Saturday, 30 December 2017

2017 and Gin Pickled Cucumbers.

2017. You had some epic highs and some tough spots. Thank you and good riddance.

I turned 29 just over a week ago. I’m now officially into my last year of my 20’s and in my 30th year of hanging around this world. My birthday is a bit of a non event and I enjoy other people’s birthdays much more. But, I have these lovely, beautiful and pesky friends that organise things for me each year and spoil me so I can’t skip it. I end up having the best time and realise birthdays aren't so terrible in the end. This is a message for future me.

Also, does anyone know where December went??? It came, and is nearly done and I’m still not sure how it all happened. It has flown. I normally bake my little feet off and gift cookies and toffee but this year it seemed hard enough to get a batch of mince pies baked, let alone cookies. I’m still not sure what went wrong except that it has been the most unorganised Christmas/December ever. We didn’t even have a tree up or lights... go on say it. Grinch! Grinchy Grinch Grinch! Yep I am. Instead of baking for people, I made gin pickled cucumbers from The Modern Preserver cookbook that I borrowed from the library. I’m sharing this recipe with you all because I wasn’t organised enough to gift everyone some and they are freaking amazing so you should make them yourself but also for me, to note the recipe down so I can make them again and again. They are sharp, pickley, spicy, zingy and go so so great with cold smoked salmon. If you love pickled things, you will LOVE these.

Ah and New Years, how are we doing this again so soon?! It’s the day of the year I need a greasy burger or dumplings to fix the amount I’ve drunk the previous eve the most. The day I make resolutions that may or may not be kept for the rest of the year and the day I start a new diary that I never end up keeping. This year, I’m planning on not drinking my body weight in wine, not buying a 2018 diary and I’m not making any resolutions. Instead I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt in 2017 that might be useful in 2018 for others.

  • You should always check the wash for black socks before you put a white load in.
  • Learning to sharpen a knife is a good skill to have.
  • Bicarb and vinegar clean mince pie mush off your oven really well.
  • Friends are important, tell them you love them often.
  • The gym isn’t so bad once you get through the first month of aches.
  • Bay leaves in your cupboards seem to keep silverfish away (fingers crossed).
  • Getting married is fun but if you’re a non-planner the planning is the hardest part.
  • Moving your body is important, you only get one.
  • Tasmania is rugged, full of wildlife and spectacular.
  • It takes skill when squatting not to pee on your ankles. 
  • It takes time to master skills.
  • 2018 is the year for skills.
  • The Barefoot Investor is really good book.
  • Salad Pizza is a genius recipe.
  • Green Chicken meatballs are also genius.
  • Family is precious.
  • It’s ok if you can’t roll sushi, make sushi sandwiches instead.
  • It’s always better to do the dishes that night because tomorrow you will want to do them even less.
  • Campfire cooking is really fun.
  • The local library has some really good cookbooks.
  • Don’t believe the cat rescue shelter when they tell you it’s a short haired kitten. It could possibly be the great dane of cats with a lion's mane. Shaving them in summer will be funny, a revelation and also make them a happier cat.
  • Dishwashers are gods.
  • Rooftop tents are fun and cozy but not great in the wind. Everything shakes.
  • If only your friends read this, what more can you ask for?!!

MERRY EVERYTHING AND HAPPY ALWAYS you beautiful beautiful people!! Thank you for reading my rambles and sticking with me always. x

Gin Pickled Cucumbers

recipe from The Modern Preserver by Kylee Newton
makes 4-5 300ml jars

How to eat: these are sharp, boozy and spicy. Try with chicken, fish or beef burgers. They are also great with smoked/steamed/baked salmon or trout or simply spice up your work lunch sandwich with a few. Or garnish the edge of a gin martini glass instead of an olive.

1 birds’ eye chilli
1 lime, zest and juice
500ml white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoon sea salt
12-15 juniper berries (3 in each jar)
2 large cucumbers
8 baby round shallots
2-3 sprigs fresh mint
100-125ml gin (25ml per jar)

Finely chop the chilli (if you prefer these without a chilli kick, deseed the chilli for a milder flavour) and put in a medium, stainless steel saucepan with the lime zest and juice, vinegar, sugar, salt and juniper berries.

