Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Couscous porridge

With winter passing into memory for another year, we've still had enough of a Canberra spring - warm and sunny one day, freezing the next - to feature porridge. This is another find from my recent Jamie Oliver book, "Jamie Does..." a couscous porridge with apricots. There are two good concepts here, one is the honey-sweetened couscous as a porridge, and the other is the fresh, uncooked dried apricot dish.

Recipe: Couscous Porridge with Honey and Orange Apricots
200g couscous
500-600ml milk
2 tablespoons honey
200g dried apricots
1 orange
Extra honey, nuts and cinnamon to taste

Prepare the apricot compote in advance.
  • Zest and juice the orange.
  • Chop the dried apricots finely.
  • Just barely cover the dried apricots and orange zest with boiling water.
  • Let soak until cool, then drain off a little of the water and add the orange juice.
  • Soak overnight, and mash roughly with a fork.
When ready for breakfast, make the couscous.
  • Put the couscous, 500ml milk and 2 tablespoons honey in a saucepan.
  • Bring to a simmer, and let simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  • Add a little extra milk or water if it's getting too thick; it should be quite wet.
  • Serve with a dollop of the apricot mix, a drizzle of honey, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and some toasted pistachios or almonds.
Notes: Of course it's varied from the original - I so rarely follow recipes these days. Jamie Oliver serves this with pistachios that have been toasted on the spot, and drizzled with honey. I'm not fiddling with that at breakfast time. And he purees the apricots in a blender, while I prefer a more chunky style.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Ave atque Vale

Hail to the Spring! I got to the growers' market for the first time this season, and it's obviously spring. Fresh new asparagus, garlic, cheap new snow peas and sugar snaps, early heirloom tomatoes, broad beans, mulberries and blueberries - and the first of the stone fruits are in. I didn't queue for a tray of nectarines, but I did buy cherries and blueberries.

Today's breakfast: watermelon, rose petal and green almond jam (from Silo), on buttered sourdough, with a side of fresh cherries and a small fresh squeezed OJ. *bliss*

Farewell to winter. The last of the oranges were there in profusion, and a stall selling fresh squeezed juice. A young chap up the back of the stall was pouring it from the juicer into bottles for easy takeaway. Borenore still has lovely apples from the cold store; it will still be two months for the new season.

And while I haven't been blogging I've noticed a few good things pass. So I'll tip the hat in sorrowful farewell to them now. My favourite pho place, Huong Viet, is now long gone and replaced with a pizza place. The wonderful TurkOz of Dickson has gone, to my great sorrow - they did the best pide in town, possibly excepting Mawson which is a bit far for me to go regularly. And in Manuka, Ironbark has folded, so there's no more of their wonderful native Australian foods - if you want a boab shoot salad or a bunya nut felafel, you'll have to seek out the ingredients and make it yourself. I'm also sad about the departure of El Torogoz, with its authentic central American cuisine. Goodbye and good luck!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A very belated Happy Birthday to me!

Happy Birthday to me! I'm a hundred and three! I look like a monkey, I'm sure you'll agree.

OK, not really, but it was a contender for Worst. Birthday. Ever. I spent it on the couch snorting and snuffling with a nasty sinus infection, looking at all my facebook messages (which was nice) and failing to get a doctor's appointment. Luckily CALMS had appointments, so I got antibiotics on the Saturday and felt improved enough to bake, if not 100%. Even so, I had to get 2 more rounds of antibiotics after that one.

But damn, why was I writing that tripe? Pathetic whinging has its place but surely the entire point of a birthday post is CAKE!!! So let us discuss CAKE.

*deletes worst of whining*

The custom at work is to take in a cake for one's birthday. Tuesday was the next working day, so I baked on the public holiday Monday. I intended to make a chocolate chestnut cake, but I couldn't find the recipe in my half-hearted search, so instead I made a chocolate raspberry cake from Chocolate and Zucchini - not the blog, but the book. This is one of those cakes that's more like a fudgy mousse. Almost solid chocolate.

It's pretty easy to make, and quite impressive.

Recipe: Clotilde's Chocolate and Raspberry Cake, Cath's minor variation.
225g (and a bit) salted continental style butter
225g good dark chocolate
200g raspberries (frozen is fine)
Extra raspberries, to serve, optional.
200g sugar

4 eggs

50g self raising flour

  • Defrost raspberries if needed, and mash well.
  • Preheat the oven to 180C (or 160C fan forced)
  • Grease a 25cm springform pan thoroughly with a little more butter.
  • Roughly chop the butter and break up the chocolate, and place in a microwave safe bowl.
  • Microwave for 20 seconds, then remove and stir well.
  • Repeat this procedure until all the chocolate is melted.
  • Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.
  • Pour into a mixing bowl, and mix in the sugar, then the raspberry puree.
  • One at a time, break each egg into a cup, mix with fork, then blend in to the mix.
  • Sift the flour over and fold in gently.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the oven off and leave to cool for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from oven, place on a rack, run a knife around the edge and then loosen the spring form.
  • Leave to cool for an hour, then cover and place in fridge overnight.
Notes: To serve, slice thinly as it is very rich. Add a dollop of cream and a raspberry or two if desired.

