Monday, November 29, 2010

An odd combination.

No. That isn't dirt on my strawberry. It's pepper.

I can't remember who told me that you should put pepper on your strawberries instead of icing sugar, but they were right. It seems like an odd combination, and when I first heard I thought it was wrong. But the ground pepper enhances the sweetness of the strawberries without overpowering the strawberry flavour. I'm not exactly sure why this is. I tried to google it, but no one could tell me (if you know why, I'd love for you to share!). You can't taste the pepper, exactly, it just does something amazing to the strawberries that you wouldn't expect.
So next time you've got some strawberries on hand, add a sprinkling of ground black pepper, instead of icing sugar or cream, and see the difference it makes. Go on, I dare you.
Oh, if you want a list of other (somewhat) suprising food combinations, you could check out this list that someone has put together on Listverse.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Breakfast pies.

If you knew me well, you'd know that I like breakfast. Or maybe you wouldn't, because I often eat breakfast alone, and I guess breakfast isn't something that comes up as an exciting topic of conversation. I do think breakfast is exciting though. I think it's because my Mum likes breakfast, too, and the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree. Or whatever it is they say.

I usually eat breakfast by myself because Brent goes to work super early in the morning, far too early for a lazy girl like me. I'd like to think that I'd get up when he does, and make him coffee and toast before he goes to work, and then spend the day fixing the house and our pretend children, who would be adorable by the way. But I like to eat breakfast in a leisurely way, and, like regular people, I don't like getting up earlier than I need too. I don't particularly like breakfast in bed though. I'd much rather get up and eat on the balcony than lounge around in bed, wasting the day away. When I was younger, all I wanted to do was stay in bed watching movies in my pyjama's all day. I think I wanted to stay in bed because I thought it was what you were supposed to do. But now, I can't stay in bed more than 20 minutes after I wake up. It's just not possible. Even on weekends I like to get up, have a cup of tea and eat something for breakfast. Something proper. Like bacon and eggs, or toast, or pancakes (I don't even know if Brent likes pancakes, I haven't made them since we started living together). But I have to have something, otherwise I'm a grumpy girl.

This past Saturday, I made these breakfast pies for us. As usual, they weren't a spur of the moment thing. I'd decided on Thursday that we would eat these on the weekend. If you didn't know already, you do now - I plan my meals out, sometimes days in advance. When we had the Sunday dinner with Kirby and Arie, I think I planned that meal out about a week beforehand. Anyway, these pies are loosely based on the ones we get at my work. I looked at lots of recipes, but I couldn't find one that was exactly what I wanted: individual pies with a whole egg and lots of bacon. The way I did it in the end was pretty easy, even though I blind baked the individual pie cases first - I wanted the pastry to be really crispy without the egg yolk being too floury. If you don't mind a bit of soggy pastry, you could skip this step entirely. I served these with some sauteed spinach on the side, but I think sauteed mushrooms, or grilled tomatoes would be good, too. But do it your own way, it is your breakfast after all.

Breakfast pies:
Serves 2

I've only got little cupcake trays, so my pies weren't very big, and only fit one egg in. If you've got those big muffin trays, you could whisk 2 more eggs with a splash of milk, and add that as well, to fill the pies up a bit more. I had planned on doing this, but I ran out of room in my pie case.
4 free range eggs
1 sheet puff pastry
2-3 rashers bacon, diced
a few springs of parsley and chives.

Preheat oven 200C.
Cut the pastry sheet into quarters and press them into a greased muffin tin, folding over the  sides of the pastry to make a flat surface.
Line the pastry with baking paper and pastry weights/rice/dried beans.
Bake for 4-5 mins until pastry is puffed around the outside.
Take out paper and weights, and prick pastry with a fork. Put back in oven and bake until pastry is starting to get golden around the edges, about 5-7 mins.
Put a few bits of diced bacon in the bottom of each pastry shell.
The herbs can either go in here, or on the top, it's your choice.
Crack an egg on top of the bacon, and put some more bacon pieces on top of the egg.
Bake for 15-20 mins until pastry is brown and egg is set.

If you don't want to blind bake the pastry, just skip that step and bake the pies for 5-10 mins longer.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Apple & cinnamon muffins.

