Saturday, August 31, 2013

August wrap-up

How can it be August 31 already? Tomorrow is the first day of spring in Australia! Not that winter has been much of a hardship; we've had quite a few grey days, and more rain than I remember in the previous two winters I've spent here, but also plenty of bright, sunny weather for Miss B to put some miles on her new birthday scooter. Some other items of note from August:

Here's a preview of a recipe that is under construction: sliced chorizo glazed with a mixture of red wine, wholegrain mustard, and maple syrup, baked in the oven, and served as an appetizer. I'm still fiddling with the measurements, proportions, and cooking times, but the first couple of trial batches were a hit. Then the chorizo I was using disappeared from Costco, and I've only just found a replacement. So more on that shortly, I hope.

Or I could just start making my own, I suppose, since I signed up to take a sausage-making class earlier this month at a local butcher shop - or, as the butcher called it, "Salami Academy." I learned all kinds of interesting facts and tips, had a chance to use the professional sausage-stuffing machine pictured here, and am now seriously tempted to plunge into the world of charcuterie - two years after everyone else, just as I predicted during my Year of Canning in 2011.

The second half of August has been another round of solo parenting, which means more cooking experiments that hopefully also double as treats for Miss B (and me!). This experiment is crumpets, which went down a storm. I used this recipe, and although they were delicious, they didn't turn out quite as I expected. I'm going to have a go at Delia's recipe next, so more on that later.

More fun with cross-cultural food terminology: the substance pictured here is known as fairy floss in Australia, candy floss in the UK, and cotton candy in the US. I'd love to know if it has yet another name in, say, Canada or New Zealand. (Full disclosure: I loathe it no matter what it's called and always have, but Miss B devours it at every opportunity.)

Did I mention that tomorrow is the first day of spring?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Chocolate tart

Today I’m going to share with you what may be one of my weirder frugal habits.

When I have baked goods sitting around that are starting to lose their allure, I don’t throw them away. Instead, I put them in my food processor and grind them up into crumbs. Then I freeze the crumbs.

I also don’t bother to distinguish between the crumbs. The kinds of thing that are likely to get ground up are all sort of variants of the same thing, points along the chocolate chip cookie/congo bar/blondie/brownie continuum. Since they all have more or less the same ingredients, I cavalierly assume they all taste good together, and freeze all the crumbs in the same bag.

That way I’ve got them handy to make stuff like this without advance notice or planning. And they do make the crust taste better than one made with store-bought cookies, though I say it myself - particularly if you’ve browned the butter beforehand.

Chocolate tart
In researching how to make this tart, I discovered that there are two ways of getting a crumb crust to firm up: cooking it briefly, or refrigerating it. Since all the crust ingredients had already been cooked once, and the filling needs to be chilled, I opted for refrigeration. As a bonus, this is a great do-ahead dessert.

Cookie crust
8 oz/240 g cookie or baked-good crumb of your choice
4 oz/120 g butter, melted
2 Tbsp sugar (optional)

Grease the inside of a cake or tart pan* (preferably one with a loose bottom) generously and set aside.

Mix the butter into the crumbs gradually; you might not need all of it, depending upon how dry or wet the crumbs are to start with. You are looking to achieve a thick, lumpy but malleable mass, somewhat like wet sand.

When the crust mix has reached the right consistency, spread evenly in the bottoms and up the sides of the prepared pan, to a thickness of about ½ inch/1 cm. Place in the refrigeration to chill for 20-30 minutes while you get on with the filling.

Chocolate ganache filling
8 oz/240 ml cream
8 oz/240 g bittersweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Heat cream in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until hot but not boiling. Remove from heat and pour in chocolate. Leave mixture to sit for 2-3 minutes, then whisk until cream and chocolate have combined into a thick, shiny, pourable liquid. Whisk in remaining ingredients and allow to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

Remove prepared crust from refrigerator and pour in ganache. Tap and tilt the pan to make sure the ganache fills the crust evenly and smoothly, then return pan to refrigerator and chill for at least 1 hour.

Remove tart from the refrigerator 20-30 minutes before serving to take some of the chill off.

Serves 8.

* I used an 8 in/20 cm loose-bottom cake pan for this recipe. If yours is much bigger, the filling may be too thin.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Reverse engineering

Last year when we were living in temporary accommodation and I had only the TUK at my disposal, I had to dispense with certain aspects of company meal prep (since dispensing with the company was obviously not an option). Appetizers were an obvious choice, especially after I discovered a fresh and delicious basil-cashew-parmesan dip readily available in my local supermarket. This was wildly successful with any number of guests, and especially with DP, who took to requesting it before every company meal. Once I unpacked my food processor, however, I began to think less about how tasty and effortless it was, and more about how much each little tub cost. And since its primary ingredients were right there on the label, I thought it might be feasible to concoct my own version. This is the result of my experimentation.

Reverse engineered basil-cashew-parmesan dip
I prefer the consistency of this to be on the chunky side, as that is more like the original dip. If you prefer a smoother, more pesto-like consistency, then you will probably want to add the extra olive oil, as indicated below, and maybe even a bit more.

2 cups firmly packed basil leaves
.5 cup roasted salted cashews
.5 cup shredded parmigiano reggiano cheese
1 clove garlic
1 anchovy
2 tsp lemon juice
2-3 Tbsp olive oil

Place all ingredients except olive oil and salt in bowl of food processor, and puree to a chunky paste. Drizzle 2 Tbsp of olive oil over, sprinkle with salt, and process again. Look at consistency and add third Tbsp of olive oil if desired.

