Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pumpkin Soup

Soup is the ultimate cold-weather food. Served together with that fantastic loaf of crusty spelt bread that you just made (go on, you know you want to), it's a great meal or snack for something to warm you up quickly. It also makes a good breakfast, as was demonstrated this morning, but you probably didn't need to hear about my penchant for real food at breakfast.

Pumpkin soup is a simple, filling and delicious soup to make. I used Hokkaido squash, which is the most readily available cucurbit at the moment. Butternuts, my usual favourite, are still tinged with green, and the really hard pumpkins are still unavailable. Hokkaido has a slightly chalkier texture, which means that this soup might take a little more water than your regular recipe, but it does thicken nicely.
I know, you're gasping with disbelief. Sacrelige! My pumpkin soup is not blended! I know, you're appalled. Unfortunately, at the time of making this (about 10:30am on a Saturday morning), my housemate still hadn't gotten up. So I decided to be polite - I know from experience (usually late at night on the weekend) that being woken up by the blender, especially when a certain housemate uses it to crush ice, is not a pleasant experience. So I decided to spare my other housemate from the horror. If it were the cocktail-making housemate, I might have a far prettier photo to show you...!

Pumpkin Soup
1 Hokkaido squash, about 1.5kg, cubed*
2 medium carrots, peeled and cubed
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (or dried, if you must!)
2 lge stalks celery, diced (feel free to substitute one for 1/2 an onion)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 bay leaf
2 tsp stock powder (or better, use fresh stock in lieu of water, if you have it on hand)
salt and pepper to taste
sprinkle of nutmeg (optional)

Sautee celery, carrots, and onion, if using, in the olive oil until the celery is transparent. Don't be afraid to let it brown - this just adds extra flavour.
Add the pumpkin, and allow to soften a little. You can add fresh thyme here, too. When it reaches the point where you don't want to let your celery or onion brown any more, add enough water just to just cover the pumpkin. Add the bay leaf - and dried thyme, if you don't have fresh. Add stock powder. (Alternately, if you have real stock, use that in place of stock powder and water.)
Simmer, 20-25 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft. Allow to cool, then blend in batches until creamy, adding extra water if needed.
Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with nutmeg if you're so inclined.

*If you're using Hokkaido, don't bother peeling it. The skin is incredibly thin, and is very soft once cooked. So it'll just get blended up when you puree the soup, and because it's such a lovely colour, it'll just make your soup even more orange and luscious. :)

Hot Bread.

I've done my time in bakeries over the years. As a child, I had a friend whose parents owned a bakery, and it was great fun for us to get up insanely early and "help" him at work for the day. Never mind the naps on the sacks of flour come mid-morning...! My first job was at a bakery, for a major Australian bakery chain, who pulled some highly illegal workplace manouvres (AWA, anyone?) and produced what I consider to be mediocre bread. Definitely not worth the money you're paying for it, anyway.

Despite that experience, which severely clouded my opinion of bread and the wonder of its scent for several years, I still love bread. Give me a crusty loaf, with a soft (unsoured) centre, and I'll happily tear off hunks to dip in olive oil and devour. The amount of bread that I can put away is something phenomenal. I know that I've always had a huge appetite, but bread is something else entirely. Some people always have room for dessert, but I always have room for carbohydrates.

The unsoured part is beginning to be important. I'm living in a continent where the vast majority of bread is sourdough. Not to say that I don't love sourdough bread, because really, I do. (The only thing I don't have the time of day for is Pumpernickel, actually.) But finding a wholemeal or seeded loaf of the non-square variety, unsoured, is nigh impossible. I just want round bread, dammit! Or plaited bread, or something that's not conveniently sliced for my toasted. Besides which, the "toast bread" here is terrible - dry and crumbly, and not adequate for making a sandwich. The American flag on the packaging of the major brand also repels me.

I can, however, get seedy bread rolls, and I can always buy turkish bread when I want delicious bread capable of soaking up some oil. But every so often, I feel the need for something different, and on those occasions I make it myself. My kitchen isn't warm enough to allow bead to prove (rise) so I have to put it into my oven, which is on the lowest possible setting - 50 degrees C. Two rises later, and however long the poor oven takes to bake the loaf, and I'm devouring hot bread faster than I should admit to on a public blog. As with all my baking, I didn't really follow a recipe, but it's a simple process. Sure, it takes a little longer than nipping to the shops to buy a loaf, but it's an awful lot more fun.

