Thursday, October 30, 2008

Daring Bakers challenge - pizza

Pizzas are a great meal to make at home. If you have plenty of time, you can make your own pizza bases, which taste so much better than the take-away shop version, or you can cheat and use ready-prepared bases or pita bread. By making it at home, you have full control over the toppings you choose, so you can come up with your own creative combinations, or use as many (or as few) anchovies as you like!

Pizza and toppings was the October challenge, hosted by Rosa's Yummy Yums, for the Daring Bakers. The pizza dough recipe came from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. It made a delicious thin, crispy yet chewy pizza crust and the only drawback is that it involves two days of preparation. Although the actual dough is easy to make (a standard mixture of flour, salt, yeast, oil, sugar and water kneaded into a dough), it needs to rest overnight in the fridge, which means the chef needs to do some planning ahead for pizza night.

Once the dough has rested overnight, you then bounce and toss around the pizza dough before putting it onto a pizza stone or baking tray, covering with toppings and baking for 5-8 minutes.

The toppings I chose were salami, olives and mozzarella; mushrooms, olives and caramelised onions; and potato and rosemary. The pizzas were absolutely delicious and enthusiastically received by my tasting panel.

I make pizzas reasonably regularly and I enjoyed testing this recipe. However, I think in future that I will stick with my Jill Dupleix pizza base recipe, as it only needs to rise for an hour or so before you can use it. Even this does require some planning ahead (it's not a meal you can whip up in 10 minutes after work, unless you've already pre-prepared the dough), but it's a recipe that I'm more likely to use than one that needs to be prepared the day before. Although it sounds daunting, it only takes about 10-15 minutes to actually prepare and knead the dough, and then it can prove for as long as you like. I strongly encourage you to try making your own pizzas, as the take-away versions will pale into comparison once you've tried it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Baking days

We've finally moved into the new house and have most of the boxes unpacked. It's such a massive, daunting job to move house that I'll be quite happy not to move again for a very long time. At least in this house I have space to unpack a lot of my kitchenware that's been stored away in boxes for a long time. It's like going on a shopping spree, as I uncover dishes, bowls and platters that I've not been able to use. Many of the beautiful dishes were wedding presents and I'm pleased to finally be able to use them and display them.

Moving into a new house has also meant acquainting myself with a new kitchen. Fortunately this one was renovated a few years ago, so is filled with lots of cupboards and new appliances. I have a dishwasher for the first time in my life! And I'm loving the new oven, with its gas hotplate and electric oven. My last oven was perfectly functional but it was so old that it was still in Fahrenheit and it took some trial and error in the early days of baking to work out just how long it would take to bake a cake or biscuits (cakes usually took at least 10-20 minutes longer than the recipe specified).

So it was time to try out the new oven and the recipe I chose for the occasion was choc oatmeal cookies from Bill Granger's bills food. This recipe has special resonance with this house: the previous owner baked a big batch of these cookies on the day of the auction and we nibbled on them afterwards as we signed the contracts. She told me the oven was a great baking oven and glowing testaments from neighbours about her baking prowess are testament to that. These cookies are now known to us as "auction cookies", so it was only fitting that they were the first thing I made in the new house. I can report that the oven works like a dream!


150g unsalted butter, softened
230g soft brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
125g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
235g rolled oats
175g choc chips

Preheat oven to 180 degrees and line three large baking trays with baking paper.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until fluffy and smooth. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until smooth. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the bowl and mix lightly. Add the oats and choc chips and stir to combine.

Roll tablespoons of mixture into balls and place on the baking trays. Flatten the balls with a fork dipped in flour. Bake for 20 minutes, or until pale golden. Remove from the oven and cool on the trays for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool. Makes 30.

Recipe from bills food by Bill Granger

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Food bites

With some free time on my hands as I prepare for a big house move, it's been nice to indulge in some foodie past-times recently. Packing up all my food magazines has taken quite a bit of time, as I stop to flick through the glossy pages and make yet more lists of recipes I want to try. The latest Donna Hay magazine has arrived and is full of enticing recipes and entertaining ideas. I'm trying not to stock up the cupboard or freezer with extra food at the moment, so have had to content myself with marking "must-try recipes" with sticky notes.

Emptying the freezer has enabled me to use up food and do some extra baking. The frozen raspberries left over from last year's berry picking have been turned into glorious jam and a raspberry and pistachio cake that was quickly gobbled up. Some of the frozen boysenberries were cooked in a sugar syrup and then sandwiched between puff pastry triangles with warm custard and dusted with icing sugar to make a quick and tasty dessert. In winter, I spent a wonderful day poaching quinces, the house filling with their wonderful spicy scent as they slowly poached into ruby globes of goodness. I couldn't use them all at the time, so froze the remainder and have just baked them with a brown sugar and hazelnut crumble on top. Fortunately the weather is still cool enough that a crumble is a welcome, rather than stodgy, dessert.

And there's been some time to pop out and try new places. When I lived in Brunswick as a student in the mid-90s, it was not the gentrified, trendy place that it is now. We tended to head to the city or Carlton to eat out but now East Brunswick is full of fabulous cafes and restaurants, all within walking distance of my old student houses. How I wish places such as Thaila Thai, Small Block, Gingerlee and Rumi's existed when I lived there! Although Brunswick is still an easy drive for me to get to, it's not the same as having the cafe around the corner from your house. My sister, her husband and I enjoyed the summer breakfast at Small Block last week: two triangles of thick bread topped with poached eggs and accompanied by beetroot relish, fat, creamy chunks of Persian fetta and a sweet avocado drizzled with lemon juice. It was a refreshing, summery start to the day, especially accompanied by good strong coffee.

A few days later, it was time to pay another visit to Noisette in Bay St, Port Melbourne, for a French-inspired breakfast of a creamy flat white and a crispy, flaky pain au chocolat that melted in my mouth. The plain and almond croissants were also tempting but the chocolate won in the end. This is another lovely little cafe that I wish was my local.

Not that I can complain about my local cafe, Nosh @ Newport, which has gone from strength to strength since it opened 18 months ago. It's filled a real niche in Newport. Once cafe-starved locals needed to travel to Yarraville or Seddon (I don't find much worth bothering with in Williamstown) for a coffee or cafe fix, but now we have Nosh within strolling distance. With books and toys, as well as a healthy children's menu, it's also popular with local families. The coffee, a Supreme blend, is always excellent. My favourite breakfast dish is the Turkish bread egg and bacon roll: two fried eggs, a mound of crispy bacon, aioli and melted cheese squashed into a fat toasted Turkish bread roll, accompanied with spicy relish. It always hits the spot!

Auction Rooms in North Melbourne is a relatively new cafe that's been receiving rave reviews for its excellent coffee and food. Situated on Errol St, you can sit in the front window, enjoying the morning sun and gazing through the enormous glass windows over towards the Town Hall. Inside is flooded with natural light and the tall ceilings and wide open spaces give an airy and warm feel to a space that doesn't feel overwhelming, despite its size. Coffee is freshly roasted each day, with details of the day's bean, its characteristics and the best way to enjoy it chalked up on a blackboard. I had a long black that was perfectly extracted. The coffee was smooth and sweet and there was no need to add sugar. Auction Rooms is also an outlet for Dench Bakers Bread, which features heavily on the menu, where dishes have cute names such as the Counter Bid and Opening Bid. I had the Real Deal, a dish of spicy baked beans with crispy grilled chorizo and cheesy polenta bread. It was a great late-morning breakfast and I can't wait to visit Auction Rooms again.