Monday, August 31, 2015

Going Pro: All About the Crumble Muffins (and Crumble Granola)

Woo hoo!  Sold my first cake (writer's note: now I've sold three)!  Going pro after all these years of amateur status.  I bake for many reasons (the order of importance varies widely):  to show love, to make friends, to feed hungry people, to feed me, to do something productive, to feel accomplishment, to change my mood, to calm me down, to taste the batter, to challenge myself, to try something new, to justify a cookbook purchase......I could go on.  I'm living in basically paradise, but winter's just over and spring is new and even though it's mild (usually 60-70 F during the day) it's almost always cold in our apartment without central (or any, really) heat.  It's nice to run the oven just for a little extra warmth.  It's also good to work in the kitchen in the evening so I don't just fall asleep watching television or Netflix (currently binge-watching Parks and Rec).  And no matter the weather, I can always use more friends. Baked goods are excellent ice breakers.  Plus, I definitely need someone to eat most (if not all) I bake because paradise requires wearing swim wear and Australian paradise pretty much requires that to be of the two-piece variety or a wetsuit which is possibly even less friendly than a bikini.

Anyway, I've never baked for profit to this point.  And even though I'm selling baked goods to my favorite cafe on a pretty casual basis, going pro in a highly semi-pro way, it's clearly not about the money.  A little pocket money will be fun, but baking for resale will be something new to do and truly it will simply be something to do.  Currently weekly orders of peanut butter snack cake and weekend dinner service orders of creme brulee cheesecake are on my baking schedule (along with these muffins because they are favorites). You would think with all this free time my empty nester expat life affords that I might have written a few more blog posts.  Up until a few weeks ago, I just couldn't get comfortable in my apartment kitchen. But I've been back from two trips home to the states for over a month now and the whole thing is feeling more like home, not just the kitchen.  It's still a very dark and fairly ugly space, but the appliances and I have a better relationship now and I'm pretty good at overlooking things I can not change.  I have yet to find attractive options for photos, so for now you will get mainly photos off my iPhone.  I need to construct a good white space for photography and that just may never happen here.  The joys of living some place that's not your own.

But I do have a warming drawer.  There's that.  I love that thing.  Since most of you are about to enter the cool weather, here's a semi-pro tip for you:  warm your plates (and serving bowls, if appropriate) before serving dinner.  The warming drawer is perfect for this, but a quick microwave (if microwave safe) or a good running under hot water works too.  You've bothered to assemble a delicious hot meal and it would be tragic to have it quickly cooled from a cold plate.  That is for sure my favorite thing about my kitchen.  Well, that and my kitchen is just a few hundred yards from the Tasman Sea/Pacific Ocean.

Do you want a recipe?  You know, I might get around to that for you.  That is the whole point of this blog.  (I do have the other one for expat musings).  One of my cookbooks that made the trip down under, is "Huckleberry" from the cafe/bakery in Santa Monica.   The cover features a brioche loaf with a fresh blueberry swirl which I have yet to make because that swirl would cost me about $20 here (blueberries are crazy expensive no matter the season).  But I have made the brioche which is lovely.  And I've made a vegetarian tartine with a brilliant bechamel sauce that employs a jalepeno.  I will share it.  You may have to remind me.  The current favorite from the book is this muffin.  I've changed it just a bit based on ingredients I can easily find.  The muffins are not too sweet and are full of nutty tasting good things, but the best part is the crumble topping.  It's so good, I've actually made it into a granola recipe which is a little bonus at the end of the post.  Because the tops crumbled into my morning yogurt with fresh blood oranges and strawberries were a happy accident that is now a regular routine.  Don't let the millet put you off. It is pretty funny that I spent lots of money buying deluxe bird food for our backyard birds in Indiana, deluxe usually meaning a low percentage of millet, and now I am buying lowly millet it from the bulk bins to use in my baked goods for humans.

One more little side note.  I can not find kosher salt in Sydney.  Closest thing would be sea salt, but the crystals are massive and I think must be ground to add to baked goods.  On the other hand, finishing salts are plentiful and not expensive.  Maldon flaky sea salt is actually much cheaper here. Neither here nor there, but an interesting side note (at least to me).  Bake on.

All About the Crumble Muffins

Crumble Topping
1/2 C oats, preferable old-fashioned (not quick) oats
1/4 C whole wheat flour
3 T unsalted butter, slightly softened
2 T brown sugar
1 T honey
1 T millet
1 T chia seeds (poppy seeds are also good, but one or the other)
1T flax seeds
1T wheat germ
1/4 tsp kosher or sea salt

1 1/4 C whole wheat flour
2 T almond flour
1 T wheat germ
1 T millet
1 T chia or poppy seeds
1 T flax seeds
1 T oats
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 C brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 C granulated sugar (I like superfine, here that is called caster sugar)
1 tsp kosher salt or sea salt
4 T unsalted butter, melted
1/2 C buttermilk
1/2 C canola oil
1 egg
1tsp vanilla
1 large apple, peeled and coarsely grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray or line muffin cups with papers (which just seem silly if your baked goods are being consumed at home).

When you are measuring out dry ingredients for the crumble topping, go ahead and measure out the dry ingredients for the muffins too because there are a lot of duplicates.  Just a timesaver.

Make the crumble topping combining all crumble ingredients in a small bowl and blending them with your hands (warms up the butter) and helps form the crumbs.  Set aside.  You will have to wash your hands with nice hot soapy water (which you should already be doing in the kitchen), but before you do, feel free to have a taste of that crumble.  Yum..

