Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Haloumi rolls with eggplant, zucchini and capsicum relish

We recently had a spring fair fundraiser at my oldest boy's school. I volunteered to run a vegetarian food stall. Given the popularity of the ubiquitous sausage sizzle, it seemed both fitting and prudent to set up a BBQ alongside it and dish up a vegetarian alternative. After giving it some thought I came up with barbecued eggplant, zucchini and haloumi in a bun with a tangy capsicum relish. The saltiness of the caramelised haloumi was nicely balanced by the sharpness of the vinegar in the otherwise sweet capsicum relish. As there was so much flavour coming from those two ingredients, the zucchini and eggplant were merely lightly basted with olive oil and barbecued until nicely coloured. They lent a lovely, smoky mellowness to the mix.

I was so pleased that the vegetarian BBQ was well-received, with rave reviews pouring in from many people who were excited to see a delicious alternative to a sausage on a roll with sauce.

I am looking forward to playing around with this combination for my own barbecues, perhaps exploring some spice concoctions such as za'atar, chermoula or harissa. Another way forward could be to add some heat to the relish and perhaps freshen the roll up with some raw leaves like rocket. 

Do you have a favourite, go-to, meatless barbecue dish?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Vietnamese noodle salad

On a hot Spring day after a very late night out with my lady friends I am feeling like eating something quick, satisfying and reasonably virtuous. Yearning for the fresh, clean flavours of Vietnamese I search the internet and find a recipe for just the kind of noodle salad I am craving from a blog called Low Fat Vegan Chef. I follow the recipe pretty closely, substituting the vegan fish sauce with light soy and a scant teaspoon of miso. I also use bean thread noodles rather than rice noodle vermicelli. Inspiration strikes when I recall one time eating a rather naughty vegetarian noodle salad dish packed full of deep-fried vegetable spring rolls at a city Vietnamese restaurant and find the (rather disappointing) leftover cocktail vegetable spring rolls from a recent party in my freezer. I bake a few of them, cut them in half and throw them into the salad. They are transformed from dodgy supermarket blandness into awesome-dressing-soaked crunchy treasures in a flavour-packed, textural, sensational dish!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fig and hazelnut sourdough

I decided to play around with flavours in this week's sourdough effort. I used my wholegrain spelt/rye/wholegrain starter to make sourdough as normal and when it came to kneading, I added 100g of chopped, dried figs and 40g of whole, skinned hazelnuts. I expected the loaf to come out a bit flat or small due to the retarding action of the fruit and nuts on the wild yeasts but was pleasantly surprised to find this wasn't the case. I ate some this morning, toasted, with vintage cheddar cheese on top. (My cheeky partner thinks I'm a weirdo!)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Make your own bircher muesli

Like many vegetarians, I have more than a passing interest in nutrition. One blog that I found myself returning to again and again is Limes and Lycopene, the blog of Sydney nutritionist and food writer Kathryn Elliot, Kathryn's blog contains a plethora of information and practical advice on eating well in a busy life. Two of the best things I have learnt from her blog and applied in my life are the 50/25/25 rule and her recipe for muesli.

I waxed lyrical in a previous post about my love for Nut Roasters, the source of much of my pantry. This muesli is one way I put their dried fruits, seeds and nuts to good use. I enjoy mine topped with Jalna yoghurt.

Bircher muesli

Makes approximately 18 servings of 75g

6 cups rolled oats
2 cups puffed brown rice
1.5 cups almonds
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup chopped dried apricot
1 cup chopped dried apple
3/4 cup sunflower kernels
3/4 cup pepitas
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

In the largest bowl you have (in my case, a giant plastic punch bowl), combine all ingredients.

Store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Yo ho let's go!

For the boys' 7th and 5th birthday party the theme was pirate. It tied in nicely with the international Talk Like a Pirate Day on 19 September. It was also a fantastic excuse for all the grown-ups to outdo each other with pirate costumes and antics. I never predicted the theme would be embraced with such gusto nor did I expect so many people to have an abundance of pirate paraphernalia stored away in their cupboards just begging for another day in the sun!

This year I went back to basics. Instead of going for an elaborate picture cake I made a simple treasure chest. I prepared double the recipe of my birthday cake standard, Nigella's sour cream chocolate cake, putting about a third of the mixture in one large loaf tin and the remaining two thirds in another, identical loaf tin. The smaller cake took approximately half an hour to cook while the larger cake took about one hour. The smaller cake became the lid of the treasure chest by turning it upside down and trimming the long edges off of it using a carving knife angled at approximately 45 degrees to the cake. These offcuts were later used to help prop the lid open. The larger cake, right side up (not inverted), became the bottom of the chest. Both the trimmed top and bottom cakes were iced with a delicious chocolate buttercream. I used Arnott's chocolate funsticks to make a border around the top of each cake. The top of the treasure chest was propped open by laying the offcuts from the top cake along one long edge of the bottom cake (the "hinge") and using wooden skewers further in front for added support. I used Chico lollies (pressed face-first into the icing) to make keyholes. To add a bit of sparkle on top, I removed the chocolate from some chocolate coated honeycomb pieces, placed the honeycomb in a sandwich bag and crushed it using a rolling pin. Voila, gold dust! All that was left to do was stuff the chest full of chocolate coins. These were snatched with alarming speed upon cutting the cake!