My gorgeous friend Alex, actor, musician, writer,  breakfast cereal connoisseur, always said that he didn't understand how baking worked. How can you mix ingredients that don't seem to go together into a sticky, wet mess, which turns into a delicious baked good. When we used to have dinner together, Alex would often make a curry and I would make some cupcakes. He'd sit with me while I measured, stirred and baked our dessert, always curious as to how the mix would turn into something completely different when it was done. Now, I'll admit that I don't understand the exact science of baking, I guess it's something to do with chemical reactions of flour and wet ingredients, but I don't let that deter me from baking anything. I know how to follow a recipe, and I understand the basic principles of baking, and that'll do for me.
I know that Alex would enjoy these muffins, if we still lived in the same state. I miss Alex a lot. I miss those times when we'd spend nights watching tv together and eating nachos. That was a really good year for me. Maybe I'll have to send him some muffins in the post, and try and recreate those days with a wonderful friend.
These apple and cinnamon muffins are warm with spice and moist with chunks of apple. I don't always like muffins that use oil instead of butter, because I think it leaves a funny taste in your mouth, but I couldn't tell with these ones, so that's a bonus! *The original recipe instructed to mix the dry ingredients into the wet, which I thought was a bit weird, and it ended up being a bit lumpy. If I made these again, I'd do it the other way around. Other than that, there's no cons at all to these muffins. You should make some now. Right now.

apple & cinnamon muffins:
Adapted from Meg kat

Makes 12.

1 egg
1 cup milk
1/3 cup oil
2 cups plain flour (you could use half plain, half whole wheat, if you prefer)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
3 tsps baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 large, or 3 small, apples; peeled, cored and diced.

Preheat oven to 200C.
Mix egg, milk, oil in a bowl.
In a separate large bowl, combine everything from flour to nutmeg.
Pour half of the wet mix into the dry and combine. (*see note). Repeat.
Stir in the diced apple.
Spoon mix into 12 muffin cases.
Bake for 20 mins. A skewer inserted into the middle will come out clean.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Christmas is coming, part 1.

advent calender
I love christmas. I think it's my favourite time of year. And I know this post has nothing to do with food, but hey, I do other things than cook, and I'm sure you do too. The inspiration for this advent calender came from Oh, hello friend, you are loved. Really it's just some paper bags and some pegs, but I think it looks pretty good. I've got it strung up on the wall so that Brent can open a bag each day during December and find a present.
advent calender
I haven't filled all of the bags yet, but I've got a couple of days before they're ready to be opened. I hope Brent hasn't been peeking while I've been at work! I'll let you know how it goes...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Ultimate Choc Chip Cookie.

school fete & choc chip cookies
The other day I was feeling a bit under the weather. I tried hanging out with some friends, but they all work sensible hours (like, during the day. Weekdays.), and I hardly work at all (seriously, I need to get another job). So I did as any self respecting girl would do: I shaved my legs, did my hair, put on a dress, and made some choc chip cookies.
school fete & cat
Surprisingly, I didn't actually make these cookies for myself. My lovely stepmum convinced me that I should make them for the School Fete. I do my teaching placement at this school, and my little brother goes to this school, so, seeing as I'm now part of the School Community, it would be lovely of me to make something. "You could put it on your blog!"
school fete & choc chipc cookies
I've seen this recipe on lots of sites, and I decided that I wanted to make them too. To add my contribution to the blogosphere, if I may be so bold. The original recipe is from David Leite who wrote an article for the New York Times about the consummate choc chip cookie. I think he did a pretty good job.
These cookies actually need to be kept in the fridge for up to 36 hours before you bake them (!). So after making the mixture, I sat around for 2 days before I baked them (not really, I did other things too. Like reading "Anna Karenina" and watching the best movie ever). Honestly, I did succumb to tasting these cookies before their 24 hours were up, so I baked just two. One for me and one for Brent (I think they tasted really good without being left in the fridge for a day. But, whatever, I follow the rules).
school fete
These cookies are really great though. They spread and crack on top, just the right amount. The choc chip discs (you have to use discs, not buttons) really made the cookies. Although, I do think there were too many chips in the recipe. I ended up with all this chocolate left over and no dough to bake them in. They also take a while to do, because you can really only bake one tray with six cookies on it at a time. So to get through 30 cookies, it could take you a while. But it's a little bit zen to do it this way. I do think you should make these though, if only for a special occasion. I don't think they're an everyday sort of a cookie. Definitely not a I-have-a-craving-for-choc-chip-cookies-and-I-need-them-right-now sort of a cookie. But I'll leave that recipe for another day...
school fete & choc chip cookies
The biggest changes I made to the recipe was to use half plain flour and half "00" flour instead of bread flour and cake flour, and I think it worked out fine. The recipe called for sifting, but I never sift anything (I don't own a sieve), but it didn't make a difference really. I changed the weights into grams, rather than ounces. I didn't put any vanilla extract in mine, because I'd run out, but I'll leave it in the recipe for you. I reduced the amount of choc chips because, as I said already, I ended up with heaps left over. You could probably reduce this amount a little bit more, if you felt like it. Also, the original recipe said to sprinkle salt on top of the cookies before baking them, but I kept forgetting, but the ones that did have salt on them tasted super good.

