Churros and Overcoming Fears

When I was in Spain, oh, eleven years ago, I ate churros everyday for breakfast. I had never had them before and it was like a revelation. I was in heaven. And since the bread and cake baking bug hit me, I have been desperate to make them. Only one thing put me off. The thought of pouring a litre of oil into a pot and heating it to a blistering 175 degrees celsius. But today, my desire to sink my teeth into churros overcame my fear of deep frying in hot oil. I’m so glad I pushed past that fear barrier because not only was the deep frying a total cinch, but they tasted AMAZING. And they are very economical to make too (economy in the kitchen has always been very important to me). The kids took a plate of them to the garden and polished them off in seconds. My husband and I took a plate of them to the shed and gobbled them equally as quickly.

Churros-smallThis recipe is based on Daniel Stevens’ version published in River Cottage Handbook No. 3: Bread.

300g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
380ml boiling water
1 litre vegetable oil (or sunflower), at least, for deep frying*
Sugar, for dredging (isn’t dredging a wonderful word in this context?)
Cinnamon, for dusting (optional)

In a saucepan, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt then pour in the boiling water and stir to combine. Stir over gentle heat for a couple of minutes then cover and set aside for half an hour.

Heat the oil in a deep, heavy-based saucepan to 175C.

I put the mixture in a piping bag with a nozzle about the size of my thumb and piped lengths straight into the oil, a few at a time. If you don’t have a piping bag, you could also drop pieces into the oil so they come out as crispy, oddly-shapen little balls. Fry for a couple of minutes, they will bob on the surface and be a lovely golden brown.

Remove with a slotted spoon and drain, then toss in a bowl of sugar. Serve while still warm, with coffee or a thick, rich hot chocolate for dipping. Mmmmm!

*Don’t throw out the oil. You can reuse it next time you make churros! Or donuts, for that matter…

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Wonderful Salad of Beetroot, Carrot, Fennel & Broadbeans

My hat off to Gourmet Traveller (November issue) for the inspiration for this salad recipe. No pictures of this one – you’ll just have to imagine the fabulous colours and crunchy textures.

2 beetroot cut into fine matchsticks (you can julienne on a mandolin if you have one – I don’t but it’s on my list for santa)
2 carrots cut into fine matchsticks
2 baby fennel bulbs, thinly sliced 
big handful of broadbeans, podded, blanched and peeled to reveal bright green jewels 
1 cup of coarsely torn Italian parsley, mint and coriander
120g feta, coarsely crumbled
50g raw brazil nuts, coarsely chopped and lightly toasted in a pan (you could use almonds as a substitute but brazil nuts are a brilliant source of selenium)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
70ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp sumac
30ml apple cider vinegar
juice of half a lemon

Mix together the dressing ingredients and set aside. Combine all the salad ingredients. Drizzle with the dressing and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

The original recipe also suggests adding cooked freekeh or burghul. I didn’t do this but it would be nice. I served my salad, instead, with homemade flatbread and spicy beef skewers – lamb skewers would also be delicious but we still have half a freezer of Rosie to get through.

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Sausage Virgin

Here in the West Tamar Valley, we have a small, newly formed slow food group. It is comprised in the large part by local wine makers. I’m the add-on wine appreciator. We had our inaugural meeting a couple of months ago, in the back room of the lovely Nigel’s Exeter butchery. The undisputed sausage king was giving us a lesson in sausage making. It was fantastic, but getting to have a go on his commercial sausage stuffer has ruined the kitchenaid sausage stuffing experience for me forever – it is so slow and cumbersome by comparison. There is something quite thrilling and, dare I even say it, almost carnal about the sausage forming and shooting through your hands at break-neck pace. There was quite a lot of giggling and innuendo that went on that afternoon from the sausage maker virgins.

Since that session, I have been a bit remiss. We were meant to have our group sausage lesson and go away and practice for our sausage bonanza BBQ, where we will come together again and be judged on our sausage-making efforts. Have I been working hard on my Bratwurst? Unfortunately not. I have made a few attempts to limited success and am experiencing the hardest steps when learning something new – the first ones.

