Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Crackers for crackers...

Some times you just need a snack, a little bit of something to see you though. Right? But what if your fridge has only a scrap of cheese? Or if your bread is stale? Or if there is no fruit? Or if someone bought the wrong crackers from the shops on their last shopping adventure? What do you do?

Given that we love a pre-dinner snack, with a drink too, I've come up with these babies. Home made crackers. Am I crackers? Cause they are cheap to buy from the supermarket and come in so many varieties. Recently I found some fig and seed crackers, that's how diverse the range is. So why make them? Cause they come together in a pinch, and are out of the oven after 10 minutes. Cause they are great to whip up when someone unexpected arrives. Cause they are great warm with cheese. But also great a few days old with dip. And indeed they do keep in a biscuit tin for at least a week, if you can stop eating them that is.

That's why I'm crackers for these crackers. And the fella is too.

Home Made Crackers.
Makes a tray full - maybe 24 or so

1 c plain flour, sifted
1/2 tsp baking powder
30 g butter, softened
up to a tbs flavours of your choice - dried herbs, salt and pepper, sesame seeds, etc!
chilled water
small amount of milk

Pre-heat oven to 180* C. Line a baking tray with paper.

In a bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Add the butter, mixing it in until the butter is combined with the flour. I recommend using your finger tips. When combine, you will have no lumps, rather more textured flour than you started off with. Add the flavourings.

Slowly add a little cold water, until the mixure comes together into a soft dough. Don't add too much water, as you don't want a sticky mess. Once combine, kneed briefly to form a smooth dough. Roll mixture out onto a floured surface, until a few millimetres thick. Cut into shapes as you please - uniform squares, rough bits, anything really. Place crackers onto prepared tray. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the crackers with milk. This will help them to brown. If you want, sprinkle some salt on the top.

Bake in oven for around 8 minutes, giving a few minutes more as needed. Cool on a wire rack before devouring with your chosen additions - cheese, dip, pate, olives, etc, etc.

Inspired by a few recipes, including one from Joy the Baker and also the Preserve It cookbook

The fella whipping up some savoury crackery goodness.

Daiquiri ice cream if you please...

One of my principles of make-it-yourself extends to ice cream. The flavours simply can't be compared to what comes out of a tub from the super-chilled isle of the supermarket. Think of home made ice cream more as a trip to Trampoline or your local little ice creamery, where things are churned by hand, made with love and the staff will occasionally break into song when Michael Jackson is played over the speakers.

But what if you don't have the goods? Cause to make good ice cream, you really do need a makers. Once of those frozen bowls that has a mixer inbuilt. That makes your ice cream smooth and soft and cold. So what do you do?

Try this recipe silly! No churn ice cream. Still luscious and creamy. No chunks of icy shards. Just smoothness. I think the alcohol stops this from getting to hard. And the cream whipped helps too. I'm planning on experimenting to find out what freezes and what keeps your mixture smooth. But until then, daiquiri ice cream if you please.

Daiquiri Ice Cream
Serves 6

1/2 c lemon juice
2 tbs white rum
3 tbs cointreau
3/4 c icing sugar
600 ml cream

Combine together the lemon juice, white rum, cointreau and icing sugar until sugar is dissolved. In your mixer, add the cream to the lemony, groggy, sugary goodness and whisk until firm peaks form. Spoon into a container for freezing, cover and place in your freezer overnight.

Adapted from Nigella Lawson's Nigella Express.

Duck for dinner...

I embarked on a cooking challenge recently. A little beyond my previous level of experience. Something I'd been wanting to make for a while. A duck. Yep, that's right, roasting a duck. The fella loves duck you see. Given the chance it is what he will order when out and about. Particularly if we find ourselves in China Town. Crispy skinned duck, cooked for hours, hanging in a shop window. When you order, language is a barrier so simply pointing and making enthusiastic noises gets you what you want.

As for me and my duck...

Well it sat in the freezer for some time while I read recipes and compared processes. Did it really need to be cooked for hours? After all, isn't it really just a chicken? And if a chicken was roasted for three hours it would be as dry as a bone. And all that fat that the recipes keep talking about. Surely there can't be that much fat ensuring I need to drain it every half an hour? To stuff or not to stuff? Sauce along with or along side? Vegetables?

