Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cannellini Bean Casserole and Apple and Berry Muffins for Vegan Potluck

I had a lovely day today attending a vegan potluck hosted by Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe. Johanna and I started blogging at around the same time, and have been exchanging comments for a while, so it was lovely to meet her and her family (including the famous Dolly, for regular readers of Johanna's blog).  It was also great to meet some other Melbourne bloggers - namely Cindy and Mike of Where's the Beef?, Mel of Veganise This!,  and Alex of Soya & Chocolat and her boyfriend Steven, all of whom are vegan.

I am slightly thick in that when Johanna said the theme was green and vegan, I read "green" as being "environmentally friendly" (because eating meat is very resource intensive), when in fact it meant the colour green - as Johanna's favourite colour is green and it is in the name of her blog.  To quote Homer Simpson - D'oh!  Everyone else understood this, and Cindy and Mike dressed in green (Mike's green T-shirt even had a giraffe on it!).  Here is the impressive array of green dishes (sans Mike's green couscous, which came later):

and some beautiful green desserts - pick the non-green one:

Oh well, I got the vegan part right, and made a cannellini bean casserole (pictured at the top of this post)  and apple and berry muffins (pictured below).  I enjoyed both dishes, but would probably only make the stew again. I think there are better options for vegan muffins than the recipe I chose while operating on autopilot the other night, not realising that they contained almost a full bottle of maple syrup:

For the casserole,  I substituted the lima beans in the original recipe for cannellini beans, as my supermarket's range did not appear to stretch to lima beans.  Subsequent research shows that I should have chosen canned butter beans for the closest match, but I thought the cannellini beans were good.  I also gave the stew a little kick by adding a chopped fresh chilli - I think that was just right, as it may have been too bland without it. I also chose to leave out the dill, but added dried tarragon.

The cannellini bean casserole was based on a lima bean casserole recipe on p193 of Gourmet Vegetarian by Jane Price.  My version of this casserole is as follows:

2 x 400g cans cannellini beans, drained and washed
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stick of celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped 

1 fresh chilli, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil

1 x 400g tin crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
Salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Heat the oil in a large casserole dish on the stovetop.   Add all of the chopped vegetables and cook them until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and water.  Bring to the boil, then simmer for 3 minutes.  Add the beans and tarragon, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Bring the casserole back to the boil, then remove it from the stovetop, cover it with a lid or alfoil, and place into the preheated oven to cook for 50 minutes or until the sauce is thickened.  (I actually found this was a little too long, so most of my sauce had disappeared.) Serve the casserole hot.

The apple and berry muffin recipe is from p166 of Rowie Dillon's Indulge (gluten free  recipes).  These muffins are a little on the exxy side to make because of the maple syrup, and only taste OK.  However, they have the advantage of being gluten free, as they are based on buckwheat flour.  I was attracted to this recipe because it contains grated apple, dates and berries - yum!  The muffins are also fairly easy and quick to make (a bonus!).  To make these muffins you will need:

1 tablespoon gluten-free cornflour
3 1/2 cups buckwheat flour
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
2 grated apples
1 cup chopped dates
235ml maple syrup
1 cup water
300g fresh or frozen berries (I used half this amount of  frozen raspberries)

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius, and line a 12 hole muffin tin with muffin papers.

In a large bowl, combine the cornflour, buckwheat flour and bicarbonate of soda.  Next, mix in the grated apple, dates and maple syrup.  Add the water and fold into the mixture.  Finally, fold in the berries.  Divide the mixture between the muffin holes (I actually got 15 muffins, not 12), and bake the muffins for 30 minutes in the preheated oven.  Remove the muffins from the oven and cool in the tin for 5 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Friday, March 30, 2012

FFwD - Crab and Grapefruit Salad

This week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe was a rather unusual Crab and Grapefruit Salad.  At first, this did not appeal to me, as it contained raw chilli, onion and capsicum.  However, when I tasted the finished product, I was pleasantly surprised - the grapefruit and vegetables melded beautifully with crab, resulting in what would be a very elegant starter at a dinner party.

