that really smacked me over the head with wonder. Lots of 6s and 7s (again) and a couple of 8s, but no smashing star.

This year I have gone hard, and I think I might even name 2008 the Year of Yeast. This is good because it gives me a bit more flexibility! The tiny cinnamon scrolls, the two different monkey breads - all yeast based baked items, but not really bread in a traditional sense. They were all well and truly worth the effort though, and made me a lot more comfortable with both yeast, and also with the idea of starting the dough the night before. So this recent effort, which required an actual "starter" didn't really seem all that daunting.

The most difficult parts of this recipe were the sheer length of each rise, and also the whole braiding thing. The braiding turned out to be fairly straightforward, and the rising times were long, but I had factored that in so it didn't turn out to be a big deal. I think part of the reason this came together so well was due to the fantastic efforts of the people at King Arthur Flour. Their blog sets out the whole recipe with a step-by-step photo tutorial.

The loaf turned out beautifully, although I would (naturally!) make a few small changes next time. It was a bit browner than I prefer, so I would tent it with foil for the last 10 minutes or so. I would also make sure I used the window pane test when mixing the dough. I forgot to do it this time and I think maybe it was a bit under-mixed. I would also leave a portion of the loaf without seeds (sorry Mum!). All in all though, it was great! At least 8/10, maybe even 9 !!! Woohooo!! Maybe I can break the 6 & 7 hoodooo!

Friday, 28 March 2008

Maple Granola Bars

So what were my other 6 & 7 recipes? Well this one definitely qualifies as a 7, not a 6 so that's a good start! This one is a granola bar from my new favourite cookbook The New Wholegrain Cookbook. I am trying to incorporate some slightly healthier foods in our diet, particularly some wholegrains, and this book got good reviews on amazon, so of course I had to get it! So far I have tried two recipes, and they have both been good. The reason they are not excellent, fabulous, fantastic, is because they use wholegrains! I like my food full of processed flour, sugar and butter, and these are not!

As far as healthier, wholegrainier food goes, these bars are pretty good. They still have a good whack of sugar in them with brown sugar and maple syrup, and the fat is just the canola and the peanut butter. They come together quickly and easily which is always a bonus. The recipe in the book is pretty basic, so I added some dried blueberries and dried apple. I think I probably would make these again, with whatever dried fruit was on hand, and also maybe with some nuts and /or seeds. I could also try swapping some or all of the maple syrup for honey - seeing as maple syrup is so ridiculously expensive.

Ooh look. I've done it again. I've said I'll make these again, but with lots of changes. I think though that with this recipe (as opposed to the soup recipe in my previous post), the changes improve what is already a pretty good recipe. It's just adding extra bits in to make it better. I think with the soup recipe, the changes were trying to hide some fundamental imbalances in the texture. That's my excuse anyway, and I'm sticking with it.

Maple Cinnamon Granola Bars
Adapted from "The New Wholegrains Cookbook" by Robin Asbell
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup rice flakes or rice bubbles
1/4 cup whole wheat plain flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup dried blueberries
1/4 cup finely chopped dried apple
1/4 cup skim milk powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tbs canola
Preheat the oven to 180ÂșC. Lightly grease a 20cm square cake tin. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, rice bubbles, flour, sugar, milk powder, cinnamon and salt. In a small bowl whisk together the peanut butter, maple syrup, vanilla and canola until smooth.
Stir mixtures together, along with the dried fruit, and mix until well combined, using your hands if necessary.
Scrape mixture into the pan and press out flat. Bake for 20 minutes. Using knife or bench scraper, cut into squares or bars. Return to oven for 5 minutes.
Let cool completely in pan before removing.

White Sweet Potato Soup

I hate 6 and 7 recipes. Today has been a real 6 and 7 day. I tried 3 new recipes today, and each of them would only rate 6 or 7 out of 10. I hate that. They're the kind of recipes where you think .."it's good...maybe I would make it again...but I would have to change this...and that...." and then you think, maybe if I need to make that many changes, I probably should take the hint and not bother again at all. It's a bit frustrating when all 3 of today's recipes ended up that way.

The first was a soup recipe I have been eyeing off for a while. It sounded really interesting, with lots of ingredients I like. It was the winner in some kraft recipe competition I think. Anyway, I went with purple sweet potato - which is really just white sweet potato in disguise - and left out the chili. It all came together quite nicely, and I was pretty excited, until I tasted it! The combination of sweet potato and peanut butter resulted in this extra-sweet, extra smooth, quite un-savoury soup, which had a real fatty mouthfeel. Not really what I am looking for in a soup. So after a bit of stuffing around, I decided it needed ACID! So out came the white wine vinegar. That really helped, so a few more tablespoons went in, along with a really good dash of salt and pepper. It seemed quite good then, and I left it to cool while I went about my other cooking business.

I came back a little while later and the whole thing had, like, set or something. It was very strange. When I ran the spoon through it, it resembled the texture of jelly-like peanut butter. Again, not quite what I am looking for in a soup! So I reheated it, and added some extra water. Then I added some extra water. Then I added some extra water! I like my soups thick, but this was ridiculous! Eventually it seemed like a reasonable consistency, so I served it up for the photo. Originally the chives were just a decorative touch, but when I went to eat it, it really needed the chives. The oniony-ness of the chives helped cut through the smooth fatty texture.