To make the muffins, in a large bowl whisk together the dry ingredients:  whole wheat flour, almond flour, wheat germ, millet, chia/poppy seeds, flax seeds, oats, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar, sugar and salt.  In a liquid measuring cup or in a small bowl, whisk together the butter, honey, buttermilk, canola oil, egg and vanilla extract.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold together with the grated apple just until combined.

Fill muffin cups to the top (or pretty close) and top with evenly distributed crumble.  Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean and or the center of the muffins springs back when lightly pressed.  Cool in pan for 5-10 minutes before carefully lifting muffins out to continue to cool on a cooling rack right side up (you don't want to lose the crumb topping).

Makes 12 (delicious) muffins

Bonus recipe a modification of the crumble topping.

Crumble Granola

3 C oats, not the quick cooking kind
3 T unsalted butter
4 T brown sugar
2 T honey
2 T millet
2 T chia seeds (poppy seeds are also good, but one or the other)
2 T flax seeds
2 T wheat germ
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
2 tsp cinnamon, optional

Melt the butter and stir in the sugar and honey.  Toss with all dry ingredients and modify to taste. You may want to add some canola or other oil (coconut oil would be tasty) by the tablespoon if your granola is too dry.  You can always replace the butter with oils of your choice.  Add the cinnamon if you want.  Add some almonds or walnuts or sunflower seeds.  After baking, toss in some dried fruit of choice.
Spread the granola evenly on a baking pan/sheet lined with parchment and bake in a 325 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes, stirring so it evenly toasts but does not get too brown.  Store in an airtight container.

Hehe.  Note this whole bag of indoor bird food is $1 AUS.  Look at all those little pearly grains of millet.
Side note.  Men's Speedos are aka as "Budgie Smugglers" in Australia.  They are a funny lot.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

new addiction: peanut butter snack cake

Ahhh, even in paradise there are cool and rainy days in fall.  My tendency to bake on dreary days continues even in my upside down world in Australia.  It's such a compelling feeling in my gut on days like this.  Must bake.  Must warm up the kitchen. Must measure.  Must move through the kitchen logically, economically, purposefully and rhythmically.  Must produce something that makes me happy because it makes other people happy. The challenge here is to find someone with which to share the good things I am drawn to produce.

Today I made my second peanut butter snack cake in 10 days and I'm afraid it might become a small addiction.  And I kind of had to make it because I have a week to clear out the refrigerator before I fly home and it's just me.  What to do with the buttermilk?  I could marinate some chicken (but then I'd have leftover chicken).  Nah, baking is more fun and easier to share.  I've boxed up some to take to my favorite couple behind the counter and behind the espresso machine at my favorite coffee place. And the two pieces I saved for myself are already gone.  Challenge met.

Peanut butter is also not really a thing here.  You can find bulk nuts of all kinds, but peanuts are not always amongst your selections.  Have yet to see a honey roasted peanut which is a little sad.  I'd love to make some of my peanut butter.  I might be able to change some minds.  The natural peanut butters in the groceries are good, just expensive but you can say that about most food in Australia.

This little cake is a winner.  I make it in an 8 x 8 pan so there are 16 cute little pieces.  It's not overly sweet.  You can eat it without utensils.  It's not crumbly.  It would be easy to pack in a lunch sack. But mainly it's just yummy.  I haven't tried stirring in some chocolate chips, but I would imagine you can easily add some of the mini ones for extra deliciousness.

I do miss mini chips.  I can certainly endure the bigger drops or disks here or chopping some bulk chocolate, but I may smuggle a few bags of mini chips back in.  Shhhhh, don't tell.

You can make this cake in just over half an hour and in just one bowl and a few measuring cups. Finish this cake with a nice blanket of powdered sugar.  Just for the happiness of it.

Peanut Butter Snack Cake

1 C sugar
1 C flour
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 C lowfat buttermilk
1/4 C canola or other neutral flavored oil
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
6 T water
1/2 C natural creamy peanut butter (just peanuts and salt, no added sugar or whatever)
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line an 8 x 8 pan (or an 8 or 9 inch round pan) with a square of parchment paper on the bottom and then spray the bottom and sides with non-stick spray.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.  In a 2-cup liquid measuring cup measure the buttermilk and then measure the oil on top.  Whisk in the vanilla and egg, water and peanut butter until smooth.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk or stir together until well-combined.  Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden and a cake tester in the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan for about 10 minutes, then invert pan and cake onto a cooling rack to cool completely.  Dust generously with powdered sugar.  Cut into squares and serve.  Store in an airtight container (if you have any leftovers).

