Food & Drink

Spicy Roasted Pumpkin & Red Lentil Soup

One of the first things I do every morning is think about what I might prepare for dinner that evening. Today I have been offered a suggestion in the form of a ready disected and roasted pumpkin and a packet of red lentils, strategically displayed where I wouldn’t miss them.

In a scene reminiscent of Ready, Steady, Cook I lean on the counter staring at the two ingredients in an effort to draw inspiration. It wasn’t too difficult to come up with a few ideas but given the frosty morning and the hope of little improvement for the remainder of the day, I opted for an Indian themed soup.

This simple recipe requires no culinary prowess and I am not even going to proffer precise quantities for all ingredients as it’s mostly created by taste and in quantities you desire.

Lentils are bloody marvelous, so versatile and help lower cholestral too. I use them in a multitude of dishes from soups to stews because they are so quick and easy to use. Rinse and chuck them into your favourite stock or plain old H2O. For this dish, I’m using 500gms of red lentils but then I currently have nine mouths to feed! Don’t fret about making too much as it freezes very well.

Firstly, rinse the lentils in cold water. I’m using the Nature’s Selection brand which require no pre-soaking, so follow the instructions you have.

Spicy roasted pumpkin & red lentil soup
Spicy roasted pumpkin & red lentil soup

Finely chop a large onion and gently fry in a few tablespoons of vegetable oil. As the onion begins to very lightly brown, add a couple of cloves of minced garlic. After a further minute or so, combine a heaped teaspoon of turmeric, cumin and coriander but you can reduce or increase any combination depending on your own taste. Gently frying at this stage helps to release the flavours and aromas of the spices better than adding to the soup later. Having said that, keep tasting periodically and adding more until the moment you serve.

Add your shiny clean lentils to a suitably sized pot and drown in chicken or vegetable stock. I’m starting with a litre and a half but can easily add more later if required and probably will.

Now scrape the flesh away from the hard pumpkin skin if soft, else cut the skin away and chop roughly.

Throw everything into your pot, bring to the boil and simmer for approximately 45 minutes. If you prefer, you can liquidise the soup for smooth finish but this just adds to the washing up and I consider it excessive faffing about and in any case, I quite like the non-liquidised texture.

If you have any fresh coriander leaves, roughly chop and use as garnish. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or natural yoghurt and accompany with mini papadums or fresh crusty bread.

Bon appétit!
Mwynhewch eich bwyd!

Gobbledegeek’s Cauliflower Cheese

So I’ve had this cauliflower in the fridge for quite some time now, hoping it would gracefully grow old and black so that I could avoid preparing a cheese sauce but to my horror, and ignoring a barely visible amount of blackening, it looked as good as the day I dumped it there. So I must bite the bullet and prepare a sauce that in all honesty, is not so much of a chore but will require a little extra work if it is to feed several hungry mouths.

A fresh hoon brain
A fresh hoon brain

We’ll start by preparing the milk. Throw a couple of bay leaves, a quartered onion and half a dozen cloves into the milk, season with sea salt and black pepper and bring to the boil. I use between 1 and 1.5 litres and this expands considerably once you start adding cheese, so bear this in mind when selecting your pan. You can experiment with other infusions if you’re feeling adventurous.

Once your infusion begins to boil, remove the pan from the heat and discard the ingredients when cool. Allowing the milk infusion to cool will help avoid lumps later.

Moving on to the cauli, start by removing the stem and any unwanted foliage. At this stage you should have already removed it from the fridge, otherwise it could get a little cramped and quite likely dangerous too. You can remove any unsightly blackening with a potato pealer or a sharp knife. Cut into florets or if you prefer, simply cut into the required amount of portions.

Boil in salted water for 5 minutes and then drain. You could save the water for another dish if you wish and I’d suggest using it for a creamy cauliflower soup made with cumin, turmeric and fresh coriander, for instance.

While the cauli cools, we’ll do the roux for our béchamel sauce by taking equal quantities of flour and butter. Over a low to medium heat, melt the butter first and whisk in the flour to create a smooth, creamy mess akin to wet sand. That’s your classic roux, used as a base for several ‘mother’ sauces, which in turn are used as bases for all other sauces.

