Sunday, December 3, 2017

Coffee cake

I've been getting more interested in coffee cake lately, after one of our guests brought a particularly delicious one to the Lasagna Lunch. I've also recently rediscovered one of my favorite flavor combos from my first stint in Australia - rhubarb and peaches - when the first peaches of the season turned up at the farmer's market. I combined them to make a coffee cake which, though I say it myself, was thoroughly delicious.

Rhubarb-peach coffee cake

Dry ingredients
8 oz/240 g self-raising flour
1 tsp/5 g salt
4 Tbsp/60 g sugar (I used my citrus sugar here)

Wet ingredients
4 oz/120 g milk
4 oz/120 g Greek yogurt (for a slightly denser and more complex muffin)
1 tsp/5 g vanilla
2 eggs (= 4 oz/120 g)
4 oz/120 g (1 stick) butter, melted

1 cup chopped rhubarb and peaches, tossed with 1-2 oz/30-60 g sugar
Crumb topping (I used a combination of roughly 2 oz/60 g each butter and sugar + 4 oz/120 g flour)

Heat oven to 350F/180C. Line an 8 in/20 cm square cake pan with parchment paper. 

Make the crumb topping by whisking together the ingredients. (I also added some cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger to the mix.) Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a medium-sized jug, whisk together all the wet ingredients except the butter; add the butter slowly and carefully last, so as not to scramble the egg. Dump wet into dry and whisk until just combined.

Scoop all but about one cup of the batter into the prepared baking pan. Scatter the fruit across the surface of the batter, then do the same with the remaining cup of batter and the crumb topping.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned, rotating pan halfway through.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Mass quantities

Despite the length of time since my last post, I can't face doing another round-up write-up. It feels like too much of a chore, and counterproductive to the practice of meticulous mindfulness. (Or mindful meticulousness; I still can't decide.) So for the time being, I've decided to take a different approach: I'm going to work through my photo backlog, one at a time. I'm hoping having a well of inspiration to dip into will motivate me to get back into a more regular habit of doing actual writing, as opposed to rapid-fire updates.

In any case, this one deserves its own post: it's my family recipe for lasagna, and as well as being iconic, it is fairly massive, as you will see. To give you a sense of how massive: I made this in August for a Sunday lunch we hosted for a group of DP's students and their families - 12 adults and 15 children, including us. Given the numbers, I decided to multiply the base recipe by 1.5. And we had leftovers.

Lasagna alla mia famiglia
As noted, even this base recipe makes mass quantities - it involves more than 15 lbs (~7 kilos) of ingredients. (When I say it like that, multiplying it seems kind of insane. But then, like Nigella, I am never knowingly undercatered.)

One of the good things about this recipe is that you don't have to do it all in one go; when I made this last time, I cooked the meats and the sauce the day before. This made assembly on the day much simpler. 

a double batch of Disruptive Bolognese (or substitute your favorite Bolognese-type sauce; the key components you need are ~2 lbs/1 kg of hamburger/beef mince, and ~48 oz/1400 g tomato passata or equivalent. More is better than less.)

2 lbs/1 kg pork butt (confusingly, this American term actually refers to a cut from the upper shoulder of the front leg; also known as Boston butt)
2 lbs/1 kg sweet Italian sausage
4 lbs/2 kg good-quality ricotta cheese4-6 jumbo/extra-large eggs
3 cups/~10 oz/~300 g grated pecorino romano cheese, divided
2 lbs/1 kg lasagna noodles (ready-to-cook are fine)

Preparing the lasagna components
1. Make the sauce as you normally would.

2. Heat oven to 350F/180C.

3. Slice pork butt thickly (it takes much longer to cook if it is one piece), place in a shallow roasting pan, and put in the oven.

4. Line another shallow roasting pan with foil; place sausages in this pan, and put in oven as well.

5. Cook both meats for 40-50 minutes, or until just cooked, turning once. (Remember that they will cook further in the lasagna.)

6. In a large bowl, mix together ricotta, *2* cups of the pecorino, and as many eggs as you need. (The consistency of this once mixed should be creamy and somewhat grainy, more of a batter than a cheesy consistency. You may get to this point with only 4 eggs, or it may take all 6. Likewise, you may need a bit more than 2 cups grated cheese, but save some to sprinkle over the top of the finished lasagna.) Put aside.

7. After both meats have cooked and cooled, cut into bite-sized pieces. Put aside.

(Please note that all steps to this point can be completed up to a day ahead. Refrigerate the components separately until you are ready to assemble.)

Assembling and cooking the lasagna
(If you are using ready-to-cook noodles, skips steps 8 and 9 and proceed to step 10.)

8. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add 2 heaping Tbsp of salt, a few drops of olive oil, and the noodles.

9. Cook noodles for no more than 10 minutes after water returns to boil. Drain noodles and return to colander to cool for a few minutes, shaking to distribute so they're less likely to stick together.

10. If not already on, heat oven to 350F/180C.

11. Cover the bottom of a very large roasting pan with sauce to a depth of ~.5 in/1 cm.
(Please note that when I say "very large" - my mother used an oval 18 in x 12 in x 4 in/~46 cm x 31 cm x 10 cm turkey roasting pan to make this. I make it in 2 rectangular 14.5 in x 11 in x 2 in/36.8 cm x 27.9 x 5.08 cm roasting pans. Either way, you should be aiming to get three complete sauce-noodles-cheese-meat layers in a pan, plus a noodles-and-sauce cover, so divide your ingredients accordingly. I assemble both pans at the same time, essentially treating it like one giant lasagna, so I can divide the cheese and meat by 3 and the noodles by 4.)

12. Place a single layer of noodles in the bottom of the pan, making sure they cover it completely with no gaps. (Slightly overlapping the noodles at the edges is okay, as is breaking the noodles to  get a good fit.)

13. Cover the noodles with a thick layer of the cheese mixture.

14. Scatter a portion of the pork and sausage over the cheese.

15. Generously cover layer with sauce.

16. Repeat noodles-cheese-meat-sauce twice more. You should now have used up all the cheese and meat, and have some noodles left.

17. Cover the pan(s) with the remaining noodles. Spread top with sauce, and sprinkle with remaining grated cheese.

18. Cover pan with foil and bake in oven for 45-60 minutes, until hot and bubbling. During last 15 minutes, remove foil to allow top to crisp.

19. When fully cooked, shut off oven, re-cover lasagna, and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.

20. Serve topped with more sauce and grated cheese.

Serves about 20. Can be halved or multiplied.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Late winter

Just when I was getting into a regular routine of publishing on Sundays, winter school holidays began and poof went the normal schedule! Here's what's been going on since my last post:


Lots of Canberrans go to the snow during July school holidays, but I find the idea of getting away from the cold much more attractive, and that's what we usually do. This year we went to New Caledonia, a Pacific island which is also a French territory. July is the "cool" season, which means temperatures are in the 20C-23C (70F-75F) range - perfect beach (and tropical flora) weather for us, although we did notice several locals wearing puffer coats.

The sunset view from our balcony - a nightly highlight of our visit.


Miss B is 13! I didn't manage a birthday post this year, but we celebrated twice - once with dinner and cake for family and a few close friends (can you guess this year's obsession?)...

...and again a couple of weeks later with laser tag, pizza, more cake, and friends. (13! How did that happen?)


I recently tweaked my method for cooking homemade pizza after reading something online that I've now lost track of; my takeaway was to put my biggest cast-iron skillet in a very hot oven and heat it thoroughly for about 10 minutes. Then, remove the skillet carefully and throw in a pizza crust. Stick it back in the oven for about 5 minutes, remove again, and flip the crust. Spread it with sauce, top it with cheese, and put back in for another 5 minutes or more, until the cheese is browned and bubbling. This method has produced the best homemade pizza I've made yet, and I tested it on Miss B and two visiting friends who seemed to agree; of course as guests they were very polite - but they also devoured nearly two whole pizzas among three adolescents, which I took as an endorsement.

Speaking of my giant cast-iron skillet, I put it to good use again soon after, making a batch of polpette for the first time in far too long - certainly the first time since we moved here 2 years ago. They were very well received at Miss B's birthday dinner; and even though the recipe makes about 40, I'm going to have make another batch soon because we're already running low!


Holiday in New Caledonia meant daily access to boulangeries and croissants, and going into withdrawal when we got home compelled me to do something I've been contemplating for years - making my own. It's definitely a project for a weekend when you don't have much else on - the recipe I used has you start 36 hours before you want to eat them - but the actual hands-on work was less than 2 hours total. And it was totally worth it, for the eating and the sense of achievement. I'm already planning my next batch.

Today I baked something a little less ambitious: a variation on this cake from Melissa Clark for snacking and lunchboxes this week. It's a simple recipe, but notable because it marks my official initiation as a user (and fan) of the Eat Your Books website - which indexes thousands of cookbooks, magazines, and blogs and allows you to register and search your own collection, and dig into what you have. (Apparently I have 60,000+ recipes on my shelves.)

That's what's been happening here - although before I finish I must note that I feel lucky to have the privilege to focus on these things as a distraction from recent events in the US - and to come from a city from whose response I can take heart and courage. 

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