Sunday, September 20, 2015

Recipe tweaking

Nothing really major has happened this month - which in itself is kind of major, because it seems like such a long time since that has been the case. We had our first dinner guests in the new house last weekend, which was the first real cooking I'd done in the new kitchen - marinated goat cheese and pita chips to start, followed by braised short ribs of beef, gratin dauphinois (with a layer of blue cheese and caramelized onion in the middle), and Swiss chard for the main course (plus bread), and finishing up with brownies topped with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce.

This generated quite a lot of leftovers; I used the leftover short ribs as the basis for a thick bolognese-type tomato sauce, and we had that on Tuesday night with gnocchi and shredded kale. On Thursday, I tossed the leftover gratin and chard into the slow cooker along with some leftover short-rib sauce and stock, and blended them into a thick soup for dinner. I wanted a little something to top it, so I rooted around in the fridge, pulled out some odds and ends, and made pangrattato with a twist:

Pangrattato, in case you don't already know, means "grated bread", and it's an Italian invention - basically fried bread crumbs, most often used to top pasta. For this version, I threw a leftover (cooked) Italian sausage into the food processor along with the bread; then toward the end of cooking in the frying pan, I threw over a handful of grated pecorino romano cheese. Both tweaks highly recommended.

On the sweet side of things, I've finally found most of my baking equipment, not least of which is the abovementioned food processor. Miss B has fallen in love with jam drops this year, and asked if we could make a batch not long after we moved in. I had to improvise to put a batch of dough together, including using a pastry cutter to blend the butter and sugar. This made for a very warm batch of dough which, when shaped, filled, and put into the oven to bake, spread like crazy. The cookies were delicious, but not neat or easy to eat out of hand.

She asked for another batch to take to a school party last week, and this time I thought I would do things a bit differently: I made the dough in the food processor, then rolled into a cylinder and chilled in the fridge overnight. The morning of the party, I scooped mounds of dough off the cylinder with my cookie scoop and arranged them on a baking tray. I made a thumbprint in each mound and filled with jam; then I chilled them again for 30 minutes or so. Then I baked them and voila!

Not quite magazine-ready, but definitely an improvement over the first batch. I'll be carrying on with the chilling from now on. I used this recipe, which as you'll note doesn't suggest any of that - odd when you consider how perfect the ones in their picture look!

That's all the exciting news from here - more to follow shortly, I hope!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

New beginnings

Time for another lengthy update - and this time, a recipe! Lots has been happening since my last post, and I do mean lots....

In early July, I went with DP and Miss B on our first trip to Boston in nearly two years. I was so busy doing other things that I didn't manage to take many pictures, but I did record my first-ever taste of a Boston institution - Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee.

I also managed to record a few other highlights...

...a visit to one of my favorite beaches in the world, in southern Maine...

...and my first U2 concert in (gulp!) 14 years. I went with two of my sisters and one of my nieces who was born not long before my last show. She's only been to a few concerts, and this was her first non-pop show (or, as we said to her when the lights came back up and she was standing there looking like she'd been hit over the head, "That's what happens at a real concert!").

I left Boston ahead of DP and Miss B to fly to Mexico City for a conference. I was there for two and a half days and the only time I left the conference hotel was to attend the conference reception at the Museo Soumaya, which had a fascinating and eclectic collection, including this Salvador Dali snail with an angel on its back.

After the conference I flew back to the East Coast to meet up with DP and Miss B in Washington, DC. DP and I tag-teamed work meetings, and also caught up with some friends and took Miss B to see some of the sights. The Smithsonian Natural History Museum was top of our list; we went early to get an unobstructed look at the Hope Diamond before the crowds descended...

...and also spent some time getting up close and personal with some exotic butterflies.

I had forgotten how walkable DC is - much more so than Canberra. Our last day there was unexpectedly pleasant (DC in July traditionally being stinking hot and muggy), so we walked across a good chunk of downtown, taking in views of the White House and the Washington Monument...

...and ending up at the Lincoln Memorial in the early evening.

En route back to Australia, we stopped overnight in LA and had our traditional day out in Santa Monica - a last dose of sun, sea, and American shops.

