Thursday, September 29, 2011

Butternut Pumpkin Soup and Rosemary Focaccia

I felt a strange urge today to make bread.  I've only ever tried to make bread twice before and both times were a miserable failure.  The first time, I tried to make a rosemary focaccia from the Barbecue cookbook I mentioned in my post on Spiced Beef Fajitas.  I am sometimes not the greatest at following recipes.  "What the hell is strong flour? I'll just use white flour."  "Ehh... expired dry yeast can't be that bad."  So both of those statements were wrong.   The second time I made bread it was beetroot and cream corn bread. That just explains itself.

I learned today that strong flour aka bread flour is actually quite different than plain flour.  It's got more protein and gluten in it.  It also turns out that my local grocery store does not appreciate my desire to bake bread.  The only regular bread flour they had came in a 5kg bag.  Considering that I was buying other groceries and that I walk home from the store, not to mention how rarely I ever bake bread... I didn't want to buy 5kg, so I ended up in the health/organics aisle buying a 1kg bag of "Organic Egyptian Gold Flour" which was almost the same price.  It was a bit of a frustration.

The pumpkin soup, aka butternut squash soup, I found while reading a story by Ethehunter - she referenced the recipe after describing "Gran's Butternut Squash Soup" in the story.  I tried it and fell in love.

Butternut Pumpkin Soup  from Ethehunter
1 large butternut pumpkin (peeled and chopped)
broth or bouillon (I use veg, she recommends chicken)
2 small red chillies (or 1 jalapeño)
1" fresh ginger, grated
3T brown sugar
salt & pepper
1-2 t cumin
1/2 c heavy cream
queso fresco, sour cream or Greek yoghurt
  1. Put squash, ginger and chilli/jalapeño in a large pot and cover with broth.
  2. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat, 20-30 minutes, or until squash is soft.
  3. Let cool and take out the peppers.
  4. Blend soup until smooth.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste, brown sugar and cumin.  Adjust spices to taste.
  6. Add cream and adjust spice as desired*
  7. Garnish with queso fresco, sour cream or Greek yoghurt.
* If you're making enough for leftovers, don't add the cream to the whole pot, because it makes the soup spoil faster.  This may seem like common sense, but I've made this mistake more than once.
I recommend adding sour cream to this, the Greek yoghurt is OK but not great and... well I have never seen queso fresco at the store so I've never tried it.  A piece of advice for this is to be careful about the use of chillies/jalapeños - I added the two chillies today, but only used half a squash - there was a really spicy afterburn.
I forgot to take a picture before I finished all the soup.  This is while it was cooling, before I put it in the blender.  Half a squash (this much) made two good sized bowls of soup, a whole pumpkin would probably serve four.

Rosemary Focaccia aka Focaccia from Scratchia
from: Go Cook Yourself
500g (3 1/3 cups) strong flour
10g fine sea salt
325 mL warm water
5g Fast Acting Yeast
seas salt
crushed garlic
  1. Mix yeast with warm water.
  2. Combine sifted flour and salt in mixing bowl.
  3. Pour yeast water into flour and stir until well mixed.
  4. On well-floured board, knead dough for 12 minutes.
  5. Place kneaded dough in well oiled bowl, cover (with a towel) and let sit for ~1 hour in a warm place.
  6. Move dough to board and beat the air out with fists.
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6.
  8. Heat oven to 240C.
  9. Roll dough out onto an oiled baking tray (I lightly oiled a piece of wax paper on a baking tray, because I'm finicky).   The recipe says to roll into a rectangle, but I went for 'somewhat oblong' and about 3/4" thick.
  10. Let rise for 30 minutes.
  11. Press into dough to create irregular dimples on the surface.
  12. Spread washed and chopped rosemary, crushed and chopped garlic and coarse sea salt across the surface of the bread.  Drizzle with olive oil.
  13. Bake for 12-15 minutes.
  14. Serve warm, it's delicious.
Dough rising in an oiled bowl.

Preheating the oven, dough is dressed with rosemary, garlic, oil and salt.

The finished product, we sliced up about half of it and dipped it in the soup.

I'm still not sold on the bread, I think I have room for improvement, but boyfriend said he liked it, and so I'll take that as due praise. I guess I just need more practice in bread making.  The wine was delicious though!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Chocolate Rice Krispies Squares with Chocolate Chips

Right, so debating on the title for this, boyfriend says they should be "something squared, because its chocolate squared and they're squares"... Sometimes I wonder. Then again, it's not like my title is much better.