Australian versions of familiar American ingredients

dry and wet

still needs some whisking-see the lumps?  you don't want lumps

ready to bake


inverted with the parchment-you don't need the foil, I had a scrap and was minimizing clean up, but I should have rotated this for you, although sideways is often appropriate for me

again, do not use the foil, your cake will steam while cooling 


Saturday, April 25, 2015

my kicthen rules (well, kind of since I am a little under equipped): chocolate meringue cake

Ahh, and we find an unposted draft.  Hmmmm..... how did I miss hitting the publish button?  It's always a good time for a chocolate cake post and this one is a good one.  Small and different enough to serve for a celebration or just because you need little chocolate.  When this cake was about to go in the oven, Greg texted me that an Aussie celebrity was getting his haircut in the chair next to him at the barber shop just down in town.  So I hit the timer on my phone, jumped on my bike and waited until the haircuts were done to get a picture.  There is a hugely popular reality series here, MKR or My Kitchen Rules, a home cook competition for aspiring chefs.  The two-person teams come from all over Australia and from "instant restaurants" where teams decorate their homes and cook in their own kitchens for the other competitors and the very intimidating judges to cooking challenges including catering a wedding, cooking for an airline and feeding campers the teams have been reduced from 18 to 5.  The team of "Poms" which is Aussie for Brits from Manly and nearby Mosman are still in the top 5.  And my new friend here, Steve Flood (the Manly half of the duo) and his friend Will are clearly favorites to win.  He was very gracious and we had a good chat about baking, Australian eggs, oven thermometers, kitchen scales and of course, MKR.  Good on Greg for tipping me off.  Greg loves the show and is now traveling and terribly sad to miss the finals.

I own the ridiculousness of this brush with Aussie fame:  MKR's Steve Flood of Manly and me
This is the cake that was in the oven during that fateful afternoon.  About a month ago we had a proper little dinner party for our Manly Airbnb hosts who in a very lovely way have become good friends.  I wanted to bake an apple galette, but could not find pie apples (and it is fall here) at the shops I could easily reach on my bike.  But I did find my favorite Belgian chocolate, Callebaut (good news for Sara who is coming to visit soon), on sale at a price less than what I paid in the states (but I bought it at Whole Foods, mind you).   Chocolate in the house, I then fortuitously found a recipe for a single layer chocolate cake on Instagram from an Aussie lifestyle personality, Donna Hay who's not quite a Martha Stewart but that is clearly her goal.  I tweaked it a little, but I do like how in many baking recipes here they include almond meal for part of the structure instead of all flour.  The flours are different here with some milled coarser, some finer, self-rising being a popular thing and the like.  I buy my almond meal from a bulk seed, nut, and etc. stand at our bi-weekly farmers market.  It's fairly coarse, but works well. But even the grocery brands of almond meal/almond flour are less expensive than in the states probably because it is more commonly used.

The measurements here include grams and a close conversion.  I actually brought a kitchen scale to Australia just for this reason.  Easier and more precise to weigh, but you will be fine with my conversions.  If you want to buy a kitchen scale someday, they are kind of cool to use.  Surely better for baking measurements.  This is another baking win all by hand.  I even whisked the meringue by hand.  Quite a workout, but after a while, glossy peaks did indeed form.  

Anyway, this cake is yummy.  The base is almost like a brownie.  The base is baked first and then topped with a meringue and returned to the oven.  Meringue topping trumps frosting in my book.  It just kind of melts into the base layer and is a delightful texture.  I served it with a bit of vanilla ice cream, but it's a good rustic cake that is good for snacking without a scoop of ice cream (or even utensils), if you have some leftover.  I also bake a vanilla meringue cake which is really nice with some macerated strawberries (berries tossed in a little sugar to release the juices) and Spring-y.  Both are a nice one-layer size giving you just enough for dessert, but not too much.

Chocolate Meringue Cake

250 grams dark chocolate  (ha ha, unless you have a food scale that's 8.8 ounces for you and don't sweat it the chocolate measurement is not the most important measurement and you can use milk chocolate or a combination of the two, if you like)
180 grams unsalted butter (6.7 ounces or about 3/4 C)
2 eggs
4 additional eggs, used as yolks first for the cake layer than whites for the meringue layer
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 C almond meal (almond flour in the states)
1 C superfine sugar (here it is called caster sugar, ok)
1 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp espresso powder (even finely ground coffee beans work)

2 T cocoa powder (dutch process if you have it)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line the bottom of a springform pan with a circle of parchment paper and then spray the sides and the paper bottom of the pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth.  Set mixture aside to cool a bit.  In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, extra egg yolks, brown sugar and vanilla until pale and thick (yep, you can do this by hand too but it is way easier in a stand mixer).  Add the melted and slightly cooled chocolate mixture, flour, baking powder and almond meal folding gently to combine (this is actually best done by hand).  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake at 325 degrees for 35-40 minutes, or until a tester in the middle comes out clean and or the cake springs back when lightly touched in the middle. I'm a cake tester kind of girl, but when I baked this the light touch spring back method worked.  So did my tried and true indicator of "when you smell delicious baked goods, they are probably done".  Remove the cake and turn up the oven to 350 degrees.

Make the meringue layer by beating the reserved egg whites on high (or really get your forearms a workout and whisk it by hand) until soft peaks form.  Gradually add the sugar and beat until the meringue is thick and glossy.  Stir in the cream of tartar, espresso and cocoa powders gently until evenly mixed through.  Scrape the meringue out of the bowl and smooth evenly across the baked cake.  Return the cake to the oven and bake another 20-25 minutes until the meringue is lightly browned (it's kind of hard to tell since it is chocolate, but 20 minutes should be enough).  Cool on a wire rack until room temperature.  Carefully run a table knife around the sides of the springform pan along the baked cake to release.  Remove springform and place cake, covered loosely, in the refrigerator to cool for at least two hours.  Cut in slices and serve with ice cream or berries, if desired.

baked cake layer

hand whisked meringue

baked cake and meringue layer

ready to plate and serve

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

comforting: mushroom and ricotta pasta

Where did April and the sunshine go?  Our first guests to our beach apartment have come and gone after three fun weeks of showing them our Sydney, wine country and our first domestic flight to explore the outback.  You can read more about that on my expat blog.  Mike and Tina arrived on Good Friday for what we thought was the rainiest Sydney weather ever until they left in the middle of what truly was the stormiest couple of days in decades yesterday and today.  Gale force winds and driving rain for over 48 hours with the most impressive high seas I have ever seen (9-10 meter swells).  Somehow, they safely got on their way back to the states and Greg made it to Kuala Lampur on Malaysia Airlines (the one carrier you really want to be on during basically a hurricane/cyclone). 

