Thursday, September 30, 2010

Milk and Cookies

These holidays I have done ZERO baking. I felt like I was going through withdrawals so asked Harry to choose something we could make. Of course he chose chocolate chip cookies so this was what we made. I have posted about these before but these ones have a 50 gm cocoa and 300 gms flour.

I used the good old Pam's cocoa as I find that it tastes rich and dark and has a fantastic colour. A long time ago I stopped using my usual Cadburys as I found they had altered it somewhat and it had hardly any taste and looked very insipid. When I called them to ask why they denied anything had been changed...... hmmm I think they think we are a bit thick because as anyone who bakes a lot would know if something was different about a product. I subsequently found out that it was being made in Australia (the beginning of that fiasco). I have Equagold cocoa in my pantry but it costs a lot of money and therefore I don't use it for everyday baking. In the past I have always had Valrhona cocoa too but I think the Equagold is fine for more 'fancy' baking.

Anyway these cookies are delicious and again I used a mix of white, milk and dark chocolate. Reuben did all the measuring and got out the mix for Harry to roll. Harry was also in charge of the kitchen aid which he loves. These are such a good biscuit to make as they are taste fantastic and easy to make.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pizza for dinner

Tonight for dinner I needed to make something that was tasty but relatively easy to whip up. As I have said it's the school holidays here and with that goes a sense of relaxation and giving up the routine (or at least altering it a bit). As well as that daylight savings has just started with longer evenings and not feeling hungry until later. I know I'll have to reel it in closer to school going back but for now it's time to enjoy the lack of having so many boundaries on our time and day. 

I have to admit though, that I am a forward planner and no amount of 'relaxing' holiday time will change that. I either have dinner for the next night sorted by the time I go to bed or at the very latest by the next morning. It's a rare occasion that I haven't thought about it well in advance and those occasions are usually when the boys are at their dads house. 

Long ago I bought this fantastic book called 'Atisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day' by Jeff Hartzberg and Zoe Francois. What a revelation! You mix up a huge amount of dough with no kneading...literally just putting it all in a bowl and mixing it up with a spoon or else in the mixer with a dough hook. After letting it rise for a couple of hours you put the risen dough into the fridge where it can stay for up to 2 weeks. You take off what you need so if you really wanted you can have this beautiful bread every day, (belive me this is NOT so good for the waistline). As it 'matures' in the fridge the flavour seems to taste more like a sourdough. This really worth trying and links to the recipes and how to do it are all over the internet. I have made the boule dough as well as the challah and now the olive oil dough. I find that I tend to stick to the boule dough as it tastes fantastic and can be used in so many different ways. This morning I made a half batch of the olive oil dough with a view to making pizza that night.

The half batch made enough for 3 really good sized pizzas. I made 2 pizzas so I have enough for some foccacia over the weekend. My sons are pretty standard when it comes to pizza and while Harry likes bacon and cheese tonight he wanted a spaghetti, as in Watties, pizza with bacon and cheese so I made him one on a piece of Lebanese bread in the oven. For Reuben and I, I made proper pizzas in the covered BBQ. I made a basic tomato sauce for the base where I lightly cooked a finely chopped onion and a couple of cloves of garlic and added a can of crushed tomatoes in juice, some salt and pepper and a bit of sugar and reduced it down. Reuben had bacon, olives and cheese and I made the one in the photos for me which had the tomato sauce, prosciutto, mozzarella (cheap stuff I'm afraid to say as there was no way I was heading to the supermarket to buy some good stuff) and olives. On top of that I piled on some fresh rocket. It did taste pretty good and I especially like how rustic it looks. As the weather was so beautiful today it was lovely to be outside cooking again and makes me look forward to all the lovely food I can make when the weather gets warmer....I know great intentions but.....?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vietnamese Chicken Salad

Over here the school holidays have begun. I greet these with a mix of joy at getting away from the humdrum routine of the school drop off, pick up and school lunches; and pain at the thought of not getting any time to do what I need to do as well as the knowledge that I will be spending way more money keeping the boys occupied as well as restocking rapidly depleting stocks of food, (it's amazing what they can go through in a day). Luckily (or unluckily) for me I have a week off and the way my shifts work out mean that I don't have to be back at work until the weekend night shifts in the second week. Mostly though I have to admit that I do love the school holidays...but don't tell the boys that!

