Category Archives: baking

beer bread (in which i attempt to emulate the fine cooks at ‘good neighbour’)

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We”ve got a new pub in our neighbourhood: “Good Neighbour“, & by George it’s good! We rocked on down there the day after it opened – the place was buzzing, the service & food were great, & I am now a fan of their plum cider! And of the beer bread, which we devoured while waiting for our (equally delicious) mains to arrive.

In fact, I’ve been trying to come up with a similar loaf at home. The first time I made it, the beer was probably too ‘light’ (in colour & flavour, but then I am not a beer connoisseur), so the next time I used a ‘hoppier’ version that gave a lovely flavoursome loaf, slightly sweet & pleasantly chewy without losing softness. In fact, I’ve got another lot rising at the moment, & this time I’ve used the pub’s own sparkling ale, so we’re really looking forward to it coming out of the oven! What follows is the kneaded-by-breadmaker version – if making by hand then make a ‘sponge’ with the yeast, sugar, about a cup of flour & some of the liquid, then add the rest of the flour & the softened butter & knead away.

Into the pan of the breadmaker, measure: 4 tsp ‘surebake’ (red-top) yeast, 2 Tblsp honey or brown sugar, 1 c wholemeal flour, 3 c white flour, 3/4 tsp salt, 50 g softened butter, and 1 & 1/2 c of the beer of your choice. Set the machine to ‘dough’ & leave it to work its magic – you might want to stay within earshot just to check the consistency once it starts kneading, as I’ve found that I’ve needed to add perhaps another 1/8 c warm water to the mix.

Once the machine goes ‘beep’, then shape the dough as you desire. I made buns the first time, but second time round I knocked the dough back, divided it in half & then split each half into three pieces that I rolled into long sausages (about 30 cm long). This gave me 2 plaited rolls, which I put to rise on the baking sheet before baking at 180 C for about 25 minutes. But it would be yummy in loaf tins as well.

syrup cake with strawberries & blueberries

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In the weekend we had Mum & my brother’s mother-in-law to lunch. Well, midday dinner, I guess. The main course was a butterflied leg of lamb, crusted with herbs and cooked on the barbecue. (Our first barbecue of the season!) Along with that we had roast potatoes & pumpkins (we’re still eating the wee ones we grew last summer), steamed green beans, fresh peas from the garden, and a minty hollandaise sauce. Once that had settled (& yes, we had leftovers for tea the next day) I served up this cake – I think the recipe was originally in the Viva section of the Wednesday morning Herald, but I’ve massaged it slightly.

Cream together 250g butter and 1 c sugar, before beating in 3 eggs. This time round I also added the zest of an orange. Then fold in 1/2 c fine polenta, 2 c ground almonds, & 1/2 c self-raising flour. Spoon the mix into a greased and lined square cake tin (or, in my case, a silicone ‘tin’) and smooth the top before putting it in the oven at 160 C. After 20 minutes cover the top with a piece of aluminium foil, then continue to bake for around 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven & cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before carefully inverting it onto a serving dish & removing the baking paper.

While the cake is cooking, prepare the fruit/syrup topping. The original recipe used summer stone-fruit such as nectarines and plums and added vanilla to the syrup, but I had a punnet of strawberries from the orchard shop near the kennels where the dog goes for ‘kindy’ (lol). So I sliced a couple of cups of strawberries into a saucepan & added 1/2 c sugar, the juice of the orange, and 2 sprigs of mint, before bringing it gently to the simmer. Trust me – mint works rather well with strawberries! I simmered it for only 10 minutes as I didn’t want the fruit to disintegrate, then cooled the mix for about 10 minutes before spooning it carefully over the top of the cake. The last step was to decorate with some more slices of strawberry & about 1/2 c of frozen blueberries – the residual heat from cake & sauce defrosted them before we got to the pudding stage.

Serve with vanilla icecream or whipped cream, or both, and wait for the compliments.

mrs fordyce’s (gluten-free) gingernuts

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Back when I was in secondary school (a loooong way back!), my friend Ali F’s mum made the most wonderful gingernuts. We raved about them, & luckily she was only too happy to share the recipe. I found it again today – written in my school-girl scribble – when looking for something to make for morning tea. And because we had a couple of gluten-intolerant friends coming over, I tweaked the recipe a little to make it gluten-free. So…

Cream together 150g butter and 250g sugar. Once it’s pale & creamy, beat in 1 large egg and 1/4 c golden syrup. (I’ve made them before with honey & that’s worked well too.)

Sift together 2&1/2 cups GF flour, 3 tsp powdered ginger**, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt & 3/4 tsp guar gum, & mix this into the wet ingredients. It should give a firm, not too sticky, dough.

Roll walnut-sized pieces of dough into balls, then roll the balls in white sugar before placing on a greased baking sheet. (Or use a silicone sheet, or baking paper.) Bake at 150 Celsius for about 8 minutes – the original recipe said 180 C, but I could see early on that this was going to be a bit too hot. Cool a little on the tray before transferring to a rack.