Simple Bread

1 sachet instant yeast (sufficient to rise 500g flour)
500g flour - spelt, rye or wheat
1 cup warm water + extra
1 tsp sugar (or honey, if you prefer)
2 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup seeds of choice (optional)
herbs / spices to flavour (optional)

Mix the yeast, sugar, and warm water in a bowl, until the yeast is no longer lumpy. Allow to sit in a warm place, about 10 mins, until the mix is frothy. This means your yeast is alive, which is important to check, when you're in a strange country and don't have trusted brands like you do at home.
Sift the flour into the bowl, mixing as you go, forming a dough. Throw in the flavourings (seeds, herbs, spices) here so they get incorporated into the dough. Add the olive oil and any extra water that you need to bring it all together - I used spelt flour last time, which was dryer than the wheat flour I've used previously, so you're going to have to take a gamble here. You want to be able to roll it around without it sticking to the bowl.
When you have a ball, knead it for a good ten or so minutes, to develop the gluten in the flour. If your dough sticks, sprinkle it with a little more flour, but remember that the flour in the dough will eventually absorb more moisture, so it's better to be a touch too sticky than too dry.
Leave the dough in a warm place (such as your oven, set to the lowest temperature - 50 degrees was fine) for about 45 minutes, until doubled in size. Read a good book (or blog) and drink a cup of tea in the meantime.
When the dough has prooved sufficiently, knock it back with another quick knead. Shape the dough as desired, into a plait, ball, or bread rolls, and arrange on your oven tray. I use oven paper to keep the dough from sticking, but you could flour or oil the tray if preferred. Let it sit for half an hour or so, to rise a little more, before baking.
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. Place a small, oven-proof dish with a few cups of water in the bottom of your oven, to create a moist environment for your bread to bake. This keeps the loaf from tearing apart as it expands and bakes.
Bake for between 25 minutes (bread rolls) or 50 minutes (round loaf). Keep an eye on your loaf, while you sit around drinking another cup of tea, and when it looks nicely browned, pick it up (with an oven mitt, unless you have asbestos hands) and tap on it. If it sounds hollow, then it's ready to eat. Otherwise, bake it for another 5 minutes, and check again.
Eat hot, slathered with the meltable spread of your choice, or cooled slightly, dipped into good olive oil.

Risotto-like rice.

So I'm still working my way through the backlog of food related photos that have shown up on my computer. This one is based on my lazy-person risotto method (commercial stock powder and whatever rice I have available) and highlights a certain, um, food-like item: fakon. If that's even how I spell it. Either way, it's marginally healthier than eating real bacon, and hey, I have to try everything once, right? I'm definitely guilty of occasionally buying things that entertain me, when I'm at the supermarket. Plus this rice was seriously good. Salty, with that nutty flavour and slightly firmer chew of edamame.

I made this a few months ago, but that doesn't make it any less awesome. I'm much too lazy to write out a real recipe, but if you need one, just consult my other risotto-like post, use fakon/bacon/other real-or-mock-pork-product instead of mushrooms and stir in edamame at the end of cooking instead of peas. It really is that simple. I'm so into everyday food! Not that you can tell, from the series of relatively-normal items that I've posted. Shh, I know the beet burgers aren't what supposedly normal people eat, but hey, they were amazing. Sure beats a "Pie Floater"... google it, I dare you. That's the food heritage that I'm supposed to come from, as a South Australian. Needless to say, I've never eaten one.

For the record, I'm never going to claim that any of my risotto-like rices are actually risotto. Sure, they're rice that gets a little toasted and then slowly cooked until it's creamy. But I do my best to put non-traditional ingredients into them, which would make everyone's Italian grandmothers have a fit. So, let's just say they're "Modern Australian", because that label tends to mean that the cook can get away with anything. ;)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Thanks, Hendrick's!

