Thursday, December 07, 2006

Impromptu Pizza

The pizza is so versatile. It is a canvas for a food artist. Anything can go on a pizza and it would still taste good. I had a piece of left over polenta pizza dough in the freezer, which I originally thought was pasta dough until it thawed out (I really should label my little bits and pieces that I throw in the freezer), so the ravioli ingredients were replaced with a very limited selection of pizza toppings on hand. I didn't have any salami or italian sausage, so bacon was used. I did however have some of the basics such as sundried tomatoes, olives, mozarella, topped with a lovely yellow capsicum, sliced fresh basil and drizzled with olive oil. Teenage daughter is an avid BBQ chicken pizza girl, but she said this was one of the best she's ever tasted. Needless to say there weren't any leftovers.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

World Bread Day

I hope I can participate in World Bread Day, an event hosted by Kochtopf where all of us bread nerds blog about ..... bread of course. I'm sure this event was created for me as my first step into the blogging of events worldwide. As it falls on a Monday, and I work full time, I baked on Sunday, and I'm awfully late posting, but I hope I can still be included.

This is my first successful sourdough, and after nurturing my starter for about 10 weeks, it's starting to talk back at me now, which means it's feisty. Of course the slow rise overnight helped, but I was sure it was going to peter out before the lengthy second rise. All up it took a night and most of a day for it to complete , but the oven spring was fantastic.

I cooked it in a wood fired oven in my backyard, very hot to start with, and then left the door open after steaming with ice cubes thrown in, until the temperature dropped to about 425 F. The sourness was just right, not overbearing, the crust was chewy, which some in my family like (i.e. me) and some don't. Sunday night dinner with butter slathered sourdough or dipped into flavoured olive oil and some dukkah to have with drinks pre-dinner....what could be more sublime?

Up until my new found passion for bread baking emerged, my family mainly preferred supermarket bread, simply for the convenience of not having to get the bread board out and slice it, and we've simply been brought up on bland flavoured "convenience" bread which needs to be disguised with various toppings slathered on it. It's really hard to break their habits from this, other than teasing them with the aromas that come from a freshly baked loaf, crust crackling and just begging to be sliced. I might be able to win them around eventually so they never open a plastic wrapped loaf of bread again.

In total 5 loaves were baked on Sunday, mainly white loaves using the direct dough method for quickness, but one was given to the little girl next door who came in licking her lips at the loaves displayed on the table, asking if she could have a loaf to take home with her. I hope you enjoyed it Maygen!

Also attempted was a camembert and grape loaf...which went to my parents. Pure indulgence.

A rye sourdough premix (so I cheated for the last loaf...sue me!).

And finally the plain old white loaf after such extravagence with the camembert and grape loaf.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bienenstich ... delish

As a special request, my nephew's fiance asked me to make a Bee Sting for her colleagues at work. This was Monday night after a long day at work, but in the meantime I realised that it was my bosses birthday the Saturday before, so a belated cake was called for. As it turns out, the recipe makes two Bee Stings, and my boss is from Germany, so I killed two birds with one stone, or as he would say "killed 7 flies with one swat".

Pita pockets, tabouleh, walnut fougasse

With a very rare and welcomed Friday afternoon off work, I attempted a walnut fougasse from the Bread Bible. Even though I had a supply of walnuts in the pantry, it nearly turned out to be a macadamia fougasse (if there is such a thing), because sourcing out walnut oil was my first challenge. I eventually found a tin of it at the local health store, but for $14.50 for 1/2 a litre, I was a bit hesitant in making the purchase. Ah, what the heck, it was imported from France...c'est la vie.
It was fun to make, but rather messy, having to kneed copious amounts of oil into the dough at various rising stages. My bench top was a mess but my hands felt great for the rest of the day.
I think I could have been more careful with it though, as it turned out a bit dense, but the flavour was magnificent. I'll have to have another go at it when I have more time, because we can't have that liquid gold going rancid on me.

Sunday night's dinner was simple (slow day after a big Saturday night). Pita pockets filled with sliced bbq'd rump steak and tabouleh. It amazes me the way the pockets form in the pita breads. They were so much nicer than the store bought ones that we have all been brought up on. Simple to make too. Both of these items will be on the menu again real soon.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Blimps & Blinis

You sometimes see the most unexpected things when you walk out into your backyard. The Holden blimp was hovering over my head last Monday, on it's way to Bathurst in NSW for the super car racing event of the year. It's a pretty rare sight in this neck of the woods, so I had to have a Kodak moment.
Yesterday, for some crazy reason, I decided to make blinis. I've never cooked or tasted them before, but I had a craving for smoked salmon and creme fraiche. I don't think they turned out like they were supposed to. The batter was way too thick, and instead of picking up a tub of sour cream that the recipe called for, I grabbed ricotta by mistake. Even though the supermarket is only a 5 minute drive away, I just couldn't be bothered going back for one item, so improvised with lemon juice squeezed into regular cream.
They tasted great though...light and puffy, perfect with Friday night drinks.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