It is well and truly fall here.  The days are much shorter.  Sadly, my tan is fading.  The ocean is cooling a bit and my wetsuit (I really love that I have a wetsuit) has replaced all two piece options. The prevailing southerly winds (on normal days when it's not the storm of the century) are chilly (southerly winds are the cold ones which is just as strange as living on the Pacific Ocean and being on the East Coast). It's very strange and confusing to live with the opposite seasons.  I completely stumble over seasons in conversation going between hemispheres.  And unlike your excitement over the coming salad and grilling days,  my cooking is going back to the warm comfort foods.   This is not just because we have no heat in our apartment, but a warm stove or oven is tempting me to finally get back to the kitchen.  I've really struggled to spend any time in there.  It's still not feeling like mine and probably never will, but the spice rack is filling up and I'm getting a little rhythm to my food shopping and that's a good feeling.

For a pasta dish, this is not terribly heavy and is good with just a salad or a little grilled protein on the side.  We buy little lamb cutlets from the farmer who comes into Manly for the organic market every couple of weeks.  Lamb here is fantastic especially straight from the farmer.  I wrestle a little with the virtues of eating meat and lamb and veal are tough ones for me, but they are delicious.  There is a lovely farm stand that comes into the market every week with the best mushrooms.  I always buy a big paper bag full of the assorted ones and find a new way to enjoy them.  At home in the states, Meijer almost always has a good fancy blend in 8 or 10 ounce packages (maybe called gourmet? been too long to remember acurately).  One of the commercial markets makes a good fresh ricotta, but the packaged brands are perfectly fine for this dish.  As they say in Australia, the mushrooms are the star of this dish.  But fresh ricotta is very nice.  Try it if you haven't already.  This is an adaptation from Saveur magazine and it's just excellent.  Easy, quick and very tasty.  I have made it once with and once without the walnuts.  If I'm serving a little meat alongside, the walnuts seem a bit much and I leave them out.  I did get some really gorgeous walnuts at the market, but they are so good they are best eaten out of hand or with cheese.

Mushroom and Ricotta Pasta
6 T unsalted butter
2 lb. mixed mushrooms, such as chanterelles, cremini, hen of the woods, oyster, and porcini, cut into bite-size pieces (if you just have a nice box of baby bellas/creminis that's fine too)
1 tbsp. roughly chopped fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lb. pasta (pappardelle, linguini or even medium shapes whatever you like)
1 cup ricotta, fresh if you can find it
½ cup toasted walnut pieces, optional

Melt butter in a large skillet and cook mushrooms (possibly in batches if your skillet is not big enough for 2 pounds to cook without being crowded), 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme, garlic, salt and pepper about 10-15 minutes stirring often until mushrooms are tender and golden.  Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (use at least 1 T of kosher salt in the water for the tastiest pasta). Cook pasta as directed until al dente, but before draining ladle out 1 C of the pasta water into a measuring cup to use in the sauce.  Drain the pasta and toss in a large bowl with the ricotta and 1/2 C of the reserved pasta water to combine. Use a little more pasta water if needed for the right consistency (fresh ricotta can be a bit thinner and need less water than packaged ricotta). Gently toss in the cooked mushrooms.  Garnish with a little more fresh thyme and the toasted walnuts, if desired.  

Serves 4-6 people

Saturday, March 28, 2015

success at last: mini German pancakes

Finally gaining some momentum in my not so favorite Australian apartment kitchen.  I'm starting to get the hang of baking with my tiny little oven.  Fairly certain I need to buy an oven thermometer (one in celsius)*.  And pretty sure I need at least the Aussie version of my immersion blender with the beaker, bowl and whisk.  The food processor I bought off gumtree (like Craig's List) is too big for small jobs (and also unhappily, not very powerful).  Oh, I miss all my tools from home.  The motors would die sad deaths here with the different current, so they are all living in someone else's kitchens while I am away.

My baking failures have possibly as much to do with hand creaming butter and sugar as they do with the giant eggs I was buying.  But after a 0 for 3 start on baking, I have turned the corner and built up some arm strength.  Greg's been away and I'm good at hauling things home on my bike and on foot, but I had to draw the line on small appliances.  Just a luxury that could wait. Groceries (still learning to buy less to carry less), table lamp (yep, missed the delivery and I had to carry that big box home by the beach which was lovely and funny), new Birkenstocks (yes, they are ugly but supremely functional at the beach), print leggings (right,  I do not need more leggings but the ones here are so much lighter and well, they are prints so they are, you know, cuter) and a new bikini (yes, bikini, I am telling you no one cares here and they are just easier to layer) can all find their way home.  But small appliances, no.  So I've creamed butter and sugar until light and fluffy with a wooden spoon and whisked egg whites into meringue all by my own power and the baking success ratio is now evened up with 3 wins.  March Madness I tell you.