So would I make it again? Really not sure. I would definitely use less peanut butter, - even after I changed the amount of sweet potato from 300g to 900g (without changing the peanut butter) it was definitely too peanut butter-ish. It is soup after all. I think it probably missed the chilli too, so maybe I would add some tabasco or something. I would also definitely include the white wine vinegar. Too many changes to make again? Probably. Let's just see if I get through the leftovers in the freezer and we'll go from there!

Do you like the photo though? I am trying to actually learn some stuff about food photography so I need to know if my photos are improving!

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Ricotta Hotcakes

How is it that I can't even flip a pikelet? I love pikelets. I make them quite a bit. But when it comes to the flipping, I am just so massively unco.

Look at this mess.....

See how in the middle of the three of them is just a big smodge of uncooked mixture? (this photo actually makes it look much less dodgy than it looks in real life) How on earth does this happen?

WELL, today I have an excuse. A fabulous tasty excuse! For a while I have been eyeing off a recipe for ricotta hotcakes. Not just any recipe mind you, BILL'S recipe!! My plan is to cook up a big batch, then freeze them in smaller batches so I can have them ready for quick snacks for the boys. I haven't made them before, but the whole ricotta thing made me think that maybe they were a bit healthier than the basic pikelet.

So I dutifully went out and got my ricotta, and then got all ready this morning to do the cooking, and then realized the recipe required me to separate 4 eggs and whip the whites until firm peaks formed. What a pain in the butt! I didn't bother reading the recipe the whole way through before I got the ricotta - serves me right! I probably wouldn't have made them if I realised they were so much more work than my tried and true pikelets! But then I would have missed out!!!

They are SO. MUCH. better than standard pikelets! They are light and fluffy and soft and tender and light years ahead of my now-second-best pikelet recipe!! And that is my excuse for the mess in my frypan! Because they are so soft and tender, they are extremely difficult to flip. Or maybe it's just because I'm unco! Who cares!!!!!! These are well worth the effort and the mess!

Ricotta Hotcakes
(adapted from Bill Granger)
1 1/3 cups ricotta
3/4 cup milk
4 eggs, separated
1 cup plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch salt
2 tbs caster sugar
butter, for frying
Place ricotta, milk and egg yolks in a bowl. Stir to combine.
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Add to the ricotta mixture and mix until just combined.
Place egg whites in a clean dry bowl and beat until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites through batter in two batches.
Heat a large frypan over low-medium heat. Add a small dob of butter and swirl around. Drop in 3 tbs mixture per hotcake into the pan. Cook for 2 minutes or until undersides are golden. Turn and cook until other side is golden and hotcakes are cooked through.
Bill doesn't have sugar in his recipe, and suggests you serve these with bananas and honeycomb butter. Honeycomb butter - sure, but bananas? Come on Bill. That's just gross!
I like mine perfectly plain, and that's how the kiddies will get them - which is why I added some sugar into the recipe. Although I daresay a SLATHER of maple syrup would be more than satisfactory!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Penne with Prosciutto, Tuna and Mushrooms

I finally got off my butt and decided it was time to organise my big box of printed recipes. These are a wide and varied collection of recipes I have picked up over time but have never actually cooked. Once I have cooked a recipe, and if it is a keeper, I type it up and keep it electronically. I then cook it a few more times, and give it a few good tweaks. If, after all of that, it is STILL a keeper, it then gets printed out and added to THE BOOK.

THE BOOK is actually 3 display books - one for sweet stuff, one for mains, and one for everything else. I am seriously considering getting all the recipes that are good enough to make it to the book printed out in a real book - but that's for another day! For the moment, I thought it was a sufficient achievement to sort out the stacks of paper.

One of the recipes I came across in my sorting was something I must have printed out from the recipe of the day email. I don't usually print them out - just tag them for later, so I must have been inspired to cook this, but for some reason didn't, and then it just got lost in the big blue recipe box. It's actually from 2006, so you can see how often the recipe box gets sorted!

Of course, being a main, I tweaked it as I went along. GKGK has issues with too much lemon flavour, so I replaced the lemon juice with balsamic vinegar. I also used prosciutto instead of pancetta, but this is only because I bought the wrong thing at the deli! I love prosciutto, so the substitution isn't really a problem. It's just prosciutto itself. The first line of the recipe says to fry the prosciutto til crisp, then leave aside until the rest of the dish cooked. How much crispy salty LUSCIOUS prosciutto do you think I had left at the end of the cooking? Hmmmmmm. I should have locked it up so I couldn't get to it!

We all liked this one. GKGK said he would definitely eat it again, so next time, I will just get more prosciutto!

Penne with Prosciutto, Tuna and Mushrooms
Olive oil
6 slices prosciutto, sliced into strips
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup white wine
1/4 cup frozen green peas
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 big handfuls baby spinach
180g tin tuna, drained
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
Freshly grated parmesan
Penne (or whatever pasta works for you!)

Cook the pasta as per the packet instructions
While the pasta is cooking, heat 1 tbs olive oil in a frypan over medium heat. Add prosciutto and cook until crispy. Set aside on paper towel. Try not to eat it all.
Return pan to medium heat. Add 2 tbs olive oil. Add onion and cook until soft. Add garlic, cook for one minute. Add mushrooms. Cook until they begin to give off juices.
Add wine. Turn heat up to high. Cook until wine has reduced by half.
Reduce heat to medium low. Stir in peas, tomatoes, vinegar and flake in lemon. Mix well.
Season with salt and pepper.
Add spinach and cook until wilted.
Add parmesan and prosciutto and stir through.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain and mix with the tuna mixture.
Serve with extra parmesan on top, if desired.