Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nine years

I think I may need to bake a bigger cake next year, to provide more scope for execution of complex decorating concepts. But for now, I present this year's (very crowded) offering, along with heartfelt birthday wishes for a year as full of good things as today has been to my nine-year-old bundle of curiosity, wonder, and joie de vivre...the mighty Miss B.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Meta Monday

To start the week off right, I give you an infographic on...cheese!

            The Charted Cheese Wheel

                by popchartlab.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.



I wonder how many of these are available in Australia at a price that won't involve selling an organ? Perhaps I'll make it my quest to find out....

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Auckland again

The school winter holidays already seem like a distant memory, even though they finished only a week ago. We spent most of the second week in Auckland, visiting the same friends (G & C and their brood) we came to see back in 2009. I had managed to see some of them when I came for work last year, but we hadn’t all been together in four years, and DP and Miss B hadn’t even met the newest member of the family, who’s just turned 2. So we headed over for four days of changeable weather, kid-friendly activities, gabbing in front of the fire, and good food.

As you can see from the picture above, I seized the opportunity to beef up the New Zealand section of my cookbook collection. I was particularly pleased to buy Treats from Little & Friday in the café from which it originated, on a short but very enjoyable child-free break with C. We got a chance to sit down, sample the café’s famous doughnuts (filled with pastry cream and raspberry jam) and have a few minutes of uninterrupted conversation. 

A few other highlights from our trip:

Authentic Montreal bagels in Auckland - especially appropriate
since DP and G first became friends in Montreal mumble years ago

Admiring local produce at a French food market; had a chat with the stallholder about iPhones
and left with a free bag of limes, along with six of those mini jars of jam and chutney
At the same market, a chocolate fudge cake filled with berries and frosted with chocolate ganache;
this stallholder insisted on giving me the biggest wedge after I finished oohing and aahing
Paddling at Mission Bay; love the bare-feet-and-winter-clothes combo
New shoes for everyone!
Climbing Mt. Wellington

What kind of adventures have you been having?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Banana bread

Miss B has a deep-seated antipathy towards bananas, which dates back to when she was too small for it to have been a deliberate rejection. After happily eating banana mashed up in various things for several months, one day she started gagging when she came in contact with raw banana in any form, including mashed up and hidden in oatmeal. As far as I could tell, this was an involuntary reaction, based apparently on smell, and after testing it a few times to be sure, I gave up on feeding her bananas in anything.

As I discovered when she was in preschool, however, she will quite happily eat bananas in baked goods – particularly those that also involve chocolate. What I find strange and interesting about this is that I am the exact opposite: I am quite happy to eat raw bananas almost every day for breakfast (much to Miss B’s vocal dismay), but I don’t particularly like them incorporated into any cooked food. Which makes it all the more unusual that I like, and will willingly eat, this concoction.

Double chocolate banana bread
This recipe has grown from one that I found on Chocolate & Zucchini a long time ago and which, ironically, originated at a farmstand in Lexington, Massachusetts. I’ve been using it, and tinkering with it, for years, and it was only when a friend requested it that I realized I had never posted it.

banana bread
200 g/7 oz plain/all-purpose flour
7 g/1.5 tsp baking powder
7 g/1.5 tsp baking soda
3 g/.5 tsp salt
.25 tsp cinnamon
55 g/2 oz butter*, softened
200 g/7 oz sugar
2 eggs
2 small bananas**
60 g/2 oz greek yogurt
5 ml/1 tsp vanilla
180 g/6 oz chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Grease a loaf pan and set aside.

In a small bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy, 2-3 minutes with a mixer. Add eggs one at a time, beating each one in thoroughly. Add the bananas, yogurt, and vanilla and mix in completely.

Add dry ingredients and mix in, then stir in chocolate chips until evenly distributed through batter. Scrape batter into prepared pan and put in oven. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until top of cake is lightly browned and a cake tester comes out clean.

Leave loaf to cool completely before glazing.

chocolate glaze
90 g/3 oz icing/confectioners’ sugar
40 g/1.3 oz cocoa
30 ml/1 oz milk
3 g/.5 tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients together into a thick, shiny glaze. Add more milk if necessary to achieve a spreadable consistency.

Remove cooled banana bread loaf from pan to a rack set over a baking sheet to catch drips (which there will be). Pour glaze over loaf and spread to coat evenly. Glaze will harden as it cools.

Makes 1 loaf.

* My favorite way to make this is using cooled browned butter.
** Some people use chopped ripe bananas, but I like my bananas to be so mushy that they melt into the batter.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Teapot people

In the 11 days since DP’s been home, we’ve had two sets of houseguests (the first was here for five days, and the second for three), plus Sunday lunch guests in the gap in between. All invited by my husband (who continues to claim that he’s shy and introverted), and all primarily, or originally, professional connections of his. And all, therefore, people to whom I privately refer as ‘teapot people’.

I don’t know if this is a distinction only I make. I’m not a serious tea drinker, but when I do make myself a cup of tea, I make it with a teabag straight in the mug. I do the same for any friends who happen to be hanging around who are in the mood for a cuppa. Breaking out the teapot is serious business, reserved for more formal circumstances: usually people that I don’t yet know very well or, if I do, with whom I still have the kind of relationship where I stand on ceremony, even if we’ve spent a lot of time together. Respected elders, that kind of thing. People in front of whom I sit up straight at the table, and try not to swear.

But I will still feed them Italian peasant food for dinner. Sometimes you just have to let the real you shine through.

Ratatouille minestrone
I think this is really more what my ancestors would call giambotta, but more people are familiar with minestrone, so let’s go with that. I was inspired to make this because it solved two conundrums: 1. what to do with a vat of leftover ratatouille from Sunday lunch; and 2. what to feed houseguests for a late, light dinner that could mostly be prepped ahead of time?

Since this is a creative re-purposing of leftovers, I’m going to give you the sequence of events, rather than a recipe per se.

On Sunday, I chopped:

1 large red bell pepper/capsicum
1 large red onion
5 medium zucchini/courgettes
1 medium eggplant
1 dozen large cherry tomatoes

I tossed the chunks with olive oil, stuck them in the oven, and roasted them for about 45 minutes until they looked ready to eat. When they came out, I tossed them with lemon juice, salt, and black pepper and served them.

This turned out to be way more than enough vegetables for four adults and one child (along with peposo alla notturno, garlic mashed potatoes, and rolls), and at least 50% of it went into the fridge as leftovers. So, on Tuesday, I did the following:

-       chopped up and briefly sautéed 4 slices of Italian salami, 1 carrot, 1 celery stalk, and 2 cloves of garlic in olive oil with 2 anchovies
-       dumped this mixture into my slow cooker
-       deglazed the frying pan with about half a glass of red wine and added that to the slow cooker as well
-       added the leftover ratatouille
-       poured in about half of a bottle of tomato passata and the same amount of water
-       drained, rinsed, and added a can of chick peas

I stirred this all together, clapped the lid on the slow cooker, and left it to stew for about 3 hours on high while we were all out attending to various commitments. Then, just before serving, I seasoned with salt and a generous sprinkle of cayenne pepper, as well as a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

I served it topped with grated pecorino romano cheese and accompanied by pesto cheese crostini – thin slices of bread brushed with oil, topped with pesto and grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, and grilled briefly in the oven.

I’m still eating the leftovers. They get better every day.
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