Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Comfort food

Comfort food means different things to different people. To me, it means something either pasta or potato based. Tonight, I really needed comfort food. I won't bore you all with details about my less than eventful day spent pouring over files, making hand-written notes and constructing what is a cogent argument for presentation in the morning.  Suffice it to say, I needed something quick, easy and that reminded me of those stress-free childhood days when mum happily (?!) slaved over a hot stove to produce authentic dishes for five kids and husband (variously categorised as a kid depending on who you ask). 

But back to tonight, I really didn't feel up to mashing anything, so my all time favourite of mashed potatoes and butter was out. I resorted to pasta. Nothing high-faluting either. Not me. Not tonight. Nope, I went for the good, old fashioned, everyone's happy, easy to make spaghetti bolognese. Or spag bog as it's known on the street. 

As an aside, I weighed in on a serious debate a while back with my friends Fleur and Dave. Dave likes chilli in his bog, and Fleur doesn't. I sat there, bemused, while both made compelling arguments for why you either should or shouldn't add this flavour enhancing ingredient. At this point they turned to me to cast a vote. Sadly for Fleur, I had to admit that I actually like a hint of chilli in my bog sauce. It's not that I like it loaded - no point not being able to taste the dish because your mouth is on fire - but just a hint is nice. Dave on the other hand I suspect, does like it loaded. But then Dave is Indian and grew up burning his taste buds off on his mother's brilliant Indian cooking.  Really, it's up to you - add chilli; don't add chilli. Either way, a good spag bog rates as a fairly healthy and easy comfort meal. 

750g beef mince
1 x 400g tin tomatoes, pureed 
1 x 140g tin tomato paste
1/2 brown onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
handful fresh basil leaves, chopped or torn
1 glass red wine (or whatever)
1 tbsp Hungarian style sweet paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
olive oil
salt to taste
chilli (optional)

Soften the onion in a generous splash of olive oil. Once it's looking soft and golden, add the garlic and the mince. Break the mince up with a wooden spoon so there are no large clumps. Once the mince has browned off slightly, add the tomatoes and tomato paste and stir it all together. Then add everything else. Simmer on the lowest heat until it's well cooked. Salt & chilli to taste. (Or not)

You don't need to boil the living daylights out of this sauce and you definitely don't want it to burn, but it's mince, so make sure it's thoroughly cooked. I quite like letting it simmer gently for ages so that all the flavours infuse. In fact, I think it's one of those sauces that tastes better when it's had a chance to cool down slightly, and it's great the next day. 

Serve on spaghetti with Parmesan and more fresh basil if you like.

Monday, April 27, 2009

T'was a stormy night in Canberra...

OK. So perhaps 'stormy' is slight overkill, but it was windy, rainy and freak'n cold! And yet our friends still dragged themselves from their warm houses on the other side of town to come to dinner on Saturday night. I knew I couldn't disappoint them on such a night!

I turned to my friend, Mr Pot Roast. I really love pot roast. It's rich, tender and flavoursome if done properly, (which is hard not to do since it's so easy). Even the cheapest, most uninspiring piece of meat can be saved by a slow cook in onions, red wine and it's own juices.

On this occasion, I used a piece of basic roasting beef from the supermarket (Mr Chops was shut) and browned it on each side in a combination of macadamia oil infused with lemon myrtle, and olive oil. I threw in two quartered brown onions for good measure. When everything was brown, I chucked the lot in a large pot, splashed in some red wine, salt, pepper and a spring of rosemary, and cooked it, covered, at about 150ºC for around four hours, without touching it. I could have basted it from time to time but I was busy with other stuff.  No matter. It still fell apart on the fork. 

But I digress. What I really wanted to say is that with any dinner party, there's always someone with special needs. It's usually me, and I'm lucky that most of our friends know this and take care of me. This time, we had someone of the vegetarian persuasion at the table. I almost did the whole meal vegetarian but Tim vetoed that idea pretty quickly. 

