Monday, June 29, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
"Humanity can be roughly divided into three sorts of people - those who find comfort in literature, those who find comfort in personal adornment and those who find comfort in food." Or so declares this month's choice for the Cook the Books club on its first page. "The Little White Horse" by Elizabeth Goudge was a childhood favourite of an earlier generation, and a charming choice for us to read. The story follows many of the conventions of children's fiction including dead parents, odd uncles, wicked strangers, a search and a mystery, thrown together with a menagerie of highly intuitive animals, fairy-like people and the inevitable triumph of good over evil. The book was delightful to read and such a change of speed from the sort of novels that I generally find myself engrossed in.
While reading the book, I contemplated what to cook for this challenge. It had to be something that was very traditional "English" food, in keeping with the book. Sausages were a definite possibility because they kept turning up in the descriptions of breakfast, but after a less than successful attempt at Toad in the Hole, I decided to focus on the climax of the book - afternoon tea. The cook, Marmaduke Scarlet, created a high tea banquet with plum cake, saffron cake, cherry cake, iced fairy cakes, eclairs, gingerbread, meringues, syllabub, and more. I decided, if I were Marmaduke Scarlet, I would make for Maria and Robin something light and dainty as the kiss of Loveday Minette, and serve it with strawberry tea. So here are some strawberry sponge kisses, also called powder puffs, that are soft and sugary and perfectly delicious.
The recipe for these sponge kisses comes from The Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander, which seems to have every recipe that you could ever want to find, but did not know where to start. The direction to line your trays with baking paper is important - otherwise removing your cakes from the oven trays will damage them. I also think I didn't get my egg whites stiff enough before adding the sugar. The hardest part of the recipe is allowing them to sit for three hours to soften after they are filled with the cream. I'm sure there will be no complaints if I need to try again to perfect this recipe.....
Strawberry Sponge Kisses
from "The Cook's Companion" by Stephanie Alexander
75g plain flour
¾ tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 eggs, separated
¾ cup castor sugar
stiffly whipped cream
Preheat oven to 210C (if using a fan-forced convection oven, 200C may be better) and line four baking trays with baking paper. Sift dry ingredients, except sugar, three times. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks, then gradually beat in sugar until mixture forms a glossy, stiff meringue. Add yolks one at a time. Sift dry ingredients over mixture, then fold in very gently and thoroughly. Do not stir mixture after this point. It should be firm and when spooned onto trays should not settle or run. Quickly spoon heaped teaspoons of mixture onto prepared trays, well apart to allow for spreading. Cook for 5-7 minutes until sponge-coloured.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Life is sometimes funny in the Southern Hemisphere. Christmas day is hot. Easter doesn't give us the fresh start of Spring; instead it is rainy autumn weather. And June is not the summer holidays, but the start of winter and it is cold. However, when you belong to a cooking group like Barefoot Bloggers which is predominantly North American, you get to cook along with northern hemisphere seasons and pretend that it is warm when it is actually pretty miserable.
This week's height of summer Barefoot pick is gazpacho, a chilled soup I really love. I have already posted three different versions of Gazpacho on this blog (a Spanish version, a cucumber version and a fancy almond version). I love the balance of flavours between the vegetables, and I love that it feels like I am doing something really good for my health when I eat it. And when I ate it today, I could pretend that spring is nearly here, when actually it is 67 days away (OK I am counting).
Ina's Barefoot version of gazpacho is fairly simple and very tasty. Where other versions use bread to thicken the soup after pureeing vegetables as the base, this gazpacho was made thick by the large volume of chopped vegetables tossed through the tomato juice base. I left out the olive oil altogether, although if you had a really lovely oil, you could garnish the soup with a swirl of it. I also added my own avocado garnish as I love the contrast it brings to the texture of the soup, and the way it balances some of the more pungent flavours. Using the tomato juice makes this soup very quick and convenient. Just the thing for lunch while lolling about at a beach house contemplating an afternoon siesta. I wish.
If you are interested in joining the Barefoot Bloggers, click on the icon in the margin. Thanks to Meryl from My Bit of the Earth for her choice.
Gazpacho from "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook" by Ina Garten
1 hothouse cucumber, halved and seeded, but not peeled
2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded
4 plum tomatoes
1 red onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
23 ounces tomato juice (3 cups)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Roughly chop the cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and red onions into 1-inch cubes. Put each vegetable separately into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until it is coarsely chopped. Do not overprocess!