Here's a super quick recipe that you can whip up for breakfast now, but it's probably dinner time where you are and sunrise here.  You have what you need and if you have a blender, that luxury kitchen item,  you are golden.   Maybe you've made a Dutch baby pancake before in a big 9 x 13 pan where it puffs high in the oven and immediately falls when you take it out.  This is the same idea, but little individual serving pancakes get all cute and puffy in muffin tins and then fall leaving a well you can fill however you see fit.  You could go savory with a little cheese and cooked bacon or sausage and some fresh herbs or a chutney.  Or you could be me and go sweet with jams and or nutella. Pretty sure kids would find this whole process fun.  

Blend away and be thankful for your well-stocked kitchen, but if you have to use a whisk like me you'll be fine.  You can also easily half this recipe.  I did.  Better fresh than to have leftovers.  If you do, just freeze them right away so they don't get too heavy.  

Mini German Pancakes
1 cup milk (skim is fine)
6 eggs
1/2 C flour
1/2 C whole wheat flour (all white flour is fine too)
2 tsp honey (optional, especially if you are filling with savory things)
1/2 tsp vanilla 
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C melted butter
powdered sugar
jams, nutella or whatever for fillings

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a muffin tin with nonstick spray.  
In a blender (or vigorously with a whisk), blend together the milk, eggs, flour (s), honey (if using), vanilla and salt pulsing until the batter is smooth and without lumps (scrape sides with motor off, as necessary).  Add melted butter slowly, blending until incorporated.  Pour batter into muffin cups a little more than half full.  Bake at 400 degrees until puffy and golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Make sure you peek to see how cool and puffy they look before you open the door and they start to fall. Carefully turn them out of the tins and dust them with powdered sugar (if going the sweet route).  Fill and serve while warm.  

Makes 16-18 in a standard size muffin tin

the old-fashioned way and the ingredients 

whisking away

tins filled

super puffy half batch

dusted with powdered sugar (note the little pool of melted butter, nothing wrong with that)

filled, yum

breakfast with a view
*credit Steve Flood of Australian reality television My Kitchen Rules (aka MKR) fame for the oven thermometer tip.  Greg texted me he was in the same barber shop in Manly and I hopped on my bike to get this shot and as it turns out, to have a nice long chat about the show, our kitchens and baking.  I hope Steve and Will win this season, but if Steve was not telling in case you want to know.

MKR's Steve Flood (Brit, but Manly local now just like me)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

adopting a new kitchen: corn fritters with roasted tomatoes for brunch

mediocre at best corn fritter photo from my old iPhone 4S,
please note I made these for dinner, not brunch (hence the red wine)
"I write a cooking blog", I say when I'm meeting people during the expat adventure in Australia. "Well, it's been on hiatus.  But I'm ready to get back to it", is what I usually say as the conversation continues.  We're pretty settled now.  Greg's in the middle of more than 3 weeks out of the country. So I'm really out of excuses.  

I did manage to blow up our microwave/oven thing last week.  Big bang, the whole apartment without power.  But the repair man came today.  Nice guy (of course, everyone's been super nice here).  He asked how I was employed here.  "Oh, my husband's employed, I'm just here enjoying life, but I do have a working visa and could get a job".  He said, "No, if you don't have to, you should just enjoy life.  Enjoying life should be your job".  I'd have to agree with him there.  It's easy to enjoy life living on the ocean between two beautiful beaches.  I'm writing a blog all about the parts of living abroad that do not involve cooking (well, that will probably sneak in there too).  Please follow "BlueSkies Abroad" too if you are so inclined.  

I've resisted adopting my new home's kitchen as my own.  Our apartment is lovely, the location leaves us in wonder and awe on a daily basis.  But, our apartment is tired.  All the gorgeous kitchens I've seen, but I did not get one.  Small price to pay for the view.  The flat grey laminate countertops are stained and the seams are sealed with the ugliest, bumpiest, caulk job ever.  The stainless steel backsplash is scratched, the cabinets worn leaving sawdust on the floor, the floor never looks clean. It's got to be the German in me (I'm half German), but it just never seems clean and it's been hard for me to spend much time in there.  Ah, but now it's pretty much my dirt which is a little easier to handle mentally (we all have our challenges).  We have a cute little barbecue so I've been grilling, tossing salads and just avoiding the kitchen.  I am three for three on baking fails which is an all-time record. Everything has been flat.  I clearly need to buy some kind of mixer because I have yet to achieve light and fluffy by hand.  The eggs are giant and the yolks are very rich and orange and everything tastes to "eggy".  Greg would really roll his eyes at that, but I think the eggs are part of the problem.  Anyway, despite my efforts I can't post a good recipe yet for flourless macadamia brownies or mixed berry ricotta muffins, two of my big and expensive fails.  