I got a surprise in the mail today, from Hendrick's. They're a small specialist gin company in Scotland, and their gin is hard to get one's eager hands on. It's also awfully expensive, which is generally a fair barrier for students such as myself. However, I'm presently in posession of a bottle sent to me by a friend from home, so I certainly have the little luxuries under control!

Hendrick's is produced using cucumber, plus a plethora of secret herbs and botanicals (ok, they're not secret, but let's just pretend). It's served with a garnish of cucumber, instead of the traditional lime that accompanies drinks such as a gin & tonic. And mixed with cucumber juice in a cocktail, it's unbeatable.

So, in celebration of being the recipient of a small cocktail and garnish book, plus an incredibly cute notebook, I'm posting a recipe for gin & tonic.

Gin & Tonic

30 ml Hendrick's gin
300ml tonic water

Mix together, garnish with a slice of cucumber, and enjoy in the best weather you can find.
I'll point out that the amount of tonic water is completely guessed, and could be completely wrong, so just adjust it if you're a more staunch drinker than I am, or worse, even more of a lightweight. ;)

A few simple salads!

This post is in honour of the lady running my favourite stall at the Dom Markt. She's always friendly, seems to understand my faltering German, and always has a smile for me when I show up at 7am. She also seems to like the phrase "like Summer!" which applies to tomatoes, basil and cucumber. She's perfectly on the mark, because honestly, her vegetables are brilliant. There's a reason why I eat two cucumbers a week, and it has something to do with how delicious these particular cucumbers are.

So, here's a couple of easy things that I do on a regular basis to make the most of the great produce from my favourite stall. The first is just a green salad with a simple dressing, and the second is a spelt tabbouli, into which I frequently mix kidney beans, in order to make a meal out of it. These are so good, and so easy, that I just eat them straight from the salad bowl. I seem to always make them at the same time, because they each call for a 1/2 tin of pulses and 1/2 lemon. It just makes sense, in my strange brain. And it really does taste like summer!

Green Salad

1/2 head of lettuce lettuce (I prefer oakleaf - it has the best texture!)
1/2 telegraph cucumber, or 2 lebanese cucumbers, sliced
1/2 tin red kidney beans or chickpeas, drained and rinsed
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp dried oregano (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Wash the lettuce thoroughly to remove sand and grit. Dry lettuce and tear into pieces.
Place all ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly. Taste for seasoning, and don't skimp on the salt and pepper!
For an alternate dressing, mix 1 tbsp olive oil, 1tsp wholegrain mustard, and 1 tbsp red wine vinegar.

Spelt Salad

1 cup cracked spelt
1 small bunch parsley, chopped
1t tsp finely chopped or crushed garlic
1/2 tin kidney beans or chickpeas (optional)
1 tomato, diced (optional - I'm not big on raw tomato)
salt and pepper to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil

Cook spelt in water until tender - about 20 minutes. Drain thoroughly and allow to cool slightly. (If your spelt is too hot, your parsley will discolour, but if you're eating it immediately, this salad is nice served a little warm).
Mix all ingredients in a bowl, and eat!

Asian Greens.

Ok, so here's one that may or may not be local. I'm pretty convinced that Kan Kong wouldn't be shipped all the way from Asia, because it would be revolting by the time it reached Germany, but I don't know in which greenhouse it was grown, so really, it could be from anywhere. I cooked this a few weeks back, before I decided that it was time to eat locally, when I discovered some fresh greens in my local Asian Supermarket. The fruit and veg selection there tends to be pretty unpredictable, so I capitalise on what's good when I can. At the moment, while I'm doing my best to eat locally produced food, I'm only shopping for fruit and vegetables at the market twice a week, so I'll just relive the deliciousness through these photos.

Kan Kong (otherwise known as Kang Kong, plus a long list of other names that are much harder to pronnounce, apart maybe from "Water Spinach") has long, hollow stems that retain their characteristic crunch when stir-fried. It has a strong flavour, with more bite to it than other Asian greens like bok choy. It doesn't have that same watery quality. It's perfectly capable of holding its own in a dish with a strong or salty sauce, and it's great stir fried.