The variations I used were minor - salted butter rather than unsalted butter plus salt; 10g extra flour; self raising rather than plain. I added the little more flour because the mix was so sloppy I thought it would help. Using self-raising was an accident from vagueness, but it seems to have worked fine.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Smug mode, on!

Wow, has it really been over 3 months since I last posted? I wasn't intending to quit, but it's been hard to find the inspiration. I was rather annoyingly sick over a lot of winter, and also away on holiday for nearly a month and then immediately sick again when I got back. I did write a birthday cake post back in October, but it was so full of whining that I never got round to editing it to a fit state for publication. But now the weather is warming up and I'm feeling some inspiration at last!

Tonight I'm feeling VERY smug indeed. I got home from work about 6.30pm, and while The Bloke was off helping B1 with a dodgy internet connection, I managed to whip up a lentil and chorizo soup and a "spinach and cheese" damper made with silverbeet from the garden - and have dinner basically ready for 8pm when they came back. And to top it all off, we can have homemade gingerbread for dessert. A three part meal with all parts cooked from scratch! Not bad for a school night, if I do say so myself!

The soup was a recipe from AB, with some slight variation. The damper was a generic damper tweaked around. I'd picked the silverbeet on the weekend, as it was running to seed, and cleaned and steamed it and chucked it in the fridge, thinking of perhaps a mid-week frittata. The gingerbread I made on the weekend, to take in for a work morning tea. It's a recipe from an old favourite book, Elisabeth Ayrton's Cookery of England. A gorgeous fat Penguin paperback from 1977 full of regional and historical recipes; it was the first cookbook I ever had with history. And it has a recipe for home made crumpets which now that I think of it, I must do again sometime.

But first, here is tonight's menu:

Recipe 1: Red Lentil and Chorizo Soup
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
olive oil
1 tsp sweet paprika
3/4 tsp cumin
1 bay leaf
1 cup red lentils
120g pre-cooked chorizo, chopped
1 litre chicken stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 - 2 tsp balsamic vinegar, to taste.

  1. Finely chop the onions and garlic, and fry in the oil until golden.
  2. Add spices and fry for another minute, then add the lentils and stock and all other ingredients except the balsamic.
  3. Simmer for 35 minutes, then mix well and taste.
  4. Add the balsamic half a teaspoon at a time, stir, taste and continue until you are happy with the result.

Note: You could fry chorizo slices with the onion if you don't have it pre-cooked on hand. Balsamic vinegar varies a lot in strength so it's best not to overdo it. Also, AB's recipe has 2 finely chopped celery sticks and specifies 800ml homemade stock. I used a tetrapack of Campbells, sorry AB!

Recipe 2: Silverbeet and Cheese Damper
300g white self-raising flour
150g wholemeal self-raising flour
90g butter
300g cooked, cooled, chopped silverbeet or spinach
120g sharp cheddar, grated
about 100ml milk
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 200C
  2. Cube the butter and rub it into the flour.
  3. Add the cheese and silverbeet and mix well.
  4. Add the milk bit by bit, stirring well, until it comes together in a soft, but not sticky, dough.
  5. Dollop onto a baking sheet
  6. Bake 30-40 minutes, until golden and a skewer comes out clean.

Notes: Drain the spinach really well after cooking. Squish it down hard to get as much water out as possible. Also, this would be good with fetta and some spring onions, but I didn't have any.

Recipe 3: Yorkshire Gingerbread
300g self-raising flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
120g chopped dates
150g treacle or golden syrup
120g dark brown sugar
90g butter
1 egg
3/4 tsp bicarb soda, dissolved in 3 tsp milk

  1. Preheat oven to 160C
  2. Heat the butter and syrup in a small saucepan until the butter is melted. Set aside to cool a little.
  3. Grease and flour a 25cm square cake tin.
  4. Sieve flour, salt and spices together.
  5. Add dates and mix well.
  6. Beat together the egg and sugar.
  7. Add the butter/syrup mix in dollops, to the flour, mixing as you go and alternating with dollops of the egg/sugar mix.
  8. Stir in the bicarb/milk mix, and add water if the dough needs a little softening. It should be soft but not sloppy.
  9. Dollop into cake tin and smooth out top.
  10. Bake for 1.5 hours or until skewer comes out clean.
  11. Cool on a rack.

Notes: This is quite a dry
gingerbread, and goes very well sliced thin, and buttered. I used a mix of 100g golden syrup and 50g treacle. I varied it by adding 30g of finely chopped glace ginger to the mix, which I definitely recommend.