Still whisking, gradually add the cooled milk infusion until completely combined. As the mixture heats the fat reacts with the starch in the flour and thickens the milk. You should continue stirring over the heat until the floury taste subsides but before the mixture darkens too much, that is unless you need a base for a dark sauce, of course.

Now you can gradually add your cheese, transforming our béchamel into cheese sauce unless you wish to impress your dinner guests, then calling it a cheese béchamel is acceptable.

Quite cheesy
Quite cheesy
Cheesy!
Cheesy!

Did you know that equal quantities of Gruyère and Parmesan combined with your basic béchamel create the famous Mornay sauce? However, for our cauliflower cheese, we’ll stick with good old Cheddar. Continue adding the cheese and tasting regularly until the desired cheesiness is met.

Finally, a little more seasoning can be added or try a little nutmeg before pouring over the cauliflower which has been sat patiently in a suitable ovenware dish. Grate a little more cheese over the top and chuck it in the pre-heated oven at about 180°C for 20 minutes or until slightly singed on top.

Cauliflower cheese
Cauliflower cheese

Depending on whether the cauliflower cheese is for lunch, dinner or just a side dish, you can pad it out and make it go further by adding chopped bacon or peas and even pasta, to name a few. Equal quantities of cauli and broccoli make a pleasant change when accompanying the Sunday roast, although my personal preference would be to include very little cheese in this case.

Bon appétit!
Mwynhewch eich bwyd!

Super simple pizza dough recipe

Several people have asked for my pizza recipe and while I often jot it onto a piece of paper for them, posting the ‘official’ version here might reassure them that ‘it really is that simple’. It certainly can be simple if you want it to be but there is a whole Interwebthingy strewn with debate, research, long versions, short versions, hints, tips and recipes from the pure and simple to the cluttered, chaotic and downright unnecessary.  If you’re looking for a tomato sauce recipe, you won’t find it in this post but I will certainly cover it soon…

Ham and cheese pizza
Ham and cheese pizza

This is my version of a simple dough which is identical to so many out there. It was a starting point for experimentation, trial and error and my own search for great tasting pizza. I’m not saying it’s great by any high gluten stretch of the imagination and I’m not saying there aren’t better recipes out there but it’s a quick and simple version that could whet your appetite and launch you on your own quest for the Holy Grail of pizza.

 

 

 

 

The short way down

  • 1 cup of plain flour
  • 8 tbsp of warm water
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of sugar
  • 1 tsp of yeast
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Mix and knead for several minutes. Oil the inside of a bowl with a little olive oil or spray. Drop the ball of dough in and cover with Glad wrap or a damp cloth and leave somewhere warm. Leave to rise for a couple of hours or until it nearly doubles in size.

Punch the dough down in the centre and roll out on to a floured surface while the oven heats up to about 240° C. Add your tomato sauce and favourite toppings and bake for about 10 t0 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.

Top tip!

Once your dough is rolled out to the required size and thickness, transfer to a tray or other flat surface covered with semolina or cornmeal. This will enable the topped and finished pizza to easily slide off when you transfer it to the oven.

The long way ’round

For those partial to the convoluted, the following might satisfy your appetite. It’s the same simple recipe, just long-winded.

Doh!

Flour – Strong baker’s flour is best but I often use the super-cheap supermarket homebrand. You can also buy specific bread and pizza flour such as the Anchor brand (for those of us in Australia) but generally, a strong, high protein, plain flour is what you’re after. High protein means higher elasticity and a better rise. Get King Arthur Bread flour if you can find it.

Salt – Good old fashioned table salt. A possibly interesting variation might be to use rock salt for an added crunchy suprise but until I find the salt shaker empty, I might just leave the rock for other recipes and emergencies.

Olive oil – I add a tablespoon of olive oil to the warm water and sometimes drizzle lightly over simple pizzas. A drop or two should be used to line the bowl to prevent sticking during the rise. The spray version is quite handy for this.

Water – 8 tablespoons of warm water should be a guide but 9 shouldn’t harm. If the dough isn’t slightly sticky add minute quantities and continue kneading. It should pull away from the bowl but just stick the bottom as you knead. Conversely, if it’s too wet, sticking to both hands and the bowl, simply sprinkle small quantities of flour. Apparently, an acceptable dough should stretch nicely without cracking.