I made this just as an easy dinner, to eat with some rice. On the rare occasion that I get my hands on fresh Asian greens, they get cooked without fuss or embellishment. I prefer to revel in the flavour of the greens, enjoying it all the more because I know it'll be a long time before I eat it again. This batch was cooked with garlic, ginger, and chilli - I think I added some soy sauce, too. Simple, delicious and fresh. I see Australia as a potential part of Asia, and despite European colonisation, the country is incredibly multicultural. That brings together a great food culture, and in Adelaide, my favourite restaurants are all Asian. For me, these are the flavours of home.

Stir-fried Asian Greens

1 bunch Kan Kong or other Asian greens
1-2 tsp finely chopped (or mashed) garlic
1-2 tsp finely chopped ginger
1 tsp chilli paste (sambal oelek is great), or siracha sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce, or to taste
1 tsp oil (not olive! choose an oil with a high smoking point)

Heat oil in a wok. Add garlic, ginger and chilli, sauteeing until fragrant.
Throw in your washed, chopped greens. Stir-fry for a few moments, until greens are beginning to wilt.
Add soy sauce to taste - remember that you can always add more later.
Cook until leaves are wilted, but stems retain some bite - shouldn't be more than a couple of minutes.
Serve with rice. Coconut rice is a good accompaniment, if you have the inclination.

Miscellaneous photos.

Here's a few shots of things that I had sitting around, and just thought I'd share.

These cress sprouts made an appearance on the beet and carrot burgers that I made last week. I think it was last week? It's hard to keep track of time at the moment. Either way, I'm not a fan of cress, but I had an overseas visitor staying, and she bought them - only to discover that she didn't like them that much, either. They're incredibly peppery, and remind me of nasturtium leaves, if you've ever eaten those. (Needless to say, I don't like eating nasturtiums either!) Oh, and that's the Bio symbol here in Germany - it's just a sign that it's certified Organic.

This is the last piece of a delicious frittata that I had for breakfast a few weeks ago, using leftover chinese greens (kan kong) and a large amount of garlic. Needless to say, it was delectable, which is why I was unable to take a photo until I was lamenting that I only had one bite left.

This is my incredibly ugly mug... ha. Actually, it's my housemate's ugly mug, and it contains a good portion of very strong coffee. I'm not a morning person, despite my daily early starts, so I'm something of a monster until I get my coffee. I know it's not local, but I do my best to buy organic and fair-trade coffee, so it's a compromise I'm going to continue to make. I love my tea and coffee, and I don't think it's worth the misery of giving up comforting hot drinks when I'm so far from home. I'm beginning to be such a creature of habit in my old age!

This is the remnant of the sweet halva (Turkish, not Indian! I know the name is the same!) that I bought while my friend was visiting. We went to a Turkish grocery store and I decided that she had to try it. It's made of sesame seeds and sugar, and she wasn't sold on the aftertaste (very sesame) but that didn't stop me from polishing off the rest of the container in the space of a few days... ;)

Can't beet a beat.

Ok, so you probably can beat them, quite easily... defenseless vegetable that they are. Terrible humour aside, I think beets are great. Aside from being the easiest-to-grow vegetable I've had the fun of raising (let's not think about all the 40-degree days that decimated the rest of my garden that summer) they're also very easy to prepare. Plus they only cost Euro 1.50 for a bunch at the Dom Markt, which means we're all winners.

For the world's easiest beets, just trim off the greens so that you've still got three centimetres or so of stalk above the bulb - you don't want to give you beet a chance to bleed out all that fabulous colour. Give the beets a good scrub in some water, and place them in an oven-proof dish. Cover them with a lid, or foil if you don't have one for the dish you've chosen. Alternately, you can individually wrap them in foil, but I feel like that's an awful lot of waste for the same results.

Bake them until they're completely tender, so that a knife pierces easily to the middle of the beet -about 25 minutes for small beets, 30-35 for medium beets, or 45 minutes for large ones. I tend to choose bunches with small or medium beets, partly because I have a penchant for anything in miniature, but also because large beets can be a touch woody sometimes. If you're so inclined, the greens that you've removed make a fantastic side-dish (frittata!) or stir-fry - just make sure they're well-washed, because the greens do tend to hold grit.
Wait until the beets are cool enough to handle, and slip off the skins. They'll come off incredibly easily, stems and all, and will leave you with fantastically magenta fingers for a few hours if you don't have plastic gloves to wear. I'm not averse to coloured fingers, so it doesn't phase me in the slightest. :)

Store in a sealed container in the fridge. So little work for so much flavour!