I have never cooked a crab before, so approached it with trepidation.  This is my blue swimmer crab prior to cooking:

Handsome, isn't he?  His lovely blue coat turns red as soon as he is added to the pot of boiling water (to which I added brown sugar and salt at the suggestion of a website):

Here is the crab, all cooked and sitting in a sinkful of cold water to halt the cooking process:

I found a Youtube video on how to shell a crab.  After removing the top plate (called the carapice, if you are interested), you break the crab in half:

Then you crack open the claws and shell to remove the meat, in my case using a nut cracker.  After all that, this was all the crab meat that resulted: 

Sigh ...  Oh well, it was a surprisingly good salad.

Visit the LYL section of the FFwD website to see what everyone else thought of this dish.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wednesdays with Donna Hay - Baked Mozzarella and Tomato Dip

This week's Wednesday with Donna Hay recipe is Baked Mozzarella and Tomato Dip, chosen by Chaya.  This is a simple but tasty dip comprised of crushed tinned tomatoes, garlic and mozzarella served with salted Lebanese bread crisps.

I enjoyed this as a change for a snack.

Go visit Chaya, Margaret and Kayte to see what they thought of this dip.

Next week: Soft-poached eggs with sweet potato hash browns

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Daring Bakers - Dutch Crunch Bread (Tiger Bread)

Sara and Erica of Baking JDs were our March 2012 Daring Baker hostesses! Sara & Erica challenged us to make Dutch Crunch bread, a delicious sandwich bread with a unique, crunchy topping. Sara and Erica also challenged us to create a one of a kind sandwich with our bread!

I made the bread - no sandwich - I don't have time.

Here is the dough:

and here is the dough with the crackle topping on it:

and here is a peek inside the finished loaf:

It tasted very nice, with a soft texture inside. It also answered the question for me of how they made tiger bread (which is sold at Brumbys here).  Thanks to our hosts, Sara & Erica, who will have the recipe on their site.

Friday, March 23, 2012

FFwD - Cocoa Sables

"They won't understand that in Bradford."

This was the statement made to John Cleese by one of his producers regarding the humour on At Last The 1948 Show, an early comedy vehicle for Cleese and his contemporaries, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman.  Thank goodness that John and his colleagues bore this producer no heed, for without their unique comedy sensibilities, there would be no Monty Python, and no Goodies.  This little snippet was part of the narrative of John's life as revealed through An Evening With John Cleese, subtitled "The Alimony Tour", which I went to on Wednesday night.  Although The Age critic was quite lukewarm on the show, I enjoyed it immensely, and there were some pearler lines.  Some of my favourite anecdotes included John relating his father's view that the fact that the Germans bombed his sleepy home town of Weston-Super-Mare demonstrated that they had a sense of humour, and John stating that "everyone has their cross to bear" after showing us a photo of  his late mother, Muriel Cross.  The first half of the show was autobiographical, while the second half of the show was concerned with how John Cleese and his peers went about writing comedy.  It was all lots of fun, and it was great to see John Cleese in the flesh, so to speak.

Thankfully, it is Friday now, and it is time for another French Friday with Dorie recipe.  This week was baking (hooray!), and the recipe was cocoa sables.  These are buttery, sandy-textured chcocolate biscuits flavoured with cocoa and chocolate, and brushed on the sides with egg and rolled in sugar.

They were absolutely delicious - I ate 4, which is again is unheard of for me unless the biscuits are really good.  See what everyone else thought of the cocoa sables by visiting the LYL section of the FFwD website.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wednesdays with Donna Hay - Red Wine Osso Bucco

This week's Wednesday with Donna Hay offering is Red Wine Osso Bucco, chosen by Margaret.  I adore slow-cooked food, so this choice was right up my alley.

This picture ain't pretty, but when I tell you it is meat melting off the bone after being slow-cooked in red wine, it will make you happy:

I served my osso bucco with mash and beans. 

To see what Margaret, Kayte and Chaya thought of this recipe, go visit them tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

BWJ - Irish Soda Bread

Today's Baking with Julia recipe is Irish Soda Bread.  Our hosts for this week, Carla of Chocolate Moosey and Cathleen of My Culinary Mission, will have the recipe, or buy the book.

This bread was as easy peasy - only 4 ingredients required, 5 if you add cranberries like I did.  I don't even buy buttermilk anymore - I read once that you add one tablespoon of lemon juice to a cup of milk to make a buttermilk substitute so that is what I did for this bread.  I made only a quarter recipe because apparently this bread does not keep well.

The bread came out well - no rising time, quick to bake, and a soft, light interior:

I ate a piece warm out of the oven spread with fig jam - it was pretty damn fine, if I say so myself.