Well, this wasn't going to be a post about duck. It was to be about ice cream. But I'll save dessert for later. In the end I chose to go with Jamie. I find that his recipes work. Certainly his meat ones anyhow. And he doesn't mind trying interesting flavours also. Plus the particular recipe of his I stumbled across stipulated rhubarb. One of my favourite ingredients. I had to make it. And it was moreish. With gravy. And potatoes basted with duck fat... very lip smackingly good.

Try it if you will. But I do have to apologise for the pictures. The duck came out of the oven, and before it could be neatly presented was snapped up. So odd looking awkward bird, you were tasty, really you were.

Roast Duck with Rhubarb and Garlic Gravy
Serves 3 (or 4 at a pinch).

1 whole duck, around 1.8 kg
Salt and pepper
1 stalk rhubarb, diced
Half a head of garlic, peeled and cloves cut into thirds
1 onion, thinly sliced
Handful basil, torn
1/3 c red wine
2/3 c vegetable stock

Pre-heat oven to 180* C.

Prepare you duck by washing it and removing any juice from it. Pat dry and season the skin and cavity well with salt and pepper. Combine the rhubarb, garlic, onion and basil in a bowl. Stuff it inside the duck's cavity, then close the duck up modestly.

Place the duck on a rack, place the rack into an oven tray and bake for an hour. Drain the fat off half way through, and make sure you have lots of fans going in your home. Or else the smoke detectors are likely to be set off. So much fat comes out of this bird. So much!

After an hour, reduced the oven's temperature to 150* C. Cook for a further hour and a half, until the drumsticks pull off easily. You may not need this long, you may need longer. Remove the duck from the oven, scoop out the stuffing, cover the duck and let it rest.

Place the stuffing in the oven tray. Put the tray onto the stove top and heat over a medium heat. Scrape off the sticky bits on the tray, smooshing up the rhubarb and garlic as needed. Add the wine and stock, bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for around 10 minutes. Strain the gravy through a sieve into your gravy boat.

Carve up the duck, or just hack into it as I did. Serve with gravy poured over and also some roasted potatoes what were lovingly brushed in duck fat while they cooked in the oven. Some peas are tasty too.

Adapted from Jamie Oliver's Happy Days with the Naked Chef.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Takeaway alternatives...

"Can we please have pizza for tea?" we both silently cried.

After all, we were going out for drinks after work. To our little local bar the Banff. It sells a good amount of pizzas with simply, delicious toppings. And has happy hour. With cheap, cheap drinks. A variety of reds, with a local brew on tap. And tonight would be beer night. A jug if you please. The plan was to sit outside, sip away at our drinks and discuss the important things in life. Needs to be done at least once per week I would think.

So should we give in and get pizza with our drinks? Should we eat out for the nth time this week? Oh, the smell of olives and peperoni... The squid and chili topped pizza... The special of the week being mushrooms and mozzarella... How did we resist?

By looking forward to a quick-fix, super tasty eggplant pasta. But the vego/eggplant rule of our house has to pervade - cheese must be included for it to be a meal that satisfies the fella.

Tempted not to cook? Thinking of dialing for a pizza? Or perhaps strolling across the park to your local for a quick bite to eat? Make this instead. Then snuggle down in front of the telly with a cool drink and watch some trash (e.g. Make Me a Supermodel).

Eggplant and Tomato Pasta
Serves 3 - 4.

Splash of olive oil
1 large eggplant, diced into 1 cm cubes
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, smooshed and diced
400 g tin diced tomatoes
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
good pinch of salt and grind of pepper
bag spinach leaves
good amount of cheese, such as danish feta
200 g dried pasta of your choice

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the eggplant and give it a good stir. Cook for around 8 minutes, until the eggplant is starting to soften. Add the onion and garlic, cook until they begin to brown a little. Add the tomatoes, vinegar and seasoning, reduce the heat and simmer for around 15-20 minutes. The sauce will thicken and flavours will intensify.

Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the pasta and cook for the recommended time. Once cooked perfectly, drain and set aside.

Just before combining the sauce and the pasta, tip in the packet of spinach leaves and crumble through the cheese. Serve warm, with optional chili if you so wish. Any thoughts of pizza will be banished for the evening.

Adapted from Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Dinners.

The Banff bar

Old and faithful crumble cake...

I had a simply lovely baking day recently. We had gone to the markets, so there was plenty of fresh produce around. We had large fresh free-range eggs in abundance. There was so much autumnal fruit, with the last of the plums and plenty of pears. Simply delicious. I purchased a good amount of pears, raided the pantry and got cooking.

I whipped up the last post, some breakfast bars. And these have been getting us through the week. But some old and faithfuls were baked too. Banana bread, studded with walnuts, deliciously dark with cocoa. Baked in the oven until crisp on top and fluffy in the middle. What a great stand-by recipe. It is what I make when I simply have to cook but don't feel adventurous. The other reliable baked delicious thing that was made was a crumble cake.

Crumble cakes are versatile. Any fruit can be used. And the toppings can be changed depending on what is at hand. This weekend I was clean out of coconut after making the breakfast bars. So I simply added more oats and more brown sugar. As for the fruit, some rhubarb from the freezer was added to those firm and volumptuous pears.

Pear and Rhubarb Crumble Cake
Serves 12 or so

4 eggs

200 g sugar
200 g butter, melted
1 2/3 c plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 pear, cored and diced
handful of rhubarb, diced
crumble topping for cake
50 g butter
200 g dry ingredients - be sure to include brown sugar and flour, oats, coconut, seeds or nuts work also.
2 tsp cinnamon powder

Pre-heat oven to 170 * C. Line a large round baking tin with paper, or grease and flour to ensure the cake can be removed from the tin once cooked.

Cream together the eggs and sugar in your electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the melted butter, mixing to combine. Fold in the sifted flour and baking powder, or simply use self-raising flour and omit the rising agent. Pour into prepared cake tin. Sprinkle the fruit over the cake mixture. Any fruit can be used really. Try two apples, peeled, cored and diced. Or some pears and sultanas. Or some frozen berries. Or diced appricots. What ever you have and love.

Make the crumble topping by combining the dry ingredients and cinnamon with the butter, rubbing the butter in with your finger tips until you have soft lumps with no real wet bits of butter. Crumble this topping over the cake.

Bake in oven for around 45 minutes. This will depend on your oven and the size of your cake pan. Cover with foil after 30 minutes if the cake is browning too quickly. Test cake is cooked by inserting a squewer into the middle. If it comes out with wet cake mix on it, return to oven to cook further.

Cook on a wire rack in tin for 10 minutes before removing from tin and leaving to cool completely.

Mum's recipe originally, which I'm sure she got from somewhere. Now my own.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Breakie on the run...

We are often running late in our house, particularly in the mornings. The alarm goes off and the snooze button is pressed half a dozen times. Some one gets motivated the get up then the other person rolls over and squashes any plans for getting out of bed. So we run late. We've tried the alarm on the other side of the room. We've tried putting catchy music on to dance to upon wakening. We've tried having the smells of coffee wafting from the kitchen to entice us in. The promise of bought breakfast even. Doesn't work. We sleep in. We run late.

In my latest efforts I've focused on compensating for being late. Why resist what cannot change? So I bring my toothbrush to work. My make up is done on the road. Toast slides off plates in the car when driving around corners. Or we go hungry until lunch.
So when I found a recipe for home-made breakfast bars it simply had to be made. Nutrition, on the go, sustaining tummies so they won't rumble during a morning meeting yet again. Sounds like a winner. Baked on the weekend in preparation for yet again hitting snooze.

Breakfast Bars
Makes 16 decent sized slices

1 tin sweetened condensed milk
35 g pepitas
75 g sunflower seeds
75 g walnuts, roughly chopped
125 g apricots, diced
125 g sultanas
50 g dessicated coconut
250 g oats
2 tbs cinnamon sugar

Pre-heat oven to 130* C. Line a lamington tin with paper, or any other shallow dish with a large surface area.