Anyways, Australians are strange. They don't know what "Rice Krispies Squares" are, but they have chocolate nests, which are essentially Rice Krispies Treats with chocolate and coconut.  It might also be because the cereal is actually called Rice Bubbles here. Aussies are strange like that, must be all the sun.

Chocolate Rice Krispies Squares with Chocolate Chips
1/2 cup butter
1/4 t vanilla
2 heaping teaspoons cocoa powder
5 cups marshmallows (North American marshmallows are best, European ones don't work at all)
6 cups Rice Krispies
1/2 - 1 cup chocolate chips
  1. Melt butter and marshmallows (over double boiler, or in heat-safe bowl ontop of small saucepan best to avoid burning), adding cocoa powder and stirring well.
  2. Add vanilla, rice krispies and chocolate chips
  3. Stir until well coated
  4. Pat into well buttered pan.
  5. Allow to set at least 2 hours, I usually refrigerate overnight.
  6. Before serving, cut into appropriate squares or rectangles, can be placed in wax paper or cupcake papers for a prettier presentation.

While the actual recipe I based this on was the Rice Krispies Squares recipe my mum wrote down in my recipe book, I'm pretty sure she got it off the back of the cereal box, so for the original (non-chocolate recipe) and a few others, check out the Rice Krispies website: to find their "Original Rice Krispies Treats" recipe.  The bonus to this recipe, Rice Krispies will keep FOREVER in your cupboard.  Even after the expiry date, they still make good desserts.  Err, I mean, don't eat expired food.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a bowl coated with melted marshmallow to lick wash clean.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Nanaimo Bars

This is actually a recipe I made back in July, and unless you're Canadian, you've probably never heard of Nanaimo bars... but rest assured, they're worth the effort.  Funny story - I hate dessicated coconut, it makes me feel sick - it makes my throat scratchy and sore - but I love these things.  Since they make me sick, it's a nice 'safe' treat to have around because I'm guaranteed not to eat too many.

Regardless, these are a Canadian institution - the recipe is said to have originated in Nanaimo, British Columbia (near Vancouver).  This recipe, in fact, is from the City of Nanaimo's website.  I browsed through a whole bunch of recipes online and decided this one was the easiest and would probably be the tastiest. It turned out really well, so here goes, try it and enjoy.

Nanaimo Bars
Bottom Layer
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
5 T cocoa
1 egg, beaten
1 1/4 cup graham wafer crumbs*
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds (optional)**
1 c coconut (dessicated)

Second Layer
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 T + 2 t cream
2T vanilla custard powder
2 cup icing sugar

Third Layer
4 sq (4 oz) semi-sweet chocolate
2 T unsalted butter

Bottom Layer
  1. Melt Butter, sugar and cocoa in double boiler.
  2. Add egg and stir, allow to thicken while cooking.
  3. Remove from heat.
  4. Stir in crumbs, coconut and nuts.
  5. Press into greased 8" x 8" pan (I used a pie dish, but a square dish would be best)
Second Layer
  1. Cream butter, cream, custard powder and icing sugar using beaters or a food processor until light.
  2. Spread over bottom layer in dish.
Third Layer
  1. Melt butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring frequently to mix.
  2. Set aside to cool.
  3. Once cooled but still viscous, pour over second layer.
  4. Place dish in fridge to cool for several hours.
  5. Once cooled, slice into bars, optionally wrapping in cupcake wrappers or wax paper.
* In Australia, they don't seem to have graham crackers or graham crumbs, so I bought some Marie biscuits instead - anything in a plain, sweet biscuit should do.  Just put the cookies in a bag and break them up with a rolling pin, bottle or sheer determination.
** I'm gonna be honest, I almost always leave nuts out of recipes. I'm not a big fan, and when I'm baking for others I'm always paranoid I'm going to hospitalize someone with a nut allergy (although, they probably should ask what they're eating first, so....)

You might notice, poking out from under the half finished pie, my satchel of Weight Watchers custard powder.  That makes it healthy, right?  Seriously though, Australia is weird about ingredients sometimes - not only do they not have graham cracker (or even know what they are), but they don't have powdered custards like I'm used to.  Sure, you can go to the dairy aisle and find a wide variety of custards in milk cartons... but if you want it powdered? You're SOL.  They don't even have Jello pudding powder.  Or Jello of any sort (it's Aeroplane jelly here).  

Poor Bill Cosby would be so sad here - no Jello pudding?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Stewed Rhubarb with Strawberries on Ice Cream

I hit up the markets today looking for some inspiration and some fresh produce, and ended up buying 3 punnets of strawberries (they were on sale) and a bunch of fresh rhubarb. Now, the rhubarb in Australia, in general, is not that great, AND I got to the markets at about 330, so it was fairly picked over, but I'm an optimist and I love rhubarb.

