Friday, 1 April 2016

The aftermath

So staged, I can't stand it >_<

So you made four batches of hot cross buns in a fortnight. Even with a three buns a day habit and handing them out to all and sundry, it is impossible to eat them all in a lovely fresh state. I had exactly three left on Easter Saturday, just enough to make brunch for three.

In one of those things-that-fit-perfectly-into-other-things moments, a single egg's worth of milk mixture was just the right amount to make french toast out of those stale buns. With a sprinkle of blueberries, a third of a banana each and a scattering of edible flower petals -  we ended up with a very pretty plate of food indeed.

Because I uphold a ban on dried grapes in my food, I exclusively made chocolate hot cross buns. This meant that the resulting french toast was crisp and buttery on the outside, fragrant with zest and spice within, and studded with pockets of melted chocolate. Paired with a smoky cup of lapsang souchong to cut through the sweetness, it was extravagant but quite delicious.

Best paired with a Chekhov-reading cat for maximum pretension
Hot cross bun french toast
serves 3 

3 stale hot cross buns, chocolate preferred
1 egg
1/2c whole milk
1tsp vanilla extract
1Tb butter

berries, banana and maple syrup to serve

1. Cut buns in half lengthwise, keep the halves in pairs.
2. Beat together milk, egg and vanilla.
3. Soak the halved buns in the milk mixture, about 30 seconds per side.
4. Melt the butter in a pan on moderately high heat. 
5. Fry the soaked buns until they are golden on both sides.
6. Arrange on a plate along with fruit and serve immediately.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Hot. Cross. Buns.

A bun with my fair trade tea set.

Hot cross buns are delicious. On grey and drizzly autumn days like today, there is nothing better than a cup of tea and a warm, butter-slathered bun. I am convinced that this combination is much better suited to autumn than the traditional season of spring.

Jerusalem artichoke/sunchoke flowers from a sunnier day.
They are tasty enough for me to overlook the fact that they contain raisins/currants/sultanas (bleh). However, if you make them at home, you can make all sorts of substitutions; balancing out the spices, taking out every single dried grape and adding dark chocolate, maybe a handful of chopped dried figs.

This year I wanted to find my ideal bun recipe. My ideal bun is spicy, but with a nice balance of the different spices, light-textured and rich but not to the point of being brioche, and moist enough that butter is a nice addition but not a necessity. I went through four iterations, finding some under-spiced, others too rich, and the original for this recipe very difficult to work with. After a bit of tinkering and lots and lots of rich little buns, I have come up with a recipe that I am happy with.

Late night hot cross bun-baking.
In addition to the traditional butter accompaniment, I have been enjoying my excess buns as an accompaniment for cheese. I don't know if this is a very weird thing to do, but a fruit-only bun is not very different to having a bit of cheese on pain d'epices which is a respectable thing to do.

On an unrelated note, the chickens are starting to look very point-of-lay. Hopefully I will be able to share some multi-coloured egg photos and backyard egg containing recipes soon.

Hot cross buns
makes 16 buns
adapted from Chelsea Sugar (although I didn't use their sugar, go fair trade!)

1Tb active yeast
1Tb white sugar
300mL warm water
1Tsp salt
4c high grade flour, extra if needed to achieve a smooth dough
1/2c wholemeal flour
2Tb of olive oil or coconut oil
1 egg
75g citrus rind
1Tb ground cinnamon
1Tb mixed spice
1/4c brown sugar
1c of mix-ins (chopped dark chocolate, dried fruit)