I usually do a lot of baking during the holidays especially with Harry as he loves to be in the kitchen and reading my cookbooks to find something he wants us to make. So far we have done a big fat zero BUT it's only the beginning and we did start the holidays off with Reuben's birthday bash so there really hasn't been any time for it. Today we are off to see 'Despicable Me' at the movies and do a bit of shopping so the boys can spend some of their own money so no doubt all there will be time for will be to cook dinner and that's it. Tomorrow and the next day Harry and his little friend from school Maisy are going to a holiday programme for a couple of ours each day called 'Kids Zumba and Hip Hop Gaga'. I know they will love it. It's amazing how fast the holidays go really and how fast the days just fill up.

Anyway to the subject of this post. Last night I thought we could all do with a healthy dinner and this recipe is one which I have made a lot. I know the boys love it and I put in rice noodles to add a bit more oomph to the dish and to make it more filling. I have served this for lunch with friends and it is a perfect light lunch dish as well as a great dinner dish especially in the summer. I love the flavours of Vietnamese food. I think it would have to be my favourite over all the other Asian food....although Thai comes a close second. It's fresh and clean flavours really appeal to me and the whole family. I think the chopped nuts add a necessary component to the salad and take the flavour to a whole new level.

The main recipe is based on and adapted from a Bill Granger recipe from 'Bills Open Kitchen'. I kind of mix it up adding noodles (or not) and altering the dressing recipe a bit according to my taste. For this salad I used chicken thigh cutlets. Normally I poach chicken breasts in Asian flavours (like kaffir lime leaves, lemon rind, salt, ginger), but I find that it's easy to take it that bit too far and the chicken can dry out. The thighs were fantastic. I poached them the same way and they were moist and delicious (I think the dark meat is always more tasty anyway). Anyway it is well worth giving it a go and because it has almost no fat in it you can totally justify pudding afterwards. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dinner ala Rick Stein

Tonight for dinner I really felt like something fresh and tasty. For ages I have had Rick Steins latest book called 'Far Eastern Odyssey' and even though I have looked through it avidly, I have not yet made anything out of it. This is typical of me. I'm totally obsessed with cookbooks and cooking magazines but end up feeling totally overwhelmed by all the wonderful recipes I want to make that I end up sticking to my favourites. The only deviation from this is baking recipes as I often try new things. Anyway my lovely friend Michele (otherwise known as Moish) has also bought this book and the other day she made these Pork Balls with Peanut Dipping Sauce. This inspired me to get motivated and as I had some pork mince in the freezer it was a toss up between this dish and one which had an Asian style broth with grilled pork patties and fresh rice noodles. I decided to make my decision when I got to the Fruit and Vege shop. They didn't have any fresh rice noodles and nor did the butcher have any chicken carcasses left to make the stock so the Vietnamese pork ball it was. The sauce is a Peanut dipping sauce but isn't anything like the Indonesian or Thai style. It has Tamarind pulp and fish sauce amongst other bits and pieces. I thought it was lovely but I think I prefer the Thai or Indonesian style a bit better. The pork balls were very easy to make and the only thing I changed was that I cut back on the garlic a bit as to get the 20 gms garlic meant putting in about 7-8 decent sized cloves. I put in about 4 and I think that was plenty as the recipe only had 500 gms of pork mince in it. Although the meatballs were supposed to be threaded onto a skewer and grilled, I just cooked mine in a frying pan. I served them with plain rice and a salad of iceberg lettuce, cucumber, carrot and fresh coriander and mint. In a deviation from the recipe I ate mine wrapped in the lettuce leaves with the sauce and fresh herbs. All up it was a lovely light but tasty and filling dinner.

Reuben's birthday bash and new puppies!!!

Last night Reuben had his wee birthday bash. He invited 4 friends from school and his friend Jesse. We picked them up from school and took them to the Albany Mall so they could see 'The Last Airbender'...I'm not sure how much watching of the movie went on and can only speculate there was lots of talk and little watching. BUT I may be wrong....

Afterwards we got 7...yes 7 pizza's and went back to George and Russ's for dinner, ice cream sundaes and hangout time. Luckily for George and Russ they were well set up in the garage with the PS3, movies, TV and loads of junk food. They had a blast and were totally wired on sugar, boy-stuff, hanging out with each other and skateboarding. Reubs ended up with 3 of his friends staying the night so I was glad I got to go home to my own house until I had to get up early to go back to George's to make breakfast for the remaining boys. They managed to polish off a heap of bacon, a double batch of waffles, a double batch of pancakes as well as ice cream, banana and both maple syrup and chocolate sauce. It's incredible how much they can put away!