Special Occasion Choc Chip Cookies.
Adapted from David Leite.

240g "00" flour
240g plain flour
1 1/4 tsps baking soda
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1 1/2 tsps coarse salt
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter
280g light brown sugar
280g granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 tsps natural vanilla extract
550g dark choc chips (try and use discs, rather than buttons)
extra salt, for sprinkling, optional

Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
Add eggs, beating after each one. Add vanilla.
Add dry ingredients, and mix until just combined.
Mix in choc chips.
Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for 24-36 hours (can be refrigerated for 72 hours).
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 170C.
Scoop 6 cookies the size of golf balls and place on a lined baking tray. (Bake one tray at a time.)
Sprinkle with sea salt before baking (optional).
Bake for 18-20 mins until golden but still soft, they harden up as they cool.
(N.B. While waiting for one tray to bake, get another tray ready with 6 cookies and leave in the fridge until ready. The cookies bake better if they're chilled.)
These cookies are best eaten while they're still warm.

Monday, November 15, 2010

French apple tart & Sunday dinner.

French apple tart.
I've always wanted to host a dinner party. Always. In my Ideal Dinner Party Situation, everything would be perfect. The wine would be good, the table would be set in a fancy design, there'd be lots of people in lovely dresses/suits, the food would be amazing, and I would play the perfect hostess. Instead, we don't live in a house big enough to host a dinner party, so alas, I'll have to keep dreaming about the perfect dinner party. One day. It'll happen one day.
sunday dinner
But in the meantime, I can have dinner with as many people as can fit in our lounge room, and around the tiny table that I borrowed from my Dad. That makes a total of four whole people. So there was Brent, Me, Brent's sister Kirby, and her boyfriend, Arie. We squished around this table that I set up (at the time, it didn't look like the one above. I didn't take any good photo's at the time, because I was embarrassed, I've never had people watch me take photos like that before, so I re-set the table when I was cleaning up this morning. Sneaky. In an Ideal World, my table setting would have looked [like this]), and ate this huge meal in the space of an hour, because we decided to catch a movie after. We had a simple tomato Bruschetta, Beouf Bourguignon (Julia Child's recipe, of course), and French Apple Tart (also Julia Child's). I could tell you about all the bad things about the meal, but let's focus on the positive, shall we? The tomato Bruschetta was nice, the tomato/fetta/red onion combination never fails. The sauce for the Bourguignon was really rich from the wine and tasted really good, but I think the mushrooms and the onions (which had been cooked in an indecent amount of butter) were my favourite bits. The apple tart looked really pretty, if I may say so myself, I was super proud of my lovely apple-pattern on the top. The apple sauce mixture underneath was really tasty and spiced just the right amount (it was even good for breakfast this morning with some yoghurt and some homemade granola). I'll give you the other recipes at a later date, but we'll start with the apple tart. As my Mum always says, eat dessert first. So that's what we'll do.
The apple tart wasn't hard to make, it was just time consuming: making the pastry, peeling/coring/slicing all the apples, making the apple sauce. But I think it's worth it, especially for a special occasion. It makes you feel very domestic-goddess, being able to produce something like this from your very own kitchen.

French Apple Tart:
From Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."
Makes one 25-26cm tart.

For the Pastry:
2 cups pastry flour ("00" flour)
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp white sugar
200g cold butter, chopped into bits
1/2 cup iced water

Mix flour, salt, sugar and butter in a big bowl. Rub the flour and butter together with the tips of your fingers until the mix resembles crumbs. Don't over mix, you don't want the butter to get too warm.
Add the water and quickly mix in with one hand. Add a few more drops of water if the mix hasn't come together. The dough should hold together without being sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a floured board. With the heel, not the palm, of your hand, knead the dough to blend it together. Sprinkle it lightly with flour and wrap in baking paper and place in the fridge for 2 hours or overnight before using.
When ready to use, place the dough on a floured board. Roll out into a thin circle bigger than your baking tin. Lift the dough off the board and lay over your greased tin. Press the dough into the tin and prick all around with a fork. Cover with a square of baking paper and then pour in rice, dried beans or baking weights. Blind bake in a 200C preheated oven for 8-10 minutes until base is set. Remove the paper and weights and bake for another 3-5 minutes until pastry starts to colour.

