Monday, November 24, 2014

Kalamata Olive & Oregano Loaf

Kalamata Olive & Oregano Loaf 3

Since becoming a member of Secret Recipe Club*, I've discovered some great, previously unknown to me blogs, and one blog which became a firm favourite right from the start was Karen's Kitchen Stories.

Karen lives in Southern California;  works in recruitment and teaches part time;  has two grown children and two grandchildren;  and has an obsession with baking bread - sourdough in particular - which is immediately obvious when you visit her blog.

Karen's recipe index (and hats off that she actually has one, which in itself elevates her blog to "favourite" status in my books) boasts no less than 182 recipes under the heading "Bread, Flatbread, Yeasted Crackers, and Rolls" - yes, I did actually count them, which may or may not speak volumes about my own obsessiveness.  Put together the recipes under the headings of "Cakes & Cheesecakes", "Cookies, Brownies & Bars",  and "Cupcakes & Muffins", and I'm pretty sure you would find another 180 recipes.  Clearly this woman is a baking Goliath.

Since I am most definitely not, as I have told you before many times, a proficient baker, when I was assigned to Karen's blog for this month's SRC reveal I was both thrilled (a challenge is always exciting) and terrified in equal measure.

Although I don't have a particularly deft touch for making bread, having a go at making sourdough is one of those things which has been on my cooking challenge bucket list for a long time.  There's no question that if making sourdough bread (or any kind of bread) is on your path, Karen's blog would be a fantastic place to start, and within a couple of hours of getting my assignment I'd bookmarked several recipes that I thought would make the shortlist:  No Knead Chocolate Cherry Pecan Bread, Golden Raisin and Fennel Sourdough Pocket Bread, San Francisco Sourdough Bread, and Sourdough Rosemary Bread with Olive Oil.

The only problem is that making sourdough bread requires a certain amount of planning, and with a whole lot of other life stuff getting in the way around our house at the moment, the requisite planning to produce these wonderful breads just hasn't been there.  And then salvation presented itself under the heading of "Quickbreads" - definitely a little better suited to my lifestyle at the moment, although I'm still promising myself that when life slows down a little I will be trying my hand at one of those sourdough loaves.

Kalamata Olive & Oregano Loaf 1

The recipe for Kalamata Olive & Oregano Mini Loaves just about leapt out of the screen at me.  I didn't have any of the cute little mini loaf tins that Karen does, but the recipe did provide for preparing one large loaf as an alternative.  I could do that.  I also happened to have all the ingredients required on hand - except for buttermilk, which can easily enough be made at home by mixing one cup of milk with a tablespoon of lemon juice and letting it stand for 10 minutes.

Karen's original recipe included an onion, lightly sauteed in olive oil before mixing into the batter, which I omitted as I'm just not a huge fan of onions and especially not in baked goods.  Other than that I pretty much followed the recipe exactly.

This loaf has a wonderfully light and moist texture, and the brininess of the olives really shines here.  This is definitely a loaf I would make again.  It is so bursting with flavour that it actually needs no accompaniment, but it would nevertheless be a great "bread" to include with an antipasto platter, or to serve alongside your favourite soup.  I would definitely make this again, and I think a sprinkling of Parmesan over the top might be a nice change-up too.

Kalamata Olive & Oregano Loaf 2

Kalamata Olive & Oregano Loaf Recipe
from Karen's Kitchen Stories

198g (7 oz) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
30g (1 oz) butter, melted
2x large eggs
1 cup pitted and chopped kalamata olives
large handful fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped plus extra for sprinkling on loaves

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F).  Grease and flour a 22cm x 12cm (9 in x 5in) loaf tin.

Sift together flour and baking soda into a large bowl, and mix in the salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, melted butter and eggs.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients.  Pour the buttermilk mixture into the well and stir until only just combined.  Fold in the olives and oregano.

Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and sprinkle the tops with more chopped oregano.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes in the tin before transferring to a cooling rack and serving.

*  So what's this Secret Recipe Club I've been talking about?  The club has over a hundred members, divided into four groups, and each month one member is assigned (in secret) to another member from their group.  That person then selects a recipe (or more) to make, photograph, and prepare a blog post - all in secret.  Then everyone in the group posts their recipe on the same day, and of course the secret is then out.  It's a always a thrill to find out who has posted something from your own blog, and to meet and discover some new blogs.   If you are a food blogger and interested in joining the Secret Recipe Club, be sure to check out the Join SRC page.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I did, and visit the links below to check out all the other great dishes my Secret Recipe Club friends made.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Spiced Feta with Preserved Lemon

Spiced Feta with Preserved Lemon 3

I love the art of preserving food - smoking, curing, pickling, jam and sauce making, etc.  Some people are avid bakers, or have a passion for making desserts, but no amount of yeast or chocolate will ever excite me as much as creating a pot of pesto or a jar of jam.