Sausages - edited

For my first sausage-making foray, I tried (and failed) to boot my son out of the kitchen so I could concentrate – this is, after all, serious business. With him jabbering away, I minced my pork shoulder and made my mixture. I formed a little patty and fried it to test the seasoning. Not bad but more pepper was required. Then I made my sausages. They looked vaguely like sausages but they were not terribly even and they had air pockets in them. Nigel’s commercial stuffer is operated by a lever that you press with your leg and the mixture just shoots out of it – it’s amazingly fast and consistent. The kitchenaid is much clunkier by comparison but I’m hoping with practice I will be able to produce passably consistent sausages.

My next batch looked better, but when fried in the pan they rendered all their fat and tasted dry and didn’t have the right texture – so I didn’t get the type or quantity of binder right.

The next batch were stuffed too tightly so they split.

The batch after that one looked good, tasted better than previous attempts, didn’t loose all their fat in the cooking, but still…the texture was not right.

I’m starting to feel sorry for my family. My husband has me pegged right – he knows I am not going to give up on this until I have achieved some level of mastery and has resigned himself to the knowledge that he will be forced to eat a lot of inferior sausages until I make a breakthrough. The things we do for love and obsession.

This is roughly what I put in my first sausage mix – they didn’t work terribly well as sausages but make great meatballs or burgers or meatloaf with the addition of an egg
700g pork shoulder minced, with some fat left in
1/2 tbsp salt
good grinding of pepper
Good splash of red wine (it’s as technical as that)
Sprinkling of dried oregano
1 tbsp homemade apricot jam
Sprinkling of bread crumbs

We’ll see what the next 12 months brings to my sausage-making technique.

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Breakfast Granola for Warmer Mornings

Warmer weather calls for a different sort of breakfast. The porridge we have been eating for months on end must give way – but I want to keep oats involved because they provide such a healthy start to the day for my family. I have been making this granola for years and we all love it. The variations are endless. For something a bit special I like to add small chunks of dark chocolate – packaged up either in paper bags or glass jars, it also makes a great gift.

500g oats
100g shredded coconut
100g almonds
100g walnuts
3tbsp sunflower seeds
3tbsp sesame seeds
pinch of salt
4tbsp honey
3tbsp oil
1tsp cinnamon
1tsp nutmeg
100g sultanas
100g cranberries (for Christmas Granola)
100g dark chocolate cut into small chunks (for decadent Granola)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Mix together the oats, coconut, nuts, seeds and salt in a large baking tray (don’t omit the salt).

Melt together the honey, oil, cinnamon and nutmeg in a pan over low heat, then pour over the oat mix and stir through.

Bake in the oven, checking regularly and stirring often, until the granola reaches your preferred degree of crunchiness (about 20 minutes). Don’t blog or read the paper or hang out the washing during this stage as it can burn quickly. Trust me on this one.

Allow to cool completely and mix through the sultanas and/or cranberries and/or chocolate. I store the granola in a large airtight glass jar on the kitchen bench.

Granola medium

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One-Bowl-Wonder Semolina and Yoghurt Cake

In the north of Tasmania this past week, we have been battered by relentless heavy rain and gusting winds – definitely the wildest weather of the winter. No horsey fun for me unfortunately. But if only that was the worst of my troubles.

Bella in rain

Our house sits in a quite picturesque valley – we bought it in the summer when the drive was lined in trees in full greenery and sunlight glinted on the gently rippling water of the dam as a black swan glided across its surface. Winter brings a different vision indeed. Picture a quagmire, if you please.

The sheer volume of water running through our property proved too much for our house to bear and we were inundated. The kids could nearly have had their evening bath on the kitchen floor.

This kind of environment is not particularly conducive to complicated baking. A one-bowl wonder cake that has good keeping qualities was what I needed to get us through the week and I think I found it in this recipe, borrowed from this blog.

For the syrup
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
Juice from 1 lemon
For the cake
1 cup semolina
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup plain yoghurt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
3 tbsp flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly grease a rectangular baking dish (mine is glass) and line with baking paper (I forgot to do this, mind you, and it still came out of the dish just fine, as you can see below…don’t pay too much attention to the photography here – I like to photograph food in natural daylight but given my working hours and the season, that is impossible at the moment).

Make the syrup by boiling the water and sugar in a small saucepan until the sugar completely dissolves. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Set aside to cool.

To make the cake, in a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until combined into a smooth batter.

Bake just until the center of the cake is set and the top turns golden brown, approx. 30 minutes.