I’ve had GF cookies before & found them very crumbly, but these were great: crispy outside, soft & chewy inside.

** I was really ticked off when I discovered that the commonly available commercial spices almost all have the words ‘contains wheat products’ on the packet! This is totally ridiculous – I’m assuming the wheat flour’s there to stop the stuff caking, but I’m paying for spices, not flour. Happily, youΒ can buy a limited range of GF spices at our local supermarket; I’m hoping the market expands, not least so that I can still make a decent curry when our friends visit.

parmesan-&-basil bread, with soup (pumpkin, of course!)

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Yesterday we had family coming to lunch. I had to go in to work for the morning (yes, I know it was Anzac Day, but we were running a practical exam for the NZ team hopefuls for the upcoming Biology Olympiad in Switzerland), so I got the soup ready the day before & put the bread in the bread maker. (The husbandΒ can cook, he just avoids it where possible πŸ™‚ )

I’m sure there are heaps of recipes already out there for pumpkin soup! This is what I put together on Saturday night: first, roast your pumpkin. Actually it was pumpkins in this case – 4 of them, halved, seeds scooped out, & into the oven at 180 C until tender. While they cooked I melted 50 g butter in one of my big pans, along with a goodly slosh of olive oil, & added 2 thinly-sliced brown onions to soften & go transparent. There was garlic in the soup too, but as we’re getting rid of the little heads from summer’s harvest before getting stuck into the big stuff, I sliced the tops off 8 of them & wrapped them in foil (with a splash of oil) before putting them in the oven with the pumpkins. Once they were cooked, all I had to do was squeeze the lovely rich pulp into the soup pan. At which point I also added 2 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, & just a soupcon of ground chili, & stirred it all together.

The pumpkins took around 30 minutes to cook, after which (wearing oven gloves, cos they were HOT) I scooped the flesh into the pot, followed by 1 L vegetable stock & 4 medium potatoes, cut into very small dice. I should have added them with the onions but I forgot; anyway, it all worked out πŸ˜€ I left them to simmer gently, with the occasional stir, for 20-30 minutes & then used my stick blender to puree everything together. The result was a very thick puree indeed, so I thinned it a little with water and 1/2 c cream (because it was in the fridge), then put the lid back on & left it for the morning – with strict instructions to the husband to stir carefully while reheating, because otherwise it was highly likely to catch & burn at the bottom.

And before I biked in to work in the morning, I put the bread in the bread maker. This is a riff on an Alison Holst recipe from a few years back, enriched with butter & an egg. And it’s just as easily made by hand, in which case you’d make a ‘sponge’ of the yeast with a little of the measured flour & water, before working in everything else.

Into the pan of the bread maker, I measured 4 tsp active yeast (here in NZ it’s the kind in the red-topped jar), followed by 4 c flour – yesterday I used 100% white flour but 1 wholemeal:3 white is nice too, 2 Tblsp white sugar, 1 tsp salt, 50 g butter cut into small pieces, 1/2 c coarsely grated parmesan cheese, & 1/2 c finely chopped fresh basil. This was followed by an egg and enough water to make up a total liquid volume of 1&1/2 cups. On my machine that gives an XL loaf. I set the crust to ‘light’ & set the timer so that the loaf would be ready around lunchtime, pressed ‘on’, & headed off to work, happy in the knowledge that there would be lunch when I got back.

And there was.

pumpkins – stuffed & in pie

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While the husband & I are both really fond of pumpkin, we don’t want to eat it the same way all the time πŸ™‚ The mini-pumpkins are just the right size for 1-2 people (well, some of them are – others would do for 4 & have some left over), so one night I decided to stuff them. This is probably the cheat’s way to do it πŸ˜€

All I did was cut out a ‘plug’ around the stump of the stem – this would act as the lid – and then used a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Then I got a packet of Uncle Ben’s savoury rice out of the pantry & used some of that, mixed with a little crumbled feta, to pack the cavity in the pumpkin before adding a couple of Tblsp of water and replacing the lid. (The rest I cooked & served as a side dish for the benefit of the daughter, who professes not to like this particular cucurbit fruit.) And then it went in the oven for 30-40 minutes at 180 C. Couldn’t be simpler, & tasted wonderful.

And for another option – well, my science blog-buddy Darcy has shared his favourite pumpkin pie recipe:

500g pumpkin (cooked)
3/4C sugar
1tsp cinnamon
1/2tsp ginger
3 eggs lightly beaten
150mL evaporated milk.

Mash pumpkin and blend ingredients together. Pour into pie dish lined with sweet short crust pastry (We usually get the pre-rolled stuff from the supermarket – much easier to work with). Bake @ 180C for 25 min or till skewer comes out clean.