I decided that the only thing to do would be to try and remember my mum's recipe for stewed rhubarb to have with some of the strawberries over ice cream.  All the leftover strawberries, after washing and hulling them, I sprinkled with sugar and stuck in the freezer in ziploc bags.

Don't you just love strawberries?

Stewed Rhubarb
1  bunch rhubarb
3-4 T sugar (up to 3/4 cup)
2 T water
1 T lemon juice
1/2 t cinnamon (or, if available, 1 cinnamon stick)
(1 vanilla pod)

  1. Chop off the leaves and the bottom half inch of the rhubarb stems.
  2. Rinse rhubarb well and chop into 1-3cm pieces.
  3. In medium sauce pan, combine rhubarb, sugar, water, lemon juice and cinnamon.
  4. If using vanilla pods: rinse, cut off ends, slice lengthways and scrape out vanilla bean (click here for a youtube video with instructions).
  5. Cover and simmer gently over low heat 10-12 minutes, or until desired consistency. Stirring frequently.
  6. Remove from heat, and set aside in a bowl to cool (or serve hot if preferred).  Refrigerate leftovers.

The amount of sugar and water to add is all about personal preference. I don't like a lot of sugar in mine, I find it plenty sweet with only a few tablespoons of sugar, but the recipes I looked at had a lot more (usually 1/2 cup, but it varies).  You can also add ginger root to this to give it a different flavour. 

I've always enjoyed this served with fresh strawberries over vanilla ice cream, but for a healthier alternative, try substituting ice cream with plain or greek yogurt.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cherry Tomato and Bacon Quiche

I love quiche. I think it's because it has cheese in it, and tastes good with bacon. I have probably about 10 recipes for quiche, but they all boil down to two essential recipes. This one is the soft cheese recipe, which normally calls for feta or goats cheese.

Cherry Tomato and Bacon Quiche
4 eggs
1 c milk (wholefat) or cream (1/2 and 1/2)
~4 pieces bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 handful cherry tomatoes, washed and quartered
2 handfuls baby spinach, washed and drained
1 handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped (optional)
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
~80 g blue cheese
1 small handful grated Tasty cheese (mild cheddar or mozzarella is fine)
paprika, cumin, salt and pepper
1 pie shell


  1. Prepare pie crust per instructions*
  2. Preheat oven to 200C/400F
  3. Cook bacon, drain fat, and crumble when cool
  4. Fry onions until soft, add spinach and parsley and cook until wilted
  5. In bottom of pie shell, put bacon, onion, spinach and tomatoes
  6. Crumble blue cheese on top, then grated cheese
  7. In a large bowl, mix egg, milk and spices (to taste).  Pour over pie shell to cover all ingredients
  8. Bake at 200C/400F for ~45 minutes, or until golden on top and a fork in the centre comes away clean.
* Pie Crust Instructions
Some people like to make pie crust from scratch. That's fabulous. I'm not one of those people. I buy sheets of frozen pastry (shortcrust is best, although I often buy puff pastry because I can' use it more for other things).  When you buy frozen pie shells though, you need to blind bake them so that they retain crispiness.  Most packaging will have instructions, but just incase, here's what I use.  Note: I keep a tupperware container in my pantry full of 'blind baking' rice that I just reuse ever time I'm making pies.
  1. Defrost pasty 10-15 minutes at room temperature
  2. Preheat oven (180 fan/200C)
  3. Lightly grease pie tin
  4. Put pastry in tin, trim excess (I usually roll it out a little bit so it fits nicely)
  5. Put in sheet of baking paper
  6. Fill 2/3 with rice
  7. Bake 10 minutes
  8. Remove rice (here's where you put it in a tupperware container to reuse)
  9. Bake 5-10 minutes
I love quiche, and the great thing about it, is that the recipe can be completely changed. The only "necessary" ingredients are the eggs, milk and cheese, and you can use any kind of cheese you want.  I love putting spinach in my quiches, but other good ingredients include mushrooms, sundried tomatoes,  roasted pumpkin (squash), garlic, leeks, ham and etc. Also, I like to use both cheese (soft and regular cheese), but if you don't want to include the tasty/cheddar/mozzarella cheese, use ~100g (or as much as you like) of a softer cheese like feta or goats milk cheese.