Roasted Vegetable Medley

I quite like the word "medley". Certainly I don't like it when it applies to music, and in particulary Christmas Carols, which I absolutely despise. But when it comes to food, medley stands for something I firly believe in: a little bit of everything. I don't eat every food on the planet, but when I have a full plate, I don't want every mouthful to taste the same. I was colours, flavours and textures to vary. I want vibrant food, and I don't want to get bored half way through my dinner. So, really, I love a good medley.

Roasted vegetables are something I grew up on. My mother made fantastic roasted veg - although, when I was young, she had a slight reputation for burning the carrots. She eventually came to the logic that if she added them later to her especially chunky mix, they cooked to perfection and were completely devoured by her vegetable-loving child. I can't remember if my siblings ate them, but either way, my mother was the master of the oven. We were also partial to the sunday pork roast at my grandparents' house, but I think that had more to do with the crackling than the vegetables. In fact, I only remember that the beans were overcooked. I guess some things, like fighting for the crispiest crackling, or crimes against innocent green beans, stay longer in my memory than how well my nanna cooked her roast veg.

Roasted vegetables are incredibly easy to make. I use a minimum of oil, because while I adore olive oil, I don't think my waistline enjoys it quite so much. For an entire tray of vegetables, I used perhaps a dessertspoon. I gave it all a good mix with my hands, to ensure that everything was properly coated, and a sprinkling of salt. Pepper I don't add until later, because I don't want to risk it burning. Hard herbs, like fresh rosemary or thyme, can get added at the half-way point.

There's no recipe to really give for something as simple as this. Just take the root vegetables of your choice (though I enjoy adding squash, such as crookneck or butternut, to the mix) and coat them in just enough oil. Roast them in a hot ove (mine was at about 240 degrees, but my oven is incredibly unreliable, so take that temperature with a pinch of salt!) for half an hour, turn them over, add your herbs (or not) and roast for another half an hour. Too easy.

Served with sauteed cabbage and green beans (which were most definitely still tender-crisp, thankyou!) it makes a fantastic meal. So fantastic, in fact, that this is what I ate for breakfast this morning. Why would I bother making a bowl of oats, when I could simply plunder the leftovers in my fridge?

Crawling into Autumn.

I'm the first person to confess that this title is a little skewed. I mean, the seasons aren't crawling into Autumn - they're sprinting, through the almost non-existent Summer here. And I'm certainly not crawling into Autumn; I'm being dragged, kicking and screaming.

Except for one thing: Cucurbits. Like this gorgeous little crookneck.

Squash and pumpkins are something that I've missed sorely whilst living in Germany. I found Butternut Squash at Real (needlessly massive supermarket) once, and made the mistake of buying it (on the premise that it was Bio, or Organic). Needless to say, I couldn't eat it: the flesh was dried out, spongy even, as though it had been deep-frozen and someone had tried to resuscitate it. I had to throw it into the green-scraps. It never met with the same delicious fate as some of its bretheren: roasting.

That mix is potatoes, yellow crookneck squash, beetroot, parsley root, and the one carrot that was too long to fit in the roasting dish devoted to all the other carrots in that particular bunch. Kinda cute, hey?

So, really, the one advantage of the change in seasons, for me, in that my favourite Cucurbitae are finally beginning to be available. Ok, slight confession: cucumbers have been available for a long time, and they're some of my other favourites from this genus of vegetable. I eat at least two telegraph cucumbers a week, which is a fair amount for one woman. I've never been addicted to button squash or zucchini like that. They're the members of this family that I tend to ignore a little. Everyone else loves zucchini, but hey, I've got bigger squash to fry.

That guy is a spaghetti squash, and admittedly, will not be fried. I've never found a spaghetti squash in Australia, so I'm pretty exciting about having found it at the markets this morning - for only Euro 1.50! It's a good couple of kilos, and will be steamed in pieces. Then, using a fork, I'll carefully scrape the golden yellow, naturally-occuring spaghetti-like strands away from the shell. Then it'll be slathered in rich tomato sauce and strewn with basil leaves... but that's a post for another day.