After each vegetable is processed, combine them in a large bowl and add the garlic, tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mix well and chill before serving. The longer gazpacho sits, the more the flavors develop.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
from The Barefoot Contessa At Home" by Ina Garten
1/4 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon grated orange zest, or more if you like a stronger orange flavour
3/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
4 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup pouring cream
1 cup dried cranberries
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water or milk, for egg wash
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice
Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it into a ball. Flour your hands and a rolling pin and roll the dough 3/4-inch thick. You should see small bits of butter in the dough. Keep moving the dough on the floured board so it doesn't stick. Flour a 3-inch round plain or fluted cutter and cut circles of dough. Place the scones on a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Collect the scraps neatly, roll them out, and cut more circles.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Happily I had seen some of Chris' beautiful cupcakes at Mele Cotte, which inspired me to make use of some leftover fondant for the decorations. (If you ever find yourself with leftover fondant, wrap it up so it is airtight, and keep it in a dark place at room temperature, and it will keep for a long time.) The designs were kept simple, so the kids could decorate the cupcakes themselves on top of the buttercream icing. Red fondant made crosses for the Red Cross. White fondant made paw prints for the RSPCA, and the leftover red and white fondant kneaded together made pink ribbons for Breast Cancer. The girls were so proud of their handiwork, and, even better, they sold well at school, raising almost $300 in total from their stall.
The recipes were the basic vanilla and the basic chocolate cupcakes from 500 Cupcakes by Fergal Connelly. If you haven't seen this book, it is charming, with cupcake recipes covering every flavour possibility. Because kids en masse can be a pretty fussy lot, we played it safe and went with the basic vanilla and the basic chocolate cupcake recipes. I never got to try a cupcake, but the kids tell me they were good.
Classic Chocolate Buttercream Cupcakes
from 500 Cupcakes by Fergal Connelly
225g unslated butter, softened
225g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 tbls cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
100g chopped plain chocolate
2 tbsp double cream
50g unsalted butter, softened
100g icing sugar, sieved
Heat oven to 175C. Place 18 cupcake papers into a muffin tin. Combine all ingredients in an electric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment for 2-3 minutes. Spoon the batter into cases. Bake for 20 mins. Cool in the tins for 5 mins then remove to a rack to cool completely. For the icing, combine chocolate cream and butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir gently until combined. Remove from heat and add icing sugar, stirring until the icing is smooth. Spread onto cupcakes.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water (105-115F)
1 tsp honey
2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tbls cornmeal, divided
Sunday, June 14, 2009
I recently joined a blogging group on the web called The Daring Kitchen. The Daring Kitchen is the new sibling of the Daring Bakers, and they hold a monthly challenge to make something a little harder and more testing than the meals I usually find myself cooking. I was excited to join - I have watched the Daring Bakers making the most amazing cakes and pastries, but did not consider joining because there is a definite limit to the amount of sweets we would ever manage to make or consume in this house. The Daring Kitchen, however, looked exciting to me with its move into the savoury side of cooking.
So I was bracing myself for my first challenge, wondering whether I was about to be completely overwhelmed by what they would ask me to attempt. Instead, I was completely blessed by my first challenge: Chinese Dumplings. While I have never made them before, some of my family is Chinese, we eat Chinese food all the time, and dumplings are a particular favourite with the kids. In other words, I knew that what I made would get eaten, and I knew how it should look and taste. And as for the making itself, I had more fun doing this than you would imagine, but it is definitely something to do as a communal activity - next time I will line up the partner , friends or kids for an hour or two of this. The fillings are relatively simple to pull together, and they can sit in the fridge while the dough is being made. While I used the two suggested fillings, you could really let your imagination go and create anything here, or else just copy one or two of your favourite yum cha dumplings.
The dough was the revelation for me. It consists of only flour and water. No salt, no eggs, nor anything else. I used the food processor method described below, and wound up with a fairly hard lump of dough, which I kneaded then left to rest for 15 minutes. I then sliced it into strips, rolled the strips into sausages, and chopped the sausages into pieces (see pics below). Because it felt hard, I couldn't imagine that it would become pliable enough to fill, but it does. The whole process of rolling, filling and pleating is very satisfying. It made me feel incredibly satisfied - definite double happiness dumplings!