What I really hate about vegetarian cooking is that so many people approach it as though it's just a simple case of removing the meat element from a meal. Restaurants cop this criticism from me too. Frankly I think it's a lazy way of doing things, and one that has a tendency to result in a half-arsed effort that leaves the vegetarian feeling short changed. To cook vegetarian  well, you need to make the vegetables the hero of the meal, not just remove the meat and hope that what's left over will do. It's not that hard!

For our vegetarian friend, I decided to do stuffed peppers. I know it's been done a thousand times with different rice-based fillings, but I was pretty happy with this recipe. I made a proper risotto first, rather than mixing some rice with vegetables. Make up whatever risotto you like - I used arborio rice, vegetarian stock, white wine, finely chopped carrot, celery, roasted red pepper, oyster mushrooms and shallots, and seasoned with fresh sage, lemon zest, a little chilli and salt. I tossed through some parmesan and cheddar cheese. Normally I'd never use cheddar in a risotto, but I ran out of parmesan and the shops were shut, being Anzac day & all. It still worked.  Into the peppers this went, and I roasted them in a bath of basic tomato sauce- tomatoes, onions, basil, salt & pepper blended finely, in a covered dish. The trick was not to over cook these. First, the risotto and sauce is already cooked so you really just want to cook the pepper a bit. You also want the peppers to retain their shape and texture and not turn into a sludgy mass.

When you take the time to prepare something like this, it really is a substantial alternative to meat. It was served with all the baked veg, bread and salad that the carnivores got. Nobody missed out!

As an aside, and for what it's worth, I've got a few tips for making a good risotto:
1. Don't let the stock cool down. Keep it simmering away and add it bit by bit into the risotto. 
2. Keep stirring!!!
3. Risotto should not be a stodgy mass that can be sculpted into shapes. It should have some liquidity to it. 
4. Cheese should be added as the last thing, after the risotto is properly cooked. Wine should be the second last thing you add.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Easiest chocolate brownies ever

The chocolate gingerbread turned out so well that it got me talking to colleagues about it. A promise was soon extracted from me to supply something along the same lines for Monday morning tea as well as a recipe for chocolate cheese cake. The recipe was duly copied and stuffed in my diary, and then I recalled promise number two and set to work.

Polly, a super talented and creative friend of ours, emailed me her recipe for chocolate brownies, assuring me it was delicious and no-fail. Well she was right. It did not fail. It turned out great. What failed was me. 

I must have had some kind of brain explosion during the making of these brownies. First I found I didn't have enough walnuts. Not fatal. I toasted some almonds to make up the difference. Then I was slightly short on chocolate. OK again since Polly and others had given me, sorry, us, a 1kg bag of Lindt as a wedding gift. I didn't want to open it just yet since I know it could lead to surreptitious depletion by Tim while I'm away this week, but I had to take the risk. Next, the batteries in my scales died. I removed batteries from something else and used them. I then managed to fling half the flour onto the floor because I  very un-cleverly added it to the mix while the whole thing was whizzing on high speed. Finally, I managed to get the gooey mixture all over me, several pieces of equipment, fresh fruit, the clock and the dog. [To explain about the dog, normally I leave her outside while cooking because she tends to get under-foot, hoping for a tidbit. On this occasion, I let her in to lick up the flour off the floor - I couldn't find the mop and Tim was out. Anyway, she was still hanging around when things went further awry. When Tim got home I bribed him with a brownie to bath her. Neither party were amused.]

The point is, despite my uncharacteristic clumsiness and lack of attention to detail (like chucking things in the mixer in my own order), this recipe worked really well. I didn't ice it as I found it suitably sweet, but if this isn't enough sugar for you, knock yourself out. Thanks Polly -  this one's a winner!

200g dark chocolate
175g butter
2 eggs
230g soft brown sugar
125g plain flour (I used spelt - I was NOT going to be denied brownies!)
40g good quality cocoa
100g walnuts
100g extra chocolate if you want it especially rich

Melt the butter and chocolate in the pan and then leave to cool slightly. Beat the eggs and sugar until pale and thick. Fold in the cooled chocolate mixture. Mix in the sifted flour and cocoa and then fold through the nuts and optional extra chocolate. 