Doing the low rider thing

Hmmm don't think this needs explaining
The mess!

The morning after...looking a bit tired on it

On another note my best friend Andrea has just become a proud mother (or is it a grandmother?) again to 4 lovely little puppies (3 girls and 1 boy). They are also Archie's new brother and sister. OMG they are divine and at only a week old still have their eyes closed. I had to include some photos should anyone want to purchase one before they all go (hint hint to George and Russ). One of the girls looks just like Archie did but I have to say that once again my early favourite is the (very little) boy. I don't know what it is about boys but there is something very delicious about them and this little boy does not disappoint.

Lilly showing off her new boobs

The Archie look alike

The little boy with very unusual markings

All the babies snuggled up

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Baking for Nightshift- Blueberry Crumble Cake

One of my most favourite food writers and cook is Annabel Langbein. I have all of her cookbooks and added her latest one to my collection the other day. She has a new show on TV called 'The Free Range Cook' which I watch and record avidly and this book ties in with that. I held off getting it for about a week but could stand it no longer and made the purchase. I don't think it needs to be said how wonderful it is. Her writing and cooking has that fantastic non-pretentiousness about it yet is not just all homely either. It has that cross-over ability where it is both good for home and for entertaining. She also has a wonderful screen presence which makes you want to cook her food and I love her emphasis on seasonal cooking. Here is her book....

As I am about to start nightshift again tonight having only just finished yesterday morning, I thought I would relax today by doing some baking to take to work tonight. This recipe was one I knew I wanted to make as soon as I saw it. It is very versatile and can be made with all sorts of different fruit on top. I was very easy and made a nice big 25 cm cake- perfect for the girls tonight as it should feed us all. Of course I had to try it so I could comment on it here but this is the hard luck of the cook I suppose. The cake itself is a simple vanilla and yoghurt cake. I used frozen berries as we aren't quite there seasonally to get them fresh but you can use any fruit you like really. The topping is a crumble she uses for fruit crumble and other delicious desserts. I only made half the quantity of the crumble topping as the recipe only calls for 1 1/2 c of it. Now I have some extra in the fridge for something else or I could, as she suggests, put it in the freezer to have as a standby. Such a good idea I thought!

The cake once cooked taste delicious. The cake serves as a platform for the fruit and the crumble which I think is the star of the cake. So if you can, get the book. I plan on using it extensively but watch this space as good intentions can often be forgotten in the busy bustle of life.

Looking very rustic I think

Monday, September 20, 2010

Baking for nightshift- Crunchy Top Lemon Loaf

Last night was my last night shift of three before I go back for another two tomorrow night. As I slept so badly on Sunday I decided to give up trying to sleep and get up to do some baking to take to work. It's nice to have food in the middle of the night and I think it can be a morale booster for the staff especially when things are hectic in the unit where I work. I ended up making a lemon loaf and my favourite chocolate chip cookie.

The lemon loaf was delicious. The crumb was nice and tight but it was light at the same time. The 'crunchy' top gave it an extra dimension and it was very very easy to bake. Next time I must make two so I can freeze one for later. I think it would be lovely served with some lemon curd (homemade of course) and some softly whipped cream. My camera battery is almost dead so I was lucky enough to get a couple of shots before it died completely. Here are a couple of photos of it...excuse the shadowing but I'm not a technical photographer at all....where is my fabulous arty and amazing photographer friend Michele when I need her....? 

Crunchy Topped Lemon Loaf

115 gm butter
150 gm caster sugar
Zest of two good sized lemons
2 eggs
180 gm plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 c milk
70 gm caster sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice

Heat the oven to 180 C. Lightly grease a medium sized loaf tin and line with baking paper.
Cream the butter and sugar well then beat in the zest.
Add the eggs one at a time.
Add the sifted dry ingredients mixing it in alternatively with the milk.
Bake 30-40 mins (mine took around 35 mins)
Once it is cooked remove from the oven and leave in the tin. Mix the second measure of caster sugar with the lemon juice and spoon over the still hot loaf.
Cool completely in the tin.