It's Sunday, and of course that means baking bread. Since purchasing the Bread Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum a couple of months ago, I've made several attempts to duplicate the pugliese, which is featured on the cover of the book. Each time, my loaf has turned out about the size of a Big Mac bun without the 53 sesame seeds on top. It tastes great, but just looks pathetic. So today I'm going to demand no interuptions from the family, and will follow the recipe through to the last full stop. I'm usually summonsed to drive teenage daughter somewhere just at the crucial moment when the dough needs folding, ending up in overproofed then deflated dough.
I'm going to make good bread today, like it or not family! The "biga" is resting on the bench, waiting to be transformed into something more appealing than a frisbee. Fingers crossed.

Biga after 24 hours

Today I'm using a new flour that I can't get hold of at any of my supermarkets. Teenage daughter and I "did lunch" in a neighbouring town on Tuesday of last week. The town has a quarter of the population, compared to here, but I managed to find some Laukes Wallaby Bakers flour at the local BiLo supermarket. I've read on other Australian blogs that this is supposedly the "bees knees" of flour, and yet my Coles supermarket (which, by the way, owns BiLo supermarket chain) doesn't even stock it. I will definitely lobby them to do so, otherwise a round trip of 82 kms for a 5 kg bag of flour works out at about $20 per loaf, given the ridiculous cost of fuel here at the moment.

Ok, I've measured and weighed and even tested water temperature down to the poofteenth degree. Mixed the dough in my KitchenAid to the last second as per Rose's instructions, thanks to a digital timer. I blamed not having one of these as the reason for my flops in the past, but now I have no excuse, or need to come up with another reason.

The dough is silky soft and smooth as the veritable baby's bottom, which is what it is supposed to feel like. I've done the business letter turns, 3 in total, the dough resting in between for 30 minutes each time.

Dough after 2nd business letter fold

Final fold, shaped into a ball and waiting for the miracle of rising. It always fascinates me how a ball of gluey blob which is so sticky it could hold two bits of wood together, can work it's magic and transform into a loaf of edible bread. It fascinates me because this transformation has always eluded me with this loaf. Hopefully new flour and lack of interuptions can do the trick, however it's a rotten blustery windy spring day here, and the dog is frightened stiff of the wind, so she's not sure whether she wants to stay inside or indulge on the lamb roast bone that she's just been given. She's been let in and out at least a dozen times in the last hour.

Waiting for the metamorphosis


The next step is where I really fall into a heap, or at least my dough does. I have to transfer this wobbly, light as a feather dough to the bench, without letting any air escape (yeah, right), shape it into another ball and place into a banneton. Each time I've tried to do this, the dough deflates like a puntured bicycle tyre, and sits upside down in the banneton doing absolutely nothing at all. Hence the hamburger buns. Puhleez, oh mighty Bread God, look down on me and give me pity for once. If this flops, I'm going to blame the banneton this time, as I'm using a makeshift cane basket, lined with a gauze sling which my neighbour had been given after surgery to his elbow, still trying to justify whether the cost of the banneton is going to make a major difference. I'm know it makes the bread look fantastic, but does it miraculously make it rise up like a phoenix?

Ok, I did the best I could. I felt like I was detonating a bomb, taking care not explode it in my face. Luckily my kids weren't around to see it, or else they would have commented something along the lines of "you treat your bread better than you treat us". Actually bread and kids have striking similarities. They both leave a mess behind them, and both do what they like, not what they're told to do.

Now the dough is supposed to rise again for another hour and a half. Time to chop the wood and light the woodfired oven outside. I hope this typically crappy spring day behaves itself from now on, and decides whether it's going to rain or shine. We need the rain badly, really badly. But dear Bread God, can you give a yell to the Weather God to just hold off for a while?

Obviously Bread God isn't talking to Weather God, because no sooner had I lit the oven, and gale force winds have sprung up. I'm not really keen on cooking bread whilst dodging flying debris.
Just to make my life miserable, the bread is ready to But the oven is taking its sweet time in reaching the right temperature. The inclement weather isn't helping matters either. This is what it looks like after the 90 minute rise.

Finally, into the oven.

The end product. Phew!! I'm pooped. Time for a gin and tonic.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Try anything once

I don't have an over abundance of tamarillos, in fact I've never even tasted one. They are rarely to be seen at the local supermarket, so I jumped at the chance of purchasing these colourful beauties when visiting the Victorian Market in Melbourne on Thursday. It also happened to be "market day" and the vast array of vegetables and fruits before me was quite overwhelming. My initial thought was "what happens to all of this stuff that isn't sold?" I also picked up blood oranges, pink grapefruit and broccoli rabe, all of which I'm unable to purchase here in the country. Thumbs up for the oranges and grapefruit....blaaaah to the rabe. I'm sure there is a fantastic recipe out there somewhere for it, but obviously it wasn't the one I happened to choose.