Yeast – A level teaspoon of ordinary bakers yeast is sufficient for this recipe but this is one ingredient that you don’t necessarily double up on when making larger quantities. I believe this equates to a sachet of the common brands found in any supermarket. During your quest for the perfect pizza, yeast becomes very important but we’ll talk about that another time.

Mixing

Add all dry ingredients to a large bowl. I use a hand whisk to disperse thoroughly. Make a well in the middle and pour in the water and olive oil.

Use a fork and mix until mostly combined. This saves getting all gooed up. Then again, so does using an electric mixer with dough hooks.  Now use a floured hand to knead the dough. I find, as many do, that the kneading process is quite relaxing. It’s also a more socially acceptable means of developing a strong right hand but I digress. This should be done for several minutes before covering and leaving in a warm place to rise. I usually use Glad wrap instead of a traditional damp cloth.

The Rise

There is much debate concerning ingredients, methods and temperatures etc and the length and size of the dough rise is no exception but if I’m in a hurry, I’ll roll it out whenever I damn please.

Many will say that you must wait until it doubles in size and there are arguments for overnight rising but as this is supposed to be a super simple recipe, leave it until it has risen by about 50-75%, usually between 1 and 2 hours. I have even kept dough covered in the fridge for days before using it and if you find regular kneading a chore, or the size of your kneading arm grows to the embarrassing proportions of Popeye, make up a batch, divide into single pizza balls, rub with olive oil, seal in Glad wrap or sandwich bags and throw in the freezer for a rainy day. Once solid, they can be dropped into a sock to manufacture a formidable weapon against burglars, door-to-door salesmen and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The roll

Once your dough has risen enough, dump it out onto a clean floured surface and punch the centre to expel the air. You can use your fist to start spreading the dough outwards. Purists will say you should use just your fingers to manipulate and stretch the dough to the required size and shape but this takes time. Personally, I more often than not use a medium sized empty jam jar. Starting from the middle, gently and evenly roll the dough outwards but avoid rolling the edge. Leaving a slightly thicker rim will result in a lovely crunchy hand hold and prevent hot goey ingredients from sliding off.

The bake

Once the dough is just about there or your patience runs out, whichever is sooner, wack the oven on at 240° C. If you are using a stone, then aim for a good 20 minutes or more to heat up properly. I have heard conflicting theories on stone placement, whether it be top or bottom of the oven and it may just have been luck but I have slightly better results by placing the stone at the top of my rather crappy fan-assisted oven. You’ll have to experiment. Keep an eye on it but at this temperature, 10 minutes should do but take it out when the cheese has melted and the crust is golden brown.

There’s more

If, like me, you catch the pizza-making bug, it will not be long before you begin the quest for the ‘perfect pizza’. However, you need not look much further than Jeff Varasano’s web site. Just ask Google for ‘the perfect pizza recipe’ and Jeff’s site sits in the number one spot. I’ve scanned it numerous times to glean tips but it makes my mouth water in a particularly undignified and wholly Homer-like fashion, every time I visit. I shall have to wear a bib should I ever be lucky enough to visit his recently opened pizzeria in New York!

In the end

The key to making great pizza, in my opinion, is to keep it simple and this recipe is certainly that. By all means experiment with every step until you are satisfied. Get yourself a pizza stone, cook quicker at higher temperatures or for longer on lower, try the top of the oven as well as the lower, add grated Parmesan or mixed herbs to the dough or vary the thickness of crust. All this I will endeavor to cover another time.

All said and done, you have to enjoy what you are doing, otherwise call Domino’s!

 

Bloody Woolworths Homeshop!

How in God’s name can you be out of bloody frozen chooks? I mean, it’s not like you have to regularly order limited stock and promote rapid turnover to prevent the produce going fowl (did you see what I did there hmm?). It’s bloody frozen, it’ll keep for months. There really is no excuse to be short of frozen produce in my opinion.

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Safeway Homeshop is Crap….Really.

