Saturday, 30 July 2011


I have been tentatively experimenting with bread recently. My past experiences of homemade bread don't bring back fond memories. Rather, homemade bread for me reminds me of hard, flat, doughy yuckness. I hasten to add that these memories are formed of my own bread-making sessions, not those of my accomplished bread-making friends.

However, I am tackling my food-foes, so bread needed to be tackled.

A friend from work recommended sourdough. I happen to really like sourdough, so it was settled. I would make sourdough. Turns out, you can't just make sourdough. Internet research informed me that in order to make sourdough I needed a sourdough starter. Said starter needs to mature and get nice and stinky (hence, sourdough). So began my exploration into sourdough. In a nutshell, a sourdough starter is flour, water and yeast, left to ferment and collect all the wonderful wild yeast in the air. I have seen suggestions for variations of the starter - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall uses rhubarb in his. I decided that, as a first-timer, I should stick with a more simple mix. As long as you feed it (flour and water), the starter should last indefinitely. The starter looks like you imagine a flour and water mix would - a rather insipid colour, with a few bubbles due to the fermentation.

So, with my starter "started", it was time to make sourdough!

I used this recipe to make my sourdough. It's quite a time-consuming process, but only in that you have long gaps where you are waiting for the bread to rise. I don't consider that a problem as I can always amuse myself in the kitchen!

All the ingredients needed a good knead. What a great way to get a workout in the kitchen!!

Leave it to rise and find something else to do in the kitchen.

Lovely and risen!

The finished product! A little darker than I would have liked, I think it was possibly a little to high in the oven. That's easy to fix next time.

The bottom however, was a beautiful golden colour!

I cooked my bread on a pizza stone to try and ensure the oven held the heat. It seemed to work well. The texture of the bread was lovely and soft, no doughy yuckness. So, sourdough - a success! Onto the next bread...

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Some of my favourite blogs

I have a few food blogs that I regularly check out, and I wanted to share them with you. There are some great recipes to be found in these blogs.

I think the prettiest blog absolutely goes to 101 Cookbooks. I love this blog. The author, Heidi, is a photographer and as well as delicious food, she has beautiful photos on her blog. Heidi focuses on natural, whole foods - vegetarian only. I am currently reading her book, Super Natural Cooking, which is a introduction to natural foods. It is really informative and interesting.

Another site with stunning photos is Canelle et Vanille. The recipes on this site are gluten-free and many use a number of natural ingredients.

My sister loves Azelia's Kitchen. Again, beautiful photos, and delicious-looking food.

Another great food blog is Taste Spotting. This is a blog where people can submit recipes after registering with the site. Most recipes link through to a blog or website, so this will make for hours of entertainment from food-lovers as you click through to various other delicious sites.

I discovered Sweetopia this evening by accident. I have not had chance to have a good look around this site, but my initial impression is that I will be making frequent visits to this site! Yum!

If I find any more great blogs in the future, I'll make sure to blog about them. For now, enjoy!

Dinner inspired by Christmas

I had some friends over for dinner last weekend. The weather was miserable, so I decided that we needed some winter warming food. Because we don't go for the heavy, warming food at Christmas time, I decided to experiment with a mid-winter themed dinner.

I have been browsing Martha Stewart's website recently, as she has some wonderful recipes. She has a great Holidays section, where I found some delicious-looking Thanksgiving and Christmas dishes. I was looking for something a bit different, but still with winter-warming qualities. It was difficult to narrow down what I wanted to make; at one stage I had about five or six different recipes open in my browser. It seems I may have to have another mid-winter Christmas dinner to try the other recipes!

But I eventually did narrow it down. Firstly, I roasted a beautiful big chicken (free-range of course). I made Peach Stuffing which was delicious! I really, really enjoyed this stuffing. I had a mini-disaster with the parsley, but that didn't seem to affect the dish. I went to the local market earlier in the day and purchased what I thought was a lovely big bag of organic parsley. The woman selling it obviously thought it was parsley too, as she had labeled it so, and we even had a quick chat about it! Anyway, when it came time to add the parsley, I opened the bag only to discover it was kale! Oh dear. Not to worry, my dish just didn't contain parsley. I'm sure the addition of parsley would have enhanced the flavour though. (I ended up just steaming the kale and serving it with a squeeze of lemon juice and some salt and pepper - delicious).

The next dish I made was Apple, Leek, and Butternut Squash Gratin.It was super easy to make, and delicious. I think I found it had too much liquid in the bottom once cooked. Next time I might ensure the leeks have very little liquid. I don't have any sherry, so I just used white wine instead.

I wish I had a photo of this finished dish, as it really was very pretty. I layered uniform pieces of the apple on top, so it had a lovely pattern when served. In fact, one of my guests was concerned that we were digging into the dessert! I couldn't find any sage for the dish, but it didn't seem to matter. This was a really tasty dish too, I would make it again.

I had heaps of food left over. (I was so paranoid about not having enough, so over-compensated but cooking about twice as much as I needed). However, this was not a problem, as I used the remaining chicken, stuffing, gratin and kale to make a delicious chicken pie. I simply made a roux of butter and flour and gradually added milk until I had a nice thick, creamy sauce. I then added all the left-overs and mixed it well. I baked this in some short pastry and we had pie for lunch and dinner for the next two days. Yum.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Mushroom soup

I cooked dinner for some friends the other night and for a starter made mushroom soup. I love mushroom soup. Growing up, I used to love making mushroom soup after picking mushrooms growing wild on the farm. There would be a small window of opportunity when the mushrooms would flourish and we would be out there picking as many as we could find.

Now that I am a city slicker, I have to resort to store-bought mushrooms. I grabbed a mixture of button mushrooms and the big flat brown mushrooms from my local supermarket. I think if you were willing to widen your search and perhaps go to a specialty vege store, or an Asian supermarket, you might find a wider variety of mushrooms. I had some dried mixed mushrooms, so I re-hydrated them with some boiling water, and added them to my soup.

Anyway, I was talking up the deliciousness of my soup at work the next day, and my workmate asked for the recipe, so here it is. This is based on the Edmonds Cook Book version, and Jamie Oliver's recipe but as always, I have modified them both to suit.

Melt a knob of butter and some olive oil in a saucepan, add a chopped onion, some garlic and about 500g of chopped mushrooms (depending on how many servings you want - this will make enough for about four). I also added my re-hydrated mixed mushrooms. Cook until the onion is clear and then add a few tablespoons of flour. Cook for a few minutes, and then add three cups of liquid. I used a mixture of milk and stock, but you can use only stock if you want. Vege stock is fine, but chicken stock also works really well.

Boil this mixture for about 5-10 minutes. Add some salt and pepper and parsley to taste. At this point, I used my stick blender to blend up some of the soup (I just gave it a few bursts in the pan - I wanted to keep some of the texture). When serving, I prefer to squeeze some lemon onto my soup. My partner is not a fan however, so I served the soup up with a wedge of lemon beside for my guests if they wanted.

This is super tasty - enjoy!