1 lb (450g) ground pork
4 wombok cabbage leaves, minced
3 stalks green onions, minced
7 shitake mushrooms, minced (if dried - rehydrated and rinsed carefully)
1/2 cup (75g) bamboo shoots, minced
1/4 (55g) cup ginger, minced
3 tbsp (40g) soy sauce
2 tbsp (28g) sesame oil
2 tbsp (16g) corn starch
225g raw prawns, peeled, deveined, and coarsely chopped
225g ground pork
3 stalks green onions, minced
1/4 cup ginger, minced
1 cup water chestnuts, minced
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp corn starch
dough: (double this for the amount of filling, but easier to make it in 2 batches - or just halve the filling recipe)
2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (113g) warm water
flour for worksurface
2 parts soy sauce
1 part vinegar (red wine or black)
a few drops of sesame oil
chili garlic paste (optional) - I used chopped fresh chilli
minced ginger (optional)
minced garlic (optional)
minced green onion (optional)
Make the dough, Method 1: Place the flour in the work bowl of a food processor with the dough blade. Run the processor and pour the warm water in until incorporated. Pour the contents into a sturdy bowl or onto a work surface and knead until uniform and smooth. The dough should be firm and smooth to the touch and not sticky.[Note: it’s better to have a moist dough and have to incorporate more flour than to have a dry and pilling dough and have to incorporate more water).
Make the dough, Method 2 (my mom’s instructions): In a large bowl mix flour with 1/4 cup of water and stir until water is absorbed. Continue adding water one teaspoon at a time and mixing thoroughly until dough pulls away from sides of bowl. We want a firm dough that is barely sticky to the touch.
Recipe note from the Daring Kitchen: Your 2 cups of flour should weigh 250g - some flour sits denser than others, so a cup measurement is not definitive. When you knead the dough, if it feels hard and dry, then you can add more water. [Warning: it will NOT be a soft bread dough, so don't expect it to be, but it shouldn't be a brick either.] It is perfectly fine to use more than the 1/2 cup listed in the recipe as everyone's climate and flours vary.
Both dough methods: Knead the dough about twenty strokes then cover with a damp towel for 15 minutes. Take the dough and form a flattened dome. Cut into strips about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Shape the strips into rounded long cylinders. On a floured surface, cut the strips into 3/4 inch pieces. Press palm down on each piece to form a flat circle (you can shape the corners in with your fingers). With a rolling pin, roll out a circular wrapper from each flat disc. Take care not to roll out too thin or the dumplings will break during cooking - about 1/16th inch. Leave the centers slightly thicker than the edges. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of each wrapper and fold the dough in half, pleating the edges along one side (see images in post for how to fold pleats). Keep all unused dough under damp cloth.
To boil: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add dumplings to pot. Boil the dumplings until they float.
To steam: Place dumplings on a single layer of cabbage leaves on a well-greased surface in a steamer basket with lid. Steam covered for about 6 minutes. (I used my steam oven and cooked for about 7 minutes).
Friday, June 12, 2009
2 chicken bouillon cubes or 1 3/4 cups chicken broth
If you're using the bouillon cubes, drop them into a medium-size bowl and pour over 1 3/4 cups of boiling water; stir to dissolve. If you're using chicken broth, bring it to the boil, then pour it into the bowl. Add the apricots to the bowl and let them soak and plump while you prepare the rest of the tagine.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
1 1/2 cups couscous
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup small-diced carrots
1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup dried currants or raisins
1/4 cup blanched, sliced almonds
2 scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
1/4 cup small-diced red onion
Place the couscous in a medium bowl. Melt the butter in the boiling water and pour over the couscous. Cover tightly and allow the couscous to soak for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, vinegar, curry, turmeric, salt, and pepper. Pour over the fluffed couscous, and mix well with a fork. Add the carrots, parsley, currants, almonds, scallions, and red onions, mix well, and season to taste. Serve at room temperature.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Meanwhile, put the fish into a baking dish, almost cover with milk – you can add a bay leaf or two if you like – then bake until the fish is opaque and will come easily from the bone or skin when you pull it. You can expect this to take about 10 to 15 minutes, bearing in mind that different types of fish take slightly different times to cook. Drain the potatoes, putting them back into the empty pan over a moderate heat for a few minutes if they seem wet, then mash them with a potato masher.
Monday, June 1, 2009
from Ina Garten
2 yellow capsicums, seeded and sliced into thin strips
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon capers, drained
2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
100g creamy Gorgonzola or other blue cheese, at room temperature
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the capsicums and cook until soft, about 12 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the sugar and continue cooking for 2 more minutes. Stir in the capers and basil, and season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Slice the baguette crosswise into 18 thin round slices. Brush the bread rounds lightly with olive oil on 1 side. Arrange them in rows, oil side up, on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and toast in the oven until lightly browned, about 7 to 10 minutes.