an additional egg and 2Tb water for egg wash

For crosses
1/4c plain flour
1/4c water

For glaze
1/4c white sugar
2Tb boiling water

1. Place yeast, 1Tb of sugar and warm water into a large bowl. Leave for 10 minutes.
2. Add flours, salt, oil and egg to the yeast mixture. Knead until you get a smooth, pliable and gently springy dough. You may need extra if your dough is very sticky. Add a couple of tablespoons of high grade flour at a time.
3. Add rind, spices, brown sugar and mix-ins, fold these gently into the dough until well-distributed throughout.
4. Cover the dough and leave somewhere warm for 45 minutes/ until the dough is doubled in size. The dough rises dramatically so remember to use a large bowl.
5. Gently deflate the dough and divide into 16 equal pieces. Place on a baking paper lined baking sheet, the balls should not be touching. If you don't want your buns to join up during the second rise, I recommend using two baking trays. 
6. Make two cuts on the tops of the buns to mark where your crosses will go. Leave in a warm place to rise for an additional 15-20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
7. Mix together the second egg and water, brush over the buns.
8. Combine the ingredients for the crosses, place in a piping bag. Pipe crosses over your knife marks.
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes. While the buns are baking, mix together the glaze. Brush the buns with glaze as soon as they come out of the oven.

These buns stayed pleasantly supple for a couple of days when stored in an airtight container (after they've cooled completely of course).

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Bourbon for breakfast

Being a night owl, I had never been a big fan of breakfast. An extra ten minutes in bed has always been worth the rumbling stomach later in the morning. However, I have had to change my morning routine now that I have to be up by 5.30. I grab something that I can eat while sitting in the morning traffic that can carry me to morning coffee time.

Toast from my freezer stash of sourdough is a favourite, but when I get a chance, I like to make loaves or bars for some variety. I joined a gym recently and by happy coincidence, it is located next to a fantastic Asian produce store. Tomatoes (slightly overripe) for 69 cents a kilogram, small but perfect avocados for 39 cents and a crate of squashy, mostly black bananas for five dollars. I only buy fair-trade bananas for eating, but these looked like they needed rescuing from a short trip to the bin. I took them home, and before the fruit flies could descend, I peeled, cut up and froze them in ziplock bags. The peels were cut up and composted. 

There is already a banana cake recipe in the archives but I wanted to make something embarrassingly simple that could be eaten unadorned. So I searched for new banana recipes to use up my self-imposed surplus. Of course I found an ideal recipe on Smitten Kitchen. A one-bowl banana loaf with spices, brown sugar and bourbon. Dark chocolate drops added by me. Perfect autumn fare.

An hour later the house smelled amazing and I took the lovely brown loaf out of the oven. It was fine on the first day but got better and better over the next four or five. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or well-wrapped in the fridge.
One of the last slices that made it to the weekend. Perfect with black coffee, preferably out of a nostalgic mug.
Banana loaf with dark chocolate and bourbon
1 loaf
adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen

 4 ripe bananas, roughly mashed with a fork
75g melted butter
3/4c light brown sugar (I used the cane sugar pictured above)
1 egg
1tsp vanilla extract
1 Tb bourbon (as generous as you like)
1tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1tsp cinnamon
1 1/2c plain flour
1/2c dark chocolate drops or chopped

1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Grease and flour a loaf pan.
2. Whisk together banana, butter, sugar, egg, vanilla and bourbon.
3. Stir in salt, soda, cinnamon and flour. Stir in the chocolate.
4. Pour into prepared loaf tin and baking for 45-50min, until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
5. Cool on a wire rack. 

Monday, 14 March 2016

How to avoid being consumed by your sourdough starter

Time to bring out the knits and warm, woollen things.

Despite how technologically advanced my life is compared to that of previous generations, I still think that my behaviour is very much effected by the seasons. Summer is for the outdoors and frolicking into the warm night. Autumn makes me want to get ready for hibernation. This vague feeling coupled with a few extra items in my schedule have made me a little lax about cooking and other homely activities. 

Be still my heart, it's Sleater-Kinney

The Pop-up Globe

I have been to quite a few shows and things in the last couple of weeks. Sleater-Kinney at the Powerstation, Sufjan Stevens at the Civic and to a play at the Pop-up Globe.
If you are around Auckland, I highly recommend catching a play at the Pop-up Globe. I watched an all-female cast totally smash Henry V and have tickets for later shows too.

Amidst all this excitement and keeping my chicken and kitten charges happy, my sourdough starter got a bit neglected. I still have a decent-sized stash of sourdough breads in the freezer so making more bread hasn't been a priority. The starter stayed in the fridge and came out for weekly feeds. This past weekend I realised that the starter had gotten so big that I had to decide whether to use some up or throw it out. Because I loathe to throw out food, I decided to feed a couple of tablespoons (thinned out with water) to the chickens and searched around for a simple recipe for using the excess.