The other trick to making quiche - it calls for cream, it's delicious with cream, I almost never use cream.  If you are brave enough to use a rich cream, it is really reflected well in the flavour of the finished product, however I don't usually have cream in the house, nor do I like using it while cooking, so instead I use what usually ends up being 1% or 2% milk.
I like to serve my quiche with bbq sauces and ketchup, and a small side salad.  It's also delicious cold (or reheated) as leftovers

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Spiced Beef Fajitas with Salsa and Guacamole

I love guacamole, and I love mexican food.  Or faux-mexican food.  Or anything that involves cheese.  So, on Friday when I was searching my brain for something fun to cook, I came across a recipe in boyfriend's Barbecue cookbook (Barbecue by Eric Treuille & Birgit Erath).  This doesn't seem to be available in the US (going by the fact that it's only on, and not on, but it's a great cookbook since there is a wide range of recipes for the grill and sides to go with it.  Most recipes also include instructions for indoor grilling too, which is nice.

So here's their recipe with my own modifications.

Spiced Beef Fajitas with Salsa and Guacamole
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 t crushed chili (recipe called for flakes, but I used hot chili powder)
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t dried thyme (recipe called for oregano, but I didn't have any)
1/4 t ground allspice (I used garam masala instead. I'd recommend allspice)
2 T Mexican beer, or lager (I used XXXX Summer Bright Ale)
1 T olive oil

2 thick (2.5 cm/1" thick) steaks (recipe calls for rump steak, I used porterhouse)

1 ripe avocado
2-3 t chili paste (fresh chilies would probably be better)
2 t dried coriander (fresh would be better)
fresh lemon or lime juice ( ~2T)
1-2 T fresh chili paste
1 green onion, finely chopped
1 T olive oil
salt & black pepper

2 fresh (field) tomatoes, chopped
1/2 large red onion
1-2 T lemon or lime juice
white balsamic vinegar (a splash or two)
olive oil

Flour tortillas
Sour Cream
Grated Cheese
(Shredded lettuce)

Marinating the Steaks
  1. Combine all ingredients for marinade in a shallow bowl.
  2. Add steaks, turn to coat.
  3. Cover (with saran wrap) and refrigerate for ~1 hour.
  1. Place roughly chopped garlic and green onion into a bowl, add a glug of olive oil and stir to combine.  Microwave on HIGH for 15-30 seconds.
  2. Add all other ingredients and mash to desired texture (recommend adding lemon/lime juice last).
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Cover in saran wrap, pressing directly onto mixture to avoid contact with air (oxidized avocado looks unpleasant).
  5. Refrigerate for 30+ minutes (can be made well in advance and left in fridge).
  1. Combine tomato, onion, vinegar, oil and lemon/lime juice in a small bowl, stir well to combine. 
  2. Cover in saran wrap and refrigerate.
Preparing the Fajitas
  1. Grill steaks to desired 'doneness' (I prefer medium-rare), then slice on the diagonal into stips (~1cm thick or as preferred).
  2. Warm tortillas on grill , ~30 second per side.  Alternately, place tortillas on a microwave safe plate and cover with a damp paper towel (cheesecloth works too), microwave on high 10-15 seconds.
  3. Put steak, guacamole, sour cream, cheese and salsa on tortillas  and season with S&P if desired.  Roll and serve hot.
Recommended additional ingredients - some people like lettuce on their fajitas (I don't).  Sauteed onions and peppers (capsicum) are also a favourite of mine on fajitas.

This is actually the first time I have ever made tacos or fajitas without using the Old El Paso spice packets. I was hugely impressed. I love the Taco seasonings, but I often find they are too salty. This had very little salt - only as much as I wanted to add, which was maybe 1/4 t in the marinade and another 1/2 t in the guacamole.  A much healthier alternative.

We made this recipe for two people, but there is actually probably enough marinade for four steaks.  We had two fajitas each from this and had a little meat leftover. Lots of leftover guacamole and a little leftover salsa too. I had the leftover salsa on toast with scrambled eggs for breakfast the next morning. It had a hugely strong flavour after sitting all night. I highly recommend.  

The guacamole and salsa recipes were mostly my own idea, somewhat inspired by the book.  I have difficulty following instructions, I like to go my own way :).  The green onions added a really nice extra bit of texture to the guacamole, and the salsa was a first for me - I really liked it and I think I'll try it again.  If made in a larger batch, I think a food processor would be the way to go. I hate cutting tomatoes.

I also think something like Corona or Sol would be good beers to use in the marinade but a) they're expensive and b) I don't like them and I knew I would be making the great sacrifice of drinking the leftover beer (how horrible) so I picked one that had a similar flavour that I actually enjoyed.   I think a spicy lager would have been good too.