Back to winter in Canberra, just in time to prepare for Miss B's 11th birthday, a visit from close friends from the US and, last but not least...

...moving house! Having found out a few weeks before our US trip that we had to vacate our rental property, we found a new house and negotiated a move date - 10 days after our return from the US and with overseas visitors with us. It was a frantic couple of weeks, but it all happened.

And to help us recover, we stuck to our plan of taking our visitors to Jervis Bay for the weekend - even if it was in the middle of the move. I ask you - given the choice between spending the weekend unpacking boxes or looking at this, what would you have done?

The unpacking continues, and life is returning to a semblance of normality. We're even seeing signs of spring in Canberra - but before we did, we had our first glimpse of snow in 3 years, which you can (barely) see here.

And finally - now that I've found (most of) my baking supplies, I've resumed making my new favorite dessert, which I mentioned in my last post:

It's so simple I'm not sure it even qualifies as a recipe, but it's delicious and lovely enough to serve to company. Here's what I do:

1. Make up a batch of 2-Ingredient Biscuits; bake half as a cake-sized round and cut decorative shapes out of the other half. Bake at 450F/225C as directed until lightly browned.

2. While the biscuits are baking, place a cup or so of frozen berries in an oven-proof bowl (I used blackberries). Drizzle with maple syrup and cook alongside the biscuits.

3. Whip about a cup of heavy cream to soft peaks, sweetening with a bit more maple syrup.

4: Assemble: cake round, fruit, cream, more fruit, decorative biscuits. Serve immediately.

Kind of like a giant shortcake, now I come to think about it. I frequently make a single one for myself when I want a bit of a sweet treat, and when I do I substitute Greek yogurt for the whipped cream. I like this even better, but I realize I'm probably in the minority there.

Whew! That brings us up to speed. One of the new beginnings referred to in the title is to get back to a more regular posting schedule, so more to come shortly, I hope. And I hope all is well (and calm!) in your worlds.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Strategic cooking

A lovely place for a hike, except for the part where I don't really like to hike
The first half of June seemed to involve an epic amount of cooking (unaccompanied by any photo-taking or blog-posting, alas - hence the entirely gratuitous scenery shot of a recent trip to Blue Moutains National Park). During that two-week stretch I had close to two dozen people over for meals, in varying amounts and combinations, all associated with DP's programme in one way or another (ie, mostly - but not all - teapot people). Enough of these events were back-to-back that I had the opportunity to experiment with re-purposing leftovers strategic cooking in a way that I was comfortable with, rather than starting from zero every time.

Here are a few of the hacks I came up with, mostly to do with starters and desserts - I think because I'm used to cooking a main meal most nights anyways, it's the frills that drive me around the bend.

This is not rocket science, but worth noting - a sturdy dip such as either of these will hold well for a couple of days. Maybe freshen the second batch with a squeeze of lemon or a slug of olive oil before serving?
  • Chocolate ganache (I made a big batch of this; the first night I drizzled it over brown sugar pound cake and vanilla ice cream; by the second night it had firmed up in the fridge and I used it to fill a batch of Essential Cookie Sandwiches for a simple dessert for a non-teapot-person visitor.)
  • Flourless chocolate cake (I served this in slices with whipped cream the first night, then in rounds, topped with roasted pears and maple whipped cream (an homage to the flavors of poires belle Helene) the second night)
  • Caramel apple upside down cake (again - first night in slices with cream (ice? whipped? maybe a choice?), second day in hefty chunks in muffin cases as part of a lunch dessert spread)
It's probably worth noting that both the chocolate and the apple cakes were just as delicious the second day and not at all dried out or otherwise deterioriated.

In the event that you make a very large batch of nice homemade rolls one night and happen to have a lot of leftovers, they make excellent garlic rolls to accompany the next night's main course (particularly if it's something Italian, which it usually is in my house). Simply cut nearly all the way through each roll in an X-shape, then drizzle generously with butter that has been melted and combined with lots of chopped garlic. Wrap tightly in aluminum foil and re-heat for 15-20 minutes.

I also tried out some new stuff, which I'll write up as soon as I make them again and take some pictures of them. Hightlights to come include an entirely GF meal, something Miss B refers to as "flat tasty chicken", and my new favorite dessert.
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