Online shopping works if it works, if you follow me. My point is that shopping online and having it delivered to my door, is a useful concept and one I’m sure is vital for many. Notwithstanding the obvious benefits to those unable to physically visit a supermarket, the very fact that this mundane chore is removed, is brilliant. Cup of tea in one hand, mouse in the other and not a single jobsworth checking your bags and pockets on your way out, what’s not to like about online shopping?

Read More

Hem

– Australian noun

1. a cut of meat from the heavy-muscled part of a hog’s rear quarter, between hip and hock, usually cured.
2. that part of a hog’s hind leg.
3. the part of the leg back of the knee.

Chocolate-covered bacon & the heart-bursting butty

If there is one food that has the uncanny ability to improve virtually any dish, bacon is it. You only have to look at the humble burger to appreciate what I mean. Add a couple of slices of well-cooked bacon and you can probably justify a visit to Macca’s. A simple pizza takes on a whole other dimension with the introduction of sliced bacon and a BLT sans B is barely a satisfying brunch for a rabbit. Could you imagine a Caesar Salad without bacon or a full English breakfast missing a few slices or streaky porkness?

This incredibly versatile porcine product is practically perfect and probably impossible to better (apologies for the preponderance of p’s). Some might argue that chocolate tastes better but that’s down to personal taste and not a belief I share. One odd fact that might be surprising is that bacon and chocolate are perfect culinary partners.

If resistance to chocolate is a futile challenge and you find the company of a bacon butty titillates the taste buds, then chocolate-covered bacon will arouse the gastric juices of the most discerning gastronome.

Mmmm…..chocolate covered bacon.

With the sweetness of the chocolate (or bitter sweet if using darker chocolate), and the saltiness of the ‘just’ crispy bacon, this seemingly odd couple make a magical marriage.

Chocolate has long been combined with savoury dishes. It is traditionally used in Mexican ‘mole’ dishes and is particularly popular in Spanish Catalan food. The dark, rich flavours combine well with the gamey and more richer recipes.

In fact a small amount of chocolate can add depth and enhance many meals. If you decide to experiment, start with dark chocolate or cocoa powder in dishes such as chilli or spaghetti sauces. Melt a couple of blocks in with your roasting veggies, particularly carrot and parsnip.

For those of you who like to flirt with danger or even just flirt, why not try this artery-busting butty. Many may have already come across it before but without the addition of the chocolate. Often referred to as the ‘Elvis’ due to it’s most famous cholesterol casualty, Elvis Presley, this is probably about as close to Paradise as one can possibly get on Earth.

The ‘Elvis’ – aka the peanut butter, bacon, banana fried butty.

1. Add a knob of salty butter to a suitably sized frying pan on medium heat. Once the butter melts and begins to foam, add the white bread coating both sides with the molten butter until golden brown. You could kid yourself that substituting brown bread would be a healthier option but…

2. Crisp the bacon up in a separate frying pan. You might like to try honey-cured bacon. I personally have used olive oil. Remove and drain on kitchen towel.

3. Spread both slices of golden brown fried bread with crunchy peanut butter. Alternatively, spread one slice with peanut butter and the other with chocolate spread, unless of course you have a ready-made supply of chocolate-covered bacon.

4. Slice or mash up your banana and spread over one slice of fried bread. At this point you might wish to drizzle a little honey over.

5. Place your freshly fried bacon slices on top of the banana and top with the other slice of fried bread.

6. Eat straight away. Enjoy!

A veritable orgasm in your mouth, I think you’ll agree 

An arguably healthier alternative blandwich…

Disclaimer – I take no responsibility for burst arteries, exploding heart valves or indeed any other medical condition that could be attributed to using this recipe.

Boiled Eggs

How do you boil eggs? The answer to this is carefully. What we need to do first of all is memorise a few very important rules. Don’t ever boil eggs that have come straight from the refrigerator, because very cold eggs plunged straight into hot water are likely to crack. Always use a kitchen timer – trying to guess the timing or even remembering to look at your watch can be hazardous. Never over-boil eggs (you won’t if you have a timer) – this is the cardinal sin because the yolks will turn black and the texture will be like rubber. If the eggs are very fresh (less than four days old), allow an extra 30 seconds on each timing.

The perfect boiled egg?
The perfect boiled egg?