Immediately pour the cold syrup evenly over the surface of the warm cake. Let the cake cool completely, or chill, before serving. The syrup makes the cake very damp and the semolina gives it an interesting, slightly gritty texture – I know this doesn’t sound particularly appetising, but it is and the kids loved it.

Semolina Yoghurt Cake 2

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Farewell Architecture & Design and Hello Research Services (with Tiramisu)

Inveresk Architecture_11 2

Last Friday I farewelled my role with the School of Architecture & Design at the University of Tasmania, which I had held for the last two-and-a-half years. It was a great position, with wonderful people and in a fantastic building. A hard gig to follow – my new role with the Office of Research Services (still at the University) will have a lot to live up to.

For my farewell morning tea, I made one of my favourite things – a Tiramisu – from one of my favourite cook books.

4 eggs, separated
2 tbsp caster sugar
250g mascarpone
12 or so savoiardi biscuits
250ml strong black coffee (not instant)
40ml Marsala
cocoa powder for dusting generously

Beat the egg yolks with 1 tbsp sugar until fluffy. Add the mascarpone and beat on a low speed until well incorporated. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and the other spoon of sugar to soft peak stage. Gently incorporate the whites into the mascapone mixture.

Dip the savoiardi in the coffee one at a time, so that they absorb the coffee without going completely soggy. Arrange half the biscuits in the bottom of a small container and cover with a bit of marsala and some of the mascapone mixture. Form a second layer with the remaining biscuits, marsala and mascarpone. Allow to six in the fridge for at least 2 hours in the fridge before eating. Dust generously with cocoa before serving.


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Countless Rewards

I have been dipping into Wendyl Nissen’s A Home Companion recently and in it, she writes:

Anyone born after the 1960s was told that girls can do anything so we ended up doing everything. If you’re anything like me, eventually you reach a point where nothing seems to happen in your family’s lives without you. Finding the peanut butter, taking the dog to the vet, nursing children through sickness, sadness and stress, supporting our partners through sickness, sadness and stress, going out to work, cooking nutritionally balanced and eco-friendly meals until one day you just stop. Because you are unable to answer the question: ’What about me?’

When I turned 30, I found myself reaching this point and asking that question. I felt like I had spent the better part of my twenties caring for my growing family, while also striving to finish postgraduate studies and to work full time. After finding myself pregnant at 24, I lived through nine bouts of mastitis, eight house moves, two periods of post-natal depression, and a career change for both my husband and myself. While there was lots to celebrate and be thankful for, I wouldn’t say my twenties were the easiest time.

So turning 30 felt like a catalyst and an opportunity to reach out and grab something back for myself. A long-held childhood dream to have a horse shimmered up to the surface and took hold of me again. Even though I had limited experience with horses and my cool, rational side was urging careful consideration, I threw caution to the wind, acted from the heart and bought a beautiful black thoroughbred mare named Bella, with soft, kind eyes.

My Bella

This decision has had a profound affect on my life. I am crazy about my horse and have become obsessed with Parelli Natural Horsemanship. When I am with Bella, everything else in my life fades away and I exist purely in the present moment with my horse. I love her smell, the feel of her soft coat, our quiet moments together in peaceful harmony. Bella is an off-track thoroughbred and her racing name was ‘Countless Rewards’. While she never brought that on the track, she has certainly brought countless rewards to me and now, as I celebrate my 32nd birthday, I also celebrate two years with her.

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Orange-Vanilla Monkey Bread

Monkey Bread 2

I am always planning and plotting my next cake. On Sunday night, I made the lemon and poppyseed cake for school lunch box treats. But I knew that would be gobbled within about two days so on my lunch break at work on Monday I had a flick through one of my favourite blogs – Pioneer Woman. I love the way Ree Drummond writes, and I love her unapologetic use of butter, sugar, and pre-packaged foods, even though the latter is quite opposed to my own style and preference for cooking. On 29 April, she posted a recipe for Orange-Vanilla Monkey Bread and I knew I had found the basis for my next baking expedition. I have been reading a few American baking books recently – namely, the three cookbooks by the Baked team, so this cake felt in keeping with my reading.

Monkey bread recipes first started appearing in American women’s magazines in the 1950s but the dish is virtually unknown outside the States – I honesty don’t know why. Well, except for the whole ‘heart attack in a bundt tin’ thing.