Then there is the whole opposite season thing.  It's actually fall here now, but the produce is still says summer.  Which is delightful.  But while you are thawing out and still enjoying comfort foods, I'm eating avocado toast and salads.  But enough of the excuses.  I do cook.  I do eat.  There has to be something here.  We'll wind back to the nice kitchen I had in the charming Airbnb I stayed in before we found our apartment.  The hosts have become friends which is a delightful turn of events. Anyway, she has a very well-stocked and equipped kitchen and a good cookbook selection.  I stumbled upon brunch at a rather famous Sydney restaurant when I lived in the CBD (the city, our first apartment stop), "bill's".  I enjoyed their corn fritters with roasted tomatoes and was so happy to find the "bill's Sydney Food" cookbook on the shelves of the Airbnb.  It's still a few months away from Indiana corn (cherish it, Australian's don't do corn nearly as well), but when it's in season give this recipe a try.  Serve it with greens, avocado (or guacamole) and bacon (if your brunch is not complete without bacon).  Sour cream or plain Greek yogurt would be nice dolloped on top too.  The roasted tomatoes are good even with standard grocery tomatoes, in fact it's a good way to use less than high season tomatoes. Fritters are a common brunch food and brunch is a big deal in Sydney. Food is a big deal in Sydney. Good news all around for me.  

Corn Fritters with Roasted Tomatoes

1 C all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika (smoked is a nice twist)
1 T sugar
1/2 C milk (skim is fine)
2 C fresh corn kernels
1/2 C red pepper, cut in small dice
1/2 C scallions, sliced
1/4 C chopped cilantro (leaves only) or a combination of cilantro and flat leaf parsley 
4 T canola or other neutral vegetable oil

Roasted Tomatoes
4 medium ripe tomatoes (Romas or Campari or whatever you have), halved lengthwise
2 T olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

Start the roasted tomatoes first by heating the oven to 350 degrees and tossing the tomatoes with the olive oil and 1/2 tsp of salt and a few good grinds of pepper.  Spread the tomato halves on a baking sheet lined with parchment (or on a seasoned stoneware pan, but the parchment trick is good for fast clean-up).  Roast in the oven until caramelized and brown, about 40 minutes.

Make the fritters by first whisking together the flour, baking powder, salt, paprika and sugar.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.  Whisk together the milk and eggs.  Pour the egg mixture into the well and whisk together with the flour mixture until lump free.  

Place the corn, red pepper, scallions and cilantro (and parsley, if using) in a mixing bowl and add just enough batter to bind them.  In my case, since I didn't actually measure my corn and red pepper, I used all of the batter and all was well.  

Heat about 2 T of oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat.  Drop about 2 T of batter per fritter into the hot pan and cook for 2-4 minutes until golden on the bottom and then flip to cook the other side another couple of minutes.  Transfer to a serving plate and keep warm while cooking the remaining fritters.  

To serve, put a handful of greens on each plate (if desired), stack two fritters on the greens and top with a couple of roasted tomatoes.  Add some diced avocado or a good serving of guacamole and a couple of pieces of bacon , if desired.  Serve with some sour cream or plain Greek yogurt on the table and if you're inviting Greg, get out the hot sauce too.  
vegetables, herbs, wine and the Aus Open on my iPad (photos from January 30th)

dry ingredients and wet ingredients side by side in front of borrowed cookbook

batter all nice and smooth in the prettier Airbnb kitchen

fritter batter ready

first flip

waiting for the others

Saturday, January 10, 2015

first expat post: Kale Salad with "Pumpkin" and Pomegranate

Sydney the koala on the move (yes, I was just this close to her) at Taronga Zoo
because how can your first post from Australia not include a koala?

Time to jump back in to the blogosphere.  Greg and I landed in Australia one month ago today.  Let's start with how very strange it feels to fly almost as far as you can go on a one-way ticket.  How different it is to live in the city (for now).  How hard it is for me to be very dependent on Greg, even after or especially after, 30 years of marriage.  He drives, he has the smart phone not dependent on wifi and then of course he is one of the handful of people on this whole continent who can call me by name.  Think about that, twenty two million people and I'm on a first name basis with about six of them and two were our neighbors across the street in Carmel (that is also a very crazy thing).  

We are in a corporate apartment in the CBD (Central Business District) facing the south west corner of Hyde Park.  (Quick fact, it's super tricky having the Pacific Ocean on the EAST side of the country).  Great place to start, but it's time to move out into a rental house out in the northern beach towns.  Time to be reunited with our stuff that's finally cleared customs from the air shipment. Almost time to place the few pieces of American furniture we shipped overseas in a new home.  Time to dig in somewhere and expand the circle.  Unfortunately,  there's basically no where to go.  The one dream house we found was not yet listed and was so dreamy someone offered the owners a crazy amount of money to buy it instead of rent it and they took it.  The few homes actually on the market get snatched up quickly or there is a reason they are still available.  So we're (or more correctly I'm) about to move to another corporate housing situation (Greg will be in China for the next two weeks so it's me and a van-sized taxi), but this one will be close to the area we'd like to live so I can start to connect with yoga, tennis and maybe even a little work.  We'll wait out the rental shortage and hope the dream home pops up soon.  All for downsizing, but a one or two-bedroom high-rise apartment was never really the plan.

I'd hoped to start posting from some gorgeous kitchen with an ocean breeze and a good view, but that could be a while .  This furnished apartment up above the trees where the giant bats like to fly (giant, but there are no bugs so that's okay with me-plus Stellaluna was one of my favorite children's books and I think bats have cute little fuzzy heads and little cat-like ears so I'm not afraid) is where we'll start.

Most likely this blog will branch off into two blogs.  One about cooking and a new one about travel and expat life.  There are words I need to write, things I need to remember and places I'd like to share so that might mean two blogs or you'll have to wade through a lot of stories before a recipe is written.