I was happy with how it all came together and particularly pleased to be presenting a cake containing no food colouring. Aaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggh!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Pimp my loaf

Last Saturday I experienced a 2 hour sourdough masterclass at Bourke St Bakery in Marrickville. It was a great, hands-on class where the enthusiastic instructors took us through the process of making, shaping and baking sourdough as well as making and caring for sourdough starter. After my preliminary adventures in making a sourdough starter and baking bread it was fantastic to have the opportunity to come to the session armed with questions that were all answered. Not only were they generous with their knowledge, they were generous with their bread and accoutrements. We all left with several cooked breads (plain and fruit/nut), uncooked, shaped loaves in proving baskets lined with cloths, a coffee cup filled with our starter and spiked with the good stuff (their own 10-year-old starter) and a snazzy black Bourke St Bakery shoulder bag.

The biggest lesson I took away from the session was how to shape dough into a ball and then a batard. I also asked about how to ensure the bread lifts as it rises rather than spreading outwards, as was my experience with some of the sourdough I had been producing. After establishing that the likely cause was using a dough that was too wet, I was advised to hold back on some of the water. I took this advice on board and as you can see, my loaves are looking lovelier than ever!

I now have 2 starters in my fridge: my original blend of wholemeal, spelt and rye flours and my new organic white Bourke St Bakery starter. Between this and my recent flour delivery, life is good for this bread nerd!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

I gotsta be startin' somethin'

Bread and I are no strangers. I have been known to bake the odd loaf, several focaccia and countless pizzas. I have played with spelt, dabbled in rye and covered myself in wholemeal flour. The results varied considerably and I learnt a lot in the process. However, what all of these loaves had in common was the inclusion of that magical ingredient: commercial yeast. I had yet to attempt my favourite bread, the complex, tangy, crusty, dense, chewy deliciousness of sourdough.

I have always wanted to try my hand at sourdough, but felt intimidated by the long process and concerned that making and maintaining starter would involve the strictest of culinary chemistry. One day my love of food TV and latent desire collided in the first episode of River Cottage Australia, when chef Paul West christened his River Cottage experience with the making of a starter and eventually, River Cottage sourdough. It took me over a year to finally try it but when I did, I followed Paul's process to the letter and the results, I think, speak for themselves.

The starter now lives in a wide-mouthed, loosely capped jar in the refrigerator. I view it as a fairly low-maintenance pet. Each week I take it out, let it come up to room temperature and start bubbling (it's ALIVE!!!). Then I feed it by discarding half and whisking in half a cup of equal parts rye, wholemeal spelt and wholemeal flours and approximately the same amount of water. What happens next depends on whether I am baking a loaf or not. If I am not baking, I put the starter back in the fridge for another week. If I am baking, I leave the starter out of the fridge to bubble up a second time before using around half to make my sponge (refer to the recipe in the link above) and feeding the remaining starter in the manner just described. Then I put the jar of starter back in the fridge. Over the course of 1-2 days, the sponge I made will become a dough and the dough will be stretched and shaped a few times before the much anticipated loaf is complete. I can attest that there is no better bread-related sensory experience than the smell and taste of the freshly baked loaf.

I have made this bread 5 times now and there is no end in sight.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Banana muffins with walnut topping

Whenever bananas are cheap and plentiful in our house they often end up ripening faster than we can eat them. I retire the spotted, squishy suspects to the freezer where they await resurrection in one form or another. Here is the latest use I made of them, based on Bill Granger's melt and mix banana bread, tweaked by replacing sour cream with low fat Greek yoghurt, almonds with walnuts and presenting in muffin form.

Banana muffins with walnut topping
Makes 16
45g brown sugar
80g walnuts, chopped
255ml low-fat Greek yoghurt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
100g butter, melted
200g caster sugar
2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
250g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
250g mashed banana (about 2 medium bananas)
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line two standard muffin tins with paper cases. In a bowl, mix together the brown sugar and walnuts and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the yoghurt and bicarbonate of soda, leave to stand for 5 minutes, then stir in the melted butter, caster sugar and eggs. Sift the flour, baking powder and cinnamon into another bowl. Gradually fold in the yoghurt mixture, followed by the mashed bananas.
Spoon mixture evenly into prepared tins and sprinkle the brown sugar mixture on top. Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of a muffin near the centre of the tin comes out clean. Set aside to cool in the tins for about 5 minutes, then remove muffins and place onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On being nuts and the Condiment That Must Not Be Named

I have an embarrassing confession. I am a lover of condiments but I absolutely, positively loathe mayonnaise (and its Italian cousin, aioli). I have for as long as I can remember. Even writing those words makes me cringe. The sight of it turns my stomach. It also has a way of finding me wherever I go (even south-east Asia). Such is my phobia that my long-suffering partner (husband, now, actually, but more on that later) can attest to the number of times he has asked, when ordering a vegetarian sandwich, burger or salad on my behalf, "does it contain mayonnaise?". This is often met with an obliging "no, but we can put some on it for you" to which he has to reply (with frantic waving of his hands) "no, no—please no, she doesn't eat it/is allergic/cannot stand it—I am just making sure it isn't on it". If the desired meal does contain the offending condiment, asking for it to be removed is a risky business. I would estimate that out of the times I have ordered food without mayonnaise, one out of three of those dishes were found upon closer inspection to contain it anyway. We create what we fear.

However, the thing about sauces in the "M" category is that they do add a new dimension of flavour, creaminess and moisture that can really complete a meal, so alternatives must be sought. The solution lies in nuts and seeds. I have previously posted about my love for Nut Roasters, a local store that is what its name says and so much more. They recently linked from their Facebook page to an excellent article by Claire Claire Adas that: (1) makes me feel less crazy for having a mayonnaise phobia and more importantly, (2) contains several tempting recipes for similar condiments made with nuts. I can't wait to try them!