Enjoy :D

Friday, September 9, 2011

Chocolate-Filled Biscuits

So I was at Costco a few weeks ago, and if you bought a box of 4 bottles of Wyndham Estates red wine (which is delicious) it came with a free Donna Hay Simple Essentials cookbook. And I love cookbooks. And wine. So, yay!

And since I try to bring a new and different baked good to the office every week, this week I tried something new out of the cookbook.  These are tiny cookies though. It's hard to see it... but they're SOOOOO tiny. And delicious.

Chocolate-Filled Biscuits
65g (2 1/4 oz) cold butter, chopped
1/4 cup (40g, 1 1/2 oz) icing (confectioner's) sugar -- sifted
1/2 cup (75g, 2 1/2 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
2 1/2 t cornflour (cornstarch)
1 T cocoa powder
1 egg yolk

Chocolate Ganache (make half this recipe, and you'll have plenty leftovers)
1 1/2 cups (375 mL, 12 fl oz) cream (single or pouring)
340 g (12 oz) finely chopped dark chocolate

Chocolate Ganache (Make this first)
  1. Heat cream in small saucepan over medium heat and bring to boil.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in dark chocolate.
  3. Let melt, then stir until glossy and smooth (and delicious!).
  4. Set aside to cool.
  1. Preheat oven to 180C (350F).
  2. Put butter, icing sugar, flour, cornflour, cocoa and egg yolk in food processor (I used hand blenders, would have been better in a food processor). Mix until soft dough forms
  3. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.
  4. Roll teaspoons of mixture into balls, place on baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper and flatten slightly.
  5. Bake 5-7 minutes until bases are lightly cooked.
  6. Cool on trays.
  7. Sandwich biscuits with chocolate ganache.
(makes 22)

My thoughts on this recipe:
Firstly, I have never actually sifted ingredients. Apparently you need to own a sieve to do this, and I don't. Generally I don't notice a difference, however with the icing sugar it does make a difference. My icing sugar was a bit hard so even after mixing it was a bit chunky and I ended up with biscuits that had little white 'chunks' in it of icing sugar.  Tasted good - looked nasty. 
Secondly, even with the halving of the recipe, I still have a bowl with most of the ganache leftover sitting in my fridge, I'm still not sure what to do with it.  
Third,  I'd highly recommend doubling the biscuit recipe - I ended up with only like... 15 cookies?  I think mine were a bit bigger than they were supposed to be, even though I actually used a teaspoon to measure them out. I think it was a combination of my butter not being cold enough and my oven not heating evenly. 

Anyways, these were delicious, and my office mates had many compliments :D

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Last week was a lazy cooking week, since a trip to Costco meant a wealth of pre-prepared foods. I know, I know, I'm so lazy.... But the prawn dumplings are just so good!

What I did make though, on Sunday night, was a big ole batch of nachos. And what goes really well with nachos, aside from ridiculous amounts of cheese?  Guacamole.  I've been told my guacamole is yum, so I've decided to share my recipe.  The secret is to change the ingredients around depending on your mood. It's a very tricky science :D  This recipe is for 1 avocado, since that usually makes more than enough guac for two people... but if you want more... just double, or etc the recipe.

1 Avocado (slightly squishy)
1-2 cloves garlic
olive oil
salt & pepper
Fresh lime or lemon juice (pref lime)
ground cumin
coriander leaves (best if fresh)
  1. Peel and coarsely chop the garlic, place in a small microwave-safe bowl or dish, cover with olive oil, and microwave on high for 15-30 seconds (I use 22s).  This takes the bite out of the garlic by cooking it a little.
  2. Peel avocado and remove seed. Mix with garlic.
  3. Squeeze 1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon or lime juice onto mixture.
  4. Season with a dash of salt, pepper, cumin, cayenne, paprika, coriander.
  5. Other seasonings that can be good - thyme, dill, hot chilli, garam masala, peri-peri, tabasco.
  6. Mix with all ingredients together and let sit for 10-30 minutes to release the flavours.
I don't add much spice to this, and I don't measure it - just you know, shake a little on. Very exact recipe :)  The other trick to making a good guacamole is not to mix it too much. You want it to have some texture - I mix mine with a fork until just combined essentially.  

Shortly after making dinner on Sunday night, I came across the following article which recommends grilling avocadoes. That sounds like it would add a lovely dimension of flavour to the guac. Or result in things being burnt.  It's very much up in the air at this point:

Coming up soon: Maple roasted pumpkin and cranberry salad and... chocolate filled biscuits.