Makes about 1 cup of dip. Serve with pita chips or other tasty dip-conveyor of choice.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

"Get Lucky," Daft Punk

Apparently, this is the song of the summer in the northern hemisphere, but it's not summer here and so I've just discovered/fallen in love with it, thanks to the indescribably fab Stephen Colbert. (Bonus: Matt Damon!)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Dessert re-branding

It never ceases to intrigue me what aspects of American culture – food and otherwise - surface in other countries. Reruns of Cheers on Australian TV? Yes. Reruns of WKRP? No sign. Visibility of the Hunger Games franchise: check. Visibility of Percy Jackson: not so much. Barefoot Contessa cookbooks? Easily findable. Pioneer Woman? Might require a little more digging.

The trend continues when it comes to food. Mention the word “brownie” – a quintessential American dessert – to an Australian, and chances are you’ll see someone’s eyes light up. Mention “blondies,” on the other hand, and your response is likely to be blank incomprehension.

Rather than trying to change this, I have decided to go with the Australian flow and have renamed the following recipe, for purposes of local comprehension and consumption, “fudgey choc chip slice.” Blank incomprehension is not the response I’m looking for when baking.

Fudgey choc chip slice (aka blondies)
adapted from a recipe found on the delightful but dormant Figs, lavender and cheese blog
I had never made blondies as such when I found this recipe, although you could make a case for putting Congo bars into that category. These are similarly addictive; I think I made four batches of these in the space of the week when I first tried out the recipe.

1 cup/120 g all-purpose/plain flour
.5 cup/60 g whole wheat flour
1 tsp/5 g baking powder
.5 tsp/2 g kosher salt
12 Tbsp/1.5 sticks/180 g unsalted butter, browned and cooled
1.5 cups/300 g packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp/30 ml maple syrup
2 large eggs
4 tsp/20 ml vanilla extract
1 cup/180 g semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Line an 8-inch (20 cm) square baking pan with foil, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan (I use two pieces crisscrossed). Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk flours, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside.

Whisk butter, brown sugar, and maple syrup together in medium bowl. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Using rubber spatula, fold dry ingredients into wet until just combined; do not overmix. Fold in chocolate and spread batter in prepared pan, smoothing top with rubber spatula.

Bake until top is shiny, cracked, and light golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack to room temperature. Remove bars from pan by lifting foil overhang and transfer to cutting board. Cut into 25 2-inch squares.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Origin stories

This might be the recipe that started it all. That’s how I remember it, anyway.

A couple of months after I got married, I took a day off work so I could help my mother make a batch of meatcakes – or really, watch her make them and write down everything she was doing, so that I could replicate it in my own kitchen. Even though I’d been watching her (or my grandmother) make them all my life, and eating the results, I wasn’t sure about meaurements, the precise order of assembly, and a number of other details. Since my mother made them out of her own head, the way her mother had done, and had taught her, there was no documented form of the recipe. And since I’ve never come across another version of meatcakes that are quite like my family’s meatcakes, I wanted to be absolutely sure I could replicate it.
Even the name is different. Most other people I know make meatballs. We make meatcakes – ours are not round, but oblong, and flat on the top and the bottom. The word my grandmother used for them always sounded to me like bubette; it was only after I started studying Italian in college, and came across the word polpette with a shock of recognition, that I made the connection between standard Italian terminology and my grandmother’s typical Calabrian twist on pronunciation.

I’m not sure my mother remembers how to make meatcakes anymore. And that makes me more grateful than ever that I took the time to write this down 17 years ago and have carried it with me on my travels since then. Every time I make these, wherever I am, I feel as though I’ve got my mother and grandmother back in the kitchen with me for a little while. 

Polpette alla mia famiglia 
The texture of these is much lighter than most meatballs I’ve come across – almost fluffy on the inside, while the frying in olive oil gives a thick, crisp, dark brown crust on the outside. I love this crust so much that I don’t submerge my meatcakes in tomato sauce when we have them for dinner with pasta; I reheat them in the oven and eat them by themselves after I’ve finished my pasta.

~1.5 lbs firm Italian bread
3.5 lbs hamburger (at least 15% fat in the mix)
1 clove garlic
5-7 leaves fresh basil
11 eggs
1 lb pecorino romano cheese, grated
olive oil for frying

1. At least 48 hours before you want to make the meatcakes, cut the bread into large (about the size of your fist) chunks and leave out to get completely stale.

2. When you are ready to begin, submerge bread in a bowl of cold water to soak.

3. Break up hamburger in a large bowl; sprinkle the surface evenly with salt.

4. Mince garlic and scatter evenly over hamburger.

5. Shred basil and distribute evenly over hamburger.

6. Squeeze as much water out of bread as possible, one chunk at a time. Peel crust off, then break bread insides up over hamburger.

7. Pour oil ¼-inch deep in frying pan; heat on low.

8. Mix bread into meat with hands until mixture is a consistent pink color.

9. Mix in eggs, using a spoon.

10. Mix in cheese, about ¼ of the total at a time.

11. Shape mixture into oval patties, about 1½-inch thick, and as big as will fit into your cupped palm.

12. Place patties in oil.* Cook for 10-12 minutes total; turn patties over (towards the outside of pan) when they are browned evenly on the bottom (they should come away from the pan easily when ready to turn).

13. When fully cooked, remove meatcakes from pan and put on paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining mixture until all patties have been cooked.

Yield: ~40 meatcakes
Total time: ~3 hours

* Turn oil up to medium heat after adding patties; turn to low or off to add, turn, or remove patties from pan. Oil will fizz increasingly as more meatcakes are cooked.
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