I love roasted vegetables, and pumpkin is no exception. The yellow crookneck squash at the top of this post was also roasted, collapsing into a sweet and seedy mess, which was promptly devoured before I could think to take a photo. I'm also a big fan of roasting beets (in a covered dish, so that they don't dry out) and serving them with my roasted vegetables. Delicious. The leftovers look especially cute, because the beets turn everything a fantastic shade of magenta. These leftovers won't be golden for long, with that layer of beets there...

My addiction is such that I now have a dedicated space for my growing curbit collection. What you can see there are a few hokkaido squash, a butternut squash, and a spaghetti squash. I hate to confess to being such a simpleton, but this makes me incredibly happy. It really is the simple things in life that are the most important!


I confess that I got into jelly this Summer. I haven't really eaten too much of it since I was a child, really... especially not after discovering what goes into gelatine. Ughhh. Anyway, I've discovered lovely little sachets of agar-agar are readily available here, portioned into the perfect size for 500ml of liquid... which, incidentally, is the same size as the Alpro Soy Yoghurt containers that I seem to throw into the recycling every second or third day. Yeah, I know, I love my natural yoghurt. Not that you can tell by the matching yoghurt beakers, or anything...

So, here are three jellies that I made within the space of a few days. The first is a mixed berry, made with the first batch of berries that I'd managed to collect for the season. Some of them were a little sour, but simmered gently with just the tiniest touch of sugar, they made for the best jelly I've ever tasted.

That's not to discount the others that I made, but really, they're not as seasonal. The second was a latte-flavoured jelly, made with soymilk and espresso. I probably could have upped the sugar a little, because I was using unsweetened soymilk, but it was still a delicious snack. Plus it made it so much easier to deal with my coffee addiction in a stuffy, airless apartment. I don't even own a fan here, and air conditioning in this country is simply non-existent.

There's my latte-jelly, sort of like a bastardised panna cotta, hanging out with it's homelier cousin, the coffee mug. Agar has a firmer set than conventional gelatine, so if you're very careful, and don't use fruit with anti-setting enzymes (I'm looking at you, Citrus!) then you can slice it into cubes. Admittedly I just tended to eat it directly from the beaker...

The other notable mention in my jelly collection is our old friend, Elderflower. I realise that Elderflower has had something of a revival in the last few years, and admittedly, I'm thrilled. Elderflower cordial is a joy of Summer - fresh, floral, and deliciously sweet. I'm not a sugar fiend, but Elderflower cordial could potentially convince me otherwise. So, I used a simple cordial to make the elderflower jelly. You can see the colour better in the first picture of this post, which was the tiny bit of leftover that I set into a shot glass... for "testing" purposes, of course. Not so I could snack on it before the rest had set.

The process of making jelly itself was incredibly easy: Simmer 500ml liquid with one sachet of agar powder (probably about 2tsp) for at least two minutes. You don't even need to refrigerate the jelly liquid, because agar, unlike conventional gelatine, sets at room temperature. That's some might smart seaweed.

I obviously didn't want to simmer the berries and the agar together, so I cooked the berries in 2 cups of water first, with a tablespoon of sugar. I'll point out that the agar powder contained a touch of maltrodextrin, which is a sugar, so I was reluctant to add more. I needn't have worried, because the maltrodextrin didn't add any extra sweetness. A little water cooked off in the process, so I simply topped it up when I measured to see how much berry-syrup I'd created.

The coffee was even easier. I made a fresh pot of espresso on the stove, measured out about 300ml of soymilk, which was what I had left in the open carton in the fridge, and then boiled that with the agar. I added espresso to taste, and topped the rest up with more soymilk... it was strong and delicious.
Finally, the elderflower jelly, which was easiest of all. I just boiled the agar in 400ml plain water, added Elderflower cordial to taste (ready-made from a certain furniture producer, sorry!) and then topped it up with a little extra water. Too easy for words... so I'm not quite sure why I'm writing about it. Hm. Probably something to do with it being incredibly easy, incredibly delicious, and something I want to encourage you all to try...

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