Now to the chocolate chip cookies. I have tried MANY different recipes for these but I always come back to this one. It is a flexible recipe and can be altered in lots of different ways. I have been making this for years now and I no longer remember where I got the recipe from but I have seen many recipes like it so I think it must be a pretty standard recipe. These cookies are not chewy but are more firm. They keep well too and as it makes a lot of dough I have, in the past, rolled half of the mixture into logs and put them into the freezer to slice and bake when I need them. The boys LOVE these biscuits and they are ideal for school lunchboxes or for children to make themselves as they are so easy.

Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies

250 gm butter
100 gms sugar
190 gm condensed milk (or 1/2 a can)
350 gm plain flour
4 tsp baking powder
210 gms chocolate chips

Heat the oven to 180 C and line baking trays with baking paper.
Cream the butter, sugar and condensed milk.
Sift flour and baking powder and stir into the mixture (I just use my Kitchen Aid).
Add chocolate chips.
Roll into balls and flatten slightly with a fork.
Bake for around 10 mins depending on the size and thickness of your cookies.


* I sometimes replace a 1/2 c of the flour with cocoa making them double chocolate chippie cookies.
* For these ones I used a mixture of dark, milk and white chocolate buttons cut in half but you can use plain old small chocolate chips.
* You could add nuts, coconut or dried fruit...I only ever do chocolate but hey the option is there to customise these to your taste.
* I wish we could get Heaths toffee bits here as I think they would be lovely in these but I suppose Werther's chopped up might be quite good too.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Harry loses his front tooth

Just a quick post so I could put some photos on of Harry and the loss of his front tooth. He has already lost his two bottom teeth and this one had been wiggly for ages. It finally came out with much excitement which quickly turned to panic from Harry when he realised that there was....blood! Anyway the toothfairy was obviously very happy with the condition his tooth was in as she very generously gave Harry a crisp new $5 note. He looks so adorable in his toothless state and sounds even cuter.

Crying with the drama of all the blood and a wad of toilet paper in his mouth

Mid tears to show us

And smiling now he knows the blood has stopped

Gingernuts with Harry

Today I am in the middle of nightshift. Because I am such a terrible sleeper I got up far too early and thought I might do some baking to take into work. I often do this as it gives me a chance to have some relaxing time in the kitchen on my own, and I get to try new recipes all with the bonus of making the girls at work happy as everyone appreciates baking in the middle of the night. Unfortunately my camera battery is running flat so I may not get a chance to photograph what I made but if I do get some photos I'll post them later. Anyway I have a few things stored up to post about and these biscuits are one of them.

Last weekend I had said to my youngest son that we would have a day in the kitchen. He is 5 years old and absolutely LOVES cooking and baking. It's really the main thing we do together as I have to admit I'm not the most playful of mothers (even though I wish I was). Regardless of that it's become 'our' thing to do together and I'm convinced teaching a boy to bake can't be a bad thing. We spent the day making crumpets and hokey pokey after getting some inspiration from this fantastic blog called Sunday Hotpants. I'll post about the crumpets later but be warned ahead of time they are dangerously delicious... Anyway on her blog she had a post comparing gingernuts made the 'normal' way and vegan gingernuts. As we are not vegan I went with the 'normal' ingredients. They were lovely. I really loved the cinnamon notes in them as this is not what I would associate with these biscuits. For those who are not Kiwi's gingernuts are hard, dunk-in-your-cup-of-tea-to-save-your-teeth biscuits. In fact I would go so far to say they are a kiwi institution rather like Malt biscuits or Griffins Chocolate Chippies. Harry loved making these and then eating them. I find that when the boys get involved in the cooking process they are far more interested in eating the fruits of their labour....unless it's baking in which case they are dead keen regardless of whether they have helped or not! You can find the recipe for these biscuits on Sunday Hotpants blog.

Harry doing the creaming of the butter and sugar...he loves the handmixer
The dough

Harry about to roll out the dough which he really particular about
Perfectly rolled out thanks to Harry


Plate for afternoon tea

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Reuben is 13!!

My baby Reuben turned 13 years old yesterday. I can hardly believe that not only do I have a teenager BUT I'm now the mother of a 13 year old....makes ME feel old. I remember the day he was born like it was yesterday. It was a hard labour and a long night ending up in a Caesarian section. He weighed a WHOPPING 4220 gms (or 9lb 5oz) and boy was he totally delicious...he still is!. I don't have any early photos of him as we only had one of those cameras which took film then, so I have posted these younger ones of him here...