Pour the mixture into a pan or tin (I used a lamington tin) and bake for 20 - 30 minutes at 180º C. Test at 20 minutes. 

If you want to ice it, Polly's recommended icing mix consists of 200g dark chocolate, (melted and cooled), 125g sour cream and 30g icing sugar. Mix the whole lot together, spread on the brownies in the tin and refrigerate overnight.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Anzac biscuits

This time last year, Tim was posted to the NT and I visited him in Darwin. I attended my first dawn service ever. It's not that I grew up without an appreciation of Anzac Day. I think it was just that my parents weren't into waking up five kids in the early hours of the morning, rugging them up against the freezing Canberra weather, driving around looking for a car park somewhere in the vicinity of the War Memorial and then standing about shivering until it was all over. 

Last year I didn't have to rug up. In fact, I wore shorts. Most people did. There were a few men in dark suits which I thought was lovely, respectful gesture, but with the bats playing in the foliage above while sweat trickled down the back of my legs, it crossed my mind that there really was no need to be a martyr in this weather, in the dark! Needless to say it was a moving and worthwhile experience and I'd like to repeat it some day.

With all the hoo-ha this year about whether or not Monday should be a public holiday, I decided to get back to basics and be grateful that Anzac biscuits haven't changed since I was a kid. 

This is a pretty cool recipe for any time of year, but funnily enough, I only remember them being made in April. I especially remember couples taking cute excursions together to the supermarket to buy the ingredients (I was once a checkout chick). I remember my friend Nicholas making giant sized ones that he put straight in big glass jar to look at but not eat. I remember in recent times seeing them on the shelves in the biscuit aisle and wondering why? They're so easy and fun to make, as well as being a good reminder of what 25 April represents.

I probably won't go to dawn service on Saturday. I will cook dinner for a number of friends. And I have already made and safely stowed away three-dozen Anzac biscuits. My recipe is the same one I've used since I was a kid. It works every time.


1 cup rolled oats
1 cup plain flour, sifted
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup desiccated coconut
150g butter or margerine
2 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp boiling water
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

In a decent-sized bowl, combine the rolled oats, flour, sugar and coconut. Melt the butter and syrup together in a small saucepan. Mix the boiling water and bicarb in a cup and whisk this into the butter mixture. The pour the whole lot over the dry mixture. It will froth up a bit and you need to make sure it's all mixed together well with a wooden spoon.

Roll teaspoons of mixture into walnut-sized balls and put them on a lined baking tray. Make sure they have room to spread out.

Bake for 15-20 minutes in a 150º C oven. Let them sit for a few minutes and then place them on a wire rack to cool. Store them in an airtight container - if they last that long. I make three dozen from this mix. 

NB. I didn't make it with spelt this time around, but of course you can. This will make them wheat free but not gluten free because of the oats. If anyone wants a proper gluten free Anzac recipe, I do have one that I've used successfully and I'm happy to pass it on.

Chocolate Gingerbread

My first week back after four weeks off work was salvaged only by the discovery of the last piece of chocolate gingerbread in the fridge. I ate it by myself on the back step while reflecting quietly on the previous month, shivering a little from the Autumn chill in the air and ignoring the searching gaze of Ladybug. Of course, this happened on Tuesday night and the week rapidly descended into a the daily grind that I hadn't missed at all in the preceding weeks.

Although I was greeted with very genuine exclamations of 'thank God you're back' on my return to work, I wasn't convinced that I was ready to get back to the salt mines. Sigh... I really could have gotten used to a life with no sleep deprivation, reading for fun and cooking with chocolate more than once a week. Or perhaps not. (I weighed myself this morning for the first time since before the wedding when I couldn't stop losing weight if I'd tried (which I did try after the final dress fitting) and thought 'oops!')

Anyhow, along the way I made the most delicious cake/brownie I have made in a very long time. It's adapted from the wonderful Nigella's Feast (p278) and I served it as dessert at Good Friday lunch. It's now a firm favourite. I've made gingerbread, ginger cake, chocolate brownies, biscuits and cakes, but have not put the two together in a baked good. For whatever reason, chocolate and ginger baked together really, really works. 