Bring to a gentle simmer, dissolving the sugar and infusing the flavours for around 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.

Finely slice the cucumbers - a mandoline does this perfectly but you can slice them with a knife if you don’t have one or prefer thicker slices. Peel and finely slice the shallots. Strip the mint leaves from the stalks.

Start by stacking layers of cucumber, shallot and mint into warm, dry, sterilized jars** until the jars are half full. Add 25ml gin and 2 juniper berries (from the vinegar brine) to each jar and continue to stack, until the vegetables are about 1 cm from the rim.

Fill the jars with the vinegar brine, distributing the remaining spices (in the brine) evenly between them and gently pushing down on the contents to remove the air bubbles. Tap the jars gently on a hard surface to remove any more bubbles, add more bringe if necessary to completely cover the vegetables then seal.

Eat the next day if you like a crunch to your pickle or keep sealed for up to 4 weeks in a cool, dark place to allow the flavours to marry.

Once opened, refrigerate and eat within 4 weeks.

** Sterilising jars.
If you have a dishwasher, this is the easiest way. Place jars and lids in a dishwasher on a hot cycle, remove them once done without touching the inside of the jars or inside of the lids. Make sure jars are still warm (but not wet) when filling them with hot jam.

Otherwise if you don't have dishwasher like me, wash jars in hot soapy water and rinse well. Place rinsed jars on a tray in a preheated, low (120C) oven for about 30 minutes. Place the lids in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. I take the jars out of the oven just before I am about to fill them so they are still warm.

Or you can go to any home-brew shop and they sell sterilising chemicals which you can also use.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Summer Panzanella, the only salad recipe you need this summer from Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat | #GIVEAWAY

Welcome summer, you stinker you!!

I don’t know about the oven in your kitchen but when it’s a stinker like it has been for the past few days the last thing I want to do it turn my oven on. In winter we turn it on and use it as a heater, why on earth would we want that in summer?! Ok, I can think of two reasons. One, you promised mince pies to the office (totally regretting this one) and two, you get sent a lovely new cookbook. Tuesday was one of those days where both exceptions happened. And now we have a new rule in our home; I'm not allowed to turn the oven on throughout summer.

Ok so what recipe and book called for the oven to be turned on on a 30C+ day? First, the recipe, torn croutons of course. Yes dear readers, torn croutons. And I’m going to say you should do the same and get that oven cranking. It was totally worth it. No I didn’t just eat torn croutons, although they were delicious to snack on, they were for a Summer Panzanella Salad. This time of year, when it’s hot and you don’t want to eat steamy foods is the perfect time of year for this salad. The tomatoes make up a big portion and are beautiful and fragrant and just taste like summer right now but you also get the combination of dressing soaked croutons and the crunch from the croutons you add last minute. It’s a salad with the best kind of carbs and it’s delicious.

The book, Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat. If you like knowing the nerdy things about food and cooking and what happens when you apply those elements to food then this cookbook is right up your alley. Me, I’m a food nerd all the way. As soon as I wake up in the morning I’m already thinking about my meals for the day and what I get to eat and cook. After breakfast and packing my lunch for work, I’m already mentally running through ingredients in the freezer, fridge and pantry and deciding on dinner. My mind is constantly thinking about food and cooking.

Samin Nosrat, the brilliant chef behind the book, learnt to cook in a commercial kitchen. It was all about salt, fat, acid and heat. She learnt these elements from chefs who cooked without recipes and made consistently delicious meals each service. It’s the way she developed her intuition with cooking and this book is her way of teaching the rest of us to do the same. So we can cook on our own more often and not rely solely on a recipe word for word, allowing us to change things up, make it our own.

This book is like cooking school in a book. The first half of the book will teach you the basics Samin preaches; salt, fat, acid and heat. She passes on her wisdom and explains the way each element works, uses for it, why you use it and also when to use it. Watch this video for salt. Makes so much sense!

