Sunday, August 29, 2010
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.
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.
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
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.
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... ;)
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?
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?
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!
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.