I adapted this to my own special needs by using spelt, brown sugar and upping the ginger content slightly and I can swear by this as an easy and delectable bake that should impress anyone with functioning taste buds.

175 g unsalted butter
125g dark muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
2 tbsp caster sugar
200g golden syrup
200g treacle or molasses (I used treacle)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger (I used 4 tsp)
1 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsp warm water
2 eggs
250ml milk
275g plain flour (I used spelt flour)
40g cocoa
175 g chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 170ºC and line a roasting tin or dish of approximately 30cm x 20 cm x 5cm deep.

In a decent sized saucepan (and make sure it is b/c I started off with something way too small and had to switch), melt the butter along with the sugars, golden syrup, treacle or molasses, loves, cinnamon and round ginger. In a cup dissolve the bicarb or soda in the water. Take the saucepan off the heat and beat in the eggs, milk and bicarb and water mix. It will froth up a bit at this point, hence no small pan! 

Stir in the flour and cocoa and beat with a wooden spoon to mix. Fold in the chocolate chips, pour into the lined tin and bake for about 45mins until risen and firm. It will be slightly damp underneath the set top and that's the way you want it.

Put the whole thing on a wire rack and let it cool. 

For the icing:
250g icing sugar, sifted
30g unsalted butter
1 tbsp cocoa
60ml ginger ale

In a heavy based saucepan, heat the butter, cocoa and ginger ale. Once the butter's melted, whisk in the icing sugar. Lift the chocolate gingerbread out of the tin and unwrap the paper. Pour over the icing just to cover the top and cut into generous chunks. I served with a dollop of double cream but there's no need for extras.

This is really nice fresh and soft out of the oven, but will keep for several days in the fridge. When it's cold, it has a texture more like a heavier brownie. 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Orange Food Week

A couple of years ago  we were in Orange, NSW, for some friends' wedding. It just happened to coincide with the Orange Food Week and we were lucky enough to see some of what Orange had on offer. We hadn't booked into any of the big events, but walking through Orange we were able to get a taste of fresh, locally grown produce, baked goods and breakfast. I remember taking some kind of fruit back home and something from the very good kitchen shop on the main street. I don't know what it was, but I remember being happy. The other thing I recall was a good meal at a big pub and some nice cafes to choose from. 

We're thinking of taking an overnight trip either this weekend or next, depending on how the home decorating goes (yes Tim, we're painting again). If you've got nothing planned, you could do much worse than take a leisurely drive into some beautiful country and sample the culinary delights on offer. At least check out the website for inspiration.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Boulangerie is changing!!!

It's time for a change. The Boulangerie is about to become 'Kitchen Made.'  Why? Well I just think it suits the blog a whole lot better. From sometime this weekend (let's say Sunday afternoon to be safe), you'll be able to find me at I've got a lot more great food, pictures & stories to share, so I hope you'll keep reading and commenting, despite the lack of a fancy French name! Watch this space...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter bunny

This morning I was greeted with a sleepy voiced 'where are my Easter eggs?' To which I replied, 'you're a big boy now and I didn't get you any.' Quiet sobbing into the pillow followed. And then I remembered our good friends Scott and Britta had brought us an Easter gift to Good Friday lunch - the always looks good, never fails to please, Lindt bunny pack. I reminded Tim and he was OK after that.

Happy Easter everyone. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hot cross buns

Tim got lucky today. Although possibly not in the way you may be imagining... 

After allowing myself to be dragged out of bed at some uncivilized hour (for a public holiday), I went for a long walk with Tim and Ladybug down streets, across ovals, over hills and through fields. I did this clad in exercise gear. Yes, I know it's Good Friday! Once we got home I remembered the tasty treat lying dormant in the fridge, just waiting to be taken out and made into something truly wonderful for a crisp, clean autumn morning - hot cross buns!