For the Apple topping:
2 kg apples (I used golden delicious and fuji's)
1/3 cup apricot jam
2/3 cup white sugar
3 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
zest of 1 lemon

Peel, core and quarter the apples (You might like to have a sit on the couch whilst you're doing this). Cut enough of the apples into thin lengthwise slices to make 3 cups. Toss them with 1 tsp lemon juice and 2 tbsp sugar. (for the top of the tart).
Cut the remaining apples into chunks, about 8 cups, and place in a pan with 3 tbsp water. Cook, covered, over a low heat for 20 mins, stirring occasionally. The apples should be tender.
Mix in the remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil and cook until the apples have turned into a thick sauce.
Preheat oven to 190C.
Spread the applesauce on the blind baked pastry shell. Arrange the apple slices on top of the sauce.
Bake for 30 mins, or until apples have browned and are tender.
Spread an apricot glaze (1/2 cup apricot jam mixed with 2 tbsp sugar heated until just simmering) over the top of the apples.
The tart can be served either hot or cold.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sometimes, life happens.

Sometimes, things don't plan out the way you expected. Even the little things. Sometimes I'm not the perfect housewife I imagine myself to be (and I'm not even married, things must be all kinds of messed up around here).

You get up in the morning with a plan for the day: Meet a friend at 10 for coffee, finish doing the housework (i.e. finish watching "True Blood"), and eventually make something delicious for dinner.
But things don't always go as planned. Your Dad calls in the morning and tells you that your sister and her friend want to go see a movie and you should go too ("The Social Network" was pretty interesting, in case you were wondering), you don't end up meeting your friend till late, and then you have to pick up some new litter for the cat because he's so fussy all the time and doesn't like the stuff that he has at the moment. When you finally come home, you've forgotten to get anything for dinner and there's only 'other stuff' in the house (i.e. pasta and rice but nothing to go with it). Your lovely boyfriend is tired from work and doesn't know what he wants to eat, so you have to go to the grocer and there isn't much to choose from, so you end up getting fancy rissoles and some lettuce. Your lovely boyfriend fires up the barbecue, and starts to cook them. The patties are so big that they never really get cooked in the middle, but they're very crisp on the outside, so you decide to put the in the oven for a bit. But then you both forget about them (the news can be really interesting sometimes), and by the time you remember to pull them out, they're ridiculously crisp and burnt, so you end up throwing them out and having eggs on toast instead. And then your cat gets his paw stuck down behind the heater and can't get out (good one, Rooney).

But these things happen. And this isn't even bad! If burnt rissoles are the biggest problem I've got, I guess my life is pretty good. People burn things, life goes on, the clock keeps ticking on by. I just have to remind myself this sometimes.

But tomorrow, I'll be ready. You better watch out, Friday, here I come...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Vanilla Chai Granola.

chai granola

I dreamt about this granola last night. I saw the recipe just before I went to bed and all night I dreamt that I was searching through cupboards to find the right spices. As soon as I woke up, I looked up the recipe again and got all the spices out of the cupboard. 8:00 am and there I am, measuring out spices, oats, and sultanas.
chai granola
It's official. I've finally become one of those people that makes their own cereal. Do they still call those people housewives? Or just hippies? Either way, I'm not ashamed. I'll say it loud and proud. I make my own cereal. From scratch!
Unfortunately, I burnt some of my granola. I got sidetracked, and all of a sudden, I smell this amazing mix of sweet, aromatic spices, and burning toast. The tray that didn't burn was packed full of oaty, spicy goodness, but the other tray was a little scant, so just remember that when making your granola.
The spices in this make it more like a chai tea than a chai latte, so don't go expecting a sickly sweet taste, full of fake spices and flavourings.
chai granola
If there are too many oats and not enough 'other stuff' in this granola to satisfy your breakfast taste buds, feel free to add wheatgerm (1/2 cup), pepitas or sunflower seeds (1/4 cup), shredded coconut (1/4 cup) or whatever else you like to eat. The only reason I didn't add these, was because it was early when I made this and I didn't want to walk to the shop.
While this is baking, my house filled with the scent of spices, like taking a big whiff from a box of chai tea, until I burnt it, that is.
But definitely try this. It's completely rewarding making your own granola. I feel like a wholesome, self-sufficient house fairy. I think that's a pretty good way to start the day, don't you?
Now, off to feed the chickens...

chai granola

Adapted from Simple Bites

If you use whole spices (cloves, cardamom), remember to take them out of the honey mixture before you mix it into the oats, otherwise you might crunch a whole clove or cadamom pod and that would just ruin your breakfast. Ruin it. I'd definately recommmend to just use ground spices. And remember that this is not a heavily spiced granola. If you'd like it to be more spicey, you could use heaped tsps, but don't up the spices more than that, or it gets a bit much.