Samin’s writing is fun and full of stories along the way making this book part memoir, reference book and cookbook. In her words, it will turn a good cook into a great cook.

I’ve been cooking, learning and reading about food for over 10 years now (that makes me feel a little old), I’ve worked in commercial kitchens of restaurants and patisseries and have already learnt a tonne from this book. Somethings I knew but never really knew the how, others were a lightbulb moment and some just super handy to know eg. I had no clue that sushi rice requires less water than long grain rice, my sushi rice will never be soggy/waterlogged again. There are tips for flavour combinations from around the world and the recipes in the second half of the book have recommendations for accompaniments, other versions and what else you can serve with it. The salad dressing section in this book is one I will forever use! There are no photographs so if you are one for glossy photographs in a cookbook, you might need to think outside the book(ha!) but it’s full of illustrations. Samin explains she didn't want photographs in this book, so you can use the lessons she creates to cook the recipes she shares without a visual, allowing you to focus on flavour. It’s a neat idea.

But now more on that Summer Panzanella.

It’s a combination of summer tomatoes, crisp cucumber, fragrant basil and mellowed (vinegar soaked) onions all dressed in a tomato vinaigrette because you can never have enough tomatoes in summer, am I right?! Oh and torn croutons. These little beauties are what you cannot miss in this salad. They soak up all the dressing, juice and flavour and add a simple carb to the salad making it a meal in one or a great side for some bbq chicken or steak, no potatoes needed. This salad will be on high rotation this summer while tomatoes are at their best. Come Autumn, I’ll have to give the Autumn version a go.

Enough blabbing (thank you if you did read all that). But now on to why most of you are likely here... I was very kindly given a copy of Salt Fat Acid Heat to giveaway and I thought what better day to do a cookbook giveaway than on my birthday! Yep that’s right trusty readers, a freebie for you. It’s a big, fun, full of information, nerdy cookbook that could be yours. All you need to do is leave a comment below telling me your favourite thing to make in summer (with or without the oven) and the lucky winner will be notified via email. Open to Australian residents only, competition closes 26.12.2017 11pm AEDT.

Get in quick and leave me some love!

**Update: This giveaway has ended. THANKYOU THANKYOU THANKYOU for everyone who commented and entered! 

Summer Panzanella: Tomato, Basil, and Cucumber

recipe from Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat

½ medium red onion, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
225g torn croutons, see recipe below
double batch of tomato vinaigrette, see recipe below
450g cherry tomatoes, stemmed and halved
675g flavourful small tomatoes (about 8), cored and wedged into bite-sized pieces
4 persian/lebanese cucumbers, stripey peeled** and cut into 1cm slices
16 basil leaves
Flaky sea salt

**Remove the skin in alternate strips, leaving some behind and removing some.

In a small bowl, toss the sliced onion with the vinegar and let it sit for 20 minutes to macerate. Set aside.

Place half the croutons in a large salad bowl and toss with 125ml of vinaigrette. Place the cherry and wedged tomatoes on top of the croutons and season with salt to encourage them to release some of their juices. Let sit for about 10 minutes.

Continue assembling the salad: add the remaining croutons, cucumber, and macerated onions (but not their vinegar, yet). Tear in the basil leaves in a large pieces. Dress with another 125ml of vinaigrette and taste. Adjust seasoning as needed, adding salt, vinaigrette, and/or the macerating vinegar to taste. Toss, taste again, and serve.

Refrigerate leftovers, covered, for up to one night.

Torn Croutons

recipe from Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat

*you only need HALF this recipe for the above Summer Panzanella recipe.

450g loaf day-old country or sourdough bread
75ml extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200C. For more tooth-friendly croutons, remove the crusts from the bread, then cut the loaf into 2.5cm-thick slices. Cut each slice into 2.5cm-wide strips. Working over a large bowl, tear each strip into 2.5cm-size pieces. Alternatively, you can just tear croutons directly off the loaf, as long as you get somewhat evenly sized pieces.