Australians love good fresh food and with the exception of ridiculously good chips (fries) and schnitzel, they're pretty strong in healthy choices.  Okay, the wood-fired pizzas and gelato are pretty outstanding too.  All in moderation.  Most serving sizes are smaller than the states which is brilliant. And if you do have leftovers or order take-away they package it in plastic containers with tight lids you can reuse (plus a little charge which is completely reasonable).  Some of the best food is served in what we'd call gastropubs, but here all pubs are called hotels (no lodging).  Most are on a corner. Most corners have one.  Greg will probably never like the service.  You walk up to the bar, order your drinks and food and then take a number to your table.  Generally they then deliver the food to you (you carry your own drinks).  Sometimes you get a little light up thing and you then go retrieve your food and to me this is ridiculous.  We were a few drinks in by the time we had to carry our food back on trays down stairs.  That has to result in the occasional schnitzel drop.  But when you are done, no one comes around and asks if you want dessert or another drink and you've already paid (no tipping, servers make $26AUS an hour) so you are free to just get up and go.  Kind of nice.   Bookings (reservations) are essential at table service restaurants and we have so many booking stories that's a whole post on it's own.

In our states life we almost never ate out.  When we are in our rental home, we'll certainly eat out less but it's been a bit of a sabbatical for both of us this first month.  Greg's work schedule is interesting with his plant in China starting work 3 hours behind Australia and his plant in India 5 1/2 hours behind (fun facts:  China has one time zone and India's time zones are on the half hour).  Generally he does his US work in the morning or very late at night and his Asia people are mid-day.  Travel starts tomorrow again so the working sabbatical is about to be over for him.  Sara arrived one week after we did and stayed for most of the three weeks of her winter break.  Kelly arrived one week after Sara and had ten days here.  Perfect timing for the transition.  So much easier with them here even if it was the warmest and least Christmas-y Christmas.  The rare times we are all together are the best.  That's another post too.  So we ate out a lot while we were all on holiday.  And we've been out and about this week too because I'll be all on my own for the next two weeks and well, it's fun trying it all.

Let's get to some food.  Australians call all what we call winter squash varieties "pumpkin".  You might see "butternut pumpkin", but generally it's just "pumpkin".  Sara and I were a little perplexed at first, but we figured it out and started roasted our butternut pumpkin and ordering wood-fired pizzas and salads and pastas with pumpkin without trepidation.  A lovely ferry ride away (except on a holiday Sunday when it was like Bangladesh at the ferry wharf) is Watsons Bay which feels just like a Caribbean island is home to Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel Beach Club (right, a restaurant/pub but it actually does have lodging).  All the beautiful people settle in for drinks, food and Dj music in the sun and under umbrellas off just off the beach.  And then Greg and I show up and slightly raise the mean age which is generally 26 (sometimes it feels like a city made up entirely of trust-fund kids). Anyway, you'll keep seeing Facebook and Instagram posts from Watsons Bay.  We watched this salad cruise by as people who ordered it picked it up and brought it to their tables (so weird, that). Then we went home and made it ourselves.  And forgot to take pictures.  So I'll show you a few pictures of Watsons Bay and one of our favorite places to grab a drink.

Watsons Bay back in August (spring) during our first visit to Sydney

Greg at the club

the beautiful people and me

the beach club on a quiet day in August

A few thoughts on kale.  It's super trendy, but my body and maybe yours can only handle kale in moderation.  Generally the curly varieties are easier to digest than the lacinto/dinosaur/flat varieties which to me have the look of something easier to break down.  If you can buy kale from a grower at a market, ask them which varieties are easier to digest.  They'll know.  You can have too much of a good thing.  Always remove the leaves from the tough stem.  Dress your kale with lemon juice and work it through with your hands before you toss it with other ingredients.  Lemon juice breaks down the kale (just like lemon or lime juice "cooks" seafood in ceviche) and makes it more digestible.

If you've never dealt with a fresh pomegranate this video from Jamie Oliver's cooking skills series will show you how.  You can always just substitute in dried cranberries too.

If you want to make it even more filling, cook some quinoa in chicken or vegetable broth, fluff and cool to whatever temperature you'd like.  You can toss the kale with warm quinoa and warm squash and it will further soften your kale.

Kale Salad with Pumpkin and Pomegranate

one bunch kale, washed, dried, tough stems removed
one lemon
one butternut "pumpkin" squash, peeled, and cut into 1/2 to 1-inch cubes
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
one or two pomegranates, seeded (or buy the refrigerated tubs of pomegranate ariels)
2 T balsamic vinegar (pomegranate balsamic would be nice)
1 T honey
pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or pine nuts, toasted
crumbled feta or goat cheese or shaved Parmesan

Toss the juice of one lemon with the washed and torn kale working the lemon juice into the leaves. Set aside for at least 20 minutes.  It's fine on the counter for longer.

Toss your butternut squash with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, 1/2 to 1 tsp kosher salt and generous grinds of pepper.  Spread on a rimmed baking sheet or in a baking pan.  Roast your squash in a very hot oven (400-450 degrees) for about 20 minutes, turning a couple of times until brown and a bit caramelized.  Let cool at least a bit.

While the oven is still warm put your desired seeds on a tray and toast lightly in the warm oven for maybe 10 minutes.  Do not burn.