I did a cooking class in Barcelona during a trip to Spain a few years ago, and I was really struck by discovering that the Spanish use a variety of ways of preserving food which not only prolongs the life of the food, but which they passionately believe actually "improves" its flavour - you only have to taste their bacalao (salt cod), chorizo sausage, or tuna preserved in olive oil to recognise the veracity of this.

I find it wonderful to be able to take great quality, fresh ingredients, when they are at their most abundant and preserve them to enjoy throughout the year.  But that Spanish ethos really resonates with me, and what excites me the most, is taking those ingredients and transforming them into something which is even more flavourful and interesting than the fresh ingredients themselves. Transforming lemon juice and zest (with the help of some butter and eggs) into lemon curd is pure magic, or (aided by the addition of salt) into preserved lemons blows my mind every time I use them to pep up a salad or casserole, in a way which fresh lemon can never quite achieve.  I love the fiery kick and depth of flavour that harissa will bring to a dish, which you just won't find from chillies on their own. Turning a bunch of fresh herbs into a pesto, is not just a great way of preserving that abundance of herbs when they're in season, but that pesto will add a layer of flavour and texture to soups, dressings, and pasta dishes that is greater than the herbs on their own.  I will never, ever tire of the magic of whisking egg yolks and olive oil together and ending up with mayonnaise - never!

This is the kind of food alchemy that excites me most, and keeps me coming back to the kitchen time and time again.  As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, these are the kinds of things I like to keep my fridge and pantry stocked with - the kind of ingredients that can be rolled out to add an instant flavour boost to all manner of dishes, or which can be served up antipasto-style for a quick and simple meal.  I think this is also the kind of cooking that makes you feel very "accomplished" in the kitchen, in a way which is actually completely disproportionate to the level of expertise really required to create most preserves.  If you've ever served up a platter of homemade goodies or gifted a jar of homemade jam or chutney you will know this to be true - maximum kudos : minimal effort.  That's my kind of cooking.

Spiced Feta with Preserved Lemon 1

As soon as Diana Henry was voted in as our current I Heart Cooking Clubs chef, I knew I had to get my hands on her book "Salt Sugar Smoke".  I couldn't wait to open it when my package arrived from Amazon, and I was not disappointed.  I fell a bit in love with Diana from the very first page, and I can tell you that I have more little post-it note bookmarks on this book than any other in my collection.

Right from the get-go I have had her recipe for "Spiced Feta in Olive Oil" bookmarked as something that was definitely going to find its way into my repertoire, and my store cupboard.  Since our theme this week is Sweet Cloves and Liquid Gold - celebrating dishes with garlic, olives and/or olive oil - I knew this was the week to share.

I made very minimal changes to the recipe - adding in some preserved lemon to amplify the salty-lemony tang of the feta cheese, and substituting some pink peppercorns for the white peppercorns (partly because I didn't have any white ones, and also because I love the slight "fruitiness" of pink ones.  I also increased the amount of dried chilli flakes for a bit of extra kick.

This makes a wonderful addition to an antipasto platter, serve as part of a mezze feast, or just spread generously on some good crusty bread.

Spiced Feta with Preserved Lemons 2

Spiced Feta with Preserved Lemons Recipe
Adapted from recipe by Diana Henry
from Salt Sugar Smoke

3/4 cup olive oil
juice of 2x lemons
1/2 a preserved lemon, flesh discarded, rind finely sliced
small bunch of fresh thyme sprigs
3/4 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon pink peppercorns
200g (7 oz) sheeps milk feta, cut or broken into chunks

In a small jug, mix together olive oil, lemon juice, preserved lemon rind, thyme sprigs, and dried chilli flakes.

Place fennel seeds, black peppercorns, and pink peppercorns into a mortar and pestle, and crush slightly before adding to the oil mixture.

Pack the chunks of feta into a sterilised jar (allow the jar to cool first though, otherwise the cheese will melt).  Pour the oil mixture over the feta - top up with a little more oil if the feta is not completely covered.  Seal the jar and refrigerate.

You could use this within a few hours, and it will keep for at least a couple of weeks.

If you would like to get to know Diana Henry a little better, and to see what everyone else has cooked up this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links (who knows, you might even want to join the journey and cook along with us) ...

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Persian Spice Breads

Persian Spice Breads 4

Question:  What do harissa, saffron, eggs, pumpkin, dates, maple syrup, rosewater, orange, spinach and chickpeas have in common?