Toss the croutons with the olive oil to coat them evenly, then spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Use a second sheet as needed to prevent crowding, which will entrap steam and keep the croutons from browning.

Toast the croutons for about 18 to 22 minutes, checking them after 8 minutes. Rotate the pans, switch their oven positions, and use a metal spatular to turn and rotate the croutons so that they brown evenly. Once they begin to brown, check them every few minutes, continuing to turn and rotate. Some croutons might be done when others still need a few more minutes of baking, so remove them from the tray and let the rest finish cooking. Bake the croutons until they’re golden brown and crunchy on the outside, with just a tiny bit of chew on the inside.

Taste a crouton and adjust the seasoning with a light sprinkling of salt if needed.

When done, let the croutons cool in a single layer on the baking sheet. Use immediately or keep in an airtight container for up to 2 days. To refresh stale croutons, bake for 3 to 4 minutes at 200C.

Tomato Vinaigrette

recipe from Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat

*you need DOUBLE this recipe for the above Summer Panzanella recipe.

2 tablespoons diced shallots
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
1 large or two small very ripe tomatoes (about 225g)
4 basil leaves, torn into large pieces
55ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove

In a small bowl or jar, let the shallot sit in the vinegars for about 15 minutes to macerate, to soften the harshness of the shallot.

Halve the tomato crosswise. Grate on the largest hole of a box grater and discard the skin. You should be left with 100g of grated tomato. Add it to the shallot. Add the basil leaves, olive oil, and a generous pinch of salt. Smash the garlic against the workshop with the palm of your hand and add to the dressing. Shake or stir to combine. Taste with a crouton or slice of tomato and adjust salt and acid as needed. Let sit for at least 10 minutes, and remove the garlic before using.

Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to 2 days.

Monday, 4 December 2017

banana, fig and walnut loaf cake from The Tivoli Road Baker

I've started this post I think about ten times by now. What I want to say is just not coming out right.

But here goes... for the eleventh time now...

I've been in a cooking funk for a couple of weeks. My mind has been elsewhere. When this happens I find I go elbow deep in a project. At the moment, it's sourdough and for the past few weeks I've been trying to master a simple loaf, I think I've got it but sourdough is a labour of love. It takes planning and time. You put so much effort in, folding, proving, shaping, proving, preheating your oven to very freakin' hot, turning your apartment into a sauna and then, to find a flat, very dense, pancake looking blob. It's like a stab in the guts. Although in saying all this there has been one recipe that has given consistent results each and every time, the Basic Sourdough recipe from The Tivoli Road Baker Cookbook. It's simple, reliable, clear, not too wordy and I like that it uses both white and wholemeal flours. Now, for those sourdough bakers out there, I am sorry but I am not sharing a sourdough recipe here today. Even though I think I've got it down pack now (touch wood) I am no way confident enough to share sourdough on the space just yet, I still cross my fingers and pray to the sourdough gods each and every time.

banana, fig and walnut loaf cake from Tivoli Road Baker | salt sugar and i

banana, fig and walnut loaf cake from Tivoli Road Baker | salt sugar and i

But now on to the actual reason I'm here (not to whinge about sourdough), The Tivoli Road Baker cookbook ... Wow. It is beautiful. I find myself grabbing it off the shelf and reading it through again and again, day dreaming of everything I want to cook and eat. If only there were more hours in the day or I got paid just share recipes and ramble to you lot. Oh the dream! I want to eat EVERYTHING, all the pages. The breads look perfect and crusty, the pies looks so so delicious (chicken curry!) and the pastries, oh um yum. They bring back memories of pastry school where we'd spend all day baking and chatting and then eating our creations. Fresh out of the oven pastries are one of the best things in the entire world to eat.