There was no way I was going to use cans of biscuit dough (sorry Ree!), but I have a great sweet dough recipe that I knew would work really well. So here is my variation on Orange-Vanilla Monkey Bread.

Sweet Dough
300g bread flour
6g salt
24g caster sugar
4g yeast
35g unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
150ml milk
Monkey Bread
200g cup sugar
2 whole oranges, zested
Pinch of salt
220g salted butter
160g cup brown sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract

First make the dough. Combine the flour, salt, caster sugar and yeast in a bowl. Add the softened butter and milk, and mix in a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment for 5-10 minutes, until the mixture comes together in a smooth ball. Put in an oiled bowl and cover with cling film or a damp tea towel and leave somewhere warm until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 180C and butter a bundt tin.

To make the monkey bread, fill a large ziplock bag with the sugar, orange zest and pinch of salt. Seal the bag and shake it around until all combined. Cut the dough into pieces the size of a very large cherry. In batches, add the dough pieces to the bag, seal it and shake it around until the pieces are coated in the orange-flavoured sugar. Tip the pieces into the bundt pan and set aside somewhere warm, covered, to rise again for about 30 minutes.

While the dough pieces are rising, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and stir in the brown sugar and vanilla until just combined. Pour the mixture all over the dough pieces, then bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the top of the monkey bread is golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a cake rack for at least 10 minutes, then turn the monkey bread out onto a plate.

Monkey Bread in tin 2

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Eggplant and Green Bean Curry (without the beans)

We had friends over for a late afternoon tea and it was so nice seeing them that we pressed them to stay for dinner. Joel had recently picked the last of the french eggplants – those lovely white ones without the bitterness – that he grew this year before they could be destroyed by frost. We will definitely grow them again next summer as they were absolutely prolific, don’t take up much room and don’t attract garden pests. I made an eggplant curry with them, using Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe as a base.

Note that ‘as a base’ is code here for ‘only have half the ingredients in the pantry’. I include the full recipe below, although I found that even with half the ingredients missing (including the green beans) it makes a wonderful hearty curry served with basmati rice.

Eggplants 1

5 large eggplants
Approx. 6 tbsp oil (like canola or sunflower)
300ml homemade roasted tomato passata or bought passata (or tin of tomatoes also would be fine)
400ml tin coconut milk
300g french beans
Good handful of coriander, chopped
75g cashews or almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
Freshly ground salt and pepper
For the curry paste
2 medium onions
4 garlic cloves
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger
1 lemongrass stalk, tough outer layer removed, finely sliced
2 medium green chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
Serves 6 easily

Put all the curry paste ingredients in a little blender with 2 tbsp of water and whiz to a coarse paste.

Chop each eggplant into roughly 12 similar-sized pieces. Heat 2-3 tbsp of the oil over medium-high heat in a large non-stick frying pan (I use non-stick for this because then you don’t need to use as much oil – eggplants do love to soak up oil). Saute the eggplant, in batches, until lightly browned, adding oil as needed.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large, deep saucepan and add the curry paste. Fry over a medium heat, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes. Add the eggplant to the pan and stir for a minute until coated with the spice mixture.

Add the passata and coconut milk. If the sauce is very thick, add some water to thin out. Simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes, or until the eggplant is nearly cooked. Add the french beans and simmer until they are tender, about 5 minutes.

Season well with salt and pepper. To serve, scatter chopped coriander and nuts over the curry.

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Chocolate Mousse with Strawberries and Cream

Chocolate Mousse 1 - edited 2

This chocolate mousse is rich. So rich, that you need the extra cream to cut through the richness of the chocolate. Berries – or a tart coulis go well and small servings are required. I made this mousse to take to a dinner with friends, served in a pretty crystal bowl.

300ml cream
300g dark chocolate
3 eggs
1/4 cup icing sugar
vanilla/liqueur to flavour (optional)
1 heaped tbsp cocoa powder
Extra whipped cream, for serving
Berries, for serving
Extra cocoa powder, for serving

Melt chocolate and allow to cool.

Whip the cream.

Whip eggs and sugar until pale and doubled in size. Sift the cocoa into the egg mix, then drizzle in the melted chocolate and vanilla or liqueur, if using. Fold in the cream. Spoon into serving dish and refrigerate.

To serve, I topped my mousse with unsweetened whipped cream, fresh strawberries and a dusting of cocoa powder.

Chocolate Mousse 2 - edited 2

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