You can see what the other group bakers thought by visiting the LYL section of the BWJ website.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Happy 80th Birthday to the Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge turns 80 years old today.  I could not imagine Sydney without the old coathanger, as it is affectionately known, but at the time of its construction in the 1930s, it was deeply unpopular because it was very expensive, and almost sent the State of New South Wales bankrupt during The Great Depression.  You can read some  fun facts about the Sydney Harbour Bridge here.

To celebrate, I bought this snowdome from The Museum of Sydney (known as "The MOS"):

The snowdome design is reproduced from a print by Douglas Annand and Arthur Whitmore in 1931, and features a typical "Chesty Bond" type lifesaver and a couple picnicking on the beach.  Douglas Annand was born in the same town as me, so I feel a connection to this print.

Even Google is celebrating:

And of course, I have to make this occasion personal to me with a self-portrait of me at the Opera Bar on the Opera House forecourt, with the Harbour Bridge in the background, just before Christmas last year:  

I am not asleep, although it looks like it.  I kinda like this photo, even though my eyes are closed - it was a happy occasion, with my two work colleagues and I enjoying a girly bubbly drink before going out to dinner.

I have never done the bridge climb and am unlikely to, as I hate heights.  However, I have walked across the pedestrian footpath that leads from one edge of the Bridge to the other, which is quite a spectacular walk in itself.  I used to drive past the Bridge every day on the bus and train when I lived in Sydney for a year, so it was very much a part of my life for a while, and I miss it.

Happy birthday to the Sydney Harbour Bridge!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fresh Fig Pie

Continuing on my journey of ways with figs, courtesy of our work fruit man, I decided to make a fig pie.  On the Internet, I was spoiled for choice with fig pie recipes, but had to carefully side-step the dried fig pies to get to the fresh fig pie recipes.

I eventually settled on what seemed the simplest fresh fig pie recipe that I could find, courtesy of Nancie McDermott of Piedmont, North Carolina.  Her recipe is here. You need a lot of figs (4 cupfuls) to make this pie, which can be hideously expensive if you have to buy the figs at the market, but I had a plentiful supply of lovely free figs, and this pie was perfect to ensure I could use them up.

Nancie doesn't supply a pie crust recipe, so I used Dorie Greenspan's Good for Almost Anything pie dough made with all butter and no shortening.  The butter makes the pastry more crumbly hence more difficult to work with, but I don't ever buy shortening, so I used what I had to hand.

I also forgot the lemon juice and butter in the pie filling, as I received a phone call as I was rolling out the top crust, which put me off my game.  It didn't seem to make any difference to the final flavour, and saved on some calories from even more butter.

And the verdict?  My colleague Lee said the pie was "sublime" and "superb", and she liked the cinnamon in the filling.  For me, that says it all - go make one!

Friday, March 16, 2012

FFwD - Cheese souffle

Thank God it's Friday!  Today I have to give an external seminar presentation, which fills me with minor dread.  These things always seem like a good idea at the time - then when it's crunch time, I wonder what on earth I was thinking.  Paper done - check.  Slides done - check.  But the scariest part is turning up and having to present the paper in front of a room full of strangers of differing backgrounds, who may in fact know more than you about the topic you are presenting on.  It's a little like the nightmare where you dream you have left the house without your pants on.  There is also audience evaluation where you have to face the reality of what others thought of your presentation.  So, it's just a little stressful for me today.

Compared with that, this week's cheese souffle for French Fridays with Dorie was a breeze.  I have only made souffle once before, but I didn't really put much thought into the process, and it turned out fine.  The roux for the bechamel, normally a nemesis of mine, went off without a hitch.  It turned out so well that I did not even feel the need to strain the bechamel, as it seemed pretty smooth.  Even when my last egg yolk broke and sneakily leaked a bit into my whites, I managed to fish it out and still get big fluffy whites.  And as you can see from my photos, I got a souffle with a very fine quiff on top.

Now for some process photos.   Here is the base bechamel:

This is the bechamel after being spiced, egged and cheesed (I used Swiss Gruyere):

This is the uncooked souffle in its dish ready for baking (yes, I was a little optimistic in hoping that it fitted in properly, and I did get some overflow):

And here is a peek at the yellow, billowy, soft centre underneath the golden brown crust:

It is always a little disappointing that the lovely high top is but a fleeting vision - but that's souffle for you.   However, I captured the moment on film to dream about forever.

