capsicum sweet chilli sauce

I wanted to make this chilli sauce, but then realised I didn’t have enough vinegar, and also wanted to use up the eight long capsicums I had, (bull horn’s.) So I fiddled a bit, a little tweak, a whispered please let it work and hey presto… capsicum chilli sauce. I think I actually like this one even more than the other as it’s a little less sweet, leaves the taste of the capsicums and still gives a dish the kick I want it to.

Capsicum Chilli Sauce

8 long thin capsicums

100g small hot chillis

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups white vinegar

5 cloves garlic

2 tsp salt

black pepper

2 good slurps of balsamic vinegar

In a food processor, blitz the capsicum, chilli, garlic and ginger. In a pot add add the remaining ingredients, add chilli combination and bring to a rolling boil. Keep at the same temperature, stirring until sauce thickens. Poor in to sterilised glass jars/ bottles or in to a clean jar and store in the fridge.

Advertisements

speculating on speculaas and speculoos

chewed dog ears...or windmills if you squint really hard

I was supposed to make these last year, but that didn’t happen. This year it is though. The tasty spiced biscuits generally eaten for the Feast of Saint Nicolas, (Dec 5th or 6th- depending on whether you come from Belgium or the Netherlands) that taste rather good dunked into your beverage of choice.

SBS’s Feast magazine has had two recipes for them recently (September and December issues) and both varying slightly with their quantities and ingredients. I stuck with the simpler version and then have since tweaked it to suit me more. These are a really great biscuit to roll up and keep in the freezer, to be cooked at a moments notice. Give as gifts, and also a good excuse to go find yourself a speculoos plank. Yes indeed, a speculoos plank. Even the name is enticing and it’s one of those funky little wooden moulds to pop your biscuits in before baking.

The thought had entered my head, and there wasn’t a whole lot of persuading of that thought, that it wasn’t something I really needed. An investment in my future I rationalised. I’ll be making loads of these down the track. I’ll start a new tradition of making them every 6th of December for the family and for many years of Christmas presents to come.

See, of course it makes sense to buy one from Belgium for a friend to bring back with her on her travels in several weeks time.

That was almost the case and then I found out there is a little online Dutch store, that has them and can post straight away. Being an Australian based company this was going to be a whole lot quicker, (bought on Friday night, arrived on Monday morning- thank you Australia Post.)

So now what to do with my cute little wooden windmill mould?

Everything I had read on the internet said these were a bit of a pest to use initially when they were still new. One site helpfully suggested some ‘light swearing’ might be useful. On trying the mould out, I would suggest intermittent heavy swearing wouldn’t go astray either. I had made the dough quite a few times, I was happy with the taste and the way they could easily be cut from a log, baked and eaten. They were an easy biscuit to make in that form. Using the mould however…

First, it was new,so I needed to grubby is up a bit. Using rice flour to line it certainly helps and after quite some time of working out what works best accompanied with multiple pursing of lips, eyebrow frowns, and the odd whispered intermittent heavy swear word. It worked.

Hooray! Biscuit dough back in the fridge to firm up again and then baked. I did it, speculaas have been conquered.

Baked for 15-20 minutes until golden and then out they come. Speculaas not conquered.

They look different to the un-moulded ones. All that fiddling with the mould before they get baked  has caused the butter within to melt a bit, despite firming them up again before baking it, the dough has changed the consistency some what. How do I get them in without that small amount of melty action? The distinct windmill print looks a little more like a chewed dog ear now.

So I kept playing and fiddling, using a knife instead of my fingers to get the dough in and moulded around. The final verdict? The biscuit dough recipe is tasty, easy, and praticle. It works really well for rolled and cut circles, or simply rolled out and cut with a regular biscuit cutter.

I don’t think it’s the right recipe for the mould however, (unless you are happy with the chewed dog ear look, which in that case is fine.)

So I’ll keep playing and tweaking. In the mean time, at least I have something to nibble on while I do so.

Speculaas

adapted from SBS Feast Magazine recipe- Dec edition

250g (1 2/3 cup) plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

50g brown sugar

50g muscavado sugar

50g pecans

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, cloves

150g cold cubed butter

2 tbls cold water

Process all dry ingredients until mixed well. Then add butter and process again until it resembles bread crumbs. Mixture into a bowl and add 1-2 tbls of cold water. Give it a quick knead, bringing the mixture together to form a smooth round ball, divide into two logs. Wrap in plastic and into the fridge until it firms up, (over night is good, to let that spices infuse properly.) Or roll into log forms, and pop in the freezer for later use.*

For baking, cut rounds off on to a tray and bake….

OR

If you have a mould. Cut small rounds off and press the mixture into a rice flour dusted wooden mould. Fiddle with it until you work out the best method to get them out and then let me know how you can do all this and not let the butter in the dough change consistency.*

Thanks!