Toss the kale, squash, and pomegranate with the balsamic and honey.  Add a little more olive oil if needed.  Taste for salt and pepper.  Toss in the toasted nuts and your desired seeds just before serving.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

nothing makes a house smell better than baking: pumpkin oatmeal cookies with apple cider frosting (or filling)

Limbo land stretches on.  Thank goodness for a week away at the beach.  Sara and I had absolutely perfect weather for her final college fall break.  We were continually amazed at being warm all hours of the day,  hot in the afternoon and super comfortable out on the sandbars in the warm October waters of the gulf.  Gorgeous.  Nice tan.  Well fed, but not too well fed (glided right by the Publix key lime pie which is legendary, but a lot of pie for one person since it's not a Sara thing).  And hilarious times with the in-laws who made it down at the end of our trip (it is their place after all).  Greg Face Timed with us every morning and evening (which are exact opposites in China) and that's always fun.  I'm sure the kids are not nearly as amazed by Face Time as we are and heaven knows our parents find it even more hard to imagine.  Greg and I have spent so much time chatting on Face Time that I know the landmarks of his usual weekend walks through Shanghai.  We're over half way through two months on opposite sides of the world.  Let me tell you, we're about done with it.  We can't wait to get to Sydney!  But, we're still waiting.  Lots of good activity on the house in the last week.  Keep the good thoughts coming.

All the house activity has kept my cooking and baking for one to a bare minimum.  Who wants to buy a house that smells like roasted cauliflower?  But seriously, I have a really pretty cauliflower and I am eating for dinner tonight if it takes a day or two to air the house out.  The weather is getting more mild here as the week goes on and Rio loves the windows open.  But people always want to buy a house that smells like baked goods so I baked these cookies last weekend and today I'm baking Smitten Kitchen's chocolate babka (can't move all my ingredients so say good bye to my luscious bulk French chocolate plus I've always wanted to bake a babka just to say it).

After yoga one morning in Broad Ripple I stopped by Locally Grown Gardens (go) to ogle at all the Laguiole cutlery (current obsession which incidentally is the only thing I found in Sydney that costs the same as it does here so I'm being good and only bought one little condiment spoon at LGG) and peruse all of their gourmet groceries and fresh produce.  Now that the farmer's markets are all wrapped up here on the north side this is my go-to for local.  I splurged on a crisp and sweet half gallon of apple cider so I looked for some baked good to use cider and pumpkin (another pantry find).

Found a couple of recipes for soft pumpkin oatmeal cookies and one used boiled cider in the filling for little cream pies.  It also used a cup of butter and not much spice so I substituted some Greek yogurt and upped the spices.  If you have pumpkin pie spice, just use 2 tsp or so of that in place of all the spices I have listed.  I've never bought pumpkin pie spice as a blend and every time I make something pumpkin I'm looking up a substitution and making my own. This is totally fine since I always have all the spices, but it would be way easier to buy the blend.  I also replaced some white flour with wheat flour because you can't tell the difference and it's incrementally better for you (plus, I have wheat flour to use up before I move).  I did make a few into the little cookie sandwiches, but the others I just frosted because they are pretty big cookies to start let alone to double and fill with cream.  The cookies are pretty yummy without frosting or filling too.

get your pumpkin spice and cider fix


1 C all purpose flour
3/4 C whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
1 3/4 C old-fashioned rolled oats
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 C unsalted butter, softened
1/2 C sugar
3/4 C light or dark brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 C maple syrup
1/2 C plain Greek yogurt
3/4 C pumpkin
1 tsp vanilla

Frosting (or Filling)
4 T unsalted butter, softened
4 oz. light cream cheese, softened
3 T apple cider syrup (1/3 C cider boiled down-see below)
1 tsp cinnamon
2 T flour (optional)
1 1/2 C confectioner's sugar

Cider Syrup
1/3 C apple cider

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl whisk together the flours, oats, soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves.  Set aside.
In a large bowl or bowl of your stand mixer, beat together butter and sugars until pale and fluffy.
Beat in the egg followed by the syrup, yogurt, pumpkin and vanilla.  Slowly add dry ingredients (or they will fly out of the bowl and get you and your counters) and mix until well combined.
Drop a big heaping spoonful of dough (about 2 T) onto the parchment lined sheets about 2-inches apart (they spread, but not crazy).  Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until edges are golden brown but centers are still a little soft.  Transfer to cooling racks and cool completely before frosting or filling (or eat them warm, they're pretty delicious with milk, coffee or tea).

Prepare the syrup by pouring the cider in a small non-reactive pan and heating it to a rolling boil, stirring.  Reduce heat to simmer for about 15-20 minutes, stirring often until reduced but before it turns hard (you could end up with almost a solid so watch the cider).

Prepare the filling by beating together the butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy.  Beat in the cider syrup (mine was a little warm and all was well), cinnamon, flour (if using, it did thicken the mixture nicely but it seems pretty optional) and add the confectioner's sugar slowly so it does not make a gigantic powdery mess.  Beat until smooth.  Adjust with more confectioner's sugar if necessary for desired spreading consistency.

Spread a nice layer of frosting on each cookie top or spread on one cookie bottom and top with another cookie for a little cream pie.

Serve immediately or refrigerate in a covered container to store.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies or 12 cream pies.


dry ingredients (that's freshly grated nutmeg all across the top)

creamed butter and sugars

eggs, yogurt, vanilla and maple syrup in and pumpkin is next

dry ingredients ready to incorporate

dough  try not to eat all of it (pumpkin is tastier cooked)

cookies cooling, nice and soft

filling or frosting however you like it

cream pies or frosted cookies