To see what all the other Doristas thought of this cheese souffle, visit the LYL section of the FFwD website.  Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Beef with Olives and Tomatoes; Fresh Almond, Green Bean and Peach Salad

Despite my best intentions, I can't give up my cookbook addiction, especially when there are bargains to be had!  I recently acquired Angela Hartnett's Cucina on sale, and am glad I did - it is a gorgeous book with practical recipes, with an Italian slant.  The salads in the book are particularly gorgeous - and this from me, a former salad hater and now just a salad "meh" girl!

For a weekend meal, I made Angela's  Rib Eye with Tomatoes and Olives, featured in the photo at the top of this post.  It was a simple but delicious way to cook steak - I just used porterhouse steak.  You have to like olives though for this to work, as the olives are a dominant flavour in this dish. 

To accompany the steak, I made Angela's fresh almond, green bean and peach salad, on p170 of Cucina:

Doesn't this look scrumptious, and so summery? It is so simple to make - just boil up 150g of trimmed green beans, drain and cool them, and cut them into pieces ~ 1 inch long (or save yourself some hassle and cut them before boiling them).  Put the beans into a large bowl.  Cut 4 peaches into 4-6 wedges (I used 2 large peaches, which was plenty), and add the peach wedges to the beans with 75g blanched almonds.  Chop up 6 basil leaves and 6 mint leaves and add to the salad just before serving.  Toss the salad with a vinaigrette made from 20ml cider vinegar and 100ml olive oil.  I had this salad for a couple of days, and it stayed delicious for the entire time.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wednesdays with Donna Hay - Beef Burgers

This week's Wednesday with Donna Hay recipe is my lunch/brunch choice - Beef Burgers!  I adore a good burger, and this one has all the trimmings that I like - namely, onion rings and beetroot.  So many burgers come sans beetroot, which in my books is a crime.  The juicy beetroot goes a treat with the beef, and is a must for me.

As you can see from the photos, Donna's recipe makes a very tall burger - you almost need a flip-top head to take a bite of it all in one go.  That's not a complaint though!  I did find the patties a little crumbly, but that could just have been me.  I used rocket instead of iceberg lettuce on my burger, and spruced it up by spreading the bun with Emilia's onion jam, and a  splash of barbecue sauce on the beef patty.

I made a second burger using Donna's patties, this time with cheese in lieu of onion rings, but using Emilia's onion jam on the bun again, with fries on the side: 

This one was pretty good too.

To see what Kayte, Chaya and Margaret thought of these burgers, you can go visit them tomorrow. 

And happy birthday to Canadian actress, Megan Follows, who turns 44 today.  You can watch a fan video wishing Megan a happy birthday here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Jazz High Tea at The Spiegeltent

Happy Sunday to everyone.  Hope you are having a great weekend.  It is a long weekend for Labour  Day in Melbourne, so from my end, it is an especially good  one.

Exactly one week ago, I attended Jazz High Tea at The Famous Spiegeltent.  The Spiegeltent is the curious looking structure at the top of this post.  Spiegeltents were created at the start of last century as travelling entertainment venues, and the name literally means "tent of mirrors".  Indeed, the inside of the tent, which is not quite in the round, features many mirrors held up by ornate posts.  Apparently, Marlene Dietrich once sang "Falling in Love Again" in a spiegeltent.

The Famous Spiegeltent travels around Australia, and arrives in Melbourne every March to host a whole array of different entertainment.  As well as the Jazz   High Tea in this post, I am later attending a concert by fellow Queenslander, Kate Miller-Heidke, later in the month in the Spiegeltent.  As a tip to the diversity of the entertainment in The Famous Spiegeltent, I earlier this week was mistakenly sent someone else's tickets to Dixie's Tupperware Party - which I was quite happy to return to sender.

Here is a peek inside the Spiegeltent:

The Jazz High Tea started with a glass of bubbly at the door:

followed, naturally, by High Tea:

The top tier featured a passionfruit cupcake, a raspberry cheesecake, a lemon curd tart and a chocolate crackle.  Next tier down was scones with jam and cream (of course).  And the bottom tier featured two each of salmon, vege mezze and ham sandwiches.  There are no surprises in telling you that my favourite tier was the top tier.  And my favourite of the favourite was the cheesecake, followed closely by the chocolate crackle.  It will comfort you to know that I was sharing this spread with a friend - I didn't eat it all myself.