 

Always use a small saucepan – eggs with too much space to career about and crash into one another while they cook are likely to crack. Never have the water fast boiling; a gentle simmer is all they need. Remember that eggs have a pocket at their wide end where air collects and, during the boiling, pressure can build up and cause cracking. A simple way to deal with this is to make a pinprick in the rounded end of the shell, which will allow the steam to escape.

Soft-boiled eggs

Obviously, every single one of us has a personal preference as to precisely how we like our eggs cooked. Over the years I have found a method that is both simple and reliable, and the various timings set out here seem to accommodate all tastes. First of all have a small saucepan filled with enough simmering water to cover the eggs by about 1/2 inch (1 cm). Then quickly but gently lower the eggs into the water, one at a time, using a tablespoon. Now switch the timer on and give the eggs exactly 1 minute’s simmering time. Then remove the pan from the heat, put a lid on it and set the timer again, giving the following timings:

6 minutes will produce a soft, fairly liquid yolk and a white that is just set but still quite wobbly.
7 minutes will produce a firmer, more creamy yolk with a white that is competely set.

On the subject of eating soft-boiled eggs, I personally am willing to take the risk. As a general practice, though, it is not advisable to serve these to vulnerable groups, such as very young children, pregnant women, the elderly or anyone weakened by serious illness.

TIP – If you prefer to have the yolk sit more central within the white, gently stir the eggs for a minute or two once in the pan. This gentle spinning will center the yolk.

The Australian Pizza

It would be pure folly to even attempt to explain the train of thought which eventually led to the Australia-shaped pizza but it was fun, if only for me.

I needed an image that I could manipulate, particularly it’s size, without losing quality. I immediately assumed that this was a job for the indomitable Photoshop with which I have little skill and even less patience to learn and so I enquired on a number of graphics-related discussion fora.

Australia shaped pizza
A pizza shaped like Australia! Struth!

The initial response was “make your own” and unsurprisingly, “Pizza Hut” received an honorary mention but eventually, the more mature creative minds offered some useful advice regarding likely candidates and methods for accomplishing the task. However, I would prefer to shave my backside with a blunt, rusty razor and slide down an embankment of nettles on my arse than get to grips with Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro or Corel Draw and not just because I can’t be arsed but more due to the expense involved to use legitimate licensed software.

According to my research, none of the umpteen pizzerias in Bendigo do an Australia-shaped pizza. It would have been simpler to order, photograph and eat. So, even though I [rolleyes]’d at the original, seemingly unhelpful fora replies, I found myself actually making my own rustic pizza. I’m glad I did.

Pizza is incredibly simple to make and there’s no reason why everyone who likes pizza, shouldn’t be able to make their own. In fact, learning to DIY will not only save you money but you’ll appreciate them more as they taste so much nicer than their commercial cousins.

The Dough

2 Cups of plain flour (bread flour if you have it)

3/4 Cup of warm water

1 tsp of salt

1 tsp sugar

2 tbls olive oil

7/8 gms yeast (usually 1 packet)

Sauce and toppings of your choice

Add yeast to warm water.

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add water and yeast mix and the olive oil. Mix and knead into a ball until slightly sticky. Add more flour too sticky or water if too dry. Little olive oil wiped around the bottom part of the bowl. Drop ball of dough in, cover with cellophane wrap and leave somewhere warm to rise.

Once risen by about 50%, remove and flatten on a lightly floured surface. If you can flatten to about 3-5 mm by hand, great. My dough was so elastic that I struggled even with a rolling pin.

Top with the sauce and your preferred toppings. Bake at 2.20 fan assisted, higher for regular.

The result might not look particularly appetizing but my children loved it!

Now, don’t forget that this produced an edible pizza, ultimately for creating the Australia shape. What it certainly has done is inspire me to learn how to make a great pizza and in due course, I will be posting updates using new dough recipes, sauces and methods, while I experiment to find my favourite combo.

There are hundreds of dough variations and a confusing amount of cooking methods but before I even begin, I am going to guess that the winner will be the humble cheese and tomato Margarita. Second place will probably go to a slightly richer calzone with pepperoni.

This is what I am aiming for…

A great looking pizza
The perfect pizza base!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, stay tuned and I will share what I find.