* Or simple roll mixture out and use regular biscuit cutters to get a shape that you like.

* They are still perfectly acceptable to be eaten, dunked and given away as gifts in this way.

An extra thought– I think the flour to butter ratio needs to be changed a little for using the mould properly… maybe. I’ll keep tweaking anyway and see what I come up with.

Limoncello

With my recent run of lemons, Limoncello was in the air.

Limoncello is a lovely Italian lemon liqueur, that is best drunk icy cold. Store the bottle in the fridge and pop your glasses in the freezer just before drinking. Before making it, I did a bit of reading through the internet. Trying to find a recipe that sounded authentic, and not too much of a pain to make. I couldn’t decide on one particular one, so I thought I would combine them all together and go with what suited my time frame.

So was it easy and did it work?

Easy yes. Did it work, I really don’t know. I’m not drinking any alcohol at the moment so my usual taste test was passed over to Mr Chocolate. He keeps asking for a glass full at night time, so I think it got the seal of approval. It certainly smells like the real deal, and I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll be making more sooner rather than later.

Pop them into some smaller glass bottles and they will make a lovely homemade Christmas gift.

day four- vodka and lemon rind

Limoncello

8 medium sized organic lemons

750mls vodka

400g sugar

250mls water

100mls strained lemon juice

Soak organic lemons in hot water for about half an hour, clean them thoroughly. Leave to dry and then with a vegetable peeler take all the skins off and pop into a large glass bottle or jar. Don’t use any of the pith as it will become bitter. Once peeled, lemon juice can be used for lemon cordial or curd. Alternatively store the lemons in the fridge for later use. Add the bottle of vodka and secure the top. Store bottle in a dark spot and daily give it a bit of a shake, making sure all the peel is moved around.

I did this for nine days and then added the lemon sugar syrup.

In a pot boil the sugar and water together until it thickens a little. Keep stirring, the whole time, as it can bubble over, or become too thick quickly. Once mixture has thickened, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice.

Cool completely (you don’t want any of the alcohol to evaporate) and then add to the vodka mixture. Top on tightly again, and back in a cool dark place. Once a day, give it a swirl and mix it up a little.

Day sixteen, I strained the mixture of all peel, using a muslin lined colander. Handed some to Mr Chocolate to do a little taste test. He thought it was more lemon cordial to try, and drank it quickly. Really quickly… that was funny.

Limoncello is best drunk ice cold. Keep the bottle in the fridge and chill the glasses before hand.

sunshine, lemons and a whispering curd

A rush of lemons.

Limoncello is now on the go, but it took three lots of lemons before I was happy with the quality that was to be used.

So what do I have? A whole lot of lemons. Lucky for me, I love lemons.

Limoncello, lemon cordial, and lemon curd have all been fiddled with in the kitchen this week. Limoncello will wait for another day as it’s not ready yet, but the cordial and curd? Cordial bottle nearly empty and there is now a large jar of curd whispering to me from the fridge. That’s right, she whispers. Sings to me from a closed door. Letting me know she is there and waiting.

Just a little taste as you walk on by, come on…you can do it. Leave the carrots, it’s me you really want. Where’s your teaspoon honey?…

It’s hard. It really is. Husky voiced, the lemon curd allures and entices you with her whispered sing song voice. Just a little teaspoon indeed.

It’s the Lauren Bacall of the fridge. Refined, sultry tones and probably wearing a beautifully cut Chanel type pants suit too. All that in a jar of old fashioned lemon curd…who knew?

Lemon Curd

1 cup of lemon juice

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 beaten eggs

1 tbls cornflour

In a pot add the juice and sugar. Bring to the boil, turn down a little and simmer for about 5 minutes. All sugar should be dissolved. In a bowl whisk your eggs and cornflour together. Slowly drizzle this mixture into the juice and sugar mixture, whisking quickly as you do. Keep at a simmer until the curd thickens.

Lemon Cordial

1 cup lemon juice

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Equal parts strained lemon juice, sugar and water. Juice the lemons, strain the juice. In a pot add the sugar and water and bring to a rapid boil. Boil until it thickens slightly. (For me this took six minutes, depends on the amount you are using and also the pot though. Then add your lemon juice.

Store in a bottle and leave in the fridge. Serve with mineral water, ice and a couple of sprigs of mint, or perhaps a little vodka… or just good old tap water.

how to make bread, for the person who thinks they can’t…but really they can

This is, (I hope) a really basic way to start making your own bread. It’s an adapted version of the Bourke Street Bakery cookbook olive oil dough. I’ve used it a whole bunch of times, and it’s always reliably delicious.

 You will need.