Answer:  This eclectic group of ingredients can all be found in this month's Mystery Box Madness challenge at I Heart Cooking Clubs.

The challenge:  To choose and make a dish from any one of our eleven IHCC chefs, as long as that dish contains at least three of the mystery ingredients.

This month is the first of our mystery box challenges, and judging by the great dishes my fellow participants have come up with this seems destined to become a popular event.

I decided that I would probably use dates and oranges in my dish, and did a search through some of Diana Henry's and Yotam Ottolenghi's recipes, since they are my two favourite chefs.  I was imagining I would probably come up with some kind of salady thing that might also use spinach and chickpeas.  To my delight, however, I stumbled across Diana's Persian Spice Breads in her fabulous book, A Change of Appetite.  These breads used dates (tick), eggs (tick), and turmeric, for which I knew saffron would make a great (possibly even better) substitute (tick number three).

The original recipe calls for these to be made into little rolls, but I decided it would be fun to make them into little flower pot breads.  Little terracotta pots are inexpensive to buy and, as long as you season the pots first, they make great vessels for the baking of bread.

I also adapted this recipe to prepare the dough in my bread maker - partly because I am inherently lazy, and letting the machine do all the work means that I can do other things (like churning the coffee, maple, walnut frozen yoghurt I made at the same time - yes, recipe will follow), and also because I just don't seem to have a deft touch when it comes to dough and my hand-kneaded breads always seem to end up being hard and heavy.

These breads ended up with a moist, soft crumb, and crisp crust on top.  The flavour of the saffron is delicate - just enough to have you wondering "what is that?", which is as it should be.  It pays to exercise restraint with this spice - not only will your wallet thank you for it, but it can easily overpower, and too much saffron is not a nice thing.  The combination of the dates and cumin (not something I would ever have thought of) is mindblowingly good - it delivers on that sweet/savoury thing that you often find in the most unexpected of ways in Middle Eastern food.

Persian Spice Breads 6

With the benefit of hindsight, although the flower pots looked cute, and is something I will definitely be repeating for other breads, in this instance I think the little bread rolls would have been better.  You can see in the photo, that although the date filling started out in the middle, it kind of rose to the top.  This means that although the top part of the bread is exactly as it should be - getting a bite of the date filling and the crusty cumin coated topping in every mouthful - the bottom part of the bread is ... well ... just bread.  Nice, saffron flavoured bread admittedly, but compared to the top bit, still just bread.  I think if you made rolls you would get an all round better filling:topping:bread ratio.

Whichever way you choose to make them, these spice breads are an unexpected delight.  Delicious served as a breakfast bread, or with a mezze spread, I will definitely be making these again.

How to season terracotta pots

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees F), and line a baking tray with tinfoil.

Brush pots liberally with oil, inside and out, and place upside down on the foil lined baking tray.  Place in preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and leave to cool completely.  Brush all over with oil again, and return to the oven for a further 30 minutes.  Remove, and cool completely.  Your flower pots are now ready for use.  Ensure that you brush them well with oil, including the rim, each time you use them.

Persian Spice Breads 5

Persian Spice Breads Recipe
Adapted from recipe by Diana Henry
from A Change of Appetite
Makes 4x small flower pot loaves, or 8x rolls

pinch of saffron threads
175ml (6 fl oz) warm water
1x egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon oil
170g (6 oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
170g (6  oz) wholemeal flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 teaspoons dried yeast
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
8x medjool dates, seeds removed and roughly chopped
1x egg yolk
cumin seeds

Toast the saffron threads in a dry pan over low heat for a couple of minutes.  Remove and soak for ten minutes in the warm water.

Place saffron and water in the pan of your breadmaker.  Add half of the beaten egg (reserve the other half for later) and the olive oil.  Next add the flour, salt, brown sugar and yeast.  Set machine to the "dough only" cycle and leave it to do it's thing.  Check dough consistency after 5 to 10 minutes of kneading - adding a bit more flour if it's too wet, or a bit more water if it seems too dry.  I found I had to add about another half cup of flour - obviously add a bit at a time and see how it is coming together.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F) and liberally oil flower pots.

Once dough cycle on bread machine has finished, remove dough to a well floured bench, and dust dough with flour as necessary to make it manageable - it is quite a soft, and sticky dough.  Cut the dough into four equal portions (or eight if you are making rolls).  Flatten out each piece into a disc, placing some of the chopped dates and a generous knob of butter in the centre of each piece.  Pull sides of the dough around the filling, pinch together, and place into flower pots (or onto baking tray) seam side down,  Set aside in a warm place, covered with a clean tea towel to prove for a further 30 minutes.