Oven 200C

1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cardamom or 3 or 4 whole pods
1/4 tsp ground cloves, or 3 or 4 whole cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 a vanilla bean, sliced with seeds scraped into the honey, or 1/4 tsp vanilla essence

2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup slivered or whole, chopped almonds
1/2 cup LSA mix
1 cup sultanas

In a small saucepan, mix together everything from the honey to the pepper.
Heat until dissolved and mixed, don't bring to the boil.
In a big bowl, mix the remaining ingredients.
Add the spice mixture to the dry ingredients and mix to combine.
Split between 2 lined baking trays, flattening the mix as you go.
Bake at 200C for 15 mins. Reduce heat to 170C and rotate trays, turning the granola as you go.
Bake for another 15 mins.
Leave the granola until cool.
Store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Poulet en Cocotte Bonne Femme.

Bonne Femme
It was my birthday this week and I got some excellent presents. A Chasseur cast-iron pot, the Julia Child cookbooks and a set of knives were the main ones. I feel so spoilt! I've been trying to cook things in my new pot and chop lots of things with my new knives and I'm in heaven. But the knives are so sharp that I keep cutting myself. It's the kind of sharp that means you don't realise you've cut yourself until you see the blood dripping down your fingers onto whatever you're chopping. I must've cut my finger pretty deep the other day, because it won't stop bleeding. When it does, if I even touch my finger on anything, it bleeds again.

It did stop bleeding long enough, though, for me to cook dinner. Out of the hundreds of recipes in the Julia Child book, I chose this one because it had Bonne Femme in the title. Really, though, it's just chicken in a casserole with bacon, potatoes and onions - my favourite kind of dish. I know that not everyone likes their dinner to be covered in butter, but I do. Everything tastes better with butter. If you don't like your chicken and potatoes swimming in butter, you should just turn away now, this is definitely not a calorie-friendly meal. Then again, you have to splurge sometimes, so you may as well go all out.

To be honest, I did expect this dish to be a bit more... wow. It was basically just a roast chicken with butter and bacon to make it special. Don't get me wrong, it was super tasty, and cooking chicken in a cast-iron pot is my new favourite past time, but I think it could benefit from something else. I'm not sure what... Actually, I didn't have the right amount of bacon, so that might've made a difference. Doesn't matter though, I'll definitely make this dish again.

Julia Child says to use a 1/2 pound chunk of bacon, which you then have to cut up into lardons. This seemed like to much hassle for me, so I just used 4 strips of bacon, which probably wasn't enough, but, whatever, I do what I want. She also says to use 15-25 white onions. I imagine she's talking about those little onions that you use for pickling, but really, that's a bit outrageous. I used 2 big brown onions instead.

Poulet en Cocotte Bonne Femme:
Adapted from Julia Child's "Mastering The Art of French Cooking"

Oven- 180C

5 rashers of bacon, sliced
4 tbsp butter
1 chicken
2 big brown onions, cut in half with the skins off
4-5 medium potatoes, peeled, quartered
1/4 tsp salt
herb bouquet

Cover the potatoes in cold, salted water and bring to the boil. A couple of minutes before the water starts to boil, drop the onions in. As soon as it's boiled, drain everything.
Saute the bacon in 1 tbsp of butter in the cast-iron pot for 4-5 mins on the stove top. Take out and put aside.
Brown the chicken in the pot, until browned on all sides, be careful not to break the skin of the chicken.
Remove the chicken from the pot and keep aside. Pour out the butter from the casserole.
Put the last 3 tbsp butter in the pot and heat until foaming.
Add the potatoes to the pot, rolling them around to "evaporate their moisture."
While the pot is still on the stove, spread the potatoes around the edge of the dish and put the chicken back in, breast side up.
Salt the chicken.
Put the onions around the chicken and scatter the bacon on top.
Add the herb bouquet.
Baste everything with the butter at the bottom of the pan.
Cover the chicken with alfoil, and put the lid on.
Roast for 1 hour 10-20 mins until the chicken is done.
Serve the chicken with the butter sauce from the pot.