600g flour (4 cups- I use strong bakers flour)

2 tsp dried yeast

400mls tepid water

 3 tbls olive oil

2 tsp salt

In a large mixing bowl add the, 600g flour, 2 tsp yeast and 400mls water. (The slight warmth of the water will kick start things, don’t use hot; you’ll kill the yeast.)

 mix with a spoon until it all comes together. It will look a little dry and unlikely.

Now leave it for 10 minutes.

 The dough looks and feels a little different. It’s been doing its thing for the past 10 minutes.

It will feel softer and more workable.

Now add 3 tbls olive oil, and 2 tsp salt

 Mix it through with the spoon initially, for about a minute and then by hand. You will be able to feel it coming together. Now tip it out on to a bench and knead. (I don’t find with this recipe I need a floured surfaced area, but it may depend on the type of flour you are using. If it’s sticking, lightly flour the surface and your hands.

Work the dough until it comes together as a smooth, stretching mass (or use a mixer with dough hook). You want it to feel elastic.

Use the heel of both of your hands for kneading. Finger tips flick the dough up, and heel of hands push down.

 When the dough is soft and smooth, it’s a happy dough. The kneading will probably take about 10 minutes.

Then pop it back into the mixing bowl, (or a lightly oiled clean one, I just whack it back in the grubby one though) with some plastic wrap (or a shopping bag/wet tea towel) over the top. This stops it from drying out. Let it prove for 30+ minutes.

If the dough is in a warm spot (about 26C) it will just need the 30 minutes, if cooler, it may take longer. If it’s soft, and springs back when you poke it, it’s ready to be folded.

 Pop it out on to your work surface and roughly flatten it. Using your finger tips.

 Fold one third over

Then the other third over. Turn it 90 degrees, and fold it to thirds again. Pop it back in the bowl.

 looking kind of square

Another prove for about 30 minutes, (longer if it’s colder).  Then get it out and press the dough down on the working surface area and shape. Or…

Take the ball of dough out of the bowl and place on the bench. Pulling a side of the circle, and dragging it into the middle and press down. Keep going until you have gone all the way around. Then using one hand to do the same process with the heel of your hand, (side to the middle) and your other hand turning the disc. This process can be used instead of the folding after the initial prove or it can be a way to do a final shape.

 In to the middle.

 Looks like that

and then flick it over. Should be smooth and round. Once you’ve got the shape you want, pop it on an oiled tray (or a tray lined with baking paper) cover it with a plastic shopping bag and leave it to prove again in a warm spot. Should have risen by about 2/3 and feel/look soft and pillowy. This can take 30+ minutes.

This dough can be  shaped into just about anything. I used it as a foccacia base here, but have used it as a fish, mermaid, sunflower, grissini and bread rolls.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 240C with steam. I use a water squirter bottle for the steam. 20 squirts in the crack of the door once you’ve popped the bread in or you can use a little dish of water at the bottom of the oven when you turn it on. Baking time depends on the shape you have made. Bread is cooked when dark golden in colour and sounds hollow if tapped.

*****

 The trick with bread is, you just have to practise. Make it, and if there are any problems, write down what they are so you remember for next time and can change it accordingly. I watched my mum make bread my whole childhood so absorbed how to knead it just by watching. If you have never played with dough before though, it might seem a little daunting.

Play with it.

At worst, they will be stone hard burnt unsalted bricks, (and I’ve certainly made my share of them before). Most likely though, they’ll be delicious, and you’ll never want to buy shop bread again.

Books to make you want to play further

Bourke Street Bakery

The handmade loaf

River Cottage handbook- Bread

Online

The Fresh Loaf 

Dan Lepard

Wild Yeast

songs to make cupcakes to

Cupcakes were on the menu.

Nothing fancy, just simple little numbers to be eaten after dinner. Mr Chocolate’s parents were coming over. A special dinner to celebrate my father-in-laws birthday and to also celebrate the fact that he and Mr Chocolate’s mother had been in the country for 40 years.  I was thinking a pavlova with a few typical Australian flavours thrown in, however Mr Chocolate seemed to think vanilla cupcakes would be better. Needing a tiny excuse to make mascarpone, I agreed.

The boys were out, and I had myself a little mama time. Time to get the oven cranked and perhaps some music to.

What songs to make cupcakes to?…

I used the Strawberry Vanilla Cake recipe, and just changed it to mini cupcakes.

Now how to make your own mascarpone?

Thanks to my trusty The Real Food Companion book, I wanted to have a go at making it. Mascarpone is soft and mild Italian cheese. It’s usually quite expensive to buy, but well worth it to be used in desserts, such as Tiramisu or my birthday meringue cake last year. I also use it diligently instead of a butter frosting for cakes. I had tried to make it late last year, but wasn’t bowled over with the results. So I wanted to redeem myself. Now where was that mascarpone love?