Persian Spice Breads 3

Add the egg yolk to the previously reserved beaten egg, and brush the tops of the bread with the mixture.  Sprinkle liberally with cumin seeds.

Place pots, on a foil lined baking tray, into the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes (if making rolls probably only about 15 minutes), or until golden and baked through.  Remove from oven, and leave to rest about 15 to 20 minutes before trying to remove from the pots.

If you would like to get to know Diana Henry a little better, and to see what everyone else has cooked up this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links (who knows, you might even want to join the journey and cook along with us) ...

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... or check out A Change of Appetite and Diana's many other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, or Fishpond NZ.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Anchoiade with Chargrilled Vegetables

Anchoiade with Chargrilled Vegetables 3

Like most of my fellow countrymen, I love to travel.  Sadly, living as we do at the bottom of the world, traveling anywhere is expensive, so jumping a plane and jetting off to places afar doesn't happen as often as I would like it to.

Fortunately, however, keeping a pantry well-stocked with a few interesting and exotic ingredients means I can transport myself to any far flung corner of the globe without even leaving my kitchen.

There is literally a whole world (pardon the pun) of ingredients out there which will transform everyday dishes from ordinary to extraordinary.  And, although, many of these things sound extravagant, if you hunt them out at Asian and Middle Eastern specialty stores, they are generally surprisingly inexpensive.  Many of them too are incredibly easy to make yourself.

My pantry and/or freezer always contain these homemade ingredients:  preserved lemons, harissa, green harissa, hummus, pesto or tapenade, ricotta or mascarpone, chilli jam, pasta sauce, and a variety of chutnies.  I always have on hand a variety of homemade jams, bottled beetroot and roasted red peppers, and vegetables which have been pickled during the height of the season.  A few other ingredients, which I consider pantry staples - spices, fresh herbs, vinegars (red wine, sherry, balsamic, cider, rice wine), mustards (Dijon and whole-grain), pomegranate molasses, sweeteners (honey, date syrup, agave nectar, maple syrup), fish sauce, soy sauce, mirin, cooking sake, oyster sauce, to name just a few, are also always on hand.  With ingredients like these in the store cupboard, you can literally have breakfast in Turkey, lunch in Italy, and dinner in Thailand.

I'm always on the lookout for new and interesting ingredients to keep in my pantry, so I was pretty excited that our theme this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs is "Stock Your Exotic Pantry".  Actually I've been pretty excited ever since I got my hands on Diana Henry's "Salt Sugar Smoke".  This is seriously one of the most inspirational books to grace my kitchen for a long time, so I knew that this was exactly the place I was going to turn to meet this week's challenge.


Diana's anchoiade seemed like the perfect dish to make.  The fact that I could make it using only ingredients I already I had on hand, and turn them into another great ingredient to always have around, seemed very serendipitous.

Anchoiade with Chargrilled Vegetables 2

Loaded with anchovies, garlic, almonds, parsley, lemon, and good extra virgin oil, this "dip" takes just moments to make, and packs a major flavour punch that will still be on your mind hours later.  I teamed this with some chargrilled peppers, aubergine, and asparagus straight off the barbeque, and even though I ate this feast sitting at my kitchen bench, in my mind I was sitting on the sun-drenched terrace of a French villa overlooking the Mediterranean.  This would also be great dished up as a dip with fresh, raw vegetables, or served antipasto-style with sourdough croutons, cos lettuce, baby boiled new potatoes, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, olives, green beans, and chunks of grilled tuna - a kind of deconstructed nicoise salad.  With a jar of this in the fridge, there is always a Mediterranean feast in the house.

Anchoiade with Chargrilled Vegetables Recipe
Adapted from recipe by Diana Henry
from Salt Sugar Smoke

24x anchovies, packed in oil
large handful of roasted, unsalted almonds
3x cloves garlic, roughly chopped
large handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
grated zest and juice of 1x lemon
flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
1x red pepper, cored, deseeded, and cut into quarters
1x bunch asparagus, woody ends removed
1x medium sized aubergine, cut lengthwise into thick slices

Drain and reserve the oil from the anchovies.

Place anchovies, almonds, garlic, parsley, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper into food processor.  Blitz until mixture becomes a coarse paste.  Add reserved anchovy oil, then with motor running, add olive oil in a very thin stream until you reach a smooth paste.

Toss vegetables with a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and season liberally with salt and pepper.  Heat the barbeque or chargrill pan, and cook until the vegetables are tender and charred.

Serve immediately or at room temperature, with a bowl of anchoiade on the side.

If you want to keep the anchoiade longer, store in the fridge in a sterilised jar, pouring a thin layer of olive oil over the surface.