Apparently you're meant to eat hot cross buns on Good Friday, so I did the right thing. At this time of year with a slight chill in the air, I could happily eat them hot with real butter on any morning. I was especially determined to make home made ones this year because I haven't for about two years and I feel a bit slack. I don't think I even bought ones last year. On the last occasion I made them,  and try and imagine how this went down with the lycra bandits, Tim blew of his riding buddies for a morning ride, texting them with "I can't come out this morning. Julia's making hot cross buns." They haven't forgotten.

Since the last time, I discovered spelt so I can now partake. And I have. Several times, including one for dinner tonight, this being the only thing I could manage after a huge Good Friday lunch of Atlantic salmon, bbq'd with coriander, chilli and lemon, various salads, hot and cold entrees beforehand and to finish properly, a decadent chocolate gingerbread cake served with double cream (recipe coming). Shared with a group of good friends as well as some newer ones, it was a good day. Tim has only just started the washing up. 

But back to the buns, they're a bit involved in that you have to make the dough the night before and let it prove in the fridge overnight. It's not a big thing but it does mean you have to prepare in advance and be a bit patient. In other words, you can't just decide you feel like hot cross buns for afternoon tea and whip some up. I promise they're worth it!

I've altered a Nigella Lawson recipe and have used spelt. I've found in the past that spelt doughs don't necessarily rise as well as regular flour if you work them too much, so I used a dough hook in the mixer and didn't go nuts after I'd punched the dough back in the morning. Also, I warmed the dough up a bit to get it going. I did this by putting the trays of dough balls over a large bowl of boiling water for about 5 minutes. It does help and they rose really well and were brilliant with butter, straight out of the oven. Supermarket buns these ain't! 

150ml milk
50g butter
zest of 1 orange
1 cardamom pod
400g spelt flour
7g dry yeast
125g mixed fruit (I used currants, sultanas and mixed peel)
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 egg

Heat the milk, butter, orange zest and cardamom pods in a saucepan until the butter melts, then turn the heat off and leave to infuse.  

Measure the flour, yeast and fruit into a bowl and add the spices. When the infused milk has cooled down a fair bit (but not cold), remove the pods and beat in the egg. Pour this liquid into the bowl of dry ingredients. 

Knead the dough either by hand or with a machine with a dough hook until you have a silky, elastic dough. Remember the fruit will mean this doesn't come out exactly smooth. Place it in a buttered (or lightly olive-oiled) bowl and cover with cling film. Put it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, take the dough out of the fridge and let it return to room temperature. Or do what I did with the bowl of hot water. Punch it down and knead it for jut a little bit again until it's smooth and elastic. Divide into 16 pieces (or less if you like bigger buns) and roll them into balls. Place them on a lined tray closely but not touching. Cover and let them rise a little in a warm place for up to 45 minutes. 

Make up an egg wash: 1 egg beaten with a splash of milk. Brush the buns over with this. Score a cross on the tops of each bun with a butter knife. Make up the cross mixture: 1 tbsp plain flour, 1/2 tbsp caster sugar, 2 or so tbsp water or enough to make it runny but not too thin. Dribble this into the crosses scored.  

Bake for 15-20 minutes. Eat immediately with some good, salty butter and a cup of decent coffee. 

If you want to get fancy, you can make up a sugar glaze to brush on them when they come out of the oven (1 tbsp caster sugar and 1 tbsp boiling water) but I don't bother. I don't like my buns sticky. But we're all different.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Wedding cupcakes

As promised, here is one of the two wedding cake recipes I used. The photo isn't brilliant (just with my little digital compact after several champagnes) but you get the picture -  a lot of cupcakes!!! 

The beauty of the cupcake tower is that first, it's a bit different from the traditional wedding cake and it can look terrific. Second, there are no cake plating issues that sometimes attract an additional cost. People can just be given one each or invited up to help themself. Third, based on one per person, you know exactly how many you need. And last of all, if you're at all capable and organised time-wise, you can do it yourself and this is extremely helpful if you're on a tight budget. Cupcakes can range from about $2 to $15 each if you buy them. No disrespect to the pros, but they're cupcakes! In about three bites, they're gone.