So with only a dozen tamarillo, chutney was the obvious choice to allow me to venture into this new tastefest. Besides, if the tamarillo are as bad as the rabe, at least the other ingredients such as vinegar, brown sugar and apples should disguise them, right?

It's bubbling away on the stove right now, and I'm sad to say, it smells disgusting, but a taste test revealed a more sweet than sour flavour (along with burnt lips and tongue), and I'm pleasantly surprised. I'm hoping that when it has reduced down, a stronger flavour will develop.

Yep, I was right. After a lengthy simmer, the chutney turned into a beautiful deep reddy brown colour and thickened up to the just-right consistency for eating it with bread. Dinner last night was a platter of the normal standbys found in the fridge, along with a chunk of Milawa King River Gold and Milawa camembert, a loaf of Rose Levy Berenbaum's Jewish Rye bread, (even though it was slightly burnt on the outside..I've yet to post about the trials and tribulations of my wood fired pizza oven) and a glass or two of red.
I always have Milawa cheese on hand, mainly because the Cheese Factory is only 10 minutes away, and half a dozen or so family members are part of the establishment in one way or the other as well.
I'll deal with the cholesterol problems soon, I promise.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Osso Bucco in 30 minutes

My post yesterday reminded me of how neglectful I've been to my trusty pressure cooker, and in need of a really quick and tasty meal for dinner last night, osso bucco seemed to fit the bill. Apart from chopping up the onion, carrot, garlic and celery, and browning the beef shin, pressure cooking time is less than 20 minutes.

I must admit she's a noisy old thing, hissing and jiggling away, but the flavours are just so much better than the conventional oven cooked method. I added a large tin of tomatoes, a good cup of white wine, (I had a Chardonay on hand) salt and pepper, then just put the lid on. The creamy polenta, which I mixed while the osso bucco was doing it's thing (I'm not fond of the quick cooking polenta, so did it the traditional way and used it as my aerobic workout for the day), oozed up the rich sauce from the dish like a sponge. Toss a bit of freshly torn basil over the top...viola. One pot to clean, simple meal. Ah, if they were only all like that.

What's for lunch?

Bread of course.

My family are becoming a bit sick of my obsession, crying "no, not MORE bread" every weekend, but how am I going to become good at this if I don't make lots and lots of bread? The major issue is that up until this Saturday, none of it has been that good really. Some loaves have been so so, some downright awful.

But the piece de resistance was created , thanks to Rose Levy Berenbaum's Bread Bible. I can't make a decent white sandwich loaf yet, but I can make the best tasting ciabatta I've ever had in my life. Go figure! Does this mean I can walk before I crawl?

A plate of antipasto for lunch and blueberry cream cheese braid for sweets. I don't know what they're complaining about.

It all started with a new kitchen

After suffering nearly 20 years in a kitchen which contained only three cupboards (one of them totally jam packed with Tupperware), I have finally been given my dream kitchen. This pic shows the demolition stage, in case you were thinking that this was my previous kitchen in working order.

My daughters were involved with the design and colours, my husband just remained anonymous in the planning and detail, his wallet groaning each time a new idea or change would imminently take place. And of course with a new kitchen, you need to replace the old appliances, most of which were seldom used, many were wedding gifts of nearly 25 years of age, some still functional, but to hell with it, why not go out and buy new ones? Which is what I did.

I replaced my $13 hand held mixer with an Artisan Kitchenaid stand mixer. The 1980 Breville Superwizz was updated with a 2006 model. Old frypans, pots and pans, unmatching crockery and cutlery were all given to charity, to make way for new shiny, sleek models. One appliance I couldn't part with, however, was my 6 litre Namco cast iron pressure cooker. I just don't like what the newer versions have to offer within a reasonable price range.

The new stove is big enough to bake two small children if they're naughty enough, so I needed new cake tins and trays and moulds and whatever else you can bake on. It's besides the fact that I've never baked a decent cake in my life, but I am going to learn, dammit.

So now I have the equivalent to a restaurant kitchen with everything I can possibly need at my fingertips, apart from a chef and kitchen hand. Will it help me create the dishes that I so often drool about in magazines, cookbooks and other blogs?

The proof will be in the pudding.

The phallic sausage

Hopefully, this first entry won't be a theme for any following forays into my newly found world of cooking, but I thought if I was going to grab anybody's attention, I may as well begin with my first attempt at weiner making...ah hem. Needless to say, this poor little fella sat on the plate, untouched. Noone could bring themselves to eat it, not even the dog!