Eat hot or cold with whipped cream – I prefer cold, straight from the fridge.

I usually do double the mix so I don’t have half a can of evaporated milk lying around.

I’ve yet to try this one – but we’ll see what the next lot of dinner guests think πŸ™‚

And then of course there will be pumpkin curry, & pumpkin soup… And I’ve got a rather nice recipe for pumpkin bread too!

a most memorable dinner at our favourite cafe

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The daughter & I have been going to Scotts Epicurean pretty much since it opened back in 2000. Sometimes we drag the husband along as well. The friendly, welcoming service & the great food just keep us coming back – usually for Saturday brunch. However, every now & then they put on a dinner: 4-5 small, perfectly formed courses with accompanying wines, & we’ve thoroughly enjoyed those too. (Although the husband did feel that perhaps he should have dressed for the occasion when we went along for a meal the night Hamilton’s Riff-Raff statue was unveiled. It was a cold night, but somehow he felt somewhat overdressed in his polar fleece πŸ™‚ ) So, when I saw the flyer for their latest dinner, I bought a couple of tickets on the spot! (The daughter never wants to come to these; she is never quite sure that she’ll want to eat everything on offer.)

And as usual, we were not disappointed. (I am not going to talk about the wines here as a) I didn’t try them all & b) I can’t remember the names anyway. Suffice it to say that all those I sipped complemented the food rather well.)

First up, polenta chips with a lovely thick garlicy aoli. I rather like polenta & the last time I made it I did keep some over for chips, but couldn’t get them crispy enough. Will have to have another go, for those we ate on Friday were rather fine.

Next, kingfish, pan-fried & served with saffron rice, finely diced chorizo & red pepper, & ‘crackling’ of chicken skin. Which worked well & was apt, given that I’ve often heard kingfish described as the chicken of the sea. I’m not huge on fish but I cleaned my plate up.

The soup – served in a glass – was a creamy carrot soup made special by the use of star anise. It had a little scoop of what the menu described as black olive sorbet on the top, which was visually attractive. Being not a fan of olives (you can see where the daughter gets her fussiness from) I passed most of mine across the table to the husband; in retrospect this was perhaps foolish as the little bit left behind showed me that the flavours went together extremely well.

This was followed by Angus steak (fillet, I think), served medium rare on kohlrabi puree with smoked leeks & several types of mushroom. The husband, who also has his little food foibles, originally said that I could have his mushrooms, but I noticed sadly that he changed his mind after sampling them. The only part of this course we had reservations about was the leeks; the smoking led them to present as slightly fibrous, although they tasted good. The rest was scrumptious.

After this I have to say we were feeling comfortably full, although not over-so – which was just as well as dessert was still to come. This was a delightful free-form pie (on the menu, aka crostada) of feijoas on a bed of ground hazelnuts, served with a citrus-y cream. I enjoyed working out the ingredients as I savoured it, & checked with Jason Scott (owner/chef) afterwards that I’d got them all. “Yes,” he said “- & you can find the recipe on-line, on my sister’s blog.” So I did – & made it myself for friends the following evening.

All in all, a great evening πŸ˜€

pizza – for dessert?

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One of my brothers introduced me to this variation on pizza, way back when we still lived in Palmerston North. (He’d been keeping an eye on our place while we were away, & we’d been wondering where all the grapes had got to…) Our muscatel grapes are ripe at last, so I thought this would make a good dessert for the family.

I make pizza dough quite a lot, by hand or in the bread machine. There’s little difference in time between the 2 methods (both take around 45 minutes), but for this one I used the machine to do the kneading as I had other stuff on the go in the kitchen at the same time.

Into the mixing bowl I put 2 c strong (bread) flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 Tblsp olive oil, 3/4 c water, & 2 Tlbsp raw sugar. Normally I use very little sugar in pizza dough but this time I wanted it to be sweetish, on account of it being for dessert. Then I put it in the machine on the ‘pizza’ setting & set it going.

While the bread machine did its bit, I put my big pizza stone in the oven (200 degrees C) to heat, & set about preparing the grapes. I wanted around 2 cups, & had a mix of fat green grapes from the market & our own lovely golden-pink muscatels. The latter, which are smallish, I just pulled from their stems – they tend to split a little, but this is good as the escaped juices caramelise in cooking. The big green ones I halved, & flicked out their seeds with the point of a knife.

Once the dough had finished its brief rising, I kneaded it a little to get rid of the air bubbles & then rolled & stretched it to a disc a little smaller than the pizza stone. (I usually do this on a Teflon sheet & slide it onto the stone from a baking tray.) Then I studded it liberally with grapes – green ones cut side up – & sprinkled everything with 2-3 Tblsp white sugar before putting the pizza in the oven for about 20 minutes: the fruit should soften and the sugar & juices caramelise.

The scent as the finished dish came from the oven was that of a good dessert wine πŸ™‚