Mascarpone

300mls cream

2 teaspoons lemon juice

In a pot bring the cream to a simmer, adding the lemon juice and cook for about 1 and half minutes. Allow the cream to cool completely in the pot, and then pour into a muslin lined strainer and leave for 1-2 days in the fridge. For this one I popped in a vanilla bean directly after I had turned the pot off and allowed the bean to infuse with the cream for about 15 minutes. I then gently squeezed the tiny vanilla specks out, and into the fridge the whole lot went for at least 24 hours.

Result, is a speckled mascarpone, with a lovely real vanilla flavour. Just cream, lemon juice and vanilla bean.

It came out thick, smelling lovely and tasted like mascarpone.  You have to plan a little a head of time but it beats buying it.

Quickly whisked it up a little, and then adding 1/2 cup of icing sugar to the mixture. Slap it on to the cupcakes and decorate with strawberries.

Optional Australian flag.

****

…but the songs, what about the songs to make cupcakes to?…

Boy and Bear

milk and ricotta

I recently bought unhomogenised milk. It had been so long since I had last seen it, that I just stood there and marvelled at it. A layer of cream sitting on the top, the  colour, and the little molecules of fat sitting on top of my tea. It really was worthy of marvelling at…sitting quietly looking into my tea with a contented smile and a slight raise of the eyebrows.

So what does homogenised mean? In a nut shell, it means it’s all been mixed up. All the fat and the milk has been mixed together, so when you buy it, it just comes out straight and white. Why is most milk homogenised? Because it looks better…and that’s the only reason.

There is a lot to be said about really great fresh milk. There is also a lot be said about inferior milk that is sold at really cheap prices.*  Availability is our problem. I can’t always get to somewhere that sells different brand milks. It’s frustrating that the leading super market brands don’t have much variety happening in their milk section. Especially as one of our leading generic brands smells and tastes like mouse. I thought I was the only one to imagine it, but a friend backed me up. Sipping on some milk some time ago and all I could think about was long pink tails, and tiny furry bottoms…No mousey milk for me please.

Looking at my unhomogenised milk, pondering on all the milky goodness I could be making from it. Cheese, yoghurt, ice cream, scones, breads, all using some form of the milk…

Next up I wanted to try making ricotta. Following The Real Food Companion instructions I had my lovely milk (Over the Moon), sieve, white vinegar, pot and wooden spoon all ready. I didn’t have two litres of milk so I quartered the recipe. I knew it wouldn’t result in much but as a first run, I didn’t want to waste a drop of the good stuff either on any mistakes. 500mls of milk in the pot, bring it to a foam (or 90C, not yet boiling) and then add 2 teaspoons of white vinegar to create the curds. There was a little bit of curdling action, but not a lot. The whey hadn’t separated enough. Frowning in to my pot I decided to heat it up again. 1/2 a tps more?…oops my hand slipped, make it 1 tsp more. A little gentle stir and instant separation. Ahhh, that’s better. Gently scooping it out to some muslin and a sieve, I’m left with ricotta. Really, rubbery ricotta…

Checking with the local cheese bloggers Gavin and Christine, I try to work out what I did wrong. Too hot? Too much vinegar? It tasted ok, but it really was a tad rubbery. I sat on it for an hour or two and then decided that I would try it again, other wise it would bug me all day.

Second go. Left it at 2 tsp of vinegar, different milk this time and just a fraction longer on the cooking time. We are talking extra seconds cooking time, that’s all. Those extra seconds made the difference. It was softer, more delicate, and really good….and really quite easy.

(The whey that I was left with, went into some sourdoughs.)

Third time around and I’m definitely getting the hang of it. I can’t believe how easy it is to make and how I hadn’t done this before. I’m also struck by how so many really easy recipes have fallen by the way side in order for things to be convenient for people. Such simple meals that can be made with so little ingredients, if only people knew how. This is the sort of conversation topic that could be passed back and forth over and over until the cows came home, milked themselves and made their own ricotta… but for the sake of airing a little, I’ll continue.

These simple cooking lessons that could be taught to another person in an afternoon seem to be quietly slipping out the door. Things like yoghurt, ricotta, labneh, mascarpone, sour cream, butter and all their lovely by-products, are simple to make and yet they can be quite expensive to buy. Not to mention all the plastic tubs that you are buying along with the products. Some would argue that they are recyclable, and yes they are. But if you can spare an extra 5 minutes to make a kilo worth of yogurt, than you have just saved 52 plastic kilo tubs of yoghurt per year, (going on a kilo a week, even more if you are eating daily individual tubs.) Visualising how much that would be for a single person  or a family, in a life time is….sobering. No more plastic tubs and saving a fair whack of money to boot.

Maybe a reason to go give someone a dairy cooking lesson?

What’s for lunch?

Ricotta

raw almonds

chopped dates

drizzle of honey

* For more information on Australia’s cheap milk problems please read here.

** For a different way to make ricotta and using goat milk, have a look at Linda’s The Witches Kitchen.