Gently heat the milk over a low heat in a large saucepan. Combine the remaining ingredients (except cinnamon sugar) and gently stir them into the hot milk until all is combine. There should be no dry bits anywhere.

Spread into the prepare tin, pushing into the corners. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over before baking in the oven for around 50 minutes.

Once cooked and delicious, remove from oven and slice into 16 pieces. Then leave to cool before storing in an air-tight container. Delicious with a cup of hot coffee for people on the go.

Adapted from Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson

If only I had time for that cup of tea too.

Building family traditions...

Easter has come and gone, so perhaps it is too late to put some seasonal treats up. Between Easter and today we have gone through quite a few ups and downs, one of them being that this bad boy computer needed a visit to the repair man. But the comp is back in action, and the cooking continues. After all, just this past week a relative reported that we are "still in octave of Easter."

As for Easter, I made a number of treated that I really enjoyed, and a few that flopped and hopefully will not grace the Easter table again. Two old favourites were whipped up - the Maundy Thursday fish pie and the eastern European Easter bread. We had the pie with friends, and yet again forgot to watch the Passion of the Christ. Having friends over is a new bit of the tradition, forgetting to watch this chilling film is usual fare. Each year a I make the pie with differing fish, add a few prawn and take hours cooking it, which mean we don't eat until very late. But it is important to build memories, and I believe that memories are aided by tradition.

As for the Easter bread, oh, so good! It is truly rewarding to make. The yeast simply rises and rises the leaven loaf. It is speckled with sultanas and glistens under an egg wash coat. Plus coloured hard-boiled eggs are wedged into the folds of the bread's plat. Eat it hot on the Easter holidays, toast it in the week following for breakfast. Delicious. And traditional also. My mother-in-law requests this yearly. It reminds her for food she ate in Finland as a child. So I always bring it to Easter Sunday lunch. After getting up at 0600 hrs to prepare it. So I wake early, put the coffee pot on the stove and get baking. This year with the aid of my ruby-red KitchenAid this bread was a breeze.

I hope you enjoyed some seasonal baking, and have fun building traditions with those who are important to you.

Eastern European Easter Bread a.k.a Kuliza
Makes one very large loaf or a number of smaller ones.

14 g dried yeast
50 g warm water
1/3 c sugar
3 1/2 c flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp dried ginger
1 c sultanas
zest of a lemon
150 ml milk
60 g butter
4 eggs
Up to 100 mg water, extra

Place yeast, water and 1 tbs sugar in a bowl. Stir to combine and then set aside to bubble and froth and get your leavening process started.

Combine flour, spices, sultanas and zest in the bowl of your mixer. Combine the milk and butter in a bowl. Heat gently in the microwave for 30 seconds to soften the butter and warm the milk. Stir this along with the yeast mix, 3 eggs lightly beaten and a little of the water into the flour mixture. Using a dough hook, kneed in the mixer until dough is smooth and lovely. Add more water if you need, but don't make the dough too sticky. Alternative mix by hand and kneed for a good while to form a similarly smooth dough.

Remove to a greased bowl, cover and leave to prove for an hour or so until doubled in size. Punch down the dough, divide it into three pieces and roll these pieces out. Make them long and of an equal length, before platting together and placing onto a lined tray. Or you could make a few little loaves in a similar fashion. Cover with a tea towel and leave to prove again for around an hour.

Make the coloured eggs during this hour and also pre-heat the oven to 190* C.

Place the eggs along the centre of the dough, brush with the remaining egg before baking in the oven for 25 minutes for a large loaf and 15 minutes for the small loaves.

Serve warm with butter.

Coloured Eggs

4 eggs
1 tsp red food colouring
water to cover the eggs

Place the eggs into a small saucepan. Cover with water and pour over the food colouring. Bring to the boil before simmering for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and leave to cool in the coloured water for 30 minutes to set the colour. Remove from water and allow to dry.

Originally from a Delicious magazine, now just from my adaptations.