The tea followed very lately only after we gave a waiter a tap on the shoulder - but it is of little consequence, as it was an anti-climax to the bubbly and food. 

We were entertained by The Syncopaters:

who kept us amused with jazz standards, heavily weighted with Louis Armstrong numbers.

It was a fun way to pass a couple of hours, and I enjoyed my first glimpse inside the Spiegeltent.

Have a good  one!

Friday, March 9, 2012

FFwD - Saint-Germain-Des-Pres Onion Biscuits

This week's French Friday with Dorie had me a little confused by the word "biscuits".  You see, in Australia, a biscuit is a cookie, and a scone is an American biscuit.  Accordingly, I was anticipating savoury cookies, not savoury scones.

That said, these were quick and easy to make.  Dorie suggested a 1 1/2 inch cutter for the scones, so I used the top off my cinnamon bottle to make tiny 1 1/2 inch biscuits. They rose quite well, although that is not evident from the photo.

These are pleasant little treats which would probably go down well at a cocktail party on their own, or if made bigger in diameter, spread while hot with a smear of butter or margarine. 

You can find the recipe in Around My French Table, or online here.  I made the recipe as stated, except that I used my trusty pastry cutter to rub the flour into the butter - so much easier and less messy.

Check out what the other Dorie cooks though of these biscuits at the LYL section of the FFwD website when it is Friday in the US.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fig Bread

What do you do with a bag of squashed figs?  This was the dilemma that faced me last week when Sandra gave me the figs from the fruit man, but they ended up a little the worse for wear on the journey home.  Thankfully, Google had the answer - I found this recipe for fig bread on 

With 2 cups of mashed figs, this bread is incredibly moist, so I recommend keeping it in the fridge.  If you only want one loaf, halve the recipe - it makes a lot of batter.  I forgot the nuts, but believe these would have made a nice textural change to the pudding-like texture of the loaf.

I gave one of the loaves (the better looking one photographed for this post) to Sandra to share with whomever she chose.  I laughed when I heard that she put candles on it as a birthday cake for our colleague Jeff, whose birthday was incidentally on the same day as when I brought the loaf in.
Verdict - if you like figs and moist, fruity cakes, then this is for you.  

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wednesdays with Donna Hay - Bacon and Roasted Tomato Omelette

There's nothing like a hearty weekend breakfast - I like to steer clear of the working week cereal and fruit on weekends, so this week's Wednesdays with Donna Hay dish of a bacon and roasted tomato omelette, chosen by Kayte, was very welcome.

Basically , this was an ordinary omlette topped with balsamic roasted cherry tomatoes (yum!), bacon, and rocket. It was very hearty and very tasty - 'nuff said.

To see what Kayte, Margaret and Chaya thought, go visit their websites when it is Wednesday their time.

Next week: Beef burgers

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

BWJ - Rugelach

Don't you just adore it when you unexpectedly love something?  That was the case with this week's Baking with Julia, hosed by Jessica of My Baking Heart and Margaret of The Urban Hiker, who chose Rugelach.  Rugelach are a Jewish cookie/pastry made with a cream cheese pastry and filled with fruit preserves, fruits, nuts and spices.  Traditionally they are made in a crescent shape, but this recipe made the cookies in a roll shape.

I filled my rugelach with plain old apricot jam, dried apricots, raisins and almonds.  They were totally delicious - so addictive that I ate 4 of them myself before turning them over to the crowd, which is unheard of for me.

To see what everyone else thought of this recipe for rugelach, visit the Baking with Julia website.

Friday, March 2, 2012

FFwD - Roasted Salmon and Lentils

Today's post starts on a sad note with the news that Davy Jones of the Monkees has passed away.  The Monkees was made before I was born, but re-runs meant that I grew up with the Monkees, and cute Davy was my favourite.  Daydream Believer, with Davy on lead vocals, is my favourite Monkees song.  Thanks to the Monkees for adding some light-hearted fun to our lives.

This week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe is Roasted Salmon and Lentils.  It involves cooking green lentils in a vegetable broth, roasting salmon rubbed with oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, and serving the salmon atop the lentils.

It tasted OK - I liked it, but I didn't love it. I also thought the lentils were a bit of a faff, having to be cooked then drained, then partly pureed, then combined again and warmed.  You would have to love lentils to find this a rewarding process.

To see what the other FFwD members thought, visit the LYL section of the website.