With Louis who he has had since he was 2 years old

With Harry as a baby

And looking SO much older now

With his dad George

With our puppy Archie

For Reuben's birthday I was about to start night shift so we all went out for dinner beforehand to a lovely place in Ponsonby called Thai House which is one of Reuben (and his dads) favourite places to get takeaways from. The food was fantastic and the night went well...until I had to go to work. Even though Reubs didn't want a birthday cake I still went ahead and whipped up one for him. It was nothing too amazing. The recipe came from 'A Treasury of NZ baking' and is not one I would make again. I had to make a lovely frosting to go with it to make up for the fact that I wasn't all that happy with the cake. It was quite funny as the whole restaurant ended up singing Happy Birthday to him which he was, in typical now-teenage style, mortified about. Anyway here are some photos from last nights dinner....
Me, Reubs and Harry at Thai House

Reubs and his grandmother Helen who got Reubs for her birthday in 1997

Reubs, Harry and his friend Harry
Anyway there are loads of new cooking and family posts to come. Happy Birthday again my darling boy!!! 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Double Chocolate and Vanilla Poached Pear Tart

Hi everyone and welcome to my first blog post. Even though this will be a food and family blog my first post will be food related (as indeed most will be). I know I'll be blundering my way through this until I get the hang of it but please bear with me until I figure it all out. I was reading through the (mostly food-related) blogs I regularly follow and found a recipe for a similar tart which I based this recipe on. Here is the link to the original blog I found this on called  Confessions Of Tart. As I was having some friends over for lunch the other day I thought this would be perfect as I could make it over a few days therefore reducing the workload somewhat. I started off by poaching some pears in a lovely vanilla syrup. They kept well in the fridge for a few days and I think the flavour actually improved as I left the vanilla pod in the syrup. Here they are sitting in the bowl...

I also made the tart base earlier and stored it in the freezer to be baked on the day. The filling was a lovely decadent ganache-style chocolate custard which was easy to make and tasted a bit like a ganache-type of brownie. I used Whittakers dark block with 50% cocoa as I find darker chocolate a bit too bitter and this was what I had in the cupboard but I usually go for the 62% block. Here is it waiting to go into the oven with the pears looking a bit messy...

And just out of the oven looking slightly cracked on the top (as the recipe stated), but still a little gooey...

The girls loved it. I served it with softly whipped cream and that was all it needed...

Double Chocolate and Vanilla Poached Pear Tart

Base (adapted from Dorie Greenspan)
1 1/4 c plain flour
1/4 c cocoa
1/2 c icing sugar (or confectioners sugar)
120 gm cold butter (I used salted butter)
1 cold egg lightly beaten

Mix all the dry ingredients in the food processor and pulse until combined. Cut up the butter and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs then slowly add the egg until it just starts to come together. If it's too dry you can add a bit of iced water. Tip into a loose-bottom flan dish and lightly press...try not to overwork it. Put in the freezer for at least 30 minutes or for a few days if you like.

Bake blind at 175 C for about 10-15 mins then remove the beans and brush with the slightly beaten spare egg white for a further 5 mins. 

Vanilla Poached Pears
4-5 firm pears 
5 c water
1 1/2-2 c water
Vanilla bean with seeds scraped out and pod

Put water, sugar and vanilla into a pot and bring to the boil stirring so the sugar dissolves. Add the halved and cored pears and poach at a low boil until they are tender. Mine took about 30 mins. Set aside to cool or store in the poaching liquid.

Chocolate Custard
150 gms dark chocolate chopped
3/4 c cream
1/4 c caster sugar
1 egg plus one egg yolk  (don't throw away the white)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate and cream together in a double boiler then add the sugar making sure it dissolves. Cool. Whisk the egg and yolk together with the vanilla then temper them with about a 1/2 c of the chocolate mixture. Finally add the rest of the chocolate and combine well.

To Assemble
Cut the pear halves either vertically or horizontally keeping one side or end in tact. Fan out. Pour the custard into the base then place the pears on top. Bake for around 45 min. Cool for 10-15 mins in the tin then remove from the tin. Finally ENJOY!