We already had something tasty in the cake tin, so I decided to make something savoury that could be used in a meal. I found a very simple recipe for flatbreads that I knocked together in about ten minutes. Having made pita-bread in the past, I was very surprised to see how simple and quick these breads were, despite resulting in a much more complex flavour than the more time-consuming pita.

Only three pictured because I ate one straight away.

These flatbreads make an ideal accompaniment for stews, dips, curries or a couple of mashed avocados and hot sauce. In any case, this is about as instant as sourdough, or in fact any side dish, gets.

Sourdough flatbreads
makes 4 20cmish flatbreads
recipe from Green Gourmet Giraffe

250g 100% hydration sourdough starter, can be used straight from the fridge

200g high grade (bread) flour
50g water
1tsp salt
extra flour for sprinkling

1. Combine all ingredients and knead until you get a slightly stiff but cohesive dough.
2. Divide into four equal-sized pieces. Roll out on a floured surface to get circles, about 0.5mm in thickness.
3. Place a large frying pan on high heat (my stove-top goes to 9 and I used 7 for this).
4. Cook the discs of dough one at a time, until the bread puffs up and brown spots form on the underside.
5. Flip over with a spatula and cook for a further couple of minutes, until brown spots form on the other side too.

Best eaten on day they are made.

Friday, 4 March 2016

A new blog

As you may have noticed, I am sometimes compelled to write about topics that are not even tangentially related to food and cookery. These posts leave the blog looking incoherent, which has always bothered me. After coming over with another impulse to write about current events, I have finally decided to start a new blog dedicated to non-food related writing.

Over time I plan to transfer all the non-food articles from this blog to the new one, which will give me an opportunity to update them as appropriate.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post and please feel free to head over to:

if you are interested in reading about some of the other things that interest me.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Sometimes you need this

Risotto-stuffed tomato and roasted potatoes

These days the words 'plant-based diet' conjure up visions of smoothie bowls bedecked with chia and goji berries, and meticulously arranged buddha bowls. Personally, I think that sort of food is lovely and beautiful but not something I can stomach everyday. The same goes for using hyped up ingredients like quinoa, coconut oil, alternative grains and the like. There's a reason why Portlandia affectionately pokes fun at raw vegan cooking. I think that once you start substituting ingredients in a recipe to make it 'healthier' or trendier, it is too easy to end up with a featureless plate of food that is amorphous in terms of taste. Even the most wholesome ingredients should be used in moderation.

A leftover based lunch: zucchini and quinoa casserole, roasted potatoes, risotto tomato and caramelised beetroot

Consequently my usual weekday cooking regimen is always striving to be simpler, the fewest ingredients and most refined flavours. The past week as involved a number of recipes from the consistently great Smitten Kitchen, one of which I am sharing here today. Many people assume that plant-based meals cannot sufficiently satiate an appetite that is used to meaty fare but I don't think that is the case. A fine example is this recipe for risotto-stuffed tomatoes. 

Just glancing at the list of ingredients, it looks as though the dish would taste overly acidic and unsubstantial. However, with gently sauteed aromatics, sweet summer tomatoes and a sprinkle of savoury parmesan, these tomatoes are surprisingly rich and filling. Despite looking a little fussy, this is one of those recipes where the ingredients do most of the work. Cooking releases umami notes from the tomato innards, and with just heat and time, the risotto becomes impossibly unctuous. Perfect for lunch, dinner or as a side, with or without a scattering of roasted potatoes.

I would also recommend making this zucchini and rice gratin to anyone with a glut of homegrown zucchini. I made it with 3/4c quinoa in place of the 1/2c rice and it was very delicious.