In the book (and bakery) they have these delicious looking pastry things called Morning Buns. I want to make these and eat these every time I open the book but there is no whipping them out midweek unless you'd like to forgo sleep. If you're in the Melbourne area, I'd go and get yourself a Morning Bun from The Tivoli Road Bakery, ASAP. They look incredible. Flaky croissant dough, covered in sugar and filled with vanilla flecked pastry cream. Does it get any better? Anyway. Maybe this weekend I can make them as I've (temporarily) given up wine after the weekend just past and thinking baking is a better option.

banana, fig and walnut loaf cake from Tivoli Road Baker | salt sugar and i

After reading this book cover to cover (twice at least), last week, midweek, I knew that I had to make something from this beauty of a book with instant results (no waiting, folding and proving) and the skanky bananas in the fruit bowl were calling 'banana, fig and walnut loaf cake... banana, fig and walnut loaf cake' so thats what I made and it made our apartment smell incredible. I'd forgotten how nice it is to bake just for the sake of making a cake, no birthday, no gift, just because. I did end up sharing it at the tupperware party I went to as there was no way myself and Tris could eat the entire thing (ok we could but probably shouldn't) and I think it went down quite well (after I has to explain that it was NOT christmas cake).

It's very similar to a banana bread but fully loaded with figs that while still warm, taste like sticky jam and walnut halves, giving crunch. While baking it smells homey and like delicious banana bread/cake but once out of the oven, it smells just like christmas. It's got to be the cinnamon and the dried figs that go all jammy and treacle-like. It's not an overly sweet cake so if you're one of them who doesn't like the sweet sweet cakes, this one is for you. You can also swap out the figs and walnuts for whichever fruit and nuts you prefer, they suggest dates and hazelnuts as another delicious alternative. The image in the book and recipe below says to thinly slice a banana and place it on top which I would have done if all my bananas were not mushy so instead I just sprinkled the top with raw sugar and left the sliced banana off. It turned out great, a little dark but that's our oven. Even with it on lower than instructed, our oven has a viscous bite.

banana, fig and walnut loaf cake from Tivoli Road Baker | salt sugar and i

The cake keeps for a good three days wrapped up or in an airtight container and I think, it's actually better the next day and day after! The flavours really come together and because of the moist sticky figs, it keeps it from drying out. I think this is one of the best loaf cakes I've ever baked and eaten, it was seriously tasty, kept so well and made it feel like Christmas is here... always a good feeling.

There are some Christmasy goodies in the cookbook I want to have a go at too which might go in rotation this year and the usuals can take a seat for a change. The Basics section in the back also has great pantry staples that'd make great little Christmas gifts, everyone loves pickles with leftover Christmas ham, right?

banana, fig and walnut loaf cake 

recipe from The Tivoli Road Baker by Michael James
makes 1 large loaf

Note: it's best to use very ripe bananas in the mix for this cake. The browner the banana, the more flavour it will lend to the finished product. You can often find heavily discounted bananas in just the right state of disrepair at your green grocer.

155g plain (all-purpose) flour
2 tablespoons cornflour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon powder soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
250g very ripe bananas, peeled (approx. 3-4)
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 eggs, at room tempreature
1/2 vanilla pod*
85g unsalted butter, soft
170g caster sugar
115g walnut halves
225g dried figs, stems removed and quartered
1 banana (less ripe)
1-2 tablespoons raw (demerara) sugar, for topping

*I used a squeeze of vanilla paste instead

Preheat your oven to 160C / 320F and grease a 9 x 22 x 10cm (3.5 x 8.75 x 4 inch) loaf tin and line it with baking paper.

Sift together the plain flour, cornflour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, mash the very ripe bananas with the lemons juice until soft, then stir in the eggs and vanilla.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (you can also use a hand mixer for this or a bowl and wooden spoon if you dare), cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the egg and banana mixture, beating well between each addition until fully incorporated. If the mix looks like its splitting while adding the egg, add a tablespoon of the flour mixture and mix till it comes together then continue adding the egg and banana mixture. Add the dry ingredients and mix gently until combined, then add the walnuts and figs and mix together.

Peel the other banana and cut into thin slices lengthways. Pour the mixture into your prepared tin, then place the banana slices over the top. (It is important the slices are thin, otherwise they will sink into the batter as the cake bakes.) Sprinkle with raw sugar, as desired, then bake for 50-60 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave in the tin for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.