I used a really basic vanilla cupcake recipe because I think vanilla is a flavour that most people like or at least take no offence from. Also, done right, vanilla can have such a dainty and yet decadent feel to it that you don't get from chocolate or fruit cake. Don't worry - there was also fruit cake for all, but this was taken home in little grease paper bags as is the tradition. And yes, the recipe for that is coming!

115g butter, soft but not melted
115g caster sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
115g self-raising flour
4 tbsp good quality vanilla essence

With an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat until smooth. Add the vanilla, and then sift in the flour. Mix  until everything is blended together, but don't overdo it.

Divide into twelve paper cases - this really does make exactly twelve perfect sized cupcakes. Bake in a 170ºC oven for 15-20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and ice however you like.

I put together a very basic butter cream icing for this (icing sugar, a little water, soft butter), but instead of all water to moisten the icing sugar, I used Cointreau. Really, really good. My sister helped me do the icing the day before the wedding (simple piping) and honestly, I am surprised any of the icing made it on the cupcakes. I haven't included the icing recipe as I tend to just throw icing together. When it's the right consistency, it's done. Do try and use a good quality butter though because I think it helps the flavour. 

For the hearts, I coloured marzipan with quite a lot of pillar-box red food dye, and used a tiny heart shaped cookie cutter. When the hearts had dried a bit, I painted them with confectioner's varnish for shine. Final thing, these freeze really well. 

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The honeymoon's almost over... but not quite!

Back to real life tomorrow after a very fun few weeks. Our wedding was fantastic, even if predictions came true and we didn't really get a chance to eat. We got back on Friday from the honeymoon and went to another wedding last night, this time at the Kurrajong Hotel in Canberra. The gorgeous food and Helm wines served were all magnificent. Thanks guys! Lunch at the godparents' place today and more wine. Delicious. 

So basically, we've been eating for the nation for the last week and enjoying a thoroughly decadent life that has no resemblance to reality. I highly recommend it.

This morning, since there was no fresh bread in the house and I was really hungry but too lazy to bake, I found a solution. I had scrambled eggs and avocado on a couple of corn Cruskits (so sad), but for Tim, I made a special 'end of honeymoon' cooked breakfast - crumpet french toast. So simple and really delicious. I know I've seen something like this done before. I think it was Jamie Oliver. Wherever I saw it, it certainly worked a treat today. 

I've put down the ingredients but the principle is exactly the same as normal french toast so you can make up an egg mix however you normally do, dunk the crumpets instead of bread, and cook on both sides in a little butter or olive oil. Serve with banana and maple syrup (or a rasher of bacon) or have plain if you prefer. For the cyclists amongst you, it covers all the essentials - carbs, protein, sugar, fat. A great thing about these is that they keep really well as a snack if you let them cool and then refrigerate them. I can see these being sent to work in someone's lunchbox...


4 fresh crumpets
2 large free-range eggs
Splash of milk (about a 1/4 cup)
1 tbsp melted butter
pinch of salt & pepper
banana and maple syrup to serve

Vigorously whip up the eggs, milk, butter and salt & pepper and let it sit for a few minutes. Soak the crumpets and cook. 

A couple of things - be patient and let the crumpets soak for a good few minutes and then let them cook slowly, rather than flinging them into a really hot, bubbly pan. This way the egg has a chance to be absorbed and then cooks right through evenly, rather then you winding up with a crisp outside and raw centre. Unless you like it that way. 

Friday, April 3, 2009

Wedding done. Now back to food...

Well, almost!

We literally just got back from our honeymoon where we did exactly nothing for almost a week. It was wonderful. Truly wonderful. I slept for whole nights without waking up. I drank a lot of nice wine. I ate a lot of really beautiful food in stunning coastal surroundings. My freshest memory is last night's dinner which was an entree of poached pear, prosciutto and walnut salad followed by a chilli crab risotto. THE BEST risotto I've had at a restaurant outside of Italy. No kidding. If you're interested, try the Tipsy Fig in Milton, NSW. Gorgeous.

Recipes to follow, including wedding cake. (Still officially on honeymoon!!!)