The zucchinis are growing at an astonishing rate
Risotto-stuffed tomatoes with roasted potatoes
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
makes 7 portions

7 ripe medium-sized tomatoes
2-3Tb olive oil
1/2 a small onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, diced
9Tb arborio rice, or other short-grained rice
2-3Tb chopped herbs, I used oregano and basil
1 large or 2 small roasting potatoes, peeled and diced

a sprinkle of grated Parmesan
salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste

1. Cut the tops off the tomatoes and put these to one side. Scoop out the insides of the tomatoes into a blender. Salt the hollowed out tomatoes and place them upside down on a plate to drain.
2. Blend the tomato innards until pureed. 
3. In a medium-sized pan, heat the oil and saute the garlic, onion and red pepper flakes over a high heat until the onions are softened. Add the rice and cook until the rice is lightly toasted. Add the tomato puree, lower the heat to medium-low and add 3/4tsp salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Place the potatoes in a small bowl and toss with salt, pepper and 1Tb olive oil.
5. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius.
6. Stir herbs into the par-cooked rice. Fill each tomato with rice, leaving 5mm at the top of each. 
7. Place tomatoes into an oven-proof dish. Throw in the potatoes. Sprinkle over grated Parmesan. Replace the tomato tops.
8. Bake for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through and tomatoes are soft.

Prepare for this much deliciousness!

If you can understand Korean and are looking for a new hobby, the opposition parties in Korea are currently filibustering the passage of sweeping new 'anti-terrorism' legislation that will further undermine the Korean people's right to privacy and give the politically biased National Intelligence Service greater powers to spy on ordinary citizens as well as those they deem troublesome without requiring a warrant. You can actually watch a live-stream of the filibuster as it progresses, a coalition of the opposition parties intends to carry this on until parliament closes on 11 March for the general elections. 

Friday, 19 February 2016

One of those Fridays

It's definitely one of those Fridays. The weather has been grey and damp, I've been battling deadlines all week and I can look forward to working this coming weekend. At times like these I feel that it is particularly important to actively bring enjoyment into one's life. At the moment this means: kitten and chicken time, buying myself a book, a little attempt at writing and a bit of baking.

Marigolds, zucchini leaves, kale, sage and oregano

We have a salad hog

Once recipe I've made three times already this summer is this very simple plum torte. I've been a bit enchanted with stone fruit this season and after a week or so of eating lunches that consisted entirely of plums, I felt that it was time to branch out into other applications for this fruit.

Halved black doris plums
 Although the original and very famous recipe calls for prune plums, I made the cake using a pile of black doris plums that I had at home. These are outstandingly freestone and have a mild flavour which becomes sharper and richer with cooking.

This smells so good

Every piece I've read about this cake recommends letting it sit for a day for the plums juices to enrich the simple butter cake. I was much too impatient to do this the first time I made this, the warm, jammy plums and crispy sugared crust of the just-baked cake was too much for me to bear. The second time round, I managed to wait and found that the flavour of the cake does needed improve after a day's rest. The scent of vanilla (an addition by me) and butter melds wonderfully with the soft baked plums and the sweetness of the cake and slightly sour plums balance each other perfectly. 

This is an ideal weekday cake. Make it a couple of hours before heading to bed, tuck it into a container last thing at night, and have something quite special to take into work the next morning. 

Marian Burros' plum torte
slightly adapted from The New York Times
makes one 22cm cake 

12 small plums, washed/halved/pitted
200g sugar
115g butter at room temperature
2 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract (optional)
125g flour
1tsp baking powder
an optional pinch of salt

1-2Tb sugar (depending on how sweet the plums are)
1tsp cinnamon
juice of half a lemon

1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius and line a 22cm round cake tin with baking paper.
2. Cream butter, salt and sugar - the mixture should look pale.
3. Add eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla.
4. Fold in flour and baking powder.
5. Spread the batter into the cake tin and arrange the plum halves on top of the batter, cut side down.
6. Mix the second amount of sugar and the cinnamon together and sprinkle on top of the plums, followed by the lemon juice.
7. Bake for 45-50 minutes, the cake is done when a toothpick poked into the middle of the cake comes out clean of cake batter.
8. Cool on a wire rack. When cool, cover the cake or place in an airtight container and let it rest at room temperature overnight before serving.