Anchoiade with Chargrilled Vegetables 1

If you would like to get to know Diana Henry a little better, and to see what everyone else has cooked up this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links (who knows, you might even want to join the journey and cook along with us) ...

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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Asparagus Mimosa

Asparagus Mimosa 2

I have no notion which came first ... the chicken or the egg?  That's our theme this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs, which gives us the opportunity to explore Diana Henry dishes featuring, naturally enough, chicken or eggs.  And, whilst I'm pretty certain no one is going to come up with a definitive answer to that age old question, some of the dishes my friends have come up with would definitely answer just about any other woes.

I was certainly looking for a dish to satisfy a few woes myself this week.  We've had two weeks of builders, gib stoppers, electricians, etc doing flood damage repairs on our house, including ripping out and replacing the kitchen and dining room ceiling.  This would be disruptive enough in itself, but the fact that the workmanship and trade practices of some of these workmen left a bit to be desired, has been frustrating at best, and at times downright infuriating.

So I was looking for something verging on comfort food, which meant I was heading down the egg route, rather than the chicken route.  When all is said and done, is there anything more comforting than a simple, soft boiled egg?!

After picking up a fresh bunch of asparagus (hands down my favourite vegetable) at the market yesterday, I thought this asparagus mimosa would make a delightful, light and simple lunch, before tackling the big post-repair clean-up - a project which has kept me busy for most of the weekend.

Now, let's be truthful here - asparagus mimosa is nothing new - it's one of those classic dishes that has been around forever.  But, to be honest, I have often wondered what all the fuss is about ... after all, just how good could a few asparagus spears with a crumbled boiled egg over the top really be.

Well, I don't know about the original, but Diana Henry's version provided proof positive, if ever it were needed (and really I've said it here so often I should not have been surprised), that combining a few good quality ingredients, and "messing with them" as little as possible, will deliver sensational results.  Every! Single! Time!

Here simple steamed asparagus stems, drizzled with a lemony-herby-caper dressing, and topped with a soft-boiled free range egg, delivers on every front.  It provides all the comfort of dunking asparagus spears straight into a soft boiled egg in a cup, with the added flavour punch of the dressing, and turns it into a dish which is easily elegant enough to serve to company.

This would make a great appetiser as part of a large meal, but is also the perfect dish for a light spring lunch.  You don't need to be too particular about quantities - I've just given you a rough guide for one person, and you can easily multiply it up to feed as many as you like.

Important note:  A dish such as this is all about the ingredients, so use the best you can get your hands on.  Use only in-season asparagus IN YOUR PART OF THE WORLD.  Right now, I'm sure those of you in the northern hemisphere can probably buy asparagus shipped from New Zealand, or Australia, or South Africa - please don't!  Bookmark this recipe instead and wait until spring returns.  If you have a local farmer's market where you can buy asparagus picked fresh that morning, even better.  A juicy, organic lemon picked straight from the tree, and flat-leaf parsley picked straight from the garden, are perfect if you have them, but I know that's not always possible.  Good quality capers are a must - I like the ones packed in salt, but brined are fine too.  Extra virgin olive oil, should be the best that you can afford, and it goes without saying that only a free-range organic egg will do.  Also, although I never bother peeling my asparagus, I think it is worth doing here.  In a dish so simple, in which you really want the ingredients to shine in every possible way, it just seems right - it looks beautiful, and really helps the asparagus to soak up that dressing.

Asparagus Mimosa 1

Asparagus Mimosa Recipe
Adapted slightly from recipe by Diana Henry
from A Change of Appetite

For each person allow:
1x bunch (5-6 spears) asparagus
1x free range egg
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
small bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained, roughly chopped

Place egg in a small pot, cover with cold water, and bring to the boil.  Boil for four minutes.  Remove egg with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of cold water, until egg has cooled enough to handle, but is still warm.

In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, salt and pepper, until well combined.  Stir in the parsley, and capers.  Set aside.

Snap the woody ends off the asparagus spears, and peel the ends.  Boil the asparagus until just tender to the tip of a sharp knife - about four minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears.

Meanwhile, peel the egg, place on a plate or board and mash with a fork, until crumbled and yolk and white mixed together.

Drain asparagus as soon as it is ready and place on a serving plate.  Drizzle over a generous amount of the dressing, and spoon the crumbled egg over the middle of the asparagus.  Finish with another drizzle of olive oil if you like.

If you would like to get to know Diana Henry a little better, and to see what everyone else has cooked up this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links (who knows, you might even want to join the journey and cook along with us) ...

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... or check out A Change of Appetite and Diana's many other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, or Fishpond NZ.